Saturday, February 19, 2011

Halflings - more than just boring Hobbits! - an overview

What words pop to mind when you think of Halflings?  Underpowered?  Boring? Gygax actually said as much: "[Halflings] are perhaps a trifle boring at times."  1e DMG, pg. 16. 
There is no doubt, halflings are weighed down heavily by the "hobbit" stigma placed upon them by Tolkien, and frankly, I can't think of many other popular cultural images for them [well, what, maybe, Willow???  bah, more "hobbitry"...].  Small, fearful, weak, surviving only because they are deep within protected lands...  Many a person has wondered how they would even avoid being wiped out, long-term. 
Can they be salvaged for a "dawn of civ", primitive-times campaign like AZ Adventures?    Is it even worth it to include a "boring", underpowered, half-pint race in your average campaign?    Can we find something of interest there?  [I mean something interesting, not just functional, like "the halfling thief" powergamer fixture.]
Pulling on some decsriptive and evocative threads in the early game, yes, I think we can. I do think they are salvageable, as a unique, fun, and compelling race that could legitimately carve out a niche in a dangerous milieu.
Starting with the rest of Gygax's description: 
-Favor natural beauty and the outdoors
-Love creature comforts, including esp. eating  
-Enjoy stories and jokes (more outgoing than dwarfs or elfs) 
-Easy to get along with
-Honest, hard-working
-Not brave or ambitious
-Burrows often underground
We get another fascinating look at "the secret life of halflings" in the 1e PH, pg. 14.   All the other demi-human races have NPC clerics, but the halflings have DRUIDS.  Ah, now we begin to see the essential uniqueness of the halfling race!   Their "wise men", their leaders, their elders, have possession of the MAGIC of NATURE.   
Clearly, favoring the natural beauty of the outdoors is not just an aesthetic preference, it is their ecological and magical niche!  For example, when hiding themselves in natural terrain, they are invisible! This is a nice exemplification of their innate druidical powers.  
They are also natural friends of the animals, keeping dogs, for example, as guardians of their lairs.  The MM says they will have 1-4 dogs per halfling!   Their villages would be mainly animals.
I would postulate that basically all halflings would come with the basic druidical wilderness skills: identification of plant type/animal type/pure water, and the ability to pass through overgrown areas without leaving a trail at full speed.    That actually ties back into the Tolkien source mythology: the fleeing Hobbits invariably sought safety OFF OF THE ROAD. 
The 1e MM does its part in leading us astray, erring in not describing the presence of holy men in halfling lairs, as it does for dwarfs, elfs, and gnomes.   Following their pattern for the distribution of clerics, we can surmise that for every group of 50+ halflings, we would encounter druids of 3rd-6th level, and for groups of 200+ halflings, we would expect full powered 6th-level druids along with a circle of his lesser-leveled druid attendants and a few multi-classed druid/fighters.   
I think when we place them in the light of this "nature's children" concept, natural allies of the animals, under the protection of mid-level druids, along with all their other natural advantages, we can easily see how halfings are fully capable of carving out a niche in a dangerous world full of trolls, dragons, ogres, and human slavers. 
Defense-less Hobbits No More!
So, you want to mess with the halflings?  Fancy you could just roll their cottages and drag them off in chains?   I think you would find them far more dangerous than Sauruman and his cronies found the Hobbits.  Here is a sample of what you could expect:
--Halfling guerillas, utterly invisible in their natural terrain, picking you off with pin-point arrow and sling shots, popping in and out of tiny burrow holes in the ground, or just hiding in the bush
-All of your metal items heating up to a deadly, searing blaze, causing you to drop your weapons and rip off your armor
-Vicious animals and woodland creatures pouring out of their burrows and the nearby woods, attacking and harrying you
-Insect swarms attacking you
-Snares, pits, and natural traps, all expertly concealed, blocking your every approach, preventing and punishing your movement
-Lightning strikes crashing down upon you
-Plant hedges and overgrowth magically growing around you and entrapping you, then set ablaze into a massive fire
And these are just some basic strategies that occurred to me while perusing the druid spell lists....  Sure you want to wander into that buzzsaw we call a halfling village, bad boy?  
Halflings don't need to hide in deep underground caves (looking at you, Dwarfs...), or high up in dark dangerous magical forests (yeah, you know who I'm talking about, Elfs....) to find their safety.   They can turn your average village country-side into a living nightmare, into a deadly hell-hole, into brutal fields of slaughter, in 2.2 second flat...   THAT'S how kick ass halflings are!   
Don't let their jovial demeanors, their funny stories, and their love of pudding pie fool you.... They are cat-quick, tough-as-nails, natural-magic-weilding KILLERS.   If you mess with 'em, they will sick their war dogs on you and put an arrow through your eyeball before you can blink...  Their next feast-hall gathering will be full of laughter and joy, listening to their songs about the funny looks on the faces of their attackers, as the big clumsy invaders kept stumbling around, falling into pits and impaling themselves on stakes...
Other interesting halfling traits
Halflings are the most dextrous race of all, being +1 on DEX, with a minimum of 10, and a max of 19.  They prefer attacking with missile weapons, being +3 to hit with bow or sling.   They are the best race of all when it comes to moving silently (surprising 2/3 of the time) and hiding in shadows.   
Surprisingly, they are also one of the toughest, having the highest constitutions (minimum 10) except for dwarfs, and they receive the same savings-throw bonuses against magic and poison that gnomes do, based on CON: 11-13 = +3, 14-17 = +4, 18 = +5
Due to their extensive burrowing, they can detect underground grade (75%) and direction (50%), as well as seeing in the dark with limited infravision. 
Weaker on the top-end than other races, being -1 in STR, but having a higher lower-end as well: max 17, but min 6. 
Halflings age a bit slower than humans, being ready to breed by the mid-late 20's, and most facing death from old age by 140.   
They are capable of psionics, confirmed both in their 1e MM entry and in Appendix i of the 1e PH.
Unlike some other demi-human races, there are equal numbers of male and females in halfling lairs, and many children, 3 kids for every 5 couples.

In AZ Adventures

Halflings are the least insular of the demi-human races in AZ.  They are quite comfortable interacting with humans, and halfling adventurers are easy to contract, and can be found throughout the state.  They tend to avoid taking sides in inter-human group conflicts, preferring to deal with humans on the individual basis, and they are not fond of politics. 

They appear to be quite adaptable as a race, as their presence can be found integrated with all the demi-humans of the region as well, comfortable in the elven forests as well as the dwarven mines and gnomish burrows.

Halflings who leave their villages often leverage their outgoing and friendly natures into successful careers as "go-betweens", such as merchants, messengers, and even diplomats.   Their humor is legend, and halflings can be found thriving as circus performers and jesters. 

Halfling society is centered along the Verde River, as it winds its way through the southern Tonto Forest north of Mesa.   Halflings use its waters to irrigate their gardens and groves.  There is a surprising amount of treasure, magic, and luxury in the halfling villages, as all halflings, no matter how successful in their adventures elsewhere, always retire to their villages to enjoy a life of easy and comfort.

Despite their friendly and easy-going natures elsewhere, when it comes to the defense of their villages, halflings brook no foolishness.  Those who refuse to follow the orders of their village wisemen quickly find themselves tied up at the bottom of a pit or thrown in the river. Humanoids in general have learned not to stir up the halflings, as their villages are surprisingly resistant to attack, and halflings are quite adept and motivated in their reprisal missions, although entirely peaceful if left unmolested. 

Gaming style alternatives- the Living Dungeon (vs the Powergamer)

The trope is so deeply buried in our gaming DNA, it takes a real challenge to overcome it: "the well-balanced party" of appropriate level strength. Powergaming!

Powergaming: the stuff of the "standard marching order"... two files deep, shields up front, polearms in the second file, archers in back... magic users waiting with magic missiles and fireballs already prepared...

In short: a blitzkrieg tank plowing through a dungeon structure, mowing down the waiting opposition, one room at a time. It's cool, I get it, it's fun bashing stuff down, and sometimes it is entirely appropriate.

Want to thrown your players for a loop? Assign your players to conquer the dungeon with a "non well-balanced party", or even, gasp... a party with deficient level strength! Have them delve with three gnomes, or two halflings. [That will give you a real FEEL for how Frodo must have felt...]

If they are underpowered, they will quickly get a feel for "the living dungeon". Rather than just plowing in and smashing through, they will have to probe and observe, sneak and peak, hide, and of course, run, run, run! They will see that the dungeon has a life of its own, a schedule, a regular set of characters, an order, an agenda. In order to succeed, they will have to negotiate that living dungeon, not just kill it, pillaging its corpse.

Even if you have a "well-balanced party"... complete with plate-covered human and dwarf fighters, elf archer, halfling thief, human magic user, etc... it is an awesome idea to nonetheless OVERPOWER THEM. Think of Lord of the Rings. The entire character of the drama was based on being constantly harried and hunted by SUPERIOR forces.

What kind of dramatic intrigue is there if they know the game is structured to allow them to hammer through all obstacles? Screw that. Make them FEAR the dungeon! Perversely, that will allow them to appreciate and savor your "living dungeon" creation... rather than just stomp all over it.

Nothing sharpens the senses and focuses the mind like the threat of immediate extermination! This holiday season, give your players the gift of that heightened sense of life that only comes from the harried desperation of being hunted by superior forces. There really is nothing like it...

Friday, February 18, 2011

Advancement Rules - the Easy Way!

As we all know, calculating and tracking XP can be a real hassle (based on the specific HPs of the exact number of monsters killed, plus the exact amount of treasure, and the exact worth of magic items, divided into the number of "worthy" PCs, etc...).   For those who want to skip all the paper work, here is the ultimate easy button:
Tally the Number of Completed Adventures.  You are ready to level up when you have survived a number of adventures (at your current level) equal to your current level.
Complete one adventure - level up to 2nd
Complete two more adventures - level up to 3rd
Complete three more adventures - level up to 4th
It sounds pretty simplistic, but in reality, it captures the holistic concept of "gaining experience", without getting bogged down in the many controversies of how to quantify it.   It also removes certain perverse "in-game incentives", like having to needlessly slaughter everything in sight, or rifle through every orc pocket for stray gold pieces, or make sure that every last bit of treasure gets carried out of the dungeon, etc.   
Treasure is as an indirect measure of experience in the GP = XP equation, so let's just dispense with it altogether.   Especially in a dawn of civ campaign, where coin money is not going to be widespread, it is unfair to punish players for the lack of coinage.  
The Inherent Subjectivity of XP
The only variable in my formulation is how to define "an adventure".  Well, naturally, that is subjective.  But think about it: the amount of treasure given to players is COMPLETELY UP TO THE DM, meaning it is TOTALLY SUBJECTIVE too.   The number of monsters available to be killed is also completely subjective, too.   
So, what is an adventure?  Hard to define precisely, but... we know when we see it!   A quest completed...  A mystery solved...  A treasure gained... An enemy defeated...   A territory cleared...   Many things would qualify, and they'd all be dependent on the context of the particular campaign.    Heck, even "A Significant Delve Survived" might qualify, even if no "boss monster" was defeated and no "monte haul" gained.  
For a thief, maybe "penetrating a labyrinth, pinpointing the lair, mapping a path, surveying the defenses, and returning to report" would be a huge undertaking and constitute a completed adventure.  Avoiding as much combat as possible, and taking not a copper, the adventure might still be a huge challenge, taking all of the PC's skill, and fulfill the very definition of a successful adventure resulting in much experience gained (even though it counted for nothing under traditional metrics)! 
In the end, even with all the bookkeeping of the traditional sort, the level-up decision still based on the DMs subjective opinion!   As Gygax makes clear in his opening paragraph on Gaining Experience Levels (1e DMG, p.86):
The gaining of sufficient experience points is necessary to indicate that a character is eligible to gain a level of experience, but the actual award is a matter for you, the DM, to decide.
So, what I am saying is, leveling up based on "the number of significant adventures completed" is no less subjective than "the number of XP gained".    Since the whole thing is based on DM subjective decisions anyway, let's just dispense with all the unnecessary paperwork.   
Real-time Measurements of Level Advancement
It's not like this is a formula for out-of-control advancement.  Let's say you, like many of us, enjoy a once-a-week gaming session.  
--After a month (4 sessions), your PCs would be 3rd level. 
--After two months (8 sessions), your PCs would be 4th level.
--After three months (12 sessions), your PCs would be 5th level.
--After six months (24 sessions), your PCs would be 7th level. 
--After a full year of play (52 sessions), your PCs would be 10th level. 
Sounds about right to me. 
If your 11 year old son takes up the game with his friends one summer, by all means, teach him to calculate and count XP.  It can be very gratifying and a fun part of the game, I remember enjoying it when I was that age. 
But if you are like me now, gaming over a table late at night... with loud music on... imbibing copious libations... being generally absurd... well, for me, dropping the detailed accounting requirements is a nice plus. 

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Gnomes - better than you think! - an overview

Gnomes can definitely fall into the "forgotten races" category. On first blush, they seem too much like dwarfs, and I wasn't even sure I wanted to include them in my AZ Adventures campaign. But the more I studied them, the more I realized, they definitely do fill a unique need, and they can be pretty cool.

They are not useful so much for their "power-gamer" or "stat geek" roles, since they don't really present anything unique in that regard, which is probably why they tend to get largely ignored, being largely "dwarf-lite". They definitely aren't as "iconic" as dwarfs or elfs in terms of popular culture and myth.

Perhaps we can also partly blame the 1e MM, because its description of Gnomes is not very inspiring, being mainly devoted to "wargamer stats", failing to highlight much unique about them. It archly hints at rare "magic use" among the Gnomes, but I mean, come on... little people who might secretly have some rare magic use... yawn, not exactly a game-changer... [We learn in the PH that this magic use is actually Illusionist powers]

Only in the DMG do we really see their personality shine through. Their true genius lies not in their wargamer potential, but in their ROLL PLAYING potential. Basically, Gnomes are the playable version of "the wee folk", i.e., they are like big leprechauns. As DMG p16 puts it:

-Lively and full of humor, esp. practical jokes at other's expense
-Love eating and drinking
-Sly and furtive with strangers
-A bit reserved around elves & humans
-Love precious stones, masters of gem polishing and cutting
-Similar to dwarfs, but like the upperworld as much as the underworld

Aside from their lively and fun personalities, Gnomes are unique for being natural Illusionists. Their prankster-sim, along with their illusion-making, definitely gives them a very unique angle in the game, and squarely aligns them with the trickster "wee folk" even more solidly. Think of them as devious little illusion-making tricksters, obsessed with gems, with a huge fondness/weakness for drinking.... Now we are talking!

They can even communicate with all burrowing animals... I am thinking they would definitely tend to have pet squirrels and moles and ferrets and such, acting like little "illusionist familiars", running messages, spying, checking for danger, playing tricks... THAT is a pretty cool feature, if you think about it.

PC Gnomes can reach up to 7th level as Illusionists, allowing them to cast up to 3rd level spells. The way I see it, all Gnomes would come with some basic illusionist skills, due to their inherent magical natures and general cultural knowledge, such as the ability to make small dancing lights or light bursts, false noises, to disappear mysteriously (in a burst of smoke or passing behind an object), that kind of thing.

In game terms, these "natural illusionist powers" are perhaps best suggested by the magic user and illusionist cantrips (given in 1e UA).
--The "person-affecting" magic user cantrips would be delightful in the hands of these tricksters: belch, giggle, nod, sneeze, twitch, yawn, wink...
--Imagine the "sound" cantrips in the hands of a little prankster: creak, footfall, groan, moan, rattle, tap, thump, whistle...
--The "legerdemain" cantrips are taylor-made for these gem-thieving types: distract, hide, mute (shape change), palm, present (object summoning)...
--And the illusionist cantrips, especially for the visual effects: colored lights, dim, haze, mask, mirage, noise, rainbow, two-d'lusion (2D illusion).

Gnomes are fun-loving and intelligent, seeking to avoid violence when possible. Only the very largest, toughest, and dullest of them seek careers as fighters. In general, most gnomes prefer careers as thiefs or illusionists, and most of them combine the two classes as dual-classed illusionist/thiefs.

Other Gnomish facts:

Gnomes are the second-longest lived demi-human race, behind only the elfs. A gnome won't reach breeding age until 60 or so, and the typical gnome will live past 500 before dying of old age. The are also among the brighter of the races, second in intelligence to only the elfs, and they have the best hearing of all the races.

Gnomes, like Dwarfs, are naturally "anti-magical" creatures, with naturally strong constitutions (8 minimum). On the downside, they are incapable of casting magic, but on the good side, they are resistant to magical effects. Based on their CON score, they get bonuses in their saves vs magic: 8-10--> +2, 11-13--> +3, 14-17--> +4, 18+ --> +5. They are also naturally +4 vs poison, a very nice attribute against such a "save or die" attack.

Due to their love of gems, gnomes are often mining underground, and have exceptional abilities in determining the direction and quality of underground construction. They also have limited infravision underground (detecting heat radiation).

Following their friendship with burrowing animals, they will always have some trained "family pets" to help guard their lairs, such as giant badgers or wolverines.

Against their arch-enemies, kobalds and goblins, they gain a +1 to hit. They are experts at using their small size to their advantage, so large creatures (such as gnolls, bugbears, ogres, trolls, giants, etc) suffer -4 to hit penalty in combat against them.

Older Gnomes (300+ years) can be called as holy men, acquiring clerical powers up to the 7th level.

They are a male-dominated society: with Gnome males outnumbering females 2 to 1.

In AZ Adventures

The center of Gnome society in AZ is in the southern Tonto Forest (mainly in the rockier zones south of Payson), north of the druid-controlled area of Fountain Hills, but they can found in any of the many areas of rolling, rocky hills throughout the region. Their lairs are always mainly-underground, built into the rocky hills, visible only to the trained eye, and always hidden by protective illusions.

Gnomes are mainly insular, in good relations with the dwarfs and halflings of the area, but are slowly learning to branch out in contact with the colonizing humans as well.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Storyteller & Referee versus "Master of the Dungeon" - adversarial roleplaying possibilities

A very thought-inspiring post by Tony over at Microdungeons (, about the role of the DM in being "The Eyes and Ears of the Player Characters." 
As he says:
It's crucial to engaging the players and winning their buy-in to the game. If the players can't see and hear the dungeon clearly, they can't live in it or have adventures in it. The players also have a job here, which is to ask questions for the game master to answer. A lot of people equate being the eyes and ears with providing description of the dungeon and the things in it with a certain level of gleeful embellishment. This is part of it, but there's more to 'eyes and ears' than a judicious use of adverbs. it's at least equally important to be crystal clear and fair about how what they're seeing and hearing intersects with the mechanics of the game you're playing.
DM as Storyteller
As DM, you have to be fair to the players, giving them a concise description of important information.  As their "eyes and ears", you need to give them all relevant information that they would normally be expected to notice, especially anything that would stand out as dangerous or unusual.  It is up to the players to "investigate the scene" further if they want to find things that are not immediately obvious.  In other words, it is up to them to ask questions and guide their characters through the imaginary world. 
This is the task of the DM as Storyteller.  Set up cool and engaging scenarios for your players to interact with.  Its all about fun, excitement, drama, intrigue, mystery, silliness, humor, and overall good times. 
DM as Master of the Dungeon -- the Monster Player 
Usually the DM handles refereeing, storytelling, and controlling the monsters.  HOWEVER....  We can imagine a gaming table in which the Referee and the "Monster player" were TWO SEPARATE PEOPLE.   Imagine one person setting the scene, adjudicating the action and rolling the dice (the Referee), and the other person roleplaying the monsters (the Dungeon Master)! 
Such a split in roles might really spice up the action and drama, and would certainly help prevent the players from feeling like they were being screwed by the referee, who does seem a bit omnipotent when we consider that he controls both the MONSTERS and the RULES.  As Tony puts it, players should feel "confident that the system and the game master aren't using underhanded techniques to trip them up."   If the DM is a different guy than the Ref, there would be no conflict of interests. 
Imagine if it was the Dungeon Master's job to take the title literally, to act as the Master of the Dungeon.  Meaning, he was in charge of roleplaying the monsters of the dungeon.  In other words, imagine allowing the DM to play a completely adversarial role to the players, without any refereeing duties.  This DM would "play" the monsters in any encounter.  That would be pretty cool even if the monsters were all just random chaotics arrayed will-nilly. 
But even cooler, imagine the monsters were lawfuls, loosely knit together for some common purpose, or even tightly knit together in some command structure.  The DM could have a great deal of fun playing the "boss monster".  His job would be to use all of his resources and powers to thwart the PCs, arraying his sub-monsters in a planned defense, giving them specific orders.   Heck, the referee could even treat the sub-monsters like NPCs of the Dungeon Master, rolling for loyalty checks and that kind of thing, to see if they followed the DM's orders properly.   
So, say you have five players at your table.  Instead of having each of them play a PC and you play the monsters, have four of them play PCs, and one of them play the monsters!
DM as Referee
A good DM encourages creative play by assigning reasonable chances to whatever crazy scheme the players come up with.  Heroic feats should be up to the players imagination to define.  For example:
DM: "Wait, what?  You want to throw the gnome onto the dragon's back?",  PC:"Yeah!  I'll spin him around for momentum, you know, like a hammer toss!",  DM:"Uh, ok, I'll give you a 50% chance of chucking the gnome onto the dragon.  But then he'll have to make a DEX check to hang on, ok?"    PC: "Aright, let's roll!"
Also, it is appropriate to a "real life" description to describe things in percentages and chances.  For example, you could describe the cliff face: "It is a pretty steep cliff face, somewhat crumbly.  You'd have about a 33% chance of falling if you freeclimbed it."
That is exactly how our minds work in real life.  We take risks based on our calculations of success, based on our observation and analysis.  We are generally aware of our own capabilities, so we can make reasonable deductions about our chances of success. 

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Clerics among the demi-humans and humanoids - their power considered

Clerics are a rare and unique phenomenon among the demi-humans. They do exist, but they are so rare and specialized, they are not available as player character classes.

In a very interesting table in the DMG, on p.12, it is revealed that these demi-human clerics do not receive their calling until they are fully mature, at the beginning of the "middle age" category (gnome clerics being a minimum age of 303, dwarfs 252, and elfs 510, no age given for the halflings). The PH, pg. 14, reveals that they have level limitations as well (gnomes 7th, dwarfs 8th, elves 7th, halflings 6th -as druids only though).

Essentially, demi-human clerics are like tribal shamans or witchdoctors. As revealed on p.14 of the DMG, shamans/tribal clerics of even the advanced humanoid races (giants, goblin, hobgoblin, lizardmen) are limited to the 7th level. The lesser humanoid races are limited to the 5th (bugbear, gnoll, kobald, orc) or the 3rd (ettin, ogre, trogs, trolls).

[The important aspect of reaching 7th level cleric, is that it gives you access to a 4th level spell. Being a 5th level caster gives you access to 3rd level spells, and being a 3rd level caster gives access to 2nd level spells.]

The level limitation on halflings seems arbitrary, being 6th rather than 7th like the other races, but keep in mind, being a 6th level druid provides access to 4th level spells, so the intended effect is the same. The overall point being, the demi-human and humanoid races can go no higher than 4th level spells.

Primitive Spell List

Shaman spell lists are a bit shorter than the full cleric lists, limited to the "primitive" powers:

1st --> cure light wounds, detect evil, detect magic, light, protection from evil, resist fear
2nd --> augury, chant, detect charm, resist fire, snake charm, speak with animals
3rd --> cure blindness, cure disease, dispel magic, locate object, prayer, remove curse
4th --> divination, exorcise, neutralize poison, tongues

Witchdoctors are considered a bit different than shamans, since they combine clerical and magic user powers. Witchdoctors combine the cleric spells above with the following magical powers as well:

1st --> affect normal fires, dancing lights, identify, push, shield, ventriloquism
2nd --> audible glamer, detect invisibility, invisibility, levitate, magic mouth, scare

The maximum level of the tribal witchdoctor is again determined by race, with primitive humans (cavemen) and greater humanoid races limited to the 4th (goblin, hobgoblin, orc), and the lesser races limited to the 2nd (bugbear, gnoll, kobald, lizardmen). Meaning, the greater races have access to the 2nd level spells, while the lesser races can use only the 1st level spells.

"Look and Feel" of Primitive Holy Magic

Cure light wounds, cast by the various races, would NOT look like a Paladin, eyes closed, murmuring a soft prayer, laying his glowing hands on someone. Each race should have a unique "look and feel" to their spells, that is appropriate to their race. For example, considering cure light wounds:

--Cast by a gnome, it might be a powder blown over a person's body...
--Cast by an elf, it might be an herbal salve spread over the wounded body part...
--Cast by a dwarf, it might the banging together of two rocks in a circle inches away from the person's body...
--Cast by a halfling it might be a root placed in the person's mouth...
--Cast by a goblin it might be symbols drawn in chalk over the person's body...

Cure light wounds, cure blindness, cure disease, remove curse, exorcise, neutralize poison... they might all look exactly the same! In other words, the healing ritual might look exactly the same, the only real difference being the power of the healer, or the amount of time it takes to complete the healing ritual.

A primitive healer wouldn't think to himself, "gee, I'm only 3rd level, I don't have Cure Disease yet..." He would try his healing mojo out, do the best he could, and it would only be revealed in time if the disease was cured or not.

Creation of Sacred Power Objects

Tribal holy men would be experts in primitive magical relations and the charging of objects with natural mana. Notice, this is magic, and it can approximate miracle, but it is not reliant on some extra-planar pantheon of gods. Demi-humans and humanoids don't have astral bodies, and they don't have "disembodied" gods.

They are creatures of magic, embued with the magical mana of life, but of a natural life only. All of their powers come from their channeling of this naturally-existing mana power. It is this magically mana that their holy men are adept at tapping into, especially through the creation of power objects.

Elf holy men, for example, might be in charge of a sacred font of liquid, which is supercharged with mana from a precise mixture of sunlight, moonlight, starshine, leaves, fruits, herbs, magic ingredients, and prayer.

Kobalds, on the other hand, might create their magic stones by choosing a special kind of gem, then charging it up with mana by placing it under a small underground waterfall (which they would call sacred, or magic).

Lizardmen might create create their sacred staffs by soaking them in the blood of sacrificial victims, then drying them in the heat of a dragon's nest. Pulling the staffs out of the dragon's nest, viola! they have mana-charged staffs which allow them to produce various clerical and magical spell effects.

The more intelligent and advanced races have access to higher-level spells, because they are more capable of understanding and applying the "rules of magic".

Non-Supernatural Religion

The hard part for us, as modern players, is to wrap our minds around "religion" that isn't supernatural. Yet that is exactly what primitive religion was: naturalistic. It was a form of power embedded in the material world.

In game terms, this power is of two sources: the positive energy from the sun, called mana, or the negative energy from the astral plane. Matter and soul, dualism fused in a unity.

--Some creatures, like the animals, demi-humans and humanoids, have a material nature, lacking an astral component.
--Some creatures, like humans and elementals, have a dual nature, astral spirit animating a material form.
--Some creatures, like devas, demons, and devils, have an astral nature, although they can be "embodied" under special circumstances. The presence of an astral body is usually indicated by psionic powers.

In other words, the "clerical" powers of the demi-humans and humanoids are not "granted by prayer". They are an expression of their own magical natures, and the ability of their gifted individuals to accumulate and focus the mana energy that surrounds them.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Elf ecology overview - Enchanted Forests and Tree-top Villages

Tree-Top Villages 
Elven architecture is unique and easy to recognize, as their houses will be elevated on stilts as high as possible, always rising to be integrated into the structures of the trees around which they are built.  The only thing built by the elfs at ground level are their doghouses.   In newer constructions, and in newer sections of the forest, these elevated elven houses will remain closer to the ground, perhaps only 30 or 40 feet high.  Elfs typically access their elevated houses by expertly climbing the stilt logs or the adjoining trees.  Ropes can be lowered as needed, and lifts are occasionally employed as well, to elevate heavy objects, the infirm, or non-elf guests.
As the trees grow upwards, the elf villages seem to grow with them.   The oldest and tallest sections of the forest will see elf homes rising hundreds of feet above the ground.  Their clan chiefs can always be found residing in these majestic lofts.  In these old villages, gravity-defying cities float in the heights above the forest.  Half-suspended from above by ropes, half-supported from below by stilts, clinging to the sides of the great trees and spanning the distance between them like bridges, these tree-top elf towns are an amazing site to behold. 
Humans are rarely comfortable visiting the heights of these tree-top villages, as the elfs move comfortably along narrow planks and suspended ropes, scaling vertical tree trunks and moving among branches with ease.   Built among the living and growing trees of the forest, the elven structures seem to have a life of their own, always being reinforced, extended, disassembled, or even rebuilt entirely as the need arises.   
Magic Forests -- fire suppression
A human visitor is immediately alerted upon entering elf territory when his torches die out, because starting or maintaining a fire in the elven woods is impossible.  The elfs themselves can see in the dark, so even on a dark moonless night they are not handicapped by the lack of fire.  The envelope of this magical effect is not set, it seems to move around on its own, protecting a meadow one year, leaving it unprotected the next.  The ultimate source of this magic is not known.  Its effect is: thickly overgrown forests on the ground level, with huge ancient trees rising above. 
Magic Forests -- the Wee Folk
The elven woods are pregnant with all kinds of powerful magic, the most notorious of which comes from the wee people.  Faeries, Quicklings, Brownies, Leprechauns... there are many names used to describe them, and a full catalog has certainly not been completed, nor is it ever likely to be completed, as the wee people are full of mischief and deception.   They seem to take supreme delight in all manner of trick and humiliation.  Stealing human treasure is an always-popular lark.  Leading a person into a deep pit or over a cliff edge is considered a clever practical joke.  
Provoking by petty offense seems to be their full time occupation. Perks of their work include guiding their provoked victims into wolf warrens, bear caves, or the sacred groves of the Centaur Kings, as they certainly appear to enjoy the hilarity of the general chaos which then ensues.  In all fairness, the object of their joke might have been the wolfs, bears, or Centaurs; their humor draws no distinctions.  As they are known to possess a huge reserve of real treasure, their supply of desperate victims never seems to runs short.   Just sufficient is the number of people who escape their clutches with a pot of gold, to keep a regular supply of more adventurers hungry to try their luck.  One is left wondering, perhaps this is part of their ongoing joke...
Magic Forests -- the Living Woods
A second powerful magic of the elven woods is far more menacing: the living trees. The trees of the elven forest all seem to share in some sort of sentience.   The "singing" of the living wood is a sound unlike any other, never to be forgotten by any who hear it.    Occasionally, the spirits of the living trees walk abroad, often taking the form of beautiful maidens.   
Many trees do more than just sing, but are capable of movement.  The trees seem to be motivated mainly by the desire to add mulch and fertilizer to their root zone, and foolish humans who wander into their clutches are quickly added thereto.  With their swinging branches, they can be quite dangerous.   Some trees seem to have the ability to fully uproot themselves, and move around.   Called guardians of the forest, they are sure to be there in defense if any malign force threatens the woods. 
Magic Forests -- other sentient races
Aside from the Elfs (and the various wee people), the other sentients in the magic forest include the Satyrs, the Centaurs, and the Hybsil.  The Satyrs (and their cousins the Korreds) are the most dour and least friendly of the woodland creatures. They prefer the thickest, darkest, and most secluded areas of the forest (with the Korreds congregating in the rockiest).   The Centaurs seem to prefer the thinner, high altitude forest and the alpine meadows.  The Hybsil can be found throughout, guarding over the passage of their antelope herds.   
Elfs in AZ Adventures
The Tonto Forest is the epicenter of Elf society in AZ.   Payson itself is a joint-use trading post on the southern edge of their enchanted forests.  Humans, dwarfs, gnomes, and halflings meet in Payson to exchange goods and information.  
Elfs are mainly insulated from human interaction within the enchanted woods, and make little distinction between rival human groups.  Any humans who are found tresspassing in their woods without elf escort are assumed to be hostiles, and treated as such.  
The humanoids of the Apache Forest to the east, mainly goblins, gnolls, and bugbears, are at continual war with the elfs.  

Elfs, an introduction

Elfs are magical creatures of nature, especially connected with the sylvan woods.  The idea and cultural image of elves is diverse to a remarkable degree, and there is clearly no ONE cultural authority on their image.  I think Gygax does a good job sketching the basis cultural view of elfs, and it is worthwhile to use his characterization as a jumping off point:
From p16 in the DMG 1e:
-Flighty and frivolous
-Concerned with natural beauty
-Primary activities: dancing, frolicking, playing, singing, poetry, humor, feasting
-Avoid the open water and underground
-Distrustful of strangers, but loyal
-Brave but not foolhardy
-Moderates in consumption
-Not materialistic for money or jewelry
-Fascinated by magic
-Tendencies towards haughtiness and arrogance
Elf Lifespan
Elfs are the longest-lived and slowest developing race of demi-humans.  The average elf won't reach breeding age until he/she turns 100 and will live at least 1000 years before dying of old age.  The fact that elfs live and breed slowly defines the foundations of their racial behavior.  As a rule, elfs want to be left alone to enjoy their version of the good life.
Elfs derive their power and longevity by close association with the mana-rich substances of the natural world: the sun, the wind, the water, and the trees and plants of nature.  Elfs do not have an astral body, and thus, never have psionic powers.  This makes them 90% immune to charm and sleep spells, and they save at +2 versus psionic blast attacks. 
Elfs in Combat
Physically, elfs are smaller than humans, more lithe and dextrous.  They make excellent bowmen and prefer to take down opponents at a distance rather than engaging them by hand. Their predominant weapons are the bow and spear, although some of them will carry swords gained in their contacts with humans. 
They make extremely dangerous fighters in the woods, where they are experts at blending in to their surroundings and moving silently.  They always apply hit and run tactics, often attacking from tree-mounted locations, and they will flee up into the trees as well. 
As wild creatures of the woods themselves, elfs have a special affinity for wild animals.  They are known to train birds for various purposes, including giant eagles, giant owls, and other birds of prey, as guardians of their lairs, and as messengers.  They are also known to employ certain feline and canine species, which appear to be fully domesticated by them, known as the elven dog (Cooshee) and the Elfen Cat.    Elf females are known to associate with the unicorns that find their home in the magical forests. 
Elf Magic and Trade
Elf magic derives from their close association with the spirits of nature.   Like human druids and shamans, they reverence the natural forces and become gifted in tapping their power.  Earth magic, air magic, and water magic are their specialties.  Those gifted with these powers rise up to leadership positions in elf society, and are considered the elf equivalent of clerics. 
Elfs are also gifted in harnessing the magic of the trees and plants to produce various potions.  The potions are the basis of what little trade the elfs engage in with the outside world.  Living communally and largely unconcerned with treasure, elfs will trade primarily for metal and magical items.  While not used as a medium of trade, the precious metals are valued by elfs for use in their artistic creations, so elfs will sometimes trade for gold. 
Elfs in Human Society
A small proportion of elfs will seek adventure beyond their enchanted woods.  Elfs are generally smaller and weaker than humans, so are rarely seen in combat careers.   Despite their small frames and high dexterity, they are generally too good-natured, and love their bows too much, to seek careers as thiefs. 
Because of their generally high intelligence, coupled with their natural magical natures, most elfs seem to gravitate towards the path of as magic users.   Perhaps owing to their general lack of discipline, coupled with their need to return to their native forests, few elves do more than dabble in magic use, however, and none has ever risen to the heights of wizarding prowess. 
The most successful elfs seem to be generalists, combining their dabbling in multiple fields.  Many of them will learn the arts of fighting, thievery, and magic use at the same time, combining them in a way that would seem impossible to the average human, and non-sensical to the above average.
Elfs in Magic Item Creation
Most elfs avoid human society due to the value of their carcass in magic using circles.  Frankly, no elf is safe in a human town.  Elf skins are used in magical boots, cloaks, and gloves. Elf eyes are highly valued for use in potions of night vision, and their ears in various hearing aids.  Elf hair appears to be an all-around general-purpose magical ingredient which enhances many formulae.   

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

AZ Adventures -- Conflict Plotlines to structure the Game

I think one of the coolest roles of the DM is as the dramatic storyteller. Don't get me wrong, among old buddies, sandbox freedom is awesome. But for newbies, the sandbox is confusing and disorienting.  And, can therefore often drag in boredom... 
Newbies need plot hooks to get them going!   And the best kind of plot hooks are ones that involve the character in larger social conflict plotlines. 
By necessity, since beginning characters are low level "nobodies", these plot hooks might seem a bit "railroady", because they involve larger social forces, over which the character has no control, into which he is helplessly swept.   This is the basis of all story telling, the foundation of plot tension and audience engagement.  The formula is basic: establish identification with a character, then buckle up for the thrill ride as the character is buffeted by the winds of fate, thrown into wild scenarios which require all of his resources and willpower just to survive.
Was Luke railroaded into his adventure?  Yeah, probably, but think about it, the DM had no choice!   Just look at it from his point of view:
The DM prepared this sweet campaign, and thought of this really cool plot hook, involving a meeting with an old warrior and some NPCs who had some cool info, a mysterious message from a princess, which could lead him off on a dangerous adventure!  Rad hook, right???
And what does the PC do?  "Oh gee, I dunno, sounds a bit too scary for me...  I'm just a level one fighter...  I think I need to spend more time exploring the desert, skirmishing with those 1-1 hd jawas... maybe level up a little...  I mean, shit, those 2 hd Sand People kicked my ass..."
Krickie, what would you do if you designed all these cool setpieces and monsters -- running from pursuing Storm Troopers, meeting cool NPCs in a Dangerous Tavern/Cantina, Sith Lord boss monster, in Space Station Mega-Dungeon -- and your PC is a total pussy and refuses to go???  
KILL OFF HIS EFFIN' FAMILY, that's what you'd do!   Burn his house down, too, just for good measure...  Can't you just see the DM and PC at the table:
DM:  "Coming home from your visit with the old warrior, you see smoke in the distance.  Its the smouldering ruins of your home, among which you find the blackened corpses of your whole family.  All your possessions are destroyed, and you are left with no connection to this place at all."
PC: "What???  Are you effin' kidding me?"
DM: "No, everything is gone.  The old warrior shows up, and offers to help you find the killers." 
PC: "Why you railroading mother effer, fine, just fine!  I go with the old man...  dickhead DM..."
Yeah exactly!  Good adventure -- gripping action that brings the average newbie hungering back to the table -- requires a structured but dangerous milieu, complete with moral guidelines, specific objectives, and a developed social conflict into which the character is thrust.  
THAT is what I am aiming for with AZ Adventures.    I want to create a sandbox-like platform, which has an embedded social conflict structure, into which a player can be plugged according to his preference, but which contains an over-arcing narrative structure and end-game.    In other words, not just a series of random, disjointed adventures, but ones which play a role in a larger development. 
It's kind of like Risk -- meets Diplomacy -- meets wargaming -- meets D&D.    The game will involve a competition for territorial dominance between five or so major powers, who then have to form alliances with each other, and with several other minor powers, in order to achieve supremacy.    The main powers, at this point, are the Arya, the Derjuden, the Monmore, the Dineh, perhaps the Celts and Asya.  Minor powers include the Elfs, the Giants, the Dwarves, the Gith, the Orcs, the Ogres, the Halflings, the Werewolves, the Centaurs, the Wemics, perhaps others...  
Each of the major powers has an option to call upon reinforcements from a homeland "off the map", but most of the work has to be done "by hand" as it were, accomplishing the dirty taks of empire building against rival claimants, defeating their leaders, dispersing their armies, destroying their alliances, stealing their wealth, despoiling their magic, that kind of thing... 
As your PC progresses in level, they will rise in rank too.  They start as footsoldiers taking orders, accomplishing minor tasks while doing "one-shot", "module-based" adventures.  As gain power and experience, they become leaders of men, tasked with bigger objectives, more dangerous foes...  Eventually the PCs would rise to directors of armies, rulers of the realm, moving the pieces around to achieve final victory! 
Anyway, does that sound like the kind of game you'd like to play?  I'm thinking all of it self-contained in a boxed set.    Thanks for the feedback.