Wednesday, March 11, 2015

New Campaign Setting Notes - THREE

== Getting to Aione Under the Vatnajokull Glacier

The lake around the monumental building, which serves as a gate tower for access to Aione, is artificial in the sense that it owes its existence to ice melted by heat from the monument and its foundation. Discovering and reaching Aione under Egypt invites epic disaster but here in Iceland finding Aione is a different matter. The Being in the monument, apart from annihilating monsters seeking the surface, has a reputation for obscure benignity among the hoary few dungeoneering yarls who have been received into the northern tower. Only the leader of a large expedition expects this privilege, an opportunity to seek specific, never general, advice.

The Being's head is a metal shell, a thin green face and what exists of a 'skull' on the right side is silver in colour. The main body of his head is empty but seen from behind organic nodules of brown-black stone form clusters around slivers of green crystals lit from within.

A dank narrow spiraling stair in the floor of the south tower descends through hundreds of feet to a small landing paved with alabaster under the lake bed. Here are several slender columns supporting a low ceiling, a plinth with a basin carved out and supporting an oddly shaped sculpture of many twists and folds. Everything in this little space is of brilliant alabaster.

At the end of the landing a wide, and quickly widening stair descends regularly in six stages of twenty steps carved in limestone and separated by narrow level areas. Stages are distinguished by ever larger steps. By the last stage the steps are chest high, ten foot wide and one hundred yards long.

Suddenly the stone environment becomes one entirely of basalt. The giant steps continue to grow larger step by step until they are man high, twenty feet wide and half a mile in length. In the face of one particular step there are a number of cat-sized holes which serve as tunnels for the quasit familiars of the wizards of Aione.

At each end of this step, more like a basalt road at this depth which we may call the Aione road, there is an entrance to a tunnel in the rock wall which leads to a cavern in Aione proper. Just inside the tunnels there are unlit lanterns of exquisite workmanship, alien as high renaissance Italian for a 10th century Icelander. Coated in dust and grime if scrubbed they will be recognised as treasure, gold and silver trim with stained glass plates slotted into the base and no discernible energy source. There are d3 lanterns remaining and dozens of long empty hooks in a dark cranny thirty feet in.

It is not to be doubted that expeditions have sometimes failed to discover the way to Aione and some have perished on the gigantic steps below the Aione road. The Being, who suffers only quasits to amble on the stairs on errands for their masters, does not meddle with horrors below the Aione road.

 A sign hints the way. Carved in the old runes on the face of the wall-high step at the Aione road are the words,
 and below, a faintly glowing unfamiliar symbol.


Saturday, March 7, 2015

New Campaign Setting Notes - TWO

== Aione Under Iceland

One functional aspect of the Aione dungeon is that it serves as a valve in a membrane which is wrapped around the entire world to prevent subterranean beings breaking their confinement and getting to the world’s surface. As a valve Aione is a monitoring station sophisticated enough to facilitate the most brutal volcanic eruptions while snaring Fire Giants and Elementals of Fire seeking to ride jets of molten rock to the surface. Much of the stable ecology of Monstrous Worms , Ambulant Viscid Muds, Pterodactyls and Reality Altering Stink Fungi tend unknowingly to Aione’s pristinate. The Wizards of Aione serve the dungeon more deliberately.

Hundreds of limestone caverns inundated with basalt form a network of caverns with unnaturally vast roofs supported by weak innate forces which derive from thick veins of crystalline stone violently injected into the mantle from far below the Aione membrane. The effect is the spontaneous expansion of space over millennia, jagged bubbles in the earth and rock.

== Basic Exploration Rules

The forces for cavern creation have introduced a flaw in the general effect of gravity in Aione. Indigenous creatures have evolved to use the effect to their advantage but any jumping explorer has a % chance equal to the number of feet jumped of being carried away, falling up to the roof or in some other direction instead of landing. An adventurer surviving this fall to the cavern ceiling has a 50% chance of continuing to experience reversed gravity until he returns to the surface world, and a 50% chance of immediately falling from the roof to ground. Hurled weapons or objects such as grapnels have a distance in feet divided by five % chance of being similarly affected. Coming across a chasm 30 ft deep a foolhardy adventurer leaping down has a 30% chance of being swept in an unintended direction perhaps to safety. A low ceiling might make leaping blindly into a deep pit barring the way the sensible course. Flight is not affected by this quirk of gravity. If roped together two equally sized explorers experiencing opposite gravities could drift.

An adventurer taking every precaution to silence his jangling equipment, or leave it behind, treading softly and slowly, and communicating in whispers may move quietly. This is used for long periods in which the adventurer is unaware of location of potential foes. Check once per turn. A fighter in chain mail attempts stealthy movement at the next most difficult kind of movement.

A daring move is attempted with the precautions above without whispering and when the presence of a foe is known or expected somewhere close but more distant than would be covered in one round. A reckless move requires complete concentration and innovative preparations described to DM. It is used to close to combat or to commit a manoeuvre of nerve shredding deceit.

A straightforward climb becomes a daring climb if the DM judges so after considering the steepness of incline, slipperiness of environment due to pools or a greasy rock surface combined with obstacles such as boulders and pits. Attempting a collapsed cliff, a hollow or a chasm under the above conditions is considered a reckless climb. Dice are rolled as often as required by climbing rules in the DMG.

The cavern environment is perfectly suited to creeping about and hiding. However sounds can echo alarmingly and many places are so constricted that adventurers are forced into close proximity with those they would avoid and even allowing for the cracked and broken ground, the twisting nature of walls and tunnels and giant boulders strewn around some skill is required to remain unseen. The distinction between the two kinds of hiding is a matter of proximity and purpose. The easier kind associated with fleeing and having sufficient time and space, the harder kind with general movement amongst foes and amid sparse resources for obscurement.

The tables in the section on Cavern Environment Determination will provide information on promising locations for hiding and ambush such as undulations, craters, pits, boulders, and collapsed cliffs.

Stalking and skulking are habitual modes of exploratory movement in the maze of tunnels and caverns. Each requires one turn of activity. Outlaws quickly pick up the particularities of the landscape which help them to stalk warily and skulk cutely. It is not possible to stalk or skulk through regions of Aione unfamiliar to the explorers. Stalking and Skulking is carried out outside the Normal Encounter Distance, that is 75+ ft to 300+ ft depending on terrain.

As an example, stalking might be attempted after spying from a clever hideout and waiting until a creature wandering by has passed beyond the Encounter Distance for the terrain type. Three successful stalks in consecutive turns mitigate two segments of surprise for the stalking party following a quarry which is not skulking. A competition between stalker and skulker is resolved over three consecutive turns in favour of the party with two more successes than his opponent, with a stalemate in the absence of such a favourable result. A successful stalker gains the surprise mitigation. A successful skulker loses his pursuer. In theory Outlaw versus Outlaw could continue for quite some time.


Wednesday, March 4, 2015

New Campaign Setting Notes - ONE


I promised a while back to produce one hundred sketch notes for a new campaign so here is the first note. Every one of these notes is subject to change at a whim's notice.

== Iceland, Egypt and Empty Planet

I have been reading heavily in the Icelandic literature of the 12th century, the great sagas laid down, using techniques adopted from monks, about the strife of ragged aristocrats from two and more centuries previous. The centre of this canon comprises Egil's Saga and Njal's Saga but there are several more essential volumes, which together with the Prose Edda, the Poetic Edda and the saga of the Volsungs all work together to give an understanding of these Homeric men and their way of life. The sagas are histories of real men not panygerics after the manner of the Celts. Norwegian and Icelandic skalds took professional pride in telling the truth and were adept at honouring their patrons at the same time.

I have also been reading heavily about ancient Egyptian architecture but will leave that subject for later notes.

The structure of the new campaign setting has three distinct parts:
  • Iceland of the Sagas for AOD&D levels 1 to 5
  • Egypt at the time of pyramid construction for AOD&D levels 6 to 8
  • Empty Planet, a world of afterlife and home to Norse and Egyptian giants, gods & demons 

The adventurers are born vikings in Iceland, will sail to Egypt when they have experienced enough of the metaphysical realty of Agonmayar (the world of men) to move them to. Further discoveries and events in Egypt will hurl them to a new world, Empty Planet.

Iceland and Egypt are special because it is possible to reach an Aione Dungeon beneath both lands. Further, there is an Aione Dungeon on Empty Planet. There is a strong sense in which there exists only one Aione Dungeon, all have exactly the same large scale shape shown below but the structure of each is radically different within the caverns shown. It is possible to get from Icelandic Aione to Egyptian Aione directly but it is likely to be much easier instead for the viking party to sail to Egypt. It is also possible to step from either Aione onto Empty Planet.

On a practical gaming note there has been a conflict between my love for low level adventurers and the astounding competence required to be a dungeoneer in Aione as I conceived it. I am relaxing the pure conception to accommodate low level exploring of the dungeon, but only in Iceland. Aione in Iceland will be easy to access under the Vatnajokull glacier.  [Edit: I've decided against this change. Dungeoneers simply have to be remarkable adventurers. Not sure how to resolve this yet, vikings as tough fuckers can go dungeoneering at 5th lvl perhaps?] Aione on Empty Planet is accessed through the Abode of Pri, Pri is a Being Ultramontane and his Castle is Kafkaesque.

I highly recommend Greg Stafford's Viking supplement for Runequest, one of a handful of gaming products I consider brilliant, you just have to read his bibliography to see what a smart and thorough writer he is. I will be going my own way though using the Sagas directly for inspiration. For sparking ideas for rules I like to flick around the Judges Guild Ready Reference sheets not to lift anything directly, more to get into the right mindset

The next note will give an idea of how I manage adventuring in Aione using random tables because of the great complexity.

This map is from an edition of Gisli the Outlaw I own translated by GW Dasent and published in 1866


Monday, February 23, 2015

Friday, February 20, 2015

Seeking Advice on Making a Model of a Viking Longship

I am something of an artistic klutz and yet I want to make a model of a viking longship to accompany forty viking figures I have. Now, I have access to superb plans and pictures of longships because I have several worthy books on the vikings so I am looking for some model building advice before I plow ahead with my own ham-fingered craftiness. My instinct is to use foamboard rather than strips of wood, any ideas?


Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Part 2 - Character Stats -- Gem Dice With One Black Face


I have improved the aesthetics of the dice set, which is largely the point of using these gems, by dumping the Gamescience d6 and including two casino dice, one as d3 the other as d6. I use a wide permanent Sharpie to ink up the black faces and it is worth noting with application of a daub of surgical spirit the dice can be made clean again as if newly minted. 

In Part 1 I gave a quick demonstration of the general applicability of using a set of numberless dice by observing only if a "gem" or "black" face results from a die throw. I also produced a table (reproduced at the end of this post) showing all the useful probabilities which can be achieved when rolling gem-black dice in pairs looking for single or double "black", and I think it is fair to say both that there are no gaps or absences of useful gaming probabilities and that there are potentially very useful slow (horizontal) and fast (diagonal) progressions. That these progressions are non-linear and asymptotic make them more interesting and useful than the linear 5% increments of the AD&D d20 tables. I think the reason why AD&D combat breaks down around the 10th level is directly a result of relying on these simplistic linear increments over too wide a field. In saying this I am not implying the point of using gem-black dice is to facilitate high level play. It isn't. High level play in my campaigns relies less on dice and conflict of interest among the very powerful is resolved with single die rolls looking for intuitive fractions – 1/2, 1/3, 1/4, 1/6, 1/10 and 1/20. 

This compact probability table for dice pairs can be used for combat, adventuring skills and saving throws but there is an inherent richness to rolling pairs of gem-black dice in that criticals arise naturally in the form of doubles – double black. Remember one black face on two dice is a normal success. In addition referring to an example I gave previously, rolling pairs of gem-black dice allows for critical and qualified failure in addition to success for skills such as climbing where a qualified failure might indicate a need to turn back without falling. So dice pairs allow for combat criticals but also triads of consequences for risky actions taken. 


How about character stat generation? I haven't decided how closely I will stick with the AD&D character stats for my Empty Planet setting for which I will be starting the 100 Sketch Notes posts shortly. However, as someone who has always respected AD&D above all other roleplaying games I want to prove to myself that I can simulate AD&D using the gem-dice if I wish.

Pencil, paper and dice are the only necessary tools of our trade. The dice are a machine and this machine can be a joy to behold and fun to operate. I decided to go crazy and let players roll all of the dice together once for each stat, a real fistful of gems. Come to think of it –crazy– the dice look like tiny vessels filled with brandy, scotch and wine, therefore it is mandatory for players to knock back a dram for each character stat they roll.

Roll all eight dice in the gem-black set, looking for at least a black pair, particularly of high denomination. I referred to my dice pair chart again and compared the table entries with the probabilities of getting 15, 16, 17 or 18 for AD&D character stats. The looseness of the favourable generation method "rolling four d6 and choosing three" is captured by rolling all eight gem-black dice. I have sketched the comparison on a the table below. No black means stat is 3-8; one black means stat is 9-12; two black means consult chart. The player bargains with the DM to determine a stat within the ranges trading high in one range with low in another.

 Black d12 – Stat = 9-12
 Black d3 & d8 – Stat = 13-14 
  Black d3 & d6 – Stat = 13-14
   Black d5 & d20 – Stat = 17
  Black d20 – Stat = 9-12
   Black d3 – Stat = 9-12

Character Stats for Viking Raider:

Strength 17 – Intelligence 10 – Wisdom 14 – Dexterity 10 – Constitution 13 – Charisma 12

We can test against a character stat using the above table using the following definitions:

  • An Easy Test is one which the average person could perform routinely but a test is required because the environment in which the test is called for is dangerous or the person tested has been unnerved. High Wisdom, as Will or Temperance, may improve the test die.
  • A Hard Test is an appeal to inspiration, character, determination or brilliance if the test is mental. If physical a Hard Test is one which the average person would never take if there was risk to limb or life unless that life is at stake. Of course adventurers with high physical stats may be inclined to take the risk. A 17 or 18 Wisdom, as Will or Temperance, may improve the test die.


Friday, January 30, 2015

Part 1 - Gem Dice With One Black Face -- General Probability Table


A few years ago when I first heard about Gamescience high precision sharp-edged dice I bought a few of both the opaque and the gem sets. The chief virtue of Gamescience dice is that they roll and stop in finite distance. The opaque sets look fine when the numbers are inscribed with black marker. The gem sets don't mark up as well whether with black or white paint and so I never used them.

While I have been thinking about this Empty Planet setting of mine I had the idea to shake up the dicing procedure by using numberless dice with a single face marked for success, fractional probabilities being more intuitive in many instances. Taking a set of gem dice I blackened one face of each die. This had the unintended consequence of affecting the internal reflections creating a richer lustre in the dice.

So as I say, I wanted a numberless system, with "black" or "gem" the only outcomes of a die roll. Rolling a single die at a time yields a small number of very useful probabilities from our dice set. The trick to providing a wide enough field of probabilities for gaming is to roll dice pairs. The calculated probabilities are in the table presented below. Keep in mind after rolling a pair of dice we care only whether the upward faces are "black" or "gem".

The beauty of the idea is that rolling any dice pair there are three natural outcomes: failure, success and critical success. For example the d4 & d6 pair has a 63% chance of two gem faces, and so a 37% chance of at least one black face, but also a 4.2% chance of two black faces.

I want to emphasize that this is a numberless system. I calculated the probabilities to see what was going on under the hood and to convince myself that dice pairs could cover sufficient essentially useful probabilities. The players don't need to concern themselves with numbers or probabilities and can roll looking for "gem" or "black" as instructed. I myself eventually would hope to move away from the table simply moving between dice pairs intuitively.

  • Ranger tracking - roll d12 with "black" as fail
  • Save versus Charm - roll d6 & d10 with "gem"-"gem"[75%] as fail. 'What about my high Wisdom?' - "OK, roll d4 & d10."[68%]
  • Climbing - d3 & d5 - "gem"-"gem"[53% safe], "gem"-"black"[40% some difficulty, stuck? turn back?] "black"-"black"[7% fall]
  • Sneak - d3 & d5 - "gem"-"gem"[53% safe], "gem"-"black"[40% some difficulty, stalled, abort safely?] "black"-"black"[7% detected] 

Combat is handled on the diagonal with the greater fighter always using d3 & d4 by default. For each fighting level inferior his opponent is the dice pair moves one step down the diagonal. See below for a 4th level fighter confronted by a 1st level fighter. Critical hits will be resolved using Rolemaster or Warhammer critical tables until I devise my own. A tactical element is introduced into combat as the superior fighter can defensively shift both combatants along the diagonal in an effort to eradicate being critically wounded.

So a skilled fighter [4th lvl versus 1st lvl] would have the choice to fight as d3 & d4 versus d6 & d8 or as d6 & d8 versus d12 & d20. Under certain conditions (superior stats) the skilled fighter could push even further eliminating the possibility of being critically wounded because when more than 87% is required for success no critical success is possible.

At the moment I am thinking of using fixed weapon versus armour damage on an ordinary hit, affected by strength.

A further combat example below sees our 4th level fighter confronted by four 1st level fighters. The advantage gained by outnumbering their opponent allows four steps to be taken by one of them or one step by all four of them – the steps are vertical first and then horizontal as indicated.

This is all easier than it looks as improving 'steps' just mean moving down the denominations of your dice.


Sunday, January 25, 2015

Pretty Good Forum Out There At LibraryThing


At first glance this weird fiction group at LibraryThing called The Weird Tradition looks useful. The focus is quite narrow but the group is active enough for the given genre. Worth a visit.


Thursday, January 8, 2015

Fantasy Forum by End of January 2020 -- 3

I have dumped the notion of using Sticky Tweet and Blurb threads. I think it is a good idea if those threads arose naturally but it is against the spirit of a forum to anticipate what might be convenient. It is like the architectural advice when constructing a group of buildings not to guess or force how people will move about but instead to let them walk around for some time making paths on grass before making those paths permanent pavements.

I have made this author timeline which includes all (almost all) the writers who manifest for me the fantastical or irreal in fiction. I will post a full sized version in the General Board but more importantly it is intended to be a model of a timeline for those authors who become reviewed on the forum. That is, the chart will be emptied and built up one by one as members write reviews.


Monday, January 5, 2015

Fantasy Forum by End of January 2020 -- 2


I have decided to go with proboards in the end and have a skeleton forum up. 

There are three 'Forums' – Fantasy/Irreal Fiction, Non-fiction and a General Board. Each of Fantasy/Irreal Fiction and Non-fiction have their own Sticky Thread for Blurbs which are for informal one paragraph comments on a book or author which the commentor does not believe fairly constitute a Review. The General Board has a Sticky Thread for Tweets (eg. I just bought A History of the Vikings by Gwen Jones, I hope it's good, OR, I look to Fantasy fiction for quick and easily absorbed garish thrills; the highfalutin is not for me, OR, I am reading The Hobbit (again) because I am melancholy.)

What exactly is a Review? I don't know yet, I hope it isn't too high an expectation for a forum. In any case the two Review & Review Prompted Discussion forums have been separated and must attract contributors according to merit of the concept. I have never written a Review for a book or for an author I admire but I know I would like to if I thought like-minded people would read it. The model for a Review, if it does not come from your own design, might come from professional reviews you read in magazines or, even better, essays on fiction by writers and critics; only as models remember.

There are two things I need to do first to make the venue palatable. 

What kind of admin am I? The admin who does not want to be an admin is as straightforwardly as I can put it. There are no forums out there which provide a compact place to discuss Fantasy fiction with special interest in the literary, alongside the Icelandic sagas, Homer and so on, and in addition classic works on ancient civilisations and myths which provide the ground for fantastic speculation. As a forum the emphasis I imagine should be on presenting information in the form of credible recommendations and less on cavillatory cheer-mongering. And yet it is a forum for grown-ups not children so if you are easily offended I am not the admin to deal admonishment for your protection.

Secondly, I want material in place to read and look at on the forum, to give a little motivation to become a member. So, I want to post photos of some great Fantasy works in my collection in editions I highly recommend. Im going to post an Author Timeline, beginning with a handful of my favourite authors, which will extensible to include any author for whom a review is written. I feel to I should write a Review of something rather than expect someone else to pen the first one. It is this review which will delay posting a link to the forum.

Any suggestions or questions about the forum on the subjects of structure, tone or content (or anything else) are welcome at this early date.


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