Monday, July 21, 2014

A Word on Cosmology

So when this blog was but a young blog, I wrote a short post about a post that Zak S. wrote inspired by a theoretical science article he read.  The main thrust is that if fantasy worlds are polyhedral worlds rather than spherical worlds, gravity would still pull the atmosphere into a spherical shape, meaning that each face of the polyhedron would be a flat plane with a bubble of air atop it.  The edge of this bubble would form the outer edge of the habitable zone of the world, meaning that one could not cross from plane to plane overland, but one could do so through the megadungeons carving their way through the interior of the earth.

My idea was that all myths are true, and so one can paradoxically reach alternate planes by going deep enough into the earth, or going into the sky via Spelljammer, or accessing planar portals, or getting transferred through the Mists, or whatever.

To elaborate: as previously noted, my background in modern occult conspiracy games informs my current fantasy gaming trend.  As such, my wizards tend to be the weird obsessives Unknown Armies paints its wizards to be, and the world tends to run on belief and consensus the way it does in Mage: the Ascension (which neatly coincides with Planescape, and to a lesser degree, Unknown Armies again).  There are a couple of bits from the Mage book Infinite Tapestry, the sourcebook on the spirit worlds, that really illustrate this.  To wit:

  1. The spiritual realms beyond the Horizon (what we would term outer space but a lot of mages call the Deep Umbra, particularly once you hit the asteroid belt) are full of Ether, which is breathable.  If you're a mage.  And if you believe you can breathe it.  A modern Hermetic, raised on modern science, probably doesn't believe he can breathe it anymore than a Technocrat can, so he doesn't try and suffocates in the "vacuum."  One of the books notes a bit of dissonance that occurs when Technocratic Union astronauts in full space suits arrive on a planet to find a half-naked shaman there beside a campfire.  It doesn't compute, but both things are true.
  2. The High Umbra, the spiritual realm of concepts and ideas, initially appears as a mental landscape called "The River of Language."  (Fans of The Book of Worlds will note that this was originally its own realm; it got transplanted as the near High Umbra as part of Revised Edition.)  The River of Language forms a variety of branches and deltas mirroring a a diagram of linguistic family trees, and emptying into the Great Ocean of the Future — itself containing the potential of languages yet-to-be.  The further up river one goes, the farther back in the zeitgeist of the language one goes, so that the modern cities of modern English will give way to the Elizabethan towns of early modern English which will give way to the walled, medieval cities of Old English, which will pass through locales indicative of its Germanic and Latin roots (incidentally, most American characters will find themselves on the Indo-European branch of the River).  However, scientifically-minded magi (such as Technocrats) may only be able to navigate the River by the avenues posited by modern psychology and linguistics, whereas pseudoscientists and old-school occultists might be able to navigate discounted linguistic relationships — The Infinite Tapestry makes reference to the Technocracy trying to hunt hidden Traditionalist Masters who disappeared into a linguistic region corresponding to Barry Fell's discredited work in New World epigraphy, which the Technocrats cannot find because they don't believe in it!
I run my D&D games the same way (although it rarely comes up).  As noted above, all things are true — you might be able to access Oerth via Toril if you dig deep enough, or you can take a Spelljammer, or you can just get there by way of Sigil.  Or maybe you bypass Sigil, instead accessing planar travel through the city of DisTanelorn (good luck finding it, though), or the World Serpent Inn.

Likewise, an old-school planewalker from Áereth might be familiar with the Great Wheel Cosmology of AD&D and 3.x, whereas a new planewalker from fallen Nerath might be more acquainted with the World Axis Cosmology of 4e.  Of course, that affords them different opportunities — the Nerathi planewalker might be able to lose the Áerethian planewalker by using the Shadow Passage ritual to jaunt into the Shadowfell, where he cannot follow because it's outside of his knowledge and belief structure, whereas the Áerethian can lose the Nerathi via a Plane Shift to the Outlands.

Tricky, eh?

As such, when the Shields of the Sorrowfell go plane-hopping — let's say to Baator because the DM hates them — they do so according to the World Axis (and therefore they'll likely sail across the Astral Sea) because that's what they learned to be true.  But when Dr. Dagger Nazareth tries to track them down (probably to try to score some space-cocaine), he has to take a different path (maybe he goes to the Outlands and travels through the gate-town of Ribcage) because the University of Wiss Khan Sin only teaches Great Wheel Cosmology.  Of course, if either side has an open mind about the experience, or simply finds evidence leading from one place to another, they might be able to backtrack through the alternate cosmology.  After all, if your ranger is tracking someone and finds that they fled to Arcadia, the trail is still evident even if the destination is not.

(And given the differences in cosmology, what might be important to one person has less relevance to another, but may still be reconciled — Dr. Dagger Nazareth realizes that the Outlands and the Spire form the axis around which the Outer Planes turn, whereas the Shields of the Sorrowfell might just assume they're in some weird demiplane that nulls magic the closer they get to the Spire.)

Friday, July 18, 2014

Review: Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition

Based upon the Basic Rules and Starter Set, it's emphatically D&D.  (It even says it on the cover!)

We can all go back to our lives now.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Unboxing D&D 5e

God damn it, I was going to do a brief unboxing blog post, but then Raggi did a better one:

It's the pout that makes the shot, really.
Anyway, 5e is the first D&D edition I've purchased upon release.  So that's noteworthy.  Although I've not really been following the hype or controversy — I downloaded all the playtest packets, but didn't really have time to do anything with them — it's always neat to see how things have changed and how this edition does things differently than the previous ones.  So I'm on board for that reason, at least.

Without further ado, have some unboxing pictures!  Here is what you get:

Rulebook, adventure, dice, pregenerated characters, advert for the Encounters program.

Also noteworthy: RPGPundit just added me on The Google, and I added Zak S. many moons ago, and I'm taking about Fifth Edition, so feel free to boycott me over on Google+.

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Crystal Sphere That Wasn't

Overheard at the Smoldering Corpse Bar in the Hive in Sigil:

I heard a tale from some right barmy berk one time, some spacefaring sailor — you know, those weirdoes who take sailing ships, bolt a magic chair into 'em, and set them off toward the sun or whatever — who claimed he'd been somewhere no one else had ever been.

Yeah, they all say that.

I was intrigued by this Prime's premise, though.  Every planewalker with a bit of age on him knows the Domains of Dread, but this addle-cove claimed that he'd sailed there in one of his rickety space boats.  He said that the Mist was still a problem, but a little easier to navigate than you always hear.

More to the point, he was talking about some world I'd never heard of.  I can't tell if it was supposed to be the world on which the Domains of Dread lay, or another system, but he said this world is called Aryth or Eredane.  I think Eredane is a large continent, the rough equivalent of calling Toril by the name Faerûn instead.  Anyway, he said this whole land labored under the direction of the evil god named Izrador — again, never heard of him — the god of corruption whom the gods cast out for generally being a bad blood.

The thrust of his tale, though, was that the gods made this Crystal Sphere — that's a world and its nearby planets, what some astrologers call a "solar system" — and used it to imprison anyone who seems like they deserve it.  Or maybe the Dark Powers did it.  Or maybe they're one in the same.

And what's more, he says it's in the middle of Known Space, just cut off from all the routes through the Flow — that's the phlogiston, the substance outside the Crystal Spheres — and practically unreachable unless you're willing to go off the path and you have a spell like Phase Door or some such.

Of course, I'm no spacefarer, but I think I heard that most folks suspect the gods can't affect the crystal shell of a world.  Although I've also heard that the Immortals of Mystara might be able to do it, leastwise according to certain tomes.

But if that's true, that suggests the first Darklord of the Domains of Dread isn't a person, but some entity too unwholesome for the rest of the Powers.  Of course, then you'd figure deities like the Chained God would be cast out, but then again who claims to understand the Powers anyway?

Of course, who knows if that sailor berk knows a damn thing.  Seemed like the unhendest leatherheaded sod in all the Planes, that's for sure.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Some Rambling Thoughts on Cortex Plus

If you want anything approaching a review, go check out The Felling Blade post on the subject (he was our GM) as I have not yet read the system.  Furthermore, he hits a lot of the salient points, so you're best served to read that account first, then return here.

I have a passing acquaintance with Cortex Plus — I read the old Serenity book and so learned the Cortex system once upon a time, and I've thumbed through the now-defunct Marvel Heroic Roleplaying, but I've never actually read nor played the system before interacting with the new Firefly RPG.

The system is fast — it's narrative-driven, meaning that a given action tends to last only about as long as you need to thoroughly describe it, and if necessary, roll dice to resolve it.  Coming more from a traditional gaming mindset, and only playing for a one shot, we didn't mess with all of its action economy — taking penalties or conditions to get Plot Points, building Assets, and so forth.  But we started to get the hang of it by the time the game ended, meaning that we'd probably be some free-wheeling mess of complications and temporary bonuses in another game or two.

Being a little more story-game than most, failing and taking penalties means that the story continues even if things have just gone south — one bad roll won't bring the game to a grinding halt, although it might take it in an unexpected direction.

Overall, it seems like a system that does what it sets out to do.  If you like a lot of granularity in your rulesets, or want to micromanage resources in your best Oregon Trail impression, this game doesn't look like it will do it (at least, not without some fiddling).  Also, given the limited exposure, I also don't know if it has anything for teamwork — I was playing a former politician, a social-heavy character, but I had too much overlap with the former companion to do anything too noteworthy.  I don't know if there is some way we could have synergized our actions to overcome that issue.  However, if you want to tell a free-wheeling action story or a gripping drama, you could do it; the rules are fast and don't get in the way if you just want to role-play.  Plus, I'm always in favor of fast combat resolution.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Free RPG Day 2014

I usually try to get my Free RPG Day post up immediately following a Free RPG Day weekend, but this year was so lackluster that I didn't bother.

The morning of June 21, Nicole of A Really Well-Made Buttonhole fame, E. M. Lamb of (the now-defunct) Malleus Blogstrorum fame, and I made the trek to our usual spot, Big Planet Comics, and found that they were limiting the haul to one item per customer this year.  Nicole was prepared for such an event, and had directions to Game On! Comics.  They gave the distinct impression that they were only handing out items to people who were going to run something, so we mumbled something about food and skedaddled.  Finally, we headed to what longtime readers would know to be my last resort — we ended up at The Compleat Strategist, which was similarly limiting to one or two items per customer.

I guess the economy has been hard on everyone.

We didn't get most of the fiddly bits — the adventure cards and the dice, and we missed a couple of the modules for Castles & Crusades and Godsfall — but we did grab a couple of adventures.  They are:

  • 13th Age: the rules-lite, story-game answer to D&D 4e variant from Pelgrane Press, 13th Age features all the classic fantasy tropes amidst the struggles of the Icons — major world powers with whom the PCs have some manner of relationship.  This year's offering is "Make Your Own Luck," in which the PCs' patron has asked them to defend a treasure from any who would attempt to take it.  And then the trolls show up...
  • Cosmic Patrol: long-time sponsor Catalyst Game Labs had Cosmic Patrol back for another round.  (They also had Shadowrun, Battletech, and some new game based on the Valiant Comics universe, but we didn't manage to get any of those.)  A retro-futurist game of science-fantasy — I'm told heavily inspired by the various B-movies shown on Mystery Science Theater 3000 — this year's offering is "The Continuance Contingency," a rescue operation involving the recovery of the captain and crew of Rocketship Supernova following their report that they noted something strange nearby and were going to investigate.
  • Dungeon Crawl Classics: long-time sponsor Goodman Games has returned with their 3e/oD&D mash-up.  This year's offering is "Elzemon and the Blood-Drinking Box," an adventure for Level 1 characters.  The PCs are hired by a wizard, Rhalabhast of Many Eyes, to steal a box in a rival's sanctum.  The catch?  The box contains some manner of prisoner, and the characters need to feed the box the blood of Lawful creatures to maintain the containment.
  • Lamentations of the Flame Princess: appearing for the second straight year, small Finnish OSR publisher Lamentations of the Flame Princess brings another adventure.  I backed this one, so I only grabbed it to look at it and then pass it on.  This year's offering is "Doom Cave of the Crystal-Headed Children," a dungeon crawl about exactly what it says on the tin.  As per Raggi, it's weird, anachronistic (as one might expect of the mystical enlightenment of Wiki Dot Pod), and probably offensive.
  • Mage 20: Onyx Path/White Wolf presents Mage: the Ascension, their game about...wait, what year is it?  As they have been doing for their other classic World of Darkness lines, Onyx Path is slowly releasing 20th anniversary editions of their classic games, and Mage: the Ascension is currently on the agenda.  (It looks like they also brought back the "k" in "magick.")  This year's quickstart guide includes the offering "Toll for the Trolls," a sandbox of characters and plot hooks to use with the included Bridge Troll Cabal based out of Seattle, WA.
  • Pathfinder: the D&D 3.5 variant from Paizo Publishing set in their own world of Golarion.  This year's offering is "Risen from the Sands," an Egyptian-themed dungeon crawl featuring pregenerated characters from the upcoming Pathfinder RPG Advanced Class Guide.
  • Xcrawl: Xcrawl, also from Goodman Games, is packaged this year in the Dungeon Crawl Classics book.  Under the title Maximum Xcrawl, it has been updated to the Pathfinder rules.  Xcrawl depicts a modern fantasy world in which dungeons are built and delved for televised sport, like Ninja Warrior with higher casualties.  This year's offering is "Dungeon Detonation," a one-level dungeon being delved for charity.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Ill Lithids versus Iron Skalds

When they first arrived on Rockulon Prime, the potent psionic might of the illithids found resistance from the magics of the dying drow and the growing elf subraces.  Naturally, they turned their massive intellects to the problem in the hopes of finding some countermeasure.

The battle of all battles!
Centuries later, with the decline of the elves and the ascent of humanity and the other demihumans, certain illithid enclaves found the answer.  Several mages and bards learn ancient bardic music and are collectively known as the Iron Skalds, descended as they are from the traditions of the Metal Hymns of the Space-God.  However, other musical traditions exist.  One such tradition, hip-hopera, is of unknown pedigree — a mix of metal, drowtech-derived electronica, and tribal rhythms, various sources claim drow, half-orcs, halflings, humans, and others among the style's progenitors.  Whatever the case, the illithids determined its rhythms could act as a possible counter to Heavy Metal Hymns.

These hip-hopera enclaves have become known as Ill Lithids.
To act as a delivery system for these hip-hopera rhythms, Ill Lithids psychics originally relied on subvocalization and certain applications of their innate Mind Blast.  However, some managed to reverse engineer old drowtech to act as an automated delivery system, powered by bloodstone fuel cells.

A boombox; alternately, a "ghetto blaster."  Be careful:, it is said a boombox can change the world.
An alteration of an old drowtech sonic weapon, a boombox or ghetto blaster can play normal music or pump out hip-hopera jams at supernaturally enhanced decibels.  A drowtech boombox works much like a Screamer from Wisdom from the Wastelands Issue #9, dealing energy and sonic damage in a cone-like shape.  It is usually good for roughly twenty shots, although it may have more power, depending upon the power source.

Of course, the Iron Skalds are not to be outdone.
Not to be outdone, some traditionalists among the Iron Skalds have organized themselves under the Elvish motto, "Orhaud gyth, telpenc gurthel."  (Literally, "Enemies of metal, your death [is] our reward.")  A fair number of bards and metal wizards take it upon themselves to deal death to Ill Lithids whenever possible.  Some extremists even take it so far as to kill any practitioners of hip-hopera, assuming that they are compromised by Ill Lithid agents.  (Which is sometimes, but not usually, true.)  As such, the bloody culture war continues across the face of Rockulon Prime with little signs of slowing...

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