Power and Identity: Mage: The Ascension

What does belonging look like when you have the power to change yourself and the world around you? What happens if you think you have the power to change the world, but instead are bound by the rules of those around you? As a mage, how do you define your identity in relation to your power?

Power and identity

Mage is an amazing game for the way it weaves mysticism and philosophy into a coherent universe. However, at the heart of that universe the very concept of what reality is, is in question. What are Mages? We know that they are human beings by their birth, but what is the Avatar? Is this a symbol of immanent godhood or an individual separation from the forces of the universe? Is the Avatar really a separate force or is it something all human beings possess but few harness the ability to connect with? What if Mages are the broken ones? Perhaps sleepers are connected to one universal avatar and it is through this force that they sustain and contain the consensus?

Delving into Mage is a journey into answering some of these questions. Your players may not directly choose to address them, but these questions (and others) are woven into the fabric of the game. Mage is a game about power, what one does with power and how one interacts with oneself and others when they have gained such power. As such, Mage is a game about power and identity.

What is power?

Power is the possession of control, authority, or influence over others. Mage is about power because it is about control. When you have the ability to control the forces of the universe to your advantage you clearly have power. However, this power is hardly omnipotent. Mages are constrained. First they are constrained by their Paradigm, the way they understand magic and the way they understand how they can work magic within the constraints of the world. To me, these are slightly separate things. The magus that believes the world is a sequence of controllable effects may believe she has to work differently with those effects than another.

For example, the Hermetic Mage believes that there are fundamental principles to the universe. Unlocking those principles requires using the correct rituals, the carefully crafted sigils, pacts with otherworldly beings, and perfect and repeatable procedures that have worked for centuries. That Mage has to be tutored. An apprentice has to learn from his superiors, it is a part of the way they see the world. To gain proficiency requires experience, repeated attempts to enact effects, and tutelage in proper procedures. Their paradigm requires they use these systems, because that is how they believe the world works.

A technocrat may have a similar view of the underlying principles of the world. It is knowable, repeatable, and quantifiable. If I mix these chemicals together, in the right way, then this specific effect will undoubtedly occur. However, the way mages are taught to interact with the world is different. Instead of using sigils and markings upon goatskin, they follow procedures based on bio-chemical theory. They use heat, and chemicals, and fine needles and lasers with the intent of bringing new creations into existence.

Power and Identity

 

What does this have to do with identity?

These two mages would refuse to see a common identity with one another. The technocrat is working with methods proven by both enlightened and non-enlightened science. However, in the world of Mage we know that the only reason non-enlightened science has been taken as fact is because the majority of people in the world have accepted it as such. In this way, the Technocracy has the upper hand regarding both identity and power. The majority of the population accepts their paradigm (at least on some level) and this ensures they are more apt to be considered a member of a given society.

The Mage that uses virgin made beeswax candles to summon demons is an outsider to the world around them. These activities may be TRUE to the Mage in question, but they are untrue to others. This separates the Tradition/Disparate Mage. This separation will drive a wedge between the Mage and the other people from their culture. A Chorister may be an exemplar of the Faith, but they do so by joining a Divine Song that is untouchable by the lay-person. This can breed hubris and jealousy. The challenge for the Mage is to balance their drive and ability to use their power and to avoid separating themselves deeply from the world around them. Yet, we see in most games that Mages are a step apart from their surroundings. They separate themselves into Cabals, and hide in Chantries, Churches, Laboratories, and other places detached from their fellow man.

How then do we create Mage characters that want to be a part of humanity? How do we construct worlds that encourage the Mage not to think of themselves as better or separate, but simply a different type of person than those around them? We have to give them attachments, connections, interlocking relationships that bind them to their friends, families, and communities.  Of course, as we know, this will bind the Mage. This will prevent them from rising to highest orders of power. By connecting themselves they limit themselves.

Identity

Do Mages Belong?

This is part of the drive to create the Traditions and the Technocratic Union and even the Disparate Alliance. These Mages want to belong with others that can support and empower the activities that they know they are capable of. However, as a group then they become distanced from the rest of humanity. They fail to see how they are just as intimately tied to the Earth and the cycle of life. By creating these communities Mages can reach for the stars. But, as they do they can also be scorched by the sun. This gives a young Mage the chance to challenge their elders. To drift skyward is to achieve greatness, but to build up the whole is to give everyone a chance to reach the sky.

Mages each have an element of their identity that separates them from those around them. This is a common issue for those with divergent interests, needs, or elements of their internal identity. In Mage, this identity separation has the consequence of power though. So it behooves the player and the storyteller to balance the hubris of power with the connections a person has to endure to be a member of society. At the same time, it is important to show that Mages feel different, not special, but divergent, radical, perhaps perverse.

Mages are liminal beings, living on the outskirts of society. They are the local wise witch that people would seek, but never welcome into the village. Even as these Mages live among humanity they are divergent, they are different, they are separate. How then does a Mage make themselves feel included? How do others remove them from the in-group and push them away from those more ‘normal’? These are design elements that are important to consider for the storyteller looking to tell deeper stories in the Mage universe.

 

This article was written by Josh (he/him/his) and should not be construed to be anything but his random musings.

Source: Bethesda

How Console Mods Help New People Enjoy Gaming

 

 Note: This article contains a picture of a doodle drawn spider from an old internet meme.

 

2016 was a big year in gaming for Bethesda fans. At E3 2015, they announced mod support for PS4 and Xbox One users for Fallout 4. Additionally when Skyrim Special Edition was annouced it also would come with mod support.  Finally, console gamers could have a taste of the modding fun! Mods are responsible for things like this My Little Pony dragon replacement mod for Skyrim, or this one that turns the trolls in game to internet trolls. Finally, us console gamers can be one step closer to the glorious “PC master race” that has eluded us! But console mod support has another unintended benefit: those with phobias and disabilities can now join in on the fun.

 

Anti Phobia Mods  

Source: Bethesda and yrock1234

Doodle spider added for effect. He’s sad!

There are many, many, phobias and many degrees to which those phobias affect those who suffer from them. Some people just need to kill the spiders they see, while others may be so paralyzed that they can’t do anything. It’s never fun to have a phobia accidentally triggered, even more so when you spent up to 60 dollars on it and can’t get a refund. Your copy of Fallout 4 or Skyrim may sit on the shelf or in your hard drive gathering dust because you didn’t realize one of your phobias was in the game.

 

Luckily, with the added mod support, many users like Joescreamatorium and yrock1234 have created texture replacement mods to replace things like bugs, zombie-like ghouls, crabs, and spiders with non-triggering textures for other creatures in the game. User yrock1234 even went so far as to replace the items dropped by the insects with same-effect items that fit with their new textures. The bears they replaced the spiders with (shown below) now drop beehives instead of spider web sacs that have the same in-game effects. Clever!

 

Cirosan’s Full Dialouge Interface Mod

Source: Bethesda and Cirosan

The Zhongwen language mod hard at work, making The Vault-tec Salesman no less annoying.

User Cirosan made Fallout 4 specifically more inclusive by adding a mod to ‘fix’ the dialogue system. In the unmodded version of Fallout 4, you don’t actually get to see what your character is going to say. Instead you see a rather general prompt, like THREATEN or ASK FOR CAPS. Sometimes you can be more or less of a jerk than you intend. With this mod the text your character speaks is clearly shown on screen for all four dialogue options, eliminating the guesswork. No wondering what sarcastic or emotional thing your character would say. Their mod is available in TEN languages at the time of writing, and they seem to be working on more.

 

This mod is amazingly inclusive, because it helps people who have trouble picking up on social cues, such as those on the Autism spectrum. I am not on the spectrum but I sometimes have trouble sometimes picking up on the cues. You see exactly what your character is going to say displayed on the screen, with an [emotion] tag associated. For those who have trouble processing spoken language, this mod is awesome. 

 

Source: Bethesda and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JTgu3Svbo3g

The modder did not upload any images, so this is a screenshot taken from The Gameplay TV.

LGBTQ* Family Mod

On the LGBTQ* side of things, Skyrim doesn’t really need any modding.

For romances in Skyrim, as in Fallout 4, any eligible NPCs that can participate in the relationship/marriage system will marry your character regardless of gender. Neither game makes any big deal of your character choosing to be with male or female NPCs. You are also not ‘locked in’ to whichever type you choose and can change throughout the game. However in Fallout 4’s opening few minutes, your character is defined by experiences with their opposite-sexed partner and their child in a heteronormative fashion.

 

User Overseer777 has modded a way around this by changing all references made in-game to the spouse and changing the beginning to have your spouse’s in-game model match the sex of yours. Heteronormativity is a problem in gaming, with most games only option for opposite sex relationships. It is amazing that Fallout 4 and Skyrim are not heteronormative, and this mod helps seal the deal.

 

 

Source: Bethesda

OOOH YEAH!

Game mods can be sources of absolute hilarity, cool new content, all the cheats you could want, and more. Mods are also a great resource for making games much more friendly and inclusive for everyone. In the future, I hope that other developers begin to support modding on consoles. Modding is making gaming more accessible for everyone, and that’s a good thing. Besides, who doesn’t want to be able to turn their in game enemies into Macho Man Randy Savage? I know I do!

 


Anna uses she/her pronouns and is an avid LARPer and console gamer. On weekends when she isn’t a vampire she treks to the woods to beat up her friends with plumbing supplies.  Anna is a feminist, part of the LGBTQ* community, and is the proud owner of two loving cats. Anna is on Twitter at https://twitter.com/squeenoodles

Beast the Primordial: Subverting the Monomyth

Beast the Primordial Logo

One of the most persistent tropes in modern speculative fiction is the Hero’s Journey, or the Monomyth.  The monomyth varies from telling to telling, and it can be found in a wide swath of modern media.  The basic manifestation of the Hero’s Journey takes a protagonist from “normal life” into a fantastic setting where they are faced with conflict, personal struggle, and ultimately, they achieve triumph/glory over a villainous foe.  In most tellings, a glorious return home completes the journey.

RPGs, from D&D to Exalted, use the Monomyth as their central narrative.  White Wolf didn’t start with a substantial investment in the monomyth, and arguably the World of Darkness, and even moreso the Chronicles of Darkness, often explicitly subvert or at least de-emphasize the monomyth.  It’s not hard to find player troupes that missed that memo and run heroic arcs with their Sabbat packs, Wraith circles, or throw themselves at the hero’s tale intrinsic to Changeling while ignoring the tragedy that’s clearly designed to subvert that narrative in the core text.

A Group of Japanese Yokai Feeding on a VictimFor all of the subversive ways the World and Chronicles of Darkness play with the Hero’s Journey, I’d never seen a game completely reject the validity of that story model until Beast the Primordial.

Beast devotes almost two and a half pages to the topic of how and why the game subverts/deconstructs the Monomyth. In Beast you play a monster of myth manifested within the soul of a human being.  Beasts are driven to feast on human terror in uniquely personal ways. The primary antagonists of the game are “Heroes” who are driven by the same supernatural cosmology that creates Beasts to seek and destroy them.

It’s easy at first glance to think that this game is just a dark twist on the narratives common to our modern media, but the game does something much more compelling as you work through it.  There is no monolithic enemy in Beast.  Hero’s arise as stand alone phenomenon, every bit the cosmological constant Beasts are, and the culture of the Children (Beasts’ name for themselves), is incredibly loose and comes with no great political force to oppose. There is no Sabbat, no Technocratic Union, no Hierarchy, or corrupt guilds to stand against. The game emphasizes family, and the connection Beasts have with other supernatural creatures in the Chronicles of Darkness.

The fundamental conflict of Beast centers on the complicated task of finding your place in a world when that world finds everything you represent abhorrent.  Heroes in Beast are clearly forged in the mold of the broken and corrupt heroes of Ancient Greece as opposed to the bright eyed perfection of classic Superman comics. They are deranged, driven, and while they may save a few humans from Beasts who have been pushed out of control by their hunger, it is a rare person who would say that is worth the collateral damage they cause.

Why is this  framing so powerful? It seems due to the fact that the game forces the player to truly grapple with the experience of being the “other”.  While that theme runs through many of White Wolf’s horror titles, Beast takes the metaphor further by casting the Beast’s greatest enemy as humanity itself.  Heroes are twisted, deranged, and supernaturally powerful, but they are fundamentally human.  It is the Beast who is not.

If you want to pick up Beast and give it a try one of the most important narrative considerations should be how comfortable you are with demonizing humanity.  There is a sidebar in the Heroes chapter that asks, “What about the Heroes that listen to reason?”.  The answer is that these heroes do exist, but they generally don’t hunt Beasts.  The book continually states that the Heroes that should appear in a Beast game are the narcissistic, driven, cruel ones.  I have seen a few people talk about having problems with this dynamic because it creates an unrelatable villain, and the book specifically states than Heroes should not be relatable enemies.  

Heroes, at their core, are quintessentially human. So shouldn’t they be relatable?  Modern storytelling has moved farther and farther in the direction of understandable antagonists, and messy flawed protagonists.  Beast seems like an obvious attempt to dive directly into that dynamic, but when you step back and look at the game as a model that inverts a classic storytelling trope the problems with this lens become apparent.

Beasts are not good guys.  You are not playing some gritty but relatable anti-hero.  Despite the few words in the opening about how Beasts were outcasts, and “different” before their Devouring, this game is not some glorified revenge fantasy.  The narrative that runs through the book emphasizes the constant struggle to keep existing while humanity continues to reject you, because you are fundamentally wrong.  If you view this game through a lens where humanity is intrinsically good then a lot of the intended themes quickly fall apart, and I’ve seen this specific logical crisis in a great deal of the negative responses to the game.  

A Beast's Horror Standing Behind ThemBefore playing this game you should really know your players, and you should spend some time making certain they are prepared to play true monsters in the night with none of the glorified romanticism that comes with games like Vampire or Changeling.  You’re not flipping the tables so you can play a Beast anti-hero. There is no good guy in this story.

Not every player will be able to get into this particular narrative headspace, and if even one or two players approaches this game with the wrong intent it could derail your whole chronicle.  That said, approaching the game with this tilted perspective opens up new story possibilities.  As a litmus test, if you dislike the writing of Thomas Ligotti due to the lack of a moral compass, even the inverted one present in more mainstream horror stories, this may not be the game for you. That particular form of nihilism is required to dive into the darker corners of Beast.

If the narrative darkness above sounds appealing there is still the question of game mechanics.  I have seen consistent complaints that Beast is overpowered compared to the other games in the Chronicles of Darkness.  After reading Beast I understand where that perception comes from.  While the “powers” that Beasts purchase aren’t necessarily overwhelming (though they are powerful and a lot of fun) Beasts come with a barrage of innate abilities you don’t have to pay for.  They have a special realm carved out of the Primordial Dream, they have the ability to transport there from a variety of places in the real world, they can buff other supernaturals they are allied with, and they automatically sense other supernaturals. There’s a system to create custom powers, which even though they must be purchased, is something you don’t often see, and these custom powers can become more unique when based off supernaturals a Beast is associated with.

Reading Beast, I felt like I was constantly stumbling over new powers, and it was a little overwhelming. However, I believe all of this power is important to further the fundamental themes of Beast.  Unlike Mages, Werewolves, or Vampires, who might have driving goals, or grand schemes which their powers help them fulfill, Beasts are just trying to survive. More importantly, their power is a trap.  

 

Hero Fighting a Dragon

Satiety, which is the Beast’s supernatural resource, is complicated and dangerous.  If you gorge yourself on the fear of your victims your inner Horror becomes fat and contented and you suffer penalties to your rolls.  If you are starving, then your powers are buffed by your deep hunger, but your Horror (your Beastly soul) can easily run out of control and you are left with no resource to buff your powers. You may think this is a simple matter of maintaining balance between these two states, but as a primordial being you reject such equilibrium and grow uniquely vulnerable if you maintain the stasis between these two extremes for long.

If we look back at this system, and think about the themes of the game, it becomes immediately apparent that a Beast’s power reinforces the anxiety of their existence.  Beasts have profound power, but every method of engaging with that power is toxic in a different way, and the more they leverage their supernatural strength, the more attention they draw from Heroes who want nothing more than to stand over their broken bodies.  Even Wraith, which plays with a similar dynamic by having very shallow experience costs, but pairing PCs with a dark shadow that will abuse their drive for power, still comes with a set of enemies players can secure satisfying victories against.

When a Beast defeats a Hero all they gain is a brief rest before the next Hero finds them.  As long as the Beast isn’t allowed to break out of that cycle, and Heroes are powerful enough to be a threat, no Beast can truly be overpowered, because their strength is a mockery more than an actual benefit.

Beast the Primordial is probably one of the most complex games in the of Darkness lines, both in terms of systems and due to its rejection of familiar narrative territory.  The lack of a unified enemy, and the fundamental rejection of the Hero’s Journey are daring moves that align Beast with experimental narrative ventures like Dread or Bluebeard’s Bride as opposed to other games using the storyteller system. Game mechanics are fairly complex (satiety is no blood pool), and to be honest, I have a hard time imagining keeping track of all the different things I would be capable of as a player without a substantial cheat sheet.  

Madness on the Outskirts

By Lydia Burris http://www.lydiaburris.com/

Several sections of Beast drive the inverted Monomyth narrative in less than nuanced ways.  This is most acute in areas that were re-written based on player critique during the kickstarter.  Several players felt the game was too dark, that Beasts had no reason to exist, and that the relationship Heroes had with the Integrity stat was messy in toxic ways.  To the dev’s credit they listened to the fans and made changes, but they did so very quickly and some of the text dealing with the themes introduced during the rewrite feel somewhat rushed.  This is especially obvious in the reminders that only Heroes with low integrity hunt Beasts, though the fact that the devs made certain to leave high integrity Heroes in the world is significant, and I hope we get to hear more about them in the upcoming Beast Conquering Heroes.

Ultimately, Beast takes some profound risks, and in doing so creates a dynamic new corner of horror role-playing than many of us never knew existed.  There are areas of the game that need some judicious application of the Golden Rule, such as the persistence of the “Beasts Teach Lessons” idea among the Children, without any coherent Beast society to perpetuate this culture.  That said, some of my favorite White Wolf games have tapped into incredibly messy, yet fascinating narratives because they were willing to take risks, and they also required fairly liberal use of the Golden Rule to manage their rough edges, so Beast is in good company.  Finding a large enough group of players ready to discard any heroic impulses and embrace the endlessly powerful anxiety of Beastly existence is a tall order (and may well resign Beast to my eternal bucket list alongside Promethean), but I do feel it’s a unique game that breaks new ground not just for the horror genre, but gaming more broadly and it’s well worth exploring.

Victor Kinzer has been roleplaying since he first picked up Vampire Dark Ages in high school.  He nabbed it as soon as it was released (he might have been lusting after other Vampire books for a while at that point) and hasn’t looked back since.  He role plays his way through the vast and treacherous waters of north Chicago, and is hacking away at the next great cyberpunk saga at http://redcircuitry.blogspot.com/.  He is an occasional guest on Tempus Tenebrarum (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCvNp2le5EGWW5jY0lQ9G39Q/feed), and is working to get in on the con game master circuit.  During the rest of his life he works in Research Compliance IT, which might inform more of his World of Darkness storylines than he readily admits.

*Note, all opinions are the opinions of their respective Authors and may not represent the opinion of the Editor or any other Author of Keep On the Heathlands.

Into the Vault: Torg: Roleplaying the Possibility Wars

From the Vault: Torg: Roleplaying the Possibility Wars

torg

This week we’ll be going off on a bit of a tangent. I will be highlighting one of my favorite RPG’s from “back in the day.” This idea struck me as I saw both Jack Benners  Savage Worlds article and Jim’s Deadlands articles.  With the multitude of RPG’s out there, it is easy to lose track of what has come before. During the 1990’s a multitude of games would hit the markets. Some would be huge (Vampire: The Masqurade) some would cause controversy (Kult) and others would find a niche following that blossomed into cult status.
One of these later titles was TORG. TORG was originally an acronym for The Other Roleplaying Game. It was originally a tile used by the in-house development team. TORG was published by West End Games and came in a box set with the rulebook (pictured above), an Adventure book, and a Worldbook. As of 2016, Torg is under license to Ulisses Spiele. Plans for this new version of Torg will be released under the name Torg: Eternity. I am excited to see this updated both in rules and setting of the game.

 

The Setting

 

TORG is a pan-dimensional setting where different realities have invaded various parts of the earth. Per the cosmology of TORG, there are different cosm’s and each cosm is separate from every other cosm. That was until The Nameless One created different darkness devices. The Nameless One gave these darkness devices to different High Lords. Each High Lord has their own Darkness Device, each one different in design but all are Made of an obsidian material. The function of the Darkness Devices was to allow the High Lords to access the different Cosm’s and capture the possibility energy of each world.

When used to invade other cosms the darkness devices would open up gates leading back to the invading cosms home and begin to influence the invaded world changing it into a mirror of the invaders world. Thus a low tech, high magic cosm that was invading a high-tech non-magic cosm would find that their guns didn’t work most of the time, while the invaders had access to spells that worked, giving them an advantage.

 

Of the High Lords to get a Darkness Device one of the most prolific was The Gaunt Man. He is the High Lord of Orrosh, a Gothic horror realm with a Victorian setting. The Gaunt Man had successfully overtaken dozens of other cosm’s. Then he came across  Earth. What he found was that that Earth contained more potential than any other cosm he had previously discovered. He knew that he would not be able to take Earth alone. He set out to make deals with other High Lords and together they invaded parts of the Earth draining it of its possibility energy. The following are the starting realms for the game:

 

Core Earth– This is “our” Earth. This is the basic reality. Core Earth had slightly better tech than what one could find in the real world which also included access to faith based miracles and magic. To start, Core Earth had no High Lord, however the United States government was ruled  by a shadow cabal known as the Delphi Council.

 

Living Land – This was a Lost World style realm. Jungles, dinosaurs and low to nonexistent magic ruled this area. Centered in the United States on both the East and West Coasts, and a bit of Canada, this realm was ruled by humanoid dinosaurs. At the start of the game it was ruled by the HIgh Lord  Baruk Kaah. His darkness device was Rec Pakken, a large copse of trees.

 

Aysle – This was the “D&D” fantasy realm with high magic and low tech. It was centered in the United Kingdom. At the beginning of the game it is ruled by Uthorion in the body of Pella Ardinary. His darkness device is Drakacanus, a large crown

 

The Cyberpapacy – This was a cyberpunk setting messed with religion. Centered in France, it is ruled over by the Cyberpope Jean Malreaux I. Originally, a realm of jazzed up churches and religious artifacts it melded with a virtual reality on it’s way to invading earth giving way to the VR know as the Godnet.. Jean Malrequx’s darkness device is Ebenuscrux, a glowing cross both in reality and as a VX presence in the GodNet

 

Nippon Tech – This was an ultra-capitalist realm centered in Japan. Ruled over by 3327. This realm blended in so well at first that core Earthers didn’t realize what was going on until it was too late. 3327’s Darkness Device is Daikoku, a laptop computer

 

The New Nile Empire – This was the pulp hero realm ala Indiana Jones. Centered in Egypt it was ruled over by Dr. Mobius. Known for high tech “gadgets”. Dr. Mobius’s Darkness device is Kefertiri, a crocodile-headed idol.

 

Orrosh – This was the Victorian horrors setting. The name itself is an anagram of horrors. This realm was centered in Indonesia and ruled over by the Gaunt Man. The Guant Man’s Darkness device is Heketon, a stone heart

 

What made it different

Torg had a lot of things that set it apart in the over saturated market of the early 90’s. Among these were a ambitious living campaign, the multi-genre setting, and an innovative rules system including a drama deck of cards used in combat.

living-campaign

Living campaign

Torg attempted to do a living campaign right from the outset. Included in the original box set was an infiniverse guide explaining the state of the world and a form that players could mail into West End Games to let the publisher know how the players did. This in turn would influence the ongoing plot of the game world.

This was very ambitious in scope. So much so that while the Infiniverse campaign updates, one of which is pictured above were done throughout the run of the game. The idea of mailing in your updates fell off after about the first year.

what-made-it-different

The multi-genre setting

As covered above Torg had a very interesting setting that allowed for “cinematic style” games .Being able to play a magic slinger next to Doc Savage and do battle in a vampire crypt was great. No other game at the time (to my knowledge) was doing this.

 

Innovative rules system

Torg’s combat system was very interesting. For most conflict resolution you would roll a skill and look to hit a particular difficulty number. You would compare the number you rolled to a chart printed at the bottom of all character sheets. This number would be your bonus to your role. In addition to this if you rolled a 10 or a 20 you rolled again adding the rolls together. This is a mechanic that many games are implementing these days from AEG’s Legend of the Five Rings roll and keep system to Chronicles of Darkness exploding 10’s.

For me though, the best part of Torg was the drama deck. This was a deck of cards that were used in combat. It dictated many different things. From initiative to actions you could take, and even special plot points for characters to pursue.cards

This is an example of the a card one would get from the drama deck. The Orange top boarder was used for the GM. It told him what actions were available. The Grey side was for the PC to use. At the start of a session each player would get five cards. These could be used both in and out of combat.

The box set came with a set of drama cards and subsequent sourcebooks had more cards released with them. The drama deck assisted in bringing in the cinematic style of gaming Torg was aiming for.

 

Drawbacks

Torg did a lot right. The setting was compelling, the system as originally released was solid and different. The living campaign was ambitious and something not  done in pen and paper RPG’s at the time. That all being said, the game was not without its faults.

 

Chief among these were the lack amount of quality control with regards to the system. As the game line progressed core systems introduced in earlier books (including the original boxset) were thrown out and replaced with new rules sets and those in turn would be glossed over or simply ignored in other supplements.

 

The other two big issues Torg had to deal with were cross over ability between cosm’s and overtly anti-Japanese and anti-Catholic sentiments. The crossover ability stemmed from lack of support in published adventures and sourcebooks allowing for overtly customizable characters. For example, a pulp hero from The New Nile Empire that also had cypertech and knew how to cast magic would be left having to  house rule almost every aspect of their character.

 

The concern over anti-Japanese sentiment was raised due to the portrayal of Nippon Tech and the perceived view of Japan dominating U.S industries during the late 80’s and early 90’s. With the Cyberpapacy, perceptions were that the game had a anti-Catholic slant as well. West End Games did state that was not the intention behind either of these settings, however they continued to release product that many found distasteful.

 

In Conclusion

 

Torg was and is very entertaining. The overarching storyline still gives me ideas and I find myself wanting to try and run the entirety of the gameline. With the use of a very fun combat system in regards to both dice mechanics and the Drama deck the game moved very smoothly and upheld it’s cinematic style.

 

Even it’s faults from system, to tone to anti undertones of certain races or creeds can be seen as a product of the time they were a part of. This is not to say they are okay. Part of inclusiveness is the bad as well as the good. Torg’s cannon characters included a Priest that fought against the High Lords for example. The evolving rules perhaps could have been better suited to a full new edition. A 1.5 edition was released in the late 90’s though it didn’t make much impact nor did it fix many of the storyline issues.

 

Scott is a true analog gamer doing everything from pen and paper RPG’s to board games and everything in-between. He started out with Advanced D&D 2nd edition at the age of 10. From there he likes all genres and types, from the well known big names to smaller indie print publishers. Scott is Vice-President of The Wrecking Crew

*Note, all opinions are the opinions of their respective Authors and may not represent the opinion of the Editor or any other Author of Keep On the Heathlands.

Deadline Express – Issue 4

Howdy, amigos!  Last month we talked about diversity and inclusion, so let’s talk about something a little lighter this month.  The world of Deadlands mirrors our own to a great degree, so you can choose to play any sort of figure you can think of from the western genre, from the hard-bitten cowhand to the grizzled bounty hunter, the soiled dove, to the native scout.  What Deadlands has that the real world lacks (and most other Western settings lack) is a panoply of supernatural origins for your character to choose from, if you wish.

deadlands-banner

 

Now, you’ll have to spend some of your hard-earned building points (and later, bounty points) to shore up your supernatural mojo, but if you’re willing to sacrifice some of your skill points now, it can pay great dividends later on!  Let’s take a look at some of the different supernatural types you can be.

 

Harrowed

Harrowed make the list early because it’s a potential everyone has!  If you croak in the Weird West, there is always a small chance you’ll return from the dead with a manitou riding around in your skull, animating your rotting hide for the rest of eternity.  Although this particular career option comes with a great deal of power, including resistance to fear and injury, improved healing, and a bevy of supernatural powers related to the grave, it also comes with a huge downside: the demonic passenger you carry poses a constant danger to everyone around you, and it’s only a matter of time until it lashes out at someone you care about.

 

Hucksterhoyles-rules

In Deadlands, a European wizard long ago learned the secrets of conjuring manitous to compel them to perform services in the form of magical spells. To keep himself and his students safe, he created and taught methods of controlling these fiendish spirits through mental battles envisioned as games of skill.  Eventually he settled on cards as the most efficient method, and encoded his teachings in a book: Hoyle’s Book of Games (1st Edition only).  Practitioners of this art decode the mysterious secrets in Hoyle’s teachings to cast arcane spells (known as hexes).

 

Mechanically, the player draws a number of playing cards, and the quality of the poker hand they are able to form from them determines the quality of the hex.  Although they tend to be risk-takers (they are, after all, quite literally gambling with their lives every time they cast a hex) these spell slingers are one of the most iconic parts of the setting.

 

Blessed

When the floodgates of the Reckoning opened, it wasn’t just the practitioners of dark magic who saw their power wax.  Holy men and women of all manner of faiths suddenly found their gods much more receptive to their supplications, and the mystical power of myth suddenly at their fingertips once more.

 

The books contain rules for Catholic, Protestant, and Mormon blessed, as well as Jewish, Muslim, Taoist, Buddhist, and Confucian practitioners as well. Although they do have a code of conduct they are expected to live by (and may risk loss of their powers if they violate it), Blessed have fewer skills and attributes which their powers are dependent on, allowing them to be more focused in their character building.

 

Mad Scientist

If you love steampunk style and have dreams of Gatling gun vengeance, then mad science may be in your future!  The discovery of the mineral known as ghost rock has led to a wellspring of ‘New Science,’ the catchall term for the bizarre and terrify experiments now running amok through the Weird West.  Although mad science requires a fair amount of resources and a posse willing to accommodate the downtime you’ll need, the only limit to what you can build is your imagination; from lightning guns to rocket trains. The best part is that you don’t even need to hide what you do–this isn’t magic, after all, it’s science!

 

Shamans

The Blessed weren’t the only people who got their mojo back after the Great Quake.  The Native American tribes that thought spirits had long since gone quiet found their own rituals garnering tangible reactions from the beings they entreated.  The Shaman can call on the spirits to do their bidding, wielding powers that other magics pale in comparison.

 

Shamanic favors are potent, some more powerful even than the miracles of the Blessed or the hexes of the Hucksters.  However, to harness this magic you must first entreat the spirits with rituals, which can take anywhere from a couple of actions to several days! Still, when the spirits answer, you can empower your warriors, raise the dead, or have the very earth itself obey your command.

 

But that’s not all!  Although these are the primary Arcane Backgrounds you can take, there are a few others, which aren’t always appropriate for every campaign, but might fit in extremely well depending on your location.

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The Great Maze

Martial Artist

Out in the Great Maze, an unprecedented number of immigrants from the East have come to seek their own version of the American Dream.  The notion of tyrannical rule through force of arms is not new to them, and some of them have learned ways to defend themselves even when unarmed.  Some of them have even learned to tap their own spiritual essence to achieve feats which could be called magical by the unenlightened.  If you are playing in the Great Maze, or anywhere the warlord Kang’s Iron Dragon railroad is located, a Martial Artist can give you a character with one foot in the supernatural side of the line and the other firmly planted in butt kickin’ town.

 

Voodoo

With one of the six major players in the Great Rail Wars firmly rooted in New Orleans, it’s only natural that a little bit of voodoo comes into play somehow!  Far from a unified front, the practitioners of this unique religion have (like so many others) found the voices of their own spirits, the loa, easier to hear since the Reckoning.  Although they primarily fight amongst themselves, as Bayou Vermillion’s dark influence spreads westward, so does the stories of the hexes and conjures his men employ, as well as the magic of the voodoo adherents who oppose his black magic.  If you’re playing in the Deep South, or anywhere Bayou Vermillion has great influence (for good or for ill), then a voodoo practitioner can provide a character somewhere between a Shaman and a Blessed.

 

Mestizo

In the southern part of the Maze, Reverend Grimme sits on his throne as the king of his starving domain of Lost Angels.  With the means to control both food and water for his population, he has also muscled his way into controlling the flow of Ghost Rock in his area, and intends to hold his power as long as possible.  But a few people oppose him, living in his metropolis in secret.  The Mestizos are an obscure religious group, their faith a curious mix of Catholicism and native beliefs.  If you want to play a member of a persecuted religious minority using their powers in service of resistance to the rule of a tyrant, then this is your stop, amigo!  Just make sure your Marshal’s okay with it–the Mestizo doesn’t really fit in very well outside of Lost Angels.

 

Blood Magic

The vile, inbred Whately clan has more than a few secrets, but none more potent than this, their mastery of a form of sorcery called Blood Magic.  Blood Magicians can call down unique curses utilizing the power of their own blood, which is infused with fiendish energy from centuries-old pacts with dark powers.  Unfortunately, Blood Magic is unique to the Whately family–you can’t learn it without the Whately Blood edge, which carries with it the risk of insanity and deformity, as well as a familial connection to one of the most insidious packs of villains in the setting.

 

Pick and Choose

Although there are a few Arcane Backgrounds that aren’t compatible, a great number of them are!  There’s nothing stopping your Shaman from learning the way of the Martial Artist, for instance.  Many’s the hero who walks one of these paths and ends up Harrowed before their story is finished.  A few don’t work together, (a Shaman couldn’t become a Catholic Blessed, for example, nor a Mad Scientist) but as long as you clear them with your Marshal, you should be able to spread yourself as thin as you like.  You won’t achieve the total mastery of someone who focused in their chosen field, but the panoply of tricks you’ll have up your sleeve will make even the most veteran hero jealous!

 

There are a few dozen sourcebooks for Deadlands classic, so if I missed your favorite Arcane Background, I apologize!  Feel free to shoot me a scathing message telling me where the hog ate the cabbage, amigo.  Until next time!

 

Jim Stearns is a one-armed gunslinger from the swamps of Southern Illinois.  In addition to the Ravenloft Corner column at High Level Games, he writes for the Black Library. His mad scribblings can also frequently be found in Quoth the Raven, as well as anthologies like Selfies from the End of the World and Fitting In, both by Mad Scientist Journal. Follow him @jcstearnswriter on Twitter.

Deadline Express 3- Diversity in the Weird West

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Howdy partner!

 

Last time we spoke, we talked a little about some of the rules mechanics that are unique to Deadlands.  This time I thought we’d talk about something a little less crunchy but no less important: diversity.

 

Diversity is an important consideration in the gaming hobby.  In the context of a historical (or alternative history) roleplaying game, diversity is an especially important topic.  Fantasy systems can always be tweaked or altered to allow more stage time for groups of people that don’t feel like they’re being represented in the setting, but historical settings can be understandably off-putting for people who would be oppressed or second-class citizens within that setting.

 

Deadlands is especially sensitive to this, probably because it has to be.  It’s set in a historical period when cisgendered heterosexual white male protestants hold all the cards.  In real history, it was a time when racist and sexist oppression was at an all-time high, and when LGBTQIA individuals didn’t even dare to speak out. Fortunately, the game goes a long way to making gamers of all types feel that their personal identifiers are welcome at the table and in the setting.

 

Race

Deadlands is set in a world where the Civil War is still raging.  (Okay, more grinding on in an oppressive stalemate than raging.) I’m sure the big question on your mind is ‘what about the hot, spicy racism?’ and gratefully, Deadlands does a lot to avoid it.

 

In the world of Deadlands, shortly after the Emancipation Proclamation, the government of the Confederacy decides to free their slaves as well.  The logic being: economic freedom from the Union, with reduced production, is better than suffering military defeat. They abolish the practice on their own in order to bolster the ranks of their own troops and encourage Northern abolitionists to stop supporting the war effort.  (As a side note, the figure who gets this accomplished in Deadlands actually did suggest this in real life, as I understand, so this isn’t just plucked from thin air.)

 

Racism isn’t just against black people, though, I hear you say.  And you’re right.  There is a huge Chinese immigrant population and influence in the Maze, with immigrant figures holding a bit more influence than they may have in real life.  In the west coastal region, Chinese heroes can operate on the same footing as white heroes.

 

Near the southern border, there are a number of calamities.  Mexico is under French occupation and threatened by the undead, so there is a little less tension between northern gringos and natives than there would be otherwise.  (The French occupation is also based on a historical takeover that failed–it just happened to have succeeded in Deadlands.)

 

The bottom line is that the Reckoning (the return of the supernatural to the world) has made the things that go bump in the night, as well as their greater influence, like the War, a larger conflict than interracial tensions, allowing marshals and players to discard racial conflicts that don’t serve their stories.

weird-west

Gender

Much like issues of race, the omnipresence of the Civil War and the dangers of the Reckoning have made many gender inequality issues moot.  Back east, there is still a divide, but even that’s reduced.  One of the six great rail barons is a woman, as well as being one of the most successful industrialists in the setting.  From Granny Smith (an arms manufacturer for the Mormon state) to Katie Karl (one of the leaders of the Texas Rangers), there are women in power prominently placed throughout the setting.  Even one of the template characters is a female sheriff, so the game clearly encourages a greater degree of gender parity than was actually present in in 1877.

 

Native Americans

Of all the marginalized groups, Native Americans probably have the strongest position in Deadlands.  The Reckoning occurs before the end of the Indian Wars, and the continuation of the Civil War (diverting the resources of the USA and CSA away from the west) as well as the return of tribal magics level the playing field tremendously.  Not one, but two coalitions of Native Americans have managed to carve out independent territories for themselves in Deadlands.  Far from being oppressed and relegated to reservations, the tribal coalitions are an independent force to be reckoned with, and potent allies in the struggle against the forces of evil.

six-guns-and-sorceryDiversity

LGBTQIA

There aren’t as many gay and trans characters in the setting as one might like, it’s true.  However, the same point that gets hammered over and over, that the conflicts with other national groups and the fight against the monsters are more important than squabbles within our own communities, is one that could be realistically applied to the LGBTQIA community as well.  You could easily slide a gay character into a game without breaking any suspension of disbelief.  When you’re in the trenches, being shot at with gatling guns, or fighting off vampires, you don’t care about the sexual preference of the person next to you; only that they have your back.

 

Religion

The fact that all religions can call on divine abilities to protect the innocent from the depredations of the wicked goes a long way to make them more accepted.  Although protestant Christians remain the dominant religion, the fact that Catholics can also call down real, honest miracles does a great deal to lessen tensions.  Those are far from the only options, of course: Judaism, Islam, Mormonism, and Buddhism are all given positions of respect and prestige.

 

Edges/Hindrances

Of course, discrimination still exists.  The level of discrimination in your game, however, should be something that marshal and player are comfortable with.  To that end, your Edges and Hindrances are big hints as to your preferences.  If you play a Chinese character but don’t take the Ferner Hindrance, you’re sending a big signal to your marshal that you’re not interested in doing stories about racial prejudice.  If you play a female character with the Law Man or Rank edge, you tell your marshal that you’re interested in being in a position of authority, not being treated like a delicate belle. It’s an extra level of communication both parties should be conscious of. *Editor Note, we encourage having some frank, straightforward conversations about these elements with players prior to introducing them. Take subtle clues, but don’t be afraid to ask directly.

 

Conclusion

If you’re a cisgendered heterosexual white male protestant, it can sometimes be easy to overlook a lack of diversity in games.  Especially in historic games, where it’s tempting to resist doing a little extra work for the sake of inclusion by using ‘that’s how it was back then’ as a shield.

 

Gaming has done a lot to shed the image of the community as nothing but a bunch of socially awkward white male nerds.  Our community includes men and women, nerds and athletes, people of color, all nationalities, faiths, and positions on the gender spectrum.  It’s important that we make our games as welcoming as our communities should be.  Fortunately for us, Deadlands gives us the tools and the setting to make what might otherwise be an awkward situation comfortable and inclusive for everyone.

 

Jim Stearns is a one-armed gunslinger from the swamps of Southern Illinois.  In addition to the Ravenloft Corner column at High Level Games, his mad scribblings can frequently be found in Quoth the Raven, as well as anthologies like Selfies from the End of the World and Fitting In, both by Mad Scientist Journal. Follow him @jcstearnswriter on Twitter.

The Tradition of Magic in RPGs – AD&D

summoning
So now, after looking at Chainmail, we’ll take a look at 1st edition AD&D. Here, we see a departure from the simple and basic rules found in Chainmail and white box D&D. Here we see a detailed magic system with a more extensive spell list.

1st edition AD&D had a detailed and odd way of providing spells. This is because the rules printed in the Player’s Handbook only give part of the rules for granting spells. The other half is listed in the Dungeon Master’s Guide. Nowadays this is a moot point, as you can get both books at the same time. However, when they were first released the Player’s Handbook was put out a year before the Dungeon Master’s Guide.

In fact, the first AD&D supplement put out was the Monster Manual which was released in 1977, with the Player’s Handbook following in 1978, and the Dungeon Master’s Guide finally in 1979.

So, as mentioned in the PH (Player’s Handbook) a magic users ability to learn a spell was based on their Intelligence (INT) score. Your INT would determine your % chance to learn a spell.My group? We would roll on the list and any spells in which we passed the percentage to learn roll we would mark those in our books as spells we HAD THE POSSIBILITY of learning, if we came upon them during the course of the game.

Thus, we would go down the list and roll to see what spells we knew. If we didn’t pass any rolls we didn’t get to know that spell. As we understood the rules, our minds could not comprehend the spell or grasp the intricacies of a spell. Once in awhile a DM would be “nice” and allow us to roll through again if we didn’t meet the minimum spell number for our level.

The real issue I had was that last column above “Number of knowable spells per level Maximum”. I didn’t like this. Why? Many times I would be rolling through the spell list in the PH and pass the % Chance to know Any given spell and hit my max number of spells knowable before I had finished the list. NO FAIR!

From a DM standpoint the book didn’t say you had to roll them in any order and I allowed my players to roll them in any order they wished. The rules stated that the Maximum knowable was because your brain couldn’t comprehend any further information. Given that magic users had to memorize the spells and copy them into their spell books, they could only keep so much in their heads.

All of this is great. One thing is never stated though: How many spells a magic user ACTUALLY STARTS WITH AT CHARACTER CREATION! Yep, again. All that rolling for spells above is just to determine if you have the ability to learn the spell, should the opportunity arise. It doesn’t tell you the number of spells you would get. That information was in the DMG (Dungeon Master’s Guide).

The DMG mentioned the spells a magic user would know. Four, is the number of spells a 1st level magic user knew. The first spell it stated that all magic users would know was Read Magic, as how else would you be able to cast any other spells? All other spells fell into three categories Offensive,Defensive, and Miscellaneous. A player would roll a d10 and determine randomly what spell they would know from each of these lists.

That’s how you learned the spells, and of course, you would have to keep the needed components on hand and take the time to memorize each spell first thing each day. There is a sense of nostalgia looking at how this system ran. It is neat seeing how much has changed.

skeletor-magic-missle

Wonderful Skeletor, we want you to cast that spell. To cast a spell you memorize the spell and use one of your spell slots. Use up the spell slot and that’s it. Well, from a mechanics standpoint you have to wait the amount of time it takes to cast the spell and if there is a saving throw the defender gets to roll.

Really though that is it. It’s not all that bad. Pretty straightforward really. So pro’s and con’s?

Pros:

Easy, once you fully understand it.

Like most versions of D&D (except 4th) magic casting has changed very little, so you know one edition, you know them all.

Cons

The clunkiness of having the spell system separated between the PH and the DMG can cause confusion.

The spell list, while not exhaustive, is not really what I would consider “open”

So, in conclusion, AD&D did a good job of having a robust magic system that did just as it was intended. The Spells were vast, and covered many different styles. Though, for me, the constant spell lists and noting the particulars did get tedious.

For what it set out to do (and still does) the D&D magic system does it very well. There is a reason why so many spells in the game are household names. It is a robust system even with it’s flaws.

Many other games would emulate the groundwork laid by D&D. Even in the early years, games such as Tunnels & Trolls, Bunnies & Burrows, Traveller, and Runequest would expand the ways in which magic, in RPG’s, was used.

Next week we will look at Runequest, 2nd Ed. AD&D, and the Traveler black book. Moving from the high fantasy that dominated the hobby in the early days, sci-fi finally had it’s say in the medium, and it was very different, to say the least.

Scott is a true analog gamer doing everything from pen and paper RPG’s to board games and everything in-between. He started out with Advanced D&D 2nd edition at the age of 10. From there he likes all genres and types, from the well known big names to smaller indie print publishers. Scott is Vice-President of The Wrecking Crew

*Note, all opinions are the opinions of their respective Authors and may not represent the opinion of the Editor or any other Author of Keep On the Heathlands.

The Tradition of Magic in RPGs – Chainmail

strange
No, don’t worry, there are no spoilers in this article, however, with the release of Doctor Strange it got me thinking about the ways that magic is portrayed in our hobby and what I like and don’t like about different magic systems. What makes a good magic system vs a bad magic system? Even more so, what is the evolution of magic in the hobby? There has been a lot of growth from the early days of 1st ed AD&D to modern day games like Savage Worlds or FATE.

For myself, I have always gravitated to the magic user in RPG’s that offer them as a class option. For me, it was a mix of describing the awesome effects of the spells and also the system that was used for magic.  Some systems are very complex and involved with rigid lists and names and others, very loose allowing for endless customization with an easy open system that ended up being complex far beyond what I thought was possible.

Looking back on my years of games, there are a few standout games that really made me rethink what can be done with magic. For me, these games are in order: AD&D 1st and 2nd Edition, Shadowrun, Ars Magica, TORG, Mage: The Ascension 20th anniversary edition, and FATE Core. This is the order I was introduced to each of these systems, not the order they were released. Nonetheless, each of these systems showed a new and exciting way to implement magic. AD&D of course, was the granddaddy of RPGs, as it came out of miniature wargaming, specifically Chainmail, which itself included two Wizard spells in it’s second edition.

chainmailIn fact, Dungeons and Dragons started as a Chainmail variant. I found it very interesting that Chainmail, and D&D by extension, were heavily influenced by Tolkien with such a rigid rules set that didn’t leave much room for variation. In my youth, I read the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy, including The Hobbit, every year from 5th grade until I graduated high school. With such a love for Mr. Tolkien’s work AD&D was a big deal and I found myself wanting to devour any book I could get my hands on.

Of course, while I read these books hungrily in my early days, it was not much of a game when we did play.

GM: What do you want to do?

Me: I want to go to the bar!

GM: Okay you’re at the bar.

Me: I ask the bartender for a quest.

GM: Okay, he asks you to find a mystical magical sword.

Me: I accept

GM: Okay you are now at the cave that has the sword.

Me: I go in.

Etc, etc, etc.

All this talk of magic, and after looking back through my books, got me really looking at how magic is used in RPG’s. This in turn led to many hours spent reading through different editions of many books and really taking a hard non-biased look at their different magic systems. So, over the next few weeks, I will look at different game lines and look at how magic was used. Both good and bad points of the magic systems will be listed and an overall history will be given of the systems covered.

white-bookWe shall start AT THE BEGINING with Chainmail. Where there other RPG’s before this? Why, yes. However, most of these were Fantasy Wargames and not commercially available. From an “RPG” viewpoint, Chainmail is the first, and even then, most would point to White box D&D as the first true pen and paper RPG, as we know them today.

Without Chainmail there would be no D&D. Back in 1968, Gary Gygax saw a game of Siege of Bodenburg being played at the very first Lake Geneva Wargaming Convention (Gencon). Siege of Bodenburg didn’t include any magic, however, it revolved around two players using 40mm Elastolin miniatures played on a 6×6 board. Gygax inquired about purchasing these figures. This led to many different rules revisions over the next few years. The chief among them being the new ruleset that Gygax and his partner Jeff Perren created and published in their Castles and Crusades Society fanzine The Doomsday book.

All of the work that was done fine tuning that ruleset brought Gygax and Perren to the attention of Guidon Games. Guidon hired him to create a ruleset for a new gameline they wanted to release.

One of these three games would become Chainmail.

As noted above, Chainmail included two magic spells in its second edition, which was released in 1972. It also covered magic armor as well. The rules for the game were straight forward overall, just rolling and consulting charts to see what hit and what didn’t. Not complicated at all, really.

Humble beginnings indeed.

Pros and cons of Chainmail:

Pros

It helped to give us D&D

Simple system (if you can call it a magic system)

Cons

Non really. I mean it’s not a “magic system” per say.

It was in 1972 however, that TSR product designation 2002 was released and gaming was never truly the same ever again. D&D had arrived. D&D’s magic system draws heavily from The Dying Earth series of stories by author Jack Vance, in particular, the notion that magic users could only memorize so many spells per day and once they used them, they forgot them. In fact, the style of magic is referred to as Vancian magic. Looking at the Wiktionary definition of the word it fits perfectly with what the D&D magic system does:

Vancian magic:men-and-magic

Noun:

  1. A form of magic based on the existence of spells that must be prepared in advance, for specific purposes, and that can be used a finite number of times.

White box D&D (as it is called nowadays) was a collection of three books:

Men and Magic

The first of the three books included in the white box are where magic spells are listed. The classes, all three of them;  Cleric, Fighting-men, and Magic User.The races listed were Human, Dwarf, Elf, and Halflings. Only three alignments were given: law, chaos, and neutrality. While the magic user does have magic spells they were handled very differently. Magic users max out at 6th level while Cleric’s max at 5th.  Spells used a spell slot and the defender got to make a saving throw. Overall, the game took it on faith that the player owned a copy of Chainmail and used those rules. However, an “alternate system “was given in the appendix of the book for dealing with combat, roll a 20 sided die and compare to a list of AC values. If it hit, then roll 1d6 for damage. That’s it!

monsters-and-treasureMonsters and Treasure

The second book covers well…monsters and treasure. Of note for this blog, are the magic items. The Flaming sword and Brazier of Controlling Fire Elementals were introduced in this supplement. Dragons were here, as well with alignments as we know them today.

The Underworld and Wilderness Adventures

Lastly, this book was divided into two parts. The first one provided details on designing dungeons and even included the first published dungeon with multiple levels and wandering monsters. The other half of the book detailed running games outside of the dungeon and even suggested the use of Avalon Hills Outdoor Survival game from 1972.

Together these three books made up the white box and the first iteration of D&D. There were further supplements, notably Blackmoore and the original Greyhawk setting. These introduced further information. Like in Greyhawk, supplement spells for 8th and 9th level for Magic Users and  6th and 7th level spells for Clerics were introduced.

Pictured below are the spells for both Magic Users and Clerics.

spells-1

spells-2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From the table above, one can see that early lists included a lot of staple spells that have become  household names that everyone knows today. An interesting point to note, there are rules regarding “evil” clerics. I like that, even in these early days, there was this sense of good vs. evil built into the game world. Knowing that some of your spells would not work due to a “balance” of a “force” makes me happy.

underworld

Pros

A bit on the complex side however the system’s staples were here.

Tables? It has tables. Lots and lots of them!

Cons

Spell lists. Customizing was not something that was done during this edition.

Tables? It has tables. Lots and lots of them!

Next, we’ll look at First Edition AD&D

 

 

Scott is a true analog gamer doing everything from pen and paper RPG’s to board games and everything in-between. He started out with Advanced D&D 2nd edition at the age of 10. From there he likes all genres and types, from the well known big names to smaller indie print publishers. Scott is Vice-President of The Wrecking Crew

*Note, all opinions are the opinions of their respective Authors and may not represent the opinion of the Editor or any other Author of Keep On the Heathlands.

[Not] Welcoming Players to Our Table

We’ve all probably been at a game with that one player. You know the one. Usually a guy, but sometimes a lady, who is there because their significant other is there. They don’t get it. At best, they need somebody to hand them the right dice every time, at worst, they play some atrocity of a character who soils the bed at every opportunity. Players like that chase our fun players away. Players like that are also a simple problem to fix. What if our game is what is chasing players away? What do we do when our games and the game rules are the thing making people feel unwelcomed? Let’s take “Changeling: the Dreaming” and character creation as an example case.

Changeling

Earlier this year I pitched a “Changeling: the Dreaming” game to my group — a collaborative effort between the Kithain (Europeans) and the Nunnehi (Native Americans) to make renewable energy and tiny homes work. The way I envisioned it, the game would be an examination of the strained relationship between the Native and Euro-Americans and their different cultural values. This game would use CtD’s rule system and setting, more or less as written.

I could not convince a single player to play a Nunnehi.

A month or so ago I pitched a similar idea: a CtD game that would examine the relationship between the Nunnehi and Kithain around western Lake Superior area during the iron boom of the early 20th century. We would use a homebrew Dark Ages: Fae game system for this game.

Two thirds of my players made Nunnehi.

What’s different? It’s the same group of people. It’s a similar core concept — swap out renewable energy for mining — they’re both about human impact on the environment. Arguably mining affects the Kithain more than renewables due to the terrible labor practices of the time. The physical location was the same, though separated by about a century. The strength of the Nunnehi as a political entity increases as we move backward through time, so that may be a factor as well. I think the primary difference is the difference between how CtD and DAF treat character creation and some of the rules governing magic.

In CtD, a player makes a Nunnehi by choosing between 13 pre-created Kiths (species of supernaturals). Here’s our first problem, and it’s a messy one. There are 13 Kiths to represent the dozens of Native cultures that exist. It breaks down to 2 Kiths for each geographic region of the US & Canada (Pacific Northwest, Atlantic Southeast, Midwest, et cetera). We’re taking this map and saying 13 archetypes adequately address this level of complexity:

tribal-nations-map

“But the Kithain have 13 Kiths,” I can imagine someone saying at this point. “How is that not at least as reductive?”

I agree with that imaginary person. It makes no sense for Satyrs or Trolls to be part of a fundamentally Celtic pantheon. However, that complaint is presupposing that these two problems have the same effect on our players. I don’t think they do. Native Americans are living in the shadow of a genocide. White people in America don’t have to face headlines on the sports page like, “Washington Crackers Lose Again”. White people don’t have to go to school and learn a history that, if it mentions them at all, calls them savages and reduces their cultures to stone-age barbarism. In short, white people aren’t dealing with being killed and then having that crime erased.

Next, players choose a Camp, the Nunnehi version of Courts. Nunnehi choose from Summer (peaceful), Winter (warlike), or Midseason (trickster). The Courts, and Camps, are a sticky problem in CtD. If you go off of the core book, they’re a fairly black and white political alignment. The Seelie value tradition and honour while the Unseelie are survivalists who aren’t above petty crimes if it means they make it through another night. The deeper you dig into CtD’s supplemental material the more you see the buried thread that the politics are dirty. The Selee do value tradition and honour — but they’ve also violently suppressed the Unseelie for close to 400 years, exploited their mortal family members without remorse, and when the Sidhe returned to Earth in the 1960s the Seelie Sidhe lead the charge to conquer America again. The Unseelie, on the other hand, range from monsters who feed on nightmares, to rebels trying to restore the proper order of the world, to nihilists who don’t care what happens to the world as long as they’re the kings.

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The Kithain Courts are a messy intersection of identity, politics, history, mythology, philosophy, and how one chooses to interact with the world. I’ve played games where Court was just “what a Changeling is”, and I found them really unsatisfying. It takes what should be an examination of the character’s place in the world and turns it into “are you good or evil”? That is why I find the Nunnehi Camps problematic. Rather than being a launching point for the question “How do I fit into this world?” They’re: “am I friendly to white people?”

The other thing that Courts and Camps do is determine how the character prefers to gather Glamour (or in the Nunnehi’s case, gather Medicine). Glamour/Medicine is the game’s power trait (like mana or stamina points in other games). You use it to do magic. For the Kithain this is tied up in a messy package. The Courts are an amalgam of  spiritual identity and  political philosophy. The Seelie Court gains Glamour from inspiring hope and love and Disney crap like that — which meshes strangely with their being ambiguously an authoritarian hegemony.

The Camps determine what aspect of the physical world a Nunnehi may gather Medicine from. Summer people regain Medicine from growing things, Winter from rocks, and Midseason from flowering plants. This sounds pretty workable until you get deeper into the system and discover that the Nunnehi may only gather Medicine from a “pure” source. “Pure”, in this case, refers to whether or not a thing has been interfered with by man. Medicine cannot be gathered from plants, flowers, rocks, or water that has been tended or cultivated in any way. Compare with the Kithain, who may regain Glamour from Glens (their version of pure sources), Freeholds, and human creativity. This puts the Nunnehi player at a distinct disadvantage in the city, where the vast majority of CtD games take place. This also plays into the myth that native cultures didn’t tend or mold the land to their needs, which they did.

And then there’s the Dreaming. The Dreaming is Changeling’s version of the spiritworld. Think of a combination of faerieland and the collective unconscious and you’ve got the gyst of it. The Dreaming is where all Changelings are from and where they’re trying to return to (if they’re into that). It’s the source of their strangeness and their magic. Their connection to The Dreaming is what separates them (and by extension their families) from other humans. In CtD the Nunnehi cannot access The Dreaming unless a Kithain Changeling helps them. The Native American spirit people can’t get into the spirit world… unless a white guy helps them. The Nunnehi access the Umbra (“Mage: the Ascension”’s spiritworld), which isn’t where they’re from, it isn’t where their magic comes from, and has nothing to do with the cultures they’re supposed to be from. I love “Changeling: the Dreaming” but the message this rule sends is equally baffling and disgusting.

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How does “Dark Ages: Fae” treat a player wanting to make a Nunnehi character? “Dark Ages: Fae” is basically a Kithless system. Players choose Echoes (traditional weaknesses), Dominions (broad magic domains), Features (quirks of appearance sometimes tied to supernatural abilities), and Oaths (taboos and responsibilities) a la carte. Characters all have the same opportunities to recover their magic. DAF treats the spiritworld in a fairly neutral way, possibly due to the word count limitations of the product. It’s mostly coded to be generically European, but it doesn’t go out of its way to say things like “Nunnehi stay out!” the way CtD does.

The only really major change we ended up making to DAF’s rules was adding Camps. DAF uses a Court system that is irrelevant to the Nunnehi. I think that despite the oddness of being both a spiritual and political alignment, the key to why the CtD Courts work is that they’re all fundamentally about trying to navigate the duality of the Changeling experience. Changelings have human morals and fundamentally alien needs (or alien morals and fundamentally human needs if the game goes in that direction). How they address that, is, in a large part, a reflection of their culture. Does one prioritize the need for continuity and tradition or survival? I’m not Native American, so I can’t really speak to how the gestalt nature of the Nunnehi should be expressed or experienced, but our homebrew Camps refocused the Nunnehi experience back onto how they navigate the worlds of their home communities, their nature as part-spirit/part-human amalgams, and the dominant culture. Leslie Marmon Silko’s book “Ceremony” and Tomson Highway’s “Kiss of the Fur Queen” were both instrumental in deciding to take our game in that direction.

From these differences, I think we can take away a few broad points about how our games can be more welcoming. Our games’ rules need to be flexible and open. We need to avoid the impulse to catalog and be proscriptive. Some games created around tight themes need that treatment, but CtD’s themes don’t require as strict a system as the Kiths. By opening it up, we get players drawing on their own experience and, hopefully, being able to see that experience meshing with the game world. This ties into another similar but distinct point — Players need to be able to see their characters as a reflection of something authentic: a human need or fear, a way to examine a human conflict, or a way to experience a different weltanshauung. They need to be able to feel a sense of verisimilitude about their characters and the way they fit (or don’t) into the game world. When a game’s rules make it clear that a certain sort of character simply was out of consideration when designing the game, that game and that player’s worlds clash and fail to create the level of engagement that makes for good game.

 

Simon Eichhörnchen can trace his passion for gaming back to his parents discovering where he squirreled away his D&D Player’s Guide and telling him to not get involved in that cult stuff or they’d cut off his tuition money. When Simon discovered Changeling: the Dreaming he dropped out of college to pursue the nomadic lifestyle of an RPG cultist. A sometimes guest on Tempus Tenebrarum (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCvNp2le5EGWW5jY0lQ9G39Q/feed), Simon will take any opportunity to talk about gaming as a space to examine minority/dominant culture relationships.

*Note, all opinions are the opinions of their respective Authors and may not represent the opinion of  any other Author or the Editor of Keep On the Heathlands.

Weather Engine – Worldbuilding 1

Previously we’ve spent some time together talking at a high level about being a godling in a technological universe.  Now let’s look at just being Gawd and creating your own world to run or play your game in.  The art of world creation isn’t easy or for the faint of heart.  Sure, any fella out there can throw together some two-bit town with a single road and a donkey but I’m talking about real world building.  They always say write what you know and so I’ll be approaching this from the angle of how I build a setting.  Please note that my method may not fit you or the type of world you want to create.  That’s ok; if any of this is useful than I’ve succeeded at my job..err..position…no…favor for a friend?  Whatever this gig is.  

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I’m going to convince you that weather is the most important element of your world building.  Weather drives so much about a place, and a people, and it’s always my starting position for world building.  Is it rainy or dry?  Is it neutral?  Are there the usual four seasons?  Any of them particularly long?  If the land is windy all the time the trees will be short and twisted, shrubs and tough grass will cover the land.  If it’s a long winter you’ll have fast growing plants and animals adapted for cold more than heat.  The weather can also drive how technologically advanced a people can be.  A land where nothing grows like Arctic tundra or desert dunes will encourage a people towards hunting and nomadic life-styles with an emphasis on weapon and travel technologies.  While a land with sunny days and green lush land with plenty of water will develop farming and fortification technologies.  

From Weather we can draw direct connections to technological orientation but we can also draw direct lines to diet based on the kinds of animals and plants to be found in an environment with those weather patterns.  A desert dwelling people are some of the heaviest users of spice for their foods as what they’re consuming tends toward bland and they have the right environment for growing many of these spices at the edges of said desert. If you wished to dive deep you could take a look at the types of spices used in various environments and use those flavors to, ahem, flavor your flavor text.  A people’s diet can also inform things like average height and weight with heavier meat filled diets lending people height and weight while a primarily vegetarian people would be shorter and sparser of frame.  

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Weather and food connect directly to clothing choices and the materials to make those clothes.  This also informs what kind of armor they likely favor, weaponry preferences, and even the type of building materials and designs they favor.  An area like Japan, a hilly forested island doesn’t lend itself towards large herds of animals, nor are large herds of animals the most efficient ratio of land use to calories, so an agrarian society with very little red meat creates a population of shorter and smaller framed people.  As a place with few mineral resources the use of plant materials for construction, clothing, armor, etc. becomes the next logical step.  These lines of thought can be very sparse, a sketch of a region and its people, to help a GM add a little character to a small village. They can also be very complicated interconnected webs, the decision is completely up to you.     

An important note to remember, culture; the culmination of spiritual, religious, superstitious, entertainment, and traditional practices; is not the same as what we’ve laid out so far.  A culture is certainly influenced by region, weather, and environment but is equally affected by interactions with other cultures, politics, and the murky origins of a people’s faith.  That’s right, religion conversation, full steam ahead!

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The spirituality of a nation grows out of a desire to explain things and to some extent to tell stories.  A father tells his son how those bright lights in the sky make the shape of a horse and comes with up some tale to entertain the lad.  He tells his son, then onto the next son, and the next until it becomes a corner of spirituality.  The gods put the first horse into the sky to pull the night behind him as he gallops across. This tale grows and either finds it way into a manuscript on the origins of the names of the constellations or as part of a religion; the steed of Zaphaeus, archangel of wrath of the creator god Eloi!

Religion and to a lesser extent spirituality is where we can really see formalized politics developing.  Imagine a tribe, stone age, barely getting by.  They’re led by the strongest male who is either great at hunting or great getting others motivated to hunt.  As spirituality develops, a separate position of power forms in the group; the shaman.  Or medicine man, priest, magus, seer, etc.  This creates two positions of influence in a group that previously had only one.  The first formalized politics form.  Just as religious practices can severely alter a nation; for example, a land with miles and miles of coast with a religious proscription against eating shellfish, due to them eating carrion; so can political upheavals and power shifts.

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Once a nation passes a technological threshold, say late medieval to early renaissance, weather loses impact as a driving societal force.  There are obviously exceptions for extreme circumstances and some environments discourage ever reaching that technological level naturally.  A desert, for example, does not encourage cities nor generally produces the food resources necessary for a large idle population, which is a must for a nation to innovate, technologically speaking.  

There’s a barrier between survival level culture and knowledge and the level beyond with idle urban populations and farms producing far more than they can consume.  Some environments actively assist crossing this barrier in the case of temperate, plains, and deciduous forests.  Others can actively oppose such development such as deserts, rain forests, and heavily mountainous terrain.  As an additional note I understand that terrain doesn’t actively oppose or assist anything; just a word choice people, put away the literary knives.  

Exotic environment can be treated much the same way; frozen glaciers, deserts made of glass, underground tunnels, floating islands, and undersea kingdoms can all be sketched out and then filled out using the same ideas.  Let’s take a look at an undersea kingdom.

Weather is non-stop rain.  Did you hear the drum and cymbal in the background?  No?  Fine then.  An undersea kingdom has very limited “weather”; but there are consistent weather like effects.  The tides would act like a highway system creating the option for extensive trade networks and/or expansive kingdoms.  The diet would be exclusively fish, crustacean, and some plant matter.  While fish scales would be useful for little more than ornamentation, the hides of sharks and cloth made of kelp would be common materials for clothing.  There would be no concept of fire and little to no metal or wood working.

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Unless of course this nation bordered land and the people were amphibious.  The population wouldn’t be afraid of the dark and be would very resistant to cold and pressure.  The artifacts of the surface world would have variable value determined by how isolated this undersea nation is.  The spear would be the most popular weapon, anything else would be slowed on a swing by the water and not very effective.


In one paragraph I’ve shaped an undersea culture and I did so by establishing my weather, an interesting incidental effect of that weather, the type of animal and the type of plant most often eaten, what they would make clothes out of, a scarce resource, a common resource, a note on the psychology, and the popular weapon of choice.  In nine words; undersea, tides, fish, kelp, metal, wood, dark, cold, and spear we can create a skeleton to remind the GM of the kind of people these are and the place they inhabit.  A description is a powerful tool for creating a mood or enforcing a theme and world creation is all about the description and more specifically the description words.  

As a final note; always remember that while national borders can and do influence people and segregate cultures it’s the land, the place, the world these nations rose out of that are the start point and the land is a result of the weather.  Weather begets land, land begets resources, resources begets technology, and all of them combine mark a culture.  Good luck, and may Eloi watch over you.

 

Justin has been playing, running, and designing games since he was 14.  He enjoys reading, writing, eating, and sleeping.  He also enjoys a good think but not too often as he’s very heat sensitive and doesn’t want his brain to boil over.

*Note, all opinions are the opinions of their respective Authors and may not represent the opinion of the Editor or any other Author of Keep On the Heathlands.