Sunday, January 31, 2010

I am RPG Geek of the Week (literal, rather than metaphorical)

As some of you know I've been much enamored of rpggeek-- the companion site to Both of them can be reached through the geekdo address. I've been posting and helping with item entry on the rpg side of things for some time.

Anyway, this week I got chosen as the "rpg geek of the week". For that honor I get to field questions from users and generally boost my ego by getting to talk about games. I encourage everyone to come over and check out the thread which you can find here. You can post questions, and certainly players in my games will be rewarded appropriately for doing so. So yes, this is pretty much a billboard to inflate my self-image, but something I've been working towards for a while, so please go over and check it out. If you haven't already set up a user account it is easy to do so.

I have an overview post on what I think of the geekdo site which I hope to get posted tomorrow.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Webcomic Round-Up

Gene asked me what webcomics I was reading, so I pulled the list from my reader-- there are a few that I used to read that either lost me (Superosity) or vanished (Elf Only Inn). But this should be a fairly complete record with a few obvious ones left out. I've put an asterisk at the end of of the ones I really think are worth going through the complete archives for.

Achewood ( acquired taste for some-- for a bit I'll be just going along with the strip and then he punches me between the eyes.

Basic Instructions ( Sometimes funny, but usually falls in the middle for me.

Bear and Kitten ( Often odd, but usually amusing.

Beaver and Steve ( No longer in publication, but has some great stuff in the archives.

Bigger than Cheeses
( No idea why I read this, except that it is absurd.

Daily Dinosaur Comics ( An acquired taste.

Daisy Owl ( One of my favorites, low-key but quite funny.(*)

Diesel Sweeties ( I run hot and cold on this one.

Digital Pimp Online ( Home of Joe Loves Crappy Movies and a couple of others. He has an interesting style, but updates infrequently.

Evil, Inc ( Very classic. I really only keep it in my feed because it is such a quick read each day.

Hark, A Vagrant ( Consistently the funniest comic I read. (*)

Instant Classic ( Not sold on this-- it went off for a time and then came back. overly convoluted story.

Overcompensating ( quite funny.

Multiplex ( Has pulled the drama tag a couple of times, but overall I really like this comic for the characters and setting.

Nukees ( Smart and odd-- has been going for a long, long time. A more classic strip.

Octopus Pie ( Interesting, but I sometimes skip episodes of this. Probably will drop out of my cycle eventually.

Order of the Stick ( Used to be quite funny, but now seems like a lot of work to get through.

Penny Arcade ( Come for the comic, stay for the text.

The Princess Planet ( Absolutely worth going through the archives. (*)

Questionable Content ( Still a fav, almost entirely based on the characters.

Rob and Elliot ( Had some funny moments, but updates infrequently now and often isn't that great.

Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal ( Has some misses, but generally the comic that makes me laugh more than any other. (*)

Shortpacked ( I run hot and cold on this one.

Snowflakes ( Still trying to figure out if this is worth reading-- they have two plotlines going on right now and it kind of dilutes the effect. It is school-based so that makes me keep reading it.

Something Positive ( A comic you love or hate based on your love of extended character stories.

Wasted Talent ( A recent addition-- interesting to see how her style has evolved through the archives.

The Non-Adventures of Wonderella ( Often wrong, but awesome at the same time. This comic ( is one of my all-time favorites. (*)

Wondermark ( I usually enjoy this and he often has some oddball additional material on this site.

XKCD ( me a sandwich.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The School Campaign: Examples from Libri Vidicos IV

Another part of example materials drawn from my own steampunk fantasy school-based campaign. As I talked about in the first post on this topic, Libri Vidicos strongly centers the school as the campaign premise. It has run well over the last two and half years, with some of that strength coming from a dynamite player group and some of it coming from the player group being willing to buy into the whole HP inspired premise- working and playing with those genre conventions. We've just moved into Year Three and I provided some ominous prologue bits for the the players. These echo the prologue vignettes I did for the first two years.

Somewhere in the dark places

“If I may...” Began Lady d'Ambreville.

And of course the thunder cut off her words. She wondered a how much of that was deliberate, how much an echo of his master's temperament.

“I'd been expecting you earlier.” Said Mr. Y- quietly.

“Situations, changes, and I have some other news to report to you. But I have a question first.”

“Go on.” Mr. Y- finally turned to look at her and as always she found herself looking away.

She hesitated, angry at herself for the reaction. Then she finally spoke, “Would you consider this a victory then?”

Mr. Y- looked out across the stone courtyard, the storm handing around it. “A victory? Yes, not a complete one and I'll admit it is not exactly as I wished it. I had hoped for perhaps another year of secrecy, another year to put things into motion, but with magics such as these one can never count on things to fall out where you would wish.”

He paced a little, moving forward past her. “I'd hoped for more distraction, but we've gained much from the death of the Grandmaster. It will take their new leader some time before she can get her house arranged. And she has less of an idea of what is happening than the Dwarf did. Her agendas will aid us. Other things have fallen more to my liking there as well...”

Jacqueline followed slowly, waiting a beat before pressing her point. “What about Souldain? He was there...”

Mr. Y- stopped again. “Souldain was expected in part-- and he'll be back now more readily at the table. Now we know he lives and he'll be in fear again. He can't have Libri Vidicos exactly as he wanted it. Besides he'll have to come back, since we have something he wants...”

Mr. Y- gestured over to the raised platform, where Jacqueline could see the woman standing, the flashes of the storm silhouetting her. The d'Ambreville was relieved she was so far away; even as one of the Undead, that one bothered her. Not that the other agents didn't, especially Mr. Y-'s equal, that which had been Gallaen. But that was was simply broken, this other was wrong.

“But you said you had news...” Mr. Y- spoke this darkly, some threat lying behind it-- a demand for explanation of her tardiness.”

“ seems our little friends from Darsksoul went to Khinsai, and met with one of the Nithians. Then, after having done that, they traveled to Algasane's lands. They survived that, but apparently our allies were there as well, though they've said nothing of it.”

“Interesting...” Mr Y- held the note for a time. He gestured and within a moment some of the others had appeared. “Not entirely unexpected that they would look there-- we are allies of convenience, after all. We offer them a share in what is coming and tway to turn the circle to their advantage. But we have to wonder about the students. They've proven to be more resourceful than I'd given them credit for.”

“I've underestimated them.” He looked around to see if any would speak to his admission of fault. “That ends now.”

She who had been Gallaen walked forward. “Even if it means...?”

He broke in before she could finish the question. “We will make or break him this time. Time has come around full circle and we will not be stopped when we are so close.”

And the dragons swept overhead again, their wing beat the beginning of the drum beat that everyone could hear pulsing now.

“We still march in shadows, but soon the third will be among us and then we will strike in daylight, and nothing-- especially not a school of children, will stop us.”

In the Grandmaster's Chambers
Avansa Nullproof emerged from the chamber, she'd hoped for a moment to rest and compose herself, but she could see from Master Aeochs' presence that she'd have no such luxury. She looked and saw her Assistant Headmaster propped in a chair, leafing through papers and shaking his head.

“Master Simples, so good of you to finally join us.” She said and moved over to the chair opposite, sitting to hide her unsteadiness. Aeochs silently moved the tea service over close by her arm.

The goblin looked irritated. “My plans for the summer were set before I was roped into this position and if I recall correctly from our discussions, you encouraged me to go, said everything would move as we'd decided...and now I'm looking through all of this. So many changes, beyond what we'd discussed...”

She cut him off. “The situation has evolved...” Nullproof took a sip of her tea, strong and hot. It calmed her a little. “I made changes as quickly as I could. There was not time or means to contact you. We can negotiate on the adjustments as the semester commences.”

Simples held forth one sheet of paper. “I notice a strong shift in the teaching staff. Retirements and former instructors brought in. There's something of a pattern in those shifts, if I may be so bold.”

“Even Master Direlond cleaned house when he took this position.” Nullproof tried to keep anger out of her voice. She'd been expecting this confrontation, but hoped to be more ready for it.

“Yes, but Direlond emerged from a civil war which nearly tore this school apart. Those instructors had struck against the school itself.”

She set her cup down. “I think we face nothing less than that now, Master Simples. If Libri Vidicos is to survive, she needs people who can be trusted. And as Grandmaster of this school, that means I need people in whom I have faith. People who will look to the greater good of these things instead of turning to flights of fancy, radical shifts in policy and dangerous interventionism. Libri Vidicos has stood as it has because it has maintained itself. When it has reached beyond itself, it has been dealt blows. I will not have that again.”

The goblin paused. “Ah, a compelling case. So that is why you called The Warlock back? Banned by Direlond and an outsider who has not been in the school for years?”

Nullproof slowed herself, she'd walked into that gambit too easily for her liking. “There is no one better suited to maintain the internal security of this school.”

Simples nodded. “Just so, just so. You know I recall those words being used to describe Tyrenski...and we found his body stuffed underneath a bed just before everything went haywire. Before Darsksoul...”

“Stop.” Nullproof held her hand up. “We can have this argument all day, but I do not have the time or the stren...patience for it.”

Simple's face shifted. “You been at the chambers...I'm sorry, I should have known. Did you learn anything more?”

“No.” Nullproof shook her head trying to keep the lie away from him as much as she could. He would know she wasn't telling the full truth, but they'd come back to that later. “I'm unsure of why the school gave us no candidates this year. Luckily we had enough on our own lists to create a class. Mostly the wealthy or the highly placed, with a handful of others our scouts spotted. At least this year there will be fewer to draw on the scholarship fund.”

Simples frowned, seeing her evasion, but as she'd hoped, not wanting to press her on the topic. He rose from the chair. “Well, we'll come back to these matters later,” he raised the sheaf of papers. “I'll want so concessions from you in the future. And I'll want to full story of what you have seen.” He bowed curtly and left the room.

Nullproof sank into the chair, finally allowing herself to relax. Aeochs silently glided around into her vision.

“The Warlock requests authorization, a full remit and allowance for what needs to be done.” As always, he kept any judgment or inflection from his voice.

She thought a bit, thought on what she'd seen. Thought about the letter Direlond had left for Darsksoul, and the one he'd left for her. Had he seen his own destruction? Was his game still playing out?

“I want to remain apprised, but...tell him he has it,” she said wearily.

Aeochs left and Nullproof waited a bit. Would she tell him? Tell him what she'd seen. How she'd seen the Grandmaster who would follow her and had been terrified....

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Book Finds for Game Resources

This weekend we went into Chicago, and ate beyond my stomach's means. Describing that would be a post in itself. Gene and Lisa are incredibly hosts-- able to move us through an amazing number of things in an organized way while still feeling like a nice, relaxing weekend.

Still reeling from an Ethiopian meal we went to Powell's Bookstore which is apparently close by Loyola. I'd forgotten what a really good used bookstore is like. As always I keep my GM's lens on when out searching for various things.

In and among the sci-fi/fantasy paperbacks I found a couple of Dave Duncan books I was missing, Book Three and Four of “A Man of His Word”. Now I just have to find volume two and I'll be set. Well, close-- I still have a number of other Duncan books I want to track down. I think he's an underrated genre author-- everything he does is solid and interesting, but perhaps not as flashy as some more modern approaches. Still he can be beaten for really thorough world building which he lays out clearly and plays with inventively. I found a copy of John Brunner's The Sleep Look Up to replace the one I lost and Richard Cowper's The Road to Corlay. That latter book I think I remember starting to read, but not finishing. It has a Colin Murray cover which I love so I picked it up for a buck.

The best find among the paperback fiction was Trevor Hoyle's Through the Eye of Time. That's the second volume of a trilogy I read years ago that was tremendously strange in a Stanislaw Lem kind of way. I've had the first volume for years but haven't tracked down the other two. Now I just need the third. I suppose I could go and find them on Amazon, but I like having some stuff I hunt for in places like this. So a good haul-- though no Norman Spinrad, Tim Powers or Howard Waldrop.

For game resource books I found a number of nice and cheap volumes. Oxford University Press has a series of handbooks for various mythologies in nice trad paper format. I picked up the volumes on Hindu and Chinese mythology new for $5 apiece. They aren't deep, but will be useful both for the wushu game and if I get around to running Scion again. Each volume has a 'chronology' of mythic events, a general overview, encyclopedia entries on gods and topic and a list of other resources for investigating the mythos in more depth (including electronic resources). So a very good buy for that price.

Sherri found a great illustrated book on ballroom dancing as well. That might seem a stretch for gaming, but it has a purpose. She's been thinking about activities for her character in the Changeling campaign which would give her a better opportunity to interact with non-Changelings. The PCs have been told by the freehold that they need to find a group or place to join to maintain their ties to the real world. So this will be a nice resource for me if I do scenes there-- since I really have no idea of what is involved. I love these kinds of things and being able to spin out deeper background color at the table.

I'm not sure exactly how I'll use it but the weirdest find was Secret Cinema: Gnostic Vision in Film. It is an academic film criticism and analysis book, which means some slogging through. It has been a few years since I've read this find of film analysis and I have to reorient myself. But the gist of the volume is that some recent films (obviously The Matrix and Donnie Darko, but also Dead Man and American Beauty) have a deep undercurrent of Gnostic philosophy (or Cabbalistic or Alchemical which he directly ties in, though I'm not sure he entirely makes his historical case there). Amusingly he references Flicker right away in the footnotes to the introduction. I want to read through this and see if I can replicate his analysis as applied to perhaps anime or even rpgs-- not for anything scholarly, but just to see how loose the theoretical construct is. More importantly I'm curious about how he defines Gnostic themes-- and if some of what he talks about can serve as an undercurrent in a campaign.

The best find at Powell's was another copy of Robert Turcan's The Cults of the Roman Empire. I'd lost my other copy in the fire. For the longest time you could only find a copy for over $100 on Amazon, but it now seems to be back in print. Still the copy I found is in great condition and only cost a little over $10. I still want to do an Ancient Rome game one day-- perhaps the Hellboy Rome game I mentioned before. This book looks at the various foreign cults of the period and how they existed or got integrated into Roman life and culture. It is a nice model for syncretism for that setting or perhaps for other fantasy campaigns. It has lots of great color and detail, with less on the theoretical analysis of the religious shifts. I suspect that will prove useful at some point in the future.

Finally we went to the Art Institute on Monday, which reinforced my general skepticism of a lot of modern art, particularly installations. They had a new exhibit on the Arts & Crafts movement which frankly seemed weak and badly staged. Still out of that I discovered the name Kitaro Shirayamadani. So far as I can tell Shirayamadani was apparently worked at Rookwood Pottery from 1885 to just after WW2. He was Japanese and helped bring or at least worked with “Japanism” in the Arts & Crafts movement. I don't know much about him, but that has to be an interesting story-- being an art and Japanese in Cincinnati during that time. The vase of his they had on display was a strange mix of Japanese color and design with a sort of Midwestern style images of flying geese I believe. The note on the item suggested he went back home for several years in 1915, so I'm curious about that as well. There seems I be a dissertation on him available which I want to track down. It is these kinds of characters that fascinate me-- great for use in games later.

But probably the most interesting thing about the trip this time was getting to see the Thorne Rooms. I don't believe I'd ever seen these before. I've been going to the Art Institute since I was a kid so they either had them put away or I missed them. The Thorne Rooms are exquisitely crafted dioramas of rooms from various periods, fully furnished and decorated. I've done some miniatures and worked with a miniaturist for a while, but these things we unbelievable. The level of presentation, detail and craftsmanship was amazing. On that level they are brilliant inspiration for the table-top gamer. However what prompted me to pick up the book with photos of each of the rooms was something else. I try to read historical source material with an eye to finding visual details I can throw into scenes. I made a bunch of notes about interior decorations and design in the Regency period to use in the Steambuckler campaign. This book has great examples and images of those rooms and rooms of many differing periods and places. That should be great for future travels in the Libri Vidicos campaign, especially if they go to mansions or country estates. Plus the book itself is lovely.

South Bend
Have to thank Rob for pointing out the New Year's Day sale at the local remaindered bookstore. I found some interesting things there-- some real surprises and treats. In and among the comics and graphic novels section I found significant runs of the Doc Savage and The Shadow reprints recently done by Nostalgia Ventures. Each volume collects two stories from the old pulp novels. They aren't done in chronological order, but do have some nice notes and background material in them (including classic illustrations). The first volume of The Shadow anthology, for example, includes a Lester Dent (the creator of Doc Savage) Shadow story. I'd read about that story in the Duende History of the Shadow and it was great to finally be able to read it. I grew up reading from my sister's collection of Doc Savage novels and even reading them now, they hold up as goofy, two dimensional but ultimately interesting. I picked up the first two volumes for each line; the store had about the first dozen of each and maybe in the future I'll pick up some more if they're still there. A great resource for doing pulp adventure games.

I found a good and cheap copy of Jo Clayton's final unfinished novel-- Drum into Silence. It is the final volume of a trilogy I'd avoided picking up before because I wasn't sure if it would ever be completed. Now I have to hunt down the first two. I've mentioned before that Clayton's one of my top ten for fantasy/sci-fi writers. I'm hoping when I finally get to reading the series as a whole it will be worth it. I also picked up a really nice and cheap copy of Umberto Eco's Baudolino. I hadn't cared for The Island of the Day Before and thought Foucault's Pendulum was less original than people gave him credit for. However mention of Prester John on the back of the book made me pick it up. I'd mentioned that legendary figure in my City of Ocean game (another thread which traces back to Ken Hite's Suppressed Transmission).

Finally I picked up Chinese Calligraphy: From Pictograph to Ideogram: The History of 214 Essential Chinese/Japanese Characters. It has a historical look at the evolution of individual characters, but examples. More importantly it presents a nice overview of central cultural concepts and ideas in Chinese society. I hope that will be useful for providing color and background details for my wushu game. I don't necessarily need to be historically accurate, but I want to be able to impart the flavor of the setting.


On a related note, my niece asked for suggestions for her research project for the semester, so I threw her a number of ideas which appealed to me. Whether she'll like them or find them doable is another question:

1. Japanese History: the impact of weapons control and disarmament. See for example the laws requiring the peasants to turn in weapons in order to be melted down for religious statues-- use of these rules to maintain control over the populace. Also see parallel with the period when the Japanese gave up gunpower weapons. Considerations of the impact of that development on later encounters with the West.

2. Marco Polo from the Other Side: A consideration of how other cultures saw Europe when they first met them (China, Japan, etc).

3. Prelude to Star Wars: An examination of literature of the fantastic in the 19th Century-- its prevalence, impact and how that affected later writers.

4. The First Police: British dislike of social control meets the needs of a growing metropolis in London-- how several major cases there led to the creation of the first real police force. Alternately: forensic and crime detection systems in the late 19th and early 20th century: photographic systems, cataloging and so on.

5. How history gets told: a look at a single major event (like the fall of Constantinople or Rome) and how historians in three different eras told the story and defined the causes. A case study in historiography.

6. Music and War: A consideration of the impact of WW2 on classical music: displaced composers, destroyed orchestras, the Nazi purge of Jewish composers and musicians, the soviets use of music as a propaganda tool.

7. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Novel: A look at genre fiction in China-- most of what we take for granted as martial arts movies actually come out of books, both historical (Romance of the Three Kingdoms) and more recent (see interesting to consider how a culture can have a whole genre of literature that doesn't really get translated outside the country but has a tremendous impact. For America that would be westerns.

8. Puritanical Backlash: A look at the shift in cultural ideals from the Regency Period in England to the Victorian Moral Codes. The former we associate with a kind of permissiveness, but the latter ends up being so strict even today we think of Victorian as kind of restrictive and uptight. Is there a parallel with the modern conservative movement.

9. Paints and Pigments: Historically the secrets of how paints and colors we mixed were tightly controlled by artists. Those chemical secrets allowed them to create certain kinds of effects. Might look at that and how the rise of the chemical industry allowed anyone access to those secrets.

10. Sir Francis Walsingham: the Great British Spymaster of the 1500's.

11. Ready Access to Information: how the advent of the cheap printing press-- allowing broadsheets, flyers and newspapers-- parallels the impact of modern technologies for the dissemination of technology.

12. Any god will do: A look at how the Roman Empire dealt with foreign gods-- integrating them into the culture and adding them to the fashionable trends. The practical means to which the Romans put the gods as a mean of civil unity and control.

13. Corporations as Persons: A look at the Supreme Court decision which granted personhood to corporations in the United States. How that decision came about and how is affected later legal decisions in the US and the development of the American Economy.

Friday, January 22, 2010

A Few of My Favorite Magic Items (Part II)

Second and probably last part of my recollection of my favorite magic items from the various campaigns I've run:

Elf-Slaying Blade: In a very early session of a Rolemaster campaign, the group (joined together by a shipwreck) found a stash of treasure, having cleared out some psuedo-lizard men in a cave. What they found was pretty modest, but among the items was an Elf-Slaying blade. In Rolemaster terms this meant that the sword rolled criticals on a particularly nasty chart. Part of the background of the setting was that the current Elvish populace descending from slave/servants of awful and unholy Sidhe. So I'd put the sword there as a reference to that history and foreshadowing that perhaps the Sidhe might make an appearance later in the game.

One of players immediately went batso insane, since he was a half-elf and demanded that this group of people he'd been with for less than twenty-four hours destroy the item. An argument ensued about the relative evil or such a weapon, given that the power was fairly modest. It ended with the half-elf not getting his way. So, of course, during his watch he used his rogue abilities, stole the sword and threw it down the steam flue they were camping by. In the morning the group looked around, the tracker followed the tracks the ten feet over to the flue, and then the magician cast a resist heat spell and climbed down to retrieve it. No one said a word to the rogue. Ironically, the half-elf rogue died long before he had a chance to see the elf-slaying blade become useful in the later part of the game. It was one of those times where a small item led to strange interactions in the group.

Flaming Oil of Slipperiness: Had player who was particular unpleasant to NPCs on repeated occasions. After the group had managed to do some good, they spoke with an artifact and magic items dealer who offered them a few small rewards for their efforts. Before the guy can even get things distributed out, the problem player is whining and bitching about stuff and insulting the NPC. So naturally he doesn't get any gift. Which leads the player to shift gears and desperately and transparently try to suck up to the NPC. He finally relents and gives the character a vial of “Flaming Oil of Slipperiness”. The PC leaves with the group, cackling at his brilliance.

It would be several sessions before someone pointed out that any oil is in fact flammable and slippery.

The Nail of Silence: Rolemaster had a lot of interesting small items, and I enjoyed looking for those with no obvious combat use. The Nail of Silence created a 10' sphere of silence whenever it was driven into wood. That seemed like a decent item, one which could be used perhaps to cover a break in or for an infiltration. However, the group quickly found another use.

One character had a habit of saying whatever came into his head, regardless of the situation. Not necessarily insulting, but often revealing a little too much about the group's plans and weaknesses. The other player installed a block of wood on his backpack and one player had the assignment to jam the nail into the wood if the group was about to interact with an important NPC.

Kirst Arca: Another one from Rolemaster, an artifact weapon which was pretty puffy as I recall. I always enjoyed doling out toys since they really didn't upset the balance of power and usually made for more interesting combats. In any case, the player Alan happened upon the weapon while the rest of the group was battling it out with Vampires and Chaos cultists on the floors above. The group was under siege, with no apparent way out. Alan found both the artifact and a secret escape tunnel. I leaned on him pretty heavy “ artifact and your ticket home. You know if you go back upstairs to join your compatriots, this door will shut and lock...I mean, you've know those guys for what, all of two weeks...”. I could see him seriously thinking about it, but he turned me down, went back upstairs and the group managed to break out of the cordon-- with most of the group seriously wounded or near death. As exciting as that was, making Alan the player struggle with the tension between the delicious treasure/certain safety and having to help his friends was even better

So Kirst Arca (an axe IIRC) became Alan's signature weapon, the one he slept with and made soft pillows for. And it had a particular trick of being a 'limb-severing' weapon in Rolemaster-- meaning if he got a limb specific hit on the charts it would lop off. Which Alan did, repeatedly, throughout the campaign, but always and inevitably leg hits. I'm not sure if it was an accident of the charts or what, but he left behind him a trail of one-legged bad guys all the way up to the end.

Wound Transferring Wand: I really don't think I can do justice to this item. Or at least I can't do justice to the session in which it really came into play. The item itself was a little suspect- essentially it allowed someone to touch another person and switch wounds with them. Scott, who ended up with the item got called to a secret meeting. A friend of his had been kidnapped in order to secure Scott's cooperation. Scott instructed the rest of the group to stay back as he'd been ordered to come alone. Scott entered into the basement to be faced with his friend tied up and several bad guys, one with a knife to his friend's throat.

Even as they began to negotiate, the rest of the party waited at the top of the basement steps in secret. Then Sir Crank “accidentally” fell down the stairs. The situation went immediately pear-shaped, and the bad guys cut Scott's friends throat. Even as the blood began to spray, Scott shot froward and touched the wand to the tied up man, taking the horrific throat wound onto himself. And then things got ugly. There followed a chaotic melee filled with a variety of fumbles-- with the gushing neck wound flying from person to person-- essentially they'd get hit with the wand, blood would spray a fumble would occur and then in the confusion someone else would get hit from it. At one point Dave's character, who'd been tunneling in another way using an elemental, slid down in and immediately got hit with the wound. It was a bizarre confluence of mayhem and fumbles, but with the group managing to finally hit one of the baddies with it and making it stick.

The Summons Stone: A pretty clever item, I'm pretty sure came from a supplement. When activated, the stone would suck a target into it, storing it in stasis. However, only one target could be stored in the stone at a time. When another was placed within, whoever or whatever was in it at the time would be released. (I think any target could only be hit by it once). They had found the stone and then in the middle of a particularly deadly dungeon level they used it on some big creature, only to release a really potent child of an evil race. He'd been stuck in there by a rival thousands of years before. Luckily the kid had no concept of what was happening, so the group managed to turn him at least neutral (and prevent him from zotching the whole group).

Of course later on when they needed to use the stone again, they had to let out the monster and fight it-- which happened a couple of times. In the end they found the item more useful for sneaking people past guards or over borders. It was a potent item, but with a decent drawback.

The Necklace of Ilvir: I've used the Harnic pantheon in other contexts for a long time-- long enough they my conception of them has significantly shifted from the original material. Ilvir in the game is a figure of change, but also of tricks-- almost always to undercut another persons position, self-image or role. So when, Barry the half-demon found what was clearly a relic of Ilvir, a necklace, he should have been more wary.

Instead, his character threw it on. A promptly became fully human, which was not something he wanted. Especially when he got back to the group and found his demon mount now wanted to kill him. There was much gnashing and wailing, made worse because his character didn't know how to cry and more let out a long, unmodulated shriek.

Still later in the campaign, Barry found himself in the house of another player's (Derek) family. Barry was introduced to Derek's brother, sick and suffering from wounds he'd suffered in battling the undead. So, when Barry found himself alone with the injured brother he threw the necklace over him. And the brother promptly turned into a bird and flew away. Again, not what he'd expected. Barry left quickly and never told anyone what had happened.

The Golden Disc: Rolemaster has delving and attunement as easy ways to determine how a device works and what it does. GURPS has fewer of these options, or at least a character needs to be built for that kind of information. The party, after a series of really awful battles had finally come to a treasure vault, filled with magic items. Some were pretty obvious, the blades, for example. But others were less so. One player, Barry, determined he was going to figure everything out by trial and error. After working through, he was left with a single object, a two foot wide apparently metal disc. He spent about a half hour of game time trying various things, desperate to unlock the secrets of the disc. Finally he threw it. At which point it flew away, out the door and vanished.

I turned to Barry who was still processing what had happened. “Who does your character hate?”

“The Thonak,” he answered a little too quickly. You see, the Thonak was essentially the Sauron of the campaign, the big bad sitting in the evil land, dispatching armies out. Barry's eyes went wide when he realized what he'd done. [Cut to imagined scene of the Thonak addressing his troops when suddenly he's beaned by a big metal frisbee].

Ironically, the when the group left the dungeon, the magic on it made them forget they'd been there-- all they knew was that they'd appeared in the desert with a bunch of loot. And Barry's character didn't remember that he'd sent a seeking disk after the Big Bad. That came back to haunt him later when the Thonak killed him, ripped out his soul and mounted it in the disk on his wall.

Holy Grail as Coke Bottle: One of my favorite bits in the City of Ocean campaign was lifted from Ken Hite's Suppressed Transmission articles. Barry and Shari's characters got involved with an art exhibition revolving around images of the Holy Grail-- especially images outside the Arthurian Mythos. As the show started to come together, it gained power, resulting in it becoming a hot spot for jumped up mages and those who wanted to control the destiny of the city. In the end they realized/managed to make a Coke bottle into the Holy Grail-- based on a number of mythic associations. (Thanks to Shari for reminding me of this)

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A Few of My Favorite Magic Items

So I've always been a fan of more interesting magic items, especially those with powers a little more difficult to classify or put into mechanics terms. I remember sitting in art class in grade school and trying to come up with the strangest combination of powers/defects for the various artifacts listed in the 1e DMG. IIRC the artifacts were potent but you also had a set of coded additional effects and things which the GM could and would assign. Not that I ever saw any of these things in any of the games, but we read and talked about the stuff in the books more than we ever actually played at the table.

So I'm less fond of items that can be quantified or have a simple mechanical premise. I'm sure that holds true for most gamers. Sure the +2 sword is useful, but everyone would like something with a little more color. That's why I always appreciated the insanity of Creatures & Treasures for Rolemaster, which had your basic utility items, but also had some stuff with really odd powers. It was a far cry from GURPS Magic Items which tried to make sure everything could be clearly built and done within the limits of the rules presented. I recall picking up a d20 magic items supplement-- hardback no less dedicated to either swords or staves, I can't recall. You'd get like a two-page badly written fiction piece and then a block which went something like “Wand: Fireballs”. Not quite that bad, but pretty close. In any case, I thought I'd mention some of my favorite items from the campaigns. Enough time has passed I'm not sure, with some exceptions, how much are things I came up with and how much came from source materials. Where I can remember, I'll note that, otherwise assume I'm simply relaying information and not claiming credit for the idea.

Cloak of Eagles: From the Freakish Band of Adventurers campaign. Essentially it was a cloak that held a flock of eagle within it. When swirled and activated, the eagles would stream forth, being usable as a distraction or an attack. At the end of the summoning, the eagle would fly en masse back into the cloak. Interestingly, the character who ended up with this item, Sir Tobias Crank, rarely used it. He was worried about the poor eagles and never wanted to throw them out into the middle of a fracas. And yes, the item was a reference to the song by T-Rex.

Crow Gun: From our Unknown Armies-inspired City of Ocean campaign. I think they found this in a bad guys safe but weren't sure exactly what it was. Barry IIRC fired it when they got found out. The gun lets forth a steam of crows who swarm over the target and pick the body clean before returning to the gun. I think Barry ended up throwing up after he actually used it. It certainly horrified the rest of the group-- while there was high-strangeness in that game, I think this was the first object the had ahold of that created such a blatant and terrifying magical effect.

City on a Pin: I think at least the inspiration for this came from something, but I ended up taking it in a very different direction. Essentially the group found a pin which gave off significant magical energy, acting as a mana stone. They weren't really sure what the deal was with it. Eventually they found by connecting with the stone they could enter into the diamond atop it, in which they found a castle and part of a city, empty and abandoned.

This would eventually lead them back to a mage named Nudor, a character who was a former PC who had finished a previous campaign with the sole and abiding intent of finding a way to create no mana magic. Nudor was, in a word, utilitarian. He'd conducted a number of experiments-- including some what had awful consequences. The pin turned out to be the result of one of those-- Nudor having compressed and destroyed the city “by accident”. The pin essentially drew its energy from the unraveling of the material trapped within it...beginning of course with the people who had lived there. While the object itself was a pretty basic magic item (mana stone which works in no mana zones) the backstory for it nicely dovetailed into some of the themes and plots of the campaigns

Pudding Sword: A magic sword with the ability to set the taste of any food it touched. Sounds silly, but it did have a variety of applications-- military and more sinister. The sword was dubbed the Puddling Blade once people realized it could define both taste and texture.

The Elemental Spheres: These originally came from the Mayfair supplement Arch Magic. Essentially they were glass spheres which contained an immense amount of whatever element they were associated with. The sigils etched on the outside of the sphere could be written out over the landscape, then when the sphere shattered, the element would release and follow that course. They could be used to raise mountains or create mighty rivers. The Sphere of Fire happened to be in the treasure vault of a flying city when the group crashed it. That caused the sphere to wildly explode, destroying the flying city and another nearby one. Not the result originally intended.

Elemental Forges: A continuing conceit in my campaigns is the existence of Elemental Forges-- forges which can be used to temper metals with the raw power of an element, potentially imbuing it with effects and affinities. Of course using such a forge required special equipment and training, but they were always a sign of a particularly potent magic. I borrowed some of the elemental conceptions from Rolemaster's Elemental Companion (with a bunch of new and interesting elements) which led to some cool ideas, such as the elemental forges of Gravity and Void.

The Nemesis Chain: I'm pretty sure this came from Creatures and Treasures. The premise was that when placed around someone's neck, it would create and exact duplicate of that person with an undying hatred and passion to kill them. In one of the fantasy GURPS campaigns they'd gotten this item early on for some reason and I'd quite frankly forgotten about it. They found themselves trapped in an underground complex against an adversary called the Thanatologist, an executioner for really powerful lords of the elements. Over the course of several rounds, this character took apart an already injured party. Then one of the players leapt onto him and dropped the necklace around his neck. In the ensuing chaos, the group beat a hasty escape and sealed the original and the duplicate in the tomb. In a later campaign, set some thirty years after that, another party entered the same complex, only to find the two immortals still fighting one another.

The Coins of Belsham: Another one of those cases where one of the PCs got some magic items early on in the campaign and hoarded them for later use. In this case, they were a set of legendary coins, each with a relatively potent one-use power. This was in fantasy GURPs, so the group was relatively low powered by the standards of your conventional fantasy campaigns (i.e. they could get taken out by a good sword stroke or lucky hit). Three of the players found a fog filled room in a dungeon-like complex. They saw a shape looming forwards towards them.

Which turned out to be a Beholder.

Now, you have to understand that this was late in the campaign, but they really hadn't fought any classic “monsters” per se-- mostly wolves, bad guys, and the stray Orc. So they obviously freaked. One of the players critically fumbled a fright check and ran screaming away (or would have it he wasn't a mute). The second player, a barbarian played by Art Lyon, dashed forward and jumped on the beast. He tried to grapple with the eye stalks. The beholder hit him with a petrification beam and then followed up with a blast of energy which reduced him to tiny bits of rubble.

Meanwhile the third player pulled out and tossed one of the coins-- which I'd forgotten about. Timestop. His character had a full minute of free action. He walked up to the beholder and drove his sword into it about thirty+ times and then stepped back. Time resumed and the beholder fell to the floor a wet and squishy mess. A good use of a limited resource and interestingly the only one of the five coins he used during that entire campaign. The rest, with different powers, retired with his character.

Monday, January 18, 2010

GM Notes: Eleven Years Out

Interesting to look at my prep from sessions long ago-- normally I work with notebooks and rarely type up my prep notes, but every once in a while I do before a game. So about this time of year back in 1999 I was running what came to be called "The Freakish Band of Adventurers" campaign-- a fantasy homebrew in my shared world. In any case, here are my pre-game prep notes for the session 1/14/99.

Tonight’s Game Thursday, January 14, 1999:
1. We begin in the city of Smokestone. Recap who is with them: Kibray, Luck and Nadja; Malinois; Apergilis; Frank; the Servants; Klaus and Brande; Carissa; Valarian; Laden; Engler; Maissa. Describe who the people are give the PCs an opportunity to ask questions or else talk to people. (As is my want I suspect that a number of them are going to stay here for some time: if possible Klaus, Brande, Engler, the Servants, Frank, Luck and Nadja) That’s a fairly substantial group who will wait until the group has found the boat and dealt with the darkness on the mainland.

2. Dealing with the leaving of Klaus and Brande. Klaus will explain to his brother that he doesn’t want to take his sister into the darkness. He’s spoken to the other Jymlinders (make apparent that Engler is the holdout, and to Kibray.) She has said that staying here would be a good idea. Perhaps at this point he could mention the curse he was placed under. The Captain will also probably want to look into the factories and metal works…especially gunsmithing. Engler can be an intermediary for this.

3. Speaking with the Warder. See if he wants to talk with the various NPCs. He will probably want to speak with Malinois…as will everyone. Give him the opportunity if possible. He might also wish to speak with his father. Valarian is in pain, but is hiding it well. He has a cover of spirits around him currently.

4. The City is richly filled with non-humans. That in itself could be a strange thing for Dave. Escobar may also wish to speak with him. This is an opportunity to discuss the kind of magic and form which he goes through. These are two possible plot points for him.

5. Krynn and the strange atmosphere here. I am assuming that she will want to speak with Malinois. Also arrange a conversation with Frank post-glasses. The possibility of an Ilviran priest. Might make for some fun now. Weapons as well…she might like something from here.

6. Crank and the deal for weapons. See what he would like. See if there are other conversations she wants to deal with.

7. Going over the questions with Myrnn. Seeing what she wants. There will unfortunately be no response from the Mooncats. She will have to find her path herself. Conversation with the Vizer of Metals about the Cinnabril. Katanas are out of the question…made only by the crafters of the Walking Lands…Shazak in particular. However, they have a variety of Red Steel Weapons. ;) Talking with Don Fernando about the call of Janmareks. He will explain what part of this is about. The Free Confederacy has become somewhat aggressive, something unheard of before. It is said that some humans as well as a group of aggressive Lupin are leading an assault on neighboring villages. In part this is because some of the richest lands were damaged by salt (Ternus has done nothing to help) and also because of the various elemental damages. The same tensions have begun to spread into the various Sedhuen-esque lands. This has made some travel dangerous. A number of people who might have brought some sense in this have traveled to safer pastures elsewhere. No one knows where Herath stands in this and some suspect that Ternus is backing the bid. Yinshul is believed dead, but there are always rumors.

8. Don Escobar will call the group together early on to get some of their story. He will be mostly focused on what has happened in Perdao. While he is a concerned man, what concerns him most is the life and safety of the people of Smokestone. There will be some grumblings from his various advisors about how he works himself to death.

9. At some point Escobar will come and apologize that he has to leave. He has received an urgent summons from the Mendicant Order of Magi. They are all of the major mages of the land. He will be unclear as to what the nature of the emergency is. One of his fellows arrived here last night. They can meet him if they wish. A wolf-folk person: Grasmell the Tooth. Aged and worn down with time. He will be vague about the nature of the circumstance…except perhaps that it involves a member of the Court…if pressed he will perhaps mention Herath. This may be a point for some comment about Mrynn’s power and ability.

10. The group will eventually have to depart Smokestone. There should be some comment from the Elemental Workers about their nervousness about the power source for their ship. The main drive of the ship and the bikes is Upsidaisium. They should avoid cracking open the containment of these things. That would be bad. The various NPCs will arrange to remain here until the group can come and fetch them. Engler will also suggest that they will keep an ear out for news of Ancantar.

11. Zoom! The Ship takes off. It will require some hours for the ship to make the journey to the mainland. Keep in mind how hard it is for the group to pilot the ship in the darkness. The will eventually come down somewhere in Jarlshire…not more than a day or two away from the main castle. The ship itself will have to recharge its engines after the prolonged, controller flight. Remember, this is still Skaven technology. If they decide to use the bikes remind them of what height they are built for.

12. One of the first things they will find is an abandoned village; one of the human settlements. They may find one of two of the Honor Warders here, the human adjuncts under the auspices of King Aludrescu. They will tell of the darkness and the plague. That many elves died and they feared a return of the Death Wind. Most of the Dragon Warders are away…some searching for the Mestare (Valarian) and others having headed to the north because of reports of various undead on the march. Valarian will say that this is not the Deathwind…he will not explain himself further, but he is certain of this. However, he has become quite ill at this point. Eventually they will have to head to the Zaveth’s Tree (named in honor of the head of the Shadow Warders who fell in Sirayn). It is not known what has happened there…they say that the Lady is there with some advisors.

13. There will be a real sense of tension when they reach Zaveth’s Tree. First they will feel a real isolation of spirits. Second, John will feel a strong sense of a scryfield around the area. Whoever is doing it is not being particularly subtle. They will eventually find a staked out area. It is surrounded by spirits…they will find the body of Ronzor Goldwright. He has been ritually murdered to keep him from regenerating.

14. Eventually meeting the Basilisk. That is all he will call himself. He will be cleaning his blade after having dispatched several false Dragon Warders. He is planning to make his way into the Tree to dispatch the Chimera and his group of Drow associates. He can perhaps tell the group of what is going to happen. The changes, the attempts, the fact that someone is making or has made the new sword. He will continue to look at Mrynn strangely. He has two weapons with him, but he wields only one.

15. Making their way into the tree complex. Fairly cleared out. A number of guards about. Point out that some of them can probably contact others if they are not dealt with quickly. Finding the body of the ageless Elf and of Citizen Narwain…tearful deathscene. He will speak of the valor of this one. He believes that the Spinner, Oison, the Lady and Khandallan are being held.

16. Big, hot fight. Several nasty drow evil ones attempting to subvert the will of the tree to their own. Several normal Drow, plus the Chimera. The Basilisk will look worried because he is not sure that he can defeat the Chimera.

17. Big fight, big resolution. Oison and the Eye. They have put it into him because they are not sure what is going on there. The Avar have been put into a slumber because they are particularly susceptible. The vision of Oison…the need for the darkness to be lifted lest it remain…must go to the one who knows of the Godplane---Ethilrist or Solace.

18. Let’s see where we go from here.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The School Campaign: Examples from Libri Vidicos III

Last part of some example materials drawn from my own steampunk fantasy school-based campaign. As I talked about in the first post on this topic, Libri Vidicos strongly centers the school as the campaign premise. It has run well over the last two and half years, with some of that strength coming from a dynamite player group and some of it coming from the player group being willing to buy into the whole HP inspired premise- working and playing with those genre conventions.

GM Note: Once I got the players settled into classes then I brought up the idea of clubs-- another means for encouraging interaction with NPCs, a chance to met students in other classes, and a means of illustrating some characters other interests.

Once First Year students have settled in they will have the opportunity to join one of the many clubs and organizations on campus. These groups provide an opportunity for students to interact with persons from other grade levels and Houses. It can also be an awful brewing cauldron of rivalries and peer group scapegoating. Still, we at Libri Vidicos believe that this can only be for the good of your character development. Consequently, students must choose one club or group to join. First Years may not join more than one. We have found that having to serve as a dogsbody in more than one group is not conducive to a positive self-image. The House Prefect will be able answer questions regarding clubs and provide the latest gossip.
Each of these clubs has a long and storied history. All clubs are registered with the Grandmaster and have their coat of arms displayed proudly in the Trophy Hall.  
The Equestrian Club: Many students pride themselves on being able to ride a horse, but there is much more to it than simply riding. You must learn to look good at all times while doing it. Our club is famous within the school for inculcating a sense of grace and style rarely found elsewhere. Membership is contingent on riding ability as well as other intangibles.
Reader's Salon: Books from the outside can be a valuable commodity here at the school, especially one's with great fighting or romance scenes. Our club works as a book exchange. As well we get together to talk about books and what we thought was great about them. On occasion one of the instructors will come down to talk about one of their favorite books, but thankfully this is relatively rare.
Inventors Club: This is a great place to meet with like-minded individuals who truly understand your work, not like those other philistines who refuse to acknowledge the greatness before them. We show off inventions, discuss techniques and prepare for the annual Science Fair which is the true test of genius.
Wickets and Imps: Each House will provide a team for Wickets and Imps. Should you display any talent for the game, it is likely that the House Prefect will draft you for this sport. You likely have never played Wickets and Imps. If you've played croquet, imagine that. With the hoops in the air. And being able to wallop other players. And traps. And you have to fly. But otherwise much like conventional croquet.
Fencing Club: Few skills mark nobility so much as skill and finesse with a blade. While you will gain some training in your courses, such things are rarely as instructive as the opportunity to pit yourself against other worthy opponents. On the other hand, you may not feel up to the challenge—we understand. There are many other clubs to test your mettle, such as the Sewing Club…
Libri Vidicos Host Society: A transcendent art, the skills of the beautiful, the delicate flower of youth, it is the burden of the Host Society to provide a certain comfort to students in their busy days and hours. The blossom can only truly bloom with care and attention.
Sewing Club: Some look down on what are considered the domestic skills. However when they tear their cloak, or need a dress for a ball they have to come to us. And they will. After a few rounds of sewing their own pockets together they will realize that they need an expert. Then they are ours.
Ballroom Dance Club: If you wish to stand out, to make a mark both here and at home, it pays to know how to dance. Become the envy of all others and the object of affection for many. Gentlemen, the ratio of males to females in our club is often advantageous, if you take my meaning!
Debating Society: Our members dwell on and consider the important issues of the day. We take rhetoric and put it into action! Debating requires a unique combination of eloquence, improvisation, logic and fast-talking. The skills you develop here will last you a lifetime.
Spirit Club: This club is currently on probation. Any activities held by the club must be overseen by a Master skilled in the appropriate arcane arts.
Lords of the Air! The aviators club for the school—the newest of the clubs, only having come into existence some thirty or so years ago. The school has two flying vehicles it can spare for such activities. Members must sign a special death and bodily dismemberment waiver before joining.
Magical Society: Only those who have been accepted into one of the Chantries are eligible to join the Magical Society. As you can see we are elite. If you apply it is highly unlikely you will be accepted, it is as simple as that.
Gardening Club: This club is noted for covering activities both animal and botanical. The Gardening Club aids in the management of the Menagerie on campus.
There are a few other Clubs, but they are exclusively for upper classmen. (Though some listed here are as well) ((Yes, but best to provide them with at least a partially accurate list)) (((If you are going to do a job you should take pride in it and finish it completely))) ((((We will continue this discussion later)))) (((((Hrumph.)))))

GM Note: One of the other tricks borrowed from HP is the use of dramatic vignettes given out before the start of each year-- ambiguous, foreshadowing scenes the characters themselves aren't privy to. They're more tone setting than anything else and some of those things get played out and revealed throughout the year. I think they do a nice job of suggesting a looming threat (in some cases) and providing insight into NPC personalities in others.

Gravast Direlond, Grandmaster of the Libri Vidicos, put yet another spoonful of sugar into his cup. Regardless of how many times he'd asked for a weaker brew, it still managed to come up to his offices black as pitch. Tea was never meant to be that dark. He was beginning to suspect that Mrs. Weft had it in for him. He stirred his cup again and then looked back up to address the question.
"Yes, I think this will be a terrible year—one marked with death, tragedy, and the downfall of civilization. Old powers wait at the gates, conspiracies boil over, swords are being sharpened across the land, and I cannot get a decent cup of tea made for me…"
His assistant, the Submaster, Avansa Nullproof nodded carefully at his words. She had to nod carefully or else the visitor's hat she was always forced to wear when meeting with him would slide off and crash on the table. It had happened before and the Grandmaster hadn't been pleased.
"With all due respect, Grandmaster, you have said that for the last dozen years. In fact, the exact same words…let me check…" she held up an index card. "Yes…exactly that…old powers…swords sharpened…bad tea…"
Direlond made a face. "I have survived to reach where I am by being cautious. Mark my words, when a disaster comes you'll be running up here to call for my assistance and vast preparations."
"Which are?"
"Wouldn't you like to know…" Direlond nodded sagely. "Now, how is the new Master of Students holding up?"
"The Master of Students has been here five years. He is hardly new." She looked down on her notes while keeping one hand up to steady her shifting headgear. "There are some anomalies in the numbers…he has a report on it and the Fetchers have been acting up…but overall he is pleased."
The Grandmaster stroked his braided beard as she finished. "Yes, I've heard about the Fetchers. I've looked into it. Actually that's the reason I called you to meet with me. I've consulted the Antithetical Ouranomastikon on the matter." He fell silent.
Nullproof waited for some time before speaking. "What…what did it show?"
"One meter in the Houses of the Lost; another marking the course of the Splinter of the 9th Sphere and the other readings…ambiguous…situation unclear…try again later. But the brass hand…it moved."
"What?" Nullproof was surprised at how loud her voice sounded when she blurted it out.
"Yes…there's to be something afoot. We may have to undertake some things we aren't quite ready for. There may be sacrifices to be made." The Grandmaster sounded tired.
"Then we will make them."
He looked at her. "Yes, I thought you might say that. More's the pity in these things—they are better undertaken by the reluctant, the hesitant. But that is as it may be." He sighed. "I don't like losing First Years—that's blood on our hands before they've learned enough to make a choice. But…it will have to be done." He stopped. "I think that's all."
The Grandmaster waited until she left. He hadn't told her everything, that the one he'd spoken of had already passed, that some of the wards of the Libri had already been passed by. She was Submaster, but she hadn't yet learned everything about the school. On the day she did, Direlond knew he would be dead. No, he had things to do—things that had been set into motion…perhaps this would be the year he'd see his plans come to fruition. He wondered at the horror the others might express if they knew the truth…but they wouldn't—not until it was too late.
He thought for a second about cackling madly, but decided against it. Was he an evil genius or a force for good—it bothered him that he couldn't tell. Perhaps he would figure it out soon enough.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The School Campaign: Examples from Libri Vidicos II

Still talking about school based campaigns. In my last post I showed the class list and descriptions for Year One Libri Vidicos, my HP inspired steampunk fantasy campaign. By way of contrast, I'd like to present the course listing for Year Three. By this point tracks for the students have been established and also the school administration has changed, shifting the tone of the listing a little bit. One of the goals-- and one which succeeded was to make the choice of classes difficult for the players, with many attractive options.

Students who have made it to their third year find themselves in a difficult position. They have a certain amount of skill, but perhaps not the wisdom entirely to use it. This year will see students having to make difficult decisions, not least of which is the choice of which of the five Schools to devote themselves to. Year Three has one of the highest drop rates for students, so failure remains a possibility. A number of changes have also taken place in the academic and practical structures of Libri Vidicos. We trust third year students will be able to cope and help along incoming students.

This year a renewed focus on study and academics has necessitated certain shifts in focus. As a result, students will be allowed a total of eight academic courses, including any apprenticeships and independent studies. Three of those have been chosen for you, two must come from your School and Track, while three remain in your hands to choose each semester.

As a new measure, students from second through fourth year will additionally have to select a Service Component. These are duties and tasks in which the student will assist in the day to day affairs of Libri Vidicos. While some may object to these new requirements, we feel these will help develop you as a well-rounded person.

Kitchen Duties
Laboratory and Workshop Cleaning
Serving Duties
Animal Husbandry
Watch Duty
Laundry Services
Library Assistance
Departmental Assistance
Event Assistance and Training Ground Upkeep
General Cleaning
Detention Oversight*
Hall Monitors*

*Requires special permission

Other services may be allotted or permitted based on the recommendation of instructors.

Please note that with the arrival of our guests from other schools, students will be required to maintain a strict curfew and dress. Please wear your house uniforms and colors at all times except when granted special event dispensation.

Classes marked as "reslisted" have carried over from Year Two for availability. Classes marked with (*) last for a single semester, while all others last a full year.

All third year students will take the following core courses as part of their study. Additionally, students will also choose a single School Seminar which will take place during the fourth period.

Ethics: Students will consider what is the right thing to do. This question will be considered in a variety of situations, with special attention to historical and philosophical precedents. Various codes established through history will be examined and looked at in terms of their evolution and development.

Understanding the Races: This course will examine the cultural and social attitudes of the various races of the continent, with a reflection on the historical forces which have shaped their outlook. We will consider the question of natural inclinations and destiny as well as the inevitability of conflict. Second semester will examine the major cultural trends and forces within the human nations and parallels with the development of non-humans.

Continued Studies in the Dark World: The Undead: Students will be taught the various forms of the Undead and the many and varied threats they pose to the world. The role of necromancers and the Aetheric will be examined as well as the current thinking in methods of elimination.


The School of Steel still provides two approaches for those wishing to pursue a career involving warfare. The Headmaster recommend students pursue the first track, the Path of the Officer, as it provides a broad range of skills and greater future opportunities to bring honor to oneself and Libri Vidicos as a whole. Should that not prove to be interesting for students, we respectfully recommend choosing another School from among the six. The Path of Warrior, it should be noted, remains for the present as an available track, serving as it does for those who wash out of the Path of the Officer.

School Seminar: Introduction to Logistics and War: A course covering the basics of how modern warfare functions. We examine the necessities of such conflicts, how these can be circumvented and methods for assessing the opposition. On a practical scale we will look at the realities of war within various diverse nations. Scales of conflict and how these relate to one another will be addressed.

Leadership and Virtue (Officer): By examining the philosophies and decisions of historical leaders, we attempt to gain insight into decision making. At the ground level we consider how leaders can affect and motivate their troops, whatever those may be. We consider the ethical dimension involved with difficult choices and how to establish and manage one's moral set.

Deader than You: The Combatant's Art (Warrior): This course looks at the most important way to stay alive, avoiding combat. Then it considers options once combat has become unavoidable. Finally it discusses how to kill other people most efficiently.

Elective Courses
Tools of Warfare*: A look at the machines and engines of contemporary warfare. Students will be taught maintenance and repair for all such tools from simple weapons to steam machines.

The Life of the Watch*: The life of a guard, whether over a person, a neighborhood, a city or a nation, is never easy. This course presents an outline of such a life and the challenges such duties present. Gaining trust, evaluating threats, and negotiating responsibilities will be covered.

Magic and Steel: Students will learn to use magic in concert with conventional fighting techniques. Admission by approval only.

Fighting Styles of the Continent: A history and overview of the various combat styles currently in vogue. The course will teach recognition, countering and the ability to note new variants and forms.

A History of Warfare* (Relisted) Examining the records of the great battles of history-- and the contradictions between various accounts, students will come to understand the difficulties and dangers inherit in large-scale warfare. By the end of the course students will understand the difference between strategy and tactics, how to read an OOB, and learn how to spin post battle narrations to the best effect.

Also Advanced Dueling and various weapon courses remain available.

The School of Magic offers two Paths for those which demonstrated magical talent. The Path of the Practicist focuses on the application of magical talent to a variety of tasks. From engineering, to diplomacy, to art, to warfare, to travel, the Practicist will study how magic may serve as a complementary skill to one's other talents. Training focuses on a breadth of ability and the art of being situationally responsive. The Path of the Magus, on the other hand, focuses on magic to the exclusivity of anything else. Students will learn how to eat, sleep, and breathe magic which will undoubtedly provide them with colorful if narrow prospects in the future.

School Seminar: Assessments of the Life of the Mage: Students will examine what it means to wield the power of magic. Reference to contemporary events within the world of mages will be considered. Laws and rules covering the use of mage will be addressed as well as the ethical implications for the use of such powers.

Magic and its Practical Applications (Practicist): Magic can be put to many uses, some of them grand and mighty. This course does not cover those. Instead it looks at how magic has been integrated by many wizards into the fabric of society itself. Fundamental principles for the interaction with other arts will be covered as well as how magic can better lives.

Experimentation and Safety (Magi): Students will study the principles of establishing their own arcane workshop, as well as the code of conduct for sharing space with other mages. Defensive forms will be stressed and the mean to analyze and existing location will be covered. Students will be required to pass a thorough test of their thaumatological knowledge in order to receive satisfactory marks in this course.

Students in the School of Magic will also be required to serve an apprenticeship working with a senior level instructor. This does not substitute for other service requirements.

Elective Courses
Mentalism, Mesmerism and the Mind*: An examination of the difficult arts of engaging with the will of another beings. There will be some discussion of the ethical questions as well. Students will restrict themselves to specified areas for practice in this course.

Magical Dueling: Advanced students may take this course only with the approval of the instructor.

Transformations and You*: From enhancements to shape-shifting, polymorphs to doppelganging, this course looks at all of the possible uses of transformative spells, beginning with the inanimate and working up to the animate.

Cataloging the Unseen World: An introduction to the taxonomy and classification of all spirits and beings subject to the powers of summoning, control and banishment. Special attention will be given to the last of these.

Introduction to Alchemy: Students will study the physical, chemical and magical principles involved in the creation of alchemical concoctions and preparation. Due to past events, all students wishing to take this course will be required to present a waiver.

Astrology, Astronomy and the Motions of the Spheres* (Relisted) This course examines how celestial mechanics influence or can serve as a measure for present events. In addition, the course will look at how well these techniques measure up against other conventional auguries, oracles, and prophecies. A scientific and analytical approach will be used throughout the course so scoffing will not be acceptable.

Principles of Symbology* (Relisted) Students will look at the various notation schemes used historically and presently. Application of those schemes to contemporary casting styles will be considered. Course work will also focus on practical application of permanency, cross-styles communication, and handling obscure concepts.

Wands, Staves and Rods: The Magicians Toolbox* (Relisted) Some call them crutches, others call them lifesavers-- we will examine the making and use of supplementary items for spellcasting. Note-- students must bring their own wand or device with them to the class. Please see the Quartermaster of Twilight for supplies.

The Governing Council has decided to merge the School of Practical Arts into the School of Knowledges for the sake of efficiency and symmetry. Accordingly, three Paths exist for this School. The Path of the Scholar presents students with a basic grounding in the principles of scholarship and allows them to select a particular field or set of fields. The Path of the Scientist focuses likewise on the arts of science, physics, chemistry, and especially mathematics. It also includes more practical applications and endeavors. Finally the Path of the Engineer deals with those who build gadgets and like geegaws.

Engineers may chose an appropriate apprenticeship, while other members of the School of Knowledges may wish to select an independent study as well.

School Seminar: Research and Notation Methodologies: Students will learn how best to conduct research and the best methods for presenting said research both to colleagues and an ungrateful public. Special attention will be given to

Survey of the Liberal Arts (Scholar): A year-long course providing an outline of the fields of scholarship currently available. Will look at the basic history of those fields and the major thinkers. Contemporary developments will only be given a cursory examination.

Survey of the Scientific Arts (Scientist): Perhaps you would actually like gainful employment and a career upon departing Libri Vidicos, then this should be your choice as opposed to the Liberal Arts courses above. Consider this, we managed to get this description in here after the Headmaster proofed these documents.

Fabrication (Engineer): How to make things.

Elective Courses
Telling Stories*: This course looks at history as a body of tales and stories, and considers how different tellers have told the same tale. The contradictions therein show us showing about who wins in the war of history versus truth.

Calculation Engines: Use and Abuse: A study of the principles of calculation and analytical engines-- how they can be applied and how they can be built.

Cartography and Map-Making*: This course examines how maps are made. On the one hand we look at survey and the strict means of measure, on the other we consider the impact of cultures and agendas on the making of maps. Students will be able to create their own excellent maps by the end of the course.

Theoretical Mechanics*: The study of forces and energies and their application to a variety of fields, especially architecture, building and transport.

Gumdrop for a Gasket*: A consideration of the necessity of substitution in the carrying out of projects.

Highest Math*: A look at hypothetical, dimensional and counter-factual forms of mathematical thinking.

Ancient Languages (Relisted) Nothing impresses more than a strong mastery of older texts and poetry. Alternately, it could be a potential tragedy if you couldn't read that ancient Donaen “Keep Out” sign.

Modern Literature*(Relisted) An examination of literature from the lowest to the highest: from poetics to smut, from epic to pulp action-- we examine the trends, styles and techniques currently “all the rage.” We will also consider how to make a fast buck from the mercurial tastes of the public.

Metal Working* (Relisted) Students will learn and practice the basic techniques of working with metals-- from delicate handiwork to forging. Second semester will introduce students to working with amalgams and magical metals.

Power: Muscle, Steam and Mana* (Relisted) Engines and devices are for nothing without the energies to power them. Seize that power! Master the ancient secrets that have evaded the wise ones through the ages! They call me a fool, but they'll rue the day!!!

The School of Diplomacy offers two paths. The first, the Path of Diplomacy trains young minds for a future within government, as ambassadors, contractual officers, heads of houses and masters of their own destiny. It combines the ability to master social arts with a knowledge of where to best apply one's skills. The Path of the Merchant likewise trains students for a particular role, but that of the financier, banker or investor. It considers the economics and solidly practical concerns of such a life with the ability to serve as an advisor to others.

School Seminar: Presentation and Advice: Defining Desires: All it takes is a small word here or there and the course of history can be changed. The diplomat must know when to judge the moment right and how best to present those words to a potentially hostile audience.

Negotiation and Disputation (Diplomat): Considers the nitty-gritty of coming to an accommodation and managing to reconcile disparate persons and groups. Hypothetical situations and alternative scenarios will be explored through the course of this course.

How the World Works (Merchant): We present a reading of history, current affairs and future events from an economic perspective. This alternate reading of events allows a clearer focus on the best way to approach difficult situations.

Elective Courses
A History of Lies*: This course presents a look at conspiracies and secret societies, both in myth and reality. We look for the signs and shadows that hint at successful conspiracies and examine how unsuccessful ones failed or were revealed.

A Survey of Religious Beliefs*: A comprehensive survey of religious belief across the continent, human and non-human. The implications for dealing with persons steeped in such traditions will be considered.

Entertaining*: A look at how best to entertain guest, questions of manners and excess as well as the management of small talk and guest balance.

Household and Estate Management*: This course looks at the structures of the household and how those can translate up in scale. The names and roles of vairous staff members will be considered, maintaining accounts, hiring practices and day to day affairs in perspective.

Genealogy and the Noble Class*: A look at the specific titles of nobility across the continent. Heraldry, nomenclature, and quick identification will be stressed. The ability to remember relations within a dense group of persons will be tested and required.

Entering a Room*: This course considers how to analyze the social dynamics of situations, what tell-tale clues one can gather as to who hates whom, who hides their desires, and who does not belong. Conversely, it will also teach students how to conceal or shift those signs in their own person.

People and Places of the World (Relisted) A comprehensive survey. Do I need to say more?

Contemporary Political Structures (Relisted) This course considers who holds power and why. We look at rules of succession, the voice of the people, rules of nobility, political movements, and how change occurs. Most importantly we look at who really holds the power and how they manage to get it.

Economics and Accountancy* (Relisted) From the smallest level to the greatest, money or likewise commodities drive people. We look at the virtues and vices of mercantilism, how value is assigned, the new orders of compacts, and how trade is managed and measured. We also examine the mathematical tools best used for analyzing the flow of trade, locating fat pocketbooks, and acquiring treasure.

The School of Purposes continues to handle those areas which fall between the cracks of the other four schools. Currently, the School offers two tracks. The Path of the Artist which attempts to support those desiring to improve their creative skills to a high degree, be it in painting, music or performance. The Path of Necessity serves as a catch-all for students unable to survive in another path or unwilling to make a choice for their future.

School Seminar: Getting By: Surviving Without Very Much: The School of Purposes means often having to go through lean times. This course considers how one can make it through such times without betraying one's principles too much.

Independent Workshop (Artist) Students will be allowed to study and work within their chosen field of performance, until the tutelage of an expert. Students will be expected to produce a significant portfolio of work for review by the end of the year.

The Life of the Adventurer (Necessity) This course will look at what being an adventurer means, the percentage of successful adventurers and how best to manage the social stigma attached to this role.

Elective Courses
Ciphers and Codes*: JKLhkl RETGUIV SDFW-09 UIOUR77

Driving and Piloting*: By the end of this course, students will be able to drive a variety of machines and sail powered ships, as well as pilot a number of aircraft. Attention will be given to navigation and crewing.

Craft of the Agent: A look at the romantic figure of the spy and the actual realities of such a path. We will look at how nations have used such tools in the past and what measures can be taken to stop them.

Composition: A course of the musically inclined, it covers harmony, rhythm and composing both for the small and large scale ensemble. This course is highly recommended for those wishing to make something of themselves in the world of musical performance.

Paints, Dyes and Pigments*: Secrets of these arts will be revealed only to a select few. Lessons taught here may not be passed on without permission.

Culinary Arts: Meats of the World: An exploration of the centerpiece of most feasts. The second half of the course will consider combining said meats with the correct side-dishes.

Forensic Investigation and Legal Niceties*: A consideration of how crimes can be solved using modern and magical techniques.

The Art of Escape*: (description not found)

How Not to Be Seen (Relisted)* Please don't take this class if we have to explain that to you.

History of Crime (Relisted)* We study the methods and events of the rich lives of famous thieves, con men, and generally questionable figures. This course features special attention to the overlooked details which resulted in the less skilled being caught.

Mastering the Outdoors (Relisted)* Prepare to engage in the rough and tumble romantic world of eating pinecones to keep yourself alive. It is not enough to know how to survive in difficult and dangerous environments, the true master learns the art of turning his surroundings to his advantage, making places dangerous to those who would harm him, and creating his own kingdom. Students will learn advanced tactics in wood and field craft culminating in a rigorous final exam to the death.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The School Campaign: Examples from Libri Vidicos I

So in my last post I talked about the benefits of the school-based campaign. I thought I would present a few examples of materials from our Libri Vidicos campaign, beginning with materials given to first year students and then contrasting that next post with the materials given to the players recently as they entered the third year. Below was their welcome to the school and list of classes when they first began the campaign (about two and a half years ago in real time)


A Welcome and Instruction to Incoming Students

Now that you have accepted entry into the Libri Vidicos, you must prepare yourself for your first term. Transport will be arranged for you. You will receive a notice detailing the time and place where you must be in order to meet our representative. If you are not there your chance will have passed and memory of this will also leave you.

You must pack the following:

At least three shirts; three pairs of pants, trousers or modest dresses; one pair of shoes; one pair of boots; one belt; appropriate lacing and undergarments. Dress for modest seasons. Winter garments will be provided to you as well as a house cloak and jacket. You will be gone for some time, and while there will be opportunities to purchase some goods, you should pack to the best of what little common sense you may have. The school does have a seamstress, cobbler and such who can make repairs as are necessary. However, you do not want to place yourself at the mercy of their schedule and as such I suggest everyone bring a sewing kit or somesuch thing.

You must bring one hat. It should be a good hat—stout, clean and presentable. Shoddy or poorly maintained hats are unacceptable.

The following four books are required and will be provided to you with the cost coming from your stipend and deposit. You may bring your own copies so as to avoid this charge. Note that editions with lewd illustrations will be confiscated.

Odovore's History of the Ancient World, Volume I—The Early Makistaanus.
Fortiger's translation of the Makistaanus, Book One: Flaemish Ascendant
Chereloft's Gentleman's Guide to Rhetoric and Right Speaking
Book One of the Alginiad, Introductory Calculations and Proofs

You may bring a dueling blade with you. It will be given over to the Armsmaster upon your arrival and may only be used in the appropriate courses. Hidden weapons, spring blades, volters of any kind, blowguns, katars, hand crossbows, slingshots, poisoned needles, bows, warhammers, books cut out and weighted with the intent of causing bodily injury, hand axes, artificial claws, Godkicking boots, and any other weapon or device of lethality no mentioned before this are not to be brought. If they are discovered, they will be confiscated and perhaps used upon your person.

Magical items of utility may be brought and kept. Magic items intended to harm another person either deliberately or through inaction will be confiscated. Magic items created for the sole purpose of cheating on examinations are also not approved. Each year we enjoy finding and confiscating said items and selling them to third parties to pay for tea cozies in the instructor's lounge.

You may bring food. It is highly recommended that such food be of a non-perishable nature. You will be allowed up to one care package from home every sixty days. Food stuffs which can generally be considered noxious or be classified as a weapon will be taken away.

I have been advised by certain parties to state that if you are currently used to a comfortable life we highly recommend you bring your own pillows, blanket and sheets. Myself, I find complaints upon the subject spurious and a waste of my time.
You may bring what you can carry in a modest steamer truck and one largish pack. You can stuff what you want in your pockets as well, I don't care. Keep in mind that you will be required to carry your baggage yourself at some points. Pack accordingly. Advanced Robots, Slave Demons, Ghostly Servants, and the like are not permitted. So are butlers and the like. Ladies may wish to impose on the kindness and chivalry of their fellow students, but I wouldn't bank on it.

By this time you have undoubtedly selected the three people who will know about your time at the Libri Vidicos. You have had them sign the document of binding so that you can spill your story to them. Remind them that they cannot speak of the Libri Vidicos directly to others not so bound. Remind them that we've have years to perfect this binding. Remind them that this year we've added new and inventive curses for those who attempt to remove the spell. If one of the three people you've chosen has already attempted this, then you need to select a better class of friends.

Joining the Libri Vidicos is an honor and a great opportunity. You have accepted that challenge and agree to be bound by our rules. Should you violate those rules or this trust, you will be returned to your home with little or no memory of your grand and glorious time at the school. Additionally you will be charged a fee for the expense of sending you back.

The course list for incoming first-year students at the Libri Vidicos as prepared by the Grandmaster (with the consultation of appropriate instructors as their schedule and temperament permitted.)

Each incoming first year student will be required to take five basic courses. This schedule will be maintained without exception.

Classical Civilization from the Dawn of Time
If we are to avoid the mistakes of the past, it is necessary that students understand what those mistakes were. Then students can come up with entirely new realms of error and misjudgment to call their own. This course will begin with the details of the earliest pre-civilizations working forward to examine the culture, developments and legacies of the Golden Age of Makistani civilization. Students will be expected to learn and be able to translate classical passages, quote from the expert orators, and be able to tell the difference between various forms of architecture. If anything else manages to penetrate the minds of first-years students, the instructor will consider himself lucky.

Numerical Philosophy
Numbers present a way of reading and organizing the world, and hence have a philosophy of their own. This course will present the basics of numbers theory, demonstrate the recognition of sets, showcase the beauty of proofs, and illuminate the mysteries of the concept of infinity. However you will be tested and evaluated on your ability to basic sums in your head.

Bearing, Decorum and Grace
Many of you have already had extensive training in these matters, some of you have had less so (to put the case charitably). It is the intention of this class to create students who do not embarrass us in the outside world. It also lays the groundwork for future courses on diplomacy, politics, and the gentle arts. Keep that in mind should you decide that this would be a class you could take less than seriously.

Swordsmanship for Everyone
Every student will be drilled with the use of a blade in one form or another. If you have never held a weapon before, you will learn to use a sword. If you have trained with another weapon previously, you will learn to use a sword. If you have trained with a sword before, you will really learn to use a sword. If you wish to learn more in the combat arts, proficiency in this course is required. Again, and it is worth pointing out since each semester there are some who do not catch this the first time it is said—all students, male or female will learn to use a sword.

Introduction to the Dark World
The world is an uncertain place filled with potential threats. This course considers those.

First year students may select one elective. Students may apply for an overload course, but such overloads must be approved by both instructors and the Master of Students. Certain courses, because of their requirements, may not be taken as or with an overload.

Thaumatology and Basic Magical Theory
All though wishing to eventually learn and develop skills in the arcane arts should take this elective. A minimal talent with magic is expected for all incoming students. This class focuses on basic principal common to all casting styles, addresses the history of magic and considers the evolution of forms. The instructor stresses that all students will be expected to be able to control their talents and dangerous outbursts will not be tolerated.

Art and Aesthetics
The course covers the basic techniques of art and how they have changed over the generations. The intent is to allow a student to comment with some knowledge on art, be able to recognize notable masters, and be able to sniff out amateur charlatans. In addition the course will have a craft component, examining the more complex practices involved with the creation of paints, pigments, and the preparation of surfaces.

Mechanical Principles and Creative Engineering
The delights of science, engineering and the construction of wonderful toys! Who can resist the allure of this new and wonderful age. This class will include many splendid things. There were those who once scoffed at those who practiced these arts and called us mad, but we will show them!

Animal Husbandry, Survival and Mastery of the Outdoors
While the advent of mechanical forms of transportation has raised the relative safety of travel, there will be times when one will have to live off of the land. This course focuses on those and the tactics necessary for various climes. Students will have to go outside the walls and boundaries of the school and must obey the orders of the instructor or risk horrific consequences. On the plus side, you get to ride ponies.

Introduction to Alchemy
Due to certain incidents last year, this course has been withdrawn from first-year students.

Astrology, Astronomy and the Motions of the Spheres
This course examines how celestial mechanics influence or can serve as a measure for present events. In addition, the course will look at how well these techniques measure up against other conventional auguries, oracles, and prophecies. A scientific and analytical approach will be used throughout the course so scoffing will not be acceptable.

Domestic Caretaking and Culinary Mastery
Perhaps the most overlooked of skills, yet one which can place a person in the highest esteem. These arts compliment other social abilities in a way that will certainly draw attention to you both home and here at the school. Students will be allowed to take their culinary creations back to their Houses earning you incredible social capital or undying wrath, depending on your skill.

Makistani Philsophy I: Analysis and the Dissection of Reality
Much of the foundation of modern thought and knowledge arises out of the developments of the ancient Makistani. In fact, many of the most important scholarly works make reference to these ideas. A truly learned man has a grasp of these concepts, knows the arguments and counter-arguments and see how these might be applied to everyday life. Note that this course does not include an ethical component, except in the form of self-justification theory.

The Subtle Arts of Dexterity
There are time when it would be good for a student to have a certain grace and deftness with physical activities. Say, for performing stage magic or being able to hide holiday presents. One could imagine that these skills could be applied to more nefarious ends, but that seems quite outside our intent, doesn't it?

Literatures and Letters of the East
See the "Art and Aesthetics" course but replace illustrative arts with literary ones. Eventually students have to take a form of this so you might as well get it over with now, shouldn't you? It should be noted that the publication of a school "news-sheet" is strictly forbidden and so—called journalists are apt to find certain accidents, like the unblocking of one's hat, to mysteriously occur. I'm just saying.

Students may, upon demonstrating a unique skill, seek out an instructor to offer a tutorial as an elective course. This is common in the case of students with a musical aptitude or who wish a long course in physical education. Other such tutorials will be met by the strictest judgment, given that you are still just first-year students.

Next time Year Three Classes and then some miscellaneous materials.