20 March 2023

So at your local wizarding school ...

Following a thread on the official GURPS forum on altering GURPS Magic to fit a setting of a magic school, I present these spells for the edification of anyone doing likewise.  Aside from Lend Energy – the first spell any magician learns – new apprentices in my setting are taught simple spells.  Many are useful, but in a number of cases, they are imparted less to advance apprentices through their studies than to give them easy, showy spells to slake their appetites for magic ... and to steer them away from more dangerous ones.  

All of the below spells are without prerequisite, many are Mental/Average (the exceptions are noted), and all M/A spells – following the excellent GURPS product The Least of Spells – may be learned and cast by those with minimal Magery.  I’ll tag the ones I definitely know I did create with a (*), the rest being ganked from sources all over.

ALERT             Information (Knowledge college, M/H)

The caster knows when a specific event has occurred in a particular place.   The caster must specify the event when he casts the spell.  Long distance modifiers apply for time and distance.

Duration: 1 hour.
Cost: 3, 2 to maintain.

ANIMATE REFLECTION     Regular, resisted by IQ (Illusion college)

The subject’s reflection in any reflective surface moves as the caster wishes, and appears to be moving independently.  The reflection can do anything that the original subject is able to do.  Likewise, the reflection can use body parts, or objects that the subject is carrying, that aren’t reflected when the spell is cast.  For example, the image could appear to bring its hands to its face even if only the subject’s head is reflected. It can also appear to partially move out of the reflected area, or vanish entirely.  Objects or states of being that aren’t present on the subject’s body when the spell is cast can’t be created in the reflection.

Duration: 10 minutes.
Cost: 1, 1 to maintain.

BASKETWORK         Regular (Plant college, (*))

Instantly weaves grass, thin branches, withies and the like into a basket or other item of wickerwork, appropriate to the raw materials available, at a skill of Basketweaving-12 or the caster’s Basketweaving skill+3, whichever is higher.  At double the cost, the skill levels are at -15 or +6, respectively.

Duration: Permanent.
Cost: 2 per 5 lbs of materials to be shaped.

COINS OF CHANGE           Regular (Illusion college, M/H, (*))

A single coin of the caster's choice disappears, to be replaced by the monetary equivalent in the next lower denomination.  However, one coin of the lower denomination is missing (as a magical "tip," if you will).  The new coins will be of the proper bullion, weight and minting, indistinguishable from other such coins minted by the originating nation in the given year, were it not for the newness and lack of wear.  Cast on a coin of the smallest denomination, it disappears, and is replaced by something peculiar and/or worthless.

Duration: Permanent.
Cost: 2.

COMFORT             Regular (Mind Control college, M/H)

The subject feels warm, dry, and uncramped – even if he isn't in reality – and gets +3 to HT and Will rolls to resist the psychological effects of warm or cold weather or the uncomfortable effects of cramped spaces.  Negative effects still affect the body, and will manifest when unusual exertion is attempted.

Duration: 1 hour.
Cost: 2, 1 to maintain.

CONCENTRATE         Regular (Mind Control college, M/H)

Allows the subject to concentrate on a specific task, ignoring all distractions, gaining a bonus to Will rolls to ignore distractions that might disrupt concentration or spoil spells, including pain, heat, cold or damage.

Duration: 1 minute.
Cost: 1, +1 per +1 bonus to Will rolls, same to maintain.

CREATE TEAPOT         Regular (Food college, (*))

A silvery-violet teapot will appear (and float) in midair. The caster may put any kind of tea and sweetener inside the pot; it requires no water or strainer.  The pot will brew away, producing 1 quart, appropriately sweetened.  If no tea is placed into the pot, it will brew a basic unsweetened pekoe.  The pot will pour itself, at the caster's command.  

Variants have been known to brew cocoa -- or other non-alcoholic hot drinks common to the culture, such as rooibos, maté or tisanes -- instead.  (By contrast, no one has succeeded in producing a coffee or alcoholic variant.)  There has been much speculation as to why such a useful spell is so easy to learn and cheap to cast, and it has been popularly attributed to a (probably apocryphal) God of Apprentices.

Duration: 5 minutes.
Cost: 1, same to maintain.  

GEOMETRY         Regular (Movement college, M/H, (*))

The caster may accurately draw or trace any geometric shape that he can imagine.  A writing implement is required, but the caster draws with preternatural speed and accuracy; the result is precise to within a millimeter.

Duration: Permanent.
Cost: 2.
Time to Cast: 1 second to 10 minutes. 1 second for a small, simple symbol up to 10 minutes for a very complex or large design. Simple sigils require 1 second, pentagrams and similar sigils take 5 seconds.

GLOWING EYES         Regular, resisted by IQ (Illusion college)

The subject’s eyes glow with an unnatural light.  Though this doesn’t interfere with the subject’s vision or improve his night vision, it will make him visible in the dark.  This may provoke Fright Checks as well.

Duration: 10 minutes.
Cost: 1, 1 to maintain.

GOSSAMER            Area (Air college, (*))

A fine rain of gossamer web floats down.  While it is visible, it neither impedes vision nor movement.

Duration: 5 minutes.
Base Cost: ⅓, minimum 1. Cannot be maintained.

ICE CUBES             Regular (Water college, (*))

Creates a quart of ice cubes, about a cubic inch apiece.  Falling ice cubes do no damage but might be distracting if dumped on an unsuspecting target.

Duration: Permanent, but melt normally.
Cost: 1.

LIGHT SWITCH         Area, resisted by Will (Light and Darkness college, M/H)

Extinguishes – or lights – all sources of light with a preset spoken or physical command (usually a clap of the hands or a spoken word) specified at the time of casting. The caster can exclude some light sources if specified at casting, and can permit the command to be given by people, or types of people.  Light sources need not have been in the area at the time of casting to be affected.  Sources of flame will continue to burn; they will do so at the slowest possible rate, and produce a low degree of heat.  This will triple the life of a source of flame like a lantern or campfire, but will not work on a large source of flame above a hex in size.  Light sources held or used by unwilling subjects within the area of effect resist with the wielder’s Will.

Duration: 6 hours.
Base Cost: 1, same to maintain.

MIST                 Area (Weather college)

Creates an area of light fog, reducing Vision.

Duration: 1 minute.
Cost: base 1/10 per -1 Vision penalty (-5 maximum), half to maintain.

POKE             Regular, resisted by DX or ST (Air college)

Creates a little rod of concentrated air, which the caster can use to poke with at a distance. It can distract and annoy foes but also has peaceful applications (like pressing buttons, knocking a small candle over or touching objects from a safe distance).  There is no distance penalty, but the target must be in the caster’s line of sight. The subject may resist with DX or ST, whichever is more appropriate. If the resistance is successful, the spell has no effect.

Duration: 1 second.
Cost: 1, can’t be maintained.

PUFF OF BREATH         Regular (Air college, (*))

The target feels a light puff of breath; it will blow out candles reliably, and be noticeable at a range of two yards, but not much else.

Duration: 1 second.
Cost: 1.

RESIST INTOXICATION     Regular, resisted by Will (Body Control, M/H)

Makes the subject immune to the intoxicating effects of drugs or alcohol.

Duration: 1 hour.
Cost: 2, 1 to maintain.

SAINT ELMO'S FIRE     Regular, resisted by HT (Air college, (*)) 

The subject is limned with a phosphorescent glow, causing him to stand out clearly in dim light and creating a spooky effect. Lighting penalties to see the subject are reduced fourfold.

Duration: 1 minute.
Cost: 1, 1 to maintain.

SHOW BUSINESS         Area, resisted by IQ (Illusion college, M/H, (*))

Creates minor special effects suitable for use as a prop for a stage show.  Among possible effects are minor sound effects, flashing lights, loud spectral applause, background Muzak, small puffs of smoke or thin fog.  The special effects created are not powerful enough to distract or fool a determined foe.  At best, they will give a foe -1 to Sense rolls for 1 second.  In this case, the victim is allowed an IQ roll to resist.

Duration: 1 minute.
Cost: base 1, same to maintain.

SIGNAL FLARE        Regular (Light and Darkness college, (*))

A fizzing jet flies straight up from the caster’s finger.  When it reaches an altitude of 400', it bursts into a brilliant flare of colored light (caster’s choice as to hue).  It descends at a rate of 10'/second thereafter, and will wink out 20' from the ground.  While the Flare’s illumination is dim at best, it is visible for miles at night.  The spell does no damage, may not be targeted, and will not fire in any direction but straight up.

Duration: 40 seconds.
Cost: 2.  Cannot be maintained.

SMOKE RINGS         Regular (Air/Fire college)

The caster can make a palm-sized amount of smoke (from a pipe or similar item) change color, form rings or shapes, or move in a certain direction against the prevailing air currents.  The smoke thus controlled is too thin to obscure vision or cause breathing difficulties.  It might give the caster +1 to reaction rolls or Social skills when dealing with people who aren't used to wizards and magic.

Duration: 10 minutes or the duration of one bowl of tobacco, whichever is more.
Cost: 1, same to maintain.

SNOWBALL         Missile (Water college)

Creates a fist-sized snowball that the caster can throw, and has the same range and other characteristics as a thrown rock.  The snowball does no damage.

Duration: 10 seconds, or until three seconds after being thrown, whichever comes first.
Cost: 1.

STITCH             Regular (Movement college, (*))

The subject may sew a row of stitches through cloth, leather or other material, at the rate of 6" per second, as if he possessed the appropriate Leatherworking or Sewing skill (if he does have the skill, this is treated as Skill+4).  The subject can specify the manner of the stitching with an appropriate roll suitable to the intricacies of the stitch.  All appropriate materials to do the job -- i.e., thread and a garment to be sewn; no needle is required -- must be at hand at the time of casting.

Duration: 1 minute.
Cost: 1, 1 to maintain.

TENT             Regular (Illusion college, M/H)

A tent of any size may be created.  The Tent is made of unbleached canvas with plain wood poles, but other than that, it can be of any shape desired, from a simple pup tent to a large pavilion.  The Tent has DR 1, 10 HT.  In other respects, the Tent is normal, though it does not leak.  Variants are known to exist creating fancier or more decorative Tents.

Duration: 1 hour.
Cost: 2, 1 to maintain for a one or two-man tent.  3, 2 to maintain for a tent or pavilion which will sleep up to 6 people in cramped conditions or 2 people in comfort; doubling thereafter for tripling capacity.

WATER BALL        Missile (Water college)

Creates a fist-sized missile of water.  It does no damage, striking with the impact of a water balloon, but can distract targets, put out small fires or do 1d-1 HT damage to flame-based creatures.

Duration: Instant.
Cost: 1.

WERELIGHT        Regular (Light and Darkness college, (*))

Creates a pale green ball of light in the caster’s hand.  The ball will travel with the caster, and remain in his hand, although it is intangible and doesn't interfere with the use of the hand for any other purpose.  It is not bright enough to illuminate beyond 2", but can be seen up to 10-15 hexes at night depending on the lighting conditions.  Closing the hand around the ball will turn the Werelight “off,” while opening the hand again will turn it back “on.”  Alternately, the light can be placed in a stationary spot.

Duration: 1 hour.
Cost: 1, 1 to maintain.


30 January 2023

A Technologist's Bibliography

Happy New Year to one and all!  Still trucking away here, so let me tuck right in.

I’ve always been fascinated with seeing how low-tech craftsmen did things.  It therefore doesn’t suck that I live in an area with more reenactment museums than anywhere else in my hemisphere.  Whether it’s Mystic Seaport or Old Sturbridge Village, Old Deerfield vs Lake Champlain, Canterbury Shaker Village vs Hancock Shaker Village, farm and seafaring museums galore, or even demonstrations at county fairs, I’m the fellow spending a half-hour leaning over the rail at the blacksmith’s or the cooper’s shop, observing How Things Were Done.

Not all of you have that luxury, alas, and need to hit the books to learn more.  Having been specifically asked about works about medieval technology by one of my Kind Readers, I wanted to go a little more indepth than in a comment response.

Your first stop should be the relevant Wikipedia topics.  Not only are they comprehensive, direct to the point and easy to read, they link to many specific articles, as well as relevant articles concerning technology in areas besides western Europe.  For most gamers who want to replicate what was possible in medieval times, those will do well.  Start with this article, and then you can segue on to similar articles on the medieval Islamic world, the Byzantine Empire, India, China and the like.  (Absolutely do NOT ignore the pertinent Chinese articles: China was far more technologically advanced than Europe, at a far earlier date.  You’ll be astonished at what they had in wide circulation hundreds of years before the Renaissance.)

If you’ve got a relatively limited budget and want to do more, I strongly recommend the various GURPS Low Tech works: like many a GURPS worldbook, their broad material is very useful even to those who don’t play GURPS.  Beyond the main Low Tech book, there are three PDF-only 36-page Low Tech Companions: Philosophers and Kings, Weapons and Warriors, and Daily Life and Economics.  They can all be obtained online from SJ Games’ Warehouse 23 site.

The main Wikipedia “Medieval technology” article also has an extremely extensive bibliography.  One work listed in that bibliography is something I’m lucky to have: Volumes II and III of the mammoth 1957 Oxford University Press History of Technology series, edited by Charles Singer; those volumes cover medieval times and the Renaissance, respectively.  It is excellent and comprehensive, and you can just barely get the volumes (they’re long out of print, alas) used on Amazon.

The next works are technically more modern, but of great use to the medieval technologically oriented gamer.  John Seymour was a British environmentalist and self-sufficiency pioneer who wrote an amazing book called The Forgotten Arts and Crafts; his last ditch attempt, a few decades back, to record traditional craftsmanship before its last practitioners died out.  It’s simply written, lavishly and excellently illustrated, with a few pages on each one: gate-hurdle making to hoop-making, charcoaling to basketweaving, limeburning to netmaking.  (Five pages on roof thatching, for instance, including illustrations of every tool used in the process, and a half-page crosshatch illo of the various layers involved.)  It’s another book that’s out of print, alas, but well worth the cost.

I love old books, and one of my prizes is Dr. Chase’s Combination Receipt Book: it’s a 1915 book that seeks to present the best remedies, diagnoses, treatments and medicines available to the country farmer.  It also has large sections on various household preparations, cooking and the like, all suitably low tech. I was astonished to find out it’s still in print, but in fact it is, and at reasonable prices online.

I’ve mentioned Deane's Doctrine of Naval Architecture before in this blog; while it’s a 17th century work, longtime readers of my blog know of my firm belief that “medieval” RPG settings are nothing of the sort: they’re by and large Renaissance-tech with 18th century Age of Sail maritime tech bolted on.  It’s a seminal work of shipbuilding history, and one of the earliest indepth ones extant.

Finally, I wouldn’t ignore YouTube.  There’ve been so many how-they-did it shows and videos out there, and it adds a dimension a book can’t give you: seeing how things were actually done.  (Typing in “medieval cart” in the search bar, for instance, gives a clip from Modern History TV as the first item, a fascinating ten minute clip on medieval handcarts, demonstrating the one the presenter had built.)

29 December 2022

Look What I Found! A Cantrip List

This was written up in more or less this format for a website a bunch of years ago.  Some of these spells are ones I created for GURPS in an article over thirty years ago.  Having stumbled across it, I decided to spruce it up and post it anew.  Now if anyone wants the actual GURPS stats as written up for my campaign, feel free to ask!

Chisandra’s Magic Tool: Summons one of the following tools: chisel, axe, crowbar, plane, adze, handaxe, pick, shovel, handsaw, crosscut saw, file, or awl. It is made of steel, and holds a perpetual edge. It will be sized for the caster, and cannot be made larger or smaller. For some reason, the craftsmen who revile the wizard Chisandra for inventing the “Strike Breaker” spell (see below) – as well as others who would use it – have no problem with this spell.  Local blacksmiths, however, have different opinions ...

Chisandra’s Strike Breaker: Named for a enchanter noblewoman whose new mansion was held up by a work stoppage, this causes a standard tool with no moving parts to work independently at the caster’s bidding.  It will only perform actions for which it is designed (for example, however much it’s technically possible, the spell won’t cause a hatchet to work as a screwdriver), as if it were wielded by a human of average strength, with approximately the skill at its task of a trained apprentice of the appropriate craft. To this day, the spell is resented by local craftsmen, and wizards known to employ it are prone to having their windows broken by thrown bricks, their front stoops smeared with excrement, and so on.

Coins of Change: A coin of the caster's choice (and held in his hand) disappears, to be replaced by the monetary equivalent in the next lower denomination. However, one coin of the lower denomination is missing (as a magical "tip," if you will); for instance, a dollar coin would be replaced by three quarters.  If the coin is not easily divisible into the next lower denomination (quarters into dimes, for instance), it is rendered in the denomination below that. The new coins will be of the proper bullion, weight and minting, indistinguishable from other such coins were it not for the newness and lack of wear.  If the spell is cast on a coin of the lowest common denomination, it disappears ... to be replaced by something peculiar and/or worthless.

Denys’ Menacing Orbs: Creates a fistful of “standard” fiberglass marbles that appear in the caster’s hand ... whether or not fiberglass is a substance that exists in the gameworld.

Elaina’s Excellent Teapot: A silvery-violet teapot will appear (and float) in midair. The caster may put any kind of tea and sweetener inside the pot; it requires no water or strainer. The pot will brew away, producing 1 quart, appropriately sweetened. If no tea is placed into the pot, it will brew a basic pekoe. The pot will pour itself, at the caster's command, and vanish either at the caster’s command or when there is no tea left in the pot. Variants exist for cocoa and other hot drinks.

Elaina’s Ball of Fun: Created by the ice wizard Elaina Waflo more as a means to have a handy fistful of snow whenever she wanted one, this places a normal, if large and well packed, snowball in the caster’s hand. The snow itself is permanent, but will melt normally.

Flower Power: Any sort of flowers with which the caster is familiar can be created in a full bouquet. They will be in full bloom. Any part of the bouquet that is disassembled – for instance, processing for herbal or alchemical use – vanishes at once.  The bouquet will last for as long as a mundane cut bunch of fresh flowers would.

Hero Pointer: The most powerful character – in terms of levels, character points, etc. – in the caster’s line of sight is outlined with a visible ruddy glow. The caster can exclude certain people or types of people from the spell’s calculation, and/or make the effect visible to him or her only.

Iamedon’s Keener Edged Armament: Sharpens an edged weapon, tool or implement to have as fine an edge as the object can normally hold; the edge lasts as long as normal use provides.

Kinto’s Beneficial Breathing: The subject's nostrils, ears and mouth become impermeable to water. Normal air breathing is not impeded, but no oxygen is extracted from "breathing" in water – the spell will only keep the subject from drowning.

Lengchi’s Bane: This spell combines ingredients into a blended whole. The ingredients must be normally able to be mixed by hand and be placed in a container, which will be filled by the resulting mixture. The combination takes place in one second. Lengchi was an infamous alchemical researcher working through the periodic table, and who discovered – a bit too late – that alchemically refining a large quantity of pure sodium and combining it with water (to “see what happened”) was not all that sensible an idea.

“Limpy’s” Third Conjuration: Causes an inanimate object to bend in the middle. Regardless of its natural qualities - brittleness, for example - it will bend and not break. If the object makes its appropriate resistance roll, it is slightly warped in some way. Created by the pompous Master Limsenien of the Viridistani College of Mages, it acquired its byname from the put-upon professional apprentice corps of the city – who claimed, inaccurately, that the wizard used this to blight the manhoods of his enemies – and “Limpy” was what the wizard was called behind his back thereafter, so much so that he dropped plans to publish his Fourth and Fifth Conjurations.

Malabar’s Miraculous Assay:
The caster can determine the material components of any liquid or solid compound by chemical name, along with the proportion of the components in the compound, within the limits of general chemical knowledge of the caster’s tech level.  However, the caster does not necessarily know the individual properties of the components, nor will he learn what the compound does, absent scholarly knowledge of chemistry or alchemy.

Mirith’s Restful Soak: Creates a magical hot tub, which will materialize on the ground if the terrain is even and there are no intervening objects. It will comfortably seat two people. The temperature may be set between 95 and 120 degrees F, with any desired degree of turbulence. The spell was researched and invented at the request of the then-Emperor of Vinaria, a frequent adventurer who in his later years suffered from arthritis.

Morgil’s Clouded Gaze: The eyes of the subject adjust to any light brighter than normally comfortable, overtoning everything he sees in sepia tones. The spell will not function against light-based magical attacks. Prince Morgil Ravenswing of Gwenethlin was a renowned campaigner, but overly light sensitive, and richly rewarded the (unknown) wizard who invented this spell.

Phoenix’s Fountain of Glory: A fizzing jet flies straight up from the caster’s finger. When it reaches an altitude of 400', it bursts into a brilliant flare of colored light and descends at a rate of 10'/second thereafter. While the flare’s illumination is dim at best, it is visible for miles at night. The spell does no damage, may not be targeted, and will not fire in any direction but straight up. “Phoenix” was the errantry-name of the starlight wizard Sairin Wenairin, who is said to have invented it in the time he campaigned with the Kalínalumbë Regiment.

Puff of Breath: The target feels a light puff of breath; it will blow out candles, and be noticeable, but not much else.

Ratri’s Blessed Shield: Cast on a female, this prevents fertilization of eggs. If cast on a female pregnant within the last week, induces spontaneous abortion. If cast on a male his sperm becomes non-viable. Taught by the priestesses of Ratri, although its use is canonically discouraged.

“Show Business”: Creates any minor special effect that the caster can imagine, suitable for use as a prop for a stage show. Among the possible effects are minor sound effects, flashing lights, mini-fireworks, loud spectral applause, background Muzak, small puffs of smoke or thin fog ... but in any event, it will turn out on the cheesy side. The special effects created with this spell are not powerful enough to distract or fool a determined foe. Several wizards have been accused of inventing the spell in the 33 years it has been known; all hotly deny doing so.

Spider’s Veil: A fine rain of gossamer web floats down. While it is easily visible, it neither impedes vision nor movement.

Verella’s Toy: A small item becomes a recording device, recording any sound generated (or permeating) within 30' of its location. The sound pickup and quality is equivalent to that of a modern-day boom mike and tape player. To activate the Toy, the caster must speak a command word chosen at the time of casting. A second command word stops the recording. A third command word allows the Toy to play back any sounds it has captured. The object will only provide between six and twelve playbacks. Created for Princess Verella Waflo of Vinaria, who as a small child loved the music of the nomadic Waertagi tribe and wanted to hear it still in her quiet home, hundreds of miles from the Waertagi steppe country.

22 December 2022

Stupid PC Tricks: Religion

This has probably never happened in your game.

Forum D00d: There are no gods in the real world to correct worshipers on theological matters.  At least not ones that talk to their worshipers on a regular basis and can be reached for answers with a spell.  One of the best examples of how a god would act is in the Old Testament. Look at how jealous and wrathful Jehovah is, smiting people left and right for not worshiping him correctly or just because he feels like sometimes. There couldn't be various different factions of Lathander fighting, because he would smite all the ones that were wrong.

Another common shibboleth of gamers is this one: that there's One True Religion, everyone's in lockstep, there are no doctrinal differences, and God's in everyone's grille, all the time.

The answer above is certainly the answer many gamers give, when asked why there isn't an Orthodox Church of Rinanni and a Reformed Church of Rinanni and the Ride On Queen Rinanni Altanian Full Gospel Ministry of Love and Blowjobs.

And for those game settings where the Gods are in the ears of every priest, every day, to make sure they don't use bananas in the sacred feast instead of canonical mangoes, or that the vestments are made of linen not cotton, and that all matters of parish governance stem from parish councils instead of central bishoprics, fair enough.

Is your game setting one of those?  Mine isn't.  I've seen very few that were.  Seriously, how many of you have ever played a religiously-oriented character where the deity speaks in your ear, "You're doing it wrong" ...? 
Even if you discount that real world religious adherents also claim that their god/s are real, and also claim divine revelation as the backing for their POVs, how many GMs actually smite players for alignment/faith dissension, and how many players put up with the ones who do?  Especially in the D&D of latter days, when clerics can get powers from frigging philosophical concepts (because, you know, we can't actually expect gamers to handle doctrine or dogma), I'm thinking there's enormous scope for the niggling differences to which schismatics cling.

I mean seriously: take the Anglican Communion and the Roman Catholic Church.  For the great majority of the history of the two faiths, they disagreed on just three things: who was in charge, whether priests could get laid, and whether parishioners could get divorced.  Countless wars between Shia and Sunni Islamists have spilled countless blood, the chief difference between which has to do with who Mohammed's successor was, 1400 years ago.  A number of Christian sects have the exact same doctrine and practices, but differ only over issues of church governance, and are otherwise at daggers drawn, because of course the Methodists and the Presbyterians always have hated one another, world without end, amen.

(Take a small town I lived in for a few years.  Want to talk about religious wars?  The three leading churches were all Roman Catholic.  The buildings were all within a couple hundred yards of one another.  What did they all hate one another over, and how could there possibly be three separate Catholic parishes clustered together, in a village of no more than four thousand people?  Well, one was the Polish church, and one was the French church, and one was the catchall church for all the other ethnic groups.  That was all she wrote.  And toss in that the village had an Episcopal church, a Congregational church, a Baptist church, and a Unitarian church ... each and every one within five minutes walk of one another.  Heck, four of those churches were at the same intersection.  Yikes.)

I can easily see a case for even heavy interventionist settings where the Gods don't worry about the small stuff ... any more than they smite clerics for each little niggling transgression.  They turn their attention to Fighting Chaos or Thou Shalt Not Lie! or Kill All The Set worshippers and leave their bodies to rot! ... and can't be assed to worry about whether or not the creed of faith includes "And on this we stake our immortal souls," or on the acceptable degree of iconography in local parishes, or whether you wear a yellow versus a pink sash on the high holy day, or whether that high holy day is celebrated on the 5th of Girithim or on the first Waterday of Girithim.

15 December 2022

Stupid PC Tricks

 Just by way of random silliness for the week, rather than one of the serious posts I’m halfway through writing, I bring you ... STUPID PC TRICKS.

No, this isn’t a list of idiotic things I’ve seen characters do.  (The majority of these were perpetrated by just one player, and I may post that one day.)  It’s a list of idiotic gaming shibboleths that just keep rolling along, decade after decade, without a lick of sense behind them.

* 10' foot poles: Seriously?  Alright, I have an experiment for you.  Just for the sake of argument, folks, go grab a 10' length of PVC tubing from your local hardware store.  Try walking around with it for an hour.  Now try walking with it indoors.  Now get a group of a half-dozen people to do the same.  Now hope that someone has a video camera handy, because you'd score a hundred thousand YouTube hits in a day with that comedy gold.  Whether it was Gygax or Arneson who was the one to think up the notion that one could carry one of these things underground I have no idea, but you have to wonder if either of them had ever held a 10' long piece of hardwood in their lives, never mind in confined quarters.

THAT is a 10' pole.  Go ahead.  Strap it to your back in a dungeon.  I dare you.

* Speaking of dungeons ... dungeon mapping.  Yeah, right.  So ... who’s going hands-free in the dungeon and balancing a writing desk, inkwell and quill, scribbling and blotching on a piece of skittering parchment in indifferent lighting conditions, where you can't readily erase or correct your mistakes.  How long does it take to set that stuff down and get out your weapons in a tussle, and how likely is it that nothing disturbs the desk?  Speaking of likely, I’ve another exercise for you.  Go outside to the nearest intersection.  Now draw that intersection on paper.  Now go back inside and compare your drawing to (say) Google Maps.  You were only off the mark by 5 degrees, say?  That’s pretty good!  Want to guess how many five-degree errors it will take to make your dungeon map completely screwed up?  Not very many.

* Giant packloads.  Third experiment of the day: take a backpack.  Stuff it as full of books as it will fit.  Hoist that on your back.  Do some exercises, jog some, move around.  Pretty heavy and unwieldy, isn’t it?  That packload you’re toting is only 25 lbs, about.  Seriously.  I agree that the military trains with 50 lb loads, but while that’s feasible for thirty soldiers going into a battle with a few minutes to prepare -- and oh, by the way, how they're fighting is NOT leaping about and swinging swords -- it just is not feasible for a small party that gets ambushed and needs to react in *seconds*.  (Never mind that low-tech camping gear is a good deal heavier than similar stuff is today.  Nylon vs canvas, plastic vs hardwood, titanium vs iron, rayon vs hemp, synthetics vs wool, concentrate vs ...)

08 December 2022

Tidbits: Three Tips

Challenged on a forum to come up with our top three tips to newbies and grognards alike, this was my response:


My first rule is common to both groups:  We should all be in this to have fun.  This isn't a job, it isn't a chore, it isn't a war, and no one should be forcing you to do it.  If you're not having fun, something is wrong, and you need to address that.  If worst comes to worst, a popular catchphrase is "No gaming is better than bad gaming."

For newbies:

2)  Try new styles out.  There are so many systems, styles, milieus and genres out there.  Don't fall into the common trap of thinking that the Only Way You Can Play The Game is exactly like your first group does it; that's like sitting down at a poker game and getting mad that the rules aren't exactly like blackjack.

3)  Be someone interested in learning the rules of the system you play.  A lot of players don't, and they not only place a lot of burden on the GM, but they slow down play for their fellow players in constantly having to be prodded and reminded of things.  As with any other field of human endeavor, you get out of something what you put into it.

For experienced players:

2) Be true to (and aware of) yourself.  Play the games you like, not the ones you don't because you've been browbeaten into it.  Recognize the styles and milieus you can handle, how frequently you can play, how long you like sessions to be, how much digression and socializing you want.  Not knowing your own limitations ends in trouble.

3)  This is a cooperative exercise; tabletop, for the most part, is a consensus-driven game.  A player who designs a character wildly at odds with the others, a player who wants to freelance all the time, a player who doesn’t want to get on board with the milieu or the setting, these are pains in the ass for all around them.  There are RPGs out there for rugged individualists who don’t want to act in lockstep with others: we call them MMORPGs and LARPs.

01 December 2022

Something Weird!

“Something weird heah!  Get yer weird things!”  I raised an eyebrow.  Street vendors rolled by the Woflo Inn about five hundred damn times a day, screeching like strangled gulls.  I've never cared for cities, and the ones in these human lands are really dire, and I got sick of the racket by the second day.  But it was midsummer, and closing the shutters would’ve choked us with the heat.  This was a new call on me, anyway.

Chav was on her feet and grabbing for her belt pouch like a shot.  “Where are YOU going?” I drawled.

“You GOTTA come see this, Eve!  This guy is great!” And with that, she was right out the door and pelting down the stairs.

“Something weird heah!  Get yer weird things riiiight heah!” 

No one knows his name ... he’s never said.  No one knows anything about him ... he won’t talk.  But every rare once in a while, once or twice a year, he’s pushing his cart down the cobblestones, barking out his sales pitch.

The man’s of average height, dusky complexion, raggedly cut dark brown hair.  His garb is dusty, worn, nondescript homespun, with a faded indigo wool vest.  He always seems to need a shave.  He bears no weapon.

But the tale’s not about him.  It’s about his cart.

It’s a simple pushcart, two handles, two wobbly wheels.  On it is a baffling array of packages, all wrapped up in faded, threadbare canvas and tied with coarse twine.  They are of all shapes, and of many sizes; no two are alike.  For just five silver pennies, you can have one item.

But only one.  On any given trip, he will never sell more than one item to one person.  He’ll hand you your item, and move on, sounding out his call once more.

And then it’s your turn: to figure out just what in the hell you’ve got.

✵   ✵   ✵   ✵   ✵   ✵   ✵   ✵   ✵

What the cart vends is offbeat items.  My own list runs several hundred deep, and are almost all modern-tech items, usually quite mundane.  Examples I’ve given out over the years include rolls of Scotch tape, a modern Alpine backpack, a car antenna, a Bic lighter, a box of plastic army men, a Brillo pad, a tube of Preparation H, a box of tampons, a TV tray, a space blanket, a penlight, a Slinky, an aluminum baseball bat, and a parking meter.

The trick is to identify it without any handles that would quickly reveal it: “You’ve got an odd wooden pole.  It’s about four feet long and an inch square.  It has strange runes on it, unrecognizable to you, painted on the shaft.  At one end is a flat paddle, about a foot long, and breaking off at a 45 degree angle.  The end of the pole is tipped with an odd black substance that’s sticky to the touch and slightly flexible; the paddle is wrapped in the middle with a thin layer of what appears to be the same substance.”  That’s an actual example, and it took the party that had it over a half-hour to figure it out.  (Feel free to put your own guesses in the comments.)

The vendor won’t sell you more than one, and no matter what it is it costs no more than five silver pennies.  He won’t give you any clue what anything is, and is blandly incurious.  He’s also laconic about damn near everything else too: “I get these from friends.” “Eh, selling them is a living.”  Ask too many questions, he’ll frown and move on.

If you try to follow him, he’ll disappear around the next corner and just plain vanish.  No one’s ever accosted or attacked him, and no one’s been insane enough to try to rob him.  (My parties, who are uniformly charmed when the fellow shows up, exert peer pressure on anyone who’s tried to so much as give him a hard time.)  I leave it up to GMs what happens if anyone tries, but I recommend lightning from the sky and the earth opening up to swallow offenders.

It is, of course, up to the players to decide what good the items are for, if anything.  Some, like a 20th century cowboy hat, are obvious.  Some, like a lava lamp or a toaster oven, sure as heck aren’t.