Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Behold The Obelisk pt.3

First, two important things happened while I wasn't writing:

1. I finished my semester tests, so hopefully, there will be more time to write,


2. It seems like I'm finally gonna roll some dice THIS WEEKEND!!!

and that means there are some important preparations to be made!

Ok... But this post was actually planned to be about something else, so let's get to the point.

As you might have gathered from my previous post the City of Obelisk is influenced, more or less directly, by some classical pulp and D&D locations, that I intended to mash into one, that will prove useful to me..

Here are my three (quite obvious) inspirations:

1. City-state of The Invincible Overlord

I learned about Wilderlands from OSR blogs. I think I have read a review of the d20 version of the setting once, but otherwise I was completely ignorant. Until a few months ago. All the gripping tales of that supplement made me want to find it and submerge in the old-school vibe of the whole thing.

Finally, after some struggle, I obtained the City - state book. As much as I like it, I instantly felt, that it won't exactly fit into my setting and thus decided to modify some tables.

But why just mod the tables, when I can actually loot the City-state for ideas and make it my own?

2. City of Thieves

I feel that the Howardian "unnamed city" was the main influence behind the City-state. I love the roguish and adventure friendly character of this location, but who doesn't?!

When I look back at the history of my gaming, I can clearly see that all cities I've ever depicted in my games, were in some way reminiscent of this one.

3. Waterdeep/Undermountain/Skullport

Even though I really dislike Forgotten Realms, I must admit - I do like the concept behind this gaming region.

When I first thought of turning the Palace of Culture into a game location, it was quickly followed by the idea of adopting it's infamous tunnels into a Undermountain like location.

This opens a lot of possibilities for adventuring, as well as a reason for random monster appearances in the city. You get the idea.

Ok. So this is it. I just felt that this post is a necessary addition to my Obelisk general overview.

If you have some city location ideas that could compliment my vision, you can drop them in the comments. All will be appreciated!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Behold The Obelisk pt.2

The Free City of Obelisk is a very peculiar place. It's one of the few cities in the world, that was built on the ruins of an Elder settlement. Until this day it remains unknown whether the site used to be a city or a temple complex of which the famous Obelisk was part.

The beginnings of the City's history are somewhat hazy. Because of the fear of the Obelisk, the fertile land lying in it's shadow remained unclaimed for a long time after the Fall. None of the surrounding kingdoms wanted to take it, as it was said to be cursed.

However, as the trade between the new kingdoms intensified, it became clear that the old Elder roads could handle more traffic and are faster than the new paths. Soon a small group of traders decided to take the risk and lead their caravan near the Obelisk. This granted them an advantage over other traders, however their joy didn't las long.

After few trips near the Obelisk, their secret was spilt by some drunk caravan guards. Others started thinking of taking their rout, however most of them lost their enthusiasm when only one person returned from the original caravans next voyage. This nameless man claimed that the traders felt over confident with their success and decided to break their rule of not spending the night in the shadow of the Obelisk. The man who lived to tell the story died soon afterward.

Some years later, emerged a man with a plan. He wanted to be wealthy and powerful and he knew how to do it. He sold all his possessions to buy equipment and hire people for his journey. The aim was to build a settlement near the Obelisk, where the caravans could safely spend the night. He knew the venture was risky, but succeeding would mean securing a profitable monopoly. And since his wife and children had passed away, he had nothing to loose.

He succeeded in establishing a small stronghold. At first it was just a palisade with a bunch of tents inside. But with time, the settlement grew. First a watchtower was built, than a wooden house for the leader. When the leader was dying, the outpost was already more than a hundred people strong. However, since he died childless, a problem arose, who should be the next leader...

By the decision of all the dwellers, the 9 remaining members of the original, founding expedition would choose the next head of the village. This is how the tradition, that the council of the 9 oldest trader families chooses the next head of the city, came into being.

This is the legend of how the Free City of Obelisk was founded.

Today the City is ruled by the 33rd of the elected leaders, one who took the title of the Magistrate. The agglomeration is one of the larger human settlements and perhaps the most famous place throughout the know lands.

It attracts all kinds of adventurers, traders artist and anyone who dreams of fame and fortune. It is said that the Obelisk Market is the largest trading place in the world and offers any item known to man, be it silks of the far east, frost steel from the far north, or illegal spells and powders from the south.

The Free State is also infamous for it's organized crime, drug trafficking, slavery, but most of all - religious cults and Elder past. The Obelisk attracts all kinds of zealots, flagellants and future sect leaders. Many new comers, who became charmed by one of the new orders, ended their lives sold to slavers.

The fact that the City is built on the old Elder ruins is also not easily forgotten. Although during the day, the traffic on the streets creates the illusion that the city is twice as populated, few are bold enough to roam the streets by night for in the Obelisk City a lone traveler can easily disappear, suffering a fate far worse than life in chains...

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Behold The Obelisk pt.1

Few days ago I was rushing to the University, when I looked behind me at the mighty stature of Warsaw's most recognizable landmark - The Palace of Culture.

It was half submerged in the mist, looking like some ancient construction, a tower perhaps, from atop of which the undying gods rule their city and amuse themselves, toying with our everyday lives.

You get the picture.

This is how it looks from a pigeon's point of view:

I won't go into much detail, since crucial info can be obtained here.

However, what's most important for this post is not covered by the wiki article. You see, almost everyone here has an extremely strong opinion about the building. Some hate it and postulate it being demolished as it's "the everlasting mark of the dark times of communism and Russian supremacy", others praise it's original architecture (if I'm correct only Kiev and Moscow have similar buildings) and try to promote it as Warsaw's logo.

Over the years the Palace of Culture has accumulated a number of myths and urban legends. For example, it is officially known that underneath the building and it's adjacent neighborhood lies a whole system of cellars and underground passages. However, officially no plans exist, nor are civilian tours admitted. This has led to many speculations what the "dungeons" were originally designed for and weather they really are as defunct as it is officially stated.

Anyway, here it is...


The Obelisk is a gargantuan construction standing in the middle of the Free City of Obelisk.
It is built out of black stone and has no windows, doors or visible entry ways. Most of it's surface is covered with sophisticated spiral symbols and runes. It's undoubtedly the largest architectural landmark in the known lands.

No one knows what the Obelisk is, what it has been constructed for, or even why it's called that way (since it's clearly not shaped like an obelisk). It is still widely disputed wether it's a temple form the time of the Old Empire, or a much older construction. Some claim it has been built in time before time, others say it was the palace of the Elder Emperor. There are also those who claim that it's a prison, protecting the world from unspeakable horrors locked within.

One thing remains a fact, no one has ever managed to get inside and return.

Whatever is the origin of the Obelisk, the dwellers of the Free City got used to it and treat it just as a famous landmark. The big stone square that surounds it has been turned into a lively market that attracts traders and religious zealots from all around the world. It is said that on the Obelisk Market religion is just a good for sale.

Though the city's population got used to the sight of the black tower, newcomers are always thirsty for new stories about the Obelisk. More than one bartender is ready to spin a tale of how he lost a limb descending into the legendary tunnels that run underneath the city, presumably connecting it with the alien structure.

Monday, January 18, 2010

little BIG Men

As you may or may not remember, I discarded halflings in one of my first setting creation posts. However a few days ago an idea, how to detolkienize halflings, suddenly popped up in my head.

Think halflings = Mongolians.

Stupid? Perhaps, but take look for yourselves:

You should know that me and my friends have a soft spot for everything Mongolian and that's why I think this somewhat ridiculous idea might click with them just fine.

Anyway. I was toying with this concept for some time asking myself two questions:

1. Do I really want halflings in my setting?
2. How small would a halfling bow have to be, in order to make it useful from horseback and not cramp the style of eastern-archer-horseman-barbarian?

Few minutes ago I read Zak's post, which reminded me that sometimes you have to just let the creative juices flow and make up explanations later...

So yeah, there are nomadic, horse riding halflings in my setting.

Here are some facts about them:
  • they are bigger than the halflings of the Forgotten Realms or Greyhawk
  • they don't have hairy feet, nor do they have curly hair
  • they are proficient riders and archers (in my world, they are the inventors of composite bows)
  • they use war ponies that are much tougher than normal horses
  • I picture their culture as somewhat similar to Scythian
  • they tattoo their bodies in colorful and elaborate ways in order to distinguish their social position
  • they are divided into many clans and tribes that are constantly waging war against each other
  • their religion is an animistic one
  • they do not have written language and their culture is entirely based around oral tradition
  • they have a brutal law and are not a race of chubby morons
  • they are not called halflings (not even by other races), they refer to themselves as Zotharians ( but we say one Zohar)
  • they inhabit lands far enough that I don't have to worry about them on a day to day basis
Enough said.

I might not use it at all, but it's here in case anyone wants to play one.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Not only does my axe do d10 damage, but it also kills fascists

Some time ago James Raggi posted an entry on awarding experience. I read it with pleasure, however I found myself disagreeing with some of his points. I've thought about this post for some time and here it is:

My own mandatory XP post!

As my game is coming closer, I'm asking myself, what should I award Xp for? Should I go with monster Xp only? Maybe I should preserve the old school Gp=Xp rule?

I came up with an analogy...

My starting point is: adventurers are in many ways like rock stars. They travel a lot, spend a lot of time away form their homes, have to cope with obstacles, addictions, etc. Their goal? Mostly to become rich or die trying (Paladins are like indie musicians. Their aim is to produce something good and they might succeed, but even if they are remembered, they do die in poverty).

Just like an a group of adventurers starts from killing kobolds and later proceeds to kill orks, ogres, trolls, and consecutively more dangerous monsters, a rock band starts from playing to just themselves, then moves to playing small gigs that no one gives a shit about, then they build up an audience, go on a world tour and hopefully play great shows to thousands of people. You get the idea.

Now let's look at a well established guitarist like Jimi Hendrix.

At some point of his career Hendrix secured a one million dollar record deal - a sum unheard of for that time. Did the sum of gold pieces he was offered reflect his talent, skill and experience as a musician? Perhaps, although as we can observe on MTV - skill, experience and quality are not mandatory to make money through making music.

In my opinion, the money that Hendrix got was just a result of his adventures - hard touring, playing for more and more people, being inventive, tackling obstacles like exploding amplifiers, racist freaks, plaster casters, and so on. He got the money because he was an amazing performer and a high level musician able to do things unheard of before (in other word it's the Xp=Gp and not the other way round).

On the other hand, the fact that he had a lot of money led him to more "adventures", many of them dangerous, like being kidnapped (or maybe even murdered).

All that is supposed to illustrate two things - why I will award monster Xp and why rather than just use the simple Gp = Xp calculus, I will make my players use the table of Extended Carousing-Mishaps whenever they want to exchange their gold for experience.

On the other hand I think that players should be rewarded for good playing - both in game decision making/problem solving, as well as role playing. I also think, that they should be awarded every time they manage something extraordinary and one of a kind, like being the first to climb Mt. Everest, or win a duel with a famous duelist.

I know it's completely arbitrary and subjective, but I am convinced that Jimi, regardless of his level, did get Xp every time he unexpectedly burst into a great, face melting improvisation.

Monday, January 11, 2010

I dunno about you, but my great axe deals d10 damage!

It seems like this post has stirred some discussion over the topic of weapon damage in D&D.

Here are some loose thoughts explaining why I like different types of dice for rolling weapon's damage (or why I oppose the idea of all weapons dealing d6 damage).

I believe that different damage dice are useful because, at least in my opinion, D&D has no other way of showing the advantage of wielding one weapon over another (somehow I never cared for weapon speed tables and etc.).

Let us imagine a fight in which one of the warriors is armed with a dagger and the other one with a long sword. The advantage of the second combatant is obvious and that's where different damage dice come handy. It's simple, one of them takes more damage since he's wielding an inferior weapon, which puts him into disadvantage. If they both were wielding daggers, the fight would have been even and they'd just slowly stab each other to death. In the first example, the dagger wielder dies faster because his opponent's weapon allows for better in combat performance, than his own weapon.

Some might say, the example with the sword vs. dagger works good, because it's obvious which one of them is inferior. But what about weapons that are completely different? Like say a sword vs. an axe?

It's true that the sword is a faster and a more useful weapon (in combat, not in every day life!). However in this case, the difference is simply in damage. An axe is a crude weapon that deals a lot of damage. A sword wielder might deliver several lighter slashes, but when the axe armored barbarian lands a blow - he hacks. It's much easier to hack some one's arm off with an axe than with a sword.

So this is my small rationalization of weapon damage. Even though I don't think my interpretation was the original reason for introducing varying weapon damage, it works fine for me.

Most of all it's fun!

I'd rather see those 10 and 8 sided polyhedrons roll as players hack their way through enemies, than count weapon speed and what not.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

How high is your Resistance to absurdity?

Some of you show interest in learning more about Krysztaly Czasu (Time Crystals).

I decided to quench your thirst and provide an overview of the game. Please note, that I tried to translate things as accurately (not literally!) as possible. However, if something seems weirdly formed, it's probably because I tried to keep the spirit (the difficult, pseudo-historical/scientific/poetic language) of the original.

The Setting

The name of the system comes from a myth within the game world. It is believed that somewhere within the game universe powerful objects (or even entities), known as the Time Crystals, exist. They are said to be more powerful than magic, gods, or the world itself (that's pretty fucking powerful, if you ask me). Those who will come into possession of the Time Crystals will have an almost unlimited control over reality.

The origins or the reason for the existence of Time Crystals remain unknown and many, often clashing theories circulate. Some say they are artifacts from a different universe/dimension, others claim they were made in "time before time", or that they are the remains of the first matter known as the Monolith. Finally some believe they are beings secretly plotting and controlling the world...

The world in which the game takes place is known as Orchia. It's inhabited by typical fantasy races: elves, dwarfs, hobbits [because the game was published in the early nineties, when polish law of intellectual property was liquid, Time Crystals often "borrow" from the fantasy classics] reptilians and orcs.

Orchia is probably bigger than Earth, but the game takes place only on a 4th. part of it's surface, where the Lands of 10 Archipelagos are located. There is 9 so called "close" archipelagos and one "scattered" among them... Some of the islands are very small, others are the size of whole countries or subcontinents. Each of the archipelagos is meant to have a different climate and culture.

It is said that long ago all known lands were parts of a huge super-continent, but due to some events, perhaps a divine intervention, it was scattered.

Adventures usually take place on Orchia's Central Archipelago, most often on it's biggest island - The Great Orcus. It's the homeland of orcs [duh!] and is believed to also be the cradle of all intelligent life.

The game takes place in the time when the orcish empire rules throughout most of the known lands. Though no country can match it's economical and military power, the empire's reign is becoming weaker and it's aristocracy (originally named Uruk'hai) grows more and more decadent.

I don't go into any other details, because there are no interesting ideas concerning culture or the different states. It's the usual, all over the place medieval-fantasy vibe.

Mechanics and Character Creation

The game is based on percentile tests made using a d100.
Each character has 10 primary attributes:
  • Liveliness
  • Physical strength
  • Dexterity
  • Speed
  • Intelligence
  • Wisdom
  • Magical Abilities
  • Charisma
  • Presence
  • Faith
Additionally each attribute has a secondary one called Resistance, which works a bit like a saving throw. Here are the ridiculous names, each is a Resistance to...
• to illusions
• to psychology (!!!)
• to curses
• to shock (meaning psychological shock)
• to unnatural effects (my personal favorite)
• to diseases
• to exhalations (or reek, in polish it's the same word)
• to temperature
• to electricity
• to polymorphism

As you can see, the authors were not resistant to stupidity.

Apart from those (20!) attributes, there are some additional ones, which are based on two or
more of the above attributes, each with equally fabulous names. Among them are: LifeEnergy,
Magical Potential, Spotting and (the best character attribute ever) Normality.

Of course there are also lists of skills, languages, weapon proficiencies, jobs, special abilities one might be born with, special abilities one might learn, etc...

Finally we come to character classes. They are divided into castes, but characteristically for this systems treatment of language, meaning of the word "caste" is reduced to "group". Of course additionally characters belong to different social classes and shit, but I won't go into it, since
there is nothing useful or amusing to be found.

Class castes:

Warriors Caste: fighter, ranger, guard,barbarian, mercenary
Knights Caste: knight, paladin, black knight
Rouges Caste: thief, assassin, merchant, bard
Priests Caste: priest, druid, astrologer, half-god
Wizards Caste: mage, warlock, illusionist, alchemist

So here you are! Now imagine many, many unofficial or semi-offcial supplements, articels, rules and stuff like that. When the company publishing Magia i Miecz (the magazine in which this game was first published) decided to make a book edition in 1998, no one knew what to take, what to change and what to throw out the window. The end product was very poor (not that there was much to start out with) and literally killed the system.

Now few crazy hermits still uphold the tradition and publish unofficial materials (so called 3 edition) on the internet. They are...

art by Jarosław Musiał

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Going Solo, or why the polish gaming community sucks

Happy 2010 everybody!

I felt shitty after the Xmas and decided to take some time off in order not to cramp my style any further...

But now, I'm back! Hopefully with a vengeance!

During my week off, I was thinking about my main problem with this blog - the fact that after almost two months, I'm still not running an old-school DnD game! Why is it so?

The answer is (unluckily) simple: I can't form a gaming group. It's not that I haven't been trying. I think everyone here knows how difficult it is to get a group of nice people (who have lives and problems of their own) together and play but here in Polandland, it seems twice as difficult! At least for me!

The reason for this, is the fact that the gaming culture developed differently than in the west. Let me elaborate...

The hobby arrived in Poland in the second half of the eighties and bloomed in the early nineties. The late beginnings shouldn't be a surprise, only with the fall of so-called communism and the introduction of the free market was it possible for small publishing companies to emerge and game materials be printed and freely imported from the west.

The golden age of Polish gaming could be linked to the appearance of the first gaming magazine called Magia i Miecz (Sword & Sorcery) in 1993. The first issues were devoted solely to publishing the first* Polish RPG game called Krysztaly Czasu (Crystals of Time), which was an extremely rule heavy AD&D clone.

Over the course of time, the magazine became more and more popular, covering more systems and the subjects linked to gaming, fantasy and sf. In 1995 Warhammer Fantasy Role Play was published, becoming a default "entry" system for the next 10 years. Not long after, other popular systems followed - all the World of Darkness, Call of Cthulhu, Earthdawn, Cyberpunk 2020 and finally even AD&D (which was in house print circulation for a long time, but was published quite late)...

This is where the going might get weird for all the dungeoneers - D&D never made it into the Polish public consciousness... And what I mean is that, in Poland, when people who have vaguely heard about the hobby want to address the subject, they will usually speak of "playing war hammers" or something like that. Of course, DnD is acknowledged by the gaming community as the ancestor, but is generally looked down upon (along with Warhammer) as simplistic and "not-serious", sometimes even addressed as "primitive"...

To be fair, this has changed a bit since in 2004 the Polish edition of 3.e, followed by the new Warhammer, were published. But that introduced a new generation of gamers, rather than changed the attitude of the "old' ones.

But back to the point!

This short outline is meant to give you some background on why I find it so difficult to explain why oldschool DnD is cool.

Because the tradition of playing DnD does not exist, few people understand what kind of atmosphere I want to invoke! And explaining isn't so easy! Usually when I get to the point of explaining how OSR postulates using rule light game and the flow of the story/adventure over loads of pseudo mimesis, people either look at me like I'm crazy**, or ask why not use "a better rule lite-system like FATE" (which, btw. I like a lot). Not many people see the old school elegance of the DnD rules and fall for their charm. In fact I'm close to explaining it by playing people this vid, which in my opinion really captures the spirit of OSR.

Finally there is a problem of the Polish Cult of Role-playing/acting. Somehow the presumption that good playing is synonymous with good acting is extremely strong. Few people here understand that good acting during the game doesn't stand in opposition to being silly, introducing Tables of What Happens When You Are Drunk and keeping in mind that what you are doing is playing an artificial construct of rules according to which you get Xp for gold just because it's cool.

So yeah, getting people to play is difficult... Especially that I have an adventure laying around for some time now and feel that both I and fishlemons are getting restless!

Maybe I'm just trying to make it too perfect! I really don't know now... Maybe I should run it gonzo-style like Zak does? But for that you still need a set of right people, or at least so it seems to me...

Recently I've even started thinking about running a solo introductory adventure for fishlemons (mainly because of this post). Still, it's gonna be her first time and I'm not sure if that's a good way of introducing her to the hobby, which after all is mainly a social activity.


*the question of what system was really the first polish language one remains disputable. The first officially published game was entitled Oko Yrrhadesa (Yrrhade's Eye, this is how the 1995 book version looked like), it came out as an article in the 1990 issue of the magazine Fenix. However, there are legends about first drafts of Time Crystals and a home translation of AD&D Player's Handbook circulating as early as 1987.
**somehow "realistic"rules are extremely popular in Poland and the belief that mechanics should describe the game as accurately as possible is quite widespread. On the other hand all the oldschool random tables, which I find entertaining on the meta game level, are discarded as something primitive!

all art by Jarosław Musiał