Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Don't Fear the Reaper-Jones: Cat's Claw Reveiw

The second Death's Daughter book is out and Callie is back!

Calliope Reaper-Jones is the eponymous Death's Daughter in Amber Benson's second book of the series, Cat's Claw. Like the first one, Callie is tossed into another adventure. This time not to save her dad and potential immortality, but return on all the favors book one cost her. Starting with returning the adorable little hell hound Runt (Griselda) to Hell, or rather the North Gate of Hell where Runt's father, Cerberus, needs Callie to do something for him.

Callie rushes of to Purgatory to find the soul of a long dead Egyptian architect, that has somehow fallen off the radar. In the mean-time she has to deal with the shade of her former-not-quite-lover Daniel, aka the Former Protégé of the Devil, some weird aura-expert that seems to know what Callie’s immortal unique kill is, and a mess of angry Egyptian gods.

I won’t go into all the detail here, that would be ruining it for everyone, but there are twists and turns and trips to Hell, Purgatory and Vegas.

Let’s instead talk about the author and her creation.

Amber Benson is the creator of this tale, but I would not be surprised if there wasn’t a tiny Callie in her brain screaming at her telling to write. And how to write. And when. And how much.

Callie is a wreck, but thankfully Amber Benson is not. This book is much better than the first one and the tale is very fun. I really did not want to put it down once I started. People have accused Callie as being too fashion conscious and maybe even a little shallow. Well that is how she is supposed to be. It’s all a façade. Callie doesn’t want to be immortal or the Scion of Death, or anything. She wants to be a New Yorker. She wants nice shoes and maybe a nice bag to go with them. A hot guy would be nice too. Trouble is Callie wants “Sex in the City” and she is stuck with “Dante’s Inferno”.

I think Amber does a fantastic job here of showing the superficial Callie and the REAL Callie that lies just beneath. If Callie was a vapid, air head she would have died in the first book; immortal or not. But she isn’t.

Now that we have the second book in hand we can see what we have in store. This is a modern Divine Comedy. Like Dante, our first tale was in Hell and our second in Purgatory. There are also many references to Dante’s magnum opus here too.

We get to know Callie a bit more here too. There is less focus on the secondary characters and more on her. This is good, but I did miss seeing the scenes with her sister, Clio. I liked the introduction of Callie’s magic; the girl has some power and I hope we get to see it in the next book.

Just like it took me a while to like Kim Harrison’s Rachel Morgan, it took me a bit to like Calliope Reaper-Jones, but now I do. I see through the façade to the real Callie now. I can’t wait till she sees it too!

If you like modern-supernatural-horror/chick-lit books and are not afraid to pick up some new terms (I did have to look up what Manolos are and how much they cost…yikes!) this is an fun read.

Cat's Claw is a fun book that manages to improve on the first one of the series and makes me excited for the third.  Don't know if we will have more after that, a trilogy seems about right, but if we do then I am up for that one too.

Dave Arneson

I was not going to mark this day anymore than I marked Gary's.  But I did want to say a couple of things since I have been so engrossed in Blackmoor of late.

Days of death strike a more resonate chord in humans. People always talk about where they were the day Kennedy or Lennon died. I for one always remember where I was the day I had heard Marvin Gaye had been killed or Curt Cobain had died.  It is natural to want to mark them.

Me. I will always remember 8/16/2008 as my Dave Arneson day. That was the day I met him and got a chance to thank him for all he had done.

So again. Thank you Dave.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Races of Mystoerth: Gypsy Elves

The Gypsy Elf

"Thousands of years ago the elves were a unified race.  The elven people stood strong and diverse.
Then the War came and the Elves were Sundered. The elves were divided by the war.
But some chose not to fight, some took in their brothers and sisters from all sides.
These elves were cursed by Corellon Larethian to wander the lands till the day when all elves stood as one people again.  The other elves took pity on them, calling them, in their own tongues The Wanderers.  But not the Wanderers themselves.  They knew a powerful secret.

They knew they were Free."
- From the Songs of the Ranagwithe

The Witches Beck by Nichole Marie Grubb
The Gypsy Elf, or as the call themselves "The Free Elves" (Ranagwithe in their own language) , has a long history in my game and one shared with the evolution of my Witch class.  Originally I was going to even make a few Gypsy Elf witches to play, but oddly enough I never did.   Though there are mythos of the gypsy elves that are tied indirectly with various occult, but mostly pagan, beliefs.

In the game Gypsy Elfs wander the world, in and out of the land of faerie, searching for their lost home.  They will find it only on the day when all the elves are reunited as a race.  Until then they wander.
I have pictured them as not being xenophobic as human gypsies are often portrayed, but rather as gregarious travelers.  Why this change?  It helps the taboos I have set up for them and it seemed to be more logical.  Plus I did not want to do another Romani or Irish Traveller clone.

Like their human counterparts, Gypsy Elves travel all over the known world. However, unlike the Human Gypsies, Gypsy Elves are much more gregarious. The origins of the Gypsy Elves (and Shadow Elves) date back to what has become to be known as the Sundering of the Elves. When the Dark elves broke free from the light elves they split into several races. The light elves of course became the Eladrin/High Elves and the dark became the Drow.

There were elves that remained outside of the conflict. One group was a band of light elves that protected both the dark and light elves from each other. When the gods split the elves apart, the gypsy elves were left without a home to call their own. Since they never harmed another elf before they were not forced into the dark underground. Ever since then the Gypsy Elves have wandered from place to place looking for a home. While Gypsy elves tend to be neutral to all other races, they are always treated as “good” to other elves. There are several universal elven customs that apply only to Gypsy Elves.

  1. No Gypsy Elf may harm another Elf. Even Drow and Half-Elves.
  2. No other elf, Drow or Half-, may harm a Gypsy Elf.
  3. No Elven community may refuse lodging to a band of Gypsy Elves. The Gypsy then must agree to be on their way soon after.

At any point in time other elven species may be found in a group of Gypsy Elves, as they may freely travel as long as they abide by the Gypsy Elves rules and lifestyle. These “Free Wanderers” can make up to 10% of the tribe’s population.

As long as the other elves do not fight amongst themselves or the other Gypsy Elves they may remain with the tribe as long as they like. Also any Gypsy Elf is invited to remain in any Elf community, but few rarely do.

Consequently the racial make-up of Gypsy Elves is somewhat mixed. Actually there is no Gypsy Elf race. It is the human populations of the world call them “Gypsy”. The elves refer to them only as “Wandering Elves”. Gypsy Elves often refer to themselves as the “Free Elves. Either name in the elven language is Ranagwithe.

Gypsy Elves are on friendly terms with humans. They find Human Gypsies to be too xenophobic for their tastes. But they will travel with them for mutual benefit. This helps to explain the high amount of Half-Elves.

Gypsy Elves, like their Elf cousins, produce fine art, in particular music and dance. Many have excelled in woodcarving and sell these pieces of art in communities they pass through. What these elves cannot make, they buy. In this respect they are very good terms with humans.

Gypsy Elves are careful never to take more from the land or their hosts then they absolutely need. It has been said that there will be no evidence of a gypsy elf camp 24 hours after they leave.

4th Edition Gypsy Elves

Related to the elves, eladrin and drow, gypsy elves wander the world for their lost home and in hope that they elven races will be reunified.

Racial Traits

Avg. Height: 5'2"-5'10"
Avg. Weight: 90-150lb

Ability Scores: +2 Dex, +2 Cha
Size: Medium
Speed: 6 squares
Vision: Low-light

Languages: Common, Elvish, plus one other of the player’s choice
Skill Bonuses: +2 Nature, +2 Stealth

Gypsy Weapon Proficiency: You gain proficiency with the shortsword.
Elvish Reflexes: You gain a +1 racial bonus to your Reflex defense.
In addition, you gain a +5 racial bonus to saving throws against charm effects.

Versatile Linguist: You gain one extra language (above and beyond other bonuses) that you have learned in your travels.
Fey Origin: You are considered a fey creature for the purposes of effects that relate to creature origin.

Trance: Rather than sleep, eladrin enter a meditative state known as trance. You need to spend 4 hours in this state to gain the same benefits other races gain from taking a 6-hour extended rest. While in a trance, you are fully aware of your surroundings and notice approaching enemies and other events as normal.

Elven Fate: You can use elven fate as an encounter power.

Elven Fate Gypsy Elf Racial Power
Your race has twisted the strands of fate for so long that every action can be foretold.
You may re-roll any one die and use the roll of your choice.

Encounter
Free Action Personal

Effect: Reroll any roll. Use either roll.


Play a gypsy elf if you want . . .
✦ to be good at stealth and moving in natural environments.
✦ to play a worldly hero with an air of mystery and mystique.
✦ to be a member of a race that favors the bard, ranger, rouge, sorcerer or warlock classes.

3.x/Pathfinder Gypsy Elves

+2 Dexterity, +2 Charisma, -2 Intelligence: Gypsy elves are agile of foot and hand. They also process a gregarious personality. Their lack of a permanent home and their ad-hoc means of education give the impression that they are unintelligent or uncouth.

Medium: Gypsy elves are Medium creatures and have no bonuses or penalties due to their size.
Normal Speed: Gypsy elves have a base speed of 30 feet.
Low-Light Vision: Gypsy elves can see twice as far as humans in conditions of dim light.
Elven Immunities: Like Elves, gypsy elves are immune to magic sleep effects and get a +2 racial saving throw bonus against enchantment spells and effects.
Elven Magic: Gypsy elves receive a +2 racial bonus on caster level checks made to overcome spell resistance.
Keen Senses: Gypsy elves receive a +2 racial bonus on Perception skill checks.
Weapon Familiarity: Elves are proficient with crossbows, rapiers, shortbows (including composite shortbows), and short swords, and treat any weapon with the word “elven” in its name as a martial weapon.
Languages: Gypsy elves begin play speaking Common, Elven and one additional language of the player’s choice. Gypsy elves with high Intelligence scores can choose from the following: Celestial, Draconic, Gnoll, Gnome, Goblin, Orc, and Sylvan.

Note: In the Pathfinder RPG Gypsy elf spellcasters often choose the Oracle and Witch classes.

Physical Qualities

Gypsy Elves look much like their Elf cousins. Traveling and encountering different lands and peoples for more than a millennium has altered the appearance of the race. They stand about the same height as elves. They are typically darker completion, having an almost olive skin color, though darker shades are not uncommon. Their hair also tends to be dark. Blacks and browns are very common. Once in a great while a blond or redhead will be born, and this is usually a cause for great celebration. If a child is born with white hair then this is considered a great omen of change; good or ill.

Playing a Gypsy Elf

Gypsy Elves are natural born adventurers. Young Gypsy Elves are expected to spend some time away from their clans in order to see the world. It is expected that they will seek out other elves in order to share stories and news.

Special thanks to Jason Vey for coming up with the elven name Ranagwithe.

Sanctuary

You feel lost. Hurt. 
Helpless. Desperate. 
Alone.

Something happened to you or to people you love.
And no one understands. 
No one believes.
And no one can help.

But we understand. 
We believe.
We can help.

We are Sanctuary.
Someday everything is going to be alright.

Sanctuary

Sanctuary began in my 1st Edition AD&D game.  Located in the Principalities of Glantri (from Mystara and Basic D&D), Sanctuary was a group of healers that specifically dealt with the attacks on normal people by supernatural creatures, werewolves and undead in particular.  Since many of the rulers of the land were the very monsters they were fighting Sanctuary had to become covert and hidden.  The only way to know you were in a "Sanctuary" was by a open palm hand in blue paint.
Eventually they were one of the groups that lead to the political coup of Glantri, tuning it in to a Theocratic Monarchy, but that was many years ago.

I revived the idea of Sanctuary for modern horror games back around 2004 or so.  They are  group that helps people deal with the after-math of a supernatural creature attack.  You or your loved ones are attacked by a vampire or werewolf?  Well going to the police or the hospital won't be much help (even if they do know) and talking to a therapist will either get you a nice quiet rest or hooked up with enough anti-psychotics to dull every pain (and in fact many do just that).

But Sanctuary is different.  They staff doctors, social workers, psychologists and even an array of computer experts to help rebuild lives.  Like all social services they are understaff, over worked, under funded and at least six months behind on their case loads.

I had wanted to introduce them in Season 2 of my Willow and Tara game, Season of the Witch.  But it never worked out.  Instead they worked out much better in my Season 3 Willow and Tara game, Generation HEX. Here the girls could contribute to Sanctuary a little more.

In the world they are a bit like occult social services and clinic as well as occult relocation program.

In an episode or adventure I use Sanctuary in my modern occult/supernatural games as part resource and part plot device.  Typically in their role of helping someone the monster of the week does not want helped.

I have not worked out any stats for the group, typically all I need is an NPC ready to go as a councilor or social worker and the monster.  Though in Generation HEX I did have an older Sarah Bailey working at Sanctuary.  She basically was there to yell at the cast saying she often had to clean up the messes and broken lives they left behind.

As a group they are not very old, game time wise.  I put their development around the 1990s.  Maybe they got their start up funds from the Clinton administration. But this goes along with my theory of supernatural games needing to up the ante each generation.  Back in the days of Chill monsters were rare, but as time went on more and more of the beasties were crawling out of the woodwork. So there has been more of an in-game and in-universe need for a group like this.

Those with a good memory might be able to guess where the name and the symbol of this group comes from.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Pathfinder: Going forward in reverse

So it is now official.  WE are moving our 4th Ed. D&D over to Pathfinder.



I am of two minds about this.

On one hand Pathfinder is a lot of fun.  It is easy to do and given the years long 3.x game I have been playing with my kids it is easy to teach them.  4e's combats just take so damn long, it is hard to do more than two encounters per day.

On the other, I really enjoy Fourth Edition and have a lot of nice toys for that too.  I love the DDi and I am lamenting that there is nothing similar for Pathfinder. Yes I know about Hero Lab, but I am not sure how well it works and whether it would work for me.

I am not going to debate the merits of one over the other.  I am sick to death of edition wars and I don't want to contribute to either side on this.   Both games are fun, both games "can do D&D" and both are good games.  Everything else is just details.

So I am in the process of converting back some of my 4e characters to Pathfinder.  Not difficult really, the systems have more in common than I think some people would like you to believe.  I focus more on concept than actual class.  So some warlocks become witches, other sorcerers.

Chances are some 4e-isms will enter our Pathfinder games.  Passive Insight and Passive Perception come to mind right away. Though we are not likely to use healing surges at all.  Though my son made a good joke about that on Saturday.  One of the boys (all of them 6/7 to 10 years old), made a joke about "being bloodied" and "needing a healing surge". Liam said, "sorry you have to wait for the universe to upgrade to 4th edition first!".  

So we will use terms like "bloddied" and that might mean something in the future, but not quite yet.  I also like some of the ideas behind skill challenges and I would like to import Dragonborn over for my son.  After all what is D&D if you can't house rule it?

I am certain we will come back to 4e, and it is also likely that my current 3.x game with my two kids will become a 4e game some day.  But now just to be honest I am happy to be gaming regularly and I hope we stick with this for a long time to come.  It's a new world, but no more new than 4e, and the adventures still feel like adventures.

Course now I have to figure out if a character I play in both games (which is likely to happen) is the same character or maybe a Mirror/Mirror, alternate universe deal.   These are important things to consider afterall...

More races of Mystoerth: Goblins

I have been thinking a bit about races, or rather species, in my world.  Last time I talked about D&D 4e and their 25 races.  I felt that was a bit much, but I got to thinking that my own home-brew efforts were just as bad. I have honestly no clue how many different types of elves I have.  And I don't just mean odd ones like grey, valley and grugach, but gypsy, rain-forest, snow and night elves too. I have at least 5 or 6 halfling subtypes and a couple of gnomes.

Hob-noblin with the Goblins

I have talked about races/species in general and a bit on orcs and elves.  But lately my thoughts have turned to Goblins.  I have to blame the work I did in Ghosts of Albion.  Pick up that game and you will see what my thoughts are currently on the various goblin type.  I have also been influenced of late by the goblins in Yet Another Fantasy Gamer Comic.  Part of the reasons too are that for the most part the monsters in D&D are taken from myth, legend and folklore, but a lot of monsters have more than one name and the same name sometime applies to very different creatures.  I talked about this briefly in my Succubus posts. Zak over at "Playing D&D With Porn Stars" is going over all this now with his alphabetical monster thing, and the posts on  Bugbears and Hobgoblins in particular.   Of course he is not the only one, we have ideas from Warhammer, regions from Greyhawk Grognard,  and the Asian inspired Hobgoblin.
I have also produced, mostly for Ghosts of Albion, a few goblin types such as the Blood Goblin and the goblin that is not a goblin at all, the Corn Goblin.

Goblins

Goblins in my world, and this is usually regardless of system, but *D&D, Ghosts of Albion and WitchGirls Adventures in particular, are short little nasties related to the faeries.  Goblins in fact share the same relationship to the fae that Tolkien Orcs share with Elves.  My initial concept of them was of course the 1986 Labyrinth movie.  Goblins are not outright evil, but certainly mischievous and opportunistic. They love commerce, not just the money, but all that brings with it; corruption, graft, drugs, crime.  So needless to say goblins are found in (and fond of) cities in my worlds. Back in the day we were playing in a lot of urban settings as opposed to dungeons per se.  Goblins were a big part of that.  As I moved on my goblins were influenced by Ferengi from Star Trek: TNG, GURPS Goblins, a bunch of other books and just a need to have a monster/humanoid type there.  So I like the Pathfinder Goblins better than the 4e ones, but they are really not that far off from each other.
In 4e and Ghosts of Albion, I place goblins in the Feywild and Avalon, respectively (different names for essentially the same thing).  Of course being goblins keeping them in one place is like trying to herd rats and they get out every chance they get.
Goblins have high infant mortality rates, which is probably a good thing given how quickly they reproduce.

In Ghosts of Albion and other modern supernatural games I run there is the Goblin Market.  Hidden from mundane eyes nearly everything and anything found in a magical world can be found here, for a price.  In *D&D the Market is more open, and more dangerous.  I will work this up one day, just need to figure out how to do it justice.

Hobgoblins

Somewhere along the line a hobgoblin went from trickster spirits like Puck to larger, military style goblins.  Of course we could thank (or blame) the Monster Manual for that, but it looks more like it is another bit of Tolkien in D&D. They do serve a certain roll in the game world.  Hobgoblins are larger, meaner, and certainly more evil. Maybe the Hob of Hobgoblin is not a "spirit" but "old Hob", the Devil.  In the 1st Ed Monster Manual they are lawful evil.  They are militaristic, big, evil, have redding skin.  Hobgoblins are devil-goblins.  Pretty easy I think. Plus I like the idea.  If we can have tieflings, alu-demons and cambions all as races then why not Hobgoblins as devil spawn among goblins.
Mağlubiyet,the god of the goblins then could be a type of devil. Maybe even a cast down fey god.

Maybe that helps explain why some goblins look so different, but most Hobgoblins all look the same.  The strict hierarchy and breeding program of the devils forces them to be more alike.  Now I would say that some of the more evil goblins, maybe the standard "D&D" goblin are goblin/hobgoblin hybrids. Or something.
The one thing they seem to be missing is horns.  I think Hobgoblins should have horns.  Like some of the orcs in the cartoon version of the Hobbit.

Bugbears
Many years ago I had a TRS-80 Color Computer with a Speech Pak and my DM at the time wrote a program for running a D&D game.  I added the speech parts to it.  Well it would always pronounce Bugbears  as "bug-beer".  It always made me think, what the hell is a Bugbear anyway?  A giant hairy goblin according to most of the books. For the longest time I thought why not just merge Bugbears and Hobgoblins into the same creature, their stats are not that off from each other really with the only big difference is that one is chaotic evil and the other lawful evil.    Well as I got into researching more I discovered that "bugbear" come from the same phonology that gives us boogies, boogey-man, bugaboos and the buckwan.  So another English fey type.  They are more animal like than Hobgoblin, which they are obviously related to.
I have been saying this for years, but I am now convinced after seeing their new Pathfinder incarnations, Bugbears are the offspring of goblins and demons. I can even see a situation where demons began impregnating their goblin slaves over the millennia till bugbears were produced.  Millennia more of letting them run amok in the planes of mortals has produced a race that is more or less stable.  Bugbears are then larger, nighmarish goblins that tend towards acts of random chaotic violence.  Given their chaotic nature, I might even introduce random mutations.  I have seen these for demons and for Gamma World, maybe their are some good ideas in the pages of Mutant Future for this.

Not to be outdone the Arch Dukes of Hell produce Hobgoblins in a strict engineered breeding program.

Other Goblins
Goblins are ripe for sorts of fun.  From the annoying to the dangerous to the outright evil, goblins can run the gambit.  Many years ago, so many in fact I was a kid ridding my bike listening to Thomas Dolby on my Walkman, I came up with a monster.  I have stats for him for various AD&D systems, but here is the most recent version.  I might do some retro stats for the little beastie for the various OSR books out there too.

Blood Goblin
The thing was no larger than a child, but no child could have such a malevolent countenance. It was nearly doubled over, with a hump on it’s back. It’s long gangly arms caused it to drag it’s knuckles like that of an ape. It’s face was piched, it’s mouth full of cruel sharp teeth, and it’s eyes empty pools of some milky substance. It’s skin was slick and glistening, it was only under closer inspection that we realised it was in fact covered in blood. The thing spoke to us, but it was incomprehensible. Not that we needed to understand it’s words when it’s actions were clear enough.
--From the Journal of Tamara Swift

Blood Goblins are nasty little beasties. Nominally part of the faerie, their essences have been corrupted by demonic power. The ritual to turn a faerie into a blood goblin is unknown to most mortals, but what is known is it is dark and evil and requires the demon binding the potential blood goblin to feed it some of it’s own demonic blood.
Once complete the faerie undergoes a horrible transformation. Their form becomes a twisted parody of what it once was. Wings (if they had them) wither and fall off. Teeth grow long and sharp. Their skin takes on the unhealthy look of a bruise or rotting flesh and thick acidic blood weeps from their pores. Arms grow long and their now taloned hands drag the ground. Their eyes turn completely milky white with no pupils visible.
They can speak, but it is difficult to understand them.
Blood goblins are bound to their master and will do his bidding. The trouble is most are far too dimwitted to be anything other than a nasty little killers. The enjoy hiding in alleys or darkened paths and ambush their targets. They have a keen sense of smell so often they need something that smells like the intended victim in order to attack them. A blood goblin can track their victim using an Observation check, modified as the Director needs to climate conditions and the like. Once on a mission they are too dim witted and too frightened of their masters to do anything else but complete it. Goblins that do not often will go rogue, preferring not to return their master in failure.

Name: Blood Goblin
Motivation: To serve their master
Creature Type: Faerie (goblin)
Attributes:
Strength 4, Dexterity 3, Constitution 3, Intelligence 1, Perception 4, Willpower 2
Ability Scores:
Muscle 12, Combat 13, Brains 9
Life Points: 38
Drama Points: 1
Special Abilities: Burning Blood (1 LP damage per contact with bare skin); Emotional Problems (Cruel); Faerie, Reduced Size (freakishly small); Unattractive (2)
Manoeuvres
Name Score Damage Notes
Dodge 13 — Defence action
Grapple 15 — Resisted by Dodge
Punch 13 8 Bash
Knife 13 8 Slash/Stab

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Pathfinder

Taking a break from smashing some goblins in Pathfinder on today's Family D&D day.

The combat is going REALLY fast, much faster than 4e or even 3.x.

Really digging my new witch too.  Though to be fair she does play similar to my 4e warlock.

More soon.
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