Thursday, December 31, 2015

Year End 2015

We are a few hours from seeing the end of 2015.
All in all not a bad year.  I got in a lot of great gaming, not a lot of variety of gaming, but a lot.
I played a lot of 5e and I even got to play some rather than just DMing.

One of my favorite features here were my Class Struggles posts.  Originally I only thought about doing about 15 of them, but it grew into something more.  Looking forward to doing more of those in 2016.

After 258 posts and nearly 5 years I think it might be time to retire Zatannurday. It has been a good run but I don't I have added anything new to it for a while.  I have a few posts left I want to do on it, but I think I will replace it with something new in Feburary.

I have a few more Skylla posts I would like to do.   I also have some posts on running horror games I would like to get out as well.

There are few games I would like to try this next year and some adventures.
My son has gotten pretty good at running 5e so maybe I will get in more playing too.

Hope you all have a great new year's eve and a happy new year!

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Class Struggles: The 5e Witch Project

Been playing a lot of D&D 5 of late and it has been a real blast.
It really has a lot going for it and feels like a D&D Greatest Hits.   But what it is lacking is a real witch class.

Well...I am not getting ready to write one to be honest.  I have plenty on my plate, but that doesn't mean I can't try to make something witch-like.

So something I have done with pretty much every other version of D&D I have played, most recently with 4e.  That was fun, but ultimately...well we know how that all turned out.

With 5e it has been a bit of different story.  For this experiment, I took five character concepts I have been playing around with for different things and thought this might be fun.

So in each case I built a by-the-book character of each of the main magic-using classes (and one extra, but I will get to that), cleric, druid, sorcerer, warlock, and wizard.  I used a variety of the backgrounds, feats, skill choices, and spells to create witch-like characters.

So far I have finished the warlock, the cleric, and druid.  I am working on the wizard and the sorcerer next.  I also built a paladin using the Oath of the Ancients, to build a witch-knight like character.

I am particularily fond of the Acolyte and Sage backgrounds for the characters.  I typically give Acolyte to the Arcane characters and Sage to the Divine, but not always.  It helps give them some background that I think would make them fell more "witchy".

Magic Initiate and Ritual Caster are also good feats to choose.  Typically something different than they already are.  My Warlock for example has Ritual Caster (Wizard) and Magic Initiate (Cleric).

Lastly are the spells.  There are a lot of great witch-like spells in the new PHB, much more so than say 4e had.  But there is still room for improvement.   There are plenty of spells in my Basic Witch book that could be converted and even improved under 5e. "Bewitch" is one of the first examples that comes to mind.

Pretty much everything else I can cover in role-playing.  The Cleric and Druid were tested out last week while my son ran Hoard of the Dragon Queen (or "Hoard of the Demon Dragon" as he was running it).  The Warlock has been coming in off and on while I have been running.

The real test for me will be the wizard and sorcerer.  For 4e the Wizard made the best "witch" for the concept I wanted to play and the Sorcerer did the same for 3e.   Interestingly enough the Cleric was the best 2e witch and the Druid the best 1e one. least for concepts I was doing at the time.

Again, I am not ready to write a 5e witch class, nor am I even convinced I need to, but the experiments will continue.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Christmas Gaming

It's been busy time this Christmas.  So far I have gotten a lot of gaming in.
We went to my in-laws to see my wife's sister and her kids and my kids brought out D&D.  I got hit with some allergies and could not run, but my oldest decided to run some games.  He got both of my nephews to play some D&D 5.  They had a great time.  So great in fact that I went out got them some dice, minis, a Starter Set and the Basic Rules.

We went back out to visit and Liam ended up running Hoard of the Dragon Queen.  Instead of Tiamat he used his own creation, Aži Dahāka.  It went fantastic.  Really fantastic.

Even their other cousin and her boyfriend joined in for a couple of sessions.

They had such great time that the brand new Xbox One went largely ignored.  Not to bad really.

So I got 4 new people into gaming this holiday.  How did you do?

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Zatannurday: Pinterest

We have been using Pinterest at work a lot lately, so naturally I also started "pinning" things I liked on my own accout.

There has been an applet on the side of my blog for some time now to see things I am pinning real time.  But here is the collection of all my Zatanna related pins.

Follow Timothy's board Zatanna on Pinterest.


Friday, December 25, 2015

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Happy Holidays!

Going to be out for a bit.  Hope to be back in time for Friday Night Vidoes.

In the meantime. Have a great holiday!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

I Dream of Worlds

One of the reasons the Hobbit struck a chord with me was not the adventure, though that is true, but because I share Bilbo's love of maps.  I love maps, especially old ones.  I have walked the fog cloaked streets of Victorian London. I have gone on gondolas in waterways of Glantri.  I have walked across fields in the Flannaes.  I have also talked about all these before.

There are still some lands that I look at and they just scream at me to visit them.

Pangea Ultima / Dying Earth / Zothique
I want to play a game at the end of time.  The sun lies huge and red in sky. The moon, if still there, has broken up.  The night sky is filled with stars as the Andromeda Galaxy collides with our own.  Society is crumbles and the human race is in decay.

Wouldn't this make for a great night sky.
I loved the Zothique stories of Clark Ashton Smith and there is just so much I could do with this.
I also love the idea of the continents of the Earth have moved via plate tectonics to new positions.  So there is only one great land mass.
Plus I have been dying to use Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea for something. This could be it really.  99% of the work is already in the core books.
I had already thought that the Earth in 150 million years looks a lot like the Hybora from REH's Conan.   It seems like to me to such a logical fit.  Hell.  I might even use some of the less squicky bits from Carcosa; mostly because it captures the mood so well.

I also have to admit I loved the Elric stories, the Books of Magic comics and the Doctor Who episodes that all take place at the end of time.

There is one little issue though.  Clark Ashton Smith's own Hyperborea was very much in the past.  But not to worry. I have a way to scratch that itch too.

I will admit I am fascinated by Doggerland.  I talked about it a while back as a quasi-mythical; Middle-Earth. It also fills that ancient land niche that Hyborea tried to convey.  I am not sure if my interest is enough to translate it into a gameable world. Afterall, Doggerland at it's largest was 16,000 BC and was flooded by 7,000 BC.  It would be another 1000 years till humans learned how to brew beer!  Though there are some Atlantis parrells that could be played with here.
Maybe while humans were still running around whacking each other with sticks, or the weapon of mass destruction of the time, the stone axe, there were elves or something else in magnificent cities of glass and steel or even of unknown metals ruling the lands.

In truth this reminds me a lot of Jason Vey's "Wasted Lands" idea.
Maybe I'll through the lot into a blender and hit frappé.

Maybe...maybe at the end of time reality breaks down and it allows the Old Ones to return and people of ancient forgotten lands and times are pulled in. So I can have Picts, Vikings, Romans and Dinosaurs with ancient forgotten necromancies.  Maybe all the characters (PCs that is) of the past are drawn here.  Something like Tanelorn or even "Lost".

And there is this quote that keeps running around in my head after hearing it on the season finale of Doctor Who, "At the end of everything, one must expect the company of immortals.".

Monday, December 21, 2015

Kids vs. Krampus

Had a great time this weekend.
We went out to see my in-laws on Saturday. My wife's sister was in and she also has two boys close to the same ages as my boys. We took out Dungeon! a game they really love and on the advice of my wife took out some D&D 5th edition, some minis and the Krampus adventure I was going to run for my kids.

Once out there I didn't want to get right into playing; long drive and I wanted to visit first. So my oldest took it upon himself to help them roll up new characters and he started running them through some quick and simple adventures.  He was hesitant at first, but soon really got into a groove DM'ing his first game.  He was having fun doing the voices and playing all the npcs and really coming up with a cool little adventure on the fly.  I was very, very pleased with him.  The kids enjoyed it because they played they played till almost 1:00am; about 12 hours straight!  So now I need to pick up a D&D5 starter kit for the other two boys so they can play at home.

On Sunday I ran the Krampus adventure, "Twas the Night Before Krampusnacht". I had been working on one for a little bit but something was not quite right about it.  So I was reading through some adventures for another campaign and I came across +Pete Spahn's Stealer of Children.  It did 90% of what I wanted to do I just made some tweaks. The Grombel was now Krampus, the dryad Merrit was now La Befena the Christmas Witch, I even used the Burgomeister Meisterburger and Grimsley from Santa Claus is Coming to Town (though here they were good) and the village became more like Whoville.  The kids discovered that Father Christmas was also captured by Krampus and if he is killed on the eve of Krampusnact the entire area will be plunged into endless winter.   They were able to defeat Krampus, thanks to a potion cooked up by La Befana.

The boys are already talking about when they will play next and my oldest is considering running the Rise of Tiamat adventure for them on Christmas eve when we seen them next.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Déjà vu blogfest: Class Struggles & PWWO: The Blood Witch

Here is my post the Déjà vu blogfest for 2015.

I am picking something, not from early this year, but this summer.  I am choosing Class Struggles & PWWO: The Blood Witch.  I liked this post because it was one of the first of the Class Struggles post I made which has become one of my favorite features of late and I have always loved Plays Well With Others.

Hope you all enjoy this repeat!
Class Struggles & PWWO: The Blood Witch

Yesterday I reviewed the newest book from +Johua De Santo New Class Options.  One of the classes in the book, the Blood Witch, struck me as familiar.  I remembered I had seen an earlier version of it in Dungeon Crawl #3.  Today I want to go into a bit more detail about this class.

Class Struggles

The class is an old archetype of a blood mage or a blood witch going all the way back to ... well forever really.  Right up into the Enlightenment people believed that there were magical properties to blood.   This is why "witches" signed contracts with the devil in their own blood.

There have been other blood witches in the past. Notablly the Blood Witch Prestige class from Relics & Rituals and from Mongoose's Ultimate Prestige Classes vol. 1. Both books have the same class.  Blood Witches used whatever spells they gained from their previous spell casting class.

The Blood Witch in New Class Options is a bit similar. It uses magic-user spells.  This is perfectly fine really, but some new spells would add some more flavor.

I was looking forward to this class the most and I still think it works well, but I have some issues with it.  Let's start at the top.

The Blood Witch uses Constitution as her main stat.  Very, very appropriate.
She needs a Con of 13 or higher. Again appropriate.  Constitution scores above 16 also grant an additional +1 to hit points.  Nice. She is going to need that.

Then we get to the next bit, quoting from the text.
Shattered Soul: Every day the Blood Witch has a 60% chance of losing herself in the song of magic. If this occurs the Witch  will be able to cast 1 level above her level, however, she cannot know what is real or delusion.
Ok. A neat bit a of flavor.  But 60% every day? That seems a bit high and then she can cast as a level higher?  Well sometimes that helps.  But who makes this roll the GM or the player?  Personally I would have it at 25% myself.  Or tie it to the phases of the moon or time of day.   THEN also a 25% where she can cast as a level lower.  I GET what is trying to be done here, but I would need to play it over a few sessions to see.

Here is the part I am not crazy about.  The Blood Witch needs to roll against her Constitution in order to cast spells.  So the high her Con score, the less of chance she has of success.  Again, from the text.
The first is that the Blood Witch must roll her constitution score + the spell level or higher in order to cast her spells. If the Blood Witch fails her spell roll the spell is swept away in the song of the magic and will not return to her for a day. The second is that for every spell cast the Blood Witch must sacrifice 1 + spell level of her health in order for the spell to be effective. If the Blood Witch refuses to make the sacrifice the spell and 1d4 other spells will be swept away in the song of magic for a two day period.
Ok. So mechanically I get what Johua is trying to do here. I also spoke with him. It is to limit the amount of spells a witch can use. Since a witch can use theoretically ANY spell once she gets to the right level.   In some ways her spell casting is more similar to the witch in +Jonathan Becker's The Complete B/X Adventurer than it is to anything else.
So a witch with a 16 Constitution could only cast spells up to 4th level, unless of course a 20 allways means a success.

I think what might work better here is limit the number of spells known.  The blood witch might be able to cast this she completely out of blood (not advised) but maybe she only knows X per level.  Like the 3rd Edition Sorcerer.  This would impose a limiting factor.
Then give her a bonus to her roll equal to her level.

So our Blood Witch with 16 Con and 5th level would need a 15 or better to cast a 4th level spell (16 + 4 -5 =15).   That seems to work well.

The experience levels for Blood Witch seem a bit high, granted this class has the potential for a lot of power.  I'd still like to play one sometime just to be sure.

Somethings you see in the the myths and stories of blood magic is sacrifice (which is covered here as personal sacrifice) and proxies.  So could this blood witch use an animal sacrifice for some spells?  I think where appropriate yes.  Proxies could be things like the animal but also proxies for blood itself, like purified water (possibly for healing spells if you use one of the witch spell lists) or even wine (blood of the vine).  Personally I would allow such proxies for some of the more benign or even mundane spells.

The Blood Witch is any interesting type of character and something that could add a air of different to a game. A Blood Witch doesn't have to be an evil character, but it not likely she is going to be trusted by a party and certainly looked down on by other casters especially proper wizards.

Plays Well With Others

The best thing about the Blood Witch is that fits a great niche in any gaming group or campaign. It also works with a number of great OSR books.  Obviously the blood witch will work mechanically with 99% of all the OSR and old-school books out there, the real question is will it work thematically.  For example, the blood witch would work fantastic with Lamentations of the Flame Princess, but thematically it might be a bit redundant since all magic-users are assumed to have some sort of dark(-ish) pact.

I already mentioned The Complete B/X Adventurer. The witch class as presented in that book works as a great base for the Blood Witch.  Combine the two classes into one works rather nicely.  The B/X Witch has spells up to 10th level which is nice, but the New Class Options Witch only goes to 7.

I mentioned that the Blood Witch is really missing some really cool spells. The Vivimancer from +Gavin Norman's Theorems & Thaumaturgy and Complete Vivimancer offer some really nice choices.   I created  a few for both my witch and the vivimancer here.  In particular I would suggest Blood Augury, Feel My Pain, Share My Pain, Stay Death's Hand, and of course Hell Hath No Fury because every witch needs that spell.

A while back I made some suggestions about witch spells for the vivimancer and vivimancer spells for the with.  The nice thing is the blood witch is perfect cross section of both classes and can use all these spells.

The blood witch also works great with +Jeff Talanian's Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea.  The style and type of magic used by the blood witch would be very much in tune with AS&SH.  Sacrificing blood for magical effects...yeah very much in tune.  There are also plenty of great witch spells in that book as well.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention my own book, The Witch: A sourcebook for Basic Edition fantasy games.  I am going to have to play a Blood Witch sometime, but I also think I want to try her out as Blood Witch "Tradition" using my own rules and see how well they work together.  Maybe twins...same level but one is a DeSanto Blood Witch while the other is a Brannan one.  Interesting idea really.

If you are in the mind to some conversions, there is a great set of blood magic rules and spells in +Owen Stephensmagnum opus Deep Magic for Pathfinder.  The blood magic system in that book could work nicely for a blood witch as well as a blood mage.

Again this passes the most basic test for a class for me.  Can I think of a character for it and would I play it.

Kimbra & Kelleigh

Kimbra and Kelleigh are twin sisters with magic deep in their blood.  They often have said to each other that it is because they have shared blood that their ties to each other and magic was so strong.
Though in their darker moments they felt their connection to magic and to blood came from the moment they were born. Kelleigh was first.  Right after her birth their mother died. Kimbra was born when the midwife noticed that there was still something in the lifeless body.  To this day Kelleigh has had a great connection to blood and Kimbra to death.  Kelleigh acts as the older sister.  The sisters only trust each other.

These are two characters I have had for a while now.  They began as modern characters for a WitchCraft RPG game and then morphed in a life-span development project I never quite finished.
Yes, the names are based on Kim and Kelley Deal. But also an homage to Kim Harrison and Kelley Armstrong, two of my favorite authors in the modern supernatural genre.

5th level Blood Witch, Female

Strength: 11
Dexterity: 12
Constitution: 16
Intelligence: 15
Wisdom: 12
Charisma: 16

Hit Points:  24
AC: 9
Saves: 12,  +2 vs. Magic
To Hit: +1  / THAC0: 19

Kimbra can cast the follow spell levels.  Will choose spells based on the official list.
First: all
Second: 4
Third: 6
Fourth: 3
Fifth: 6
Sixth*: 1

5th level Witch, Blood Witch Tradition, Female

Strength: 11
Dexterity: 12
Constitution: 16
Intelligence: 15
Wisdom: 12
Charisma: 16

Hit Points:  16
AC: 7

Occult Powers
Familiar: Blood Spirit of her dead mother (treat as a ghost, neutrally aligned)

Cantrips: (5) Analyze Fertility, Detect Poison, Inflict Minor Wounds, Object Reading, Warm
First: (2+2) Bad Luck, Bewitch I, Cause Fear, Tattoo
Second: (2+2) Agony, ESP, Fever, Hold Person
Third: (1+1)  Bestow Curse, Lifeblood

I like these two. I like that they are twins and really mostly the same but have classes that are different takes on the same thing.

I would not make these two part of the Witches' Nest.  I feel their back story is too tragic and their personalities are not one to take advantage of others.   Though they will have a place in my new WIP "West Haven", mentioned briefly here.

When I try this class out more I will let you all know.


ADDENDUM.  I have tried it out more and really enjoy it. I am pleased with how this witch works and I still really love Kimbra and Kelleigh. I really want to do more with these characters.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Friday Night Videos: Guest VJ Bruce Heard and The Calidar Soundtrack

Tonight is a very special night here at the Other Side.

I have +Bruce Heard  helping me out with the Guest VJ spot tonight.  He is sharing some of the songs and tracks that would make up a Calidar Soundtrack.

So without further ado, here is Bruce!
Hi, I’m Bruce Heard, the creator of Calidar, a game world inspired from the Voyage of the Princess Ark stories I used to write for Dragon Magazine in the 80s and 90s.  Some of you may remember me as the direction behind the D&D’s Mystara Gazetteers at old TSR.

I had a chat with Tim regarding Calidar and the Kickstarter campaign for my present project, “Beyond the Skies.”  It is a massive compendium about the gods of this universe, their shenanigans, and a monstrous peril plotting their doom.  Writing about this conjures a number of thoughts in my mind, among which music takes an interesting dimension.  During the past decade I developed an interest in movie scores.  Keeping with my focus on fantasy, sci-fi, action, and adventure, my tastes target certain titles particularly.

As a go through “Beyond the Skies,” the first that comes to my mind is Highlander’s “Who wants to live forever.”  This is especially true with the first part of the book, which describes the gods, their personalities, and their motivations.  It also alludes to Calidar’s epic heroes brought up in the first book, “In Stranger Skies.”  They stop aging as long as they qualify as epic heroes, their first step before aspiring to become demigods in the service of a divine liege.

There are of course the dwarven gods, and I had a good laugh when I described them as steampunk space warriors.  The best score for this, in my mind, was from Jerry Goldsmith, Star Trek’s Klingon Battle theme.  Kragdûras dwarves sound a bit like Klingons and pretty much behave like them.  They’re just shorter and hairier.  They don’t use dilithium but rather a kind of coal they mine on their moon.  So yes, they use steam-powered dreadnaughts.

Other fine neighbors are Calidar’s version of the Norse, best described as space Vikings who collect abandoned alien weapons.  With their giant longships, they hurtle through the “Great Vault,” raiding both known and lost worlds, in search of fortune and forbidden technology.  Another one from Jerry Goldsmith, “The Warriors” theme from the 13th Warrior truly seized the image for me.

Naturally, when talking about the gods of the Norse, my hand reached for Thor’s “Sons of Odin” theme from Patrick Doyle.  The deities portrayed in Calidar are alter-egos of those from real world mythology, and they know it!  These gods are aware that they ascended from the minds of mortals (who’d been abducted to Calidar from the real world), and they debate whether they should endorse traditional sagas or forge for themselves an entirely new fate.  Some believe that Ragnarok still hangs over their heads while others argue that it does not have to be so.

There is a section of “Beyond the Skies” that dwells upon the Dread Lands, Calidar’s giant living wilderness that fights off intruders.  It is connected to the planet’s World Soul, a semi-sentient pool of magic binding the souls of all sapient creatures to the worlds on which they were born.  For this, James Horner’s theme “Climbing Iknimaya, The Path to Heaven” from the Avatar movie was unavoidable.

The Calidar series feature a recurring skyship theme, as they draw their inspiration from the original Princess Ark stories, D&D’s idea of what Star Trek would be in a medieval high-fantasy world.  This led me to enjoy various Pirates of the Caribbean themes from “At World’s End,” especially Hans Zimmer’s “One Day,” a big favorite of mine.

Another score that I do like a lot is Klaus Badelt’s “Time Machine.”  The movie itself wasn’t immensely popular, but the music is great for an adventurer/explorer genre, especially the “Eloi” theme. This one reminds me of forgotten worlds and the nature-loving tribes dwelling in the Dread Lands.  Their secret is that they’ve learned to adapt to this monstrously dangerous place and tap into the magic of the World Soul.

In the genre of lost civilizations, another well know score works well, and is also a favorite of mine: David Arnold’s “Stargate.”  It does fit well in that Calidar has an ancient culture generally inspired from ancient Egypt.  Though part of it was conquered by another power, another escaped into space where its people attempt to regain their lost glory.  Ancient Egyptians in space—no doubt about it!

The topics are endless.  For Calidar’s Arabian-style setting, I relied on “The Mummy” with Jerry Goldsmith’s “Camel Race” theme.  This also connects with the ancient Egyptian setting mentioned earlier.  These two genres are directly related in Calidar.  Many others come to mind, such as Maurice Jarre’s classic Lawrence of Arabia main theme.

Then we have Calidar’s “bad guys,” at least from everyone else’s point of view.  The Nicareans are (very) loosely inspired from the early Byzantine with a strong strain of Spanish Inquisition-like behavior.  They are conquerors in their own right, and with them, when they march to war or line up their skyships for a fight in the Great Vault, it’s Vangelis’s “Drums of Gaugamela” from the “Alexander” motion picture that comes to my mind—huge, fearsome, glorious, and rousing!  It’s one that I play when I get discouraged or run out of steam.

This is turning into quite a long article, longer than I first expected, and I don’t believe I’ve made a dent in the pile of music that I can think of when writing for for this setting.  I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the elves of Calidar.  Their lunar empire of Alorea is more akin to a tree-hugging tyranny, somewhat like Star Trek Romulans turned totalitarian biologists, for which Hans Zimmer’s “The Battle” theme from the motion picture “Gladiator” works well.  Imagine a three way space battle between Nicareans, Kragdûras dwarves, and Alorean elves.  That’s an awful lot of drums!

The elves of Calidar’s main world, on the other hand, are much more peaceful, and their theme ends up being Howard Shore’s “Evenstar” composition, from Lord of the Rings’ “The Two Towers.”  We all know this one I’m sure, and it stands as a peaceful, friendly manner to part ways.  Hope you enjoyed this journey across fantasy, space, and popular movie scores.

Thanks Bruce! That is really an epic soundtrack.

Don't forget to check out his Kickstarter tonight as well.

Friday Night Videos: SNEAK PEEK!

Tonight is a very special night here at the Other Side.

I have +Bruce Heard  helping me out with the Guest VJ spot tonight.  He is sharing some of the songs and tracks that would make up a Calidar Soundtrack.

Please join us tonight at 11:30pm Central time to see his list of epic songs for Calidar.

Don't forget to check out his Kickstarter tonight as well.

Bruce has a lot of great music tonight.  For me though Calidar has more of a mystical, prog-rock feel.  My Calidar soundtrack includes Uriah Heep's "Traveller in Time".

See you all tonight!

Kickstart Your Weekend: Die Kitty Die!

A bit of change of pace this week.  A comic that I had not heard of till pointed out to me recently.

Die Kitty Die! is a comic by Fernando Ruiz and Dan Parent about a comic witch, Kitty, who has come to the end of her run.

It looks like a lot of fun.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Star Wars

I feel the need to make an obligatory Star Wars post today.
But yet I am not quite feeling the excitement.

Don't get me wrong. I love the Star Wars movies and had a blast with all of them.  I loved everything Star Wars growing up too.    I still have a couple of Boba Fetts (one I had to save proof of purchases for, one I bought) sitting on my desk.  I went from being a hard-core fan to a more relaxed one.  I did like the newer movies despite HUGE plot holes (the first movie was about a trade agreement?? really??) and my kids love them.  My adult tastes went more for Star Trek.

I really enjoyed the d20 Star Wars game.  I know "heresy"! How dare I say anything was better than the d6 West End Games version.  I have (or rather my son has) the Revised d20 version.  It is a bit like D&D 3 and so we have been adding it off and on to our regular D&D game.

To me, d20 and Star Wars seemed a perfect match.  I think back to the late 70's and early 80's and what my obsessions were; Star Wars and D&D.  Having played the game a bit I can see why some people don't like it and why some still prefer the WEG d6 version (I don't), but to me it just works. Stars Wars and D&D share history, they share a common place in the Gen X collective sub-conscious right there next to video games.  To me, D&D/d20 and Star Wars just belong together.

Not only was it out at the same time (more or less) I discovered D&D. It became so much a part of my experiences as a kid that is hard to tease out where one influence begins and the other ends.

This movie has: A boy who would be the hero, a swashbuckling rogue, a princess to rescue, a wise old man/wizard/jedi, an evil warrior, an impenetrable fortress, magic, fights, side-kicks, monsters, sword fights and epic battle.  Everything here IS D&D.  They even meet the rogue in a bar!

Yes this another retelling of the monomyth or The Hero with a 1,000 Faces.  That's why it works so well.

Also, I have a long history of dissatisfaction with Sci-Fi games.  It's odd really.  I love Sci-Fi, but the RPGs I have tried (Traveler, Star Frontiers, Alternity) have left me feeling flat.  Star Frontiers was my favorite.   So I guess to me then, the perfect Sci-Fi game would have elements of Star Wars, Star Frontiers and Alternity all powered by the d20 system.  That is also easy to do.  I am a touch surprised I have not tried that yet.

I was talking about this with my wife last night in fact. We are not going to see Star Wars right away, but we are much more excited for the new Star Trek movie to be honest.   She also suggested I pick up the hardcover of White Star and play with that for a while, or even stick with Starships & Spacemen.  Though it is more "Trek" to White Star's "Wars".

Maybe what I need is a solid hook first for some good Sci/Star Wars/Star Trek gaming.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Class Struggles: The Illusionist

It's a logical extension from my talks about wizards over the last two weeks to go right into illusionists. I have always been curious about the illusionist class and it's genesis. For starters it is one of the few classes that really only exists in AD&D first edition. Editions after that make the illusionist a "speciality wizard"; a type of magic-user/wizard/mage. It also didn't exist in OD&D or Basic D&D (with exceptions, that I will get too).

Last week and the week before I killed a lot of photons explaining that "magic-user" was a generic term for any sort of magic using character class. So wizards, necromancers, mages, witches and naturally one would assume illusionists would fall under this umbrella term. It is interesting then that the illusionist is viewed as so different to merit its own class.

My research has turned up the first mention of the Illusionist as coming from the pages of The Strategic Review - Volume 1, Number 4 from Winter 1975. That's pretty early on really. The article, ILLUSIONISTS!: GENERALLY APPEARING AS A NEW CLASS FOR DUNGEONS & DRAGONS was written by Peter Aronson. Though Gygax and Blume were still the editors, so it had their tacit approval, if not explicit. The opening to the article states:
Illusionists are a sub-class of magic-users who, as the name implies, employ illusion and similar powers. Their prime requisite is dual, in that they must have both a good intelligence and a dexterity of not less than 15 as a high degree of manual conjuration is involved when they cast their spells. Although severely limited in the number of magical items they can employ, Illusionists make up for this restriction by the power of their magic.
So in theory then it is harder to become an illusionist, but their magic is stronger.  I am not so convinced this is completely true. Afterall there is no fireball, lightning bolt or wish in their spell list. Sure there is more to magic than that, but a well placed fireball is still good to have.  Looking over the XP tables the Illusionist needs MORE xp than even the magic-user.

Peter Aronson comes back in no less an illustrious issue as The Dragon #1 from June 1976. Here more levels of the illusionist are listed and spells up to 7th level are detailed.  Here some of the more interesting and uniquely illusionist spells are introduced.  Here we also see that illusionists get a +4 to any saves vs. illusion or light based spells.  This is expanded on in The Dragon #12 by Rafael Ovalle. Here the illusionist is also given the chance to recognize any spell cast by another illusionist.  The spell lists have been tweaked a bit as well.

This was the same time frame that EGG was working on his Magnum Opus, AD&D.   Illusionists now appear in the Players Handbook as a subclass of the magic-user. They have their own XP values and spell lists separate from magic-users.  It is also noted that while only humans, elves and half-elves can become magic-users, gnomes can become illusionists.  The saving throw bonus has been dropped, but the XP values are now less than the magic-user.  The illusionist is still limited to 7th level spells, but many of the illusion spells it shares with the magic-user are usually a level lower.  Still, I have a vague memory of the magic-user being a better illusionist than the illusionist itself.  I can't find any tell-tale evidence of this.

The Illusionist and The Witch
At this point I want to point out something.  For the last two weeks I talked about the flexible nature of the magic-user and how, when played as intended, almost precludes the need for a separate witch class.   Then bam! here comes the illusionist to completely shake that idea up. Though it really only confirmed it my mind.   The illusionist was born in the pages of Dragon magazine, as was one of the many incarnations of the witch.  Plus there is this entry which we have all read before.

Yes, I know that the witch was added after the fact by persons unknown, but I was still promised witches.  But imagine for a moment if we had gotten a witch and illusionist class.  It is entirely likely you would not be reading this blog!
In fact, one of my first AD&D characters was a female illusionist named Cara that I styled as a witch-like character.  I pretty much based her on this art from D1-2 Descent into the Depths of the Earth by Bill Willingham.

Post AD&D 1st Ed
After this the Illusionist disappears as it's own thing really. In 2nd Ed it becomes a prime example of a speciality mage. The advantages of course are now the illusionist gets access to a wider variety of spells than before, but still less than the generalist wizard. In many ways this is a full realization of the "magic-user" concept. The same is true for 3rd edition. Personally I rather liked this idea since it fits in with the narrative of my idea of a magic school with different "Schools" of instruction.  Though on the other side of the coin is that this also took away some of the things that made the illusionist a unique class.  Some of that "uniqueness" has been taken over by the Sorcerer.  Yes, they are not the same thing, but both are compared, favorablly or ill, to the wizard.

The Basic Illusionist
No talk of the illusionist class can happen without talking about the Basic Illusionist.

The Basic Illusionist is the brain-child of +Nathan Irving and was first seen during the S&W Appreciation Day Blog Hop. You can get it from RPGNow, or from his blog, In both cases it is 100% free.

Before I delve into the book itself. Lets take a moment to look at this cover.
Seriously. That is a cool ass cover. I am not sure what made Nathan Irving choose this piece ("Beauty and the Beast" by Edmund Dulac) but I love it.  The title works in seemlessly, like they were meant for each other.  The woman in foreground is no longer the "beauty" but she is now an Illusionist.

The book is overtly for Swords & Wizardry, but there isn't anything here keeping you from using any Original of Basic inspired system.  I know it works out well in Labyrinth Lord and Basic D&D and it really should work well in ACKS, Spellcraft & Swordplay or any other system.  Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea might be a trick, but they have an Illusionist class already (more on that later).

Getting into the book now we have 34 pages (with cover) on the Illusionist class. The book starts off with a helpful FAQ.  Personally I think Nathan should also put that FAQ on his blog as a page so every knows why they should get this.  The Illusionist class itself is in S&W format, but the only thing keeping you from using this in any other Basic or Advanced Era game is a table of Saving Throws.  Copy over what ever the Wizard or Magic-user is using in your game of choice and give them bonus to saves when it comes to illusions. I like the original -4 (or +4) but as much as -1/+1 would be fine too.

The Illusionist gets a power or feature every odd level, but nothing that is game breaking when compared to the wizard.  The Illusionist trades flexibility for focus in their magical arsenal. There is even an Illusionist variant class called the Mountebank.  Which is more of a con-artist.  Not sure how it compares to other classes of the same name.

One of the best features of the book is a guideline on illusionist magic and how to play with illusions.  Great even if you never play the class.

What follows next is over 150 Illusionist spells.  Many we have seen before and come from the SRD.  That is not a bad thing. Having all these spells in one place and edited to work with the class is a major undertaking.  I for one am glad to see them here.  Spells are alphabetical instead of sorted by level.
A list of conditions ported over from the SRD is also included. I like that personally.  We all love how the older games and the clones play, but in our zeal we tend to forget that 3.x and later games did in fact have some good innovations and ideas; this is one of them.
We end with a couple of monsters and a two page OGL statement.
Really, this is a fantastic piece of work and really should be the "go to" document if you ever want to play an illusionist.

Other Clones
The design of the Illusionist class is such that adding it to any game should really be a breeze.  Adventurers enter a new land and discover a new brand of wizard.  Compared to other custom wizards out there the illusionist is more powerful than his counterpart in 1st Ed. AD&D.

ACKS Player's Companion
The Gnomish Trickster has a number of good spells that work well for the Illusionist.  All the arcane spells tagged as (ill) for illusion would work nicely as well.  I will go out on a limb here and say the gnomish trickster is basically the "Basic" interpretation of the Gnome Illusionist.

Adventures Dark and Deep
+Joseph Bloch's own magnum opus and dedication to a game that never was is also a good place to look for any ideas on class evolution.  I have to admit I am curious what he uncovered about the illusionist in his own research.  Why was the class included and so on. His game has both an illusionist and a mountebank classes.  Not to mention plenty of illuison spells.  This book also retains the link between gnomes and illusionists, in this case the Deep Gnome.  This illusionist feels very much like the 1st Ed or even the OSRIC Illusionist.

Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea
+Jeff Talanian's fantastic Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea also has an Illusionist class. Like all the classes in the book it is limited to 12th level.  I had a quick glance over the spell lists and there wasn't anything that jumped out at me; the spells are drawn from similar sources.  There is is information though that owners of either could use. Obviously the Basic Illusionist covers many more spells but more importantly it has the guidelines for covering how illusions in the game work.

The Companion Expansion
This is another "Companion" style book for Basic-era D&D and clones and is something of a forgotten treasure.  It also has an Illusionist Class that is roughly equal with the Basic Illusionist, but the real feature of this book is the expanded spell list.  If you are looking to extend your illusionist a bit more with more spells then this is a good way to do it.

Labyrinth Lord Advanced Edition Companion
Given it's aim to emulate AD&D via the Basic D&D-like rules it is no surprise then this illusionist cleaves very close to the source material. This is the illusionist of old.

Magical Theorems & Dark Pacts
+Dyson Logos' Magical Theorems & Dark Pacts is an excellent book for playing all sorts of wizard types.  That is, oddly enough, except Illusionists.  This however is not issue; The Illusionist fits in quite nicely here.  The Enchanter from MT&DP would have some spells that might be good for the Illusionist as well.

Theorems & Thaumaturgy
Another great free product. Theorems & Thaumaturgy comes to us from +Gavin Norman and introduced his Vivmancer class.  Vivimancers and Illusionists are about as different as one can get really.  But Theorems & Thaumaturgy does have some things that the Illusionist can use.  For starters there some more Illusionist spells in T&T that any Illusionist could use.  Both this book and the Basic Illusionist make the assumption that Illusionists should have access to 8th and 9th level spells.  If you are going to play an Illusionist then it is worth your time and effort to get a copy of Theorem & Thaumaturgy.

The Witch
Witches and Illusionists share the ability to cast various figments and charms/mind affecting spells.  I would say that in any game that has both classes that Illusionists should be limited to charm spells up to 5th level and witches any type of figments up to 5th level.  Illusionists then get all (or most) of the Illusion spells and witches get all the curses.

There is only two things I really want.
To combine all of this into one place and to have a bound book version.  I think it would be excellent.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Déjà vu Blogfest 2015

I am joining the Déjà vu blogfest for 2015.

Now I just need to find something to talk about from this year.
Likely I'll post this on Sunday Feb 20.

Jury Duty, Again

I have jury duty again today.

Though to be fair the last time was way back in 2009.  Hopefully it will be a one day deal.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Featured Post Feature

Blogger just added a "Featured Post" feature.
You can see it to the right just under the Social Media icons.

So each week I try to feature something new.  Maybe from the week in question or something else.

It will be interesting to see how it works.

Slavers Defeated!

Last night the Order of the Platinum Dragon crushed the gnolls working in Slave Pits of the Undercity and defeated the slavers!  The slaves were freed, including some orcs which vowed to help the PCs when and if they could.  Detailed maps were discovered and the group is off to stop an even larger threat.

We finished module A1 Slave Pits of the Undercity last night.  I ran it under 5th Edition and made a lot of tweaks along the way.  While I felt the players had an easy of a time when going through Castle Amber, I made som changes in how monsters were dealt with and felt that last's night session was much more balanced.  Plus a lot of great things went on.
I used gnolls instead of orcs.  In truth I am tired of orcs and wanted something new.  So I used a lot of material from +James Mishler's Hercynian Grimoire #1.  I included his Gnoles, werehyenas, and even a gnoll assassin and a gnoll witch. It made for a lot of fun.
Since I am also tying in more to the Out of Abyss adventures I included some gnoll demonic adepts which was great fun.  I took the old adage that the campaign is written by the paranoia of the players my oldest son decided that these demonic-gnolls must mean that ultimately demons are in control of the slavers.  Sure. Let's go with that!

To really have some fun since there were ghouls in this adventure I added a Thoul enforcer.  Now back in the day I always thought thouls were part ghoul, part troll and part gnoll, forgeting all about hobgoblin.  So I decided I would honor my 35+ year-old mistake and have a thoul in my game that was decidedly gnoll in heritage.  If you never played Basic/Expert D&D then you might not know the thoul.  Well here is the man himself, Perdustin over at Thoul's Paradise to educate us on what is a thoul.  Mine was a little different than the one in the BECM(I) Rules Cyclopedia.
Thankfully I found this great tool that helps create a D&D5 style monster stat block.

I can build monsters all day!

The characters are on their way to the Slaver's Stockade (A2) but along the way they are going hit our "Christmas Special" and have to deal with Krampus!  Hey since I have the software open...
Here is Krampus.

Can't wait to tell you all about it!

Friday, December 11, 2015

Friday Night Videos: Celebrating 3000 posts

Well I did not have much time today to get videos together or a theme.  So I figure why not take a moment and celebrate the fact I have made 3000 posts.

That's a lot of text really.

So let's celebrate this milestone with some videos about hit the mark, getting there or 3000 in general.

Let's start with the best known, if only, 3000 in the music business.  That would be Andre 3000 of Outkast.  Here is "Hey Yeah" with a multitude of 3000s from their epic two album release The Love Below.

Can you imagine me training for this?  Running up steps, punching keyboards hanging from the ceiling?  Tangling with other games and blogs? No. Ok maybe not.  But let's be honest "Eye of The Tiger" from Survivor is an awesome fight song.

All month, I have counting down to this.  You know what that means, right?

In truth not only can I not complain, but I get to do something I enjoy AND others seem to enjoy it too. So as long people want to keep reading what I have to say I'll try to keep saying it.  Like Joe Walsh says, "Life's Been Good to Me (So Far)".

Kickstart Your Weekend: Calidar "Beyond the Skies"

+Bruce Heard is back with another Kickstarter for his wildly successful Calidar campaign system.

Calidar "Beyond the Skies"

This looks every bit as fun as the first Calidar book (reviewed here).
This book "feels" more like a campaign guide too, along the lines of the Forgotten Realms books with gods and things for mortals to do. by contrast the first Calidar book was more Gazetteer like.

The art looks fantastic, but don't take my word for it, pop on over and see.

I also appreciate the handy graphic too to know what it is I am getting for the money I spend.

Now to figure what level to pledge at!

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Post 3000!

A long time ago I hit 1000 posts.
Then I hit 2000.

Today, a little more than two years later I am hitting 3000 posts!

Not sure how to celebrate such an achievement.

3000, more so than 2000, make me think of the future.  Futurama, Mystery Science Theatre 3000 and even my own Greyhawk 3000/Mystara 3001 game using White Star and Calidar.

I also have to admit I am very excited for Retrostar.
It's not old school, per se, but does capture the feel of 70s and early 80s sci-fi.

Coming up on my year-end reviews and looking ahead features.

What would YOU like to see for my next 1000 posts?

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Class Struggles: The Wizard, Part 2 The Wizard Class

Last week we discussed the Magic-User and his cousin the Wizard.  One thing seems certain, the Magic-User is a bit overpriced in terms of XP.  Also, and I am not the only one as we will see, the wizard lacks some powers he really should have.

One of the things I liked (back then) when 2nd Edition came out was that the Magic-User was now properly called a Wizard.  Again, the nuance of magic-user was lost on me but obviously it was also lost on the design team.
The wizard, as he for evermore will be known, is really not that different from the magic-user mechanically speaking.  Some spells are rearranged but that is about it.  The true difference comes when you choose a speciality school or apply a kit, like the many found in The Complete Wizard's Handbook.  Here the wizard gets a few more spells at starting level from their speciality school and the kit can provide them with some powers.   Though the cantrips as 0-level spells that the Unearthed Arcan gave us are now gone.

Yesterday I reviewed The Principalities of Glantri book and it's school of magic. What stood out for me was things that your wizards can now do if they go to a premier school like Hogwarts The Great School of Magic.  The Seven Crafts provide a bit of extra kick for magic-user characters.  Personally I think they could use something at 1st level as well.

Since I covered the basic (and really Basic) Magic-User last week, I want to jump into some of the clones and near clones now.

Spellcraft & Swordplay is a near clone that models Original D&D and it's Chainmail roots much closer than Swords & Wizardry does.  It does take some liberties though.   One is the Wizard and the wizard class elite paths, Warlocks and Necromancers.  In S&S wizards can Read Magic at 1st level.  We are also given more detail on how to create magic items.  An Elite Path like the Necromancer or Warlock also get other powers.

Fantastic Heroes & Witchery also has a wizard class, as well as a wise man and a warlock.  Additionally, it also has 666 spells split up into gray, white and black magic.  The wizard here does not differ much from the standard magic-user, but the number of spells included is not insignificant.

Adventurer Conqueror King System gives us a similar looking Wizard, the advantage here are the skills/proficiencies that all classes get.  Going back to last week this is similar to the skill checks I give wizards when identifying magic.

Magical Theorems & Dark Pacts also has a wizard class. Many in fact.  The wizard is still a Magic-User clone, but there are plenty of other wizard types in this book that the case for experimentation is made here.

Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea. Ah now this is what I was looking for.  Each of the books so far has done a little here and little there, but the Magician in AS&SH is waht I have really been looking for.  Right away he gets a familiar, the ability to read magic and scribe a scroll. At 7th level he learns som alchemy.  The subclasses, Illusionist, Necromancer, Pyromancer and Witch all get similar powers.

Moving out from clone-land and into old-school land proper there is The Arcanum.  I keep coming back to this book because it keeps on delivering.  There are a lot of magic-user like classes, Alchemist, Astrologer, Charlatan (more of a thief), Enchanter, Mage, Magician, Necromancer, Savant, Sorcerer, Thaumaturge, and Witch.   There is, of course, a Wizard as well.  What they all have in common and share with some other books is the ability to read magic at first level.
These classes all also get new powers at every odd level.  Some are just redefining things the wizard could always do; write scrolls, make potions and magic items.  This just defines them a little better.  Interestingly this book also allows the wizard to choose a weapon.  The book also has plenty of spells to choose from.

It should be noted that these problems are solved by 3rd Edition and beyond.  Both the shared XP values across all classes and more features for the Wizards has made all the above points moot really.

My recommendations for the wizard are:
  • Cantrips
  • Read Magic/Identify magic as a skill at 1st level.  Can be a simple Int check.  A bonus equal to level with a penalty equal to spell level.
  • Find Familiar as a ritual, but not a spell.
  • Signature Spells. A spell that can be cast twice or three times per day with one memorization.
  • Some powers at 5th, 10th, 15th and 20th level.  Signature Spell can be one of these.
I would group powers along something like Arcane Traditions like I do for the Witch and like D&D5 does, save I would call them something else.  Schools maybe.  I already use "Philosophies" in Ghosts of Albion so I would not want to use that here.  Schools are good since I can go beyond "enchantment" or "necromancy" and into things like "Miskatonic Grad" or "Apprenticed under Mordenkainen", that sort of thing.

I would run this wizard through the various class creation kits I mentioned last week, but especially the one out of the ACKS Player's Companion to check the numbers.  Might be worth looking into deeper.

Why Are my Magic-Users not like Mages?
Spend any time in any other game but D&D, especially one that uses a lot of magic, and somethings just don't make sense.  Except as that special branch of logic known as D&D logic.  Being first D&D gets away with a lot. Invariably someone will ask though why can't D&D magic be more like the magic in World of Darkness, namely Mage.

The difference, of course, is one of scope. While the D&D wizard might become a "master of reality" the Awakened of Mage are of a different sort. The assumptions of the worlds are too different.   Maybe a WoD style Mage could be something the D&D Wizard could aspire to be, I still would not take a Mage with me into a dungeon or try to identify a scroll or potentially magic sword.
So I don't try to make my Wizards into Mages.  I keep the Vancian magic intact.  If I want to play a Mage, I will pick up Mage.   But really, playing both games will give you a better understanding of things your wizard/mage can do in either game.

Hopefully your wizards are more like this:

Than this:

Though that Keep at 3:30 looks familiar.