Showing posts sorted by relevance for query johan. Sort by date Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query johan. Sort by date Show all posts

Saturday, February 1, 2014

D&D40 Bloghop: Day 1

Here we are with the D&D 40 Anniversary Bloghop.  Been looking forward to this.  So without further ado!

Day 1:  First person who introduced you to D&D. Which edition? First character?

Ok. Let's start thing off complicated!  No one person introduced me. In fact it seemed to be a conspiracy to get me to play.  I remember borrowing Asa Herald's AD&D Monster Manual to read during silent reading in grade school.  I remember Darin Buhlig and I trying to figure out Holmes basic on a field trip bus ride to St. Louis.  But I have to give credit to Jon Cook for being my first DM. We played the hell out of some D&D then.  He had the AD&D books and I had the Basic/Expert books. We ran with it.

My first character was Johan Werper, human lawful cleric. He worshiped an unnamed sun god.  At this point in my life I had become fairly committed to my own atheism but I still found religion interesting.  I guess to be a religious human was as alien to me as an elf or dwarf.  But I also thought the turning undead thing was really cool.   I was very, very much into vampires and horror and I *got* that the Cleric was supposed to be Van Helsing, so that is how I played him.

Johan became something of my "ego" character.  With my assassin Nigel as my "id" and my grizzled old wizard Phygora as my "superego" they made up the trinity of characters I played most often in Jr. High and High School.  Larina my witch was an "anima" character. Cause eventually all psychologists leave Freud in favor of Jung.

He also became one of my first "generational" characters.  Anytime a new version of D&D came out I would make a new Johan who is the son of the previous one.   Johan I was a cleric under Basic, Johan II was a Lawful Good Paladin for AD&D, Johan III was a Cavalier for Unearthed Arcana.  Celene was Johan II's daughter and she was a Healer in 2nd ed.  I kept this up even until recently with Johan V for D&D 4.  I fully expect that Johan VI will be for Next.  All Lawful good clerics or paladins, or something similar.

I still have all the sheets.



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Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft, Part 2b. Do You Wanna Build a Darklord?

Darlessa, the Vampire Queen
Wait.  Shouldn't this be Part 4?  Yes, but everything I am talking about here deals perfectly with the material I reviewed in Part 2 and very little of Part 3.  

One of the shifts in design goals of the new Ravenloft book is a move to focus more on the Darklords you can create for your own game. 

While several updated and new Darklords and Domains are detailed, the fun comes creating your own, and in particular, one that has meaning for your players and characters.   Chapter 2 covers this well and comes before Chapter 3 on the existing Darklords and Domains to get the readers and potential DMs to think about what the domains mean to them.

So let's take the advice of the book and create a new Darklord and Domain.  Now my first horror game likely happened as soon as I got my Moldvay Basic set if not before.  I dig horror. A lot. So I have at least 40+ years' worth of horror gaming to draw on.  And while such D&D campaigns I have run in the past, The Shadow War, Ogre Battle, or even The Dragon and the Phoenix had horror elements to them, but none really rose up to the levels of Ravenloft worth horror, though the Shadow War back in 1991 came close and even featured some Ravenloft game sessions.  My own Ravenloft campaign was essentially a tour of the then Domains ala "The Fantastic Journey" only horror and not sci-fi.  I imprinted on a lot of weird shit as a kid. While a lot of fun, it does not give much in the way of "new" material.  Sure there is a lot of old material I could bring back, but that's not what I want to do here now. 

So let's start with Chapter 2 and build a Domain. And do that, we need a Darklord.

Who is My Darklord?

It's going to be a vampire. Why? I like Vampires. I played a cleric as my first class ever so I could be like Van Helsing. My goal what to fight vampires and undead.  Let me put a pin in that idea for a moment. 

I thought about maybe using my cavalier that I ran through Ravenloft as a player or one of my favorite NPCs I used as a reoccurring character that would torment the players because while she was a vampire she was not overtly evil. But my cavalier died in the Shadow War and the NPC, well she ended up the focus of a ritual to bring a vampire back to life.  She is human now, and given the history of that character, I kinda want to keep it that way. 

There is only one NPC that could really be my Darklord.  That is Darlessa the Vampire Queen.

Spend any time here and you will know about my history obsession with the various Vampire Queens.  I love them.  Blame Hammer Horror, blame 60's and 70's Giallo, but they are so great.  Darlessa comes to me via Small Niche Games and the Valnwall products where she is credited with killing St. Johan, my very first Cleric character. So the origin here is still Basic, B/X style at that, D&D.   Truthfully there is a multitude of reasons why this works for me, so I am not going to bore you with the justification and the details and just state "it works."  

So let's start with Darklord Creation.  Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft says:

A Darklord’s memories, desires, mistakes, and evil deeds shape the domain’s twisted lands, inhabitants, and features. You need not create these in a vacuum, though. When creating your own Darklord, consider the relationship that will define their evil in your adventures: their conflict with your players’ characters.

- Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft, p. 39

Well...I don't have any players, not just yet.  You all are my players now. The adventures you have had are reading this blog. 

One this is clear off the bat.  The Darklord is evil.  Darlessa might be a lot of things, but a misunderstood villain is not one of them.  This notion of evil and evil deeds is repeated many times in this section. So much for Ravenloft not having good vs. evil. 

What are Darlessa's evil deeds? She kills people. Well, lots of vampires do that. She used her evil and power and privilege to command others.  She tolerated no rivals. She kidnapped the granddaughter of Johan Werper and threatened to kill her. She caused Johan's death instead and this was her last act that damned her.  Let's consult this questionnaire from VRGtR, answers in parentheses:

  • Where was the Darklord before the Mists took them?  (In the swamp outside her castle)
  • Who was the Darklord’s family? (none, she had killed them all centuries ago)
  • How was the Darklord’s family oppressed, oppressive, or both? (domineering over her, killing them might have done the world some good)
  • What was the Darklord’s childhood like?  (oppressive. She was bullied and bullied in return)
  • Whom did the Darklord care about? (Only herself mostly, BUT I am willing to work on this)
  • Who cared about the Darklord? (Maybe a sister?  I will think about this.)
  • Who hurt the Darklord? (everyone, but usually only once)
  • Whose respect or love did the Darklord crave? (only those who had more power than her)
  • What did the Darklord value? (power)

So Darlessa is a vampire, not because she craves lives and blood, but because she craves power. Her desire to control everyone and everything around her was her undoing as a vampire and led her to become a Darklord.  But lots of vampires never become Darklords.  She has to be something else.

In "Corrupt Beyond Redemption" on page 40 we are given some ideas of what makes a Darklord more than your average villain.  The Darklord needs to commit Evil Acts, or "The Dark Powers consider an act to be evil if it is intentional, unnecessary, and successful, and most importantly if it causes significant harm."  Those Harmed have to be significant.  In this case, it was my first character trying to protect my first AD&D 2nd Ed character.  Maybe not significant to you but for me it has gravitas.  And finally, the act has to be Irredeemable.  Darlessa was about to drain the life out of a seven-year-old girl just to get to her parents and grandfather. She managed to cause the death of the grandfather and scar the granddaughter so much she was terrified of the dark.  (Role-Playing tip. Try playing an AD&D character who you have decided is afraid of the dark. All dark, all the time.)

Background

Darlessa always fancied herself as a Queen, which of course is impossible because she is from Glantri. She might have been an upstart Princess if fate had been kinder to her, but instead, the only magic she learned was witchcraft, a "lesser" form of magic to the Glantri ruling class.  Rejected by those she considered her peers and laughed at by those she considered underlings it was no surprise that she turned to evil.  She married a minor noble and soon had him murdered.  She moved up in social status by marrying one of the lesser Princes.  She could not kill him as easily so she had him locked away due to madness, which she of course caused.  She was always vying for more and more power, a better position in the social hierarchy. While she felt she was in control of her situation and had everyone else figured out in truth all the nobility saw through her ruse and were just toying with her.  When discovered this and was laughed out of court she sought out her demon to turn her into a vampire. But even then she chaffed under this yoke and sought to kill her new master. 

She managed to escape and had planned her glorious revenge on all who had mocked her, only to discover that everyone from the court was dead.  Not of some nefarious or evil plan, but of the natural progress of time.  She had taken decades to break free and now it was too late. All that remained were the offspring of those who had rejected her.  She reinvented herself as a noble and re-entered court, this time none knew her.  She would have been successful too had it not been for the cleric Johan.  Clerics had been banned in her day in Glantri, but Johan was distantly related to a noble and had proved a wise council on ecclesiastic and occult matters.  He quickly spotted Darlessa for what she was and thus began 40 years of open conflict between the two.  

Until the night she got what she had desired.  She was going to kill Johan and his granddaughter. Johan had taken his granddaughter to see the court. Her chance had come, everyone who had stood against her were all in one place. She had killed every servant in the castle to get to the girl and had taken her back to her own keep.  Johan followed. The ancient enemies fought and both died by the flaming holy oil.  Only the young granddaughter survived.  Johan was canonized and became St. Johan.  

Darlessa awoke to find herself in a finely appointed castle much like that of the court.  She was surrounded by servants and nobles, and all addressed her as Queen.

Photo by Quang Nguyen Vinh from Pexels
Photo by Quang Nguyen Vinh from Pexels
The Domain

The Domain of Darlessa is a small island, or at least that is what it seems to be. There is the island and it is surrounded by water, but they are on a lake and the island is in that lake.  Beyond are only mists.  Darlessa is the Queen, but she has no subjects. She has servants, the very ones she had killed to get to Johan, but they are mindless, repeating the same tasks every day, day in day out.  Members of her court have the exact same conversations over and over again.  Games of chess or cards always result in the same outcomes no matter how many times they are played. Everyone in the castle adores her and they tell her this, often. Every day. The exact same way.  She has tried to feed on her servants, but they provide her with no life and they are returned the very next day.  She has gone on berserk killing sprees, killing every member of her court, and they return the next day acting as they always have.

The night she was rejected by society plays over and over again as it did in her mind when she was subservient to her demon lord. Now it plays out for real and she holds the place of power and honor. Her every desire has been given to her. And she is tortured by it all. 

This Domain has treated Darlessa everything she ever wanted and she is sickened by it all.  The fawning courtiers, the sycophants, the hangers-on. They all disgust her and there is no release.  The sun remains behind dense clouds and is never bright enough to kill her.  She thirsts constantly, but no one inside her domain can satisfy her.  Even her small cadre of warlocks (of the Undead) who do her bidding are revolting to her.  Though they do leave the island to gather new souls for their Queen.  In truth, she longs for a great Paladin or Cleric to come to destroy her to end her endless torment. Sadly, for her, those were outlawed. 

For the Darklord Connections (p. 44) we have the following:  1: An adventurer reminds the Darklord of their bond, desire or loved one.  OR in this case as the clerics Johan or his granddaughter Celene.  Darlessa is convinced that only Celene would be able to free her. 

Genres of Horror

This Domain is pure Dark Fantasy with bits of Gothic Horror and Psychological Horror. It should feel like a D&D world (Mystara in particular) in the movie Groundhog's Day.  The same day repeats over and over in an endless cycle. It is Dark Fantasy with the trappings of Gothic Horror.  The castle is haunted, but not by ghosts, but by memories.  Psychological horror comes from the "Repeat" and not knowing who is on repeat or not.  Also, how does one get out of it all?

Arevenir
Domain of the Vampire Queen

Darklord: Queen Darlessa
Genre: Dark Fantasy, Gothic Horror
Hallmarks: Undead ruler, same day repeats over and over.
Mist Talismans: Invitation to the Royal Court, a book of beginner spells from the School of Magic, a single candle.

Arevenir is a depressing domain consisting of a small island, a castle on the island and the surrounding village.  The locals are glum and speak no language the characters will understand right away.  The populace will claim the woods nearby are haunted with evil fae creatures and wolves with eyes that glow with balefire. 

The castle offers a respite from the cold, uninviting village. Inside the events of the same night play over and over again. The PCs will find they are trapped inside with no hope of escape except from the evil Queen herself and her warlock acolytes.

To escape they have to find the proper talisman. 

--

I am sure I can develop more if needed. But this is a good start.  With this setup the PCs do not need to fight Darlessa at all. So while I have stats for her I don't need stats for her.  Even if they did like everything else in the castle she would just return the next day. 

What I want here is a land influenced by the French and Italian horror of the mid 1970s.  Similar to the most recent October Horror Movie marathon I just did where I focused on Pre-Exorcist European Horror.

It would be fun little diversion. 

Now if I were making a new Domain for players well I get more player input.  Every successful horror game I have ever run has had one thing in common; Player's buy-in.  They have to want to play it in order to make it work out fine.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

As a GM I don't like to kill characters, but...

But I have.

Details in a bit, but first more on character death and the great battle, the Shadow War.

Many notable and non-notable personages made the ultimate sacrifice in the war against the demons.  Skie Iskatarian, who claimed to be the great-great-granddaughter of Kas the Destroyer, died on the field of battle.  She was given a heroes funeral by the Queen she would have rather seen dead, not visa versa.  She was found next to a man that by all accounts she hated more than anyone, Kiev Scorpious.  They were found back to back, fighting off the hordes that stormed the walls of the city.

Kurt, the affable monk that everyone seemed to like, had also been found.  The great warrior Jar Tearn. Not felled by any weapon, his great age was his doom and he died on the field when his heart failed him.  His wife Victoria, rushed to his side, but never quite made it.  Kara Foke, King of the neighboring country offered his son to aid Glantri, and lost that son.  Leaving his second oldest betrothed to the Queen.  She was 9 he was 8.

Some speak of the great dark warrior Absom Sark how he was never seen again after the war.  Others speak of Arachnia, the drow female warrior that roamed the lands prior to the war, but never after.  They have statues as well, even if their bodies were not found.  (they ran off together after the war. sometimes love is more important than honor).

But the greatest loss some say was the King's son, Johan III.  Lost, and he had disgraced his family and the faith by bedding not just a common girl, but a supernatural one (she was a psychic...and something else), he had returned from the Nightmare Lands (Ravenloft) in his country's darkest hour.  But the girl that was his undoing in life was his undoing in death....

--
The cool thing about being a tech-head was this great little program that my then DM and I had written for the Tandy Color Computer.  It was a combat simulator.  We could load ten characters and ten monsters in it at once and they would go after each other till all of one side was dead.  I used that and in some cases, I also rolled up the combats on my own.  Something to pass the time to be sure.

So, lots of people died so that the new generations, Quenn Celene and her future Husband Kara Werper could take center stage.  And they will, or rather would have, had it not been for that troublesome girl.

Morgan.

Morgan began in my game with only her nick-name, Raven, though she did have other names.  Raven Ebonflame, Raven the Hunter of the Dead, Raven the Daughter of Death (her father was nicknamed "Death Blade").
She was psychic, which was a strict taboo in my game world.  Sure magic is fine, because the mage schools and guilds control that. Random psychic power?  Bad juju.

So what does this girl do?  She gets herself hired in the mercenaries guild and eventually hooks up with John the 3rd, future king of the land, and gets pregnant.  When I was coming up with ideas to start my war, I decided that she ran off to have the kid rather than cause her lover any more grief.  Trouble was Johan loved her too.  Had he married her things might have been fine, but he ran off after her only to get pulled into Ravenloft.  She thought he didn't care and gave birth to their daughter.

There is one other thing about Morgan.  Something I decided on her first outing as a character back 1985 or so.  Morgan was a killer of Vampires.  She killed one at 1st level.  And then proceeded to go after more.
Morgan, Raven Ebonflame, was the very first Slayer.

And then I killed her.

She was in the war and played a minor part.  I remember being out on my bike one day thinking about what she might have done.  Then it came to me.  Morgan fought Yoln Shadowreaper, the general of the Armies of Hell.  She fought him and killed him.  By herself, single-handed, the girl that everyone in the game hated, changed the course of the War.  She gave them victory.  But it cost her her life.

Her lover, Johan went crazy and was soon killed in battle, not before taking out several dozen demons.  The priest said he could not raise her, her soul was gone.  A pact was made by the three most powerful remaining characters, the guild master (her father), the advisor (her teacher) and the King (father of her lover).  Her father went to Hell to find her soul.  In the 3rd Edition years, I worked that into the great Reckoning of Hell.

Her death was the most powerful scene I played up to that point.  But years later I so regretted killing her. I thought it was a waste (and I had more personal reasons too).

Then I began The Dragon and the Phoenix.

This was a Willow and Tara centric season for the Buffy game.  In the fifth episode, Heaven Bleeds, Willow, Tara, and Buffy travel back in time to this battle.  There they meet Willow and Tara's past lives, and all three witness Morgan's battle with Yoln.  I did retcon her into a Slayer, but it was not much of a change.

Now I redid the scene of her death as before, this time using the Cinematic Unisystem rules.  And this time Buffy was there to help.  I had players that played Tara, Willow, and Buffy, but I still played Morgan out. She still defeated Yoln, this time with her sister Slayer's help.  But she still died.  Somethings can't be changed I guess no matter how much you try.

As Morgan dies, she touches Tara and asks her to remember her.  Morgan's soul does not go to Hell as everyone thought, but instead, it is in Tara.  When the season ends she lets go of Morgan's soul to her final rest.  I have a scene in later games, Season of the Witch, to be exact, where Morgan's father meets up with Tara and is given peace.

As a DM I don't like to kill characters.  People invest way too much of themselves into their personas.
Kurt, Skie. Kiev, Jar, Victoria, Sebastian, Fjalar, Johan II and Johan III.  They all had memorable deaths and that had meaning.

But Morgan, Raven Ebonflame, the Daughter of Death, Hunter of the Dead, had the most important death of all.  Her's changed two worlds. Set things into motion that I am still using in my games. And changed how I think about characters and how I write this stuff I do.
And hers was the hardest to do and deal with and the one I have always and will always regret the most.

To pull out my comics metaphors, she is though more of my Barry Allen than Tora Olfsdotter or even Tara herself.  She died and saved the world and to bring her back now would give the character less meaning.  She died well and now deserves her well earned rest.  Tora and Tara died too (and came back) but their deaths were meaningless and meant to shock people and ultimately empty.  Mark Waid, who wrote the issues in which Tora died has since admitted it was a huge mistake as a typical and clichéd Women in Refrigerators moment.  Too bad Whedon has not had the same insight and maturity as Waid.  But I took care of that on my own.

So GMs/DMs/Directors/Story Tellers?
Do you kill characters?  Do you try to save them even if the dice fall on the side of the Reaper?

Yes...yes I can already here the Call of Cthulhu Keepers out there.  I know your point and I know there are worse things than death.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Darlessa the Vampire Queen

I have had a long and sorted history with the "Vampire Queen" in my games.

One of the first adventures I worked on for OSR publication was called "The Tomb of the Vampire Princess" or "Vampire Queen" or "Palace" depending on my mood at the time.

I essentially saw it as a sequel of sorts to the original Wee Warriors / Pacesetter Games "Palace of the Vampire Queen".  But a few things happened. First Mark Taormino published his own "Hanging Coffins of the Vampire Queen" which was AWESOME.  Then Bill Barsh of Pacesetter Games produced some sequels of his own with Castle Blood and Crypts of the Living.
So the need for my own sequel dwindled.

A couple years back Small Niche Games produced Guidebook to the Duchy of Valnwall. I had the pleasure of working on that product.  I submitted a character to be "Saint" in the game, Father Johan Werper, my very first D&D character ever.  When I got my copy I was so thrilled. Something I had wanted to happen for ages was going to happen, Johan was going to be a real saint in a "D&D" book! I opened it up and I was not disappointed at all!  Moreover the book's main author and designer Pete Spahn had added this section:
He died in a tragic tale that is recounted in the Hunt for the Dark Mistress, where he tracked down and slew Darlessa the Vampire Queen who had abducted his granddaughter.
Unfortunately, Johan was himself cursed by the taint of the vampire's blood. Rather than remain an undead abomination, he bid goodbye to his granddaughter and used the last of his strength to douse his body with oil and set himself alight.
Pete never contacted me about this and I could not have been happier!  Without knowing it he included things that happened in my game; Johan dying and leaving his granddaughter, Celene, behind (Celene was my first 2nd Ed character, and afraid of the dark.  Now I know why).  The use of holy oil in my games (does 1d8 damage to undead; more when lit) and of course giving a name to an enemy that had been lurking in the back of my mind ever since I first read about Elizabeth Bathory.

It was like throwing a deck of cards into the air and having them land in a perfect house of cards.

So modules V5 and V6 combined will cover a lot of similar territory to what I was going to do in my adventure. So I'll just drop that and keep the elements that are new.  The opening of the crypts.

I have a stack of various notes, maps, ideas and going through them all I think I have something pretty cool here.  I'll have to get it all together in time for my annual Halloween horror game.

Right now the working title is Descent into the Crypts of the Vampire Queen. It will be my homage to the great adventures of the Golden Era but also a nod to the two Vampire Queen adventures that brought me so much joy.

Here she is for Advanced Labyrinth Lord.

Darlessa, The Queen of Vampires
Female Vampire Witch, Demonic Tradition
No. Enc.: 1 (Unique)
Alignment: Chaotic (evil)
Movement: 120’ (40’)
   Fly: 180’ (60’)
Armor Class: -5 (bracers of defense, amulet of protection, ring of protection)
Hit Dice: 13
Attacks: 1 (touch, see below) or spell
Damage: 1d10, drain 2 points of Constitution, witch Spells
Save: W13
Morale: 12
Hoard Class: XXII
XP: 11,400

Str: 18 Int: 15 Wis: 14 Dex: 18 Con: (18) Cha: 22

In addition to the powers of a vampire, Darlessa has the following witch spells and Occult Powers.  She casts as a 13th level witch.

Spells by Level
Cantrip (3+5): Alarm Ward, Black Flame, Daze, Knot, Mend, Mote of Light, Object Reading, Spark
1st (4+3): Burning Hands, Cause Fear, Everlasting Candle, Hecate's Spiritual Dog, Minor Curse, Read Languages
2nd (4+3): Agony, Bewitch II, Burning Gaze, Enthrall, Ghost Touch, Produce Flame, Rite of Remote Seeing
3rd (3+2): Astral Sense, Clairaudience/Clairvoyance, Danse Macabre, Toad Mind, Tongues
4th (3+2): Arcane Eye, Bewitch IV, Elemental Armor, Moonlit Way, Phantom Lacerations
5th (2): Death Curse, Greater Command
6th (2): Death Blade
7th (1): Wave of Mutilation

Occult Powers
Familiar (Undead Raven)
Evil’s Touch
Devil’s Tongue

Magic Items
Intangible Cloak of Shadows, Amulet of Protection* (also prevents cleric turning), bracers of defense, ring of protection, ring spell storing.

Links to Adventures
Links to my 'Vampire Queen' posts


Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Mail Call! Minis, Blue Rose and Old Dragons

I got a bunch in the mail this past weekend so let's have a look!

Mail call items

HeroForge

Up first,  Some new minis from HeroForge.

Graz'zt in 25mmBold and True, Johan Paladin of Light

Graz'zt and my paladin Johan.  His sword, Demonbane, is on fire because it is a demon-hunting sword and Graz'zt is near.

You can get a better look at Graz'zt below.

Screenshot of Graz'zt

If you click on the HeroForge link here you can even see he has six fingers on each hand!

I forgot who made this, the post on Facebook is gone, but she did a great job.

He compares well to the official mini that was made for him.

Graz'zt minis

Graz'zt minisGraz'zt minis

And he looks good next to my HeroForge Iggwilv.

Graz'zt and Iggwilv minis

Blue Rose Adventure's Guide

The Blue Rose Adventure's Guide is out as a DriveThruRPG POD and it looks great!

Blue Rose Adventure's Guide

Pages from Blue Rose Adventure's Guide

Pages from Blue Rose Adventure's Guide

Pages from Blue Rose Adventure's Guide

Pages from Blue Rose Adventure's Guide

This allows you to play a Blue Rose game using the D&D 5th Edition rules. It is surprisingly complete.

Blue Rose Core and Blue Rose Adventure's Guide

You do not need the Blue Rose core rules to play this, but you do need the D&D 5th Edition rules.

A full review coming soon.

Dragon #20

And last, but not at all least, I finally got a copy of Dragon #20 with the Witch class and demonology guide.

Dragon Magazine #20

Witchcraft pages from Dragon Magazine #20

Witchcraft pages from Dragon Magazine #20

Expect a "This Old Dragon" post on this one soon!

Friday, June 19, 2020

Character: Magnus Ulslime, the Chaotic. Death Pact Warlock (BECMI Special)

Last week I talked about the adventure Quagmire for the Expert set.  Earlier I talked about the adventure Death's Ride for the Companion set.  What do these both have in common?  They were the genesis points of a reoccurring bad guy in my games, Magnus Ulslime, the Chaotic.


Magnus, as he was most often known in my games, is not just an awesome reoccurring bad guy, he was my testbed for all sorts of evil, death-priest, warlock style characters.

Anytime a new version of D&D would come around I would roll up a new Johan Werper as the son of the previous one, either as a LG Cleric or Paladin.  I'd attempt to make a version of Larina.  And I would make a version of Magnus.  But unlike Johan, who is a different character each time but always a LG holy warrior, or Larina who was a reincarnation of her previous version and always a witch, Magnus was always something different.  I would always go with the class that would give me the best evil traits.  In Basic he was a evil Cleric. In AD&D1 a Death Master, in 2nd Ed he started out as a Druid and then became a Necromancer.  When I switch over to 100% Ravenloft in my college years the cover of Ship of Horror and the evil necromancer Meredoth also had a huge influence on me.  As it turns out Meredoth would be revealed as an expatriate of the Mystaran country of Alphatia.
In 3rd Ed...well there were some many choices that I eventually made 6 different versions.  You can see some of that in my Buffy adventures The Dark Druid and The Dead of Night.  In 4e I used him as a test of the Death Pact Warlock that never saw the light of day under 4e.  It did, however, affect the writing I did for my warlock books.

Magnus Ulslime became my poster boy for warlocks soon after I got a copy of 4e.
I tried him out in several different ways mixing in bits of cleric, wizard, and especially necromancer.
In my Strange Brew: Warlock book for Pathfinder I introduce both Cthonic and Death Pact warlocks.  I expand on those ideas from a different point of view in my more recent book, The Warlock for Old-School Essentials.  In both cases, I made Magnus a Death Pact warlock.  It was a much better representation of how I saw the character.  He made a trade to Death for more power in the mortal world.

Magnus for BECMI
If I rerun Death's Ride again for any version of the game I'd like to replace Ulslime the Cleric with Magnus Ulslime the Warlock.  For 3rd to 5th Edition of D&D this is not a big deal.  But BECMI does not have a warlock.

No. But Old-School Essentials and Swords & Wizardry do.

My warlock for Old-School Essentials is a B/X style warlock with Death Pacts.  But it only goes to 14th level.  My warlock for Swords & Wizardry goes to 20th level (the level I want Magnus at) but it doesn't have Death pacts.  No problem. I designed the books to work together like this.  By combining them I can get the exact warlock I want.  If I need more death or necromancy themed spells



Magnus Ulslime, the Chaotic
20th level Death Pact Warlock
Lodge: Sixth Circle, Masters of the Undying

Str: 10
Int: 18
Wis: 16
Dex: 10
Con: 15
Cha: 18

HP: 66
AC: 2 (mage armor, phantom shield, ring +2)

Invocations (10)
Arcane Blast, Agonizing Blast, Armor of Shadows, Aura of Fear, Claws of the Ghoul, Eldritch Sight, Form of the Undead Horror, Mask of Many Faces, The Wasting, Whispers of the Grave

Spells
Cantrips (6): Aura Reading, Daze, Detect Curse, Mend, Message, Object Reading
1st level (7): Arcane Dart, Corpse Servent, Häxen Talons, Feel My Pain, Mage Armor, Phantom Shield, Taint
2nd level (7): Augury, Aura of Chaos, Corpse Walking, Death Knell, Grasp of the Endless War, Speak with the Dead, Ward of Harm
3rd level (6): Bestow Curse, Black Lightning, Cackling Skull, Corpse Candle, Lifesteal, Rage
4th level (6): Animate Dead, Crystal Visions, Extend Spell (Lesser), Fear, Spell Storing, Undead Compulsion
5th level (6): Bad Luck (Run of Bad Luck), Death CandleDeath Curse, Dreadful Bloodletting, Song of the Night, Winds of Limbo

Magic items: Amulet of Chaos, Pentacle Rod, Ring of Protection +2, Staff of the Warlock,

Not too bad really.  I might have to go more "BECMI" and raise him to 25th or 36th level!

While I am playing around, here is a 5th Edition version to use in my 5e Converted Death's Ride.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

D&D40 Bloghop: Day 5

Day 5: First character to go from 1st level to 20th level (or highest possible level in a given edition).

Going back to my first character I have to say Johan Werper.  Since I was playing (mostly) Basic/Expert with bits of Advanced thrown in we decided the maximum level for playable characters was 36.  After that characters became immortal.  We had heard about the immortal rules, but never saw them.  I think at that point they were more rumor than reality.

Johan made it level 30 before my DM decided he was too powerful.  He was "retired" and became an NPC, St. Werper, Patron Saint of those who battle Undead in my games later on.

He had lost levels over the course of his adventure career, can't battle undead and not loose some levels sometimes.

I was quite amused when D&D 4e came out and the level max was back to 30.


Thursday, June 3, 2021

Ginny Di: Backstories don't have to be tragic to be interesting

Ginny Di
Let's take a quick break from Ravenloft to talk about something that will send many DM's screaming for the hills in horror.

Character backstories

Now, most old-school players will argue that 1st level characters don't need a backstory.  That would be fine and all, but I remember playing in the 80s. I have lost count of how many "disgraced princes," "lost royalty," or "tragic orphans" I ran into in games.  I get it, it was fantasy and a way to play out various ideas, concepts, whatever.  D&D was cheaper than therapy. I get it. I do.  And it is fine you don't want to do them now.

But don't pretend it didn't happen.

I have no issues with backstories.  In most of the RPGs I play a backstory is an excuse for the GM (me) to torture your character some more.  Have the Love quality/drawback in the Buffy RPG?  Yeah. Might want to rethink that one.  But I don't always have to do that.   

Our two primary modern examples of "The Hero with a Thousand Faces" by Joesph Campbell are Luke Skywalker and Harry Potter. By all accounts, they are 1st level characters.  Luke is a farm kid. Harry is an abused 11-year-old.  BOTH have great backstories.  "Yer a wizard Harry!" "My name is Luke." "Yer a Jedi Luke!"  But, yes, both are tragic backstories.  Take Campbell's own example of the Monomyth, Gilgamesh.  Gilgamesh is already the King when the story starts.  That's a backstory no one would accept!

Let's just say that there is going to be some sort of backstory.  How should you do it?

Well once again let's turn to Ginny Di.  

She might be new at D&D but her enthusiasm is greater and more infectious than a room full of Grogs blogging about it. Your humble author included.

Her recent video is overtly about one topic, but she actually makes two very good points here that pretty much everyone should agree with.

So her two major points are:

  1. Backstories don't need to be tragic or even dark
  2. Leave it open enough for your DM to work it into the campaign

That's solid advice. One I would like to hope that most Old-Schoolers follow already.

My oldest son has already instituted a "maximum" limit on what a backstory in his games are.  Right now I think it is a page, but he has talked about a paragraph.  Me? I don't care, make as long as you like just keep it in reason.

Ginny points out that characters, and this is true for every version of the game, are not normal people. A level 1 character is still better than a 0 level Normal Human.  They have more hp, are better at fighting or even have magic.  Even in Van Righten's Guide to Ravenloft, the Survivors are slightly better than normal humans.  Luke already was Force-sensitive, Harry could still do some minor magic and talk to snakes.  

Also, no normal person is going to live a life to go out adventuring.  So find those reasons.  Even if that reason is "I just want a pile of treasure." 

Taking Ginny's Advice

At the end of the video, she asks us two questions.  

Have you ever had a character with a happy backstory?
What kind of problems do you run into when writing character backstories?

These are good questions to ask.  

Happy Backstory?

Yes. My wizard Phygora, like his namesake and idol Phygor, came from a well to do, happy prosperous family in Glantri.  He was well-liked, no issues with school, loves, or friends. Just one day he decided, like Phygor before, him to travel the world to learn all the magic he could.  While this could have been tragic, it was symbolic of my own desires to learn all sorts of things.

I have had fighters and thieves that have "only it for the money" or as the kids say "the lolz."

Backstory Problems?

Sadly I do find the tragic backstory easier to write.  Larina's family died in their apothecary shop while she was away studying.  Though I recently brought her mother and father back. Johan's twin brother was killed by ghouls, then he died to become another's character's back story.  I have the usual suspects of orphans, outcasts and other murder hobos.  They far outweigh the happy stories.

Over the years though I have been looking at other ways to generate characters and backstories.

It occurred to me years (ok. decades) ago when sitting in my History of Psychology course.  We were going over Freud's theories of self and were contrasting them with later theorists. Now I have always preferred Jung over Freud.  I guess I am just Jung at heart! (sorry. That joke is mandated by my university, if I don't use it they take away my degrees.)

I am planning to expand on this, but I came to see many of my characters as representations of various Freudian and Jungian concepts.

The easiest one to show is Larina, she is a manifestation of my Jungian Anima/Shadow Self.  Phygora is my Freudian Super-Ego, Johan is my Ego and my assassin character represents my Id.  

I have always been curious if others have done this.

You can find Ginny Di online at:

Thursday, July 16, 2020

That's So Raven! Raven Swordsmistress of Chaos for BECMI

Raven by Luis Royo
Back in 1987, I was a freshman in college. My then Favorite Local Game Store was also my Favorite Local Used Book Store.  They sold new books, used books as well as new and old gamebooks.  I got a copy of the first printing Deities & Demigods here along with scores of old copies of Dragon and White Dwarf.  

One book they always prominently displayed was the American versions of Raven Swordsmistress of Chaos.  

I never grabbed the book but as an 18-year-old guy, I always was attracted to the covers. I even had a character named Raven, who like the cover, was blonde and had a pet raven.  I was vaguely aware there were more books in the series, but never knew how many. 

Over the last couple of years, I have been on a quest to find and read all the Raven books by "Richard Kirk" who was, in reality, the pen name of authors Angus Wells and Robert Holdstock.  Both wrote Book 1 and then they alternated with Wells on Books 3 and 5 and Holdstock on Books 2 and 4.

Well, I succeeded in my quest and I found them all and read them.
While they are not...good...they are fun little romp in late 70s Swords and Sorcery (and Sex, but not as much as the Corgi covers hint at). Sometimes described as a mildly ribald Red Sonja or a less ribald Ghita Of Alizar. The books however perfect for game fodder. 

Others have reviewed the books and I went back and forth on whether I should do the same.  So instead I am just going to link out to some of the better reviews and retrospectives for your own reading.

I figured there are five books in the Raven saga and there are five rule sets in the BECMI series.  
Seems like a good fit.  Plus it let's me try out each set of rules with a character.

I also did this with my very first character, the Lawful Cleric Johan Werper. While I find him interesting I figure you all would like to see Raven more. Also I wanted to get a good feel for how the fighter works in all sets AND the advanced fighter paths from the Companion rules.  So let's get to it!

Raven Swordsmistress of Chaos

Raven from Heroforge
The story Raven begins with that of a runaway slave girl named Su'ann. She is reduced by a mysterious warlock-like character named Spellbinder who recognizes that she is "the pivot on which the world turns" partially because she is also protected by giant Raven and he senses something in her.  Spellbinder and Su'ann, now calling herself "Raven" hook up with a band of outlaws and pirates.  They go from adventure to adventure but all the time Raven is training with swords, spears and what would become her "trademark" a set of throwing stars.  It was the 70s man.  Raven though is not training out of boredom, nor even for the higher purpose fate seems to have, but is very vague about, for her.  She wants to kill her former slave owner the Swordsmaster Karl Ir Donwayne.  
While Raven is the cover girl and the eponymous main character, the events are all narrated and told by Spellbinder many years after the fact. Even the scenes where he was not present.  

The story is one that is simple, but close to many FRP gamers. Raven wants to kill Karl Ir Donwayne. How is going to do that? Well, they need to Skull of Quez to appease this ruler to get to Donwayne. But they have to find the mysterious island first and then kill the beast-men. And there are shadowy loners, men with mysterious pasts. Raven jumping in and out of bed with Spellbinder, Gondar the Pirate captain, and even Krya M'ystral, the Queen and sister of the ruler they were trying to go see.  This is all in the first book.  There is a nice gory battle with Karl Ir Donwayne too, but he comes back in future books to bother Raven some more.

We never get a satisfactory end to Raven's story.  Book 5 just ends.  Though all the books are told from Spellbinder's point of view they could be out of order.  We do know that Raven met some sort of end between Book 5 and Spellbinder's remembering which seems to take place many years later. Maybe she became that agent of Chaos after all.

For this I am going to stat up Raven for each rule set in the BECMI rules, trying to feature what I feel are the best parts.  I am also going to try to feature what I can from what she was doing in the books.

Raven, ePic Character Generator


Sheets are from The Mad Irishman

Basic


Here is the Basic version of Raven.  The hardest this is always to guess at what any one character's numbers are going to be. I figure she had good strength and constitution as well as high dexterity since she favors the throwing stars.  Her charisma is very high, not because of her looks, but because she inspires a lot of loyalty from the cutthroats she usually hangs out with.

She is a fighter. No doubt. I also gave her alignment as Chaotic.  She is a force of chaos, but she is also a killer.  For this example, I thought putting her at level 3, or "Swordmistress" (no middle "s" like the books) was appropriate even for her first book.

You can see her full Basic sheet here (click for larger): 



Expert


Fighters don't get a lot in the Expert set. So for her 2nd book I just advanced her to 9th level "Lady" and gave her some magical chain mail.

You can see her full Expert sheet here (click for larger): 



Companion


Ah now here are some changes!

In the Companion rules, we have more going on.  First I wanted to have her become an Avenger or the Chaotic traveling Fighter.  She obviously has no lands to call her own and she is still going about killing things.  But the Avenger gives her some Clerical ability.

Magic is rare and dangerous in Raven's world.  But everyone seems to have some sort of supernatural sort of talent.  So for Raven, I choose spells that fit in with role as the "pivot on which the world turns" and other things like her raven companion.  So things like "detect magic" and "cause fear" made sense. She also got the 3rd level spell "striking" since that covers a lot of what could be a natural talent.

She also gets 2 attacks per round now at 18th level.

You can see her full Companion sheet here (click for larger): 



Master


Master level Raven is really Ultimate Raven.  This is the Raven that goes toe to toe with gods and spirits and comes out unscathed. 

She gets three attacks per round now and I implemented the Weapon Mastery Rules to give her mastery over the sword and her throwing stars. 
She gets more cleric spells, this time to the 10th level of ability.  Some spells are easily explained by her connection to her bird, fate, and chaos.  Others can be explained by natural ability. "Commune" for example is with her bird and the forces of Chaos only.  "Speak with Animals" can be roughly explained by her time with the animal men. Others could be when she was dealing with weird supernatural forces.

She also gets 3 attacks per round now.

You can see her full Master sheet here (click for larger): 



Immortal


This sheet is largely incomplete.  It is also the most different of the other four (printed from my DTRPG copy) and interestingly enough the only book in series that I don't have an American (Royo cover) edition of.  I do have the British Corgi version with the Chris Achilléos cover.  

I made a lot of guesses as to what sort of Immortal she would be and just cheated and made her an Initiate. I might try this again with one of my own characters that I know better. 

You can see her full Immortal sheet here (click for larger): 


All in all I rather pleased with these. I am curious to hear from anyone that has also read these books.
As far as BECMI character I am happy with it.

Links

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

BECMI: Immortals Set Review

“I am glad you are here with me. Here at the end of all things, Sam.”
- Frodo to Sam, Return of the King


And here we are. 
June is drawing to a close and we are here in the last week of BECMI month.  Fitting too that the last week, as short as it is, is dedicated to the oddest set of rules in the set.  The Immortal rules set. We see some major changes here and in TSR as well.  So. Let's jump right in.


I am reviewing both my rather beat up and water damaged version of the Immortal set (I only have the books, not the box) and the PDFs from DriveThruRPG.

A couple of notes.  The set now lists Frank Mentzer as Author. No mention of Dave Arneson nor Gary Gygax here.  The year is 1986 and Gygax had been removed from TSR the previous October. Frank had been very closely allied with Gary so his time at TSR was also going to come to an end soon.  The Immortals rules and the module The Immortal Storm would be his last books for the company.  This had two rather obvious impacts on these rule books.  First, the art that had been getting more sparse with each set now hits an all-time low.  No in quality mind you! But in terms of amount. There is just not that much art in these books.  
Secondly, it also meant that the company focused more on its perceived cash cow, the AD&D line.  Gary had been talking about the AD&D 2nd Edition game, but now that project was turned over to Dave "Zeb" Cook of the B/X Expert Set rules.  Others have played the conjecture game of what might have been, so I will not go into that here.  What I will say though is it left Frank and the BECMI line alone for the Immortals set to go in some very weird directions.

If BECMI is the ultimate update of the OD&D rules, then the Immortals rules cover part of what Eldritch Wizardry and Gods, Demi-gods & Heroes introduced.

Players' Guide to Immortals
32 pages, color covers, black & white art.
Your character, now 36th level and has pretty much done everything from dungeons to the planes hears the call to become an Immortal! Certainly, this was the goal of those quests and battles. Immortality.  But now the game, both actually and metaphorically, has changed.  Just like when you moved from Jr. High/Middle school or Grade school to High School you go from being the most powerful of mortal kind to the least powerful of the immortals.
This book covers how your character now becomes an Immortal.  There are five spheres, four of which characters can access, detailed here.  These are the same spheres that have been hinted at since the Companion set and introduced in the Masters set; Matter, Energy, Though, Time, and Entropy.  characters choose one of the first four usually corresponding to the class they had in life; Fighter, Magic-User, Thief, and Cleric respectively.
Experience points gained will alive now become PowerPoints on a 10k to 1 basis.  We get our first hints at a proto-point buy system in D&D here since PowerPoints can be spent. Now the Initiate Immortal can begin to do some Immortal things. PowerPoints are used for a lot of things, but mostly for magical or spell-like effects.  Your sphere will determine which ones you can do easily and which ones are harder.
There are a lot of interesting rule changes along the way.  AC is now Ascending for Immortals; so Immortal AC 20 is the same as mortal AC of -20.  AC 0 is the same. Ability scores can be raised. First to a max of 25 (the AD&D max of the time) but also all the way to 100!   
In a lot of ways, the PP mechanic is similar to what we see in other Point Buy systems used for superheroes.  It makes sense really.  
Though for all of its detail there is very little information on what an Immortal should do. Right now they seem, at best, super-powered mortal characters.  There is some implicit ideas, but nothing spelled out yet.

DM's Guide to Immortals
64 pages, color covers, black & white art.
The DM's book spends some time covering the planes of existence.  While a lot on specific planes is left vague, there is a lot of details on how planes are designed.  The artwork and some of the notes appear as if the author and artists were checking on what the AD&D team was doing "down the hall" there is a unique feel to the BECMI multi-verse.  A lot of emphases is given on "doing it yourself" including room for the DM to pencil in their own % for monsters occurring.
There is a bit more here about the planes, in particular the Prime plane.  We learn that the Known World doesn't just look like Earth from 150 Million Years ago, it IS Earth from then.  This explains the map a bit better. We also learn that this Earth is the predecessor to our lands.  Though, in the spirit of everything else in the book, this can be changed.  The Solar system is the same, save for a few notable differences. Mercury and Pluto are not in their orbits yet and between Mars and Jupiter where the asteroid belt is there is a planet called Damocles. Fitting named for a doomed planet but doesn't fit with the names of the Roman Olympians. Damocles will be destroyed and the two largest pieces will fly off to become Mercury and Pluto.  Imaginative to be sure!  But Mercury is only 35 million miles and Pluto is closer to 3 billion miles from the sun. The asteroid belt is roughly 300 million miles from the sun.  So Damocles is not really in the middle of that.  No big deal, this is D&D, not Astronomy.  I DO however love the idea of a doomed planet in the current or future asteroid belt. Maybe a Mi-Go outpost or something like that.   I want to talk more about the Known World/Earth a little more in just a bit. Plus there is one more bit of information I want to collect.
It would be interesting to compare and contrast the multi-planuar mechanics and rules here with the various Manual of the Planes.
This is followed by the Immortal Campaign.  Or, what do Immortals do? There are some ideas given but for the number of rules on immortal characters and planes you would expect some more to be honest. 
Our "Monsters" section is now called "Creatures" since they "cannot be adequately called monsters."  All these monsters...creatures now have expanded stat blocks to cover their immortal statuses.  
One of the first things I noticed was the inclusion of demons to the roster of D&D BECMI monsters.  I am not sure why this surprised me since these are the same demons from Eldritch Wizardry.  Well...same in name but these demons got a serious upgrade.  Let's compare.  A Succubus in AD&D is a 6+6 HD creature (average hp 33), her physical attacks are not great, but her kiss drains 2 life energy levels.  In BECMI a Whispering Demon has 15* HD and 70 hp! Oh and her AC is -6.  Orcus and Demogorgon have 39 and 40 HD with 620 and 660 hp respectively!  Yikes!  We do get some art of them. 




In addition to being able to summon other demons, Orcus and Demogorgon can summon Gargantua. 

We get more inhabitants of the nightmare dimension like the Diabolus which are...checking the description...well they basically tieflings. And they can take any human class. So all the Grognards out there complaining about "monster races" have no ground to stand on. Here are the rules from 1986. 
The Dragon Rulers are updated to Immortal stats and so are some of the elemental rulers.  There is the Megalith and it is ... WHAT???  More on that in a bit!
A few more creatures and some, ok a lot, of tables on magic.

Crisis on Infinite Urts
So there are a couple of new-to-me bombshells in the Immortal rules.  First, the world of the PCs, aka the Known World is Earth of 150 mya. Secondly, this Earth is in actuality a creature known as a Megalith ("big rock") and it is known to the Immortals as "Urt."
It's tucked away in two different places, but this is a revelation really.  The Known World as a living planet known as Urt.  Imagine what the "Mystara" line might have been about had this thought continued?  No Hollow World to be sure. Frank Mentzer pretty soon left TSR soon after this and the Immortal Storm were complete, so we never really got to see what his ultimate vision was.  We do know that Gygax considered his Oerth and later Aerth for his Dangerous Journeys to all be alternates of Earth. Aerth was a little more on the nose about it.  Frank was set to design parts of Oerth a few years back, but that project fell through.  It might have been the closest we would have seen to a fleshed-out Urt.  
At some point between 1986 and 1991 (the publication of the D&D Rules Cyclopedia), the world of Urt became Mystara.

So here at the end of all things what can I say about the Immortals rules? It is an inconsistent set of rules to be sure. There are a lot of really interesting ideas connected together with bits of fluff that may, or may not, work well.  The concepts of Immortals is a compelling one and D&D would come back to it in big ways at least two more times with Wrath of the Immortals and Dungeons & Dragons Fourth Edition where Immortally was the goal after 30th level. 

Still. One can be impressed with the scope of the rules and how it caps off a set of rules that began in 1983 but has roots going back to 1977 and to the dawn of D&D.  For that reason, it gets a few points more than it might have gotten on its own. 

Back in the day, I had only two characters gain immortality via a route similar to this. More like my DM read these rules and figured his own way of doing it. One would be my character Johan Werper the Cleric and bane of the Undead. 

Monday, July 22, 2019

Happy Anniversary!

No regular post today, it's my 24th Wedding Anniversary!
24 years ago I stood on a beach in Ocho Rios, Jamaica and I said "I Do" to my best friend.
It's been a wonderful ride so far.  Two houses, two kids, 8 different jobs, and 21 season of gardens (missing one due to a move and no gardens when we lived in an apartment).  I wouldn't change a thing.

To keep this RPG related I got a commission from one of my Featured Artist, Ben Honeycutt, to do a portrait of my wife's and mine D&D 5 characters.  Or, more closely, us cosplaying as our characters. ;)



These are our characters Johan IV (Paladin) and Lana (Fighter)



These were based on our minis and our engagement photo from 1995.