Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Do Bards Really “Suck”?

I know that bards in Roleplaying games take a huge hit to the balls by many. There have been several posts over the past year in the OSR blogosphere that have amused me as they poked fun at the bard class. Let's admit it, sometimes bards are ridiculous, especially as they are portrayed. I think it is OK to not like the bard class or those that resemble them. Who wants an annoying singing minstrel bothering them? Certainly Sir Robin didn't in Monty Python's Holy Grail movie!

The only cool “Bard” that most people know about was not a singing fool, but Bard the guard in Tolkien's The Hobbit. However, in some cases and in some circumstances, do bards really suck?

I say: “NAY!”

In the Middle English epic poem Sir Orfeo (based loosely on the tale of Orpheus), a king is so taken by the music of minstrels that he decided to take on their craft. The poem is written as a tale that could be told, set to music, by those in the real world that were the basis of the bard class in AD&D. I will post the very beginning of the poem to set the tone:
        We often find it written,
        And scholars know of this well,
        Verses that are set to music
        The content of which are marvelous things:
        Some concern war and some concern woe
        Some concern joy and mirth also,
        And some concern treachery and guile
        Of old adventures once upon a time,
        Some concern jokes and ribaldry
        And many are set in the lands of fairies.
        Of all things that men relate,
        Most of them, in truth, concern love.
        In Brittany were these songs first wrought,
        Set to music and then forth brought.
        They concern adventures set in the olden days
        Whereof ancient Bretons made their lays.
        Kings, at times, might hear a tale
        Concerning marvelous things,
        Then take up the harp and minstrelsy
        And write a lay and give it a name.
        Of these adventures that have taken place, 
        I can tell you some but not all.
        Now listen, lords and ladies true,
        I shall tell you the tale of `Sir Orfeo.'

        More than anything in this world
        Orfeo loved the joy of music.
        Such was it that every good mistral
        Paid much homage to Sir Orfeo.
        Orfeo set his keen, sharp wits
        Upon teaching himself to play the harp.
        He taught himself so well that no one could find
        A better mistral than Sir Orfeo.

Here we find a King, the one that Bards desire to come and play before, becoming a minstrel himself!
Not only does the Bard-King play well, he is described thusly:

        Orfeo was a king
        Of England and help high honor;
        He was a man both brave and strong
        And also elegant and generous.

Obviously, Orfeo is a brave and chivalrous warrior, a refined gentleman and of noble character – everything a Bard might wish to be! This is no Medieval Hippie strumming silly tunes... Orfeo is someone to be reckoned with.

In the tale, Sir Orfeo uses skills and wit that would be considered common fair for Bards to single-handedly rescue his wife from another Lord who kidnaps her. After questing in search of his wife, Sir Orfeo comes as a minstrel to the offending lord's castle, which he has finally discovered. Because Orfeo impresses him with his entertainment, he is granted a anything he wishes. Orfeo asks for his kidnapped wife and even though the lord protests, he must keep his word. Orfeo could have battled the Faerie lord - he was certainly capable of doing so, but his wit won out! The Bard-King returns home "and there was much rejoicing” ;)

Peter the Hermit exhorting the faithful to take up the cause of the First Crusade

Monks who were also Poets, which might be considered Bards, were instrumental in creating works so magnificent that they were added to the abbey's liturgy. They wrote in praise of the nobility, who gave to the monastery generously in return. They made social commentary (some of which might even be considered subversive) through their prosody. Orations from ascetic, traveling monks like Peter the Hermit did much in stirring the people's faith to join in the First Crusade. The influence of those skilled in poetry, song and oration in the Middle Ages is nothing to be sneezed at – they had tangible effects in the world.... I haven't even mentioned the Viking Skald (saving for a later post!)

As I said earlier, it is OK if you think D&D bards suck... but perhaps you think they suck because many do not play them as they were in the actual Middle Ages. In my own Sylvaeon campaign, they function much more like the bards of history.

                After that harpers in Brittany
Heard how this marvelous tale
        And made a lay of great delight
        And named it after the king.
        That lay is called `Orfeo';
        And it is a good song, sweet in its notes.
        Thus was Orfeo delivered from his cares:
        May God grant us all so well to fare! Amen!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Wilderness Creature Encounter: Borealis Spider

(Deadly Borealis Spider stalking its victim)

In the coldest, frigid Arctic places of the realm of Sylvaeon live the deadly Borealis Spiders. During extremely bitter and long-lasting Winters, they have been known to migrate down during the season into the colder temperate regions. The largest among them are sometimes solitary creatures. However, a hunting pack of a few to a dozen spiders roaming together is the usual behavior for these icy, deathly stalkers.

These spiders are extremely silent stalkers. Also, when they remain motionless, these creatures look like snow and ice, blending with chameleon-like ability into such Arctic and sub-Arctic terrain. If lying in wait for the kill, the spiders can only be discovered on a 1-in-6 chance by normal vision. They range in size from a small piece of ice when young (1 HP) to that of a large boulder (10 HD). They are extremely patient hunters who pounce on prey when they least expect it. They look like tarantulas made of snowy fur and icy limbs. Borealis Spiders (also known simply as Ice Spiders) are patient and aggressive hunters.

The poisonous bite of the Borealis Spider freezes those who fail a save to ice. Their saliva unfreezes the frozen flesh, which they eat. Every other round, the spider may also cast a web of sparkling ice particles, which will immobilize those it ensnares, doing d6 cold damage per round. The web may be broken only by great strength (18+ ) and then only by a Save vs Strength) or by causing the web 6 points of damage for spiders that are from to 1 to 5 HD. It takes 12 points of damage to break the web of those that are larger.

Heat/fire do double damage on the Borealis Spider. Impact damage is normal, but slashing, and piercing do half damage. Cold heals Borealis Spiders on an equal point ratio.

  • 1 bite for 1 point per HD + Save vs Poison or freeze solid … still ALIVE!
  • Spin web every other round to immobilize + d6 damage per round (Save vs Immobilization/Paralyzation causes only half damage, but the victim is not immobilized).

Movement: The movement speed of Borealis Spiders is that of most man-sized creatures (double for those that are the largest variety).

The Borealis or Ice Spider is a feared and deadly creature to encounter... and those that do encounter them seldom realize it.... until they are being eaten alive!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Nightwick Abbey Session #3 Character Play Report

There are many dead in the world. Some lie quietly in the grave. Some are the living-dead lost souls that walk among us... lost and in need of the Church... and some have come back prematurely from the grave and Hell; the undead.”
Brother Damian Bernard in his homily: The Dead Are Among Us

On the feast day of St. Crispin, I joined the efforts to rid the ruins Nightwick Abbey of the foul pestilence that has infected that once holy and sacred place. The company was made up of another cleric of the order (Brother Kolvun), myself and some companions that made me question the wisdom of the superiors that sent me to this task.There was a strange person named Blixa, who was an unseemly yet resourceful sort, who showed great ingenuity in laying traps for our foes. They had a canine compatriot that spoke! I know the Lord has used an ass to speak to his wayward servants, but I have never seen such a thing before... nor a talking, intelligent pig, who also accompanied us.

Upon reaching the almost totally destroyed walls of the abbey, we saw that the two north and south towers also lay in near ruin. To the west were the crypts and graveyard surrounding the abbey enclosure. We decided to descend the stairs to the catacombs that lay beneath the north tower.

It was not long before we ran across the bodies of those my companions called “berserkers” - no doubt some of the godless heathen barbarians that have plagued civilized lands for some time now. The bodies wore armor and face masks made of human skin. I would have felt revulsion if I was not so shocked at their cruel barbarity! Going yet deeper into the catacombs, we found passages that led to the what had been the shrines and tombs of the sainted dead. The funerary art work customarily placed on the walls of these has been worn from time. Many were also desecrated by blood and vulgarities painted over them in human gore and blood. I rinsed away the filth from as many as I could with holy water, but as I had little with me, I could not rectify all of what the cultists of the devil had done.

The third encounter with the undead in my short service to the church occurred upon the stairway leading down into the catacombs. The party was assailed by zombies. All of the party fought valiantly, but we had much distress in defeating these corruptions. My fellow brother was badly hurt, but I was able to assist him and he returned with us to finally destroy the undead creatures. The intelligent animals were very effective and even if I am unsure of their nature, I still thank the Holy One for their aid in this  pursuit.

We were able to liberate offering boxes of silver that were in one of the shrines. I have received no orders regarding recovered property of the Church, but if I survive, the share that I have from our explorations I will return to the abbot of my own monastic order. We plan on temporarily exiting the catacombs and returning with better provisions to continue this most righteous labor. God-willing, I will be able to soon report in person to both my Father Confessor and the Abbot of all that transpires at the ruins of Nightwick Abbey.

I shall end this report for now and I pray that I am granted valor and success in the name of all that is holy.

(This play report was written for Evan Elkins' Nightwick Abbey G+ session #3
for more info on Nightwick Abbey please see: http://inplacesdeep.blogspot.com/search/label/Nightwick%20Abbey )

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

School girl recovering after 'goblins' attack

A reported case of a modern goblin attack!

I find this article (linked below) very interesting because it involves:
  • Goblins
  • Witches
  • a Prophet

According to the article, the unnamed school girl was calling out the names of the witches. This act somehow provoked the goblins to attack her, She claims they come after her and demand for her "flesh and blood".

If this were a weird fantasy adventure, I would imagine that the witches disliked their names being called out by the unwitting girl for no purpose and that they sent the goblins to wreak retribution. Is there now a curse upon the girl and perhaps her village? Will the prophet be able to help? Would the PCs need to destroy the goblins and ultimately the witches?

This is surely a case where "real life" is stranger than fiction! 

Check out the news story here:

I definitely see an adventure in this story!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Cosmology of Sylvaeon (#2)

Silent, the mist forms slowly. Coalescing over aeons, shifting unhurriedly in the deep quiet of sleep, the mist dreams of all things magical and beautiful. In slumber undisturbed by time, when time was not, the Presence slowly gathers her wispy, wraith-like form and sleeps on... weaving dreams within dreams.

Eventually, after uncounted eras, the Presence stirs amidst her luxuriant nocturnal fantasy and a great isle rises from the vapors. Her mirthful mind begins to enter the reverse twilight of sleeping to waking and stirs again; some of the vapor becomes a sea that washes back and forth upon the rocky island, an aqueous heart set in motion. More quiescent gestures and the psyche of the Presence is almost awake, now. A soft, pinkish light emanates dimly from the Eastern horizon as a young star begins ascending over the mighty ocean of preternatural consciousness. Casting off sopor, the sentience opens her blinking eye upon a new world. A cool morning breeze touches her cheek softly. Hovering high over the clifftop of the green-covered isle, a seagull cries out as it glides, like an infant coming from its mother's womb, seeing the world for the first time. Sunbeams lightly illuminate the foam of waves lapping at the white sands below, while the canopy above is steadily bluing.

A knowing smile of contentment spreads across the face of this newly formed realm. “Yes, awaken now likewise, my beloved children.” Sylvaeon is born...

(note: this is a rough draft version of the Sylvaeon intro)

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Troll Lord Games Kickstarter Project

I decided to back this project.
Troll Lord Games' Castles & Crusades is a nifty rule set... and I figure this classic monster collection (and some new ones, too!) would not take much, if any, conversion to use in other systems.

I own some of the C&C books... I should give it a try! I have an upcoming campaign that I am currently working on a mega-dungeon for. It might be a suitable system for it :)



(special thanks to Dungeoneering Dad for making me aware of this project)

Monday, November 7, 2011

Two Gonzo d30 Random Tables

30 Odd Random Inns, Taverns and Sundry Establishments
(roll a d30 for the name of an establishment. May be used for urban settings, towns or wayside stops, etc. as the Gamemaster wishes.)

01 – Center of the Multiverse
02 – Drunken Paladin
03 – Last Place to Be Inn
04 – Laughing Lich
05 – Inn of the Bastard Princes
06 - Basilisk’s Gaze
07 – Gallant Goblin
08 – Axes & Ale
09 – Sunken Ship
10 – The Gregarious Hermit
11 – Sword Sisters
12 – Three-Legged Unicorn
13 – Last One Standing
14 – Delver’s Repose
15 – Golden Skull Inn
16 – Fey Spirits
17 – Angry Toad Tavern
18 – Prismatic Tankard
19 – Iron Gut Grog & Grub
20 – Legion of the Unlucky
21 – Cutthroat Gentleman’s Club
22 – The Silent Banshee
23 – Minstrels Not Allowed Inn
24 – The Tavern Time Forgot
25 – Dwarven Comedy Club
26 – The Underground
27 – Two Sheets to the Wind
28 – Troll’s Trove Tavern
29 – Inn of the Moon Beast
30 – Dead Sages’ Society


30 Odd Random City Encounters
(roll d30 for random encounter)
01 – An unsavory-looking person approaches a PC to return a pouch/item that they have dropped. If offered a reward, they decline.

02 – A man hands the PCs a broadsheet whose headline reads: “Good News! Evil Declining in the Realm”

03 – While passing by a seedy part of town, the PCs see people nailing planks to buildings or painting them. Nearby is a sign that says: “Urban Renewal Project”.

04 – There is a disturbance in the streets and people are milling about loudly.  If the PCs ask what the problem is, someone happily tells them that they just got word that the local lord has announced a cut in taxes.

05 – The PCs see an old man sitting at the side of the street mumbling to himself. He has a tin cup with a few copper pieces in it and a sign that reads: Take One If You Need One”.

06 – A man hands the PCs a broadsheet whose headline reads: “Good News! Peace Treaty and Trade Agreement With Neighboring Kingdom Signed”

07 – While walking through town a group of filthy urchins surround the PCs, tugging at them. They ask if the PCs could retrieve a ball which has gotten stuck on the roof of a small shop across the way.

08 – An very large Orc is pushing a cart with several small dogs in it while shouting “Free puppies!”.

09 – A group of 3d6 bald, orange-robed cultists, chanting and dancing, come near. They hand each party member a flower and continue on.

10 – The party sees a tavern called “The Pink Dragon”.

11 – A black-cloaked figure approaches the party, introducing themselves as “The Dark Assassin”.
They ask the PCs where the magistrate is so they can turn themselves in.

12 – A Dwarven vendor pushes around a cart with a large barrel and small wooden bowls in it, ringing a bell while yelling “Iced Cream! One Copper!”

13 – A man hands the PCs a broadsheet whose headline reads: “Good News! Local Monster Retires to Warmer Clime”

14 – A group of people are picking up liter from the streets. One carries a sign that says “Druids For A Clean City”.

15 – In a square, a very large tent is being set up. Nearby is a sign that reads “Battle of the Minstrels Tonight!”

16 – A shabbily-dressed man quickly approaches the party, seemingly from nowhere. They speedily wash the armor/scabbard or shield of a party member and put out their hand as if expecting payment.

17 – A man hands the PCs a broadsheet whose headline reads: “Good News! Dragon Disaster Averted”

18 – The party see a sign which reads: “Meeting of the Secret Order of Necromancers Midnight Tonight”.

19 – A Hobbit stands at the side of the road with a vending cart full of multi-colored candies on a stick selling for 1 copper each. A sign on the cart reads: “All proceeds go to support the Lollipop Guild”.

20 – The PCs see a Goblin dressed as a clown, juggling and entertaining a group of young children.

21 – A man hands the PCs a broadsheet whose headline reads: “Good News! Local Pirates Turn to Fishing Instead”

22 – The party sees a tavern with a wooden sign that has a cattle head with a halo. The sign reads: ” Holy Cow”. (If the PCs investigate, they find out it serves only vegetarian meals)

23 – 3d6 meowing kittens begin following the PCs

24 – A group of 3d6 peasants approach one of the PCs and start yelling “Hail to the King (or Queen) and begin to bow to and faun upon the PC.

25 – Some interesting type of music that the PCs have never heard before is coming from inside of a cafe. If the PCs investigate they find that it sells bottled flavored water, flavored coffee, small snacks and pastries. The sign above the cafe reads: “The Jazz Gnome”.

26 – An Elf slips a fish into one of the party members pockets/robe.

27 – There is a taxidermy shop called “The Rainbow Rat” that specializes in stuffed rats dyed all colors.

28 – 2d6 local guards come by with a cart full of weapons with a sign on it that reads: “Swords for Cash Program”.

29 – A Troll is vending “Horse-on-a-Stick” snacks from a booth.

30 – Party sees a magic shop named “Crystal Balls”.


All hail the Order of the d30!!!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Things Role Playing Bloggers Tend Not To Write About (Answered)

Being a list of TRPBTNTWAs, or, Things Role Playing Bloggers Tend Not To Write About:

(I will answer these questions posed by “noisms” at his Monsters and Manuals blog and others, like Back to the Keep.)
  • Book binding. (I can't be the only person who bemoans the way new rulebooks tend to fall apart like a sheaf of dry leaves after about 5 seconds of use).
I know my 1e books are in awesome shape compared to the use they have seen! I do think some printing is cheaper on the binding of RPG rule books, even if the paper quality is better. PDFs are nice to have but a printed rule book/Supplement is great to have in hand. I prefer hardcover, but softcover is not bad either.

  • "Doing a voice". How many people "do voices"? Should they? How do you get better at "doing a voice" if that's your thing?
Most players I have played with do not do voices. I personally give a voice or at least an inflection to every Character (whether Player or Non-Player) that I run. A good way to get used to that is to be a Game Master, if even for a one-shot session. You learn that voices add to the atmosphere of the game. I know they aren't for everyone, but I prefer them. A key to doing a voice is to have take into account who it is that you are voicing: age, gender, social status, motivations, etc. If these are not fleshed out or are not part of the tale (in the case of a random, minor NPC encounter, perhaps), then just wing it and come up with one on the fly. Doing is the best way to get better at them. Roleplaying is a lot like acting – get into character and have some fun!

  • Breaks. How often do you have breaks within sessions?
    I think a short break should be taken about every couple of hours, so people can stretch, get some beverages or just move a bit. I don't mind long gaming sessions, but sitting still for hours on end isn't good for anyone.
  • Description. Exactly how florid are your descriptions?
If I am describing a magical, mystical or especially important place or person, etc. I will give a elaborate description. I do try to keep them as brief as possible, though. Going on and on takes away the immediate impression that people can come up with in their own heads. The human mind tends to fill in details if given a basis to go on. If it matters, I describe things as accurately as possible, with the attention gven that is needed. Atmosphere is really a big part of a game. Too little makes it cardboard – detailing everything makes it overbearing. In everything, there should be balance.

  • Where do you strike the balance between "doing what your character would do" and "acting like a dickhead"?
If you have to act like a jerk, you are probably playing a character that is a jerk. Under-evolved character personalities are the types that unimaginative players have. If after a couple of sessions you don't have some motivations and personality traits coming to the surface, you are probably just wanting to play a pure hack-n-slash game by the numbers. That's fine, but you can still hack and slash and have a developed character. The guy that is greedier than greedy and back stabs other people's characters and steals their pouches for no reason, just because he is playing a Thief, needs to learn that there is more to roleplaying than showing off abilities or acting like a dork. I have played with those kind and they are juvenile types, typically.

  • PC-on-PC violence. Do your players tend to avoid it, or do you ban it? Or does anything go?
Regarding PC on PC violence, one time a friend of mine and I made new characters to play in a game. I made a Vampire Hunter and unbeknownst to me, he had a Vampire! (oh the irony!) During the session, I had suspicions about him and figured out he was a vamp. To make a long story short, I wasted him with a cross-bowed stake to the heart... and afterwards i felt badly and just retired the Hunter then and there. I acted in character, but hated it! We both spent the rest of the session rolling up NEW new characters while everyone else played ;)

I am not totally against PC-on-PC violence, but it should be rare (if ever occurring) and part of the game. It's like the last question above: If you are playing a dork, why are you doing so? Trying to kill other PCs for no reason is plain stupid – there should be a clear motivation. To avoid this situation, the characters need to have an external enemy that is greater than any animosity that characters may have for each other. I am sure that if I was hunting Dracula, that my suspicion of the vampire player character would have been great, but I might need their vampire expertise to get the job done. I might have made that vampire the only exception of those I wouldn't presently kill if we had come to an understanding, such as “No turning other characters or killing people in your blood drains” or some such. There's a lot you can do with having polar opposites in a group that adds a cool tension that does not have to come down to PC-on-PC violence. A good DM knows how to take a “bad” situation and make it an interesting one. I am against forcing players to a certain type of character, unless it is announced beforehand what is banned or what kind of campaign this is.

  • How do you explain what a role playing game is to a stranger who is also a non-player? (Real life example: my friends and I were playing in the local M:tG club space. A M:tG groupie teenage goth girl came over and asked, "What are you playing?" "[We answered.]" "Sounds kind of gay.")
Well, I just say it is a lot like acting – all we are doing is acting out the parts of a person in a fantastic world. I would tell them that roleplaying is a social thing and that [whatever game] is just a way to have some fun. Personally, I just encourage people to try it. They might like it. I don't take offense if people aren't into it; they might not have tried it so they may have an uninformed opinion.

  • Alcohol at the table?
    I don't mind if people drink, so long as they don't act like “dorks” ala the above questions. The last game I played in face-to-face, there was a guy that got half in the bag that I had never met before. He became very personally insulting about how I played my character in the game and did all sorts of odd behavior in game play himself. No one said anything about it, but that is the last time I will ever play with that guy, because he took the fun out of the session. If you can't hold your liquor, don't drink during a game. Go to a bar and act like a jerk there so I can punch you in the nose ;)

  • What's acceptable to do to a PC whose player is absent from the session? Is whatever happens their fault for not being there, or are there some limits?
I tend to play the missing character as an NPC or make them “indisposed” somehow. I won't let a character of someone who isn't there die, but they get no experience points, treasure or anything else from that missed session. Sometimes it may be preferable to side-adventure the people that are there or even play a one-shot of some other game. I let the players decide. Having a character die because of actions imposed upon them by the DM stinks. I won't do that or anything like it to anyone.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Cosmology of Sylvaeon (#1)

Origin and Essence

The Realm of Sylvaeon is both natural and preternatural; spawned from the Fey place called Faerie. It exists in its own right, but is also a bridge between the mundane Universe and the fantastic places of dream and magic. As such, it is simultaneously a Nexus, a plane and a world. This makes many areas of Sylvaeon very “real” and material and certain others very elusive and magical.

The fabled Green Isle, the heart of Sylvaeon, is where these characteristics both emanate and blur. The Green Isle lies at the “center” of the world/realm of Sylvaeon. However, it is not always reachable simply by traveling to a map coordinate. The Green Isle admits only those it desires to or those that know the secret ways to it. At the very core of the Green Isle lies The Henge, a mammoth stone henge of gigantic size. Inside the Henge is the World Tree, Yggdrasil. Here is the Nexus to the hero gods, Faerie and other worlds – to many places and beings of ancient legend... or yet unknown.

Sylvaeon exists as a manifestation of all things Fey – yet this self-conscious realm has in places become corrupted. Once perfectly balanced and harmonious, in times past a blight infiltrated Sylvaeon. One who has many names that are best not spoken, commonly whispered of as The Ravager, tried to dominate his will upon the Realm. His twisted malice against the pureness of Sylvaeon has upset its original state. As a result, the essence of Sylvaeon is weakened at points. The dark power of the Ravager has caused “leaks” in the fabric of Sylvaeon, where he at times opened his own nexus gates, allowing terrible things to enter in. Whether by design or accident, many of the races of men and other creatures have come to dwell in Sylvaeon because of the thinning of the veil.

Still, Sylvaeon contains much good and it adapts to its new denizens, as they also adapt to Sylvaeon. Even though the dark Ravager has been resisted, his ire against beautiful Sylvaeon continues to grow... and with it, his desire to dominate the Realm.