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Friday 28 February 2014

So Cheap You Want Some Slightly-dinged RPG Books at a Big Discount?

If so, then Precis Intermedia is the company for you.  They're having a Big Clearance Sale, of slightly dented, misprinted, and closeout books.  They're all new, though some of them have very slight problems; and they're all at a big price rollback to make up for it.

I find it a little bit funny, I guess, but its a good chance if you wanted a print copy of some of Precis' books and don't really care if it arrives slightly imperfect (still better than what you might get from E-bay).  And anyways, the main reason I'm promoting it here is because among the many games available you can get Gnomemurdered and Lords of Olympus, potentially for as low as $4.95!  That is a very good deal.

Go on, let your inner cheapskate blossom and check it out.  If you'd ever buy a used RPG book, then this is really no different.


Currently Smoking: Moretti Rhodesian + Gawith's Squadron Leader

Thursday 27 February 2014

RPGPundit Reviews: Chronicles of Amherth

RPGPundit Reviews: The Chronicles of Amherth
This is a review of the RPG setting book “Chronicles of Amherth”, published by SNG games, written by Peter C. Spahn.  The book is a softcover, about 70 pages long, with black and white interior art, original art in a fantasy style from what I can tell.

There are a great many setting books available for D&D-style games (officially speaking, this setting is made for the Labyrinth Lord system, though of course that makes it basically compatible with most OSR games or any D&D edition prior to 3.0, and it would be easily adaptable to later editions of D&D or other fantasy games). So the question is whether Chronicles of Amherth is just one more in the pile or if it has certain qualities to make it truly stand out?

I would say that my very first impressions of the book were not particularly hopeful; the physical book itself isn’t tremendously impressive: the cover is nothing special (its black and white, and shows a blown-up portion of the setting map), the pagecount isn’t particularly high, the art is nice without being astounding, and the whole feel of a very first glance is of yet another project that amounts to someone publishing their personal medieval fantasy campaign system, probably similar to most everyone else’s homebrew world.

However, as I read through the book I will admit that Amherth grew on me, and that there are a few details to this world that would set it apart somewhat, and give it a particular flavor. So the consideration then becomes whether those particularities are enough to make the setting worthy of investigation.  Another important consideration in a book like this is whether there’s material to be found therein that would be useful to someone who already has their own world to play in (be it a homebrew or one or more preferred published settings) and would really have no interest in playing in Amherth but might have an interest in raiding the book for material to bring into their world.  These are the things we’ll be looking at in this review.

Fortunately, the author himself (who I was inclined to give the benefit of the doubt to because of previous good works, particularly the really excellent old-school adventure Blood Moon Rising) seems to recognize the necessity of being able to point out where his setting stands out from the crowd.  He makes the following arguments for its uniqueness: first, that the world is ancient. Well, most fantasy settings use that, no points there. 

Second, that the history of the setting is based on legend, which is to say that very often what people think is the history of places and things are not actually true, and there can often be multiple accounts of a certain history, maybe even all of them being wrong.  This I like; its something Spahn already used before in Blood Moon Rising (as a central part of the adventure’s background, which I won’t give away here) and its something that lends an air of authenticity to the setting.  Too often, medieval settings seem to behave as if every last peasant knows every detail about the ancient empires and artifacts that litter the land, and there’s none of the blurriness and confusion about history that actually affected all levels of medieval society.

Third, that humanity is central; nonhumans are rare and don’t generally interact with human kingdoms (other than humanoid raiders at the frontiers). This is hardly unique, but I do know that many GMs have come to prefer this over the “elves and dwarves all over the place” style of many fantasy worlds.
Fourth, magic is feared and mistrusted.  That is somewhat different than many campaign worlds where being a wizard is more likely to give you a social leg-up, and it can act as a useful counterbalance to wizardly power at higher levels.

Fifth, that “science is magic”. People fear more complex science and think of it as magic (plus, the “ancients” might have been messing around with superscience before destroying themselves); this establishes that first of all, the setting is one where there can be ancient technology, and second, it explains why neither science nor magic have led to advances in the society over long periods of time.
Sixth, that the gods are a living and very present force in society, religion is everywhere and a feature of common life.  This again is not exactly new, but its also something that tends to be glossed over in many settings, where it seems the gods are only around to have temples and give clerics their spells.
Finally, that the world is scaled for low- to mid-level play. Again, not unique by far, but it also establishes a certain feeling to the world for a certain taste; it means that the PCs will “rarely encounter and NPC of 9th level or higher”, and that even by mid-level the PCs will likely be important people in the world. 

The very first thing that gets covered after the intro is religion; and in it we learn that the author deals with metaphysics by stating that there are only a dozen actual gods in this universe (11 really, because the 12th is “The One”, the amorphous creator-of-all-things, that seems to be mostly inhuman and passive); but these deities are archetypal and worshiped with different names, appearances, symbols and even aspects in different parts of the world, to the point that (I surmise) mortals might not even realize that in some cases they’re talking about the same gods.  Its also stated in this section that the Gods really don’t care what alignment their followers have; though of course there are individual churches/religions that do.  Its also mentioned that there are animal and nature spirits, as well as demons, who are sometimes worshiped as if they were gods, by small localized cults.

Next we deal with the “Ancients”; and its established unequivocally here that the Amherth setting is actually a post-apocalyptic world; the ancients were a high-tech society that destroyed itself in a series of cataclysms.  The point is driven home in this chapter by an illustration that shows a typical fantasy party marching through what is very clearly the ruins of a high-tech city. You are told that there are places of power that still have energy from the ancients (“lailons”, which sounds a lot like “ley lines” and leads to the possibility that actually the ancients had magitech, or that their tech was so advanced as to be indistinguishable from magic in some cases), there are ancient artifacts of high technolgy which are still found (and can be recharged at the aforementioned “Lailons”), ancient “warmachten” (killer robots that ultimately turned on their masters) that are still around in deep dark places, and a couple of secret orders dedicated to either preserving, using or destroying ancient secrets and artifacts.
Regarding magic, we are told that all magic on Amherth is genetic.  You are either born with magic potential (as a “latent”) or not, and if not there is no way you can ever gain it.  There are special mechanics for “latents” (0-level NPCs (usually) with some magic potential, who might randomly cast an uncontrolled 1st-level spell); latents can be correctly identified through certain techniques, and are thus brought into the fold of being trained as either wizards or clerics (the setting makes it clear that in terms of the actual source of magic, there’s no difference between magic-users and clerics, its only their training that leads to the differences in these classes).

Being an adventurer in Amherth is considered “a time-honored profession”, and throughout Amherth there are Adventurer Guilds. It is expected that PCs must join this guild (paying a minimal fee plus a tax on all wealth obtained from adventuring), or else they would be excluded from being able to sell their wares gained from adventuring, and may face prosecution.  Guild members often form Adventuring Companies, with fancy names and varying levels of importance and influence depending on their membership and accomplishments.

The world itself consists of two big continents with one medium-sized island (as well as several smaller ones). The first continent is Herth, and its culture is totally shaped by its largest state: the Xanne Empire; ruled for 500 years now (more or less) by its Immortal emperor (immortal, apparently, in the sense that if you kill him he comes back from the dead about a day later). This Empire is extremely powerful but is in decline, as it was beaten back about 50 years ago by a big coalition of border states plus people who have reason to dislike the emperor. 

The Xanne empire, we are told, is like a mix of “Roman and Mongolian cultures” (if you can get your head around that).  It is ultra-xenophobic and has essentially wiped out all nonhumans in its central regions (including elves and dwarves and the other “nice” demihuman races). Its quite autocratic.
Its main rival is the upstart Kingdom of Tyr, which led the aforementioned rebellion against Xanne.  Its more or less the “nicer” kingdom, the non-xenophobic friends-to-elves-and-dwarves counterpart to Xanne, and we’re told its inspired by “British and Germanic cultures”.

Allied with Tyr you also have the Republic of Westport, a large and powerful urban city-state, huge and bustling, which we are told rather than being inspired by any historical culture is “a prototypical melting-pot of different fantasy cultures”.  In other words, Inspired By Waterdeep.

You also have the island of Guildeland (the aforementioned “medium-sized island of the setting), which is an island merchant city-states that runs on commerce, and is inspired by the “Italian city-states”.
In the northern end of the continent proper you also have Skjold, which is a viking-setting, and Corrland, which is a Scottish-setting (or should we say, Braveheart-inspired?).

In the southern end of the continent you also have  “Great Desert” where there’s a nomadic tribal culture called the Baladi, who worship a single god and follow a religion called the True Path, revealed to them by the Prophet Abdullah.  I probably don’t need to tell you who they’re based on.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the sea, you have the continent of Amalor. The only civilized human kingdom here is the Duchy of Valnwall (“duchy” because it was formerly an overseas possession of Xanne and since the rebellion has become a vassal state to Westport).

I’m guessing that the Duchy of Valnwall may well be the home setting of Spahn’s campaign (or at least one of his campaigns) in this world, probably the first.  We’re told its “a prototypical western fantasy culture… loosely based on medieval England and France”.  It reminds me quite a bit of the Grand Duchy of Karameikos from the D&D Known World/Mystara setting. Its your standard mostly-peaceful fantasy kingdom surrounded by wilderlands for adventuring. Surrounding terrain includes the evil bog full of undead, the arctic wastelands, and further south some lands with primitive barbarians.

We’re also given detail about some off-the-beaten track places in the setting, including the Shipwreck Islands (your typical pirate haven), and a southern continent not shown on the map of the setting (inspired by pre-colonial India). There are also two nations that live on huge floating islands that fly high above the surface of the world; the kingdom of Pax with its dragonriders and the magocracy known as the Glorrin Alliance.  These islands are found east of Xanne (off the map), near the island of Karthax (also not on the map), which is an evil island ruled by dark fiends (that we are told the emperor of Xanne has recently started negotiating with).

Finally, we get some information about the nonhuman realms, where we find out that mostly they’ve buggered off; the Dwarves to deep mountain steads, the Elves off to some island (again, off the increasingly incomplete setting map), the halflings were mostly massacred by the Xanne Empire, safe only beyond the empire’s reach in isolated places, or in the new kingdoms of the empire’s enemies.
The entire “known lands” section covers about 26 pages, and each of the major countries includes an introduction, the standard (flag), government, military, the people, major cities, a few bullet-point adventure ideas, and the “inspiration” section (which explains the cultures or tropes the area is based off of). 

After this, we move on to a section on flora and fauna; ie. the monsters chapter.  You get an interesting list of plants (both helpful and dangerous), and then you get a list (with full Labyrinth Lord statblocks) of some 40-some monsters. Some are kind of pointless, like the alligator. Others are quite novel, like the weird alien Cathla (which, along with a few other monsters here, are reprinted from some of Spahn’s earlier modules), or Gelatinous Men (an evolved humanoid race of gelatinous cubes), or a few sample “warmachten”. Then you have a few who are variants of your standard monsters; we are told, for example, that orks, goblins of all sorts, and ogres do not exist on Amherth.  Instead, you have Ruks and Ogruks, which are “foul-smelling humanoids with black hair, pig-like faces, and reddish eyes”. In other words, orcs.

The magic items section notes that powerful magic items on Amherth should have long histories making them very identifiable, while weak magic items (+1 weapons, for example) should not typically be thought of as “magic” but just “lucky” by average magic-fearing folk.

The chapter describes some racial items, like Dwarf toys and Elven songstones, and then a dozen or so new magic items (mostly specific items, as in “Janil’s Sword”), you get for these items not just their abilities/bonuses but something of their story, which is a good touch.

There’s also some “tekla relics” (i.e. superscience or super-magitech items). Some of these are amusing, like what amounts to a “google earth” mapping device.
 Finally, you have a short appendix where you get information on how to apply the Monk class on Amherth, and then a repeat of the (notably incomplete) setting map.

So what do I conclude about Amherth...  Does it suck? No.
Would I ever run a game on Amherth? Also no.

In answer to the fundamental questions earlier on in the review; Amherth does have a number of particularities that make it interesting; its way less “generic” than a large number of the generic settings I’ve reviewed here.  There’s a number of very clever ideas in the book.  Unfortunately, they’re still ideas tacked onto a very generic world; your evil empire, your generic fantasy good guy kingdom, your pirate lands, vikings, Scotsmen, etc.  There’s already a Mystara, which incidentally has evil empires, pirate lands, generic fantasy good guy kingdoms, vikings, Scotsmen, and even has an ancient ultratech civilization that blew itself to bits.  And frankly, though its an unfair comparison to hold any setting up to, Mystara is way cooler than Amherth.

But then there’s the second question: like I mentioned above, there are a lot of very clever ideas; there’s also about 40 monsters, a couple of dozen magic and magitech items, some concepts about religion, magic, items, adventuring, etc. which are all very good.  In a way, the dullest part of Amherth is the world itself, while all the stuff around it is really very interesting and useful.  The 26 pages of countries and regions is mostly forgettable, while the other 44 pages of stuff is pretty good.

So I wouldn’t call the book as a whole “bad”. I’d call it very slightly above average, and a good place to mine for a few interesting ideas. Its no Mystara, but its better than your average homebrew.


Currently Smoking: Mastro de Paja bent apple + Dunhill 965

(originally posted January 12, 2013; on the old blog)

Wednesday 26 February 2014

Patronize the Pundit

So I had noticed there's a lot of talk around the blogosphere about people receiving patronage (a model I've written about before and suggested is going to be a very crucial part of the post-internet economy as time goes by, in many different forms) for their writing.

My blog entries, and in a larger sense my general contributions of things like operating theRPGsite, are not a small part of the work I do, in the sense of time I have to dedicate to it every day.  If you don't believe me, just ask the poor Wench, who has often had to hear my morning tirades about "I don't have time for that, I haven't even written my blog entry yet!".

And, being by no means a rich man, there have been a few times when I've felt torn between being able to dedicate the necessary time to my RPG-hobby work and the actual work I get paid for.  I think there are probably readers here who really appreciate my blog entries, or who appreciate theRPGsite, either because they agree with the kind of things I say, or because they find the stuff I promote and link to informative or useful, or because they enjoy getting their daily dose of bile at being pissed off or outraged about what I write or how I write it.

So, if you appreciate this blog, and want to help me in being able to keep offering the kind of material I do every day, we now have a fresh new paypal button just to the upper right of what you're reading at this very moment.  You'll notice it has various options for different levels of sponsorship; so if you like, you can just send me a fiver if you read something here that truly blew you away, or that you found incredibly helpful. Or you could help with what amounts to a subscription; if you read my blog every day, why not contribute fifty cents or a dollar a day to show your magnanimous support?
And there's a couple of higher options, too; if, say, you're insanely rich, or just insane, or if something you read here saved your life or found you true love or allowed you to obtain superpowers.

So there we are. Thanks again for reading and enjoying this blog, whether or not you push the paypal button!


Currently Smoking: Castello 4k Collection Canadian + Image Latakia

Tuesday 25 February 2014

DCC Campaign Update

DCC Campaign Update

In this weekend's DCC campaign adventure, it was shockingly confirmed that:

-The assassin's guild are definitely not a community college.
-The assassin's guild are, however, the proprietors of the worst-kept "secret" hideout in all of Archome
-The assassin's guild are also mediocre-quality leather-workers.

-The Dwarves definitely know how to hold a grudge.  They also know how to air grievances, file complaints, list lamentations, and take two or three days to answer simple questions.
-The Dwarves are also absolute masters of defensive fighting, which might explain why they lost their ancient homelands.

-The Snake Witch does not like having her rumpy-bumpy interrupted with requests for snack breaks.
-The Snake Witch is also an advocate for slow and very painful capital punishment.

-Trying to Charm one of the Snake Witch's public employees is a very dangerous idea, but may just get you somewhere.

-The Desert Nomad's Camel-Milk Wine is very potent stuff; and may have you waking up next to two burly nomads, a midget, a dancing bear, three whirling dervishes, a tapestry-illustrator, and a particular smarmy alcoholic Chaos Lord.

-Putting Nitroglycerine in a flask does nothing to improve its carrying safety.

-The Desert of Destruction is not nearly as dangerous as it sounds.
-The Plain of Glass is also not nearly as dangerous as it sounds.
-The Valley of Garbage is much, much more dangerous than it sounds.

-There are good slimes and bad slimes, and ways to differentiate between the two.
-Mutagentic Goo Slime and Bleach do not mix.

-It is strategically unwise to attack your opponents from the higher ground of a hill of soiled diapers.

-Large diaper-related explosions only attract more Bugbears.

-Bugbears in the world of the Last Sun are literally crosses between bugs and bears.

-Low-intellect Chaos Swords mostly just keep trying to get you to steal stuff.

-Blasters do nothing against Gelatinous Cube Slimes; Phasers, on the other hand, are fairly effective. Magic Missiles still work best.

-The Crystal of the Tyrant did not actually belong to the Tyrant; it was meant to keep the Tyrant imprisoned.

-Dwarves built their machines big, and built them to last. Their warning messages, not so much.

-When surrounded by hundreds of Eye Tyrants and their King, the only chance you really have is to make them laugh.

-Never trust an Elf in desperate search of a potion of Intelligence.

-An ancient Dwarven Particle Beam Cannon can slice a dragon in two.

-The Snake Witch rarely forgives, and she never forgets; so you had better.

Finally, in 2014, 10-year-old boys are surprisingly nonchalant about a magic missile spell turning them into a girl every time they cast it, as long as it does a lot of damage.


Currently Smoking: Neerup Egg + Rattray's Accountant's Mix

Monday 24 February 2014

UNCracked Monday: Creationism for Progressives

Yes, "progressives", College Liberals and Fashionable Leftists love to make fun of the Creationists; and the creationists certain deserve to be made fun of. But be wary who you're mocking when you have a ridiculously huge log in your own eye. 

And that's the thing, so, so many "progressives" believe the dumbest bullshit.  They mock creationism, but they believe that a little drop of a molecule strained 30000 times through water will retain magical properties. They believe in aura healing, crystal power, and the magic power of essential oils to cure your cancer. They don't believe that Jesus made the world 6000 years ago, and find that ridiculous because its 'unscientific', but they certainly do believe that if you have a "paleo diet" it will miraculously allow you to escape the very clutches of death; never mind that real historical "paleo" people died pretty horribly, and that there's no good evidence that the "paleo diet" really resembled what they ate at all.  They believe in dolphin power, and that vaccines cause autism and white-light meditation cures it, or a vegan diet, or a $47 bottle of juice of some fruit extract from the rainforest; because they think the Rainforest is a magical fairy land.

Even the more rational ones will still believe that somehow labelling something "organic" will make it magically better and much, much healthier for you than something that has been through the process of the Green Revolution's Advances, so that a spotty and slightly wilted organic carrot is certainly going to be better for you and is worth the extra $4 it costs compared to a bunch of evil "GMO" ones, even if the "M" in that only consists in making a healthier carrot.

More terrifying is what they don't believe in (or rather, what they believe is evil): Western medicine, Science (except when being used to make fun of conservatives, but its definitely evil, for example, when its being used to design a new type of rice that will stop millions of children from going blind), any technology developed after the 13th century, and western civilization.

With rare exceptions, both sides believe idiotically stupid things; the only real difference is how the religious conservatives are less hipster about it.  They're both equally righteous (just check out any raw food vegan condemning another vegan about eggs), they're both equally smug to those who aren't special like they are, they even both have the same judgmental sense of exclusivity.  For example, and getting to today's link at long last: witness how Whole Foods is a temple to Bullshit, and how the way hipster progressives handle organic food can only possibly be compared to the most ultraorthodox of kosher/halal religious taboos ("I must cut bread with a separate knife, one that has never touched non-organic bread or there will be contamination!!").


Currently Smoking: Lorenzetti Solitario Volcano + H&H's Beverwyck

Sunday 23 February 2014

Dark Albion Campaign Update: 1467

(Dark Albion is a complete fantasy campaign setting, based on my LotFP campaign, which is available in system-neutral form for free on theRPGsite)

Events: 1467

-Grand Duke Philip of Burgundy dies. Charles of Burgundy is his heir. He immediately retakes the city of Liege from the Frogmen, earning himself the title of "Charles the Terrible".

-The Turk invade Border Princes again but are beaten back after failing to win the siege of Kruje.

-William Canynges abandons the mayoralty of Bristol, and becomes a monk.  The shipping magnate had for almost three decades been the wealthiest of (and one of the most powerful) commoners in Albion, controlled the city of Bristol, and had played a significant role in supporting the Lancastrian cause.  With the failures of the Lancastrians, he had found himself in a politically precarious position and may have abandoned his power and wealth in fear for his life.

-Pontifex Paulus II arrests and tortures many of the pontifical secretaries after accusing them of conspiring against him. He accuses "learned men" and especially the magisterium of attempting to subvert the church toward heathenism; magisters are persecuted in Arcadia, but find refuge in the Commonwealth.

-Geoffrey Boleyn becomes sheriff of London. Bishop Thomas Rotheram (nicknamed "the Scot") becomes Keeper of the Privy seal (replacing Prince-Bishop Ralph Neville of Durham). Robert Stillington, clerical high commander, becomes Lord Chancellor (replacing Oxford Magister-Chancellor George Neville).

-Humphrey Dacre, younger brother of Baron Dacre, returns to Albion and is pardoned for his involvement in the Lancastrian cause.

In Our Campaign:

In this relatively slow year our players managed to engage in an investigative adventure where they learned about a hidden temple to an ancient Elven Death Cult.  I was stunned when they wisely decided NOT to open the still-intact magical seal holding whatever was in the temple trapped within.  It made for a much shorter adventure than I expected, but was definitely the safer and wiser choice for the PCs, so I was sure to reward them with plenty of XP (they did, after all, "defeat" the great evil within by not letting it out in the first place).

I should point out also that Geoffrey Boleyn was the older brother of one of our player characters; and yes, both were implied to be ancestors of the future queen Anne Boleyn.


Currently Smoking:  Lorenzetti Tempesta + Argento Latakia

Saturday 22 February 2014

"Real" Magick in RPGs: The Lovecraft Loons

 In previous installments of this series, I’ve talked about a lot of different magical groups or movements; there’s a few lesser ones I haven’t covered, and one in particular I felt I should.  That is, a small but not insignificant number of people involved in magick who really believe that the Cthulhu Mythos as published by H. P. Lovecraft in his series of shorts stories are really real, and true to boot!

I know your first thought will be how ridiculous that is, and your second might be about how it probably isn’t less ridiculous than talking about Gods and Demons like those were true as well.  Only in magick, there very much is a difference.  First, because in magick “archetype” is a very important power and concept, and something that is identifiably (and very recent) fiction, will not have that power of “archetype”, at least not yet.  Second, because most serious magicians aren’t actually talking about Gods or Demons the way a protestant preacher or religious soccer mom might; they address Gods and Demons as symbols, currents or forces (only knowing from experience that symbols have a life of their own) that represent and are situated on very real levels of reality, and reflect very real concepts.

On the other hand, the people who think they can summon Nyarlathotep, many of them really do want to believe that they’re literally talking about the god of crawling chaos that old Howard Phillip described. So we’re not saying “the things they believe are silly and the things we believe are serious” the way a Lutheran missionary who believes in the holy trinity (despite never having seen it) would mock a south pacific savage for believing in animal spirits (which he has seen).  What we are saying here is that the very way we “believe” these things is different, and they’re silly for believing in that kind of way in the first place (similar to the way its silly for the Lutheran missionary to believe in a holy trinity without ever having seen it or experienced it; only considerably sillier because at least the Lutheran isn’t faced with incontrovertible proof that the holy trinity was invented by a neurotic pulp writer 80 years ago).

Anyhow, there are two kinds of Lovecraft-morons to be found on the occult scene.  The first we would call the “amateurs”: goths, self-styled “satanists”, people obsessed with looking and acting “dark” in front of others who’d probably shit their pants if they ever so much as caught a whiff of a real goetic experience.   These guys will claim the Necronomicon is real, contrary to any evidence you present to them to the contrary, because they think its cool and want it to be real and that’s that.  Many of them feel exactly the same way about vampires, and I’ve had at least two separate occasions when one of these guys has tried to claim to me, in all and absolute seriousness, that Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice was actually a real and true account.  This was some time ago, and I have since in recent years wondered if the same crowd these days (which I’m mercifully more distant from now) have the same adamant insistence about the veracity of Twilight?

Some of them will even be certain that the Necronomicon is real because they have it on their bookshelves.  There have been at least 4, possibly more, “versions” of a Necronomicon printed by small-press occult publishers (and one by at least a medium-press publisher).  They’re all garbage, some are utter drivel, a couple are laughably “nice” (one contains several jewish qabalistic prayers to God/IHVH, and I always laugh at the thought of some teenage goth thinking how badass he is while he unknowingly recites “For Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, o lord my God”). 

Probably the least bad of a really bad bunch is the Necronomicon by “Simon”, which contains extremely little Cthulhu and a great deal of stuff dealing with babylonian gods; it might be the only commercial version of the Necronomicon that has any real magick in it at all.

In any case, this group of fans will refuse to listen to any argument based on reality, they don’t want reality. And if you scratch the surface, it becomes very evident that they also don’t want the Cthulhu stuff to be real either; I occasionally tried to argue with one of these guys that no, the Necronomicon isn’t real but its based on a real idea of medieval grimoires, and that if he wanted to he could look at those, like the Goetia which is a book of demon-summoning, or the apocalyptic angels of the Enochian system of John Dee, or the corpus hermeticum with its material for summoning demons to be your servants or guides.  His response was something like “who’s ever heard of that?!”, and I figured out at that point that what these guys are doing is just a kind of act, like they’re imagining themselves participating in a CoC LARP in real life. And they know its all bullshit, they just want to pretend it isn’t once in a while, and hopefully freak some of the mundanes.

Obviously, this group of people doesn’t do any magical work and would be of no utility to Occult Investigators in a “real” occult RPG; but it could be funny to involve them in a scenario where, say, one of them insisted to the PCs that he’d found out about a “real” Necronomicon and try to lead them on some wild goose chase for his own edification (maybe with the twist being that there’s really something, not the necronomicon but some other and genuine ancient magick around, that poses a real threat).

There is another, slightly more serious kind of Lovecraft-loon in the modern “occult” scene.  These are guys who I guess were faced with the fact of Cthluhu’s fiction and decided to double down.  They have a more “pseudo-scholarly” approach, accepting that Lovecraft was a writer of fiction and that that the necronomicon he mentions in the stories was not a real book on earth; but they want to claim that somehow Lovecraft “tapped in” to something real (which of course he did, he tapped into real philosophical and symbolic concepts of the shadow-side of our nature as human beings, our real primordial fears, and lots of other awesome stuff, all of which makes for really great fiction… but that’s not what these guys mean).  They insist that his writings about Azathoth and Cthulhu and Nyarlathotep were in fact “transmissions” being sent to him from these real entities, that the Necronomicon does not exist as a historical book but it exists in the sense of an “astral grimoire”, and all sorts of other nonsense.

For a long time, these people have tried to tie in Lovecraft to Crowley, to try to amp up the occult-cred of Lovecraft (and thus of the Mythos); after all, both men were alive at the same time, were very roughly of the same social class, Crowley had visited America on two occasions, surely there could be a connection? Some people have even managed, through thorough research, to be able to confirm without question that there were certain general acquaintances of Lovecraft who were also acquaintances of Crowley’s, as if this proves anything at all. The fact is, the two men never met, and recent very thorough biographical research on Crowley pretty much makes it impossible that there’s any doubt of this; and Lovecraft himself is known to in fact have been highly skeptical of any kind of “real occultism”.

But part of the reason these serious Lovecraft-loons have been able to harp on about this notion for so long is because one of Crowley’s students, Kenneth Grant, himself became a Lovecraft-loon later in life (long after Crowley was dead, and even longer after Lovecraft was dead).  Grant was Crowley’s last secretary (in the 1940s, when Grant was a very young man, and Crowley very old), for a short while his heir in the OTO in England, wrote a number of important books on Crowley (and republished a number of Crowley’s own writings, helping to bring Crowley back into the public eye and prevent his being forgotten), and outlived Crowley by decades. In fact, he only died in 2011, one of the last people alive to have actually studied under Crowley.

In some ways a remarkable man, Grant was also an utter nutcase for at least the last four decades of his life.  He had, after Crowley’s time, gotten himself very deep down a rabbit-hole of lunacy due to his own obsession with dark stuff. Had he not had any training in magick or somewhat less ambition, he’d be no different than those modern hipster-satanists I mentioned earlier in the essay. But Grant had received a bit of magical training, and a bit of magical training can be a dangerous thing.  He had clearly gotten very deep into goetic-style work but operating without any sense of discipline or safeguards; and I think his mind snapped to the point where he had no idea what he was doing anymore.

 His lodge collapsed, he was kicked out of the OTO, though he continued with his own version of the order that did not in fact have any real activity and a completely different structure from Crowley’s (that is, no real structure to speak of).  He started writing books about a variety of wild and crazy conjectures, including a number of things where he would name-drop Crowley but then misrepresent him as having been an active participant in Grant’s own craziness.  He became, at least to me, a textbook example of the kind of Delusion (the partner of Obsession and Paranoia, the other two frequent maladies of the magician) that its very easy for a magician to fall into when they cease to be very careful about being honest with themselves and maintaining a healthy discipline with safeguards.
And along the way, he published some books with names like The Nightside of Eden, Outside the Circles of Time, Outer Gateways, etc. where he claimed that not only was Cthulhu a real thing, but that summoning up these entities was a really cool idea because.. reasons.  That’s the thing about Kenneth Grant, and most of these more hardcore Lovecraft-loons: none of them seem to understand why the fuck one would actually want to summon up these kinds of things even if they were real. Grant’s books are long rambling drivel with a great deal of intentionally complex terminology and a considerable amount of very very bad kabbalistic numerology, and even worse etymology (and no actual magick ritual or theory to speak of); and the closest he can get to a reason for why you’d want to summon these is when he argues that it would expose you to a kind of “pre-human Gnosis”; that is to say, you’d get to feel like a non-earthly entity… which is a kind of neat parlor trick, but you can do that for real by other means, and its not really something worth devoting your life to, when the whole point of magical-spiritual practice ought to be how to fulfill your humanity.

One critic of Grant’s stuff put it best: “the best evidence for the argument that the Cthulhu Mythos is not real in spite of the claims of some occultists who try to “work with” those gods is the fact that said occultists are still alive.”

These sorts of guys, in an occult RPG campaign, would probably be great fodder for a very crazy, possibly dangerous sect; I mean, let’s face it, you’re talking about people who desperately WANT to be the cultist guys in a lovecraft story!  But the “danger” of them would be in how they’d be deluded, and obsessed, and probably vulnerable to any number of real “shadow-side” spiritual influences that they would gleefully allow to wreak havoc with their psyche and lives (and the lives of others) so that they could pretend they were chit-chatting with Yog-Sothoth.  They would be a cautionary tale.

And that’s the kicker when you’re talking about trying to run a “real occult” game: it would be one where the lovecraft-stuff is NOT real for a change, and those evil cultists trying to summon cthulhu could be the bad guy but the real surprise spin for all the players would be that the “cthulhu” part would be a total dud, because he’s bullshit.  The ultimate bait-and-switch for players who’ve gotten used to a lot of CoC adventures.

That doesn’t mean that there aren’t a lot of freaky incomprehensible things out there; what Crowley called “Praeterhuman intelligences”, or demons (what the kabbalists called the Qlippoth, the “empty shells”, the refuse of the universe that exists only as a byproduct of reality’s fracturing away from Oneness in its emanations). Or, for that matter, getting a real glimpse of what we could call “angels” (which are a far cry from babies with wings) or Gods (which are a far cry from Marvel’s Thor or Supply-Side Jesus).  Firsthand experience with almost any of these kinds of things can be a freakier experience than anything to do with Cthulhu, because they are connected to our human universe, and also because they are real forces and archetypes, while Cthulhu is fiction.  Experiences with any of these things have the power to change your reality, while nyarlathotep only has, at best, the power to reinforce your current nonsensical ideas.  Remember: it was wallowing in the Qlippoth and allowing them unfettered feasting on his psyche (what you could call “unsafe evocation” in magic-lingo) that fucked up Kenneth Grant; not old tentacle-mouth.  Grant’s Cthulhu-gibberish was just the product of the magically-shattered husk of mind that was left after the fact.


Currently Smoking: Brigham Anniversary Pipe + Image Latakia

(originally posted January 9th, 2013; on the old blog)

Friday 21 February 2014

Arrows of Indra: Alignment

One common subject for debate in RPGs relates to the very notion of Alignment and how to approach it.  Significant numbers of people, even old-school gamers, find alignment as presented in D&D less than useful.  I've always liked the alignment system, but even I admit that alignment in standard D&D can seem more restrictive than useful if misused, and a lot of this informed my take on Alignment in Arrows of Indra.  I knew that in a game set in a world where interaction with religion and gods was so important, I was all but obliged to use an alignment system, and I wanted to keep it (like everything else in the game) in some form recognizable to Old-school gamers.  This ruled out creating any kind of complex systems involving Karma or anything like that.  Never mind that there's so many different notions and ideas about karma (a concept that underwent considerable evolution and change over the centuries, and which in the modern day is viewed very differently by different schools in Hinduism and Buddhism, not to mention by all manner of woo-woo new agers in the west), that I didn't really want to open up that can of worms anyways.

So here, copied directly from my manuscript of AoI, is how alignment is handled in Arrows of Indra:

There are three possible alignments in the campaign: Holy, Neutral, or Unholy. Alignment is not a strict reflection of one’s acts but of one’s favor with the gods. A Holy person is someone who is well-looked upon by the gods, has faithfully conducted the religious practices needed for his caste and class (including any alignment strictures placed upon him by a particular class, like a Virakshatriya or a Yogi), and avoiding sinfulness. Acts that remove Holy status are all the sinful acts: murder, lying, stealing, contact with taboo substances (unclean animals, feces, dead bodies, consuming human flesh or blood, or contact with untouchables), intoxication, and sex outside of marriage (or formal concubinage). There may be a few exceptions to this in certain cases (for example, a Thugee committing an assassination in devotion to Kali-ma does not lose his Holy status; nor will anyone who is Holy lose their holy status for killing a dangerous animal, monstrosity, or demonic creature, or any creature or being who is Unholy). Someone who is not Holy can achieve Holy status by performing purification rituals upon their person (usually requiring donations at a temple at a cost of 10000 rupya, or owning a household priest), or by ritual bathing at a “Mela” ceremony held at one of the sacred rivers (the Sindhu, Suraya, or Ganga river) once every 12 years, and in either case by renouncing all previous sinful actions. A character can also achieve Holy status through direct divine intervention, usually if he performs some great act of devotion to a particular deity. 

Most human individuals are neutral. They are not spiritual enough to be Holy, but not wicked enough to be Unholy.

Unholy characters are actively disfavored by the Gods, but have the favor of the Asura demons. To become Unholy one must intentionally and willingly commit grossly sinful acts (small-scale lying, stealing, drunkenness or fornication do not cut it) on more than one occasion. Any character who offers sacrifice or prayers of devotion to a demon will instantly become Unholy. 

Alignment can affect characters in various ways, as certain spells and items have different effects on Holy, Neutral or Unholy characters. Additionally, in encounters with divine beings or the servants of divine beings, as well as with demonic beings or their servants, one’s alignment will have a very significant effect on their reactions to you. Deities will never look favorably upon anyone who is Unholy. On the other hand, Asuras or unholy creatures will not necessarily react favorably toward Unholy characters, but will always be particularly aggressive toward Holy characters. 

Finally, please note when it comes to alignment that “Holy” and “Unholy” do not equate directly with “good” or “evil” from the perspective of modern morality. They are measurements of how well one sits with the gods (or demons) of Jagat, how well one obeys the religious laws and taboos; and while certainly many of these connect to moral concepts, a character who is “Holy” can certainly do all kinds of things that wouldn't in any way be “nice” by modern conceptions. Consider that the avataras, Shiva, Rama, and (in the present time of the setting) Krishna, are all the epitome of Holiness, living incarnations of divinity, and they did or do all kinds of things that modern western perspectives would consider questionable (for starters, they had a tendency to leave trails of bodies in their wake). Holy alignment does not require that the person who has it be particularly “nice”, and likewise someone who is Unholy will not necessarily be a mustache-twirling villain.

 So there you have it.  The other part of this is that in the rest of the game, the alignment mechanic in AoI plays a higher role than it does in D&D, although it takes its cues from that game in terms of how the mechanics work.  Magical items are heavily oriented toward the alignment system, so that different items have particular alignment limits, or different effects on characters of different alignment; spells and magic affect alignment, and creatures (particularly supernatural creatures) will react differently to characters of different alignment.  And of course, the rules for divine intervention are directly tied to whether the character seeking such intervention has the favor of the Gods.

Its one of the things I'm extremely satisfied with in Arrows of Indra: an alignment system that's a bit more fluid, a bit more relevant, that is based more strongly on the actions characters take, and that has real relevancy to how the game feels. All this, and still very old-school.


Currently Smoking: Neerup Burlington Poker + Brebbia no. 7

Thursday 20 February 2014

& Magazine

Today I just wanted to share something that might be of interest to anyone into old-school D&D gaming: "& Magazine".  Its a FREE online magazine that's on its eighth issue now, and check out the cover art!

That's pretty awesome for a non-professional endeavor.  Their latest issue deals with Urban Adventuring, and they have a lot of material that people could add to their old-school OSR campaign.

So go forth, take a look!


Currently Smoking: Raleigh "jopo" + Burlington's Lapis Lazuli

Wednesday 19 February 2014

The Problem with “Collectors”

Over on theRPGsite, someone asked me why it was that I could have a problem with “collectors” when in fact I very obviously have a “collection” of literally hundreds of gaming books?

There’s a difference, however, between someone who has a lot of things and uses them, and a “Collector”; which any collector himself will tell you, accusing you of not being a “true” collector because you actually PLAY with your star wars figurines/read your comics/write in the margins of your RPG books/etc. rather than just keeping them wrapped in their original packaging.

Those sorts of collectors are morons. And they’re insidious because pretty soon companies cater to them; making stuff that’s never meant to be played with and only meant to be owned. And jacking up prices in the process, so that these aforesaid morons can live in the delusion that their “collection” is very “valuable” and a “good investment”. I love that.

Water Processing Technologies is a “good investment”. Your double-foil wrapped special edition collection of Incredible Man #1 (Volume 17, 12th printing)? Its the Fucking Nerd-equivalent of having bought a figurine of a pig in a princess outfit from the “national mint”, or like those people who buy Dale Earnhardt “collectible” commemorative coins that you then have the gall to make fun of because you imagine that you’re so much smarter than those rubes on account of your reading Star Trek novels.


Currently Smoking: Brigham Anniversary + Image Latakia

(originally posted January 3rd, 2013; on the old blog)

Tuesday 18 February 2014

DCC Campaign Update: Jellyfishmen!

DCC Campaign Update

In our last adventure, the PCs discovered:

-That dark elves look totally "dark" but the effect is ruined by their squeaky little voices.

-That the Assassin King and the Assassin's Guild have a more complicated relationship than their names would suggest.

-That if a Frenchman's first words to you are "non, je ne suis pas un robot!"... he's a robot.

-That the temple of the Love-Goddess Titia is not going to be as fun a time as it sounds.

-That in the Desert of Devastation, creatures like to attack on the second watch of the night.

-That Camel Racing is a very profitable profession and respectable in certain circles.

-That the Krakenshark is not the scariest thing in the Sea of Sighs

-That the King of Elfland really, really has the universe's most awesome aquarium.

-That its a very bad idea to offer up the dragon that's currently saving your ass as a gift to the King of Elfland.

-That the Jellyfishmen of the Deep have very good manners, and a hat obsession.

-That the Assassin's Guild is not a Community College.

-That the Assassin King will go to obscene lengths to adequately nuke his pizza pockets.


Currently Smoking: Raleigh Hawkbill + Image Perique

Monday 17 February 2014

UnCracked Monday: Spirit Animal Spirit Animal Spirit Animal

So Wil Wheaton got called out by a pseudo-activist for using the term "spirit animal".  And because he's Wil Wheaton and his whole online identity and paycheck depend upon projecting the image of being the really nice-guy nerd, he sent an utterly nice, apologetic response where he acknowledged his "white privilege", expressed how awful it was that his ancestors "murdered untold numbers of Native Americans", and how much he hates that America is built on native blood, bemoaned the poverty of native americans on tribal lands today, condemned the apathy of (presumably white) Americans who "don't know or care" today, and how "uncool" it was of him to use the term "spirit animal" in his blogging.
He was, I suppose, trying to follow his own "Wheaton's Law" of "don't be a dick", and bully for him; but he didn't keep in mind the Pundit's Law: "Never, ever, try to be reasonable with Pseudo-activists".  It won't matter, no apology will ever be enough, it will just be seen as an admission of guilt for the collective crimes of everyone they despise, and as a carte blanche for them to now go out for blood.
And indeed, that's exactly what happened to Wil Wheaton, as he got this response from a failed-author Pseudoactivist, where basically he's told that anything short of him falling on his sword and never writing anything again for fear of offending anyone ever by mere virtue of his race meaning that anything he ever writes could be "whitesplaining", so he should just be silenced (no doubt leaving room for other less talented people like herself to finally get the attention she so desperately craves).

After that, at least, little Wesley Crusher's testicles apparently descended at least a little bit, and he fought back with this admittedly well-written response though he still has to keep being far too Wheatony about it.  But the point stands: "you’ve shown us all a spectacular way to alienate a potential ally with your self-righteous anger and indignation."
The thing is, and what Wheaton and other conciliatory-nerds don't understand is that THESE PEOPLE DO NOT WANT ALLIES.  They want blood. They have no interest in bringing you over to their side; their whole point is to be able to feel better about themselves and imagine they're making a difference in life by expressing their College-trained condemnation of selected individuals (often celebrities, but not necessarily), expressing how Evil they are being and thus highlighting the pseudo-activists' own righteousness in comparison.

Now, my own perspective in all this:
What the fuck? 
"Spirit animal" is not a term that Native Americans can even rightly claim sole possession of.  Almost EVERY SINGLE TRIBAL culture has had some kind of concept of this, all over the world, not just in the Americas.  Its part of the universal shaman thing.  It means that somewhere far enough back (and often not that far back) every single person alive today (including people without the tiniest drop of Native American blood) had ancestors who believed in something that looks like "spirit animals".    If he'd used some specific term of some specific tribe, that would at least have been some kind of basis for any "protest" to have a point.  As it is, this is beyond absurd.
Never mind, of course, the absurdity of a group of middle-class college educated nerds who mostly don't have to worry about starving to death and have been ridiculously mollycoddled by their society for the entire span of their lives getting to condemn ANYONE else for "privilege".  Never mind the fact that the very idea that we need the White Man's College-Feminist's Burden,  to protect the poor helpless savage from the evils of men like Wil Wheaton outrageously daring to think that something from Native culture is cool, is in itself one of the most ridiculously racist things I've seen.  And indeed, not just me; this actual real Native American Woman agrees.  But hey, what does she know? She probably never even took a woman's studies class! How can she have any kind of valid opinion about her own culture or understand the "complexities" of the issues that the pseudo-activists are fighting about for her sake, the poor ignorant savage? Clearly she's just confused because she lacks the right political education and needs smarter, less-native people than her to explain to her why native people should be outraged about Wil Wheaton.


Currently Smoking: Ben Wade Rhodesian + Image Latakia

Sunday 16 February 2014

Golden Age Campaign Update

So last night's game session saw no new heroes or major villains; but it did feature the long-unawaited return of one of the most hapless of major heroes, Johnny Thunder:

Since shortly after Pearl Harbor, Johnny had been serving as a common sailor in the U.S. Navy, assigned to the U.S.S. Grover Cleveland, a laundry ship in the south Pacific.  Shortly after his mysterious disappearance (known for his clumsiness, he was presumed to have fallen overboard and drowned), the U.S. fleet began to be attacked from well behind the front lines by superpowered Badhanesian natives. 

Naturally, the JSA was sent to investigate, and they took some of the Mystery Men along.  The heroes were assigned to the flagship of the fleet, none other than the U.S.S. Enterprise.  Naturally, the captain of the Enterprise acted quite a bit like this guy:

Much parody ensued: a drunken grumpy southern chief-medical officer, a chief engineer with a scottish accent, and arch-enemy of the ship in the form of a Japanese captain named Kanamoto (or "Kaaaaaan-amoto"), and of course the good captain seducing badhanesian women left and right in complete breach of protocol.  A pair of security crewmen with red shirts came on the expedition and met untimely ends.  A good time was had by all (except for the red-shirts, of course).

In the end it turned out Johnny Thunder had been kidnapped by an evil Badhanesian witch doctor who was using the Thunderbolt's power to try to take over the world.  With Johnny freed and the witch doctor meeting his untimely demise in a volcano, all was well.  Johnny was reassigned (much to the relief of the U.S.S. Grover Cleveland's crew) as a U.S. occupation governor for Badhanesia for the duration of the war, to teach the natives the virtues of American-style democracy.

As for the U.S.S. Enterprise and their crew, they would go on to explore new regions of the Pacific and blow them to bits, in the process becoming the U.S. Navy ship with the most commendations in American military history, and ending up getting a famous spaceship named after it.


Currently Smoking: Blatter Diplomat + C&D's Crowley's Best

Saturday 15 February 2014

The Tablet and the Annoying Game

On the other hand, continuing from yesterday; it is equally astonishing to me how billions of people now have access to technology that allows us to do the unthinkable: a library of alexandria at our fingertips, and a forum (in the classical sense) where we can engage in learning, teaching and debating with everyone else in the world; and yet most people use this technology to play little games.

I don't have a single game on my tablet; or rather, I didn't, until The Wench forced me to download "Spaceteam".  Spaceteam is an award-winning game and what you can say for it is that it is at least a level of intelligence over the average app-game that  most people obsess over.  Its also frustrating as all fuck.

The premise is that it is a collaborative game, you need two or more people to play; you are pilots on a spaceship, and you need to shout out the orders that appear on your screen. These orders involve manipulating dials and knobs and pushing buttons on the ship's controls; only the controls you have in front of you won't usually be for the commands you receive.  So you have to call out commands for your partner(s) to know what to manipulate while they do the same for you, all in order to keep flying what is obviously the extremely ill-designed spaceship you are on.

Its not my cup of tea. I use my tablet to work, to learn, to study; and for fun I like to read news articles on left- or right- wing online papers and get outraged at what they say.  What I don't want is to be frantically calling out "SET THE DISCOMBOBULATOR TO ONE!!" while shaking my tablet in the air to avoid a meteor strike.

I know for others here it might be just what you want, I'm sure. But seriously, its the one thing that makes me wonder just how much will we really change?  Will our descendants two or three generations down the road, who may have computer nanites in their brains that allows them to exist in a dual-reality of the physical and cyber-space at the same time, look back on us as amusing idiots who didn't understand at all the consequences of what they'd developed; or will they be too busy using their new man-machine reality and instant near-limitless knowledge to play "Angry Birds" v.58.3?

It will probably be a mix of both.  There will be a mass of people who will continue to be slaves to their own limitations, while others will find that the incredible breakthroughs of new technology continue to make ever-more-limitless the potential of their Will.


Currently Smoking: Castello 4k collection canadian + Image Latakia

Friday 14 February 2014

The Waiter and the Tablet

So I just got back from having a coffee at "la coruñesa" cafe, and I had a mind-blowing experience when the waiter took my order with a motherfucking tablet. A tablet.  In a street cafe in a "third-world" country waiters are now taking people's orders with tablets.

I was thinking, this guy who took my order: his dad was probably a bricklayer or maybe a farm-worker or fruit-picker from the country with a minimal education. His granddad might have been illiterate.  This was a country where 40 years ago they didn't have colour televisions and not everywhere had electricity.  And now a waiter uses a tiny machine thousands of times more powerful than the entire moon program, with which he can with a single tap on its glass access any of the sum of human knowledge, to take my order.

Am I seriously the only person who is pretty much in a constant state of motherfucking amazement at what we are becoming? And for some reason, to me, nothing has quite said "This is the fucking future" as much as the tablet.  Maybe because its so very star-trek, but of course the cellphone was that too.  Maybe because its more powerful than a computer I might have owned less than 10 years ago but is only 7 inches long. Maybe its because you don't need a keyboard or a mouse to use it.  But probably because its something we can carry with us everywhere and yet has the functionality of a machine you used to have to sit a desk to use.  And probably because of the democratization of it: its fucking everywhere, and everyone I see is using it.

What will the next generation be like? Both of the machines and of us, if indeed at that point there will still be a difference (I'm betting there still will be, but I wouldn't place that same bet another two generations down the line).  How long until its just a chip in our head or a patch on our neck or a tiny vial of liquid we rub onto our skin once in our lives, and then the interface is directly in our brain and we can make invisible screens pop up in front of us and access wikipedia just by thinking it?

Because I so fucking want that.

The future doesn't scare me.  People who are scared of the future scare me.  I hope their luddite nonsense doesn't somehow end up ruining it all, though I doubt they'll be any more successful than their ancient namesakes.


Currently Smoking: Dunhill Shell Diplomat + C&D's Crowley's Best

Thursday 13 February 2014

Lords of Olympus: Mythic (Super) Heroes!

I mentioned something in my review of Lords of Olympus a few days back,  the review being generally well-received, that I wanted to elaborate on a little bit.  I had said that people who were looking for play imitating certain sources would find LoO useful.  In addition to Greek Myth itself, I mentioned such things as Clash of the Titans, Percy Jackson, and also, the more mythological runs of Wonder Woman.

I could elaborate on that last point: I have not been reading the new-52 Wonder Woman, but one of my players does, and he was the first to point out to me that a lot of what is going on in the new run (well, “new” is relative since its been going on for what, 15 issues now?) is absolutely something that could come right out of Lords of Olympus.

So there you go, if you’re a Wonder Woman fan, you might want to check out LoO; but to expand further on that, I would say that Lords of Olympus is a game that would be very well suited for the “Mythological supers” concept.  Not just Wonder Woman or Marvel’s Hercules, but Thor and even Hawkman in his more Egyptian moments, or Aquaman or Namor in their more Atlantean.

In fact, it’d be a hell of a thing to run a relatively “closed realm” LoO campaign where the PCs are the “Ultimates”-style first/new/only heroes of a modern Earth (maybe with a few Heroic Mortals trying to give them some competition).


Currently Smoking: Stanwell Deluxe + Image Latakia

(originally posted December 19, 2012; on the old blog)

Wednesday 12 February 2014

Arrows of Indra: Priests and Virakshatriya

In our Arrows of Indra playtest campaign, we didn't actually have an ongoing Priest.  There was a Priest character in the first adventure and that was it.  In fact, I was very interested in testing out just how necessary or unnecessary the Priest class is.

As it turns out, not a lot, particularly IF you have a Virakshatriya.  They are the real "clerics" of the setting, godly men who go out adventuring.

You see, in the Epic Indian world, priests just didn't go out adventuring.  I included them as a PC class, I will surely admit, solely because OSR gamers would expect there to be a playable "priest" class. 
As it stands, the requirement to be Brahmin in order to even be a priest makes it very difficult to play a priest, UNLESS you're a non-human.  I think that's a feature, not a bug, because one can imagine that while human priests live in temples and don't go out doing great heroic deeds, maybe Yaksha or Gandharva priests do!

And the way the system works, Priests are not really vital as PCs.  They make great NPCs, for sure.  But the healing and herbalism rules, plus the fact that the Siddhi (magic-user) and Priest magic overlap so that the vast majority of magic can be had by either, ends up meaning that priests are not as vital in an AoI party as clerics are in a D&D party.

Now of course, herbalism only goes so far.  And Siddhis may very well get healing powers, but powers are determined randomly so there's no guarantee (though I plan to write a blog entry sometime suggesting an alternative to that).  So what would be great to have in a party is a Virakshatriya.

Virakshatriya are the real holy adventurers of the setting.  I should note that Virakshatriya (heroic warrior) is not really a term from the Epic Indian world, but its what I've used as a catch-all term to represent all of those who are champions, chosen-ones, and sometimes even distant-descendents of specific Gods.

The Virakshatriya should be in all likelihood the only character in a party to be really into just one deity.  Even they will give all due reverence and worship to every other god too, its just that they feel they have a really intense personal relationship (a devotional relationship, termed "bhakti") with their one specific patron.  And of course, in relation to healing, they get the power to heal through their god, not as impressively as the ritual of priests or the enlightened power of siddhis, but in a much more reliable way indicative of someone who actually talks to their god.

And there's the rub: it is precisely in the time of the Mahabharata that we see a change going on in Bharata society.  A new age is about to begin, there is a new Avatara around, and people are not very happy with mainstream religion as it operates.  The Bhagavad Gita and other such texts bring with them a strong implication of criticism of priestly mentality, a mentality that was focused just on the rote practice of rituals, of technical focus on performance of ancient rites very distant from just about anyone.  Non-Brahmins (which was practically all of the population) were very divorced from this kind of religion. Thus the setting of AoI is right on the verge of what would only be the first of many radical reformations of religious thought in those varied plethora of religious teachings we collectively call Hinduism today.

So if you DO allow players to play the Priest class, you may want to make this point in your game, to have the priesthood feeling very insecure; deeply stagnant and stuck in their ways, unwilling and maybe unable to change, and threatened by strange cults and by the Avatara candidates, all of whom seem to be suggesting the priesthood has actually got it wrong.

Meanwhile, if you have a Virakshatriya player, you should try to emphasize to the player that being a Virakshatriya is not a lot like the typical "paladin" concept in D&D, though similar on the surface.  The Virakshatriya is not necessarily "nice", or even "good" in any sense of what we define it.   The Mahabharata and other epics have all kinds of stories of great warrior-devotees of Vishnu, Rama, Shiva, Surya, Indra, etc. who are presented as the "bad guys" of the tale, or who are violent and dangerous, or who are oppressive rulers (the Maghadan Emperor; the big bad guy of the whole first part of the Mahabharata, is a Virakshatriya of Shiva).
So they are not necessarily nice or good or gentle or caring; what they are is simply Holy. They follow the rules of Holy alignment, and they are fanatically dedicated to their patron god.   If you play a Virakshatriya you aren't a do-gooder, you're a champion and a zealot.


Currently Smoking: Italian Redbark + Gawith's Squadron Leader

Tuesday 11 February 2014


So it seems that a combination of work pressures and awesome stuff coming along has turned me into one of the guys who's every few posts is just a recommendation.  But that's not terrible, right?  I mean, I presume some of you readers want to find out about interesting RPGs that are just out or in the work?

Anyways, a few days ago I recommended the Mutant Chronicles RPG, currently in the process of a Kickstarter campaign.  I should note that while Chris Birch asked me if I'd give it a recommendation, I am in no way involved in the project nor did any money change hands. 

With today's recommendation, I wasn't even solicited to make it.  A few years back I reviewed the excellent Mindjammer sourcebook for Starblazer Adventures, written by the excellent Sarah Newton.

Well, now Mindjammer has evolved into its own RPG.  Still based on the FATE system, its now independent of Starblazer.   The original was a great game setting, pretty much the only "transhumanism" game I ever saw that I could actually stomach as playable.  So I felt I should encourage and promote the new version; I will note that I haven't actually read this book (obviously) but if its anything like the previous edition I'm betting it'll be worth getting.

Anyways, apparently they're taking pre-orders now, so if you read the blurb at the link and its the kind of thing you like, give it a try.


Currently Smoking: Lorenzetti Oversize + H&H's Beverwyck

Monday 10 February 2014

UnCracked Monday: The Truth About Che Guevara

To quote Castro: ‘Propaganda is vital—the heart of our struggle. We can never abandon propaganda…Use a lot of sleight of hand and smiles with everybody. We must follow the same tactic we employed in our trial; defend our points of view without raising hackles. There will be plenty of time later to crush all the cockroaches.’

If you think there was anything "progressive" about Che Guevara, who once said "If the nuclear missiles had remained, we would have used them against the very heart of America, including New York City…We will march the path of victory even if it costs millions of atomic victims…We must keep our hatred alive and fan it to paroxysm.", if you think you have any idea from mainstream American media and college liberals (the "useful idiots" Castro was talking about manipulating above), then you really need to read this article.


Currently Smoking: Mastro De Paja bent apple + Dunhill 965

Sunday 9 February 2014

Dark Albion Update: 1466

(note: you can find Dark Albion, a complete system-neutral (mostly) historical-fantasy setting for free here on this thread)

The following were important events in the Dark Albion setting year 1466:

-King Edward of York's daughter Elizabeth (his first child) is born. 

-A huge Turk army invades the Border Kingdoms, but local resistance stalls their advance in their planned conquest of the Continent.

-In Arcadia, the  Pontifex Paulus II enters into political conflicts and machinations with the Cardinals, events escalate to the point some assassinations of important church figures take place.

-In Albion,  Henry Courtenay, younger brother of the attaindered Earl of Devon, and Sir Thomas Hungerford, son of the attainedered Baron Hungerford, plot to raise an insurrection in Devon; they are discovered, arrested and executed.

-Sir Pierre De Braap, Frogman champion and hidden agent in Albion, makes contact with a group of degenerate Frogmen living in an ancient Elven temple complex in the swamps of The Wash.  They attempt to summon/control a Dragon to destroy London and kill the King, but are thwarted by a group of adventurers.

-King Casimir of the Commonwealth wins the 13 year war with the Teutons, which ends with the Treaty of Thorns, with Teuton lands becoming a vassal state of the Commonwealth.

-Richard Wydeville (the King's father-in-law) is made Earl Rivers; Anthony Woodville is made Baron Scales, Henry Woodville made Lord Rockingham (Anthony and Henry are the King's brothers-in-law). Thus the King continues to increase honor and favor on the low-nobility family he has married into.

-in other Solstice honors, the King makes his 14-year old brother Prince Richard Crookback (Duke Gloucester) a provisional Knight of the Star. Earl Rivers (that is, Richard Wydeville) is made Knight of the Star and Lord Treasurer. Sir John Wenlock is made Captain of Calais. Lord Hastings is made ambassador to Burgundy.

In Our Campaign:
The PCs main adventure that year involved the aforementioned story about the degenerate frogmen in Albion's only large swamp and their attempt to summon a dragon.  That was a very challenging adventure for them but luckily they very quickly realized that time was of the essence, and managed to stop the frogmen BEFORE the dragon was summoned.  This is not the type of campaign where things just get suspended in space/time until the PCs show up for it to be perfect climactic moment.

In addition to this, politics loomed large in this year.  The PCs were mostly agents and allies of the now-marginalized Earl of Warwick ("the Kingmaker"), who had enormous influence over King Edward (having been chief architect of getting him on the throne in the first place) but had lost all that when the King happened to fall in love with Elizabeth Woodville and secretly married her without Warwick's knowledge.  Now the Woodvilles have been using their new status to full advantage, securing favorable marriages for themselves, getting the Queen to influence King Edward to give them new titles, lands and offices, and the paterfamilias Earl Rivers now controls the crown treasury!
This all led to some conflict within the PC party mainly because one player character was Sir Henry Woodville, brother to the new Queen; and now he found himself pretty strongly on the opposite side of his former patron Warwick and his soon-to-be-former-friends in the rest of the party.

Not all the politics was at the federal level; one of our PCs, Doctor Ralph (who everyone calls "the Doctor") used his prestige as an adventuring physician and one of the most clever medical minds in all the civilized world to create a Guild of Physicians, a new livery company that would control and regulate the trade in the medical profession in London.  The Guild would of course be under his control.
The player running the Doctor has been quite clever, I think, in NOT pursuing a knighthood or seeking to play the game of high politics. He realized that he could do much more following the example of certain significant historical commoners that accumulated great wealth and influence in all those things that the nobility felt was beneath them.  


Currently Smoking: Castello 4K Collection Canadian + Image Latakia

Saturday 8 February 2014

Who Really Supports RPGs Being Fun?

One of the frequent claims some critics of old-school RPGs try to make about old-school is that it doesn’t believe in fun; that old-schoolers want gamers to spend most of the time not having fun, because the OSR doesn’t want people to just make 20th level Warlords with Vorpal Swords.

Now, the notion of having to earn your fun is indeed retarded. Its certainly something I would never do; if there was a game where you had to put in 20 or more sessions of utterly boring drudgery in order to get one session of kick-ass awesomeness, I wouldn’t want to play it or run it.

Fortunately, that’s not what old school is about. Its about recognizing that fun is the process of Making Yourself, not the actual destination.

If someone were to make a computer game where you were already in god-mode, had all the power-weapons, completed all the quests already, and could easily slay anything in the game, it would be derided as the worst shit ever produced. Much moreso a game where you created a character who had already defeated all the great evils, got to strut around for 40mins with a sign that says “look at what a badass I am” and then skip to the end-credits.

So why is it that a certain group of tabletop RPG gamers seem to think that this would be the best way to run your RPG campaign?

Of the two (the old-schoolers and the power-gamers) the old-schoolers are by far the ones who are more in support of games being fun; unfortunately some people (including some old-schoolers!) have framed the debate wrong to make it look otherwise. But its old-school play that recognizes that being a level 20 world-killer is not actually very fun for very long; that the part that’s worth playing is the long, sometimes hard, but hopefully always fun (for the player) effort of GETTING to that point.


Currently Smoking: Stanwell Deluxe + Image Latakia

(originally posted December 16, 2012; on the old blog)

Friday 7 February 2014

Mutant Chronicles!

So my friend Chris Birch at Modiphius games has asked me to give a shout out to his latest Kickstarter project, and I'm quite happy to oblige.  They've already done amazing work with Achtung Cthulhu!, so they've certainly got the rep to do this one right.

The new Mutant Chronicles RPG (a new edition of a classic game) Kickstarter has already reached funding level and quite a bit more, so its a given conclusion that it is happening.  This is a crazy classic game that undoubtedly deserves a now-third look.  So check it out if you like post-apocalyptic techno-fantasy insanity.


Currently Smoking: Dunhill Shell Diplomat + C&D's Crowley's Best

Thursday 6 February 2014

Contessa 2014 and Controversies

So I wanted to give a bit shout-out to the awesome Contessa gaming con, which starts tomorrow!  In case you don't know, this is its second year, and it is an online Con which is FREE, made/run by women gamers, but is FOR everyone (men and women alike).  It is a celebration of women in gaming, where men are very much welcome to come and join women and participate in the games and panels being put on by awesome women gamers.  I strongly suggest you check it out.

Now, as for the "controversy" part: recently a tiny number of critics have been highlighted as claiming that the Contessa event is somehow 'discriminatory' because only women are running the games and panels, even though anyone can engage in them as participants.   This is a really stupid perspective. I mean, if I wanted to start a con where only D&D was run, it wouldn't be "discrimination" against non-D&D-players; and this isn't even that. This isn't "discrimination" in any way, its an inclusive non-political celebration of a certain group of gamers, and its stating a very important message.

The fact is, long before these few dudes were complaining about it, last year when Contessa was starting it got a lot of flack from another side: the Swine Pseudo-activists were criticizing the fact that Contessa was "non-political", that it wasn't going to waste its time and everyone else's doing panels about how horribly women are oppressed in the hobby, that it wasn't some event to criticize how RPGs are a tool of Teh Patriarchy, or spend all its time addressing "privilege" or "rape culture".  The Swine were at best apathetic and uninterested in a Convention that proved the lie to their moronic claims that women can't possibly enjoy gaming as it is today.  Now some of these same Swine have come out in tepid support of Contessa only because certain ultra-reactionaries that speak for no one but themselves have whined about it, and are of course pointing at these idiots as if they were somehow representative of mainstream male gamers. They have conveniently whitewashed history to forget that at last year's event they were the ones being aggressive and critical of Contessa while theRPGsite (that den of patriarchal iniquity, according to them) was one of its biggest supporters.

As for the stupid claims of "discrimination", if Contessa were all about "blah blah blah whine whine whine rape culture safe place for women panels on how awful men are" and didn't invite men through the door, the whiners might have some kind of argument to make, but the organizers of Contessa are actually doing the polar OPPOSITE of that. They're not about politics or pseudo-activism, they're about GAMING.  They're not about complaining about some kind of "exclusion" for women, they're about SHOWING OFF how awesome women can game in the hobby exactly AS IT IS right now. They're the living proof that women can love gaming, and that gaming is totally a place where women can participate just as well as men can, without demanding that the types of games we play or how we play needs to be "radically revised" along someone's political-ideological agenda.  That's the reason why some of the Pseudo-activist Swine were actually so critical of Contessa last year: It proves that many of their complaints are lies or exaggerations.

Contessa has my unwavering support; and if you're not supporting it because.. what? Because you can't GM a game there (would you really have if you had been allowed? Or is this just a 'principle of the thing' territory)? YOU are just being an idiot.

If someone really wanted to do a "Manly Men's Con of Manliness" (or alternately, say, a con exclusively for gay males), where they wanted to say that only men (or say, gay men) would run games and do panels but everyone was welcome to participate, I'd have no problem with that either (I'd find the former case of the "manly men's Con" to be a bit pointless unless it was being done VERY tongue-in-cheek).

And yes, probably some of the Pseudo-activist Swine would hypocritically be deeply opposed to the former; but what do you expect? These are some of the same people who didn't give a shit about Contessa (or even resented it for showing that women can actually - GASP! - participate in our hobby AS IT IS, rather than the picture the Swine want to paint as the hobby being a place of hopeless rape-culture where only a complete overhaul under their supervision could possibly allow women to be 'safe' enough to do something like Contessa).  They didn't give a shit about it, that is, until certain individuals came out against it. NOW, suddenly, one year late, they're rushing to its defense.

None of this changes things, what side the hypocrites are on in this case, doesn't in any way change the fact that Contessa is:
a) a great thing
b) A proof of how awesome the hobby is RIGHT NOW.

A better comparison would be: do you insist if you go to a London production of Matilda or Jesus Christ Superstar that you should have an inherent right to get to go on stage and perform?
Is the Royal Shakespeare Company being "discriminatory" by only allowing you to sit in the audience??

For that matter, if you come to a gaming group, and it already has a GM, do you have an inherent right to "demand" that the group let you GM instead? If they are instead welcoming you to be a player, are they "discriminating" against you?

And what if the whole point was for said GM to invite everyone to her house to show everyone how well she can GM and to have a party about how much she loves D&D?

That is to say, isn't the guy who looks at that party invitation and says "no, if i can't GM then I'm being discriminated against" just being a total asshole??

So yeah, don't be an asshole: no one is forcing you to go to Contessa, but I'm betting those who participate will have a good time, if you're into the whole "playing tabletop RPGs through online chat" thing.  Go check it out. 


Currently Smoking: Lorenzetti Poker + Rattray's Marlin Flake

Wednesday 5 February 2014

"Universal Basic Income" Should be a Rallying-cry... of the RIGHT.

Over the past couple of years I have heard quite a lot (mostly on Facebook, blogs, and G+), and more importantly a growing number of people calling for a "universal basic income", that is the idea that the government should provide a basic salary for every citizen.  Virtually all of those I've heard calling for it have been people on the political left and the heaviest criticisms of the idea I've seen have come from the right.

The leftists who push for it are usually arguing "it will mean every citizen will be taken care of" while of course what they secretly mean is "I personally won't have to work at my shitty retail job while I 'work on' that novel I'll never actually finish".

The right-wingers who argue against it usually talk about "economic non-viability", that its impossible, that its intrusive big government etc. while of course what many of them really mean is "you fucking hippies and unwed moms shouldn't get to live for free off my hard-earned money the government steals from me".

In fact, I think they've got it totally backward.  Well, in particular, the Right have it backward.  "UBI" should be a rallying-cry of conservatives everywhere.  The ones who should potentially be afraid of it are big-government leftists who want a bloated government with lots of public offices and public jobs.

The realistic issue that right now, we don't have pure proper capitalism.  We have this ridiculously complex welfare state. The model we've build up slowly, through significant leftist intervention, over the past 80+ years, is of having dozens or hundreds of different often redundant departments, all of which cost money; of having legions and legions of social workers to govern the different cases and manage the extremely complex paperwork and bureaucracy, lots of expensive offices and infrastructure to handle all the processes for application, etc.   In other words, massive massive government bloat.

IF we could actually have the political will, I could see UBI very much as a libertarian-leaning issue.  I would say that IF we could get rid of all the separate, redundant and pointless social welfare departments governments have today, all the added red tape and byzantine bureaucracy, all the regulations, and a sizable chunk of public employees, in a massive slimdown where we just had fixed rates of a decent basic income for all adults (and a different rate for children paid to the legal parents or guardians of the same); the amount of hassle that would be spared would make it one of the greatest victories in recent history in terms of slimming down needless government waste and the culture it creates.

If we closed all those different departments (welfare, social security, disability, unemployment insurance, child subsidies, etc etc.), fired all those extra and mostly useless civil servants (that alone should make it worth the price of admission!), removed all the needless regulation and bureaucratic loops and turned it in a single office, and a single streamlined system that wasn't full of conditions and exemptions, we would be radically changing efficiency.

So yes, given that we're never going to switch to a situation where the poorest people or the weakest or most helpless people or the oldest people, etc etc. won't be supported by the government, I think that the best situation would be if there was a single, universal, unconditional basic income that was easy to administer and apportion because we wouldn't have to have a separate department for each class of recipient, or a separate social worker deciding each case.  If UBI was a REPLACEMENT for all the different bloated social programs right now, it would actually be capable of saving taxpayer money compared to what's being paid for at this time.

Of course, that would depend on the government doing it right.  The real opponents of this would probably be the left, if the right understood the point of it; because the left would be the ones realizing that this would mean you could drastically reduce the size of government, red tape, and regulations. The biggest flaw/risk in the plan is the government itself.  But that's the thing: imagine if instead of the left, it was the Right who took on this cause.  Imagine if the Right said "we're going to give EVERYONE a fair basic income, regardless of what you earn, as your dividend for being part of this government; and in so doing we're going to cut billions and billions of dollars of needless waste and red tape. It will be enough for everyone to be able to afford some basic housing and decent food and all other necessities if they don't blow it all on crack.  For the middle class, it will be extra money which can be considered a kind of automatic tax rebate.  No one will have to prove their poverty or infirmity to a social worker anymore, no one will have to be watched or monitored by a government employee who thinks they know what's best for you, everyone will just get a check every month in a single, super-efficient social welfare program... and after that no one will have any excuses except themselves for how they live."

Its a CONSERVATIVE cause, not a liberal one. And if the conservatives were the ones to push it (as expressed above) it would be the best chance of inoculating against leftists fucking it all up.


Currently Smoking: Davidoff 400 series Apple + C&D's Pirate Kake

Tuesday 4 February 2014

RPGPundit Reviews: Lords of Olympus, by the RPGPundit

Yes, as with my previous products, this is a review of a book I wrote myself.  Here’s the thing: we got tons of requests for review from people to Precis, wanting to review Lords of Olympus (or LoO), and Brett Bernstein sent out some copies.  Thus far, hardly any has actually resulted in a review.
And later people wonder why publishers would spend a small fortune to send me free books all the way to South America; its worth their weight in gold to know that they will ALWAYS actually GET a review for it!

And my own book is no exception.  I’m reviewing the full-colour softcover version, my own author’s copy.   Lords of Olympus is also available as a black & white softcover; the only difference is that in the former all the interior pages and art are luscious full colour.  Oh, and you can get it on PDF too.
So, to begin with: Lords of Olympus is a diceless RPG where the players portray children of the Greek gods.  Yes, diceless.  You see, over 20 years ago, a guy named Erick Wujcik wrote the first-ever totally diceless RPG; Amber Diceless Roleplaying.  Mr. Wujcik’s game was revolutionary unlike anything that had appeared in the hobby since D&D itself.  And the Amber Diceless RPG was a huge success, selling hundreds of thousands of copies over its lifetime, and spawning not one but a whole series of Conventions dedicated to its play, as well as hundreds of websites (most gone now, but back in the early days of the World Wide Web, the net was chalk-full of Amber campaign sites), a huge MUSH, and other things.

I was a big fan of Mr. Wujcik’s work, and developed a friendship with him over email, chat, and occasional phone calls, that lasted for over a decade until his very untimely death from cancer in 2008.  By this time, the Amber RPG had gone through two different attempts at a revival (first with Guardians of Order, then when the rights to the game were passed on to a couple of fans) but nothing ever came of it.  Meanwhile, the largest Amber RPG presence on the net became theRPGsite, where Erick Wujcik had graciously agreed to allow the RPGPundit to host the OFFICIAL Erick Wujcik and Amber RPG Forum (and indeed, Erick acted as a moderator on that subforum until about one week before his death, moderating from his hospice bed).

A couple of years back, several Amber fans came to the same conclusion: that if the Amber setting could not be, at the very least the Diceless RPG had to be revived and redesigned for a new generation.  Two years ago, three separate attempts were announced to create a new Diceless RPG inspired by Amber.  Lords of Olympus is the first (and only, thus far) to be published (but we hope it will soon be joined by Lords of Gossamer and Shadow, which is still being worked on; no news that I know of at this time about John Wick’s project, Houses of the Blooded: Blood and Shadow).

So Lords of Olympus is, in fact, system-wise a kind of retro-clone; not a direct copy but utilizing the same skeletal framework of game rules that you see (and may already enjoy) in the previous Diceless RPG, but with a new execution, and changes to how some of these rules play out.  LoO has a totally new setting, original powers, original mechanics for item or creature creation, original rules for task resolution, and a whole set of new and original monsters and divine NPCs founded on Greek Mythology.  So those who have played and enjoyed Erick Wujcik’s original Diceless rules will be very likely to enjoy LoO as well; but there is absolutely no requirement to know anything about that game or have any experience with it to be able to enjoy Lords of Olympus, anymore than there would be a requirement to have read or played Basic/Expert D&D to enjoy playing “Lamentations of the Flame Princess”.  Indeed, Lords of Olympus is considerably more different from the Amber RPG than LotFP is from Basic/Expert Dungeons and Dragons. Outside of the basic mechanical framework, its entirely new and original stuff.

There are some other categories of reader who will be highly likely to enjoy Lords of Olympus: gamers who like high-power play, gamers who like to run a game that has an emphasis on character development, and gamers who like descriptive task resolution (LoO is not a game where you can just say “I roll to attack”!).  And of course, most obviously, any gamers who are interested in anything to do with Greek Mythology! For anything ranging from classical mythology, to Clash of the Titans, to Percy Jackson, to the more mythical runs of “Wonder Woman”, not to mention sci-fi, modern occult, and just about anything else you can fit into a multiversal setting.

So in any case, its clear that this review is going to be biased; but I will make every effort that all bias aside, it will be detailed and informative. Let’s take a look at what the book is actually all about:
The book itself, which I had very little to do with apart from the writing, is a work of beauty.  Huge kudos to Brett Bernstein and his people at Precis Intermedia for the stunning work. The full-colour edition is majestic, and don’t take just my word for it; everyone who’s seen the book here in Uruguay was blown away by it. The interior has beautiful borders, and a stunning mix of original art and truly fantastic works of classical art. The incredible portraiture of Jupiter, Athena and other classic works comes out in gorgeous full colour.  The book is a freaking feast for the eyes.

The layout is also fantastically well-organized and readable; you get two columns per page, very adequate margins and very legible print, with well-defined boxes for examples or optional rules.
The fundamental premise of the setting is a Multiverse, an infinite number of universes that can encompass just about anywhere and everywhere.  This multiverse is ruled by the Olympian gods, and can be traversed through a series of connections known as “roads”, of which there are three, one governed by each of the three rulers of creation: Zeus, Hades and Poseidon. Every universe connects to at least one road, and theoretically as many as three.

Implicit in this multiverse is the fact that there are an infinite number of possible Earths as well (though there are many many other universes, worlds, or realms that are not earthlike at all); and there are a few Earths that are particularly important in the sense of having drawn the attention of one or more deity: there’s Classical Earth, which appears very much like the Mediterranean region as depicted in Greek Myth; and Modern Earth, essentially our own world, but you can have any number of other Earths (for example, its implied that Heracles likes to spend time adventuring on one earth where superheroes really exist).

The Player Characters in the default game are all children of Greek Gods (that is, at least one of their parents is a deity); but depending on the type of campaign one runs, they could have been raised on Olympus itself and/or with full knowledge of their heritage, or they might never have known their parent and have been raised on some other world.  Depending on the campaign, they may or may not be immortal!  The PCs might not be the children of the Olympians either; they could be descended from the Titans, the previous generation of gods who were deposed by Zeus; or they may even be children of the Primordials, the oldest generation of gods who are much less “human”.

The game can also be run as a “heroic mortals” campaign, where less powerful characters are not descended from the gods at all, though this is not the standard level of play.

Characters in LoO have four ability scores: Ego (which governs mental potential, regulating the effectiveness of most powers), Might (physical strength, governing damage also), Fortitude (endurance and damage resistance, an important “tiebreaker” attribute), and Prowess (governing dexterity and martial abilities). Ability scores are measured by “Classes”; where a 0-point investment gives a character “Olympian Class”, a level vastly above that of ordinary mortals.  You can “buy down” to lower classes (“Heroic” or “Mortal” class) for extra points to spend elsewhere, or you can participate in the Bidding War, to buy “Numbered Classes” beyond Olympian Class.

The Bidding War is one of the most interesting parts of character creation.  It makes the PC party interconnected right from the start, and can create unexpected results, as well as fostering competition if the GM wants the campaign to be one of Machiavellian scheming (a fairly typical kind of campaign setup).

In the Bidding War, the GM auctions off the “First Class” level of each ability score.  Players bid to try to obtain 1st Class, and in the process the bids from those who came in second, third, etc. become the “2nd Class”, “3rd Class” and so on.

In task resolution, putting things extremely simple, whenever two ability scores are compared to one another, the higher score will win out: someone with 2nd Class will beat out the guy with 4th Class; the 4th Class guy will beat up the guy with Heroic Class, and the 1st Class guy will beat all of the above.  NPCs (and eventually, PCs as they advance in the game) can theoretically hold classes “above 1st class” (for example, the goddess Nike has “First Class +1″ in Prowess; while Athena, the greatest warrior of the Olympians, has “First Class +10″; Poseidon’s Might is “First Class +2″, while Heracles has a whopping “First Class +11″).  This is an important innovation from the original Diceless RPG, which allows all characters, PCs or NPCs, to be judged on the same scale for comparison.
There are all kinds of factors that can affect task resolution.  In a combat situation, for example, you would need to first consider which ability score a character is trying to use, and which his opponent is trying to use.  Beyond the straightforward comparison of Class, you need to also consider how each character is using his ability, how is he attacking? Is he being aggressive or cautious?

You also need to consider environmental factors: does the terrain affect one or both characters’ effectiveness? Is either character injured or tired? Is one using some kind of particularly effective weapon, or wearing some kind of particularly resistant armor or other defense? Is one character outnumbered?

When all of this is done, it is the degree of the difference in Class that will establish whether a situation puts one side of any conflict at a clear advantage, or if the situation is potentially successful but could be modified by these factors, or if the opposing actions are too close to call.  In the latter case, the conflict continues; and players can choose to try to change their strategies (possibly switching to the use of a different ability), or to keep pushing on, looking to tire out their opponent (counting on having a higher Fortitude Class than their opponent), or until some other event intervenes.

In what is again an important innovation to the Diceless rules, Lords of Olympus features fairly detailed and specific rules for how GMs should determine everything from the use of abilities, how and when a PC can shift from using one ability to another, to environmental factors, to how to calculate the effect of multiple opponents, and how to judge and quantify all these factors in resolving action.  The task resolution rules likewise present very detailed information on injury and its effects, and healing rates based on Fortitude Class.  These innovations and guidelines are tested by over two decades of playing and running Diceless campaigns.

But I’m getting a bit ahead of myself.  Back to character creation! There are optional rules provided for five alternate methods of determining classes apart from the traditional Bidding War. If you really want to miss out on the fun of the Bidding war, you can go with Bidless point-buy, Classless Point-buy, one of two random methods of class generation using a deck of playing cards (I know, heresy in a diceless game! but there you are, I put the option there), or a point-free option where players state the priority of importance of each ability score to them, and the GM assigns the Classes on that basis.

In a standard game, players have 100 points with which to build their character; and while in theory they can blow all of these on ability scores, there’s plenty of other things they can buy.  Foremost among these are powers. For starters, unless the GM decides to make it a freebie, you have to spend 10 points to start the game as an Immortal.  Aside from that, you can spend points to gain the World-Walking power, which lets you travel between universes on one, two or all three of the divine roads.  If you want to be cheap, you can buy the power of the “Promethean Road”, where you use magic to cheat and force your way onto a road, rather than accessing it through divine authority.

Any child of the Olympian generation can buy Olympian magic, which grants the power to bless or curse, to manipulate probability and to resist the power of entropy.  Olympians, Titans, or Primordials alike can buy Primordial magic, which manipulates chaos and entropy to manipulate reality or use destructive forces to create change.

Scrying is a power that allows a character to use devices to obtain visions of other places, people, or times. Metamorphosis is the power to change forms.

Then there are the more minor forms of magic: ineffable names, which are words of power that create magical effects (the names being taken from real Greek “magic words”); Elementalism, which manipulates the four classical elements; Enchantment, which allows one to manipulate the minds of others; and Glamour which creates illusions.
There is also the optional power of Olympian Artificing, which allows the user to create objects of divine power.

Most of the major powers have “advanced” versions which grant additional abilities and cost more points (and are only available to starting characters at the GM’s option). The details of each power give very explicit and detailed instructions about how long each aspect of the power takes to use, how it works, how to judge the effectiveness of the power (usually but not always based on one’s Ego Class), and how long or often the power can be used before it is lost or the PC is exhausted (usually based on Fortitude Class).

There are other things you can buy aside from powers: you can spend points to obtain a Patron (a deity who will act as a sort of ally to the character), or can gain additional points if they start with an Enemy (a deity who is opposed to the character).  The game has detailed rules for the creation of Daemons, creatures of all varieties that are infused with a degree of divine power and serve the PC.

Optionally, players can also purchase Daemons bound into weapons, armor, or other items.
Players can also spend points to buy their own Realm, a universe they control (to what degree they control it, and what characteristics it might have, depends on how they spend the points for it).
At the end of the process, players might be left with some points to spare; or they might have ended up overspending.  Their surplus, or deficit, becomes their Luck Score; an important “fifth ability” that regulates the PC’s general good or bad fortune, and can affect things like “random encounters”, how NPCs react to him, or even the results of very close conflicts. Importantly, the LoO rulebook gives detailed guidelines about when and how to apply the Luck score (and when you shouldn’t).
If a player is too far gone down the path of bad luck, he may be able to convince the GM to grant him a “Player addition”, gaining a few extra points if he does something for the campaign, like drawing illustrations of his character or NPCs, providing a written log of the game, written details of his character background story, or providing any other kind of contribution to the group (maybe even providing snacks for the group!).

The last step in character generation is the providing of background details, most of which the Player is free to decide. An extensive “Character Questionnaire” is included in the book to provide help in determining the PC’s personality in depth right from the start of the game; and its recommended that all the players go through it together in order to get to know the PCs as a group.

One thing the player doesn’t get to decide is who his divine parent is. That’s for the GM to determine; and in the extensive NPC section of the book, each entry lists which deity may potentially serve as a parent to a PC, and notes on just what kind of a parent they’re likely to be.

There’s one important optional rule that should be mentioned: divine aspect.  In the default game, just what the young PC is a god “of” is mostly a flavour element. But optionally, the GM may wish to run a game where the PC’s theme has a mechanical effect on the game, and the book provides two different options for doing so (one where theme has a moderate mechanical influence, and the other where theme has a very significant influence).

The rules on character creation, powers, and task resolution only cover about one-third of the book.  The next two-thirds detail guidelines for game-mastering, details on the setting, and a large section on the “divine family” of NPC deities.

The Game Master section helps to guide the Lords of Olympus GM in how to set up and run his campaign, with a great deal of useful advice including how to incorporate the backgrounds of the PCs into the central elements of the setting, how to decide (and effectively run) the level of player competition in the game (unlike most RPGs, LoO doesn’t assume that the PCs all operate together in a “party”, and in many LoO campaign the players might frequently find themselves at odds with one another), how to figure out what’s happening “behind the scenes” of the campaign, how to manage PC death, guidelines on how to run a “Heroic Mortal” campaign, how to handle themes of Fate and destiny in the campaign, how to adjudicate the use of PC Powers, guidelines and rules for how to create new powers in the game, rules for creating Olympian Artefacts, and how to handle PC advancement.  There are several options presented for how to handle the latter; what to award points for, including the option of allowing players to set up their own goals for which they can win points for accomplishing, as well as the option of using a more freestyle kind of advancement not based on points or wish lists. There’s also an extensive list of tips and (dirty?) GM tricks for GMing a LoO game, as well as setups for specific Campaign ideas like the “immortality quest” game, the Return of the Titans, the rise of Dionysus, a war between Olympians, the death of Zeus, divine involvement in local wars, Primordial apocalypses, forces from beyond the universe, or the presence of another pantheon of gods.

The setting material gives detailed descriptions of the Multiverse, including Olympus, Atlantis, Tartarus and the Underworld, the Shadow-Realm of Erebus, Modern Earth, Classical Earth, and Other Earths; the Pillars of Heaven, Hera’s personal Realm, the Islands of Chaos, the Pillars of the Sky (and the monsters Scylla and Charybdis), the True Oracle of Delphi, Arcadia (Pan’s realm), as well as other divine realms and worlds.

The monster section gives descriptions and suggested attributes for Automatons, Basilisks, Cacodemons, Centaurs, Cerberus, Charybdis, Chimeras, Cyclops, Dragons, the First Race of Humans, Giants and Giant Creatures, the Gorgons, Gryphons, Harpies, Hydras, Lamia, Manticores, Minotaurs, Nymphs, Phoenix, Pegasus, Satyrs, Scylla, Shadow-beings, Sirens, Sphinx, Strix, Tritones, Unicorns and Werewolves.

The section on the Divine Family provides overall guidelines on how to handle the NPCs as archetypes or as personalities, the culture and customs of Olympus, and GM tips on how to run the gods as one big and very dysfunctional family.  After that, every single major Greek god, and a great deal of minors ones, are fully detailed with statistics, personal history, abilities and powers, titles, personality guidelines, frequent locations, relationships and allies, and guidelines for running the deity as a parent.

Primordials, Titans and Olympians are all detailed in full, covering 112 pages of the book (with a handy index at the back of the book for quick reference, as well as reference sheets for the gods’ ability Classes, personal symbols, and typical locations). In all, 92 Greek Deities are fully fleshed out for use in the campaign (if I counted right), not just as a set of stats but as plot hooks, parents, background details, and major players in the intrigues of the game; everyone from Aethyr to Zeus, from Epimethus to Phanes, Hyperion to Pan, Ceto to Poseidon, and so on. So even if someone never planned to actually run the Diceless RPG itself, but wanted to have a gaming-friendly sourcebook on the greek gods for any other kind of campaign, this would be quite the resource.

The back pages of the book also provides a character sheet as well as handy worksheets for daemons and realms.

I’m not sure that it would really be worthwhile for me to present some kind of conclusion to this review; obviously I would rate Lords of Olympus very highly, but then that’s to be expected.  More importantly, I hope this review gives you some idea of what the game is about, and what you can find in it.  I think that if you already have experience with Amber Diceless, you will find this game both familiar and at the same time quite different (hopefully, in both cases in all the right ways), providing more than enough to make it stand on its own right as a worthwhile purchase.  I think that if you’re interested in a game of high-powered epic adventure and intrigue, you’ll enjoy Lords of Olympus very much. Likewise, if you enjoy RPGs with a strong emphasis on characters, on roleplaying, and on a rich setting to encourage the same.  And if you are interested in the angle of Greek Mythology, I would daresay that you’ll find this the most detailed game available on the subject.

I hope this review is helpful to you, in spite of my authorial bias, in figuring out if Lords of Olympus will be a game you’ll like, and of course I hope very much you’ll give it a try.


Currently Smoking: Raleigh jopo + Gawith’s Navy Flake

(originally posted December 13, 2012; on the old blog)