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Tuesday 30 September 2014

RPGPundit: Still Huge in Germany

For reasons inexplicable to me, the Germans seem to really like me.  Maybe its a philosophical kind of thing?

In any case, my old original RPG "Forward... to Adventure!" (which is still available for sale, and still, even 7-8 years later, keeps bringing me royalties) did better in Germany than almost anywhere else (I don't know if sales from Germany actually outstripped U.S. sales, but you get what I mean).  It was so popular, in fact, that a major German RPG forum created its own FtA! subforum for a time, after obtaining my permission to do so.

Now, Aktion-abenteuer has published an interview they did with me; its available in English and German, and you can find the English version here.

As the type promises, we talk there about my RPGs, about 5e, about Consultantgate, the OSR, and much more!

So check it out.


Currently Smoking: Ashton Old-Church Rhodesian + C&D's Crowley's Best

Monday 29 September 2014

Cracked Monday: Belgium's Greatest Pulp Hero

Today, in need of something lighter to take some of the weight off an otherwise heavy week-end, I present you an article on the Mysterious Appeal of Tintin.

I will add the following: Its interesting that Tintin was a boy reporter we never saw report. He solved mysteries, we never actually see him engaging in journalism.  He was, instead, a kind of Avatar for all that was the best part of the spirit of the 20th Century: he believed strongly in human rights, in good versus evil, but he quickly  learned to avoid prejudices.  He travelled all over a world that it was suddenly easier to travel around than it had ever been before.  He saw a whole mix of cultures and civilizations. He saw the wonders of what technology would bring, not just in globalization but in things like the exploration of the undersea world, and the moon. He was Jacques Cousteau and Neil Armostrong all in one. He saw the dangers of world-war but also the way that nations could avoid crises by diplomacy.

In a way, it makes sense that there's no new Tintin stories now. It wouldn't have made sense to continue them, not only because no one could match Herge's genius, but also because Tintin couldn't be the same, he'd have to have become dark or cynical or "exxxtreme!" or politically correct; and mainly, he would have had to show a doubt and lack of confidence in human spirit and progress that the real Tintin never did.  In a way Tintin represents an era of confidence in our values that almost no one of the last couple of generations believes in anymore.  They haven't been taught that way. Maybe because they have no Tintin of their own.


Currently Smoking: Italian Redbark + H&H's Beverwyck

Sunday 28 September 2014

Golden Age Campaign Update: Hitler-Killing Time

Well, it was bound to happen eventually.

In this adventure, in late April '45, the PCs finally got to go to Europe (with the JSA and the All-Star Squadron); where they helped to take down Hitler.

They stole the Spear of Destiny.
They blew up the SS Black Sun HQ.

The Owl and his arch-nemesis Die Fledermaus fell into oblivion together in their Reichenbach Falls moment.

The PCs dropped Captain Nazi 1.4km from the sky, and when they saw he wasn't dead yet they did it again.

One of the PCs teamed up with Gen. Patton (who I'm pretty sure in a comic-book world counts as a metahuman) to kill a Norse Giant the black sun wizards had summoned up.

And Liberty Belle impaled Baron Blitzkrieg with a U.S. flag.

After all, it wouldn't be a Golden Age campaign if at some point they didn't trot off to Europe to kill the living fuck out of some Nazi pieces of shit.


Currently Smoking: Brigham Anniversary Pipe + Image Latakia

Saturday 27 September 2014

RPGPundit Reviews: Heaven’s Shadow

This is a review of the game “Heaven’s Shadow”, written by John S. Berry III, published by Bedroom Wall Press.  Its a review of the print version, a small-sized softcover about 85 pages long. The book has a fairly simple covering that looks like something of a medieval seal or illustration; it has no interior art whatsoever.

Heaven’s Shadow is a “mini-six compatible game” that draws a lot of inspiration from biblical esoterica; the PCs in the game are “shadows”, assassins trained to hunt down the Nephilim, demonic beings that hide among mankind sewing discord, sin and destruction. Shadows come from a variety of backgrounds but all work for the Agency, a shadowy (pardon the pun) faith-based organization who’s original incarnation was founded by Shem (the guy on the cover), son of Noah, after the flood.
The Nephilim, about whom another RPG was once made, are a biblical reference: beings born of the unlawful procreation of angelic-or-demonic beings with the “daughters of men”. In the biblical story it is implied, and in the game it is explicit, that these creatures are abominations, and part of the reason for the flood was to get rid of them; but some were spared and now live in plain sight hidden amidst humanity.

In the setting, there is now more than one Agency, and the Shadows can come from any of the abrahamic faiths (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) or their various sub-denominations. These Agencies disguise themselves in various forms, anything from government agencies to criminal organizations, and do not necessarily have any connection to the mainstream churches of their religion.  Even so, the game is explicitly about playing characters who have true Faith, and faith in some variant of the Abrahamic religions.  I don’t have any big issue with that, but its something that’s worth pointing out, as of course some gamers (maybe a disproportionate amount, compared to society at large) seem to have some issues with Judeo-christian religions, sometimes to the point that they wouldn’t want to play a PC who was dedicated to one of those faiths.

As mentioned above, the game’s rules run on a version of Mini-six, which is itself derived from the D6 roleplaying system (most famous, perhaps, for its iteration in the original Star Wars RPG).  All mechanics are resolved through D6 die rolls, and the system is a dice pool system in the sense that dice are added together (no “counting successes”).  Basic rolls are made against difficulty rating target numbers. If one succeeds with double or more of the Difficulty, they have a “double success”; the default of which would mean the Player gets to “narrate” some additional detail of their success; though the rules also explicitly state that a GM may choose to be the one who narrates this instead.

If a player describes some kind of special plan, improvisation or maneuver to try to resolve an action, the GM may also give him a stunt die; this die is rolled apart from the main roll, and will usually add its value to the check (“exploding” on a 6 for extra value) but on a roll of 1 it and the highest single die rolled are removed from the total value of the check, representing something going “wrong” with the stunt.
The system also includes rules for both simple and complex opposed rolls; the latter requiring multiple checks and jockeying for sufficient “advantage” to win the conflict.

Character creation is technically a kind of point-buy, where you begin with a pool of D6s that you divide into 4 attributes (might, agility, wit and charm), and then a second smaller pool that you divide among a number of skills. Skills are all tied to a specific attribute and you would add the base attribute value plus the skill value to determine what you roll in a skill check (so if you have 2D in Agility, and 1D+1 in Drive (agility-derived) you’d roll a total of 3D+1 for drive checks).

The game also has a special attribute, Faith. This is an important mechanic for this particular game; your faith determines your access to special “prayers” which are essentially spell-like abilities. Connected to this are a mechanic called Conviction points; you can spend a point of conviction to add your Faith score to a single skill or attribute roll.  Aside from this, Conviction can also be used to remove damage or to have a moment of “divine inspiration” where you get some kind of a clue in a tricky situation. Spending Conviction points for irreligious purposes will gain you Sin Points, which act as penalties to all faith rolls and further conviction points gained must go to wiping out these Sin points.

The game mechanics also feature disadvantages (called “Complications”). These are chosen by the player from a list (my absolute least favorite way of handling disadvantages), and overcoming these complications in some way during play earns you more conviction points. Complications include things like “anti-social”, “bounty”, “criminal past”, “unsolved case”, etc. Every PC gets to pick 2 different complications, meaning that in a standard group there’s going to be a lot of interrupting the game with issues personal to specific PCs in a regular basis.

Its up to the GM whether players belong to the same agency or different ones; there is an “Agency” attribute that represents a person’s influence within their Agency; this is mainly used for access to resources.

There’s a short but acceptable list of weapons, armor and other equipment, and the system for dealing with this is abstract; rather than keeping track of money there’s a “resources” skill that one would roll to obtain an item.

Combat in the game is relatively straightforward; with characters rolling their combat-related skills against their opponent’s fixed defensive values (block, dodge, or parry), which are calculated by a formula. There are some simple rules for special modifiers (things like ranges), or for special actions (like doing multiple attacks, full defense, grappling, etc). Rolling a “double success” in combat allows a character to choose from a specific list of special critical effects; its also possible that if one fails to hit by half or less of an opponent’s defensive value, this gives the opponent an “opportunity” maneuver, which can be a counterattack or special maneuver.

Damages in combat are by weapon, with ranged weapons having their own damage values and melee weapons adding a bonus to a character’s Might attribute for damage determination.  The damage roll must exceed an opponents Soak value (another derived defensive stat) in order to have effect. Damage is calculated as “wound levels” with each level giving increasing penalties to all actions, causing a death-spiral effect.

Very interestingly, for a game about assassins, and unlike many other games about assassins, this book actually dedicates a whole chapter of rules on assassination! Its funny that this seems to me like a radical concept, but really I have to praise the author for this, given that its so rarely seen. The chapter deals with a number of mechanics to govern stealth, surprise, silence and a mechanic for teamwork in planning and executing assassinations; as well as assassination techniques for drowning, falling, fire, vehicular manslaughter, electrocution, poison, and booby traps.

The chapter on “Faith” mostly provides a list of “prayers” which a person can gain and use with their Faith attribute.  Characters gain new prayers by spending advancement points on them, and prayers all have a difficulty number that must be checked on Faith in order to succeed.  Prayers can do things like see the true form of Nephilim (that’s the one prayer all PCs start with), generate light, turn wine into water, passing unseen, speak with animals, walk on water, exorcise Nephilim from their physical form, healing, protection, resist fire, create (or quell storms), or even raise the dead, among other prayers.
The section on Agencies is quite complete as well, providing 8 detailed agencies the PCs could belong to, all of them very interesting.  These include one that is a modern CIA-type organization, a Christian religious monastic order, an order composed entirely of resurrected former killers who have repented and converted to faith, a British secret agency connected to MI6, a very old Jewish agency, a Muslim agency directly descended from the “Hashashins”, an agency of (persecuted) Chinese Christians, and a German group born out of a Christian anti-Nazi resistance movement in WWII.  There are guidelines for inter-agency co-operation and for what a GM should consider in making their own agency.

The chapter on the Nephilim details the main enemies of the game, covering about 12 pages.  It details their nature and structure, and explains that the Nephilim are the embodiment of sin (they venerate sin itself). Rules are provided for how to generate Nephilim NPCs, their special powers (based on the Favor (of satan) rather than Faith in a supreme being), and their special abilities.  Nephilim follow a Path (each based on a particular sin; so there’s the path of Blasphemy, Deceipt, Defilement, Greed, Ignorance, Lust, Oppression, Self-destruction, Treachery, and Violence), and each path will provide a Nephilim with different special abilities. For each path, a sample Nephilim statblock is provided.
The section on “missions” provides some general GM-guidelines for how a mission should be structured, as well as lists and stats for sample NPCs, and some “mission hooks” (short descriptions of potential adventures).

On the whole, I was very impressed with this game.  The system is quite sound; I don’t generally care for the D6 system much, but this version of it fits the game very well; and obviously anyone who does like the D6 system will be very pleased with this game’s use of it.  The setting, while very narrow in scope, is quite interesting and well-written, it has a lot of creative elements without getting tacky or gimmicky, and as an “occult” game it has a perspective that doesn’t quite match anything else out there yet.

Downsides? Well, as I mentioned above, its possible that some gamers might not care for playing very religious (Judeo-Christian) PCs, and in this game you’re obliged to do so. Also, while the game does offer a lot of variety, there’s only so much you can put into a single concept and 80 pages of game-text, so I could imagine that ultimately it would become repetitive in very long-term play; the author certainly goes out of his way to give the Nephilim diversity and provide a lot of very interesting and varied concepts for adventures, but at the end of the day it is still a single-focus game, where you’re playing one type of PC and fighting one specific type of opponent, and the game isn’t really made for anything else.

Within that, however, if you find the concept itself interesting, you will likely be able to get a very good run of enjoyment from Heaven’s Shadow.


Currently Smoking: Neerup Poker + Gawith’s Navy Flake

(originally posted June 22, 2013, on the old blog)

Friday 26 September 2014

Historical Blinders in the Origin Story of the OSR

So I happened to notice the other day that an OSR blogger came up with a list of "OSR release dates", as a "timeline" for a series on "OSR for the lapsed gamer", presumably meant to be an orderly explanation of what the OSR is, where it came from, etc.

Now, I just have to say that, from a historiographical standpoint, it reads a bit to me like someone creating a history, rather than an accurate portrayal of history.  It looks at the rise of old-school gaming from the perspective of the OSRIC project and Dragonfoot forums, which obviously was an important part of things, but was far from what helped old-school take off.

It may be unfair, you might think, to criticize what is obviously a very reduced list; but even the link in that blog to a much larger list seems to suffer from the same mistake: it has historical blinders, seeking to imagine that the whole Old-school Revival was exclusively started and owes its success to people wanting to precisely mimic and clone old D&D rule-sets.  You could say this is a case of "Revenge of the Clones", where although Clonemania has long since fallen out of favor, now the goal is to suggest that this was the real and true heart and essence of what the revival of Old-school gaming was (and perhaps what it should be?) about.

But you see, I was there too. And I remember it quite differently.  OSRIC was of tremendous interest to a tiny group of "grognards" who seemed to have relatively very little interest (at that time) in spreading the word anywhere and would likely have been relegated to a tiny corner of history were it not for some other important events that took place, and releases of games, that fueled people's imaginations.

Back in 2006, I (and most other people) might have had some vague idea that there was a group of obsessives that were trying to reverse-engineer AD&D 1e without violating copyright, and that for some damn reason they named their project after one of the lesser-known Princes of Amber.  But that wasn't exciting us, or most anyone.

No, what was getting a whole bunch of people outside that little circle interested in Old-School in a big way was something called Encounter Critical.

It had alleged to be a "rediscovered" very small-print RPG from the late 70s that was ridiculous in its Gonzo qualities; at the time, though many took it at its word, I thought it was just too perfectly nostalgic to be real.  And sure enough, it turned out to be a hoax, written by the incredible S. John Ross, who was destined to be a future co-Consultant of mine on the 5e project.

The thought of re-making an exact identical copy of AD&D 1e might have been getting the boys at dragonsfoot all wet, but pretty well everywhere else, people were really fucking excited about Encounter Critical.

And about Mazes and Minotaurs. Also released in 2006, this was a brand new RPG that alleged to be a "new edition" of a classic old-school game (that never actually existed).  It was the first OSR-Variant, a game that looked at the original D&D rules and then tweaked them in a way that totally fit old-school sensibilities but that had never actually been imagined in the 1970s.  In M&M's case, it was to say "let's take D&D but assume it is inspired by Greek Mythology instead of medieval fantasy".

So what's curious about our 'instructive' lists of an 'OSR timeline' above?  You'll note that neither of the lists actually have either Encounter Critical or Mazes & Minotaurs on them.
This in spite of the fact that BOTH of these games came out 1-2 years BEFORE OSRIC actually came out in its full form. They got a shitload of people excited (or re-excited) about old-school style and play before anyone had heard of the seemingly-endless march of precise copies of games people already owned.

But I guess that's the point: there's a certain interest, I think, in wanting to make it appear like what "owns" the OSR, what "made" it, was the Clonemania.  Like the whole point was the mindless endless rehashing of old ground, rather than being excited about the challenge of unleashing spectacular new creativity within the boundaries and landmarks of Old-School design.

So I thought I'd remind the Clonemaniacs of an inconvenient truth: the OSR-Variants came first. They not only ended up being what people were excited about more than Clones, they were what caught people's imaginations BEFORE the Clones (temporarily) hijacked the OSR.  And without them, the whole of the OSR might still just be a couple of dozen guys on dragonsfoot.


Currently Smoking: Castello 4K Collection Canadian + Image Latakia

Thursday 25 September 2014

RPGPundit Reviews: Forgive Us

This is a review of "Forgive Us", an adventure (actually, one full-length adventure and a couple of micro-adventures) for the Lamentations of the Flame Princess RPG.  It was published by LotFP, and written by Kelvin Green, who apparently also did the illustrations.  The main adventure is ostensibly designed for 4th level characters.

Its a softcover book, 45 pages long in all, of the standard size for LotFP books (that is, small in height compared to most other RPG books). The front and back covers have illustrations in black, white and red, while the interior art is entirely black and white.  I have to say, it might have been a bad call for Mr. Green to do his own art; its one thing if you're Zak S. doing Vornheim or whatever (his art style may be odd, but no one can doubt its quality), but Green's is just average.
Yeah, not shitty, average.  The problem is that LotFP consistently creates really above-average art for its products.  Green's art would probably not look off in a lot of OSR products, but here it kind of surprised me; my impression at first glance just looking at the cover was to think "wait, this is an LotFP book?!"

Anyways, all that matters only to the degree to which you give a fuck about art in an RPG product, and I don't very much.   So let's look instead at the content itself.

As I said above, there are technically three adventures in the book, but the latter two would count, at best, as micro-adventures.  They are each only five pages long, and both are what you could call 'nega-adventures', in the sense that they're a trap for adventurers, and even in the best of circumstances provide no treasure (well, the second of the two provides an utterly negligible amount of treasure).  They're pretty well forgettable.
While keeping with my policy of not revealing spoilers in adventures, I can say that the premise of these two are, in the first case, a village with the promise of some treasure seems to have some kind of strange problem with a ghost. The author tries to claim that its inspired by "silent hill", seriously, I don't think it does nearly as good a job of that as Pete Spahn's less-contrived less-pretentious "Inn of Lost Heroes" did.
In the second case, the death of an old friend leads to a rumour that he'd hidden some kind of treasure before his demise; his daughter has gone missing and some 'tax collectors' that don't seem like tax collectors at all have come looking for money that they say the deceased stole.  In both cases, there is a complete red herring and a situation that leaves the PCs either a little screwed, or very screwed.

With those 10 pages out of the way, that leaves us the first 35 pages and the main title adventure.

The main adventure is centered on the PCs arriving at a situation that is to a certain degree already halfway messed up.  A gang of thieves stole something from some powerful people, but when they got back to their headquarters to check out the loot they accidentally unleashed.. something.  The thieves closed up their base (which consists of a number of interconnected buildings that take up an entire town block) in a valiant effort to prevent the spread of the monstrous thing they had unleashed, even though it was at the cost of their lives.

By the time the PCs show up, no one has seen or heard from the thieves in quite some time; its assumed the PCs will enter the thieves' complex, either out of altruism or motivated by the possibility of helping themselves to the thieves' treasure (and unlike the other adventures, and many of LotFP's adventures, there actually IS potential treasure to be had there!); and at this point they will find a series of macabre scenes that lead to a terrible confrontation with the horror the thieves unleashed.

The adventure itself is, in many ways, more traditional than many of LotFP's products.  It follows a pretty familiar structure, it has a dungeon style layout, combat encounters (some of which are very tough, but ultimately survivable), and interesting monsters.   On the whole, considerably better than I would have hoped!

I should mention that all three adventures are theoretically set in the vicinity of Norwich in 1625; but really, there's little that would prevent it from being set in most any typical setting.  Unlike certain other LotFP adventures, there isn't even a particularly heavy element of religious details that would require conversion.

So, on the whole: while there's about 10 pages that didn't really need to be there, and while the art is not up to the usual LotFP standard, on the whole the main 35-pages or so of "Forgive Us" proves to be an adventure that is likely to have the right mix of creepy while still being noticeably D&D, and not just a 'negadungeon'.  This is one worth checking out for that.


Currently Smoking: Ashton Old Church Rhodesian + C&D's Crowley's Best

Wednesday 24 September 2014

Arrows of Indra's Big RPGNow Comeback, Plus: Enlightenment Powers!

So I've been informed that since Arrows of Indra was recently relaunched by Bedrock Games (after Bedrock decided to switch to self-distribution of PDFs, forcing a clean sweep and reposting of all their PDFs on rpgnow), it has been doing very well indeed.  Part of what might be assisting that is the new lower price on the PDF, made possible due to Bedrock's savings from their new distribution.

It did so well it was briefly back on the top-20 list of "hot games" this month.  So, if you haven't picked up Arrows yet, please check it out on RPGnow!  Also, since we lost all the reviews, if you do pick it up and give it a read, please consider writing a small (or large) review for us!

Today I'll talk about Enlightenment powers.  This is the second half of the "magic system" of Arrows of Indra.
Priests and Siddhis (magicians) get a small list of pretty hefty spells they can use as part of their class skills; these are gained (potentially) at each level.  Some of them, particularly those on the advanced skills list, are quite powerful but they also require 'components' to use: a priest's Arcana skills are all done in ritual form and cannot be used, say, in the middle of combat.  A siddhi's powers mostly depend on the recitation of mantras or the use of mudras (gestures).  On the other hand, Enlightenment Powers are gained purely as a reflection of breakthroughs in the PC's spiritual consciousness, and can be used without the aid of any outside ceremony or aids.  It is assumed that these abilities are gained from all the time the PC spends in meditation/prayer/devotion/etc. during downtime between adventures.

(while the fighters and thieves are getting drunk on palm wine like suckers, the siddhi is tripping balls and having visions of Ganesh in his inner consciousness!)

In any case, what completes their set of magic are the Enlightenment powers, which characters begin to potentially gain from level 2 onward.  Each time a priest or siddhi goes up in level, they get to do a check to see if they've gained one or more enlightenment powers.  There are three ranks of enlightenment powers, and from 2nd level onward you get to check with each level gain for the chance to gain a rank 1 or rank 2 power, while from 5th level onward you get to also check for a rank 3 power.  The percentage chance of gaining a power starts out small, but goes up as the character advances in level. The chance is also modified by the character's main attribute (wisdom for priests, intelligence for siddhis), and the intelligence attribute determines the maximum number of powers of each rank that a character can have.

This method makes magic quite a bit less predictable than in standard D&D; since in most other old-school games you know exactly how many spells you'll be able to cast at level 3, say.  But in Arrows of Indra, a 3rd level human siddhi, depending on his choices or rolls for class skills and his rolls for enlightenment powers, could end up having as few as (very theoretically and extremely unlikely) 0 magical abilities (if he got only knowledge-type class skills and failed to get any enlightenment powers at level 2 or three) or as many as 7 abilities (if through extreme luck he got magical class skills every time he rolled on the class skill table and generated enlightenment powers every time he rolled; he'd end up having 3 class skill spells, 2 rank 1 enlightenment powers, and 2 rank 2 enlightenment powers).

Some enlightenment powers will be fairly familiar to OSR-gamers in their similarity to standard magic-user or cleric spells:

Rank 1
Aura of light:  The Pc creates an aura of illumination around him that provides light (equivalent to clear daylight) at a radius of 30 feet around him. It lasts for one hour or until the Pc wishes to stop the effect.

Rank 2
Curing Disease: By laying his hands on a single creature, the PC can cure that creature of any diseases, including magically-induced disease.  This power can cure the Rotting Curse. 

Rank 3:
Prana Arrows:  The PC using this power directs his own prana like a volley of arrows at his intended victims.  These arrows fly out striking truly against the particular victims he has chosen.  He can choose up to 6 victims, they must all be within 120 feet of the PC.  Each victim must make a saving throw versus magic or suffer 1d6 points of damage per level of the PC; even if they make their saving throw, they still suffer half damage.

Others, however, may seem less familiar:

Rank 1
Gaze of Insanity:  This power allows the PC to make a single creature go insane.  The intended victim must be within 30 feet of the PC, and must fail a saving throw versus magic for the power to take effect. The power cannot affect any creature that does not have a mind, nor can it affect Devas, Asuras, or the living dead.  The creature who fails becomes permanently insane (unless magically cured) and will act randomly as per the GM's direction (in a combat situation, there should be a roughly equal chance on any given round that the creature will attack an enemy, attack and ally, do nothing but babble incoherently, or run away screaming madly).

Rank 2
Nadi-Disrupting Gaze: "Nadi" literally means "river", but here it refers to the channel of energy through which life-force flows in the physical body.  This powerful gaze must be directed at a creature that has a nervous system (artificial creatures or the living dead, for example, are unaffected).  The victim of the gaze must be within 60 feet.  The victim immediately takes 2d6 points of damage (no save) and must additionally make a saving throw versus magic or they will become paralyzed from the waist down, unable to walk or use their legs.  The effect is permanent, but can be removed with the "Curing Disease" power, the Arcana of Purification, or the Aura of Annulling Magic.

Rank 3
Directed Reincarnation:  This power must be used on someone who has been dead for less than 7 days.
The power must be used in the same place where the person has died, though it is not relevant if the body is there anymore. It can be used even on the spirits of people who have been completely disintegrated. Using this power, the PC may direct that person to their next incarnation, choosing in what form they will be reborn.
The limitations are that someone may not be reborn as a Deva in the heavenly realms of Devaloka unless they were of Holy alignment, nor can they be reborn as an Asura in the hell realms of Naraka unless they were of Unholy alignment. Someone reborn as either of these will be “born” fully grown, and will immediately remember their previous incarnation and will be aware that it was the Pc who directed their incarnation into a new body (it is up to them whether they choose to do anything about it, however). Other than these two choices, the  PC may choose to direct the reincarnation into the form of a Ghost (who will also be born “fully grown”, usually in the same spot he died, and aware of their past
incarnation); or as a Naga or Raskshasa in the underworld of Patala, or a Yaksha or Gandharva near Mount Kailash, as an animal of any kind (including a Vanara), or as a human being (including a Bhil or any kind of barbarian). In all of the latter cases (Naga, Rakshasa, Yaksha, Gandharva, animal or human), the reincarnated soul will not remember his previous incarnation, and will have to grow up at the normal rate for his species.
The PC will know in all of these cases the specific body into which his target has reincarnated. This power can also be used by the PC on himself, when he is dying (including using it within 1 round after his own death), to direct his own reincarnation. Once reincarnation has been directed in this way, no form of resurrection is possible on the deceased.

Want more?  Check out Arrows of Indra, on PDF or in print!


Currently Smoking: Lorenzetti Horn + Gawith's Perfection

Tuesday 23 September 2014

The Real Nature of New Atheism

I read a fantastic article in The Atlantic a few days back, which detailed how a moderate christian group is doing a study on college atheists, to try to understand what leads people away from religion and into atheism.  They’re doing it with a religious goal in mind of course (though they claim that their goal is to “bridge the gap as gently and respectfully as possible”), but that doesn’t exactly invalidate the nature of what they’ve found.

And what they found was fascinating.  You see there that almost all the young atheists interviewed would CLAIM that they came to atheism through a process of “logical deduction”, reason, science, etc.  Ie. that it was a pure and objective intellectual analysis that has led them to conclude that they can not only state a lack of belief but make a positive statement of disbelief about the existence of any kind of supreme being.

In practice, though, the foundation discovered a common median pattern among American college-age “New atheists”:
1. they had gone to church as children.
2. They felt somehow unsatisfied with their church experience. In many cases, they had experienced some kind of very positive early impression only to later encounter some kind of frustration with their particular church.
3. They felt the “answers” their churches offered weren’t sufficiently profound.
4. Many of them expressed profound respect for ministers who took their religion seriously (and were, conversely, disillusioned by people in positions of authority in their church who seemed shallow).
5. Almost all of them left their religion between the ages of 14-17.
6. Almost all of them had some kind of key emotional incident that occurred at the time they left their religious institution behind.
7. They cited the Internet as a main source for discovery about Atheism.

So, in short, this article presents what I’ve been saying about New Atheism for quite some time. Namely, that these sorts of aggressive atheists are not actually people who have “thought things through”, they’re people who have had an emotional experience that led them to react negatively, not to god, but to organized religion, and more often christianity, and very often a specific type of christianity they were brought up in. They try to hide behind science, but what they’ve had is clearly a “conversion experience”, and for emotional reasons they have chosen to embrace an irrational statement of positive disbelief to make up for what they now think of as previously-irrational belief.

The thing is, these experiences, or at least points 1-6, are something that would very much fit my own history; and indeed, by the time I was 16 I was a staunchly avowed atheist.  As it turns out, I outgrew that. I came to realize that my it wasn’t that I was now sure or could be sure that god didn’t exist because he didn’t personally take care of making everything nice for me; and that really my problem was not that “religion is stupid and pointless”, but that the particular religious environment I was in was stupid, it was one that encouraged shallow thinking.  I didn’t want to reject the spiritual, I wanted the profound experiences that I felt cheated out of by a milquetoast church that was full of sleepy not-really-practitioners or mindless-bigots and answered to a bloated corrupt temporal hierarchy.  So after growing up out of exoteric religion, which is mostly dumb, I grew up out of atheism too, which is just as dumb; and then I discovered the spiritual virtue of being able to say “I don’t know”, followed by “but I’m going to try damn hard to find out, and I won’t take anyone else’s word for it”.  Instead of abandoning god, I abandoned belief, which is the barrier to Truth (and this of course includes the “god” of my beliefs, along with everyone else’s).  It strikes me that New Atheists have abandoned the God of their childhood sundays, but have clung steadfastly in the best of late-adolescent fashion to the God of Their Own Beliefs, re-labeling him as “science”, when he’s anything but.


Currently Smoking: Lorenzetti Poker + H&H’s Beverwyck

(originally posted June 18th, 2013, on the old blog)

Monday 22 September 2014

Cracked Monday: The Bipartisan (but mostly liberal) Stupidity of Vaccination-Denial

Today, the smug aristocracy of the know-nothing branch of the left wing is literally killing their own children by failing to vaccinate, with vaccination rates in some parts of L.A. (and not the poor hispanic or black parts) being lower than in sub-saharan third-world shit-holes.  And these leftist Hollywood celebrities might start an epidemic that could kill your kids. Why? Because even if they recognize the dangers, they feel that their own child must receive special treatment. They are indoctrinated in a self-absorbed society that they helped create, where whatever they FEEL has to be considered as equally valid to fact, and where what they feel is always that they are special people who deserve special treatment.

Or as one doctor in the article puts it: it's "ignorance sheathed in arrogance".

Meanwhile, an utter idiot representing the "college-is-for-snobs" branch of the Right-wing stands up and applauds the hollywood liberals in question.

And yet, what I see over on G+ is a bunch of (self-styled progressive) people saying "Fuck Glenn Beck for cheering people who don't vaccinate!", never mentioning that the people he was cheering weren't racist arkansas backwoods rednecks, but ultra-leftist super-environmentalist woo-woo-science crystal-waving DEMOCRAT-VOTING lunatics.
Funny how those filters work there, Cam Banks.

Statistics don't lie: outside of certain particular ultra-religious conservative communities (and we're talking like, ultra-orthodox Jews, or fanatical religious communes; not just standard bible-belt), the area with the worst rates of vaccination in the US are by far the capital of the celebrity-machine of the Progressive-left.   But all the wanna-be progressive spokesmen have instead spent the last few days shitting on Glenn Beck while ignoring the 8-ton-log in their own eyes. 


Currently Smoking: Mastro De Paja Bent Apple + Peterson's Dublin Flake

Sunday 21 September 2014

Bedrock Games' Design Blog on Arrows of Indra

Today I've had about 2 hours of sleep and have a very busy day ahead.  So I'm just going to leave you guys with a fortuitous link that has come out:  Over on the company blog, Bedrock Games's Brendan Davis reminisces on the process of publishing Arrows of Indra.

There we go. Check back with me when I don't hate being conscious quite so much.


Currently Smoking: something

Saturday 20 September 2014

Real(ish) Magick in (Late Medieval) RPGs (Dark Albion Preview)

I'm exhausted. I've been working like a madman on the magic chapter of Dark Albion (which, if you don't keep up, is my fantasy-war-of-the-roses setting that is soon to be published as a system-neutral OSR book).

I can barely function, so I will just tell you that it is thus far about 18 pages, and will probably be another few pages more, with the sections (as yet unwritten) on magical research, magic items, and item creation; but the bulk of the chapter is the Summoning rules.

The summoning and binding of demons in Albion is not a spell; any magic-user can attempt a summoning if he has the right equipment (a space to do it, the design of the magic circle and triangle of summoning, magical tools, etc.).

He also needs the Sigil, Call, and Name of a demon.  Finding these are the slightly-tricky part.  As each demon has its own powers and qualities, it's finding the right one for your needs that is the challenge.

Well, that, and not having a crazy fuckup in the attempts to summon and then dominate the demon.

There are rules for generating demons by rank, along with their abilities, and (optionally, randomly generated) special powers they can confer on the summoner.  These special powers have been taken right out of medieval grimoires for your pleasure.

A few examples:

Minor Powers
11. Escape: the beneficiary of this power will be able to escape imprisonment; shackles or stocks will unlock, prison doors will open, guards will walk away or fall asleep. The effect will last until the beneficiary is safely out of captivity, but will in no way effect any of the conditions that led to his imprisonment in the first place.
12. False Gold: will transform up to 5000 coins of copper or silver to appear to be gold coins; this will last for 13 days, at which point they will revert to their original appearance. (a 'dispel magic' spell will annul the effect earlier, and the coins will register as magical for detection purposes while the effect lasts).
13. Find Hidden Wells: to locate the nearest source of drinkable underground water that can be reached by digging with common implements. The power cannot create water, only locate the nearest hidden water source.
14. Find Secret Entrances: this power will allow the beneficiary to locate any secret entrances to a building, castle or walled town/city. It will not create entrances, only reveal their location to the beneficiary if such entrances already exist.
15. Fire: this power will start a raging fire within a single building. The wielder need only be within visual range of the building, and the fire will appear to have occurred by natural accident. While its eruption will be sudden and intense, if discovered quickly enough it may be put out (but the fire will always begin in some location with flammable materials that no one is currently observing).

Major Powers
14. Lord's Friendship: this power will cause a single Noble to look very favorably upon the user. If the user is of a lower social class the lord will see them as a highly valued servant; if of equal class, they will see the user as a close friend. If the noble in question has prior cause to dislike the user, the noble is entitled to a saving throw; and the effect on the lord counts as a Curse.
15. Misadventure: this power will cause a single individual or a group traveling together to become lost, utterly unable to find their way to their planned destination. If the individual (or the person guiding/leading the group) is of 5th level or higher, or a Cleric of any level, they are entitled to a saving throw to resist the effect. If affected, the individual/group will find it impossible to get to their destination, no matter how straightforward the journey, for at least 13 days, after which they will be able to attempt to find their way normally. While under the effects of this confusion, the traveler(s) count as being Cursed.
16. Palsy: this power will cause an individual (whose name the user of the power must know) to be afflicted by paralysis in one arm or leg. The individual is entitled to a saving throw to resist the effect, it is otherwise permanent unless removed by clerical miracle. The affected individual counts as being Cursed.
17. Perdition: this power will cause a single victim to lose the single thing they most value (their fortune, their love, their child, their most prized possession, reputation, etc.). The victim is entitled to a saving throw to avoid the effect only if they are Lawful and piously devoted to the God of Law.

So there we have it.  A little spoiler of Albion for you.


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

Friday 19 September 2014

The Big Problem With This Picture

The big problem with this picture: not the sentiment, however overly simplistic it might be.  It's not even the irony that presumably all three kids are breaking the law.

No, the big problem with this image outside anything beyond the absolutely personal level is that there's always some asswipe college-graduate social-worker with a head full of indoctrination and no real-world experience, in a government-job-for-life, feeling entitled by their own sense of superiority that they get to be the one who decides just who needs what box.

That's the major flaw: it depends on certain select chosen people (usually the absolute worst people possible) being expected to "know what's best" for EVERYONE else.

That's why people much smarter than whoever made this image realized long ago that the role of the collective/government/community/etc. must be to mandate equality of opportunities, not "fairness" of outcome.  Because the former can be enshrined in law while the latter depends on a special elite getting to decide what things we value as outcomes, who should be forced to give up stuff to assist others in getting more, and "what's best" for everyone whether they want it or not.


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

Thursday 18 September 2014

“Real Magick” in RPGs: Types of Magicians and “Magical Orders”

I’m going to break from talking about actual practices of magick to take a step back into addressing types of people and groups who do magick, to add more information on that subject in the specific context of “serious” practitioners of the western magical tradition. 

These days, there are probably three broad categories of western occultist you could be likely to meet in a “realistic” modern-occult setting.
First, the seriously old-school (or to use a term from modern magick, “Old Aeon”).  These are the guys who basically don’t like anything that came along in the world of occultism after about 1903.  They identify with very traditional western magick, and more specifically with the Victorian interpretations thereof.  Most of them have an affinity with the work of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (more about the Golden Dawn found later in this entry), and basically have a serious hate-on for Aleister Crowley.   Some of these guys “graduated” into occultism from the new-age (particularly quasi-theosophical beliefs), though some got into it from more specific segments of occultism like astrology or kabbalah. They are, these days, a relative minority among occultists. 

When encountered, they will be very vocal about “tradition”, like to use a lot of props in their ritual, don’t cut any corners, and will be quite focused on old-school style hermetic work.  Lots of Hebrew, and maybe the occasional sanskrit that slips in there, but they’re generally not into “mingling” eastern techniques with their western magick.  I would say that a lot of these guys are more “theory” than practice, but you could really say that about basically ALL of the types I’m describing; its just that these guy’s “theory” will quote a lot from medieval grimoires, pseudo-masonry or Rosicrucian sources, Eliphas Levi, etc. and will carry a general disdain for any novelty.  They also generally tend to be prudes, both socially, morally, and magically squeamish.

Second, the new school: Thelema.  “Thelema” is a greek word meaning “will”, and is the term referring to the general religious philosophy and school of magick that was created by and will forever be influenced by Aleister Crowley, who was basically about as much of a game-changer in the world of the occult as Einstein was in the world of Physics, Picasso in the world of art, or Elvis in the world of popular music.  Note that not all magicians in this category would describe themselves as “Thelemites”, that is, a lot of them might not actually be DIRECTLY influenced by Crowley anymore; but if they are practicing your standard “mainstream” (inasmuch as you can call it that) hermetic magick these days, the authors they’re reading and the type of magick they’re doing is based on Crowley anyways. 

In many ways, the “new school” guys are not so different from the “old school”, they don’t ultimately reject any of the symbols or basic practices of the 19th century magicians, but they have both modernized it, personalized it, and you could say “updated” it.  These guys don’t stick to traditional ritual, but rather look at the building blocks of those rituals and make new iterations of it.  The Kabbalah for them is still the Kabbalah, but rather than referring to just the traditional lexicon of kabbalistic concepts they want to create their own dictionary of words and images that are meaningful to them.  At least, the really serious guys in this category will do that; the rest will just do the rituals that Crowley wrote, the way he wrote them, becoming in a sense the new conservatives. 

Three big differences between the old school and the new are that the new school puts a big influence on the philosophy of self-transformation (defining magick as “the art and science of causing change to occur in conformity to the Will”, for that matter, you’ll hear “true will” bandied about quite a lot), individualism and respect for but not blind hierarchical obedience to spiritual authority; that they put a much bigger emphasis on personal revelation and personal “astral visions” (or whatever you want to call it), basically suggesting that a big part of the magical work is to experience altered perceptions and other dimensions of your being, and take very seriously the insights that these provide (for many of the new school, this includes incorporating both sex and drugs into their magical practice, something that Crowley was really big on and that the old school tends to seriously dislike); and that they will tend to be much more open to synthesis with all kinds of non-western influences.  “New School” magicians and old-school magicians both tend to accept that there is a “Perennial philosophy”, that all esoteric practices of every culture are basically different ways of describing the same magical “formula” for self-transformation, but the “new school” people have taken this to mean that there is a benefit to incorporating sources that weren’t traditionally part of western-magick into their practices; so you have things like the “Voudoun-Gnostic Workbook” or the “Voodoo Tarot”, the borrowing of rituals from tribal shamanic practices, significant interest in sufism, and most especially in the esoteric parts of the big three eastern religions: Buddhism, Hinduism and Taoism.  The parts they like to borrow from these religions tend to be the radical esoteric practices, things like Tantrism or Taoist Alchemy. 

On the other hand, the New School guys are generally less inclined to include Christian symbolism than the old school. Also, the new-school guys are the most likely to interact with the general Wiccan and Pagan subcultures and self-identify as “pagans” (though sometimes with the caveat that they aren’t like “normal” neo-pagans, or that they’re more serious about it, or whatever).

Like I said above, just as many of the “old school” guys will be more “theory” than “practice”, so will most of the new-school guys; only their “theory” will be a lot more talking about received Holy Books, someone else’s (usually Crowley’s) astral visions of the kabbalistic tree of life or the Enochian Aethyrs, talking about the True Will, or about “sex magick”. 

New school guys generally tend to think that “old school” guys are reactionary farts who “have the ritual but don’t understand it”, and that the “Really New school” guys are “posers” who are “too lazy” to study serious magick and don’t know what they’re doing.

Thirdly, the REALLY New School, or “Chaos magicians”.  Sometime around the early 1980s, a new kind of post-modern movement started springing up among the magick subculture of what was quickly termed “chaos magick”; this is a movement that basically rejects the old style of ritual completely (or at most, defines it as an entirely aesthetic personal choice), and have neither respect nor obedience to spiritual authority.  They are extreme personalists, who believe that each magician has to not only interpret traditional symbols in an individual way (the way the “new schoolers” do), but have to create their own entirely new, entirely personal set of symbols, or incorporate modern symbols and concepts into their magical practice.  Confusingly, many chaos magicians would also identify themselves as Thelemites and express admiration for Aleister Crowley (unsurprisingly, since many of them started as “new school” magicians, and then jumped over to the Chaos Magick current).  They just don’t believe that you need to use any of the old methods to do magick. 

These guys can be characterized for a love of creating spontaneous rituals, breaking the rules for rules-breaking’s sake, using lots of “sigil magick” where they create some new word (sometimes out of the letters of whatever concept they’re trying to invoke) or image (again, out of the general imagery of what they’re trying to invoke) and then using that as a focus for their will (by varied means, anything from masturbation (over the sigil) to mass-production (of the sigil, making it seen in a whole lot of places or by a whole lot of people)), and going out of their way to try to mingle talk about modern quantum physics, chaos mathematics, or other cutting-edge legitimate sciences with their personal occult theory. 
This is the guy, in other words, who will use lots of quasi-scientific words to try to convince you that the Uncertainty Principle or String Theory “Proves” that magick is real.  They see the “new school” guys as “old farts” and the “Old school” guys as utterly hopeless.

The general criticism that more traditional magicians have for fans of “chaos magick” is that they’re not basically doing anything, they’re just making it up as they go along; I’ve even literally heard one “new school” Thelemic magician accuse chaos magick of being “barely a step above D&D on the scale of credible occultism”.

Critics will point to the absurdity of the fact that Chaos magicians believe that symbols are only powerful due to the personal impact they have for you in your personal history and experience (rather than the more standard occult theory that symbols are powerful because of an objective connection to the collective unconscious, the kabbalistic tree of life, or the divine supersoul).  The chaos magicians, feeling that all that matters is one’s own personal whims, will argue that it makes more sense to “invoke Superman” in a magical ritual rather than Zeus, evoke the Cthulhu monsters from Lovecraft novels rather than the demons of the goetia, or will use pseudolatin words from Harry Potter rather than the Ineffable Names or the Enochian Calls. More traditional magicians will take this to mean that not only do most chaos magicians not know what they’re doing, they don’t even believe in what they’re doing, they’re just playing at being pop-culture post-modern wizards; an accusation that might be true for a significant number of chaos magicians, but then again, similar accusations of “playing at being crowley” or “playing at collecting absurd titles” can be levied at the majority of Thelemites and the Golden-dawn old-schoolers.

Like the other two above, the majority of chaos magicians are much more “theory” (or one should say “talk”, in their case, since they intentionally don’t have a coherent theory) than practice.
I think Alan Moore perhaps put it best in his incredible occult-comic Promethea; “You know, in the 20s, magicians had style; it was turbans, tuxedos, and tarts in tiaras; now its all sigils, stubble and self-abuse”.  Of course Grant Morrison, a practicing chaos magician and writer of the even-more incredible The Invisibles, responded by calling Moore’s treatment of magick in Promethea “elitist”. 
Curiously, the thing worth noting is that the really great magicians of any of these three predominant types will all end up looking very similar; its the posers that tend to look different from one another.  The hardcore guys who have developed a serious magical practice, regardless of what outer “school of thought” they belong to, will all have engaged in obsessive study of ALL kinds of sources, near-neurotic levels of daily practices, will demonstrate a notable ability to improvise and adapt their magick to the situation at hand, and will all have gone through similar experiences though perhaps via different methods.  In other words, they’ll all be batshit crazy, AND have something real going on; and so will a real tantrist, or a real shaman, or a real voodoo witch doctor or a real Taoist alchemist.  They all end up looking very similar at the high end of the “attainment” spectrum, and if that’s not a good argument in favour of the Philosophia Perennia, I don’t know what is.
Now, a note about magical orders: there aren’t really any truly “vast occult conspiracies” out there.  That’s because any order that becomes truly big, and there are precious few of these too, will inevitably end up becoming much more social and less “occult”.  That’s not to say they won’t have plenty of serious magicians in these groups, but those serious magicians will not be seeing their membership in the group as the central part of their magical work, only as a compliment or a social outlet.  The largest “occult order” in the western world is undoubtedly Freemasonry, which at the present time boasts about six million members worldwide.  That sounds like a lot but you have to remember that its spread over a shitload of countries, there’s no central “worldwide” masonic institution, and the VAST majority of its members would not define themselves as “occultists” at all, much less magicians, even though what they do in their lodges and rituals is entirely a part of the western magical tradition. 

As far as “serious” magical orders go (that is to say, orders that define themselves as “MAGICAL” Orders), they’re freaking tiny by comparison.  One of the largest of these is one of Crowley’s orders, the Ordo Templi Orientis or OTO, and its splintered into about a dozen different rival factions; the largest of these has about 3000 members worldwide, and none of the others get anywhere near that number.  The smallest “OTO” claimant group I’ve run into personally had a whopping TWO members!

The “old school” order par excellence was the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, which were absolutely revolutionary in their development of ritual magick in the late 19th century; the original Golden Dawn (of which Crowley was a member in his youth, and which included luminaries of multiple backgrounds, people like W.B. Yeats, A.E. Waite of the “Rider Waite Tarot” fame, Bram “Dracula” Stoker, Allan “first western Buddhist Monk” Bennett, and many, many more) broke up due to infighting around 1901; after that there have been dozens of groups claiming to be the “one true” Golden Dawn (in the same way that there are dozens of “one true” OTOs out there).   These days none of these groups are very big; and they generally take the form of mail-order correspondence-course groups that send you instructional material and give you a fancy “degree” as you pass written exams; the better ones actually have some type of headquarter where you go for initiations.  The entirety of the original Golden Dawn’s secret rituals are available in print (and online), and many “old school” magicians practice or study that ritual on their own, rather than in a group.

There are two major and a host of minor “Thelemic” groups, the aforementioned OTO being the biggest; like the Golden Dawn it works with a pseudo-masonic “Lodge” structure and offers initiations.  Its membership has been suffering a decline since around the late 1980s, however, and there are far fewer working OTO lodges than there used to be.  The quality of these groups vary immensely, from being largely social groups that engage in a lot of magical “conversation”, to individual lodges that do very serious magical work alongside the standard ritual.  The other major Thelemic group is the A.’.A.’., which Crowley founded.  It does not follow the “lodge structure”, but rather works (in theory) on a “cell” basis, where each member only knows his immediate superior in the order (the guy who’s teaching him magick) and those lower-degree members that the person themselves has brought into the order. 

This means that basically, since Crowley’s death, there has been no true central structure of the A.’.A.’., and there are shitloads of people who spontaneously claim to have membership in this group; theoretically, the “real” A.’.A.’. is anyone who has an unbroken “lineage” going back to Crowley himself (that is, he was brought into the A.’.A.’. by someone who was brought into the A.’.A.’. by someone who was brought into the A.’.A.’., by someone etc. etc. who was brought into the A.’.A.’. by Crowley); but this is in practice notoriously difficult to accurately confirm. Fortunately in both cases, just like with the Golden Dawn, the entire OTO rituals and A.’.A.’. magical writings are available in print or online if you know where to look, though the legal heirs of Crowley’s OTO try to suppress this material whenever they find it.

The “Really New School” guys tend mostly to be solitary or work in small groups, but there’s one kind-of “major” group, the Illuminates of Thanateros, who were founded by the guy who first coined the term Chaos Magick (Peter Carroll).  This group is, true to chaos magick format, pretty loosey-goosey compared to the other orders I’ve mentioned.

So magical orders tend to be kind of shite, which tends to put the damper on some of the traditional setting-concepts of occult campaigns; but is more in keeping with the far more “realistic” setting elements of isolation and infighting that I’ve been trying to emphasize as being part of an accurate portrayal of the occult scene. 

And in any case, this doesn’t mean that you can’t have “secret groups” being a significant part of an occult campaign; remember that there’s probably literally hundreds of very small “orders”, often incredibly pretentious in spite of their size, which can run the gamut from con artists to cults of personality, to a group of people who have tapped into some seriously Powerful (and Possibly Fucked Up) Heavy Shit.   While the majority of magicians actually work alone, or through small or medium-sized networks of like-minded acquaintances, there’s also thousands of “working groups” that don’t go so far as to call themselves an “order”, who are also often the groups that do some of the most serious magical group work.  The PC party can be one of these, for that matter. 


Currently Smoking: Mario Grandi Oom Paul + Argento Latakia

(originally reposted June 16th, 2013, on the old blog)

Wednesday 17 September 2014

DCC Campaign Update: Giant Weasels Ripped Their Flesh

In This Adventure, the PCs haphazardly dashed into:

-A group of prisoners of the Pythian Knight Cosplay Society, who had no choice but to join the party as retainers.

-One of those prisoners, who happened to be a purple mutant with a bag of seriously hallucinogenic mushrooms.

-A crazy series of trans-dimensional effects that seemingly wiped out half the party, all because Bob Shoggoth got high on the shrooms.

-The accidental lobotomization of one of the brand new party members, for the same reason as above.

-An emergency retreat back to the Azure Tower, where the incredulous Azure Order mages were forced to confront the possibility of a "good Shoggoth" (not to mention a reggae-loving Rasta-Shoggoth).

-The annoyed conclusion of the Order that while Bob Shoggoth is not evil, he's not really 'good' either, and is definitely still dangerous.

-A second expedition in search of the Mint Condition Pythian Power Armor Suit (with jet-pack and butt-rockets).

-The in-hindsight-unfortunate decision not to invite along the one Shoggoth who knows the exact location of the Half-Sunken Temple where the Power Armor is located.

-The decision to avoid the Humanoid Badlands (and the purple mutant territory) by cutting across the forest toward the Fur Bay.

-The tragic confirmation that two-headed grass-snakes are in fact very poisonous, ruining what could have been a potentially lucrative setup for creating a hallucinogenic-mushroom business.

-The discovery that the "Fur Bay" is not named that way because of fur-trading, nor because it is populated by furries (like the "Great Furry Plains") but because it is a deeply polluted body of mutagenic water that is nearly covered in an fur-like green algae.

-Having to cope with the fact that they live in a world where there's actually a town called "Badbreath".

-Having to further cope with the fact that this town is ruled over by a guy literally named Lord Dread, who rules from Castle Dread.

-The not-entirely-surprising revelation that Lord Dread is in fact a mustache-twirling dressed-all-in-black would-be villain with a stupid plan to united the badland humanoids under his command to take over the entire region.

-The useful but untimely discovery that hallucinogenic mushrooms are lethally toxic to goblins.

-A surprisingly friendly entente with Lord Dread.

-Moving on from Castle Dread to the town of Highbay.

-The not-entirely-surprising confirmation that Highbay is so named not because it is at some kind of position of geographical altitude, but because it is an important mercantile port for the illicit-drug trade.

-Discovering that Highbay is no peaceful dirty-hippie town; though it is full of peaceful dirty hippies, the actual people in command are all very sober, well-armed, and ruthless businessmen.

-The taking of heavy amounts of mushrooms to try to contact Bob Shoggoth, unsuccessfully, while ending up in a compromising situation with a pair of grey mutant courtesans and a blue mutant midget pretending to be an erotic halfling.

-Further explorations of similar levels of psychedelia, leading to waking up in possession of a holo-gaming device of unknown origin, a pirate hat, and a mysterious Bobblehead doll.

-A changed Elf, swearing to cut down on the drugs, and even the surprisingly wise decision not to try something called "assassin's weed".

-The shocking revelation that Bolt-O (the Conversation-Robot) has been commandeered by the city government to serve as an entertainment for the High Council.

-A bureaucratic maze in Highbay City Hall, as threatening as any dungeon; if said dungeon was non-lethal and incredibly annoying.

-The confirmation that serious amounts of cash being thrown at corrupt civil servants will cut right through the mazelike process.

-The by-now-not-surprising-at-all discovery that the "high council" are so named because they're all constantly high.

-The valuable illumination into the real power in charge of the city is the Chief City Officer of the Bureaucracy, who's never touched a drug in his life, aside from ale and rhinocerous blood.

-The tense negotiations with Chief City Officer Swanlee, which lead to Bolt-O being given a free choice as to whether he wishes to continue with the party or accept a civil service job (well-paid, with benefits) in Highbay.

-The disappointment of Bolt-O deciding he can have a life full of more interesting Conversations among the balls-tripping stoners of the High Council than he could continuing with the PCs.

-The departure from Highbay, knowing that they've lost a semi-valuable party member but gained a useful contact in local town government.

-The continued trek toward the Perverted Swamp, interrupted by a horrifying attack from vicious Giant Weasels.

-The death of two more newbie party members, Giant Weasels having ripped their flesh.

-The determination to hold fast and bunker down in the weasel plains, halfway between Highbay and the Perverted Swamp, while the elf spends 48 hours in constant and unwavering occult-theory-work in order to gain a bonus spell.


Currently Smoking: Ben Wade Canadian + Image Latakia

Tuesday 16 September 2014

The OSR, Storygames, and Attacks on 5e D&D

If we look at expressions of contempt for the OSR, attacks on personalities in old-school, and expressions of disdain or disapproval for or attacks upon 5e D&D, we find a common pattern emerging.  Some people might mistakenly assume that the issue is with the personalities in particular, and that things like the OSR or 5e are just "collateral damage"; that attacks on me, for example, may involve insulting the OSR or 5e because I'm a fan of both, but the real point of said attacks are to get to me. I think that's wrong; in fact, it's the other way around.

It's pretty often I get known Forgist/Storygamer types trying to claim I'm "not a real game designer" because my games are "derivative" and don't use jenga tiles and tiddlywinks like their serious examinations of space marines with ennui.  There are certainly people who, say, hate me and use the OSR as just a premise to attack me.  However, there's also a general sense of contempt for old-school gaming in certain circles that has nothing to do with me or any other "personality".  It has to do with the pseudo-intellectual Forge "theory" crowd feeling pissed off that their ideas largely failed, and that now the OSR's ideas are hugely influential on things like 5e D&D.

The issue is with their resentment over having lost. There are people who never forgave regular gamers for not wholeheartedly abandoning D&D and embracing their RPGs about playing degenerate victorian university professors or holocaust victims suffering helplessly or pirates raping the corpses of cabin boys.

Many of these people became the Pseudo-activists who we see all over G+ today, the ones arguing that regular roleplaying needs to be put down for the sake of the children or something.  It's that same elitist hatred of D&D that a certain sector of the hobby always had, only now they've weaponized social causes to use these to attack those people and games they've never ever liked.
Which is why if you have an OSR RPG that mentions wenches or shows an image of a warrior woman in skimpy armor (or even in FULL armor, as the whole "Aleena the Cleric is sexist" thing proved), you're history's greatest monsters; but if you are a Storygame-designer who's got a game where you play underaged maids who lust after their adult masters while wearing transparent uniforms, you're a bold visionary and sexism is irrelevant because you have the Cool-kids seal of approval.

It proves this isn't about "causes" but about going after the games you don't like.  So likewise, attacks on individuals isn't about individuals but about ideology.

These people doing the attacking are people who not long ago were saying all of D&D is "incoherent" and an inferior game. And the OSR was the furthest away from the spirit of all their ideas, saying "no, we don't need to invent all-new theories and radically re-invent the hobby; we need to get back to the roots.  No, we don't need to trust our games to a group of self-styled elite indie game designers, we need to give the GM more power, not less".  They DESPISE us for that, and for the OSR's success.

Never mind that the one group is an RPG group, playing games that are about interpreting a character in a virtual world, while the other are storygamers, whose goal is the creation of a story (with world and character being mere backdrops to that).  That's the core abyss that stretches between one concept of what RPGs should be like and the other, but the separation in basic philosophy goes further than that, when you look at the details of just what this means in practice.

Beyond that, the storygamers believe that rules must be played as written, and that no one should be able to alter them.  The GAME DESIGNER is god. The GM is like a monopoly banker, a mere facilitator who brings the glorious ideas of the designer (whose word is law) down to the players (who are the ones who get to be in charge of the group).  The GM is in charge of almost nothing. His 'world' and characters are just a potemkin-village for the players to weave their story-making in, and he very explicitly isn't allowed to be the one who makes Story (the whole point of the storygame) because that would be bad.

The OSR believes that rules are utterly malleable, you can take stuff out, put stuff in, you can run a game using the LotFP rule book, the AD&D 1e Monster Manual, and the Adventures Dark & Deep GM guide while running an adventure made for Labyrinth Lord and using magic items from Arrows of Indra.
The GM is god. The game designer is a producer of ideas to help the GM create and run his world, and the players get to play their characters, but are not the ones in charge of the world, or the group. They are in charge of their characters, which is 50% of the point of an RPG, and the GM in charge of the virtual world where the characters operate, which is the other 50% of the point.

Both the OSR, and D&D 5e, are a forceful rejection of all the core storygaming values.  So don't expect 'consultantgate' to be the end of things.  Nothing will ever satisfy these people because what it's really about is the entire hobby having rejected their idea of 'sophistication'.  Take this as a prophecy, cheap and obvious as it may be: it is only a matter of time until the next big attack on 5e, and the efforts to undermine the game, and the entire hobby, will not stop.


Currently Smoking: Raleigh Volcano + Brebbia no.7 Mix

Monday 15 September 2014

Cracked Monday

I have to admit something: in spite of the fact that recently he and I have been lumped in together, I don't usually read Zak S.' blog. It's not anything specific on him, I don't read any other gaming blogs with regularity; I tend to be too busy with my own blog, theRPGsite, and my G+ stuff.

But it's a fine blog, particularly when he starts talking about Art History, which is clearly one of his strong suits.  Today, then, our link is to Zak's blog and an excellent article that came he out with that may be of interest to any Arrows of Indra fans: where he talks about Indian art as an inspiration for gaming.

Check it out.


Currently Smoking: Italian Redbark + H&H's Beverwyck

Sunday 14 September 2014

Golden Age Campaign Update

In yesterday's adventure, the PCs proceeded through the early days of 1945.  They heard about how Hawkman confronted and defeated a new villain by the name of The Monocle:

Meanwhile, the All-Stars were forced to confront the second major world threat in as many weeks; just as only earlier that same month the supernatural monster known as the Stalker sought to destroy the world, this week the superbeing from the 52nd century known as Lord Dynamo attempted to conquer Earth in the distant past of the 20th century.

Lord Dynamo was not exactly a villain; but a hero from the distant future, faced with the total annihilation of Earth's population at the hands of the hordes of the Galactic Conqueror Brainiac 7; he attempted to move all of the 12 billion people in his charge back into prehistory as a desperate last-ditch escape attempt.

However, the All-stars couldn't let that happen, not with the devastating consequences involved, and not with Dynamo and his armies trying to conquer Earth.  Particularly not when they realized a significant part of those armies consistent of revenants, dead soldiers who'd been grafted with cybernetic controls so they could continue fighting from beyond the grave:

Fortunately, there was another time-lost soul in the picture; a young hero from the 30th century who had become temporarily trapped in the 1940s and had just been recruited by the JSA:

Yes, Lightning Lad, from the Legion of Super-Heroes; in a self-referencing moment from my earlier LSH campaign (where LL had briefly been trapped in the 1940s and joined the JSA).

In any case, after discovering that Lord Dynamo (with his electric and psychic powers) was actually a distant descendent of Lightning Lad, the latter had briefly engaged in a ploy (thought up by Mister Terrific) to threaten to die in order to make Dynamo's future never exist; however, in the end a better plan was thought up by one of the PCs, where Green Lantern and Starman teamed up to create a device that shifted all the time-travellers back to their home timeline.

So it went, in another exciting adventure of the Mystery Men!


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

Saturday 13 September 2014

Arrows of Indra: Castes

You can’t really write an even vaguely authentic Epic Indian Myth RPG based on ancient India in the age of the Mahabharata without addressing the question of Caste.  However, this is naturally a very contentious issue.  Some people have gone as far as to express a certain amount of outrage that the Caste system is considered in the game; to be fair many of these are people who have not and would never actually buy Arrows of Indra and were just looking for something to be outraged about.  But still, I think its worthwhile to talk about caste in the context of the AoI game.

First, as it explicitly states in the book, neither the author, nor the publisher nor (to my knowledge) anyone involved in Arrows of Indra actually approves of the Indian caste system (or any other kind of caste system) in real life.  In fact, I’m not afraid to say that I think the Indian caste system sucks, I’m glad that modern Indian law doesn’t recognize it but hope that Indian society evolves to the point where that becomes a true reality.  That clear? Good. Let’s move on.

Second, the caste system was (and still is!) a reality of Indian culture. It had to be addressed (of course, no doubt some of the very same people outraged that I included it would have been outraged at my ‘cultural ignorance’ or ‘historical whitewashing’ if I had not included it).  The interesting question, then, is how an AoI GM should handle it.  The mechanics for how to handle caste (which castes can play which classes, etc.) are pretty straightforward and explicit.  The setting material is pretty clear about what castes are, what they mean, and what they do.  But let’s go a bit further and clear a few points up:

a)  If you’re an AoI GM, you could just NOT USE castes if you don’t want them.  As the author of AoI, I felt it important they be included for accuracy, but there’s nothing that should stop you as a GM from getting rid of them if you don’t like the idea.  YOUR version of the Bharata Kingdoms could be casteless.

b) If you don’t like the attribute modifiers or the class limits based on caste, you could just get rid of those instead, and keep caste as a more vague general concept (though you’d have to seriously rework some elements of the setting to explain how a Sudra could be a Priest, etc).  Its your world, do with it what you will!

c)  I already explicitly stated this in the book, but it bears repeating: if you are already familiar with the modern Indian caste system, do keep in mind that the caste system in the Bharata kingdoms (and indeed in historical India in this early period) was a bit difference in terms of stratification.  That is to say, “caste” was a much more malleable concept than it is even to this day in India, where you are born and die in a single caste.  In the Bharata kingdoms (and in many periods of real Indian history) caste was seen as something that usually stayed fixed throughout most people’s lifetimes but that was to a certain extent changeable: you could get a demotion in caste for certain acts, and (albeit harder) you could also theoretically get “promoted” to a higher caste.
As a GM, there’s nothing to say you couldn’t extend this a further step, making caste something even more malleable than the setting default, allowing for example that the priesthood or virakshatriyas “promote” spiritually worthy candidates by virtue of augury or signs of divine favor.

d) Finally, you’ll note how Arrows of Indra is chock-full of random tables for absolutely EVERYTHING.  As I already said above, if you’re an AoI GM and at any time don’t actually want to use the random table, you have the full authority not to use it!  This includes the random table for caste in character generation.  If you want to, you could just have all the PCs play the same caste, or you could pick the caste for PCs based on the classes they wanted to play, or you could let them pick their own castes. As ought to be the Sacred Rule of OSR games, “the Rules are there to serve the GM, not the GM to serve the rules”.  If you don’t have a lot of experience with OSR games or that style of play, try to keep this in mind! Don’t get stuck thinking that because I, a guy who doesn’t actually know you or your group, wrote something down in the book that it somehow means that I know better than you about what’s best for your group to have fun.

I hope these clarifications provide some help for anyone who was seriously wondering about caste in Arrows of Indra.


Currently Smoking: Stanwell Deluxe + Image Latakia

(originally posted June 14th, 2013, on the old blog)

Friday 12 September 2014

Magic is Hard to Write About, Plus: Standard Pundit Patronage Plea

Hey all, only a short note today as I'm very busy working on the chapter on "Spells and Miracles" for Albion.

I don't know what it is, or why it is, but it's definitely ironic that one of the things I (of all people) always seem to have challenge writing about when I'm doing RPG-designing is the "magic" section.  It was one of the toughest parts of writing Arrows of Indra (and FtA!, and even the sorcery-powers in Lords of Olympus was tough); and here in Albion all I'm doing is a chapter where I suggest what kind of modifications should be done to a standard OSR-ruleset to fit the flavor of Albion as a setting (plus some stuff on magic items, and summoning), and even this comparatively simple task has been one of the slower-moving sections of writing the damn book!

Anyways, while I'm talking about my woes and lamentations, let me spare a minute to make the standard monthly reminder: if you like this blog, appreciate the articles, like the detailed game reviews, the series on 'real magick in rpgs', the occasional posts about Uruguay, the various other rants, the game reports for DCC and my other games, etc., or likewise if you like my advocacy and defense of regular roleplaying and regular gamers, or even if you only love to be outraged by my antics, then please consider clicking on that Paypal button to your right and giving this blog some of your patronage!
Your support will only encourage me.


Currently Smoking: Lorenzetti Solitario Horn + Gawith's Navy Flake

Thursday 11 September 2014

RPGPundit Reviews: Novus Fantasy Roleplaying Game

In this, the glory days of 5e, the OSR, and exciting new projects with other established systems (the games inspired by Call of Cthulhu, or Amber, for example), it takes either a certain kind of guts or a certain kind of stupidity to make something that bucks the trend, particularly if it's not even likely to be a darling of the dwindling storygame crowd. The Novus RPG is just such a game, and I'll leave the matter of courage vs. idiocy to the reader; so all that remains to be seen in this review is whether there's anything in Novus that would make it stand out enough to really catch the attention of gamers in this present time.

The Novus RPG is written by Tim Dugger, published by Firehawk Games through Chronicle City. It's a softcover book about 125 pages long, with a color cover of a stylized dragon (wyvern, technically) on the front, and black and white interior artwork. 

There's plenty of artwork inside the book, and generally of good quality, but the radical variations in art style is a bit jarring: the art jumps back and forth between comic-style western fantasy art, some old-fashioned images that might be public domain, and anime-style drawings. I think that even if it had meant using less art, the author would have been wiser to stick to one style.

A note about the author here: while the production level of the book is certainly above the level of 'amateur', there's a lot about Novus that would, were I not to know who wrote it, lead me to assume that the designer is someone outside the "industry", potentially one of those 'heartbreaker' authors who is producing a labour-of-love without much knowledge of what's actually going on in the hobby, or much broad-base experience with RPGs.  You might think it was someone who'd played a few games, and thought "I can do it better", and went on to invest their time and money in producing a game they were assuming would win them fame and fortune, almost inevitably incorrectly.
But Tim Dugger is not an amateur; he worked for ICE, wrote the HARP rpg (which was a kind of Rolemaster-lite), and was theoretically working on the Rolemaster Revised RPG before the company went south.  So this is not a heartbreaker, but rather a case of a certain kind of designer seeking to make his new mark. 

It just doesn't always read that way.  Even the back cover blurb reads like Heartbreaker material: Dugger hightlights the classic heartbreaker laundry list, trying to impress us with how there are "6 player races", "8 Backgrounds", "8 Character Classes" (with a note about how there's "customizeability allowing for each character to be unique", and how "the 2 mage classes allow for up to 21 different types of mages"), "Dozens of spells", etc.  The only thing missing are big exclamation points or some statement about how the game is superior to other rpgs; thankfully it doesn't go that far.

There's nothing spectacularly innovative about Novus.  It uses a base system of 2d10 die rolls, versus difficulty target numbers.  One feature is that the dice "explode" and "implode", a die roll of 10 allows you to roll again and add to the value; a die roll of 1 means you roll again and subtract from the value (this has the side-effect that "exploding" will have a much greater potential of ADDING to your roll than imploding does of subtracting).  There's also a "nova roll" rule, where a result of 10 and 1 results in neither implosion nor explosion; but characters gain a Fate Point any time they roll this combination.

Creating a character involves thinking of a character concept, choosing a race, a background, a class, determining stats, and investing one's points.  I should note that stat generation is offered in three different methods: there's not just point-buy, there's also a random generation method, and a method based on a pre-selected array of stats. So, that's good at least. Races are completely standard: human, elf, dwarf, halfling, half-elf, and half-orc. Background is essentially where your character was raised, with options like barbarian, hill-village dweller, rural, underground, sylvan, and urban (divided into lower, middle, and upper class urban; apparently only urbanites have social-class divisions).  Character classes are not as central to character creation as in D&D, and this lighter touch might be of appeal to certain types of gamers; classes include archer, fighter, mage (which comes in "classic" and "dual", the latter having access to two different types of magic but being less competent with either than the classic mage), martial artist, minstrel, scout and thief.  Note that the "mage" classes, within their various 'schools of magic' include options for what would amount to a cleric/priest class as well as a druid).

The 8 primary stats for a character are the 6 standard for D&D plus speed and willpower. Like D&D, stats get a bonus or penalty based on their value, and it is this 'stat bonus' that will generally matter (as in, that will be added or subtracted to rolls) rather than the stat itself.
Secondary stats include defense (the base target number to be hit in combat), hit points (which seem to start rather higher than in D&D), movement (based on race), spell points (for those classes that are spellcasters), and finally Fate Points.  The latter, as you might guess, are a secondary stat that allows you to have special, universe-cheating effects; like spending a fate point to act outside your normal initiative turn, escape a fatal situation, gain extra actions, gain a "boon point" (more on that later), get an extra die roll to add or subtract to any single roll (or to get a flat +5 or -5 to a roll), getting an 'inspiration' clue about the world, narrate some 'story element' to affect the world (it does note that the GM has veto power), to remove a "snag point" (again, more on this later), or finally any other 'special' thing that the player proposes and the GM approves of.
Needless to say, while this mechanic as written is not a full-blown storygaming mechanic, it's still very far from anything I like or want to see, particularly in those couple of areas that are so open-ended they could lead to a situation of players trying to argue with GMs about what "ought to" be allowed or not. 

But this isn't the end of character creation! You have 30 "character points" that are used to purchase skills, talents, combat moves, and spells.  This, unfortunately, kind of defeats one of the main benefits of the presence of a random method for stat generation, as any time saved from the need to point-buy the stats is lost by the need to divide 30 points between dozens of options of different 'special stuff' elements.

Skills are divided in cost not by type but whether the skill is favored by the character's class or not.  There are 19 skills in all, all of them quite standard D&D-type skills, except that both combat skills (essentially weapon skills) and spellcasting are both purchased as skills.
Skill rolls of any kind, including combat or spellcasting, can generate the aforementioned "boon points" or "snag points".  If you roll particularly well (10 or more points over the difficulty of the check) you gain one or more boon points; if you roll particularly poorly, conversely, you gain "snag points".  These are basically like criticals or fumbles, except you get to choose the specific effect they cause from a list.  There's no random element involved in the selection of which snag or boon effect you pick; which is likely to lead to a lot of gaming-the-system to get the most favorable boon possible for you (which is not particularly a bad thing, really) and the least unfavorable snag possible (which I think is a very bad thing).

Talents are likewise feat-like abilities. There are 38 of these.  So even so far, you've got 30 points and you need to work your way through 57 different options of where to spend it. Character creation is not likely to go quickly, unless you have very stupid or very uncaring players, and could at this point go tortuously slow if you have power-gamers or character-optimizers who didn't already come prepared with detailed research on the best possible options to take.
Some talents are "trainable", meaning you can take them later in the game; these are things like Advanced Combat Training, armor training, languages, physical training, mounted combat, sense magic, stat increases, and weapon specialties.  Other talents are untrainable, meaning you can only get these talents at character creation.  These are things like ambidexterity, darkvision, extra spell points, fast mana recovery, nightvision, or second sight.
Talents cost a variety of points (anywhere from 1 to 25) depending on how powerful the author thinks they are. Inevitably, part of the character optimization process will be figuring out exactly which special powers have the best cost-to-actual-utility ratio, and finding those talents that are under-priced in comparison to the broken things you'll do with them (whether or not the use in question was ever the actually intended use).

The equipment section, mercifully, doesn't use point-buy.  Not only that, it doesn't just throw money at characters and then make them shop.  Instead, it has a set of standard equipment, per class, with some possible variations. Good call.  The equipment list is relatively thorough and mostly standard for what you'd expect in vanilla fantasy.

Combat rules are pretty straightforward: roll 2d10 plus bonuses and modifiers, and beat your opponent's defense value.  One might think at first glance that this is directly out of D&D (only with 2d10 instead of 1d20), but it could also have been derived from Rolemaster. It should be noted here that shields add to your defense value, but worn armor does not, instead it has an AR value which is subtracted from any damage dealt against him; so if you always liked that kind of thing, this is a plus.  Actions you can take in a given round are based on Action Points; with each character having 5 action points, and different kinds of actions taking up different values of AP expenditure.  There are a variety of special moves you can perform in combat, some of which are basic combat moves (which anyone can perform) and others being advanced combat moves (which must be paid for, and which have a certain level of combat skill as a prerequisite for how many advanced combat moves you can purchase).  Having the Combat Training talent allows you to get more advanced combat moves than characters would otherwise be able to have. 
There are also combat styles, which are a set of combat moves connected to a specific type of weapon or attack (e.g., archery, boxing, sword & shied, two weapon fighting, etc.).   The combat moves associated with that combat style will cost less for a character that matches the prerequiste skill level for that style than they would if you bought them generally.

The magic system is based on different "schools" of spellcasting; the schools include black magic, divine magic (clerics), high magic, mysticism (monk-type powers), natural magic (druids), and wizardry. Each style uses a different source of mana (black magic, for example, from the infernal planes; while Wizardry from the astral), and a different casting style (high magic uses material components, divine magic uses holy symbols, wizardry uses magical words, etc.).  To cast a spell you must make a difficulty roll using your Spellcasting skill, and spend the right number of spell points.  Wearing armor doesn't affect the ability to make the skill check, but instead it costs more spell points. Starting spellcasters begin with between 10-15 spell points, plus one point for every rank in spellcasting; and with many spells costing as little as 1 SP to cast, it makes for a more spell-heavy scenario than what you'd get from old-school D&D, to be sure.  Spell points also recover fairly quickly, you automatically regain 1 SP every half-hour, and a lot more if you are resting or sleeping.
The book provides about 88 spells in all, with 16 of these being universal, and then each school getting an extra 12 spells.   The spells themselves are pretty standard and many have their equivalent in D&D.  There are also special summoning rules, with guidelines to how to summon (usually otherworldly) beings (angels, elementals, animals, creatures, demons and devils, etc), and making a pact with these beings for service. 

The GM section begins at page 84.  It presents some advice as to how to resolve rolls, difficulty levels, and the handling of snags and boons.  It also deals with GM-adjudicated situations like falling, extreme temperature, traps, lighting, starvation/thirst, swimming and drowning, travel times, injuries/death/healing, and then presents the advancement system.  Oddly, a 1st level character starts the game with 100 xp.  All classes gain xp at the same rate, and advancement slows over time but at an arithmetical rate (each level taking 100 more xp to reach than the previous one did).  Base xp for an adventure is 30 + 50/session taken to resolve, with more xp on top of that for encounters, and individual awards for heroism, accomplishing personal or party goals, and contributing plot elements.  Since this gain is steady regardless of level, the end result will be that even though it doesn't appear so at first glance, advancement will slow considerably over time (not that there's anything wrong with that).  It seems to me it would be quite easy to get between 150-200xp per adventure per character, meaning that the first couple of levels will go by in 1-2 adventures, but it would take 5 or 6 adventures to go from level 10 to 11.
Every time a character goes up in level, they gain 15 character points, which can be spent on skills, combat moves, spells or available talents.

There's a monsters chapter, with about 19 pages of monster stats, with between 2-4 monsters a page on average.  The monsters are all pretty much fantasy-standard.  Some details are given about setting up both planned and random encounters, though no actual random encounter tables are provided in this chapter. There are also treasure tables, but are fairly simplistic (straight 'by-level' tables with no special accounting for the potential variation between sentient and non-sentient or any other qualities), and it's stated that the table is only a guideline.  There's a selection of about six pages of magic items; a small but not negligible selection.

An appendix at the back simply repeats the more important tables of the book, and provide a character sheet.

So what do we conclude about Novus?  I just don't know if it's in the right time or place to make a big impact.  I think that if you want a game that is similar to D&D but definitely not D&D (and not just in the sense of an OSR variant-game), I guess this could work for you.  I think that if you already know the author, and like the author, or dig the kind of games he's clearly quite influenced by (stuff like Rolemaster or HARP, though this game is much less complex than either of those), you might like this.
If not, I doubt you'll find anything in Novus that will draw you.


Currently Smoking: Neerup Poker + Brebbia no. 7