Friday, June 27, 2014

Why don't wizards rule your campain world?

Why don’t wizards rule the world?

Why don’t unscrupulous members of the class that can scry to determine when their opponents are at their weakest and then teleport to destroy them, assume political power? 

Sure, there is some exaggeration to this depending upon your preferred set of crib sheets, unspoken assumptions and thumbed volumes (aka the rules).  Ars Magica is one of the few that takes this fairly seriously.  But how many campaign worlds, especially of the faux medieval type, fail to provide an answer to this question?

It’s on my list of standard questions when evaluating campaign worlds.  Jeff asks “who is the mightiest wizard in the land?” I wonder, “and how come he hasn’t decided that the crown on the king should be his?”  I mean, there’s enough gold and gems in that gaudy thing for a buttload of spell components even if you’re not looking for an upgrade in headgear.

So, for my upcoming campaign, here’s my answer:

The Edict

XXX_TBD  (what’s in a name?), god of law and founder of the Empire, declared that arcane magic, “sorcery” was to Chaos as ‘lascivious hairstyles were to the seduction of men from their vows of chastity’ and banned its practice.  The god, in his wisdom, provided the Empire with adequate amounts of hellfire and damnation to enforce this in its borders and the expansion thereof.
Centuries have passed and the Empire was not what it once was, and the apparent lack of hellfire and damnation that XXX_TBD had provided is only one of so many causes.  None of the other gods, whether lawful or otherwise, had such harsh condemnation of arcane magic, even if they were never too fond of wizards; wizards being mortals that had the temerity to re-arrange the physical world in ways that the gods thought should only be their purview.

But XXX_TBD’s priests are still preaching this gospel in so many pulpits across the scattered remnants of the Empire.  The coincidence of so many calamities that could have indeed been the work of arcane magic, from Farmer Brown’s sadly infertile Bessie to the Creeping Death have also played their part.
You want him over for dinner?
While few citadels of the Empire have the strength to enforce the Edict strenuously, especially to the more proficient practitioners of magic, most folks in the Empire have reactions against arcane magic.  Even more enlightened folks and the occasional enlightened (or greedy or desperate) ruler are rare.

So, when magic is practiced within sight of folks, a reaction roll is made.  (Typically, reaction rolls are: 
roll 2d6:  2-5: negative, 6-8: uncertain, 9-12: positive)

If Positive, either Avoidance or a Request is made according to the strength of the reaction.
If Negative, then Offense is taken according to the strength of the reaction.

Mild:  Avoid eye contact or seating, ignore if possible
Middling:  Back away, make warding signs against magic, choose the other side of the street
Strong: Flee in panic, taking others with them

Mild: Gossip about the event to others
Middling: Request that the wizard fix some malady or lack that hasn’t or can’t be addressed by local clerics for whatever reason
Strong: Plead that the wizard fix some malady or lack that may be great in scope

Mild: Announce the presence of the wizard and stare them down.
Middling: Demand the wizard leave.
Strong: Attack.

How the use of the magic affected the observers of course matters – but not to the point of being welcomed.  Excepting clerics of the god of law, player characters are not bound by this widely held but not universal reaction.  Those few NPCs that have the strong innards required to accompany fool hardy adventurers into the metaphorical dark will only be somewhat influenced by this phobia, and if magic aids them and the party’s survival the phobia will be erased.  A fumble or mistake in magic could lose this favorable disposition. 

I not only want an answer to why wizards aren’t in control – they’re not welcome by most society.  I also want magic, and magic practitioners to reasonably be rare and feel that much more mysterious.  Yes, yes, clerical magic will exist, as will magical items created by clerics and gods.  But on the whole, even in a game of murder hobos, I want a certain f’d up feel to the world.  One way to make sure that this is clear to the players is through rules.  I hope it's fun and not just meaning that I'm a twisted person to DM this way.

Other ways to answer questions of why there aren’t more wizards, especially wizards in positions of power?
Critique of my proposal – other ways to achieve these goals

Monday, May 26, 2014

New Megadungeon Seed - The Trail of the Trickster

The real seed of this idea sprang from playing in Desert Scribe's Holmes megadungeon some months ago.  Something of a funhouse aspect of the dungeon was expressed in the "guestbook" in the dungeon entrance which each character had the option of signing.
A cool device, I thought.  But DS didn't actually have a book for us to sign there at the table.

As campaigns come and campaigns go, I'm working on a new dungeon.  So now I've got the chance to steal the Desert Scribe's conceit and take it further: get a physical book that the players could sign as their characters.  Especially as I intend to run this dungeon for a variety of different players, the book itself could be an interesting artifact that people could look forward to reading and signing.

I'll have to look at Pike Market, Etsy and the Freemont Market for hand made book makers and drop a dime or two for a nice book.  Something that will make an impression.

Too much?

Next though is what's the megadungeon's origin?  The old "ruined dwarven mine, over run by humanoids" won't cut it.  And while "a wizard did it" always works, it's been done.

So, who else would be tickled to have a guest book at every entrance - the same guest book, no matter the entrance?

Well, the Trickster.  Perhaps I've known Loki from stories like this where the Trickster side shows through, instead of the recent movies that depict him more forthrightly evil.  But if Loki or whatever stand-in I pick for the Trickster archetype  (Coyote?) were to create a "huge ruined pile"  (rip), the possibility of a fun house dungeon would be rather large.  Perhaps the Trickster even (ala Loki and Baldr) planned to trick others into a conflict, say a god of Light and a god of Darkness.  It's a start.  Now, whether that's step 1 of "how to host a dungeon" or some thing that happens to the Dwarven Fortress is another question.

Not having a world or a pantheon yet (and plenty of campaigns never need them), I'm tempted to go for the Baldr and Loki conflict as a more contemporary event; contemporary in the sense that it didn't happen a mythological age ago but one of the precipitating events for the local apocalypse and collapse of empire.  Would the dwarves of the world be followers of the Trickster, so that there is no end of odd mechanical strangeness in the tunnels they dug for the millenium's most epic practical joke by the Trickster?  And what other factions and beings would be attracted to the power and magic left by the gods?

Of course, what are the consequences of signing and not signing?  I'm thinking that there will be specials and factions that react positively to those that have signed the book truthfully.  And of course, some that won't.  Which and why?  Good questions.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

House Rule for Last Will and Testament

This was prompted by this post on death

Character's Last Will and Testament Rules
Characters can have a will naming an out of game family member as a beneficiary of their wealth.  If the rest of the party fulfills that will, then the player's next character receives that wealth in starting experience.
If dead character has an unfulfilled will and is not buried in a ceremony on consecrated ground, there is a chance that the character's spirit will rise as an undead spirit of level and abilities appropriate to the character and their death.

I'm thinking about these rules in the context of a city/megadungeon campaign with a large player community.  
There's always a question of what level to start a replacement character.  The common OSR answer has been to start at 1st level, while more recent styles of play replaced characters at the current level of the campaign.
It's also always a bit odd how party members fight over the belongings of a deceased former friend.  Together, these rules would give a party in-game reasons for treating their dead comrade in a more familiar fashion.

Of course, parties are free to ignore these rules and the consequences.  In fact an evil party, with an evil priest, might not be adverse to another undead creature in the dungeon.

What do you think?

Friday, March 28, 2014

RIP DAT - and FYI.

The world and the gaming community has lost another gem, one which might have been returning to us.

Many others have posted wonderful recollections of his work, including this rare picture.   I've never seen that one before. Thank you.

I feel forced to add what is in part conjecture.  If bringing up other topics into your gaming offends you, I won't apologize. I think this story shows how your different worlds are connected.

Trampier seems to have died from cancer which was only discovered in his recovery from a stroke.  I can't say for sure, but according to this article, the vast majority of taxi drivers (Trampier's occupation) don't have health insurance.

Two years ago I lost a cousin to cancer which had grown to an advanced and nigh-untreatable stage because he never got health exams because he did not have health insurance.

I won't say that Trampier would still be with us if he had health insurance (he might have) or that health insurance and the resulting accessible care would have saved him.  But accessible care does save people's lives.

Whenever I see benefits to raise money for figures in various communities due to health problems, I try to give.  But it turns my stomach at the necessity for this.

We prematurely lose artists of all stripes because we as a society do not provide for each other what every other industrialized nation provides to all its citizens.

We lose other artists whose work we never get to see because they are stuck in creativity stifling jobs so they can have security for themselves and their families.

A social safety net for all allows people the security to take risks for their lives and their work.

I hope that as we toast Trampier as an artist, a gamer, a worker and a person that we can also remember that this tragedy and so many others might not be necessary.

Thank you Dave, you were gone too soon.