Literary/Historical Inspiration: Herodotus, #1

So, there have been a lot of dudes who were hugely influential to fantasy, well beyond “Appendix N”. I’ve talked about William Morris before (who was one of Tolkein’s foundations – much of the Good Professor’s work was lifted, based on, or adapted from Morris’, in the tradition of all good storytellers). Another enormous influence was Lord Dunsany, who laid the cornerstone of Weird Fiction for Clark Ashton Smith and HP Lovecraft. Vance was the first to make “wizards” squabbling murderers hunting each other’s spells (although calling D&D-style magic “Vancian” is at best a bit blinkered. Perhaps I’ll touch on that later).

But there’s another figure towering behind them all. Because he worked in the “real” historical field, it’s not as easy to recognize Herodotus’ contribution to the RPG hobby. For example, the first Monster books and Manuals owe him a tremendous debt. Most were compiled from historical sources, especially Medieval bestiaries – which were, in turn, copied from the Histories. Herodotus remained one of the most widely-traveled, literate human beings on the bloody planet until the Crusades, and his work was literally seminal for every other historian and travelogue author down to the present day. He reported not just the things he saw, but the tales he was told, and it is to him we owe the surviving accounts of everything from Griffins to the Bonnacon.

In addition, unlike most other sources, the Father of History hasn’t really been mined nearly as extensively as, say, HPL by the OSR. He describes everything from atmospheric sculptures and rumors to adventure seeds, and is tremendously funny to boot. Even if the translators are shitty writers. Since it’s out of copyright, it’s available for free or very cheaply in complete editions; I have a B&N Classics edition of the Macaulay/Latenier translation, which cost me less than $10, and free versions are available all over the ‘net.
I’ve been through about 3/4ths of the Histories thus far (it is a bit dense..), and every time I find a tasty tidbit I highlight it for future reference. I’ve got far, far too many for my own campaigns, so I’ll be sharing particularly tasty tid-bits with you all. All quotes are referenced by Book: verse, to the aforementioned Macaulay/Latenier translation.

They say that [Queen Nitocris], desiring to take vengeance for her brother, who the Egyptians had slain when he was their king and then had given his kingdom to her, she destroyed by trickery many Egyptians. For she caused to be constructed a very large chamber underground, and making as though to inaugurate it but in her mind devising other things, she invited those Egyptians whom she knew to be guiltiest of the murder, and gave a great banquet. Then while they were feasting, she let in the river upon them by a large secret conduit. They told no more than this of her, except that when this had been accomplished, she threw herself into a room full of embers to escape vengeance.
II: 100 (Adventure/Plot seed)

Fun with magic:

..Immediately upon [cursing the river-god], Pheros suffered a disease of his eyes and became blind. For ten years thereafter, he was blind. In the eleventh year, there came to him an oracle from the city of Buto saying that the period of his punishment had expired, and he should see again when he washed his eyes in the urine of a woman who had had sex only with her own husband and none other.
Book II: 111 (Lulzy oracles: check!)

(His wife failed. So did the wives of most of the leaders of Egypt. After he got his sight back, he took all the ones who failed to another city, and burned them to death. Then burned down the city. Because Egyptians.)

Hand’s still bugging me, so done for now. More later.

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New LotFP Skill: Physic [Now obsolete]

So, I had this big long complicated idea for herbalism that I was getting waaaay too 2e on, if you know what I mean.
Then I went back, had a cider, and looked at the actual Lamentations skills.

EDIT: These rules have been updated, though mostly just reworded. The update is available here

PHYSIC

Physic is a shorthand for all the healing arts; diagnosing and correcting imbalances in the humors, knowledge of healing herbs, of staunching and stitching, fitting artificial limbs, and all things appropriate to the station of a doctor. Use of Physic requires a Specialist Toolkit (Physician). It may be used in any and all of the following circumstances.
First Aid: Following combat, you may use the skill to treat one or more wounded characters. The physician declares his priorities for treatment, then rolls against the skill; success means he can heal 1HP plus an additional 1HP per point of his margin of success. Divide these HP as evenly as possible between patients. If a 6 is rolled, roll again: on a 4+ (6+ for physicians with a skill of 6) the doctor does an additional d6 HP of damage to the patients.
Back From the Brink: You may attempt to stabilize a dying character. Characters who have been given a coup de grace, died from disease, or whose bodies are clearly destroyed, cannot be saved. With a successful Physic roll, the character is allowed a save vs. Poison. A character stabilized in this way can be moved with sufficient care but will remain unconscious or immobile and barely lucid for the remainder of the day. They must also roll on an appropriate resurrection survival/mutilation table or suffer other disabilities at the DM’s discretion.
Find Herbs: As “find food” under Bushcraft. A Physician with Healing Herbs in the party allows all party members to recover an additional HP with each night’s rest, or one character to regain 1d4 HP.
• Diagnose/Treat diseases, drugs, and poisons: a character with an imbalance in the humors can be treated by a Physician. The suffering character takes 1HP of damage. If the Physician passes his skill test, the character is allowed an immediate “free” save against his ailment, with no further penalty for failure.

Island of the Forgotten: Session 1 (actual play!)

Finally got in the first session of that campaign I was working on. It has, of course, gone at once completely buggerfuck off the rails and Just As Planned ™. In addition, I was.. somewhat impaired at the time.

The party currently consists of Hernando the Spaniard deserter, William “T.” Byron (“you can tell that’s his real name, it’s stitched into his boots!) – alleged Doctor of Medicine – and the dowager Dame Elizabeth (last name omitted), newly-inherited rogue archeologist in search of her latchkey father.

Our assumed time is the late 1600s, with the party seeking passage (each for their own reasons) to Zanzibar from Marseilles. Alas, this was not to be, but I’ve gotten ahead of myself.

Our lady Knight advertised for likely fellows of stout arm and short brain at the sign of the Prancing Goat (famed for powerful cheese and weak wine). A half-dozen men and one dog volunteer their services; “Ol’Roy” the female masitff and her handler Brygyd sign on as men-at-arms, and Hernando as a full-share partner, with several others turned away. Roy and Hernando hit it off immediately, although Roy seems to hate literally everyone and everything else (and can’t hit for beans in combat). With a party assembled, they sought passage on some ship; Mr. “Byron”, sent by his captain to find passengers for an ENTIRELY LEGITIMATE trip to Zanzibar, soon offered compelling terms. Returning to the ship, the doctor was approached by an emissary for a mysterious woman named “Estelle”, inviting him to come to her mansion for a spot of delivery work to Algiers. Again, the party declined. Thanks to a successful surprise roll, they managed to avoid a massive religious riot, before exacerbating it (fucking PCs) and attempting to use the cover of the ensuing fire to get in a spot of looting.

Three days later, and six hours out from Algiers, they got ambushed by a small pirate galley – and tore it apart. Ol’Roy managed to do absolutely nothing, the hireling hid and brained a pirate with a pipe. The party did somewhat better. Our good doctor garrotted a boarder below-decks and shot another in the face, slitting the throat of a third – one of whom was a former applicant to the party (the pirates had hired on two of the rejected hirelings, and been paid handsomely to deliver Estelle’s item). Doc Byron then hilariously badly failed his Physic roll to stabilize the ship’s First Mate, determining that amputation was the best way to cure the damage the Mate’s exploding pistols had done to his hands. It was not.
Dame Elizabeth missed with every shot, though she managed to dash her opponent’s blade from his hands and very efficiently brain him with her rifle.
Meanwhile Hernando accidentally shot the PC’s vessel’s captain along with the pirates’, killing both (firing into melee for the.. win?). Both crews failed their morale checks, and only the fact that the pirates won initiative that round saved the PC’s ship from surrendering (sometimes it pays to go second). Hernando immediately rallied the disheartened crew, and holed the galley with the ship’s pair of light swivel guns (see here).
Total spoils: 20 galley slaves (freed and ransomed in Algiers), 4 captured men-at-arms, including the remaining former applicant (sold into slavery by the party for ~10sp – slaves being worth 1sp per 2hp), gems totalling 10k sp (split with the galley’s crew, PCs only got about 900 each), a couple maps, and a lead box containing a golden lion decorated in Scythian motifs (Estelle’s item – it had an address letter for a notable personage in Algiers attached. Of course the party immediately opened it). Every party member with the skill blew their Occultism roll, so they’ll just have to play with it to find out how it works. *snicker*
They also got an assortment of moderate-quality boarding weaponry, 4 matchlock calivers, and a brace of pistols.
And the good ship “Yvette”. She has a reputation. They haven’t gotten into her cargo hold yet.

Hernando managed to win the respect of enough men to be acclaimed Captain despite the doctor’s technical claim on the position, and so the crew enters Algiers seeking refit, ale, and whores (the Lady Elizabeth interjects at this point to assert that she seeks only the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, not that of the vine, nor indeed of the loins). Carouse rolls (using these rules) ensued for the “gentlemen” of the party.
Doctor “Byron” gained several hundred XP, but was fined by the authorities for issuing a challenge to a duel with the butt of his shotgun, then welshing on the duel due to a violent hangover. Hernando seduced.. someone. He’s not quite sure, but he appears to be in love. Now he needs to find her. And his wallet. And the pants they were in.
Meanwhile, the much more sedate Lady Elizabeth visited the home of a scholar she located from her father’s papers, inquiring after her paternal relative. His ship, it would seem, was last seen in these parts chartered for an undisclosed location in the Pacific. Despite being a semiannual visitor in the past, the vessel has not been seen again these last 5 years. Unfortunately, the gentleman was not versed in Scythian antiquities. Also unfortunately, she opened the box inside his study.

Join us next time, as “Byron” levels up, Ol’ Roy continues to aggressively slobber and fawn on every passer-by while snarling furiously, a tongueless Italian deserter plots his revenge, and various things are lit on fire.
I’ll be frankly surprised if they aren’t flying the black flag on the wrong goddamned side of the planet in three sessions. This is gonna be great.

Lamentations of the Flame Princess Quick-start sheet

Quick links to a document I worked up for my campaign. Note that there are several minor rules changes here, particularly the addition of my new guns, a class, skill tweaks, and some rearrangement of items.
PDF Format: LotFP quickstart sheet
ODF (in case you want to edit it for your own campaign) LotFP Quickstart Sheet

The font is IM Fell English Canon, in 10 point, available from this site. Though they’re a little small on the screen, I assure you they’re perfectly readable at the table.

Artistic Inspiration: Early Fantasy Illustrations 1

Had guests over, and the hand’s still not at 100%, so I’m going to be lazy and post a few turn-of-the-century illustrations from fairytale and fantasy books.

Welcome to my wandering monster tables. These are the >friendly< ones.

Welcome to my wandering monster tables. These are the >friendly< ones.

Can't find the source for this one - too many Walkers. Nonetheless, it's out of copyright and quite a nice wizard.

Can’t find the source for this one – too many Walkers. Nonetheless, it’s out of copyright and quite a nice wizard.

This is why gods should never have fucking stats.

This is why gods should never have fucking stats.

From the Archives: A Tea Party (Encounter, unique monster)

Most of my limited writing time has gone into the upcoming campaign, as I develop the entries in my Commonplace book. Incidentally, this is something I recommend every DM do; carry a small notebook and a pen with you pretty much everywhere, because Inspiration likes to sneak up on you and cockslap you on the bus and/or at three in the AM. Jot down the most inspiring bit of the idea in a quick sentence or two.
My Tribal class, for example, started as the sentence “Replace Dwarf and elf with archetypes. Noble Savage (last/mohicans, pacte de loups etc? Magical  Dilletante (Johnathan x Mummy)?”. (The latter is where the Occultism skill came from)
Another just below it reads simply “The Feast of Poisons”.

Then there’s this: “Mad princess, tea party, elaborate (and valuable) place settings.”

Ewer, Nautilus - Belgium - 1590Spoilers below the break. None of my players past this point.
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Wandering Monsters Aren’t the Only Encounters.. (House rules/gaming philosophy)

I’ve been working on the Encounter tables for the current campaign, and it brought up something I’ve been doing for a while.
So, we all know the standard B/X/1e &c. tables run from 2-12, using 1d4 and 1d8 rolled together (and if you didn’t, you’re going to have a rather weird distribution – explanation after the break).  These days, though, I just throw d4/d6/d8 at once.  I originally started adding the d6 to do surprise for whatever I rolled, but then I started including non-combat “encounters” to screw with my players — um, “enhance the atmosphere of the game”. I’ve found it adds considerably to the tension when the players find a smoldering campfire and don’t know whether they’ve just lost a Surprise roll, or only come across an irresponsible camper’s leavings. So I experimented with making larger tables at first, but it never felt right.

Now I use two to three tables, with the d6 determining which the other two dice are rolling on. Generally speaking, even numbers on the 6 are an “event” encounter – stuff like finding signs of another creature or party, roadside shrines, omens, what-have-you. Odds roll on the conventional Wandering Monster tables. To adjust to the changed odds, of course, I have to roll about twice as often as I normally would. I also skip the d6 and just roll directly on the WanMo table for “triggered” checks like smashing apart furniture or noisy fighting among the party. I also occasionally use the d6 for other things, or to adjust the odds of Weird Crap happening – a deserted road in the middle of a plain is going to have a lot more encounters with random ruins, foul omens, or water sources than with other people/monsters, etc., so I might up it to 1-4 or 1-5 being on the “events” table, and only a 6 triggering a true check, or using the 6 as a trigger for a table of one-time encounters replacing some of the “usual” ones. Unique encounters that you re-roll can be replaced with the normal one at your option. You can also have one or more entries on the Creature table drawing from a local lair or “pool”, with a fixed number possible to encounter, and after that ignore the result or replace it with the corresponding event.

Anyway, my current procedure looks like this:
Roll d6 for encounters -> comes up positive
Grab 4/6/8 and check the tables -> find results
(Note: even when it’s a complete non-combat encounter like a gust of wind, I still follow these next two)
Throw a d6 for Surprise, and having the party’s scout do the same
Roll 2d6 for Reactions or Morale based on the party’s actions (if neither, both, or the party got Surprise) and/or appearance (if the critters did). Note that even a person with Surprise and a profoundly negative Reaction roll might still run or hide if it seems like a good idea compared to taking on a pack of heavily-armed murderhobos.
Encounter!

Here’s a sample table for a road through a moderately-traveled forest, with some notes added below:

Sample encounter table

* For omens: Take a quick card reading/roll off a manifestation, or make one up. Can also represent signs of a “sacred” or “cursed” area, a feeling of being watched or protected, etc. Yes, evil omens are more common. Life sucks.
Good Omens: Any hirelings will experience a +1 on morale for the rest of the day and all party members gain an additional point of HP resting that night.
Ill Omens: next Encounter will be a Creature on 2+ instead, and Unique on a 5+. Morale check for any followers, if failed they will refuse to continue
+ Shrines: Use Surprise roll to determine the size or type and the Reaction roll to determine compatibility of the shrine’s faith. Surprise die: 1, 2 = abandoned/ruinous : 3,4 = Maintained roadside shrine : 5 = Single Hermit : 6 = Monastery or Church.
[Examples of Pagan shrines could be stone circles (for a church), roadside offerings, or even Fairy Rings and burial mounds. ]
** Roll again on the Creatures table, and invent an appropriate sign of the potential encounter. If a Creature comes up on the next Encounter roll, disregard the result and replace it with this creature.

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Alpha Strike Battle Report

Hand still broken. Fun!

Nonetheless, my brother (ktforg, not one of the other 4..) was down from Seattle this week. We rolled up his character for the upcoming LotFP game, and I managed to get in another quickie test game of Alpha strike with him. Like a dumbass, I forgot to charge my phone before we left, so no pics of the game, although there are some of the materials. Forces were a Kurita Lance (Atlas -D, Dragon -1N, Panther -9R, Locust -1V) against the Steiner lace from a few posts back with a stock Marauder -3R swapped out for the Wolverine.

IMG_20131112_163551_181
Dramatis Personae. Yes, the Butcher is still incomplete. *sigh*

He took the Elsies and had a slight points advantage along with more access to Overheaters, but I had the only jumper. Even with the 3025 tech, it made for an interesting game. It ended up only taking about 40 minutes, and came down to some pretty tight dice rolls in the end. First blood went to him, with the Commando gutting my Locust with a backshot even as I missed one on his Marauder. Leter, his Banshee ate an ammo crit on the first point of struc damage and the Marauder overheated heavily on a gamble of a shot that failed. Meanwhile, my Dragon hung on with only one point of Struc left far longer than it should have, and the Atlas was down to two struc itself, but in the end I managed to punch the MAD to death and he was staring down a cripped-up Atlas and a virgin Panther with just a crippled COM-1D Commando (a weapons and a fire-control crit), so we called it.

Opinions:
• Adding in forced retreat rules would have made this game a 10-minute tie. The Atlas, MAD, Banshee, and Dragon would all have had to retreat long before they were lost, and the Banshee might well have survived without the Dragon pecking at its ass for three turns. The rules would be very harsh on Lights and mediums, however, and I think I’d revise it to “Half of their original structure or less remaining”. I’m now certain I could run some of the more gonzo missions in the old BT mission books in an afternoon with no problem at all (I’d have to add in some way of reflecting the busted-ass ‘Mechs in some of the scenarios, like that one Irregular with the no-rear-armor Rifleman or the poor girl with the prematurely firing Griffin).
• That -1E Locust is a whore to actually kill once it finds some woods to play in. I needed 4 turns of continuous fire to kill it, and it finally died to a charge from the Atlas rather than weapons fire (since the additional cover modifier didn’t apply at that point).
• On that note, Light mechs’ semi-abusive evasion advantage can be at least partially negated by melee. Since most only have 2 0r 3 armor, a TSM Medium with jets would likely be able to catch them and wreck their collective faces.
• The custom cards I made worked excellently: you can fit and track an entire Lance on a single 3×5 card, which beats the Hell out of the official cards. I need three for a Company instead of 12.Alpha Strike Cards

I’m starting to like AS for this:
IMG_20131112_161620_958
This is all I need to play a complete company-level game – a 5×8″ case and 3 3×5 cards, along with 12 paperclips.