Off-line for a couple days (also, Vance, and Wizards vs. Magic-users)

Heading out of town for a few days.
In the meantime, I’ve been reading me some Jack Vance – it’s amazing how many things, subtle things, that D&D jacked from him.

You hear “Vancian Magic” way too often in this hobby from people who don’t understand what it means. Yes, the disposable spells and imprisoning/memorizing them is Vance to the core.
It also implies a bunch of other shit. Research, experimentation, Lost Spells in the Dark and Weird places of the world, barely-controlled Tech and Nanotech. One of the reasons I’ve always had a problem with the 3x + (and even 2e to an extent) is that they simultaneously make research less-attractive/non-existent, and make magic too mundane.

See, a “Wizard” is different than a “Magic-User”. Magic-users, what the common folk call “wizard”, simply have magic. I’ve used several in the past that were 0-level NPCs and/or other classes, but had access to a magical tool, even a toy, or some internal mutation that gave them power.
A Magic-user is a deceptive bastard who uses fear and magic to keep himself off the pyre and serve his needs. Magic-users wield nothing more than a tool; they are laborers, not craftsmen, of Magic – and by 4e, they are all that remains.

(Reginald Balfour) This guy? Candles of Hypnosis and glasses that let him read any code. Boom - "Wizard".

(Reginald Balfour)
This guy? Candles of Hypnosis and glasses that let him read any code. Boom – “Wizard”.

Wizards and Magi, though? They almost understand magic, even are magic to some degree. A Wizard hunts power, knowledge, tools. He hoards as the Dragon, jealous of power, laboring to keep it hard by and thieve it from the less-worthy. A true Wizard does not have equals, but enemies, masters, inferiors, puppets; those with a hold on his soul or his power, and those who depend upon them. Wizards deceive, yes, but also play with Magic in a way a simple “user” never will.
Wizards study, and often die for, their Art – for a Wizard is an Artist, a Craftsman, a maker of Wonder.

The longer or more tightly-regulated the spell description (with limited exceptions), the closer you move to nothing but Magic-“Users”. When Grease stops conjuring a layer of bacon fat in an area and starts becoming “You can but make someone slip, or disarm them”, a Wizard isn’t the only one who loses out.
The entire game feels the hurt, for creativity and “breaking the rules” with magic are the very substance of the fairy tales and sagas we draw from.
More importantly, these acts should be part of the stories we write on our own every time we hit the table. Our tales are of finding wealth and creeping under the weight of dread, exultation and mourning, and above all being clever gits who do what we shouldn’t with every tool we have, because that’s the way Humanity works. It’s what we’ve done ever since we rejected the Garden, and it’s our fucking inheritance right alongside the weight of Adam’s Curse.
The Game shouldn’t be an endless walk down a barren corridor, whose seamless and indestructible walls lead into an unbranching infinity forever interrupted with doors, should not consist of hunting for the one and only key on our collective belt that will fit this lock.

Branch the corridor, tear down the walls. Give your players toys, not just tools; marvel at what they make of broad, Weird powers instead of simple rayguns and a really big sack they fill with FPS-style first-aid kits.

John_William_Waterhouse_-_Magic_Circle

(From John William Waterhouse)
When’s the last time one of your PCs had to do this to use a magic item?

LotFP Crowdfunding Review #4: “Forgive Us”

As promised, here’s the full review for Kelvin Green’s adventure Forgive Us. Since this is one I’ve actually played, I’m going to include commentary from my players as well as my own; since I had to adapt it directly to my campaign, I’ll also add in notes on the conversions and the tools I used. This will be relatively spoiler-free: if you want more details, check the session reports (here and here). Note that I haven’t run the secondary adventures yet.

The full module is available here.

Overall Rating: 8/10
In essence, this is a One-Page Dungeon (or rather, a series of them) writ large, by a master of the form. Mr. Green’s expertise shines through in the tight and easy-reading/playing prose. On the opposite side of that equation, some elements (mostly information about secondary NPCs and magic items) were neglected in that focus on clarity and simplicity. There are a few minor playability issues; a map error, a mystery with one vague clue which can stone-wall the party. The flavor and mood, however, more than make up for them.
The main adventure in Forgive Us (formerly Horror Among Thieves) is fun, fast, and brutal. The location is flavorful, with an evocative and consistent theme. The treasures are engaging, the traps make sense, and the final moments will likely make your players brown their collective trou.
On that note, my parties are careful and heavily-armed – but this is a seriously threatening adventure. If you run it as-written, it will definitely give a 4th-level party a hard run for their money – as long as you can keep the PCs from leaving the location. Fortunately, it’s almost certainly going to pull them in tight until they hit the bitter end.

But don’t just take my word for it, listen to my players:
(The Doctor): “That.. was the most Metal game of D&D I’ve ever played”, “Silver makes a man rich. Nice furniture makes him feel wealthy.”, “At first, when I found out what that d20 was for, I was miffed I hadn’t rolled a second. About 30 seconds later, I was really glad”.
(The Archaeologist): “The details were wonderfully consistent.. and the maps were just detailed enough but not too detailed”
(The Fighter): “Murderous”.
(The hireling Henchman): “I got class levels!”

The next two adventures are shorter (or much longer, depending on how the PCs react). Both can be used to great effect when the party returns to one of their old haunts. Indeed, it seems almost like both were written for a DM who’s saying, “Well, they’ve gone back to that first town from 3 levels ago.. now what?”
In Heaven, Everything is Fine is well-suited as a hex-crawl element or special encounter; a contained area with a simple but cleverly-disguised problem the PCs can fix. To use it, however, you will need either to generate a large number of NPCs, or cannibalize an existing “village” adventure or NPC portfolio supplement. It has a fantastically set-up series of Weird encounters that should keep your players skittish but interested.
Death and Taxes is more of an encounter or political scheme than an “adventure” per se. It resolves an NPC’s story arc and adds a Nemesis to the party’s roster of enemies. Treasure per se is limited, but the loot is excellent. To engage the PCs, it depends entirely on the players’ fondness for an NPC (which it kills off-screen). It’s not exactly an appropriate module to run early on, or for the seriously hacky-slashy crowd.

All three adventures also contain many nods to Hammer Horror or its descendents, and a few tributes to other classic films or roleplaying products.

Detailed breakdown under the jump.

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Some Generators I wrote (LotFP, Magic-users)

The kindly folks over at Last Gasp Grimoire have created a random generator maker (you don’t know how hard it was not to type “generated a generator for generating generators”..), and I have availed myself of same.

Click the following 2 links to generate:
A name for your (presumedly foul) Wizardly organization*
&
The Spells which they teach to initiates
(or, “what spells your first-level Mage doesn’t have to seize from others”).+
EDIT: These links break WordPress (one contains over 1000 entries..). Go to the 7th order page and look for “wizardly schools” under “names” and “Random 1st-level Spell Generator (LotFP)” under “Spells”

*”–” means “nothing”, and (and?) is an optional element. Skip it when writing down the name if it makes sense.

+Wizards may choose one spell in addition to those generated: if a spell is doubled in the generator, they may either memorize it without access to spellbooks, or select an additional spell. It’s weighted to always provide at least one each of an attack and non-combat spell, although my definitions of either might be.. debatable. It uses spells from the Spell Contest booklet**, Gingerbread Princess, Better than Any Man**, and God that Crawls. If you don’t have one of the above, make something up.

** These two are PWYW/Free, so you have no excuse :b

Have fun, and poke around – there’s a lot of entertaining stuff in there already.

“The Forgotten” Session 3 (Actual Play!)

Continuing on from Sunday’s session..
Damn, this got ugly. If it weren’t for the henchman sacrificing her armor, the services of a (startlingly tolerant) wizard, and the blessings of Buckshot, the party would be dead right now. As-is, several of them are permanently scarred physically and all of them mentally. God I love this job. (From one of my rogues: “That was the most Metal game of D&D I’ve ever played”.)

As you may recall, I’m running the new module Forgive Us”, by Kelvin Green (Full review coming tomorrow, after I have time to digest it all). Spoilers after the break.

We left our “heroes” as they released a competing party’s magic-user (bound and gagged) to his fate in the dhimmi quarter of Tangiers. It was now 12:30, and they had about 5 1/2 hours until sunset and the probable seizure of their ship..

—————-Here be spoilage————–

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“The Forgotten” Session 2: Delicate Negotiations.

Or, “There is no such thing as a Diplomacy Crowbar”.
AKA, “I’ve got three fluid ounces of Diplomacy right here.”

In this session, I ran the first half of Forgive Us, albeit heavily Arabicised. Spoilers coming up after the fold. I used various random generators on Abulafia  (link goes to the primary one) for the quick name changes, and changed the tavern to a whorehouse, but kept almost the entirety of the module intact.

On returning from their revels, the party were met on the deck by Sailmaster Miguel, who revealed:
• the party’s contacts were nowhere to be found
• they had 5 tons of liquor on board in a Dry port
• And the bribe to the customs inspectors would expire at sundown.
The party quickly agreed to head to the local smuggler’s den and investigate. They found the location abandoned, with a strange blue flag flying from the warehouse, and the locals mostly surly. Mostly…

[Hence there be spoilers and shit]——————————————
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LotFP Expanded Firearms rules table (House Rules)

I put together tables for my firearms rules today, as part of another campaign booklet I’ve made. It’s also going to be good for making my own DM screen/ref sheets. The folio is stalled until I catch up with Raggi on the matter of open content, but is currently in a releasable condition.
Small arms tables

The Good Ship (insert name here) (New LotFP Ship types, campaign stuff)

Next session is Sunday. Huzzah! I’ll be doing some bookkeeping, then running Forgive Us. Review to follow.

New rules after the break.

As you may recall, my players capped a ship, and I figured I’d stat her out here. The characters plan to rename her. Incidentally, the Lamentations rules make ship’s tonnage of cargo and crews hilariously inflated compared to their historical counterparts, so bear that in mind as you read this.

S.S. St. Yvette (Portugese registry)
Low-quality Caravel
2-masted, lateen-rigged* (ignores first 25% of positive or negative wind effects)
Speed: 60 nm / day (can still sail ~15m/day directly into the wind)

Arms: 3 swivel guns* (4 mounts on sterncastle, 1 mount forward), one light cannon (currently tied amidships facing to starboard).
11 barrels powder, 13 5-lb shot, 21 1-lb shot, + 1 hundredweight of lead, crew armaments. 3 metal breeches for each swivel gun.
Cargo: 40t, including ~5t hidden compartment (5t liquor, 15t grain).
Crew: 15 + 2 officers (monthly upkeep: 950 sp, 3 shares for sailors: 1 share, 100 sp for Master of Sail. Ship’s surgeon is a PC.)
Marines: currently 5 (1 additional full share, if combat encountered)
SHP: 20 max, currently @ 16 (repairing in port)

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Most bummed

Gary’s, my favorite store in Seattle, is closing down. It hurts to see one of the few communities that made me feel at home up there dying – especially since I wasn’t able to go back this year to defend my Pinewood Derby title (see this post).
They’re having a sale to pick over the bones, not sure how long it’ll last.
Blargh.

…I’ve been working on a review of “Forgive Us“, but I’m actually able to integrate it into the next session for my gaming group (change the city to Tangiers and run the names through a randomizer..), so that’ll have to wait.

In Honor of Dinner (Recipe: Rum and Ginger Pork)

Yeah, sometimes I post recipes. I should set up a secondary blog, but then I’d have to, like, write more of them down..

I’ve been trying to pull off a rum’n’coke/ginger entree for a while. I finally stumbled on a way to simulate the sweetness of the soda without having to actually use it (it tends to either saturate food without adding flavor, or burn to the pan, and the added acidity often throws off the flavor). Tart-ish apples had the right mix of sugar and acid without doing weird things when heated.

Rum & Ginger Stew
Takes ~45 minutes.

Ingredients:
per lb. of pork (steaks or chunks):
1/4 C Rum
1/4 C water
~1t smoked salt (you can sub out for about 3/4t of regular salt and a 1/2t of smoked paprika)
~1T ground or finely minced fresh ginger
2-4 medium-sized, tart apples. They don’t have to be pretty; this is a good way to use up bruised or blemished ones. Also, try to get ones that aren’t grainy the way “Delicious” varietals usually are.
Optional: ~1/2t of granulated garlic

You’ll get about 2 servings out of a pound, depending on how fatty the pork is.

Tools:
I did this in a 10″ cast-iron skillet, but any heavy pan with a lid should give you similar results. Other than that, you’ll need a sharp knife, cutting board, tongs or a spatula, and maybe a mortar and pestle.

Prep:
• Peel, chop, and grind your ginger down in the mortar. It helps to rinse out the mortar with some of your water/rum mix. You can also mince it finely and smash it on your cutting board with the handle of the knife. Scoop it all into a bowl big enough to hold the apples as well.
• Core and chop apples roughly. Don’t worry about oxidation or making it look pretty, these are going to turn into apple butter later. Toss them with the ginger and a bit of the rum/water to get the flavors steeping.
• Trim the fat off the pork steaks. Just go for major deposits, small bits are fine. If you don’t, there’s going to be too much lard in your apples to eat them..

Cooking:
• Heat pan to medium-high, then sear off the pork (I cut mine into 1/2″ steaks, and they took roughly a minute per side). Sprinkle each side with the salt and (if using) garlic or paprika after the sear finishes. (This will pull out the juices for the next step, as well as keeping the smoky flavor more in the meat and less in the sauce).
• Cut heat back to medium-low (about 2-3). Immediately add the remaining rum and water to the pan. Stand back, it’ll steam like a mother. That steam will also be intensely alcoholic, but the 50/50 mix with water will keep it from flaring up. (What you’re doing here is not just adding liquid. You’re also cooling the pan, shocking the browned juices off the bottom of it, and adding steam to help cook the pork more thoroughly. )
• As soon as the liquid in the pan stops boiling violently (should only be a few seconds), dump in the apple/ginger mixture, trying to get as much as possible of it into contact with the pan.
• Cover immediately.
• Simmer slowly, turning the pork over at least once. Stir the apples as well, making sure any intact chunks make it under the waterline. You’re done once the apples have broken down (about 30 minutes).
• Kill the heat and uncover, letting the meat rest in the hot pan for another 5-10 minutes (At this point, it’s not only re-absorbing its own juices, but some of the flavored stewing liquid as well. The last of the alcohol is evaporating at the same time).
• If you’ve done it right, there should be little to no liquid remaining at this point. Remove the pork to a shallow dish, then scrape out the delicious, delicious applesauce onto the side. Pour any remaining juices over the pork.
For future testing:
I think I’m going to try this as an oven stew with rum, pineapple and a little coconut milk next; obviously, with that much acid, it’d need to be in glass.