Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Facts about Odd Alley and Weird Way

Odd Alley and Weird Way were created by Gary Gygax as an inter dimensional nexus-point and goblin market. “The Strange Occurrence on Odd Alley” was announced by Gary in Dragon #102 as a story scheduled for publication in the May 1986 issue of Amazing Stories magazine, but it did not appear there, and instead was first published in the 1987 collection Night Arrant, under a slightly different title - “A Weird Occurrence in Odd Alley.” Odd Alley and Weird Way also existed in the Greyhawk Campaign:  Rob Kuntz (as Robilar) adventured and found a ring of spell turning there in late 1973. The potential for use of these locations in D&D games is huge, so I felt it was worth collecting all of the facts about them from the story for myself and others to use as a baseline towards creating our own versions:

Odd Alley is located in the Old City of Greyhawk. It is so difficult to locate that most citizens of the metropolis are unaware of its existence. Its head is blocked by an old, rusted locked iron gate that is shunned by all living creatures. Knocking, banging, and pounding will not open the gate and magic also doesn’t affect it. 

There are several business establishments and dwellings in the alley, none of which have back doors or even back windows onto the area behind the gate:
  • A junk shop (run by a miserly old half-elf named Scriggin)
  • A used clothing store
  • Freedle’s Librarium
  • A potter’s booth
  • The Sunken Grotto Tavern (near the gate)
  • A money changer’s stall
  • Green Wulfurt’s apothecary
  • The crazy limner’s place
  • Zreed’s Antiquary (nearest the mouth)
  • An old warehouse and stable (at the mouth of the alley across from Zreed’s)

A barely-noticeable passageway near the Sunken Grotto Tavern leads to the other side of the gate, which is also locked. 

A special coin-shaped token of unrecognizable metal with a hand on one face and a rectangle on the other, when placed against the gate with the hand-side up causes it to glow phosphorescent, shimmer, and then disappear, opening a mist-filled passage that leads to Weird Way. Once passed through, the gate closed behind the travelers and cannot be opened by the same token. [There is a method of passing back through the gate, but it is never explained in the story - likely because Gary intended to continue using this location in his games and didn’t want to make things too easy for potential future players.]

Weird Way is wide, curving cobblestone street about 1,000 feet long, well lit by torches, lanthorns, and glowing globes at night. 

The following locations are found in Weird Way (none have rear exits; most have apartments on upper floors with dovecotes and small gardens - from the rooftops can be seen a wall of impenetrable, colorless nothingness surrounding Weird Way through which only sunlight penetrates):

Left side of the street:
  1. Dome of Delights: A beehive-shaped structure with a sign depicting a buxom young lady (brothel)
  2. Achmut's Cut-rate Carpets: Across from the Tower Tavern and Count Joseph's Emporium of the Unusual.
  3. Pagoda of Pools: The department for extraplanar travel to the upper, lower, and other outer planes. 
  4. Juxort's Charts and Maps: A shop to the left of the gate.
  5. Wonders of the World: A shop to the left of the gate, next to Juxort's.
  6. The Helix: An exclusive club. Entered through a plain doorway off the Way separated from the street by a two-story wall. The building is throne shaped with low wings and a tower in the middle; the central garden patio has a fountain. Guarded antechamber leads to a wide spiral stair to a grand salon on the second floor. A transporter in one of the turrets leads to Rel Mord - a block of gneiss activated by a disc of reddish metal.
  7. The Explorer's Inn: Has two dining areas - a members’ salon and a general parlor - plus a common room with a well-stocked bar. Lies at the end of Weird Way just before the plaza. Provides a service to allow its customers to chronogate through time and unusual probability lines. Filled with potted flowers and shrubs, and trophies (curios and hunting souvenirs) line the walls, are displayed in cases and are atop every surface. The floor is of worn narrow-sawn oak, with wainscotted walls and smoke-blackened ceiling beams.

Right side of the street:
  1. Tower Tavern: Across from the Dome of Delights and Achmut's Cut-rate Carpets.
  2. Count Joseph's Emporium of the Unusual: Across from the Dome of Delights and Achmut's Cut-rate Carpets. Count Joseph is a tall, pear-shaped man of indeterminate age wearing powdered wig. He loves to haggle and buys and sells treasures of the multiverse - Yeogorian door-knockers, Staffordshire Toby mugs, etc. He pays in domars (from Gamma World - “small, lightweight coin, inlaid with colors and symbols denoting various denominations; nearly indestructible and impossible to counterfeit”), sequins (from Planet of Adventure), scrip, credits, iridium, jotellium in addition to metal coins of strange and unidentifiable minting. He is possibly in league with Plincourt (q.v.).
  3. Pavilion of Portals: Has broad double doors, a wide portico running the entire length of the long plastered building, strange columns, a tent-like roof and tower tops, and draped windows and entrance. It is cool and dim inside, where broad endless marble-walled and tile-floored corridors are tended by a gnome wearing red and saffron tailored  livery with puffs and slashes revealing flashes of contrasting colors. The corridors lead to gates identified by sigils which will send those who traverse them to parallel prime planes such as Yarth and Aerth - but not to Oerth, which is considered too dangerous and uncivilized, or other inhospitable planes or dead-end dimensions. Fees for passage are charged in credits, domars, and standard precious metals. 
  4. Abner Grontny the Outfitter: A shop to the right of the gate, across from Juxort's
  5. The Arms Exchange: A shop to the right of the gate, across from Wonders of the World.
  6. Elixirs from Everywhere: A shop to the right of the gate, near Abner Grotny’s and the Arms Exchange.
  7. Multiversal Armorer: Lies at the end of Weird Way, just before the plaza, across from the Explorer's Inn.

Faire Market: The walled plaza at the end of the alley is 300 feet deep by 600 feet broad. It is lined by booths and stalls that are bustling by day but deserted at night. There are no other exits from the plaza except to Weird Way.
  • "Rare Wine at Bargain Prices": A maroon and citrine-draped booth in the Faire Market that sells wines including Yugharian Purple and vintage wines from Earth.
  • Sogil the Gemner: A gem/jewelry store located at the end of Faire Market. Sogil is old, bald, skinny, doddering, and fearful and wears an enchanted protective brooch.
  • Hostel of Ineffable Comfort: Located at the end of Faire Market. Run by Huskons and the night manager Plincourt, a vampire. The first floor is a narrow lobby, richly furnished with displayed artwork, thick carpet, and a counter of rosewood to the right of the entrance. Offers drinks, meals, clothes-mending and tailoring, and the Gedrusian exotic dancers. Rooms are on the second floor: an expensive suite -   the Burke and Hare Suite with padded canopy beds, and a cramped one, the Bates Complex, plus ordinary rooms. There is a 3’ wide secret passage behind the rooms with spiral stairs to a secret room in the cellar behind the hinged back of an old cupboard in a storeroom with a cistern in the floor. A kitchen, refectory, and office - with a small table and box of coins, notes, and bills - are on the top floor. The Hostel employs Yagbo, a porter who carts luggage to the Hostel in his spiked wheelbarrow. He is a raggedy, stooped and bent creature with greasy hair but is very big and strong. He blows a whistle to warn pedestrians out of the way of his cart. Yagbo and an accomplice (Lou) use the secret passage and sleep poison (breathing the fumes knocks the victim out for 1-2 hours) to capture patrons for Plincourt to feed upon and then dispose of the bodies in the cistern. 
  • The Fragrant Blossom: A tea house in Faire Market near the Hostel.
  • At least six other places are at the far end of the Faire Market.

Weird Way is crowded with people from across the Flanaess (Dyvers, Ket and the West, Nyrond) as well as from many other worlds including Aerth and Yarth, civilized ogre magi, blue-skinned people with green hair and eyes, dwarfs, furry-faced humanoids with purple eyes, etc. A few pass through the portal from Odd Alley, but most enter and exit via the other portals.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Heroic Legendarium By The Numbers

As I inch closer to completion of The Heroic Legendarium and have gotten to the point where the contents are pretty much finalized (I just need to finish writing up the details on a few of them) I thought it would be fun to take a look at what the final book is actually going to contain. I know I'm biased but I really do feel like this is going to be a significant enhancement to the Original Advanced Edition game, both by resolving a lot of problem areas that were left open when design priorities abruptly shifted gears in 1986, and by continuing to expand and develop the original creative vision of the game, adopting new content and ideas in a manner consistent with the conceptual and aesthetic framework of what came before. Now I just need to finish writing (and procure some art...)

New PC races: 4 (cat-blooded, dhampir, dragon-blooded, half-ogre)

New PC classes: 4 (mystic, savant, mountebank, jester)

Substantially revised PC classes: 5 (cavalier, barbarian, acrobat, monk, bard)

Expanded PC characteristics: 4 (social class, birth order, appearance, secondary skills)

New PC characteristics: 3 (joss, knacks & quirks, focused energy activation techniques)

New weapons: 19

New equipment items: 41

New spells: 171 (20 for mystics, 55 for savants, 96 for bards)

Essays and procedural expansions: 7 (hiring men-at-arms, wilderness adventures, adventures in other planes, combat procedure, common locations in towns, deities & clerics, territory development and domain management)

New magic items: 32

New monsters: 40

Topics of miscellaneous expansions, clarifications, and revisions: 22 (demi-human movement rates, halfling characteristics, wild elves, druids, weapon specialization, cantrips, thief skill specialization, high and low value currency types, container capacities, weapon characteristics, mounted combat, casting spells in armor, use of spell books and holy symbols, spell corrections, psionics, falling damage, missile fire, reach advantage, space requirements, racial preferences, random treasure in dungeons, monster characteristics)

Pages: 144 (est.)

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Reminder: Plagiarizing other people's stuff = still not cool

A few months ago Gabor Lux wrote a blog post about how some other publishers had "borrowed" some of his creations. "Wow, that sucks," I thought. Alas, yesterday, another example showed up way closer to home.

Anthony Huso is a blogger and publisher at https://www.thebluebard.com whose material has always been of interest to me because he's one of the few "OSR" folks whose interests line up closely with mine, which is to say Gygax-style AD&D with a particular focus on the more complex and heavily-flavored material he produced in the 80s: the rules additions from Unearthed Arcana and the World of Greyhawk boxed set, the details on the planes buried within those books and the Monster Manual II, and so forth. He's one of the only other people I know of in the online D&D fandom scene who leans into the "Advanced" moniker to embrace and explore the complexity and distinctive flavor of that version of the game rather than trying to water down or pave over it.

So, it was with some interest that I saw a new post from him about the bard class, famously an oddball outlier that was consigned to an optional appendix in the rules and was intended to be replaced in its entirety in the second edition of AD&D that Gygax announced but never completed (just as it was in the second edition of AD&D that TSR did release in his absence). That blog post links to a separate page on his site with his detailed set of house rules for bards that includes, intriguingly, an entire new repertoire of 47 new spells for bards based on songs, replacing the AD&D bard's less flavorful use of druid spells. After all, my own set of AD&D house rules that I released in 2016 - the AD&D Companion (which I've temporarily pulled from distribution while I'm revising and expanding it into the OSRIC/OGL-compliant Heroic Legendarium - coming soon, I swear!) - does the same thing, inspired by the treatment of "Spellsongs" in Gary Gygax and Dave Newton's post-TSR rpg Dangerous Journeys: Mythus.

Looking at the list of bard songs on that page, I was immediately struck by several familiar spell names - Darting Dags Adagio, Arrow-storm Aire, Fogveil Barcarolle, Safe-sleep Aria, etc. These are all spellsongs from Gygax and Newton's Mythus Magick that I adapted into AD&D spells (i.e. completely rewrote from a substantially different game-system) in my Companion (and have modified further, including name-changes, for the Legendarium). Cool, I thought. He's doing the same thing I did. I wonder how his versions compare to mine. Or maybe it wasn't a case of parallel inspiration and he's just using my versions. That would be kind of uncool to do without notifying me or giving me some kind of acknowledgment or shout-out beyond a very non-specific and squishy "Many of the songs are my own creation, some might be edited versions of songs made by people on the internet.  I honestly don't remember." But hey, even if a dozen or so out of his 47 new spells are "borrowed" without acknowledgment, that's still okay. It shows he must have liked them enough to want to re-use them, right?

Well, when I took a closer look at the page today, I discovered that in fact it went just a bit further than that: as it turns out, all but 6 of there 47 "new" spells are lifted straight out of my book. A lot of them are renamed, some of them have some modifications or additions (e.g. his "Wild Chanson," renamed from my "Forestfriend Couplet," includes a d10 table of typical animals that can be summoned by the song), but for 41 of the 47 spells the bulk of the details and specific wording of the descriptions are a direct and exact copy and paste from my work. For example, here's my "Revitalize Paen" spell:
Revitalize Paen (Necromantic)
Level: 2 Components: V, S, M  
Range: 1" Casting Time: 1 round 
Duration: Special Saving Throw: None
Area of Effect: One subject per level of the caster 
Explanation/Description: This song restores physical vitality, enery, and alertness to as many subjects as the caster is able to affect. It negates magically-induced sleepiness, drowsiness, fatigue, and/or weakness and otherwise refreshes its listeners to an extent equal to a full night’s sleep after eight rounds of singing (though no damage is healed by this song, nor is the rest sufficient to allow spell casters to refresh their spells).

Compare to his "First Call Refrain":

First Call Refrain  (Necromantic) 
Level: 2                             Components: V, S, M
Range: 1"                          Casting Time: 1 round
Duration: Special                Saving Throw: None
Area of Effect: One subject per level of the caster

Explanation/Description: This song restores physical vitality, energy, and alertness to as many subjects as the caster can affect. It negates magically-induced sleepiness, drowsiness, fatigue, and/or weakness and otherwise refreshes its listeners to an extent equal to a full nightʼs sleep after eight rounds of singing—though no actual damage is healed by this song, nor is the rest sufficient to allow spell casters to refresh their spells).
And for completeness' sake here also is the original version from Gygax and Newton's Mythus Magick that I adapted:
Revitalize Paen Spell (Casting Grade III): 
Time: Special                          Other Heka Costs: 
Area: 1 subject/10 STEEP           R&D: Nil 
Distance: 1 rod                            Other: Nil 
E/F/M: Immediately upon completion of this activation singing, the Effect of the Spell's dweomer restores Physical vitality, energy, and alertness to as many subjects as the spell singer is able to affect thus. It negates magickally or otherwise Heka-induced sleepiness, drowsiness, fatigue and/or weakness. If the subject or subjects are not so affected, the vocalization of this Paen refreshes them to an extent equal to a full nights sleep, for singing equal to merely eight Battle Turns Time, although damage is not healed through this dweomer, nor is Heka regained thus.
Yes, I adapted my spell directly from this one, and tried to match its effects as closely as possible given the differences in rules and terminology between the two systems, even down to retaining the embarrassing misspelling of "Paean" as "Paen" (now corrected in the Legendarium draft!), but there is no chance that Huso independently adapted his spell from the same source and came up with exact same wording I did. And even if by some chance he did it once, he certainly did not do it over and over again, 41 out of 47 times (and I did my comparison quickly - the total might actually be 42 or 43 out of 47). There's really no other possible explanation than that this guy took material that was about 85% mine, made a few very minor edits and modifications to it, and posted it on his site claiming it as his own. Which is plagiarism, and a shitty thing to do, especially in a community as small as this one. Admittedly, I wasn't selling this material for money (though the revised version will be) and neither is he, but if anything I feel that makes proper crediting even more important, since peer-recognition and esteem is the only thing in this for either of us, and that's what he's illegitimately claiming by plagiarizing my work.

If he had reached out to me and said he wanted to revise my stuff and post it on his site with acknowledgment, I'd not only have happily agreed to it, I'd have been flattered - that one of the people whose work I admire and feel like is on the same stylistic and aesthetic page as me liked something of mine enough to want to use it. Something like “these spells are mostly adapted from work by Trent Foster (https://mystical-trash-heap.blogspot.com) whose site is well worth a visit for fans of the same flavor of AD&D discussed here” would have been totally fine with me, and made me really happy because it would've shown that the Gygax-flavored wing of the OSR was growing into a self-reinforcing community building on each other's work to not only preserve but expand that version of the game, which is what I've been hoping for ever since I started talking about the game with my fellow enthusiasts at Dragonsfoot back around the turn of the century.

But not only did he not do that, he didn't even have the decency to remain silent on the subject of stealing my stuff. Instead, he wrote "Many of the songs are my own creation, some might be edited versions of songs made by people on the internet.  I honestly don't remember." The first sentence is a flat-out lie: at most 6 out of 47 spells are his creation - everything else came from me (adapted from Gygax and Newton: with a key difference being that my book is very transparent and explicit about where and from whom I did my adapting) - and if the second sentence is true it makes the whole thing worse by adding such a flagrantly disrespectful insult on top of the injury. He obviously liked my stuff well enough to keep it, edit it, and post it as his own work, so he could at the very least have had the common decency to remember who he stole it from.

So, just as a reminder in case anyone else needs it: plagiarizing someone else's material and claiming it as your own is not cool. And plagiarizing someone else's material and claiming its as your own while also saying "I may have plagiarized a little bit of this from someone, but if so it's so unimportant I can't even remember" is really not cool. If you think something you're about to post and claim as your own work may have actually been stolen from someone else, either have the decency to check and make sure or don't post it. It's really not a difficult proposition.

EDIT: In the comments below Anthony responded with an apology, and has also appended one to his blog post and removed the link to the house-rule document with all the spells. That's a happy ending, and it's refreshing to see someone step up and admit a mistake like that rather than aggressively double-down on it the way people on the internet usually do. I'm glad he and his players are enjoying the spells and will take it as a de facto endorsement for The Heroic Legendarium :)


Saturday, October 19, 2019

Another holiday treat

In the same spirit as my last post, here's another preview of content that will eventually appear in The Heroic Legendarium that seems to capture that creepy Halloween-season vibe. This was originally drafted as an encounter area in a dungeon,  but in Gygaxy fashion I realized I could generalize it into a class of monster. There's some conceptual weirdness here that all makes sense in my mind, but I might not have explained clearly. Comments letting me know if you are or aren't able to follow the description here are welcome.

MIRROR-FIEND

FREQUENCY: Very rare
NO. APPEARING: 1-3
ARMOR CLASS: 4
MOVE: 12
HIT DICE: 4+3
% IN LAIR: 100%
TREASURE TYPE: D
NO. OF ATTACKS: 3
DAMAGE/ATTACK: 1 – 4/1 –4/1-10
SPECIAL ATTACKS: See below
SPECIAL DEFENSES: Silver or magic weapons to hit
MAGIC RESISTANCE: Standard
INTELLIGENCE: Very
ALIGNMENT: Chaotic evil
SIZE: M
PSYCHIC ABILITY: Nil
Attack/Defense Modes: Nil/nil
LEVEL/X.P. VALUE: V/ 320 + 5/hp

These nightmarish creatures dwell in non-dimensional space and are only able to access the Prime Material Plane when two mirrors are set up in direct opposition to as to create an endless series of reflections. When such a conjunction is created there is a 5% chance per turn that a group of mirror-fiends will be drawn to it. If so, they will initially appear in the 12th reflection deep (which is typically the very limit of where any detail can be made out by an individual standing before the mirrors) of one mirror or the other, though if more than one mirror-fiend is encountered some may appear in each mirror. When they first appear, someone looking into the mirror only has a 5% chance to notice their presence, but each round they will move 1-3 panes closer, and with each pane the chance of noticing them increases by 10% (so they will always be noticed in the first or second reflection). Moving, covering, or breaking either mirror (or plunging the area into total darkness) will prevent the fiend from approaching, but if the mirrors are again aligned within one hour the fiends will still be there, in the pane they had last reached. Otherwise, they will wander off and a new check will be made to see if a different fiend appears when and if the mirrors are realigned.

While within the reflections, mirror-fiends cannot interact with the reflections of the characters and cannot be affected by individuals in the Prime Material Plane unless they are able to reach into either the Ethereal Plane or non-dimensional space. If the fiends reach the first reflection, they can climb through the mirror into the Prime Material Plane, where they can both attack and be attacked. They will typically attempt to grapple opponents - if both claws hit the victim suffers no damage but is held fast and can only escape by means of a successful bend bars check, or a successful counter-grapple or attack (both made at -2 “to hit” and, in the latter case, limited to a knife, dagger, or similarly small weapon as the character’s arms are held). The next round following a successful grappling attempt, the mirror-fiend will lift its victim and climb back into the mirror. The fiends will usually carry victims back to them lair in the 13th reflection - passing through 1-3 reflections per round - and will then devour them with their oversized and razor-sharp teeth.

Each reflection-space looks identical to the Prime Material Plane space being reflected except that (1) any reflected beings are only silent images that cannot be interacted with, and (2) the space only exists in the area that is included in the reflection plus a few feet beyond in each direction, beyond which is pure black non-dimensional space. Beings within the reflection only appear in the reflection in which they are located, not any of the others and can only be communicated with via telepathy or similar means. If the mirrors are taken out of alignment, covered, broken, or plunged into  while a character is within the reflection then that character is trapped in non-dimensional space unless he or she has some means of traveling across planes. If the character does not move and the reflection-pattern is recreated exactly then he or she will still be present in the reflection when it reappears. Otherwise, the character will be forever lost in non-dimensional space (with perhaps a miniscule random chance of wandering into another reflection-pattern, or perhaps into the back end of a portable hole).

Even if a character who has been dragged into the mirror manages to slay the mirror-fiend, they will still face a considerable challenge returning to the Prime Material Plane, for they cannot cross through mirrors (nor can they break or move them in the reflection-space). Unless the character has some means of traveling across planes, the only ways to get back to the Prime Material Plane are (1) to force or convince a mirror-fiend to carry them, or (2) to cover him or herself with the blood of a freshly slain mirror-fiend. Each mirror-fiend has sufficient blood (a nasty-smelling, sticky black ichor) to cover up to three human-sized individuals and their possessions, but the blood only retains its potency for three turns after the mirror-fiend is slain. A blood-coated individual can pass through one reflection-level per round. If the character wasn’t keeping count it may be a matter of trial and error how many reflection-levels they must pass through to reach the Prime Material Plane, and if there are no companions there to serve as an anchor, it may not be immediately obvious which layer is actually the correct one until they try to move beyond the reflection-area.

Mirror-fiends’ treasure is always stored in their lair on the 13th reflection-level. While this lair can be reached by following the reflections in both directions from the Prime Material Plane, there is only one lair, not two. If two or more characters have entered their lair from opposite directions at the same time they will end up in the same place and temporarily can return to the Prime Material Plane in either direction, unless all of them leave in the same direction.

Mirror-fiends communicate with each other telepathically and do not speak or make any noise.

Description: These creatures generally appear as a distorted, horrible version of the individual(s) looking into the mirrors in which they dwell - their flesh is pallid, their teeth and fingernails sharp, and their eyes featureless and black. Their true, natural form is as thin and gray-skinned humanoids with sharp talons, oversized jaws and pointed teeth, and stringy white hair, but this form is only likely to ever be visible to an individual with true seeing or similar ability.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Three seasonally-appropriate magic items

As work continues on the Heroic Legendarium one of the additions I've made to balance the material I cut is about 30 new magic items. Looking over these, I realized that at least a few of them are seasonally appropriate to Halloween, in a way that would both make for a nice post here to remind people that this blog still exists, and also a preview of things to come once the new book is released, of the 40% or so of the final page count that will be made up of new, original material that wasn't in the previous version. So, without any further ado:

Animated Puppet: This wooden puppet stands 30 inches tall, but can be folded to fit inside a 1’ x 1’ x 6” box, which is how it is most likely to initially be found. If detected, the puppet radiates an aura of alteration magic. A command word is carved onto the back of the puppet’s head in magical runes. If spoken, the puppet animates and will follow the orders of its master, with the following stats: MV 15, AC 4, HD 2+4, hp 20, #AT 2 or 1, dmg 1-2/1-2 or by weapon, SA hide in shadows 75%, SD +1 or better weapon to hit, immune to piercing and blunt damage and mind-affecting spells (but see below), susceptible to normal fire, +1 dmg/die from magical fire. The puppet can wield a knife or dagger in each hand with no penalty, may throw knives, daggers, darts, or throwing stars, or may wield a larger melee weapon (up to shortsword size) two-handed. The puppet follows the orders it is given unfailingly to the best of its ability, however, every time it is activated there is a cumulative 5% chance that it will become alive and free-willed, in which case its Intelligence score is determined by a roll of 2d6+6 and its alignment is determined as follows:

1 lawful good
2 neutral good
3 chaotic good
4 lawful neutral
5-6 neutral
7 chaotic neutral
8 lawful evil
9 neutral evil
0 chaotic evil

The now-living puppet has complete memories of its former pre-life, and depending on how its alignment corresponds with that of its owner it may continue to serve, may attempt to escape, or may plot to murder its former master. To any of those ends, the puppet may choose not to reveal its new status, as even after it comes to life the puppet does not breathe or require food or water, and can remain perfectly still for as long as it chooses.

Puzzle Box: Only six of these objects are known to exist in the multiverse. They were created in eons past by infernal beings, originally as protectors for their soul objects, but may hold other treasures by now. Each puzzle box is a 1’ cube of meteoric metal chased with intricate inlays and patterns - each box is unique in design and distinct in appearance from the others. All of them radiate alteration magic and strong evil if detected. 

The box is opened by twisting and shifting parts of the box in order to arrange the pattern in such a manner to unlock the box. Because of the complexity and intricacy of the pattern, finding the correct combination of moves is extremely difficult and requires three rolls of the character attempting to open the box’s intelligence score or less - the first rolled on 4d6, the second on 5d6, and the final roll on 6d6. A successful Remove Traps roll or Legend Lore (spell or bard ability roll) will reduce the total of one roll by 1d6 (roll all dice normally, then roll an additional 1d6 and subtract it from the total of the first roll). One week of study and research provides a -1 adjustment on one roll (up to a maximum -6 per roll). The box must be physically grasped by an intelligent creature in order to manipulate and attempt to open it, and cannot be operated by means of telekinesis, an unseen servant, a mechanical contraption, or any other means besides direct physical contact. The individual holding the box may follow directions from another as to how to manipulate the box, in which case the intelligence score of the character providing the directions is used in place of the character holding the box. However, if that individual is not operating under their own free will (i.e. if they have been charmed, possessed, hyptonitized, dominated, etc.) then an additional d6 is added to the roll to reflect the partial disconnect between that individual’s mind and body.

Failed attempts to open the box produce cumulative effects. The first failed roll produces no ill effect in itself. However, the second failed roll creates a feeling of foreboding and the character holding the box will have a  -1 penalty on their next saving throw). If that character makes another failed attempt to open the box, on each failed attempt starting with the third, a roll is made on the following table to determine what occurs:

1 the box shifts and resets (erasing all prior successes)
2 the box holder is struck by a poison needle (save at -4 or die)
3 the box releases an acidic cloud (6-36 damage to the holder, 2-12 to all within 10’; save vs breath for half damage)
4 The box-holder is teleported away (1-2 100-1000’ in a random direction; 3-4 100-1000 miles in a random direction; 5-6 to another (randomly determined) plane)
5 The box-holder’s soul is trapped within box and replaced in that character’s body by the soul of last victim trapped by the box
6 A Gate is opened to the box’s creator

Only a wish can reset the count of failed attempts (and even a wish will only provide one success and will not automatically open the box).

If successfully opened, the box reveals an extra-dimensional space of 10’ x 10’ x 10’ size. Anything (or anyone) stored within that space will have been held in a state of temporal stasis that is automatically broken when the box is opened, but reinstated on anything within the space once the box is resealed. The GM must determine what will be contained within the box when it is first discovered - whether a demon’s or devil’s soul object, a hoard of treasure, one or more imprisoned beings, or something else altogether.

Anyone who successfully opens a box once can open that box again without requiring any additional rolls (barring exceptional circumstances such as the individual having his or her memory wiped) but if such a character attempts to open a different puzzle box then the normal process of rolls must be followed again.

Skeleton Key: This device appears to be an ordinary skeleton key made out of bone and approximately six inches long. It radiates alteration and faint conjuration/summoning magic if detected, and also radiates an aura of evil. It will infallibly open any mechanical lock and is 90% likely to open any magical lock unless set by a wizard of 21st level or higher. It can be used once per day safely, but every use beyond that has a cumulative 1-in-6 chance that the portal or object opened will reveal not to its normal location or contents but instead is a gate to the Fourth Hell, where those whose sin was greed meet their punishment. The individual who opened the gate thus is subject to immediate judgment by the devil Belial. A lawful evil character who immediately swears fealty to Belial (or a lawful neutral or neutral evil character who is willing to change alignment and swear fealty) will be geased to perform some service to Belial in order to prove their worthiness. Any other character will be dragged down to Hell by a company of 1-4 bearded devils to face eternal torment unless they are able to defeat the devils in combat or have some other means of escape. In either case the key will disappear, having been reclaimed by its master to be re-seeded on some other world. 

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Rulebook art?

What is the minimum necessary amount of art for an rpg rulebook? I know that (with the notable exception of the original "little black book" edition of Traveller) rpg rulebooks have traditionally included a lot of illustrations, and that certain types of products (bestiaries, adventures with scene-setting illustrations intended to be shown to the players, products aimed at beginners who aren't necessarily familiar with the genre and its tropes) need illustrations, but is this also true for a "standard" rulebook aimed at experienced players containing "crunch" info on classes, spells, magic items, and procedural stuff? Other than making the book more attractive to look at, are "filler" illustrations that just exist to set a mood (and fill white space) and aren't depicting anything practical really needed?

This isn't just idle navel-gazing, since I'm working on a product for publication that I am not capable of illustrating myself (at least up to a standard I would consider acceptable) so I'm trying to gauge how much art I'm going to end up having to buy (or beg) for this thing. A cover illustration is surely necessary, but what about the interior? RPG audiences are accustomed to seeing an illustration at least every 3-4 pages because that's what we've been given for the past 45 years, but if a book doesn't include that would it necessarily be seen as incomplete and unprofessional? Do I need little pictures of adventurer-types rappelling on cliffs in my section on wilderness adventuring, or a guy strumming a lute in the section on bard spells? And if I do need to include some interior illustrations, what is the minimum acceptable amount? Would 3 or 4 illustrations in a 128 page book be sufficient or if I'm going to have that few would I be just as well off not having any at all?

On the one hand I'd obviously prefer not to sink all of my potential dozens of dollars of profit (and more) into art, and I especially don't want to feel obligated to buy or accept a bunch of low-quality art because it's the only stuff I can afford, but on the other hand I think the text of this book is of high quasi-professional quality, and I'd like the presentation to be at a similar level if possible. If I'm going to expect people to pay real money for this then they should feel like their money was well spent, and I'm trying to get a sense of how important interior illustrations are to that determination.

I'm wondering how my 12 (!) readers feel about this. Given that a lot of good art isn't an option, what are folks' preferences between (a) no interior art at all; (b) a couple-three pieces of interior art; or (c) the book must be fully illustrated, even if the illustrations are of amateur quality?

Saturday, August 10, 2019

The Heroic Legendarium

Most of the 11 readers of this blog are probably familiar with the "AD&D Companion," the book of uncollected AD&D material by Gary Gygax (mostly from Dragon magazine) + original material I wrote based on or inspired by Gary's unrealized ideas and post-TSR games, that I compiled a few years ago and distributed as a pdf. I put a lot of work into that document and was pretty proud of it, but due to the nature of its contents was always leery of distributing it too widely lest I invite a Cease & Desist Letter from Wizards of the Coast or the Gygax Estate, or both.

Those same 11 readers may also remember that there was some D&D rules content on this blog (some new races, spells, monsters, magic items, etc.) that is no longer here. The two are related.

A couple months ago I began revising the Companion to remove all of the content that was directly copied from a prior source - in some cases adapting it, in other cases leaving it on the cutting room floor - as well as editing the whole thing to become OGL-compatible via OSRIC, which consisted mostly of changing references from "DM" to "GM" and not referring to AD&D or any of its rulebooks by name, but also of substituting out a few other "protected IP" terms - such as names of particular off-limits monsters, planes, locations, and characters. [A key point worth mentioning here is that in those cases where the OSRIC rules differ from AD&D - either through that work's editors' legal caution or personal preferences - I have not adapted my work to their standards and in particular have not adapted any of the alternate/substitute versions of AD&D classes found in Dangerous Dungeons (though I have pulled some names of monsters and planes from there).] Doing all of that left about 2/3 of the material from the Companion - those parts I wrote or adapted myself - all safely OGL compliant. From there I started plugging in new material I'd written since the Companion was released, as well as revising and updating the contents to reflect a couple years of additional playtesting and feedback. Some of this material has previously been posted here, but much of it is new.

That effort is still ongoing (a lot of new material exists only in rough-draft or outline form and still needs to be expanded and polished) but I'm making good progress and it seems likely at this point that within a couple of months I will have a document at least the size of the original Companion (if not larger) that consists entirely of original content - some of it adapted from other games, the rest of it original to me, but inspired by the spirit and flavor of Gary Gygax's AD&D. I'm calling this new version The Heroic Legendarium (because I obviously can't use its old name) and I think it's going to be very useful to anyone who plays AD&D or OSRIC in the manner of the original Gary Gygax-penned rules and adventures - that it really will feel like something TSR might have put out had Gary remained in control and the company not shifted directions creatively, a way for those of us who still hold onto and prefer that original creative vision to continue in that direction rather than remaining frozen in amber.

A few items from the old version are gone (Roger Moore's very long and boring article from Dragon magazine about the Astral Plane has been deleted and adapted into 2-3 paragraphs of useful info, the monsters and magic items collected from TSR's 1984-85 modules are no longer included, and neither is the Hunter class) but I feel the new material that's been added in their place all still captures the same spirit more than makes up the difference. I'm also declaring everything in the book to be "OSRIC Reference Content," so that any other OSRIC-licensed product may use and refer back to it: if someone writing an OSRIC adventure wants to use one of the classes, races, monsters, magic items, or anything else from this book they will be able to. I'm probably kidding myself about the likelihood of anyone actually doing so, but it seems kind of cool that they'll at least have the option to.

The downside (for you, not for me) is that now that I will no longer under the cloud of potential C&Ds, I'm no longer going to give it away for free - it will go up on one or more web-stores (as pdf and/or POD) and I too may get to live the dream of earning dozens of dollars as an rpg publisher. I don't have an estimated release date yet because I'm still working on the text (and haven't even begun to tackle the subsequent challenges of transforming that text into a credible publishable product) but I've made sufficient progress, and am sufficiently excited, that I wanted to share this update with all 11 of you, to let you know what I've been up to during the last few months and what's to come in the future. I hope you'll stay tuned!