Monday, April 27, 2015

Universal Races

The ability to consider dimensions of race and class is vital to speculative exercises.

Except, "class" in the social-studies sense; concerning wealth and hierarchical position in a society, is a matter of setting rather than rules. While character class is a rules-device which creates a handy template for a character's powers and advancement. Though character-class distinctions sometimes do bleed over into setting when you think about it.

Race is hard-wired into most rule sets as a key element of character creation. Being able to choose a race with special abilities creates new tactical possibilities and opportunities. (and concrete rules-based distinctions are vital for giving teeth to the setting based distinction-the color text) What interest me more is that the inclusion of fantastic races (or species) allows SF or fantasy to be a vehicle to explore racial dynamics.
In practice though, the most that you will usually get out of this is the Tolkien-mandated elf/dwarf schism.

If this is annoying, it is a necessary annoyance. You can't do away with fantastic races because they can't be done away with. I am a believer in Jung and the theory of the archetypes.  If we didn't have elves and dwarves in D&D, a supplement containing rules for fantasy races would be published inevitably and soon.

I will however, gladly fiddle with the races.
Here is a spread of fantasy races which I have chosen to be widely applicable to settings in many times and spaces:

The basis against which all other races are compared. They don't have any superpowers, so rules-sets have to make up bullshit about how humans advance more quickly or get more feats or whatever in order to balance them in terms of gameplay, or make some dubious statement about the potential of humanity.

Most systems shy away from creating sub-races of human with concrete rule-able differences. Publishers would prefer that racial dialogue occur in the realm of sanitized metaphor. Otherwise, we might be reading the Players handbook during banned book month. Can you imagine?

They also shy away from making rules which represent the concrete, statistically demonstrable differences between the sexes. Back in the 70s when they did try to do this, the results were just embarrassing. As Jon Peterson describes with circumspect academic detachment here.

I think a politically correct (and possibly actually correct) solution for human subtype is to attribute subtype to culture rather than genetic inheritance to culture. Perhaps some mechanic like granting a human a free professional skill or bonus to a given weapon type based on their cultural origins.
Still pretty lame compared to darkvision though...

Tall, haunting, otherworldy. Ostensibly humanlike, yet undeniably alien. Some mythologies hold that Alfar are the servants of the gods. Others claim they are a branch of humanity which sojourned among the stars for so long that they evolved into a separate species. Alfar are long-lived and give their attention to lofty concerns and long-term plans. They are generally benign, if inscrutable.
Alfar are meant to stand for elves in the sense of divinely touched or enlightened otherworlders. The name comes from the semi-divine figures of Norse Mythology which Tolkien was trying to reference. In terms of rules, they get bonuses to wisdom and perception and lore. Probably ultravision too. But I don't see them as particularly suited for combat.

Googled "space elves." This came up. Not what I was imagining, but still pretty close to the mark.

Ape Men:
Another advanced primate. These fellows have made developments in language and technology, but have retained the physical ruggedness and dexterity of arboreal scavengers. They relish technology and science, but they are given to Faustian arrogance and Naïve Realism.
They get bonuses to survival, can eat rough food or raw meat. They are impartial to filth. They get bonuses to dexterity and raw intelligence, but suffer on wisdom. Low light vision.

The Dungeon Master stared into nowhere.
After a long moment, he murmured softly "I'll allow it."

Also adapted from Norse mythology, the Duergar are dark, ugly humanoids who live in hidden delves in mountains or deep in the earth. They may be otherworldly creatures, or a branch of humanity with something like congenital Aspergers and physical deformity. They are keenly aware of their ugliness, and are jealous or contemptuous of the beautiful. An expression of this jealous obsession is their talent for invention. Their workmanship is fine to say the least and may represent whole levels of technology above the status quo. They use their craft to bargain with the outside world. There are mythologically parallel to the god Hephaestus.
Bonus to intelligence and possibly constitution, big hit to charisma. Bonuses to lore or crafting skills Darkvision of course.

Ripped from H.G Wells. The Eloi are a branch of humanity evolved into a state of congenital decadence. They are gracile, attractive sociable and charming. But they are bred to tolerate only an extremely easy standard of living, and are not good at fending for themselves in harsh environments. They tend to be communal and kind, but are not given to deep or analytical thought. They do have an instinctive sense for aesthetics though.
Bonus to charisma, slap to wisdom and strength. They have an inborn artistic ability. Some are nonverbal, but can still communicate clearly through painting, drawing or musical intonation.

A subspecies of human. an adult florensis is about three or four feet tall. They live apart from full-sized humans, of whom they are typically suspicious and fearful. Their small size is both a liability and a great evolutionary advantage. Though they suffer in open conflict, and are easily victimized by larger humanoids, florensis have a knack for sheer survival. Their small size allows them to thrive in environments where food or water are not sufficient to sustain full-sized humanoids. In these wilderness fringes, they make their communities. Florensis are adaptable to their environment. They often make homes underground or in trees. Their structures emphasize concealment and defensibility. They are not stout, lower-middle class bumpkins. Florensis who adapt such ways do not live long or well among "biggers."
Florensis fill the obvious niche of the Hobbit. They also cover the idea of elves-as-flighty-treedwellers. They get bonuses to dexterity and constitution but are not as strong as full sized humans. They have a cultural training which gives them bonuses to survival. Florenses of warrior or hunter persuasions are proficient with the use of poisons, and can derive them from local sources.

A pack of Florensis lead an unsuspecting "bigger" to dinner. 

The dark counterpart of the Eloi, also ripped from the Time Machine. The Morlocks are bestial, nocturnal humanoids who are given to savagery. In almost all histories or mythologies, Morlocks are an offshoot of humanity. A racial history of abuse and intentional perversion at the hands of a greater, evil power has warped them into their current state.
Morlocks fill the role of orcs when orcs are depicted as beings of pitiful, helpless evil. They get strength and constitution bonuses, penalties to intelligence and charisma, and Darkvision.

 Am I seriously considering this as a base player-character race?
Terrifying illustration from "Kaibutsu Gensō Gashū" by Tatsuya Morino

A cousin-species to modern humans. They are intelligent and capable of breeding with humans. Neanderthals are suitable for depicting a race of noble savages. They can fill the role of revisionist-history orcs-as-good-guys.
Anthropologists have come to understand that Neanderthals were extremely strong compared to modern humans. As a matter of culture, their senses would have been better trained. They were intelligent and capable of using technology. Some would say they were smarter than us. Yet their artistic sensibilities were not as keen as the homo sapiens-sapiens. Penalty to charisma. Low-light vision

Other races which tempted me, but didn't make the list:

Robots: synthetic entities are indispensable to sci fi. But the potential range of forms and capabilities which one might possess are simply too wide to fit into a single race description. Also, you would need a whole ruleset for governing characters who are not made of meat

Celestial: humans with a slight admixture of benign otherworldy being. The concept of an angel or something like that is simply too broad to give any notion of what a half-breed would be like. For instance:

Nephilim: in the apocryphal books of the bible (Enoch section 1 chapter 6, for instance) it straight up tells that otherworldy beings bred with human women and created a race of giants. Or rather, in this case, gigantism was the result of this breeding. And the giants were ravenous monsters who ate people. We nearly went extinct from this. This is not what someone might normally expect of a semi-angelic being

Tiefling: The D&D standard for human with demonic or devilish heritage. They come in two versions; the super-weak might-as-well-play-a-human version, and the god-awful overpowered splatbooksterbation version. Once again, the Tiefling is an odd specification of something that could be anything
Also, this spread of races above is chosen with an eye towards settings with cosmology of vast scope. So to say "This is an angel. This is a demon." right at the beginning of the rulebook seems shortsighted and self defeating.
To quote Gene Wolfe, "An angel is often only a demon who stands between us and our enemy."

"I'm an angel."

The Azrohim: My babies don't really fit above. They are generally more powerful than the races set forth above because they are designed with race-as-class in mind. They are also very specific to the setting which they were developed for, while the above-listed are meant to be generally applicable.

So there you are;
This is what I've been thinking about races. The idea was to take the entrenched stereotypes back a few steps; to strip off a few layers of gamist munchkinism and Tolkienisms, to squeeze out a few races which are more suited to broad use though various science-fantasy milieu. The rules have been left vague because I don't want to the ideas restricted to a single, crappy system.

If you have any distinctions or suggestions to make, please comments.  

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Incarceration- design lessons from Kansas City

Last weekend, I visited Kansas City.  There I had some object lessons on environmental design.

I found KC to be a very aesthetically pleasing town, but difficult to drive in unless you at on with the dao of the roadways: Streets that don't go through, intersections which aren't at right angles, lanes which jog to one side immediately after the crest of a hill, intersections with 5 or 6 spokes. One very slow roundabout. The overall effect was visually appealing, with harmonious concessions to the geography, but more challenging to navigate than a plain grid-style layout.

We visited the Nelson-Atkins museum , where I took the opportunity to study those magnificent suits of armor.

But another exhibit which got my attention was a series of prints from a folio by Giambattista Piranesi. The series was entitled Le Carceri -the Prison. Or for our purposes, we might call it The Dungeon.
On display were a series of monochromatic depictions of architectural forms which were fantastic vast, yet also oppressive and twisted. I snatched my girlfriend's smartphone and began taking pictures. Turns out that the series can be found on the internet with no difficulty.

Piranesi came from a family or architects, and had a firm background in the subject matter. In Le Carceri, he does to buildings what H.R. Geiger did to biological and mechanical forms.

Viewing these, the phrase "architectural violence" sprang to mind. A lot of the structures don't make sense, or (imagining them as real) they don't appear to be made for the inhabitants to conveniently utilize the space. Rather, even a party of fantasy adventurers would be rather hard-put to traverse such deadly tall and irregular spaces.

And the violence works both ways. The immensity of the spaces, and the appearance of what seems to be a population  in the Prison gives a sense of vast age. One gets the sense that there is a terrible narrative tied to the space. It just screams Dungeon Purgatory to me. Over the period of imprisonment, it appears the inmates have not respected the grandeur of their prison. The makeshift bridges, tacked-on beams and oozy chains tell that the inhabitants have imposed some of their own desires and purposes on the Prison. In other words; "I'm not locked in here with you. You're locked in here with me."

This gradual derangement even shows in the creative process:

Le Carceri- now with another millennium's accumulation of death-spikes and bridges to nowhere:

Does anybody else get the sense of the tremendous weight of the levels above bearing down on this otherwise relatively comfortable-seeming area?

These actually remind me a lot of the work of Edward Gordon Craig, a 20th C. thespian and set designer. Though his designs were more stark and modernistic, they also convey a sense of the dungeonesque:

Then we went to IKEA.
Consumerism kind of kills my soul, especially after visiting an art museum. It was the girlfriend's birthday. I really had no choice in the matter.

If you have never been to an IKEA, it bears some explaining; An IKEA is a housewares and furniture store on a massive scale. The principle of the assembly line has been applied to every possible aspect of an IKEAs operation; even down to how customers are shuffled through the store-complex.
IKEAs are huge complexes. They have to be in order for the assembly line principles to be efficient. The average American State can only support one IKEA. IKEA stores feature eateries at two places in the complex; one before entering the shopping labyrinth and one after checkout. There is also a daycare. That is how long they expect you to be at the IKEA.
You can't make this shit up. Not even if you are a dungeon master.

IKEA is technically a labyrinth and not a maze. A maze is a puzzle; it has branching paths and dead ends and is meant to be a puzzle. Properly speaking, a labyrinth is a single path, with an emphasis on the completion of a journey. Labyrinths are often used as a meditative aid with a spiritual focus. The IKEA labyrinth leads the masses of shoppers through every department, one after another. There is no grabbing what you need and leaving. There is only a slow march, shoulder to shoulder with the other mouthbreathers through the whole damn haunted house. To create a labyrinth for the purpose of meditating on material consumption is diabolically clever and possibly obscene. 
The parking lot and garage however, were the maze-part.

The Chartres Labyrinth

While winding through the IKEA, I could not shake the notion that it was some a creation of dystopian fiction. I kept imagining some sort of space-ark where the inmate population shops in the IKEA-station by day to keep them pacified, repairs and restocks the supply to expend their energy, and then files back into the showroom to sleep at night. They do this for millennia, whilst aimlessly drifting through the vacuum of space.

And Dungeon Design
It has been pointed out that a dungeon can serve as a device for organizing encounters. It is a flowchart for organizing ideas where the player-character are constrained to the flowchart by physical barriers. This observation is obvious enough- it is even mentioned in the 3E DMG. But it is only really true if you think of a dungeon as a tool for railroading players.

Railroading is generally considered to be one of the cardinal sin of rpgs. Railroading occurs when the Game Master perceives the game as a story; with a beginning, and end and plot points in between. One scene logically leads to another. Breaking this chain of ordained events will break the story. And the dungeon master has a mess at this point. Either the story will break down or the DM will have to force the action back into its intended course.

Electronic RPGs railroad players as a matter of course. A computer program cannot react organically to new situations, so this is the way to do it. My favorite example of this is in Ocarina of Time. There is a chain of very specific actions the player must take Link through involving a windmill. This process is not necessarily intuitive, and a player could easily get stuck here.
Anyways, because most of us (nowadays) get exposed to Zelda and Final Fantasy long before we get to play real RPGs,  a lot of us start off with the notion that this is the way to design a game.
A lot of DMs resort to railroading out of the best intentions. They feel the need to include a "story" in their game. They do not realize that the way to involve "plot" into a game is not to create a story and constrain players to it, but rather, to include elements of story-elements which behave organically in and of themselves, then allow the players to meddle with, provoke and exploit these elements until something interesting happens.

The IKEA is a railroad expressed both in architecture and in principle. Regardless of how imaginative it may be, it is manipulative and one-sided.
Le Carceri offers its inmates more freedom. Its atmosphere conveys oppression. But that sense of oppression is ultimately only notional. The very notion of a prison implies the challenge to escape. Escape is the condition for victory. To escape is a challenge which players are free to meet with their own devices and solutions.

So yeah, I'll take Le Carceri over the IKEA.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Armor II- (Western) Plate Armor

This is a follow-up to the Armor Basics post in which I will discuss some of the peculiarities of plate armor.

The advantage of plate armor is that it distributes the energy of a blow over a wide area. Effectively mitigating harm. Plate armor can be made from a variety of materials, and some materials are better than others. But as a general rule, it takes a well-delivered blow from a specialized weapon to break or penetrate plate armor. (or a gun)
 Plate armor is also rather relatively light. I know most rules sets completely ignore this, but the truth  is that it is lighter to cover an area with a single plate than with many overlapping scales or platelets.

The challenge of plate armor is configuring and designing it. Plates are necessarily rigid, so the pieces must be arranged in such a way that they cover the wearer, but do not bind or clash with each other. As armor developed, it was discovered that there are very specific ways to manage this.

But before we can discuss this, we need some terminology for anatomy of armor.

Many of these terms are accepted as specialized or formal terms for armor bits in English. But they are simply French for that part of the body; gorget or cuisse for instance. So be careful when googling "cuisses" at work.
Articulation of Joints
One challenge of building plate armor is how to cover the joints of the body. Long straightaways such as the rib-cage or the shins were easy enough to figure out. But it took a couple centuries to figure out the best ways to articulate armor for shoulders and elbows.
Armorers have a few general options for covering joints:
They could leave them bare. This is a good  option for propmakers or artists for whom the notion of armor is more important than the function of armor.
But it is not much more difficult to shroud the joint by creating a flaring extension from a straightaway piece.
Take for instance these bazubands by Torvadr's Leatherworks. Bazubands are a bracer with a cup-like extension to protect the elbow. They are of Near-Eastern origin. These particular Bazubands have very pronounced shrouds in order to conform to armor standards for SCA combat.

The next option is to buckle some sort of cup-like piece over the joint. Such a cup is called a poleyn when on the knee, a couter on the elbow or a pauldron on the shoulder. "copps" is a generic term used for rigid elbow or knee coverings.

Such simple copps can be buckled around the joint, strapped to an adjacent bracer or greave or pointed onto an underlayer of maille or padding.
The most advanced option however, is to attach the copp to the straightaway piece with a series of overlapping lames: (la-may) curved plates riveted together in such a way as to allow for a hinging action, while enclosing the gap between the pieces they are bridging. 
The saddle is armored as well to protect the inside of the midsection and leg
Above is a detail from a suit of armor from the late 1500s. I had the opportunity to view it in person recently at the Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City. There were two complete suits- one thought to be specifically for a horseman and another more adaptable to fighting on foot.
Here is the horseman:
Notice the rich etchings and brass ornamentation on the armor. Not only was this a technically advanced suit, but it was made to be richly ostentatious.
Next to the Horseman is the footman. His armor is also richly decorated, but not quite so much as the horseman. Your humble author stands nearby for size comparison, as close as he may without getting into trouble.
Now this is what gets me: I am a small man, yet these suits seem to be just about my size. They say that people were generally smaller back in the day. But I thought this only applied to the underclasses whose diets may have been rather poor. Presumably, if someone can afford armor like this, they can afford the food to grow to their genetic potential. Also, if someone cares to invest in such gear, they are enough of an athletic specimen to put it to good use. 
What gives? Did Western society simply start breeding for size after the Renaissance? Perhaps it was a matter of medical care. Even the nobility would have been subject to diseases which may have generally stunted growth.
How do they know the footman is a footman?
Even the footman's armor has a lance-rest attached to the breastplate. It is believed that this was a later addition. But his hands and feet hint that he was not originally planning to do his fighting on horseback.
While the horseman has fully articulated sabatons to armor his feet, the footman has a maille covering and a steel toe. This maille was made of flattened links of rather small diameter. They did not appear to be riveted. But the narrowness of the weave would lend it a good deal of strength. These links are not going to bust easily.

The footman's armor also features mitten gauntlets, which would offer better protection than the horseman's gauntlets. The horseman's gauntlests have overlapping scales covering the fingers. This suggests that he was planning on using a two-handed weapon, rather than a lance and shield, both of which would effectively protect the hand.
The Helms
Both of these knights have very similar styles of helmet. Helms of this type are called an armet. Armets are distinguished by how they fit closely to the head, even around the chin and neck. such helms are not simply slipped on over the head, but have side-plates which hinge down and lock into place. I'm not sure this is a great idea for most applications, since I can feature situations where you'd want to get your helmet off quickly. Both helms have a ridge running over the top. This shape strengthens the helmet overall.  I am particularly impressed by how these helmets hide the face and eyes of the wearer. It creates an intimidating, mysterious effect.  when a person wears such a helmet, it is like they are making the statement that they have left the realm of normal human discourse. 
French for "throat," a gorget is simply a rigid piece of armor for protecting the neck. The Armets which these knights are wearing have integrated gorgets.  In the footman's configuration, this upper gorget floats over a lower gorget which rests on the breastplate. It might seem excessive to have two gorgets, but these armors are adapted for jousting, where such precautions are reasonable. The horsesman's armet reduces to his neck, and its rim covers the top of his main gorget, which is elaborately articulated. 
This metal was not thick.
On close examination, it was only what we would call 16-18 gauge (0.065 to 0.05 inches thick) Naturally, making it much thicker would make it overly heavy to wear, and difficult to work. Now, a piece of thin steel laid out flat is easily punctured, even if it is very good steel. But what lent this plate its protective power was its clever shaping. A curved surface has more structural integrity than a flat one. The armor is also ridged to increase the structural strength and to create angles which deflected most blows. It was a good trick to get a solid blow on well-made armor.
The footman's pauldron and spaulders: The pauldron curves widely and shrouds the armpit and shoulder-blades, even when the shoulder is raised or extended. It has an opening out the side from which the spaulders depend. This allow the arm to be lifted.  You may see here how rather thin is the metal.
The Horseman's shoulder and arm defense. The configuration here is very similar. In both suits, the pauldrons are asymmetrical- with the left being larger than the right. This is a concession to jousting, where the upper left torso is the target area.

The Cuirass
Or breastplate- this is the central element of most armors. It has to be shaped rather conservatively in order to not interfere with movement. It can really only extend down to the level of the wearer's navel, or else it binds against the hips. Across the chest, it can only be about as wide as will cover the wearer's nipples. extending any wider will prevent full rotation of the shoulder. A good pauldron will cover this gap. Similarly, it cannot ride too high or it will choke the wearer.

Here is another cuirass at the Nelson Atkins- not so fancy or prominently displayed. But astoundingly considerate of practicality.
The ridges across the breast strengthen the piece. Around the neck it flares out to accompany a gorget or maille collar.
Around the front of the shoulder is another articulated plate to accommodate the movement of the shoulder. The flared collar and shoulder-plate suggest to me that this was not meant to be worn with a lot of  other pieces like pauldrons or gorgets.

The breastplate cinches in around the waist, then flares out The wide articulated plates which depend from this flaring are called faulds- literally, the skirt. The plates which depend from the fauld to cover the thigh are called tassets.

The footman is wearing a peascod-style breastplate. peascod style is defined by the protrusion over the navel. This protrusions creates a sort of conical surface which helps to deflect incoming blows. The peascod protrudes away from the belly to prevent binding when bending forward.  It also flares out, but eliminates the fauld and transitions directly into the tassets.

Meanwhile, a century earlier:
We can see some differences of style in this depiction of St. George, the Dragonslayer.

I particularly like his hair.
Here is a detail of the body and arms:
We have a lot of similarities: Neatly articulated knees and elbows, articulated fingers in the gauntlet.

Notably absent are the elaborate pauldrons and spaulders which the horseman and footman sport. It seems that such elaborate, large pauldrons hadn't been developed yet. Spaulders and shoulder-copps  had been developed. But St. George is wearing a rather common configuration: a maille coif with besegews. Besegews are the disc-like pieces which protect the front of the shoulder joint. Since they are pointed directly to the inside of the shoulder, they don't interfere with movement.

St. George's breastplate follows similar principles: cinched in the waist, with dependent fauld and tassets, ridges to strengthen and create deflecting angles. But rather than being one piece it appears to be several articulated or riveted plates. The torso armor seems to be based on a placard which covers the lower ribs. The upper plates which cover the upper chest are overlapped by this placard. This seems to have been a common style in the late 1400s. I would guess the reason for making a breastplate out of multiple pieces would have been limitations of the metallurgical technology, it was not yet possible to temper a plate large enough to make a one-piece breastplate with.
Elsewhere, where plate area is not an issue, St. George's armor is essentially the same as that of a century later.

In context:
A full suit of plate would weigh 40 to 60 pounds, including the underlayers of maille or gambeson.
It would have been nearly inaccessible to any but nobility and professional warriors. Armor was a status symbol and would have been an attention grabber. The skills to make it would have been extremely valuable and rare. Stainless steel had not been invented, so metal armors would have required diligent care to keep in good condition. It was suitable to wear in combat, and not much else. So forget about going on a cross-country hike whilst wearing you jousting set.
A high AC is good, but remember that it will costs more than just the upfront cost in GP.


Friday, April 17, 2015


Just want to kick around some thought on systems for determining order of action in combat or tense situations.

Electronic violence simulators have evolved to a point where they don't need to bother with such things. They can render virtual violence in real-time!
But we humans- imperfect calculators that we are- still need of initiative rules for our analog violence simulators. To alter a phrase from St. Augustine; we see through a video-monitor but darkly.

And after the Machine-War has been settled, we are seriously going to need good analog game systems. Incidentally, I am terrified by the prospect of running a game with Mentats or Bene Gesserits for players.
Let's start our review on familiar ground; D&D.
In standard practice, everyone around the table rolls the d20 and adds modifiers for dexterity or improved initiative. Highest number goes first, lowest last, and we repeat this round by round.
the World of Darkness uses an essentially similar system, substituting a d10 for the d20.
The result is that everyone acts at the same rate; once per round. The dex modifier to the initiative roll implies that we are accounting for a character's speed of action. But in practice, the winner of the initiative roll is acting at the same speed as the loser.
Also, because the same order is repeated every round, the order of action is cyclical. Now, where is the beginning of a circle? The notion of the "top" or "bottom" of the round becomes arbitrary.
In effect, we might as well just forget about rolling for it and go around the table to determine initiative.
The rules say to re-roll initiative every round, and also that players are to declare their actions beforehand.
Re-rolling every round makes initiative non-cyclical, while effectively making the initiative modifier more meaningful. But I have never met a group willing to take the time for this extra roll every round. Maybe we should try though.
AD&D shows the straight and narrow path once again.
I did once have players write orders for the round and submit them. The idea was to create a necessity for coordination of tactics in character. I thought this would enrich the game, but in practice, it just pissed people off to have to write, and I didn't notice much effective difference.
The writing made the whole game more silent, until it was the DMs turn to describe what all happened. This felt odd.
I can't remember if I was mapping combat at the time, or if it was played in imagination only. Probably the latter. If I had been mapping, it would have made it more clear when one person was casting AoE on top of an ally or getting in the way of the archer or whatever.
If we are taking combat as a serious aspect of our scenario, I suppose we have no choice but to map it.
- Everyone acts at once.
I'm eager to actually get a game of DR going. It seems to have a very clear-minded approach to mechanics. In DR, everyone is assumed to act at once in a general manner throughout a combat round:
To engage someone in melee combat is to run the risk of being injured in turn. This is extremely realistic. In a melee between two people, to attack is essentially to incur an "attack of opportunity" on one's self. And since both combatants are understood to attack at once, there is no chance of killing the other guy before he gets his action.
This approach steps out of the nitty-gritty of what happens inside of a round, and considers more generally what the results of a round of combat were. This seems somehow simpatico with the notion of the character as an agent moderated by the player, rather than an avatar of the player. 
As I understand, Traveller uses a similar approach to initiative.
Tick Systems
I've never gotten to play any of these. But Exalted and Scion use such systems. A given action takes so many ticks, and you may declare a new action when you have finished the first.
I understand that this is messy in practice, and requires a lot of handwaving and arbitration.
I think people love Exalted and Scion more for the setting than the mechanics anyways. Who wants to count successes on 17d10?
Also, weapons like daggers usually go more quickly than full-sized weapons in tick systems. This might make sense. but it isn't really the case, as Matt Easton explains.
Damn, Matt, how do you afford all those antique swords and reproduction weapons?
Anyway, Matt makes a point: to use a smaller, wieldier weapon, you have to take the time to get closer, and in that time, you are vulnerable to the guy with longer reach. This is the reason why people don't typically take a dagger to someone with a longsword.
If we are going for realism, we might as well actually go for realism.
Since we are talking about the relative time necessary to step in and stab someone, it seems a good place to mention that space and positioning are really the keys to determining when someone acts and when that action has its effect.
From this perspective, movement rate and attack range can calculate initiative, rather than relying on a random value from dice. But I can see that being ridiculously technical and time consuming to run. It would also still require handwaving and arbitrary judgment to account for just how long it takes to do anything else but attack.
Sure. We can easily say you have a movement rate of 3 meters and an attack range of another meter. But that doesn't tell us anything about how long it takes for you to find a potion in a backpack or tie a knot.
All in all, I am against having to assign time-values to actions in games where the paradigm is that anything may be attempted.
Perhaps better keep it simple then...
We can assign timing to actions in a more general sense without assigning numeric time values to every little thing. Like this; it seems pretty reasonable:
Choose your own?
I poked around on a forum to get some perspective on t the possibilities here. A LOT of people seem to like the initiative system of Marvel Heroes; where the aggressor acts first, but then chooses who goes next. The last person to go may even choose themselves to get the first action of the next round-allowing for a double action. This creates the balance and forces you to allow your enemies their turn if you don't want them to act twice. 
Also in the realm of choose-your-own is the Imperial Assault miniatures-combat game. I've actually gotten to play this and found it pretty interesting. Players may discuss amongst themselves and choose who gets to act. Then the GM chooses a unit from the enemy force to perform their action(s). Then the players elect the next to act, and the GM chooses another unit to move and so on until every Character or unit has acted. Then the round resets.
This requires enemy forces to be divided into a number of units equal to the number of players, so you get three stormtroopers acting at once. Good thing they are crappy shots.
I enjoyed the tactical depth which this created, but noticed that the players had a tendency to quibble and take up time when one course of action was not clearly superior to another.
When designing an initiative system, we need to start with an idea of just how abstract or specific we want to be.
If we are being specific, like D&D seems to be aiming for, I personally dislike the idea of moving and acting in the same turn. If the bear starts moving towards you, you might want to try and do something before it gets to you. systems that allow for this are called "dynamic."
If we are being more abstract, we have to take our hands off the action more than may be really enjoyable or allow for the proper amount of agency.
And then there's this:

Thursday, April 16, 2015

My Babies

The Azrohim
Azrohim are  cruel, arrogant, haughty and cunning by nature. They have set themselves as the “nobility” in power vacuum of Veylia. They dwell in the Bolt-keep Castle and in the remains of Centralia Castle. They force the Veylians to work as serfs on the land (in the Village of Drudgery) and generally treat them as chattel to be exploited, tormented and occasionally eaten.

Most Azrohim are hedonistic and proud; content to carve a measure of power and security of the world around them and vacillate in their courts. They treat most other races as mere monsters.
Azhrohim support their lifestyles by exploiting the effort of their slaves, hunting for meat, and raiding the ruins of Veylia. Even the lowliest of them is exceedingly proud and fancies him or herself as a person of some inherent importance. The Azrohim are aggressive and warlike, and complement their skill in battle with their congenital magical power.
They resemble attractive humans or half-elves, but are marked by their striking skintone which ranges from deep blue to pale gray. This odd coloration is a result of a racially inherited argyria. Their hair ranges from white to silver or black.Their eyes are proportionally quite large, and they have a rather disturbing range of expression. Their tongues are freaky-long.
Azrohim are fond of finery and war-gear, and affect noble costumes.

"Want to go to the slave-pit and practice evil-laughing?"
"Thank you no. I was just on my way to a gang-initiation with the girls." 

Origin and Social Structure
The Azrohim are named for their ancestor- the demigod Hazor, who bred with the Veylians to create a race in his own image. Though they revere Hazor as their creator, the leaders among them are actually working against his resurrection. They realize that the party is over if Hazor ever returns. For this reason, most Azrohim pay polite lip-service to the Hazorite priesthood, though they do not support them in any real way.
Their ruler is King Kador who keeps court in Boltkeep Castle. Centralia Castle is ruled by Lord Rast. Lord Rast and King Kador are deeply suspicious of each other, and Lord Rast would rather be king himself

Besides the hobgoblins, they are the only group in Veylia with the infrastructure and the skill to work iron. For this reason, they have the bulk of the steel weapons and armor, and most such weapons found elsewhere will be of Azrohim-make or Ancient origin.
They are very fond of finery, artwork, jewelry and luxury goods. Their tastes are decadent and rather baroque. Life in their court is a constant fashion show full of petty one-upmanship.
The Azrohim are prone to infighting, rivalry and vendetta amongst their family houses. The greater families maintain manor houses within the inner wall of Boltkeep castle

They speak Veylian, and the learned among them speak Hazoric.
Use in a Setting
The Azrohim are largely inspired by the wicked Normans in Robin Hood movies.

They are ambiguously evil and loads of fun to inflict on players.
Azrohim are designed to be complex villains and potentially allies to the players. They are designed to be a combat threat through a range of power levels.

They are wicked, but may form alliances, or develop fixations with player characters. Outright, lethal hostility is not their style. If they want to victimize someone, they are more likely to invite them to dinner first, or go to the formality of declaring vendetta. If they have no interest, they may simply snub the player characters and consider that to be sufficient disparagement.  

What. He has a good face for it.
Azrohim are usually  LAWFUL EVIL. They are self-serving and enjoy cruelty. Their vanity however, lends them a sense of honor. Azrohim are NEVER neutral good or lawful good. It simply isn’t in their nature.
Azrohim names tend to have a Gallic or Middle-Eastern Flair.
Male: Alef, Aque, Bayan, Duran, Fakrayah, Gerloy, Guffran, Haku, Indiroh, Jerahim, Kador, Kaffei, Malabeth, Nazor, Ragomir, Roheek, Seldovis, Tartorek, Zaff
Female: Anju, Aquella, Bizar, Courora, Dailla, Fella, Hazalah, Jubbilah, Kantara, Kawthar, Laviah, Leyliana, Majell, Musnir, Nazeera, Nookie, Qubila, Raella, Ragimundi, Song, Zylah,

When met as a random encounter,
Azrohim almost always travel in a small band of 3 to 8. All will be armed and most will be mounted as well. They may be attended by Veyahim slaves. Typically, when out and about they are:

~On a hunting trip. This is not only a source of food, but it is also a great amusement and social function for Azrohim. Ladies often attend and participate. Falconry and bow-hunting are thought to be suitable sporting skills for an Azrohim lady. They may have an encampment nearby. The encampments are very comfortable with lots of food and wine. 

~Hunting for Veylian scavengers. Part of keeping the slaves under control is punishing those who choose to live free. They do so with great gusto. Azrohim raiding bands may be in search of hidden Veylian warrens or villages which they raid and destroy. Or they might be stalking individual fuigitives. Though Veylian scavengers are usually easy prey for the Azrohim, there is an inherent risk in hunting for them, and it is considered great sport.

~In search of an escaped slave.  Slaves are decidedly expendable. If an Azrohim will go so far as to chase after one, it is likely that the slave has some special quality; is skilled or exceptionally beautiful, or has stolen something or knows a compromising secret.

~Plundering. Azrohim have their basic commodities produced reliably by their slaves. But to the Azrohim, a life without luxury is not worth living! Gold, gems, furs, exotic meat, rare fruit, all these things lie in the wilderness of Veylia. For this reason, Azrohim may be encountered practically anywhere in Veylia.

Combat and Magic
Azrohim favor chain and scale armor and can all be assumed to be proficient horsemen. They prefer crossbows to longbows, and all males relish melee combat. Females tend to prefer the arts of emotional abuse and back-biting. They have a great sense of group tactics, which sometimes gives way to personal bravado. They enjoy toying with their opponents, and often use their magic to frighten and to torment.
King Kador is 16th lvl and Lord Rast is 14th level
Kador has 4 lieutenants of 10th level, Rast has 3.
Each lieutenant has 4-5 captains of about 5th level
There are also several bravos and champions in either court, ranging from 4th to 7th
The vast majority of ladies are 0th or 1st level, males are 1st or 2nd

Azrohim as Player characters
The Azrohim Race is also a character class, so one can level up as an azrohim. Other classes may be applied by multi-classing.
Azrohim get +2 to their Charisma score and -2 to their wisdom.

Azrohim have low-light vision, and can confer darkvision on themselves with the use of a racial spell.

Their magic is considered to be charisma-based. They regain their daily spells without studying or meditating. Azrohim must sleep for at least 4 hours and it must literally be the next day before they can regain their spells. Azrohim may choose their daily spells from their spells know. Spells know are chosen from the list of Azrohim spells

HD: d8
Saves: as an elf or rogue, depending on your system

Azrohim Magic
Azrohim have magical abilities as a racial feature.
Eating the still-warm heart of a recently slain Azrohim can confer their magic power to the eater. The eater will gain one spell known and one spell per day, starting at the lowest increment. The player may chose which spell to learn.
This is slightly taboo amongst Azrohim, and only done to make a serious point.
Eating too many Azrohim hearts will cause the eater to develop argyria and resemble and Azrohim.

Unique Azrohim Spells: 

Canaan Party Trick
0th lvl illusion
Components: V,S
Casting time: full round
Range: touch
Save: Will/ enchantment
Duration: 1 hour per caster level

This illusion enchants water to seem to be red wine. The caster can enchant 1 gallon of water per caster level. The caster must be touching the water or holding the vessel in order to cast this spell. The affected water will smell, taste and look like common red wine, though a discriminating palette will notice a distinct lack of “character,” “body” or “terroir” in the “wine.” In reality, the enchanted water has no alcohol and the drinker will not become intoxicated (though they may believe themselves to be intoxicated)
Those who succeed a saving throw see through the illusion. Particularly suspicious imbibers may make a save when first examining/smelling/scrutinizing the liquid. Other wise, those who drink it will only get a saving throw after knocking back a few. They may make a save, but with penalties as if they were intoxicated in the first place. Those who fail this save will continue believing that they are drinking wine and getting drunk. If the majority of the people drinking have failed the save, others will suffer a penalty of 2 to their save. Those who continue the illusory drinking binge may find themselves still partying when they might otherwise have grown tired or too drunk. They will find themselves remarkable not hung over the next morning.
This spell is mostly used for interventions, practical jokes, cheating at drinking contests, and satiating tipsy guests when the real wine has run out.
The caster of the spell will never see the liquid as anything other than water, unless he can somehow be tricked into thinking that it is a different batch of wine. Then he becomes susceptible to the illusion. The main effect of this is that caster can not trick himself into believing he is drunk, no matter how badly he needs a drink.

1st level enchantment
Components: S
Casting Time: one round
Duration: one hour per level
Range: self
Save: NA

The Azrohim can give themselves darkvision up to 60 feet for a limited time.  

Elf Shot
0th level illusion
Components: S
Casting time: standard action
Duration: Intantaneous
Range:100 ft+ 10 per caster level
Save: Will  (vs enchantment)

The victim of Elf Shot experiences a sudden, painful stabbing sensation in some part of the body. The pain peaks instantly and fades completely after a round. Elf Shot does no actual damage. It is nonetheless useful for distracting and frightening the target. Its victims believe that they are being attacked, and must react accordingly. For instance, if the target is casting a spell, the target must make a concentration check as if being attacked normally. If they are climbing, a climb check may be required to prevent them from falling, and so on. Its generally a great way to bung up someone’s skill checks.
The target may make a will save. If successful, the target realizes that the pain is illusory, and  gains a +4 bonus to any checks incurred by the Elf Shot
Elf shot may also be used on mounts, incurring a ride check as if the steed were actually taking damage. An afflicted steed may dash off suddenly or try to buck the rider. An intelligent mount will make its own will save. If the beast is not particularly intelligent, the rider may make the will save, and apply the bonus to the ride check.

1st level Necromancy
Compnent: VS
Casting time: Standard Action
Duration: 1 turn per caster level
Range: 50 ft
Save: Fort negates (vs poison)

The caster may target 3 HD+(1HD per caster level) of creatures. Those who fail the save become sickened and may vomit.

 Scent of the Hound
1st level transmutation
Component: VS
Casting time, full round
Duration: 1 turn plus 1 turn per caster level
Range: self
Save: NA

The Caster gains the Scent feat for the duration of the spell. The caster may use this to track or find creatures or objects  which have recently passed. It also allows the caster to distinguish between the scents of individuals, provided that the caster is familiar with the “type.” For example, an Azrohim may clearly distinguish the scent of other Azrohim, and certain other Veylians. But all locothath smell fishy, and all lamia smell like rotten meat, until the caster has spent sufficient time amongst lamia to learn the difference between individuals.

Scent only works in atmospheres otherwise breathable by the caster.  Fluid mediums like air or water shift and convect and it is practically impossibly to scent anything in them, unless there has been very little circulation or ventilation (as in a closed chamber) Usually scents stick to the ground or to objects and the caster must get close to the ground or pick up said object and sniff it in order to detect anything.

Enjoy the Azrohim. They enjoy you.