Learning from the Masters

Learning from the Masters

Here's how to re-write the rules to suit your taste.

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Appreciate the review. I am always learning something from detailed reviews. I am glad you like the details of how magic and religion plays out in the setting. My players deserves much of the credit as we devoted whole campaigns to where everybody played a mage or everybody played a member of a temple. The details of those campaigns got fed into the background of subsequent campaigns.

In upcoming products the various regions of the Majestic Wilderlands will be expanded in detail. For this one I was trying to get away from the setting book as travelogue so I focused more on character detail than detailed locale information. My upcoming adventure, Scourge of the Demon Wolf, will have a small gazetteer of a region to give a taste of what it will look like.

This site has two rather interesting hacks for old-school D&D.

Robert - I'll look forward to the follow-on products.
Jon - Those look good! Thanks for the links. I love the retro-clones.

Apparently the authors of 4th Edition D&D came to some of the same conclusions on the inherent nonsensical nature of certain magical mechanics, as they've implemented a ritual casting system that sounds quite similar to your description of the one in The Majestic Wilderness, and later supplements have added character classes that cast arcane/divine spells through use of tools and runes (artificers and rune priests). Definite points of similarity going on there.

Interesting read, out of the two the latter "Majestic Wilderness" sounds like a better product.

The first "Weird Tales" game sounds interesting for those who want a set of mechanics that encourages one dimensional characters and very close teamwork (for GMs tired of characters running off as one man shows too often), as a "Weird Tales" game it sounds absolutly awful and going by those mechanics like it was created by someone who has never actually read the vintage stories he claims he's basing the game on, but has only heard about them.

I say this not to be mean (as I am often accused of hating things for the sake of hating them) but as someone who has in the past lectured players specifically that their characters are not Conan, or whatever vintage fantasy hero might come to mind, specifically because of team based play.

See, most of the "Weird Tales" type characters were not hyper-specialized, but polymaths. Oh sure, you can find exceptions, but the fighter and thief were more or less interchangable. Conan, Fafhrd, and The Gray Mouser to look at some of the iconic characters of the period had all of the talents of both of those traditiona roles. The Mouser and Fafrd also both possessed magic (Fafrd was a Skald even though his powers were usually understated, and The Mouser was at one point apprenticed to a wizard and both understood magic and could use it to a limited degree). As the very old "Deities and Demigods" books and indeed the AD&D "Lankhmar" supplements also point out, these characters were also typically perfect, rarely having an attribute below 16. All of them were strong, fast, durable, smart, and absolute lady killers. It's also noteworthy that most of the other characters that grouped with them (they had various companions in differant stories) were usually just as uber in their own way, even if they wound up coming to a bad end.

I would say that for the most part such "vintage fantasy" stories would involve creating small teams (4 players or so) of incredibly skilled polymath characters, and then ultimatly pitting them up against something equally disgusting. Winding up in battle against a god (or something viewed as a god) wasn't all that uncommon. I remember one of Fritz Leiber's stories where our heroes went to rob a house, only to find out that the entire house was alive (as in animated) and was basically trying to crush them with it's internal walls, and then using it's outer towers like clubs to flatten them (they kill it by eventually pulling out the gem... the rumored treasure... which was it's heart). Stuff like that is why it's "wierd tales" they get absolutly borked at times.

When it comes to wizards, or priests (the distinction can be greatly blurred in these stories) it is true that these guys rarely throw fireballs and such, but then again they rarely need to bother because they can incinerate people by looking at them. They can also be borderline unkillable because "oh gee, I left my soul stored in a container on the other side of the world, how inconveinent for you..." or some other device. While the stereotype has the vintage barbarian hero wandering around decapitating wizards with ease, typically winning came down to luck, a massive gimmick, or just as frequently running away or pitting them against another wizard or supernatural creature of equal stature. For the most part characters like Conan survived because they didn't go wandering up to the uber wizard head on... and when they wound up doing that (perhaps not knowing who they were facing) in true cinematic tradition the wizard would simply knock out our hero, and dump them in a dungeon
to be eaten by his favorite pet or whatever where they would inevitably escape or be rescued.

On the other hand, I do more or less agree with that take on magical items that are found within stories. Magic is typically portrayed as not being all that nice. The exception to this of course being magical items that are integral to the character, which is another aspect to look at. Most of Michael Moorcock's writings belong to his "Champion Eternal" cycle, without going into the analysis of the whole thing I will say that his protaganists inevitably wind up wielding at least one magical item (a guise of the black sword) which is entirely beneficial as long as they do whatever "The Lords Of The Higher Worlds" dictate. People are typically only familiar with Elric and think of "Stormbringer" as what an evil, cursed, sword should be, but miss the point entirely that through that entire series Elric is bucking his duty in the name of free will, and that's largely why it makes his life an abject misery.

Enough ranting, the bottom line is that I don't think the idea of highly limited characters really represents the atmosphere it's trying to go for. I think that genere is represented by going in the extreme opposite direction. While not everyone will agree, I'll point out that most attempts to stat out those kinds of characters have resulted in rule-bending polymaths with near perfect attributes.

It's a class-based system, so having limited ranges of abilities is a must.

And the Weird, as described in the game, has nothing to do with mechanics. The PCs aren't intended to be the heroes of the old pulps. It's about recreating the atmosphere of weird fantasy and then throwing more-or-less traditional RPG PCs in the middle of it and then watching the players try to cope.

Think Lord of the Rings if there were no Aragorn or Gandalf - quite a different story indeed! Think Hodgson's House on the Borderlands. Think Blackwoods' The Willows. Lovecraft's The Shunned House. Kane more than Conan, Averoigne more than Lankhmar.

Therumancer:
When it comes to wizards, or priests (the distinction can be greatly blurred in these stories) it is true that these guys rarely throw fireballs and such, but then again they rarely need to bother because they can incinerate people by looking at them. They can also be borderline unkillable because "oh gee, I left my soul stored in a container on the other side of the world, how inconveinent for you..." or some other device. While the stereotype has the vintage barbarian hero wandering around decapitating wizards with ease, typically winning came down to luck, a massive gimmick, or just as frequently running away or pitting them against another wizard or supernatural creature of equal stature. For the most part characters like Conan survived because they didn't go wandering up to the uber wizard head on... and when they wound up doing that (perhaps not knowing who they were facing) in true cinematic tradition the wizard would simply knock out our hero, and dump them in a dungeon to be eaten by his favorite pet or whatever where they would inevitably escape or be rescued.

Therumancer, thanks for the lengthy feedback! I see that James Raggi has already jumped in to respond so I will let you two hammer that point out.

What I wanted to address was your point on sorcerers above. A pet project of mine has been attempting to find pre-D&D examples of magic-users demonstrating the flashier powers that are displayed in D&D. Specifically I'm looking for, pre-D&D examples of magic-users throwing lightning bolts or fireballs; disintegrating or instantly killing their enemies; and teleporting. These examples could be in fantasy fiction or in source mythology.

I haven't read Lankhmar much (except 1 short story) so if that's a source of such power I need to check it out... Anyone else have ideas?

JimLotFP:
It's a class-based system, so having limited ranges of abilities is a must.

And the Weird, as described in the game, has nothing to do with mechanics. The PCs aren't intended to be the heroes of the old pulps. It's about recreating the atmosphere of weird fantasy and then throwing more-or-less traditional RPG PCs in the middle of it and then watching the players try to cope.

Think Lord of the Rings if there were no Aragorn or Gandalf - quite a different story indeed! Think Hodgson's House on the Borderlands. Think Blackwoods' The Willows. Lovecraft's The Shunned House. Kane more than Conan, Averoigne more than Lankhmar.

I think I see where your going, the title, cover art, and description lead me to a differant impression. Your basically creating a fantasy horror setting similar to Ravenloft, or the (very basic) instructions in the back of the D20 "Call Of Cthulhu" rulebook. Your designing a ground up set of mechanics though as opposed trying to adapt rules originally intended for heroic fantasy.

Not a bad idea if I've got it right, it's something that hasn't been done that often.

I personally think Soloman Kane is just as over the top as Conan in his own way, perhaps more so since a case can be made that he's literally invincible, but I do see your point, and it's more or less irrelevent since I think I've got the atmosphere your going for fairly well.

That said I'm not sure if calling it "wierd tales" is a good idea since it does bring pulp characters to mind, and I'll also say that even within the body of work of guys like HP Lovecraft a lot of the characters are pretty bloody capable. While your going with a fantasy setting, keep in mind that the Mythos is full of rugged explorers and the like, and while many do die in the process, in most cases they do wind up saving the world (at least for another week) in the end. I've been critical of some of the "Call Of Cthulhu" versions out there for years because while I understand why characters are so fragile, and what they were trying to do, but the "victim" types were not the ones who were actively "investigating" in many cases and that's what the PCs were supposed to be. "Random guy stumbles on something horrible" is very much the stuff of the period, but the guys who travel cross country or accross the world to check stuff out tend to be more in the vein of Grizzly Adams, or (oddly) Indiana Jones.

I guess I'm not getting where you think characters in this game aren't capable. They don't have a great variety of special abilities each (although one class can have more general skills), but they're certainly a great step up from the average villager, even at first level.

And it's not *all* low-power. One of the illustrations is a wizard shooting a lightning bolt at War of the Worlds style tripods. :D

Archon:

Therumancer, thanks for the lengthy feedback! I see that James Raggi has already jumped in to respond so I will let you two hammer that point out.

What I wanted to address was your point on sorcerers above. A pet project of mine has been attempting to find pre-D&D examples of magic-users demonstrating the flashier powers that are displayed in D&D. Specifically I'm looking for, pre-D&D examples of magic-users throwing lightning bolts or fireballs; disintegrating or instantly killing their enemies; and teleporting. These examples could be in fantasy fiction or in source mythology.

I haven't read Lankhmar much (except 1 short story) so if that's a source of such power I need to check it out... Anyone else have ideas?

I haven't read a lot of his work but I'd recommend checking out "Jack Vance" and his writings since that is where D&D took the spell memorization idea from.

To be entirely honest in most of the "classic" stories I've read magic is left more or less ambigious, sure people do throw fire and everything but not anything like they do in most RPGs. Of course then again when I went through an interest in such stories years ago I mostly only got to read the most famous ones that survived up until that point in some kind of obtainable print. People tend to re-print Fritz Leiber and Howard, but it's a little bit harder to find stuff by guys like Lin Carter who were influential at the dawn of RPGs and so on (though for all I know they have since gone back into print in a big way).

At any rate I recommend Jack Vance because as I heard at the time when D&D was being cooked up and they wanted to have playable wizards (who weren't you know, borderline invincible) he was the only one who had a detailed explanation for how and why magic worked, and what it was like for a caster to work magic and cast spells and such. While popular in it's day other more modern takes on wizards, with them acting as energy manipulators as opposed to memorizers of disposable formulas (ie mana systems) have likewise become more popular in RPGs as the whole "Vancian Magic System" is quite limiting to readers familiar with apprentice mages who can perform myriad feats of of low end magic, as opposed to memorizing a single spell or a handfull of cantrips and then being done for the forseeable future.... but understand the memorization system was extremely workable to begin with.

I'd also say that a lot of the spells were probably created wholecloth by the designers, if you look at like 1st Edition AD&D you'll notice that a good portion of the spells include jokes. For example the spell component needed for an ESP is a copper piece, which is the AD&D equivilent of a penny or "A penny for your thoughts". So, as used in the game the wizard literally pulls out a penny, it disappears as he "pays" it as an expended component, and can then read someone's mind. Some of the jokes and puns involved in the old system are fairly obscure high nerdism from the early days, and I remember people older than me explaining to me why certain things were supposed to be funny in a similar vein, or in referance to some story or other. Other than a few like the ESP spell I don't remember them all because it has been a long time since I played 1st edition, and even longer since I bothered to play with a GM who paid any attention to spell components except when there was a high gold piece value attached as a balancing mechanic.

Truthfully if I had to make a guess I'd say that magic and "spell effects" are one of the things that RPGs did that influanced fantasy writing, as opposed to vice versa, even if many current authors don't realize where some of the conventions they are playing with are from.

Both publications sound like interesting reads - I shall see if I can track them down. (Are they on Amazon? I'm lazy! :p) I particularly love the "magic item with a twist" idea - Yoink! That'll work brilliantly in my homebrew setting. :D Come to think of it, my first character had a sword that had a "magic, but..." nature - it was Lawful Evil, and my LG character had to make Will saves fairly often to remain in control of it. It was also sentient - we had some interesting chit-chats.

Currently, I'm faffing around with the D&D wealth system to create a system of tokens that represent volumes of water (it's for a desert setting). The "banks" are run by a hive-minded insect race with the ability to dig down deep enough to reach the water table and to construct water-tight underground reservoirs. They tend to remain outside the politicking of other races because no-one wants to piss them off and then find they can't access the town's principle water supply. In theory, anyone can present a water token at any hive and receive that amount of water, or exchange a number of smaller volume tokens for a few of higher volume. Water tokens can also be used as regular currency to buy other items. (Yes, it's little like Dune if you imagine that the Fremen are 3'6", insectile and live in 500m tall termite mounds.)

I'm also planning on converting valuable material spell components into weights instead of using their GP value. For example, 50GP of powdered jade might weigh 1oz. That 1oz might then cost different amounts according to the proximity of any jade mines in the region, but it will still be the same mass of jade regardless of how much was paid for it and therefore still be effective in the relevant spell. In theory this sticks two fingers up at the following situation: Party: "Hey, we went down the market and got a great deal on diamonds! We got this one for 4500GP - the man gave us a discount!" Cleric: "That's lovely, but I still need another 500GP worth of diamond to raise your friend...." Sure, that might be taking the rules a bit too literally, but it's always seemed a bit daft to me. Also, I'm a scientist and therefore I like the neatness of mass over the untidyness of "value", which is an extremely subjective term.

Amazon, that is some crazy shit. I love it.

D'awww, thank you! It means a lot to me to hear you say that. :D

Archon:

What I wanted to address was your point on sorcerers above. A pet project of mine has been attempting to find pre-D&D examples of magic-users demonstrating the flashier powers that are displayed in D&D. Specifically I'm looking for, pre-D&D examples of magic-users throwing lightning bolts or fireballs; disintegrating or instantly killing their enemies; and teleporting. These examples could be in fantasy fiction or in source mythology.

I haven't read Lankhmar much (except 1 short story) so if that's a source of such power I need to check it out... Anyone else have ideas?

As has been previously mentioned Jack Vance's tales of the dying earth is perhaps the most influential on the d&d magic system. I remember an article by Gary Gygax that appeared in a fanzine and another article( by someone else) that appeared in white dwarf magazine, around the time warhammer 40k came out, talking about the influence of Vance's work. I think Ursula K. Le Guin and Stephen Donaldson have some wizards that have the fireball and lighting style. I would like to throw in the 1960s Roger Corman version of the Raven into the mix as well.

Heh, this article speaks to the very essence of my heart - I, along with several others, have been working on creating a philosophy themed RPG - Dungeons and Discourse. What started out as a combination and adaptation of several rules systems has since undergone several reboots and is now a fully seperate system, though still in continuous development. I'll probably look into some of the ideas presented here and see what i can adapt.

OK, I've read Vance, and am familiar with the magic therein. That's obviously a big inspiration, especially the memorization method.

I had entirely forgotten Ursula K. LeGuin's Wizard of Earthsea series, which pains me as I have read that series multiple times. There is magical mist, weather control, lightning bolts, light spells, monster summoning, polymorph, etc. That's actually the highest-magic setting I'm aware of, pre-D&D...

Have not read Stephen Donaldson nor Roger Corman. Do the wizards throw fireballs therein?

Lets start with Donaldson. The Thomas Covenant series came out some time in the mid 70s so its just and just with D&D. The books themselves have a fairly high magic setting, a group of good guys know as lords are just as powerful and spell happy as Gandalf at the end of Lord of the Rings. The books work because they can be read as the internal physiological battle of main character. If you haven't read them they are sort of like the fantasy version of dune.

In the case of Roger Cormans the Raven its cheap a 60s B picture with Vincent Price
Peter Lorre, Boris Karloff and Jack Nicholson. The bit I was thinking off was this

The actual fight is longer but its very D&D if you ignore the bad effects.

Since my first post I have also remembered Michael Moorcock's Elric novels from the early 70s, I belive that Elric appeared in Deities & Demigods book 1st print run but an argument with Chaosium killed it. Chaosium produced an rpg based on Elric using the runequest d100 rules. Most of the Eternal Champion novels belong in high magic settings

Elric is high magic, but it's mostly demon-summoning and so on. I'm not aware of any fireball/evocation style magic in the setting...

Thanks for the video!

I love these rule set changes. I'm trying to start a new group and everyone is leaning to a type of game like Call of Cthulu, but I really don't have time to learn it - I have a full time job and I'm starting up college next week. Building on something I'm familiar with like D&D will be a great compromise - I think the LotFP is going to be perfect for us.

I'll never understand the urge to retrofit literature into rules; since rules are better or worse at certain games. I understand Raggi is creating a mashup of weird horror and D&D, and one that grafts a horror sheen onto the classic RPG. It's not trying to emulate any author perfectly; it's trying to create a D&D that has more of that flavor.

 

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