Thursday, October 31, 2013

OddD&D Part VII: The Yuan-Ti Kingdoms

In contrast to the Lizard Kingdoms, the Yuan-Ti kingdoms have a more parasitical relationship with the "warm-bloods" and therefore do not see them as pests worth little other than to be exterminated.  In fact, the primary conflict between the war-like lizardmen and the much more subtle yuan-ti is about the treatment of the mammals; the yuan-ti see them as needed to preserve their own way of life.  In this respect, they almost seem like an advocate for humans and their kin, but only in a very narrow sense.

The yuan-ti exploit humanity (and demihumanity).  They do not value them other than as a source for tainted ones and other hybrids.  It is, in fact, believed by some that the yuan-ti race was created in the distant past when humans prayed to the reptilian gods for salvation from the lizardmen, and demon-god Sertrous answered their call, turning them from humans into the first yuan-ti purebloods.  The rest of the diverse yuan-ti race soon followed.

Some among the beleagured human and demihuman communities see this as an opportunity to make common cause with the yuan-ti against the lizardmen.  However, it is clear that the yuan-ti do not see any human or demihuman person as anything close to an equal--they are at best cattle: valuable enough while alive, but disposable and useful only as a resource to be consumed.

Some among humanity know this, and stand as firmly against the serpents as they do against the lizards.  Others know this, and think that they can exploit this fracture between the reptiles to their gain, keeping a wary eye on the yuan-ti.  Others know this and think that being the cattle of the yuan-ti is better than being dead on the blades of the lizards.  And finally, some actually trust the yuan-ti's promises of aid and succor.  These poor dupes were once a fringe in human and demihuman society, but their numbers are growing, particularly as yuan-ti secretively infiltrate more and more of it.  And this divisiveness among the "warm bloods" is a wedge that the yuan-ti can exploit to infiltrate even more deeply.

Like the lizardmen kingdoms, the yuan-ti are divided into several city-state or larger entities, which have a fierce rivalry with each other, but which are reluctant to show lack of unity to their enemies.  Often, embassies, or even armies, are designated by multiple such nations to speak on behalf of the entirety of yuan-ti-dom.  But it is in the snakes' nature to constantly attempt to deceive and manipulate each other as well as their enemies for their own gain.  Many of their cities are in the drier parts of the continent, alongside rivers.  The yuan-ti require little in the way of water to survive, although some live deep in constantly humid rainforests or swamps as well.

The lizardmen collectively control about half of the territory on the continent.  The yuan-ti, about a third.  That leaves (roughly) 15% that is either too remote and resourceless to be of use to anyone, or under the control of the warm-bloods.  The yuan-ti, generally, would like to reverse some of those percentages, with them controlling half of the territory, and humanity taking over a larger chunk, although under their own watchful eyes.  While temporarily useful, the yuan-ti have no long-term use for the lizardmen at all, and would not weep to see them completely eradicated.  They know, of course, that such a goal is a long-term one, as the lizardmen today are the strongest group on the continent by far.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Periodic table of synthpop

Work and real life have conspired against me, and I didn't make any of the posts yesterday that I hoped to make and which I referred to in my last post.  *sigh*

Today, I think I'm going to punt and talk about something else that requires a little bit less thought and effort on my part as well.  I discovered this interesting little image when it was posted on Apoptygma Berzerk's facebook feed.  Synthpop is really my favorite kind of music.  And it's a bit varied.  There's more than one "style" of synthpop, as you'd expect from a genre that's been kicking around since the late 70s (usually at this point, one points out that the first song generally considered true synthpop is "Hiroshima Mon Amour" by Ultravox! on their 1977 album Ha!-Ha!-Ha!  The first synthpop album is also generally credited to Ultravox (now sans exclamation point): 1978's Systems of Romance.  However, it wasn't long before Tubeway Army, Sparks, The Human League and others were really introducing the synthpop sound, often having arrived at it independently from mixing Kraftwerk and other "krautrock" type sounds with a more poppish flavor.

Synthpop (although not known by that name in the US at the time) was intensely popular during much of the 80s (when I was a kid--hence my love of it) and especially by the late 80s, synthpop bands (often British, but not necessarily so) were regularly charting in the US--Depeche Mode, New Order, Erasure, Information Society, the Pet Shop Boys, etc. is just a taste of what came out in the mid to late 80s and received generally high sales and airplay.  By the 90s, though, synthpop dove sharply underground as mainstream tastes changed and grunge (and other movements) revolted and pushed back against the synthpop sound.  By now, however, the internet made sure that the genre couldn't die, and indie bands were able to reach a fairly high level of sales and visibility thanks to its auspices.  This is the case today, and it is well represented here, by the various splintering of styles and whatnot.

I've never heard some of these labels before (and I expect they were made up for this chart, partially tongue in cheek.  Noble synthpop?  But, somehow, it fits.)  And there's a few bands on this list that I'm not familiar with, but not too many.  I'd quibble just a tad with some placement--why is Assemblage 23 not listed with Futurepop, for example?  And why is Visage New wave and not New Romantic, when Visage almost single handedly created New Romanticism in the first place?  But these are very minor quibbles.

Rather, I think the chart is missing an important component--where is the modern mainstream synthpop?  Stuff like Lady Gaga, La Roux, Owl City, Hurts, The Presets, etc.?  Darkwave is more of a hybrid genre (as is futurepop), so if they're in, why not electroclash?

Yeah, yeah--I get it.  The entire thing isn't meant to be taken very seriously.  But still, I think those are major misses.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Blogger stats

I like to look at my blogger stats.  I'm always surprised when a post, many times several years after I make it, starts to take on a life of its own.  Currently, this post right here for instance is topping the views right now, the views for the day, the views for the week, and it even cracked into the top five views for the month.  A review of a book that I posted years ago.

I suppose Google image search has something to do with it, and I do have a cool old image of Demogorgon from the D&D coloring book (a fixture of my childhood--I used to doodle dragons on my homework for years in elementary school, using techniques more or less learned by imitating the drawing of Tiamat from that book.)

But there it is.  For some odd reason, that post has soared in views.  And this post here easily tops my all-time views.  And curiously, most of those views came in over a one month or six weeks or so period of time, where it suddenly spiked dramatically, and then sank again into obscurity.

I don't get the internet sometimes.

Hopefully, I'll have time to post both a DARK•HERITAGE and an ODD D&D post later today.  But for now, this random thought keeps me in the game.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Odd D&D, part VI: The Lizardmen kingdoms

Still keeping my furlough of DARK•HERITAGE topics on while I talk about my ODD D&D setting development instead.  For those of you just tuning in, check out the tag ODD D&D and read the rest of the posts in the series.  Otherwise, here's a quick summary.  The premise of this game is that it uses 100% official D&D rules (3.5 edition, although it could easily be adapted to another edition, I'm sure) but it deliberately eschews the normal D&Disms that typically one finds in a D&D game.  So, the races are pretty shook up--there's no elves, dwarves, halflings, gnomes, etc.  The classes are a bit shook up.  There's no arcane or divine magic, and psionics instead provides all of the supernatural F/X (and keep in mind that especially with the Complete Psionic book, psionics can duplicate most of the effects of both divine and arcane magic anyway.)  There's no dungeons, and there's no dragons.  Rather, the theme of the game is a kind of vs. the reptiles--the PC races live in small, fringe communities that bicker and play dirty politics and skulduggery with each other, even as they are pushed to the fringes of a Greenland-sized continent by powerful lizardmen empires, and scheming yuan-ti empires.  The wildlands between their settlements cross dangerous territory where the reptiles hold sway, both in terms of their civilized warriors--who see the mammalian PC races as either interesting slaves or food--at best--and gigantic dinosaurian wildlife.

Anyway, for today, I'm going to talk a bit more about the lizardman kingdoms, or Squamousii, as they're collectively called.  Although often referred to as an empire, in reality, Squamousii is a collection of city-states united in more or less amicable alliance and by a common shared culture.  The leadership caste of the lizardmen are the priest-kings, who are almost always psions, or other psionic-using classes.  True psions often become morbidly obese and bloated with magical power, to the point where they can't even walk and must be carried always on a palanquin.  Pictured here is a young priest-prince; a priest-king in the making, just starting to become swollen with power, and not yet immobile.

Lizardmen don't live in regular family units--their females lay eggs in large nesting grounds, where a large number of nests sit in close proximity, and then guarded and tended communally.  The young are also raised communally, and lizardmen society has nothing that approaches marriage, since reproductive functions are not related to anything like familial or spousal love.  The lizardmen are much too pragmatic for that approach, and compared to the mammalian races, are viewed as cold and emotionless.  This is as much due to the totally alien nature of their faces, which do not emote in ways that humanoid races can interpret as it is to reality, but the way in which young are raised communally reinforces that notion strongly.

Around large nesting sites, which have been used for centuries by colonies, often even millenia, is where the city-states have grown up as the lizardmen acquired civilization--by adopting complicated building techniques and division and specialization of labor amongst the communities.  The largest city-states have literally millions of occupants, spread over many square miles--the equivalent of many smaller European countries, or US states in terms of size.  At the center of each city-states' area, is a megalithic, Cyclopean city, with strong, stone walls, gigantic, sheer-sided pyramids as big as mountains, a complicated social hierarchy built around the near-worship of the priest-kings and their chthonic gods, and the support of vast armies of soldiers and workers.
Some mammalian humanoids live in these cities, occasionally as guests of the priest-kings, but more often as slaves, chattel and livestock, for lizardmen see nothing wrong with eating mammalian humanoids (although they usually prefer other meat.)  These cities also have large embassy compounds, with representatives of their brother-kings from other city-states, as well as from yuan-ti states, which have a more guarded, and occasionally even hostile relationship with the lizardmen.  Mammalian humanoids also--occasionally--have embassies in these cities, but in general, the lizardmen think too little of the humanoids to treat with them as anything approaching equals.  The other thing that humanoids have recently discovered--through these embassies--is that they are not the only mammalian sentient creatures on the continent.  Embassies of intelligent apes have opened in a few of these cities.  The lizardmen actually seem to treat these intelligent apes as more worthy of respect than the humanoids, although it is unclear to most humanoids where they come from and what the extent of their kingdoms and power truly is.

Although the lizardmen (and the yuan-ti) are both reptilian, that does not mean that they are slow, sluggish, or cold-blooded (i.e., ectothermic, or poikilothermic.)  Like the early archosaurs of our world, the ancient ancestors of the lizardmen (and many of the dinosaurian creatures that are their ecological room-mates) developed a degree of warm-bloodedness, which has been refined and developed until it is as complex and efficient as that of the mammalian humanoids.  Young lizardmen hatchlings are actualy covered in a fine coat of downy pelage, which they lose as they grow, and the thick, scute-like scales that cover their bodies become more prominent and hardened.

As they grow older, their metabolism does slow down (as it does in you and me, for that matter, but the effect is more marked in lizardmen) but when younger, their metabolism is actually quite a bit faster and their internal furnaces burn even hotter than in mammalians, leading to a great consumption of food resources.  In the rare times of very severe famine, lizardmen are known to eat their own young.  Because the metabolism of the older saurians is slower, they need to eat less than the young do.  Sometimes, the young subadults are strong and powerful enough of as a population to turn the tables and instead eat the older, slower full adults when this happens--but the circumstances have to be extremely dire for either situation to occur.

Lizardmen, as their mouths and teeth indicate, are obligate carnivores, and have a very poor ability to digest or derive nutrition from any plant material.  They also retain water vastly more efficiently than mammals do.  Because of this, the strongly tropical--both dry desert and wet rainforest and jungle habitats that cover much of the mainland are better environments for lizardmen than for mammals, and the lizardmen thrive where humanoids struggle.  Because of this obligate carnivory, lizardmen are not farmers, but are instead rancher and hunters or fishers, and keep vast herds of smaller dinosaurs (hypsilophodonts and protoceratopians, mostly) which are raised for both meat and eggs, which the lizardmen greatly like to eat.  Hunted meat is more varied, and can include the large dinosaurs, as well as any mammals (including humanoids) although such meat is considered poor fare, and is only usually given to lower caste lizardmen, or eaten in times of duress.

While lizardmen are united in their disinterest or even disdain of humanoids, and their opposition to the ambitions of the yuan-ti, they are not truly united politically, and it is not at all unheard of for one city-state to march to war against another.  When they march to war, the adults and subadults are conscripted into the army and equipped in a somewhat ad-hoc fashion.  These conscripts are strong, fast, and fierce, but are poorly trained and disciplined, and make good fighters, but poor soldiers.  More highly trained elite forces, on the other hand, make up the core of such armies, and are much more difficult to fight, both individually and as units.  The massive blackscale lizardmen, a variant that can grow to nine to ten feet tall and weigh up to a thousand pounds or more of muscle and bone and massive battle-implements, are thankfully rather rare. They are not s subspecies or breed; rather, certain eggs, during incubation, develop the signs that they will hatch a blackscale, regardless of who laid it--becoming larger and darker in color before hatching.  Blackscale hatchlings are not separated from their smaller, green brothers, and while still tiny hatchlings, they often eat their nest-mates.

Perhaps even more frightening and certainly more dramatic, are the beasts of war that that the lizardmen utilize.  As Indians or Carthaginians in our world used war elephants and howdahs, the lizardmen do the same with much more dangerous and ferocious dinosaurian inhabitants of the land.  Some ride on gigantic carnivorous beasts, while others ride on horned and armored dinosaurs, using them almost as tank-like platforms that are very difficult to assail.

Even when not in war, caravans and travelers use domesticated dinosaurs as mounts and beasts of burden, which can be extremely dangerous to any traveling humanoids that they may encounter.  Humanoids are, unless somehow specifically invited, strongly discouraged from seeking out any contact with lizardmen of any kind.  The best defense that humanoids have developed to avoid being swept off the continent entirely and into the sea (or the lizardmen's larders) is that they inhabit marginal terrain where the environment is more hostile to the lizardmen--in the cooler mountains, and deep in the fjords along the coastline, mostly--or other more easily defensible and inaccesable locations.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Odd D&D part V; making gnarly pulpish dinosaurs

One of the conceits of the game is that various reptilian monsters rule most of the continent.  Mostly, what this means is that I'll have nations of lizardmen (including the big ogre-sized blackscale lizardmen) warring against nations of yuan-ti, with the "mammalian" PC races pushed to the fringes, caught in the crossfire, or otherwise downtrodden and afraid.  In particular, the lizardmen use a lot of ferocious and dangerous wildlife as domesticated beasts of burden and war (while those same animals make cross-country travel particularly hazardous.)  Looking at the Warhammer Lizardmen armies as inspiration, we see a lot of "fake" dinosaurs--creatures that are basically dinosaur-like, but "pulped up" if you will; made gratuitously more spiky, toothy and dangerous looking than even actual dinosaurs would have been.  For example (and this isn't necessarily meant to be complete) we've got:
  • Bastilodon, an elephant-sized ankylosaur, with even sharper armor, and a horned head.  Its teeth look, well--maybe not carnivorous, but certainly dangerous.
  • Carnosaur - A T. rex sized animal with raptor claws on its feet and long arms.  Greatest hits of features from big carnosaurs and fast raptor-type dinosaurs (dromeosaurs, for the curious, is the technical name for this group of dinosaurs.  Although I'm being a little fast and loose with my dinosaur terminology, I'm actually a fairly technical paleontology nerd.)
  • Cold One - a horse-sized dromeosaur, capable of being ridden into battle.
  • Terradon - a mean, chunky and robust Pteranodon, with a stronger, meaner bite and stronger meaner claws.  Also capable of being ridden by skinks, the small-sized lizardmen.
  • Ripperdactyl - Uglier, meaner pterodsaur-like creatures, with sharp teeth and big heads.
  • Stegadon - A Triceratops-like creature, with a lot more spikes on its head (basically, it's got every spike every ceratopsian ever had, all jammed into one head.)  As if that wasn't enough, it's also got a Stegosaurus style tail, complete with "thagomizer" and sharp teeth in its hooked beaked mouth.
  • Salamandars look a bit like more reptilian dimetrodons, but shoot a biological Greek fire of sorts.
  • Troglodons are carnosaur-sized animals that shoot venomous spit.
  • Razordons are lion-sized lizards that are covered in spines which they can, apparently, shoot out of their body in large numbers to impale enemies.
See, that's what I'm talking about when I say that dinosaurs need to be even more over-the-top than they already are in ODD D&D in order to conform to a gratuitous pulp aesthetic.  And although taking a scary-sounding English word and addiing -don to the end of it doesn't exactly make an animal sound like a dinosaur exactly (-don is a portion of the Graeco-Roman scientific naming convention that means tooth.  So, Iguanadon, for instance, means iguana-tooth) it still beats the heck out of whatever Wizards of the Coast were thinking when they tried to do a little bit of this in the Monster Manual III and had dinosaurs called battle-titans and fleshrakers, and stuff.  Frankly, I'd rather than a Terradon or a Stegadon than a battle-titan, if I need to come up with names here.

D&D already has a lot of stats for various dinosaurs.  Frankly, I think it's overkill.  I'd rather see stats for a few "types" of dinosaurs, and then a few a la carte options to over-the-top them a bit.  So, from the SRD (or PRD) or other monster listings of dinosaurs in d20, I'd go with the following as my basics:
  • A big-headed meat-eater.  Use stats for Tyrannosaurus, which is a huge animal.
  • A faster, but big meat-eater.  Use stats for Megaraptor, which is a large animal.
  • A ceratopsian.  Use stats for Triceratops, which is a huge animal.
  • An armored herbivore.  Use stats for Ankylosaurus (MM2) which is a huge animal. 
  • A big sauropod.  Use stats for Seismosaurus (MM2) which is a colossal animal.
  • A large pterosaur.  Use stats for Quetzalcoatlus (MM2) which is a huge animal.
  • A big swimmer, like a Elasmosaurus, which is a huge animal.
  • The Giant crocodile.
Now, you add extra attacks.  Take each base statline, and make sure that they have two major attack forms.  For example, if you have a T. rex, you really only have a big bite attack (complete with swallow whole.)  Give it another attack option; either a crushing tail attack like an ankylosaur, or a gore attack like a Triceratops, or--if you want to make it like the carnosaur mentioned above--give it also claw attacks (like a Huge-sized megaraptor) in addition to it's T. rex bite attack.  If you want to be really nasty, give it Pounce and Rake.

Or, you could make any of these animals venomous, including having the ability to spit venom as a ranged touch attack.

If you pay attention to such things, no doubt, this will increase the CR by 1 or 2, or possibly even 3 in some cases--although keep in mind that most animals can only take advantage of so many new abilities in a single combat, so it doesn't necessarily make them more difficult to defeat.

Friday, October 04, 2013

OddD&D, part IV: What do I need?

Well, I've shortened the titles so I can have a reasonable amount of room for a subtitle.

For those just tuning in, I'm furloughing my normal DARK•HERITAGE setting discussion to talk about another notion I had.  The hook; the impetus, in fact, for this setting design is the question--what if you used all, totally official D&D rules (3.5, because I'm most familiar with them, plus you can get much of it online for free via the SRD) to create a game that lacked almost all of the D&Disms?

As a quick summary so far, what I've done first is decided that instead of magic, only psionics works in this setting for bringing out supernatural F/X.  As I said earlier, there's really no difference between magic and psionics other than that psionics uses a power point mechanic rather than a spell slot mechanic, and the the psionic powers (or psionic spells, if you will) tend to have a more "technical" sounding jargon associated with them--even when they directly duplicate the effects of more traditional D&D spells.  I've also messed with the race list; human and half-orc are the only ones that you'll recognize from the standard line-up.  In fact, I've quite focused on so-called "savage" humanoids--half-orcs, goblins, and hobgoblins all make the list, as do shifters, for instance.  Since I'm doing psionics, why not also have some psionic races, I thought, so kalashtar and elan are officially brought on board as well.

I've also decided that all of these races live in more or less cosmopolitan cities and towns that are, nevertheless, very politically fractured and balkanized.  To make things worse, they live on the fringes of society, high in the mountains and otherwise in inaccessible locations, connected only by extremely hazardous trails through "enemy territory"--since the majority of the land is dominated by dangerous swamp and forest/jungle that's inhabited by powerful lizardmen societies that use gnarly "extreme" dinosaurs as domesticated beasts of burden and stuff.

So, that's the premise.  Now you're up to speed.  I probably don't need to say this, since it's common to all of the games I would potentially run, but let me get it out of the way right now.  I strongly believe in the early 3e motto of "Tools, not rules."  In fact, I was a bit surprised that it needed to be said, since I've always run games that way.  That's definitely an old-school paradigm.  What does this mean to me?  It means that in spite of the fact that 3.5 is strongly perceived to be a fiddly, rulesy game that's stifling to run, I don't think so, because I don't worry too much about running it "properly."  If your character Jumps, for example, I'm not going to look up all the rules on jumping, I'll just give you a DC that I develop as an ad hoc ruling on the fly that seems reasonable given what you are planning on doing, and move on.  I still strongly believe in the precedence of rulings over rules, and I believe that the robust and consistent framework of d20 should be utilized to make rulings easier, not to proliferate the discussion of nit-picky rules discussions in the middle of a game.

I've got a few other minor houserules that related to me preferred playstyle rather than to the premise of the setting (level-based AC bonus progression, for instance, to make armor less essential) but they're neither here nor there in regards to this post, so I'll leave 'em be for now.

Rather, since I'm working up a new setting, basically, at least in outline, sketchy format, I thought I'd review the old Ray Winninger Dungeoncraft methodology and see if there's anything important I should be thinking of but which I am not (I've always been pretty impressed with the Winninger Dungeoncraft methodology.  Not everything Ray says is essential, but when it comes to D&D running specifically, it's a great place to start--you can later break or ignore any rules you need to, but only after you make sure you understand them and why you're doing so.)  One thing he says early, on the "Should I DM?" article (his first in the series, and usually one that I don't need to look at very closely since it's pretty basic stuff for someone who has already run a game before) is listing out exactly what material you need.  Given that I'm going for an unusual hook for this setting, one that utilizes some of the more "marginal" D&D elements and promotes them to replace more "traditional" D&D elements, this is actually a rather important question for me to answer.

The good news is that, for most of my elements listed so far for the setting, I'm good with just the SRD.  Presumably if you're actually playing D&D (3.5) you're not just using the SRD, however, you're using the actual books.  The PHB and the MM in particular.  Much of the material from the Expanded Psionics Handbook (EPH) is also in the SRD, and is pretty crucial to this particular setting.

Other than that, you can always use a few more monster entries, and I'm specifically referring to some that are located in the Monster Manual III;  some of the lizardmen variants, more dinosaurs, the shifter, etc.  I'm also specifically referring to some classes from Complete Psionic, so that becomes a core book for this particular setting.  I'd be happy to accept any classes that lack a spellcasting progression from any of the other Complete books (Complete Warrior and Complete Adventurer being the most likely to work here--as well as providing variants for spell-casting less rangers if desired.)  With this, I've got everything I need except the kalashtar, which--uniquely among all of the Eberron races--never got a monster manual style write-up anywhere.  *sigh*  I guess that means you also need access to either Eberron or Races of Eberron unless you simply ignore the kalashtar as an option. 

That's unfortunate, since it means you need a book for simply one race.  If you don't already have it, then you can reduce your investment to simply two or three books (Complete Psionic and Monster Manual III) plus the SRD.  If you don't want to use the SRD, you need three more: PHB, MM, and EPH.  That's not really so bad.  You can also use some others, but keep in mind that the ubiquity of magic in D&D means that a lot of stuff is off limits by virtue of the premise of this setting.

Also, D&D has a lot of monsters.  I don't need many of them, since the vs. lizardmen and dinosaurs is a prominent feature of the setting premise as well.  HOWEVER, to mix that up just a bit more, I'm going to say that yuan-ti and lizardmen vie for control of the land (still keeping with a strongly reptilian theme).  The lizardmen see the "mammal" races as little more than food; beneath the notice of their empires except as a nuisance and occasional opportunity.  The yuan-ti, on the other hand, see the mammals as potentially a useful pawn to be used in their wars with the lizardmen, and so they infiltrate and manipulate the various other races settlements from afar, leading to a more sinister and less overt type of conflict (which is always good in a D&D game that eschews both dungeons and dragons.)  In the waters and seas, Deep ones also rule, and they sometimes like to infiltrate coastal settlements (a la "The Shadow Over Innsmouth.")  Deep Ones are well represented in D&D by the kuo-toa from the first Monster Manual, but I also notice that they are considered product identity and therefore don't make the cut into the SRD!  You can substitute sahuagin mechanics for the same concept, I suppose, or use the MM anyway if you have it, or any other aquatic fish-people mechanics.  Just get rid of Blibdoolpoolp entirely (the worst name ever to come out of the original Gygaxian crowd, which was infamous for its really bad names already) and go with Dagon.

There are also old humanoid settlements that have been destroyed, and undead and demons haunt their remains.  It is rumored that in their own internecine conflicts (which, keep in mind, they can ill-afford) someone "went nuclear" and broke the barriers between worlds, bringing this to pass.  Keep in mind that in a setting without clerics and turn undead, undead are much more challenging (as they should be, in my opinion anyway) since they have to actually be fought the old-fashioned way.

As a quick aside, the entirety of the little Greenland sized mini-continent that will make up this setting doesn't have to be jungle and swamp.  Although its usually assumed that lizardmen are swamp and jungle dwellers, and are as much aquatic as they are terrestrial, this really makes them more "crocodilemen" than lizardmen.  Lizards live in all kinds of environments, and are, in fact, spectacularly well-suited to living in very dry conditions.  You ever been out in the desert?  If you see a vertebrate, it's more like to be a bird or lizard (both of which descend from sauropsid ancestors) than a mammal.  That said, there's very little in the lizardfolk entry in the SRD that really supports this aquatic business other than a hold breath special quality, so just ignore that assumption and feel free to have Triceratops-riding lizardmen out in dry grasslands in the center of the continent.

Thursday, October 03, 2013

D&D without the D&Disms, part III

My ODD D&D will feature a few other changes.  I've tinkered a bit with the races, and come up with what I think is a good mix (see last post with the tag) and I've ruled that "magic" doesn't exist, only psionics.

Of course, this is a bit of a facile statement.  Psionics, as described in D&D, is magic, pure and simple.  It even mimics most of the same effects as "magic" but it does so with an only marginally different rules system.  Saying that there's no magic, only psionics, is somewhat disingenuous given the fact that psionics is magic, pure and simple, and the differences between a psion and a wizard are only slightly cosmetic.  That said, it'll make the game feel less like D&D and more like some other fantasy heartbreaker, and that's the point--playing D&D but not making it feel like D&D.  As a "hook" for a campaign setting, that's kind vague, and swapping out a bunch of classes is significant, but ultimately, what does that actually mean for players that this is using D&D rules but shouldn't feel like D&D?

I think what ultimately needs to be done is to ensure that the "story" of D&D isn't repeated.  By this, I mean--what do D&D characters do and what are they about and how can I make sure that I do something different as a unique hook for this setting?  To simplify greatly, the entire premise of D&D is that you create these characters that may be vaguely reminiscent of characters from The Lord of the Rings, but then you do a bunch of stuff that is nowhere reflected in any fantasy fiction other than a few purposefully derivative books that are trying to feel like a D&D session.  To quote JB in one of my favorite rants of his, "Going into dungeons (“adventures”) and fighting monsters/picking up loot, all the while growing into more powerful characters, gaining neat “special powers.”" is the point of D&D, and as he also says, that's incredibly dumb.  Well, whether or not you think it's dumb, clearly that's the premise and story that we want to avoid.  If that's what D&D is, then this game, even while using strictly D&D rules, cannot be about that.  Rather, it has to be about something else entirely.

I see this as a vs. campaign, with lots of political maneuvering and exploration of hostile wilderness.  The world of ODD D&D, whatever it ends up being called, is one in which the PC races--the mammals--are the minority.  Lizardmen (or lizardfolk as the more politically correct Wizards of the Coast have now renamed them--a bit sad that Games Workshop has totally kept up their backbone and not gone PC on us, while Wizards of the Coast led the PC charge) are the main antagonists, and along with their bigger blackscale cousins and a bevy of domesticated big lizards and dinosaurian animals, have over run a large island (about Greenland sized) of hostile wilderness.  The humans (and other races, included half-orcs, goblinoids, etc.) live in isolated enclaves high in the mountains, or in other places that are more remote or inaccessible, and cross through the mainland like sneaking spies, hoping to not be stopped, killed, enslaved or eaten by the saurian overlords of the island.

These isolated enclaves would like to band together to mount an effective resistance against the lizzies, but they can't--they're too politically and culturally fractured.  They're not necessarily fractured along racial lines, as they tend to be somewhat cosmopolitan, however.

Desperate runs through "lizzie-space" followed by intrigue and skullduggery in their fringe towns and cities, followed by (perhaps) open warfare with wave after wave of attacking lizards at times--that's what ODD D&D will be about.  There aren't any dungeons.

Oh, and I'll be borrowing a ton of stuff from Games Workshop I think, in terms of lizardmen social structure.  Freaky bloated mage-priests rule, and lots of domesticated and somewhat unrealistically ferocious dinosaurs are fixtures of their society.  Have you seen their stegadon models?  (Stegadon is not a real dinosaur, by the way.)  It's got a Triceratops like frill and body (roughly) with a spiked mace-like tail and big, sharp teeth.  It's like a "greatest hits" of dinosaur features all rolled up into a monstriously unrealistically ferocious package.  And that's only one of several large monsters that work with the lizzies.  I think the way to do this is to start with dinosaurs from the Monster Manuals and give them a few extra attacks of various types.  Bigger, worse bite attacks, mace-like tail bludgeoning, poisonous breath-weapons, rake attacks--all in all, simply make the dinosaurs even more savage and dangerous than they already are, and I'll be good to go with monsters for the setting.

Add to that even more dark magic and weird one-off threats here and there, and I've got a lot to keep me busy.  But the vs. Lizardmen theme is one that should be dominant.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

D&D Without the D&Disms, part IIa

Well, I'm revising my race list for my ODD D&D setting (which clearly also still needs a new name.  But not urgently.)  The planetouched races, which I really like, are very D&Dish still, and feel much more magical rather than "psionic."

Here's the improved list:
  • Human (as listed in the SRD or PHB)
  • Half-orc (as listed in the SRD or PHB)
  • Orc - I'm scratching them. Orcs as a race are extinct. Rather, they've been hybridized so thoroughly with humans that pure-blooded orcs simply don't exist anymore. Half-orcs are still out there, of course, but they're half-orcs now. Full-blooded orcs are no longer a racial choice.
  • Goblins - as in the SRD using goblins as a race. However, they seem a little under-powered to me. Go ahead and give an extra feat, as if they were human (but not the extra skill points.)
  • Hobgoblins - as in the SRD. However, although they have a net bonus on ability scores (and therefore the designers gave them an LA+1) the hobgoblins really don't have much else going on, and I don't believe that the LA+1 is warranted. Treat them as LA+0, but don't worry about changing anything else.
  • Shifter - I love shifters. I think they have a great fantasy feel to them. I'm totally OK with them as written.
  • Changelings - I dunno. I'm a little on the fence with these. I like the concept, but they're almost more of a monster than a PC type race.  At the moment, I'm leaning towards leaving them out.
  • Warforged - Nevermind. These guys seem to also be more of an NPC/monster type, unless you're specifically in Eberron.
  • Kalashtar - a clearly core race to the setting.
  • Elan - a core race to the setting; not quite as rare as implied by the Expanded Psionics Handbook
  • Lizardfolk (or Lizardmen) - not really meant as a PC race; more of an NPC "villain" race.  Including the big, bad, blackscales.  Will borrow a lot of culture and stuff from the Lizardmen armies book of Warhammer fame. 
I'll go ahead and include the class list with this post too, since race and class so go together to define the character concept.
  • Rogue (from the PHB or SRD)
  • Fighter (from the PHB or SRD)
  • Barbarian (from the PHB or SRD)
  • Psion (from EPH or SRD)
  • Psychic Warrior (from EPH or SRD)
  • Wilder (from EPH or SRD)
  • Soulknife (from EPH or SRD)--although I think that this class is a little underpowered.  It's clearly meant to be a "psionic monk" type class, except without a lot of the monk's "imperviousness."  I could do something complicated to rebalance, or I could just give it the fighter instead of cleric BAB.  Voila!  Easy solution wins.
  • Ardent (from Complete Psionic)
  • Divine Mind (from Complete Psionic)
  • Lurk (from Complete Psionic)
  • What the heck?  The psychic rogue which was a special WotC online class is useable too.  It seems to step all over the niche of the Lurk, but whatever.
This gives us slightly more variation than just a core-only PHB list of races and classes.  Surely sufficient!  I think I'm settled now on races and classes!

U is for the Unmoving Watchers

Although it is not unique to this area, the best visibility to the Unmoving Watchers is from the island of al-Qazmir itself, and the Golden Peninsula.  They seem, in fact, to be hovering in the sky directly above Noq Qundi Bay which separate the two.

What are the Unmoving Watchers?  They seem to be three stars, located in the pattern of a small equilateral triangle.  However, unlike the rest of the stars in the night sky, these do not rotate around the North Star, nor do they rise and set.  In fact, even during the day, when they are mostly lost to the bright blue of the daytime sky, keen-eyed observers can faintly see them, still sitting there patiently in space, never moving, always watching.

At night, everyone can see them, and they tend to be among the brightest stars in the sky.  On clear nights, it is also apparent to most that there is a vaguely different color to each of the stars.  The topmost star is a yellowish gold color, not unlike a small version of the sun.  The right hand base star is a cooler white/silver, while the left hand base star is a more reddish gold.

City of Gold
In reality, the Unmoving Watchers are not stars at all, they are small satellites in space, tidally locked and always over the same location in their orbits.  Each is a city, and behaves unusually (from a scientific standpoint) since they have regular atmosphere and gravity.  The large blueish white disc of the world is suspended in their skies always, taking up, in fact, more than half of the visible sky.  These three cities in fact make up three of the Near Realms to the world.  This begs the question of what these Realms are.  Some claim that they are extradimensional places, but in this case, they clearly seem to be within the regular dimension, just too far away and unreachable by any earthly means save magic (since space shuttles do not exist in DARK•HERITAGE.)

The first city is called the City of Gold, and it is, in fact, mostly made of Gold, which is why it offers a shining golden facade down on earth.  Its inhabitants are angelic beings of radiant light and beauty, and it is from them, in fact, that myths and legends about angels come (in d20 terms, creatures like trumpet archons and devas.)  The City of Silver, on the other hand, is a cold place, full of genies and sylphs and other creatures of air.  The cities of Gold and Silver have been at war with each other for many, many years.  The angels were ordered to attack the genies for some sin by the Voice Which Commands.  Their leader, Iblis, refused, and along with many of his sympathetic cronies, was thrown down from the City of Gold, becoming the first and greatest Fallen Angel.  The city of Gold is ruled by a council of seven archangels today.  Although the entire seven is unknown, the existance of Michael, their warleader, as well as Gabriel, Raphael and Uriel is relatively well established.  The City of Silver, on the other hand, is ruled by a genie sultan named Masud Barham Shah.

Surtr, Sultan of the City of Brass
The City of Brass is the last of the three cities, and it is made up mostly of creatures like ifrit and fire giants.  It's ruler is the Sultan Surtr.  The City of Brass often sends mercenary companies to fight in the wars between the cities of Gold and Silver, and also serves as a hotbed of intrigue when open warfare has calmed somewhat, but they otherwise stay strictly neutral and are more involved with other affairs than in entangling themselves with the affairs of the other two cities.

Surtr and his court also seem to take the most interest in the affairs of mortals on earth.  Perhaps this best explains the descendents of some of his people mingling with mortals and creating the race of the jann.