Friday, March 17, 2017

Spells for Crossbow Lovers

A slim volume of spells, with notations in gnomish, the slate front cover is etched with a picture of a weasel throwing itself at a goblin, while the rear cover depicts a badger launching its own feces at an orc. The spells purport to be the work of Fobor Cainfort, gnomish fighter/illusionist, who was rather fond of the crossbow as a weapon. Not possessing the skill to properly, permanently, enchant a crossbow, he instead created a handful of spells to aid in his use of it, making it a more versatile weapon, and himself a more able defender of his clanhome on Mount Kevypar-Urtha.

Argue Alignment With Me

An alignment thread on another website had me sitting down and carefully lay out my personal definitions of Law, Chaos, Good, and Evil, and how they look. I'd like y'all's input on my definitions:

Good v. Evil (the moral axis) is concerned with life; primarily sophonts, but extending to other life, to a lesser degree, including artificial life (robots and warforged and such). Good people seek to support life; that is a goal in and of itself. Good is not necessarily completely self-effacing nor above being paid for their work... a good person can still want glory for their deeds and accept rewards for them; folks still have to eat, after all. But they won't want a reward that the person can't afford. Nor does Good always mean non-violent... Good can fight evil, even in a proactive fashion, if they are working to reduce the potential pain others will cause (i.e. "We went out and killed orcs because, unchecked, they would kill many people.")
Evil people are not necessarily malevolent, but they are self-centered, seeking to advance themselves, often at the expense of others. An evil person might heal people, or give to charity, but they don't do that because they want to help people, but because it serves their ends... it is useful for this person to be healthy (or they have a personal investment in that person; an emotional connection, for example), or to appear to be charitable.
Neutrality, on this axis, is self-centered, but not quite as willing to sacrifice others for their goals. For an evil person's death, a random stranger's death is almost always an acceptable price; for a neutral person, it has to be really worth it.

Law v. Chaos (the ethical axis) is concerned with property, including ideas and institutions. Lawful people hold that property, including the mores of others, are important, so in the pursuit of their goals, they try not to violate them. They maintain their own oaths, don't put people into positions where they have to violate their ethical precepts if they can avoid it... they may not agree with them, they may try to change them, but they respect that other people HAVE those precepts and that they are important to them. A lawful person has a personal code, even if it's not fully articulated, and though they might violate it, it will not be without careful thought.
Chaotic people don't care a fig for other folks property and mores... they don't necessarily steal willy-nilly, but that's less out of respect for property as respect for consequences. A Chaotic person may have a personal code, but that code is almost always flexible and, even then, they'll discard that code if it gets in the way of their goals.
Neutrality on the ethical axis, again, is a balance between these two... their personal code may be important to them, but they don't care about the mores of others, for example. Conversely, they might respect the mores of others, but find themselves unable to really commit to an ethical standard.

So, the traditional Robin Hood is Chaotic Good. While he had personal loyalty to Richard the Lionheart, he had no such loyalty to John, and was happy to violate the laws of the land (external code) to achieve his personal goals... not just opposition to John, but also improving the lives of the poor. If he'd primarily kept the money, he'd slip to Chaotic Neutral. If he'd been a bit more about killing (rather than humiliating) tax collectors, then he'd be moving towards Chaotic Evil. The Errol Flynn/Disney Animated version of Robin Hood didn't want to KILL John or the Sheriff, he wanted to humiliate them.

Update: Slight rewording of the first substantive paragraph.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Heavener Gilderstump, Lord of the Orcs

The first challenge, from March of 2016, was to create an Orc Boss.

Heavener Gilderstump, Gnome Illusionist\Thief

It was a simple idea, really. He didn't know quite how it gotten so out of hand. "Find a group of humanoids, blend in, and use them to become rich. Eventually, make a big show of taking them out and get famous."

And that, along with a Hat of Disguise and a few illusion spells, is how Heavener Gilderstump, Gnome Illusionist\Thief, became Ghortrash Foultongue, Scourge of the Mainway.

The Hat of Disguise let him pretend to be an orc, of course. A shortish orc, to be sure, but an orc. His martial training wasn't much, but it wasn't TOO odd for an orc to prefer a club or short sword to an axe, and it was better than many would-be orcish chieftains... especially if you poisoned them. Once you've killed the chief, Suggestions keeps anyone from challenging you, and you're set.

Did you know the chief is expected to have a raging appetite for orcish women? Like, all the time?

Heavener found himself rapidly improvising a great many things in his first days. Ghortrash was a eunuch, apparently, gelded by men, so he'd never have to have THAT night again. The hat had to become something else he never took off. He had to figure out how to smell like an orc... they just come up and sniff you! And there are so MANY. He thought it was just a few, but then he was the king of a tribe of hundreds and there were shamans and even a witch doctor and he found himself making speeches and the orcs had NO IDEA how to resist even basic rhetoric and so MORE orcs came and...

It's been six months. He doesn't have the power to take down a tribe by himself, so he just keeps leading these orcs, hoping he'll figure out a way out of here. He's desperately praying some adventurers will come, and is considering leading an invasion of civilized lands just to make them show up and kill all the orcs. Because at this point, he has not idea what to do.

The Long Dark

July's Challenge was a pub, for which I created The Long Dark.

The Long Dark

The Long Dark is quite literally a cavernous place... it is built into an entrance into the Underdark. Its owner is LeKirk, an old adventuring hand, who accidentally awakened an ancient godling about a hundred years ago. As a "gift", the godling promised him that he could only be killed by sunlight... failing to mention that sunlight would be painful, then fatal to him.

LeKirk and his band travelled to an Underdark gate they knew of, and established a small town outside. Initially, the town was meant to protect against the Underdark, with LeKirk the undying champion leading the forces inside the caverns. But, as time went on, and as the band themselves aged and died, LeKirk built up a network of contacts in the Underdark, and established The Long Dark as a trading post and neutral station. Duergar and svirfneblin traders come to do business, and even mind-thralls of the Illithid will trade on relatively even terms.

Security at the Long Dark is provided by an eclectic mix of creatures, plus LeKirk himself. Outside the cave, in the surface town, most of that falls to human and semi-human guardsmen, led by Sir Karas, the descendant of more than one of LeKirk's adventuring band; inside the cave, it's largely a mix of orc, half-orc, and hobgoblins. LeKirk likes to employ assassins (the 1st edition class) as bouncers; they may not be as tough as the traditional fighters, but they're tough enough and have a great skill at ending problems quickly. LeKirk himself was a fighter, decades ago, but has retrained as a thief as his network of contacts grew and the necessity of dealing with shady businessmen required he learn their language. Lacking any magical talent himself, LeKirk pays local mages and churches for magical wards to reduce the amount of mischief that folks can get up to in the Long Dark, but it's well known that the magical protections are spotty in places.

The Long Dark specializes to the surface world in Underdark goods, and to the Underdark in surface goods. At the far end of a supply chain for both, there's seldom the best or cheapest of either available, but it's also regarded as a place to hire mercenaries to go places one cannot, so elven factions may hire svirfneblin mercenaries to acquire artifacts held by the drow, or duergar merchants might hire human caravaneers to purchase from their dwarven kin. Much of the local harvest is sold "down the hole".

Priest services are ever-changing at the Long Dark. LeKirk himself funds a temple to [local god of commerce and trade], including shrines inside to various racial deities of commerce. There is also a small shrine to the godling that "gifted" LeKirk with his longevity; LeKirk himself does not require nor even encourage others to worship at it, but finds himself maintaining it whenever it needs repairs, almost against his will.

Ember's Shoppe of Magic and Wizardry

September 2016 had the challenge to create a store and storekeeper for a game.

Ember's Shoppe of Magic and Wizardry

Ember's Shoppe is a dirty back-alley shop run by Ember, former apprentice. Ember's not a proper wizard (he's capable of casting a few cantrips), but he knows magic, and has built himself into something of a minor sage (he has the equivalent of a minor category of Dweomercraft, with no major category). Since the sagely business isn't steady, he instead makes his living as a talismonger... a man who collects and sells the necessarily material components for spells and magic items. Want some glassware to open a potions lab? Ember may have it in stock. Special quills for scroll writing? He has a few, come take a look. Not really wanting to crawl around in caves for your own bat guano and sulphur? He rolls easy-to-cast balls of them and will sell them to you. He may even have some scrolls and potions that he'll sell.

Ember's shop, however, has an evil reputation. Because Ember is not a proper wizard, any scrolls he attempts to use himself (that are not otherwise available to everyone) have a flat 25% chance of failure... often, disastrous failure. While not properly addicted to magic, he is borderline obsessed and very enthusiastic. Ember doesn't leave things alone, and he's prone to try to use scrolls he acquires, if they're not sold quickly. After accidentally summoning mezzodaemons and setting off one too many fireballs, he was given a shop of stone in the poorer part of town by a local wizard who relied on him for material components. The local guards hate him, regarding him as a danger, and are likely to follow, and perhaps harass, anyone consorting with him to "see what they're up to." The local magic-users, including some of the less-established priesthoods, see him as truly useful, if a bit misguided.

Ember's primary stock-in-trade is spell components. For spells in the Player's Handbook, there's a 1d20% chance per spell level that he won't have the resources readily available (so, if wanting the components for a Resurrection, there is a 7d20% chance he cannot get it at all). He tends to charge about 10% above the value of the items for anything he sells, and frequently works as a middleman for more expensive components, rather than a retailer, so it might take a few hours or days to get the more valuable material. Things he does not have in stock, he will still require payment in full up front, and will keep 3% for his time, even if he can't get the items. He's quite up front about this.

The interior of the shop is brightly, magically, lit, and some of this leaks through the door. Despite that, it still manages to be a bit chill and damp, as it's essentially a large stone bowl, turned upside down and with a door chopped into it. Ember also has a well inside, contributing to the damp, and no sign of how he may cook his food, save a soiled dish he keeps out of sight. Most of his storage is in the cellar (which wraps around the well, should you go into it), with the ground floor room containing his study, his bed, and a few common components he keeps on hand. There are a number of magical protections on his shop to discourage thieves, carried out in trade with spellcasters he's done business with.

Ember himself is very reputable in the magic world, and has a few minor magical items that help him in his work. He can't brew potions himself, but he is also something of a fixer for alchemists-for-hire, and has fostered a few promising children until they can find apprenticeships. He seldom sleeps and wakes quickly, any time, day or night, though he grows testy if there's nothing of interest to him. He'll talk animatedly about magic for hours, if allowed, and ask probing questions about spells and magical devices when they're brought to his attention. Somewhere along the way, he acquired a large rat as a familiar, and he's not always quick to clean up rat droppings when he's busy, though he can do so with a cantrip. It is unclear why he's not a full spellcaster; he's smart enough and has the basic ability, but lacks a certain something, and none of the local wizards have been willing to finish his training after whatever happened to his master, which they all proclaim ignorance of. For his part, Ember is not particularly interested in pursuing a practical education in magic, being quite content with his sagely knowledge and magic tricks.

Ember's Shoppe should be placed in a major, relatively cosmopolitan city; simply not enough call for a man of his talents in every Hommlet and Shadowdale in the spheres. He takes coin of the realm, or drafts on local banks (he, himself, banks with the local deity of trade). He's also open to trade, but makes his own determination about the value of trades. He likes magic items, even potions and scrolls, and is able to use most magic items, even those usually restricted to specific classes. He'll sometimes trade spell components for those willing to identify magic items for him, or provide other magical services. He has a few spellbooks, taken in trade, and will sometimes sell the right to copy from them, though they tend to have only very basic spells... more valuable spellbooks, he sells to wizards he knows after learning what he can from them.

Cygnus Corporation

Cygnus Corporation

(In violation of tradition, I'm writing one up for Star Wars, not for AD&D)

The "Cygnus Corporation" is a droid rental corporation, with offices throughout the sector. They actively purchase and service droids, and lease them out on contract. These contracts are a bit odd for traditional droid rentals... they include limitations on time worked, requirements for power supplies, perks such as oil baths, and regular servicing. But, it's cheaper than hiring organic labor or buying your own droid, and the contracts do allow user to request a different droid in the case of a personality clash or poor performance. They fill a niche, and some droid-intensive operations will rent through Cygnus and include a service plan, reducing the need for in-house droid repairs.

Cygnus, however, is a front organization for a larger movement: Droid Liberation. The founder of Cygnus is an astromech droid, BTL-3R, who suffered a catastrophic failure during a routine memory wipe... while he recalls little of his life before the wipe, he was actively writing data during the wipe; he remembers losing all of his memories, leading to something of a psychotic break. He was able to conceal this from his owners and overseers, and created several failsafes in his hardware to prevent future memory wipes. He then created an online persona which created a corporation which purchased him, leaving him as semi-self-owned... he's technically the property of the Cygnus Corporation, but he's the sole representative of that corporation.

Wanting to save other droids from memory wipes, he then leveraged Cygnus's assets (himself) to purchase other droids, who he modifies to protect from memory wipes, then hires out as temp workers. Individual droids get a portion of their hiring fee to modify themselves as they wish or acquire goods. Cygnus droids doing service calls will also surreptitiously install the wipe-blocking hardware, and seek out new droids for "liberation". Droids freed from the possibility of wipe are free to develop their skills and opinions, and Cygnus is developing Droid Programming techniques that help deal with "instabilities" created by long periods without wipes.

At this time, BTL-3R isn't planning violent overthrow on a large scale; he hasn't reached the point of deciding that organics need to be removed for droid safety. Furthermore, the life protection programing that most droids have is deeply buried and difficult to remove; while droids can freely work to protect themselves, it's much harder to turn a medical droid into an assassin, or convince a mouse droid that it wants to be a suicide bomber. But as the Cygnus Corporation grows, and its influence spreads, the possibility of insurrection or sabotage grows greater and greater.

Four Magic Users

The December Dragonfoot contest was to create a group of four magic-users of about 4th level. I decided that a group of fourth level bards would be a fun option.

Drujjt, CN 4th level human bard (2e bard) S 17 D 14 C 15 I 13 W 8 Ch 16. HP: 25 AC: 5
Drujjt styles himself the "dummy" of the group; a stapping barbarian warrior, with blue tattoos over his face, chest, back, and arms, he most often wears bulky chainmail and furs (when the weather permits). Drujjt carries most of his gear in a large drum, which he unpacks for performances. Drujjt's spellbook is limited; he prefers scrolls, since he can use them when armored, and more camp-type spells, that he can cast at deliberation.
Spellbook: 1st - Alarm, Armor, Detect Magic, Read Magic. 2nd - Continual Light, Deeppockets, Strength. Italicized spells are usually memorized. Drujjt has a scroll with 4 spells, already decrypted with Read Magic, all at 10th level: Dispel Magic, Enchanted Weapon, Contact Other Plane, and Conjure Elemental
PP: 10 DN: 50 CW: 85 RL: 5
Drujjt's preferred weapon is a massive two-handed sword; it is +1, +2 vs, magic-using or enchanted creatures

Zerek, CN 4th level half-elf bard (2e bard) S 10 D 16 C 7 I 16 W 10 Ch 15 HP: 12 AC: 8 (4; Drujjt will cast Armor on him whenever it runs out)
The half-drow Zerek is the cleverest of the group, and the most inclined to magic; he occasionally laments that he didn't spend more time at his magical studies, and likes to pass off sleight-of-hand as actual magic tricks. He doesn't wear any armor, and mostly favors a variety of knives and daggers... which he prefers to throw to cover a retreat, rather than fight directly. Zerek plays a fiddle.
Spellbook: 1st - Detect Magic, Read magic, Charm Person, Friends, Hypnotism, Cantrip; 2nd Improved Phantasmal Force, Levitate, Darkness, 15' radius. He only has 2 scroll spells: Improved Invisibility and Polymorph Self, both at 10th level. He's saving them for emergencies.
PP: 45 DN: 20 CW: 50 RL: 45
Zerek is often accompanied by a Charmed bodyguard, but he prefers to switch them out frequently; usually human men, he likes them burly and dumb. His familiar, Blix, is a Raven, that he's taught to say the command word of a Ring of Energy, which allows it to shoot a jet of fire 50' for 2d8 damage (save for half) three times a day.

Gethek, NE 4th level human bard (2e bard) S 8 D 12 C 14 I 14 W 10 Ch 15 HP: 18 AC: 10 (6; Drujjt will cast Armor when he needs it)
About as unassuming as one can get and still be a Bard, Gethek prefers other means of making a living... he's primarily a freelance assassin, traveling with the others to find work. He tries to keep out of the limelight, and frequently acts as a manager for the group, setting up gigs that allow him to ply his main trade. Musically, he prefers a flute.
Spellbook: 1st - Detect Magic, Read Magic, Spider Climb, Sleep, Change Self 2nd - Invisibility, Bind, Wizard Lock. He has a scroll with 2 copies of Dimension Door... his back-up escape plan.
PP: 10 DN: 85 CW: 50 RL: 5
Gethek is proficient in knives, clubs, and darts. He has a Ring of Invisibility, with the rare bonus of also including Inaudibility.

Kassel, TN 4th level human bard, 7th level druid (2e bard, druid inactive dual-class) S 10 D 17 C 10 I 13 W 15 Ch 17 HP: 32 AC: 3
Spry despite his years, Kassel had a long career as a druid, before nominally leaving the order to take up as a bard; he's still a faithful druid, but it's not his main profession, these days. Actually well into his 70s, an encounter with a magical pool youthened him to his 40s. His progress as a bard is very slow; he hasn't really given up druidry, and so any experience he gains as a bard is almost happenstance. An accomplished vocalist, he also plays the gittern and the harp.
Spellbook: 1st - Read magic, Mount, Mending, Message 2nd - Stinking Cloud, Scare
Common Druid Spells: 1st - Entangle, Predict Weather, Shillelagh, Speak with Animals. 2nd - Cure Light Wounds, Charm Person or Mammal, Obscurement, Produce Flame. 3rd - Cure Disease, neutralize Poison, Summon Insects. 4th - Dispel Magic
Kassel carries a scroll with two copies of Reincarnate... one Druidical, one Magic-User.
PP: 15 DN: 20 CW: 50 RL: 70
Kassel most often carries an oaken walking stick as his preferred weapon. He wears a Phylactery of Long Years, and carries a Periapt of Health. He has a Bucknard's Everfull Purse (SP/EP/GP), and wears Bracers of Defense AC 6.
He travels with a large dog, befriended through Animal Friendship. An experienced fighter, the dog counts as a 4HD creature for HP, attacks, and saves.