Monthly Archives: August 2010

The Sky People

The Sky People

Cover of As anyone who has followed my career (if you can call it that) knows, I have a special love for the genre often called “Sword and Planet” or “Planetary Romance”. The platonic ideal of this genre is Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom chronicles. The essential feature of the genre is an alien world filled with monsters, princesses wearing next to nothing, advanced technology alongside swords and arrows, and a heroic square-jawed Earthman who will come along and save the oddly-colored natives from some terrible threat, usually rising from a despised outsider to a revered leader in a matter of weeks. You know… Avatar. Only a lot less pedantic and preachy.

Anyway, this genre is known for several things, good and bad… the bad being ludicrous science, cardboard characters, and considerable sexism and racism. When modern authors approach the genre, they tend to do a conscious pastiche of the “old school” minus the political incorrectness, but otherwise identical to material which would not have been out of place in a magazine published a century ago. (Some of us also attempt a respectful, albeit tongue-in-cheek, approach.)S. M. Stirling tries a surprisingly new approach — take all the tropes of the genre and dump them in world which is psychologically, politically, and scientifically real. Does it work?

Well, I wouldn’t have finished the book if it didn’t, so there’s not a lot of suspense to that question. But click the “Read More” button anyway, OK?

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A Spell For All Time: Inaudible Intelligence

A Spell For All Time: Inaudible Intelligence

Dungeons And Dragons Original Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons First Edition Dungeons And Dragons Third Edition Dungeons & Dragons Fourth Edition

OK, some backstory.

At GenCon, I picked up Matt Finch’s “Eldritch Weirdness”, along with one or two other items. One item included in compilation of interesting bits of magic for retro-clone style games was a random spell name chart, significantly richer in words than most others I’ve seen, which tended to have 25 to 50 entries. This has 8 major columns (A through I, without “H”, not sure why), with each column having 100 adjectives and 100 nouns, for a total of 640,000 combinations, or about one-third as many spells as were published under the OGL in 2002. (Ba-dumb BUM!)

I had a thought. What if, I thought, I rolled randomly on the chart, and then took whatever I got and evolved it forward through successive iterations of D&D?

Well, I think someone said “The thought is father to the deed”, so, here you.

What did I roll? Did it make any sense? Can I pull this off? I don’t know, I haven’t rolled yet — all these things are written live, I hope you knew that.

Read on to find out what happened… as I find out what happens, and write it down!

Inaudible Intelligence

(For those of you being clever and wondering how I knew to write “Inaudible Intelligence” if I’m writing this as I go through the process, it used to say “Put Spell Name Here”. Then I edited it. Nyeah.)

Let’s roll!

There’s eight letters listed, and Mr. Finch basically said “Screw all y’all, I ain’t doin’ no more. Go make up your own shit”, so, this makes it easy. Roll 1d8 for letter. Matt suggests we go for appealing alliteration, and being a fan of the old style of spell names, I conclusively concur. Unless it makes not a scintilla of  sense, in which case I will reroll rapidly.

Hey, you’re not paying for this. Don’t complain.

Anyway, first roll, to determine the letter: 8, or I.

Second roll, adjective: 45, “Inaudible”

Third roll, noun: 50, “Intelligence”.

Hunh. (This needs to be read in a Nathan Fillion voice, the sound he made when he opened the case in the first episode of “Firefly” and saw River.)

There’s two possibilities that come instantly to mind. One is something telepathy like, which plays more off “inaudible”, the other is something more, well, “knowledge” like, playing more off “intelligence”. I think the latter could be more fun.

Dungeons and Dragons, Original Edition

Original D&D (“Brown/White Box” + Greyhawk, Blackmoor, Eldritch Wizardry)

(As published in Supplement VII, “Waterdeep”, 1977)

Explanation Of Spells (Addition): Magic-User Spells

Third Level

Inaudible Intelligence:A spell which allows the magic-user to hear the advice of minor spirits or demons, who will provide him answers to some questions. He does not need to speak the question out loud, and no one else can hear the answer. The spell lasts for three questions at most and is in any event dismissed in an hour. The spirits are usually friendly but are sometimes malevolent or tricky, and they have only knowledge of what may be local to them.

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, First Edition

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, First Edition

(As published in “Deeper Arcana”, 1st printing, 1989, Earth-14)

Magic User Spells

Second Level Spells:

Inaudible Intelligence (Divination)

Level: 2

Range: 0

Duration: 10 minutes or three questions

Components: V, S, M

Casting Time: 1 Round

Saving Throw: None

Explanation/Description: The spell of inaudible intelligence allows the magic-user to commune with minor spirits or demons or suchlike beings. These forces often have knowledge of the local area or events they may have seen, and by means of this dweomer, the magic user may ask questions of them. Such questions are both stated and answered silently, so no one knows what the magic user is asking or what is being told to him; this can be quite handy, for example, when asking “Did the thief pick my pocket?” The questions generally must pertain to that which is clear or visible; the spirits may now a trap is present if they’d seen it set off, for example, but not otherwise. In general, the spirits answer as honestly as they are able, but some may be mischievous or even malign.  There is a base 80% chance of an accurate answer, +2% for each point of the magic-user’s charisma above 14 and -3% for each point below 8. Asking the same question twice to see if an answer is identical is impertinent and the spirits will simply be silent and the spell is ended. The longer or more convoluted the question, the more likely it is the spirits will answer inaccurately; brevity is best!

The material component of this spell is a small seashell. The magic-user whispers or mouths the question into the shell and then holds it to his ear to hear the answer.

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, Second Edition

This spell was not published in Second Edition, because Lorraine Williams thought communing with spirits was “satanic” and could cost them Bible Belt sales. Also, she couldn’t work out a way to tie Buck Rogers into it.

Dungeons & Dragons Third Edition

Dungeons & Dragons, Third Edition, Revised

(As published in “Lost Lore” from Necromancer Games, 2008, a compilation of spells “abandoned” in older editions of D&D and revised for 3.5)

Inaudible Intelligence

School:  divination Level: Bard 2, Sorcerer/Wizard3

Casting Time: One standard action

Components: V, S, M (a polished seashell worth at least 20gp)

Range: Personal

Target: You

Duration: 1 minute/level or special, see below

When you cast this spell, you tap into the knowledge of local spirits, who may be able to answer simple questions and provide guidance. The spell lasts for the listed duration or until three questions are asked, whichever comes first. The spell draws in those spirits which exist in a radius of 25′ +5’/ level of the caster, up to a maximum of 50′ radius, and they cannot answer questions about things which exist outside this range.

You do not need to speak aloud to ask questions, and may ask them as an immediate action. The answers to the questions come into your mind silently, as well, so no one can know what was asked or what the answer was. (This does not in any way protect against mind-reading or other forms of divination which can detect surface thoughts.)

The spirits understand all languages and will answer in your native language.

A question can be no more than 20 words, and must be clearly phrased and not require judgment or evaluation. “Which door is safest for us?” will get a meaningless or possibly false answer, while “Is there a dragon behind the left door?” will get an accurate answer — if the dragon is in range of the spell at the moment the question is asked. (“Does the dragon live behind that door?” or “Have you seen a dragon enter that door?” would be better.)

The spirits are generally benevolent. However, there is a base 20% chance they will lie, increased or decreased by 2% * your Charisma modifier. If you suspect they are lying, you may make a DC 20 Sense Motive check to reveal this. If the check succeeds, they will be forced to re-answer the question honestly. However, making the check (whether they were lying or not, whether the check was successful or not) will terminate the spell and you will lose any remaining questions. You cannot cast this spell in the same general area more than once per day.

DMs who dislike the open-ended nature of this spell and who prefer a more structured system may instead allow this spell to grant a +5 bonus on up to three Knowledge or Search checks made in or regarding the spell’s area of effect, reflecting the spirit’s guidance in seeking answers or finding hidden objects.

Dungeons & Dragons Fourth Edition

Dungeons & Dragons Fourth Edition

(As published in Arcane Power IV, 2013)

Inaudible Intelligence (Wizard Utility 16)

You briefly commune with local spirits to enhance your knowledge.

Daily * Arcane, Zone

Minor Action Close burst 10

Effect: Until the end of the encounter (or for a period of 5 minutes),  so long as you are in the zone created by the spell, you may “call upon the spirits” and roll two dice for any Knowledge or Perception check related to things within the zone, choosing which of the dice to keep. The results of these checks, and even the fact you are making them, is not evident to any observers. (You may wish to give the DM a note detailing the check you’re making, and he may send a note back.)

Special: You may do this only three times during the spell’s duration, and only once per turn. If the check you wish to make would normally be a minor action, you can perform it as a free action instead.

If anyone would like to see more in this “series”, let me know.

Last Updated ( Sunday, 22 August 2010 16:19 )

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The World Of Tiers

The World Of Tiers

OK, this is going to be a look at an entire series, not just a single book, but it’s an eminently gameable series. It surprises me that no one has glommed onto the World of Tiers license yet. Really, someone should just buy “Phillip Jose Farmer” as a license, because he creates settings which are extremely rich in roleplaying potential and which haven’t been utterly and completely done to death in multiple editions yet. Then again, my understanding is that most licensed games don’t sell too well, and Farmer was at the peak of his popularity and productivity in the 1960s and 1970s, making him a bit unknown to today’s younger audience.

Anyway, the World of Tiers… centaurs, Teutonic knights, harpies, American Indians, teleportation, demigods, robots, and more!

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Midnight At The Well Of Souls

Midnight At The Well Of Souls

Midnight at the well of souls

Many great science fiction novels and settings have been turned into RPGs, and also some not-so-great ones. This is not one of the not-great ones; that is, it’s one of the great ones. Unlike a lot of great science fiction books, movies, or TV shows, it’s also eminently gameable. The novels, five in the original series (which I’ve read several times) and a bunch more written more recently (which I have not read, but since they were published well after this game, they’re irrelevant, and irrelevance never forgets), take place on the Well World, a kind of cosmic lab where the creators of all life in the universe experimented with different species. Think of it as a biological Google Labs. Some things got out of beta and were published, and some things, well, can we say “Google Wave”, anyone? In any event, the world was divided into hexagons — yes, hexagons — each containing a unique biome and a sapient race, ranging from humans to centaurs to talking asparagus to incomprehensible energy beings, and they all shared the same world, and in some hexes tech worked and in others it didn’t, and in some magic — yes, magic — worked and in others it didn’t, and you can see how a setting like this, with hundreds of races, mixed tech and magic, and a legendary control center (the “Well of Souls”) to quest for would be a perfect RPG setting. However, I’m going to bet you haven’t heard of the RPG, and as far as I know it vanished rather quickly, leaving behind no supplements. Why? Was it a steaming pile of suck, deserving of a painful death, or was it just in the wrong place at the wrong time? We won’t know until we crack open the book and begin!

Quick! Hit “Read More”! We have to begin!

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