Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Inspiration Dump II

As a deck-clearing exercise, I'm going to post some images that are sitting on my hard drive, doing nothing worthwhile:

I hope to have the time to post something more substantive in the future.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Choose Your Weapon

I was looking at my copy of the D&D Rules Cyclopedia the other day, and trying to think of a way to expand the selection of weapons available to the various classes. I understand that D&D, at least in that incarnation, is to a considerable extent a game of playing archetypes. At the same time, as a guy who understands the urge to do something that just looks cool, I came up with a simple houserule:

Any class can use any weapon, but if it's not on their list of allowed weapons, it inflicts either the damage listed for the weapon, or their class hit die in damage, whichever is lower.

This allows you make that sword-swinging wizard you always wanted to play - Gandalf used a sword, right? - without stepping on the fighter's toes. Your magic-user can use that sword (or battleaxe, or glaive-guisarme, or whatever) as much as he wants; it just inflicts 1d4 damage instead of the damage listed.

It's a pretty sloppy solution, and one I'm not entirely happy with, but if you're dead-set on making a sword-swinging magician, it allows you to do so. I think I prefer this "damage cap" to dealing with the attack penalty ascribed to using weapons not normally allowed to your class. Still, if I was really going to start gutting the Rules Cyclopedia, I'd probably do a full-scale overhaul of the way classes use weapons, based on the weapon mastery system.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Spread Thy Tentacles

Though it was originally conceived as a fairly by-the-numbers D&D style campaign for Castles & Crusades, the more I think about my Freed Lands setting, the more Cthulhu Mythos-influenced it becomes. I don't know if that's a byproduct of my reading a lot of Chaosium material since the BRP rulebook was released, or just a natural outgrowth of my conviction to have it be a setting more about terror and the unknown than one about magic.

I'm learning to embrace this tendency, but I think I'll stop short of going for full-on Yog-Sothothery for Freed Lands. I'm not interested in doing a fantasy Cthulhu game. I'm just reading a lot of the excellent Malleus Monstrorum, an encylopedic monster sourcebook for Call of Cthulhu, and letting some of the cooler entries influence my ideas about the place of the monstrous in my setting.

Fundamentally, though, it's still going to be a game about exploration of the unknown, rather than sanity-blasting things from beyond. Primarily, anyway: I'm not saying there's no place at all for sanity-blasting things from beyond. Just that it's not the focus of the campaign.

Yes, this is something of a vague post. More on this topic later.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

After Lovecraft

My friend Rick Dakan, author of many fine books (including All Flesh Must Be Eaten and the Geek Mafia novel series) has returned to RPG publishing with The Horror at Red Hook: The Cold Case of Robert Suydam. As the title implies, this Call of Cthulhu scenario involves characters picking up the pieces after Lovecraft's short story of the same name.

I'm lucky enough to game with Rick almost weekly. It's also illustrated by my longtime friend and gaming buddy Kent Bonifield, whose art has been featured here on Dungeonskull Mountain before. But I'm not just plugging this scenario here because two friends worked on it - no sir! I playtested this adventure (playing a streetwise hobo named Brown Bottle Bill) and so can vouch for its coolness. In fact, my group's characters are included as pregens (though the names, I'm told, have been changed).

You can grab it in PDF format here. Or, if you're a Luddite like me, order it in print here (or at any other fine gaming establishment, be it brick-and-mortar or online).

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Folio Imbroglio

I think that a lot of the illustrations in the original Fiend Folio are begging for New Yorker-style captions.

"Have you heard the good news?"

Now, I love me some gorbel, but that picture's hardly the only one worthy of captioning. Anybody else want to try?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Your Sorcerous Ways

Although I haven't mentioned it in quite a while, my homebrew fantasy setting, the Freed Lands, still percolates away in the back of my mind. I sometimes hesitate to post about it, since I get the impression it's largely of interest to myself alone, but this blog is too long neglected, so let me raise for discussion an idea that I hope will generate some commentary:

Fantasy without spells.

That's right - I'm coming to the conclusion that I'd be happier if my setting didn't have magic, or at least didn't have what RPGs generally describe as "spellcasting". The more I think about what turns me off about D&D-style western fantasy - a magic sword for every warrior, wizards chucking lightning bolts at their foes with impunity, priests healing the injured several times a day - I just don't like the idea of mere mortals having that kind of power, least of all on a reliable, predictable basis. I want magic to be scary and incomprehensible. I still want monsters, though.

In a lot of ways, the feel I want is what's depicted in the ultra-violent manga series Berserk, around the time of "The Golden Age" story arc. (The series ramps up the D&Disms shortly afterwards, with the main character befriending an elf and a wizard, among other things.) But early on, the world of Berserk is much like Europe during the 13th century or so, with mercenary bands doing the business of war and terrorizing the populace when work is slow. Whenever anything supernatural occurs, it's monstrously demonic in nature, and met by most of the protagonists with disbelief, confusion, and abject terror. That's more or less what I'm going for.

So, for the moment, I'm thinking of a human-dominated world, where magic is a fantasy, but horrific monsters lurk at the edges. There's still room for a sorcerer or two in this world, I suppose, but they'd be more monster than man.

You know, this concept has a lot in common with the so-called Cthulhu Mythos. I could say that's because BRP's currently the system I'm planning on using for the setting, but I think it's really just the influence of the aforementioned Berserk along with Princess Mononoke and similar films.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Perchance To Dream

I am beginning to think that I want to run a fantasy campaign for which no game system exists, which is simultaneously frustrating (because it means that I can't just pick up a book off the shelf and run it) and liberating (because it means I can quit looking for something already in print and figure out how to put it together myself).

I want it to have the following:

  • Subtle magic (i.e. no fireballs or bags of magic swords)
  • Detailed and deadly combat that is fast-paced, with use of minis as an option
  • Systems for conquering and managing lands
  • Hirelings/followers as an integral part of the game
  • Support for large-ish battles (involving about 20 to a side)
  • Ways to mechanically differentiate one "warrior" character from another
  • Non-dicepool
  • Characters that can fit on an index card

Does such a game exist? I think not, but I'd love to be proven wrong. I have been thinking of cobbling it together from bits of BRP, which is a close but not exact fit. I am open to suggestions.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

You Blew It Up

I generally don't want to be associated with what has become known as the "old school renaissance" movement. Now, I don't harbor it any ill will. In fact, I enjoy reading many of the blogs of its proponents, and I do have an affection for old editions of D&D, but that's about the extent of it: affection. I definitely don't feel that any old edition of Dungeons & Dragons is the "true" one, or even that D&D is my favorite RPG. I like a lot of things about it, but I dislike just as many. That goes for pretty much any version of the game.

Nevertheless, with the announcement of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay's 3rd edition, I'm starting to understand how D&D grognards felt when 4th edition was announced.

WFRP3 is drastically different from the previous two incarnations of the game, both in presentation and in mechanics. I can certainly understand why, from a business standpoint, Fantasy Flight Games would seek to make an RPG that includes lots of funky dice and cardboard doodads that come in a big, attractive-looking box which costs $100. If you want to look at it in a positive light, FFG is just playing to their strengths as a company best known for its high production value boardgames. If you want to look at it in a more negative light, they're trying to make as much profit as they can while simultaneously making the game difficult to pirate (something Wizards of the Coast have had trouble accomplishing).

Either way, I don't begrudge Fantasy Flight Games' desire to use a sound business model for their new game. As somebody who liked WFRP 2nd edition a whole lot, bought everything released for the game, but never got a chance to play it, the announcement of a 3rd edition was a little unsettling for me. I have to admit that as I read more and more about the mechanics, my gut reaction is to squeal "but that's not WFRP!" I mean, I know that as the current holders of the license, Fantasy Flight can define WFRP as whatever they want it to be, but there's something deep in my core that is bummed out when I read that the Halfling and Ratcatcher are not in the starting boxed set, or that you can be a High Elf, or that the feel has been brought even closer in line to that of the wargame. Yes, it all makes sense, but it's not what I want, dammit.

So unless somebody buys me the 3rd edition box as a present and I somehow end up loving it, I think I just became a Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay grognard. Somebody give me my name badge.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Doldrums


I need to take a break from reading RPG forums and blogs for a while, I think. The rampant negativity surrounding practically everything I read lately is just, like, bringing me down, man.

This isn't directed at anybody in particular. I get that the internet is the place people go to vent and express themselves, but dammit... I like RPGs, and I like talking about liking them, not hating them.

Ah, well. I guess I need to grow a thicker skin. Time to get back to playing RPGs instead of bitching about them.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

WTF, D&D!?

This is kind of a cop-out as far as real posts go, but I wanted to point everybody towards the WTF, D&D!? series of articles at Something Awful. Zack Parsons and Steve "Malak" Sumner offer hilarious commentary on classic D&D releases (oh, and the original Rifts rulebook, too).

Check them out here.

(Sorry for the scarcity of posts recently. I'm about to start a new job, and beyond that, have been too busy actually playing games to write about them much. I hope you'll forgive me.)

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Death, Destruction, Or Worse

Recently, I rid myself of some games that were either never going to be played (Lords of Creation) or actively stinking up the place (DragonRaid). I don't feel bad about unloading any of it, but now, for some reason, I feel that I must tell you what I purchased with that credit:

D&D 4th Edition: Eberron Campaign Guide
D&D 4th Edition: Divine Power
Rifts Ultimate Edition
Rifts Book of Magic
Rifts Game Master Guide
Rifts Adventure Guide

Those first two will be the last D&D 4e books I get for a while, I think. I'm a little bit burned out on the game, since I've been playing it every week since it was released, but more to the point, I have an annual subscription to D&D Insider, so I have digital access to all the crunchy bits from the 4e books anyway.

Our plan is to wrap up the campaign we've been playing since last year, and do a few short adventures with new characters, so we can try some of the myriad new classes and races that have been released since we started. We're also hoping to alternate and get in some non-D&D gaming. A few games have been pitched with no decisions made as yet - my fingers are crossed that we'll avoid anything using the Storyteller system. I'm most excited by the prospect of (possibly) finally playing Call of Cthulhu.

But to get to the point, you can probably see that my love of Rifts, which has been in remission for at least a decade, has flared up again. I know the system, clunky as it often is, like the back of my hand. Many gamers my age started with Palladium games, for better or worse, and it's tough to shake the siren call of familiarity. Rifts was my game of choice throughout my adolescence, and despite the game's many warts, it's hard to be mad at it when it provided me with inspiration and enjoyment for over six years straight.

My good friend Kent is currently considering running a Rifts PBP, with (most of) our original gaming group. As soon as he mentioned he was thinking about it, I found myself bitching about power creep, Kevin Long's Dead Boy armor vs. Vince Martin's Dead Boy armor, the Siege on Tolkeen and the relative damage capabilities of plasma cannons and the Wilk's 457 laser rifle like nothing had ever changed. I hope Kent's PBP comes to fruition. Even if it doesn't, I might end up doing something like it myself.

So, I guess this is my "old-school renaissance".

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Crabman Attack!


Thursday, July 9, 2009

Death And The Devil

I'm pleased to report that my Dragon Warriors play-by-post campaign is chugging along quite well. Our band of heroes is now probably about two-thirds of the way through the introductory scenario, "The Darkness Before Dawn". They're holding their own quite well so far, and the players all appear to have gotten a good grasp of the feel of Legend very quickly.

I'm surprised at how well running a game via an internet forum is scratching the Dragon Warriors itch. Sure, it's not exactly like a face-to-face tabletop game, and real life can slow down people's ability to participate regularly, but the PBP format has certain strengths. Foremost for me is the encouragement for players to stay in character more consistently.

You see, I find that during my face-to-face game everybody tends to, well, bullshit a lot more than I'd prefer. I'm as guilty of it as anybody else. It's largely because it's the only time many of us hang out with each other "IRL", and so we naturally want to goof off and joke with each other, since we don't get much of a chance to otherwise. It's not necessarily a bad thing, but I do often miss the deep roleplaying one could find themselves getting into in the old high school days. PBP largely removes my temptation to quote Ghostbusters and ramble about Saints Row 2 when I should be getting into the game at hand.

The other day I was thinking about future Dragon Warriors releases and what they might entail. I know the game's current steward, James Wallis, has mentioned possible books on the Fay and the Church, but for whatever reason I ended up pondering what a DW-based megadungeon might look like. I thought back to William Cobbett's disparaging nickname for London, "The Great Wen", and felt that it would be a pretty cool name for an underworld site: a great swelling of the earth, like a massive boil caused by some sort of subterranean malignancy. A place where Hell seems not far from the world. Frame it in terms of a Crusade, and have adventurers drawn to it for the same reasons people took the cross in medieval times - some for glory and profit, some for religious fervor, some because they seemingly had nothing better to do. You could have your usual shanty town - complete with camp followers, apothecaries, blacksmiths, and sellers of indulgences - sprung up around the site, to cater to those that come to ransack it.

Okay, yeah, it's vague, and possibly not entirely in the spirit of the game or its setting, but if there's any game where you could make a dungeon and put the Devil at the bottom of it, it's Dragon Warriors.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Jim Holloway Makes Me Smile

The first RPG books I ever bought were the AD&D Monster Manual and Monster Manual II. I had played AD&D a little with my older siblings, but I didn't buy the books because I thought was going to use the rules. I bought them for the pictures.

To this day, I'm fascinated by illustrated, encyclopedic books that list lots of creatures or character. If you looked at my bookshelf during my childhood you'd find things like Donald F. Glut's Dinosaur Dictionary, The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe, and any number of illustrated wildlife guides and encyclopedias. The Monster Manuals were a natural fit.

Monster Manual II was my favorite, for a variety of reasons. First of all, it contained a lot of really inventive creatures - though they crop up on "dumb monster" lists these days, I loved weird stuff like the executioner's hood or the wolf-in-sheep's-clothing. Secondly, it had the boggle, which was a favorite of mine, since my brother's long-running AD&D character had been reincarnated as one. Third, I just plain liked the artwork more.

Now, don't misunderstand me. These days I've found plenty to like in the original Monster Manual, not least of which is the fantastically cool artwork of Dave Trampier. But at the time, the guy whose art really appealed to me was Jim Holloway. His work was clean, clear, and it popped off the page. More to the point, I felt like his monsters had personality, and as they say in Pulp Fiction, "personality goes a long way". Holloway's grippli had a serene sort of smile on its face that, as an eight-year-old, instantly made me want to hang out with him. His tasloi stepped out of the shadows with a mischievous smirk. His stench kow looked downright displeased with itself. I loved it (and still do).

I also appreciate the art Holloway's done for various adventure modules. His characters look like D&D player characters should. They carry chipped swords, battered shields, and mismatched, scavenged armor. They drink, laugh, goof off, make rude gestures, shout battle cries, chop monsters down with bloodthirsty sneers, and flee in terror. It's fun stuff.

I recently found Jim Holloway's site and while it's a bit clunky, it's worth visiting. I'm especially impressed with some of the revamps he's done of his original monster illustrations (they're about halfway down the page). Check it out.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Onward, Dragon Warriors

My longtime friend Kent Bonifield drew an excellent sketch of the player characters from my Dragon Warriors PBP that I had to share. From left to right, we've got:

Iblis Smythe, a.k.a. "Ib the Pale", Assassin (played by my brother Chris)
Taebryn Kayatlaen, Barbarian (played by Bret)
Tobias Strangwald Wroxley-Nott, Sorcerer (played by Kent)
Olethros, Warlock (played by Keith)
Sir Yezekael of Rozhan, Knight (played by Dave, a.k.a. noisms)

Kent's art will soon be gracing the pages of at least one professional RPG publication (which I'm not allowed to mention by name just yet), but until that day, you can see more of his work here.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Tinkering With Initiative

So, after about a week of running my Dragon Warriors PBP, with only one combat, I'm already messing around with the rules.

Dragon Warriors has fairly straightforward and simple rules that often remind me of gamebooks like Lone Wolf and Fighting Fantasy. One of the things I ran into as I was reading the rules again that I thought would bother me was the way weapon damage is calculated, or rather, isn't. If you hit an opponent and roll over their Armor Factor, you inflict a set amount of damage based on the weapon being used.

As I said, I thought this would bother me, and the editors of the revised rulebook must have anticipated this, as they included an optional chart telling how to roll damage for different weapons. However, when I started running the game, I decided to stick with the original rules as written before I started mucking around with them. First, I wanted to understand the system and the intent of its authors, Dave Morris and Oliver Johnson.

As it turned out, the fixed weapon damage didn't bother me at all. What did bother me was the way you determine the order in which combatants get to take their actions: they go in order of their Reflexes characteristic score, highest to lowest. Combatants with the same score go at the same time. Now, there are a couple of stumbling blocks here, at least for my taste.

One is that monsters don't have Reflexes scores. You're told to roll 3d6 once for all of the monsters in the fight, and use that for their Reflexes (for this purpose, at least). This means that if you're fighting five feral dogs, all the feral dogs go at the same time. This is a little unrealistic, but realism isn't really a major concern in role-playing. It does keep things streamlined and simple, so I'm willing to go with it.

Another, bigger problem for me is that this system means the player characters will always go in the same order, every single time they get into a fight. To make matters worse, characters with identical Reflexes scores will always act simultaneously, in every combat. It's workable, but quickly becomes repetitive and silly when you're describing battles in narrative form, as I'm doing for this PBP campaign, especially when you consider that the player character party we're currently using has the following Reflexes scores: 14, 14, 14, 13, 10. Our Barbarian, our Assassin, and our Knight would always act simultaneously under the rules as written. That would get old fast.

So, here is my simple fix: all combatants (including groups of opponents, at the GM's option) roll a d8 and add their Reflexes score to determine the order in which they take action. I'm using the d8 because I think a d10 or higher value die will add too much variability, and because I think the d6 is boring. The variability thing could be complete bullshit - I suck at figuring out probability curves and don't really care to improve. But we'll see how it works soon enough.

I imagine that as time goes on I will continue to tweak Dragon Warriors. House ruling is fun!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

At Long Last

Sorry for the lack of updates recently, but I finally got my Dragon Warriors play-by-post up and running! I guess a slight delay is to be expected when you're using a ruleset most of the players aren't familiar with, but I thought I was going to lose my mind waiting for everybody to finish up their characters.

The good news is that everybody's on board now, and we've got a nice mix of professions and personalities so far, both in terms of characters and players. I'm also excited to be playing with my older brother Chris again. He's the one who ran my first RPG sessions, and it'll be fun to turn the tables on him after all this time.

I've had a couple of people ask if they can lurk on the campaign forum, but for now I'd like to keep it private. I may well post occasional updates here on the blog detailing the characters and their progress, though.

Welcome to Legend, travelers... hope you survive the experience!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

HackMaster Basic Preview

Kenzer & Company have released a PDF preview of the new edition of HackMaster on their forums, downloadable here.

Yeah, the PDF is essentially an advertisement, but you know what? This version of HackMaster sounds pretty cool to me.

I used to own most of the HackMaster rulebooks and almost really liked them. The players-versus-DM attitude kind of put me off, and the humor wasn't really my style, but I thought there were some cool ideas in it. Ultimately I thought it would probably work better as an AD&D supplement than as its own game, but I have no gameplay experience to back that snap judgment up.

Anyway, the new game certainly seems to be toning down the blatant (and formerly contractually required) goofiness while still retaining a sense of fun. I like that the mechanics are AD&D-inspired but still willing to go off in different directions - combat, especially, looks like it will be pretty interesting. I get a cool "let's take what AD&D did right, and go from there" vibe from this I haven't felt since I got into Palladium Fantasy when I was a teenager. That's exciting.

Between this and Aces & Eights, Kenzer is definitely starting to intrigue me.

(Yeah, I just preordered it.)

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Recruiting For Dragon Warriors

If anybody is interested, I'm recruiting for a play-by-post Dragon Warriors campaign. I have three players so far, and am looking for two more. You don't have to have the new book, but access to some version of the rules (old or new, print or electronic) is a good idea.

I'm not vastly experienced with PBP games, but have been having a good time playing in them recently and figured I'd give it a shot. This will also be my first time running Dragon Warriors. I'll be using published adventures, mostly, so if you've already read them (or played them) you might want to sit this one out.

It's still in the early stages, but I will be setting up a dedicated forum specifically for the campaign in the near future. Comment on this post (preferably with your email) if you're interested in giving it a shot and we'll talk.

Looks like I found my two players. Thanks!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Judge Not

Over the past couple of days I've been sitting down with my copy of DragonRaid, with the intent of reviewing a game I've been talking about since I started Dungeonskull Mountain. I had every intention of giving the game a fair shake, but I'm afraid I can't.

As I've mentioned before, DragonRaid does have some admirable qualities. It is presented in a very attractive, colorful box with excellent production values. It contains some interesting ideas, like having characters' combat statistics be based on the "Armor of God" passage in Ephesians, or a magic system that uses memorization of Scripture for its core mechanic.

Unfortunately, I simply can't make myself objectively review a game like DragonRaid. This is a game that puts a race that does good deeds "for the sake of helping people, rather than for the glory of the OverLord [Jesus]" in the monster section. A game where creatures on the heroic side are called "Victims". A game where the idea of recreation is portrayed as sinful in the introductory book.

I hope nobody thinks my own atheism is overly coloring my opinion, but this game... this is not my kind of game.

I will leave it at that.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

New School Sandbox

Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition's default feel of over-the-top magical superbadasses hitting monsters in the face with big glowing things isn't necessarily my preferred style of fantasy - I tend to go for the mucky stuff like Warhammer Fantasy, A Song of Ice and Fire or Dragon Warriors - but lately I have been finding myself getting into it again. And by "getting into it" I mean doing something more than playing it every week, which is what I have been doing for about a year now.

I find myself thinking about running 4e again a lot lately. I mean, I actually took a test to see if I could qualify as a RPGA "Herald" Dungeon Master yesterday afternoon. Now, I didn't pass (yet), and I was mostly doing it in the hopes of being able to grab the RPGA-exclusive revamp of The Village of Hommlet, but the effort is there.

One thing I was thinking about was that the encounter-design structure of 4e makes it hard to do a traditional, Wilderlands-style "sandbox" (or "hexcrawl") campaign. You know, one where the characters are plunked into a detailed area with lots of site-based adventures from which they can pick and choose. On the surface, it seems like D&D 4e makes that difficult, since encounters are constructed specifically for your characters, based on experience level. But it's always been possible in sandbox play for players to wander into things way above (or below) their characters' ability to handle. I mean, yes, you're going to get your butts kicked if you decide to take on an Exarch of Orcus at 5th level. How is that any different from the way D&D worked in the past? You take your risks.

Now, another stumbling block is the absence of any sandbox-style setting supplements or adventures for 4e. (There are rumors that Wizards' upcoming Revenge of the Giants super-module is going to be site-based, but that was supposed to be a boxed set, too, and that's looking less and less likely as time goes by.) But if you take a look at the Dungeon Delve hardcover, you've got tons of mini-adventure sites for a variety of different levels. Just lay a hex grid over a map of the Nentir Vale and place the delves where you want them. Combine your new sandbox Vale map with the published modules, the DMG, and Dungeon PDF magazines, and there's a whole mess of trouble waiting for your wandering PCs.

Yeah, I want to give this a try.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Fighting On

I'm happy to announce that issue #5 of Fight On! (the fanzine of the old school renaissance) is available now from Lulu. Along with a bunch of other cool stuff, this issue contains the "Dungeon Motivations" random table Bret Woods and I put together a while back, greatly expanded from Jeff Rients' original.

This is the second gaming product I've managed to get my name on. (The first was the errata document for the new version of Dragon Warriors.) I hope people are able to get some use out of my goofy little contribution.

Maybe I'll use this as an excuse to reorder that copy of Barbarians of Lemuria that I had shipped to the wrong address...

I feel pretty good about this. Movin' on up!

Thief Of Names

I recently found that I have a nasty tendency to steal names without even realizing it. When I first started working on my eternal back-burner setting project, the Freed Lands, I unknowingly stole the name of one of the major civilizations from RuneQuest's Glorantha, gave my lizard men a name swiped from Etruscan mythology, and named another culture after a city in Cyprus. Even though I doubt anybody would have really cared, I felt like I had to go back and change them, and I still catch myself thinking about them under their original (stolen) names.

As I continue to read A Distant Mirror, I'm struck by how awesome the names of some of the cities of medieval France and Switzerland were. If I wasn't being careful not to pilfer real-world names, I'm sure Thann, Olten, and Solothurn would pop up somewhere.

These days, I've resorted to cribbing stuff from the random word verification system used right here on Blogger... and have gotten some pretty awesome names, I might add.

(And since I don't have any relevant images, please enjoy this nice Angus McBride orc attack I had saved on my hard drive for some reason.)

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Review: Ultimate Toolbox

I am a big fan of random rolling. Don't get me wrong: I like making stuff up whole-cloth as much as the next guy, but if there's one thing that I've learned over my years of gaming, it's that rolling randomly often gives me fun results that I never would have come up with on my own.

It should come as no surprise, then, that I jumped on AEG's new supplement, Ultimate Toolbox, as soon as I learned it was available. The back cover blurb describes it as "400 pages of the best charts, tables, and seeds of gaming adventure." It's a massive expansion of their well-received Toolbox sourcebook, released for the d20 system several years back. Ultimate Toolbox cleans that product up, removes the d20 gaming statistics, and adds a whole lot more random tables.

As can probably be gleaned from the book's cover, which appears to depict a cleric of the new default D&D death goddess, the Raven Queen, Ultimate Toolbox is still aimed at those running and playing D&D-style fantasy. The book organizes its charts into seven chapters: Character, World, Civilization, Maritime, Dungeon, Magic, and Plot. Each chapter contains around one to two hundred d20 charts that can be used to generate a bewildering variety of useful information that one might need to produce on the fly (or any time inspiration is needed). Here are some sample tables that I've randomly flipped to:
  • Druidic Orders (Character chapter)
  • National Calamities, Magical (World chapter)
  • Power Behind the Throne (Civilization chapter)
  • Ship Names (Maritime chapter)
  • Potion Tastes 2 (Dungeon chapter)
  • Command Words, Healing (Magic chapter)
  • Gossip About a Group/Guild (Plot chapter)

Naturally, the real question here is "how good is the stuff you can roll up?" Well, they're generally pretty good. Results can be dull ("Ranger" under Ranger Titles), anachronistic ("Bring it on!" under Battle Cries 1), ornate ("Scarlands of the Bladed Earth" under Desert Names), or inspired ("Pretty wife of an ugly man said to be magically animated statue" under Local Legends 1). There is a lot of material here I would probably never use, but I think the point of this book is to help you out when something you thought would never come up in your game suddenly does. I found that the World and Plot chapters, especially, would be useful if one needs to whip up an adventure background when their player characters elect to wander off the map.

As far as drawbacks, there are a few. Ultimate Toolbox is a project that likely exhausted its authors, and while most of the results you can roll up are pretty interesting, as I mentioned earlier, sometimes you can roll up a dud. This is probably inevitable when you have three people creating over 700 charts, but it should be mentioned. Also, as in many RPG products, I noticed quite a few typos that easily would have been caught with even a simple spell check - "steppe" is consistently misspelled as "steepe", for example. If you're a person who likes a book packed with glossy artwork, look elsewhere - there are a few pen and ink illustrations here and there, but nothing that will knock your socks off. Finally, the book is pricey - $49.95 for a black-and-white softcover.

Nevertheless, I'm glad I picked up Ultimate Toolbox. It isn't perfect, but it does deliver what it promises: piles and piles of random tables. If you're the type of gamer that enjoys such things, as I am, it's a purchase worth considering.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Gutting The Rules Cyclopedia

I have previously mentioned my love of the D&D Rules Cyclopedia here on Dungeonskull Mountain. I did recently acquire the much-admired Moldvay/Cook D&D sets from the early 80s, and they do have a lot of charm, but the RC remains my favorite incarnation of "basic" D&D, mostly because it's got literally everything you need (and then some) in one place. It collects pretty much all of the info from the Basic-Expert-Companion-Master-Immortal series (except, sadly, the art and layout, which is a step down from both Moldvay/Cook and BECMI).

Still, it's far from perfect. There are tons of things there that don't make much sense to me. I imagine Aaron Allston, the person who compiled the RC, might have been tempted to fix some of the problems, but that wasn't his job. Many people houserule old-style D&D pretty heavily, usually supplementing it with stuff from AD&D. I'm no different: there are a lot of things that I would tweak, rearrange, and dump entirely. Off the top of my head, here are some changes I'd make:
  • As written, neutral fighters can become knights at 9th level. You get nothing for being a knight, other than having to do what your king tells you. Compare that to what lawful and chaotic fighters get, and the knight quickly looks pretty lame. If paladins and avengers get neat tricks, knights should get them too. Maybe look at AD&D's cavalier for ideas?
  • Dump the cleric and the magic-user as written. Put all their spells into a pile, then divide them into "white" and "black" magic. Write two new classes - let's call them "magician" and "sorcerer" for now - based around those revised spell lists. Make sure neither of them are armored holy fighting guys... that's what the paladin does.
  • Rework thief skills somehow.
  • Either let the demihumans reach the same level as humans using the optional rules in the appendix, or drop them entirely. None of this half-assed "enforce a human-centric world by dicking over non-human player characters" garbage.
  • Give elf characters access to the druid's spell list, instead of the magic-user's.
  • Either drop the druid, or make it a class you can enter at first level.
  • Drop the mystic class. It's mechanically borked and doesn't really have the right feel anyway.
  • Write up a ranger-type class - probably one without spellcasting abilities.
  • Tone down weapon mastery a little, but KEEP IT. Maybe make it exclusive to fighters, or make it so knights get more masteries?
  • Keep skills, but make the skill list about 75% shorter.
  • Define alignments as sworn allegiances to the otherworldly powers of law or chaos. The vast majority of humans are neutral. Change the alignments of a lot of the monsters accordingly.

And that's just for starters! Judging from what I read of other people's "basic" D&D campaigns, I imagine the choices I'd make aren't the ones many would go with, but that's the beauty of houseruling.

(On an unrelated note, I got my DragonRaid boxed set yesterday. I haven't read any of its contents yet, but I can say that it is BIG.)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Revenge Of The Boxed Set

That staple of the 80s and early 90s RPGs, the boxed set, may be making a comeback.

Back in what some like to call "the day", a lot of the RPGs on the market came in boxes. You'd usually get a couple of pamphlets of rules, maybe a map or a cardstock character sheet, possibly some dice, and some ads for whatever company published the game. It was pretty awesome.

Boxed sets were shrinkwrapped. I think I bought a lot of boxed sets specifically because I couldn't see what was inside them. I flipped through plenty of rulebooks for perfectly good games as a youngster, but didn't get them because they looked boring. (I passed over getting the "deluxe" RuneQuest book multiple times for this very reason.) With a boxed set, I was never sure what I was getting into. That element of not knowing was maddening, and I often ended up buying something just for that reason. Sometimes they led to hours of play (TSR's Marvel Super Heroes, for example), and other times they led nowhere, but to this day, I still pick up old boxed sets just on the principle that they look cool.

Anyway, for whatever reason - most RPG companies cite manufacturing costs - boxed sets have more or less fallen by the wayside. I think that's a shame, as there was something about them that made first-timers want to try them out. A couple of smaller publishers, like Troll Lord or Fiery Dragon, still do them from time to time, but the "big" guys almost never did... until recently.

Wizards of the Coast have a boxed module called Revenge of the Giants due later this year, which is a change from their previous policy of only using the boxed set format for their sorta half-assed D&D Basic Sets. White Wolf recently published Dreams of the First Age, a big boxed expansion for Exalted (though apparently it didn't do as well as they'd hoped). Green Ronin's recently announced Dragon Age: Origins tabletop game is going to be a boxed set aimed at new gamers and distributed in book and video game stores. Cubicle 7's Doctor Who RPG is going for the same demographic and distribution pattern.

It obviously remains to be seen if any of these boxed sets will be met with any enthusiasm or success, but one can hope, right?

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Work Of Demons

The book I'm currently reading, A Distant Mirror, is proving to be endlessly inspiring, especially for quasi-medieval games like Dragon Warriors. The following passage from Tuchman's book is a near-perfect summary of the mindset that I believe the setting of Legend seeks to evoke:

"People lived close to the inexplicable. The flickering lights of marsh gas could only be fairies or goblins; fireflies were the souls of unbaptized dead infants. In the terrible trembling and fissures of an earthquake or the setting afire of a tree by lightning, the supernatural was close at hand. Storms were omens, death by heart attack or other seizures could the work of demons. Magic was present in the world: demons, fairies, sorcerers, ghosts, and ghouls touched and manipulated human lives; heathen superstitions and rituals abided among the country folk, beneath and even alongside the priest and sacraments. The influence of the planets could explain anything otherwise unaccounted for."

Of course, in Legend, the flickering lights really are the work of goblins, the seizures are the work of demonic forces, and the fissures in the earth lead to underworlds dreamlike and nightmarish.

Must... run... game... now...

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Sealed In The City

Sorry for the lean posts lately. I'm engrossed in reading A Distant Mirror, and it's a dense read that leaves little time for reading RPG books. It is, however, an excellent examination of the medieval world - in all its glory and nastiness - that is greatly intensifying my itch to run Dragon Warriors.

But hey, I've been picking up some pretty decent fantasy place names from lyrics lately. Thanks to my iPod, I've got:

  • The Tower of Pride
  • The Tower of Strength
  • The Temple of Lies
  • The Corridors of Desire
  • The City of Nine Gates
  • The Chasm Gaping

These all seem like they would fit on the Divine Right map pretty easily. Best of all, none of these come from the metal genre (that would be too easy) or songs having anything to do with fantasy themes.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009


I was wondering where my copy of Barbarians of Lemuria ended up, so I checked Lulu's website out of curiosity. Lulu had my old shipping address stored, and I didn't notice. It was sent to the wrong house.

With the way USPS operates in my area, it's unlikely it will ever make its way back to me. So, that's... what, about $25 (including shipping) down the drain?


Monday, May 4, 2009

News From The Front

I am happy to report that I finally managed to win a used copy of DragonRaid, the evangelical Christian RPG released during the height of 80s anti-roleplaying hysteria. I anxiously await its arrival. Rest assured that I will be giving it a thorough read, unless I find its content absolutely unreadable - an unlikely prospect.

If nothing else, it looks like the game's artwork is pretty good, and might even be useful to me as inspiration for a quasi-Crusader "order against chaos" campaign idea that is forming in the back of my head, this time sparked by thoughts about B/X D&D alignments, my current reading of the classic Keep On the Borderlands module, the historical narrative A Distant Mirror, the D&D Rules Cyclopedia, and Scott's new setting, the Ordained Dominion of Vologes.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Inspiration Dump

These images aren't doing any good just sitting around on my hard drive!

Arthur Adams draws himself a mean sexy snake-lady. I was thinking of writing up D&D stats for this one, but then decided that between lamias, yuan-ti, mariliths, and succubi, it'd be pretty redundant.

This is a prehistoric animal whose scientific name escapes me at the moment. The image is called "Suthirinodon", but that was from a Japanese site, and they always butcher scientific names when translating them into katakana and then back into Roman characters. Anyway, "moleratpig" seems like an appropriate description. An animal like this would be the ancestor of the snuffling, tusked, xenophobic dwarves of the Freed Lands setting.

Jeff Rients posted this bad boy long ago. I am a big hobgoblin fan, but more than that, I love the Miyazaki-esque feel to this guy. This is literally one of my favorite RPG-related images, ever, and I wish I could find out who drew it.

Found this guy on a Russian-hosted site about a Forgotten Realms campaign. Looks like it might be D&D 3e art, but it looked vaguely Central Asian/Eastern European to me, so I saved it for Freed Lands inspiration.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Spoiling The Broth

I really need to learn to buy (and read) one RPG rulebook at a time. Having too many cool books laying around is wreaking havoc with my gamer ADD.

In addition to the 4e Wilderlands concepts I discussed yesterday, I've got a Thundarr-style post-apoc setup for Barbarians of Lemuria, the Elven Crystals adventure for Dragon Warriors, an A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying noble house a buddy of mine and I rolled up the other day, an urge to set a kitbashing of the D&D Rules Cyclopedia that I thought up years ago into motion, curiosity about the upcoming HackMaster Basic game and whether it would work for something I call "Frazetta Greyhawk", ideas for the actual 4e campaign I'm playing in, and a vague desire for some sort of Lords of Creation/Basic D&D mashup struggling for control over the battlefield of my brain.

And all the while, Freed Lands lurks in the shadows, biding its time...

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Sword & 4thery

I've been thinking about sword & sorcery again lately, having recently purchased the darling Barbarians of Lemuria from Lulu and the decidedly nasty new comic Viking from my local shop (which doesn't have any sorcery, but gets me in the S&S mood anyway). This, in turn, got me thinking about injecting more of the genre's flavor into the game of high-magic asskickery known as D&D 4th edition.

Soon I was reacquainting myself with Bob Bledsaw's Wilderlands of High Fantasy setting, which, despite the name, is more of a S&S-flavored pulp fantasy mashup than "high fantasy" in tone. I am a proud owner of all of Necromancer Games' d20-based Wilderlands material. Though I don't plan on running D&D 3rd edition ever again, I will probably hang on to those books (and especially the Wilderlands boxed set) until I keel over.

Anyway, I was flipping through the Player's Guide to the Wilderlands the other day with an eye towards using it with a system other than 3rd edition, and I actually think it'd be easy to use 4th edition for it without eliminating any of 4e's core elements, since the Wilderlands setting is chock-full of weird D&Disms in the first place (having been designed for that game, after all).

The 4e classes, really, fit just fine. Sure, having a bunch of friendly spellcasters running around with the fighter-types isn't very S&S at all, but as I said, I think the Wilderlands are more about putting a Frazetta veneer over D&D than anything else. If you wanted to make things more true to the genre, you'd probably want to dump a few of the newer, crazier classes - like the swordmage or artificer - but if you can have a crashed Soviet MiG in the mountains, I guess you can have a guy who shoots acid out of his sword.

Even "non-traditional" 4e races like tieflings and dragonborn are a surprisingly easy fit. The existing Wilderlands history already includes references to "Orichalan dragon-lords". Dragonborn are easily recast as a former servitor race of the Orichalans, or maybe even as degenerate descendants of the dragon-lords themselves.

Likewise, the Wilderlands already include an entire region to the south controlled by infernal powers and a shadowy race called the "demonborn". Using the 4e stats for tieflings, you have an easy stand-in for the demonborn, who are pretty much overpowered as written in the Wilderlands Player's Guide anyway. Or you could just use tieflings as-is and tie their backstory in with the demonborn.

You would need to write up a new Amazon race for 4e, though. Making a race that doesn't use much armor is tricky in any system, but at least there's already the beastmaster ranger build, so it'd be easy to have the archetypal Frazetta spearwoman, complete with smilodon friend.

I have a feeling that adapting the Wilderlands gods would be as simple as reassigning the various Channel Divinity feats from the 4e deity to Thor or Armadad Bog or what have you. There are already plenty of them between the 4e PHB and the Forgotten Realms Player's Guide, with more coming in Divine Power.

It... could... work!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Friday, April 24, 2009

Spoke Too Soon

All right, I took a closer look at the 1st edition Dungeon Master's Guide last night, and I will revise my opinion accordingly: the book's only half useless to me. The appendices are pretty handy - in addition to being able to roll up a dungeon layout or a wilderness region (with settlements!), you can randomly generate the physical appearance of a monster or the type of prostitute a character picks up. Oh, and there's an awesome Dave Trampier illustration of a dead displacer beast being eaten by wild dogs. This is the sort of thing I can get behind.

As a side note, I was telling my wife - who has never played a tabletop RPG - that I got more comments yesterday than for any previous post. She asked what it was about, so I told her. Her response:

"Wait, wasn't that a 1st edition book? So... you were talking shit about 1st edition? Even I know you don't talk shit about 1st edition!"

I still don't think I was "talking shit", but point taken.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Old School Newbie

I received my 1st edition AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide yesterday. I should note that I have never previously owned the book, but have heard for years that it is a must-own for any real RPG aficionado. I'd probably flipped through a copy at some point in the past, but it didn't leave much of a lasting impression on me, so it was with some excitement that I cracked it open and began to read.

I think I hate it.

I've read Gygax before, but his writing style here is pedantic to the point of incomprehensibility. This is no Monster Manual - the artwork consists primarily of cartoons and Sutherland stuff, which is not to my taste. The DMing advice, as far as I can tell, is almost exclusively negative. The author tells you not to change the rules, not to allow monster player characters, not to alter the tone of the game... well, not to do lots of things. I didn't see much in the way of telling a DM what he or she should do, but plenty of reflexive "if you do this, you're playing my game wrong" admonishments.

What you do get are exhaustive sections on subjects as esoteric as casting spells underwater, footnotes telling you that a roll of "mastodon" on the Pleistocene marsh encounter table actually indicates a shovel-toothed relative of the mastodon, and charts telling you how much damage a wereboar takes if he changes into boar form while wearing plate mail. There's a certain insane appeal to the bewildering degree of attention paid to the pointless minutiae of situations that will probably never occur in the typical D&D game, but I'm afraid that for me, it's not enough. Except for the sections on generating wilderness environments, settlements, and dungeons, this thing is almost completely useless to me. Still, I know a lot of people love this book, and that's great. Maybe one of them will want to buy my copy.

(To be clear, I'm not taking a dump on AD&D 1st edition or Gary Gygax. I own plenty of AD&D stuff, much of it written by Gygax, and have enjoyed reading it. I just strongly dislike this particular book.)

In happier news, I like the fun, freewheeling attitude of the D&D Basic and Expert Rulebooks a lot. So, what I've learned is that if I'm going to go for "old school" D&D, I should probably stay away from AD&D and stick to Basic.

Okay... now that I have probably enraged or alienated most of my readers, I am going to prepare for the onslaught.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Buckling Bookshelf

My 32nd birthday came and went a couple of weeks ago. I got a ton of loot, thanks to my lovely wife (and a few gift cards from other people), as follows:
  • A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying, which is something of a dry read, but thus far seems to do a bang-up job of emulating George R. R. Martin's brutal, intrigue-ridden fantasy series. I am especially impressed with the game's focus on players sharing and running their own noble house. Shame about the errata, of which there are many.

  • Career Compendium for Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, 2nd Edition. I've only given this a quick glance-through, but it's definitely nice to have all the careers from all the books (plus a few new ones) together in one place. I do like the added notes on the different careers' places in the Old World. So far FFG seems to be doing a solid job with WFRP2.

  • Talisman Revised 4th Edition and The Reaper Expansion, also from FFG. I played a lot of the previous edition of Talisman, and was lucky enough to give the new version a try this past weekend. I'm happy to report it's easily as good as the old game, with some interesting tweaks, and is physically a much sturdier, more polished product than it was in the past. I intend to pick up the next expansion, The Dungeon. (Anybody want to buy my 3rd edition stuff?)

  • The Elven Crystals. This is another very good revision of old adventure material for Dragon Warriors, with clearer maps than Magnum Opus' previous adventure book, Sleeping Gods. The original adventure felt wackier and more high-magic than what the rules implied, but Adrian Bott did a great job of making it all feel a bit more logical and grounded.
I also have a ton of stuff on its way in the mail, all gotten on the cheap:
  • Arcane Power. I'm playing a wizard in D&D 4e and am looking foward to revamping him - I'm already leaning towards getting a tome implement and a familiar. (Do you care? No.)

  • AD&D 1st Edition Player's Handbook and Dungeon Master's Guide. I have owned the former in the past and wasn't that taken with it, but it came in a bundle with the latter, which I'm told I must own, so let's see what it's like.

  • D&D Basic Rulebook and Expert Rulebook. These are the Moldvay/Cook versions; another case of "let's see what the big deal is".

  • Lords of Creation. Another Moldvay-penned RPG. I've owned this one before, but sold it when I was hard up for cash. I'm looking foward to reacquainting myself with it, especially since I could hardly figure out what the heck it was about the first time I owned the boxed set.

  • Fantasy Wargaming: The Highest Level of All, an early-80s British fantasy RPG notorious for giving stats for Jehovah, Satan, Jesus, etc. It seems this was available from a book-of-the-month club at some point, which means used bookstores are overflowing with cheap copies. Still, it apparently does contain reference information about the medieval world and lots of folkloric monsters, and has been cited by more than a few as a useful resource for Dragon Warriors.

Good thing I just made some room on the bookshelves.

Friday, April 17, 2009

A Revolutionary New Approach

I don't really buy modules for D&D anymore, but this kind of paradigm shift in product diversification bodes well for the future of the hobby. Kudos to Goodman Games!

It's oddly heartwarming to see the skank-riffic art of Clyde Caldwell make its triumphant return to D&D.

Seriously, though, I appreciate Joseph Goodman's willingness to poke fun at his own products, and I like the attitude of Goodman Games a lot. Their Dungeon Denizens book for 4e has been getting a lot of use in our campaign, and I'm looking forward to flipping through their new print magazine, Level Up.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Siren Call Of "Old School"

I'm still thinking about running a campaign.

Currently, I'm leaning towards trying my hand at something "old school", in the fantasy genre, simple to prep and easy to run. This approach seems to be in vogue right now, so I do feel like I'm hopping on the bandwagon a bit, but I'm not going to let that stop me from exploring something in which I'm genuinely interested. I own a few games that potentially fit the bill:

Dungeons & Dragons (Rules Cyclopedia version). I like the RC a lot, and obviously have been spending a good deal of time thinking about D&D lately. This particular version of D&D has plenty of compatible supplemental material. It's a familiar system that would be relatively easy to tweak. The problem with that idea is that players have certain expectations of what they're going to be getting when they play D&D, and I think my tweaks and play style might not be in line with those expectations. Also, I have a feeling most people wouldn't get why I picked "basic" D&D over AD&D, v3.5, or 4e.

Tunnels & Trolls (5.5 edition). I'm currently playing a character in Scott's play-by-post T&T game and having a good time with it. It's a neat game, but a little too cutesy for my default approach to fantasy, at least as written. I guess you could say it falls a little too far on the Otus side of the Erol Otus-Dave Trampier continuum for me. There's lots of support for T&T, though I'm not a huge fan of how it handles combat - I prefer a bit more granularity than just saying "add up the dice on each side, roll, and see who wins."

Dragon Warriors (Magnum Opus Press version). In case I hadn't already made it clear, I love this freakin' game. The rulebook is simple yet comprehensive like the Rules Cyclopedia, the setting is right up my alley, the published adventures are pretty cool, and there is a modest (but growing) amount of fan support available online. I've been wanting to run this game for years, but nobody I've shown it off to has seemed particularly interested, so I'm not sure how easy it would be to recruit players.

All right, so it seems like I've pretty much made up my mind to run Dragon Warriors. Now I just need to figure out the logistics of when/where/how/with whom I'll be running it.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Freed Lands: Wheruls

Wheruls are my wild and crazy barbarian horde race. You know, the ones whose approach is heralded by a huge dust cloud on the horizon and who leave devastation in their wake.

Their origins lie in the savannah of Hafe, to the south of the Freed Lands. Wheruls had been ravaging the Morven Ghannem region for centuries before the elves of Immovenst conquered it. The elves attempted to spare their new territory from further attacks only by providing the wheruls with quality arms and armor, and encouraging the wherul raiders to demonstrate their prowess with them further south. The wherul hordes happily took the elven weaponry, but never stopped testing the borders of Morbenhann, ensuring that the elves (and their subjects) never lowered their guard.

Wheruls respect displays of power, but never bow to it for long. That power will be tested time and again until a weakness is discovered and exploited, and the wherul is once again revealed as supreme. Wherul society places might as its highest virtue. Wheruls exalt in strength of arms and personality, and believe to risk life and limb is to live. A wherul horde will rob, sack, and pillage, true, but this is an only an expression of their near-pathological need for supremacy. However, they are not a conquering race. Once that horde feels that it has established that supremacy, it returns to the wherul homelands - the sunny plains to the south that are their unquestioned domain. There, they rest, rebuild their numbers, and prepare their next demonstration.

Wheruls have no religion per se. There is a perception that they worship spirits of nature, but this is a mistaken one. They may pause to admire a waterfall or a great canyon, or to respectfully observe a tiger bringing down its prey, but they are not animists in the true sense. They are just as likely to divert the river for their needs, or to kill the great cat for food. Wheruls have no concept of agriculture or domestication, but they take pride in capturing and training wild animals, especially predatory ones (many of which they bring along on their raids).

Wheruls are reptilian in appearance, but are warm-blooded, and bear live young. They begin life as quadrupedal creatures very similar in appearance to a monitor lizard, but upon reaching adolescence, changes begin rapidly as the young males engage in violent (but non-lethal) combat for the right to breed with the wherul females.

After mating, the winners begin a rapid transformation into a massive, semi-quadrupedal form covered in iridescent scales, with a heavy tail used for balance when using the forelimbs to manipulate objects. Males are physically powerful, capable of running at high speeds for great distances, but are considerably less mentally capable than the females, and serve as hunters, warriors, and (during long-distance travel) mounts for the smaller females.

The females, after bearing young, become fully bipedal, with roughly humanoid proportions. Unlike the males, their mental faculties are not dulled by the maturing process, and thus they take up the planning and leadership of their yearly raids.

The males that lose the breeding combats become neuters - dull brown, sterile humanoids similar in appearance to females. Wherul neuters develop highly sophisticated vocal chords capable of reproducing sounds outside of the human range of hearing, which may be amplified to very high volume by their inflatable throat sacs. The wherul battle language makes use of these far-travelling frequencies, enabling them to secretly give complex orders across great distances.

The wherul mouth is designed only for biting prey and eating flesh, and thus, wheruls lack the ability to speak words in the fashion of other races. The lizard-like face of a wherul displays no emotion, and their language consists of strange barks, chirps, and hisses. When dealing with other races, wheruls rely instead on their neuters' talent for mimicry to communicate in a strange, broken syntax of words and phrases, perfectly copied from the speech of others that they have heard. The sight of a neuter wherul "speaking" in this fashion, switching voices in the middle of a sentence without moving the lips, can be unsettling.

(Much of this will be familiar to those who followed my old Freed Lands journal, but there's a good deal that has changed. It's my hope that the style of this entry gives you a better idea of the way I'm approaching races in this setting: I'm going for a sense of realism and originality without turning into a biology text or going completely off the wall. We'll see if I can do the same for some of the more typical fantasy races.)