Thursday, July 31, 2014

Why Hast Thou Forsaken Me?

More rules for divine spellcasters in my games...

The gods of Tel-Avi are extremely powerful, but not omnipotent, or at least not omnipresent. Whether by limitations on their power, area of influence, or attention, there are places in the world where a given god’s power fails to extend. In such an area it becomes more difficult for a priest to channel his god’s power, resulting in a chance for his spells to simply fail. This power vacuum is what leads many faiths to have monotheistic, or at least monolatrous, tendencies. If the priests of a foreign god are unable to perform the miracles expected of them, then theirs must clearly be a false god.

When operating in an area foreign to their god, a divine spellcaster must make a caster level check in order to cast any spell. The DC for this check is equal to 15 + 2x the level of the spell being cast, but the caster can apply his spellcasting ability modifier (Wisdom for Clerics, Charisma for Oracles, etc.) as a bonus on this check. Similarly, any saving throws required by a supernatural power granted by his divine class, suffer a -2 penalty to the save DC.

This penalty applies to the major deities as follows:

  • Dgn: Dgn’s fish-cultists suffer this reduction in power any time they are out of sight of a body of water.
  • YGO: The Yigden suffer this reduction of power when on the perpetually overcast Northern Continent, and when underground, as the sun holds no power in these places.
  • Shed: Shed is in a constant cycle of death and rebirth. While not bound to a particularly locality, Shed’s priests are diminished for the last six years of Shed’s eighteen year cycle, as Shed’s power wanes leading up to his death. Because of the limited intercession of Shed’s midwives, spells and abilities that deal cold damage or which cause hunger or fatigue never suffer this diminishment.
  • Razh Jah: Jahans are diminished anywhere outside of Pulau-Razh, as Razh-Jah’s rule is still limited to that island.

Cosmogonists, with their equal acceptance of all deities, and the followers of the Nowhere Man, who barely believe in their god’s existence, are not subject to this penalty.

The diverse smaller cults are generally limited to specific locales. Players creating their own cult should specify a single continent on which their spells function without penalty. In all other locales, their spells are diminished as above.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

You May Have Noticed That There Are No Pictures Here

In which J.R.R. Tolkien perfectly sums up my view on the use of art and graphic visualization in literature (and RPGs):
"However good in themselves, illustrations do little good to fairy-stories. The radical distinction between all art (including drama) that offers a visible presentation and true literature is that . . . literature works from mind to mind and is thus more progenitive. It is at once more universal and more poignantly particular."

No offense intended to the artists out there. The images in my head are just too cool to be conveyed as images.


Monday, July 28, 2014

Gygax Was Right, Again.

After a few recent experiments in world-creation, I have come to realize, once again, the brilliance that was the late Gary Gygax. While many might disagree with some of his design decisions, the amount of thought he put into those decisions and his willingness to explain that thinking in the products he wrote is commendable. For example, let us consider this passage from the AD&D DMG.
"The game features humankind for a reason. It is the most logical basis in an illogical game. From a design aspect it provides the sound groundwork. From a standpoint of creating the campaign milieu it provides the most readily usable assumptions. From a participation approach it is the only method, for all players are, after all is said and done, human, and it allows them the role with which most are most desirous and capable of identifying with. From all views then it is enough fantasy to assume a swords & sorcery cosmos, with impossible professions and make-believe magic. To adventure amongst the weird is fantasy enough without becoming that too! Consider also that each and every Dungeon Master worthy of that title is continually at work expanding his or her campaign milieu. The game is not merely a meaningless dungeon and an urban base around which is plopped the dreaded wilderness. Each of you must design a world, piece by piece, as if a jigsaw puzzle were being hand crafted, and each new section must fit perfectly the pattern of the other pieces. Faced with such a task all of us need all of the aid and assistance we can get. Without such help the sheer magnitude of the task would force most of us to throw up our hands in despair."
By having a basis to work from, and a well-developed body of work to draw upon, at least part of this task is handled for us. When history, folklore, myth, fable and fiction can be incorporated or used as reference for the campaign, the magnitude of the effort required is reduced by several degrees. Even actual sciences can be used - geography, chemistry, physics, and so forth. Alien viewpoints can be found, of course, but not in quantity (and often not in much quality either). Those works which do not feature mankind in a central role are uncommon. Those which do not deal with men at all are scarce indeed. To attempt to utilize any such bases as the central, let alone sole, theme for a campaign milieu is destined to be shallow, incomplete, and totally unsatisfying for all parties concerned unless the creator is a Renaissance Man and all-around universal genius with a decade or two to prepare the game and milieu. Even then, how can such an effort rival one which borrows from the talents of genius and imaginative thinking which come to us from literature? 
-- AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide pg. 21

Up until recently, I would have said that I strongly disagree with Mr. Gygax on this point. I don't often play humans, and I tend to run a lot of games that feature non-humans prominently, even as majority populations. I have even brought up this section in discussions as an example of how many modern D&D settings have improved upon the original concepts layed down by Gygax and Arneson. I perhaps even bragged that I was one of those "Renaissance Man and all-around universal genius". However, when a group of players in my recent Dawn of Worlds game, decided that humans should not exist as playable characters and went out of their way to create events leading to that race's demise, it prompted a lot of discussions about the need for a relatable baseline in the world (even if that baseline is a minority or oppressed population).

At first I was willing to play along with the no-humans world. It even seemed rather fun and novel, when a dominant species ended up being described as "post-human, quasi-troglodyte, fish-people". That is, until I started trying to write adventures to be played in that world. The lack of a human baseline makes certain common events difficult to explain as being a threat.

Why should PCs be concerned about saving people from floods when 90% of the people can breathe water? Why should they care about crop shortages and famine when the people are insectivores? How can you save a kidnapped noble child when the youngest members of the ruling class are in their 40's? How do you tempt them with wealth when the only currency is salt? How do you frighten them with the risk of mutation and magical transformation when they already change shape at a whim?

This experiment has created what is certainly a very interesting world, with numerous possibilities, but the lack of a relatable human baseline does, it turns out, make something that is "destined to be shallow, incomplete, and totally unsatisfying".

So, my hat is off to you Mr. Gygax, you have once again proved your wisdom.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Justification for Your Paranoia

Here is your latest dose of details on how insecure your data really is...
warning, I'm in a snarky mood today...

1. Hotel business center computers are easily compromised *GASP*:
The US Secret Service recently sent out an industry-only announcement about key-logging software found on workstation computers in a hotel business center in Texas. Reports indicate that the folks who installed this particular malware got basically everything they could ever want e-mailed to them (personally identifiable information, e-mail accounts, bank accounts, credit card numbers, login credentials, etc.). 
The real question is, who would use a public computer to log in to anything valuable? Seriously people, ITS A PUBLIC COMPUTER. If anyone in the hotel industry or any consumer was surprised that this happened, they probably deserve to be hacked. These kind of business centers may be ubiquitous, but the prevalence of mobile devices, tablets, and laptops make them completely unnecessary.
2.  Bank security systems have as many holes as Swiss cheese...
In yet another great example of two-factor authentication not really helping, Operation Emmental (yep, Swiss cheese) was a well-orchestrated attack on many European banks. Users would receive a fake e-mail that would install a malware which replaced their SSL certificates with fakes, changed the devices DNS settings, then uninstalled itself (pretty minor really). The end result though, is that the hackers could then intercept 2FA session tokens sent via SMS and reroute them.
More and more of these kind of attacks keep showing up, making 2FA users no more secure than those of you who don't. At least those that use single session tokens. Time for a new plan...
 3. In other internet-of-things news...You can hack a Tesla:
A team of Chinese collegiate hackers attending a conference in Beijing succeeded in breaking into the software used in Tesla Model S electric cars. The vulnerability enabled attackers to remotely unlock the vehicle, sound the horn, flash the lights, and open the sunroof while the car was in motion. It is similar to another Tesla security flaw found in April that let an attacker track the location of and unlock the doors on a Model S.
Before you go saying bad things about Tesla, keep in mind that software in Ford vehicles and the Toyota Prius were also hacked as part of a competition last year.
4. Even more reasons not to use an iPhone:
Some security researchers have identified a number of backdoors in iOS devices (iPhones, iPads, etc.) that can expose your personal data. The report points out that Apple can extract active data even from password locked devices, including SMS, photos, videos, contacts, audio recordings, location information, and call history. 
Since the report came out Apple has publicly documented the vulnerable services, but claims that they are necessary diagnostic tools. The identified services include a packet sniffer, a file downloader that can bypass encryption, and a tool called, interestingly "". Whether Apple support needs these tools for "diagnostics" or not, they are the very definition of a backdoor.
5.  Your Android phone isn't much better:
Researchers at Cornell have demonstrated how to use Google Voice Search on an otherwise locked Android phone to forge SMS/Email, access privacy information, transmit sensitive data and achieve remote control of the device. They also showed that they can use an installed mobile app with zero permissions to trigger GVS and then play a prerecorded audio file (like "call ###-####") in the background without the user doing anything.
Note, you can disable Google Voice Search by going to Settings→Application Manager→All, scroll down to Google Text to Speech, and "Clear data and disable". 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Last Week in My Gaming Life

Ok, it's been more than a week, but if I keep trying I'm sure I'll eventually get into the groove...

What I'm playing at home:
Sadly I cannot fill 100% of my time with playing face-to-face, tabletop RPGs. Between having a dayjob breaking into peoples computers, toddlers at home, a busy wife, and days my gaming fix has to be of the electronic variety. This is definitely not preferred (my friends who do prefer games with an electronic interface are privy to plenty of railing from me when they turn down a REAL RPG to play a console game), but that doesn't mean I don't indulge.

Two games have been consuming my non-TTRPG hours:

First on my recently acquired PS3, I've been playing Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch. This game is...odd. First off, the cut-scenes are beautiful in a cartoony, stylistic way, having been done by Studio Ghibli (Princess Mononoke, Howl's Moving Castle, you know). Secondly the storyline and game play are a weird mix of Final Fantasy, meets Harry Potter, meets Pokémon. The main character is a pre-pubescent boy who learns that he is a wizard after his mother dies, then travels to another world and catches adorable little monsters and trains them to fight on his behalf. I'm about 12 hours in (looks like its probably an 80+ hour game) and it's surprisingly good and quite engrossing (though, granted, I've always been into the childish end of electronic games). Also, it apparently won like 7 Best RPG awards when it came out.

The second is a fan-made hack of the best-selling RPG franchise of all time. No not that onethis oneRuby Destiny: Life of Guardians is a ROM hack of Pokémon, Ruby version. Now, before you roll your eyes at me playing two games about ten-year-olds running around catching adorable monsters to fight for them, let me say one thing. This ten year DESTROYS THE WORLD! Yeah, unlike all official Pokémon games, Ruby Destiny has a few unique features: a split storyline, the option to become Evil and join the obligatory evil organization, the bad-guys actually causing real harm to the PC, and a pile of recurring rival trainers (most of whom have fairly realistic personalities and doubts about this whole "run away from home as a child and train monsters to fight for you" thing). If you can get past the base premises of it being a Pokémon game (child PC, train cute monsters, et al.), this game is extremely well made for what is essentially fan-fic.

Recommended Blog Reading:

Sometimes adult gamers act like three-year-olds...
Not going to name names, but the online gaming community (all of it, the whole damn thing) has been in a rather ridiculous uproar for a few weeks now. My wife recently posted about trying to teach our three-year-old to get along with others:
"I try to set them up with people [who will be] interesting to each other…and sometimes it’s awesome, and sometimes, it’s okay. This is what manners are for–if everyone behaves with decency and courtesy, you can have a nice time with someone who is not your absolute one and only favorite person."
"We’ve all met people we didn’t gel with immediately. And what do we do when we run into them at the grocery store? We smile politely, ask about their kids, and then wave goodbye...and everyone is fine."
This post is not about gaming, per se, but maybe we should all learn from these kids and try to be just a little more polite to each other when we have our little "playdates".

Sandbox Wonders
Telecanter has been running a series on random weird things and terrain types that might be found during a sandbox hexcrawl since January. His basic premise is things that might evoke a sense of wonder in both PCs and players. I don't normally run exploration-based games, but these posts have really made me want to. Similar to the "Collection of Curiosities" posts discussed last time, these spark my love of the random and surreal, and I cannot wait to run a game in which they might be usable. Here is how Telecanter describes what he is trying to create. I think he is succeeding.
Okay, so we have not relying on scale as a feature, what else?  Here are some ideas I had:
Something that is a semi-permanent part of a landscape.  A miniature city or a tree that has diamonds for fruit might be cool, but the fact you could dig them up and carry them off in a wagon detracts for me their wonder.  The wonders we want will be locations players can return to again and again. (I guess, in a sense, this is another way that scale does matter).
That being said, it might be more of a draw in a game if players can take souvenirs-- bits of the landscape, vials of liquid-- that have value or strange properties from these sites.
Odd, but not deadly.  Deadly can be awesome too, but I think it is much easier to evoke fear in someone then a sense of wonder and I'm shooting for the latter.  So, we'll try to keep them survivable even if they are dangerous.

They say D&D was created by Mathematicians...
Whether that statement is true or not, it is still played by them. Matthew over on Gnome Stew decided to dedicate a huge amount of brain power calculating the average rate and duration of survival of 1HD orcs based on their hit points. While not exactly useful in a game, it is an interesting read (if you're into reading about matrix algebra and Markov chains), and might just have a tiny insight into how monster tactics might adapt...
This means that large groups of weak orcs are more dangerous than much smaller groups of veterans. Orc leaders should be well aware of this and probably throw waves of slaves and weaklings at threats, using better armed and armored veteran elites to fight particularly difficult enemies (like PCs that have managed to slaughter a pack of fodder).

In Real News:

It's Legal to resell eBooks in Europe
Apparently European courts have ruled that digital assets can be resold. Does this mean I can start making money by redistributing old PDFs of game books?

What I'm Playing This Week:

The Bitter Blades
This game originated as a one-shot, a side story related to the Ruins of Adventure play-by-mail game. The "one-shot" is now on its fifth session. We're playing on G+ hangouts intermittently, with no set schedule other than "whenever everyone can make it". The first round of sessions ended in a near-TPK (one got away), so the surviving PC decided to recruit a new party to attempt the same adventure. Given that everyone who dies on the island comes back as undead the next morning, the PCs are doing a pretty good job of re-populating the dungeon with their own dead...

One Group, Three Games
My regular Sunday gaming group is large (9 players if we all showed up at the same time) and disorganized (we're lucky if 4 show up any given week), but consistent. Since we never know who will be available any given weekend (we've all got families, kids, dayjobs with professional and academic conferences to attend, etc.), we have three dangling Pathfinder (or vaguely D&D 3.5/Pathfinder based) campaigns running in parallel. Whoever is available to GM a given week throws down where their thread left off.

The ongoing campaigns include one set in 14th century China involving a party of drunken poets aiding Timur the Lame in attempting to foment a political uprising against the mongols, a complicated steam-punk mishmash with kaiju and talking penguins that I got roped into GMing after a few rounds of Dawn of Worlds, and the unfinished remnants of our Reins of Darkness campaign, which is itself also a complicated amalgam of unrelated rules and conflicting world-building ideas. At this point, we have so many dangling plot threads and loose-ends in so many campaigns that I'm getting quite confused and frustrated. I'm ready to ditch at least two of the three (preferably the latter two) and start something altogether different. We shall have to wait and see how that goes.

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Bitter Blades: The Liberation of Thorn Island Part 5 (A New Crop)

In which Tom recruits some new friends and goes back to find the corpses of the old ones...

The Party:


Tom’s reunion with Martha was a joyous one. The girl had been terrified for those three days that he was gone. When he returned injured and empty-handed, and refused to tell her about what happened on the island, she tried desperately to talk him out of adventuring. She didn’t like being alone, she said. Tom, however, knew how tight their funds were, especially with what he had to pay for her apprenticeship. Fifty silver a week was far more than he could make by doing minor repair jobs. Unless he could find work as a master mason, she would lose her chance at a better life, or he would starve, or likely both. Adventuring, risky as it was, was the only chance he had to provide for his daughter.

Two days after his return, after escorting Martha to the gates, Tom went out into the Slums, deeper than he usually liked. His left arm still hurt, and was stiff, but it worked, and he had no intention of letting the arm slow him down. He explored the market, wandered back alleys, and asked everyone who did not look ready to stab him. Eventually, in the smelliest corner of the smelliest alleyway, tucked between the wall of new city farthest from any gate, and an old hempworks, he found the shop he was looking for. JACK, OF ALL TRADES read the sign in garishly bright letters. Within he was told he would find the scavengers who had so graciously brought him home—an odd thing that, it might seem a little gesture, but leaving him alive and clothed was so alien to most Slums-dwellers, that Tom felt certain that these scavengers could be trusted.

Tom pushed open the door to find a shop piled high with all manner of broken, ramshackle, or ill-gotten goods. Nothing that someone inside the walls would even touch, but much that was useful out here. The blue-glowing hammer from the keep on the island was hanging upside down from the ceiling in place of a candelabra. The proprietor was a broken, twisted little man—if man was even the right word. His face looked like a cross between an orc and a bloated rat, with tangled, greasy, gray hair and one eye white and useless. The odd fellow waved cheerily at Tom as he entered and asked what brought him.

“The boat you found me in, I need it,” Tom said. “I need to get back to the island.”

“Rough business that,” said Jack. “You were half-dead when I found you, why would you go back there?”

“I left my companions there to die. I need to at least bury them. And I need money to feed my family. I’m the only one in town who has come back from that island. I know what’s there, I know the layout. If I can find a few people foolhardy enough to come with me, I think we can finish what I started before.” Tom explained.

“The boat is right where you left it. It was too big for me to carry back here. But it’s mine now.” Jack glared at Tom with his good eye. “There is no way you could afford to buy it back. So how ’bout I rent it to you?”

“Rent it?”

“Yeah. You find your foolhardy warriors and I’ll take you across to the island in my boat. In exchange, I want first dibs and a double-share of any wreckage and salvage from the island. No magic mind you, no one out here will buy it. But I want first pick of any weapons, armor, usable wood, stone, anything else you may find, and help loading it and shipping it back here.”

“Done,” Tom said. He extended his good hand to shake with the ugly creature, then turned to leave. “It may take me a couple of days to round up sufficient people to take the island. I’ll meet you back here when we’re ready to go.”


Tom talked Jack into letting him borrow a sheet of parchment paper and a dram of ink. He wrote out a quick notice—his penmanship was horrible with his damaged shoulder, but the results were legible—offering “free, discrete passage to Thorne Island and recent intelligence on the creatures therein for any group of heroes willing to take up the Council’s call to action. Interested parties should ask for Tom at the Bitter Blade after sundown.” He went into the city and nailed the notice to the Public Training Hall, right next to all the others.

He had not even completed driving the nail when a striking young woman with white hair and a wicked scar on her face tapped him on the shoulder. “Looking for blades?” she asked. She was trailed by young and much-too-eager looking dwarf. Tom was quite surprised at the quick and sudden response. He stammered out a yes, and the three wandered towards the tavern discussing particulars.

As they reached the door of the Bitter Blade, the sound of someone running in armor alerted them. The white-haired girl was the first to spin around, seeing a heavily armored, mousy-haired, young woman chasing after them. Hands went to weapons, but then the girl waved the notice at them. She did not say a word, but pointed at the notice, then back to herself several times until Tom got the picture.

“You want to come with us?”

She nodded vigorously.


She pointed at the notice, then held up another, more official-looking notice that claimed that the Council had raised the bounty on the island to five-thousand gold coins.

“You don’t speak?” the other three asked incredulously.

She nodded and pointed at the flaming sword medallion hanging around her throat.

Tom sighed, and waved for her to come along. With the notice torn down, there was no reason for him to wait for others. He turned away from the tavern and headed for the Slums. The four of them would have to be enough.


“That was quick.” Jack said as Tom came in trailed by the others.

“Can you take us right now?” Tom asked.

“Sure. He’s coming with us.” Jack said, pointing to a portly, broad-shouldered man with a shaved head, dressed in plain brown robes. Tom shrugged his assent. Jack pulled down the glowing hammer and handed it back to Tom, informing him that it was a “loan”. He then closed up the shop and the six of them headed out of town.

It was dusk by the time Tom and the others reached the little fishing boat where it was stashed south of the city. It looked like it had been refitted and taken out a few times since Tom washed up on shore—by Jack doing some salvage no doubt. Tom had, but this point gotten acquainted with his new companions. The fat man was Enz, a wizard with a deep southern accent. The quiet girl was Ada (or Aaaeedaaaaaa as she pronounced it). The white-haired swordwoman woman was Hazel and her dwarven sidekick was named Olaf.

Jack shoved off and Tom and Hazel helped row. Tom filled them in on what happened in his last venture to the island It took close to two hours to cross to the island from this point, and night had firmly set in by the time they landed. Everyone seemed apprehensive about exploring the undead-infested ruins in the dark, but they were committed at that point. Jack tied off the boat to a large rock, and all of them made their way up the hill towards the keep with weapons at the ready and Tom leading the way with the hammer to light the way. Olaf in particular, seemed very uncomfortable.

The light of the hammer announced their presence, and the party came face-to-face with a small army of orcs as soon as they reached the gates. Or rather, a small army of ex-orcs. The shambling corpses moved very slowly, but steadily closed in a half-circle around the group.

Hazel’s sword suddenly flared with hungry, black flames. She smiled rather disturbingly and began to scream and shout, howling none-to-pleasant sounding epithets in a language none of the others understood. Olaf twitched and fired his crossbow at the nearest one, then ran for the nearest out-building.

Enz began laughing uproariously and conjured a ball of flame in the midst of the zombies, setting several on fire. The sphere then began rolling around, the courtyard, rolling over and running into a great many of the undead orcs. Ada walked calmly and quietly out into the courtyard and planted herself, as if completely unconcerned about her own safety. Tom rushed up behind her and threw the glowing hammer, striking the closest zombie full in the chest. The rest of them quickly closed on the girl.

The first orc to near Ada was struck under the chin by the edge of her shield, sending it toppling backwards into another. The next, approaching from the other side, had its chest ripped open by a sharpened, blood-red spike on her elbow. Tom backed off as a dozen of the creatures got closed. Ada stood impassively, shifting to avoid blows or interpose her armor, still seeming unconcerned as she was surrounded, blows raining down on her shield and armor, but not harming her.

With a much louder scream, Hazel suddenly ran forward, leaping over Ada and landing on one zombie, knocking it to the ground and hacking it limb from limb with her two swords. She was back on her feet a second later, spittle flying from her mouth as she screamed in the face of another zombie and headbutted it. As the circle of zombies tightened around the group, Jack, who had been lurking outside the gates, slipped in and attacked one from behind, hacking the thing’s head off with a short-bladed sword. Olaf, at this point, was no where to be seen. The ball of flame continued to roll around the courtyard, setting zombies (and a few small structures) alight.

For several minutes, the fighting was furious, with hammers, swords, spears, and shields lashing out at zombies in every direction. All of the group took painful hits, but spells cast by Ada previously kicked in and immediately began sealing cuts and mending bruises, keeping them on their feet. Between Enz’s ball of flame and Hazel’s relentless, screaming, fury, the undead orcs were eventually put to rest, with no apparent losses among Tom’s new companions. Though, even with Ada’s delayed healing and attempts to interpose herself, Enz had taken several brutal hits and was clearly on his last legs.

Once they had regrouped, Tom lead the others towards the tower/chapel where his last group had fallen. They looked around for Olaf, poking into all of the outbuildings that had not been burned down by Enz’s “bouncing bounding ball of burning breathtaking blazing blasphemous doom” (as he called it), with no luck.

When they reached the doors of the main tower, Enz was suddenly struck from behind and knocked sprawling (and unconscious) by a gigantic frog. A gigantic, rotting, mostly skeletal frog. Hazel, with slightly less screaming and gnashing of teeth, made short work of the frog, but they found that Enzebal was already dead. When they turned him over, they found his front to be covered with a glowing paste, one of his belt pouches completely rotted away, and massive burns on his side, as if he had fallen on acid.

Tom said a prayer for the strange man and splashed some holy water over him in hopes that he would not rise as one of the undead. He then walked into the vestibule of the old temple, hammer first, and looked around at the wreckage and rubble.

It was there that they found Olaf, lying on his back, his face black and blue, the broken and battered remains of Nat Wyler lying beside him. Nat’s hands were locked in a death grip around Olaf’s neck, though the second dwarf did not appear to be moving at all. Apparently Nat’s zombie had gotten the jump on Olaf, but the two had died together, with Olaf’s lead-bladed sword stuck in the zombie dwarf’s side.

Tom could hear clawing, scrabbling noises from under the debris, but saw no immediate threat. He knelt down to disentangle Nat’s fingers from Olaf’s neck. As soon as Tom touched him, Nat’s eyes opened and his arms jerked out unbelievably fast to fasten around Tom’s neck, cutting off his alarmed response mid-shout. Tom was gasping, but alive, by the time Hazel had hacked the undead dwarf’s arms off at the elbow with her enchanted blades.

They found Storm’s body completely drained of all fluids, but inanimate nearby. Tom made a point of grabbing the amulet that had allowed her to command the undead. He and Hazel lifted a fallen beam out of the way to find Kade’s animated corpse, which Tom quickly pacified with the amulet. Tom then stood back and allowed Ada and Jack free reign in looting his (and their) fallen companions.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Gods of Tel-Avi: YGO

Yes, there is room here for people to be offended, and that's okay...

Yet another religion based on a mixture of music and intentional modern jackassery (that tendency in the internet empowered age to talk extensively about subjects we really know nothing about). YGO can be basically summed up as "Judaism if your only exposure to it were Matisyahu songs", seen through an intentional fantasy-world, polytheist filter. Based on several albums worth of Matisyahu songs, especially Chop 'em DownKing without a Crown, and Warrior.

Live at Stubbs was my son's favorite album as an of the few things that would consistently put a stop to his fussing and get him to sleep...


Chant sweet melodies, utter hymns and sing praise to his name
For he’s alone exalted holy,
Performing mighty deeds and making new things,
Sowing righteousness and creating healing
He spoke, the world came into being
Master of praise, renews each day
Redeems and saves, continuously, blessed is his name
Making great lights, creating luminaries
Abounding in mercy
Won’t you grant me?
To perceive, 
all your teachings existing eternally

The Yigden worship YGO (pronounced yi-GEE-oh), a god light and life. They are strict monolotrists, acknowledging the existence of other deities (especially YGO’s nemesiss Dgn), but claiming that only YGO is worthy of worship.

YGO is light. According to the Yigden all light in the world draws its source from YGO, and all sentient life draws its source from light. YGO is worshiped as a source of light, a giver of life, defender against the terrors of the night, and a co-creator of the universe.

According to Yigden legend, in primordial times, before the world was made manifest by the twelve sisters, YGO and Dgn battled for supremacy of the cosmos. The Cosmogonists often point out this conflict as a excellent example of the prototypical battle between the “celestial supreme being” and the “primordial marine monster”. This enmity persists into the present age, and there is considerable ill will between the Yigden and Dgn’s cults.

YGO’s realm is said to be a plane of dazzling, constant, light. The sun, moon, and stars are said to be the gateways by which the light of YGO’s realm enters the material world. The Yigden claim that the closest a mortal may come to YGO’s realm is a place known to them as the Spiritual Desert, an empty plane of glaring light and fine white sand. It is said that a person can reach the Desert by fasting and meditation, though powerful priests and oracles are said to be able to project their spirits into the Desert at will.

In addition to the supremacy of YGO, the Yigden beliefs include the following key concepts;

First is the idea of the “princess”, the “bride of YGO” that was stolen by Dgn at the beginning of time. The Yigden believe that the major goal of mortal life is to seek out this princess and reunite her with YGO. Some claim that the princess is, in fact, a metaphor for mortals themselves and that the quest is to bring all people to the Yigden faith. Others insist that the princess is an actual being, a missing goddess who co-created the universe with YGO and was kidnapped by Dgn.

Second is the idea of the Yetzer Rah, alternately described as a demononic force intent on subverting the will of men, or as man’s natural inclination towards evil and desire to misuse things the physical body needs to survive. Thus, the need for food becomes gluttony due to the Yetzer Rah. The need for procreation becomes sexual abuse, and so on. The idea that humans are born with a Yetzer Rah (physical needs that can become “evil”), but that humans don’t acquire a Yetzer Tov (“a good inclination”) until an age of maturity.

Last is the evil of water. Yigden poetry and song are full of references to “rushing water”, “swimming against the stream”, and drowning. Legends speak of Yigden heroes parting seas, drying up rivers, or vanquishing aquatic monsters. Water, particularly large, deep bodies of water, are seen as the domain of Dgn and therefore a source of danger and evil. Some Yigden take this so far as to refuse to drink water (many take this as an excuse to be notorious drunkards under the guise of greater piety).

The Yigden are the dominant religion in the Saexe Empire, though the people of the island of Frejsa also openly worship Dgn as the god of harvests alongside YGO as the god of the Sun, and thus are not strictly counted among the Yigden.

“Look to the sky, where your help comes from.”

Symbol: The Yigden believe that all light comes from YGO and is a part of him. Yigden strive to always bear a light source with them, even during the day. This can be anything from a simple candle, to any variety of lantern or lamp, to an object enchanted to shed light via a spell. In addition to their light, each Yigden is expected to own a copy of the Harot, the holy cannon of their faith, said to be penned by YGO himself.

All temples, and many homes, of the Yigden feature large skylights and numerous windows to allow the light of the sun, moon, and stars to come in. Flickering lights and guttering torches are seen as a sign of YGO’s displeasure, and an eclipse (lunar or solar) foretells some great calamity.

Prayer: Yigden must always pray in the presence of a significant light source, at least a bonfire, but preferably with the sun in view. Prayers must be spoken out loud, preferably from a standing position. Yigden priests must pray to regain their spells at mid-day, when the sun is highest and the world is at it’s brightest.

The Continuous Fire: In each temple, home, or other major structure of the Yigden it is expected that a fire be kept burning at all times. In temples, this is typically a large bonfire or brazier which is constantly tended by novices and acolytes. In homes it may be a series of candles that are lit as the previous one burns low, or a hearth-fire that is kept constantly fed. Where such magic is available, continual flame spell is often substituted for an actual fire.

Shav Bomer (Festival of the Princess): This feast day is a yearly renewal of the faithful’s dedication to the mission of finding the princess and re-uniting her with YGO. It is preceded by a day of fasting and is celebrated with picnics (traditionally including several dairy courses), bonfires, and archery contests. Yigden children can often be seen wandering the streets on this day collecting debris to be used as fuel for the bonfires.

The Afterlife: The Yigden believe that all sentient souls are made of light, and that all lights are made of sentient souls. It is a grave sin for a Yigden to douse a light of any kind. After death, souls are said to go on to dwell with YGO, adding their light to the great lights of the sky, the sun, moon, or stars. When smaller lights are made on the earth, such as lighting a candle, a soul is dispatched by YGO to give it life. Likewise, when a sentient creature is born, a soul comes forth from YGO to dwell in the body.

The Yigden care little for the disposition of dead bodies, as their light has left them and gone on. They generally dislike the thought of their own being left in the dark, and those that die underground are, when possible, taken to the surface to bask in YGO’s light before being devoured by scavengers. Most corpses simply left where they lay to be picked clean by carrion birds, though wealthy or important Yigden will arrange for their bodies to be burned so that they might be “devoured by light”.

Alignments: YGO is lawful good. His worshipers may be of any good or lawful alignment. Lawful Evil Yigden generally do not interact with other sects.

Races: The Yigden accept worshipers of all races, save those that dwell beneath the waves. Creatures with the aquatic subtype are viewed as children of Dgn, and are generally shunned by the Yigden.

Favored Weapon: As a being of pure light, YGO is not depicted as wielding any weapon. Clerics and Inquisitors of YGO take the Starknife, Morningstar, or Longbow as their chosen weapon, as these are thought to be representative of stars or beams of light.

Unique Magic: In the hands of a Yigden, regardless of class, any weapon affected by a spell with the light descriptor is treated as silver for the purpose of overcoming damage reduction. If the weapon is already made of silver, it is treated as being good-aligned for overcoming damage reduction. The duration of any light spell cast by a Yigden is increased by 50% (this has no effect on spells with a duration of “instantaneous”, “permanent”, or “concentration”).

burn away my brain, away my brain is too compound
elevating my soul, purifying my sound
like the son of a sun ray
burning up through the clouds
Harot food for my brain let it rain till I drown
thunder, let the blessings come down.
said Harot food for my brain let it rain till I drown
Thunder, let the blessings come down.
Lord You found my soul, raised it up from the ground
Yeah You found my soul, raised it up from the ground

I said a moonlight enlighten my way
a twilight from the heights of my roof
I sing praise and poof
looking up to the night
I ask for help to get up and get it right

Friday, July 18, 2014

Gods of Tel-Avi: Shed

Yet another deity inspired by music and baby-rocking, Shed draws on elements of the movement This Little Babe, from Benjamin Britten's A Ceremony of Carols, and the Egyptian god of the same name.

This little babe so few days old,
is come to rifle satan’s fold;
All hell doth at his presence quake,
though he himself for cold do shake;
For in this week unarmed wise
the gates of hell he will surprise.

With tears he fights and wins the field,
his naked breast stads for a shield.
His battering shot are babish cries,
his arrows look of weeping eyes.
His martial ensigns Cold and Need,
and feeble flesh his warrior’s steed.

His camp is pitched in a stall,
his bulwark but a broken wall;
The crib his trench, haystalks his stakes,
of shepherds he his muster makes.
And thus as sure his foe to wound,
the angels’ trumps a larum sound

If thou wilt foil thy
foes with joy, then
flit not from this
heavenly boy!

Shed, alternately referred to as “The Boy”, “The Babe”, or “The Child God”, is the preeminent war deity of Tel-Avi. Despite his depiction as an infant in swaddling, Shed is a master of wild beasts and of all weapons of war, and a dire foe of the demons that hold sway over much of the world. Called, “the savior” or “he who rescues”, Shed is often invoked by the common people to save them from illness, misfortune, inimical magic, or danger.

Shed is often viewed as a helper for those in need when state authority or the king’s help is wanting. For the most devout it is said that his help extends to saving a person from the underworld, even to providing a substitute, and lengthening a persons time in this world.

Shed is worshiped alternately as a god of war, valor, martyrdom, protection, and child-birth. Shed is usually depicted a child or young man, most often with a bald or shaved head and sometimes sporting wings. He goes naked or wears a kilt, sometimes with a broad collar and a quiver slung over his back. He may grasp serpents and wild, symbolically noxious animals while standing on the back of one or more crocodiles.

Shed, the deity, is said to be reborn every 18 years. His divine power and martial might is said to be at their greatest immediately after his birth and to wane as he ages until, upon reaching at the age of adulthood, he inevitably succumbs to the demons against which he constantly struggles, only to be born again the next day, more powerful than before. It is said that in the end of times, the perpetual cycle will end when Shed’s power has grown such that he will reign forever victorious over the demon armies and finally be allowed to grow old.

Shed is always accompanied by his heralds and aides, the personifications of the Cold of winter and the Deprivations of war. These two beings are said to serve as his midwives and wet-nurses, helping usher the newly born Shed into the world so that he might resume his wars. Just before Shed’s death, they are said to appear to a faithful woman who will bear the next Shed, and to stay with her and watch over her until Shed is reborn. It is said that if no faithful woman can be found, then Shed’s rebirth will be stopped and the world will be overrun by the armies of demonkind.

Symbol: Sheddites, as Shed’s faithful are called, use a variety of symbols. Depictions of Shed are common, and many temples will be covered on every surface with paintings and carvings of the winged, infant Shed. Priests typically carry bows and military trumpets, and garb themselves in cloth wrappings and soft robes reminiscent of swaddling.
Tears also serve as common symbols among the faith and are the primary divine focus for Shed’s priests. Many Sheddites will tattoo a single tear just below either eye or where tear-dropped shaped pendants.

Prayer: Sheddites pray often. They pray in the morning when they awake, before each meal, and at night before going to sleep. They are expected to pray whenever they are in need or in danger. Failure to pray for Shed’s aid before a battle is said to guarantee certain defeat. Shed’s priests pray to receive their spells each morning when they break their fast, offering at least half their meal as a burnt offering to Shed so that “the babe may not starve”.

Martial Service: All followers of Shed are expected to serve in a martial capacity, either for their church, village, nation, or for a professional company. The priests ensure that all young Sheddites are trained with sword, spear, bow, and fists and the temples keep well-stocked armories. A Sheddite who goes through his life with no opportunity to test himself in battle is said to have been forsaken by Shed, and thus many young men and women of the faith take up at least short adventuring careers to test their valor in Shed’s name.

Calendars, Holidays, and Childbirth: Sheddites observe a strict 18-year cycle of worship, beginning on the Vernal equinox, Shed’s day of birth, and ending the day immediately prior to the Vernal Equinox, his day of death. While all births among Shed’s faithful are met with joy, only children born on the Vernal Equinox have any chance of being the next incarnation of Shed. As such, many female Sheddites go out of their way to carefully plan their pregnancies during the eighteenth year of the cycle, the “Year of the Rebirth”, hoping that their child will be born on the correct day. Thus, the Summer Solstice is celebrated as the “Conception of the Lord”, with numerous private celebrations as Sheddite women attempt to conceive a child. When a child is born on the correct day of the correct year, all Sheddites in the area will rejoice with great celebrations punctuated by drinking, bonfires, and blaring martial music.

The Afterlife: Much as Shed is continuously reborn, Shed’s faithful believe that they too will be returned to the cycle of life. Sheddites believe that there are a finite number of souls in the world and that those that are faithful to Shed have always been faithful to Shed. A “convert” is simply the reborn soul of one of Shed’s faithful returning to the faith. The faithful dead are believed to be given immediate rebirth and remembrance in their new lives of Shed’s blessings. The truly pious, it is believed, will be protected by Shed and granted an extended lease on their current life, so that they might fight at his side longer.

Alignments: As a child, protector, and enemy of the demons, Shed is firmly Good-aligned, with no particular leanings towards law or chaos. His worshipers may be of any non-evil alignment.

Races: All races are accepted in Shed’s faith. Halflings, in particular, are considered blessed by Shed due to their ageless youth, and often hold positions of prominence within the religion. Women, particularly women of child-bearing age are also highly favored.

Classes: Shed is served predominantly by Clerics and Paladins. A small handful of Oracles and Inquisitors all claim Shed as a patron, especially among the halflings. Shed’s worshipers can also be found among the people of Seregond, where he is served by several orders of Monks. Shed does not count druids among his faithful.

Favored Weapons: Shed is often shown bearing a bow. Clerics and Inquisitors of Shed choose the shortbow as their weapon of choice. Alternatively, Clerics and Inquisitors may choose “unarmed strike” as their chosen weapon, gaining Improved Unarmed Strike as a bonus feat in place of the weapon proficiency.

Unique Magic: Regardless of class, all spellcasting worshipers of Shed can cast pup shape as a 2nd-level spell. This spell is added to their class spell list and to their spells known or spellbook (if appropriate). In addition, when summoning a creature via a Summon Monster or Summon Nature’s Ally spell, followers of Shed can choose to apply the Young template to a creature to reduce the level of the summoning spell required by one.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Bitter Blades: The Liberation of Thorn Island Part 4 (The One That Got Away)

The end of the story. Previously told in Part 1Part 2, and Part 3. With special thanks to Alan KnightlyStephanie Donnel, and Andre Eckhers for playing and submitting their notes for this log.

Storm sat breathless as she, Tom, Kade, and Nat sat listening to the carnage outside. Even the wailing haunts and spirits had stopped, their attention also apparently focused on the kobold’s heroic stand against the orcish invaders. Odd, she thought, that she had come to think of herself and her friends as among the keep’s defenders, rather than a band of misfit adventurers here to loot the place. She worried that she might be possessed by one of the haunts somehow, then realized that if she was able to have such worries, it must not be true.

Tom suggested that they should have been out there helping Gore, but Kade, apparently the pragmatist, was quick to point out that the kobold had shut the door on them, and was apparently quite capable of handling the orcs himself, judging by the sounds. Storm was too scared to even comment. After several minutes, the sounds of breaking bones, the screams of dying orcs, and the thunk of arrows into the side of the old barracks stopped. Of course, so had Gore’s triumphant war-cries.

With the sudden silence, Tom shoved Kade aside and tried to open the door, but found it barred. One swing of his hammer against the old hinges, though, and the door collapsed. Outside was a slaughter. Gore lay in the center of a mass of thirty dead orcs and piles of bones from smashed skeletons. Blood was everywhere and Gore had an arrow through his eye. Storm wanted to run to the heroic kobold’s side, but Kade grabbed her skirt and pointed at the pack of a hobgoblins who had just turned in their direction at the sound of the door being smashed open.

Kade grabbed a ceramic flask and an…egg?…from his pouch and tossed them at the hobos. The egg hit first, bursting in a cloud of dust at their feet. Then the flask hit, erupting with a gout of flame, setting one hobos on fire, then igniting the dust with a small explosion. The one hobgoblin died in the fire. The other hobos scattered, beating out flames from their clothing, then began firing at us. Nat smiled and pulled two more similar flasks out and threw them, scattering a few, and killing another with the resulting conflagrations.

Storm, having only a couple of knives left, ducked back into the barracks for cover. Tom threw the glowing blue hammer, caving in the skull of another hobgoblin, but took an arrow in the shoulder and was forced to withdraw into the barracks as well. The haunts began wailing again as the two of them dashed inside.

Nat and Kade charged. Nat took a couple of arrows, before he reached the hobos and managed to run one through with his cutlass. Kade’s avoided the barrage and quickly kneecapped another of the hobos. Five of the hobos were down, and, slightly scorched and faced with such opposition, the other ran away out of the gates and down to a longboat waiting by the shore.

Nat quaffed a healing potion. Storm and Tom caught up. Kade pointed to the old watchtower cum chapel at the center of the keep. Clearly they were done with the outbuildings and should get on with finding how to put the undead to rest.

The entry hall of the chapel was strewn with rubble with a few rays of light filtering down from above. The upper floors of the tower collapsed long ago. The dried husks of two orcs lay near the door, their faces twisted in fright and their bodies seemingly drained of all fluids. Kade whispered “Vampire?” in a way that made Storm turn around suddenly. There was no vampire behind them, but she did get punched in the face by a zombie that was lurking in an alcove right inside the door.

Storm reeled back, the zombie, wearing fairly fresh star-spangled robes, swinging at her wildly with its bare hands. She stumbled over some rubble and fell onto something wet, but Tom intercepted the zombie, shoving it away from her and pounding at it with the glowing hammer. Four more zombies rose out of the shadows, two armed with swords, the others unarmed. Storm reached for the amulet that would let her command the zombies, but found that she could not move. She tried to scream, but her mouth would not open and it came out as only a mumbled “MMMMMMMM!”

Nat and Kade struggled with a trio of zombies. Tom dispatched the zombie that had first attacked Storm, then turned to deal with the fifth. He brushed Storm’s cloak as he went by, causing it to open, showing a strange glyph etched into the hardened leather of her breastplate. The zombie looked down and there was a sudden, brilliant flash of golden light. Storm couldn’t even shout a warning. Everyone was blinded by the flash, and the zombie facing Tom was burned to ashes by the radiance.

Nat, Kade, and Tom flailed about wildly, as did the zombies. They stumbled. They tripped over rubble. They occasionally landed a blow on their targets. Sometimes they hit each other, though they soon learned to coordinate their attacks slightly by yelling. Nat and Kade took several harsh blows.

After a minute, at least, Storm was able to see again. She still could not move, and something was oozing up her body. When her vision fully returned, her legs were covered with a clear slime. She saw Tom swing the big hammer blindly at a zombie that he had backed against a wall somehow. The hammer hit the zombie, taking its head clean off, but his follow-through struck a support.

A rain of rubble fell from above. Tom was clipped in the shoulder by a piece of rubble, but somehow managed to stumble out the door. Kade’s legs were pinned by a falling beam. Nat, and the other two zombies were crushed under a collapsing wall. Storm was somehow missed by all the falling debris, but still could not move or cry out. Kade could though, he shouted for Tom to “Run!”

And Tom did. His right hand clutching the glowing hammer, his left arm hanging limply. Bumping into old buildings and rubble all the way.

Storm could not see what made Kade shout like that, but she did hear his screams afterwards. Horrible screams. Long screams. As if he were being tortured, or burned.
Her own screams remained stifled by her frozen jaw, but she watched in horror as the clear, slimy thing into which she had fallen slowly engulfed her.

Tom, kept running. After a few minutes his sight returned enough for him to navigate to the shore and find Nat’s small boat, He threw the hammer in and shoved off, knowing from the sound of the screaming that all of his companions were dead. He continued to run a few feet out into the water, shoving the boat ahead of him, then pulled himself in with his one good arm. He lay on the bottom of the boat and drifted into unconsciousness.

The little boat was found a few miles south of Phlan two days later by some scavengers from the Slums. They took the hammer, of course, but were nice enough to help Tom return to his hovel and his daughter. With time his shoulder would heal, maybe even enough for him to return to his work as a mason…

Gods of Tel-Avi: The Nowhere Man

Much of the world of Tel-Avi was the result of long hours with nothing to do but intospect after the birth of my children. The religious of the world, especially, tend to have been inspired by songs I listened to while rocking babies to sleep (my son was not a good sleeper). Many of the gods have underlying concepts of doubt, disbelief, and the modern jackassery inherent in having only limited knowledge of a topic but not wanting to admit it. The nominal "head" of the pantheon, in particular, was inspired by two songs: Nowhere Man by the Beatles and Nothingman by Perl Jam.

The Nowhere Man:
He’s a real nowhere man,
Sitting in his Nowhere Land,
Making all his nowhere plans
for nobody.

Doesn’t have a point of view,
Knows not where he’s going to,
Isn’t he a bit like you and me?

Nowhere Man please listen,
You don’t know what you’re missing,
Nowhere Man, the world is at your command!

The “Nothingman” or “Nowhere Man” is at once the chief deity of the Seltaeb pantheon, and the least worshiped of their gods. Even his priests are unsure of the nature of their god or where their spells come from, for the chief precept of the religion is the non-existence of their god.

According to Seltaeb legend, the Nowhere Man was once the king of the Seltaeb gods, a god of Time, Seasons, and Storms and creator of Tel-Avi. Sometime between the beginning of time and the present, though, this great deity lost interest not only in his creation but also in himself. The god simply vanished, and no one, not even he, knows where he went. Some claim that he wanders through the mortal world, lost in thoughts to profound to be distracted from. Others claim that he entered the void beyond the stars, seeking new worlds to form.

Regardless of the cause, the end result is that the Nowhere Man is nowhere to be found. He never responds to attempts to contact him, and no being mortal or immortal knows what he looks like. All attempts to scry on him (even by other gods) reveals only a dark emptiness.

While no-one knows the whereabouts of the Nowhere Man, scholars of the planes speak of an area beyond the edge of the Spiritual Desert where the brilliant desert vanishes into darkness. Few have ever willingly wandered into this place, and none have returned to speak of what might lie beyond the darkness. Still, many have speculated that this darkness is the true “Nowhere Land”, the realm of the missing god from which not even he can escape.

The Nowhere man is now said to rule over the concepts of loss, forgetfulness, emptiness, and despair. Even those who do not worship him will often invoke his name when they become lost or fail to remember something, or else when there is something they wish to forget (such as the death of a loved one).


  • “He who forgets will be destined to remember.”
  • “Wherever you are, there you are.”
  • “I know I was born and I know that I’ll die, the in between is mine.”
  • “Sorrow grows bigger when the sorrow’s denied.”

Symbol: Unsurprising for worshipers of a god that they claim does not exist, the servants of the Nowhere Man use no symbols. When a divine focus is called upon by a priest’s spell, the priests’ of the Nowhere Man simply use an empty hand as their focus. Followers of the Nowhere Man identify and greet each other by raising both hands, palms outward, to show that nothing is there.

Walkabout: While many priests and other worshipers of the Nowhere Man may settle towns as other people, especially in the harsh wilderness of Seltaeb, more are to be found on a “walkabout”. A walkabout occurs when a follower of the Nowhere Man leaves his home, family, and work, often suddenly, to go out and “lose himself”. Many such worshipers spend many years, or even their entire lives on a walkabout. The purpose of the walkabout is to seek a greater closeness with their lord by making themselves lost. The worshiper will wander, seemingly at random, with the intent of finding a place where they are truly lost (with no knowledge of their location or how to return home). Unsurprisingly, many followers of the Nowhere Man take up the adventuring life, and can often be found delving into deep caverns and forgotten cities as part of their wanderings.

Prayer: The Nowhere Man’s religion does not dictate any particular prayers or prayer times for their faithful. Most prayer among the faithful takes the form of a short invocation of the god’s name when they lose or forget something, or a brief song of praise when lost things are found. Priests of the Nowhere Man may pray to regain their spells at any time, though the prayer must be made in a “hidden place” (often a closet, secret room, or similar space set aside for this purpose).

The Afterlife: Just as their god vanished into nothing, so do the worshipers of the Nowhere Man believe that they too will vanish upon death. After life is only void, so they claim, a dark peace that is not to be feared. Burial rights vary from church to church, though typically bodies are cast into deep pits or burried in dark catacombs beneath the earth. Markers are never left to identify the locations of these graves, as the faithful seek to treat the dead as if they had never existed.

Alignments: The Nowhere Man is said to be True Neutral, for that which does not exist cannot have an opinion or point-of-view. His priests and worshipers must be at least partly neutral, and most seek to embody the pure neutrality of “He who does not exist”.

Races: All races are represented among the Nowhere Man’s faith. A large number of Gnomes especially tend to be followers of the Nowhere Man, finding a kinship with the god in their lack of a society, homeland, or future as a race.

Classes: The Nowhere Man’s faith includes an equal number of Clerics, Druids, and Oracles. The noncommittal attitude of the religion attracts very few militant types, though occasionally an Inquisitor will emerge from the faithful, intent on finding the ancient secrets of their disappeared lord, or, for some less ethical ones, to extend his non-existence to their personal enemies.

Favored Weapons: Prior to his disappearance, the Nowhere Man was said to wield a bolt of lightning in battle. Clerics and Inquisitors of the Nowhere Man take the javelin or pilum as their chosen weapons.

Unique Magic: Regardless of class, all spellcasting worshipers of the Nowhere Man can cast memory lapse as a 1st-level spell, affecting up to one target per two caster levels. This spell is added to their class spell list and to their spells known or spellbook (if appropriate). In addition, any spell or effect that causes a creature or object to become invisible has its duration increased by 50% when cast by a follower of the Nowhere Man.

Once divided…nothing left to subtract…
Some words when spoken…can’t be taken back…
Walks on his own…with thoughts he can’t help thinking…
Future’s above…but in the past he’s slow and sinking…
Caught a bolt ‘a lightnin’…cursed the day he let it go…

She once believed…in every story he had to tell…
One day she stiffened…took the other side…
Empty stares…from each corner of a shared prison cell…
One just escapes…one’s left inside the well…
And he who forgets…will be destined to remember…

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Peter Pan is a Halfling?

My halfling
There is a trope among D&D players to tend to portray halfling as children, playing them as curious, fun-loving, somewhat lazy, at least a little larcenous, and oddly fearless--much like a typical 7 year old (this was especially true of people playing Kender in the Dragonlance setting). While this is by no means the rule, it certainly describes a majority of halfling characters I have met on either side of the screen. This led me to an unusual thought...what if halflings really are just children. Of course, halflings literally being children would mean that eventually they would become adults and cease to be halflings, unless, of course, they somehow stopped aging.

In some ways, halflings in my world are meant as counterpoint to the gnomes, which are equally weird and a similar disruption of the natural order of human reproduction in the world.


Believed to be the result of a powerful goblin’s dying curse, halflings are human children cursed with eternal youth. Born to human parents, a halfling’s nature does not become apparent until they reach 7 or 8 years of age, at which point they cease growing. These halflings will never reach physical, emotional, or sexual maturity, forever retaining the exhuberance and inquisitiveness of youth long after their parents and pears have passed. Unless slain by violence, halflings never die.

Typically optimistic and cheerful by nature, halflings are blessed with uncanny luck and driven by a child’s curiosity. Older halflings, long outliving their family and peers, have few ties to their communities and often take up the adventuring life. They make up for their child-like forms and lack of strength with a great capacity for learning and years (often centuries) of experience, and make excellent, if easily distracted, scholars.

While once very rare, halflings have become increasingly more common, with perhaps one in every five hundred human children being born as a halfling. This increased birth-rate, combined with their immortality has resulted in halflings forming a significant portion of the population of most human societies. No-one has yet determined the cause of this increase in the halfling population.

Physical Description: Halflings are indistinguishable from normal human children, appearing in both stature and temperament as a human child of 6-8 years old. Even the tallest halfling barely reaches 5 feet in stature, and the majority are between three-and-a-half and four feet in height. They have the full range of coloration found among humans.
Halflings are naturally immortal. Once they reach “maturity” (between 7 and 8 years old), they cease all physical development. They have no concept of a “middle age” and no maximum lifespan. Like the human children that they resemble, halflings have a greater capacity for learning than any other race, their brains continuing to grow new cells and renew themselves throughout the halfling’s supernatually long lifespan.

Society & Relations: Halflings are, by nature of their birth, fully integrated into human society. Halflings may be born as peasants, nobles, or anything in between, though their supernaturally long lifespans means that they often have much greater social mobility than their normal counterparts. Even with the experience and knowledge that comes with great age, halflings must always work to avoid being treated like children.
Unlike their human parents, Dwarves and Elves tend to accept halflings for the immortal sages that they are, since all humans are “children” to these old races. Gnomes especially despise halflings, seeing the birth of halflings as reproductive competition.

Alignment and Religion: Halflings are loyal to their friends and families, but since they quickly outlive such connections they have come to grips with the fact that sometimes they’ll need to scrap and scrounge for survival. Most halflings are neutral as a result.
While halflings most commonly adopt the religion of their human parents, the Jahans have started actively recruiting halflings, believing that the halflings immortality and growing numbers are a result of the growing influence of Raz-Jah and his efforts to make Tel-Avi into his eternal kingdom.

Adventurers: Their inherent luck and curiosity coupled with lack of familial ties makes halflings ideal for lives of adventure. Other such vagabonds tend to put up with the curious race in hopes that some of their mystical luck will rub off.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Justification for Your Paranoia

So, I spent most of the last week trying to teach myself how to perform SQL injection attacks on web applications, which is a lot more boring and frustrating than it sounds (zzzzzzzzzzz). While I try to get the analytical side of my brain to wake up so I can get some work done today, here are a few interesting articles to make you more paranoid about your data than you already were...

  1. Google Drive could have been leaking your private files:
    disturbing privacy problem was discovered in Google Drive which could have resulted in information stored on the cloud service being accessed by unauthorised parties. In a nutshell, the risk existed if you stored files that included a clickable URL on your cloud file sharing service. If someone (you, or someone you have shared permissions with to access the file) opens the file on the Web-based service and clicks on the embedded hyperlink, then the owner of the third-party website being linked to could receive a referrer URL. 
    This was only a problem if, (a) the sharing settings were set to “anyone with the link”, and (b) the file contained hyperlinks to third-party websites in its content. 
    Google has fixed the issue, but Dropbox and most other cloud storage services use similar sharing systems and have similar vulnerabilities.
    Of course, you could just be smart enough to not put your private data in the cloud. I personally share a lot of things this way using GoogleDrive, but it is always someone else's intellectual property, because, really, why would I put my own stuff on a cloud drive? 
  2. If you care about privacy Mobile Apps Suck:
    To summarize the article: everything used in web-apps to track you (Cookies, Javascript, etc.) all exist in mobile apps and there are no convenient browser plugins to stop them. Ads, Analytics, and Monetization tricks are the worst, since things like Google Analytics (very popular in Android Apps) extracts your geolocation data and more. Even with geolocation turned off, just about anyone can use Google Maps and IP addresses to find everywhere you've been.
  3. As more things become able to connect to the internet even LIGHTBULBS can expose your network passwords...
    In a proof-of-concept attack, Internet connected LED lightbulbs were used to gain access to the Wi-Fi network that controls them. LIFX smart lightbulbs can be controlled with iOS and Android devices. LIFX was made aware of the problem and has issued a firmware update to address it. The attackers were able to trick the devices into revealing the network password.
    If it makes you feel better, they had to be within 30 meters of the devices they were targeting (so sitting in a car by the curb outside your house).
  4. If you use an iPhone, don't use GMail:
    Researchers at Lacoon Mobile Security have uncovered an issue in Google's Gmail application for iOS that could help an attacker performing a man-in-the-middle attack. An analysis of the application revealed it does not perform certificate pinning. As a result, an attacker launching a man-in-the-middle attack can open and modify Gmail's encrypted communications. The victim would not receive any indication anything suspicious was going on. 
    Most of the things you can do to mitigate this risk fall into the "you need to be an IT professional" category: performing network analysis, only connecting through VPNs, and modifying configuration profiles.
    Of course, why would any sane person use an iPhone anyways...
  5. There may be some new hope for keeping your IMs safe:
    The Invisible IM project aims to develop a means for people to communicate "without leaving a retrospectively recoverable forensic trail behind on third-party servers." The technology establishes a local XMPP server on a user's computer, which then connects to the Tor network. A secure mode will be available that will prevent anyone from knowing who is on someone else's buddy list or even if they have ever communicated through Invisible IM.
    Of course, if you really need this sort of thing, you shouldn't trust it. Remember that the Tor network is partly funded by US Government entities (such as the Naval Research Laboratory). 

Friday, July 11, 2014

My Week in Gaming

The first of what I hope will be many posts about what I've been reading, listening to, or playing during the week that influences or feeds my gaming habit.

First Off:

THIS arrived in the mail Wednesday!
Yeah, I know, the console is a generation old and some of the games are just remakes/re-releases, but given that I've been playing my PS2 for the last decade, anything new is exciting. Besides, PS2 games were getting way to expensive. There is enough material here to keep my rather small e-gaming habit occupied for at least a year if not much longer.

The Reading List:

I was amazed to find a new (to me) source for news on gaming and fantasy literature in the last couple of weeks. Black Gate is awesome. It is made all the more awesome by the fact that James Maliszewski is contributing to it. I had the opportunity to play with James at OSRCon in Toronto in 2011 and 2012, and have always loved his insights. I was greatly disappointed when he discontinued his Grognardia blog back in 2012, made all the worse when he abandoned working on the Dwimmermount Kickstarter (though that was thankfully kept running by the guys at Autarch). James's most recent post on Black Gate does a good job of reflecting my views on the latest (and pretty much every other) edition of Dungeons and Dragons.

"At the end of the day, “having fun playing with my friends” is all that matters... They’re just games. Whatever ones you play, whatever editions you like, if you’re having fun playing them with your friends, you’re doing it right."

Collection of Curiosities
Posts and publications from Kobold Press can be hit or miss in terms of usefulness, but one series of articles by Miranda Horner may be the most useful nuggets of gaming randomness I have ever encountered. Collection of Curiosities (there are a lot of them) is a series of d12 tables of random bizarre objects that a DM can drop in a variety of contexts. The articles give just enough info to make each item interesting for a DM to drop into a game and for players to ponder, and the inherent "strangeness" of many of them can add a lot to a game (though given player reactions, the DM had better be ready to think on his feet about what happens when the PCs start throwing them -- which is inevitable).

Random News:

Re: Let's all just take a deep breath...
There has been some kerfuffle on G+ and various blogs this week concerning Zak Smith, the fact that he got credit in the new D&D Basic Rules, some things Zak may or may not have said, and how people really feel about Zak. I will not link to any particular posts as they contain an unpleasant mix of ad hominem attacks and profanity (on both sides). Let me just chime in and say that Zak is fun to play D&D with and his particular brand of "Design by Social-Darwinism" assholery appeals to me (especially this quote).
Zak: "The DIY D&D crowd has (unlike many other game design cliques) consciously prioritized having confrontations until disputes get settled over avoiding confrontation in order to build a community of people who all play the same games and papering over differences with positivity. It might be one reason why we keep making such awesome stuff.
It works flawlessly and eliminates the weak, so I'm a big fan.
The stakes in RPG arguments are…almost nothing. So people who can't even hang in a conversation for fear someone might say "I don't like Rolemaster" are not exactly the same as underprivileged youth who've fallen through the cracks of the system."

 In REAL News:

Real-world "Roc"? (File under: Things that need to appear in a game)
From the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center:
Scientists have identified the fossilized remains of an extinct giant bird that could be the biggest flying bird ever found. With an estimated 20- to 24- foot wingspan, the creature surpassed the previous record holder--an extinct bird named Argentavis magnificens--and was twice as big as the royal albatross, the largest flying bird today. Computer simulations show that the bird's long slender wings helped it stay aloft despite its enormous size.

Why you should play an "Evil" character:
From the University of Buffalo and the Journal of Communication (no non-paywalled source):
New evidence suggests heinous behavior played out in a virtual environment can lead to players' increased sensitivity toward the moral codes they violated. The current study found such guilt can lead players to be more sensitive to the moral issues they violated during game play. Other studies have established that in real life scenarios, guilt evoked by immoral behavior in the "real-world" elicits pro-social behaviors in most people.

What I'm Playing This Week:

Ruins of Adventure:
My AD&D 2nd Edition Play by Email game has reached 48 weeks of continual play and more than 120,000 words (a good length novel right there). The characters are still 1st-level and the pacing is slow, but the character development has been awesome. The latest episode sees the party getting a much-needed respite after an eventful few days, trying to work out what has actually been happening to them, and considering some roster changes. We're starting a new "Chapter" in the posting next week, so it may be some time before another log appears on here (I'll try to keep them recent rather than the mass backfilling that I have been doing).

The Scavenger Gods:
I ran the first full instance of the aftermath of my recent Dawn of Worlds experiment this past Sunday. The game is Pathfinder with some technology upgrades and a lot of weird races.

The first session was, expectedly, weird (though probably not worth a unique post of its own). The party consisted of a gun-toting penguin, a pangolin who takes umbrage at the belief that all of his kind are terrorists (despite the pipe-bombs he was carrying), a giant butterfly wizard, a mushroom-man scholarly necromancer, and cameos by two daughters of one of our regular players as a Cat-girl (with a pet flying tiger) and a Griffon. Most of the game consisted of running, screaming, and everyone expressing their prejudices against the other races.

The scene opened with the pangolin being chased by the penguin who demanded that the pan owed money to the penguin mob. They "bumped-into" the rest of the would-be party members as they chased through the streets, through a penguin brothel (don't ask how that works), and eventually headlong into a crowd of people running and screaming in the other direction. They didn't take the hint and found themselves in the middle of a throw-down, Godzilla-style fight between a pair of Kaiju (one a giant lobster and the other shadowy and indistinct). With the help of the flying griffon and the winged tiger, they hijacked a penguin airship, lit it on fire, and crashed it into the Kaiju...saving the day, but not the city.

They were subsequently captured by the penguin mafia, who demanded recompense for the destroyed airship. Rather than breaking their kneecaps or chucking them into the sea, the penguins recruited the party to rob a museum for them. The party agreed, walked up to the front doors of the museum, caused a panic when it was discovered that the pangolin had a bomb in his pants, and the strolled peacefully up to the vault while the pangolin led all the guards on a wild goose-chase through the rest of the museum. They stole the decorative box they were sent for and saw another museum-heist in progress by a dashing, well-dressed, octopus-man. They chased after the other thief, borrowed his exit, and then got themselves charmed (and therefore refused to leave the guy's side and got to pile into his ornithopter for a quick getaway). There were some shenanigans, the ornithopter crashed into the sea, the well-dressed guy sank, and the party washed ashore with both his loot and their own.

Playing by (e)Mail: Update

My AD&D 2nd Edition Play by Email game continues apace, and has reached the length of a good-sized novel. Here are some additional details about the player characters (and who is involved), updated statistics (because I like numbers), and collated links to the story (for those that care to read it all without clicking "previous post" 50 times).

Just a note: Due to the flexible nature of this format, new players are always welcome. Feel free to contact me if you want to join in.

The Party: (organized by Players)

The Story So Far:

Now some statistics, mostly for my own benefit:
  • First game post: 08/06/2013 (corrected from previous post)
  • Runtime to date: 48 weeks
  • In-game time elapsed:  5 days
  • Total posts to date: 2289
  • Average posts per week: 47.4
  • Total Words:  129,610
  • Combat Encounters: 10
  • % Combat Encounters Involving Orcs: 40%
  • Average combat duration: 3 rounds or 25 posts
  • Average Party Level:  Still 1st level