Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Non-boring Thieves Guilds

So there's this old Japanese computer system called the FM Towns, which was named after Nobel prize winning physicist Charles Hard Townes even though the spelling is different.  The other day I discovered that several early Ultima games were ported over to it, with some interesting new graphics.  Here's my favorite one:

That's what you see in the FM Towns port of Ultima I when you're about to encounter a Thief in a dungeon.  I love his skull T-shirt.  His pants and boots look like they're from a pro wrestler, which fits the dude's beefy physique pretty well.  And what the crap is he carrying?  Is that a baton, or maybe a length of pipe?

Remember that because of the limitations of the software, every thief in this game looks just like the guy above.  Someone is issuing skull t-shirts to these dudes.  At first I thought maybe that when you sign up to join the Thieves Guild they hand you a free t-shirt with the guild logo on it.  But then it struck me.  Just last week I re-watched a certain cinematic classic:

So here's the concept.  Thieves aren't a secret brotherhood family sneaky burglars in black cloaks.  Nor is the Thieves Guild some sort of the fantasy mafia.  Rather, it's a loosely connected confederation of petty criminal gangs, each with their own colorful outfits and traditions. Each of these component gangs was founded by some name level thief and the 2d6 random punks that showed up when he built his hideout.  Some high-Charisma Cyrus figure with a lot of heavy muscle keeps the Guild together as best as he can, but petty breeches of the Truce are common.  

This scheme works particularly well for the Encounter Critical version of Sosaria that I've been working up, as the Criminal class in EC encompasses a lot more varieties of illegal activity besides sneak thievery.  I also like how this idea flips the normal expectations about the Thief in D&D play: Instead of the cowardly figure in the dark cloak, a thief is now a flamboyant, colorful character who struts around like he owns the place.

To really make this version of the Thief work the DM needs to be prepared to make some rival gangs for thief PCs to squabble with.  Statting up the rest of the PCs gang also sounds like a good idea.

Now can you dig it?

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Twenty Questions: Sosaria

The first couple of Ultima computer RPGs included a hodgepodge of sci-fi elements mixed into the fantasy stuff that later became the norm.   I thought that mashy-upedness would make the setting of the earlier games ideal for some Encounter Critical nonsense, particularly the Lands of the Feudal Lords in Sosaria during the time period between the death of the Mondain (big bad of Ultima I) and the rise of  the Ultima II villain, his apprentice/girlfriend (a pretty creeped up combo if you ask me), Minax the Enchantress.  My old twenty quick questions article was designed for D&D games, but I thought I'd see how well it fit in this case.

What is the deal with my cleric's religion?

You won't be playing a local cleric, since there's no such class in Encounter Critical.  The divine and the magical aren't split and religion isn't a major factor in most folks' day to day lives.  Only warlocks and other weirdos get involved in religion, by joining cults (more on that below).

Where can we go to buy standard equipment?

Any town and most villages will have traders happy to sell you all sorts of stuff.  What counts as 'standard' equipment in Encounter Critical is a matter of debate.

Where can we go to get platemail custom fitted for this monster I just befriended?

Any town ought to have a smith capable of the job, but waltzing about with a big scary pet monster might get you noticed by the burly and surly guards.

Who is the mightiest wizard in the land?

Everybody used to agree to on this answer, but Mondain has been dead for five years.  No doubt powerful wizards dwell in the City of Magic in the Frozen North, beyond the area depicted in the map above.

Who is the greatest warrior in the land?

The Black Knight, once a chivalrous hero that Mondain turned to the dark side, he now wanders the land committing acts of banditry and mayhem.

Who is the richest person in the land?

Probably one of the Feudal Lords, the Monarchs of Rondorlin and Barataria, but rumor has it that certain clans of mountain dwarves possess gold beyond the dreams of avarice.

Where can we go to get some magical healing?

Most towns and many villages have local healers who use either herblore or minor psychic abilities to heal minor injuries, for a modest fee of course.

Where can we go to get cures for the following conditions: poison, disease, curse, level drain, lycanthropy, polymorph, alignment change, death, undeath?

More serious injuries and conditions should probably be referred to a member of the Cult of Truth, a group of warlocks specializing in white magic.

Is there a magic guild my Magic User belongs to or that I can join in order to get more spells?

There are lots of cults, sects and secret societies, many possessing magical lore unknown to others.  Newly created warlocks may begin play with a bonus spell by rolling on a random cult list, which includes mainstream groups like the Cult of Truth and the Cult of Runes to more obscure groups to outlaw orders like the Disciples of Mondain.

Where can I find an alchemist, sage or other expert NPC?

Castle Rondorlin and Castle Barataria sound like good places to look.

Where can I hire mercenaries?

Experience sellswords are pretty common at all the towns, unless the monarchs are at war again.  And it isn't difficult to find young farmers who can be lured into henchwork with tales of adventure.

Is there any place on the map where swords are illegal, magic is outlawed or any other notable hassles from Johnny Law?

Civilized society recognizes the utility of magic and the practicality of arming oneself, but some of the more backward villages might have strange local ordinances.

Which way to the nearest tavern?

Taverns are the lifeblood of Sosaria.  A village is only a collection of adjacent peasant hovels without a public house to make it into a community.

What monsters are terrorizing the countryside sufficiently that if I kill them I will become famous?

Many villages and towns are plagued by local menaces, the defeat of which will no doubt make you the hero of the burg.  The Frozen North is home to the Great White Dragon, a major menace.

Are there any wars brewing I could go fight?

Now that Mondain is no longer threatening to take over the world Rondorlin and Barataria have resumed their age old rivalry for control of the realm.  They fight little skirmishy wars practically every year.  Raiders of the viking and/or goblin persuasion sometimes attack the northern coasts, while amazon warbands occasionally pillage the south.

How about gladiatorial arenas complete with hard-won glory and fabulous cash prizes?

No, but on the off years when the two kingdoms aren't at war at least one of them holds a tournament.

Are there any secret societies with sinister agendas I could join and/or fight?

The Disciples of Mondain mentioned above, the Guild of Thieves, and perhaps others.

What is there to eat around here?

The steak is excellent.  Baratarian beef is known throughout Sosaria.

Any legendary lost treasures I could be looking for?

Mondain allied himself with the mysterious Starwalkers, who possessed arcane technologies beyond the kin of Sosaria's pseudo-medieval civilization.  Those guys left all sorts of cool crap laying around the joint.

Where is the nearest dragon or other monster with Type H treasure?

Head north and seek out the castle of the Great White Dragon or plunge the depths of the dungeons in hopes of finding the treasure troves of balrogs and liches.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Anybody want a cloth map for their campaign world?

I ask because zazzle.com will let you put your graphic on a towel and that ought to get the job done.  I've wanted a cloth map of a campaign world of mine going back to when I opened my shiny new copy of Ultima IV.  I was blown away by the cloth map that came with that game (still my favorite computer rpg).  Over the past couple of days I've tried to figure out why, besides the tactile experience of the clothness of the map, I find that map so aesthetically pleasing.  Here are my findings so far (click to embiggen):


Overall, I'd say it compares quite favorably to the original map for the TSR boardgame Divine Right, which I'd peg as the best hexmap I've seen for tabletop fantasy adventures.  Pity the hexes aren't numbered.

Friday, May 17, 2013

How many commandments have you broken?

I stumbled across this blast from the past the other day and thought I'd share.  Bolding for emphasis is mine.

Article: 86906 of rec.games.frp.dnd
Path: news.tuwien.ac.at!newsfeed.ACO.net!swidir.switch.ch!univ-lyon1.fr!jussieu.fr!math.ohio-state.edu!howland.reston.ans.net!news-e1a.megaweb.com!newstf01.news.aol.com!newsbf02.news.aol.com!not-for-mail
From: tsrjim@aol.com (TSRJIM)
Newsgroups: rec.games.frp.dnd
Subject: TSR Authorized Sites
Date: 14 Jul 1995 12:12:53 -0400
Organization: America Online, Inc. (1-800-827-6364)
Lines: 248
Sender: root@newsbf02.news.aol.com
Message-ID: 3u6525$ncc@newsbf02.news.aol.com [Edited to remove brackets, as it was setting off bloggers 'open tag' error. - J]
Reply-To: tsrjim@aol.com (TSRJIM)
NNTP-Posting-Host: newsbf02.mail.aol.com

There has been a great deal of discussion as of late regarding TSR's policies and their perceived constriction of the flow of information. This should clear up some of the confusion that has been generated.

First and foremost, TSR wants the players of the ADVANCED DUNGEONS & DRAGONS (R) game to exercise all of their creative energies in making the game more enjoyable. Sharing your ideas with fellow gamers is something we encourage. A few methods for distributing your written works appear below.

If you've written the next great combat system or other work for AD&D (R), you can try to get it published. There's nothing quite like seeing your name in print. Below are a few options for you.

DRAGON (R) Magazine publishes virtually everything imagined for the AD&D game except for adventure modules. A copy of their guidelines are available on the internet in the newsgroups as well as on America Online. You can leave messages for the DRAGON staff at tsrmags@aol.com or

DUNGEON (R) Adventures publishes adventure modules for various TSR game systems. A copy of their guidelines are also available on both the internet and America Online. DUNGEON staff can also be reached at tsrmags@aol.com or tsr.mags@genie.geis.com.

POLYHEDRON (R) Newszine is the official publication of the RPGA (R) network. This magazine publishes both stories and adventures for a variety of different game systems. You can contact the network staff at RPGAHQ@aol.com or tsr.rpga@genie.geis.com.

Sometimes, you just want to get something you've written distributed to everyone else. You can do this by uploading the file to an authorized TSR site. These sites are:

MPG-Net (mpgn.com): This is the free access that most users on the internet know about.

America Online (AOL): TSR's forum on this service draws tens of thousands of gamers every month.

GEnie: The TSR Roundtable also draws thousands of users each month.

There are currently no other authorized sites to carry TSR-related materials as they relate to the AD&D game. TSR is currently considering other sites (both on the internet and pay services) to provide files to the gaming public. TSR setting up its own web page is also a possibility.

A disclaimer is attached to all files uploaded to any of the TSR sites. This disclaimer provides protection to both TSR and the author of the work by assuring that neither TSR or the author will distribute the work without the other's permission.

Yes. Anything that violates TSR's Code of Ethics cannot be stored at any site. The Code appears below.


TSR, Inc., as a publisher of books, games, and game related products, recognizes the social responsibilities that a company such as TSR must assume. TSR has developed this CODE OF ETHICS for use in maintaining good taste, while providing beneficial products within all of its publishing and licensing endeavors.

In developing each of its products, TSR strives to achieve peak entertainment value by providing consumers with a tool for developing social interaction skills and problem-solving capabilities by fostering group cooperation and the desire to learn. Every TSR product is designed to be enjoyed and is not intended to present a style of living for the players of TSR games.

To this end, the company has pledged itself to conscientiously adhere to the following principles:

Evil shall never be portrayed in an attractive light and shall be used only as a foe to illustrate a moral issue. All product shall focus on the struggle of good versus injustice and evil, casting the protagonist as an agent of right. Archetypes (heroes, villains, etc.) shall be used only to illustrate a moral issue. Satanic symbology, rituals, and phrases shall not appear in TSR products.

TSR products are intended to be fictional entertainment, and shall not present explicit details and methods of crime, weapon construction, drug use, magic, science, or technologies that could be reasonably duplicated and misused in real life situations. These categories are only to be
described for story drama and effect/results in the game or story.


Agents of law enforcement (constables, policemen, judges, government officials, and respected institutions) should not be depicted in such a way as to create disrespect for current established authorities/social values. When such an agent is depicted as corrupt, the example must be expressed as an exception and the culprit should ultimately be brought to justice.


Crimes shall not be presented in such ways as to promote distrust of law enforcement agents/agencies or to inspire others with the desire to imitate criminals. Crime should be depicted as a sordid and unpleasant activity. Criminals should not be presented in glamorous circumstances. Player character thieves are constantly encouraged to act towards the common good.
Monsters in TSR's game systems can have good or evil goals.  As foes of the protagonists, evil monsters should be able to be clearly defeated in some fashion.  TSR recognizes the ability of an evil creature to change its ways and become beneficial, and does not exclude this possibility in the writing of this code.


Profanity, obscenity, smut, and vulgarity will not be used.

The use of drama or horror is acceptable in product development. However, the detailing of sordid vices or excessive gore shall be avoided. Horror, defined as the presence of uncertainty and fear in the tale, shall be permitted and should be implied, rather than graphically detailed.

All lurid scenes of excessive bloodshed, gory or gruesome crimes, depravity, lust, filth, sadism, or masochism, presented in text or graphically, are unacceptable. Scenes of unnecessary violence, extreme brutality, physical agony, and gore, including but not limited to extreme graphic or descriptive scenes presenting cannibalism, decapitation, evisceration, amputation, or other gory injuries, should be avoided.

Sexual themes of all types should be avoided.  Rape and graphic lust should never be portrayed or discussed. Explicit sexual activity should not be portrayed.
The concept of love or affection for another is not considered part of this definition.

Nudity is only acceptable, graphically, when done in a manner that complies with good taste and social standards. Degrading or salacious depiction is unacceptable. Graphic display of reproductive organs, or any facsimiles will not be permitted.


Disparaging graphic or textual references to physical afflictions, handicaps and deformities are unacceptable. Reference to actual afflictions or handicaps is acceptable only when portrayed or depicted in a manner that favorably educates the consumer on the affliction and in no way promotes disrespect.


Human and other non-monster character races and nationalities should not be depicted as inferior to other races. All races and nationalities shall be fairly portrayed.


Slavery is not to be depicted in a favorable light; it should only be represented as a cruel and inhuman institution to be abolished.

The use of religion in TSR products is to assist in clarifying the struggle between good and evil. Actual current religions are not to be depicted, ridiculed, or attacked in any way that promotes disrespect. Ancient or mythological religions, such as those prevalent in ancient Grecian, Roman and Norse societies, may be portrayed in their historic roles (in compliance with this Code of Ethics.) Any depiction of any fantasy religion is not intended as a presentation of an alternative form
of worship.

Fantasy literature is distinguished by the presence of magic, super-science or artificial technology that exceeds natural law. The devices are to be portrayed as fictional and used for dramatic effect.
They should not appear to be drawn from reality. Actual rituals (spells, incantations, sacrifices, etc.), weapon designs, illegal devices, and other activities of criminal or distasteful nature shall not be presented or provided as reference.


Narcotic and alcohol abuse shall not be presented, except as dangerous habits. Such abuse should be dealt with by focusing on the harmful aspects.


The distinction between players and player characters shall be strictly observed.

It is standard TSR policy to not use 'you' in its advertising or role playing games to suggest that the users of the game systems are actually taking part in the adventure.  It should always be clear that the player's imaginary character is taking part in whatever imaginary action happens during game play.  For example, 'you' don't attack the orcs--'your character' Hrothgar attacks the orcs.


It is TSR policy to not support any live action role-playing game system, no matter how nonviolent the style of gaming is said to be.  TSR recognizes the physical dangers of live action role-playing that promotes its participants to do more than simply imagine in their minds what their characters are doing, and does not wish any game to be harmful.


While TSR may depict certain historical situations, institutions, or attitudes in a game product, it should not be construed that TSR condones these practices.

It has come to our attention that some freelance writers are committing plagiarism (literary theft), which is a punishable crime.  Your contract now reflects this (see page 3, no. 3; page 4, no. 5; and page 6, no. 12).  However, TSR feels it is necessary to underscore these sections of the contract in an effort to clarify this important issue.

Please understand that this reminder is not addressed to any one individual.  It is included in your contract in an effort to heighten your awareness of the severity of plagiarism.

If you have any questions regarding your contract, please do not hesitate to contact TSR, Inc.  Your cooperation and understanding in this matter is appreciated.

AD&D, ADVANCED DUNGEONS & DRAGONS, DRAGON, DUNGEON, POLYHEDRON, and RPGA are registered trademarks of TSR, Inc. c 1995. All Rights Reserved.

This document may be freely distributed in its original, unaltered form.

Jim Butler
TSR, Inc.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Wessex returns... ?

So this morning Anthony, Mike and C Huth played a little adventure that I borrowed from Simon of and the sky full of dust and hacked up a bit.  I don't have my notes with me, but the party consisted of a nameless fighter, a ranger whose name I couldn't pronounce and then promptly forgot, and Farley the Dwarf, a Wessex veteran.  Too bad Farley was way over the level range for the adventure and showed up to the crawl with two diseases and two curses, as per the rules of Article 4 of the original FLAILSNAILS Conventions.  I'm trying to imagine how one ends up like that, and all I can come up with is a rather distrurbing scenario involving unspeakable acts with a witch's favorite goat.  Probably the best part was the one curse that shrunk him to just one foot in height.

The party followed a rumor that a certain set of centuries-old tombs, long pillaged, contained a secret area below a slab of stone.  This secret second set of tombs reputedly contained three magical weapons: a black sword, a trident, and a warhammer.  Okay, they weren't really after Blackrazor, Whelm and Wave, but three magic weapons is three magic weapons.  Our hardy hereos braved perfectly ordinary spiders, tacky religious iconography, and several annoyingly unkillable skeletal undeaders.  The ranger and the fighter escaped with one of the three magic weapons, the Holy Axe of the Knight-Marshal, and some miscellaneous loot.  Poor tiny Farley was punched right in the heart by the Three-Armed Skeleton Knight of Wessex-119 and died instantly, Arduin critical style.  Too bad he was carrying the Legendary Magical Beard of Wessex.  (Actually, being tiny, he was wearing it as a cloak.)  Pour a forty on the curb for a character that Mike has been playing since December of 2011.  He got to sixth level in the FLAILSNAILS multiverse and that ain't shabby, my friends.

Running a FLAILSNAILS game again was a hoot.  I really ought to get back into it regular-like.  Unfortunately, my family and I have moved since the last time and our new place doesn't work as well as the old one for running in the wee hours.  I woke my wife up early, which is something I don't want to repeat.  But I've got an office here in the English department now, so maybe I could run some games later in the day.  That ought to amuse the folks in my hallway.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Vanthian Prior Career Charts

01-05 God City Starmerc
06-10 member of a Blackhawk Free Company (50% license revoked)
11-15 survivor of General Zo's Thunder Legion (34% suspected of treachery)
16-20 member of disbanded Steel Warlords Bastard Band (choose instrument)
21-25 Knight in service to the Lord of Crane
26-30 Knight in service to the Lord of Noth
31-35 Knight in service to the Hoarfrost King
36-40 Knight in service to the Zombie Princess
41-44 soldier in the Invincible Hosts of the Hobling Emperor
45-48 Viraxian Stormtrooper
49-52 God City Militia (half starting money)
53-56 Waepetian Palisade Guard
57-60 Sulduku Dervish (5% hunted by Holy Assassins)
61-63 Shunned Towns Axe Murderer (25% license revoked)
64-67 Phasic Swampwretch
68-70 Bleak Mountains Maniac
71-73 God City Sewer Psycho
74-77 Forbidden Wastes Road Warrior (12% bike)
78-80 Dino Islands Ape Cultist
81-87 Parathaxian Horde survivor (7% scarred)
88-93 Northern Mountain Hillbilly
94-00 Funfair Nomad

01-03 Shunned Towns Unholy Roller (3% unicycle)
04-07 Phasic Swampwitch
08-11 Bleak Mountains Hermit
12-14 God City Voice Hearer (11% others can hear)
15-18 Dino Islands Kongpope
19-22 Forbidden Wastes Omega Zealot
23-25 Parathaxian Schismatic
26-29 Northern Mountain Wendigo Whisperer
30-33 Funfair Tent Revivalist
34-40 studied under an Ape Vizier
41-46 washed out of Waepetian College of Sorcery
47-53 Associates Degree for the Mystic Arts, Blackhawk Community College (8% fake)
54-60 Viraxian Illuminati (77% renegade)
61-67 studied at the Nothian Tower of Ensorcelment (54% outcast)
68-75 God City Computomage
76-83 Suldukan Glyph Master
84-91 Dreamer at the Angel Barrows
92-00 Funfair Tattoomancer

01-09 Minor scion of a Slaver King (6% legitimate)
10-17 Funfair Freak Wrangler
18-25 Limbjacker (7% d3 spare limbs)
26-33 Ice Pimp
34-39 Suldukan Hashisheen (d6 doses)
40-47 God City Made Man
48-55 Blackhawk Thieves Guildman
56-63 Viraxian Killsquadder
64-68 West Road Toll Collector
69-73 Blacksteel Buccaneer
74-78 Spineywood Merryman
79-84 Unknown Highwayman
85-88 Bloodhaven Sausage Maker
89-92 God City Punker
93-96 Funfair Roustabout
97-00 Faerie Smuggler

01-05 God City Socialator
06-10 Icy Lake Houri
11-15 Blackhawk Streetwalker
16-20 Surprise Limb Lady (d3 random limbs)
21-25 Bloodhaven Wench
26-30 Iron Kingdom Beardlass (free false beard if needed)
31-36 Viraxian Harem Girl
37-42 Waepetian Nymphomancer
43-50 Suldukan Nun (2% flying)
51-55 Priss Class Replicant (cyaborg if not robodroid)
56-61 Galaxinoid Astrobabe (cyaborg if not robodroid)
62-67 Rogue Fembot (cyaborg if not robodroid)
68-75 Recalled Massage Droid (cyaborg if not robodroid)
76-80 Suldukan Blessed Ballerina (57% tutu)
81-85 Dino Islands Hula Girl
86-90 Funfair Tattoo Lady
91-95 God City Valley Girl
96-00 Junktech Gypsy Hootchie Mama

01-07 Fissure Guide
08-13 Cave Unhider
14-20 Iron Poacher
21-27 Grounded Spacehopper
28-33 Astro-Scout
34-40 God City Upstation Techno
41-47 Mountaineer, Northern
48-53 Mountaineer, Bleak
54-60 Deadly Mountaineer, Southern
61-65 Salty Bay Seadog
66-70 Dino Islands Paddleboater
71-75 Icy Lake Kayaker
76-80 Sailor on the Sea of Great Peril
81-87 Junktech Gypsy
88-93 Galactic Hitchhiker (50% towel)
94-00 Mysterious Strider (34% hooded cloak)

01-15 True Psi Witch
16-29 Esper Corps Cadet
30-43 Vulkinian Academy washout
44-60 Psychic Wars veteran (12% wanted for mindcrimes)
61-75 Hedge Psychic
76-92 squire to a Galactic Psiknight (3% phasic prismatic sword)
93-00 Hypermind Fragment