Sunday, February 26, 2012

Comma, Blank_ Has Moved!

This will be my final post on Comma, Blank_, because I now have my own domain! All new posts can be found at:

Comma, Blank_'s entire archive of RPG posts has been successfully ported over to the new site. I have also transferred each and every one of the post comments by hand, including links back to each commenter's profile, because I put a high value on the feedback you, my readers, leave for me. However, no new posts will be posted here after this one. And I will not be monitoring comments on this site any longer. So update your bookmarks, feed reader, or whatever it is you use to access my writings! I consider it a privilege to entertain my readers, and I would hate to lose even a single one of you in this move.

This site has been of immeasurable value to me, and I must confess I'm sorry to leave it, even if I'll just be doing the exact same thing on the new site. Before I started this site, I was not very happy with my life. A quick peek at the first post on the blog, entitled "Worthlessness," (which is one of the few non RPG posts here, and will not be moving to the new site), might give you a bit of an idea of just how down on myself I was. Truth be told, that's not even the half of it. I was struggling through more emotional distress at the time than I want to bother talking about here. Suffice to say, my life was not going well, and I had very little hope that it would ever get better.

The blog trudged along lazily through August and September. I was aiming to put up 3 posts every week, but I was failing, which was business as usual for me. In my mind, it was a foregone conclusion that eventually I'd get bored of the blog, and go back to being an "aspiring writer," who thinks a lot about writing, but never actually does it. I felt shitty about myself, and to be honest, I should have felt shitty about myself. I have no pity for the faults in myself which are rooted in my own lack of will. During a moment of courage in early October, I decided I was going to push myself harder. I was going to get 15 posts done that month, I decided. On October 10th, 2011, while driving my girlfriend Morrie to the train station in the morning, I told her that I was going to try to put up 15 posts in October. She snickered.

"No you're not." she said flatly. The comment stung, and I think she sensed that. She quickly qualified her statement. "I mean, you'd have to do a post what...every night?"

Don't judge her harshly. It was an off-the cuff response which she has repeatedly apologized for in the time since. I almost didn't even mention that it was her who said it, but I want to make clear that this was the opinion of someone who matters to me. The comment stung. I got angry. I've heard a lot of writers say that a dismissive comment, or a rejection, is what motivated them to keep going. I never understood the sentiment until that day. As soon as I got to work I pulled a calendar off the wall and began marking off days. I figured I shouldn't write every day, since that would just burn me out. I would, instead, write every other day during the week, on a Monday-Wednesday-Friday schedule. I have the weekends off, so decided I should have plenty of time both to rest, and to write on Saturday and Sunday. By that schedule of 5 posts a week, I figured out that I could have 19 posts done by the end of the month. That was plenty. Over lunch that day I started working on Magically Generating New Adventures, which remains one of my most popular posts. I started keeping tally marks for how many posts I had for the month. I was going to prove Morrie wrong. I was going to hit 15 posts. I could even skip 4 days if I wanted to.

I didn't want to.

I kept to my schedule exactly. Even on Halloween, my favorite holiday, I was answering the door between writing paragraphs of The Problem With Feats. I tapped away at my keyboard despite a finger which I had severely burned on an ultraviolet light. Despite the fact that my hair kept getting in my face, since having it down was part of my costume. Despite the fact that I had already reached my 15-post goal. The goal didn't matter anymore. Proving Morrie wrong didn't matter anymore. I owe her a lot for that single insensitive comment, because without it I don't know if I would have managed to forge the self discipline which has allowed me to devote myself so fully to this writing project.

I continued my 5-posts-a-week schedule through November, which proved harder. By the end of November I had decided two things. First, writing a Comma, Blank_ post five days a week was too much for me. I started to worry that I was going to burn out, so in December I officially dropped down to only one post over the weekend, bringing my work load down to only four posts per week. Second, I decided that it was time to devote myself more fully to the writing project. So, in early December, I did some budgeting, and some brainstorming, and registered the domain, and purchased two years of hosting. Yeah, I've been working on this for almost three months. What can I say? I'm a busy guy.

Since starting Comma, Blank_, I have missed only 2 posts, which were over the Christmas holiday. My life is better in countless ways. I feel like I'm improving myself a little bit with every word I write. And my readership is growing as well. During the month of February, there has not been a single day where traffic was lower than the corresponding day of the previous month. It kinda makes me want to continue using the old site until Wednesday just to see if the trend actually continues throughout the whole month. But, to be honest, it has been a serious pain in the ass to format everything post twice--once for Blogger, and again for Wordpress. I'm eager to be done with that. Besides, in 25 days of February, I've already surpassed the traffic during the 31 days of January by over 200 unique hits, and broken the 1000-hit-per-month barrier for the first time. And I don't intend to stop there. I've got so many plans for future projects and improvements--you have no idea.

So thank you, my readers, and everyone who has ever linked to me. Thank you to my friends on Twitter, and to my girlfriend Morrie. Thank you to -C of Hack and Slash for sending me several unique hits ever day, and to /tg/ for giving me years worth of scintillating conversation and inspiration, and to every RPG blog I've ever read which has given me an idea or caused me to question my preconceived notions. Thank you to my friends who play these tabletop RPGs with me, who have been very patient with me when I've allowed writing about games to distract me from running games. You all rock.

By the way, if you were wondering, this blog was called Comma, Blank_ because I originally envisioned it as a project "in between" the major projects of my life. The idea was that looking back, the stuff I worked on before this blog would be considered significant, and the stuff after this blog would be significant, but this blog was likely to be somewhat forgettable. That's what I thought at the time, anyway. Thus, this blog was the comma between the things I did in the past, and the things I would someday do in the future. Ironic that it ended up becoming a project which I used to redefine who I am. For three days, the blog was actually titled simply " ,_ " but I started to feel like too much of a hipster douche for my own taste.

I figured I ought to tell that story, since I likely won't get another chance.

See you on the new site, friends!

-Nick "LS" Whelan

Friday, February 24, 2012

Merciless Monsters 2: Bloody Avenger (Bloody Mary)

I recently became rather intrigued by Bloody Mary folklore. I've always been a fan of undead creatures. In particular, I'm fascinated to learn about the reality of humanity's fear of the dead. Pop culture is so inundated with movie monsters these days that it's easy to know everything about zombies of vampires without ever learning the reality which inspired the fantasy. In fact, it was the trailer for the movie "Paranormal Activity 3" which first got me interested in this folklore. I find it hilarious that a movie trailer failed to convince me to see the movie, but succeeded in motivating me to do some reading. Even if it was just Wikipedia, and a handful of other websites.

Each of us is a student of popular culture, whether or not we realize it. But there's so much more to these creatures. Historical information, which filmmakers never passed down to us. Did you know that while Catholics in Western Europe took a slowly-decomposing corpse as a sign of sainthood; Catholics in Eastern Europe took it as a sign that the corpse was waking at night as a vampire? It's true. Likewise, Zombies originate from Afro-Haitian superstitions, where "sorcerers" would use psychoactive chemicals to place a victim in a highly suggestible state, then order that victim to do their bidding.

Interesting stuff.

Hoping to find some similarly interesting revelations for Bloody Mary, I did some looking around. I haven't found a ton of solid information on the tale's origins--it seems to be a relatively recent, and particularly fractured piece of folklore. However, the sheer volume of completely different accounts of this mirror-dwelling creature make it a curiosity to me. And as I looked for additional sources of information, I began to wonder if Mary had ever been converted into a monster for gaming. I flipped through the various incorporeal undead in my Bestiaries and Monster Manuals, but didn't find anything which seemed specifically based on her. Since I find the folklore so fascinating, I thought I'd go ahead and create my own.

As an aside, in my study of Bloody Mary, I learned a word which should be very useful to game masters and world crafters. Catoptromancy; Divination by use of mirrors, or other reflective surfaces.

Bloody Avenger

At first all that can be seen is the dripping blood, falling apparently from thin air. Once one looks upon vengeful specter's crimson form, the black pits of its eyes widen, and it gurgles a curse from a blood filled mouth.

Bloody Avenger; CR 10; [Undead(Incorporeal)] [Urban] [Any Climate] [Nocturnal]

XP: 6,400
CE Medium Undead
Init +7; Senses darkvision 60ft; Perception +12

AC 18, touch 18, flat-footed 14 [10 + Dex(3) + Dodge(1) + Incorporeal Deflection(4)]
HP 90 (9d8 + 45)
Fast Healing 2
Fort +3 Ref +6 Will +12
Defensive Abilities Incorporeal
Immunities Undead Traits

Speed fly 30 ft. (Perfect)
Melee Lacerate Face + 14 (4d6 + 4)
Special Attacks Death's Gaze, Share Guilt, Expose Guilt, Bloody Chains

Str -- Dex 16 Con -- Int 6 Wis 15 Cha 18
Base Attack +6/1 CMB +9 CMD 19
Feats Improved Initiative, Dodge, Ability Focus(Death's Gaze), Iron Will, Toughness, Natural Weapon Focus (Lacerate Face)
Skills Fly (+12), Intimidation (+21), Perception (+12), Stealth (+20)
Languages Common

Environment Most commonly in urban homes, but they can strike wherever a mirror is nearby.
Organization Solitary
Activity Cycle Primarily nocturnal, but do not tire, and can function wherever there is low light.
Treasure Standard


Invisibility(Sp) A bloody avenger may cast Invisibility (as the spell) at will.

A bloody avenger can enter any mirror, and exit through any other mirror on the same plane. Broken mirrors do not affect the creature's ability to travel through them, however, a mirror covered with a cloth cannot be traveled through. The creature can do this while invisible. Note that this ability works only for mirrors, surfaces which are incidentally reflective cannot be used for this, or any other mirror-related ability of the Bloody Avenger.

Lacerate Face(Ex) Bloody Avengers are compelled to destroy their victim's faces. It is not entirely clear why they do this, but it is surmised that it is based on the creature's intense feelings of guilt, and a desire to destroy its own identity. This is a melee touch attack which deals damage equal to 1d6/2 hit dice. A Bloody Avenger's charisma modifier is considered a weapon bonus for the purposes of this attack, and can be added both to the attack and the damage roll.

Death's Gaze(Su) 3 times per day, as a standard action, a Bloody Avenger may show a target opponent their own death. This is the death which they are currently fated for, though their fate is not immutable. However, the individual who sees this image of their death will know, inherently, that it is not an illusion. The fear this causes is profound. The target becomes immediately Panicked, but is entitled to a will saving throw [DC 20 (10 + 1/2 HD + Cha + Ability Focus)] to be only shaken. Targets can repeat the will save on each turn until they succeed. The Shaken condition lasts 3 rounds. In order to be affected by this attack, the target must look either at the Bloody Avenger, or at any mirrors.

Share Guilt(Su) Once per day a Bloody Avenger may pass through a target creature by moving through a square which that creature occupies. The target is entitled to a reflex saving throw [DC 17 (10 + 1/2 HD + Cha)] to take an immediate 5-foot step out of the way. If the Bloody Avenger successfully passes through the target, then for the next 24 hours, any damage inflicted on the Bloody Avenger will be inflicted on that target. This effect is treated as a curse, and any ability which removes curses will end this effect.

Expose Guilt(Su) Once per day, a Bloody Avenger can select a target. As a standard action, the Bloody Avenger shares the target's greatest unknown sin to all of that target's allies within 60ft. Any moral boosting effects which that character granted to his companions ceases to function, and all opponents within 10ft of the character take a -1 penalty to all rolls. This effect lasts for 24 hours.

Bloody Chains(Su) Once per day, a Bloody Avenger can cause four blood-soaked barbed chains to emerge from any mirror within 60 feet, and grapple with a target. The chains are treated as having the Grab ability, so they do not provoke an attack of opportunity when they attempt to grapple. The chains have an effective CMB of +14, and can extend a maximum of 30ft from the mirror. The chains immediately begin attempting to draw a grappled target into the mirror (requiring a successful grapple check each round to move the target at half of the chain's speed of 30). Each of the 4 chains has hardness 10, hp 5, and a break DC of 26. Each chain destroyed reduces the chain's overall CMB by 2.

If the chains successfully move a target to a space adjacent to the mirror which they came out of, then on their next turn they may attempt a final grapple check to pull their target into the mirror. (This is considered a hazardous location, granting the target a +4 on their grapple attempt). If the target is successfully drawn into the mirror, then they fall out of another mirror somewhere on the same plane. This mirror could be elsewhere in town, in another nation, or even on another continent.

Death Rattle(Su) Upon its destruction, a Bloody Avenger lets out a piercing wail of anguish. Characters within a 60ft radius of the destroyed Bloody Avenger, who are not wearing protective ear coverings, take 10d6 sonic damage from this wail.

Distraction All Bloody Avengers are created from a death which resulted from the death of someone else--whether or not they are guilty of it. They are fixated on that event, and seek indiscriminate revenge for it. However, if they are presented with someone who reminds them of whomever's death caused their own, the Bloody Avenger may become distracted. For example, a mother who went mad and died after the passing of her child may, as a Bloody Avenger, become distracted by a young child, believing it to be her own for as long as her distraction is not interrupted.

Summoning If an adventurer looks into a mirror and speaks the true name of a Bloody Avenger three times, then confesses to causing the death for which the Bloody Avenger is seeking vengeance, then the Bloody Avenger is immediately transported to that mirror.

Forced Medium Bloody Avengers can be used to discover secrets which may otherwise be impossible to discern. Once one is encountered or summoned, the party or individual who encounter it must not meet the Bloody Avengers eyes, nor harm it at all. For 1 minute (10 rounds) the Bloody Avenger will attack the party normally, however, unless the party meets the creature's eyes or attacks it in return, it cannot use lethal force. After a minute has passed, the Bloody Avenger can no longer attack the party. The party can, at this point, ask to speak with a specific dead person. They need not know the person's name, but must know something about them. "The person who designed the ruins of Aomur," or "The little boy who was killed by Joey Grills four years ago" would be sufficient. The Bloody Avenger will then retrieve the soul of this person with unerring accuracy, assuming they are dead, their souls still exist, and the phrasing of the question did not specifically exclude the intended person (Such as if Joey Grills killed a girl).

The soul is then compelled to answer any questions the party has for it. This bypasses any of the normal restrictions on the Speak with Dead spell. Three conditions cause this effect to end: 1) if the party meets the eyes of, or attacks, the Bloody Avenger, then the dead spirit disappears, and the party must combat the Bloody Avenger normally. 2) If the party tells the spirit it can go, then the Bloody Avenger will also excuse itself by exiting through the nearest mirror. If the mirror has been covered, the Bloody Avenger will attack the party. 3) after 10 minutes, the Bloody Avenger is released from its compulsion, and will release the spirit and attack the party.

Background A Bloody Avenger is a very particular manner of ghost. In life, the creatures who eventually become Bloody Avengers all suffer greatly from the horrible death, or loss, of someone dear to them. Such as a mother whose child goes missing, a man whose mother is murdered, or a child who watches another child fall down a well. The exact manner of the loss is irrelevant, so long as the person feels guilt over the loss. It matters not if the person in question is actually responsible in any degree for the loss, so long as they feel guilt over it.

That guilt must then drive the person to their own death, or dominate the rest of their life. To use the above examples, if the mother who lost her child went mad, and eventually committed suicide, that would qualify. If the man mentioned above had murdered his mother himself; and was then tried and executed for the crime, that would qualify. Even if he denied his guilt, it is likely that he still felt that guilt on some level. Lastly, if the young child lives a long life, yet is always haunted by feelings of guilt for the other child's death, then even dying of old age would not save him or her from qualifying. Any of these people might potentially rise as Bloody Avengers.

Bloody Avengers remember very little of their lives. They wander, only half aware of the world around them, while the other half of their attention is constantly reliving the moment which caused their guilt. This leaves them angry and violent, and poised to attack anyone who disturbs them.

  • The Undead Type is described on page 309 of the Pathfinder Bestiary.
  • The Incorporeal Subtype is described on page 312 of the Pathfinder Bestiary.
  • The Incorporeal Trait is described on page 301 of the Pathfinder Bestiary.
  • Information on the Bloody Mary legend drawn from the Wikipedia entry, and the entry (oddly enough. Do ghost stories really need to be verified?)
  • Images for this post taken from a remarkable fan-video for the Lady Gaga song "Bloody Mary"

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Suppositions on Tabletop RPG Time Tracking

Since Monday's post on time management, I've had four separate people ask me how keeping track of time would work in a game. This may not seem like much, but it's probably the most universal response I've received to a single post. Normally I don't even get that much feedback on a given day's writing, and when I do, it's pretty varied. So to have four people ask the same question is unusual, and warrants further attention. I thought I would use tonight's post to look into time management further. Specifically, to look at how it might be applied to a Pathfinder game. I would like to make clear before hand that I've never actually kept track of time in a game--at least not in the ways I'm about to delve into. This post is, at best, educated speculation. If nothing else, the following will be a solid outline for what I will be attempting in the future, and I can do another follow up post with what I learn.

Before I get started, lets go over some basic definitions. As mentioned yesterday, I think the best way to scale time tracking is to use the same definitions Pathfinder establishes for movement on pages 170-172 of the Pathfinder Core Rulebook. Tactical Time is something any Pathfinder player will be familiar with. It is built on the 6-second round, and is what we use to measure the passage of time in combat, or in other severely time-critical situations. Local Time is for exploration, such as when the players are delving into a dungeon. The six second round would be far too short for this, and slow down gameplay to a ridiculous degree, so for Local Time, we will use the 10 minute turn, which can also be divided into 1 minute fragments. Overland Time can be measured in days. If the party is simply traveling from point A to point B across a great distance, breaking things down into a unit smaller than a day would be tedious. Lastly, the Hour can be useful as a unit of measure for both Local, and Overland Time, when the situation warrants it.

With our basic units of measure established, we need to know how they fit into one another, and how they eventually build into a year. This may seem somewhat silly at first, but consider: the Gregorian Calendar (the calendar most westerners use) is as confusing as the endless layers of the abyss. Largely due to the fact that it is an imprecise attempt to force a variety of natural phenomena into logical time-measurement boxes. By taking advantage of the fact that we're playing a fantasy adventure game, we can easily redefine the way units of time fit into one another so that we can more easily keep track.

For most of the smaller measurements, it's simpler just to keep them consistent with the real world, to avoid the need to alter game rules. Casters need to rest 8 hours to recover their spells because 8 hours is 1/3 of the standard day, so changing the standard day would upset the balance of the game. However, larger units of measure can be toyed with at will.

6 Seconds = 1 Tactical Round
10 Tactical Rounds = 1 Minute
10 Minutes = 1 Local Turn
6 Local Turns = 1 Hour
24 Hours = 1 Day
7 Days = 1 Week
5 Weeks = 1 Month (35 Days)
10 Months = 1 Year (350 days)

Keeping a week at 7 days means that the few spells which have a 1 week cooldown are not unintentionally weakened or empowered. Making each month a consistent 5 weeks means you can avoid any confusion by having a single week bridging two months. And 10 months to a year keeps the everything close enough to our reality that the players won't feel detached. Everything is uniform, which will be helpful later on.

Now that we've established our definitions, lets talk about movement. A character's speed is already listed on their character sheet for use in combat. The speed which is listed on a character sheet is the distance, in feet, which a character can cover in a 6 second round. (The "move action" in combat is treated as a hustle, rather than a walk, which is why it takes less than the full round). This means that a character with a speed of 30 can move 30 feet in a round, 300 feet in a minute, and 3000 feet per 10 minute turn. This may seem ridiculous, but consider that the average human can walk a mile in 13 minutes. A mile is 5280 feet, which actually breaks down to a little over 406 feet per minute, so Pathfinder actually underestimates our movement speed.

Wouldn't this be easier if we were using metric?

Considering the size of most dungeons, players will likely be moving in 50-100 foot spurts, rather than moving in increments of 300 or 3000 at a time. So I think the simplest way to handle time tracking within a dungeon will be to mentally keep track of how far your players have moved. Your figure only needs to be a rough estimate. Every time the players have moved about 300 feet, make a tally mark on a piece of paper. Once you've got 10 tally marks, make note that a turn has past. Bear also in mind that often players will not be moving at walking speed. Sometimes they will be hustling (in which case, they can move 600ft per minute), and other times they will be tapping every cobblestone with their 10ft pole. (There is no official rule on this, so lets just say they'd be moving at 1/3rd their normal pace, at 100ft per minute).

This sounds like a huge pain, doesn't it? I know, I'm thinking the same thing. But think of how much depth you can add to your game by having your player's torches burn out, or having time sensitive events in your dungeons, such as secret meetings that begin 3 turns after your players enter the dungeon, and end 2 turns later. Maybe your players will find them and be able to listen in, or maybe they won't! That's part of the beauty of tracking time.

Overland Movement should be much simpler to track. A character with a speed of 30 can move 24 miles at walking speed in a given day. A day, in this case, being 8 hours, which is the maximum amount of time a character can travel without requiring a constitution check. This amounts to precisely four hexes, if you're using the standard six-mile hex. If you're not using a hex map (like me, in my current campaign, where I haven't yet converted the world map yet) you'll need to figure out how far 24 miles is in some other way. One thing you'll definitely want to keep in mind is how your player's traveling speed might be affected by obstacles such as mountainous terrain, swamps, etc. It would probably be beneficial to establish a baseline speed difference between traveling on roads and traveling through the wilderness as well. Perhaps road travelers can move and even 30 miles, or 5 hexes?

Movement isn't the only thing which takes time. Players don't simply walk from their home base to the dungeon any more than they walk from the dungeon entrance directly to the treasure room. There are things to explore, battles to fight, an traps to disarm. So how do we measure those in our time tracking system?

Combat is obviously going to be the most frequent interruption to movement--particularly if you're fond of random encounters. When working with Overland Time, their interruption can be largely ignored. Unless the party faced a large number of encounters in a given day, the amount of time a battle takes should be negligible. Whilst using Local Time, however, the length of combat is much more significant. Regardless of how long combat takes, you should probably round the time up to the next minute. Gygax even recommends that "they should rest a turn [LS: 10 minutes] after every time they engage in combat or any other strenuous activities."

Other activities can include any number of things. Dealing with a trap, discussing a strategy, negotiating with a monster, exploring a room, opening a locked door, bashing open a locked door, the list goes on. GMs will have to use their judgement on a case by case basis to determine whether an action should be considered negligible (such as glancing around a room), a minute long (such as opening a relatively simple lock, or busting down a door), or longer (negotiating a truce with a hostile creature, or thoroughly exploring a room). I would advise against trying to track increments of time smaller than a minute. Either put a tally mark down for a minute, or don't mark anything at all. It'll even out eventually. Chapter 4 of the Pathfinder Core Rulebook, "Skills," notes what type of action each skill requires. This can be helpful to determine how much time you want to mark down, though your players will probably hate you if you check the action-typeevery time they make a skill check. Some GM arbitration is called for here.

The number of events which consume enough time to be counted as relevant on an overland scale are few and far between. Sleeping tops the list, followed by crafting, and perhaps a few other activities which have their time requirements listed as hours. Overland time might also be consumed by switching to local time for a significant period. For example, if a party can travel 24 miles a day, then the party might travel 12 miles, discover a village, switch to local time, spend 10 10-minute turns in the village, then continue on their way. They could still make it the full 24 miles (since that distance is traveled in 8 hours of the day), while the time they spent in the village would be rounded up to 2 hours, leaving them with 6 hours of rest before needing to sleep for 8 hours.

Tracking time in towns is tricky. As best I can tell, most GMs don't even bother with it. However, I think there could be some real value to it if you pulled it off. Often, as a GM, one of my players will want to do something in town, while the rest are content merely to wait. This, to me, seems silly. If the player who has something they need done takes 3 hours, then what is the rest of the party really doing? Sitting at a bench next to the town gate waiting? It strikes me that if I actually turned to them and said "What would you like to do during your 1 hour turn," that might encourage players to engage with the world around them.

Lastly, I'd like to touch on long-term time tracking, which is actually what I've found the most information on. The common wisdom seems to be to print out calendar sheets using whatever number of days you have in a month. Many GMs seem to simply mark days off as they pass, which would work fine. However, I think the calendar is a good opportunity to enhance your campaign record keeping. Simple notes such as meeting an important NPC, engaging in a major battle, or recovering a valuable treasure could be notated on the calendar. And, if you're like me and want to create a living world around your players, you can make notes for things the players didn't witness, such as the day two nations went to war, or the day your villain recovers the Big Evil Thingamaboo which will allow them to summon demonic servants. You could also use the calendar to plan future events--keeping in mind that you may need to erase them if your players avert those events from happening.

Once again, these are just my musings on how I think I'll try to track time in my upcoming game sessions. I haven't done it before, and I've found a remarkable lack of information on the Internet about how to do it well. So if any more experienced GMs out there would like to set me straight on something, please comment!

Either way, I'll be gathering notes on my success and failure, and will revisit this topic once I have a little more experience.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Time Management

Allow me to be clear; I play modern tabletop games. Pathfinder is my game of choice, and I believe Paizo is a company with the potential to be a driving force of innovation within the gaming industry. I love rulebooks which are heavy enough to break your toe if you drop them, I love having mountains of build options for my characters, and I love a game which has functional rules for making detailed monster builds. Sure it's a waste of time if you're doing it for every monster in every game, but who says you need to? And no, modern rules are not perfect. I think I've made that clear with posts like The Problem with Feats, and Stuff Which Never Works. I'd like to see some serious revisions to the way modern game developers look at games.

I also believe in the importance of learning from history. Whether you are trying to run a nation, a classroom, or just a game table, history can be your greatest teacher. Our forebears were, believe it or not, just as smart as we are. They didn't have all the tools we have today, which is why we sometimes forget just how clever they were. But if anything, lack of tools only made them more ingenious, until one of them was so ingenious that they made a tool so that the given task would never be quite so difficult ever again.

Now, do not mistake me: I do not look into the past with rose colored glasses, as some do. Anytime I hear someone rambling about how things were 'better' in the 'old days,' I have to roll my eyes a little.* More often than not the speaker in question is just allowing nostalgia to cloud their perceptions. However, the fact that things have, overall, improved, does not mean that our very clever forebears didn't have amazing ideas which never reached us. And the best part about those clever people being in the past is that we can look around and see for ourselves how their ideas worked out. So even though I do consider myself a modern gamer, I frequently look to the works of Gygax, Arneson, and others who worked on games in the early days.

And in reading these early works, I've frequently come across the concept of time management. Specifically, that it is important to track time not only in combat, but out of it as well. It is necessary, according to Gygax, for a Dungeon Master to keep track of in-game time throughout the entire session. This is mentioned a number of time throughout the numerous iterations of D&D's first edition, but nowhere is it more clear than in the original Dungeon Master's Guide--universally regarded among the most authoritative works on the subject of role playing games.
"Game time is of utmost importance. Failure to keep careful track of time expenditure by player characters will result in many anomalies in the game. The stricture of time is what makes recovery of hit points meaningful. Likewise, the time spent adventuring in wilderness areas removes concerned characters from their base of operation--be they rented chambers or battlemented strongholds. Certainly the most important time stricture pertains to the manufacturing of magic items, for during the period of such activity no adventuring can be done. Time is also considered in gaining levels and learning new languages and more. All of these demands upon game time force choices upon player characters, and likewise number their days of game life.

One of the things stress ed in the original game of D&D was the importance of recording game time with respect to each and every player character in a campaign. In AD&D it is emphasized even more: YOU CAN NOT HAVE A MEANINGFUL CAMPAIGN IF STRICT TIME RECORDS ARE NOT KEPT."

-Gary Gygax, Dungeon Master's Guide
The emphasis, by the way, is not mine. That's Gary Gygax throwing up caps, because this is that important to him.

When I first read about how important Gary considered time management, I was taken aback. On the one hand, I couldn't understand how time management was even supposed to work. And on the other hand, I was offended by the thought that every campaign I had run in the past was not "meaningful," simply because we didn't keep track of time. I've run some damn good games in my years as a GM. Why does the fact that I've never even attempted to keep track of time invalidate that?

Then I took a deep breath, remembered that I pride myself on being rational, and tried to stop throwing an internal hissy fit before anyone caught me in the act.

The fact that I've never attempted time management before doesn't invalidate all the good games I've run. They were good games, everybody had fun, and nothing will change that. The question is whether those games were good because of, independent from, or despite my lack of time management. And if I'm being honest with myself, I can think of a lot of things which would improve if I was better at tracking in-game time. And even though I can't think of an easy way to manage in-game time, the fact of the matter is that Gygax did it, and many other game masters do it, so it must be possible. I am simply ignorant of the methodology, and that can remedied with learning.

So I did some more reading. First through Gygax's Dungeon Master's Guide, then through the OSRIC manual, since clarity was not always a strong point of Gary's writing. I also refreshed myself on the movement rules as stated on pages 170-172, 192-194 of the Pathfinder Core Rulebook, since movement is one of the core elements time management affects. Pathfinder divides movement into Tactical, Local, and Overland, which I think functions as a good basis for a modern system of time management.

Tactical Time is managed in the basic units which we're all familiar with. A tactical (or 'combat') round is six seconds long. In these six seconds, every combatant gets a turn. Ten rounds make a minute, sixty minutes make an hour, etc. Local Time is what you might use if you're delving into a dungeon, or exploring a town. Taking a page from OSRIC, it seems like the best unit of time for Local Time is 10 minutes. That's long enough that it shouldn't significantly slow down the players as they try to get things accomplished in game time, but short enough that it shouldn't need to be divided further for players to complete small actions. Overland Time is tricky. I'm not sure whether it should be measured in hours, or in days. I think the best solution is to use days and hours both as units of measure, depending on what the players want to do. If they're just traveling in to a destination, days will work fine, but if they'd like to spend part of their day exploring the area they're already at, and the rest of the day traveling, then breaking things down into hours could be helpful.

I haven't tried this yet, so I have no idea how it will play out in a game, but the more I think about it, the more it seems like time management is actually an awesome idea. Casters will actually have to be careful with their spells if the party doesn't want to stop to rest simply because they ran out of spells within the first few hours of the day. And if a caster does run out of spells, this could give non-caster classes a real opportunity to shine. Potion durations and non-magical hit point recovery become relevant! The players could actually be forced to make decisions based on how much time something will take, or be faced with time-sensitive goals! The very notion that I've never done this before begins to seem ludicrous.

I have no idea why modern games stopped emphasizing time management, and why they never developed better systems for implementing it. It seems to be the same problem I discussed a few months ago in my "Why Hex Maps Need to Come Back" post. For some reason, modern gaming developers decided to arbitrarily throw something away without coming up with a replacement for it. And us poor kids who were raised on D&D 3.5 or Pathfinder are stuck with an incomplete picture of how role playings games can best be played, until we start looking back through gaming's history for guides.

As I stated in the opening of this post, I have a lot of faith in Paizo's ability to be an important force for innovation in RPGs. They should start by bringing back some of these senselessly abandoned concepts.

*To clarify: this is not always the case. Occasionally people will have well reasoned arguments for why they prefer something old over something new. For example, members of the Old School Roleplaying/Renaissance community have some very solid reasons for preferring 1980s style tabletop RPGs over more modern games. Likewise, I like to think that I have some very solid reasons for feeling that recent expansions of World of Warcraft have reduced the game's quality in many ways.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Magical Marvel's 5: The Glare of Vecna

This week's artifact sacrificial dagger is again from my Ascendant Crusade campaign, much like the previous three artifacts Gravewhisper's Claw, Wallcraft's Offerings and Kofek's Tongue. This weapon is again illustrated by my ladyfriend. You should check out more of her art on her DeviantArt page.

The Glare of Vecna
Artifact Sacrificial Dagger

(Blade)(Attack) -4
(Blade)(Damage) 1d4 (Piercing)(17-20/x4)


At Will - Detect Good, cast by directing the blade towards the target and asking (rhetorically) "Do you seek to foil our lord?" The spell is a great deal more powerful when cast by the dagger, and overcomes any spell resistance the target may have. (Pathfinder Core Rulebook Pg. 267)

At Will - Eyebite, cast by directing the blade towards the target and telling them "The Whispered One's ire be upon you!" The target receives of Fortitude save (DC 23) to negate. Failure results in the target becoming sickened, panicked, and/or comatose, depending on their HD. (Pathfinder Core Rulebook Pg. 280)

3/Day - Grim Revenge, cast by directing the blade towards the target, then pulling it a yanking motion. Fortitude save (DC 19) negates. This spell is found in the Book of Vile Darkness, Pg. 97. As this book is now out of print, the spell is replicated in its entirety below:
Grim Revenge
Necromancy [Evil]
Level: Sor/Wiz 4
Components: V, S, Undead
Casting Time: 1 action
Range: Medium (100ft + 10ft./level)
Target: One living humanoid
Duration: Instantaneous
Saving Throw: Fortitude negates
Spell Resistance: Yes
The hand of the subject tears itself away from one of his arms, leaving a bloody stump. This trauma deals 6d6 points of damage. Then the hand, animated and floating in the air, begins to attack the subject. The hand attacks as if it were a wight (See the Pathfinder Bestiary Pg. 276) in terms of its statistics, special attacks, and special qualities, except that it is considered Tiny and gains a +4 AC bonus and a +4 bonus on attack rolls. Their hand can be turned or rebuked as a wight. If the hand is defeated, only a regenerate spell can restore the victim to normal.

  • Any priest or priestess of Vecna who wields this weapon may substitute it for a holy symbol.
  • Any coup de grĂ¢ce delivered with this weapon results in an instant kill, no saving throw. Traditionally sacrificial blows are aimed at the heart, so that the barbs can latch on to the heart, and pull it from the victim's chest.

The only thing about Vecna's Glare which resembles a more common weapon is the hilt, wrapped in reddish brown leather with a silver pommel. The cross guard, which appears to be a hand sprouting from the weapon's grip, appears realistic, and even feels like cold dead skin when touched. In the hand is gripped a large eye--about the size of a large orange. Large enough to fill the hand's grip. Like the hand, this eye looks and feels organic, and even has veins which become more or less prominent if the eye becomes "irritated" by things like blood or dirt. Sprouting from the pupil of the eye, representing the eye's line of vision, is an unusual blade. It has no edge, and comes to a point at the tip. It is less of a blade, and more of a spike. Along the shaft of the spike are a multitude of barbs angling back towards the hilt, so that once the blade is inserted, removing it will cause significant additional damage.

During his life, and his pre-deific undeath, Vecna crafted a number of remarkable weapons. The Sword of Kas is is only the most well known, and most powerful, of these artifacts. In fact, most of Vecna's own lieutenants were eventually given a weapon forged by their dread emperor's own hand. Vecna's Glare is among those weapons created by the evil god, though in this case, the crafting was a great deal more round-a-bout.

Kas was not the only one of Vecna's followers to betray him. He was merely the most successful traitor. Several decades before the fateful battle which destroyed Vecna's corporeal body, another of his lieutenants betrayed him. The attempt was clumsy, and the clever lich easily saw through his minion's attempts at nonchalance. By the time the fool was ready to spring his trap, Vecna had other followers--more loyal followers--in place to ensure the trap backfired on the traitor.

Vecna is known for many things. He is a renowned conqueror, he was a magic user without peer throughout the multiverse, and he is the original source of many powerful artifacts. With so much to be known for, it his great skill as a torturer has been largely forgotten. He kept his treasonous minion alive for weeks, forcing him to experience pain beyond the imagining of even the most depraved. The Whispered Lord could make a victim relive their most terrifying memories, sever limbs only to reattach them and sever them again, or even cast spells which would kill whomever the victim most loved, without even knowing himself who that person was. Needless to say, Vecna learned all he needed to know. And when he was finished, he reached into the traitor's chest, and pulled out his heart.

Vecna cast a simple spell on the heart, causing it to remain alive, and continue beating indefinitely. He then gave it to Kas the Bloody Handed, and had his lieutenant deliver it to the king with which the traitor had conspired. It seemed that this king, of a kingdom which Vecna had not yet conquered, had thought his kingdom would be safer if Vecna was destroyed. When the king received it, he was filled with anger and fear, and threw the heart out of the window of his audience chamber, where it landed in a river. Two months later, when Vecna sat on the chained king's throne and asked what he had done with the heart, the king answered. He was then forced to watch as his four daughters, three sons, and his queen, were all thrown out the same window, to land in the same river a few hundred feet below.

Centuries later, after the betrayal by Kas, and Vecna's own ascention to the level of demigod, the high priestess of Vecna--a rank which is known as "The Heart" within the cult--prayed to her god. She asked that the Hidden Lord might bestow upon her a symbol to rally the cult behind. One which could be used to draw even more to Vecna's ranks. Vecna answered her. He told her of the traitor, and of the discarded heart. He bade her follow the river which the heart had been cast into. Due to the spell which had caused it to live indefinitely, it would still exist. Recovering it would grant her the symbol she desired.

The priestess was confused by her god's commands, but she did not question them. Alone she traveled to the castle where her god, centuries before, had murdered a king's family before his eyes. To reach it she had to travel across an ocean, through a desert, and over three mountains. It took her a year to finally reach the castle. There she found the river, and she followed it. She moved carefully, checking thoroughly for any hint of the heart. Eventually, the river flowed into a cave. Once inside the cave, the priestess descended far into the earth in the pursuit of her god's will. She faced many monsters which tested her strength, but she never once considered turning back. She lived off of fungi which grew on the stones, and on the meat of the beasts she fought.

Finally, after weeks beneath the earth, having now descended deep into the underdark itself, the priestess came upon a lake. At the center of the lake was a small island, and there slept a red dragon atop its hoard. She constructed a raft, and made her way tentatively across the lake. As she approached, the dragon raised its head, and watched her. Neither attempted to speak until the priestess had brought her raft to land upon the island.

"Give me a reason why I should not devour you, puny human." the dragon boomed.

"I come to you with tribute, mighty Wyrm!" the priestess said, laying a handful of precious gems on the ground at her feet. "And seek only a single piece of your renowned wisdom in exchange."

The dragon snarled, "I am no teller of secrets who can be bought with petty baubles!" it roared, even as it drew the gems into its treasure pile with one might claw. "You've earned yourself only the right to leave here alive. And be quick lest I change my mind!"

"I wish only to know, great king amongst dragons, if you have ever seen a beating heart pass through this river." the priestess gambled, knowing the risk she was taking with her life.

This question seemed to pique the dragon's curiosity. "Perhaps I have. Tell me first why you seek it." The priestess told the dragon of the heart, its origins, and of her quest to retrieve it, though she was careful to mention only that her god had sent her. To mentioned the Whispered One's name was frowned upon, but to mention it whilst revealing a secret would be blasphemy.

When her story was completed, the dragon laughed. Dragon's laughter is a terrifying sound, and it is a credit to the priestess devotion that she did not flee on the spot. "I know this heart," the dragon finally replied. "When I was but a whelpling, it came ashore on my island here. I ate it."

The priestess nodded. "I see." she said calmly, taking hold of her holy symbol so she could prepare a spell. The two battled for hours. The priestess was powerful, but a dragon is a foe none should take lightly, and the island lacked cover which she could use to defend herself against the dragon's fiery breath. In the end, she was very nearly slain. The only thing which saved her was being tail swiped by the dragon hard enough to send her flying onto the treasure pile--right next to a magical spear. So when the dragon moved to swallow her, she dove the spear through the roof of its mouth, and deep into the dragon's brain.

Her foe slain, the priestess found a sword within the treasure pile, and began to cut into the dragon. Her severe injuries made cutting through the dragon's thick hide difficult, but eventually she was able to reach the dragon's heart--nearly as large as she was herself. She sliced it open, and within was Vecna's Glare, glowing with a purple-black aura of evil.

It took over a year to return home, but when she arrived and held the dagger aloft before the faithful, they cowered before its might. She knew that, now, worshipers would flock to the cult of Vecna in droves. How often did gods bless their priests with such a mighty artifact? She felt truly blessed to have Vecna's favor.

That evening, The Heart lay down to sleep in her her own bed for the first time in over two years. And in the dead of night, the priestess who had been handling The Heart's affairs in her absence took Vecna's Glare, and murdered the high priestess with it.

Let none rest easy in Vecna's favor.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Negune: The Nation of Regalia

The nation of Regalia is by far the largest of the five nations on the continent of Negune. Founded eight centuries ago by the legendary bard Horatiana The Beloved, Regalia is a benevolent monarchy, so named because Horatiana was fond of wordplay, but lacked any talent for it. Regalia controls the entire eastern coast of the continent, providing it with the easiest access to the only other known landmass, the continent of Kalimesh. Regalia also boarders every other nation on the continent, except Ribanko, which has become completely isolationist and refuses to engage with the other nations; and Stekett, which, despite not sharing a boarder with Negune, is still most easily reached from Regalia rather than any of the other nations. Given these two significant advantages, Regalia has become the center of culture and trade on the continent.

Regalia is comprised of seven provinces: Centralia, Volpan, Pyensal, Sextent, Shield Haven, Garvain, and Tonshire. One for each of the seven adventurers who united the peoples of Negune eight hundred years ago. Though the seven continents are not explicitly named for one of the companions, each of the seven capitol cities has a bronze statue of one of the heroes just inside the town gate, along with an inscribed plaque penned by Horatiana herself.

Regalia is a monarchy guided by the traditions put forth by Queen Horatiana. Though no formal constitution has ever been drafted, in true Bardic style, Horatiana had every wall of the sprawling royal palace engraved with lessons she had learned, and her philosophies for leadership. These engravings do not legally bind the monarch. In fact, Monarchs often ignore certain engravings when they do not suit their needs or plans. However, the engravings are respected, and on three separate occasions, monarchs have been removed from power for violating the spirit of these philosophies. The wisest of Regalia's monarchs, it is said, spend their lives strolling through the halls of the royal palace, carefully studying the engravings left by their ancient forbear. So respected is this wisdom, that it has been disseminated throughout the seven provinces, and "Take wisdom from the walls" has become a common saying among Regalians.

The current monarch, Queen Byethen, is particularly devoted to these teachings. In accordance with them, she has established a council of seven advisers--one from each of the provinces--which are drawn from the town mayors, and cycled out after one year to make room for a new adviser. She has also assembled a council of 33 scholars, wizards, clerics, soldiers, and government clerks whose primary duty is to argue with her. To "Play Asmodeus' Advocate," if you will. They may respond to her ideas only with argument, or silence. Though they have no power to overrule her, the walls discourage her from taking any action she cannot defend. Queen Byethen also spends one week of each year living and working in a random town within her kingdom, so that she might never forget the hardships her people face.

Something which the walls are most emphatic about, and which no ruler has yet ignored, deals with the royal succession, and the separation between the nation of Regalia, and the seven provinces which constitute it. At any given time, there must be seven potential successors to the throne. Each of these successors is made the ruler of one of the provinces. The monarch may replace a successor at any time, based on any criteria, or completely arbitrarily. However, so long as the successors have the confidence of the monarch, they should be allowed to rule their provinces as they see fit. When the monarch has died, or otherwise cedes the throne, whatever advisory councils they formed during their reign gathers, and selects one of the seven to take the crown of Regalia.

Regalia is a fantastically wealthy nation. In terms of resources, it has an ample amount of forested area, plentiful fishing, rich mining, and expansive farmland. Regalia is so rich in natural resources, that no necessary commodity needs to be imported from any other nation--though the provinces themselves do need to trade with one another. The surplus of resources has also made Regalia rich in the gold and platinum of other lands through trade. Regalia's prosperity has reinforced the native legend that Negune was blessed by the gods to make it a place worthy of heroes. That legend has even spread across the sea, to Kalimesh.

Though the specific culture varies from province to province, a few common themes unite Regalian culture as a whole. Despite being governed by a monarchy, Regalia fosters a meritocratic culture. The nation's wealth has allowed education and other opportunities to be offered to most of the people. At present, two of the seven provinces are ruled by people who were born on the lower rungs of society: one a farmer, the other a miller. And as province governors, these two will both be considered as potential monarchs when Byethen leaves power.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Paizo's Year Long Retrospective: 1

It's a good thing nobody relies on me for news, because I am terrible about paying attention to news and posting about it in a timely manner.

A week ago today (see how on top of things I am?) Paizo put up a fascinating retrospective on their blog. The company was originally founded in 2002, so this year will be the tenth year of Paizo's operation. Ten years since they started bringing us the best content we ever saw out of Dungeon and Dragon magazines. Eventually they would go on to create many amazing products, including my beloved Pathfinder RPG. It's no secret that I'm in love with this company. They've done so much to improve gaming, and I like to hope that in the future they will continue to combine their amazing innovators, with tried and tested ideas to create some amazing games for us to spend all of our money on.

I'll forgo the play-by-play. Though I did get a hearty laugh from some friends earlier today when I recounted the story about how Paizo moved into their first offices. "The previous company in the offices had vacated in a hurry, so the landlord offered to sell us all their stuff for a dollar. It turned out to be a really good investment, because we found a $20 in one of the desks." Good times, good times.

I would really encourage you to read the post. It's a fun and charming read, with a few moment that made me giggle. I'll definitely be keeping my eye on this as more are posted throughout the year.

Also, is it just me, or does Lisa Stevens come off as some kind of nerd-badass genius? She was laid off from her job at Wizards of the Coast, so she took a year off to work on her Star Wars Collection!?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Koldonberane, The Forest Dragon

I'm really quite happy with Monday's post about deities. You may have noticed that I really got into it, given that it's roughly twice as long as my average post. My own verbosity aside, in my opinion it's a pretty great post. So when I started thinking about what I should write for Wednesday's post, I remembered that a friend had recently encouraged me to write about Koldonberane, a deity I created a few years ago for a campaign which never ended up getting started. So not only do I get to make a friend happy, but I get to demonstrate the deity system I created in my last post! Huzzah!

The Tree Wyrm, Leafscale, The Rustling Wind

Lesser Deity (Divine Rank 4)
Holy Symbol A green tree with a dragon emerging from the leaves. More ornate symbols include tree roots, which entangle both a halberd, and a short bow.
Home Plane Arborea
Alignment Chaotic Neutral
Major Portfolio Nature, Animals
Minor Portfolio Adventure, Rangers, Balance Dragons
Domains Animal, Plant, Travel
Worshipers Rangers Druids, Barbarians, Hunters, Trappers
Clerical Alignments TN, CN, CG, CE
Favored Weapons The halberd, and the short bow

Koldonberane embodies the uncaring chaos of nature. She appears as a titanic dragon, with leaves instead of scales. These leaves constantly shift from green, to bronze, to red, to yellow, to black, then fall from her hide, only to reveal fresh green leaves underneath. Though she is a lesser deity, many rangers and other adventurers who revere nature follow her because of the favor which she shows to those who have great self determination.

Dogma Koldonberane teaches that nature is indifferent to good, evil, and law. It is a force beyond these limiting concepts. While a mouse may be beloved by nature, so too is a hawk. The hawk needs no permission, nor any absolution for killing and eating the mouse. So long as balance is maintained, nature is self-governing. And so long as chaos reigns, balance will always be maintained. The only true sin, in Koldonberane's eyes, is a disruption of the world's natural balance.

For this reason, Koldonberane favors mortals who live out in nature, separate from those of their kind who seek to dominate nature, rather than find their own place within nature's balance. She cares not if a man kills an animal for food, or fells a tree to build a boat. New animals will be born, new trees will grow. But Koldonberane becomes upset when a copse of trees is felled to make a cabin, and she becomes enraged when a forest is cleared to make room for a city.

Clergy and Temples Koldonberane's few temples are magically woven from still-growing trees, and carpeted with living grass. However, few followers of Koldonberane are compelled to build temples to their draconic goddess. Most prefer to travel, living in balance with nature around them, and ensuring that others maintain that balance as well.

Koldonberane is a young deity, having only ascended four hundred thousand years ago. Before that, she was a dragon. Of what color, she cannot recall, but she knows that she lived in a forest. There, in her forest lair, she went about the business of dragons: hoarding treasure. She viewed this too be quite good and proper, and had amassed a great and glittering pile for herself.

As winter drew near one year, she spotted a squirrel gathering nuts for the winter. Being a particularly philosophical dragon, she likened the squirrel to herself. The tiny creature's hoard of nuts was a pale shadow of Koldonberane's hoard of treasure. And while the creature's taste in treasure was primitive compared to her own, Koldonberane speculated that the gods may have crafted squirrels as a tiny homage to their greatest creation. Which, of course, was dragons.

Koldonberane's forest was far to the North of the world, and winter was long. The mighty dragon slept until the spring came. When she finally awoke, she was greeted by the sight of the squirrel whose hoard Koldonberane had pondered the previous fall. Feeling spry and energetic after her long sleep, the mighty dragon approached the squirrel's nest, hoping to catch a glimpse of its tiny hoard. What she saw instead was nothing but shells. The squirrel had eaten its entire hoard!

At first, Koldonberane felt confused, but her confusion quickly became anger. She shouted and cursed the squirrel. She decried its mimicry as a mockery of dragon kind, and swore to destroy it and all of its kin, but it had fled. Still angry, she vowed to wait for its return, and destroy it then. But first she needed to find a meal, something to wake her from her long slumber. She took flight, and hunted through the forest for elk, deer, and other large sources of meat.

As she ate, she thought. Her anger gradually began to abate as she pondered the purpose of the squirrel's hoarding. She came to realize that the squirrel's hoard had not been an end unto itself, but rather a means to its own survival. It was something of a leap for her, but the more she thought about it, the more Koldonberane found she could relate to the squirrel's actions. And, being truly philosophical for a dragon, Koldonberane did something which dragons almost never do: she turned her criticism inward.

"Why do I, why does any dragon, hoard our treasures?" she thought. Numerous justifications presented themselves, but to her credit, Koldonberane dismissed each of them. The truth had been laid bare: her hoard had no purpose.

After that, Koldonberane continued to lay atop her treasure for several months. But now it simply seemed cold, and uncomfortable. Koldonberane tried adding to her hoard, which had always pleased her in the past. Now it felt empty. The sparkle of a polished coin no longer captivated her, and she resolved to be rid it all. She flew to the nearest city, and announced that anyone could have anything they were able to carry away from her hoard.

People came from miles around with sacks and carts, some even came with bags of holding. Koldonberane watched them take her treasures from nearby. She felt a panic, seeing 'thieves' taking her beloved treasure--but she did not interfere. She steeled her resolve to let her treasure disappear.

People had been hauling treasure away for less than a day when the king arrived. But Koldonberane's hoard was massive that ten such days would not leave a significant dent in her pile. The King, though, brought with him an army of carts, and ten times an army of soldiers. He demanded that all the treasure be his. Koldonberane told him he may take whatever his carts could carry, but the King was adamant. He wanted not only the treasure he could carry, but treasure which he would leave behind must be kept for him, and the treasure which had already been given must be returned to him. The dragon refused.

The battle between the king's army and the dragon was fierce. Koldonberane was, at that time, among the most ancient dragons to ever exist. She slew hundreds of the king's mightiest knights, but could not defend herself against so great a force. Koldonberane was slain, her body fell against the same tree in which the squirrel had made its nest. The King had his carts loaded, and took what treasure he could back to his kingdom.

When the King returned with more carts, he found many people around the corpse of the dragon, praying for blessings from the gold-giver. The King's men chased them off, and the king posted guards around Koldonberane's body to stop any others from worshiping the beast. The king returned a third time, now in late fall, for a third load of treasure. The guards he had left were camped nearby, and the dragon's corpse was gone! The guards explains how, in just a few short weeks, the roots of the tree had grown up around the dragon, and wrapped it in a wooden cocoon. The king said good riddance to the beast, and took his treasure, and his guards, back to his kingdom for the winter.

In spring, the king again brought his carts for the fourth and last load of treasure. As it was being loaded, he gazed at the tree which had consumed Koldonberane. Its leaves had sprouted a beautiful spring green, and he found the tree to be a pleasant sight.

Then, from amidst the rustling leaves, two eyes stared back at him. They did not appear to be fixed to anything, waving in the wind as the tree did. A creak sounded, and the wind-blown leaves momentarily seemed to form a gaping maw. Frightened, the king called to his men to hurry along, just in time for great leafy wings to sprout from the tree's bows.

The king screamed in terror as Koldonberane, the demigod, flew from the branches of the tree, leaving it bare of any leaves. But Koldonberane was now beyond such simple motivations as revenge, and ignored the petty human as it flew off towards the heavens.

Koldonberane's clergy hold that the tree which Koldonberane sprouted from still exists. It is said that green scales now grow on the tree, instead of leaves. What powers this mysterious tree might hold are unknown, however, as its mere existence is speculation.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Deities Defined

After 100+ posts, it's a little hard to remember what I've revealed about myself and what I haven't. So I'm not sure if I mentioned this before, but I majored in philosophy in college. Cue all the "blah blah, useless degree, blah blah, enjoy delivering pizzas" nonsense. During my study of philosophy, I often tried to suss out what precisely philosophers do. Which isn't to say I didn't know, insofar as an undergrad ever knows anything about their field. But I didn't have a definition on hand, no sentence-or-two which summed up the task which I was planning to dedicate my life to. I did have a joke answer; "We take things which are simple, make them sound complicated, then con universities into giving us tenure for it." I've found that most people in "useless" majors come up with jokes like that as a means of fending off dickheads who like to question the life decisions of people they don't know.

I don't know that the answer I eventually came to would be satisfactory to other philosophers--if I can even call myself that, being a dropout. To me, philosophy is the application logic as a means of attempting to learn the rules of, and to define, that which is considered undefinable, and beyond logical governance. (Kinda recursive if you think about it). Such illogical, undefinable things might include ethics, the fundamental answer to 'why,' or even conceptualizations of divinity. And thus do we come to tonight's subject matter.

Truth be told, I don't think I'll ever go back to the study of philosophy as a primary pursuit in my life. But that desire to define is still strong for me. So what if I've given up the quest to define the concept of divinity? I'm an atheist anyway! And it's way more fun to codify divinity within Pathfinder. I actually started this project many years ago. Shortly after I got the D&D 3.0 supplement "Deities and Demigods," I became fascinated with the concept of "divine ranks." I can't imagine myself letting my players be gods, even demigods. I doubt I would ever encourage them to fight a god, either. But I still like the idea of codifying what gods are and how much power they have. If, for no other reason, than because it places limits on what gods can do for their followers. So after a friend on Twitter reminded me that I had started this project years ago, it occurred to me that finishing it would make an excellent post!

The only truly almighty being, Logos is omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent. The power of the Logos is so far beyond understanding that even the mightiest of gods are powerless before it. However, Logos is also non-sentient. It is a vague force which controls the universe according to a logic which no one can possibly comprehend. Perhaps the simplest way to explain Logos is that if the laws of thermodynamics, motion, and conservation of mass are the laws of physics, then Logos is the laws of metaphysics. It is said that the multiverse itself is the mind of logos, and that every event, every insect, every human, dwarf, elf, or god, are all simply the machinations of the Logos' mind. But this is widely viewed as conjecture.

Knowledge of Logos is reserved largely for those powerful enough to see its subtle workings, which leaves very few besides the gods themselves. Only once has a mortal creature learned anything of Logos. A wizard, whose name and race have long been lost, once learned a single word in the ineffable language of the Logos. The wizard spoke the word, and was so completely obliterated that his soul ceased to exist, and even those who had known him forgot him completely. And through his erasure, the Illumian people were created.

Divine Power
Deific power is gauged by "Divine Ranks." These ranks define a deities power in a manner similar to a character's levels, but are functionally quite different. It is a closely guarded secret of the gods that their power is drawn from their mortal worshipers. The greater the number of worshipers, and the greater the power of those worshipers, the greater the god's own power will be. And while the numbers of mortals are ever-growing, adding more and more potential power for the deities to absorb, the pool of available power between all of the gods is functionally finite. Often, in order for one god to increase their divine rank, another god must lose their own. One might think that a god could simply create more and more worlds, and fill them with worshipers. And, indeed, a god called Hewavaj'Hove did precisely that once. For one brief moment He reigned supreme amongst the gods. Then he was completely obliterated in a fashion which the other gods describe as "painful in a way only a god could experience." The gods have determined that it is Logos who destroyed their momentary overlord, but have not yet determined which crime was deemed worthy of such a horrible execution.

All gods of divine rank 1 or higher have the following abilities and attributes, both in their primary form, and when represented through avatars:
  • Has access to all clerical spells which would normally be available to that deities' alignment/domains as at-will powers.
  • Can control weather, landscape, and other physical phenomena within 100 miles of current location for each divine rank. (10 miles/divine rank when represented through an avatar.)
  • Ability to appear in whatever form the deity desires, or to create avatars in whatever form desired.
  • Immortal.
  • Unable to be harmed, save by items which are extremely powerful. Save for a god's own weapons, anything which could harm a god is likely unique to the god, and a carefully guarded secret.
  • A deity is completely immune to any form of Transmutation, Energy Drain, Ability Drain, Ability Damage, or Mind-Affecting Effect.
  • A deity may, at any time, be aware of everything (including thoughts) which exists within 1 mile of any of its worshipers, holy sites, or other objects or locations sacred to that deity. A deity may also attempt to block the senses of another deity within this range. More information on deity conflict below.
  • Any deity may create a demi-plane. These planes are typically rather small, and can serve as private retreats for the deity.
  • A deity may travel the multiverse as easily as a mortal might walk to the shop down the street.

Any additional power is determined by the divine rank of the god in question.

The divine ranks, as presented here, are infinitely scalable. Each element progresses in a predictable pattern (A deity gains a minor portfolio every rank, gains a domain every two ranks, and so forth.) For my purposes, a maximum divine rank of 10 is plenty.

Divine Details
On the chart above I list five types of powers which progressively grow more powerful as a deity gains divine rank. Domains, Major & Minor Portfolios, Absolute Portfolios, and Avatars.

Domains Any D&D or Pathfinder player should already be aware of what a Domain is, and how it works. When a cleric selects their deity, they choose two of that deity's domains. These domains represent core values, and sources of power for the deity and their followers. Depending on which domains are chosen, clerics gain access to different spells, and may focus on different aspects of their deity's teachings. Note that deities below rank two have no domains. This is because they do not yet have sufficient divine rank to grant spells to their followers. They may still have clerics devoted to them, but these clerics draw their power from other sources.

Major & Minor Portfolios A deity's portfolio is what they are the god "of." For example, my favorite god, Vecna, might have in his portfolio; Knowledge, Secrets, Magic, and Undeath. Any special powers Vecna has would be derived from these portfolios, and he would certainly have a certain amount of control over items in his portfolio. The difference between Major & Minor portfolios is one of scope, rather than power. (In fact, perhaps "Narrow & Broad" would be better, but we'll stick with what I have in the image above for now).

A major portfolio is something broad. For example, "Magic," "Insects," or "Knowledge." Whilst a minor portfolio is something more specific, like "Transmutation," "Beetles," or "Secrets." The line which separates major and minor portfolio items can be vague. However, without listing ever possible portfolio item, it must be left to good judgement to determine whether a portfolio item is major, or minor.

Major and minor portfolios may conflict with each other, if the minor portfolio fits within the major portfolio. For example, if a god of magic attempts to exercise their power over transmutation spells, a god of transmutation spells may resist the god of magic with a +2 bonus to their deity check. Likewise, if the god of magic is attempting to affect a conjuration spell, the god of transmutation may still attempt to resist the will of the god of magic, but takes a -4 penalty on their deity check. More information on deity checks is below.

Absolute Portfolio Drawn from the same lists as minor portfolios, an absolute portfolio is a realm over which a deity is considered to have absolute dominion. A deity with secrets in its Absolute Portfolio may have greater control over that realm than a deity who has secrets as a minor portfolio. For example, while a "Secrets: Minor" god may be able to learn any secret which they desire, a "Secrets: Absolute" god might already know every secret, even to the point of learning of new secrets as they are created.

Minor and Major portfolios may still conflict with Absolute portfolios. However, an Absolute portfolio is treated as having a +20 to its deity check, along with any bonuses or penalties a minor portfolio would receive in a given situation, as described above. If, perchance, two Absolute portfolios ever come into conflict, then the loser of the check has their Absolute portfolio permanently transformed into a minor portfolio. A "Supreme" portfolio may exist, which would be similar to an Absolute portfolio, but would apply to Major portfolios rather than minor ones. However, this is a level of power which I don't want within my games.

Avatars Being within the presence of a god, even a minor one, would be enough to drive lesser mortals mad. Besides--gods do not leave their realms lightly. To remedy these problems, gods may create an avatar. Avatars are small fragments of a god, which operate completely independently. Given the tremendous willpower of a god, they may give their full attention to all of their avatars simultaneously, without suffering from any distraction or deterioration of abilities. In this way, gods may be in two or more places at once.

Special Aside from the powers listed on the chart above, which grow more powerful as a god gains more and more divine ranks, there are a number of powers which gods attain as they rise through the ranks. Once a power is attained, the god retains the ability to use this power for as long as they remain at or above the divine rank at which the power is acquired. These powers do not become greater as deity gains more divine ranks.

  • Any deity of Divine Rank 2 or greater can create any type of creature they desire, but these creatures cannot breed, or be replicated in any quantity sufficient to begin a new species. Such creatures are sustained by the deity, and will be destroyed if the deity loses their divine ranking.
  • Any deity of Divine Rank 4 or greater can create new species of animals, or other unintelligent creatures. These creatures will continue to exist even if the deity is destroyed.
  • Any deity of Divine Rank 6 or greater can create any type of new creature species they desire. These creatures will continue to exist even if the deity is destroyed.
  • Any deity of Divine Rank 8 or greater can create new worlds, or layers to an existing plane.
  • Any deity of Divine Rank 10 or greater may create new major planes.

Divine Conflict When deities engage in a battle for divine control, a deity check is used to determine the outcome. This is a very simple check: 1D20 + Divine Rank. Note that a deity check is not used any time deities combat one another, but only when two deities attempt to use their same divine powers affect the same thing in different ways. If, for example, one deity wanted it to rain on the city of Niston, and one wanted the city of Niston to enjoy a bright sunny day, the two deities would make a deity check to determine what kind of weather Niston will see that day.

Divine Rank 0
Divine Rank 0 is special. A new deity typically starts at Divine Rank 1, as a demi-god. Rank 0 is reserved for those gods who have failed to retain enough followers to maintain their divinity. A god at 0 has been forgotten. Perhaps their followers were slaughtered, perhaps the god was simply lazy and did not bother to answer any prayers. A few faithful may remain, but even mortals are sometimes worshiped by a paltry few thousand. That does not make them gods.

An entity at divine rank 0 is in danger of losing their place among the gods forever. They are reduced To but a handful of divine abilities. They cannot be harmed, maintain their immunities, can travel the multiverse, and are able to cast divine spells matching their alignment as a 20th level cleric would. The entity is given one thousand years to regain enough followers to become a Demi-God. If they fail to complete this task, the entity fades away forever.

What precisely happens to these forgotten gods is not known. Given that they are forgotten, documentation on their activities is understandably lacking. A few gods claim that their most powerful angels were once forgotten gods. Some adventurers have discovered intelligent items which have claimed to be the remnants of a forgotten god. And then, of course, there is the rare individual who shouts at his fellow tavern patrons "I was a god once, you know!"

Of course, this might simply be cases of bragging gods, self-important intelligent items, and crazy drunks. There is no way to be certain.

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