Sunday, September 5, 2010

Conan Meets Jaws

This long weekend I've been enjoying my perusal of Jaws of the Six Serpents, an RPG published by Tim Gray's Silver Branch Games that offers a sword-and-sorcery take on Chad Underkoffler's PDQ (Prose Descriptive Qualities) ruleset.  Indeed, I'm so pleased with what I'm reading that I'm thinking of giving up the Barbarians of Lemuria rules in favor of Jaws.  As a test run of the character creation rules, I took my Barbarians write-up of "Tower of the Elephant" Conan and translated it into Jaws terms.  Game stats and commentary behind the fold . . .

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Shadow, Sword, Spell, and . . . BABY?

James Malieszewski of Grognardia has coauthored a "humanistic, pulp fantasy" RPG with his Rogue Games partner Richard Iorio.  The game's called Shadow, Sword, & Spell, and it looks like another good addition to the tradition of sword-and-sorcery RPGs.  I don't have time to review it at present, though—something suddenly came up:

Once the baby is settled in at home, I'll post a SS&S test character.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


Just a brief heads-up to inform those of my readers interested in superhero gaming that I've started up a new blog devoted to that topic: Kracalactaka!  I'm doing my OCD-related part to keep from crossing the streams.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Building an S&S Setting: Prolegomenon

This post is the first in a series of posts dedicated to the creation of a new sword and sorcery setting for use with Barbarians of Lemuria.  I'm going ahead with this project because I'm not particularly satisfied with Lemuria itself: I haven't read the Lin Carter novels that serve as the basis for that setting, and my sensibilities are more in tune with Howard's Hyborian Age than with Carter's cod-Burroughs approach to Lemuria.

There are two principles governing this process as it goes forward:

1.  Do not invalidate the players' choices for their characters.

I don't want to make my players create new characters to fit the new setting.  This means first and foremost that the plot established in the first session of the BoL campaign remains the same: the heroes are still looking for an ancient library in a fabled lost city, and they are still going to begin the next session on a ship in the midst of a raging storm.  It also means that the new setting has to respect the players' character creation choices.  In Lemuria, Irryn was a prostitute-turned-assassin from the Port of the Sea Lords.  In the new setting, she won't be from that particular location—but she will hail from a pirate-themed city.  The same for Daneel's gladiatorial background: the new setting will have to have a location that sponsors games.

2.  Keep it simple.

In my three-decade career as a gamer, my customary approach to setting creation has been to start working from the top-down (i.e., cosmologies instead of counties, epics instead of short stories). The usual result has been a game that either stalls out after character creation or never even gets started—I always find myself tinkering with the big picture "just one more time" before play begins.  So the ground rule for this session will be "one paragraph per location before play resumes."

In addition, rather than agonize about how many locations to create, I will simply use the categories included by Russell Bailey in his Pulp Civilization Random Encounter Chart as the basis for the setting.  That gives me six basic locations—enough for a start.  New locations can enter play as a result of player action or active scenario creation.

Third, I will try to recycle as many old RPG setting ideas as I can when making these six locations.  There's no reason why I can't put old ideas to new use here.

With all that in mind, here's my initial set-up:

1.  Warring Tribes: Undetermined

2.  Grimy City-States: The Seven Cities of Magic

This setting element is a new one for me: each of the fabled Seven Cities of Magic is governed by a powerful sorcerer (or cabal of wizards or arcane spirit being or . . . you get the idea).  The Seven Cities spend most of their time squabbling with each other or engaging in low-level mischief within the boundaries of the Vital Empire.

3.  Vital Empire: Undetermined

4.  Decadent Empire: The Empire of the Azure Throne

The inspiration here is Azure Orb, an old Everway Realm of my making.  I originally described it as follows: "Azure Orb is dominated by the element of Air. Its inhabitants debate one another in lamaseries clinging to the sides of mountains. The gates leading to Azure Orb from Glister and Rubyflame are marked with sapphires."  I'm going to combine this idea of a fantastic Tibetan realm with Simon Washbourne's Ceruleans from Lemuria: the giant blue people are the specially bred shock troops with which the Azure Emperor once conquered the lowlands.  Now the people of the plateau have retreated into decadent pleasures and abstruse philosophies, leaving it to the Ceruleans to maintain contact with the rest of the setting, this time as merchants instead of warriors.

5.  Monstrous Survivors: Undetermined

6.  Haunted Ruins: The Storm Lands

For this location, I'll be riffing on a recurring element from my various abortive D&D worlds: a land shattered by a mystical apocalypse, dotted with ruined cities, fell spirits, sentient storms, and bold human tribes eking out an existence.

So that's where things stand at the moment.  I need to come up with locations for Warring Tribes, Vital Empire, and Monstrous Survivors.  I suspect that the Warring Tribes will be a cross between the Caribbean pirates of history and the Iron Islands of George Martin's Game of Thrones setting: competing pirate empires with the potential to become something greater.  The other two elements are still hazy as yet; I need to come up with something alien for the Monstrous Survivors that isn't just the usual serpent-men or ape-men trope.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Marvel's Conan the Barbarian . . . SUPERS! Style


As my last post intimated, work has kept me too busy for gaming over the last month or so.  Because I suffer from a form of C.A.D.D. (Campaign Attention Deficiency Disorder), that delay has meant a transfer of momentum away from sword-and-sorcery to superheroes.  The barbarians of Lemuria will ride again, of course, but first I need to work the supers out of my system.  Luckily Simon Washbourne, creator of BoL, can help me out here.  I'm running his excellent rules-lite Supers! system this coming Sunday for the children of several of my colleagues.  But I also thought I'd honor the spirit of this blog by generating a Supers! version of the Marvel Comics Conan.

Or, rather, a Marvel Comics Conan.  Since I'm using a superhero RPG system to generate the character, it makes sense to use the version that actually interacted with superheroes: the Conan of What If #43 (February 1984).  What If is Marvel's name for its on-again, off-again series devoted to superhero counterfactuals.  (Although the series predates DC Comics's Elseworlds concept by twelve years, it almost certainly owes a conceptual debt to the "Imaginary Stories" DC ran in many of its Silver Age titles.)  I didn't buy What If on a regular basis during my childhood stint as a Marvel Zombie, but I couldn't pass up this issue: "What if Conan the Barbarian Were Stranded in the Twentieth Century?"  First of all, I was a regular reader of Marvel's various Conan titles at the time.  Second, how can anyone pass up this wonderful Bill Sienkiewicz cover?

The story in issue #43 is technically a counterfactual of a counterfactual: in What If #12 (February 1979), Conan had briefly spent time in modern-day New York before he was zapped back to the Hyborian Age by magic lightning.  Issue #43 has the NYPD wrestle Conan out of range of the lightning, leaving him stuck in the Big Apple.  Conan spends some time in the slammer, masters the New York criminal scene, dresses like a pimp, and eventually ends up fighting Captain America on two occasions.  The first fight ends with the image depicted at the start of this post (Conan slicing open Captain's left arm).  The second fight ends with Cap saving Conan from the cops and offering him a place in the Avengers.  At the end of the issue, the Watcher looks on as Conan ponders making a call to Avengers Mansion and doing something more with his life than petty crime.

As a way of playtesting the Supers! rules, I've decided to assume that Conan does pick up the phone and accept Cap's offer.  What would Conan's superhero RPG stats resemble?  Check them out beneath the fold, True Believers!

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Still Here, or Why Being an Adminstrator Sucks

The blog's not dead yet--it's just waiting for the massive administrative pile-up that was the English Department's end of semester to actually end!

Stay tuned!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Tower of Mad Mungus, Part Two

Last night my regular gaming group returned to the Tower of Mad Mungus, the latest adventure in our ongoing Fourth Edition D&D game.  Two things stood out about the session:

1.  DM Dave continued the theme of classic D&D monsters.  While we did fight Fourth Edition monsters like darkmantles and kruthik, we also encountered one of my favorite oldies: the piercer.  (The cut view of the piercer anatomy to the left is taken from one of my favorite Dragon articles.)  Even better: my character, dragonborn warlord Sergeant Kesek, ended up getting taken to -1 HP by a piercer!  (Luckily the eladrin wizard Tük-J'a Zephrus was nearby with a handy potion of healing.)  Best of all, though, was the group's subsequent encounter with a knight polymorphed into piercer form by Mad Mungus.  The ensorcelled knight's name was . . . wait for it . . . Sir Pearce.  Imagine a piercer talking with a British accent, and you've got D&D gold.  The session ended with Sergeant Kesek rigging up a perch on his back for Sir Pearce.  No doubt hijinks will ensue.

2.  I went completely paperless for this session, bringing only my dice bag, my Sergeant Kesek mini, my set of laser-engraved action point tokens, and my new 64 GB iPad.  I had uploaded the PDF version of Kesek's Character Builder character sheet to the iPad via the GoodReader app's ability to downloaded documents from my Dropbox.  (I also uploaded the Pages version of last session's notes and a PDF of the Fourth Edition Player's Handbook.)  When I needed to consult one of Kesek's power cards, I'd just enter GoodReader.  The rest of the time I was keeping track of initiative, hit points, healing surges, treasure, and XP with Penultimate, the most intuitive notebook app I've seen.  While I suspect that things will be even more efficient once iPhone 4.0 comes out with multitasking in the fall, I didn't have any particular trouble switching back and forth this time around.  The iPad worked like a charm!

Monday, April 12, 2010

We Interrupt Your Regularly Scheduled Barbarian-Themed Blog . . .

My Friday night group's Fourth Edition D&D game came back to life yesterday after a year-long hiatus.  The heroes (including my dragonborn warlord Sergeant Kesek) finally managed to make their way to the Tower of Mad Mungus, a supposedly long-dead wizard known for his uncanny experiments in hybridization.  The most significant aspect of the session involved the monsters we fought, a veritable honor roll of D&D standards: stirges, bulettes, and owl bears.  Although I've been gaming for nigh on thirty years (got the Holmes Basic Set for either my tenth birthday in 1979 or for Christmas later that year), I've never previously encountered a single stirge, bulette, or owl bear.  So label me honored to have at long last met these lovely animals, brought to loving life by miniatures.

Of course, I killed them and took their stuff.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Monsters Barbarized: The Decapus

[This post was inspired by the "Weekly Monster Challenge" on the Lords of Lemuria forum.]

I don't remember many details from Jean Wells's Palace of the Silver Princess (BD&D Module B3), but I've never forgotten the image to the left: Erol Otus's amazing depiction of the hideous decapus.  This foul beast may have begun its existence in the Principalities of Glantri, but it seems perfectly suited to life in the Jungles of Qo and Qush.  In those trackless wastes, the wild decapus swings through the trees, using its uncanny powers of illusion and ventriloquism to trick its prey.  To see through the decapus's deceptions, a hero has to pass a Mind test with a difficulty modifier of "hard" (-2).  At the GM's discretion, heroes may add relevant careers to this roll.  (Appropriate boons may allow the hero to roll a bonus die on the test as well.)  If the decapus's illusion remains unbroken, it has the advantage of surprise and gains a "free" round of attacks.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Keeping Score

Tim (Irryn's player in the Friday night BoL game) has asked me to maintain a public kill counter for the campaign.  As a generous GM, I have obliged him.  Look for it over in the righthand column of the blog.

Of course, it turns out that Irryn is the kill leader . . .

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Using the Mythic GM Emulator

Although I'm running the Friday night campaign with the BoL rules, I'm also using the Mythic GM Emulator (published by Word Mill Games).  Designed to facilitate GM-less or low-prep play, this product is essentially a Magic 8-Ball for RPG campaigns: at its core is a Fate Chart that adds a random element to yes/no questions about the campaign setting.  There are also rules for random events, and a subsequent supplement (Mythic Variations) allows for genre and theme-specific modifications to the frequency of those events.  All of these systems work like an overlay on whatever set of RPG rules you happen to be using at the time.

I decided to use the Mythic GM Emulator because I hate game prep.  I get "analysis paralysis," and campaigns die shortly after beginning.  The GM Emulator's guidelines for random scene generation (used in conjunction with the logical premises derived from the campaign setup and the players' choices of characters) thus seemed like a way around this problem for me.  I would create the first scene of the campaign myself and then let the GM Emulator guide me the rest of the way.

This plan worked out beautifully in prep and play.  After the heroes had accepted Radam Tyl's pitch, they were almost certainly going to go down to the docks of Zalut to hire a ship.  Rolling on the Event Focus Table for this scene, I got a result of "Introduce a new NPC."  Nothing particularly surprising: I assumed at first that this would be the ship captain.  Then I rolled for the event's meaning and received results of "release" and "rumor."  Those didn't sound like a ship's captain; instead, the two terms suggested that the heroes were approached by a competitor of Radam Tyl's, an alchemist who had also learned about the new clues to M'lor's location.  Thus Sorsha was born.  I was even able to generate one of the best images of the session randomly: I rolled on the "Event Meaning" tables to determine the nature of Sorsha's alchemical speciality and got "inquire" and "pain" as results.  Interpreting these as indicators of her interest in torture, I invented her poor slaves (and their sewn-shut eyes) on the spot.

The next scene of the session was also randomly determined.  This time the Event Focus table generated a result of "PC Negative"—something bad happens to one of the heroes.  Event Meaning results of "communication" and "disruption" suggested that, once again, the search for a ship's captain would be interrupted.  This time a hero's backstory would be the vehicle of the deferral, and a d4 roll made Daneel my victim.  Clearly the sorcerous cheaters he was tracking down had decided it was time to remove the pesky investigator . . . permanently.  I turned to the page of the BoL rulebook providing stats for tough thugs and told the players to roll for initiative.  I was particularly pleased by the GM Emulator in this scene: I came to the table knowing nothing of Brian's plans for Daneel, but the framework for random inspiration provided by the Emulator allowed me to foreground those plans on the spot.

The third and final scene was "NPC Positive."  As a group, we decided that the heroes would finally locate a suitable ship and that said ship's captain would be more than eager to provide the heroes with passage to Parsool.  After all, they had more than enough gold from Radam Tyl to convince even the most reluctant captain to let them on board.  When I rolled for Event Meaning, I was temporarily stumped by my results of "advice" and "postpone"—I wasn't sure how to interpret these to fit the scene.  Irryn's player Tim came to my rescue here, suggesting that Captain Tinray knew a storm was coming but didn't think he needed to mention it to the heroes.  With Tim's help, I was able to set up the cliffhanger for the session: the sudden darkening of the sky and an ominous wave rearing up over the deck of the Screaming Manta.

Consider this post a positive review for the Mythic GM Emulator, then.  I didn't use the Fate Chart all that much or play around with Chaos Factors (an aspect of the system that alters the frequency of yes/no responses), but the Event Focus and Event Meaning tables were pure gold where scene setting was concerned.

Friday Night Campaign, Session One

On Friday night (the 19th), I ran the first session of my BoL campaign.  The set-up was the one I mentioned a few posts ago: having discovered new clues to the whereabouts of the lost city of M'lor, the alchemist Radam Tyl recruits a band of intrepid heroes to travel to the Jungles of Qo, locate M'lor, and return with whatever First Age knowledge survives in the city archives.  (The BoL rulebook identifies M'lor as a Second Age city, but that doesn't seem to jibe with its "lost" status—so I moved it back in time.)

Radam Tyl's recruits (and the players' heroes):
  1. Dakar, a Valgardian swordsman whose brief career in piracy ended with him being booted off the ship and left to fend for himself in the port district of Zalut.  Played by Dave.
  2. Daneel, a Shamballan gladiator who parlayed his success in Satarla's arena into a noble's title.  He has come to Zalut to investigate rumors of sorcerous interference in the Sartalan games.  Played by Brian.
  3. Irryn, a dancer turned assassin who left her home in the Port of the Sea Lords to execute a contract on the magician Samaldran.  Played by Tim.
  4. Segdral Darkstar, a Halakti assassin who has also been hired to kill Samaldran (albeit by a different client).  He and Irryn met while casing their shared target and agreed to work together.  Played by David.
The adventure began with the heroes' arrival at Radam Tyl's luxurious townhouse.  Each of them was met at the door by Tyl's most notorious creations: his uplifted dinosaur servants.  While these small dinosaurs did not prove capable of human speech (forcing the players to endure my dinosaur squeaks and hisses), they were able to mix drinks, serve canapes, and light dreamsmoke pipes.  Tyl eventually arrived and made his pitch to the heroes, sweetening the deal with several chests of gold and jewels.  (The heroes were also allowed to take whatever loot they wanted from M'lor, provided that they saved the scrolls they found for Tyl.)

With surprising alacrity (and almost no hard questions), the heroes agreed to the alchemist's plans and set out making preparations for their journey west.  They decided to first purchase passage to Parsool on a deep-water vessel, then travel via coast-hugger and river-barge to Malakut.  There, in the City of the Thieves, they would be able to hire the local guides they would need to survive in the Qo.

Their search for a ship headed to Parsool was twice interrupted, though.  They were first approached by one of Radam Tyl's rivals, the alchemist Sorsha.  (Tyl is a specialist in animal uplight; Sorsha's palanquin-bearers, slaves with their eyes sewn shut, pointed to her own interests in information acquisition and the pain centers of the human body.)  Tyl was apparently not the only alchemist to learn of the ancient document offering hints to M'lor's location, and Sorsha was eager to hire the heroes to serve her interests instead.  Irryn was the only hero willing to listen to all of Sorsha's offer, receiving a jewel-encrusted necklace for her "open-mindedness."

The second interruption was far less polite.  Daneel's investigations into sorcerous cheating had apparently earned him the enmity of the magicians involved, and they sent a team of thugs armed with enchanted daggers to kill him.  The thugs, confident in their numbers, attacked Daneel—and were promptly butchered by the gladiator and his newfound friends.  Irryn demonstrated her prowess as a kill-stealer, finishing off thugs Daneel and Segdral had worked hard to defeat.  Dakar's massive Valgardian greatsword needed no assistance in parting the thugs' heads and limbs from their bodies.

Cleaning their weapons, the heroes were soon able to find the ship they were looking for: Captain Tinray's Screaming Manta.  Tinray had made some bad trades in Zalut and was more than happy to take the heroes' gold with no questions asked.  Unfortunately, he also thought that the Manta was fast enough to outrun the storm that bore down on the ship several hours out from Zalut . . .

Friday, March 19, 2010


Inspired by the thread "[Tuesday Challenge] Gaga for Gaga," I have gone ahead and statted up Lady Gaga as a BoL hero--see below the fold for details.  Her high "Brawl" score represents a unique martial art melding combat and dance moves.  Her "Merchant" career is based on her father's background as an Internet entrepreneur; her "Noble" career, on the entry to elite circles gained for her by her performing abilities.  The rationale for the "Unsettling" Fault should be obvious. :)

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Still Kicking

It's been thirteen days since my last post, but I've not abandoned the blog.  This Friday I'll be running BoL for my regular gaming group.  They've already playtested the game with the pregenerated heroes from the rulebook.  Now it's their first time out with their own heroes.  Stranded in Zalut, City of the Magicians, for one reason or another, each hero has received a cryptic invitation from the alchemist Radam Tyl . . .

(Expect character posts to go up over the weekend, followed by an Actual Play report.)

Thursday, March 4, 2010

A Few Words on Gary Gygax

Gary Gygax, co-creator (with Dave Arneson) of Dungeons & Dragons, passed away two years ago today.  (The image to the left is my favorite of the various tributes to him.)  I was never particularly a fan of Gary's: I got into D&D via the various Basic editions of the game, so Holmes, Moldvay, and Metzner were "my" TSR gurus.  Gary was always the obstreperous guy writing cranky editorials in the few issues of Dragon Magazine that I was able to locate and purchase during the 1980s.  In fact, the AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide, Gary's magnum opus, is the one AD&D book I've never owned.  I have vague memories of reading one of the Gord the Rogue books (going by the cover images, either Saga of Old City or Artifact of Evil)--but if I did, that novel was the only thing Gary wrote that I ever did read in its entirety.

I nevertheless want to pause and remember Gary today.  He wasn't my favorite RPG designer/writer, but I wouldn't have had all of the pleasure this hobby has given me over the last thirty years if he and Dave hadn't gone ahead with their plans to publish D&D.  My world has been richer because of Gary's presence in it, and I'm grateful to him for that.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

J. R. R. Tolkien's Thorongil (a.k.a. Aragorn II)

 I'm currently teaching Tolkien's Lord of the Rings as part of an advanced writing course entitled "Legends of Modern Fantasy," so I thought I'd pull a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup and get some Tolkien chocolate in my BoL peanut butter.  I've therefore generated a character sheet for Aragorn II.  In TA 2957, the twenty-six year old Dunadan left Rivendell and traveled the length and breadth of Middle-earth for twenty-three years.  Using the alias "Thorongil" (Sindarin for "Eagle of the Star"), Aragorn served in the armies of Thengel of Rohan and Ecthelion of Gondor.  It's at this moment in his life that he most approximates the power level of a starting hero in BoL.

As a Dunadan, Aragorn is superior in all ways to the lesser varieties of Men.  I've therefore given him scores of 1 in all four of his attributes; the broad spread reflects his abilities not only as a mighty warrior but also as a leader of men (and future king).  Combat scores are more concentrated: I see little evidence in Lord of the Rings for giving Aragorn scores in Brawl and Ranged, especially at this point in his career.  As a result, I've split his four combat points between Melee and Defense.  The four-career requirement perfectly suits Aragorn: "Noble" stems from his upbringing in Imladris; "Physician," his birthright as Isildur's Heir; "Hunter," his destiny as "the greatest traveller and huntsman of this age of the world"; and "Soldier," his brief experience so far as a mercenary in Thengel's army.  (Thorongil's prominence in Gondor's campaigns against the Corsairs of Umbar suggests that Aragorn will soon be spending some advancement points on adding "Mariner" to his list of careers.)

Note that I have not equipped Aragorn with the Shards of Narsil—in this instance, I prefer the movie Aragorn's decision to carry a normal sword beyond the confines of Rivendell.  The Boon "Isildur's Heir" is a Middle-earth variant of "Marked by the Gods"; "Master Tracker" follows the lead of the BoL version of Legends of Steel in collapsing all of the terrain-specific tracking boons into a single boon.  "Hunted by the Enemy" is lifted right from the character sheet of Pellem Pharn in the main BoL rulebook.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Character Sheet Blues

The extant English-language character sheets for BoL are serviceable, but then I look at what the French players of the game get to use, and I weep for the Anglophone world.  (That link takes you to French blogger Kobayashi's site.)  Alas, I lack all design skills to produce anything in that ballpark . . .

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Sokka of the Southern Water Tribe

The idea to stat up Sokka as a BoL hero came to me tonight when my daughter and I were watching Season 2 of Avatar.  I've represented him as he is at the end of Season 3 (just before the series finale—where he appears to lose both boomerang and "Space Sword").  At that point in his career, he is (or is about to turn) sixteen, a perfect age for a hero about to begin the adult phase of his adventurous career.

Attributes were no problem: Sokka's quirky intellect and ability to see what others fail to notice made it easy to justify a Mind of 3, and I put the other point in Agility.  Combat abilities were also fairly straightforward: Sokka's fighting skills seem to consist of an emergent talent with the sword (Melee 1), the luck not to get hit by better fighters (Defense 1), and a high level of skill with his boomerang and other thrown weapons (Ranged 2).

Careers represented the biggest challenge, but the three seasons of Avatar gave me some ideas.  As a member of the Southern Water Tribe, Sokka has an initial career of Barbarian 1, reflecting his ability to survive in the harsh conditions of the southern polar regions.  His career of Poet is largely based on the haiku contest in "Tales of Ba-Sing-Se" and on the advice he gives to his Fire Nation double in "Ember Island Players."  I've left the career rank at 0, though, since Sokka's performance abilities are more innate than trained.  Artificer 1 (coupled with his high Mind score of 3) simulates Sokka's inventive side, while Soldier 2 represents both his natural aptitude as a leader of men and his experience fighting the Fire Nation over the course of the series.

Friday, February 19, 2010


One thing about Vargold that I want to warn readers about is my propensity to tinker with posted entries until they're just right.  This is especially so in the case of fictional S&S heroes that I'm translating into BoL terms: comments from readers and further reflection will often cause me to rethink how I've statted up these heroes.  (In fact, you'll notice shortly that the Grey Mouser entry will be changing in responses to points made in this Lords of Lemuria thread about 0-rank careers representing aptitudes instead of minimal experience.)  I know that some bloggers like to leave their entries as is, but posts like the hero stats feel differently to me than other entries--they're more like gaming resources than stages in an ongoing discussion.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Gracious Grognard

Work beckons, but I wanted to take a brief moment to thank my old Internet compadre James Maliszewski for plugging Vargold on Grognardia, his amazing Old School Gaming blog.  Barbarians of Lemuria (the current RPG focus on this blog) isn't echt Old School--the game has as much in common with many more recent RPG systems as it does with those of the 1970s.  But I like to think that BoL shares the same spirit of free-wheeling fun and pulp inspiration that informs the early games of Gygax, Arneson, Barker, and St. Andre--as well as the retro-clones of the last decade.  In any event, I can't recommend Grognardia enough.  Thanks again, James!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Fritz Leiber's Grey Mouser

As was the case with my earlier post on Fafhrd, the following set of stats represents the Mouser as he appears in "Ill Met in Lankhmar."  That story makes it clear that, not only has the Mouser been in Lankhmar for some time, but that his daring thefts have begun to earn him a degree of notoriety.  (Even a hick from the sticks like Fafhrd has heard of the Mouser's exploits as the .)  So I've given him the career of "Thief" at 3, the highest possible value for a starting character.  Augmenting this career selection is one determined by the acrobatics that he displays on several occasions in the story (e.g., making the ascent to his love-nest for Ivrian early in the tale and then escaping from Thieves' House over the roofs of Lankhmar toward the end).  These stunts thus make it clear that the Mouser also has "Tumbler" at a rank of 1.  (Here I differ from the BoL rulebook assumption that "Dancer/Tumbler" is largely a woman's career.)

In "The Unholy Grail," Leiber reveals that the Mouser's first training was as a hedge wizard's apprentice.  (He was known as "Mouse" at the time.)  Although he successfully casts several spells in this story, it's clear that his magical knowledge is shallow--after all, he's not routinely casting spells in the stories that follow.  I therefore rank his "Magician" career at 0.  I have also given him "Scholar" at 0, a more future-oriented selection that reflects the Mouser's curiosity and penchant for arcane lore.  ("Bazaar of the Bizarre" is lurking behind my thinking here.)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Robert E. Howard's Conan the Cimmerian

The following set of stats represent Robert E. Howard's Conan as he appears at the start of "The Tower of the Elephant."  In this story, Conan is relatively new to Zamora and to urban civilization; I've therefore rated his "Thief" career at 0.  He gets "Blacksmith" at 0 as well; this career reflects his childhood in his father's smithy back in Cimmeria.  The "Mercenary" rank of 1 stems from his mercenary service alongside the Aesir (depicted in "The Frost-Giant's Daughter").  "Barbarian" is of course a no-brainer for Conan, clocking in at the highest possible starting rank of 3.

At this point in his life, Conan is as fast as he is mighty, so I devoted the same number of points (2) to both Strength and Agility.  Melee is his highest combat ability; I thought about making Brawl equal in value, but Conan's fight with the spider convinced me that he knows how to avoid getting hit (and thus merits a Defense score of 1).  "Country Bumpkin" is an obvious fault for the young Cimmerian; "Sneaky" reflects his natural stealthiness; "Marked by the Gods," his uncanny instincts that repeatedly save him just in the nick of time.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd

The following set of stats represents Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd as he appears at the start of "Ill Met in Lankhmar."  (As "The Circle Curse" reveals, Fafhrd and the Mouser gain a great many Advancement Points in the three years of exile following the events of "Ill Met.")  "Barbarian" is an obvious career choice.  "Minstrel" corresponds to Fafhrd's skaldic training in the Cold Wastes; it also reflects the actor's training he acquires from his brief time with Vlana.  "Pirate" has a rank of 0 because "The Snow Women" makes it clear that Fafhrd only went a-viking the one time--and spent much of it talking to Mouse.  "Thief" also has a rank of 0: it's clear from "Ill Met" that Fafhrd's thieving upon his arrival in Lankhmar mostly consists of mugging other thieves.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Tuuva the Strong

[Played by Amity]

Tuuva is from Valgard, and left her tribe for unknown, and unspoken-of, reasons.  She tried for a time to make a living as a mercenary, but she doesn't play well with others, even other warriors, and the profession didn't exactly suit her: not enough killing.  She once overheard two mercenaries talking about a visit to "the Arena," and the life of a gladiator sounded heavenly to her: a bed, ample food, and a chance to kill as many things as she wanted.  She left mercenary work immediately and headed to the gladiatorial ring.

Gladiators are only supposed to kill when they have been given the sign, and often non-fatal matches are "rigged" so that particular crowd favorites come out on top.  Unfortunately for Tuuva, once the blood-lust takes a hold of her she often can't reign herself in, and during a fight that was supposed to be "to-the-pain" only, she killed her opponent.  She then killed several guards who entered the arena to subdue her.  The Master of Games had no interest in harboring an out-of-control and obviously dangerous gladiator, so Tuuva was sold into slavery.

She was disconsolate over losing her place in the Arena, and could not understand the concept of commercial slavery: the man who had bought her was, in her eyes, weak and pitiful, and he had not beaten her in battle.  Why should she be his slave?  She had soon attacked her new master for "insulting" her, and was subsequently sentenced to death in the very ring she had once called home.

Tuuva is very tall and very muscular, with fair skin and red hair.  At first glance, she looks more like a man than a woman, but her features are handsome enough.  She is dressed in the garb of a slave, though she also wears a peculiar necklace, crafted in the style of the Northern tribes.  Not even her former master dared to try to take it from her.  She doesn't speak much, and when asked about her past, she says nothing -- but will absently caress the necklace.

Know, oh prince . . .

An introduction, however brief, is probably necessary at this point.  The immediate rationale for Vargold's existence is to serve as an archive for the Barbarians of Lemuria game I've just started running.  Thus you'll see character write-ups, monster stats, and the like as time goes by.  But I'm also going to reserve the right to occasionally use the blog as a sounding board for my thoughts on RPGing and fantasy literature as well.

A comment about the blog's name.  Vargold (ON "wolf-time") is a compound noun taken from a passage in the Völuspá, the first poem in the Poetic Edda.  Here's the passage in the 1968 translation of the poem by W. H. Auden and P. B. Taylor:
Brother shall strike brother and both fall,
Sisters' sons defiled with incest;
Evil be on earth, an age of whoredom,
Of sharp sword-play and shields clashing,
A wind-age, a wolf-age till the world ruins:
No man to another shall mercy show.
It seemed like an appropriate term to use for a sword-and-sorcery gaming blog. :)

Monday, February 8, 2010


As pointed out in the "New initiative rules in the Legendary Edition" thread on the Lords of Lemuria web forum, BoL's current initiative rule (roll 1d6, add Agility, act in descending order from highest total) seems out of place when compared to the usual model for tests in the game (roll 2d6, add attribute, add career if applicable, check for Mighty Successes and Calamitous Failures).

We'll therefore be using a variant of one of the house rules suggested in that thread.  Heroes and NPCs will check initiative at the start of combat; their results will stand for the duration of the battle (unless something in the fiction of the game happens to necessitate a new initiative check).  Each participant (or group of participants in the case of NPCs and creatures) will roll 2d6, add Agility, and see if the result beats the standard target number of 9.  (A player can ask to apply a relevant career bonus to this roll; however, if the bonus is granted, that career cannot be utilized again in the ensuing combat.)  Results should be read as follows:

Calamitous Failure = Unable to act in the first round of the combat; thereafter always goes last.

Failure = Acts in descending order of total result after all successes have gone.

Success = Acts in descending order of total result after any Mighty and/or Legendary Successes have gone but before any failures may go.

Mighty Success = Gains an extra action in the first round of the combat; thereafter always goes first (unless someone spends a Hero Point/Villain Point to gain a Legendary Success).

Legendary Success = Gains two extra actions in the first round of the combat; thereafter always goes first.

The extra actions for Mighty and Legendary Successes represent "getting the jump" on the rest of the combatants.  Ties are broken according to the rules provided on p. 36 of the Legendary Edition (but Mighty Success and Legendary Success totals always trump regular successes, even if the regular success total is numerically higher).

Quaris the Fallen

[Played by Rob]

Quaris is the last scion of a once mighty Satarlan noble house.  His father spent the last of the family fortune to buy his son a lieutenant's commission in the city's Sky Navy.  The money was well-spent: Quaris swiftly rose through the ranks, earning the captaincy of his own boat before he was thirty years old.    Unfortunately, success breeds envy, and the young sky pilot soon came into conflict with a brace of jealous officers with even bluer blood.  They framed Quaris for bribery, costing him his career and his freedom.  Sentenced to hard labor in Sartarla's allanium mines, the fallen officer fought for and won a place amongst the other convicts.  One of the prisoners taught him the basics of thievery, skills that made possible Quaris's escape from the mines.  He returned to Satarla, hoping to expose those who betrayed him, but was soon recaptured and sentenced to death by combat in the city's arena.  There he and his cellmates—Tuuva the Valgardian shield-maiden and Vanuth the Satarlan hustler—defeated a mighty jemadar man-eater and escaped in a sky boat piloted by a mysterious sorcerer . . .