Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Grit & Vigor: Pulp Age Concepts

Grit & Vigor is the up-and-coming RPG from the fevered mind of John Stater (aka the "Blood and Treasure guy"). It is an adventure game that draws on the literature of Kipling, Conan-Doyle, George MacDonald Fraser, Robert E Howard, Verne, Burroughs and their ilk. It's about larger than life men going on adventures in search of money, power and freedom.
The game system will be compatible with Blood and Treasure, but will have its own flavor. The game focusses around the many tales of adventure from the last two centuries, from cowboys to super-spies and pioneers of SCIENCE! Character creation promises to be very interesting, with the process including the characters earlier life, education and assorted oddbits relating to his journey to becoming an adventurer.
In preparation of this coming game, I have decided to begin tinkering with a campaign setting for this game. The setting will be one that incorporates elements of my favorite stories from and set in the years leading up to The Great War (WWI). I plan on incorporating both historic fact, and fiction; including scientific romances, tall tales, and pulp tales into the mix.

The setting will be in 1910, a time of great upheaval in the world. Even more so when adding the strange events of the pulp world. Below is a brief timeline for starters. All the events in this timeline will be in living memory of most folks, with the effects of certain events featuring mightily.

1880 - The First Boer War.
1881 - Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson move into 221B Baker Street. [A Study in Scarlet]
1883 - Frank Reade Jr. builds his first electric helicopter airship. [The Clipper of the Clouds]
1885 - Dr. Jekyll creates a formula to isolate evil. [The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde]
1886 - Robur attempts to conquer the world with his flying fortress, The Albatross. [Robur the Conqueror]
1891 - Sherlock Holmes apparently killed in confrontation with Prof. Moriarty at Reichenbach Falls. [The Final Problem]
------ Russian occultist Helena Petrovna Blavatsky dies.
------ Dr. Moreau begins performing terrible experiments Noble's Isle. [The Island of Doctor Moreau]
1894 - England begins construction of a fleet of airships to combat future flying foes.
1895 - The Financial Times announces its Race For The Moon contest with a prize of 5 Million Guineas to whoever can visit the Moon and return with proof of their visit by December 31st 1900.
1896 - Wilhelm Röntgen's discovers X-rays and X-ray imaging (radiography).
1897 - England fends off an invasion by France and Russia with the help of Germany. [The Great War in England in 1897]
------ Lord Dracula comes to England aboard the Demeter and is hunted down by Dr. Van Helsing's band and apparently slain. [Dracula]
1898 - The Spanish-American War.
------ The Boxer Rebellion in China.
------ Martians invade the earth. [War of the Worlds]
1899 - Beginning of the Second Boer War in Africa.
------ Nikola Tesla begins his high-voltage, high-frequency experiments in Colorado Springs.
1901 - Bedford and Cavor build a ship out of cavorite and travel to the moon, encountering the insectoid selenites. [The First Men in the Moon]
------ The first Land Ironclads are employed in the Second Boer War. [The Land Ironclads].
1902 - End of the Second Boer War in Africa.
------ The Gun Club of Baltimore builds the giant Columbiad Cannon in Florida to launch a projectile to the moon with explorers Michel Ardan, Impey Barbicane & Captain Nicholl. [From the Earth to the Moon]
1903 - The Wright brothers make the first sustained human flight in an Aeroplane.
1908 - Summer Olympics are held in London.
------ Frederick Cook claims to have reached the North Pole. Returns with tales of an inner world that includes prehistoric mammals and temperate climate.
------ Tunguska event or "Russian explosion" in Siberia. Believed to have been caused by the air burst of a large meteoroid or comet fragment at an altitude of 5–10 kilometres (3–6 mi) above the Earth's surface.
1909 - Einar Dessau uses a short-wave radio transmitter, becoming the first radio broadcaster.
------ Sultan of the Ottoman Empire Abdul Hamid II is overthrown and succeeded by, Mehmed V.
------ Serbia accepts Austrian control over Bosnia and Herzegovina.
------ The United Lodge of Theosophists, or ULT, is founded by Robert Crosbie.
1910 - Present year (game time).
------ ???

More to come...

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

House on Troll Hill

Good news! Donita K. Paul and Aaron Siddall (me) have published a book! House on Troll Hill is an excellent reading aid as well as a fun story for the young and young at heart.
Here is the official press release:



Available at  Amazon book sales

A reasonably priced, much-needed addition to books for beginning readers.  House on Troll Hill presents just the right content to seize a reluctant reader’s attention and motivate him to push forward.

When a young reader chooses a book, he picks up something that won’t make him look silly among his classmates. Puppies and kitties, turtles and fish, drawn with an eye for cutesy and color, give off the aura of “baby books.” It’s no fun to struggle through reading while your friends snicker. An appealing book does not advertise its low level.

House on Troll Hill looks sophisticated. As it engages the child with a fun tale and intriguing pictures, it also provides reading practice. Complex sentences challenge the reader. Quick, snappy sentences reward his persistence and offer incentive to “read on.”

The combination of story by bestselling fantasy author, Donita K.Paul, and illustrations by master of line art, Aaron Siddall, gives parents and teachers a book to put in the hands of reluctant readers.


So come on by and get a copy! THis book is a perfect gift for kids and other reluctant readers.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Nine Worlds: Arcane Magic

Besides being king of the Aesir, Odin is credited as the inventor of runes, the earliest alphabet used by by the humans of the Nine Worlds. However even he gained this knowledge by stealing and cheating it from the Jotun, in whose veins the art of wizardry flows naturally.
Just as wisdom can only be obtained at the cost of sacrifice, Odin himself relates that he hung nine days and nights from the sacred tree Yggdrasil, gazing down into the chilling depths of Nifleheim, plunged in deep thought, and self-wounded with his spear, ere he won the knowledge he sought.
When he had fully mastered this knowledge, Odin cut magic runes upon his spear Gungnir, upon the teeth of his horse Sleipnir, upon the claws of the bear, and upon countless other animate and inanimate things. And because he had thus hung over the abyss for such a long space of time, he was ever after considered the patron of all who are condemned to be hanged or who perish by the noose.
Arcane magic is the most potent of magical crafts in the Nine Worlds, being concerned primarily with altering the true nature of a thing. Such terrible magic always comes at a price, as the Norns and the gods watch such practitioners closely as he or she gathers greater might. A powerful enough mage can call and dispel mighty storms, travel the underworld and lay waste to nearly any mortal foe, if he or she dares to use this power.

Bardic Craft
“At home let a man be cheerful, And toward a guest liberal; Of wise conduct he should be, Of good memory and ready speech; If much knowledge he desires, He must often talk on what is good.”
-Hávamál (High Song)

The Bards of the Nine Worlds are the holders of the ancient tales and living records of the law. Many bards work largely as law-speakers and the Althing, as well as working in their standard role as musicians and storytellers. A bard of any skill need never go hungry, or go without a roof over his or her head in the Nine Worlds. It is considered terrible bad luck for a noble to turn away a traveling bard, both for his magic, and for the gossip he might spread.
Bards are the most loved spellcasters, arcane or divine, in the Nine Worlds. Their music and wisdom lighten a grim life and long winters, and their magics are generally helpful. The power of riddles, names and music are greatly respected by all peoples. Still, magic is magic, and bards are still feared for the power of their craft, both in magic and in the rumors that they can spread. Most nobles prefer to have bards as close advisors and court magicians rather than sorcerers or wizards.
Bards are most common amongst men and half-elves, with elves as a close second. Trolde respect and admire bards, but have few amongst their number. Dwarves despise music for the most part, and though words and chanting is appreciated, they prefer wizardry over bards.
Instruments: Harps, bone flutes, horns and drums are the most common instruments in the Nine Worlds.

“On to the Brocken the witches are flocking— Merry meet—merry part—how they gallop and drive, Yellow stubble and stalk are rocking, And young green corn is merry alive, With the shapes and shadows swimming by. To the highest heights they fly, Where Sir Urian sits on high— Throughout and about, With clamour and shout, Drives the maddening rout, Over stock, over stone; Shriek, laughter, and moan, Before them are blown.”
-Goethe’s Faust

Sorcery can be found primarily amongst the illiterate villages and peoples in the Nine Worlds, and involves the gathering of personal, vital energies to power spells. Practitioners can become knowledgeable in Runes, but this is not necessary for this craft. This magic is very powerful in its own right, as it does not require magical training, books or specialized lore.
Sorcery is considered "womans magic" in the Nine Worlds with male practitioners of sorcery are seen as sexually perverse, and are despised by the majority. Such "Ergi" can be hunted and killed like an animal, having no legal rights. Few women protest this restriction, as they prefer to practice their own craft untroubled.
Sorcerers can be found amongst all of the races, with only humans attaching sexual restrictions on the class. Both sexes of elves pursue this magic in near total exclusion of the Magic User class, however as elves are seen as sexual indistinct, this is no surprise.

Magic Users (Wizardry)
“Through our whole lives we strive towards the sun; That burning forehead is the eye of Odin. His second eye, the moon, shines not so bright; It has he placed in pledge in Mimer’s fountain, That he may fetch the healing waters thence, Each morning, for the strengthening of this eye.”

Wizardry in the Nine Worlds is primarily the study of the laws of Destiny, Words and Runes. This lore, wrested from the Jotun by Odin is a mighty and deadly tool that can elevate the wise to positions of great power, or cast the foolish into dread-filled horror. There is no room for cowards or half-measures in the art.
Most wizards in the Nine Worlds keep to themselves, seeking out their magic in isolated keeps or in hidden caves, well fortified against intruders. A few gather into small groups, like Raven warrior society, to pool their lore and resources, allowing them some protection and far greater research potential.
Wizardry is seen as a masculine pursuit, with women pursuing this craft believed to be seeking to use this greater magic to usurp the rightful reign of men. Women found pursuing this magic are greatly feared and can quickly find themselves accused and condemned of evil practices. Such "spaewives" are seen as not entirely human anymore, and thus have few rights under the law.
Wizards can be found amongst all of the mortal races though humans half-elves and dwarves (diviners) form the majority. Elves prefer sorcery and the Trolde prefer divine magic. Of the schools to specialize in, divination is by far the most popular school to specialize with Enchantment and Illusion as close seconds. Necromancy is seen as evil, and likely to bring the emnity of the gods. Other specialist exist, but are rare. Flashy spells are used, but scare both sides of a fight and so are not encouraged.
Language and Literacy: The written word is extremely important to wizards, as their magic is from a written form. All written language in the Nine Worlds is derived from the ancient Jotun, and later races such as the Aesir, Dwarves and the earliest of men. See the Language and Literacy section for details.

Cromlech (Sacred Sites)
Cromlech (a Vanir word for flagstone) are ancient markers or places where the boundaries between worlds grows thin, and energies from those other worlds seep through. These sites are always made of stone, though the form and type differs depending upon the stone itself.
Effect: Depending on the nature of the Cromlech, certain schools of magic are maximized (as-per the feat) when such spells are cast on or near the megalith.
Cromlech are very rarely unattended, whether by spellcasters, humanoid worshipers, fey, outsiders, undead or elementals. The kinds of such guardians should give an indication of the sort of Cromlech it is. Powerful beings of these sorts will often build near or on top of a Cromlech, so as to gain full control over its benefits.

This campaign setting uses the Blood and Treasure RPG rules. Its a melding of Old School gaming and the newer, smoother-running games rules. Its a game that is fairly rules light, but has just enough crunch to satisfy my gaming appetite. All the cool kids are doing it.

Nine Worlds: Everyday Magic

People in the Nine Worlds make use of many small magic’s in their daily lives, leaving the greater workings to gods, clerics and wizards. This is largely evident in the daily rituals and practices observed in nearly every home, farm and household. To survive in the chaotic and often hostile environment of the Nine Worlds, people take part in a number of simple magical practices. Many of them involve no more than simple offerings of respect to local spirits (fey, outsiders of elementals), while others are more complex and even dangerous.

The Adept NPC Class
"No one alive could talk as well as he did
On points of Medicine and of surgery,
For being grounded in astronomy,
He watched his patient’s favorable star
And by his Natural Magic knew what are
The lucky hours and planetary degrees
For making charms and effigies."
-Chaucer, “Doctor of Physic.”
Adepts, skillymen, witches, cunning folk, herb folk, whatever they are called, these NPC spellcasters can be found all over the Nine Worlds practicing their trade in “small” but useful magics. Adepts work as bone-setters, midwives, leeches, veterinarians and potion makers. The large majority of spellcasting servants of the gods will in-fact be Adepts rather than Clerics or Druids, and will always have an excellent grasp of the local political and spiritual environment.
The magic practiced by the Adept is considered good and helpful magic for the most part (though evil Adepts certainly exist). Theirs is the way of folk remedies, luck and dealing with the fickle spirits of field, crop, water and weather, and not the great and terrible magic of wizards or clerics. Adepts tend to be straight talking folk with attitudes and dress similar to that of any other craftsfolk in their community.
Most adepts are Humans or Trolde. Dwarves prefer Diviners, and Elves and Half Elves are far more likely to have full Vanir Clerics. Trolde adepts are almost always male, as female Trolde spellcasters are almost always Druids.

Ceremonies and Rituals
A great many rituals fill the day to day lives of mortals in the Nine Worlds. Many, like marriages and harvests, are mostly parties and an excuse to celebrate lifes small joys. Others are far more sombre affairs, requiring magical rites to perform. Some are detailed below.
Blood Oaths: Blood oaths are when two persons seal an oath or bond with the mingling of their blood. This process is a sacred one to the gods (Aesir, Vanir and Jotun), and is never entered into lightly. This ritual requires that a spellcaster able to cast 3rd level divine spells preside over the event. Once struck, if one of the participants breaks his oath, he of she immediately falls under the effects of a bestow curse spell. The duration of this spell is permanent and cannot be dispelled unless restitution is made towards the offended party.
Burial: Ceremonies for the recently departed are enormously important in the Nine Worlds. For if a dead man or woman is left to rot, he or she is likely to become an undead spirit or walking corpse of some kind. Burial rites require a divine spellcaster capable of casting at least 2nd level spells to send the dead on to their destinations.
Curses: Jelousy and malice sometimes inspire men to use wicked magic against others. Curses of all sorts are used by people all over the Nine Worlds, though it is considered a cowardly and dishonorable practice. Though use of the spell bestow curse is the most effective, non spellcasters can use several small rituals to bring the attention of malicious spirits against an enemy. This usually involves making offerings of blood, burnt hair or other materials (taken from the person to be cursed) given to the spirit. The spirit will become negatively disposed towards the victim, and will often seek to do him or harm. This is considered an evil act, and can carry the punishment of torture unto death at the Althing.
Sacrifice: Sacrificial offering to the gods are common occurrences at feast days or before battle. Such rituals are usually symbolic and meant to flatter and cajole a spirit or god in particular so as to gain its favor and goodwill. Other sacrifices actually enhance spellcasting power based on the type and quality of the victim (GMs discretion).

"Ring around the rosey,
Pocket full of posies.
Upstairs, downstairs.
We all fall down."
-Ring a Ring o' Roses
Disease in the Nine Worlds is caused by curses, spirits, rats, spiders and worms. Spiders are known to carry disease in their bites and that worms can appear in flesh, teeth and bones at any time (spontaneous generation). Treating these ailments require the aid of those skilled in herbs, alchemy and magic. Worms must be driven or pulled out, rats killed and spiders and evil magic driven away. DM's (Gamemasters, Treasure Keepers etc) are encouraged to invent their own foul ailments to bedevil PC's.
Magical Healing: Though a great many spells exist that can combat or even cure diseases, the services of spellcasters is not cheap, particularly regarding more potent spells. Local adepts will often work under a barter system with local farmers and craftsfolk so that healing services can be purchased even by the poor.
Plague: Outbreaks of disease can encompass whole families, villages, towns of even countries, threatening the lives (and souls) off everyone that comes near. In game terms, merely resisting the initial infection of a disease is not enough. Characters dwelling or adventuring near an outbreak of a disease must make saving throws for every hour of exposure.
Undeath: Undead are commonly created from disease, particularly zombies, ghosts, spectres and wraiths. Ghouls and Ghasts often become quite bold when disease is about, as such diseased flesh is often quite tasty (seasoned as they put it), and will often create more of their kind from those not yet dead from such disease. Corporeal undead and flesh golems can carry any disease, carrying the threat of infection to anyone they touch, speak to or who comes into contact with their flesh of fluids. Skeletons have no flesh, and thus rarely carry disease (waterlogged skeletons being the exception).

"Sure-hoofed is my steed in the day of battle: The high sprigs of alder are on thy hand: Bran by the branch thou bearest Has Amathaon the good prevailed."
-Cad Goddeu (the Battle of the Trees)
Druids, Sorcerers, Wizards and NPC Adepts are regularly approached as healers and midwives. As-such, knowledge in Nine Worlds healing and herbalism is very important. Gathering and using these herbs is considered a magical, mysterious art, and those who do so are seen as at least part magician, but are much appreciated for their skill. Some herbs commonly found in a herbalists garden are as follows:
Apple Blossoms (Silver Bough, Tree of Love, Fruit of the Gods): Apple blossoms are sacred to many fey and lesser gods, and is thought to represent a passage into underworld. Used to treat diseases brought by the touch of the undead and as a potent aphrodisiac.
System: Apple Blossom medicines grant a +2 to Fort saves to resist necromantic touch attacks such as ghoul touch, ghoul/ghast paralysis and the like. Apple blossoms are indeed a potent aphrodisiac, taken by men and women.
Basil (Witches Herb, Aethiope, Dittany): Basil is commonly strewn on floors to purify a home, and is used to establish harmony. Basil grows in great abundance in warmer lands, and is used as a seasoning in many tasty foods.
System: Use of basil by a spellcaster grants a +2 enhancement bonus to Decipher Script and Scry checks. Dried Basil leaves will become scorpions if left on the floor overnight.
Catnip (Catmint, Cat's Wort, Nepeta): Catnip is used in the making of love potions, and is adored by cats and cat monsters.
System: Potions of catnip cause all cats and catlike monsters (including outsiders) and women to view the character as attractive and pleasant company. Initial encounters are always begun at friendly, and all attempts at befriending cats gain a +2 enhancement bonus.
Chamomile (Ground apple, Whig plant, Maythen, Ostar Camomile): Chamomile is used for purification and protection, and can be used in incenses for sleep and meditation.
System: Chamomile medicines grant a +2 to Will saves to resist enchantment effects. It also grants deep sleep when taken before bedtime.
Hyssop (Yssop): Hyssop is used in the cleansing sacred places, cleans corrupting flesh, dispels negative (undead) energies. This herb is also repulsive to incorporeal undead.
System: Hyssop potions cause incorporeal undead (ghosts, spectres, etc) to become Sickened (see page 50 of the Blood and Treasure Players Guide).
Lavender (Asarum, Nardus, Elf-leaf): Lavender is used to treat epilepsy and other disorders of the brain. Used to clean sickrooms and to sweeten the air of wealthy homes.
System: Characters treated with Lavender regain WIS damage at a rate of 2 point per day of rest (light activity, no combat or spellcasting). Complete bed rest restores 4 points per day.
Peppermint (Lammint, Brandy mint): Peppermint is used in healing, purification, and the freshening of foul places. Peppermint grows wild in many regions, and is used in many sorts of tasty foods as well as medicine.
System: Peppermint potions cause corporeal undead (ghouls, zombies etc) to become Sickened (see page 50 of the Blood and Treasure Players Guide).
Rosemary (Compass weed, Polar plant): Rosemary is used in the strengthening the memory and helping the brain. Rosemary is also associated with the fidelity of lovers, and is presented to wedding guests as a gift.
System: Characters treated with Rosemary regain INT damage at a rate of 2 point per day of rest (light activity, no combat or spellcasting). Complete bed rest restores 4 points per day.
Sage (Garden sage): Sage is used as a treatment for ulcers, sores, urination issues and hair regrowth. Sage is also used to increase wisdom and mental acuity.
System: Potions of sage grant a spellcaster a +2 to Concentration checks while casting a spell. Sage treatments also grant a +2 to Fort saves to resist diseases of the bladder, and infections.
Thyme (Common thyme, garden thyme): Thyme is used as an antiseptic, for mummification, healing and to bring about restful sleep. Women who wear thyme on their person are irresistible to men, enhancing the scent of female sexuality.
System: Use of thyme on a patient regains subdual damage at a rate of 2 hit point per hour per character level. Women using thyme gain a +2 enhancement bonus to Trickery checks when dealing with men.
Tobacco Leaf: Tobacco is used to treat muscle spasms, and is beloved by many spirit beings. Smoking of tobacco is widespread throughout the Nine Worlds, with an assortment of specialized blends.
System: Offerings of tobacco grants a user a +2 enhancement bonus to Diplomacy checks when dealing with Air Elementals, Water Elements and Fey. Smoking tobacco grants a +2 to saves to resist fear and paralysis effects.
Valerian (All-heal, Heliotrope, Amantilla, Setwall): Valerian is used for treating menstrual cramps, blood loss, and other physically draining diseases. Valerian is also used as an aphrodisiac.
System: Characters treated with Valerian regain CON damage at a rate of 2 point per day of rest (light activity, no combat or spellcasting). Complete bed rest restores 4 points per day.
Yarrow (Arrowroot, Achillea, Lady's Mantle, Woundwort): Yarrow is uses as an anti-depressant, for healing, and to resist fear effects.
System: If a patient is treated with Yarrow and undergoes complete bed rest (doing nothing for an entire day), the character recovers two times the character's character level in hit points.

This campaign setting uses the Blood and Treasure RPG rules. Its a melding of Old School gaming and the newer, smoother-running games rules. Its a game that is fairly rules light, but has just enough crunch to satisfy my gaming appetite. All the cool kids are doing it.

I saw Eternity the other night,
Like a great ring of pure and endless light
-- Henry Vaughan