Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Dragon #1 part 1

Today I move on from Supplement III, and tackle the premiere issue of The Dragon. Formerly known as The Strategic Review, this magazine is now twice as big and a whole lot more fancy. The content isn't particularly different at this stage, but there's an air of professionalism about the thing that wasn't their in the previous incarnation. TSR is moving up in the world!

First up, the articles that have no bearing on my D&D campaign. Fafhrd and the Mouser Say Their Say has Fritz Leiber talking about a lot of Nehwon material, with some amusing repartee from both characters thrown in. Though I doubt I'll need it, I should still make a note to check back on this article for info once the Lankhmar supplements are released for D&D. Dragon Rumbles and In the Cauldron are the standard 'welcome to the magazine, this is what we're doing' material. The Battle of Five Armies in Miniature show how to convert the game based on that battle into a Chainmail scenario. Wargaming World and GenCon Update are the usual con-related stuff. The Search for the Forbidden Chamber is a short story that is undeniably D&D but also far too satirical and rooted in 1970s culture for me to even consider it. Len Lakofka's Miniature Rules are exactly that, an alternative system to Chainmail for resolving large-scale fantasy battles. As I have Chainmail, this isn't necessary for me. Hobbits and Thieves in Dungeon provides two new characters for that particular boardgame. Royal Armies of the Hyborian Age gives the stats for a number of minor nations that didn't make it into that game. There are also reviews for a number of games, such as Classic Warfare, Citadel, and White Bear and Red Moon.

One thing you might have noticed above is that I'm excluding a number of things that could plausibly be integrated into a D&D campaign. That's because the material in The Dragon feels much more optional than that in The Strategic Review. A good deal of the former seems to be coming from freelancers, while the latter was almost exclusively Gary and his pals. And now, to the D&D!

HOW TO USE NON-PRIME-REQUISITE CHARACTER ATTRIBUTES: This article provides a system for mechanical resolution for stuff that isn't in the rules. So if your Fighter wants to move a boulder or jump over a pit or something, these rules come into play. It's a pretty simple system, but it has perhaps too many steps to flow well at the table.

Basically, you roll percentile dice and add the relevant ability score as well as your level. Looking on the chart shows you what die to roll next, with a higher result getting you a bigger die. Then you roll the die type shown on the chart, multiply the result by the same ability score, and you have a percentage chance for success. It works in an inconsistent sort of way, but three rolls to resolve one action is a little much. I'll be using this system until something better comes along, and the good old catch-all explanation of guild training will cover its introduction.

Further into the article we get some examples of what exactly these rolls can be used for. One such use is to discover the proper method of operating all mechanical and magical devices. Does this include magical items? I am thinking that it should, given that the game has few other methods of identifying them at the moment besides trial and error.

Another example given is for duplicating Thief skills such as Pick Locks. This one also seems fair enough, and is restricted to a straight percentile roll against the character's ability score. Sure, it makes the Thief a little less special, but it also ensures he won't be overshadowed in his own arena. (Although there is the potential for a low-level character with high Dexterity to perform better than the Thief.)

This system also gives PCs a chance to use magical items not normally permitted to their class. In this case the percentile roll required is the relevant ability score divided by 4. I like the way that this rule expands character options while making the chances of success small enough that it won't be abused.

One other tidbit from the article that I'll be using is the sample PC, Grod. Grod is a 4th level Fighting-Man with the following ability scores: Str 17, Int 9, Wis 5, Con 14, Dex 14, and Cha 12. I will have him as a member of the guild, and a frequent adventurer in Castle Greyhawk.

MAGIC AND SCIENCE: ARE THEY COMPATIBLE IN D&D? In this article, Jim Ward puts forth the notion that magic and science are not mutally exclusive in D&D. I've been opposed to this viewpoint in the past, but the more I delve into the old-school material the more I appreciate mixing sci-fi and fantasy. The majority of the article goes on to present a race of technologically advanced beings, and I'm definitely going to hide these guys away in the World of Greyhawk somewhere.

The first thing to note is that they live on the island of Atlantis. Atlantis has been mentioned previously as an underwater city full of fabulous treasure, and there's no reason I can't incorporate the two. The beings are known as the Artificers, and they have a whole lot of technology specifically designed to counter magic. The first of these is a pistol that fires various coloured pellets, each with a specific effect. These range from disintegration, to draining magical items, to the equivalent of the maze spell. They also possess Blue Spheres, which are round flying robots that float near their masters and fire rays to help them. Some rays harm the enemy, while others are beneficial to the Artificer, such as the healing ray.

The Artificers also have a 'mighty offensive and defensive analogic computer'. It's able to analyze and counteract any spell, and it can also scan PCs to determine exactly how many hit points they have. This is pretty nasty stuff, as the computer can then generate a beam that deals exactly twice as much damage as the target has hit points. But like all good fictional computers, you can defeat this thing with logic, Captain Kirk style.

So yeah, I'll have the Artificers living underwater in Atlantis, once an island and now a sunken city. There will be plenty of treasure there, but the Artificers will be tough nuts to crack should the PCs go there.

LANGUAGES, or Could You Repeat That in Auld Wormish? This is an article about languages, quite obviously. It begins by recapping what the rules say about languages, and so far as I can tell it gets things right. Then it goes off to explore various aspects and possibilities of the rules as written.

The first is alignment languages. The writer brings up the notion that characters can learn and speak opposing alignment languages, albeit with difficulty. I had previously posited that these languages were passed down by the Gods, and impossible to comprehend by those of opposite ideals and mindsets. I suppose with the recent alignment splintering caused by the addition of the Good-Evil axis we can suppose that this rule is now being bent. From this point forward anyone can learn any alignment language, but they will have less chance of understanding theose of opposing alignments.

The question is raised of what beings exactly have languages of their own. Animals and plants are said to, probably because there are spells that allow communication with them. Inanimate objects are ruled out, which suits me very well. Even the possibility of talking to bacteria is raised, but I will rule this out as well on the grounds that mindless things cannot be conversed with. The rule of thumb here is that if an item or spell allows you to talk with something, then it has its own languages. As far as plants go I will allow characters to take plant languages. Plants will have a low level of sentience that is gradually fading, and will shortly be gone altogether.

While each species will have its own languages, there are also group languages that certain types of animals all speak. Equine is one example, understood by all horse-like beings, and Canine is the same for dogs. Cavemen speak Cavish. There is also Auld Wormish, the language of ancient dragons. The Great Tongue is the group language spoken by all giants. Lycanthropes are given a greater chance to understand Common than before, which makes sense given that they mostly come from human stock.

The writer then talks about a rule which would allow characters to forget one language and acquire a new one upon gaining a level. I'm not too fond of this, but I may allow it as a magical process the character can undertake if he so wishes. For pay, of course...

Finally the article discusses the possibility that humans will speak more than Common, that each nationality will have its own language. I'm certainly open to this, but I'm going to leave it open for the moment. Further reading about the World of Greyhawk should answer this in time.

Next: The Bulette! The Wilderness! Illusionist Additions! The Gnome Cache! And... Eldar?!?

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