Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Ultimate Sandbox: Supplement III - Eldritch Wizardry part 1

This is the third supplement for OD&D, and in some ways it is the most intriguing. It's certainly patchy, much like Supplement II, but the quality here is higher. What really stands out is the pulpy atmosphere, right down to the cover featuring a naked woman on a sacrificial altar. Demons? Druids? Psionics? It's a mix of D&D's most interesting and most maligned, but fascinating nonetheless.

The foreword gives an interesting snapshot of the game from this era – already the authors believed that things had become too predictable, with the players having too much access to the existing rules. Much of this supplement was supposedly designed to remedy this problem. Sure, it could all be ad copy, but it sounds plausible enough.

Psionics: The book begins with a short bit about psionics, and which characters can qualify for it. Those eligible are Fighters, Magic-Users, Clerics and Thieves, which is pretty much everybody. The question this raises is whether the various sub-classes like rangers and paladins also qualify. For the moment I say no – they get enough advantages as it is. Monks and Druids are specifically prohibited, which is fine by me. Psionic character also must be human, another balancing factor. Though given that humans already have unlimited level advancement, it seems like they're well overpowered by now.

Psionic fighters are said to have the powers of yoga, which any player of Street Fighter 2 will know makes them intrinsically awesome. The trade off is that the fighter must give up followers and Strength points for psionic power.

A psionic magic-user has to lose the ability to memorise one spell per day for every psionic power he acquires. A pretty good balancing factor, all told.

Psionic clerics are penalised in the same way as magic-users, and the also become less potent at turning undead. That last one warms the cockles of my DM heart, but as a player I don't think I'd want to risk it.

Thieves practise psionic yoga as well, and suffer the same penalties as fighters. In addition, they trade their powers for Dexterity.

So how do you figure out if your character is psionic? If you have an Intelligence, Wisdom or Charisma of 15 or more, you can check for psionic ability, with a 10% chance for success. If your character has psionic ability, you then roll on a chart for psychic potential, and this gives you a cumulative chance for each level gained that you will develop a specific power. Also, if you gain a power there's a smaller chance you'll immediately sprout another one. The accumulation of powers looks like it could get out of hand here, but at least they're selected at random. It still looks like a potential game-breaker to me, but I won't know until I've played it I guess.

So where do psionics come from in my game? If characters start spontaneously developing powers when none had done so before, then some outside force must be influencing things. The mind flayers seem like a possible way to explain things, as they are the first psionic beings introduced into the game. It may be that their recent forays to the surface have awakened the dark dreams and nightmares within the minds of man, unlocking the potential for some ultra-sensitive minds. That's what I'll go with for now, unless a better explanation presents itself.

Next: Druids

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

The Ultimate Sandbox: The Strategic Review #7 Part 4

Yes, yes, I know. It's been a long time. I'm back again, but I promise nothing – I can't guarantee a regular schedule because I'm naturally lazy and unmotivated. But for the moment, here's another entry, and hopefully there will be more pretty soon.


This is our first taste of Empire of the Petal Throne, in the form of a number of missives sent to the Emperor to be bound in The Book if Mighty Imperial Deeds of the Great and Glorious Petal Throne (and say what you will about the setting, the names are always superb). What it amounts to is a whole bunch of plot hooks that I can spin out should my PCs ever make it into Tekumel.

Here are some examples:

There's a road east of Urmish, heading south, that appears on no maps. A priest tried to explore it, but he and his men were stuck by a malaise, and the countryside was dark and sere. The priest turned back without solving the mystery.

The Emperor's son has travelled to Chene Ho, and has been meeting with Lord Eselne for unknown reasons. Along the way he was attacked by monstrous Serudla, beasts that rarely venture into that area. Also, a Mu'ugalavyani spy was caught in the area, but killed himself before he could be questioned. Whether these events are connected in as yet unknown. (And yeah, there's a lot of unexplained stuff in this article, like names and creatures and countries. It's not too hard to figure out the broad strokes, but without the actual EPT game the specifics are vague.)

There's general unrest between the Priests of Good and the Priests of Evil, with a few violent incidents throughout the Empire. In one town, worship of the Goddess of the Pale Bone has been revived. (And man, that's a frickin' awesome name. Also, it seems that Good and Evil are held in equal esteem by the Empire, which is an odd set-up for a fantasy world. It's intriguing, I'll give it that.)

The empire's forces won in ritual combat against the armies of the Baron of Yan Kor. EPT has a whole thing with ritual combat, where two forces fight but must observe all sorts of arcane and obscure rules. Again, it's an intriguing touch.

A priest in Jakalla discovered a sort of subway train while exploring the labyrinth below the city, and rode it to a strange city where he was attacked by a tentacled robot. He made it back to Jakalla with another more docile robot that is now kept in the temple.

A further missive details later explorations of this area, which is infested with the deadly Ssu, who sound pretty badass. They have colour variations, and here a new variety has been discovered – Black. They are rumoured to possess 'one of the Ten Keys to the Gates which Imprison Sleeping Ksarul, the Doomed Prince of the Blue Room...'

Another army from Yan Kor raided the empire, and this time they won. The Emperor gives orders to send another force to challenge them.

The Governor of Jakalla is being held under house arrest, due to his interest in the Royalist party, but the situation is causing a whole lot of unrest from various factions. The Emperor replies with orders to promote the Governor to command of a legion and send him out to do battle with Yan Kor – hoping he won't survive the experience no doubt.

Under the city of Chochi, there has been discovered a labyrinth that sounds totally awesome. It contains 'a crystal tomb chamber which appears to shift between planes and which cannot be approached save with powerful magics. There are also catacombs of old, with the bodies of ancient priests buried in great panoply. The most intrepid party reached a level which contained the spoor of the dreaded Ssu, and there they found a river which rushed away into blackness. An inscription in Llyani spoke of this leading downwards to the Halls of Tenebrous Visitations and to a city older than time, inhabited by a principle so inimical to all life that the word “evil” cannot encompass the concept. The explorers fled upon the approach of a great snuffing beastly thing, the like of which has not been seen aforetimes. The place is rich in treasure and in items of usage, but it dangers are greater than any labyrinth thus explored within your Empire.' Pretty evocative stuff.

Someone has tried to assassinate the Emperor's daughter, and the prime suspect is Fu Hsi, a servant of the Baron of Yan Kor who is suspected of being some kind of ancient being. The attack was thwarted by a priest, and the princess has shacked up with him – has she been ensorcelled? And is Fu Hsi the real culprit?

Fu Hsi is spotted in the empire, possibly trying to gain vengeance for the loss of the Baron's forces. Traces of a drug named Zu'ur have also been traced there.

A priest has discovered Zu'ur being smuggled into the empire via underground rivers by the mighty and terrible Hlyss.

And that's that. It's an eclectic set of plot hooks, and suggests a complex campaign setting full of political intrigue and totally kickass dungeons. I'm not really sure how to extrapolate any of this stuff just yet – I'll need to track down a copy of Empire of the Petal Throne before I can do that. But just on the strength of this one article I already feel like I could wing a pretty decent couple of adventures in something vaguely resembling Tekumel.

NEXT: I start on Supplement III: Eldritch Wizardry