Sunday, 29 July 2012

My Fighting Monks are Benders... discuss


An Earth style mage using Earth Fist Technique
In my experience, when a party is being assembled, the fighting monk is always the guy that gets picked last (even after the gnome).  Although monks are competent fighters and have a few neat abilities at higher levels, they always lose out in favour of a cleric because of their lack of magic.  This is a bit of a contradiction when considering that in most wuxia movies monks are kick ass characters full of mystical know-how.  In the Avatar anime franchise specifically, they are are masters of the four great elemental forces of air fire wind and water. 

In my recent Castle and Crusades campaign, when one of my players (a self confessed street fighter fanboy) decided he wanted to play something different,  I thought it would be nice to apply this Avatar concept on a new character class.  Luckily for me, I made a concious choice in the design stages of The Lands of Dual to create all of the landmasses first and then allocate cultural memes to each of them.  This enabled me to apply any of the associated mythologies and styles as I saw fit whilst simultaneously restricting any game destabilising effects to just one locale (in case they got out of hand).

One of these memes was that of the Feudal China seen in hundreds of Wuxia movies like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon or House of Flying Daggers.  The island of Huang-Zua is my attempt to combine all of my favourite wuxia memes in one place and so it has become the home to the mystical Martial Mage's who use their mastery of fighting techniques to shape elemental forces to their will. 

The Martial Mage

Prime Attributes: Intelligence & Strength
Race: Human only (Huang-Zua)
Starting Gold: 30-120gp
Hit Die: d12
Alignment: Neutral Good or Neutral Evil
Weapons: None
Armour: None
Abilities: Unarmed Attack (as monk), Elemental spell-like abilities (as below)

The Four Elements, Styles and Schools of Martial Mages

Every Martial-Mage adopts a fighting style related to one of the four elements (Earth, Air, Fire or Water) and is taught how to use that styles techniques in one of four fighting schools.  Only that school can teach the secrets of their fighting style and their is fierce rivalry between all four schools.  It is forbidden to practise more than one school of fighting at a time although each fighting school's archive contains accounts of one or more styles being practised simultaneously by their ancient masters.

The Techniques

In the Avatar series, all the manifestations of this elemental power are triggered by a series of fighting moves and in RPG terms a conventional ranged touch attack is required in almost every instance.  This retricts the spell casting abilities of the Martial Mage character to use in solely in combat, but also distinguishes it as a class from other spell casters.

Avatar Fan-art by DeviantART user slifertheskydragon


Likewise, in order to perform any of the techniques a martial-mage must have access to a source of elemental material matching their fighting style.  For example, a water style martial-mage must have access to a suitable volume of water.  This makes some fighting styles difficult or even impossible to use in certain environments, for example a water style mage would find it extremely hard to use their techniques in a desert, and fire and air style mages would both find using their techniques almost impossible whilst submerged.

ELEMENTAL FIST (Level 1)
Duration: InstantSAVE: NO
Description and Damage
When using this attack the casters hands are enveloped by elemental material. A successful melee attack inflicts 1d6 +1 per level of damage to the target.

ELEMENTAL STRIKE (Level 2)
Duration: InstantSAVE: NO
Description and Damage
When using this attack the caster shapes a ball of elemental material into a 1ft diameter ball. Upon a successful ranged touch attack, they can fire this ball upto 100ft at a single target inflicting 1d6 +1 per level of damage.

ELEMENTAL SHIELD (Level 3)
Duration: 1 Turn / levelSAVE: NO
Description and Damage
This technique allows the caster to form a ball of elemental material into a free floating disc approximately 6ft in diameter which they can move around their body at will like a shield. This affords them a +3 AC bonus against all attacks directed at them during melee and missile combat. This also affects spells which require a successful touch attack, those that automatically hit are unnafected.

ELEMENTAL SHARDS (Level 4)
Duration: InstantSAVE: NO
Description and Damage
When using this attack the Martial Mage collects and shapes an amount of elemental material into a 1ft diameter ball. Upon a successful ranged touch attack, they can fire a barrage of shards in a 20ft wide, 100ft long cone inflicting 1d6 +1 per level of damage to anyone caught in the cone.

ELEMENTAL STEED (Level 5)
Duration: 1 Hour / levelSAVE: N/A
Description and Damage
This technique allows the caster to create a spinning ball of elemental material which can be ridden much like a horse or other beast of burden. The ball can move in any direction at a speed of 5mph / level of caster. Any change in direction or speed requires a DEX save to avoid falling off.

ELEMENTAL BLAST (Level 6)
Duration: InstantSAVE: DEX
Description and Damage
By using the stomp technique a Martial Mage emits a shockwave of his chosen element material in a 50ft radius sphere around him. This shockwave does no damage but all targets within the blast radius (including those flying) must make a DEX (with a +1 difficulty modifier per level of caster) save or be immediately knocked to the ground.. Alternatively a mage can direct the stomp technique at a single target up to 100ft away.

ELEMENTAL CAGE (Level 7)
Duration: InstantSAVE: DEX
Description and Damage
After making a successful ranged touch attack, this technique allows the caster to surround the target with a mass of elemental material unless they make a DEX save (with a +1 difficulty modifier per level of caster). Targets who are successfully captured can also break free on a successful STR save (with a +1 difficulty modifier per level of caster)

ELEMENTAL WALL (Level 8)
Duration: 1 Hour / levelSAVE: DEX
Description and Damage
When using this technique a Martial Mage shapes a wall of his chosen elements material into a 50ft high, 10ft thick wall upto 100ft in length directly in front of him. Any targets caught in the path of the wall who fail a DEX (with a +1 difficulty modifier per level of caster) save will be hit by the wall (causing 1d6+1 per level damage) and be pushed out of the way in the direction that the wall is growing. In the case of Air and Water Style, the wall can be as transparent as the mage wishes, however in the case of the Earth and Fire the wall can only ever be opaque. The wall is impervious to all attacks other than those which take the form of the same element which do half damage.

ELEMENTAL SPHERE (Level 9)
Duration: 1 Round / LevelSAVE: N/A
Description and Damage
The caster surrounds himself with a 10 ft diameter sphere of elemental material which is impervious to all attacks other than those which take the form of the same element which do half damage. Whilst maintaining the sphere the caster cannot attack or perform any other action.

ELEMENTAL FLIGHT (Level 10)
Duration: 1 Hour / levelSAVE: N/A
Description and Damage
Using this technique the Martial Mage can achieve flight. For Earth and Water styles this is achieved by creating a disc of material underneath the caster which is then levitated vertically and horizontally in the air. In the case of Fire and Air styles, jets of material are emitted from the casters hands and or feet which propel the user vertically or horizontally. The caster can accelerate or decelerate at upto 10 Mph per level and achieve a maximum height of 1,000ft per level.

Friday, 27 July 2012

Read an RPG in Public Week

Today, in memory of Gary Gygax's Birthday, I took a stroll along the river and read an RPG in public.

Reading Diana Warrior Princess by Marcus L Rowland
Not 5 minutes later this little lot rowed by...


Royal Barge "Gloriana" carrying the Olympic Torch along the river Thames
Royal Barge "Gloriana" carrying the Olympic Torch along the river Thames
(click to embiggen)

... which was nice

Monday, 23 July 2012

The Boys are Back!!

The first trailer for the new series of Red Dwarf is out and by the looks of it the Boys from the Dwarf are on top form.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Congratulations Bradley Wiggins...

I've just watched Bradley Wiggins become the first British rider to win the Tour de France, the world's most gruelling bicycle race covering 4,000km over 21 days.  Congratulations to Bradley and all the other members of team SKY who helped make this possible.

Bradley Wiggins leads out Mark Cavendish during the final lap of stage 20 of the 2012 Tour de France
What has this got to do with roleplay you ask, "plot and decoration" I say, and an excuse for a rambly article about sports in RPGs.

Sporting events have featured throughout all the ages of history in some form or another and there's no reason why they cannot be incorporated into any RPG scenario when the PCs enter a new town or village. 


Medieval Sports

Victorians are often credited with inventing "leisure time" but it is estimated that medieval peasants had up to 8 weeks holiday a year, during which they engaged in a range of games and sporting activities such as:

Archery - In "The Assize of Arms" of 1252, King Henry III, mandated that every Englishman between the ages of 15 to 60 equipped themselves with a bow and arrows. In 1363, Edward III, Passed the Archery Law obliging all Englishmen to practise with their longbow every Sunday and holiday.  Needless to say archery competitions were very popular and should be a staple of any pseudo medieval fantasy game.

Bowls - Medieval bowls was a simple game of throwing a ball at a target, this illustration from the Bodliean library, shows a group of peasants taking turns throwing a bowl at a feather stuck in the ground. So popular was the game that In 1366 Edward III outlawed it as it had become a distraction from Archery practise. Edward IV issued a similar edict in 1477 against a range of pastimes such as "bowles, closh, kayles, hand-in and hand-out".

a Medieval game of Bowls
Feather-bowling (Bodleian Library, Oxford, Ms. Douce, 275, f. r12)

Boxing - Traces its origins to the Pankration of Ancient Greece where early pugilists wrapped their hands with leather thongs leaving their fingers free.  Romany Gypsies often resolve family disputes in bouts of bare knuckle fighting and there is no reason why these should not feature in the arsenal of every DM either to prove a PCs mettle or just to earn a few silver pieces when the times get tough.

Colf - The game of Golf has its origins in a much simpler version where contestants tried to hit a ball at a target such as a tree, with a wooden club.  The winner being the player who hit the target in the least number of strikes.

Gameball - Many games are considered to be the progenitor of football, but my favourite example is that of gameball and the report of a match played in the village of Ulgham, Northumberland in 1280, which resulted in a player being killed after running onto an opponents dagger.  Sounds more like Bloodbowl than football to me and could be a great opener for a murderous plot..

Henry VIII throwing a sledge hammer
Hammer-Throwing - This olympic event can trace its origins all the way back to the Tailteann games held in Ireland in 1829 BC.  Even the young Henry VIII is said to have enjoyed the sport.  I expect that every Dwarf in the Known (and unknown) Kingdoms to have a penchant for this sport.

Hurling or Shinty - Another Gaelic sport which can trace its origins back 3000 years. 

Horseshoes - Given that every village worth its salt would have at least two things, an Inn and a Blacksmith, it's inevitable that someone would invent a game which involved throwing old horseshoes at a target.

Horse Racing - The chariot races of ancient Rome had long since died out and by the Middle Ages, equestrian sport was largely confined to using horses in jousting tournaments, although I find it hard to believe that races between bored rich nobles did not take place in Medieval England.  However, on the continent the Palio di Sienna can trace its origins back to 1590 when the then Grand Duke of Tuscany outlawed bull fighting and so the population took to racing buffalo and donkeys around the piazza.  Those crazy europeans...

Palio di Sienna
Palio di Sienna
Jousting Tournaments - The joust has its origins in the Gladiatrial Arenas of Rome, the word joust is actually derived from the Latin 'Juxtare' (to meet together).  By the Middle Ages these had formalised into one of two forms, the Joust a Plaisance, an organised tournament taking place over several days with several elimination rounds or the Pas d'armes, where a Knight would advertise for combatants from the local area and then take on all challengers at once in a single bout.  Could your Knight or Paladin resist the temptation to sign up if they found one of these adverts nailed to a tree?

Quarter-staff Contests - The Robin Hood vs Little John duel is probably the most famous example of a quarter-staff contest in popular culture.  The rules for such contests are unknown but by Elizabethan times these had evolved into a contest between two people similar to fencing.  Examples of a range of polearm fighting techniques are graphically illustrated in the 1459 Fechtb├╝cher (literally Fight Book) "Alte Armatur und Ringkunst" written by the fencing master Hans Talhoffer (An online version of the which is available courtesy of the Royal Library, Copenhagen).

Skittles - The ancestor of modern ten-pin bowling which shares its origins with bowls and other ground billiards games.  An example of a skittles set was found in the tomb of an Egyptian child dating from 2000BC.  In England this was mostly an indoor game played in a wood or clay floored alley with many local rule variations.  For bored PCs what else is there to do in a tavern when you don't feel like quaffing or listening to that rubbish bard?

Stoolball - An ancestor of Cricket, originally played between two "wickets" made from the seats of stools hung from trees or fixed to poles approximately 16 feet apart.  The object of the game was for the bowler to attempt to hit the stool whilst the batter defended with a paddle shaped bat scoring a point for each delivery defended.  A game which has clearly stood the test of time, as a formalised version is still played today.

A game of medieval stoolball
A game of medieval Stoolball

Wrestling - One of history's most ancient sporting contests which needs little explanation.

The Challenge of Champions
The Challenge of Champions series of scenarios (published in Dungeon issues #58, #69, #80, #91, #108 and #138) by Jonathan M Richards pits a party of 4 players against a series of D&D puzzles with specific challenges for fighter, priest, wizard and thief classes.  They are a lot of fun for the players and can be a great way to put a party of disparate PCs together at the start of a game.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

When Will this Plastic Film Revolutionise my Gaming Experience?

Unless you've been hiding in a deep dark cave for the past couple of years you can't have failed to notice the advances that have been made in Virtual Table Top technologies.  Microsoft captured peoples imaginations a while back when they demo'd their Surface project.  Since then there's been an explosion in VTT software offerings from the likes of Battlegrounds, Fantasygrounds, Maptool and a host of others (far too long a list for this article but this wiki has them all) but the display technology has been lagging behind a bit.

For me the VTT has always been about the marriage of old school play with new technology.  It's no good having a great bit of software if you have to carry a 50 inch LCD screen around with you when you want to play.  Likewise I don't really want to push virtual miniatures around on the screen I want real ones which interact with the display.

Cambridge based research lab, Plastic Logic, is aiming to produce its flexible plastic display in their Dresden factory sometime in 2013.  This display meets half of my needs in that it is incredibly robust as demonstrated in this video, but it really needs multi-touch or RFID to be a success.



As the iPad has demonstrated, people aren't content with just watching their display anymore, they want to touch it, and the real market for this type of display is to be an inexpensive e-reader capable of displaying your daily newspaper.  I for one will quite happily jump on that bandwagon when it arrives.  Once they've successfully integrated the multi-touch capabilities into the plastic film (which shouldn't be that far away) you really would have limitless potential for the display to be used as a portable VTT.

In the meantime I guess I'll have to satisfy myself with Dungeon Mapp Lite, my iPad and a good quality screen protector.

Dungeon Mapp Lite on the iPad
Dungeon Mapp Lite on iPad

P.S. For a more indepth look at the technology, watch as BBC's Spencer Kelly gets to look inside the lab to see how Plastic Logic's flexible display is made.


Monday, 16 July 2012

On hitting the big 4 - 0

This year was a landmark birthday for me as I hit the big 4-0... Ouch.

Blood Bowl Team Manager The Card Game
Blood Bowl Team Manager The Card Game
However, my work colleagues bought me some Forbidden Planet vouchers which I promptly blew on Fantasy Flight's Blood Bowl Team Manager the card game.  The game attempts to recreate the fun of Games Workshop's classic Bloodbowl but rather than being a focusing on just one match between two teams, it follows an entire 5 week season of matches with up to 4 teams battling it out in the Blood Bowl Tournament. 

Tonight, I bribed my step-daughter into playing the first game with me (so I could learn the rules) by promising to do the washing up for her.  She wasn't too keen with either the theme or the complexity until she started to get to grips with using the powers on her team upgrade cards and then proceeded to beat my human team with her orcs.

I loved the fact that the matches are boiled down to just the weeks highlights, which sportsfans will recognise as homages to the weekly round-ups on ESPN.  This mechanic forces players to make choices about which cards to play in which highlight in order to maximise their chances of getting rewards such as team or staff upgrades, fans or being able to draft star players.

Although I've only played this game once it does manage to capture some of the flavour of the original game and features some of the famous star players like Morg 'N' Thorg and the Dwarven Death Roller.  It plays quite quickly (our game took slightly less than 90 minutes including reading the rules) and has a nice level of randomness.  Needless to say I loved it and am itching to don my spiked helmet and give it another go very, very soon.  8/10 - Spiketastic

P.S.  There are some great tutorials out there on how to play the game from the team at Fantasy Flight and Crits Happen and a review from the always excellent Tom Vassel's The Dice Tower