Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Wayfarer's Kit

Field Report from Simon Mendelsohn (Apprentice Mage) to the Pathfinder Chapter in the City of Almas:

Dear Sirs,

     My travels with the caravan of adventurerer mentioned in the last letter continues.  We recently encountered an odd character on the road, and offered aid in the form of spell and sword.  On the plains south of Egorian, we met with a man called Vishnu the Liar, who was being pursued by summoned air elementals, the wrath (he claimed) of a distant enemy.  We aided him in dispatching these elementals, and offered him food and safety for a night.  The man told wild tales of travel to other planes of existence, though he had indulged heavily in the whiskey supply of Porks, our cook, and gave his own appelation as "the Liar."  In the morning, he used rather advanced magics to summon us a reward for our aid, then disappeared into the wastes.
     A rosewood box labelled as a "Wayfarer's Kit" was the most interesting of his gifts.  Within this small box were a pair of magical scrolls and a small roll of vellum explaining their use.  Each of the scrolls was capable, when the inscription was read, of transporting a large group of people to any place that they had knowledge of --- the box could easily have taken us to Absalom or Egorian, and the vellum implied that even more exotic locations were possible.  The scrolls were presumably paired to allow transport to and from a place, and they radiated a strong aura of magic clearly visible to those with The Sight.  At the base of the box is a small sigil unknown to me, which appears to be a maker's mark.  It may be that where Vishnu the Liar comes from, such kits are commonly produced, though they clearly represent a scale of magic common only to Archmages.

Simon Mendelsohn

One additional note: On the back side of the vellum, in a crude had, had been scribbled several names, presumably of cities.  To my knowledge, none of these are the names of cities known to the geographers of Golarion, though the learned scholars of the Society may correct me.  The list is reproduced faithfully here:

Escumbia the Bright





The Hollow Sphere


The Sleeping City of Aesenof

How many miles is that by wagon?  Oh hell no . . . . 

Monday, April 9, 2012

Jon "Grishnak" Doe

Marching towards doom again, eating only hard tack and goblin?  Sure, why not?

Orcs have a pretty sad lot in life.  They're usually nasty, brutish creatures, pulled forth from the ether to act as cannon fodder for marauding bands of PCs looking for a quick gold fix.  Quick to anger, none too tough and just dangerous enough to be scary, Orcs get used a lot.  Most don't even get names, unless they are nasty bosses with names like Gutrender and Gorkus One-Eye.  Sure, they get detailed in some campaign settings and recent books (Eberron even tried some sort of peaceful nature-orcs), but one gets the feeling that for every fleshed-out orc with a back-story there is a ravening horde of green-skinned monsters, waiting to die for the chance at a lucky stab at a player character.  
     So here's the deal.  I have this orc here, and he needs a story:

Who am I again?

Where's he from?  Some cessspit under a gloomy mountain? The orcish zepplin fleet?  New York City?

What makes him tick?  Why does he get up in the morning?  Where'd he get that awesome belly band?

Write me a quick history of John Doe Orc here, and stick it in the comments.  I'll pick one and put him in my game and see if he gets killed.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Mapping the Imaginary

     I think of myself as an old-school guy.  I started out drawing my own maps and making up my own worlds for rpgs I was playing.  My best moments as a GM have come when I went off-script or off-setting to create something unique for my players.  But I am also a junkie for imaginary worlds, and for the kind of unique world-building that has been done by game developers over the last thirty years.  This bad boy lives on my bedside table most of the time.  I love the grim/dark feel of Warhammer's Old World, enjoyed my time in Eberron and Athas.  A good GM can take worlds that other people have written up and make them their own, but in my experience there is always a tension between staying true to the setting and telling your own stories.
     I am very impressed by what the guys over at Paizo are doing with Golarion, the setting for their Pathfinder game.  At a time when Wizards of the Coast is taking D &D in a decidedly protected, "buy our stuff" mode, Paizo is taking the Open Gaming License idea even further than WOTC, and allowing some of the fluff that comes out as part of their print line to be used by the community.  I just signed on to use their "community use" package, which comes with some great stuff and fairly easy to understand rules about how you can use 'em.  This is good, because Y'cak keeps bugging me for maps.  So, here's one, courtesy of Paizo:

My current game is set in Golarion, mostly in southern Avistan.  I use some Paizo print material, but re-purpose and re-write while we play, putting what I need where I need it.  Luckily, the world is big enough that there are lots of blank spots to fill, details to tweak, and ways to make the world feel the way I want it to. 

Here's the text I am supposed to post for using the map:

This website uses trademarks and/or copyrights owned by Paizo Publishing, LLC, which are used under Paizo's Community Use Policy. We are expressly prohibited from charging you to use or access this content. This [website, character sheet, or whatever it is] is not published, endorsed, or specifically approved by Paizo Publishing. For more information about Paizo's Community Use Policy, please visit paizo.com/communityuse. For more information about Paizo Publishing and Paizo products, please visit paizo.com.

Throwing Bones

Gambling games are an excellent way to turn this . . . . 
"Bones" is a popular dice game originally played by  Varisian travellers, but now popular in gambling dens and inns throughout Golarion.  There are myriad local variants, and each Keeper has his or her own style.  The generally agreed upon rules are detailed below:

The Game

The game is run by the house or a "Keeper" who throws the Skull.  This is a single die carved of dense bone, usually with twenty sides (thorugh some skulls have twelve, ten or eight sides).  The players each purchase "bones" --- dice with the same number of sides as the Skull ---- for the cost of the buy-in (usually a copper or silver piece).  All players roll their dice at the same time.  Each Bone that rolls higher than the Skull pays out double, with ties going to the house.   Bones that roll below the Skull are losses or lost souls.


The Keeper will sometimes call a "trip," a number that pays out triple (or more) if it is rolled on a bone.  Generally, if the skull roles a trip, it is a blanket win for the house.

Down the Steps
Players can choose to go "down the steps," choosing to throw a die smaller than the skull (such as a twelve sided bone against a 20 sided skull).  Each step down increases the payout by a factor of one (while reducing the odds of winning).

The Chasm and the Keep
These often used rules mean that bones that roll a 20 (the Keep) pay out triple, while any bone that comes up a 1 (the Chasm) makes all other bones rolled by the player into lost souls.  These rules are not usually combined with playing down the steps.

 . . . into this.  AS if my players needed help starting fights.

Gm Note:
We played a variant of this game one night when most of my players had gone home, and it was pretty fun.  The odds are pretty close to even, depending on rules variants, so nobody lost or made too much money over the course of several games.  I'm thinking that this will come up again, with the newly codified rules.

Clockspittle Lock'Orange

     Last night my wife yelled something at me from another room which sounded like "Clockspittle Lock'Orange?"
     And I said "You mean the famous gnomish pirate?"
     She did not.  She meant something entirely ordinary like "Stop leaving the bathroom light on."  But then she wanted a bedtime story.   So here it is:

     Clockspittle Lock'Orange was born into a family of industrious gnomish tinkerers with blonde hair.  The Lock'Oranges had maintained the Grand Clock of Egorian for ten generations uninterrupted, and made their home in the clock itself. Clockspittle was a remarkable child, but only in the sense that he was neither  industrious nor blonde, the hallmarks of his family.  The Lock'Orange penchant for hard work was twisted in him into a sort of brilliant cunning, and Clockspittle has always valued cleverness over hard work.  At the age of ten he could be found running the streets of Egorian with local toughs, booby-trapping the city watchmen's barracks and removing parts from anything not chained down.  When his family asked him to leave the giant clock, he graciously complied, heading to sea on the next ship that left the docks.  It took him only a few months to fall in with a crew of pirates, and not much longer to ascend to captaincy.
     Captain Clockspittle Lock'Orange has become infamous for his unconventional tactics and unparalleled success.  Early successes landed Clockspittle a large pile of gold bullion, which he invested in refitting his ship and hiring a competent, loyal crew.  His ship, the Cotter Pin, is a marvel of modern technology --- among the first refits were an experimental steam turbine which runs twin paddle wheels on the side of the galleon, giving it extra speed and maneuverability.  Rigging and sails are controlled largely by clockwork servitors, freeing the crew for combat.  More recently, Clockspittle has had all the hatches and gun ports covered in oiled leather, and has installed an adjustable ballast system.  This allows the Cotter Pin to seal itself and sink beneath the waves, sitting just below the surface to ambush merchant ships.  The twin masts have been hollowed out like giant snorkels, and an elaborate mirrored periscope allows Captain Clockspittle to watch for prey from his underwater raider.  Many a ship has surrendered quickly after the Cotter Pin rose to the surface amidships, guns trained and ready.
     Clockspittle is a successful pirate, but also remarkably fair.  He accepts surrenders in exchange for three quarters of all coin and valuables on board a ship, and will often take hostage only the captain, treating him or her to lavish hospitality until a suitable port can be found as a drop-off point.  His men are all well armed with the most modern matchlock pistols and rifles, and can generally outgun merchantmen and escape fights they can't win.  Several nations of the Inner Sea have taken to hiring the Cotter Pin to harass the shipping of their enemies, either covertly or with privateer warrants.  Clockspittle has thus retained safe ports of call throughout the Inner Sea, though he is rumored to make berth on a secret island workshop near Mediogalti island.

The Cotter Pin explores a region of the Frozen Sea.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Brass Velocipede

Field Report from Simon Mendelsohn (Apprentice Mage) to the Pathfinder Chapter in the City of Almas:

Dear Sirs,

     I write to you  to report of my encounter with an unusual magical object of some interest, I believe, to the learned gentlemen of the Society.  I include a brief sketch of how I came to encounter the Brass Velocipede below, along with my first-hand observations of the device.

     The troll Urluk and his band of gnoll raiders were known to prey on the  Almas-Elidir road some 10 leagues north of the Frogswamps at the headwater of the River Foam.  I was travelling with a group of caravan guards out of Falcon's Hollow (after a disastrous mission for the Pathfinder Society left me friendless and coinless in northern Andoran) when our caravan was attacked by Urluk's gnoll reavers.  They ambushed us from cunningly made blinds along a low cliff top, raining javelins on the caravan before closing to attack with cruel barbed spears.  Luckily, we were arrayed carefully in the wagons, and managed to run off the raiders after a hail of spells from the motley party of adventurers guarding the caravan.  I myself played a small part in the defense.  After moving the wagons, a group of us set off to stalk the gnoll raiders, intent on revenge.  We discovered them in consultation with the troll Urluk himself, and after a series of cunning counter-ambushes, were able to divest the countryside of one of its more persistent threats to commerce.

     Urluk's cave proved to be a cache of his ill-gotten gains, which we took as payment for our service.  Coin and gear were plentiful, as were potions and unguents thanks to a recent raid on an alchemist's caravan.   Among the treasure was a brass velocipede, a very rare and wonderful device whose function was ascertained after a fair amount of experimentation.  The device takes the form of a delicate brass figure, which we found wrapped in oil-cloth.  When given a command word, which we found etched onto the bottom, the small figurine expands to a 6 foot tall wheeled mechanism which looks a lot like this:

     Once a rider is secured by a leather strap to the red velvet seat, the device can be commanded to take the rider to any destination at great speed and in only minor discomfort.  The Velocipede can travel at a speed of twenty leagues to the hour, for anywhere from one to eight hours before reverting to it's miniature form --- the period before the device is exhausted seems to be random.  It can only travel on roads that are somewhat maintained --- a cart path is sufficient, but a footpath is not --- and will refuse to travel on roads that could damage its clockwork mechanisms.  The Velocipede can be activated up to three times in a seven day period.

     This rare and wondrous device is not in my possession, but I thought it prudent to report on it first-hand, since such a device is otherwise unknown to me.


Simon Mendelsohn

Monday, April 2, 2012

On Pocket Dimensions, Windows and Tallow

From the Archives of Toluz Zekhat, Osirian Chronicler:

     The early life of the Archwizard Zanzibar Felts is largely unknown.  His diction and linguistic peculiarities suggest a Taldoran extraction, or at least training in Taldoran schools.  He is known to have lived in Egorian and Absalom, though scholars such as Torian have suggested that he spent time in both Qadira and Katapesh under assumed names.  I have elsewhere published my doubts on this issue, which in my view is largely irrelevant given the clearly northern flavor of his later dimensional theorums --- Felts may have been familiar with Garundi schools of magic, but they have very little influence on his important works. The records of the Arcanimirium show that he lived and worked at that institution for more than four decades, producing some of his more famous written works.  Felts' expertise with pocket dimensions is nearly legendary --- his refinements to the rope trick spell have been nearly universally adopted in both human and elven magical schools, and mark a major move forward in stable temporary pocket dimensions.  Other notable inventions include Felts' technique for harvesting the bones of elementals, and the use of refined elemental essences to create dimensional membranes. It is known that in 4601 AR Felts left Absalom for a period of at least 30 years, much of which was reportedly spent on other planes of existence.  In his unpublished journals, Felts describes the effects of putting dimensional membranes inside one another, warping material planes into spirals and other shapes, and dilating time within pocket dimensions.

I imagine Felts' maps all looked something like this.

     Felts returned to Absalom in 4632, but had aged tremendously and was at least partially mad. Zanzibar Felts gave a frantic series of brilliant, rambling lectures at the Arcanimirium in the summer of 4632, the notes and transcripts of which have formed the largest and most famous of his academic works.  The Serpent and the Window: The Last Lectures of Zanzibar Felts is the definitive work on extra-dimensional spaces, the creation of demi-planes and theoretical space-time bubbles. During these lectures, Felts was known to for challenging his audience to give him complex theoretical questions.  He would then step sideways into warded pocket dimension in which time was severely dilated, returning instantly with answers, written out in long hand and exquisitely researched.  These demonstrations of dimensional time dilation made him quite famous, but have lead to the speculation that Felts had extended his life in unconventional ways.  Near the end of the summer of 4632, his lectures grew less and less focused, and he made extensive use of pocket dimensions, reportedly stepping sideways at dinner parties only to return seconds later, aged and bearded, mumbling incoherent spatial formulae.  He disappeared in the fall of 4632 and  other than some apocryphal notes attributed to him from the late 4700s, he has not heard from since.

Clearly something awesome
trapped in there.
     Though his theoretical contributions stand on their own, Zanzibar Felts is also known for his unique magical devices.  The Felts Confabulator is a large device which pierces multiple planes of existence simultaneously, distilling their essences into a unique (though unstable) pocket dimension.  This device, as well as Felts' working notes on dimensional melding, are held in the Arcanimirium in Absalom.  The Feltzian Bag of Holding is one of the few examples of multiple nested pocket dimensions incorporated into a physical item, and The Serpent's Window is a large mirror that creates what appear to be unique copies of material planes, allowing for the creation of divergent futures.  Among his most infamous creations are the Black Candles, powerful magical items thought to be constructed from Balrog tallow.  The Black Candles allow their user to create a stable, sealed pocket dimension that is only accessible while the candle is burning.  All known examples have been used as powerful magical traps, exiling dangerous beings or objects to extra-dimensional prisons.   The fate of those inside a pocket dimension whose corresponding candle has been entirely melted is unknown.

Zanzibar's bag of holding had bags of holding in it.