Planescape/2

Planescape has always been hugely fascinating. But everyone will agree that it is very big. And I think many will admit that perhaps it might be too big. 17 outer planes, most with three or four layers, some with much more than that; and 18 inner planes. It does get a bit overwhelming.

While I was working on my Green Sun setting, I was drawing inspirations for the Otherworlds very heavily from Planescape. However, only from a small number of planes, all of which I would consider to be among the somewhat more obscure ones. You know which ones are the famous and popular ones: The Abyss, Baator, Limbo, Mechanus, and Celestia, with Hades, Elysium, and Arborea also having some claim to minor fame. These happen to be the “even numbered” planes; the ones that correspond directly to the nine alignments. It’s the “odd numbered” ones between them that very rarely seem to be given any attention. And I have to say, after 20-something years, the primary planes have started to feel a bit stale and overdone, while the secondary ones still hold much more fascination for me.

This got me the idea: How about running a Planescape campaign in which the outer planes only conist of the secondary planes? And only having four elemental inner planes should also be enough.

I admit, Bytopia and Arcadia still look pretty bland and boring in the Lawful Good corner. But then, I don’t think Celestia and Elysium ever did any better. But I do think that you could do something interesting with players having to do errands in Arcadia and the place feeling slightly too lawful for being balanced in its lawful goodness. After all, this is where the Harmonium has its main base, and these berks aren’t quite known for their politeness and ompassion.

I’ve never been thinking much of either Bytopia or Archeron, but their crazy landscape should be able to provide some short term fun. I think the odd one out is actually Ysgard. I can’t really imagine it as anything other than Viking Land.

I fully admit that Gehenna, Carceri, and Pandemonium are where my real love lies. These are the more desolate hells, which I really like. Very Dark Souls, I might say.

I’ve put so much work into my Green Sun setting that is finally turning into something really playable, so my next campaign just has to be set there. But the idea of using only half of Planescape without the worn out standard planes makes me once more quite exited to jump into that setting as well.

Potions

Hemra

This potion is made from the boiled leaves of the hemra plant and some simple additional ingredients. The potion is a slightly bluish green and heals 2d4+2 hit points. Partiqularly high quality potions have a deep blue color and heal 4d4+4 hit points.

Rusan

This potion is an oil made from the leaves of the rusan shrub. A full dose causes unconsciousness for 1d4 hours, while drinking a third of that amount put a person into a hazy state that gives an advantage on saving throws against being frightened and disadvantage on all Dexterity and other Wisdom checks, which lasts for 1 hour.

Valkar

Eating one of these seeds gives advantage on saving throws against exhaustion for 6 hours. Eating another within 24 hours requires a DC 15 Constitution saving throw or it causes the poisoned condition instead.

Satak

This vile potion is made from a mushroom found in Venlad. For 6 hours it gives advantage on Strength and Constitution ability checks and saving throws, and disadvatage on Wisdom and Charisma ability checks and saving throws. When the effect ends, the drinker takes 1d4 points of poison damage and is poisoned for 6 hours.

Tamgut

This potion is made from specially prepared berries from the Tamgut shrub of the Wyvern Mountains, mixed with rusan oil. It causes incapacitation for 6 hours, at the end of which a DC 15 Wisdom check must be made. If successful, the drinker gets the effect of a divination spell.

Armor

Shield: AC +2, 50 sp, weight 1.

Helmet: AC 11 + Dex, 100 sp, weight 1.

Light Armor: AC 12 + Dex, 450 sp, weight 2.

Medium Armor 1: AC 14 + Dex (max. +2), Stealth disadvantage, 500 sp, weight 2.

Medium Armor: AC 15 + Dex (max. +2), Stealth disadvantage, 2,000 sp, weight 2.

Heavy Armor 1: AC 16, Stealth disadvantage, 750 sp, weight 3.

Heavy Armor 2: AC 17, Stealth disadvantage, 3,000 sp, weight 3.

The MEGACHURCH!

I am not usually a fan of megadungeons. Or to be more precise, I am not a fan of the concept of mega dungeons.

Dungeons that are on a colossal scale are a different story.

In a moment of inspiration, I got an idea for an awesome buildings to put somewhere in the forest in the Green Sun campaign and while I was doodling around with possible floor plans, it turned into something increasingly more concret and fun. It’s an absolutely enormous temple that looks similar to this.

But scaled up to this.

And on the inside, I think it would look something like this.

The floorplan consists of 29 vaults that are 30 x 30 meters at the base and between 120 to 180 meters in height. To not go insane with the maps, the platforms and bridges are arranged into 5 levels.  To hold up the roof, there are also 4 solid “towers” of 30 x 30 meters in the corners, which have 10 internal levels of rooms, and 4 in the center of the building that have 12 levels.

That’s just shy of 200.000 square meters of floor space. Or 5,350 5-foot-squares. However, in practice most of that will either be open air for the vaults or solid stone for the towers. That’s still something like 400 “rooms”.

This should be fun.

The most useless RPG advice ever

“If you want that, you really should be running a different game.”

That’s not advice. That’s just stupid. You might notice that it’s always “a different game”, never any actual specific game.

This is not helping. Never suggest this to anybody if you can’t recommend a specific system and explain why this might potentially be an interesting game to take into consideration for the campaign in question.

I made a better thing!

I love working with Krita. It’s so much fun. I think it looks amazing.

I’m not happy with the labels on the map because the only fancy way of writing I ever learned was back in primary school and this still looks like written by a 10 year old. But they are all on a separate layer so I can easily switch them out for something nicer later.

One issue I already discovered with the previous map is that at this scale it becomes quite difficult to make city names at a readable size. There just doesn’t seem to be enough space for it. But then, when you look at actual medieval maps, they seem to have had the same issue as well, and they often look incredibly messy and crammed. Maybe I’ll give that a try later, but for now I think this looks really good.

Failure is always an option

Yesterday there was a post on Mythic Fantasy about the idea that “combat is a fail state” is nonsense. Sadly it’s not possible to comment there directly without a Google Account, but now Necropraxis also picked it up so let’s make this a proper discussion.

“Combat means that the players have failed” is wrong, I agree with that. But I think this is just an oversimplification resulting from years of careless repetition, about an actually significant observation.

As I see it, it’s not that “combat means the party failed their task of stealing treasure undetected”. For ease of use by people who assumed everyone already knew what they were talking about, critical details were no longer mentioned in the ongoing discussion of the subject. But what I think it really means is that “unprepared combat in an environment not of their chosing means the party failed their task of maximizing their odds of survivial”. Combat is always an option. It’s a tool in the toolbox and one of the original classes was specifically made for this job. But swords are only one tool and not meant to be used alone. You don’t just walk through doors, put your hands into holes, make a lot of noise, and see what happens. Because then the opponents prepare for a fight and pick a battlefield of their choice. When this happens and the players chose to stand their ground and fight under the conditions their enemies want them to, then they have failed.

If they die in a fight that isn’t stacked in their favor, then they have nobody to blame but themselves. They have plenty of options to scout the environment and the numbers and positions of potential threats, to plan for retreats and set ambushes, to protect themselves with spells and potions, and to prepare a battlefield by setting or clearing onstacles. If they don’t make use of these tools, they failed in playing the game right. Which they might not know, so it is one of the GM’s duties to show the players that these options do exist and to set up dungeons in which they can be applied. You don’t need to tell them what to do in a fight, but to players who are not familiar with such games, it is not obvious that your allowed options are not restricted to their character sheets.

And also: Just because something is stupid doesn’t mean it isn’t fun. There are lots of reasons why players might want to create situations they know could have been avoided. I think most of us don’t play for a score, but for excitement. RPGs are not meant to be an optimization exercise but an adventure.

Adventure like it’s 2003

Terry Carr once famously quoted a friend who said “The Golden Age of Science Fiction is twelve.” And when you look at any big list of “Greatest Songs of all time”, you will always find it consisting almost exclusively of songs from the 60s and early 70s. When the generation of today’s music journalists were in their teens. So it really came to absolutely no surprise to me to realize that the really big aesthetic influences on Green Sun all come from around the year 2000, when I was 16.

The seed of the aesthetic that fills my brain was planted by Star Wars, in particular Dagobah, Cloud City, Jabba’s Palace, and Endor. I had first seen the movies in 1994, but my undying love really began in 1997 with the rerelease of the movies and us getting them on video.

Albion is a neat but rather obscure little German RPG that was released in 1995, but which I only became aware of a couple of years later once I had been hooked by RPGs. It’s a game about a prospecting ship crashing on a planet and discovering that the clouds and strange magnetic field had been hiding a jungle world swarming with life. The two starting characters are rescued by local cat people living in cities consisting of houses made from living trees and I believe there was also supernatural powers involved. From a technical point the game is really ugly and I think it also was even back when it was released, but the design of the world is really quite amazing.

Riven is probably the best remembered adventure game today after The Longest Journey and was released in 1997. The aesthetics of the game are literally out of this world, which I think comes partly from the primitive 3D-pre-rendering technology used to create the environments.

Baldur’s Gate was my gateway to both fantasy and RPGs, but it’s successor Baldur’s Gate II in 2000 surpasses it in every conceivable way. I felt a bit conflicted about the change in visual aesthetics that was quite a move away from the traditional medieval style of the first game. But it is precisely that change to a mediteranean aesthetic with influences from Planescape that stayed with me over the years. I also did play Planescape: Torment around that time and while the game itself never fully won me over, it’s very faithful adaptation of the setting’s visual style and the perfectly matching soundtrack that came with is still nothing but astonishing.

Off all the influences after Star Wars, Morrowind was the big one in 2002. I was captivated by the previews that I had read that I even got the English version before the German version was translated several months later. And I have to say that at this point, my English wasn’t quite up to the task yet. I could kind of manage, but it turned out to always be a strugle. And it certainly didn’t help that Bethesda RPG design still doesn’t click with me to this day. I still don’t understand how you’re meant to play them to get the proper experience. But the world was a whole different story. I was still in the mindset that proper fantasy way was magical rennaisance fair and Morrowind was most certainly not that. Not knowing anything else about the setting, this was more like an alien planet with medieval technology. And I found it to be just pure awesome. Huge mushrooms side by side with trees. Giant insects used for transport, and dinosaurs as farm animals. And of course living god kings represented by their soldiers in bronze armor with bronze masks. I never progressed far into the story and I tried getting back into the game many times, never being able to maintain my interest into playing it for more than a week or two. But every couple of years it’s the strange and alien setting that makes me want to go back.

Shortly after, in 2003, came Knights of the Old Republic, still widely regarded as the best Star Wars game ever made and in hindsight the clear prototype for Mass Effect (a series that ended up being super-80’s-retro itself). When I played it again recently, I found the game to be quite lacking in many respects, but the style and feel of that game still is as outstanding as it always was. The visual and audio design feels like it is what game creators would have wanted to make a decade earlier if their technology had been up to it.

The Savage Frontier is a sourcebook for Dungeons & Dragons that was actually released in 1988, but I think it must have been around 2003 that I first read it. Having played Icewind Dale and Neverwinter Nights, read all the Drizzt books that existed at that time, and becoming involved in the development of an NWN server set on the edge of the High Forest, I hunted down and devoured all material available on the North. And I have to admit that I thought The Savage Frontier was pretty rubbish. To start it all off, it was short. To a teenage German fantasy nerd, detail and minutia are everything. The information was also outdated, and when you have bought in entirely into metaplot and the need for accuracy, old information superceeded by newer sourcebooks is entirely obsolete. It also felt somewhat off. Not sufficently traditionally medieval in style as the 2nd Edition material. But the later, much bigger box  of The North has pretty much faded entirely from my mind years ago, while the thin little The Savage Frontier still inspires me again and again.

Given how strikingly memorable things in the 80s were, the 90s often feel very much overlooked or even forgotten. But in hindsight, there was a huge sphere of fantasy works that shared a common and actually quite distinct style that was still similar to its precursors from the 70s and 80s, but also evolved into a new form of otherworldly strangeness that at the same time felt weirdly inviting. Like Masters of the Universe, but with a slightly more dreamlike quality. At least to me. I’ve recently become quite a big fan of the wave of Dune games that followed the 1984 movie and tried to evoke it’s aesthetics. I don’t know why, but somehow desert space fantasy settings seem to be one of the biggest influences on my own forest bronze-age fantasy setting.

But yeah, I don’t really have any actual insights to share. I basically just wanted to gush. This style of fantasy settings is awesome but seems to be getting almost no love. Well, I still love it and I feel no shame in fully embracing it’s slight kitshy undertones.

Give me the unicorns at sunset!

Comment as: Google Account

Well, this is a bit akward. But it has been bothering me for quite a while.

I was just browsing through Old School RPG Planet (which is a great thing to have again) and ended up at Beyond Google Plus, and Fixing the Internet, which Melan wrote back in october when the Google Plus shutdown was announced. Good points are being made, and I fully share the distaste for Google and Facebook (and also Apple) permanently trying to monopolize internet communication for the sole purpose of making money by tracing as much of our activities as possible.

I would have liked to just give that old post a simple “Yeah, you’re right!” to give my appreciation, but I ran into my old bane again that has constantly been getting in my way for the last half year or so. When you click on “Select profile…”, there is only one option to pick from:

Google Account.

No! If my only choices are to use a Google Account or don’t comment, then I don’t comment. I think in this day and age, I don’t even have to explain why. We all know very well what Google wants and Google does. It didn’t used to be that way, with Google Account just being one options among many on almost all sites. But at some point, I believe last year, the majority of blogspot sites seemed to have all other options removed at the same time. I kind of suspect that Google made that change quietly for all users and you now have to opt-in to allow people to comment in any other ways.

I think comments are a very neat feature and a great thing to have, since we are really interested in sharing ideas and not just shouting into the void. But there is only so much I am willing to give to Google by choice, and somewhere you have to draw the line. And I think I am not the only one who does. So if you are using blogspot, please check if your comments are restricted to Google Accounts and consider whether you want to enable other options. If you don’t want to, that’s your choice, but given that this changed happened so suddenly everywhere at once, I believe that most people don’t even know the settings were changed without their knowledge.