One peculiar thing about Dungeons & Dragons, and especially in the older editions, is that characters at first and second level are extremely fragile because they have very little hit points and even a single hit by a pretty minor foe can easily lead to instant death, even if the character had been uninjured. A common reason I’ve seen people give for this is the idea of “Zero to Hero”, where you start as an absolute nobody with no skill at all and have to work your way up to become someone. But at some closer examination, that is not really the case. First level fighters are already elite warriors who are standing well above all regular soldiers, mercenaries, bandits, and other professional full-time warriors, many of which have been at that job for years or decades. Except for commanders, all soldiers in B/X or AD&D are simply “Normal Men” or “0 level men-at-atms”. A first level fighter has a better chance to hit, better saving throws, and also has a Constitution score that can get him additional hit points. You’re not a nobody, you’re already starting as someone who has come farther than all regular people will ever get.
As characters go from 1st to 2nd level, their average hit points double, and depending on how your dice fell, they might even tripple. Yet enemies are still dealing pretty much the same damage, so that is a huge jump in your odds to survive. In some recent games, like Barbarians of Lemuria, Dragon Age, and Atlantis, hit points for starting characters are handled quite differently. You start at a pretty decent number but then increase your maximum number of hit points only at a relatively modest pace. I wonder how that would change D&D?
One simple idea would be to reduce the type of hit die by one step for each class and then give all characters a number of bonus hit points equal to twice the maximum hit die result. An AD&D thief would start with 8+1d4 hp (9-12) instead of 1d6 hp (1-6) and a figher with 16+1d8 hp (17-24) instead of 1d10 hp (1-10). If you leave the amount of damage dealt by enemies unchanged this should change gameplay at lower levels quite significantly. Ignoring healing spells and potions (which 1st level parties would have almost no access to), staying power would increase about an average of four times. As you go to higher levels, that initial boost becomes increasingly less significant and you probably wouldn’t notice the difference between 9d10 hp (average 50) and 9d8+16 hp (average 56). If survival at low levels becomes significantly easier and groups can take on much larger numbers of enemies, but you got almost no difference at higher levels, it also quite likely would change the perception of how high-level play becomes either easier or harder.
However, that would mean that 1st level characters are able to deal with much larger numbers of low-level monsters at once, and I am not sure if I’d want them to be that heroic. One solution would be to also give all the monsters bonus hit points. Perhaps equal to the maximum result of one hit die (8). That would mean one on one fights are unlikely to end at the first hit and usually take two or three to win. This would be closer to what the games I mentioned above are doing.
I’d really like to try that out and see what happens.
When talking about Sword & Sorcery and the essential traits and themes of the genre, there is almost always at least someone making the claim that the absence of nonhuman character is outright essential and that a work can not be Sword & Sorcery if it has any nonhumans that are not monsters. Yesterday someone made the commendable effort to provide a reason and supporting evidence why nonhumans are not a thing in the genre, by stating that there are pretty much no works of Sword & Sorcery which have nonhumans as counter evidence. Now obviously that gets us to a True Scottsmen argument. If your definition of Sword & Sorcery includes “no nonhumans”, then of course there are no works that have them. You could also say that Sword & Sorcery doesn’t have guns. But Salomon Kane has guns and I haven’t seen anyone claiming that he isn’t Sword & Sorcery. Guns are just uncommon, but not conflicting with essential traits of the genre.
However, I want to argue that there are in fact many works that have all the relevant traits of Sword & Sorcery and also nonhumans, and in which the inclusion of nonhumans doesn’t in any way conflict with with those essential elements and themes.
Atlantis: The Second Age (rpg)
Bound by Flame (videogame)
Dark Sun (rpg setting)
Dragon Age II
The first three Drizzt novels.
Primeval Thule (rpg setting)
Rune Soldier (anime)
I admit, most of these are fairly recent. But just because something is not found in the oldest works doesn’t automatically make it incompatible with a genre. It still walks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks as a duck.
Pretty much entirely by accident I stumbled upon this map posted by Dariel at Hari Ragat.
I’ve been struggling with a good geographical layout for the Ancient Lands for quite a while and so far had only decided to have a big ocean in the east and use the landscape and environments of eastern Asia an inspiration. I’ve always been more fascinated by the very blurry references to Lemuria and Mu in pre-cataclysmic fantasy than by boring old Atlantis. The RPG Atlantis: The Second Age has some very fun ideas for these other two ancient continent, making them the home of intelligent apes and the serpentment (who are a pulp version of naga, which happen to be from that corner of the world).
I am not going to have the Ancient Lands be set on ancient Earth, but using “ancient eastern Asia” as a rough outline for the basic concept seems really very appealing to me right now. And there’s still going to be elves, giants, and dragons, but it’s most likely going to look much more like Xen’drik from Eberron.
This list is actually getting longer instead of shorter because I constantly forget that I wanted to write reviews for these. Hopefully I get around to do them someday not too far in the future. And if you want to, you can bug me about them still being late. That usually motivates me quite a lot. ;)
The Apata Ori appear like the heads of giant stone statues but are in fact some kind of spirits. Usually they slumber in places near natural concentrations of magical energy but awaken when someone disturbes these magical fields. Then they fly into the air with the glow of lava coming from their angry eyes and screaming mouths. They shout in voices that sound like grating stones, but their speech is usually intelligible to almost anyone. When an Apata Ori attacks, it surrounds itself with a spinning cloud of sharp shards of bronze, which it can throw at targets up to 50 meters away and shred anything that gets too close to it. They also cast spells like a sorcerer.
A Diomekses is an atlantean horse of the finest breeding and stature, but has been corrupted by the evil god Ba’al. It often stands near roads for wanderers to come by and approach to capture it. Then ir reveals it’s maw full of sharp teeth and attempts to swallow the person in one pice. Which is obviously way too big for an ordinary horse to swallow so there has some massive jaw stretching to go on that defies ordinary physics.
The Loving Dead is one of the weirdest ideas for an undead I’ve come across. And not necessarily in a good way. It’s the corpse of a dead person that rises from its grave to seek company among the living. When it finds a target it hypnotizes it with its gaze, takes the person back to its resting place, and then suffocates it with its embrace over several hours.
The Ubuze is a tiny insect that is believed to feed on magic minerals used by the Atlanteans in their magic creations. They produce a soft blue light similar to fireflies and also small amounts of heat. Ubuze are attracked to shiny surfaces like polished metal or gems and have some means to attract more of their kind when they find any such object. Sometimes miners breed swarms of these tiny animals and release them in the night to be lead to any valuable metal deposites in the area. In the wilderness, a swarm of ubuze can be seen from miles away and is usually the sign of some valuables being exposed to the air, which of course does attract a lot of attentions from other people in the area. A swarm of ubuze might get quite annoying when adventurers try to secretly carry treasures through the wilds and make the job a lot more difficult. There once was a sorcerer who created a magc crystal that could attract any ubuze within a vast area. The swarm it attracted was so massive that their combined heat burned down an entire city before the gem got stolen and safely stored away.
As the third book of the Fantasy Safari, my choice has been the Theragraphica for Atlantis: The Second Age. Having been released as pdf only last November, the printed book has just been shipped to backers of the kickstarter campaign. It’s simply an astonishing book and in my opinion even beats the Fiend Folio. It was actually the main reason I did pick up the Fantasy Safari series after such a long break, simply because I want more people to know how amazing this book is. (And the game it’s for is really great, too.)
Since this is a very new book by a small publisher, and they haven’t put the art for it online, I am not going to copy all the pictures here. But I think for this book this also won’t hurt much, as these creatures are really much more about their strange behaviors and weird abilities, and simply going by physical appearance might even create the false impression that they are rather mundane. But believe me, they are not. Or don’t believe and see for yourself what I am going to tell you about them. There are over 170 creatures in this book and I am only going to talk about my personal favorites in detail. Otherwise I’d never get through all of them.
Theragraphica for Atlantis: The Second Age by Khepera Publishing, 2014; 131 pages of monsters.
Atlantis is a relatively simple system, compared to D&D and d20 games, so the stat block for each creature is quite short. They have 14 stats plus two lines for damage and armor, and a short list of any special abilities and weaknesses. As a rules-medium game, the explanations for all special abilities are explained once in the back of the book and not elaborated on in each individual creature entry. Which at first was a bit confusing, because the creature descriptions often don’t really say what these abilities do either. But in truth, this works all really well and effectively. Aura of Fear always works the same for all creatures (with the specific strength depending on attribute scores) and is really pretty self-explanatory. The creature is scary. Those who see it close up get scared. Poison also always works the same way and a creature that attacks with its teeth obviously has poisonous bite, and one that attacks with a stinger obviously with a poisonous sting. This is information that does not need to be spelled out again every time and every GM can figure out how to describe it with a little bit of imagination. Because of that, the descriptions for each creature are really very short. Often just three or four sentences. But the free space that is left on each page is used well with a big picture of the creature, which are mostly very well done. All this combined, I feel like I am getting a lot more flavor from these monsters than from most other monsters books. My descriptions of each creature I’ll present will most likely be longer than the actual descriptions that are in the book, putting into words and talking about all the thoughts that come to my mind from these very dense entries.
I actually have not read the entire thing myself yet, but just having read a quarter of it in detail and seeing all the pictures has gotten my really exited about this. So, here we go:
I believe I’ve found what is possibly the worst name and book cover for an RPG I’ve ever come across.
Doesn’t look so terrible? You probably think you’ve seen far uglier things before. But this isn’t about beauty, but appropriateness. The game is called Atlantis: The Second Age. What does that make think you off? A utopian society from the Golden Age of Greek mythology where people were enlightened and lived in pleasure and luxury? And look at the cover art. This women decked out in jewelry and in the background a map of a precisely geometrically constructed city with parks and palaces.
But why is this so terrible? Think about the assumptions you make what this game is like and how it plays? It certainly does not say action-packed Sword & Sorcery based entirely around mechanics that encourage and reward the players for outragous stunts and hot-blodded carnage, where your characters grow in power based on the awesomeness of their heroic deeds. A world where you can play as a hyper-intelligent gorilla with guns? But that’s what you actually get once you make it behind this cover and take a look at what’s inside.
The recently released second edition still carries over the legacy of this unfortunately boring name, but look at the cover! This is awesome! So much more better than the first edition that was the incarnation of boring. This one captures perfectly what this game is all about. Being a total badass slaying legendary monsters and adding their feared reputation to your own glory.
I quite like Barbarians of Lemuria as a lightweight Sword & Sorcery game. And while Atlantis is significantly rules heavier (though still quite moderate), there is so much more flavor and incentive to actually play an over the top Sword & Sorcery hero.
And let my say it again: Hyper-intelligent gorillas. With guns!