Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Uniform Level Progression: Phil Was Here First

Let me start by saying how much I love looking at M.A.R. Barker's 1975 Empire of the Petal Throne. This was a game that I became aware of due to a glowing, though probably incestuous, review in the Dragon magazine. It sounded so nifty. But, alas, I never actually saw one in my little corner of the gaming world and sort of forgot about it. I missed the other versions that came out over the years, until I snagged a used copy of Guardians of Order's Tekumel, which bored me so silly I turned around and resold it in record time (record time for me, anyway). Some time later, I stumbled upon a thread at, wherein Mike Mornard talked about how they really played it back in the day (a thread which I'll be damned if I can find now). He was so inspiring that I went out and bought the pdf of the original game (back when one could buy legal pdf's before Wizards of the Coast decided to electronically wipe the memory of TSR from the face of the earth with the ridiculous assertion that they were preventing "piracy" following a policy that worked oh-so well for the music industry. But I digress).

One of the things I love about reading this book is that it is like falling into an alternate dimension of Ye Auld Game, wherein every thing is both familiar and weirdly different. If you haven't read it, do so (except that you can't legally buy the pdf anymore). But I don't want to review the game right now. Rather, I want to point out something that had never quite impressed itself upon me before:

Empire of the Petal Throne uses Uniform Level Progression. In 1975, just one year after D&D itself had been published! As far as I know, this is the first published version that uses Uniform Level Progression (I've never been clear on what Dave Arneson was doing, but his system wasn't published in any case). And it's a very simple progression to boot, with each level essentially doubling the requirements of previous: 2,000 xp; 4,000xp; 8,000 xp; and so on.

OK, there is a slight asterisk to all this. Up to Level 8 (or "VIII" as Barker has it) all three Classes share the same progression. But for reasons so inexplicable as to make me believe that it is a typo, a Wizard needs 10,000 xp less to reach 8th level and 40,000 less to reach 9th level. But even with that, I feel comfortable calling the system Uniform.

This all makes me feel even more comfortable using such a system in Under the Dying Sun. If it's good enough for Tekumel, it's good enough for me.

Playing With Experience, Part III - Complexifying

[Yes, that really is a word. Look it up.]

Part I saw me trying to simplify the awarding of experience in Under the Dying Sun and Part II saw me changing one of the bases of experience accumulation by rewarding exploration in a relatively broad sense. This third installment sees me trying to complicate things again now that I have a relatively stable base. Having somewhat deprived players of experience rewards for treasure due to their scarcity while inflating the award for killing monsters, I was concerned that I was making a pure blood-bath game. There was some mitigation due to exploration rewards, but they clearly wouldn't be the fast path to advancement. The question then is "what do I want to reward" which is much the same as asking "what behaviour do I want to encourage?"

I don't intend to rehearse all the arguments about what experience "means" in Ye Auld Game nor the consequent arguments regarding the rationale behind awarding experience for A, B, and C, but not X, Y, or Z. Frankly, I haven't the stamina to attempt such a resume, valuable though it probably is. Instead, I'm just going to jump into the idea and hope my hypothetical readers ride along.

The idea of class-specific experience rewards has floated around for years. I always ignored it as too fiddly and complicated. But having boiled the classes in Under the Dying Sun to three very broad archetypes with less mechanical distinction than is usual, it occurs to me that the idea may have merit. When a player selects a class, they have a lot of leeway as to how that character embodies that class. A Slayer could be a soldier, a gladiator, a bandit, or just a scary, scary man. A Survivor could be a crazy old hermit, an ardent tech-head, a grim-faced frontiersman, or a clever rogue. And a Sorcerer could be a desert eremite, cult leader, court magician, scholar, or even that creepy kid from The Twilight Zone.

But the class has meaning; it gives a solid core idea to the character: he kills, he survives, or he masters psychic sorcery. And that makes me want to reward behaviour that plays to the character core. The trick to this is to make these rewards general enough to fit the broad scope of the class without making them so broad as to eliminate the interest in the universal awards. What follows are my preliminary thoughts. I will definitely need to keep working on these ideas.

Slayer--Receive double the usual experience award for killing things when they do so single-handedly.

Well, that was easy. At least until the real world of play-testing. Let's try another:

OK, this one is a lot tougher. It's hard to see rewarding someone for not dying. That falls into the "too broad" category. So now I have to think. Surviving in this game is, at least in part, about mastering your environment. Stealth, Jury-Rig, Back Stab, Survival Instinct, and the Appraising Eye all go towards that.

Now I don't feel the need to reward being stealthy nor for making a Saving Throw (too broad). I could see rewarding killing a foe from behind or with a jury-rigged trap or the like. That's kind of cute. I could also see giving them extra experience for finding and/or deciphering artifacts. Hmn, I need to think on this some more.

Let's move on to Sorcerer.

Well, this one makes the Survivor seem down-right obvious. I'm definitely not going to reward the successful use of sorcery; it makes all kinds of sense, but it's just too broad. But if I tighten focus, I might give them a reward for using psychic sorcery to solve some kind of problem, like killing a monster purely by sorcery. That may still be too broad, though.

And that's about where I am, dear reader. I was holding off on this installment until I had something more definitive, but then realized that the whole point behind this blog, as recorded in my first post, was to stop that tendency on my part. So I present this half-arsed idea and hope to have it jell more soon.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Playing With Experience, Part II - Adding

Yesterday I posted about about using Uniform Level Progression and a simplified system for accruing experience as a way to save me the trouble of too much point counting. Today, my thoughts go to adding in a few more ways to gain experience while keeping to that design goal.

The estimable Jeff Rients made quite a splash a few days ago by articulating a convincing argument for and method of granting experience based upon exploration. Like many others, I find this idea enchanting, not least because I have come to the conclusion that exploration is what this crazy old game is all about. Not killing things, not taking their stuff; those are by-products of the act of venturing into the unknown. Can you run Ye Auld Game without exploration? Sure you can. But I do think that this is what the game is really designed to do.

The strength of the exploration idea is the flexibility of the concept. Exploration can be defined in this context as the stepping into terra incognita, the twin classics of the Wilderness and the Underworld. But it needn't be limited to that. As has been said, travel broadens the mind, and you don't have to go where no man has gone before to explore. A game which has a fantastic city along the lines of Lankhmar or Sanctuary might well give experience the first time a yokel ventures onto it's decadent streets. Indeed, if it's a city-based campaign, you might well grant experience for different sections of the city--the first time you see the Great Tyrant's palace, the first time you wander the Great Bazaar, the first time you make it back out of the Thieves' Quarter, and so on.

Or, take a game in which information is important. Experience might accrue from finding out things, whether you do it by looting ancient tombs or from the safety of your armchair. A certain Lovecraftian-sense might be given if characters earn experience from learning Awful Truths. A noirish twist would grant experience for learning Secrets from the Past. The possibilities go on an on.

Now, let me descend from the heights of theory to the ground of design, specifically the design of Under the Dying Sun. I'm perfectly persuaded that Dying Sun should grant experience for exploring. The theme of a dying world, in which travel is inherently dangerous and the inhabitants have grown insular and isolated just calls out for rewarding the adventurer. Now how to do it is a more difficult thing. I intend to hew to the simplifying ideas from yesterday's post. I might, for instance, take various features--mountains, hills, villages, cities--and rank them in simple increments of 100's of xp's. So, visiting a little village grants 100 experience points, while visiting the infamous City of Hajal might grant 1,000. Getting close enough to smell the sulphurous effluvia of Devil Lake might give 500 xp's and descending the great sinkhole in it's center is worth an additional 500.

That's an idea for physical exploration, but as discussed above, there's much more that can be worked in. One nifty thing about this system is that I can, at last, feel totally comfortable granting experience for discovering artifacts and relics. Any time one comes upon tools of the Old Men, one learns that much more about the unfathomably vast history of the world. Similarly, I think I might give half the experience for killing a monster when one is first encountered (50 xp/Hit Die rather than 100).

That's a few ideas. It's all still percolating through my brain and, as always, I'm thrilled when any of my hypothetical readers feels like a tossing an idea at me. And, while the ideas percolate, tune in to our next installment--Complexifying.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Playing With Experience Part I - Simplifying

Some months ago, I posted on the Heresy of Uniform Level Progression and followed that up with five, off-the-cuff ways to avoid counting experience points by using that style of advancement. Although I incorporated Uniform Progression into Under the Dying Sun, I didn’t heed my own advice on simplifying xp counting. So far, I’ve been working under the idea of standard xp accumulation as per the Spellcraft & Swordplay core rules. But I’m beginning to rethink that. Not because there is anything wrong with those rules--there isn’t. But, as I said in my earlier posts, as a Referee, I kind of hate counting up experience points.

So I cast my mind back to the Matrix of this Old Game i.e. D&D Volume 1: Men and Monsters. And there I am reminded that the original rules had a much simpler system in re killing things: 100xp per Hit Die. Now that is simple. Sure, the Blessed Gygax would later renounce this system as too generous, but I’m not bound by that recantation. Plus, I don’t think it’s too much. A character in UtDS needs 2,000 to make 2nd level. That’s 20 HD of beasties if he works on his own.

Alert, imaginary readers will note that I have left treasure out of the equation. I do intend to give experience for treasure, but UtDS is a game about scarcity among other things. Wildmen of the Hills don’t carry sacks of coins on their persons and monsters of the desert don’t crouch on piles of gold and jewels. This is a metal-poor world where most commerce is handled by barter or by money whose value derives solely from the strength of a City’s tyrant. This is a setting where access to a well is a legitimate reward at the end of the session; after all, water is worth more than gold to a man in the desert. That’s not to say that there isn’t any treasure to be had, but I expect it to be far less common than in the default game of dungeon-delving. So that while I think that I’ll maintain the 1xp per coin standard, less experience will derive from that source.

The 100 xp per Hit Die partially makes up for the loss of treasure. But doesn’t that encourage a game of killing things and strive against the old-school idea of running away and stealing when you can? In part. But I have some more thoughts on that which will be revealed in the next installment.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Places Under the Dying Sun - Devil Lake

Nestled in a valley in the Tharian Hills, it is possible that this was once a true lake, but the so-called "Devil Lake" is now just a sulphurous wetland; a stinking, marshy expanse with a foot or two of yellowish, standing water. While many plants eke a lean existence from the tainted waters, the area is almost wholly devoid of animal life. Indeed, the Tharian Wildmen strictly avoid the valley and regard Devil Lake with a superstitious dread. They say that the marsh is actually the outflow from some Hell and that a portal to that nether-world stands in the midst of the lake in the form of a vast sinkhole hidden under the water's surface.

Although this tale is widely believed by the credulous, most sceptics regard Devil Lake as merely the dying remnant of a once-mighty lake or inland sea which vanished as most of the other surface waters of the world have and which has become polluted by elements in the soils.

However, there is a persistent rumour that the Lake's foul nature and fouler reputation were manufactured for the express purpose of keeping the area isolated. Many gamblers, adventurers, and drunkards of the City of Hajal have heard the whispers that the waters of the ancient lake were drained into some subterranean vault or cavern lying just below the surface by an antique and foresighted order of scholars and wizards, who saw the coming of the Aeon of the Dying Sun. Upon the lightless shores of the old lake made new, they founded a utopian society with the might of their forgotten arts and sciences. These blessed survivors broke no intrusions upon their sub-terrene realm and thus created the legend of Devil Lake to maintain their seclusion.

This legend or dream promises uncountable wealth in artifacts and other wonders of the Old Men to any who should penetrate into the sunless vault and return alive. But the inhabitants will visit a horrible fate upon any outsiders whom they catch. Using the soul-drinking machines of the Senex, they render all intruders into mindless troglodytes, loathsome creatures less even than animals who live only to feed, and release them upon the shores of Devil Lake to add to their security.

There is one further tale of these unknown wizards, more of an appendix, and it is one whose telling is most dangerous in the City of Hajal. A few brave or foolish souls whisper that there was once a rebel among the underground sages who sought to convince his fellows to rise up to the surface and use their great powers to conquer the world. He went so far as to stage a coup, but was overthrown and forced to flee for his life. This outcast then made his way to the surface world where he eventually took the name of "Attar Khanda" and, using his ancient magics, became the Archwizard and Dictator of Hajal. Needless to say, the telling of this particular part of the tale is bad for one's health within the City.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

How To Handle a Bugman?

(That's a little Lerner and Loewe riff for you show-tune cats out there)

Yesterday, I posted about my issues with the Scorpion Men in play-testing. This whole thing has me rethinking my approach to non-humans. A little background if you please:

Although I started gaming with the Holmes edition, I soon leveled up to AD&D. And even though, as a kid, believing that the Great G could do no wrong, I had a big problem with Elves. Elves received way too many racial benefits for my taste and the limiting mechanic was level limits. Both sides of that equation rankled me, but the latter more than the former. Level limits stuck me as a misfire of a balance mechanism. This argument is as old as the game, so I won't go into too much detail. Suffice it to say, I didn't find it to do what it was supposed to do. Making a character stronger in early play but then capped later didn't play well with me.

Later, I read an article in the Dragon that suggested that demi-humans receive an experience ding instead of level limits. This made sense both in-game and out-of-game sense to me. But, in practice, I could only give it two cheers. Maybe one and half. The penalty was so arbitrary and even what sounded like a hefty 15% wasn't really felt early enough in the game to make a difference.

When I went back to OD&D, I enjoyed, as many others, the simpler rules which were as evidenced in the handling of nonhumans as anything else. The basic advantage of the Elf was being able to multi-class. So, when I was putting together my house-rules for my Onderland Campaign, using Spellcraft & Swordplay, I was happy to stress that aspect. Elves can take any combination of Warrior, Wizard, Thief, but must split all experience equally between the classes. That turns out to be a pretty hefty ding and gets felt very early in the game. It's still only two cheers, maybe, but it's the best I've got right now.

But in Under the Dying Sun, I mostly removed the multi-classing which didn't fit so well with the way I redid the classes. And that left me back at assessing an arbitrary XP penalty. Now I find that with the Scorpion Men, I have recreated the whole AD&D Elf problem: too many perks and a clumsy balancing mechanism. So where does that leave me?

Well, it would make sense to remove some benefits. The biggest offender, as I mentioned yesterday, is the built-in armour which make a 1st level Scorpion Man all but invulnerable. But built in armour just seems so right. They are bug-men in a iron-poor world of giant bugs, where most plate armour is made of chitin anyway. It a big part of the flavor.

Rather than remove a benefit, I could come up with some significant penalty. But I must admit to a paucity of ideas here. I don't want to give them a glass jaw; they are supposed to be my Tharks for Issus' sake!

So, anybody with any smart, semi-smart, or quasi-smart ideas, please let me have them.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Scorpion Men: Too Much?

The play-testing continues nicely. One thing is coming up again and again: Sot Sojat (erstwhile Scoprion Man Slayer, Omnivore, and Philosopher) is all but invincible for monsters of this level. Plate Armour is proof against almost any kind of natural weapons. Add his Parry to that and, well. The more we play, the more I think I may have to tone down the benefits of the Scorpion Men. I think that I have might have fallen into the Super-Cool Non-Human trap (see Elf, Drow and oh so many others) and the proposed fix (significant XP ding) doesn't really mean anything for a while: he only requires an extra 353 XP to make Level 2; an extra 705 to make 3rd.

Hmn. How to fix. I should probably make his built-in armour less heavy duty, although Plate sounds right for a carapace. A Lizard Man could plausibly have Leather-like armour, but that doesn't sound quite right for a Scorpion Man.

Make them notably slower moving? Hmn, I'm at a bit of a loss at the moment.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

What I Learned from Porn Girls; or Rules--What Are They Good For?

I have become a regular reader of Zak Smith's wonderfully titled Playing D&D With Porn Stars blog. And not because of the implicit promise of prurient delights. Don't misunderstand, I'm perfectly happy to look at pictures of pretty girls like Kimberly Kane. But the fact of the mater is that I would enjoy Zak's blog just as much if his players were not professionally naked. His posts almost always cause me to think, to laugh, or both.

That is the certainly the case with his latest Actual Play report. That, in of itself, is surprising to me, as I rarely find those interesting. Even the reports of fascinating settings from clever Referees (such as Planet Algol and Dwimmermount) usually cause my eyes to glaze over. I think the difference is that most "Actual Play" reports are, in fact, summaries of the in-game narrative while Zak's are really reports of actual play. That is, his posts are about the players rather than the characters. Reading about other people's characters is, for me, uncomfortably like reading gaming fiction; reading about other people's players is a great window into how this strange past-time of ours is actually played.

All of that is by way of introduction to my subject. In Zak's post, he makes a reasoned and reasonable argument for the utility of edition 3.141's Barbarian class and, by extension, many of those elements hated by the grognards. He suggests that the new player, confronted by the limitless options of the table-top rpg, finds rule-based options helpful; something solid to sink her extra-sharp teeth into (sorry about that).

I think Zak has identified something that most of us oldsters forget: the existential dilemma of gaming. "What do I do?" is the first reaction of an adult playing this game, often followed hard upon by "What can I do?" Those of us who have been playing for decades tend to forget this problem. If you were introduced to gaming, as most of us 2nd Gen gamers were, the dilemma was not so acute. Kids have an utterly uncanny ability to make up their own rules at the drop of a hat. If you haven't watched young 'uns at free play in a while, then do so. All they need is the barest seed of a game--"Let's be ponies!"--and off they go. But when you, the putative adult join, you're apt to face the same problem as the adult newbie gamer: "What do I do?"

Stepping back, the phenomenon that we are looking at here has to do with the limiting function of rules. When edition 3.141 was introduced, a lot of people thought that the additional rules meant additional options for play. "I have a Feat that lets me do that? Cool!" What wasn't immediately obvious was that this is the opposite of the truth. By allowing a character with this Feat to do this cool thing, the game explicitly tells everyone without the Feat that they cannot do this cool thing. In less rules-heavy games, pretty much anybody could do that cool thing, if the Referee and the group like the idea. The rules do not, in fact, open up options, but limit them instead, which is to say that they define play.

This much is basically a truism in the OSR now, so I won't belabor the point. But what is less accepted and is what Zak has identified, is that new players find comfort and direction is limiting their options. If you have no idea what to do, being told that you can do anything you want isn't very helpful. Being told that you can do X,Y, and Z is.

Now this leads me to an intriguing conclusion. With all the talk about how the hobby needs a good, introductory game, it occurs to me that something along the lines of 3.141 isn't a bad idea. Maybe there was a good reason that that edition brought a bunch of people into the game. Those defining mechanics can be analogous to training wheels on a bicycle (although that is not a very good analogy, I'll admit). The thing is that, as with training wheels, you aren't supposed to keep them forever. Good bicycle riding and good gaming both ask for you to remove your limiting factors and go nuts.

One might argue that back in our day, when we walked uphill both ways to game, we didn't need no stinking training wheels. Maybe not. Besides the fact that many of us learned from older gamers, there is the big difference that potential gamers today have more alternatives than we had in the all those online thingymabobs, many of which have already inculcated the idea that training wheels are good. Which leaves me to wonder if the ideal intro game would be something quite limiting in character, but which does not run to extended game play. What if one of the Wizards' edition only ran to Level 3, a Basic Game, after which you dropped all those defining rules, took off the training wheels, and just let go?

Post-script: Although I have only glanced at it, it looks as if Green Ronin's Dragon Age rpg, may be exactly what I am describing here. However, I don't really expect them to drop rules as the game levels up. But we shall see.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Psychic Road-Block

I've been kind of stuck on Under the Dying Sun lately. I'm so darn close it's maddening. And I realized that I'm basically stuck on psychic Disciplines. Here's what I have right now:

Level One
1. After Images
2. Body Equilibrium
3. Detect Psions
4. Dowsing
5. Empathy
6. Hypnosis
7. Mind over Body
8. Psychic Obfuscation
9. Psychometry
10. Psychokinetic Push
11. Sensory Enhancement
12. Sensual Obscurement

Level Two
1. Alter Self
2. Body Weaponry
3. Cellular Adjustment
4. Domination
5. Empathic Projection
6. Empty Mind
7. Levitation
8. Occultation
9. Psychic Blast
10. Sense Life
11. Suspended Animation
12. Thought Reading

Level Three
1. Body Control (Withstand Extremes)
2. Clairaudience
3. Clairvoyance
4. Emotional Aura
5. Energize
6. Enervation
7. Hallucination
8. Molecular Agitation
9. Molecular Stasis
10. Neural Erasure
11. Spatial Warping

Level Four
1. Aura Alteration (Remove Curse /Dispel Magic)
2. Feeblemind
3. Mass Domination
4. Mind Bar (Resist Possession)
5. Mnemnonic Illusion
6. Molecular Disintegration
7. Telekinesis
8. Telepathy

Level Five
1. Astral Projection
2. Energy Control
3. Etherealness
4. Molecular Rearrangement (Transmute Metals)
5. Omnipresence
6. Shape Alteration
7. Telepathic Projection (Possession)

Level Six
1. Psionic Necromancy

And I have descriptions and effects for the first two levels.

So what's the problem? Well, look at those lists. Levels 1 and 2 have twelve Disciplines apiece. That works great for rolling up Disciplines. But after that, I'm kind of stuck. I've got eleven Disciplines for level 3. I'm dying to get one more into that list. Oh sure, I could swipe one from Level 4, but that a Peter-Paul problem as I only have eight now form that level and seven for the next. And then poor, sad Level 6 has one and I'm not really sure that even ought to be there at all as it's probably more of a villain bit of colour than a real power.

There are lots of other things unfinished, but this is the one that keeps making me put down the pen (metaphorically). I hope I can break through this soon.

Quite Distracted By: Frontiers of Alusia

I never played DragonQuest. I recall some totally confusing articles in Dragon Magazine and a cool picture of a warrior holding a dragon's head. That was about it until a few years ago when I stumbled upon Cessna at talking passionately about in some thread or another. After checking it out, I found that the system was not really to my taste, but the game was flavourful as hell and had lots of nifty elements (like an amazing list of demon princes to summon).

But forget the system right now. What I just stumbled upon is the default setting:
the Frontiers of Alusia. And I must say that I'm digging it. You get an ~125,000 sm setting, with lots of geographic detail but virtually no settlements. A small barony on the coast and a smaller fief inland. It's not very medieval in that way; rather, it seems to be channeling the idea of the American frontier: people move from the civilized North into the frontiers in search of whatever they are in search of. You kinda know what's there, but not really. Things have names on the maps, but no one has really ever explored them.

Plus, the entire gazetteer is 4 pages long. That's it. For someone like me, that's gold!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

A Mental Ramble About Abilities Leads to a Minor Conclusion

You know Abilities:


Unless you were born after 1974, in which case they are more likely:


The question of what the Abilities in Ye Auld Game really represent is a venerable one. As with so much in the LBB's, the gamer is more-or-less left to his own devices in figuring out these things. Some are fairly straight-forward: Strength seems clear enough, for instance. Constitution too is reasonably self-explanatory. Of course, the fact that Abilities really didn't do anything in that game, other than affect experience accumulation, meant that it wasn't too vital a question.

The debate over Dexterity has had some traction, with many ardent advocates holding the opinion that Dexterity encompasses too many diverse elements: agility, manipulation, and speed among others. I never had much time for this argument on the theoretical level, but it has some validity on the rules-level in later iterations of the game; exceptional Dexterity begins to accumulate a few too many bonuses for my tastes, what with a modifier to hit with missile weapons, a modifier to Armour Class, and a modifier to initiative.

Wisdom has been a good one, particularly when paired with Intelligence. The time I have spent reading arguments over how to distinguish the one from the other is time that I shall, alas, never be able to retrieve from the Abyss of Ages. But the idea seems to have settled down by seeing Wisdom as a combination of willpower and a kind of experiential canniness.

Those confusions all pale in comparison with the Great Mystery Ability, namely Charisma. Ironically, Charisma actually had more mechanical definition in YAG than anything else: it gave you the maximum number of hirelings you could retain. That makes it clear that it is some sort of transitive trait, but it turns out that this isn't as helpful as might be thought. The default assumption among everyone I knew or read was that it basically came down to "attractiveness" and that attractiveness pretty much boiled down to being hot or not. Therefore, the Princess in need of rescue and the Seductive Vamp would have high Charisma.

But that seemed a bit limited after a while. What if you looked like Dejah Thoris, but had all the charm and grace of Tars Tarkas? Even worse, what if you were trying to raise an army of Tharks? Wouldn't looking like the great jeddak be more helpful than looking like the most beautiful woman on two worlds in that case?

It got so bad that the Game Wizards actually addressed the issue in an official publication, the much (and to me, justly) maligned Unearthed Arcana. The UA took the unprecedented step of creating an entirely new Ability, Comeliness. Ah, Comeliness, what an abortion you were. Imagine if the thought behind Comeliness had been carried through and other new Abilities were created which captured some specific element of another Ability? We could have wound up with the HERO System! Actually, our imaginings needn't be so fanciful; some years later, the concept was actually revive in Herbert Westian-fashion when Players' Options: Skills & Powers was gurgitated upon the world for 2nd edition. Each Ability was there split into two Abilities, giving you twice as many things you weren't quite sure about.

Pulling back from individual Abilities, one might contemplate how they all fit together. Do six Abilities really capture all the nuances of a human being (or an elven being or whatever)? Probably not, but really they work just fine if one keeps to the design strategy of broad generalizations. Otherwise...well, see the above comment about HERO. So, returning to the context, it would seem that we have three physical traits (STR, DEX, CON), two mental traits (INT, WIS), and one social trait (CHR).

And there's that Charisma being troublesome again. A social trait? Really? Well, maybe not. During my thinking about spell saves in Spellcraft & Swordplay, I posted about how I had to define Charisma in order for it to make sense to me: strength of self-image. But it's actually a bit more than that, because it has that interpersonal quality. The more I think about it, the more Charisma, like other Abilities, encompasses various traits, one of them being self-image and another being the projection of one's will onto the world.

Huh? Yeah, I know. But the only mechanical effect is how it affects other people. So what if we stop thinking of Charisma as a social trait and start thinking of it as a mental trait? Then one (by which I mean me) begins to notice that an interesting pattern can be created:

Strength: active physical trait
Constitution: reactive physical trait
Dexterity: manipulative physical trait

Intelligence: active mental trait
Wisdom: reactive physical trait
Charisma: manipulative mental trait

I'm not saying that this is the context for Abilities or that I have entirely defined any of them. But for someone like me, who finds the pull of symmetry inescapable, I can't help but be attracted to this way of thinking which gives to the hodge-podge of Abilities that quality which the philosophers called kallos; a beautiful symmetry.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Open Call for Artists

My kids--god love 'em--think that I am a good artist. I have no idea why, except that I can produce modestly amusing pigs and robots:

Anything else is really quite beyond me. Even my daughter--my biggest fan-- upon seeing my attempt at rendering her favourite super-hero Raven (from the Teen Titans)...

Actual Drawing by me

...said, "OK. Now do it better." Alas, my dear, that's about as better as it gets.

Unfortunately, I don't think any of that is really how I want Under the Dying Sun to look. When I picture the game, I picture this:

or, of course, this:

So, I'm just putting this out: I need a decent artist. Or ten. Whatever. If anyone draws art that looks more like the second two pictures than the first two would like to contribute to my little project, I'd be grateful. I'd be more than grateful: I'd be really grateful.

I'd also be happy to talk to anyone who wants to sell me some art. Preferably you will ask for semi-amusing drawings of piggies and robots in recompense.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Animals & Monsters Under the Dying Sun

Animal life under the Dying Sun is extremely different from that of our experience. The notable animal types are reptiles, avians, and insects, many of which grow to unusual size when compared to our animals. The various species of Men are the only mammals; they are aberrations in the biosphere and might plausibly be considered “monsters”.

Monsters are, in general, weird and strange. A few creatures might be known, though perhaps only be reputation, but most should present characters with a fear of the unknown. “What is that thing?!” should be a common exclamation upon sighting a monster.

To keep the mystery of monsters, the Referee may wish to use the following Monster Generator tables. The first step is to pick a pre-defined monster, such as those appearing in the Spellcraft & Swordplay core rules, Book 3. This provides the “base” creature. Then roll on the following tables:

(roll 1D-2 times)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Infra-Men: Crimson-Skinned Subhumans

No. Appearing: 3d6
Alignment: Neutral
Size: M
Armour Class/Defense: 2 (Hides)/0
Move: 90’
Hit Dice: 2 (8 HP)
Attacks: 1 Weapon (+2 damage) OR Unarmed
Modes: --
Disciplines: --
Special: Class Abilities on 11+; Enhanced STR (12); Resistant to Sorcery (+2 on Saves); Reduced INT (5)
Moral: +2
Treasure: 1 per individual
XP: 15 + 2/HP (31)

Infra-Men are hulking Quasi-Men of bestial appearance and mentality with a deep crimson-coloured skin and black hair. Of the same general type as Helots, Infra-Men are larger, generally stronger, and much stupider. They may have been a labour-class for the Old Men who became feral after the Collapse. In any case, they now wander the lands under the Dying Sun in small bands, warring with each other by and large, but are always happy to kill True Men, who the regard as racial enemies.

Some few Infra-Men possess Class Abilities. These inevitably become Chiefs and Shamans of their bands and can be fearsome foes indeed.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Darzai: Wolves of the Plains

No. Appearing: 2d6+2
Alignment: Neutral
Size: M
Armour Class/Defense: 2/0
Move: 120’
Hit Dice: 1+2 (6 HP)
Attacks: 1 beak (axe) OR 2 front claws (daggers)
Modes: --
Disciplines: --
Special: Enhanced Sight (+2), Pack Mentality (+2 combat rolls when de-fending pack-mates)
Moral: +2
Treasure: 2 (in lair)
XP: 5+1/HP (11)

Darzai are man-sized avians that fill the same ecological niche as wolves do in our world—pack-oriented predators and scavengers. Their bodies are covered in thick reddish-brown feathers (giving them an equivalent to padded armour). Large, hooked beaks protrude from their heads. They are flightless and the wings have evolved back into limbs, although these front legs are smaller and shorter than the rear, giving Darzai a weird stance. Nevertheless, they run very quickly despite this seeming ungainliness and they can attack effectively with their front claws.

Unlike wolves, Darzai have a sense of smell only comparable to humans. However, their vision is exceedingly keen and they hunt by sight rather than scent.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Sand Ghul: Nightmare of the Wizard

Sand Ghul

No. Appearing:
Armour Class/Defense:
Hit Dice:
2 HD (8HP)
1 Bite +2 (spear) OR 2 Claws +2 (daggers)
A – Ego Whip
D – Mental Barrier
1- Detect Psions, Sensory Obscurement
2- Domination
-3 to be detected
20+2 (36)

Sand Ghuls are a horrid variety of Quasi-Man, although whether a degenerate line of mutants or some sort of artificial beings is unknown. They appear as naked humans, but with deathly-gray skin and four digits on each hand and foot.

Although only semi-intelligent, Sand Ghuls are masterful hunters with amazing capabilities for concealment. Any attempt to detect the presence of concealed Sand Ghuls suffers a -3 penalty. They travel the wastes in small packs of 1-6.

Sand Ghuls crave the brains of psychics. They prefer to stalk small parties traversing the desert, staying hidden until the dead of night. Using their Detect Psions abilities, they find psychic prey. They are clever enough, however, to know that the most powerful of psychic may be more trouble than they are worth and usually choose middling-level psychics. They then utter their weird, haunting hunting cry, which sounds like a ghostly horn drifting from the wilderness. At the same time, they use their Domination to summon their prey out of camp, where they will be swiftly dispatched and the Ghuls feast upon their brain.

The Tholat: A Creature of the Deserts

No. Appearing: 20-60
Alignment: Neutral
Size: Large (8’ at shoulders)
Armour Class/Defense: 2/+1 to attacks from Medium foes
Move: 60’
Hit Dice: 3 HD (12 HP)
Attacks: 2 Bite +2 (Sword) OR 1 +2 Trample (Large Club); -1 vs. Medium foes
Modes: --
Disciplines: --
Special: Trample (Tiny)
Moral: +2
Treasure: --
XP: 20+3/HP (56)

Tholat are large, herbivorous lizards, growing up to 15’ in length with a tail half again as long. They have dull emerald skin and a ridged dorsal fin that filters moisture out of the air. Tholat are well-adapted to life in the sandy deserts—besides their remarkable dorsal ridge, they can eat virtually anything, and can survive extend periods of starvation. This makes them an excellent choice as the preferred herds of the Desert Men. Those Men keep largish herds and are able to use the entirety of the tholat for their needs—Desert Men make a beautiful, green leather from tholat flesh, they eat the meat, they burn tholat excrement, and they even make a fermented drink from tholat blood, which they extract in small quantities from the living beasts.

Tholat are, however, incredibly ill-tempered beasts. They think nothing of biting a person who annoys them and are careless in the extreme of walking right over or sitting down upon other living creatures. Unlike most pack herbivores, tholat are not easily affrighted and will as likely fight predators as run away (perhaps because they do not move particularly quickly) They also smell horrendous as they emit a near-constant stream of flatulence. Desert Men tend to take the behaviour (and stench) of their ornery beasts in stride, but most other Men cannot stand them, even if they do rather enjoy tholat steaks.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Map of the Hajal Region

I posted my first take at a small-scale regional map awhile ago, with 1 hex equal to 10 miles. Although very, very far from complete, it gave me the basic frame so that I could work on a larger-scale, one where 1 hex equal 2 miles. This map is centered on the City-State of Hajal, which is going to be the Lankhmar/Sanctuary/Tyr/whathaveyou of the Kahira setting.

Alert-eyed imaginary readers will note that I have already substantially changed the geography from the earlier effort--Hajal is on the other side of the great valley now.

Anyway, here's what we gots so far:

Quiet Around Here, Eh?

Not from lack of industry, I assure you. I've been gearing up for my play-test and it's amazing how just preparing to play makes the bone-headed stuff jump out at you. Examples?

Steel weapons are supposed to be amazingly rare in this setting as they are essentially +1 weapons. I made them 5 times as expensive as regular weapons. Well, if you roll 3d6x10 for starting funds, you actually can afford steel without too much luck. That's kind of bone-headed on my part. But, it got me thinking that in a game that emphasizes scarcity, 3d6x10 is actually too much for starting funds.

Another example?

I thought it would be neat to have some randomness in the number of Disciplines possessed by untrained sorcerers. That sounded good until I my very first play-tester rolled up three Disciplines. That's how many an actual Sorcerer has. So, this other character is, in essence, a Sorcerer and the other class as well. That doesn't work for me. I'm going to change at so that untrained sorcerers only get one Discipline to start with.

More examples? Stop pestering me, already. I think I've made my point; no need to embarrass me. The point is that I have been cleaning things up a lot, which is great stuff, but makes deadly dull blog reading. So things might stay a bit quiet for a while.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Under the Dying Sun--PbP Play-Test

I'm noticing a distinct lack of recruitment for my play-test PbP over at If any imaginary readers of the blog want to play, come on over to this thread and jump in.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

First Draft Take Two!

There's nothing like making something public to magically let you see all the damn mistakes you made. So, I have replaced the Under the Dying Sun draft with v1.2 in which I actually did some basic editing (like taking the name "Athas" out of the text)!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

First Playtest Draft of Under the Dying Sun

I've put up Version 1 of the Play-test Draft of Under the Dying Sun. It's at the old website right here. It's should be pretty familiar to all two of you who looked at the draft when it was a Dark Sun hack; the rest of you hypothetical readers are in for an entirely new experience.

As always, any feedback is appreciated.

First Map of the Lands under the Dying Sun

A setting with a game is a funny thing. Not "ha-ha" funny, but a tricky proposition. You are trying to provide a set of rules to allow someone to make their own world. And yet, without some example, without some colour of some kind, it's hard to figure out what kind of game you are trying to create. You don't want to limit people's imagination, but you do want to spark it.

Plus, people just dig maps.

So, I'm trying to walk the middle way with Under the Dying Sun: I want to be able to put in flavour text like my earlier post about the Desert Men. I also want to have some kind of a map. I'm going to call the setting info "A Sample Starting Setting" unless I think of a less alliterative label. I've been noodling around with it for a while now and here's my first stab at (an obviously incomplete) map:

I'm somewhat abashed to admit that the biggest single effort on this so far has been getting a symbol for cities that I like. What I have at this point is pretty good, although it could use some refining. I was largely inspired by the simple, flowing lines that Lin Carter used in his Thongor books. I loved those maps as a kid, especially the little doodles he drew for cities.

Thanks to Greyharp for the link.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Quite Distracted By: Engines & Empires

[The title is meant to indicate that this is the first in a series, as I fully anticipate becoming quite distracted on many occasions]

Engines & Empires is supplement to, or a setting for, or perhaps a spin-off from Labyrinth Lord, the retro-clone of the 1981 Moldvay/Cook Basic and Expert Dungeons & Dragons game (that was a bit of a mouthful). It is intended to facilitate play in a gaslight fantasy setting, rather than the quasi-medieval setting of the base game. Frankly, I am surprised at how much I am liking it.

I first became aware of E&E (I won't bother to explain what that stands for) about a year ago when a free Basic Set was made available for download at Lulu. It was, I think, the first non-Goblinoid Games product for LL (I won't explain that one either). I was underwhelmed. It seemed to me a kind of neat idea that was kind of okay, but really nothing worth writing home about...or even writing a blog about. The authour said that the Basic game was just there to introduce the game and the the "real" game would appear and really make it sing. I promptly forgot about it.

A recent thread at reminded me of the game and I learned that the Campaign Compendium had been released (also a free download from Lulu). I downloaded it, saw that it was over 200 pages, and put it aside. But today, something prompted me to print out the first 60 pages and take a look (I can't read these things on the screen and I'm fortunate to have an office where I a printer). My reaction this time was quite different. Although there are a number of mechanical quirks that I like, what really hit me was that this release (quite unlike the first) had PLAY ME! oozing out of it. The very first character class, the Boxer, immediately gave me character ideas. That's a good thing.

Of course, there are already things that I would change, but that is not a real complaint (since I change something in everything). For example, the game is supposed to be set in a world that sort of mimics Victorian Europe, but where the various faerie races live in the open, controlling the north of the continent and they are not diminishing. At all. That's neat and all, but I really think it would be a heck of a lot more fun to play in the real world (or some version of it). You just can't beat the flavour of Victorian London with a made-up analog.

I intend to write an actual review of this once I finish it and process it a bit more. But quite distracted by it right now.

Friday, October 16, 2009

A Bit of Fluff about Desert Men Under the Dying Sun

Desert Men

A race of Quasi-Men specially adapted to life in the deserts. They are extremely thin, to radiate heat, and nearly hairless with coppery skin that does not burn in the sun. They have nictating membranes to protect their eyes, with almost vestigial outer ears and nostrils. True Men say that Desert Men are a product of the forgotten magics of the Senex. Desert Men generally do not care what True Men think.

Desert Men inhabit the sandy wastes in small, nomadic tribes, herding fierce tholat and other desert-dwellings species. Unlike many nomadic peoples, Desert Men do not ride animals. Despite their light frames, Desert Men are amazingly fleet of foot and they are superbly adapted to run for long distances under the brutal sun.

They supplement themselves by trading with settlements or raiding merchant caravans. Because they are always afoot, a raiding party of Desert Men is a strange sight in which a group runs in from the desert, firing their bone bows, leaps aboard any vehicles and runs off with the goods. Most Desert Men claim that they belong to the Trading Tribes and that the Bandit Tribes are bad men. Most city-dwellers maintain that there is no distinctions between Trading and Raiding Tribes and that Desert Men only trade with settlements after they have first raided the goods of merchant caravans. Desert Men habitually shrug at such comments.

They may take any class.

Desert Men have the following special abilities, for which they receive a -5% experience penalty:
- +2 to CON Checks and -1 STR Checks in addition to any class-based bonuses.
- May perform shot on the run with the bow.
- Move twice as quickly as True Men when unencumbered.. They have a base move of 120’ per round. This is reduced to 60’ in armour up to Chain and to a normal 30’ in Plate.

The picture Mirage is by Jason Engle and used without permission.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Again With the Logo?

Yeah, a new thought:

A Bit of Fluff about True Men Under the Dying Sun

True Men
May take any class and have no special modifiers or penalties.

True Men claim to be the heirs of the fallen civilization of the Senex. They regard all other tribes of Men, such as Desert Men and Wild Men, as “Quasi-Men”. True Men regard themselves as a unique, superior species. Once upon a time, before the sun began to die, True Men were the dominant force in the world, but they have been on the wane for centuries. What is true is that the various tribes of Men are unique—they are the only mammals under the Dying Sun. Some stories suggest that Men originated on another world, but how would anyone confirm that?

Although waning in power, True Men remain the most civilized of intelligent species and maintain the highest technical skills. They are the only species to inhabit cities, which they see as a sign of superiority and other species see as a sign of decadence.

Monday, October 12, 2009

An Internal Debate: What Kind of Thark?

So a Sword & Planet setting needs a non-human race that are generally antagonistic to civilization, but might form friendships with True Men on occasion. The archetype, of course, being Burrough's Green Men (1912).

What's important to note is that Green Martians are basically monsters in design: savage and loveless, gigantic, four-armed, green-skinned, tusked, and antennaed.

An ardent fan by the name of Michael Moorcock, masquerading under the pseudonym of "Edward Powys Bradbury", write a trio of Mars novels (1965) that presented the Argzoon, also gigantic, but essentially humans with blue-skin.

At the same time, fellow disciple Lin Carter took his first a several stabs at this archetype. In his Lemuria Cycle (1965), as he loved to term these things, he has the Rhmoahal, very much the same as the Argzoon: giant, blue-skinned humans. In his Callisto Cycle (1972), which is more clearly Sword & Planet, he created the Yathoon: the much more monstrous insect men who possess amazing leaping abilities and a sort of logical barbarism. This culminates in his Green Star Cycle (also 1972) with the Kraan, gigantic ants which display the same imperturbable logic.

I'll conclude this little tour with TSR's Dark Sun setting (1991), which has a lot of Sword & Planet trappings and which elevated the mantis men, the Thri-Kreen (a painfully cacophonous name), from another monster to the Archetype being discussed.

All of the above is just to say that I need me some Tharks for Under the Dying Sun. But what sort? Here's the leading candidates in my mind:

1. Reptile Men
Reptile Men have long history in D&D--folks have been grooving to the Lizard Men since Day 1 as far as I can tell. Reptile Men work awfully well in a desert setting, which tends to elevate reptiles and insects into the ecological niches which mammals occupy in other settings.

2. Insect Men
That reasoning also applies to Insect Men (by which I really mean Bug Men, I guess, since I'd include arachnids and whatnot in this category). They have the additional advantage of seeming more alien than reptiles. Lots of folks find insects icky; lots of others find them wicked cool. They get built-in armoured carapaces and lots of other options: extra arms, claws, mandibles, wings, poison, spinners...and on and on.

One drawback is that it's easy to carried away and give Insect Men too damn many advantages. Another is that Insect Man is pretty identified with Dark Sun (and Arduin before that). But still there are some untouched options: Scorpion Men and Spider Men both jump to mind.

3. Blob Men
This one is a little wilder. But Blob Men--such as the Dralasites from Star Frontiers--are keen. 'Nuff said. The only drawback is that they trend to be a bit slow-moving to form a credible howling mob. Oh, and it also seems like they might just dry up in a desert.

So...thoughts, o loyal imaginary friends?

Saturday, October 10, 2009

An Internal Debate: To Horse Or Not To Horse

By which I mean that I am debating whether or not to have any kind of riding animals present in Under the Dying Sun.  There is a lot to recommend having none.  When the only way to travel in on your own two feet, even small distances become daunting.  And that, in turn, really emphasizes the ideas of isolated communities and the dangers of travel.  A village 15 miles away would take at least two days to reach, meaning that you would have to spend at least one night out in the wilds. A village 30 miles away might as well be on the moon--no one is going to travel that far without a damned good reason.  A set-up like this not only gives you excellent fodder for making every community unique and mysterious, but also explains why people would choose to live in whatever hell-hole they live in.  Sure it sucks, but where can you go?

On the other hand, when I imagine deserty settings, Lawrence of Arabia...

...and uncounted Westerns... out in my mind and it's hard to have those images without horses or an equivalent. Something is lost when the fierce tribesmen amble out of the desert or when the gang of outlaws has to run into town.  Plus, in a fantasy desert setting, you can have giant flightless riding birds or lizards or insects. 

And those things are just cool.

So...still debating this one.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Still Playing With the Darn Logo

Not satisfied yet, but getting a little closer. I'm not crazy about the yellow spot--it makes the text easier to read, but gives a Giant Eyeball quality that I'm not keen on.

Sample Artifact: Chromatic Projection Rod

Chromatic Projection Rod (Deciphering Difficulty: Hard +2)

A number of these items have been discovered over the centuries. Each has been unique in design. All are closed, metallic rods (though of differing metals, including many unrecognizable to modern folk) varying from 6” to 18” in length and 4” to 10” in diameter. Some are absolutely plain, while others have ridges or decorations.

A Chromatic Projection Rod emits a beam of colour the same diameter as the rod itself to a distance of 30’. Each rod will emit only one colour. Different colours have different effects on anything splashed with beam’s colour. When a Chromatic Projection Rod is discovered, the Referee may wish to roll on the following chart to determine colour and effect. If the Referee prefers, he may randomly roll colour first and then make a new roll for effect in order to keep the players guessing.

Alert, hypothetical readers will note that this Table is incomplete right now. Any suggestions welcomed.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

New Logo: Take Two

Taking the base from yesterday, here's some additional futzing to make it look less perfect and grimmer:

Monday, October 5, 2009

Potential New Logo

Riffing off of the idea of converting Under the Dark Sun into soemthing more original, here's a the first stab at a logo:

Should I be futzing around with logos at this point? Perhaps not, but for whatever reason, they help me to think.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Should "Under the Dark Sun" Be Something Else?

No sooner than having gotten the play-test version of my Dark Sun ready, do I begin to wonder if this really ought to be Dark Sun after all.  I've made so many changes along the way that the setting has tilted toward...well, the Psychic Science Fantasy setting I originally set out to write on this blog almost seven months ago.  So I'm wondering if the name "Dark Sun" has some intrinsic value or if I should go ahead and remold it as my own thing.  What thinkest thou, dear hypothetical reader?

Friday, October 2, 2009

Dark Sun: 2nd Level Disciplines

Level Two Disciplines
1. Alter Self
2. Body Weaponry
3. Cellular Adjustment
4. Domination
5. Empathic Projection
6. Empty Mind
7. Levitation
8. Occultation
9. Psychic Blast
10. Sense Life
11. Suspended Animation
12. Thought Reading

Alter Self
Duration: 1 Turn/Level Range: Line of Sight Save: INT (Special)

The psychic sorcerer may utilize very subtle sensory manipulations to change his own appearance. He may appear as anyone or anything of approximately his own height and shape. Those viewing the altered psychic do not normally get a INT Check to penetrate the mesmerism unless they have some reason to be suspicious or if the psychic attempts to masquerade as some specific person.

Body Weaponry

Duration: 1 Turn/Level Range: Self

The body weaponry discipline allows the possessor to use his or her body as both weapon and armor by altering the molecules in the body as needed. The table below shows the equivalent armor class and weapon according to the level of mastery.

Psychic Level Armour Class Attack Effect
2 2 +1 to Combat Roll; roll Small Weapon damage
3 2 +2 to Combat Roll; roll Small Weapon damage
4 3 +2 to Combat Roll; roll Medium Weapon damage
5 3 +3 to Combat Roll; roll Medium Weapon damage
6 4 +3 to Combat Roll; roll Medium Weapon damage
7 4 +4 to Combat Roll; roll Medium Weapon damage
8 4 +4 to Combat Roll; roll Large Weapon damage
9 5 +4 to Combat Roll; roll Large Weapon damage
10 5 +5 to Combat Roll; roll Large Weapon damage

[I just don't have the heart to do a proper table here]

Cellular Adjustment

Duration: Instant Range: Touch Save: N/A

The psychic is able to restore (1D per 2 levels) of damage to wounded creatures. This discipline may also be used to treat diseases.


Duration: 1 Round/Level Range: 1 Target; Line of Sight Save: WIS

An overt, mesmeric exercise in which the psychic sorcerer reaches out an attempts to over-ride the thoughts and impulses of the target. Failing a WIS Save, the target be-comes the mind-slave of the psychic. He will automatically perform any action which the psychic wills him to do, although utterly repugnant acts (a command to kill oneself or hurt a loved one) allow additional Save attempts. This Discipline is not subtle—the target is aware of who and what is occurring and conscious of everything that he is directed to do.

Empathic Projection

Duration: 1 Round/Level Range: 10’/Level Save: CHA (Special)

The psychic projects subtle, emotional manipulations in a sphere about himself. The user must specify which mood he is attempting to enhance at time of use. If a target would have no reason not to go with the mood, no Save is allowed. Trying to spread “Love” to an angry opponent, however, allows a CHA Save. Animals typically receive no Save and this Discipline is very useful in gentling wild animals.

Empty Mind

Duration: 1 Turn/Level Range: Self Save: N/A

This Discipline blanks the mind to all attempts at detection and thought-reading (in-cluding Empathy). The psychic would not show up if someone uses Detect Psions or Sense Life and is invulnerable to Telepathy and the like. Note that the immunity to detection ends as soon as any other psychic sorcery is used.


Duration: 1 Round/Level Range: Self Save: N/A

The psychic may psychokinetically move himself about at a rate of 10’/Round.


Duration: 1 Round/Level Range: Self Save: INT (Special)

This subtle mesmerism allows the psychic to turn himself invisible by literally pre-venting people from seeing him. Because this is a psychic avoidance, targets will not see, hear, smell, or any another way perceive the user. Targets do not normally get a INT Check to penetrate the mesmerism unless they have some reason to be suspi-cious. If the psychic attacks someone, the effect immediately ends for the target, al-though others will remain affected (and will thus see their companion attacking empty air).

Psychic Blast

Duration: Instant/1D Rounds Range: 1 Target; Line of Sight Save: WIS

A blast of unfiltered mental force with effects similar to receiving a sudden, horrible shock. The target must make a WIS Save or slip into shock for 1D rounds, unabke to perform any actions. Making the Save still imparts a -2 penalty to all rolls made dur-ing that period.

Sense Life

Duration: 1 Turn/Level Range: 10’/Level Save: None

The basic vital energies of any living being can be sensed with this Discipline. The psychic sorcerer is not only able to detect the presence of life within range, but also location and approximate size. His sensitivity is such that he cannot be surprised and can even engage in combat if otherwise blinded (such as in total darkness), assuming that environmental obstacles are not present (that is, he can “see” his opponents with this Discipline, but he cannot “see” walls, doors, rocks, etc.). Non-living constructs do not register on this Discipline.

Suspended Animation

Duration: 2 Days/Level Range: Self Save: N/A

The psychic sorcerer shuts down all his physical processes—he does not breath or need to eat or drink while in suspended animation. He also regains 2 HP/day while “resting”. The user of this Discipline can either remain suspended for the full time or can set a “trigger” to awaken (3 days; when I’ve healed fully; when someone ap-proaches).

Thought Reading

Duration: 1 Round/Level Range: 1 Target; Line of Sight Save: WIS

The psychic sorcerer can read the thoughts of whomever he stares at and who flails the Save. He may stay with one target throughout the entire duration or read multi-ple targets, but must spend a minimum of 1 round per target to obtain any informa-tion. The target of this Discipline will not be aware it is being used upon him unless he makes the Save; in this case, he feels the probe and locks up his mind.

Only active thoughts may be read with this Discipline. It does not probe into the un-conscious nor can the psychic sorcerer direct it to read specific information. What-ever is running through the target’s mind is what he hears.