Thursday, March 26, 2009

Continued Distraction

Obviously, still distracted. I have finally, finally finished the first map for Underland. As I said before, I can't post the whole thing because I have player's going through it, but I break down now and post just a snippet so the old-schooliness of the thing can be seen.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

A Beautiful Map That Isn't Mine

But may have more to do with the ostensible subject of this blog.

Or not.

It's just awesome anyway and needs no justification for posting.


Obviously, I have been a little distracted the last few days. I am finishing up a level in my Underland dungeon that has taken months. Yes, that's right: months. I am incredibly slow at making dungeons. I redraw the map over and over and over until it feels right. And I can't really stock the thing until the map is done. So. Obsessive and perfectionist, yes.

But then, as I was almost done, I suddenly got this idea not to use a scan of my hand-drawn map (version 7, I think, for those keeping score). Instead, I wanted to try and create a map that looked like the old TSR ones; you know, with that amazingly hard to reproduce shade of blue. And that has taken the better part of three days now and I'm not done.

But the results are pretty damn nice I must say. I don't know when I can make the map available because my players are about to enter it. But I can post a tiny sub-level map just to show how it looks:

I am perhaps inordinately proud of that. This is going to make progress on Underland even slower than before, unfortunately for me. But such is the price of excellence.
Anyway, I shall be back to Hypernotus soon, I think.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

S&W Psionics, Part I

James just posted the first draft of the first part of his S&W Psionics rules. There isn't a lot to go on yet, but my reaction is positive. And am I relieved because this whole project would not have gone anywhere if I didn't cotton to the rules. I like the way it preserves the pretty random nature of Psi, although using different and more D&D-like dice methods

(Small digression: percentile rolls are great. Really. They make it very clear what the odds are of things. But they just aren't D&D to me. Those rare occasions when D&D calls for apercentile roll always seems wrong to me. So having the Psi rolls put back to d20 and 2d6 works just fine for me.)

I'm quite glad to see Class Level plugged into the equation. D&D is class-based game and removing class from consideration is always, always a mistake. Witness the Non-Weapon Proficiencies of AD&D or the...uh...whatever they were called for BECMI. Realistic? Probably not? The best way to run a role-playing game? Certainly not. But it is what makes D&D, D&D and not Runequest.

That said, I'm already beginning to wonder if I have problem in Hypernotus in regards to Psionics vs. Non-Psionics. Now, of course, there is always going to be disparity between PC's based on lucky rolls. Again, it's part of what makes the game, the game. But this may be a disparity of a whole 'nother level when Psi is such an important part of the setting. It's a bit like saying, "OK, roll to see if your Fighter can also cast Magic-User spells while wearing armour." That's a bit of a rip for both the MU and the other Fighters. Elves, at least, have to pay a serious XP penalty for the benefit (and stringent level limitations if you use those).

So, what to do? Well, I'm not panicking right now. I think that the solution may lie in emphasizing the burdens of Psionics. Psionic characters are open to a form of attack that others aren't exposed to. I see myself maybe tweaking the rules to play that up. For example, perhaps having Psionics makes you glow like a Christmas Tree to other Psionics. There goes sneaking up on that Mind non-copyrighted name one comes up with.

Maybe non-Psionics are totally immune to Attack Modes. I kind of like that. If you see the use of the Modes as a Duel Arcane, then it makes sense that non-Psi can neither engage nor be engaged in that. That doesn't mean that they are immune to Psi; the disciplines would still be perfectly effective.

Anyway, something to ponder as we wait for the next installment of the rules.

Species and Sorcery

At the moment, I'm considering doing this thing up in three "chapters" or "parts", with each a reference to the Little Brown Books.  Why do I insist on coming up with these overly-clever bits?  Beats me. 

Anyway, the first part would be called Species and Sorcery.  But the actual content is still very undetermined.  Once I get the Psi rules from James, that will help me flesh out the second half of the equation.  But the first half is trickier.

I tend to prefer my games with nothing but humans nowadays.  Oh, maybe the occasional Thark just to throw the humans into relief, but the whole interracial, Fellowship-thing does not much suit me anymore.  So I'm very tempted to restrict Species to exactly one category--True Man. This would play up the idea that we are at the end of the run for Homo sapiens, as the last representatives of that paradoxical species battle their own creations at the terminus of the world.

On the other semi-human hand, there is so much scope for near-humans here.  I mentioned this in the first post: Ultramen, Inframen, Pseudomen, and New Men.  That's a lot of possibilities right there.  Genetically engineered, mentally unbalanced Ultramen battling side by side with with organic android Pseudomen and the sentient descendant of uplifted Fossas?  Yes?

The biggest problem with the second scenario is mechanical.  I don't want to define all variations of uplifted New Men, engineered Hypermen, etc.  Neither do I want to come up with any complex way of mechanically distinguishing them.  One of the draws of the old-school game is that there isn't actually a heck of a lot of rules differences between the various "races".  In my games, being a demi-human basically just means that you have the option to multi-class and a little trick or two (such a detecting slopes) in exchange for an XP ding (I don't use Level Limits).  This isn't GURPS and there shouldn't be any complex system of exchanges that turns the whole creation exercise into a point-buy system.

But I'm not sure how I'd do those various Semi-Men otherwise.  Well, something to ponder.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Classes; or Where Have All the Clerics Gone?

First thinking about Classes has me thinking of the basic three: Fighter, Wizard, and Thief.

"Thief", you say! "Thief is a johnny-come-lately. The Cleric is the third class."

I've discussed my problems with the Cleric before and I intend to implement Keep the Thief, Kill the Cleric here. To summarize the argument: the Cleric fits neither the historical nor the literary sources of the game and is actually more self-justifying than the Thief. More specific to Hypernotus, there are no gods interested in having champions who can heal the weak and produce loaves and fishes. Gods will be alien creatures from beyond, sentient computers, and hyped-up superhumans. The Cleric is out.

So, there's my three. But I have this desire to change the names a bit. That's not merely cosmetic. The name of the Class evokes certain ideas. Think just a bit about the difference between the names Thief and Rogue. They could be mechanically identical, but they certainly give very different senses of the role.

My first thought here may be too gimmicky; I'm not sure. But here it is:
  • Slayer
  • Scavenger
  • Sorcerer
(Get it? They all start with "S". Clever, eh?)

The idea of Slayer is that these people aren't so much focused on fighting per se, and may very well not be warriors (which has a certain vocational sound to it). Instead, they kill things. However, if Slayer ends up sounding too Buffyesque, I might fall back on Killer.

Scavenger evokes a a certain do-anything-to-survive quality. It works fine to describe someone who would rather backstab than exchange blows, who skulks around ruins, and who figures out how to get usable stuff out of other stuff. I'm also playing with the name Survivor.

Sorcerer does not really need explanation. But for the record, I have this notion from Thundarr the Barbarian that Sorcerers are normal humans who can use magic, as distinguished from Wizards, who all have bizarre aberrations and may not be human in the first place.

The Map--Update

I just received permission from Chris Wayans to use his Dubia map. Keen!

The Map

This is the gorgeous map of Future Antarctica that got me started:

It was done by Chris Wayan in 2003, on a site called The World Dream Bank. It is a fascinating site, particularly the various Earth's that have been modified in some way. This particular image comes from a future called "Dubia", which is pretty funny.

Anyway, isn't that lovely? And doesn't it fairly scream for adventuring possibilities? That huge inland sea; the archipelagos; the mighty mountains running along the eastern coast? Awesome.

Some Basic Questions and Answers

Here are some questions from a perspicacious and entirely imaginary reader.

Q: Isn't this just Mutant Future?

A: Great question; thanks for asking. Mutant Future is a fantastic product, but this is something a bit different. The key here is that Hypernotus (if that is indeed it's name) is a setting idea for versions of Ye Old Game. To me, that means that Classes are absolutely required. Also, the basis of this project was to use the Psionics system as the the magic system. Mutant Future uses the Gamma World idea of mutations, which is rather different. Finally, Hypernotus will be a bit less gonzo than Gamma World or Mutant Future. No random mutations to produce a two-headed cat-man with laser beam eyes. Not that there is anything wrong with that. It's just not this project.

Q: Why do I need a whole setting for this? Can't I just play my favourite version of Ye Old Game and use the Psionics system?

A: Of course you can; no need to get so pushy. But the idea here is to take the implications of Psionics as the magic system and push them a bit further. Let's take that fantasy idea of the Duel Arcane. In most versions of YOG (Ye Old Game; I'm getting tired of typing this whole thing), wizards can toss spells at each other, but there is no formalized system for dueling. But the Psionics system does have this interesting mechanic in which two empowered combatants can choose Attack and Defense modes and see what happens. It is a oddly tactical system that really changes the dynamic of combat. Additionally, Psionics Attacks work differently against non-psionic individuals. That also changes the feel of things.

Here's another: magic items. The whole idea of enchanting items changes with the psionic system. What does a psionic-magic sword mean? Well, I have some thoughts here that do rather alter things (essentially, that powerful personalities can imprint themselves upon weapons they use OR weapons that kill them).

But here's what Hypernotus will not be: it will not be a detailed, fully-fleshed out setting with reams of information. It is, rather, to be a sketch of a setting that is there as much to give other Referees the ideas as much as it is to use.

Q: Why aren't you doing this for Swords of Fortune instead? That game is cool.

A: You are a man of taste and distinction. The idea behind Hypernotus could work very well in a purely Swords & Sorcery game. But that's not what I'm doing here right now. This is an old-school idea. It is not about Big Damn Heroes (in the Hellenic sense); it's about foolhardy adventurers who might someday become Big Damn Heroes. All the ideas of old-school play are at work here and a number of these are quite at odds with my feelings about a purely S&S game.

But thanks for asking.

Here I Go

Because, you know, all the cool geeks are bloggin'.

No, not really.  I'm actually starting this because I have a little old-school project I'm working on and I thought this might be an interesting way to approach it.  My usual method is to hole up behind my computer for months on end and never let anything see the light of day until it's perfect.  Which, of course, is pretty much never.  So, I thought maybe I'd try something a little different this time.

Ostensibly, the focus of this blog is work on a Psychic Science-Fantasy setting for old-school gaming.  I suspect that the subject might well expand a bit if this proves to be enjoyable for me to write and anyone else to read.  But, for now, I'll try to stick to the setting.

And what is that setting I don't hear you ask?  Glad you asked.  Instead of answering, allow me to digress.  Within 24 hours of each other, I was involved in two discussions--one on and the second on James  Maliszkewski's always worthwhile Grognardia blog--about psionics in Ye Old Game (both the original Eldritch Wizardry and that in the Dungeon Master's Guide). In both cases, I said that, while I really never cared for psionics in a game with Vancian magic, the system itself was always kind of intriguing and I had idly pondered a setting where psionics was the magic system.  In a bit of brinkmanship, I said that if James finished his Swords & Wizardry hack of the rules, I'd write up the setting.

Well, I got a bit carried away and started thinking about it already.  I got this powerful image of the far future. Mankind's civilizations have all risen and fallen and the the last is quickly declining into barbarism and savagery.  This is a world where the term "mankind" has been radically redefined, as our descendants alternately cooperate and compete with Pseudomen, Ultramen, Undermen, Transmen, and New Men.  A world where the sorcery of the mind is no less fabulous than the eldritch technologies of the past.  A world where the Last Men live amid the heaps and ruins of a thousand previous cultures, looting them to stay alive for one more day.

Immediately, I recalled a wonderful map I had seen.  It was a projection of Antarctica one thousand years into the future if global climate change keeps on pace.   Green and temperate. The bottom of the world at the end of the world. That seemed like the place.  I'm imagining this setting as the love child of Kamandi, Clark Ashton Smith's Hyperborea, Thundarr the Barbarian, the Book of the New Sun, Last & First Men, and Gamma World.  

That's the plan anyway.  I don't know how often I'll be posting.  But the point of doing so is to get feedback about the thing.

What's that, you say?  What is this wonderful thing called?  Oh, good question. I've played around with a few names.  I thought about being gritty and calling it Terminus.  I've thought about being cute and calling it Acitcratna.  But right now, I'm rather favouring calling it Hypernotus, "the Land Beyond the South Wind".