Friday, August 28, 2009

State of Play

I've had some interruption from real life, but I'm still plugging away at the Old-School Dark Sun. That said, I am finding myself slowing down as I wrestle with some issues. In no particular order:

1. Alignment
I've made a few see-sawing posts on this topic here and here and haven't gotten any further yet.

2. Weapon vs. Armour Class
Following my analysis of the various Weapon vs. AC Charts, I determined that I wanted to produce my own that would not be "better" per se, but which would better reflect my own preferences. I'm making progress with this, but I keep having alternate thoughts. One consideration is of combining more weapons into single categories, based on broad type (Axes, Swords, etc.). Then having each category have one entry on the WvACC, with standard modifiers for two-handed and short versions. Thus there would be one entry for Sword. All two-handed weapons might get +1 to hit, while short weapon get -1.

3. Serious Wounds Chart aka the Wheel of Dismemberment
Boy, this is proving harder than I thought. Filling out some effects for head injuries, as I posted here, was easy and fun. But I'm finding it much trickier on the other areas. How do you distinguish a Serious Wound to the ankle from that to the foot? Do I include some injuries that can be healed over time (broken bones) or do I make them all permanent? This is a toughy for me.

4. Psychic Disciplines and Advancement
I have not really dealt with this in a while; I turned to other issues. I realized when posting my sample Slayer, that I had a lot of work left here.

So, that's the state of play at the moment. Hopefully, I'll refresh a bit over the weekend and get back to work as I really want to play-test this thing as soon as can.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Dark Sun: Alignment Continued

There was definitely room for at least one more "and yet" in the initial post.

And yet.

Perhaps I am dismissing the metaphysical and the triune-alignment system too readily. Let's play this out a bit more and see how it looks:

The time is out of joint: O cursed spite,
That ever I was born to set it right!

--Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 5

Athas is a world out of joint. Not merely an historical accident or an ecological anomaly, but a serious metaphysical rupture in the spirit of what should be. What exactly happened and how is unknown. Very few inhabitants of the Burning World are consciously aware of this state and, even if they were, they would be unable to express it. Nevertheless, the Defiling Shadow covers all life on this world. And a person's Alignment describes their reaction to it.

Lawful people are few and far between. They recognize that the world is existentially wrong. Some Lawfuls seek to actively oppose the Defiling, taking up swords in pursuit of a better world. Many of these crusaders are dangerous zealots, leading a hopeless war that can only end in their own death or destruction. Others recognize the quixotic nature of their struggle, but seek to do what little they can. But those who actively oppose the state of world are rarer than an unclaimed oasis in the desert. Most Lawfuls are just pessimistic or terrified. They sit in the cool of the evening, thinking dark thoughts, but doing nothing.

Chaotic people relish the state of things. Life is cheap and short and this gives Chaotics an opportunity to better their own lot in some fashion or another. After all, what else is there in this life but personal pleasure and power? The Sorcerer-Kings of the Tablelands are the exemplars of this Alignment. Chaotics can be perfectly charming and are not all black-hearted villains. But they would never think to improve the world in any fashion.

Neutral people are represented by a variety of types. Many are deeply cynical; the world may be awful, but what else can one expect? Others try and keep their heads in the sand, hoping to avoid trouble by even thinking about such things. Neutrals may object to elements of the world, but only as it pertains to them: they may fight a Tyrant, but not Tyranny; they may rail against their own enslavement, but not Slavery.

There is definitely some play in this concept. I'm still not completely sold, but it deserves further thought. One interesting result is that it changes "Preservers" into "Reformers". Not a bad thing. I still can't think of any real mechanical point to all of this, however. Is it worth it having Alignment if it doesn't mean anything to the game?


Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Dark Sun Classes: Slayer

Whether born killers or honed like a knife throughout their life, Slayers are just plain good at killing things. They may be gladiators, outlaws, soldiers, psychopaths, or bandits of the more bloodthirsty variety. Even a 1st level Slayer gives common folk cause for concern; at higher levels, the mark of death is visible upon them to all who look.

Slayer Abilities
Exceptional Strength – Slayers know how to use brute strength to it's best advantage when trying to slaughter something. Whereas anyone gets a bonus on melee damage from high Strength, only Slayers get the bonus "to hit" as well.

Combat Reflexes – Slayers levy a -1 penalty on all in-coming attacks per every 3 full levels (3rd, 6th, 9th, etc.).

Weapon Mastery – Slayers receive a +1 to hit bonus with their chosen weapon, with an additional +1 per every 3 full levels. Alternately, a Slayer may choose to specialize in Weapon and Shield or Two Weapon Parrying, receiving an additional -1 per every 3 levels on all in-coming attacks (making a total of -2 per every 3 levels).

Steely Thews – Slayers add +2 to all Strength-based Saves.

Iron Constitution – Slayers add +2 to all Constitution-based Saves.

Mass Slaughter – At 4th level, Slayers gain additional attacks equal to their level when fighting 1 Hit Die creatures. Thus a 4th level Slayer gets 8 attacks versus rabble while a 10th level Slayer gets 14 attacks.

[Note: I have jiggered around with Hit Dice and attacks from the S&S rules. Why? Um...I have a thing about symmetry.]

A Slayer you might meet:

"Grinning" Gahn Jont

Class: Slayer
Level: 6
Race: True Man

Hit Points: 47 (6+5 HD)
Armour Class /Defense: 3 / -3
Attacks: 4+3 (4+5 with longsword, 8+4 vs. rabble)

STR 10
DEX 15
CON 17
INT 13
WIS 18

Saves: STR +4 / DEX +5 / CON +4 / INT +3 / WIS +5 / CHA +1

Gahn Jont was born and raised in "the Abyss", the worst slum in the City-State of Tyr. Sold as a slave when a child, his killer instinct was quickly recognized and he was made into a child gladiator (a popular fad at the time). An intensely dour individual, Jont earned his nickname due to his habit of assuming a "death's head" grin when preparing to kill. "Grinning Gahn" became the second most successful gladiator in history and won his freedom upon his thirty-third kill.

After some years spent as a rootless adventurer, a middle-aged Jont mysteriously came into possession of a cheap tavern in the Abyss called "the Death's Head". He can often be found there, quietly drinking and scowling. He still hires himself out as a mercenary trouble-shooter upon occasion and allows others to use his place likewise as long as they keep trouble outside.

In the game: Gahn Jont might serve as a mentor for any poor character who can establish some connection to him (despite his cynicism, Jont has a soft spot for people who's life he has saved as well as old friends). He might as easily become an antagonist for anyone who gets on his bad-side as he nevers forgets a betrayal. The Death's Head can serve as a location for acquiring jobs or contacts. Just don't get into any fights there.

Attack Matrix Chart

I replaced the comparative Attack Matrix mess with something humans can actually read.

Dark Sun: How Do You Solve A Problem Like Alignment?

Ah, Alignment! One of the most controversial artifacts of Ye Auld Game, whether in the three-fold variety of OD&D, the unique five-fold presentation of Holmes, or the baroque nine-fold model from AD&D. Like many others of my generation, I went from passive acceptance of Alignment to an intellectual disdain: Alignment was artificial, simultaneously constrictive and useless, and what the hell was an Alignment Language anyway?

Since my adult return to gaming, I've softened that stance quite a bit. I've seen some wonderful explanations of Alignment Languages and have found the Andersonian/Moorcockian three-fold model of Law-Neutral-Chaos works very well for most of my fantasy games. I'm quite happy to have Order and Entropy as the great Powers That Be, eternally struggling for cosmic supremacy, with Neutrality as either a third force (The Cosmic Balance! (which, when you put an exclamation point on it, becomes a very Kirbyesque concept)) or the more mundane refusal to play the game. I've done this in my current Onderland Campaign and I'm quite pleased.

And yet.

And yet, I'm not entirely comfortable with using the concept in Old-School Dark Sun (do you like that name? Catchy, eh? I just made that up). I can see where it could work, of course. In some sense, Athas is a world dominated by the Power of Chaos; it's green and pleasant days of Order slashed and burned leaving a seething, mutated wasteland with one weird geographical feature after another. Chaos Ascendant! (actually, put an exclamation point after almost anything and it sounds Kirbyesque. Or maybe I've been reading too many Kamandi comics as I work on this). Those who are Lawful are in some way dedicated to restoring Athas or, at least, fighting the entropy and madness. Neutrals would be those who don't care for one reason or another and Chaotics are those who revel in, and maybe spread, the destruction, such as the Sorcerer-Kings. One could even naturally tie in the Dark Sun concepts of Defilers and Preservers as agents (consciously or not) of Chaos and Law. Pretty neat and tidy.

And yet.

I'm still uncomfortable. First off, grand cosmic conceptions of Chaos and Order seem a bit alien to my vision of Athas. This is an intellectually impoverished world where people are mostly just trying to not die from dehydration, falling into silt lakes, or being eaten by Men. Then there's the sticking point that I have dropped the Preservers and largely removed the ecological component of Defiling. There are no Alignment-specific psionics; no Protection from Evil spells; magic swords are made by psychic ghosts and don't have Alignment (I didn't tell you that yet? Just wait); and so on. I'm having trouble seeing what function Alignment would have. I should just drop it.

And yet.

Totally eliminating the idea seems somehow wrong. Here's an alternate idea that I had: Allegiance. Allegiance is the elemental idea that dominates the character's life; the the thing he will always turn to in the end. It could be mundane (Food, Safety), metaphysical (Truth, Brotherhood), or anything else that can be represented in one word. Allegiance has no mechanical effects; it would be a short-hand way to represent what a character is about in a more down-to-earth, concrete way than the cosmically-descriptive Alignment.


Monday, August 24, 2009

Rough Draft of the Wounds Table

I've been knocked on my posterior with the flu and am crawling back out of the wreckage. Work has suffered a bit and I'm not as far along as I wanted to be. But, I thought that I would post the Wounds Table even in the rough form I have. Conscientious imaginary readers will recall that this comes from an idea that sprang from another idea and which I am incorporating into my version of Dark Sun.

I'm rather too proud of finally getting to use the D66 roll, which I have long considered damn clever and which I have unsuccessfully been trying to do something with for ages. It comes from Traveller, which only uses d6's, and can be used to generate flat probabilities from 1-66: one die represents the tens place and the other represents the ones. (and you probably know all that already). I like it as it lets me pack a lot more information into a single roll without having to go to "the funny dice".

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Dark Sun, Part III: Combat

Weapons and other equipment are made from a variety of materials. The pre-Collapse civilizations of Athas used up the vast majority of natural resources, including metal ores. Thus the most common materials used to fashion weapons are natural materials such as bone, flint, obsidian, and the like. Common weapons function at -1 to hit and damage. Anytime a natural weapon misses with a "snake-eyes", it breaks.

Bronze and iron are prized metals. Given the state of Athasian forging, they function identically as normal equipment.

Steel items are so rare as to be magical treasures. Steel weapons function at +1 to hit and damage.

As discussed above, most armour in Athas is made from a natural materials., with leather or cotton the most common, but wooden armour and plates made from giant arthropods is not unknown. The near-constant temperature of the Burning World further limits armour use: anyone wearing metal armour must make a CON Save every hour, with a penalty equal to the armour class, or collapse from heat-stroke.

Wearing natural armour does not prompt such a need, provided proper hydration is provided. However, anytime a natural piece of armour (including shields) takes a hit from "box-cars", it is ruined.

Shields grant a -2 penalty to incoming attacks (except against a weapon such a a flail, which is designed to circumvent shields). A combatant may use a parrying weapon in the off-hand instead of a shield. This grants only a -1 to incoming melee attacks and no penalty to missile attacks. However, anytime such a character scores a critical hit, he automatically gets a second hit in with the other weapon (in other words, doing 2d6 damage instead of 1d6).

The following is the list of known Athasian armours and their corresponding armour classes. The types are generalized: "studded" refers to any light armour that has been reinforced with metal or something similar, "mail" refers to any armour composed of interlinked segments, and "plate" refers to any armour that is primarily composed of hardened plates, whether of metal, bone, or chitin.

[This is the point wherein the Attack Matrix should go. Once I'm done fiddling with it.]

Combat damage occurs as in standard S&S with the two changes to reflect the abstract nature of Hit Points. These changes grant characters a bit more survivability in a harsh world lacking readily-available healing magics, while upping the blood and guts of combat.

Regaining Hit Points - Hit Points are an abstract measure of vitality, ability to withstand pain, defensive skill, and luck. They do not simply measure “wounds taken.” At the conclusion of combat, all characters who still have at least one hit point regain half of the damage sustained in the bout (rounding down). Thus if a character takes a total of 5 points of damage, even if from different opponents, he regains 2 points once the fight ends and he can catch his breath.

Characters fall unconscious when they drop to zero hit points or less and normal healing rules apply. Such characters have taken serious damage and will need downtime or magic to heal. They do not regain damage as above, but use the standard rules.

Major Wounds - If a player wishes to avoid the entire damage resultant from one attack, he may roll on the Major Wounds Table instead. No Hit Points are lost; in exchange, the character suffers a serious wound with permanent effects upon one or more attributes. In other words, the character stays alive, but at the price of losing some parts.

Next up: the long awaited Major Wounds Table aka the Wheel of Dismemberment!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Recreating the Weapon vs. Armour Class Chart

Like a lot of gamers my age, I never, ever used Weapon vs. AC modifiers. I learned to game with the Holmes '78 "Blue Book" which didn't include such thoughts. Although I swiftly "moved on" to Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, I was still pretty much playing with the Homes rules for a long time. I do vaguely recall looking at page 38 of the Player's Handbook and a table rather stentoriously called "WEAPON TYPES, GENERAL DATA, AND “TO HIT” ADJUSTMENTS". I squinted at it for a while and then backed away slowly.

So, it was a bit of a surprise to me how excited I was to see Melee Attack Matrix By Weapon chart in Spellcraft & Swordplay. Why the change of heart? I'm not entirely sure. I'll lay most of the blame at the foot of AD&D. Variable weapon damage in AD&D was one of those things that just baffled me. Why did weapons do differing damage to large creatures is still a "how do you get the goose out of the bottle" thing for me. But worse, once you took out the weapon-type adjustments, the long sword became such an optimal weapon that only suckers (or Clerics) took anything else. I wanted colourful scimitar-men and spear-men and axe-men and so on, but why be foolish and do something so impractical?

What S&S so cleverly did was re-introduce non-variable weapon damage (flat 1d6), but replace the tactical considerations with weapon-type adjustments in a much simplified (from AD&D) form. And since differing weapons have differing strengths or weaknesses against the various armours, there is no longer any clearly optimal weapon. I have a character in my Onderland campaign who uses a morning star--it's colourful and helps define him. And he isn't a schmuck for having taken it.

All that said, every time I look at the Matrix, something bothers me. Where do the numbers come from? Why is one weapon better than another in certain circumstances? Why should I just accept what the man behind the curtain tells me? In many ways, the single most elegant system I have ever seen for this is King Arthur Pendragon and I have considered trying to adapt it, but KAP doesn't feature as many weapons and it has elements better suited to representing romantic chivalry than the down-and-dirty life of a D&D character (for example, swords never break on a fumble in KAP, unlike other weapons. That's atmospheric, but doesn't really make any sense).

Therefore, I decided on this particularly slow work day to do something that I have been toying with for ages--going through Chainmail and the Player's Handbook and compare the weapon-type adjustments to each other and to S&S as written. I can now report to my busy, postulated readership that this is an extremely dull enterprise, but one not without certain interest in the end. Therefore, you may thank me for sparing you the effort and giving you only the benefits.

Before I get to the analysis, a few notes on the difficulties encountered. All three games have greatly varying lists of weapons. Chainmail, for example, only lists 14 weapons (conveniently numbered 1-12. Yes: 12. I don't know either), including only the generic "Sword" and leaving out clubs, fists, hammers, and staves. Yet, Gary's ardent love of pole-arms is evident even at this foetal stage of Ye Auld Game; the 14 weapon list includes both "pole-arm" and "halberd" and makes them quite distinct. On the other hand, the Player's Handbook lists some 44 weapons (almost 4 times as many, although it must be said that fully 17 of those 44 are various pole-arms). S&S has almost the same number of weapons as Chainmail, (15 as opposed to 14) but they aren't the same weapons. Similarly, each game contains slightly different armour-types and armour classes.

Therefore, I have adopted a few rules for my analysis. First, I list only the armour type by name and not armour classes. Second, I leave out any armour type that is simply an armour paired with a shield, because I make shield impart a -1 penalty to attacks. This has the effect of obscuring some of the advantages of the flail, which gets bonuses against armour+shield pairings. Third, I had to make some subjective calls on comparing weapons when the types didn't quite add up. For example, S&S lumps clubs and maces into the same category; AD&D has two different types of maces, along with clubs, and Chainmail doesn't have clubs at all. Fourth, after some debate I decided to leave the AD&D modifiers as pure modifiers rather than as a target number in the fashion of Chainmail and S&S. Since those two games use 2d6 for the combat role while AD&D uses 1d20, converting a target number would involve a lot of fudging. So bear in mind that the pluses and minus in the PH are more granular than those in the other two games.

Finally, a note on representations. A "--" means the game doesn't address that weapon. An "*" means that the weapon cannot hit the armour type (this only appears in S&S).

Okay then. Great. So what does all that mean?

Well, I'll be looking at this more of the next few days, but we can see some preliminary results easily enough. Notice that some modifiers are quite consistent across games. If we grant that a score of "8" in Chainmail is usually equivalent to no modifier in AD&D, we see that the mace is the most consistent weapon across the board: it is basically no modifier except for a +1 against plate in the two older games although S&S varies things a bit). We see that the Long Sword is no longer the optimal single-handed weapon: almost average as the mace, but a little better against unarmoured folks and much worse against plate. Finally, the spear sucks in every game, but sucks the most in S&S.

On the other hand, look at how the humble hand axe varies from game to game. It's miserable against armour in Chainmail, is a little better in S&S, but is quite decent in AD&D. And pole-arms--always trouble from those guys--are hard to even figure. I had to put two different numbers for Chainmail and I still haven't quite analysed this thing.

More importantly for me, this brings home that there is so general something at work behind the numbers. As Jason Vey (authour of S&S) said to me, he did his matrix more as art than science, meaning that he just kind of felt his way through. Having run this comparison, I'm more impressed by that method. All in all, I'm more contented with Jason's matrix than not. But now I feel that I have a better basis for fiddling around with it. I like battle axes and want to treat them more as the older games did. It's easy for me to see how I might juggle the numbers now (I might just swipe the Chainmail number whole-sale).

Why is that important for me? Easy--now I can get on to making my Dark Sun combat matrix. Is any of this of use to you? I have no earthly idea. But I'll accept your imaginary thanks all the same, kind sirs.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Dark Sun: Psychic Combat and Charisma

I'm fairly satisfied with the idea behind Psychic Combat as posted here. I think it retains the special flavour of the Classic D&D system but simplified and made more...well, sensible may not be quite the right word, but it will do for now. Some expansion thoughts:

Since I'm making psychic combat resemble physical combat, I want the mental attributes to fill the roles corresponding to the physical attributes in melee. This is always a bit sticky in my opinion since the the mental attributes don't neatly match up to the physical ones. Indeed, for a long time, I thought that there were only two mental attributes with the final (Charisma) actually a social stat.

Charisma is problematic in all sorts of ways. Even though it was historically one of the first stats to mechanically mean something (other than grant experience bonuses), the years haven't been too kind to it. Charisma is the Jan Brady of D&D attributes: ill-defined and perennially passed over for the more obviously appealing attributes. Such as Strength and Dexterity. And Constitution. Oh, and Intelligence. And Wisdom too.

What is Charisma anyway? Is it personal appearance? Is it charm? Or something else altogether? I'll suggest the latter. As I mentioned above, I have come to think of Charisma as a mental attribute. Specifically, it represents a sense of self. This thinking (which I am not suggesting is the one, true interpretation) makes Charisma feel to me like a fully-fledged attribute. Charisma doesn't have to be a cheerleader or the new Shirley Temple; Charisma knows who she is. Highly Charismatic individuals have a sense of confidence in themselves that makes them appealing to others.

So, with that out of the way, I get back to topic. As posted earlier, psychic combat will function essentially as melee combat, with Attack Mode as weapon and Defense Mode as armour. Now, added to that, I add mental attributes. Ah, but here's another bump: all three physical attributes play a role in physical combats, but not in all combats and not in the same ways. Dexterity adds to the combat role in missile combat, but Strength fills that role in melee combat. It also adds to melee damage. And Constitution doesn't play an immediate role, but it does affect the number of the Hit Points, which I have cleverly eliminated from psychic combat by doing attribute damage directly.

Where does that leave me? I could bring in some kind of Psychic Hit Points, but I don't like that. Not at all. I like having psychic combat dissimilar in some ways. So, I'll cleave to that idea when incorporating the mental attributes. At present I think that I will do the following:
  • INT will modify the chance to hit;
  • WIS will modify damage; and
  • CHA will modify incoming attacks (much like magic armour)
Could I have chosen to arrange these differently? Sure. But it sounds good enough to me: high Intelligence allows you to better penetrate mental defenses, high Wisdom (as Willpower) allows you to apply more psychic force, and high Charisma (as sense of self) allows you to preserve your psychic self, thus avoiding damage.

Monday, August 17, 2009

More thoughts on Dark Sun Disciplines

Yes, this is indeed proving the biggest speed-bump so far. Fair enough, given the importance of psionics to the setting. Last time I posted the Disciplines from Eldritch Wizardy in a first pass at ranking them by Level (since there are no psionic power points in my version here). I checked the 1st ed. Player's Handbook and found a couple of things of interest:

1. The PH completely changes a major part of Psionic Combat. Namely, non-psionics are immune to Attack Modes (except for Mind Blast). I'm glad I checked because this was always my memory and I'd already incorporated it into my notes, but couldn't find any support for it in EW, which has an overly-complex system for psionics attacks versus non-psioncis.

2. The PH adds exactly one Discipline to this list: Sensitivity to Psychic Impressions. Which really is much the same as Object Reading.

Flipping through the spell lists, I see a few spells that it might make sense to convert, such as Locate Object, Command, Sleep, and Confusion. Further, it strikes me that some good generic powers could be converted: Hallucination, a riff off of the various illusions spells; Energize, something like Haste and Strength; Emotional Projection, which would combine Friends, Scare, and Confusion. Finally, I think psychic powers need something to improve the psychics senses.

So, here's Take Two of the Disciplines:

Level One
  1. Animal Telepathy
  2. Body Equilibrium (Water Walk)
  3. Body Weaponry
  4. Detection of Magic
  5. Empathy
  6. Hypnosis
  7. Mind over Body
  8. Sensitivity to Psychic Impressions (Psychometry)

Level Two
  1. Acute Senses
  2. Cell Adjustment (Heal)
  3. Domination
  4. ESP
  5. Invisibility (Occultation)
  6. Levitation
  7. Locate Object
  8. Suspended Animation

Level Three
  1. Aura Alteration (Remove Curse [Dispel Magic?])
  2. Body Control (Withstand Extremes)
  3. Dimension Walking
  4. Energize
  5. Enervation
  6. Hallucination
  7. Molecular Agitation (Firestarting)
  8. Remote Viewing

Level Four
  1. Feeblemind
  2. Mass Domination
  3. Mind Bar (Resist Possession)
  4. Molecular Manipulation (Disintegrate)
  5. Telekinesis
  6. Telepathy

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

Apropos Nothing: Another Cool Map

I just stumbled upon this map and had to post it. It has nothing to do with Dark Sun, Hypernotus, or Swords of Fortune.

But it could. I could make up four or five games just from looking at this image.

I have no idea who created it. If you know, let me know.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Hoo-Boy: Disciplines!

I took the list of Disciplines from Eldritch Wizardry (excising only Detect Good/Evil as obviously inappropriate) and put them in a list. I then made a first pass at organizing them into levels.

Level One
1. Animal Telepathy
2. Body Equilibrium (Water Walk)
3. Body Weaponry
4. Detection of Magic (Psychic Energy)
5. Empathy
6. Hypnosis
7. Mind Over Body

Level Two
1. Cell Adjustment (Healing)
2. Domination
3. Expansion
4. Levitation
5. Reduction
6. Suspend Animation

Level Three
1. Aura Alteration (Remove Curse; should be Dispel Magic?)
2. Body Control (Withstand Extremes)
3. Clairaudience
4. Clairvoyance
5. ESP
6. Invisibility
7. Molecular Agitation (Pyrokinesis)

Level Four
1. Dimension Door
2. Mass Domination
3. Mind Bar (Resist Possession)
4. Molecular Manipulation (Weaken Material)
5. Telekinesis
6. Telepathic Projection

Level Five
1. Astral Projection
2. Dimension Walking
3. Energy Control
4. Etherealness
5. Molecular Rearrangement (Transmute Metals)
6. Probability Travel
7. Shape Alteration
8. Teleportation

I can see that this is going to be a longer task than I thought at first. It's a frankly weird list. A lot of semi-duplications (Probability Travel and Astral Projection are quite similar and I can't see how Dimension Walking should be separate from Teleportation) and then a lot of areas that are pretty bare.

I think that the next step may be to look at the spell lists and see if some of those are appropriate for exporting in some form or another. I'd definitely like to keep the feel of the Disciplines different from spells. Actually, Dimension Walking is a good example here: while Teleportation works exactly like the spell, Dimension Walking is quirky: the user actually walks the distance in another plane and has to roll for how much time is saved (although I'll confess that I cannot make heads or tails of the chart in EW). That provides a model for any spells I import.

Dark Sun, Part II: Magic and Psychic Combat

Magic is a catch-all term in Athas rather than specific. Most of what is termed magic would be termed science or technology by us. This includes the creation of artificial life, mutation of existing life forms, and the fashioning of advanced mechanical constructs. Most of this technology would be hardly recognizable to 21st century humans, however.

There also exists a form of personal magic which we would call psychic powers. Anyone can possess psychic powers (except for Muls). Most psychics are untrained and of limited power. They are generally referred to as wizards or witches. The term sorcerer is reserved for those psychics who have undertaken the arduous process of training and developing their powers. A key difference between the two types is that sorcerers have learned how to compensate for the tremendous energetic strains placed upon them by the exercise of their psychic abilities. Wizards, on the other hand, have not and invariably suffer for their abilities; those with greater power suffer corresponding greater stresses.

One other distinction of note. Certain sorcerers have learned how to use the energies of other people to power their magics. Although this vital energy could theoretically be offered up willingly, most often it is stolen from unwilling victims. A being's psychic energy can be captured at the moment of death by those who know how. As a result, those who practice this form of magic are often referred to by variety of negative terms: vampire, necromancer, or defiler. All of the known Sorcerer-Kings are defilers. They are capable of outstanding feats of magic by draining the life forces of hundreds of sacrifices at a time.

Possession of Magical Powers

Anyone might possess magic (except for Muls whose brains do not function that way). Intelligence or willpower are not determinate on Athas: a drooling moron is as likely to possess powers as a super-genius (although less likely to utilize the powers as well). After determining Race and Class, a player may choose to roll for sorcery (except for players of Sorcerers who possess the power by definition). This is a free choice. On 2d6, a roll of 11+ means the character has psychic power.

If a character has no psychic power, he may reroll every time he gains a level.

Untrained psychics begin with 1 Attack Mode and 1 Defense Modes, as well as 1-3 Disciplines. The specific Modes and Disciplines are rolled randomly as well.

Utilizing the magics of the mind is stressful without proper training. Untrained Wizards suffer damage to their attributes. A beginning wizard loses 1 point from a randomly determined stat (roll 1d6). Each time they gain a new Mode or Discipline, they suffer another -1.


Sorcery has two components: Modes and Disciplines. Disciplines are analogous to spells. Modes are specific ways in which sorcerers related to other psychic beings.

Sorcerers begin play with 4 disciplines of 1st level. Using a discipline is an INT Check and mostly functions as per the spellcasting rules of S&S. However, the Delayed Result does not mean that the Discipline is delayed in the case of psychic powers; rather it means that the psychic has a cumulative -1 penalty to further uses because of mental fatigue. Wizards always suffer a -3 penalty to using Disciplines.

Attack and Defense Modes

Psychic beings interact with each other in different ways than regular folks. Specifically, they have a psychic sense which detects active psychic use within 60’. This means that anyone using a Discipline alerts other psychics to his or her presence.

Psychics also combat each other on a different level. Although they can confront others on the physical level, more commonly they oppose each other on the psychic level. Psychic combat (also called “the Duel Arcane”) is a formalized method of psychic combat. No one is sure who formalized the terms; presumably some Ancient but who knows?

Modes are something like the stances or techniques of formalized, physical martial arts. In psychic combat, one takes an Attack Mode as the active technique and a Defense Mode to resist. Certain Modes are more or less effective against others.

There are five psychic Attack Modes and five psychic Defense Modes. Anyone with psychic power is instinctively able to use the Mental Barrier Defense Mode. Other Modes must be learned.

The Duel Arcane is like a physical battle with Attack Modes taking the place of weapons and Defense Modes taking the place of Armour. On the chart below, the number is the psychic Armour Class of each Defense Mode compared to each Attack Mode.

One very significant difference: psychic combat damages the mental attributes (INT, WIS, and CHA) directly, rather than Hit Points. Each Attack Mode specifies the attribute damaged. Psychic combat is thus brutal and to the point. Damaged attributes heal at a rate of 1 per day. Anyone reduced to 0 or less in an attribute is horribly dead--a drooling moron, a gibbering maniac, or a souless husk of flesh.

Combatants must declare their Modes blindly, i.e. before revealing them to each other.

Empty Mind (INT)

Intellect Fortress (WIS)

Mental Barrier (CHA+)

Thought Shield (INT)

Tower of Iron Will (WIS)

Mental Thrust (INT)






Ego Whip (CHA)






Id Insinuation (WIS)






Psychic Crush (INT)






Mind Blast (WIS)






Mind Thrust (Damages INT)

This attack mode shapes mental energy into a “psychic blade” with which to “stab” the mind of the target.

Ego Whip (Damages CHA)

An Ego Whip targets the “I” or self and, overwhelming it with negative or vicious feelings that inhibit its ability to function properly.

Id Insinuation (Damages WIS)

Id insinuation attacks a target's basest instincts, freeing them temporarily from the control of his or her higher psyche in order to induce confusion.

Psychic Crush (Damages INT)

This attack mode uses neural impulses to assault the target's mind, thereby rendering mental activity more difficult.

Mind Blast (Damages WIS)

This attack mode blasts the minds of all creatures in a 40-foot cone with mental energy.

Empty Mind

This defense mode consists of a meditative trance in which the mind of the creature using it is cleared of all surface thoughts and distractions. It is most effective against attacks which target INT. On the other hand, attacks which target WIS benefit from the lack of control being exercised.

Intellect Fortress

This defense mode summons the strength of the higher psyche to create a powerful bulwark against psychic attack. It is very effective against attacks which target the WIS and CHA, but weak against attacks which use the defender’s own INT against himself.

Mental Barrier

This defense mode draws on innocuous, repetitive thoughts to shield the mind against unwanted intrusions.

Thought Shield

This defense uses ephemeral, surface thoughts to protect the mind from attack.

Tower of Iron Will


I have obviously changed a lot of things here, from psionics as presented in Eldritch Wizardry or the Player's Handbook. My goals were to keep the unique flavour of psionics, while better integrating it into the S&S rules-set. Also, I must admit, to make a bit more sense of the whole damn thing. The Spellcasting rules from S&S showed me a way to eliminate Power Points and, as I posted yesterday, the Weapon vs. AC Chart showed me a way to do psychic combat. I'll probably need to fiddle with some details here, but I'm liking how this is coming out.

Oh, I should mention that the descriptive text of the Modes is pretty much all lifted from James M's draft of Psionics on Swords & Wizardry. I should rewrite that when I get a chance.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Psychic Combat: A Revelation

I'm suddenly rewriting everything I had on psychic combat in DARK SUN as I had a revelation of sorts. It dawned upon me that the Weapon vs. AC Chart is the model I want to follow. Attack Mode corresponds to Weapon and Defense Mode to Armour Class. This retains the flavour of the old system, with strategic choices as to which Modes to employ with some better and some worse, while making the system mirror the existing Spellcraft & Swordplay physical combat system.

Hopefully ready to post tomorrow.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Dark Sun: The Fiendish Way

I’m beginning to wonder if I have not contracted the Dreaded Lurgi, otherwise known as "Gamer ADD" (a condition diagnosed by David “Grubman” Bezios in his memorable “101 Days” project). As soon as I pick a focus for my gaming project, I seem to jump onto another. It’s interesting, but not highly conducive to productivity. Case in point: I just won an auction for Mind Lords of the Last Sea, an accessory for the DARK SUN line, and suddenly I’ve got Athas on the brain.

DS is one of those amazing settings from the 2nd edition era, a time of intensely creative settings colliding with the inappropriateness of then-current game design philosophy and all tied-up in an outrageously over-produced bow. I have heard that these productions were so uneconomically feasible as to have directly contributed to the demise of TSR (although I can’t confirm that). I missed all of these settings when they were released as I had given up first D&D and then gaming entirely. Thus I have come to them over a decade later. With these more aged eyes, most of these offerings look like unpolished gems—covered in junk just waiting to be buffed out.

DS is a good case in point. There is so much cruft of AD&D design in there that it sometimes obscures the beauties. For example, starting everyone off at 3rd level abnd rolling stats on 4d6+4 is just nonsensical. The awkwardness of shoehorning in the Tolkien races and extended Classes is painful (Elves? Druids?). And a setting in which clerical and wizardly magic are supposed to reside comfortably beside universal psionics makes my head spin in a bad way.

But underneath all that, DS speaks to me. It’s like E.R. Burrough’s Barsoom rewritten by William S. Burroughs. It’s like the Ta'arna segment of Heavy Metal, with less nipples and more Sorcerer-Kings. It's like a Spaghetti Western with Mantis Men playing the Eli Wallach role. It’s like butter.

For no very good reason, DS has just fought it’s way into my head lately. And in doing so, I realized how much of my version of Athas would resemble Hypernotus, the ostensible subject of this blog. And my mind just started coughing up ideas. Here they are in their rough, first-time out appearance. Note that I have felt free to use some parts of DS exactly as presented, reject some parts absolutely and totally, and heavily rewrite the rest. And, as with Hypernotus, the system here is Spellcraft & Swordplay, but should be more-or-less useable across game lines.



  • Slayer
  • Scavenger
  • Sorcerer

Slayers function as Warriors with the changes below:

Exceptional Strength – There is no Exceptional Strength (18+). Instead, only Slayers get a bonus on the "to hit" roll from high STR (13+); other classes only get the bonus on damage.

Combat Reflexes – Warriors levy a -1 penalty on all in-coming attacks per every 3 full levels (3rd, 6th, 9th, etc.).

Weapon Mastery – Warriors receive a +1 to hit bonus with their chosen weapon, with an additional +1 per every 3 full levels. Alternately, a warrior may choose to specialize in defensive fighting, receiving an additional -1 per every 3 levels on all in-coming attacks (making a total of -2 per every 3 levels).

Steely Thews – Warriors add +2 to all Strength-based Saves. This is in addition to Iron Constitution.

Scavengers are based upon my Rogue ideas. They a +2 to any rolls for Thiefy things, with a further +1 per 3 levels gained. Among those thiefy things are appraising the value of treasure, stalking, sneaking and hiding, and deciphering Artifacts. This makes them excellent all-round survivors.

In addition, they get +2 to DEX and CHA Saves.

Sorcerers are the wizardly equivalent on Athas. They are loosely-adapted from the Psionist class. Note that while anyone may possess sorcery on Athas, Sorcerers are the only ones to properly develop them. Slayers and Scavengers suffer penalties from their psychic powers that Sorcerers do not. Unlike Wizards, Sorcerers cannot create scrolls (?)

They develop their powers steadily. They use the Wizard Casting Table from S&S, with Discipline Level replacing Spell Level. Sorcerers begin the game with 1 Attack Mode, 1 Defense Mode, and 1 Discipline (randomly or choice, depending upon Referee). Each level they develop 1 additional Attack or Defense Mode and 1 additional Discipline (reroll duplicates). Thus, at 9th level, a Sorcerer has developed all Modes and 10 Disciplines.

Sorcerers get +2 on INT and WIS Saves.


  • True Men
  • Muls
  • Desert Men (replacing Elves)
  • Wild Men (replacing Halflings)

Muls are artificially-bred hybrids. They may only be members of the Slayer class and can never possess sorcery. They receive a bonus of +4 to STR and CON Saves (as opposed to +2), but also suffer a penalty of -2 to WILL and CHA Saves.

Desert Men have mutated to accommodate life in the deserts. Tall and thin to radiate heat. They may take any class, but get +1 to DEX Saves and -1 STR Saves in addition to any class-based Saves.

Wild Men are either evolved or mutates. They get +2 to sneaking and hiding in the wilderness and get +1 to attacks with slings, rocks, or blowguns. They may take either the Slayer or Scavenger class. They may take both and split XP evenly, or take one class and suffer a -5% XP on earned XP.

A variety of mutants exist. In general, they are not for PC-use, however even True Men suffer from minor, physical mutations from time-to-time. Feel free to give your PC any minor mutations you desire, such as blue skin, extra digits, etc. These have no in-game effect. Note that low CHA can be indicative of mutations, as many True Men dislike mutants.

Next up: Combat and Magic!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Wheel! Of! Dismemberment!

Been thinking a lot about the nature of Hit Points recently, in part from seeing Akrasia's house-rules whereby HP's do NOT represent actual injury--once you lose HP's, then you start suffering the "real" damage to your CON. I like that. I like it a lot. Except, that is, for the fact that this effectively gives every character 10+ extra Hit Points. I'm not too crazy about that. I've had a few thoughts one this subject.

One idea is specifically in the context of
Spellcraft & Swordplay, which is an entirely 2d6-based game. Entirely except for attributes, which are 3d6 as per usual. I have been playing with the idea of making S&S all 2d6 (I may post more about this later). With 2d6 CON, that's a significantly smaller kicker.

But, let's leave that idea aside for a moment. Because I've been rather excited lately about dismemberment. Not for myself, of course, but for foolish adventurers. This is, really, just an extension of
my thoughts on hurting characters as worse than killing them. And, nothing says hurting like getting your sword-arm lopped off. What fun!

In addition, I have been noodling around with thoughts of tactics in combat. Before visions of battle-mats and square-counting swim before your horrified eyes, gentle, hypothetical readers, fear not. I don't mean anything like that. I mean players making meaningful choices about their character's actions in combat.

Here's the idea: a player may choose to avoid the damage of any one attack by choosing, instead, to spin the Wheel of Dismemberment. The results of the Wheel will NOT result in hit point damage (which would make the whole thing pointless). With a little luck, you get knocked down or stunned. With a great deal less luck, you lose an arm or leg and suffer attribute damage. Losing a limb would reduce DEX, having muscles damaged would reduce STR, a chest wound might reduce CON, while horrible scaring would hurt CHA.

Where is this mighty Wheel of Fun, you ask? I don't know yet. There is a perverse part of me that wants to use this:

(that's a classic critical chart from Arms Law for the uninitiated)

But that's really way too fiddly in truth, bloody fun though it may be. I think I would, instead use something more like The Major Wounds Table from Stormbringer/Elric! or Robert Fisher's Classic D&D Injury Table. What I like about this idea is that it works along the principle of Trollsmyth's Shields Shall be Splintered! -- giving a strategic option that helps with the "Argh! Cleric!" Syndrome without just adding more Hit Points to the pile (a self-defeating strategy).

Plus, I love systems that make players choose to have nasty things happen to their characters. It's so much more entertaining to watch.