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.