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Friday, October 14, 2016

We All Have Our Own Appendix N

The famous, or perhaps infamous, Appendix N.  The list of recommended reading list created by the godfather of gaming, E. Gary Gygax.  It's a living list, a group of books and authors that grows and changes with each new generation that discovers it.

When I started playing D&D back in 1981/82 I was already deeply mired in my own fantasy reading list that had started years earlier in elementary school.  Reading had always been important to me, and writing as well, and once I had a grasp of the basics in 1st grade I began losing myself deeply in the books that were available.

Books from early grade school had a huge impact on the direction my reading-life would take.  Early on the classics were a staple, books like Encyclopedia Brown, Tales of a 4th Grade Nothing, and The Furious Flycycle were some of the titles that had an early impact on my taste in books.

I'm skipping over all of the very early reading, the Little Golden books filled with Sesame Street characters like my all time favorite, The Monster at the End of this Book (which I won't spoil, but the monster at the end was one of the best!), but i'm not discounting that these books may have had an impact as's hard to say.

It was in middle school (6th-8th grades) where I feel my most important development as a reader began, and of course this coincided with my introduction to Dungeons & Dragons.  The strange young adult fiction of the 1970'd still permeated the library, where most of my reading material originated.  I remember a few particularly unique reads, including a book entitled Below the Root by Zilpha Keatley Snyder, a book that had a powerful impact on me.

It was during these years that I discovered many of the staples of fantasy including The Hobbit, The Chronicles of Prydain, and a Wrinkle in Time along with others.  I remember riding my bike to Encore Books to buy my copies of David Eddings Belgariad, a series of books that had tremendous impact on me as a reader and now as a player.  His characters were so rich and real to me that they shaped how I played many of my early characters (especially my thieves, thank you Silk!).

By the time I found myself in high school I was voracious as a reader.  My room was littered with books, bookshelves stuffed with row after row of fantasy novels.  It was during this time that I both looked back and moved forward, reading Moorcock, Zelazny, Donaldson, the more advanced Tolkien, Gene Wolfe, Steven Brust, Terry Brooks, R.E Howard, Lovecraft...the 1980's were a great time to be a Fantasy book geek.  The 1970's had produced psychedelic, twisted tales of fantasy and the 1980's were rich with books that 'grounded' fantasy a much of it a feel not unlike what my weekend D&D sessions were beginning to feel like.  Sure, it was all make-believe, but sword-swinging and spell-slinging as a character was more like Brust and less like Moorcock.  High Fantasy was great to read, but tough to reproduce with the AD&D books we were now using at the table.

It was early in High School when I acquired my DMG (the 1979 1st ed version), and found Appendix N.   How odd it was missing so much (or so I thought) and I had long since moved beyond most of it.  Still, it turned me on to Fritz Leiber and Jack Vance, who I hadn't yet stumbled into.  It was wonderful to touch on the books in the list that had such a huge impact on the game material (the Vancian magic that permeates D&D is directly derived from the Dying Earth series, and who can forget all of the great entries in Deities & Demigods including Leibers!).

Kids entering the RPG scene now have 2+ decades of literature on top of my own experience, much of it aimed at a YA audience.  I didn't have the advantage of YA lit, it was either for kids, or for adults, and we just crossed over from one place to the other...anything landing squarely in the middle had no real affiliation.  Fantasy and Science fiction lit wasn't popular in the mainstream either, but today it lives in all of our media.  What's bigger than Harry Potter or Percy Jackson?!

Everyone's  Appendix N is different and unique.  It would shock me to find a player of D&D or other RPG's, young or old, who didn't also share of love of reading.  Lot's of folks love to discuss and grow the appendix, here is a fresh look at the new one which lists many additions since the original.  I love that books that take place in the D&D multiverse appear as well!  How better to experience play outside the game than to read a well-written novel BASED on that very same place!

It's a living document, my own personal Appendix N.   I hope your is too!  Happy reading...

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Possession is 9/10th's of the Law

Okay...enough pontification, meandering, reminiscing about the game.  Let's dig in and talk about some stuff that's useful...some shit we can actually play with.  What we need here is an NPC.  No, wait...what we need here is a magic item!   Hold on...what we really need here is a good plot point, an adventure, something for the players to engage.

How about one thing that is all three.  Yep, you heard me.    What we're gonna do here is kill 3 birds with one sling-stone.  It's easy enough...what we need here is an ARTIFACT!

The Phylactery of Ophal Dar

A single, fist-sized ruby cut into the shape of a humanoid skull, the phylactery of Ophal Dar contains the soul essence guessed it...Ophal Dar.  Unlike more commonly discussed phylacteries utilized by ancient mages to contain their soul-essence as they pass into lichdom, this ruby skull is a prison, a cage that contains all the power and madness of the Sorcerer-king who once ruled a desert city of thousands, the fabled Thelandria which sank into the dessert, consumed by the burning sands that surrounded it.  A summoner of demons and monsters, he ruled by threat of violence in life until his clerics and ministers turned on him, tricking him, killing him, and sealing his essence in the Ruby Skull that sat atop his dread staff, an implement destroyed at the time of his demise (or so legend has it...)

Powers & Abilities

The essence contained within the Phylactery of Ophal Dar is very much aware, and also somewhat insane, as it lies waiting for some treasure seeker to uncover and 'possess' it.  Any attempts to determine its magical potency or properties will be met with very limited success, as Ophal Dar has learned to mask the true nature of his prison.

A Detect Magic spell will reveal only mild magical emanations.

Casting Identify is met with some success as well, revealing that the Ruby Skull can be used to cast Detect Magic 2x per day, Tongues 2x per day, and can be made to glow with a brilliant, red tinged light 3x per day.

Ophal Dar seeks his freedom, but his patience is boundless (being trapped in a ruby skull for a thousand years will do that to ya).  He requires much of the creature who finds his Phylactery and is willing to wait to reveal himself, however if he finds that his owner is malleable (or better yet, willing), then he will slowly reveal the other powers locked in his Phylactery, as well as his own presence.  

The true powers of the Phylactery of Ophal Dar are stated below, and can be revealed or kept hidden at the GM's discretion:

Can communicate via Telepathy to possessor
Can Cast all Magic-User spells of the 1st through 5th Levels (As a 12th level caster)
Can Cast ALL SUMMONING SPELLS (monster or Demon) (As a 17th level caster)
Can imbue the wielder with Magic Resistance of 75%
Acts as a Ring of Protection +3
Renders the wielder impervious to damage from both normal and magical fire

Much like any sentient item (sword, etc), the Phylactery of Ophal Dal will eventually attempt to impress its will upon its owner.  The Ruby Skull must be placed within the ACTUAL SKULL of Ophal Dal in order to restore the Sorcerer to his former self (the location of the true remnants of Ophal Dal are again at the GM's discretion.  I quite enjoy the thought of his powerful mummy laying in repose within its sarcophagi buried deep beneath the shifting, burning sands of the buried city of Thelandria...)

If the game system you play has rules for sentient items and willpower battles, use that.  Otherwise use the guidelines below:

Optional Rule for Dominance

The Phylactery of Ophal Dar has a Wisdom Score of 16.  Roll a D20 and Add this Wisdom Score, and then utilizing the Wisdom score of the character, do the same for the player/character in possession of the item.  The higher score will dominate.  Each time a Will Battle is fought, the winner adds +1 point to their NEXT battle, and the loser subtracts -1 point.  Full and Total Domination Of the item (or of the character) can only occur if a battle is won in excess of 20 points.  If this occurs, the winner assumes complete control of the loser.

The player/character may or may not be aware that he/she is being dominated by the item, again this is the GM's discretion, however the PRIMARY GOAL of the Artifact is to return to the entombed remains of Ophal Dar and resurrect the Sorcerer-King.

If the Phylactery of Ophal Dar manages to coerce the player, and Ophal Dar is resurrected, all of the powers of the Ruby Skull will pass back to the Sorcerer-King and the gem will be rendered void of any powers or abilities.  

The XP value of the Artifact is 2500xp, the monetary value is >50,000 GP (at the discretion of the GM).  The object is unique and therefore essentially priceless.

Monday, October 3, 2016

May the Dice Gods Smile Upon You

Last night I fought an Otyugh.  No, obviously not a real one, but at the climax of our Fantasy Grounds Sunday night Castles & Crusades romp we unleashed stinky, grabbing hell upon ourselves.  My PC, the ranger Everian, looked on in horror as his friend Will the Cleric was devoured by the gaping, toothy maw of the stinking beast, all the while slicing and dicing until he and his other companions managed to put an end to the beast and it's master...but not before the creature reached out with tentacles, latched on to Will, and drew him into its mouth where our friend and the parties only magic-wielder met an untimely end.

The whole time this happened, I kept spinning my virtual dice (specifically the d20) as each player rolled to attack, to save, to beat the monster.  I do it all the time...spinning my dice.  I don't know why, but when another player rolls, I do too, as if somehow my die will draw in the evil forces and allow the player to roll only the good numbers he needs.  It's crazy...I know, but I do it nonetheless.  It just makes me feel better, and it's a level of fidgeting I'm comfortable with.  I do it at the IRL table too, though quietly.

Many of us fetishize our gaming materials.  I think that dice are the primary recipient of these magical powers.  We have our 'lucky rollers' and our 'sure to end up low' dice.  We pull them out of our dice bags when something bad is happening, and we need to save the moment.  For others, it's their dice bag, storing up the positive energy of a thousand days and nights of gaming.  Still, for others it may be a copy of a book, a type of pen or pencil they use for their character sheet or even a favorite shirt they wear when playing...the list is a long one.

If you've read other of my posts here or on G+, you may have seen me post pics of new dice or bags to keep them in.  I tend to put all my magical powers into the dice AND their vessel, again I'm not sure why I do it, I just do.  In the pictures below you can see my dice and their bag...

Of course, this is a new bag, and mostly new dice.  The more powerful tools long ago were sold off, and now that I've rediscovered gaming at the table, I've had to begin again, pouring my positive dice energies into this new batch, and its bag.  Back in the day, I had a different bunch of dice, and they found their home in a very special bag, the dice bag that all of us 'serious D&D nerds' carried.  I speak of the Crown Royal Bag!

Now, I don't think that any of us bought the booze just for the bag.  I don't know how the hell we acquired them...we just did.  Maybe an uncle, or from under dads bar.  Who knows.  All I know is that if you had your dice in anything but one of these bags, you were certainly not hard core. Your bag might be unique, cool even, but everyone who was anyone (which is just sad really, when you give it any thought at all) had a Crown Royal bag.  It was like the bag was pre-made for dice, and as such, it contained a certain magical essence.  The bag is soft, and large enough for tons of dice.  It makes a certain sound when it plops onto the table, and it feels a certain way when you root around inside for that set of percentile dice you need at that certain moment where it counts.

What is the origin of this odd pairing?  No one knows, but I'm not the only one.  Look here at a forum post as folks reminisce over their's not the only one either, but you can see that many feel the same way.

When I walked outside a few days ago to go to work imagine my surprise, my delight, my feeling of otherworldly intervention when I found not one, but three such bags on the ground.  I bent and lifted them, two green and one classic purplish/blue.  I looked around, making sure that it wasn't a trap.  Perhaps someone was out hunting Gaming Grogs, and these were the bait!  But no, it was early.  The streets of Philly were quiet, empty.  I bent down to inspect them closer.  They were wet, damp from a night of light rain, but their color and texture were not diminished.  I carefully, reverently, lifted the fallen (maybe discarded?) relics from the black-top.  Limp and sad in my hands I placed them in the car, laying each flat on the floor in its own space so that none were touching any other.  When I returned home that evening I washed them again, gently and with soap, then dried them by the window...and yes, after they were dry I even sprayed them with some Fabreeze to remove any lingering aroma of misuse, disuse, or dampness.

Now, don't get me wrong.  That dice bag from Mike Althauser with the OSR maps printed on both sides makes me so very happy, and the dice that reside there will stay there, their magic and the bags energies now bound to one another in some sort of cosmic marriage that cannot be undone.  These new bags I've found will need new dice.  They have their own energy, lost and now found, that only fresh dice will be able to absorb.

Do you have gaming trappings that you treat this way?  What are the things in your gear you revere?

I have a friend, a gamer at my table who plays in my Sunday Labyrinth Lord game, who opens his Crown Royal bag and lines up his favorite dice at the start of each game and then lovingly turns each until the highest possible number appear on the top facing skyward.  These are his most powerful dice, and this is the ritual that ensures success in the days game.  Does it work?  No...not really, but that's MY opinion.  Maybe his overall experience leads him to believe it does, and I really enjoy watching him practice his small act of dice-obeisance.  It reminds me that he has some reverence for the game, that it's an important part of his life, as it is mine.

I'll just find some new dice for my new bags, and then I'll spin them...spin them to win.