Saturday, August 25, 2012

Barovania Locales: Sasha's Tower

BGM: Queen of Rose, 8-Bit Version
Looming in the eastern part of Barovania is Sasha's Tower, the domicile of Strahd's reclusive niece. The exterior of the tower itself is surprisingly fashionable if a bit austere; seemingly wrought entirely from exquisitely twisted black iron. Upon entering however, visitors are greeted with lavish decoration and works of art, with rooms that look like they belong in a country mansion rather then an isolated spire.

This decadent domicile includes several libraries and studies, multitudes of guest rooms, a torture chamber here and there and Sasha's personal quarters and craft room. The tower has actually seen several owners in the past view decades including the Hags of Eyevalis woods, Azalin and even Lord Strahd himself, so there are many rooms and treasures that Sasha herself may be unaware of. The place is kept in order by her staff, who generally keep to themselves and do not explore beyond where they are told.

These loyal servants are actually doll like constructs that have presumably been created by the tower's owner and range from eerily human and attractive to hulking, silent atrocities.The eerily human like Doll-Golems are the most ubiquitous of them, usually dressed like maids or occasionally something odd like a physician or tutor. While most of these are also the least dangerous in combat, there are a handful of "Head Maids" that are skilled assassins. Also present are numerous creations based off of dolls - hulking butlers that turn out to be man-shaped sacks filled with sand, gardeners crafted from pottery and animated by sentient fungus and enormous wind-up knights made of tin are just some of Sasha's creations.

The most obvious treasures in the tower come in the form of a vast art collection on display throughout the place. Less apparent are the multitudes of important books scattered through the structure. Many of these tomes are from Master Azalin's short stay here so some of them are quite valuable indeed. Finally, hidden away in the lonely structure is an ancient weapon that even Strahd himself fears. Not the fabled Sunsword that was split into aspects long ago, but a wholly different tool entirely, something known only as the "Vampire Killer". Sasha will go to great lengths to ensure this never leaves the tower.

Entrance may be difficult, as is to be expected. Sasha will generally entertain guests if they announce themselves at the door, but this has yet to go well for either party.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The State of Mu; an option for the name level Fighter

Name level is typically a pretty important spot for any given D&D adventurer, especially those in older versions of the game. It was at that level you became a force to be reckoned with. No longer were you a "myrmidon" or "prestidigitator" - you were a LORD or a NECROMANCER or even a NECROMANCER LORD, if you were an elf. Generally, you cleared some land, built a fort, put up a sign and waited for your shiny new followers to show up.

Different version of the game came along with variations on high level play. One of the coolest things about Frank Mentzer's version of D&D brought to the table was the idea that you could become "land owning" or "traveling" when you hit name level. This is also how that version of the game allowed for odd sub-classes like Paladins and Druids, turning these into options for higher level characters. It wasn't perfect but, hey.

Anyway, this post has a point beyond retreading stuff that everyone already knows. I like when there are options beyond becoming a Lord at one point but I dislike hard-coded changes to status; basically I think if you want to become a knight or a paladin, it should happen in game as opposed to being dictated by experience points.

So what options does that leave us? I think that reaching such a level should represent something internal, something that can be perhaps disrupted, but never taken away.

(Also, I've been reading way too much "Lone Wolf and Cub")

The State of Mu

Mu's meaning is initially simple and yet deceptively complex; it is emptiness, it is forgetting ones self and merging themselves with their path, perfecting it.

In this case, the warrior has reached a certain pinnacle in his art. Why he wields his blade is no longer important; it is enough that he simply does.

Requirements: A fighter must have attained Level 9, and a wisdom of at least 10 is required. Anyone who does not meet these specifications lacks the discipline to attain The State of Mu. He or she must also reject any possessions beyond what is required to continue his journey and maintain his supremacy as a warrior. (Magic items such as armor and swords are allowed, but something superfluous like a "Cloak of the Bat" may not be, as always the DM is the final arbiter of these things)

- A fighter who has attained Mu only takes half damage from normal, non-magical attacks. He can be hurt normally by another warrior who has reached a similar state, however.
- A bonus of +4 to all saving throws versus Charm, Compulsion, Possession or any other form of mental or emotional domination is granted; it is hard to control someone who has already forgotten the self
- Being one with Mu means to act without acting; A fighter in this state can no longer be surprised by someone who intends to attack them.
- When a person becomes one with their art, they may act flawlessly when called upon; One who embraces emptiness may opt not to roll for an attack, instead resolving the strike as if they had rolled an 11 on a d20.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Why do humans rule the world?

I'm a big fan of history in the same way I am a lot of things; I tend to skim the basics and skip to the good parts, not totally investing in it like a real scholar or academic might. Regardless, I do manage to hang onto a more then a few important bits, especially if the subject interests me or has a very broad and/or useful application. I recall one article discussing exactly why we grow old and die, and why this has actually helped our species out; our ability to survive, learn and create are assisted by the fact that a new generation comes along to replace the old.

I'm also working my way through a book discussing why certain cultures and peoples managed to climb to the top of the heap. While the immediate reasons (technology, for one) are fairly simple, the indirect factors, the things that lead to a scenario in which a wayward asshole from Spain and relative handful of soldiers can bamboozle and capture a King are much more complex. Really, there is a lot to be said on that one but lots of people smarter and more qualified have already done so; I'm hear to talk about how it all relates to fantasy stuff - or at least how it does in my head.

Lets take your basic vanilla D&D world. Elves are immortal masters of both mystical and martial pursuits. Dwarves are tough little buggers who are expert craftsmen within a human lifetime, when they can expect to live several centuries more then that. It is generally assumed that these two species did rule the world at one point, but are now in decline because of orcs, dark lords, civil war or some combination thereof. If you're world is really D&Dish, there will be crazy things like Rakshasa and Illithid running around too. Humanity is a late comer whose time has come only due to the twilight of other, more powerful races.

At least, that's how it seems to go in most of the vanilla stuff I read. (I make the distinction because a lot of settings seem to stray away from this and do their own thing, which is ducky) But really, would it be that way? Would Human beings be doomed if they had been contemporaries with the elder races in their heyday?

Lets assume not.

We'll say elves live forever, but they live differently then we do as a result. They need less food and no sleep. Bearing children takes a lot longer and is a pretty large commitment for an elf, as their childhood is correspondingly more lengthy then a human's would be. They don't farm; as stated they need less food, and probably can make an easy living hunting and gathering. Government is probably sparse if existent at all, as elves would have little need to conglomerate. War between each other is anathema - small, personal feuds probably sprout up here and there, but for the most part the elves are willing to let each other be and get along. They live to learn, experiment and to experience.

Dwarves reside in their mountains, away from the rest of the world. They aren't expert craftsman; they are their craft. Their long lives are devoted to stone and gems, iron and gold, the very things that they were born from. They are sturdy folk, and they know how to use the things they make, including weapons. After all, it is towards the dark they must venture if they are to claim materials for their craft and there is certainly no shortage of dark beasts that await in the shadows. While they band together to fight monsters they are much less likely to make war against anyone. What do those who live away from the mountains have that they could ever want, anyway?

 Humans do not live a long time - they grow up hard and fast. They consume voraciously. Conflict over resources and land are near constant - the desire to farm and band together is a strong one. Intensive food production means not everyone in the society has to work to feed themselves, and can instead explore other venues. This leads to things like religion, an organized military and various technologies. In spite of their short lives, humans breed quite a bit, and their kingdoms grow more and more with the population.

In this scenario, it seems likely that humanity will inherit the land. Elves and dwarves could put up a showy fight, but in the ends Mankind's superior numbers, experience with mass combat and more varied technology would ensure their victory.

Among the monsters, there isn't much competition. Rakshasa and other fey need a society to feed off of, and would quickly find themselves over-whelmed if humanity turned on them. Giants are too few and to hostile towards each other to accomplish much beyond pointless destruction, usually. Dragons are content with their hordes of gold and treasure and care very little for their own kin. True abominations, the beholders, the mind flayers and the like, would make enemies just by being widely known, and more then likely wiped out fairly quickly. If mankind has any real competitor for dominance in this situation, it would be the Orks, whose lives are nastier, more brutal, and even shorter then even human ones.

I really do love Orks actually. I'll probably write about them another time.