Friday, July 31, 2015

d30 Feature of the Week: d30 Bard Encounters

Since I've been examining the bard this week, I figured I break out this d30 encounter table. I actually created it over a year ago, and it will be included in a yet-to-be-announced followup to the d30 DM Companion and d30 Sandbox Companion, but has otherwise been sitting on my hard drive.

It generates the following:
– background on the bard's instrument(s)
– the bard's general proficiency on his/her instrument
– what the bard prides him/herself on (knowledge area)
– an ironic trait (despite being able to perform eloquently)
– the bard's dark secret

Click here to download a free PDF of d30 Bard Encounters page from MediaFire.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Some BX Bardic Considerations Day 2:
The Steve Marsh Harpist

So back in the day (c.1980-1986), Steve Marsh was working with Gary Gygax on a planes book for AD&D. And as the manuscript was being readied for publication, the Great Gary Ousting occurred, Gary's projects were shelved, and the book never saw publication. Steve readily admits that everything he did then was related to the planes, and one could arguably say that this is and has always been the case. In fact, I urge all of you to dig into the various documents related to his Shattered Norns* and Mistworld settings.

So where am I going with this as it relates to the bard?

Well... in the Shattered Norns setting, there is a city in the Norns world called Porthvælving. It has a mirror on the Shadow Plane known as Liminenerrea. In Liminenerrea, there is a high-level harpist/mage who can assist the PCs in traveling by dream (from the Shadow Plane to the Material Plane). This concept of the harpist (which is a character type Steve is currently using), has its roots in something Steve was working on in the same era as the planes book... a harpist class that he was "collaborating with Gary Gygax on as a possible replacement for Bards for use in a campaign that has a focus on using the planes of reality and on a class that actually uses music for magic."1

Envisioned by Steve, the harpist is very Orphic, but not necessarily Orphist. The harpist appears in two variants—the song seeker and the song smith (the first with a prime requisite of Charisma, and the latter with a prime requisite of Wisdom). As a harpist rises in level, he or she becomes "in harmony" with a number of muses (the 9 Greek muses, Clio, Urania, etc.), each of which has a particular domain (history, astronomy, etc.), and with a number of graces (the 3 Greek graces, Aglaea, Euphrosyne, and Thalia). Additionally, the harpist gains song levels and uses them to improve his or her skills (which come from the graces). So, yeah... it's pretty Greek. (An interesting counterpoint to the Norse/Celtic/English/French mutt that is the Doug Schwegman bard.)

As the Marsh harpist was written, it seems more like a framework than a complete class. For example, the use of songs is noted as being akin to divine intervention in Empire of the Petal Throne, but there is no "translation" beyond that into something self-contained and usable. There aren't even any examples of how the songs were to be used (other than that they are related to the domains of the muses).

I know that to stop now will be to leave you hanging, but I'll have to admit that this post is "to be continued." I'm waiting to hear back from Mr. Marsh with some additional insights, and with the hope that I'll have enough information to be able to adapt his original harpist vision into a BX/LL character class.

* On a side note, I'll be making a BIG announcement soon regarding the publication of a Shattered Norns adventure!
1 Per the Shadows Beneath NTRPG Con Scenario Part Two document.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Some BX Bardic Considerations Day 1:
The Schwegman Tradition

Originally, I was going to post a BX/LL bard class today, but I decided to hold off on that. As I was getting ready to format my notes and Excel spreadsheet of the bard class tables, it started to occur to me that I wasn't clear on what a bard should really be.

Originally, I was looking at a simple adaptation of Doug Schwegman's bard from The Strategic Review Vol. 2, No. 1. Schwegman's bard is admittedly "a hodgepodge of at least three different kinds, the norse ‘skald’, the celtic ‘bard’, and the southern european ‘minstrel’." In fact, James Maliszewski blames the "muddled" bardic tradition in D&D on Schwegman.

From Schwegman's intro to the class:
"I believe it is a logical addition to the D & D scene and the one I have composed is a hodgepodge of at least three different kinds, the norse ‘skald’, the celtic ‘bard’, and the southern european ‘minstrel’. The skalds were often old warriors who were a kind of self appointed historian whose duty was to record the ancient battles, blood feuds, and deeds of exceptional prowess by setting them to verse much like the ancient Greek poets did. Tolkien, a great Nordic scholar, copied this style several times in the Lord of the Rings trilogy (for example Bilbo’s chant of Earendil the Mariner). The Celts, especially in Britain, had a much more organized structure in which the post of Barbs (sic) as official historians fell somewhere between the Gwelfili or public recorders and the Druids who were the judges as well as spiritual leaders. In the Celtic system Bards were trained by the Druids for a period of almost twenty years before they assumed their duties, among which was to follow the heroes into battle to provide an accurate account of their deeds, as well as to act as trusted intermediaries to settle hostilities among opposing tribes. By far the most common conception of a Bard is as a minstrel who entertained to courts of princes and kings in France, Italy and parts of Germany in the latter middle ages. Such a character was not as trust worthy as the Celtic or Nordic Bards and could be compared to a combination Thief-Illusionist. These characters were called Jongleurs by the French, from which the corrupt term juggler and court jester are remembered today . . .

I wanted to put the Bard into perspective so that his multitudinous abilities in Dungeons and Drageons can be explained. I have fashioned the character more after the Celtic and Norse types than anything else, thus he is a character who resembles a fighter more than anything else, but who knows something about the mysterious forces of magic and is well adept with his hands, etc."
I thought to myself, "Should I, or shouldn't I, work with this 'muddle'?"

I decided to dig a little deeper into the concept, to figure out what I really wanted to do with the bard, and figure out how it fits in the context of a party of adventurers.

Let's start with the historic archetype for the various influences that Schwegman references:
Skalds were generally poets. (The term skald (or skáld) means ‘poet’.) During the Viking Age, they composed for the courts of Scandinavian and Icelandic leaders.

Bards were storytellers, most often employed by a patron. Their subjects tended to be the patron's ancestors, or the patron's own accomplishments.

Minstrels were performers (singers/musicians), often (but not exclusively) retained by high society. The songs of the minstrel told of distant places or of existing or imaginary historical events (often memorizing and embellishing the works of others). Later, minstrels were replaced in the court by troubadours, and the minstrels became wanderers. The subject of the troubadours was courtly love and chivalry.
The following is from All Things Medieval: An Encyclopedia of the Medieval World, Volume 1 by Ruth A Johnston.
"There were essentially three categories of minstrels, although the dividing lines are fuzzy. Musicians sang and played many different instruments, and, although they were ranked below the noble troubadours, they were at the top of the generally minstrelsy sacale. Next were the jongleurs and mimes, who could do nearly anything else. They did literal tumbling, acrobatics such as headstand and handsprings... others had learned magic tricks while in the Middle East on Crusade... A third group, the smallest, was made up of dropout scholars. They traveled with minstrels and and used their learning to entertain."

"...the common minstrels gained a reputation for thieving and causing trouble."
Okay, so let's see... we have music, and magic, and lore, and thieving... all from different types of minstrels, but all present in Schwegman's original concept.

Then we get to AD&D, and class takes a turn towards the druidic. It's an understandable take. The bards were one of three orders of druids (along with the ovates and the druids, each of which had its own school). The bards knew the songs and stories of the tribe, the ovates were seer/healers, and the druids were philosopher/judge/teachers.

From here, I was going to compare the Schwegman bard to the AD&D bard, but that task is pretty much impossible, since in Schwegman's model, the bard starts as a first level character and progresses from there, while in AD&D, the bard utilizes a funky progression where a 5th-9th level fighter changes to thief who progresses to 4-6th level before becoming a first level bard (and making me wish I'd stopped reading the PHB back in the psionics section).

As somebody who leans to the BX/LL side of things, it's probably obvious why I like Schwegman's original take better than the AD&D version. For one, it's self-contained (there's no class switching, or any of the associated headaches that come with that). Or at least I thought I did until I tried to start adapting it for BX/LL.

When I started to take all of the various abilities afforded the Strategic Review version, it became apparent that the bard really is a jack of all trades and master of none.
The bard is a half-ass thief... literally. Per Schwegman, a bard operates as a thief at half the bard's level, rounded down! And they get no bonuses for striking from behind.

The bard is also half-ass as a workhorse magic-user. At fifth level, the bard has 3 spells (all 1st level) and a MU (per the LBBs) has 7 (4 first, 2 second, 1 third). However, the bard's charm ability is far superior to the MUs, and the bard's saving grace (from a magic standpoint, anyway). For MUs, charm person is a 1st level spell and charm monster is a 4th level spell, and each affects a single target. By comparison, the bard's charm affect all in hearing range (not just a single target), and it also affects undead (though at a penalty). The bard's charm ability is balanced by reducing the bard's chances based on the HD of the creature. That happens for MUs based on the target's saving throw (which increases with HD/level). The use of the bard's charm is limited, though, to a number of uses per day equal to the bard's level. Honestly, though, that ability is worth it's weight in gold, almost like having a bunch of sleep spells.

When you get to combat abilities, the bard can hold his own, fighting and saving as a cleric, able to use any weapon, and allowed to wear leather armor (or magical chain, but this nullifies chances for climbing and moving silently), and not allowed to use a shield. But the lack of really protective armor and the use of a shield kind of makes the bard a little susceptible (AC-wise).
It's not a bad mix of abilities, though you'll likely still need a magic-user and thief in the party. However, in the BX context of party mix, where race is class, the bard is a good second-tier choice (e.g., in place of an elf or halfling). In some ways, this makes the bard almost a better fit for BX. In AD&D (and LL AEC) multi-classing serves generally the same purpose. But those things don't really exist in pure BX or LL. That's sort of where the bard makes sense... to round out the party in the absence of another class with abilities that cross over between the four base classes (cleric, fighter, magic-user, thief).

Okay, so that's a look at the standalone "Schwegman Tradition" for the bard. And I have a BX version of this class written, but I want to hold off on releasing it until I've had a chance to take a look at another bardic tradition that never saw publication by TSR... Steve Marsh's harpist, a class on which he was collaborating with Gary Gygax as a possible replacement for bards ("with a class that actually uses music for magic") to be used in a campaign focused on the planes of reality.

Monday, July 27, 2015

New Oe/1e/BX Monster: Scrä-Worm

A few weeks ago, I featured a new monster race, the gorloght. The gorloght were the race enslaved by Xumaltet (the petty god of primal emotions and savage urges*) to fight the scrä-worms (the worm species mutated as a result of Xumaltet’s arrival on the plane). One of my planned psionic adventures (the one that will ramp up the characters to get them ready for The Jahnu Prophecy) is an adventure I'm tentatively naming Spawn of Xumaltet. I'm thinking it will take place in a large scale underground system (similar to Descent into the Depths of the Earth.) It will include the gorloght, the scrä-worms, and some new psionic monsters (in that 2-4 HD sweet spot). That's all I really have right now... some ideas. Now, without further ado, I present the scrä-worm.


When Xumaltet, the petty god of primal emotions and savage urges, first found his way to the Prime Material Plane from the darkest realms of the Dream Lands, his arrival created a massive cloud of subconscious residue. This residue lingered there, mutating the early nematode life living there, and creating the genetic forefathers of the large, semi-intelligent race of creatures that have since come to be known as the scrä-worms. The same subconscious residue that gave them semi-intelligence, also gave their ids dominance, causing these creatures to be driven by their needs, wants, desires, and impulses, particularly their sexual appetites and aggressive drives. If they see something they want, they take it, and they’re not opposed to killing other scrä-worms to get it.

These slender, hammer-headed flatworms measure nearly 6' in length, with a head approximately 12" wide. They are moderately slow, but attack with a forceful blow from their hammer-heads, doing 2d6+2 on a successful “to hit” roll. Additionally, on a natural “to hit” roll of 20, a scrä-worm will strike the head of its target, creating confusion in its victim, with one of the following effects (roll 2d6):
2-5attack closest target
6-8do nothing
9-12flee in fear
Scrä-worms are incredibly resilient. They take only half damage from acid and fire-based attacks, take no damage from cold though it slows them to half movement (2d6 rounds), and electrical attacks restore their hit points (up to their normal maximum).

Given their libidinous behavior, there is a 50% chance a scrä-worm lair will have 2d4 young with half the stats of an adult.

Scrä-worms are the natural enemies of the gorloght, the race that Xumaltet enslaved to fend off the ever-growing population of scrä-worms.

* See Petty Gods: Revised & Expanded Edition

FREQUENCY: Very rare
MOVE: 6" (6")
% IN LAIR: 50%
ALIGNMENT: Chaotic evil
SIZE: L (6' long)
Attack/Defense Modes: Nil

MOVE: 60'(20') (60'(20'))
ATTACKS: 1 slam
DAMAGE: 4-14
NO. APPEARING: 1-2 (2-20)
SAVE AS: Fighter:3

Monday, July 20, 2015

New Psionic Monster (BX/LL): Hive-Mite

Today's creature, the hive-mite, is a low-level psionic creature I created to answer Eric Potter's request for more psionic stuff that low level characters could fight. I have dual-statted this monster (for Oe/1e and BX), but the body description is written for BX. Anyone wishing to use this for Oe/1e psionics will have to take the principals presented and do a bit of reverse engineering (based on the Oe/1e stat block), since the Original/Advanced edition of psionics don't really use psionic saving throws or psionic levels.


These 2’-long, maggot-like creatures are typically found in areas of rot, and are particular fond of the rotting flesh of animals.

Any hive-mite within 10' of another hive-mite automatically shares its mind with that hive-mite. Subsequently, all hive-mites contiguously within a 10' range of one another share their minds with all of the others in the “chain.”

Solitary hive-mites have a psionic level of 1 (5 PSPs), and may opt to make a psionic attack (with id insinuation) during the round, rather than their standard bite attack. Hive-mites which are sharing their minds have a psionic level equal to the number of hive-mites in the group of shared minds, but collectively get only 1 psionic attack per round (which only one of the mites in the chain may use in lieu of its bite attack). When making a psionic attack with a shared mind, PSPs may be cannibalized from other hive-mites in the chain, deducting the cannibalized PSPs from the reservoir of those hive-mites.

Psionic saving throws for any hive-mite in a chain is made as a fighter equal to the shared mind’s psionic level. Any clairsentient or telepathic ability (psionic, magic, or otherwise), as well as any attack mode, targeted against any hive-mite (or hive-mites) in a chain has a chance to affect the other hive-mites in the chain. Each member of the shared mind must make a successful psionic saving throw or suffer the ability’s/attacks effects. Hive-mites are always protected by a tower of iron will with no PSP cost. Psychometabolic, psychokinetic and psychoporative sionic abilities which target an individual “externally” (e.g., disintegration), affect only the single hive-mite against which the ability is targeted. All other (non-psionic) saving throws are made as a 1st level fighter.

The morale of any hive mite is dependent upon the number of minds being shared as outlined below:

# of hive-
mites in chain

FREQUENCY: Very rare
MOVE: 3"
% IN LAIR: 40%
SPECIAL ATTACKS: 1 psionic attack
per hive-mite "chain"
SIZE: S (2' long)
PSIONIC ABILITY: 15 (per hive-mite)
Attack/Defense Modes: D/J

MOVE: 30'(10')
ATTACKS: 1 bite or special
DAMAGE: 1-4 or special
NO. APPEARING: 1-4 (2-8)
SAVE AS: See below
MORALE: See below

(5 PSPs per hive-mite)
ATTACK MODES: id insinuation
DEFENSE MODES: tower of iron will*
(no PSP cost, always on)

Sunday, July 19, 2015

The Jahnu Prophecy...

What follows is the background information for the mid-level BX psionics playtest I ran this past Friday, and plan to run (probably in 2 parts) at the 2016 NTRPGCon. The youree noted below are the same ones that appear in the Creature Compendium. You'll notice that the mockup image here is designated as P3. My goal is to have it be the 3rd in a series of BX/LL psionics modules. P1 would be an expanded version of "The Auroral Alcazar or Aethaungor" (which will include a psionic boss monster), and P2 would be a dungeon crawl through a ruined temple dedicated to Xumaltet (the the petty god of primal emotions and savage urges who appears in the expanded version of Petty Gods).

Among the great psionic races of the multiverse (the mind threshers, limbo giths, astral giths, zlaahd, et al.), the youree have mostly been relegated to the status of legend, thought to have been wiped to extinction (by the mind threshers) millennia ago. In truth, the youree retreated from their home plane to "hide" in the small corner of the Material Plane known as the Valley of the Trees. The youree, as a people, seek to live a life of contemplation and meditation and avoid the entanglements of war. They saw this exodus as the only possibility for preserving themselves as a race.

Settling in the Valley of the Trees, the youree erected themselves a home in a place called Shub z'Dha (a youree word for "home away from home")—a temple-like structure that also housed a planar gate (built around a natural rip in planar space) that would allow the youree easy access to various places around the planes. Over time, however, they realized the same gate that would allow them egress might allow others entrance, and that the extraplanar energy emanating from the gate might draw unwanted attention. For safety, the youree “locked” the gate, and hid the gate ’s keystone in a remote cavern deep below the surface, where its natural psionic energies would be naturally muted. Destroying the gate was not an option, for it would only loose the rip and release untold energies, revealing the rip's presence. Anyone would then be able to harness the rip, should they possess the knowledge required to erect a new gate.

The youree moved far to the north, erecting a hidden tower known as "The Crystal Pagoda" by outsiders (those chosen few who came to study with the youree). The youree have no name for the structure. The pagoda is located in a dome constructed under a mountain and protected by a field of synaptic static (which keeps psionic abilities from passing through, whether in or out).

Recently, it has been reported (by non-youree visitors to the Crystal Pagoda) that a small party of limbo giths was seen exploring the ruins of Shub z'Dha. Since the synaptic field keeps youree clairsentients from being able to observe the ruins themselves, the youree wish for this report to be physically investigated. They fear that the gate will be discovered, but as a race the youree must take every precaution to ensure that their presence remains unknown to would-be conquerors. They fear the fulfillment of "The Jahnu Prophecy"—a vision revealed hundreds of years prior to a youree guru named Jahnu which foretold the annihilation of the youree should any of their number ever return to Shub z'Dha. It is for these reasons the youree sardar ("head or authority") has enlisted the PCs to investigate the truth of the limbo gith presence at Shub z'Dha.

Thats right! The youree are the mysterious people of the trees from VA1: Valley of the Five Fires. Believe it or not, this concept reaches back prior to my actual development of the BX psionics rules. Originally, the youree were just supposed to be an alien race that settled in the Valley of the Trees millennia prior to the events of VA1. Eventually, they would need help from the outside world. As the psionics rules started to develop, it became obvious that the youree would have psionic abilities.

I also intend to wrap the Xumaltet concept into the youree history, with a small Xumaltet reference in the expanded Alcazar adventure as well (though in a very minor way there). I'm trying to weave the story threads through the entire series to create a greater fabric of myth around these stories. (BTW, anyone who has read VA1a: The Lost Caverns of Azgot knows there are references to proto-ogres. It is also intended that the evolution from proto-ogre to standard ogre was related to Xumaltet and/or the youree (although I'm still trying to decided exactly how.)

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

My Formula for the Original Development of OD&D Psionics

With the recent release of the 5th Edition psionics playtest document, I thought I'd take a look back at where psionics came from in the first place.

As many of you know, for the last year-and-a-half or so, I've been working on a psionics adaptation for classic editions of the game (BX/LL). Throughout the process, I've been lucky enough to remain in contact with Steve Marsh, one of the original contributors of psionics to D&D, and I've gotten a great insight on the process for the development of psionics in OD&D.

The gist of the story/process is this...

Before Steve worked at TSR, he would mail things to Gary. One of the things Steve sent was a concept for a mystic character class (based on the tradition of Indian mysticism). This was envisioned as a standard character class that would gain additional mystic powers as they rose in level (much like a MU). [These abilities would inform the majority of the standard psionic disciplines from OD&D.]

Separately, Gary was developing a psionic combatant class—the devine. The devine had attack and defense modes (though I can't speak to how they changed as the devine rose in level). [These modes are obviously the foundation for psionic combat.]

The most interesting insight is the following (based on a comment Steve made a couple of weeks ago on one of my blog posts in reference to the editorial process on Eldritch Wizardry):
"It should be noted that Tim (Kask) got everything as sheets in a large bowl and told to work with it. He did amazing work given the conditions. As for where material came from, Tim would get clues when Gary would put the credits together..."
Yes. Tim had a literal BOWL on his desk that Gary would dump things into as work in progress. [Steve mentioned to me that the "WIP bowl" is something he himself only learned of last month when talking to Tim Kask at the recent NTRPGCon.]

Finally, Tim Kask brought a lot to the psionics party in the forms of the charts and tables. From a post in 2007:
"I LOVED psionic combat and had great fun devising it with all of its tables and charts. Apparently I was in the tiny minority. I guess mental combat was too esoteric for most D&Ders; not enough of them shared my fondness for the Dr. Strange Marvel comics and Mindflayers."
So here's my interpretation of the formula for how psionics developed for OD&D:
[(Marsh Mystic + Gygax Devine) × Kask Bowl] ÷ (Gygax Input + Kask Editing) = OD&D psionics.

[On a related note, the illustration that appears at the top of this post is by F.Y. Cory from a Frank Baum book titled The Master Key: An Electrical Fairy Tale, Founded Upon the Mysteries of Electricity and the Optimism of Its Devotees (1901, Bowen-Merrill). I'm thinking the Cory illustration may be the image that appears on the title page of the Basic Psionics Handbook.]