Random Names Magira Style

Author: DHBoggs / Labels: ,

featured a random name generator based on the names found in the J. E. Holmes basic set of D&D.  It’s a great little tool for coming up with new names and a lot of fun.  I like the idea a lot and have used it a few times with happy results.  One caveat for me though is knowing Holmes D&D didn’t shy away from such campy names as Presto and Boppo or common names like Fred.  I started to think I might like something a little more exotic, foreign and less Holmesian.  That’s when I hit upon the idea of looking to Magira.  Magira is the world collectively created in the late 1960’s in Germany as the location of a character based war and adventure game.  It’s pre D&D European roots seemed like a rich opportunity for a different feel altogether in the names generated.  So I turned to the 1970’s novella about an adventure set in the game world as written by one of the original Magira players, titled “Wargamers World” in the English translation.  Between the character and place names, there was just enough to make the new syllables list given below.  The procedure for using it is otherwise exactly that given on the Zenopus archives blog – repeated here with permission.

First, roll d100 for the # of syllables in the name:
01-10 One syllable (double the last letter if desired)
11-70 Two syllables
71-90 Three syllables
91-100 Four syllables

Syllables can be placed together to form one word, or separated by spaces or hyphens.

Second, roll d100 for each syllable: 
1.        Ma
2.       Gi
3.       Ra
4.      Ci
5.       Jo
6.      Yn
7.       Nis
8.      Wol
9.       San
10.    Or
11.     Hu
12.    Ac
13.     Gra
14.    Mor
15.     Ag
16.    Ur
17.    As
18.    Su
19.    Hon
20.   Dan
21.    En
22.   Ir
23.    On
24.   A
25.    Tar
26.   Cy
27.   Ysh
28.   Mir
29.   Yd
30.   An
31.     Dav
32.    Il
33.    Pesh
34.   Kar
35.    I
36.   Kan
37.    Di
38.   Zan
39.    Gi
40.  Tam
41.    Orn
42.   Tess
43.   El
44.  Ope
45.   Ar
46.  Lil
47.   Pel
48.  Im
49.   Thu
50.   Phel
51.     E
52.    Thars
53.    Torn
54.   Dad
55.    Var
56.   In
57.    Beg
58.   Tis
59.    Heg
60.  Ris
61.    Lin
62.   Hoen
63.   Dis
64.  Mer
65.   Ol
66.  My
67.   Than
68.  Os
69.   Ri
70.   Lo
71.    Ric
72.   Ster
73.    Ic
74.   Sci
75.    Bruss
76.   Cha
77.   Ra
78.   Ter
79.   Ast
80.  Veg
81.    Ti
82.   Son
83.   Lys
84.  Sha
85.   Sorc
86.  Haz
87.   Zon
88.  Rhi
89.   Am
90.   Es
91.    Ran
92.   Ki
93.    Mah
94.   Nib
95.    Ve
96.   Gad
97.   Kron
98.   Ger
99.   Va
100.                        Nad

Finally, if desired add a title (pick or d20):
of the North/South/East/West/City/Hills/Mountains/Plains/Woods/Coast
the Bold/Daring
the Barbarian/Civilized
the Battler
the Black/Blue/Brown/Green/Red/Yellow
the Fearless/Brave
the Fair/Foul/Lovely/Loathsome
the First, Second, Third, Fourth etc (roll d20)
the Gentle/Cruel
the Great
the Merciful/Merciless
the Mighty
the Mysterious/Unknown
the Old/Young/Boy/Girl
the Quick/Slow
the Quiet/Silent/Loud
the Steady/Unready
the Traveller/Wanderer
the Unexpected 
the Hooded/Cloaked/Robed

Sample Magiran names generated randomly:

Zonpel Ran

Miscellaneous Treasure

Author: DHBoggs / Labels: , , ,

Treasure, and the hunt for it, have been at the heart of D&D since the beginning.  Tables for randomly generating the fantastic wealth to tempt adventurers long have been a staple of the game.  The OD&D treasure types included chances for copper, silver, gold, gems, jewelry and magic items.  AD&D changed these tables but little, adding only electrum to the treasure spectrum.  Conspicuously missing from these lists is a staple of Hollywood style treasure hoards – miscellaneous objects of value, such as tapestries, ivory, works of art and so forth.

When Arneson & Snider wrote Adventures in Fantasy, a lot of old ideas were reworked and repackaged, body types and hit location from Supplement II, for example.  Treasure Types were another idea that received a re-skin.  There are none of the familiar lettered treasure types in AiF, but there is treasure still.  The same categories are there – copper, silver, gold, gems, and jewels, but rather than assign a particular type to particular monsters with varying chances in each category as D&D does, AiF uses a one-size-fits-all 10 x 10 table allowing the possibility of almost any treasure being assigned to any eligible monster.

A different approach, to be sure; but, for the most part, familiar hordes of silver and gold result.  However, of the 100 possible treasure options, 4 contain a new category of either 1 or 2 objects of Miscellaneous treasure.

The category of Miscellaneous Treasure is one of the most interesting and potentially useful distinctions found in AiF.   Basically, it works as follows; when a miscellaneous treasure is called for a roll is made on a table containing these ten categories:

Kegs (various goods)
Decorative weaponry
Riding Tack
Ivory (raw)

Except for kegs and ivory, each category has a value modifier that is multiplied times an amount of coin – 5 gp for example – determined randomly on a table.  Some items’ value modifiers are fixed at 1 and some have a range of 1-4 or 1-10, so some items, such as a tapestry can range from a few coppers to thousands of gp in value.

There is also a subtable for the contents of kegs:

The keg items have fixed gold piece values, except for perfume, which ranges in value from 100 to 600 gp.

For the most part, details, such as what kind of clothing or sculpture or piece of art, are left to the referee to invent.

All in all, The Adventures in Fantasy miscellaneous treasure is a fairly simple yet versatile way to add some real color to your treasure haul. 

Integration with D&D is fairly seamless too.  In AiF there is always a 4% chance any given treasure will contain a miscellaneous item or two.  In D&D there is likewise always a chance any given treasure could contain gems or jewels, so all one needs to do is add one more roll when generating a D&D treasure and allow a chance for a miscellaneous treasure too.  I go with 5% instead of 4% just because chances on the D&D tables are always in multiples of 5.

Shakespearean Magic in D&D.

Author: DHBoggs / Labels: , ,

Move over Jack Vance….

So The Tempest, a play by Shakespeare written in 1610, features a wizard named Prospero living in a seclusium on an island in the sea.  That’s pretty cool; cool enough that I’ve been intrigued by it for some time.  So I checked around and discovered this excerpt of a book by William J. Rolfe from 1904

Prospero has all the trappings of a D&D Magic-user:
His robe is a magic garment
He carries a magic wand that can move objects, including removing weapons from the hands of enemies.
He possesses a magical staff of great, but unspecified power.

Prospero practices a kind of  Elemental magic, effecting his spells through the command of “spirits” of the four elements.  These four elements are "in sea or fire, in earth or air," as Rolfe points out by quoting Hamlet from a different play.  Specifically these spirits are “sea nymphs” (water), Ariel (fire), goblins (earth) and elves? (air).  It doesn’t require much imagination to equate these “spirits” to Jack Vance’s idea of “plasmids”, the magical creatures who cause “Vancian” magic in his novels.

To cast spells, Prospero masters and commands these elemental spirits; "..my spirits obey,.. untie the spell," as one line puts it.  Rolfe notes that Prospero is able to command, cajole, and compel these spirits to create the magical effect he desires because of his commanding intellect.  As with D&D, intelligence significantly improves Prospero’s ability to perform magic.    

Nevertheless, spells can be spoiled, especially by noise or commotion. “Hush, and be mute, or else our spell is marr'd.”  D&D may be a bit more lenient in this regard, but it is a familiar theme.

It isn’t a simple matter of intelligence, will and a few undisturbed moments however.  Prospero acquires his ability to create specific magic through the study of spell books. His spell books  were of key importance to his art; for without them “He's but a sot”, and does not have even “One spirit to command.”  Prospero must first resort to his books to prepare his spells.  Without them, he cannot prepare a new spell.  Take away a D&D Magic-users spell books under the original rules and eventually they will exhaust their spell and, like Prospero, have no ability to cast magic.

The last point to mention about Prospero and his magic in relation to D&D is its’ abstract nature.  Shakespeare, unlike his contemporaries does not surround Prospero with grotesque details.  His magic is clean, intellectual and as Rolfe puts it “at once supernatural and natural… the highest exercise of the magic art”.  There’s no eye of newt and dissected goat livers involved, no midnight chicken sacrifices, or anything of the sort.  His magic is primarily verbal, a manifestation of power through will and ability, not devilish gimmickry.  Again, it’s an awful lot like original D&D.

I’m not suggesting that Gygax and Arneson modeled D&D magic on Shakespeare.  It could all be a coincidence, but Its an interesting parallel for sure.  Then again there may be a path of influence though Vance.   I wouldn’t be surprised if Jack Vance was at least somewhat inspired by The Tempest and there’s no doubt that Gygax modeled his idea of Magic-users on Vance’s excellent work.

Fighting Capability

Author: DHBoggs / Labels:

The following is from CHAINMAIL:

Here, each figure will do only as well as its known capabilities foretell, with allowances for chance factors which affect every battle (such as dice throwing in miniature warfare)…… combat is based on the historically known capabilities of each particular kind of fighting man and then expressed as a dice rolling probability in relation to like and differing types of soldiers.p6

The Lycanthrope will bring a number of animals of its were-type with it, and this adds to their fighting ability. If they are fighting inside of, or within 6" of, a wood, other than an Entwood, they will double their melee capability. Lycanthropes attack as four Armored Foot and defend as four Heavy Foot.  p34

They will fight in formations, and have a melee capability of six Heavy Foot. p34.

From the above we can see that the terms fighting ability, melee capability etc..are interchangeable references to the power of a particular combatant, as expressed in number and type, i.e. “six heavy foot”.

HEROES (and Anti-heroes): ..... They have the fighting ability of four figures, the class being dependent on the arms and equipment of the Hero types themselves, who can range from Light Foot to Heavy Horse. CM p7.

The fighting ability or melee capability of the hero is “4 figures” but depends also on their “type”, meaning one hero could equal 4 figures of Light Infantry and another equal 4 figures of Heavy Horse. 

So what’s a figure?  That depends on scale.  It can represent 20 men, 10 men or 1 man.  In individual combat such as in Man to Man (or OD&D) a figure is 1 man.  “When two figures are within melee range (3"), one or several blows will be struck…. The man striking the first blow….” p25.

Each man/figure that wants to melee, can: “Units within 3" of a melee may be drawn into it if the player to whom they belong so desires.” p16

Now here comes a bit of deductive logic not specified in the rules, but apparent.  Each single man/figure gets one attack and dies when hit, but a Hero has a melee capability of 4 man/figures.  Therefore a Hero gets 4 melee attacks (melee capability) in Man to Man combat; one attack for each man they are worth.  Likewise a superhero deductively has 8 attacks, since they are equal to 8 men/figures, and each one of those 8 men is worth one attack separately.

Now lets turn to OD&D.  OD&D has new rules which replace or supplement CHAINMAIL.  Hit dice, have now replaced mere hits for defense.  Another column, labeled “Fighting Capability”, is defined as “a key to use in conjunction with the CHAINMAIL fantasy rule…”p18M&M  Fighting Capability lists a character level, and the number of men the level equals.  Heroes equal 4 men, and Superheroes equal 8 men.

Again, it’s not spelled out, but it is readily apparent that OD&D Fighting Capability is the same thing as CHAINMIAL fighting ability or melee capability in terms of attack value/number of attacks.  A D&D hero has the fighting capability of  4 men/figures, just as a CHAINMAIL hero has a melee capability of 4 
men/figures.  A D&D hero therefore attacks as 4 men when using CHAINMAIL Man to Man.

So, when using the CHAINMAIL man to man or mass combat methods, the Fighting Capability table tells you how many men/figures a D&D character is worth, plus possible bonuses. 

For more discussion, have a look at this post: http://odd74.proboards.com/index.cgi?board=menmagic&action=display&thread=8509&page=1

On the Character of Histories and the History of Characters

Author: DHBoggs /

The past doesn’t exist; you can’t poke it with a ten foot pole.  It is a tale created from our memories and from such media and material we are able to reference in the present.  The task of a scientific investigator of the past is daunting because facts don’t speak “truth” themselves except in the most uninteresting, limited of ways.  What people really want to know, the why’s and the how’s, is often more ephemeral than the data and so arguments must be crafted and stories told.
                It is exponentially more problematic when the only records are verbal, written or otherwise, and it took a long time – well into the twentieth century - for researchers to abandon the comforts of positivism and realize that documents are but a tool, a guide, a starting point, and a not a whole and obvious truth unto themselves and never the whole truth in any case.   In our case, as part of the interest to groke the roots and compass of our hobby, we’ve looked forever at how D&D and AD&D are heavily dependant on both the mechanics and fluff found in CHAINMAIL, which in turn is directly linked to earlier wargames, fantasy literature, and ultimately cultural mythology.  Lots of people, myself included, have had a field day over the years of linking CHAINMAIL to the corresponding bits of D&D.  Yet the question of how CHAINMAIL, a table top wargame, came to be gutted and remodeled as a “Role-Playing” game, remained elusive. 
Speculations about that process often involve a discussion about what a role playing game is, but that question is, I think, both simply answered and misleading.  Rather obviously, role playing games are games where people play roles.  Cowboys and Indians is a roleplaying game, so is any movie or play you have ever seen.  Role playing is as old as time.
                “RPGs” have more to them than playing at roles, so lets be more specific. There are really two distinguishing factors between “wargames” and “RPGs”.
                  1)      Character mechanics
                  2)      Victory conditions
First, tabletop RPGs feature open ended character driven gaming.   Central to RPGs is the idea that characters affect outcomes through all their individual characteristics.  Unlike wargames, where only the material strength of the playing piece applies, RPG’s apply any of the various aspects of the character to the game.  So a character will have some kind of intelligence score, a strength score and so on.  The character may have a reputation or social standing: a set of skills, abilities, saving throws and so forth, things that define the character and can be applied to any appropriate situation that may come up, not just martial skill.  These things can be scores, numbers, or simply descriptions.  But in all cases the outcomes of challenges within the game are adjudicated with reference to both the martial and extra-martial characteristics of the Character.   
Second, the character is unbounded, both in terms of the mapboard and in terms of agency.  Theoretically the character could travel anywhere and pursue any activity and still be in the game.  Wargames, such as CHAINMAIL™ are bounded by their victory conditions, which essentially entail overcoming an obstacle on the gameboard via martial ability.  Typically, that obstacle is the enemy army, or some similar battle condition.   Victory conditions in RPGs however are determined entirely by the player.  They may follow a path of opportunity laid out by the game master, or they may go their own way and seek their own objectives, and still progress in the game.  Geographic and career agency are significant breaks from previous games where if a character or a playing piece were to leave the “campaign” to found a moon cult in the Atlas mountains, or search for the source of the Nile, it would effectively end that characters role in the game.
           There are many games which some element of character comes into play, Diplomacy and Fight in the Skies, for example, but what we call “RPGs” were the first to tie variable, open ended victory conditions with the requirement that any and all aspects of the singular character (skills, nature, background) can be brought in to play.
          In short, “tabletop RPGs” are character driven games, in which multiple and varied personal characteristics matter and the characters choose which obstacles to overcome to achieve a self defined victory goal.   
          This brings me back to the ephemeral aspects of history and a concept I’ve long argued on DF and elsewhere about David Wesely.  His Bruanstein was exactly this sort of character driven game, and such play was a new revelation to his players.  Wesely created individual characters with broadly defined roles, character backgrounds and skills, and turned them loose on the world he created for the game.  The players then decided what they wanted their characters to do, setting personal goals, and maneuvering toward that end, within the bounds of their personal characteristics.
         This unique “Braunstein element”, the player character driven and defined game, is precisely what distinguishes “tabletop RPGs” from other games, including other conflict games like CHAINMAIL or Chess.  Wargames have built in, externally defined, victory goals.  You win when you defeat your enemy.  RPGs have no external victory goal assumed by the rules.  The “end game” is player character success as defined by the player.  Along the way player victories may be won by achieving a level or creating a spell, or simply stealing all the loot in the local bank – whatever goal the player has set out to achieve with the character. 
          Take away the Bruanstein element and RPGs are left with nothing.  All RPGs are variant Braunsteins in a sense, each employing their own mechanics and set design.  At heart, D&D is a Braunstien;  Traveller is a Braunstein;  Burning Wheel is a Braunstein.   The exact mechanics and window dressing don’t change the primacy of design centered on personal characteristics and character agency pioneered in Wesely’s game.  
          Conversely, add the “Braunstein element” to almost any tabletop game and it becomes an “RPG”.  Imagine, for example, creating a Chess RPG.  One could use the rules of chess, and the names of the pieces as a basis for creating characters with various roles, positions, skills, and powers.  The chessboard must be transformed into an open map, and each character left to chart its own path in the great war of black verses white, or good verses evil, perhaps.   Is victory for John Q. Pawn promotion to bishop?  Or is it amassing a huge fortune selling arms to the knights on both sides?   The Player must decide how they will play their character, make use of its’ strengths and what direction it will take in the scheme.
That is Braunstien.  That likewise is D&D and all of its descendants.

Blackmoor Character Sheet Clues, Part III (last)

Author: DHBoggs / Labels: ,

The  learned skills listed on Peter Gaylords character sheet are:

The presence of a skills list on a pre D&D sheet might stir up a hornets nest of its own for some folks.  Many a post has been written about how “skills” ruin the game, so evidence of skill mechanics in the ur game of D&D might not be welcome news to all concerned.  I won’t presume to tell anybody their idea of gaming fun is bad/wrong.  I personally think there are lots of examples of skills in the 3LBB’s as it is, but it’s true there is no detailed system.   M. A. R. Barker’s Empire of the Petal Throne™ “corrected” that “omission” as some would put it, but Arneson long contended that he had used a skills system “in so far as what I originally wanted to do ….with the different classes and the different fields you could learn.  I wanted to do that originally, but it was considered too complicated and people couldn’t handle it.  Well now that’s come back, you can do that.  You could really make a unique character class with the variability; and I always wanted to do that and I do that in my original campaign even today…. Because the players in the original campaign could learn different skills and different abilities....”  Dave Arneson, Mortality Radio interview, July 9th, 2004.

Arneson also claimed that “D&D at its start was a simple system with guidelines that could be tailored to the players...Each having strong points and weakness...  The skills (Such as found in my AIF game.) allowed you to build your character…” Official Dave Arneson Q&A Thread
« Result #30 on Jan 9, 2009, 3:25pm; Odd74 Forum

Of course, nobody familiar with AiF really thought  Arneson meant to say, strictly speaking, that AiF was exactly how it was in early Blackmoor.  Instead it seems more accurate to say that some of AiF builds on some of the concepts experimented with in the pre-D&D era, often with new or more developed mechanics.  So while AiF, or parts of it at least, may well be Arneson’s “original system”, at the systemic level, it is not true of the mechanical details, which are mostly quite altered or new altogether.   Most gamers don’t show much interest in tracing out all the stuff in AiF the way we do with D&D, and few people besides oddballs like me have done more than skim through the game.  Nevertheless, a  closer look at AiF  reveals some immediate parallels with the skill list on Peter Gaylords’s character sheet.

As mentioned previously, AiF has an “Education” sub-system.  Briefly, this is a list of 26 “Courses of Instruction”, 9 of them being in individual weapons, and several of the others being basic and advanced studies in the same subject or skill.  The courses are learned by a character through a “basic learning formula” taking into account time, intelligence, and course difficulty.  Among the 26 are:

Horsemanship (I, II, III)

Flying, is, of course a spell in AiF, leaving leadership the only "skill" on the Blackmoor character sheet generally unaccounted for in the game.   So we see that AiF carries a tradition of learned skills that does derive from early Blackmoor play.  That’s about as far as we can take the comparison however.  The AiF Courses of Instruction each have different benefits and game effects whereas Pete’s listed skills are pass/fail saving throw affairs.   So a final point about Peter Gaylord’s sheet we can make is that it not only illustrates an evolution of concepts found in D&D, it likewise illustrates the roots of some of the unique features of AiF.

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