Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Metal Gods of Ur-Hadad 'zine coiming soon!

I'm a bit late on this, but here it is: The (we hope) highly anticpated Metal Gods of Ur-Hadad 'zine, Issue #1.


We still gotta get cleared by DCC heaquarters, but it's ready for primetime (taking into account the small sample sizes and whatnot)

Sunday, January 19, 2014

What are the Lost Hymns?

+Adam Muszkiewicz first came up with the idea of the Lost Hymns. I've used them as a play element in my Last Dance of the Disco Lord adventure I ran (and posted) in December. But have you ever thought would it would mean for a cleric, particularly.

We are adherents of the Metal Gods (mostly) in the Metal Gods of Ur-Hadad campaign. Also, to make clear, "Metal Gods" refers the deities, not the PCs or the players (though we try every day in every way to reach ascension). So, think of every heavy metal song. Every one. It has music, and most have lyrics. Those lyrics are sometimes stories, sometimes nonsense, sometimes an anthem to a person, place, or thing, and somtimes to a lifestyle or ideal. These songs are sometimes cryptic, and sometimes explicit. They form a somewhat nebulous body of the Metal Gods' wisdom. The borders between what is truly holy and what is not, are not clearly drawn. There is always dispute about that fact, a quite durable state of affairs, at this point, and not much likely to change. In fact, what some call "metal" may be seen as "not metal" by particularly vehement, orthodox worshippers of the Metal Gods.

This body of knowledge is unevenly shared, even among worshippers. There are always new ones to learn, and even the greatest of the Metal Gods' clergy do not know them all.

However, these hymns are not the basis for divine spells or other effects. They simply are wisdom, and provide a sense of perspective, values, and a variety of orientations to the world and one's place in it. They allow you to figure out what kind of cleric you might have. Or better yet, the kind of cleric you have should tell you which of the hymns are most sacred. It's just a simple way to get into character. If you like pirate metal, for example (e.g., Alestorm), as I find I do (did not know this about myself, and am a bit surprised to tell the truth).

Here's an example:

It's got pirates versus vikings. Fun!

With lyrics like this, it's pretty easy to see why that sort of cleric would make a pretty decent adventurer:
Back trough time, to fight the viking foe! Back trough time, where our voyage must now go! Six hundred years into the the past, Our desitny is here at last! For infamy and plunder we will ride!
The Lost Hymns, though, can only be learned from one of the Metal Gods pantheon. These are the Great Ones, the Avatars of Metal, gods like Lemm, Robhal, and Iod.  Learning the Lost Hymns these gods can reveal requires particularly avid devotion, and are granted only in great need for pursuits important to the gods, themselves. Typically, access to the Lost Hymns requires that the cleric call upon that particular Great One, by beseeching Divine Aid, as per the DCC RPG rules:
To request divine aid, the cleric makes a spell check at the same modifier that would apply were he casting a spell. This extraordinary act imparts a cumulative +10 penalty to future disapproval range. Based on the result of the spell check, the judge will describe the result. Simple requests (e.g., light a candle) are DC 10 and extraordinary requests (e.g., summon and control a living column of flame) are DC 18 or higher. (p. 31)
It's also important to recognize that such a petition for aid must be extraordinary, and that frivolous petition for access to the Lost Hymns may have dire consequences (e.g, in the form of penance of some kind, a divine smiting about, etc.).

Success in beseeching divine aid means that the cleric has access to a Lost Hymn. It's up to the Judge and the player to figure out what happens. There's only one real requirement I'd impose (as a Judge) beyond the good roll: As a player, you should have a lyric in mind that will serve as the basis for the effect you hope to achieve.

In fact, it might be neat to have clerics of the Metal Gods rename their particular, known spells based on a lyric that suggests the spell effect. Since my cleric still lives, I'll have to ponder that for a while, to come up with particulars. One could even limit spells one can learn, based on what's "canon" for the particular sect of Metal to which the cleric adheres.

Anyway, not necessarily relevant outside of the Metal Gods campaign, it at least illustrates how to use even the simplest "literary" sources as inspiration for character-building and roleplaying.

Godly Grace in a Mortal Shell

Yesterday, while playing in +Shawn Sanford's DCC FLAILSNAILS game, my longest-running DCC character, Kormaki Lemmisson, almost met his end, and at his own hand.

Here's what happened.

We'd gotten very nearly to the end of Michael Curtis's excellent adventure, DCC #77 The Croaking Fane. Only a couple more rooms to look at before heading back to Punjar to heal up and resupply before tackling Emirikol Was Framed. Surely, that wouldn't be a problem, right? It's just a couple rooms. We could handle it, right? Very nearly not, it would turn out.

The room at issue was behind a barred door. The door was barred to keep whatever was behind it, well, behind it+Barry Blatt noticed that small fact, and advocated for a swift retreat with our ill-gotten loot. In our hubris, in our greed, we ignored his wisdom.

In part, I ignored him because of my success in casting a spell. After we removed the bar, revealing some kind of crypt behind it, Kormaki cast Divine Symbol, a spell that imbues the cleric's symbol with holiness. Here's the result of the casting (a natural 20, btw):
For a duration of 3d6+CL rounds, the cleric can attack with his holy symbol as if it were a magical weapon of +2 enchantment. It deals 1d14+2 damage (modified by Str, as usual), with an additional +4 damage bonus against unholy creatures. In addition, as long as the cleric is visible to his allies and followers, they receive a +1 bonus to saving throws and morale checks. Finally, the cleric also receives a +4 bonus to all spell checks to turn unholy while using his holy symbol when under the influence of this spell. (DCC RPG Rulebook, p. 275)
Time to kick some undead ass, right? Kormaki had Soul Power (for 19 rounds!), and, yes, was most assuredly feeling Superbad.

Unlike Kormaki, JB understands how things can go, sometimes: Super-badly.

In the end, Kormaki had only himself to fear. After initially having great success in dealing damage to his undead, amphibious foes (big-ass zombie frogs with like a million HD), and failing to turn unholy (because of those many, many hit dice), Kormaki lined one of those bastards up in his sights and swung mightily. He rolled a natural 1 (of course). Subsequent rolls on the fumble table (d16, because: Banded Mail) ended with him doing 12 points of damage... to himself. He was also (of course) the only cleric in the party, so no healing for him. There were some potions we found, but I had the feeling they wouldn't be very healing, so I gambled, and declined such aid. 

I (Edgar, not Kormaki) suddenly found myself reflecting on the real possibility of the death of my oldest character. Kormaki has been around since the Metal Gods crew started playing together. +Adam Muszkiewicz doesn't exactly shower us in unwarranted XP, and he and I alternate judging duties, so it's taken me a long time to get him to 3rd level. He's a veteran of Fort Simian. He's met Space David Bowie, in his Ziggy Stardust aspect. He smoked the purple tentacle, for Lemm's sake! He's been through some shit, let me tell you. How could he die? Who might replace him? My mind pondered these possibilities as the rest of the party mopped up, and watched Kormaki bleed out, helpless to do anything about it.

But there was a possibility that he might still live--the "Recover the Body" rule:
Recovering the body: If the body of a dead ally can be recovered, there is a chance the ally may not be truly killed. He may have been knocked unconscious or simply stunned. If a character reaches a dead ally’s body within one hour, the dead character may make a Luck check when his body is rolled over. On a successful check, the dead character was badly injured but is not permanently killed... (DCC RPG Rulebook, p. 93)
Now at only 7 points of Luck, Kormaki's chances were a bit slim (35%) to "recover the body" as per the rules. The Metal Gods smiled upon him, and the Iron Fist of Lemm did shelter him from harm: I rolled a 2. 

So, Kormaki lived. He's down (another) point of Stamina, reducing him to 8, and incurring a -1 penalty as a result. He suddenly feels like that cop who's three days from retirement, and "too old for this shit." He needs to go back to the chapter house, to heal up, to drink and whore, and to do all of those things a man of his stature ought, before things go pear-shaped for good. 

Knowing how things go, though, he'll probably just go out adventuring again. His inevitable demise is only a matter of time. In the end, death waits for us all.

Dax, baby? Sing us out. Sing something about death.

Maybe you're dead and ya just don't know
A shadow dressed only in sorrow
Tomorrow might not exist and ya should've been dead

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Clerical Error?

I was listening to the latest installment of the Spellburn podcast, this morning, as I was taking a run. If you like DCC (or think you might) and aren't listening to this podcast, start. +Jeffrey Tadlock+Jobe Bittman, and +Jim Wampler do a bang-up job on it, and I've learned a lot from listening. It's also pretty entertaining, so there's that as well. Anyway...

This episode features DCC RPG artist (and new Metal God), +Doug Kovacs. He said something that got me thinking, about how he's been playing his clerics (to the hilt, up to eleven, pick your own metaphor). Basically, he plays his cleric as if that cleric actually gives a shit about his god, and wants to advance his god's agenda. Zealously. No matter what the situation. No matter the consequences. His clerics are True Believers, and expect no less from everyone else. Doug observed that playing a character that way makes the rest of the party begin to wonder whether or not its really worth having a cleric in the party.

Here's a fun example. Sister Crack (priestess of the Gravel God) is committed to overthrowing social hierarchies. She's like a bomb-throwing anarchist, and she's not what you'd call subtle about it. She's the sort of character that, if the party was trying to slip through a guarded gate, in disguise, would call the guards "fucking pigs" or "tools of The Man." Totally in character. Totally correct. Totally NOT HOW YOU WIN THE GAME. I must say, I love that stuff. My character, on the other hand, is like, "What the hell, woman? Shut it! You're gonna get us killed!" Friar Tuck, she ain't.

Now that I've seen it happen a few times, I find it kind of fascinating, because playing a cleric like that is so very unusual in many games. It seems like, for most people, a cleric is pretty much like a wizard with some healing magic. That's probably at least some of the reason some folks suggest that clerics aren't needed in an RPG, and should just be another kind of wizard. People don't embrace their gods, and they don't believe in the ways that True Believers do. It's kind of self-defeating, if you think about it. What priest of a god doesn't really want to be a priest, or do priest stuff, or get other people to follow the god and its teachings, or... you know... be a cleric? In my experience, most people who play clerics, don't play their clerics as zealots.

The reasons they don't, in metagame terms, are pretty obvious. Zealous clerics are a pain in the ass. They're you're uber-religious aunt, come to dinner. You're trying to eat your meal, get your drank on, and whatnot, and she can't shut the hell up about Jesus (or crystal magic and how "spiritual" yoga is, for that matter) for five fucking minutes and just have some fun. Worse, she wants to bully you into sending your kids to church. She questions whether you, as an unbeliever, can ever really be happy, or even have a real sense of morality. Her world begins and ends with her religious beliefs (whatever they might be). She thinks everyone else's lives should be like hers, as well, and she ain't gonna go quietly about her business and leave everyone else alone. Unbelievers ARE her business. Making them into True Believers is her vocation.

Add to that equation the fact that there's a financial/power side to religion (looking at you, TV preachers), bringing in more True Believers means having fuller coffers (and having to buy even more coffers to fill). It means competing for power on par with kings, princes, and pashas. It means dominion over daily (secular) life. It means holy armies. It means holy war. It means this:
We came down the Avenue, ten thousand strong, filled with the Bloodfire, swords flashing in the light of dawn. And there they stood, the hated, the blasphemers, the vile and filthy Medicari, arrayed in their pristine bandages and aromatic unguents, and bearing caducei. In their wickedness, they bind the flow of the Sacred Wine, denying it to Gorus Na'al. Such audacity could not stand. We slew them to a man, though thousands of our brothers and sisters fell that day. Each of our martyrs died smiling, for Blood ran in the gutters where they lay, ran in torrents like the runoff from a summer storm, and the Medicari learned well that true cleansing can only come from opening wounds, not from binding them. (The Bleeding of the Medicari by Primate Jacurus of Gorus Na'al.) LINK HERE
 Yeah, so Doug knows how to play a cleric: You know, like a cleric.

I played a cleric like that in my friend Kyle's D&D game, back in the early 1990s, and that campaign started with us getting abducted and sold into slavery (after we spent like two hours rolling up and equipping characters. Haha, Kyle. Really funny.). His name, like my current cleric, was Kormaki. He felt compelled, because of that experience, to (1) kill lots of slavers, (2) convert lots of slaves, (3) establish shrines and temples with the help of his new followers. It was a great campaign, one of the best I've played in.

Strangely, I'd sort of forgotten how to play a cleric, since then, though I did a creditable job in my buddy Jason's Dark Heresy campaign (but that's canon). I think I needed another reminder how it's done. Thanks, Doug!

You know... it would really fascinating to play a party made up only of the clerics of a single god, and maybe few True Believer templars, to add a little buckshot to the bucket of spit, so to speak. They'd probably end up getting killed, simply by pissing off too many of the wrong people, but if they found the right congregants... boy would that be fun. To paraphrase Archimedes (I think), given a lever and a place to stand, they could move the world.

Cave Evil is En Route

Have you heard about Cave Evil?

I pre-ordered this thing last summer and hadn't heard a peep from the producers since. To be fair, they have a Facebook page, but I don't really pay much attention to Facebook, so I missed the various updates. Just got my shipping notice today. I imagine I should have it by this weekend. In any case, it was so fucking metal I had to buy it, and I'll review it soon, here on the blog.

Sooooo metal, even Death is like, "Dude! Check it out!"

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

New Year's Resolutions-Gaming Edition

So, it's the New Year. Of course I have my share of "standard" resolutions, one of which involves a bit less beer and food, compared to the holidays, and maybe a bit more exercise. Boilerplate stuff, really. I also have a list of gaming-related resolutions.

Start doing a bit more with magic items of various sorts. The spells for making potions and weapons are in the DCC RPG rulebook for a reason. Why not use them (or variants thereof) to my advantage. Our guys are starting to get to higher levels, and they seem to have some cash on hand. So, why not? I've been particularly interested in the potions. I could see a "Potion Mishap" table coming out of this interest.

Finish writing Goloch-Ka, my exploration of the origins of the elven menace on Planet Ore. My maps are done. My hexcrawl has been conceptualized (though I still need to do that map, come to think of it). I've written some pretty great monsters. Now all I have to do is key the maps and start playtesting. That'll take a while, but it's a labor of love.

Play more DCC RPG with all the groups of which I am part, online and off. One reason I hate the holidays is it breaks my routine. I'm a creature of habit and am most productive when I can get into a groove. This is difficult during the holidays because there are no set routines. Everybody's schedules get chaotic. I haven't been able to game nearly as much as I like to, and it bums me out. More games!

Make  it to more FLAILSNAILS games. I've done some great gaming with +Shawn Sanford, and recently got to play Dying Earth with +Barry Blatt. I've really enjoyed both, but haven't been able to do it as consistently as I'd hoped. I think I can do better. I have a lot of fun gaming with their crews of ruffians, and need to so more often.

Blog more. I've been a shitty blog-master the last month or so. I haven't written nearly enough content. Partly that's because I've been doing work for Goodman Games, and partly because my actual job has been particularly challenging, and partly because vacation left me a tad dragged out and unmotivated. This needs to change. When I make myself write, I find that other things improve as well.

Finish my research proposal for gaming-based research. I've been making noise about it for a while, but I really am gearing up to do some research related to gaming, particular with regard to hangout gaming, gamers' influences, and a variety of other topics. I need to get my proposal finished, approved by the institutional review board, and start recruiting participants for the research. If you're interested in participating, let me know.

Get my ass to GenCon. I've got my hotel reservations, and am waiting patiently to do airline tickets and badges. This shit is going to happen. I've never been to any sort of gaming con, so this is new and exciting. Plus, I'll get to meet (finally) +Adam Muszkiewicz and the lovely and talented +Kathryn Muszkiewicz+Doug Kovacs, and the rest of the DCC crew. I'm also hoping my boy +Wayne Snyder will be able to make it again. I was really jealous at the tales of their various exploits, last year, and pledged that I wouldn't miss out in 2014.

Do a great job on this other project that I'm not at liberty to discuss right now, but about which I'm so very, very excited that I could just about poop myself. More on this later. Much later.

And, most importantly, make another go of gaming with my daughter. The first round didn't go particularly well, and I think I, personally, can do better. She maybe isn't a good fit for my regular, face-to-face group, but I certainly can run something solo, or for her and her friends, and make it fun and totally awesome. She's already interested, so there's not reason I shouldn't.

This is a pretty good list, but I think it's doable. Nothing like a low/medium bar to gauge success.