Sunday, December 21, 2014

Rejoice! Zappadan has come!

Greetings to all of you fellow freaks, on this most glorious day of Zappadan. The world is safe once more to Freak Out! Happy birthday, Frank!

How do we celebrate? With my favorite album: Overnite Sensation!

Friday, December 12, 2014

I've Got Your Dervish, Right Here

Well, I went and did it. Here is the Dervish class for Dungeon Crawl Classics. I've take from a variety of sources, for inspiration, including the Ranger class from Crawl! #6, the Thune Dervish from the I-series of modules (thanks, +Jon Hershberger!), but mostly I was trying to figure out what kind of skillset an implacable hunter of men might have, particularly if that hunter was on a holy mission or quest.

 This would be an interesting class to play, but its applicability is somewhat narrow. It would not, for example, fit in well with your gang of murder-hobo tomb raiders. It would, in fact, have to kill them for defiling holy ground. That said, I think that having a whole crew of these guys hunting a powerful necromancer would be a hell of a fun romp.

Give it a look and let me know what you think.

The Dervish
A Player Character Class
Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG

The Dervish is, at heart, a warrior; but it shares some aspects of the ranger and paladin classes, and even a bit with the monk class, for it is a, most importantly, a holy warrior. The dervish is on a quest for perfection of self, through addition of those traits that are praiseworthy, and purging of those that are corrupt. They believe that all gods are but aspects of a unified godhead, and that through study, diligent practice of bodily disciplines, and asceticism, they may attain unity with the godhead in life. It is of no small consequence that such an attainment leads to extremely long life (for a human), and perhaps, it is said by the greatest dervish master, Larkun Ba'Davi, immortality. However, dervishes are best known to outsiders as implacable holy assassins, men and women who track and bring to justice any who transgress against the godhead, in any of its worldly aspects. Those who defile a holy site, destroy a holy artifact, or loot a tomb on hallowed ground (no matter what weird cult might consider it "holy") should be careful to remain anonymous, lest a dervish band undertake a geas to bring the miscreants to account for their blasphemies.

Hit Die: A dervish gains 1d10 hit points at each level

Alignment: Dervishes are of Neutral alignment in their dealings with those outside their orders, but that's only in matters of religion. They have a very strict code of ethics regarding the sanctity of religion, worship practices, and things and places considered holy, by whatever religion they are considered to be so. Should anyone desecrate, destroy, or otherwise defile something holy (including any burial places), a dervish from the order will swear an oath to bring that person to account. In that sense they are Lawful.

Weapon Training: Dervishes may use any melee weapon, but specialize in the weapon of their particular order. Swords are most common, but some orders use axes, spears, polearms, or even whips or nets. They may use a Deed Die when using this designated weapon, but not when using any other. However, they shun missile weapons, as ranged weapons separate the dervish from the visceral experience of divine justice. Dervishes may wear any armor.

Holy Rite: Each dervish order (there are many) has a particular Holy Rite sacred to its physical disciplines. Some engage in self-flagellataion, some in martial practice with holy weapons, some dance their sacred dances, and some seek the Divine through musical performance. Any player who decides on the dervish class must designate such a physical discipline has his or her Holy Rite.

Lay on Hands: A dervish may Lay on Hands as a cleric, once per day, per level. If the attempt fails, the dervish may not use this power again until he or she conducts a Holy Rite for an hour. Successful attempts will always be applied as if the target is the same alignment as the dervish. However, a dervish also may do so for him- or herself at will, but must take an hour's time to perform his or her Holy Rite (see above). Doing so allows the dervish to heal 1d6 damage per level, or restore 1 point of ability damage per level.

Thieving Skills: The dervish may choose two Thieving Skills from the following list: Sneak Silently, Hide in Shadows, Climb Sheer Surfaces, Pick Lock, Find Trap, Read Languages, Handle Poison, and Cast Spell from Scroll. When attempting these skills, the dervish character applies his or her Deed Die to the roll.

Tracking: A dervish is adept at tracking, and may add the Deed Die to any roll to track a target of divine retribution. Such tracking may involve a physical search for tracks and traces of passage (Intelligence mod applies), but it also might involve inquiries among those who might have seen or encountered what the dervish seeks (Personality mod applies). Tracking doesn't just apply to attempts to track down a defiler of something holy, but to any attempt to seek out a place or thing.

Survival: Dervishes are adept at determining location, finding shelter, starting a fire, and seeking out food and water, even the most desolate and inhospitable climes. They may add their Deed Die to any attempt to do so.

Asceticism: A dervish cares little for material possessions, and what possessions they retain are of a utilitarian nature, usually their holy weapon, some useful equipment, and simple foodstuffs. They do not retain wealth beyond what is required for sustenance, at a meager level, and give away any surplus wealth to those in need (e.g., the poor, an impoverished temple or shrine, a library or repository of knowledge, etc.). A dervish who covets wealth will have his or her Luck reduced by 1 per day until he or she is able to dispose of the treasure in question, and may not simply give it to another party member.

Languages: Dervishes are found in every land, and are renowned travelers. As such, they are able to learn 1d3 additional language per level, beyond those granted by their Intelligence.

Table D-1: Dervish

Deed Die
Crit Die/Table
Action Dice

Dervishes do not use titles, though each is a student to someone who is his or her master. He or she will call that person by the title "master."

Also, in furtherance of my own, personal holy mission, I give you another Zappadan miracle: This fantastic guitar work from that dervish of American music, Frank Zappa.

This is what my dervish character would look like.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

I Need a Dervish Class

Riffing off of yesterday's post, here's a passage from a book I'm currently reading for my research on the Ottomans:
It was among the dervishes that the babas, scantily clad in animal pelts, with their shaven heads and fondness for loud music, were welcomed with the fewest reservations. (p. 23)
Sounds like punks and metalheads (those who all liked speed and thrash metal, at least) back in the day.

Makes me think I need to create a dervish class for DCC. The baba class might follow, but I think that the Savage class I wrote for last year's Secret Santicore (Vol. 1, I think) would fit that particular bill. Heck, it might do the job for both of these, but I think the dervish would be a bit more like a specialized paladin/sage type.


Faroqui, S. (2007). Subjects of the sultan: Culture and daily life in the Ottoman empire. London: I. B. Tauris.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Lacuna Locurae: What is this fantasy/colonial thing?

Lately, I've been reading a lot of historical sources to  inspire my thinking about the Lacuna Locurae setting, the island of Magyaru (on which one finds the Imperial port city of the same name). Now, loosely speaking, the Empire is an extension of the Metal Gods of Ur-Hadad campaign, but there's a slippage in both style and chronology. Though we're dealing with sort of an "eternal now" approach, with characters from that setting moving back and forth between the campaigns, the "real" time frame is a few hundred years in the future. In European historical terms, we've moved from the medieval times to Renaissance/early-modern times. This is more an issue of technology, context, and tone than it is anything approaching historical accuracy. I'm not aiming to recreate European history, here, but to select elements of various colonial histories that I find interesting and useful for running a game. For this purpose, I've selected several broad models:

  • England
  • Spain
  • France
  • Rome
  • Ottoman Turkey
Again, the goal is not to make them historically accurate, but to cash in on the things that made those colonial powers, and the issues they faced, interesting. Some examples:

The three-headed monster that colonized the Americas (England, France, and Spain) provided some interesting fodder for the setting.
  • Conquest is about seeking riches. In the main, the Spanish were after gold and precious metals, but then established plantations for sugar, indigo, and other things. The French engaged in the fur trade for the same purpose. The English, by and large, cultivated tobacco as their main commodity, but had other commodities (sugar, etc.) in the Carribean.
  • There is a religious, missionary component. The Spanish and French were especially fervent in this regard, but religion was a strong part of the justification for colonization and conquest by all of the European powers. The Temple of Luz the Purifier has played a large part in financing and establishing this colony. They aim to preserve their influence here. Religion at the ground level also is burdened with the common people's folk superstitions and prejudices. Witches and wizards beware.
  • Relations with the native peoples are always a factor, and very complicated. In the real history, diseases brought by European powers to the Americas wiped out about 90% of the native indigenous populations. The idea that these areas consisted of howling wilderness was not true, at least until disease took its toll. In some cases, particularly with the French in the north, the colonists needed the indigenous peoples just as much as those peoples wanted the guns and tools provided by the colonial powers. There was some degree of mutual cooperation. However, they also played different groups of indigenous people off against each other; this dynamic sometimes was employed by the native peoples as well. The Spanish model was very different. Their nobility sought to get rich, establish repute, and aggrandize itself through conquest (and the acquisition of precious metals). They were often brutal and ruthless. Later, their missionaries moderated (to a limited extent) these practices, but not often and not enough. By that time, diseases had taken their toll. The English were, in a word, arrogant. They expected the natives to roll over for them, and the fact that they didn't was proof that conquest was necessary.
  • The lower classes had opportunities in the New World they didn't have in Europe. An English indentured servant, for example, could hope to receive an acreage in the colonies, to become a landowner. Land ownership policies in England (esp. "enclosure") had been eating away at this prerogative for many years. This was also reflected in the military, especially the navy.
  • Piracy became an issue (as is the use of privateers). The on-again/off-again wars between these powers provided a surplus of able-bodied seamen, and they gained experience with taking and plundering ships. When the wars were over, many employed those very particular skillsets for other purposes (i.e., piracy). The colonial powers all spent time stealing from each other, just as they stole from the New World's native peoples.
  • There's a level of lawlessness due to the tenuous control of the center over the periphery (though this varies over time, and due to circumstances). The competence, honesty, and loyalty of colonial governors, viceroys, etc., was not always assured, and this made life in the colonies somewhat chaotic in terms of how government got conducted. Further, there often were differences between "official" policies, especially toward other governments' colonies and the native peoples, and what those on the scene actually did. Later, this would result in rebellion over local control, taxation, etc.
  • The interests of the Church, the nobility, the Crown, the merchant classes and the commoners often run at odds with each other. This creates a great deal of internal tension. While the colonial Governor is, ostensibly in charge, power must be shared in order for the colony to thrive. How that sharing occurs is a matter of constant dispute, with the potential for violent disagreement simmering below a polite and respectful surface.
These are just a few of the Western European elements that I find useful as context for Magayru. Rome also provides great fodder.

My model of the native peoples of Magyaru springs more from Pictish/Gaelic roots than from the indigenous American peoples. In part this is because I'm fascinated by the Roman experience in Britain, as well as the interactions between the Vikings and the Britons. I'm also interested in "flipping" the usual visual imagery of colonialism. The "savage" native peoples in this setting are pale-skinned ("They look like demons!"), and the Imperials are more like Mediterranean Romans and Ottoman Turks. In my mind, Ur-Hadad of the Metal Gods universe is more closely associated with Turkey and Eastern Europe than with Tolkien's more Western/Northern European aesthetic. Mostly, this is cosmetic, I'll admit. However, I think it proves more jarring to may players who associate colonialism with an American model rather than a Roman model. I think the combination of the two is interesting and useful in fantasy/colonial role-play. Also, the "colonists" are from warm and sunny climes, and Magyaru is a cold, dark, and gloomy land, mountainous and covered in great forests, crisscrossed by rivers, and filled with ancient standing stones, barrows, and ruins. It is a far grimmer place.

Finally, there is my weird idea of Turkey/Hungary. To be clear, it is in this area that a diverge from history the most. I like the idea of a powerful ruler, a cultured and educated, cosmopolitan empire. A certain level of decadence combined with a sense of cultural superiority. In this sense, my Empire owe as much to Robert Howard's Hyperboria as it does to whatever historical sources I might be reading. It also owes much to Adam Muszkiewicz and my interpretations of Ur-Hadad as an idea (perhaps more than a place). Also, in the background, there is the history of the World that Went Before, which includes all manner of fantasy races and tropes, sorcery, and so forth. So, it's not Turkey and it's not Eastern Europe, but it does filtch heavily from aesthetic and other elements that might be found there.

Add on top of these things, and the Howardian influence, the presence of Poe, Hawthorne, and Lovecraft, and you get a sense of where I'm trying to take this. I'm really enjoying playing in this sandbox, and seeing how the players interact with it and add to it. I think of this as an open world, and do my best to make sure the people who play in it are able to influence it.

Also, for our Zappadan offering, I offer this 1973 concert in Stockholm. Dig the grooviness of 1970s Sweden. Glorious!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Zappadan Mea Culpa

See, this is why religion is so difficult. You keep faith with FZ by making sure to listen to music with guitars; you listen to difficult music, music you can't quite dance to; you embrace the absurdities of life with a sense of amusement and wonder; and you try to maintain conceptual continuity through all the vicissitudes of life. You try really hard, but sometimes you fail to keep the faith. Forgive me Frank. What? You're too busy pissing in Jerry Falwell's face to worry about the little shit? Okay, then. Thanks, man, you're a mensch. So how about a little tune? How about a whole concert?

Mothers of Invention, live at the Fillmore East (November 13, 1970)

Happy Zappadan, people. 

Saturday, December 6, 2014

I am not worthy

I suck

The first day of Zappadan was two day ago. Fuck.

You motherfuckers will pay tomorrow.

A Rickety Mass Combat System

A while back, I had a chance to look at +Harley Stroh's draft of a mass combat system for DCC RPG. It made me think. He'd used existing ideas (e.g. hit points as "army points," wizard duel rules for combat momentum, the viscitudes of battle, and so forth). I was intrigued by the system, even though he's not particularly satisfied with it at this point, because it satisfies a need I see in both Peril on the Purple Planet and the Against the Atomic Overlord adventure I've written on for Goodman Games (which will be out sometime in 2015). While mass combat is not explicitly included in either adventure, there's strong possibility that it could come into play, depending on what the PCs do. So here are a few ideas of my own. I don't think they're better than Harley's mind you, but they do present another possible approach.

Anyway, some preliminary ideas.

Treating Units and Battle Conditions Like Characters

Each unit on the battlefield gets treated as a character. That is, the unit has a class, stats, armor class, hit points, saving throws, movement, etc. as a player character (or NPC). The units themselves should be treated as one of the martial classes (Warrior or Dwarf). These two classes have distinct functions on the battlefield (see below in class descriptions). Other classes might be used to establish battlefield conditions, or to attach a special power to an existing martial unit, sort like Aspects in the Fate system: They reflect a condition attached to the unit, instead of the unit itself. I'll explain this further, in a bit.

So, functionally, it might break down something like this.

Warriors (normal unit)
  • These are the main representations of combat units. Just use as standard warrior of appropriate level.
  • Hit points could be rolled or assigned as normal. Alternately, they might be a way to "buy" units (i.e., you get cheaper more plentiful units at 1 hp per level, then cost ascends from there). 
  • Level of unit is measure of its veterancy. Veteran units get more hit points and are more formidable in combat. For mass combat there should be a limit on level, however. I think levels 1 to 3 are probably sufficient, though I suppose arguments could be made to make truly elite units with higher levels.
  • Armor class is translatable to light (AC 10-12), medium (AC 13-15), or heavy (AC 16-18) troops, with associated to-hit numbers, and with standard effects on movement (even with mounted units).
  • Weaponry should simply translate straight across. What are they carrying? If mixed weapons, then take the median or mode average result. If special weapons (e.g., missile weapons, pole weapons or spears), then make sure those advantages get reflected in the way they are used (e.g., pike against cavalry, missile weapon ranged attacks, etc.).
  • Number of attacks per round (a function of level) would always just be 1, but the die rolled might go up or down the dice chain for veteran troops. So, a "Level 1" unit rolls a lower die than a "Level 2" unit. I'd probably use a d16/d20/d24 dice chain for green/blooded/veteran units, respectively. For truly elite troops, I'd hesitate to use a d30, but would opt, instead, for a fixed bonus of +1 or +2.
  • You could even use Mighty Deeds in various ways: A Mighty Deed of Command to rally troops, a Mighty Deed of Arms to bolster attack or defense for a round.
  • Cavalry units are a special case, and are discussed below.
Dwarves (special unit/battlefield condition)
  • As units, a Dwarf represents siege weaponry. It is a ranged unit.
  • As a battlefield condition the Dwarf represents some kind of fortifications.
  • Their attacks represent siege weapon attacks, and their shield bashes represent how well fortifications protect troops in cover.
  • Siege weapon units are the only things on the battlefield that can attack fortifications.
  • Siege weapon units also can attack other martial units.
  • Damage against them reduces them on their attack/defense dice chain. The levels at which this happens, I'm not so sure about. Maybe 3/4, 1/2, 1/4, etc.
Clerics (battlefield condition)
  • These are something attached to a regular (warrior) unit, like a group of cultists (if spells are to be employed) or a medical corps (if using the Lay on Hands ability). I think I'd make the person using the Cleric in this way pick one or the other of these powers.
  • The cultist condition allows the unit to employ a limited array of spells. Probably Bless and Curse are the main ones, though Holy Sanctuary, Protection from Evil and others are appropriate.
  • The medical corps condition allows the unit to heal itself and/or any adjacent units, once per combat round.
  • Level of cleric can affect casting rolls as normal.
  • Disapproval range works as normal.
Thieves (special unit or battlefield condition)

  • Thieves are special units that could be treated as scouts or even (potentially) assassins. 
  • As a unit, they would be statted as thieves, including armor, hit points, etc.
  • They are effective only when they can remain hidden. To scout effectively, they must use stealth, represented by a die roll, depending on the sort of action attempted (i.e., Sneak Slightly for movement or Hide in Shadows for remaining hidden from the foe until they can best be employed). 
  • To attempt to assassinate an NPC Leader (see "Leadership by Player Characters and NPCs," below) they must both accomplish a stealthy action (i.e., Sneak or Hide) as well as make a successful Backstab.
  • Whether successful or not, the assassin is always sacrificed by this action.
Wizards and Elves

I see no reason why wizards and elves need to be treated as mass combat units, like the martial units. They are powerful enough, especially in circles of mages, to be used simply as PCs or NPCs. That said, they would function as mass combat "units" for purposes of their use in mass combat.
  • They must target a specific unit to achieve a spell effect. 
  • It might be that the array of spells used in mass combat should be restricted to a limited list of offensive and defensive spells.
  • They can also be targeted as distinct mass combat units, and probably should have the combined hit points of all the wizards/elves in the circle.
  • Any spell corruption or misfire will affect ALL the members of the circle.
  • Casting times are increased by 1 round per additional wizard/elf in the circle; however, each member of the circle beyond the first adds a bonus equivalent to his/her caster level, up to +3.


I have no idea how I would use Halfling units, but welcome your suggestions.

Mounted Combat: Cavalry and Pikes

Warrior units may be designated as cavalry. They get the benefits of being mounted for movement and combat purposes (see DCC RPG rulebook, pp. 87 and 418). Just treat the unit as if it were a mounted warrior.

These mounted units should be designated as light or heavy. Light cavalry is faster and lightly armored. It can perform Mighty Deeds in character with its nature (e.g., the Parthian shot). Heavy cavalry is slower, more heavily armored, and can perform Mighty Deeds in character with its capabilties (e.g., greatly enhanced damage on a charge).

Those defending against cavalry might also be able to prepare the ground to receive cavalry (i.e., by using Dwarves as a battlefield condition), or by equipping a particular unit with appropriate weaponry (e.g., pikes, which might get the same damage benefit as a lance does, but in the opposite direction).

Finally, cavalry might be designated as a scout unit. It would be statted as a mounted Thief. I could see ways in which the Sneak Silently and Hide in Shadows, or even the Backstab rules might be employed for such a unit, but the player or NPC would need to use terrain to achieve surprise in such cases.

Leadership by Player Characters and NPCs

It may be that you want your PCs to be able to take part in this mass combat, as commanders of units or of the whole army. Such a course of action comes with significant benefits, but also with significant risk.

First, the PC or PCs in question must be attached to one or more of the combat units. In all cases, the unit in question must be either a warrior or dwarf unit, usually a warrior.

To provide a leadership benefit to that unit, the player character makes a d20 roll, modified by Personality. Warriors and Dwarves add Personality mod and Deed Die roll to total. Other PC classes add just the Personality mod. In addition, the martial PCs can attempt a Deed of some kind in mass combat. For example, "I drive my unit forward, hitting the center of the foe's line. I want to try to split her unit," or "I wheel the light cavalry to retreat from the charging foe, and attempt a Parthian shot." Like regular Deeds, the main limit is the player's (or GM's) imagination, but in this particular case the Deed should be conceived in terms of mass rather than individual combat.

Only units with PCs/NPCs attached to units already in play get this benefit. However, these PCs/NPCs also take damage when their units are damaged, putting them in peril of dying if things go badly.


Anyway, there you go. That's my "first draft" version of a mass combat system for DCC RPG. I welcome your feedback. What am I missing? What could be added? What are some potential problems with my approach? Let me know.