Thursday, December 31, 2009

Dungeons and Dragons: Colors Of Magic

Some time ago, Akrasia posted his swords & sorcery house rules for Dungeons and Dragons. One of the things I like about those house rules is the classification of spells into three different magic colors (white, gray and black) to simulate a swords & sorcery magic system.

Have I previously mentioned my fondness for Avalon Hill’s Magic Realm? In that game, all magic is separated into five colors: White (boons granted from on high), Gray (manipulation of natural laws), Gold (elvish magic), Purple (command of raw elemental energies) and Black (powers bestowed by infernal agents). I have been giving some thought to applying those “Magic Realm” colors to the D&D spell lists. Here is my take on how the first level D&D spell-lists might look, using the Magic Realm color classification system.

White Magic

Protection From Evil
Create Water
Cure Light Wounds
Purify Food & Drink
Remove Fear
Resist Cold

Gray Magic

Comprehend Languages
Feather Fall
Hold Portal
Wall of Fog

Gold Magic

Charm Person
Dancing Lights
Magic Aura
Animal Friendship
Fairie Fire
Pass Without Trace
Predict Weather
Purify Water
Speak With Animals

Purple Magic

Affect Normal Fires
Burning Hands
Color Spray
Shocking Grasp
Audible Glamer

Black Magic

Find Familiar
Magic Missile
Cause Wounds
Cause Fear
Change Self

In Magic Realm, there are 10 magic-using characters: Druid, Elf, Magician, Pilgrim, Sorcerer, White Knight, Witch, Warlock, Wizard and Woodsgirl. None of the characters has access to all five colors of magic (some have access to two or three colors, and the Magician has access to four, but his control over any of those colors is tenuous). I like the idea of restricting characters to certain colors of magic, as the choice of magic-user class then affects what spells they can access. That is the reason I liked the 2E Specialist Mages approach.

The above re-classification of spells (into colors) puts the typical first level “combat spells” into the following categories:

White – Command
Grey – Friends
Gold – Charm Person, Sleep
Purple – Burning Hands, Shocking Grasp
Black – Cause Fear, Cause Wounds, Magic Missile

Playing with Magic Realm colors (and characters) would certainly change the way first level combat spells were selected.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Barbarians Of Lemuria RPG: Old-School Swords & Sorcery

There was a definite old-school theme to the Christmas presents I received this year. Along with copies of Car Wars (the boxed set), Labyrinth Lord, and Avalon Hill’s Squad Leader, Santa gave me a copy of the Barbarians of Lemuria RPG.

Having finally read the Barbarians of Lemuria RPG, I have to agree with the other old-school fans of BoL: this is both a well-executed Swords & Sorcery RPG, and fits very nicely within the old-school movement.

The BoL RPG itself is roughly 100 pages. BoL is loosely based on Lin Carter’s Thongor of Lemuria series (hence BoL’s title), although the author of the BoL, Simon Washbourne, also credits Howard, Leiber, Jakes, Moorcock and C.A. Smith as strong influences.

The color cover and much of the interior B&W artwork is by John Grumph. John Grumph has a bold artistic style, which is in fitting with the swords & sorcery theme of this game.

As is to be expected, the assumed setting for BoL is derivative of the swords & sorcery genre, with references to sorcerer-kings, the release of dark gods, earth-shattering calamities, mysterious and fickle gods, trackless deserts, steamy jungles, legendary swords, black sorcery, decaying remnants of ancient civilizations, and so on. All very appropriate, for a swords & sorcery rpg. But while the game-mechanics are not fatally dependent on the assumed setting, a handful of those mechanics (boons and flaws) are tied to some specific setting-locales. Therefore, minor tweaking will be required to re-flavour those locale-based boons and flaws to your own campaign.

The character creation system is unique: instead of character classes or skill-lists, players pick four careers (from a list of 26) that their characters followed prior to the beginning of the game. Even more unusual, there are no skill-lists for any of those careers: while the rules make certain skill-suggestions, the game-master and the players will negotiate, during play, as to whether their characters can perform certain actions, based on what careers (and the related level) those characters possess. There is, of course, an action-resolution mechanic (getting a 9+ on 2d6, after the application of any bonuses), for those actions that have some uncertainty attached to them.

In addition to the career paths, characters can also obtain boons and flaws, prior to, and during play. The boons are such things as tracking, sea-legs, and immunity to disease, while the flaws include all-thumbs, country bumpkin and fear of fire. That boons and flaws system is similar to the edges and hindrances system of Savage Worlds, which may explain why the Legends of Steel RPG has been implemented for both Savage Worlds and Barbarians of Lemuria.

Combat in BoL uses the same mechanic as action-resolution: a 9+ on 2d6, after modifiers, results in a hit. Instead of Hit Points, BoL uses Life Blood. All but a few weapons do d6 damage, with minor adjustments. There are four combat skills (unarmed, melee, ranged, and defence), and those combat skills can be used to modify the combat roll.

I really like the magic system of BoL. Any character that has Sorcerer as one of their careers begins with 10 spell-points, plus their sorcerer career level. Instead of a list of spells, sorcerers can create any magical effect they want, as long as they can afford the spell-points, and possess the related casting requirements. For most cantrips and easy spells, sorcerers must spend anywhere from 1 to 5 spell-points. For more difficult spells, up to 15 spell-points are required. For example, conjuring up a simple item, like a rope, might cost one or two spell points, as might casting a spell to allow the sorcerer to walk past a guard unnoticed. Again, no spell-lists: the game-master and the player negotiate how difficult the proposed spell-effect is, and then the player would need to have enough spell-points to create the effect.

Priestly magic works a little differently. Rather than casting spells, priests can use fate points (which they earn by performing in-game religious rites and activities) to cast temporary blessings or curses, mimicking the effects of boons and flaws. Of course, priests can also be sorcerers, so they could have both fate points and spell-points.

In addition to all of the above, BoL implements a Hero Points system. Again, this is similar to the “Bennies” system in Savage Worlds. Every character starts with 5 hero points, and can use the hero points to modify a roll, re-attempt a failed action or combat roll, add an additional element to the story in their favor, or otherwise avoid some unpleasant fate. Hero points can also be used to kill multiple opponents, when the opponents are your basic mooks or rabble.

Overall, I am very impressed with Barbarians of Lemuria RPG. It feels like a solid implementation of the swords & sorcery genre in an RPG. There are certain things about the assumed-setting that I would toss if I were game-mastering BoL (flying ships, blue-skinned ceruleans, druids as demon-worshippers), and the employment of only 4 attributes (Strength, Agility, Mind and Appeal) instead of the standard six takes some getting used to, but there is otherwise so much to appreciate with this game that those complaints are minor, and those less-appealing game elements are easily jettisoned.

I am curious to hear other reactions to Barbarians of Lemuria, along with recommendations on any other good sword & sorcery RPGs that are worth taking a look at.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

What Qualifies As An Old School Product?

I was visiting The Sentry Box on Saturday. In the new releases section of the store I found two copies of Barbarians Of Lemuria RPG. While the RPG sounded vaguely familiar, and has a front cover reminiscent of your typical Conan-esque action scene, I put it down after briefly glancing through it. It had the 'feel' of an old-school game, but I didn't recognize the author as any of the bloggers I am currently following.

The game continued to stay with me over the last couple of days, so I did a quick search on the internet and found Barbarians of Lemuria has a loyal following among many old-school bloggers. Indeed, Steffan O'Sullivan, one of the bright lights of the rules-light approach to game design (his fingerprints are all over such games as FUDGE and GURPS Bunnies & Burrows) posted a rather glowing review of Barbarians of Lemuria on the Geekdo website. I intend to make a trip down to the Sentry Box today, to pick up a copy (for my wife to wrap for me and put under the tree). This RPG got me thinking about two things.

1. Since I had not suggested the Barbarians of Lemuria RPG to The Sentry Box staff, either they have started paying attention to the alternatives to 'commercial' products, or someone else suggested that they carry this. In either case, the appearance of this RPG on their shelves is a positive development. That is -- in part -- why I intend to purchase this RPG. I'm voting with my dollars, at it were.

2. Does this RPG "qualify" as an old-school product? I know the question itself is a minefield, since it re-opens the debate as to whether there is -- or should be -- some sort of litmus-test for inclusion in the old-school movement. My gut reaction to that would be to say that there should be no litmus test. If someone wants to self-identify with the old-school movement, or wants to brand their product in that way, they should be free to do so. Of course, one of the risks with an 'open' approach to the old-school movement is that it could encourage fuzzy-thinking, which may ultimately be detrimental to the promotion of an old-school style of design, and play. But the rewards of a more fullsome, vibrant community outweigh any dilution of the central principles of the old-school movement (if it, and they, even exist).

Still, for my own RPG-filtering process, I am wondering how others differentiate between old-school and modern RPG products? Undoubtedly someone in the blogosphere has already posted their thoughts on the matter. Here are a couple of points upon which I might build some sort of comparison model.

hobbyist vs. professional

class-based vs. skill-based

minimalist rules vs completist rules

random abilities vs. character-building

role-playing vs. roll-playing

homage setting vs. speculative setting

player skill vs. character skill

abstraction vs. realism

sandbox vs. adventure path

I know there is a Primer To Old-School Gaming, that discusses the differences in gaming. Is there a similar document that discusses the differences in game-design?

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Warriors In Magic Realm

I was mentioning earlier that I am working on a master list of fantasy character archetypes for use in my upcoming 0D&D campaign. Part of the inspiration for that archetype project comes from my on-going love-affair with Avalon Hill's Magic Realm. As far as fantasy board-games go, I know of no others that have a richer game-play (although you pay for it through its apparent complexity).

Magic Realm provides players with 16 archetypal characters from which to choose. Six of those characters are pure warriors: they have no inherent spell-casting abilities. Two other characters (the White Knight and Woodsgirl) have minor spell-casting abilities, but can, for most intents and purposes, be considered warriors. The six (well, eight) warriors are as follows.

Amazon: she is a skilled warrior and soldier, with excellent speed and fair strength. Her special advantages include skill with a bow and and extra move phase each day.

Berserker: a powerful fighting man with the strength and speed necessary to dispatch the largest monsters. His special abilities include his robust health and his ability to go berserk.

Black Knight: a deadly and feared veteran of many battlefields. His special advantages include skill with a crossbow and his dangerous reputation.

Captain: a renowned hero of many wars. His special advantages include familiarity with missile weapons and his popularity with the inhabitants of the Realm.

Dwarf: a slow but powerful fighter who is at his best when underground, where he is respected as a master of searching, hiding and fighting the monsters who dwell there. His special advantages include his ability to avoid attacks by ducking, his robust health, and his knowledge of caves.

Swordsman: also known as the wanderer, thief or adventurer, he is a wily and nimble rascal, quick to react to any opportunity or threat. His special advantages include his fencing abilities (both kinds, in combat and when buying and selling) and his ability to pre-empt the turns of other players.

White Knight: he is famous for his virtue and his prowess in battle, but moves slowly and tires easily. His advantages include his ability to heal himself and his honorable reputation.

Woodsgirl: an elusive mistress of the wooded lands, she is an expert tracker who is deadly with a bow. Her special advantages include her woodland tracking skills and her deadliness with a light bow.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

How I Saw It From My Front Porch

My side of the street got away pretty easy this time. All of the snow collected on the left side of the street, while most of the houses on the right side received very little snow. Having said that, we have at least a foot of snow on the back deck.

The snow is piled up to the top of the roof of the van on the left-hand side of the photo, while at the end of the culdesac, another neighbor have a mountain of snow as high as their truck.

Wintry Weather Wallops Calgary

This picture and story from The Calgary Herald website:

The blustery weather that pummelled Calgary on Friday, December 4, turning the streets into a sloppy, slippery mess and shutting down several major highways throughout the day, is just the first salvo in a forecasted weeklong wintry walloping.

Blizzard-like conditions created havoc on Calgary streets for much of Friday, with authorities urging motorists to make only essential journeys.

Calgary police responded to at least 172 crashes, including 26 injury collisions by 4:30 p.m., and closed a number of roads throughout the day amid numerous fender-benders as driving conditions deteriorated.

Several highways, including Highway 2 north and south of the city, and the Trans-Canada Highway at Highway 22, were closed for several hours due to collisions or treacherous driving conditions.

A crash on a stretch of southbound Deerfoot Trail near Highway 22X involved about 50 cars, many strewn in the ditch.

I was glad to make it home in only an hour and five minutes on Friday night.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Spells in Magic Realm

Magic Realm provides a limited number of spells to the magic-using characters. This is perhaps unsurprising, since Magic Realm is a board game, with a limited number of turns, activities, monsters, and goals. Thus, the spells are tailored for use specifically within the confines of the game-system: all of the spells have specific in-game uses. This approach differs markedly from the D&D spell system, since D&D and other role-playing games must provide a large range of spells, only some of which have narrow or single-purpose uses.

Here is a list of the types of spells available in the Magic Realm game, by color, along with a very brief description of each.


Exorcize: every Demon and Imp in the same clearing as the caster is instantly killed, and all active spells and curses are instantly cancelled.

Make Whole: the target of this spell is brought back to full health, healing all fatigue and wounds, and all of the target's possessions are repaired.

Peace: if the target of the spell is a monster, it retires from combat. If the target is another player, that player cannot attack during this combat. The spell is broken if that monster or player is attacked.

Small Blessing: the target of this spell rolls on the "wishes" table, and is the beneficiary of that wish.


Blend Into Background: the target of this spell can perform an extra hide phase that turn.

Fog: cast on a hexagon, this spell prevents certain search activities from being performed in that target hex.

Guide Spider Or Octopus: the caster takes control of an directs the spiders or octopus in her clearing.

Poison: the target's weapon does additional damage due to poison.

Premonition: rather than being randomly determined, the target of the spell decides when to take her turn during the day.

Prophecy: the target of this spell does not have to plan and perform her written activities for the day, but chooses to do any activities she wishes as she takes her turn.

Remedy: cancels one spell or curse.

Stones Fly: the caster may use magic to animate and hurl stones at up to four opponents.

Talk to Wise Bird: the caster can use the peer activity to search any clearing on the map.

Witch's Brew: the caster can access gold or purple magic by casting this spell.


Elven Grace: increases the move speed of the spell's target.

Faerie Lights: gives the caster access to grey magic.

Illusion: makes searches by the target, or in a particular location, more difficult.

Lost: the target of this spell moves randomly, rather than to the location they specified in the list of their activities for that day.

Peace With Nature: this spell prevents new monsters from activating in the hexagon occupied by the caster.

Protection From Magic: the target of the spell is protected from spells and curses.

Pursuade: this spell pacifies any Ogres and Giants in the caster's clearing. The caster can then attempt to hire the Ogres or Giants.

See Hidden Signs: the caster can do an extra search activity that day.


Blazing Light: allows all players in the caster's underground clearing to perform an extra activity that day.

Dissolve Spell: cancels one active spell.

Elemental Spirit: give the caster access to black magic.

Enchant Artifact: permits the caster to place a spell into an artifact, and cast that spell using the artifact so enchanted.

Fiery Blast: the caster attacks all opponents in her clearing with a fireball.

Hurricane Winds: if cast in a mountain clearing, the target of this spell is swept away to safety, to a clearing of the caster's choosing.

Lightning Bolt: if cast in a mountain clearing, the caster can attack one target with a lightning bolt.

Melt Into Mist: turns the target into mist, preventing the target from attacking or blocking, or being attacked or blocked.

Phantasm: creates a phantasm, controlled by the caster, that can move and search independently from the caster.

Roof collapses: if cast in a cave clearing, the caster and all others in the same clearing have the cave-roof collapse upon them, inflicting damage.

Sense Danger: the target of this spell can ready her weapon or otherwise avoid being surprised.

Transform: transforms the target of the spell into an animal or monster, based on the roll on the transform table.

Unleash Power: allows the caster to substantially enhance her fight and move abilities.

Violent Storm: all players in the target hexagon are the subject to a violent storm, resulting in the loss of a number of activities.

Whistle For Monsters: summons monsters to the hexagon specified by the caster.


Absorb Essence: the caster takes over the target monster, becoming the monster.

Ask Demon: the caster can ask any one question, the answer to which must be revealed.

Bad Luck: the target of this spell must add or subtract one to the result of any roll on a table (depending on which is more disadvantageous).

Broomstick: the target is able to fly.

Control Bats: the caster takes control of an directs the giant bats in her clearing.

Curse: the target of the spell consults the curses table, and is inflicted with the rolled curse.

Deal With Goblins: this spell pacifies any Goblins in the caster's clearing. The caster can then attempt to hire the Goblins.

Pentacle: the target of this spell is protected from attacks by the Demons and the Imp.

Power Of The Pit: the target rolls on the power of the pit table, and is inflicted with the result (including immediate death).

World Fades: the target of this spell can immediately attempt to hide.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Colours Of Magic In Magic Realm

Over at Akratic Wizardry, Akrasia has published his Swords & Wizardry House Rules. Those house rules contain rules to modify the way magic works. Akrasia has re-categorized all the magical spells into three categories: white magic (in tune with the natural order), grey magic (manipulating the natural order) and black magic (contrary to the natural order).

I think Akrasia's approach is a sound one, considering his house rules are designed for a swords & sorcery style of game.

I also like the approach used in Avalon Hill's Magic Realm. In that game, all magic is divided into five colors.

White Magic - represents power from on high, working beneficial magic.

Grey Magic - represents natural laws, controlling nature.

Gold Magic - represents wood sprites, working elvish magic.

Purple Magic - represents elemental energies, twisting and reshaping reality.

Black Magic - represents demonic power, working infernal magic.

There are ten different magic-using classes in Magic Realm, and each has certain colors of magic available to them. For example, the White Knight and the Pilgrim both have access to White magic. The Elf has access to Gold magic. The Druid has access to Grey magic. The Wizard has access to Grey, Gold and Purple magic. The Witch has access to Grey and Black magic, and so on.

I will post a list of the spells in Magic Realm, by color, shortly.