2020 Ends: Reviewing my Castles & Crusades journey.

This has been a very strange year. A lot of adjustments had to be made. But rather than do a year in review, I instead want to look at one thing which was a high point of this year – the further development of my Castles & Crusades game.

Castles & Crusades Players Handbooks. All you need to play the game (plus Mystical Companions).

2018: Leaving D&D behind and finding new players
I began C&C in 2018 after running a Forgotten Realms Dungeons & Dragons campaign for 26 years. I was tired of edition changes, completely burned out on the Forgotten Realms, and although I enjoyed some of the post-2000 changes made to the D&D game, I wanted to borrow more from past editions as well as from non-D&D games, and perhaps most importantly, draw upon my personal interests and my academic background as a philosopher and historian. C&C met all those needs. I knew it could be difficult to get some of my old players to switch over from D&D, so I bought nearly two dozen Players Handbooks so that players couldn’t say they didn’t have the book, or couldn’t afford it. In the end, most of my old players who had played D&D with me for over 25 years chose not join me in my shift over to C&C, so I had to find new players. I had played D&D 5E Adventurers League for a year and made many friends from those games, so I was happy that many of those newer friends did make the move with me to C&C and gamed with me at the apartment that I lived in at the time.

2019: Moving into a House and having to start over again
In the first few days of January 2019 I moved into a new home. I turned my dining room into a game room. For the first time in my life I now had a dedicated and cool looking place to game. But when I made my move, most of my players felt it was too far away from them, some of them moved themselves, and a few went back to D&D 5E. So I had to once again nearly start over from scratch. But I knew I had a good thing going and had a lot to offer. For the first time since I first began my D&D Forgotten Realms campaign in 1992, I was energized and passionate. Indeed, I was more energized than I was then since C&C was my ideal game and allowed me to do everything that I had ever dreamed of doing. I was also using a world that I was creating and developing on my own. All my academic knowledge was flowing into this and molded by my enthusiasm and passion.

2019: For the first time in my life I had a proper gaming room.

So to get new players and to experience new gaming venues, I began offering C&C games at a local FLGS – Fantasy Flight Game Center. I also did some networking with my gaming friends and slowly, one-by-one, people showed up, both at the weekend games at my FLGS, and at the weekly Tuesday games at my house. These brand new players began to come in and it looked like they might finally be staying. I was able to see my world and homebrew ideas developing into something unique that stood out on its own. There was so much potential here, but would it hold?

Running Public C&C games at Fantasy Flight Games Center, 2019.

2020: Pandemic hits, need to adjust to online gaming
2020 began with me switching to a new FLGS for my weekend games – The Source Comics & Games. This was a better place to game, but my weekend players were split by another game being offered and player attendance at my game dropped. Then the pandemic hit. No more FLGS gaming. Indeed, no more home games either.

However, there was a difference between this and the previous challenges I faced. My Tuesday group still wanted to play, so it was a matter of adjusting to online game play. After some stumbling about on Google Hangouts the kind people at the Troll Lord Games (TLG) Discord server gave me my own channels to run my games. By the end of the summer my players and I had fully adjusted and were moving forward, I even increased the number of players in my campaign. As of the time of writing this, my Tuesday game has 7 regular players that have demonstrated their long-term interest and dedication to this game.

However, I still wanted a weekend game, and with FLGS gaming not possible, I began promoting my games on the TLG Discord and on MeWe, and over time players came in – from the west coast, the east coast, Canada, and Sweden. As of the time I am writing this I now have 7 players, with one additional player (an old friend who I gamed with 17 years ago during the D&D 3E era, who is on hold until he finishes moving into his new home), at which point I will have 8 players in that campaign. What began as a side game to get us through the pandemic is now an important campaign of its own where I have enough material to take everyone’s characters to their retirement age over the next year or so.

2020 may have been challenging, but somehow or other this challenge allowed me and others to rise up and unite together in gaming. I think we are stronger for it. Not only do I have two solid campaigns with 15 players between them, but I have made steady changes and development in my game world. Recognizable themes are emerging. There is a sense, feel, and familiarity developing, and the loyalty and enthusiasm of my players is demonstrating to me that I have a good thing on offer here: I have two healthy campaigns, I am offering a unique gaming experience, and there is an enjoyment and appreciation of what my academic background and reinvigorated passion and enthusiasm can bring to my C&C games to raise them to a new level.

So, what is in store for 2021? Well, my two campaigns will continue to develop. I will continue to bring more medieval history, realism, and folklore into my game (with my own unique twist). I will be studying and mining other RPG gaming products for ideas to bring into my games, I will continue to expand my GM skills, I will continue to learn new ways of using technology (even as I also embrace returning to some old-fashioned hand drawn maps like I used to do when I was a mechanical design drafter). I might also begin streaming games. There are so many possibilities for 2021. I have never had this much fun or passion for gaming. I can’t wait to see what develops next.

I wish you all a Happy New Year!

The C&C Players Handbooks, as well as the Codex books, which are pivotal in bringing the medieval feel to my campaigns.

Castles & Crusades: Barrowmaze Campaign, Session 46.

Summary:
Using illusionary magic, Nergal’s Necromancers alter intelligent undead to impersonate members of the Army of the Light and wreak havoc throughout the districts of Ironguard Motte to try and destroy their reputation. To stop them the adventurers break into small groups and rush through the streets and alleys of the town to try and stop them!

Game Summary:
It is the final days of December in Ironguard Motte, the air is freezing (0°C) and there is a foot of snow in the streets, the group, like so many others, are now waiting out the winter and rest from their sanity-draining encounters with undead in the Barrowmaze hoping to return in the spring. But the necromancers of Nergal will not wait for The Army of the Light to return to them – they need to stop them now! Since full frontal attacks in the Barrowmaze and one-on-one assassination attempts by surprise have failed, they chose to assault the simple town folk in Ironguard Motte in an attempt to destroy their reputation and hope the town drives them out.

1. The Mongrelman imposter.
Martin, one of the rogues in the party was at the tower where the west road meets the inner castle gates. A guard leaving duty passes through tells him that Balthazar, one of the wizards from the Army of the Light was seen attacking people in the Happy Harpy tavern in the north of the city. Martin new this couldn’t be so, since Balthazar was transformed by the Pit of Chaos months back into a Mongrelman with a lizard head and ape torso and arms, and as a result has stayed inside their HQ so as to not frighten the townfolk. Martin heads back the HQ and lets everyone know. The headquarters of The Army of the Light is located on the south-west road into town where it opens onto the large central market. A group of seven assemble and head out to the Happy Harpy and meet the proprietor, Berosh. Walking through the doors, they find Berosh, a retired and unshaven gruff former adventurer with a glass eye look at them suspiciously. He shares the information he has of his cousin getting bit by the wizard with a lizard head and the group heads out to find the Balthazar imposter. The wizards and illusionists in the party cast detect magic and detect illusion, and along with Gnoosh, the gnome rogue/illusionist with his robe of eyes, they are alerted to illusionary and alteration magical auras around a building wall leading into an alley way. After a brief chase they find a mongrelman from the Barrowmaze that had been brought back as an undead by the necromancers. A charm person worked long enough to acquire some information from it, and he was put out of his undead misery. When Berosh sees the body and learns the group was telling the truth, the group returns to the Happy Harpy for drinks.

The town of Ironguard Motte

2. Lurking Necromancers discovered.
Meanwhile, the remainder of The Army of the Light (19 members – my players have multiple characters which they rotate in and out depending on their interests that game session, or based on what the group needs for a particular adventure) are resting in their HQ. They hear a strange sound at their door and take a look. They see footprints in the snow that approach the door, but then turn back onto grooves in the snow made by passing carts and nearly disappear. Three characters head out to investigate and out of the corner of their eye catch necromancer illusionists lurking under the awning at the doorway of the Apothecary. They dart inside and the chase is on! Entering the building they find Olsa, the chief apothecary in a strange daze, and snowy footprints leading into the back of the shop into the maze of corridors that exist between the buildings leading toward centralized courtyards in the back. The first necromancer illusionist is beheaded in short order, and the other is covered in a web and then put to sleep and shackled. He wakes up in the HQ of the adventurers and is interrogated. Now, wizards are intelligent, with minds resistant to magic and deception, but the Army of the Light is not to be underestimated! Using physical force (breaking his pinky fingers) verbal attempts to deceive and persuade the wizard, and another using his deck of illusions, the wizard finally fails his means of seeing through their practical and magical powers and tells them all – Gimli, the dwarven berserker is being impersonated in the northeast portion of the town, and and an impersonator of Cobalt, the mighty paladin, will be taking place in the eastern part of Ironguard Motte. With this information, six of the adventurers set out in a rush to try and stop whatever may be happening next.

The headquarters of The Army of the Light

3. Battle with the Cobalt imposter.
This group of six makes it through the central market to the east road when they hear from a guard and a frantic town member that someone claiming to be Cobalt was at the Broken Bust tavern and had apparently knocked out a little kid! The group rush east down the road to find two necromancers render two town guards unconscious with magic missiles and the fake Cobalt turns around to face them and they discover it is a former Hobgoblin lieutenant from a previous raid the hobgoblins took in this area that has died and been turned into a swift and powerful undead. Cobalt rushes forward to fight this imposter, and one of the spellcasters pulls out his mirror of opposition, creating duplicates of the necromancers. The hobgoblin hits Cobalt with two mighty blows demonstrating his strength and power, one wizard reaches out and touches the hobgoblin with an overwhelming flow of electricity from his shocking grasp, but it has no effect! However, the six characters get the upper hand when the hobgoblin is rendered immobile through the use of a wizard’s wand of paralyzation, and with him no longer a threat the two necromancers are downed, and moments later Cobalt’s Saint’s mace does its job.

4. Destroy the Gimli imposter.
Mere seconds after this success, the group hears shouts of some mad, scarred, dwarf causing trouble several blocks north of them and a panicked guard leads them to the fake Gimli. Since the real Gimli acquired a flesh-rotting disease in the Barrowmaze (and why he also remains hidden away in the groups HQ so as to not frighten the townfolk), his undead imposter didn’t need nearly the amount of makeup to appear like him! It seems that in spite of the snow-filled streets and chilly air, the group had warmed up in battling these necromancer illusionists and undead and this imposter was swiftly dispatched. At this point the group of six wondered what had happened to the original group that had headed to the north quarter to find Balthazar’s imposter, and made their way there to find them all relaxing with drinks at the Happy Harpy!

5. GM reflections on the game session.
This was quite the chaotic adventure. I set things up so that not only would the players be in disarray, but that even I wouldn’t know what could happen next. For example, I didn’t know who and how many of the group would head north to investigate the Balthazar incident, with 26 characters, the players have a lot of choices available when it comes to deciding who they want to use or think they need for an adventure or encounter. I then surprised them again when new incidents broke out and they realized that multiple groups would be doing things simultaneously in town, and again, I couldn’t be sure which of the remaining characters would grab the bait and go in search of the undead and the illusionist necromancers. It kept them on their toes, and it allowed me to live in the moment and exist in this realm of uncertainty. As a GM it can be easy to try and control the story, but I have moved in a direction where I enjoy the opportunities to engage in some level of improv on the spot. It keeps things fresh and exciting for me. There were a few things I could’ve done better, but overall I think it went well and the players seemed to have enjoyed it, and in the end, that is all that matters – that everyone has fun!

Christmas 2020, Part III

I hope you are all having a good Christmas season (in spite of the pandemic). I am enjoying some of my new Christmas presents – mostly books – that should further expand my mind and imagination.

First off, I am rather fond of my beard, and if you have a big beard, you need to properly attend to it. Thus I have now added some Grimfrost (a great Swedish Viking company) beard products to the Viking helmet and tunic I recently bought (my blog posts about my new Viking helmet and tunic can be found on the “Categories” list to the right under “Vikings”).

My beard care Christmas presents – beard care is important!

I also love my research into history, folklore, and philosophy. Vlastos was a great ancient philosophy scholar, and I look forward to his insights on expanding upon the Platonic theory of celestial motions and theory of the structure of matter. The Venerable Bede and Gregory of Tours will allow me to enter the minds of figures in the Anglo-Saxon period (c.410-1066), and The Anglo-Saxon World will provide a larger overview of the period. Neil Price and Jackson Crawford are important Viking scholars in the areas of Viking archaeology and linguistics, respectively, so Children of Ash and Elm and The Wanderer’s Havamal, combined with the Viking historical atlas will further expand my Viking knowledge (building upon the MOOC I am taking from the University of Iceland on the Icelandic Sagas). The Makers of Scotland provides overviews of the Picts, Romans, Gaels, and Vikings, giving an insight into their cultural interactions. Finally, Claude Lecouteux writes great books examining medieval views on household spirits, land spirits, and rituals, so this book on ancestor worship and medieval views of death will add to my Lecouteux collection. I, of course, use all these books for the Castles & Crusades game world I am developing, which has a mythic European feel.

Some of my books from Christmas

Trudvang Chronicles is a great RPG from Sweden. The books are almost worth purchasing simply for the evocative artwork of Paul Bonner and Alvaro Tapia. The game itself is a very atmospheric and challenging Norse/Celtic game of shapeshifters, dimwalkers and blótkings, using its own unique game system. I supported a kickstarter early this year for a conversion of the rules to D&D 5E, and although I am enjoying much of what I am seeing so far in the preliminary edits that have been released, I have also noticed that in the conversion process, the game seems to be losing some of its edge (D&D 5E is a more easy and light-hearted game of epic heroes, and as such struggles with being able to present Trudvang’s mysterious, melancholic, grim, and challenging playstyle). So I have gotten the source material to consult when the 5E conversion falls short. Jorgi’s Bestiary is also a unique monster book, since every monster entry spans several pages, yet only a small portion is game stats, most of it is descriptive text accompanied by great sepia toned black and white art, so in some cases I can use stats from the C&C Norse/Celtic/Slavic/Germanic Codex books, and then augment them with the text and artwork of Jorgi’s Bestiary in my narrative descriptions during encounters.

Trudvang Chronicles, a great Swedish RPG

I love scenic calendars! We should (hopefully) begin returning to normal in 2021, and I would love to return to Europe for a holiday. These calendars allow me to dream of return journey’s to favorite places, as well as opening up possibilities to yet undiscovered locations.

Hopefully, in 2021 I will be able to return to one of these places.

Well, that is it for now. In my New Years blog I take a final look at 2020, what it has meant to me, and what I am looking forward to in the year 2021.

Christmas 2020, Part II

Christmas – a blizzard hits Minnesota leaving 9 inches of snow in 9 hours. And I put on beard ornaments for the first time as part of my Christmas gear.

I wanted a White Christmas. Even though Minnesota should’ve had nearly a foot of snow by this time of the month, there was no snow outside. But things were about to change – a blizzard was about to arrive the day before Christmas (23rd), and where I lived 9 inches fell in about 9 hours. However, since it was a blizzard we had wind gusts of up to 65mph, which is why when you look at the photos below you’ll see part of my patio empty of snow, and other parts with drifts three feet high.

My patio at 11 am on the 23 December.
My patio later that evening.

On the morning of the 24th I awoke and was excited for the new day – presents and food!

Christmas morning just out of bed. I can’t wait to open my presents.

Getting dressed I put on beard ornaments for the first time. I think this will become a regular part of my Christmas kit in the future!

Dressed for the day with my Krampus shirt and beard ornaments.

I got my Christmas meal from a local tavern that was offering takeaway Christmas meals during this pandemic shutdown. The amount of food was for 4-5 people, so enough for me for the next couple days. Also, from my time living in various parts of Europe, I got used to celebrating Christmas differently (which is why I do my Christmas present opening and meal on Christmas Eve instead of on Christmas Day, it also means I have an extra day to enjoy the food I’ve made and the presents I opened!).

Christmas morning meal.

Coming up in Part III: my presents (a lot of historical books, calendars, and some unique books from a Swedish RPG game).

Castles & Crusades: Barrowmaze Campaign, Session 45.

Summary:
Out of spells and in need of rest, and unable to return to Ironguard Motte due to a raging blizzard on the surface of the Barrowmoor, the Army of the Light dares to rest the night in a barrow mound, with consequences. Meanwhile, in Irongaurd Motte, a zombie lord attempts to take the life of another member of the party while pretending to be a beggar.

Game Summary:
We left off in the Barrowmaze moments after the Army of the Light successfully destroyed an undead squirming with rot grubs through the use of fire and Cobalt, our paladin, smashing it with his Saint’s Mace. The group new it was time to head back to Ironguard Motte, for they had encountered many undead, and in the Barrowmaze, each undead encounter creates a tick mark next to your Wisdom score, and if the encounters meet or exceed your Wisdom score, you will go insane. Already some group members were beginning to get a little paranoid and there was some twitching and involuntary shaking among some. They made their way to the nearest exit, battling ghouls along the way adding to the undead burden on their minds. Upon getting up the stairs they usually take – which leads into a secret barrow mound chamber and an exit to the surface – they saw that there was a howling wind outside (well over 30 mph), and snow was falling heavily. There was already more than a foot of snow on the ground from a previous storm that passed through in recent days, so they knew that slogging through this blizzard would not be wise. But could they – should they – try and camp here? They chose to give it a chance. Setting up barriers at the entrance point at the top of the 10ft stairs where the barrow mound met the outdoors, as well as where the barrow mound met the stairs leading down into the Barrowmaze, the group set up watches and tried to get some rest to regain health and spells. However, the undead in the Barrowmaze had other plans…

A juju zombie.

Recently some of the necromancers/undead of the Barrowmaze seem to have taken notice and began taunting the paladin, Cobalt, and Gnoosh, the gnome rogue/illusionist. Placed sporadically throughout the Barrowmaze the group was finding notices written in blood or chalk taunting them with messages such as: “we know where you are” (even though Cobalt and Gnoosh both possess scarabs of inescapable location). Just as first watch was beginning, they heard shuffling footsteps and and those with darkvision saw slow moving zombies stumbling their way up the stairs. Behind the footsteps they heard a voice say “tonight you will get no sleep.” One of the spellcasters didn’t want to waste any time and launched a fireball down the 20 ft. stairway, and the zombies were easily dealt with from the resulting explosion, along with causing part of the stone walls and ceiling to collapse, and the torches blowing out as the fireball absorbed all the oxygen in the area.

The players wanted to ensure they got rest, so they sent down a few of their group (about 5 of their 14 characters) to a room near the bottom of the stairs and waited for more zombies and their lord to return. Strangely, on the wall written in blood they saw the words “I wonder if Gnoosh is still alive?” They puzzled over that in their room waiting for the zombies to return, but couldn’t think about it for long, for just as the second watch was beginning, more shuffling was heard and the raspy voice again said, “I said you would get no rest this night!” This time the group hidden in the room at the bottom of the stairs emerged and attacked the zombies from behind. The zombie lord – a swifter and intelligent juju zombie – taunted them, but his words and actions were not enough and the group ganged up and destroyed him. They then moved in toward the regular zombies heading up the stairs. The group at the top also wanted in on the action and as the waves of rotting bodies made their way up characters attacked with polearms and some attempted combat maneuvers to try and push the zombies onto their fellow zombies on the steps below, but bad rolls meant the weapons always just missed. Some of these failed strength and dexterity checks meant the characters went tumbling down the steps several feet (sometimes causing some subdual damage from the bruising).

Eventually, with character physically exhausted from stairwell tumbles and 24 straight hours of combat, spellcasters out of spells, and sanity in the balance with nine different undead encounters putting those with average Wisdom scores in mental danger, the group finally got the third watch to rest in peace. But they needed more than just the restfulness of third watch to get enough sleep to regain spells and hit points. So they awoke the next morning still groggy and sore from only about 2-3 hours sleep. Fortunately, the blizzard had passed during the night and the sun was bright in the sky above. So they made their way back to Ironguard Motte, but the trip back was slow, since there was a a foot-and-a-half of snow to walk through for an entire day.

As the main group was returning, I did a quick cutaway to Ironguard Motte and a quick one-on-one with the player running Gnoosh. Gnoosh was walking back to the Army of the Light’s building near the center of town after leaving the central market and heard the sounds of a beggar in an alley way with his cowl pulled over and covering his face. The beggar asked if the gnome could spare some change. It was so cold (roughly freezing), and Ironguard Motte also had roughly foot of snow on the ground. Gnoosh tossed some silver pieces his way so that he could buy some food and drink in a tavern and warm up. The beggar’s hand swiftly reached up and grabbed them and with the same motion the cowl fell back and Gnoosh could see the milky yellow eyes and taught, sunken skin of a zombie – a juju zombie! His fist with the silver piece struck Gnoosh in the face. The punch took him down nearly a 1/4 of his hit points. Gnoosh responded by casting dark chaos and dark tentacles emerged from his hands and began to strangle the zombie master. He punched again, Gnoosh was now down to roughly half his hit points. But most lucky for Gnoosh, his spell squeezed the un-life from the zombie before he could be struck anymore from his hard, dead, fists.

Once the main group returned from the Barrowmaze they set about preparing for a good long two month rest (every character needs a week of rest for each undead encounter they have to regain peace of mind, and with nine encounters, that is nine weeks to regain their mental equilibrium). During this time had a conversation with the Captain of Ironguard Motte and learned that several of these intelligent and swift zombies had somehow made it into the gated and walled city, and the Viscount was concerned. When we next game, 9 weeks will have passed, December will be giving way into March, winter will be coming to an end and spring beginning in the Duchy of Aerik. What awaits the adventurers next?

Happy Winter Solstice! The 2020 Year in Review, Part I

It’s that time of year when we look back on the year that has gone by, hopefully, find peace and gratitude for what we can, and look forward to what the future holds. For all those reading this, I wish you all well, especially during this time of pandemic, unemployment, and uncertainty. I’ve titled this entry “Part I” since I plan to post another reflective post on Christmas and a third on New Years. In this blog post, I would like to look at a few challenges and successes (interspersed with pictures of the holiday decorations in my cozy house!).

These are some items I bought for myself in recent weeks. As they were delivered to my house I wrapped them up and placed them under my tree. I will properly open them up on Christmas.

2020 Challenge #1: The Pandemic.
This shouldn’t be surprising. I began working from home in March. In July I lost my job. In November I was hired back as a temp through December. It has now been extended through the end of January. It is currently a month-by-month process. Obviously not the most reassuring place to be, but these are extraordinary circumstances, and at least I am working. I am grateful for that.

2020 Success #1: Coming up on two full years in my new house.
I bought my house at the beginning of January, 2019, so I am just a couple of weeks away from two years in my house. It feels wonderful to have a place of my own – especially when the pandemic caused so many of us to work from home (something I embraced). My living room and dining room are my game rooms where I run my Castles & Crusades RPG campaigns (C&C is a more flexible and dynamic variation of Dungeons & Dragons). These games were run in person before the pandemic and currently are run on Discord.

My dining room/RPG gaming room.

The upper level of my house is where I have my academic library where I steadily read, research, and absorb medieval history, folklore, mythology, and philosophy (I am currently taking a MOOC from the University of Iceland on the Icelandic Sagas), both for my own understanding and also for imaginative translation into my C&C campaigns.

A portion of my academic library with my Christmas Tree

Under normal circumstances my house would be a great sanctuary for study and relaxation, but in these pandemic times it has proven even more important as I now have created a special office space for work as well.

2020 Success #2: Changes to Social Media Presence.
I am just a few days away from celebrating the one year anniversary since I deleted my Facebook account. On 31 December 2019 I deleted my Facebook account and Twitter was soon to follow. These were some of the best decisions I have made. I did not like what I had allowed those platforms to do to me – the constant need for seeking approval (through “likes”), and the constant confrontation and trolling that progressively got worse and kept me in a near constant state of anxiety and outrage. Those feelings are not healthy, nor normal. The ethical violations and manipulations of those platforms were also too much. I couldn’t make anymore excuses. Leaving them meant I did lose touch with some friends. But let us be honest, up until Facebook and Twitter, life was all about meeting people on our journey through life, and sometimes we stayed in touch with them, and sometimes we grew apart and pursued new paths on our journey. These platforms, I think, restrict our growth as persons as we keep people in our lives that perhaps no longer fit with where we are and where we are going. “The Self” (as I once tried to argue in my Ph.D. thesis) is constantly changing and evolving, so leaving these things behind refreshed my mental equilibrium, it reduced my anxiety and anger, it reduced the “look at me, look at me” narcissism that thrives on those platforms, and this in turn has allowed me to focus on taking care of myself and focusing on the smaller number of friends who are in my life and who want to be in my life. Not staring at a computer screen or phone all the time is liberating. For the first time in 10 years I am rediscovering what it is like to have “alone time,” as well as peace and quiet from the “noise” and constant “doom scrolling” that social media has instilled in us. It hasn’t been easy, but each day away from those platforms is a reminder of something special that I had lost and have now regained. This also coincided with the purchase of my new house, and that has given me a launching point for whatever new direction I choose to go on next in my journey. Obviously Challenge #1 has put a large obstacle in my path, but this can’t last forever, things can and will get better.

Well, that is enough for now. I will have some more year-end reflections in a few days. Be well, everyone.

Psionics Reconsidered: Psionics as Schools of Philosophy

In this blog post, I take a look at how I plan to bring psionics into my Castles & Crusades game using Greek Schools of Philosophy.

Psionics can really divide gamers, many appear to (i) hate psionics as a concept and don’t think it belongs in a fantasy RPG, or (ii) may like the concept, but have disliked how it has been executed in RPG’s. For me, although I have also had mixed reactions to how it has been done in the past, I actually quite liked the concept of psionics and thought the best implementation of it in D&D was in The Complete Psionics Handbook during the AD&D 2nd edition era.

I now run Castles & Crusades which allows me to draw upon any edition of D&D as well as other RPG’s, so the options have broadened for me as a result of C&C’s flexibility. Still, there are two things I need to consider before I bring it into my game:
1. How can psionics logically fit within my world?
2. How can psionics best be implemented?
2a. I also reject the idea that psionics is just another form of magic, for me psionics has to stand on its own as something distinctly different from magic.

How Could Psionics Fit Within My World?
I plan to introduce psionics as schools of philosophy (e.g. Platonists, Aristotelians, Stoics, Epicureans, Pluralists). Let me explain how this works in my homebrew world. My campaign world has a mythic medieval European feel drawing on the folklore of cultures such as the Norse, Celts, Greeks, Babylonians, and a Crusader Kingdom pantheon of saints. This allows me to incorporate a variety of religious and cultural practices (i.e. Celtic bards and druids, Norse volva-prophetess, seidkona-sorceress, Slavic molfars-shamans, Greek oracles, etc.), but it still leaves something out.

As a philosopher (Ph.D.), I have been very interested in finding a unique way to bring philosophy into my world. Consider the following philosophical perspectives. A Pluralist like Empedocles believed in the four elements, and in addition thought they were brought together by a force he called Love and pulled apart by Strife (which in D&D/C&C we could view as the cosmic alignment forces of Law and Chaos). Platonists viewed the world as made up of four elements of fire, air, earth, and water which they associated with geometric shapes (think of the d4, d8, d6, and d20 polyhedral dice). Aristotle introduced a fifth element called aether within the crystal spheres which could easily represent other planes of existence (or in my world parallel realms which overlap with the physical world).

So I think the different philosophical schools fit within a D&D/C&C cosmological structure, but they are clearly interpreting things a lot differently. The ancient Greek philosophers had a much more abstract and logical view of the universe which I want to emphasize and expand upon as different aspects of a psionicist or mentalist class. Each of these philosophical schools also had their own schools where they gathered to discuss their views (e.g. the Academy for Plato, Lyceum for Aristotle, Garden for Epicurus), and although you sometimes might see an overlap with a wizards academy or a druids grove, I would emphasize a more austere, logical, abstract, and emotionally distant take on the structure of reality and how one navigates within this world (which they think they have logically deduced through their own reasoning).

What should this class be called? I feel that “Mentalist”, although accurate, is a bit bland. “Psion” is a good name, and was popular in the 3E era, but I didn’t care much for the 3E-era psionics with their new-agey “crystal power” emphasis, and trying to simply turn psionic individuals into variations of other classes (like I said above, I pretty strongly reject making them another flavor of another class, they need to stand out on their own as something unique), I also don’t want my players thinking this is just a 3E Psion conversion. I still love the AD&D 2nd edition name of “Psionicist”, but that could also cause some players to think I am just using the AD&D 2nd edition class. We’ll see.

How Can Psionics Best Be Implemented In My Game?
Although I enjoy the Psionicist class from the AD&D 2nd edition Complete Psionics Handbook (and it is compatible with C&C), it’s a 128 page book from 1991 and I won’t force my players to buy separate book of that size just for a single character class. Currently the best option I see is the Mentalist class from Amazing Adventures (AA). AA uses the same Siege Engine rules which powers Castles & Crusades, but it’s a multi-genre role playing game for time periods later than medieval fantasy. The AA Mentalist powers are stream-lined and much easier to master and use as a player (there are less powers to choose from than what you have for wizards or clerics, but you can use the powers you have more often). The AA Mentalist isn’t perfect, since it references modern 20th century things from the Amazing Adventures game like guns and makes comparisons to other pulp-era classes, so I will have to edit that material out, and re-write other material to better fit C&C and my particular world. When it comes to what armor and weapons the Mentalist can use I will use the weapon and armor listings straight from the Psionicist class from the The Complete Psionics Handbook. And finally, when I want to expand some of the psionic powers in the AA Mentalist, I can easily draw upon the resources of the The Complete Psionics Handbook.

So there you have it, a quick take on how I plan to playtest a psionic class in my C&C game.

Amazing Adventures (Troll Lord Games) made for the C&C Siege Engine.
Amazing Adventures (Troll Lord Games) converted to D&D 5E.

Castles & Crusades Diary: Dragonclaw Barony, Session 16

Summary:
Two new players join the campaign. The adventurers defeat the Black Fist hobgoblin mercenary Girck and his goblin followers, recovering the secret map they were tasked to retrieve. Gwar is enveloped in green slime, destroying his armor. And the group is asked to enter the catacombs of Rodemus Keep by the last of the noble family to find their missing son.

GM Game Notes:
Three regular players were able to game, but three other players were unable to make the game. I want my C&C games to have a larger number of characters (I aim for 8-10), because I enjoy a variety of character class/race combinations for the most opportunities to find and do things. I also think it is more fun if there is more than one of a certain character class because it allows each of them to do more than just “play a role”. For example, with multiple rogues in a group, they can cooperate to search for traps and examine different areas (they can spread out the responsibilities), or if you have multiple clerics, there is not necessarily the pressure for them to save their spell slots for just for healing, they can actually cast the other cleric spells available and even join combat and not feel guilty. It allows, in my view, players to expand beyond just being the “trap finder” or “healer.” Too many narrow, restrictive computer gaming ‘roles’ have entered table-top gaming and I prefer the old school approach of players having their characters experiment and try out new things beyond some narrowly defined view of what their class role is supposed to be.

With three players gone, I was fortunate to gain the a husband and wife team who have been gaming since OD&D, so they are experienced gamers know the old-school style of trying things out. This worked out very well, for the wife made an elven cleric/rogue that added flexibility and options for the other clerics and rogues in the party. Examining rooms went a lot quicker, and they were finding secret doors and secret panels in the rooms much more easily.

Game Diary:
Characters: Eliam (Half-Elf Cleric/Wizard), Malcolm (Human Wizard), Sir Sanwyche (Human Paladin), Gwar (Half-Orc Barbarain), Rok (Half-Orc Fighter), Anne (Elf Cleric/Rogue), Juhraveal (Half-Elf Rogue), Magnus (Gnome Druid), Thorthic (Dwarven Barbarian/Cleric)

We left off last time with the group in a former shrine to St. Cornelius, the god of the common warrior, but the shrine had beende-sanctified with the floors overlaid with black obsidian and the walls covered with death masks. As Sir Sanwyche, the paladin, went about destroying these dark symbols, goblins came in from another room and attacked, but the wizards cast sleep and they fell comfortably into a slumber. Half the group then traced back where they came from to find their hobgoblin leader, Girck, in a room by himself, but before this strong warrior leader could cleave in half the adventurers with his great axe, the other warriors in the party surged in and ended his time as mercenary leader of the Black Fists. In a chest in the room they found the map of the castle in the town of Heatherleigh with the its secret entrance (they had been tasked by the local leaders in the Dragonclaw Barony to find this). Additionally, they found a man and woman shackled up in the corner of the room. Arlen and Sarah were the last of the Rodemus noble family, they had been taken prisoner while looking for their son, Galen, who had gone missing in the family catacombs below.

The group chose to have several members of the group escort Arlen and Sarah Rodemus back to their boat to remain safe while they finished clearing out the main level of any remaining Black Fist mercenaries and then head into the catacombs to find their son. However, as several of the characters led the Rodemus family out, a goblin witch doctor appeared, and summoning forth the power of his goblin god instilled fear in all of them and they scattered in different directions! But this is where the group being split in two came in useful, for as the witch doctor and a buff goblin warrior (in my world the goblins are a corruption of the dwarves so they tend to be strong and robust mining sorts of humanoids) rounded the corner to pick off these people from behind, they discovered there was a much larger group of adventurers waiting for them! The goblin champion was taken down before you could land a blow, and the same happened to the witch doctor.

After returning from delivering the Rodemus family to safety at their boat, the full group systematically went through the remaining rooms on the main floor of Rodemus Keep. It was while exploring the dining room that Gwar, was surprised as green slime seeped from the ceiling and fell onto him. He struggled to scrape it off himself, but luckily Sir Sanwyche acted quickly and a well placed cure disease killed the green slime, and it fell to the ground in dried-up brown clumps. However, the barbarian’s armor was ruined. Fortunately, earlier after they defeated Girck, the fighter Rok had taken Girck’s armor as his own and had put aside his original armor, and now that coat of plates proved useful for Gwar!

Green Slime – something every adventurer curses!

After passing through a dusty but still largely preserved chapel to Demeter, and then through the changing room they encountered 10 more goblins who attacked them from behind curtains with their short bows. However, the wizards Eliam and Malcolm joined forces and both cast sleep again and all the goblins went down into a slumber.

After exploring the ruined bedroom next to the changing room the upper floor was cleared and our game session had reached its time limit. It was a great way to end this campaign for 2020! I had begun this game in April as a short-term online game to take us through the pandemic, but I really enjoy these players, we are bonding well and having loads of fun. I have currently outlined more than a years worth of adventuring. This is now an important and permanent campaign that I will be running well into the future long after this pandemic becomes a memory. The pandemic has made a real mess of 2020, but this game looks to be a long-lasting positive outcome of that tragedy. When we next get together on the 2nd of January for the first game of 2021, the group will head into the catacombs to find Galen, and where they suspect undead may be lurking.

New Viking Garb, part II

A few days ago I revealed a new Viking helmet and tunic I got myself. Today I put on some of the other Ren Faire gear I have to see the more complete ensemble – I am quite happy!

The padded coif I have will make the 11 pound helmet (12 gauge steel with chain aventail) much more comfortable to wear when I attend Ren Faires. My sword, jewelry, cloak, and pouches (some are covered up by the cloak in the pictures), along with some new bracers symbolizing Yggdrasil (the world tree) that will be arriving soon, will add even more character to my overall appearance.

Attending the Minnesota Ren Faire (late August through early October) should be fun next year. It will be refreshing to dress noticeably different from the garb I’ve worn over the previous 20+ years. One thing I’ve noticed, however, is how much weight I’ve gained (some of the belts I wear to hold my sword and my pouches are feeling a little small!). I’ll need to work on that!

Me (with a friend) in some of the Ren Faire garb I wore in 2005. It was really hot that day so I chose not to wear my leather doublet.

I still like my sword (although it is obviously peace bonded at Ren Faires), but I could still use a Viking shield, and am on the look-out for a nice one to carry at Ren Faires and mount on my wall the rest of the time. I also need new footwear. Those long knee-high leather boots aren’t Viking appropriate, and after 20 years (as I enter my late-40’s) my body is changing and they have become too small and uncomfortable for me. I have gained weight as I mentioned above, but I also now have flat feet and am on medication for gout, so I have to be very picky when it comes to footwear, since I need space in my shoes for special insoles with arch support. As a result, these issues have changed my foot size from 12-13 feet (American) to size 14-15, which makes it very difficult to get footwear, especially niche Ren Faire/cosplay footwear.

Once I get my Viking bracers and trousers I will probably do a third round of pictures. Maybe by then it will be snowing outside (I am in Minnesota and it is mid-December!) and I can get pictures out doors! I should also do a photo comparison of how I’ve changed in 25 years of attending the Minnesota Renaissance Festival!

Castles & Crusades: Barrowmaze Campaign, Session 44.

Summary:
The elven wizard’s mooncat drives a necrolyte insane. A 7ft tall amber statue is placed inside a portable hole as loot! The paladin encounters multitudes of rot grubs getting projected out of an undead corpse that is on fire!

Game Diary:
We left off last game with the Army of the Light taking down half a dozen Crypt Knights of Nergal with two Necrolyte’s of Nergal about to unleash spells on them. The session began with the arcane thief absorbing the ice storm that was about to envelop the party, and Cobalt, the paladin, was struck by three magic missile. Seraph, the elven wizard, sent in her mooncat and it rubbed itself against one of the necrolyte’s legs. Due to the phase of the moon the necrolyte became struck with insanity and was unable to function except stagger back in fear of it (and close to a giant web that another wizard had cast behind it). With one necrolyte made non-functional and harmless, the others piled in on the remaining one. To protect himself he cast blink to avoid getting hit and to give himself time to plan another attack or to escape. However, with 14 characters throwing spells at him (for example, one caster sent three magic missiles his way, and his blinking in and out of existence meant only one of them hit), and with ranged and melee weapons striking from every angle, it was only a matter of time before he went down under the barrage.

From there the group went back to exploring rooms, where they in turn battled robed skeletal warriors, ghouls, and zombies and a juju zombie in a storage room filled with bodily remains (either waiting to be placed in crypts, or having been recently removed from some). While exploring crypts for treasure, Cobalt was moving his arms in and about burial niches and was quite pleased with the gold pieces and statuary he was discovering, only to realize that he felt some movement on his arm and under his skin – rot grubs had entered his body! As others assisted in removing parts of his armor, fire was placed directly on his arm, shoulders, and upper body, burning them out (and causing him damage).

Moving on from that they saw some giant rats skitter along a corridor, obviously running from something, so they traced them back to a passage to a self-new contained area of the Barrowmaze. Descending stone stairs they entered a new room, and after opening a door within nearly walked into a room filled with yellow mold. Luckily, strange, random, alien thoughts were detected causing them to pause long enough to get others to place oil, light torches, and then step back to allow it to burn it all away.

Moving into the next room from a door in the north, the players see a door in the south east corner, and a 7 foot tall statue seemingly carved from a massive piece of amber directly next to the door in the south central portion of the room. The players seemed uneasy about this. The druid stepped forward to communicate with it on the chance that it might be sentient, but there was no response. Not taking any chances, a player with a portable hole opened it up and placed it over its head, pulled it down to its feet, and then with it in his portable hole, closed it up and put it away to bring back to Ironguard Motte for a statue to be placed in their head quarters!

They then entered the south room and found a sarcophagus in the center of the 20 x 20 foot room. Sensing undead and evil within, Chonk, the half-orc barbarian opened it up and Cobalt raised his saint’s mace to strike it. Upon opening Cobalt saw a moist and rotting corpse inside with rot grubs squirming in and out of eye sockets, nose and ears, as well as through holes in the cheeks. The room was suddenly filled with moisture and rot, and the ground became slick. As it rose from the sarcophagus, some characters threw in oil, and others tossed in torches and the creature erupted in flames as Cobalt swung his mace down upon it. Doing so damaged the rotting undead carrying the rot grubs, but with every blow rot grubs flew out of its body, impacting Cobalt (and possibly getting into his helmet or under his armor pieces), and causing other characters to duck and scatter. Not yet destroyed, but still burning, some of the rot grubs were getting burned by the flames and began popping out of the undead like popcorn (one player renamed them “pop grubs”), and others seemed to be launching themselves out of the body to escape the fire. Cobalt struck down again with his mace and the undead was destroyed, but it now seemed highly probably that more rot grubs were on/in him. And that was the cliffhanger where we left the adventure! Is Cobalt infested again? If so, can he remove his armor in time to burn them out? They find out next Tuesday!

Rot grubs emerging!