Thursday, March 27, 2014

2nd Edition AD&D Wizard Spells - Level 6

It's thrownback Thursday again. More 2nd level wizard goodness from 1992, with minimal editing. All homebrew.

Back to Body (conjuration/summoning)

Level: 6
Range: Touch
Components: VSM
Duration: 1 round
Casting Time: 1 turn
Area of Effect: See Below
Saving Throw: Negation

This spell attempts to bring a person on the astral plane back to his or her body.  If the creature makes it's save, the caster may try again.  The caster gets one try for every three levels.  If the caster has any tries left over, he may move on to another person and use any remaining attempts on them.  He may keep this up until he has no tries left.

This method of retrieval is difficult on the target.  The person brought back must rest up for 20 - constitution days.  In addition, they must roll their system shock to see if they survive the ordeal.
The material component is a tube which the caster will hold to his mouth.

Giant Strength II (alteration)

Level: 6
Components: VSM
Duration: Special
Casting Time: 1 Turn
Area of Effect: Person Touched
Save: None

This spell acts much as Giant Strength I.
as strength spell -8 hours/level
18/00 -4 hours/level
19 -2 hours/level
20 -1 hour/level
21 - 30 minutes/level
22 - 15 minutes/level
23 -7 minutes/level
24 -3 minutes/level
25 -1 minute/level

Mist Warriors (conjuration/summoning)

Level: 6
Range: 10 yards
Components: VSM
Duration: Special
Casting Time: 6 turns
Area of Effect: See Below
Saving Throw: N/A

By means of this spell, a mage seeks to conjure up mercenaries from the para-elemental plane of steam.  He first tries to bring in a mist sergeant.  The sergeant gets a 10% magic resistance, and then a save vs. death magic.  If his save is successful, the spell fails.  Otherwise, the sergeant will be brought to the prime material plane.

The caster then has a choice.  He may negotiate with the mist sergeant or he may attempt to force servitude.
If the mage chooses to negotiate a contract, the sergeant will demand a fee.  The mage is expected to give a counter-offer.  Negotiations will take anywhere from several minutes to several weeks.  Payments range from gold, to time off to settle old scores.  Note that the sergeant will not reveal the size of his company, which ranges from 4-24.  Note also that the terms cannot exceed one year in duration.  Once the negotiations have finished, the sergeant will summon in his troops, and follow the mage's order.

The mage may attempt to force servitude.  In this case, the mage has a 5% chance/level of succeeding. Subtract from that 10% for controlling the mist sergeant, and another 5% for each soldier he commands.

So a 12th level mage attempting to force a sergeant with 10 soldiers would have a 120% - 10% - 50% = 60% chance of success.  Remember that a mage does not know the number of troops a sergeant possesses.
Once forced, the warriors will only act to guard the mage.  They will not attack, and will do the absolute minimum that they can.  They will stay for one month, then leave.

Two mist warrior companies will never serve under one mage.

The material components is a charcoal pile.  On the glowing pile is placed a silver bowl (2000 gp minimum) filled with water taken from any magical source (even create water will do).  Once the water is boiling, the spell may be performed.  The bowl itself may only be used once.  New silver is necessary if the spell is to be repeated.

Prismatic Sword (conjuration/summoning)

Level: 6
Range: Reach + 3 feet
Components: VSM
Duration: 1 round/2 levels
Casting Time: 6
Area of Effect: 1 Target
Save: See Below

By means of this spell, the caster brings into being a shimmering long sword of brilliant color.  It will be of one color, and do the effects of that color of a prismatic spray.  The color will affect the duration of the spell.  The sword will affect those opponents it hits successfully.  The mage attacks as a mage.
Color Duration Effect
Red   4x 20 hp damage
Orange 2x   40 hp damage
Yellow 1x   80 hp damage
Green   1x save vs. poison (death/20 hp)
Blue 1x petrification
Indigo 1x save vs. wand or go insane
Violet 1/2x   save vs. spell of visit other plane

The sword is considered a +3 weapon to hit.

The material component is a crystal sword.  It will shatter after the spell is complete.  If treated with a Glassteel spell, the sword will act as a +6 weapon and be reusable.

Summon Wight  (conjuration/summoning)

Level: 6
Range: 10 yards
Components: VSM
Duration: 1 round + 1 round/level
Casting Time: 6
Area of Effect: 10'cube
Saving Throw: N/A

This spell acts much as Summon Shadow, except that it summons 1-4 wights.  The material component is a piece of smoky quartz.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Secrets of Creating Characters in Written Fiction (Part 13)

Private Personas

Have you ever gotten to know somebody? Of course you have. Once you start digging, you discover lots about the next person that’s not obvious. That’s perfectly  normal. We expect that there is more to a person than their surface character. The same is true of fictional characters. The readers need to get to know them.

Private personas defy roles and stereotypes. The private persona pushes roles aside, making the person inside far more important than the role. In fact, once we glimpse someone’s personal side, we have difficulty imagining that character without it. Their personal side pushes away any and all other aspects of their character.

Private personas are far harder to pull off than public personas. Each private persona takes a considerable amount of time to develop, so most writers limit themselves to a few important characters. This is why most books don’t have dozens of primary characters. The more characters that you follow, the more character development must happen, and the slower the plot must proceed. Most books only have one to three primary characters for this very reason.

Writing private personas is also harder than writing public personas. Where with secondary characters you can get away with trickery and sleight of hand, but with primary characters, you need to actually walk the walk. There’s no hiding your primary characters. Because your readers spend so much time with these characters, they quickly pick up on any flaws or poor characterization, so by making them more details, you also make them more unbelievable at the same time. The word for this is in art is the  “uncanny valley”, where something looks human but is a bit off, making it more creepy than human. The same applies in characterization. Humans have an innate sense of character and can pick up when a character is off.

To be effective, your primary characters need to be comprehensible and interesting. I know that’s just saying the obvious, yet it needs to be said. Almost anything else can be true of a main character, but if the character is incomprehensible or uninteresting, you may as well quit your story. Too many writers achieve uninteresting with great ease, and a few even achieve incomprehensible.

Beginning writers usually try explaining their main character all in one go, then advancing through the story. That doesn't work. They forget to make the main character interesting, which is the main character’s job. The readers don’t want an information dump, they want to use the human mechanism of getting to know somebody. The story itself is the process of getting to know the main characters. The stories and character development are indivisible.

I’m not giving you any rules about primary characters. Primary characters are alchemy. When you've got them, you've got them, although you can often get by with enough “meh” to get the reader through the story. In most cases, its better to keep changing you alchemy until you find a recipe that works for that character in that story.

To summarize, the purpose of the main character is to be interesting. The reader wants to get to know the interesting character. The purpose of the novel is to give the main character something to do as we get to know them. How to make a main character interesting will fill the remainder of these posts.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Ivory RPG - Report

Going through all the effort of having an expedition is pointless if you don't have a result. At the end of every expedition, there is a report, a summary of information acquired or lessons learned. For most expeditions, this is the entire point of the expedition. The end product is knowledge.

Reports and lessons don't write themselves. Any group should have a process to both record and review this information. For example, all ships have logs and expeditions have journals. Each endeavor records information in a purposeful way focused on their own needs. The capturing of this information is not ad-hoc. The capturing of this information is embedded into the very way that these expeditions behave.

Any Ivory expedition will need to figure out what information that it intends to observe, who will record it, and how the expedition will structure itself to ensure the collection of that information.

Historically, many expeditions kept journals. In these journals, the members of the expeditions wrote their observations. At the end of their adventures, they turned these journals over to somebody else and never did anything with them again. In more recent times, they may have used these journals to write books about their adventures, but more often than not, these unedited documents went straight into some library as reference works.

Logs are very similar to journals, but they are even more dedicated to collecting information in a structured way. For example, navigators kept logs of the temperature, the currents, and the weather. Some expeditions brought reports with them, and the news stories provided something of a log that readers enjoy. A travel log is all about the ordinary human experience of going someplace, written in an entertaining yet informative way. A bill is a log of how much something cost and the amount that an entity seeks for reimbursement.

Expenses provide documentation as well. In that, you have such information as equipment needed, people hired, and expenses paid. Huge amounts of information can be gleaned from this. Scholars working on the economy of ancient Sumer love finding records of expenses because they can tell so much about the society of the day based on that information.

Most presentations of information get feedback. Its rare that information flows in on direction. Most receivers of information usually request further information, clarification, or observation.

So as planning is part of the game, as a feature, not a bug, so too is the recording and distillation of information.

Post 1: Ivory RPG

Friday, March 21, 2014

IvoryRPG - Recruitment

In any logistical game, there comes a time when the players can't do everything for themselves. At some point, they must pay or recruit help, and to be honest, I'm  not sure which is more complex.

Even simple expeditions need help. Do you need information on the local territory? Hire a guide. Do you need help with the animals? Hire a groom. Do you need pack animals? Wagons? Guards? A cook? An agent? Hire them. With more complex expeditions, you may need to hire even more specialized help. Who manages the wagon train? Who secures your passes through foreign territories? Who pays the routine bribes?

If only it were that simple, because at that point, you've turned yourself into a business with all the problems that a business gets itself into. How much do you pay? When, or how often do you pay? Did you hire quality people? Who supervises the employees? Did they lie on their resume? What about a contract? Do you have a contract? What recourse do you have over bad behavior?

Fortunately I can avoid writing very deeply on these topics because there are a world full of books out there about how to manage a small or large business. These books become source books for any Ivory game. The contracts and dealings become a simple or complex as you feel like pursuing.

Some recruitment may not come from a hireling, but from including new players. You may not have a book keeper in your group, but you know someone who loves numbers and will play that game for you. In that sense, you recruit talent by actually finding a real person to assign the job to. The failings here, of course, is that if they don't do their assigned job, then you have to deal with that. Put simply, getting a player who loses interest in your game becomes part of the game. Their disaster becomes your disaster, which only makes Ivory work better in my opinion.

Of course, once the players have settled on their team, everything should go like clockwork, right? Of course, if the goal of the expedition changes, then the team needs to change as well. Exploring the ruins up the streets is different from the ruins in the Dilapidated Forest or deep in the Gobi desert. Every change in goal can and should produce a change in personnel.

As if this wasn't already getting complicated, you want to do this on time and on budget, and in such as way as to achieve your goal. All the other requirements of this expedition still remain in effect.

Here is a place where some rules are need. We need some variability and unpredictability in the NPCs who you hire and interact with.

Post 1: Ivory RPG

Thursday, March 20, 2014

2nd Edition AD&D Wizard Spells - Level 5

More vintage D&D spell here on Throwback Thursday. Enjoy the poorly edited goodness of it all. All homebrew.

Card (alteration)

Level: 5
Range: touch
Component: VSM
Duration: Indefinite
Casting Time: 1 turn
Area of Effect: 2 cu. ft/level
Save: Special

This spell acts much as an Item spell does.  It will act as an item spell with an unlimited duration.  In addition to this, it can also create a card (about the size of a tarot card) from an item.  The card will contain it's picture.  When the caster tosses the card on the ground, or orders it to revert, the caster will regain the suspended item.

Explosion (evocation/alteration)

Level: 5
Components: V,S,M
Range: 6"
Casting Time: 2 seg
Duration: instantaneous
Save: 1/2
Area of Effect: 5'/lev(max)

An explosion spell causes a suddenly expanding outward force.  This force causes the effect of an explosion.  If centered in an object, the spell will destroy the object.  This includes walls and magic item.  However, this spell can not center on a moving object.

When the explosion does occur, the spell will do damage in the specified radius.  For every 5' the caster reduced the radius, the spell will cause one extra hit point per die.  The spell will do 1 hit point per level of the caster.

Force Materialization (conjuration/summoning)

Level: 5
Range: 20 yards
Components: VSM
Duration: Instantaneous
Casting Time: 5
Area of Effect: 1 creature of object
Saving Throw: Negation

By using this spell, the caster attempts to force an object or creature on the ethereal plane to materialize onto the prime material plane.  If caught, the creature or object would be stuck on the prime material plane.  If the creature can naturally move between planes, then they will be stuck for one round per level of the caster of eighth level.  If they make a successful save, the summoner has failed.

The material components are a piece of phase spider web, and a diamond worth at least 100 gp.

Phantom Storm (conjuration/summoning)

Level: 5
Range: Centers on Caster
Components: VSM
Duration: See Below
Casting Time: See Below
Area of Effect: 100 yds/level
Save: None

This spell creates a dark and moody storm over the land.  Each of these effects take a round to cast.  The wind sky will appear to darken.  The wind will then begin to rise to 15 miles/hour, gusting to 30.  Animals will become skittish, and must save vs. fear, and must and zero level humans.  Next, fires and light spells will begin to extinguish in the area of the spell (even continual light).  Finally, it will darken to near night.  At this point, the spell will sustain itself for 1 round/level of the caster.  After the duration is up, the effects will begin to reverse themselves.  It will lighten a little, fires and light spells will relight, animals will calm down, the wind will die, and the sky will clear.

If the caster chooses to show himself, he will appear bright, and stand out.  The effects of the storm will seem not to touch him.

The material component is a black lacquered rod, which will act as a light source for the caster.

Soul Snare (conjuration/summoning)

Level: 5
Range: 10 yards
Components: VSM
Duration: Indefinite
Casting Time: 5
Area of Effect: 1 Life Force
Saving Throw: Full

When a being dies, it's spirit does not depart immediately.  Instead, it lingers for about two rounds before drifting off into astral space.  While the spirit lingers about the body, the caster uses this spell in an attempt to capture the free spirit inside a gem.  The gem must meet the specifications laid out in the Trap the Soul spell.
When cast, the entity gets a save vs. a spell.  I any name is known, the save is at a -2.  If the true name is known, then the save is at -6.  If the soul makes it's save, then it remains free.  Note that if the soul lingers, the caster may make multiple attempts.  If cast in anticipation of a victim's demise, the spell lasts for 2 segments/level.  Once the soul is caught, it is trapped forever.  If forged into a weapon, it may be used to create an intelligent weapon.  It may be used to create an amulet of life protection with as many charges as the victim has levels.  If broken near an uninhabited body, the soul will travel and inhabit that body.

Summoning Lock (invocation)

Level: 5
Range: Special
Components: VSM
Duration: Instantaneous
Casting Time: 1 round
Area of Effect: Special
Save: N/A

This spell allows a caster to make permanent any object conjured between by a first to third level spell.  It must be a physical object.  A phantom steed cannot be made permanent.  Any creature made permanent must be fed and cared for as a normal creature.  A dispel magic will cause the creatures or things to return back to nothingness.

The material component is a silver lock.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Secrets of Creating Characters in Written Fiction (Part 12)

Public Personas

“Don’t judge a book by it’s cover.” There’s an old saying that I need to kick to the curb. Making a good “cover” is precisely the skill that you need.

Most books have a well presented outside. The point of that cover is to sell you the book. Often enough, the cover doesn't match the inside. Most readers understand this. The cover is representative of the book rather than definitive. The cover exists, not for the book’s benefit, but for the reader’s benefit. The cover gives a cue to understanding the book to an ignorant observer.

People are just like books, and people have their own book covers. People are complex and full of stories, but those stories are so long and complex that each person also needs something that they can present right now to a another person that is understandable quickly. That book cover of theirs is their public persona.

As a writer, your characters also need a public persona. The public persona is the part of the character that readers quickly understand. The public persona helps us to understand who the character is in a story without having to stop, grind the story to a halt, and learn the character’s entire personal life.

A public persona is similar to a stereotype, but the differences are important. A fireman or a CEO has a persona that they project to do their job, and that persona exists so that their customers can interact with them in a predictable fashion. We learn how to interact with such roles because we can’t possibly learn how to interact with all the people taking those roles. This lets us, as highly idiosyncratic humans, have predictable interactions with strangers, which is a very useful thing.

The thing about roles is that we can attach meanings to those roles that have nothing to do with the role. That’s how normal humans remember. We take an idea and attach another idea to it. We take roles and attach other facts and ideas to that role. Some of those facts may be inaccurate while others facts have nothing to do with the role. Those are false associations or stereotypes. A fireman puts out fires, which is his role. “Firemen listen to country music” is not part of a fireman’s role, which makes that fact a stereotype. Yet, we lump the two together. As writers, we want the roles but we want to avoid stereotypes.

For many characters, we will only see their public personas. We don’t need any more out of them than their public roles, or the occasional glimpse of humanity coming out of their covers. These characters aren't real at all, but they seem just real enough that the readers skim over them.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Ivory RPG - Regency Era Social Season

I brought up the outlines of Ivory to my wife and our friend Colleen, and both got pretty excited over the prospect. What I described, that pure planning game, made both perk up. In fact, Colleen suggest that we do a Regency party planning game.

Yeah, I fucking love Colleen, too. She even suggest that matchmaking could be turned into a fantasy football style league.

So the question is now: how to I implement this with a minimal number of rules?

So, some basic take-away from the kitchen meeting:

  • The players plan a coming out party, series, or such. That's up to the players to work out.
  • Players should the grandmothers in a family looking to improve the situation of their entire family.
  • Autocracy rules. Status matters. The players get to sort out the coming out season, and God help you if the Prime Ministers's wife has to step in and sort things out. 
  • The players are responsible for doing their own research.
  • Players communicate either face-to-face for via the USPS.
  • All players need big enough sticks to retaliate against slights. If not sticks, then little stingers. There should a strong motivation to avoid slights.
  • The scale and scope of the game is up to the players. If they want to plan and implement an actual dance, then that's what they do.
  • Identities are up to the players. They can create new nobility to steal shamelessly from the historical record.
  • Exact year is up to the players.

As is apparent, the logistical game is mostly self-selected by the players. Where game design comes in is in how successful the matchmaking goes. At this point in time, I have no idea how that will unfold.

  • Matching must be hard.
  • Matching must include some element of chance, twists, and turns.
  • Gathering information for the matches must be part of the fun.
  • What happens to a successful matchmaker? Do they leave the game and let someone else play? Do they stick in, bartering their inside information to others?
  • How does clothing mix into this? Do we gamify dresses?

Lots to get worked out, and that's all in good fun.

Post 1: Ivory RPG

Thursday, March 13, 2014

2nd Edition AD&D Wizard Spells - Level 4

For Throwback Thursday, here are some more 2nd edition AD&D spells from my hard drive. I make no promises on the editing. All homebrew. Enjoy. 

Electric Javelin (evocation)

Level: 4
Range: 40 yards + 10 yards/level
Components: VSM
Duration: 1 round/level
Casting Time: 1 round
Area of Effect: 1 creature
Saving Throw: 1/2

This spell allows the caster to throw tighter, more controlled lighting bolts.  The caster may throw a bolt at any time during the spell's duration, at one bolt per round.  The caster may throw one bolt for every four levels he possesses.  Each bolt does 4d6 hit points in damage, and half that if the target's save is successful.  If effects on creature.

The material component is a jagged, silver wire.

Giant Strength I (alteration)

Level: 4
Component: VSM
Duration: See Below
Casting Time: 1 Turn
Area of Effect: Person Touched
Save: N/A

By means of this spell, the caster grants the subject greater strength.  The duration of the spell depends on the greatness of that strength.

As strength spell -  2 hours/level
18/00 -  1 hour/level
19 - 30 minutes/level
20 - 15 minutes/level
21 -7 minutes/level
22 -3 minutes/level
23 -1 minute/level

The material component is a hair from the appropriate giant.

Straw Man (alteration/Illusion)

Level: 4
Range: See Below
Components: VSM
Duration: 1 Day/Level
Casting Time: 1 hour
Area of Effect: N/A
Save: None

By means of this spell, the caster constructs a replica of himself in straw.  He dresses it in his own clothing, and then casts this spell.  Once cast, the Straw Man takes on the appearance of it's caster.

The caster may either use the Straw Man as a substitute for himself while he is elsewhere, or as a decoy in the outside world.

When used as a substitute, the Straw Man will take on the habits and mannerisms of the caster.  To all casual observers, he will be the caster.  As long as no closer observation is used, the deception will work.  Any closer inspection will begin revealing the Straw Man's oddities.  He won't speak, or acknowledge an individual.  A stranger make take the Straw Man as a bit odd, but an acquaintance will gain a wisdom check to see if something is wrong.  On closest inspection, the Straw Man will quickly reveal itself to be an automaton.

The caster may also use the Straw Man as a decoy.  As long as it is in verbal or visual range, the caster may control it.  It will act in all ways like him.  With clairaudience and clairvoyance on, the caster can hear and see what the Straw Man does.  As a simple rule of thumb, a mage can control the Straw Man inside slightly raised voice range if he has no spell to augment his control.  With clairvoyance on, the range becomes that of the clairvoyance spell.  With clairaudience on, the Straw Man becomes a virtual substitute for the caster.  With ventriloquism on, the caster may cast spells through his automaton.  (Note that these spells will still last their normal duration).  A wizard eye may substitute the clairvoyance.

With the Straw Man seeming to be him, the caster puts it in the line of fire, rather than himself.  A common tactic is to be invisible while controlling the automaton.  The Straw Man takes the attacks, while the caster can perform his spell.

The Straw Man has 1 hp/level.  It has a strength of 6, and a dexterity of the caster. Its AC is 10 (or better with dexterity).  Magical protection will work with the Straw Man.  When hit, it takes no damage from piercing weapons, half damage from bludgeoning weapons, and full damage from slashing and chopping weapons.

Fire always does maximum to a Straw Man.  Magical fire will vaporize one.  Hold, charm, and cold spells do nothing.

Summon Ghouls (summoning/necromancy)

Level: 4
Range: 15 yards
Components: VSM
Duration: 1 round + 1 round/level
Casting Time: 4
Area of Effect: 10' square
Saving Throw: N/A

When the summoner finishes this spell, one ghoul per three levels of experience appears and attacks the caster's enemies.  These creatures are under command of the spell caster, and will remain until dispelled, slain, or the duration expires.  It bears a great resemblance to the Summon Shadow spell.  The material component is a bit of wood from a coffin.

Note that the exact effects of the spell in a graveyard are indeterminable, and use of this spell in such areas is not recommended.

Unleashed Chaos (evocation)

Level: 4
Range: Special
Components: VS
Duration: Special
Casting Time: 1
Area of Effect: Special
Save: Special

This spell releases magical energy without bothering to direct it.  It's exact effects are indeterminable.  Use the following chart to determine it's power.  For every level above 7, add one to the die roll.

D20
1-7 Cantrip
8-13   1st level
14-17   2nd level
18-20   3rd level
21-22   4th level
23-24   5th level
25-26   6th level
27-28   7th level
29-30 8th level
31+   9th level

Wall of Silence (abjuration)

Level: 4
Range: 20 yards
Components: SM
Duration: 1 round/level
Casting Time: 4
Area: 10 ft sq/level
Save: None

When cast, this spell sets up a wall through which no sound will penetrate.  This protection applies to both inward and outward sounds.  Not that walls and floors can still conduct sound.  The spell goes from surface to surface.

Alternately, the spell may form a dome, 20 feet in diameter.

The material component is a ball of cotton.

Wall of Timber (evocation)

Level: 4
Range: 10 yds/level
Components: VSM
Duration: Permanent
Casting Time: 4
Area of Effect: 20'sq/level
Save: None

By means of this spell, the caster may create a wall of wood.  It may be at any angle, but the usual strictures of walls should apply.  The wall will be 6 inches thick.  The thickness may be reduces to improve the area in direct proportion.

Alternately, the caster may create wood bracing.  These will measure 10'x10' and be tightly fitted to their appropriate spaces.  The caster may make one set of braces per level at 10'x10', or two per level at 5'x5'.  The caster need not set all the braces at once.  He has one round/level to do so.

This spell is most often used in conjunction with Dig, in order to create a long and safe shaft or tunnel.  The material component is a sliver of wood.  The Wood of the wall will match the wood of the sliver.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Secrets of Creating Characters in Written Fiction (Part 11)

Don’t Admire Yourself in the Mirror

Each of us has a character that we know the best: ourselves. In our own minds, we are the most reasonable, rational, and sensible people that live. I don’t say that in jest. It really is true. If we don’t believe that we are reasonable, rational, and sensible, then we change our minds.

As writers, we inherently put ourselves into the characters that we create. This is something that we cannot avoid any more than an actor puts something of himself into the characters that he portrays. The problem comes in ourselves. What is interesting to us as writers is not necessarily what is interesting to our readers. Even as we are putting ourselves into the lead character, the reader is also putting himself into the lead character. When we create a lead character that is based too much on ourselves, we leave no room for the reader.

As the writers and creators of stories, we are also all powerful and all knowing. Since the lead characters are projections of ourselves, these traits bleeds over into our lead characters, and they appear to the readers as all powerful and all knowing. Again, our readers have no place to fit themselves. As the lead character is unchallenged, so too is our reader unchallenged.

As normal human beings, we writers don’t want to embarrass ourselves. We don’t want to look bad. Most humans go to ridiculous lengths to avoid looking bad. Subconsciously, as writers, we do the same thing in protecting our lead characters, for we protect them as ourselves. This leads to lead characters who, like spoiled children, get coddled by our own over-protective egos. Again, there is no place for the reader to go. Like good parents, we must let our characters go, to stand and fall on their own, and in the course of things, get a few skinned knees. Only then will our readers be willing to follow.

Our own inner desires can be useful in character creation, but just as easily, our own fantasies turn out to be just that: our own. We all want to be powerful, capable, charming, sexy, successful, and most importantly, dominant. That’s a natural state of affairs for a human. When we write, we project all that into our stories. That’s called wish fulfillment. Wish fulfillment is bad when it matches what we as writers want. Again, we leave no room for our readers. Wish fulfillment works well when it matches the wish fulfillment that our readers want.

So when making lead character, step away. Ask yourself how your lead characters are different from you. Once they are different, once they make different decisions than you or I, once they gain the ability to fall, your character gains something to risk, and risk is where any story gets interesting. Risk, uncertainty, doubt, trouble, and tribulation are all effects that open your character up to the reader and lets the reader project themselves onto the character.

In essence, any lead character is a cooperative game between you and the reader. Your words are an invitation to play, and your readers use those words to play to create images and feel connections. When you do that, you have an effective character.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

2nd Edition AD&D Wizard Spells - Level 3

For Throwback Thursday, here are some more 2nd edition AD&D spells from my hard drive. I make no promises on the editing. All homebrew. Enjoy.

Flame Bolt (evocation)

Level:3
Component:V,S,M
Range:4" + 1"/level
Casting Time: 3 seg
Duration:instantaneous
Save: 1/2
Area of Effect:special

The flame bolt is a fusion between a fireball and a lightning bolt.  It takes the destructiveness of a fireball and mixes it with the control of a lightning bolt.  When cast, a bolt of fire erupts from the casters hand and flies forth in the direction he points it.  The bolt may catch one creature full on, then do half damage on the second hit, half again damage on the third hit, and so on.  All saves made half the damage taken.  The spell may be rebouned off a wall or any hard nonflammable surface.  The spell causes 1d4 points of damage per level of the caster.  The spell makes little noise.

Geyser (evocation)

Level:3
Component: V,S,M
Range: 2" + 1/4"/level
Casting Time: 3 seg
Duration: instantaneous
Save: full
Area of Effect: special

They geyser spell has the ability to produce a powerful stream of water from the caster's hands.  To any fire-base para-elemantal creature, this spell will do 1d4 hit points of damage per level of the caster.
The geyser spell will also produce one gallon of magic water per level of the caster.  Magic water will stay good indefinitely while in a container.  However, if this water is spilled, it will instantly evaportate.  Magic water in an open container will evaporate at one gallon per round.  This makes making soup out of magic water impossible.  Magic water will not freeze.  Magic water weighs half of what ordinary water does.  Magic water effects magic fire as ordinary water will an ordinary fire.
The material component of this spell is any amount of water.

Improved Magic Missile (evocation)

Level:3
Component: V,S
Range: 9" + 1 1/2"/level
Casting Time: 1 seg
Duration: special
Save: none
Area of Effect: see below

This spell acts like the first level magic user spell magic missile in all respects except the damage done is 2d4+2 hp and the area is one or more creatures in a 15' area.

Laser (evocation)

Level: 3
Component: V,S,M
Range: 5" + 1/4"/level
Casting Time: 3 seg
Duration: instantaneous
Save: none
Area of Effect: One Creature

When the caster completes this spell, he causes an intense beam of light to come from his finger.  If the caster rolls to hit, as regular combat, the magic user has hit the target with his laser.  The laser beam has a +3 chance to hit.  It is not considered to only hit creatures that can be hit by +3 weapons.
The laser does 8d per level of the caster.  The laser may affect one, and only one creature.  A mirror will reflect a laser.  A metal mirror may reflect 1/2 the hit dice, a silver mirror may reflect 3/4 the hit dice, but only if the mirrors are clean.  The material component of the spell is a glass rod with a 100 gp ruby mounted in the center.

Meld (alteration)

Level: 3
Components: V,S,M
Range: touch
Casting Time: 1 turn
Duration: 1 turn/level
Save: full
Area of Effect: see below

A meld allows a magic-user to cause any hard object to become softer.  The magic-user may affect one material of his choice, and may meld one pound per level.  For mildly hard objects, such as gold and lead, the material will become the consistency of soup and drain wherever convenient.  Harder metals, such as copper and bronze, will become as a thick yogurt.  Hard objects, such as steel, will become as pliable as putty.  Very hard metals, such as adamantine, will become as soft at tempered steel.  Fortunately, the magic-user may allow a material to be harder if he wishes.  The purpose of this spell is to make the creation of specialized and difficultly crafted items faster to obtain while not sacrificing quality.  This spell is invaluable in the forging of an adamantine alloy sword.

Protection from Silence (abjuration)

Level: 3
Range: Touch
Components: SM
Duration: 1 turn/level
Casting Time: 3
Area of Effect: 1 person
Save: N/A

This spell will protect the recipient from any silence spell.  While others are unable to speak, the recipient may speak, or cast spells, as normal.  It in no way cancels a silence spell.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Secrets of Creating Characters in Written Fiction (Part 10)

Just Right

In many ways, characters are like cooking. You can easily go overboard by adding far too many spices and adornments, and just as easily not go far enough, resulting in something bland or unappealing. To make creation more difficult, there’s no such thing as “just right” for a character because “just right” depends on what you want and need from the character. A bland character can be just as effective as a fully fleshed out character if used appropriately, and a fully developed character can be inappropriate.

Think of your mixture of characters as dinner. Are all the dishes strong and powerful? No, of course not. That would not work. Some dishes are strong, some mild, some salty, some sweet. Even the water, the plainest of all dishes, is welcome in a meal because it clears the mouth. In the same way, you want different characters who provide all sorts of different experience to the reader.

Naming

Picking a good name for each character is among the most important, and most difficult, aspects of creating a character. That name will be the meme with which your readers attach all information.

The human brain is a pattern-matching machine. When creating names, you want to use your reader's ability to detect a pattern without getting caught up in that pattern. If you aren't careful, you create create similar patterns in the character names, and then the reader spends cognitive effort detangling patterns rather than paying attention to your story. To that end, each character’s name should form its own pattern.

Here are my guidelines for naming:

  • If you don’t want to bother with a character, don’t name them.
  • If you want a new character to run amok in your story, name them.
  • Start your character names with different letters of the alphabet.
  • Vary name lengths. 
  • Vary name silhouettes.


As a simple rule, no important character should begin with the same letter. Amy, Ally, Arny, and Al may each be a wonderfully written character, but the human eye will mix up those names constantly. Your reader is already being challenged by what you write. Don’t turn up the difficulty by including highly confusable names.

Names that have similar lengths can be easy to confused as well. Billy, Willy, and Jilly each have the same length and visual pattern, so they tend to smush into each other. Billy, William, and Jillain are far less confusing to the eye. The eye can use the first letter of the name, the length of the name, and the shape of the name to help identify the character.

Words also have shape. Literally, they have a certain silhouette upon the page. Aim to have each primary name have a different silhouette. Billy, William, and Jillain Jo are each dominated by a ‘LL.’ Brains pick up on that. Better to have names like Billy, Walter, and Mary Jo.

Named vs Nameless

Some characters have names. Some don’t. The difference is actually very important. As much as possible, don’t name characters. Once you name them, you start needing to track them. The more characters that you have, the more tracking that you have. That creates a large amount of cognitive overhead on you as you write. Thus, don’t name characters unless you need them named.

The interesting thing about naming characters is that you start thinking about them as people, making them into more fully developed characters. That sounds great, but that doesn't always work. Sometimes you just need a nameless face waiting tables.

On the other hand, give a name to any character that you like and enjoy writing. That will help the readers to remember them. With a name, a character becomes more real.

When wrestling with a character, don’t hesitate to add or remove a name just to see what it does.

Projecting Importance

Readers use the information that we give them to assess the importance of a character.

How much time do you give any character? The more time that the character gets, the more important that character. It's pretty much the same as screen time for an actor. Simply by being around and getting mentioned a lot, a character will assume an importance in the story. This is why the "That Guy we gotta find" trope is so strong: the character that you are searching for is constantly referenced in the story, and so our brain soon consider him more important and more present that he would otherwise be.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Ivory RPG - Goals

In a discover game, the goal is the game. So, what's the goal?

We can simplify the goals of a discovery game into a few broad categories:

  • There and back again. Discovery. Information gathering.
  • Go a long way and make sure that no one dies.
  • Move something bigger than normal.
  • Build or unbuild something.

A simple expedition may have one of these goals, but a more complex expedition may have multiple goals. Change the goals and the entire nature of a plan must change. It's one thing to survey a valley, but another to haul back a 10 ton block of granite.

The nature of any expedition involves surprise and opportunism. The goal of an expedition can change in the middle, requiring a reworking of plans. A chance discovery may require staying longer, hauling something back, building something, or any of the above. At that point, the expedition must work not with what it wants to have, but what's it's got on hand.

Like so many of the other pieces of Ivory, the rules for goals are self-explanatory and self-challenging. The very existence of a goal implies all the other challenges. The goal is essentially the expedition writing its own win criteria. So here is yet another example of how the players determine the game.

Post 1: Ivory RPG