A New Race, For Fun

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Some time ago, I mentioned on G+ that my son wants to play n intelligent dolphin in a game. This dolphin is not part of an undersea adventure, but travels on land and interacts with “hobbits”, “scientists”, and “regular people”.

Since he was three, he has associated the word “howert” with dolphins. It has been the sound they make when attempting English, it has represented various superpowers, and finally has come to mean the name that they call themselves in their language.

So, here is my write-up for Swords & Wizardry:

The Howerters

Limited Telekinesis: Howerters have no arms or legs, but can manipulate objects as if they had arms and legs. Regardless of STRENGTH score, they do not gain bonuses to hit or damage using melee weapons.

Yes, they can use rings.

Levitation and Limited Flight: Howerters do not make contact with the ground unless they choose (or die). They levitate at a height to have eye level at 5 feet, but can levitate as high as 8 feet for CONSTITUTION/2 rounds a day. In any situation that requires a roll for aerial piloting or maneuvering, they gain a +4 bonus or improve the maneuverability by one class.

Avoid Traps: Howerters will not set off any trap that depends on weight or pressure plates. They will also be immune to tripwires. This is due to the fact that they hover as movement. As they have limited movement through three-dimensional space, they gain bonuses to avoiding other traps as determined by the referee.

Magic Sleeve: Howerters wear an article of clothing they call a sleeve. It prevents them from drying out through their adventures on land and negates the need to be underwater. Howerters cannot wear any armor other than their magic sleeve.

The sleeve provides a +/- 3 bonus to armor (between chain mail and leather), but no other special protections. It is not airtight and does not prevent touch-based attacks.

Swimmers: Howerters can remove the sleeve in water and swim as normal dolphins.

Classes: Player-Character howerters may be Magic-Users, Thieves, or Magic-User/Thieves. In the Thief class, a Howerter may advance with no maximum level limit. A Howerter that is solely a Thief takes no advantage of any XP bonus due to a high Dexterity. Howerters advancing in more than one class are limited to 9th level Magic-User (10th with an Intelligence of 18).

In campaign worlds with psionics, a Howerter has no maximum level limit in any psionic class. In worlds with Illusionists, they may reach a maximum of 12th level.

Non-player howerters can be clerics. If the referee decides to allow them as PCs, they may advance to 10th level. (11th level with a Wisdom of 18).

Personality: Howerters, like their cousins the dolphins, are very intelligent and curious. They are fearless explorers that are excited about discovering new creatures, locations, magic items, or anything else new. They can get bored quickly, but will rarely make rash decisions.

They are aware of their startling appearance and usually handle it with self-deprecating humor. Unless Chaotic in alignment, they get along with any species they come in contact with. They tend to be outgoing and gregarious. They are slow to make deep friendships, but once made, they are loyal to the point of death.

Looking at an OSR Mecha Game

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It’s been said over and over. Where are the mecha clones?

Personally, I enjoyed playing Battletech and Centurion quite a bit growing up. I think Scott and I ran so many Centurion games, I thought about custom hovertanks in my sleep.

Not a hovertank, a battle platform!

I also had a perchant for making a lot of units for Battletech. I was terrible at tracking heat, so I usually lost by blowing up my own mech. Maybe that’s why I liked Centurion so much more.

I really wanted these to work!

So when it comes to an OSR Mecha game, what do we need? After all, there is the Battleforce Quickstart Rules and the Classic BattleTech Quickstart rules, so why another game?

For me, that’s easy to answer: It’s fun to make. More than that, I have a mech hidden in every fantasy world I’ve ever designed. Spelljammer? Those spacehulks were massive dropships. The haunted mountain with ghostly voices that drive men mad? That’s the computer system still looking for the TOG crew that died thousands of years earlier. (Yes, it has one more shot before it loses all its ammo.) The Shrine of the Iron Golem? An abandoned, yet intact Cyclops . (This one has a Gauss Rifle instead of an Autocannon.)

With a worlds-spanning concept like Spelljammer, it was easy to add yet another Crystalline Sphere that existed way beyond any known path through the phlogiston. Very few things made it from those distant spheres, but the handful of items that do lead to some very interesting magic items. I don’t mean artifact-type weapons, but other things more mundane. I’m talking things like UHF communicators, AIs, non-addicting stimulants, and even some cyberpunk elements like cranial dataport jacks. When you cross magic and technology, you get all kinds of weird things.

Then again, sometimes I don’t want a crazy fantasy world, I just want to run a lance from one side of the board to the other in a desperate blitz to get to base through enemy territory. No air support or planet destroying megaships involved, just tanks and mecha slugging it out on some far-flung scorched world.

Again, with one of the Quickstart rules I mentioned earlier, I could do that fairly easily. I still have my Centurion Box and original BatteTech rules (complete with a few technical updates and Maximum Tech.) Yet, there are things that I either house-ruled or just plain hated about each set of rules. I could deal with the heat rules in BattleTech, even though I was terrible at them. The heat rules force you to make strategy and save your powerful punches for opportune times. What I couldn’t deal with, was facing. We would agonize over the board trying to set the facing in just the right way to move and point our primary weapons systems in the correct direction. Centurion had no heat rules, but once I reached a certain speed, I couldn’t steer a hovertank correctly. (I kept turning too late and sliding sideways off the map.) I preferred the slower groundling tanks or massive hover tanks that always moved slowly. Note that my “brick” has a speed of 3.

These are not faults with the games themselves. No, the fault is mine. It’s not that I just wanted to blast through everything or try to get away with things, it’s just that I couldn’t figure out where I’d be two moves ahead, so I got frustrated when I always felt out of place. I figured that any computer-assisted steering system could figure out how to move a tank/mech from one location to another accurately, so why not minimize those rules that blow me off the map?

Really though, I just enjoy Swords and Wizardry. With the third alternate combat sequence, I saw a tactical system that rewards quickness over flat-footed slugfests. Why not make a mecha system without heat and hover movement that feels like S&W?

The third alternate combat sequence is really simplified from OD&D. I looked for ways to track the segments and found stories of gamers using cribbage boards. Looking at the rules, though, I realized that I never really needed to know the actual segment number, I only had to know who’s turn was next and when a round was over.

I made a custom board that allowed the rules as written in S&W Complete for alternate combat sequence #3 to work. Still, I wanted something a bit nicer. I discovered that if I used a backgammon board and changed the default number of segments from 6 to 7, the whole system just clicked.

In S&W fantasy, the referee had to fudge the dexterity of monsters. In my mecha game, however, everything had a dexterity score. This made the alternative combat sequence #3 a great fit. With the backgammon board, a players’ choice of miniatures, markers, or even checkers to mark each combatant, a straightforward system emerged. Unlike my favorite Centurion or BattleTech, this game has quicker rules. At a glance, everyone knows who is taking a turn now and who will go next. I’m still testing it, but my 8 and 7 year old kids seem to get it. I’ve got it written, but now I’m testing it. I might even get a pickup game at Nuke-Con in October.

So,why an Swords & Wizardry mecha game? Because it fits once I houserule it. :)

Symbol of the Wolf

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Over a year ago, I posted about Clerics and a mystery metal that provided back story for why Clerics were different from wizards. Now that I’m working on material for a zine and for a possible game in October, I wanted to refine the idea a bit to better fit within Swords & Wizardry.

Here is the standard Cleric in one of my campaign worlds. Other clerics have different power and spellcasting abilities, but this is the base upon which all others define themselves.

History

According to Elven scholars, the Canavari priests were one of first religious orders of mankind. The traditions of these priests have been maintained through thousands of years.  When humans have faced their greatest threats, it has been the Canavari that lead the battle.

One of the earliest threats was a creature believed to be harmless. As humans learned to work metal, these creatures proved dangerous. The threat was not due to the loss of life, but due to the loss of cities. A monster that consumed gold and iron, threatened to destroy almost all of human technology. Men had worked hard to leave behind their stone weapons and crude dwellings. They began to make clay pots, bronze implements, and even metal weapons.

When the creatures they called the Chumam-La appeared in the thousands, men looked to Canavari to implore the gods for help. The gods responded by choosing a handful of select craftsmen to learn how to make godstone, the first divine gift to mankind.

Godstone could not be devoured by the chumam-la, allowing the priests and their armed men to destroy this feared creature.

Godstone cannot hold a sharp edge, but it is a dense material with a faint grey-blue sheen. Godstone cannot rust and it is hard to destroy. All Canavari use sling bullets, chain armor, clubs, and blunt wedges made from the divine substance. Although the armor, clubs, and wedges are sacred weapons, the priests will sell sling bullets to outsiders.

The next great threat came with the learning of magic. Mankind is drawn to the few arts of elves, so naturally, a few men sought to use magic to dominate his fellow man. Tyrants arose that wielded eldrtich forces that they could barely understand, much less contain. The ground and sky recoiled. Men and their allies were subjugated. Non-humans, even the mighty elves, were nearly eliminated from existence.

Though slow to answer, the gods granted another boon to the Canavari, the gift of magic. This divine magic worked to help the weak and bring justice to the oppressors of men. With divine protection and containment, the Canavari drove back the forces of evil and saved the world.

This is why even the agnostic elves give respect to the Canavari. The elves began to teach the old ways of magic publicly. With their help, the earth and sky were healed. Civilizations were rebuilt from the ruins bringing a time of prosperity.

It did not last. Once again determined to pervert the magical arts, evil men learned to animate the bodies of the dead to serve in vast armies. As the undead armies marched on city after city, their ranks swelled with victims reborn to serve a new masters.

Again invoking the gods, the Canavari were provided with the Symbol of the Wolf. This sacred symbol, when presented to undead creatures would break the control of evil wizards and cause them to flee from the presence of the holy symbol.

Lines of Canavari priests turned away the armies and freed the undead to return to their eternal sleep. The Canavari consider all wizards as vile heretics, yet they had saved mankind once again standing with the elves and other allies of man.

These ancient priests are dedicated to their traditions and gifts from the gods. They seek to protect manking and their allies from threats large and small. They know that when the world plunges into darkness, they will stand with the forces of light and fight.

Game Data

The Canavari are played as a Cleric as written in Swords & Wizardry with very small changes. Slings are allowed and godstone sling bullets do 1d6 damage. Due to their weight, it is rare for anyone to carry more than four of these sling bullets at any time. Most of the time, Canavari use them as valuable items to barter or gift to others. Canavari can also use blunt hand-axe type weapons they call “wedges”. They do 1d6 damage.

Chainmail made from godstone provides the same protection as plate mail as well as having the same effect on encumbrance.

There are no Chaotic Canavari. All of them are Lawful.

Place in a Campaign World

Canavari are the standard warrior-priests found in D&D and D&D-like games. Since my worlds often have a range of cleric choices, this is the choice for those that want to “just be a Cleric”. Other cleric types have different turning abilities and various type of magic available.

They scorn all arcane magic as evil. They will begrudgingly tolerate Lawful wizards, but actively avoid speaking with them. The referee may choose to play this up if a Wizard and a Canavari find themselves in the same party.