Thursday, April 19, 2018

Divination In My Games: Part III - Practical DF divination

Continuing on the theme of divination, and GURPS Dungeon Fantasy as well, what divination spells do I think as especially well-suited to DF?

Here I'm using Divination as a means of getting the GM to give you hints. Direct detection spells should just be assumed to be useful.


The spells I find the most useful are the ones that are relatively simple to cast, don't require very special conditions, and aren't subject-specific. Here is a look at all of them.

From GURPS Magic, page 108-109:

Augury - potentially useful, especially outdoors. In a dungeon, it's much trickier - you'll need to be reading the scattering of rats or the patterns of slime on the ceiling. It's an easy spell to learn - History and one spell from each of the four elements.

Cartomancy - the -5 for divining things that aren't about people makes this less useful. Especially if monsters aren't people.

Crystal-Gazing - solid choice. It's -10 for using water, but you can carry a mirror. Easy prereqs.

Dactylomancy - five word limit is tough. Not every useful.

Extispicy - One question per animal, minimum 20 pounds. Only handy once you've slain monsters the GM considers appropriate. Works best on life-or-death, which isn't a great way to find out hints on puzzles.

Gastromancy - Cool, but it's 5 FP to the subject and needs Hypnotism, a skill most won't really have or use if they do.

Geomancy - useful outdoors, moderately useful overall. Worth considering if you have Earth spells anyway.

Lecanomancy - The flat -5 sucks, but the halving of time penalties is useful. Tricky to carry water and stuff to toss into it.

Numerology - basically useless in a DF game.

Oneiromancy - tough to actually get to cast this - requirement for sleep, a lucky roll on dreaming, etc.

Physiognomy - only useful on the subject, which can be useful but frankly Death Vision will do the job more effectively for less investment in time and cost.

Pyromancy - useful if you have something of the subject to burn, otherwise the -4 hurts. Still, fire wizards will want this.

Sortilege - useful.

Symbol-casting - useful, especially if "true tokens" exist for the +2. Half the time of most other divination spells!

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Divination In My Games: Part II - Recent Gaming

I posted Monday about Divination in the old days - especially my AD&D games.

What about more recently - specifically, my 10-year GURPS campaign and my more recent 7-year run of GURPS Dungeon Fantasy? And that two-session delve into White Plume Mountain?

Let's take a look.

What counts as Divination?

If you just mean spells that gain you knowledge, divination magic is completely routine now. It's routine to use Seek Earth to search for precious metals, Seeker to find lost objects, Seek spells of all sorts to locate almost anything, Summon Spirt to question the dead, and so on.

It's actually become fairly routine. It's so routine that we saw Augury used in WPM, and I didn't even really know how the spell worked since no one ever used it in my AD&D days. The people I play with now* use spells to detect things.

But how about a more narrow definition - spells which give extraordinary ranged senses or predictive answers about the future?

I cast "GM gives us a hint."

We get significantly less of that, but we still get it.

We've had a fair amount of Crystal Gazing in my current game. We've had direct prayers for hints to the Good God. We've had a little bit of History and Ancient History castings to determine what happened in the past.

While GURPS does provide some "ask the GM" style divination, we don't have that many of those spells ready for use. Prereqs and time pretty much limit that.

But my players are much more aggressive with using magic to determine the answer to puzzles, root out history and backstory, and otherwise find out the easy way what something does before they mess with it.

Because of this, I expect that if we played more AD&D (hey, it's possible), we'd see more use of Commune and Augury and Contact Other Plane.

Divination is a really interesting tool that we sadly underused in my earlier gaming. This group is much more willing to spend resources on "find out" and not husband them all for "do stuff" like we did in the "good" old days.

* which actually has one overlapping player, who played in my high school AD&D and Rolemaster days, played GURPS with me in college, and played in my previous GURPS campaign as well as the current one. It's worth keeping good players.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

CRPGs based on Gygax's stuff? Maybe.

I saw this article today while I was at work:

Dungeons & Dragons creator’s unpublished work to be turned into video games

So I immediately went to check out Erik Tenkar's take on this. His commentary is probably sadly accurate.

I'd love to see more of what Gary Gygax did. I'd really like to see Lejendary Journeys, even if only for historical reading purposes. But I'm not sure this announcement is really a sign of actual gaming materials to come. GaryCon seems to be great, I found Gygax magazine to be so-so (and it's gone, in any case), and this whole thing just drags on and on.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Divination In My Games: Part I - the Good Old Days

There is a nice post on Divination spells over on Greyhawk Grognard:

On Divination

Divination spells are one of those areas that saw very different use in the old days than in more recent play.

Toady, let's talk the Good Old Days.

Good Old Days

In my old days of playing mostly AD&D, from 4th grade until sometime in High School, divination spells were almost entirely unused.

Some of this was a function of our age and interest - we wanted spells that did cool things like blow stuff up, create or do things you need right away, or heal. Combat, direct utility, and recovery from combat.

Part of it was how we played - I can't remember anyone ever trying out these divination spells. Too much chance of failure, too much vagary, and too much dependence on a fellow elementary school (or junior high school, or high school) kid to interpret in a way that's helpful.

The fact that we very often played games where people had read the modules and knew what to do probably didn't help any. You didn't need to figure out that puzzle door or guess the answer to the riddle, you knew it. You knew where things were. You just had to survive getting there - difficult enough when you have the answers. It's like we'd all pre-cast Contact Other Copy of the Module and knew that Blackrazor was down this hallway and not to stick our heads into the mouth on the wall in the Tomb of Horrors. And if you hadn't read the module you'd ask people who'd played it before.

In a way, that's cheating, but in another way, it was just an alternate form of getting the answers. In play, you'd throw Commune and ask the DM who is roleplaying your god. Out of play, you just went and found the answers without casting the spell.

We also didn't really see what they were for. One of my current players downplayed the value of casting a divination spell in a session because, "It doesn't matter what's beyond the door, we're going to open it and go through anyway." I can argue against that in a lot of ways, but it's fundamentally logical. It's like scrying the inside of a present you intend to open - you're committed to the course of action, so the time spent getting foreknowledge isn't helping make a decision.

At the same time, I think the way the spells were presented didn't really lend them to getting used. Like so much of AD&D, they're just there with the expectation that the players and DMs will figure out what to do with them.

Given that I learned when I was 9 and 10 years old, mostly from playing with players my age or a bit older, that didn't happen. It wasn't instantly clear what to do with those spells. There wasn't really any guiding material that said, "Oh, yeah, Divination spells - this is how you figure out really opaque puzzles in the game, or figure out where to go next when you don't have a clue. The DM will help you along in those cases but only if you do it through in-play actions like casting these spells!"

So you almost never saw Divination spells used.

(On a tangent, you rarely, if ever, saw Charm spells used due to arguments over how they worked, no one summoned animals or monsters or elementals, and those demon summoning related spells didn't see any use.)

I do see a lot more Divination in my more recent games - maybe not to the extent that they'd get used in D&D by the original players, but more than I saw in the past. I'll write more about that tomorrow.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Felltower housecleaning

My time to prepare for game has dropped off a bit, thanks to my new job. It's all good - I really love the new gig. And I have done so much prep for Felltower that I can run it for many sessions without further prep.

Can, but more prep is always good.

So what I did was:

- I updated the rumor list - partially. I still need to do more. I wish I could sustain enough for a D30 but the PCs pull in 10+ rumors per session, it's hard enough to keep 20 fresh ones in there.

- I did some partial restocking on some places the PCs haven't been tramping recently.

- I did some minis restocking now that "Let's go to the Lost City and find the other Bell of D'Abo" is a game-time decision.

- I did some filling out of details on places the PCs are close to that I'd left unfinished.

I also did some housekeeping on the blog.

- I updated the campaign page with links.

- I updated the monsters encountered page. Mostly with snakes and puddings, but they needed to be added.

- I fixed a few picture links in some old posts. Many are still broken.

As always, the upside of a sandbox is that it's always ready. The only thing that would be easier would be running pre-made adventures straight up. But I've put the work in, so now I get to just maintain and enjoy.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Least used races in my games

Some races just don't get a lot of play in my games. Here are a few.

Cat-Folk - I just don't love cat people. I like actual cats, but I don't really like cat races. Some of it is the actual racial designs, a much of it is not wanting players do all sorts of cat-themed roleplaying.

Most animal-men fall in the same disused category. The occasionally bear-man doesn't bother me too much, though.

Centaurs - I'm not a horse person, either - although I am a basashi fan. I really actually like the idea of centaurs, but they come with just so many issues - the whole horse body thing makes for a lot of issues. Can't go upstair in the inn. Can't fit in the carriage. Can't climb up the rigging on the pirate adventure. Can't, can't, can't. And what they can do isn't terribly better than what human-like beings on horses can do.

Variant centaurs have much of the same issue - wemics, for example, or any other quadruped-with-a-human-body types. Vrusk were exceptionally cool but came with issues in Star Frontiers in a way none of the other races were.

Pixies - and sprites, brownies, and other tiny flying races. Generally the issues is the annoyance of scale. I find them difficult to play as a GM without them being annoying instead of fun. As a GM, I tend to nix them from the list faster than you can say, "Hey, everything in the game has a penalty to hit me, right?"

What races don't really see much use in your games?

Friday, April 13, 2018

Describing art in my game

This past session, the PCs traveled through a gate that ended in a domed chamber with a field of stars painted on the inside of the dome. The building below depicted scenes of the city, but with six-fingered hands (a game theme) painted on to them later.

Queue up questions about the stars - how much celestial drift do they show? Are they accurate? Do they match the stars in the northern sky? Any stars bigger than they should be, or brighter? Is there a "North Star," and if so, is it properly depicted in relation to the other stars?


The murals? Questions have come up about the relative height of depicted figures, details on their weaponry, dress, facial features (recognizable individuals), etc.

I see this in player's questions about art in general, actually - the questions assume three-point perspective, representative drawing, Vermeer-like attention to color changes, deliberate attempts at photo-accuracy, etc.

But in most cases, this isn't that kind of art.

As a result, I've been trying to make it clear that art isn't usually Renaissance and post-Renaissance realism. I point out medieval and ancient approaches to art. Things like lack of perspective. Centrality of image meaning centrality of importance (aka Jesus is drawn in the middle). Symbols and signs used to show meaning ("That guy with the ankh is a priest, but that guy with the sword represents justice"). Gaze direction meant to show relationships. Specific location of objects or figures in a picture may depict multiple events over time, or be placed as part of some kind of artistic standard, much like how people sign things in the upper left hand corner or bottom right - it could just be convention.

Images made for a purpose are not always made by a master painter, either. They often are, but not always. Large images will have been made by crews of artistic assistants supervised by a master, if there was one. Hand-drawn art by people without Artist skill may lack accuracy and merely give a sense, much like how stick figures suggest but don't really accurately depict humans.

With that in mind, while art can and should be examined for clues in my game, it's often examined with a modern eye used to photo-realism like that scene out of Blade Runner. Instead, it should be looked at for meaning, not precision, more often than not.

And I'm doing my best to get that across in a way that allows the players to sense what is generally there to find.
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