Welcome to the Flaming Faggot

Callovia is called "the boundless empire" yet you have managed to find its northern border - a notorious roadhouse deep within the Madrasan Marches on the edge of the wilds of Llanvirnesse. The sign above the door reads "Flaming Faggot," which would suggest a cozy, homey inn with fresh biscuits served at teatime if not for the severed troll heads mounted on pikes at the gate.

As you cross the threshold the raucous din quiets momentarily as all eyes dart to the door and calloused hands drop instinctively to well-worn sword hilts. The threat, instantly assessed, is dismissed and roadhouse patrons go about their business hardly missing a beat.

Grim, hard-eyed men huddle around tables in close conversation thick with conspiracy; caravan guards gamble away their earnings; Caemric rangers sit close to the fireplace cooking the damp of the Black Annis from their clothes as they warm their innards with Red Dragon Ale; minstrels play and buxom wenches dance for the pleasure of men who pay them little attention - until they need a companion to warm their bed.

As you approach the bar, a huge, bald barman with a greatsword slung across his back slides a mug of freshly-pulled ale towards you, its frothy head dripping over the rim.

"Pull up a seat, lad," he says, "and let me tell you a tale of high adventure."

Friday, July 30, 2010

Isle of Blood Sneak Preview

I've been busy the last couple of weeks painting upcoming Warhammer miniature releases for the local Games Workshop store's display case.  I finished a beautiful new Seekers of Slaanesh kit the other day and  meant to post pictures, but then I delivered them to the store before photographing them.

More interesting, however, to Warhammer fans, is the High Elf mage I just finished today from the upcoming Isle of Blood starter box, following in the wake of the new 8th edition rules released earlier this month.  Having had a good look at most of the models in this set, I've got to say that this is one of the highest quality starter sets that GW has produced to date, with exceptional quality sculpts, and is an order of magnitude better than the previous Battle for Skull Pass set.  The set features High Elf and Skaven (rat men) armies and contains everything you need to get started in the Warhammer hobby.  I don't mean to shill for GW, but if you've been thinking of getting into Warhammer, now is a great time to start, with a new edition of the rules hot of the presses and a super-spiffy starter set that is a crazy good deal.

One of the most breathtaking models in the starter set is a High Elf lord on a Griffin mounted on a flying base.  This is a friggin' big model and the detail is superb.  I was asked to paint this one up for display, too, and it broke my heart to turn it down.  The catch was that it had to be turned in by August 10th; since I'm still busy finishing off the kitchen and putting the final touch on a research paper before heading into the field on the 13th, I just didn't think I'd be able to get this model done by the deadline and give the attention that it deserves.

Anyhow, since the Isle of Blood won't be on sale until September, here's a first look at the High Elf mage:


My hat is off to Mark Gruener, manager of the GW Winnipeg store, for recognizing Ulthuan, the ancestral island of the High Elves, which is painted on the orb of the wizard's staff.  This was an easter egg that I thought no one would ever find.  You've got to respect someone who knows the geography of the Warhammer world so well that he recognized a small island painted only a few millimetres in diameter.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Weird Wonder Wednesday: Sea Lilies

This week I'm going to continue my exploration of the alien weirdness of the phylum Echinodermata and put the spotlight on the class Crinoidea, better known as sea lilies.




Although they resemble plants, crinoids are animals with calcareous exoskeletons that live attached to the sea floor by a root like hold-fast.  The feather-like pinnules on their arms beat to generate a feeding current that draws food particles into their mouths, which are situated atop a calcareous cup called a calyx.  The stalk, which extends from the seafloor to the calyx consists of calcareous discs, called ossicles that fit together like a tube of Certs.

While crinoids are extremely abundant as fossils, they are rarely preserved intact.  After death, the animal's exoskeleton quickly falls apart so that only bits and pieces are preserved.  The ossicles that make up the columnal are the parts that are most commonly preserved.


Indeed, crinoid ossicles are so tremendously abundant that entire limestone formations are composed entirely of them.  The Mississippian age (Late Carboniferous) Lodgepole Formation that crops out in the Little Rocky Mountains of Montana forms limestone cliffs up to 200 metres thick that are composed almost entirely of crinoid ossicles.  This sort of rock is so common it even has a name: crinoidal grainstone, and is shown below.


The vast abundance of crinoids that must have covered the sea floor in Earth's distant past, sufficient to build up hundreds of metres of thickness, is absolutely mind-blowing.  Sadly, though, for all the abundance of the ossicles, calices are rarely preserved intact - I've been hunting for one for more than fifteen years and still haven't found one yet.  When they are preserved, however, a fully articulated calyx is an absolutely exquisite fossil:

There is something decidedly unsettling about such a plant-like animal as the crinoid, with its graceful structure and delicate beauty.  It always evokes a sense of awe and even a shiver of dread; for some reason they make me think of the fossilized Elder Things discovered in the Precambrian strata of Antarctica by the doomed Miskatonic geological expedition in my favourite Lovecraft story, At the Mountains of Madness.

While most modern crinoids are free-swimming and lack a stem, a stalked crinoid was observed, in recent years, pulling itself along the seafloor.  The idea of stalked sea lilies moving lends an even deeper Lovecraftian shade and are makes them so bizarre as to be the stuff of nightmares.  Imagine if they possessed an alien intelligence.  Imagine if they had a purpose...

It's time to break out my campaign binder and start making up another monster, I think.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Monks, Made to Order

Damon Raush, Initiate of the Order of the Sickle Claw, stood before the Council of the High Masters.  The Grandmaster, Arden Corr, looked at Damon's mentor, Master Geran, "Is he ready to take the tests?"

"He has trained long and hard, Grandmaster," Master Geran replied, "and shows much potential.  He has mastered the basic skills, been loyal and faithful, and has embraced our ways and exemplified the spirit of our order.  I believe he is now ready to truly join our ranks and learn the deeper mysteries of the Sickle Claw."

And what of you, Damon," the Grandmaster asked, "do you concur with Master Geran's assessment?"

"I am honoured, Grandmaster, by Master Geran's confidence in me," Damon replied, "I have learned much under his guidance, and have served this order faithfully and remained true to its precepts.  While I still have much to learn, I am ready to face the tests, and to take my place as an adept of the Sickle Claw."


"We shall see," answered the Grand Master, "let the testing begin."

Continuing my recent preoccupation with the Monk class, this week I want to discuss the oft-neglected but important facet of the Monk: the monastic order.  Although monastic orders are usually glossed over, serving no purpose other than a means of dishing out quests and tithing characters of their treasure, a properly fleshed out order should have a unique philosophy, purpose, and even fighting style that will serve to customize Monk characters with rich detail, provide numerous adventure hooks, and enrich the flavour of  a campaign setting.

As I have argued here, and here unarmed fighting styles are probably polyphyletic in origin and are not solely artifacts of Asian culture.  In this article I would like to discuss the notion that a Shaolin Temple-style monastic defender is similarly cosmopolitan in its scope, and therefore, the Monk class is appropriate to nearly any fantasy campaign - not just Asian themed ones.  Off the top of my head, the Bloodguard, from Stephen R. Donaldson's Chronicles of Thomas Covenant spring to mind as a literary example of a non-Asian Monk in a fantasy setting.


Since the concept of the Shaolin monk is familiar to most of us (if you're anything like me you spent plenty of time as a child trying to snatch pebbles from your friends' hands), let's start with an examination of the training and testing practices of the Shaolin temple, which we can use as a model of creating customized monastic orders.


The Shaolin Temple was a Buddhist monastery founded in China during the 5th century A.D.  Shaolin monks who wished to become full members of the temple were required to undergo a series of tests.  No monk was required to take these tests, and many never did.  A monk was allowed to take the test when his superior decided he was ready for the challenge.  Failure was not uncommon, and many monks were forced to repeat the test several times before passing it, and some were even injured or killed in the process.  There were three parts to the traditional Shaolin initiation trials: first, the candidate was orally examined on his understanding of Shaolin principles and Buddhist philosophy; next was a demonstration of the monk's fighting technique, control, and spirit, in which he was required to fight either several monks at once or several in quick succession.  In the final test, the monk had to enter a dark maze filled with dummies and traps that laughed spring-loaded attacks at the candidate.  The monk had to make it through this gauntlet only to find the exit blocked by a large cauldron filled with burning coals.  the only way out was to lift the cauldron and carry it out of the maze, which subsequently branded the monk with the symbols of the tiger and the dragon - proof of the monk's membership in the Shaolin order.


Monastic orders can be created using the template system I devised for customizing character class specialties.  Special abilities and fighting styles unique to an order can be created and then applied to the base Monk class.  The Monk character can be considered an initiate of the order to which he is affiliated.  Prior to reaching 3rd level, the Monk is not considered to be a full member of the order and this time should be used to prove himself worthy of induction into its ranks.  Upon gaining enough experience points to reach 3rd level, the Monk may petition to undertake the trials and graduate from Initiate to Brother of the order and gain the benefits of the order's template.  It should not be mandatory for a Monk to undertake the test.  If he should choose not to he can still progress as a Monk without the benefit of the template bonuses.


The following two monastic orders are examples of how orders can be created using the template system to create culturally diverse orders with distinctive fighting styles, philosophies, and missions.  The Order of the Sickle Claw was created for a sword & sorcery campaign set seventy million years in Earth's past, while the Order of Cheiron can fit into any campaign using a Greek pantheon.  These to atypical monastic orders demonstrate how Monks can be customized to fill many diverse roles in a variety of settings and need not be confined to the stereotypical role of the meditative Asian ascetic.


Order of the Sickle Claw
The temple of the Sickle Claw, located in the hills of southern Cenomania, is home to an order of warrior diplomats whose fighting style is based upon the hunting tactics of the predatory dromaeosaurid dinosaurs from the forests of Campania.  Highly regarded as negotiators, the Order of the Sickle Claw has established embassies in every major city, and its monks serve in royal courts throughout the continent, serving as advisers and bodyguards.  The central tenet of the order's philosophy is that to understand oneself is to understand others, and they believe that conflict should, whenever possible, be resolved through reason and diplomacy.  The counterpoint to this philosophy is that one must recognize when violence is unavoidable and respond with sudden, lethal force to end the conflict quickly with minimal collateral damage.

Base Class: Monk
Abilities: Diplomatic Immunity; Katari; Jumping Kick; Sudden Strike
Prerequisites: Wisdom 12+; Successful completion of trial
Experience Cost: 250 xp
Restrictions: None


Diplomatic Immunity: When performing duties on behalf of the order, the Monk is granted diplomatic immunity status and is accorded consular privileges.

Katari: Monks of the Sickle Claw are adept with their signature weapons: a matched set of katari; punching daggers constructed from the sickle claws of the Velociraptor they slew in their trial, with a handle set perpendicular to the claw and held so that the claw protrudes from between the middle fingers.  The Monk is considered to be making an unarmed attack when attacking with his katari, and deals damage accordingly.

Jumping Kick: The order's fighting style emphasizes the leaping attack made by dromaeosaurs.  The Monk executes a jumping kick by charging his opponent.  If the attack is successful it deals damage as normal and knocks the opponent back five feet.  Only man-sized creatures are knocked back by such attacks.


Sudden Strike: When combat is unavoidable, Monks of the Sickle Claw strike without warning.  When the Monk initiates combat, the opponent must make a successful Wisdom save or be surprised for one round.


The Trial
The first test of the trial to become a Brother of the Sickle Claw is the Test of Self.  The candidate must navigate a maze in which he is confronted by sudden challenges, some of which are threats, while others are not.  Fore example, from out of the darkness a spear might be launched at the Monk, or it may be a fragile vase.  An attacker may drop suddenly from the ceiling, or an innocent child may fall from above.  In all cases the Initiate has only a fraction of a second to assess the situation and respond accordingly.  The purpose of the Test of Self is to determine the Monk's understanding of the order's principle tenet and gauge his ability to control his emotions and react appropriately and instantly to any situation.


The second test is the the Test of Many, in which the candidate mus fight one hundred consecutive opponents in two-minute matches.  If the candidate takes a break for any reason he must start over.  The purpose of this test is to measure the candidate's endurance, willpower, and fighting spirit.  If playing this test out, I recommend resolving it by a series of Constitution and Charisma checks rather than actually staging one hundred fights.


The final test is the Test of One.  Here, the candidate must slay, in single combat, a captive Velociraptor in an enclosed section of the forest.  The Initiate enters the enclosure unarmed, knowing only that the raptor is somewhere within.  The purpose of this trial is to test the candidate's understanding of the ways of the raptor, upon which the order's fighting style is based.


A candidate who fails any part of the test must, if they survive, undergo a period of further training before attempting the trials again.  Successful candidates are accepted as Brothers, full-fledged members of the Order of the Sickle Claw.  They are presented with the uniform and signature weapons of the oreder: a leather vest and bracers made from the hide of the raptor they slew, and a matched pair of sickle bladed katari made form the beast's retractable killing claws.


The Brotherhood of Cheiron
The Brotherhood of Cheiron is a sect of monks devoted to the healing arts.  They combine their chi powers with a scholarly study of medicine and anatomy to become talented healers with a skill that borders on the miraculous.  The philosophy of the Brothers of Cheiron teaches that society, as a whole, is analogous to the body of an individual, and just as they must sometimes amputate a gangrenous limb to save the body, so too must they expunge society's infections before they can corrupt the whole.  To this end they apply their exhaustive knowledge of anatomy to their fighting arts to create a style that is as efficient and deadly as their healing skills are effective.

Base Class: Monk
Abilities: Cause Paralysis (6th level); Heal Other; Physician; Remove Paralysis; Cause Paralysis (8th level)
Prerequisites: Wisdom 12+
Experience Cost: 250 xp
Restrictions: None


Cause Paralysis: Once per day the Monk may attempt to paralyze a victim by making a successful melee attack.  If the victim fails a Constitution save he is paralyzed as if touched by a ghoul.


Heal Other: The Monk can use his Heal Self ability on another person simply by laying his hands upon him and concentrating to focus his chi.

Physician: The Monk is considered to be a physician for the purposes of caring for the sick and injured and may hasten their recovery time.


Remove Paralysis: By applying pressure to the proper nerve groups, the Monk may remove paralysis in another, including spell effects and ghoul touch.


The following level titles replace the standard Monk level titles:
1st level: Novice
2nd level: Initiate
3rd level: Sanator ("healer")
4th level: Medicus ("physician")
5th level: Klinikos ("attending physician")
8th level: Cheirourgos ("surgeon")
10th level: Paion ("physician to the gods")
16th level: Asklepios (God of Medicine)


The Brotherhood of Cheiron maintains Missions in most major cities, and they serve two functions: to provide medical care to the sick and injured, and to serve as repositories of knowledge and centres of medical and anatomical research.  Monks of the Brotherhood get extensive practice in the dissection of cadavers to map the muscular and nervous systems of the body, and patients must agree to donate their bodies for research should they succumb to their ailments.


The eldest Paion in the Brotherhood ascends to the leadership of the order and is given the  honourific title, Asklepios, in recognition of the God of Medicine.  The Asklepios directs the activities of the order and oversees the training of newly initiated Sanators.

The Test
A candidate petitioning for entry into the Brotherhood of Cheiron must undergo an oral examination by a board of Paions, which tests their knowledge of the signs and symptoms of all known diseases, and the recommended treatments.  If successful, the candidate must then demonstrate a practical knowledge of anatomy by performing a dissection of a cadaver, identifying all muscles, bones and nerve groups.  The final stage of the examination is the presentation of a thesis, in which the candidate makes an oral presentation to the assembled Brothers, detailing the results of a research project chosen by the candidate and approved by his supervising Paion.


These are just a couple of possible ways that Monastic templates can be applied to customize Monk characters and they demonstrate a wide range of possible roles that the Monk class can fill in any type of campaign.  It ain't all rice paper and pebbles, baby!



Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Weird Wonder Wednesday: Starfish

I recently received a request from my friend, James, to feature the Sunflower Star, Pycnopodia for one of my Weird Wonder write-ups.  This seemed like a good idea, since Pycnopodia helianthoides, shown above, is an old friend from my SCUBA diving days off the coast of Vancouver Island.

But, rather than focus exclusively on this single genus, I would like to discuss starfish in general.  For alien weirdness you cannot beat echinoderms, and the Asteroidea have an incredibly bizarre anatomy that is unknown to almost anyone who hasn't taken a university level course in invertebrate zoology.  And I'm all about alien weirdness.

Starfish have a very special place in my heart because it was they that made me fall head over heels in love with invertebrates.  As I've mentioned previously in my Lore Deposits post, In the Oceans of Insanity, it was partially my fascination with the works of Lovecraft that drew me to study invertebrate fossils, reinforced by my many hours exploring the oceanic realm as a diver.  But it was the experience of actually dissecting a starfish, while in university that my devotion to invertebrates was irrevocably affirmed.  While taking a general zoology course I had spent I don't know how many hours dissecting various vertebrate specimens including foetal pigs, dogfish, cats, rats, and frogs, to name a few.  The study of vertebrate comparative anatomy bored me to tears; all vertebrates are essentially the same - their anatomy differs only in tedious minutiae.  This, plus the nauseating smell of formaldehyde, which to this day makes my gorge rise, made me sincerely hope to never have to cut open another vertebrate.  Invertebrates, however possess a diverse variety of anatomical structures so vastly different from our own that they might well be from another planet - and none, more so than the starfish.  I still recall struggling with dissecting shears to cut through the tough, denticle-covered skin of my starfish and finally lifting the top to see what lay within.

Bilaterally symmetrical members of the animal kingdom are divided into two broad groups: protostomes and deuterostomes.  Most invertebrate phyla are protostomes, while deuterstome phyla consist of lophophorates, echinoderms, and chordates.  Thus, echinoderms are the phylum most closely related to our own.

Starfish are predators that often prey upon shelled animals, using their suckered tube feet to pry open shells and then extend its stomach into the gape to digest the victim within its own shell.  This video shows the process.  That's pretty cool, but the coolest thing about echinoderms is their water vascular system, and it was this that thrilled me in the course of my first starfish dissection.  The water vascular system serves as a hydrostatic skeleton allowing the starfish to move, control its arms, and coordinate its tube feet.


Water is drawn through a valve called a madreporite on the dorsal surface into a tube called a stone canal that leads to the ring canal.  Five radial canals extend from the ring canal into each of the starfish's arms, and the tube feet extend from the radial canal.  Regulating water pressure within the water vascular system allows a fairly complex, sophisticated, and fully coordinated system of movement.

The starfish crawls along the sea floor on its tube feet, which are all capable of moving independently.  While no one would ever call a starfish a speed-demon, Pycnopodia is able to crawl at a rate of over one metre per minute. 

The tube feet are suckered and attach like suction cups, making it very difficult to pry the starfish off a rock once it is attached.  These suction cups also provide a tenacious grip on prey animals.  The following schematic drawing illustrates how the water vascular system works:

This is such an amazingly simple and elegant system that, even now, it amazes me.

I intend to discuss other echinoderm groups in future Weird Wonder posts, and trust me, they get even weirder. 

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Literacy in the Multi-Media Age

A recent post by Cyclopeatron on the decline of the professional novelist has reflected many of my thoughts and fears about our changing society, which have been growing steadily over the past few years, and it has prompted me to discuss how electronic media may change, forever, the way that we read and even think. For centuries, books have been the traditional source of knowledge throughout the world, but they are being supplanted by multi-media sources and this process has occurred over a shockingly short period of time.

One of the most grievous changes, for me, is the demise of the independent book seller.  I've been an avid bookstore patron my whole life, and as recently as ten years ago these stores were still abundant.  My wife and I used to spend entire Saturday afternoons 'bookstore-hopping,' visiting the many independent bookstores around town, and I've spent many happy hours browsing the aisles of my favourite stores, each one catering to a slightly different specialty: we had stores that catered to children's books, to science and nature, and even general, non-specialized bookstores each had a slightly different focus that made them special.  They are gone now.  Every single one.  Replaced by the monolithic super-bookstores, namely Chapters and McNally Robinson, and even these giants have a tough go in the current market.  Chapters and McNally's branches having been closing steadily in Winnipeg until now there are just a couple left in a city of approximately 800,000 people.  I now have to drive at least for at least half an hour to get to one the few remaining bookstores in town and it's seldom worth the trip.  The stores are crowded and the variety of books is extremely limited - and it is this last that is so potentially damaging to the future of the publishing industry.

Because big, generic chains only stock the books most likely to sell quickly, publishers of niche books are less likely to find a retail outlet to carry their publications, and thus we are seeing a homogenization of literature; a growing culture of the 'bestseller.'  Obviously this is a bad thing for the diversity of thought and creative expression.

What about the internet?  While it is the greatest avenue for free expression in the history of humanity, and I'm a great fan of its potential, the very fact that anyone can effortlessly express their opinions is both a blessing and a curse.  As dissemination of information is increasingly co-opted by the internet there is far less rigour in weeding out the bullshit.  In a way, the internet is a cesspool of intellectual effluent - there's lots of great ideas out there, but its often difficult to distinguish them when they're floating in crap.  And, yes, I do appreciate the irony of the medium I am using to publish this essay and the parallels that will inevitably be drawn.

This is not to say that everything in print is reliable - far from it - one needs to read books just as critically as information on the net, but the fact that someone has to take the trouble to write something publishable and then convince someone to actually publish it cuts out a lot of the garbage because of the effort involved.  More to the point, though, I don't think people are as likely to read information on the internet critically.  We've become so accustomed to having instant access to information that few people question it or evaluate the source.  Case in point, a few months back, on the Troll Lord forums I took the trouble to clear up some misconceptions that people had about the word 'theory' and was told that I was an idiot who didn't know what I was talking about, evidence for which was a website that supported the poster's incorrect usage of the word.  So, fourteen years of post-secondary education followed by many years as a research scientist and instructor in this very topic was trumped by the uniformed opinion of someone who created a website.

One of the greatest benefits of modern media - instant access to information - is also its greatest weakness.  And here I, finally, get to the point of this post.  As a society we are bombarded with 'information-lite' factoids and sound bites.  The news media is especially guilty of this, but we have become such instant info junkies that we are perpetually 'connected' via wireless devices for immediate access to information at any time.  Not only has this decreased our credulity, but most people don't even take the time to properly read what they are seeing, nor to express themselves fully or coherently in their writing.  I predict that this will have a profound effect on the reading comprehension of future generations and their ability to express themselves.

Not only is the pace of information flow killing our literacy, but I believe that the very nature of the electronic medium is also a contributing factor.  More and more, people are reading electronic documents instead of hard copy and Kindles are becoming increasingly popular for reading e-books and digital media.  Even within the role playing game industry, products in PDF format are becoming increasingly common.  Now, how many people are able to read digital media with a high degree of comprehension?  In my profession I write, edit and review scientific papers on a frequent basis.  I perform several peer reviews per month for journals and I absolutely cannot attain the same level of comprehension reading a PDF as with hard copy.  When I write a manuscript, even after having read it on the screen many times, as soon as I print off a hard copy, mistakes immediately leap off the page that I had never seen before.  I'm sure that I'm not the only person that has a hard time reading electronic documents.

So people in contemporary society are being hit by a double whammy in our rapidly changing literary culture: the pace of information flow, which is so fast that few people take the time to properly read things anymore, coupled with the difficulty our brains seem to have in processing information in digital format.

I fear that the pervasive influence of digital media not only affects our reading comprehension, but also the way we think, and organize and articulate those thoughts.  Children who grow up in a digital environment, permanently bonded to their cell-phones at an early age, may find that their brains develop in a completely different way than those of older generations, and they may find that they process information in a completely different manner.  I've noticed the effect that text-messaging has had on the younger generation; they use text-speak even when they aren't texting.  Text-speak is, in my opinion, the height of intellectual laziness and there is absolutely no excuse for using it when not text-messaging.  I suspect that if you fall into that sort of laziness at an early age you will never break free of it, and never be able to express thoughts in a sophisticated and articulate manner.

Consider this, then, the eulogy for my way of life.  Books aren't just an information medium, they embody a sense of permanence that no pixels on a screen can ever match; you will never be able to caress the leather binding of your PDF files, nor smell the pages of a Kindle.  Books are my life, and I fear that they are on their way to extinction.

This has been an unusual post for a game blog, but I felt that it was relevant because most gamers, particularly those of the old school breed, are bibliophiles as well.  We came into gaming through our love of books, and many old school blogs devote a great deal of time discussing the pulp fantasy roots of our hobby.  But games, too, are succumbing to the digital age.  I need only nod to 4E to make this point.  This is a game that WotC has deliberately designed to capitalize upon digital media.  The rules are set up to become an online game, and their D&D Insider subscription promised access to a digital game table to play D&D online.  I foresee a future where sitting around a game table with friends, rolling polyhedral dice, admiring beautiful, hand-painted miniatures, and smudging nacho cheese on our character sheets will be a quaint oddity of a bygone age.  I sincerely hope, though, that I don't live to see it.

Friday, July 16, 2010

More Monky Business

As I mentioned in a recent post, I've been struggling, of late, with the Monk class.  I want to include the class and I want to capture its spirit as described in the Blackmoor supplement, but I want it to fit in with the other, fairly parsimonious, classes of Swords & Wizardry.  This is where the Blackmoor monk failed, in my opinion.  Reading it over, it feels shoe-horned into D&D in a 'one of these things is not like the others' sort of way.

I decided that what I needed to do was pare away all the extraneous abilities and focus on just a few fundamental abilities that capture the essence of the Monk without bogging it down in a morass of tacked-on rules and way too many class features.  The trick is deciding what, exactly those essential features are and how to achieve them.  While mulling it over, I've been playing Diablo for the first time in about ten years, with the Hellfire expansion installed, which allows one to play a Monk character.  So I've been happily working through the multi-level mega dungeon, whacking monsters with my staff and immersing myself in a Monkish mindset.  I've even gone so far as to listen to my favourite British punk band:

The Monks were a fairly obscure band that never really took off, except in Canada where, for some reason, they were fairly popular and when I was in high school I played this album so often, and loudly, that I'm surprised it didn't drive my parents insane.  It's the sort of music that I would find absolutely intolerable as a parent, today.  But, I digress.

The biggest issue I needed to tackle was to bring the Monk's open hand attacks more in line with other classes.  As originally presented in Blackmoor, by 16th level, the Monk was making 4 attacks per round dealing 4-40 points of damage each!  In S&W, only the Fighter gets more than one attack per round, and even then, only against creatures of 1 HD or less, and weapon damage is capped at 1d6.  Power levels are low and I'd like to keep it that way, but I still want open hand attacks to improve in effectiveness as the Monk levels.  I use a house rule for two-handed weapon damage that I stole from Philotomy's OD&D Musings; roll 2d6 and pick the highest die roll.  This might work well for increasing open hand damage at higher levels; simply increase the number of dice rolled, allowing the player to take the highest score.  Likewise, I allow any character to dual-wield weapons, allowing them to make a single melee attack at +1 to hit (another house rule shamelessly stolen from Philotomy), and since it can be assumed that the Monk will be making unarmed attacks with hands, feet, knees, elbows, etc. they would always be assumed to be dual-wielding and will, therefore, always receive the +1 bonus to hit with open hand attacks.

I've eliminated thief abilities (the Blackmoor Monk was a better thief than the Thief), and the ability to speak with plants and animals.  I've also rolled all the various immunities to mind-controlling effects, like Geas/Quest spells into a +2 bonus to save against all mind-control effects.

So, here is what I've come up with:

The Monk Class


Level

XP

HD

Title
1

0

1

Novice
2

2,250

2

Initiate
3

4,500

3

Brother
4

9,000

3+1

Disciple
5
18,000

4

Immaculate
6

36,000

5

Master
7

72,000

6

Master of Dragons
8

144,000

6+1

Master of North Wind
9

288,000

7

Master of West Wind
10

576,000

8

Master of South Wind
11

250,000 per level
+1 hp per level

Master of East Wind
12


Master of Winter
13


Master of Autumn
14


Master of Summer
15


Master of Spring
16


Grandmaster of Flowers

Table 9: Monk Ability Table
Level

Armour Class

Move

Open Hand Damage*
Special Abilities
1

9

12”

1d6
Deflect Missiles
2

8

13”

1d6

3

8

14”

1d6

4

7

15”

1d6

5
7

16”

2d6
Feign Death; Slow Fall I
6

6

17”

2d6

7

6

18”

2d6
Heal Self
8

5

19”

2d6
Slow Fall II
9

5

20”

2d6

10

4

22”

3d6

11

4
24”

3d6
Slow Fall III
12
3
26”
3d6

13
3
28”
3d6
Quivering Palm
14
2
30”
3d6

15
1
32”
3d6

16
0
34”
3D6

* When rolling two or three dice for damage only the highest single die roll is kept; the dice totals are not added together.

Monk Abilities

Weapon/Armour Restrictions: Monks may use any weapon, but may not wear armour or carry a shield.

Vow of Poverty: A Monk may never own more than 5 magic items, and may only keep enough treasure to support himself and his followers.  All excess treasure must be donated to a church, monastery, or charitable cause.  Other player characters are not charitable causes.

Saving Throw: Monks gain a +2 bonus to save against any effect that targets the mind.

Open Hand Attacks: When fighting unarmed, any ‘to hit’ roll that succeeds by 5 or more will stun the opponent for 1d6 rounds unless they make a successful Constitution save.  When fighting unarmed, the Monk may decide whether to deal normal or subdual damage.

Deflect Missiles: The Monk may deflect any non-magical thrown or missile attacks with a successful Dexterity save.

Feign Death: Beginning at 5th level the Monk may slow his heart rate and breathing to such an extent that he appears to be dead.  He can maintain this state for a number of turns equal to 1d6 x level.

Slow Fall: Beginning at 5th level, Monks may slow their fall if within a certain distance of a vertical surface.  Slow Fall I – Monks may fall 20’ if within 2’ of a vertical surface.  Slow Fall II – Monks may fall 40’ if within 4’ of a vertical surface.  Slow Fall III – Monks may fall any distance if within 6’ of a vertical surface.

Heal Self: Once per day beginning at 7th level, a Monk may heal 1d6+1 points of damage he has sustained.  For each level above 7th, the Monk adds +1 to the amount of damage healed.

Quivering Palm: Beginning at 13th level, the Monk learns the terrible Quivering Palm technique, which can be used once per week.  If the Monk makes a successful unarmed attack upon an opponent with equal or fewer hit dice than the Monk, he may set up vibrations in the body of the victim, which he can stop at any time up to 1 day per level of the Monk, causing death.  If the time limit expires without the death command having been given, the effect wears off, causing no damage.  This technique has no effect on undead or creatures that can be hit only by magical weaponry.

Experience Bonus for Wisdom: Monks with an above average Wisdom score receive a 5% experience point bonus.