Posts Tagged ‘not really OSR’

3 variations on a Monster-in-your Pocket Trainer for LL/BX

March 4, 2013 5 comments

Be warned: long. 1 is a magic item. 2 is a character class (more or less). 3 is… me going off the deep end and kinda writing a spell that demands 17 new character classes.  Ay yi yi yi yi.

1. Bilbil’s Ravenous Phylactery (magic item)

A small handheld magic item that can appear as almost anything but most often takes the form of a clay pot or a bicoloured orb. The holder can use it to capture any non-human through a contested roll between the holder’s CHA vs the monster’s WIS or, in cases where that can’t be determined, its HD+10.  Any attack or other action the capturer undertakes on the monster increases the monster’s save chance by 1, except for SLEEP, CHARM or HYPNOTIZE, which each decrease the monster’s save by 2. If captured the monster goes into the Phylactery. It can be called forth once per game session, and may remain with the caster as a henchman until dismissed. If it fails a morale save or takes more than half its HP in damage, it retreats to the ball. Next session when it can come out again its HP will be healed, but no other status effects will be changed.

Whoever holds the phylactery may command the creature within.

Once a phylactery is filled it cannot be reused for another monster, even if the first one is killed.

2. A monster trainer class, such as Mike F requested lo these many moons ago.

The Monster Trainer is subject to an absolute taboo on violence except through the medium of trained monsters. No armour, nor weapons may be carried – so that the trainer may appear as non-threatening as possible.
Saves are at +4 (like a halfling). Prime attribute is CHA.
Hit points: at first level roll 3d6. Each level thereafter roll d6: an odd result grants +1 HP, and even result adds nothing. Advancing to 2nd level costs 500xp, doubling per level thereafter (but see below regarding monster level advancement). In addition at least 1 monster must be bound each level in order for the trainer to advance to the next level.

Monster trainers interact with the world primarily through monsters they bind to themselves. Binding a monster involves catching it in a specially prepared receptacle: this action takes one combat round, during which the trainer can take no other actions. Receptacles must be prepared ahead of time, and may be made by any trainer at a cost of 10gp. Every attempt to bind a monster uses up a new receptacle. The trainer must be within strike distance of the monster and the monster must be aware of them.

The trainer may keep no more than 4 + CHA bonus monsters with them – they may store more in a specially prepared storage facility. Attempts to exceed this total will result in a simple failure to catch/bind further monsters. If a trainer is loaded with too many monsters then interference among the receptacles will result in the excess +1d4 monsters slipping their bindings.

The act of binding is a contested roll between the trainer and monster – the trainer must roll higher than the monster on a d20 to succeed in binding. This roll is modified by:

  • the trainer’s CHA bonus (13-15 = +1, 16-17 = +2, 18= +3)
  • the difference in level/HD between trainer and monster
  • the monster’s current HP: if the monster is on full HP, it gets +3 to the roll. If on half or less, +2, if on 10% or less, no bonus.
  • Any special modifier the DM imposes based on the specific characteristics of the monster – intelligent monsters may get a bonus, or rare ones, or dragons…

Bound monsters are considered “charmed;” they treat the trainer as an ally and follow their instructions, and they will fight for the trainer until half their HP are used up, at which point they retreat to the receptacle and must be healed. Healing can be done by simple rest (heals 20% of HP per day) or by a healing machine (costs 5000gp to make, may be made by trainers of 5th level or above, weighs 400lbs). Each time a monster is forced back to the receptacle through damage it gets a chance to save vs charm. It takes 3 consecutive saves vs charm for the monster to break entirely free of the trainer. With one or two saves the monster can resist the trainer’s commands but cannot do anything actively against the trainer or hurt them.

The trainer may donate xp to their bound monsters to level them up. The leveling table used should depend on the monster in question – a gnoll or other goblinoid might advance on the Cleric table, a dragon on the elf table. Level limits… you decide. The point being here that a trainer with a varied portfolio of monsters is likely to be able to do all sorts of stuff, but they’ll also have to split their xp in many different directions.

3. Find A Strangely Familiar Familiar (1st level MU/Spirit Trainer spell)


The caster may enchant a phylactery at a cost of 200gp/level of the familiar to be summoned. Once a creature has been summoned it must be bound into the phylactery: the caster rolls against their CHA while the monster rolls against its WIS or, in cases where that can’t be determined, its HD+10: the one who succeeds by the greater margin wins. Only one creature may be so bound per level – ie. the caster must level up before they can bind a second creature into another phylactery. If the creature is not bound the phylactery is wasted – but the chance to bind a creature is not, and as long as a summoned creature is not reduced to 0 HP and/or does not flee, the caster may attempt to bind it multiple times, as long as they have phylacteries to use. A new phylactery may be enchanted by paying the cost again and assembling new ingredients.

The HD of the creature summoned may not exceed the caster’s level -1. Summoned, bound creatures (hereafter “pocket-familiars”) may share in xp and level up, using the Fighter table. Pocket-familiars may roam around with the caster or be stored in their phylacteries at will. They heal at the same rate as any PC, whether in or out of their phylactery. The morale of a pocket familiar depends on its caster’s treatment of it: each time it wins a fight it gets +1 to morale, each time it is reduced to 0 HP it gets -3 morale. If a pocket familiar has negative morale, its caster/binder must save vs CHA each time it is deployed in order to command it.

The creature summoned may be determined by rolling on the following table. This roll may be influenced by the kind of ENVIRONMENT in which the summoning takes place (either roll d20 for totally random summoning or d6/d8 on one of the subtables contained within it). All pocket familiars have 3d6 in order for stats. The rest of their stats are below: fight and save as the character class noted [in brackets]. Hit die type comes next, then AC, size/weight in {curly brackets}, natural attack (some pocket-familiars might be able to wear armour or carry weapons: DM’s prerogative), special attacks (each special attack may be used once only per session), the level at which they mutate/develop into another form, that form’s special attacks, and any other special comment. Special attacks are learned one per level.


1. OOPS: the caster is dragged into the phylactery and can subsequently be called forth or dismissed by whoever holds it. The caster cannot touch the phylactery with their bare skin – if they do, they get sucked into it immediately. Equipment is not taken into the phylactery: the caster is naked in there. Although they do keep cyborg implants etc
2. DARK: SABLEYE [thief] HD: d6. AC 5. {size:halfling} Natural attack: 1d6 Shadow sneak (one melee attack from up to level x 10′ away, automatically wins initiative), Knock off (removes an item from opponent), blind (for 1d10 turns), foul play (uses opponent’s special attack against them)
3. GHOST: GASTLY [mu] HD: d4. AC 7. +1 initiative. {size:halfling} Natural attack: 1d4. Each consecutive increases the die one size (d6, d8, d10…)  Confuse (save or be at -3 for d6 rounds), sucker punch (melee attack automatically wins initiative). At level 4 becomes HAUNTER: {size:human} Natural attack: 1d8 (and increase as before). Curse (Haunter reduced to 0hp/returns to ball, target has to save each round for next 8 rounds or lose 20% of their HP that round). Changes to Gengar at level 8. {size:halfling} Natural attack: 1d8 + increase. Shadow punch (Gengar disappears for one round, then melee strikes the next round without chance for retaliation except from targets that can hit ethereal beings. May reappear up to 30’ away).
4. PSYCHIC: MUNNA [mu] d6. AC 9. {size:cat} Natural attack: 1d4. Each consecutive increases the die one size (d6, d8, d10…) Sleep, psybeam (target forgets what they were doing, reroll reaction). At level 4 changes to Musharna, {size:halfling} Natural attack: 1d8 + increase.  Nightmare (save vs paralysis for a sleeping target: lasts until Musharna revokes it), dream eater (reduces sleeping target to 1d6 HP)
5. BUG: SHEDINJA [cleric] 1 hp only. Ever. AC 6. {size:cat} Natural attack: 1d4 + save vs poison or extra 1d4. Totally immune to fire, magic, ice, poisons, electricity. Sand attack (target gets -2 to hit for 2d6 rounds), confuse (save or be at -3 for d6 rounds), heal block, bug buzz (target deaf, takes 1d3 x Shedinja’s level in damage)
6. ICE: SNEASEL [fighter] d6. AC 4 {size:halfling} +2 initiative. Natural attack: 1d8. Quick attack (always wins init), faint attack (as melee attack but guaranteed not to reduce target below 1hp). Changes to Weavile at level 7 {size:human} Natural attack: 1d12. Ice shard (save or freeze + 2d12 damage), night slash (d4 x level damage)


7/1. FIRE: CHARMANDER . [fighter] d8. AC 6. {size:halfling} Natural attack: 1d8 + save or flammable stuff catches fire. Ember (1d6 damage, save each round for a number of rounds equal to Charmander’s level or take another d6). Changes to Charmeleon at level 3. {size:human} Natural attack: 1d10. Fire fang (as ember but does 3d6 damage on first attack). Changes to Charizard at level 7 {size:horse} Natural attack: 2d8. Inferno (fireball), Wing Attack (melee attack delivered from up to 50′ away)
8/2. FLYING: STARLY [fighter] d8. AC 5. {size:cat} Natural attack: 1d4. Aerial ace (one attack guaranteed to hit), changes to Staravia {size:human} at level 3. Natural attack: 1d12. Brave bird (5d6 damage, Staravia also takes 1d10 damage) Changes to Staraptor {size:elephant} at level 7. Natural attack: 1d20 .Fly (Staraptor can fly and carry up to 2 human-sized passengers), Endeavour (target must save or have their HP adjusted to equal Staraptor’s HP).
9/3. GRASS: TREECKO D6, AC 5. {size:halfling} +1 initiative. Natural attack: 1d8. Quick attack (automatic win initiative). Changes to Grovyle {size:halfling} at level 5. Natural attack: 1d12. +2 initiative. Mega drain (2d8 damage, half of which is given to Grovyle in healing), Changes to Sceptile {size:human} at level 8. Natural attack: 2d8. Giga drain (2d12 +2 damage, half of which heals Sceptile), Razor leaf (3d8 damage, never misses).
10/4. GLITCH: instead of a creature you bind a spell, which is randomly chosen and takes effect whenever you open the phylactery (once per session only). The spell is any MU, druid, illusionist or cleric spell your level would entitle you to cast if you were the right class.
11/5. WATER: MAGIKARP. [mu but no fighting at all] d12. AC 10. {size:halfling}. No natural attack. At level 6 becomes Gyarados [fighter, levels as an elf but no level limit] d12+2. AC 3 {size:elephant}. Natural attack: 3d6, +3 to hit and damage. May carry up to 2 human-sized passengers across water, tirelessly and indefinitely. Ice fang (double damage, save or be frozen for d6 rounds), surf (d20 damage to all present except Gyarados and caster, location flooded), iron tail (3d6 damage and target must save or be stunned and lose next attack), dragon dance (no attack this round but get +1 to hit and damage for rest of combat. May be done as many times as Gyarados’ current level).
12/6. GROUND: GIBLE [fighter] d10. AC 5{size:human}. Natural attack: 1d10. Sand attack (target gets -1 to hit. May be repeated as many times as Gible’s level), Sand tomb (save or take1d6 damage every round for 5 rounds). Changes to Gabite at level 6. AC 4 {size:horse}. Natural attack: 1d10. Earthquake (all present take 3d6 damage except Gabite and anyone mounted on it – only levitating/flying creatures may act for the rest of the combat round). Changes to Garchomp {size:great white shark} at level 11. AC 3. Natural attack: 2d8. Dig (may carry up to 2 human passengers through level x 10’ of solid earth/rock as passwall)


13/1. POISON: GRIMER  [thief] HD: d8. AC 9 {size:human}. Natural attack: 1d6. Poison (save or take d4 damage the first round. Save again the next round or take d6 damage… continues to increase until a save is made), mud shot (target gets -2 to hit for 3 rounds). Changes to Muk {size:elephant} at 5th level. Natural attack: 1d10. Sludge bomb (2d8 damage + effects of poison), acid armour (if hit in melee, assailant takes damage equal to that taken by Muk).
14/2. STEEL: BRONZOR [cleric] d10. AC 4 {size:hand mirror}.Natural attack: 1d6.  -1 initiative. Immune to poisons. Metal Sound (deafens target, save each round or be incapable of action that round for d6 rounds), iron defense (lower AC by 1, may be repeated d4 times). Changes to Bronzong {size:phone box} at level 6. AC 1. Natural attack: 1d10. Mirror Shot (attacker’s attack rebounds on them, sve or be blinded for d4 rounds), Heavy Slam (2d20 damage, Bronzong must save vs spells or attack random targets for the next 3 turns).
15/3. ROCK: CRANIDOS [fighter] d6. AC 4{size:horse}. Natural attack: 1d12. Rock polish (+1 initiative. May be used d4 times), Zen Headbutt (target must save or – d4: sleep, berserk, be charmed, be stunned ie. lose next action). Changes to Rampardos {size:Allosaurus} at level 7. AC 2. Natural attack: 2d10. Head Smash (3d12 damage and target knocked back an equal number of feet) Fissure (ground opens to swallow one target. Target saves vs spells or is dropped 60’ into the ground which closes over them the next round)
16/4. DRAGON: BAGON [cleric] d10. AC 8 {size:halfling}. Natural attack: 1d4. vulnerable to ice. Dragon rage (does 10+level damage). Changes to Shelgon {size:human} at level 5. AC 4. Natural attack: 1d8. Hoard (provides a useful item from Shelgon’s shell, like a cartoon character’s hammerspace pocket). Changes to Rayquaza (surprise!) at level 11. AC 1 {flying snale 100’ long}. Natural attack: 3d6. Draco Meteor (2d20 damage to all present except Rayquaza and those in physical contact with it. Reduced to 1d10 underground but also causes cave-in of a random neighboring square/hex). Teleport/Gate (may transport up to 20 human-size characters but for each passenger roll once on the Hilarious Teleport Mishaps table (TBD by Jason Sholtis))
17/5. NORMAL: SOLOSIS (yes I know it’s a psychic shut up) [MU] d6. AC 7 {size:cat}. Natural attack: 1d4. Can squeeze through surprisingly narrow gaps like an octopus. Jelly shot (save or be blinded for d4 rounds), lick (as Cure Light Wounds but also causes confusion for d6 turns, will not recognise friends or foes, at -3 to all actions, on a failure does the opposite of what they intended). Changes to Duosion at level 5 {size:halfling}. Natural attack: 1d6. Absorb (save vs paralysis, absorbs stuff as Gelatinous Cube but does not dissolve things absorbed: instead absorbed creatures are kept in state of suspended animation until freed) Changes to Reuniclus at level 9{size:horse}. Natural attack: 1d8. Splatter (cone effect. Save or be blinded, deafened, glued in place with STR 20 glue and intoxicated ie -1to  all actions per round, accumulating, for d8 rounds)
18/6. ELECTRIC: MAREEP (cannot touch the ground: levitates above it) [cleric] d6. AC 7 {size:halfling}. Natural attack: 1d6 (electric). Shocking grasp (or touch, really). Electromagnet (attracts all ferrous objects within 10’ w STR = levelx4 attraction. STR of attraction is doubled for physical contact, halved up to 20’ from Mareep). Flaaffy {size:human} (cannot touch the ground: must be carried). Natural attack: 1d6. Lightning (d3 x level damage). Ampharos (can touch the ground). Natural attack: 2d8 Call lightning (all present must save or be hit by Lightning each round for the next d3 rounds, except those touching Ampharos {size:human}, who take automatic d8/round in contact. Shelter is possible inside a Faraday cage)
19/7. FIGHT: MANKEY [fighter (duh)] d8. AC 7 {size:human}. Natural attack 1d8. protection from evil. 2 attacks per round from level 2. Changes to Vigoroth (surprise!) at level 5 {size:gorilla}. d12. Natural attack 1d12. Immune to sleep, confusion. Focus punch (must go last, cannot be hit during round: if these conditions are met, can cause level x d12 damage), Counter (inflicts double the damage received this round by Vigoroth). Changes to Kong (double surprise!!) at level 9 {size:orca}. d20. Natural attack 1d20. Reversal (does damage equal to the difference between Kong’s current HP and maximum HP x2).


Here, have 750 new monsters: Pokemon/DnD conversions

June 25, 2012 3 comments

+Ian Johnson got me thinking about doing a conversion of Pokemon to DnD – after all, we know the stats for the entire Pokemon bestiary (that’s Pokedex to afficionados), and it’s a leveled game, so it shouldn’t be hard.

…and it turns out a couple of conversions already exist, but they’re (a) for later editions of DnD (I’m thinking LL here) and (b) IMHO overpowered (15HD for Venusaur? My games usually don’t go above about 6th level). So I may yet make an OSR rendition (if there’s interest). Here are the complex versions, to help you put some Zapdos in your Wilderlands:

1. a complete D20 (3.5) sourcebook, allowing for Pokemon and non-Pokemon “summoners,” by the Trollmans – their site provides the skinny without downloads.

2. a far from complete site doing critter-by-critter conversions and pokeballs as magic items.

3. a few stat blocks, looks closer to my desired power level (Pikachu gets basically 3 HD)

And my simple conversion? As a very rough first approximation, I’d say:

All Pokemon can level up. 5 Pokemon levels = 1 LL level, and Bulbapedia gives the data on when certain Pokemon become available (evolve) – so for instance my favourite crabman, Kabutops, starts at 8HD.

The basic attributes of pokemon – attack/special attack, defense/special defense, and HP are convertible to attack dice, AC  and the die used for hit dice. I would approximate the stats given to 5 gradations for attack and hit dice, ranging from d4 for each, for the bottom 20% up to d12 for the top 20% of Pokemon stats, with d8 being average both for attack and HD. AC would also be graded on a line, with 5 being average, the highest 10% defense scores being AC1 and the lowest 10% being AC 9. Speed is a straight bonus/penalty on d6, from -2 to +2.

Then there’s stuff to be done with types and the type effectiveness chart, but right now supper’s burning. More later…

Dust, Westerns and kreplach

May 17, 2012 2 comments

I don’t like Westerns.*

OK, that’s not quite true (put down those carbines, Cole Long and Ken Hite) – it’s really just the cliches of Westerns I don’t like.

Oh, really? You don’t like cliches? Well, actually it’s the cliche ecology of Westerns I don’t like. I love me some steely-eyed preachers if they show up in the ghost-haunted Philippines or Interzone; I’m OK with vodou-loa-busting gunslingers. I can even bear a posse if it consists of Makassarese pirates and spirit mediums. Shift the basically-Western narrative to Barsoom and I’m delighted. But the Western has worn such a deep groove through its own ingredients that my eyes just glaze over if a new sheriff rides into town and a posse rides out and a steely-eyed preacher spits baccy juice before delivering some tough-guy homily.

But there is a thing the Western brings that I do like. That I would like to see in some games out here in the DnD-circling multiverse. For me, the take-home message of the Western** is:

it’s up to you to make the world better.

And the Western is peculiarly well-pointed to deliver this message: everyone (that matters) in the Western has the same upbringing, which features a hefty dose of scriptural Right and Wrong – so everyone knows what they should be doing, but the defining feature of the Wild West is that the Law is weak so, shorn of the steel embrace of society’s strictures, we get to see whether people will deal with each other in a way that makes everyone’s life better or worse (and it’s usually worse).

The default case with DnD is essentially the same minus the assumed moral background, which is replaced with a hard-wired, zero-sum acquisition = destiny leveling up mechanic, which promises More and Bigger game and in-game status only and always at the expense of other characters in the world.*** So it becomes mighty surprising if anybody ever decides to do anything to improve anyone else’s lot.

This morning Jason Kielbasa said he’s concluded that his new game, Dust (mythical 1930s American great depression game) should be a game about carving out areas of optimism in a world of depression.

I would play that game. It’s the good part of the Western, just slightly divorced from the Western! Even better, if the Depression is a brief hiatus in the building of the great Foucauldian socio-legal machine, it represents a narrow window where you could try to carve out your safe haven in the wilderness, against the BBEGs of hunger and banditry and gubmint and the nascent interfering Feds and the bootleggers and the preventive-men and the cops and the robbers and the cowboys and the indians – you could try to build a better way – and then try to defend it in all the conceivable ways such different utopias would be attacked, by the resettling of the Leviathan on the land through the second half of the 30s.****

I’d even play a paladin in that setting, because as a paladin you’d actually have something to do beside enact violence on competing philosophies. You could do some good.

* obviously this doesn’t apply to High Plains Drifter.
** Messrs Hite and Tynes will tell you that one of the dominant themes of the Western is the Way of the Gun: one does not wish to pick up the tool of death because in doing so one relinquishes one’s civilisation, but somebody has to do it, and forever after they are tainted by it – civilisation must be defended but it cannot encompass those who must be so uncivilised as to do what is needed to defend it. That’s cool too, but it doesn’t help to shift a game that’s already about murderhobos away from the murderhoboing into any other activity.
*** hence the term “monster,” which means “unperson from which you may take without tarnishing your Lawful Good crown,” and hence also the boundary-probing orc babies encounter in Keep on the Borderlands, which seems designed to test how far you’re willing to buy into the implicit moral framework of the game. Carcosa of course makes hay with – and derives much of its power from – this categorizing game, by allowing PCs to be explicitly as monstrous as anything else while, with its 13 colours of men, making the lines between “human” and “humanoid” less certain.
**** look I’m just going to assume you know what I mean by all this Foucauldian/Leviathan stuff, OK? Otherwise I’ll have to post a syllabus on the end of this, and that will spoil the whole joke. The kreplach thing is a Pynchon reference, which I’m not going to explain further here.

Bonus reward for reading this far: this is what Carcosa Wacky Races looks like 200 years after the original race, after a massive influx of funding and materiel from all over the flailsnails multiverse has turned Carcosa into a Las Vegas tourist trap/paradise version of its former self, and its electroradiant hellscape has been declared a UNESCO multiversal treasure. The pilots of these sleek, polished rocketshells like to wax nostalgic about the old Burning Man spirit of the early races. Somehow, they say, the old adventure has gone out of the event.

Where in the world is Carcosa?

January 30, 2012 4 comments

Flailsnailing around the multiverse with Skeree the Bonewoman this past week has taught me a whole lot about Carcosa. Which is a good thing, because neither Geoffrey McKinney nor Jeff Rients (whose chargen document she’s made out of) told me much about the culture, society or worldview of your average Carcosan. So Skeree’s been defining all that on the fly, to give her a basis for her actions, attitudes and potential skills and to help her avoid being just a walking axe, trailing around after the other PCs with no motivation of her own.

So I’ve learned she can track and survive in the wilderness and she’s heard about the cats of Ulthar and all sorts of other unexpected stuff.* And a funny thing’s been happening – as she tries stuff out and gets flashes of insight about, say, how medieval Europe is like/unlike her blasted post-cthulhupocaplyptic home, she makes the worlds she passes through a bit more Carcosan, as DMs pick up the cues. Who knew a 15th century Roman cat sorcerer would speak Debased Yuggothic? Well, now we do, and it’s because Skeree cursed his feline army and they understood her.

Skeree – and Roger Burgess’ Zharillia – have also been telling me about what the point of a Carcosa game is. Because I’m convinced that, like CoC and rather less like DnD, it has one, or at least a strong theme – based around the sorcerers and their predations. And I think I’ve found a historical analogue for it, which can fill in the blanks like Dickensian London fills in the blanks of GURPS Goblins.

Carcosa is the West African hinterland – Niger – during the Atlantic slave trade.

The sorcerers, enemies of all mankind, traders with agents utterly inhuman and malign, are slave dealers. They cause despair and suffering for all. And yet people still bring them sacrificial victims, betraying their neighbours for the promise of a little temporary security, despising all but their own little enclave because that makes it easier to sell everyone else out. The different colours of men of course reflect different tribal identities, and they make a nice, solid basis for distrust, so that cutting the Flash Gordonian knot – convincing them all to work together against their common enemy – becomes a fitting challenge for a good, long campaign.**

So. If we pursue that thought – and if we posit some Cthulhuvian uses for Carcosan victims other than as sacrifice fuel – then Carcosa should be plumbed back into the Mythos network and there ought to be (unpronounceable) colonies somewhere out there where our unfortunates wind up. And there ought to be runaway settlements – maroons, not unlike Carcosa itself, which offer some temporary sanctuary, below the radar of the Inhuman Master System, and maybe even underground railroads, if anyone will help a poor half-monsterfied bone brother out.

And suddenly I’m thinking I really should dust off all those books about the Haitian Revolution – which is, after all, the great granddaddy of most of our horror tropes – possibly the very Matter of Horror as we understand it; the spectre of our white colonialism falling down before a black Spartacus revolt, combined with the spectre of the rational project failing before the Chaotic Hydra. Zombies? Madness in the face of disorder? Cannibalism and were-creatures and voodoo and amok possession and the killing jungle and hearts of darkness? It all starts in Haiti.

So if I do run a Carcosan-themed game it’ll be mashed up with Barsoom – if only because ERB’s yellow and blue men are too good to pass up – and it’ll owe as much to De Laurentian Flash and Bollywood as to Lovecraft and McKinney. But most of all it’ll be a Haitian slavery and revolt game – maybe in glittery drag – and it’ll lead to harder questions about trust and despotism and violence than Flash or John Carter ever have to face.

* EG: Carcosa has no money – all transactions are barter, and there are no fixed exchange rates. Precious metals are unknown – there is jewelry, but it’s valued purely on appearance: nobody cares if it’s real gold or not. You test magic and batteries with your tongue. Trophies taken from your enemies are vital for establishing your credentials – and therefore leveling up…

** even without the complexity hinted at above, the optimistic We Are All One Flashian campaign can keep getting revived as new sorcerers – or even texts or artifacts – can bring the old disease of division right back again.

on reverse-engineering subculture into product

January 23, 2012 2 comments

My thoughts are a little addled after belatedly reading Jeff Rients’ long and strange journey through the gother-than-goth* novelization/RPG hybrid Wraeththu. Please bear with me while I try to give voice to the terrible idea that is even now taking shape in my mind.

The relevant pullquote is: you play posthuman glitterboi hermaphrodites with psychic powers. Which could be kinda David Bowie in The Hunger but the longer quotes from the published flavourtext make it sound both more earnest and more absurd: spurning the society that had bred them, rebelling totally, haunting the towns with their gaunt and drug-poisoned bodies… The Wraeththu hated mankind. They were different; on the inside and on the outside.

That reminds me of how much I hate White Wolf’s assumption that, even if you yourself aren’t a mopey post-punk, your characters must be, because they’re Whatever-Supernatural-Thing-We-Just-Reinvented-So-Now-It’s-Current-And-Edgy.

So then I read Scrap Princess‘s proposal for a google+ RPG campaign – SPECIAL MAGICAL PRINCESS ADVENTURES:  a 80s girl cartoon/sailor moon mash up campaign where you play like magic girls, sassy androids, crime solving rock stars and intrepid girl detectives in todays world, which underneath its veneer of banality lurks crime! intrigue! Monsters! evil fruity space bastards with, like, the best hair!**

And once I’d stopped giggling in delight it hit me: these two are horns on the same goat. They are games based on subcultures – on the urges of fandom – rather than strictly on inspirational works. And of course late 70s metalhead Frazetta D&D is another subcultural subcreation: you play some creature off an album cover not necessarily because you love Eddie in particular but because it speaks of a certain attitude toward the world, a tribal affiliation. And then the games wind up explaining and mythologizing this fandom entity.

With me so far? OK. What if you made this pathway to creation absolutely deliberate? What if you started with a subculture and then set out to define a game world from it? What if, moreover, you took some massive study of subcultures – like, say, Japanese Schoolgirl Inferno – and set out to develop whole fantastical cosmologies based on it? What are Gothic Lolitas actually trying to be? That entity is your character, with appropriate mystical powers. Exactly what is that quality that distinguishes Eastern European fantasy from everyone else’s? Slave-Leias, Kirk-Spockers, extreme knitters (more current examples? I’m really not the person to be writing this)… you are all tribes. You will have splatbooks detailing own distinctive gameworlds. Just as long as you can be marketed to, we’re good. Except maybe this guy.

Hmmm… have I just reinvented Unknown Armies? I don’t know, I haven’t read it.

* The author’s (not the game designer’s) website will tell you more than I would wish to. For some idea of the game mechanics from Jeff’s book-length review, do an in-page search for “So how do I cast a spell?”
** Description continues: The absurdity of the world is played straight and slightly sinisterly , a pastel shaded hell , a monster every week, the school mates not returning to class and noone notices, they land men on the moon but a black space castle hovers over Tokyo and is ignored. You fight so hard to make the world right, but the world isn’t right at all.
You have great hair and
your friends try and steal each others boyfriends and girl friends and everyone goes to your concert and the teacher doesn’t flunk you and the mermaid returns your calls and you cut a dog man cyborg in half on a cruise ship tour

and you watch the sunset and things are good and your a hero and you can’t stop crying but
some fruity flying bastard with weird hair
just started putting people to sleep with evil fruit, and
then we tried to stop them and they turned
the store manger into a laser potato
and then we beat them to death, and the store burned down
, and we only saved a handful of people
and they are still in comas and no-one has noticed what so ever and it happens every goddamn week and my cat talks to me and I’m friends with dracula and breakfast is pills and vodka and I’m failing school because I can’t sleep because of all the post traumatic stress going on, but the cat tells me I’m gonna be ruler of a magic kingdom one day and I’m so tired

Really, it’s worth signing up for G+ just for that. For full details on the proposed game sign up to google+ and ask Scrap Princess or, easier and less risky on the GoogleOwnsYourMind front, email her or comment on her blog

FINALLY: happy Chinese New Year. Apparently it’s Year of the Water Dragon, which just happens to be my favourite Pokemon.

Genki Sudo of Mars

December 2, 2011 2 comments

I have only three things to say about the John Carter trailer.*

1. When I first heard the director of Finding Nemo was making a Barsoom movie, I thought it was possible that something new could come into this world. Apparently I was wrong: it looks like a Conan remake remake.

2. Led Zep? Really? Is that a witty quotation now, or are we supposed to have forgotten them?

3. “Where am I?” – I can help you there: Arizona. Somewhere around Crested Butte, I’d guess. I’ve never been to the American Southwest and even I know that. Who wants to get into a $10 bet that Vasquez Rocks features prominently at some point?

Really, I’m not usually this negative. And I know out here in OSRland there’s big love for anything that smells faintly like a Conan movie, and a Barsoom movie would be a gem beyond price. I get it. But this is not what I go to Barsoom for. My abiding memory of Princess of Mars is a sense of exploration, not epic LoTR battles – a sense of a really alien place, where all those lame colour-coded men weren’t lame if you scratched the surface, because they were actually entirely different things with their own concerns and worlds and ecologies (there, I said it). Not knowing what’s powering the air machines or how Barsoom works or if there’s some other power behind it all and wanting to find out. Apparently I was wrong about that too.

ETA: st_rev made me realise which film I really wanted to watch:  Genki Sudo of Mars.

Who among you does not know of Genki Sudo – martial arts gladiator, philosopher, calligrapher, musician, avant-garde formation dancer, local government advocate? Consider this my Joesky payment. And what, after all, is the message of John Carter – or Flash Gordon, or even Tarzan?


* Thanks OEF.

Montreal, your random table is ready. Also, strange ships for your saltbox.

October 28, 2011 Leave a comment

The Canadian Center for Architecture asks: How would you build an underwater chicken farm? Or a flying beauty salon?

And then invites you to answer by building miniatures.

Zak, I think this just might be the parent-and-child workshop activity for you. I sense they have some kind of simple sentence constructor at work there for generating projects.

Meanwhile, eaglespeak suggests a wargamey saltbox campaign: you play would-be pirates, outfitted with some cheap and unreliable skiffs and jetskis, hoping to make your first big score. Arrayed against you are flying drones, occasional naval patrols, blockades, shoreline surveillance and speedy coastguard cutters. Can you run literally under their radar and heist your way up to name level?

…sorry for the lazy post: been busy here the past few months. More substance when I can. In the meantime, what capers could you pull with the world’s biggest ship-carrying ship? It doesn’t even look like a ship – especially when semi-submerged – more like a loose collection of small tower blocks, at sea. Apparently it will be able to do 14 knots – fast enough to waterski off the back – but the PCs should probably handle it cautiously: its 4 predecessors in the “world’s biggest semi-submersible” category all turned over and sank.

Are semi-submersibles too modern for your campaign? Are you sure? The Dutch had them in 1690, and no doubt the Chinese had them one to two thousand years before that (since that always seems to be the case with anything you thought was “modern”).

Call of Cthulhu is missing an act

September 20, 2011 3 comments

Through all this endless back and forth about when and why it absolutely isn’t OK to drop an encounter on somebody that you thought they might like, a realization came to me – one that James Maliszewski apparently had years ago but, y’know, I can be a bit slow.

The best way to start an adventure path is probably from a sandbox.

James does this all the time in Dwimmermount, by dangling hooks in front of his players, which they just happen to find while they’re doing what they do every day – looting Dwimmermount. Here’s a magic item. It transports you somewhere mysterious, where there’s a load of peculiar stuff, that seems relevant to Dwimmermount. There’s a scroll which tells you about another location elsewhere. The guy who translates scrolls wants magic red spoons: he’ll trade info for them. Info that leads into or back to or across other plots. And so on.

Yeah, I know, it’s not rocket science. But thinking about it made me realize how often I haven’t done it in the past. How whole games have somehow decided to forego this bloody obvious method.

Including my most favouritest game of all, Call of Cthulhu, which routinely starts with some bunch of freshly rolled characters receiving a disturbing letter from their uncle – ie a mission briefing that tells you “the plot’s that way, go engage with it.” Now I’d felt uncomfortable about this method in the past. I’d agreed with other players that it was “a bit contrived,” that the PCs often didn’t have good reasons for abruptly getting in up to their necks in trouble that would probably kill them, after driving them mad. But I hadn’t really thought about what was wrong with it from an RPG point of view.

Here’s what I think is wrong: it robs your 3 act drama of its first act, which is normally dedicated to getting to know the PCs. Zak pointed out that CoC is about The Menace, and that’s what everyone cares about, and nobody’s really interested in the 1920s as a setting itself. And that’s Act 2 stuff* – the antagonist or antithesis – but skipping Act 1 means you don’t lay out the stakes – what The Menace menaces. And that’s probably why The Menace always threatens to unmake the world and all creation – because that’s a stake the players can get without any context. But if you had an Act 1 and you actually knew and cared about your characters and they had some history and some bit of the world that was their own to defend, then The Menace would have more purchase in the world: it would have specific things to get its claws into. And the PCs would have more tools or situations against which to place it.

So I still love CoC, but in future I think I’m going to seed CoC adventures in other, persistent settings. Let’s say the PCs are pirates. They do their pirate thing: they annex some secluded coves and get some reliable fences for their loot and try to recruit crewmen and follow rumours of richly-laden ships and periodically pretend to go legit so they can knock over a warehouse or a governor’s palace and so on. And while they’re doing this they get to hear about disturbing stuff, and they get to choose what to do about that. And in this way they can build up a general picture of the world and make their own deductions about what might and might not fit in it. And they’ll get to hear about some things that definitely don’t fit: that menace the world they’re adapting themselves to exploit.

The Orthodox School of Robbery would chime in at this point and say “yes, yes, but you’re still thinking about it wrong right up front there: you’re not running a CoC game at all, you’re running pirates, and if you try to force your players into one when they came to play pirates they’ll be pissed off – because you’ll be railroading in their sandbox.” Yeah well, obviously it’s player directed: as a DM I’d have to chill, have NPC schemes going on but no overall plot and all that. Sure. But there’s a cost to the pure sandbox model, too: where CoC classically lacks a first act, the classical sandbox never gets out of first. Because nothing else in the world is as important as the PCs and their decisions, the world can never develop its own “agency,” to use the buzz-word of the month. Start actually making important changes to the world because the PCs didn’t engage with that scheme you told them about and you’ll be accused of railroading them into engaging with it.

Well, perhaps. But that’s actually how the real world works. That would be a breathing, dynamic world with consequences both for action and inaction. Maybe in such a world the opinions and actions of NPCs could also matter. In a world like that there might even be room for an Act 3 that didn’t consist purely of bookkeeping – counting loot, leveling up, looking for the next dungeon.**

* CoC seems to be deliberately stuck in Act 2 all the time, actually: Sandy Petersen’s onion skin model, in which solving each mystery leads to a bigger, deeper one, is an ingenious method for turning Act 3 resolutions back into Act 2 introductions of the antithesis. And it’s orthodox dogma that you cannot eventually win.

** Note, I’m not talking about an “end game” here, I’m talking about closing particular chapters or threats or opportunity windows in the world, not the End of the Campaign.

Reward for getting this far:

Mirror of Heissenbergen. Using this mirror the PCs can capture one creature or object from the world. It will then remain in the mirror until released (say, by a magic word or gesture). If the creature or object has some sort of will of its own, roll a D30 and subtract the creature’s wisdom or charisma from the result. It will escape from the mirror in that many days, unless released earlier. If nothing has been captured but the mirror is set to release anyway, small hot stones will spit intermittently out of the mirror until the release order is canceled.

A surfeit of ogres. Every road out of town abruptly has exactly the same ogre encounter on it. If these ogres are dispatched they will be replaced within d12 hours with a duplicate. The ogres are being put there by the wife of a retired adventurer who lives in town. She’s worried her husband will leave unless he’s discouraged, and she’s got hold of a magic or ultratech replicator from his hoard, that works something like the mirror, above. It’s set to release ogres right now, so that’s what she’s using. If the PCs find the replicator it will have exactly 2 charges left. The retired adventurer may tell the PCs where he got the replicator for a consultancy fee, payable half up front, half on return, but there’s no way he’s going back in there.

On levels as a philosophical category; or, esse quam videri

May 17, 2011 3 comments

Jovial Priest asks an extremely interesting question regarding his Universal Survival Guide project: Should character level lead to an increase in ability? with the addendum Are we creating rules for heroic fantasy or rules for the simulation of a world that obeys Earth laws? Robert Fisher responds;  The “realistic” part is there to make the players feel more comfortable and to make the fantastic parts feel more fantastic. It also helps them to have a framework to judge their character’s chances. The fantastic elements are there to make the players feel (among other things) uncomfortable and to be interesting.  Yup. That’s eminently practical and makes sense and anyway, how else would you run a game? Players gotta have a comprehensible, stable world in order to take meaningful action, make plans, take reasonable decisions, participate. Fine.

But where is “realistic?” What will your players will feel to be natural or appropriate? Which camels are they happy to swallow, and which gnats will strangle them?

Here’s the thing: levels are simply non-naturalistic and their presence in D&D is a huge part of the anti-naturalism of the game’s implied setting. This game takes your character from almost-hopeless shlub to as far up the god ladder as you want to go, and that is your character’s arc. But it’s still not simple heroicism. Because levels represent a very particular take on what makes a hero: one that’s these days quite unpopular among screenwriters.

Levels model experience, not talent. That’s important, because it explains competence in a particular way, which works for certain kinds of characters – like Chow Yun-Fat in Crouching Tiger or Yoda in Star Wars or Higgs in Girl Genius. These characters have been around a long time, they’ve learned the tricks, they’ve earned their levels. Their amazing actions come with an explanation – diligent hard work, discipline, heartfelt application. All very midwestern virtues. Levels don’t explain other characters (often the actual protagonists) in those same works, though, like young whippersnapper Zhang Ziyi or Luke or Agatha. For them you probably need GURPS’ “starting points” system. So in one way they seem “naturalistic,” rather than mythic, and people like or dislike them on that basis.

Except increasing HP or saving throws with level doesn’t really model increasing skill. The old OSR argument that “PCs become heroes through play” is really a kind of selection or confirmation bias; they’re heroes because they’re still here. They have high hit points because they’ve demonstrated they’re hard to kill. In other words, they’re mechanically mythic. What about the other not-obviously-learned benefits of leveling up, though? Why can higher-level MUs and clerics cast more powerful spells? There are 3 game design reasons – because novice players should have simple toys to master first; because usually the bigger hazards are not right next to the First Level Graduation Canteen, and that’s probably because sequels gotta get bigger; and because players love finding cheese. But is there an in-game reason? Sure, you can rationalise one: this spell is harder than that, or only given out by the Spell Angels to initiates of a certain standing, but look at the mechanics, especially of what MUs can learn/remember. They’re very mechanical. Your brain won’t absorb spell x until you’re level y.

Which brings me to the thing my inner munchkin loves and my inner book-reading, vicariously-thrilled child hates about levels. They tell you exactly how powerful you are. They offer a predictable, orderly progression of powers, like freemasonry or scientology or belt systems for martial arts. So they act as a ready explanation for anything extraordinary the characters might do – the characters aren’t really amazing or freakish, just high level. In a perverse way levels glue the gameworld together: they diagnose and contextualize their heroes, by giving the heroic condition a name and number. At the same time they make heroism mundane, obvious. Did you kill the dragon? Really? Oh, but it had 8 HD and you had 9. OK. 

And they offer a kind of reassurance that non-interactive fiction, and quite a lot of RPGs, BTW, don’t depend on. Of perfect self-knowledge – of the impossibility of ever really being fooled. It’s the same neurotic reassurance that demands Charm Person be a trick, not a real friend-making spell. Because you shouldn’t be able to affect people deep down in their hearts, and that means you should know what’s down there, on the player/character layer. Levels reveal the character’s essence, their potential, who they really are, in a way that’s not just intelligible, but ironclad, unalterable, unmaskable truth. And they tell you what you can expect in the next n adventures. So they take away surprises – both the kind that destroy play and the kind that players might really enjoy. You can’t have that moment of divine realization, that puts you ahead of the villains at last, because the game is set up to dribble out power in known increments. The most you can hope for is to get your hands on some kryptonite. And you can’t learn that you were secretly someone else with different prospects because the character sheet does not lie to you. You might secretly be the lost prince of Captchaword but it won’t make a mechanical difference. Not because the DM’s hands are tied, as such, but because the structure of leveling would make all such moves look like “cheating:” betrayals of the expectations built into the system.

Don’t get me wrong, I see that levels provide a stability that’s useful in a game, for all the reasons Robert Fisher said. I see that they help players gauge threats and plan and understand what kind of game they’re playing. But right there in that knowability, that predictability, they do a pretty good job of destroying heroism.

Because of course you’re not going to take that dragon on, idiot. You’re third level!

On CHA, WIS and POW-based magics

May 12, 2011 2 comments

Hill Cantons considers treating Charisma more directly as reputation and ditching all non-physical stats for D&D PCs.*

This post is not really a response to that, but instead a repost of something I said in 2007 regarding That Stat That Means Magical Potential. I propose that we mostly don’t know from the rulebooks what to do with INT, WIS or CHA, beyond a couple of standard applications/effects, and that POW in CoC and Runequest is even worse. The effects of STR are easy to visualize: it tends therefore to get a lot of in-game use. But the effects, the meaning, of the “mental attributes” are less understood, so we have less to apply tactically at the table. And the same is true of vanilla D&D’s magic systems, which is too bad because they could actually give us some insight into the in-game meanings of the attributes.

What do I mean by that? My gold standard for a rule is, can the players take tactical advantage of it? Can they use it as a tool, plan around with it? Can they imagine uses for it that I do not feed them? For me,  AD&D 1e MU and clerical magic do not meet this standard: the way the magic works is a glassy, impenetrable surface. (Same goes for magic in CoC, but there it seems intentional.) Players get spells and they apply them. Maybe they invent clever applications, but they can’t try out new spells unless you provide a novel system for doing so. This model of magic reminds me of what lots of folks hate about thieves: it’s like they have their explicit skills and nothing else. And if those are special thief skills, then nobody else can hide in shadows.

But if they had some understanding of how magic worked then maybe they could ask questions and invent their own effects and just plain be a bit more magical. Rangers do this all the time – “I search for tracks… I collect firewood… is there a plant that can help here?” So I find that rationalizing the magic system is one of the most important elements in making it usable by the players. And I think the following might help with that. And it would probably base magic off CHA, though WIS could do, too.

So. POW. The influence of classic works of anthropological theory on CoC is obvious: it’s written all over Petersen’s rule- and sourcebooks. Oliver Wolters (dead anthropologist, historian, colonial officer) had a theory of personal political power (the ability to influence people and events: Charisma, in D&D terms) in SE Asian society. He said such power was seen as a symptom of inner, spiritual power, which he called “prowess” or “soul stuff” (pretty much POW in CoC. Bear with me).This power varies from person to person, and determines personal effectiveness, leadership ability, ability with magic and ritual, and the occupations associated with magic (fishing, hunting, navigating and war). It doesn’t imply wisdom or education or knowledge or physical strength, but it has a direct effect on success because the universe would be inclined to go with your actions and leadership (luck), just like people would be naturally drawn to your innate superiority (“as bees are drawn to nectar”).

According to Wolters’ view of the Indonesian belief systems he observed, you were born with a certain amount of it, based either on your lineage or your conduct in past lives (opinion differs). Some further social implications follow from this, to do with the natural aristos of aristocrats, and an ever-diluting and sinking system of status, which Geertz wrote about in his book Negara(which really does read, in its completeness and airtightness, like a gaming supplement).

People are naturally drawn to follow charismatic leaders (per Wolters prowess is both POW and CHA) both as a compulsion and because, as cogs in the greater machine, they share in a larger total group POW (spiritual rapport with the leader yields a whole that is greater in combination than separately, although not necessarily greater than the sum of its parts).

This smells like a theory of gravity to me, but I don’t think any model of its relative strength over distance has been put forward – such a diminishment of force over distance seems to operate in Lovecraftian literature, though:  without it there could be no ‘moment of introduction,’ on which to hang the horror. What interests me is that this neatly explains the slippery and weird attribute POW and its associated effects. It also suggested some links with the Mage line of products. POW governs magic (natch) and also luck (which is explained as unconscious magery).

Note that on this schema, magic of all kinds is an appeal to the way the universe works, it’s neither “reality hacking” (something like James Maliszewski’s Termaxian magic) nor the trust in the Powers of Fate that prayer tends to become in RPGs. Instead, your world-view is a sort of spiritual extension of yourself, like a field of force: it exerts an influence on people and things around you.  When you encounter someone or something else your influence competes with theirs (in Greek terms, your genius has a chance of overmastering theirs).

So how do you use it? What I like about this interpretation is that it makes the attribute a more active part of the magical exercise – untrained magery could work something like Clerics without Spells, turning undead could be a POW vs POW (or WIS or CHA) battle, and raising the supernatural stakes is liable either to draw the heroism out of your spellcaster (as their POW overmasters the opponent’s) or turn them (either away or to join the enemy, who has superior supernatural charisma). The ability to increase POW through a POW vs POW battle is not analogous to spiritual ‘exercise’ or ‘increasing skill’ – when you overcome someone else’s POW you effectively snip off a bit of their authority – they spiritually ‘pay tribute’ to you, increasing your authority directly (though this is not modelled in the game as a zero-sum operation… not sure why, or if there’s some further bit of thinking here). This maps neatly onto Polynesian ritual cannibalism, BTW, in which one ritually ingests the strength or force of one’s enemies.

There are other implications for games with Cthulhuvian elements, which might include your flavour of D&D:

– POW also governs SAN, because it represents one’s spiritual negotiation with the world. Encountering another person’s POW is dangerous but intelligible: no matter who wins, you stay in much the same mental/spiritual place. CoC Monsters are spiritually powerful and fundamentally other (we’re not really in Wolters’ territory any more, but you can kind of follow him in this direction, with the right twist of mind…). When you encounter them, their power actively disrupts yours, their world-view intersects with yours and is toxic… modeled as SAN loss, a loss of self-guided mental structure. This is the sense in which I’ve understood John Tynes’ discussion of the more powerful monsters as a kind of mental plutonium. The disruption of your POW is either experienced as trauma (simple diminishment) or a reconfiguring to the monster’s perspective (which is why you can’t play a permanently insane character: all such folks go over to the enemy, as reprogrammed but disfunctional drones). Implications for the undead are left as an exercise for the reader.

– The pooling or investing of POW explains the formation of cults and the strange hold cult leaders have over their followers: they start when the cult leader is overborne by the POW of a monster. The resultant collective POW (that of the monster reflected through the leader) acts as a honeypot for impressionable souls (those with comparatively lower POW), who ‘pay tribute,’ to the collective POW pot, further emPOWering the monster/leader. This is why you have to both mentally and physically separate followers from their leader before they will be ‘cured’ of their cultism. It may also explain why monsters adopt mad human leaders as intermediaries between themselves and larger groups of followers, rather than leading cults personally – aside from the scaleability advantages of a franchise organisation model, the monster may realise that its own direct presence will disrupt the POWs/SANs of its followers, making them somewhat more loyal but a great deal less functional – the leadership effect can be had without the damaging side-effects by refracting their personal magnetism through the leader, who acts as a sort of power-translator or transformer [Ken Hite notes: must write up the “magic as electrical engineering” rules in my head.Yes]

From this perspective, the tendency of cultists to enact summoning rituals may be seen by the monsters as an annoying pathology in their control network (because it brings cultists into direct contact with the monsters, reconfiguring their own POW/worldviews), a bit like being stalked by fans. On the other hand, the whole cult-formation thing might be seen as an irritation or simply irrelevant: there’s no evidence that anyone can control or ‘switch off’ their charisma/soul stuff/POW – it might just be a side-effect of high POW that people trail around after you.

Now I just wonder why Sandy Peterson did such a poor job of explaining it in the rulebook, and if Greg Stafford (or whoever first put POW in Runequest) also read Wolters, or came up with the whole thing in yet a different form. Which, given Greg’s penchant for shamanism,  he may have.

Best short ref to Wolters’ own work: his essay “some features of the cultural matrix” in O W Wolters: History, culture, and region in Southeast Asian perspectives (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 1982)

*In response to ckutalik, yes I see what you mean. But I like having mental stats for PCs, even if they’re hard to roleplay. Challenges are good. They help you visualise who your character is, even if you don’t always succeed in being them. And you can save against them (INT for memory/education, WIS for common sense, will, morale, CHA for persuasion).