Monday, November 19, 2018

Invisible Cities

Invisible Cities is a novel by Italo Calvino.

I believe I heard of its existence through Monsters & Manuals.

I really recommend that you read it. Partly because, yes, it has some relevance to the topic of imaginary places (a central element of this hobby), but also because it is cunningly perceptive of our real world (and the image thereof we each build in our minds), and a work of art in its own right. Having read it twice, I daresay it is one of the most important books to who I am now.

Don't research it overmuch before you read it. The book is designed to open itself to you slowly. It is not long; you will not burden yourself by beginning it. It lends itself well to regular but episodic reading. A page or two before bed, perhaps.

(I am thinking of assembling my own "Appendix N," as it were, at some point. This book would definitely be on it.)

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Side Blog: One Line Metal Reviews

Just a quick announcement that I am splitting off much of my music-related content to a separate Tumblr: One Line Metal Reviews. I just post an album a day from my personal listening, with a quick line and a rating-out-of-ten. Mostly various kinds of metal, but some post-rock and ambient thrown in too. A mix of fresh and seasoned releases. It's been running for a month and I still have a solid backlog.

Tabletop RPG content will continue right here at Ars Magisterii. Hopefully this will allow me to deliver game-related content here without mixing in music that fewer people may be interested in, haha.

Check some of these out:
Bell Witch - Mirror Reaper - funeral doom, 10/10 \m/
Winterfylleth - The Divination of Antiquity - black metal, 9/10 \m/
Mgła - Exercises in Futility - black metal, 9/10 \m/
Orange Goblin - The Wolf Bites Back - stoner metal, 9/10 \m/
Krytps - Remnants of Expansion - death doom, 8/10 \m/
Apyxion - Aftermath - melodeath/metalcore, 8/10 \m/
High Plains - Cinterland - neoclassical , 8/10
Krisiun - The Great Execution - death metal, 7/10
Jungle Rot - Self-titled - death metal, 7/10
Odd - Memories and Monuments - post-rock, 7/10

Monday, November 12, 2018

So, I Found Some Rando Apocryphal Homebrew, Let's Dissect It

Title about covers what we're doing here. This will be a long post, written more for my amusement than scholarly merit, so I recommend that you just stop reading and do something more worthwhile unless you have time to waste. I'm not gonna proofread it, either, so brace yourself if you venture beyond this point.

The story in short: my girlfriend briefly played in a "D&D" group during college (she is now in grad school on a full ride scholarship). The following 17-page printout is the rules she was given.

My gf tells me she "decorated" the cover. I believe the red is intentional and the yellow is not.
So, this is "Dungeons and Dragons Version 2" (not Second Edition, "Version 2"). I can assure you, I have already skimmed it, and though there is no author mentioned, it is not D&D as published by Wizards of the Coast or TSR.

2/17, Part I
This document seems to be broken up into Roman-numeral "Parts," Arabic-numeral rules, and subrules using letters. I will note them as [Part]-[rule]-[subrule] (i.e. I-1, II-4-c, whatever).

I-1: I guess these "limitations" are laid out under I-9 and I-10 later on this page. Not sure why this needs to be a separate line.
I-2: stats are 3d6. Unspecified whether it's down-the-line or assigned. Also unspecified what the stats actually are, though I assume we will find out. (Probably the familiar six?)
I-3: Three classes, then? I mean, if you have to choose three, these are probably the most vital "core" classes. (Sorry cleric fans.) I guess mages (not wizards?) end up with ~7-8hp, rogues (not thieves) ~10-11, fighters ~13-14. So fighters stand to boast almost twice as much as mages, which is a difference but not a huge one.
I-4: magic point rolls are seemingly inverted from hit points - mages get the most (obviously)... but rogues and fighters start with magic points too? We will need to see how these magic points work.
I-6: "Alignment is an optional choice." Good author.
I-7,I-8: I think, if I remember from skimming, "affinity" is like the magical "element," and there are more than the big four. Jank like light and electricity and whatever. Anyway, each character starts with one, chosen out of three random. Why not just give straight player choice here if it "very heavily affects usage of Magick"? (Note that capital-M Magick with a k. Ugh.)
I-9: class "limitations"  are "not limited to:"... Heh. Anyway, these limitations are seemingly in three areas: 1) weapon size, 2) stealth, 3) magic.
I-9-a: mages can't sneak because of their "aura" which "can be detected quite easily." No word on whether the other two classes, who also have an affinity and a pool of magic points, have such an aura.
I-9-c: it is implied here that there is indeed a strength stat, which allows use of bigger weapons. Again, I guess we need to wait for more.
I-10: three races here - Dwarves, Elves, Orcs. No mention of humans. Do humans just roll without limitations? I feel like we're missing something here.
I-10-b: we've met the rogue already, but what is an "Elven Brawler?" Another name for fighter? Anyway, this subrule indicates the use of what I like to call "weird dice" (i.e. not platonic solids. The d10 is bad enough. Uugh.)
I-10-c: orc characters are "stunned in light." I assume we will learn what "stunned" entails (I should really keep track of the number of times I say we'll have to wait to find out what a rule means - and how many times we actually do), but what qualifies as "light"? Do orcs need pitch-black to function?
I-11: JOBS. Yes, your character has a job. (Uuugh.) I-11-a possibly implies that class=job? Well, let's check the next page.

3/17, Part I cont'd
I-11-b: WOW level 100? If it wasn't obvious already, this isn't the D&D we know, kids. Seriously, though, I do NOT know what this and I-11-c are going on about, though I of course have guesses. Oh, and apparently there are Psionics.
I-12: Okay, here are the stats. Good. They are listed in the old (AD&D?) manner and not the current WOTC order (I had to Google it. I am ashamed).
I-12-a-i: no sign what units carry capacity is (although pounds were mentioned earlier in I9c). So a character with 11 strength gets a carry capacity of 110, which seems high but not unthinkable if it's pounds?
I-12-a-ii: no bottom limit for this damage bonus. So a given character starts with at least +1 damage, and maybe +9 (with 18Str).
I-12-b-i: similar story with potentially high starting abilities - 18Int gives 8 extra languages (9 total?)
I-12-b-ii: not sure what "reflexively memoriz[ing]" spells means. Is this just daily Vancian casting? Anyway, Int=spells per day, then. I assume since all classes get magic points, they all get spells too?
I-12-c: okay, I guess Wisdom gives spells known, and Int gives spells memorized per day. But this wisdom thing sets up a weird edge case where if you have under 9Wis you know spells but can't cast them. Huh. Oh, and the spell level matrix runs to 29Wis and above... so I assume we'll see stats increase with level.
I-12-d: so increasing beyond your starting Con increases health, but having a high starting Con doesn't? (Remember, hitpoints were rolled per class in I-3.) I guess high Con gives you damage reduction, though... which seems fiddly to have in addition to hitpoints. Con should do one or the other. DR and hitpoints ends up being a lot of fiddly math. I think this is not the last we will see of fiddly math.
I-12-e-i: "Dexterity/10 (rounded up) is the amount of turns you may have consecutively." - wut? Is this, like, you get two actions if you're above 10Dex? Or something else? Oh, the mystery...
I-12-f-i: Charisma improves prices. Nothing else is mentioned. Great.

4/17, Part II
II: "Races are (obviously) a fundamental part of character creation" - really? "Obviously?" Like, I-10 didn't even mention humans, and only gave a few minor limitations (again, unless orcs being "stunned in light" means they need pitch-black, haha).
II-1: "There is [sic] a wide variety of races" Really? I saw three. "interactions between them may be confusing. There is (or will be) a link to an interaction spreadsheet here (Or may be attached)" - Well, I only have a physical copy of these rules, and there was no spreadsheet attached. *shrugs* ... Let's see what race interactions entail:
II-1-a thru II-1-e: Oh, it's a big janking screwjob where your attitude to every member of a given race is dictated (unless you have high enough Int or Wis for your character to form their own janking opinion). Big blow to player agency here, to say the least. The justification? "This is not the modern era, there are very few forward thinkers." AAAAAAA
(Seriously though, how does a multiracial adventuring party with average ability scores even adventure together? Is that not discussed?)

5/17, Part III
III: "The point of the class is to specialize your character." Okay, sweeping generalization there, but arguably that's technically true. "Previously, any class may have functioned exactly the same way. This is going to change." ?
The rest of this page is all in future tense. As if it isn't even technically the rules yet?
III-1 mostly reiterates I-9, but with seemingly arbitrary little additions or lacunae here and there. Most notably, no mention of the mages' stealth-killing "aura" here.
III-2: "There will no longer be an infinite number of subclasses" Well praise the Lord. Can't have that infinite list taking up all my hard drive space. "The current list of subclasses is here (Or may be attached)." Just like the rage relation spreadsheet. I'm actually thankful I don't have to read through those attachments... Anyway, I was pleased earlier that there were only three classes, but it looks like subclasses are a thing. There are... *reads down the page* SIXTY. SIXTY F@CKING SUBCLASSES AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA
That ending "Side note" is hilarious. (As a matter of fact, Author, no, I am not "happy with 3 general classes with 60 subclasses" and what I want is a game I can actually sit down and play without spending my entire day reading these attachments I fortunately don't have. Let's stick with those three core classes, eh?)
Okay, in all seriousness, I understand that some person has invested hours and hours of personal time writing the game they want to run as a personal hobby and without earning any profit. That's cool and all, and I respect the drive. I'm being exaggeratedly dramatic, and if (somehow) you're reading this, dear Author, we should go get a beer or coffee or something and talk about our hobby sometime. Just, like, let's not play this ruleset in particular.

6/17, Part IV
"nearly" infinite this time, unlike our formerly infinite (reduced to 60+) subclasses.
We seem to be missing another linked/attached list here, so there's not much to say here other than that this seems to be the most straightforward page we've had.

7/17, Part V
V-1-a-i: "Sound confusing? It is." Great. Ya don't say. Seriously, Reader, can you tell me what V-1-a-ii means? (Is there a typo in that subrule?)
V-1-b seems to state that all characters do indeed start with at least one spell.
V-2 does not state what "the proper amount of Mana" (called "Magick Points" in I-4?) is. Is it equal to spell level?
V-2-a - so mana is per encounter, while spells are also limited per-day (per Int rules in I-12-b?) - though that rule is also lacking context.
Oh, and that throwaway: "Tip: if your Mana did not regenerate, the encounter is not over." I feel like there's backstory here, haha.
The other tip is good though, I guess.

8/17, Part VI
Okay, there are really no rules here in VI. Just saying that alchemy is a thing that you can do. Moving on...

9/17, Part VII
Another "can be confusing" - at least "hopefully, the new system is easier."
VII-1 differentiates grappling from melee - and, for some reason, weapons like swords or maces are melee while "hand-to-hand" weapons are under grappling?
VII-2: okay, attack rolls are opposed by other rolls. So, no armor class? Not a fan of what opposed rolls were chosen, either:
VII-2-a: Rolling Dex to dodge arrows doesn't make sense to me...
VII-2-b: if someone runs up to me with a sword, I'm not just gonna shrug, take it, and roll Con. I'm gonna dodge (Dex) or parry (Str).
VII-2-c: grappling should be Str vs Str.
VII-2-d: Int doesn't even power your spell rolls - apparently that's Wis.
Urgh. Still the bigger complaint from me is that every attack seems to involve two rolls - and we haven't even gotten to damage rolls.
VII-4: Okay, five damage types. "Blunt, Sharp, Pierce, Magickal" make sense... but throwing? "Throwing" is it's own damage type? Why not just have thrown weapons deal one of the first three types, ehhh?

10/17, Part VIII
"Dungeons and Dragons does not solely consist of combat and dungeons. Sometimes, it's just good, old-fashioned roleplaying." Okay, sure, Author, very good, no need for "roleplaying" rules, let's just move on and... OMF
Alright, I got dinner and a drink, let me try again. So:
VIII-2: skill checks require rolling 1d20 for every five points you have in the relevant stat (rounding up or down?) against a target also determined by rolling janking d20s. Let's see how many is the most we'll have to- F@CKING TWENTY-DEE-TWENTIES FOR SEDUCING A F@CKING GENDERLESS PERSON WHAT THE F@CK (VIII-2-e-vi)
Deep breaths...
Okay, so I guess for skills the Author just wants to roll janktons of dice without thought for mathematical considerations or usability. Each use of a skill means both the player and the DM have to roll (usually) multiple dice, up to 20 on the DM's end, just to determine if the player can seduce a genderless person (not asexual - that's a separate entry - genderless).
Oh, sidenote, according to VIII-2-c-iii: with 18 Wisdom - maximum starting wisdom - the odds are against you knowing even recent history.
I don't want to look at these skills anymore. Moving on...

11/17, Part VIII cont'd
Let me just cherrypick a few.
VIII-2-h-vi: WHAT DOES ROLLING AGAINST PAIN EVEN MEAN? Whatever it means, pain gets 12d20, sucker

12/17, Part IX
"Here are some helpful tips for navigating the dungeons we will put you through." Emphasis mine. Adversarial GMing, anyone?
Okay, there's actually some decent (if basic) advice here, but... LOL that last line. I feel like there's some backstory there...

13/17, Part X
This is some stereotypical MMO jank right here. Ew. I'm just gonna note that "A Quest" (capital-Q-Quest lol) " is a specific goal set by a DM, and given to the players" which is technically true but, again, a super adversarial way to say it, like the DM is a janking dictator telling the PCs to go to the next village over to find a man's cat. Seriously, read this page, haha.

14/17, Part XI
"There is a Main Story Arc in DnD." A Main Story Arc, all caps. Oh, pray tell.
"There can, arguably, be an infinite number of them..." LOL
"an exciting plot to be transversed by the players in any way they so choose." Sure.
"Thieves, Mages, and Fighters" each had a guild in harmony with the others? The thieves weren't thieving from the others and the fighters weren't fighting? Uh huh.
"They kept each other in check. The darker Mages would be slain by the mercenaries in the Fighters Guild, the Fighers would never gain too much money because of the Thieves Guild, and the Thieves could never grow too powerful because the Mages kept a close eye on them." LOLOLOL this is like some Runescape combat triange sh@t, but f@cking backwards!
Okay, I'm not even gonna comment on the rest. "A plan to take over the entirety of the Universe"? "All that we know so far, is that he is influencing the Magickless?" LAWD there's still three pages left...

15/17, Party [sic] XII
Wait, I thought we already did skills in Part VIII! I guess those were "checks" and these  are "skills."
I guess the whole skill system is, like, MMO grinding?
There's really so much I dislike about this page that I'm just gonna say "more MMO sh@t" and move on.

16/17, Part XIII
"Here are some suggestions regarding Death." Thanks, Author. Suggestions.
So XIII-2 basically states that there are clerics running around finding bodies with more than 2,000sp on them and rezzing them for exactly that sum.

17/17, Part XIV
So, Titans = gods. "The Titans are not debatable, and are not fictitious."
XIV-2: you can pray to the Titan of the appropriate affinity and they might help ya out (for a price).
XIV-5: each Titan has a "Homeworld." (Home plane?)
XIV-5-a: "a Titan is unkillable, but conquerable."


Look, f@ck it, I've been at this for hours and it's miserable, so I may have gone quickly and lightly through that second half, but we made it. For whatever that's worth. (I, personally, regret this project, as I am sure you also do.)

Anyway, so now we know how to play "Dungeons and Dragons." Nominally. Let's not ever do that.

Addendum: I ask my gf how these rules worked at table. She told me the first and only session she showed up for was short a player and was cancelled, and the campaign never became a thing. *shrugs*

Monday, October 8, 2018

Magus' Music of the Month - September 2018

Music released last month that I listened to and liked.
Title links are to Spotify, embeds are from Bandcamp (preferred) or YouTube.

Fit for a King - Dark Skies

I've always thought of Fit for a King as a middle-of-the-road metalcore band. However, they have stepped up their game for "Dark Skies," incorporating more diversity into their songwriting and sound than any of their previous albums. Clean vocals - often a hit or miss for FFAK due to lineup changes - have stabilized and are generally good and tastefully used across the album. Solid!

Wolfheart - Constellation of the Black Light

Wolfheart have been churning out "winter metal" (blackened melodic death metal, I say) at an impressive rate for years now. Quality has suffered somewhat for the sake of quantity, and Wolfheart hasn't really tweaked their formula since their inception, but "Constellations..." held my attention and left me feeling satisfied (but not blown away) by its darkly adventuresome atmosphere.

Petroglyphs - Ascension
Making a comeback with a largely fresh lineup, "Ascension" is Petroglyphs' most engaging and technical release yet. The new vocalist has delivered a heavy metalcore sound that suits the music well, and guitar leads are an excellent halfway-house between blazing and spacey.

This Will Destroy You - New Others Part One

Continuing in the vein of 2014's "Another Language," "New Others Part One" is fuzzy, experimental post-rock busting out ambient and post-metal as accents. I will personally always look backwards to This Will Destroy You's self-titled 2007 album, but "New Others..." has given me a helping of odd but soulful sounds to digest. I have excellent memories from seeing them live last year, and look forward to what "New Others Part Two" (?) might mean.

Monday, October 1, 2018

I Found Flame

This is a mix/playlist called "I Found Flame," and you can find it on Spotify, Mixcloud, and 8tracks.
Mostly melodic death metal. Art by Marat Ziyaev.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

The Rites of Bisection

"I am told that there lies a small monastery built into one of the many rocky crags which stands against the thirsty, encroaching Sands in the south. Its monks are a minor cabal of philosophes dedicated to some overwrought doctrine or another, similar to many such orders scattered about the vast hinterlands surrounding Innersey. I deem them worth mentioning for one reason only: their Rites of Bisection."

"These Rites are purported to turn one person into two, in a miraculous manifestation of the monks' secret dogma. I cannot lend such tales any credence. It is ridiculous that, as I have been told, a person may be split slowly and carefully down the middle, and each half grown back into a full person over the course of months. One would not survive such an operation; to start with, the heart is not centrally located - would one half-person thus do without a heart? Ha!..."

"Several merchant lords and mighty Magi have been reputed to visit these monks to undergo the Rites; their motives and fates seem more like moralistic fairy tales than real happenings, with the subject being murdered by their own shadow or doppelgänger, lost to a fit of extreme madness, or returning again and again to the monks as their bodies deform and minds ablate..."

- from the writings of Andras, Magus of the Fifth Order

Image uploaded by Carolina Baratieri to ResearchGate and used with proper permissions

This is a common trope in fantasy/sci-fi. Yes, PCs (or NPCs) can go to these monks and essentially clone themselves; the price will be dear, and may not be monetary. At first impression, both resulting characters will have the same body, mind, and memories of the "original," but absolute similarity will not last long... and may be illusory in the first place. (If a PC undergoes the Rites of Bisection, only one of the two resulting characters are under the player's control as a PC. The other is an NPC with, initially, identical goals to the "original." But things change...)

If used in a game, it should involve at least one moral dilemma:
- Are either resulting people the same as the "original?"
- Did the "original" die during the Rites?
- Corollary if the above is "yes": are either of the two resulting people even alive/ensoulled?
- Can a person resulting from the Rites undergo the Rites again? (How many times? Information entropy?)
- Some variation of the classic "nature vs. nurture" question

Monday, September 24, 2018

Mirror Reaper

So, this is pretty unusual music, as far as music goes, on the whole. Yes, the album is only one track, and the track is over 80 minutes long. Trust me, it all goes together, it all flows, it's all one experience.

The genre is "funeral doom." This means, at a minimum, you can expect "very low" and "very slow." In the case of Mirror Reaper, this means lots of very deep guitar chords or drones, hollow chthonic growls, and lurching, resonant percussion.

That's not all, though. The lighter solo interludes are melancholy and beautiful, echoing clean vocals (almost Gregorianic) form solemn choirs, and guest vocalist Erik Moggridge transforms the second half of the album into something heartbreakingly special.

I'm not even really into "funeral doom," but I love this.

Mirror Reaper is for listening to when exploring cyclopean ancient ruins, dreaming of depths and shadow, or contemplating the inevitability of the erasure of all that you hold dear.

Give it a listen. It's not distracting from whatever you happen to be doing for a quiet hour.

(Yeah, probably gonna write up a "mirror reaper" and/or "bell witch" for my tabletop game at some point, haha. Not today, though; I'm tired, and packing for a move.)

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Your Giant Spiders Are Boring

I was thinking about spiders today, (probably because there is now a big one with a web attached to my sink faucet and I was doing dishes and I do not like spiders,) and it occurred to me that some predatory spiders do some kinda funky things in order to score their meals. (Bolas spiders and trapdoor spiders were the first ones I thought of.) But, spiders in, like, monster manuals usually only have some combination of 1) venomous bite, 2) traditional webs, or 3) shooting webs (or venom), which seems like a silly thing for an actual real-life spider to do and therefore probably a game-ism. (Click for spoiler)

So, I went to Wikipedia, naturally. Anyway, here's how to spice up giant (or regular) spiders in your chthonic dice game of choice:

Roll 1d12 at least once, but more is definitely fine:
1) Spider spins a small web between its forelegs, which it tangles prey with as it pounces
2) Spider spins a line with a sticky blob on the end, swinging it around a few times like a bolas and then hurling it at prey to snare it and draw it in
3) Spider builds a webby home underwater, detecting ripples on the surface to locate prey - yes, this is totally a spider that will burst out of the water and nab your swimming adventurer to drown them
4) Spider has a concealed trapdoor which it will pop out of and nab you
5) Spider mimics some other organism - bonus points if it does something creepy like mimic a human... or treasure chest lel
6) Spider shoots janking darts at you when it feels threatened - these may or may not be poisonous
7) Spider spits sticky web fluid at prey - yeah, click the link, this is actually real
8) Spider spits venom at prey - this is actually the same spider above - their attack is actually a combination of both
9) Spider runs up and bites you - pretty standard
10) Spider jumps/drops from distance and bites you - also common, but scary
11) Spider spins sticky webs, which it can detect vibrations from - but your adventurers will totally notice any web thick enough to snare them unless it's real dark
12) Spider spins non-sticky webs or tripwires, which it only uses for the purpose of detecting prey - these are very fine silk, and difficult to notice

Oh, and even better? You can totally reskin a lot of these to work with something non-spidery if you want. (A lot of them already exist in non-spidery form, anyway. Manticores and mimics and snakes and such.)

Use this in your game! I will.

(No pictures of spiders for this post, because I don't like spiders, and I don't want to comb through dozens of spider pictures to find a good one and discomfit both myself and arachnophobiacs who are reading this. Cheers!)

Monday, September 17, 2018

Magus' Music of the Month - August 2018

Music released last month that I listened to and liked.
Title links are to Spotify, embeds are from Bandcamp (preferred) or YouTube.

Tides of Man - Every Nothing

 A great follow-up to Young and Corageous. Alternately pensive, hopeful, and adventurous, as excellent post-rock tends to be.

Dance with the Dead - Loved to Death

DWTD is not content to be just retro-style synthwave. They've been incorporating driving guitar riffs and soaring leads into their electronic music for several albums, but Loved to Death pushes the envelope with such tracks as the thrashy opener "Go!" and frankly crushing closer "Become Wrath." It's likely my favorite album they've put out, and probably my top pick from the dark synthwave genre as a whole. (You will have to excuse the poor artwork though, haha; DWTD love their campy old horror films!) They put on a great live show, too, and I'm planning on catching them again next month!

Waiting Room - Pray for Sound

Pray for Sound decided to switch it up a bit with this one. Normally chunky post-rock with the emphasis on rock, Waiting Room is a slow, ambient affair built around reverbant clean guitar and quiet piano touches. It's touching, and calming.

Erra - Neon

Impressive progressive post-hardcore. I've been a fan of Erra since early in their career; yes, their sound has changed, as this is now their fifth release, and bands change over that amount of time. I'm not totally on-board with it, but there is still plenty here for me to enjoy. I'll be seeing them live next month for the... fourth? fifth? time, and fully expect them to deliver as they always have.

Has anything listen-worthy dropped into your lap lately?

Saturday, September 15, 2018

WOTC D&D Survey

Well, WotC put out another D&D survey. Take some time to do it. Here's why:

Yeah, we're all busy people. But it's indubitable that Wizard of the Coast's Fifth Edition is how the biggest chunk of new blood first encounters tabletop RPGs these days. It might be worth letting WotC know what "we" expect out of a tabletop RPG - whether we're playing Fifth Edition or not. Let's be heard.