Do: Fate of the Flying Temple

For some time now, I’ve meant to purchase Do: Fate of the Flying Temple. Now I’ve done so. Do, co-published by Evil Hat Productions and Smart Play Games, written by Mark Truman, promises to be “a family-friendly standalone roleplaying game.” I’ve seen this sort of claim before made by a few other games. Upon investigation, I discovered that, while those games might be family-friendly, it ain’t my family they’d be friendly to. Also, I facilitate Ludi Fabularum, a story game club, at the school whereat I teach. More than one of those other so-called family-friendly games would probably get me reprimanded if I allowed them at a Ludi Fabularum.

I am pleased to report that Do lives up to its claim. For the rest of this mini-review, I’m going to assume that you’re familiar with Fate Accelerated Edition; therefore, I’m not talking about the rules. They’re pretty much standard FAE rules, with two noteworthy exceptions, that I will address in a bit. If you don’t know FAE or don’t like FAE, that’s okay. Do‘s biggest selling point isn’t the game system; it’s the worlds of Do.

The Worlds of Do

At the center of everything floats the Flying Temple, home to wise and benevolent monks who master the martial arts in order to master themselves rather than fight others. Children who arrive at the Temple’s gates are adopted by the monks. These children become pilgrims. They’re not monks, but they’re not outsiders either. The monks teach their skills and wisdom to the children, who then fly to the many worlds of Do, answering letters sent by the troubled to the Temple. The pilgrims try to solve those troubles using the non-violent methods of the monks.

The worlds of Do are not planets like Earth or Mars. Instead, they are more like floating islands, drifting on the winds that blow through the vast sky in which everything moves and lives. To quote the rules, “There is no ‘outer space’ as we know it, with its harsh vacuum and hazardous cosmic rays.” There is sky. There are clouds and birds and worlds and flying whales and, like everywhere you find people, there is trouble. Those experiencing trouble write letters to the Temple. The monks read the letters, decide which troubles need attention, and then send pilgrims — children — to solve those troubles.

The players’ characters are pilgrims, remarkable children who live at the Temple under the tutelage of the monks. One day, all pilgrims face graduation day. Their pilgrimages have an end date, and after that they are pilgrims no more. Instead, they become monks who tutor pilgrims or else they depart the Temple to live among the worlds of Do. Regardless, they are player characters no longer.

About Pilgrims

Pilgrims are made pretty much like any FAE character. They have aspects, stunts, and approaches, but the aspects work a little differently. Every pilgrim’s name has two parts: a banner and an avatar. The former is “an adjective or verb that represents how your pilgrim gets into trouble.” The latter is “a noun that reflects how your pilgrims helps people.” Three sample characters are included in the book, and chapter two goes into admirable detail about banners and avatars. In normal FAE-speak, a pilgrim’s banner is his trouble, and his avatar is his high concept. Every pilgrim also has a dragon aspect. This aspect describes something about the newly hatched dragon that the pilgrims must protect, guide, and raise. The players, through the dragon aspects of their characters, create the personality, appearance, abilities, et cetera of the young dragon.

In simplest terms, the dragon is a non-player character controlled by the GM, given qualities by the players, a collection of aspects usable by all of the players and the GM, and, therefore, a source of both strengths and troubles. In my opinion, the dragon is the cleverest piece of Do. It’s something that is so simple that I wonder why I didn’t think of it.

The Temple Is Missing!

If you choose to run a Do campaign, it begins when the pilgrims return from a mission to discover that Temple is missing and, in its place, is a dragon egg. Where is the Temple? Where did this egg come from? What is the nature of the dragon within? All of the questions are answered during play as a sort of metaplot that moves toward a defined end of the campaign. As the game progresses and pilgrims answer letters (more on that below) and gradually solve the mystery of the Temple, the dragon gains more aspects. At the end of each letter (read: adventure), the dragon learns something new. It gains a new aspect. When the dragon gains its tenth aspect, the campaign draws to a close.

Mail Call!

As mentioned above, the people of the worlds of Do send letters to the monks, who read those letters and then send out pilgrims to solve the problems in the letters. When the Temple vanishes and the dragon hatches, the letters don’t stop. Instead, the dragon coughs up letters, and the pilgrims find themselves without the guidance of the monks. Problems must be solved, and the dragon accompanies the pilgrims, learning from how they act what sort of dragon it should be. In other words, the way the pilgrims solve problems ends up teaching the dragon, which will eventually become a very powerful creature indeed, how it ought to solve problems. Whether the pilgrims — mere children — like it or not, the fate of the worlds of Do is in their hands.

In Conclusion

If you like FAE, get Do. It is a remarkable example of what FAE can accomplish. If you don’t like FAE, get Do. It’s a fascinating idea for a multi-world campaign where solving problems via violence is possible but never without consequences, not the least of which is the fact the pilgrims end up teaching the dragon that the way to solve problems is via force.

I cannot recommend Do strongly enough, and I look forward to challenging the students who participate in Ludi Fabularum with its many worlds.

August 22nd, 2017  in RPG No Comments »

Vengeance of the Vertebral Dominators!

Today’s mash-up smooshes together From Unformed Realms and Mutant Future. I let the randomness of the former determine the mutations from the latter. The results ended up being two mutants because that just seemed like a fun idea.

Vertebral Dominator
Number Encountered: 1d6+1 (3d6+3)
Alignment: Chaotic
Movement: 60′ (30′)
Armor Class: 4
Hit Dice: 3+3
Attacks: 1
Damage:
Save: L3
Morale: 7
Hoard Class: IX, XVIII
XP: 170

Mutations: Dual Cerebellum (limited), Natural Armor, Pain Sensitivity, Parasitic Control

A vertebral dominator resembles a disembodied spinal column that slithers much like a snake. Thick, bony body segments provide good protection against attacks. Nerve clusters at its head approximate normal senses, but the mutant’s exposed nerves make is very sensitive to pain. Fortunately for it, a vertebral dominator can parasitically control a host organism. While latched onto its host, the vertebral dominator controls the hosts actions and reactions. The merged parasite-host creature enjoys the benefits of having two cerebellums.

Scolopendra
Number Encountered: 1d4+1
Alignment: Neutral
Movement: 150′ (50′)
Armor Class: 6
Hit Dice: 9
Attacks: 1d4+1 (pincers or thrown spines)
Damage: 1d10 or 1d6
Save: L5
Morale: 9
Hoard Class: None
XP: 3,800

Mutations: Aberrant Form (20 legs), Aberrant Form (pincers), Spiny Growth (medium spines), Toxic Weapon (Class 11)

A scolopendra is a large, predatory arthropod whose body is divided into ten segments, each segment sporting two legs, half of which end with powerful, tripartite pincers. The mutant’s chitinous exoskeleton is covered with sharp spines, each two to three feet long. It can break off these spines and hurl them like daggers, attack in melee with its pincers, or a combination of the two attack forms, making 1d4+1 attacks each round. Against creatures to its rear or rear flanks, a scolopendra may spew forth of a gout of toxic fecal matter in a cone 30 feet long and 15 feet wide at its base. Those hit that fail their saving throws are paralyzed for 2d6 rounds, while those who make their saves move at half speed for 1d6 rounds. Vertebral dominators prefer scolopendrae as host organisms since they appear especially suspectible to the vertebral dominator’s control.

August 1st, 2017  in RPG 1 Comment »

Wisdom

In Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream at night. God said: “Whatever you ask I shall give you.” Solomon answered: “You have shown great kindness to your servant, David my father, because he walked before you with fidelity, justice, and an upright heart; and you have continued this great kindness toward him today, giving him a son to sit upon his throne. Now, LORD, my God, you have made me, your servant, king to succeed David my father; but I am a mere youth, not knowing at all how to act — I, your servant, among the people you have chosen, a people so vast that it cannot be numbered or counted. Give your servant, therefore, a listening heart to judge your people and to distinguish between good and evil. For who is able to give judgment for this vast people of yours?” (1 Kings 3:5-9)

Wisdom traditionally has been viewed as the ability to discern good from evil with the aim of doing the first and avoiding the latter. This view is reflected in AD&D‘s explanation of Wisdom, which “is a composite term for the character’s enlightenment, judgement, wile, will power, and (to a certain extent) intuitiveness” (PH, p. 11). It is the attribute which “subsumes the categories of willpower, judgment, wile, enlightenment, and intuitiveness” (DMG, p. 15). The qualities that Wisdom represents help me understand why Wisdom is the principal attribute of clerics, as well as being important for druids, paladins, rangers, and monks. For all but the monk, Wisdom also represents a connection to the divine, and, by extension, is a factor in a character’s alignment.

Some words about alignment. First and foremost, alignment is not a set of rules that dictate how a character must act. Sure, certain characters may suffer major consequences for acting contrary to their alignments, but their alignments per se do not make contrary action impossible. Also, alignment descriptions in the rules (PH, pp. 33-34; DMG, pp. 23-24) are generalizations. But what is alignment? It is a short-hand description of “the broad ethos of thinking, reasoning creatures” (DMG, p. 23). That’s it. Alignment summarizes a particular creature’s “disposition, character, or fundamental values” (to quote the dictionary about ethos). Alignment makes it possible to predict what a certain creature will do in such-and-such situation most of the time. Deviations are always possible, and probably fairly common in at least small ways.

Alignment is not, however, a reflection of a wholly subjective set of value judgments. In AD&D as the rules are written, it makes no sense to say that dwarves only think orcs are evil because dwarves are socially conditioned to think that way, but the orcs don’t view their actions as evil and so those actions are not really evil. It cannot be denied that there is always a subjective element in all moral judgments, but orcs “are cruel and hate living things in general”. They really hate elves “and will always attack them in preference to other creatures.” Orcs “take slaves for work, food, and entertainment (torture, etc) but not elves whom they kill immediately” (emphases added). In no way can cruelty, murderous cannibalism, slavery, torture for fun, et cetera be colored as anything other than evil. Orcs are not misunderstood or functioning under different but equally valid cultural norms. They’re evil as a general rule, both individually and collectively.

Alignment is especially important to classes with a connection to the divine. For example, clerics who “have not been faithful to their teachings, followed the aims of their deity, contributed freely to the cause, and otherwise acted according to the tenets of their faith” may find themselves unable to acquire certain levels of spells (DMG, p. 38). The consequences for paladins are perhaps the most severe of all. Paladins who “knowing perform an act which is chaotic in nature” must do appropriate penance. Those who “ever knowingly and willingly perform an evil act” lose paladin status forever.

My strong suspicion is that Mr. Gygax’s wording about paladins shows at least a familiarity with classical expressions of Christian moral theology. Note that certain actions are “chaotic in nature”. In other words, those actions are in and of themselves chaotic, regardless of what the paladin’s opinion might be or what the circumstances are. Christian moral theology doesn’t really consider things on a law-chaos axis as much as a good-evil axis, but recalling that “law dictates that order and organization [are] necessary and desirable” and “generally supports the group as more important than the individual” helps me grok essential differences. Ultimately, law cannot be concerned with what is merely legal. The Western philosophical tradition, well back before the time of Christ, has understood that unjust laws are not really laws. If torture is evil, for example, no law saying torture is acceptable makes torture not evil. Instead, in its essence, it seems as if law’s main thrust is that the Other and/or the Many have greater priority than the Self and/or the One. Note well that AD&D‘s alignment system conceptually separates such considerations from good-evil.

What this means for the lawful creature is that, all things being equal, the lawful creature puts the needs of others first. If a cleric and her companions are severely injured and in imminent danger of more harm, the lawful cleric probably heals her companions first. Perhaps some practical circumstances makes another use of healing resources more prudent, but, in general, the lawful cleric’s needs take a backseat to the needs of others. Back to the paladin, avoiding chaotic actions probably means that much of the time the paladin’s ability to “lay on hands” is going to be used to heal someone else.

When turning to good-evil, we see that “the tenets of good are human rights, or in the case of AD&D, creature rights. Each creature is entitled to life, relative freedom, and the prospect of happiness. Cruelty and suffering are undesirable.” Evil “does not concern itself with rights or happiness; purpose is the determinant” (DMG, p. 23). In other words, evil is about the will to power, about the ends both justifying and rationalizing the means. Those means may be aimed at the perceived benefit of the group (lawful evil) or entirely selfish (chaotic evil), but questions about life, freedom, and happiness are unimportant. As such, evil actions are evil in and of themselves. They are malum in se, not merely malum prohibitum. They violate what has been variously been called divine law, natural law, moral law, or (to use the term preferred by C. S. Lewis in The Abolition of Man) the Tao.

Back to what appears to be Mr. Gygax’s familiarity with classical expressions of Christian moral theology. Note that the paladin must “knowingly and willingly” do evil in order to lose paladin status. In classical Christian moral theology, distinctions are made between acts that are venial and mortal. Paladins lose their paladinhood for mortal acts, and for an act to be mortal it must meet certain objective criteria, namely:

1. The act’s subject matter must be grave. In other words, the act itself must be malum in se.
2. The act must be committed with full knowledge/awareness of the action’s evil and the gravity of the offense.
3. The act must be committed with deliberate and complete consent.

Each part above corresponds to part of makes paladins stop being paladins forever:

1. The act must be evil.
2. The act must be knowingly performed.
3. The act must be willingly performed.

In instances where the paladin does not have sufficient knowledge and/or does not act freely, the action remains evil, but does not meet the criteria necessary for him being stripped of paladinhood.

So what does this have to do with Wisdom?

Well, since Wisdom deals in part with a character’s ability to judge good from evil, it stands to reason that a character’s Wisdom somehow reflects at least the voice of conscience that kicks in before a character performs some act that will have dire consequences (such as loss of spells or no longer getting to advance as a paladin). This also means that I, as a DM, need to be clear about what constitutes law-chaos and good-evil in my campaign, and that I clearly communicate that information to my players. It doesn’t mean that such considerations are up for debate (although it might). If in my AD&D game I as DM say that torture is always and everywhere evil, then torture is always and everywhere evil.

Does that mean that, for example, a paladin may never resort to torture? No, for one reason: Paladins have free will. Does that mean that a paladin who tortures an enemy immediately and forever ceases to be a paladin? Probably. Referring to the three criteria above and considering that it’s my campaign world governed by certain moral absolutes I’ve defined as DM, the first criterion is met. I’ve communicated such to the players, but that doesn’t mean the paladin is all that hip to the truth. This is where the paladin’s Wisdom comes into play. If the paladin lacks sufficient Wisdom and sufficient moral training, he may be bit off in his understanding about torture. He might be fully aware of torture’s evil and gravity. Even if he is, there is still the third criterion. Does the paladin really have no other acceptable choice? If so, then, yes, the paladin commits a gravely evil act, but does not do so willingly. Some punishment from the gods is appropriate, but this punishment ought not include the permanent loss of paladinhood.

Wisdom reflects a character’s ability to discern good from evil. An exceptionally wise character ought not be surprised to learn after the fact that such-and-such action is evil. The character would have the insight to know ahead of time. The character may choose to ignore that insight as the player decides, and that is one of the ways that the moral drama implied by AD&D‘s alignment system comes into play.

July 31st, 2017  in RPG No Comments »

Ophidian Sentinels

I continue to enjoy From Unformed Realms. This morning, I’ve gone deep into my collection and pulled out Bloodshadows by West End Games. I need to run a Dinner & Gaming night with this system.

Ophidian Sentinel

We smelled them before we saw them. Rico gagged, choking like something was caught in his throat. A stench like a backed-up septic tank choked the air. They slithered out of the darkness, thick black tongues flicking. Eyeless and seeking, they resembled thick-bodied serpents covered with knobby, overlapping scales the color of spoiled olives. Each one was longer than I am tall.

Agility 10
Climbing 13, Dodge 12, Stealth 12, Unarmed Combat (bite) 15
Dexterity 5
Missile Weapons (vomit) 7
Strength 7
Endurance 10
Toughness 10 (14 with armor)
Intellect 6
Perception (smell) 12, Tracking (by scent) 12
Mind 8
Confidence 8
Charisma 5

Ophidian sentinels, blind and single-minded, guard unholy sites. These monsters communicate with each other by means of scented secretions, most of which humans find highly offensive.

Natural Tools: Ophidian sentinels have dense scales and bones (armor value equals Toughness+4/14). They bite with strong jaws sporting dozens of sharp teeth (damage value equals Strength+3/10). These monsters also have the following abilities.

* Accelerated Healing: Gains a +3 bonus to all Endurance rolls when healing. Heals one shock per round.

* Euphoric Vomit: An ophidian sentinel may attack at range by expelling a gob of vomit. Treat as a throwing knife for ranges. A target struck by the gob must generate an Endurance or resist shock total equal to attack’s power value (usually Endurance+10/20), modified by any result points of the attack. If the target fails, he is rendered senseless by the vomit’s tranquilizing properties, and the target remains this way until he makes a successful Confidence or willpower total (one check per round).

July 28th, 2017  in RPG 1 Comment »

Chitinoid Chaos!

More fun with From Unformed Realms, this time using TSR’s Marvel Super Heroes.

Adventure Hook: The heroes receive an unexpected invitation (perhaps from a medical or science contact) to watch the demonstration of a new biotech trauma care system. Unfortunately, the Mad Thinker has tampered with the project as part of a scam to hold the technology hostage in hopes of sizable ransom. The Mad Thinker is holed up in an abandoned military bunker. When the biotech system is activated, it overloads and explodes. Several people are caught in the blast. They are transformed into chitinoids, which are motivated by basic instinctual drives.

Chitinoid
From the smoke and fire stagger several people, doctors, technicians, and nurses. They transform rapidly, flesh becoming metallic, covered with thorns and razor edges. They stagger about, clicking and humming, eyeless and inhuman.

Primary Abilities: F Gd, A Gd, S Ex, E Rm, R Fe, I Rm, P Ty
Secondary Abilities: Health 70, Karma 38, Resources Fb, Popularity 0
Powers: Body Armor (Rm), Claws (Ex), Lightning Speed (Ex), Slashing Missile (Ex), Sonar (In), Transformative Nanobots (Rm), Wall-Crawling (Ex)
Nota Bene: Chitinoids are blind. A living target that suffers a Stun or Kill result from a chitinoid’s Claws or Slashing Missiles must make an Endurance FEAT check against Remarkable intensity or else become infected with transformative nanobots. Every 1-10 rounds, the victim suffers a -1CS to Reason. When Reason reaches Feeble, the target turn into a chitinoid. Before transformation is complete, only highly advanced medical care or superhuman recuperative powers stop the process. The Mad Thinker’s ransom demands include the claim that he has the cure for “chitinoidism”. The stats above are for a typical human turned into a chitinoid. It’s up the Judge what abilities and powers a transformed superhuman might have.

July 26th, 2017  in RPG No Comments »