Saturday, August 31, 2019

Adapting AD&D to GLOG: System Shock

Welcome to the first episode of AD&Daptations, a hopefully fruitful little series on this here blog, adapting choice pieces of AD&D to GLOG. Along the way, we'll explore the history of the hobby, what purpose these rules served in the genesis of the hobby, and how these tidbits can improve your game in the twenty-first century. Today, we'll be tackling a fairly simple rule: system shock. (I wrote the intro first, article second. This was supposed to be a quick, simple palate cleanser before returning to Elder Scrolls. Ha ha.)

Obligatory Disclaimer: I am what many in the hobby would call a 'young whipper-snapper.' I have never played AD&D. My introductions to the hobby came from Matthew Mercer and Arnold K.  My knowledge of the system comes largely from The Blue Bard, as well as some light research on my part. I am incapable of having nostalgia for anything D&D related.

I am examining this because it opens a portal to the origin of the hobby, and I believe that is valuable. A fantasy author benefits from understanding the mythological inspirations behind Tolkein, because it allows them to see how one transforms influences into novel and evocative forms, even (no, especially!) if they're not using elves and dwarves. Seeing how the originators of the hobby translated their influences into the first editions of the game gives aspiring creators more options in doing the same with a different seed.

JB of B/X Blackrazor recently turned me on to Anthony Huso of The Blue Bard, a by-the-book AD&D blog. As a newcomer to TTRPGs, it's a tremendous resource, expanding my sphere of knowledge (history) to include a major part of role-playing history. In a post glossing several of AD&D's more particular rules, he briefly mentions system shock.

Related image
No, not that one. At least, not yet. 

System Shock, not present in the basic versions of the game, is a variant roll-or-die effect used with powerful magic. Haste, resurrection, polymorph, wish and several other effects provoke this check. If you fail, you die. Simple as that. It reinforces the sense of magic as risky and dangerous.

Yet, others take issue with the depiction. This post by Duane of Runecarver circa 2010 makes the case that SS lumps multiple concepts together. The possibly deadly physical shock of magical aging, offensive polymorph and petrification carries the same risk and is handled with the same table as drinking a Potion of Speed, as well as casting Wish and Resurrection.

This, some say, is what Saves vs Death are for, and doubling down on them is unnecessary. Others, such as on this Dragonsfoot thread (possibly the one mentioned by Runecarver?) contend that it doesn't match the fiction; when did you last see a frog turn back into a prince only to die because of the sudden physical trauma?

The response was that AD&D doesn't simulate fiction. When did the protagonists last suffer a TPK after all? But JB specifically calls out adherence to the fiction in his post, claiming that SS simulates a powerful magic-users' caution against using high-level magic. It's dangerous.

But the biggest reason, according to JB, is maintaining tension.

One of the knocks against all versions of basic D&D is its tendency to devolve to more superheroic fantasy with the acquisition of readily utilized, high level magic. Parties that can haste themselves with impunity, polymorph their henchmen into dragons, and raise dead with nary a concern make for nigh unstoppable forces in a campaign world, untroubled...and the usual dangers and detriments of the game world.

Utilizing system shock, "unrelentingly" as Huso suggests, is a great way to make such high level magics feel a bit more dangerous to the user...a double-edged sword, certainly worth the risk in many cases, but still risky.

These two sides are coming to the rule from different angles. The former group likes the superheroic nature of the game at high levels, and takes umbrage with rules which would curtail that. The latter, led by Huso and JB, want to keep the tense and deadly nature of the game in effect at all levels. They see the abuse of spells like Polymorph, Wish and Resurrect, and see System Shock as a useful rule for keeping the game interesting.


JB and Huso are by-the-book people. Huso has spent years playing AD&D as close to the original rules as possible, while JB has given B/X a similar treatment. For them, a big part of System Shock is not just that it works for their style, but its place in the original rules places it above the dungeon master. The rolling of dice and the strict adherence to rules as written create distance between the game and the DM's whim, and so maintain the place of the DM as a fundamentally neutral entity in a dangerous and deadly world. It's canonical.

I, the filthy heretic that I am, have no such compunctions. I'm going to pull the rule apart, see what works in different games, and make my changes accordingly.

If you're running a superheroic game... you probably shouldn't use it. It's not built for the fiction or feel of the game you're trying to run. Simple as that.

If you're running a grittier, down to earth game, you can gain a lot from its inclusion. But first let's tease apart the effects.

First, the trauma effects. Petrification requires SS rolls both when entering and exiting petrification. If the former fails, you die in addition to being turned to stone, and if the latter fails, you die while returning to flesh. Being petrified is as good as being dead, and in cases where de-petrification magic is less common than resurrection, worse. The appropriateness of SS for petrification depends on:

A) how common the effect is, B) whether there is a saving throw to avoid it C) how common de-petrification is, and D) how lethal you want the game to be.

Aging from ghosts is similar. If your ghosts don't have aging attacks, then it won't apply. If they do, there are some complications pointed out by Runecarver. Do your ghosts take a set number of years off the lifespan? A dice roll? Is it proportional to total life expectancy? Does an elf with ten years taken off have the same risk of death as a human? These are questions for the individual game master and their world. If your campaigns take place on a very short time scale, I recommend adding either Constitution damage or, if you're feeling nasty, level drain. But that's for another post.

Polymorph can be a very useful effect. Not only can you transform enemies into bunny rabbits, you can transform allies into dragons. This seems to be enough of a concern that Gygax and Arneson defined Polymorph (at the very least the true, Polymorph Other spell) as an offensive spell which would trigger System Shock. Even if it's voluntary, you can't deliberately fail your save (as per Runecarver, I can't confirm this myself). If you see your players transforming their hirelings into various monsters to stomp the dungeon, I suggest heavily penalized Morale checks. If you see the players turning each other into monsters, I'm tempted to let them, with the risk of staying that way forever. But System Shock for involuntary transformation is kosher in my book, pretty much as written.

Then, the spellcasting. Very powerful magic, such as Wish and Resurrect, provoke System Shock rolls on the caster. Near as I can tell, the spell goes through if it fails. Again, I like the implication. The limit on Wish isn't just how much gold you have - it's how willing you are to risk character death. And raising that character also triggers SS - on the caster! Huso tells the story of his party convincing their 16th level NPC cleric to revive their 6th level magic-user. The MU is brought back, but the cleric fails his save (rolled openly) and dies.

This, again, feels right to me. The uncertainty does more to make the magic feel risky and costly than any amount of gold.

'BUT!' cry the opponents. 'This is all stuff that should be handled with a Save vs Death, or Petrification or Polymorph! Why have a whole separate system?'

Well, I'll tell you why. Let's take a look at the Save tables.

Image result for 1e dmg player character saving throws
This is the 2E table, but the relevant sections are identical. 

For fellow GLOG-ites, note that the Saves here are roll-over.

Saves are dependent on class and level. Since we're talking spellcasting, Priests and Wizards are our focus.

Defense against Petrification and Polymorph are their own thing, while aging could easily be placed under Death, if one wanted to replace System Shock with a Save. Of course, the former two already get that. No class has better than a 80% chance to Save, even at the highest levels. At starting levels, it ranges from 20-45%.

Now, aging from ghosts doesn't get a saving throw. More accurately, the to-hit roll is your saving throw. It's part of what makes undead scary in AD&D. You could put that under Death, which starts out with a save chance between 30-50% at level one and 60-90% at the highest levels.

If you want to use Save vs Death for casting Wish and Resurrection, then you're applying a level-dependent chance to a character which must be high level to begin with.

Now, let's take a look at the System Shock table from Supplement 1: Greyhawk, provided by JB.

Constitution 3-6:   35%
Constitution 7-10:   55%
Constitution 11-12:   80%
Constitution 13-14:   90%
Constitution 15:   95%
Constitution 16:   98%
Constitution 17:   99%
Constitution 18:   100%

You'll note that these are not dependent on level, but on attributes. The effects on gameplay are completely different. Short of very lucky scroll finds, characters casting Wish and Resurrection will be high-level, but don't necessarily have high Constitutions. Wizards in particular aren't known for being tanky. The value of the Save mechanic comes from watching characters overcome threats as they get steadily more powerful. The value of attribute-dependent rolls comes from differentiating player characters of the same level.


The applications in GLOG should be clear here. Save is dependent on a combination of Level bonus and Charisma bonus. However, you're unlikely to ever have a greater than 50% base Save. If you dumped Charisma, it may be very low indeed. Saves come into play when the party messes up, and they get a chance to not mess up. At pretty much all levels, they will probably suffer, but in a reasonable number of cases, they will be spared.

If you want to copy the table above straight into GLOG, it'll work just fine. If you like everything to be compact, you can simply use a Constitution check, which is less generous than the table and has a very different curve, but produces a largely similar effect. The use of modifiers here will help drive player behavior. I like the idea of using a fancy, slow ritual to boost the System Shock chance. That's my rationale for why villains always use easily-interruptible summons. They want to live.

Fundamentally, System Shock adds a manageable risk to powerful magic. The decision to use Wish and Resurrect becomes less sure, and all the more exciting for it. Effects like Polymorph and Petrification remain scary at higher levels, while still being limited by previous Saves. Undead are all the more terrifying.

Final thoughts

This post was meant to be a small introduction to adapting AD&D for GLOG. It ballooned very quickly. When this series comes up next in my writing cycle, I plan to do psionics. But, you know, not before I finish the ESGLOG Wizards. And probably the Encounter Table challenge.

If JB and Anthony Huso somehow end up reading all the way down, I sincerely apologize for the heresy, and heartily recommend their blogs.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Elder Scrolls GLOG: Morrowind Campaign

Having made all this material for a GLOG campaign in Tamriel, one must ask, "How do you run a game here?" It's a very particular setting with mountains of lore, books, maps and resources, with an accompanying fanbase numbering in the millions, many of whom don't play tabletop RPGs. From the outside, it can all seem a bit daunting.

The key here is to use those resources to your advantage. If your players walk into Sadrith Mora, you have resources for that on the Elder Scrolls wiki. Maps, NPCs, shops and even quests which you can modify to suit your needs. You can find screenshots online of those locations. Hell, you may be able to navigate the whole location from memory if you've spent hours navigating them before.

But what kind of campaign would work in Tamriel? The games tend to focus on prophesied heroes, who take on very specific quests. Do you create a new prophecy? Are your players the chosen ones?

That would certainly be the tack if you're playing latter day D&D or Pathfinder. But GLOG and the OSR really doesn't lend itself to that. The whole 'prophesied heroes' schtick doesn't work if a long-running campaign has a complete turnover of characters between the beginning and end. If the characters are told that they are the chosen ones more than five minutes before the final battle, chances are they'll die, run for the hills or otherwise derail the prophecy.

And that's fine. Actually, that's exactly what I want my players to do. So the campaign must take that into account.

[If you are playing in my game, read no further. GM's eyes only.]

Image result for jiub you're awake

Here's how I would run a game set in Tamriel. More specifically, in Vvardenfell, the setting of the Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind.

It is the year 427 of the Third Era. The emperor is Uriel Septim VII. The players begin as prisoners (natch) in an Imperial prison fort on Vvardenfell. I'm leaning towards the east coast, close to Sadrith Mora.

While having the maps is useful, they don't control you. You can plop a dungeon or a fortress or what-have-you wherever you so please. Also, we're giving Tamriel proper proportions, a la Daggerfall. Vvardenfell is big. Traveling from Dagon Fel to Ebonheart by road takes weeks at a fast pace.

The players are unjustly (or justly) imprisoned for crimes they may or may not have committed. Have the players describe their crime and whether or not they really did it.

The game begins with the players being escorted to a dungeon. The fort commander discovered a buried structure nearby, and is sending in prisoners to scout it out. The party is not the first to enter. This far from home, the Empire doesn't much care what some corrupt warden is doing with his prisoners.

Without weapons and with only a few basic supplies, the party must explore a small dungeon. They may find some old weapons, or improvise them. Hazards and ancient traps remain deadly, with the bodies of fellow prisoners hinting at the dangers. Combat is likely contained to an encounter or two with a weak monster, or another surviving prisoner. There are a few valuables there, which the warden will be wanting.

At the end of the dungeon, an escape. The party doesn't have to return to the prison. They can run with what they found, hide and create new identities while the guards think they're dead and send another group. The area is wild and rugged, and the Imperials don't have accurate maps.

From here, survival is up to the party. There are ashlander camps nearby, as well as several Dunmer cities and fortresses. They may become bandits, or seek refuge with Dunmer eager to have pawns against the empire.

This could very easily become a murder-hoboey campaign of wacky hijinks. However, the party should repeatedly have the option of joining guilds, earning money and gaining reputations. This adds some early goals and advancement opportunities for the party. But the real structure of the campaign comes from a particular character. This character, though a hero, will be based on the techniques for building effective villains.

Image result for nerevarine

The Nerevarine

The campaign takes place contiguous to the story of Morrowind. The Nerevarine arrives on Vvardenfell at the order of the emperor, makes their way to Balmora and is inducted into the Blades by Caius Cosades before building their reputation and influence. The Sixth House works to infiltrate every settlement and organization. The Blight is spreading. But who is the Nerevarine? Who is the chosen one?

Well, the players certainly aren't.

That's right, the players are not chosen ones. They are under no prophecy, have the attention of no Daedra prince (at least at first) and most importantly, they have free will. If the players do nothing, then the Nerevarine will eventually come forth, unite the Houses, become Hortator and defeat Dagoth Ur. But the players are a wrench thrown into those gears.

Building the Nerevarine

At the end of each session, have one of the players roll a die. The first decides the sex of the Nerevarine. The second foretells which of the ten races they belong to. The third indicates if they are a Warrior, Mage or Thief. Build the Nerevarine like a powerful player character. 4d6 drop the lowest for stats with rerolls each level up. But unlike PCs, the Nerevarine's health does not cap at 20 and is capable of taking more than 4 class templates.

Have the Nerevarine level with the party, or be the level of the highest level character you have had in the party up till now. Early on, they will be comparable to a single PC. Later on, they may well be a match for several on their own, on top of commanding armies and having numerous magic items.

Introducing the Nerevarine

After that, have the party encounter the Nerevarine in some fashion, while both are still low level. Perhaps they are competing for the same bounty. Or the party is hired to gather information that the Nerevarine needs to pull off a heist. Maybe the party seeks out a rare book the Nerevarine needs to solve some arcane mystery.

The party should not be aware of who the Nerevarine is. They are another NPC the party is working with or for. The first time they meet, the Nerevarine is low level and inexperienced. The party has an opportunity to influence them. There should be substantial gaps between meetings, at least until things start to heat up.


By the time the Nerevarine has located the dissident priests in Holamayan, Vvardenfell has begun to change. The Blight is spreading faster, with more contagions. Raving madmen are attacking people in the streets. Vvardenfell is under quarantine. If the party wishes to leave Vvardenfell, make it difficult, but possible. The campaign will change completely if this occurs.

By then, the Nerevarine has become the commander of the Blades on Vvardenfell. In the videogame, this has little effect. In the campaign, this is a big step. They gain access to a network of informants and dozens of agents, and will work to acquire more. If the Nerevarine has come to trust the party closely, they will be brought into the conspiracy. If not, the Nerevarine will interact with them through agents to get their help.

As the Nerevarine gains in power, becoming Hortator and likely the leader of a guild, their power grows considerably. At the same time, the party will have racked up a fortune and connections of their own. The assault on Red Mountain will take an army. Both the players and the Nerevarine should work towards recruiting them, and not necessarily be on the same page.

Keep the spotlight on the players

There are some very important considerations. For one, the Nerevarine can die. It won't happen offscreen, but if the players get involved, the thread of prophecy can and will break. The players will have to live in the doomed world they created.

Also, the Nerevarine must not be a DMPC. Most of what they do must happen offscreen unless the players deliberately seek them out to involve themselves in that quest. If this occurs, don't have the party playing second fiddle. They are a powerful quest giver, but do not simply solve the party's conflicts, and have an agenda far greater. Powerful though they may be, so are the players.

Image result for dagoth ur
I'm a GOD! How can you kill a god? What a grand and intoxicating innocence.

Hero as Villain

Remember what I said above with the Nerevarine being built as a villain? Well, that's not just because they have their own agenda. The Nerevarine should be at least somewhat antagonistic, and not fully trustworthy, like anybody who quickly rises to power.

If the party's goals are aligned to the Nerevarine's, it's because the party was convinced to the cause or the Nerevarine was convinced that the party's way was best.

While the Nerevarine opposes the evil of Dagoth Ur, that does not make them good or nice. When the dust settles and the Big bad is slain, the Nerevarine will have immense personal, military and political power. They may wish to expel the Empire from Morrowind, or destroy the Tribunal. They may be straight up evil. You can roll to see if this is the case, or develop it organically as the campaign goes.

Will the players allow such a person to become so powerful? Will they lay plans to assassinate them after Dagoth Ur is defeated, or will they play their hand earlier and take the Sixth House on themselves?

While the PCs lack the option to join the Sixth House, being outlanders, they can still defy the prophecy, take down the Nerevarine, collect the artifacts and destroy the Heart themselves.

This campaign structure, built around a single NPC whose identity and role in the story is fluid and malleable, is how I would run an Elder Scrolls campaign. A dynamic world, a questionable NPC, and absolute player freedom to screw up the plans of destiny.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

6 Goblins in Funny Hats

To spice up your encounters, goblins in funny hats with special effects. Most of the effects come from minor magic items, most from Arnold K's d100 minor magic items.

The Beastmaster

A goblin wearing a dogskin cape. Commands a 50' animate rope(100) with the personality of a dog. It will attempt to make friends with anything it sees. Besides tying itself into knots, which it must be taught like tricks, the rope can grapple someone if thrown at them. 50', STR 12.

Image result for vulpes inculta
Like this guy, but worse. 

The Twin

A goblin with a whiskery goatee and a ring of alternate self. If the ring is removed, the goblin returns to its normal, non-goateed self, and is extremely confused for 1d4 rounds.

The Wizard

A goblin wearing a pyramid-shaped hat with a bag of minor magic items, such as cursed matches(76), pop rocks and dust of de-appearance(5). It believes itself to be a real wizard, and will use its items to their greatest extent.

The Juggernaut

A goblin in an improvised metal helm, painted with giant's ochre(95). Massively increased size and strength for 1d6 rounds until the ochre is sweated off and it returns to normal size. Enters combat by bursting through the nearest solid surface.

Image result for kool aid man

The Cannibal

A goblin wearing a restraining mask. If released, attacks exclusively by biting (1d6) and heals as much damage as it deals.

The Aviator

A goblin wearing a leather cap and goggles. Has a cape of gliding. Will seek the highest ground possible and then pepper the party with arrows from above.

Image result for goblin aviator
Like that, actually
Guillaume DuBois

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Elder Scrolls GLOG: Character Creation

If there's one fantasy universe I'm enamored with, it's the Elder Scrolls. I read the Hobbit at a young age, but it never stuck. I bounced around from novel to novel as a kid, but none stayed for any length of time. Until I encountered the Elder Scrolls.

Rag on Skyrim I might for being a hack-n-slash looter, but it introduced me to RPGs before I knew what D&D was. Moving backwards to Oblivion, Morrowind and Daggerfall familiarized me with the more traditional aspects of fantasy role playing games. So now I'm bringing it all full circle and helping you run your GLOG games in Tamriel. This post covers character creation, while upcoming posts cover classes, magic and adventuring in the setting.

This is based mainly on Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind. Those familiar with the title will recognize a good deal, but notice that the mechanics are every different. Morrowind was very granular. The GLOG is not, and that's how I like it. For the sake of keeping play streamlined, a lot of effects are cut, including iconic ones like elemental resistances.

Image result for socucius ergalla
Ahhh, yes, we've been expecting you.

The ten Tamrielic races are distinct from each other, with their own kingdoms and provinces. There are no half-orcs or such, but people of different races do have children together (Notes on Racial Phylogeny and its fan-made rebuttal go into detail). That said, most places are quite mixed in terms of population, especially cities, doubly so where the Empire has sway. Unless traveling in particularly xenophobic or isolated territory, (deep in the forests of Valenwood, Ashlander tribal turf etc.) you can expect to find people of all races in some number. 

Altmer(High Elves): +2 INT, -2 CON, +1MD, -4 to Save vs All Spell Effects
Hailing from the Sumerset Isles in the southwest, the High Elves are a tall, golden-skinned and arrogant people steeped in magic.

Argonian: Immunity to Poison/Disease, Waterbreathing, Cannot wear most foot or headgear
Native to the swamps of Black Marsh (also known as Argonia) in the southeast, the Argonians are lizard-folk, long oppressed by their Dunmer neighbors. 

Bosmer(Wood Elves): +2 DEX, -2 CON, Beast Tongue
The denizens of the forests of Valenwood in the south, impeccable archers, these famous carnivores will not allow a single plant in their domain to come to harm

Breton: +2 INT, +2 WIL, -2 STR
The rulers of High Rock in the northwest, a hybrid people of the Nords and ancient Altmer. The most magically inclined of all the races of man. 

Dunmer(Dark Elves): +2 WIL, -2 CON, +4 to Save vs Destruction
Ashen-skinned elves skilled in blades and destruction from the volcanic land of Morrowind in the east.

Imperial: +2 CHA
The people of the province of Cyrodiil, in the center of Tamriel, cosmopolitan conquerors who united Tamriel under one banner.

Khajiit: +2 DEX, 30' Darkvision, Cannot wear most foot or headgear
Light-footed cat people from Elsweyr in the south. Renowned and reviled as the most talented thieves. 

Nord: +2 STR, -2 INT, +4 Save vs Illusion
Hardy folk from the snowy province of Skyrim in the north, great warriors suspicious of magic. 

Orsimer(Orcs): +2 STR, +2 CON, -2 CHA
The pariahs of the world, cursed elves whose kingdom has been built and burned numerous times.

Redguard: +2 STR, -2 WIL, +4 to Save vs Poison/Disease
The residents of the desert nation of Hammerfell, powerful warriors with a long tradition of mercantile prowess. 

Image result for elder scrolls online races

The thirteen Birthsigns reflect the circumstance of an individual's birth, and each represent a constellation prominent in that month (except for the Serpent). These are inborn, natural traits, though only adventurous types tend to develop them. Most of these traits are explicitly magical, and this is no accident. Tamriel is a high-magic setting, and fully one in three people have the capacity to learn magic, though not all choose or are able to take it up. 

For signs that grant spells, note that the MD is reserved for that spell only. If you're a wizard, you can add some of your own MD to it, but the first MD expended is assumed to be the reserved one, without which you may not cast that spell. 

The Warrior: +1 ATK

The Mage: Gain +1MD to cast Dispel 
R: 50' T: creature or object D: 0
The target is dispelled of all magic effects cast with [dice] and fewer dice. Summoned creatures or items of [dice]x3 HD or less targeted are banished to their home plane. Cannot disenchant enchanted weapons or remove curses.

The Thief: +2 Stealth

The Serpent: Gain +1MD to cast Snakebite
R: Touch T: creature D: 0
You deal [sum]+[dice] poison damage to your target. 

The Lady: +2 CHA

The Steed: +2 CON

The Lord: Gain +1MD to cast Heal
R: touch T: creature D: 0
Target creature heals [sum] HP. It costs 2 HP to remove one negative HP. This spell cannot remove Fatal Wounds, cure diseases, or heal lost limbs.

The Apprentice: Gain +1MD to cast Identify
R: 0 T: magic item D: 0
The magic item this is cast on is immediately identified. Names, effects, curses etc. are known by the caster.

The Atronach: Gain +1MD to cast Reflect
R: 0 T: creature D: 1 minute
The target reflects spells cast with [dice] or fewer MD while the spell is active.

The Ritual: Gain +1MD to cast Turn Undead
Turn Undead
R: 50' T: undead D: 1 minute
You cause an undead creature of [dice]x3 HD or less to flee for 1 minute and be unable to stand against you and your allies. Undead of greater HD still make Morale rolls, but are not magically compelled.

The Lover: Gain +1MD to cast Paralyze
R: touch T: creature D: [dice]x2 rounds
Target creature is unable to act for [dice]x2 rounds. Save for half.

The Shadow: Gain +1MD to cast Invisibility
R: touch T: [dice] creatures D: 10 minutes
You become invisible to normal sight for 10 minutes. You become visible if you interact with your environment, such as by grabbing something, pulling a lever, attacking etc.

The Tower: Gain +1MD to cast Knock
R: 50' T: [dice] objects D: 0
The object is loudly opened. Doors are flung wide, locks are broken, shackles are bent open, belts come undone. Treat this as a strength check made with STR 10+[dice]x4. If target is an armored creature, Save or armor falls off. If unarmored, Save or vomit for [dice] rounds.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Diesel Punk GLOG Classes: Carbarian, Road Warrior, Wrench Wizard

[Design Philosophy: Ordinarily, the Carbarian is indistinguishable from a no-Template Punk of the same level, albeit with some more HP. Their true power comes from an altered state of mind. A warping of the psyche. A shamanistic link to one's vehicle.


In it, a Carbarian not only becomes the rival of the Road Warrior, gaining an extra attack, but can perform impossible feats of mechanical mastery by sacrificing their own life force, the Guzzoline of the human body. The Carbarian is a short burning fuse, driven to self-destructive ends atop a mountain of blood, oil and fire. This is a rework of Lexi's Carbarian, keeping the Rage Dice but otherwise bringing it back to the standard Barbarian.]

Image result for nux mad max
Carbarian: This guy


The Carbarian is no mere mechanic. No, their near-spiritual connection to their vehicle manifests with impossible feats. When the Road Rage spikes through their veins, when the taste of Guzzoline is dearer to them than water, you don't want to come up against them on or off the car.

Carbarian: Gain +2 HP for every Carbarian template you possess.
A: +1 RD, Road Rage, WITNESS ME!
B: +1 RD One with the Machine
C: +1 RD Fire and Steel
D: +1 RD Chrome Dome

A: Road Rage: You have Rage Dice, which are d4s. When you want to enter a rage, roll any number of your Rage Dice. The rage lasts for (sum) minutes. Rage Dice burn out on 3s or 4s, and only return on a daily or long rest. When you roll doubles or triples on your Rage Dice, you get the related effect from the table.

While raging, you get an extra attack each round and (sum) bonus temporary Hit Points.You can't take any actions that don't contribute to you brutally murdering things while you're raging, and it automatically expires when all enemies are dead, subdued, or driven off, regardless of how much time is left. You can try to end your rage early on a 1-in-4.

1. Triple your Speed. Automatically Breach.
2. You can pick which Breaches or Wounds your attacks with your vehicle deal. Halve your Speed.
3. Increase the range of squares you can move to by 1. Successful Handling tests increase it by a further 1. Anyone else in the vehicle while you're moving has to save or take d4 bludgeoning damage.
4. Take no damage from Ramming attacks. You can't reduce your Speed.

1. Whenever you deal damage to a vehicle, you can move your Speed again in any direction. You take damage with advantage from Ramming attacks.
2. Treat your Vehicle as if it had an additional Accessory of your choice. Using that Accessory costs 1 Vehicle HP.
3. Whenever you attack with your vehicle, you must make a Charisma check to perform a Stunt of your choice. Whenever any of your Stunts fail, you suffer d4 Psychic damage.
4. Roll twice on the Doubles table.

Sacrifice 1d4 of your own HP to do one of the following: - Restore that many of your Vehicle's HP - Step up your Fuel die, or restore it to a d4 if you're out of gas - Increase your Speed by that much - Pass a Handling test to move further - Make a Charisma check. If you succeed, Stunt (as per the human-scale combat rules).

B: One With The Machine
You pass all saves to mitigate damage from Breaches. Whenever you would restore HP from a rest, you may instead restore that many HP to your vehicle.

C: Fire and Steel
Add your Fuel Die to your ramming attacks.

D: Chrome Dome
Reduce all incoming damage by 1. Gain +2 to Save vs Fear.

[Design Philosophy: The Road Warrior is built for reliability in a world of chaos. When their compatriots have exhausted themselves with superhuman acts of punkery, the Road Warrior is still there, breaking skulls and driving fast. They are the rock that a Diesel Punk crew relies on to be kicking ass and taking names at the end of the day.]

Image result for mad max and furiosa
Road Warrior: Both these motherf*ckers
Road Warrior 

Road Warrior: Gain +1 HP for every Road Warrior Template you possess.
A: +1 Attacks per round, Parry
B: Notches
C: Tricky, +2 Attack Stat
D: Deadeye, This is my Boom-Stick!

A: Parry 
Once per day you can reduce incoming damage by 1d12 points. If you roll higher than the incoming damage, you deal that much to the enemy.

B: Notches 
Each time you attain a total of 10, 20, 30, and 50 kills with a weapon type (such as 10 kills with a tire iron), you unlock a new ability for that weapon, chosen from the list below. Keep track of your kills and special abilities on the back of your character sheet. 1. +1 Damage 2. Expanded Critical Range (+1) 3. Special ability (negotiated with GM, one per weapon) For example, a Fighter with 50 chainsaw kills (4 notches) could have +1 damage, a critical range of (1-3), and the ability to carry over damage to another enemy on a critical hit. The GM decides what counts as a kill.

C: Tricky 
You get +2 to Combat Maneuver rolls. Additionally, whenever you attack and get exactly the number you needed, you may make an opposed Dexterity vs Strength or Dexterity (whichever is higher). If you win, you successfully execute a free Combat Maneuver.

D: Deadeye 
You can target a vehicle’s driver directly.

D: This is my Boom-Stick!
Add your damage die to any intimidation rolls. If in a vehicle, the die is maximized.

[Design Philosophy: While the Carbarian can be a cast-from-HP caster, the Wrench Wizard is really closer to a cleric. All PCs are competent in the maintenance and repair of vehicles (duh) but the Wrench Wizard can do the same while taking heavy fire and hanging off the side of a speeding truck. A Wrench Wizard's Eureka Dice (ED) represent fleeting comprehension of the machine on an intuitive level, a frantic clarity, and their Blueprints allow them to upgrade vehicles during downtime and craft strange new machines.]

Wrench Wizard 

Wrench Wizard
A: +1 ED, Blueprints
B: +1 ED Upgrades
C: +1 ED
D: +1 ED, Recognize My Genius!

A: Blueprints 
You can do more than just repair machines; you can build them. By finding Blueprints in the world, you can create attachments and even new vehicles from scratch during downtime.

B: Upgrades 
Once per adventure per vehicle, you can reroll one of its attributes and take the higher roll.

D: Recognize My Genius! 
You can make your own, custom attachments. Negotiate with your GM as to what they do.


Combat Repair 
R: 0 T: Vehicle D: 0
Repair a vehicle you are on for [sum] - [dice] HP.

Tick Tock 
R: Touch T: Vehicle D: 0
Rig a vehicle to explode in [dice] rounds.

R: 0 T: Self D: 1 minute
Add an explosion to your next shot. Deal + [sum] damage to all in 10’.

R: touch T: object or creature D: [dice]x2 hours
Object illuminates as a torch, with a radius of 20’+[dice]x10’. Alternatively, you can make an Attack roll against a sighted creature. If you succeed, the creature is blinded for [sum] rounds. If [sum] is greater than 12, the creature is permanently blinded.

A Faceful of Napalm 
R: 30’ T: Creature D: [dice] + 1 rounds
You throw improvised napalm at a target. They take [sum] damage and [sum]-4 damage for [dice] rounds after.

Magic Missile 
R: 60’ T: Creature D: 0
Target takes [sum] + [dice] damage, no Save. As a Wrench Wizard, it manifests as a wrench thrown unerringly at the target’s head.

Turbo Lover 
R: 0 T: Vehicle D: 0
Step down your Fuel Die to increase your speed by [sum]. If you exceed Power, don’t Breach for [dice] rounds.

Harder! Faster! 
R:0 T: Vehicle D: 0
Trigger a Breach if your choice to add [sum] + [dice] to your vehicle’s next check.

R: 0 T: Vehicle D: [dice] rounds
Delay a Slag by [dice] rounds. If you succeed in fixing the vehicle, it will break down when combat ends and require a long repair.

R: 0 T: Vehicle D: [dice] rounds
Step down a Fuel Die to cover adjacent vehicles and your path with Guzzoline for [dice] rounds.

Note: I’ve been thinking of adding a Ranger class, less Aragorn, more Artyom. Lexi, the ball is in your court.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Hospitality Law

Among humans, hospitality law and the guest right is a sacred custom. Even in the cities, there are few laws concerning it; rather, a common understanding derived from myth and two simple rules.

First, respect from host to guest. Second, respect from guest to host. Purported violations of hospitality are most often decided by mob justice.

Among supernatural beings, this is much more complicated.

Magic and Hospitality

The hospitality tradition among humans was learned from magical creatures, who take it very, very seriously. The duties of host to guest and vice versa are detailed and enumerated, and violating them takes a heavy toll. Creatures like dragons, goblins and trolls, ordinarily hostile, can be negotiated with by invoking guest-right. Of course, most people don't think to do that when faced down with a giant flame-breathing dinosaur.

Hospitality is deeply interwoven with magic, and beings which break it suffer a loss of magical power. A dragon will weaken and find their breath cold. A troll will find their flesh soft and unable to regenerate. Even goblins will shrink to diminutive rat-men, losing their cunning and ability to use tools.

Fae, elementals and other such beings are straight up made of magic, and so couldn't break hospitality law if they wanted to.These beings are defined as not having free will.  It would be like a human deciding to stop their heartbeat.

Most humans aren't magical, and so don't worry about this. Wizards, however, are subject to this same restriction, and are very aware of this. They try to discourage guests as much as possible.

How to be a Guest

Gaining guest right can be tricky. First, you have to be somewhere that could be considered a being's home. A dragon's lair works, as does a goblin warren. But the land around such places doesn't. Once inside, you must address your host honorably and ask for permission to enter their home. Even if this doesn't work, this is enough to give most sapient creatures pause.

For creatures with free will, hospitality is enforced not just by loss of magic power, but by appearances. Sure, you could eat those stupid adventurers who asked for hospitality. They didn't do it right anyway, so you probably won't lose any magic power. But it's just plain gauche, and what if word gets out?

Intelligent magic creatures are very concerned with what others think of them. Not humans (high level wizards are not strictly human), but others of their kind. Not necessarily of the same species either. If an ancient manticore hears a local hydra has been flouting hospitality law, that's all the reason they need to start nibbling at the hydra's territory.

Fights over resources between such monsters are long, protracted, ugly and impolite, resulting in damage to all parties and the surrounding landscape. Whichever one survived would likely not be able to defend against an incursion by an opportunistic third party. As a result, resource disputes are mitigated by complex webs of alliances, with the weaker party willingly ceding.

This all turns on how well respected the monster in question is. Violating hospitality is like telling everyone 'Hey, I'm a big stinking liar! Don't trust me!"

"I know this mountain was yours last week, but then you ate that priest who asked for guest right, and we both know whose side the cyclopes will come down on."

As a prospective guest, be polite but insistent.


The next stage involves an exchange of gifts. This is where the danger comes in. Even if you've avoided getting slow-roasted, messing this up could put you right back at square one. That is, being something's square meal.

The guest presents their gift first. As always, it's the thought that counts, with value a close second. The big no-no is cash. Gift cards aren't any better. See, money on it's own is a transparent bribe. Note that bribery isn't a problem, but being obvious about it insults the host's intelligence, indicates you really don't care, and implies that the host is easily bribed. The host would be entirely in their rights to eat you.

Instead, a present should be valuable in a more subjective manner. Magic is, above all, based on emotion. A sack of coins won't do. A handful of coins reworked by a master goldsmith to show the host's face in profile shows thoughtfulness and a deep consideration.

While value is secondary, it could still trip up an inexperienced gift-giver. It doesn't matter how good a wood carver you are, presenting a carving you made ten minutes ago smacks of carelessness. At the same time, a gift whose value is too great is also a faux pas, for reasons about to be explained.

If your gift is accepted, your host but provide a gift of roughly equal value in return. 'Roughly' is the key word there. It's impolite to compare the exact cost of a gift, and against the spirit of the exchange. It's not the intention for any party to profit, rather the creation of a spiritual bond between you by the transfer of property.

Aside: That's not an exaggeration. A bit of your soul rubs off on anything you own, so an exchange of gifts results in the exchange of soul-stuff. It's spiritually similar (though different in magnitude) to friendship, marriage and sex. Items with more subjective/emotional value, whether due to memories or the work put into them, are capable of holding more soul-stuff. This is why ghosts are attached to significant items and why you can't make a phylactery out of a random grain of sand. Incidentally, selling an item dissipates the soul-stuff, while gift-giving doesn't.

If your gift was too valuable, it can be a problem. A gift must be answered in kind, and if the host cannot repay it, it brings dishonor on them. Deliberately giving someone an overly expensive gift is a subtle and effective 'fuck you'.

If the host is of lower status than the guest, the host is in for a bad time. If the king shows up at a peasant's home with a caravan of gold and silk, they're about to ask for something the peasant would rather not give, or ask a favor they would rather not perform.

If the host is of higher status, this is a grave insult. You're effectively mocking them for being poor, and calling their high status into question. While it would be difficult to give a dragon a gift they can't repay, I would recommend against testing this for yourself.

To avoid this, gifts exchanged are often incomparables. A finely crafted sword for an ancient bottle of fine liquor. A rare spell scroll for a stretch of fertile farmland. A set of glamorous robes for a closely guarded secret. An obedient slave for a noble title (intelligent monsters should have at least a few human slaves. They are, after all, monsters).

Guest Rights and Obligations

So, against all odds you've successfully invoked hospitality law. What are the rules?

As a guest, you must honor and respect your host, do them and theirs no harm, and not be a burden on them. That last part is less about strict costs of housing, and more about reading the room.

As a host, you are obligated to provide food, drink and baths. Other needs, like medicine and sanctuary from pursuers must be given if asked for. You may not allow harm to come to them while they are on your property.

Assuming hospitality is maintained until the guest leaves, the bond continues to exist, and even extends beyond the guest and host. If your ancestor held hospitality with my ancestor, that's a very good reason to deescalate tensions and negotiate, even exchanging gifts to continue that tradition.


This system works best for a game where players are expected to negotiate with and trick enemies. It's indicative of a particular world, where intelligent monsters are known, if not common. It emulates the ancient world and presumes an honor culture, as opposed to the modernistic feel of settings like the Forgotten Realms.

The main source for all this is the Iliad and Odyssey. The ancient Greek practice of xenia, though not a set of codified laws, was a strong cultural force in ancient Greece, and one of the tentpoles of the story. Paris breaks hospitality law by kidnapping Helen while being Menelaus' guest. The resulting dishonor is an insult to Zeus himself, the protector of travelers, which is why Menelaus is able to gather such a strong army to fight Troy.

Diomedes and Glaucus find that their fathers held xenia together, prompting them to exchange gifts and drop hostilities. Likewise, Ajax and Hector resolve to share gifts as a marker of peace between them. The gods appear to mortals in disguise and receive hospitality. Hell, the gods even host other gods, and make appropriate preparations.

Other examples, like the demands of the suitors on Ithaca and the seductions of Calypso and Circe show how xenia can be twisted and perverted by ill faith. The cyclops straight up ignores xenia, allowing Odysseus to blind him.

If your campaign shares these assumptions, establishing the code of hospitality as useful for players will add that texture and period feel.

Finally, another good source for hospitality is Ibn Battutah. The Muslim code of hospitality is similar to that of ancient Greece, with an emphasis on gift-giving. The sheer volume of gifts IB received should give you some material to work with when your players ask for gifts in turn.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Review and Gameables: The Travels of Ibn Battutah

This review covers two books, The Travels of Ibn Battutah by Tim Mackintosh-Smith, and The Adventures of Ibn Battuta by Ross E. Dunn.

Mackintosh-Smith is an English historian and Arabist, and the host of a frequently hilarious BBC miniseries on Ibn Battutah. My class actually managed to make contact with him, though he is regrettably hunkered down in Yemen until the civil war cools down.

Dunn is an American historian working in the same field.

If you enjoy this, Patrick Stuart's review of the Memoirs of Usama Ibn-Mundiqh will likely be up your alley.

Image result for ibn battuta jordi savall
Tim Mackintosh-Smith

The History

In the early fourteenth century, a young man left his home in Morocco to advance his learning and seek wealth in the distant lands to the east. This was Ibn Battutah, an up and coming qadi, a master of Islamic law. He traveled across the entire Muslim world, from North Africa to Mecca to India, the Steppe, China, the Maldives and Mali. Known as the 'Islamic Marco Polo', Ibn Battutah actually traveled a much greater length than the Italian, by foot, horse and ship.

When he returned twenty-nine years later, he wrote it all down. A colossal travelogue dictated to the scribe Ibn Juzayy at the request of the governor of Andalusia (this was shortly before the Reconquista), totaling over 700 pages.

The Arabic word for travelogue is 'rihla', a bona fide genre in its day, and while the book boasted a much longer and indulgent title, it was known as 'the Rihla of Ibn Battutah,' and eventually simply as 'the Rihla.' It was the most extensive and detailed book of its kind ever written, and soon became the ultimate example of the genre.

The book was wildly popular across the Muslim world, but didn't manage to penetrate outside of it. By the nineteenth century it had mostly fallen out of memory, with few copies surviving.

Nascent scholarship of the Islamic world in the West latched onto the Rihla and to Ibn Battutah as a figure, and the race to translate it began.

Early translations into English were unwieldy and very difficult to get through. Battutah's attention to detail was immense, and it was festooned with recreated conversations, mentions of every figure of note he met with, and colossal lists of gifts given and received by him. This may have been useful to the traveler at the time (though it boggles the mind how one might take the book with him on a journey), but is just a slog for the modern reader.

Luckily, there are multiple abridged versions available today, made portable and eminently readable by drastically cutting the length, while maintaining the gist of his journey.

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Ross E. Dunn

The Books

M-S's book is one such abridged translation, presented straight with some authorial footnotes. Dunn's book, The Adventures, takes The Travels as a base and comments on the history surrounding the journey, offering much needed context.

I highly recommend both, and suggest reading them a chapter at a time, getting IB's story straight and then getting the wider context.

I don't have the books on me, and seem to have misplaced my notes, but here's my summary, with special attention to the fun/ridiculous/gory bits:

-Early in his journey, IB comes down with a horrible case of diarrhea, almost resulting in his death, forcing him to tie himself to his own camel in order to get to civilization.

-He repeatedly seeks out Sufi mystics, and at several points attempts to become a mystic himself, though he always gets back on the road eventually.

- While visiting a mystic in Egypt, he has a dream of flying on a giant bird. The mystic tells IB that he will travel to India and China, where he will meet the mystic's two brothers.

- While traveling with the mahallah of a Mongol Khan (Abu Sa'id, if my memory serves me) he witnesses a display of Mongol archery and horsemanship (Get Joseph Manola over here!). A mounted rider puts an arrow between the feet of a foreign dignitary at a hundred paces, or some ludicrous distance.

- The princess of Constantinople, then married to the khan of the Golden Horde, asked leave of her husband to visit her father at home. IB accompanies this caravan in order to see Constantinople. The princess holes up in the city and de facto divorces the khan. IB runs for the hills.

- Shortly thereafter, he visits the lands north of Constantinople, and describes his interactions with the barbarous, red haired Rus people. This is the only instance of his visiting Christian lands.

- While traveling through modern Afghanistan, IB notes rumors of a local fortress, a dark tower on a flat plain built around a prison pit filled with giant man-eating rats. Just saying.

- IB was a notorious prude. While visiting a bathhouse (in modern Iraq I believe) he is outraged by the lack of towels worn by men, and bites the head off the local religious leaders. The same thing happened at least once more in another country.

- IB hardly disapproved of the pleasures of the flesh, however. He married and divorced several women, in addition to taking dozens of concubines in his time, and he details the marriage customs of every region he visits. The Maldives were especially lax in marriage and divorce laws.

- He visits a fortress maintained by mystic monks, and describes their rites, which include wild dancing, drum beating and biting the heads off snakes. He does not join in.

- While visiting Ceylon (modern Sri Lanka) he makes a pilgrimage to Adam's peak, a mountaintop sporting a dip in the rock that resembles a giant human foot. It is variously claimed to belong to Adam and Buddha.

- Somewhere in South Asia, IB is informed about a tribe of intelligent monkeys in the mangrove, whose leader walks with a stick like a person. These monkeys were highly aggressive, and liked to bite the genitals off any human they captured. Disappointingly, IB did not confirm these rumors.

- He spends a very long time in the court of the Indian sultan Muhammad Tughluq. Due to his status as a jurisprudent of the Maliki tradition (not the dominant legal tradition of Muslim India) he is showered in gifts, receives a high position in the court and is paid a massive stipend. All this despite IB being, to be blunt, a quite mediocre judge whose travel prevented him from getting an education equivalent to his peers around the same age.

-He quickly gets into massive debt as he attempts to outspend other courtiers to gain status. He gets involved in some get rich(er) quick schemes. At the same time, he makes a serious attempt to escape worldly goods and associates himself with a prominent Sufi mystic. However, this mystic is soon executed for refusing to bow to the authority of any but God... including the sultan. IB, as one of his frequent visitors, is implicated in his treason and becomes a target.

-IB describes living in the court from that point on as a dead man, not knowing when one of the sultan's furies would bring death down on his head. It eventually does, and he barely escapes assassination by entering a mosque and praying continuously for three days, which itself almost kills him. Laying low for a time, the sultan drops the issue and decides to get IB out of his hair by sending him as an ambassador to China with a caravan of goods.

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- All better right? Well, no. The caravan is ambushed by bandits, and IB runs away. He evades capture for three days in the wilderness, sneaking through bushes and crawling through mud, before being rescued by a mysterious stranger (who reveals himself to be the second brother from the prophecy!). He reunites with the caravan and continues on, undeterred.

- They continue on to Qaliqut (Calcutta) by which time the goods are on a ship, and IB's personal possessions are on another, smaller boat. The crew and the other passengers board on a Friday, but IB insists on staying on land to pray. The sea becomes too choppy to board the next day, and that night the larger ship is destroyed in a storm. Spectacular amounts of gold, silver, silk and other commodities sink into the ocean. IB's friend and the military commander of the caravan drown, and IB describes finding both their bodies on the shore, one with his head bashed open, the other with an iron nail driven through his skull.

- Oh, and his own, smaller boat, flees the bay with his money and concubines on board, never to be seen again.

- Now penniless and missing his gift to the Chinese emperor, IB realizes returning to Delhi would get him executed. Instead, he skips town and starts to journey around the area. He goes to the Maldives for some R&R (it was then, as now, a vacation destination) and decides to lay low, the Maldives being a protectorate of Delhi. That is, until and old friend bumps into him and tells everyone what a big deal he is. Luckily, the local vizier is looking for a prestigious qadi to improve his status, and IB proceeds to dramatically exaggerate his position in the Indian court. After an impromptu marriage to the vizier's wife's mother-in-law, the vizier appoints him the chief religious officer of the Maldives. The entire thing.

- Having real political power for the first time, IB tries to whip the local religious infrastructure into shape, the local practice of Islam being incorrigibly lax compared to the orthodox Maghribi tradition. He has mixed success, instituting beatings for those who miss daily prayer, more beatings for women who don't leave their husband's home after divorce, and the dismemberment of thieves. He rants at length in the book about the refusal of the Maldivian women to wear tops.

- After a few years tyrannizing the people, he finally comes to blows with the vizier over the treatment of an adulterous slave. Pretending to move to another island to unwind, he gathers his things, divorces his numerous Maldivian wives and leaves for good. He catches wind of a conspiracy among the admiralty, and IB seriously considers hiring a mercenary company on the mainland and coming back to make himself king of the Maldives. He decides against it, but the book implies it wouldn't have been that hard.

- He subsequently visits China, which had a small but influential Muslim population, where he meets the third brother of the Egyptian mystic. After badgering him for his secrets, the mystic disappears, and the mystic's servant implies he can turn invisible.

- On his return journey to Morocco, he effectively outruns the Black Death. He travels through numerous infected cities, noting the devastation, but himself avoids becoming sick.

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"And here is the Nile."
"I can see that."
"It's very big."
"I never would have guessed."

The Gameables


IB's motivation, from the start, is cold, hard cash. He studies at the feet of scholars and mystics along the way, and makes his pilgrimage to Mecca no fewer than three times, but gold is always his driving motivation. His GM definitely had XP = gold.

That said, he never raids a tomb or hunts down a bounty. As a judge, his profession allows him to gain lodging and employ anywhere in the Dar-al-Islam, but his fortune (before he loses it - multiple times) comes from schmoozing. More than anything, he was a socialite and a flatterer, whose sophistication and (well-earned) travel stories allowed him to waltz into the high society of any given town.

That is what a high-Charisma character with tales of adventure should be able to do.

Also, while you might not take away your players' money like IB's GM certainly did, you can still reward them with other goods, like social status and fame, which should have real impacts on your social interactions. Likewise, temporarily separating them from their wealth, such as by dropping your players in the middle of a swamp, can add tension and cultivate fear even in high-level characters.


Despite his distinct lack of spellcasting, IB was definitely a cleric. His bread and butter was the application of religious law. I like the idea of clerics being more like that. Mind you, IB was a Muslim, part of the Abrahamic tradition. In spite of the long feud between Islam and Christianity, the two have significant theological overlap. So why is the typical D&D cleric, nominally pagan but with a distinct Christian background, such a goody-two-shoes? The moment IB had real power, he starting cutting off people's hands. D&D clerics should be WAY more brutal than this.

Further, this should be your reference for religious authority. That village priest isn't Father O'Malley taking confession in church, he's Ibn Battutah getting on everyone's case for not praying hard enough in a world where the gods are visibly real and confer magic powers. PRAY! PRAY!


IB was in combat only a handful of times in his three decades on the road, and every one was deadly serious. In the case of an ambush on his caravan, he ran and hid. While traveling through the mountains he was caught by a bandit's arrow, which nearly killed him. When he and his friend were traveling impoverished through the swamps, their guide tried to hold them up and take their clothes, to which IB brandished his spear and prevented an incident. The only instance he mentions of willingly taking on combat was in the Maldives, where he went along with a boat of soldiers during a battle for morale, and ended up bearing armor and sword himself next to them.

This isn't a good example for the PCs, but for Normal Men, this is your blueprint. If a fight breaks out, they are likely to be seriously injured or run away. If given the opportunity, they will intimidate the opposition to avoid bloodshed and risk to themselves. They will only willfully enter combat if properly equipped and surrounded by allies.


As part of his training, IB memorized the Quran. All of it. That was standard for Quranic scholars at the time, and both Biblical and Talmudic scholars did the same. More importantly, IB narrated the last thirty years if his life, filling 700 pages, and was able to recollect not only the people and places he visited, but the gifts he gave and received, large stretches of actual conversation, the food he ate on a given day twenty years before, and absurdly specific details like the placement of a chair in a random mosque.

This capacity for memory was much more prevalent in the medieval era, and there are still examples of people doing it today. My personal favorite example is the illiterate Slavic butcher capable of reciting half a million lines of epic poetry, an estimated 600 hours (25 days!) of straight recitation (Rubin 1998, 137-139)*.

If your cleric has a holy book, it should be memorized, and impressive feats of memory should be standard for any intelligent PC or NPC.

Magic Items

While The Travels is disappointingly bereft of magic items, one incident stands out. He is interrupted on the street by an urchin who perfectly describes a ring that Ibn Battutah wore many years past and then gave away to charity. The urchin tells IB that the inside of the ring held a special message, and then disappears, leaving IB extraordinarily confused.

Travel and Time

IB spends nearly 30 years traveling. He settles down in some locations for years at a time, but was always driven by politics or money to travel elsewhere. By the time he returned to his native Morocco, his parents had both passed recently. He left home at 18, and returned at 47. Imagine that. Now imagine what kind of characters could leave home at a young age, knowing they may never see it again and almost certainly won't see their parents (non-orphans!) again. Those are your PCs.

Muhammad Tughluq

My favorite element has to be the Indian Sultan, Muhammad Tughluq. He's a major figure in IB's story from Delhi onwards, and should be your go-to reference for an evil overlord.

He was a pious man, a patron of the arts and a man of spectacular generosity. He also kidnapped and tortured anyone who criticized his rule, or looked like he might criticize his rule, or whose face he didn't like. He impaled the bodies of his enemies outside his palace gates, so that all visitors had to look at them to visit him. He even tortured judges and clerics. But he let his prisoners rest on Fridays!

This guy murdered his father and brother by building them a faulty gazebo, then marching a parade of elephants on the road next to it while they had breakfast, causing it to collapse on top of them. Tughluq forestalled any attempt at a rescue, needing some time to grieve, you see.

To be honest, he seems to have used elephants whenever possible. He tied scimitars to their tusks and trained them to execute prisoners. This guy threw parades in which he launched silver coins into the crowd via elephant-mounted catapults. Seriously, this is verified by the historical record.

He was nevertheless extremely popular, and adventurers from across the Dar-al-Islam flocked to his court. This was because he paid back any gift given to him ten times over. The merchants of Delhi had a long-running operation to rent large, expensive gifts to visitors and make their money back when the sultan returned a much larger gift. It was totally unsustainable, and Tughluq didn't care, since it centralized all wealth around his person.

You can put the Mad Sultan Muhammad Tughluq in any large city and he'll fit in perfectly as is. He can be an arc villain, a patron, an uneasy ally, a target for thievery and a destructive tyrant. Add in a dash of sorcery and you can make a straight up Dark Lord. He's a specter over IB's shoulder for years, even after leaving India. With the right preparation, your antagonists can have the same effect on the PCs.

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Rubin, D. C. (1998). Memory in oral traditions: The cognitive psychology of epic, ballads, and counting-out rhymes. New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press.