Thursday, January 10, 2013

The World of the Dragon's Dream

The confluence of two events has spurred me to begin writing down an exercise in world building for T&T. The first is the impending release of the Deluxe T&T rules. Nothing like a new game to get the creative juices fired up.n the second is my discovery of a pool of local gamers who I hope to lure into playing T&T.

The Dragon's Dream is partly a response to Ken St. Andre's "Trollworld" setting. I have nothing against his world, but it is his, not mine. Part of the attraction of RPGs for me has always been the freedom to create your own worlds and adventures. This is not the first world I have created for gaming. I created my own version of the Starship Warden for Metamorphosis Alpha, including some changes to the backstory explaining how the ship came to be filled with strange mutants and berserk robots. For ten years I ran a home brewed variant of D&D in the world of Archen, a disc shaped world on a pillar of adamant in the void. There have been others not as fully detailed, and I have run in many other people's worlds.

For me different game systems require different worlds. The game mechanics help to define the "physics" of the world. They delineate how "reality" operates in that setting. Magic systems, psionic powers, what races or species are available as player characters, how Faster-Than-Light travel works (if at all) in a Sci-Fi setting, cosmic alignments of good and evil and law and chaos, the existence or absence of "real" gods and supernatural entities. All of these can have a profound impact on the shape of a game world and the games played within it.

To begin, it is important to know that the Dragon's Dream is explicitly a fantasy world. This is actually part of the existential make up of the world. It is not "real". Not even an alternate reality or different dimension. This world is purely a fantasy. The existential cosmic reality of the world is that it is a dream. It is the dream of a great sleeping dragon. The question of the existential nature of the Dragon, whether it has itself any "reality", what world if any it exists in is a separate question, one I have not really explored. For purposes of this world it is enough to say that the Dragon dreams, and that Dream is the world.

The fact that the world is a dream, a fantasy, with no intrinsic or extrinsic objective reality is known only to a very few of its inhabitants. A few philosophers and sages speculate about the nature of the dream and what happens to the world when the dreamer wakes. To most of the inhabitants though the world is just as solid and real as our world is to us.

Being a dream world and a fantasy does have some profound effects on the nature of "reality" within the world. Reality is not a fixed, constant and stable objective thing the way it is in our world. Instead, reality is mutable. The world can change and remake itself. The inhabitants usually are quite unaware when this happens. The way the world is to them is the way it has always been. Magic exists. Magic is raw dream energy, the stuff of which reality is made, called "Kremm" in the T&T rules. The ability to work magic is the ability to reshape reality. Magical energy is gathered and shaped causing the Dream to be reshaped. For some this reshaping is very subtle and almost unnoticed in its effects. Warriors reshape the Dream very subtly and gain increased benefits from weapons and armour in combat by doing so. Dragons reshape the Dream and gain the ability to fly in apparent defiance of natural laws. The world is populated by Elves, Dwarves, Men, Trolls, Urooks, Hobbs, and a thousand other Kindred.

The world of the Dream is as big as it needs to be. No complete map of it exists or is possible. Reality and the world with it are defined in broader and broader loose sketchy strokes the farther from any particular observer one moves. It is entirely possible that one part of the Dream contains worlds that are planets orbiting stars while in another part the world is an endless plate floating in an endless ocean. The world is slightly surreal and phantasmal because it is fundamentally a dream or fantasy.

This is the skeletal framework on which my T&T fantasies are hung. Come with me and let us explore the Dream together.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Here There Be Dragons!

Dragon! Perhaps the most evocative word in all of fantasy. Dragon, great, scaly, winged, fire-breathing, behemoth. Ancient, wise, treasure hoarding, mentor or nemesis. Big, overgrown lizard; kill it, take its treasure and move on. Wait! What was that last bit?

Sadly, dragons in T&T just don't quite seem to measure up. In J R R Tolkien's "The Hobbit" Smaug the great and terrible described himself thusly "My armour is like tenfold shields, my teeth are swords, my claws spears, the shock of my tail a thunderbolt, my wings a hurricane, and my breath death!" Compare this to a dragon (with flame) from T&T "MR 1760" at level 5. I will grant that 177d6+880 (an average of 1500 hits including 30 spite) on the first round is nothing to sneeze at, but it lacks a certain gravitas.

Traditionally in fantasy RPGs a dragon attacks with the standard Claw/Claw/Bite routine of so many monsters plus a breath weapon up to three times a day. Still rather plain vanilla for my tastes.

My dragons attack with claw/claw/bite/wing buffet/rear foot kick-stomp/tail slap if on the ground and fighting to all sides, bite/snatch/rend/drop if flying, or can opt to breathe/spit or cast spells if they know any. Breath type weapons may include fire, poison gas, cold or frost, lightning bolts, acid spittle, venomous fangs, paralyzing or petrifying gas, and more. Especially clever dragons may also employ magical items such as rings, amulets, wands, staves, potions, even weapons if the weapon is large enough or the dragon small enough. Stooping on a delver like a hawk on a mouse, carrying him to a great height and releasing him to plummet onto rocks below is a great way to crack even the toughest armour.

Speaking of armoured delvers, let us consider the typical dragon-slaying as portrayed in song and legend. The evil wyrm is threatening to devour a fair maiden, usually a princess, and the best and bravest knights in the land decide to rescue her. The first order of business is to hold a tournament to determine who is the strongest and most valorous knight among them. This important question having been decided, the champion polishes his armour until it is mirror bright, mounts his noble steed, usually a snow white stallion and rides off to confront the beast in its lair. Arriving at the mouth of the cave the knight reigns in and issues his challenge to the dragon to come out and face him. In due course the dragon emerges, it and the knight square off, they charge together with great force and the dragon is impaled on the knights lance. Should he lance blow not prove fatal, the knight dismounts and finishes off he wounded monster with his sword. Knight, Lady, and suitable dragon trophies then ride back to feast at the castle.

A pretty story, but what really happens?

The fair maiden in peril is usually just a symbolic stand-in for the economic dangers of having a dragon as a neighbor. Ruined crops, burned villages and devoured caravans are all very bad for business. The younger and brasher warriors likely do have a tournament of sorts, which mostly serves to dull swords, splinter lances, and tenderize, err, bruise bodies. The older and wiser warriors watch as the young hotheads boldly ride forth, sound the challenge and are invited to a barbecue dinner with the dragon. Eventually the older and wiser warriors, together with some wizard friends if they can manage them, get together an assortment of nets, pole axes, poisons and balistae. With these they set out to butcher the dragon. Heavy nets are strung across the entrance of the lair to entangle the emerging beast. Barbed spears and stakes are driven into the ground to curtail the creature's movements. Men are placed above and to the sides of the entrance with pole axes and harpoons, liberally smeared with poison, their job is to hack and pinion the wings, stab eyes, mount and any vulnerable parts they can and get as much toxin into the beast as possible. Spells like Slush-Yuck will be targeted on the stone around the dragon, again to impair its mobility and possible trap it. Take-That-You-Fiend! and other direct combat spells are likely to be of little use initially due to the resistance of the dragon's phenomenally high Kremm. Better to target the environment around the beast.

It as this point that everyone gasps and says "But! That's not a fair fight!" No, it isn't. But in a fair fight the dragon almost always wins, not much of an incentive for the dragonslayers to fight fair, is it?

It is usually a better option to try to talk to and negotiate with the dragon instead. Dragons are well known for their vanity and their love of riddles. Either or both of these can provide a conversational in. Bribery is not generally a recommended tactic. Most of what a dragon wants they are quite capable of taking by force. As for the rest, what king is going to be happy giving away his crown to a lizard?

Having a dragon as a peaceable neighbor or sovereign is not without its advantages. For one thing many of them prefer to spend the bulk of their time sleeping or contemplating weighty philosophical questions (like which weighs more good coins or gold bars?). When they are awake their chief concerns are likely to be eating, defending what is theirs, and increasing the size of their hoard. The first is likely to produce a large but happily infrequent burden for farmers and ranchers. The second coincides nicely with the desire of the people of the realm to live their lives in peace. The third is likely to result in annual taxes and tributes. Some portion of the taxes and tributes can doubtless be raised from tariffs and tolls imposed on foreigners. Another good source of ample gold and riches is taxing delvers. Dragons frequently lair in caverns or mines full of forgotten tunnels and passageways many of which attract undesirable tenants. A resident dragon will often quite happily allow parties of delvers to venture into these spaces as exterminators. To be certain, the delvers will have to pay a large portion of their recovered wealth to the dragon, but may be able to strike a deal for provision of healing magics or other aid in return for their services.

Dragons are more than just a combat encounter or potential ruler however. Lesser dragons are a preferred mount of wizards, sorcerers and powerful warriors. Greater dragons may serve as councilors, mentors to wizards or sages of great knowledge. Dragons are often in possession of spells known only to dragonkind and can work powerful magics when they choose.

Dragons cannot properly be numbered amongst either the "good" kindreds or the "monsters". The majority are neutral, concerned only with their own ends and affairs. Individuals may ally themselves with good or evil causes, sometimes both over their tremendously long lifespans.

Dragons have a tremendous variety of appearance. They may be large or small, serpentine or stocky. Most possess wings, commonly similar to those of a bat although fan-like or feathered wings are not unknown, some dragons fly without the use of wings. Dragons may have two legs or four, rarely six, in addition to wings. Their tails may be hooked, barbed, stinger-tipped, spade-ended or even prehensile. They may be decked with a variety of horns, frills, spines, crests, tendrils, manes, etc. Most are scaled. Scales may vary in texture from fine to coarse. They may be ridged, rough or polished. Some dragons have flat scutes on their bellies like snakes, others sport dermal denticals like sharks, or plates like crocodiles, some even have shelled carapace a like turtles. Occasional dragons will have fur or feathers either instead of or in addition to scales. They are found in a rainbow of colours and patterns. Most seem to be of a single predominant colour with a lighter colour on their underparts. Metallic scales and colours are not unknown. There are reports that the colour of a dragon's scales is determined by the type of breath weapon it employs, but these are not always accurate.

One last point about dragons ought to be touched on here. That is the subject of dragon curses. The treasure hoards of dragons are often protected by powerful curses, the severity of which tend to increase with the age and power of the dragon.

Every dragon seems to know the contents of its horde down to the last cup and coin. Taking so much as a single brass farthing may be enough to alert the beast that someone has been there. The response is often to seek vengeance far beyond the value of what was taken. Whole villages have been laid waste for the sake of a single cup.

Dragon-greed or "gold fever" is a common sickness contracted by those who pilfer a dragon's den. This is an unquenchable thirst for ever increasing amounts of gold. Eventually those stricken become so miserly that they will not part with a single copper and so greedy that they will stop at nothing to obtain more coin, even robbing beggars and stealing from the poor box.

The most terrible curse is that which befalls those who sleep on a bed of dragon's gold. They are transformed into dragons themselves. The transformation may be abrupt and sudden or gradual and subtle, but in the end the result is the same. The new dragon retains the knowledge and much the same personality it possessed before. It must learn to adapt to life in its new form, initially being even unable to speak or use draconic abilities such as flying or breath weapons. Although initially the personality is much he same as it was before the transformation over time it becomes more dragon-like. Desiring solitude, covetous of gold and wealth, arrogant and predatory.

I hope that this will allow for more depth in the presentation of dragons in the game. All of the above can be applied without a single change to the rules. Breath weapon and special attacks can be assumed to count as part of the dragon's MR and described narratively. Spite damage if used can occur in the normal way. If the GM prefers more rules crunch special damage effects, breath weapons, and spells can be triggered by spite damage thresholds as is standard under 7e rules.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Kickstarter and getting on the Map!

Tunnels and Trolls now has a Kickstarter for a deluxe edition!

In thirty-six and a half hours it reached funded status. T&T has some great fandom.

As part of my pledge I am getting H'rrrothgarrr's Hovel officially added to the map of Trollworld for the new edition. A vanity perk really, but it's very nice to become an official part of the game that I enjoy so much.

The crew have done a great job on this project so far and promise more to come. New art, new rules, new adventures, and the return of old favorites.

Watch the video to see Ken St Andre and Liz Danforth commenting on the project and what it means to them.