Friday, July 31, 2015


I've run a few Middle-Eastern inspired campaigns and our setting for Sertorius, Gamandria, draws heavily on Middle-Eastern history, myth and language. One area where this can be tricky for people is pronunciation. If you are playing a game with an Arabic flavor, this information on Sun and Moon letters may be useful. Knowing the sun and moon letter rule will make it easier for you to pronounce "al-".

A bit of background. I do not want to give the wrong impression, I am by no means fluent in Arabic. I studied it for a couple of years in college and have some basic knowledge. If I practice real hard every day, I can hold a very small conversation for a limited period. I am a little better at reading and writing it than speaking it, but probably about the level of competency that most people have in Spanish when they take it in high school. So my grasp of the language is quite basic. Still it has been beneficial to me in studying history, in gaming and in trying to learn bits of other languages. This is one area where it has been especially handy. 

Before getting into sun and moon letters, I need to talk about the definite article in Arabic: "al-"(ال). This is made by combing the letters alif (ا) and the lam (ل).  Because it is a cursive script, Arabic letters change form depending on their position so when you put alif and lam together in front of the word 'king' (ملك) they look like this: الملك

Most of the time, "al-" means "the". However it can also be used to mean something like the preposition "of". This is called the idafa and it usually occurs by placing the definite article (al) before the noun in question. For example to "the sword of the king" is written as "sword the king" or سيف الملك

I am sure a lot of readers have seen the definite article all the time in news articles and history books. For example you've probably read stories about Al-Shabaab and you've probably heard of Al-Jazeera. Al-Shabaab just means "The Youth" while Al Jazeera means "The Peninsula". Sometimes there is a hyphen and sometimes not. It doesn't really matter but the hyphen indicates that "al" is connected to the word it precedes in Arabic. 
This chart by Gaspard is a handy reference
to Sun and Moon letters
Sun letters appear in red

Sun and Moon letters are important categories in Arabic based on how they sound. As a general rule Sun letters are pronounced with the teeth and consist of letters like: t, th, d, s, sh, dh, etc. Moon letters are usually pronounced toward the back of the mouth or with the lips: q, k, m, b, etc. These are generalizations but they are a useful guide. The rule of Sun and Moon letters is anytime a sun letter follows "al" you do not pronounce the lam (or "l") in "al" but instead double up the sound of the sun letter. So Al-Shabaab, becomes Ash-Shabaab. To use another example, al-sayf becomes as-sayf; and al-tarik becomes at-tarik. To use an example in gaming the setting Al-Qadim would be pronounced as it is spelled because Q is a moon letter (the letter qaf or ق).

Sometimes people simply opt to spell it how it sounds when they romanize the letters. This is not the standard, but I think it is a lot less confusing and prefer it. It is the approach we took in Gamandria for that reason. So Al-Tarja appears as At-Tarja in the book because that is how I pronounce it. We also got around this issue by making the definite article in most dialects of Khubsi (our mash of Arabic, Phoenician and Hebrew) "alu-" instead of "al-". That way the sun and moon letter pronunciations never arise. 


I like the Lindybeige channel on youtube and today he had a video about dice rolling and what it means. You can see the video here: Die-Rolling in RPGs. This blog post isn't really a commentary on Lindybeige's conclusions, it is just my thoughts on the same subject matter. 

In the video Lindybeige basically talks about the gap that can emerge between player perception of the roll's significance and the characters perception of the environment. He suggests this can be used to engineer the setting in the aftermath of the roll. This is an interesting take and it got me thinking about how I approach rolling in my own games. 

I think we've all seen this gap emerge. The player character confronts a hill that he knows he can easily climb, but the player makes a skill roll and he ends up falling all over himself like a baby learning to walk. Or you have a situation where a big hulking ogre is arm wrestling in a tavern and competes against a halfling child he knows he can't lose against. But the halfling character gets lucky and wins. Sometimes the players are so focused on the dice, they don't even notice this gap. This is where I think judicious use of rolls is called for. 

We've suggested this advice a number of times in our Network books, and it boils down to this: you don't have to roll for everything. The GM should ask for a roll when the outcome appears uncertain or when some other factor like time makes a basic task more difficult. This can apply to any skill. You don't have to roll persuade to get information that an NPC was going to volunteer anyways. You don't have to make a History (Demon Empire) Roll if the information the player is seeking is rudimentary to that period and he has three ranks in the skill (the max in our system). 

Just think about this in your own life. If you brew coffee every day of your life for twenty years, would it make a lot of sense if you made a mess of it 15% of the time and had a catastrophic result 1% of the time. Or what about driving. You drive every day, you don't crash 15% of the time. If this were an RPG and that were happening, either the skill system itself needs some work or the GM is asking for skill rolls when they are not needed. In the case of the coffee, I wouldn't ask at all, unless something unusual was going on like the player was late for work and had to make it quickly or he was brewing a special cup to impress Barrack Obama. In the case of the car, I would ask for a roll if something occurred during the drive that required evasive action or if they were being chased by the cops. 

So my way of eliminating that gap between character perception and the dice is to only ask for rolls when I feel there is a compelling reason for them to occur. 


GP Adventures has just launched a kickstarter for their Marmoreal Tomb Starter Campaign. It is an expansion of the Marmoreal Tomb Dungeon they introduced in Gygax Magazine Issue 3. I spoke with Benoist Poire (who is the P in GP Adventures) about the kickstarter campaign and the module. I should mention for full disclosure that I am friends with Benoist and have worked with him on projects in the past.

BRENDAN DAVIS: You are in the middle of a kickstarter for The Marmoreal Tomb Campaign Starter; what can people expect to see when it is released? You call it a module but also a campaign starter, can you explain the concept a bit?

BENOIST POIRE: They can expect to see a complete kit to run a campaign in the lands of the Duinnsmere or their own setting, published or homebrew, similar in scope or greater than such classics as T1-4 Temple of Elemental Evil, and based on the design ethics and values of the early Advanced game, circa the Giants series and the like. An open setting of adventure where modules are locales you can plug into your campaign however you want, rather than scripts or story lines you have to plug wholesale to make them work. We're bringing back the "modular" in "module", in fact.

BD: What system does the module use?

BP: We wanted to both deliver the Gygaxian castle and campaign nobody's ever gotten entirely in full, in the original format in which it was supposed to be played, and make the material amenable to people using various editions and variants of the game, even shifting to different genres and role-playing games, including your own Sertorius RPG. The way we do that is by presenting the material as original and authentic as we can get it, using 1st edition compatible rules, and we include guidelines and advice on top of that for GMs using different editions, variants, games and genres. The stretch goals of the campaign get more precise from there, including complete detailed guidelines for use with Sci-Fi and Science Fantasy settings, or with 5th edition, Pathfinder conversions and whatnot.

BD: Why did you decide to launch it as a kickstarter? Did you have any concerns going in?

BP: We had no idea the type of response we were going to get. It was paramount to remain true to our vision and lay it all out for people to see, including the design goals, the maps, the type of artwork we are shooting for and the like. The response has been nothing short of amazing so far! And we are just a few hours in into the campaign. We decided to launch it as a Kickstarter because we could then produce exactly what would fit the demand, and not over- or under-shoot it. We are ambitious with the project, and would like to make it stellar. But you can't do that without the funds to do it and that means that people want it. As far as we can see, there's a thirst for our kind of non-linear, expert crafted approach to adventure settings. I think gamers are tired of the "love letters" and BS. They want gaming that's fun and that delivers, whatever their game of choice, and that's great. 
The Marmoreal Tomb
Main Module

BD: How would you describe your partnership with Ernie?

BP: Ernie is not only my partner, he's my friend. We have a relationship that's unlike any I've had in my life really. We're working great together, we have similar tastes and senses of humor, and yet we're very different, which makes us combine our imaginations and efforts in different ways. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. That kind of synergy. Ernie's an awesome, deep guy. I'm proud to be both his friend and partner in this adventure. 

BD: The first level of the Marmoreal Tomb appeared in the third issue Gygax magazine; will there be any alterations to first level with this release?

BP: We've added two encounter areas in some spots where we thought they might make sense, but the main drive was to continue on what was already done, to push on and add to the experience, rather than redesign the whole from the ground up. So if you have the Marmoreal Tomb's first level from Gygax Magazine, rest assure: the Campaign Starter plugs right into it with no issues. Your Gygax Mag isn't suddenly obsolete. 
The Marmoreal Tomb
Wilderness Expansion

BD: You describe The Marmoreal Tomb as reflecting the "Lake Geneva Gygaxian play style”, I think most people have an idea of what you mean by this but could explain what that means in terms of gameplay (both on the GM-side and the PC-side)?

BP: The Lake Geneva play style means the way Ernie, and Gary Gygax, and Rob Kuntz, and others run the game. Which at its core is an exploration game, where you manage and mitigate the odds via smart play, where you explore the unknown, where the bulk of the experience of the game is not contained within the page of the rules book, which by the way meshes really well not only with the Original and Advanced versions of the D&D game, but with the 5th edition as well. 

BD: This approach seems to have resonated strongly with you personally. Why is it significant to you?

The Marmoreal Tomb
Underworld Expansion
BP: I think it's the core of what attracts me, as far as role-playing is concerned. The ability to say "I want to do this", and not be confronted with a plot or a storyline that tells you you can't to see the GM then trying desperately to keep the game together. That kind of thing just doesn't happen in a Lake Geneva exploration game, because there is the setting, the dungeon or hex map with a key attached to it, right, and no further expectations as to the way the game's going to go. That's what excites me most both as a player and GM. Especially the latter. When players come up with stuff I had not foreseen in a million years. That's when the game gets really interesting. The Marmoreal Tomb explains what the adventure sites are, what they are made of, how inhabitants relate to one another, and the GM takes it from there. If you want to plug it into a plot line of your own making or a published campaign you've been running for a while you can, because there's no conflicting expectation in our products in that regard at least.

BD: Can you describe the setting and its scope?

BP: The Marmoreal Tomb is located in an area called the Lower Midlands, which have been left to humanoid populations with no significant human presence for a while. It's not too far from the village included with the Wilderness expansion, Crom Caemloch, a village which can also serve as the home base of the PCs going into the Hobby Shop Dungeon proper. The Viscountcy of Poy has its civilized areas, but these are few and far between. There are multiple types of human ethnicities and cultures mixed into that sandbox, different factions, overt and secret, vying for control in the area, and a sort of diversity that lends choices and options to the PCs that way. The feel is somewhat medieval, kind of like Greyhawk actually, very reminiscent of it and yet not quite the same, inspired on the fiction of people like Poul Anderson, on the Matter of France (Charlemagne) and the Matter of Britain (Arthur), very loosely so. The Swords & Sorcery vibe comes from Howard and Leiber. We tried to emphasize those sources that were left aside from modern D&D and meant something to us, both for Ernest from his original campaign and for me creatively speaking. It all blended into a big soup that is the Duinnsmere, of which the hex map of the Marmoreal Tomb Wilderness Expansion pack is but a starting area.

BD: What is next for GP Adventures LLC?

BP: First we fulfill the Kickstarter. We won't start a second kickstarter until we fulfill the first one. Then we attack the publication of the Hobby Shop Dungeon proper. Then the Gazetteer of the Duinnsmere and the Shades of the Eurth (think multiple material planes in which the geographic area of the lake of the Duinnsmere blends and links them all). Then the Hobby Shop Dungeon part 2. Then more modules like the Marmoreal Tomb. We have a special project to announce after this first kickstarter if it is successful, but it depends a lot on its overall success. We shall see!


Thursday, July 30, 2015


Here is a Dio-inspired Inkstone for my Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate campaign. This will not be appearing in the rulebook as we have have already exceeded word count. This could also be used in any campaign or system with minimal changes. 

This is an inkstone made from a rock recovered after a “rain of stones” that occurred when the Demon Emperor was defeated. It is very powerful and presently protected in Infinite Sky realm by 5th Brother. The Enlightened Goddess issued an edict forbidding it from entering the human realm.

It looks like a normal inkstone save that on close inspection one can see sparkling flecks on the surface. If one grinds ink into the stone and mixes it with water, this produces a luminous fluid that lights up an entire room. The Starlit  Ink can be used to write text that illuminates the page so the content can be read easily in the dark.

The Inkstone’s most spectacular ability is it can render anything written with the Starlit  Ink true. To do so merely requires a TN 7 Talent (Calligraphy) Roll. On a failure it still works but the result is an uncharitable and literal interpretation of the words that rarely favors the writer. On a success, the text comes true but only in the most general way (ignoring very specific aspects of the phrasing) and it must rely on existing conditions and personalities to reach its conclusion. So if a person writes “The empire falls”, this will set into motion threats already positioned to defeat the emperor. On a Total Success, the specifics of the text all come true.

Even if the Talent (Calligraphy) roll is successful, the wording of the text is very important. It won’t warp what is written into something unless but it follows the letter of the words exactly.

Because the effects of the Inkstone rely on existing conditions, it can take time for them to unfold. Grand events come true in 1d10 months, while smaller scale events come true in 1d10 days.


The Riders of Fortune are three identical Sertori sisters who believe themselves sent by the gods to unleash a second Great Anguish and usher in the new age. The sisters roam the land on horseback issuing divine vengeance against all who provoke they wrath (particularly other Sertori). Their true identities have long been lost to the madness that's embraced them, now they are named after the three instruments of the Anguish: Sister Death, Sister Fire and Sister Blood. 

The lives of the Riders of Fortune were filled with coincidences too striking to ignore. The chances of three siblings sharing Sertori powers are small, this was the first sign they were destined for greatness. Also by coincidence they each came upon a horse imbued with Sertori-like magic (Monstras) which they now ride. Sister Blood mounts a green scaled steed named Chaos. Sister Death rides a horse with billowing breath named Ash. Sister Fire rides a red Aetic steed named Vengeance. They take such events as signs from the gods that the time is at hand for civilization to collapse once again. 

The Three Sisters all have mental and physical afflictions from their magic. Their mental afflictions are a shared Explosive Rage triggered by anything that reminds them of Dosikan's crimes against the gods. Their physical afflictions simply alter their appearances slightly. Sister Blood has red skin with the texture of stone (this also enhances her Hardiness). Sister Fire has bright orange hued eyes that illuminate the darkness. Sister Death has white hair and eyes that are completely black. 

They have amassed something of a following as well. Followers and Disciples of the Three Sisters do not travel with them, as they forbid this, but spread news of the coming Anguish.  Occasionally they seek out one of their Disciples to issue proclamations. 

Each Sister specializes in a particular kind of mayhem. They like to attack settlements but have learned to exercise caution. Usually Sister Death Strikes First with Plague of Fear, followed by Avalanche of Flame from Sister Fire. Sister Blood protected the group. If Sertori are present, these are usually handled by Sister Fire with Obliterate Magic and Sister Blood (who can use Costly Bargain if she must). 

The sisters are mostly identical. Their spells and Emotions are different but they also have minor variations in Defenses and skills (these are noted with parenthesis)


Hardiness 6 or 8 with scale (Sisters Fire and Death);  8 or 10 with Scale (Sister Blood)
Stealth 5 or 4 with Scale
Evade 4
Parry 5
Wits 6
Resolve 10

Wrestling: 3d10 
Light Melee: 2d10 
Heavy Melee: 2d10
Large Ranged: 2d10
Speed: 2d10 
Muscle: 2d10 
Swim: 2d10
Persuade: 2d10 
Deception: 3d10 
Command: 3d10
Ritual: 3d10
Talent (Singing): 3d10 (Sister Death only)
Divination: 2d10
Languages (Khubsi): 3d10
Languages (Singh): 3d10
Creatures (Sertori): 2d10
History (Nong Sai): 3d10
Survival (Wilderness, Mountain and Desert): 3d10

Equipment: Long Swords, Scale Armor

Wounds 5
Divinity 4

Death's Spells/Thauma (Deimos 2, Penthos 2): Song go Lament, Drowning Sorrows, Seeping Wound, Cacophony, Plague of Fear, Grasp from Beyond, ;Spark of Life (Thauma)

Fire's Spells/Thauma (Misos 3, Penthos 1): Avalanche of Flame, Bend Gravity, Blades of Wrath, Immolation, Obliterate Magic, Vow, Iron Refuge; Rain of Fire (Thauma)

Blood's Spells/Thauma (Agape 2, Deimos 2): Arch of Protection, Captivation, Heal, Servitor, Summon, Costly Bargain, Flight, Majesty (Thauma)


Hardiness 4 or 5 (Vengeance)
Stealth 4
Evade 6
Parry 4
Wits 4
Resolve 8
Bite 1d10 (Damage 0d10, Vengeance 1d10)
Kick 2d10 (Damage 3d10)
Speed 5d10 (80 feet), Vengeance 6d10 (90 feet)
Fly: 3d10 (60 feet), only Chaos has this ability
Command: 2d10
Muscle 3d10
Detect 3d10
Wounds 5 (Ash and Chaos), 6 (Vengeance

Ash: Ash can release a cloud of choking mist that expands to covers an area of about 200 feet. The mist is completely under Ash's control and usually he centers it on the three sisters. It does not affect any of the three sisters or their steeds but anyone else is unable to breath while inside the mist and must make Endurance Rolls each round to avoid passing out and dying (See SUFFOCATION RULES). The TN for this roll is TN 1 + 4 for each round (beginning at TN 1 the first round). 

Vengeance: Vengeance can causes the blood of his foes to boil with a simple stare. He must make a Command Roll against the Resolve of a single target. On a success the Target immediately feels hot and begins to perspire. For each round that this effect is maintained, the target takes a cumulative 1d10 points of fire damage.  

Chaos: Chaos is able to fly. 

Wednesday, July 29, 2015


The oddly placed 'entrance' to Salem Willows
As part of my ongoing Everyone's at Gen Con so why bother series, where I relax the tone and content of the Blog, I am going to talk about going to Salem Willows and Derby Street for a relaxing day. 

My wife, Anoma, got back from Thailand yesterday so we decided to go to Salem today before she has to return to work. Salem is pretty close to where I live (one town over) and it has a lot of nice places to go. It is a bit like a smaller, cozier Boston with a lot more New Age stores. It is also a bit of tourist trap because of the whole witch trials thing. Interesting fact: the neighboring town of Danvers is actually Salem Village where the craze started (present-day Salem was Salem Town where the trials were conducted). Danvers changed the name from Salem Village because they didn't like the bad publicity. Salem embraced it, so you can find all sorts of witch house and haunted tours throughout the city.  For locals we mainly go to Salem willows or hang out in the town town. 

The gazebo uses stealth to ambush unsuspecting
Salem Willows is an old fashioned amusement park by the sea with a classic arcade, food, gazebos, rides and miniature golf. They are also famous for their chop suey sandwiches and popcorn. Neither of us are really into any of these things, so we just walked around for a while and spent time by the beach. Then we headed to Derby Street, another section of the city where there are cafes and shops. 

There are a ton of new age stores in salem. You really can't go forty feet without bumping into a fortune teller or magic shop. Most of them are Wiccan but there seem to be a few different types. This isn't something I know a whole lot about, so I could be incorrect. We walked by some of them but didn't check any out today. 

The best part about walking around Salem is the food. I am not really able to enjoy that these days, but they have all kinds of ice cream places and candy stores. The Ye Olde Pepper Company on Derby Street is a great place to get some salt water taffy or a specialty they call Gibralters (they taste a bit like they sound). 

Yin Yu Tang Exterior
Photo by Fletcher6
There is also the House of Seven Gables, which is near Ye Olde Pepper. We usually like to stop there for the tour, but today we opted to just walk around. Basically you can get a live tour of the house that was purported to be the inspiration for Hawthorne's classic novel (my understanding is he didn't live there, but visited a cousin who did). I am not a big Hawthorne reader, but I like the tour because the house was built in the 17th century (though it has been altered and moved over the years). 

Another interesting spot is the Peabody Essex Museum (which is closer to the downtown). Again we didn't go there today, but one of the main attractions I like there is the Yin Yu Tang house. This is a house built in Huizhou China during the Qing Dynasty that was sold and moved to the museum (where it is complete and furnished). I really enjoy this exhibit. Apparently I have a thing for old houses. It may seem an odd choice for Salem, but the museum has long had a nautical and Asian focus (due to Salem's prior role as a great port). 
The Bunghole

My wife loves the bubble tea at Jaho, so we headed there and then went to an antique store. Even though I studied history and despite my love of old houses, I never really understood antiques. Anoma seems enjoys them though so we spent some time there. I spent most of my time contemplating buying an vinyl record of Cat Scratch Fever. The problem was I am not into vinyl and I don't have a record player. The record itself was only like 12 bucks, but the record player (which I wasn't sure even worked) was 124 dollars. I don't know what possessed me to consider the purchase. I'm not even a huge Ted Nugent fan. I think it was because I was so uninterested in everything else. Wisely I didn't give into the impulse and we left empty-handed (which I think the best possible outcome when antiquing). 

Outside the antique store is a strip of shop, restaurants and cafes by the water. So we walked around there for a bit before heading home. But not before I got this The Bunghole liquors sign. A bunghole is the whole in a cask that liquor pours from, but obviously it has other connotations.