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Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Teleport Mishap Table

Roll D20:

20: The teleport works as normal, but the teleportees have switched hats and/or headgear.

19. The teleport works as normal, but the teleportees have switched all clothing and gear randomly (in the case of two people, they simply swap gear and clothing).

18. The teleport works, but the targets are 4d10 squares off target in a random direction; roll a "grenade scatter" effect for each teleportee.

17. As above, but if the teleport was into an indoor or enclosed setting, each teleportee must roll a d20; on a "1" the teleportee has materialized partly inside an object. The victim takes 1d6 x 1d20 damage. This does not happen if the teleportees were in an open area with nothing to materialize in.

16. As above, but if the victim rolls a "1" his clothing and gear have partially fused with his body; he takes 1d6 x 1d10 damage, and will require 1d4 hours to sort out his clothing and gear, probably rather messily, and likely requiring clerical services.

15. As 18, but the teleportees materialize in midair; take 1 or 2 d6 damage (depending upon ceiling height) unless victim is somehow protected from falling damage.

14. As 20, but the teleportees arrive upside down in midair; all take 1d6-2 damage unless protected from falling damage.

13. The teleport works fine, but the group has picked up a passenger; a creature native to the Outer Planes has arrived alongside one of the teleportees. The GM will determine the flow of subsequent events.

12. The teleport has worked fine, but a chunk of SOMETHING at the arrival point has accidentally be teleported BACKWARDS to the teleporters' DEPARTURE point. This usually won't matter, but could be messy. In the case of a Transposition spell, BOTH teleportees arrive in an explosion of rock, dirt, wood, or whatever they were standing on; both teleportees and anyone within 5' of them take 1d8 damage from flying debris.

11. MISJUMP! The teleportees arrive together... but in an utterly random location within 1000 miles of their departure point.

10. MISJUMP! The teleportees arrive, but in a quasi-random location within 20 miles of the original target. Teleportees are anywhere within a mile of each other.

9. MISJUMP! The teleportees arrive in an utterly random location within 1000 miles of their departure point, and they are separated from each other by at least a half mile.

8. For some reason, the spell failed to take the law of conservation of energy into account. The players arrive having acquired considerable energy; all teleportees take 2d6 of fire damage or cold damage (50% chance of either).

7. Stop the game. All teleportees must roll 1d20 for each magic item they possess. On a "1," the item's dweomer got hung up in midtransport, and it is gone.

6. The transportees arrive naked. Their clothing and gear is scattered around a 100 foot area around the arrival point.

5. The transportees arrive naked. Their clothing and gear is scattered throughout the Astral Plane. Good luck!

4.All teleportees roll d6. All teleportees who rolled the same number must swap their stat blocks with each other. They may keep their skills, feats, powers, and so forth.

3. As 4, but the teleportees must randomly swap their entire character sheets around with each other; they have literally switched minds. How this may be undone is left as an exercise to the players.

2. As 4, but the teleportees almost materialized inside each other; everyone who rolled the same number takes 1d6 x 10 damage. No other effect.

1. All teleportees roll d6. All teleportees who rolled the same number are fused together irreparably, and die instantly. This happens automatically if there are only two teleportees; if only one teleportee, he arrives inside out and dies instantly. Note that if there are three or more teleportees, it is possible that nothing happens, and they arrive safely at their destination.

0. All teleportees are accidentally shunted to an antimatter universe, and immediately explode upon arrival with the force of multiple nuclear bombs. The crust of the planet is cracked, and the continent where they arrived is largely shattered. The world and everything on it comes apart in a welter of fire, smoke, and magma, and within three days, it is an orbiting cloud of dust and rock. Armageddon. Hope you guys made a will. Good clerics and Paladins must contact their deities and discuss atonement for accidentally killing everyone in the world.

Say it like you mean it

So in my perusal of Jeff's Gaming Blog, he brought up an interesting point about languages. We'll begin with the Common Tongue, the lingua franca of the D&D setting. All PCs are assumed to know this one. However, most PCs manage to know a few others as well -- Elvish, Dwarfish, Giantish, Draconic and Orcish being some of the most popular.

Most people think of "Common" as being "English," itself the major trade language on Earth in the 21st century. I'd assume, though, that the Common Speech of D&D is much simpler; that's why everyone seems able to learn it. Learning English is hard; we who grew up with it take it for granted. It has a LOT of spellings that don't make sense phonetically (think of every word you know that has "gh" in it), many cockeyed pronunciations, and more irregular verbs and conjugations than I care to think about. English doesn't make sense. You just memorize it and move on.
Plus, one might consider that the Common Speech of Europe in, say, 1285, had a LOT fewer words than English in 2010. How big a vocabulary do you NEED to grow food, pay taxes to your Lord, beg for mercy occasionally, and never go further than thirty miles from the place you were born? I'd say Common's pretty easy. Hell, even orcs and goblins learn to speak it, and goblins are about as degenerate as you can get in the D&D worlds.




Elvish? Harder, I'd think. I think of Elvish as being somewhat like French -- dependent on accent and pronunciation, and remarkably easy to screw up in ways that either piss off the French or have them laughing uproariously at your barbarous yet hilarious mistakes with the language. That, and you need a great many nouns and adjectives to describe trees, wood, leaves, forest, animals, and so on. This doesn't even begin to touch on the vocabulary you must need to manage magic -- I'd even go so far as to think that the Common speech words for various magics and magical effects are loanwords from Elvish.



Dwarvish. I imagine this as being a very no-nonsense language... no irregular verbs, no screwy tenses, no effed up pronunciations. Oh, and lots of hard consonants and glottal stops. However, it is somewhat loaded down with nuances... I envision different tones altering different words, like in Vietnamese (where the same word means "dog," the color orange, and "ice cream," depending on how you pronounce it)... I envision Dwarvish having the same kind of tonal thingy for "work" meaning "work for a living," "work on a private project," "desperately working against time," "work to learn," and all the other kinds of work. I mean, you know this is a race with about six hundred different words for "rock." Hell, imagine this taken to the extreme in a race that lives in Carlsbad Caverns, for potato's sake! I know exactly one word each for "stalactite" and "stalagmite." How many might the dwarves have?
Orcs. In most worlds, orcs are barbarians, but they do have a culture. They might well have a fairly complex language. Goblins and ogres, on the other hand, I would think don't. Why, in first edition, did goblins have their own language at all? You'd think they'd borrow one from Orcs or Humans or something. I mean, this is a race whose entire idea of reasoned diplomacy consists of "Gimme that, or else." Ogres are much the same way, but with an even greater reputation for stupidity...
In first edition, Gnomes could understand the languages of burrowing animals. I'm not sure I'd call this a "language." I mean, do badgers and gophers have their own distinct linguistics? I'd think of it more as "the ability to communicate." Hell, by that standard, my wife is fluent in Cat.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

WotC terminates sale of PDFs of old material

Stolen from Jeff's Gameblog. Check the LINKS section!

"Appendix N"


As I sit, blogging away my remaining hours of spring break, I find myself nosing around on other people's blogs. http://www.rpgblog2.com/2009/05/friday-discussion-whats-your-appendix-n.html asks an interesting question: "What's your Appendix N?"

The original Dungeon Master's Guide included several appendixes. Appendix N was a list of literary influences on the D&D game -- the original Conan novels, Lord of the Rings, and so on. It made me think -- what was MY "Appendix N?"

Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit (the novels, of course. Animated movie didn't come out until I was already gaming heavy, and the Peter Jackson movies were decades to come).
Conan (the comic books were my first big influence, weirdly enough. The paperbacks were good, but trying to FIND them when you lived in a little teeny cow town out in the middle of nowhere was a bit of a trick)
Hawk The Slayer, that great old swords and sorcery movie. First saw it on ... Showtime, I think it was... on a Saturday afternoon. Never forgot it. Ghod, it was awful, but back then, it managed to be magical.
Edgar Rice Burroughs. Weirdly enough, I never read any of his Tarzan books as a child, although my wife and father in law lived on 'em in their youths. I grew up on the first four John Carter of Mars books, The Land that Time Forgot, and At The Earth's Core, the last two being movie-photo-cover editions that accompanied the release of some remarkably bad movies... but the books were all pretty good.
DC Comics had a bunch of second string characters -- Claw the Unconquered, Dragonsword, and so on -- that had an effect on me.
The Elric books, by Michael Moorcock. I found the first two at a garage sale in my little bitty cow town. They were great. They had an immense effect on me.
Glory Road, by Robert Heinlein. Man, Nevia was MADE for dungeoneering... all the way from wild dragons in the forest, down to the poetic insult as an art form.
Dragon Magazine. I subscribed not long after I got my Player's Handbook. Once a month, all the geekdom in existence was opened for me. Their "Giants in the Earth" feature pretty much influenced the books I read for a couple years, when I could find them -- I never would have discovered Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser or the works of Poul Anderson without the Dragon.
The Magic Goes Away, by Larry Niven. The title caught my eye, but Boris Vallejo pretty much picked the book up, stuck in my hand, dragged me to the counter by my nose and took my wallet out and paid for it. Fantastic, iconic Boris cover! And the book was every bit as good as the cover! If only he'd done the interior illustrations, too... back before he was Frazetta-level famous...
H. P. Lovecraft. I really liked his stuff. I didn't even read his BEST stuff until I got to college. Too dratted hard to find out in the Great Fried Empty.
Bad movies. There was an awesome forgotten film called Wonder Women Vs. The Super Stooges (aka Amazons Vs. Supermen) that would have made an awesome D&D campaign -- a village of zero level farmers is threatened by a mob of 1st and 2nd level amazons, who must face off against three seventh level heroes: a monk, a barbarian, and... um... well, basically, a Mexican wrestler with the power to make fifty-foot broad jumps straight up cliffs. AWESOME fun from some Hong Kong chopsocky factory, and it would still make an awesome adventure. And, of course, all those Italian sword and sandal epics. I sure wish I could find WWvstSS on DVD these days...
Star Wars taught me a lot about excitement, climax, and pacing. Influenced my Traveller game, too.

No doubt I will remember others...

Random Castle Shenanigans Table



I liked this table so much I stole it.





Random Castle Shenanigans (d20)
1. Romance - A member of the household is interested in one of the PCs. One night stand? Stupid crush? Eternal love?
2. Haunting - The unquiet ghost of an ancestor prowls the halls on certain nights.
3. Hidden Catacombs - The place is built over a dungeon.
4. Knight Errancy - One or more of the younger sons are wandering adventurers, possibly off on a crusade.
5. Widow - A higher ranked noble is adjudicating the disposition of the dead lord's affairs, possibly to his own advantage.
6. Damaged Castle - Wreckage caused by last year's siege/monster attack/earthquake still being repaired.
7. Sibling Rivalry - Brothers and/or sisters engaged in petty mischief, may boil over to outright violence.
8. Amazons - The ladies wear the platemail in this family.
9. Family Curse - Lycanthropy? Innsmouth taint?
10. Keepers of the Flame - Protectors of the secret hiding spot of some artifact of the Old Kingdom.
11. Heretics - One or more members of the household not orthodox in their religious views.
12. Festival - Celebration of a wedding, birth, knighting or perhaps a fair or tourney.
13. Rowdy Lads - The lords younger sons and/or bastards are a rough and tumble bunch. Hard to control, but would make for brave adventuring companions.
14. Lurking Monster - Some mankiller has made a lair in the same hex.
15. Black Magic - Someone in the family secretly studies sorcery.
16. Secret Society - One or more members of the household belong to a secret political party, witches coven, etc.
17. Petty War - The barony down the road is getting too uppity, I tells you.
18. Blood Feud - A random noble house are mortal enemies.
19. Strong Ally - Another noble house? A wizard? Some creature?
20. Prisoner - either a member of the household is being held elsewhere or the locals are holding someone of note, awaiting ransom

Swiped from:
http://jrients.blogspot.com/ This guy Jeff is an old school gamer, and seems to have something of a William Shatner fetish, but he's got a great blog!



Friday, March 19, 2010

...At First Level

I have, in my mind, a very specific image of the First Level Character, forged in the ancient days of First Edition Dungeons and Dragons: a rather ordinary sort of guy, not much different from a farmer or tradesman... but one who has placed his feet upon the path of Hero, and has claimed for himself a Different Destiny from those of other men.









But in the meantime, he's first level, has at best fourteen hit points (assuming he's relatively badass for first level), and at worst, ONE hit point, a hokey armor class, and a power level that means he's actually in danger if attacked by a couple of kobolds or even a single insect of unusual size (one of the more common low-level D&D monsters was the Giant Centipede, a two-foot long mildly poisonous critter that could nevertheless lay you out dead if it won initiative).








Wizards, in particular, were so screwed. The system encouraged you to put your best scores in Intelligence (to maximize your potential) and Dexterity (to salvage the pathetic remains of your armor class), meaning that even a tough first level wizard was sitting at four hit points... the exact average of a d8 roll. One hit, and you're gone. And what do you get for the sacrifice of wearing no armor and wielding the weakest of weapons?

ONE first level spell. One. If you were lucky, it was Sleep, or perhaps Magic Missile. If the DM was feeling sadistic, or the dice were rolling badly, it could be Tenser's Floating Disc, or ghod help us, Nystul's Magic Aura, a spell that did absolutely nothing except make an object radiate magic when Detect Magic was cast upon it.













But if you didn't have a wizard, your party was crippled at higher levels. The bad guys had wizards, of course. And so, the party carried the poor schlub with the spells until he reached a level of competency, kind of (fourth level)... and finally, achieved rockstar level (seventh level, and the beginning of third level spells... including the dreaded Fireball).

Once you really knew what you were doing... first level was a drag. NOBODY wanted to start ALL over again. A decent DM would let you begin at third level, at least... let you start up where one good sword swat wouldn't crush you like a bug.

Which is what made me wonder why some lunatic came up with the idea for zero level characters.

Yet the rules are there. In Greyhawk Adventures, one of the last hardbacks published for the ancient first edition, an appendix allows for the creation of zero-level adventurers... people who have to work their way up to first level. Based on the text and pictures, we're literally playing children or teenagers who are still serving their apprenticeships, who have banded together to go and find something... um... really, really weak... and, um, evil... and kill it and take its stuff.
































We never used these rules, of course. I never knew anyone who did. But I liked the idea. It made it clear that first level characters don't just spring out of nowhere. There are teenagers toiling away at the Fighter's Guild, hoping some grizzled warrior will teach them some tricks. There are kids at the Thieves' Guild, learning patience and lockpicking from the old masters. And there are children spending long hours in secret libraries by candlelight, trying to make sense out of this so called "magic missile" thing, here in the Master's big old book.
I liked that idea a lot. Magic wasn't meant to be easy; if it was, everyone would be doing it. Wizards should have to sweat and ponder for what they got; if they didn't, why didn't they spend more time outside exercising, maybe learning how to handle a halberd? Magic is rocket science for the fantasy world, man. It's only for the few, the proud, the mageriffic. And it should take time to master. As Larry Niven put it, "A wizard who could not handle one swordsman was a poor wizard indeed."
This brings me to another subject: the first level spell. First level spells should be simple, straightforward, and not very powerful, based on this model. After all, the wizard is tapping into elemental forces, here, and losing control can be catastrophic. A first level spell should be safe enough that even the dumbest wizard could pull it off without much trouble.

Which... upon consideration... led me to the alternate idea: what if not?
Yoda -- an old wizard if ever there was one -- described the Dark Side of the Force as being easier to manage than the Light Side... quicker, more seductive. Surely, some Jedi initiates are tempted by this?
There are schools of magic in literature (and therefore gaming) that are similar. One that springs to mind is magic based on the use of demons (or extradimensional megabeings). Basically, you do something to get a lock on them, and then you can command them to do whatever you want. Examples include the evil shamans from David Eddings' Belgariad series, Jack Vance's Dying Earth series, and Hardy's Master of the Five Magics.












This invariably has a price, though: demons don't much like being ordered around by mortals, and if you make ONE tiny screwup, the lock is gone... and you're at their mercy... and by definition, demons are not merciful.

In short: this school of magic can be quite easy, and a character can wield VAST power... but roll a fumble, and your character is toast.











Plainly, this would not be well suited for gaming. A first level character who can level buildings in two rounds, slaughter a whole barful of barbarians in seconds, but dies horribly the first time he rolls a "1?" Fun, perhaps, but certainly a brief career. Prolly make for some really dramatic dice rolling, though.

So what about a middle ground? It's been done in other settings. By this, I mean that there are two kinds of spells: one being the simple, effective, tried-and-true spells that any apprentice can master and cast... and the other kind of spell: the quick-and-dirty kind, the experimental spell that can get results... but if your control wavers, or you drop a syllable, or make the wrong gesture, or even if the astral plane is in flux or the planets are in the wrong alignment... well, it can go banana-shaped, MIGHTY quick. These are the spells the Masters eschew; plainly, if you want to be an old wizard, you ain't a bold wizard.

But apprentices might try them from time to time. They're quick. They're powerful. They're low level, and they work. Most of the time, anyway.

In the systems I've seen that use this kind of spell, failure is not instant death, but it can be pretty disastrous. In first edition, Teleport was this kind of spell.


If you wanted to avoid the hassle, you waited until the wizard got more levels, and then you used Teleport Without Error. Naturally, no gaming group in the history of the planet ever bothered with that. Hell, no! We had a QUEST to complete, dammit!

And, so, we took our chances. And the results are legendary. Just check Google for "teleport mishap" for some great stories. The Dungeon Master had WAY too much leeway in first edition; the illustration at left offers the 3.5 edition rules, in which you just took some damage and maybe landed off target. Back in the DAY, though... man, I heard stories that made The Fly sound like The Care Bears Movie...

Which brings me to yet another subject: the 3.5 edition first level spell, Benign Transposition. I about lost my mind when I first heard of this first level spell. A first level teleport spell? What the HELL? It violated about every idea I ever had about first level spells and first level wizards. Man, when I think about what I could have done, back in first edition, when I started a wizard at first level... man, I could just swap myself out for the big armored dude whenever some jerk with a sword came at me? Wow!



At the time, I overreacted. The very idea of a first level spell that could part the veils of reality and shift physical objects from one place to another? That's NUTS! Whatever happened to "First level spells are weak spells?" Whatever happened to "glass cannon?" What, we can turn reality sideways at first level, now? And with no chance of error? Man, the actual Teleport spell, at fourth level, can still malfunction, but this idiotic first level abomination CAN'T? Plainly, this was in wild opposition to my mental picture of what first level spells were and should be. Teleportation was a MAJOR thing, a POTENT thing, and the idea of making it a first level spell in ANY form struck me as pure munchkinism. Particularly since its opposite, Baleful Transposition, was SECOND level, for no apparent good reason except that you'd use it to teleport the ogre onto the tightrope or whatever... which frankly STILL made it pretty potent. Especially as written. What, you don't even need line of sight? I can just teleport the fighter into place, even if he's outside watching the horses? As long as he's in range, baby!

...until I began to ponder the concept of "wild magic." The idea that there's more than one magical way to skin a cat. The idea that there are experimental first level spells... that can work under the right circumstances... but can fail unexpectedly in some bizarre ways.

ANY Teleport spell is useful enough that ANY Teleport spell is going to get USED, regardless of how wonky it is; if there's a decent chance of getting something or someone from point A to point B instantly, someone's going to want it.

...and as written, there is considerable DM leeway. A horrifying amount, in fact. Howthehell is the wizard able to teleport a target he can't see? Plainly, line of sight is required to avoid some horrible mistakes. Furthermore, both targets have to be willing. What if one target wasn't expecting it? Does he get a save? Does the spell work at all? How do we define "willing?" What if I just switch out Frank (who is getting the shit beat out of him) with Ted (who is outside guarding the horses, completely unaware of what's going on in the house?) Does this work? What, with no chance of error?

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I had fumbled the ball. The more I read and reread the spell, the more I realized that this WAS a "wild magic" spell, a wonky little thing some idiot wizard had cooked up and thought was a good idea, and had passed on to the apprentices to see how many of them it would kill.

Its opposite, Baleful Transposition, does the same thing, but for an enemy, and the enemy gets a save. In order to abuse this spell, you actually need to use some imagination, and the caster needs to have some mobility; he's got to climb UP on that tightrope before teleporting the ogre up there. In short, Benign Transposition isn't really a bad spell at all, not broken in the least... provided some additions are made.

The first addition is this: Targets must be willing. This means they have to know what's coming. The caster and targets may have made an arrangement beforehand; as a free action, the caster may shout something like, "FRANK! TED! BEE-TEE IN THREE! The caster has arranged with his homies beforehand that "BEE TEE" means "Benign Transposition" and that he intends to switch Frank and Ted's positions this round. Frank and Ted then may make a Listen check as a free action, with the DC determined by the GM and circumstances; if it's quiet enough, an automatic success is obvious. If either target fails his Listen check, he is not willing because he didn't see it coming; go to the Mishap Rule. A target who could not possibly know what was coming but would have cooperated if he did (say, Father Anderson) COULD count as willing, but ISN'T. This means the caster could still cast the spell, but would automatically have to make a Mishap Check using the Mishap Rule. Note that a target who ISN'T or WOULD NEVER BE willing cannot be affected by this spell; use Baleful Transposition instead.

The second addition is this: the caster must have all targets and destinations in line of sight. If he does not, go to the Mishap Rule.

The MISHAP RULE: Roll a six sided die to obtain a number. Subtract the caster's level from that number. If the result is greater than zero, a mishap has occurred; go to the Teleport Mishap Table. This represents the fluctuating nature of the Warp one has created, and one's ability to control it, based on experience of the caster.
Note also that +1 is added to that die roll number for each of the following circumstances:
+1 for each "unwilling" or "surprised" target after the first (one surprised target is +0; if both targets are surprised, it's +1).
+1 for each target not in line of sight of the caster. The caster ALWAYS counts as being in his own line of sight, unless he is unsure where he is in relation to everyone and everything else (in total darkness or blinded, for example; if this is the case, roll a d20 instead of a d6. Blindly teleporting should NEVER be a good idea!).

With these in place, I think Benign Transposition could be a very interesting and usable first level spell.

Now, I just need to develop a suitable Teleport Mishap Table...

Thursday, March 18, 2010

"Gygaxian"


Back in the day, before the oceans drank Atlantis, when there was "Dungeons and Dragons" and "ADVANCED Dungeons and Dragons," we had an adjective, and that word was "Gygaxian."

Y'see, the Dungeon Master's Guide was an interesting thing. It contained much useful information. It also contained tables you'd never use, rules one never consulted, and detail upon detail upon detail. Who remembers the dreaded Potion Miscibility Table? Or perhaps the Harlot Chart? Ol' Gary must have had a serious thing for percentile dice. Anyway, we referred to rules that were complicated to the point where they could be ignored without impacting the game as "gygaxian," as in "Man, I don't know anyone who plays a strict gygaxian game."

I found it interesting that today on http://wiki.rpg.net/index.php/Main_Page I found that my little knot of geeks wasn't the only one to have drawn the man's name into an adjective... he's part of the language now...

Gygax, Gygaxian
An adjective form of the name of one of the founders of the role-playing hobby, E. Gary Gygax. When used as an adjective, Gygax's name indicates that the item so modified breaks some commonly held assumption about the world (often pertaining to the logical construction of an area). Notable RPGnet member Steve Darlington once observed that a Gygaxian dungeon, for instance, often resembles a game of Let's Make a Deal as re-imagined by a homicidal SCAdian on PCP. ("What's behind door number 1? A monster! Door number 2? Instant death! Door number 3? Treasure!") This style of design is generally earmarked by the following:
1.Dungeons apparently designed solely for adventurers to adventure in, rather than a structure built for another purpose which has now been lost, forgotten, or re-purposed.
2.The presence of monsters who, logically, have no business being where they are and would have starved to death without a constant stream of adventurers stumbling into them.
3.Monsters which seem designed specifically to kill adventurers, such as a metamorph which lures prey by imitating a treasure chest.
4.A profusion of remarkably deadly traps, particularly ones serving as punishment for seemingly random, innocent, and even logical actions; for example, a throne which automatically kills any character who sits in it without wearing the crown and holding the scepter, then proceeds to destroy said character's soul to prevent his resurrection.
5.Traps which would tend to kill any residents who made a minor mistake such as stepping on the wrong tile or forgetting one's key.
6.Cursed magic items which automatically kill or permanently harm a character attempting to use them, usually designed to function as expected until the user is in mortal danger, with the curse utterly undetectable until activated.
7.An extremely overblown writing style which seems to imply excessive use of a thesaurus. This "Gygaxian prose" is best exemplified by his work in the AD&D 1st edition Dungeon Masters Guide.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Shared Worlds

Shared worlds, from what I understand, are a colossal pain in the ass.

There's a series of books out there. Thieves' World, edited by Robert Asprin and Lynn Abbey. They're pretty good. They're essentially series of linked short stories about the people in the fantasy city of Sanctuary -- crooks, bravos, bards, whores, nobility, the Prince who rules the city, One-Thumb, the bartender of the Vulgar Unicorn bar, and many others. They're hard to find, though, these days, because they're out of print, and it seems unlikely they'll go back in anytime soon in their current format.

This is because Thieves' World was a shared universe. Essentially, Asprin and Abbey drew up and created the city of Sanctuary, a backwater of the corrupt Rankan Empire, and invited all these authors to create characters to fit the city, and go nuts. Naturally, the authors began by creating their own characters... and having them interact with OTHER authors' characters... and the stories began to write themselves. They were quite popular, back in the day.

They're out of print, now. Robert Asprin's dead, and the thing apparently depended on his willingness to keep in touch with all the authors, juggle copyrights, and keep the publishers and authors and their lawyers happy. They were good stories, but apparently agents and publishers in particular insist on the legalities... which are apparently a major pain to manage. If you want to read them, you're likely to have to haunt half-price paperback houses.

This became evident to me when I tried to buy a copy of the Chaosium Thieves' World boxed RPG set, back in '83 or '84 or so. It was already gone. They'd gotten the rights from Asprin and his publisher and all the authors... but made the mistake of saying "How could we make this product as massively useful as possible for as many gamers as possible?"

Simple. They included stats for every roleplaying game they could think of at the time. You can find stats for Hanse Shadowspawn, Lythande the Starbrowed, and everyone else for Dungeons and Dragons, Traveller, Runequest, Tunnels and Trolls, Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, and more. They included Poul Anderson's excellent essay on fantasy literature, On Thud And Blunder, http://www.sfwa.org/2005/01/on-thud-and-blunder/ and a whole bunch of other excellent stuff, including, of course, an entire prebuilt city for adventuring in. A friend of mine bought it for use in his D&D campaign, and I lusted after it from day one.

But when I got around to going and looking for it, it was gone. Apparently, some of the game publishers whose systems had been mentioned in the supplement got a bit bent about the fact that no one had consulted them before allowing their stats to be used in the thing, nor were they getting any royalties.

The creators of the boxed set said, "But wait. We didn't include any of your rules. We simply created characters, USING your rules, and published them. Your copyrighted material does not appear in our work. Furthermore, in order to USE our work, the gamers will have to go out and BUY your rules!"

You'd think this would make sense, but apparently, someone bitched enough that the Thieves' World RPG supplement ceased publication. Bidding for old copies is spirited on Ebay. Chaosium did not reprint it, nor are they likely to.

Same thing happened a couple decades ago when Wizards of the Coast published The Primal Order, a system for creating religions and cultures for RPGs and fiction. They made the mistake of thinking, "Wouldn't this be useful if we included information that allowed you to plug this into existing roleplaying games?"

They did not include D&D, of course -- D&D had gone through a litigious phase in the late eighties and early nineties, even suing people on the internet for talking about D&D -- but apparently, other game publishers were just as snarky, and The Primal Order quickly ceased publication.

It brought to mind IndyClix, the HeroClix game that included characters from comics other than the Big Two publishers. No one sued -- WizKids (the HeroClix company) had been careful about securing the rights -- but apparently, it was just such a big pain in the butt juggling all these companies and their lawyers that WizKids just said, "Hell with it. Too much work for too little profit." There would be no further expansions for IndyClix.

Sigh. Why can't we all just get along? Is there no hope for collaborative creativity?