Dojo Darelir, the School of Xenograg the Sorcerer

Category: Role-playing

Rare Sighting of a Girdle of Giant Strength

August 19, 2023

I made this. 😀

The image is a screenshot from the 1961 film “El Cid“.

actor Charlton Heston wearing a leather girdle

Evocative Magical Item Names: Wizardry CRPG Series

August 11, 2023

This is the first in a planned series of evocative names of magical items from any media. Names that spur one’s own imagination of what they could be outside of their source material.

My first computer role-playing game (CRPG) was 1981’s “Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord“. Still then being new to Dungeons & Dragons, Wizardry had a considerable influence—good and bad—on my early gaming.

Like early D&D, items found as treasure had to be identified. The game would initially say only “Xenograg found a sword.” Via either of the two provided methods, an item would be determined to be mundane or magical (including cursed). This step delayed the player’s gratification and heightened their anticipation.

The original game has three items with names that have stuck in my mind ever since:

  • Blade Cuisinart’
  • Lords Garb
  • Murasama Blade

The game’s sequel, “Wizardry II: The Knight of Diamonds“, has only one name of similar evocation:

  • Staff of Gnilda

I did not get far in the third game of the series, Wizardry III: Legacy of Llylgamyn, and thus never found any of its ‘big name’ magical items.

I am intentionally omitting my imaginings for these items so you may do so for yourself.

The power of names.

Rhydinspace, a Science Fantasy Setting

June 18, 2023

I have been giving thought to defining the Rhydin solar system. As Rhydin is a cross-genre campaign world, “Rhydinspace” is likewise. So science fantasy. I am starting my definition from the science end of the spectrum (e.g., space is a vacuum) and “softening” the science with fantasy only as needed.

See also Magical Defenders of the Solar System.

Check out this Mastodon thread

(Republished this preface of a previous post as a standalone.)

How There Are So Many Dungeons

April 23, 2023

In a prior post I answered why there are so many irrational dungeons. The big problem is the fact that it is so difficult to build underground. The labor pools required, even if managed, would preclude keeping the structures secret. Nor can fantasy dwarves account for all the dungeons. So it must be magic. But in what form?

This magic must be accessible to a single individual, and separate from whatever class or abilities they have. Even powerful mages would lack all the kinds of magic needed. This is beyond a specialty. So its form would be a magical item. A very powerful magical item. In D&D terms, a minor artifact. Manifesting from the mythic underworld.

It would create neat hallways, rooms, stairs, sturdy wooden doors, furniture, lighting, and all the other irrational structures of a traditional fantasy dungeon. No digging. No debris. No effort, really. Malleable reality, very localized.

Using the magical item would simply be a matter of pointing it. More of a wand than a tool. Something that belongs in a dungeon, though. Something that its wielder could set down at the end of an episode of insanity, and easily take up again at the beginning of the next. Also a disguise.

An iron torch carrier. Just put it into a wall sconce when not in use.

iron torch holder/carrier

All it lacks is a name.

Addendum: a discussion of this blogpost reminded me of the Winchester House. This magical item would single-handedly enable such an irrational structure, just underground.

Deflating D&D Experience Levels

March 16, 2023

My first edition of Dungeons & Dragons was the 1981 Moldvay Basic but I quickly fell victim to Gygax’s marketing of Advanced D&D. It was years before my brother and I found anyone else who had the game, so all I had was the TSR products as-written. The 1983 World of Greyhawk boxed set was the one and only campaign world, then. The encounter tables in the Glossography became unforgettable as they set the bar for NPC experience levels. The entry for “Men, Patrol, Knights” is the best example of this:

screenshot of encounter table entry for 'Men, Patrol, Knights'

Ignore the high-level officers. The average knight is at least a 4th-level Fighter. His squire is 2nd- or 3rd-level. Even the serjeants are 1st-level Fighters, which is meaningful as AD&D has the concept of “zero-level” for commoners a little better at combat (e.g. militiamen) than the rest. Other entries in those tables have similar experience level distributions.

Regardless of rules edition, these are high levels for average warriors. Knights are elite professionals, true, but all of them in (what 5th-edition D&D calls) Tier 2? D&D presumes that all character classes will be present in equivalent distributions, so Tier 2 spell-casters will also be common. Porting these levels as-is into 5e would not change my point at all. One of my many quibbles with 5e is its continued power inflation from 3e. Even more than with character classes, I disagree with Knights being 8d8+16 HD opponents and peasants having 16 Hit Points.

This has a huge impact upon the rest of a campaign world. How many of us have carried these assumptions into our own custom worlds? It has taken me years (decades!) to truly see that knights, for one, can still be feared killing machines at lower experience levels. That even comes with a bonus: they also become mortal, which every non-hero should be. If you are keeping the spell-caster equivalency, this also lowers the magical power level of your world—a very good thing, in my opinion.

In 5e terms, I see a squire as a 1st-level Fighter. An average knight would only be a 2nd-level Fighter. Higher levels are still available for experienced knights, of course. Against peasants and militiamen, a 2nd-level Fighter is a sufficient killer but is also at risk of being slain by a few enemies working together.

For further discussion on this topic, I highly recommend JB’s (B/X BLACKRAZOR) blogposts Hit Me Baby One More Time, 1st Level Magic-Users, and One Man Army.

Jealous Hoarding of Magic Spells

February 20, 2023

7 Myths Everyone Believes About Druids suggests that druids should be fractious.

Dojo Storming is but one example showing that martial artists are violently rivalrous about their skills, masters, and/or schools.

So, too, should magicians because it would be an identical situation. Spells are analogous to martial art maneuvers: most are common but advanced ones are secrets known to perhaps only a single master and her disciple. How shall all other magicians in the world learn such secrets? By force, most likely. Jack Vance’s Dying Earth series—a major influence on Dungeons & Dragons’ magic system—depicts all wizards as jealous hoarders of the hundred spells left in that world.

Xenograg’s homeworld of Panadus has not yet advanced to where schools—of any kind—are common. Indeed, the Imperial School founded by Demograg was part of his sorcerous revolution. The three masters that coexisted as the Veler Magi were unique; likewise their College where the sum of their knowledge was taught.

Xenograg is the only person to ever be a student of both those schools. That fact predates this retrospective but this is not a retcon. The old and this new dovetail nicely. The original narrative portrayed Maret, the last Veler Magi, as very wise and peaceful. Amazingly, it is Maret who invites Xenograg into the College. Xenograg did not seek it; would have believed it impossible. To his mind, Xenograg would have had to “storm” the College to get the spells within.

Now there is a “What If…?

Addendum: I neglected to include the witches coven. Either through temperament or necessity, female magic wielders are often depicted as working together in small groups.

Magical Defenders of the Solar System

February 19, 2023

The solar system of the Realm of Rhydin defaults to a technological science fiction setting. It is cross-genre, though, so all fictional milieu are allowed: Star Wars, Star Trek, Mass Effect, et. al. Fantasy, too, but that is very rare since those characters already have a cross-genre setting of their own.

It is that rarity that I am focusing on.

I hypothesize that magical threats can and do physically arrive at the edge of the solar system. Being of fantastic origin, such a threat should be difficult-to-impossible to detect by technology. Even detected, perhaps not accepted or believed. Even believed, technology might not be able to counter the threat.

Thus a need for magical defenders in space. The problem lies in the tiny pool of potential recruits. Very few fantasy characters self-select to interact with the science fiction side of the Realm of Rhydin, let alone take a ride on a spaceship to Gateway Station in orbit.

Humanoids Would Wear Their Personal Wealth

December 20, 2022

Humanoids would wear their personal wealth as (gold|silver) chain necklaces rather than carry it as coins.

Magic Use Elicits Strong Reactions

December 19, 2022

Pondering one of my book excerpts, Performing Miracles, led to some jotted-down thoughts:

  • Public use of magic elicits strong reactions from everyone.
  • Usually fear but sometimes awe.
  • First impressions are critical.
  • Must overcome—or confirm—initial doubt and anxiety.
  • Awe can be just as troublesome as fear.
  • Consequences either way.

(I frequently take notes in bullet-point format.)

On the Living and the Dead

December 19, 2022

“The living fight the living. The dead fight the dead. They are not to fight each other. This is the Law.” — Xenograg

Domination Magic: Dark Side of the Force

October 30, 2022

This is the first installment of a series on my (incomplete) thoughts concerning magic used to dominate other people.

Caveat: I am not knowledgeable about the Star Wars Expanded Universe. My questions here—to myself—may have been answered there. I am unbothered by that.

“You don’t know the power of the Dark Side. I must obey my master.” — Darth Vader, Return of the Jedi (1983)

That line has fascinated me for decades. How much control does Emperor Palpatine have over Vader via the Force? Not total, as Sith apprentices frequently kill their masters. As to why not, total control would result in a mere puppet rather than the needed junior partner and successor. So partial control of some kind. Magical control. Something beyond the mundane tools of social control which might be ineffective against special subordinates. Enough to keep the subordinate in line without losing what makes them special.

This could simply be a magical analogue to physical coercion: causing pain to the target’s mind instead of their body until the desired behavior is performed. That analogue is sufficient but neither interesting nor creative.

But the important detail is the partial domination. Almost none at all, judging by the frequently successful rebellions.


September 14, 2022

A role-playing game topic I see regularly is the effect magic’s existence has/should have on historical architecture and, more specifically, their defenses against various threats. Namely, magic’s existence rendering those defenses irrelevant. Some essays include how game masters should rethink/redesign castles, treasure vaults, prisons, et. al.

To me, the solution is obvious: add a nullification of all magic effects to the mundane defenses of any object or location. In short, anti-magic. For this to work, anti-magic needs to be available proportionate to the level of magic in a campaign world. Thus so, historical defenses require no rethinking at all.

The simplest answer is most likely the correct one.

Personal magical defense will be the subject of a later post.

ADDENDUM: While I do see a viable market for spell-casters to specialize in creating anti-magic wards for third parties, non-casters would—rightly—be concerned about the potential conflict of interest in the hired mage. Another option that does not require one mage to stop other mages would be preferable.

I recently came upon a blogpost about an example of just this option: Voidstone and Voidsteel.

All Non-Hominids Are Psykers

May 25, 2022
anthropomorphous adjective. Shaped like a human being.

How do non-anthropomorphous aliens participate in a world adapted by hominids (e.g., humans, elves, dwarves, etc.) for themselves?

While fictional worlds may include non-anthropomorphous species, they are structured like the real world: reshaped by intelligent anthropomorphous beings for their own benefit. Hands with opposable thumbs begot tool use and the literal reshaping of the world. Speech communication via a voice box begot mutual understanding and information sharing from one person to many.

Fantasy worlds can utilize the mythological trope of magical animals that can talk and/or use human objects. Snakes do not have voice boxes, so sentient snakes cannot speak as hominids do. Spiders do not have hands, so sentient spiders cannot use hominid tools. How can either sentient species construct spaceships to travel into outer space?

They do have minds. They have psychic abilities inherent to the entire species. (Space magic.)

Telepathy need only be broadcasting to clone speech communication.

Telekinesis would need to clone both the physical strength of the hominid arm and the finely-controlled manual dexterity that fingers are capable of. Also needs the ability to manipulate two objects at once.

This line of thought means that psychic ability is nearly universal. Only in the anthropomorphous would it be optional—they are the exception to the rule.

Why There Are So Many Dungeons

April 23, 2022

While I like the old idea of living dungeons, those would be very rare—even singular.

The mythic underworld seems more usable, but its natural entrances at the surface would likewise be very rare. “Man”-made dungeons that delve sufficiently deep could become supplemental entrances.

But why would so many sentient beings construct so many “mundane” dungeons? Especially when those dungeons are unneeded, excessive, and weirdly laid out? Because dungeon building is an insanity that can arise in anyone who builds and inhabits a sufficiently large, permanent structure of any kind.

So aristocratic castles; wizard towers; religious temples; dwarven homesteads; humanoid cave towns. Anything.

Where does the insanity come from? Obviously, it is the mythic underworld reaching out, weakly; desiring another connection to the surface world.

As to how such irrational dungeons are built, that is another post.