What If: The Doom Of The Rings

The first setting idea I'd like to share is something I thought about many years ago and concerns prof. Tolkien's Middle-earth. I must admit that I am of mixed feelings towards the Middle-earth myself. I admire the work prof. Tolkien put into creating a complex, living world with rich history. I like Hobbit and even Silmarillion even more but The Lord Of The Rings not so much to say the least. There are reasons why it's parody was titled Bored Of The Rings, after all. My stance towards the trilogy somewhat warmed recently, thanks to fine work done by Turbine with their The Lord Of The Rings Online game.

Many years ago, after reading The Last Ringbearer, I started to think about Middle-earth game that would twist the story a bit. Not nearly as much as The Last Ringbearer, but a bit. Primary concern was the timing, I didn't wanted to place it prior to or during the events of The Lord Of The Rings because I don't like players messing up with existing story (depends upon particular setting, in Star Wars Expanded Universe I am more lenient, for example) but placing it afterward would be a bit pointless. After some thought I considered tweaking the ending of the trilogy for the purpose of the game setting - it is one of the rare occasions when I even considered that because I prefer to leave book worlds as they are and instead play in worlds designed as game settings instead. There are plenty of those for anyone who needs a world to play and can't (or won't) create his own.

The basic premise of The Doom Of The Rings setting is that neither Gandalf nor rest of the Council Of Elrond anticipated the possible fallout of The One Ring's destruction. When it finally fell into the fires of the Mount Doom, the great power bound within was unleashed. It did shattered the vestiges of Sauron's physical form, nullifying his ability to influence the world, as planned. The power didn't disperse harmlessly, however. Instead it rushed toward the most suitable receptacles - the remaining rings of power. The surge of unbound sorcery immediately empowered the lesser rings and their bearers. This freed the Ringwraiths from their servitude toward the now powerless Sauron and revived the discorporated Witch-King of Angmar. Even the bearers of the Three, free of corruption until now, had to wrestle with temptation of power. The sudden disappearance of the Sauron's will driving them routed the orc army during the Battle of Morannon. Only the eruption of Mount Doom stopped the Free People from invading Mordor. Without the guidance of Gandalf, who was struggling with Narya, trying to overcome the sudden influx of power, the army under the command of Aragorn returned to Gondor, unprepared to venture into the barren lands while the rain of volcanic ash ignited spontaneous fires and poisoned already scarce supplies of water.

While the Free People celebrated the victory and vanquishing of the ancient threat, the Nazgul, much more tangible and capable of greater interaction with physical world than previously, spread across the Middle-earth driven by their rekindled ambition, greed and arrogance. Each of them sought out a seat of power and mustered orcs, trolls, dark men, and corrupted spirits under its banner. Reborn Witch-king returned to Angmar where his servants were already marshaling evil forces. One Nazgul came to dwell in Fornost, one in Dol Guldur and another moved to the depths of Moria determined to subjugate native goblins and slaughter returned dwarves. Three divided Mordor between themselves in uneasy alliance bent on ravaging Gondor. Eighth of the Ringwraiths claimed the throne of Umbar. The last one remains unaccounted for, an enigmatic threat lurking in the shadows, bidding its time for a decisive move.

Saruman, still at fraction of his former power and trapped within the walls of Orthanc, never left for Shire. Instead, he subtly manipulates events in Rohan pitting the Rohirrim against Dunlendings and trying to undermine the horselords' loyalty to Gondor. His agents roam the Eregion and Rhovanion spreading unrest, seeding betrayals, forging alliances and, above all, seeking items of power that would restore their master's might.

Gandalf managed to reject the temptation of empowered Narya and vanished after Aragorn's coronation, presumably recalled to the West for his mission was complete. Some, however, speculate that he decided to stay in Middle-earth against the wishes of might Valar, to advise the Men and Elves in their battles against the remaining forces of the Shadow.

Lothlorien struggles, flanked by goblins of Moria and orcs of Dol Guldur. The elven realm is protected by the power of Nenya but its continuous use strains the spirit of Galadriel and pushes her slowly into madness. Rivendell is harried by goblins, trolls and hillsfolk beholden to Angmar as well, but nowhere near as hard as Lorien so Elrond is forced to draw on Vilya's power to much lesser degree than Galadriel.

Gondor, under the rule of newly crowned Elessar Telcontar, is subject to the raids of Mordor orcs, Haradrim tribes and Umbar corsairs. The main forces of the kingdom are tied in Ithillien, preventing the hordes of Mordor from overwhelming the southern kindgom.

Men of Bree and hobbits of Shire, while relatively isolated from the greatest dangers, are still haunted by marauding servants of evil. Roaming groups of bandits, goblins and giant spiders cross the borders of once peaceful lands.

Rangers Of The North wage many small but vicious battles through the Eregion but their primary concern is retaking ancient cities of Annuminas and Fornost while preventing Angmarim from conquering the North.

Dwarven expedition slowly reclaimed Moria from the hands of various orc tribes but their progress was stopped and partly reversed when the denizens of the depths were rallied by one of the Ringwraiths who choose Moria as his new domain. Now, the dwarves must fight with all their might and fortitude to hold what they managed to retake.

Free people all around the Middle-earth need courage and valor to eradicate the forces of evil and make the way for the Forth Age to come.


My Life As A Gamer, part 3

Are we in XXI century yet? Oops, nope. It's still 2000, just after becoming member of GGFF for real. Which wasn't so sure at that moment, because late spring of 2000 seen the Guild moving out of the neighborhood cultural center. It was something about doing some unsavory and possibly occult things by the candle light in the center's kitchen (i.e. having climatic sessions). A shame because the center was great when it came to construction. It was composed of number of interconnected rooms on the ground floor of a kamienica in Kazimierz district of Krakow. The following months have seen little GGFF activity, aside from occasional meeting of Tolkien's fans. The summer passed and in the autumn preparations for Imladris IV - GGFF-organized convention started. I attended as one of the staff members, having an extended duty at accreditation. That autumn I also made a lecture or two on another convention in Łódź. This was the beginning of my participation in making gaming conventions. Soon the year ended, and the century, and the millennium too. The time for Krakon 2001 came and I got myself into making lectures on it as well. I continued to make lectures at Imladris and Krakon for a few years, rather unwilling to serve as regular staff member. In the meantime, GGFF got itself a new place to gather. First a small chamber in the cellar of a school in the center of Krakow, later left to meet at the Krakow's YMCA on the other side of the street, where we stayed until its end (GGFF's, not YMCA).

Sucessful conventions and new location revitalized the Guild, attracting a wave of new cultists members. Each week saw two or three sessions and new face or two. Some of them even returned more than once or twice. The most played were various World Of Darkness games, lots of Call Of Cthulhu (thanks to one and later two exceptional CoC GMs), Warhammer, Deadlands, some Earthdawn, 1st edition of Legend Of The Five Rings and many other systems. In the early 2001, MAG published Polish edition of another system: Fading Suns. Some time after a group gathered and started playing. While they promised to include me a few times, they hadn't a spot available so after a months or two I borrowed the rulebook and started GMing it myself to a few members of slowly forming Fading Suns group. Soon, after some regrouping I was one of three GMs regularly GMing Fading Suns in GGFF. Slowly the ideas I introduced in my games were accepted by the other two (who already were weaving their games into single campaign) and we ended with making one large campaign. By large I mean campaign that included (according to my notes) at least seventy one players playing more than one hundred and twenty four characters. Honestly, most of the players and characters were people who appeared on single session and never returned. We had lots of such folks thanks to constant flow of people who came to GGFF meeting only once. Some of players stayed for a few sessions. Some of them stayed for longer. Some of them are my best friends now and form an extended gaming group. That Fading Suns campaign had its highs and lows but some of those I'll describe in posts dedicated to that campaign, about some I will not speak at all.

One of my early Fading Suns scenarios I wrote down (which I rarely do) and sent to Magia i Miecz. Few months later, in early 2002, when I completely forgot about that submission I was stopped by one of fellow gamers who started to congratulate me. I was surprised when I learned that the scenario was just published. It took me over ten years to publish something again.

Fading Suns was game of our choice, with occasional pause for other games. There were some lulls in the Fading Suns campaign lasting for about half a year each. The first one started when my and the primary GM of the campaign contacts with the third GM loosened. We returned to the campaign with new players, with only me and the main GM from the old guard, and some completely new players (new as in "just beginning to play RPGs"). They caught on quite soon and the group was extended by additional players. Then some of the old guard returned. A second party was started when the other GM meet some of our friends who asked for session. Then one player came for as a special guest for a game and later started to make trips from another town just to attend sessions (later she moved to our city and married one of the co-players). Then another party formed and another. As the time passed and campaign was getting thicker with intrigues, characters moved between parties as the plot required. Some of player created secondary and even tertiary characters to participate in multiple parties and be involved in various plots. Prequel sessions and alternate timeline sessions happened. Events were invented on the spot. Sessions were started spontaneously while sitting at pub. Folks were discussing their characters and adventures during non-gaming meetings. Nothing last forever, however, as our extended gaming group splintered due to fatigue, burnout, lack of communication and misunderstandings. Some of the players continued playing it with another GM while the main GM severed his contacts with them. I refused to play and master Fading Suns anymore but kept in contact with various remnants of the group as did another player. There was anger and sadness and sorrow. It took one and half year to heal the wounds and gather the people again and see them speaking to each other. On my last birthday party, no less. Relations were re-established but the campaign was left behind. A new Fading Suns were started after people were fed up with waiting for third edition. World was restarted and history written from the beginning. I put away my character of over nine years and have no intention to reviving him. Those were good old times but they ended.

Two major campaigns beyond Fading Suns at that time were Legend Of Five Rings and native Polish Aphalon (but converted to L5R roll & keep mechanics) with Aphalon having the honor of being the longest campaign GMed by a friend (the same who was the main Fading Suns GM) as he started it even before we met. Unlike the Fading Suns, it wasn't terminated by the group fall. Instead, we returned to it after the group reassembled and keep it going.

Before the Fading Suns group splintered, I joined another friend's Mage: The Ascension game, after her group had its own share of players leaving. It was the second longest campaign I participated in (technically I played the Aphalon for longer time but the MtA campaign was much more session-intensive), and unlike Fading Suns it was closed and finished before the campaign fatigue and burnout could destroy it. The same group later invited me to participate in their D&D 3.5 campaign. Somewhere in the middle of 2010 I started to post on Paizo forum, after their Pathfinder (PF) game caught my attention. When the D&D campaign came to an end over a year ago I decided to start Forgotten Realms campaign, using PF rules for them, hoping they would make a full transition to it, but the GM choose to start a new 3.5 campaign still having a few gripes about PF changes. We switch between my PF and his 3.5 game as time and circumstances allow.

Recently, Warhammer 40K became all the rage amongst members of the former Fading Suns extended group with multiple parallel games active at the same time with me being member of the latest group started when a friend moved to Kraków.


My Life As A Gamer, part 2

The much awaited breakthrough came with the sixth issue of MiM and review of Amber: The Diceless Roleplaying Game... So the roleplaying games can be played without fancy dice?! They can be played without the dice at all?! Hell, yeah! That simple but profound piece of info changed everything. Quickly I sketched my own diceless game shamelessly borrowing races, professions, class abilities and spells from every source I could get my hands on and started to GM it to a few friends (all of them one year younger than me). The whole system worked on a basis of GM's fiat, which had its failings when the GM was too lenient (usually me and one other friend) or too strict (usually another friend). the first session started spontaneously when I was yet designing it. I was speaking with my friend about it and he wondered how the combat is intended to work without rolling the dice, so I explained to him that participants describe their actions and GM adjusts the circumstances accordingly to declarations, taking into account ability scores and skills possessed by combatants. From explanation we moved to example of combat and then, after dwarven ranger defeated ambusher the session continued forward on its own. First NPCs he met were drawn from Ishar cRPG that I was playing at that time. Soon it was my turn to play. I picked a gargoyle black knight. Gargoyle species was inspired by monster from HeroQuest one of the friends had (which, regretfully was German version and because no one of us had any knowledge of that language, we never managed to master it) while the black knight was taken from KC, where it was necromantic counterpart of Paladin. Thus, my first character was completely amoral gish-necromancer. I still have a place in my heart for gishes and necromancers but I play good or at least decent characters much more than evil now.

We played it during the spring and summer of '94 until in one of the following MiM issues was dedicated to a simple but complete roleplaying system written by Andrzej Sapkowski, the creator of The Witcher. It was aptly called Tym Którzy Pierwszy Raz ("For Those Who [play] The First Time") and required two six-sided dice (technically speaking one-and-half handed weapons required use of ten-sider. Guess how many one-and-half handed weapons appeared during the game?). After we got bored with generic fantasy I rewrote the system to handle SF themes (i.e. added firearms and combat armor, also tweaked magic to be psi) and we started to play as Colonial Marines hunting for aliens xenomorphs. In one of the adventures I introduced alien-hunting Predator. I had no idea that there was Alien/Predator crossover comic book at that time, it just seemed like a good idea. One year later the same game was published as softcover book, named The Eye Of Yrhhedes after the introductory scenario where the party was pitted against Big Bad Evil Guy Artifact bearing that name. As far as I can tell we never learned who the hell Yrhhedes was or why his eye was five foot crystal orb that lashed against enemies with tendrils of energy. Regretfully, that one issue of MiM I have lend to someone and never got it back and the softcover book I have sold when I wanted to get some cash for new games.

Next in line of games I played were Kryształy Czasu, which we started playing when one of co-players came back from vacations in United States (travels abroad were still something exceptional then, travels to USA, the semi-mythical land of milk, honey and undreamed wealth were epic journeys on par with the Bilbo's quest). He brought back a few roleplaying boxed sets: Dragonlance Campaign Setting (Dragonlance books were published at that time and some of us were loving them) but we hadn't AD&D rulebooks, Marvel Superheroes (which I got as a gift) and some others. MSH was crucial because it contained a single D10, which we promptly started using while playing KC. My first Orchian (the name of the KC's world) character was half-giant warrior. Half-elf noble assassin/necromancer was next. Have I mentioned yet that I am very fond of gishes and necromancers?
Note to self: write a post or two about Kryształy Czasu. It has quite an interesting and underappreciated setting. Also, it allow me to gloat how I managed to become three-classed character without resorting to worshipping orc god Katan.
Important lesson I got from that time: the game mechanics influence the style of play. When we played without dice we focused on actual description of actions, each fight was exciting because we focused on what our characters and the monsters were doing trying to outwit each other with fancy maneuvers. When we moved to game with actual mechanics we found that that we describe our combat less and less replacing descriptions with more boring "I swing at him", "you missed", "he swings at you and missed" as our descriptions had little impact on actual efficiency in combat. I remember that we tried to adjust the rules to reflect the description but it not always meshed well with existing mechanics.

Late 94 and 95 saw the spread of roleplaying games. Shops where rulebooks and dice could be bought appeared. Or at least we learned about them. Now we knew that there was  gaming convention happening in our city every year since '93 in January or February. We missed it in the '94 but we were adamant on attending the Krakon in '95. So my gaming friends went while I got sick exactly at that time. Perfect timing, just perfect, duh. My friends returned with tales of convention and loot (aka things bought there). Also, they discovered an actual gaming club half the city apart from us. When I got better we made a visit to Galicyjska Gildia Fanów Fantastyki i Gier Fabularnych (Galician Guild of Fantasy and Roleplaying Game Fans, later shortened to Galician Guild of Fantasy Fans). We kept in contact for some time but it was too far for us to go there every weekend! Ok, honestly, I run away after they started speaking about collecting fees from members. I could not afford fees and tickets while buying books and MiM at the same time. During this contact we lended some of our gaming library for some of theirs, promptly making copies for ourselves as any sane gamer did when got his hands on borrowed book because getting anything was still enormous undertaking. We lended them our newly acquired GURPS 3rd edition and got badly copied copy of a copy of a MERP rulebook in return. A few years later we got an actual MERP core rulebook when it was published in Polish and even played a few games.

In addition to learning that there are gamers beyond us, that year saw us playing more and more games: newly published Warhammer, Cyberpunk, Call Of Cthulhu, aforementioned MERP and Dzikie Pola. Also, I started attending to a lyceum (equivalent to USA/UK high school) and the next year rest of the group started too. Here our ways started to split, we went to different schools, we had less time, our interests started to diverge. It took a few more years before my first gaming group finally disintegrated but it did.

In mean time I discovered gamer in my own class in my new school - on the first English lesson we were asked to tell about ourselves and our interests and we both mentioned roleplaying games. We spoke after the lesson and later he introduced me to his fellow gamers with whom I played a few times. We also learned that a gaming shop was opened ten minutes of walk from our school so we started to hanging out there after lessons together with bunch of like-minded folks where we listened for the news and spoke about games. There was no place for gaming beyond playing Tragic Magic with the owner on the counter (personally I never got into CCGs, it would diverted my limited funds from really important things such as rpgs, computer games and ice cream). A few years later they started a larger shop in the center of Krakow but it had yet to happen.

One day, sometime after MAG, the main rpg publisher (also the publisher of MiM magazine), announced Werewolf: The Apocalypse translation we came to discover that there is another related game available in Polish (which until now we only saw in English version): Vampire The Masquarade... While MAG was translating WtA, ISA - another publisher - released VtM. Quickly, I convinced my class-mate that he should buy Vampire when he was choosing between VtM and Dzikie Pola. And so he did and I borrowed it from him. It started my long-time affiliation with World Of Darkness. Next year friend of his acquired Mage The Ascension (both World of Darkness as a whole and MtA individually might see their own posts in the future).

At the end of nineties I played much less than at the start of my gaming career. The slow disintegration of gaming group while at the same time not forming a new regular group reduced the amount of time I spent playing. Still, I spent lot of time, energy and whatever money I had on gaming. Starting in '96 I began to attend already mentioned Krakon convention, trying to not get sick when it was coming near. I think that a few times I got sick after, thanks to exposure of pathogens from the other sides of the country seasoned with lack of sleep. But it was worth it.

My favorite Krakon was '98 when I mingled with an extended gaming group from Łódź and spend most of time together with them. It was the first time I played with female GM, and I must say that she was great GM. Apparently I appeared as a guest in a middle of a very long, very complex campaign of... Amber. I already loved that series, despite reading only first three books (I hadn't managed to get my claws on later books at that time). I met them again the next year and started exchanging correspondence - actual letters, not these fancy new e-mails. They invited me to gaming convention they were making in Łódź in '99 and for a few years I was going there for conventions in addition to those happening in Kraków. In January of 2000 I learned about a week or two of meetings in a gaming club on Kazimierz. I attended and learned that they are organized by Galicyjska Gildia Fanów Fantastyki. the same club with now-shortened name. One of the memebers even recognized me after those five years. This time I stayed because yearly fee was lower than discount for Krakon entrance fee that membership in GGFF bestowed.


My Life As A Gamer, part 1

As we gamers know so well, experience is what shapes us and makes us who we are. And because this is a blog about games (mostly), I want to say a bit about my gaming history.

Depending upon point of view, as the roleplaying gamers go, I am of the middle generation. I wasn't there when the hobby started. I wasn't even alive; I was born a few years after the hobby started. Also, there was that small matter of me being born on the other side of the world, hidden behind the iron curtain. Actually, this wasn't so small matter; it had serious impact on my relationship with rpgs, but I will muse on this later.

Let me start with saying that for as long as my memory reaches back, I was fan of science, science fiction and fantasy. My parents and grandparents started and supported my love of books and general interest in science. I taught myself to read on fairy tale O krasnoludkach i Sierotce Marysi (strange, there seems to be no translation of that book - I think I write more about it in the future, if I ever come to reflect about English word dwarf and Polish krasnolud(ek). Or if I write a post or two about Slavic mythology). While my parents were favoring historical and crime fiction, there were a few SF books and books about mythology - Greek and Roman at first but later mother bought one about Aztec mythology. There was also a lot of technical books, which I browsed for pictures, a lot of books and magazines about popular science, including Bajtek (first Polish magazine about computers which father was buying even before we had actual computer), a high quality Panasonic VCR when they were novelty, especially in late communist Poland, a borrowed gaming console (Atari 2600) and an actual computer (Atari 130 XE) around 1987. Oh, and until 1994 Poland had copyright laws that hadn't forbid copying movies and computer games, which meant they were cheap and easily accessible from hundred of small scale dealers. Me and my brother spent hundreds of hours playing video games and watching movies. Some of the oldest movies I remember are Red Sonia, Terminator and Rambo. I also recall Jason of Star Command and later Star Trek The Next Generation. One could say I was doomed to become gamer and fantasy and sf fan from the very start.

One of my oldest memories involving roleplaying games was from a children's television series - either Drops or 5-10-15 - where presentation took place. It took many years before it occurred to me that it was about rpgs at all. My second contact with rpg was their description in second issue of Joker - short-lived magazine dedicated to puzzles and logical games. It included two page description and one page image of a warrior fighting red-scaled dragon on a hoard of gold. Yeah, the one from red-colored D&D Player's Manual. I started to design a game based on the vague description but never finished it. Not enough information and too much distractions for nine year old.

At that time I was sinking more and more into board games, especially tactical and strategy games. As a politically unaware kid I mostly ignored great political changes happening around, like fall of communism which allowed for greater contact with "The West" and even commissioning desired goods from there, albeit at ridiculously high prices. It wasn't concern of mine for a few more years. What concerned me was appearance of a new board game named Magia i Miecz (Sword & Sorcery or literally translating Magic And Sword) which was Polish rendition of Games Workshop Talisman. The primary difference was Polish-made graphics (in opinion of many players better than original, I haven't seen Talisman to be able to judge myself). It even had additional Polish-made expansion Jaskinia ("The Cave") which was often criticized as poorly balanced and not well fitting the rest of the game. I loved playing this game when I had a chance.

In autumn 1993 I found a magazine of the same name (aka MiM) at local newspaper vendor. The large letters stating that inside are four new characters for the Magia i Miecz game attracted me as much as the name of the magazine. Quick scan of my pockets revealed enough cash for the purchase, so I returned home that afternoon with a new magazine to read, magazine that I kept buying for the following eight years. Inside were the promised bonus characters for the game (those were extra professions that one could advance into after meeting special conditions, like Sheriff from The City expansion set - we never get to use them in actuall play). It was the least interesting part of the magazine, however, because the largest part of the issue contained character creation rules for Kryształy Czasu (Crystals Of Time, referenced as KC from now on), a native Polish rpg game, serialized in the magazine before being published as softcover book. I did recognized it as one of that games I read about years earlier and showed it to friends who shared my interests (and who were my partners in make-belive games when we were younger). Immediately we decided that we want to play that game. Alas, we could not. The rules called for the use of two weird ten-sided die which we lacked. Remember when I wrote about the costs of commissioning anything from abroad? Aye, we hadn't have such money or contacts so we waited and bid our time before we could get one. Or a pair. Or better a whole handful.

Thankfully, the breakthrough came early the next year.


Wayfinder #7

Ten years since my first publication I got a new publication: Wayfinder #7

Hopefully I will get to Wayfinder #8 too. Three more days before deadline for sending submission hits. I already sent three. I will try to write one or two more. Then I will wait for notification if anything was accepted.

Oh, and before anyone asks: it's the first position in the bestiary section: Aeon, Caen.

In The Beginning...

And here we go: I start my own blog. Finally. I thought about doing so from time to time and now I decide to give it a try. Certain circumstances gave me a push that I was lacking previously. More will be revealed in due time, however.

I will be focusing (mostly) on roleplaying games, literature, all things fantasy & SF and related generes. All seasoned up with occasional rant, news, unrelated thought or two and raw ideas I find interesting enough to share and spread.

So, why "Shaper Of Worlds"? Because this will be (or at least is intended to be) to be a game designer's blog. At the very core of myself I am developer of universes. This is what appeals to me in fantasy and SF fiction the most: unlimited supply of worlds, events, cultures and cosmologies (both scientific and metaphysical), people and creatures. So, expect musings and reflections about designing fictional things - plots, whole settings, individual planets, species, nations, cultures, religions, characters, political events... Wait, the last one falls under plots designation, doesn't it?

Also, this might be the chance to polish my written English some more. So if anyone captures grammar error, punctuation error or just a bad stylistics, feel free to comment on it.

For now, I will have to familiarize myself with the blogger's UI and options available and find what look and composition appeals to me the most.