Monday, 19 September 2011

Magic Item: The Bar of Expectation

This curious item is a 1/2" square section ebony rod 8 inches in length.  It is tipped at one end with a gold cap and at the other with a platinum cap (the business end).  The rod holds upto 20 (2d10) charges and can be used once per round, a charge is spent each time the rod is used.

Using the rod enables the weilder to anticipate the actions of another.  However, the item is a fickle one and only it decides the outcome.

During combat the weilder points at a target and utters the command word (DM decides what the command word is), and the DM then flips a coin secretly.  If the result is HEADS the target always acts after the weilder and the weilder gets a free dodge or parry attempt whenever their opponent attacks.  If the result is TAILS then the opponent always acts first.

The rod can also be used out of combat at the DM's discretion, although it's effects have a time limit of 5 minutes.  Some example uses would be:
  • Assisting the weilder in winning games of skill or choice.  Predicting the outcome of a fight or 
  • Any form of prediction based on an opponents actions, thoughts and deeds.  Predicting the outcome of negotiation or haggling.
  • Assisting in following a target. the weilder always knows which route the target will take
Again the DM tosses a coin secretly and if the result is HEADS, the use will be positive for the weilder or TAILS will be positive for the target.

It cannot be used to predict random events such as the drawing of a random card from a deck or the throw of a dice, nor can it's weilder use it on him or herself.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Dinosaurs, Myths, Monsters

This was the title of a fascinating programme on BBC Four in which historian and novelist Dr. Tom Holland charts the alternative history of Paleontonlogy.  The premise being that the fossilised bones and footprints which make up the fossil record have been misinterpreted by different cultures across the ages, from the early Chinese Dynasties through Ancient Greece to the Victorians.

I was aware that the origins of many western dragon myths lay in the discoveries made by earlier civilisations, but not in any level of detail.  The Greeks believed that they were descended from the Gods and Titans and that paleontological evidence uncovered during this age was ascribed not just to mythical beasts but to the Gods and demigods themselves.  Holland recounts that the successful conquest of the city of Tegea by the Spartans who recovered a Mastodon leg bone which they mistook for the leg of the giant hero Orestes.

Every bestiary I've ever read has had it's fair share of mythical beasts or giant this, that and the other, so much so that that you don't think twice about their origins.  Players also take for granted that if their patrons say their village was attacked by a dragon, they ask "did you see what colour it was?"  This blase approach to the origins of mythology got me thinking about some plot options which I could throw at my players.

Leg-endary Hero - The villagers have long revered their most treasured artifact a leg bone of a giant hero which they keep in their long house and bring out on feast days.  During one such feast day, the village is attacked by a dragon who has caught the scent of the bone and swoops down to attack right in the middle of the festivities.  The hero's leg bone is in fact that of another dragon which even though it is hundreds of years old, still contains plenty of tasty marrow.  For the PCs there's a village to be saved, a dragon to be hunted and a precious artifact to be recovered.


Skeletal Jigsaw - A scholarly wizard contracts the PCs to recover the final piece of his paleontological puzzle which he has pieced together over many decades.  He is now far too old to go digging around in the mud himself and pays handsomely for the party to recover and escort the bone from the dig site to the university where it will be installed along with the other bones in a reconstruction of a giant mythological beast.  Unfortunately the wizard has gotten his reconstruction all wrong and has put the bones together in the wrong order.  When the all the pieces are in place, the mage has unwittingly reunited the bones of some terrifying ancient magical beast which rearranges itself in its correct configuration before going on a rampage.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

MOVIEWATCH: Attack The Block (15)

Having been a fan of the cult humour of Adam & Joe for many years, the bar of expectation (good name for a wondrous item, that) was set pretty high for Joe Cornish's directorial debut.  I can happily report that Attack the Block is definitely well worth seeing and I'd go so far as to give it 4 out of 5 stars.


The action takes place in and around a South East London council estate, where a gang of youths led by Moses attempt to thwart an alien invasion.  The film hangs on the premise that Good can indeed come from Evil when the circumstances dictate it, and the quasi-redemption of Moses (John Boyega) and the rest of his gang is both darkly humorous and thought provoking to watch in light of the recent rioting in London and other parts of the UK.

Cornish's comedic sensibilities shine through and create some genuinely funny moments as counterpoints to the movie's tense and scary undertone.  The creature design is innovative and well executed applying the common sense approach of less is most definitely more when working on a modest budget (for a sci-fi film) of $13 Million.  The decision to cast newcomers to play the youths keeps the authenticity level high, whilst the inclusion of established actors in the shape of Nick Frost (Ron), Jodie Whitaker (Sam) and Luke Treadaway (Brewis) keeps the film accessible.

The only issue I have with the film is that the language used will not be familiar to most, being very specific to South East London gang culture of 2011 and like all similar "gang" films the colloquialisms will be also date very quickly.  To help out here are a few words translated into English.

Endz - Gang territory, the estate.  Originating from the concept that gangs territory is defined from one end of a road to the other.
Bare - Good
Fam - Family or gang.  Abbreviation of Family.
D'ya'getme - Do you understand me.
Snitch - Informer, also used to
Po Po / Feds - Police
Bra Bra Bra - The sound of a machine pistol being fired.

There's some pretty rich material in here for any DM thinking of running an alien invasion one nighter and the setting would quite easily transpose onto any metropolis be it Chicago's Projects, Paris's "Banlieue, Rio's "Favela" or the city-bottom Blocks of Mega City One