I mentioned earlier that I had been hacking a number of systems together for my current campaign. For magic, I had borrowed wholesale from the original Ars Magica because it’s still one of the most compelling magic systems out there and lends itself fairly easily to the cortex system and its basic methodology of multiple, often mis-matched dice.
The appeal of Ars Magica is mainly that it has an air of mystery and forbidden knowledge around the magical arts, creating a situation where the caster is truly a dispenser of esoteric and eldritch power rather than the D&D model, which tends to trend toward the banal in that casters become dispensers of certain pre-determined effects as the system’s been played for so long by so many people that there’s definitely an optimized “build” — as an example, any first-level magic user who shows up without Sleep (or possibly Prismatic Spray in Type 2) is generally given the hairy eyeball.
A bit of explanation regarding the title of the blog is probably called for — it came from a particular Second Edition campaign in high school where the party was very cautious when advancing through the dungeon, to an almost absurd degree. Our rogue was fanatical about listening through keyholes before we entered each room and one day the DM had had enough, responding to the “I listen at the door” with “You hear the sound of a crossbow cocking” and then rolled damage for the bolt smashing through the lock and into the unfortunate halfling’s head. Unfair? Probably. Hilarious? At least for our bunch of teenagers, definitely. It was all in good fun in the end as the character wound up surviving and we had an in-joke that had enough legs to last across many campaigns and groups.
(Another ‘classic’ from that group was when the elf died and for reasons that I cannot recall entirely, we hacked up the corpse and put it in saddlebags for easier transport. We then were ambushed by orcs while at low health and in a flash of brilliance, bartered for our lives by giving the orcs some “Elf McNuggets”, under the reasoning that we only needed part of the corpse to bring the elf back anyway.)
I was first introduced to D&D when somebody (I cannot recall who, most probably my parents) got me the original red box set (either 12th or 13th printing, I’m not sure which). I remember taking myself through the included adventure a few times and reading it about a million times — I still have some of the original green dice where you needed to color in the numbers with a crayon. In junior high I wound up hanging out with a recent transplant from Vermont who not only played D&D; he’d also done LARPing out in the woods with people with padded weapons and such, complete with colored powder tied up in tissue paper that you threw for spells, a la the famous “lightning bolt” video. We got a group together, somebody polymorphed my paladin into a stone giant at some point and I haven’t stopped playing since, although there have been some extended breaks lately as our current group (together for 15+ years in one form or another) has gotten old enough that there are now three kids and a lot of other adult responsibilities involved — we try and play weekly; however, there’s often something else taking precedent, so game nights can be sporadic.