Tuesday, September 1, 2009
The Flaming Footsteps of Jilanth
Author: Andrew Hind.
Contents: 16 saddle stitched black and white pages, 1 title page, 14 pages of adventure, and 1 open game license page.
Publisher: Expeditious Retreat Press.
Product Code: XRP6105.
Retail Price: £7.00 or $12.00.
An adventure for 6-8 characters of levels 3-5, the Flaming Footsteps of Jilanth presents a small subtropical isle and three dungeon levels. The physical product is sturdy enough, having a glossy cover stock and durable interior pages, on which the text is clearly printed and the black and white maps are well rendered, but unlike previous offerings the spine seems to wear easily. The cover illustrations by Bradley K. McDevitt are in keeping with the traditional aesthetic, though the image of an enraged carnivorous ape on the front is a little misleading, being only likely to be encountered as a wandering monster, and suggesting a homage to the Isle of the Ape that does not materialise. Including the title page, there are three interior illustrations by John Bingham, which relate directly to the substance of the module.
The premise is fairly straightforward; the Lord Admiral of the port city of Ranste has gone missing, and flaming footsteps, the hallmark of the long dead pirate lord Firebeard, have been seen in the streets. In response, the city council has dispatched the player characters to the isle of Jilanth, a former pirate stronghold, to search for signs that Firebeard might have returned, or else some other indication as to what is going on. The isle is about ten miles in diameter and consists of around seventy hexes. Four of the hexes are keyed as adventure locations, whilst the rest are a mixture of jungle, swamp, hill and mountain terrain types. The random encounter table has thematically appropriate entries for day and night, as well as three special events that each have quarter page descriptions. It is a little strange that the chart allows for the appearance of goblins armed with blowpipes, but not the lizard men whose camp is one of the adventure locations.
Each of the other three keyed locations presents a short dungeon level that consists of around a dozen or so encounter areas. The first of these is a cavern complex that was used by Firebeard and his pirates as a stronghold. The main opposition are giant vermin and skeletal undead, but there is also a mummified voodoo witch to contend with. Further upriver is an abandoned gnome hold, which can also be reached by means of an underground tunnel from the pirate caverns. Once a prosperous copper mine, the gnomes were overwhelmed by an insidious curse. In addition to giant vermin and undead, corrupted creatures known as hold creepers stalk the empty halls of the gnome hold. They have also captured the last surviving member of an ill fated expedition to the pirate caverns, who the adventurers may rescue.
If the players choose to continue following the river or otherwise explore the isle they may discover an entrance to the wizard lair that serves as the third dungeon. However, the magician has been driven out by a wax doppelgänger he created of himself, and languishes in captivity amongst the lizard men. The adventurers may find out about this if they manage to overcome his usurper and other wax creations, or if they encounter the lizard man encampment whilst exploring the wilderness. Should they be able to rescue or in some other way gain access to the magician, then he may reveal that he wears Firebeard's flaming boots, and that he is responsible for the reappearance of the flaming footprints in the streets of Ranste. However, his motives are left up to the discretion of the game, as is the reason for the disappearance of the Lord Admiral.
There is a lot of interesting material here, several new monsters and magic items, as well as a self contained wilderness area to explore. The author has added a twist or two to several conventional monsters, such as the skeletons in the pirate caverns, and generally shows good knowledge of the rules in developing the various encounter areas. It is not clear if the lack of wandering monsters in the lair of the wax wizard is intentional, but it seems a reasonable supposition. There are occasional missteps, such as the blessed ring in the well room, which seems out of keeping with more traditional dungeon elements, but such things show a willingness to explore the boundaries of the game.
Technicalities and Errors
The Flaming Footsteps of Jilanth suffers from the usual editing errors and notation inconsistencies here and there; for instance, hit point spreads are mainly used in place of fractional hit dice, but occasionally, as in the case of the giant centipede, the latter is used. There are also occasionally redundant phrases like "chain mail armour" and references to weapon nomenclature that is not used in the Old School Reference & Index Compilation. It should probably have also been noted next to the various stirge entries that whilst the creature has only 1+1 hit dice it fights as though it has 4. These are very minor technicalities, however, and do little to affect the utility of the module. There are rather a lot of calls for attribute checks, and a few rogue references to boat handling checks, which could probably have been safely excised. On the other hand, defined procedural methods are useful for a module when run under tournament conditions.
This is a module that would benefit from having a tighter focus. As it stands it feels like three short adventures that are otherwise unrelated have been combined. Each dungeon has the potential for significant expansion and seems like the kernel of a larger adventure location. The gnome hold in particular feels like it could have been developed as a completely independent module. Whilst a lot of traditional adventures leave undeveloped hooks to spur on the imagination of the game master, there is rather too much left open and unexplained in the Flaming Footsteps of Jilanth. An abandoned and haunted pirate stronghold on a deserted subtropical isle is a strong concept, and the presence of the wax wizard adds an extra threat, but in the form that they are currently presented the elements are too disparate and not suggestive enough.
Friday, July 31, 2009
An oft lamented aspect of Dungeons & Dragons is that as characters advance in level they become better at attacking, but not at defending. Occasionally it is contended that this aspect is represented by increased hit points, and that their loss partially represents the gradual erosion of defences due to fatigue. This might be a sustainable point of view if hit points were easily replenished without recourse to magic, but they are not. A recovery rate of one or two hit points per day of rest is not particularly suggestive of fatigue. In the Chain Mail man to man melee system, the ability to parry is a function of weapon class; a combatant has the ability to parry so long as his weapon is of a class no more than one above that of his opponent. The parry takes the form of imposing a −2 penalty to hit in most cases, but if the difference between weapon classes is eight or more it becomes only a −1 penalty. In any case an attack must be given up for a parry to take effect, though a character may have up to three attacks if his weapon has a sufficiently lower class than that of his opponent.
Whilst these Chain Mail rules could be used with Original Dungeons & Dragons, an additional rule was introduced in the Greyhawk supplement, to the effect that fighters could use their dexterity to attempt to “dodge or parry opponents' attacks”; for every point above fourteen, they would impose a −1 penalty to hit on attacks against them. This is obviously similar in conception to the protection afforded by a shield. By contrast, the Blackmoor supplement took a different tack with the monk class. Prohibited from wearing armour, the monk received a defensive bonus expressed as armour class that increased as he gained in experience levels. However, more significant was his ability to parry or dodge missile attacks (even magic missile) by means of a successful saving throw. This was a paradigm shift conceptually from what had gone before, introducing a second die roll unrelated to the attack roll and capable of negating all damage. This defensive mechanism took no account of the fighting ability of the attacker, only the experience level of the defender.
The defensive capabilities of the monk made the transition to Advanced Dungeons & Dragons relatively unscathed, and the ability of the fighter to use his dexterity to defend himself was extended to all combatants. The parrying rules from Chain Mail, though, were incorporated only partially, so that a character could impose a penalty on enemy attacks equal to his strength bonus at the expense of making any attacks that round. This was obviously of little use to a character with a strength less than seventeen. The cavalier class was introduced in Dragon #72, able to parry “more effectively” so that all of his bonuses to hit could be used as a penalty against enemy attacks. This class could also make a parry against a second opponent using his shield, which imposed a penalty equal to its defensive value, but prevented it from being used for the rest of the round. This was a long way from the original concept as articulated in Chain Mail, being over reliant on high attribute scores, as well as bonuses from magical weapons and armour.
With the second edition of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, an optional parrying rule was introduced as a function of level and class. A character could give up his chance at action for the round to gain a bonus to armour class against melee attacks equal to half his level, with an additional +1 for fighters. That same year, the Complete Fighter’s Handbook suggested a second option, where a character could give up an attack to attempt a parry. This required the character to hit his opponent’s armour class to negate the attack, inadvisedly implying that the armour class of a combatant was reflective of his fighting ability. When the rule was revised and incorporated into Combat & Tactics, this premise was wisely discarded and a fixed armour class set as a level of difficulty. This should all sound familiar to players of War Hammer, where a character can similarly trade his attacks for parries, needing to roll under his weapon skill to reduce damage by 1d6 in first edition; in second edition all damage is negated on a successful parry.
A noticeable problem with Advanced Dungeons & Dragons second edition is its approach to fighting with two weapons. Even though it limits the number of secondary attacks to only ever one, this still effectively doubles the attacks available to most characters. Coupled with the potential to eliminate the normal penalties through high attributes or proficiency slots, and weighed against the relatively small benefits of using a shield, it is often viewed as something of a rules exploitation. This was probably why Gygax earlier specified that the “secondary weapon does not act as a shield or parrying device in any event.” By contrast, War Hammer avoids this problem by not granting any additional attacks from secondary weapons; they are useful primarily because they provide bonuses to parry rolls. In developing Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea, we have had to consider carefully how any combat actions we suggest might interact with multiple attacks in order to ensure that no undue or unintended advantages are unexpectedly revealed during play.
Regardless of whether a parry, dodge, or block takes the form of an attack penalty or a saving throw, the action must be traded against a commensurate disadvantage. A simple trade off of fighting ability against armour class is a fairly straightforward approach, amounting to –X to hit in return for –Y to be hit. However, the benefit of this trade depends on the number of attacks the character is exposed to in a round. The obvious recourse is to trade against the number of attacks the character has available, but this may unduly enhance the benefits of a secondary weapon. Since a shield lowers effective armour class by one, a secondary weapon ought to be of no greater advantage. Other methods to consider for modelling a parry, dodge, or block include opposed rolls, parallel armour class, and forced rerolls. In those cases, shields would have to be treated exactly like secondary weapons, meaning attack penalties for the primary weapon. I have made available a selection of possibilities for your perusal here and a compilation of the rules mentioned above here.
Sunday, May 31, 2009
Perhaps the most frequently debated aspects of the first edition of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons is combat procedure and initiative determination. The rules as presented in the Player’s Handbook and Dungeon Master’s Guide are a mass of vague and seemingly contradictory statements, or else exceptions with no clear order of priority. Many admirable attempts to make coherent sense of the text have been made in the last decade, and questions on the subject were often put to Gygax at the online forums he frequented, but his answers were rarely consistent. Apart from being a rather challenging and entertaining logic puzzle, the subject is one that has been of particular practical interest to me over the last year or so whilst developing Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea with Jeffrey Talanian, generating considerable debate between us. Whilst we more or less settled the procedure for our own purposes some months ago, I thought it would be of some interest to discuss the context and trace the history of combat procedure in Dungeons & Dragons.
As always, the first text I propose to look at is Chainmail; the turn sequence found therein is the one that the original version of Dungeons & Dragons (1974) expected to the game master to make use of. What Chainmail presents, though, are two discrete turn sequences, the first known as the “move/countermove system” and the second known as the “simultaneous movement system”. The essential difference is that in the former case the side that won the initiative takes a half move, after which the losing side takes a full move, followed by the winning side completing its move, whilst in the latter case each moves simultaneously in accordance with prewritten orders. Regardless of which method is used, missile weapons are discharged at the midpoint of movement and/or at the end of movement; bowmen are able to shoot on both occasions as long as they remain stationary and are not in melee combat at the end of movement, whilst heavy crossbows are shot once every other turn. This should sound familiar to anybody acquainted with Advanced Dungeons & Dragons.
The rules for Chainmail were supplemented by rules for man-to-man combat, which divided the ranges of missile weapons into short, medium, and long, allowed for parries and multiple attacks in melee, depending on the class of weapon, introduced the idea of “first strike” for longer weapons, and an order of blows that prevented return attacks by slain enemies. These rules were in turn augmented by a fantasy supplement, which amongst other things introduced the concept of wizards into the game. A wizard is capable of either throwing a lightning bolt or fire ball during the missile phase and of casting one of sixteen spells during an undefined phase. However, “in order to cast a spell, a wizard must be both stationary and undisturbed by attack upon his person” (fortunately they are also “impervious to normal missile fire”). Additionally, a random die roll determines whether a spell takes immediate effect, is delayed until the following round, or takes immediate effect. Notably, these spells appear to take place during or after movement and prior to melee.
Less well known than Chainmail is Warriors of Mars, which was released shortly after, and for use with, Dungeons & Dragons. It contains a revised turn sequence, with “written orders” only applying to 1:50 scale combat. The major innovation of Warriors of Mars is in the inclusion of a “beginning turn fire” phase prior to movement for combatants capable of shooting twice per round. Such individuals may shoot either then or during the “mid-turn fire” phase, but their second shot is always taken during the “end-turn fire” phase. Also of note is that its “move/counter move” sequence dispenses with half movement in favour of allowing the winner of initiative to move his infantry before the troops of his opponent, but his cavalry only after these have been moved. This staggering of multiple attacks should be familiar to anybody acquainted with pages 62-63 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide, and the idea of beginning, mid, and end turn fire phases should be of interest to anyone who has ever wondered to what the description of the crossbow of speed is referring.
In 1976, Eldritch Wizardry gave Dungeons & Dragons players their first taste of segmented simultaneous movement, which included pre movement and post movement phases, using a rather complicated dexterity based system to determine at which point attacks took place. The same year also saw the release of Swords & Spells, which was basically Chainmail for the alternative combat system. This supplement presented only a “move/counter move system”, which resembled that of Chainmail with the addition of a beginning turn fire phase and an alternating first player/second player system. It also revised shooting rates, meaning that bows could be shot three times per round, and clearly defined during which missile phases spells, magical devices, and innate powers could be used. A character could not move and cast a spell, but was able to move and use a device. Under no circumstances could a character in melee shoot, cast a spell or use a magic device. Interestingly, the provision in Chainmail for combatants to hurl hand weapons at charging enemies was not retained in Swords & Spells, though such units could make a full move and throw their weapons if they did not also charge. However, the major innovation was in allowing one to three rounds of melee to be fought during a single two minute turn, the number depending on how far the combatants had moved. It is a short step from there to mixing melee rounds into missile phases.
Whilst Chainmail had allowed for spell casters to be interrupted, and both Eldritch Wizardry and Swords & Spells had refined the concept of delayed spell casting, it was only with Advanced Dungeons & Dragons that the two concepts would be married to one another. It was far from an easy relationship. The idea of simultaneous segmented movement was described in Player’s Handbook, but left unmentioned in the combat section of the Dungeon Master’s Guide. Each spell was given an explicit casting time expressed in segments, but its exact interaction with initiative was left vague, differed by attack form, and unrelated to other time dependent actions, such as movement. Similarly, the text is silent as to how rate of fire, rate of attack, and multiple attack routines interact with spell casting and one another. Indeed, even the “steps for encounter and combat” are a source of controversy, with some game masters treating them as a list of options and others an order of action. The classic Dungeons & Dragons line took a clearer line in establishing an order of action, made easier by a lack of casting times and segmented movement. The second edition of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons took a more abstract approach than its predecessor, allowing for both synchronous and asynchronous action, but rather too much was left vague, subjective, and reliant on the judgement of the game master. What we are doing with Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea is to follow the example of Chainmail and provide for both forms of action resolution. Our aim has been to create a clear sequence of step by step action that leads into an alternative simultaneous combat procedure. Of course, the details of our solution I am not at liberty to disclose, but for your convenience I have compiled the above analogues for comparison here.
Tuesday, March 31, 2009
Around about August time last year I started work on Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea with Jeffrey Talanian. The project is a micro campaign setting that will include a complete set of traditional adventure roleplay game rules designed to be fully compatible with already existing simulacrum games and their precursors. If you have a copy of Knockspell #1, then you have probably already read Charnel Crypt of the Sightless Serpent, an adventure set in Hyperborea. The setting is inspired by the fictional works of such authors as Robert Ervin Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, and Howard Phillips Lovecraft, to name a few, and the game rules strive to reinforce that sense. A feeling of fast paced and dynamic combat is part of our approach, and so aside from working with rounds of about six seconds, we have also been looking at ways to encourage tactical variability and innovation with regards to the declaration and resolution of both individual and combined character actions. What we have developed as a result is the notion of an open ended combat action subsystem.
Whereas one of the key design elements of D20/3e was the concept of feats, a finite character building resource that typically allowed players access to new or improved combat actions by level, and even more fully prevalent in the powers of D20/4e, a fundamental design aspect of traditional adventure games is the notion that characters should broadly be able to accomplish whatever their historical and literary analogues are attested or imagined to have been capable of. That is not to suggest that fully defined character customisation was an innovation of the D20 system; apart from the scads of other roleplaying games that have taken this approach, the allocation of discrete character building resources can be traced at least as far back as the weapon proficiency slots of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (Player’s Handbook, 1978). In fact, the line of development can be almost directly traced from weapon proficiencies, to non-weapon proficiencies, to specialisation, fighting styles, kits, point based classes, feats, mix and match multi-classing, manoeuvres, and most recently to powers.
The basic premise at the root of this impulse to mechanically define the abilities of otherwise similar characters is a desire to differentiate them from one another in terms of what they can do in combat. The supposition is that this makes individual characters more interesting, and by the same token the combats encounters and adventures they participate in. In reality, what it seems to have done is turned character creation into a sub-game, and largely decreased the variability of action in combat by encouraging players to rely on the specialties and synergies they have advanced during character generation and allocated additional resources to during level advancement. A parallel development to this has been the introduction and integration of critical hits and fumbles into the game. Initially these were a method of increasing the randomness of combat results, and thus of heightening the excitement, but eventually they also became a way of differentiating between the effects of weapon types. None of which, of course, asked players to make much in the way of decisions during combat.
As with play outside of the confines of combat, the key to engaging the interest of the players in a traditional adventure game lies in giving them choices and having them make a decision, often with limited information. At some point it occurred to me that critical hits and fumbles might be more interesting if players chose whether to risk them or not; and with that thought, a floodgate of possibilities seemed to open to me, and I began to think of all combat actions more explicitly in terms of choices, risks, and tradeoffs. For example, perhaps the most basic set of choices are what sort of movement to make on encountering an enemy; charge, advance, stand ground (maybe set to receive a charge or make a ranged attack), fall back, evade, or flee? Each is suitable for a different situation, carries its own risk, and relies to some degree on the player predicting what his opponents will do. However, once in close combat, options tend to become more constricted, and can even become a slog where the only decision is whether to keep fighting or attempt to withdraw.
It is frequently these sort of situations that combat action subsystem has been designed for, though it also applies much more broadly. The basic idea is that when a player declares a non standard action, the game master has the option of allowing for a variable outcome outside of the default rules. This is likely nothing new for experienced game masters, especially those used to playing lighter sorts of roleplaying games, but the purpose is to provide a very basic structure for the less experienced, and by presenting potentially new ideas and possibilities encourage additional development and advancement on the part of the more experienced. The underlying premise is that, given the right conditions, a character sacrifices x to gain y chance of z happening. A typical example might be an attempt by a character of greater fighting ability trying to disarm another of lesser fighting ability. The game master might indicate that the character must give up an attack and roll a 16+ on 1d20 to force his opponent to make a saving throw or drop his weapon.
There are dozens of possible ways to resolve that action, even just establishing the percentage chances involved could have a score or more variations. The conditions are also subjective, so one game master might allow one thing, whilst another would not. Our current intention is to provide a number of example combat actions and leave the rest up to the individual game master to develop, ignore, or ad hoc. The subsystem is entirely optional, and can be used in full, in part, or not at all, depending on the preference of the group. For my part, I think the concept is a strong one, well rooted in traditional play, and with a great deal of unexplored potential, especially with regard to cooperative actions, and differentiating between weapons beyond the typical statistics. That the subsystem only ever need get as complicated as the individual group desires, and can always return to greater level of abstraction I also find very attractive. Whilst the exact form of combat actions in AS&SoH are subject to the vagaries of future development, to further clarify what is intended, I have created a short example pdf of combat actions that are suitable for use with OSRIC or some other similar traditional swords & sorcery adventure game.
Saturday, January 31, 2009
An often noted convention of Dungeons & Dragons is the very limited selection of weapons available to the magic-user as compared to the fighting-man. Even the cleric, with full access to all types of armour, is prohibited from the use of the vast majority of martial implements, including bows, spears, and swords. This is somewhat at odds with the Chainmail Fantasy Supplement where it is asserted that "wizards can handle magical weaponry" (p. 30), that "certain magic-users can wield magical weapons" (p. 38), and also that Moorcock’s Elric of Melniboné "combines the attributes of the Hero-type with wizardry, and wields a magic sword in the balance!" (p. 38). Given such precedents, and the prominent depiction of a sword wielding magic-user in the well disseminated Lord of the Rings, it is perhaps unsurprising to learn that many early groups ignored the admonition in Men & Magic that magic-users should be restricted to the use of daggers (p. 6). Indeed, perhaps in response to a perceived prevalence of the variant, Gygax specifically singled out the practice in his Sorcerer's Scroll column as a point of contrast with prospective Advanced Dungeons & Dragons campaigns (Dragon #26, Vol. II, No. 12, p. 30).
Such changes between Chainmail and Men & Magic foreshadowed the general strengthening of fighters relative to magicians referred to in the Player’s Handbook (p. 7), a trend that was continued in Unearthed Arcana. Nonetheless, despite the definite archetypal division that Gygax ostensibly sought to establish between sorcerer and swordsmen for men, the same did not apply to elves or half-elves. The multiclass terms "fighter/magician", "magician/thief" and "fighter/magician/thief" were coined specifically for them, and blurred the lines between the classes. The counterbalance, that such characters have a limitation on the experience level that they can reach, has proven less than satisfactory for some players. The relaxing of those limits for second edition only exacerbated the issue, and provided no alternatives. As I recall, our group responded by banning multiclass characters altogether, haughtily declaring them to be only suitable for "munchkin" players. Only single class characters were allowed at our table, and woe to he who dared to mention the dualclassing rules.
Naturally enough, we strained against the boundaries we had set for ourselves. For my part, I petitioned the game master running our Greyhawk game to allow my first level elf magician to gain proficiency in the long sword and long bow, a proposition endorsed by the rest of the group. I also gleefully rolled up an elf priest of Corellon Larethian for our Forgotten Realms game using Monstrous Mythology, with the same result. The latter character was horribly killed by revenants somewhere in the underdark, but the former progressed as high as level nine or ten before I retired him, and I presume still lives somewhere in the vicinity of the free city. When Player's Option: Skills & Powers was announced with the tag line "ever wanted your wizard to wield a sword?", I thought that we had pre-empted the designers and natural progression of the game. I did not consider the possibility that this was a belated response to perceived changes in the expectations of their audience, and did not realise that it signalled a paradigm shift in the design of the brand. D20/3e was at the door.
When I resurrected my old second edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons campaign to start a university group, one of the first things that had to be decided was exactly what rules would be used. The multiclass and dualclass rules remained unattractive to me, but I still wanted to allow for some flexibility in character concepts. Using the various Player’s Supplements and Player’s Options books in combination with the Player’s Handbook and Dungeon Master’s Guide, I came up with some rudimentary rules for creating variant classes for my newly recruited players. We ended up with a human fighter (knight), a half-orc fighter (barbarian), a dwarf cleric (axes allowed), and a human magician/thief (spellthief); they were joined a few sessions later by an elf fighter/thief (scout). It should perhaps have been apparent to me then that I had wasted rather a lot of time, but in truth it was a learning process. Players naturally gravitate towards the basic classes for a variety of reasons; preconceived expectations and the palatability of familiar conventions no doubt play their part, but also because the archetypes are so general that they are difficult, if not impossible, to escape. Indeed, classes are perhaps best understood as tools intended to facilitate play; what differentiates one fighter from another are the details of his life, the adventures he has had, and the personality he projects, not signature weapons, nor detailed rules governing and defining his every ability.
But I digress. One of the more interesting facets that I encountered in the process of creating variant classes is the distinct lack of appropriate terms for combination classes. Typically, new subclasses are a more specific subset of the class from which they derive: pirate, thief, borderer, reaver, ranger, knight, barbarian, hoplite, enchanter, necromancer, warlock, acolyte, ascetic, sorcerer, invoker, etcetera. Suitable designations for describing the fighter/magician and magician/thief are few and far between, never mind their subsets. The D20/3e designers clearly encountered this problem when adding new classes, and made use of compound nouns patterned on the model of the "spellthief" and spellblade", resulting in nomenclature such as "warmage", "duskblade" and "hexblade". More natural sounding designations were less frequently conceived, such as the "beguiler" (a sort of illusionist/thief). The likely reason that we lack an abundance of adjectives and nouns to simultaneously imply both magic and fighting, or magic and theft, is that the assumption of their individual exclusivity is a conceit inferred from the concept of discrete classes. That is to say, Elric of Melniboné is a swordsman and a sorcerer; a spellsword is a game construct.
Which brings us to a more pertinent question: by exactly what means does a magician gain his powers? In mythology and fiction, the remarkability of a hero is often prefigured by a strange conception or ancestry. Achilles, Hercules, Alexander, and Arthur, as well as Bilbo, Aragorn and many others can be counted amongst these. The magical powers of Merlin are often ascribed to a demonic parentage, as are those of the sorcerer Tsotha in The Scarlet Citadel. It is similarly notable that in Advanced Dungeons & Dragons the races eligible for the fighter/magician and magician/thief combinations are elves and half-elves, or fey and fey touched. Whilst the game certainly posits that magicians learn their sorceries, and that natural ability in the form of intelligence governs their potential, this does not preclude the idea that some other condition, perhaps natural talent or strange heritage, is required for the study of magic to be successfully undertaken. Indeed, it might even be argued that to some degree this is assumed to be the case, else the world would surely be filled with sorcerers. Regardless, in a fantasy milieu where wizardry is taught and learned there must be those who, like the Grey Mouser, are displaced or otherwise choose not to devote themselves entirely to the pursuit of magic. It would perhaps be simplest to allow humans to multiclass as half-elves, but characters in my campaign rarely advance far beyond ninth level, and truth to tell I am still ill disposed towards the multiclass rules. So, on the supposition that others might feel similarly, here are two subclasses I use written up for OSRIC in pdf form.