Monday, September 30, 2013

Thirty Days of D&D, Day 17 - 23: Favorite Monsters

It's a mash of monsters! Running through all of these in one go.

For animals, wolves tap into the complex relationship humans have with canines. Wolves are a common and significant threat at low levels in many settings/games. They're smart and come in packs, a dangerous foe indeed. The mid-game derivatives (dire wolves, worgs, winterwolves, etc) scales them up for some staying power, even if some of those start to lose their simple animal type. At the same time, they're also the basis for the faithful hounds people can have as pets, or druids and rangers can often pick a wolf as a companion. Stronger alternatives exist, but wolves remain a cool option.

Have to pick rats for vermin. Nuisances unworthy of true adventures you might say, but the most recognizable of rodents advances through bestiaries with advanced forms. The low-level fodder trope has so much purchase it can be subverted for kicks to screw with players, such as the cranium rats in Planescape Torment.

Heck, the rat is so popular several games and settings have ratling/nezumi/ratfolk/skaven races. My anecdotal observation, but the most requested anthropomorphic animal race seems to be cat-people. Yet despite cats and cat-lovers owning the internet, rat-people are more commonly implemented in games. Must be all the Mickey/Mighty/Speedy/Jerry cartoons working their subliminal magic, as well as Redwall and the most excellent Mouse Guard.

Honorable mention: Bugs/Insects in general can always be used to good effect, based on their innate alien-like, exoskeletal forms (like the Mythosic invertebrate creepiness, but on land), and proclivity to swarm or have their size magnified in enormity (worst case scenarios for each extreme) for monstrous uses.

Let's split this into fiendish and ... less-fiendish outsiders.

For fiend, it's Pit Fiends. They're more low-key than the fiery whip and vorpal sword wielding Balors. Even their name seems a nondescript mundane moniker for a rank-and-file foot soldier of hell. Don't let that fool you, they're top of the non-unique food chain in the diabolical hierarchy.

Within their rank we have some variance. Few exemplify the diabolical twist on lawful duty like the Evil Eight who conduct the Blood War to the exclusion of all else. They've even become fixed identities with newer pit fiends claiming the names of those who have fallen throughout the eons, all for the causes. Even then, despite their position they're are capable schemers, such as Bel who masterminded his superior's fall in order to claim Avernus and the title Lord of the First for himself.

Less-fiendish outsider would be Asura, whether the free-spirited, bringers of divine wrath of the 3E era or Pathfinder's take based more on Vedic mythology. I love the concept being so established in the real world, but possible to interpret so differently that these versions can exist in-game and not conflict. While mirroring the real world at times, Asuras are nebulous enough to implement in-game on either side of the alignment spectrum. Asuras are the true planar mongrels of both myth and gaming.

Can't get more iconic than the fire elemental. The other main elementals are no less powerful or interesting, but they tend to blend into the natural world. Nothing says elemental more than a burning figure walking about setting things on fire, but not screaming with the agony of actually being on fire.

Haven't thought about plant monsters much, they're useful to be sure. Maybe treant, a walking talking tree, not only well established, but undeniably represents plant. Vine and meat-eater plants if we want to up the discomfort level, but getting smacked around by a mobile tree can be horrifying as well.

Hobgoblins seem an interesting change of pace from the howling hordes of standard humanoid monsters. Even if their implementation often still lags behind the enhanced fluff of organized and relatively disciplined goblinoids. If there is any threat greater than a chaotic expendable horde with nothing to lose, it's a regimented and capable army with something to gain.

With fey, my pick is not quite of the subtype (I think they're primarily outsiders), but I think one of the most interesting monsters to come out of the Epic Level Handbook were the LeShay. Mechanically they're nothing too remarkable and they have a funny name, but they're interesting based solely on their background. The LeShay are ur-fey from another multiverse before this one. They precipitated a fuck-up so grand they altered existence itself, erasing their own universe and started a new one (ours, well 'ours' to our PCs anyway). Being immortal, the LeShay bore witness to time trickle by in the current multiverse. Some probably attempted to reverse their fortune with catastrophic results no doubt, others whittle away the eons in ennui. They can serve as epic universe-shattering masterminds, cruel decadent villains from beyond time immemorial, or mysterious manipulators behind the scenes, benefactors or not. Any interaction with them can give characters a glimpse of the grandness of the multiverse. The LeShay concept dared to think big and pulled it off, which I feel is more than can be said of most monsters from the Epic Level Handbook.

Dragon Color/Type
Definitely blues. They're an unexpected color and environmental match up. The reds being portrayed as big and fiery is classically befitting of the kings of the chromatic dragons. Likewise, the whites are their literal polar opposites. Blacks paired with swamps and acid also presents a logical grim and gloomy evil dragon motif. Green dragons harken back to the reptilian look and paired with the equally viridian forests.

While electricity is often paired with blue, it could just as easily be linked with yellow or white (the white and blue dragons could easily have their colors interchanged without much disruption to their respective themes). Blue is a striking hue not often found amongst animals (or dragons for that matter, outside of games). Blues are also desert dwelling in some instances of game lore. That takes the game away from the well-tread temperate climate Euro-milieu of the default implied setting. That they're often portrayed as the second most powerful chromatic species also makes them capable menaces. Unless a dragon breathing lightning bolts isn't hint enough of their threat and danger.

The blues for 3E with the big horn and gnarly jaw were certainly distinctive, but Ben Wooten's sleek take on blues for Pathfinder is pure class.

Favorite Overall Monster

Who else. For the most part humans are the dark lords, the iron-fisted tyrants, corrupt nobles and vile cultists, deadly assassins and two-bit thugs, or the ever popular mad archmages (with or without lichdom) who threaten the people and places the adventurers love (if not promising harm directly against them). From masterminds to champions to henchmen, the bulk of the villains in games are people just like us.

Least Favorite Overall Monster
None. Simple as that.

Paizo's Misfit Monsters Redeemed has shown even the silliest monsters of D&D-type games can be refreshed into interesting additions to the game. Not that people need any help from a company given the strange following for gonzo monsters like Flumph and Flail Snails.

There is only one constant in regards to monsters, more is better.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Thirty Days of D&D, Day 15 & 16: Favorite Undead & Aberration

The site of mega-geekery had an aptly timed article today on The 10 Most Memorable Dungeons & Dragons Monsters. In summary, their list was: Beholder, Displacer Beast, Mimic, Rust Monster, Gelatinous Cube, Owlbear, Lich, the Drow, Mind Flayer, and the Tarrasque. Check out the article for details.

It's a list of icons to be sure, in fact some are declared product identity of the D&D brand. Each has been established or popularized in the fantasy lexicon because of D&D or for some the D&D interpretation has become the preeminent incarnation over older, perhaps more 'correct', definitions.

Since I fell behind, we're doing a double creature feature today. There are so many choices for monsters, a favorite is only a favorite because one has to choose for the purposes of the blog activity. My cursory list includes:

Skeletons. Nothing represents death more than an old pile of bones, preferably with skull (pirates know where it's at). Nothing says undead more than those very bones animated into skeletons wielding old arms, articulated at each joint despite the lack of flesh and sinews. Skeletons are classical undead that fire the imagination since before D&D (cue Harryhausen's example in Jason and the Argonauts).

They're of that toughness where many beginning groups have encountered them. They may be the most ubiquitous undead. What ancient elaborate tomb worth it's grave goods doesn't have a few skeleton guardians. Skeletons serves as the motif for stronger and smarter variant such as giant skeletons, the mohrg, dracoliches, and the equally iconic lich.

Flumph. Aberrations are often some derivative of the Mythos creatures. Almost to the tentacle and eye-stalk they are inimical to existence itself. They're all doom and despair.

If not, then they're at the least some sort of true neutral beast acting on alien instincts, callous to the consequences of their actions and ignorant of their biological impingement upon our ecology.

The flumph, being generally magnanimous, are a breath of freshness, a spike of plurality amongst an infinite array of cosmic and extraterrestrial horrors.

I'm Lawful Good, fools, not lawful push-me-over.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Thirty Days of D&D, Day 14: Favorite NPC

I haven't run many games and of those most were disjointed episodic adventures. My NPCs are generally ephemeral and disposable. Not that they get sent into the grinder often like fodder, but they don't stick around. The focus is on the PCs and the parties I've run tend to travel a lot. We're into the Final Fantasy "Overworld" travel concept.

About the only ones that end up making more than a cursory impression are DMPCs (oh, "dirty word", you say). Sometimes I feel they're necessary.

In one PBeM game the players were mercenaries in a generic fantasy world but using inspiration from the Vikings Campaign Sourcebook, part of the 2E era Historical References line. I was trying revive a dwindling group with some players I knew from other games, but the originals ended up dropping out and I decided to go ahead with the new recruits. The game was 3E and I had plenty of resources to use for monsters and encounters, but at only two players. I felt the group a bit light, especially in the divine magic area.

In stepped Lothar, an elderly cleric, former campaigner, lean old wolf of a man with scraggly beard and thoroughly grayed hair. What was so special about Lothar? Nothing really. I purposely kept his stats average then applied the age modifiers. I didn't want him to be a combat machine so the party, consisting of a barbarian and a skaldic bard, could take the front lines. He stayed back to heal and boost the player characters and whacked any stray enemies with his club trying to sneak past to flank the party. Even then he mostly held them at bay with his shield until the bard and barbarian could bring arms to bear against their foes. After all the first rule of D&D is to always protect the cleric.

Old Lothar would be winded from battle anyway and couldn't last long facing any opponent meant for the two leads (anything other than a random henchman to pad the opposition with a more imposing number). The party started to interact with Lothar more, seeing him as one of their own rather than just the "healbot" role he was solely designed for. I'm not a great GM, but Lothar was one of the rare moments of running a game where a player complimented me on the character.

Maybe he stuck out in their minds as different from other NPCs or pseudo-party members who were as young and capable as they were. Maybe it was seeing him kiss his wife farewell before departing with the party on "one last mission" to march towards the present doom facing the lands. Maybe it was his expressed worry about his sons serving the jarl, besieged by the very forces they now faced. It could have been his war stories of visiting the players they were traveling in, acting as an impromptu guide. Or it could be seeing an old man struggle with the limitations of his body in a time of conflict where physical might was the currency of the day.

Something clicked about Old Lothar, something more than the sum of the traits I spun into him. That something allowed me to channel Lothar easily as if the Old Wolf actually lived. For the brief time the game lasted, it didn't matter to the characters than one of their party was an NPC or an old man useful for nothing more than providing a second pool of hit points. They were three heroes out to save the kingdom.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Thirty Days of D&D, Day 13: Favorite Trap/Puzzle

Damn, should have picked the adventure with physical deathtraps instead.

Without much cajoling, I'm a convert to the horrific versatility and creepy visuals of Haunts from Pathfinder. One can find the OGL write-up for them at Paizo's PRD: Haunts.

As the intro states, Haunts are like a hybrid between traditional Traps and Undead creatures. Maybe with a bit of terrain/environmental Hazard in there as well. They can make use of spells not often associated with traps, allowing the DM to get creative.

Traps are of a binary nature, either they're armed and dangerous, or disarmed through roguish know-how or player mishap. Haunts require a resolution other than triggering them, thus they're a bit like a Puzzle, or a Mystery. therein lies the reason why I think they offer a stronger draw to pull players into the game. Even if it just gives them an additional reason to thoroughly wreck a place, like burning down the haunted house as the PRD example explains.

It's the primitive caveman part of my brain saying this, but killing something with fire that needed re-killing is a very satisfying feeling. Makes things right in the world.

As with any traps, puzzles, hazards or even undead, haunts are most effective when used in the proper context (that context could mean when players aren't expending it) and care should be taken not to overuse them of course.

Well, can there ever be too much undead? They naturally fill the spaces they haunt, leaking from the walls, overflowing from the toilets and showers, climbing out of screens...


Thursday, September 12, 2013

Bundle of Holding FATE

The latest Bundle of Holding is powered by FATE!

Here's description of what's in the Bundle of Fate according to the +Bundle of Holding G+ feed:
"We've just launched the Bundle of Fate, a pay-what-you-want collection of leading tabletop RPGs that all use the popular and fast-growing Fate rules system.

In the last decade Fate has risen ever stronger in RPGs. When Evil Hat Productions sought US$3,000 in its recent Fate Core Kickstarter, fans enthusiastically donated $433,000. From its humble beginnings as a FUDGE variant, Fate has become one of the standout OGL-licensed systems. Now there are a dozen or more major games that build on the Fate rules, and this collection presents most of the best.

Every purchase of the Bundle of Fate includes DRM-free .PDF rulebooks of these fine Fate RPGs:

   Ehdrigohr (Council of Fools)
   Full Moon (Nothing Ventured Games)
   Spirit of the Century (Evil Hat Productions)

(As a convenience to you, we also include Evil Hat's Fate Core and Fate Accelerated rulebooks, which are available as free downloads from the Evil Hat website.)

If you pay higher than the average price (starting at US$12, and likely to rise), you also get these standout games:

   The Kerberos Club, Fate Edition (Arc Dream)
   Legends of Anglerre (Cubicle 7 Entertainment)
   Starblazer Adventures (Cubicle 7)

If you paid full price for all these .PDFs, you'd spend over US$100. But we let you set your own price for the entire collection. Ten percent of your payment goes to our contributors' two chosen charities, the Somaly Mam Foundation and War Child International.

As with previous Bundles of Holding, the starting average price of the Bundle of Fate is heavily weighted to keep it from rising fast. We're adding 1,000 "fake" sales (ten times the usual amount!) to slow the price-rise way down. But the sooner you buy, the lower the average price will be, and the cheaper it is to get the bonus books.

Act fast -- the Bundle of Fate offer ends Thursday, September 19."

Here's a word from Fred Hicks of Evil Hat Productions about the Bundle of Fate (also via G+):

The latest Bundle of Holding is all Fate!

There's a passel of older stuff, a smattering of new, and we've also made Fate Core and Fate Accelerated a part of it simply as a convenience measure and a how-do-you-do to newcomers to the system.

Better yet, the books you see here aren't the only ones that are going to show up by the end, if past Bundles of Holding are any indication. Getting in early means you'll get in while the average price is low, so it's the most affordable way to get the bonus books in the bundle (gotten only if you pay above the current average).

A portion of this Bundle, like the others that have gone before it, will go to charities. In this case Allen's hivemind has selected the Somaly Mam Foundation and War Child International. Links at the bottom of this post.

Give it a look! There's such a wide selection here I have a feeling everybody's at least got a shot at picking up something they haven't before.

Somaly Mam Foundation   

War Child International

Thirty Days of D&D, Day 12: Favorite Dungeon Type/Location

Always been fond of the one-stop shop of adventure locales, city adventures. Very much a city person. Cities are an urban jungle (or dungeon) of different physical strata (streets, wards, districts, periphery, undercity, vassal or port towns, etc.), but also of contrasting tiers (rich/poor, old/new, thieves/guards, civilization/wilderness, dwellers/outsiders). One could adventure lifetimes in a good-sized city and never run the same adventure twice. The adventure and conflict comes to you as people, traders, invaders and monsters come to you.

I suppose you could do that in a megadungeon as well, but why not have a megadungeon below the city. Or why not turn a city into a megadungeon. A ruined city is a natural skeleton from which to build a dungeon. Logically that's what most megadungeons should be. Who sets out to build a megadungeon really? Besides mad mages. Well, there's no shortage of those in fantasy settings. Okay, so this may be a more common place activity of unhinged magic-users. Good. The more there are, the more murderous!

Along the lines of that thought, what about the classic sunken city trope?

"A City. Since Sunken. Lost to the Ages. Now All Megadungeon."

In fact, this little blurb from WotC's Unapproachable East always struck a chord with me:

This island was once the center of civilization throughout the Wizard's Reach and the Alamber Sea. It was the most important shipping port in the region, and thousands of people lived there - right up until the day the place's rulers lost a bet with a demon prince and paid with the death by drowning of all they held dear. Umlaor lies less than fifty miles west of the Alaor, once part of the same chain of islands. Today, local sahuagin live in the upper levels of this sunken island, but the caverns farther below are filled with creatures so noxious as to turn the water black with their passage.

I quite like the sound of that.
Solid hints of the Mythosic without being too tentacle-bound.
Who are we kidding, we know they're down there, waiting.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Thirty Days of D&D, Day 10 & 11: Craziest Thing Seen & Favorite Adventure

No need to tell it again.
Day 10: Craziest thing that's happened that you saw (to party/character/your players, etc.)

This one is not sounding any clarion calls of reminiscence. I could recount the usual monumentally missed hooks or awkwardly misconstrued clues, shapeshifting mishaps, fumbled disguises and mistaken identities (both in-character and legitimate player confusion), comical overkills, hilarious criticals (we went through a crit table phase) or games derailed by player attention ramming full speed into the amateur Holy Grail impression mode.

Poor game never had a chance.

Day 11: Favorite Adventure You Have Ran

I don't run many adventures. I set characters loose at a location with a starter premise. What they do is their problem, my problem too I guess. Likewise, this sandbox style describes most of the games I've been in. I'm sure the games incorporated some small module somewhere, but most are probably just re-purposed dungeon or town maps with names changed to protect the guilty.

One adventure I always wanted to run (or play through) was Night Below. It was in this big hulking boxed set with interesting cover art (can't go wrong with featuring monsters for an adventure) and the simple yet poignant adventure name. The premise, as I've learned, wasn't anything new for the time, but this held megadungeon promise that made Undermountain seem minor leagues, just from the box art and title.

I don't own it and I'm not sure if it's any good, but the premise was enticing back in the day when the Underdark was still (to me) this entirely mysterious and unquestionably lethal place.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Thirty Days of D&D, Day 8 & 9: Favorite character

Day 8: Favorite Character You Have Played

This is a tough one, like a parent choosing amongst their children. There are rascals you think you'd love less, but if you really consider the question, you find each person indispensable. I'll spare the details in the customary list of names, classes, and adventure summaries and just say I find many of my characters interesting and favored for different reasons.

As PbP/PBeM is a medium that allows room for lots of character development (the staccato pace is well suited for more 'writerly' players), it is easy for me to spin a character who I will get attached to. Given the pace of PbP/PBeM, you have to play a character you're willing to return to regularly over a long time frame. Heavy character development also presents the player with plenty of roleplaying opportunities and plot hooks, necessary for the slower games, which require players to pick up the slack in terms of driving impetus. Combat being one of the slowest aspects of gaming, the GM can't toss a random battle into the mix at will to draw in players attention like in a face-to-face or even a chat game.

That wasn't much of a solid answer, even if it is how I feel. Since the next day includes a similar topic, I'm going to roll it into this post.

Day 9: Favorite Character You Haven't Played

I've tried to get this one character concept off the ground in several games but all the games fizzled either before they began or very shortly after. The character is Gedregan Dalaraster, with some variations on the name depending on the game. Originally set up as a wizard, but soon switch to an archivist (the prepared divine caster class from Heroes of Horror), he was alternatively a 'freestaff' from Halruaa (a southern magocracy in the Forgotten Realms) or a more secular follower of the deities of knowledge and lore (possible Realms patrons include Azuth, or Oghma, maybe Deneir). Something about the lore-based specialization of the class and character fit like a glove into the Realms setting.

I find the archivist to be a fun take on divine magic, a scholar who sees divine magic distanced from the deities that power them. The flavor of pouring over musky tomes in search of forgotten or sometimes forbidden spells and information from deities or entities long dead has an excellent dark fantasy vibe. The knowledge-based monster vulnerability identification abilities also alight perfectly with the archetype.

The archetype is so much fun,
even Blizzard had a go at it in Diablo III,
albeit as an fairly elaborate April Fools joke.

The archivist also leans towards a more modern class design ideal possessing scaling class abilities that diversify with increasing levels. This is very new school, but if we're playing 3E or later era games, I'd rather the classes be along this design style than ones that encourage prestige or multi-class min-maxing. Largely Pathfinder has realized this and their classes fall within this style. The class would convert easily to Pathfinder and I'll have to see if I can play the character via that system.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Thirty Days of D&D, Day 7: Favorite Edition

I might not have a definitive favorite edition,
but I feel this D&D ampersand
is the most iconic.
If we go by my postings, my favorite edition of D&D would appear to be 2nd edition. That may be true given much of my gaming took (takes) place using that edition. By the format of games I'm playing (via Play by Post) the rules are the right system weight. There's enough gristle for players to sink their teeth upon in order to have their rules sheets reflect their characters with a degree of specializations and skill development but the use and interaction of those elements does not bog down the already sluggish pace of PbP (or PBeMs).

Yet, I've also spent a number of years solely playing 3E/3.5E games, also through PbP/PBeM. I have no problems with games of that era or it's recent derivatives like Pathfinder. It takes a certain mindset to get into, but it is not difficult for me to get into. Likewise, a recent interest in and exploration of OSR games reveals they're compatible enough with my 'new school' notions of D&D that I wouldn't have much difficulty giving them a try (or AD&D (1E) for that matter, unless modified OA counts).

I've limited opportunities to play and I count any instance where I get to game to be a favored activity. If I could feasibly try all the editions I would, they would all be my favorite edition as long as I'm playing some form of the game. I see the composition of the gamers and the general premise of the game more important than the rules. I can adapt to quirks of rules throughout the editions and similar games. What would throw me off more would be a poor game setup, either a group of disruptive or mismatched players, or a weak premise. The former part of that statement would hold up a game no matter the edition. The latter part is relative, I could be in the mood for a simple dungeon crawl one game or really desire an deeply interlinked game of cloak & dagger style intrigue the next. What's important is finding games that interest you and playing them or at least discussing them, which is what I take  as the purpose of this blog challenge.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Thirty Days of D&D, Day 6: Favorite Deity

Favorite deity? There are many quantifiers one could and should put on to these topics. Following the theme of the last few posts, I'm going to limit this to the Realms.

My favorite Realms deity is Helm, the watcher, god of guardians. He makes for a great player character patron deity because his portfolio clicks with what most players do, whether the goodly paladin on a righteous quest or just an honest guard looking to do his job. The most likely "adventurer" deity in the Realms is probably Tymora, goddess of luck with her happy-go-lucky ne'er doer followers. While Tymora has the slackers covered, Helm provides a more pragmatic alternative to those not of the lovable roguish persuasion.

As a lawful neutral deity, he's not as limited in his scope as the good or evil deities. When followers of these other deities, especially good ones, start to reinterpret their divine teachings in malleable ways we're headed into heresy territory or outright corruption. Helm's followers can be both and that's just a normal day for them.

In aiming for a grittier darker points-of-light setting for 4E Realms, I was surprised WotC decided to kill of Helm. Here was this grim grey god who's ethos was to hold these flickering points-of-light at all costs. This perfectly supports lawful badasses in a life & death struggle against the grim-dark. This guy is pure anti-hero fuel.
Demon, you have too many arms.
Here, allow me to fix that for you.

It gets harder and harder to make excuses for the odd 4E Realms changes. A case can be made to trim the pantheon down sure, but offing one of the deities that most embodies the tone you're trying to establish is quite ridiculous. Instead of choosing deities that simply overlap, it wouldn't have been too much effort to go through the list and strike off entities of far more limited reach and exposure.

Or why kill gods to begin with? Why not shuffle the ones you feel redundant off into the sidelines for an edition. See if people just forget about them. I understand deicide if there was some epic metaplot to be accomplished (at least Mystra 2.0's death had that going for it), but Helm died at the hands of Tyr over a misunderstanding over Tymora. All this amounted to an awkward not-quite-love-triangle that one might find in an uninspired afternoon soap opera plot (cause some inspired soap operas plots will give the X-Men a run for their money). There's character flaws and then there's just stupid. There's classical tragedy and then there's plain silly. Guess which one this development falls under.

This all quickly became meaningless as the event sullied Tyr's name (in the eyes of fans) to the point where during the the 4E transition activity, the designers actually listened to the hordes of WotC forum goers and decided to kill Tyr as well. The net utility of this sound and fury (oh, we're killing gods left and right, tremble!) was zilch.

Hi, my name is Kalen
and I'm a Helmite.
Hi, I'm Kleef.
I too am a Helmite.
Not all is lost, however. Some of the authors know where the potential is at. Erik Scott de Bie has two or three FR novels out centered on his protagonist Kalen Dren, a paladin of Helm, known as Shadowbane. How is someone worshiping and empowered by a dead god? Well, death hasn't really stopped deities before.

To transition us from 4E Realms to Next Realms (5E), Troy Denning's contribution to The Sundering series, The Sentinel, features Kleef Kenric, an embittered paladin of Helm. You know, the dead god who's not really that dead seeing as how his worship base probably eclipses most major deities if novel characters are a representative sample. If they're not, well just goes to show all the interesting stuff is happening with his clergy (paladins can be considered clergy, right?).

Goes to show, can't keep a good god down.

Or in this case, lawful neutral with good tendencies. Except for that conquistador thing down in Maztica, but they Spellplagued that away to Abeir (or otherwise blew it up, who knows) so no need to make a big fuss about it.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Most Disliked RPG Setting

Tenkar had a post up at the Tavern that is an interesting side discussion to the topic from yesterday (Favorite Gameworld), what is your most disliked gameworld.

Just realized this was a
Silver Anniversary item.
Of all the things...
His choice was Council of Wyrms. I could definitely see it being a contender. I own the hardback*, but never used it. The premise seemed interesting, but it never inspired me enough to roused my group to attempt to game with it. Expected something a bit ... More ... seeing as dragons are the mascot creature for D&D.

* Can't believe the boxed set actually did well enough to warrant the hardback, which I was suckered into purchasing. I guess anything with dragons in it does sell books, worked on me. Thankfully it was the waning days of 2E. I'm pretty sure I grabbed for a few bucks.

Still, it's not my least favorite. Now, I try not to rag on most setting as I realize they're a matter of personal taste. I also find gems in each setting adaptable for other purposes in every setting I've encountered. No matter how much it doesn't strike my interest. Council of Wyrms was uninspiring but it didn't rub me the wrong way.

I reserve my ire for a particular transgression to settingdom. None other than the 4th edition version of my favorite gameworld not so freshly wrung through the cataclysmic Spellplague - the New "Forgotten Realms."

"They told me the portrait was for a
"Save the Dragons" charity.
Those bastards!"
There are many things to dislike about the setting, from the oddball changes to arbitrary shenanigans used to bring about those changes to the ugly as mud map. For a setting supposedly trying to divorce itself from the baggage of the prior edition, it sure spends much of its limited word count (in larger font size and big blank margins) trying to describe how things changed and why people should care now. Trying to please everyone meant it appealed to no one*.

* [Mini-rant] Or not enough people. I'm supposed to be careful not to tread on the eggshell sentiments of 4E Realms fans, lest I be labeled a hater and troll.

Actually, hold on. 


Oops. (By 'oops' I mean 'up yours', excuse my gnomish.)

I've been dealing with Realms hate and anti-Realms trolls since before 4E, Drizzt killed my puppy that, or Elminster seduced my character's mother this. You will deal with setting negativity as I had for years as a Realms fan. Get in line, it's your turn. [/Mini-rant]

The 4E transition for the Realms is something I wish on no setting. To take something with a fanbase and change it so thoroughly, so obtusely, and then use negativity to sell the new product by standing on the remnants of the previous work is just insulting. I surmise Greyhawk fans felt the same after the last few TSR products before publication switched to the Realms (mind you, at least they didn't say Greyhawk was now the Realms a hundred years later, which is what 4E Realms is to the old Realms.) Dragonlance fans have experienced this as well with the different ages. Even Realms fans had the Time of Troubles as the poor precedent, but the ToT was a school-yard scuffle compared to the Spellplague and century timeline jump.

Look! I found out who ate all the split pea soup.
Fans riled against the transition at the onset, loud and clear, voices upon ears which heard but didn't give a damn. Quite a bit of arrogance there to assume the words of proven fans are worthless and there exists some other imaginary fanbase willing to sweep up the franchise due to your big relaunch, which focused on how the setting is different but the same as before. How's that working out WotC?

Now 4E Realms apologists would say the setting is actually doing quite alright and the upcoming Sundering event is by no means an admission of issues or a rescinding of the 4E/Spellplague-derived problems. Of course corporations never apologize, but the writing is on the walls. They used the same marketing to convince people the 4E Realms would be different, except there's less immature "Holy Cow Slaughtering" and "Kill it and take it's stuff" talking points.

If this uber-RSE doesn't work, well I expect a reboot to the Grey Box era Realms, which would be an excellent choice.

Of course they could make things worse by going for a Spellplague II equivalent. What are they going to do then? Kill Mystra (4.0 by now) again (death #4 by then)?

Either way it will be interesting, the latter more comical than anything. At least the setting would still provide entertainment value.

We need a BIGGER Realms Shattering Event.
A Realms *Sundering* Event!

Thirty Days of D&D, Day 5: Favorite Dice/Die

The topic was more fully: "Your favorite set of dice/individual die", which is weird wording open to several interpretations. I'll just run with whatever comes to mind.

There are many sets of fancy premium dice I could mention, but I don't own many of them. There is one idea I thought was genius, true to its marketing and actually useful to gamers:

Chessex's Pound-O-Dice.

Boom. Plop it on the table. There is a monolithic quality to a pound of assorted dice, and sold by the pound at that. It's relatively cheap and expendable. It means it's time for serious gaming, this quantity exists, it's present, it's bone throwing time. And it's good for not so serious gaming as you have some spare plastic polyhedrons to toss at players.

There's also an element of mystery at what you'll end up getting, some of it is crap, most of it is useful. Most importantly it's fun, if only for one time.

Favorite individual die is easy - d12.

It's one of the more spherical polyhedron and rolls well like the d20. It's aesthetically pleasing and easy to read. It has a good amount of granularity. Unfortunately the d20 and d10 in all their rounded number dominance have shuffled the d12 to the sidelines. The d12 is underused. I'm glad the 3E Barbarian puts the d12 to use, it was like hitting a quota or something. The Greatsword should have been a d12 like all the other "great-" weapons.

Come to think of it, I feel the two-handed sword in 2E should have dealt 1d12 damage by default instead of 1d10. The glory-hogging mystical-mundane katana also did 1d10, had a speed advantage, and one-handed/two-handed versatility. By comparison, it was a disservice to the 'king of big blades' (in terms of fantasy games) to make the two-handed sword with the inferior d10.

Let's see how that looks.

Two-handed sword:
Weight 15, Size L, Type S, Speed 10, Damage (Sm/Md) 1d12, Damage (Lg) 3d6

There we go - gameable material. Can't say this blog never contributed an iota to the cause of the dice gods.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Thirty Days of D&D, Day 4: Favorite Gameworld

"TSR Jam" by Todd Lockwood
Campaign Settings.

This was intended to be the meat and potatoes of this blog ... if I ever pick my brain off the floor and gather any momentum in writing half the things I want to.

I've dabble in a bunch of gameworlds over the years from Dark Sun to Ravenloft to Planescape to Eberron to a veritable library of settings during the d20 boom to Golarion and beyond.

As in previous posts, there's a short answer to the question: The Forgotten Realms.

Why the Forgotten Realms? Some people hate the Realms (and I mean red hot, teeth-gnashing, it killed their mothers, violated their fathers, shoved a puppy up their kitten's rear, while yammering too loudly on a phone in a foreign language and breathing second-hand smoke into an orphanage kind of hate). It (merely) doesn't work for others, some find it okay and nothing special. Some, like myself, love it despite its noted shortcomings and recent upheavals.

Then what about the Forgotten Realms makes it my favorite setting? Let's gloss over the novels and related characters and the preponderance on big Realms Shaking Events (RSEs, even the authors and design team has adopted the term, it's that prevalent). Let's take it as a setting presented in most of its gaming sourcebooks and in its articles (often by its creator).

To me it feels like home or a place I wouldn't mind living in, therefore a place I see my character living in and a place worth fighting for. Other settings often try too hard to establish these goodly places, makes them boring or too mushy. Others do this then slathers on layers of corruption and intrigue to the point where the good guys are worse than the bad guys. Others don't bother at all and revel in their supposed grim-dark. FR gets the balance right, nice places are threatened (both from without and within, don't mistake lack of extremes for lack of complexity), but there's a chance to make a difference.

I've heard the setting described as a typical Tolkienesque setting at its core that expands into a rather Howardesque or more accurately Leiberesque periphery and these areas get even more dangerous, exotic, and weird. I find that's pretty accurate. The world is not without its horrors, of both mortal/human and immortal/inhuman varieties. There is never a lack of things or people who will make your day a terrible day. There are plenty of troubles large and small, it's a setting that lives because there is no single monolithic trend but lots of factions, peoples, religions, cultists, individuals out for themselves.

It has a suitable juxtaposition of safe and unsafe that established a natural 'points of light' setting, which the 4E version missed entirely and scrapped in favor of its own take on the setup. It's also not just this binary black and white world as so often explained in summary. I once read a brief blurb by Ed Greenwood on the fate of one Halruaan wizard and I came away realizing the setting at times has a cold gray callousness that few settings can manage to capture even on their best examples.

It's not just a place, it's a set of characters (not just the Chosen or the pantheon either). In a couple of paragraphs, Ed showed humans not thinking or acting like humans we know would act in this modern day and age, but they sure as heck sound like what humans would act like given the same circumstances. The Realms became real in that instance and there are many instances like it throughout Realmslore. Ignore the marketing (the events and some of the novels), there's a sharp gem of a setting past the facade.

Forget other settings espousing their ambiguous pulpiness, their harsh pseudo-medieval grittiness, their cool fantasy punkiness, their hard-rated adult maturity, or whatever zeitgeist they've latched onto. The Realms doesn't say what it's about, the Realms shows it. The setting is pure sword and sorcery goodness albeit its own take on the genre.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Kickstarters: Myth & Magic Player's Guide - Update and Shipping Status

Today I found on my Kickstarter feed a rare update from the Myth & Magic Player's Guide. The update is set to Backers Only, but I don't feel there's any information in there worth isolating to the 400 people who backed the project. It is included below. It's good news the project person is getting a move on the shipping. At this point I would be satisfied to received the player's book in hand.

Would still like to get a coupon link to the DriveThruRPG copy we were supposed to get. I missed the link last time as it was sent over the Kickstarter updates and not email.

The project is long delayed, but many Kickstarters are at this point. What rubbed people the wrong way initially were the unresponsiveness and the evasiveness of the project manager's actions and posts. There's still a bit of that defensiveness, even something a bit snarky, in the tone of the project runner's post. Understandably he's under pressure to get these books out. Holding out on backers without reasonable updates would set them off, backers can be an aggressive lot, they have to be with the rate of Kickstarter problems accruing. Rightly so, people are literally owed money at the least, that's a motivator which in turn self-encourages them to motivate the tardy projects.

Now I wouldn't go after the guy's livelihood as that decreases the chance of ever getting these books. I would ease up on the threats. Patience pays off in the end. We still have to see if these books make their way to all the people due physical product, but if it does, I would still count this as a success.

Major lessons of Kickstarter are once again:
1. Don't over promise without running numbers and locking in prices. Not always possible and that's the danger of these things.
2. Shipping (and fulfillment) is scary. There is never an exception to this. Some projects disclosing their info (like Fate Core) showed shipping to eat up a third of the total funds. Forget scary, shipping is hell.

[Update begins here]
Hi Everyone,
I just wanted to update on you on shipments. I wasn't able to ship out 10% during each of the last few weeks, but I have 98 shipments out. I put out 20 today but couldn't get any out last week. That being said, I've asked a few local gaming youngsters to help me package things up, and they're going to come by either this weekend or the weekend of the 21st. With help, my hope is to get ALL orders ready for shipment. That would mean that 100% of the orders would be ready for the mail as of Monday, Sept 23rd. This is a tedious process alone, with order tracking, packaging, weighing, printing, delivering, etc. I know you don't care. Just wanted you to know that I'm going to get this done. I actually CAN'T wait to be free to discuss things more positive.
Just so you know, I cannot get anything ready for shipping during the weekend of the 14th due to my daughter's 3rd birthday party on Saturday and an anniversary party on Sunday.
Also FYI, I need some more shipping supplies and I need another 100 or so Player's Journals, which I'll order today. I have also designed a softcover Player's Guide to ship to those folks who ordered softcover versions of the Starter Guides. I think they probably thought they were ordering softcover Player's Guides anyway. It shouldn't take long to get the shipping supplies and the Journals, so I should have everything ready soon. If there is a delay on the printing of the softcover Player's Guides, it shouldn't be long and it doesn't affect that many of you, but I still think I'll be good to get all of them ready on or before the 21st.
I'm attaching some pictures. I certainly contribute to the various posts calling me a scam artist, thief and worse. There are droves of backers that think the books do not exist. The pictures were taken today. They show the remaining boxes of PGs and Journals ready to be stuffed into some sort of shipping box and sent on their way.
Picture 1, Picture 2, Picture 3, Picture 4, Picture 5.
You certainly owe me nothing, but I'm asking anyway. There have been some very nasty, accusatory posts over the last few weeks, some calling for drastic actions that could potentially put everything on the line for me - not in terms of NHG but in terms of my career and home life. I really hope that will stop. I sincerely do apologize and have apologized for the delay and lack of updates, but campaigning to take everything I've worked for and have it destroyed is taking it to a very drastic level. I already know that collectively this Kickstarter has been an epic fail, but I hardly think the delays and lack of updates have ruined any of your lives. I really hope the few of you that have started a campaign to ruin mine will have second thoughts and rail it in. What keeps me even slightly positive is the fact that they're really more disappointed than angry, because they really love the rules set and they really think the books do not exist. I know that once they get their orders and start gaming, the nasty conversations will change and we'll all feel like gamers again.
I know that I need to update more, so please do not comment here about that. I'll update you after the weekend of the 21st.
On a different note, I wanted to talk about the expansion material. Jeff Scifert did a great job with the expansion races and classes. He is still working to tighten them up after reading your comments and suggestions (some of which are very spot on by the way). There are more updates to what you have and more expansion material in the works that really rock. Thank you to all the backers that have contributed to that discussion. He deserves the feedback and the game will be better for it.
Until the 23rd,

Thirty Days of D&D, Day 3: Favorite Playable Class

Okay, cop-out time. My favorite class is fighter/mage.

I know it's cheating, that's two classes, but I've always been enthralled by the idea of wielding both sword and sorcery. It's the name of the genre and from there many derivations of the theme arose, might and magic, swords and wizardry, wizards and warriors. I want to do a little of both. I don't expect to be great at either, but hopefully (system willing, but not always the case) the two disparate parts meld together into a capable whole, something greater than the sum of their limited components.
by William O'Connor

In systems where this is not possible or easily feasible, I often tend towards the half-casters such as paladins, rangers, or bards. A battle cleric can sometimes fill this mold, as can druid-types. Currently playing a Ranger in 2E, haven't reached the level where I get spells, but having a blast either way.

Rangers in this regard may be a bit of a rough gem for this archetype. Even if they're not quite mechanically up to the task of being 'gishy' all of the time in all of the game versions, some of the older sources gives them arcane spell access and this has carried on to some of the retro games.

Read the Ranger write-up in Swords & Wizardry Complete. Now that is some stimulating reading just for a class entry. Some games gives them a spin as down-to-earth woodsmen and hunters, archers, skirmishers, or physical combat-oriented whirlwinds. I see plenty of precedence for variants to go the other way, a more mystical skill set to fit with their mysterious ways, a direction that shouldn't be neglected in favor of making them just another warrior class. Not that there's anything wrong with warrior-rangers.

We are Rangers.
We walk in the dark places no others will enter.
We stand on the bridge, and no one may pass.
We live for the One, we die for the One.
Heck, rangers even have enough sentinels-of-an-ancient-order appeal to make the leap from fantasy into science fiction, such as the generic "space rangers" of yesteryear or the Anla-shok rangers of B5. it is also an archetype well tread by the mystic warrior culture of the Jedi knights.

That's like three or four classes under discussion.

We're also crossing genres.

Told you this would break the rules.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Thirty Days of D&D, Day 2: Favorite Playable Race

Favorite playable race? There's a short, boring answer to this.

Frell yeah!

Humans. Some people get sick of playing little old humans, but I find there's always relevant play opportunities present with humans. I dabble in dwarven characters, sometimes elves, or half-elves a little more, but humans are my default as they are for many settings.

Tiefling by Tony DiTerlizzi
The longer answer without relying entirely on the old stand-by of humans? That would be Aasimar. Again, a half-human variant, but why the plain homely aasimar instead of other more thematic planetouched?

The genasi offer an immediate dose of elemental cool, the mortal descended embodiment of primordial forces like fire or air (or water or earth or any of the para- or quasi- variants).

What about tieflings, progeny of the lower planes, spawned by fiends and corrupted or violated mortals (perhaps with a Faustian pact or two amongst their ancestors). Lots of potential there from angsty to noble-despite-their-heritage to utterly without redemption. Sure tieflings are blatantly sexier in the sense of character potential. They have easy, immediate character hooks.

Aasimar by Tony DiTerlizzi
The aasimar by comparison seem more monotone and one-dimensional. Yet they're still firmly outside of the norm and deal with all the same questions, peculiarities, and prejudices as the other planetouched, but that's in-spite of their innate predilection towards goodly tendencies. Depending on the setting specifics there is something 'ur-mythic' about them from the pseudo-Nephilim angle.

They're a spark of the cosmic factions constantly under siege and barely holding back the ravenous hordes of fiends from all sides. Definite underdog vibe to them and I find plenty to work with there.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Thirty Days of D&D, Day 1: How I Got Started

Saw several blogs in my feed participating in this nice blogging prompt initiated by Polar Bear Dreams and Strange Things: 30 Day D&D Challenge

Thought I would pick out a few of these topics and blog about them. Since (school) classes start this upcoming week and already I have assignments due by the end of the month, I know completion of all topics on appropriate days will be highly unlikely, but this will get a few posts out of me, perhaps. So onto the topic.

How did I get started?

The first person to proselytize D&D to me was my friend Andrew during lunch hour in junior high. This was during the mid-'90s at the height of Magic: The Gathering. I sat with the Magic playing kids. He talked mostly about the settings of D&D, Greyhawk, Forgotten Realms, Dragonlance, Ravenloft, Dark Sun, Planescape. I didn't play D&D at this point, but the concept stayed with me as did the evocative setting discussions. Andrew went to a different school in high school and years later I heard he delved into Warhammer.

During high school, I continued to hang out with several of the guys from the Magic table (and gathered at the new Magic lunch table in HS) and eventually enjoyed weekly gaming day on Fridays after school. We would always gather at Wil's house for alternating games of Risk or Monopoly or just an afternoon of movies or video games (rented from Blockbusters when they were still a relevant company).

Sometime in the very late '90s, probably 1998 or 1999, I suggested we supplement our board-gaming with D&D. Our small reluctant group agreed and we scoured the still nascent internet for anything we could find. Yahoo (or perhaps Infoseek) brought us to the era appropriate Wizards of the Coast site where we downloading the FREE AD&D 2nd Edition Fast Play booklet by Jeff Grubb downloadable in PDF format. The PDF is still available after all these years:

Now grognards or edition elitists could and would groan about starting with such a weak introduction using a vastly simplified rules system (to a watered down version of AD&D to begin with) that vaguely resembles D&D. Also, having reread the adventure recently, even I found it somewhat uninspiring by the standards of time/era/edition and arguably for the purposes of a gratis fast play game. No offense to the most excellent master Grubb and let me explain why.

I simply didn't care at the time about the relative quality of the free material. Blissful ignorance of the quality of other materials would do that. The fact that it was freely distributed on the internet (and remains so 15 years later), readily accessible via a printout from a now-antiquated clunky inkjet printer, and playable with the d6s we commandeered from our Risk game was good enough to get us started.

We were enticed enough to search through eBay to look for second-hand core books (after balking at the price for full-priced new books on Amazon, all fairly new sites at the time) and managed get our hands on someone's modest 2E collection, the black spine 2E core rules, plus some of the derided Player Options book and a couple of the Complete Class Handbooks. Most likely they were liquidating their stuff in anticipation for the next edition. We were such noobs, but I think I'd rather have started with 2nd Edition than not. Had we known more then, we would have stalked eBay to snag a meatier 2E collection, or even some of the mixed edition lots. Would have been nice to grab hold of some vintage gaming swag before they became recognized as such. Net auctions were still a bit like the wild west back then and price varied quite a bit.

D&D 3rd edition would release around 2000 and the OGL would change gaming as we knew it. I stuck with 2E for a bit, especially on PBeMs, before making the switch to 3E then followed through with 3.5E then onto Pathfinder from my Dragon subscription remainder. Looking back, I actually realized 2E remained a fairly consistent part of my gaming even during the 3E/OGL era, so much so in fact my current games are 2E. I wouldn't even say it's a full circle, just a steady ever-expanding continuum.