Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Orcs and Art

With the nod to inclusivity in the 5E Basic Rules, the art has come under additional examination to see if WotC could walk the walk now that they've talked the talk. So how does the art fare?

Numerous sites and blogs have done in-depth frequency and focus analysis and for the most part the numbers are good in terms of diversity and inclusivity. It's obvious with even a flip through of the 5E PHB, so much so some people stuck on a narrow mode of thinking actually comment on there being too many women or persons-of-color (POC)/minorities/non-whites in the art. Seriously.

This post on the Go Make Me A Sandwich blog documents one such exchange and does a good job of highlighting the positive and active depictions of women and POC in 5th edition art. I definitely agree with what the author has to say regarding the topic of inclusive art.

However, I did come across one statement that didn't sit right with me:
CHECK IT OUT, A HALF-ORC PALADIN. This is something I never expected to see! The treatment of race in the Forgotten Realms setting has always been… problematic at best. Orcs and half-orcs have always been depicted with traits that read as a very thinly veiled analogue for blackness. So to see Paladins, who are the literal embodiment of good, being represented by a righteous-as-fuck looking half-orc? That’s revolutionary!
The image being commented on was of this half-orc paladin found in the 5E PHB:
Half-orc paladin, D&D 5E Player's Handbook

There are a number of hyperboles within the statement that could be interpreted as portraying D&D and the Realms as distinctly anti-inclusive (even downright unintentionally racist) throwbacks. While I will not say the game or setting are perfect in every way regarding this issue, I feel there is much more nuance and inclusivity to the game and setting than the statement gives them credit for. Things just aren't as bad as that one statement makes it out to be, though I understand it's exaggerated for the sake of expressing excitement for the recent art direction.

Half-orc paladin aren't revolutionary in D&D and the concept is not foreign in the Forgotten Realms. Whatever this concept may be, it's far from the first instance and not breaking any barriers that still exist.

One example of Forgotten Realms having already knocked down the barrier before 3E came to sweep away the restrictions of older editions was Shield of Innocence an orog* paladin of Torm from the War in Tethyr (1995) novel, the events of which are summarized for the game setting in the Lands of Intrigue (1997) boxed set. Shield of Innocence became the patron saint of the Loyal Order of the Innocents, suffice to say, to earn such an honor meant this orog paladin made the sacrifice needed to live up to his name.

*An orog is an orc/ogre offshoot in 2nd edition (if I recall correctly), later adapted into a type of Underdark-based 'uberorc' in 3E.

As it pertains to the art, let's set some limits at art pieces from the 3E era (or pre-4E) and from WotC and affiliates only. We'll keep things to D&D Core or FR only (as they share the same art trends and cross-pollinate). We'll exclude Eberron because it has a purposefully divergent take on orcs that is in part a reaction to this supposed problematic depiction of orcs in Core and FR. A quick Google search reveals the following:

- We have the half-orc paladin on the cover of Dragon #275, the September 2000 issue. This came on the premier of 3rd edition (released in the summer of the same year, during Gen Con, I assume) when the new edition opened up every class and race combination. So from the onset, the concept found purchase in the main periodical publication for the game for the issue immediately scheduled to follow the wide release of the 3rd edition game.
Dragon #275, September 2000
- There was a half-orc paladin for the D&D miniatures line, released with the Underdark set in 2005.

Half-orc Paladin miniature, Underdark set
- Bringing it back to the Forgotten Realms, in Player's Guide to Faerun, we have art showing line-ups of the different races and ethnicities. For the half-human line-up, shown below, we get a good look at a half-elf, a half-orc and a half-drow. Take a closer look at the half-orc with his sword and armor with the holy symbol of Tyr (scales on a hammer) emblazoned on his breastplate. This half-orc is very likely a paladin of Tyr (or arguably a cleric of Tyr with the War Domain, or maybe a Justiciar). Not that any order or subsect of Tyr's clergy have less stringent commandments, they're all paladin-like.

Half-humans, Player's Guide to Faerun
by Steve Prescott
- Now paladins are most-righteous folk, but it doesn't mean other types of holy warriors are lesser in discipline and devotion.

Races of Destiny gave us a half-orc cleric on its cover.
Races of Destiny cover art
by Adam Rex
Complete Divine gave us the Pious Templar prestige class and the art and sample character provided us with Graaghya, a badass armored half-orc female. While she's still a worshiper of wily old Gruumsh, the Pious Templar is a less barbarian-esque take on one of his followers.
Pious Templar, Complete Divine
by Wayne Reynolds
- Then we have a few depictions of half-orcs in non-savage or less savage images. These characters may not all be good or even lawful, but they seem like honest, 'civilized' people going about their business. These pieces offer some respite from the raging, axe-wielding, berserker foaming at the mouth archetype we're so used to seeing with orc art.

Half-orc Samurai, Complete Warrior
by Doug Kovacs
(Now artists for much of the DCC RPG line) 

Half-orc Bouncer, Races of Destiny
by Jim Nelson
Occult Slayer, Complete Warrior
Bloodhound, Complete Adventurer
by Steve Belledin
In the early days of 3E, WotC offered an extensive series of character portrait sketches by many different artists, many of them TSR staples. Amongst them were these non-standard orcs by Sam Wood, one of the initial concept artists for 3E.

Half-orc Wizard, DnD website
by Sam Wood
Half-orc Bard, DnD Website
by Sam Wood
Half-orc Dragonrider, DnD website
by Sam Wood
Lest we think all the non-standard orc depictions were found in the Core books, here are some more Forgotten Realms examples, beginning with the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting book that started it all for 3E FR:
Racial Line-up, FRCS
by Todd Lockwood
(Note: Female half-orc warrior in sensible armor, more fighter than barbarian.)
Trademeed in Narfell, FRCS
by Carlo Arellano
(Looks like a half-orc inspecting a weapon for purchase.
A marauding orc would just raid the place for steel and goods.)
Further continuing with other FR 3E/3.5E supplements:
Imperfect Companions, Champions of Valor
by Ralph Horsley
(A half-orc in armor with a mace, more cleric than barbarian.)
"Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous", Power of Faerun
by William O'Connor
(Bodyguard/Chaperon or former adventuring companion)
More civilized seeming orcs were also present in the video game side of the D&D and FR franchise.
Half-orc portrait, Icewind Dale 2 CRPG
(Plate armor, metal shield, and a serene pose and expression.)

As we can see, the notion of righteous and/or civilized half-orcs has been an ongoing concept before 5th Edition was an inkling in Wizard's business plan (indeed before WotC brought out TSR). The recent illustration is another good addition to this trend.

Half-orc paladin, D&D 5E Player's Handbook
Let's just keep in mind it's a trend that was started at least 14 years ago, two D&D editions back (three editions (and almost 20 years) if you count the Shield of Innocence character).
Half-orc Paladin
by Mark Zug

 Make that at least 15 years ago when it comes to illustrations.
Half-orc Paladin
by Todd Lockwood
Sure there are plenty of foaming-mad, barbarian-type 'primitive savage' orc and half-orc illustrations in D&D and FR, but to say that one 5E art piece is revolutionary while imply the setting has done a poor job at offering non-problematic depictions as a contrast is being unfair to the setting and the people who worked hard to inject inclusive and progressive art and lore into the game over the decades.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Speak of the devil. Television that is. Television is the devil.

This week while prowling the forlorn recesses of eBay for out-of-print games and books, as I often do, I thought to myself:

*Self, I should track down a print copy of this.*

Coincidentally, not a day later, I saw the echoing announcements and reshares on G+ regarding something long awaited. This is now a Kickstarter and it already funded during its first hours:

Problem solved.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Didn't see those Kobolds strike.

By now everyone and their animal companion are lighting up the social media and blogging about the official announcement for the release date of D&D 5th Edition (5E, Next, etc.). In addition we get images of the cover art and design, the trade dress, page count, the staggered release dates, the presence of the starter set, the three core rule books, the deluxe DM screen, and the first adventures at release with the Tyranny of Dragon. Through it all, people are analyzing the released information with fine-tooth combs. That's all fun and distracting, but much of it was as expected.

What really seemed to come out of no where was the reveal that the designers for the two Tyranny of Dragons adventures, Horde of the Dragon Queen and The Rise of Tiamat, were none other than Wolfgang Baur and Steven Winter, but it was actually Wolfgang's company Kobold Press that was hired as a third party developer for the adventures. The press release and Q&A on explains this arrangement was similar to the video game industry setup of having games developed by one company but published by another (and sometimes the publisher does own the IP of the game being developed). The Kobold blog post notes this is a one-time deal and does not mean KP has rights to write more official D&D adventures or if this is the model going forward for D&D adventures or even if this is a hint at the OGL equivalent for the upcoming edition.

Kobold Press's involvement is significant because although both authors have written adventures for TSR/WotC previous, in the capacity of employees and as freelancers, this is the first time they've been included as part of a third party company. Not to say KP had free reign over this project as I'm sure WotC had guidelines and requirements they desired for these adventures, but inclusion of a third party company does seem to indicate the possibility of allowing KP more freedom in following through with the entire chain of design, from content creation to writing to art direction. Certainly this doesn't mean the designers will necessarily write differently, but there could be an alternate mentality going into this as another company versus as freelancers hired by the publisher. Either way, congratulations to Wolfgang and Steven and the whole Kobold team involved in this. This is a profile raising contract and really goes to show the support Kobold Press has even amongst the major RPG companies. As always, I'm looking forward to new adventures from Kobold Press and am doubly curious due to the tie-in with the new D&D.

Friday, April 11, 2014

A to Z Bust

This needed far more planning than what I had jumping in. The itinerary I laid out is also more ambitious than I anticipated when coupled with the real life schedule and obligations. Back to the trenches to hold the nose to the grindstone, unfortunately most of the result is not in any way imagination related.

A teacher of mine once said it was the cheap, little thrills in life that keep us going. I posit it's also the small torments in life that keep us down. They're never enough to wipe us out, thankfully, but they can make it feel that way. Fortunately, there's not much left to complete and I can start climbing back up after the small torments are done with me.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Next up, April A to Z Challenge

Didn't mean to let March almost slip by without a post, but weekly exams do tend to pull attention away from the more enjoyable "assignments" in real life. April will be no different as it's the month leading up to the last weeks of the semester, finals occupies the majority of May. However, since there's the April A to Z Challenge, I'll give another activity a shot. Despite knowing I've gone the easy route with these last few challenges by compiling brief posts into large blocks right at the very end.

Why do these month long activities always fall on the busiest months. The A2Z Challenge in April before the end of Spring semesters. NaNoWriMo is in November, when typically Fall semesters' finals tend to take up the early to middle of December and term projects and papers are due shortly after Thanksgiving. For those who work in retail, it's one of the busiest months of the year. Family tends to coming over in November, get-togethers require planing, traveling, and cooking. Why not March and October?

Anyway. On to the A to Z Challenge!

Will be blogging along unofficially as I will likely not have the opportunity to write up half-decent blurbs every day this month. I will use it as a prompt to sketch out a setting I've been mulling for a while. Each day and letter will have a location/geography/polity topic and a person/object/organization/history bit. Further refinement of the major topics yielded the following six subjects for each broad topic:

"Where (Mostly)"
1 - Country, Kingdom, Empire or Major Polity
2 - Capital City
3 - Other City, Major Town
4 - Site of Interest: Fortress, Prison, Outpost, Oasis, etc.
5 - Ruin, Historical Site, Site of Catastrophe or Tragedy
6 - Geographic or Geological feature or landmark (Mountain, Forest, Desert, River, Lake, Sea, etc.)

"Who (bit of What or When)"
1 - Organization
2 - Religion
3 - Ruler
4 - Person of Interest
5 - Significant Object/Relic
6 - Major Historical Time Point or Historical Person

I rolled 2d6 for all 26 letters and that formed the basis for the topics by letter. More rolling may be required to narrow down the day's topic and I'll likely pull up some random generators to trigger ideas to overcome the blank slate. I'm going into it with a rough idea of the atmosphere and a few archetypes I want to include. Beyond that, nothing is set, not even names, which is where the alphabetical nature of this challenge comes into play.

First up is A and the roll results say Ruin or Historical Site (5) and an Organization (1).

Of course, I'll have to pull up the country entries first to flesh out at least some names, associate them with rough archetypes to get a sense of where things are before I can jump in.

Preliminary results return the following letters denoted as a country: D, E, F, G, H, L, M, O, U

As you can see, the dice roller threw "1s" consecutively at a length there. Doesn't matter, one letter is as good as any other, especially when the starting phase is so unformed. I had not planned on any specific name for the nations at this point. Broke down my nation archetypes into a list of nine, rolled a virtual d9 and matched them to an available letter.

A few days will be spent (aside from getting RL stuff out of the way) outlining where everything is before I head into the nitty gritty of something as specific as a historical site or organization. Will be back on this after the leap into April.

Friday, February 28, 2014

[The D&D 40th Anniversary Blog Hop Challenge] Day 14

Day 14: Did you meet your significant other while playing D&D? Does he or she still play? (Or just post a randomly generated monster in protest of Valentine's Day).

Guess I owe people a monster. You're getting a haunt instead.

The Massacre CR 14
XP 38,400
CE persistent haunt (70-ft. radius, 20-ft. high, encompassing a dead-end alley)
Caster Level 14th
Notice Perception 20 (to hear the rising twang of bowshots escalating to dying screams)
HP 63 Weakness susceptible to ranged attacks with bows or crossbows Trigger proximity; Reset one year (on the anniversary of the massacre, except on the day of the massacre the reset is 1 minute, if the haunt kills a victim within the last day, the reset time is one day)

On the approach to the old alley one notices the telltale signs of bloody violence, rusting quarrel bolts and arrowheads embedded into ancient stone walls depositing rudy stains dribbling from the crevices like caked blood. When the haunt triggers, the air is filled with the gray metallic blur of an arrow barrage. All creatures in the area are subjected to a scouring winds spell. The barrage bursts forth from the alley entry towards the back wall. A powerful wind (windstorm strength) drives creatures in the alley towards the dead-end as ghostly figures of the original massacre relive the event and share their torment with the living. Due to the surprise ambush of the original massacre, the haunt always acts first each round. Characters can take on the role of the aggressors and assassins by attacking and damaging the haunt with bows and crossbows. The spirits are infused into the wall with hardness 8, the haunt hit points are depleted first before the hit points of the wall. However, this enrages the doomed spirits and they retaliate with one arrow eruption spell each round if assaulted at range, duplicating the strongest attack and projectile used against them. Any creature killed by the haunt (either from the scouring winds or arrow eruption damage) experiences the same desperation and doom as the original victims. The newly deceased corpse is targeted by a phantasmal revenge spell with the corpse's killer treated as the nearest living creature in the alley. The spirit of the freshly slain blames those nearby for their demise and lashes out in rage. All living creatures in the alley can see the wrathful spirit rise from the newly slain, though only the nearest creature is targeted.

DestructionThe massacred spirits can be laid to rest if each of the original murderers or their descendants are brought to the haunted alley to face the same fate.

[The D&D 40th Anniversary Blog Hop Challenge] Day 15 - 28

Day 15: What was the first edition you didn't enjoy. Why?

Disliked 4E, 'nuff said. Not for the rules, because I never played the game. I abstained from the game on principle of the foolish mega-RSE* they implemented for the Forgotten Realms. Some backwards ape-thinking went into the decision making there, and I say that with the risk of insulting apes everywhere. Apologies my primate brethren.

* RSE: Realms Shaking Event or Realms Shaking Event. Yes, this is an official acronym (actually an initialism) now eve adopted into official WotC blog posts by their designers. When that happens, you know there's too much company interjection of meta-plot into a property.

Day 16: Do you remember your first edition war? Did you win? ;)

I was around the game just in time for the 2E vs. 3E edition war. There was an edition war? Indeed.

Highlights include one 3E proselytizer who wanted to convert over, saying WotC hired mathematicians to balance the game mechanics. Right. Even if it were true, didn't help any. Not a knock on the 3E line, there's wonky stuff in each edition. I hung around the Planet ADnD forums at the time. Some of the old guard refused to switch from AD&D and made it known day in, day out. It was all good training for the 4E edition war, which made all edition wars before it look like a border skirmish. Ah, I love the sound of nerd-rage in the morning.

As for myself, I fell in the middle, stuck with 2E for a bit, not for holding the line, but because I hadn't purchased the 3E books yet. I've played in a mix of games over the last decade and change. No one really won that one, 3E is going strong, doubly so given Pathfinder. While 2E isn't a mainstay, there's enough overlap with the OSR to keep it going.

Day 17: First time you heard D&D was somehow "evil."

The internets. The "D&D is satan" reaction, fortunately, happened before my time and beyond my region (as far as I know).

Heard talk about going after Magic playing in schools, but it was due to distraction from academic work (which would be the true crime if this were a real reason to ban games) or some issues of trading (aka gambling) with cards. Nothing came of it at my school.

The same think happened to Pokemon, but you know those electric squirrel-monsters were up to no good.

Day 18: First gaming convention you ever attended.

Does I-Con count? Probably not. I did game with friends there, well, at their house. Come to think of it, we should do that more often, genre convention or not, but the band split into the surrounding states. Nowadays, the web provides the solution. Not the same, but good enough and has its own advantages.

Day 19: First gamer who just annoyed the hell out of you.

In a long running L5R d20 PBeM game, one day a player (a good roleplayer too) brought up an OOC (Out of Character) commentary about how my character's name was ridiculous and he was going to interpret the kanji with a more fitting meaning. This initiated an echo chamber of fellow Nipponophiles 'hai'ing each other. Now I'm not remotely competent in Japanese, but I figured enough out at the time to know the name was silly.

Guess what? It was a code name my character used to stay incognito. He had a real more mundane, more realistic name he kept unmentioned to his party. The game never progressed enough for the big reveal. Fuck those guys.

I guess now I know how folks feel about Realms know-it-alls, but still doesn't excuse the criticism of the setting. Asshats have the potential to infest all games and setting.

Day 20: First non-D&D RPG you played.

Freeform. On another wavelength than D&D so we'll leave it at that.

Day 21: First time you sold some of your D&D books--for whatever reason.

Duplicates sold because I picked up a copy in better condition, probably from buying auction lots and collections of gaming junk.

Day 22: First D&D-based novel you ever read (Dragonlance Trilogy, Realms novels, etc.)

The Dragonlance Chronicles Trilogy (which started the franchise), the Dragonlance Legends Trilogy (follow up featuring the Majere brothers and time travel), and the Dark Elf Trilogy of Forgotten Realms (featuring that Drow ranger guy) formed a cauldron of fantasy slurry consumed at a ravenous pace. They were enjoyable enough.

Day 23: First song that comes to mind that you associate with D&D. Why?

Nothing comes to mind, suppose that tells you something ... or something else.

There's music I think fits the bill. There's music reminiscent of the emotions, pains and victories, of characters in the game, or pieces that capture the fun and excitement of playing to a sufficient degree. Yet nothing screams "D&D" to me, only the moments and themes experienced playing the game and those vary widely enough. I guess D&D is bigger than one song. It has to be encompassing in order to be what it is.

Day 24: First movie that comes to mind that you associate with D&D. Why?

Record of the Lodoss War. To this day remains more D&D than the D&D movies and most other franchises purported to have that D&D aesthetic. For all the harping about cliche stories of knights and dragons, there aren't too many movies with those elements in them, even prior to the Lord of the Rings. Movies with a D&D-like group of adventurers set up remain rare. The sword and sorcery movies from the 70s and 80s often focus on a singular hero and don't quite have the same vibe.

Day 25: Longest running campaign/gaming group you've been in.

Not counting freeform ... Two Realms games and the above mentioned L5R d20 game. Only the Realms game remains, though the game in the homebrew is still technically around in some form just not active.

Day 26: Do you still game with the people who introduced you to the hobby?

Seeing as I introduced my group to the hobby and we learned as we went, I suppose I still game with me. Dude's a loser though, but don't tell him that. We just put up with him to be nice.

Day 27: If you had to do it all over again, would you do anything different when you first started gaming?

Probably would have gotten a better start, maybe attend a game run by more experienced players to get a better flow of things. When we started, we only had three people who wanted to play, meaning it was a DM with a party of two. Should have tried inviting more people to at least make it a 3-4 person dynamic. Towards college and the rare games we had while going to non-gaming, yet still geeky conventions, we played short sessions with around six players. Those were a blast. More like that.

Day 28: What is the single most important lesson you've learned from playing Dungeons & Dragons?

Whether edition wars or system schism, old school credentials versus new school innovation, dungeon crawls in sandbox campaigns versus role-play-heavy story-gaming, or whatever topic has seized the energy of online discourse, enjoy the game. Not so much a lesson as a wish for all to have fun.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

[The D&D 40th Anniversary Blog Hop Challenge] Days 3 - 13

Day 3: First dungeon you explored as a PC or ran as a DM.

Whatever was in the 2E Fast Play rules. It's a modest starter 'cellar'.

It would've been unmemorable except Wil was the DM at the time. After we finished the adventure-as-written, we didn't much feel like following the end as stated. One successful find secret door check latter and Wil launched us into a large dungeon area that he created on the spot. He drew out on the map on some blank paper as we discovered more. He handled the game with impromptu skills worthy of any veteran game master.

* If I can find the notes and maps, provided they still exist (and since I have all our gaming stuff, they'd be in my possession), I see about posting them up.

I've had less successes behind the DM screen (we just used the DMG for a screen). Behind a computer screen running a PbP or PBeM works better for me.

Day 4: First dragon you slew (or some other powerful monster).

Dragons? Whoa, don't blow your fireballs all in one go.

We battled fairly 'mundane' critters like orcs, ogres and trolls for a good long while. Then dueled some evil humans equal to our level, a rival party if you will. Aren't those the best monsters? :}

We took out a fake beholder once. Oddly enough, in a recent game, the group also popped a fake beholder. The resemblance to scary Halloween balloons probably doesn't help their cred.

Day 5: First character to go from 1st level to 20th level (or highest possible level in a given edition).

Games usually tap out around level 10. One game we started at level 15 (figured give ourselves some room to improve). That game lead a short life.

Day 6: First character death. How did you handle it?

For my group, characters don't die so much as games fizzle without so much as a whimper. We jumped around from game to game and fell in and out of TTRPGs.

A few dozen characters exist in the stasis of limbo. Maybe they'll astral travel their way back to the world of the gaming, some day.

Day 7: First D&D Product you ever bought. Do you still have it?

Covered earlier (Days 1 & 2), the 2E core rulebooks. Still have them, still use them.

Day 8: First set of polyhedral dice you owned. Do you still use them?

A set of Chessex smokey marble, acquired from the internet. Later on we grabbed a Pound-o-Dice, also from some web seller. Still have all of them and used them whenever we get together for an actual tabletop face-to-face game (we haven't met since '07 or thereabouts). All my dice are digital now. There's probably a digital theme running through my responses.

Day 9: First campaign setting (homebrew or published) you played in.

A toss up between Forgotten Realms and Dark Sun. Dark Sun interested the other group members more so we spent more time exploring there, generally ignoring or forgetting the harsh rules of survival. We kind of treated it as a regular setting with a post-apocalyptic veneer.

Day 10: First gaming magazine you ever bought (Dragon, Dungeon, White Dwarf, etc.).

Started a Dragon subscription in the last years of the print magazine (during the Paizo run, which helped convert me to Pathfinder). I enjoyed them and miss receiving a regular gaming magazine in print. Kobold Quarterly helped fill the gap for a while and now Gygax magazine, but the jury is out on how closely the experiences match. Gygax magazine has more topic drift than Kobold Quarterly.

Day 11: First splatbook you begged your DM to approve.

Begging is unbecoming of a wannabe murderhobo.

Or if you want something you gotta work for it, either GM yourself or making a good persuasive argument for inclusion. There's always the possibility of re-flavoring some rule allowed into the same concept.

My group was into splats, never had a problem with them. For online games, there are so many choices that if I didn't like the limits of one I could always not join the game.

Day 12: First store where you bought your gaming supplies. Does it still exist?

Don't recall buying anything at a brick'n'mortar store. I've visited the few in my area. The online retailers and resellers still exist and continue to account for the majority of my gaming consumption supply, as well as Kickstarters, digital releases, and e-books.

I've even gotten someone to pick stuff up for me at GenCon, but we've never met. I feel like I live in a science fiction movie or I'm a patron of an illicit dark-net website arranging anonymous dead drops for my next gaming fix. I think the truth is a little of both and that ridiculous scenario noted above is already here.

Day 13: First miniature(s) you used for D&D.

Dice make good minis when you need a quick and dirty (especially with snack food residue on them) layout of where everyone is during a battle. Use different color dice of course. You can even turn them to the appropriate number face to denote spell effect durations.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

[The D&D 40th Anniversary Blog Hop Challenge] Days 1 & 2

As the title (and event badge) says, there's a D&D 40th Anniversary Blog Hop Challenge happening as I type this. It's hosted by d20 Dark Ages, which has a list of the participating blogs (which I've tried to incorporate below) and some tips on how to join in and stay on course (it is a challenge after all).

Here's the list of topics for the month of February:

I'm always a sucker for these daily post prompting activities based around 'lite' topics. It's also a significant anniversary for the game, so for the sake of marking the occasion, why not.

And may D&D have many more anniversary and continue to inspire and help entertain many more fans and future players.


I'm technically late starting this already, but Saturdays aren't the freest days for me. As with all blog hops and challenges they always fall on the worst months (for me) as some sort of revving up for the usual disgorgement of exams and assignments, or other related obligations.

Knowing real life gets hectic starting mid-February, this one is going to be shaky, but trying is half the fun. Anyway, here goes --

Day 1: First Person who introduced you to D&D. Which edition? Your first character?

The first time I remember hearing about D&D was during junior high. I sat with the nerd-geeks during lunch time. The game of those hallowed tables was Magic: The Gathering. Here I learned to play by observation and played by vicarious experience. Never did buy into the hobby. At the time I was the kid with no income or allowance, it seemed an impossibly expensive hobby. Even years later when I had some spending money, I found out it is an expensive hobby (or could easily/often be).

As the geeks at the Magic table have a tendency towards all things geek and genre (gods bless them), one day my friend Andrew turned the conversation towards D&D (probably by way of a Lord of the Rings discussion). I had heard of D&D, but didn't actually know what D&D was. I don't remember Andrew explaining the game D&D either. He talked about the settings of D&D. Fascinating worlds. D&D had me hooked by way of settings from day one.

Day 2: First Person you introduced to D&D. Which edition? Their first character?

I didn't get to play D&D until a few years later, in high school. I was the one to suggest it to my band of friends looking for something to do on Friday afternoons besides video games and traditional board games (Monopoly, Risk, and Scrabble). My first (partial) convert to the hobby was my friend Wil.

We started with the free AD&D 2nd Edition Fast Play rules downloading from the TSR website (thank you, mid-late '90s internet) and d6s looted from our Risk game. Quite sure by then TSR was nothing more than a preserved skin-suit worn by Wizards of the Coast (and Hasbro was lurking around looking to kill Wizards and take its stuff).

We played with the pre-generated characters from the fast play rules. I want to say I played Darkblade the ranger (love those mystic warrior archetypes, with a groovy name to boot), but as I distinctly recall using a two-handed sword, I was probably Elanna the fighter at some point or another. I probably also run the other characters, Niles the thief and Thaddeus the mage at least once.

First character I created was probably the Nameless Paladin (I suck at names, I liked the paladin class write up). He was nameless and characterless, just a collection of stats for monster ass kicking. honestly can't remember my friends' characters. We didn't stay in character. At best, we narrating what our characters did, if that much.

Characters didn't really matter at that point (there are times they don't matter even now, and that's the truth). It was mostly hack-n-slash dungeon crawl with some element of exploration.

We messed with the Fast Play rules for a bit, extending them with DIY recklessness (the best kind), until we ponied up more money to get used copies via eBay. Why eBay? We didn't even know where to buy them brick-n-mortar at the time and if we knew where, we also knew from the web they were expensive if purchased new. We found the black binding revised 2nd Edition for relatively cheap in a lot with some of the splats. Little did we know, 3E was on the horizon.

I 'inherited' all of our D&D stuff when we split for college. Those books and boxed sets form the seed of my gaming collection.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Celebrating 40 years of D&D!

Celebrating 40 years of D&D! The Kickoff, Officially...

For D&D's 40th Anniversary, Wizards encourages fans to play the game and enjoy. What better way to celebrate. There is no better way to celebrate.

Also, if you're up for it, shout out your love of the game through the D&D Facebook Page and D&D Twitter Channel (or any social media would be fine I assume cause the G+ communities are significant) using #DnD40.

To get the ball rolling, WotC posted thoughts and videos of a couple of familiar designers/authors speaking about their D&D experiences.


Okay, it's Ed Greenwood and Troy Denning if anyone is curious but not curious enough to click the link. And now you probably clicked through. Ha!


Over at the Kobold Press blog, the kobolds have cleverly trapped some designers/authors-you-may-have-heard-of to interrogate them about their favorite experiences regarding the most venerable roleplaying game.

Part one of this blog series includes David "Zeb" Cook, Bruce Cordell, Jeff Grubb, Colin McComb, Wade Rockett, Robert Schwalb, and Margaret Weis.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

A Preview of Far West. Finally.

After two years since funding and numerous delays and projected delivery and delays again (and again and again), it seems Far West is finally on the verge of release. Update #81 links to a 65-page preview consisting of the first five chapters in completed art and layout format. This was a step that should have happened months ago if Adamant Entertainment had the partly completed layout draft, but there could have been many reasons why this was not feasible before. At a glance, the layout is clear without being bland. It uses a parchment background that does not interfere with readability, unlike other books and PDFs that use extensive watermarking. Art is of the expected style and variety, including the piece inspired by the lumpy mug of this patron (I'd use the term 'anti-photogenic'). I haven't looked at the actual rules and setting content yet.

When the final file is sent to Cubicle 7, they should by all accounts work the full book through their approval process in short order. I expect it will be release to backers not too far from now. This is the most significant, verifiable update in the two year history of this project. While the 65-pages sent look to be complete, the Table of Contents reveals the rest of the sections afterwards (from around page 78 onwards) possibly remain in a state of layout flux as they're denoted with the dreaded XX page marking. Hopefully the book is further along than the current selection because the ToC lists about twice as many sections in total as shown in the preview.

The first funded Kickstarter I backed is finally drawing to a conclusion and it looks to be at least a satisfactory result (like I said, I still have to read it). Despite delays, health issues, and staff changes, something could be said about completing a project. When the full book finally proliferates to all the backers, maybe we'll get the post-mortem the much-beleaguered game designer/developer said he would write so he can tell his side of the story. Until then I await the full product.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Magic: The Gathering Movie confirmed. Is D&D Next?

Hollywood Reporter has an article (Link) about Hasbro inking a deal with 20th Century Fox for a Magic: The Gathering movie franchise. They've signed writer-producer Simon Kinberg (Fox's X-Men and Fantastic Four franchises) to lead the development.

I noticed the article said Hasbro, which means it's the head office making the movie decisions, not Wizards of the Coast. Makes sense as these are expensive efforts and they need the big shots calling all the shots. The potential benefits reach into the billion dollar range if they launch a successful movie franchise (and sell more Magic cards, novels, merchandise) and that's not even talking about LotR or Harry Potter numbers. I'm sure Hasbro is hoping for Transformer numbers or even GI Joe numbers (and not Battleship numbers).

The relevance to the D&D? Well it gives extra urgency to the lawsuit Hasbro has with the previous (current) D&D movie producer and the studio he's signed with, since Hasbro wants to launch its own D&D movie effort. It seems the Hasbro giant has awoken and is hungry for more big movie franchises made from its IP.

It's D&D's 40th Anniversary this year, and MtG's 20th Anniversary. Despite the card game doing better business, it's D&D that holds more cultural significance.

If Hasbro cannot get a generic D&D movie off the ground, do you think they would resort to using one of the settings to launch a movie instead, such as Dragonlance or Forgotten Realms?

I think if the holdup for D&D drags on and Hasbro sees good numbers for Magic, then they will certainly do everything in their power to cinematize more IP. If the numbers are good enough, they might even settle to expedite the release of rights for D&D.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Musings on Forgotten Realms Icons for 13th Age (Archmage Engine)

A discussion came up on the Candlekeep Forums (a Forgotten Realms fansite) asking about 13th Age (Archmage Engine) Icon implementation for the Realms setting. There are some differences between FR and the 13th Age setting that would make a 1-to-1 correlation between Icons less than precise.

I hadn't thought about the topic with any earnest effort, so instead I pointed them towards the Icon system applied to Kobold Press' Midgard campaign setting (Link) written by Wade Rockett. I hoped it would provide an additional example to show the flexibility that could be introduced to the Icon system. Whereas the 13th Age Icons are almost entirely individuals, Midgard Icons introduced a few more councils and secret societies.

After a brief search, I found this topic was discussed briefly before on Candlekeep with one participant providing a comprehensive outline of options. The different threads and examples got my brain jumpstarted on the topic and I came up with a list of my own. Of course this is not a formal write-up in the proper format, but just a quick list with some thoughts on the matter. If one wanted a gameable summary, there's enough lore floating around for each proposed Icon on the FR Wiki to make a worthy "official" Icon write-up.

There are a multitude of rulers, archmages, liches, ancient beings, and clergy leaders to choose from, but not all of them fit the Icon role. With some archetypes lacking an equivalent in the Realms, I choose a best fit group or figure followed by my explanation. I held the obvious 'Icon-ability' of Realms figures or groups above their suitability as a direct match to an existing 13th Age Icons (as the Midgard Icons played loose with the direct matching). Overall I tried to avoid actual deities (as both 13th Age and Midgard have avoided) or most of the traditional Chosen (of Mystra), given their unusual roles in the setting. Also, I gave an attempt to spread the Icon allotment out amongst the different alignments.

Using the 2E/3E era Realms (Because.) I would short list the following as Icons of the Realms with the intent of treating them as "universal" setting-wide Icons, rather than more regional Icons as suggested in some of the above linked discussions.

The Lords of Waterdeep: Few cities are as indicative of the Realms as the setting's preeminent city and a hallmark of Waterdeep is its council of masked rulers. The city is a setting unto itself, but even then, the city's reach of trade is long and its influence relatively widespread. Plus the Lords have a board game themed around them. ; ) The Lords of Waterdeep also incorporates the machinations of Khelben/Blackstaff, Laeral, and the Moonstars.

Queen Amlaruil: The archetypal elf queen. Though she is aloof and isolated in Evermeet, she has agents promoting the elven agenda throughout the Realms. She is technically/nominally the ruler of all the elves. She is also the chosen of the Seldarine, making her something of a proxy or demigod, right at the boundary between mortal and deity.

The Princes of Shade: Though we could easily single out Telamont Thanthul. Love them or hate them, there's no denying the Shades are striving to be a major power in the setting (with the capability to accomplish that goal) and the princes are suitable iconic faces for the Shadovar.

Purple Dragon of Cormyr
King Azoun IV (or later the Steel Regent Alusair): After the events of the the Tuigan Horde, Azoun had expended and reacquired a considerable amount of political capital and fame. He is the leader of one of the most stable longstanding kingdoms in the Realms, and is a central figureheads for law and order, but also good. After his death, Alusair is a capable successor for the role. 

Sammaster, the Cultist: He IS the Cult of the Dragon and through the cult, he is everywhere. Cult leaders have the proper cult of personality for Iconhood. Plus he holds great personal power and finds a way to return every time he's destroyed. He has a lot of unique things going for him being the most well known (only?) ex-Chosen. He's been a mainstay villain of the setting since the beginning.

The Magister: Ideally Azuth is the Archmage Icon role, but we're drawing the line between icons and deities. The various chosen could work, some better than others, but their actual role in the setting is controversial. The next logical choice is the office of the Magister, sort of the poor man's Chosen. The Magister has been sort of ignored in all the hubbub revolving around the monolithic Chosen, which is good for gaming flexibility, plus it's an official title with rules of succession rather than the more freewheeling Chosen.

In this Icon role, the Magister would be responsible for promoting and protecting magic, possibly to the exclusion to traditional 'goodly' notions. We can substitute in the Blackstaff here, but his role is more limited than the Magister's general focus on promoting magic, even if he is a more manipulative and interventionist figure. It also doesn't matter who the Magister is, though there's no reason to remove Talatha Vaerovree from the office.
The Zhentarim

The Black Network (the Zhentarim): As opposed to Manshoon or Fzoul since leadership is shared, split, or exchanged between them at various times. The one constant through the different renditions of the Realms is the Zhentarim itself in one form or another.

Tchazzar, the Dragon Tyrant: Hand waving this one a bit. There are many powerful dragons in the Realms, but few with a noticeable influence beyond a small local region. While that holds true for Tchazzar, he is one of the most historically active dragons in the setting and one with actual skin in the game amongst mortal nations. In this Icon role, Tchazzar would take on something of a more active draconic and nation-building agenda. Doesn't matter that he's dead through much of the 3E era. Magic can fix that. He also doesn't need to be the absolute ruler of Chessenta.

The Emerald Enclave: Also another hand waving bit. There are localized druid orders throughout the Realms and the Emerald Enclave is one such sect, but they're probably the most powerful. Their influence is also spreading beyond their traditional turf as they've enforced their presence in the Realm of the Purple Staff along the Dragon Coast and much of the Vilhon Reach/Chondalwood area.

The Red Wizards of Thay
Szass Tam, the Red Wizard: The Red Wizards are a logical choice, but they're still an unwieldy and disparate lot. Tam, on the other hand, is the most powerful Zulkir and supposed true ruler of Thay and thus the de facto leader of the Red Wizards (whether the other Zulkirs realize or admit it). Stately and surprisingly cordial, he is also the only overt lich to rule a powerful nation.
There are liches more powerful than Tam, such as Larloch, Aumvor, and Ioulaum, but they are withdrawn and unknown to most of the world. Others like Shoon VII and the Twisted Rune prefer working from the shadows or have still yet to make their presence known to the wider world. 

The Demon Lord: Here we'll go with Eltab, being one of the better established Realms-specific demon lords with a long history in the east between the time of the Nar Demonbinders and his activities in Thay and beyond. His presence in the Citadel of Conjurers revitalizes the Narfell as an ever active threat to neighboring kingdoms of which there are many (Impiltur, Rasheman, perhaps Damara, Narfell itself, even Thay and the Endless Waste/the Raumviran/Yaimunahar).

We could go with Malkizid, but he seems more concerned with elven affairs (likewise Wendonai with the Drow). Many of the other elder evils mentioned in Champions of Ruin are not quite as coherent as Eltab (some are closer to forces of nature than sentient antagonists). Alternatively we could exchange Eltab with a version of Errtu if we're looking for someone with roots in the North. Another alternative is a return of the Trio Nefarious (but elf focused again).

The Harpers
The High Harpers: Few groups have their meddlesome hands in the affairs and secrets of the world like the Harpers. This is a good compromise between the Harper semi-secret organization as a whole and the few Chosen who take up the inordinate amount of spotlight within said secret society. If one likes, the remaining Chosen (El, Dove, and Storm) can be rotated out (not a new concept seeing as Khelben, Laeral and Alustriel departed) and replaced with new members, or the non-Chosen members can be emphasized. Pre-schism, the Chosen are mostly accounted for here.

The High Lady: Alustriel is not only the leader of the Silver Marches, she holds sway over the complex alliance necessary to keep such a confederation together. She also maintains a network of consorts, lovers, relatives, friends, children, allies, and apprentices ready to act as her agents. She can also stand in for the interests of the Chosen and the Seven Sisters, giving those concepts a focal point rather than having them seem to meddle overmuch across the entire setting.


The above makes 13 Icons. Here's my rough break down of where they fit on the Heroic/Ambiguous/Villainous spectrum:

Heroic: Usually the Lords of Waterdeep, King Azoun IV, Queen Amlaruil, the High Lady; possibly the Magister, and the High Harpers

Ambiguous: Usually the Magister, the High Harpers, the Emerald Enclave; possibly the Lords of Waterdeep, Queen Amlaruil, and Szass Tam

Villainous: Usually the Black Network, the Princes of Shade, Sammaster, Szass Tam, Tchazzar, the Demon Lord; possibly the Emerald Enclave


The list is not comprehensive, but attempts to serve as a quick snapshot or summary of what the Realms has to offer in terms of power groups and movers-and-shakers (without letting deities and Chosen dominate the list).

There are some major holes in my list: 

- There is no Dwarf King icon equivalent, but that sort of holds true for Midgard (and they have Dwarves up the wazoo), so they resorted to a dwarven secret society. The dwarves of the Realms are in a more disarrayed state than those other settings.

- There is no Orc Lord icon, but King Obould of Many-Arrows or Sythilis/Sothilis ogre-mage ruler of Murandinn don't quite have enough far-reaching influence. 

- The lack of a good CN ambiguous Icon (or generally more neutral Icons), which the Simbul is suited for as mentioned below.

- There is a Northern bias as most of the Icons have their power base north of the Sea of Fallen Stars. 


The following few can work in the Icon role, but I feel are a bit more limited than the above for the various position.

The Blackstaff: Easy to slot into several Icons roles, but I covered above why I would select others over him/her.

The Witch-Queen: The Simbul has a fierce reputation, the raw power to back it up, and she commands the resources of a nation, but is restrained by the interests of the very nation she protects. She is somewhat less influential than Alustriel, in my opinion, even if I think she's a more interesting character than her sister. If there was one replacement I would make, this would be it, especially since the High Lady archetype overlaps with Queen Amlaruil's Elf Queen archetype.

The Sunmaster: Daelegoth Orndeir is basically a cult leader as fanatical as Sammaster after casting the Eternal Sun over Elversult, just with less dracolichdom and murder (maybe not by much, depending on who's at the receiving end). His influence is a bit limited in geography and theological scope (Amaunator is still a dead god or a Lathanderite heresy at best in the 3E era).

The Lord Who Watches: The Hidden Lord Gargauth represents the diabolical influence in the setting (replacing Asmodeus' role as given in the 4E Realms). This move magnifies his current status in the 3E Realms. As a demipower and former archdevil, he fits perfectly in that middle ground. However, we already have a LE Icon in the Black Network and their close association with Bane, we also already have a fiendish Icon in Eltab.

The outline given in the other Candlekeep thread linked earlier in this post provides good additional options (and more of them), some better tailored to certain games (especially regional ones or those looking for a direct 13th Age Icon match) than my outline here attempting broad setting-wide icons. 

* One more idea before concluding, take the malleable 13th Icon role (occupied by the Prince of Shadows in 13th Age, who doesn't make it onto the d12 Icon die) and make it swappable with any of a number of alternative Icons to cater a game to a specific region. Or keep it open to show the gradual shifts playing out across the complex relationship between the power groups. In this way, it's not the 13th Icon himself who is unknown, but the position of the 13th Icon that is ever fluid.


(Image Credits: Organization emblems (Waterdeep, Cormyr, Red Wizards, Harpers) from the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting, 2001; except the Zhentarim emblem, which was obtained from Candlekeep's archives and cropped from the original.)

(Dungeons and Dragons, the Forgotten Realms, and associated materials, trademarks, copyrights, names, organizations, characters and their distinctive likenesses are intellectual property of Wizards of the Coast. This blog is not affiliated with, endorsed, sponsored, or specifically approved by Wizards of the Coast.)

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

A New Year

We've shot way past this didn't we?
Welcome to 2014.

We're a 111 years (give or take) from the flight of the first airplane, a hundred years from the start of World War I, thirty years beyond the dystopia of 1984 as imagined in '48, and five years after the Near-Apocalypse of 2009, by some reckoning.

It's a new year and with it comes resolutions I'll probably procrastinate and second guess.

Hey everyone running down their list and will actually follow through with cool gaming-related stuff. I'll put up my list of wishful thinking.

Kickstarter: The Dissection
I'll continue to ramble about things that arrived from Kickstarter projects and discuss things that have fewer sightings than blind terrestrial rodents on days other than Groundhogs Day. 

Pathfinder: The Butchery
I'll make some attempt at posting junk for the Pathfinder system because the system is satisfyingly crunchy I won't be able to avoid breaking some eggs just to join in the cacophony.

The D20 Detritus Deluge
In which I will delve into my growing collection of materials from the D20 boom ... and examine it. What is it? Is it any fun? What is it doing on my shelf anyway?

Let's Read: The Forgotten Realms Campaign Boxed Set (2nd Edition)
Why 2nd Edition? Why not! There are plenty of defenders for the Old Grey Box (1st Edition version) as to the setting's old school credibility. I'm not going to say that continues with the second version, but it was my first introduction to the setting and I found it enough to make me a fan of the setting. I've learned much more about world building in the years since and I've grown quite sick of the more recent stuff. We'll see how it holds up.

I wouldn't get my own hopes up for these, they are so far term they make the Realms Beyond feel cozy and proximal.

~ The Homebrood
A mutating homebrew setting that probably isn't anything like I originally started out with.

~ Realmsfinder
A related carnage to the above mentioned Pathfinder butchery. An attempt to convert to Pathfinder some elements of the now Misbegotten Realms liberally mixed with Golarion and Midgard, perhaps hammered out into a veneer of a setting which is not much worse than the Realms people paid money for. It's not the setting you deserve, it's the setting composed through market research and misplaced 4xtreme post-90s angst. We have low standards on this blog.

~ The Vicious Coil
Continuing the snake-themed world building from the random races experiment of yesteryear.

~ Glamouriana
A dark fantasy side-project drawn from the remnant ichors of the discards above. Or basically me cobbling a lot of crap together into something weird in the absence of creative ideas. An Elizabethanesque swashbuckling and sorcery clockpunk setting with mythos elements diluted into pre-deluvian seafaring bloodlines in overt competitive intrigue against a faux Europe.

~ Project 44
A vestigial outgrowth of the mess above. A sci-fantasy setting where 'unspace' alters the people traveling through it but presents the only feasible method for interstellar transportation. Our intrepid explorers meet strange races in the dark cold void of other space. Weird shenanigans ensue.

~ Liminal Verge
Coming from an extensive time in freeform PBeMs, I've always wanted a way to frame freeform games in some semblance of non-arbitrary action resolution. This is intended for a near post-scarcity, humanistic, cyberpunk lite, space opera that pretends to be thought-provoking science fiction. Not that any of this matters as I know most participants in such games and the associated setting universe would rather wank poetic in their debauched freeform decadence.

Indeed as the list of projects progresses, I have a diminishing notion of how I'm going to even approach them. Though, it was a blast to give them evocative or ominous monikers.