30 October 2011

Guild Wars 2 (Again): Combat


If you don't want to read the post, that's fine. I'm going to summarize it anyways. The article is discussing combat in an upcoming computer roleplaying game, a sequel to the highly popular Guild Wars, and it aims to take combat in a pretty interesting place.

I'll let you read the article if you want, but what really concerns me is the treatment of weapons and the skills that accompany it. Weapons, in my mind, are a really difficult thing to get right. The choice of a character's weapon should define, in a large part, their fighting style, which determines the way they fight, the places they want to fight, and a lot about their personality. In most games, though, the weapon you're wielding has about as much impact on how you fight as the color of your beard. It applies its damage bonus, and then maybe an accidental benefit or two through critical damage tables or bypassing a gimmicky resistance idea. This is not good.

If you watch any two people fighting in real life, even with just their hands, what they do results directly from minute factors. I'm talking about how their style interacts with their enemy's, their footings, and their ever-changing stances. And, sure, there's a certain element that you can't quite express with a system that revolves mostly around rolling dice. But there should be a little bit more to it.

That's why it was so cool seeing the Guild Wars 2 post about it. Basically, it gives you a handful of abilities you can use. Roughly half of them are due to the weapon you wield, meaning that your choice of weapon is a huge factor in how you fight and how others fight you. If you have a sword, your basic moves are nothing like if you're wielding a greataxe, or a bow. And you can port that over to D&D style, combat, if you want.

Naturally, there's a bit of a slippery slope when rewriting combat rules. You have to decide how much "realism" you want and how much "game," and how much of either you want in creating character builds. I think that if you didn't mind a rather healthy amount of game, you could port this almost directly over. It could be a pain to describe and detail the abilities, but I almost think it would be worth it.

Something to think about, at least.

29 October 2011

Guild Wars Environmental Postcards

Guild Wars is on my short list of MMOs that I wouldn't change anything about. Or, well, hardly anything. The character creation and customization is pretty robust, the combat is quick and lively, and the environments are superb. There's probably a pretty good storyline, too, but I always skip the cutscenes and neglet to read the quest text. Hey, I'm trying to play a game, not read a book. When I feel like reading books, I'll crack open a book thank you very much, give me some more gigantic animated plants to slay.

One of the very best things, in my opinion, is the art of Guild Wars. It has a very specific style, and a very epic feel. Recently, the developerts of Guild Wars (ArenaNet) released some concept art of environments that, to my knowledge, never got used. It's safe to say they wouldn't appreciate it being used in a commercial product, but there's no reason you still can't admire a little art for the sake of art.

26 October 2011

Changing Classes

I told one of my buddies that I was going to write about Fantasy General, an outstanding fantasy wargame, but I decided not to. You heard me!

Instead, I'm going to write a little about classes and how they shape the default setting of our campaign world by explicitly expressing what is and is not possible to player characters and why.

As a quick example, we all know about the Magic User of OD&D, or basic D&D. He has a finite list of spells that he can perform, and that is the extent of his magic. He can shoot lightning bolts across a room but cannot generate an electrostatic charge. He can put a man to sleep but cannot awaken him again. He can turn a man to stone but cannot simply encase him in stone. The Magic User is a man of no subtlety, a man who wields the forces of magic with all the grace and finesse of a sledgehammer. And this sets the tone for your campaign.

One of your player characters (or maybe more) has this small set of incredibly destructive magic and, as they say, when you've only got a hammer, everything looks like nails. Suddenly every encounter is a chance to scour the earth with flame and explosions, every diplomatic encounter is a chance to command another's mind. And you wonder why the players always fight to the death!

It's really not just limited to magic. The class features are the number one game-defining decision. If you have a game where you choose one of four classes, you have a game of specialists with role protection. If you have a class-building system, or a "buy what you like" system, then you have a game of generalists where the idea of "role protection" is a little laughable.

Let me give a quick example, and then I'm out of your hair:

Imagine you're playing D&D, except that your DM hands you a little handbook and says, "I'm trying something new. Instead of the classes you're used to, we're going to use these classes." Inside the handbook, it explains that the Fighter is now a graceful Dervish, who is quick-footed and nimble. The Cleric is now a Blood Priest, who has no grasp of holy magic but heals and harms through an understanding of the magic of blood. The Magic User is now a Runemaster, who casts no magic but utilizes the power of Runes, which consist of enchantments laid on objects and people.

Your game has changed enormously, obviously. You no longer have anybody wearing heavy armor. You don't have access to light spells (since it would normally come from the Cleric, who is now limited strictly to healing and damage spells. Your Magic User has no gross magical powers- instead, he creates use-limited magical objects that he can hand to others.

And as obvious as it is that the game has changed, it makes me wonder that more people don't inspect the impact of the default player classes in their games. If I had a dollar for every time that something in a default class simply smashed the default assumptions inherent in any game world, I'd be a very, very rich man.

23 October 2011

Wyrms of the Desert

It's not just the fact that I am an insatiable Dune fanatic, I promise (although it is a major point of the setting that enormous sandworms roam the barren landscape, I'll admit)- there's something evocative about the deep desert in all its foreignness.

I've got a better post in the back of my brain, but I just got done with an all-day process, so I'm a little drained. This pic should tide you guys over and give you something awesome to look at in the same stroke.

20 October 2011

Lolth: Spider Bitch of the Abyss

Today, looking at my statistics, I realized that the most searched-for term that lands visitors here is none other than Lolth. Lolth? Why her?

Lolth the babe
Well, as anybody who's been following this for a while knows about my love-hate relationship with Q1: Queen of the Demonweb Pits. It's a brilliant piece of module-writing that is in a really weird place. On one side, it captures extremely well the early conglomeration of what we know today as fantasy and sci-fi, and it features several portals to other realities without telling you once what you should be doing in them or what their significance is. It's both kind of a short module and an extremely massive one, with leads that could find your party travelling to a multitude of places, and dealing with the strange and varied inhabitants. But on the other hand, it hides the gold inside the dross of somewhat gimmicky puzzles that need to be solved without leading themselves to an actual solution, weird encounters with a  variety of extremely mundane creatures, and a couple of encounters that don't seem to have a purpose.

And behind all of this madness is a very killable Lolth, with a number of hit points that makes anybody familiar with new-school roleplaying games positively shudder. It really is extremely old-school, and that's both its primary attraction and its primary downfall.

But more to the point: It's Lolth. I'm quite aware that there's a fairly long fantasy series about Dark Elves and their problems revolving around their capricious goddess, or just about Dark Elves in general, and it's honestly pretty fertile ground. Ignoring the adolescent bondage fantasies and the intentional inversion of only the most shallow societal elements (women rule instead of men, everybody lives in upside down houses, idolizes betrayal instead of loyalty, etc), it's actually pretty cool stuff. You have a demon goddess who's alternately a babe and actually pretty hideous, who overlooks these scheming subterranean elves with a religion that doesn't seem to care much if she's around except at the very top.

Lolth the monster
So here's to Lolth, one of the most interesting goddesses around. Everybody knows that the villians are infinitely more interesting than the heroes, and Lolth is hardly an exception. I'd go so far as to say that she's one of the most interesting villains out there.

16 October 2011

"When Mourning Goes Viral"


Without a doubt, the dumbest editorial I've read in a while. It's no secret that the news media loves stories that are easy to digest and they love making grandiose statements that mean nothing, but this kind of takes the cake.

I have no idea how Twitter and other social media has changed the way we mourn, but apparently it changes it because that's what we do. It's essentially an article about nothing, a profoundly meaningless article like this one I'm writing now describing for you the pointlessly self-serving article that somehow ties itself into Steve Jobs' death like so many other articles.

Of course, I'm having more fun with mine, which is both significantly shorter while being 10% less pretentious.

15 October 2011

The Legend of Zelda

This awesome post takes inspiration from the Game Boy game "Link's Awakening" and turns it into some seriously awesome art.

Take a peek: http://sceneryvilla.com/?p=145

It's the sort of thing that makes you realize that D&D isn't dead, and neither is old-school dungeon crawling. It's just not called that any more. These pictures could be in any fantasy roleplaying supplement released today, and nobody would even bat an eyelash.

08 October 2011

Dragon Eruption: The Cult of Dragda

I think that this is going to be Dragda, the Great Wyrm's picture. At least, in my head. See, in my Meros pseudo-campaign setting, Dragda is the center of an extended cult of sorcerers and seers, who both commune with him in an effort to learn the ageless secrets that he contains in his dreams, and feeds upon his great magical powers in an effort to learn the eldritch ways.

The cult of Dragda is one of my favorite Orders, and I'll tell you exactly why: It's a mystery cult. It's a fascinating blend of "What if religions had actual proof?" combined with the very real-to-life corruption of good intentions. What Dragda actually said, nobody knows, but he's clearly right there, so the cultists do their best to maintain what he said, and do good according to his intentions.

Also, he's a badass dragon. Not a regular dragon, like, some half-intelligent scaly thing, but he's a god-level draconic intelligence with very powerful magic. The dude changed the world before he fell into his millennia long-sleep, and that makes the campaign setting more interesting in a couple of ways, I think. One) He's a dynamic character, two) What the fuck happens when he wakes up?, and three) He's a dragon with a cult. C'mon.

The Cult of Dragda- making an appearance in a campaign setting near you!

04 October 2011


"Meros" is the placeholder name I've chosen based on the world's quickest internet search for the Greek word for "place."

Why Greek? Well, that's a post for another day. Long story short: Imagine Herodotus viewed through the lens of the Epic of Gilgamesh, with some Norse mythology, Gygaxian naturalism, and a healthy heaping of D&Disms. Dusty plains with feuding city-states in dedicating monuments to gods, with the occasional dragon riding through, that sort of deal.

So whose skull was that, again?
The basic idea is that the Greek city-state model is, basically, overripe for a game setting. It's practially embedded deep inside the original D&D patina; larger than life personas raid and massacre each other long enough to get the loot and get out, and the population hails them for their efforts. If you transcribe "Goblins" to mean, say "Trojans", and "humans" to equal Spartans, you essentially have the default setting for D&D, where the Goblins raid and bother the humans and the humans raid and bother the goblins until somebody seriously crosses the line, and even then you're still not interested in wholesale slaughter or enslavement or removal, you just want their fat loot.

Plus, look at that picture up there. That is some seriously swanky clothes. I'd wear that on the town if I could either grow a beard like guys one or two, or could be androgynously handsome in a fetching blue chain-mail/skirt combo.

03 October 2011

Orders and Advanced Classes

I'm still messing around a bit with the format, but I think that the Advanced Classes are going to work like this:

  1. Accomplish something unusual. This could be a lot of things, and I plan on making an easy-to-use index at the back, so when you do something weird you can look over the Advanced Classes thing and see where that fits in.
  2. Join an Order. Orders are always looking for Heroes (after the Greek tradition, don't worry- no knights in shining armor connotations here. That's why I make sure to capitalize it, actually), and you can probably join. Orders are the big movers and shakers of the world and are ideal for adventurers because they're generally not interested in the status quo the same way kingdoms and baronies are, and they're generally pretty lenient as far as dues/attendance goes.
  3. Train under a Mentor and gain an advanced class,depending on what you've done.
  4. Do something else extraordinary, and get further advanced classes as you level.

One of my biggest personal pet peeves is where 'adventurers' fit into a campaign world, and exactly how scuzzy that adventurers really are. I mean, you give these guys a bunch of hit dice and armor and stuff, and then thrust them into a campaign world full of kings and dragons and stuff and either a) expect them to go find something, or b) straight up tell them what to do.

I know, I know, that sounds like a campaign world problem, but hear me out. The problem is that during character creation, you're relying on the whimsical ethers of the players' minds to decide what sort of organizations are out there, and that can be rough when the players don't know what to pick. Orders give a little bit of structure to it, and are kind of like a GM Guarantee that not only is that archetype totally permitted and you should go for it.

But more importantly, it lets you have a very firm tie into the game world. You're not just a first level Fighter, you're a first level Armsman of the Freeriders of Xalt. You're a third level Ascendant-Brother of the Sons of Dragda. You're a fifth level Priest-Militant of the Order of the Silver Spear. You have a place in the world, as rigid or as flexible as you want it. You can even choose to be totally unaligned, if you like, and rock it old-school; but the default assumption for your characters shouldn't be footloose vagabonds. That's not really how the world works, you know?

Of course, it's important to leave the option in there for people who really don't want to have that connection, because that's a valid place in the world, too.

01 October 2011

Advanced Classes

As the more astute of you has probably guessed already, this is going to be about, essentially, prestige classes. Oh, don't roll your eyes at me like that, I'm not going there. I promise. The last thing anybody wants is to bring back the insane flurry of acronyms and slashes that marked 3e- because holy fucking god, please, no. Just say no to multiclassing.

If you ask me, multiclassing has no place whatsoever in class-based games. All it does is point out the inherent inflexibility in the system, and makes classes more of a "pick-and-choose-abilities" affair instead of a simultaneous role-restriction and role-definition. And that's just wrong. It doesn't feel right. It feels blatantly artificial... but it's the only way we can customize our characters, right?

Well, no. It's the only way you can customize your characters in generic D&D, but it doesn't have to be that way. Like I said, all it does it point out the inherent inflexibility in the system. But what if the system was more flexible?

I'm currently thinking about RuneQuest or OpenQuest. I don't have the PDF with me, but if I remember correctly, the game totally eschewed the idea of "class", instead preferring to let you learn whatever it was that your little heart desired. The problem with RuneQuest/OpenQuest is, of course, that character generation takes a while. What you gain in flexibility, you lose in creation time, simplicity, and roles. Every character can do a little bit of everything, and while it's certainly pretty cool, you quickly lose that "special feeling" you get. There's nothing like being the best in your group at something, when you're the toughest and strongest or the smartest and most magical.

It's one of the things that 4e got right (which I'm aware is a bit of a naughty phrase round these parts.) The "protection" of class roles is a fantastic feature, even if they really messed up by making it sound as goofy and strictly combat-related as they did. The idea is solid, but the execution left a lot to be desired.

So what am I getting at? Well, I've been percolating for quite a while on the idea of "Advanced Classes" that takes a little bit of everything from everywhere and melds it into something that isn't terrible. As a quick rundown:
  • From basic D&D it takes attribute generation (3d6 in order), it takes the "feel" of the classes, and it takes the starting point of strength.
  • From AD&D it takes the "character kit" idea, where you pick a kit and that's what your character can do. Expanded out, but still somewhat recognizable.
  • From 3e, it takes the idea that you have to "qualify for" these advanced classes, but in ways that are not in the least related to your skill points or whatever. I'm thinking in-game feats, because all prestige classes would be (or are) in-game organizations. Think The Order of the Burning Brand instead of "Crusader" for example.
  • From 4e, the idea that character roles are as much as part of a character as the starting class. When you pick up a prestige class, you don't fundamentally change your role. Instead, you become better at one specific role, paralleling the way humans work- you start as a generalist, and continue to specialize down the line until you are a master at your chosen field. 
And that's the idea. As a quick example, let's take this guy and see where he ends up, under the Advanced Classes scheme:

Let's say he started out as a 1st level Figher. Realizing that he revels in bloodshed, let's say that at 5th level he joins a cult to the God of Massacre and becomes a Reaver. Now he gains a bonus to damage with two-handed weapons, and he gains a little bit of health back when he kills somebody in melee combat. Becoming a true Reaver means defeating a powerful warrior in one-on-one combat and then feasting on his eyes. Our Fighter does so, and he is accepted into the Reavers.

But maybe that's not enough. At 9th level, he becomes more dedicated to bloodshed and massacre, and petitions to join the upper ranks of the Reavers. This is about as easy as it sounds- to climb higher, to become a Blood-Letter, he must accomplish an unparalleled feat of carnage. Our fighter decides to destroy a small village, slay all the inhabitants, build a sacrificial pyre to his god of Carnage out of the wood of the buildings, and leave the bodies for the wolves. He has accomplished his goal, and is accepted into the Blood-Letters with open arms. He gains a contingent of Reavers of his own, and learns some of the darker secrets of the Blood-Letters; he learns charms to make a man burn with fury from a single word, a spell to make the freshly dead rise up and fight for him, and he gains a charm such that he will not feel pain until after the battle.

You know, just as an example off the top of my head. Basically, the point is that as you level, you get a nifty trick or two that nobody else probably has. These tricks are tied to belonging in an organization much of the time, although there's usually a way to get nifty tricks without applying to an organization, depending on your class, the game world, and how much your DM is willing to believe that you can totally figure out how to run like the wind/shoot a bulls-eye at 300 yards/track dragons/shapeshift/summon demons without somebody to help you out in exchange for your loyalty.

I don't know if I'll ever write an actual document about it, but it's certainly worth thinking about.