30 September 2010

No Ideas?

This has been me for the past what, week? Great ideas while at work, awesome ideas while trying to sleep- I get home and sit in front of my computer and nothing comes out. I hate when that happens.

I don't have nearly the same beard as the guy who makes the comics, which are from ToothpasteForDinner.com.  If you haven't already, you should check them out, they're fairly silly. I like silliness.

In related news, I'm picking up my friend Jeff to take him to drill this weekend, and hopefully we can get a little bit of gaming in. Maybe. One of the best games of Labyrinth Lord was played with him. He's a creative guy, and full of energy and enthusiasm, even though my girlfriend doesn't like him for some reason. He's a fun guy to be around, and we need lots of energy to play role-playing games right.

Maybe it'll help knock me back into full creativity mode. Or maybe it's gone forever.... forever.... forever....

24 September 2010

Derivative Demihumans

There's nothing inherently wrong with being derivative. It's popular for a reason, and that reason is that, somewhere, it has a deep and enduring meaning for people. Like elves, for example. People have long since believed that there's a fey people who live in the woods, who want almost nothing to do with us. Fairies, you know? There's something in the woods because it's dark and mysterious, and dark and mysterious places have dark and mysterious people.

And the same goes for dwarves. Caverns look like they're made by something, look how smooth and vast they are. They're dark and mysterious, so we can extrapolate what dwarves are: They're hard workers, since carving out a cave is hard work. They're somewhat stern, since it would take a good dozen dwarves a long time to carve something so elaborate and gigantic. And, of course, they're mysterious and want little to do with humans, since we almost never see them and certainly aren't invited into their homes.

Orcs, goblins, and all of that tie into the civilization vs savagery sort of theme that most games seem to work on. The civilized races are pretty, and friendly, and work together. The ugly guys are mean, and bloodthirsty, and they're too stupid to work together or work on anything other than domination.

Too ugly to farm?

Which kind of makes sense. If you've got a race of weak, "pretty" people, they'd have to be good at building walls and buildings and agriculture to get anywhere. If you're strong and hearty and good at battle, you probably don't have much time to build walls and stuff, since your culture is based around warfare, raiding, and constant seiges.

But what doesn't make sense is that despite the fact that even the pseudo-fairy elves have warfare, that orcs and goblins should have agrictulture. Even if we use the classic sense of the extremely Tolkien goblins, what in the hell do they eat when they're just running around caves? Surely there's not enough blind cave fish to feed a whole colony of insane, wretched beasts. Where are their underground mushroom farms? Where are their blind cave cows? Where are their trading routes, to trade with other wretched cave goblins? Everybody has both warfare and agriculture, even the historically insane Assyrians. You know, those guys who used to flay their enemies and put the skins on pillars, and stack human heads in piles hundreds high. Those guys had some regular joes who farmed dirt and forged chains and stuff.

Of course, you could make the argument that since the evil humanoids are nomadic, they don't need agriculture. That's what the Mongolians did, after all. But they also had horses. I don't pretend to be an expert on history, or agriculture, or anything of that sort, but it seems to me that a race of people whose primary habitat is "dark and smelly caves" isn't much of a nomad. Far be it from me to tell you how to run your game of course, but it's an interesting thought experiment.

Ogre Slam-Dance

Ogres listen to Slayer. A lot.
For some reason, the idea won't leave my head, and it's crowding out my other thoughts, including the thoughts related to blogging.

So I imagine: Ogres in a mosh pit, screaming at the top of their lungs like demons, ramming into each other, throwing each other around, a circling seething pit of ogrish sinew. The wandering adventurers come across them, assuming the worst, but the ogres, for their part, gladly invite the players in.

Of course, they might not "invite" them gently. A possible case of cultural misunderstanding? To a dude eight feet tall and built like a brick shit-house, gently could involve all the grace and care of flinging the worried onlookers right into the midst of the circle pit. Or it could involve the headbutt, a common Ogrish greeting amongst equals. It could involve a chorus of bestial, gleeful screams, delight at new participants into what was already a rip-snorting party.

Ogres live a harsh life, but adventurers who don't speak Ogrish lead harsher ones sometimes.

20 September 2010


Snicker snack, motherslapper!
I remember when I was but a boy, and my father came home with the animated Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings movies (it was the mid 90s, so Peter Jackson hadn't even started on the Lord of the Rings movies yet.) If you've never seen them, they're pretty good if you keep an open mind. They're designed for children, so everything's vaguely anthropomorphic and yet undeniably awesome. The goblins whose mouths open directly to the cave floor is a nice touch, as well.

I mean, shit, this is what D&D really is to me. It's about being the little man, being careful because over there is a mountain full of goddamn goblins and they're living underneath a dragon's motherslappin' cave and by the way, there's also a hideous deformed mutant guy living in an underground lake. Badass.

And then there's Smaug. When Bilbo decides to talk to him, I remember distinctly Smaug toying with him for his own amusement, because apparently everybody in Middle Earth has a damn riddle fetish. After Smaug decides the dude's a smelly-ass human, he goes off to burn Lake Town to the ground. But not before bellowing that his teeth are spears, and his wings hurricanes and his breath is death and all of that. I think I have the video link, in case you haven't seen it. For a nearly immortal, unkillable dragon, he sure likes to brag. And man, is he bad at riddles.

Good at breathing fire, though.

But that's something that I think is really cool, and that's dragons with personalities. I'm intentionally ignoring the color-coded dragon scheme, because I think it's absolutely retarded and doesn't explain anything at all. Sure, dragons can have adapted to their preferred environment, so that a red dragon lives in mountains and volcanoes and a blue dragon could live in a desert, but that doesn't tell you a damn thing about their personality any more than the fact that I live in a forest or in the plains would.

But before I digress, I'd like to talk about dragon personalities a little. The way I see it, dragons would have an extremely long-term approach to life. They've got nothing to do, they live for nearly forever, and their only real goal is power. They'd more or less ignore human intrigues, as there's nothing really they can provide to them. I imagine dragons living a solitary life, with separate dragon politics that the ruled might not even be aware of. For instance, were you aware that you're currently in the realm of Abronaxus the Green, and that he comes every roughly 200 years for his tribute? Do you think the current ruler, Viscount Grehm knows that?

He's about to find out.
The other idea I like is that dragons would necessarily domineer other groups. The currently popular idea is that evil humanoids will serve those bad, bad dragons, with humans and elves and dwarves bravely standing up against the cruelty by fighting the dragon. And probably getting killed, too. The only smart response to a supernaturally smart, long-lived, extraordinarily powerful fire-breathing despot is servitude. A dragon's servants aren't evil or stupid, they're practical. That guy is providing you protection from whatever other minor enemies you have at the tiny cost of setting aside some of your people to make sure it's happy. I mean, hell, that's not a bad deal, especially considering that dragons wouldn't likely desire much other than to have their pride soothed by the little people they've claimed as their own, something to eat, and some treasure. That's less than some human rulers demand, to be honest. Failure to bring the dragon these things, of course, would result in a swift, flaming death. Or at least while he's awake. While the dragon's sleeping, maybe the wizard's been creating an entrapment spell for the great wyrm, or maybe the finest blacksmiths in the land have crafted a great muzzle, to stop his deadly fire. The tyranny will end before it has a chance to go on forever!

Or maybe it takes the opposite tack- maybe the dragon is heralded as divinity, with dragons being the primary recipients of worship in the kingdoms. Makes sense to me. After all, people give the entirety of their lives over to mythology they never see, people they've never met, and abstract ideals, so belief in a dragon-oriented society would necessarily be strong and devout. Here he is, the absolutely divine representation of our gods. Hell, he could even be their god, making claims that in times past, he was involved in the Great Creation, or that he was one of the Firstborn, the first dragon to crawl out of the Primordial Egg and lay claim to the vast dominion he's held since the beginning of time. He might even be telling the truth.

If you don't believe him, you and him can always have a word.

Abronaxus will see you now.

18 September 2010

Wizards with Swords

For my next stab in the dark at game design, there has to be wizards with swords.

Thou shalt kick ass.
That's really all I have to say. It's badass.

I read a post on Enworld the other day about some guy in 4e who wanted to have a wizard with a sword and dude totally had to pick up three feats to do it "right." That might be the craziest thing I've heard in a long time. It makes you wonder, why are people so afraid of houserules and making stuff up? If it was me, I'd be like "Fuck it, man, go ahead and have a sword."

When my buddy wanted to play a minotaur, we essentially just had him roll up a Fighter, and then decided that he was big and had horns and stuff. If it turned out to be important that he was a Minotaur (which it didn't, as he didn't survive the first level), I suppose we could have made something else up. If the guy decided that he wanted to have the stats of an Elf, that would've been cool, too. I wonder how malleable, as a thought experiment, the classes really are? It's kind of the tack I went with the Aremorican Addendum, where the classes are just classes and there aren't any non-human races, but by renaming and rejiggering the classes, it doesn't quite have the same impact. Plus, there isn't really an Elf class, but that Marksman never quite had a good niche with me, and it could use a bit of reworking...

Maybe not quite dual swords, but still.
We could give the Marksman the Elf's perception, and then give it nature magic and combat abilities on a one-to-one ratio, but then again, I've entirely done away with Vancian magic for the time being. It's due to be re-included, but then progress on an appropriate name has stalled it somewhat. The new Marksman could have perception and tracking and then archery bonus stuff and that could be enough to give it a good niche. Let him be the scout type character, looking around and stuff. People do seem to enjoy the scout/tracker aspect of the Ranger and the Elf, so it might even be the right way to go. Hell, it's my favorite part, too!

So on my to-do list for the Addendum:
1) Add some Vancian Magic (maybe a wizard class? who can use swords, even.)
2) Change the Marksman into a Scout and give him perception abilities instead of just straight archery bonus.

Well, shit, I'll sleep on it.

Alright, Mr. Rude.

Somehow, fautus left a comment which isn't showing up on my blog, which is fine, because it's still in my email. Here it is, his response to my post yesterday:

There are two problems here two start with: 1) egregiously offensive claims of superiority, and 2) rhetorical fail. 

1) Egregiously offensive claims of superiority

You don't get to decide what "fantasy" is. If you don't like a RPG, fine, say so, but you don't get to claim that it is or isn't fantasy. Similarly, you don't get to say that you (or you and your mates, as is usually the case in the OSR) are the arbiters of what is or isn't role-playing; you don't get to say you're better at it because you don't roll dice for intimidate. That's rude.

2) Rhetorical fail
The piece of text you quote (from me) above is my response to a strong claim made in the OP, that D&D 4e is only about combat because all the rules are about combat. My response was to point out to the OP, and to Paladin in Citadel, that D&D 4e has more non-combat rules than OD&D, and that by the rhetoric of the original post, OD&D is more about combat than 4e. As an example I gave stealth and social skills checks.

There is no claim intended that this makes D&D4e better, or that you can't adjudicate stealth in a system without stealth rules. It's a response to a rhetorical claim, pointing out how stupid it is. That is all.

The logic of the OP and Paladin in Citadel was:
1) a game that is only about combat is not role-playing
2) D&D4e rules are entirely about combat
3) therefore D&D4e is not role-playing

Putting aside the extreme rudeness of claiming to be able to define what role-playing (or "good" role-playing is), this rhetoric is bullshit, because it's obvious on an even cursory examination of any D&D rule system that the further back you go, the more combat focused the game gets. Hence my comment about a glorified wargame with some acting tacked on.

Now, it seems that in response to this there is an alternative claim being made, that the more non-combat rules there are, the less the game is about role-playing.

To which, I say - shifting the goalposts much? I also say - what is with this OSR obsession on setting the boundaries of role-playing for everyone else? And I also say: if you can't see how to turn a skill or stealth check into a role-playing opportunity you're not being very imaginative. And I finally say: if you make up a rule on the spot to adjudicate stealth or social checks (morale, anyone?) then you aren't running a system without rules for stealth - you're running a system with arbitrary, shit rules for stealth. Which simultaneously hoists you on your own petard, and gives you a shit stealth resolution method to boot.

Finally, I didn't say "it's not fair to tell me that just because I disagree with you, I'm wrong." I said it's rude to tell me that because I disagree with you I don't understand the game, which is exactly what Paladin said. It's a hallmark of the adolescent debating style of the OSR, incidentally. But that's another story. 

Firstly: You're confusing two different things. One, my claim that 4th edition isn't fantasy, and two, my claim that relying on the game mechanics to tell you what to do in every situation isn't the same as freeform roleplaying.

On the first point, sure, I'll concede that it's not very nice of me to say that 4th edition isn't fantasy. But it certainly doesn't feel like fantasy to me. Of course, this is entirely irrelevant to the discussion at hand, so you'll have to pardon me if I don't feel like defending my differing tastes in fantasy.

The second point, of course: I certainly can claim that relying on game mechanics to tell you what your character is doing isn't roleplaying, because it isn't. It's that easy. See how fun that was? It's really a fairly old argument, if you weren't aware, and very famous. Essentially, when the dice determine the outcome of a situation that one could have handled with "role-playing," then it's not roleplaying any more than rolling up your characters' stats is roleplaying. Hell, I'll even go so far as to admit that if you roll "Interrogate" and succeed, you can roleplay out the scene where you successfully interrogate the guy. But you'll notice that regardless, when you're roleplaying you're not rolling dice. The dice and you are on a separate level of play, if you will, and your social interactions don't need to be affected by the dice.

And this is beside the point. You're arguing that because I said that game mechanics aren't needed to tell you how to roleplay, that therefore I am the absolute judge of roleplaying. That's a very rude claim to make. I don't believe that adding more systems weight to the game to handle things that don't need mechanics enhances your experience, and I certainly don't believe that it's a shit resolution. You don't need rules for everything, and there are some things that, when they have rules, are a little bit silly. To use your example of stealth, I fail to see how asking the player where he hides and then deciding if the guardsman on patrol sees him is a shit resolution system. It's almost the exact same thing you do when you roll dice, except that it cuts out the part where there's random chances of failure and success and replaces them with actual thought.

I know it can be hard to think that other people have different opinions, and it can be hard when some of them aren't nice people, or when they're having a bad day. But see, it's for sensitive souls like yourself that I find every other sentence being "but that's ok," or "I've got nothing against GAME X but I dislike SYSTEM Y." In this case, it's "I don't like having systems for social mechanics, stealth, or anything else that can be handled without dice." It's really that simple.

In your system, for example, we'd roll opposing SOCIAL dice (or whatever), and then the highest guy would win the argument, or something. Then, sure, you could roleplay out what happened according to the results of the dice, but why bother with the results of the dice? I know you're probably going to take this out of context, but older editions of D&D didn't have systems adjucating social interactions or roleplaying or whatever because you don't need game mechanics for them, not because they're ignored entirely. You could argue that older editions had more combat focus by the comparitive number of rules, but honestly, I'm not sure that's true. I have the 4th edition books, and the entire Monster Manual, most of the Player's Guide, and an inordinate chunk of the DMG are entirely about combat, terrain, and powers. But I digress.

One more bit, then I've got to go: It's entirely fair to tell you that because you disagree with me that you don't understand the game, because what we're disagreeing on is whether or not older edition games are primarily about combat, and whether the newest edition of game is combat focused. These aren't really up for debate, as the documents are still around, and able to be inspected. As a comparison, I've read complaints on various forums about the length of combat in 4e. Does that or does that not speak to its focus, that people are unsatisfied with combat resolution because it takes up nearly the entirety of play?

As a final thought: If I've missed anything, feel free to let me know. As I've said before, I welcome your thought, but try and make them a little more mature next time. I'm tired of having adolescent arguments with people who don't understand the difference between my opinions and facts.

17 September 2010

Hear, hear!

I would like to point out a very good statement by a fellow old-schooler at Discourse and Dragons:

All I'm trying to say here is that the whole thing is a damn shame. It's my game too, and I really dislike what has been done to it and the shameless use of classic art recently to sell their lame excuse for D&D.

 Wizards has dropped the ball so goddamned bad that not even half of the community that was playing its 3rd edition have jumped ship. They've completely dropped production on games that are still selling, that still have interest in them in order to focus on their bizarre miniatures/roleplaying game that I really hesitate to call fantasy. They're flooding their own market with low-quality books, and promoting a dependant playstyle where they control everything about your game, from the settings to the "adventure paths" down to the damn rules. It's absolutely insane.

Like the quote above says, the game isn't D&D. This is not an opinion. There is almost nothing intact from old games save the very most superficial similarities. You roll a d20, and there are dwarves, elves, and halflings. There are fighters and clerics and paladins and wizards. And that's where the similarities end. There is absolutely no way you can convince anybody that it's the same game.

I can't place where I got the quote, but it was something about how "the guys who designed 3rd edition are good at rules design, but have no idea what fantasy is." And that's doubled for 4th edition. It's a very tight, rules-heavy system, and some people are into that. But I can't think of a single more boring game than one where your every action is defined either in terms of one of twelve hundred pre-defined combat powers or one of like five skill challenges.

Some people like it, sure. But it sure as hell isn't for me.

Allow me to rebut a post real quick that sums up the gist of the problems with these differing perspectives.
paladin in the citadel, you can't have it both ways. You're claiming that the degree to which a system encourages combat can be deduced from the amount of rules devoted to combat, and whether xp can be obtained from non-combat actions.

It is obvious that earlier editions of D&D had the most focus on combat in the rules. From within the rules as written, how can there be a focus on non-combat methods for getting treasure (for xp) if there are no rules for adjudicating stealth or social interaction? 

The answer, of course, is that the amount of such rules doesn't tell you how much a system encourages combat. By which measure, you can't say that 4e encourages combat.

Alternatively, you can drop your original claim. But you just look silly claiming that a wargame with some acting tacked on is somehow not primarily about combat.

Oh, and have you noticed this argument style of yours, "you disagree with me"="You don't understand the game" or "You are doing it wrong"? You might like to ask yourself how that is helping you make your points.

Firstly, we have a claim that earlier editions of D&D had the most focus on combat in the rules because the system didn't have a method for adjucating stealth or social skills. This reminds me of an enworld thread, where the original poster claimed that being dead didn't have any penalties. Hey, Sherlock, being dead means you're dead. You can't do anything, you're dead. If you need the rules to spell out for you what, exactly, happens when you're dead, then you're either being willfully ignorant, or you are a genuine idiot. And the same thing is here.

Do you know how to adjucate stealth? It isn't by having a pre-formed skill system where you roll dice and then say, "You managed to hide or something." Describe the area, and then let the dude decide where to hide at, and then you go from there. Similarly, with social skills. Your character doesn't have social stats because hey, guess what, you don't need them. You don't roll dice to decide if the dude believes you, you do something called "roleplaying."

Apparently, real roleplaying comes from having systems that do everything for you, so that you just roll dice and then your character does cool stuff. Apparently, roleplaying = rollplaying, to use a horrible phrase. Apparently, the more the game tells you how to play and what to roll in every situation, the more free you are and the better the system is.

But before I digress too heavily, let me point out that the fact that older editions of D&D don't tell you how to roleplay or to hide from things doesn't mean that 4e doesn't encourage combat. Or, to put it in simpler terms: These two things are unrelated.

Guess how you encourage behaviors. Protip: It's by rewarding people for your desired actions. The rewards you get in roleplaying games are experience and treasure. They both make your character stronger. In older editions, 80% of your experience was from treasure. 20% was from slain monsters. This means, in case your head is fuzzy and full of shit, that avoiding monsters and stealing their treasure when they weren't looking, or talking them into giving it to you, or distracting them and luring them away was the best way to get it. Which means that non-combat methods were the safest and easiest ways to get treasure, which is where the majority of your experience will come from. This is leaving aside the fact that treasure is its own inherent reward, of course.

Alternatively, in 4e, you get experience for killing dudes, and then a tinier amount for completing quests or using skill challenges. Other bloggers have detailed this better than I have, and I'll update my post when I figure out the url. But, essentially, you're rewarded for slaying as much as you can, and then you get a much smaller chunk from doing what the DM wants you to do and for rolling a series of dice how the DM directs you to. Sounds a lot like 4e encourages combat, since it's the primary way to gain experience.

And then of course, the obligatory, "It's not fair to tell me that just because I disagree with you, I'm wrong." In this case it is, since you're making claims while getting the facts wrong. Congratulations, you're wrong. Older editions of D&D actually encourage looting, not killing, and 4th edition encourages killing almost exclusively. You can't damn argue facts. This is not opinion.

Like I said above, there's nothing inherently wrong with liking a different style of play. I'm actually a pretty tolerant dude. But 4th edition encourages combat to the extent that it's nearly the only method of reward and older editions do not. We're talking rules as written here, not individual DM decisions, since I've heard of those DMs in older edition games who reward their players primarly for combat and for story and 4th edition DMs who only reward for completing quests. This is irrelevant, and on par with your decision that your version of Monopoly is better than mine because your group decides to give out $300 instead of $200 when you pass Go.

16 September 2010

Mutant Future

I've been feeling a particularly strong Mutant Future itch. Something in my head tells me that we're going to need to have gangs of animal/man hybrids armed with Road-Warrior style armor and weapons, fighting over what few resources remain in the former United States of America after the results of a worldwide extinction caused by a meteor shower of radioactive rocks that slammed directly into the polar ice caps which resulted in severe flooding and unbalanced the earth's rotation. Also made the moon all crushed up, like in that 2002 Time Machine movie. Cause it hit the moon, and then chunks of moon and radioactive crap hit the earth. Or something.

Anyways, I'm picturing something like Water World meets Road Warrior meets the Time Machine, except possibly better than that sounds, with some Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles style animal-men (like Goatmen and Spider-Men and Snail-Men) and, essentially, whatever other craziness sounds good to graft onto it.

Maybe mash some alien invasions, communist scare stuff (A la Red Dawn), and we can paint a picture of a mankind that didn't get to the moon and halt, but managed to expand our empires onwards into space. The Cold War didn't quite end yet, so it was Capitalism on one side of the moon, and Communism on the other, and it was the spaceship battles that doomed mankind. Initially, it was small, crude spaceships battling each other with whatever weapons the scientists could devise- initially "space-versions" of conventional weapons, designed to work even in the vacuum of space, but gradually turning into bizarre nuclear-powered devices, such as the death-rays and heat rays and crude particle accelerators.

Hell, we could even say that the ever-increasing size of the spaceships is what doomed humanity, since the blasted bits would no longer burn up on re-entry, but would rather slam into earth and spread radioactive waste across the ground and into the water, poisoning men and destroying forests and crushing cities. With enough people devastated and the governments nearly bankrupt from funding enormous, elaborate space battles, anarchy would ensue and good old-fashioned lawlessness on a global scale would complete the catastrophe.
Road Warriors everywhere rejoiced.
The game would take place a couple of thousand years into this nastiness, so that humanity has had time to metamorphose into mutants and all of that good stuff. Where radioactive spaceship parts have landed, the denizens are provided with nuclear power (in most cases) but the severe leak combined with the bizarre technology has transformed them into hideous mutants. They live in decadent mock-cities, with the pure human outcasts wanting nothing to do with them.

Or something. This has all been a gigantic brainstorm, and we'll see what sticks.

15 September 2010

Your Journey is Complete

I don't follow Penny Arcade, so I missed this one; until today!


It warmed my heart. It made me laugh. And it's like, finally I can say, "NOW YOU KNOW WHAT ITS LIKE YOU SMUG BASTARDS!". Good stuff.

You're Given Control of D&D

An absolutely fascinating thought experiment from Mercurius of Enworld:
Here's the scenario: A bigwig at Hasbro is browsing the EN World forums and is impressed by your insights into the world's most hallowed roleplaying game. You get a call offering you complete control of Dungeons & Dragons for at least five years, with no intervention (within reason) from either Wizards of the Coast or Hasbro. You, of course, agree and shortly thereafter a helicopter appears in your backyard and you are whisked off to Renton, WA...

What would you do? You have at least five years, maybe more depending upon how things go. You can take whatever approach you want - you can try to maximize profits, move quickly to 5E, apply all of your house rules, kill 
4E and take its stuff, or whatever you dream. 

So what would I do? It's actually a pretty interesting question. There's a couple of different factions in the D&D world, and it seems like people who love 3e/4e are the biggest chunk. To try and "woo" them would probably be the most reasonable course for the financial success of D&D, following the conventional wisdom that you need to feed people what they're already used to because it's impossible for people to discover new things or change as a person. Or something. I don't work in marketing, ok?

So simply as a thought experiment, what would likely appeal to people that play 3e/4e would be:

This picture?

  • Highly compartmentalized system: Everything has its place, there's a rule for every situation, including a rule that anything that doesn't normally have rules has a rule. No more DM unfairness! FINALLY!
  • Universal Mechanic: You only ever make a single d20 roll when you do stuff. There's a base 1/2 chance to succeed, modified by whatever skills you have, like attack rolls and Jump and Speak French or whatever. If you don't have a skill, you still get a 1/2 chance to succeed because apparently 3e/4e is about playing heroic heroes who usually win.
  •  Extensive character building: Instead of having the game end at a certain point, character levels go up to one hundred. It'll have the 3ism of choosing where to put each level, with the 4gasm of choosing 2-3 powers from a list of 5 or 6 each level. So it'll finally be possible to build a Cleric 3/Fighter 2/ Duskblade 1/Paladin 1/ Druid 1 with exactly the powers you want! The best part is: You have 100 levels to make your character exactly how you want it!
  • 10 separate tiers: Every ten levels, your character goes up a Tier. Each Tier gives you a Tier Class, in addition to the regular classes you'd normally get. Levels 1-10 is the Puny Tier. Levels 11-20 is the Mighty Tier. 21-30 is the Epic Tier. 31-40: Superhuman. 41-50: Demigod. Each Tier will have its own separate three Monster Manuals, Player's Handbooks, and Dungeon Master's Guides, so you only have to buy the books for the segments you're willing to play!

This isn't your grandfather's quick-playing, easy to adjucate D&D any more, kids!

*The prior text was a work of satire. 

12 September 2010

Character Backgrounds

In honor of my last post, which my friend Mr. Joesky the Dungeon Brawler would say makes a "blahblahblah" sound, here's some free stuff you can use.

Fighter Backgrounds
When you make a fighter-type character, you may choose to roll 1d6 and gain the following backgrounds:
1- Veteran: When you were conscripted into the army, the recruiters laughed and shouted "More meat for the grinder, boys!" and the rest of the soldiers laughed. That was almost a decade ago. Even before embarking on an adventuring career, you've seen things that would make other men's insides turn to jelly. Hellish, horrible things that haunt you to this day.
Benefits: You gain a suit of chainmail and the weapon of your choice for free from your military service. You also have 500 bonus experience from your many years of service.
Penalties: You often have a thousand-yard stare, remembering the events of wars past. When something causes stress, you have a penalty to notice things and situations. When extremely stressed, you may enter a comatose state, and be unable to be budged for 1d6 minutes.

2- Brigand: You were once a marauder of the forests, mountains, or snows. You have turned from a life of crime and murder to a life of looting and slaying. A minor change, to be sure, but certainly less stressful on your countrymen at least.
Benefits: You have an additional 1d6x20 gold to start with, booty from your theft. You also have a bow, free of charge.
Penalties: You are wanted in your home region by the law and are recognized as such. There is a bounty of 1,000 gold on your capture, and 500 for your head.

3- Blacksmith's Son: Work for years slaving over some hot iron for meager rewards? No thanks, says the Blacksmith's Son. He's seen world-weary travellers, heavy with gold and with word of their adventures, and cannot stand the thought that he'll spend the rest of his life in a hamlet somewhere, arming the free-spirited folk and never having his own adventure.
Benefits: You have the ability to work metal, able to produce your own arms and armor for 3/4 of the normal cost, as long as you're willing to spend at least a week per 100 gold total. You can also repair your own arms and armor for the same cost. In addition, you have a great and heavy one-handed hammer for free.
Penalties: Being a blacksmith's son, you have little experience handling weapons that aren't broad and heavy hammers and suffer a -1 penalty to attacks with such weapons.

4- Deserter: You signed up to serve your kingdom, not spend your days cooped up in some garrison, sharpening swords and looking wistfully at the horizon. In the cover of nightfall, under some false pretense, you escaped with your sword, armor, and horse, and never looked back.
Benefits: You have a normal sword, suit of scale mail, and a decent-quality horse. The armor is clearly identifiable as belonging to your former army, and you may be identified as a scavenger, deserter, or a member of the army you left behind, depending on their familiarity with your former allegiance.
Penalties: While your former compatriots aren't on the lookout for you, desertion is punishable by death by hanging, and if found out, you will be brought to justice and killed. You are generally paranoid about being discovered, and are always looking over your shoulder.

5- Marine: You were a soldier-sailor, one of those who would fight pirates and other men on the high seas, boat to boat. You're rough, tough, and more than a little scarred and capable of putting up a good fight regardless of the conditions. Once you were released from service, you quickly realized that the free food, shelter, and drink came to an end and decided to continue doing what you always did best: fight.
Benefits: You have the great reaving axe you carried and a suit of studded leather armor. In addition, you are capable of maintaining and sailing most kinds of watercraft, and are a passable navigator. Finally, you're able to drink most anybody directly under the table, useful in seedy waterfront bars.
Penalties: You are physically dependant on alcohol, having drank more than your fair share while out to sea. When not under the influence of some liquor or another, you suffer a -1 penalty to all rolls. Recovery, if possible, is likely long and hard and fraught with missteps.

6- Nobleman: You are the son of a minor noble who's caught wanderlust. Having been born to hear tales of chivalrous knights, dragon-slayers, and heroic battle. While never having been in an actual battle, or seen one, or even knowing what one smells like, you're awfully eager to spill some blood.
Benefits: You have a full suit of plate mail from your parents' armory. It is relatively ill-fitting, having been designed for a man larger and stouter than yourself, but you make do.
Penalties: You are naieve and haughty, and suffer a -1 penalty to your Charisma score for having and retaining henchmen. You treat them like common servants and stable-boys, and they resent your superior attitude. You are also likely to get on your compatriots' nerves, never satisfied with anything less than the finest food or sleeping arrangements, and complaining heartily that today's adventurers aren't nearly as heroic as the legends of old. In short, you're spoiled badly.

Miniatures Games

I know of a lot of people who defend 4th edition D&D by saying that it's a good tactical miniatures game, even though it masquerades as an actual pen and paper roleplaying game. Or, of course, they say that this version has just as much roleplaying in it as the other ones, or some such. We've already talked about why system matters and if we haven't, then maybe that's a topic for another day.

And honestly, if you like to play 4e as one enormous combat encounter after another, as I understand many do, that's perfectly fine. I've played Descent for hours at a time, after all, and it's perfectly fun. Speaking of which, let me plug for that real quick.

This ought to look familiar. It's a tactical miniatures game that has dungeon tiles, pre-defined treasure, and pre-defined characters with the option of creating your own via an elaborate system of points and balances. It has a mechanic for defining exactly how evil the Overlord (DM surrogate) can be to you, via a system of threat tokens and an Overlord deck containing threats and hazards like traps or a surprise spawn of monsters.

The boards are pre-defined, so you build it as the players come across it. They work together to clear the dungeon and grab treasure as fast as possible, so that the Overlord doesn't have a chance to summon hordes of monsters to wear the heroes down. Occasionally, the adventure will call for a big baddie, like a Demon, Giant, or Dragon, and those can take a couple of hits and some interesting tactical maneuvering for the players to overcome. There's even a campaign mode, in the form of a purchasable expansion. Its been described as a tabletop game of Diablo, taking two hours+ to go from scrublike beginning to demigod-like end. Played right, with a mind towards cutting time, it's a blast and a half, where everybody's running across the dungeon and strategizing and cooperating, but played with a bad Overlord, it's a boring, slow grindfest where you're cutting down enemies meaninglessly over the entire game.

The important point to note, in my opinion, is that except for the parts about threat, this game sounds exactly like 4e. Which is funny, because nobody tries to tell other people that Descent is still a roleplaying game, or that you can roleplay out the reactions of your hero to the new kobold or that the magic sword you picked up decides to talk to you. It's dungeon crawling reduced to its most basic form, that of: Kill the Monsters, Take Their Stuff, Kill More Monsters. It's literally all the rules deal with, and that's ok. And that's hard for some people to grasp!

Some people, again, will get upset when you tell them that their game isn't the same as games before it, or that their game is just a little battle simulation, but really, that's just fine. Just quit pretending that your game is the same as other games, and we'll be good. If you choose to play Monopoly, or Risk, don't try and tell people that it's the same game as Runequest or Shadowrun or hell, even GURPS. You're not playing the same game, or the same type of game. There's nothing wrong with your game. Really. You can have a game where the entire world is designed around combat balance and everybody has magic items that only work thrice a day and abilities that you can only cast once until you get in another encounter when you can cast it again, or a sword swing you can only use once a day because damn it, how did it go again? But if you're going to be playing a game where the mechanics in no way allow you to A) easily make up new ones or B) emulate any sort of literature, fiction, movie, or real world occurance, then you're not playing the same game as me.

AND THAT'S FINE. So quit getting butthurt when people tell you that "4e ain't D&D." It's not, and that's perfectly fucking fine. Neither is Descent, but you don't see its fans getting up in arms about it. Look at it this way, and this is the best way I can think of to describe it: You have a computer. You decide one day to build another computer, using almost entirely different parts but retaining the same rough style of the case. You then decide that your old computer is your new computer, because they're both in grey cases and both of them are in rectangular cases and both of them do roughly the same thing, so there's really no difference and you'd have to be some sort of zealot to think so.

Most people would call you crazy, right?

11 September 2010

The 9/11 Generation

Found this while searching for images of 9/11 to place on my blog. From http://www.redplanetcartoons.com/index.php/2007/07/:

The following quote is from this site.

In the 1960s, history called the Baby Boomers. They didn’t answer the phone.
Confronted with a generation-defining conflict, the cold war, the Boomers–those, at any rate, who came to be emblematic of their generation–took the opposite path from their parents during World War II. Sadly, the excesses of Woodstock became the face of the Boomers’ response to their moment of challenge. War protests where agitated youths derided American soldiers as baby-killers added no luster to their image.
Few of the leading lights of that generation joined the military. Most calculated how they could avoid military service, and their attitude rippled through the rest of the century. In the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s, military service didn’t occur to most young people as an option, let alone a duty.
But now, once again, history is calling. Fortunately, the present generation appears more reminiscent of their grandparents than their parents…

Thanks, Baby Boomers, for recessions, depressions, cold and hot wars, Iran-Contra scandals, hippies, yuppies, the war on drugs, the wars in Iraq and Afganistan, everything. Thanks for the 9/11 attacks, guys. Read the article. Do it.

Have a moment of silence today, if not for the dead, then for all the dead in the years to follow because of our government's decision to use a terrorist act to invade a couple of countries that may or may not be involved with this terror group. And if not for that, then at least have a moment of silence for the day that American people realized that there's an entire world out there, and they're not all friendly.

10 September 2010

Military Bans Video Game

The post is here:

Allow me to summarize: The new Medal of Honor game allows you to play as the Taliban in multiplayer, so that there is an American vs Taliban match going on when playing other actual people online. For some reason, this has offended the bigwigs in the military, who have banned it from on-base PXs, BXs, and NEXs (sort of like an all-in-one electronics store, clothes store and liquor store, like a giant gas station or miniature walmart). Allow me to have a quick quote:
We regret any inconvenience this may cause authorized shoppers, but are optimistic that they will understand the sensitivity to the life-and-death scenarios this product presents as entertainment," said Maj. Gen. Bruce Casella, who commands the Army & Air Force Exchange Service, which oversees more than 180 base exchange shops.
That's right, they're sensitive to life and death scenarios that a video game presents. They're afraid that people might get mad that you can kill Americans in a video game, because that's never happened in every other Medal of Honor game, or Call of Duty, or Battlefield 1 or 2, or any other game. This might be the dumbest story I've read this week, because, after all:

1) This is nothing new. Games that let you play as two opposite sides in a war and kill each other is older than 3-D graphics, older than graphics in general. Nobody banned wargames on military bases for fear that one side would play Americans and one would play the Vietnamese. Think of the horror!

2) The absolute most unreasonable opinions are held by people who are afraid somebody else will be offended. News flash- if they're that easy to offend, then it doesn't matter. I'm reminded of that flap about that Danish cartoonist, who made a cartoon about Allah, with the point being that Muslims are easy to offend. They responded, appropriately, by threatening to kill him and burn down his house. For drawing a cartoon. Saying how easy it is to offend them.

3) Seriously, now, how offensive is it to portray that there's another side to the world? These people seem to think that to even hint that to a segment of the world's population, the American flag represents hatred, greed, and cruelty. It's like this subject is taboo. Now, before you say anything, I'm a Navy reservist and I like this country. But that doesn't mean that I agree with everything that's been done. Leaving my politics out of this, I'll say simply that showing that the other side has an opinion doesn't make you a traitor, and it doesn't make you seditious. Nazi Germany was full of regular dudes just doing what they were told, like you and me. Saddam likes cheetos, you know? Everybody's a human being, just doing what they think is best in the world. For the exact same reason that some jackoff is allowed to like My Chemical Romance and I prefer something with balls (like, say, Lamb of God), I'm allowed to think that America is basically good and the military is an ok job to have, and some dude in Iraq is allowed to think that America is the Great Satan and that the American military is full of murderers, rapists, and heathens. You know what, that's cool. Just don't make me shoot you.

4) And that's what gets me. Sure, we're fighting the bastards, but does that mean that we can't ever talk about them? It's kind of what they do, is fight Americans, and there's no reason that in a FANTASY GAME like Medal of Honor, we can't have one side say, "You're the Taliban, try and kill us" for the sake of a game. This reminds me of the famous Jack Chick pamphlet, which was based entirely around not understanding that everybody involved knew it was make-believe except for Jack Chick, who apparently overheard the world's creepiest roleplayers. He thought they were getting way too into it, and they were just having fun. Similarly with Medal of Honor. Nobody's getting randomly placed on the Taliban team and going "Finally, I can act out my anti-American fantasies!", especially when the main audience for this game is American teenagers and up.

I mean, c'mon, military! Show a little backbone. Stop wasting our time with this nonsense. Why don't you pay attention to this fucked-up thing in Afganistan instead of worrying about retarded gun-porn video games?

08 September 2010

Demon Stone

I draw inspiration from only two places: Books and Video Games. Movies aren't really my thing. You see, I tend to talk straight through them constantly, not in the irritatingly loud voice, but in whispers to whoever else is there. I'm not good at passively absorbing media, I'm really not, and in fact, I think that's one of the biggest problems with people today.

But that's a subject for another day. 

Today I want to talk about Demon Stone. 

A Playstation 2 game released in 2003, it's essentially a hack-and-slash brawler, a formula as old as video games themselves. Remember Battletoads, or Double Dragon, or Streets of Rage, or any of those games? It's the same concept, beating the shit out of hordes of similar-looking enemies and trying to get past them to whatever your destination is. 

There are a couple of welcome twists, in that you can change to any of your party members at any time (chosen from warrior, wizard, and thief), you can upgrade your equipment using the piles of gold dropped from dead enemies, and you can string together nifty little combos from the attack buttons.

The game itself is pretty varied, always having you fight different types of enemies using different combinations, and it has interesting and ever-changing landscapes. In the game, you'll fight slaad and orcs in a forest, and some sort of robot in a wizard's tower where the tower itself is fighting off the invaders, and you'll fight a giant spider on top of a flowing raft. The enemies avoid your front, instead opting to leap at you from out of melee range, or circle around you and try and stab your back. They block your attacks, and will counterattack when they're able. It's not the most excellent AI, but it's certainly serviceable, and it makes the swift and leaping orcs feel different than the slow and cludgy slaad mallot-warriors.

Demon Stone reminds me of the best parts of actually roleplaying- there are cool locations to explore, cool things to fight, and plenty of neat loot to find. It's D&D stripped down to its most basic form, and it's still eniminently playable due to the excellent presentation. The graphics are good by early PS2 standards, and they're at the very least serviceable. There aren't any big hitches, and the players swing their swords and staves and daggers pretty fluidly. Everything just kind of works, which is awesome. A game like this lives and dies on its fighting system, and this one doesn't disappoint.

In fact, the fighting system is so good I've been trying to think of ways to include combination-type moves into a game's fighting system. For example, in Demon Stone you can hit X-O-X to perform a trip move, where X is the basic attack and O is the shove/kick move. You smack them with your sword, shove them back, and then sweep your leg underneath them, where you can subsequently jam your sword into their newly-prone form. Or you could hit X-O-L2 and impale your foe on your sword. Or daggers, if you're playing the rogue for some reason. It's really a pretty cool mechanic that adds a bit to the game. Do I need to just shove him back? Should I try and stab him and risk missing? It's these sorts of moves that add a taste of tactics to the game, which is welcome in a genre that mostly promotes endlessly jamming on a single button in hopes they get into your swinging range.

It's probably possible, and there's got to be an elegant way to express this sort of thing. In the meantime, this is going to get tied into my houserule that "On a natural 20, in addition to dealing maximum damage, you get an additional non-weapon attack", which means that every now and again, you get to smack some dude with your sword, and then turn around and wail on his buddy with your shield, or slash the guy and then shove him off a wall, or trip him, or punch him in the face, or whatever it is that floats your boat. But it doesn't have the same feel as Demon Stone, much to my distaste. It might just be simple enough to work, however.

Sorry about the less-than-interesting post, but you gotta write about what you're thinking about, right? If you're at all interested in fantasy-themed PS2 games, especially ones at bargain bin prices, you gotta check it out. I got my copy for $5 from Gamestop, which is usually criminally overpriced. I heartily recommend it, especially if you still have your old PS2 kicking around somewhere.

07 September 2010

Why are games SO DAMN LONG?

During a post on Enworld, I caught myself writing this interesting snippet:

As a side note, now I really prefer my games to be short. After producing my own little miniature projects, it's astounding how much you can fit in a few short pages when you don't over-explain every minute detail with irrelevant cruft that gets ignored as soon as it hits my table. As a good example, I wrote the Aremorican Addendum, a book that essentially replaces every class and magic system in B/X or BECMI D&D, and it took less than thirty pages, including an introduction and a good dozen charts. If you can't express a full game to me in less than fifty pages, you're wasting your time. This doesn't count advice, of course, since the more written there, the better. 

The big revelation for me was when I realized that the entirety of the rules for my favored version of D&D, if you don't count the enormous appendices that are the spell listings, monster catalogues, and magic item lists, was no more than maybe twenty pages that covers character creation, how to do things, random s
tocking of dungeons, everything. What happened to valuing that economy of words?

Something that continues to irk me is that games will frequently be in the excess of 200 pages for a single book. Seriously? What are you taking so long to write, exactly?

Brevity is the soul of wit, as they say, and I find that the more games I look at and read, the more I realize that there's absolutely no reason for an incomprehensible morass of rules strewn across a hundred pages, with a hundred more pages of crap, cruft, and fluff filling the gaps. Is there intentional filler to "pad out" the book, or is it really that hard to cut to the gist of what one's trying to say?

Now before somebody calls out this blog in particular for meandering thoughts and unclear writing (which I'll freely admit I suffer from), this is a blog, not a professional product. I'm not trying to sell you anything. I'm not pretending to be anything other than what I am, which is a dude writing about what he loves as he thinks of it. Admission is free, after all, how picky can you be?

But before I digress heavily, let me pose a couple of questions.

Why are those damn books so long?
What purpose does it serve? Is it to make the book look "better" by making it longer?
Is it to make it seem "more comprehensive?"
Do they really have that much crap to say?

06 September 2010

Invocations is Cool, Or, Love What You Write

By the Left Bicep of Crom, I'll kill that... whatever that is!
How often are you excited by what you write yourself? Right now, I'm excited about Invocations.

Invocations are my way of making Crusaders have a taste of divine magic without making them clerics. God, how boring are clerics? Hey guys, I'm a good warrior, wear armor, level fast, and am the only guy who can heal? Pf, showoff.

But anyways, Invocations are what let your crusader shout stuff and get rewarded for it. "By Zeus' Beard, I will smite thee, demons!", or "By the Black Staff of Amnomnos-Za, I will bedevil you!" It accomplishes two main goals of mine in the Aremorican Addendum.

1) It makes every class have a different mechanic, sort of. In other words, the exact opposite of the general trend of samey-classes because everybody needs to be equally good at everything at all times otherwise nobody is having fun. 

2) It means that you better goddamn believe that at the table if you want to get the benefits of the Rage invocation, you better say, if not shout, something about being angry and how your god will lay a holy fucking smackdown on that orc over there. Like I said, shout. Your crusader is flying off the handle, yelling at everybody he sees because that's what religious people do. Ever seen that YouTube video about the God Warrior? Here's the link. That's your Crusader. "HE'S NOT A FOLLOWER OF YLETH-HMOR YOU MUST DIE!" Seriously, try it out when you're a Crusader. If you don't have 100% more fun being an insane God Warrior, then I'll eat this blog post.

Pictured: Hilarious
Put in more concise terms, that's Let Players Be Different and Encourage Silliness. If you haven't noticed by now, I'm not really that serious of a guy. If you're not having a good time doing whatever it is you're doing, then that's really not good. I'm no fan of the Rule of Cool, but that doesn't mean that you can't find regular, everyday stuff Cool. The problem with the Rule is that it's horribly misused by people who think that the Rule of Cool should be capitalized, and that stuff should be capitol-C cool instead of "dude, kickass, you just gutted that orc. His guts are all on that blade and now you're kind of smelly," and you look over and the dude across from you is laughing because how goddamn rediculous is it that now you smell bad because you attacked some guy and, hey look, we used silliness to break the ice, move the game away from the game-world into our shared imaginary space, and now we're having fun instead of trying out out-cool each other. Everybody wins, unless you have to capitol-w "Win", and then you lose.

My bad.

04 September 2010

Aremorican Addendum: Bonus Material!

I gotta come out and say it, bonus material is a bit of a misnomer for a free pdf, right? Doesn't matter, since it's some stuff that's been in the works for a hot minute and now's the time for it to see the dawn of light.

Yeah, that thing.

The highlights!

  • Crusaders get their own magic system, called Invocations. They bellow the names of their gods on high, and are rewarded with divine aid. Think "By the thunderbolts of Zeus, I will destroy you!", or something as simple as "Crom's Beard!"
  • Diabolists get an expanded spell list! An additional three to five spells are added to each spell list, and Frost magic gets added to their list of spheres.
  • Acolytes and Sorcerers each get a minor tweak to change the flavour of their powers. Sorcerers channel elemental might instead of summoning an elemental minion, and Acolytes get their magical abilities tweaked a little bit. For example, Rejuvenation is a little weaker, healing 1d4 instead of 1d6 per casting.
What else is coming down the pipeline? Well, Dark Skies Above Us is about halfway done, having detailed the major areas, and a good chunk of the minor areas. Let me enthrall you with a little teaser, in the form of area 3:
Area 3:
In this room are two zombies (hps 3, 8) and one ghoul (hp 7). 
They are discussing something in a bizarre tongue, and can be heard through the door if the players listen.
In the room is a small chest containing the shared belongings of the three; 25 silver and four gold, as well as an iron dagger and a small silver idol weighing one pound.

Notice: Three terse sentences detailing what's to be found, what the monsters are doing, and what's in the treasure chest. The details regarding what the area is like, how broad the tunnels are, and all of that jazz are directly under the section heading. A DM can read through the section heading quickly and easily to devour the information and, hopefully, get everything across to his players quickly and easily.

Be on the lookout for when the updated Aremorican Addendum drops, as well as when Dark Skies Above Us comes out! I'll post here, so check back!

03 September 2010

My Ideal Game

My ideal game would be this:

combined with this:

with a sprinking of this:

Also a heaping helping of this:

Dungeon crawling, tomb robbing warrior-wizards on dragon helmed longships from a misty, dying land.  The Chronicles of Spellborn meets Corum Jhaelen Irsei meets post-apocalypse fantasy.

Looking Back

They say that if you don't look back at who who were from a year ago and cringe that you haven't grown enough. What if I look back f...