30 April 2011


I'm currently listening to Sleep's album/song Dopesmoker while I get this fuzz out of my head. No, I am not smoking dope, thank you for asking.

The last thing you want to do is drink a lot of caffeine before you go to sleep. It never fails- I'll stay up late playing video games and drink some mountain dew or espresso to squeeze the last fifteen to thirty minutes out of my brain before it tries to fall out of my ears, but caffeine can only do so much, so I lay down to go to sleep.

Now that we're finally laying down, we're not tired. Me and my brain, that is. I browse the internet on my laptop until I'm falling asleep at the computer, then I put it down and snooze, finally. But my brain's not done having fun just yet.

In my subconcious I'm screaming and running. I'm a barbarian swordsman and I'm trying to slay an enchantress because I'm immune to her black arts but my friend distracts me long enough for her to stab an enchanted dagger into my back and when she removes it, I'm a stone statue at his place.

I'm cleaning out my old house and I find an ancient cassette player and I'm listing off all of these great bands that I used to have, and then I find the collection! And I'm so excited to hear from these bands again and the nostalgia hits in. I've always loved all of thses bands, why did I ever stop listening to them? And I find all these old things that I used to love, and they're all so cool and you can't even get things like this any more!

I'm gardening and I come across this plant and it totally gets you high so I hide it but it's in this floppy plastic gardening thing and I plant it behind the guard shack because for some reason I live in the Navy Operational Support Center I used to drill at (complete with barbed-wire fence, giant anchor for a lawn decoration, and automated codebox to open the gate). I hide it under a plastic bag but by the time I go to plant it, it's all withered away and yellowy, and I'm suddenly distracted because I forgot something.

Moral of the story: Drink no more caffeine before bed unless you want to wake up tired because you've been running around the world in your dreams.

(Side Note: I'm totally giving D&D fighters a bonus to save vs spells because the idea is so cool.)

29 April 2011

God, I hate Clerics

Please, bear with me. 

I'm not talking about the image of the holier-than-thou, plate mail wearin', forced converting, mace-slammin' cleric. I love that guy. Look at that guy. You see that moustache? He's about to cleric the hell out of some orc tribesman, and not even feel bad about. All in the name of Pelor, my friend. 

What really bothers me is, well, three things, I guess. They make me have to define and regulate religions in my game, to the point where without a complete cosmology and set of rules and strictures for each deity that I'm not using all the design space. Clerics use divine magic, which is exactly the same as arcane magic except the spells are different and they know all of them, and clerics, well, are weird. 

Lemme start with the last one. Clerics are crusaders. They are paladins without the name (and one the reasons I never saw the need for the Paladin class, to be totally honest.) They're holy warriors with the literal powers of the gods. Their spells are all healy, they believe in one god above all others- they're bizarre monotheistic warrior-priests in a world with ten thousand gods. At least by default there's ten thousand gods. I quibble.

The point is, now I have to sit down and write at least a couple of blurbs about each god. They've got to have names, and stuff they cover, and relationships, and rules, and regulations, and I hate it. I don't like coming up with names, and I don't like designing an entire pantheon from scratch to have a cleric pick one guy and go "ok, that's my guy, now he's giving me powers, right?" Now, look. I'm not a religious guy. I've never had any sort of god talk in my ear, or give me magical healing powers. But it seems like this is taking all the mystery away from the world. There's no "we interpret the will of Zeus through oracles and the entrails of sheep." It's all "Shit, just talk to the guy! He's right there. We got a scroll of Commune right here, bro!" Not satisfying to me in the least. 

I mean, seriously. There goes the entire world's moral dilemmas. You can't say that what you were doing was right when the representative of the god of good stuff phoned him up and says to you, "Actually, that wasn't morally justified in the grand scheme of things- see, you actually caused more evil for future generations by dealing harshly in this instance, etc etc etc." Awfulness.

The real reason I dislike the, though, is that clerics feel like wizards. They have Vancian magic from the gods. Just something about that rubs me the wrong way. I don't like it. In my mind, clerics should have their own thing going for them. They shouldn't be a fountain of heals, and they shouldn't be a walking pile of useless. Part of the big problem is giving clerics an identity. There are plenty of minor horror stories about people playing clerics and then being expected to use all of their casting slots on heals, to the extent that their character's entire role in the game is running around and healing people until they're out of spells. It's not a whole lot of fun playing a role because somebody has to do it or we're all going to die. But it's also not a whole lot of fun to play a class that doesn't bring anything to the party. 

Between Fighters, Thieves and Wizards, you have the big strong guy, the sneaky subtle guy, and the guy with a lot of magic. What else is there, really? You've named the Holy Trinity of character roles. It's big enough that there's at least one system that defines your characters entirely by that, and you can still have cleric surrogates in it. 

I think Monte Cook puts it about the same way I do, except maybe better:
(...) I tried to step back and say, "What kind of characters do people want to play?" Well, there's the skillful guy, there's the guy who uses magic rather than physical force, and there's the big tough guy with a sword. D&D addresses these roles by providing the rogue, the wizard, and the fighter. 
As an aside, although I know there are plenty of people who like to play clerics, I've seen that many players consider playing a cleric a "necessary evil," rather than their first choice. I think this is because, while D&D pretty much requires a cleric's presence, it's not one of the basic roles people like to play. (Cleric lovers, please don't send me angry emails! I like clerics! But we all know that cleric lovers are a minority.)

I think that, if anything, wizards are going to wield god-given magic, and maybe stick the healing spells in with the arcane spells. I've seen it done before, and it seems a whole lot cooler than having "utility wizard" and "healing wizard with armor and maces". At least in my mind. There's nothing wrong with Clerics, they're just not really design space I'm interested in.

19 April 2011

Complete and Utter Nonsense.

Is what MS Paint Adventures are. And yet this site has managed to devour something like 10 hours of mine in the past two days. Yeah, I'll grant you that I've got grand fuck-all to do with myself these last few days but cmon. For anything to have occupied anybody's time for that long, in two sittings, is something that strikes a very bizarre chord in somebody's mind.

Lemme give a quick example from Homestuck, one of three (four?) adventures on the site.

Welcome to the party, motherfuckers!
That image is of one Rose Lalonde who is barbecuing some variety of harlequin Imps with her occult knitting needles that she'd alchemised using Build Grist she'd gotten from slaying an Ogre by stabbing it in the eyes and riding it down the waterfall on the side of the house that appeared when she was transported from her world to a game world in order to save her from a predestined apocalypse that spans hundreds of thousands of years and at least three time paradoxes so far.

Yeah, it's a trippy ride. But it makes a lot of things really interesting. You can smell all of the self-references, references to gaming media (text adventures, obviously, but also mystery novels, big screen movies, roleplaying games, computer games, you name it, it's somwhere in there), it breaks the fourth wall multiple times, and it's basically utterbrual radness. It's rudenasty. It's other words that I'm stealing from the adventure itself because you probably haven't read it and even if you did, it's more of a clever homage than actual theft (see how I covered my bases there?) and it's awesome.

It's exactly the sort of bizarre, self-indulgent, free-wheeling, make it up as you go along and tie it in anyways silly-serious fiction that attracts young gamers (like yours truly, of course) to old-school gaming. There's nothing like strapping on your +2 Shield, consulting your talking psychic sword, and going into a ten thousand year old crashed spaceship filled with frogmen with tentacle faces and martian teleporting panther things to plunder the advanced technology for a fraction of its worth (if anybody knew how to use it) and selling it to some toothless old man for a fistful of silver because he's got a pointy hat and a great big shining stick.

When I get this Donjon nonsense rolling next month, it's going down. We've already got a half-started game with a Zombie Meatmancer and a Werewolf Mercenary planning on breaking into a town with the Meatmancer's bile magic to scour a hole in the walls and then wear the population's skins for some bizarre and arcane reason. I see nowhere for this campaign to go but straight sideways, because we're already on the rollercoaster of btichin' awesomesauce and the ride's just startin'.

Lovin' it, baby. Lovin' it.

09 April 2011

"What is an RPG" introduction: Necessary?

From KORPG's blog:
From a historical analysis, I can recall that virtually every RPG rulebook I’ve ever opened had a section explaining what RPGs are, how they’re played, how they (usually) use dice, how player take on the roles of characters in a world of the GMs devising, etc.
All those over-arching things about a RPG that we already know are sometimes condensed at the beginning of a rulebook. Almost as if reading that specific rulebook might be the very first introduction a reader would have into the world of RPGs.
But why is such a section even in the rules any more?

If you ask me (which nobody did, but hey, bite me), I don't think that section is necessary anymore. Let's be realistic. Any product that we, as hobbyists, make is for hobbyists. That's the simple truth, and has a couple of important consequences, the most important of which is that you're writing to people who already know the subject matter. The guy who's wondering what an RPG is, is not opening up your self-published book and reading what you wrote there.

That guy has either already picked up an RPG (probably Dungeons and Dragons, but possibly a White Wolf game or  some other mass-produced game you can pick up at your Large Bookstore of choice) and read what they had to say, or he's been taught by somebody who already knows what's up. Our hobby is fairly unique in that it rarely spreads by the raw materials. Usually, it spreads, memetically, through people. You get taught by some guy, who got taught by some other guy, and so on and so forth, until you get to people who either taught themselves with a mass-marketed game's introductory product, or you get to Gary Gygax, Dave Arneson or whoever.

These people don't need introductions. The purpose of an introduction to "shared make believe time" has already been served. You don't need to do it.

I mean, really. Is there anything more of a waste of space than including how to roll dice and which way to round numbers? If somebody's reading, say, my Aremorican Addendum, they already know how to roll dice and what character sheets they're using and which edition of D&D they're grafting it onto. They know what hit points do, and what spell levels are, and the difference between divine and arcane magic is. You don't have to explain that any more than a magazine aimed at aviation buffs needs to explain what in the world a "bushtail lightwheel" is. You already know, or you wouldn't be here.

Computer games don't come with instructions on how to right click and drag things anymore. You don't have to explain the basics of a 30 year old hobby to people. You're writing to an advanced audience. You don't have to pretend otherwise.

07 April 2011

The Gallic War

If you haven't read it, it's a pretty good read. It's unlike the other most recent historical book I've read, Herodotus' Histories, in that it's a pretty easy read and there's not nearly as much misinformation, but that's probably because Caesar (or his ghostwriter, depending on your personal inclinations) lived in a time much more travelled and catalogued.

It's a great book, and the details on natives and their flora and fauna is interesting and, at times, fairly detailed, such as the note that elks have no joints in their legs, and grisly details on druids and wicker men. It's really about everything you need to know to run a fairly successful low-magic campaign in the area. Of course, you could add goblins and dwarves and

The point I was going to make, though, is that you can flip open the book, and immediately find a good adventure hook. Some of the things I can remember off the top of my head:

  • Caesar advances into Gallic territory, but in so doing, he crosses a river. His soldiers build a bridge across, and in so doing, station a legion at the tower. This tower is on the border of Gaul and "Germany" (really, a collection of Germanic tribes). You and your party are the captains of this legion.
  • Caesar's scouts use a blitzkreig style cavalry rush to find a traitor. You find him with orders to capture him and bring him to Caesar, but he escapes in the commotion and is now hiding amongst the common people. You must find him, and quickly, before he gets away.
  • Caesar leaves for the winter, and leaves your legion as a garrison in a rebellious enemy's territory. You must convince them to put down hopes for their rebellion or, failing that, must endure a seige from the natives in unfamiliar territory. 
  • You are one of Caesar's cavalrymen, drawn from the native countryside. Your countrymen recognize you in battle, and call you names. Caesar uses you to infiltrate the enemy camp to gather intelligence. Do you stay with your fellows, or do you return your loyalty to Rome?

That sort of thing. The situations Caesar and his legions find themselves in are always interesting, and usually dangerous, and even if you're not into the military campaign style of gaming, you could always be treasure-hunters, mercenaries, or just power players in the giant vacuum that Rome accidentally creates when they kill the native leaders and make the next in line swear fealty to Rome. What do you do now that you could have it all?

05 April 2011

Those silly Britons

This is not related to anything. Just so you know.

Did you know that the British still have a system where they call each other Earls and Barons and stuff?

I only notice because I was looking on Wikipedia about typography, then next thing I know, I'm looking at some typographer, saw that he got "Honor Moderations" (however that fits grammatically; it's a term I know nothing about) and then realizing that Oxford is run by the "Right Honorable Lord Patten of Barnes" who apparently is a politician of some sort. He also was Governor of Hong Kong and a Chancellor like, three different times.

I gotta move to Britain. Move over "Dean", I want to be a Lord of Barnes, or however that works. So weird! Everything still sounds so imperial and pompous even after they don't own anything, or get to declare any manifestoes or anything impressive. They don't even have the biggest Navy in the world any more. How sad is that?

No frilly ruffs, no spice trades, no conquerors or explorers or anything for the Queen or whatever in the world. It's funny to think now, but the British used to be like, feared. Now they're kind of humoured (see what I did there) because apparently they don't like our jokes about the Revolution. We only use it because we can't think of anything else you've done, guys. No offense or anything.

The best part about this picture is its irrefutable accuracy.

02 April 2011

Mike Mearls, You Confuse Me

I really want to like the guy. He wrote Iron Heroes, which is one of my favorite reading materials just based on the fact that the guy wanted to take 3rd Edition D&D, where every character is assumed to have a base level of magic items to the point where everything they use and touch from spellbooks to longswords to arrows are swimming in magic, and then say "Nah, these guys don't need that." That's pretty bold, and it required some finangling to move 3e to a nearly no-magic world.

Needless to say, I loved it. It was really cool. The setting was interesting, the classes were both deep and broad, and the token system (while cumbersome seeming) promoted playing within your class, strategic decisions, and party interplay all in one, to varying degrees. 

But this article here confuses me. I understand the point he's making, but not the logic per se. According to the article (and the one from the next week, if you're interested, although they're only tangentially related to each other despite claims otherwise), D&D players have gotten a more sophisticated taste for gaming since the beginning of the hobby, and only increasing complexity can really satisfy a truly experienced gamer. The other argument present is that statistics that vary on choice are better than ones that are pre-defined.

And both of those arguments have merit, but they're not exactly true. What's true is to say that designers have a taste for increasing complexity, and that designers tire of pre-defined choices and dungeon tropes. Designers and players, while overlapping, are not the same. People in designer mode want for there to be lots of moving parts so they can really stretch their mental muscles and show off their creativity, and people in player mode want something to play. 

01 April 2011

What I Really Feel Like Doing

Is writing a drop-dead simple game that lets you make characters that "plug in" to high-level D&D so you can rock out with your block out without generating up a 17th level character from the ground up, complete with "level-appropriate" (whatever that means) gear so you can stomp on some demons and rip apart Llolth's brains.

Something that gives you the right numbers, but maybe gives you a little extra, too. After all, half of what made D&D balanced (to the extent that it ever was) was that fighters were stronger on the way up, and wizards were strongest when you got to the top, but that can't be much fun to be a fighter when you never got to experience your prime and you don't have a castle (or it doesn't make a difference because you're in the Quasi-Elemental Plane of Bone or wherever).

So maybe we could make some sort of "prestige class" sort of thing, except you wouldn't have to bother with the  whole boring pre-requisite thing, you could just be like "Yeah, I'm rolling up a Bone-Shard Thaumaturge. Anybody gonna be a warrior? If you are, I'll pick up a couple spells of Mighty Striking or whatever for you," and then the guy next to you would be all, "Nah, I'm planning on being a Red Fist Invoker, I'm not allowed to have magic cast on me or it'll break my sacred vows," or whatever.

It'd be sort of bringing it back to tournament play, where it'd be all about how much loot you got and whether or not you passed the challenge, sort of an old-school meets new school mentality. Plus, if you die, it'd take you about ten minutes to make a new character.

The really hard part would be making it so that each character class or prestige class or whatever would be interesting but with drawbacks, so you have to craft a competent team but it wouldn't be drowning you in details. Well, that, and making it so that it fits into the high-level D&D framework. It'd take a bit of studying, and then I'd have to decide which damn framework to use. I'd probably just use Labyrinth Lord 'cause it's easy and also free so everybody has it. If you didn't, there's no real excuse to not get it if you were interested, and besides, you'd either want to have some modules to play it with or rely on my procrastination and insanity to generate some, and everybody knows by now that it's not real reliable.

But the point is that there really should be some fun way to play all those modules that sit on shelves because nobody's gotten to level 13 yet (and probably never will) but damn it, trekking across hellish mountains just sounds so cool.

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...