Sunday, November 16, 2008

Apostasy and You

Let me begin by stating that, by the technical definition of the term, I am an apostate. I have renounced my former religion and now stand between them, and am happy without it. But that's not my point, really.

In most old religions, there is a rather severe penalty for apostasy. Take notice of one of the largest and most famous, Judaism. The penalty for apostasy is death, as stated in Deuteronomy 13:6-10. Especially verse 9, where it says "But thou shalt surely kill him;". My penalty for leaving my religion would be death, were we not in a more secular, forgiving age.

But notice that your players' characters are not in such a secular and religious age. In this world, the gods wield real power, have real influence over the world's events, sometimes coming down to stomp all over the world and dance on the bodies of their foes, or whatever. Your PCs live in a world of the servants of gods competing for very real influence and power, often through blatantly violent means, and yet this is often shoved in the back, because some of the gods are "good" and some "evil."

To be continued...

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Problem of Evil

Or: Why I Never Use Alignment

Now before anybody gets the wrong idea, let it be said that this isn't one of those troll-bait, flame questions. This is a serious inquiry into the topic of evil itself. It's a big topic, to be sure, but here's one way to break it down: "What does it mean to be evil in a roleplaying game?"

Most people know what evil means, in and of itself, even if they can't define it in great, broad strokes. They'll point to rape, child molestation, mass murder, callousness, or any other factor. But what does it mean in the context of a roleplaying game, where most people aren't comfortable with the subject?

In many cases, it paints a convenient black hat on a person who is to be killed without remorse. Sometimes, the "bad guy" will wear a literal black hat, or a black, spiky suit of armor, or be a demon. Such things are certainly convenient, but are they realistic? Are they meant to be? Is a person with an alignment of "LE" or "C" (in older systems) a person who can be slain at a whim? Is that what you want to promote in your games?

And then, what does it mean when an entire race of people are "evil"? Case in point: Goblins. In 3rd edition, they were given an alignment of "LE", and then they were basically said to be mean tricksters. That's it? Apparently, all it takes to be lawful evil, on the same scale as an archdevil of the abyss who subjugates his followers under his boots and tortures people into the long, hideous sunset, is to lay traps and attack invaders and try to get lands in the same way that "good" people do- only eviller.

This one is one I can't answer alone, because I haven't used alignment seriously in decades and I've never really had any inkling of an understanding of what, exactly, alignment is to be used for. I've heard a couple arguments, both for and against, but nothing that was revelatory. Mostly it's between people who are moral absolutists and moral relativists who argue semantics and whether or not Batman or the Power Rangers are Chaotic Neutral or what-have-you.

Back to the question: What does it mean to be "evil"? What sorts of things are necessary to put the black hat on a man? What does labelling a person "evil" entail?

To me, there is no evil. Looking at paladins, I see a man who is inflexible, cruel, intolerant, violent, and possibly racist. All things traditionally associated with evil, in its most base forms. "But Mr. Crayon," one may be thinking, "that man is only inflexible in his pursuit of justice, cruel to the evil and unjust, intolerant of oppression, violent to the threats to his community, and racist against monstrous foes! He's not evil, he's good!"

Well, put it into context. Let's say you're a king who has had assassination attempts on yourself, so you're a bit paranoid. You raise taxes so as to better fund your personal spies, bodyguards, and palace. You put into place policies to limit the conspiracies against yourself, so that you can continue your rule. You waste no time in putting down the lives of those who attempt to sabotage your kingdom or the land and property of your subordinates. And yet, a paladin batters down your door, slays your guards, and puts you to the sword for oppression, tyranny, intolerance, violence, and "evil." Are you evil?

It's not for nothing that they say that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.


What do you think?

Monday, October 6, 2008

All Classes are Not Created Equally

Something that really irritates me, and had me stumped for the longest time in the development of my own roleplaying system was the issue of classes.

Specifically, how many should there be? What differences should they have? How much customization should they have? And so on.

Most people who have played D&D for any length of time seperate it down into four classes, who, at their core, are seperate and irredeemably different than each other. They usually name Fighter, Rogue, Wizard, and Cleric, letting such friviolities as Hexblade, Samurai, Barbarian, and the like out to rot, as some sort of combination of those few.

Putting the calls of "bullshit! bullshit!" away, let's look at the reasoning for these classes. Surely, there is a good reason for fighter to be there. After all, he's the big tough guy, the one who get slapped upside the head and takes all sorts of pain so the squishier guys can shoot their spells and whatever else. The theif, on the other hand, deals with locks and traps so that the party can steal better, so that everybody gets less arrows shot into them. The cleric, obviously, exists to patch the party back up, and to provide both frontline combat ability and some assistance through his magic. And the Wizard, dear wizard, he exists to fling fireballs and make everybody fly and whatever else he decides to do.

And it's all flawed.

The main flaw is that the roles are reduplicated, or in some cases entirely unnecessary. The biggest example is the theif, of course. Why the theif? Well, think about it. The theif is a character who is a relatively inept warrior whose entire purpose is to steal things and get away with it. He relies upon fighters to save his hide from the physical problems, and the wizard to help him escape from the magical ones. In short, he's a fighter minus the fighting. A warrior without the war. And why?

It's entirely possible to have a fighter who is also a theif, a man who is capable of intelligent thought and disarming traps and stealing things, who is also able to put on some armor and slash through some people. It's called a hero, this amazing man. It's a hero in the very most classical sense, ranging back to the greek Oddyseus, or possibly even the sumerian Gilgamesh.

In the systems I'd always come up with, there were basically two roles, one for each way of solving things. If you solved things with blades and muscles, then you were basically a fighter. If you were a sneaky fighter, then you were a sneaky fighter. If you used bows, then you were a fighter who preferred to be called an archer, or whatever. If you solved problems with the powers of your god or gods or arcane formulas or demon-pacts, or any other sort of mystical and magical powers, then you were a sorcerer. If you were a holy man, you're still a sorcerer. The rules didn't care about the flavor, only your abilities.

That, to me, is how a system should be. It should be rules-light, with no rules for anything other than combat. Already I can see people asking why, people telling me why rules need to be thick and heavy to cover every possible situation and how we need skills covering things like diplomacy and social skills and not putting your elbows on the table and all that "fun" stuff. That's a topic for a different post, and I promise I'll go into it then.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Why Can't Wizards Cast All Day?

This is a long-standing question of mine, as anybody who's ever happened to play D&D with me will tell you. But seriously, come on! Wizards, men and women who dedicate their lives to understanding the flow of magic, the occult formulae, can only cast a few spells a day. And then they're back to being the old dude with the nasty beard and a squiggly stick.

D&D has never properly explained this sort of thing, at least not to many peoples' satisfaction. Yeah, there's all sorts of grognards and neo-grognards pointing the way towards Jack Vance, and his mind-blasting spells that literally wrench themselves from your mind if you dare utilize the occult syllables.

But there's a thematic problem in that. It's hard to imagine something as mundane as "Read Magic", a spell which D&D tells us even the most lowly of scrubs can memorize from scratch, given training. You're telling me that spell, too, wrenches itself from the wizard's mind? Every time he casts it? It's not too much of a stretch to suppose that "Necratuul's Sanity-Blasting Chant of Hideous Doom" would wrench itself from your mind, but Magic Missile? Really? A spell that is only slightly better than a good crossbow bolt is worth that kind of treatment?

If it were up to me, I'd keep the spells-per-day, mind-wrenching approach for the more important spells, like Fireballs and Earthquakes and all the gigantic, flashy stuff. But there's got to be a divide, at least in my mind. Let the wizard cast his little scrub spells, maybe from a pool of points that refreshes itself every night. Let him cast Magic Missile, Read Magic, and all sorts of other moderately useful spells without any sort of preperation, or stress. And let the enormous, world-shaking spells be one per day, or even one per week.

Keeping the giant spells once per while would keep them interesting and special, and let wizards have room left over for parlor tricks, prestigidations, and other little silly things that amuse him and provide minor aid. But when it comes to the useful stuff, the mighty eldritch magics that astound the world, and smite his foes, make him pay for it a little. Maybe the spells cause damage when they're cast?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

How to Irritate your DM

There's possibly nothing worse than a disruptive player. They don't seem to understand that roleplaying is supposed to be a fun game with buddies, or, they don't seem to understand that it's a game and not a series of Monty Python jokes.

But how do you know if you're being irritating to your DM?

1) You're way too serious.
You know who I'm talking about. They come packed to the gills with magic items for every contingency, and they talk in character about everything, sometimes to the point where they dress up as their character. They're prepared for everything, and nothing takes them by surprise. Sure, they're useful when you're trying to scale the blasphemous walls of the Keep of the Underhorde, but they're not any fun to play with! You try and crack a joke or two, or talk even for a minute about a funny anecdote you have, and the Mr. Serious over here scowls at you, and ignores anything you have to say. They might even take it out on your character.

2) You're not serious enough.
This one is pretty bad, too. When you're in a party with Alkazar the wizard, Thickbeard the dwarf, and Jacob the Paladin, you're Smackdown the half-ogre wrestler who is always messing up. Or you're Slickblade the fruity bard, who, without fail, gets in trouble by looking for romance in the wrong places, gets chased out of town, or is otherwise the center of attention. We get it, you're a funny guy, but don't use your attempts at humor to upset the game or try to hog the spotlight. There's a time and place for fart jokes, and it's not when you're nose to snout with a demon.

3) You're a stereotypical character.
You're an androgynous elf with a bow who likes magic and fine things and is sneakier and prettier and quicker than everybody else. You're a dwarf with a weakness for alcohol and a big axe and a scottish accent. You're a halfling with a sling and a big nose and you're constantly stealing from people. We get it, you're a non-human. But do you have to be so boring, all the time? Not every human is the same, and you shouldn't be able to peg a demihuman, either. Maybe you're a dwarf who hates the underground, so you're a lone woodsman. Maybe you're an elf who knows he looks like a girl, so you carry around ultra-manly things and tries extra hard to be masculine. Maybe you're a halfling who realizes he's short and wears extra big boots and hats to make up for it. The point is, make an interesting character.

4) You're too atypical.
But you can carry the last point too far. When every level one character you create has a backstory ten pages long, and his own heraldry and developed ancestors and all sorts of irrelevant things, you're going to be upset when character death, a natural part of any game, inevitably occurs to him. You're going to be mad, and take it out on the DM, who has probably told you that it's more than likely your character won't make it this far. Pay attention, and don't lavish character on a guy who's little more than cannon fodder at this point. Have a few ideas, sure, but don't waste them on a nobody.

5) You refuse to follow plotlines.
Now, I'm not advocating that the DM should plot out the entire campaign ahead of time, and decide what and how the characters are going to get from point A to B, and all of that. That's a hallmark of a novel writer, and if you know anybody who relentlessly railroads you towards their grand and epic story arc, politely inform them that what they want is to write, not DM. But there's a fine line here, and I think it's here: Get along with your players and your DM, but make sure each of you is in control. What I mean by that is that you don't need to be pulled along by the nose by your DM, but if everybody but you wants to explore the Unforgiven City, don't refuse to go and cry "Railroading!" on your poor DM. Calm down, and go adventuring. That's what you're there for.

6) Refusing to make up your own plotlines.
This is probably why so many DMs feel that they need to railroad their players. A lot of players don't want to make the effort to discover new locations, or go exploring for the sake of exploring, or strike up a friendship with the Sheriff, or the wench in the tavern. They expect important characters to run up to them and tell them what they should be doing, and for kings to take a break from running a kingdom to point them towards the nearest plot hook. If you're not actively engaged in creating the universe that you and the other characters share, you're part of the problem, not the solution, and you've lost your right to complain that you're bored or that you're being railroaded.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Problem with Fantasy Cultures

What's the main problem with other cultures in fantasy worlds and games? That they're just like humans with a tweak or two.

Let me explain.

Elves, as everybody knows, are basically humans with a giant ego and pointy ears who live for a thousand years. They're impossibly stylish, intelligent, thin, strong, and advanced. They live in harmony with the natural world and are incredibly good at magic, but never advance their civilization past what could be easily sustained in their natural world.

What's wrong with that, you might ask? That sounds alright, and, judging by the number of elf fanboys and girls in existence, they're fairly popular.

What's wrong with it is that they're boring. Their main purpose in most games is to provide an example of how to do everything right, and how to be better than you at everything. That's it. Why can't you simply have humans who are better than you at everything, I'll never know. No, it's important that they be elves and not simply super-hippy humans.

As I was sitting in my philosophy of language class, I was spacing out and paying attention at the same time. My professor was talking about how our language necessarily changes the way we think about the world, pointing to such things that don't seemingly exist outside our own minds, like love, justice, and the like. It was then I realized that the basic problem with elves and dwarves is that they, basically, speak the same language as humans!

Now, you could say that the dwarf-runes and elf-script that people claim as the language of dwarves and elves is different. It's simply not true. That's just english, written funny. That's all it is, and it's absurd to think that by turning friend into a flowy script on a ring that you've invented a new language.

What is the solution? Make an actual language for dwarves and elves! Now, it's not actually necessary to literally create a language from the ground up, but it's certainly necessary for there to be a few things about them that humans simply can't understand, or that we find it very hard to understand.

For a good example of that, look at Warhammer Online's dwarvish grudges. To dwarves, every little thing must be avenged, no matter how petty. They keep track of these grudges in enormous tomes, where people write down all the people and places and monsters that have done them wrong, offended them, or acted rudely, so that their ancestors can carry out their grudges, in case they should die.

To most humans, this is absurd. And that's exactly the point! Dwarves take their grudges seriously, and when they try to explain the need for their grudge-books and long, long ancestral memories, humans sort of scoff and look the other way. Even without inventing a new word for it, suddenly dwarves are more than stumpy humans with beards and accents. They've gained a unique way of looking into the world that can't be broken down into mere human ideas. They've become their own seperate race, and isn't that the point of having non-humans in the first place?

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Terrible Truth about Vine Bridge

A lot of people look at vine briding as abusive, noobish, or altogether crap. But honestly, it's the only good spell in an otherwise lackluster book.

Sure, vine bridge is annoying and can change the tempo of the game. Sure it can. But so can shock bomb, or frost shards, or water trolls. It's just the way the game is played. Unlike a person using the Storm, Frost, or Ocean book, though, the nature-user has little in the way of other spells. The entire book is designed to trap you and hold you still, and that's all it really does well. The only winning tactic I've seen even remotely effective has been to entrap the victim in a Vine Bridge or to trap them in a Vine Bomb, and then use Thorn Bomb to detonate later. Certainly, it can be effective, but there are so many things that can go wrong with it.

Personally, I say that Vine Bridge is one of the few reasons to even consider the Nature book. It provides the individual with a first-turn generator of tempo, allows for traversing of difficult terrain, is quick and easy, and requires another, relatively useless spell in the form of Vine Whip.

The terrible truth about Vine Bridge? It's practically the only spell in the Nature book that is worth using.

Friday, September 19, 2008

7 Reasons to use Water Ball

Water Ball is a level one spell from the Book of Seas, which is the prerequisite for Maelstrom. That said, I've never seen anybody use Water Ball, and it baffles me. It's a seriously useful spell! Anyways, let's dive into this:

7) Aimable:
It's easy to aim, and most balls really aren't. For example, Shining Bolt lofts across the screen uselessly, Ice Ball doesn't go anywhere, and Fireball does too straight. Water Ball goes exactly where you tell it to go.

6) Decent damage.
It does 60 damage, and while that isn't exactly game-breaking, it's not too shabby. It's a little better than Fireball, and more useful, to boot.

You need it if you plan on using the supremely useful Maelstrom. I don't think elaboration is needed.

4) Splash Damage.
It's more than possible you'll hit nearby enemies- it's almost certain. Use it when the enemy bunches up, and suddenly they're all hit for decent damage.

3) Bunker Busting.
Used at full strength, it makes a total mess of anybody who's tried using the terrain to hide. Slam one into their hidey-hole, and you can stop by and say hello in person.

2) Escape!
Use it at full power to escape from a mud ball/vine bomb, and hurt the idiot who used it on you, too. It takes back your momentum, and take the offensive again. Be careful with this, though, as many people carry shock bombs, or they'll just slap another one on you, again. Of course, since most entrapping spells do poor damage, you can very likely out-damage his poor, fool self.

1) Pimp Factor.
Everybody uses the same mud-ball -> shock bomb -> lightning bolt -> mega boulder combo. Do something interesting and original, and surprise your opponents for once!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Half-Ogre Sighting!

I saw a man on Fox News (yeah, I know) who looked like nothing so much as an ogre. His name is Pat Caddell, and he is an interesting-looking man.

I'd write more, but I'm addicted to Arcanists ( at the moment, and my writing skill goes down the drain when I'm busy becoming a Master of the Seas.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Conan of Cimmeria

There's something innately magical about cavalry, I think. There's something noble and vaguely frightening about a man with a sword coming at you from on top of an enormous, rampaging beast with deadly hooves.

This is Conan of Cimmeria, to the left, and he's obviously riding down some of his enemies. I think the piece, which I found on the internet, is spectacular.


Saturday, August 30, 2008

The Crypt-Adventure

So, hopefully I'll be running a game of Labyrinth Lord soon, which is exciting. Old-school D&D is nostalgic to me, having played it in my youth before I understood all of this AD&D vs OD&D thing, and way before 3rd edition was a twinkle in anybody's eye. I'm talking BECMI edition, baby.

Anyways, the way I've decided to share my joy is through building an adventure when, once I see how it goes over in actual play, I hope to publish online, along with the campaign guide. Obviously, I hope for the campaign guide to grow as the players and I make things up, but once it gets nailed down into a pseudo-concrete style, it should be published on Dragonsfoot.

Anyways, the most old-school adventure location is, I think, the tomb or crypt. So, the first location my players will be going will be the crypt. I'm in the unusual position of being able to choose exactly what they're going to do, because this will be their first foray back into old-school territory, and they'll be tentative and unsure of what's going to happen. Anyways, the crypt.

It's going to be a pseudo-egyptian one, with zombie guards, deadly insects, traps, and lots and lots of swag. It'll mostly be in the form of tapestries, statues, and other untakeable things, but I hope the players manage to surprise me and lay claim to all sorts of cool stuff and not just the coins and gems and magical shit.

Anyways, I'll post my finished module both here and on Enworld and Dragonsfoot, because I'm of the opinion that you can't give yourself enough free publicity, especially for something as near and dear to my heart as Labyrinth Lord.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Labyrinth Lord

I've been thinking about the game of LL that I want to foist upon my unwitting accomplices. I keep trying to explain to them why, exactly, I want to go back to this old-school game, giving them stories of player interaction vs character interaction, player skill vs character skill, sandbox gaming, and I think it's working.

Which is bad news, actually, because I haven't the foggiest idea of what we're going to play. Now, I know it's bad form to plot out an entire campaign before it happens, and reduce the players to pawns in a story they've had no hand in creating, but it's still good to have some sort of idea what's going on in the world.

I've tentatively set the campaign world at the base of some mountainous terrain, some couple thousand years before our last micro-campaign in Aether Peak. The empire to which their hometown, Northglade, belongs is in a time of absolute peace. It's peaceful, just, fair, and relatively noble. The guards are sharp-eyed and vigilant without being intrusive, and the nobles are uncorrupt. The kingdom is at peace with its neighbors and itself. Tax rates are low, and the economy is growing slowly.

Outside of the kingdom, however, it's a different story. The guards don't care what happens outside of their sturdy walls and off their roads and, by and large, the wilderness is wild . Brigands and skeletons and kobolds scurry about, feuding amongst themselves. Undiscovered ruins lay in unexplored wilderness. Ancient monuments to forgotten gods rise menacingly out of misty valleys, and dark and dangerous dungeons are cut out of mountain faces.

All in all, the cities a terrible place for adventurers- which is the point. They need to go out of town, explore the wilderness, find dungeons and orcs and giants and dragons and ettercaps and all of those cool things. I want them to want to get out of town.

Now, these things might not work. Maybe they'll decide that, since the kingdom is so peaceful, that it's ripe for a revolution. Maybe they'll attempt to overthrow the seemingly complacent town they live in, and install themselves as military dictators. Or maybe they'll take it upon themselves to civilize the outside world, and become rulers of their own little fortress.

But hopefully they won't want to do any of that. Hopefully, they'll just decide to get rich or die tryin'.

Thursday, August 28, 2008


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