Thursday, May 20, 2010

Light and Shadow

It has been awhile since I looked to this blog - I hold a BA in History from an accredited university now. The events leading up to this accomplishment have taken up most of my time, so this project fell to the wayside. Now that I have a little more time on my hands, I have picked up the "pen" again, and have looked at other sources of inspiration for my d20 Advanced game and setting.

This post is about light, and how D&D doesn't have a light magician. Illusionists who have access to the evocation school can do it, but that's the same as saying that all generalists can take the Extra Spell Slot feat, so all forms of specialization are meaningless. The point of the Philosophical schools was to allow for more focused training, to add character to the art of spellcasting. With that in mind, I have created the Rainbow Curriculum.

1.Color Spray
2.Hypnotic Pattern, Rainbow Beam
3.Rainbow Blast, Scintillating Sphere, Prismatic Mist
4.Rainbow Pattern, Radiant Fog, Radiant Shield
5.Prismatic Ray
6.Prismatic Beam
7.Prismatic Spray, Prismatic Eye
8.Prismatic Wall, Scintillating Pattern
9.Prismatic Sphere

Necromancy as Forbidden school.

+3 Bonus to Spot skill checks
May cast Dancing Lights at will.

At 8th level, may automatically add +3 to the DC of all saving throws made against spells in this school.

This school is designed around the Pathfinder variant of the wizard schools (which I find myself in favor of generally, and will use some variant of it in Ad20). I will have to go back and fix the Creationism curriculum to match this new design philosophy, but there you go - a DM's work is never done.

As for where this curriculum may be studied - I haven't done very much with Avalon as far as magic goes, and the nature of this school reminds me of the fae so much that I think I'll place it there, in the city of Bryn Shandor. I envision the school as a holdover of magical practice from before the Court Wars, so it predates the arrival of Avalon to the northern hemisphere. That makes it at least 610 years old, so I'll round it out to an even 650 and call it an afternoon.

I like the save DC bonus for the spells in this school - maybe I'll use it more often for philosophical schools. Time will tell.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Galadran Cosmology

The two pictures on the sidebar of my blog are my two favorite modules for AD&D - Castle Spulzeer and The Forgotten Terror. They were in essence a crossover between the Forgotten Realms (which I despise) and Ravenloft (which I think is the greatest setting of all time). The party was engaged in what appeared to be a typical adventure in the Realms, only to have it turn dark and sinister, sucking the party into a mini-domain of Ravenloft that existed in the tortured psyke of the villain.

The concept of domains always intrigued me. In Ravenloft, they served as prisons for the truly evil beings in the world. In most campaign worlds, though, there are planes, which serve as infinite (or near-infinite) world for the characters, each specifically themed (elemental planes, planes of energy, planes of Law, and so on...). I have always been somewhat leery of planar travel for this reason - an infinite plane based on a single gimmick seemed wrong, somehow. If the players want to explore other worlds, they should be other worlds, not planes - there is more precedent for world travelling in fantasy fiction than planar travel (though with the coming of Magic: The Gathering, planar travel has become more commonplace in the genre.

I like the idea of the elemental planes - the raw power of the elements having a physical location is part of my theory about magical practice in Galadran - but planes like Mechanus just strike me as silly. Whole infinite regions dedicated to the concept of Law seems foolish - Law is a human concept, and the idea that it was influenced by planar suggestion lessens the importance of the concept rather than enhancing its importance.

Yet, planar travel should be possible - whole spells are dedicated to the planes and their denizens. I've already decided against Angels and Demons in my setting (they resemble the Christian concepts of absolute Good and Evil too much to have a place in this world), but I want the travel to have an exotic appeal as well - players should want to travel to other planes if they can. They should not be just be another campaign setting (largely because I don't want to do another one).

That's why Ravenloft's domains are so interesting to me - little pocket dimensions of a limited size that allow for some variation of play without needing the same level of detail and composition as the main world. They could be created by magical means by combining raw elemental forces in the same manner as the main world was - but would be limited in scope (and perhaps in duration).

These "demiplanes" are a far more reasonable concept than infinite ones for me - they have everything that a PC would need (including the promise that they might one day have their own).

They also have the added advantage of many more adventure opportunities - many tiny fragments that obey their own rules have more potential for play. And they are different enough that I can play around with them without having them intrude upon my own world and the metagame it involves.

What metagame, you may ask? I'll leave that for next time....

For now, though, let's look at what I need to make this work.

There is no spell for planar creation in the Wizard's spell list. There is, however, a psionic power that allows it - Genisis. It is a simple matter to make this a 9th level wizard spell and be done with it. That part is easy. But the nature of the plane is what's important.

From the SRD:

You determine the environment within the demiplane when you manifest genesis, reflecting most any desire you can visualize. You determine factors such as atmosphere, water, temperature, and the general shape of the terrain. This power cannot create life (including vegetation), nor can it create construction (such as buildings, roads, wells, dungeons, and so forth). You must add these details in some other fashion if you desire. You can’t create lingering psionic effects with this power; you have to add those separately, if desired. Similarly, you can’t create a demiplane out of esoteric material, such as silver or uranium; you’re limited to stone and dirt. You can’t manipulate the time trait on your demiplane; its time trait is as the Material Plane. Once your demiplane reaches 180 feet in radius, you can manifest this power again to gradually add another 180 feet of radius to it, and so on.

Change the "manifest this power" to "cast this spell again" and "psionic" to "magic", and we're done.

But how does this fit in with the rest of the world? This sort of spell doesn't happen in a vacuum. Fortunately, the extradimensional space spells (Mordenkainin's spells, such as the Magnificent Mansion) are a perfect precursor to this spell. The experiments with these lower level spells lead naturally to Genesis.

Mordenkainin's spells are replaced by Math Keeson in my world, so this spell will be named "Keeson's Genesis."

So far so good. We've got the basis for a new cosmology - one based on slow incursions into creationism rather than exploration. This means that very powerful spellcasters have places to go in the world that gets them out of my setting (preventing "powerful NPC syndrome), as well as giving me some lesser worlds to explore with my players - world than can be collapsed and created as the story demands.

Now for the continuity: Keeson is still alive as of 607 (the default starting year for all campaigns in Galadran), and is in his early forties. This spell can be no more than a decade or so old. That limits its viability some for ancient threats, but that doesn't concern me much - there is enough ancient in my world's history that I don't need demiplanes as well. A spell of this power that is new also gives the suggestion of progress in the world - something that campaign worlds lack. The world always seems to be filled with more advanced ancient civilizations and magics than are available in the "present," and that just doesn't fit with what we know about human history and progress.

This new magical invention means that the practical effects and limits to the spell haven't been explored yet, giving my players something else to do at high levels - they can discover the limits of the spell themselves (as I'm sure Keeson is trying to do as we speak), and enjoy the discovery that entails. There may also be hidden dangers that this sort of arcane creation provokes that have not been discovered yet...

Nevertheless, this sort of creationism requires a philosophic school of specialization (as discussed in Dragon Magazine issue 338). This school should be located in Silva, since that was Keeson's adopted home for much of his young adult life (he moves to Oreda in the summer of 607 to become one of the chairs at Crage Hall).

The Creationism Curriculum

Graduates from this Curriculum receive a +3 on all Survival skill checks.

1. Shield, Floating Disk
2. Rope Trick, Flaming Sphere
3. Keeson's Tiny Hut
4. Minor Creation, Keeson's Secure Shelter
5. Keeson's Private Sanctum, Major Creation
6. Create Undead
7. Instant Summons
8. Create Greater Undead
9. Keeson's Genesis, Refuge, Imprisonment

Graduates of this school must take Illusion as their forbidden school.

That's all for now, my friends. Talk to you again soon.

Reimagining the Game Through WoW

I hate World of Warcraft. It's a time and money sink, and a rip-off of the Gauntlet series of video games. I mean, seriously, look at Gauntlet from the 80s:

Right down to the spawning monsters. This game was fun 25 years ago, but adding the ability to name your characters, giving them more to collect, and improving the graphics isn't enough for me to pay a monthly fee. And it shouldn't be for anyone else either.

That being said, though, the game designers have some good points to make about game design - ones that I need to remember when putting Galadran together. They make some mistakes as well.

First point to address:

It's a good point. WoW is a simple game to learn. So was D&D once. I'm not the only one who remembers that, either. What happened? The same thing that happened to wargames before roleplaying - as the players became more sophisticated, they began to demand more from the game. Modern players want gameplay sophistication to a degree that would have killed the hobby if it had been present all along.

But it's wrong at the same time. AD&D was very complicated, and it managed not only to survive, but prosper. The key is that the new levels of complication had a rationale behind them that the new player could understand. This made the rule make sense in a way that the more modern rules and powers do not. Why in 4e does my fighter have so many cool supernatural-style powers? Its never explained how healing surges work, or what they're supposed to represent in a concrete way (they are like a "second wind" for the PC, but even that explanation leaves something to be desired). How do clerics work with their Gods? Are healing surges a mechanical metagaming thing, or do they represent something more? I don't know - the game doesn't tell me. That makes the rule one I need to remember by rote- which is annoying. It would be easier to remember if it represented something I could understand in "real world" terms.

So the secret to adding complexity to your game is to make sure that it represents something that people can understand. Just more rules for their own sake (like powers in 4e) are irritating to remember, largely because people don't learn that way. They learn by applying new information to existing concepts - that's why knowledge in school builds on itself, why you need to understand base principles before more complicated material can be introduced. We learn that way. Memorization is considered the lowest form of educational tool. It is frustrating to the student, and typically considered a waste of time. Why would that be the primary way to play a game made for pleasure?

Second Point:

Gameplay First: Before anything else, you want to concentrate the game on the fun. All aspects of the game -- the design, the mechanics of encounters, the quests and story are focused on making the game fun to play. Not only fun to play -- but fun to play for players, not developers.

I forget this one a lot when designing my game, so it's important to remember. I love my game, but that makes sense - it's MINE. If I want other people to love my game, I need to make it good for them as well. I have a certain amount of this that I can ignore (people that are playing in my game know the sort of person I am, so are expecting a certain amount of my brand of "coolness." But the game is really for them, not for me, and I should remember that.

The challenge is to keep players jumping through the correct hoops, while making those hoops fun.

No. No. No. The challenge is to make the experience fun and immersible enough that the characters will create their own hoops. That is the essence of a sandbox world over a plot-driven one. If your characters feel that they can do whatever they want, they will come upon with things to do, rather than needing you to give them tasks. That is the measure of success in this endeavor.

Point Three:

You can see this philosophy in 4e, and to some extent in d20. It's wrong. There's no sense of accomplishment in that philosophy. That's a no-brainer. If you want the game to be anything more than level grinding and optimizing power builds, there needs to be a sense of accomplishment inherent in the game that encourages players to work together, share the accomplishment, and look forward to the next challenge. If the game is not hard, there is not "winning," only escapist time-wasting. You can play video games for that. This should be more than a video game around a table.

And it can be. For me it is.

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Base Classes

OK, the first thing needed to establish my game is to work on the base classes. Classes, races , and feats define the d20 system, so changes to that system are the most important to the manner in which the game functions.

So let's look at my design principles behind the core classes:

- The classes need to be flavorful and draw the power level of the classes together. The fighting classes need to have their power level increased to match the power of the spellcasting classes. As it stands, there is almost no reason to play a fighting class for all 20 levels. This should change.

- Each class should feel unique from each other, and add to the flavor of my campaign world. The Wizard and the Sorcerer are too similar to count in my world. Each class should have its own play strategy, not just be a variation on an existing theme. Variations may be included in regional sections (each area of my world will have additional classes unique to the culture), but when it comes to the core classes, each one needs to play differently and well.

- There should be no more than 11 core classes. That's about all I think the game needs. More than that, and it becomes confusing, less than that, and the important variety is gone. I could go as low as eight, but I will not go over 11. We'll see what we come up with.

- The classes should be divided up evenly. There are basically three class variants in D&D; fighting classes, magic-using classes, and classes that do a little of each (hybrid classes). I want no more than 4 fighting and magic-using classes, with three hybrids to round it out. This should allow for enough variety of play that every player can enjoy some style, without making the game too focused on any one aspect (magic, mundane combat etc..).

- Lastly, the classes need to evoke the character of my world. I know it seems strange, but Galadran has a specific feel that I want to evoke, and every aspect of the game should help reflect that feel. This is one of the things that World of Darkness did very will in its original run - every aspect of each game contributed to the overall feel of the game. D&D was/is attempting a more generic style of play, but my world is unrestricted by such concerns. If you are playing in Galadran, you are playing IN GALADRAN, and the game needs to make the ambiance and prevailing themes clear from the beginning. That starts with these base classes, races, and feats.

So here are the finalists.

The Four Fighting Classes

Fighter (heavily modified): The fighter redux for Galadran is based on two principles. The first is that this is a person that learned fighting from experience on the field, rather than in an academy or dojo (that's what the warrior class is for). Secondly, that he will evolve into a military commander, in the manner of Achilles or King Arthur. The fighter gains auras that improve his allies' fighting abilities when they are nearby him (he is a presence on the field), and after a certain point, he begins to attract followers, who want to learn from and assist him.

The Barbarian (Pathfinder variant): Pathfinder did this right. This is the fighting class that relies on natural talent over training. There's not much more to say - this is a very good and flexible class with many options and tactical subtlety. In it goes.

The Warrior (Tome of Battle variant fighter): The master of personal combat, who has learned the art of personal combat at the feet of some legendary master or under the strict eye of a tutor or academy. This class was taken wholesale from this site, with one change made for the sake of variety. I have collected more than thirty different martial disciplines, and want to use this class as a starting point for all specially trained master warriors. Like domains for clerics, I want each kingdom to have one or more academies dedicated to personal combat, each offering around three disciplines to those who learn the trade from there. This should allow for near infinite combinations, to say nothing of what the prestige classes can offer, without forcing the player to scour through all of the disciplines and pick the ones he wants. For people less interested in the "fluff" of the schools, I will offer them three disciplines in the class description, representing the "generic" fighting school.

The rogue: Straight from the book, with additional rogue abilities taken from Dragon magazine or other d20 supplements for additional options. No other changes - this guy was about perfect out of the box.

The Four Spellcasting Classes:

The Cleric: No changes. This class is flexible and powerful. In it goes.

The Druid: No changes. Same reason as above.

The Shadowcaster (heavily modified, from Tome of Magic): This is the first real change to the spellcasters in this book. The Wizard is out as a core class (I have my reasons - he should be a regional option, in my opinion) and in his place is the Shadowcaster. I like the feeling of menace and weird supernaturality of the shadowcaster, and it fits well with the overall theme of my world much better than the typical wizard. Magic in Galadran is a dangerous force, and it should feel dangerous and creepy. At the same time, I imagined this type of spellcasting to be the first kind of arcane magic practiced in the world, so it goes in for that reason as well. The modifications are taken in to give the class a little more staying power in a fight. They may regain one of their supernatural abilities as a standard action, or all of them as a full-round action, in the manner of a ToB class. This should keep them in the fight longer, and make them a more viable option than they used to be for play.

The Thaumaturgist (taken from Iron Kingdoms' Mortithurge, modified slightly): This class in effect replaces the Sorcerer in my book. He represents a stutter-step between the old casting of the Shadowcasters, and the "new" classic vancian system that is prevalent in my "European" civilization. Basically, it fights a little bit (proficiency with martial and simple weapons, and light armor, and has the armored spellcater ability), but utilizes a spellbook and memorizes like a wizard (with a restricted spell list, and many fewer spells per day). I don't consider this a hybrid class, because the combat ability is very secondary to the class. The class abilities allow the cater to hurt himself (and later, others) to power or reuse spells. This fits with the "magic is dangerous" theme of my world, and so in it goes.

The Three Hybrid Classes:

The Ranger (heavily modified): The ranger is really the scout from the Heroes of battle book. The animal companion has been replaced with an ability to flank at range, and the ranger spells have been added to class. This helps both classes (who suffered from one-hit-wonderdom) by allowing them to function as a ranged harasser class and a scout, while still keeping that supernatural attachment to nature that the class enjoyed (sort of like a paladin for outdoorsmen).

The Hexbalde (modified): The hexblade is really, really, cool - but WAY too weak to be effective. the idea is so good, and the implementation is so bad. It is perfect for Galadran, but needs to be brought up to speed.

The changes are from Mike Mearls' suggestions:

* Good Fortitude save
* Curse ability usable 1 + the hexblade's Cha modifier per day
* Curse ability usable as a swift action
* Curse ability does not count as used if the target makes his saving throw
* Ability to cast in light or medium armor and while carrying a light shield or buckler
* At 6th level, the hexblade can cast one hexblade spell per day as a swift action, as long as its original casting time is a standard action or faster. He gains an additional use of this power at levels 8, 11, 14, and 18.

I've also expanded the curse effects, allowing the power to "scale," as an incentive to keep with the class. This is the paladin replacement.

The Beastmaster (from the Iron Kingdoms Paingiver): This class was presented as a torturer class, but really, it trains animals and herds them into battle. The idea was so cool, I wondered why it was not really mentioned in the class other than to give it the abilities it needs. Screw being able to torture - I love the idea of being able to train and herd semi-tame monsters into battle as "allies." And I think that also fits with the more gritty theme of my world - more so than a bard. In it goes.

One modification, though. Instead of a +3 to Knowledge (torture) at 2nd level, I'm going to go with Animal Handling. Works better.

That's all for now, my friends. Talk to you later.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Thinking About What Makes a Good Game

With the campaign that started this blog on hiatus, and my final year of school before taking on my new role as teacher making more and more demands on my time, I've decided to repurpose this blog for the time being into what it was already becoming anyway; a forum for my thoughts and ideas about game design (specifically, my game's design) and a place to post some idea that are being considered for my campaign world (the PHB of which I hope to finally finish this week).

So, to begin:

I LOVE the d20 system. I never wanted to like It, never wanted to have it replace my beloved AD&D, but it did, and I love it. I do not feel the same way about 4e, but that's because 4e is a steaming pile of offal, not a game.

The only problem I have with d20 is that it doesn't feel much like AD&D - it lacks the teamwork that comes from the earlier editions. There isn't much mechanical advantage to teamwork in 3.5, nor does the same appear to have been balanced around teamwork as the style of play. I'd like the game to have more options, to better support teamwork, and to allow the weird fantasy feel that I've come to associate with classic RPG fantasy, while keeping the incredible outrageousness that has come to typify the "Dungeonpunk" style that 3e introduced.

I mean, look at this:

That is legitimately cool - the classic party of adventurers in a group shot. That will probably become the cover for my Player's Guide, because it is exactly what I want the players to be - a group, a party. Not six lone wolf individuals that just happen to be travelling in the same direction for no appreciable reason.

At the same time, look at this:

THAT'S what a combat should feel like. This will probably be the cover to my Monstrous Manual, for the same reason. Adventuring is dangerous, and most of those that undertake it should have abbreviated lifespans. That's why adventurers don't run the world economy, and why there still are dungeons to explore and get treasure from - this isn't a career choice, it's an all-or-nothing gamble for wealth. Its a desperate attempt at the good life for the 99% of the world that will never see it any other way. It's also a gamble heavily weighted against the player. That's why most people stay at home and farm turnips.

Combat should have a definite Sword & Sorcery feel to it - cinematic, but not in the anime style. It should be gritty and intense, but I don't want to drag it down with too many complications. This game should be about options, not compulsory rules that make everything more difficult for no reason. "Realism," for lack of a better term, but not at the expense of playability. To that end, I want to make as many option available as I can, but I want to give each player a choice in whether or not to use them. There should be mechanical advantages to these options, but not using them shouldn't penalize the players either.

In short, I want a game that allows the players to have the maximum choices I can give them, without forcing them to accept the changes to the system all at once. The additional options should be common sense, or should FEEL optional.

Lastly, look at this:

In my mind, this is proof of concept for the Dungeonpunk style - Eberron may suck as a sandbox world (and it does), but it got the feel of the game right. Menace, activity, and the right combination of dark weirdness and exotic fantasticness that every D&D game should strive for.

It CAN be done. It just hasn't been done PROPERLY yet, not as I see it.

That's what AD20 is going to be - AD&D with 3e mechanics, heavily modified to bring it in line with the philosophy I've outlined here. If I stay true to the concept, it should produce a great game.

That's why I'm doing this, after all. To do it right by my vision. And that's what makes D20 so much better than the 2e or 4e systems. It's my vision that counts, not the vision of the designers. That's what should be true.

Time will tell. I'll keep everyone informed.

Friday, January 22, 2010

"Adventures" in Town

This post is inspired by Jeff's carousing table in Jeff's Gameblog, which can be found on the right-hand toolbar. His ideas are good ones, but are based around 2e. The author of Playing D&D With Porn Stars (also found below) tried to update this to his 3e game. I like some of his ideas, and thought I'd give it a try for Galadran.

The idea behind this is to help players behave more like adventurers in pulp fantasy literature - which is to say, the same way sailors act when they get off the boat after a few months at sea. They tend to get caught up in boozing and whoring until all their money is gone, forcing them to head out to sea again. This vicious cycle is never emulated by PCs, who tend to act like monks with their money, sleeping in the cheapest rooms (sometimes even doubling up to save money), eating rations instead of fine food, and spending their money only on equipment. These people have chosen a profession based on violence and adventure, yet act like Scrooge in his counting house. That makes no sense to me, and is the result of people not actually living in the setting, and instead treating it like a game to be won rather than a reality to be experienced.

Here's the breakdown:

Whenever a party goes into a settlement larger than a small town (not much of a night life in these smaller areas) they may use gold pieces to gain XP by spending a night on the town. This represents the characters going out to taverns, burlesque houses, opium dens, theatrical productions, banquet halls, or some other activity that has no mechanical benefit but would be considered leisure. This is the D&D equivalent of bar hopping or clubbing in our modern world.

The exchange rate on gp for xp is 1 for 1, but a minimum of 100gp per character involved must be spent. XP gained is split evenly among the group. You may carouse this way once per night.

However, for every 100xp per participant gained, one member of the group (the players must choose who) is considered to have caroused excessively. The excessive carouser must then roll d20 on the Carousing Mishaps Table below. A group member may not be chosen to have excessively caroused a second time until all members have excessively caroused once. Once every member has caroused excessively twice, the night ends, regardless of how much more money the group has.

Carousing Mishap Table (d20)

1. You make a fool of yourself in public. Gain no XP. Roll Charisma check or gain a reputation in this town as a drunken lout.

2. Gambling binge. Lose all your gold, gems, jewelry. Roll Wisdom check (DC 15) for each magic item in your possession. Failure indicates it’s gone.

3. Involved in random brawl. Roll Strength check or lose 3d4 hit points.

4. Wake up in bed with someone. Roll on Wake Up table below.

5. Minor misunderstanding with local authorities. Imprisoned until fines and bribes totaling d6 x 100gp paid.

6. Target of lewd advances turns out to be a witch. Save versus polymorph monster (Caster Level 2+ your character level, Caster INT/CHA 16)or you’re literally a swine.

7. Insult Local Person of Rank. Roll on Important Person table below.

8. You couldn’t really see the rash in the candlelight. Make a Fortitude saving throw (as appropriate) to avoid contracting a disease.

9. Hung over. The next day, your character suffers a -4 to all to-hit rolls and saves. Spellcasters must roll Int check (DC 10+ spell level) with each spell to avoid mishap when casting.

10. Despite your best efforts, you fall head over heels for your latest dalliance. 75% chance your beloved is already married.

11. When in a drunken stupor you asked your god(s) to get you out of some stupid mess. Turns out they heard you! Now as repayment for saving you, you’re under the effects of a geas spell.

12. Wake up stark naked in a local temple. Roll a d6.
1-3: The clerics are angry.
4-6: The clerics smile and thank you for stopping by.

13. Major misunderstanding with local authorities. Imprisoned until fines and bribes totaling d6 x 1,000gp paid. All weapons, armor, and magic items confiscated.

14.Gain local reputation as the life of a party. All future carousing in this location costs double due to barflies and other parasites that join your revels.

15. You ended the night in a gambling house, and lost everything. You gain no XP for the night.

16. Invest all your spare cash (50% chance all gems and jewelry, too) in some smooth-tongued merchant’s scheme. Roll a d6.
1-4 It’s a scam.
5 It’s a scam and the local law enforcement thinks you’re in on it.
6 Actual money making opportunity returns d% profits in 3d4 months.

17. Beaten and robbed. Lose all your personal effects and take half of your maximum Hit Points in damage.

18. You’re not sure how it happened, but you’ve been initiated into some sort of secret society or weird cult. Roll Int check (DC 15) to remember the signs and passes.

19. Accidentally start a conflagration. Roll a d6 twice.
First Roll:
1-2: burn down your inn (or wherever else you are staying)
3-4: Some other den of ill repute is reduced to ash.
5-6: A big chunk of town goes up in smoke.

Second Roll:
1-2: No one knows it was you.
3-4: Your fellow carousers know you did it.
5: Someone else knows, perhaps a blackmailer.
6: Everybody knows.

20. Rougher Night than normal. Roll twice on this table and add the results together.

Wake Up Table (d12)

1. Multiple people. Roll twice on this table. Roll an additional time each time you get this result.
2. Apparently normal attractive member of orientation-appropriate gender.
3. Apparently normal attractive member of orientation-inappropriate gender.
4. Randomly determined other PC(neither remembers anything).
5. Apparently normal unattractive member of orientation-appropriate gender.
6. (Roll again on this table) You're married.
7. Apparently normal unattractive member of orientation-inappropriate gender.
8. (Roll again on this table) You wake up naked in one of the places you visited last night.
9. You awaken alone.
10. Your exact double.
11. Roll on "Local Person of Rank" table.
12. (roll again on this table)The person next to you is dead (PCs may not be killed in this way - they are instead reduced to half of their remaining Hit Points).

Person of Rank Table (d8)

1. Priest of most important local deity or lare.
2. Local monarch
3. Tavern owner
4. Chief of the constabulary/local military
5. Court wizard
6. Court librarian
7. Random local noble, female
8. Random local noble, male

Return to Borderville

This is the first of several "wrap-up" sessions the party underwent while attempting to secure funding for continued work on clearing the mine. By the end of these sessions, they had more work on their plates than they knew what to do with and were in the process of selling the mine to the town guard of Borderville in exchange for a percentage of the profits. Lots happened in these sessions, but most of it was over a long period. In order to bring the campaign up to the current time quickly, I'll be condensing these events into two or three more posts, touching briefly on what happened in each location they travelled to. This session deals with the party's return to Borderville, and the state of the town when they arrive.

As an aside for those reading this that are not part of the regular game, it has been obliquely established that the "town guard" of Borderville are in fact more of an organized crime group than deputies of law and order. The local Lord is a fool and a dandy, and doesn't care about the daily operation of the town as long as he continues to get his tax revenues. This leaves the guards as the de facto masters of the region, and they have used this freedom to establish themselves in all sorts of nefarious businesses. They are both the police and the thieves guild. When the party discovered this in game, it wasn't a plot point I considered important to where I thought the adventure was heading. But, as usual, the players surprised me with their actions, so I'm making it clear now, because it becomes more important going forward.

The fight with the owlbears had proved profitable. Marko and Hinda went to work binding the whelps, while Alaric constructed a series of cages to hold them. Meatwad helped Charles and Kain reestablish camp, grumbling all the time about being "saved" by Alaric, which he perceived as the magic-user stealing his glory, and then placing him in a debt of gratitude. The fighter was more than happy to shed blood with his companions, but Alaric was an interloper, who had lost his own group in the caves and was now trying to weasel his way into this one.

The journey back to Borderville took most of the day, with the party arriving at the North Gate in the early evening. It was not a pleasant trip - it was intermittently rainy, and the storm the night before had turned the paths into mud. There was no member of the group (including Hren) that was not happy to see the walls of the city when it finally came into view.

The most pleased at the homecoming was Alaric, who was interested in heading back to Long Lake as soon as he could. He lacked funding for the ferry, but told Wahleed that he would accept one of the owlbears, a wagon, and a horse as payment for his assistance to the group. Although both Meatwad and Meghan argued that the party had saved his life, and that Alaric should be showing gratitude rather than asking for payment, Wahleed agreed to the terms, provided that Alaric show him how best to break down and assemble the owlbear cages.

Having returned to their home in Borderville, the party dismissed Charles, Kain, and Marko from their service. The guards had served them well, and Meatwad promised to inform the captain of the East Gate of their satisfaction.

Next, the group checked in on their slaves, whom Wahleed was interested in freeing as soon as he could figure out the legal process. But all was not well with them. One of the girls, simply refereed to as "Girl" in the elvish tongue, had had her arm broken by a member of the town guard. Hren was furious, calling for vengeance on the man who had dared touch their servants. But Wahleed calmed her down - the town guard respected and feared the party, and would not have harmed their property without reason. He wanted to bring the matter up to the guard captain before taking action. If it turned out that the guard had acted alone or improperly, Wahleed assured Hren that he would allow the ranger to cut out the man's heart for his transgressions.

The following day, while Meatwad and Meghan recuperated from their wounds, Wahleed, Hren, and Hinda paid a visit to the office of the captain of the East Gate. They learned first that their servants had apparently gotten lost, and found themselves in an area of the city that they should not have been. They had also been witnesses to an event that they absolutely should not have seen. The perpetrators of this "event" had wanted to cut their throats for their transgression, but the guard (who "happened" to be at the scene on "unrelated business") convinced them that killing the servants of the Destrucity adventurer party would be unwise. As a form of compromise, he had broken "Girl's" arm, and escorted the servants back to their home.

On a related note, the captain mentioned that freeing the slaves was as easy as telling them they were free - but they would need to remain as servants in some form or capacity to the group if Wahleed wanted to keep them safe. Landless people with no masters were targets for slavers specifically because no one would miss them. The best way to keep them out of the slaver's hands was to make them servants or vassals. Given the group's local reputation, the girls should be reasonably safe.

The party remained in Borderville for about a week - Meatwad had never fully recovered from his experience with the evil book in the tomb beneath the caves, and a week's rest and recuperation was needed to calm his mind and prepare him for further travels. He had already swore that when next he met with Alaric, he would kill him for his arrogance and smug dismissals of the warrior's skills. Meghan agreed that another meeting with the magic-user woud probably end in violence, for she hated his cunning and shifty demeanor, as well as the way he seemed to hold all those who did not cast spells in mild contempt.

Other than that, the week was spent in preparation for the party's trip to Long Lake. They could not take the ferry for another few days, so the decision was made to make the journey on foot. They would take the owlbears to the markets there and sell them, using the money to fund continued expeditions into the mine. Eventually, Wahleed hoped to sell the mine - he had no desire to become a miner - but first it had to be made safe for workers. The owlbear whelps were the perfect form of start-up cash.

It was also hoped that the group might locate a wealthy patron or two that would be interested in helping them out. Not much was known about the city, and the opportunities for finding funding or assistance seemed remote. But Long Lake was the largest city in Silva until you reached the western coast, so if they were to find help anywhere, it was most likely here.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A Long and Visual Rant About The OD&D Revival

At its root, the OD&DR is made up of people who believe that WotC destroyed their hobby when they purchased TSR, and have either refused to change systems (remaining with 1st and 2nd edition), or have picked up The OSRIC game, or some other D20 alternative that attempts to turn the d20 rule set into a sort of second edition with skills and feats. Some people new to the hobby have abandoned 4th edition (or never gave it a look at all) and have simply picked up OSRIC or the older books on eBay. It's about the nostalgia of gaming, and these players want a piece of history, even if they weren't around to see it made the first time.

Now, let me be clear that as far as I'm concerned, anything that draws market share away from 4th edition is fine by me. I don't care if you're leaving the game to go play tiddlywinks or GURPS - as long as you're leaving. The disgusting failure that is the new iteration of Gygax's game needs to go broke before the mouth-breathers at WotC will stop tinkering with D&D. My only hope for the future of my hobby is that whatever passes for management at Hasbro will see the failing numbers and cut the "creative" staff free. Even a squad of monkeys with tourettes syndrome would produce a better game system, so almost anyone except the writers of FATAL would be an improvement.

But the OD&DR poses a different sort of problem for me as a gamer. I own all the 2nd edition supplements I was interested in, and most of the 1st edition ones as well. They came out when I was young, before I discovered girls, got a car, went on dates, got married or had children. OD&D was affordable then, and the books never go out of style. I could join this new revolution and be perfectly at home.

But I'm not going to. I've worked too hard on this new edition of GALADRAN to throw it away, even for a older and beloved version. The very existence of the revival makes me wonder at the state of our hobby. The OD&DR's are on the surface another form of gaming purist - for them, there is no D&D but OD&D. They have lost their faith in WotC, and in other gaming companies to produce any alternative to the old game. That would be understandable from grognards like me, but brand new players rejecting modern gaming for retro is surprising. But its not that simple.

Retro crazes are usually predicated on two things - nostalgia and identity. People who lived it once want the nostalgia. Newcomers to a niche genre (like steampunk or gothic style, for example) tend to adopt it as a defining characteristic that separates them from the "mainstream" culture of their niche. It is in essence a way to further factionalize an already small group for the purpose of being even more different.

It can also be a sort of protest move, which is what I think is happening with the OD&DR. It is gaining popularity as a form of protest against mainstream D&D. Protest grumpiness like this was common when the game went from 2nd to 3rd edition as well (I was one of the grumpy ones). But this is less about the game being ruined by people without the original vision (as was the popular complaint then) and more about the game being ruined by the people who "ruined" it the last time. There is no faith in WotC to turn the ship around, and as a result people have just abandoned it for other things. But they want Wizards to know they have abandoned them, and they want to be missed. They keep hoping that their protest will cause WotC to try and woo them back, address their needs, and return things to the way they were. They're like ex-girlfriends.

Wizards did this to themselves. I have never seen a more incompetent advertising campaign than the one I saw for the release of 4th edition - and that includes the abomination that was the campaign for the release of 3rd edition. In order to generate buzz for the new edition of the game, they needed a strategy to entice player away from their current edition. It was decided that the way to do this was to highlight the ease of play and the new features of 4th edition over the older, more complicated edition. On the surface, this seems like a good strategy, and in some cases it was handled well. Have a look at this webclip they sent out to talk about some of the changes in the new edition.

The gnome is the best part, but I got to learn a little about the game too. I was both entertained and informed by this ad. They should have stuck with this. Instead, it was decided to highlight ease of play by casting aspersions on the game already in production. Have a look.

I don't know about any of you, but I had no problem with THAC0 or weapon speed in 2nd edition. I had no trouble with grapple or sunder rules in 3rd edition. Furthermore, I don't know anyone who did. To imply that the new edition is better because the four idiots around that table never read their rulebook insults my intelligence. And I'm personally offended to be grouped together with them. This doesn't make me want to play 4th edition - it makes me hate the people who produced this garbage.

TSR had this problem to a lesser extent as well. Check the Wikipedia article above for examples. Public relations doesn't seem to be a strong point for either company. And that hurts them. The more they try to be clever and innovative with the rules, the more derivative the ruleset becomes, and the more they are forced to defend their innovation. The more they try to connect with older gamers, the more they drive them away.

The OD&D revival is a result of this dissatisfaction. Gamers like D&D, but hate the people running it. They want their dissatisfaction to be recognized, but can't do it simply by refusing to play the new edition (like I have) because that would mean they would be ignored by the gaming community. They want the attention, the bully pulpit, and they want their choice of game to reflect their dissatisfaction.

More than any other reason, that's why I won't join it. I want to build my world, create my game, and DM in peace. I don't want a cause - I want a game. And I have one I like. If D&D never produces another book in any edition, I'll still have my game. And that's all I want.

Creativity, Roleplay, and Authentic Experiences

TED is one of the best resources for thought on the internet. As someone who is learning to become an educator and a roleplayer, I found this whole lecture fascinating. For those of you more interested in the role play specifics, start at around the 19:00 mark.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Last Few Sessions, Part 3

Believing that the remaining wounded owlbear was in all likelihood the last of its kind in the cave, Wahleed urged the party to venture after it. Killing the beast would be the only way to ensure safety for the party. There was another reason as well - this many owlbears in one place suggested that they were a family, and that meant that the possibility for owlbear whelps or eggs existed. Immature or unborn owlbears were highly valued in civilized regions, and the sale of such creatures could help offset the cost of their latest expedition.

Meatwad, for his part, was furious at Alaric for his interference with the owlbear. The fighter felt that he had the situation well in hand, and that the magic-user has needlessly interfered. Alaric was unapologetic, saying that if Meatwad had been in control of the fight, he would have killed the owlbear quickly. Meatwad gave the leaner man a shove, telling him to stay out of his way in the future. With that, he plunged into the darkness, the rest of the party close behind.

The remaining owlbear was found hunched over a pile of mud and leaves with a hollow top - a crude nest fashioned by the clumsy claws of the beast. Within the nest, the party could see feathers and fur moving about. The owlbear had young! The expedition might not go to waste after all! Unwilling to try the frontal approach in their wounded state, Meghan and Meatwad moved to each of the creature's flanks, hoping to pin it down. The enraged creature startled them by rushing from the nest with a protective cry and slashing wildly at the satyxis. It's first attacks were clumsy, and Meghan easily stepped aside, readying her spiked chain for a counter-attack. At the same time, Meadwad advanced on the nest. From his vantage point behind Hinda, Wahleed reminded the fighter that the owlbear young were useless to the party dead. In order to sell them, they would need to be taken alive.

Meatwad nodded in acknowledgement, and prepared to use the flat of his blade on the creatures, when they suddenly leapt from the nest in a tide of fur and feathers. As the startled fighter attempted to gain distance from his vicious assailants, Meghan swung her spiked chain in a wide parabola at the owlbear in front of her, hoping to shatter the creature's skull. With surprising agility, the beast ducked under the whirling chain and sunk its beak into her chest. Blood welled up from Meghan's throat as she sank to the floor, losing consciousness as her body went into shock.

With a startled cry, Hinda rushed forward to help her fallen companion. The owlbear reacted quickly, raking its claws against the cleric's armor, but Hinda held the attacks at bay while she whispered a hurried prayer to her God. Blue light streamed from her hand into the Meghan's comatose form. But on this day, the Gods proved fickle, and while her wounds closed, the satyxis' breathing remained shallow and labored. She would live if she could be evacuated, but was still out of the fight. Not wanting to risk another prayer with an owlbear at her throat, Hinda turned away from Meghan and prepared to do battle.

It had become apparent to Wahleed that he would be needed in this fight, even though his magical power was rapidly fading. With a wave of his hand, the Shi'ar sent shafts of green light into the owlbear. As the light passed through it, the creature screamed in pain, but the agony only spurred it on with renewed fury. With an inarticulate cry, the owlbear savaged Hinda, its claws tearing into the cleric even as it grabbed hold of her. She could only struggle feebly against the creature's grip as it tore at her side with its beak. The world swam briefly, but a surge of adrenaline brought it back into focus. Hinda strained against the grip of the strange beast - if she had any hope of surviving, it lay in her escape.

Meatwad, trapped and outnumbered, began to feel fear grip him - numerous wounds has sapped his strength, his mobility was compromised, and was separated from his allies, most of whom were in a similar situation. Panicked, he attempted to break free of the horde of owlbear whelps. He nearly made it before the pack of beasts pulled him down.

As Wahleed threw more spells at the monsters, he commanded Jombi to get help. Even as he spoke, the whelps turned their attention to him, and only a quickly-timed illusion protected the Shi'ar from their wrath. The Gen fled toward the cave entrance, but it wasn't needed - Alaric, armed with his scroll caddy, began to weave a powerful enchantment on the owlbear young. In seconds they were asleep. For the second time in an hour, Alaric had rescued Meatwad. The magic-user let fly his final spell, sending another flaming sphere into the owlbear that had Hinda at its mercy. The sudden pain weakened the beast enough that the cleric could free herself, but she was still too weak to be of much use. With a final desperate flourish, Wahleed sent what divine energy he had into Hinda, revitalizing her just as the owlbear recovered from its shock. Rising, the cleric swung her weapon into the monster's astonished skull, shattering it.

The battle was ended, and the owlbears captured. Charles and Marko went in to the cave to recover their employers, and reestablish camp.