Saturday, October 16, 2010

Can't Spell Slaughter Without Laughter!

Everyone likes a good Joke, and we D&D geeks are no exception.

This article will point you in the right direction if you're looking for D&D jokes.

Can't spell Slaughter without Laughter! 

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Who is The Raven Queen

One of the most interesting new Gods is The Raven Queen. Wanna know more about her? Follow this Link.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Need to learn 4E

My recent experience with writing for Bright hub has taught me that I do not know enough about Dungeons and Dragons' 4th edition.

I sit here with my 4E core rule book in hand, and find myself in an ironic situation. I'm holding, perhaps for the first time in my life, a D&D rule book for which I have little to not interest in, and I have to read and absorb for reasons other than personal enjoyment.

Interesting, the twists and turns life throws, eh?

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Merlin in your D&D game

D&D stats for famous characters can be pretty impressive sometimes, and what better character than Merlin to insert into your campaign??

I've you've ever wanted to sling spells as Merlin in your game, go here:

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Monsters of Old

There were some truely whakey creatures in the 2e Monsterous manual... Remember these guys??

The Osquip:

The Freddy Mercury of the rodent world. To this day, I can't look at someone with big teeth and not want to call them an Osquip, except for the fact that it's more than likely they'll have no idea what the hell I'm talking about.

Or, if they do know what I'm talking about, I'll feel terrible for offending an apparently kindred spirit.

The Flumph
What could be cooler than a sort of manta ray squid with snail eyes that floats??

The Thought Eater.
It's like a frog, crossed with a duck and it's very skinny... Obviously not enough food around here...

Has anyone met any of these in game?? What were some of your favorite weirdo monsters?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

UnFamiliar - Part two

I can tell by your comment-silence on the last post that either you're all disinterested in this subject, or I've got you completely stumped. I suppose there's also the possibility that you're generating a gigantic response, and it's taking some time. I choose to believe one of the last two. :)

The idea of the familiar, as I said, is one that I don't necessarily dislike, but I find that it's a little constrictive. I don't think that it fits every magic wielding character. Of course, it can be ignored, there's nothing that says a wizard has to have a familiar, but having one offers some benefits, and it'd be a shame to not allow said wizard an alternative way of getting them.

My biggest problem is that the wizard and sorcerer don't really have all that much to do with nature or animals at all, except for the familiar. It just feels like an unnecessary blur of boundaries to me. It's like a blacksmith who makes horseshoes out of wood. Leave the animals to the druids, in my opinion.

Now, I know there are all kinds of other sources for alternative familiars. (I believe there are some in the Unearthed Arcana and probably in the Complete Arcane as well, although I haven't looked recently.) But I'm trying to come up with some ideas other than just a broader range of basic animals to choose from.

Coming up with alternatives to the wizard's familiar is a tricky business, because it would be very easy to over do it, throwing the whole campaign out of balance. Let's first take a look at the benefits of having a familiar.

This information can be found on page 52 of the 3.5 Player's Handbook,:

  • Must first be a normal, unmodified animal (Sort of the antithesis of my whole point here... Please disregard this one when considering an alternative!)
  • Becomes a magical creature upon summon into service
  • Gains power as the caster increases in level
  • Empathic link to master
  • Can be used to deliver touch attacks (at 3rd level)
  • Can be the target of "personal range" spell
  • Grants the caster special abilities (nothing incredible, a small bonus to a skill or attribute)... and it obviously doesn't actually have to make sense either, like a toad gives an extra three hit points... 
  • The master can eventually communicate with animals of it's kind
Another observation I've had is it almost doesn't matter what the familiar is, aside from the bonuses it grants. That is to say, if it's something that wouldn't normally be found in the area where the player character finds himself, it's simply not there.

For example, a wizard who has an Owl familiar isn't required to walk around with it perched on his shoulder 24/7. When the wizard wants to hit the bar, the Owl is almost always just somewhere else, usually perched in a nearby tree. A rat will typically be sitting in a pocket or a back pack, and so on. In situations where it would be inconvenient to have a familiar hanging around, they're always conveniently somewhere else, or stuffed somewhere out of sight. I've yet to see a familiar complain that it's master is ashamed of it, or that it's not getting enough attention from strangers.

These are the big things, there are a few others, but you get the basic idea. 

As the GM, you have the right to change any of this of course, but you need to be careful when doing so, or you can screw things up for yourself pretty well. Sit down with the player and go over the list of familiars that is found in the PHB, and model something after those. Find out what the player wants first, of course. If something on the list is fine with him, then so be it, but give them the opportunity to have something different. 

Get an idea of the things that the player is looking for. As what sort of creature would suit the character. Should it fly? Should it burrow? Should it swim? Is it furry? Is it cute and cuddly? Does it stink? Can it see? Can it hear? Does it have ears? Obviously you're going to have to make a judgement call on it. Here are the preliminary things to consider when making your ruling:

  • Can the creature be inconspicuous enough? i.e. can it be stuffed into a bag, or a pocket? Can it wait outside without drawing attention by hiding in shadows or up a tree? 
  • What benefits would it grant to the caster?
  • What powers would it gain as the caster gained levels?
  • What languages would it speak once the caster is high enough in level to communicate with it?
  • What does it eat, and is the food source available?
You can (I'm sure) come up with other questions to satisfy, but based on my experience these are the big ones. Please be kind when pointing out the multitude of prerequisites that I forgot, as I'm sure there are many, since these are just off the cuff. 

Please share any and all thoughts, and tune in again soon for some actual examples of familiar alternatives!

Monday, August 16, 2010


As a player, I've always liked the idea of playing a magic wielding character. Something about the idea of bending reality appeals to me for some reason. As a person, I'm much more comfortable in the woods by myself than I am in crowded cities. I also enjoy reading and learning. I'd have to say that if I were to step through some kind of inter-dimensional portal and end up starting a life on Greyhawk or some such place, I'd probably end up as a Wizard or Druid.

Something about the Wizard has always bothered me though, and it's not just the common clichés I've talked about before (i.e. pointy hat, robes, long beard). I will admit that the idea of a wizard having a familiar is at least interesting, but I almost always have trouble getting it to fit the persona I have in mind. Granted, a wizard isn't required to have a familiar at all, but it's one of the things that contributes to the class, and presents advantages that are lost otherwise.

Perhaps it's the familiar's table that turns me off, I guess. Bat, Cat, Hawk, Lizard, Owl, Rat, Raven, Snake, Toad, Weasel. The guy shoots bolts of magic, shouldn't he have access to something better than a first grader's class mascot? And why the hell does a toad give you three extra hit points? Depending on the wizard, that could be half again his own hit points out of a six ounce critter! Lizards give you bonuses to climb checks. Don't cat's climb too?? Oh, but wait, cat's give you bonuses to move silently. Since when has Move Silently been a wizard's class skill?? Ravens give you bonuses to appraisal checks, cause, I dunno, they know a lot about fine art?? Owls give bonuses to spot checks in shadows. They also give you an unexplained urge to eat rats, which by the way grant bonuses to fortitude.

Picture a powerful wizard. He's tall and slender. His face stern with the confidence of someone who knows the arcane secrets that bind existence together. His eyes peer through the pettiness of the common folk, squabbling over the scraps left on the noble's tables. With a mere thought, he could blink into another plane, or ignite whole villages with a volley of fireballs. His tower is lit with candles set on the skulls of creatures from other dimensions. His walls are lined with ancient tomes and. The air smells of ancient leather bound volumes of forgotten lore and... feces? Ugh, time to change the cat box... Meow!

Unlimited cosmic powers, and he's dangling a string at a playful tabby, or collecting bugs to feed his toad. Better yet, why not a gold fish?? Bonus points to swimming, but you forget everything every six seconds.

Meh. My sarcasm is getting away with me.

Anyway, my usual first conception of a wizard has nothing to do with household pets, vermin or other such pests. I sort of feel like the whole animal buddy thing is more the druid's schtick anyway. Rangers too maybe. I'll rant about rangers in another post though.

My distaste of the whole familiar ideas only gets worse the more I think about it. What if some celestial being from some other plane decides to summon himself a familiar, and suddenly the player character ends up finding himself granting silly skill bonuses and delivering touch attacks??

I was psyched to find that there was a "Bonus Insert" that WotC put out on Familiars, but I was again disappointed.

I have some thoughts on alternatives to familiars, but I thought I'd see what you guys had for it first. I'll be posting a followup with some of the things that I and my group have come up with to use in it's place. Please comment with any ideas you have, I'd love to hear them!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Nonstandard use of Standard Classes

Though D&D means different things to different people, the fact remains that it's called a "roll playing game". Feel free to shun the designation, if all you're looking for is adventure and die rolling, but those of us who prefer to create a three dimensional character know what this blog post is about. Personally, when I sit at the table, I enjoy getting into the mind of the character I'm playing. I like to make this character's personality as real as possible. I find it much more of a challenge than simple skill checks and attack rolls. I like to explore the classes to their utmost potential, and I encourage my players to do the same.

Each class has a certain set of skills and guidelines that differentiate them from each other, but players can fall into the trap of doing certain things because that's what they believe someone of their class would do. That is to say, because they rolled a Rogue, they think they are supposed to head out at night when everyone is asleep and steal things, or that because they rolled a ranger, they are at home in the woods. While these things are commonly accepted conceptions, there's nothing that says they have to be the case.

One of the most developed characters I play is a Halfling Rogue named Laren. He had a semi-stereotypical background... I admit, he started with a dead parent... His mother died when he was very young, and his father made some tough decisions. He didn't have much to work with, so he turned to a life of crime just to survive. Really, he was a donkey for the local Rogues guild, and was set up as a patsy... Anyway, Laren learned the tricks of the trade, but he wasn't looking for a quick fortune or anything, he was just trying to survive.

One thing lead to another, and where he is currently, he's got no interest in stealing anything at all. Still though, he's able to use his Rogue abilities, even though he's not "thieving". He's also not overly comfortable in combat, and (somehow) grew up learning next to nothing about Psionics. One of his companions is a Psion girl, though Laren just thinks she's a "normal" young lady (with dead parents and a horrible background full of abuse, of course). This young lady likes to throw an occasional Mind-Thrust, which tends to cause heads of things to explode. Laren knows nothing of this ability, and is afraid it's just happening randomly whenever he's around. He thinks that it's a curse cast on him by enemies of his youth. Last time it happened, Laren hit the dirt, provoking an attack of opportunity. I also gave up my next round's attack, scrambling for cover, just for the RP.

I enjoy this character because not only does it give me the chance to play a total goofball, but it also allows me to try to figure out how to do the job at hand with a different set of tools. Laren, aside from having ghosts from his past haunting him, has several tasks at hand, for which he's not exactly well suited, and I enjoy the challenge.

I've been thinking lately of a few other types of characters that I might play in the (probably not as near as I'd like) future. The base class is a fighter. Naturally, it wouldn't make much sense to roll a fighter if you didn't want to swing a weapon from time to time. It'd also be difficult to explain where your skills and feats came from. However, not every fighter has to wield a sword or axe.

A fighter who only does non-lethal damage. In the case of a bounty hunter, it may be necessary for a fighter to subdue their targets and bring them in alive. Weapons like clubs or maces would be handy in this line of work. Also the use of a net or a bolas.


A fighter who only defends. Which is to say, instead of actually attacking the target, this fighter's job is simply to occupy the attacker, blocking, dodging, deflecting, while someone else in the party sneaks in for the kill. (Perhaps I've been tanking in World of Warcraft a little too much!) A high armor class, and a shield specialization would useful. Take any feats that allow you to boost your armor-class and hit points.

The fighter class could also lend itself well to a brawler or wrestler. Unarmed fighting and grappling would be this character's primary features.

Anyway, those are just some thoughts I'm toying with. If any of you have played a character like those listed above, please let me know your thoughts and experiences. Also if you have other ideas like this, please share!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Blazing The Trail - The holding of hands

Some of my favorite memories of D&D were when I first started playing. My older brother introduced me to D&D by running a campaign for my cousin and me. I think we were around ten years old. Everything was so new and amazing. I'd read some D&D style choose your own adventure books by then, but they were nothing compared to rolling dice and casting the spells!

I did find some of it daunting though, and I have to believe it's because of my age. I was maybe a little young and not yet street smart enough for some of it. Perhaps I was just a bit dumber than the average kid, who knows? I thought I'd share some of the things that I did as a young, new player, in the hopes that A) I'm not alone! and B) those of you who are thinking about teaching new players might see some of the same behaviors and throw the kid a frickin bone!

You should be aware that new players, once they understand the gist of the game, are going to be excited. They're going to want to try ALL of their abilities whether they're applicable to the situation or not. One of my first characters was a 2e Magic user, whom I named Nostradamus. (Whatever, I bet your names weren't that great when you started either). I had spells! How exiting! However, I didn't really know what most of them did, even after reading the descriptions... (Find me a ten year old kid that can even pronounce "Audible Glamor".)

At one point, our group was fighting with an ogre in a cave, and I thought that I could perhaps blind the ogre with a light spell. Now, in my opinion, a caster would know that if he casts light in a cave, it'll make it easier to see. That spell is not designed to blind anyone. As a GM teaching a young player, I would consider it my duty to explain what will happen, as the character should know, even if the player does not. ... Evidentially, my older brother didn't think so. I used the spell, and now we could all see better. Wasted spell.

Of course, I did learn the use of the spell, and no one died in that encounter (I think anyway... it was twenty years ago now!) so no harm done really.

In another early campaign, (my first actually) I played a Ranger named Majellon (again, keep comments to yourself), and my cousin played a cleric named Fenor. We were traveling somewhere on some important quest, and right in front of us stood a wall. Being the ten year-olds that we were, we knew what to do with walls! Just like fences outside, walls were meant to be climbed! A grappling hook would be nice, I thought. Unfortunately, I didn't have one. I asked where I could get one, and was told "Your character doesn't know, but he's heard of Thieves using them. Perhaps a Thieves guild" which I'm sure (looking back) was said tongue in cheek...Fenor, with the help of a Spider Climb spell began to scale to the top, where he was met by a guard with a crossbow.

This is how I learned that sometimes cities are surrounded by walls.

I have to thank my brother for being so hands off on my learning of the finer points of the lives of the player character. Without his indifference, I wouldn't have the material I needed for this blog entry. Though, I would have probably figured that although both Fenor and Majellon were elves and grew up in the trees (Axewood and Silverwood respectively, if I recall correctly) by their age I'd imagine they'd have heard about cities being surrounded by walls, and would have thought twice about the whole thing. In other words, a simple nudge on the part of the GM would have been nice...

We were detained for a while, so that the local law enforcement could check out our story, and then we were released with a "Don't climb city walls, dumbasses" comment. We left town for the next place, prepared to look for a door on the next wall. I, however still thought a grappling hook would be a good asset, just to have on us. We came to the next city, and lo and behold, the wall had a door. It was closed though, so we knocked. Eventually a guard came down and asked us our business. We told him, and he was satisfied. As he began opening the door, my curious character asked if there was a thieves guild in town I could check out.

As you might imagine, we were asked to move along. Without that stop, we couldn't replenish our food, and I was forced to eat my horse, when he starved. Of course, I, as a player, had never heard of a tinderbox, so said horse was eaten raw. Later that day, I was asked to roll a saving through to see if I woke up. Not because of any sort of food poisoning or anything, but because I'd apparently forgotten to explicitly say that I slept at night. I was rolling vs exhaustion.

Please be patient with the new young players, and give them the benefits of their characters' experiences, even if they themselves have not had it.

Did you every have experiences like this as a new player?

Blazing the Trail

People who play D&D love it, and they love to share it with others. It can be especially exciting / fulfilling when a child comes to an age where he/she maybe old enough to enjoy the game as well.

The "Blazing the Trail" title will be a reoccurring one, as there are many fine points to be made about helping a new player learn.

Please feel free to chime in with your own any time in the comments section!

Friday, July 23, 2010

In-Game Clichés

The Dungeons and Dragons game world: a place filled with magic and monsters and wonders bound only by the reaches of one's imagination. A place where anything is possible.

And yet, the table is littered with tons of in-game clichés!

I will be the first to admit, I've indulged... I can definitely see why some of these clichés exist, but these days I consider it my duty to challenge them whenever I can, as a GM.

Intellect triumphs over brawn when it comes to the wielding of magic. A sword is a fine thing, but does you no good if you've been polymorphed into yam. The whole basis of wizardry, and in fact all magic wielding in general is that you have no real use for conventional weapons and armor.

Dedicating their lives to the quest for knowledge and mastery of the arcane arts, Wizards tend to have no particular interest in appearances. Why shave, it's just going to grow back you know.

Somewhere along the lines of history and mythology though, having no use for weapons and armor, and a penchant for growing beards turned into ancient robe-wearing men with beards that they tuck into their socks.

I get that you don't need suits of armor, but robes? Why not a pair of pants and a shirt (or hose and a tunic, as it were). And I get the whole beard thing as far as it's just going to keep growing, and if you don't have to deal with razor burn, then why would you? ...But there comes a point where it just gets in the way. It's very frustrating to be eating something that pushes whiskers into your maw, only to get them stuck between your teeth. It doesn't take much to trim.

Short and broad, surly and industrious. These small work-horses toil beneath the mountains digging up gold and iron and gems. I can understand why they're always described as dirty, seeing as they live underground. They're strong because they spend their lives moving rocks and ore. They're surly probably due to their line of work. I seem to remember working in construction, and most of the time my coworkers were grumpy. Again, harsh physical labor tends to go hand in hand with the imbibing of alcohol so I get that too.

Why are they Celtic?

I just don't understand where the brogue comes from. Scottish people aren't all that short, nor are they (at least as far as I know) typically considered short. The stereotype seems to only have the drinking and red hair things in common.

If they're going to be Celtic, why do we just stop at the accent and drinking? Why not face-paint for battles, why not bagpipes? Why don't they herd sheep?

Dead Parents
One of the most important (in my opinion anyway) during character creation is the back story. Who is your character, and why are they adventuring? The most common thread here in D&D and in just about any other story be it book or movie, is some kind revenge-based motivation like the killing of one's parents or other assorted loved ones. It's so common there are even many famous quotes about it:

You dirty rat, you killed my brother

My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.

You killed my father!
No, luke. I am your father

You killed Ted you midieval dick weed!

The death of a loved one is something that we all have to deal with so it's something we can relate to, and the idea that perhaps we could have prevented it or that maybe we could get some closure by avenging it is also something we can relate to.

But I find it to be the easy way out. It's like, going around a table and everyone introducing themselves:

Dave: I will not rest until my parents are avenged!
Charlie: Yeah, same here.
Bob: Yep. Dead parents.
Steve: Ditto.

Sure, it works but... Yawn.

For your next campaign, try to mandate that all parents of all characters are alive, well, and not imprisoned. I'm willing to be that'll get the creative juices flowing!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Three things RPGers tend to ignore

Dungeons and Dragons: For most, it's a chance to pretend that they're someone they're not, and do things that they either can't or won't in real life. Things like, the slaying of monsters come to mind, for example. Sure, it's make believe, but for that couple hours, you are a completely different person, with a whole different set of attributes. We play ourselves all day long! D&D is our chance to play someone else.

The whole idea of role playing is to have fun. Otherwise, they'd call it role working, I would think. We don't get together at the table, generate characters and file imaginary taxes! We don't roll fortitude saves vs. physics homework! No! We strap on swords and defeat bad guys (or good guys maybe?) and reap rewards! We have fun!

Sometimes in the throes of role playing though, we tend to ignore certain things that our characters would not be able to ignore, if the game were real life. The reasons we ignore these things vary, in some cases they're not really all that pleasant, and as the point is to have fun, they're omitted. Sometimes they're just facets of life that we just don't think much about.

Here are three things things we tend to ignore or overlook in our games. These are simply ideas that could possibly be added at some point for a heightened sense of reality in your games... Even though, to me, adding a sense of reality to a night of Role Playing sort of sounds counter productive...

Extreme Weather
Throughout history, forces of nature have been the cause of some of the most beautiful creations, and some of the most catastrophic disasters. While it's not uncommon for a GM to throw in a little flavor by using different kinds of precipitation, things like flash floods are not as common an enemy as Orcs or Goblins.

Rain: A thorn in the side of a traveler, yet a gift from the gods for a farmer.

Not enough rain and crops wilt and lands blight. Animals die of thirst. People are forced to travel further for drinking water as local wells dry up. The city streets get dirtier as waste and refuse are not so easily washed away, causing health issues to the local residences.

Along with drought comes a heat wave. Long, dry and hot days can be a terrible foe to anyone, adventuring, farming or otherwise. People drop dead from the heat. Heat stroke and sun poisoning are a big problem. Dried fields catch fire and surrounding houses are reduced to ash.

Players are caught adventuring in the scorching heat and it becomes too hot to wear armor. Their skin burns in the sun's inferno. Perhaps some adjustment to your player's attack bonus is in order, as swinging a sword is very difficult when your skin is sun-burnt...  fortitude save negates? A fail results in blisters and -2 to hit perhaps?

When the rains finally come, the people are caught off guard. Windows are hastily closed, people rush home to put out buckets to catch what water they're able to. Farmers rejoice, hoping to save what crops they can. Items carelessly left outside are ruined, such as hats or shoes.

The water soaks the things that gathered in the streets, some of which are partially decaying organic material. These things can begin to stink as they slowly rinse away. If it's a brief ran, just enough to wet the junk, this gives fungus and parasites an excellent place to grow.

Too much rain can be just as devastating as not enough, and usually in a far less subtle way. Crops drown and meadows become bogs. City streets fill with water, sewers flood and run into the streets. Rats evacuate their cozy basements in search for dry land and food, filling upper floors of houses and shops. Bugs settle in to areas they previously found inhospitable. Foundations wash away and buildings topple. Reservoirs spill over, and levees break drowning people and animals alike. low ground is flooded, while high ground is crowded.

When it's over, the streets are filled with filth and pestilence. Huge clean up efforts are required and funded by local government, especially if the area generated money or goods used by the rest of the kingdom. Damaged buildings become targets for crime, shops are pilfered.

Some things that were once buried are no longer. Shallow graves are found, people who were killed and hastily buried in their own yards, maybe. Treasure perhaps was uncovered by the water?

Some things that were once treasured are now lost. Priceless heirlooms, magical items, now lost, washed away in the floods.

Time marches on! Too many times have I traveled (in real life, that is) through neighborhoods I'd known as a kid and gasped in wide wonder at the number of things that have gone on in the time I'd been gone, sometimes as short as only a year!

People don't stay the same, and neither do places. People come and go, buildings are built and destroyed, disasters change the face of the lands. The same should be true in your games. Just because the spotlight has been following the PCs around for the last few years in game, doesn't mean things cease to change back home.

There are many reasons that things change, some of which can be attributed to weather as I'd said above. Perhaps something like that happened while the group was away, giving them plenty of things to fix or address upon return. But beyond mother nature's intervention, there is a deep fascination that humans today have with constant change. Personally, I'm not much a fan of it, but I will admit that some changes are necessarily to improve things. As places become more and more crowded, wider streets accommodate more traffic, for example.

The quality of a place is truly a relative thing. One person's perfection is another person's room for improvement. It's very common for someone to move to a new area and envision tremendous changes to the area for what they consider to be the benefit of everyone, when someone who'd grown up in that area sees only tranquility and familiar comfort.The unfortunate (or fortunate, depending on your perspective) thing is that the person with the vision of change is likely to get his way if he's got money, or if he's able to convince enough people that the change will bring money.

The General Store that was once famous for quality items at bargain prices has declined in popularity after the original owner passed on and his greedy son took the business over. It's said that he's got ties to the local thieves' guild and is using the store as a front.

Or, the city was attacked by ogres, and the captain of the guard was slain in a valiant attempt to protect the city. When the dust had settled, a large statue of the man was erected in the city square in his honor. While you respect the gesture, you find it to be an eyesore, and nothing more than an expensive pigeon perch.

Your morning routine is probably not all that dissimilar to that of your D&D character. You wake, use the bathroom, wash your face, brush your teeth, bathe, eat, etc. On the road, while the convenience of these things is far less, then need  still exists.

Forgive this section, as it will probably deal with things that we ignore when it comes to D&D because frankly, they're unpleasant, and dealing with them doesn't really add much, if anything to the story. Nothing pleasant at least...

An adventuring group is in many ways closer with one another than most people are today. We have our friends over for dinner, and share a meal, but at the end of the day, it's typically just us and perhaps one or two others, be it spouse or room mate. In an adventuring party, you're pretty much always together. You share meals, water, medicines, camps, fires... Just about everything. You're likely to learn things about your team mates that you probably don't really want to know!

Just like living with a room mate, you're going to learn your adventuring party members' routines. Do they get up before you? Do they wash their face or whole body along the side of the road? Nothing at all? Do they brush their teeth? Change their socks? Do they stink?

(I know you're hoping I don't mention some things here, but I'm going to.)

Where do your characters take care of business? This can be (if you allow it) a pretty important thing! We've all stepped in a mess or two, hopefully from a pet of some sort, but when the party breaks for lunch, there are going to be some other things that really will need to be taken care of. (It's not healthy to hold it too long!).

Believe it or not, something like going number 2 should be at least discussed (that's discussed, not disgust!) when camping in real life, why not in D&D? You should at least tell your "roommates" what direction to NOT walk in. You'll never hear the end of it if they end up walking through it, you can rest assured of that.

You're going to want to take into account a lot of things, such as the direction of the wind. Your group members aren't going to thank you for turning their stomachs mid-meal. What to wipe with is as legitimate a concern too, it's not like they're all going to be clean ones. You should probably make sure you take a couple of ranks in survival or "knowledge: Nature" to make sure you don't accidentally grab a poisonous plant or cactus or something.

It's probably not a bad idea to keep on hand a small utility shovel, as an adventurer so you can dig yourself a hole, and bury it when you're done to keep from attracting some disgusting critters, or disgusting some attractive ones!

Now like I said before, this is commonly left out because... ew. But there are ways you could probably work these things into your game. Don't forget, many possible adversaries hunt by smell. Hell, some critters even mark their territory with number 2. And as much as it sickens me, we've all see the nature guys on the Discovery channel tracking this or that type of animal who can't resist but to show us some left over turd they've found on the road and started to play with... So gross...

Hopefully you've had a few ideas sparked by one if not all three of these things. Please comment and share some other types of overlooked activities or "duties" we do in real life that could be incorporated into your gaming sessions!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Thri Kreen

Image Credit

I've personally never really been the biggest fan of playing a Thri Kreen, but I will admit the idea of them is cool.

Click the picture for a closer look. Until recently (last year or so) I had always thought that this picture was showing the creature's right arm was actually a leg, and that thigh appendage stopped at around the knee in a clawed hand. I was told that I was wrong, and I can now see that the arm goes behind the leg, but I still have to look twice every time I see it!

Friday, May 28, 2010

GMing Styles

The GM: The keeper of books, writer of lore, designer of intrigue, master of conspiracy, lord of the monsters, chief cook and bottle wash... The GM is definitely the lynch pin of the outfit when it comes to RPGs. A GM can take his players to new places, challenge their wits, or crush them with hordes from another dimension!

Certainly there's a lot of responsibility places in the lap of the GM, and heavy is the head that wears that crown. But what exactly are the responsibilities of the GM anyway? What's the GM's job?

The DMG 3.5, page 5, Says “Dungeon Mastering involves writing, teaching, acting, refereeing, arbitrating, and facilitating.” It goes on to include “writing adventures, Teaching the Game, providing the world, adjudicating, propelling the game ever forward.”

Ok, that's simple enough, right? What the book does not say, nor could it really teach, is exactly how these things are done. Sure, it's one thing to say "Provide the world", but quite another to actually do it.

There are several different common types of GMing styles.

Gentle pusher
The gentle pusher likes to hint at things, beat around the bush. He might casually mention that there's a need for an adventurer in the area, or maybe leave a few clues behind for the players character to pick up on. Sometimes the gentle pusher might create an NPC to help the players with a little crucial information and a rumor of a great reward for services rendered. The NPC might even tie in a little with the player's background, like a long lost uncle.

The gentle pusher has created a situation and left a door cracked open for the players to peek through after catching an alluring glimpse inside. He'll never shove the players through though, and should they either choose to walk by, or perhaps simply miss it, the gentle pusher will try to find another way to lure the players in.

The Gentle Pusher has a subtle way of guiding his players down a path toward adventure, mystery or any number of other types of fun. The hints are usually picked up on, usually with a feighed surprise by the veteran players, who may make comments about seeing it coming, but it's a plausible story line, so they go along with it happily.

The trouble with Gentle pushing is your players might simply miss a few clues, or worse yet, choose to ignore them. Maybe the adventure doesn't appeal to them, and they'd rather wait for the next offer (and much to a GM's chagrin, there may not be one prepared…oops!)

Spoon feeder
The spoon feeder is usually trying to tell a story they've already written. There's usually a pretty complete story line in place, and the players are playing characters that the spoon feeder already has plans for. He'll usually need the players to cooperate a bit for his storyline to proceed as planned, and will sometimes use NPC force to make sure it happens.

“The characters simply HAVE to be at this place at a certain time, or the great cataclysm won't happen, and it's supposed to. Guard seize them from behind, and haul them off!”

Assuming the story line itself is solid and enjoyable, this could prove to be a very entertaining campaign, and ensures that the adventure isn't simply passed up or missed by the group.

This style of Game Mastering can be very effective in teaching new players the basics about role playing. Giving them little wiggle room will also leave them very little room for error, and help them stay focused on the task at hand.

Some people get rather upset about being forced down a specific path. The more experienced players can tend to feel like a bit of a pawn, with little free will. Some players will feel that this is the GM basically playing their characters for them.

Hands off
The Hands off GM will provide all the things the DMG says he should, and leave the rest up to the players. Instead of leading a horse to water and not being able to make it drink, the hands off gm will make sure there's water somewhere, but leave the horse to its own devices. If he wants water, he's going to have to go look for it like everyone else.

The Hands off GM's will create a world, and somewhere out there, there will be adventure, however he doesn't feel like it should be his job to shove a storyline down the player's throat.

This style of Game Mastering leaves the players with complete control of their futures. They are free to do absolutely anything they want and go wherever they'd like to go. It's a sort of "choose your own adventure" type of book.

The risk of ending up sitting around the table looking at each other waiting for something to happen is pretty high. If the players are looking for something to be hinted at, or someone to walk in looking mysterious at the bar, they're just out of luck. The hands off GM isn't usually going to make things that easy. Also, a GM has to be prepared for whatever the players do and wherever they go which may lead to an Ad Lib (see below) style of play and mastering.

A relatively new player can already be intimidated by the rules and rolling a character. Being "green", they are left wondering at their own character's potential and limitations. It often falls on the GM to help new players understand their surroundings and get them involved. If left to their own devices, they could very well get the wrong impression of role playing in general. Worse yet, they'll find it boring ("All I did was sit around some smoke filled tavern getting an imaginary buzz and get asked what I was going to do. Where's my video game?") and get turned off to it before they get the chance to experience other types of GMing styles.

The perfectionist, as a perfectionist in any environment has to have it all. They've got an intricate storyline, plot hooks, intrigue. They've woven tales and intertwined all of the characters' back stories, putting Easter eggs about, here and there for each of the characters to find. Players can't help but get involved.

The perfectionist knows the characters back and forth, and knows the kinds of interests that will lure the character out of hiding and into the forefront of adventure, but also knows the characters' fears, and will weave those in, giving the player a chance to reconsider stepping into the spot light.

All aspects of all encounters have been calculated, weighed and balanced, to ensure that everyone at the table gets the maximum level of enjoyment out of the game.

The Perfectionist can weave powerful tales that players of all levels of experience can relate to and enjoy. There's excellent story line, mixed with a balanced level of battle, treasure and level advancement. No one aspect of the game is more important than anything other. The perfectionist has all the bases covered. This GM style can be rewarding, memorable, and exhilarating for both the players and the GM.

As with anything else, perfection is a very taxing goal. The perfectionist can keep things together for only as long as his will allows, and almost inevitably, he will burn out. There are a lot of balls to juggle, and keeping them all in the air is extremely impressive, and extremely difficult. With GM burn out, sessions can continue to grow further and further apart.

The Ad Libber
The Ad Libber likes to live in the moment. He’s got a vague idea of what he wants to do, he’s read up on the characters backgrounds, and he’s borrowing style from here and there. He’s going to throw a couple of hints in at you, and if you miss the plot hooks, he’s going to avoid losing more precious time, and some burly NPC is going to kick the players down the intended path when the situation calls for it. The Ad Libber is tends to stay away from intricate plots of political intrigue.

The Ad Libber prefers not to plan out too much in advance, as things seldom go the way he expects, thus resulting in wasted time. He doesn’t do flow charts, he doesn’t do a lot of brainstorming about what might happen, he prefers to react to the situation, just as the players do.

The Ad libber is always prepared, and yet, always unprepared. Preferring never to plan too far in advance, the Ad Libber is almost always ready for the next session. He knows there’s going to be a bit of goofing around at the table, and a couple of melees will eat up any extra time at the end of the night if necessary.

The Ad Libber has to be careful that his lack of planning doesn’t create too many plot holes. It’s easy for an Ad Libber to make up something off the cuff only to have it conflict with something he made up in a session prior. This can sour the player’s taste for the campaign, and sometimes look like the GM doesn’t care enough about his own campaign to spend a little time on the development.

As you can see, there are advantages and disadvantages to each profile and not every GM is only just one of them all of the time. There is usually a healthy mix of each in a single GM depending on what is called for given the situation and the types of players she has. On occasion, a GM HAS to be all of these in a single game session! The trick on each of these personalities is knowing which is called for when and having players that cooperate with the intent.

So, which one are you most like…and perhaps which are you striving to be?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

First time D&Ders

(Note: Through out this post, I use "he" and "she" interchangeably when talking about a character.)

I roll a what? A d20? Which one's that?? Ok, I got a 4. What do I add? I didn't hit? Why not? But I have a bonus to hit I thought? I do? But I missed? Can I roll again? Why not? When can I roll again? Ok.

It's your first time at the gaming table. You've heard your friends talk about the game, and you understand what they're saying when they talk about the foes they've fought, but you get a little confused when they mention their critical misses and failed saving throws. Testing the waters of D&D is somewhat involved and the first game you play may seem like a hurdle.

For the best scenario, try to get close friends or family members in your gaming group. As the new player and new group member, you may feel intimidated. If you're surrounded by folks you don't know, you're more likely to avoid asking questions. This is only going to make the learning process longer and more difficult. If you can't find people you know to play with, let your group know that you're new, and ask a lot of questions!

First, don't rush out and spend a lot of money. Pick up maybe a set of dice for yourself, but do your best to borrow someone's player's handbook and get familiar with it. See if you can get that and a character sheet, and have one of the folks from your group sit with you during character creation.

(Oh, and if you need a 3.5 character sheet, click the link at the top of this blog!)

Character creation can seem difficult due to all of the necessary decisions. Start with deciding on race and class. There are probably races and classes in some of the non-core source books that are allowed in this campaign, but stick to the core book for your first time. Ask your GM what kind of campaign this is going to be, because depending on the environment, you may want to play a different kind of character. A Human Fighter can be frustrating to play in a subterranean campaign, since they cannot see at all in the dark!

In your off-time, you could make good use of resources such as the forums at,, and posting comments on this blog will certainly get you some answers!

Your character's attributes are the next step. These numerical values will determine things like how smart your character is, how fast he heals, how hard he swings his sword, and how likely he is to succeed in skill checks. There are many different ways to generate these numbers. Check with the GM on how they are asking players to come up with these numbers. It's very common for a GM to not bother going by the rules in the book for this.

Following the attributes, you pick your feats and allocate your skill points. This can be confusing so make sure you've got someone around to guide you. If you can't, just stick to the source books, and you should be okay.

Now that you've got your character fleshed out, you know what he wants to do and what he's capable of, you're going to need some equipment. Once again, there are different ways to figure out how your character gets his equipment so check with your GM. In some cases, the GM will say go by the book, in which case, there's a chart for each class that tells you how to determine how much starting gold your character has, and then you can spend it as you see fit. The equipment section of the Player's handbook has prices for all the gear in there. Make sure you've got yourself a weapon, and whatever armor suits your class. After all that's done, I like to spend my remaining gold on things like flasks of oil to keep my armor from rusting, a length of rope, perhaps a tinderbox for starting fires, and maybe torches. They're all pretty inexpensive things, so even if you never end up using them, at least you've got em!

With your character created, you can look forward to your first gaming session. As a first time role player, you may find yourself getting distracted at the table. If you're lucky, your gaming group won't cause too much trouble that way, but there are sometimes those who would rather check the score of whatever game is on, or read a magazine. Do your best to listen to the GM, and think about what he's saying. Don't get caught up stacking your dice either. I know it's fun, but you've got learning to do!

Another thing that you will notice around the table is that the people in the group do different things to "get into" their characters. A player might wear a certain piece of clothing, or even a piece of armor. The person might talk with a particular voice that they only use for their character.

You may also notice that your fellow players' personalities might be vastly different than those of their characters. One of the wonderful things about role-playing is that you can be anyone you want. If you usually shy away from conflict, for example, then you can play as someone who always gets in the face of anyone who crosses your path.

For your first game, though, do not worry too much about your character's personality. The easiest (and most common) thing to do for your first game is to play yourself as far as personality goes. If the situation would make you afraid, then let it make your character afraid. As a player, you have to learn to pay attention to a lot of things going on at the table. Focus on rolling the dice, accumulating experience, keeping up with all of your combat abilities, and other such game mechanics. Once you feel comfortable with the mechanics of the game, then you can think about how to make your character's personality unique.

By your second session you should have at least a fair grasp of the game's mechanics: things like how to deal with combat and what to do with your experience points. Depending on the campaign, you may even have gained a level or two. Now that you understand the game a little bit better, you can think about making some changes. Your GM might allow you to change your current character or substitute a new one. This might be a good opportunity for you to try a different character class, perhaps trading a spellcaster for a fighter, or vice versa. Alternatively, you might make the same type of character, but distribute the numbers differently; trade a higher strength, for a lower constitution, perhaps. This would make for lower hit points, but a more damaging swing of the sword. I would recommend sticking with the same character though, for at least five or six gaming sessions. Give yourself a chance to get to know him!

Watch what happens when your fellow gamers change characters. Watch for changes in their new characters' personalities, tendencies, habits, etc. The player might have a different voice, or different shirts that they wear, or perhaps a different set of dice.

Gaining a little confidence in the game mechanics? Try to add some personality quirks. Pick something that does not conflict with the group or hinder gameplay. For instance, giving your character an aversion to clothing might draw a lot of attention to your group, most of it negative. You do not want your character to get his or her group in trouble with the local authorities. An example of something minor that can add to your character's personality is a musical instrument. If your character plays the flute or harp, it adds a dynamic to the character's personality, and it just might earn you and your group a free room at the local inn or a little extra spending money.

You might also want to experiment with adding a small character flaw. Again, avoid choosing something that would hinder your group or the game play like a severe allergy to sunlight. You want your character to seem unique, not annoying. Make the flaw something small: a minor stutter, a slight nervous tick, maybe a fear of heights. Be creative.

Soon you will have a solid handle on the mechanics of the game and a decent understanding of your character's station in life. At this point I suggest thinking about some larger undertakings, such as generating a background for your character.

Where we came from and what we've done goes a long way in explaining why we are who we are. We wouldn't be who we are today without our background. Why is your character a fighter? Obviously something in his background afforded him the opportunity to learn how to use a sword, what was it? This is your chance to tell a story, and it can be as detailed or as vague as you'd like. Beyond simply being a story though, this is your chance to give the GM some ideas as well.

Your character's background will be wrought with this that the GM could use in the campaign. You're a fighter now because your father was a fighter, perhaps. Well, maybe your father had some enemies in his day, and they're coming back to look for the +2 sword he won in a tournament. They've been training for all these years, and they want a second shot at that sword your father had given to you, all those years ago.

Our characters are our chance to play sides of our personalities that we don't always get to explore in real life. Your devious mind might sometimes say it would be nice to have some more money, but you know you can't simply take it. (right!?) So why not roll up a rogue who might not be quite so worried about right and wrong? Whatever you choose to play, always remember the goal was to have fun. Make sure you've got your bases covered, and the sky is the limit!

Monday, May 3, 2010


Every player has come to a point during game play where they're presented a situation, and they're not quite sure how their character would respond. Would my character run, or fight? Would he take offense to that remark or simply ignore it?

It's simply impossible to anticipate everything your character may come up against, and from time to time, we're going to have to ask the group to hold for a moment while we collect our thoughts and figure things out.

Here is a survey I found online some time ago that I found incredibly helpfull in fleshing out my character. I can't remember where I got it, or I'd gladly give credit to the original creator... If you've seen it before, please comment with a URL or at least a name!

Player (you) Name:

What is the character's full name? Nicknames?

What is the color of the character's hair, eyes, and skin?

What is the character's general appearance?

What is the character's age?

Where was the character born?

Describe the character's family.

Has the character begun his/her own family?

Has the character ever done anything else (besides adventuring) for a living?

General attitudes & approach:

When or how was the character educated?

What are the character's political and religious beliefs?

What is the character's moral code?

Does your character have any prejudices?

How would your character handle an insubordinate servant?

What would the character die for? What would they be willing to sacrifice
the lives of their friends for?

Who is the one person your character trusts the most?

How would your characters parents describe him?

What was the best moment of the characters life? Worst?

What flaws does the character have? Is he quick to judge people? A slob?

What advice would you give your character?

List the 5 most important people in the character's life.

What is the character’s “big secret”, and what will happen if it is discovered?

"Hey, I've got an interesting job for you..." Name 3 jobs that your character might find interesting.

How will the character die? What would you consider a good end to a life well lived for this character?

What might someone seeing the character for the first time think?

Does the character have any goals?

What is the character's personality?

Any reoccurring mannerisms?

What is this character's "thing"? That is, what action, activity, saying, motion, mannerism, etc., would be considered their "trademark", such that if I were to do it, others would say "oh, now you're acting like [this character]"?

What is her first reaction to a situation?

What would be the ultimate magic item for this character?

What would be the worst curse this character could ever receive?

Are there certain things the character just cannot do? Get close to people; perceive himself realistically, etc. That is, what do people who know this character well criticize about them?

What does your character hate?

What does your character love?

How does the character perceive government? Those who are opposed to the government?

How did the character gain his abilities?

What motivates him to act as a hero now?

How did his peers treat the character as a child? His elders?

What does your character hope to accomplish by adventuring?

Why is this goal more important than his safety? (i.e., Why would you take up adventuring, rather than being a nice, safe accountant?)

What is the character's kryptonite? What is their weakness or what will paralyze them with fear?

What does the character do to relax?

Describe the characters ideal mate.

What is in your character’s pockets, right now?

What do they normally carry in their pockets that they don't have right now, but wish they did?

What is the silliest thing your character has ever done?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Map Making Basics

Weeks of preparation: Npcs are created. Dynamic villains, and devious plot hooks are all set to paper. You’ve got encounters planned, and cheat sheets with the bad guys’ descriptions, armor classes, hit points and damage dice. What’s left?

One of the critical elements of any game world or adventure is maps. Maps offer shape and definition to the physical structure and placement of geography. With one look the GM can give an accurate assessment of how far away The Caverns of Harumph are and how much distance and time she has to work with. Likewise, the players can look at the map and decide on just how they want to get there. Should they travel The Caltrop Road or take the quicker but more dangerous route through The Swallowyouwhole Marshes? A map can help greatly with enabling your players to decide this for themselves.

NOTE: As a GM, you may consider making your players roll on whether or not their characters have ever seen a map, much less no how to read one. Take into account their character backgrounds and professions. Obviously, if they’ve taking ranks in “Profession: Cartographer” and explained that it was the family business, chances are, they know what they’re doing. Conversely, a Barbarian who belongs to a nomadic tribe would probably have never needed a map.

Many published game worlds come with a set of maps to which there are often supplemental expansions later down the road. These maps may or may not offer the level of detail that you require, which leaves you up to your own devices. Sometimes your campaign takes place in a very small area, which on the original map is less than a single hex, or perhaps you’d rather have an original map for your own game world, but you don’t know where to start.

Campaign Cartographer 3 Map Making for GamersThere are software programs you can use, like, Campaign Cartographer, but in this article we are focusing on drawing one freehand.

If you need a map of a small area of a preexisting map, you must first decide is how detailed you want it to be? The map has to be detailed enough to serve its function but not be so overwhelming that you spend the next 25 years drawing every rock and tree or detailing the door jambs in a dungeon. There should be enough room left for practicality and imagination. Remember, this is a technical document, not an artist’s rendition or portrait of the area.

The first thing you must do is determine your scale. The most common way of setting the scale is using graph paper, which can come with either squares or hexagons, wherein one square/hex is equivalent to a number of feet/yards/meters/miles/kilometers, etc. You can then take the area you want to detail from the original map and transfer that information to the new scale.

Example: You have a square and you want to see the detail in that square. You can break the square down into four equally sized and proportional squares where each quadrant of the original square is equal to one of the four corresponding new squares. You have effectively "zoomed in".

You can zoom in even further by breaking the original square down into nine, sixteen, twenty five, squares, etc. As long as the ratio and proportions remain constant, you'll be fine with your chosen scale conversion.

Now, apply the same principle when enlarging geographical elements such as rivers and forests. Once this is done you can then give the detail you wish to show. You’ll be able to show as much detail as you’d like of that building or cave, which before you simply said was “In this area here” while pointing at a black dot on a large map.

Once you've completed your map keep it in a central file so that you can build a library of maps that you can refer to in the future. For an extra kick of consistency, write a description of notable locations on the map. Keep them all together so that you don't have to do the paper shuffle later wondering where you put them.

But, what if you want to make your own maps?

Once again, it begins with scale. How grand do you want to be? Do you want to create the whole planet/plane/parallel universe from the start or do you want to start with a small area and build out from there? There is no "right" way to do this as it's a matter of mood, ambition, and time.

The merits of starting small is that you can surprise yourself with what lies beyond the boundary of your map as you add to it. You can also concentrate on finer details with a narrower scope. Limiting yourself to a small area can keep things local and even offer an unspoken and unconscious sense of personal community for your players. Naturally this is also dependant on the style of adventure but it all starts with a map...even if that map is in your head.

Creating a large area to define also has merits. It allows for grander designs and a versatility of locations. You can cover a wide range of cultures and geographies. Characters can travel far and away offering space to set their excitement. You can set the scale as vast as the entire game world or limit it to a continent or island. The idea here though is to think on a grand scale.

If you like, mingle both aspects. Make a larger overall map and then pick a smaller location within that map that you'd like to spend some time with. Again, this approach depends on the adventures you'd like to explore and present.

Once you decide on the scale of your map you have to consider the sort of terrain features you'd like your characters to be based in and explore. Will there be forest, rivers, desert, plains, mountains, water bodies, cities, something from your imagination? This consideration doesn't necessarily have to be done before you put pencil (Which, if you’re not using some computer program, pencil is the only way to go… obviously because it can be erased!) to graph paper it can be done as you're drawing it and feel the muse, so to speak. Let your imagination fly! Look at other game maps to get an idea of how you might want to portray the elements in your map if you're not sure how to do it. It's perfectly okay to borrow style from other maps.

Do yourself a favor, and just like an essay, make yourself a rough draft first. A rough draft would be a first generation of your map that captures the initial thoughts and ideas that you put down on paper. It doesn't have to be complicated or show absolutely everything. It would only be a start. After that you can refine it to be more detailed and exact. You may find that you make several evolving editions of your map before you come to the final. Whatever you do, don't settle for anything that you're not satisfied with. Strive to create something that makes you happy. You don't have to be Michelangelo to produce a good map you only need to be patient.

Okay, so now you have a map that you're proud of and it's exactly what you want...almost. What could be missing? Ah-ha! Color! If you would like your map to have some "pop" color can be very effective for that. Color also offers the ability to easily distinguish between the elements of your map. Now, this is not to say that black and white maps can't be visually stunning or useful. There are some incredible black and white maps out there. It does require a bit more artistic ability to give them the flash you might want. If you can do it, and prefer it, go to town. A pen and ink map can be quite fetching. But if you like color I would suggest using a range of colored pencils.

There are many techniques for using colored pencils for coloring. It is strongly recommended that you experiment with them first before putting them on your map. Also, take your uncolored map to a reprographics place and make a couple of copies. It would be tragic to have penciled in your map only to have it botched with color (which can be horrible to try to erase). Get comfortable with the pressure you apply to the pencil, how it distributes color, the type of tip that is on the paper, how the colors can blend to offer depth, what the color looks like on paper (it can be different than what you see on the pencil itself),etc. Your colored pencils are an extension of your hand and imagination begging for control.

The reward of accomplishment and the satisfaction of creation can be well worth the practiced efforts of making your own game maps. It'll offer physical shape and definition to an imagined world for both you and your players. Make no mistake, it does require time, patience, and practice. With continued efforts, you'll have created an impressive library of maps, and artwork that can consistently be used for your game.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Good Vs. Evil

Some of the best storylines are the good 'ol good vs evil. However, I don't believe that it's all just as simple as "good and evil", but a matter of perception. Many times, we talk about the good guys, handsome rugged men in their mid twenties who stand for justice and defend beautiful women VS. the old, ugly Evil guy bent on destruction and carnage. Murder is evil. However, the world isn't quite as black-and-white as this. There are a million shades of grey in between, and often what is evil is only a matter of perception.

For instance, take into account the villainous Grand vizier, who has plotted his heirless King's death, clearing the way to seize control of the country for himself. On the surface, this seems like a fairly evil fellow.

But what if this happened two decades ago? What if the King had been losing his marbles and was about to declare war against a neighboring, friendly, vastly superior military power? What if today the kingdom, ruled by the now-emperor (which is what he decided to call himself), is in the throes of unprecedented peace? Is he still a villainously evil fellow? Or is he a patriot?

Here in America we think of Benedict Arnold as a traitor ? a bad guy. Wasn't he just a spy? Don't we have them of our own? Wasn't he an English patriot? A good guy in someone's point of view?

One of the keys to whether or not a person falls into the "evil" bucket is what he is thinking, or more precisely, how he thinks. This is not to say that just because he can justify his actions to himself, that makes him good, but whether something is good or bad can sometimes be a question of perspective.

Now to bark up a tree:

It has been said that superior ability breeds superior ambition (I think Mr. Spock said it, actually). The villain in your game may be trying to conquer the kingdom, or the world, not because of an inherent lust for power, but because he or she really thinks that, being the most intelligent sentient in the land, and the wisest besides, then they are naturally the best suited for the task. How can a complete moron run the show and give the people the best that they deserve?

The current King may be well-liked, but his poor administration of the economy is going to bankrupt the system, and then where will the kingdom be? His other moron advisors don't see the danger, and the people are just glad that taxes are low and the crops are good. One bad season will turn the current good days into the worst kind.

The military is sorely lacking (and one attack from the north and the kingdom would be lost); they are undermanned (a draft or mandatory service policy may be necessary) and poorly trained. Sure, there's peace in the land today, but how long can that last? And when it ends, will they be able to weather the war to come? If they act now and strengthen themselves, then the answer will be yes, but going the way the current king is going, that won't happen. He might be observing a peace accord, but that accord, so thinks our villain, is one-sided and sorely hamstringing this, our homeland. Time to act!

Players may run into this scenario a year or two later, when the taxes are high, the military are aggressive thugs, there's no food (just as predicted by the now-emperor, the weather turned bad and there hasn't been any crops the last couple of seasons). There's plenty of food for the military, of course (because they steal what little there is from the peasants and augment that by stealing more from the neighboring counties) but the tyranny from the palace is insufferable. The population hates the current administration, but what can they do? The military is loyal to the emperor; there's no hope.

Sure, the emperor is the bad guy here, but is he evil?
Probably not.
Will your characters ever find out?
Probably not.
Does it matter?
Probably not.

To many civilizations the Roman Empire was the evil body. They came to conquer and absorb into their territory the known world, kind of like the Borg, when you think of it. But even the Borg (if you're a Star Trek TNG fan you'll recall an episode called "I, Borg") didn't realize that the civilizations that they absorbed didn't want to be integrated into Borg society. I'm thinking the Romans knew, though.

Were the Romans evil? I certainly don't think so; they went out of their way to support and protect those regions that they conquered (remember the Life of Brian: "Sure, but in addition to the aqueducts, the roads, schools, and the safe streets, what have the Romans brought to us? Nothing!?"). They were the bad guys in most cases, to be sure, but they weren't evil.

Bottom line: the simple fact that someone is doing something that other people don't like, doesn't make the first party evil, or even bad. In any conflict, the other side is the enemy. They are generally considered the bad guy, and often portrayed as evil. That means, in most any conflict there are two teams of bad guys: us and them. There are also two teams of good guys: them and us.

I think.

An article by Johan

*Photo saved many years ago from a site I do not recall. I'll gladly give credit if someone recognizes it. 

Monday, April 19, 2010

Superstitions: Dice

Game night. You stopped by the local smash-N-grab corner store, picked up your bottle of carbonated high-fructose corn syrup with taurine and a bag of Funions, and finally you're planting your ass in the game chair. You drag out your character sheet, your Players Handbook, your Unearthed Arcana, The Complete Whatever, and you dump your dice bag on the table in front of you in an epic display of your chance-cube horde.

Your dice are like the neck tie on a business man. Everything is fairly standard, shirt, slacks, shiny belt and shoes, clean shave, sports jacket... boring. But the neck tie is that droll fellows chance to insert a little self expression. Tie-die, Dilbert, Mickey Mouse... You can likely get away with just about anything for color, as long as it's on a neck tie. Perhaps you'll draw a few inquisitive looks, but a simple "My kid gave it to me for father's day" will dispel any questions that might arise. And hell, if you can actually get your kid to buy it for you, you're not even lying!

The dice on your edge of the table are your chance for self-expression, and it's a very personal thing! I like to get each character (assuming said character is going to be a staple for me and not some throw away almost-npc). Some people like just one set of dice, others aren't that picky. Perhaps you have favorite individual dice? A deep blue 20-sider that represents the cool-headedness with which you swing your axe. A red D8 for damage; red symbolizes the blood of your foes spilling on the ground! Golden D10 for your percentiles! ...ok, you caught me, no one rolls percentiles anymore. I was just checking to make sure you were paying attention... well done... 

Anyway, point is, it's not uncommon for there to be a reason that a certain die is rolled at a given time, and chances are that reason will make no real sense to your or anyone else who is not the owner. The reason you use the dice you use can defy logic, and become a down right superstition.  But that's okay! It doesn't need to make sense to you. Get your own weird behaviors! I personally like to set all the dice on the table, (which will only be the set that was assigned to the character I'm playing,) on the number 1. My thinking is that if it's on the 1, chances that I roll a 1 are lower. Light lightning striking the same spot twice in the same round... (A theory that I completely dispelled at my last game night. My Dwarven Fighter is +13 to hit and I missed an AC-15 creature four freakin times in one melee!)

You wanna see a gaming session get mean, you tread on the wrong player's dice. Touch my dice, I dare you. Set it to anything but "1". You get your nasty non-me karma on my dice, and there'll be issues. Unless I had you a die because you can't locate the one you need right away, thou shalt not touch my polyhedrons. 

Saturday, April 17, 2010

House Rules

I've always sort of cringed when hearing people refer to the Player's Handbook or the Dungeon Master's Guide as a "Rule Book", even though that's technically what they are. However, I think anyone who believes that there are really "rules" in Dungeons and Dragons is sorely missing the whole point. I always go well out of my way to make sure I say "guidelines" instead of "rules".

D&D differs from other game formats, because as long as everyone involved agrees, the "rules" can be bent, broken, or completely revamped to suit the story. Over the last twenty years and more, my group of players has always played by a certain set of house rules that help make sure we stay on track as far as the goal of playing: fun.
  • Max Hit Points.
    You're a fighter, tasked with spearheading a group of elite adventurers into the enemy's domain. Valiently you brave certain doom to protect your friends and emerge victorious. (ding!) You gain a level bringing your greatness to new heights!

    You grab your PHB, your pencil, and your character sheet. You've selected your next feat already, and all that's left to do is roll for your HP increase. /roll: 1. ...Talk about a suck-fest!

    You are the heroes here. You're supposed to be better than the average citizen. If the average citizen goes up in level, why should they have just as good a chance as you at gaining more HP? BS, says I. If you're at the table with us, you get max HP for your class. If your hit die is a d10, then you get 10 + your con modifier, period.
  • Food.
    Within moments of being born, a baby knows it's hungry. Nobody goes off on a trip without making sure they have food, yet you, a seasoned veteran of adventure might forget? Pff...

    Food and water are things that we always just assume the adventurer picks up before they leave. Give your characters the benefit of the doubt here, even if the players behind them might be a but dull. Anyone conscious is going to think of food.
  • Stats.
    If you're at my table, and I'm the GM, feel free to not bother rolling your stats. You want 18s? Go for it. That's right, you heard me, I don't care how you come up with your stat rolls. If all 18s is what it takes for you to enjoy your time at my table, go right ahead.

    This is of course based on the fact that when I generate a character, I've got the personality in mind long before I put pencil to paper, so if my character is stupid, I'm certainly not going to give him an 18 wisdom. I give my players that same benefit of the doubt. But like I said, you players are heroes! If you want to play a perfect scored fellow, my job is to make sure the game is enjoyable for someone controlling such a character.

    At the end of the day, the story will probably have little to do with the ability scores anyway.
  • Leave room for style.
    If something doesn't really matter, leave it up to the players. For example, does it really matter what a magic missile looks like? It manifests from the caster, and stops on the target causing X damage. Who cares if it looks like a flaming tennis ball, or a blue streaming thing, or a beam of light? Let the player decide what it looks like. This adds a certain style to their character that helps the player define the character. 
Don't discard the books altogether, obviously. I'm not saying they're useless, there's an awful lot of material in there that is very sound, and should be observed, but if it gets in the way of your story... a little creative license isn't going to make a "TILT" alarm go off. Keep balance and fairness in mind, and loosen shackles!

What are some of your house rules?