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!