Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Recurring Villain

In my experience, on either side of the screen, nothing creates instant and passionate motivation in the players like a recurring villain. Sure, there is desire to save the world, gain stature, kill things and take there stuff, and all that. Add revenge to the mix and you have a winning combination. Recurring villains eat at the adventure party like nothing else. Even while they are off on other exciting adventures they always make comments like, "When we are done this, we have to go back and get that guy." Too many recurring villains waters down their impact. Not enough and the connection players have to the world is weak. I have some personal unofficial rules about recurring villains that I use to some success. They must have something memorable and unique about them. This helps the players have a strong emotional impression of the villain. The player characters must pose some level of threat to the villain. Villains must be played consistently for verisimilitude. Smart villains make smart plans. Dumb villains make dumb mistakes. Smart villains will use others to do their dirty work whenever possible. Villains should be focused on their own agenda until such time as the player characters become a problem and their agenda. If players alter the villains environment, have the villain react to that change. For example if the players reduce the villains resource pool, then the villain is limited to the new lower resource pool. No matter what the story line or how much time I put into building a villain, villains can be defeated if the players are clever. Conversely, villains can get away if players are less than clever. I do not care for predetermination. I think that is transparent to the players and demoralizing. In my campaign I have some villains that are planned for recurring purposes, some villains that are candidates if the players do not defeat them in their first encounter with them, and some villains that have been created spontaneously because of an unexpected unsuccessful encounter on the part of the player characters that was just too good to pass up. Depending on the villain and the circumstances, I may have the villain increase in levels as the party does. If the villain is active and successful they can grow just like the player characters can. Other villains are more stagnant and the players can grow to become powerful enough to challenge them. Then there is the mysterious villain.... players at first are not sure who, what or why. Oh, the endless possibilities! How do you use villains?

Friday, October 23, 2009

Bowmore Scotch

The family is all out engaged in their own activities tonight. The wife thoughtfully left dinner prepared for me before she ran out. (She is a sweet heart, the love of my life and much more than I deserve) After dinner, I spent a few minutes looking for a map I had made for the next adventure with the intent of refreshing my memory and adding a couple of notes. Due to the sorry state of my DM 'bag', I instead spent a half hour cleaning up and organizing same. As a reward for my good behavior I decided to put on some music and have a beer or perhaps a glass of wine. Unable to come to a decision between the two, the chill in the air from the brisk autumn night instead propelled me to reach for the liquor cabinet. So here I sit, sipping a glass of Bowmore 12 year Islay single malt Scotch whisky, neat. In the background plays JJ Cale & Eric Clapton Escondido. The first point I will make is - life does not suck. I will not bore you with the extraneous details of the clarity of the sound from my stereo or the comfort of the leather couch. As you can guess from the title of the blog, this is about the Scotch. First I will say that I am hard pressed to find a 12 year old single malt Scotch whisky that does not have some redeeming quality. This Islay has a nice peat smokiness, and it would be perfect for sitting in front of the fireplace - even better if you have a peat/turf fire glowing warmly therein. Although I do not have any handy to try, this would go nicely with some smoke meat or cheese. There is nothing overwhelming about this whisky, it is nicely balanced with a long smooth and subtle finish. According to the tasting notes, I should be finding subtle notes of lemon and honey with the trademark smokiness in the nose. I do not - I get the smokiness but instead of the pleasant lemon and honey there is a trace of mustiness which is far less pleasant. After a few sips I can finally taste the suggested faint dark chocolate amongst the peat smoke. All palates are different, and instead I come away with a nice almost butterscotch hint with the smokiness. I give it a thumbs up. Not my favorite single malt by any stretch, but if you find it on sale, do not be afraid to purchase it. I think the Cale & Clapton helped too. Cheers!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Falling with impunity

"Falling down became second nature and it really didn't bother me." Nancy Kerrigan The rogue character climbs the tower with rope and grappling hook and achieves the top room before the horde of orcs and the large ogre can breach the door. Quickly he helps the princess climb into the rafters of the tower roof and hands her the invisibility potion. "Remain motionless and quiet," he commands her and then moves to the balcony just before the door is sundered in a shower of wooden splinters. "How far to the ground?" asks the player. "Fifty feet. The wall is smooth finished stone," answers the DM. "Hmmmmm, five times six is thirty, so I can survive maximum damage with my thirty-two hit points. Balazar steps off the balcony and waves good-bye to the charging orcs and their ogre pet. At the bottom I will drink my potion of cure serious wounds. Next round I will join the others fighting their way up the tower stairs." Balazar's player crosses his arms and look smug. The DM grinds his teeth. Sound familiar? Should a DM grind his teeth over this encounter? I have no qualms over players defeating my evil designs and feeling smug over it. I rather like that they feel smug when they are successful. I despise metagaming. I also despise the lack of verisimilitude. Should not falling be dangerous? Should players ever know EXACTLY what is the risk of failure? Where is the excitement is danger if you know exactly that you can defy common sense fear of falling and step off the tower ledge? The player did not even attempt to lessen the damage using tumble skill, or some other tool they may have been carrying. Your mileage may vary, but in my game this is just plain wrong. What do you do? I have cast about for possible alternate and house rules to achieve the feel or verisimilitude. Various gaming sites forums have discussions on the same topic, some old some new. A common solution is for falling to do ability point damage. That does give back some lethalness to the situation but induces two undesirable side effects. First, ability damage is a PITA to manage and causes more calculations. Calculations are not inherently fun for most people. Second, ability damage levels the playing field across character levels therefore a higher level character would not be more likely to survive a fall than a lower level character. This goes against the premise that characters get 'better' as they move up in level. I even spent some serious time with a spreadsheet comparing actual velocity to the falling damage. (notice I said that calculations are not inherently fun for MOST people). Surprisingly, the velocity to damage ratio is remarkably close to a straight line d6 damage per ten feet after you get by the initial twenty feet and before you achieve terminal velocity. However, this does not address my concern. During a long discuss on this topic with one of my players (who just also happens to be my grown son) he became thoughtful and asked, "what is the difference between falling damage and weapon damage?" Indeed, what? If you can subscribe to the notion of hit point abstraction, which is hard to avoid if you play D&D, you can easily rationalize an answer of, "nothing." So where does that leave us? It brought us back to looking at other rules, rather than 'solving' the falling problem. Maybe the problem was not falling. Maybe the problem was large amounts of damage. So instead I am instituting a house rule massive damage threshold, one that is variable with a character's hit point total and not an instant death rule. What does your game do to address this problem? Is this a problem for you? Are you interested in our 3.5E massive damage house rule? How is the weather where you are?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Live recordings that bring the magic

Amazon has a listing that proposes to be "The 100 Greatest Live Albums of All Time". My intention is not be rate or validate this listing but rather note some of my favorite live recordings. If I understand it correctly, in the music business live recordings are a relatively inexpensive way to get another album out. You do not need new material, and no fancy studio, just some recording equipment at a venue that is already in the works. From my experience most live recordings are not worth purchasing. The sound quality is often shoddy, the balance between the instruments can be off, and some performers or bands just do not have that special magic when doing the live show. Most of my personal collection of something over 350 titles are NOT live recordings. However, every once in a while a band will surprise you. They will bring the magic to the show. That is not to say the recording is a replacement for being there, I know far better than that. Some of that magic shines through onto the recording. Sometimes it is just the energy. Other times the band just comes together in a way that was far superior to the studio recording. Some of these recordings have very different versions of the songs in comparison to the studio recordings, and those versions are far better than what was put forth in the studio. Here are the recordings that I already own (on vinyl or CD) from Amazon's 100 list 11 Neil Young - Live Rust. This is one heck of an album, and if you can find it watch the movie that was made of the same concert. I love the road-eyes. I do not own any studio Neil, I far prefer this. 13 Talking Heads - Stop Making Sense. Again, this is one heck of an album, and again if you can find it watch the movie. I do not own any studio Talking Heads, only this. I find the Heads too cold in their studio recordings. 18 The Who - Live At Leeds. The quality of the recording leaves something to be desired. You need to be a who fan to appreciate this one. Listen to it for the energy - sparks nearly fly. 21 Cheap Trick - At Budokan. These guys were never meant to be taken seriously, and this is just a fun album at its core. 29 Eric Clapton - Unplugged. I own loads of studio Clapton from all periods of his career. Listen to this for the interesting versions of some songs (like Layla) and for the emotion that bleeds off the tracks (like Tears in Heaven). 48 Deep Purple - Made in Japan. Sound quality is iffy, but this is a recording for the times. Egocentric long versions of every song. Just about perfect. 66 Peter Frampton - Frampton Comes Alive! I own no studio Framton and was not a fan until this album came out. Sound quality is not bad. The real attraction here is better versions of every song vs. his studio recordings. 90 Stevie Ray Vaughan - Live at Carnegie Hall. Recording is not bad and the energy is terrific. 95 Neil Diamond - Hot August Night. Hate to admit that I like Neil Diamond. More accurately, I like THIS Neil Diamond album. Its fun and the emotion comes through very well. Some of these albums made me a fan of the artist, which I had not been prior to hearing the recording. Another good example of that is Sarah McLachlan - Mirror Ball. Prior to that album I found Sarah rather dry. Again, it is a decent recording but she really puts out the emotion with good versions of the songs. I think the band cuts loose a bit more than on the studio recordings. Where is the magic for you? What live album changed your mind about an artist and made you a fan (or a reluctant fan)?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Full disclosure

Those looking for the full monty should look elsewhere. In the spirit of full disclosure, and in the spirit of full over the top ridiculousness, I proudly declare that I have nothing to declare. I have noted so in the "about me" to the right. So all you FTC types can look elsewhere for bloggers making big bucks on recommendations. And my readers can feel certain that my rantings are just that, and not tainted with commercial money. New FTC guidelines. On the other hand, I would happily consider those big bucks and disclose same. :-)
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