Thursday, December 30, 2010

I Read Some Raymond Feist

A number of people whose opinions I respect think he is a fine author and worthy of my reading time.  Looking for a little recreational reading, I endeavored to read some Raymond Feist.

Years ago I played the computer game Betrayal at Krondor.  I thought the game was mostly fun but was unsatisfied by the plot line.  At the time I chalked it up to the challenge of applying literature thinking to game design.  This summer I borrowed a copy of Krondor: The Betrayal.  I read roughly about a third of the way through the book and put it down.  Permanently.  I have probably only done that a half dozen times in my life.  At this point in my life I am less tolerant of books which do not reach an enjoyment threshold than I was in earlier times in my life.  This can easily be attributed to the various pressures on my time and the scarcity of reading time.

Why did I not enjoy Krondor: The Betrayal?  Quite simply, neither characters nor plot engaged me.  I found the prose did not create pictures in my head.

First week of December we did an island visit; it was a vacation escape from the cold.  Looking for reading material, I am advised Krondor: The Betrayal is not one of Feist's better books and am recommended to try the Conclave of the Shadows series.  Further advised that the first two books go together and the third is optional, I pack borrowed copies of Talon of the Silverhawk and King of Foxes.

They were better but still I find them wanting.  I never felt the characters progressed beyond two dimensional caricatures.  They never felt like real people to me, I was unable to relate to them.  The plot wandered like a pick your own adventure book.  Powerful background characters acted like omnipotent plot fixers, much like deus ex machina.  The plot fixers had knowledge the characters in the book and the readers never get to know.  They are just smarter than all of us.  I will try not to spoil the series but at one point the central character suffers a debilitating and supposedly permanent injury, which later is 'cured' by the omnipotent plot fixers.

I did read complete the two books while on vacation.  The good news is I did not put them down.  I do not think I will be reading any more Feist though.  As the old saying goes, his books are apparently not my cup of tea.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Divination, not the answer to who, when & where

So, to summarize what I said previously - we want a Divination to give useful advice commensurate to the level of the spell being consumed without spoiling a good time by solving the adventure outright. 

In my current campaign the party is in search of a powerful artifact/weapon.  They have found an ancient city in ruins occupied by a combination of humans, humanoids and nasty creatures in an uneasy and shifting balance.  They have reason to believe the artifact is in the city, hidden in the tomb of the original owner.  They have reason to believe they need a descendant of that owner, one of her bloodline, to overcome the protections surrounding the artifact.  They have reason to believe those protections are potent and dangerous.  They have a lead on a solution, but it is inconvenient.  They decide they want to find an alternate solution.  So far so good; I like it when they use their heads.

So they decide to ask the gods.  Priestess, fire up the Divination spell!  Now what to ask....  The first thought was "where and who is the closest bloodline and how do we overcome the protections on the artifact?"

Rather than just let them try the question and have it fail, I maturely interject as DM.  "Bzzzzzzzttttt, sorry that will not work."  Disappointed and confused look from the player.  So then I take a little time to explain the limits of Divination.  'Similar to augury but more powerful, a divination spell can provide you with a useful piece of advice in reply to a question concerning a specific goal, event, or activity that is to occur within one week.'  More confused looks.  I followup with examples of what successful and unsuccessful divination castings might look like; your character would have had some training at the temple and this is what you would know.  More player discussion ensues and they finally decide on the question.

“If we return to Penchawn to get the bard Faynie, is it our only chance to retrieve Gray Razor?”

The response is as follows:  Tula's children were few, and what still lives are spread far and wide. No path is certain, and no path is sure. A journey to Penchawn to seek the bard may yield what you seek through wise actions and honeyed words.

They think long and hard about this and decide, for now, they do not want to take the time to go all the way back to Penchawn.  They decide there must be a solution here in the ruined city.  So they set about finding the small pockets of humans left in this ruined mess.  At one stop, a middle aged man named Escovar claims to be in the bloodline of the artifact owner, a famous barbarian princess.  The party, ever suspicious, decides another Divination is in order.

"If Escovar joins us in our quest will we be able to obtain Gray Razor?"

The response is as follows: A cloud of doom hangs over this action. The path remains dangerous and the vision of death is imminent.

They decide against sharing this little bit of good news with Escover, telling him they will get back to him.  Away from Escovar they have a long discussion about the meaning of this divination.  Perhaps there is just trickery in the words, and the vision of death is simply the occupant of the tomb.  Ever confident, they discuss their chances of figuring out how to overcome the danger called out in the divination.  After all, the divination did not say absolutely it would not work and they would all die.  Next outing I find out what they decide as their next action.

Ah, the fun I have with Divination. 

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Merry Christmas and Thanks

I have been otherwise occupied for the last few weeks, so I have not made time for a post.  I plan to catch up next week.  I had been busy with an island vacation, work, and holiday preparation.

I wish everyone a Merry Christmas and hope you can enjoy it with friends and family.  Thank you all for reading, commenting, and fellow bloggers for their interesting musings.  Best to you all.

Here is a link to an old post of mine, a meager attempt at humor.  This was originally written for my PBP group and updated slightly for the blogosphere. The Night Before Christmas, D&D blogger style.

And last but not least - Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Divination, lead me to the treasure

OK, so I got side tracked in the last post. (the evils of Google) What I really wanted to write about was Divination in a game. Since we play a house ruled 3.5 I will be referring to the actual spell. However, the concept of having divine or arcane magic which can provide useful information towards solving the in game challenge vs. just how much the DM reveals without spoiling the fun is not limited by edition.

I have read via the interwebs some DMs suggest simply striking the spell from the available lists. I do not subscribe to such an action. Divination has a rich history in literature and my game draws much from literature.  My homebrew is not a copy of some literary world but rather draws on elements that are common in literary worlds, and hence gives a familiar feeling to the players.  Removing divination type magic would would degrade that familiarity.  Additionally, I like to use NPCs with divination abilities in the homebrew.  Knowledge is power, even if that knowledge is limited or flawed.  I like the interplay of the diviners selling their wares as absolute knowledge while the buyers of such knowledge are skeptical and yet fearful to ignore the potential such knowledge could bring.  If they NPCs can use divination magic, then so should the players.

I have stricken spells from the game.  I have not done so without careful thought about how it impacts my homebrew, and I do it very sparingly.  Players choose a class expecting to have the abilities as stated (my house rules are written and public to the players so there is no surprise), and are disappointed to lose those abilities.  There may be a sense of making the character less valuable.

So, what is the problem with Divination?  Inevitably a character would like to cast the spell and ask: "Did Varalak the High Priest murder King Coriant?",  "Where does this magical portal lead?", "What terrible creature guards the treasure in the temple?", "Which hallway leads to the captive princess?".   Thank you for calling 1 800 ASK A GOD.  We are sorry, due to convoluted rules we are not at liberty to explain why your query cannot be answered and your spell is still consumed.  We look forward to serving you in the future in the service of your god.  Be sure to watch your alignment.  Have a nice day.

The conversation between Omnipotentia, the all knowing goddess of knowledge and the DM go something like this.
Omnipotentia - "Look, I know the answer to the priest's question.  She's been true to her alignment, she risked her life in my service five times last week, and giving her this bit of direct knowledge unequivocally advances my goals as goddess of knowledge.  What gives with me having to give some vague answer, that can be taken ambiguously, to this loyal servant?"
DM - "I have spent a pant load of time putting this adventure together so the players pulling the puppet strings on your follower will have a good time.  I am not about to have them solve the adventure with a simple spell casting in the first five minutes of the game.  It is not satisfying for them, and would really piss me off."
Omnipotentia - "It just doesn't seem right.  I mean, you go on about verisimilitude in your game and-"
DM - interrupting "Listen, I hear a loyal follower of Discordia the goddess of death, destruction, and generally uncouth behavior using a divination asking the goddess for the secret to slaying the goddess of knowledge.  Maybe you are right, maybe this is the time to start answering those questions with full disclosure.  You know a god war might be an interesting twist to this campaign....
Omnipotentia - "I am starting to see you point of view.  Let me get my thesaurus."

At the heart of it, Divination should give some useful advice but should not solve the adventure.  Seems simple right?  First off the players struggle with what to ask knowing 1 800 ASK A GOD will only answer a properly limited and formatted question.  Next, those darn players will spring a Divination question when you least expect it.  Now you have to come up with a cleverly written response which gives just just enough advice without spoiling the adventure.  No wonder some DMs squirm at this point.  I rather like it though, it keeps me on my toes.

Next post, I'll talk about my most recent experience with Divination in game.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Astral Projection & Divination

After playing D&D for over 30 years, today I discover there is real magic in these books.  I kid you not.  I was doing a Google search on divination and I came across a website with instructions on how to force Satan or demons (it didn't specify how you know which, perhaps that was on another page) out of a persons body.  Afterward there is a prayer, and in that prayer you must renounce a good many things (and many of those things it seems like a pretty good idea to renounce).  I did come to notice that in paragraph 7 of 10 in this rather detailed and specific prayer it says this:
I renounce heavy metal music, satanic rock and black rock, watching occult movies and all demonic role-play games, such as Dungeons and Dragons.
So, they wouldn't make you renounce that unless it could lead to, you know, the dark magic of astral projection and divination right?  I suppose since you are renouncing heavy metal music that could lead to the same dark magic, but then it would involve big hair and being hard of hearing too.

All kinds of ideas sprang into my head.  Is there really the secrets of astral projection hidden in one of my D&D books?  I wonder which edition?  (Oh, no, more fodder for the edition wars!)  What exactly is 'black rock'?  How do I know what is an occult movie as opposed to a just weird one (I wonder if they have a list?  Do they update it regularly if I subscribe to the site?)  Also I noticed they capitalized Dungeons and Dragons; they fear not combating Satan and his minions but tremble before copyright lawyers?

The more I think on this it may not be D&D which is the main tool in Satan's weaponry.  It makes me wonder about this divination spell called Google.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Stone Cat ESB masquerading

In the endless quest to find more fine beer to quaff, I picked up a sixer of Stone Cat ESB.   This will be a short review.  I popped open one, had a sip and had to look at the label.  I thought I had mistakenly bought an IPA.  There was not enough else going for this brew for me to pay close attention.  If you are an IPA fan, you might really enjoy this.  IPAs are the only brew that I truly do not enjoy, and hence, did not enjoy this at all.  Better luck next time.


Saturday, October 30, 2010

What if your really tough encounter monster gets killed in round two?

What if you had planned a really cool encounter in an old destroyed temple, that included random nasty steam vents and an eight headed pyro-hydra and.... your players ran right over it?

The characters in our main game are 7th level.  The have access to all kinds of buffs when time allows.  As soon as they saw the inside of this nasty temple, but before they knew about the hydra, they went about buffing themselves up.  Enlarge person, bull's strength, mage armor, shield, etc.  After a few rounds of buffing they wandered in.  A few more rounds later the beasty shows its faces.  Smugly they finish the buffing with prayer and haste, come get us beasty!  Well the hydra gets just outside melee range and unloads eight heads of fire breath.  Large chucks of character hit points and the smug looks evaporate.  A little panic starts to set in (DM refrains from gloating) and the two heavy melee fights decide it is do or die so they make their move.  Lots of attacks due to level, full attack option and haste.  But the dice, rather than turn treacherous on them, does just the opposite.  Not only is every attack a hit, three are critical hits, and the damage dice are smiling on them just as broadly as the d20s.  The results are impressive and statistically improbable.  My nasty eight headed pyro-hydra lies on the floor of the temple in pieces, rather than hovering over the panic stricken party. 

Where was the terror?  Where was the anguished cries of help to their deities?  Oh, the inhumanity!

They did plan.  They did work together.  They did make good choices.  They did roll very, very well.

What if you had planned a really cool encounter and your players ran right over it?  After I got over being stunned, I congratulated them.  They earned it.  It was time to allow them to bask in their glory.  Not to worry, there are more encounters waiting and you just never know what the dice will say next time.  You see, the dice never lie.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Weapons of legend

Although it works in the game, there is no literary tradition for acquiring magical weapons and trading them in for better magical weapons as time goes by and character levels go up.  There is no attachment to these D&D magical weapons, and much like any other tool they are discarded as better tools come along.  I find this to be unsatisfying.  When as a player I tried to have my character do more with a weapon: name my magical +1 weapon and become attached to it, and known as the wielder of said weapon of great renown.... it all goes out the window when the +2 weapon comes along. 

I suppose not everyone can have Excalibur, Chrysaor, Nothung, Glamdring, Stormbringer or a the vorpal sword that slew the Jabberwock snicker-snack.  But there must be something between Orcrist and the disposable +x weapon in the treasure pile that fits into our adventure.  Sure there are tables in the back of the book (regardless what book/edition you have) which speak of powerful weapons and artifacts that only a fool would relinquish.  In practice it may be true but for most of our campaigns characters would only acquire such a device near the end of their career.  This does not allow them to build a story and reputation expect maybe as the guy powerful enough to slay the terrible beast that had the legendary weapon in its hoard and thus became the next hero to retire (because the campaign was over) with that legendary weapon.  Not satisfying at all in my book.

It always seemed to me the solution was to have the character acquire a weapon which, much like the character herself, needed to grow to their full potential.  Sure the weapon may start out as just a pretty looking master work tool, but over time it would gain pluses to hit, unique capabilities, elemental properties (spouting flame, dripping caustic acid, etc), gaining fame as the character did.  It may even have a temperament and its own agenda that is in some conflict with the bearer.  Sounds like fun!

I know there are a number of systems out their that support such a progression.  I did not find one I liked, so I made my own.  The challenges have been many.  I do not want the weapons to outshine the characters.  Characters owning such a weapon often unbalance the game.  Creating weapons and a history so that all the characters can participate in this high fantasy romp without it seeming too contrived.  (who would want to be left out of the fun!). I decided that the characters had to actively pursue goals and rituals that would unlock the weapons potentials as they grew in power.  This also had the beneficial side effect of creating adventure motivation and consuming resources.

It has been an interesting experiment, and I trust my players are enjoying it.  One of the interesting things I did was give the characters an opportunity to rename their weapon - they could keep its legendary name, or they could rename it formally.  Weapons with such prestigious names as Silver Flame, Ice Wand, Ivory Stary & Argentum Valor have come into the hands of the characters.   It has not all been perfect, but I think the challenges have been worth the outcome: an interesting campaign where characters have weapons of legend, and are creating more legend of the weapon and more importantly, the wielder.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Thirty years later - a random dungeon creation romp

It has been a very long time since I did any random dungeon creation.  Back in the day it was supposedly an easy way out to run an adventure.  Not much planning, a few rolls and presto you have an evening of entertainment. 

I should have know better.  I was doomed from the start. 

To start with, I couldn't really use completely random tables.  This was to be insert in an already designed area so the start and ends had to come together, and the inhabitants had to fit in a subset of what was likely to be found in these underground caverns.  So I had to build my own random tables.  I supposed whether you use somebody else's tables or your own, somebody has to build them.

To make a long story short, I could have drawn and populated a set of natural caverns far more quickly that generating random caverns, making them connect and populating them with tables.  Perhaps there was a change up from the players view; if I had populated them not so randomly my stamp may have been on that and the characters might have been less surprised.  However, I don't think so.  Personally I think I stay ahead of the characters and am still able to surprise them no matter what patterns of my behavior they believe they have deciphered.

I found that I was not crisp with the information on this random map creation.  I made mistakes, had a little trouble orienting the group in my descriptions and lost my place here and there.  Making it in advance, whole cloth from my own imagination, somehow makes it stick better in my mind.  Plus I have a little time to review before the adventure so I am much sharper with details.

Now, it really didn't turn out all that bad.  I was disappointed in my running of the last outing; it felt a little bit awkward and slow but we got through.  I just have to face facts, after thirty years of game mastering I am just more comfortable assembling my own adventures manually, with some die rolls of support, than to just trust it all to chance.  I am not afraid to try new ways of running games, or game content and will continue to do so.  This does just reinforce that you should play to your strengths.

I have said it before and I'll say it again: the dice never lie.  I suppose the real wisdom is knowing when to ask them to speak.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Local Austin musician Brian Pounds

I was out after work looking for some place to eat while onn my recent trip to Austin.  I saw the sign for the Iron Cactus restaurant, and I knew I did not need to drive any more.  This post is not about the Iron Cactus, though it was a cool place.

In the bar area was a young man singing and playing on an acoustic guitar, accompanied by an older gentleman on a pedal steel guitar.  The younger man, Brian Pounds by name, was singing his heart out and the older gentleman on the steel was quite good as well.  The Tex-Mex food was good enough, the cerveza was cold, and although the music was not exactly my favorite style it was both entertaining and of fine quality.  Not even a cover charge.

Unfortunately I must have missed the first half of their set, because after about 6 songs they were packing up.  I was sufficiently impressed to call Brian over and offer to buy one of his CDs.  I figured I got $10 worth of entertainment anyway.  My younger days as a musician are not completely forgotten; I try to support up and coming artists where I can.

Brian plays a sort of blend of folk/rock/country and has a quality to his voice that reminds me of James Taylor.  You can check him out here:

There, I have done my good deed.  From here it is up to him and the quality of his music.  Just in case he does make it big, I had him autograph the CD.  You never can tell.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Shiner Bock, an Austin favorite

I had a business trip to Austin a little over a week ago.  While there I tried a local favorite, Shiner Bock from the Shiner brewery down there.

Apparently this is a very popular local brew.  I had it on tap and in a bottle.  Either way I found it drinkable but not notable.  It had a somewhat transparent dark amber color, a creamy nougat colored head that dissipated too quickly, and a mild nose.  It is quite plain for a bock.  Perhaps it is designed to be a bock that goes with southwest & cajun spicy food? 

Sorry to my friends in Austin but this is just ordinary.  I would not throw it away if I was given some, but next time in Austin I will seek out some other local brew.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Old Speckled Hen vs. Dead Guy

We stopped by a fun theme pub last night - The Holy Grail.  We had drunken mushrooms and for my entree I had Bangers & Colcannon, which was not stellar but a reasonable go at home style Irish comfort food.

I started with an Old Speckled Hen, an English pale ale.  It was drinkable but not outstanding.  I followed with a Dead Guy, Rogue Ale's German maibock.  Dead Guy was the hands down winner - no contest.  Made me wish I had skipped the Hen and gone right to the good stuff.  Just sayin' life's too short to drink ordinary beer when extraordinary beer can be had.

My previous comments on Dead Guy.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

We finally visit the Tomb of Horrors

I have been playing D&D in one form or another for over 30 years.  In the early years we played a few of the famous TSR modules but mostly went on to home brew adventuring split between the two regular DMs.  I was one of those DMs. Copies of TSR modules not played lay in storage, waiting for the right moment that might never come to drag it out and give it a run.  The Tomb or Horrors module rested quietly, biding its time, waiting for fools to cross its threshold and die.

The golden years of our game group came to an end many years ago when one of the four core gamers in the group moved to the west coast.  Although the regular game changed forever, we are fortunate these individuals remain in our lives as friends regardless of distance.  Ever few years a visit is orchestrated, there is much rejoicing and often times a game is run just like old times.

One of those joyous visits recently happened.  Life being what it is, neither of the long time DMs had something appropriate to run so we were looking for something suitable to do when my youngest son, who is in his early 20s, offered to run a version of Tomb of Horrors for D&D 3.5.  At first folks were a bit hesitant about it.  Over time our game migrated away from the more old school save or die type of game, where dungeon ecology logic was unnecessary, and where replacement characters were expected.  Do we really want to be offered up to the granddaddy of killer dungeons?  Of course we do!

Unfortunately, we were not able to get the original four players together in one sitting.  We did manage to have two outings with three players each time.  Though we did not get too far through the dungeon, a good time was had.  Amazingly, we did manage to kill the gargoyle without any character losses though it was close.  However on the second night the tomb did manage to take three characters in total, not too shabby for the evil old icon.

We had a great time.  This is not going to lead to playing the old modules regularly because of the experience, it is not where we want to be now.  As a one off outing, it was loads of fun.  There was also much more than nostalgia here.  There were a number of firsts.  It was the first time my son ran a game for the old timers.  He got to show off his skill with a classic and did a fine job.  I hope that he comes to treasure the evening where he ran this icon and ground up this dad and friends.  The first evening was the first time in many years that those three particular players were characters together; that had not happened since one of the other regulars ran his first and only module as DM.  The second evening was the first time those three particular players were characters together ever.  These three were the only to ever DM our original group, and so we had never been together on the same side of the screen.

Our time together passes too quickly because ultimately it is about friends and family.  It was great to have these little outings, and The Tomb was just the icing not the cake.  It is interesting how these things come about, you just never know.  Its the gaming and not the game.  BruHaHa the Sincere, we miss you already .

Saturday, July 17, 2010

A passable summer ale: Honey Moon by Blue Moon

The last couple of hot weeks we had very hot weather, which changes my appetite away from the heavier full bodied beers.  Sadly I am finding that the supermarkets are carrying fewer and fewer choices and the speciality stores are getting rarer and reducing their hours.  So I gave a try to a Coors product brought to you via the Blue Moon label called Honey Moon.

It is a summer wheat ale brewed with orange and finished with honey added.  It has a clear golden color and pours with only a thin head.  You have to strain yourself to pick up any smells beyond the faint aroma typical to wheat ales.  It tastes like a mild wheat ale, thin but not watery.  It was slightly sweet with the honey, nice but not over powering.  The citrus or orange flavor hovers just out of tasting, I could tell something was there but it was not coming through as orange.  This ale is a smooth drinker with moderate to low carbonation and just over 5% ABV.  

Nothing excitable here, but it is easy to drink and I have not got tired of it.  I must say I have had quite of few of these over the last couple of weeks, they leave you feeling clean enough to have another as you enjoy the summer sun.  It gets a Gnotions rating of passable and pleasing in the right weather.


Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The obligatory Gnotions Alignment post

I think every FRPG blogger eventually writes an alignment post.  I have decided I will get mine out of the way right now.  If you have read my FRPG posts, you will notice that I am a fan of addressing game actions in game.  Sure I give XP, but even then most of the rewards or penalties stay in game.  Plainly put, I don't penalize or reward players for actions in alignment, the world might, but the DM does not.  No rating scales (I tried that decades ago and gave it up), no DM counseling sessions, no mapping alignment shifts on a graph, no knowing looks or wagging fingers.

The world does not care what alignment is written on your character sheet (more about that later).  It is all cause and effect.  Act selfishly and those around you will expect you to act selfishly in the future.  Demonstrate your trustworthiness and you will be trusted.  Be a champion of the weak or the needy and you will earn rewards for your risk taking... but only commensurate with the risks taken.  Of course in the world there are those that prefer to abide with those who are selfish, or trustworthy, or champions of good, and those that do not. 

One of my important jobs as DM is to have the world react appropriately.  Act selfishly, getting your rewards now at others expense does just that; you get the rewards now and the world has a certain bias towards you.  Conversely, be a champion of the weak and needy usually means taking your risk now and reaping the rewards later.  In game terms, one is not right or wrong but just a different series of cause and effect.

You might ask, if the world does not care what is written on the character sheet in the alignment category then why write anything there at all?  Or why even have alignment at all?  Yes, those are good questions.

I find alignment is a useful guideline for describing a view point; whether that view is over a single action or over a life time.  Followers of a particular god, who gain favor or power for advancing an alignment (notice that I did not say following an alignment - Moorcock's books are a good example of this thinking) must behave appropriately or risk losing, temporarily or permanently, those favors/powers.  Conversely, characters who follow a strict code should be rewarded for that behavior.  The great powers of a priest or holy warrior come with great responsibility, and the reverse is true.  In those circumstances the DM must know the character's alignment so the world can choose to keep providing those powers, or not. 

My world is polytheistic.  There are individuals that are totally devoted to their god and alignment, but a large number of creatures, humanoids included, are more pragmatic and would give offerings or promises to gods in return for specific considerations.  You might pray for a safe journey, a good harvest, safe child birth, or even fell luck to an enemy without dedicating the rest of your life to a god.

So why have an alignment at all?  You might choose to have a character who is committed to a god, cause or point of view.  The key word here is choose.  Players choose for their characters.  I think that many players should choose unaligned, which is not the same thing as neutral.  If your character is not of the strong view point of one of the alignments, and is not actively furthering the cause, then you are likely unaligned.  Your character makes decisions based on the circumstance, and those decisions are likely to vary in alignment to some extent based on your personality.  Your character might be more interested in riches, fame, romance or whatever as more important than a 'cause'.  Fine.  Good.  Role play and the world will play back.

Of course some monsters, races, cultures or even cities really do culturally lean towards one alignment.  That does not mean everyone subscribes to that view, but it is substantially the norm and most of those creatures will act that way.

Does that make it difficult to know who are the bad guys and who are the good guys?  Yes it can.  And of course good and bad and relative anyway.  I like it that way.  Additionally in my game I have nerfed the detect alignment spell.  I do not want anyone to have it that easy to purge a population.  I think it makes a more interesting game with more opportunities for subterfuge. 

But isn't there any absolutes of alignment? After all the monster manual has entries that say always.... Well, I do not subscribe to that thinking entirely. There are the planes outside of the prime material plan where those that are the embodiment of alignment might live.  Ontologically speaking, if there are creatures of good and evil then they are gods or creatures like angels, devils, or demons.  In my game even the color of a dragon is no guarantee of its alignment, only a likelihood of that alignment.

As alignment goes in my game, it is what you do that is important and you will reap the rewards and consequences of your action in the world, not on a report card.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

I want my monsters to feel at home

I dislike running or playing in an RPG session that is arbitrary.  Oh, sure, I have nostalgia for the old Gygax tables but I used them for ideas to keep things from being stale.  I would immediately find a way to make the idea logical, or internally consistent (verisimilitude - there I said it again).  I will not say I am looking for realism because I am not.  There is nothing real about magic missiles or displacer beasts.  However, used in the proper context magic missiles and displacer beasts can seem perfectly natural in the given context.  In other words, players do not suddenly go, "WTF!  Where did that come from?"  Rather I want them to go, "Ah, I see how that fits.  Man why didn't I see that coming!" 

This is not a revelation to me, this has long been my personal quest to make the games I am running be internally consistent, so that the laws of nature, magic, & gods in that environment work and the players can expect actions to have relatively expected reactions.  (you can see this theme in some of my other posts).  What made me feel like spouting again was my recent rereading of Poul Anderson's Three Hearts and Three Lions.  (see below).  One of the many things I like about the book, even though it is fantasy, there is a logic at work and you can expect the heroes, villains and monsters to all live within that logic.

First there are the humans, who can be good or bad.  The best of the humans are paragons of virtue and the proponents of law.  Second there are the Fay, who are typically capricious and self serving.  The Fay are the primary proponents of chaos, that is when they feel like it.  Lastly there are the monsters, while you are not always sure where they come from you are clear they are on the side of chaos, when they feel like.  The power of the holy Christian God, and the associated artifacts, is proof against the Fay and the monsters.  However, men being weak willed beings, often behave in a way that puts them in a graceless state and therefore susceptible to the Fay and monsters.  A human in the state of grace, who cannot be readily harmed directly by Fay or monsters can of course be harmed by another human who has chosen to support chaos for their own selfish purposes.

In one paragraph that largely sums up the internal logic of the creatures in the world.  I find it elegant for this story.  I would not port this exactly for a game environment, there are some drawbacks in using that for an RPG.  Perhaps that is another blog post some day.

In my homebrew, I try to have a reason that monsters exist rather than having them show up arbitrarily during an adventure.  So there are humans, humanoids, giants and the like that live on the various islands and have their own lands and a creation myth that puts them there.  I am a firm believer that humans are some of the most dangerous monsters.  Dragons play a role in my creation myth, and though rare, have a place in the ecosystem and are involved in the early history of magic.  Aberrations, though by their nature are somewhat random, are not arbitrarily placed in adventures but were created at some point in time by fell magic.  That point in time may have been long ago or very recent.  Those few that survived  from long ago and bred may inhabit an area in numbers, those created recently are likely to be the only ones.  Original undead are always created, either by necromantic arcane or divine powers, or by even darker rituals that turn the living user of that ritual into something beyond life.  Some undead are able to continue their line via their dark appetites.  Lastly there are the higher and lower planes populated with those beings of light or darkness with their own higher or lower purposes.

Where I struggle is with the magical creatures.  I give in to a little bit of capriciousness with them, I suppose, because that is in their nature.  To some extent I have the creation myth that covers the internal logic of their existence, but I try not to overdue it.  I try to make the appearance of these be special and unusual and by that, in their own way, fantastic in the old world definition.  So I assuage my struggle with this logic by admitting, in the end, this is a fantasy RPG.

I do not dare to compare my little world to Poul Anderson's, but I hope in some way that my monsters feel like they belong and are willing to hang around.  That is until the characters kill them and take there stuff.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Three Hearts and Three Lions, again

Over the last two days I spent some horizontal hammock time in the shade of two very large hemlock trees while reading Three Hearts and Three Lions.  As noted below, I have read it before and it is still a favorite.  A fast easy read with no lack of depth, even while some of the characters described with brevity they still stand out.

It has been a while since I last read the book.  I had forgotten how many things are borrowed by original versions of D&D straight from this book.  If you want to add some color to your description of a troll battle, an encounter with a nixie, the struggles of a paladin, or a view of law versus chaos, this might be the book for you.  This was a fun walk down memory lane for me, like meeting an old friend and reliving good times.

If you play D&D and you have never read this book then you are missing out.  What are you waiting for?

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Three Hearts and Three Lions

I am suddenly having a hankering to have another read of Poul Anderson's classic, Three Hearts and Three Lions.  Though Anderson was most well known for his science fiction, he demonstrated he was also an able fantasy writer as well.  Though the book was written five decades ago, it strikes me as fresh and poignant today as it was then.  Some topics on the human condition do not change.  Besides the interesting influence it had on the RPG hobby and other fantasy writers, it is just a darn fine read.  Around 250 pages, accessible and easy to read but with a hidden depth of character it is long a favorite of mine.  

What say ye in the RPG hobby?  Does this story of the Dane and the Swan May resonate for you?  How many of you old timers have read this before, and how has it influence you or your game?

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

A dead guy, a black sheep on its back, and who put the apple in the beer?

I got a variety of beers for my birthday a while back, I took some notes but did not get to posting them all.  Doing some catch up.

First up, my favorite beer from this very fine brewery.  If you like real beer, I have no doubt you will enjoy a Dead Guy from Rogue.  Coppery in color, slightly cloudy, medium head, well balanced, right amount of carbonation for the recipe, lightly spicy, a little honey sweet, and very drinkable.  Not the kind you would crave on a sweltering day but a fine brew with food or by itself.  Highly recommend by me.  Its availability in the eastern US is increasing, and not all that unusual to see it in bottles in specialty pubs or even on tap.

Why would you name an ale after a black sheep that cannot right itself?  Sounds suspicious in a 'I am afraid of the real answer' kind of way.  Regardless, Riggwelter was a nice surprise.  A very complex ale with loads of subtle flavors.  Among them I found chocolate and coffee, which in my experience are usually in stouts and not ales.  You are likely not to have more than two at a sitting, or maybe even only the one.  I recommend this not with food, but on its own when you are in the mood to enjoy the myriad of flavors with a drinking partner doing the same.  Move on to another brew after you are done to clean the palate.

The last of the trio is another Rogue brew, Kells, an Irish Style Lager.  The beer is golden in color, crisp and mild in flavor.  The kicker, and I do mean finish kicker, is the crisp apple after taste that only lasts a moment on the tongue.  Given the price of Rogue ales on this side of the country, I will not be having this often but I recommend you give it a try on the novelty alone.  If the brew was half the price, well... I would be drinking much more of this over the summer.

That is all for now, no disappointments here.  Cheers!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Raise a pint for Frank Frazetta

If you have fantasy books in your library, then you likely own Frazetta artwork.  A talented artist that inspired many imagination has passed from among us.  Raise a pint in his honor, even if you are not a muscle bound barbarian on the outside.

Check out the tributes that will be appearing all over the fantasy blogosphere and you will see how truly influential he was.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

What Polyhedral Die Am I?

I am a d4

Take the quiz at

Hmmmm.... a scienterrific quiz from the folks at dicepool.  Not the result I would have predicted, but I have heard it said, "The dice never lie."

Thursday, April 22, 2010

My very own Caves of Chaos

Some thirty years ago my group of war gamer friends wanted to try something new.  I found a D&D basic set on sale at my local toy & game store and, not knowing what it was, purchased it.  I remember reading the introduction repeatedly, at first I found the premise a little hard to swallow.  Finally figuring it was too weird not to try, I convinced the group to give it go.  Location and evening selected, characters with blatantly stolen names from our favorite literature ready to adventure, beverages well stocked, we began the session.  It took a while for me to lead them to the Caves of Chaos.  It took very little time for my first (and only) total party kill, only about thirty feet into the first cave they entered (Orc cave B - for those CoC fans).  Ah, the fond memories.

So here I am many years later with my own version of the caves in my little world.  The description is different, instead of caves in the wilderness it is nicely made caves in the remains of a seaside city long forgotten.  The  adventure retains the basic premise, a location with many mini dungeons to explore.  It seems that the caves have haunted me for many years and now I have released these new caves on my unsuspecting adventuring group.

The group is on a mission from their King; locate the city and reestablish a relationship with the inhabitants that has long faded away.  The King needs allies and wants the party to have a powerful weapon that should be in the possession of the people of the city.  With expectations set high for their role as royal diplomats and after some dangerous travel through the wilderness, the group arrives and is dismayed to find the city only a shadow of its former glory.  The city is now inhabited not only by the shabby remains of its once proud human owners but also with various ogre, goblinoid, kobold, dwarf and possibly some other even less desirable and more troubling squatters.  I watched with surprise and some satisfaction as the group elected to avoid two combats that might have rescued humans in the servitude of ogres and then great goblins because they were not sure of the ramifications in this dangerously balanced ecosystem.  Mostly this group is loath to pass up a combat to save an apparent innocent.  I love it when I complicate their decisions.

My version of the caves is larger and has more complex relationships and economies than the original.  I do not boast that mine is better, but I find that I am not satisfied with an environment that does not have a sense of logic and balance.  The cost in time to develop such an environment is probably not in balance with the outcome.  Such is the curse of have high standards and being anal.

There are no spoilers here for my group.  (sucks for you)  I have no intention of posting full adventure logs.  I have two players who do that for our group only and they have expressed no interest in making them public.  I might post some high level summaries and DM comments if there is interest.

It is interesting to ponder why I came back around to the beginning after 30 years.  Was it just a good idea, or a convenient way to have mini adventures, or am I looking to assuage guilt over my TPK?  We'll have to see how it works out.  When we broke last time they were just about to enter one of the caves.  If they make it more than 30 feet am I absolved from my sins?  Or have I just grown soft over the years and countless tears shed for characters who died ignoble deaths? 

Just kidding - I have just gotten better at bringing them to the brink of failure time and time again.  Dead characters hold no magic for me; rather I covet the moment of fear in the players faces as their beloved creations teeter on the brink and the joy/relief as they or their comrades pull the back in the nick of time.

The dice never lie.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

How many Monster Manuals do you need?

I was preparing an adventure and wanted approximately a CR7 giant crab.  You would think that with three Monster Manuals, I would have just what I needed.  Think again. 

Fortunately for me, I have taken to heart advice given by others over the years and I can look past the flavor text in the MMs.  Do not get me wrong, I like the flavor text, and it is valuable.  However with three Monster Manuals I probably have all the monster stats I will every need.  (sorry publishers. though I am open to your marketing wiles - go ahead and sell me a bestiary for which I cannot live without possessing).

Quick scan through the books.... looking for a CR7 creature with two attacks (claws) and decent AC (hard shell)... ah there it is: Umber Hulk.

A few changes to be made: remove the confusing gaze, increase the natural AC, reduce the burrow speed, add some damage resistance against cutting/stabbing weapons (DR bludgeoning) and presto we have a giant green crab.  The DM adds his own flavor text and we are off and running with about 5 minutes work.

I especially like creating new monsters with new descriptions that are exactly the same as monster stats in one of the Monster Manuals just to mess with the players who think that memorizing the Monster Manual is a fair and helpful thing that players should do.  It irritates me that characters who have never seen a monster before are able to share helpful advice on how to slay this mystical beast before them.  I guess that is my version of the Gary's Nilbog to confound players.  Heh.

What do you say?  DM's do you struggle with finding new monsters?  Do you recycle stats?  Are you satisfied with a small number of Monster Manuals?  Players how do you feel about the DM's constant quest to come up with new monters?  Do you like it or are your frustrated that your long hours reading bestiaries go unrewarded?  Do your recognized when you have been Nilbogged?

Monday, March 29, 2010

A perfect ale for adventuring, Gulden Draak

Once again I have a birthday and my friends and family gift me with alcohol.  I cannot bear to let them down, so dutifully I consume them one by one....

Tonight's brew is Gulden Draak (golden dragon in Dutch).  This is another complex brew reviewed by a guy whose palate and nose are just good enough to recognize a fine brew, but not schooled enough to do a professional review.  So enjoy the yeoman's ride and be jealous I am the one drinking the ale.

This is a dark Belgian ale with a high alcohol content, 10.5%.  The first challenge is a brew that is designed to hold up and balance with the higher alcohol level; passed.  It poured a coppery brown color with a nice, long lasting head.  There was a complex mixture of flavors including dark fruits, brown sugars, and some spices that I could not quite put my finger on but come to be expected by in the Belgian ales.  The flavor of toffee hung in there after the sip and there was little bitter aftertaste.  The mouth feel was pleasant, not too much carbonation.  With more sips there was the taste of some candy, and despite the sweetness had a dry finish.  Other flavors that were just beyond my identifying danced on the tongue while drinking.

Since this was a gift, I cannot comment on the cost.  I would certainly drink it again if presented, but not too many at one sitting.  The high alcohol content will put you back on your ass in no time.  This is a very nice ale, one you will be pleased to enjoy given the chance.  It would be the perfect ending to a successful adventure.  Thanks to my lovely wife for feeding my beer and blog habit.  


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Does it really taste different in Ireland?

Yes, I am referring to iconic Guinness stout.  A common assertion is that it tastes better in Ireland.  Is it true?

In my own experience with Guinness in the U.S, I can say that Guinness on tap is superior to Guinness in the bottles or cans with the magic widget.  That should really surprise no one.  Comparing Guinness on tap here vs. on tap in Ireland is a much more difficult proposition to those with limited means.  So I can only rely on my quite subjective memory.

I do believe there is a difference, though I think it is a subtle one.  I am skeptical of those that say they like Guinness in Ireland but do not like it on tap in the U.S.  For me there is not a huge difference, but a just noticeable one.  I like to drink the renowned beverage both here in the colonies and back in the mother country.  So what is it exactly that could be different?

It's in the water.  You know, I have experienced a difference in taste with American beers made in different locations.  The water does make a difference in the final taste. 

A good pour makes a good pint.  It is definitely a point of pride in a real Irish pub to pour the dark elixir properly.  Enough said.

The ambiance makes it so.  Does it taste better in a crowded Irish pub with the sounds of The Rose of Tralee sung unaccompanied by instruments by a local tenor?  Does it taste better matched with the hearty comfort food that fills your belly after a long wet day in the Irish chill?  With the smell of drying wool sweaters around a turf fire?  Yes. Yes. Yes.

I cannot put my finger on it for certain, but I do know there is a difference.  What I have observed is the lack of residue rings up the glass here in the States.  In Ireland the head leaves a noticeable ring around every at rest point after a tasty swallow.  What causes that and what does it mean?  I am without a clue, but it is some evidence that there is, in fact, some difference.  Post away if you can explain it.

Either way, I will enjoy it.  I had a glass tonight, and unfortunately it was only from a widget bearing bottle.  It was still good.  And echoes of The Rose of Tralee rise pleasantly from my memories of the pubs of Ireland.


Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Creation myth discussion on ENWorld

The earlier blog post sparked a thread at ENWorld.

Here is the link if you are curious or want to join in.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Jack Kerouac, again.

I was in Toronto last week on business.  I went out to dinner with an associate from one of our vendors.  We went to Joey's (which I am told started in Calgary as Joey Tomatoes or something like that).  There my associate asked for a particular waiter that had served his table a few weeks earlier.  Turns out the waiter and my associate are both from Calgary.

We chatted with the waiter, who was about college age, for a few minutes.  I mentioned I was from New England.  The waiter mentioned his upcoming trip to Boston to visit a friend in school, and to enjoy the area steeped in history of famous people and especially Jack Kerouac.  So we chatted about Jack's home town of Lowell, and how after many years I just recently read 'On the Road', and told my story about Astro's (see previous blog post).

Curious how connections happen, is it not?

Sunday, February 28, 2010

On The Road - Jack Kerouac

I am back from my vacation in Punta Cana and just finished Jack Kerouac's classic On The Road.  Sometimes when I am on vacation I choose to read a classic rather than some entertaining fiction; this was one of those times.  I have always wondered about Kerouac.  He is portrayed as an icon of the Beat generation and its primary spokesman.  I spent three semesters during my college years at what is know called University of Massachusetts at Lowell, Kerouac's birth place.  At the time I was attending classes there was a small sandwich shop, named Astro's, just across the street.  They proudly displayed pictures of Kerouac on the grungy walls cheerily smiling and drinking with folks who I assumed were associated with Astro's.  I could not guess how many degrees of separation that would be.

Most people know little or nothing about the Beat generation.  I would say I knew little prior to reading the book other than the stereotypes that litter literature, television and movies.  Anyone remember Bob Denver's silly portrayal of Maynard G. Krebbs from Dobbie Gillis?  So devoid of knowledge of Beat's, intrigued by the myth of the man in the sandwich shop, and having available time on commercial airlines and beach chairs I went forward to experience the Beat's via their most famous spokesman. 

On The Road has a unique writing style that might be described as stream of consciousness.  At times it can be distracting but it seems to fit the story and message Kerouac is attempting to lay before you.  The tone and tempo of the book is as chaotic and unpredictable as the Beat's themselves, and that is the point.  I get the feeling that Kerouac wanted this to be groundbreaking, and judging by the amount of Kerouac and Beat scholars that analyze this and other similar books some agree.  I will merely say it is the appropriate style for this book.  There is an attempt to paint many of the experiences as more amazing, a pinnacle over other experiences.  Kerouac fails at that.  Kerouac also fails to make you feel the incredible attraction to Dean Moriarty that many of the characters in the book find irresistible.

Much like the Lost Generation before him, this book paints a portrait in time of a lost generation.  While Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Steinbeck painted with words the post World War I lost souls, Kerouac does so for the post World War II lost souls.  Though I think the comparison is apt, I believe he would have bristled over it.  There is a sense of him attempting to distance and differentiate his generation's search for the meaning of IT from those that came before them.  Amid their feeling of confusion in the search for kicks and spirituality there is also a sense of hubris; the Beats approach is superior than those that came before because no one that was come before them has understood IT.

The Beats reject consumerism and prefer experience; they reject authority and embrace personal freedom.  If the book is an accurate portrayal then I suggest that the beats are superior to the Lost Generation in being self centered and petty.  The Beats search ever faster and more frantic for kicks via alcohol, drugs, sex and moving from place to place.  There is a search for spirituality, but that search is easily and quickly put aside for the pleasures of the flesh.  Get your kicks.

The beats are another lost generation, a pale imitation of The Lost Generation.  I much prefer the struggles and character of those in the novels by Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Steinbeck over those portrayed by Kerouac.  The story and the writing style are a place in time, not to be repeated.  Echoes of the fringe of a generation that came to believe their struggles and insight was unique, but instead I come to see them as just another lost generation.  It was an interesting read, I would recommend it for the experience if not for the literary style.

A side note: I read the Penguin Classic version of the book.  There is an interesting forward by Proffessor Ann Charters, a Beat scholar.  I recommend you skip the forward and read the book without it.  Instead read it as a post script.  This book was not written to be analyzed before it was read, it was written to be experienced.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Gates Of Fire

I finally finished Steven Pressfield's Gates Of Fire.  I say finally because I would read some and put it down for a while before taking it up again.  In the last few years I have not managed to read very many books which is in stark contrast to most of the years prior; I was always a voracious reader.  There are a number of reasons for this behavior on my part, none of which are part of this post.  So why did I put this critically acclaimed book down repeatedly?  I struggled with that question as well.

You may wish to read a nicely written, spot on review of the book here at TheSilverKey.

I agree that the book is well written, the material appears well researched, and the picture painted is one of grim reality of extraordinary men.  I should have been a target audience for this book.  I am interested in history, battles and adventure stories.  I do not easily find fault with this book, however it never grabbed me.  I suppose it is that simple.  I was not on the edge of my seat wondering how it would end; we all know how one of the most famous historical battles of all times ends.  Perhaps more importantly I could not identify with any of the characters.  Yes, they are human enough but somehow they were foreign to me.  Without a connection to one or more of the characters it was easy to put the book down, and once down it was not calling to me.

You may have a different experience, and judging by others reviews of this book I am likely in the minority.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Creation of Urth

The creator spoke to Eukko and bade him seek his brother Pasalad and the two should go to a place called Urth.  There they found Hyeshea and Eukko knew immediately that here was the mate he had long sought.  The place called Urth was barren and cold so each of them began giving it something of themselves.  First Eukko took the azure color of his skin and spread it overhead. Then the pure white of his hair and beard floated against the perfect blue background.  Lastly the bright burning orange of his eye became the light for all to see.  His brother followed and created the sea, deep green like his ruddy skin with its surface like his hair, pale green turning to white at its ends and he finished by making it like his eyes, clear one moment and grey and stormy the next.  Finally Eukko's new mate added her portion, the land.  Its contours both smooth and striking like her shapely form, its colors the many brown hues of her flawless complexion, the many yellows of her hair, and the greens of her eyes.  Then each populated their creation with creatures suitable to live in that dominion.

When they had finished the creator came to them and bade them make beings of their own image to tend this new paradise for them, for it was not fitting that they do this for themselves. The creator bade Pasalad create the life and give them skills, bade Hyeshea to give them strength and purpose, and bade Eukko finish them as he saw fit.  Then the creator bade them tend their flock and left them.

Joyfully Pasalad began his task, "I will model them after my beloved brother and his new wife as my gift to their mating". And when he had finished a score of scores of men and women stood before them, bright with life and full of skill.  All in the image of Eukko and Hyeshea save for color.  All three were pleased with the people and praises were given to Pasalad.

Seeing the joy of accomplishment on Pasalads face Hyeshea knew what gifts she would bestow upon the new guardians of Urth. Strength and purpose you will get for yourselves and be proud, so I give you death and birth and freewill, the tools you need for this growth.

Pasalad became outraged, "You would mock my gifts with flaws".  He threatened to destroy them but Eukko would not allow it because the creator had bade them.  So instead Pasalad took the sea from their realm, always will they yearn for the sea, the place of their creation but never can they truly return.  And then he made his brother do the same for the sky.  "Let them be prisoners of the realm of she who ruined them".  He them returned to the sea vowing never to return to land, and began the ceaseless pounding of the surf on the shore.

Hyeshea wanted to exact some revenge on Pasalad for his indignation upon her but Eukko forbade it.  "He will regret his actions yet not undo them for what is done is done.  Even though he bade me banish them from the sky they are still all of our children for did not the creator command us to this task?  I still have my gifts to bestow."  Eukko then gathered the children and gave them faith, hope, charity and wisdom. Eukko did not command they use them for Hyeshea had given them freewill and what is done is done.

The above is the beginning of the creation legend of my campaign world.  Next is a short clip of each god mentioned above

Eukko is a major god, head of pantheon and mate to Hyeshea.  Often called the "All Father", "Lord of the Air" or "Sun God".  He is LG and his domains are air, good, law, protection, strength, sun.  

Hyeshea is a major goddess, mother of pantheon and mate to Eukko.  Often called the "Dark Mother" or "Queen of the Underworld".  She is LE and her domains are death, earth, evil, law, and strength.

Pasalad is a major god and brother to Eukko.  He is often called "The Sea God" and "Storm King".  He is CG and his domains are chaos, good, strength, travel, water.

I feel that a creation legend is critical for the flavor of a campaign (at least one, there can certainly be more than one - in fact this is the human creation legend other humanoids have their own).  More than just color, I use mine to telegraph my spin on good vs. evil as you many note the seeds in the legend above.  

What do you think?  Is a creation legend useful to players or just the DM exersizing creative juices that no one reads more than once and never considers again?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Near death experience or how did you like the purple worm?

Thirty years of DMing and I finally used a purple worm on a party.  There is nothing else like using one of the iconic monsters.  It swallowed a character and got within one round of sending him to the great beyond.  The party did very well on the attack and damage and it was a good thing for their elven archer who nearly expired.  Seems to be a trend, this character was eaten by a huge frog some adventures ago.  I guess elves just have a reputation for being tasty.

Not that I am gloating or anything about keeping them on the edge of their seats.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Giving rewards for the adventure

I have seen a number of blog posts lately talking about XP award systems. There is certainly no harm in tailoring the awards to fit your groups gaming style. I have read a number of interesting and clever ideas on those blogs, and in days gone by I would have cheerfully borrowed a number of them. However in the last few years I have come to a different conclusion that better fits my game; throw all those systems out. I do not get enough value for the time spent from them. I still hand out experience points, I just do not spend so much time doing it. I try to focus on two concepts in rewards:
  1. You reward the behavior you want to see. Rusty Battle Axe and the others are right on regarding this point. No matter what system or lack of system, keep to this truth. In all my experience as a senior manager, parent and DM there is no better way of saying this.
  2. Reward the characters in game. Let that sink in a minute. Please note I did not say players. Let the world react and reward the characters for what they do, or what they do not do. I find that the in game gratification is far more powerful and important than the out of game XP award.
OK, so I hear from some of you, "Duh, of course I reward the characters in the game. Tell me something I don't know." But do you really? I submit that you can get the behavior you want from players by rewarding it in game. Do your players not take enough risks? Do your players not role play enough? Are they not following alignment? Whatever you want more of, reward it in game. Now be certain to not use only coin and magic items as rewards, that grows old quickly. Honor, reputation, titles, friends, information, land, or even the attentions of a NPC of the opposite sex might all be just the ticket to get the behaviors you are seeking. Naturally the opposite is true, that penalties for behavior can be any of those opposites. So, how do I simplify XP awards? I eyeball it. I figure I want about 25 average encounters before a character levels up. So for every average encounter I give 1/25 of the XP need to move up a level and adjust it based on how tough it really was and if the characters were particularly clever in resolving. I never give rewards or penalties any more on role playing or alignment; I let the game world handle that. I use the extra time I used to spend on figuring the XP awards to make the next adventure better. What do you think, am I a raving heretic for abandoning complex XP reward systems (believe me I have been there and had copious formulas that allowed me to assign XP), or just maybe am I on to something?

Sunday, January 31, 2010

A good game can always be better or a post game introspection

Last session I thought we had a good game. Although they are on a mission, the players decided to follow the trail of the giant mountain troll they vanquished last session. They rationalized there might be useful information at its lair, but mostly wanted to find whatever treasure it may have hiding after going through all the trouble of killing it. This short side encounter involved a tribe of hill giants who had some dire wolf 'pets' and a final encounter on a stone bridge over lava with giants attempting to knock players off the bridge. Players survived some interesting and exciting encounters, slew the hapless tribe of hill giants and gained the treasure. All is good right? Well, during the evening two other things happened. They were having so much fun that a few too many side conversations were happening and not enough paying attention to the DM was happening; I needed to 'chastise' them and call them back to order. Second, the final encounter over lava was perilous and everyone had an opinion of what was the proper course of action by action on the bridge during combat. There was excitable giving of directions during others turn, and the inevitable rolling of eyes, and associated pointed comments when those directions were roundly ignored. Again as DM I needed to call order; a players turn is their own and not for others meddling comments. After the session there were some posts on our gaming web site (we use a private Yahoo group) discussing these events. Before I go any farther let me give some back ground. I have been playing & DMing 30+ years. Two of the six players in our game have been playing with me for all those years. At no time did any of the excitable discussion become truly uncivilized or hurtful; this is a group of friends. My point is, no matter how experienced the group there are certain undesirable behaviors that one must remain vigilant against to keep the game fun. So the players, with no prompting from me, had a short discussion of events and made suggestions and promises to prevent future occurrences of this behavior. Additionally there was discussion about how to make the game go smoother and faster during combat. I believe they truly mean it. I also know they will lapse again. Heh. Not wanting to feel left out of a good theoretical discussion, I weighed in as the DM after the discussion had run its course. I am also human and cannot leave a deceased equine creature unflogged. The prime directive here for me is - the game should be fun. That is fun for all of us, players and DM alike. So I try not to be too prescriptive if everyone is having fun. If some things take a little longer but everyone is having fun on the way, then there is no problem. I try very hard to make the obstacles challenging but not impossible. make it too hard and you don't feel you can win; make it too easy and the risk factor goes away. when you really believe you cannot die/fail in an adventure then the fun will be gone as well. I want combat to move a little more quickly than it does for two reasons. 1 - if you are allowed unlimited time to decide your action, you will almost certainly rise above the challenge; and I will be forced to make the challenges more difficult. At some point this becomes unworkable, and the balance unmaintainable. 2 - while your are deciding your action the other players are doing nothing. Doing nothing is not fun. The game/rule set/style we are playing makes using grids and minis a requirement. Yes it is very tactical in many respects. I am not open to changing that. A game played in our imaginations only is a very different game. I am not against playing such a game - I am not prepared to DM such a game. Please, when the time comes that I ask you to manage your minis on the board - MOVE YOUR MINIS IF YOU MOVE, otherwise you didn't move. Our game is a team adventure, so collaboration is important and fun. However, during combat it is up to each player to decide their actions without interference from other players. We all have strengths and weaknesses; so there are times when party members will take actions which others disagree. Oh well, IT IS A ROLE PLAYING GAME! Sometimes in the name of role playing we do stupid things. Somethings we just do stupid things. Keep the repercussions of stupid actions in game between the characters, that is more fun and the point of a ROLE PLAYING GAME. Characters arguing among themselves could be fun; players arguing among themselves is never fun. It IS frustrating for a DM to give out information and have players not paying attention. It must be hard for players to be tuned in and interested in every word a DM has to say. I will continue to strive to be interesting enough so you want to listen. Please strive to pay attention when I am speaking as DM. I don't mean to whine, but in order to bring you the best possible game that I can manage it takes much of my attention and effort during the session. Any and every way you can eliminate me managing/tracking/explaining something is more time I can make the world more interesting for you. So in summary, I am always trying to improve the game and am open to suggestions. It is a journey not a one time event. As long as you are having fun and feel like the time was well spent I am happy. However, it you feel we could have gotten in maybe one more combat, or role play or event in our game time... then lets keep figuring out how to eliminate the activities that are not 'fun' to allow more time for those that are 'fun'. A good game can always be better.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Our new family game addition

I received a new card game for Christmas. It is En garde! from Slugfest Games. So far the family enjoys playing it. That covers a diverse group that includes social gamers who abhor complex rules, experienced RPGers, magic the gathering type card game fanatic, and former hex style war gamer. The premise is civilized rapier style combat with two to six players. It does a reasonable job of deploying some basics of fencing though it is certainly not a simulation, nor does it pretend to be. It is fairly fast to learn, plays close to the 30 minutes it advertises, has a limited rule set with lots of variability in the use of the cards. There is a good mix of luck of the cards vs. skill of play. It takes a couple of games to get the hang of it, and I am not sure how long it takes to become a master at it. I do not think the game intends folks to spend so much time at it to achieve mastery. I think the target is to have a thinking game that plays fast but does not require too much thinking. I grant that it is successful at its goal. I give it a thumbs up.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...