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?
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