Saturday, July 30, 2011

Wild Horse Vineyard Pinot Noir 2008

The pinot noir grape is a very fussy fellow.  Done well it has an amazing range of subtle tastes and is quite enjoyable with many food types or by itself.  Done poorly, it comes across as expensive grape juice.  Based on my experience, any pinot noir done well and had for less than $20 a bottle is a gem.

In that criteria, the 2008 Wild Horse Pinot Noir I had is a gem.  It is a Central Coast wine and exhibits a mild amount of the trademark pinot noir earthiness.  It is light bodied, as you would expect from a pinot noir, well balanced, and had hints of vanilla (probably from the oak aging).  The primary flavor here is a light berry, for me it came across as fresh strawberry - though your taste buds may find that slightly different.  My guess is this vintage would have benefited of a few more years laying down (which we never do - drink 'em if you got 'em).  At our local state liquor store the list price was $20, but we scored it on sale for $14.

Casually recommended @ $20, highly recommend for the price on sale.


Wednesday, July 27, 2011

I took the Gygax quiz and all I got was this html code

Barad T Gnome took the Hardest Gary Gygax Quiz in the World and got 50%!

You are a Gary Gygax Swashbuckler. You are cunning in the ways of Gary Gygax. You've probably been to Gen Con once or twice, and if I searched your house, I bet I'd find a Gary Gygax autograph, a humorous D&D-related T-shirt, and/or a stack of Dragon magazines.

Paladin Code: You completed this quiz without using Google.

Embarrassing really.  I got an easy one wrong cause I typed without thinking.  The really hard ones I had no idea cause I never read Gygax novels.  Cross my heart I did it without Google.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Breaking The Barrier Of Death

D&D has a number of troublesome higher level spells.  Troublesome because they significantly alter how civilization would function if it were available, and therefore forces a game master to think hard about the implications to their world (or ignore it at their peril). In that definition, the various spells which can bring the dead back to life qualify as troublesome. 

Some game masters completely remove the spells.  I don't like that solution for a number of reasons, one of which is it removes a power from the clerics that is part of the D&D flavor.  Some game masters let it run rampant and are not troubled by the impact on the flavor of the game.  If it were that readily available, you would never have a ruler, rich noble, or otherwise wealthy and powerful individual die from anything other than old age.  This could be the source of a number of problems in game, especially if you desire a rich and interesting setting of cultures and civilization.

How would the returned to life individual feel if they had been removed from their benevolent eternal reward?  How might they be different if their reward was not so benevolent?  What about the death experience, would they behave differently in attempt to avoid or not in the future?  Would they be angry at those who returned them to life?

What about the legal issues?  If a ruler is slain, when does the next in line take command?  Would there be laws controlling succession or a waiting period?  What if they do not give up willingly?  Laws aside, would those in succession now work to make sure their predecessor does not return?  Imagine the politics of churches and clerics regarding whether they follow the laws, or get caught up in political intrigue.  This problem might go down the line to any member of nobility with a title passed on by inheritance.  Would the laws be different for nobility than for normal folks?  It could be a negative aspect of becoming a noble.

What about the common folks?  If you are killed and returned what happens to your inheritable belongings?  Are you legally still the same person if you come back?  Perhaps you only still own that which was buried with you, doesn't that have interesting game implications?  Would wealthy parents and their children all want the same laws on the books in this regard?  This doesn't even touch upon the related subject of magic enhanced longevity, which could be more than frowned upon for a number of reasons.

What about execution?  Would there be laws against returning someone who was executed?

What about social stigmas?  Would those returned be seen as normal folks, or would they be regarded as abominations, or akin to the undead?  Or is it possible those returned would be viewed as some sort of divine messenger or avatar, both awed and avoided all the same?

There is much to consider, and a plethora of fuel for creating interesting cultures and traditions around returning from the dead.  For me, I want to keep 'Breaking The Barrier Of Death' something rare and special.  Typically in my game, any wealthy or powerful individual who was slain and returned would usually attempt to keep that a secret.  Additionally, there are some criteria to meet to even be eligible to return.  Rather than just explain it as part of the setting rules, I had the characters learn it from interacting with the world.  They found this letter, from a well known and respected cleric, sent to a cleric about to be ready to learn about raising the dead:

Dear Youtharn

As you do, many young acolytes question me about using our sacred granted powers to bring back those who have left this world through death.  First let me remind you that the gods grant us only a limited time on this world, and when our bodies are spent we are meant to go on to whatever rewards we have earned in this life.  You may have heard of stories regarding powerful magics that prevent aging and therefore extend life.  Be wary of such attempts to circumvent the god's plans for us; it can only lead to corruption and ruin.

There are powerful spells that senior clerics are granted by the gods that can breach the barrier of death.  All of these spells are subject to two core canons.  First, the spirit of the deceased must be willing to return.  No power we understand here or in the realms of the gods can force a spirit to come back to this world against their will.  Second, the barrier of death is breached only by the combined power of the cleric on this world and the boon of a god or goddess to hold open a portal to the realm of the dead.  It is no small feat for mortal and immortal to breach the curtain.  The natural order of life and death is not easily put aside.  It is rare and unusual for the gods to spend whatever power it requires to hold open the curtain between life and death that allows the mortal cleric to call back the dead.  We have come to believe that a god or goddess will only spend their powers to part the curtain of death for those with an unfulfilled destiny here on the mortal world that furthers that immortals greater purpose.

An Augury can be cast asking a particular god if they will support the opening of the curtain of death.  A answer of weal indicates an immortal's willingness to support your attempt.  A Divination can be cast to determine if the mortal spirit is willing to return.  Neither of these spells is required to be cast to have the Raise Dead, Resurrection, or True Resurrection spell be successful.  However the prudent cleric will determine in advance whether or not it is possible for their attempt to breach the barrier of death before casting these spells as the material required for the spells is consumed regardless of success or failure.

Even though their spells are sometimes alien to us, we are certain that the druids of the woods have the same limitations to breaching the curtain of death. 

I pray you fortune in your studies and in carrying forth Eukko's will.  Yours in his grace,


I find this works much better for me.  It allows me to have some control over who comes back without completely removing the power from the players and the clerics.

The dice never lie.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Querceto Chianti Classico Riserva 2004

Had a couple of treasure halls in the last month, this Chianti came from one of the earlier ones. We enjoyed it with some semi-spicy marinara sauce over pasta shells with some grated Romano cheese.  (I find it useful to know how the wine was paired, it makes a big difference)

On the high side of medium bodied, this ruby/garnet colored Chianti was quite lovely.  It was nicely balanced, had enough tannins for a little structure, was dry, and had dark fruit that lasted on the palate.  It was certainly ready to drink, but had enough tannins to lay down for a bit (though we never really do that - drink 'em if you got 'em).  This Chianti probably could have stood up to a bit of steak with no problems.  Highly recommended.


Monday, July 11, 2011

What Do You Do When The Rules Interfer With Your Story Line?

There is an interesting discussion going on at ENworld regarding the cliche dying scene.  Here.  It is a good discussion, with some well reasoned opinions on both sides.

I find myself on the side of follow the rules.  The DM might just be trying to build an interesting fantasy scene, with drama and pathos, and not thinking too closely about the rules.  The players, ever alert to challenges & to combat evil, immediately try to intervene.

DM: You find a man on the floor.  He is a bloody mess, and appears to be almost dead.  He motions you to come closer with a great effort while his life blood oozes readily to the floor.  As you approach, he starts to speak in a faint, almost inaudible voice-
Player (interrupting): I cast a cure spell on him.
DM (surprised): Er... Um... no, he is too far gone for that.  He does manage to whisper in his dying breath, "Beware the bearer of the Ruby Cup....."
Player: Wait... He was still alive and could speak but my spell didn't work?
DM: Um... Yes.  Well, No.  You just think you were too late.
Player: That is awfully suspicious.  I cast detect magic.  Do I sense any residual magics here preventing my cure from working?  Then I cast detect evil.  Lastly I check the corpse to make sure it is real.  You know, not an illusion or something else.  This is really strange.  Next I -
DM (interrupting): No, really, you just were too late.
Player: That makes no sense.  If he could speak, then why couldn't I save him.
DM: Listen, don't make such a big deal of it.  It was just a death scene to give you information.  Lets move on.
Player: Oh.  Ok, I guess.

I'll quote ENworld poster Nagol, "To the DM, it’s just a bloody death scene. For the players it is a situation where their expectations for in-game effect do not match with observed effect. As far as the players are concerned this could be a CLUE."

Its not like I have never painted myself into a corner and had to come up with feeble, "just because", excuses in game.  However, I find them unsatisfactory.  The verisimilitude is broken if you have to move between the dramatic scenes where the rules don't function, and the scenes where players can use their skills, abilities and clever ideas to achieve an outcome.  Sure, you can agree that when the DM is wearing the moose antlers you just enjoy the dramatic scene, and when he is not, you get to play.  I am sure that works fine for lots of folks, and at times I may put on the moose antlers myself, but overall I try to let the players play.  Even if that means they mess up my dramatic scene.  That just means I should have planned it better.

There are rule ways to handle some of these kinds of issues.  And in this case when I say rules, I mean more like how the world functions rules.  Next time I'll write about coming back from the land of the dead.

The dice never lie

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Big Treasure Haul At Local Liquor Store

Apparently they are relocating the store; everything was 25% off. Scored some Scapa and Lagavulin single malt scotch, Buffalo Trace bourbon, Presidential port, and almost two cases of wine. Future blog reviews coming down the road when I crack them open. Huzzah!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Demons and Wizards

A friend of mine and fellow gamer recently went to a Uriah Heep show.  He sent me the set list, and it triggered loads of memories.  The list included 'Easy Livin', 'Rainbow Demon, and 'The Wizard'.

What is not to love about the Demons and Wizards album?  This was Uriah Heep's 4th album, released and went gold in 1972.  Great artwork by Roger Dean on the cover followed by solid rockin' with loads of fantasy lyrics.

Easy Livin', arguably the Uriah Heep's most well known song in the U.S., is a catchy, hook laden pop-rock song.  Even though it is a bit shallow, I still like it after all these years.

The Wizard is a soulful and altruistic ballad worthy of bard entertaining a noble audience.  The tale of a chance meeting with a wizard to a thousand kings, wearing his cloak of gold, flashing his eyes of fire, and living far off in a mountain somewhere. 

Rainbow Demon is an ominous tune, almost dirge like in places, with lots of imagery.  Electric guitars, organ, & drums all pounding out a classic rock archetype ripe for planting seeds of adventures in the heads of scheming game masters.

And in this game master that seed found fertile soil.  Probably some ten years after the albums release I took those fledgling ideas and turned them into a campaign.  The bad guys were going to summon a demon to lead an army to crush the good people of the island and subjugate them forever under tyranny and general foulness.  The named demon, know colloquially to the evil summoner's as the Rainbow Demon, was foretold in a prophesy by a long deceased mad hermit.  The party had some evidence which gave a certain credence to the hermit's pronouncements and thus the campaign began.  They had to search out a number magical items which if the somewhat ambiguous prophecy was to be believed, could be used in a proper sequence to defeat the demon.  These items included the Mace of Khanhazbee, the Ring of Azraq, the Wand of Belatan, the Dagger of Glass, and the Gnomon of the Fates.  The prophesy also indicated who needed to wield the items, again in somewhat cryptic language - The Dagger of Glass thrown by half a man, The Ring of Azraq worn by one from under land.

This was only a few years into our gaming experience, and was easily the most ambitious campaign I had yet devised and optimistically hoped to execute.  Unbeknownst to the players, the language was both cryptic and ambiguous to allow some versatility in execution.  The demon was designed to be a foe the players could not hope to defeat without special help.  And yet, I had to leave some room for error.  They failed in their quest to gain the last item - the Gnomon of Fates for example.  The prophecy stated the timing of fighting the demon was known by no man; later they determine it was a translation problem and set out to find the Gnomon.  Without this last item, they found another solution in the high priestess casting divination to determine the correct time.  The ring absorbed a limited amount of fire damage and ideally was to be worn by a dwarven fighter who had the best saves against the demons flaming whip.  The dagger of glass would temporarily turn whoever was struck by it into living glass, and susceptible to being shattered by a burgeoning instrument of great power which is where the mace came in.   The wand was a mass teleport device which allowed the party to get past the army of ogres, orcs and goblins and right to the demon at their full strength.

In the end, even though the halfling with his high dexterity missed the demon with his first throw and had to recover and throw again, even though cleric didn't hit on his first attack, even though the dwarf was nearly out of hit points after using up the ring and with him gone the party would have quickly succumbed to the demon, the demon's worldly form was shattered sending her back to the pits and saving the island from unspeakable torment.  After all, the dice never lie.

It all starts from a little seed.  The more colorful and imaginative the seed the better.  And today is only yesterday's tomorrow.
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