Wednesday, December 2, 2015

To boldly game...

Lately I have been hankering to dig into a D&D campaign. Right now my group is playing Dragon Age. It’s a great game, and a gritty, dark world. Very non-D&D in nature, though it shares some elements. All-in-all, I like it a lot, and definitely don’t want to stop. 

But, my preferred style of fantasy gaming is that which is captured by standard D&D (regardless of edition). So, I’m always on the lookout for a way to add a D&D game into my schedule. It’s kind of a pipe-dream, due to a lot of schedule conflicts. But, I can hope.

One way I deal with this is by imagining what world I would run a D&D game in myself. Now, I would much prefer to be a player, but if I had the right group in the right setting, I could really dig running a game.

I had started imagining a world with new races, old races re-imagined as different cultures, and stuff like that. The whole world kind of sprouted from my desire to play a game that had flying galleys. I don’t know why, but the idea of flying ships like that just tickles my fancy. Probably why I liked Treasure Planet so much. The topography for my infant world is a mixture of impassable rifts and floating land masses, which necessitates the flying ships, and other aerial transportation.

Then, the other day, I got inspired by an idea from my past. Many years ago, my friend had the idea of creating a fantasy version of Star Trek using the Spelljammer rules. He had fantasy equivalents for most of the Trek races (Vulcans were Elves, Romulans were Drow, and Klingons were Orcs, for example). But, since he didn’t have his old notes anymore, I decided to start working on a 5E conversion myself. So far, here is what I have:


Spell Trek – A D&D 5E Campaign Setting
A Mashup of Spelljammer and Star Trek

The PC’s are part of the United Federation of Spheres exploratory space navy, aka Spellfleet. Spellfleet is comprised of many races who have banded together to explore new worlds, seek out new life, and new civilizations, and to boldly go where no one has gone before.

The Rules
There are many member races of Spellfleet, and theoretically, just about any sentient race could have a part in it. However, for this campaign, the following (and their ST counterparts) form the core races:

Elves (Vulcans)
Dwarves (Andorians))
Gnomes (Ferengi)

Standard additional races include:
Half-Elves (Human/Vulcan)
Half-Orcs (Human/Klingon)

Non-Standard races that could be allowed with DM approval:
Dragonborn (Cardassians)
Tieflings (Jem’Hadar)

Spellfleet is often opposed by several space-faring races who do not subscribe to the altruistic and positive philosophy of the UFS. These include the following (among others):

Drow (Romulans)
Orcs (Klingons)
Illithid (Borg)
Tieflings (Jem’Hadar)
Dragonborn (Cardassians)

As you can see, I’m mixing and matching stuff from the various Trek shows. Some of this may change as I move along, but I kind of like this as it is. My next thought is to do a PHB-style write up of each playable race.

If I ever finish this (and that’s a big “if”), I’ll probably put it all together as a PDF and offer it for free here. I don’t even want to consider how I would need to navigate all of the copyright issues.


Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Gamehole Con III

After re-reading yesterday’s post, I think I might have come across as kind of whiney, which I was.  But worse than that, I might have given the impression that GHC3 was a “bad” con, which it most certainly wasn’t.  Any negative experiences I had were purely the result of my own personal choices.  In no way does that reflect on the quality of the con as an event.  So, here’s a review of Gamehole Con itself.

The Venue
This was the first year that the con was not being held at the Sheraton.  The hotel did a wonderful job over the last two years, but Gamehole is just getting too big for it.  So this year it was at the Alliant Energy Center (ironically, just across the street from the Sheraton).  With the extra space, and a more crowd-friendly layout, stepping into Gamehole Con III felt more like stepping into a convention than the last two.  Now, that could be seen as good or bad, depending on your point of view, but personally, I liked it.  There was lots of room to move, and the atmosphere was more what you would expect from a convention.  The hotel had guests that were not associated with the Con, so you would occasionally get odd looks and such (especially during the first year).  None of that at the Alliant.

Gaming was situated in four rooms, an atrium for open gaming, and an upper floor (which was mostly board, card, and minis games).  The rooms were divided mainly into D&D 5E, Pathfinder, Special Events, and General (as far as I could tell).  There was also a lot of leeway there, so there was never a shortage of tables for gaming, even at the peak on Saturday.  All of the rooms felt comfortably climate-controlled to me, and I never got hot or cold, regardless of what time I was gaming.  Large tables seemed to fit the required capacities, and even the chairs were pretty comfortable.

The vendor room was much larger than at the Sheraton, with a wide variety of game-related stuff available, including a few excellent artists.  As always, I could have spent an entire paycheck without blinking (though that still would not have netted me the prize I most covet every year, the replica of Conan’s Father’s Sword, from the 1982 movie).  As it was I didn’t actually buy anything this year.  Mainly because I’m poor.

Oh, and the Gamehole Con paid for parking for everyone (which basically saved each person $21).  That was huge!

The Schedule
This year was a first for me, as I was unable to pre-register for games early, and ended up actually signing up for games late.  At this point, I have to say that the web-based registration was much more user-friendly than in the past (in large part thanks to a very talented webmaster, who also happens to be a good friend of mine).  This allowed me to easily find games that were available at specific times, and quickly take care of registration in one, fell swoop.  Granted, next year I will try to register earlier, but that’s on me, not the Con.

There was a good selection of games, and you could easily fill your schedule based on your individual availability.  Generally speaking, there were games of every type starting every two hours, from 8 am to Midnight on Friday and Saturday, and to 6 pm on Sunday.  Sessions lasted from 2 to 6 hours each.  And there were several panels of interest, most for free.  These make great time-fillers between games.

One concern that came up was that some games got cancelled for various reasons.  However, for every game that got cancelled there was one nearby that had an opening.  So, I don’t think many people, if any at all, were wanting for a game at any given time.  A friend had his Sunday game cancelled.  He probably could have gotten into something else easily enough.  But he decided to go to a movie instead.

If there was a downside to the Con at all, it was probably the food.  In the past they had kiosks outside, as well as the hotel restaurants.  This year they forewent the kiosks in favor of a sub sandwich chain and a pizza chain having “booths” inside, along with the regular refreshment bar that’s part of the whole venue.  I had heard the food wasn’t all that good.  And the pricing, although just about what you would expect inside a convention, was still a little high.  Hopefully they can find a better solution there.  But honestly, despite the fact that the food was the most common complaint from what I overheard, it didn’t seem to slow anyone down, as they did a brisk business anyways.  Personally, we had to go cheap, so I stuffed my backpack with snack food from home, and we only ate out twice (dinner on Friday and Saturday).  And at this location, it’s not a far drive to find something good to eat.

Gamehole Con continued its record of being an awesome convention.  I never heard one complaint about the Con itself, and even the special guests are eager to come back again.  One little thing I thought was cool was that they track how many GHCs you go to, and note that on your badge as a level.  It was pretty cool to look down and see “Level 3” on my badge.  Looking forward to being Level 4 next year!

Monday, November 9, 2015

Post Con Day

As I always try to do, I have taken the Monday after a gaming con (in this case Gamehole III) off to recover.  I don't actually need to recover physically.  I'm not afflicted with Con Crud, and I managed to catch up on the sleep I missed from gaming until midnight two nights in a row.  I take this day off mainly to come down from my "gamer's high."

Usually when I leave a Con I am still high on the feeling of elation at having played games all weekend, with new people, sometimes with new systems, and always at least some new experiences.  But this time it's a little different.

I did manage to play some cool games, and even experienced a few new things that I hadn't before.  But it was all tainted a bit by some less-than-ideal situations.  First of all, I had to have my 12-year old daughter with me all day Saturday and Sunday, and it was her first con.  Now, I love her dearly, and she's a good kid.  But, anyone with a 12-year old daughter can guess at the trials entailed that aren't usually a part of gaming.  I'm not going to go into details, but it's safe to say that I got a bit overwhelmed at times, and it affected my fun.

But more than that was the disappointing gaming experiences I had.  First off, you have to understand that, IMHO, a Con Game has to fit certain parameters.  And those are that it has a quick setup, which leads to an exciting session, and it has a satisfying end.  A couple of my games didn't have all of that. One in particular had a meandering setup that took half the session, and ended up with no satisfying climax.  It was a game of Empire of the Petal Throne, on the world of Tekumel.

By all descriptions Tekumel is a fascinating setting; somewhat Burroughs-esque, with a healthy dose of classic D&D.  So, I was excited.  But, the adventure, while interesting in scope and theme, was like a Sword & Planet novel with all of the action taken out.  My character was a big warrior (random chance, surprisingly enough), but I never drew my weapon or engaged in any kind of combat.  Just a lot of RP, and much of it seemed unfocused with no real purpose.

I think that was the big one.  I also played in a Pathfinder 3d game, which is basically a miniatures wargame style setup.  It was a string of combat encounters with a thin veneer of context and setup.  In the end, our party of 7 was overwhelmed by increasingly difficult challenges, until the end was an impossible situation that ended in guessed it, TPK.  My cleric was the first to die.

Yesterday we had a 5E game through the Adventurer's League that turned out to be RP-heavy, involving an investigation.  My group included a CN sorcerer who was, at times, more of a hindrance to our progress than the enemies or the scenarios.  We ended with a single combat.  And guess cleric was the first to die again (maybe I should just avoid clerics).  And if you know how 5E handles character "death" that's no small thing.

On an up note, I did discover a neat little system called d6xd6.  Very simple mechanics, very narrative-driven, and a lot of fun.  My daughter and I played supers in the WWII Marvel Universe, and teamed up with Union Jack and Spitfire.  Very cool.

Despite the afore-mentioned downers, I still had a lot of fun,.  And my wife and I spent a lot of time today talking about games we would like to see, play, and/or run at future cons.  So, that was cool.  I may be running a game of Mutants & Marvels next year, and possibly something else.  We also came to the conclusion that there needs to be more games aimed at teens and tweens.  Stuff that is more suitable to their gaming styles.  She's working on that, and I may tailor an M&M game towards that demographic as well.

All-in-all, I still managed to have a good weekend of gaming.  And I absolutely don't regret it at all.  Already looking forward to Gary Con in the spring.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Gamehole Con III

It's that time of year again.  Gamehole Con is once more upon us.  This year is something new, as it has moved from a hotel to the Alliant Energy Center (for perspective, I saw Motley Crue there earlier this year).  The convention that started with a gaming group who wanted a local Con to go to, is growing every year, and is fast becoming a heavy-hitter in the gaming convention circuit.  And I plan to attend every one that I can until I eventually retire and move away from Madison.

So, this is a snapshot of my schedule for the weekend:

Unlike previous years, I was actually able to get a small variety of game genres in, with a supers and a sci-fi on Saturday.  The rest is various fantasy games, which is pretty normal.  Fantasy games make up a large majority of games.

One interesting note is that my 12-year old step-daughter will be with me all day on Saturday.  Mom is running a few Dragon Age games, so Syd will be stuck with me.  Not so bad, though.  I think she'll like the variety, and it will no doubt be fun.  Mom will be with us for the Saturday night Pathfinder game, as well as the Sunday 5E game.  It's a family weekend.

I'm still leery of running games myself.  But, I think in the future I might offer to run a Mutants & Marvels game, just to see if there is any interest.  I'm not the best GM, in my opinion.  But I think I could do ok.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

5E Race: Ferrusans

As a follow-up to yesterday's post, here is the write-up for the Ferrusans, a new race for 5E.

Please stay behind me, mage. You are soft and not meant to withstand such punishments.
- Bok, Ferrusan Paladin

Large and bulky humanoids who appear to be made of stone. They are descendants of Earth Elementals who sided with mortals during the War of Elements, and thus gave up their immortality.

Strong and Monolithic
When the Earth Elementals who sided with the mortals did so, they gave up their immortal forms, and took humanoid shapes. Therefore, all Ferrusans resemble large, muscular humans with stone skin. They are markedly larger than most humanoid races.

Ferrusan flesh is a “living stone” which moves and appears much like a human’s flesh. However, it varies in shades that resemble the many ores and minerals common to the mortal world. Ferrusans have no hair, but often grow outcroppings of rock that mimics the shape of hair. They have human-like facial features, and their eyes range in varying shades of green and purple, often seeming to glow with an inner fire.

Logical and Law-abiding
Ferrusans have a very rigid sense of logic, and have difficulty with the flights of fancy and imagination present in other races. They are strict adherents to the law, and don’t always grasp the idea of “rules are made to be broken.”

Most younger Ferrusans do not like their homeland, and often leave at their first opportunity. However, as they get older, they sometimes feel the need to return to live out the rest of their existence there. The Burned Lands are a vast wasteland of deserts and active volcanoes.

Due to their connection to the earth, Ferrusans are not fond of flying, and suffer a -1 on all rolls while doing so.

Solitary and Stoic
Ferrusan parents usually only produce two or three offspring in their lifetimes. Subsequently, the Ferrusan population is relatively low, especially when compared to humans. Ferrusans don’t gather in towns or villages, and there is no central government to their society. However, every household has a copy of the Foundation Laws, and all Ferrusans are expected to memorize them, and adhere to them.

Though they care for their families, Ferrusans are not as connected to their relations as other races. It is expected that when a youngling is of age, he will simply leave the home, to quite possibly never return.

In their homelands, Ferrusans spend the majority of their time living an agrarian lifestyle. They subsist mainly on fire beetles, and other fauna that exist in their harsh environment. However, all Ferrusans feel it is their duty to guard over the various elemental rifts that still exist in the Burned Lands, and will often build their squat homes over them.

There is said to be some Ferrusans who have established a thriving community in the highest peaks of the Dragonback Mountains.

Protectors and Defenders
Ferrusans view themselves as protectors, and will often join adventuring parties to help the other members stay safe. They are also somewhat curious about the world outside of their remote homeland.

Most Ferrusans are indifferent to religions and deities, having descended directly from immortal beings who were often in competition with pantheons of deities. However, a few have embraced the worship of various gods, particularly those of the protection domain.

Ferrusan Names
Ferrusans only have given names, and no family names. These names are often short and simple, consisting of hard letters and short vowels. To most other races, male and female names often sound indistinct.

Male Names: Akrix, Bebko, Bok, Haket, Kik, Rorik, Tukru.

Female Names: Ekra, Botam, Hultu, Kara, Rukib, Tarma

Ferrusan Traits
Your Ferrusan character has several natural traits, unique to their physical nature.

Ability Score Increase. Your Strength increases by 3, your Constitution increases by 2, and your Dexterity decreases by 2.
Age. Though no longer immortal, Ferrusans can live up to 400 years, and reach maturity at about 30.
Alignment. Ferrusans tend to be Lawful in alignment, due to their strict adherence to their own laws.
Size. Ferrusans average 6-8 feet in height, and can weigh up to 400 pounds. Your size is Medium.
Speed. Base walking speed is 25 feet. Ferrusans suffer only half penalty for traveling over difficult terrain.
Darkvision. Like all elementals, you can see 60 feet in dim light as if it were bright, and in darkness as if it were dim. You cannot discern colors in darkness, only shades of gray.
Temperature Tolerance. Ferrusans are immune to the effects of extreme temperatures, and have 10 DR against attacks that rely on burning or freezing.
Stoney Skin. Ferrusans have stone-like skin, giving them a natural +2 to Armor Class.
Languages. Ferrusans speak their own language, referred to as Ferrusan, and will speak an additional language for each bonus to Intelligence (min 1).

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

New Races: Add or Replace?

So, my latest RPG-related undertaking is to build an entire world from scratch, and have it compatible with D&D5E. I am doing this in the hopes that someday in the distant future, after my wife is done with her Dragon Age campaign, I can take a turn behind the DM’s screen for a while.

The concept of my world is pretty simple, and not all that original. But, it allows me to have the world I want, which is what this whole DM thing is all about, right? Basically, I’m pulling ideas and concepts from various other worlds, mixing in a few of my own, original creations, and building something that is fun and whimsical, yet with an underlying darkness.

Anyways, one of the first things that came out of my brainstorming for ideas was the notion of new races. Now, the PHB has a laundry list of races, and sub-races, so it seems like adding more in might crowd the playing field a little bit. But, I really like the races I have come up with.

Some of you may recall an earlier post where I detailed my first 5E creation, the dwarfling. Well, I like them so much, I’m putting them in there. And the other day a new race sprung out of my head (highly influenced by Wildstar MMO race, the Granok), called the ferrusans. The short of it is that dwarflings are a mix of dwarf and halfling parentage, and are highly personable and charismatic. Ferrusans are the descendants of earth elementals who were trapped on the material plane and forced to take a mortal form to survive. I’ll post my write-up of the ferrusans at a future date.

But, my question to you is, should I simply add them to the lexicon of races from the PHB? Or should I maybe replace standard races with them?

I’m inclined to go with just adding them. But, I have to admit that using them as replacements might be a better way to go. In their first incarnation (for 2E) I envisioned dwarflings as a replacement for gnomes. However, I kind of like gnomes now, so I’m torn. Maybe replace tieflings?

For the ferrusans I would probably replace the dragonborn. I briefly thought about replacing half-orcs. But, my world would not be MY world without my beloved half-orcs. So, if I go that route, it’s bye-bye dragonborn.

Lots of other details are slowly being fleshed out. And like I said, this is something for a far future date. But, I’d be interested in your thoughts, fellow adventurers!

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Martial Arts Mayhem!

Finally decided it was time to just put it out there.  My latest product is a simple, rules-lite tactical game of martial arts combat. 

From the description:
Fists & Fury is a tactical combat game where the players create their indivudal fighters through a simple process, and pit them against each other in one-on-one, or even group combat, utilizing a hex-grid and tokens.  Included are rules for:
  • Building a unique Fighter
  • Creating a unique style
  • Advice on setting up duels and tournaments
  • Advice on how to expand F&F into a full-on RPG
  • Adding and using weapons
Designed to be a "beer & pretzels" game with minimal preparation, F&F is flexible enough to handle most any style of play you can imagine within the genre.

Available at RPGNow!

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

MMO’s and me

Dynamo-Man and Diana Cutthroat from CoH.
I got my first taste of MMO play when my roomie and best friend let me sit at his computer and try out EverQuest many years ago. I was intrigued with the idea and the interface, if a bit meh about the game itself.

A few months later, a bunch of my friends were playing City of Heroes. I wasn’t able to join because where I lived we didn’t have a stable, non-dial up internet connection. So, I got to hear all about their exploits and view their screenshots with envy. Then that same friend let me log into his account for a half-hour at the local game store where we played tabletop RPG’s, and that was it. I was hooked.

When I was finally able to get into CoH, I was thrilled. Despite my computer chugging along, and looking like a slideshow during fights. Over the following years I managed to upgrade my hardware to the point where CoH became an addiction. I also added World of Warcraft, and for many months would alternate my subscriptions between the two as my mood struck. I even met my current wife on a forum for CoH.

One of the things that I liked about MMO’s was that I could get into the story of the game itself, or I could make up my own. Once I got used to ignoring the fact that there were other characters following the same quests and missions as I was, I was able to immerse myself in the game with my own imagination filling in details.

One of my first WoW characters was a Tauren Hunter. At the time, none of my friends really played WoW, so I played by myself a lot. And I wasn’t into PUGs yet, so I spent a lot of time making up stories about my character as I played. I would take quests, and wouldn’t even pay attention to the narrative. I would make up my own reason for doing the job based on the story in my head.

I did the same thing in CoH for a long time, until I moved to the Virtue server and started playing with friends. And even after that, I still made up my own stories, and created new Alts specifically for that purpose.

Anyways, eventually I got burned out on WoW. And CoH was cancelled by NCSoft. So, I became devoid of MMO outlets that really grabbed me. Sure, I tried others. DCUO was fun, Champions Online was (and still is) kinda cool. Tried a couple of other FTP fantasy games, and even played Star Wars for a long time. But, none of them ever captured the magic of CoH, or even WoW from those early days.

Yesterday I saw a "suggested post” on Facebook for a newer MMO called Wildstar. It’s made by NCSoft, who was responsible for CoH. It’s Science Fiction, but done in a more cartoony, light-hearted manner (kind of like a slightly more mature version of Skylanders). Ironically, after I had decided to just give it a go (it’s FTP), and was downloading it, a friend who is very into MMO’s gave me his 2 cents about it. Not much glowing praise, but in the context of the kind of gamer he is, I understood his points.

So, I finished the install, and logged in last night. It was late, so I only got through the intro cinematics, and made my first character. I’m already loving the art direction, and the controls and interface are pretty standard and familiar. I’m going to give it a go again tonight and see how it goes.

If it does disappoint, I can always uninstall and move on.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Dragon Age Continues

So, we’ve had a total of three sessions of Dragon Age now, and things are starting to get interesting. We’ve pretty much got our main party now, since our former DM has joined with his character (he missed the first session). We have one other player, but he has yet to make a session. He lives out of town, and plays via Google Hangouts, so I’m not sure if he will ever be able to join us.

Anyways, it’s interesting not being the powerhouse meat shield like I had been for 6-year D&D campaign. I’m a former military scout, who grew up in the city of Denerim. My wife is basing a lot of the background of the campaign on the DA: Origins video game. So, some NPC’s from there are featured in our tabletop game (including her character). The game takes place not long after the last blight was defeated. Allister sits on the throne. And life is slowly settling back to “normal” for Ferelden.

The main thrust of the campaign so far centers around slavers kidnapping elven children from the Alienage. We rescued a bunch of the them from a renegade mage, but that just opened up whole can of worms, and now we have been tasked with ridding the city of slavers by Allister himself. Then there’s the mystery surrounding a Templar Knight-Commander, his forbidden love for a Circle Mage, and another mage with dark and mysterious motivations…whom we can’t seem to find yet. However, we did commandeer his home as our headquarters, so there’s that.

The last session saw two of our party begin semi-romantic relationships with NPC’s, quite by accident. And my character got a mabari partner. When we rescued the elven girls, they were in cages surrounded by starved mabari. After defending myself against one, and killing it, I used intimidation and reason to calm the other three. We then gave them over to a local mabari trainer I knew, who paid me back with a young, unbonded dog. His name is now Kalidor.

I think our next session will see us actually leave the city, and probably get into some fights. The last two sessions had little to no combat at all, aside from an archery tournament which one of our warrior-types won.

I’m just happy to be gaming again. This summer’s hiatus was almost depressing.

Monday, September 14, 2015

EVIL spelled backwards is LIVE

Last time I discussed the nature of Alignments in D&D, on an individual level, as well as a racial level. It sparked a bit of discussion over Google+, as well as some commentary on Facebook. So, I thought I would elaborate on the idea, based on those comments.

The gist of most of the contention boils down to the mechanics of such spells as Detect Evil and Protection From Evil. Traditionally, casting Detect Evil to see if there are any evil monsters in the next room, and having that room be occupied by an orc (with or without pie) would return to the caster the feeling that, yes, evil is present beyond that door. But, what if the orc isn’t evil himself? By a strict interpretation of the rules, this wouldn’t matter. The orc is from an “evil” race, therefore he registers as “evil” himself.

If you choose to define a monster’s alignment individually, rather than as a member of his race, you could say that the orc isn’t actually evil, and therefore, would not register as such. Does this mean he won’t fight you when you enter? No, of course not. Because being willing, even eager, for a fight isn’t evil in itself. It’s what motivates that willingness that is. In other words, intent. If the orc is fighting to protect his pie, that’s not an evil intent. If the orc is using the pie to lure unsuspecting victims (through a closed door…ok, so no one said orcs were all that bright, regardless of alignment), then that is an evil intent, and thus he would register as evil.

So, the bottom line is, as a DM, you are free to define the alignment of any given monster any way you like. And doing so opens up a lot of interesting play possibilities. For instance, say the Detect Evil caster is a Paladin, sworn to stamp out the “evil” races of the world. Imagine his surprise when he expects to find no evil, but opens the door to see an orc standing there. A good player would instantly recognize the conundrum here. And as the DM you should maybe coax the realization if he or she doesn’t (otherwise, why did you bother to make the orc non-evil?).

This is the type of situation that can make tabletop games so much more enriching than their computer or console counterparts. Because now the Paladin must come to terms with his own intent. And if he intends to kill the orc simply because they taught him at Acme Paladin College that all orcs are evil, how does that reflect on his own alignment?

I think this kind of thing also has the side-benefit of mitigating the widely-popular notion of the “Murder Hobo.” Now players are forced to justify their actions, and as a DM you can justify consequences for those actions, based on what you know, and what the players fail to investigate. It’s easy to walk into a room, see an orc, decide it’s evil because its race is, kill it, and take its pie. But, if he’s not evil, then you just murdered someone and took their property for personal gain. Does that sit well with your alignment?

Obviously, this is not a simple solution, and probably shouldn’t be too widely used. I mean, for the reasons stated in my last post, the vast majority of orcs will register as “evil” and that will be that. But, dropping an occasional “good” orc into your adventures can spice things up and keep your players guessing.

Bonus points to anyone who knows the reference in this post's title.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Universal Alignments

Ahnuld is the epitome of Chaotic Good.
One of the long-standing issues that many gamers have had with D&D is the idea of Alignment. I’ve seen commentary ranging from “I don’t understand how it works” to “I think it’s complete nonsense.” This is brought up most often when discussing the idea of “Racial Alignment.” And, admittedly, the notion that all members of a species are good/neutral/evil is pretty far-fetched. I mean, RA Salvatore has made a killing debunking this myth for decades.

So, how do you, as a player or DM, deal with this in-game? The answers will vary, based on tastes and views. And, here I will present mine.

Many moons ago I worked fervently on a project that was intended to be my interpretation of an updated “Player’s Handbook” for OSR D&D-style games (eventually published in rough form as Hero’s Journey). In this work, I defined Alignment in the following manner:

Every character has a set of social values and a moral compass. Together, these two facets form the character’s Alignment, and define much about a character’s personality, and how they interact with the world around them.” Followed by: “A character’s Alignment is mainly for background purposes. It is there to help a player define a character’s personality, and guide him in how the character will react in any given situation.

This is how I interpret the Alignment rules, regardless of edition. And it works for me on most levels. Even on the idea of Racial Alignment. In order to understand it, you have accept a few aspects of a “race” in D&D. I will use my beloved Orcs as an example.

In every edition of D&D (and even in other games of the same genre where they appear), orcs are universally accepted as being “evil.” It makes them easier to plug in as villains, and it makes it simpler for the players. If they are confronted by a group of orcs, there is usually very little question as to how the encounter will proceed. But, why is this? A couple of reasons come to mind.

The first is perception. In most fantasy worlds, it’s a given that civilized society views orcs as evil, usually due to some past transgression, such as serving the Dark Lord du Jour as foot-soldiers. So, orcs are never given a chance to be anything else. They are attacked on sight, even if they aren’t being all that aggressive. This has the effect of ingraining in them that they will be opposed by whomever they meet, and the only way they can survive as a people is to fight back. Often preemptively.

The second is related in a couple of ways. In the orcs’ case, they are generally more primal in nature, prone to violent tempers and outbursts. Naturally, these attributes make them brutish, and emotionally shallow, which in turn makes them easier to manipulate (by the aforementioned Dark Lord du Jour). So, their natural aggression and violent tendencies are viewed as “evil” to most civilized folk. This is why they, as a race, are viewed as such.

But, as a DM and/or player, we have the option to ignore or change these rules. That lone orc who deserts the evil army in search of a higher purpose might not be such an outlier. He may be indicative of a whole movement among orc society. These kinds of orcs would naturally run afoul of their more traditional brethren, which explains why so few, if any, of them are encountered by Player Characters.

I think I have been in love with this idea since reading The Crystal Shard back during Desert Shield. And games like World of Warcraft have only cemented this idea in my head. Which is why I write games like Life of Rage, and why I am a big proponent of “monster” races being an occasional option in D&D games.

It’s also why I’m working on my latest RPG project. But, more on that later…

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The Disgrace of Ferelden

My wife drew this on her iPad.

This weekend marked our gaming group’s return to the gaming table (with the exception of a couple of last-minute cancellations, plus a new player).  After some time socializing, we got some administrative and character stuff out of the way, then the game was afoot.

My wife created a good atmosphere, and a setup that was a bit of a spin on the classic “You’re all sitting in a tavern…” trope.  A couple of on-the-spot decisions by myself and others helped her really flesh things out on the fly, and before we knew it, we were working together as a team.

The rules of Dragon Age are nice and simple, and I have to admit, it’s a breath of fresh air after the six years of real time in 3.5E.  Don’t get me wrong, I love 3.5 and all of the crunch that goes with it.  But, it’s important to change things up.

I ended up going with a human military scout type.  I’m focusing on him being all about using his Dexterity instead of Strength when he fights, so he carries a short sword, dagger, and crossbow.  I decided on the crossbow purely for aesthetic reasons, as I felt the long bow would be too stereotypical.  He’s a city-boy who joined the army to fight the last blight, and fell into being a scout.  The crossbow seemed to fit that in my mind.

We play again in two weeks, and hopefully our other two players will be able to jump in.  It will be interesting to see how my wife inserts them into the game, as well as what they decide to play.  Right now we have a human warrior, two human rogues (myself included), and an elf archer/Apostate (secretly).  I think we could use some muscle.

It just feels good to be gaming again after such a long hiatus.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Starting up again

This weekend we will finally be starting up the gaming group again after a summer hiatus.  We'll be digging into a Dragon Age game run by my wife, and I'm pretty excited about it.

I haven't actually played DA since my first Gary Con two years ago.  I recall the system being fun, with a enough crunch to make it interesting.  I'm having to re-learn exactly how things work, but I don't think it will be much of a problem.  My wife is from the World of Darkness school of running a game, so I'm sure there will be less focus on the mechanics, and more on the characters.

I played around with about five different character concepts before I finally decided to just pull the trigger and pick one.  In an effort to get away from my norm, I went with a more Dexterity-based warrior (two short swords).  Still trying to figure out what kind of personality to give him.  I'll probably just let the game dictate that.  I have no doubts that his character will be fully realized in my head by the end of the first or second session.

On a related topic, we had bought the first boxed set back when she initially decided she wanted to run a game.  The Player's guidebook got passed around to our friends so they could familiarize themselves with the system, and make their characters.  Well, while it was at one friend's house, his cat threw up on the book.  He felt bad, and intended to replace it with a new boxed set.  But, they don't have that anymore, so he ended up just buying my wife the core rulebook, which contains everything in all three boxed sets, plus some extras!

He really didn't need to do that, as there is hardly any evidence of the cat's crime on the guidebook.  But we appreciated the gesture immensely (maybe he's just trying to cull favor with the GM).  I had the chance to flip through it, and all I can say is that this is a very nicely done book.  Everything you would ever need to know to play the game, and a lot more.  All in a high-quality book, with great production values.

Tangentially, my blog-mate Nicholas Bergquist over at Realms of Chirak, has been going through the Fantasy Age rules in his last few posts.  For those unaware, Fantasy Age is Dragon Age with the licensed stuff taken out, and the rules refined and genericised.  Sounds like a good competition for D&D.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Talonius, Part 3

            I would like to think today that my concern was altruistic.  But, I fear that I merely saw my only hope of continuing my own journey bleeding out in the dusky dirt of that lonesome stretch of road, and reacted out of self-preservation alone.  Whether it was some kind of divine providence, smiling fate, or dumb luck, the wound the man had sustained turned out to be superficial.  True, without my help, he would have bled to death for sure.  But, in him I saw an opportunity.  And so, with as tender a hand as I could muster, I tended his wound, and escorted him to a nearby town.
            My first encounter with a human settlement was as one might expect for a Drow.  There were a mixture of reactions ranging from morbidly curious to downright terrified.  And I am sure it was the fact that I was helping an injured man that kept me from being struck down on sight.  We were escorted to the local temple, and the man’s wound was soon healed.  And I also soon found myself confronted by the first “friend” I would ever know, Hendrick the Scholar.
            During my initial training at the Drow wizard’s college, I had been forced to learn the Common tongue of surface dwellers, as raiders often brought back items inscribed in that language, and it was my lot to transcribe them.  This proved to be the one gift I had received at the hands of my former life, for it allowed Hendrick and I to converse openly.  Over the course of several months, we found mutual ground, and had many discussions. 
            From him I learned a great many things about the surface and its history.  Its people, its nations, and most importantly, its centers of learning and knowledge.  But, when I confided in him that the source of my knowledge was not arcane, or even divine in nature, he seemed crestfallen just a bit.  He knew of what I sought, and tried to dissuade me from its pursuit at first.  In the end, I won him over grudgingly, and he informed me of how best to follow the course I had chosen.  He even gifted me with a writ of passage, affixed with his personal seal, which he assured me would allow safe passage in the larger cities, and entrance into the libraries of most human nations.
            For the rest, he assured me, I was on my own.  We soon parted ways, he bound for another great college in the north, and I on roads unknown.  As a token of his appreciation, he gifted me also with a bit of coin, and accoutrements that would afford me some protection in the coming journeys.  Seemingly for the first time in my life, the next day seemed brighter than the previous, and I greeted that dawn with a hope I was sure did not exist in the world of my birth.


So, there you have it.  The thrilling beginning to a character who may or may not ever see actual play.  Do any of you all do this?  I have often written little narratives for characters.  I find it helps me "get into character" so to speak.  Sometimes they're first-person, sometimes not.  And I've done it for different genres as well.

Anyways, I'll probably work on something similar for my new Dragon Age character.  I'm ditching the female elf pirate idea in favor of a brooding human warrior.  But, what is he brooding for?  You know, aside from the generally depressed world he lives in...

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Talonius, part 2

            We had lay in ambush for nearly an entire day with no sign of any potential victims.  I had all but given up and was about to order my minions to move back to our encampment, when I espied a lone rider on the road.  I nearly went forward with my plans of retreat, but something staid my hand as I watched him approach.
            It was no doubt his stoop-shouldered frame that initially caught my attention.  However, the contents of his saddle packs were what cemented my interest.  For there, poking out from the lips of the bags were scroll cases of all manner of shape and size.  My heart leapt just a little, and I was even more elated to see that there were also books and tomes strapped to the man’s tack.  And in my excitement I nearly forgot my present company.  A savage grunt of anticipation to my right brought the reality of the situation back to me, almost a moment too late.
            As the five orcs in my company leapt to the attack, my instinct was one borne of desperation, and perhaps a bit of ironic cruelty.  From my outthrust hand purple eldritch fire lanced, engulfing one of the orcs.  The rest were startled, and turned to regard me with utter confusion, tinged with a bit of angry betrayal.  In that instant, I knew my course, and without further concern I let forth all of the powers I had managed to muster through the course of my studies.
            In the end, it was nearly the end of my journey.  Although three of them were down from my magical onslaught, and one had retreated to the nearby tree line, I found myself exhausted of magical energy, and faced with a singed but quite alive and angry orc.  He had forgotten the man on the horse, and had now turned his vengeful eye upon me.  As he stalked forward, I knew a moment of fear.  But, the conditioning I had been subjected to as a Drow youth took over and without even meaning to, I drew the short sword I habitually wore, and met his attack.  To my surprise, the hours of drilling in melee combat were apparently much more effective than I had ever believed.  For I expertly parried his clumsy attack, and drove my blade to the hilt through the center of his chest.
            Before I could even feel jubilant at my victory, a cry shook me, and I saw the old man topple from his startled horse, a black-fletched arrow jutting from his chest.  In that instance, I looked to the tree line and made eye-contact with the remaining orc.  I read fear in his eyes, and he disappeared into the woods with a thrashing of foliage.  I let him go, for in that moment my concern was for the rider.

To be concluded...

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

From the journal of Talonius

When a friend proposed to run a 5E game recently, I immediately started thinking of what character to play.  I decided early on that I wanted to play a caster of some kind, having just come off a 6-year campaign where I was the resident Barbarian/Fighter.  I eventually landed on the idea of a Drow Warlock.  Unfortunately, the campaign never got started.  But, I still have a 2.5 page 1st person narrative describing my character's background.  So, I thought I might share it here.  It will be in three parts.  This is part 1..


My name is Talonius, and I am a Drow.  You will note that I do not provide a house name, and in that fact lays the story of why I am here.
            Though I have made a conscious effort to remove the details of my past such as names and faces from my memory, the facts of such remain.  I was born a lesser son of a lesser house.  In Drow society, that is tantamount to a death sentence.  Like those who came before me, I was relegated to serving the matrons of my city in what way I could, assuming that my inevitable death might serve the Spider Queen in some minor way.  Unfortunately, I showed little proclivity for arcane talent, and even less for the martial.  Thus I was doomed to live the life of an eternal apprentice, never tasting the power that some of my race find so easy.  Or, so it seemed.
            I still recall the moment I found the tome that would set me on a journey unlike any in my position might dream.  It was in the dust-laden vault of the library, in a section that held those scrolls and books not of Drow origin, and thus had to be read by actual candle-light.  I don’t recall what had taken me there, nor is such a trivial detail important now.  All I know is that, when I opened the musty volume, something touched me from beyond that I would spend the rest of my life seeking.
            I secreted the book away, and spent many lonely hours poring over its contents in the solitude of my meager room.  In the end I discovered much.  But most important of all of my enlightenments was the fact that my life within Drow society would hinder my journey, and I would need to escape the soul-enslaving world I lived in.  I had heard tales of those who had left our world behind: the followers of Elliastree, the warrior, and other individuals who sought more than what the Spider Queen and her foul minions could offer.
            And so it was that when next a raiding party made its way to the surface, I was there, with them in body, though not in spirit.  To this day, I am convinced that not one of them even took note of my presence, nor of my absence once we reached the moonlight.  I would be highly shocked indeed were I to ever learn that any from my former home still sought me out.  Well, perhaps that one priestess who showed great pleasure when bestowing me with lashes for manufactured reasons.  But even she most likely would simply note my absence with mild annoyance, and move on to another victim without further concern.
            Those first few months on the surface were difficult to say the least.  Coping with the passage of time and the changing of the seasons as surface-dwellers do taxed me to my limit.  Foraging for food was difficult at best, and I soon found that my only recourse was to rely on my heritage to bully a small group of orcs into providing me with shelter and sustenance.  All the while I chafed at the thought that I was no closer to finding the knowledge I sought about the Old One.  I had practically memorized the tome I had stolen.  And even though it opened avenues to powers and abilities that aided me in my efforts, it only hinted at greater knowledge while taking me no closer to it.
            I mention the orcs here, because it is in part my association with them that eventually lead to my salvation.  As orcs are wont to do, raiding and pillaging were always on their minds.  Yet, the group was but a small one, and outcasts themselves, for the most part (which may have been a redeeming quality to me in hindsight).  The extent of our “pillaging” amounted to mostly stolen livestock from small, frontier villages, and the occasional robbery (and subsequent murder) of a wayward traveler.  It was an occasion of the latter that afforded me my first spark of hope.

To be continued...

Monday, July 6, 2015

Post-Apoc Fu?

In my last post I talked a bit about my game du jour, Fists & Fury.  Therein I brought up the idea of creating a setting for players to take the tactical fighting game into full-on role-play.  I’ve been mulling over several ideas, from setting it in ancient China, to creating a fantasy clone of the ancient Orient, to even setting it in the American Wild West (this based on a recent bookread).  But, none of that really appealed to me, mainly because it had all been done, and usually done better than I can do it.

But one idea has kind of stuck with me, and even though it’s not 100% original, I can at least make it somewhat unique.  Basically, I’m thinking of a post-apocalyptic future, where, after some great war, machines don’t work properly, if at all, and modern weapons are useless simply due to the scarcity of ammunition and the lack of knowledge to produce more.

Some of you may notice a passing resemblance to one of my favorite Manga and Anime films, Fist of the North Star (not to be confused with that horrid live-action one).  Basically, take out all of the biker gangs, cars, and firearms, and add in a wider serving of martial arts, and there you go.

Right now, I’m thinking of not using a nuclear war, so no mutants and bizarre creatures.  Basically, the characters would be fighters who wander in an “old west” type of agrarian setting, defending common folk from bandits and other villains, with the liberal use of martial arts.  I think that that late-80’s retelling of Shane known as Steel Dawn (starring post-Dirty Dancing Patrick Swayze) would serve as a good model.  Probably a perfect model, actually.

Thoughts and/or opinions?

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Welcome to July

For those of you following along at home, you may see that most of my RPG efforts have been aimed at Mutants & Marvels for several months now.  And it finally culminated in the release of the print edition last month (of which I have sold exactly one copy so far).

During that period I tried to generate a “community” of sorts on Facebook with a Group devoted to the game.  But, while I have gotten several new likes with the release of 2.0, and a few devoted commenters, the discussion part hasn’t really caught on.  Not sure what I expected, so I’m not all that disappointed about that.  Still, it’s there if anyone is interested.  One thing that the group has served well is as a place where players can ask for rules clarifications.  I actually love those little “How would M&M handle this?” type of things.  So, if you have the game, and something doesn’t seem to jive, feel free to ask on the group.

The unfortunate side-effect of being a one-man show when it comes to writing the stuff I do is that burnout comes on a little quicker.  With a stable of writers, editors, and artists, I could hand parts off to others, and step away for a bit until I need to look at it again.  But, when it’s just me, I get to look at everything.  Basically, what I’m saying is that I am all M&M’d out right now.  So, I think I’m going to just let it sit and marinate for a while, while I work on other stuff.

One thing I have been working on lately is a martial arts micro-game.  I think I may have mentioned it before, but it’s basically a martial arts-themed variation of the idea behind Steve Jackson’s Fantasy Trip games (mostly Melee).  It’s called Fists & Fury, and right now it’s about 8 pages of rules and ideas.  It’s a pretty simple system, with a mechanic that is basically a streamlined version of the mechanics used in M&M (in fact, it started out as a supplement for M&M, but I changed directions with it after I got started).

Initially, it was simply about creating fighters, and pitting them against each other on a hex grid.  But, as I was writing, the RPG gamer in me started wondering how much it would take to expand it into a full-on RPG.  My original idea was to create a second set of rules for that.  But, after I realized that the system in place was so simple that it wasn’t going to be very long in form, I started adding optional rules for things like skills, backgrounds, and whatnot.  And now I am considering creating a complete setting book that you can play F&F in as an RPG.  Something along the lines of Avatar.

I’ve always thought that show was perfect for an RPG.  But, since no one is doing one, and I could never afford to get the rights to do one myself, F&F will just have to be my surrogate.

Anyways, as for actually playing games, my gaming group is on hiatus for the summer, due to family vacations and such.  We plan to start back up in August with my wife’s Dragon Age game.  Still waffling on what character I want to play for that.  But right now I am leaning towards a female city-elf swashbuckler.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Mutants & Marvels in print!

Can't believe I forgot to mention this here...

The print edition of Mutants & Marvels is finally available!

Head on over and order a copy.  And as a bonus, if you haven't bought the PDF, it's free with the print edition purchase.

And as always, allow me a moment to beg for reviews.  If you buy it let me know what you think over at RPGNow/DriveThruRPG.  Regardless of your opinion (good, bad, or meh), I really want to know what you think.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

End of an era...

So, we finally finished our D&D campaign that lasted 6+ years in real time. At the end of the final confrontation, the DM told us to level up, rounding us off at an even level 20 (just in case we decide to revisit these characters in a future campaign).

So, Ahnuld, the half-orc acolyte of Templarus, God of War, will settle into semi-retirement. He will entertain passers-by with tales of heroism, and espouse the virtues of his chosen deity. His God Sword will hang above the mantle in his prosperous blacksmith's shop, until the day comes when his strength and rage is needed once more.

And Ahnuld's ever-faithful companion (faithful through two resurrections), Artrous the Dark Elf Wizard, will return to his people, and hopefully reunite with his brothers. Together they will help rebuild the devastated Dark Elf realms, and bring the word of Templarus to the people of the Underdark.

Will Arty ever return to the surface, and rejoin his half-orc friend? The future only knows.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

M&M 2.0 print is coming

I have worked with RPGNow's print division, and we think we fixed the issues I had found with the print version of M&M 2.0.  I've ordered another proof to be sure.

To that end, I am proposing a contest of sorts.  If you buy (or have bought) the game in PDF, and put up a review (good, bad, or meh) by June 19th, I will place your name in a hat.  On the 20th, I will draw a winner's name, and will mail my proof copy to that person, absolutely free!

How does that sound?

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Not very good at this

It occurs to me that, in the grand scheme of things, I’m not a very good gamer.  At least, I’m not a very literate and thinking gamer.

I often read blog posts and forum posts from other gamers where they dissect games, rank features according to their usefulness, and pass judgement on the game, based on long, thought-out processes.  I don’t do any of that.  To me, the rules of any given RPG are simply a means.  All they do is describe how you roll your funny little dice, and how you interpret the results.  The mechanics don’t have much impact on how I “play” a given game, for the most part.

Ever since discovering the OSR movement a couple of years back, and kind of diving in headfirst, one common theme has come up when reading old-school gamers’ opinions of new-school games (mainly D&D 3+).  And it can be summed up by a phrase I have seen so often I reflexively roll my eyes when I read it now: “I can’t wrap my head around…”

I can’t wrap my head around Ascending AC.

I can’t wrap my head around Monster Levels.

I can’t wrap my head around not having a TPK every other session.

I can’t wrap my head around color artwork in RPG books (Seriously? Yep.).

I’m fairly certain that a number of Grognards are so set in their ways, and so convinced that the old games were perfect, and that any change that didn’t come from their own brain couldn’t possibly be an improvement, that they go into anything new with a closed mind.  So, in essence, anything they “can’t wrap their head around” is because they simply don’t want to.

Which is fine.  If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.  Cool.  I get that.  But, what I don’t get is feigning not understanding something just so you can claim it’s too complex and bloated.  That just seems arrogant to me.

I dunno I could be wrong.  In which case, I apparently “can’t wrap my brain around” OSR in general.  I like the old games.  I have many fond memories of them.  And I think some of them are actually still quite playable in their original form.  But, I really dig the new stuff.  New editions, new mechanics, new ways of doing things.  It’s all good (except 4E).

Maybe I just need to hang it up.  I’m not into gaming as much as I used to be, or as much as I’d like to be.  I have one game going, and it gets trumped by non-gaming life so often, we rarely get to play regularly.  And I don’t have time to play other games.

Then there’s the fact that I like to play at writing gaming stuff, but it’s all for games that I don’t play. And probably never will.  If I think about it, that actually seems like arrogance too.  And that doesn’t sit well with me.

I’m not sure what I’m getting at here.  But I do know that I will be taking a step back from gaming in general.  If for no other reason than to just to figure out what role it plays in my life (no pun intended).