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.