Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Strategy & (Vancian) Magic

I dig Vancian magic I think it makes sense, has a lot of flavor, and makes it pretty easy to handle magic. It also admits a lot of variations. 3e by default has a bit (compare wizard, sorcerer, and cleric), and a lot of later D&D 3e products were good about this. Reserve feats (as long as you have spell X prepared, you can create magic effect Y at will) are a pretty simple variation; Tome of Battle, Tome of Magic gave you some weirder ones. Even psionics, as implemented in 3e, is pretty much just Vancian magic with a different economy of slots.

My personal favorite is what Monte Cook did with the standard Vancian system in Arcana Evolved. A lot of little changes that really showed how you can stretch D&D's magic. One of the biggest is that all casters, instead of being divided into prepared and improvised casters, are a sort of hybrid of the two. Everyone has access to their full spell list at all times. (And everyone uses the same master spell list; depending on your class and your feat selection, each individual caster has access to specific parts of it.) You "ready" a certain number of spells at the beginning of the day, and then use your spell slots to cast those spells in any combination you like. Since you can also use one spell slot to cast several spells of a lower level, or several slots of a lower level to cast one spell of a higher level, casters have a lot more flexibility in their what they can do each day than is normal in 3e D&D.

Granted, this ups the complexity level of running a caster a lot. When I was running Arcana Evolved, my casters made printouts of different spell load-outs for different kinds of situations, because otherwise what you're doing is basically building a sorcerer fresh at the start of every session. It's not a system I'd recommend for DIY D&D except maybe for high level play. It gets worse when you consider that daily spell selection really only scratches the surface of the new complexity in Arcana Evolved; with three versions of every spell (one at, one a step above, and one a step below the level of the spell) and a bunch of feats that let you modify spells in various ways, there are a lot more decisions to make when building and playing a caster than in vanilla 3e D&D.

Decisions are good. One of the things that I admire about D&D magic is that there are a lot of decisions, they're all pretty meaningful decisions, and for the most part they're also avoidable decisions. In early D&D this is pretty simple. Play a caster or no? Which of two spell sets do you want access to? Accumulating the spells themselves involves a whole series of little decisions and challenges, and actually preparing spells each day gives a consistent and not-overwhelming suite of decisions to make. Then there's casting the spells, and you can get into a lot of creativity there, but most of the strategy is pre-loaded. Your success as a caster revolves around what kinds of situations your experience allows you to anticipate, and your ability to react when your plans go awry.

One of the things I like about later editions of D&D, though, is the way that the more complex spellcaster ecosystem lets you fine tune where you want your strategy, and how much of it you want. In 3e, there are three big spell suites and a secondary one (divine, natural, arcane, and bard) to choose from, and a couple different levels of involvement in each. If you want, you can simplify your choices at-the-table by front-loading them into your build, by playing a sorcerer (or a bard). Playing a cleric is in a lot of ways similar, because if you screw up your spell selection, or if an educated risk in a situational spell choice goes awry, you can always default to a Cure.

Of course, 3e D&D also ramps up the total decisions you have to make a lot, which is kind of a double edged sword. Most of these you're going to make away from the table: Feats and caster special abilities mostly impact character creation and leveling, and the vastly expanded spell list is mostly something dealt with when winnowing your selections for your spellbook or spells known. No matter what class you're running, though, you're going to have more spells to cast, and that does increase the complexity of at the table strategy.

Changing the complexity level of the available decisions, and changing where those decisions get made, is the big thing that you're doing when you start messing around with the D&D spells system. You have a lot of leeway to do that with D&D and Vancian casting in general, because you don't just have a lot of decisions, in the sense that you have a long spell list. The decisions come in chunks. Character creation. Ongoing spell selection. Daily spell preparation. Casting during the encounter.

I really think that's the strength of the D&D spell system. There's a satisfying level of complexity and available strategy, but it's not overwhelming, because you don't have to deal with it all at once. There are a lot of ways to scale it up and down to fit your individual group's preferences, both at the system modification level, and as they make their characters. For a game that's often about the pleasures of logistic strategy gone horribly, horribly awry, that's a pretty good thing.

Friday, December 02, 2011

NaNo & Scrivener

Didn't win NaNoWriMo, which I'm okay with. At about 35k and still working on it. We'll see where that goes. I'm trying to get 10k a week, as a general rule.

I recently moved all my stuff to Scrivener, to test that program out. It's kinda neat. So far I'm mostly appreciating the ability to see my wordcount as I type, and to break out sections in different sub-documents. So far that's mostly just "each day's work is a new note," but I suspect that when I get around to editing it's going to be broke down a lot more like scene. There are actually two separate novels in this project, maybe more. Breaking away from the Word-inspired idea that a big project has to be written all at once, straight through, with no breaks in between has been liberating. Double plus the idea that I have to know what a project is about before I start writing. That's the big thing that I'm glad I've learned from NaNoWriMo now.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011


I'm doing NaNoWriMo again. That's one reason why I've been quiet lately. (Other reasons: Not gaming as much as I was, not running anything, busy getting settled into work/new apartment/post-college life.)

It's weird. I'd totally sworn of NaNoWriMo the last time I did it. Forever. Succeeded twice, failed twice, decided I'd learned all I could from it and that it was time to move on to Real Writing. And now I'm back at it.

I'm doing it partly because DrRotwang announced he was doing it for the first time, and it's always good to support first-timers. Partly to keep me busy while I get back on anti-depressants/anti-anxiety medication.

Have I mentioned that here? I got whacked with the depression stick pretty bad in middle school. Managed to get that under control at the time, but looking back it was an issue on and off for most of college.

It’s tough for me to get a sense of perspective on it because I don’t have the crippling, free-floating, self-esteem battering emotional regulation issues that have landed a couple of my friends and acquaintances in the hospital recently, and de-railed work and school for others. What I do have is a lot of anxiety and a hard time telling when I’m getting anxious, so it alters my behavior in ways I’m not always aware of. The last six to twelve months have involved a lot of both figuring that out and attempting to get a handle on it. One conclusion I’ve had to draw is that it’s started to affect my gaming (and maybe always has). That’s one of the big reasons I want to get it under control. Not being able to DM because of how nervous making things up on the fly makes me is no fun at all.

Medication seemed to help towards the end of school, but then I stopped taking it for various stupid reasons, so now I’m having to go through the unpleasant, why-is-this-making-my-symptoms-worse?!! process of getting back adjusted to it. Writing doesn’t help, exactly, in the sense that it makes me feel better. It keeps me occupied, though, and it helps me feel grounded.

It’s good to get back in touch with that. I did a lot of writing in college. I was an English major, as I will never tire of telling people. But it was a lot of very busy, very harried, very fragmented, very goal-focused, and often not-very-fun writing. I mostly lost track of my old high school habit of carrying a notebook around with me everywhere and writing whatever, whenever, wherever. I have an entire shelf full of these notebooks. If there’s anything you admire about my writing “style,” those notebooks are probably why. I’ve written a lot. Just sheer volume of words.

And, you know, focus and goals and piece completion and all that is good. I’m proud of a lot of the work I did in that English program. Even the research papers, although mostly what I learned from them is that I don’t ever want to go near an English Masters program oh god get it away from me. The reading I had to do for those classes made me a better writer, and I absolutely, positively, one hundred percent am a better writer because of the things I talked about and learned and had to write for my workshop classes.

But I kind of lost that sense of writing as this self-contained thing that lets me structure the world. It was constantly, as Steven King would say, “writing with my door open.” I got better at writing, but I was doing it for classes, for peers, for teachers, for friends. Sometimes for friends I was working on projects with. Not for myself.

NaNoWriMo, and this story I’m working on? Completely, totally, one hundred percent for me. This is good. The story itself is kind of terrible, and it’s tough, but every time I knock out another two thousand words I’ve learned something new about it, and I don’t have to worry about how anyone else is going to evaluate it in two weeks. Or maybe ever. If I show it to anyone else, it’ll be because I want their feedback, and I want to make it better.

Friday, September 30, 2011

There's No Money in D&D

So on Google Plus the other day, in a discussion of why I don't read comics and maybe other people don't too (short version: they're bad, and they're bad because of artist/writer churn), I made the following comment:
I feel like DC/Marvel have the same problem that WotC has, or at least a similar one, in that they own this thing that everyone loves and knows about and looks like it ought to have all kinds of money in it, but in reality is fantastically hard to make money off of because they don't own the part of it that people really care about. They own the names, but they don't own the DMs or the artists or the writers.
This is something I've been thinking about and talking about with people for a long time. I don't really know how serious of a "problem" this is for WotC at the moment -- the internet wisdom is that their corporate masters are desperately unhappy with the level of profit they're generating, but the internet wisdom, generally speaking, isn't.

Still. I think it's interesting that, with the rise of Paizo and Pathfinder, we're getting a look at just what it is that Wizards owns in "D&D." Fundamentally, it's not much.

They don't own the concept of roleplaying, or any of the fundamentals you need to run a game. At one point maybe they owned the rules, but even that's kind of dodgy given the way U.S. copyright law handles game mechanics. They clearly don't now. They can't own the vast majority of what you need to run a game, because that basically comes down to a particular set of skills and talents that aren't all that hard to pick up, if you're willing to work at it.

They don't own dungeons. They don't own dragons. They don't own most of what makes up "standard D&D fantasy" what it is, because most of that was based on older sources to begin with. They claim ownership of illithids and yuan-ti, but it's not like you can't easily make your own without referencing their versions. Which leaves... what, beholders? Rust monsters?

These days, what they own is the ability to put "Dungeons Ampersand Dragons" on their books. What they own, really, is the ability to sell a particular set of tribal signifiers to geeks. They own the best way to sell something to someone who's never played an RPG before. They can sell the stuff that says "D&D" and makes you a part of "D&D." As Zak put it:
I;d say--they own the part that people who will buy shit whether it's good or not want, but not the part that matters to people who actually want it to be good care about.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Forge Monsters

At the behest of noisms. Stats are provided in the form of references to similar Pathfinder monsters, along with any modifications necessary. If you need combat statistics for a bubble worm I'm not sure I can help you.

Crimson Seeker Asp
The crimson seeker asp is a sort of clockwork device, studded with diamonds. When dipped in wine, their color darkens to a deep, blood red, and the asp will unerringly seek out the nearest person from the region of the wine's origin and attempt to bite them. (What constitutes a wine "region" is left to the particulars of the campaign world. It might be as large as, say, France, but could be as small as a particular county or vineyard.) If the region produces on white wine for some reason, you are out of luck: the asp despises white wine, and will be rendered permanently inert if immersed in it for any extended length of time.

In combat, treat as a venomous snake, except that its poison deals 1d4 Wis damage. (For an asp treated with a wine of about 10% ABV. Weaker varieties might deal as little as 1d2 or even 1 points of Wis damage, while stronger varieties might deal as much as 1d8.) After 3 bites, or once it is reduced to 0 hp, the color drains out of the crystals along its back and it becomes inert again.

Bubble Worm
Appears to be a chain of tiny iridescent bubbles. It's actually a sort of creature. It eats secrets (or, failing that, silk). Every secret uttered in its presence is forgotten by one creature who knows it, and the worm adds a bubble to its length. A properly prepared sorcerer can read the secrets from the bubbles, though this destroys the bubble in question. The worm will resist such treatment, as it causes them great discomfort and can even kill them if carried on long enough. (10% chance per bubble read, +5% cumulative for each bubble in a single day.) If it absorbs an entire secret, to the point where no one living remembers it anymore, it lays an egg. The egg is worth 100 gp x the number of creatures who once knew it. It is commonly worn by the nobility as jewelry in certain decadent courts.

Vapor Cat
It appears to be an entirely ordinary cat, usually grayish, though sometimes cream colored or even blue. Wherever it goes, fog goes with it. When half a dozen or more gather in a single place, it rains. If a vapor cat gets wet, it dissolves. The puddle-cat maintains its general organization and can slip around at will in this form; with a little work, it can be coaxed into a warm bottle. Poured out in a warm, dry place, it will reform into a cat (though slightly different in appearance, to the discerning eye) and regard the owner of the bottle as its master. They make pleasant (if slightly damp) companions, but are useful only insofar as they are unchallenged at catching magical vermin, which they carry to their master mostly undamaged.

Fur Lobster
Not actually a lobster. It's a large, crustacean-like monster that makes nests for its eggs that it lines with fur. To that end, it is weirdly attracted to fur and hair. The small ones simply seek it out where it's already fallen, or remove it from sleeping creatures. The larger ones can be extremely aggressive, and seek out warm-blooded mammals to attack and eat, the larger and furrier the better. Treat as a giant scorpion, but without the sting, and an uncanny ability to track warm, moving objects over long distances.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Further Obvious Insights

The process of generating situations in the way that I described yesterday is much, much easier for me when the style of the game is a well-established sort of beast. It's stupidly easy in a bizarre mega-dungeon, and it's fairly easy when I'm imitating a game that I've played in myself. Right now, for instance, I'm running a game for Dangerfox that's based on the game I've been playing with Trollsmyth for years. The setting is based on the one that Trollsmyth uses, the situation is very similar to the one I've been playing in for years, and I know the kind of scenes that I want to achieve. Most importantly, I know the kinds of goals that Dangerfox's character needs to have to make those scenes interesting, and I have a rough idea of how to give him the opportunity to develop those goals. If he doesn't, I have some ideas for how to adapt the game to accommodate other sorts of motivations.

That's really what's important here: Player and character goals. I've been making the mistake, in a lot of these games, of trying to get my players to do my work for me -- of looking to them to define the game, on the thought that they'll enjoy it more and it'll be easier for me if it's based on "what they want." Which is absolutely and endlessly true, but it doesn't do me any good if I don't know what kinds of situations to present at the table. I just sit there throwing either random situations based on my notes (or thin air) at them, or "logical" (ish) responses to their own actions, and without any yardstick for what makes a "good" scene I just keep getting more and more nervous, without any idea of what's "right" or any foundation for moving my notes or ideas or whatever else it is I'm bringing to the table into the game. It doesn't really matter if those notes came from me or the players: they're not the point.

Goals, though. Goals are something that only the players can come up with, and that can provide me a firm foundation on which to build something that I know is interesting, and fun, and that I can properly referee. A situation can always be built on the foundation of "here is something the player's want, and here is an obstacle in their way." A more interesting scene can similarly be built out of "here are two things the players want, set up in some way that they can only have one of them." (Unless, of course, they are very clever.) If I know the players (and characters) goals, then I have the game. A lot of my communication with players has historically been about determining what their aims are in-game; lately, I've been thinking as well about how to give them the information that they need to devise interesting goals.

That's another problem with these recent games: I've just been throwing "stuff" at the players in the early sessions, and hoping that they come up with interesting ideas about what to do with it. It'd be much easier, for everyone involved, to come up with a proper adventure, with some pre-loaded goals, at the very beginning, and allow players to develop their own ideas from there, once we're properly into the game. Much less flailing about for everyone.

Probably the most important thought I've had along these lines is that there are certain situations that I just can't render with any fidelity. There are a lot of situations that I either don't know enough about, don't have enough interest in, or can't picture clearly enough in my mind to be able to describe well enough that the players have enough information to make decisions about, in a granular way. In response, I've been attempting to get more comfortable with and confident at abstracting these situations.

For instance: I know nothing about wilderness survival. My spatial imagination is similarly underdeveloped. (Seriously -- my attempts to draw maps of places I spend every day in go hilariously awry because I just can't picture them properly, never mind imaginary places I've never been.) So it's difficult for me to handle a party running around the woods from simply a map and a key. Considering that this is what Trollsmyth, in the Pathfinder game I've been running for him lately, is doing, this has been a bit of a problem. I've discovered, though, that a general idea of the terrain, a random encounter chart, and the Survival skill have been good enough for me to fake it. I can take a point on the map and a few rolls and say, "Okay, here's where & how you found that thing you were trying to get," or "Here's what the area immediately around you looks like, and here's a Problem." I don't have a damn clue what any of the stuff inbetween these little interludes looks like, really, ("You walk for 2 miles through...") but it's enough to run a game on.

Monday, August 15, 2011

A Blindingly Obvious Insight

On Friday I made mention of "figuring out my DMing style," in service to what was really another point entirely. What I was talking about, though, was something else that's been on my mind a lot: for the last couple of years, I haven't really enjoyed running games. Most of the sessions and campaigns I've run have been, to some degree or another, poorly-improvised anxiety-fests that I've found, at best, as least as nerve-wracking as they were fun. At worst, I've killed the session half an hour in because I honestly could not think of what to do next -- or even really think much at all.

This is vexing, because in high school I enjoyed DMing more than most other things. I don't think I'm alone here in saying that I'm pretty omnivorous in the things that I enjoy learning and the stuff that I've gotten good at over the years. DMing is one of the few activities that exercises all of it -- skills social, linguistic, creative, and mathematical, never mind a great deal of random accumulated knowledge -- and that furthermore demands that I be aware, present, and fully operational for any length of time. Particularly when I was in school, being repeatedly warned that I would find whatever fresh hell was waiting for me next year "challenging," and being repeatedly disappointed, this was a pretty vital as at least an occasional feature in my social and recreational life.

I've spent the last year threatening at least occasionally to quit DMing entirely, on the idea that I've grown out of it, or I've found other things to occupy my time, or maybe it just was never as fun as I thought. Fortunately or unfortunately, I find that I just can't quit thinking about the dang thing, so I appear to be stuck with it. So I've been trying to figure out a way to run games without allowing them to become a vehicle for anxiety, at least to the point of unpleasantness.

The trick seems to be -- based on some very limited success in the past few weeks -- as it is with many things, preparation. The best antidote for anxiety is confidence, and the best path to confidence is sufficient knowledge to support improvisation.

Which brings me back to my original point. When I say "what I want going into the game," I'm not talking about style or system or mood. When I say "preparation," I don't mean notes or characters or locations or any of the junk I've been writing up and thinking about and talking about for any of the games I've run in the past couple of years. What I mean is knowing two things:

1. Given where the last session ended (or the circumstances devised for the start of the game), what's a situation that will give the characters (and/or their players) and an interesting decision to make?

2. Given the range of likely or possible decisions that could be made, what's the next such situation likely after that? (And after that, and after that, and after that.)

In the second place, obviously, this means knowing the characters and the campaign in order to have a sort of feel for where things are likely to go, and to be able to come up with something even if and when the players don't match those expectations. This means knowing the who and the what of the situation in question well enough to make the situation feel "real" to me -- that is, to make the decision seem significant -- and knowing what information I need to communicate to the players to make it seem real to them.

As indicated in the title, this is pretty obvious. This, however, is what makes it important to me: It's important, it's necessary, and despite that I've been struggling with it, and a number of other issues that it implies and is implied by.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Inside the Oddysey/Trollsmyth Hall of Secrets

[[Other people have said stuff like this before, but I've been thinking about it a lot lately. Especially the bit at the beginning. Also, this started as a conversation about poodles.]]

Oddysey: I'm finally starting to learn my own DMing style, and it really does work better if I know what I want going into the game.
Trollsmyth: YES!!!!1!!eleven!! :D
Oddysey: Jeez... you'd think it wouldn't take me a decade to figure that out...
Trollsmyth: Pfft. I didn't figure it out until 2000, honestly. And I'd been playing since '82, so that's what, 18 years?!? ;D
Well, ok, that's not entirely true. I couldn't articulate it until 2000.
Oddysey: Yeah. Because as DMs, our instinct is to be responsive to the players. That has to be what draws us to DMing.
Trollsmyth: Yep.
Oddysey: But responsiveness, while a requirement for good DMing, can't be the foundational quality for a game.
I mean, my better games have always been marked by the fact that I was bringing so much to the game -- more than made it to the table.
Trollsmyth: Yep, absolutely.
Oddysey: It's not just a matter of "run what you want to run," though.
I mean, for me, I have to have a clear idea of what the game is going to look like before I run it.
I can't be fumbling around in the dark.
Does that make sense?
I don't mean railroading or "writing" the game.
Trollsmyth: No, it makes perfect sense.
There are a hell of a lot of assumptions that go into running a game. And not all are always the same from game to game, even with the same group running the same system.
Oddysey: In a lot of ways I think system is really the least important part of it.
Trollsmyth: Yep. It helps, but...'
I mean, how often does system show up in the Henet game these days? ;)
Oddysey: Yeah.
And like Zak has said, he's played a bunch of different games now with a bunch of different people and there's just as much differentiation between the games run by different people using the same system as there is between different systems.
He's said he doesn't really notice the system much. [[note: I can't find where he said this now, otherwise I'd have linked to it]]
I think probably style of system might make a difference but I don't know that -- especially for a one-shot -- there'd be much noticeable difference between 3.5 D&D and GURPS fantasy.
And none between GURPS and M&M.
Trollsmyth: Nope. And honestly, from 30k feet, there's not a lot of difference between those two.
Oddysey: GURPS would be better for a game where you did a lot of body-switching.
Trollsmyth: Ooo, yeah, it would.
Oddysey: One of the nice things about 4e GURPS is that it's very clear about which attributes go with you and which don't.
And in that case, personality mechanics might actually be good -- it'd give you some handholds to grab.
Trollsmyth: Huh... I hadn't noticed that about 4e.
Oddysey: There's a discussion of it in the body-switching power, I think.
I mean, basically, it's everything that's marked mental goes, physical stays, and social depends on exactly how the switch happens and whether people know about it.
But yeah. Anyway.
Outside of specific edge cases like that, it's better just to use the system that you're comfortable with.
And I don't know, when you get right down to it, how much difference there is between 0e and GURPS besides ease-of-use.
On a campaign level, that's another matter.
Trollsmyth: From 30k feet, there's not much. Even Dogs in the Vineyard shares a lot in common with those, when compared to a game like Amber diceless.
Oddysey: Yeah. Dogs is just crazy-deadly and puts deadliness entirely under the player's control.
Trollsmyth: Yep.
Oddysey: I really feel like us futzing around with system is a distraction from the real issues/decisions involved in finding "the perfect game."
Trollsmyth: Oh?
Oddysey: Not [[just]] us, specifically, but most serious RPG people. We spend a lot of time reading systems and talking about systems and choosing between systems and trying to find the "right" system for a game.
And I think that's a distraction from the real work that needs to be done to figure out what you want a game to be and how to get from here to there.
Trollsmyth: YES!
Oddysey: I mean, okay, to a certain degree, the system is important.
You really can't get the Amber experience from any other game.
Likewise, something like Burning Wheel (or D&D 4e) that has a lot of metagame pieces is going to give you a really different experience from something where it's easier to shove that stuff into the background.
But if you're deciding between two systems that are really just random number generators that you ignore when you get a better idea...

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Superhero Rejects

These are the guys our GM won't let us play:

The Boozer, who can control alcohol the way some heroes control water or fire, and creates an aura of drunkenness whenever he consumes alcohol. He can't get drunk himself. He finds this vexing.

Sanity Man, who psychoanalyzes people by punching them.

The Gecko, who has all the power's of a six-year-old's conception of a gecko. He can climb on walls, has a very long tongue, and an aura of fear.

There are more, but we couldn't come up with amusing enough names, so I've forgotten them.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Gaming Update

After a long dry spell (there was a two-month period where I wasn't gaming at all), I've suddenly got more gaming than I know what to do with, and I'm DMing again.

I'm still playing in Trollsmyth's Labyrinth Lord(-esque) chat game, and now I'm running Souls For Smuggler's Shiv, the first adventure in Paizo's Serpent's Skull Adventure Path as a solo game for him. We alternate who's running or playing, and we've been playing between 2 and 3 times a week.

Tonight I'm running another Pathfinder solo session for Dangerfox, also in online chat. This may or may not turn into a regular game.

A few weeks ago I played Old School Hack with Risus Monkey, which was great.

There's some talk of a Mutants & Masterminds game amongst those members of the high school crew who are still in the area. I'm working on a character, but I'm not sure yet whether it'll actually happen. Several people in that group have highly irregular schedules, and it's been several years since anyone other than me ran a campaign.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Why Female Pronouns in RPGs Matter to Me

In response to:
I mean this in the nicest way possible: I don’t care if an RPG uses “he”, “she”, “him or her”, or “it” as a pronoun throughout their examples. Whatever gets your point across. If certain pronouns in your examples help you deal with your white male guilt, go for it.

from RPG Blog II

First: I totally admit that this kind of thing can be taken too far. You've all seen the kind of thing I'm talking about. The "strong female character" is probably one example. Ridiculous, immersion-breaking gender inclusivity in an otherwise pretty straight up medieval fantasy world is another. In general, white guys patting themselves on that back for how sensitive and PC they're being is annoying, not inclusive.

And fundamentally? The way Zach's phrased it? That's cool, too. He doesn't care. Either way works. Good for him.

But me? I really, really like it when game manuals use female pronouns.

I don't really care what system you use. Alternating between sentences? Not perfect, but okay. The DM is female (or male) and the players are the reverse? That's pretty good. Characters referred to with one gender, and players with another? Also good. Alternate by chapter? Sure. Alternate by character class? Great. (Especially if it's a book where you have iconic characters used as examples throughout -- if you flip through the 3e books sometime you'll see that all the examples referring to a rogue use female pronouns, because Lidda is female. Props.)

Not that I won't use a book that only uses male pronouns. Sure. Grammatical clarity. Technically, it's "gender neutral." Okay.

But you know what? RPGs are a male-dominated hobby. Massively. Painfully. Most of the times, the books assume they're being read by men. The cover of the 4e player's guide came complete with a HALF-DRESSED SEXY WOMAN contorting her body in order to show off all of the "good bits", next to a completely reasonably dressed male dragondude. Okay. Whatever. For the most part, they are.

But it sure is nice when the makers of a game book go, "Hey! We know there are women reading this! We'd like there to be more!"

When I was 14, I never felt like RPGs were a male-dominated hobby. I knew it was. I was often the only girl there when I went to the game store. I hung out enough online to know that wasn't unique to my area. I knew the history. But my game-group was mostly female, and there were female players in the 3e D&D guides.

That was pretty cool. I'm not sure it would have kept me out if that hadn't been the case -- in fact, I'm pretty sure it wouldn't have. But I appreciated it. It impressed us. I still remember flipping through the Player's Handbook, and the DMG, and seeing "she" and "her," and thinking, "Right on! The designers know that girls are playing. They like that we're playing!" And talking about that with my friends. It made D&D into something that helped us be 14 year old female nerds, that helped us get through being 14 year olds, period, instead of something we had to fight against to be who we wanted to be.

Pronouns aren't the only way to do that. LotFP: WFRP doesn't have any female pronouns in it, but it's got a picture of a female player, and that's pretty rad, too. It's got equal opportunity grimdarkviolence and sexiness. Both of which are appreciated.

But goddamn, do a few female pronouns help.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Beer caps in my bucket

Most of this is from college (Somewhere in the last four months of college I discovered beer, and not too long after that I got into the habit of filling the fridge with beer snob beer on a regular basis. This is apparently a foolproof strategy for Attracting Boys.) but I've been adding a few caps a month at least since then. Once it fills up I'm going to figure out what to do with them all, and maybe do a more thorough accounting.

Kona Brewing Co.
Woodchuck (not actually beer)
Samuel Adams
Smutty Nose
Legend Ale (?) (It's a unicorn with wheat around it)
Samuel Adams Noble Pils
Blue Moon
Magic Hat
San Francisco Steam Beer ("America's Oldest Brewery")
San Migeul
Left Hand Brewing Company
Kirin Beer
Southern Tier Brewing Company
Bass Ale
Mike's Hard Lemonade (not beer either)
Tsingtao Beer
Bud Light (how the heck did that get in there?)
Sierra Nevada (pale ale... bleah)
Rogue (Dead Guy Ale! Hurray!)
Leinie's Summer Shandy (beer that tastes like lemonade! ... hurray?)
Highland Brewing Company
Xingu (one of the best dark beers I've ever had, *and* it comes in an awesome New World Explorer-looking bottle)
Shock Top
Star Hill (local favorite)

Sunday, July 31, 2011

"Eat Chocolate! Level up!"

I played Old School Hack last night, with Risus Monkey, a few of his regular players, and Gaptooth, and it was pretty great. I have a good idea I'm going to use this one myself sometime: the awesome point system gives me pretty much exactly what I want out of a one-shot, and the character creation system... oh, man, the character creation system. Only one character in the party can be of any class at a time, and all the information for a class can be contained on a single page, so class selection is literally a matter of just throwing down all the class options the GM wants to make available down on the table and letting the players go through them and take them as they call dibs. I decided to play a Swashbuckler, and my goal was to rescue a princess -- any princess, I didn't really care who.

Risus Monkey is a great DM, his player's are extremely entertaining, and Gaptooth, in addition to running the most memorable goblin PC I've ever seen (he was convinced he was Link, and ended up on a leash for most of the evening), is an excellent artist. If he doesn't upload the picture(s) he drew of his character soon, go whack him until he does. The whole thing was pretty much perfectly in line with what I want out of a one-shot. Fast, goofy, fun.

More importantly, it was one of the few times I've had the opportunity to play with a DM who really knew his stuff. The vast majority of the DMs I've played with have been very new, and very young -- often people I'd gotten into the game myself. The handful of times I've played with who had played for a few years before I met them (in real life) it's been similarly disappointing -- either their play style clashed dramatically with mine, or they just weren't very good. RPG blogging has, in fact, been my only reliable system for finding good DMs: DMs who are as serious about the game as I am, and at it long enough to get good.

I'm not exaggerating (much) when I say that this was the most fun I've had in a single night of gaming in the last couple of years. The game I played at GenCon with Roger the GS of Roles, Rules, and Rolls was great, and I ran a few decent one-shots during college, but it's been a while since I did a one-shot that was kind of a party at the same time and where everyone was pretty much on the same page, game-wise. Been a player in that kind of a one-shot, never.

It's really reminded me that I need to play these dang things more -- in person, with live people who know what they're doing. Some other members of my high school group who have moved back to the area have been talking about running "something," but I'm really not convinced at this point that anything's going to happen -- it's one of those everyone-says-"we should run a game"-but-no-one-makes-it-happen things. Hopefully I'll be able to meet up with this new crew on a regular-ish basis, but otherwise I may need to start trolling the local game stores (Or maybe Google Plus? That's how I got this invite in the first place.) for games to join.

And now, quotes:

"Let's see if he can beat the whore's indifference."

"Hair creme probably looks like a healing potion to him."

"Red thing that appears to be Swiss! You said you would come with us?"

"Hey! Where's my rope?"
"Hey! Where's my lamp?"
"Hey! Where's my hair creme?"

"Every two weeks I am dipped in caramel, and then it's ripped off!"

"Gaptooth, the ogre proctologist."
"The only ogre proctologist."

"I'm invisible to horses!"

"This is how we roll."
"Poorly. Haltingly. And with a lot of innuendo."

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


I make no statements as to their appropriateness re: The Hobbit film adaptation. I don't really care. But if I were to run a "standard fantasy"-type campaign right now dwarves would absolutely look like this:

And this:

No one can stop me.

Monday, July 11, 2011

FNM & Gamestore Review

As part of my post-college real world social networking initiative, I dropped by my FLGS on Friday. (Game Parlor in Chantilly, if you're close enough to care.) They were playing Friday Night Magic, (their website lies) although apparently they don't always, and I picked up a foil Jace's Ingenuity by coming in 4th in a big messy EDH game -- played with a borrowed deck, since Game Parlor can't manage to keep the new Commander decks in stock, and I haven't had the time, inclination, or cards to put together one of my own. (Even if I do a home brew, I'll likely want one of the new decks for utility cards like Sol Ring, and just at the moment all my legendary critters are single color, which is okay but not optimal given the otherwise limited size of my card pool.)

I'm not entirely sure I'll be back. At least for a while. The staff was great -- friendly, helpful, enthusiastic even about games they didn't play themselves. The other players... well. They weren't bad guys. They weren't particularly unfriendly. But they were all guys, and I've played long enough in groups that had at the very least a significant minority of women that I'm not used to or particularly interested in being "the only girl at the table." I'm not quite good enough yet at Magic to deal with the problem through overwhelming mastery of the game at hand, which is my usual strategy, although I was several times able to take advantage of the not-nearly-enough-attention the rest of the group was paying me. ("Man, this deck usually runs way more cards than this." "Yeah, mine too." ::quietly sits at the end of the table with 8 cards in hand and a ton of discard effects in my graveyard::)

More importantly, they're not really on the same wavelength with me Magic-wise. Any group that plays big free-for-all games with Urza's Saga rares and seriously suggests signing up for a Worldwake draft and dropping out just to get the cards instead of, y'know, playing draft just isn't going to hold my attention for long. Bird Stomp is currently tuned for two-player Standard, and while getting to run it in said big free-for-all game before the actual "tournament" started was enlightening in the sense that it reminded me I desperately need to bring a set of d6s when I'm running something that has that many fiddly little bonuses, but the complexity of the social and play dynamics made it impossible for me to separate out play style and skill from the overall performance of the deck itself.

On the other hand, Elder Dragon Highlander, otherwise known as Commander, is damn fun. I think I'm going to push my playgroup (Dangerfox and my little brother at the moment, though I'm hopeful of adding a few more to the crew presently.) to adopt it, since I suspect the friends of mine who lack an interest in even low-level tournament-style play will have a lot more fun with its big creatures and big effects, and I've heard tell that once you have the basic shell of an EDH deck together, there's a lot less upkeep involved in keeping it "competitive," which would be a plus.

Still, I can play EDH on my own. That's not much of an argument in favor of the Game Parlor as my away-from-the-kitchen-table Magic destination. The place I went out to in May has a group that's somewhat more serious without being overbearing about it, and the store itself has a better selection of product to boot. They run Standard tournaments and my favorite format, and they've got a lot more players, which means more women. It's significantly further away, but I'm perfectly happy to drive the extra fifteen minutes once or twice a month if it means that I leave the store actually excited about Magic, instead of thinking, "Yeah, I guess that was fun?"

Monday, June 27, 2011

Deck: Bird Stomp

This deck is very much a work in progress, and very much shaped by the particular cards I have available in my (still quite small) pool at the moment. It's essentially my answer to the question, "What's the best deck I can build around Garruk Wildspeaker with what else I have available?" The concept is pretty simple: Dump a bunch of small, cheap creatures onto the table and chip away at the opponent's health until I can lay down a universal buff or other devastating single spell that clears the way for an overwhelming strike. Generally that means either a powered-up Garruk Wildspeaker or Inspired Charge, but I've won a few games with a Knight Exemplar/Day of Judgement combo. Between Beast Hunt and Squadron Hawk, I almost always have more cards and more creatures than my opponent, though that's partly because my playgroup hasn't discovered the wonders of removal yet.

I'd like to pick up some more copies of Knight Exemplar, as well as more of Mirrodin Besieged and New Phyrexia's often rather excellent knights. I'd also like a few more Beast Hunt-type effects, to keep up the card advantage. Mostly, though, it just needs more playtesting, and more competent playtesting. As I mentioned, the people I play with are fairly inexperienced and generally not as interested in deckbuilding as I am, and this deck pushes way past the limits of what their decks can deal with. Sometime soon I hope to take it by my local game store and see how it holds up there.

3 Accorder Paladin
1 Beast Hunt
2 Cloud Crusader
1 Day of Judgement
4 Kemba's Skyguard
1 Knight Exemplar
1 Leonin Relic-Warder
1 Mirran Crusader
1 Mitotic Slime
1 Roc Egg
4 Squadron Hawk
2 White Knight

Other spells:
1 Accorder's Shield
1 Arrest
1 Back to Nature
1 Flayer Husk
1 Garruk Wildspeaker
1 Giant Growth
2 Inspired Charge
2 Naturalize
1 Red Sun's Zenith
1 Sylvok Lifestaff
1 Trusty Machete
1 White Sun's Zenith

1 Copperline Gorge
14 Plains
5 Forest
1 Mountain
1 Naya Panorama
1 Seaside Citadel
1 Secluded Steppe

Thursday, June 23, 2011

BrokeAss Gourmet

Have you heard of BrokeAss Gourmet? If not, you probably should go check it out, even if you're not "broke." (If you are, you should definitely go check it out.) It's not the simplest food in the world to make, and sometimes does take a decent time investment, but what I've made using Gabi Moskowitz's recipes has been consistently excellent. I am not exaggerating when I say that I have been amazed and delighted every time I've made her food.

That includes:

Monday, June 20, 2011

A Transitional Period

  • Lately I've been making an effort not to watch movies. I'm not really sure why. Possibly just because my family watches so many of them, and I find the compelling hold that screen-based entertainment has on my attention somewhat unpleasant. Partly it's just that it seems like movies aren't good anymore. The last time I was pleased with the results of a movie outing was Tangled, and I'm not sure what the one before that was. The last handful besides that have been pretty hideous.
  • I keep getting this weird urge to write a novel. Haven't decided what about yet; there are a couple of possibilities but I haven't settled on anything. This is good, because I'd worried for a while that college had killed my interest in writing altogether.
  • I just found out that a member of my high school D&D group and one of my oldest friends is going to be my co-worker. I'm not entirely sure how I feel about that. Probably good, especially if it means the occasional lunch-break Magic game.
  • I've committed to not running a regular, weekly game for a while. Exploring the possibility of running a PBEM game, and I plan to keep up with the chat games, but I just need to do something else with my social life for a while.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Fashion is a CCG

I've finally acquired what might be described as a work wardrobe. Amusingly, after going through nearly a dozen stores (with Dangerfox, whose eyes lit up when I told him there was nothing wrong with wanting to "play dress-up" with his girlfriend as a canvas, and is dogged in his pursuit of my perfect hat) I ended up buying everything except the shoes from the Gap. I would have been utterly incapable of spending that much time looking for clothes a few years ago. My interest (or perhaps tolerance) for fashion has slowly been increasing for the past year or so, and it's been helped along by a rather silly realization: Fashion is built on the same principles as a CCG.

A new set comes out every so often, full of reprints and variations on old ideas as well as entirely new features. Every set focuses on a different aspect of the whole possibility space for the enterprise. If you want a very specific piece, you need to be willing to spend a lot of time shopping or spend a lot of money (and often, spending a lot of time shopping turns into spending a lot of money), and you might even have to wait until a certain style comes back into fashion if it's really unusual.

You'll need to update your collection periodically to remain current, but if you don't, that can be a statement in itself. Some people just look to the trend-setters for the "optimal builds," while others use their collections to build unique combinations that showcase their personal creativity. Others just want to be as shiny as possible. Kids tend to get into it when they're 10-13, and what they do with it tends to horrify their elders and embarrass themselves when they get older.

Another Reason D&D Shouldn't Favor Shields

Building on comments on my post yesterday -- In my experience with western martial arts -- which is, admittedly, limited to longsword fighting from the 14th-ish century -- a swordsman doesn't use a shield. Instead, he uses his sword as what (3.5e) D&D would call a "hand-and-a-half" sword: he switches from one hand to the other as necessary, sometimes uses two hands on the grip, and sometimes uses his second hand to "half-sword," putting his hand on the blade (it's not particularly sharp in the middle, and won't cut anyway without the power of a swing behind it) to use the tip as a dagger in close combat.

My understanding of older styles is that shields were mainly used when the sword was a heavier weapon that didn't allow for much finesse, and in large, well-trained units where each individual soldier's use of the shield contributed to the defense of the unit as a whole. Neither of these situations really seems to describe D&D combat particularly well. My vision of it, at least, is a lot closer to the middle ages styles that involve a sword during the period of transition between the heavy blade of the dark ages and the light fencing blade it eventually became in the Renaissance.

Granted, my understanding of medieval fencing is pretty limited, and my understanding of the history of weaponry and western martial arts sketchier still. If someone who has a more thorough understanding of the topic can correct me, feel free to do so. The main reason I think D&D doesn't favor shields remains that split between offensive and defensive strategies, and honestly it's a pretty good one -- more offense means shorter combats, and shorter combats means more time for the parts of the game that I find actually interesting.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

On Shields

There's been a bit of discussion in the ol' blog-o-sphere lately on shields, and how to make them more effective. This is all well and good, and I might be trying a few of the suggestions myself, in addition to the ever-awesome Shields Shall Be Splintered houserule from Trollsmyth. Unfortunately, though, unless I get really weird with it, shields are pretty much always going to be inferior to two-handed or two-weapon fighting in D&D, outside of specific, controlled situations.

The best thing a player can do, survival-wise, is to stay out of fights. The second best thing is to make those fights short. Defensive power doesn't really help with either of those goals, unless it's absolutely overwhelming. Offensive power helps with both. It doesn't matter how good your AC, or how much DR you have, if the monster gets a chance to pull something screwy, so generally you're going to be better off figuring out how to deal as much damage as you can in as short a period as you can. Hence: Two-weapon fighting, two-handed weapons.

Saturday, May 28, 2011


Headed out to my friendly not-so-local gaming store on Friday (the closest one doesn't do Friday Night Magic) and came back with a deck that looks like this:


1 Blade-Tribe Berserkers
1 Ezuri's Archers
1 Goblin Gaveleer
1 Immolating Souleater
1 Kiln Walker
1 Molder Beast
1 Ogre Resister
1 Oxidda Scrapmelter
1 Spin Engine
1 Training Drone

1 Accorder's Shield
1 Barbed Battlegear
1 Flayer Husk
1 Strider Harness
1 Horizon Spellbomb

Other Spells:
1 Act of Aggression
1 Beast Within
2 Burn the Impure

1 Concussive Bolt
1 Lead the Stampede
1 Whipflare

1 Copperline Gorge
5 Forests
11 Mountains

Apostle's Blessing
Evil Presence
Gitaxian Probe
Golem Foundry
Mental Misstep
Mirran Mettle
Mirran Spy
Mutagenic Growth
Rally the Forces
Ruthless Invasion
2 Victorious Destruction
Withstand Death

This actually isn't the deck exactly as I played it; at the end of the night I accidentally shuffled my side-board in and thus lost the original configuration. This version is actually rather better than the one that I actually ran, with which I did okay -- the first match I got completely rolled over twice, the second I won twice, and the third I lost one, won the second, and then lost the third.

This was the second draft I've been to and the first with the full New Phyrexia/Mirrodin Besieged/Scars of Mirrodin lineup (the first was all Mirrodin Besieged), so I got somewhat confused and overwhelmed and wasn't able to keep track of what I'd already picked and what I wanted to pick as well as I wanted to. I didn't pick up nearly enough creatures, and probably not enough artifacts/equipment considering the number of other cards that required them to work well. I also passed up a chance to pick up an Alpha Tyrannax halfway through the third pack, which was just silly. I don't even remember what I got instead.

I'll be heading out another one of these Friday's fairly soon, probably to check out the other FNM option within driving distance, and my plan then is to try out some manner of mixed infect strategy -- probably G/W, G/B, or G/U, depending on which color gets me the best infect creatures and removal, and whether I can get some good-with-infect-type support cards. Otherwise -- R/W aggro!

One odd thing I noticed was that no one I played against used Phyrexian mana the whole game. Neither did I. Act of Aggression showed up late in the game when it did show up (and I really hadn't gotten the hang of using it yet anyway), and that was really the one thing I was thinking of seriously using. I probably should have put Apostle's Blessing in my main deck, but I had enough low-cost cards as it was.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Everything You Thought You Knew About Me Is a Lie

I don't normally share much about my personal life here, but considering that it means I'm going to need to update my blogger bio:

Incidentally, I'm almost exactly the same age as 2e D&D.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Omox, The Gold Planet

Omox is a strange planet, its geography dominated by great black and amber metallic plains and mountain ranges, scattered with both vast fields and isolated monoliths of living crystal. Its atmosphere is fine and clear in the highlands, but pools in yellowish, murky mists in the lowlands, and here is mildly toxic to creatures from most other worlds, though its residents have mostly adapted. Its ecology would be bizarre by earth standards, and largely revolves around the magical vibrations emitted by the planet's crystals. The human residents food supply is mainly artificially grown, though they do consume some native life forms as delicacies.

More than anything else the Gold Planet is known for the strange and fantastic powers to be found there. The world is often the best place to aquire strange magical and technological wonders, whether wrested from its ruins or devised in its laboratories, and many wizards and sorcerers journey here to study the strange magical effects of the world's crystal resonances. It is also famous for its colleges of wizardry; the world's particular specialities are divination, enchantment, and transmutation, but only illusionists and necromancers are more commonly trained elsewhere.

The grand city of Spire, Omox's only major settlement and the only Veklo settlement of any kind, is dominated by a caste system, with the Veklo nobility at the top, civilized Akkadi warriors just beneath them, the common mass of Veklo making up the majority of craftsmen and traders on the third rung, and the Satra at the bottom as common laborers. A significant portion of the planet's Akkadi live in settlements of their own, despising the weak city-dwellers who have let themselves become the Veklo's puppets, as do bat folk and ruby golems. Most gnomes live in Spire or another human settlement, but outside the social organization of men.

Very few members of foreign human races call Spire home. They exist entirely outside of the caste system, and are therefore only officially tolerated as ambassadors and traders; a small permanent mixed population of Meo, Mekheni, and Hrungir does the work that the Veklo consider too unclean even for the Satra.

The Akkadi are significantly less xenophobic, and for this reason the vast majority of the planet's non-gnome demihumans make their homes in Akkadi citadels and tent-cities. However, foreigners of any kind are not significantly more common among the Akkadi than with the Veklo; the Akkadi cleave tightly to their interpretation of their gods, so only those individuals who find Akkadi religion appealing last long among them. Curiously, the relatively atheistic elves are among the most successful at living among the Akkadi; those who embrace the Akkadi warrior culture find it easy to attend to the appropriate rituals, even if they have little use for the gods they are nominally devoted to.

The Veklo primarily worship Vortoth, as a deity of medicine, music, and writing, (Healing, Knowledge, Magic, Rune), Koth Anos, as a judge of both the dead and the living (Destruction, Death, Law), Kushrieth, as a mistress of fertility and agriculture (Animal, Plant, Community), Andor, as both a maintainer of machines and a minor trickster figure (Artifice, Charm, Protection), and Rashwidir, as their primary war goddess (Glory, Nobility, War). The Grand Temples of Spire train many clerics of these five deities, as well as some dedicated to their own Omox (Knowledge, Magic, Law, Sun), although the Lord of Narrow Lines plays only a very minor role in their own religion.

Omox is a much more central figure in the worship of the Akkadi, who see him as a god of noble conquest, and hold him up as the ultimate example for the Akkadi warrior to follow (Glory, Law, Nobility, Sun, War). They also hold Vortoth in high esteem as a sort of divine "support staff" for the conquering Omox (Healing, Magic, Travel, Trickery), Silvaria as a goddess of survival in the wastes (Sun, Travel, Water, Weather), and Koth Anos as a patron of assassins (Death, Destruction, Trickery). The wild Akkadi are one of the few places in the worlds of the Star Lords that play host to communities of paladins, devoted to Omox.

The Satra venerate Kushrieth as a goddess of the household, primarily through wild, days-long orgies (Healing, Charm, Madness, Plant). The bat folk worship the night sky and the west wind. If gnomes or ruby golems have any religion of their own, they keep it to themselves, though the gnomes do give offerings to the cults of the Veklo.

The Veklo are habitually suspicious of most cults of Silvaria and Andor, because Spire serves as one of the great centers of the spheres' slave trade. The Veklo tend to purchase slaves for functional reasons: there are occasionally jobs that are beneath noble Veklo, but cannot be trusted to free Satra, or which require more intelligence than the Veklo consider the Satra capable. They also occasionally purchase slaves as subjects for experimentation, and while the Veklo claim to despise the ends to which slaves are used on planets like Vortoth and Merrikerr, the depraved tastes with which they characterize the Red and Violet planets are not unkown among them. Furthermore, the Veklo are reknowned for their skill at training slaves, and many a slaver brings his most valuable prizes to the Gold Planet for a time before eventual sale elsewhere.

The Akkadi own slaves as well, though they are more likely to capture their own. They tend to choose slaves for aesthetic reasons, and most Akkadi captains own at least a small harem. The bat folk occasionally keep slaves, mainly as tools to interact with humans through. Ruby golems, on the other hand, have very little use for other races in any capacity. Gnomes vary greatly in their adoption of the practice: some appear to have trouble understanding the concept, while others own far more than even the most aquisitive Veklo.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Tip of the Hat to Bioware

It's rare to see so clear an example of "not getting it" in the wild as this complaint by a straight male gamer about Dragon Age 2. It seems to boil down to "a male character flirted with me and it made me feel icky."

Bioware, however, gets it, which is why the link. They're now a company that says, flat-out:
"The romances in the game are not for 'the straight male gamer.' They’re for everyone. We have a lot of fans, many of whom are neither straight nor male, and they deserve no less attention."
That's pretty okay by me, and I hope they do well because of it.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Current RPG Projects

Go-Anywhere, Play-Anywhen Megadungeon Binder. I had one of these but I've misplaced it and I've got a better idea of how to put the notes together for it now anyway. I want to be able to run one-shots for random people as needed, and I'd love to be able to run a semi-regular large player group game, and this would fit both purposes. (Simultaneously, even.) Still trying to decide whether to go with the underworld theme or the infinite library theme.

The Moleskine Notebook Game. I've owed Trollsmyth a solo game for a while now, and I've sort of slowly been scribbling notes into the notebook in question for it. The big thing that needs to happen is I need to sit down and really figure out what I'm doing with the magic system, and then the rest of it should come together. Unfortunately this one is still probably going to have to sit on the back-burner for a while.

Pathfinder. I've been really impressed by the Pathfinder Gamemastery Guide and I want to give this version of my erstwhile system a shot. Bunch of ideas floating around here, basically around four themes. (1) There are a bunch of crazy subsystems and supplements I never got to use in my first 3.5e go-round. Psionics, The Book of Nine Swords, some of the bloodline stuff from Unearthed Arcana, and a few others. (2) I've got a couple of setting ideas that would fit really well with some 3.5e/Pathfinder specific stuff -- sorcerer bloodlines in particular. (3) It might be nice to make a fairly "normal" D&D-type fantasy setting for once. (4) Dang, if sword & sworcery isn't rad. Not sure yet exactly what combination of all that I'm going to end up with.

This is, of course, not including the game I'm currently running or the several games I'm playing with Trollsmyth.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Why are you idiots in the underworld?

For the underworld megadungeon, in case one of the players makes the mistake of asking, "So, why am I here again?"

1 Grandmother is angry at you again. Your mother/spouse/roommates are fed up with all the howling and banging so you have to go figure out what you did this time and fix it.
2 Little brother's cat died. You've decided to find and trap its wandering, tortured spirit for him so he can "learn about life."
3 Accidentally killed your girl(and/or)boyfriend. You feel kind of bad about that. Go find him/her so you can properly lay them to rest, or at least say "sorry."
4 You've grown up all your life with stories about some treasure hidden by one of your ancestors. After a couple years (days) of searching, you've given up finding it on your own, and are determined to find the old coot so he can give you a map.
5 Last week your cousin showed up with some really great pearls that s/he said were from the underworld. Convinced that girl/guy you've been kind of sweet on to go with them to Moon Dance. You're going to go down there and find something better, damn it.
6 You're bored, and otherwise sort of useless.
7 You're pretty distractable, and some joker told you there were shiny things down there.
8 Your older brother stole one of your favorite possessions and says he hid it in one of the odd passageways. You're not sure you believe him.
9 One of your friends died in a freak carp accident and you're actually kind of sad about it. Go find him so you can say goodbye.
10 The cats have been acting really strange lately. Your great-aunt says that means a malevolent spirit of some kind has been bothering the halls of the family dead. You're either the oldest sibling or the stupidest, so it falls on you to go clear it out.
11 You owe money to the mob. This is the fastest way to get it without doing any real work, and even if you don't get it, maybe going down there will convince them that you're too scary to mess with anyway.
12 You want to be a mighty hero, and you're looking for ancient warriors to learn from. It hasn't occurred to you yet that it might be better to look for warriors who haven't gotten themselves killed yet.
13 The local temple needs the poison of a ancestor-touched spiny toad to complete the initiations of their latest batch of acolytes. Somehow you've been drafted into catching a few for them.
14 You want to catch a spirit for a familiar. If you're not a magic-user, you'll just catch a rat or something and call it your familiar.
15 Spirit blossom grows down there. You want some.
16 Someone owes you money and the bastard ran down into the underworld to hide from you. You're tempted to just let him get eaten by spirits, but he's owed you that money for a long time, dang it.
17 You have a question that you desperately want answered, and you haven't been able to find a solution anywhere in the surface world. The last person you talked to said a particular ancestor or spirit might have the answer.
18 Zombie outbreak got the dead all riled up. Take some rice, holy water, and the severed head of the sorcerer responsible down there and calm the lot of them down.
19 You found a skull and you don't know whose it is. Now you need to go find its owner so you can make sure it's not a restless murder victim or something.
20 You're dead, Jim. 50% chance you've noticed.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

How did it get into the library?

1 Deliberately entered via a spell, such as summon library. If the creature is not of the appropriate type/level to cast the spell on its own, someone cast it for them. 25% chance in this case that the passageway is still accessible somewhere on the level.
2 Born here
3-6 Made here (1-2 recently 3-6 in ages long past, now best forgotten)
7-8 Wandered in accidentally through a spontaneous entrance from one of the usual places. (1-3 old section of a mundane library where no one's been recently 4 wizard graveyard 5 magic forest 6 anywhere constructed with or with furniture made of wood pilfered from a magic forest (or stone pilfered from a wizard graveyard)*) 10% chance the passageway is still accessible somewhere on this level.
9 It's always been here
10 The PCs are somehow responsible

*not a recommended building material

Monday, March 21, 2011

Two Offbeat Places to Die Horrible Lightless Deaths

The Underworld. Not the "mythic underworld," but the literal, place-where-dead-folks-go underworld. You might head down there to get information lost to all but the dead, make sure an ancestor's spirit has been properly appeased, or even retrieve someone who ended up there accidentally. (If the lord of the underworld is, like Pluto, also a god of wealth, you might have more traditional reasons as well.) Alternatively, character death might be the beginning of the campaign. You're trying to explore the place's geography and social structure, find old friends, relatives, and ancestors, and figure out where your place in it all is.

The Infinite Library. Mortals can't come up with spells on their own. All the spells that ever have been and ever will be known are buried somewhere in a dark catacomb that follows only the twisted logic of magic. "Researching a new spell" is a matter of piecing together from surface world research what you can of the laws of the place to make your best guess of where the effect you want might be found, and then diving into that deadly maze to retrieve it. (This is, I should note, more a twist on noisms Planescape Borges thought, brought on by Jeff's latest spellbook musings, than a truly new idea. Less scholarly arguments, more deadly monsters and traps guarding the occasional cache of scrolls, but still.)

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Angriest Little Ornithopter

On Thursday night I played Magic: the Gathering. Learned a couple of things.
  • If one guy starts calling them "articrafts," pretty soon everyone will be.
  • If you have nine lands and Untamed Might in your hand, then clearly your only choice is to play it on your partner's Ornithopter. Hereby dubbed "The Angriest Little Ornithopter."
  • Three teams of two players is a ridiculous format. The game was like two hours long, and at the end we got to that stupid point where everyone has like eight lands and two cards in their hands.
  • My deck is way too defensive. Was running green/blue with big critters, mana accelerators and a lot of control to clear the way for those critters. I liked the idea and have even gotten it to work a couple of times, but in bringing the deck down from the 60 card limit I'd built it with and the 40 card limit I'd just found out I'd played it with, I took out too many of the high-cost cards and ended up with a deck that frustrated people until the endgame and then couldn't do much itself. No good.
  • Deck building is hard. Absolutely the most interesting part of the game, but I'm still getting the hang of defensive/offensive balance, combos, and how to find the right mana curve for a given deck. Nevermind that I haven't yet actually played all that much Magic, so I'm really still getting a handle on how to judge the relative values of the cards themselves.
  • For instance, I hadn't realized until tonight how useful Glint Hawks can be. I hadn't fully made the distinction between "discard" and "return to your hand" for some stupid reason, until one of the other teams used it to play Contagion Engine twice.
  • I'm pretty sure infect isn't quite as good as this group thinks it is. It is good, but more importantly, it's a fairly straightforward strategy to assemble. It takes a little more thought to put together a non-infect deck that's equivalent to it. That might still be a big enough advantage to let it dominate casual play, but as far as I can tell the main use infect sees in tournament constructed is for creature removal, not as a serious attack on the player.
  • Why the heck wasn't the rule "15 poison counters to win" in two-headed giant before Friday?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Hot Shirtless Men in Cages Welcome You to the OSR

Forget hot elf chicks. I tend to agree with Zak that we already have enough (straight) guys in the OSR as it is. Besides, everyone knows that when it comes to sex, nothing says "old school" like bondage. And nothing says "bondage" like classic Trek!

More pics of Shatner (sadly, not always shirtless and/or in handcuffs) can be found at the ever-excellent Jeff's Gameblog. Be sure to stay for the random tables, including the Triple Secret Random Dungeon Fate Chart of Very Probable Doom and the classic Carousing Mishaps table.

No cages this time, but there is a giant snake! The two best things about old school D&D, both in one picture. If you want more of this kind of classic, pulp and Frank Frazetta-inspired goodness in your gaming, you can't go wrong with old school.

For more information about the pulp fantasy roots of D&D, including the parts of the genre it emulates besides giant snakes and slavepits, be sure to check out Grognardia. Though, frankly, if you've got giant snakes and slave pits, what more could you ask for?

Classic old school Erol Otus bondage! Foul enchantresses! Fates worse than death!

Of course, these days the best work being done along these lines can be found in the fine publications of Lamentations of the Flame Princess. Make sure to check out Weird Fantasy Roleplaying, LotFP's house system, if you're looking for a new spin on the old rules. For those of you who are more about painful and gruesome than cages, per se, LotFP also publishes a really excellent collection of nasty adventures compatible with Swords & Wizardry, Labyrinth Lord, and pretty much anything else D&D-derived.

Finally! I promised you cages, so here you are with cages. Containing none other than Graz'zt, the demon prince of sex. Wait, no. That's not right. There's no sex in D&D. Nope. (A 3.x-era Anne Stokes piece, but really, how much more old school can you get that Graz'zt? Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth, people.)

Unless you're Playing D&D with Pornstars, (NSFW) like Zak Sabbath, who here in the OSR basically is the demon prince of sex, as well as the demon prince of art, cool hair, and sweet city maps.

Last but not least, some slavegirls in chains for those of you who'd rather see hot chicks in cages than hot shirtless guys.

For more information about using slavegirls (and guys) in your games, your best bet is probably Trollsmyth. It's also the best place for horrifying giant spiders, so if he tries to recruit you for his online Labyrinth Lord game, don't believe a word he says otherwise.

Friday, March 11, 2011

The New Game

Right. So. It's Ye Olde 3.5 Edition D&D. Eberron. The players are Snakeheart, who was in the Traveller game and the LotFP game as well as a few other random things I've run over the past couple of years, Munchkin, for whom the LotFP game was her first introduction to D&D, and Dangerfox, who'd played a session of Vampire: the Masquerade before this but is otherwise new to RPGs. (The names are not internet handles or blog names. This is honestly what I call these people. Their real names are boring, so I improved them.)

Munchkin is running Mirithia, a halfling druid ("You insulted my dinosaur!"), Snakeheart is running Waywocket, a gnome bard ("Break his legs!") and Dangerfox is running a warforged fighter whom the other two currently refer to as "Mr. Huggable," although they've gone through a handful of other options already and are pretty sure that won't be the one they settle on ("I'm going to start developing a personality now.").

We've had two sessions and they've both gone pretty well. I'm not sure yet whether I'm going to achieve my aims in this exercise. I'm not, honestly, even sure there's going to be another session. We've missed the last couple of weekends due to spring break and musicals and just life in general, but we're at a good place to pick it up next weekend and I'm hoping we'll get at least a few more sessions in before the end of the semester.

My reasons for deciding to go back and run this system that I've sworn off for so long -- I've threatened to sell my books on more than one occasion, as I possess a number entirely unreasonable -- are fairly simple. For whatever reason, the games I've been trying to run over the past few years haven't worked. They have been, in places, fun, but they've too often been too intensely frustrating for me to justify my continued participation in the activity. I didn't want to just quit, so I thought -- I'll go back and run the game the way I remember doing when it was fun. The old school method, if you will.

Frustration with roleplaying is, incidentally, a big part of why this blog's been unusually quiet lately. There have been a couple of times in the past six months or so when I have very nearly sworn off the hobby entirely. I haven't been having fun with running games, and I've been getting involved with other activities -- board games, anime, actually being a player for once, and just lately even a bit of Magic: The Gathering. Add in that I've finally discovered how to have a social life that doesn't entirely revolve around D&D, the job finding and school finishing business of senior year, and a few life-related odds and ends, and yeah, quiet.

Still. At one point I really enjoyed running games, and if at all possible I'd like to enjoy it again. And if I am going to end up quitting, I'd like to be dang sure that the whole thing really doesn't work for me any more, and not just that what I've been doing lately hasn't been quite right.

I have a few hypotheses for why the old ways worked for me and the new ones (which are in fact the old ones) haven't, some relevant to this game, some not. I'm pretty sure that part of it was simply that 3.5e, in high school, was the game that everyone knew, intimately, past the point of needing translation. That's obviously not the case now, with a batch full of new players, but this campaign is beginning to bear out the usefulness of other, more translatable points of style. Among other things, I like having a handful of race class combos to hang characters on, it's handy every so often to be able to drop a combat encounter on the gang to give me some time to think, and the skill system is a decent safety net when I'm not quite sure how to respond to what the players want to try.

A lot of it, though, is simply the nostalgia of the thing. I miss these books. The 3.5e tomes, the silly looking, wannabe-spell books whose covers clearly aren't nearly as cool as something with actual art on them, are D&D to me. I'd missed that, and while it's not the same as it was, I'm glad to have something like it back for a bit.