Friday, April 29, 2011

Y: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

Yes, another post so short it's barely a blip on the radar -- awkward letters + awkward time of the work schedule makes for short posts ~

Yesterday I was digging through Anima again and anxiously waiting for the Dominus Exxet book to finally crawl into my FLGS next month. Anima is definitely a happy place for me these days.

Today I was shuffling through my collection of Planescape material while tinkering with some critter notes I have stuffed inside the Red Box. (unfortunately I seem to have forgotten to write down some crucial thought processes and am not entirely sure what all the notes were for. oops.)

Tomorrow might be Anima again, or Planescape ... or I might go pick up that shiny new Shadowrun book that just arrived at the FLGS. Or I might bring Mutants and Masterminds to work instead, seeing as I've been reading a steady diet of the Legion of Super-Heroes for a week.

I don't believe in edition wars.
I don't believe in game wars, either.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

X: Xenogears: A Rope Of Robots

I can only hope my games are half so awesome.

No, seriously.

"I did not betray you on purpose! I just decided to ally myself with a group bent on the destruction of everything you have spent your life trying to build! Sometimes people just grow apart!"

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

W: Watery realms ...

One of these days, I will run an aquatic/undersea/marine-based campaign. Whether the main action is on a scatter of islands with some submarine facets, or primarily under the waves with a bit of activity on the surface -- or, hell, just plunk a campaign in the Plane of Water and be done with it -- it shall be done.

I have an abiding fascination with watery realms and aquatic adventuring, all the better when mixed with ice and snow; I suppose this can be blamed on my native stomping-grounds, but the careless abandon with which I'll mix up my critters, places and even climates probably more resembles a jigsaw of oceanic concepts than anything else. Unfortunately, an aquatic setting is even more specialized than some of the other special campaign types I've bandied about and no one's quite gone for the idea yet.

Hell, I even have a watery/icy world that's something of a slowly budding pet project which would be ideal for a more sci-fantasy sort of game, with periodic hibernatory freezing and other such fun things.

Aah well, back to the musing ...

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

V: Bloody Vampires ...

Vampires are one of those fictional critters that I've never, ever liked. Not in fiction (especially not in this day and age *twitch*), and not particularly in my roleplaying games either. I'm quite bloodsuckered out, thank you, and I have no desire to change this fact.

(which isn't to say that I don't like tossing around various sorts of blooddrinking, soul-sucking beasties. but they aren't tricked out with the traditional vampire trappings, whether warped or played straight.)

I'd like to blame this on the obsession that many of my cohorts in university had with Vampire: the Masquerade, because that would be the easy answer -- but they were about as interested in every other White Wolf game, and I was and am quite interested in those. But despite a few attempts on my part Vampire left me by and large uninterested except for the spinoff Kindred of the East, which -- being more "ghosts returned from the Hells inhabiting (usually) their own corpse" -- kind of dodged the vampire tropes in any case. It was more entertaining watching the Vampire fans get irked as the local Werewolf player (me) knew their game better than they did than to actually play a vampire.

In other games, vampires still don't do it for me. In D&D anything a vampire can do a well-chosen fiend (usually a baatezu/devil) can do just as well or better; in a more science-fiction game a soul-eating psionic of some kind will fit the bill. I just don't go in for the modern vampire tropes (I'm rather allergic to that particular kind of whining angst), and the old tropes wore thin a long time ago.

Monday, April 25, 2011

U: Undermountain and megadungeons

Some years back I owned the Undermountain boxed set (as well as the second boxed set, but that one sucked so we won't speak of it). It wound up getting sold in a certain situation we shall not talk about and I have a line on acquiring a replacement copy. The thing is, I mostly want it for the reading and the occasional odd inspiration borrowed from a room description, or maybe to crib a cluster of rooms from a section of map to spin my own dungeon from.

I never could -- and still can't -- fathom actually running Undermountain as-is. This has nothing to do with the basic Realmsian nature of the beast (when I had the set I wasn't even touching FR materials in the main; if Undermountain was going anywhere it was, somehow someway, going beneath Sigil), but with the basic nature of the thing.

It's a megadungeon, and I don't do megadungeons.

Not that I have anything against the basic concept, mind you -- sometimes I wonder if I'd had more time as a player and less as the DM, I'd find them more appealing -- but I just don't get megadungeons. They feel like a combination of repetition and randomness that just doesn't appeal to me; I like my killing-and-looting spots to be compact and self-contained, and I don't go for the "bigger is better" route even when I'm not writing microdungeons alllll~ the way at the other end of the scale. Neither does the "mythic underworld"/strange dark limbo-esque concept of a megadungeon fly for me, because I don't fancy the dungeon-as-mythic-underworld trope either.

(why yes, I think those two things likely march hand in glove.)

So when that unspoken time of the weeding of game material hit, Undermountain was on the chopping block. I do miss it, though, because I used to read the big book fairly frequently as game materials go, and if I can replace it I will. Because if there's one thing that it -- and megadungeons in general -- do pull off for me, it's inspiration.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

T: The trees, the trees

In Dragon #125, Ed Greenwood had an article on the trees of the Forgotten Realms; lovingly describing the physical forms, colours, preferred climates, types of wood, and purposes of a swathe of fantastical greenery. This article's contents would subsequently be republished in a few FR products -- one off the top of my head is Volo's Guide To All Things Magical -- and one could take that as a sign of the staying power of trees ...

... Or, being more accurate, the staying-power of this kind of detail.

The Realms gets a lot of flack for its detailed setting, and as far as some of the NPC individuals and organizations go I can understand that. But to give slices of how-things-work, the kind of information that, offered in a small capsule of data, can give a flash of insight into how a world is meant to work by its creator? I could eat that like candy (well, pizza maybe, I'm not much for sweets) and I try to evoke at least an inkling of world-detail in what I write.

My world-building projects, especially, hinge on subjects much like Ed Greenwood's trees; though I'm painting with a broader brush yet, I want to know and have at hand the trees in those places, and yes the animals and the types and make of clothing and all the rest. I want to be able to answer people's questions when they ask "so what grows in that place, and what do people do with it and how?"

It's not for everyone, and that's fine by me. Hell, a lot of the detail I work on may never see the light of day. But I know the trees, and that's good enough.

Friday, April 22, 2011

S: Spelljammer

Aah, my other beloved campaign setting -- though, ironically enough, one I have never managed to actually run though I tinker with the setting all the bloody time. (reasons for this are varied and in some cases withheld to spare someone who crops up on this blog from time to time ~)

Spelljammer was by and large already on the way out by the time I seriously dug into 2e, but that didn't stop me from pining after the material. It took some doing -- and moving away from the virtual barrenlands of my native terrain -- but I snapped it up and have been happy as a clam ever since.

I mean come on. Giant space hamsters. Of course I love Spelljammer ;3

Joking aside, those same hamsters and other strange critters seem to have cursed the setting with a label of "goofy" and "stupid" that it doesn't really deserve. Are a lot of the SJ monsters weird? Sure they are, just like the bizarre critters found in classic scifi. Is the idea of sailing ships flying through space stupid? Well, I guess that depends on just who you ask -- some of us enjoy the sheer out-there factor and, well, swashbuckling piratical derring-do. In space. Because it's just that awesome. That some other SJ features are the most gleefully, brazenly obvious easteregging of scifi and sci-fantasy anime (elven bioroids = Guyver units, to say nothing of the name "bioroid"; and the flamboyant reigar and their shakti are ripped clear out of Tenkuu Senki Shurato ... just the two most obvious examples) just adds to the fun.

I do have to address one SJ critter directly just on principle, and that's the giff. Here we have burly, hippo-headed humanoids with an obsession for both overly-grandiose military trappings and explosive firearms ... Now, I've seen giff called goofy, silly, and various other things that basically boil down to "not good for much other than bad comedy". Maybe I'm just looking at them sidewise, but it seems to me that hulking militaristic humanoids that look like one of the most dangerous mammals alive, with a fascination over the most unpredictable weaponry in the setting and no self-preservation instinct to speak of aren't goofy, they're downright impressively imposing (if not just a little panic-inducing). Especially when your enemies/antagonists/rivals have hired on a few ships' worth of them ...

The crystal spheres and phlogiston are a clever sendup of antiquarian cosmology, and I was sorely disappointed when the 3e/d20 Polyhedron mini-campaign "Secrets of the Spider Moon" discarded them in favour of more conventional space. (you even need to wear spacesuits. how .... mundane.)

But then SotSM was really a kind of disappointment all over, I'll freely admit -- there's adapting and updating, and then there's deliberate gutting. SotSM very deliberately removed everything that was Spelljammer except the concepts of ships in space and created a bland system (game and solar) that reads more like generic scifi than it's predecessor as often as not. And it was wrapped up in a kind of faux-grimdark set of trappings (dwarves as grim former illithid slaves, ditto half-orcs, gnomes had lost their planet and not a tinker in sight, etc etc) that all but screamed "Look! Look, a Spelljammer that you can take seriously we're being serious yes we are". The scant nods to original SJ's liveliness, like the spelljammer ace prestige class (or whatever it was called) were oddly dissonant.

Oh, and of course one of the major adversaries, the source of the game's name even, were the damned drow. Of course.


(at least the elves were rightfully called out as arseholes. that was kind of nice.)

Not being one to turn up fresh fodder, mind you, I've been happily tinkering around with SotSM to make it into a serviceable crystal sphere in Spelljammer proper. Because why not?

Thursday, April 21, 2011

R: Rolling the Bones --

What little rituals do you have with your dice?

Do you have a special bag or box or suchsort container for them, maybe keep them in a specific place (or, if in a box, set out in a specific order)? Do you have certain dice for certain tasks -- one die for all your attack rolls, or one set for playing and one for when you're the DM?

Do you let other players use your dice, or even touch them? (a bit extreme, perhaps, but I've seen it in action) Or is there something, some little quirk or action, that you feel compelled to do with your dice before a game or even before an especially important roll --

It's strange how much we can get attached to these little bits of plastic (or metal, or glass, or odder things), and how much importance we place on them, all wrapped up at times in our own unique little superstitions. Then again, given that the very lives and luck of our pretendy-funtimes people depend on those dice, perhaps it's not so strange at all.

My dice live in a decrepit old buckskin pouch that I've had since, oh, grade school sometime; the very same pouch I've used since I started gaming. The cords have snapped and the leather's getting weak, but I just can't seem to bear replacing it -- a fellow geek at my worksite found me a very fetching faux-velvet bag (not Crown Royal but it's close!), but the most I've done is put the pouch inside the bag, along with two sets of White Wolf-themed dice that didn't fit in the ol' buckskin.

Along with my dice (two sets, one blue and one a weird pinkish-orange -- that second one is my DM'ing set -- and a fusty set of black Vampire dice a friend didn't want any more), the pouch contains the following:

- a faceted crystal sphere the size of a small grape, meant to be hung from a cord but the drillhole broke
- three coins: a (Canadian) penny, a Chinese coin of who-knows-what provenance and a Russian coin I found after a hockey celebration
- a thumbnail-sized beaded mouse, in silver beads with a black nose and blue eyes; it eats the dice lice (you know, the little bastards that nest in your pips and such and weight your dice)

If any of the little frobby things are taken from the pouch, I get stroppy.

I don't mind other people borrowing my dice, oddly enough, though I've gamed with people who refused to use them because they weren't their own dice. I'm not much for people just idly playing with my dice, though.

So how do you roll the bones?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Q: "Quirky" characters.

I'm sure we've all had them in our games, or at the very least had That One Player who insists on want to play them -- the PC based entirely around some (often annoying) quirk. The player has come up with some kind of gimmick, or something that they think will make their character "unique" and thus stand out, and is hellbent on pushing that quirky envelope as far as it will go.

Sometimes, the quirkiness can result in a surprisingly well-developed and entertaining character (the gnome barbarian with a tendency to bite the ears of his adversaries who brought the concept of "burnt bean water" (= coffee, of course) into the civilized lands, while certainly weird, was one of the best characters in that campaign) ...

... and sometimes, not so much with the development of any kind, such as the spellcaster whose entire existence boiled down to "has a traveling show based around bigarse tarantula familiar and only really talks about the spider except when player is demanding all attention". (the especially facepalming bit about that character was that the spider got more development than the character did. no lie.)

And of course these are extreme examples in a way, but there's always the garden-variety quirks ... The player who really really really wants to play an Asian-themed character in a European-themed fantasy game; the one who wants to be a were-porcupine in a WoD game. Even little tiny quirks -- constantly emphasizing a single oddity of appearance or behaviour -- can be horribly special snowflake behaviour if it's overdone.

But not all quirky characters are automatically a bad thing. Like the gnome barbarian, it's really all in the play and the presentation: if all there is to the character is the quirk, especially to the point of driving said quirk into the metaphorical ground, that's a character rapidly on the fast track to becoming a misery to have in the group. But if the quirkiness is just one facet, if the character has depth and development beyond just "I'm a [whatever]!" -- and most especially if the player isn't using the quirk to try and dominate the game, then it's all good.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

P: Planescape ~

The first "proper" -- i.e. not picking up the pieces after our first DM had to contend with a new addition to his family, but a fresh start -- campaign I ever ran was a Planescape campaign, having snapped up the original boxed set pretty much when it first arrived. We did awesome, awful things, both myself and my players (including capturing rogue animal spirits, attacking Robocop and crushing fiends under super-strength walls of ice), and we enjoyed every minute of it.

So naturally there were many more Planescape campaigns ;3

I have an immense attachment to this one setting, it is very true. It combines everything I find fascinating in a D&D game -- steampunk, elementalisms, dimensional travel, poking around oddities like god-corpses, and stomping on fiendish types when not inadvertently aiding them -- in one magnificent package so long as you look in the right place. And then there's Sigil, which was like the answer to my grimy pseudo-Victorian-evoking wishes. (favorite ward? Lower. favorite faction headquarters? the Great Foundry.) The answer to my wishes, and oh-so-conveniently riddled with portals that came and went and spun interesting encounters just from working to get the right key on occasion.

(would you like some politicking mixed in with your planar stomping? Sigil will tackle that just nicely.)

And yes, I bloody well called and call them fiends when I'm working with Planescape, because I like the tossing-off of the slim shreds of real-world trappings that cling when I use "demon" or "devil" or whatever. It might work passably in a Prime campaign but out in the planar reaches I like to ditch that, an it please ye -- ditto with "angel", though PS never inflicted that on me thanks be to the gods.

The first- and second-wave of PS online was right up my alley and then the heyday hit. I still have fond memories of -- I had a scant article or two on there, as "Kristias Fireflight" -- and the old Planescape-L. But there's a certain dividing-point in the evolution of Planescape's fandom, prompted a little by the ending of the line but a little more by the advent of something very specific: Planescape: Torment.

Torment's an interesting game, there's no doubt about it. But it conveys (for me, at least) a rather different aesthetic and "feel" to the entire campaign setting, one rather grating and at odds with the original. Sure the line evolved over the years, but under the accumulation we do not speak of Faction War one could still see the original PS box and In The Cage. Torment brought a different vibe, and as time ticked by the Torment-influenced people became the dominant voices. This ebbed away again eventually and left an odd hybrid in its wake; the Planescape 3e project being likely the greatest single example.

Me, I never was one for Torment much and the post-2e iterations of Sigil and various Planescape trappings in 3e and the like never quite cut it even when I liked chunks. But I still have my PS collection, so what odds? I can still venture out and plunder the Plane of Mineral and map dead gods whenever I please.

Monday, April 18, 2011

O: Origami?

I can't really elaborate on this idea enough to make a respectable-sized post out of it (having not actually made use of said idea), but I want to make it anyway ;3

Aside from, well, actual miniatures, I've seen and/or heard of gamers using little pog-like tokens -- with or without pictures on -- paper or cardstock standups, poker chips, coins, aquarium stones, chess pieces, and once G. I. Joes for the purpose of representing characters and critters on a large-scale map.

Why not try using origami for the purpose? Sure, one would have to learn at least a few different shapes; but change up the colour of the paper and write on a label as needed (no different than unmarked poker chips, etc) and you're good to go.

(the shapes don't even have to match up perfectly. a paper crane could be a perfectly serviceable dragon!)

You can even scale the papery beasties appropriately ;3

Sunday, April 17, 2011

N: Numbers

Some numbers have a certain draw to them in D&D. Even at relatively low levels, there are certain numbers -- whether levels or something other -- that have stood out as milestones in D&D for me, whether as a DM or a player but especially as a player and more numbers still have a sort of intrinsic meaning if not importance.

A few:

0 --Found in everyone's favorite~ 2e hallmark, THAC0: To Hit Armour Class 0. That magic factor that did away with the to-hit matrix and similar such contrivances. It's also the second milestone for Armour Class, the one that says impressive (and often magical) negative AC is close at hand. For the first AC milestone there is of course

5 -- AC 5, the trusty chainmail. Whether you were working up to it or made damn sure you started with it, chainmail and its AC 5 are a nice comfort point in protection from getting splatted, especially early on. As "fifth level", 5 is also a moment of oh frabjous day for the spellslingers; see 3.

3 -- That wonderful moment when your magely type finally gains third-level spells. Fireball, here I come!

18 -- Of course, one wants as many of these as fate is willing to cough up when rolling up a character ...

20 -- You just rolled a natural 20. Need I say more?

1 -- And then you rolled a natural 1. Ouch, sorry dude.

Friday, April 15, 2011

M: Magitech and Mecha

My go-to game is D&D of many stripes, and always has been; and yet when I look at the bookshelf behind me the fantasy games are outnumbered by the scifi games:

- Pathfinder

- Mekton Zeta
- Alternity
- Jovian Chronicles
- Traveller

It's an interesting dichotomy to be sure, but I would be a rank liar if I said that nothing science-tech-mechanical made it into my D&D games. Readers of this blog know my fascination with magitech and magical clockworks; there's been at least one flying mecha-ship, in the form of a bird of prey, and the number of robots living statues and similar such non-fleshy beasties is by no means small.

This works for me, obviously -- the basic idea if still the same, after all, only the trappings and the exterior appearance has been adapted to fit. This is better than trying to shoehorn straight-up mecha into a D&D game in my opinion; that kind of jarring juxtaposition can wreak havoc unless handled very carefully and I freely admit to preferring being "sneaky" about the subject. It causes fewer moments of cognitive dissonance for my players, I get to be creative with descriptions, and it neatly dodges the whole "you're putting scifi in my D&D baaaaww" I've occasionally been forced to listen to. (see also: psionics.)

... Well, unless I ever write up that Voltron adaptation. Then the giant-robots-in-"fantasy"-world scenario just might make sense.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

L: To level or not to level

It has been my observation (or, at least, my unfortunate experience) that one of the gaming subjects near as likely to provoke a flame war in certain arenas as much as any edition debate is the idea of "games with levels" versus "games without levels". The basic gist seems to be that the first side doesn't fancy the fiddliness of point- or -grade-based advancement (or just doesn't see any reason to not use levels) and the second side thinks that levels lock characters into a grind of same-same advancement with no customization.

Or something. I fancy games that use either system and in fact Anima -- one of my current love-to-poke-at games despite occasionally dodgy translation -- uses both concepts. A character in Anima gains levels as they accumulate XP, and once a new level is attained said character gains a bunch of points that can be spent on various things.

I can hear the screams of outrage from all sides, truly ~

Once upon a time in my earlier post-secondary career I was presented with an especially ... interesting rebuttal of level-based advancement. This particular individual loathed leveled games (and (A)D&D in particular) -- I've known a few people with peculiar notions about D&D, I need to find letters for sharing some of the other stories really -- because they steadfastly believed that point-based advancement was "more gritty" and "made for lower-powered characters that had to either think or [die]". (the actual phrasing was, I think "take the consequences" but the intent was fairly obvious.)

It's a shame I never had a chance to introduce this person, one way or another, to a nice low-level D&D game. We'd see about "gritty" and needing to think, I daresay ... ;3~

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Printin' and PDF'in' ~

I have been a good hamster and followed Jeff's instructions re the print and PDF blog options ...

*peers out; is it safe from potential pitchforks now?*


K: Knights and the lack thereof.

My campaigns have always had a curious deficit of the knightly persuasion. Not only has there never been any PC of the paladin-ish type, there has never been any characters remotely resembling a knightly or even vaguely chivalric ideal in my games.

... No, I lie. The party leader of my longest-running campaign was a remarkably honourable and almost knightly fellow, when I stop to think about it; rather an impressive feat, seeing as the gentleman in question was a thief. (he would be the unfortunate soul who was dressed in the fighter-mage's gown at the temple-warming party.)

Nonetheless -- and this is despite a fair few games having all the themes and trappings and even with some players being disappointed without them -- no one has ever actually played the archetype. Or even make small noises towards considering the idea.

Now, I myself am quite partial to paladins if not to all of the sometimes very culturally-specific trappings of the stereotypical knightly behaviour; many of the characters I enjoying reading about, making wander about in a video game or that I've written arguably have "lawful (good)" traits or would fall right in the middle. But I haven't played a paladin either, in the rare few times I've managed to be a player ... Frustratinglyamusingly enough, a goodly chunk of the reason is that the DMs in question have essentially discouraged it. They'd all fallen into the "paladin = lawful stupid arsehole" trap and there was likely no convincing them otherwise.

But in hindsight, I do find it likely that if I had tried to run a character along those lines I would have been disappointed -- the archetype, unless juggled veeeery~ carefully, doesn't really lend itself well to the behaviour of the "typical" adventuring party. And bending the intentions and fun of my fellow players as a group just so I could have my shining knight, frankly, just wouldn't have been very knightly.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

J: Jumping across the worlds ...

It is frankly an inevitability that any game I run will -- somehow, some way -- involve crossing dimensions or traveling to other planes.

My go-to settings, even if only for inspiration, are Planescape and Spelljammer (though I've run a fair few PS campaigns, SJ is proving more elusive); and even in more "grounded" settings there are the inevitable planar bleeds, elemental hijinks and my nigh-obsession with portals, gates, and various means to various worlds. Even if I'm only attaching pocket dimensions and microworlds to the campaign setting I'll do it without batting an eyelash ... and then wind up dumping the party there somehow ~

One of these days I may put one of my snippets of more fiction-based -- and, more importantly, individually controlled -- planar travel (re to Tomira Eliyes: think Myar) into actual game terms but for the time being I haven't quite worked out how to let PCs learn their own routes. Or how to put the specific glorious chances of screwing up your destination into game rules ;3

I haven't played around with time, much, however. I chalk this up to an intrinsic loathing of grandfather paradox in all its forms.

Also tangentially related to today's letter (*cough*), one of these days I swear I will hack the Fighter class to give me a credible version of the dragon knight ...

Monday, April 11, 2011

I: Inspirational sources

I keep my Red Box, etc. next to my computer desk where I can reach it handily. Sometimes it happens to keep company with the RC and a few retro-clone offerings, sometimes it sits there alone with a clump of graph paper trying to escape. So it goes --

Behind me is a glorious 8' tall bookshelf that contains my immediate go-to "library" for inspiration and firing up the ol' imagination (not counting, mind, the shorter bookshelf overpacked with Egyptological textbooks and piled with Transformers and manga on top that lurks in the closet to my left).

Taken as a series of group identifiers, looking behind me I can catalogue my to-hand inspirations as:

- Many many textbooks on space colonization and astrobiology
- Collections of mechanical design works and manga from three different Gundam series + Rockman (Mega Man) series
- Texts on Minoan Crete, the clothing and ornaments of the First Nations, books on ancient warfare and human cultures after 10,000 BCE, the development of Neolithic cultures in Europe, an ethnography of the Beothuk, uses of cedar, medieval usage of spices and scent, and other misc
- A baffling array of books on food culture, preferably of an anthropological bent
- Books on dinosaurs both avian and non-avian, avian biology, and the evolution of felines, canines, equids, artiodactyls (as a group) and trilobites
- Gaming books: Alternity, L5R, Traveller, Pathfinder, Anima and OVA
- Pretty much the entire run of IDW's Transformers, plus a few other TF books
- Guides to edible mushrooms, desert plants, amber, pearls and prehistoric textiles
- Design books and artbooks for many and varied manga, anime and video games

... it's a wonder more mechanical and science-fictional material doesn't wind up in my Red Box games, among other things ~

Saturday, April 9, 2011

H: Home is your ...

Aah, the joyous moment when an adventurer, or an adventuring party, stakes out a home of their own. Sometimes the moment is relatively mundane -- setting up shop in a certain suite in an inn for the duration -- and sometimes, not so much.

I've had PC parties go the inn route; they've also received small flats (in Sigil) or land for building in a chosen village (in more "mundane" settings) as rewards for services and general derring-do. (that one group then managed to give away the village to a tribe of monastic ranger werewolves is mostly irrelevant. but amusing to comment on.) While I love the founding-a-barony-etc bit at name level, by no means do I make my players wait that long if they want to set down roots.

Which brings us to "the temple-warming party".

Way back with a particular group of players, after defeating an especially bizarre group of bandits and turfing them from their mostly-underground lair (and dealing with their mysterious contractor literally falling dead on the doorstop of their inn suite after receiving the item he'd wanted retrieved), a great debate went up as to what should be done next. The winning comment was more or less as follows:

Cleric player: I wanna take over the lair!
me: Ei?
Cleric player: Yeah! I'll use it as a temple 83
Cleric player: And everyone else can live there.
Everyone else: Sweeeeeeet.
Cleric: We'll even bury the nameless dead guy and Craig's ranger in the new crypt! They'll be the first of many no doubt ~
me: ... *snrk* Go for it.

He was quite serious. So we had an entertaining evening of "preparing the temple" -- clearing out the underground pool of alligators, removing the bodies, sprucing everything up nicely, laying in supplies and whatnot that were purchased from their ill-gotten adventurous gains -- and then it was time for the temple-warming party.

I can't say that I remember all of the details; it's been a long time. Suffice to say that the temple-warming party involved:

- two funerals involving acapella dwarf singing
- filling the alligator pool with ale and swimming in it
- the half-elf fighter-mage's formal gown being snitched in order to dress the party leader (a thief) in it after he passed out

Good times ~

Friday, April 8, 2011

G: Gear -- what do you have?

No, this isn't a post on clockwork magics -- it's a shorter (if not sweeter) post about a few musings that trundled across my hindbrain this week.

What gear, if any, is assumed in your games? Taking D&D and its relations as the immediate example, do your PCs start with clothing (one outfit? more? what quality?) or do you make them purchase clothes out of their starting cash? Does a spellslinger have to buy their first spellbook -- potentially starting a game deeply in debt, monetarily or otherwise! -- or are they assumed to have that first tome "free", whether through the grace of a mentor or some other reason?

Does your campaign have "fast packs" or similar, to make kitting out new characters simpler? I'm rather fond of the idea myself, but tend to forget to make custom equipment kits (or lose my notes or get distracted) and default to a nice Dragon article I hunted up at one point ...

Conversely, are there items of gear that are Very Strongly Recommended a character have on their person if at all possible? For this purpose my rough and basic list is usually along the lines of: knife or dagger, 1-4 candles, flint or striker, day-worth of rations (minimum), chalk, string or twine, and some form or bit of cloth or rags. Add a basic scribe kit for a literate and wordy character, and a sturdy cloak or equivalent.

And then there's those games that abstract gear and resources in general; most White Wolf games come to mind. Do you play it all by ear, using the rough descriptions in the text, and handwave what a character might own -- or do you set a hard and fast line in the sand, trying to head off the "but why couldn't/wouldn't my PC own [whatever], they can afford it!" at the pass when a player conveniently~ claims to have some suddenly-beneficial possession?

Intersecting with all this, of course, is good ol' encumbrance. Just how much of all this gear is that PC trundling along with, anyway? Or does it even matter, as long as suspension of disbelief isn't completely shattered?

Thursday, April 7, 2011

F: Final Fantasy

It's essay time!

No, I don't consider this the same as my anime post. Yes, it's long and full of personal opinions and such and in fact mostly borrowed from a post I made elsewhere. I'm a big FF person, I'm posting it here anyway ;3

Many -- if not most -- FF fans are aware of the influence Dungeons and Dragons had on the franchise, especially the first Final Fantasy. What may not be as clear is the sheer amount of that influence. In actuality, Final Fantasy feels and plays like a virtual replica of a hybrid between 1e and BEMCI. Most elements are shared between the two versions of the tabletop rpg; the classes borrow from the D&D boxed sets, the monsters from AD&D.

While some of similarities are painfully self-evident (level-based advancement, dungeon crawling, collecting XP, treasure and sometimes magic items from defeated monsters, and the multiple-character party), these are also fairly generic points. Here I plan to detail the more nuts-and-bolts parallels.

There may be a few things I'll miss, as I'm working mostly from memoryand a handy critter list. But I feel confident that I'll hit the major ones.


These are virtually self-explanatory, being as the classes available in the game are virtually identical to those in the Mentzer boxed sets (Cleric, Fighter, Magic-User, Thief, and -- introduced in later boxes -- the oddly-named Mystic) with a single exception, detailed below. The breakdown of classes is:

Fighter: Swings the big weapons, wears the beast armour, uses the best magical swords and stomps on your face. Essentially the D&D Fighter.

Thief: The sad thing is, until you hit the higher levels the D&D Thief is about as useful as tits on a mule. This sorry state of affairs is mirrored well in the FF Thief, which is little more than a weak Fighter until you receive the class upgrades from Bahamut. (more on class upgrades, and Bahamut, later.)

Monk (or Black Belt, if you like): The D&D Mystic, with the emphasis on no armour and dishing out damage with one's fists.

White Mage: Here we find the D&D Cleric. While one notable difference has been made -- the lack of armour, possibly to distinguish the White Mage from the Red Mage -- the White Mage otherwise mirrors the Cleric to an amazing degree. Like Clerics, White Mages focus on support magics, can use bludgeoning weapons (I miss White Mages having the ability to swing warhammers in later games, let me tell you!) -- and the apparently hideously-overspecialized Dia series of anti-undead spells in fact serve to emulate the Cleric's ability to "turn" and destroy undead creatures.

Black Mage: The Magic-User class, purveyor of increasing attack attributes and dishing out healthy heaping doses of magic-induced pain. Getting Fira is like reaching a high enough level to cast Fireball for the first time, I swear ~

Red Mage ...?: At first blush, it would appear that the hybrid Red Mage is unique to FF. Alas, this is not the case. D&D also contained three demihuman classes, Dwarf, Elf and Halfling (why yes, early D&D used demihuman species as their class) -- and with it's use of light armour, most weaponry, a decent attack stat and the ability to cast limited magic, the Red Magic beautifully emulates the Elf class, favoured class of those wanting to stab and cast magic even if you don't really like elves, level cap and XP penalty be damned. (I personally got around the elf question by backwards-engineering a human class. I really don't like elves ;3)

Gameplay Elements and Details

VANCIAN MAGIC!!: Aah, that wonderful need to carefully harbour your spell slots per spell level you can cast, lest you run out. Though the D&D "fire-and-forget" system of Vancian magic has been modified to a number of free slots per "day" (for lack of a better word) rather than the spellcasting characters selecting and memorizing/praying for a specific slate of spells per day for the sake of smooth videogaming, it's still a Vancian system. (At that, the FF method was borrowed back for the 3e D&D Sorcerer class.) It's not surprising that eventually Vancian magic was phased out in favour of a point-based system.

Churchly Resurrection: This one was also abolished within a few games as the FF franchise trundled on, in favour of the now-iconic Phoenix Tail/Down. But the need to bring your deceased party members back to a friendly church with powerful clerics to resurrect them -- until you've become powerful enough to cast the magic yourself -- is not only a D&D trope, it's a trope for a reason. PCs die all the damn time in D&D also. At least FF doesn't make you pay through the nose with treasure or a geased quest in return for the privilege ;3

Class Upgrades and Titles: In FF, party members gain a shiny class upgrade and new class title from Bahamut; they're real heroes now, with more oomph at their disposal. This is a well-turned emulation of the D&D "Name Level" -- usually around level 9, sometimes a few later -- wherein the PC gains a new and special title (Fighter -> Knight, Paladin or Avenger, Mystic -> Master, Magic-User -> Wizard, etc. etc.) and new privileges, usually based around owning territory and / or gaining followers. FF, not being a sim game, goes the power route; but the net intent and effect is the same.

Bahamut: Speaking of His Scaliness, Bahamut -- traditionally and originally a giant fish -- as an honourable and good king of well-intentioned wyrms is lifted straight from AD&D, where Bahamut is of course the Platinum Dragon and King of the Metallic (= Good) Dragons. (later games emulate this even further with his greyish colouration and in one case his human guise.) As Bahamut is a creature it is not surprising he was drawn from AD&D rather than D&D; see below.


FF uses a number of generic spells. It also uses a number of spells, names and all, that are pretty much D&D staples (haste; don't leave home without it). Some have been shuffled from clerical (white) to magic-user (black) types for the sake of class balance -- FF doesn't use non-combat spells, after all, so holes in spell lists need to be plugged -- but the spell itself remains.

I'm not going to enumerate every single FF spell and magical item, with commentary; I don't have that kind of patience, to be honest ;3 However, the following lists the FF spells which are iconic D&D spells, ignoring the generic elemental spells because pffft:

Black Magic

Sleep -- just as godly at low levels as the D&D version.
Hold -- hold person and the like
Cloud (called Poison, Scourge, BANE etc in NA editions) -- cloudkill.
Confuse -- confusion. hate this spell, hate it -_-
Death -- could be many things but always seemed to be finger of death to me.
Saber -- Mordenkainen's sword.
Stop -- time stop.
Kill (Doom) -- power word, kill.
Flare -- hello meteor swarm. which is funny, as in later games Flare and Meteor get split up.

White Magic

(the Dia spells are addressed in the Classes section)

Silence -- love silence when fighting magic-users, yee~ees ~
BaThunder (NulBolt, etc.) -- protection from electricity; similar spells follow pattern.
Invisi -- invisibility.
Dispel -- dispel magic.

... Oh who am I kidding. The spells pretty much map, especially the White Magic as it's so repetitive.

(Magic) Items

Ditto here; you can basically say "yup, same ideas" with a few exceptions; (A)D&D uses generic names for a lot of this to begin with so there's not a lot of point rambling on about them like an idiot. A few magic items, especially swords, deserve calling out as having names identical to specific named types of magical blades in AD&D, and there a few other iconics hidden in there:

Ice Brand -- Frost Brand
Sun Blade
Staff of Power
Wizard's Staff (Spellbinder in DoS) -- probably Staff of the Magi, legendary along with the Staff of Power.


Fun times! For this I'll be using the original FFJ names and cross-referencing more familiar ones where necessary to clarify.

The monsters in FF crib straight from the D&D monster lists and AD&D Monster Manuals in a big way, to the point of many monster names (Beholder, Marilith ...) needing to be changed in the NA editions to avoid lawsuits from TSR. Even once WotC acquired the D&D license and the System Reference Document allowed the use of some creature names, use of the SRD would have required a licensing agreement that Squenix -- rightfully -- would not have so much as looked at. Some were wiggled through in later re-releases, probably due to being made up of generic words (Mind Flayer, Black Pudding, etc.) and re-used by so many games at that point.

That said, here are the special AD&D monsters. It's also worth noting that the undead ability to paralyze, so popular in FF, is lifted from the ghoul/ghast/etc series in (A)D&D. In fact FF takes pretty much all the (A)D&D undead monsters, many of which bear no resemblance to the mythological creatures or words they were based on (lich and wight, for example).

To start:

CHAOS. Not as a specific monster, but! The entire gist of D&D could be boiled down to fighting off the encroachment of Chaos and the monsters, warping and corruption that goes with it. Most PCs are Lawful or Neutral and most monsters are Chaotic. The Good/Evil axis of alignment doesn't even get introduced until the AD&D ruleset. So, having the ultimate Big Bad be Chaos is definitely fitting for a D&D-flavoured game.

The Fiends:

Lich -- the iconic Terrifying High-Level Undead Horror of AD&D. Just saying. ;3

Marilith -- called "Kary" in original NA FF, no doubt to avoid a lawsuit (or through the fear of one).

Kraken -- generic, yes, but krakens in (A)D&D are intelligent and controlling high-level monsters so I'm including him here.

Tiamat -- much like Bahamut, appears here as a multiheaded dragon instead of her original version. She's blue in FF instead of multicoloured, however, something FF either cared not to emulate, chose not to, or did not wish to risk the wrath of TSR (especially as Tiamat was a major antagonist in the D&D cartoon). I've also heard it said that it was a simple palette limitation.

Generic Monsters:

Warg (Worg) Wolf
Sahuagin (and variations)
Green Slime
Crawler -- sprite is clearly a version of the carrion crawler.
Gray Ooze
Hill Gigas -- = Hill Giant, of the Hill/Fire/Ice D&D trifecta.
Ochre Jelly
Ogre Mage
Ankheg (PEDE, Centipede) -- though the sprite is more generic-looking than the D&D monster named ankheg.
Otyugh (Ochu)
Neo-Otyugh (Neochu)
Horned Devil (R. GOYLE) -- likely the reddish Horned Devil, later Cornugon.
Pyrolisk -- PERILISK of NES FF likely a lawsuit dodge.
Fire Gigas -- = Fire Giant, of the Hill/Fire/Ice D&D trifecta.
Winter Wolf (FrWOLF)
Mind Flayer (SORCERER, Mindflayer) -- they even look just like them ...
Ice Gigas -- = Ice Giant, of the Hill/Fire/Ice D&D trifecta.
Remorhaz (GrPEDE, Remora, etc)
Beholder (EYE, Evil Eye) -- oh, this one is/was a lawsuit just begging to happen ...
Desert Bulette (ANKLYO, Desert Baretta)
Bulette (R. ANKLYO, Baretta)
Water Naga -- of the Guardian/Spirit/Water AD&D naga trifecta.
Spirit Naga -- of the Guardian/Spirit/Water AD&D naga trifecta.
Black Pudding
Death Knight (EVILMAN, Doom Knight) -- ahahahahhaa treading on the iconic Lord Soth from Dragonlance ~
Gorgimera (JIMERA, Rhyos)

This list of course omits generic animals and monsters (wolf, goblin, ghost, orge etc) shared between both games.

In some cases only the name was swiped and applied to a more generic-looking creature of the right type (chimera/gorgimera, for example; the AD&D gorgimera is a hybrid of a chimera and a gorgon, an iron-scaled poison-breathing ox).

Additionally, many of the dragons -- and certainly the identifications by colour -- are lifted straight from (A)D&D.

So, there you have it. I may have missed a few things, but these are in my opinion the Big Ones. If there is any element in Final Fantasy -- an item, an event, a class, a monster -- you would like to ask about, feel free! I'll see what I can find :3

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

E: Elves Everywhere

If I were asked what single thing -- what lone, solitary crumb from the combined edifice of D&D in all its forms -- it is that I cannot stand, I could answer in one word.


From their semi-pseudo "multiclassing" effect, warrior and spellcaster both, in BECMI to the explosion of umpety-dozen subtypes, each one more special than the last; from wild to dark to green to silver to, oh I don't know, rainbow sparkle tartan, right down to the annoying overpowered fangasm tripe that is 2e's Complete Book of Elves, the pointy-eared blighters grind my gears just by existing.

(that the CBoE is almost invariably held up as the example an evidence of the "horrors" of 2e and the Completes in specific when it was by far the worst of its kind is another rock in my craw. but I digress.)

Elves and my own self simply do not mix. I do not like having to read about, nor suffer through the playing of, the typical arrogance and overwrought trappings brought to the table by elven PCs or NPCs that pay even lip-service to the species as described in the game. Neither do I go in for the mouldy old chestnut of the genteel angst of the so-noble elves fading away from the world so unsuited to them -- which in itself is yet another strike against elves, their near0constant portrayal as being nobler, better, and all-around more-perfect-er-than-you. (even when they're killing you.) The notable D&D divergences from this template (the runner elves of dark Sun come to mind) speak a little too loudly of "look, we deliberately turned everything stereotypically elven on its head" -- but don't worry, they're still all arrogant arseholes. Can't shake that core elven personality.

The bloody elves even invade the ranks of Villainous Types Considered Awesome, because there is surely no more over-hyped D&D antagonist than the damned drow. Who also gives us the additional benefit of the most over-wrought example of the Angsting Protagonist From Eeeevul Stock since Elric, Drizzt Do'Urden. There is truly no escape from the elven plague.

... Although I admit, I do quite like Spelljammer's Imperial Elven Navy. Probably because the IEN makes no effort to hide or whitewash the fact that they're all condescending arseholes with a collective entitlement complex, and thus make excellent not-really-evil-but-still-annoying antagonists. Though they do come across much like a bad British Naval Empire stereotype with pointy ears.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

D: Dungeons and Dinosaurs?

It's time for an iconic critter! Something big, and impressive, and maybe scaly, something to give a party pause for at least a moment. What to use, what to use ...

A dragon?

Sure, dragons are great and all; I love me some dragons. But I love dinosaurs even more -- and it can be highly entertaining to fit the beasties into a game. Though it's true to say that "scaly" only describes some of them, and that not at all scaled the way snakes and lizards and dragons were scaled, dropping an ornithodiran or three can be great fun if played correctly. These weren't dull and lumbering beasts but strange and wondrous, lively creatures and a lot of gaming mileage can be gotten from them.

On the one hand you have your maniraptors (feathered, if you please! -- unless you're deliberately going for the retro Land-Before-Time look, of course) and your tyrannosaurs (send a pack of those after a party for great fun, whether a T. rex or one of the more sporty albertosaurs) ... on the other, even the herbivores can be baroque and unusual, like Stygimoloch or just about any ceratopsid ever discovered. If there's an angry herd of Achelousaurus between the party and their goal, what to do? It's like dealing with rhinos equipped with giant snapping beaks and spikety things. Have fun, folks!

Of course, one doesn't have to be obvious when introducing the beasts to a game. Don't call them "dinosaurs"; if they have familiar names, don't use those either. If the name is usual enough one might be able to get away with it -- the citipati posted here on this blog is, after all, simply the oviraptorid without being called out as a "dinosaur".

Or, taking a different tack altogether, maybe dinosaurs are the "dragons" of the game setting. Maybe certain species are intelligent, casting spells and -- if they survive past a certain point -- living effectively forever. Others might be terrifying brute beasts of elemental power (and, yes, possessing breath weapons! imagine a Trexie that breathed fire or acid), terrorizing the countryside and descending upon hapless villages, possibly in packs or herds ... even descending from the air, on two feathery wings or four (Velociraptor-sized Microraptors, anyone?), to cling and claw and bite.

And then there's the various possibilities of the undead ~

Monday, April 4, 2011

C: A Chapel of Bones

A rather shorter post than the previous two, due to circumstances: but still --

I like small, compact spaces for adventures, or to use as adventure hooks. Whether it's microdungeons or above-ground buildings, I'm not terribly picky; small locales allow me to customize to my heart's content and still keep the gaming time to something short enough for two people with erratic schedules to be able to pull off.

One thing I really like to tinker with -- although I haven't many concrete examples at the moment -- are chapels, shrines and small temples. These are often in ruins or at least run down, but not always ...

And then there is the chapel of bones.

The Sedlec Ossuary has been the inspiration for a number of skeletal chapels and temples over the years. Sometimes it has been the lair of a necromantic cult, or the focus-point of a lich's rituals (that one, alas, more background than anything else); it has also been a bleached ivory and delicate cathedral inhabited by blood-drinking creatures that are not quite vampires.

At other times, the chapel of bones has been a blessed place where the dead may be assured of never rising, where any unliving creature trapped behind it's doors loses its unliving curse with the rising sun. Or the chapterhouse of a band of hunters dedicated to putting the undead to rest, their bones consecrated and purified -- and used as weapons, if need be.

Why yes, this has essentially be a post entirely about one of my favorite bits of unusual architecture ;3

Saturday, April 2, 2011

B: Beginnings -- what works best for your game?

Aah, the rustle of fresh unmarked character sheets. The clatter of dice as they hit the table (if one is using dice), the rulebooks scattered about, the grumbling as one loses every pencil in reach to curious cats within five minutes of starting. It's character-making time!

While one could post happily about what character generation methods are preferred and/or "optimal" -- when a game offers more than one generation method -- that's not what this entry is about. Rather two different topics are going to be brushed on, those being beginning "experience" and beginning background ... or lack thereof.

What level of experience -- be it in levels, character generation points allowed, or what have you -- is one of those crucial factors for a newly started game that is often overlooked. After all, the beginning is the beginning, right? Crank out those first-level mooks and lets start after those giant rats, folks! Go go go! And, speaking as someone who loves the low levels in D&D (that's what this blog is geared towards, after all ~), I think there's a great deal to be said about starting right from ground level as it were. There's a hell of a lot of character development that can be had so long as said character survives, of course.

But what about a group that wants to begin with established heroes/villains/adventurers/sheep? Is there something somehow "badwrong" about beginning characters at a higher level or, as in Shadowrun say, with a greater allotment of resources with which to make a fresh character -- can't that character have just as much depth and development as a baseline character?

Of course they can, says I. There's no magic line of death that says "You Must Be Below This XP Or You Will Never Be A Good Starting Character". However, for an experienced starting PC to be believable, at least in my experience, that boost in beginning competence must be backed up by a certain level of background detail explaining just where that experience came from. One does not just mysteriously start out in life as a crack sharpshooter/well-known mercenary/budding master arcanist/head of a small priory, after all; it all has to come from somewhere, and that somewhere is likely to require at least a bit more detail than the stereotypical youngster fresh off the farm or out of lessons.

(well, unless you're playing the original Dark Sun. but starting at third level isn't the same thing when it's assumed that those levels are just a reflection of how only the strong manage to survive to adventuring age ;3)

This brings us up to subject number two, which is: how much detail is needed in a beginning character's background? Of course this is an even more subjective topic, and one could simply wave a hand and say "as much as the GM requires" or some other such bland commentary, but I personally would say that unless the game is planned to be a meat grinder at least a sketch of a background is a Good Thing. Name, description, age, I-came-from-here-and-did-this-and-this-is-why-I'm-killing-monsters-to-take-their-stuff -- that's a bare minimum. Some further goal, however sketchy, is appreciated; I like to see it when players give me character information and I try to encourage it, because it shows an interest in their characters as more than just stats on a page (and it gives me convenient hooks). If a character is more experienced, I want to see more details -- because I want to know where that experience came from.

It's not necessary to fill in every hole, of course; some of the most fun can come from developments in-game, even background developments ("The trauma of the goblin invasion made my mage suppress that his cousin was taken by them! Now he's guilt-ridden -- and wants to kill the goblins bad!").

At the other end of the spectrum are the beginnings that take up pages and pages of lovingly-crafted detail. These sorts of characters are sometimes mocked in gamer circles, but (as exasperating as it can be for some of us when we haven't asked for them) they have their own place and some gaming groups prefer that level of informational detail. At that, many freeform roleplay groups positively dote on pages-long beginning backgrounds and it is here that such information is especially useful, because it offers the chance to codify the abilities of the character usually offered by hard numbers in "traditional" rpgs.

So, all that being said -- where do you like your beginnings to begin?

Friday, April 1, 2011

A: Anime and D&D

A dreaded word in some gaming circles, to be sure; and one welcomed with open arms by others, my own included. We're all a great pile of anime fans and there's seldom a game that goes by that doesn't draw on an easter-egg or three buried into a scenario. (perhaps mercifully for all involved, said easter-eggs are seldom quite as blatant as this unless we've chosen to do so quite deliberately ...) If we ever managed to get a mecha -- or any kind of scifi -- game off the ground it would be even more prevalent, because we're like that.

Taken all together this is why there's two shelves of Exalted and one of Dream Pod 9-published books here in the hamster lair. Oh and Shadowrun, because Shadowrun can be very scifi anime-ish if you pick the right series as inspiration. (we like Gundam Wing, go figure.)

What I don't quite understand is the almost knee-jerk reaction against anime and manga influence that can sometimes be encountered, especially as that reaction has in my experience almost always been wrapped up in a complaint that 3.x D&D is "anime".

Um, what?

Ten years on and then some and that's one label I still cannot understand for the life of me. Because there's ... well frankly, even ignoring that there's no one "anime" genre, there's not really anything in 3.x that screams "anime" to me. If you want that, go look for Exalted as an example; there's umpteen different flavours to choose from in that kitchen sink of a game. But 3.x is pretty fairly "anime"-less, and not even the infamous big swords really changes that, big swords not being unknown otherwise, and all. The aesthetic at work reminded and reminds me more of Western video games and modern fantasy, but one's mileage may vary.

On the other hand there have been a few series which have their roots in roleplaying games and D&D in particular, the most well-known of which is surely the novel series-turned-manga-and-anime Record of Lodoss War -- which originally stemmed from play transcripts of a 1e AD&D group. One of these days I'll actually go digging around and see how many series I like have roots in roleplaying games; it would likely be an entertaining little experiment.

... and then there's that little itch at the back of my head that says I'd love to run a game even tangentially based on Bastard!!, which would kind of bring things full circle --