Monday, September 30, 2013

30 Days of Dungeons & Dragons Day 30

Day 30 - Best DM You've Had

Is my wife reading this? Okay honey then it's you!

My wife is a good DM, but I'll make a confession...there's only one game I ever think of when I think back to "games I have enjoyed" and it was put on by my friend Terry back in my Tucson days. He wanted to try DMing, but had little experience. That said, he did a great straight-forward adventure involving my paladin hunting down an errant lich, and it was a damned good game.

My wife once ran an adventure in 4E in which I was a mage looking for mysteries of an ancient ruin in the deep north, while being harried by angry kobolds. I liked that one a lot, too.

That's it for the 30 Day D&D Challenge! Coming up Next: The Month of Halloween Returns! Can I manage a 31 day schedule for that month, or will I stick to an every-other day format like I normally do? Time will tell!

(Hint: I will write blogs in clusters; I had days most of the blogs for September written and pre-loaded on day one, and the rest finished a week later; if I tried to just write one a day I'd never get it done! Gotta use the time when I have it. As I write this it is Sept. 9th, and I have blogs pre-loaded daily through 10/3...)

Sunday, September 29, 2013

30 Days of Dungeons & Dragons Day 29

Day 29 - what is the number I always seem to roll on a D20?

To me: it's usually 1 less than the target I need to make that saving roll or hit that monster/PC/whatever.

To my players: they'd say I seem to hit 20 a lot!

Saturday, September 28, 2013

30 Days of Dungeons & dragons Day 28

Day 28 - A character I will never play again

Hmmmm.....there are tons of characters I'll never play again, probably because they are all dead or retired....but I guess if we're thinking in terms of archetypes, then I'll probably continue to avoid the "cheap comedy relief" character. Not that I don't include NPCs that are intended to offer a bit of levity, rather that I would never include a character who is there to suffer the role of fool to the detriment of any other reason. In the 80's I had a tendency to include at least one NPC in my games whose purpose was to be the butt jokes; Ookai the fat, bumbling orc warrior was a favorite of mine. Many years later I made amends for poor Ookai and brought him back as an NPC with a bit of depth, estranged son of an orc warlord who neither wanted the power of his father nor the evil nature of his kinfolk, and just wanted to enjoy a good pie....okay, so maybe I didn't totally make it up to him!

Friday, September 27, 2013

30 Days of Dungeons & Dragons Day 27

Day 27 - A character I want to play in the future

I'd really like to play a witch in Pathfinder, or maybe an inquisitor with a bit of the Solomon Kane vibe. If I ever got a chance to play in a 4E campaign with a DM I coud tolerate (I've had some awful experiences with 4E as a player) then I'd try a warden out, or default to my favorite class, the warlock. In 1st edition I'd love to try an assassin, as I never ran one as a player before. In 2E I always loved paladins and bards, but would love to try a really exotic priest of specific mythoi some day. In 3rd edition there were so many choices....probably try out the 3E warlock sometime, though!

I also love this image, would base something on it:

In terrms of personality....I usually work that out on the spot, so I don't have any hard personality for a prospective future PC to speak of....though it would probably be brooding, or sarcastic, and have a flip side (like a wizard who wanted to be a warrior or a warlock who doesn't like consorting with demons).

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Cryptworld, the game formerly known as Chill returns plus Astounding Adventures Astounds!

As my blog methodically chruns out my "30 Days of D&D" posts I have a confession: I've hardly been present throughout the process! I've been working my ass off....almost literally (but not really, still a desk job) and all of my "30 Days" blogs plus a few more were pre-loaded nearly a month ago.

The new job is demanding...very demanding, but the risk/reward ratio is high in a good way. Potential failure and doom? Check. Awesome pay-out and long-term gain? Check. Either way, it's kept me up to my eyeballs in the mundane world and away from more trivial amusements like blogging.

That said, I am still accruing various books in my "to be read" shelf, and within the last two days I acquired copies of both Cryptworld and Astounding Adventures. Cool stuff! I really love AA, have been reading it since I returned home, and it's exactly what a BRP fan would want out of a pulp adventures sourcebook. Cryptworld is a resurrection of classic 1st edition Chill from pacesetter under a slightly different name....and if you're a fan of classic movie monsters and Hammer horror films, then Cryptworld is absolutely for you. It's also a full game in only 90 pages, which is the sort of miracle only Goblinoid Games can pull off. Use it with Rotworld for extra zombie goodness, too!

I was disappointed with Atomic Cthulhu, I admit....but Astounding Adventures more than makes up for it. A good utility book for GMs running pulp tales.

There comes a time when one has to admit, "I will absolutely buy --and play-- anything Goblinoid Games puts out." I passed that time with Starships & Spacemen 2nd edition, but Cryptworld just hammers the point home. Daniel Procter is akin to a classic gaming god, whose portfolio includes the domains of "Eighties Geek Coolness" and "Retro Gaming."

30 Days of Dungeons & Dragons Day 26

Day 26 - Favorite Non-Magic Item

I imagine that ten foot poles, torches, rope and such will make it in here. I will personally suggest that the most interesting of the mundane items out there was for me the pitons & hammer. As a kid I remember reading "pitons & hammer" and running off to figure out what the devil a piton was. After looking it up I proceeded to recquire any of my players who were trying to scale sheer surfaces and cliffs must be equipped with such to do so.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

30 Days of Dungeons & Dragons Day 25

Day 25 - Favorite Magic Item

I tend to stick certain magic items in most campaigns (bags of holding, true-seeing devices, the occasional Deck of Many Things). But there is one device I love, but have used only once: The Apparatus of Kwalish. This bizarre artifact is just weird and cool. And it requires more than a little work by the players to figure out. The version I like best was the one described in 2E's Book of Artifacts. This artifact is an excellent way to get the players into some aquatically deep action:

The Apparatus is only the runner-up though. My true favorite, the book which has been the center of entire campaigns, is the legendary Codex of the Infinite Planes itself....this device is the lynchpin of many events in my Chirak campaign, the source of desire for liches and wizards everywhere and a general thorn in everyone's side, as well as an artifact that curses players who cannot resist using it!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

30 Days of Dungeons & Dragons Day 24

Day 24 - Favorite Energy Type

Negative Energy! Sometimes also called necrotic energy. But my penchant for undead makes this a shoe-in. Plus, I love the concept of the negative energy plane and its many nearly unattainable mysteries (i.e. the city of Moil). The concept of a energy which steals life is just plain cool. I put the positive energy plane in as a close second, with its ability to fill things with so much life that they explode....

As a player though I am partial to the purging, cleansing power of fire!

Monday, September 23, 2013

30 Days of Dungeons & Dragons Day 23

Day 23 - Least Favorite Monster Over All

I have quite a few monsters I hardly ever use, but very few I just avoid using in general. Hell, I've even found a place for the flumph (or at least the Pathfinder version!)

I suppose I do admit to having no love for the lava children, though. I mean....yeesh....what on earth does one actually do with a lava child??? I know Paizo revised this raced as well, maybe I'll take a look at it and see if it, too, can be redeemed.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

30 Days of Dungeons & dragons Day 22

Day 22 - Favorite Monster Over All

This is a hard one to choose, since I have so many. That said, there are a few creatures I tend to favor over all others and I think this honor goes to....the Lich!

Liches are the personification of the mad mage seeking power at the cost of his own mortal coils, or on occasion such wizards seeking any means necessary by which to extend their own unnatural lives indefinitely. Liches can on rare occasion be good (the good lich was a rare thing that first manifested in 2E) but far more often they are irredeemably evil. In most editions they are nothing to sneeze at, major foes that are manipulating behind the scenes and the battle with a lich is usually quite deadly.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

30 Days of Dungeons & Dragons Day 21

Day 21 - Favorite Dragon Color/Type

Hmmmm....while red dragons come in close, they are almost edged out slightly be shadow dragons. The shadow dragon has served as a principle villain in more than a few of my campaigns (though so has the red!) so I guess I'll make it a tie.

Most notable red dragon of my games was Rovas, the guardian of the vessel of Tiamat, a colossal ancient red.

Most notable shadow dragon appeared recently as the guardian of the Pillar of Eternity, the Nightwyrm.

Friday, September 20, 2013

30 Days of Dungeons & dragons Day 20

Day 20 - Favorite monster (humanoid/natural/fey)

Would orcs count here? I've spent a lot of time in each of my campaign setting making orcs interesting and different. In Chirak orcs were created from the spilt blood of Shaligon, thirteen armed god/goddess of darkness and chaos. Every few hundred years their deity changes gender aspects; when Shaligon is in feminine form the orc clans are matriarchal and rule with cunning and deception. When Shaligon changes to masculine form the orcs rise up in arms as a patriarchal class of warlords seize power and take action against surface dwellers. In Lingusia orcs are an agglomeration of beast traits created by their dark god Baragnagor, and are driven by chaos to serve as the eternal armies of the Champion of Chaos, finding a measure of control only when that dark champion is subdued and between reincarnations. In Enzada orcs are called the Sarnathans, and they were created by the ancient Inhridan Empire out of elvish stock to make the perfect genetically engineered fighting force.

So yeah....I love my orcs!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

30 Days of Dungeons & Dragons Day 19

Day 19 - Favorite Monster (elemental or plant)

This one is easy: I love the Shambling Mound! Giant Man Thing/Swamp Thing vibe going on with a heaping mass of faunal waste, I even made a Spelljammer version called the Black Shambler comprised of alien plants from the depths of space. They're just dangerous and creepy.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

30 Days of Dungeons & Dragons Day 18

Day 18 - Favorite Immortal (Outsider/Immortal)

I like a lot of planar monsters but I guess I've had the most fun with the Succubus over time. Most of the succubi who have appeared in my campaign end up being long term foes with names, usually manipulating behind the scenes or engaging the players in a duel with words (seeking to convince the players that they're not as righteous as they think they are) to get their way.

I never liked how 4E made the succubus a devil....she shall always remain a demon in my settings.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

30 Days of Dungeons & Dragons Day 17

Day 17 - Favorite Monster (animal/vermin)

Hmmm I admit to being partial to swarms of vermin, especially rats, bats and spiders. Not sure I have a favorite, the animal category I'd stick horse, simply because I like to take the time to make sure each player's horse has a bit of a personality (as horses are prone to having) so that when a threatening monster or trap appears that could slaughter the horse the players often feel a greater attachment to the beast.

Monday, September 16, 2013

30 Days of Dungeons & Dragons Day 16

Day 16: Favorite Aberration

Such a hard one to choose from! Beholders, Mind Flayers, Hook Horrors, Gibbering Mouthers, Neh-Thagglu.....well, there is one my players would suggest I am most fond of, though. And that one would be the...


It may have been because I liked the idea of a tentacled, beaked floating brain monster. Or maybe it was the idea of lighting-spear-toting colonial grell in Spelljammer, but I've used grell...a lot...over the years. In my heyday of miniatures collecting I could field forty grell on the map, easily.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Y'know, there are a lot of modules out for 5E now...(oh and skills are back in)

I've been pouring over all that has manifested for, around or in relation to 5th edition D&D and suddenly realized that for a game which isn't technically out yet, and for which the playtest is in constant flux, there really is a ton of actual content for use with it right now in one form or another:

There's the playtest packet itself which contains The Caves of Chaos, The Mines of Madness, The Isle of Dread, Reclaiming Blingdenstone and the Mud Sorcerer's Tomb.

There's the S-Series Dungeons of Dread which has a full stat-block 5E booklet available in the playtest packet.

There's the A-Series Secret of the Slavers modules which includes a new lead-in and also has a fully statted enhancement for use with 5E in the playtest packet.

There's The Ghosts of Dragonspear Castle which was a GenCon exclusive but due to my contacts I got a copy without paying an arm and a leg. It has four more modules and the rules inside are as current as the June playtest packet. I haven't had as much time to read it as I'd like (see earlier posts bitching about why) but what I have read has piqued my interest and tempted me to move the book from the "collectible" pile to the "use it" pile.

Lastly there's Murder in Baldur's Gate, which I picked up this weekend and which has a downloadable enhancement for 5E (as well as 4E and 3E). Speaking of which it's a pretty cool module....more than half of it is just campaign content on Baldur's Gate, and a generally cool resource at that. My only complaint with it is the books could have used heavier cardstock covers instead of the flimsy magazine covers they actually have.

So all in all that's 19 modules ready for use with D&D 5th edition. Not bad for a game which hasn't even settled down in its development cycle yet!

In Mike Mearls' latest post he outlines the return of a more specific set-rank skill system that from the description sounds like it will work well for everyone except those who wanted no skill system at all., if I can just see some multi-classing rules...

30 Days of Dungeons & Dragons Day 15

Day 15: Favorite Monster (Undead)

This one's easy. Although I might group the lich, huecuva or even death knight (or grave knight if you wish) up there, I admit to having a real soft spot for the serial-killer returned from the dead, the Mohrg:

My Wednesday group sincerely hopes they put the last of the mohrg down....unlikely!

Saturday, September 14, 2013

30 Days of Dungeons & Dragons Day 14

Day 14: Favorite NPC

In my stable of NPCs I have a vast array of characters that I like to pull from. Some of my favorites include Moloron the inquisitive tiefling warlock who had the audacity to harness the power of a god in torpor, or Phyxillus the elvish empress of Hyrkania who was as prone to drawing blade and book to solve her realm's problems as she was to outsource the job. My favorite NPC in a long time, though, is Lady Poe.

Lady Poe is a background villain, and not the sort of woman to seek out an active conflict if she can avoid it. She's rules her realm of Kasdalan for centuries, after banning the practice of magic among men, and had given birth to dozens of daughters (boy children are usually put to death). He goal: a hegemony of female sorcerers who rule with an iron fist. Her failure? Her first love, the wizard (and something more) named Zam Redar.

Lady Poe is meant to be the wicked witch, the evil queen, the vicious sorceress and the conniving love interest who betrays the protagonist all in one package. She once angered a party of adventurers so much that they methodically tried to hunt down her daughters one by one just to spite here. She's largely behind the scenes, but her presence is always felt when someone gets too close to her sphere of influence.

Friday, September 13, 2013

30 Days of Dungeons & Dragons Day 13

Day 13: Favorite Trap/Puzzle

This is a hard one, because I am fond of a few specific tombs known as the Grimtooth's Trap series and it would be hard to pick just one from among so many. If I had to choose, though, I would say it was probably this one, which worked to great effect the three times so far I have deployed it:

I like that day 13 had this question, feels appropriate!

What I'm Purchasing...

I want to say "what I'm reading" but I haven't had much time for reading anything lately. I did miraculously manage to run a BRP modern zombie one-shot for an old friend and his girlfriend this weekend, who is spanking new to RPGs (the girlfriend, not the old buddy). We got a convert, and I had a great time playing something that was not Pathfinder for once...! I think I've been running too much Pathfinder. But it was nice to play a game with very mortal, fallible characters trying hard to survive terrible circumstances, and for whom something as simple as a zombie bite was a big deal.

I got Runequest Monster Island in print along with Conspiracy X 2.0: Conspiracies in the mail from at last. Excellent! I shall now add them to my enormous pile of "to be read soon" followed by adding them to my "wish I could find time and players to run games for soon" pile.

That pile includes Numenera, as well as the first three releases for Void. I've actually been plowing through Void a's got all the bells and whistles I want and is an easy read. Not sure I'd qualify it as "hard SF" though the Cthulhu part is spot on. Hard SF doesn't just mean "we lack FTL and it's set in our solar system." Hard SF also means things like "researching how we could theoretically colonize Venus in a manner consistent with the time, effort and cost of a near-future society is likely to invest in such an effort." Underground cities on Venus are actually a much costlier and more difficult undertaking than one could conceivably imagine, and any hard SF future might look more realistically at something in orbit, or the atmosphere instead....but in the universe of Void they've got underground colonies on Venus. There are other examples, but this one annoys me (would have helped if they'd tried to explain why underground colonies on Venus were cheaper in the Voidverse to make than orbital or atmospheric colonies). Despite issues like this I do like Void and what it sets out to do.*

With work in such a state of flux (long story short I jumped ship from one employer to another who made me a more compelling offer, but with the caveat that I was going to earn every penny) it may be a while before I get any reading done, but we shall see....

*It's also worth noting that I realize that a hard SF fan's objections are extremely particular, bordering on the pedantic in contrast to what a more ordinary SF fan might worry about. To this I say "don't use the hard SF label unless you're ready to be judged by it." But Void isn't that bad, it just has little things that annoy. So far.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

30 Days of Dungeons & Dragons Day 12

Day 12: Favorite Dungeon Type/Location

This one is easy. I have a tendency to favor tombs and mausoleums, necropolises and ancient barrow mounds....anything you tend to find someone buried in, in other words. Evil temples are probably a close second. Probably the least common dungeon in my games is an actual ordinary dungeon, the sort you find beneath a castle and intended to hold prisoners. 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Blogs I like - DM David & Tobold

It started with Tobold talking about DM David's site, and turned into me really enjoying an earnest site dedicated to the latest edition of D&D (5th) without a hint of malice, pretension or anything other than genuine interest and enjoyment. I really, really like this blog and hope I can find more like it.

Speaking of Blogs I like, I enjoy Tobold's quite a bit as well. It's a bit like mine: a mix of D&D and computer gaming, but Tobold makes some great posts and likes to occasionally stir the pot a bit, especially with the MMO blogging crowd.

30 Days of Dungeons & Dragons Day 11

Day 11: Favorite Adventure I have Run

I've run a lot of self-made scenarios, and tend to favor them. I have actually run a fair number of the older 1E modules, including the Slavers Series, Secret of Bone Hill, Keep on the Borderlands, Tomb of Horrors, White Plume Mountain, Castle Amber, and others I have since forgotten about.

Of all the published modules I have run, I think the one I had the most fun as a GM with was this:

Aside from putting the legacy of Acererak and his vile tomb in to a larger context, it added some other evil places and notions to the mix, including an evil necromantic city of bones and the lost city of Moil and its legacy...and of course a replica copy of the original ToH module.

 I ran this campaign module for many, many sessions and my players and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

30 Days of Dungeons & Dragons Day 10

Day 10: Craziest thing that's happened that I saw

This is another tough one, because as GM I've seen a lot of crazy stuff but I feel it's not fair to include stuff I orchestrated or expected, so I'm going to look instead to things my players did which utterly surprised me and even derailed the entire anticipated outcome of an event. These are the moments I love best, when the players come up with a solution that changes everything, and keeps me on my toes (and I never railroad, I actively encourage these sorts of things):

I think the moment I most enjoyed came when I was running Runequest a few years ago and the players, who had been working in Pelegar, a demon-haunted land in western Chirak, toward stopping the malevolent incursion of some chaos god named Molabal from escaping the Plane of Dreams into the mortal world. The players had established that Molabal had been imprisoned for eons in his demiplane, and was the cause of much of the corruption and madness in the land. His minions in the mortal plane, led by choronzon demns and lamia, were intending to free him so he could rule the world or do whatever it was he had been thwarted from doing so many eons back.

When the players reached the point of confrontation, where they could effectively fight to seal the prison bonds of Molabal once more, while the chaos lord sought to diplomatically convince them his freedom was a good idea and his lamia minions tried to carve up any who would interfere with his escape, the players, rather than fight, went into negotiation mode. In a surprising turn of events (because I'm used to players seeing my suave silver-tongued villains as objects to destroy) the players suddenly got this wild idea that they really didn't...couldn't....pass judgement on the chaos lord. Sure, he may be a bad guy in some ways....but freeing him literally meant freeing their land from the pallor of madness his imprisonment had cast upon it, and while he may walk freely in the world once more, other, bigger heroes could take him down, they rationalized.

So in the end they literally freed him of his shackles and helped him get out, in exchange for his leaving them all alone so they could settle down as wealthy men in Pelegar. It was...shocking. It was like Frodo had taken the ring to Sauron and given it to him, on the reassurance that Sauron would leave the Shire alone.

Needless to say, I was perplexed but delighted. The entire conclusion to that campaign created two more campaign arcs that I used for future games, one of which included another group of adventurers who at last had to put Molabal down for good, and had to travel both backwards and forward in time to do it, witnessing his imprisonment, escape and his attempt to destroy the world by merging it with the Far Realm in the process. This, of course, is why the unexpected actions of players can lead to true greatness, and a wealth of additional plot ideas!

Monday, September 9, 2013

Nancy Sinatra - You Only Live Twice - The SF Video

I really like this music video...

"You Only Live Twice" - Nancy Sinatra from Wildlife on Vimeo.

30 Days of Dungeons & Dragons Day 9

Day 9: Favorite Character I haven't Played

This one looks easy on the surface but in truth it's a bit hard. I'm interpreting it to mean "a character one of my cohorts has played, which I was impressed by." There are a few worth mentioning...such as my sister's character from back in the day, the wood elf thief and mage Womie who stole from the gods and anyone else he could. There's my friend Mark's many characters, including his most recent, the barbarian half-orc Skullcrusher. There was Maretz the CoDzilla from 2006, or Jeff's Marlonius Kord, madman fighter with a chaotic taint. So many cool characters over the years!

Of all the amazing characters I've seen in action I will give this honor to my friend Dave's Mardieur Mardieux, the dirge-singing tattooed Huron Minotaur of Chirak, a ranger by profession and ex-slave making his way throughout the world of Chirak with his axe and wits to guide him. Mardieur started in 1996 with the AD&D 2nd edition revival of Chirak, and remained a principle character in almost every Chirak game through 2005. Mardieur had a very good run, and was semi-retired (sort of, his journey technically awaits a continuation) at level 27, with some multi-classing into wizard, and a divine zodiac stone in his possession.

Mardieur Mardieux had the following cool features:

1. big hair minotaur, who tattooed himself with memories of particularly impressive victories
2. sang dirges while battling to aid the freshly slain on their speedy journey to the afterlife
3. founded "Villa Mardieu," in Mercurios, a winery and hospice for wayward adventurers
4. Owned the Cannadad Dei for much of his career before giving it to allies and taking off on foot
5. Came to possess the Akquinarios Stone, and began the path of the avatar toward godhood
6. Was killed mid-career and his body possessed by the spirit of the betrayer god Minhauros; his soul was captured and given to the lich Halistrak as a gift; Mardieur and his cohorts had to spend a year in captivity learning how to convince the errant familiar of the lich to release their souls into unformed homunculi bodies to allow them to come back to life (and seek revenge)...this was a huge plot twist and I lost one player over it
7. late in life once took on a colossal scorpion and killed it in 2 rounds; once took on 400 orcs lead by 12 level 20 warlords and killed them in four rounds

Sunday, September 8, 2013

30 Days of Dungeons & Dragons Day 8

Day 8: Favorite Character You Have Played

This is a tricky one, and I assume it means "played as a player" because I have countless NPCs I've handled over the decades, and I mostly GM. That said, I have played a few characters of note...

I think my fourth favorite character was a very simple one, a polearm warrior from 2E named Lakuna Helbyrn. She was a tough, no-nonsense warrior woman with a halberd who wore lots of black, kept her hair short, and survived multiple tournament adventures over different conventions. She was an anrgy man-hater with probably more than a little Red Sonja in her. I made a version of her in "Pool of Radiance" as well (along with Rik Kochet below).

There was Erik the Paladin, who also got co-opted as an NPC later on, who played in my friend Terry's brief games as he tried to DM (and did a good job at it) chasing down a mad lich in the Forgotten Realms. He was a noble idealist, typical paladin, for whom the moral vision of the world was black and white.

There was the gnome halberdier (yes, a gnome with a halberd) from my 1E days named Rick Kochet (groan please) who was noted for charging everything with his polearm flailing about. I was later allowed to revive him for a short Pathfinder campaign a few years ago, though I admit to being largely less interested in that game than I once was....I've found that my enjoyment as a player is far, far lower in recent years; GMing is where it's at for me, I've done it too long to feel otherwise.

Of all of them though my first and most favorite was Gilrad, who started as a 1st edition fighter and bounced between being an NPC and a player character for me. He was one of two survivors of a whole team of adventurers in the caves of chaos. He was a burly blonde barbarian of the north, who over the years encountered a temple to the god Death itself and was given the sword Rishelka, the Ruby Death (Nine Lives Stealer), subsequently prompting him to dual-class into cleric. He was mostly an NPC by my 2nd edition days, but I played him whenever I could for years in the eighties. He was a cypher for Fafhrd, Conan, Kane and other prominent literary heroes I admired in my youth, and he was effectively my first D&D character. He's still out there somewhere, an avatar of the god Death, deathless thanks to the Immortality Stone, and maybe way past due for a guest appearance. Admittedly, he tends to stay out of sight these days because as GM I am keenly aware he'd be something of a darling and a show-stealer, so better for him to work surreptitiously in the background as a patron for younger, fresher heroes!

Saturday, September 7, 2013

30 Days of Dungeons & Dragons Day 7

Day 7: Favorite Edition

This can be a tricky one, because there are merits to every edition, and people tend to favor the ones they got the most out of over time. I like each edition of D&D for different reasons, but I have to say that it was AD&D 2nd edition that was the version which I got the most mileage out of over time. Even though I am no longer so enamored with it, it's still the edition that I played the most (at least until 3rd edition, combined with my time in Pathfinder). Why?

2nd edition AD&D was the version that started looking at the broader picture of fantasy gaming. It wasn't just about dungeons, it tried to shed some of the more stoic and crusty mechanics of 1st edition and utilized a style that was more appealing to people who were interested in gaming and enjoying the story as much or more than crunching numbers on their character sheet. I've heard 2E criticized for dumbing down the text a bit, but honestly I enjoyed the more readable and easy-to-use, easy-to-reference approach to 2E. The fact that AD&D 2nd edition cleaned it up so much, made it easy to was a huge, huge bonus. It was a game that demanded less effort to master than its predecessor and other contemporaries (in retrospect I have to scratch my head at what possessed me to run Dragonquest for a whole year, for example!)

2nd edition introduced the idea of multiple settings for D&D, a different flavor to cater to different audiences. Ravenloft as a setting, Spelljammer, Planescape....all AD&D 2E. It also introduced bad business practices (thanks Lorraine), or at least accelerated them. The novel lineup for AD&D got dramatically more robust in this period.

When 3rd edition arrived it was time for a clean-up. AD&D 2E was getting crusty by then, and the game was getting too convoluted in the post-Player's Option era of expansions. That said, 3E introduced its own set of problems with mechanics that despite an aim toward a unified resolution mechanic remained as arcane as ever. All I really wanted out of 3rd edition was "2E, but with better multi-classing options." 3E did introduce a lot of new concepts I ended up embracing....but it never felt quite as accessible and easy as 2E, and only got worse over time as the char-op mini-game permanently changed the way D&D was played.

Friday, September 6, 2013

30 Days of Dungeons & Dragons Day 6

Day 6: Favorite Deity

This is a hard one, because if there's something I have a bad habit of doing it's manufacturing entire pantheons (when I'm not slaughtering said pantheons in the name of a good setting). The world of Lingusia setting has around a hundred deities over several pantheons. My Chirak setting is full of dead gods but lots of avatars and demiurges trying to steal their lost power. Enzada is a setting built on the premise of all the deities, everywhere....hundreds, maybe thousands of gods ranging from cosmic lords of chaos to petty kitchen deities of curdled milk. My under-exposed Irkalla campaign is focused entirely on old Sumerian deities. The Sarvaelen campaign has one official deity and a plethora of mythoseque old gods.

All that said, if I had to choose, I guess I'd go with Hermes, the Greek messenger god.

Why? Well, from 1981 through 1992ish Hermes was part of the patchwork pantheon of my original Lingusia campaigns, primarily as an instigator, messenger and also patron of thieves and tricksters. He was the patron deity of my sister's favorite character, and often intervened at odd moments to provide clues and minor assistance to the adventurers, being a deity who by his nature was allowed to interact directly with mortals without consequence (the old days of Lingusia emphasized a sort of Cold War between the gods of order and chaos, and if one were to intervene with mortals on one side, the other could retaliate in turn; Hermes was for odd reasons considered exempt).

Hermes is also a good example of a somewhat whimsical god, one who is allowed a certain measure of kindness and almost a trickster god, but without the usual baggage that comes with the label. He's usually on the side of mortals, and actually works to aid man against the uncaring habits of his fellow deities. Hermes is cool, in other words.

I need to bring him back into the game again, someday. Hmmm.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Movie Review: Riddick


First off, I liked it. And as a bona fide Riddick/Vin Diesel junkie who has watched all of the movies many times and played the games through twice, you can assume I am biased. That said, I think this movie did a lot right.

I can summarize Riddick pretty quickly: Vin Diesel and David Twohy realized that the coolest stuff from the prior films and games were "hostile fauna," "treacherous shit hole worlds," and "mercenaries who HAAAAATE Riddick with a passion." Then someone said let's put Hawkeye AND Starbuck in...and an impressive CGI alien dog that steals half the film, and lo' there was movie magic.

The actual story starts with Riddick in bad shape, dumped on an alien world with a lot of hostile wildlife. it quickly summarizes how he got here from his last appearance (and neatly wraps a bow around the Necromongers and sends them packing) then proceeds to give us a lot of Riddick doing what he does best: surviving against all odds. Along the way he picks up a local alien canine, which quickly becomes a real darling.

Dahl - hates men but likes Bad Boys with Shivs

If you don't like Diesel as an actor, or don't like his characters, you probably won't be swayed by this movie even if I do tell you that it toys with the idea that even Riddick is fallible. What this movie does extremely well is make you want to play a down and dirty Traveller game, because this movie is a big budget CGI example of a backwater planet with an impressive array of creature encounters rolled up in detail, and filled to the brim with professional mercs, one treacherous wandering assassin and an occasional sympathetic character.

The movie isn't even just about weird SF survival horror (even when it is). It manages to flit about between surviving a hostile world, hostile mercenaries and ultimately a touch of redemption...or at least understanding. I'm not sure I fully bought in to the character arcs as presented, but it was still a fun ride to see everyone play out their weird little drama-with-guns-and-shivs.

The movie has two tropes which rear their ugly heads, one of which it deftly avoids, and the other of which it sadly spins right into. Spoiler alert, read no further! Trope avoided is a potential female love interest that is played up very quickly and then gunned down just as fast. Trope hit head on is the valiant and show-stealing alien canine which perishes while saving Riddick. I suppose you could label all the "Riddick is so 'effin cool" moments as tropes too, but let's be honest....if you didn't come to this movie expecting (and wanting) to see Riddick being cool then you might want to look at investing your ticket money more wisely.

Mental Note: stop hanging around Necromongers
I had one gripe....and it's a hard one, because my wife did not see this issue. Merc Dahl, played by Katie Sackhoff (alias Starbuck) comes of as a tough as nails, cruel, man-hating lesbian merc. During the film she gets played off as maybe less "lesbian" and more "Red Sonja," in so far as apparently she just needed a man tough enough to tame her...a bit (guess who that guy is). Part of me liked this weird personality Dahl exhibited, and part of me felt like "this is going to offend some people on the interwebz, a lot." But my wife loved her character, so what do I know.

The film ends in as open a way as you can get, as all Riddick movies do: ready for a sequel. I hope we see another one before Diesel hits retirement age, though....

So was it worth it? For me, absolutely. This is the sort of movie I desperately need to see after a gruelling week of overtime in meetings and debacles all week. I will get it on Blu-Ray and watch it several more times. When my son is old enough I will enjoy it with him, as well. Also, think I'm gonna break out Traveller and the "Animal Encounters" supplement for some SF survival planet gaming soon. This movie definitely put me in the mood!

A Boy and His Dog

30 Days of Dungeons & Dragons Day 5

Day 5: Your Favorite Set of Dice/Individual Die

This one has to go to a special gray die with black lettering that I got at a 1989 convention in Phoenix (I think) and may have been part of a set of slate gray dice. It was a die I used regularly for a couple years when I ran Cyberpunk 2020, and it always seemed to roll a 7-10. I still have that die, and although I am sure it has some air pocket causing it to skew, it's still fun to drag out on occasion.

I don't have a lot of dice stories outside of that, although I own a lot of dice, as most of us do. My favorite dice story is a long time gaming friend of mine, who still has his original gumby dice from the seventies, worn so smooth as to be almost impossible to read at times!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

30 Days of Dungeons & Dragons Day 4

Day 4: Favorite Gameworld

This is a tricky one because my favorite gameworld is one of my own creation (The Realms of Chirak), but I assume the intent is to look at published D&D worlds. Hey, waitasec, my world is published...heh...

So the Realms of Chirak. It was spawned in 1992 as a Gamma World scenario which I had worked out, in which the daring heroes of some remote town had to reach the lost City of Eristantopolis by traveling through the badlands where a mutant lord named Gaminok Makrenz lurked, a region where the mysterious lost-technology robots of a factory called the Black Dome patrolled, and eventually to the sacred city where lost knowledge of the ancients would save the town. The Gamma World game was aborted, however, and never saw actual play.

Later that year I was inspired to do a Runequest campaign (using the 3rd edition Deluxe set from Avalon Hill) and I began constructing ideas for a new setting. As I pieced the setting together, I was aiming for a very low tech environment, and I decided that I wanted the gods to be extremely low key, something behind the scenes, primarily to contrast it with my Lingusia campaign where the gods were as active, if not more so, than your typical Greek pantheon. Then I got this idea: what it this was a fantasy land that had been annihilated by an apocalypse, and there were no gods anymore? It was the world after Ragnarok! I fished out the Gamma World material for ideas, and realized I could retool the scenario I had to fit a fantasy realm. This fantasy land had a magical epoch of greatness, in which the old Clark adage of technology being indistinguishable from magic was true, but in lost magical artifacts bordered on the technological, essentially. The idea of sentient golems, which I called animates, filling the niche of robots in a typical post-apocalyptic setting was appealing as well.

By the time I was done stitching together the thematic notions of a post-apocalyptic land with a low-tech godless fantasy setting I had created a short (about 20 page long) precis for an interesting campaign setting. I produced an elaborate map, and from then on I had a decent setting into which my planned Runequest campaign could go.

That Runequest campaign was short, lasting a semester, but it sparked many more ideas for me, as I saw a lot of unrealized potential in the concepts I had toyed with in Chirak. Later on in 1996 when I had moved to Seattle I revived the world, added in more Planescape tethers to it (the damage done to the world had left a great many planar rifts in the wake of the apocalypse) and began a new campaign that started out the gate with the theft of the Manual of the Planes from a sacred library in Barcen, where the powerful and ancient book was kept under lock and key. This campaign was powered entirely by AD&D 2nd edition, and it was the first of many, many D&D-only campaigns (although Chirak was revisited by later editions of Runequest in the future).*

In case you're wondering....if I had to pick a single D&D setting that was not written and published by myself, it would be Spelljammer. The core conceit of Spelljammer was just too great for me not to tinker with, especially when I was in college and studying the history and development of philosophy, science and astronomy, and the idea of a universe powered by Ptolemaic and Aristotelian physical properties was just too cool for me not to indulge in! Plus, Beholders and Mind Flayers in giant theme ships attacking asteroid colonies defended by gun-happy Giff hippo men....what's not to love?

*I should note that I also was really into the "Mighty Fortress" historical resource for 2E at the time, and had run some historical scenarios using that book. When I revised Chirak for the 1996 game I expanded on the island kingdom of Espanea, and turned into a strong cultural and technological analog to England (Mercurios), Spain (Espanea), and France (Esterehabau) during the height of the renaissance, complete with gunpowder and advanced sailing ships. The old low-tech campaign remained entrenched in Legoras, Syrgia and elsewhere....the idea was that at the center of the setting a new budding revolution was under way, but it was centered amidst a sea of forgotten empires, fallen kingdoms and barbarians risen from the ashes.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

30 Days of Dungeons & Dragons Day 3

Day 3: Favorite Playable Class

Well, this would seem to be a question that depends on edition. I have a class or two in mind that transcend editions. I am very partial to the warlocks of 4th edition, for example, and whenever I got to play back in the 2E days I tended to favor paladins. That said, my favorite class would have to be...

...the fighter. He's basic, functional in almost any environment, and his all-purpose utility of being able to hit things, hard, and get hit a lot in return makes him the best and most efficient class for "getting the job done."

Sure, you've probably heard lots of complaints (usually in specific editions) about how his versatility is shadowed over time by the mage....but the fighter tends to remain the hero, despite the mage's impressive potential. Some versions of the fighter are also pretty impressive, and even when he's at his most threadbare his ability to dish out and take damage round after round still means that long after the spell casters are begging for a nap he's usually still ready to charge in to action.

Monday, September 2, 2013

30 Days of Dungeons & Dragons: Day 2

Question 2: Favorite Playable Race

I am torn between two....

The tiefling, because they are singularly unique to D&D in a great many ways, reflecting a racial option that is defined by the planar cosmology and all of its alaignment-coded monstrosities commingling with normal folk to create a devilish race that can fit many niches, from hapless underclass scalawags cast down from society by virtue of poor breeding to the fallen descendants of a lost empire that made a deal with devils. Tieflings are reflective of other races that have been in fantasy for a long time (deevils, for example, from Myth Adventures), but humanized and made accessible to ordinary players.

And the Gnome, because the gnomes of D&D have transcended their roots in literature and folklore to become another race singular to D&D. Gnomes can be earthy folk, tinkers of technology, alchemists, quirky, madmen, thieves, murderers, all-around nice guys and sometimes even bad-asses. Gnomes have been portrayed in many ways through D&D's history, and have been been ripped off by Blizzard when making World of Warcraft. It is a rare campaign that I run in which a gnome NPC doesn't play some importance, proving either useful or vexing to the players.

If I had to choose I'd pick tiefling by a hair.....but I hate to choose!

Sunday, September 1, 2013

30 Days of Dungeons and Dragons Day 1: How I got Started

Kicking off the idea started by Polar Bear Dreams and Stranger Things I present Question #1: How I got Started:

It was late in 1980, and I was nine years old. My parents had a keen interest in keeping myself and my younger sister occupied, for we lived on a ranch and had plenty of mischief we could get up to. My folks first bought some games, which included Dungeon, and later at a Kaybee Toys a brand new copy of the Mentzer red box Basic D&D set. My sister and I tried hard to get our father to learn how to play, but to no avail; we grasped Dungeon easily enough but the D&D Basic set seemed to make a lot of assumptions about how to play the game that were not evident to us.

Cut to October of that year and while on a trip to Santa Fe I find myself in a local toy and hobby shop off the plaza, where a copy of Gamma World is commanding my attention. I buy it, take it back to the fair where my parents are selling art (they have been artists their whole lives) and something "clicked" that night in the hotel room while reading it....don't ask me why, but for some reason Gamma World filled in the missing bits about understanding the concept of a role playing game and how it worked. I put my sister and her friends (we were all between ages 7 and 12) through a gruesome Gamma World TPK scenario involving a missile silo the next day, followed by another adventure based on the ruins of the Hilton Inn we were staying at. When we returned home I dragged out D&D Basic and proceeded to figure it out and then ran The Keep on the Borderlands (with a near-TPK in the Caves of Chaos).

So that was how I got started....indoctrinated at a very, very young age!