Magic Items Should be Magical

Once again, Creighton Broadhurst has made a post that has touched on one of my complaints with some Role Playing Games.  Magic Items aren’t magical anymore.  This is one of my many complaints about 3E and 4E D&D (see paragraphs 4 and 5).  Magic items in these games become tools, like those that one may purchase at a hardware store or thrift shop.  Magic items become less magic al because there is nothing “magical” about them.

When all magical items can be codified and cataloged and any relatively aware person can look at a magic item and know its workings, then such things become no different than the often glossed over pitons and rope at the bottom of an adventurers backpack.  Magic items should have an air of mystery about them, a mystique that make even hardened adventurers and their players just a tad wary of them.

Way back in the days of 1E, I often played fast and loose with magic items.  You probably didn’t find much more than potions before you reached 4th level, but after that, watch out!  I loved weird magic; things that the Players wouldn’t expect.  Instead of dropping a ring of invisibility into a game, I’d drop a cap of invisibility or a sword of invisibility.  My players might find a ring of fireballs, instead of a wand of fireballs.  One of my favorite magic items was the lightning stone.  It was an electric blue crystal that would build up and discharge a blast of lightning ever 500 turns (a turn was time unit equal to 10 minutes in those days).  It could be discharged early, by throwing it against a hard surface, resetting the build up time.  If my Players went several days in game time without discharging the lightning stone, I would start counting down from some random number under 20.  They would panic and start shouting at the Player whose character was carrying the stone, “Throw it!  Throw it!”  Magic Swords, I loved magic swords with unreasonable powers.  Once I gave a player a sword that could cast a 100 d6 fireball that was a mile in diameter; the catch…ground zero was the sword.  Then there was Narnfriend, a dagger that could be used to cast a power word: Kill spell.  The only problem is that the caster had to make a Saving Throw or die, too.  Magic items were fun in 1E and 2E.

Magic items lost much of their fun after 2E.  In my 3E and 4E games, most magic items were nothing more than stat enhancers.  With Feats and Skills that allowed PCs to craft, modify, or completely remake magic items based on their spell selection, 3E made it very hard to make “magical” magic items.  The rules didn’t even, really, allow a GM to make items that had curses or quirks.  There were exceptions.  Raven Al’Bari, a PC in my Divlos campaign, crafted a series of Rings that had non-standard powers.  I let a Player get a Red Cap’s red cap.  So you know, a Red Cap is a type of murderous fairy; after it kills its chosen victim, the Red Cap soaks its cap in the deceased blood.  In my game, a red cap also granted a special form of invisibility called fairie invisibility, but for the cap to retain its power, it had to be regularly soaked in the blood of the wearer’s victims.  That made for a slightly morbid scene from time to time.  That cap reappeared in my 4E game with an additional power that allowed its wearer to phase thorough material objects.  It could be done, but the rules didn’t encourage it.

My 5E games are proving more “magical” than my previous games.  The characters in my Zentlan campaign have reasons to slay the fey lord Doresh, Lord of the Fading Dream, but to do so, they need a special sword.  The crippled storm giant Gormagon forged them a sword that can damage Doresh, whether he is in Dream or in Reality.  Last game, the aquagith swordsmith, Ja’Ruhl tempered the blade so that it is silvered and does psionic, as well as, slashing damage.  The characters will need to continue to seek out famous smiths and get them to enhance the weapon until it is truly a blade worthy of fighting a Lord of the Fae.  I, also, dropped a load of items of adaption on them, but what they are going to do with those rings, torcs, and bracelets, I’m not sure.  In my Bazarene Circuit game, my Players have found a slew of elemental crystals.  They are not magical in themselves, beyond their soft glowing, but they are useful ingredients in various magical spells and items.  They have also found two Masks of the Smoke Dragon; they may need to be wary of them.

A Mask of the Smoke Dragon grants its wearer darkvision and makes him or her immune to the effects of smoke and other airborne contaminants.  It’s not too powerful of an item for a 2nd level character.  It will let a PC move through a darkened room filled with poisonous gas without any inconvenience.  End of story, right?  I have a few questions for you all, Dear Readers.  1) Who made the masks?  2) Why were the masks made?  3) What is the Smoke Dragon?  4) Is the Smoke Dragon a real entity or a magical effect?  5) What were/are the aims of the Smoke Dragon and/or its creators?  6) Are there additional enchantments on the masks that the PCs do not know about?

Until next time, Game On!

C is for Coin

Adventures rush to loot the dragon’s bed, after the dragon is dead.  Heroes, they may be, but they all run toward the demon cult’s treasury.  Before they save the princess from her fate, they must, the fee, negotiate.  Why, because money is the grease that lubricates the gears of a civilization and it is part of the Players’ reward for their PCs succeeding. (2015.04.16) (2015.05.28)

In many ways, gold (also called gold pieces, g.p., GP, or gp) is simply a score card for D&D.  The more money the PCs have, the more “magic stuff” (magic armor, enchanted weapons, raise dead spells) they can afford.  David Noonan, in a D&D Insider podcast, once said that there was no real economy in a Dungeons and Dragons Game.  The silver pieces given to the NPC baker for a loaf of journey bread are not then given to the NPC miller, so that the NPC baker can get more flour.  This is true in any Player/GM encounter.  Coin only appears in a game when the PCs have it.  (I do not count treasure listed in monster/NPC write-ups to be “in play,” since their only purpose to tell the GM what to give the PCs, if they “win.”)  It is a counter and nothing more, but it doesn’t have to be... (2015.04.16) (2015.05.28)

Each version of D&D has had a monetary system that consisted of coins of various metals and denominations.  Each version of D&D has used the gold piece (gp) as the standard unit of measure for wealth, but the rates of exchange between coins have changed.  In 1E, there was the copper piece (c.p.) which was valued at 1/10 of a silver piece (s.p.) which was equal to 1/10 of an electrum piece (e.p.), which had a value of ½ of a gold piece (g.p.), which carried a value of 1/5 of a platinum piece (p.p.).  Thus (to lift the example from page 35 of the first edition of the Players Handbook):  “200 c.p. = 20 s.p. = 2 e.p. = 1 g.p. = 1/5 p.p.”  In 2E, the ratios between the coins remained the same, but the abbreviations for the coins changed to CP, SP, EP, GP, and PP.  Money in 3E was simplified.  10 cp was equal to 1 sp, 10 sp equaled 1 gp, and 10 gp was worth 1 pp.  4E numismatistics gave use a new currency: astral diamonds (ad) and changed the conversion ratio between gold and platinum.  1 pp was, then, equal to 100 gp, while an ad was equal to 10,000 gp.  4E, clearly, saw the PCs running around with LOTS spending cash.  5E has also had its hand in fiddling with the value of a gold piece.  Now, 100 cp = 10 sp = ½ ep = 1 gp = 1/10 pp.  Sweet mercy, this is a boring paragraph.

Despite the obvious snooze factor in the previous paragraphs, coinage does not have to be simply a scorecard or boring.  Coins do not appear ex nihilo, they are products of the civilizations and cultures that produce and use them.  They are artifacts that can be used to tell stories of a lost people or give PCs clues to possible dangers in the area where the coins were found.  Differing monetary systems between neighboring nations could offer Players roleplaying opportunities.  I have tried and will try again to put such devices to use in my games.

During my 1E days, Lewis Pulsipher, in Dragon #74, suggested changing from the sometimes arcane D&D gold standard to a decimal-based silver standard that dropped electrum coins and changed the size and weight of coins, so the number of coins went from 10 to pound to about 216+ to a pound.  I changed to a silver standard and decided that there were 100 coins to pound.  Mike Magee (Gareth Eybender’s Player and designer of Elethar) took this idea and created a currency system for the elven kingdom of Elethar.

Base currency: Pyramid (silver piece)

Coinage:  1 argentel Gareth = 10 platinum Castles = 100 gold Crowns = 1000 silver Pyramids = 10000 copper Tenthmids = 100000 steel Centimids (often referred to as “cents”)

 

Eletharian currency is noted throughout Rilmorn for its purity. Counterfeiting is a capital crime in the Kingdom, and Elethar’s Intelligence Service works diligently at home and abroad pursuing those who would forge or debase the kingdom’s currency

Robert Hegwood provided some images of coins used by the Empire of Xshathrapat.  I’m going use some of those images (slightly altered) in my Pellham campaign.  I don’t know if I will attempt a return to the silver standard, since my present players seem fairly attached the standard system, but I am going to start making coins from different countries unique and attempt to use those differences to improve the feel for each region and give more depth to my setting. (2015.04.16)

I am not the only one who works on making their world’s coinage more than a counter on a scorecard.  D. at Fluer de mal has a post about currency on his world here and here and here.

Do any of you, my good readers, make use of coins to spice up your games?

Game On!

So, You’re an Adventurer (or What Makes You so Special?)

A while back, D. over at Fleur du mal linked to Rick Stump’s post Monsters of the Id on his site Don’t Split the Party.  Rick’s post begins with a digression about how many people never read the entirety of the rules set and uses an example of how he guest DMed and brought low a party of 3rd to 5th level PCs with a standard patrol encounter.  This, along with D.’s post on High Men – a subset of humanity in his game world, set me to thinking about how “heroes” became “heroes” in Rhillmoran.

I admit that until I read Rick’s post I had not read all the random encounters section on the 1E DMG and was not aware that 5 in 20 encounters in Inhabited Outdoor Areas were with patrols of fighters or rangers on horseback led by a 6th to 8th level Commander, seconded by a 4th to 5th level Lieutenant, or that these patrols included a 2nd to 3rd level Sergeant, 3 to 4 1st level men-at-arms, and 13 to 24 soldiers (See page 182, Dungeon Masters Guide © 1979).  Also, there will be either a 6th or 7th cleric or a 5th to 8th level magic user with the patrol.  This got me to reexamining other Random Encounter Matrices.  The City/Town Encounters section (pages 190-192, 194) of the DMG showed me that City Guard and City Watch encounters included fighters, clerics, and magic users and that a randomly encountered cleric could be 11th level and have 5 attendant clerics of 4th level with him or her.  Clearly, the PCs weren’t the only members of society to have adventuring classes. (2016.04.29)

In Greyhawk Adventures by James M. Ward © 1988, there is a section on beginning your campaign with 0 (zero) level characters (pages 117-126).  Using this option, nobodies can work their way up to somebodies of importance.  This is, clearly, a take on the idea that it is not one’s social class or bloodline that makes one a hero; it is one’s actions and choices that makes one a hero.  This seems so at odds with 4E and its emphasis on Epic Destinies and minions.  I seem to recall a passage about 4E fighters that said even a veteran of multiple wars would only be a 1st or 2nd level fighter (I can’t find a reference for that passage at this time).  In 1E, adventurers are defined by what they do, not by what they can do.  In 4E, adventurers are defined by what they can do; they are inherently different than the hoi polloi of the rest of creation.  What changed and why and what does it say about how I am going to develop NPCs and societies on Iolta and Thrain? (2016.04.29)

Clearly in 1E, the PCs weren’t the only people with adventuring classes, but they were the main ones going out and “adventuring.”  I don’t really know what was going on in 2E, since I treated everything as if I was still running 1E.  3E made a distinction between PC classes and NPC classes and 4E PCs were a separate breed entirely.  Ever since the implementation of the CR system, there has been a growing distinction between the PCs and everyone else.  I don’t know if that distinction still applies in 5E or not.  I still haven’t picked up the 5E DMG, so I don’t know what it says, but my reading of the DnD Next Playtest rules, the Players Handbook and the Monster Manual, I suspect that the distinction is extremely lessened, if not completely removed.  If that is not the case in D&D Official Settings, it is Rhillmoran.

For many years, I had players that assumed that every orc encounter was with an orc that had class levels.  Why because I believed that if a PC could do, so could an NPC.  The reverse is also true anything an NPC can do, a PC can learn to do, as well.  If the super evil wizard boss can cast 25 hit die fireballs, then the PC wizards who take her down can learn how she could do such magical feats.  If the PCs don’t want to make a pact with Mephistopheles, then they don’t get cast 25 hit die fireballs.

Having adventuring classes among the clearly non-adventuring populace says all sorts of things about how D&D societies work, but I am going to ignore those things for now.  What I want to focus on is why the PCs are adventurers in the first place.  Why do people with very little in common gather together in commando style groups and set out to loot ruins and do daring do?

They’re misfits, also known as Red Nose Reindeer Syndrome.  Adventurers are people who do not fit into the rest of society.  They have something in their personalities that make them outsiders in their own communities and/or even families.

They are laggards, also known as I want to Win the Lottery Syndrome.  The PCs are folks who are looking for the big score.  They will go out of their way and do more work than necessary, just get out of work.  They enter each dungeon with the hope that they will escape with a dragon’s hoard and never have to work again.

They are thrill seekers, also known as Adventurer Syndrome.  Everyday life is boring.  There are only so many cliffs one can use to base jump before base jumping gets stale.  Dungeons provide so many more thrills.  One can face horrible monsters, deadly traps, and grueling self-torture.  It’s awesome!

They are heroes, also known as They are Heroes Syndrome.  The PCs are adventurers because they are the ones who stand up and do when things need doing.  They may clothe it in terms of mercenary greed or proving one’s self or fulfilling destiny, but the PCs go into the dungeons, slay the dragons, and rescue the princes because they are the ones that will do it; they are heroes.  When the call to action has been sounded and others cannot or will not, the PCs rise and do or die trying.  The queen may be a 15th level fighter.  She may stand with her generals and soldiers and defend the city gates, she isn’t an adventurer. She isn’t going to sneak into the orc encampment and assassinate the orc cambion warlord leading the Horde.  The PCs will, because they are heroes.  It is what they do.

Game On!

 

Curses! Foiled Again! (or Gregory Should Quit Rereading Modules)

Gripe!  Gripe!  Whine!  Whine!

I been rereading some of my old modules and have discovered a GREAT way to blend C2: The Ghost Tower of Inverness with UK4: When a Star Falls and blend it with the Galen and Cataclysm event from the established history of Rhillmoran.  Hellfire and Brimstone!  I may end up in Castle Timeless after all. (2014.12.23)

Another great and terrible thing about all of this is that I can use the NPCs to expand out the people in Brie and place an established, back story NPC into a role in The Ghost Tower of Inverness.

I may have finally learned how to use modules after 30+ years of gaming!

Game On!

Post Script: It occurred to me that I need to give credit where credit is due about this post.  If D. from “Flower of Sickness” had not commented and suggested I see about adapting U1: The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh, then I wouldn’t have been looking through old modules.  Thus it is my pleasure to curse him and thank him for helping me expand and  improve my game.  If you have not checked out Fluer du mal, please do so; he’s got a really good blog. (2014.12.23)

Gnomes: The Other Dwarves (or Gregory May Need to Let Go of Old Biases)

Long time Players in my games can tell you, “There are no gnomes on Rilmorn.”  That changes tonight.  Christina, my wife, long bothered by my anti-gnome stance, has convinced me to let her and Nicki, our daughter, play a gnome bard and a gnome druid, respectively.  With their eminent appearance in a Rilmorin campaign, it is time for me to delve into the anti-gnome history of my games.

In the 1500s A.D. the alchemist Paracelsus wrote about Gnomi.  He equated them with the Pygmæi of Greek legend and classified them as earth elementals.  I would not hear about them until 1976 A.D.  In 1976, Gnomes by Wil Huygen and Rien Poortvliet (illistrator) was published.  It spawned gnotebooks and other such fripperies and they annoyed me.  I was a pretentious junior high school student, who had a rod stuck up my spine.  The inundation of gnome-related items irritated me and by the time I found D&D, gnomes were persona non-grata.

1E gnomes were uninspiring; they didn’t even appear in the size comparison illustration on page 18 of the Player’s Handbook.  They were poor cousins of the dwarves and the writers of 1E knew it.  They decided to give them an upgrade…Tinker Gnomes!  (Loyal Readers may recall how I feel about that – 4th paragraph.)  They were a joke race, even more of a joke than gully dwarves.  This trend was only acerbated by the treatment given to Tinker Gnomes in Spelljammer.  I really loathed gnomes, by this point.

I will only say Gnomes in Warcraft added to my annoyance.

When I ran my doomed Namori Campaign set on the Word of Terah, I allowed a gnome NPC in there.  He was in Quasqueton and my Players thought he was a weird dwarf or a dwarf/halfling mix.

Dungeons and Dragons 3E did little to change my perception of gnomes.  Their change of making gnomes bards, instead of illusionists left me…meh, but I did enjoy Chris Perkins’ joke in the Shackled City Adventure Path about how the illusionist gnomes of Jzadirune caught a magical disease called the Vanishing.  Ebberon’s gnomes seemed okay, but by this point I did not care.

4E gave gnomes a dark backstory and initially pulled them from the ranks of Player Characters.  Yet, when Wizards of the Coast were promoting 4E with some cool animated shorts, the gnome was a joke again.

I never got to run my players through the D&D Next adventure Reclaiming Blingdenstone, but it was set on my game world of Terah and was all about the Deep Gnomes.  It would have been interesting to see how my players would have reacted to gnomes there.

5E seems to have settled for a fairly straight read on the race of gnomes.  Christina and Nicki are not Players who tend to go for slapstick or comic relief characters, so I expect them to play their characters as realistically as possible.  It may give me a new perspective on gnomes and change my feelings about them.

The background I’m working on for these gnomes is the idea that they are a mixed colony of rock gnomes, forest gnomes and deep gnomes from Terah.  They have fled the destruction of their homelands and crossed dimensions to start a new life on Rilmorn.  They live in Featherstone – a tiny, hidden, mining village nestled between the Zagreb River and the once ore-heavy Laudervai Hills near the Village of Duvamil.  Christina has suggested that the focus of the campaign could be on the flutes given to each PC by Christina’s PC’s late grandmother.  I think I can make this work.  This is looking good.

The Games Librarian has a post in response to this post of mine.  Go Enjoy It.  I did. (2014.09.10)

Game On!

Player’s Handbook Release Day (or I Forgot to Remember to do This Yesterday)

So, to follow my Basic Rules PDF release post, I am again a day behind in letting the world know that I am excited about 5E and the Player’s Handbook release.  My wife ordered me a copy from Amazon last night and I should have it in 3 to 5 business days.  What will I do until then? (link 2014.08.23)

I’ll search the web for reviews and look through all the excerpts released by WotC.  Check out DMing With Charisma‘s review.  Found a review of the art in the PHB 5E by Raging Owlbear. (2014.08.22)

I am old enough and jaded enough to not let my hopes get too high.  I feel certain that for about every seven things I like about this game, there will be one thing that I don’t like (Alignment, I’m looking at you.) and that is okay.  There is no Holy Grail of Gaming or One True Way.  Every GM and every gaming group will have their own house rules; they will, hopefully, drop things that lessen their fun and add things that increase their fun.  Only those in tournament play and sanctioned game events won’t have any house rules, because everybody those events has too be on the same page and that’s okay, too.

I remember the fun I had looking through my first PHB. Wondering what was going to happen to thieves when they plucked the gemstone out of the idol on the cover.  Reading the spells.  Examining the art.  Learning what made every class unique.  My 2E PHB was not as exciting for me.  I was having a real grognard moment over the changes in the spells, I loved the art.  Even today, I can go back and flip through the book and relish the art.  I don’t have any memories about the 3E and 4E PHBs.  Not sure what that says about me and those editions, but I am excited and looking forward to opening my new Player’s Handbook and finding out what memories stick with this one.

My copy of the D&D Player’s Handbook has arrived!  Yay! (2014.08.23)

Until we meet again, Game On!

Resources

I have a question that I am going to ask myself and I hope my readers will ask it of themselves and share their answers in my comments section.  I’ve been playing D&D for 30+ years.  I’ve got a fairly extensive Dungeons and Dragons library.  As I build my world and create my campaigns, I make use of that library.  Now the question, “What resources from my collection do I use the most and why?”

Basics

Dungeon Masters Guide (1E) – Tables – There are tables for nearly everything I could want: Gem Values and Magical Properties, Expert Hirelings with explanations of what each does and their Monthly Costs, and Powers and Side Effects for Artifacts and Relics to just name a few. 

Monsters

Monster Manual (1E) – Illustrations – I’ve seldom seen better illustrations of the monsters I use in my games.  No offense is intended to any of the many great artists who have illustrated numerous D&D products, but sometimes a clean lined black and white illustration sparks the imagination the best.

Fiend Folio (1E) – Slaadi

Dragons (1E Role Aids) – DRAGONS!  This is a great setting and resource book.  I’ve used it for treasures, NPCs, and settings.

Denizens of Avadnu (3E Setting) – Great set of monsters in an non-standard D&D setting.

Gods, Demigods, and Heroes

Deities and Demigods Cyclopedia (1E) – Pantheons – I just enjoy looking through book and finding a pantheon or a god that would add a unique flavor to a region or an NPC.

Deities and Demigods (3E) – Advice on building religions – The examples of mystery cults and monotheistic versus polytheistic religions are good reads, useful and fun.

Religion (GURPS) – Title says it all.

Magic

Dragon Tree Spell Book (1E The Dragon Tree) Spells – Wild, weird spells from the early days of gaming.

Psionic Artifacts of Athas (2E) – Magic items, psionic tools, and life-shaped items.  I’ve made extensive use of the Rhul-tal.

Sorcerer’s Guide (Talislanta) – Magical Tomes, Magical Items, and Extra-Dimensional Entities

Tome of Mighty Magic (1E North Pole Press) Spells – More, wild, weird spells from the early days of gaming.

Windriders of the Jagged Cliffs (2E) – Life-shaped items and language

Other Dimensions

Domains of Dread (2E Ravenloft) – Great NPC ideas and adventure sites

Heroes of the Feywild (4E) – NPC ideas and site details

Heroes of the Shadowfell (4E) – NPC ideas and site details

Hordes of the Abyss (3E) – Good ideas for demonic and dark extra planar sites

Manual of the Planes (1E) – Good ideas for extra planar sites

Manual of the Planes (3E) – More good ideas for extra planar sites

I am sure there are others, but these are the ones that I have been reaching for most, when I am working on my new 5E game.

Game On!

What I Do and Do Not Like About D&D

Raven Crowking posts here about why it is important to be honest when talking about 5E: the latest rendition of Dungeons and Dragons.  He rightly points out that letting people know what you don’t like about something is as important a letting them know what you do like.  I agree with him, but I have a few caveats.  Being negative for the sake of appearing to be cutting edge, cool, or savvy is a sign of being a jerk.  The opposite pole of being a “Yes Man” and only saying positive things can be equally damaging.  If one only talks about the good things, one can skip right over parts of thing that make it miserable; this is the style of Sleazy Hucksters and Sycophants.  Giving an honest critique of a thing can and should lead to its improvement.  I hope my post proves to be an honest critique.  Thus, with this preface, I begin my “What I like and what I do not like post.”

If we take the Way Back Machine back to the Days of First Edition, we are likely to discover that most of the complaints I had about the system back then are forgotten.  It was new.  It was fun.  It stretched our imaginations and gave us hours and hours of fun.  Having said that, I must admit that I grew dissatisfied with some things in 1E.  I didn’t like alignment (and still don’t).  I found a great article on a relativistic alignment system in Dragon 101 by Paul Suttie: “For King and Country: An alignment system based on cause and effect.”  I’ve been using that idea for alignment ever sense.  I, also, felt that the minute combat round was just too abstract and was very happy when they changed it.

Second Edition, originally, offended me on aesthetic and grognard grounds.  I liked having Seven Levels of clerical spells and Nine Levels of magic user spells in 1E; it corresponded nicely to the mythology and symbolism that I had developed for Realmorein.  So, the change to Nine Levels for both spell casting classes really put me off for a while.  In time I got over that and had a great time running 2E.  TSR gave me tons of settings to use: Greyhawk, Forgotten Realms, Dark Sun, Ravenloft, Spelljammer, and Al Qadim to name a few.  There were loads of classes and variants to try.  My only real complaint is that that not all of the systems designed for all of the variants were well thought out.  Sometimes, what was written about how things worked just didn’t make sense.  I know a lot of folks didn’t like THAC0 (To Hit Armor Class 0 (zero)); they found trying to figure out what number they needed to hit a foe perplexing…I just used the combat tables on my 1E DM screens and never really worried about it.

Third Edition!  The year 2000 AD was to be a watershed year, when I was growing up.  It would be the year that we got flying cars and had a colony on the moon and were prepping for interplanetary, if not interstellar flight.  We got Dungeons and Dragons: Third Edition; which was almost as good.  I was looking forward to 3E.  I had started a campaign away from Rilmorn, so that when 3E came out, we could start fresh from the ground up without any holdovers or complications (that didn’t work out, but that is another story).  I failed at 3E from the word, “Go.”

I didn’t like the idea that magic item creation was now an “assembly line-style” option for spellcasters.  I was poor at designing challenging combats for my players.  I just didn’t get how to equip my NPCs, so that my PCs could get their stuff and be appropriately equipped for their level.  I didn’t like the advancement scale; in 1E and 2E PCs remained at mid-levels for a long time and there was a lot of good play in those levels.  The tactical nature of the game bored me; I am not a tactics guy.  Finally, I grew to despise the idea of the Adventure Path (AP).  I believe in plot arcs and character and story development, but APs with the built in assumption that the PCs would begin as nobodies, follow a particular plot, and end as…Whatevers in a completely changed setting (How many APs end with the death of a god or demon prince?), wore me down.  At this moment, I can’t think of anything that I liked about 3E. (2014.07.10)

4E was a fun game, but it was not D&D, as I wanted to play it.  All of the classes were balanced.  Advancement seemed reasonable, not too fast and not too slow.  There was a lot of good fluff to use in developing backgrounds, plot hooks, and storylines.  There were bad things, IMO, about 4E, too.  It was a tactics games.  Magic item placement became a true joke…Don’t like the magic items provided by the GM, melt them down and make your own!  The whole game was designed to fit an AP style of play (Character Class > Paragon Path > Epic Destiny).  Finally and most damning is the fact that by the end all the classes had the same powers; they just had different skins on them.

DnD Next, Fifth Edition, 5E, call it what you want, so far, I like it.  Magic items are once again magic.  Power curve and advancement seem reasonable (may be wrong, but I’ve got to run a lot more games and find out).  Classes are distinct.  The only complaint I have, at the moment, is Hit Point recovery seems too easy, but I’m already using an optional rule from the play test and that seems to fix that problem.  I like the basic rules.  I like the play test materials.  I’m looking forward to using this edition for a while.

Whatever edition or system you prefer, I hope you play it as often as you wish and enjoy it.  Until next time, Game On!

To Mod or Not to Mod (or Why Gregory is Bad at Running Modules)

The Games Librarian recently posted about a Game Master’s desire to revisit places in his or her games in which his or her Players invested their time and effort. This was in response to Admiral Ironbombs’ post about Player vs. Character Buy-in when running Adventure Paths or Modules. Both are good reads and I encourage you to check them out.  Mike Mearls of WotC talks about the new Starter Set for 5E and the emphasis they are putting on the included adventure in his Legend and Lore Column. Together, they really got me thinking about how I build and run Ryllmorrin and why I don’t use more Modules.

I have owned or borrowed an untold number of Adventure Modules, since I started gaming. I even ran a few of them.  Any decent Game Master will tell you that unless you are running a One Shot Game, adapt the Module you are running for your campaign.  I did that.  I used NPCs in my game to fit the roles presented in the Modules.  I used my cities and villages in place of the settings in the Adventures.  I did my best to fold them into the World of Rilmorn and make the Modules seem to be part of it.  Yet, I never seemed successful in running an Adventure that I didn’t design. Things always go wrong and I have to throw out the Adventure Module and improvise.  I think I know why I run modules so poorly and I’ll try to explain why over the next few paragraph.

When I began GMing, I possessed the Basic D&D blue book by Dr. Eric Holmes (just the book, not the rest of the boxed set), a borrowed Dungeon Masters Guide, a Monster Manual and the module B1 – In Search of the Unknown.  With that, I began building my campaign.  I did not have a lot of examples to use in my design process, so I made it up as I went along.

I’ve talked about my first games and Mythgold the Underground City of Wizards. When I first ran it, Mythgold was not a complete map. I would fill in the areas I thought I needed, leave the rest blank, and fill in more before the next session. I do not remember when my players decided to go off the map section I had completed and head into the unknown, but I’d bet it was fairly early on. I had to jump through some hoops to keep the game going.

When my players went off map, I would describe what the person making the map would need to know to continue the map (because making the map was a BIG part of D&D in the early days) and while they drew in the map section I had just described, I would pretend to check my notes and fill in what I had just described. Every time from that point on, when my players decided to talk among themselves, I’d draw a bit more on my map and make notes as to what was therein. I did everything I could to keep up the illusion that I had everything planned out and that my players couldn’t catch me off guard. I guess I did/do the same thing when I run Modules/Adventures.

I know I run a very sandbox-style of game and that may predicate my aversion to running Canned Adventures. I, also, have had a number of players, who want to “make the plot train jump the tracks.” They are the players that when presented with a plot hook of “Save the Princess and You’ll be Gifted with Titles and Lands by the King,” say “Why should we do that? We are adventurers and can claim lands and keeps from the monsters we defeat in the wilderness, so what else will you give us? Make it good or we might go help the kidnapper.” So, when these Players know there is a Module being run, they try to break out of the rails from the word “Go!” These are two things that make running Modules difficult for me.

Another thing that makes running Canned Adventures and Adventure paths difficult for me is the fact that sometimes I think what the Module says is supposed to happen is stupid or unfair. My latest complaint of this nature is with the 4E Adventure Revenge of the Giants.

 

SPOILER BEGINS (Highlight to see Spoiler)

On pages 154-155 of Revenge of the Giants, the Adventure sets up the ultimate fight between the drow priestess Lolestra, as she attempts to free the primordial Piranoth, and the Heroes.  There is way for the PCs to defeat Lolestra before she releases the primordial.  Here’s where I get upset, if the PCs defeat Lolestra, then her goddess Lolth steps in and frees the primordial, so the PCs then have to defeat the Primodial, too.

SPOILER ENDS

That is unfair. If the Players come up with a way to circumvent the Big Boss Fight, then they should be awarded the Experience Points for that fight for thinking outside the box or getting lucky and doing all the things they needed to do right to prevent the fight from happening.

In addition to “Rail Buster” Players, I’ve also had really good “Lateral Thinker” Players (sometimes, they are the same Player). I like it when my Players come up with ideas outside the box and I know good GMs always go beyond the Adventure Path or Module and let the unexpected idea work, because it is the good GMing thing to do. But what does a GM do, when the Players take such an idea to a logical conclusion? Admiral Ironbombs describes this exact scenario in his post. I understand why he did what he did, but when I encounter this problem, I leave the Path.  When I’m running a Module and my Players get caught up in a subplot or tangent, I rum with it. I use as much of the material in the Adventure as possible and fill in the gaps as I go. I guess the final answer, as to why I run Canned Adventures so poorly, is I’m more interested in what my players are doing, than I am in what the Adventure Path or Module is doing.

Tony Powers over at Epic Heroes is gearing up to run the Pathfinder Adventure Path Skulls and Shackles.  Here is his post about prep. (2014.07.21)

The GM Behind the Screen also has a post about players Riding Off The Rails. (2014.09.10)

 

Until next time, Game On!

Edition Wars (or OH, NO! Here We Go Again)

I’ve seen various people post about the announcement of 5E – Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition release dates.  Some are jaded and feel that it has all been done before.  Others are offering a depressed, but optimistic, hope that it will be good.  Various forums have people shouting for their favorite edition or bemoaning the idea that Wizards of the Coast are trying to get more money out of them.  I was going to keep quiet about the whole deal and do my best to ignore it.  I can’t.

Having played D&D starting with the Holmesian Blue Book version of Basic Dungeons and Dragons and played through each and every version of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons to date, including the playtest version DnD Next, I have an opinion on this subject.  I’m tired of the fighting.  That’s my opinion.

Edition Wars did not begin with 3E.  They began with Basic and Advanced.  There was enough demand for Basic Dungeons and Dragons that TSR built an entire product line around the Known World (what would become known as Mystara).  This happened right alongside Advanced Dungeons and Dragons.  People would meet up in game stores, at conventions, and, later, on online bulletin board systems to deride and attack the other side for selling out or being poor gamers.  This is not new.

The wars did not end with one’s preferred version of D&D.  People would fight over Role Playing vs. Roll Playing.  (Sound familiar?)  Munchkins were vilified by True Role Players.  Monty Haul Games were ridiculed as low brow, beer and pretzel games by those who believed themselves more sophisticated.  Gary Gygax even took umbrage against those who didn’t play Real Dungeons and Dragons (I talk about that article in this post).  It is all the same story: “Do it my way or hit the highway.”

It gets even uglier, when one considers other games by other companies.  “How could you play Runequest; it’s a D&D rip off?”  “Call of Cthulhu is just superior to any other RPG because it uses percentile dice and has a literary foundation.”  “How can you play Rolemaster?  It’s all tables.”  Go ahead pick a game and I’d feel comfortable betting that I can find a website that has proponents that feel that all other games are stupid.  I may be wrong, but I doubt it.

Grognards have always existed.  They were even present at the release of 2E.  A long time ago, I was given a small, typewritten, piece of paper that humorously and ironically described the transition from 1E to 2E.  It talked about the shift from Greyhawk to the Forgotten Realms.  It joked about the sudden change of paladins to cavaliers.  There were other sly observations about how the “new” D&D universe worked, but it ended with the very unkind idea that only stupid people would want Gary Gygax back in charge of D&D and that good, smart people would kill anyone who tried.  When it dawned on me that that type of thinking was fanaticism and the same ignorance espoused by those who didn’t want to change from their beloved edition to whatever new was coming out, I got rid of it.  I do not want to be one of those that promotes hate, even in what is meant to be a joke.  There will always be those who fear or hate change.  It is sad, but true.

To those who bemoan the fact that WotC is trying to make more money, I’ve only this to say, “Of course, they are; Wizards of the Coast is a business and if they don’t make money, they have to quit being a business!”  This is no different than Pazio selling Pathfinder or Monte Cook selling Numenera.  It is their job to make stuff for gamers to buy.  If you don’t want to support the people whose jobs it is to design, write, and publish games, game modules, and gaming supplements, then don’t buy the stuff they put out and quit trying to make those people that do buy their products feel bad for buying what they want to buy.

I doubt it happen, but I do wish the gaming community at large would grow up.  A new edition does not diminish your personal games in any way.  People playing with different styles of game play are not better or lesser than you and you do not need to “convert them to the true path of gaming.”  Maybe the newest edition on the block isn’t all that new in its concepts or game play.  Maybe it is a ploy to get people to buy more stuff.  Maybe it is better than anything that has gone before it.  In the end, it doesn’t matter.  If you don’t want it, don’t get it.  If you don’t like it, don’t do it.  Unless gaming is a virus and one needs to be inoculated to prevent the spread of disease, let it go and enjoy what you have.

DMing with Charisma posted a response to this post and I really like it.

I found A Brief History of the Edition Wars by Admiral Ironbombs on his site Logic is my Virgin Sacrifice to Reality.  Please check it out.

 

Until we meet again, Game On!