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!

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Namoria and Terah (or How I Failed at Modules Between Editions)

When I was working on a post about Retrocontinuity , I discovered that I could not find a post to which I wanted to link.  It turns out that I never finished or posted that particular post. Here it is.

In late 1999 AD, my Players and I finished up my latest campaign – the one where one PC was a werewolf, who didn’t know he was a werewolf and another PC was a midwife working to keep her vampiric step-father’s condition a secret and my Oriental Adventures campaign had never really gelled and taken off.  We were all psyched up for 3E, but we didn’t want to wait until August 2000 AD to play again.  I didn’t want to start a new campaign in Rilmorn that I would have to convert for the new edition, so I decided to take up an idea from Mike Magee.

Back in the 80’s, Mike suggested that, since I owed so many modules, I should run a game using only modules.  The idea was for me to run the modules as written; I wouldn’t create my own plot lines.  As we played through each module, I’d place any maps in the module contiguous to already existing maps, ignoring any anomalous terrain issues.  Thus, I’d create a mosaic world made up of Greyhawk, Forgotten Realms, and Krynn.  It was a cool idea, but since I had been running a continuing Game World in Rilmorn, I never took the time to try it.  The downtime between editions seemed like the perfect time to try it out.

I had B2 – Keep on the Borderlands and Return to the Keep on the Borderlands, so I decided to use that as the foundation for this campaign. I had two solid versions of a great sandbox-style game module, a copy of B1 – In Search of the Unknown (a site which was marked on the maps of both Keep on the Borderlands modules), and a group of self-directed players.  Once I dropped a few plot hooks in, this campaign should have rolled itself right out.  I flopped right out of the starting gate.

I just could not run a campaign ex nihilo.  I felt compelled to create an empire, so I could have borderlands into which I place the Keep.  So, I came up with the Namorian Empire.  Namoria was based on Rome with a strong Celtic influence.  I wrote up a historical timeline.  I designed a calendar with 12 months, each one named after one of the first twelve emperors.  I also went on to adjust some of the history written into the module about Kendal Keep (the name given to the Keep in Return to the Keep on the Borderlands). No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t do it.

I use other modules and adventures, but rather than run them mosaic style, I tried to blend them into the campaign seamlessly.  It became a rather fun campaign, but personality issues and a storyline that got out of hand led to the demise of the Namori Campaign.

Skip to several campaigns later, we are well versed in using 3E and I am running my Sanderzani Campaign.  I am trying to add a bit of Lovecraftian horror to my store and quietly insert Yog-Sothoth into the background.  I, then, begin to attempt to draw the PCs across time and space.  I take modules, The Sunless Citadel by Bruce Coredell and The Standing Stone by John D. Rateliff (author of Return to the Keep on the Borderlands, by the way) and blended them and their maps to create an adventure for my gypsy band.  I tied it to the characters and adventurers of the previous campaign.  It went over well, but I never really got to reveal all the secrets I wove into that adventure setting.

But, my tale of woe doesn’t end there.  I got the D&D Next Play Test materials and attempted to run them for various Players.  I decided to put those materials into this world.  I ended up creating a weird map that was supposed to be changed as more play test materials came out. Unless the objects and places appearing on the map were labeled and oriented correctly, they didn’t actually exist.  Everything else on the on the map was in flux and subject to change.  I tied some of the adventures to the Isle of the Dreamers from my original Namori Campaign and would later use some of this material as background for my short-lived gnome campaign.  Now, I’m using this material and setting to expand on the Isle of the Dreamers.  It never ends.

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!

 

Plans of Mice and GMs

So, it has already begun…my Players are starting their own stories!  Yeah!  My best games come when I build the environment and my players move the action.  So, this may be really good.

Vadis Mal and Stone are spending money to find out which prostitution establishments treat their “employees” as free people and which ones use them as objects or slaves.  They plan on ending those that do the latter.  Adran is planning some divination events, but I haven’t gotten any e-mails from him, yet.

These two event-lines will surely take time away from anything that I have planned out and that is okay.  I realized that I set up this campaign, when I was still working under the 3E/4E “Campaign Arc” plan.  I don’t really like the campaign arcs.  I really need to work on my NPCs and settings and let the story build itself.  This is going to be a blast.

Here is a list of the NPCs in the Pellham Campaign.  (linked 2014.11.24)

So, fellow Game Masters, how do you experience Player initiative?

Game On!

Gods, Demigods, and Heroes

In the nature of full disclosure, I feel obligated to reveal the following information.  I was born and raised a Christian (denomination: Methodist).  I am still a practicing Christian, though at the present time I do not have a home church.  I attended Chandler School of Theology, Emory University; I did not complete my Masters of Divinity degree.  I believe that there are multiple deities…” Thou shalt have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3 KJV), not “There are no other gods.”  Now, on to our randomly scheduled post.

I recently finished reading Hammered by Kevin Hearne: the third in the Iron Druid Chronicles and the way Mr. Hearne deals with gods and faith has led me to reexamine the deities of Rilmorn.  Shortly after I finished Hammered, I found a link directing me to a video of Monte Cook giving a lecture on designing gods for Dungeons and Dragons to the Religious Studies Student Organization at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee.  Mr. Cook’s take on faith in D&D worlds only adds reason for my meditation on the gods and goddesses in Rilmorrin.  Together, they force me to ask, “Gregory, how have you treated gods and faith in your game world and what is the best way to way to deal with religion and divine beings in the future?”

In the Iron Druid Chronicles, Kevin Hearne takes some potentially controversial stands on faith, gods, and religion.  All the gods from all the faiths that ever existed are real.  The gods, if they admit it, do not remember their origins…one day each god just was and they didn’t create the world.  Gods are bond by what their followers believe of them.  Add all of this together and introduce a few scenes with Jesus and Mary and I can see where Mr. Hearne could be stomping on more than a few toes; yet he seems to work it all together (with the possible exception of his portrayal of Thor) with grace and respect.  I would like to believe I can do the same with the divine beings of Rilmorrin.

In his lecture, Monte Cook discusses the slippery slope of putting “real-world” deities into a game.  A game designer is going to offend someone, if he or she puts a being that people worship into a game.  Some worshiper is going to feel that the designer is ridiculing or dismissing his or her faith, because designer is using the god as a fictional character.  It only gets worse, if the game designer stats up the god.  Anything with hit points can be killed and sooner or later, some PC will kill it.  I have never statted up gods for Rilmorn, but I have used deities from past and present faiths in my games.  So, how should I handle deities in game and did I do it right in the past?

When I started playing D&D, Davy, Clyde, Tommy, and I all took turns GMing a shared “world.”  It was a world in the sense that all of the PCs existed together and they obviously lived somewhere.  We went out to taverns and drank ale together.  We shopped at the same general goods stores.  We knew the same NPCs.  If that is not a definition of a world, I don’t know what is.  Because we took turns GMing, some games our PCs would tag along in the adventuring party, as an NPC.  It was during one of the times I was GMing the party through Mythgold that Gregor the Gaunt, my cleric of Thor, encountered a chapel dedicated to G_d, discovered a Latin translation of the Bible, and converted on the spot.  This was the first time that I put a religion that I knew was being practiced in the flesh world into my imaginary world.  It was not the last.

Clerics get their power from the gods.  The gods are real.  They are not the deities of Star Trek; to be obliterated when you phaser their temples.  They exist outside of belief and they are often inscrutable, but they have a definite interest in the wellbeing of Rilmoren.  So what I have done with them and their religions over the years.

In the early days, I just accepted all of the gods from the Deities and Demigods Cyclopedia as being part of Rilmorn’s religious biosphere.  I accepted that Christians and Jews existed on Rilmorn, thus the G_d of the Hebrews and the Christ of the Christians existed.  I regretfully admit that I knew nothing about Islam until I was in college.  If I had been asked, before I was twenty, who the Crusaders fought in the Middle East, I would have had to say, “I don’t know.”  Thus, there were no Muslims on Rilmorn.

Later, I would begin picking a choosing deities from multiple sources and attempting to design pantheons and alliances of various faiths for my game world.  I had pared it down to thirty-seven deities and had divided them into thirteen pantheons, some of which shared gods between them.  Even with all of this work other gods and demigods continued to appear.  I failed to really flesh out any of the religions of these divine beings, but I tried to have them available for my Players to use, if they had PCs that wanted a god to venerate.  It was during this time that I met Robert Hegwood and he helped me design a “Christian” faith that could have developed on a world away from Earth.  Also, Mike Magee’s character Gareth Eybender helped a group of desperate cultists turn an efreet into the “God in the Bottle.”  It was time of deep questions in Rilmornic Theology; “What is a god,” was regularly asked during those days.  I look back on Robert’s inclusions in my world’s history and am disturbed by the “faith makes right” attitude of his religion.  I wonder what is going to be the best way for me to make use of this in the future.

After the switch to 3E, I “lost” a bunch of gods in the Cataclysm that made 3E possible.  An unknown number of gods blended themselves together to stop the war that was ripping apart the world.  The new god was Rao and Rao had a vaguely medieval Catholic theme going for him.  He was played off the demons and local demigods of my Rilmoré campaign.  In my Thrasiri campaign, the PCs worshipped the post Ragnarök deities, these are the gods who are to have survived the End of the World in Nordic myth.  In my Divlos campaign, I created a pseudo-Egyptian pantheon with the faith of Rao being an interloper in the region.  Most of my universal deities vanished, but locale pantheons rose up to fill the vacuum.

Now, I am starting up my long proposed 5E game, my Iolta and Thrain campaign.  I have chosen to go with a variant origin of the Tuatha de Danu as the primary deities of the setting.  (Looking at the stuff I worked up months ago, I see it really pairs up nicely with Kevin Hearne’s take on the Tuatha de Dannan.) In the Iron Druid Chronicles, the Tuahta are amortal, they do not age, but they can die; will I need to stat them up?   I’ve got Robert’s “Church of the One God” scattered throughout the lands of Iolta and Thrain, as well.  What do I need to decide about G_d, Jesus, the angels, and the demons?  I’ve spent a lot of words talking about what I did and what I’m doing, but I’ve not really addressed the questions of how I am going to use Earth-world faiths and give them the respect and reverence that they deserve.  Anybody got any advice for me?

Game On!

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!