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!

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Gaming the System

Sometimes I Play the Game and other times I Game the System.  I have been gaming long enough that I am not a big fan of “imposed motivations” being placed on a PC.  In Dungeons and Dragons 5E, there is a section in character creation where the Player is supposed to select a Personality Trait, an Ideal, a Bond, and a Flaw; there are tables of options from which the Player can choose or on which the Player can roll randomly.  There are rules and sidebars designed to help a Player create unique Personality Traits, Bonds, Goals, and Flaws, but the default assumption seems to be that when the Player chooses his or her PCs Background that he or she will take from the provided lists.  This is not an ideal situation for me, since the suggested options are designed to be as generic as possible and I am presently running a very specific (Gnome) campaign.  However, it has provided some neat insights for me.

Years ago, Jason Holmgren of Ironclaw explained to me how he felt rules not only provide the framework of game play, they also set the style of play.  I think he’s right in that supposition.  I’d even go so far as to say, “Rules, not only provide the framework needed for game play and the style of play, they also provide assumptions about the setting.”  For an example of this in D&D, check out my complaints about 3E and 4E (paragraphs 5 and 6).  While I do believe it is possible to tell whatever story one wishes to tell, regardless of the rules system, it takes effort to mold those stories into the assumptions the rules system places on the setting. (2014.10.04)

In my Gnome Campaign, Nicki and JR are playing forest gnomes.  Nicki’s character, Roywyn, is a druid (PHB pages 64-69) and JR’s PC, Gimble, is a ranger (PHB pages 89-93).  While the quick build suggestion for druid is Hermit, Nicki chose the Outlander background (PHB pages 136-137).  JR stuck with the suggested quick build background for the ranger class, which is Outlander.  In addition to the four categories of characteristics that a background provides, the Outlander background offers a table for Origin.  Nicki rolled Hunter/Gatherer and JR rolled Tribal Nomad.  JR’s roll for Origin, along with Nicki’s roll of “I am the last of my tribe, and it is up to me to ensure their names enter legend,” as her Bond caused me a bit of a problem when it came to my setting.  Gnomes in the literature are not tribal nomads.  They are hill dwelling, warren digging, settled folk.  This is reinforced in the 2E supplement The Complete Book of Gnomes and Halflings (I book that I got when a friend was giving away his collection, but tha I had never opened, until two weeks ago).  How am I to reconcile this? (2014.10.04)

I believe the basic presumption of D&D is that the game is going to be a multi-racial, multi-class, pseudo-European milieu.  Also, a GM is unlikely to get someone who wants to play a truly weird character: a gnomish ranger from a band of tribal nomadic little people or a halfling barbarian.  If the GM does, then he or she can use the basic assumptions of the setting to say that the halfling was found as a baby abandoned in the wild and raised among the Ice Marsh Barbarians who had a band of gnomes that lived among them or something similar.  I don’t have that option in my Gnome-centric Campaign. (2014.10.04)

So, I have to come up with a reason as to why there would be nomadic gnomes.  I have to use the rules to make the setting.  Are all forest gnomes from Terah nomads?  I don’t think so.  What if the nomad tribes (I really want to write it as gnomad tribes) from Terah were not just made up of forest gnomes?  What if they were a mix of gnomish subraces?  Why would they have such a society?  Roywyn is the last of her tribe?  Gimble only knows of one other member from his tribe, Papi?  What secrets does Papi, a rock gnome, know about the now lost nomads?  This is all a case of me trying to making sense of the results of the rules, as I see them.  Hopefully, I will make world sense out of rules sense and have a compelling setting and campaign. (2014.10.04)

Game On!

Old World, New Players

I’ve been thinking about this for a while.  I’ve been running D&D in the same game world since 1980.  I’m proud of my maps (Thank you, John Hesselberg and Thom Thetford).  I’m proud of the history that has gone into making Rillmorn what it is today, both the stuff my Players did in-game and what I did in building background.  I am proud of it all, even the parts where it didn’t work or where I acted poorly, but that is a whole lot of stuff and me Players can get overwhelmed with it.  It becomes even harder when you have established players alongside newbies.  How does one do it?  How does a Game Master share the depth and grandeur of his or her world and not scare new Players away?

Are my new Players already gamers or are they true Babes in the Gaming Woods?  If they are already gamers and they have played my favorite game system before, then I start small.  (This is based on the idea of starting a new campaign, not bringing new Players into an existing and ongoing game.)  I don’t drop them into Spellguard with all of its complex politics and vast number of detailed NPCs.  I start them off in a small town on the edge of “The Action.”  I give them the very basics about Rilmorn and go from there.  In my most recent campaign Duvamil (it is based around the riverside town of Duvamil), I started my PCs into a few decades old village founded by gnomish refugees from Terah, another world.  They have seen the big map of the area and have been told that Rillmorn has 2 suns, 3 moons, 9 day weeks, 26 hour days, and 38 day months.  They know Bazarene the Moving City (effectively an aircraft carrier on a hovercraft) and the Walking Wood (a nomadic tree city of forest giants) cross paths in Duvamil.  That’s it.  Everything else, they are leaning as we play.

Christina, my wife, knows a bit more about the area, since her dragonborn ranger Surana was with E3 when they explored the Tower of Spells.  What she knows will be used more as legends than anything else, since the previous campaign’s actions should have little to no effect on the current game.  Nicki, my daughter, has played a bit in Rillmorn, but not enough to have deep knowledge of the world.  Finally, JR, Nicki’s friend, has never played in one of my games before, but has played a little bit of D&D 3.5.  So, everything I drop into this game can be brand new information to the Players, as well as, the PCs.

If I had true newbies, I’d have to decide if I was going to hand them the Player’s Handbook or the Player’s D&D Basic Rules that I downloaded off the web.  I’d most likely go with the web download.  It has 4 basic options and 4 basic classes, the essence, if you will, of D&D. However, his review says 5E is really a good fit for new players.  Also, if I had true newbies, I would put them in a more traditional D&D setting…maybe something like the Keep on the Borderlands.

My true problem is that I have so much that I want to reveal to my Players:  the secrets and history of the Tower of Spells, the various hidden cities and enclaves about Duvamil, and all of the stuff that I swiped from Monte Cook and other 3E sources and seeded around this area of Rilmorn.  Alas, I can’t; not yet.  Some of this may be revealed in game play, but I don’t know yet if it will.  I have to focus my creative energies on building solid plots and interesting NPCs that advance the stories for these PCs.  What has gone before is the bedrock on which I can build, but unless the Players and PCs dig, I may be the only one to ever know it and that is okay.  Maybe it will come up in a later campaign.

TL:DR New Players in an Old World?  Start small and keep your focus and maybe there will be time enough later for all the big stuff.

Game On!

Fantasy Demographics

This post is pure indulgence on my part.  I truly expect anyone other than me to be completely bored with it.  This is a grid of all the players that I can remember and what races and how many of each race they played in my games.  This does not include any one off games or single appearances by a character in a larger campaign.  I’m sure I’ve missed players and characters and will add those as I recall them.

Key:

Di – Diavlin (desert dwelling fire race)

Dw – Dwarf

El – Elf

EH – Elf/Human Hybrid

Hu – Human

HK – Human/Kularin Hybrid

HO – Human/Orc Hybrid

Id – Idré (ocean dwelling water race)

Ku – Kularin (winged air race)

Or – Orc

Dr – Dragonborn (see 4E or 5E PHB)

Ha – Halfling

Sh – Shifter (see 4E PHB2)

Ti – Tiefling (see 4E or 5E PHB)

Sd – Shade (see 4E Heroes of Shadow)

Vr – Vryloka (see 4E Heroes of Shadow)

Gn – Gnome

C= – Total number of characters ran by that player

R= – Total number of each race played in my campaigns

GT – Grand Total

Player Di Dw El EH Hu HK HO Id Ku Or Dr Ha Sh Ti Sd Vr Gn C= GT
Adrian 1 1
Andy 2 2
Ben 2 2
Bob 1 1
Brandon 1 2 3
Charles 1 1
Chyenne 1 1
Christina 1 3 1  1  1  1 8
Clint 1 1
David 1 1
Davy 1 1
Eric 1 4 5
Hesselburg 1 1
Hil 1 3 4 1 9
James 1 1 4 1 6 2 1 16
Jane 3 1 4
JD 1 1
Jeff 2 2
John 1 1 2
John Paul 1 1
Ken 1 1 2
Kevin 1 1
Magee 1 3 1 5
Matt  1 1 2 3 1 1 9
Mechelle 1 1
Michael 1 1 2
Morgan 1 1
Nicki 1 1 2
Russ 2 2
Russell 1 1
Scheopf 1 1
Spencer 1 1
Stephen 1 1
Thom 1 1 2
Todd 1 1 2
Tom 1 3 4
Topher 1 1 2
Vicki 2 1 8 1 12
R= 5 6 19 13 52 2 1 3 3 1 1 1 1 2 1 1 2   114
GT 114

Of the 114 characters that I can recall being in my games, 52 were human.  The next largest demographic were elves at 19 individuals (This includes characters from an “Elf Only” campaign.  Does anyone else have a breakdown on race demographics in their games?

My friend Zachary Anderson @raidingparty.livejournal.com made his own grid of players and PC races. (2014.10.02)

I recently found Fluer du mal and he’s got a great site.  He has a list of Players and Characters from his games.  I really am interested to learn more about how his game world runs. (2014.10.02)

Game On!

Gnomes and Rillmorn

Here is where I talk about my dislike of gnomes.  Here is where I talk about designing fantasy races.  Now, I’m going to let Matt Harris and the rest of my readers know what decisions I’ve made about gnomes in my world of Rilmorn.

After much debate with myself, I have come to the following decisions about Gnomes in my campaign world, Rillmorn.  1. Gnomes are not historically native to Rillmorn.  2.  A single mixed community of gnomes exists on Rillmorn.  It is located near the town of Duvamil (The fact that the 5E PHB list “Duvamil” as a female gnomish name is coincidental.  Duvamil has existed in Rilmorn since 3E, when I ran my Sanderzani campaign.)  3. Gmomes are a clan of dwarves caught, enslaved, and experimented upon by Fomorians, giants from the Fey Realm.  4.  Gnomes have close ties to Elemental Earth and are somehow related to the elemental creatures Salamanders, Sylphs, and Undines; fire, air, and water, respectively.  Having made these decisions, I will now attempt to explain how I got to them. (2014.10.02)

Number 1 is simply based on the fact that from March 1980 A.D. until August 2014 A.D. there were no gnomes in Rillmorn.  I had never used them.  I never allowed them to be played.  There were no gnomes.

Number 2 is based on the background that I gave Christina and Nicki when they were creating their characters.  They are from the gnome warren Featherstone.  The warren of Featherstone was founded by refugees from the world of Terah, after the gnomes’ homelands were destroyed by the forces from the Caves of Chaos.  It is located northeast of Duvamil (a village known for being the intersection of the paths of Bazarene the Traveling City and forest giants’ tree city, The Walking Wood, and the site of great mill located on the Zagreb River – sometimes when a bag of flour or meal from this mill is opened, a large, 9” long dove feather is found in the bag). (2014.10.02)

Number 3 is based on the backstory of the dwarves and gnomes from 4E.  In 4E, dwarves were created by the gods.  Giants were created by the primordials and the titans.  The giants enslaved the dwarves for an uncounted age, before the race revolted and escaped.  In the Feywild, Fomorians (faery counterparts to the giants) enslaved the gnomes (fey versions of dwarves), until many of the gnomes escaped.  Since Rillmorn existed long before 4E and I had no history of the giants enslaving the dwarves, I ignored that backstory.  Now, for the gnomes, I have decided that gnomes were one of the clans of dwarves (there is recorded Rillmorn history for clans of dwarves that have become “sub-races”) and that they were enslaved by the Fomorians.  Uncounted generations of gnomes were the slaves, pets, and experimental subjects of the Formorians and over the ages, the gnomes changed from the dwarves they were to the gnomes they are today.  Eventually, the gnomes were freed when the Fomorians were forced to flee their enemies the Tuatha.  The freed gnomes spread out of the Fey Realm to uncounted worlds, but not Rillmorn…until now. (2014.10.02)

Number 4 is my desire to make gnomes decidedly different than dwarves.  Azer are fire dwarves.  They have strong elemental nature, so what makes them different than gnomes, who have a strong earth elemental nature.  Azer are not related to Paracelsus’ other three elemental types; gnomes are.

Now, we shall see how gnomes play out in my games.

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!

Endings, Sadness, and New Beginnings

This week has been rough on me emotionally and really brought hard questions with which I now grapple.  I finished The Warding of Witch World.  I learned of allegations of child abuse and molestation by an author, I’ve enjoyed very much over the years.  Finally, the Starter Set for D&D 5E has come out.  Individually, each event would cause me to become contemplative, but together they create a unique conundrum for me: When does the work become separate from its creator?

The Warding of Witch World appears to be the last book, Andre Norton wrote in the Witch World Series .  Even though another book for Witch World came out after this one, coauthored by Lyn McConchie, The Warding of Witch World appears to be the end of the Witch World series.  The setup of this book is the idea that some event has set all the gates of the Witch World in flux and the protagonists must seek them out and close them forever.  It is like Ms. Norton is effectively closing and locking the door on her most famous creation.  What does that mean for us the readers and for the various coauthors who wrote with her?

Marion Zimmer Bradley’s daughter has posthumously accused her mother of physically abusing and sexually molesting her.  I met Ms. Bradley, years ago, at a SciFi Convention in Jackson, MS.  It is hard reconcile the nice writer of the Darkover Series and many other enjoyable stories with the woman portrayed in the blog post that first broke the story.  It is even more distressing when I try to wrap my head around her admissions about her then husband’s pedophilia.  All are flawed, but some are broken to the point of monstrosity.  These accusations have resulted in a number of responses.  The one that most concerns me for this blog is the question, “How far can culture heroes’ work stand apart from their lives?” (2014.07.30)

Finally, July 15th was the release date for the Starter Set for Dungeons and Dragons: fifth edition.  Here is a review of the Starter Set. I have yet to purchase it, but its very presence taunts me.  I want to begin a new campaign, build new cultures, design new plot hooks, and run new stories.  It, also, brings up some questions.  “Who owns a (insert your favorite role playing game here) campaign – is the person crafting and running the setting or is it the Players, whose PCs make all the action happen?”  “Is the person creating the campaign integral to the campaign or can anyone run it?”  Finally, “Where do I begin and end in Rilmorn?”

When a writer has done horrible things, has beliefs that are repugnant or unpopular, or has been a jerk, it is understandable for people to equate the work with the writer and condemn both.  This works fine, if one has never read anything by the author in question, but what does one do when a book has spoken to one’s soul and then the reader discovers the horrible truth about the writer?  Does that take away what one has gained from the work?  Does it make the work less, because its creator is flawed or a monster?  I’m not sure.

Does the consumer have the right to dictate the mores and ethics of the creators of whose work they consume?  No and yes; we cannot expect that those who create great things for us live up to our expectations of them; that is not fair.  At the same time, all creators are expected to be responsive to the standards of the society in which they live.  If a creator chooses to defy convention and social standards of behavior, then that is his or her choice, but the person that is creator is still responsible for his or her choice and must pay the penalty for wrong doing.

Can the public, rightfully, demand that the creator change the work to fit the public’s ideal of what the work should be?  No.  The public, the consumers of the work, can quit purchasing the work, but the creator has the final say in what happens in his or her work.

What do we, as consumers, do, when the writer, artist, actor, etc. decides to create in a way that challenges our sensibilities of the work (kills off a favorite character, replaces the actor portraying the main character, etc.)?  We can, either, drop it and go onto something else or we can attempt to expand our view of the work.  We, the consumers, never have to buy something, watch something, or read something because bought, watched, or read something before.  We cannot control what the creators produce, but we can control what we consume.

Does a creator’s personal life and beliefs irrevocably taint the creator’s work?  I don’t know.

Does the public ever gain ownership of a work or is it always the child of its creator?  Yes, the public does get a claim on a creator’s work.  Once a movie is shown, a story is published, or painting is displayed, it is no longer the sole property of the creator.  The creator should reap the benefits of his or her labor, but the creator can no longer, in good faith, tweak, fiddle, refine, or improve on his or her work.  It no longer a pupa developing with the cocoon of the creator’s art, it is a butterfly living its own life and experiences.

Is there, at any point, a time that a work can stand on its own merits without its creator?  Yes.  A work can be judged on its own merits only as long as its creator remains unknown.  Deconstructionist Theory aside, a work that has no creator to be examined by the consumer can critiqued on its only content.

Living campaigns (those run by GMs, not those put to print and pixel to be published for the masses) can never be judged entirely by their content.  You cannot separate the Game Master from the Game.  Individual games are performance art.  They are interactive theater telling a series of stories crafted through the actions of the Players and the GM.  Campaigns and Adventure Paths are the tools wherein the Game Master reveals the inner workings of his or her psyche.  The Game Master places the emphasis on the events encountered.  Whether one is running a sandbox homebrew campaign or an adventure path, the GM inserts his or her biases into the game table.  He either emphasizes the things he likes or she ignores or avoids the things she doesn’t want in a game.  Check out DMing with Charisma’s The Great Tower of Oldechi series; it talks about various styles of DMss.  The Game is the Denominator that reveals the essence of its Creator.

This post has wandered over a lot of ground and it hasn’t answered all of the thoughts and conundrums in my head, but it is a start.  Please feel free to comment and share.

Until we cross paths again, 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!