Household Objects (or MacGyvering Non-D&D Ideas into my Games)

So, the other day my younger daughter’s boyfriend’s car broke down.  During the diagnosis and repair process, it was discovered that the belt for the “Harmonic Balancer” had to be replaced.  Now, I have no idea what a “Harmonic Balancer” is or what it does and I don’t care to Google it to find out.  Yet, I cannot help, but to want a “Harmonic Balancer” into my games.  This is not the first time that I have been inspired to create something for Rilmorn from a non-fantasy/non-D&D object or idea.

Before I get into some of my odd inspirations, let me talk about Listerine.  This one is a cheat; it had a D&D idea in it.  In 1992, Listerine put out some great ads; including one with a bottle of Listerine wielding a sword inscribed with “Plaque Slayer” on one side of the blade and “Germ Killer” on the other side.  This, perhaps not surprisingly, led me into creating a like-named sword that was dedicated to slaying oozes and slimes.  It seemed a bit silly, at the time, but it came in quite handy when my PCs encountered Juiblex and its minions.

Men at Work, an Australian band, had a hit called “Down Under,” which was all about people from Australia, but I saw it different and created the Morloi.  The song has a chorus that changes slightly each time it sung.  I took inspiration from two of those choruses:

And she said, “Do you come from a land down under? Where women glow and men plunder? Can’t you hear, can’t you hear the thunder? You better run, you better take cover

And he said, “I come from a land down under Where beer does flow and men chunder Can’t you hear, can’t you hear the thunder? You better run, you better take cover”

From this, I envisioned a race of humans that dwelt underground.  The men for heavy drinking raiders and the women were farmers that had visible auras about them.  I learned from Casey Kasem that “chundering” was an Australian term for “chugging beer,” thus my heavy drinking plunderers.  The idea that women were glowing farmers came from me misunderstanding one of the later choruses and believing that the line sang was “I come from a Land Down Under; where women plow and men plunder.”  How was I to know that they didn’t rhyme the words “plough” and “glow?”  I created their name by combining the two races of humanity the future presented in H. G. Wells The Time Machine, the Morlocks and the Eloi.  The last time I used the Morloi, they were traveling through time to escape a disaster that was destroying their homeland.

I don’t remember if I was using a Bulletin Board System (BBS) or was on Internet Relay Chat (IRC), but one day this GM posted asking about local businesses which had names that would make great D&D names or ideas.  He had such a name, but his Players all knew about the local business and it break the suspension of disbelief if he used it.  The name was “Lunghammer.”  I took that name a created a dragon slaying orc out of it.  “Lung” is the transliteration of the Chinese word for “dragon.”  “Lunghammer” is something that hits dragons.  He became an orc, because Lunghammer sounds like something that orc would do…”I hammer your lungs!”

So, what will the “Harmonic Balancer” be?  Is it a magical ritual that keeps intrusions from the Elemental Planes contained?  Could it be a bardic singing sword?  Does it have anything to with controlling the elementals that are being summoned within the Bazarene Circuit?  Could it be a device needed to keep the engines of Bazarene from exploding?  What would you do with such a named device?

Until we meet again, Game On!

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!

Why do I Master Games?

So, a few days ago, I posted an old review in response to a Creighton Broadhurst post.  That post led my best friend to suggest that I start a blog wherein I review old gaming material.  I started working on a post for this potential project.  While I was working on that blog post, I realized something…I don’t remember why I got started GMing.

Granted, it has been over 30 years, since I sat down and started GMing, but I do not remember the steps between my first experience playing D&D that Sunday afternoon in March at Davy’s house and sitting down at my parent’s kitchen table drawing Lungold…I mean, Mythgold.  I know that I must have played D&D more than that one time.  I had an Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Monster Manual that my parents gave me for Christmas.  So, what led me to wanting to create my first dungeon?  What led me to craft an overland map that led the PCs to Mythgold?  What set me on this path that I will not willingly leave?  I don’t remember.

I remember long hours of playing my cleric Gregor O’Dragon nee The Gaunt, but a fair number of those hours happened after I first ran Players through parts of Mythgold.  I remember being fascinated by the descriptions of the rooms in the module B1In Search of the Unknown.  I remember stealing ideas right out of that module for Mythgold.  I just don’t remember why I wanted to DM.

Our gaming group, in the early days, consisted of Davy McMillian, Michael McMillian (Davy’s cousin), Stephen Goff (my cousin), Clyde Smith(Davy’s friend), and Mark Inabinette (my cousin).  Davy started out as DM, because he had the books.  Shortly, thereafter, Davy and Clyde began taking turns at DMing.  I don’t remember what happened at most or any of those games, but it was during those early days that I must have begun to desire to sit on the other side of the DM’s Screen.

What if my memory is faulty?  What if I am wrong about which AD&D book my parents bought me for Christmas?  What if I started drawing Mythgold before I had any D&D books of my own?  It doesn’t really matter, because the truth of the thing is that I wanted to create.  I wanted to make a dungeon.  I wanted PCs and their Players to interact with the monsters that I had placed within it.  I just don’t know why?

Even if I do not remember why I started GMing, I know why I do it today.  I do it today, because I am a poor player.  I have a hard time sitting on the far side of the Game Master Screen and not think about how I would run the game different.  I enjoy creating.  I get a great joy spending time designing maps.  Working up NPC personalities gives me great satisfaction.  Writing secret cards helps me to think outside of the box and fuels further creativity.  Running games makes all the creative work I do worth the effort and time that goes into creating.  Being caught off guard by my Players and having to maintain composure, think on my feet, and give the illusion that I had everything already planned out gives me a thrill that outweighs the glory of creating.  Watching a story unfold, a story that I could not have crafted on my own, is like watching a flower bud open.  It is a thing of beauty.  Seeing Players getting caught up in the moment gives me energy to go deeper and draw forth more better encounters and adventures.  It helps me make my world a more real place, at least for a short while, than the rest of reality in which we dwell.

So, why do you Master Games, my Good Readers?  What draws you into the bright darkness that requires us to fill crannies full of goblins and sow the seeds of dragons?  Until next time, Game On!

 

A Review: “Ghost of the Frost Giant King”

Disclaimer: Russell and Morgan Newquiest, two of the authors of this adventure, are friends of mine and the owners of Silver Empire publishing. They provided me with a free, PDF copy of this adventure for me to review.

Ghost of the Frost Giant King is less of an adventure and more of a mini campaign. Using the 3.5 Dungeons and Dragons rules system, Ghost of the Frost Giant King provides a great setting in which the heroes can adventure. Inspired by Nordic myths and stories the continent of Thrúdheim is filled with Monsters and NPCs that allow the Game Master to both evoke the feeling of the Norse Sagas and provide the Players with memorable fights and role playing encounters.

The main narrative of Ghost of the Frost Giant King involves the PCs transporting supplies to a beleaguered frontier town/military fort, but that journey may then lead them on a quest to find artifact out of legend. Scattered throughout the adventure are side quests. It is possible for the GM to run the adventure without them, but I think they really add to the tale and the setting.

There are 44 pages in the PDF version of Ghost of the Frost Giant King. Of those 44 pages, 30 are used for front and back covers, pre-generated PCs and their portraits, NPCs, monster entries, a “Paint-style” player’s handout, three maps, “legal stuff,” and the credits. That leaves 14 pages for the adventure and its attendant art. The Adventure to Support Material Ratio is a bit low for my tastes, but given that Ghost of the Frost Giant King is more of a mini-setting than a straight adventure, it works out well.

I only found two problems with is adventure. The first is the large number of “Read Out Loud” sections. While the “Read Out Loud” sections give the GM needed information, they are often long and wordy and I feel that Players will lose interest while the GM is reading it out. The other problem I have with Ghost of the Frost Giant King is the maps. There are multiple issues with the maps.

There are no tactical maps for use in combat. There is no scale on any of the maps. The only map for the Boss Fight is the map given to the PCs by an NPC (also, this is the only place in the adventure that lists the traps used to defend the boss’ lair). There are no maps for any of the villages or towns used in this adventure. Finally, the continent map doesn’t give the name of any of the cities, towns, or villages shown on the map; nor are any of the rivers, forests or mountains named.

Despite my quibbles, I feel that Ghost of the Frost Giant King is a great module. It gives a GM enough NPCs, settings, monsters, and political intrigue to either run a fairly straight forward adventure or to build a campaign on what is given. With all of this and a superb minor artifact that could spawn a whole slew of story threads all on its own, I rate Ghost of the Frost Giant King a 4 out of 5. It is a great piece of work.

Sticks and Stones (or What Special Materials Have Appeared on Rilmorn)

D. over at Fluer du mal posted about the materials used to make magic items in his games. It got me thinking about the special materials that have appeared on Rilmorn.  Here is my post on those thoughts.

Way back in the day, I was seventeen and not nearly as well read or knowledgeable as I thought I was, but I knew enough about copyright and plagiarism that I didn’t want to do it.  Even back at the beginning I wanted to publish my game world, so I couldn’t use “mithril,” since that came from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.  Thus, I named my star silver metal argentyl.  Since those early days, other materials have made their way into my games, but argentyl is still the most likely to appear.

Ages ago, I read H. Warner Munn’s Merlin’s Godson and Merlin’s Ring and from it I got the impression that orichalcum was milky-gold in color, extremely strong, and had not magical properties, but magical affecting properties.  Thus, I introduced two forms of orichalcum into Rillmorn.  The first was simply swords made of an orichalcum and iron alloy that had “pluses to hit and damage,” but were not magical.  A +2 orichalcum blade would retain its attack and damage bonuses even if its wielder were in an anti-magic zone.  The second way in which orichalcum appeared was in the form of “spell breakers.”  Spell breakers were magical daggers that could be used to “kill” incoming spells.  If a spell breaker wielder had his weapon ready when a spell was cast, the wielder could make an attack roll against the spell’s armor class, if the wielder hit the AC in question the spell “broke.”  Spell breakers were useless in combat.  Spell breakers haven’t been seen since before my USM days and the last orichalcum blade to appear was the one found by Alkin du Fey Duncan and it was rumored to be a pure orichalcum (a +5 weapon) blade.

I do not remember when I came up with the idea of trollsilver, but it was wildly popular for several games.  Before there were spell foci in D&D, a spellcaster using an object made trollsilver to cast a spell could roll a d6 to see how the trollsilver empowered the spell.  On a 1 or 2, the duration of spell increased threefold.  On a 3 or 4, the range and area of effect increased three times.  On a 5 or 6, the “power” of the spell increased by three: IE – 6th level fireball would do 18 dice of damage instead of 6 dice.  Trollsilver faded into the background after a just a few adventures.

One of the rarest of all gemstones on Rilmorrin is the prismate.  Prismate is a gem forged stone.  Gem forging is a psionic/magical art that blends two or more precious or semiprecious stones into a single stone.  Prismates are made up of the dust of numerous gemstones and when completed each facet is a different color.  Only one magic item ever has ever been found with a prismate as part of it.  A flawed prismate was the pommel stone of the sword Policrom.  Prismates still appear occasionally in treasure hoards around the world.

While I’ve used other materials in Rimoranic history, but I think these are the best.  What materials have you created for your games?

Game On!

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!

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!

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!

Davion

I do not use the game conceit of Ravenloft: Realm of Terror.  I do not find the idea of characters trapped in a mystical prison for the truly evil to be a campaign that I want to run or play.  Even if I don’t use the Ravenloft “world,” I still find lots of great material in the Ravenloft setting.  Taking parts of the source material and using them as set pieces can provide a sense of unease and terror within a campaign that is unexpected and filled with fun.

In my Tasque Elzeny campaign, I didn’t just use the source material as an adventure location.  I used it as the home base and setting of the campaign.  Unlike the original module I6: Ravenloft and the Ravenloft box set, the PCs were never trapped in the setting.  No darklord was ever trapped by Dark Powers in Barovia or Mordentshire.  Castle Ravenloft was to be an adventure site and maybe a home base for the PCs, if they reclaimed their “ancestral home.”  Most everything I took from the Ravenloft and Gothic Earth material was “sense data.”  It was information and fluff to evoke a Hammer Film vibe…a Vincent Price air…a Boris Karloff ambience.  Now, how would things be different, if I took the source material and kept as close to the game conceit as possible?

In the D&D 2E hardback Domains of Dread, there is a section on pocket domains, “…domains located within other domains.”  I am considering taking some pocket domains and combining them into a setting for a new campaign.  Three pocket domains stand out as pieces of this setting: Aggarath (from The Forgotten Terror”), the “House of Lament,” and “Davion” (both from Domains of Dread).

Aggarath appears in The Forgotten Terror – the sequel to Castle Spulzeer, a Forgotten Realms adventure module.  Aggarath is both a Domain of Dread and the pommel jewel of the dagger Aggarath.  Persons killed with Aggarath, find themselves trapped inside the domain Aggarath.  Aggarath is the prison realm of Chardath, the last of a depraved family.  Thanks to his poor rearing and an overly developed sense of revenge, Chardath allied himself to a lich and murdered his sister; now he dwells trapped in a dodecahedron-domain, wherein his memories and his fears are made manifest.  People slain by Aggarath have a chance to escape this domain.  They must gather 3 enchanted rubies and a silver key to open the portal out of Aggarath.  Aggarath reminds me of movies from the 1970s where a character is trapped in someone’s psychedelic nightmares and rushes around trying to escape.

The domain named the House of Lament is a strange one.  The House is both the domain and the demilord of the domain.  It began its existence as a bandit lord’s castle.  The bandit lord stole the daughter of another lord and entombed her in a tower wall of his castle to appease the gods and make his castle impervious to attack.  The woman’s horrific death wakened something that drove bandits mad or killed them.  The castle fell into ruins, except for the tower where the woman had been entombed.  Sometime later, a merchant added a new house to the still standing tower.  In time, the Spirit of the Tower or the deranged spirit of the woman killed the man and his family.  Now, anyone who stays too long in House of Lament is trapped, driven mad, and killed.  It is an Amityville Horror house.

Davion, the name of both the domain and its demilord, is my favorite Domain of Dread.  A wizard, desiring ever more power, accidently wished three adventurers into his body.  The combined power of these four being was such that they could actually control reality around them.  Depending upon which psyche was dominant at the time, their shared body and their surroundings changed to fit his or her reality.  Only Davion knew true situation and only Davion could use the powers and information of the others.  It drove him mad and to acts of great brutality to keep his new power.  Eventually, he is drawn into the Mists and given a domain.  The domain shifts appearance, as the each psyche takes control of the body.  Augustus the Mage lives in an orderly village filled to meet the needs of any wizard.  Boromar the Warrior transforms the area into a frontier town on a cold, clear day.  Narana the Priestess worships at a large temple in the center of a small town caressed with warm spring breezes.  Ruins of an earthquake aftermath fill the area, when Davion is master of his own body.  The personalities fade and surface without notice or warning, so the village and surrounding area are ever-changing world of madness.  The locals never seem to notice the changes, but it could easily mess with both Players and PCs senses of reality.

Now, what I may do is place Aggarath on Davion’s person and it is the only thing that will not change when the body shifts psyches.  The House of Lament will be in the center of town and while the tower will remain the same, the house attached to it will become a temple, a school, or a long house as the psyche of the demilord changes.  It would still have dark rumors spread about it, but the deaths caused by the house would be fewer and less obvious.  Finally, the town of Davion will be set on an isolated coast far from civilization.

In this setting, the PCs are among the few that notice the way their world changes.  They have heard rumors of madness and death about the House of Lament.  The area in which Davion is located will be geologically unstable; earthquakes are relatively common.  While the PCs know that there are five (yes, 5) different people who share the same body space, most of the villagers are only aware of one, whichever one is dominate at that time.  All of this knowledge would put the PCs at odds with the most of the village.  The PCs get to see the workings of the setting, but may not be able to do anything about it.

I’d make the Players create multiclass characters.  Magic items and otherwise mundane equipment may have shapeshifting properties.  Davion would be the big or maybe hidden villain for some, if not most, of the campaign.  He would be trying to absorb the PCs to increase his power.

What do you, Dear Readers, think?

Game On!