Monday, December 24, 2007

Adventures in Gnome Town

I hit a new GMing milestone the other day. It's not on the actual list, but I'd put it there if I was making one, because it's something that in six-plus years of game mastering I'd never actually managed: I ran a complete, one-session adventure, with a mostly satisfying conclusion. I've run single session deals before, but they all were either irredeemably stupid or ended when people had to go home, rather than having an actual conclusion.

It was a bit humorous, revolving around the rescue of the son of the Mayor of Gnome Town (who was definitely a gnome) but we managed to avoid sending it completely off the rails.

Other items of note: It was almost completely improvised, and everything that wasn't improvised on the spot was less than two hours old. It was one player's first ever game, and although he spent the beginning of it slightly confused, by the conclusion he'd gotten the hang of it and happily wreaking havoc after the Mayor of Gnome Town let slip that the only way to become mayor was to defeat him in single combat.

I had fun. As far as I can tell, the players did, too, and I hope I'm not wrong in that impression. Now I know that with a little enthusiasm and an hour of prep-time I can turn five otherwise normal hours into some quick, dirty, and fun D&D. And that's not a bad thing to be able to do.

Sunday, December 16, 2007


Funny. I've been looking through Iron Heroes again, in anticipation of running an actual one session scenario using it, and I've been rediscovering the best part of the book. I can't believe that I'd forgotten about stunts.

I guess I was just too busy being blown away by tokens, and having interesting choices in combat just on the PC level. Now you tell me this game has a stunt system, too? And not just any stunt system--a stunt system with some real tactical decision making, so I've got some rails. I've got some guidelines for what's too over the top, and angles for story/wacky antics players and more combat/math focused players to engage with it.

This is how my group plays. "Can I swing off the chandelier?" is a pretty standard question for the GM to hear. I've asked similar myself, when I'm on that side of the screen.

Now I know this isn't news. The stunt system, and the closely related challenge system, was kind of the point of the book. (Or a big part of it.) But somehow, I missed it.

Almost makes me want to

Sunday, December 02, 2007

"Bog Standard" D&D

Can I run a campaign with the races more or less as they are described in the Player's Handbook?

By which I mean two things. "Is it possible for me?" but also "Is it a good idea?"

Because I have never done this. Even when I was running the (at least initially) core only, fight the crazy wizard in his tower, desert-y campaign, I fiddled with the races. I fiddled with a lot of stuff: it was in the desert, rather than the woodsily pastoral pseudo-European setting that the game kind of expects as default. But the races, I didn't mess with mechanically, but I did make a number of adjustments or total rewrites to the flavor that was in the book.

Honestly, it was kind of confusing. And not entirely necessary.

In a broader sense, I'm wondering if it's possible for me to run a campaign that more or less makes use of the core setting, as presented implicitly in the core rule books. Greyhawk, I guess.

I might, I think, replace the gods with a traditional mythological pantheon (Norse or Greek, most likely) on account of it being more immediately evocative. And maybe even pull some of the cultural trimmings from that mythology.

Leaving that possibility aside, though, I'm thinking, why not try to actually use what's in the book? Run a semi-standard, pseudo-European, elves like trees and dwarves like rocks basic D&D fantasy campaign. Rather than whatever strangitude I normally gravitate towards.

Because this will be for all, or mostly all, new players. And I'm not sure that saying, hey, the book says all this, but ignore it, because that's not how I'm doing it, is exactly the greatest way to get started. Could be confusing.

And what's in the book, it's got to be there for a reason, right? It can't be half bad. There's the sheer novelty of it. Less useless work for me to get stuck with. And it's really not that huge of a restriction to be under, because the information is, after all, awfully skeletal.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Sort of Kind of Mostly Back

Novel's done. Finished. First draft, anyway.

Currently the big project is getting a group together for January. Still don't know how I'm going to go about teaching four new people to play D&D. Don't know how well that's going to work out, what the best way to do it is, any of it.

Currently I'm thinking, run a quick one or two session deal, pre-made adventure, something along the lines of The Burning Plague. Or write something like that, but I'm leaning towards just going with that, because that's the first adventure I ever played. Besides the rescuing unicorns from goblins junk, but that was just a two hour thing and really doesn't count. So there's sentimental value in that adventure, and of course that needs to be passed on, no matter how ridiculous it happens to be, what with it's plot that the players can't have.

And then after that, run an actual campaign, with new characters. Probably in the initial intro adventure, hand out pre-made characters, because it's a lot easier to teach the game than it is to teach character creation. (In my experience.) Then have people make characters, once they've got some idea of the mechanics of the game.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Writers Strike Video

Noticed that the Daily Show is in reruns? Wondering why the writers are striking? In a nutshell:

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Who Does She Think She Is?

I think some of the Hillary-hatred arises simply because she's a woman -- and because that vulgar word, the one that rhymes with rich, is always available to describe a woman who gets a little too powerful, or acts like too much of a smarty-pants, or exudes a bit too much authority. That word isn't just a put-down, it's also a pointed question: Just who the hell does she think she is?

Goal For Running Combat

Based on comments on my last post on sequels, I've added another goal to my next campaign.

If it's heavy on the story side, tie the violence into the story. And even if it's not heavy on the story side--if it's more in the vein of those exploration campaigns I've been considering--tie the violence into that.

Not just in the "you must win to advance" sense. Have something story-related, or exploration related, happening during the fight. People switching sides, learning new and exciting things about antagonists, the characters are trying to execute some plan they've made. So there's a tactical level and a roleplaying, what would my character do level going on at the same time.

For exploration campaigns--I've never run anything like this, so my examples can't be pulled from my experience, as those are above. But the things you fight, and where you fight them, would reveal things about the location--you run into an owlbear, and that means there are owlbears in the area. Or you run into an owlbear, and you've never run into an owlbear in the area before, and you have fairly good reason to think that there are no owlbears in the area, that tells you something strange is going on.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

More Thoughts on a Sequel

Make it epic. I've never done epic. Post-twenty, or close to it. That's where my thinking is right now. I may change my mind (and probably will) but it would definitely be different. I have never done epic before, or anything remotely close to it. Highest level I have ever run for is 10.

Though there are reasons why I have never run epic, and why it still might be a bad idea. Epic is hard; there's more to keep track of, more powers to take into account, more stats to keep track of. Combats last longer, and are more complicated.

Of course, I don't plan, at this point, to be running a combat heavy game. There will be some combat--this is Dungeons and Dragons we're talking about, but like the first one, I expect that a great deal of what the players accomplish in this campaign will be accomplished without much combat.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007


I'm thinking about running a sequel campaign. A couple of the players from the Is This Fair? . . . thing . . . want me to, and I think it could be kind of interesting. So I'm currently trying to figure out how to do that, in between the Massive Amounts of Stuff! that I have to do.

I ran another sequel campaign, a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. And it was bad. Incredibly, indescribably, horrifyingly bad. But probably for reasons unrelated to its sequel-ness. I hope.

Mostly it was just kind of incoherent. I did a lot of prep for it, but didn't end up actually using any of it in the game. And there were incomprehensible scavenger hunts, revolving around ducks. Bad, bad, bad.

But this sequel, while I'm wary of muddling up the general awesomeness that was the original campaign, I think could work. Maybe, possibly. Currently pondering ways to increase the chances of that happening. The big one so far? Make it distinct. Set it years later, make significant changes to the characters (but keep as many of those old characters as possible) and make the action center on something very different from the original one.

Also: come up with a better name for the dang thing.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Lessons From The Internet

I'd rather be attacked competently than defended badly. There's nothing more painful than someone who agrees with you, but has no idea what they're talking about.

No, not even that.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Not In My Pie

Very little blogging of late. Been busy. NaNoWrimo, etc.

In other news: Some random dead guy just took over my novel.


Thursday, October 25, 2007

Serial Distractibility

Just as I decide to do NaNoWriMo, I start spinning out another campaign setting, this time a desert ruins exploration deal, in the style of the West Marches. I probably won't get far enough to actually be able to run it, but it'll keep me from using my downtime to work out bits and pieces of the novel.

Which I'm currently worried is not stupid enough to make a really good NaNoWriMo entry.

And this is in addition to planning campaigns way off in the mists of time, for next summer. Which are at least guaranteed to get run, unless I come up with some really cool idea two weeks before kick-off time and decide to go with it instead.

In other news: Roy is screwed. Check out that second sentence.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Regrettably Inspiring Title

Now I really want to write a novel (or something) called Saturday's Warrior. This is unfortunate.

It puts me in mind of a character. There is a person named Saturday, and this person has a warrior. Something of that nature. Not even the least bit related to what the title actually refers to.

Sort of like what happened when I heard Keep on the Borderlands for the first time.

Maybe I should write a novel containing the ideas that the title inspires, but call it something else. Give it a different title from the one I'm holding in my head.

Stuff I Found in Drafts

There are no stupid questions. Only questions that tend not to edification.

"Snakes are basically the funniest animals ever. Except maybe weasels. But weasels are basically just snakes with fur."

"I'd say he's about a 4.5, on a scale of 1 to Hitler."

Realism is over-rated.

Today, I wondered if I could kill myself with Metamucil.

Kung Pao Squid

Whack-a-Mole is a universal principle.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Inspired by a Conversation a Few Days Ago

Hey, here's a metaphor:

DMing is like directing a movie with no script. And the actors all have guns.

Okay, so it's actually a simile.

Friday, October 19, 2007

IQ Tests Are Bogus Anyway

Anyone else been keeping up on the Watson debacle? (If you haven't been, check out Watson to Africa: You're All Dumb. Lots of nice links, get the whole story.)

My first reaction to this is: seriously, what century is he living in?

Second reaction: Please, everyone, can we quit obsessing about intelligence? As a concept? The most important part of a person is not how smart they are. It's not the be all, end all, absolute measure of human value.

Yes, parts of Africa are messed up. Lots of places in the world are messed up. News flash: Smart people are also capable of colossal screw-ups. Intelligence is not an absolute indicator of success, and success is not an absolute indicator of intelligence. Not on a continental level, not a national level, not on a personal level.

So please, stop using intelligence as a crutch for your outdated ideologies.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

A Brief Moment of Culture

It turns out that Qwerty-iu-whatsit's music type stuff is actually pretty awesome.

So check it out. Unless you hate techno. Or Newgrounds. Which are both perfectly legitimate positions of loathing.

If you don't: he claims the early stuff is vile. Beware.

Onslaught, on the other hand, is righteous.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Best Books Are a Dollar Twenty-Five

I have a new favorite book: Spacehawk, Inc. by Ron Goulart.

It's about Kip Bundy, Space Engineer! He builds robots, mostly, and has to go to Malagra to fix a bunch of robot butlers who have gone kablooie and have high potential surliness ratings. And he has to fix them without letting their owners know, because it might cause an international incident, somehow.

Mostly, it's got catmen, and lizardmen, (who you can shoot, no one minds) and the Boyscout Liberation Army, a talking car, a robot revolutionary who glues on his beard, and all manner of equally wacky happenings.

It's the kind of book that you figure out very quickly, because there's really only one kind of book where the protagonist is named "Kip Bundy."

Monday, October 15, 2007

Unitarian Universalism

Anyone seen the ads the UUA is running in Time Magazine? They're pretty nifty. There's also a video that's worth checking out.

It's a cool religion. I met my first gaming group through the church youth group, and it's where I learned to play Dungeons & Dragons, so it's near to my heart in that way.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Because No Game Master Can Be Too Insane

I'm of the opinion that every game master should write at least one novel.

Or make at least one movie. Or one comic book. Or video game. But a novel is one of the simplest, most solitary, and easiest to complete narrative forms around. (And it will be particularly easy to complete when NaNoWriMo rolls around.)

Trying another narrative form is a good way to pick up tricks applicable to running a game. Character development, world design, the generation of conflict; a novel improves all these skills.

But more broadly, knowing another narrative form is a good way, maybe the only way, to find out what roleplaying is really good at. What can I do with a campaign that I can't do with a novel?

Once I've answered that question, those are the things I should focus on. Because those are the things that players can only get from my campaign. Those are the things that will keep them coming back.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Dang Emo Kids! Get Off of My D&D!

Warlock. Uh-huh.

Let me break it down like this: I don't want to play bad guys. I don't want to play "tortured souls." If I play a less-than-good character, it's because of irresponsibility, not angst. So you tie, and continue to tie, the warlock to that flavor, and I continue to not play the class.

No big deal, right? Hey, look at the paladin. Except . . . well, there were some rumblings about non-lawful good paladins being in the base game. And the paladin's powers are pretty neutral, cosmetically. Only minor tweaks necessary. If everything about the warlock is dark and weird and demonic, fixing it will take a lot more work.

Besides, if I am going to include angst in a character, it's going to be over something the character actually did. Worrying about whether intrinsic traits are inevitably damning is so 19th century.

I'm Allergic To Fear


Please, oh please.

Let there never be a giant freaking spider in my pajamas ever again.

That would make me so incredibly happy.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Going All Web 2.0 On My Campaign

This post-all-the-campaign-notes-on-the-blog project is starting to give me ideas. Crazy ideas.

Build-a-campaign-on-a-blog ideas.

Jeff Rients is already kinda doing this, with his World of Cinder project, and to a certain extent with Beyond Vinland. But I was thinking, just do the same kind of thing I'm doing with Is This Fair? except post the material before the campaign runs, instead of after.

I'd have an incentive to do at least a little work on it every day, and occasional internet commentary from random internet people wandering through. There would be the possibility of players getting spoilers, but there would also be the possibility of the players actually knowing something about the campaign world before the game started.

And, of course, there's the possibility of collaborative campaign building, but things of that nature never quite seem to work out for me.

Mostly it'd be about incentive. Keep it small, make it part of my routine. Harness that statcounter addiction towards something productive.

As Much As I Love Novels

Occasionally I hear D&D described as "like writing a novel." Or GMing as something that GMs do because they can't hack it at other creative pursuits. The Chatty DM occasionally refers to himself as a "failed novelist"--mostly as a joke, I think, but it serves to illustrate the point.

I really don't think this is accurate. There are better analogies than novel writing--directing a movie, for one. (Not my idea. I just stole it.) But the larger point:

I don't GM because I can't write novels. I GM because I love to run games. Because there are some things I can do with a roleplaying campaign that I can't do with a novel, or that are easier in roleplaying, or that are more fun in roleplaying.

And when I want to write a novel, I write a novel. Some ideas, some techniques, are fundamentally novelistic. But I don't think of writing a novel--or any other creative pursuit--as fundamentally superior to roleplaying.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

A List Found in an Old Notebook

Adventurers explore ancient ruins in a land of giants.

The gods wage complex socio-political warfare. By blowing each other's #%&! up.

Warriors struggle to protect their village from a jungle filled with Lovecraftian horror.

Island-hopping pirates hunt for treasure and fight for glory.

Humans live in the mountain cities of the giants, searching the deep places where the giants cannot go.

The younger children of powerful nobles adventure for treasure and fame to advance their positions.

Teams of gladiators fight horrible monsters (and occasionally, each other) for Fame! and Glory!

The greatest warriors of the age have been cast out of time, and wander through the strange world of the future.

Adventurers struggle against the remnants of ancient, evil empires in a blasted land.

Humanoid noble houses serve individual giants in wars that span centuries.

Sky pirates seek adventure in the spaces between the stars.

Angels and demons wage a secret war through mortal politics.

Heroes seek pulp adventure in a mysterious and unexplored continent.

Humans/humanoids are paired with a young dragon, and together they undertake dangerous missions for the Queen.

The Order of the Couatl/Feathered Serpent battles hideous aberrations in a deep and forbidding jungle.

Troubleshooting utilities engineers must defend their city from what lurks in its sewers.

Druids and their allies must defend a sacred forest.

A powerful dragon hires humanoids to advance its interests in the world.

Young, idealist soldiers undertake missions for a surprisingly decent, but deeply ruthless dictator.

Cities spring up in a huge and ancient tower--but dangerous monsters roam the uninhabited areas.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

What's My Inner D&D Character?

After analyzing your answers with state-of-the-art medieval fantastic psychology profiling tools, Dungeon Mastering is confident that your inner D&D character is a Lawful Good Gnome Ranger!

That's . . . weirdly perfect.

Of Monsters and Manuals

You don't get frost giants if you don't get Monster Manual N? What? They think, people are going to be more likely to buy Monster Manuals II and III and so on if they don't get all the major iconic monsters in the first one? That this won't just knock those monsters off their iconic pedestal?

I assume they know what they're doing, but . . . are most people really going to get more than one monster book? How much is Wizards declaring "these are all core books!" really going to affect how people use these books, and the monsters in them?

I do see how this could work. Package the monsters in each book so that each one gives you a particular kind of campaign. But just spreading the classics around, which is what it sounds like . . . I just don't know how well that'll work.

New Goal

Next campaign, no over-arching mega-plot. Firefly style mission-based adventuring, old-school wander-into-trouble adventuring, whatever. But no "everything is connected, you must find the seven keys to activate the mystic dingus" adventuring.

I did it in the last campaign I ran. The campaign before that was heading towards it. I don't talk about the one before that, and the first campaign did also had that sort of ring to it, if memory serves.

It's worked out fairly well in all cases. But I lean on it; it's my comfort zone. So next time, the PCs are going to have a series of sometimes loosely connected adventures, and no one plot is going to take over the entire game.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

What These Players Wanted

Here's an example of the technique I (sort of) described yesterday.

I wrote down these notes a few days after the first session. Roughly two-thirds of this material stayed valid through the last session.

Soern (the name is misspelled in the original document) would basically go wherever he heard their were magical items of interest to him, or interesting kinds of arcane power. Later on, he started collecting one of the magic item sets in the Magic Item Compendium, making him incredibly easy to motivate.

Sigrid (again, misspelled) dropped the justice motivator, partially because it was causing problems with the other characters, but mostly because it was more interesting to her player to be internally conflicted over her own motivations than to have the kind of clarity that the justice thing was best suited for. She later developed an attachment to one of the main NPCs in the campaign. That's something I didn't really mention before, but it turns out that a character who really cares about a particular NPC is incredibly easy (and fun) to motivate.

Rellik, on the other hand, is sort of a case study in wasted potential. I never really could figure out what was interesting to him, mostly because I was too busy with Sigrid and Blank to focus on him. Which I deeply regret.

Xerxed only showed up in the first session. He was retconned/replaced with Blank, because I thought he was too similar to Rellik and potentially destructive to the campaign, and because the person who played both of them thought being a pirate sounded fun. Thus was born Captain Blank, one of the best things to happen to that campaign.

Blank had a lot more handles than Xerxed, being interested in pirating and interaction as well as being cool, and he lacked the potential for psychopathic behavior. He later developed a personal vendetta against a nemesis, a subplot that was both very fun and somewhat underutilized.

Friday, October 05, 2007

What Players Want

When I GM, the first thing I want to know is: what do the players want? The second thing is: what do the characters want?

If I show the players a way to get what they want, or what their characters want, they will go after it.

Most problems I've had with weird off-the-wall behavior have been in situations where there was either no way for the players to get what they wanted, or there was no obvious way, because I hadn't communicated their options properly. Occasionally, I've had players whose goal was weird, off-the-wall behavior, but in the majority of cases players who do bizarre things are simply confused.

If players can make progress towards achieving their goals, they will usually be happy--and, within certain limits, predictable.

How do I find out what players want? Observe and ask. What's going on in the game when a players is most engaged? What's on that player's character sheet? If I'm paying attention, it tends to become fairly obvious.

What characters want is even easier. I have the players make a list: 3 goals my character wants to achieve. (This will give me some idea of what the players want, too--are their goals story related? Challenges they want to overcome? Cool things they want to get?)

Not only does this give me a good idea of how to get the characters into the next adventure--and keep them happy once they're in it--it gets the players thinking about their characters in ways that may not have occurred to them. Giving a character goals is a simple way to get invested in that character, and the world it lives in.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

With, Like, Zombies and Stuff

Feeling the need to run a horror game.

The trouble with that is that I have no idea where to start. Call of Cthulu? I've heard of people introducing horror elements into their D&D, but I also know that D&D has a lot of features in it that are really not designed for the horror thing. Maybe d20 Modern, or even Iron Heroes, but that just takes care of the magic issue. Both systems are designed for "you shoot it and it dies" power fantasy.

The trouble with getting an entirely new system is that I have no idea if I can actually pull it off. And if I can't, if I run a session and it doesn't go all that well and I decide, well, at least now I know, I'll have a book I'm never going to use again.

But at least I'll have used it once. That's more than I can say for a lot of my gaming material.

And of course, there is the fact that this interest in horror originally revolved around a couple of D&D monsters which I found particularly intriguing. Not that I couldn't take what I think is cool about them and convert their stats to another system. But if they're designed for D&D, then it follows that they're designed to do scary in D&D. And there is always Heroes of Horror. At which I have not yet looked.

GURPS might work. Might. But I have a somewhat troubled relationship with that system.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Languages Filled With Lies

I need to get back on the conlanging wagon. I have one language-like thing that I made years ago, and I had fun with it, but it'd be nice to have something that was actually use-able. In roleplaying, fiction, and/or espionage.

I've been thinking that it'd be interesting to design a language as a creative expression of meaning. Perhaps with themes, in the manner of a novel. Natural languages encode information about cultures, and the people who use them. Could other information be expressed in a constructed language?

I can use language to make a point. Can I make a language that makes a point?

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Monday, October 01, 2007

This Talk of Climaxes Intrigues Me

Today's edition of Treasure Tables got me to thinking. Maybe I should actually write up adventure notes, or at least do some thinking along those lines.

It'd be interesting to actually try to get some dramatic structure out of a session. I tend to do that only on a campaign level, ratcheting up the tension until we get to the big villain fight. It might be worthwhile to actually pay attention to how things are going in an individual session, and try to give it just a bit of structure.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Distracted by THE FUTURE

Pondering post-apocalyptic science fiction as a game setting. Whether I should put the work in, whether I should go for something fairly straightforward or totally oddball. Either way could work, and I've never really done either. Outlaws really wasn't properly post-apocalyptic.

If I go serious I'll want to get d20 Future. Very cool book, I once borrowed it from a friend. If I go with something fantasy/bizarre, I'll have enough material that I won't feel a strong need to go out and buy it. Probably. Chaositech has rules for mutants, I can hack together rules for robots, and I hear BESM d20 has a pretty nifty set of SRD rules for mecha.

I'd really like to put together a feat-tree type system for mutations. Actually, I could just use feats for that--maybe with a class that grants bonus mutation feats. Hrm. That would take work, but it might be worth it.

If I was going to run a post-apocalyptic game.

Just a Little Bit

The best villain is just a little bit tougher than the players. Tough enough to win that first fight, but by a small enough margin that the players think that next time, they just have to be on their absolute A-game. So that when they finally do win, they know they have been on their absolute A-game. They know they've accomplished something.

The theoretical exception to this would be extremely long-term villains. I've not yet made use of the technique myself, but if I were to introduce a villain who was intended to be a problem for the PCs for a long time--an entire campaign, say--I might consider making that villain significantly more powerful than the PCs. Make the accomplishment come not from knowing that they did their absolute best, taking out someone who they didn't have a chance against in their first meeting.

If I was to do that, I'd probably also include villains of the just-a-little-bit-stronger variety, perhaps as lieutenants. And even if the PCs wouldn't be able to completely stop the master villain's plans for a long time, I'd be careful to make sure they made progress.

New Vistas of Geekery

I played Halo for the first time today. And I started learning medieval swordsmanship. Longsword, specifically.

That's what I call a successful day.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

NaNoWriMo Scheduling

Considering doing National Novel Writing Month. Like I don't already have enough to do.

Mostly I'm trying to figure when I should do it. The time I actually finished it, I did in December, but conditions are different this year, so that may no longer be the best time. Might actually consider doing it in November; otherwise I'll probably wait until January.

The major consideration is when other people are available for the escapade. I have never done NaNoWriMo with other people; that is my plan for this time.

Then I just need to figure out what it's going to be about. But this is NaNoWriMo, so the "what" is less important than the "when."

Superheroes & Sorcerers

Someday, I need to run a campaign that actually uses these ideas. Or just get a copy of Mutants and Masterminds.

Though I think there is something to the "Dungeons and Dragons rules, superhero attitude" idea. This may be something to try with The Book of Nine Swords.

Or--actually--with Iron Heroes. Though I have a suspicion that the two systems may work fairly well together. Might take a bit of tweaking.

I wrote those notes during the two weeks I thought Exalted was "totally awesome." And the six months when I accosted people with Batman factoids on an hourly basis. Can you tell?

Friday, September 28, 2007

Lazer-Beam Eyes!

Confound it. It just finally occurred to me how awesome post-apocalyptic sword & sorcery fantasy would actually be.

At least, if "post-apocalyptic sword & sorcery fantasy" means "You are a dude with a sword, or possibly a crazy wizard. You see a robot dinosaur with laser-beam eyes stomping across the blasted landscape on the horizon."

This is going to drive me crazy. Because as much fun as the hex map is, and as weird as it is, it's still very much standard D&D fantasy, with elves and forests and kings in castles. And that's cool, and I made a conscious decision to do it that way, because this if I run it at all it will probably be for a group of people who haven't played D&D before, and I'd like them to get an idea of what the baseline is.

Don't know if that's a necessary thing. It seems like a good idea, but I don't have enough direct experience in the area to know for sure.

This is the sort of thing I would normally subject to a quick poll from the group, but right now, I don't have a group.

Which brings up another point: how much is this something that I want to run at some point, and how much is it something that I'm using to kill time until I get another group together? Also, it's not like I can't keep working on the current hex map, with the intention of running it, and start on a stranger world that's more an exercise in awesome-osity.

Justifying My Rampant Intellectual Kleptomania

What I don't generate randomly or spin off a secret, I steal. Shamelessly.

Partially because it helps maximize content volume while minimizing work. (Though I tend to give everything my own spin, and at the least have to translate it into game-meaningful content, which is the most work intensive part. So it doesn't minimize effort that much.)

Partially because I like the easter egg aspect it lends to the game. This comes up a lot with character names--names are the most easily Google-able. This would probably drive some people crazy, but I think it's funny when the players finally realize exactly where I got the name of that ancient artifact sword.

Mostly, though, I just like using things I think are cool in my game. I prefer roleplaying that focuses on emulation, rather than innovation. It plays more to the form's strengths. Using familiar material helps keep the inevitable misinterpretation that comes with a group of people trying to figure out what's happening through verbal interaction down to a manageable level. And one of the big advantages that roleplaying has over less active forms of entertainment is that you are actually involved, on some level, with what's going on; using material that you already think is cool takes advantage of that.

And, on an even more theoretical level, I am not much for pure and total originality in creative processes. There are hard limits to just how original it's possible to be, and even harder limits on how original it's desirable to be. If I have to choose between innovation in premise and competence in execution, I almost always choose competence.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Secrets, And Products Thereof

One of my major tools in building hex map, and associated setting, is the Second Rule of Dungeoncraft, from Ray Winniger's (excellent) Dungeoncraft column.

Every time I create an important part of my setting, I create a secret about what I just created, and I put it into the deck 'o secrets. (Yes, I use an actual 3x5 notecard. I'm just that hardcore.) When I need something new to put on the map I'll draw a card from the deck, and try to figure out a way to work a clue to that secret into an encounter. This and random generation is how about 90% of what's on the map found origin.

My process works a little differently from the specific one that Winniger describes, because I'm starting very locally, and working my way up from there. I didn't start working on the gods until I had clerics who needed those gods. So most of my secrets are about NPCs and locations rather than fundamental ways the world works.

Not that I don't have a few of those. But I did it backwards. I thought to myself, "I need a big, world-changing secret that I can work into the early part of the game." And then I came up with some ideas about how the metaphysics of the setting that would support that, and suddenly I've got a general framework for how the planes interact, a couple new gods, and a rough idea for both a true creation myth and a false one.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Ominous Rumblings On The Horizon

Hrm. They're seriously ditching the Great Wheel cosmology? One of the absolute number one things that makes me think, "Yeah, that's D&D?"

Didn't see that one coming.

Not that I've ever used the Great Wheel myself. I haven't run enough core D&D for it to have come up--and the setting I'm working on now doesn't use it, either. But I always enjoyed reading about it. It's in that same classic D&D category in which I place beholders and gelatinous cubes.

The new cosmology sounds intriguing, but I'm not sure it sounds like D&D. That's by no means a bad thing--I am of course a major fan of Arcana Evolved, Iron Heroes, and Tome of Magic. But I can't help wondering if the off-beat flavor isn't best left to supplements and third party source books. Why can't the baseline be our dependable, slightly goofy, orc-hacking standard D&D goodness?

Goodness that has a lot of history behind it, I might add. That's not a thing to be abandoned lightly.

Also: they appear to have changed the Wizard Implements article since I first laid eyes upon it. There was originally no mention of "Iron Sigil" or "Emerald Frost." Again--this sounds cool, but it doesn't quite sound like D&D. And it had better be, at the least, tweakable, and preferably easily expandable. I don't want to be stuck with someone else's named fluff leaving great muddy footprints all over my game.

A Few More Random Generators

Turns out I posted too soon. Behold: Serendipity! Source of many fine random generators. The interesting site generator is exactly what I need: a spark for an interesting location-based encounter.

Also handy is the Barrel, Crate, and Sack Generator from the Tools section of the Wizards archive. I find it particularly handy for generating treasure captured from merchant caravans and the like; sometimes one needs trade goods rather than gold and jewels, and this utility provides an interestingly unusual assortment.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

My Hex Map Is Not Nearly Weird Enough

"This humble mountain republic was noted for its advanced art. It was destroyed by a neighboring country because of the people's extreme perversion, leaving behind only methods of transportation and political theories."

Brought to you by Seventh Sanctum's Lost Civilization Generator

This is going in the hex map. Don't know how. Don't know where. But it needs to be there, and it needs to be there soon.

I really like randomly generating content. I've been doing a lot of it lately, because I want this project to have a kind of wacky scope that I can't achieve independently.

So far I've mostly been using the aforementioned Seventh Sanctum, Slack'n'Hash, and a few of the charts in the Dungeon Masters Guide and the DMG II. Because I haven't yet gotten a copy of the 1st Edition Guide.

Anyone else have any favorite chart sources? Untapped mines of wonder of which I have not yet heard?

Monday, September 24, 2007

Direct! From The Trenches

Preliminary report: Risus-mediated play-by-post roleplaying is awesome.

Naturally, this is mostly a function of the GMing. She knows her material, and she's taking advantage of the form.

But the form! It exercises some mental muscles roleplaying doesn't normally use. Writer-type muscles.

An interesting challenge: how to get across what my character is thinking without using any internal monologue?

It's also interesting, being able ask the GM questions in the middle of a game. I tend to try to discourage side-talk in tabletop play; time spent one-on-one seriously subtracts from everyone else's play time. I can do that kind of thing out of game, but that discussion takes place on a strategic level.

In this game, if I come up with a question that I think my character would know the answer to, I can fire off a quick note the the GM and the other players are none the wiser. And it works the other way. I can come up with information about my character as the GM needs it.

Which is how I like to work: incrementally. Come up with an idea and spin off of that.

This is a style that fits with me. Writing, collaboration, time to think. It'll never replace tabletop, but if it stays this good I may have to make it a regular part of my gaming diet.

On the other hand, the waiting is going to drive me insane.

A Handy Resource

Something else I'm doing with my hex-map: working in the free Wizards adventures.

They're short and to the point, with one or two locations and an interesting opponent. Exactly what I need for this project. The map is still mostly original material, but these help to get a bit of variety.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Short Skirt, Long Jacket

I have been provided with significant amusement.

The psychiatrist is my favorite. "Very engaging. I really enjoy this song a lot." Anyone who can deadpan that has my approval.

I like this song. Really do. "This song--is this song about an executive? It's about an executive! Excellent!"

Adventure Notes

So I was going through my notes for the Arcana Evolved island campaign, because I was thinking that I might post them on the blog in response to the Treasure Tables request. What I discovered is that I really don't have adventure notes, exactly. I have some notes on NPCs, locations, and the plots that are afoot, but I didn't write down much along the lines of "this is what I expect will happen in this session."

I don't know how other people handle their notes, so I don't know quite what to make of this discovery. Are these "adventure notes" some different variety of beast than what I do? Or are they more detailed versions of my "the players will probably run into this at some point, so I will describe it" system?

Friday, September 21, 2007

Stupid Villain Tricks

Continuing on my last post: Sometimes, the players aren't going to fail. Sometimes, you're going to go into a session with a plan for them to get within an inch of taking out the villain, and they go two feet past you and totally smoke the dude.

Because that happens. I want to make clear that my take-it-as-it-stands "advice" isn't meant as an endorsement of railroading. Sometimes what you, as the GM, are trying to do just isn't going to work.

However, there are a couple of strategies I've used in the past, to ensure maximal survival for my villains at crucial moments.

1. Have an exit strategy
Secret passage. Smoke bomb. Invisibility potion. Giant monster that comes crashing into the room. Something explodes. Whether it's something the villain plans, or something that I plan as an in-game coincidence, I'll sometimes put together a general purpose escape plan for when things turn south.

2. Lie
Of course there's a secret passageway there--the villain, being a genius, had one installed months ago. This is my favorite strategy. Very similar to the first strategy, but usually I can come up with better plans once I already know what my players are doing.

3. That was just my ramen!
Who says the villain the players just offed was really the major bad guy? This is actually something I've planned for ahead of time, but I can see it working just as well in a "Gee, now all my notes are totally useless" situation. It also provides a nice combination of success and failure, because while they did get to pound on someone, the real threat is still out there.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

On Villainy: Some Random Advice

Robin D. Laws is (as always) saying some interesting things today, and I thought I'd chime in, because it links up with something I've been thinking about for a while.

Some of the best single sessions I've ever run revolved around PC failure. There is, I think, a technique to it, that I stumbled across by accident, but I've found it to be very powerful when used properly. Those of you who have played games I've run before will probably recognize it; I wasn't using it intentionally then, but it's been handy enough that I put thought into how to repeat it.

First, set the PCs up as fairly competent. This is important--it's no fun to just start losing and never stop. The players need to feel that they and their characters are equal to most challenges you're going to throw at them.

Then, have a villain just barely get away. Success mixed with failure is key here. Have the villain escape just as the players have foiled the evil plot. Or let the players learn the identity of the villain, or that there is a villain, even as the villain's plans go into action.

Another handy trick is to have the villain take something important to the PCs--they haven't been killed, and they've technically got the villain on the run, but damn do they want to get the bastard.

This is the absolute best way I know of to get a party interested in taking out your villain. Ideally, there should be some kind of action they can take against said villain. Even if you'd rather they not totally foil the evil master-plan, giving them something to attack or some direction to start moving in will help keep them from throwing things at you.

Because the goal of this trick isn't to have the players despair, with cries of "Blast! Foiled again!" It's a way to get them very, very motivated, in a way that you have control of--and as a benefit, it's a way to get them invested in the world, and making plans. Because they will want to make plans. Plans as only wronged players can make.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

A Bit of Non-Linear Thinking

It occurred to me, in a discussion with a friend, that I try to see problems in technological terms. He brings up this political/social problem, and his political/social perspective on it.

My initial response is a political/social one. My standard reply to issues of this nature is Ye Olde Efficiency vs. Stability, the idea that as a system becomes more efficient, it becomes less stable, and vice versa. If we lose languages and cultures, it becomes easier to get things done, but we are more vulnerable to certain kinds of disasters because our repertoire of responses is more limited.

But then I realize, after thinking about it some more, that this issue is going to be completely transformed by technology. Once machine translation becomes reliable (which may take a very long time, but unless the human brain is some weird quantum black box we have no hope of ever understanding, it will happen) the entire system of language interaction is going to be dramatically changed. I don't know how, exactly, but depending on the exact implementation--well, at the very least, it'll become less massively necessary to learn the dominant language.

This is how I try to see a lot of social problems. Social problems are big and messy and unsolvable, because they depend on cultural assumptions and value judgments. And conversations about social issues are even worse--I hate discussions where you go round in circles without getting anywhere, and that's what tends to happen when laypersons (and politicians) have these discussions.

But make it a technological problem, and suddenly it's solvable. Until that technological solution becomes its own social problem, but those issues tend to be much more clear cut and much easier to avoid.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

This Is Not Just About Emo Kids

I've noticed a tendency to glorify angst. It's something that that writers do, that artists do, that important people thinking important things do. Depressing is considered more valid, more important, more meaningful than uplifting.

This is bullshit.

Misery is important, and valuable, and educational. There are things that you will never understand if you haven't been truly, honestly miserable at least once in your life.

But it's not profound. It doesn't make you a better person. It doesn't make you a more interesting person. It's not some rarefied state that the masses, in their happy ignorance, cannot hope to comprehend.

Misery is easy. Happiness is hard.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Odds, Ends, And More Hex Map!

When it rains, it pours, right? I get four posts one day, and then . . . nothing. I could say that I didn't have anything worth writing about, but I always have things worth writing about.

The current Scary Go Round storyline is quite excellent. Drug (and jam) addled wannabe superheroes is a concept I can always get on board with. To get the full story, you'll want to start roughly hereabouts.

Similarly, progress on the hex map continues apace. I have developed a number of resolutions, regarding the shape of the campaign it will make. I am going to try to include the proper amount of treasure, more interesting and challenging encounters, and the occasional PC death. I had a sharp focus on the story side of my last game, largely because several of my players were interested in that and the others didn't much care as long as they were getting what they wanted out of the game. But there are other skills, and I plan to discover them, and their uses.

In that light, I've resolved not to have an over-arching grand plot. No plans for a final confrontation, no single villain behind all the evils. There will be villains, evil, and plots aplenty, but I won't have any single thread connecting everything from the beginning.

There will be threads, certainly, but I want this campaign to be more free-ranging. Whether or not a villain gets promoted from random underground foe to major arch-villain will, hopefully, be based more upon player interest than long-term GM plan. I do like the over-arching plot technique, but because both of my successful campaigns featured it heavily, I'd like to try something different.

Oh, and gnomes. I think gnomes are going to be a major part of the next campaign I run. Gnomes rock.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Not That I Don't Like Drow . . .

What. The. Hell.

Drow. Jeez. Bit of an 80s flashback there. Some of it is kinda cool, but some of it is scary.

And not even good scary.

Lo! Actual discussion of the topic!

Not To Mention The Gnomes

This whole hex-map project? Should have tried it years ago.

Building a campaign from the ground up. Start with the details, work my way out to the big picture. Rather than my usual strategy of starting it top-down because that seems like the logical thing to do, and then getting bored a few pages in and never going back to it ever again. Or, worse, never really getting started, because I can't think of the proper conceptual framework.

Well, no more. Now I'm doing my design at the encounter level. This requires interesting NPCs, who require secrets, which require clues on the map, which turn into more encounters, and suddenly I've got all kinds of crazy happening in this little map of maybe two days travel through a forest. I start out with "this town needs a leader" and I end up with "to the south are lots of elves, who don't like humans and have a serious green dragon problem."

This is fun.

Still Not Done With the Topic

A few more thoughts on the September podcast.

It's interesting that they talk about D&D in terms of story issues, and how the mechanics support or undermine those. It's very close to the idea that I'm familiar with, that emulation is a primary goal of roleplaying. Telling brand new stories is often less effective than retelling stories everyone really loves in new ways, and the rules need to be able to support the assumptions you need to tell those stories.

Also: copper pieces are there so you can laugh at the peasants. Look at World of Warcraft. Low-level players use copper pieces so the high level, gold-using players can laugh at them.

Building in the assumption of non-basic book core classes and races into the game from the beginning is cool.

They talk about psionics. Will Incarnum be in the new edition? At this or a later date? That's a book I have, never used, really want to, and unfortunately don't see how I'm going to in the near future. And that makes me sad, because it's a really, really cool system.

Similar question on the Tome of Magic front, because the classes and subsystems there are also very cool, and I've used them a little bit but not quite in the way I'd like.

I assume The Book of Nine Swords classes are going to be updated at some point (because the Wizards people seem to like them, based on the groups they've talked about on the website) and their general philosophy is informing aspects of the new edition.

Reasons to Switch to 4th Edition

If it makes the game easier to DM.

If it gives fighters fun things to do at high levels.

If it gives bards fun things to do, period.

Heck--if it gives everyone more fun things to do.

If it makes combat faster.

If it makes combat more interesting--more tactical options. Especially, if it makes the tactical game more obvious, because that's a part of the game that doesn't always come naturally, but is always fun if I can come up with something.

If it makes high-level play functional.

If it makes single-monster encounters less horribly swingy.

If it really does achieve the goals that Mike Mearls outlined in the September podcast--fix the math, fix the class balance, fix the encounters-per-day boondoggle. Note that none of these problems make 3rd unplayable. But fixing them would make it a lot more playable, and a lot more fun.

If they make non-combat interactions more interesting, more dynamic, and more relevant.

If it's got cool flavor. If the flavor in the base books is cooler than the flavor in the base

If it's easier to run encounters with multiple monsters with very different abilities.

If it's easier to build fun monsters, and otherwise work with the system. Particularly, if the design and development ideas are more transparent, because it's easier to mess with things if I know why they're a particular way in the first place.

If multiclassing is really as good as they say. "Any combo, any level, always works," and I'm totally there.

If turning undead is made less stupid.

Unfortunately, There Are No Flying Cars Here

I was having a discussion today (wouldn't call it an argument; that requires a certain measure of coherence) when the other person involved (in the middle of a long, uninteresting monologue) said something along the lines of "in every society in history, men and women have had different roles."

Allow me to introduce you to this marvelous new thing we're living in. I like to call it "the future." Unlike every other society in history, we have iPods!

What's that, you say? You don't believe technological advancement has anything to do with societal change? What do you think democracy is, then? An unfortunate reversion from humanity's natural state of rule by whoever had the luckiest grandparents?

Sure, maybe "in every society in history," men and women really did have meaningfully different societal roles. Anything's possible. Why, exactly, are you holding that up as some kind of ideal? This is America. We believe in progress.

Here in the marvelous world of the future, most major forms of economic activity don't depend on how hard you can stab things.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Listen to the Kids

Why is it, when trying to solve a problem that involves teenagers, we try every strategy except actually paying attention to them? Kids, too.

Sure, give seriously depressed teens anti-depressants, but monitor them, too. Talk therapy. Effective combination. Is that really so hard? Better yet, get schools and parents and doctors to pay enough attention to their kids that they notice depression before it gets that bad. It's not a disease that shows up over night. (Usually.)

Same thing goes for educational reform. Why do kids do badly in school? Because they hate school. It's really that simple. The system doesn't work for them, they don't do well, they don't see what the point is. Make it relevant, stop warehousing kids, and they'll do better.

This is hard. It's hard to take teenagers seriously, to take kids seriously. They're obnoxious, think they know-it-all, can't properly articulate what their problems are. But they've been there, man. They know what their problems are.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Quotes IV

"My wizards are always taking off their clothes so they can cast spells." quantumelfmage

"Who equips their service cherubs with laser-beam eyes?" qwertyuiopasd

"The Presidency ought to be held at a higher level than having to answer questions from a snowman." Mitt Romney

"I'm willing to bet that the phrase "a really strange D&D campaign" conjures up a much more vivid image for most of my readers than "a really strange toaster." You know what to expect from the typical D&D game." Mike Mearls

“It’s hard to choose favorites among the lords of hell. Mephistopheles I think has the coolest name.” James Wyatt

"The effectiveness of schools isn't evaluated by kids (who are usually well aware of how poorly the system works), but by teachers and parents, who've bought into the system." Mark Rosenfelder

"Turns out that even if you’re a snake, and even if you’re on fire, adventurers will still kill you." Logan Bonner

"I game mostly because I never get to kill apemen in real life; I hate apemen and I was born to kill them. Therefore, gaming allows me to fufill my destiny." Aos on theRPGsite

"Any time a French word comes into play in an English-language discussion, you can be sure there are some class dynamics." Douglas Wolk

"The great thing about space cowboys is that they imply space cows." qwertyuiopasd

"Elves would make good cowboys. Especially in space." qwertyuiopasd

"We'll be starting the campaign in media res, which is Latin for 'Look out! TIE Fighters are zapping your ship!'" Jeff Rients

"If you can't knock buildings down, then it's not a real game." Godzilla

"Lunch: Something called a 'sombrero salad,' but it contained no actual hat." Jane Espenson

"This is not fanfic; it's focus [is] on using the characters to tell stories, not telling stories about the characters." Scipio

"Give me that chair! I'm a hundred and seven!" Aunt Muriel

"Is there a plan or do we just shoot things at random?" Deadshot

"There's nothing ironic about Hitler." Jon

"Quiet, you fool! That's how the Great Guam Fracas of '97 began." Mark Rogaski

"I match all donations -- so if you like my writing donate; if you HATE me, then donate MORE, and bankrupt me with your hate!" John Rogers

"Extinction, irrevocable loss of a species, causes pain that can never find relief. It is an ache that will pass from generation to generation for the rest of human history." Callum Roberts

"Hostility towards Microsoft is not difficult to find on the Net, and it blends two strains: resentful people who feel Microsoft is too powerful, and disdainful people who think it's tacky. This is all strongly reminiscent of the heyday of Communism and Socialism, when the bourgeoisie were hated from both ends: by the proles, because they had all the money, and by the intelligentsia, because of their tendency to spend it on lawn ornaments." Neal Stephenson

"There are no rules." Alberto Gonzales

"Treat people like idiots and they'll act accordingly; give them real power and they'll adjust to it." Mark Rosenfelder

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Teaching D&D

If you happen to be an experienced DM, and you're teaching D&D to someone, is it best to go with Players Handbook only, dungeon crawling, vaguely Greyhawk-ian standard D&D? Is it okay to add in more diverse mechanical material? More diverse thematic material? What if your normal game doesn't fall into any of those categories?

On setting--better to go with a published setting, or homebrew? Does it matter? Does it make a difference how weird the setting is? Is something like Eberron or Dark Sun, which both change various baseline assumptions about the world and how the game's played, better if its an established setting, so new players have a place to go to get a more solid grounding in it?

What if you really want to play something like Arcana Evolved, or Iron Heroes, but the only players around are new? Better to start them off with the basics, or is it okay to start them with the slightly off-beat stuff? In some ways, Iron Heroes might be easier to learn--none of that magic stuff to deal with. But how would learning it first change a player's perception of D&D?

What if you've got a mixed group? Some new, some old? Should you get the older players on board with staying core, to keep the group simpler for the new players? Should you let the experienced players use wacky supplements, but tell the new players to keep to the basics? Will new players even notice?

On new stuff--does it make a difference, in both whether to use it at all and who to allow to use it, whether it's new variations on old stuff or entirely new things? New feats and spells? New races? New prestige classes? New base classes? New subsystems? Are there some subsystems that are easier to use with new players than others? Psionics? Incarnum? Book of Nine Swords?

How much weird stuff should a DM use, when running a game for new players? Should you stay core, too? Take advantage of having some players who don't necessarily know that a troll has fire resistance? Or is it okay to go weird, since your players don't know the difference and aren't keep track of it? Is it okay to use PC parts in your NPCs that you aren't allowing the players to use? Is it okay to use subsystems that you aren't allowing your players to use? (Those last two don't apply just to new player campaigns.)

Monday, September 03, 2007

Learning D&D

Is it better to learn D&D (or any roleplaying game) from an experienced DM, or a brand new one? With a group of entirely new players, or a group where everyone but one or two people basically knows what's going on?

Is it better to learn to DM as your first D&D experience, or after you've been playing it for a while? With brand new players, or experienced players? Is it possible to learn to play D&D as the DM, but with experienced players?

By better I mean--which is more fun? Which is more likely to keep you in the hobby for the long run? Does it affect playing style? DMing style? DMing skill?

How do most people learn to play D&D? Are there differences between how D&D is learned, and how other games are learned?

What effect does already knowing another game have on the learning process? Does it have any other, longterm effects?

Probably some of these questions are answered by market research. I know that Wizards published a study of the player population and its various habits in the run-up to 3rd Edition. I assume they still do market research; do they still publish it? Do they have plans to publish it?

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Madness? This Is Facebook!

I just did something crazy. I just put up an open call for players on Facebook, of all places.

This is going to end badly.

But there is a small chance that it will end with me having a group. Or the beginnings of a group.

This will also probably involve horrible disaster, in addition to the group. But I'll have a group.

Is this worth intense disaster of a new and unusual variety? I suppose I will soon find out.

Wizards Podcasts

Spent the afternoon listening to some of the Wizards podcasts. They're really good, and interesting, in a "why does D&D work in the way that it does?" kind of way.

Even if you're not into that, at the very least you should check out the 18th minute of the Drow podcast. Because Chris Thomasson tells us about his character, a 19-year old Goliath cleric/homebrewed prestige classes with a neat name that I can't spell.

He has several amusing stories about this character, but the best one is his horrible, horrible death. (He got better.) Seriously. We are talking classic GM evil.

Chris Perkins is his GM. I am in awe. I am also in awe because apparently, for this campaign, he tweaked every player class and implemented a 20-level spell system. This is the kind of stuff that I wish I had the time and attention span to implement.

I am not nearly as good at GM evil as I'd like to be.

Friday, August 31, 2007


I'm doing something I've never done before.

I have a sheet of hex graph paper. I am filling it with weird things, many of them generated randomly.

Things on the map include:
A clan of circus gnomes in rafts.
Three separate halflings traveling up the river in boats. The second one is named Sam "88 Keys" Clark.
An underwater ogre cave with a spyglass, a silver holy symbol, and an everburning torch. (That last item will make the cave easier to find, I think.)

I thought it would be nice to have a river, so I could put a village I was thinking about making on the river. I spent the next two hours coming up with weird things to be in the river.

Being the DM is fun.

Leader Niche

I like bards.

I've played two bards. One was fun to play, one wasn't--function of the group. (And the one that was fun to play kept her campaign log entirely in limerick.) But they were both frustrating.

I like clerics. I've played a bunch of clerics, all with varying degrees of crazy. (All my characters have varying degrees of crazy.) They were all more or less fun, but there were moments of frustration.

This article makes me happy.

On a related note: doesn't 4th edition combat look cool? And am I right in thinking that one of the characters is an eladrin ranger? And one's a warforged fighter. Are these both core player races now?

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Not Just Fourth Edition

If you're interested at all in 4th Edition, go check out Mike Mearls's forum blog. And the other 4th Edition staff forum blogs.

There's some good stuff in there, and not just about 4th edition. What really caught my eye was this piece on making dungeons "chunkier," that is, keying encounters to groups of rooms rather than single rooms. That way it's easier to keep track of what's going on in each room, and how they're interacting. Good advice, no matter what edition you're running.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Things That Should Not Be

They sell Transformers t-shirts at Hot Topic.

My world-view--nay, my very soul--trembles at the thought.

Mike Mearls Is All Over This

This new "Points of Light" implicit assumption in the 4th edition D&D setting? Heard it before. Those are all ideas from the first part of Iron Heroes setting chapter (more setting toolkit with example) rewritten to feature D&D trappings.

It's not a bad idea. In Iron Heroes, it's part of a package of features that establish the PCs as a few of the most important people around. Iron Heroes presents a world with little or no real order to it, and assumes that the players are among the few interested in and able to impose it.

It's not a bad way to handle big difference between D&D and the real world: adventurers. Yes, there's magic, but most settings tend to treat it like technology, and have it mostly controlled by guilds and the upper class. The presence of well-armed, socially mobile, mostly autonomous groups is a much bigger anomaly, because there's no real model for it.

Why are all these people mucking about? Why are they tolerated? Why do they want to go into this line of work in the first place? Monsters. Big, nasty monsters, roaming around the countryside. The world is a dangerous place, kings don't have a whole lot of direct control over the countryside, it's too dangerous for militias to handle on their own. Enter a small group of people who, for various reasons, are able to amass a great deal of personal power, and are all batshit insane. They go out, do a job that no one else can or will do but that everyone really wants done. And they don't even ask to be paid for it, because the monsters are all guarding treasure.

I will point out, though, that this situation works a lot better in Iron Heroes than it necessarily does in D&D, because Iron Heroes doesn't have reliable magic. D&D--as of Third Edition--tends to assume that there are a decent number of wizards and clerics hanging out in cities and towns, not necessarily associated with any particular adventure party. Wizards who can cast spells like teleport, and scrying, and sending, and clerics who can cast spells like commune. Finding out what's going on in the world is pretty easy for folks like that.

Though all that is, of course, subject to change. And they may choose to downplay the presence of powerful NPCs in 4th Edition--they did with Eberron. Almost all the really powerful characters are bad guys. Or they may make magic by default more unusual, like they've indicated they're doing with magic items.

Monday, August 27, 2007

A Continuing Series

You know what else is tasty? Bourbon chicken.

If you like fancy alcohol-flavored things. Which I do.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Salisbury Steak

I had Salisbury Steak for the first time today. I never knew what it was, beyond being steak-related and somehow associated with airline food.

It is, apparently, steak-shaped hamburger, covered in gravy.

There is nothing that I can possibly add to that.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Dragon Has A Grapple Modifier of "You Lose"

Why all this hate for grapple? Why does Wizards keep holding up grapple as an example of everything that's wrong with the game? I like grapple. No, really. I just ran a couple of monsters that were heavily into it, and now all I have to look up is the list of things you can and cannot do while grappled.

Though I will say--the Hypertext SRD helps. A lot. It's also the kind of thing that you use more often, and is more fun, on the DM side of the screen.

On an almost-entirely-unrelated note: Am I the only person who is seriously digging the dragon flame sound effect on the new D&D website? Yeah. Yeah, I thought so.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

An Unexpected Coincidence

There's a band called The Brothers Martin. Man. That's just . . . strange. Particular as Pandora just sort of sprang it on me when I wasn't expecting it.

Grand Literary Tradition

"Vampires, ghouls, and werewolves shall all be permitted to be used when handled in the classic tradition, such as Frankenstein, Dracula, and other high-caliber literary works, written by Edgar Allan Poe, Saki, Conan Doyle and other respected authors whose works are read in schools around the world."

Comics Code, as revised 1971

When you're writing the Comics Code, irony is optional.

Credit where credit is due: I found this quote in Reading Comics, by Douglas Wolk.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

You Can Hear The Gears Screech

None of the regular crowd is going to get any of this, and even if I explained I doubt they'd care, but it's all been rattling around in my head for a while, so, here goes:

Isn't the song "Iron Man" just perfect for Iron Man? Particularly as of Civil War, but I hear tell he's still just as whacked out.

While we're on the topic: the new Ultron. I know the justification is "Frank Cho likes to draw hot women," and allegedly doesn't like to draw Iron Man, but I have to wonder how Bendis got from there to something so mind-boggling bizarre. On multiple levels. (Maybe it's not weird in the comic? Maybe it's just my interpretation of the comic, second-hand?)

It is yet another situation explained by yelling "NANITES!" This makes me happy.

Iron Man is cool. Have I mentioned that? (Never read any of his comics. Looking forward to the movie.) Not personally, but conceptually. (I wonder, is it bad that I think of him as "like Batman, but with SCIENCE!" And less ethics. Which is frightening. Really frightening.) The heart thing is . . . pondersome. Hrmm.

Continuity: Not My Strength

I want to run a campaign that grows. That I run more than one campaign in, with more than one group. That's a goal that I'm never likely to accomplish, being as distractable as I am. (See: blog archives.) But it's a goal.

The idea really came to me at the end of Is This Fair? Is It? We set up this nice little status quo, off in the future, for the characters. And it occurred to me that you could start a new campaign, with new characters, based off that status quo--say, with the old campaign's characters sending the new ones off on adventures. Or even just basing it in the city, with the old characters being background.

I'm not sure how likely this is to happen. I'd kind of rather not base another campaign off the Diamond Throne. (Though I could strip parts of that out, but it would still be obvious where it came from. The giants, and their reaction to said established status quo, would be somewhat key in any political intrigue resulting.)

But it'd be nice, sometime, to do that. Base a campaign on one that had come before. Not a sequel, exactly. Not with the same characters: that way lies madness. Probably not even with the same players. Maybe not even in the same area of the world, at least at the beginning. But I'd have something to draw on, an additional influence besides the stories and ephemeral junk I normally dump into a campaign. (A good campaign, anyhow.)

I think I could do something, with that kind of foundation. It'd be fun to try.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Live Commentary! As It Is Watched!

No women in the teaser video. Bleah.

New logo is not bad. Not, y'know, awe-inspiring or anything. But not bad.

Pictures on the covers! Neat-o.

"Character advancement fun and meaningful at every level of play" is a very, very good thing. That means: no dead levels. No levels where you maybe get a number bump, but no cool new powers to play with. (I know this because it's an issue they've addressed on the website before. They know this is a problem.) And what I hope it means is that you've got a choice or two to make at every level. Not a huge choice, not takes-five-hours choice, but a "this character is unique and cool" choice.

I'll believe what you say about high level play when I see it, thank you very much. Never used that part of the game myself (want to, I've got one player who really wants to) but I have heard . . . stories. Especially from the GM side of the screen.

Simplified stat blocks, you say? Why, that sounds quite peachy. This is problem number one from the GM side of the screen, and I am glad they are aware of it.

Less time consuming game prep? Excellent.

THIRTY LEVELS? BWAH? Ooooh . . . I get it. More frequent leveling.

Pulling stuff off Tome of Battle? That book is awesome. In concept, anyway.

Improving the game on the encounter level . . . hmm . . .

Better monster roles! Also nice.

Gleemax. Ick.

Okay. The game is playable with just the book. Good. Getting a little worried there.

Hang on just a minute. Is that Orcus on the monster manual?

An e-version of the book? Free with the printed book? That's a point in favor of this insider business.

You also get Dungeon magazine and Dragon magazine . . . I should start making a list.

This digital stuff actually looks kinda cool. (Solves a particular problem for me, if it works well.) What's the subscription cost?

The drawing stuff tells me this may be a reason to finally get that tablet. Especially if there's any kind of custom content creation utility.

Custom digital minis? Major coolness.

One thought: this will subtly limit custom monsters, races, and other visual elements. Yeah, you can use other stuff, like we always have, but it puts up a small barrier.

Note to Wizards: A big part of The Sims (and sequels) success is the artistic side of it. You can make stuff for that game. Allowing people to do something similar with these utilities could go a long way towards getting people into it.

Check the fine print of the people involved in the game. Mike Mearls is there, which is always a good sign. The man knows awesome.

"I'd also like to thank Vecna." Perfect.

Wish I'd gone to GenCon now. I considered it. I suggested it. But no. . . . No one else was too keen on the idea.

Hey, maybe they'll videotape those seminars, too. Otherwise, hopefully someone whose blog I read will write down the important bits. And ask some good questions.

They have a seminar by a woman. Promising.

How do you become a 4th edition playtester? Didn't see that one coming.

Guess I'm signing up for D&D Insider now. Might even be interesting. Total scam, of course, but, hey. Free is good. Hopefully they won't be stupid enough to pull an AOL.

Oh, yeah. Almost forget. I actually like grappling. I don't find the rules difficult to remember.

This Is What's Called "Male As Default"

I am Officially Irritated.

Finally got on the Wizards website. The Race article? Very cool. The Class article? Very, very cool. I like fighters. I like this vision of fighters. We're only on the idea stage now, but these are ideas I can work with.

But the teaser video. Indeed, the teaser video.

There are no women in this video. Zero. There are, in this video, sixteen players of Dungeons and Dragons, and not a single one of them is female. Not even in the fancy future 2008 video.

Why are there no women in this video? Women play D&D. Lots of women play lots of D&D. And they spend money on it, too. But not in this video.

No. What this video says to me is, "Women? Women don't play D&D. They didn't play D&D in the past. And they definitely won't play D&D in the future."

This does not make me happy.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Blind. Panic. No Joke.

Man. Man, oh, man. I get home and suddenly I get this sprung on me.

Forty minutes left.

I have a lot of things to say about this. A lot of things I did say, and then deleted. A lot of things that I do not need to say, because other people have said them. And a lot of things that I will say in the future, once I have more information and the panic has left the bloodstream.

I am scared.

There are a lot of things I am scared of. Again, I won't name them: no point. They are all, at this juncture, ephemeral. Wait until a few of them solidify so I can deal with a handful of actual terrors, rather than the multitude of possibilities.

But I am scared. Terrified, even. That's worth saying.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Will Return With Tales of Adventure

No wi-fi for me for the next couple of days. Freedom!

Not that there'll be any noticeable difference. But now at least I have an excuse.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Novelty Gaming

Man, now I really want to run a sandbox game.

Get a big wilderness hex map, fill it with cool stuff, and be ready to add things as the players start moving around? Does that ever sound awesome. Throw in a few huge, nonsensical dungeons (one big dungeon with entrances all over the place! woohoo!) and I am totally sold.

I have never, ever done anything like this. Never run it, never played it. But I really, really want to try.

Monday, August 06, 2007

A Sign of True Excellence


Not dead yet!


I love how my absolute first reaction is to grab the SRD to find out exactly how disintegrate works. Order of the Stick is so awesome.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Against Principle, On Principle

I'm thinking, now, that I'd prefer to vote for a politician who had originally supported the Iraq war. Why? Because I remember the run-up.

No one talks about just how popular the war was, back in 2003. Yeah, there was a very loud anti-war contingent, and yeah, feelings on the war went south very fast. But at the beginning, there was a majority in favor of the war. (Wikipedia--sorry.) And don't forget--the Republicans were playing very nasty, very partisan hardball. They would have loved an excuse to lambast the Democrats for wanting the terrorists to win.

So when Obama attacks Clinton for voting for the war, and pointing out how he was against it from the start, well . . . he wasn't in the Senate until 2005.

Now, I like Obama. (Yeah, I know. It's called thinking.) He's a strong second choice, and I'd vote for him in a primary if Clinton were to get totally knocked out of the race. (Could happen) But I don't need Clinton to apologize for that vote.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Such Great Heights

This is an awesome song. The New Dominions did a cover; that's how I know about it. I think of it as a Girl Genius kind of song.

And the video is pretty slick, too.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

You May Perhaps Have Read This In The Newspaper

Are Women Really More Talkative Than Men?

(Hint: No.)

And They All Lived Happily Ever After

I just want to go on record as actually liking the ending of the latest Harry Potter book. Not for any particular reason; just because I've read two people today who didn't like it, and while I understand their objections, I still like it.

I'm not going to talk about exactly why I liked it, because it would be too much work to phrase it in a non-spoiler way. (And bringing up specific objections would give too much credit to the people who raised them, roughly half of whom hail from the "hate hate hate" school of literary criticism.)

'Course, everyone who cares probably has already finished the book. So I guess I just don't want to do it. I will say, though, that it is not how I would have handled it. I am more a student of the hard-stop school. Show's over, everyone goes home now.

Which is part of the reason I liked it. The approach simply wouldn't have occurred to me; it's a fresh thing to my mind.

Mind you, the one time I did do a little bit of the "twenty-years later" wrap up, with that latest campaign, I was really happy with it. That's actually one of my favorite parts of that campaign, that little thumbnail sketch of the rest of their lives. I'm even holding a few things in reserve, in case we ever go back to it. Doesn't quite count, though, because it wasn't my idea. Didn't have it planned.

But, anyway. Liked the ending.

Saturday, July 28, 2007


Watched Pan's Labyrinth. Great movie. With help from Harry Potter and Zompist, it's triggered a couple of thoughts.

The basic struggle--political, moral--is between those who think that people are equal, and those who don't. However. The very act of fighting for the prior conviction tends to convince people of the latter.

People in power, as a general rule, think they're better than other people. Why else would they be in charge? Those who challenge them, then, tend to hold the opposite conviction.

But revolutionaries are not average people. And it's one small step from "not average" to "better than average."

I don't know which side I'm on.

I don't know which side I want to be on.

I don't even know which side I'm supposed to be on.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Schism Is Back

Seriously! Schism! It returns!

It's a science fiction story comic. Updates on Saturdays. And after six painful months, it has finally started updating again!

With any luck, it won't slip back into inactivity again. But for now--joy!

Monday, July 23, 2007

Quotes III

"I don't want to attain immortality through my works. I want to get it by not dying." Woody Allen

"Incompetence is not a defense." Designated Sidekick

"The less I know about Japan, the better of a person I am." David

"Here, eat cake. It solves problems." David

"Nothing bad can happen to you on the internet. There is an internet in the way." quantumelfmage

"A blurdy blurdy blur!" Captain Blank

"If I were a Death Eater, I would have been sure to research my own jam preferences before impersonating myself." Albus Dumbledore

"The pope does not have power over time." Captain Blank

"Never trust anything that can think for itself if you can't see where it keeps its brain!" Arthur Weasley

"Free at last! You're all dead, but we are free at last!" Richard

"You can't pull an echidna backwards through a cardigan." Tanya Cochran

"The threatened houses are now out of the woods. The woods themselves, however, are still largely on fire." Los Angeles Reporter

"We cannot change anything until we accept it. Condemnation does not liberate, it oppresses." Carl Jung

"Edge will retain, probably by escaping the cage rather than by decisively defeating his opponent." Paul O'Brien

"If you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge an evil mutant." Paul O'Brien

"Pudding is the only substance that is transdimensional by nature." Evil Jon

“Turning people inside out and sideways is wrong, and I can stop whenever I want to.” Dr. Bonefish

"Everyone knows God is larger than normal people, so he needs larger cookies." quantumelfmage

"Any technology distinguishable from magic is insufficiently advanced." Barry Gehm

"Time magazine won't put headless corpses on the cover! It doesn't play well with their target demographic of people with heads!" Desmond Fish-Man

"When the Phantom Stranger is at your wedding it means one of two things: either you are really really cool or your marriage is not going to turn out well." Scipio

"On second thought, let's not go to Guam." quantumelfmage

"And by halflings, you mean horrible subtraction errors." Oddysey

"Unfinished jokes and lies are probably an acquired taste, humor-wise." Tycho

"As long as we live in a culture where the good guys sometimes sound just like the misogynists, the misogynists are never going to get the message that they are not normal and that most people–strong, successful men included–do not hate women." Kate Harding


"Begone, demon, or be plagued with high interest rates!" Lars Sturtz

"More games should feature bears attempting to maul the good guys." Jeff Rients

"You want the demon alive and uncancelled." Ray Chason

"Can't sleep. Future will eat me." Kestrel

"Writers write. Bees bee. Bears bear. It’s pretty simple." Kevin Arbouet

"No officer, it was failure to yield to bears." quantumelfmage

"You've definitely got to swoon like a man." Michael Oliver

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

This Feels Like A Manifesto

I don't use the phrase "spitting mad" nearly enough.

It's not like I don't have occasion to. Take this Livejournal entry. A fairly typical demonstration of female objectification, notable primarily for the excellence of the visual aids, and the obtuseness of the commentary. Spit-inducing enough in its own right.

But scroll ye down to the comments section. Therein, you will find similarly familiar responses--and the inevitable admonition that we're all taking this too seriously, because it's "just fiction."

Excuse me? When did you join the human race?

I run into this every single day. Not just in a context of feminism--everywhere.

"It's just fiction."

"It's not important."

"It's not real."

"It's just art."

"Spend your time doing something important."

Well, sorry, but fiction is important. Stories are important.

Art is important.

Sunday, July 15, 2007


I saw a yellow Camaro yesterday. Didn't have racing stripes, but it did have flames on the side.

Other points of interest:

There is a road known as "Boot Road."

The King of Prussia has a mall.

Delaware is full of lies.

It takes 19 calories to flip someone off.

Just thought I'd change it up a bit.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

That Space Marked "Other"

Apparently, "superpowers" is not an acceptable reason to take a yoga class. Who knew?

Friday, July 13, 2007

Games I Want To Play

Recently, I wrote a long, rambly list of games I want to run. It's probably incomplete; sometime I'll sit down and write a decent list, with numbers and things. But in that post, I mentioned that I have another list. A much shorter list.

Games I want to play, rather than games I want to run. There's some overlap, but there are also things I want to play that I'd never think about running.

Like horror. I want to play a horror game. I'd have no idea what to do with that, as a GM, but I'd sure like to play in a well-GM'd horror game. Just because it'd be kind of different.

I want to play in a supers game. This one is a point of overlap: I'd also like to run a supers game. I like superheroes.

I want to play an Eberron character. Already mentioned this one.

I want to play something Ocean's Eleven-like. The whole well-laid plan, absurd heist kind of thing. I really enjoyed playing the parts of the Star Wars campaign that were like that, when we would come up with some crazy plan to sneak into some place. Partially because whenever the campaign moved in that direction, my character got to shine, but I really like that kind of character. Lying all the time is fun.

So I'd like to play a game that revolved around that. Like every adventure was a different heist, and either the GM would come up with a bunch of locations and we could decide which one to break into, or the GM would just give us this week's location and we'd break into it. This is another concept I wouldn't want to GM myself; I just really want to play it.

Can't really think of anything else. This is by no means intended as a complete list of things I would play. It's more a list of "things I would play based on concept alone." Other games, I'd play for the people I'm playing with. Normally, I wouldn't play with people I don't know. But any of these games, I would consider joining a group just to play.