Saturday, March 14, 2015

Twenty Questions for the Sewers of San Draso

Jeff’s twenty campaign questions for my Sewers of San Draso campaign, part one.

  1. What is the deal with my cleric's religion?
You’re probably a priest of the elven Moon Empress or one of her many attendant saints-- mostly other gods absorbed into the imperial religion and ancient deified elven heroes, though there are a few more modern heroes mixed in as well. It’s possible that you’re the follower of one of the local gods that hasn’t been absorbed into the Hierarchy, or something even weirder.

  1. Where can we go to buy standard equipment?
There are a variety of blacksmiths and alchemists who provide equipment for soldiers and mercenaries, and more ordinary goods are available at the daily markets.

  1. Where can we go to get platemail custom fitted for this monster I just befriended?
Zanz, a half-giant, half-elf armorer, will give you a discount if you commission him to make armor for a kind of monster he’s never worked on before.

  1. Who is the mightiest wizard in the land?
Probably some unassuming member of emperor’s court. Within San Draso itself, most likely Tiago ve Moril, who few men have seen, and who is rumored to be a half-dragon.

  1. Who is the greatest warrior in the land?
Though saying so will get you uninvited from certain kinds of parties, it’s undoubtedly Amerincio Callan, an elven assassin of local ancestry who caused a minor scandal a few years ago by turning down the governor’s offer of adoption, and then making off with his daughter and both of his sons. (Who are, by all accounts, perfectly happy with the arrangement to this day.)

  1. Who is the richest person in the land?
Urraca ve Durran, whose mother bankrolled a great deal of the early exploration and settlement of San Draso and who has been assigned to oversee her family’s holdings for the next few centuries.

  1. Where can we go to get some magical healing?
Any imperial cult will be happy to provide this service to citizens in good standing of Her Celestial Empire.

  1. Where can we go to get cures for the following conditions: poison, disease, curse, level drain, lycanthropy, polymorph, alignment change, death, undeath?
The imperial cult is still a good option, although depending on the problem, a local shaman may be cheaper and less annoying.

  1. Is there a magic guild my MU belongs to or that I can join in order to get more spells?
The two main colleges with satellites in San Draso are the Eye and Triangle (specializing in abjuration, evocation, divination, and conjuration) and the Dragon’s Teeth Conclave (specializing in enchantment, illusion, transmutation, and necromancy). The Eye and Triangle welcomes non-wizards of a scholarly bent into their debate halls, while the Conclave hosts other kinds of arcane spellcasters seeking camaraderie as well.

  1. Where can I find an alchemist, sage or other expert NPC?
The merchant’s quarter, inside the second wall-- at least if quality is more important than price. There are also a number of “experts” of various kinds on the outskirts of town.

Saturday, March 07, 2015

Tiki Season

Sometime in mid to late February, I get sick of snow, and I start making daiquiris. Mai Tais. Drinks with little umbrellas in them.

Some people think that tiki drinks (“faux tropicals”) are summer drinks. Not me. I made my first daiquiri last month, then a Hai Karate, then a ginger-liqueur variation on the Carioca Hawaiian Cocktail last night. I have pomegranate molasses and orange flower water, and a glass bottle with a pour spout to hold the grenadine I’ll make once I get the pomegranate juice. Or it might end up being a bottle of cinnamon sugar syrup, if I decide to go a little more Don the Beachcomber and a little less Trader Vic.

This time next week, I’ll probably have an order in for Small Hands Orgeat Syrup (it ain’t worth making on your own, and the commercial stuff I can get in that fancy Italian grocery store is crap, and I have all the other ingredients you need for a proper Mai Tai). I already picked up a package of tiny umbrellas, and I’ve been eyeing my rum collection and considering my next purchase. I have a bottle of cachaca, some Martinique aged rum, a bottle of 7 year Angostura rum, but not much in the way of the real staples. I’m still missing the Virgin Islands light and amber that do the majority of the heavy lifting in my tiki bar, and I’m painfully low on the dark Jamaican rum that carries the rest.

I gave away almost all my tiki stuff when I moved to New York last summer, figured I’d get back into classic cocktails. Which I did, for a while-- notwithstanding a brief tiki itch brought on by discovering St. Elizabeth’s Allspice Dram at the shop down the street.

The tiki thing always comes back, though. I fell in love with plastic swords and drink umbrellas in the Tonga room in 1994, and I’ll never fall out again.

Some of that is just practical. I like sour drinks in general, I like rum. Rum is cheap, compared to whiskey, and there’s nothing in tiki that’s as perishable as vermouth and as hard to find in small quantities. I like the colors, I like the history, I like putting together a drink that takes eight or so different colored bottles to mix together. Makes me feel like a wizard.

Mostly, though, I like drinks that admit that they’re sort of stupid. Drinks that are kind of tacky, where it makes sense that you're giggling uncontrollably after a few of them. I don't mean that I drink tiki drinks ironically. I like them because they’re good: I love them because they’re sort of stupid.

Monday, March 02, 2015

On Randomness In Character Generation, and Why Old School D&D Is Awesome For New Players

So: Old school D&D is a terrible system for playing the game most people want to play when they pick up something called "D&D," not having any prior experience with old school D&D. The texts don't do a great job of communicating their purpose, and honestly, the other things that people want to do are fun and it's reasonable that they want them.

One of the big things that people want when they pick up something called "D&D" is a game where they get to craft exactly the guy that they want to play. Old school systems by and large do not deliver this, especially on a mechanical axis: Your initial character generation is random, and your advancement is usually relatively fixed and relatively random.

The thing is, most of the folks I've met like that got into the game before I got them-- middle or high school, or occasionally college. These are people who saw "fantasy adventure game" and opened it up to find that there was also a bunch of math and were super happy about it. (I'm in that camp myself-- I've had few happier days than the one where I discovered the interlocking logic of the 3e EL and XP tables.) But there's a big, big pool of people I've gotten into the game who got scared away by all that math and all those decisions, even though they desperately wanted that fantasy adventure.

But those people already get enough air time in the OSR. One of my favorite things about old school D&D is that it's made it much easier for me to run games for a mix of highly invested and brand new players than any other edition I've encountered (except maybe also 5th-- still gathering data). While really serious D&D strategists will get annoyed by the shenanigans the newer, less death-hardened players get up to, it's much easier for brand new players to contribute to the gamier side of the game than with the newer, more character-build focused versions. You don't have to read the book and absorb the rules system to play a really powerful character in old school D&D: You just have to be quick on your feet, and the right mix of careful and reckless.

Random chargen helps make generating a new character fast (important when death rates or high, or you're playing with different people every week so you need to be able to get the new guy into the game fast) and can create interesting tactical and expressive challenges for experienced players: "Well I would never choose to play this guy but now that I've got him what do I do with him?"

Fixed advancement and random advancement also make leveling easier and faster, which is important when your character is more a token that lets you interact with the game-world than an end to be developed in itself. It also really helps players who like developing their character's personality but either don't care about or actively overwhelmed by mechanical differentiation.

In general they all can make getting into D&D a lot less intimidating for new people. Generally my experience with getting brand new people into 3x/Pathfinder has been "Oh my god I have to read that entire book? Oh okay, just these bits... uh... which feats do I want... wow, it's going to take us a really long time to make all these characters, this is kind of boring." 

My experience with getting brand new people into old school D&D has been more "Oh my god I have to read that entire book? Oh, okay, just these bits... rolls stats my intelligence is really high so I guess I'll be a wizard... oh wait no, I want to be a bard, my charisma is really low but that will be hilarious."

Or even "okay, so what are all these numbers on this index card? oh, okay, you'll tell me when I need them, cool. oh, sweet, I have a grappling hook, I wonder what I can do with that."

Not that Pathfinder is a bad system for newbies-- I've played with new-ish people who expected mechanical character differentiation from video games and were disappointed/frustrated by old school games because they didn't provide that. One of the things I like about 5e is that it potentially bridges the gap between those folks and the systems I like.

The old school character generation and advancement are also fantastic for the players who want a strategic resource management game that's mostly about their lateral thinking cleverness. For those folks, choices about what widgets to give their character would be choices they weren't making about things that they care about.