Monday, December 31, 2007

Dashing Swordsman

Over on EN World, some people were trying to come up with a (made-up, as far as anyone knows) prestige class that was mentioned in The Order of the Stick. Here's my version:

Dashing Swordsman
(V 1.2)

Hit Die
d8.

Requirements
To qualify to become a dashing swordsman, a character must fulfill all the following criteria.

Base Attack Bonus
+6.

Skills
Perform 8 ranks, Bluff 5 ranks, Tumble 3 ranks.

Feats
Dodge, Persuasive, Weapon focus (rapier).

Class Skills
The dashing swordsman’s class skills (and the key ability for each skill) are Balance (Dex), Bluff (Cha), Diplomacy (Cha), Escape Artist (Dex), Jump (Str), Listen (Wis), Perform (Cha), Sense Motive (Wis), Speak Language, Spot (Wis), and Tumble (Dex).

Skill Points at Each Level
4 + Int modifier.

Base Attack Bonus:
Good

Good Save:
Reflex

Poor Saves:
Fortitude and Will

Class Features:

1 Sharp Wit
2 Combat Expertise
3 Dazzling Opponent (feint)
4 Bonus Feat
5 Uncanny Dodge
6 Dazzling Opponent (critical)
7 Dramatic Entrance
8 Dazzling Opponent (charge)
9 Bonus Feat
10 Dazzling Opponent (defense)

Sharp Wit (Ex) Add 1 point of Charisma bonus (if any) per dashing swordsman class level to your damage when wielding a rapier, provided that you make a quip or pun during the attack.

Combat Expertise - gain as a bonus feat. You need not have any of the prerequisites normally required.

Bonus Feat: At fourth and ninth levels, gain a bonus feat from the following list: Acrobatic, Agile, Improved Critical, Improved Feint, Improved Initiative, Mobility, Spring Attack, Quick Draw, Weapon Finesse.

Dazzling Opponent (Ex) - At 3rd level, you add your Charisma bonus (if any) to your attack roll when you make a successful feint. At 6th level, you add your Charisma bonus to critical confirmation rolls. At 8th level, you add your Charisma bonus to your damage on a charge attack. At 10th level, you may add your Charisma bonus to your armor class as a dodge bonus against a single foe per round (as per the Dodge feat), provided that you are wearing light or no armor.

Dramatic Entrance (Ex) At 7th level, a Dashing Swordsman may, as a full round action, enter a scene in a particularly dramatic way. In the process of doing so, he may move up to twice his speed and may swing in through a window, bash down a door, or perform some other feat. If he is required to make a roll to accomplish his entrance (such as a Jump, Tumble, or Strength check), he may freely substitute his Charisma for Strength or Dexterity. All who witness this (friend and foe alike) must make a Will save (DC 10+Dashing Swordsman class levels+Charisma bonus) or be dazed for one round.

Uncanny Dodge (Ex) At 5th level, a dashing swordsman retains her Dexterity bonus to AC (if any) regardless of being caught flat-footed or struck by an invisible attacker. (She still loses any Dexterity bonus to AC if immobilized.) If a character gains uncanny dodge from a second class, the character automatically gains improved uncanny dodge.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Rules of the Second Age

I can see running this with a variety of rule-sets:
  • d20, heavily-modified
  • D&D, house-ruled
  • Burning Wheel, high artha flow
  • Sorcerer (& Sword)
  • Maybe something else?
The first two here are more differentiated by degree than type of rule-set. If we went the heavily-modified route, I'd be tempted to write a modified magic system that looked a bit like the stuff in the Tome of Battle. Otherwise, it would be a bit of an amalgam of tweaked 3.5 D&D rules plus some imports from SWSE and 4e hints.

I picked up Burning Wheel at GenCon. I haven't played it yet. I don't know that I'd want to go through getting everyone comfortable with a new, relatively complex system, though. It has some need ideas. I will give it that...

Sorcerer and Sword, I will use as setting-stuff and GMing advice regardless. The system could work here. I don't know how people would feel about it, though.

Otherwise? I don't know. I'm sure I'm missing something.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Taxonomy of Spirits, Addendum

All spirits benefit from attention - whether that is emotion directed at them or, even better, conscious worship. Such things not only empower the spirits who receive them, but gradually shape them. This is reflected in animae as well. For example, a creature (or a person!) who is feared will gradually become more dangerous while a child-prince who is beloved by his subjects and imagined as a great leader will gradually tend to become one. With animae of intelligent beings, this is only a tendency that can be overcome with free will, but it is often the path of least resistance.

The techgods are the spirits of working technology. They are conscious - and often malicious - inanimae, awakened and given strength by the fear and wonder that people have for technology. The more powerful of them can inhabit the physical objects to which they are attached, animating them. All but the least of them can cause their physical halves to malfunction. Some wizards specialize in the domination of techgods, binding them to servitude or mutating them to create strange technology the likes of which was never known, even in the ancient world.

The Taxonomy of Spirits in the Second Age

It looks like the Thundarr/Exalted mash-up is likely to happen.

I'm personally trying to flesh out the setting in my head. I came out with a bit of cosmology the other day - it will probably have little bearing on the game, but I think it is neat.

The Taxonomy of Spirits in the Second Age

Inanimae are the spirits of inanimate objects (including plants). Most are unconscious and incapable of taking material form - they can, however, be affected by magic and other spirits... with a consequent effect upon the objects to which they are linked. Powerful inanimae - also called small gods - dwell in objects of great importance or have been awakened by magic. These are conscious, though not necessarily very intelligent. More important objects often have more intelligent spirits, while a simple sword that has been enchanted is fairly single-minded. The most powerful inanimae are often indistinguishable from the true gods.

True gods are the spirits of ideas or concepts. These include such things as war, death, and love as well as things such as specific nations or cities. Some true gods are not particularly powerful: a single person might have a unique idea. With the creation of this idea comes a tiny god, probably unable to have any real effect on the world (such tiny gods are usually preoccupied with their own survival - they often do what they can to spread their own idea). Moreover, things given names by men - such as forests and rivers - develop true gods.

Animae
are the spirits of animated living things. The animae is fused with the living creature and has no real independent existence. All such organisms have a spiritual component. Sentient beings have varying levels of control over their animae. Some men focus upon developing this control and become wizards. Some creatures have a limited natural control which gives them strange abilities.

Magic is what happens when the spirit world has an effect upon the world of matter. A wizard might use a death magic effect - causing his own animae to slay the animae of his enemy, thus resulting in the enemy's death. Another wizard might pick up a stone and have his animae shape the stone's inanimae... causing the stone to become a useful tool. A third wizard might opt for a showier display and briefly alter the inanimae of air to become that of fire, burning his foes physically.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

First Impressions

I got my Paizo/Green Ronin sale order in yesterday: The Freeport Trilogy, Denizens of Freeport, SpirosBlaak, and Temple Quarter (for under $14 total with shipping. not bad.)

Work is still insane, so I only really glanced at them. First impressions:

The Freeport Trilogy: Not really my first impression. I'd seen it before. Will I find use for it? At least $2 worth, yeah.

Denizens of Freeport: Lots of evil types and people who aren't what they appear to be. It looks useful, but perhaps not as useful as a more generic set of NPCs would be. On the other hand, it looks like there are a lot of potential plot hooks here. It looks like it will better serve as a plot-generator than a set of filler NPCs.

SpirosBlaak: Interesting, but not what I was hoping for... most of the setting information is ancient history and religion. Most of the book is crunch. It does have some interesting (and extensive) black powder rules. It also has some new classes and races, but they don't have a huge amount of appeal at first glance. The map is small and shaded to the point of illegibility.

Temple Quarter: I'm not a map-fetishist, but damn. The maps in here are gorgeous. (Sadly, the rest of the art is mediocre at best.) Unfortunately, it doesn't look like the book includes details on anything other than temples, religions, and priest-types. I'd hoped for some businesses catering to religious-types: bookstores, an inn, artisans, etc.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

One-on One Gaming

I ran into this thread on EN World this morning and it got me thinking about GMing for a single player. This is a subject I've been interested in for awhile - so much source material for RPGs is based around a single protagonist rather than a team. It seems as though a one-player, one-GM game might be liberating in a number of ways.

I don't have any particular plans or intentions to run a game this way, I'm just interested in the possibility.

Since I am interested in the possibility, though, I did a quick search and came up with some links to check out later. I thought I'd share them:

Other suggestions are welcome...

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Thundarr meets Exalted

I might as well flesh this out a bit, even if I never use it:
  • The First Age was a time of technological wonder. Over a thousand years ago, the spirits arose and magic came into the world. The First Age ended not in a Cataclysm, but in a century-long period of death and rebirth as the technological world struggled to survive and the spirits slowly awoke.
  • Was the world of the First Age ours? More or less. I want to feel free to have PCs explore the ruins of Earth as we know it, but feel no compulsion to make everything recognizable or even coherent with respect to today's geography. If I want to have the ruins of New York within walking distance of Mt. Rushmore... or a three-mile tall First Age skyscraper in the middle of a desert, I will.
  • The world is animistic. Everything has a spirit attached to it. Most such spirits are unintelligent and unconscious (and for most purposes irrelevant), but they can be awakened. More important things have more powerful (and intelligent) spirits capable of leaving the spirit world. Even non-physical things (conceptions, ideas, emotions, movements) have spirits. These often set themselves up as gods. They seem to get something from worship or respect.
  • There are two moons: one is deeply scarred - the legends say it was by ancient weapons of the First Age - the other, smaller moon hangs stationary in the Western sky.
  • There are areas of strange magic that can mutate the spirits of things. This often results in the physical thing attached to the spirit being mutated as well. Normal animals have mutated into a near-infinite variety of strange monsters.
  • People have spirits attached to them as well. Strangely, the spirit of a living thing is almost never separately sentient. Some people, however, have learned to control their spirit in a variety of ways - even to the point of being able to use magic themselves.
  • Much of the world is carved up into petty domains ruled over by wizards. A few of these are benign rulers, but most are anything but... many wizards use forced labor in large-scale projects. Others use those they rule over as subjects in arcane experiments.
  • A powerful empire in the West is ruled over by the Moon Lord. The Moon Lord forbids his subjects from worshiping the gods, and only those in the noble-houses of the Moon Lord's empire may practice magic.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Things I could run: D&D

I'm of two minds about running a D&D game right now. On one hand, d20 is the system that I know the best of those I'm willing to run. (I may know Storyteller better.) On the other, it has a bit of a lame-duck feel to me at the moment.

That said, if I were to run a more-or-less-straight D&D game I'd probably want to run one of the following:
  • A game based around a troubleshooting/P.I. type business, with the PCs as agents (or maybe a governmental/guild-based spy-thing). This would probably be mostly urban. It would work in a cosmopolitan setting. Maybe Sigil (Planescape) or Sharn (Eberron). I'd go for a noir feel here... with a dash of pulp.
  • The post-apocalyptic Thundarr-type thing I mentioned yesterday.
  • A game based almost entirely in the Underdark. This could also be combined with the first thing on this list.
  • A psychedelic, cross-dimensional travel game. Inspired by Otherland, Marvel Comics Exiles, and a bunch of other stuff.
  • I might also be able to be talked into running a published adventure path. Maybe.
There are heavily-modified d20 things I could run that aren't listed above. These are just things that would be mostly recognizable as D&D. I'm also, as always, probably forgetting something.

On a side note, the work-stress was lessened today. This is good.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Do I have anything to say...?

I'm really wiped out from work right now. This is the busiest I've been in about two years, and there is all kinds of backstabbing political crap going on right now... and it looks like I'm backstabee numero uno.

Joy.

So, anyway, I'm sorry that I haven't been updating very much of late. I've been preoccupied.

That said, I had lunch with Jeff the other day. Oddly, we mostly talked about things other than gaming... but we did discuss possible future games. We both said that we'd love it if Doug ran something. I thought his d20 Modern Star Frontiers game rocked. Unfortunately, he said he doesn't have time to run something.

Neither do I.

I probably will, however, in February.

But what?

Jeff said he's mostly up for anything... when pressed, he expressed an interest in something post-apocalyptic. I'm still waiting to hear back from Doug. I don't even know if he's interested, though. Pat? Anyone else local?

What's going on in my head...

I think I'd like to run a game that's episodic or mission-based.

I'm still playing around with this cyberpunkfantasy thing, but I don't know what system I'd want to run it in. Heavily-modified d20/d20 Modern? Shadowrun?

I could run Shadowrun, but I'd have to bone up on the system.

Doug's been bugging me about Exalted. I'm almost tempted to cave in and just run the damn thing. Given my druthers, though, I'd rather run a modified d20 game set in an Exalted-inspired world. That I could do.

Nobilis is sitting on top of my PC case. It stares at me.

I could also go for a Thundarr-esqe game... a post-apocalyptic world with strange mutations, weird science, and magic... possibly bringing in some of those Exalted elements.

I'm probably forgetting half a dozen things I'd be interested in running...

No. I'm not very decisive. Why do you ask?

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Magic Items with Purpose

I always liked the idea of intelligent magic items in D&D with special purposes. I appreciate that 3rd ed expanded the options to include things other than weapons.

I was thinking, though... what if all permanent magic items had purposes? Maybe without a purpose, a magic item couldn't sustain its magic. This wouldn't require the magic item to be intelligent - the purpose would, in general, be that of its creator.

For example:

Cloak of Elvenkind
Old-style: gives a +5 competence bonus on Hide checks.
New-Style: The cloak was created by elves to allow them to ambush orc invaders to their woods. It gives a +5 competence bonus on Hide checks against everyone but elves. In addition, Orcs have a -2 penalty to their Spot checks against you. This penalty increases to +5 in forested areas.

Monday, December 17, 2007

That's no ornament...

My boss hung Christmas ornaments in our office last week. They all look like this:

I don't know why.

I keep expecting tiny TIE fighters...

Thursday, December 13, 2007

WOW! A recipe!

I don't play World of Warcraft. I've never been interested in MMORPGs.

Still, I find this sort of offensive. For those too lazy to follow the link, it is to a food blog that I read regularly. It has a recipe for "Murloc Fin Soup" - a bit of Googling tells me that is a soup in WoW that is made from the fin of a Murloc (a humanoid fish-thing) and some hot spices.

(Side note: I find it interesting that Blogger's spelling dictionary does not recognize "Googling" as a word.)

There are, of course, issues with making a soup from the fin of an intelligent humanoid. That's not what I find offensive. What I find offensive is that this Murloc Fin Soup recipe doesn't even include any seafood.

Let's fix that.


A recipe for Faux Murloc Fin Soup.

I recognize that Murloc fins can be hard to come by. The Murlocs are loathe to relinquish them willingly... yet who can resist the delicate taste of Murloc fin floating in a sea of fiery broth? It has been said that there is nothing quite like a soup made from their fins - heartier and smoother than a fish broth, not truly fishy, yet still distinctly a product of the sea. I can tell you, however, that a faux murloc fin soup is possible. Those who have tasted true Murloc fins in recent days may detect a difference, but it is subtle enough of one that it will be missed by many.

For this recipe you will require the following:
5 cups of fish stock.

3 cups of chicken stock. Duck stock would be preferable, if available.
2 jalepeno peppers, seeded and sliced
2 teaspoons of mustard powder
1 tablespoon of sugar
one sprig each of thyme and parsley
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1/2 pound of Squid. Visit your grocer. Pre-cleaned, frozen squid has become widely available.
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, cut in thin slices
1/2 cup carrot, finely chopped
1/2 cup chopped spinach
1 tablespoon butter
juice of one lime
salt and pepper to taste


sautee the onion and carrot in the butter until the onion becomes translucent. Add the spinach and garlic and sautee for two more minutes. Add this mixture to a pot along with the first six ingredients. Bring to a boil and simmer for ten minutes. In the meantime, cut the squid into triangles, one inch on a side. After the soup has simmered for ten minutes, bring it to a fast boil and add the squid and the fish sauce. Reduce heat to a simmer for three minutes, add lime juice, and serve.

I don't know precisely what D&D 4th edition will look like...

...but the more I think about it, the more I like the idea of it looking like the Tome of Battle: Book of Nine Swords in terms of structure.

Ignore the wuxia feel of the book for a moment. What's the structure of the classes in it?

Well, there are different schools of martial maneuvers maneuvers (let's genericize these a bit and call them categories of "class abilities"). Each class has access to a few such categories. Some categories are unique to a class. Some overlap. Each class has potentially different rules for how often they can use these class abilities.

Each category has several different types of abilities at different levels. Higher level abilities typically require lower level abilities in the category (unspecified as to which ones) as prerequisites.

I've already written about how I think the spell system would be better off in this format... but what about doing all class abilities like this?

A rogue could have access to categories like sneak attack, stealthy movement, trap mastery, etc.

Multiclassing would be taken care of by feats or something that would give you access to a category from another class (including, potentially, a category of spells).

I wouldn't be shocked if 4e looked something like this. The 'categories' here aren't much different than Star Wars Saga Edition's (or d20 Modern's) talent trees, though they are larger.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Brief respite

I have a bit of a breather at work. This is necessary for my sanity after working all weekend and into the wee hours last night.

Unfortunately, I haven't been able to give much thought to gaming things of late. I did order a few things from Paizo's Green Ronin sale (which ends tomorrow) - lots of books are $2. I mostly picked up setting stuff that will be useful with whatever system I want: Denizens of Freeport (d20), Temple Quarter (d20), SpirosBlaak (d20), and Freeport: The Freeport Trilogy (d20). The total came to about $13, including shipping. Not bad. I probably should have ordered me some of that there Pathfinder I keep hearing about, but I was really just in the mood to get a darn good deal.

I'm beginning to more seriously consider running something come February. I don't know what, really, or with whom... but I am getting an itch.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Wah.

This makes me sad.

In other news, I'm in grant-writing hell. I believe that is Hell #847 for those keeping track.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Creepy-crawlies that want to suck your brains out through your eyes...

At lunch today, I was thinking about this creature. I came up with a few quick sketches, more details on its life-cycle, and some notes toward some write-ups. I still don't have a name. I'm pretty sure mindspider is taken.

Any ideas?

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Why aren't humans weird?

About a month ago, Jeff wrote this nifty post describing religion in a home-brew campaign world he's creating. In it, he describes how religion is a distinctly human activity and other races find it kind of creepy. Personally, I think the idea would work without his cosmology... even letting other races believe in the existence of gods without worship or religion is sort of neat in my head.

Why?

Well, to me it comes down to the characterization of other races in RPGs (and much fiction). Typically, elves are nature-loving, long-lived humans with pointy ears. Dwarves are short, tough, underground-dwelling humans with a love of stone. Vulcans are emotionless, psychic humans with pointy ears. Klingons are warlike, honorable humans with funny foreheads.

See a pattern? Humans are the base. Humans are normal. D&D - and, really, every RPG I've seen other than Decipher's Lord of the Rings game - formalizes this by making the default human ability scores and such the base for everything else in the game.

Why aren't humans weird. That's where I thought Jeff's idea was brilliant. It took something we see as central to human culture - religion - and said, "This is weird. This isn't something other races do... or even understand."

How could this idea be expanded on? What alternatives could there be to religion as a distinctly human activity?

Here are a few possibilities:
  • Drunkenness (or, really, any intentional artificial mind-altering) for recreational purposes
  • Cuisine - maybe other races lack an acute sense of taste, or don't see food as anything other than needed to survive.
  • Money
  • Careers
  • Economics in general - employment, ownership, trade, economic valuation, whatever.
  • Medicine/health care
  • Art
  • Music
  • Romantic love
  • Recreational sex
  • Spoken language
  • Heredity/family ties
The list could go on.

What's the point, though? Well, let's grab one of these and say that humans are the only intelligent creatures (in a standard D&Desque fantasy world) that really care about family. Other races are longer lived, so heredity isn't really important. Marriage is a distinctly human idea. Elves don't connect sexuality with romance or commitment in any way. Dwarves engage in ritual sexual intercourse as a duty to their community and don't particularly enjoy it. Elven children are cherished and are raised by their entire community. An elven child's father is almost never known, and holds no special place in that child's life. Even an elven child's mother doesn't play a particularly important role for that child once it is a few days old. Dwarves don't go in for that mushy stuff with kids. They're all tossed into a nursery and someone tends them. They don't even get named or differentiated from each other until they can talk. Both of them think that humans with their nuclear families and dynasties and inheritances and family names are nuts.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Movie and books

I've been feeling vaguely sick for the last few days, so I've been unmotivated to do just about anything... including blog.

Last night, a few of us went to see Beowulf. We saw it in 3D, which was sort of interesting. Overall, though, I found the CGified style of the thing distracting. The men looked significantly more real than the women (I suspect this was due to facial hair). Angela pointed out that the CG monsters stood out far less than they would have in a live-action movie. They did a decent job of imposing a coherent narrative on the story, but it still wasn't incredibly deep or anything (not that I expected it to be). The movie got bonus points for having Crispin Glover in it. Crispin Glover is always worth bonus points in my book.

After Beowulf, I finished off the second novel of S.M. Stirling's Emberverse series; the series focuses upon the time after The Change, when the technology of the modern world stops working. It is a nifty take on the post-apocalyptic genre. The books are generally well-written, but I do have a few complaints about them. Stirling is pretty clearly a gamer, by the way. The first book in the Emberverse series had more than a few rpg and D&D references.

I'm looking forward to book 4 of Jim Butcher's Codex Alera series. The series isn't super-innovative or anything (the overarching plot follows a classic pattern), but it is enjoyable and well-written. The world it is set in is pretty neat and it has characters that are easy to care about. I'd totally play in an RPG set in Alera. I wonder if one is in the works... I should check with the Evil Hat guys. There would be some trickiness with power-level, but I think I've figured out a way to handle that.

Also, apparently Gene Wolfe is coming out with a new novel that is some sort of retro-future pulp thing. That sounds really neat.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

What do you want to play?

I've been getting the GMing itch lately.

Unfortunately, I won't be able to run a game until February at the earliest.

One of my first reactions to the idea of running a game was to think about asking people I play with the following questions:

If you could have me run any RPG campaign for you...
  • What genre would it be? (examples: fantasy, cyberpunk, pulp, kitchen sink, etc.)
  • What tone would it have? (examples: horror, heroic, shades-of-gray, funny, etc.)
  • Is there any setting element that it would have that isn't included in the above? (examples: steampunk, city-based, spaceship-based, interdimensional travel, etc.)
  • What sort of character would you play? (examples: too many to list)
  • What sorts of plots would you like? (examples: conspiracies, politics, dungeon raids, etc.)
Then it occurred to me that no one has ever really asked me all these questions in preparation for a campaign. This made me sad.

Feel free to answer the questions in the comments. I'm curious.

Cool Exalted Link

J.T. sent me a link to this German site for Exalted: http://www.dcs-designs.de/. It contains character sheets, combat cheat-sheets, the elusive and confusing Exalted calendar, and a pdf book of rebalanced weapons among other things.

Confession Time

I'm not a real roleplayer.

I know people who, while playing in an RPG, will take on a role so thoroughly that their thoughts become, largely, those of their PC. In a LARP, they might sit in the corner giggling madly the entire game. In a tabletop game, only a fraction of their roleplaying occurs at the table. Much of it never leaves their head.

In general, I'm thankful that I am not one of these people. Oftentimes, they aren't great for the game. They usually care more about character integrity than playability and fun... and I sometimes consider them selfish roleplayers. They don't always share plot or make the in-game concessions to group play that are needed for a well-functioning game.

Of course, I'm not a perfect roleplayer by any means. I tend to bring maybe a bit too much of myself to the characters I play. One of the things that I really enjoy about rpgs is the ability to exercise creative problem solving. This means that my PCs should be reasonably good at it and inclined toward it, which limits the sorts of PCs I choose to play.

Similarly, I don't usually enjoy games where I play someone who lacks what I consider to be basic reasoning abilities. Some people like playing with a 'character filter' - an artificial construct that translates what the player hears into what the character hears. This might account for PC prejudices or mental illness. It was very popular among players of Malkavians back when I regularly LARPed. I can rarely enjoy playing a character who requires one of these - I usually run into to much personal cognitive dissonance when I am in a position where my PC would make a bad choice that I know is a bad choice and that I think my PC should know is a bad choice.

There are, of course, exceptions to this. Sometimes I enjoy playing someone paranoid... or a bit fanatic... but those are the exceptions rather than the rule.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Morally interesting plot ideas

...and Depeche Mode (because I'm listening to my 1980s station on Pandora).

Get the Balance Right
Premise: The PCs set out against a foe only to find out that their foe is holding another potential foe at bay.
The Problem: If the PCs defeat their enemy, they run the risk of setting loose another danger.
Explanation: Two dangers are locked in a struggle of some sort - each of them is expending their resources on this struggle... and each is being weakened by it. Moreover, their attention is largely focused upon each other. If the PCs intervene, they will likely upset the balance of power between the two. One will emerge triumphant and - without the other as a distraction- will turn its attention to the rest of the world. Will the PCs upset the balance of power or will they restrain themselves and act to maintain this balance even if it means helping their enemy?
Example: I was playing in a Greyhawk campaign once, and we needed to rescue some prisoners from the Scarlet Brotherhood, a nation of devil-worshippers. It turned out that we had the opportunity to strike a major blow against them. Of course, the Scarlet Brotherhood served as a buffer argainst the domain of Iuz, a demon-godling. Did we weaken the Scarlet Brotherhood enough for Iuz to destroy it and begin focusing upon others?

People Are People
Premise: The PCs are set against a foe who ends up not being their foe...
The Problem: The PCs have an ally who has an enemy, but that enemy isn't evil except from their ally's point of view.
Explanation: The PCs are told about an enemy from an ally (or, perhaps, someone they are courting as an ally). Their ally doesn't lie about its enemy and presents it as evil. When the PCs meet the enemy, it may appear threatening if they don't look too closely - but, really, it is far from evil (though definitely dangerous to their ally).
Example: In an Exalted game I ran, the PCs sought help from a powerful forest spirit. This spirit was living in terror due to the fact that horrible monsters were slowly killing it. The PCs tracked these monsters down and found giant beaver-men (who were clearing the forest).

Master and Servant
Premise: An evil ruler's subjects do not want him to be overthrown.
The Problem: If the PCs overthrow the evil ruler, his subjects will be unhappy - and potentially far worse off than they were.
Explanation: This one could go a number of different directions. Perhaps the ruler is good to his own subjects, but conquers, tortures, and enslaves others. Perhaps the ruler is only tolerable because he maintains a strong army that protects his subjects from neighboring dangers. Perhaps the ruler has enslaved the minds of his people - whether through brainwashing/propaganda or actual mind control.
Example: Ummm... I can't come up with a good example of this one from my own gaming history off of the top of my head, but I think the problem is clear enough.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Spell Synergies

I had a neat (and probably unworkable) idea yesterday about the d20 spell system that would likely require too much work for me to actually write up fully, but I thought I'd share it.

Here's the idea. You cast a primary spell and (assuming you know a spell that has synergy with it) you can cast the secondary spell at the same time (expending both spell slots). The trick is that the secondary spell modifies the first one in some way.

When you gain a level (or every third level, or whatever) you can take a single spell synergy. Some spells can synergize with other specific spells. Here are a few examples:
  • A large number of buff-type spells (Mage Armor, Bull's Strength, Haste, etc) can synergize with any of the Summon Monster spells. When you cast a Summon Monster spell that is synergized with one of these spells, you cast both spells and the buff spell is cast upon the creatures you summon. If the buff spell has a range of touch, then the creatures summoned must be within your reach for the buff to be cast upon them.
  • Most Detect X spells can synergize with Prying Eyes or Scrying spells. I think it is obvious how that would work.
  • Hold Person might have synergy with, say, Shocking Grasp. You cast both at the same time, and if the Shocking Grasp does damage, the target is subject to the Hold Person effect as well.
It is the whole going-through-the-entire-spell-list thing that would be too much work for me.

Why I think this is cool: it would be an easy way to allow arcane casters to have some fairly unique effects. I'd allow generalist wizards to have complete freedom in picking their synergies. Specialist wizards could only use spell synergies in which at least one of the spells was from their specialty school.

Personally, I'd probably allow sorcerers as much freedom as wizards (since I think sorcerers to be a bit underpowered), but I would worry that spontaneous casting and these synergies might be a bit too nice. Perhaps I would just give them less of them - or require extra casting time.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Update, of sorts

Games I am playing in:

I'm still playing in Nick's Mage: The Ascension game (I'm playing a Hermetic slacker), Angela's D&D game (Dwarven chef), and Jenn's Exalted game (clueless kung-fu kid). Each of these are on a more-or-less every-other-week basis.

Jeff's Star Wars game is on hiatus or something, as he is going through a bit of (totally understandable) GM burnout. I'd pick up the slack if I had the time. I wish I did. Our Monday game is shifting from Aberrant to a Morrow Project-inspired post-apocalyptic game using the new World of Darkness base rules.

I'm curious about the nWoD rules. I'm sort of burnt out on the Storyteller system, but this variant might be different enough for me to deal with it.

I'll let y'all know.

In gaming project news:

My magic-cyberpunk-project is gestating. I still need a name for it.

I've been working on Gourm more. I was stymied a bit by the 4e announcement. My solution: focus less on the stats and more on the setting. Get the text done. When I'm there, I can worry about statting everything for 3.5 or 4e or both.

Next Post: Real Content. I promise.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Productive day off

So, today is Veteran's Day, and my office is closed. It seems somewhat random that my office is closed today, but I am not going to complain. Now, I am sitting in a coffee shop. Angela and I had lunch and talked some Gourm stuff. We came up with a neat/weird idea (involving poetry and technical manuals) that will give us an excuse to fill some sections of the city with weird tunnels.

I'll probably do a bit of work-related work later, but right now I'm going back to Gourm...

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Ick

I probably should have just stayed home sick today, but I came into work this afternoon to prep for a couple meetings tomorrow.

The request for proposals for a big mega-grant that I'm working on was just published yesterday. The applications are due February 1, which means I will be crazy-busy until then. This probably won't detract from my blogging, but it does mean that I miss out on some good gaming possibilities. Jeff is needing a break from GMing. Under other circumstances, I would totally just step up to the plate and run something (hell - they could probably even talk me into running Exalted), but the timing on this is all kinds of bad for me.

Also, I need a good name for my magic-punk project. I don't want to add "-punk" to something. That's overdone. I've been using "The Street" - but that's not terribly descriptive. Any suggestions?

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Exalted: when virtues aren't

White Wolf games have a habit of using dubious morality mechanics. As far as I can tell, this began with Vampire - as a method of tracking the loss of humanity and the dominance of a vampire's inner beast.

In Exalted, characters have virtue scores (nearly the same ones as in Vampire): Courage, Conviction, Temperance, and Compassion. Each of these are rated from one to five. Nominally, higher virtue scores are better. In reality, though, I'd never call anyone with a 5 in even a single virtue to be a virtuous individual.

Why?

A few reasons.

First, in Exalted, virtues often conflict. There has been a lot written in moral theory about the possibility of conflicting virtues. My take on it is that if virtues conflict, then looking at virtues as morally important is stupid. Virtues are human constructions - they are handles that we put onto sets of character traits. When we say Courage is a virtue, that's really shorthand for "there's a virtue related to facing threats - somewhere between cowardice and foolhardiness - we'll call it courage for short." I'd take that a step further and say "there's a virtue related to facing threats in such a way as to not conflict with other virtues - somewhere between cowardice and foolhardiness - we'll call it courage for short." Anyway. This is fairly esoteric virtue theory that no one is likely to care about except for me.


Second, in Exalted, virtues often compel action. Exalted virtues don't model morality - they model deeply flawed heroes of stories. If an Exalted character has a high virtue score, she must roll (or spend willpower) to act against that virtue. You have a Compassion of 5? I hope you don't live in a city with too many beggars, or you'll be poor very quickly.

By acting against high virtues (and doing a couple other things), Exalted characters gain points of Limit. When they get 10 points of Limit, they have a Limit Break. This results in them acting according to a flaw that is listed on their character sheet. The flaw is related to a virtue. A high-temperance character might go on a debauching binge or, alternately, give away all material goods and fast for a month.

The idea here is to model things like the berserk rage of Heracles or the sulking of Achilles. In-setting, limit breaks are a result of a curse placed upon the Exalted by the Malfeans for rising up against them (and winning).

The problem with limit breaks is that they're no fun.

Most of them either set the PCs against each other in a remarkably predictable manner or they essentially take a character out of play (often for an extended period of time).

Also, it is certainly possible for your limit to hit 10 at a relatively non-dramatic point in the story.

The other day, Jenn and I were discussing the lameness of limit breaks. One possibility of fixing them that we came up with was to get rid of limit breaks, but say that every time your limit hits 10, it becomes more difficult to act against your virtues.

I'd take this one step further, adding the limit breaks back in as limit stunts: if you manage to incorporate extreme virtue-related behavior into a dramatic scene to the general detriment of your character, you can then reduce that difficulty to act against your virtues.

This brings back the same modeling of heroic flaws, but it puts it into the hands of the player. Rather than having his character's behavior be determined based on die rolls and the actions of others, the player can decide how it would be the most fun to play his character. This makes sense to me.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Ticking goblins

What differentiates goblins from other creepy little monsters?

I think there are a number of possible answers for this. I'm just going to focus on what makes goblins tick for me.

To me, what makes goblins special is their adaptability. I see goblins as highly mutable. Hobgoblins and bugbears are, in my world, essentially mutant strains of goblins.

The adaptability of goblins is important to my Gourm project. It includes some of the nastiest goblins around - goblins who revel in pointless malevolence. It also includes what are, possibly, the most civilized goblins written about. The civilization they have certainly isn't a human civilization, but it is a fairly sophisticated and orderly community. The goblins who live there aren't intrinsically evil (in D&D alignment terms, it would be more along the lines of a lawful neutral city).

Yet the nasty goblins live only a matter of miles from the city goblins. What's the difference?

My answer? Upbringing and diet. Goblins are adaptable - this means, among other things, that they can be shaped into social roles. Moreover, I think that making goblin temperament be strongly influenced by their diet makes a bit of sense. Goblins can subsist on just about anything - but it has an effect upon them. Those who live off of filth are pathetic creatures. Those who live off of the meat of humanoids are vicious and cunning killers. The Goblins who live in the City of Gourm generally eat little to no red meat - their staples are beans, fish, and eggs - and they are far gentler as a result.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Cyberpunk PCs, Part II

Now I am going to look at character types for some Cyberpunk RPGS that I have. I pulled Cyberpunk 2020, Ex Machina, and Shadowrun (4e) off my shelf. Here's what I found.

Cyberpunk 2020
This had the closest thing to character classes out of the bunch. There are more than I remember, though:

  • Rockerboy
  • Solo
  • Netrunner
  • Techie
  • MedTech
  • Media
  • Cop
  • Corporate
  • Fixer
  • Nomad
Some of these are interesting. MedTech is in there largely, I think, because of the cleric-syndrome. (Although you could run a campaign in which the PCs are ab emergency response team - and that could actually be pretty cool.) Nomad seems to fit more of the post-apocalyptic world than the cyberpunk one, but the two aren't mutually exclusive.

Ex Machina
Based on Tri-Stat, Ex Machina doesn't have character classes, but it does have adaptable occupational templates:
  • Hacker
  • Idol (celebrity-type)
  • Investigator
  • Medic
  • Street Punk
  • Street Samurai
  • Suit
  • Tech
  • Teleoperator
Shadowrun
Shadowrun doesn't have anything like classes, really... so I am just going to list their template/sample characters. Some of these are magical-types. I'll mark those with a (m).
  • Bounty Hunter
  • Combat Mage (m)
  • Cover Ops Specialist
  • Drone Rigger
  • Enforcer
  • Face
  • Gunslinger Adept (m)
  • Hacker
  • Occult Investigator (m)
  • Radical Eco Shaman (m)
  • Smuggler
  • Sprawl Ganger
  • Street Samurai
  • Technomancer (m, sort of)
  • Weapons Specialist
I'm not sure what results to draw from this stuff yet. One thing that sticks out in many of these is the emphasis on where a PC comes from (usually the streets or the world of privilege) as a defining characteristic.

Cyberpunk PCs

What sort of PCs should be playable in a cyberpunk game? I plan on doing a survey of the cyberpunk-type RPGs that I have around, but I want to ask the question before I really look into what other games have done.

One place to find an answer is to look at Cyberpunk literature and stories. You should be able to play characters like:

Case (Neuromancer) - Hacker
Molly Millions (Neuromancer/Johnnny Mnemonic) - Cyborg streetfighter
Johnnny Mnemonic (Johnnny Mnemonic) - Information courier
Edison Carter (Max Headroom) - Reporter
Max Headroom (duh) - Artificial Intelligence
Rick Rickenharp (Eclipse) - Rock star
Rick Deckard (Blade Runner) - Bounty hunter (more or less)
Marîd Audran (When Gravity Fails) - ummm... drug-addicted freelance fixer/agent
Alex Murphy (RoboCop) - Cyborg cop
Cowboy (Hardwired) - Cyborg vehicle specialist

That is a decent starting list. For now, I'm not going to get into later stuff like Snow Crash or the Matrix.

Some initial observations:

A number of these characters have some serious regrets about their pasts. Others don't have full memories of their pasts. For many of them, the world that they come from largely defines them.

Most of these characters rely on some form of artificial aid to be effective. Some are outright cyborgs. Others rely on drugs. Some are notably "pure" in various ways - but are largely defined by how they aren't artificial. Rickenharp, for instance, sets himself up in opposition to the world of wired music. Marîd Audran has a near-pathological fear of becoming a cyborg (and ends up as a drug addict as a result). Edison Carter has a purely artificial doppleganger that he can be be constantly held in contrast with... Deckard hunts down artificial humans who might be more human than he is.

How might this inform an RPG?

Thursday, November 01, 2007

October is over

...and I have to say that neither Dungeon nor Dragon impressed me.

Ampersand, however...

Monday, October 29, 2007

Patterns and Plans

I seem to post a lot on Mondays... and sporadically otherwise. I haven't gone back and reviewed my post history to see if this is true. I am merely asserting it. Therefore you must believe.

This is the Internet. That's the way we do things here.

Anyway, in my last post, I alluded to a cyberpunk-like project. I should, I feel, mention some details of it.

Some influences/origins:
  • An idea I had for a D&D world that was, essentially, one large city.
  • Shadowrun
  • Magi-punk stuffs, mostly that I have read on the Internets
  • The Technocracy from White Wolf's Mage: The Ascension.
  • Wonders of the Lost Age, the magitech book for Exalted (I like Exalted's setting. I like magitech. I'm not sure that the former, however, is a good place for a lot of the latter).
  • My inversion of a famous quote: "Sufficiently advanced magic is indistinguishable from technology."
  • The Neitherworld cosmology that I've been playing with for a few years.
  • The entirety of the cyberpunk genre.
The idea?

Start with a fairly typical fantasy world.

Now imagine that magic becomes industrialized - magical devices become ultra-specialized, but usable by anyone. Magical processes become assembly-line affairs that involve the use of such specialized devices.

Large-scale magic becomes the product of factories. Individual magical theorists end up focusing upon extremely narrow subfields, like the scientists of today. The wizards of the past are all but forgotten.

After centuries pass, a society familiar to readers of cyberpunk emerges, but the world's technology is powered by magic instead of science.

Many cyberpunk tropes will be easily adapted. Some will port over cleanly. Some will require changes. Others won't work, but will be replaced by setting-specific weirdness.

The twist? Recently, wizardry has reappeared... but it has done so on the street. With some exceptions, corporations (guilds?) are slow to make use of the resources of the street mage... and there are some complications to them doing so.

There's more, but that should give you an idea of what I am talking about when I, you know, talk about it...

Busy

Work just entered high-gear. This will likely have an effect on my posting habits, but I have no idea if it means I will be posting less often or more often.

In other news, I went to a Halloween party this past weekend and had, probably, the best costume there. Pictures will appear soon.

Ummm... gaming. Yeah.

Last night was Mage. I came up with a stupid plan that involved impersonating a ridiculously powerful nephandus in order to trick a Black Spiral Dancer into saving an enemy from becoming... well... a worse enemy. It mostly worked, except for that whole contact-with-reality thing.

Contact with reality is sort of the bane of mages, anyway.

Also this weekend, I began a survey of cyberpunk character types in thought-preparation from my not-precisely-cyberpunk project... that will be posted soon as well...

Monday, October 22, 2007

Losing the digital initiative...

Gleemax Alpha? Very clearly an Alpha version. Try to find/navigate a single WotC staff blog. I haven't been able to figure it out yet.

Dungeon and Dragon? Not horrible, but so far mostly articles that are either columns that Wizards has been giving away for free for awhile now (Save My Game, Design and Development, Steal this Hook, etc.) or previews of/advertisements for 4e.

So far, I am less than impressed, and I'm somewhat disappointed that they're rushing these things out the door before they are anywhere near done.

Rules Compendium

Yesterday I bought a present for Angela and I: a copy of the Rules Compendium. The book compiles rules from various sources into an easy to read format that is alphabetized by topic. Intermixed are essays on rules-design and anecdotes about how rules resolved into their current form. I think it will be good for both of us, but in wholly different ways.

For Angela, it will primarily be useful as a reference in her D&D game. She's not a rules expert. It is often easier for her to wing it than to look up how an obscure rule works. Having all the rules for a topic on an easy-to-find page will make her life easier. (Honestly, she was happy that she could just turn to "S" and find all the Size rules... as she can never find them when she's looking for them.)

For me, I think the essays will be the best part. The few I've read are pretty neat. Also, I think the book as a whole is worthwhile to look at in terms of a method of presenting rules.

As far as content goes, I have mixed reviews so far. The breadth of topics covered is pretty good. The depth, however, is inconsistent. Some areas are fairly deep. Others really just scratch the surface. Take the Mounted Combat section for example: there is no discussion of how Attacks of Opportunity work while mounted and there is no summary of the Mounted Combat Feat (despite the fact that most mounted NPCs are likely to have it). On the other hand, there is a very extensive table, broken up by action type, of actions you can take in combat. The table lists whether or not the action provokes an AoO and what page in the book includes more detail about that action. The table is also extensively footnoted.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Is character advancement a sacred cow?

A lot of the discussion about 4e has been about questioning (and euthanizing, where appropriate) sacred cows - leftover rules and assumptions that are there because they've always been there and have been considered to be necessary parts of the game.

As I was driving Pat home from the last Rebel Scum session, I observed that my PC (Kip Fendo, Jedi Scum) was now, at 3rd level, finally reflective of how I'd conceived of him.

I remember back in the day that I used to run an ongoing Vampire LARP, that most of the problems in the game stemmed from the imbalance between PCs who had been around for awhile (and were, thus, powerful) and those who were starting characters (or close to it). We'd have new PCs coming in who were supposed to be 'Elders' - but lacked the power to back up their claims. Conversely, we'd have PCs who were only vampires for two or three years - but had been playing for all of that time, so they were ridiculously powerful.

Angela recently ran into a problem in her D&D game. It looked like one of the players was only going to make it sporadically... and the PC would fall far behind the others. She wasn't sure how to handle it.

GMing can be exhausting - once you hit your comfort zone and can peg your opposition so that they are an adequate, but not overpowering, match for the PCs... the PCs go and gain experience, and you need to learn how to find that sweet spot again.

A number of genres of fiction feature advancement at differing rates. Yes, some become steadily more competent, but:
  • some change dramatically (for better or for worse) at a specific point in time;
  • some remain at a fairly constant level of competence;
  • some advance in fits and starts; and
  • some characters even become steadily less competent as time goes on.
D&D - and most rpgs - really only handle steady increases in competence as a default. Should they?

Honestly, I don't know.

Maybe it is a good default... but maybe a better default would be to pick a character level/amount of xp and stay there for most, if not all, of a campaign... with steady advancement as one option among a few.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

This one's for Jeff...

I was going through some of my old AD&D stuff and I came across an old map that I must have drawn sometime in the 1980s. I figured I'd post it.

I'm particularly amused by The Waterbreach, which is clearly artificial.
.. and by the fact that this was drawn on continuous-feed paper.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Lessons from history

My last post got me thinking about using sites of real-life coolness as gaming inspiration.

I've done this in the past (a few times, but I am just going to write about one today).

Once upon a time, I lived in Washington, D.C. (in the Dupont Circle area, for those of you who know D.C.). I ran a large and fairly successful Vampire LARP for a bit (apparently, it is still around...).

While I was running that game, the players of the Nosferatu clan came to me and told me that they wanted to explore Glen Echo, the site of an abandoned amusement park where they'd heard there was some underground coolness.

So I did my homework. It turns out that Glen Echo had been founded by a couple of brothers who had made their fortune by inventing a type of mechanical eggbeater. They began by building castles there as a fancy development. The site was plagued by fire and malaria. The Baltzley brothers then set up Glen Echo as a Chautauqua Institute. There was again sickness that was, maybe, malaria.

So. I had a couple of crazy inventors who wanted to develop a site near D.C. I had disease-related problems that plagued them over a number of years in that site, forcing them to repeatedly abandon their plans.

Translating this into the World of Darkness was easy. The Baltzley's were Sons of Ether - mad-scientist-mages who were (at that point in history) loosely tied to the Technocracy. This explained their interest in Chautauqua. They wanted to build outside of D.C. - probably taking advantage of a natural node. The Ratkin (wererats) of the area (D.C.=city+swamp=ratkin territory) were that node's defenders and engaged in bio-warfare (as is their wont).

So, I filled the underground area of Glen Echo up with proto-art deco architecture, mostly-broken automata, pneumatic tubes, humanoid-rat-skeletons, and workshops. The players ate it up.

Weekend coolness

This weekend, I headed up to Wisconsin with Angela. I'd never been to the land of cheese and random weirdness before.

I like cheese.

While there, we visited several things that could serve as gaming-inspiration:

Dr. Evermor's Art Park

Home of the Forevertron. This place is a steampunk dreamland:

(that stuff is about 50' tall)

Also, there are bird-things:

...and small-creapy-cool-things:
...and all kinds of other things.

Devil's Lake

This place is gorgeous. The sides of the valley/depression that the lake is in are largely covered in tumbled boulders. The boulders are mostly purple quartzite so (1) they are purple and (2) they tend to be squarish. The effect is pretty darn cool. I was climbing rocks, so I didn't take my camera with me.

The House on the Rock

Alex Jordan must have been totally batshit insane.

You've probably read American Gods (and if you haven't, you should), so you've probably heard of the House on the Rock. I can't express how crazy this place is. It totally needs to be the centerpiece of an Unknown Armies game.

The house itself is amazingly cool: a rambling 13-room house built on top of/into a tall chimney of stone.

Then the addons begin. There are a series of warehouses, decorated and totally filled with... stuff. By stuff I mean:
  • A full scale replica of a small town circa 1900.
  • The world's largest carousel - that doesn't have a single regular horse on it
  • Hundreds (Thousands?) of carousel horses (and other creatures) hanging from walls/ceilings/etc.
  • The organ room: a warehouse full of organs, giant gearworks, and brass boiler-things
  • Dozens of automated displays of self-playing instruments/orchestras/bands/etc.
  • Massive collections of things like toy elephants, doll houses, model airplanes, carved ivory, Burma-Shave ads, automatons of various sorts, etc.
  • A full-sized (200' or so) sculpture of a toothed whale fighting a giant octopus
Everything was finely detailed and the space was crammed with stuff. It wasn't long before I was totally in sensory-overload mode.


A bunch of the Dr. Evermor stuff and the organ room at the House on the Rock can work as visual inspiration for the City of Gourm. I will eventually post some organ room pictures. I took a bunch, but I need to tweak them.

Friday, October 12, 2007

A new low?

I never expected to link to Something Awful... but today's Photoshop Phriday is all D&D monsters... starting off with an owlbear.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Monday, October 08, 2007

The Owlbear, Revisited

The Owlbear is a classic D&D monster: a goofy hybrid of owl and bear. Its origin is similarly goofy; along with the bullette and rust monster, it was one of the creatures that was based on some plastic toys that Gygax and friends used as miniatures.

Growing up, I had a plastic rust monster and bullette, but I don't remember having an owlbear. I might have.

I haven't looked back at old versions of the owlbear's stats. I remember them as fairly fearsome creatures. However, Jeff's recent research shows that in Basic D&D they were on par with normal bears - nothing to sneeze at, true, but not really an improvement on the original bear either. In 3e, the owlbear is statistically very close to a brown bear.

I just don't see the point.

So... I asked myself, "Self, imagine you were a crazy wizard (most of my conversations with myself start off similarly) who created a monstrous hybrid of owl and bear. Why did you do it?"

Well, I thought, surely an owl has some properties that a bear desperately needs. Raptors have more efficient musculature than mammals... and they are less massive by volume (hollow bones and all). Owls have good night vision. I could see a bear becoming more streamlined by the addition of owl-bits. Owlbears don't really have wings, so they can't fly, but maybe they could jump well and pounce upon their prey like an owl swooping down for a kill. If their victim lives after the initial assault, they can then grab it like a bear would.

I could see owlbears as sudden strikers who hunt in the night. That adds some needed flavor.

OK, then.

Now... we run into the power level issue. My solution to that? Make owlbears out of different sorts of bears.




The material enclosed in the box below is released via the Open Game License.





Owlbear

Black Owlbear
Size/Type: Medium Magical Beast
Hit Dice: 3d10+9 (25 hp)
Initiative: +6
Speed: 30 ft. (6 squares)
Armor Class: 14 (-1 size, +2 Dex, +3 natural), touch 11, flat-footed 12
Base Attack/Grapple: +3/+12
Attack: Claw +7 melee (1d6+5)
Full Attack: 2 claws +7 melee (1d6+5) and bite +2 melee (1d8+2)
Space/Reach: 10 ft./5 ft.
Special Attacks: Improved Grab, leaping pounce
Special Qualities: Scent, superior low-light vision
Saves: Fort +6, Ref +5, Will +2
Abilities: Str 21, Dex 15, Con 17, Int 2, Wis 12, Cha 10
Skills: Climb +5, Jump +11, Listen +6, Move Silently +4, Spot +6
Feats: Improved Initiative, Track
Environment: Temperate forests or hills
Organization: Solitary or pair
Challenge Rating: 3
Treasure: None
Alignment: Always neutral
Advancement: 4-7 HD (Large)
Level Adjustment: —



Brown Owlbear
Size/Type: Large Animal
Hit Dice: 6d10+30 (63 hp)
Initiative: +6
Speed: 30 ft. (10 squares)
Armor Class: 17 (-1 size, +2 Dex, +6 natural), touch 11, flat-footed 15
Base Attack/Grapple: +6/+19
Attack: Claw +14 melee (1d8+9)
Full Attack: 2 claws +14 melee (1d8+9) and bite +9 melee (2d6+4)
Space/Reach: 10 ft./5 ft.
Special Attacks: Improved Grab, leaping pounce
Special Qualities: Scent, superior low-light vision
Saves: Fort +10, Ref +7, Will +3
Abilities: Str 29, Dex 15, Con 21, Int 2, Wis 12, Cha 10
Skills: Climb +9, Jump +15, Listen +9, Move Silently +5, Spot +9
Feats: Alertness, Improved Initiative, Track
Environment: Cold forests or hills
Organization: Solitary or pair
Challenge Rating: 6
Treasure: None
Alignment: Always neutral
Advancement: 7-10 HD (Large)
Level Adjustment: —

Polar Owlbear
Size/Type: Large Magical Beast
Hit Dice: 8d10+40 (95 hp)
Initiative: +6
Speed: 30 ft. (10 squares)
Armor Class: 17 (-1 size, +2 Dex, +6 natural), touch 11, flat-footed 15
Base Attack/Grapple: +8/+21
Attack: Claw +16 melee (1d8+9)
Full Attack: 2 claws +16 melee (1d8+9) and bite +11 melee (2d6+4)
Space/Reach: 10 ft./5 ft.
Special Attacks: Improved grab, leaping pounce
Special Qualities: Low-light vision, scent
Saves: Fort +11, Ref +8, Will +3
Abilities: Str 29, Dex 15, Con 21, Int 2, Wis 12, Cha 10
Skills: Climb +9, Hide -1*, Jump +15, Listen +9, Move Silently +5, Spot +9
Feats: Alertness, Improved Initiative, Track
Environment: Cold plains
Organization: Solitary or pair
Challenge Rating: 6
Treasure: None
Alignment: Always neutral
Advancement: 9-12 HD (Large)
Level Adjustment: —

Dire Owlbear
Size/Type: Huge Magical Beast
Hit Dice: 12d10+60 (126 hp)
Initiative: +6
Speed: 30 ft. (10 squares)
Armor Class: 18 (-2 size, +2 Dex, +8 natural), touch 10, flat-footed 16
Base Attack/Grapple: +12/+31
Attack: Claw +21 melee (1d8+11)
Full Attack: 2 claws +21 melee (1d8+11) and bite +16 melee (2d6+5)
Space/Reach: 15 ft./10 ft.
Special Attacks: Improved grab, leaping pounce
Special Qualities: Low-light vision, scent
Saves: Fort +13, Ref +10, Will +5
Abilities: Str 33, Dex 15, Con 21, Int 2, Wis 12, Cha 10
Skills: Climb +11, Jump +17, Listen +11, Move Silently +5, Spot +11
Feats: Alertness, Cleave, Improved Initiative, Power Attack, Track
Environment: Cold Forests or Hills
Organization: Solitary or pair
Challenge Rating: 8
Treasure: None
Alignment: Always neutral
Advancement: 13-36 HD (Huge)
Level Adjustment: —


An owlbear’s coat ranges in color from brown-black to yellowish white; its beak is a dull ivory color. Owlbears tend to be larger and lankier than normal bears. Adventurers who have survived encounters with the creature often speak of the bestial madness they glimpsed in its red-rimmed eyes.

Combat

Owlbears are stealthy and vicious hunters. If they spot prey, they will often wait until nightfall to track it in the hopes of coming upon it unawares. They will launch themselves at their prey in a leaping pounce attack, grabbing their victims in their rear talons while tearing at them with their beaks.

Improved Grab (Ex)

To use this ability, an owlbear must hit with a claw attack. It can then attempt to start a grapple as a free action without provoking an attack of opportunity.

Leaping Pounce (Ex)

As a full-round action, an owlbear can make a standing jump. If it threatens an opponent at the end of its jump, it can make a full attack.

Superior Low-Light Vision (Ex)

An owlbear can see five times as far as a human can in dim light.

Skills
Owlbears have a +4 racial bonus on Jump, Listen, and Spot checks.
*A polar owlbear’s white coat bestows a +12 racial bonus on Hide checks in snowy areas.

Quick Update

More food-related posts will be coming later this week. My next planned post, however, will include a new look at the Owlbear.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Food in RPGs, Part II

Food can help define cultures, continued....

Once you associate different foods with specific cultures, you have another tool in your GMing palette. If your PCs walk into an area, they can be assaulted by familiar smells that might give them a clue about what they are dealing with. Once you establish, for instance, that kobolds like to soak their meat in a bitter, horseradish-based solution the party that enters the cave system and begins to feel their eyes watering may pick up the hint that there are kobolds about. Similarly, walking into a tavern and smelling a strong mix of mint and rosemary might indicate that the innkeep is, say, an elf.

The way food is prepared and served can also say a lot about a culture. Does everything get slapped together into some sort of mush or is it prepared artistically? It is easy to associate the former with primitive cultures and the latter with civilization, but breaking expectations can sometimes lead to interesting results. Perhaps a warrior-culture makes elaborate displays of their enemies corpses - they might emphasize artistry in food preparation as a reflection of that (or, if they eat their enemies, they might be the same thing). Food can be intricately tied into religion, such that the act of sitting down and eating a meal is in itself a religious ritual.

Also consider eating utensils. An organized, warlike culture (say, hobgoblins) might eat with a single dagger - and perhaps it is one that they carry with them at all times and use in battle. A more bestial culture (orcs?) might use false talons that fit over their fingers to represent some sort of a connection to a totem creature. Others might use their hands. A more refined culture might use an elaborate set of utensils - or a single, elegant one.

Preparation methods can also say quite a bit. Stews and soups are generally considered simple, hearty fare. Elaborate preparation methods (consider the turducken) can imply wealth and decadence.

If you are dealing with non-human cultures, you may wish to consider using ingredients that are not, strictly speaking, food. Dwarves might add clay to many of their foods. Elves may be able to digest some plants that humans cannot. Goblins might grind up bones and add the resulting powder to breads.

Next: using food as a motivator.

Food in RPGs, Part I

I like food. I enjoy cooking, and I am not too shabby at it, either. Last weekend I made borscht. I also broke out the ice cream maker for the first time and made some donut-flavored ice cream. (My housemate had been craving donuts, and it was her birthday on Monday.) I belong to a CSA. I read some food blogs. I sometimes write about wizards obsessed with meat. I play a dwarven chef in a D&D game.

All that is just to say that I think about food a bit more than is healthy for someone who could stand to lose about 30 pounds.

I think that food can add a lot to gaming. Here are some ways that you can use details about food to improve your game:

1. Food can help define cultures.
One thing that has struck me is how much you can say about a culture based upon what they eat. If I tell you that the Romans considered peacock brains and flamingo tongues to be delicacies, that probably conjures up some images of exotic decadence and conspicuous consumption. On the other hand, if I tell you that all you see are fields, and fields of cabbages, you probably assume that the people who eat those cabbages are rather bucolic... and maybe somewhat boring.

Food taboos (or their absence) can also tell you a great deal. You meet up with some nomads and they offer to share a meal with you. You'd probably think very different things of them if they served you something that was vaguely sentient (say, kobold eggs) than if they were strict vegetarians.

Different spices can also convey different things about cultures - or encounters. Often, the use of things like cilantro, cumin, star anise, chile, cardamom, tamarind, ginger, saffron, and lemon grass can impart a sense of the exotic. Other spices, like cinnamon, nutmeg, and sage, are more familiar and homey. The use of a familiar spice or two in an unusual context/combination could easily create a feel of an alien palate. Imagine, say, elves who eat a savory blackberry paste flavored with basil and nutmeg and wrapped in mustard leaves.

To be continued....

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Recipe Book: Spider Legs with Orange Sauce

Ingredients:

4 pounds spider legs, about 1-2 feet long each
1 mug light ale
1 orange
1 small onion
1/3 pound butter
1 handful flour

  1. make sure your spider legs are thoroughly washed
  2. soak the legs in one half the ale, mixing them around occasionally
  3. grate 1/3 of orange peel
  4. juice the orange
  5. mince the onion
  6. melt a small amount of butter in a pan
  7. set the rest of the butter in a bowl near the fire.
  8. mix the flour into the melted butter to form a paste. add more butter if needed
  9. add the minced onion
  10. slowly add about half the grated orange peel
  11. follow this by mixing in one-half of the ale and the orange juice a bit at a time
  12. cook this until it boils. mix constantly.
  13. take off the fire and set it nearby so that it is warm
  14. mix rest of orange peel in with now-melted butter
  15. remove spider legs from ale. pat dry
  16. coat spider legs in orange-butter
  17. grill spider legs for about 3 minutes. flip and grill them for about two more minutes.
  18. serve with orange sauce for dipping

Notes:
  • Unless you live in southern lands were oranges are plentiful, be sure to either use the rest of the orange soon or dry it out for later use.
  • If you cannot find spider legs of the appropriate size, use larger legs. Larger legs are tougher, so be sure to marinate them longer and add some vinegar and molasses (or honey!) to the marinade. Do not use smaller legs, as they tend to be sour.
  • If you have access to spices, you can add some to the pan when you make the sauce. Add them a bit before you add the butter.
  • If you buy a whole spider (which I recommend), be sure to remove the poison sacs before removing the legs. It is easy to accidentally rupture a poison sac when dismembering a spider. If the spider's body isn't big enough for steaks, save it for soup!

-Bart Fliegenbart

Something to keep an eye on...

The Writer's Symposium is a group of 20 science fiction/fantasy-type writers who hold seminars and such at Gen Con designed to help writers write. I attended one of these... and, to be honest, I wasn't terribly impressed. It quickly devolved into "why I like to write sex scenes." On the other hand, these are writers - not professional public speakers - and even if I didn't get a lot out of their seminar, I might get something out of things they write that are designed to help other writers (with an acknowledgment that some of their tips and such are also useful to GMs... since they are somewhat rpg-focused, they seem to keep this in mind).

Enter their blog.
It started off last week, and it only has a single entry with actual content so far. I hope that they will keep it up and that it will be useful.

The bang

Last night was Exalted. We ended last session facing down a volcano.

We began this session by fighting it.

We beat on each other a bit until the Lunar in our group (who had grown up in the area and respected the volcano) managed to talk us down by pointing out that (1) The volcano ruled here and received its sacrifices according to laws passed down by Solar exalted (like us) and (2) If we continued the fight we'd probably destroy the whole island. Talking down the volcano was a bit trickier. We gave the social combat rules a whirl - I managed to finally get it to back off by channeling my Valor and intimidating it.

Yes. I intimidated a volcano.

...and it backed off.

That is what Exalted should be about.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

XO Giving

I've been looking at the XO Giving program of the One Laptop Per Child Project. For $400, you buy two of these fascinating little green laptops. One of them goes to a child in a developing country. The other one you keep.

There's some controversy about the laptop and the program, but I think that it is a fascinating experiment that could have some far-reaching benefits, and I would like to support it.

The machine itself is neat: it is designed with a minimal number of moving parts (it uses flash memory instead of a hard drive, for example), the screen contorts for comfortable e-book viewing, it consumes very little power and can be recharged by a hand crank, it is durable - designed for use by children is suboptimal weather conditions. Specs are here.

If I got it, I'd probably use it as a word processor, web browser, e-book reader, a travel machine, and a tabletop rpg accessory.

The two drawbacks:

1. This thing is small. Is it too small for comfortable use? I don't know... the keyboard would certainly be a step up from my cellphone, but a step down from my work laptop. The screen is only 7.5" viewable (about 6" on the horizontal).

2. It runs Linux. This is normally-speaking an advantage. I'd like to play with Linux on a machine... unfortunately, this might cut into its usefulness at the gaming table, as I wouldn't be able to use it with the whole Wizard's Digital Initiative thingamabob.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Rites of Passage

So, last week I was at a conference that focused upon cultural competency with respect to social services.

Yeah, it was as exciting as it sounds.

The conference was in a hotel (right near O'Hare) that I knew I'd been in before. It took me a little while to realize that it was the home of WindyCon.

Anyway, one of the speakers at the conference was quite good. He was talking about the need for spirituality (not necessarily religion) in one's life and how it would be sought out by people who weren't getting what they needed spiritually. Part of the upshot was that gangs often provide youth with a sense of spiritual belonging - through initiations/rites of passage, a commitment to mutual support/defense, a shared identity that emphasizes respect and honor, and heavy use of symbolism.

My thoughts, of course, turned to gaming.

A number of games loosely base themselves on coming of age stories... even if it is the conceit of the peasant youth who takes up a sword to defend his village. Few of them have formal rites of passage. The only one that I can think of off the top of my head is Werewolf... and that was designed as an explicitly spiritual game (whether or not they pulled off that design goal or whether it was typically played in that mode is another story).

I know that I've created characters who have gone through rites of passage in their backgrounds, but it seems like something that could be a powerful tool for shaping your character's development in play.

I'll think more on this.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Character Concept and Development

When I started playing Bart, I had little more than the concept of "Dwarven Gourmand/Chef" to go on. I expected his primary motivation for adventuring to be to seek out new creatures and eat them (and, you know, to find new cultures and sample their cuisines and such). Some of this has definitely come to pass. The game I am playing him in definitely has culinary overtones, primarily due to Bart's interest in such things.

As his career as an adventurer has progressed, however, Bart has acquired other reasons for adventuring and has assumed a leadership role in the group. He's not just a chef, anymore. Even if he is becoming a better chef in some ways (through learning about the dishes of other cultures and such), he is becoming less of a chef in the sense that it is becoming less central to his identity. He's growing away from his initial concept. This is a phenomenon that I've experienced before.

This weekend, I wrote up a chef-based prestige class. Initially, the thought was that this would be for Bart, but now I don't know. I feel like if his chef-ness is less central to him, that it would be weird to take a prestige class focused upon that. He's become the group's de facto leader... and one of its front line fighters. As a Ranger/Rogue he can dish out a bit of damage with two weapons and sneak attacks, but he's not really set up to stand on the front line. Maybe if I took some levels in Warblade (reinterpreting maneuvers with a cookery/knifework theme?) or Swashbuckler.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Iron Chef, v 0.1a

So, in Angela's D&D game, I play a dwarven chef. For some time, I'd joked about him being an iron chef... and making up a prestige class for him around those themes. Yesterday, I was seriously in need of some procrastinating, so I wrote up a draft. I haven't given too much thought to how balanced this is yet. I pretty much just sat down and jotted down a bunch of themed abilities. Comments and suggestions are welcome.

Iron Chef

Entry Requirements
Skills: Appraise 5 ranks, Craft (Cooking) 8 ranks, Craft (Brewing) 5 ranks, Profession (Chef): 8 ranks
Feats: Skill focus: Craft Cooking

Hit Die
d8.

Class Skills (6+Int modifier each level):
Appraise (Int), Craft (Int), Diplomacy (Cha), Heal (Wis), Intimidate (Cha), Knowledge (all skills, taken individually), Perform, Profession, Search (Int), Sense Motive (Wis), Sleight of Hand (Dex), Survival (Wis), and Use Rope (Dex).

BAB: Medium.

Saves:
Good Fortitude. Poor Reflex and Will.

Class Features
The following are class features of the Iron Chef.

1 Identify Food and Drink, Iron Stomach, Magic Meal
2 Endure Heat, Prepare Feast, Preservation
3 Duplicate Potion, Kitchen Showman
4 Improvise Ingredients, Sharp Knives
5 Quick Repast, Resistance to Fire 5


Identify Food and Drink (Ex): At first level, an Iron Chef gains the ability to identify the properties of any food or drink. When appraising the quality of food or drink you may add your class level to your appraise check and may take 10, even if under stress. In addition, a Iron Chef can always identify when foodstuff possesses some unusual property. With an appraise check, that property can be identified:
presence of poison or alchemical effect: DC 15
type and properties of poison or alchemical effect: DC 20
presence of magic: DC 20
magical properties of food/drink (including potions): DC 25

Iron Stomach (Ex): An Iron Chef adds his class level to any Fortitude saves that rely upon ingested substances. In addition, Iron Chefs are less susceptible to nausea than most. Any effect that would nauseate a Iron Chef, sickens him instead.

Magic Meal (Sp): A Once per day per class level, a Iron Chef may make a Craft (Cooking) check to use this ability. The DC of the check determines how quickly the meal can be prepared: DC 15: 30 minutes, DC 20: 15 minutes, DC 25: 5 minutes. Each use of this ability provides a nourishing meal for one that duplicates one of the following effects of the chef's choice (caster level equals class level where applicable):
  • Cure Moderate Wounds
  • Delay Poison
  • Lesser Restoration
  • Sleep Poison (Initial damage=1d4 Wis, secondary damage = unconsciousness, DC=total modifiers on a Craft (Cooking) check)
  • Enchanting Meal (As the Calm Emotions spell, DC=total modifiers on a Craft (Cooking) check)

Endure Heat (Ex): An Iron Chef becomes inured to the heat of the oven and does not suffer from the effects of a hot environment, as if under the effects of an Endure Elements spell.


Prepare Feast (Sp): An Iron Chef gains the ability to prepare a feast once per day that is charged with supernatural energy and is similar to the spell Heroes Feast in many ways. The feast requires 10 gp worth of raw ingredients per person to be fed (up to a maximum of 2 people/class level) and at least four hours preparation. The feast takes 1 hour to consume, and the beneficial effects do not set in until this hour is over. A feast always removes the fatigued and exhausted conditions from those who consume it. In addition, the Iron Chef may choose a number of benefits equal to his class level from the list below:
  • Temporary hit points equal to 2 x the class level of the Iron Chef
  • Immunity to poison for 12 hours
  • Cure all diseases, sickness, and nausea
  • Removes all curses on a person (as Remove Curse, caster level = class level)
  • +2 morale bonus to Fortitude saves for 12 hours
  • +2 morale bonus to Will saves for 12 hours
  • +1 morale bonus to attack rolls for 12 hours
  • Provide the effects of the Endurance feat for 24 hours
  • Provide sustenance for the next week


Preservation (Su): An Iron Chef learns arcane secrets of preservation, allowing him to preserve nonliving, organic material so that it does not spoil or decay. This ability allows an Iron Chef to preserve up to 1 lb./level of nonliving, organic material indefinitely. It may also be used to duplicate the function of the gentle repose spell within its weight limits.

Duplicate Potion (Ex):
At third level, an Iron Chef gains the ability to sample a potion and duplicate it. This ability functions identically to the Brew Potion feat, except that you must have a sample of the potion which you wish to create and you may only duplicate that potion exactly. You do not need to be able to cast any spells in order to use this ability.

Kitchen Showman (Ex): An Iron Chef adds his class level to all Perform and Sleight of Hand checks while cooking. He may use the Pyrotechnics spell at will as an extraordinary ability, using common kitchen liquids and powders.

Improvise Ingredients (Ex): A Iron Chef prefers to use the finest ingredients possible. There are times, however, when corners must be cut. Once per day, the Iron Chef may make a Profession (Chef) roll, naming the ingredients that he wishes to improvise (typically this is, "the ingredients to duplicate this Bull's Strength potion" or "the ingredients to prepare a feast," but it may be more specific as circumstances dictate). The maximum value of ingredients he may improvise is equal to 2 x the result of this roll. For example, a Bull's Strength potion typically costs 150 gp to create. With a Profession (Chef) roll of 25, an Iron Chef can improvise 50 gp worth of ingredients, bringing the cost down to 100 gp.

Sharp Knives (Ex): More than most, a Iron Chef knows the value of a good, sharp blade. After a Iron Chef of fourth level spends at least five minutes sharpening a light slashing weapon of masterwork quality, that weapon will gain the effects of the keen property in the Iron Chef's hands. It will retain that property until it either takes damage (such as from a sunder attempt) or succeeds on a critical hit.

Quick Repast (Sp): At fifth level, a Iron chef can swiftly and inexpensively prepare a meal for a single person that partakes of some of the power of his Prepare Feast ability. Once per day, a Iron Chef may make a Craft (Cooking) check to use this ability. The DC of the check determines how quickly the meal can be prepared: DC 15: 1 hour, DC 20: 30 minutes, DC 25: 15 minutes. This meal can duplicate a single effect of the Prepare Feast power for a single person.

Friday, September 21, 2007

A Quandary

How is it possible that we live in a world in which Samuel Jackson and David Hasselhoff can play the same character?

Thursday, September 20, 2007

I attack the volcano!

What?

Tuesday night was Jenn's Exalted game (which I was frustrated with for a bit.... but then made a new character and that helped). We had a hiatus for most of the summer, so I've only played the new PC a few times. I'm having a lot of fun playing the impulsive and mostly-clueless (but hyper-competent) kid.

We were on one of the islands in the Wavecrest Archipelago when we saw some priests taking a bunch of prisoners to throw them into the volcano at the center of the island. The volcano was apparently hungry.

On this island, all criminals were treated equally - they were imprisoned (albeit for variable lengths of time). If they happened to be imprisoned when the volcano got hungry, they got thrown in.

I should note, for my readers that don't know, that Exalted is set in an animistic world. When I say that the volcano was hungry, I mean it literally. The volcano has a spirit/god that was demanding sacrifices.

Red (my PC) didn't like that. He raced ahead of the prisoners and challenged the volcano to show and explain itself. Lava flowed out of the ground and congealed into the image of a skull.

There was some talking of the smack, and then the game ended for the night.

Next session should start with a bang.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Face of a Killer?

Sometimes, I don't know what George is thinking.

Last night, in our Aberrant game, he introduced "The Quaker" as a villian. The Quaker, of course, has seismic powers.

I nearly had to leave the room after being overcome with stupid.

Stupid isn't necessarily a problem, but the campaign has been fairly serious and realistic (given that it is, you know, a supers game). It was an inexcusable break in tone that pretty much ruined the night for me.

Sometimes, George is a great GM. When he's low on ideas, though, he either devolves into the dumbness or we end up having a session where we listen to him monologue - his NPCs like to talk. Neither of these are good.

I've occasionally just had my PC walk out on a NPC who was spewing verbiage, but what do you do when your GM declares that the guy who probably killed two of your friends dresses up like William Penn?

The campaign is probably going to come to a stopping point in 2-4 sessions, so this isn't something I will need to deal with much longer. I just have little tolerance for playing games I don't enjoy (what's the point?), and I can see this going in that direction...

Not that we know what we'll move on to next. George really wants me to pick the Exalted game I was running back up, but I am fairly certain that I don't want to do that. I have issues with Exalted in the first place, and - even though I had some great individual sessions - I found running it for that group to be an extremely frustrating experience.