Friday, June 27, 2008

4e: GSL weirdness

The Game System License has a what appears to be a big hole in it.

Certain monsters, such as the Beholder and the Displacer Beast, (and possibly other non-monster things) are excluded from the SRD.

Before 4e, these things were considered Product Identity (despite the fact that D&D's claim on the displacer beast is tenuous) and were not included in the 3.x SRD or as Open Gaming Content.

The thing is, as far as I can tell, the GSL only limits what you can do with respect to terms in the SRD. As such, I don't think there is anything in the GSL stopping someone from using, say, beholders in a product - or redefining them in a way that wouldn't be permitted of a Bodak or Bulette (both of which are in the SRD).

Oddly, the trademark notice in the Monster Manual doesn't claim a trademark on any monster names or likenesses, either... so that doesn't appear to be a restriction.

Of course, if you published under the GSL and abused this, I believe that Wizards could probably just alter the license retroactively in order to stop you from publishing your book in which beholders are happy, purple, smiling beasties. It is rather one-sided.

This should not be construed as legal advice, by the way.
(Yes, I have a law degree. Pretend I'm not using it. )

Five monsters for the price of one...

I was thinking about 4e's encounter design, and something hit me that may well be applicable in several sorts of games.

In 4e, the base assumption is that you'll have one foe per character. This is modified by a bunch of things - minions count as multiple foes, elite creatures count as two, and things like that. I find this somewhat cumbersome in that you often want to have a single monster in an encounter. In particular, I was thinking about my abortive WoAdWriMo attempt last year and the difficulties involved in converting it to 4e. One of the early (optional) encounters was with a gibbering mouther. Now, adding in another beastie to this encounter just wouldn't make a whole lot of sense. The mouther was notable for being alone in the area it inhabited.

Then I had an epiphany that will likely cause most of you who read to say, "duh." I realized that I could have a big mouther and several smaller mouthery-things in the same area, but describe them all as a single creature that had spread across an entire area. The amorphous nature of the gibbering mouther makes this particularly easy. PCs could kill a mini-mouther and it could simply be described as severing a particularly long psuedopod or whatnot.

The cool thing is that I then said (to myself. and my cat.) "Hey. This could solve the hydra problem." The hydra is notoriously difficult to model in rpgs - particularly if you want to do the cut-off-a-head-and-two-others-grow-to-take-its-place thing. The solution? Treat each head as a separate monster. In 4e, give each hydra-head the power to split when first bloodied (like the Ocher Jelly) unless fire is applied.

Big Kitties

Over at the Necropolis Studios Art Blog, Angela posted some pictures from the Exotic Feline Rescue Center.

Thursday, June 26, 2008


The Worldwide Adventure Writing Month approaches.

Will you stand bravely and face its challenge, or will you cower before it?

The choice is yours.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

4e: Game prep

(Note to my players: you can read this. It won't have any spoilers.)

Preparing Keep on the Shadowfell for running three players through seems fairly straightforward. Cracking open the Dungeon Master's Guide, it looks like the basic idea of encounter design is to pick an xp total for an encounter and then spend that xp budget on monsters and traps.

So, in reducing the difficulty of encounters meant for five players so that they can be enjoyed by three players, I just have to reduce the xp budget. This can be accomplished by a combination of (1) reducing the number of foes faced and (2) reducing the levels of the foes faced. The first is really easy. Cutting a monster here and there is trivial. The second isn't too bad, either. According to the DMG, reducing a monster's level by one is simply a matter of knocking off a few hit points and reducing its attacks and defenses by one each. If this works, it is remarkably easy. Reducing the level of elite or solo enemies is only a little trickier.

I'm hoping that this actually does result in well-balanced encounters.

Also, my editing tool of choice here is the Post-It note. I don't want to write in the module itself - in part due to habit and in part due to the fact that the paper is glossy magazine-paper that is a pain to write on. Instead, I've just been jotting things I want to change onto Post-Its.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Running a pre-published adventure

In preparation for running Keep on the Shadowfell, I ran a Google search for actual play reports. It seemed like a good idea: find things that worked well (or poorly) for others who ran the adventure. So far, I've gotten some pretty good advice and ideas out of the deal.

Public Service Announcement

Since I know that I have several readers in the Illinois/Indiana area...

This weekend, Angela and I went to visit the Exotic Feline Rescue Center, in Center Point, Indian (near Terre Haute). It was pretty awesome. The place takes in exotic cats (mostly tigers, lions, and pumas - but there were also leopards, bobcats, and servals) that are abandoned or rescued from people who can't care for them properly. Some come from closed-down circuses. Some come from drug dealers. Some come from petting zoos (bad idea?). Many are former pets.

You can go and get a tour of the place. It lasts about an hour and you see about 100 cats. Then, if you don't have kids with you, you can wander around some more on your own. They don't let children wander around without a guide... in part because nothing separates you from the tigers and such besides chain link that you can walk right up to.

The place is really neat. I recommend checking it out if you are in the area.

Also, we got charged by a tiger that was feeling pissy.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

4e stuff

It looks like I may run Keep on the Shadowfell for Jeff, Doug, and Pat. I'm pretty stoked about it, though I am slightly concerned about how three PCs will fare in an adventure designed for five.

This is a really good summary of the paradigm shift between 3e and 4e. If you haven't read it, do so.

This is more-or-less how I feel about the GSL right now.

Did I actually use the word "stoked?!?"

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

4e: GSL

So, Wizards released the GSL.

I'm not sure I see why anyone would use it.

I haven't read through it in detail, but it doesn't seem to actually grant any worthwhile rights. The OGL was arguably worthwhile. You agreed to abide by WotC's restrictions. In return, you got to use a whole lot of content more-or-less as you wish.

The GSL? You agree to abide by WotC's restrictions (which are more restrictive than before). In return, you get to refer to WotC's content (but you can't quote it or alter it).

I'm not sure that the GSL actually gives you any rights that you don't already have.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

4e: first time playing

Last night was our regularly-scheduled Morrow Project Game, but George was out of town. Instead of forging ahead and then trying to reintegrate George to the ongoing game (which he doesn't make easy), we decided to give 4e a spin. There were only three of us, so it wasn't going to be a full-fledged group or anything, but it was a learning experience nonetheless.

I made a human ranger, Garant, who dual wielded hand axes. This synergized nicely, because many of the ranger powers work with either melee weapons or ranged weapons. It gave me a lot of options in combat.

JT made a Dragonborn fighter named Crimson Somethingorother. I was jealous of his Reliable powers that weren't expended on a miss.

Character creation thoughts:
  • I spent a lot of time moving back and forth between sections during character creation. It didn't seem as newbie-friendly to me as people make it out to be.
  • A good summary of character creation on a two-page spread would have been nice.
  • A list of the at-wills that everyone has (basic attack, second wind, grab, etc.) in one place would have made some sense.
  • Tough decisions: There were a whole pile of feats and powers that I couldn't take that I really wanted to - I'm glad I picked a human. The extra feat and at-will are nice
We played through a single encounter - a zombie attack on a tavern. The opponents included 8 level 3 zombie minions and two level 2 zombies. The combat opened with Crimson using his breath weapon (taking out 2 minions). Mostly, Crimson stood in the doorway killing zobies that tried to get in, while Garant killed zombies coming in through the windows. Toward the end, I ran outside and killed some zombies with hit and run tactics.

Play thoughts:
  • The economy of actions is a bit odd and may take some getting used to - on paper it looks more flexible than 3e, but it felt a bit more restrictive. I felt like I was spending a lot of time drawing weapons or pulling axes out of walls (or zombie foreheads). The Quickdraw feat would help with this, but... as I said... there were a lot of appropriate feats to take.
  • The ranger was much more effective when he could maneuver. We started out in a relatively cramped tavern. The hit and run at-will combined with the flexibility of having effective melee and ranged attacks was really nich.
  • I felt like I had a bunch of options. Part of this was having 3 at-will class powers which could each be used either ranged or in melee. I wonder how a build that wasn't built for versatility would feel.
  • I didn't end up using either my encounter or daily power. That's OK.
  • I was a bit worried about 'wasting' an encounter or daily on a minion. I think my generally-recommended house rule will be that if you use an encounter or daily on a single minion and a basic attack would have sufficed to kill that minion, then the power isn't expended.
Overall, I enjoyed the experience.

Monday, June 16, 2008

4e: Dreadblade?

A long time ago, I was talking about revising the Hexblade from the ground up... essentially, I did so (and called it the Dreadblade), but I don't think I ever published it in any form. The class power-structure was too funky - it was, essentially an entirely new subsystem like those on the Book of Nine Swords - or the Warlock's invocations.

I didn't really feel comfortable with it.

I looked at it the other day. My first thought was that it would be really easy to convert to 4e. Right now I only have about 20-some things that more-or-less directly transfer to powers, but I see space for plenty more. Paragon Paths? Two immediately sprung to mind (the Doomlord and the Deathbringer).

The only thing that doesn't fit is the power source/role thing that 4e classes have going on. This would be an arcane/martial defender/striker/controller. One of those roles might become primary as things develop, though. We'll see. I'm not sure that I'm too concerned with it.



Went to Duckon this weekend. Angela and Grace had a table in the dealer's room. I had a good time, but the dealer's room was slow, business-wise, for everyone. One person I spoke to said that he did about 1/3 as much business this year as he did at Duckon last year.

The gaming track was pretty sparse at the con. There was only one RPG option, and it was at a bad time for me. The science track was pretty neat, and probably should have been called the Science! track. We got to see the Singing Tesla Coils, which were a highlight.

There were a lot of Klingons there.

I'm not sure if we'll be going back to deal there next year... but Jim Butcher is the literary guest of honor. That should bring in a good crowd... and I think I might like to attend the con if nothing else...

The next dealing con that is planned is WindyCon. I'm not sure about the military sf theme, but it is a good con. GenCon? Might be in the works for attendance for a day or two, but I'm not sure. The timing, as usual, is less than ideal.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


I think I mentioned earlier that I was at least thinking about playing in a Nobilis game.

Well, I am.

Playing in one, that is.

I suppose I'm also thinking about playing in it... or writing about... or writing about thinking about... or...


We've met four times. The first two were devoted to group character, Imperator, and Chancel creation. In Nobilis, the PCs are all part of a team that works for (and is, in a sense, part of) an Imperator - an incredibly powerful being who might be an angel or something on that level. Chancels are, essentially, your base of operations.

The PCs ended up as:
  • The Power of Masks (me)
  • The Power of the Subconscious
  • The Power of Rock and Roll
  • The Power of Loyalty
  • The Power of Discovery
  • The Power of Waves
Yeah. It is a big group.

The Imperator has to embody all of those things. We decided that he had once been an Angel who (on a mission) left Heaven and the World to travel into the wild spaces beyond it. He returned, changed. He never returned to Heaven, but considers himself still on his original mission (many Angels are skeptical of this claim). He also brought Rock and Roll back from the wild beyond the world.

Our Chancel is Atlantis. It sits sunken beneath the sea of the human subconscious. The Atlanteans are ruled by an inbred royal family who practice magic and have changed to resemble fish people - though they are masked by their magics to look normal. The streets of Atlantis are walked both by living Atlanteans and the ghosts of those who died when Atlantis sunk beneath the waves. Modern technology does not work in Atlantis, but an alternate wave-based science which is roughly equally advanced thrives there.

I think we were all pretty happy with how these sessions went. I was, honestly, skeptical about the game given Borgstrom's deliberately-obscure writing style... but I've enjoyed both the set up and the actual game sessions we've had so far.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

When you're good...

In my Monday night game, my PC has played a very successful game of chess. The game uses Storytelling/WoD rules. Game mechanically, we just treated chess as Int+Academics rolls. My die pool in that is 6. Pretty good, but far from awesome.

The thing is, I've rolled it twice for playing chess - and got amazing levels of success (4 or 5 successes) both times. Unfortunately, my die pool won't sustain anywhere near that level of success. I'm tempted to buy an appropriate specialty in order to improve my chess-playing abilities over the long-term.

This got me to thinking.

I've run into similar situations in a number of games, where PCs who aren't mechanically speaking particularly awesome at a task do really well at it the first few times they try it. Do any games have a formal method of solidifying that level of specialized skill? It seems like a no-brainer to me...

Monday, June 09, 2008


Last night marked the end of our occasional-Sunday Mage game. I don't have a whole lot to say about it. Somehow we managed to save the world (twice) without feeling like we accomplished much. That's been a common theme for this game, and it was somewhat frustrating at times.

This coming weekend is Duckon. The website still has little information up, which is frustrating. There doesn't seem to be any gaming programming. Angela and Grace will be set up in the dealers room selling cool stuff, and I figured I'd go along with them. It should be fun, but I'm afraid the Con will be poorly organized.

4e is the new toy at the moment. I mentioned I was disappointed in the Monster Manual, and I know I'm not alone. I want to get some practice with the rules, so if there are any monsters you want a write-up for that wasn't provided in the MM, let me know and I'll see what I can come up with.

4e: some neat things

Encounter design: I've been really skeptical of 4e's encounter design in which each combat encounter has, by default, one creature (or trap) per party member. Here's the thing, though, encounters are defined in such a way as being separated by a short (about 5 minute) rest. So, if you are in a dungeon and hit two rooms with monsters in quick succession, those two rooms count as a single encounter. This has some interesting ramifications. Your encounter powers don't refresh between them, for one. If the players only see one monster in a room, and they know it isn't a solo monster, they get tipped off to the fact that the encounter won't be over by just defeating that one thing - they probably shouldn't spend all of their encounter abilities on it.

I'm still not 100% sold on this, but it is certainly more nuanced than I'd assumed.

Encounter pacing: One of the express design goals of 4e was to stop the trend of the fifteen minute adventuring day that consists of a single fight between 8 hour rests in which people recover spells and such. How was this done? Well, the obvious bit is that many powers are usable per encounter... and, as such, can be used every encounter, if appropriate. There are still, though, some things that refresh only with a long rest, notably daily powers and healing capacity. The gradual loss of these resources throughout a day of activity are balanced by milestones. PCs reach a milestone when they've gone through two encounters without taking an extended rest. Each milestone that PCs reach gives them an action point, which can be used to take an extra action (a pretty big deal). When PCs take an extended rest, their number of action points resets to one. Moreover, some magic items and such become more powerful once you've reached a certain number of milestones. It is a pretty cool system that adds a nice balancing feature.

Friday, June 06, 2008

4e: Dungeon, Dragon

On the plus side, the magazines are looking decent.

OK, one of the big Dragon articles focuses on Yeenoghu, of whom I'm not a fan. I don't really like D&D's tendency to focus on fiends in general, and I prefer my gnolls more morally ambiguous than demon-worshipers. Still, that's a personal preference. The article seemed like is pretty good, quality-wise.

4e: very, very quick impressions

Angela and I showed up at the Armored Gopher at midnight to pick up my books. Yeah, our FLGS has gamer-friendly, if odd, hours.

I immediately handed Angela the Monster Manual while I cracked open the PHB. First impressions:
  • The Player's Handbook layout is odd. Not necessarily bad, but odd. I'm used to the races/classes/spells organizational structure. Now spells (and all class powers) are listed with the class.
  • Multiclassing seems unnecessarily anemic. If you are swapping powers out, you are really just adding variety, not power. Why the strangely high cost of doing so little of it?
  • No Craft, Profession, or Performance is upsetting. These didn't need to be separate skills, but they shouldn't have been completely excluded.
  • Tieflings look kind of dumb.
  • At least they aren't yet another kind of elf.
At first glance, the Monster Manual was disappointing:
  • There is very little flavor text on monsters.
  • The normal animals I saw on a quick read-through: Horse and wolf. I'd have listed crocodile, but they went and called it a visejaw crocodile or something stupid like that. Other than that, they have a couple of dire animals and pointlessly-mutated things (seriously... the guuvorg is supposed to be a type of Worg, but it doesn't even look vaguely wolf-like... and no explanation is given). Honestly, I'd have been happier with a normal bear or tiger.
  • Pseudodragons are no longer telepathic and seem to fit poorly into the drake category where they were placed. The drake art is awful.
  • A bunch of classic creatures were missing: frost giants, winter wolves, metallic dragons. I don't remember seeing the rust monster in there. At least they kept the Destrachan. I don't know what we'd do without that one! Seriously. They kept a few loser monsters from 3.x and added some new things that seem pointless.
  • They did, however, have the Grell and Galeb Duhr in there. Props for those.
I only very, very briefly glanced into the DMG. It looked low on crunch. I did look at the new system for diseases, and I approve of it.

Note that these are first impressions. I haven't really looked at the rules in detail yet.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Faith in Fantasy

What is a religion like when faith is a non-issue?

In many fantasy worlds, there is direct intervention by gods. You don't need to convince people to believe that your god exists. It isn't an issue.

How would that change what religious institutions are like?

To a point, we can look to real-world cultures in which the existence of a variety of gods and spirits are accepted as fact. Historically speaking, when a missionary or prophet of an unknown god came by, many ancient (and some less-than-ancient) polytheistic cultures would simply integrate worship of that god into their lives.

In a fantasy world that was inspired by these sorts of cultures - most likely one in which gods are known to exist but not terribly active - most people are likely to show respect to multiple gods, perhaps focusing a bit more on a single god or two whose portfolio includes something related to their trade or lifestyle. Priests and such might be dedicated to a single god, but even this isn't necessarily the case. If the gods don't deny each others' existence, temples might be used to worship multiple gods. Even gods who are enemies might be worshiped in the same temple. Admittedly, some gods might have particular requirements - a nature god might need to be worshiped outside or something.

Now, a fantasy world in which the gods take an active role might be different. For instance, a world in which active worship gives power to the gods might result in either a celestial bureaucracy in which days of worship are carefully (though not necessarily equally) distributed among the gods or active competition between evangelical religious organizations... or some combination of the two.

Alternatively, the gods or their direct agents could walk the land physically. Perhaps they are literal god-kings of nations.

For a different feel, perhaps the devotees of particular gods have organizations dedicated to the portfolio of those gods. This combines worship-through-action with the possibility that gods are concerned less with direct worship and more with the sort of activity that interests them. The church of the god of trade might be an international guild of merchant-priests. The church of the god of war might be a mercenary army. This might get tricky when you get into the area of things like a sun-god, but it could also be pretty cool.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

The Curious Case of the Cleric

What the hell is a cleric?

Originally, I pictured them as holy warriors - knights dedicated to a god. They wore heavy armor and they were pretty good at fighting.

Then the paladin came along. It pretty much eclipsed the role I'd imagined for the cleric. Clerics then got shoved into the role of religious leaders/priests.

Of course, priests usually stay in one place and tend to a congregation. They aren't adventurers. Could they be missionaries? That would handle the moving around, but there was never really any text to support such an interpretation.

Also, what's with the healing. Why are clerics all medics? Sure, there are some traditions of faith-healing and such, but the basis for this archetype in fantasy literature is very weak.

Paladins, as holy champions, make sense. Clerics, I suppose, could be holy champions who concentrate a bit more on prayer than combat than paladins... but that's an awfully fine distinction.

I could easily see, however, a class that replaced the cleric with a more clear-cut priest/missionary type. They might be healers, but they'd more often inspire their allies to heroism (fanaticism?) in the name of their god and the ideals he upholds. Charisma would probably be as important as wisdom (if not more so).

Such a character wouldn't be as easy to play as a traditional cleric... and in many groups it might not really be a socially-acceptable option. I think it is interesting, though...