Sunday, May 13, 2012

Analysis Paralysis - Choice


 It is our choices, Harry, that show us what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”
-J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets 
For me role-play is all about walking in someone's shoes for awhile. To do that I need to decide what is important to them. By this I refer to my character. I do this is to create a frame of reference for the choices I will make later. I could leave the frame of reference alone and let the choices define the character. Either way my choices reveal more about my character's personality then all the descriptive text anyone could write.

We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.
-Kurt Vonnegut, Mother Night

There is an element of ourselves in each character we play. We draw from our own life experiences more than we can from the fictitious ones we create for our PC's. Role-playing games allow us to experience things out of our comfort zone, because we can make different choices then we normally would and play out events within the framework of that "safe" environment. Everyone has played the what-if game about something they have done in the past. What-if I would have studied harder an got an "A"? What if I would have blown off my book report and gone to that party? What-if I wouldn't have taken the new job? What if I would have? What if I was a born a penniless half-orc on the streets of Waterdeep? Role-playing games are an extension of this.

There are no safe choices. Only other choices.
-Libba Bray, A Great and Terrible Beauty 

In life, once you pick a fork in the road and travel down the path, there is no reset button or redo. Role-playing games are similar. It is very rare that at the focal point of a decision you are able to see all outcomes, nor would it be good if you could.

Frank Herbert in his Dune series described it so,

Muad'Dib could indeed see the Future, but you must understand the limits of this power. Think of sight. You have eyes, yet cannot see without light. If you are on the floor of a valley, you cannot see beyond your valley. Just so, Muad'Dib could not always choose to look across the mysterious terrain. He tells us that a single obscure decision of prophecy, perhaps the choice of one word over another, could change the entire aspect of the future. He tells us "The vision of time is broad, but when you pass through it, time becomes a narrow door." And always, he fought the temptation to choose a clear, safe course, warning "That path leads ever down into stagnation.

Consider this, what appears to be a disastrous course of action to the characters objectives can be the greatest path to fun for the players. D&D is in large part about the journey and not about the destination. The dragon you see from one fork of the road may not be on your path at all, and the mountain spring envisioned on another may contain a water elemental. No matter how clever the solution to this week's problem, next week there will be another. If there isn't, did a too clever a solution cause your campaign to stall and stagnate as a DM forces a tacked on adventure upon you?

You can’t cross the sea merely by standing and staring at the water.
-Rabindranath Tagore

Indecision is the bane of fun. Without successes and failures, the game loses its excitement. I am not promoting flailing about willy nilly, but  consider the problem for a brief time, decide and act. Look not back at the shore and contemplate what might have been. Look to the horizon; the brewing storm clouds and plot your next move. Leave indecision to the NPC's.

Saturday Night

The cavalry, the party among them, arrives on the road above the valley of Vew mid morning. The scene below is troublesome. The town is ablaze. The outer wall shattered at several points. Orcs move thru the town looting and setting fires. The southern bank of the river is held by a group of orcs; over seen by an Ogre. 

A group of dragonborn foot-soldiers raid the sacked Temple of Bahamut, loading spoils into wagons. Only the town's keep stands as a last bastion of hope among the wreckage, but even now Orc siege engines swarm the western wall of the keep. To the east an ordered camp houses reserves and command tents. Four banners of the party's enemies fly over the tent. 

Combat Objectives - More than Kill Them All!

I have talked before about victory conditions or combat objective style fights. Here is a good list that I like to refer to when building these fights. It was compiled by Halivar at EnWorld in this Thread.

It takes some practice for your players to get good at recognizing these situations and seeing a way to clear the board without slaughtering every thing in sight. As always be sure to let your players know that this is an option in your campaign, and make sure that is the type of campaign they want to play in.

Use these sparingly and let the players' actions decide how oft they want this type of combat. In my campaign, this is something I throw at my players about twice a level or about 2 out of 7 combat encounters. The option is always on the table for a clever player, but only those few encounters are structured that way.

Scenario: Breakout
Objective: The party is encircled by a horde of enemies. To escape, they must reach an objective (an exit, a door, a magic portal) on the battle mat.
Setup: The party begins in the middle of the mat. Depending on the setting there may be obstacles (buildings, trees, rocks) and rough terrain. The encounter begins with the players surrounded by 40-50 minions of comparable level to the party. There are minions between the party and the objective.
In Play: Minions slain by the party return to their initial entry point at the beginning of the next round. Minions will keep coming until the party is either dead or has escaped.
Ancillary Skill Checks: Terrain and obstacles should force Acrobatics (moderate) checks if double-moving. Otherwise players must make Athletics checks (easy) to overcome said obstacles.

Scenario: VIP Escort
Objective: The party must ensure that a helpless VIP (a merchant, a courier, an injured nobleman) reaches an objective on the other side of the battle mat.
Setup: The party begins surrounding the VIP on the opposite side of the battle mat from the objective. The mat should be covered in obstacles and cover for assassins to hide in (a town with streets and alleys is perfect for this). The encounter starts with 10 lurker minions and a non-minion leader (controller or artillery) hidden among the obstacles. The VIP has artillery monster stats, but with no attacks. Unlike monsters, the VIP obeys PC rules for death and dying, so if he falls he can be revived.
In Play: The VIP only moves 5 squares and cannot double-move (he is either injured or encumbered). If attacked, he will stop and cower, and will not move until intimidated to move forward. Slain assassin minions and ringleaders return to new starting points when slain, and will not stop until either the VIP is dead, or the VIP escapes. Assassins will try to avoid the PC's as must as possible to get straight at the VIP.
Ancillary Skill Checks: When the VIP cowers, the PC's must make an Intimidate check (easy) to get him moving forward again. Perception checks (against monster stealth rolls) determine if the PC's get early warning of attack. Players can identify likely ambush areas with a hard check in the appropriate skill (Streetwise in the city, Nature in the woods, Dungeoneering in a dungeon).

Scenario: Last Stand
Objective: The players must hold a defensive position (a building, a palisade, a section of castle wall) against a horde of enemy minions for 10 rounds (until activation of a super-weapon, until extraction, until a group of refugees has time to escape).
Setup: The party begins inside the defensive position, with 20-25 enemy minions at the edge of the map. At the front is a non-minion ringleader (controller or artillery). The defensive position should be such that party members are (or can be) in an elevated position and have cover bonuses.
In Play: The ringleader will lead the minions only as far as just outside a move away from the defenders, from which position he will spur on the minions. If the ringleader dies, all minions are demoralized, and may only take standard actions on their turn until a new ringleader shows up. At the end of the enemies' turn, fallen enemies (including the ringleader) are replaced at the edge of the map.
Ancillary Skill Checks: Athletics checks are useful if minions are scaling defenses with ladders. A hard check will push ladders off the walls and stun the climbing minions for a turn.

Scenario: King of the Hill
Objective: Last Stand with a twist: players must first assault the defensive position and wrest control of it from enemies before they defend it.
Setup: The party begins at the edge of the map. The defensive position is occupied by 5-7 non-minion enemies, which are not yet aware of the PC's presence.
In Play: At the first sign of attack, the defenders call out for backup (thus setting the stage for the Last Stand portion of the encounter). Other than that, this is a pretty straight-forward combat encounter. If players elect to damage the defenses during the course of the assault, the difficulty of the second part of the encounter will increase.
Ancillary Skill Checks: Stealth will be essential, as will be Athletics (for scaling defenses).

Scenario: Capture the Flag
Objective: The players must capture the enemy “flag” while defending their own. The encounter ends when one individual (PC or NPC) has both “flags” (two parts to a powerful relic, the Hand and Eye of Vecna, the Cosmic Key from the Dolf Lundgren motion picture “Masters of the Universe” and One-Eyed Willie's sheet music from “Goonies”).
Setup: Both sides (the players and the enemies) have fortifications on opposite sides of the battle mat (forts, dives in the slums, open mausoleums in a graveyard). There can be as many or as few obstacles as the DM desires. The enemies have 4-5 non-minions defending their flag, and 10 minions outside. The players have the aid of 5 friendly minions who will obey the PC's instructions. Whoever is holding a flag is magically, supernaturally, or psychically aware of where the other flag is. There is a problem: the flag is bulky and impedes the holder. The flag-bearer may only take a standard action. To compensate, the players may elect to give a minion the flag; it's a tactical decision on their own part.
In Play: The enemies will leave 1 non-minion with the defending minions and the flag. The other non-minions will take a circuitous route to the PC's base to steal their flag. At the beginning of each round, replacements for all NPC's (including friendly minions) arrive at the edge of the mat.
Ancillary Skill Checks: If any players choose to stay and defend the base, they will need to make Perception rolls against stealthy attackers.

Scenario: Spaced Invaders
Objective: The players are forming a thin (but porous) line of defense against single-minded invaders whose only intention is get past them. The players must stop them. They can be plague-bearing zombies heading towards town, wounded enemy couriers on a battlefield trying to get a request for reinforcements out, or cultists of Orcus trying to throw themselves into a black abyss for some terrible ritual.
Setup: Divide the mat in half. The players can be anywhere on the side of the mat to which the invaders are streaming. The players should be made aware that they will need maximum coverage and mobility.
In Play: There are 20-30 minions who trickle in at the far end of the mat and move unswervingly to the other side. Now because they are either wounded, undead, or encumbered, they only take standard actions. They will prefer flight to fight, but will stop and fight if directly prevented from moving forward. At the beginning of each turn, roll a 1d4. This is the number of enemies that appear that round. For each enemy minion, randomly roll to see which edge square they start at.
Ancillary Skill Checks: Perhaps allow Perception roles, and allow players to discover, one round ahead of time, where new enemy minions will appear.

Scenario: Whack-A-Mole
Objective: The players must scramble to different objectives on the map to stop enemy machinations. The enemy only needs to complete one of their objectives; the players must stop all of them. Once an enemy objective is activated, the players are on a time-limit to stop it. This can be evil cultists setting up idols to enslave a whole town, an enemy defensive battery trying to set up magical trebuchets to sink a refugee boat, or goblins in a forest trying to set up bon-fires to burn the forest down.
Setup: The map is covered in obstacles, and there are 5 enemy emplacements. Each emplacement is guarded by up to 6 minions, and one non-minion. By random die roll, select one to be "activating", and inform the players (placed on the far side of the mat) that they have 5 rounds to stop the completion of the enemy objective.
In Play: Every 3 rounds, randomly activate another emplacement. The urgency factor will increase dramatically, and the party may decide they need to split up.
Ancillary Skill Checks: Allow perception or insight checks to allow players to predict which emplacement will activate next. Place obstacles that require the use of Athletics or Acrobatics checks to overcome.

Scenario: Assassination
Objective: The opposite of VIP Escort. In this scenario, the enemy is trying to protect the party's target, and get him to a safe area. The party's job is to stop him from getting there. This can be a murderous crime lord moving from one safe house to another, a deposed tyrant fleeing to escape to his waiting army, or a courier rushing to give the uber-archvillain the pass-phrase to the Book of Vile Darkness.
Setup: The enemy has dispatched three parties. One has the real VIP, and the others are escorting a minion look-alike. The VIP has artillery monster stats (but no attacks). Like in the VIP Escort scenario, the VIP will cower when attacked. Each VIP is surrounded by 4 non-minions. In addition, there are at least 10 minion patrolling the board.
In Play: Slain minions are replaced at the end of the enemies' turn at the edge of the mat. As in the VIP Escort scenario, the VIP is hindered and can only make a standard action each round, and moves 5 squares.
Ancillary Skills: Insight and Perception are the key skills here for noticing doppelgangers. A hard check will spot the deception before engagement.

Other victory condition advice can be found at:

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Pillar 1 - The Intangibles of Playing a Role

On a 4E blog the term Role can invoke images of the core four. Striker, Defender, Controller and Leader but those aren't what I mean here. Today I am talking about walking a league in another's shoes. Part of D&D is putting on another persona, this is the Role-playing part of the game. A lot of talk has gone into the three pillars of D&D recently. For anyone who has missed out I refer to Combat, Exploration and Role-playing. I will review a few of my tips for creating an effective fun persona.

Tip #1 - Pick a Persona that Keeps It Friendly

It's easy to latch onto a concept and take it to far. Conflict is part of the dramatic tension necessary to any campaign. Embrace it but be aware there is always the risk of the character's persona's clashing. In order for a party and a table to successfully co-exist eliminate the paraphrasing of the statement "but that's what my character would do." Both sides of any inter-party conflict should be able to logically reach a compromise without bloodshed. Finding this win-win or agreeing to a win-lose type negotiation needs to be built into your character from the get go.

For example during the drafting phase for a Cleric of Melora be thinking about how your character would respond to a debate with a Cleric of Erathis. Melora abhors the destruction of woods for the sake of progress. On the other hand the Cleric of Erathis despises the lack of building materials due to the elven priests unwillingness to see civilization grow. How would your PC handle this debate? How would the rest of the party handle the debate? You could very quickly be at odds with your dwarf, mage, and fighter companions but might have the elven ranger on your side. Working this out without drawing steel is the mark of a good role player.

Tip #2 - Keep it Fresh

A lot of players tend to play the same character over and over. It's comfortable they know what to do in any situation. It also grows dull for the player. A DM can usually tell when the player is phoning in the role-play. To keep it fresh I suggest looking at trying something new, and stretching your legs in a new pair of shoes. This can be really tough, change oft is. Are you a timid person? Try being loud and boisterous. This can back fire on you though. It is hard to keep up a persona that is maligned with your own. I found it simpler to start with a part of my own personality I rarely used.

One of the reasons I love dwarves is their grumpiness. This was one of my first experiences role-playing. I took that old man "keep off the lawn", cynic from my own personality and amplified it. I took out my sense of humor and rolled up a dumb human bard. The jack-of-all trades would accidentally do fantastic things in prescient nod to Cpt Jack Sparrow. (Mind you this 20 years ago) The next time I rolled up a dwarf I changed it up and played a devout Cleric of Erathis. He personally hated elves (damn tree huggers), but he was very generous with money and compassionate to the sick and poor.

Tip #3 - KISS (Keep It So Simple)

Focus on the little things that really make your character stand out. A dwarf that strokes his beard when he is nervous. A barbarian that always sharpens his axe when folks are talking. A wizard who sits and smokes his pipe when pondering a bit of lore he needs to roll for. A halfling that stubs his toe every time he fails a stealth check. A paladin that salutes his enemies before engaging in combat. A thief that twirls a coin when he's bored. These are really pretty cliche things but find something your character would do and always do it. When the rest of the party catches on they will interact with it. That is a role-playing moment.

Be prepared to make the wrong choice. Our characters are a reflection of us amplified. The first instinct is to make them be perfect and always make the right choice. Sometimes a good role-playing scenario is making a bad call because that would be the information your character would have. Don't always listen at the door. Don't always keep the party together. Sometimes giving the NPC the last potion when you know there is one more encounter is the right thing to do.

Tip #4 - Setec Astronomy*

If you are dropping clues and expecting your party to get it. Give it up. If it is worth doing it is worth letting them in on it early. If there is one thing my years as a DM has taught me, it's that secrets and big reveals are anti-climatic. Hold your cards for a session maybe three and then play them. If you don't the players will have long ago forgot about your clues when the time the big reveal rolls around. By that time you have lost their interest and possibly created a frustrating untrustworthy ally for them to try to interact with.

Tip #5 - Ends of the Spectrum in Pairs

The best types of role-playing characters (IMHO) are the ones that either are iconic to the point they become cliche or characters that break the mold in unexpected and fantastic ways. When these two anti-archetypes coalesce and function together, it is true RP gold.

An untrustworthy halfling thief and his chaotic good barbarian companion. A feeble dragonborn fire hurler and his grumpy, singe-bearded dwarf fighter companion. A chaotic good githyanki bard and her snarling chaotic evil bugbear fighter on a leash.

Tip #6 - Role-playing Evil is Hard

A lot of folks think playing the evil or unaligned character is easy. It can be liberating to go against societies grain. In a heroic campaign playing the Evil PC is a lot of work. The other party members won't trust you. It doesn't take much for a DM to, even accidentally, make you the center of suspicion and anger. Even closet Evil PC's have this problem. When the DM and one player continually step out of the room for a quick chat, pass notes or communicate via Private Messages. The players are clued in something odd is happening. Someone is up to something. The paranoia breeds contempt and resentment. It is hard to be that guy. When your morals and objectives don't align at all you are back up to Tip 1. Bloodshed is the more than likely in game and maybe out of game result.

Equally tough is playing an Evil PC in an all evil campaign. In this scenario the social qualms preventing violence and discord dissipate. The point of playing an evil campaign is to get the upper hand and be able to act on impulse and a bit of sadistic pleasure. The players more likely than not are going to end up poisoning, betraying or slaughtering each other. It takes a really well knit group to survive something like that without any wounded pride or long-term consequences.

Finally, unaligned characters. Most evil characters I have played with have truly been unaligned. They operate within their own moral code and an informal set of ethics. Truly evil acts are hard to portray as a DM and they are harder as a player. Especially when presented with opportunities to do good. Players will oft act on their own desires and forget they are being "Evil". The other hard part about unaligned is that it requires you to establish some internal guidelines for how your character views the world. Good and Evil are things that people have some ideas about, the table may not agree on those ideas, but they have them. Unaligned is a little less clear. Without some forethought a persona will come off as flat or more flip-floppy than a politician. This makes it easy to game the system but very hard to successfully role-play.

These are my six tips to enhance your role-playing. Remember its a game, its meant to be fun. Some of that fun is interacting with your party both in a socially responsible manner and in a way that challenges and expands your experience.

*Is an anagram from the '92 movie Sneakers. Unscrambled it is "Too many secrets".

Saturday, February 11, 2012

How I use my IPad2 a list? Or How I learned to love the iPad cuz its the bomb!

How I use my IPad2 a list?

Recently, one of my co-workers mentioned that her husband was underwhelmed by his IPad2 and was contemplating sending it back. I couldn't understand that. My iPad2 is rarely more than 10 ft from me. I use it that much. I must admit I have the 32 gig wifi only model. I am not paying for the 3G model. As such I don't pay for the service plan so I can't comment on that aspect. When I first got my iPad, my years of Microsoft products led  me to have a meh feeling. Everything seemed in the wrong place and didn't seem to do what I wanted it to do. Then I really started playing with it. As I did the logic of it became second nature. The one down side is if you engage with a lot of flash tech.  Ie the same kind of tech used to power facecrack games. #20 is a solution for flash video but doesn't help with the games. So, without further ado here is my list of apps and how I use them.

1. Notes - meeting notes, long forum posts, blogs, stories, etc.
2. Photo booth- Video kids concerts, sporting events, pictures
3. iTunes - music, podcasts
4. *withFriends - Play scrabble or chess with friends from around the globe
5. Pizza ordering apps - Order pizza in two minutes while talking to the kids
6. Calendar - My wife adds all of our appointments, kids practices, dances etc to a shared calendar, this trickles down to both our phones and iPads from outlook. I know where we all need to be any time we need to be there
7. Newsstand - We subscribe to a couple of magazines and I can access them here as can my wife
8. Comic books - I have an app for comic books (geek) freebies and download on demand. 
9. Netflix - I don't like American tv, or at least most American tv since the 90's. This app let's me stream any show or movie on instant straight to my device. This with our Wii is our main form of entertainment. I can watch Netflix on the wii with the kids ensuring they are watching something apropos and still see something else on my iPad
10. Imdb - cant remember a movie or actor title bam there she is
11. Games galore - Slice it, angry birds, back yard pilot, finger physics, zombie dice, Arcs - Free little time wasters that put Facebook crack apps to shame
12. Music - pandora, tune in radio - stream music from around the world - I listen to talk shows in London and listen to the radio stations in Denver I grew up with, Alternate rock in Montreal is a click away
13. Big Oven - at my leisure, I pick a few meals I would like to have, update the shopping list and the ingredients appear on my wife's iPhone, we don't have to stare blankly at each other trying to figure out what meals we are planning for the week. 
14. Twitter - stay connected to an online community of your choice, not a big fan of social media but for my blog this is a must (still don't use it much)
15. Skype - free calls from your device to another wifi connection w vid chat
16. FaceTime - same as above but only apple to apple
17. Adobe reader, PDF reader and iBooks- I own and read about 2000 PDF. They are at my fingertips day or night, on- line or off, in the can, at lunch or in bed late at night when I want to write
18. Dropbox - quick file sharing between your PC and iPad for up to 2.2 gig no iTunes sync required
19. Safari - internet, forums, others blogs - coupled with google reader or similar it is a good way to earmark web pages you are interested in reading but not really feeling at the moment
20. Sky fire - having trouble with the blue lego this is your solution - opens up video not otherwise supported by apple

Top 20 apps I use on a daily or weekly basis. 
Hope this helps.

Typed entirely on the iPad in twenty mins while keeping my three year old son out of the skittles, off the stove, and watching the pink panther with the five year old. Now if I could get the fifteen year old out of bed that would be miracle technology. Typos as usual are fully mine and can not be blamed on anything more than laziness.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Alignment, a Four Axis Word at my Table

The Angry DM beat me to this post and rather than clog up his comments section I thought I would share my thoughts.

Conversations on alignment have been nothing but a source for great debate. It has destroyed four campaigns I have played in over the 20+ years I have been playing D&D. A few years ago my group had a long debate about this subject that eventually led us to employ a similar system as my brother had been using in his games for years.

"Neuroglyphs System I adopted"

The following is a transcription of the forum posts from the discussion for those with a little bit of time and an inclination to rehash old debates.

Given our recent discussion of the prevalent good vs evil of the Barbarian Female in the Traveler's Rest Inn I present the following letter and editor's response from Dragon 31 Nov 1980 and say the debate yet prevails 30 years later. I will allow you to discuss before sharing my views.

Note: Keep in mind the poison in question referred to is the AD&D variety that was save or die and could be deliverd via ingestion, application to a weapon...

Paladin paradox

Dear Editor:
I would like to comment on Carl Parlagreco’s alignment chart in the June TD, where the use of poison and the attacking of unarmed foes is shown as a function of alignment.
It seems to me that these actions would depend on the individual’s chivalry rather than his alignment; it is perfectly possible to have an intensely evil person who would follow the code of chivaly to the letter. or a paladin who feels that he can most effectively combat evil by never placing himself at risk-poisoning a tribe of orcs would probably save the lives of good creatures, which is what paladins are for (isn’t it?).
Other than that, I’ve found the alignment list very helpful when trying to explain the pros and cons of alignments to my players, and to clarify them to myself.
It is impossible for paladins to do the type of despicable deed you describe and still retain exalted status.
Robert Plamondon—OR

Response from the editor

While no one likes to be typed or pigeonholed, it is done every day by sociologists, psychiatrists and the like, not to mention all of the personal pigeonholing we all engage in as a product of our own individual biases. We pigeonhole these persons by laws and classifications that we perceive to exist, which makes it easier for us to relate to, and deal with, the multitudinous impressions assaulting our senses at any given moment. A game must have rules and strictures within which it can function, so that all of the participants have an equal perception of acceptable endeavor.
The DM must supply all of the flesh and muscles around the skeleton of the rules. The game system itself can only provide the framework upon which the flesh and muscles are arranged. By design, the skeleton limits certain actions; i.e., our elbow configuration only allows certain arm movements.
Consider certain behavior patterns as joint configurations: each only does certain things. Many behavorial strictures are not written laws, but moral values applied by society. If the words “good” and “evil” are to have any recognizable meaning we must apply contemporary values, and extrapolate them into our ideal; i.e., our fantasy worlds. “Good” people do not resort to deceit and trickery, because society does not perceive that as “good” behavior.
An intrinsically “evil” person would never follow a code of chivalry that perceived the concept of “chivalry” in the same vein as the societal perception.
All of the celebrated “codes of chivalry” that have been so romanticized in our literature dictated a lifestyle that followed the societal perception of "good.” True, there were oath-breakers and miscreants, but they inevitably met with disfavor, ostracism or even worse, and were not considered to be living by the “code.”
To allow the DM to deal with the characters populating his world, he must be able to “pigeonhole” them. In this instance, the behavior patterns exhibited mandate the classification. —ED.

Player A

I liked the idea of the two axis Alignment set up of AD&D. Good and evil vs Law and Chaos. This made the idea of a honorable bad guy possible. The Lawful Evil knight that won't kill an unarmed opponent. As a "framework" this system works well in my mind.

At some point I will post Gygax's response from up on a soap box about this subject, but I don't want it to color anyone's opinions.

It has been almost 20 years since I have read most of the early Dragon magazines, and though most of the earlier material is completely useless now I find myself drawn back into these particular articles. The fundamental Structure of the magazine remains unchanged to day. Bizarre of the Bazaar is in there very first mag, as well as the Play's the Thing and Out on a Limb. Though Out on a Limb has been greatly changed with Paizo's Scale Mail and then later by the DDI Forums.

Some interesting reads today have been the several issue discussion of Good and Evil and the two axis system with AD&D, the advent of changing AD&D rules to better support female play (and Characters) then less than 10% of the entire RP population, and an article regarding Atlantis/stone henge and the 1979 release of the fact that Stone Henge accurately represents a wobble in the moon's orbit before unknown to Astronomers and a wobble to the Earth's Axis only recently found (again in 1979).

Player B

Maybe I'm just tired but I'm not understanding....
As far as the alignment system, it works. It isnt perfect but it works.

Player C

Well, this is a tough one. Good and evil, right and wrong, are difficult subjects. In trying to instill a "moral compass" in youngsters, often it is described as distinct, This is good while that is evil, this is right but that is wrong. As we grow up we learn (hopefully) that there are exceptions, and shades of gray, and even areas where something that otherwise would be wrong because of the circumstances is right. A quote comes to mind "There is no right or wrong, but thinking makes it so" (and I can't remember who said it...hold on, Shakespeare I believe?) Anyway, my point is this - and as is true with so many things, of course there are exceptions - but its not an action in itself that is good or evil (or right or wrong), but it is a conglomeration of the action, the thought and intent behind that action as well. To this end, I do not think that an item itself can be good or evil but it is rather just a tool, and it is the use to which that tool is put that is good or evil not the tool itself. Does that make any sense?

I guess when I read the letter in question my thoughts were as follows:

1. Is it a good act or an evil act to poison a village of barbaric orcs who will invade neighboring lands slaughtering hundreds?
2. Does this still apply within the framework of a paladin violating there oaths and losing their power?
3. Can an Anti-paladin (ie a paladin of an evil god) be considered Chivalric or does his actions by definition preclude him being chivalric?

As far as the editor was considered I was thinking his comments were fair given the basis of the DND game.

If you assume by default all characters are of good or neutral alignment (ie the unaligned of today) then the view that an anti-paladin is always Evil and typically not Chivalric stands.

However, when two characters start debating about the intrinsic value of whether a foes actions where good or evil then one must consider the source of reference of both characters. For simplicity lets assume a Cleric of Melora and a Cleric of Erathis are debating Good and Evil.

For the precepts of Melora the acts of destroying nature are considered an act against the stated laws or edicts. However, for Erathis the acts of destroying nature for progress towards the greater goals of civilization could be considered the correct action. Thusly, evil in Melora's eyes and not so in Erathis. Melora and Erathis both being Unaligned gods how would a Paladin of Bahamut (ie Justice) judge such an act? How would the paladin fair in supporting either action?

These are the answers to this question that I am contemplating. In every instance I come across it is the morals of the individual or of the contained society judging the action.

In the end, a cleric of Pelor is judged by Pelor and a Paladin of Bahamut is judged by Bahamut.

Ie therefore when a scantily clad Barbarian defends her honor she is being judged by her deity, most likely Kord. Whose precepts are listed below:

Be strong, but do not use your strength for wanton destruction.
Be brave and scorn cowardice in any form.
Prove your might to win glory and renown.

Therefore when PC1 asks a PC2 is she evil how should the PC2 or any character answer? By judging the barbarian by PC2's precepts (ie those of the Traveller?) or in the framework of PC1's, or in the Barbarian's own?

Player C

Well, if PC2 were to answer the PC1's question, she would most likely put it in terms of how PC1 views her vs. how the barbarian likely sees herself, as you stated above (a likely follower of Kord). Mostly because this would amuse PC2 and would uphold the precepts of the Traveller. PC2 herself isn't one to judge things as "good" or "evil" but more along the lines of "right" or "wrong", as she did in the fight with the barbarian woman. She didn't see PC3 or PC1, or the barbarians, or the minotaurs, the Oni Mage, or even Ikar as "good" or "evil" but she thought that how the fight was entered into was "wrong" and would not support it.

The thing that gets me about the "evil" and "good" alignments, is that I don't really think anyone would think of themselves as "evil". They might be judged by others to be evil, but for the most part people act because they think they are in the "right". Whatever their motivations, to them it is justified. Even what we as society may think of as the most horrendous act, the person committing it thinks they are "right" *shrug* Just my two cents...

And in that vein, yes I think an "Anti-Paladin" could then be chivalrous - in the context of the game they may be evil, but in their minds, their motivations, they are acting as they think they should.

I would agree, but I think our concepts of right and wrong originate from western civilization and the monotheistic traditions mostly associated with current civilizations.
This has always been my crux of an issue with the alignment system. As game rules it works well enough for most of the time it is played with a group of western civilized individuals. Though I doubt many campaigns managed to avoid a few arguments about alignments, especially before 4E. 4E has a simplified 3 alignment system which I personally still believe has led to a few discussions even in our group.

In character the discussion becomes murkier given that the PCs themselves live in a polytheistic culture. Think back to history, the major polytheistic religions of the great empires, Romans, Egyptians, Greeks, Persians, Vikings, Chinese, Mongols, etc

For the most parts these peoples did not follow our set of Morals nor any single moral code set down by individual gods.

For the Greeks each nation state had a patron god and they were exemplars of what that "state" held most dear, but it was not the only ways to live their lives or the only code followed. That is not to say that these peoples were lawless. A voyage from Sparta to Mycenae would result in very different laws and morals, but they held certain precepts in common.

For the Romans this was even more closely guarded though most of the empires converted subjects managed to retain some of there "Pagan" believes.

All of these major cultures formed empires thru violence and blood shed, and some in conjunction with diplomacy. For none of them was slaughtering a thousand pagans considered an evil act. The security of the empire was paramount.

Given that what would the current world (ie my world Ovelesk) with its polytheism religions consider Evil?

If a 10 is Genoicide and a 1 is an insult where in the range is the line of passing into evil?

Given all this do we judge the characters acts by our Western Civilization as evil or not evil and leave the philosophical discussions of good and evil to OOC or do we as a group try to define the worlds morality, or do we assume that the morality of Ovelesk is the same as ours?

Personally, I like the idea of Lawful vs Chaotic better than evil. In any given city your actions are Lawful or Chaotic based on their laws. The counter argument to this is of course when you end up in the nine hells etc.

This is why this is in non-game chat and not as part of the campaign.

Player D

This is one of those questions that I have debated with a lot of folks over the years. I like how the Sword of Truth series summed it up. Good and evil are determined by intent and perspective and comes down to individual definitions. My favorite example of this is from Star Wars. Smile While the Emporer freely embraced "evil", Anakin (a.k.a. Vader), at least at the start, was drawn in by a good intention and actually saw his actions as good. I cringe a tad at this example, but I would also consider Voldemort from the "Harry Potter" books a great example of evil.

Another example of my point is this. Most people would agree that murder is evil. The gray area comes from defining what murder actually is. You can use both legal and moral definitions for it, but someone can have a different spin on a single scenario that throws the whole definition out of whack. Also, I seem to notice that some people who commit "evil" acts don't actually see themselves that way.

The game terms are supposed to be somewhat cut and dried, from how I gather it. However, I have found this isn't the case at all. What one considers "good" and "evil", both in and out of character, is defined by the individual's experiences, belief system, and the society they grew up in. To me, this adds a new element to the game and a can be a great way for characters to interact.

Ok, on the "evil having chivalry" thing... I can actually see that. There could be an evil order of knights (anti-paladins dedicated to an evil god) or an order of monks that have the disciplined training, but use it for more nefarious purposes, such as subjugation.

My basic point is that both in the game and in real life, "good" and "evil" are defined by perspective (experiences, belief system, and societal influence). "Right" and "wrong" also fall into this category, as they are normally used as synonyms of good and evil, respectively.

I present the following for your perusal then...

Was PC3's act of fire bombing the biggest den of thieves and cutthroats simply a chaotic act then or also an Evil one?

It was definitely Chaotic as the laws of Woods Crossing would not allow their citizens to be slaughtered...As far as Evil, I am sure PC3 does not believe it is so or maybe he does and fully embraces the act. On the other hand, PC3's "Patron" would not call the act evil as the creatures destroyed inside were mostly those who had committed evil acts.

Player D
It was chaotic, no question of that. As to evil, you put it well. There are two sides. I'm sure the town and the families of those burned within and / or the owners saw it as evil. However, from PC3's point of view, he was maligned and resented their attitude toward goblins, so he reacted, arguably a bit harshly, but in his mind it merited a reaction.

One thing I did notice from 3.5e especially was that people had this tendency to associate "chaotic" with "evil". To me, law and chaos are neither good nor evil, they are tools (forces?) that are used by both good and evil. It can be a fine line, as, in my opinion, good does seem to lean to law and evil to chaos. However, an anarchist can do good by fighting an evil ruler (Robin Hood is the customary example). On the other hand, a free-wheeling (a.k.a. chaotic) good society, such as a nomadic tribe, could be brought under the iron rule of an evil being that follows law.

Sorry if I'm reading too much into this (hehe), but this is one of my favorite arguments.

Chaotic is not good or evil true, but it is against the grain of society especially the moral/legal code of said society.
A Chaotic Good society would have to be one with out an established legal code or one that is flexible to the situation. The anti-thesis of the Orcish Barbarian horde. Where Orcs would plunder, rape, murder etc. The Chaotic Good society would need to use violence in order to prevent greater bloodshed etc.

By that definition then is chopping off a thieves hand a Lawful good act or a Chaotic Good deterrent?

Player D
Well, as I understand the real world example (Islamic countries), it's law, so thus lawful. In a chaotic society, I don't necessarily think it would be written down as a law, but is acceptable for that action to be taken by the society's moral code.

A nomadic tribe could be chaotic good as well (it's how I picture the shifters, more or less). They would be run by societal norms as opposed to hard and fast laws, if that makes sense...

Player B
Good and evil, law and chaos are relevant only when taken in context. Morals as a whole are only relevant in the context of the culture judging them.

A historical example....

The "Chivalrous Knights" we all hold so high. Taken within their own society, they were noble and "good". But historical fact is they were unemployed soldiers of the constant feudal wars of the time. They hired on with the first noble who could afford them and then went about raping, pillaging, burning, beating, and killing all the local peasants in order to force those peasants to swear allegiance to their employer. In today's society, we would call this extortion and terrorism. This behavior continued from the decline of the roman empire's influence until the late middle ages when the pope forced the Rule of the Saints on them. This limited the violence to more or less warrior to warrior combat. But even the pope recognized that without a focus for these knights, not even the church could control the violence. So, the Crusades where began.

This is verifiable, historical fact, not opinion. So, taken in context of our society, those knights were good and chivalrous. But did those peasants who they preyed on think they were the chivalrous knights of our myths? No.

You can find similar examples from all time periods, and all societies.

With regards to PC3 (and keeping PC3 in character) and our game....

PC3 is a bestial race, to his culture and values, very civilized and honorable. He supports the party 100%, even when their values contradict his own beliefs. He doesn't kills only those who have wronged him or his companions, he doesn't steal, he is loyal to his own kind. So, from PC3's point of view, his alignment in game terms would be Lawful Good. But from the "game" point of view, PC3 kills without mercy and refuses to follow the laws of society as a whole. So, in game terms, PC3 is Chaotic Evil. Which is the root of the trouble with regards to dealing with PC3. If supported and respected, he is completely loyal. If he perceives himself to be wronged or betrayed, he acts instinctually and agressively.

With regards to PC2, the Barbarian(Pirate Lady), and PC1...

I can see all three sides of the argument. Again, it is a matter of perception. The Pirate Lady regarded PC3's look as disrespectful. PC1 on the other hand thought nothing of the look, and only took offense to the threat of harm. PC1's remark was disrespectful. But PC1 was supporting his party members, whom he also recognized as threatened. PC2 on the other hand came in as a third party, and as a female. She sided with the Lady, recognizing her reaction to PC3 and PC1 as justifiable. And to PC1's point of view, PC2's support and healing of the Lady was a betrayal, hence his reaction to the party. So who's at fault? No one actually. Depending on who's point of view you look at, each individual was true to himself, his values, and his friends.

Ok, enough of my rambling.

The bit about chivalric knights I knew from recent historical documentaries, but always good to review ;0. The typically held view of chivalry is taken from Percival and Arthur de'Morte and not from the truth of historical occurrences. I often hear people talking of the virtue of Charlamagne but in truth he was an illiterate barbarian who sought higher ideals like reading, writing and his Knight's code was more about controlling his feudal lords than about establishing a Camelot type existence of equality.

One great example of how contradictory the "Code" was. A knight was bound to protect a female in distress if she was about to be raped or injured by another. However, if a knight found a lone maiden than he was well within his right to rape, injure or take her as mistress etc. You have to wonder if this part of the code was meant by those in control to have the knights whittle away at each other instead of mounting a full scale coup.

Some more ramblings

Player A
I find it hard for any "society" to be Chaotic in itself. The basic concept of Law is rules agreed upon by the majority of a people, and so "society" being a group of people with similar ideas and goals in base form is lawful.

As far as I am concerned Law and Good are two very different things. Law is based off of a set of rules made by a governing body. Good is an individual idea held by each person. If you look back at the Civil Rights movement. People knew that racism was wrong in their hearts. Each person knew that what people did to black people was wrong. Did the KKK think they were evil, NO. Were they? Devin, Vrax, and every character I have ever played would say yes. Was what Martin Luther King do Lawful? No. They got arrested on a regular basis. Was it good? With all my heart Yes.

This is the line between Law/Chaos, and Good/Evil. Lawful is a person following the rules of a code (chivalry, which by the way was not about good, but being honorable in combat), country, or deity. Good is about what is right and wrong from your point of view. "Society" makes laws based on what they think is wrong and right, but they also make them to make rich people richer, and other corrupt reasons. So it can be argued that Law reflects the ideas of a "Societies" views of good and evil, but there are still individuals that have different views than those in power. (Robin Hood)

This is why I think that the dual axis system is the best set up. The problem with the system is that people think that once you have a Lawful Good character you can never commit a evil or chaotic act. This led people to the rules about paladins. I don't think that just cause you have a Lawful Good alignment you should be limited to Lawful and Good acts. Sometimes the paladin's code must be bent to sneak into a strongly guarded keep. Chaotic? No, smart. The code of chivalry says face all foes and never kill and unarmed enemy, but the paladin sneaking around is an means to face his foe. The lord that rules the keep is his enemy not the guards that are trying to feed their families. If anything this example is more Chivalrous than killing every last guard in the keep.

This brings me to PC3 burning down the Tavern. Was it an evil act? I think for the town it was both Unlawful and evil. Not only did he destroy a source of income and employment for people of the city, but he killed citizens of the town and the thieves as well. As far as I am concerned it was wrong no matter what the people's views of goblins were. If they didn't try and kill PC3 than he should have been tough enough not to give a rats fart what they said. If that was his view than I would think that he would be a warlord leading a band of Goblins across the land burning towns to the ground whenever one didn't let them sit at the front of the bus.

But that is just my two copper.

If we are going to start debating chivalry then we are still well on the topic. Since the rules really talked about defending a "maiden" which in the day referred to a lady of noble birth, but taking a "infidel" woman was within the knights right. And, the knights of the chivalry age were not mercenaries since the very idea of chivalry was to get knights to make vows and follow the rules. The first and most important rule of Chivalry is to obey. The first chivalry code was to obey the church and everything it teaches. One of the first knightly orders based on a chivalry code was the Hospitallers which were also monks that took care of the sick and wounded after battles. Yes they looked down on poor people and treated them like lower class citizens, but they were still lawful by their code. Not good.

I'm done ranting about that for now.

Player D
Ok, the paladin thing... This was a bone of contention between a DM and the hapless guy playing a paladin in 2nd Edition. From how I understood the rules, it was pretty merciless. If you did anything that violated your alignment, you lost your paladin powers. Any chaotic or unlawful act was enough. The argument came up in that game because we were far outnumbered and outmatched by the guards of a keep and we decided to sneak in and rescue this guy's daughter. Since the paladin had given his word that we'd rescue her, we didn't see this as a violation of his alignment as he was acting within the law (his word being a verbal contract). The DM, however, since we were being "sneaky", judged it a chaotic act and thus an alignment shift. At the end of it (three hours worth of arguing) the DM finally saw what we were saying.

I totally agree that law, chaos, good and evil are four separate things. As far as "law", I tend to think in terms of courts and a ruling body and also that the "laws" (acceptable societal standards) are written down. However, I see what you're getting at. A chaotic society wouldn't function well. Law, be it good or evil, binds a society and allows it to operate. Chaos can be good for a society; it gives them grounds to re-evaluate laws and accepted norms (M.L.K. was a fantastic example). It can also be bad. Again, I use "Star Wars", and this is just my perspective. The Emperor launched a war to throw the Republic into chaos and allow him to take more powers under the guise of law until the war was ended and he was absolute ruler (just my opinion )

My point is, at the end of the day, it's all perspective. Man, this became a complicated argument.

Well for me this is the age old debate of Good vs Evil, tackled by such deep thinkers as Plato, Socrates, William Shakespeare, and Frederick Nietzche to name just a handful. We are definitely "not going to solve it here" as they say at work.

But when discussing such things I think it important to know where we came from so without further adieu the designer EG Gygax in his own words in answer to the gentleman that wrote the original letter I posted.

Good isn't stupid, Paladins & Rangers, and Female dwarves do have beards!
from Dragon 38 Gary Gygax© (Editor's Note Look It UP)

Interestingly enough he got more letters regarding bearded female dwarves then about the definition of good and evil.

Since Player C borrowed my favorite Good vs Evil quote I leave you then with this thought

And oftentimes to win us to our harm, the instruments of darkness tell us truths; win us with honest trifles, to betray's in deepest consequence.
-William Shakespeare


Wednesday, February 8, 2012

D&D Next - Breathe It Ain't Done

Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither.
C. S. Lewis

Being a game designer is a tough racket, folks. A crowd of gamers gather around and sink their hard earned money into a product. They have expectations that make pop-star divas and royalty seem easy to fulfill. Yeah, you get paid to try and fit their imagination into solid statistical numbers but statistics simply aren't perfect. The laws of probability and luck itself are fickle mistresses. Never mind that casino's have made billions maybe trillions for doing little more than handing someone a pair of six siders and letting full grown people throw dice down the table with the promise of a big pay out. Polyhedrons don't ever do what their told. Gamblers prove that everyday, but in the long haul they pan out. So everyone cursing mechanics after a single session, take that into your calculations.

Now you got Monte Cook, Bruce Cordell and Rob Schwalb sitting over at WoTC pouring their heart and soul into a game for all of us. Meanwhile, every arm chair quarterback on the internet is playing John Madden doodling on the screen and commenting on how the way they ran the last play ain't even close to what they would have done. Problem is if most of us could do it, and be any good at it, our system would be out their being fronted by a company that makes toys for a living. While we are on the subject let's talk about Hasbro and profits for a minute. All those designers they do get paid. They might even get health and dental care if they are lucky. Hell, who knows maybe they are getting severance packages when Hasbro has to let them go to keep the bottom line solvent. Point is Hasbro has to make money. Last time I checked businesses reported to share holders and all of us lovely stock holders. We buy shares to see a Return on Investment. Oh and we expect to see that investment grow year over year. There is a whole industry that just reports on this kind of thing. If you want to second guess WoTC's business model or speculate on their sales, please, do some research. Provide some data for your arguments and stop making blatant guesses without concrete data to support your theories, please.

Now I can see the hate mail coming already but before you start typing take a deep breath. See what I just did there? This is a blog. The folks you are trying to read into their design strategies, second guess their motives, and condemn with no more than a single play test under your belts. Those folks are blogging too. They are sharing their opinions and ideas with us. Some of those things will pan out in play testing, some will crash and burn. Some may have died twenty minutes after being written.

It ain't over until the first books start rolling on the printing presses over in China somewhere. I have faith that no matter if WoTC's great experiment into D&D Next the One Edition to Rule Them All doesn't pan out that what we will have is a playable game. A game that just might revolutionize the way people play D&D. And if not at least we will have tried. US the generations of loyal D&D customers will have tried. Paizo did good with its open play-test. It took a game a lot of people thought was unplayable and made it fun again. WoTC has set their sights higher only time will tell if they land on the moon, enter low orbit or never get off the launch pad.

A goal is not always meant to be reached, it often serves simply as something to aim at.
Bruce Lee

Aim at perfection in everything, though in most things it is unattainable. However, they who aim at it, and persevere, will come much nearer to it than those whose laziness and despondency make them give it up as unattainable.
Lord Chesterfield

Aim for the moon. If you miss, you may hit a star.
W. Clement Stone

Monday, February 6, 2012

Pimp My Mount

I had the best buffalo horse that ever made a track.
-Buffalo Bill
A horse is dangerous at both ends and uncomfortable in the middle.
-Ian Fleming

From Warg Riders to a Paladin's Steed fantasy is rife with examples of Heroes and their loyal or deadly mounts. Though the utilization of these fantastic creatures may vary from table to table the desire in our hearts is to charge into battle atop a noble steed and vanquish our foes. During my last campaign I gave my party mounts. They received special horseshoes that transformed normal horses into something specific and especially tailored to their Paragon Path. It also granted each rider the Mounted Combat feat. Despite my best intentions I never got to have the big mounted battle. A few times individuals used their mount's skills to great advantage but my players seemed to be happier to dismount and fight then try to understand the mounted combat rules.

Mount Combat Rules

The mounted combat rules really seem pretty simple. To break it down for you, if the rider has the Mounted Combat Feat they don't suffer a -2 penalty to attacks, get to use the mounts unique attack and either the mounts or riders physical skills which ever is better, which is pretty sweet. There is another a -2 penalty for not having a saddle.

During combat the rider and mount are one, ie they share the same initiative pool and action pool during combat. If the PC and mount become separated (more on this further down) then they share actions for that turn only. The next important rule to remember is that single attacks like melee and ranged only target the Rider or the Mount not both, this includes Attacks of Opportunity triggered by either. The attacker always chooses whom he attacks. However, area and close blast attacks target both. A PC is also considered to be in all squares of the mount's spaces and can attack from or be attacked in any of those spaces.

Alright, pretty straight forward, now to talk about getting separated. There are two methods for splitting rider from a mount. One method is to dismount as a standard action.

The other is to knock rider or mount prone or for them to be separated by forced movement. In the case of prone, the rider gets a save when he is knocked prone. If the save succeeds they remain in the saddle. Think of it as jousting. A knight pokes you in the shield with his lance. Your balance keeps you in the saddle. This is the save. Houserule: The rider can use Athletics in place of a flat save but the DC is the attack roll. I might also allow Acrobatics in some cases.

If the mount is the one being knocked prone then the mount is prone and the rider lands in a square adjacent to the mount. It's unclear if this also knocks the rider prone or if he lands on his feet.

Basing my experience on cinema and not on my terrified weekend with reins in my hand, I would say prone or at a minimum an acrobatic check to land upright. This is the charge scene from Braveheart where they set their spears against the Heavy Calvary. That guy flipping out of the saddle or sliding to the ground adjacent is you. No save on that one bud. Houserule: I use a d12 to determine the square. North is 1 and 12 is due west. Count around clockwise. Place fallen rider.

Similarly, if a rider is subjected to forced movement he can drag his mount with him and stay in the saddle. The rules intent when the mount is the one being pushed, pulled, slid etc is unclear, but I assume it works like being knocked prone, No Save.

Houserules - Basing forced movement on the prone rules I have been ruling that the rider gets a Save when draggin' his nag under him. I have also allowed a rider trained in athletics to use their or mounts athletics check vs. the attack roll as a dc to determine if they are able to maintain control. This is usually tougher than the 50% flat save chance but my players seem to like the flavor better.

Aerial, aquatic or climbing combat rules could also come into play at higher tiers of play but for land based mounts that is really all there is to it.

Tactical Advantages and Disadvantages

For this conversation I will stick to land based mounts, but more exotic fare adds access to unique terrain and circumstances. First and for most is speed. Mounts have greater speed than their foot bound compatriots. Secondly, mounts are walking extra hit points. A PC is going to be a little tougher if an enemy combatant is spreading its attacks between you and your mount. Thirdly, a mount adds skills that your PC might not normally be trained in. Need to jump a ravine to get into better tactical position, well your wizard might not be trained in athletics but it stands to reason his warhorse is.

Mounts aren't all glorious though. They are an extra set of options and statistics you may not be familiar with. Incorporating them into your arsenal and meddling party tactics around them takes time. In a one off battle that synergy may be missing. Also, fighting mount to mount means that you need to have other effects at your disposal. The biggest of those is forced movement and prone. Mounts are typically large creatures to account for the one size difference required. This means that tactically your one size category bigger. Finding cover is more difficult. You are also a bigger target for blasts, bursts, zones and walls. The other disadvantage is squeezing, if your mount squeezes you squeeze. The biggest disadvantage comes from the fact that mounts do not level. You can use a mount's special powers of your level or lower, in most cases. This gives you a narrow window of opportunity until your mount's attacks and defenses are no longer concurrent with the threats you are facing. That means your first level warhorse becomes outclassed by third to fourth level. This can be extended for three levels by 8th level with the Martial Practice Handle Steed. However, this doesn't provide your players with mounts for more than a few levels before they are looking for upgrades.

Mounts and Technicalities

Probably one of the hardest fantasy staples to pull off, mounts represent a significant investment in time, resources and planning. As any one who has ever had to deal with these types of things knows, most mounts are impractical in a dungeon. They are perfect targets for DM's when left tied up outside a dungeon and if your DM is a real stickler for money matters the cost of maintenance, handling, feeding, watering and storage are a headache the average group doesn't want to hassle with. Who could blame them? The DMG offers some suggestions around DM fiat to make them easier to use. Like having them belong to a party patron, or only used on specific quests. This puts me in the mind of disappearing familiars. Blck.

Another possible solution is the Figurines of Wondrous Power. A good mechanical representation of Drizzt's animal companion Guenhwyvar, figurines of Wondrous Power allow a player to conjure a handful of types of mounts from their figurines. I like this as a one off option the same way I like the Phantom Steed ritual for wizards and other ritualists, summoning eight steeds is handy. Though these steeds are for travel only and nothing in the ritual mentions their use in combat. A combination of these two effects can make for an effective way to add mounts to the equation without hassling the players.

Though I do find it a little Mighty Morphin Power Ranger to have four or more PCs all whip out various figurines at the same time. "I the black ranger summon the Obsidian Steed, I the white ranger summon the Marble elephant, I the Pink ranger summon the Pearl Sea Horse..." (oh and the Pink ranger is my instigator. Nick I am looking at you here buddy)

So setting aside magic, how does a DM sate the hunger some players feel to ride off into the sunset at the end of the campaign on wings of ebony?

According to the 4E players handbook a decent riding horse will set you back 75 gp. This is a mundane steed mind you. For an actual beast that you can engage in combat and won't bolt you are looking at almost ten times that amount or 680 gp. Adventure's Vault added more options for players. Creatures ranging from Draft Giant Lizards, not fond of that name by the way I call them Pack Drakes, all the way up to the mac-daddy Rimefire Griffon weighing in at a whopping 525,000 gp. Now beyond the actual problems of whom is going to be selling a creature taken from the elemental chaos comes the matters of caring, training and feeding it. None of this is covered in the 4E materials. If I am wrong please comment and let me know what I have missed. The DMG does cover some basics of mounted combat, but most of these other details are glossed over. I am not one to harp on WoTC, ok I am but not publicly and not about this sort of thing. Hopefully, I can look forward to a whole supplement on mounts and mounted combat in DND Next until then here are my calculations for the costs associated with maintaining mounts.

In this matter I lean on the research of Rod Noddenberry's Emporium of Niggling Details and supplements like AV1 and Mordenkainen's. Rod created a price guide for goods and services compiled from various editions of D&D and converted it to the economy most fitting with 4E. AV1 contains a thin veneer of mount rules with a few magic items and Mordy added hirelings back to the game.

Cost of owning a 75 gp Riding Horse

Stabling 5 sp per day
Beast Handler 1st level 15 gp per day (though this hireling would add other benefits lets only charge 25%)
Hose shoes 1 cp per day (2 gp per week smith cost/ time to manufacturer four shoes/ over time between shoeings)
Feed 5 cp per day

Replacement costs
Saddle and tack 10 gp
Saddlebags 4 gp

The 8th level Martial Practice Handle Steed negates the need of a Beast Handler, and adds a few interesting benefits to gaining mounts and the Mounted Combat Feat. Daily cost of owning a simple riding horse is 4.26 gp per day or roughly 1,555 gp per year. In other words 20 times the cost of the purchase price. A significant drain on party resources. As for owning the Rimefire Griffin do you let it out everyday to go hunt? What about a blade spider or any of the other exotic mounts?

Jury is still out on when, if ever I will give my party mounts again. I suppose if they or another DM asked about them I would suggest the following:

  • Mounted Combat Feat and Saddles are a must for all PCs to keep combat effective
  • I would level the mounts' Attacks, Defenses and HP like any other Monster
  • Grant a new special ability or attack at every plateau 6th, 11th, 16th etc as part of treasure
  • Contain the mounts in items or via a ritual that would allow them to disappear to a pocket dimension
    • Or, Charge the PC's a 30 gp per week maintenance fee for each animal

Friday, February 3, 2012

To Draw or Not To Draw

Today I want to address a pet peeve of mine from both sides of the screen. In just about every group I have played or DM'ed with is the one player that always thinks their character walks about with naked steel, wand or great axe at the ready. This player never expects any adverse effects like fatigue, accidental damage or npc reaction to come into play. In fact if any of these are mentioned they seem surprised. However, once combat starts they never declare the action to draw down. The action economy of their first turn always includes a minor power and they can't be bothered to invest/waste a feat in quick draw due to their absent minded playstyle. As a player it breaks immersion for me, either because the DM has to remind them or because they get that little extra boost. As a DM I find it unfair for those who do declare their intent and spend the actions. Not drawing shows a lack of commitment to a course of action, especially in the type of situation below. I realize this playstyle may not fit everyone's expectations but it does serve to illustrate my point.


Two forces approach each other. One group is hunting. They are armed with spears and bows and actively pursuing the quarry. The second group is traveling along a cobblestone road. The scout is in a forward position moving stealthily and silently thru the underbrush between the party and the hunters. Those on the road are not being quiet but are alert. Neither force would immediately be enemies on sight but violence is not out of the question.

At this point the DM makes a judgement call. A few questions run thru my mind in this moment.

1. Are the hunters moving at speed, if so what penalty do they get for passive perception? Are they making a lot of noise? Is the quarry making a lot of noise?

Yes, they are elves moving in haste to catch a fleeing boar so -2 circumstance. Hearing the boar is a DC 2 check. Hearing the level 4 npc party of elves moving is a DC 18. (level 14 mod dc +2 for greater than 100 ft) the elves are xenophobic and will not like to stumble across armed "brigands"

2. How far is the scout ahead of the party? What is the scout's passive perception or active? What instincts do my party have listed? Is any one in the party paying particular attention to the scout's location, if not are they aware thru passive perception or any other talents? Does anyone have the Alertness feat?

50 feet, 18 percept, none that apply, one member is actively keeping an eye on the scout, yes. The level 2 party has a combined passive stealth of 11 (clanking fighter and paladin), the scout gets the roll of 21.

Now to determine awareness. Everyone is aware of the boar's position. The elves are unaware of the party and the only the scout is aware of the elves, but only in as far as that there are more things in the forest moving quickly behind the loud noise.

Now the scout gets a single action for a surprise round and the one party member keeping an eye on the scout gets an insight check or perception check based on the scouts action.

Read aloud text

Fifty feet ahead something shakes the underbrush as it rushes at you. A half dozen creatures follow in its wake moving with stealth thru the foliage. You're confident that your current position affords you a measure of concealment. Those on the road are out in the open. What do you do?

The scout has a few options here and this decision sets the tone for the entire encounter

  • Free action shout a warning and give away position (in this case make the other side aware)

  • Minor draw a weapon (this is where feats like quick draw come in handy to delay the decision on what your facing)

  • Move back and maybe lose the advantage of concealment

  • Standard ready an attack or make a ranged attack (again quick draw is handy)

  • The watcher is going to take a cue from the scout.

    Initiative is now rolled. If there is no boar things could be more complicated...

    Everyone on the road who hasn't acted has had no chance to draw yet. The watcher may or may not have drawn. As could have the scout.

    A boar bursts from the tree line it crosses the road mere feet from your scout. Six tall slender humanoids with spears and bows raised follow. The first two rush across the road. The other four slide to a halt on the road. Roll For Init!

    In this situation the actions of the scout and watcher dictate the starting attitude of the elves from startled to hostile. The ensuing skill challenge will be heavily weighted by this attitude. Failure could result in a fight and more importantly take away the opportunity for the party to find out valuable information on the goblins they are tracking.

    Now imagine this scenario where everyone has QuickDraw without expending any feats. No one has to roleplay their expectations on what is crashing thru the woods. They can delay indefinitely until one side attacks. It's like having a party with every member having a +30 bluff score and they are all sitting down to play poker. There is a decided advantage. What of staff wielders and glaive masters?

    I see house rules out on the web for adding weapon speed penalties to initiative rolls. I have played in games where DM's ignore drawing. What do you do in your own games?

    Sunday, January 29, 2012

    Race, Weapons and Culture in RPG's

    Lot of hoopla around the inter webs about Monte's blog. Really I can't understand what all the fuss is about. The crux of the argument seems to be about wether the bonus a dwarf gets for the use of an axe is a physical distinction or cultural one. The other aspect of the discussion centers around if the use of an axe should be supported, forced or ignored by the mechanical rules. Are the days of the race driven weapon proficiencies over?

    4e held onto these tropes for only three races dwarves, elves and high elves (or eladrin if you prefer). But what are these proficiencies? Do they limit what your character can use? Nope they open up choices for them. Support check. Do they force your dwarven rogue to use an axe? Nope. Do they allow your cleric or wizard to tote around an axe yep. So what is the issue? On the surface it seems to hinge on a portion of the community telling another part of the community how to play at your table. It's as sad as the edition wars. "The secret we should never let the gamemasters know is that they don't need any rules."* Why people need permission from a book to employ fun baffles me.

    I can't figure it out. At my table I have had a Minotaur make a case for being a dwarven defender. Raised in the dwarven mines by his adopted father, he developed a lower center of gravity yada yada. Alah Corporal Carot of Discworld+ he finds out he is an orphaned heir to the throne and sets off to win back his throne from his treacherous uncle and finds his two brothers in the process. King Kordek has shaped the world and left a lasting mark on our campaign setting. Did the mechanics force any of that... No really good role playing and commitment to a character concept did.

    Like wise the draegarian race is a direct cause of the above. Not the Stephen Brust usage but a re-envisioning. The race is the offshoot of a dragonborn and minotaur union. The exact mating requirements aren't important but the result is a scaled minotaur with horns. Players select stats from one race, and racial benfits from another. Is it balanced? Seems to be working so far. Had Kordek never been, the dragon born, dwarf, Minotaur alliance would not have been formed to fight the aberrant threat and draegarians wouldn't exist. Also helps that a drawing in an old Gurps supplement sparked my imagination many, many moons ago. 240 of them and counting.

    Point is half-races are more than just elves, orcs and humans. At least they are at my table. Inspired by Darksun¥'s Muls, Flanaess€'s gnome titans and players with a flare for asking what would happen if I wanted to play a half bladeling half tiefling. By the way, is that a halfling? What if a halfling mates with a tiefling is that a three quarterling.

    Anyway, outside of organized play dm's should say yes. As for the rules I leave that to calmer minds, because I can't see the issue. Even broken combos supported by strong story can change the campaign world in ways a DM can never envision and for fun there ain't nothing better. Till next time, "Game On!"

    *Attributed to Gary Gygax by Allan Varney in a sidebar to a review of the Amber Diceless Roleplaying Game: "AMBER DICELESS ROLEPLAYING: Thoughts at Non-Random" in Dragon Magazine #182 (June 1992)

    + Terry Pratchett's Discworld is a series that uses a fantasy setting to satire the modern world.

    €Flanaess is the world of BA's campaign setting in Knight's Of The Dinner Table written by Jolly Blackburn. Gnome Titans are also a playable race in Hackmaster Fourth Edition. Both published by Kenzer Co. Gnome+Dwarf= Gnome Titans

    ¥ Darksun is a campaign setting published by Wizards of the Coast, a division of Hasbro. Dwarf+Human=Mul

    Yes I realize both of the examples I know off the top my head are the union of dwarves with some other race. I did mention I was a dwarf lover didn't I?

    Coming soon:
    half and half = ? More mixed races.
    Timing Weapons Sheathed or Drawn