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