Monday, September 27, 2010

Game Mechanics

What the fuck is marking?

When a Paladin does it, it is a divine compulsion. With a Swordmage it is sorcerous link between you and the target, and with the Battlemind it is a psionic "Hey you, fucking look at me." The Warden has abilities that act on his marked targets when they do stuff, but like the Fighter, it is still just listed as "you mark X target(s)." The Fighter marks by attacking an enemy, and the Warden just goes and does it.

So a mark is -2 to the target's attack rolls if they don't attack you. Now, I get what it is about from the game mechanics standpoint. I understand that it is a mechanic for holding aggro and keeping your enemies looking at you as an attractive option to hit, rather than squishier targets.

But what does it mean? What happens in the game? It can't be that you're leaving yourself open for an attack, otherwise you'd get the -2 to your defense or whatever, rather than your mark getting it to attacks he makes against others. I just don't understand how it plays out in the game world. Are you yelling at your opponent or warning your allies about his attacks in some way? If so, does that mean in an area of magical silence you can't mark? Are you throwing sand in their eye or otherwise using some distracting technique? That doesn't make any sense, otherwise it would be a penalty to attacks rolls against everyone. Is it some repositioning attack technique that forces your opponent to shift their facing or some such? No, because there is no movement involved with the Fighter marking mechanic, unless it stems from the power itself.

With the Warden it is a little easier to brush under the rug. You can say that you call on primal spirits of the grass and trees and waylay your enemies and trip up their footing and strikes as they try to harm your allies. Even in the most barren of places, it is hard to get away from nature. There is wind to tangle robes, or pebbles that can shift underfoot in deep caves, and so on.

I know this Fighter marking shit is one little bitty thing, but it just sticks in my brain. Kethranmeer, my Soulless NPC is a fighter, but I never have him mark enemies. I just cannot find a way to justify in what I think of as role-playing terms. So my undead mini-golem dude doesn't mark. Luckily he was the only defender in the group while we were playing 4th Edition. Scratch that, Fred was a Swordmage, he just never used his Aegis to mark. Heh.

I suppose it is silly to expect realism out of a game where magic sword dudes can cast spells that allow them to teleport next to people when those people attack the magic sword dude's friends. I do though. I like it when things can make sense and game mechanics can duplicate reality within reason. I don't necessarily need to have my teleports displace air or my fireballs increase the ambient heat of an area, but I do like it when they do.

Now, this marking thing is a small thing, and I avoid it by not playing a Fighter. I've just been super pro 4th Edition of late and felt I should tone down the fanboy in me a bit. I recognize the system has its flaws and is not perfect.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Winterhaven Style

The following will be a collected and slightly cleaned up (not much though) recount of my group's adventures up to this point. Our first session amounts to Cerra (Kristina) and Blinders (Lance) walking down the road towards Winterhaven and Erevan (Me) stumbling out of the forest like a, well, like an Erevan. He is special. Anyway, they exchanged pleasantries and the DM (Shawn) explained that our characters would know the road is dangerous so we joined together and headed out to Winterhaven. On our way to Winterhaven we encountered some road troubles involving some Kobolds and Erevan failed at pretty much everything he did. It was pretty spectacular. Once we got to Winterhaven, we found a tavern and cooled our heels while drinking some ale. Then we started with the emails.

I guess I should say what everyone is. Erevan is an Eladrin Bard, Cerra is a Halfling Rogue, and Blinders is a Razorclaw Shifter Warden. We're all level 2.

DM: As you all are gathering yourselves and Blinders is sucking down his ale, you look around and take account of all the people in the common room:

  1. Bartender
  2. Old farmer
  3. A sage-ish looking old man with a long beard (think ZZ-top)
  4. A tough-looking man appearance commands respect, sitting at a corner table sipping ale
  5. A female elf looking bitter sitting alone
Erevan: Erevan looks forlornly at his coin purse and resolves to prove he is moderately competent at something and puts a carny grin full of his clean white elfy teeth on his face. He gets up from his lonely table and meanders over to the bartender and says, "Would you be interested in adding some entertainment to this humdrum establishment? On the cheap? I assure you, I am a competent smith of songs and tomfoolery and can brighten the day for all your drab and sorry customers, and perhaps by word of mouth I can draw further attention to this nearly unnoticeable establishment." He makes a Diplomacy check to get gainful employment singing songs and gets an 18. Erevan is not being snarky, he genuinely assumes that non-Eladrin are depressed about not being Eladrin.

Blinders: Blinders is about finished with his first ale by the time Erevan is digging through his purse. He then check his own purse and orders 3 more rounds. Before leaving the bar to sit at the table Erevan has chosen, he asked the bartender about the strange encounter they had earlier today. I wonder if this sort of thing was common, or if roving bands of Kobolds were new to the landscape. I make a streetwise check to see what kind of information I get from the bartender before sitting down and get an 18.

Cerra: Cerra nods a small thanks to the bar tender and joins Erevan and Blinders at the table. "How long do we plan on staying in this town?" she asks, her boredom of Winterhaven present on her voice. She glances at the Eldarin as he is looking wildly around the bar with a massive grin on his face and gives an amused smile. The shifter seems totally oblivious to everything except his drink. With a sigh she resigns herself to these travel companions, sits back and enjoys her ale.

DM: The bartender looks at Erevan and considers his offer. She then takes a second glance at Blinders and a cursory glance back at the Halfling whom she didn’t notice before.

Looking back at Erevan she says “My name is Salvana Wrafton, in case you were ever going to ask.” She offers a quick smile then adds “I will take you up on your offer to entertain, however with this stingy crowd here tonight I won’t have much of a profit to send your way. I propose that, since I have a few open rooms, that I will provide you with one at no charge to you tonight in exchange for your entertainment. If you accept, please go have a seat with your group and eat some food first, then you may feel free to start.” (Diplomacy pass)

As Salvana is stating this, she notices that Blinders is beckoning for more ales and absent-mindedly starts filling up 3 more mugs. As she is delivering those mugs and after the makes her offer to Erevan, Blinders asks her about the Kobolds.

Why, yes, those pesky Kobolds are everywhere it seems lately and braver all the time! Lord Padraig would probably be interested in hearing your story though; he’s been trying to get the militia to clear out those vermin for the last few months with no success. If you would like to talk to Lord Padraig, he arrived shortly before you did and is over sitting in the corner sipping his ale. However, he likes to sit and relax a while before being bothered. Please, all of you sit and eat!” (Streetwise pass – she seems very open to divulge any information she may know)

You all are at a table in the middle of the dining room. You hear noise in the kitchen, reminiscent of pots and pans clanking and the smell of food is wafting out towards you.

Erevan: Erevan says, "Offer accepted!" and performs a rather foppish bow to the human at the bar, then returns to the table he was seated at. He immediately pulls out a [writing utensil] and [appropriate medium for the tech level] and begins composing a ballad of bloodshed and mayhem to fire the souls of the drab humans in the bar. He uses some vague memories of a snippet of information he read about a battle between the Eladrin and Drow of the Feywild as his inspiration, not realizing that the Eladrin lost the particular battle he is writing about and that they were in fact fighting Fomorians. Nonetheless, it is a song of honor and glory and the horribly outnumbered Eladrin do stomp the icky Drow pretty forcibly and send them running back into the Feydark.

Blinders: Blinders grabs the three mugs and before he heads to the table asks more about Lord Padraig and where to find him. I'm sure Salvana has a response. After hearing the response, I would like to go sit at the table with Erevan and Cerra, and proceed to eat and drink. Blinders is thinking he may bring this up with Lord Padraig if there is a opportune time to meet with him. But right now he is focused on resting his aching body, and consuming, what he thinks was the dwarven greatest contribution to society was, ale.

Erevan: Erevan puts his [tech level appropriate writing device] away into one of his various pockets and produces his lute from another. His gaze is focused and quite nearly steely as he takes to the stage and prepares to sing. He fiddles with his lute for a moment, tuning it and also unhooking a clamp device that holds his hastily scribbled notes in such a position that he can look at them while holding and playing his lute. He clears his throat and calls for the attention of the room, and without waiting for a response, he begins.

What follows is a ballad that speaks of bravery, excitement, war, love, the ever present disease of ennui that threatens the immortal Eladrin, and also possesses the lute equivalent of power chords. Erevan will forever remember it as one of his best performances ever. The people of the tavern will remember it as a bunch of high pitched gibberish, because Erevan tells his noble tale in the Eladrin variant of Elven that is spoken in the Feywild.

Following his performance, a single tear falling from his eye, he bows and returns to the table he shares with Blinders and Cerra. After putting away his lute and notes he extends his hands across the table and rests one on one of Blinders and the other on one of Cerra's and says, "Thank you for being part of that." Erevan makes an Insight check and gets an 8, he assumes that Blinders and Cerra are as touched and affected as he is by his epic ballad.

Erevan reclaims his hands and clears his throat, choking back his deep heartfelt pride for his race, and says, "So, this Lord Padraig gentleman, he sounds like he has money and holdings and perhaps could be divested of part of said money and/or holdings if canny adventurers, such as ourselves, were to wreak mayhem on his behalf. I think this is something we should investigate."

Cerra: Cerra looks at Erevan after his performance with bewildered amusement. She turns to Blinders and says "At least he is entertaining!", trying to stifle a giggle.

She looks back at Ereven to address the matter of Lord Padraig saying "I agree that we should speak to him on this matter, if anything it will give us a chance to become more familiar with the area." With a warm smile she takes another swig of her drink and leans back in her chair.

DM: As Erevan is leaning back in his chair and Cerra has taken a sip of her ale, a tall dark tough-looking man lays his hand on Erevan's shoulder. None of you heard or saw him coming, and as you look up at him, you see a glitter of moisture in his eyes. He looks down at Erevan and says:

That was beautiful son. I have never before heard such a powerful ballad. Even though I don't know what in the Abyss you were saying, it touched me. ::Slight sniffle:: I would like to buy you all a round of whatever you are drinking.

With that, he motions to Salvana and makes a circular gesture over his head with his index finger pointing up. He then moves towards the empty chair and, as he is sitting down he continues.

My name is Lord Padraig, I am this measly town's lord. What brings such a motley crew such as yourselves to a run-down humdug place as this? Looks like you have had some hard travels as well.




Blinders: Blinders gives Erevan a sideways glance, pondering how much time outside of his own race he's spent. He looks back at Lord Padraig and gives a terse recollection of their travels to Winterhaven … figuring Erevan would fill in any details that he left out.

Blinders then asks Lord Padraig if this sort of Kobold activity is common … realizing while he tries to get out of the cities as much as he can … he never in his travels had seen such a large group on a road as developed as the one to Winterhaven. He also asks the Lord if he is charged with the protection of the roads they came in on, or if that was too far out of his dominion. Blinders makes a Diplomacy check and gets a 14.

Cerra: Sensing Blinder's urgency to pull the Lord's attention off their Eldarin companion, Cerra says lightly "We'd be willing to help you out with your Kobolod problem....for a price of course. Such endeavors are not risk free and we'd expect to be fairly compensated." Cerra then scoots closer to Lord Padraig and says softly "I do apologize if our friend has offended you in any way. Blinders and I happened upon him on our journey here and he was quite out of his element battling several Kobold's so we felt we should help the poor lad out. I am fairly certain he bumped his head a bit during battle which has resulted in his...behavior." With that, she smiles sweetly at the Lord and asks what he recommends from the bar. Cerra makes a Diplomacy check and gets a 22.

DM: Lord Padraig looks quite taken aback by the way Erevan is speaking to him. So much so that he seems like he is about to throw his drink at Erevan. Luckily, Blinders and Cerra jump in to the conversation to correct what Erevan has started.

After listening to Blinders, Lord Padraig gives him a sigh and a nod, showing his understanding and disdain towards the Kobold activities. Before Lord Padraig can start speaking, Cerra continues the conversation. Lord Padraig listens intently to Cerra, taking a sip of his ale as she concludes.

Well, Cerra, what I recommend is the ale that I have already ordered us all, it is the best in Winterhaven, as well as the only. As for your friend here, he must be fresh from the Fey Wild as he seems to not know much about the human race. Lord Padraig makes an Insight check and gets an 8.

However, you have survived one encounter with those pesky Kobolds. Those beasts vex me sorely. Yet the villagers refuse to recognize the seriousness of the problem. Attacks along the road have grown more frequent over the last few months. Something’s stirring the kobolds up. I'll take you up on your offer. Here is a map showing the area where the kobolds are believed to be brooding. If you can manage to eradicate their lair, you can keep whatever loot you find as well as I'll throw in 100 gold. How does this sound to you?

Erevan: Erevan raises of flagon of what he can only assume is mop water from the bar floor and takes a long pull off of it, attempting to conceal a grimace as he does so. (Bluff check of 13)

After wiping his face with the back of his hand and thumping his mug down he says, "They task us as well Lord Padraig, they task us, and we shall have them!"
He leaps from the table (Acrobatics check of 24) and performs a salute with his sword to Lord Padraig, saying grimly, "We shall have them Lord Padraig, we shall find them and take them in their holes and bring down your wrath upon their scaly heads. In your name we shall bring fire and fear to the kobolds terrorizing Winterhaven."
Erevan gestures wildly with his unsheathed blade and says, "We sally forth now my boon companions and know that we ride out for war, for Winterhaven, and for a red dawn on the morrow!" (Diplomacy check of 23 to inspire his companions, Lord Padraig, and all the weary souls of the tavern)
He then charges out of the tavern, nearly skewering a townsperson passing by the door with his sword as he does so.

Blinders: Blinders is obviously struck by the spectacle. He covers his face with his hand and slowly shakes his head. He has never seen a creature with such zeal, and yet seemingly clueless.

At this point Blinders can see what's unfolding infront of him. He finishes his flagon, looks up to Lord Padraig, and reiterates what Erevan says.

He then looks over to Cerra and asks "I hope he did't get us in over our heads ... I suppose we ought to help our enthusiastic friend before he hurts himself."

Cerra: Cerra gives Blinders a small smile before rising and heading out the door. She only hopes she can catch up to the bard before he causes more trouble....

The next session involves the group restraining Erevan and brining him up to their room in the inn because it is fairly late in the evening and they don't want to wander off into the forest without resting after the fight they just finished. On the following morning, Erevan's enthusiasm is undimmed and he barrels off into the woods with sword outstretched and his cape billowing out behind him. The three of them then get jumped by Kobolds and what follows is an encounter that the three survive just barely. Erevan's first two rolls are critical successes, much better than last battle. Heh.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


Shawn is a swell DM.

There, are you happy?

Monday, September 20, 2010


So I've been talking to some people about Fresgulen, and they really seem to think it is a neat place. I wonder how much of that is "it is a neat place because of what is there" or "it is a neat place because it represents the work of Tony and Steve." There is a lot of "I miss Tony" in our group. Also, something smells like shit where I am typing this up and I really do not care for it. Anyway, Tony is missed and there is a lot of nostalgia for when he used to game with us. I'm going to tell you something, he was kind of a prick when we gamed with him. Mostly because he did whatever the fuck he wanted whenever the fuck he wanted, damn the consequences, even if they result in other people's characters dying. He did this mostly because he wanted to cause trouble and was frustrated with several of our players for some of the same reasons I was, but it was still taxing to game with him. He also made a lot of numbers up in his head, just like Jeremy did, but for different reasons. Heh. I often wonder how he would act if he gamed with us these days, with players that are relatively prepared for our sessions and genuinely want to be there.

Anyway. Jeremy and Eric really seem to think Fresgulen is a neat place, and have mentioned that they'd like to go there some time. Unfortunately, neither of their characters have even heard of the rumors of such a place as Fresgulen. Regardless, a portion of our next campaign arc will take place in Fresgulen, possibly even the majority of it. Yay!

That's right, I finally have a really clear picture of what I want to do with the next campaign arc. We're using Pathfinder for sure, Eric never really stepped forward in favor of GURPS and seems to like Pathfinder well enough. Prepare yourself for the shocking part.

Heather, my wife with no interest whatsoever in gaming at all, is the one that helped came up with it. I was talking to her and I said one thing about my initial kernel of an idea, she said another thing, I responded, and then she kind of came up with an idea. I tweaked it a bit to make it more appropriate for my setting and now I have a growing document in ZuluPad as a guide for the campaign.

On top of this, I've got Tony working with me to kind of refine what I do with everything to make sure I'm not taking cheap or counter-intuitive routes to get where I want to go with it. His insight from the player's perspective has been pretty helpful and hopefully he'll keep up with the input as I get a clearer picture of what is going on.

The interesting thing, I think, is that what happens in this arc will be directed by the players. I'm done with them sitting on the sidelines of their own stories. No more of this getting quests from quest givers and going out and doing something and returning for rewards. This next campaign arc is going to (hopefully) be driven by them and what they want their characters to do. It is time they were the stars of their own stories, that's why they're player characters and not random faceless mooks. They are the heroes (anti or otherwise) and it is in their job description to be in charge of their own destiny. This plot, or whatever you'd like to call it, that I have brewing isn't something where you can be someone's bitch and accrue valuable loot and xps. There will be plenty of goals and things that need doing, but it is going to be up to the players to determine what has priority and how they're going to achieve them. Unfortunately, they're going to have to know a lot about playing the game and ask me a lot of questions about my world to determine the best courses of action, and they don't exactly excel at that.

Fair warning guys, get ready to make decisions on what you want to do and how you aim to get there. I'll have all the information you need, but you're going to have to make the decisions, hopefully it won't take two and a half hours.

Also, Hector Aiden Vaux will make a guest appearance at some point.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Fucking Bards

So apparently Erevan, or at least my portrayal of him, is enjoyable. Lance and Kristina seem to be amused by his antics and Shawn cannot get enough of what I am doing. He is basically a carny that thinks everyone that isn't an Eladrin is depressed that they can't be an Eladrin, or they're jealous of the innate Eladrinyness of the Eladrin, and also that they think it is wondrous to be in the presence of Eladrin. This amounts to him basically being bat shit crazy and goofy.

I think if everyone is ok with it, I might collect our in between session emails and clean them up a bit to put on here. They are entertaining to read. Also, you know, any excuse to pad my post count.

I really really enjoy the fact that Shawn is getting such a kick out of Erevan. Every time we talk about him, he just goes on about how hilarious it is. I'm really enjoying being a player, and I really like being part of a group and being able to goof off, and better yet, the goofiness actually fits with the character's background so it is actually role-playing and not just me being a goofball looking for attention...though I do love attention.

We've only had one session and the emails, but I'm really having a lot of fun with Lance, Kristina, and Shawn. I don't know the two non-Shawn individuals well, but they seem like cool people and I've had fun with them during the session and the emails. I feel like there is a real good chemistry with this group of gamers and I'm really excited to see what shenanigans we can get our characters into. Hopefully I'll be able to keep up the zaniness and not detract from other people's fun, playing him weird and wonky during play is a bit different than in the emails. Playing DnD is in real time and I don't have thirty minutes or so to think up an appropriate responses and actions like I can with the emails. Hopefully I can keep it up. We'll see.

I think when/if/once Lance gets his Dark Sun stuff going, playing that will be just a hair more serious, but Athas is like that. Although, I'll be playing a Thri-Kreen Monk or Ranger, and I'm sure there is some humor that can be found in his lack of understanding regarding mammals and their habits. Their deliciousness as well.

Music: Fight - Early Man
Music: Through Chemtrails - Early Man
Music: By The Serpents Breath You Seethe - Early Man

Monday, September 13, 2010

MMO? I Think Not

This'll be fun, I'm sure. Rant on.

Some of these complaints stem from my own group, others stem from things I've read. Others are very likely random things I've imagined in my dreams and have decided to blame on Eric.

First complaint, and one I've heard a lot is that 4th Edition is WoW. WoW has a rich background, DnD core doesn't. You can make whatever comments you want about WoW borrowing (STEALING) heavily from Warhammer's background, but it happened and I accept it. We've come a long way from there though, and I have made my peace with WoW and its history with Warhammer. Warcraft at this point has a robust background and the WoW is populated with a plethora of stuff that counts as background and is peppered with amusing quips and puns and pop culture references. Most people don't pay attention to it because they're on missions and whatnot to accrue phat lewts and tasty xps, but the background and the story are there if you feel like reading it or looking at it. Thrall, Grom Hellscream, Teron Gorefiend, Arthas, these are dudes with histories and stories that have shaped all of Kalimdor and what's left of Draenor. Warcraft, in all its forms, including the MMO version, has a background. The fluff is there, the world is there. The multiple book series are there (though I have no experience with their quality). In my experience as a wanderer of Azeroth in the guise of Benjamin, the level 69 Undead Rogue, WoW definitely takes advantage of that background material and puts it right there in the world, it is there for you to partake of or ignore at your leisure.

What is it that makes 4th Edition an MMO? All the daily, encounter, at will shenanigans? All the timers and "cooldowns" that crop up? Cooldowns are a pretty big feature of MMOs, everything is on a timer, and I suppose it is fair to say that things like action points, ongoing damage saves, and encounter use powers are all kind of cooldown timers. But so are spells per day, various class abilities that can be used X times per day, and so on and so forth. It all gets expended and resets at a certain point. Hit points themselves are a timer of sorts because they determine how long you can hang out in the field before needing a nap, in WoW they indicate when it is time for your toon to cross its legs and set up a campfire to munch on some razortusk porkchops and some goblin eggnog.

Is it the power source and roles? Are those the issue? I fail to see the problem with a one or two word description that boils the class down to its most basic concept. Arcane Leader. You cast spells, and you can probably buff (heal or grant bonuses to) your allies and debuff (hinder) your enemies. Ok, cool. The roles sound a lot like tank and dps and ranged dps and nuke from MMOs, I get that. All it is is a clear and fairly precise way of presenting information so you don't have to page through tables and thirty levels of powers to figure out what a class does and what it's capabilities are. Look at a class like Green Star Adept. It's in Complete Mage, so it casts spells possibly (not all of them do in that book, so finding a class in a certain book with a certain title means absolutely nothing). What else does it do? You have no idea, you have to read through like five pages of tables and abilities to figure out what it does. Not terribly difficult, but you have to do that thirty times before you may or may not find a class that appeals to you. The role thing is not a hindrance and it doesn't detract from the game because if you're worried about roles, you haven't even created a character yet so you're not even playing yet. I figure it developed in MMOs because you needed a short phrase you could throw into a yell or tell to say "Hey, we're ready to roll, we just need x. Can you perform as x?" without getting into what class are you? What race? What talent/tweaks/feats/etc do you have? How are your stats? What gear do you use?

The role and power source thing is great, it puts a name right at the top for you to look at and get the gist of what is going on with the class in two words. Are they holding your hand for you? Yeah. Not in a "you're stupid" way though, more like in a "we get it, you want to play the game, read these two words and move on if they aren't telling you what you want to hear" way. And you know, if you want to play a Rogue, play a Rogue. Ignore the roles and power source crap and play your character the way you want. The words aren't rules on how you must play your character, they're just there to say "Hey, this is kind of what this class does." I've got an Artificer player in my group and we rethemed all his powers to simulate chemistry and techno gadgets rather than actual magic. Play what you want the way you want, and if little terminology is getting in your way, ignore it and come up with your own flavor text or whatever lets you have fun.

Weak feats and gear, could that potentially be the problem? The feats are certainly underwhelming in 4th Edition, to the point where John stopped taking them in our game. I let him take Improved Initiative multiple times and he seems ok with that. I wonder if he knows that bonuses from the same source don't stack in any edition of DnD? No one does in our group I think.

I'll be honest, outside of some very specific feats, I find most of the fucking ginormous deluge of 4th Edition feats boring. They don't interest me. Which makes sense. You're not about your feats in 4th Edition. The same thing holds true for magic items. They're weak, and some of them are pretty uninteresting. You have classics like Vorpal whatsitwhosit or Bag of Holding, and they're very vintage and fun. Don't get me wrong, there are some awesome lewts to be found, the majority of them are boring to me though. To continue: you no longer have +10 battle axes of thundering defending shocking burst energy drain though. As a GM, and a player, believe that I am 100% ok with that. When each of your weapons has a page long write up about what they can do, and they're not artifacts, something feels off to me. You're not the hero anymore, because a Dogdamn peasant or chihuahua with your loot could operate pretty much just like you can.

That's just my opinion though. Anyway, the feats and magic items of 4th Edition seem to be underwhelming and my group of players tends to agree. The thing is, they're mostly irrelevant additions to tweak your character here and there, they're not meant to completely alter gameplay, there are even rules now for how to compensate in no/low magic campaigns without magic equipment and there are special techniques for the classes that offer new daily abilities to replace loot. The focus of 4th Edition is the core character capabilities and mechanics and your power choices. There are hundreds of powers for each class, dozens of at wills to choose from at first level, and no two are precisely the same for any class. When comparing powers, it is never as simple as "this attack rolls on Strength and this other one rolls on Dexterity." Actually, that might be true in some places, but it still represents variety, and there is a lot of variety in what powers you can use. Certainly more variety than (1d20 + X BAB + ability modifiers) x1 to 4 along with all the appropriate damage math each round. That equation was combat in nearly every single round in 3.5 Edition and it was boring, uninteresting, and not tactical.

Is it possible that people take umbrage at things being labelled utility or attack powers or given action types like shifts or immediate interrupts or something like that? I vaguely recall my WoW powers being labelled, but I'm not sure about the layout of the labelling system. I think they broke them down into Stealth, Assassination, and Combat styles of powers. First of all, labels? Who cares? Second of all, why is that a bad thing?

Is is the gameplay then that makes an MMO? Is that the reason? Because I have words for you, and those words are: pull your head out of your ass. Here is how an MMO plays in my experience: you get a quest to go get fifteen boar porkchops because the boars are delicious and the troops in town need meats or they must starve because of a late resupply convoy. First of all, the town you're in has three guards and no citizens. It has some vendors, an inn, and a travel master, and perhaps a crafting trainer and some quest givers. None of them have houses. So you go forth into the wilderness to procure necessary food for the starving guards and kill sixty boars to get your fifteen porkchops, because obviously you can't just automatically get a good hunk of meat from the first fifteen. You're a madman hacking and slashing and relying on blind luck to not completely dismember the boars. Interestingly enough, while you're doing this, seven other players are killing boars as well, and another four hundred players will do so on the next day, but for some damn reason those three guards never get enough of those delicious porkchops, or a resupply from the kitchen or anything. The quest remains the same and the boars keep coming back, rather than fleeing from the genocide bearing down on them.

Or worse yet, it's the same quest, except you're killing enemies assaulting the town and bringing back their swords as proof. The town never burns and you still have to kill thirty or more of the shits to get those swords, even though they all have swords, shields, and armor. They don't seem to be attacking the town either, just kind of milling around near it really. There's no mayhem or fire or murder, just milling around aimlessly waiting for...I dunno, orders or something. That is how a basic quest in an MMO plays. It is totally disconnected from "reality" so to speak. The drops are random, even though every soldier has a sword and every boar has a tusk or chop in it. If there have already been a bunch of players there, you sit and wait for your mobs to mystically reappear to you can farm them. The world is wide and expansive, but it is static and unchanging, unless a deific dragon rips a hole from another dimension and exits the seas in a Cataclysmic (wink) orgy of destruction that forever changes the landscape and areas of population.

To say DnD plays like that is idiotic. In DnD, if you get a quest to kill an orc you can Sly Flourish the thing's head off and pick up that sword it held and take it to the next one in the mob, and when they're dead they stay dead and you don't just wander back in every few hours, quest freshly handed out, and kill them all over again. If you clear out a bandit den, or destroy an army, it all stays dead and if your GM is competent, it affects the nearby world. If the bandits die, trade gets better. If the evil dire wolves are slain, game reappears in the forests and the local hunters don't starve. If the evil overlord is dead, he stays dead and you can't wander back into his Fortess on the Edge of Oblivion to waste him the next day to get five hundred more gold and another level. If he does reappear at the appointed hour after his followers successfully sacrifice virgins and resurrect him, he's probably prepared for you this time and has a whole new set of nethercronies ready to rape your ass.

People can make the MMO comparison as if it is a bad thing all they want. I still don't see it as such. If there are elements of MMOs in 4th Edition, well, fucking duh. Every damn modern video game RPG draws from DnD/P&P RPGs in some way, from Farmville to Too Human. This shit is cyclical and of course they're similar to one another.

If you REALLY want to draw a negative comparison from something in pop culture to 4th Edition, you might try taking a gander at Magic: The Gathering and some aspects of 4th Edition and Gamma World. Maybe you might find something legit to complain about there. Perhaps.

Just some thoughts I guess.

Friday, September 10, 2010


Potential spoilers for my story, possibly, maybe. Not sure. Just fucking read the damn thing. The story I mean.

Perhaps some of you have noticed, I've been kind of on a break from writing. I've gone over Shawn's notes pretty extensively and have been working on this newer version of the story for a while now, adding in some scenes and correcting the grammar and punctuation mistakes the thing is littered with. I'm pleased with how things are going, but yeah, I've been on like a two month break from writing.

I think I'm just kind of trying to let things buzz around in the back of my brain for a bit. Wil Wheaton quoted a guy on his blog that said something about how a large part of writing is just staring off into space and letting your mind run around in circles till it comes back to you with ideas all bloody and raw clenched in its teeth. I guess that is kind of what I'm doing. If I feel like it, I'll look on my Facebook profile and get the exact words of the quote and the guy that said it once I'm done posting.

Part of me is also stumped by a scene I'm trying to write. There comes a time when Merobel and Aubernach await Keroen Skathos in a clearing. I'm trying to kind of figure out what they would be talking about. There's far too much of a history between the two for them to just sit there making small talk or sniping at one another with snarkiness, so what do they say?

Plus there is this comment that Meroel makes in the earlier portions of the story about not being able to hear the crows in her dreams when she thinks of Keroen Skathos anymore. I forget the exact wording, but I wrote it because it sounded bat shit crazy at the time, and Merobel is such, so it is fitting. I would like to explain it in some way though. A lot of my story has been like that, I just write something that pops out of my brain and leave it there to sit for a while, and I come back later and attach meaning to it. I'd like to do that with Merobel's comment, but I don't know quite how. I'm working on it though, and part of that is wondering if I should leave it there all cryptic.

The whole story is basically about an upset in the balance of the Nel, changes have come and Nel must evolve or die. Aubernach refuses to change, at least for Keroen Skathos, he is an adaptable creature though and stagnation will never kill him, because stagnation is not in his nature. I'd like to show in this scene that Merobel is undergoing her own changes. She has finally been forced out of the dark places of her mind and must evolve.

Like Keroen Skathos, I've always had a soft spot in my head for Merobel. A lot of the things that happened to her in the course of her existence as a creature in my head have been shitty. I think this change that starts to come over her is a way for me to do right by her perhaps. Heh. This is such a goofy line of thought. I'm talking about repaying a character I wrote in a certain way that I wronged with another set of characters that I wrote. Heh, I amuse myself.

Anyway. I want to show some stuff with this scene, the crow thing, the beginning of an apotheosis for Merobel. I also want to show some of the history between her and Aubernach. I'd really like to kind of show how they interact. This is first scene in the story that we find them as "adults" and near enough to each other that they could have discourse. I'd like to at least bring a bit of that long and tortuous history of theirs to the fore. I would also like to show that Auberach regrets hurting her in the fashion he did, which I don't think I've done in the story. He doesn't regret doing what he did, regret is not an emotion he pays much attention to, but he does know that he hurt Merobel when she had nothing but love for him. Saying that the pain he caused her weighs on his conscience would be...perhaps too strong of a phrase for it, but to callously or idly hurt her and think petty thoughts of her feelings for him was never his intent.

We'll see what I manage to come up with in the end.

Edit After The Fact: At least half of all writing involves just sitting and staring into space. Letting your brain out to hunt down ideas, bringing them back all warm and bloody between its teeth. - Warren Ellis

Monday, September 6, 2010

Dice: The Apocalypse

I tried to discuss dice with my wife the other day. She thinks I'm crazy and doesn't believe that I don't believe all the crazy dice-relate superstitions that I was talking about to her. Gamers have a very special and bizarre relationship with their dice. Some of us hate them, some collect them, others don't even own a set and rely on GMs to provide everything they need to game. Some people say that certain colors are luckier than others for certain rolls, others believe in punishing particularly unlucky die in the hopes that it will inspire the others to roll better, and some people believe that players should never use GM dice and vice versa. It is a complex issue that can really show who is the nutjob at the table when discussions pop up about it.

There are also nutjobs that spend forty bucks on bronze dice and other nuttier chuckleheads that spend sixty on a single set of undersized obsidian dice.

I'm not a particularly superstitious person, I walk under ladders and step on cracks and don't pay any attention to my spatial relationship with black cats. That's how I roll and shit. That said, there are some things I believe. I believe that GM dice that the GM uses constantly, should not be used by player's, and vice versa. It is just plain unlucky.

The analogy I made to my wife was that, she doesn't buy and sharpen her shears and practice her technique, then use her hair cutting shears to cut up carpet or a slab of chicken breast. It is an improper and impractical use for a specialized tool. Admittedly, dice don't accrue wear and tear, other than minor chips and cracks and the occasional trip up and through someone's nasal or oral passages that leaves dried slime on them. So I guess I am superstitious.

I like to roll dice, it's fun and it makes me feel like a true P&P RPG player. I use dice rollers on my laptop most of the time because I am almost always the GM and rolling out each initiative or each set of attack and damage rolls for five or more enemies can be time consuming. Plus, digital dice rollers are pretty neutral. You don't touch them or feel them or watch the way light reflects off of their surfaces or passes through them, they have no personality.

Dice do have personality. It's why we buy them. We see something in them that speaks to us. I bought my black with red numbers dice years and years ago, and I bought them because they spoke to something in me. Possibly the immature part of me that thought black and red combined was awesome and edgy. Now I'm not in high school and find them infuriatingly difficult to read. That probably makes me a grognard or something. All I need now is my crazy beard.

Anyway, I bought new dice. I intend on using them as a player and never as a GM so they remain conditioned as player dice and don't get confused. I even bought a separate dice bag to keep the player and GM juju from rubbing off of one die and onto another. My new player dice are very stark and old school. Two sets are yellow with black numbering and the other is black with white numbering. Very stark color contrasts and very easy to read. I don't need fancy pants runic glow in the dark sparkly dice. I think the very simplistic design of these dice is kind of me getting back to basics, going back to the table so to speak. So much of our gaming is done via technology these days that it feels kind of nice to have a simple set of dice ready to roll and do your bidding.

Dice are neat!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Fresgulen 101

Fresgulen is one of my favorite places in Hekinoe. It goes back a ways, only a few years though, but it is kind of important to me. Back in the day Tony and I were kind of awesome in terms of DnD. We were the ones that cared and knew everything and had all the books. We were both fairly competent writers and we had enough experience with the rules of the game that we felt we could do a good job creating a game world together. So we tried, and we got lazy and burned out on work and he got a bit burned out on DnD while I got burned out on Shadow Chasers, and it never ever went anywhere. Perhaps we could do better these days, but Tony is still burned out on DnD and has no interest in coming out to play as far as I know.

I may have said before that The Old Empire is kind of my homage to Tony's unnamed kingdom of monks and psions he always wanted to create. Fresgulen is my homage to the campaign world we once thought we were going to collaborate on. Maybe it holds up to the potential it had, but probably not, because it is a small continent named Fresgulen, rather than a massive unnamed campaign world Tony and I had planned to pour our creative and technical expertise into. I lament a bit for what could have been, and I try to let that never tapped potential inspire me to do the best I can with Hekinoe. Anyway.

So Fresgulen is this smaller continent somewhere on Hekinoe, perhaps slightly larger than The Old Empire. It's kind of broken down into three geographical areas. In the center of the continent is this mountain range with castles and fortresses and towers and such sprouting from the sides and tops of the peaks. There was once a mighty and noble nation inhabiting the mighty and noble fortresses of the mountains.

Spoiler Alert: They don't live there anymore.

In the depths of the fortresses, in the humid dark places full of rank swamp gases and fog (both are ubiquitous features of Fresgulen) are the Mawkethnay. The Mawkethnay are tall, slender creatures with iridescent black skin like a beetle's shell. Some of them have fine gray or brown hair on their bodies, others have strange patterns of brightly colored markings. Their eyes are black and empty like a shark's and they have fanged mandibles like a Yautja (look it up), heh. Their thin limbs possess immense strength and are taloned, making them adept climbers. The Mawkethnay are a brutal and primitive race of hunters and stalkers, their immense strength and grace make them deadly warriors and the bane of any living thing traversing their mountain home. Little is known of them, other than the fact that they sent the original denizens of the mountains running for the forests that ring the mountains.

Oh yeah, forgot the important bits, those clawed limbs, they have eight of them. Those black shark eyes, there are eight of them too. Yeah, they're spider men. Tall, creepy, chittering, fucking spider men. Hide your kids, hide your wives, hide your husbands, cause they be eating everyone up in here. By here, I mean the mountains of Fresgulen.

Those forests that I spoke of, they're green and tall, but kind of on the scraggly side with patches of sickly looking bark on some of them. Dwelling in these forests is a proud race that once inhabited those mountains that the Mawkethnay live in. They call themselves the Norvenmik and they are a proud and noble warrior race of pale, blonde human-looking humanoids. I mean, in game terms, they're basically human, but possess low-light vision. So I don't know what you'd call them. I guess we can add them to the list of human-like things that aren't quite.

They aren't nature lovers, but they know the forest supports them and it is a fragile thing and they must be careful not to take too much timber from it or hunt too many animals from it. They tend to dwell in clearings in the deepest parts of the forest, where the trees are thick and sturdier than on the outskirts. The outskirts of the forest butt up against a heck of a swamp, and this swamp is shrouded in somewhat poisonous fog, and the thicker parts of the forest almost never see this smog. This allows the Norvenmik to safely breathe and whatnot.

Now it is time for the swamps, my favorite place. These things are fucking fens man. "Lakes" of this sluggish, slow moving, thick ass swamp water. Pits of gurgling sludge that reeks like piss and dead animals. Rocky vents with yellow and green smog erupting from them and poisoning everything around them. The swamps run in a ring around the forests, which run in a ring around the mountains, and they are choked with this low hanging greenish tinged smog.

Dwelling in this green haze is a hardy and primitive race of creatures. They wear hides and leather, armor themselves in gator skin, and are as tough as even the Mawkethnay. They're insular and xenophobic and terribly violent and possessing no mercy in their hearts. They ride huge beasts into battle, creatures as ill tempered as they are huge. They (the beasts) also stink like skunk ass and will throw themselves into a frenzy of bloodthirsty violence when near death. They're huge like bears, with savage jaws and claws for digging and tearing apart their enemies and are covered in bony spurs that stud their black and brown shaggy fur. Their masters don't control them so much as they survive training them long enough for the beasts to develop a respect for the ferocity of their diminutive masters.

The race is known as the Ethryll and they're just slightly over three feet tall. Their hair is usually dyed in tribe specific colors and spiked with wax or animal shit or whatever will hold it up in a crazy shape. Their skin is usually a sickly grey color from the caustic smog of the area, but they are a hardy and tough people, it is usually tattooed or ritually scarred as well, depending on the tribe. They're tough little fuckers.

Those are the races that inhabit Fresgulen. There are all kinds of critters and veritable monsters that inhabit the place, but nothing on a wide enough scale to represent a true race of creatures or a nation, which is not to say that the previously mentioned races are each unified into a single kingdom. There are some tribes of lizardmen in the swamps, but they're kept in line and endangered enough by the Enthryll that they don't really represent a civilization anymore. I'm sure they'd happily wage a genocide of a war against the Ethryll, but they lack the manpower and resources to do so.

The mountains are a pretty barren place, aside from some super hardy goats. The Mawkethnay hunt in a pretty rapacious manner. I mean, they store their food, they can spin webs tight enough that it Ziplocs food away in the bottom of their stolen fortresses, so they're not starving or anything. They just like to hunt and have been running around in the dark places of the mountains for some time.

The forests are foresty, bears and other creatures. A few tribes of non-Norvenmik races, but nothing noteworthy. Or perhaps there is a hidden race of ancient power that dwells deep in the forests, deeper than even the Norvenmik, perhaps they slumber and wait to be woken so they can wreak havoc upon the mortals that have taken Fresgulen from them. Behold the SECRETS! The MYSTERY! STUFF!!!1!

Like The Known World, Fresgulen is a pretty well occupied place. Two of the main races are pretty savage and uncivilized, and the formerly civilized Norvenmik aren't too terribly far ahead of the others. Nothing is known of firearms or any of the comforts of The Known World. Sorcery is even more feared out here though, its not outlawed because that would indicate that there is some manner of codified written law in place in one or more of the areas. It is reviled and mistrusted almost more than it is in The New Empire. I guess that's enough about a continent that is only spoken of as half-hearted rumor in The Known World, so I guess technically all of the above could be lies and Fresgulen could be this smaller continent that is a flat piece of glassy black rock riding upon the waves for all anyone in The Known World knows.

So you can run an tell that homeboy.