May 29, 2009

Open Game Table Heads to the UK

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I just received an email indicating that Open Game Table is now available from Borders in the UK!!! So, for all you Brits out there dying for a copy - you can now get one on the cheap because you won't have to pay the horrendous transatlantic shipping fees. It's even available for FREE UK shipping apparently.

If you decide to pick up a copy from the UK source, please let me know what you think!

More about Open Game Table can be found here.

May 28, 2009

OPEN GAME TABLE is being given away!

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DM Tools

As part of a new collaborative promotion with DungeonMastering.com; every single new Premium Membership to Dungeon Mastering Tools that is opened by June 1st will recieve a free print copy of Open Game Table. Time is short, so if you haven't seen these cool online tools for your 4E game yet, then jump over there an check it out! There are both Free and Premium Membership levels, so you can try before you buy so to speak.

May 27, 2009

Surveying the "Old School" RPG Concept Independent of D&D

7 comments:
There's been enough rumbling about the "Old School" movement that if it were to be put into seismic terms California would now be west of the continental shelf. I've mostly been avoiding the arguments up until now because it seems the universal consensus was that 1st and 2nd Edition D&D constitutes as Old School and any game that plagiarizes them is worthy of the tag. This debate might have some validity, but as an intellectual pursuit didn't interest me in any way. However as a writer and designer of games I have to look at the idea that "Old School" as a marketing device may help me sell my game so now I'm forced to look at the concept and see if there's anything to it I can use, because like it or not a buzzword is a buzzword.

So here's a few concepts that I encounter in games both old and new. You the reader can tell me if they're:
  • Old School
  • New School
  • Not Old School or New School
  • Antiquated and Obsolete
  • Fundamental in All Games Old and New

May 26, 2009

Take Survey, Win $20.

1 comment:
I've been very actively building a collaboration with bloggers behind Mad Brew Labs and At-Will over the last few months. It all started with our series on Skill Challenges of War (the complete PDF you can now pick up for free, btw). We then managed to land an articles series for Kobold Quarterly (first of three will appear this summer). Things have so far been going amazingly well. We have more ideas of projects than time to pursue them, so we are looking to you (our readers) for some feedback and possibly to help us prioritize things a bit.

If the survey has missed something, or you wish to add your own opinions / insights / suggestions... then please leave a comment on the blog!

All you have to do is fill out a survey. One lucky person who submits their email address along with their survey (its optional to do so) will win a $20 Gift Certificate to RPGNow.com! It's that easy! (And don't worry, we won't be using your email address for marketing or other silly things; just for the drawing).


We're trying to get a big turn out for the survey (hence the prize) - so if you have a blog of your own; link backs here would be super awesome!

May 25, 2009

REVIEW - Monster Manual 2

3 comments:

So, I've had about a week or so to look over the new Monster Manual 2. Let me first get it out of the way that 1) I absolutely love this book; and 2) see point #1. I have only minor complaints (see below), but anyone running a homebrew 4th Edition D&D campaign should pick this book up right away. There's even value over just having the stats via D&D Insider, which I'll also get into below.

This is not just fanboy craze either; the MM2 beats out the MM1 hands down. The content is better, there's tons of "old school classics" that have been updated to 4E, and there's even a fair number of monsters that have very detailed entries Something that I didn't like about the MM1 was that nearly everything was given only one or two paragraphs of background and development. The MM2 is a much better book, here's why...

4E is the New Old School
I've said it before, and I know it wrangles a few nerves out there -- but it really is true. And now, with the Monster Manual 2, so many classic old-school OD&D and 1E D&D monsters make their return to the latest edition of the game.  The Behir has been one of my favorite dragon-like monsters since I first ran The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth in 1982, and the gran'old age of 10. That's what... a 27 year old "favorite monster"? The new 4E version sports both a paragon and epic tier version of the beast, as well as "Behir Bolter Whelps" that look much like the little baby in Alien. I love it!

More favorites from past editions make thier reapperance in the MM2 as well, including Ankhegs, Bullywugs, Giant Ants (low level favorites), Myconids (!),  Spriggans, Cockatrice, Centipedes, Black Pudding, Xorn and many many more from old times.

And how could I not mention that.. I SAVED THE RUST MONSTER!!! Ok, maybe I didn't, but I'm stoked to see it back in print. Although it abilities are not as terrifying as I would have them, I suppose it goes back to the save or die argument that 4E is trying to avoid. Altogether, I'm very happy with all these old faces being updated to the new rules.

MM2 In Print Beats DDI
One question that I've been asking myself lately is: why should I buy any of the printed books if ALL the stats and crunch for everything is including in my DDI subscription already? I mean, I already make up my own "Tactics" for each encounter -- I don't need the MM telling me how to play these creeps. Also, I could easily make up my own backstory and "Lore" sections for all the creatures as well, which happens fairly often anyway when you customize your campaigns. In addition, I could easily just come up with my own encounter groups and... see where I'm going? Having the printed book in hand is a time saver. You trade time for a possible loss of your own creativity. The MM has all this information already worked out; something you can't get from DDI.

That being said, one of my complaints about the MM1 was that there was not enough detail. It was almost too sparse, and I rarely open it up. Maybe it's becuase I just "know" the creatures therein, but I think it is more due to the fact there there is just too little information over what DDI already offers. The Monster Manual 2 changes that. That authors have done an excellent job of providing lots of detail for each creature to help players integrate them into their campaigns in a "sensible" way. Althought the section on Dragons does have a few pages of literally just statblocks with token artwork (zero other text), the rest of the MM2 is pretty juicy.

Take for example, the Eldritch Giant entry. There's a preamble paragraph (2 sentences) but then you'll find this:

"Eldritch Giants come from a different time - an earlier age when the primordials made the world. Although fashioned from fire, stone, and storm, the primordials' wondrous creation was heavily invested with magic, and the eldritch giants aided their primordial lords in the world's formation. Although their powers have ebbed since those days, eldritch giants remember their ancient mastery of magic and forever seek to regain it." -- Monster Manual 2.
The entry then goes on to detail two eldritch giants and their tactics. After that there's another background/lore section that includes another two or three paragraphs of detail. All in all, entries as detailed as this abound, and in general my feeling is that more thought went into developing these monsters than did the MM1.

Complaints
I suppose if I were to complain about something it would be that many of these "classic" monsters should have been included in the Monster Manual 1. I know I know... they have a BIZNES to run, and obviously there's a certain marketing strategy here to get people to buy two books instead of one. Meh... I would have bought the MM2 anyway.

My other complaints are similar to those I had for MM1 - no Ecology/Terrain information. No tables for random monster generation. No tables for random treasure types (sigh...). Everything in 4E is so friggen balanced, that even treasure is relegated to the DMG -- even for monsters like the Gold Dragon (which is pictured sitting on top of a classic horde of gold... but in reality, if you looked it up in the DMG... it would be much less than that). Oh well, random tables and charts seem to be a thing of the past for the 4E D&D designers (a mistake IMHO), so there's nothing of the sort in the MM1 or the MM2.


Conclusion
I don't have much negative to say about the Monster Manual 2. The detail is great, the artwork is (of course) superior. The number of monsters is outstanding (over 125). There's a big expansion of demons, devils, archons, and angels. There's a fair number of new goblins, gnolls, lizerdmen, giants (frost!), and trolls (among other humanoid like types). For $20 its a great value - definately pick it up.

May 22, 2009

Best Resources About Playing Roleplaying Games With Your Kids

1 comment:
My oldest son is five. He's right about at that age where we might see if he is interested in playing a game that uses his imagination in a structured format: you know... role playing games. So, I've been collecting links related to this topic and been reading up on various do's and don't associated with the hobby - especially for kids. Here's my list of my favorite ten articles. Hopefully this will help some other parents out there get starting on training their own padewans in the dark arts... mwhahaha

NOTE: I also recently picked up Rory's Story Dice. The basic idea is you roll the dice and make up a story on the fly that fits the icons on the dice face. I'm thinking they would no doubt have some use for RPGs as well, although I have yet to give that a try. These were really fun for my son and I to play around with for the first few days we had them; now a couple weeks later the dice have been trumped by super hero action figures. Ah well, what do you expect.. he's FIVE.

Role-Playing Games and Kids
http://www.roleplayingtips.com/articles/roleplaying_games_and_kids.php
Good article that covers the basic issues for getting an RPG group together for kids in the 12 - 16 age range, how to deal with parent "concerns", what types of games to run, etc.

RPGs for Kids
http://www.tlucretius.net/RPGs/kids.html
Extremely detailed list of dozens of RPGs both in print and out of print that are appropriate for kids ages 5 up through adults. The author covers old classics like Marvel Super Heroes (which is not in print anymore, but available as a PDF) as well as many second and third string RPGs developed by independent / small press companies. I still have not gone through the whole list, but it's on my priority list to read up on all these games to get a better idea of what would be a good purchase and investiment of my time. Final note: the end of this article has a very good list that points to yet other articles on RPGs for kids. 

Glorantha for the Yoots: My Young Son's First Roleplaying Adventure
http://www.glorantha.com/support/na_yoots.html
A bit old, but Ian Young recounts a play by play summary of his 5-year old sons first RPG "campaign". Bookmark it, becuase it's a long one; but from what you will read you'll see that 5-year olds are natural roleplayers and they seemed to have had tons of fun with it (they used modified HeroQuest rules).

Roleplaying Games for Kids
http://www.darkshire.net/jhkim/rpg/whatis/kids.html
A big linked list for articles about RPGs and kids. Some of the links are dead though. Maybe I should gather up all the links I can find and post a huge list of everything? Hrmmm... anyway, head over there to check out where they point to.

Wired Magazine's GEEK Dad articles on RPGs & Kids
Daniel Donohoo has written several excellent pieces on playing RPGs with kids under the age of 10. Seeing as Donohoo already writes a blog exploring ideas of childhood and youth; and has even published a book on the subject (Idolising Children), I give his opinions on the subject a bit more wieght.
  • Teaching Kids to Roleplay is Only Natural - He breaks it down into age groups (i.e. 5 - 7, 8 - 10, etc) and makes recommendations on which games are appropriate for each group. He's a huge fan of the game Fuzzy Heroes for the younger kids.
  • Setting up RPG Groups for Kids - Separate from which games to play and at which age to start is the issue of how and where to set up a group. Organizing a kids RPG gaming group has some significant differences from a traditional "grown-up" group (you can't stay up till 2 AM gaming for example). Once you have picked your game, this article will help you get organized.
  • A Starter Guide to Roleplaying with Kids - This is more a playtest report of gaming with 5 and 6 year olds using the game Fuzzy Heroes as the system; but some good advice is there as well. Jump to the end to read his summary points if your not interested in the FH details.
  • More Online Resources: RPGs & Kids - Short piece that directs you to The Escapist website, Sam Chumps site, and some links for playing RPGs with girls (since most of the industry is extremely oriented towards men/boys). 
GNOME STEW: 10 Reasons Why Roleplaying Games Are a Positive Force for Kids and Adults

Alike
http://www.gnomestew.com/gming-advice/10-reasons-why-roleplaying-games-are-a-positive-force-for-kids-and-adults-alike
Fellow bloggers Gnome Stew dish up some ammunition for people looking for reasons to say "RPGs are good for you becuase...". Definately a resource to look over if you are organizing a kids RPG group and meet some resistance from naysayers.

Why Should You Want to Roleplay with Your Kids?
http://www.squidoo.com/kidsrpg
Catch all article that covers just about all the major issues concerning RPGs and Kids. Covers everything from pros/cons; recommended games; how to start up games; positive impact of RPGs for kids; etc. If you read anything on this list.. this is the one you should check out.

Young Persons Adventure League
http://www.theescapist.com/ypal/
If you read anything on this list.. this is the one you should check out. Much like the Squidoo article above, but it's organized way way better and had TONS OF LINKS elsewhere as well as reviews, recommendations, play tips, etc.


 
NOTE: I also recently picked up Rory's Story Cubes. The basic idea is you roll the dice and make up a story on the fly that fits the icons on the dice face. I'm thinking they would no doubt have some use for RPGs as well, although I have yet to give that a try. These were really fun for my son and I to play around with for the first few days we had them; now a couple weeks later the dice have been trumped by super hero action figures. Ah well, what do you expect.. he's FIVE.

May 20, 2009

Towards More Cinematic Gaming: Part 3 - The Sword vs. the Sledgehammer

11 comments:
Towards More Cinematic Gaming: Part 3 - The Sword vs. the Sledgehammer

#1:   Two level 3 fighters square off:  One is carrying a longsword the other a warhammer.  Both are completely unarmored and equally specialized in their weapon.  Who wins?  the longsword, it does 1d8!

#2:   OK now the same but a shortsword vs a two handed warhammer, both remain unarmored. Who wins?
Definitely the great hammer! it does 2d4 and gets strength and a half!

#3:   Now the swordsman is wearing full plate armor, the great hammer remains unarmored. Oooh tough one. but full plate is awesome so that makes up for the less damage! The swordsman should win!

#4:   This time they both have tower shields and chainmail. One has a bastard sword and the other traded his greathammer for a shortsword. Well bastard sword is better so it woudl win.

*******

FYI this is one of the issues that bother me most about D&D.  Please ignore any rhetoric I leak out. Lets go through the examples.

#1: Maybe.  Probably come downs to luck.

#2: Wrong. The shortsword is a much faster weapon, and the large hammer heavyer and easyer to dodge. Since they are unarmored, they are less vulnerable to the slow sledgehammer and more vulnerable to the laceration/penetration of the short sword.

#3: Wrong. In fact the heavy plate armor makes them more vulnerable to the sledgehammer since it makes you much slower. Hammers do all their damage as concussive crush injuries which plate armor is woefully too thin to stop.  All the heavy armor has done has made him easyer to hit, and have a harder time attacking, while doing little to protect him from the hammer.

#4: Wrong. The shortsword of the gladius makes a thrust the only effective maneuver; but doign so penetrates chainmail. Swinging a large sword is slower; chainmail and shield are ideally suited to stopping a slashing attack. 

So why is it that the longsword is so popular in D&D? Same reason it was with the Gauls and with nobles. Swinging a big sword looks cool and makes you feel powerful. In fact it was a fairly uncommon weapon in medievil history not only becasue of the cost, but becasue it penetrates armor poorly.

What does D&D do to balance armor penetration, speed, and damage of a weapon? Incomprehensibly very little.  Why is it important?  Doing so brings more diversity, choices, and cinematic outcomes into combat that are built into the rules and not the whim of the GM.  From a player perspective that ususal equals more fun.

Fortunately there are some very easy solutions that dont slow combat down significantly.  For the life of me I cant figure out why one of them was not implemented into D&D4E. These are just a few I have used in my games; please share with me what you have used in yours. Warning: this gets very house-rule-heavy:

Method #1 (easy, fast): You get wider critical hit range when your opponents armor is vulnerable to your weapon type. Similary, you cannot get a critical when your opponents armor specifically protects against your weapon type. No need to think it out ahead of time; but if a player rolls high, say 16 - 19, then the GM can consult a similar chart:

- Unarmored: WEAK vs: slashing and piercing. STRONG vs: very heavy or slow weapons.
- Chainmail: WEAK vs: blunt and piercing (historically true, despite hopes to the contrary). STRONG vs: slashing.
- Plate: WEAK vs: blunt, grappling, and pole-arms (they cant dodge well, and a polearm generates such mechanical energy no armor can adequately stop it). STRONG vs: slashing and piercing.
- Shields: WEAK vs: grappling. STRONG vs: slashing against a single opponent.
- Tower Shield: WEAK vs: grappling, STRONG vs: everything on a given facing.

Method #2 (a lot more 'real' but a bit slower): Armor is damage reduction. ie instead of chainmail being AC 4, it is DR4.  Specific weapons have individual Damage Penetration values, ---> Those that dont can make called shots, critical hit, or grapple to bypass armor.

Some theoretical examples:
- A warhammer would be d4, but have 8 points of damage penetration (DP), (thus it exactly negates plate armor.)
- A shortsword would be d6 with DP 3 if the player is trained/specialized in its use.
- A longsword would be d10 but without damage penetration.
- A player using a Shield can opt to force a single opponent to re-roll an attack, or give a bonus to parry.
* dont forget your strength bonus and specialization bonuses

(modern examples)
- a typical firearm has some degree of damage penetration
- a shotgun would be high damage without any damage pentration
- a sniper rifle would afford the user free called shots after a full round of aiming.

Although rules such as these seem onerous, they arnt much more data than is already lisrted in the extensive item charts in D&D4E. Since it all can be charted, it is just a matter for the DM to keep track of them.
Method 2 can be carefully balanced to any probability of outcome, but would require quite a bit of DM time to go through all the weapons, armor, and monsters. Method 1 is a lot more usable right away, however, so I would recommend that method first.

Of course there is also Method #3: Your Method. Please share with us!

- Tom W

Qualification: you'll have to trust me that my occupation gives me a lot of experience with injuries.

May 19, 2009

Golly Gee, The Future of RPGs

3 comments:
Wyatt Salazar from Turbulent Thoughts, The Galaxy Melancholic and the Spirits of Eden has taken over The Core Mechanic! And until Jonathan Jacobs pays me enough money to buy some Strike Witches figurines, I will remain firmly in his digital throne.

Why is it so comfy? Why isn't mine this comfy? Why don't I get nice things...

Ahem. Well, this is a blog, so as long as I'm taking it over, I might as well do something productive.

This month's blog carnival is about the Future of RPGs and ever since I heard about it, I have been on a quest, my fellows.

A quest for a magical Kindle reader, which when set to an incorrect date, will display the New York Times of that day, thus allowing me a glimpse into the future. It is a scrying glass powered solely by geek magic of the Amazon school of diviners. I was told of this most mystical object by a cloaked nerd at a nearby bar who drank only cokes and seltzers.

But two things impeded my progress on this quest.

1) Kindle 2 is much sexier. I just can't go back.
2) The New York Times doesn't care about the future of RPGs.
2b) The New York Times may go bankrupt or stop publishing a paper at some point in the future, therefore even a Magical Kindle would not have worked altogether very well.

Oh, and the world ends in 2012 anyway.

So I discarded that idea, fun as it was to search Ebay and Craigslist for supposedly magical objects. So with only the power of my mind to assist me, let's talk about the Future of RPGs.

There are 3 topics which are the hot items to talk about when it comes to the future of RPGs.

The Table

A lot of people say the gaming table is going to die, but I say, nay! I think the gaming table, as any other living creature, will evolve in order to survive. And it shall evolve when we stick computers and projectors on it. Imagine a gaming table with touchpads, keyboards, and all manner of embedded doohickeys? Hell, the random number generators that such a beast might contain could end up killing DICE instead of technology killing the table.

Imagine programming your side of the table with all of your character's conceivable rolls and modifiers, perhaps even doing so ahead of time and bringing it on a small flash card. Imagine programming all of your game rules into your table. Imagine programming your dungeon master into the table! Hey yo dawg, I heard you like dungeon mastering, so we put a dungeon master in your table so you can dungeon master while you dungeon master.

Imagine the price tag on such a thing. I shudder.

But I don't think the game table has to die just because we're bringing computers over to it. The table and the digital world exist as two separate mediums of gaming, one of which I discuss in a three part series of posts on Musings of the Chatty DM. The table offers the ability to spend time at a friend's home. To drive there in bad traffic for an hour, to breathe in their cheeto musk, to beat the loving crap out of them because they're jerks.

The equivalent to all this in online gaming involves the /kick command in IRC. Unsatisfying, I say. Digital is convenient and is its own experience, but just like PDFs aren't going to disintegrate all your bound, mutilated tree souls who scream foul oaths at you in their own silent language, things like Gametable and Maptool will not suddenly invalidate the traditional invasion of somebody's home that is the hallmark of the RPG hobby.

Digital Tools

I want to talk to you about FATAL.

Look son. When a man and his calculator have very special feelings for each other, they do silly things. Silly things that they may later regret. Like creating an RPG system that uses mean, trigonometry and advanced algebraic equations for its play.

But the interesting thing about FATAL is that its creator, Byron Hall, in the midst of his gibbering insanity, had the clarity of mind to realize that nobody but he and his two physics buddies would ever play this game unless they created a means to simplify it all.

Byron Hall thought loftily. He would design programs and tools that would do all the FATAL math for you. He had a character generator, a FATAL calculator, and he probably had even more ideas on the way. I've not been acquainted with these tools though. Because sadly, FATAL was a piece of juvenile crap and its short life was full of torment and pain. But I hear from reliable sources that did use them that the game was...horrible with them. But at least your player's turns didn't last as long as a standardized math test.

Digital Tools have only gotten better. But I don't believe the initiative will be with the game designers (other than Wizard's of the Coast, who has the initiative but not the corporate direction to become the steward to the digital world), at least not at first, unless the game is from the ground-up designed to mesh with a digital tool component that is either absolutely necessary or generally enriches the game experience. I'm not talking about a character generator or stuff like that. I think that sort of thing will continue to be done better by plucky fans of the games who come from the open source community. Mostly because they do everything for free.

Look at Fantasy Ground. I don't know a single person who's ever paid for that (though I do know a lot of people who own it, nyack nyack). Now look at Maptool and Gametable. I don't know a single person who plays online who doesn't at least have them kicking around.

However, perhaps in the future we will see games with a big digital component that could enrich the experience in a way other than generate the characters or roll your dice. Maybe such a thing would more necessarily be a video game than an "honest" roleplaying game, or perhaps something even far beyond my imagination can occur.

Maybe "tabletop" rpgs marketed more towards online play through digital tools or special chat rooms and forums? Who knows. There's a big wide world of data out there just waiting to be explored, but I'm not sure how many people will consider it an option, especially when they see Wizard's ups and downs with it.

Audience

I've read surveys which say that most of the people who play RPGs are like, dinosaurs. I'm only 20, so when these same surveys tell me that the audience who plays RPGs is going to die and then nobody will play them ever again, I can only laugh at the insane leap of logic that must be made in order to support such a point of view.

To be entirely fair, I don't think the RPG market is ever going to "grow". By grow, I mean significantly, in relation to other forms of competing entertainment. When I see two guys in a bar talking about "that sweet attack roll" by that "awesome tiefling warlock" they saw on Monday Night Dungeons, I will kill myself. Then, my ghost will digitize and haunt all of your online games inserting unbalanced encounters, traps that would make Gygax smile in his grave, and causing you to critical hit each other in "friendly" duels and deal lethal damage, for no reason. I will become the Twilight haunting your games.

But I also don't think that RPG gaming is just going to disappear from the face of the Earth. I don't buy into the statistics that claim that no new gamers are coming to prop up the hobby so that it won't disappear when the rexes go to the big Jurassic Park in the sky. But then again, I don't buy into statistics for the most part, I await the day when Math is disproven and all of the World is in chaos as to just what the hell's been going on for the past thousand years.

Someday I will triumph over you and your devilish creations, Euclid, Newton and Leibniz. Put ya gunz on.

As more and more RPG efforts have taken to the internet these days (just look at that how big that Old School Rebellion thing or whatever has gotten since it started like six thursdays ago) the audience that they can reach is potentially infinite, if they would just try.

But if the big companies want to get more fresh blood, the advertising needs to be more widespread and more effective on the internet.

Wizard's of the Coast has that free D&D 4th Edition Test Drive thing, but what do they do on their website to let people know? They stick a little note halfway down their front page. Meanwhile all their banner ads are telling people idiotic things like "DON'T SPLIT THE PARTY," and "BUY D&D MINIATURES" and "THIS IS AN AVENGER, THIS IS AN INVOKER."

Conceivably, if I'm going to the Wizard's D&D website and I am a new gamer, and you tell me these things, I have no reason to give one quarter of a damn about them because I don't know what the hell you're talking about. If I play the game? I already know about them. So why are the giant banner ads about things the core audience is already going to be aware of?

Now, if you told me, the new gamer, in a huge banner ad that I could a) try out the game for free, b) get a free book that used to cost like 20 dollars and c) make any character I want using the free trial of your online tools, I'd be far, far more interested. I think a lot of new people would.

So in conclusion, Newton was a douchenozzle.

In Conclusion Conclusion

I have faith in the future of RPGs. I don't think it will ever reach the legendary fad status that I hear it had when it first came out again, and I think longing for such a thing is a ticket to disappointment. On the other hand, I don't think it will die out.

In fact, I think even though D&D Insider is a messy first step in showing people the future of RPGs, the alternatives it has generated from both fans and detractors (and the old competitors that have been thrust into a spotlight now that a big company is fumbling at what they have been doing for a while) it has done us a lot of good.

So yeah. I think the future of RPGs is pretty okay. Or at least, it has a potential to be pretty okay.

But that might just be a product of my youthful and vigorous outlook.

Ah, that feels good. Back to taking over The Core Mechanic.

*thud*

What was that? No, Jonathan! Don't come any closer! I am armed with things to throw at you! Things that belong to you and can conceivably break if I hit you with them!
EEEEEEP!

May 18, 2009

Portrait of a Villain - Cerdic Elesing, High Chieftain of the Saxons

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"Our time has come! My countrymen, you have traveled far to join me, and now I will follow through on the oaths made by our forefathers before me. The earth will drink the blood of the Britons today and we will make these Isles our own. We will make these lands Saxon!!!" -- Cerdic Elesing, just before marching on Mount Badon.
Original artwork, "Cerdic Elesing", by Hugo Solis, exclusively for The Core Mechanic. Looking for quality illustrations for your latest project? Visit Hugo's Gallery and get in touch.

Background
Cerdic Elesing was a Saxon ealdorman who's royal family descended from a line of magistrates appointed by the Rome to care for and manage the western end of the Saxon Shore (Latin: litus Saxonicum). Although Rome had long abandoned it, the Saxons had not abandoned the dream of reclaiming Britain, a land of plenty, as their own. So, in the late 6th-century, Cerdic gathered all the ealdormen of the tribe Gewissæ together and mounted a massive invasion of Britain's southern shoreline. Within a few short years, Cerdic and his forces had destroyed the tiny kingdom of Natanleaga, taken the Isle of Wight, and conquered the southern shorelines of Britain.

Cerdic crushed all the Saxon tribes already in Britain that did not submit to his might. He never negotiated, nor ever knelt to any man. The only force in Britain that could match his army's strength was that of Arthur's cavalry. At the Battle of Mount Badon, Arthur was finally able to turn Cerdic's army back, but at a great loss to his own forces as this was Arthur's last great victory. Cerdic was not so ruined, and then sent word back to his cousins in The Continent that Britain was defenseless. Soon afterwords hordes of Saxons, Angles, Francs, and Jutes began arriving monthly along the coastlines of Britain. Cerdic was the first, but not by any stretch the last Saxon king to ravage the Isles. By 514 C.E., he had established the Kingdom of Wessex in southern Britain, and soon began to consolidate other Saxon tribes under his banner. Thereafter, Cerdic and his descendants became the largest threat to Brythonnic Kings.

Motivation
Cerdic is a raging war monger. While his long term goals are the total conquering of Britain and the subjugation of all its people, his true love in life is for the rush of battle at the head of his own army. He vows to never rest. He seeks to be a pinnacle of Saxon honor, always keeps his word once he oaths a promise, and never cowers in the face of overwhelming odds. While his son Cynric governs his fledgling kingdom from its seat in Wintanceastre, Cerdic always on the move and rules from his saddle. The main focus of his military campaigns are currently the domination of the regions west of Wessex, and the eventual control of the entire southern coastline of Britain.

Adventure Hooks
Cerdic could easily be adapted to any D&D campaign set against the backdrop of an ongoing war. He represents a tyrannical king with an insatiable thirst for battle and blood. Once he sets his sites on an objective, he will go to great lengths to prove he is able to take it. Unbeknownst to many of his subjects, Cerdic is also a collector of relics. In his quest for domination, he does recognize the usefulness of powerful relics, regardless of their source of power, and often commissions adventurers to retrieve these relics to add to his collection.
  1. The Stolen Chalice (Heroic Tier): A new monk from The Church arrives in the region with intentions reclaiming a minor artifact important to his particular sect, The Monks of Valdis. The relic in question is a golden chalice stolen from the priest's chapel by a marauding band of Saxon barbarians. The raiders have taken refuge in the hills a days ride from the PCs home village and the priest urges the PCs to assist him in "reclaiming the property of The Church". In reality, the chalice belongs to the Saxons and possesses the ability to mend the broken and heal the sick. It is known to the Saxons as "The Chalice of Tyr"; from it pours forth wine that believed to be the blood that was split when Tyr offered his arm to the wolf Fenris. These raiders are delivering it Cerdric, whose youngest son is sick with the plague. If the PCs manage to take the chalice from the raiders, they will have made a mortal enemy of Cerdric. If they refuse, the monk will declare the PCs as heretics.
  2. Unleash The Isle of Wights (Paragon Tier): Rumors have surfaced that the Wihtwara, cousins of the Saxons, have recently discovered an abandoned tomb on the Isle of Wight and, instead of plundering it, have built a high mound around it in hopes of sealing it off until the High Chieftain, Cerdric, can personally inspect it. These rumors have become more tangible as the PCs have recently come into possession of an ancient text, seemingly written by the 3rd century scholar Serenus, that details an early Celtic burial site on "a tiny isle, north of Gaul, that is home to the chalk-faced walking dead who seem to step into and out of this world at will". The character's liege has commissioned them to set out and infiltrate this tomb and retrieve any lost Celtic artifacts that might otherwise fall into the hands of the Saxons. The PCs reach the site with little trouble, but find that the Saxons who were previously protecting the burial ground have followed Cerdric and his personal entourage into the crypts. Once inside, the PCs find a portal to Annwyn and discover that Cedric and his men have already passed through the gate. To what end, the PCs can only guess, but they must stop Cerdic and drive him out of Annwyn before he manages to defile it.

May 17, 2009

TCM Now on Amazon's Kindle

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The Core Mechanic is now available to Kindle users via Amazon's WhisperNet technology. They have priced it at $1.99/month, delivered straight to your Kindle. Had I been given a choice, I would have preferred it to be free - but that's the lowest they will go for Kindle hosted blogs. I guess it's mostly to cover the cost of WhisperNet or something.

In any case, if you want to help support The Core Mechanic and happen to be a Kindle owner, click the link on the right and subscribe!

That would be super kewl!

May 15, 2009

Triggering Combat Powers in 4E D&D

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This post over at tenletter prompted inspired me to make a suggestion - one which I'm sure someone else in the blogosphere has made before (but I can't find the reference): what if you removed the names of the combat powers in 4E? Instead, just have the players actually describe what they are doing instead of "pushing a button".

But I'll actually take this one step further.

What if you made these nameless Encounter and Daily powers triggered effects, instead of chosen actions? For example:
  • Player's Daily powers would trigger (and replace) any critical hit on an opponent made with a basic attack or an at-will power.
  • Encounter powers would happen only after any successful hit with a basic attack or an at-will power, and replace the effects of the initial attack.
  • At-will and utility powers would be used as they operate now.
The effects of this might be to limit character choices, thus promoting player creativity. It might play out much like 3E or previous editions of D&D where there are far fewer choices for your "toon". Heck, few classes had multiple ways of making melee attacks (monk's being on exception; flurry of blows anyone?) eliminating character choices from one round to the next might also speed up combat.

Now, such a house rule might also apply only to martial and primal classes: divine and arcane classes might remain as they are. I mean, wizards have always had tons of choices - that was their specialty - and still is considering that Tomes have been added to 4E (greatly expanding the flexibility of wizards in game).But I digress...

If you remove the names of encounter and daily powers and simply move them over to the existing at-will powers as triggered effects (immediate interrupts maybe?), it might have a very strong effect on the mood/feel of 4E combat as it plays out.

Crazy, stupid idea? Or maybe there's some traction here? What do think?

May 14, 2009

Towards More Cinematic Gaming: Part 2 - Fate

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Its D-day. Omaha beach. Shells falling, flying. The landing ramp drops as your craft beaches; your platoon rushes forth. 4 take their last bloody breaths to machine gun fire before they can pull out of the water...

Yet in all the bloodshed and senseless death, Heroes are forged, and the darkest period of human history now has a glimpse of dawn breaking...
Note: If you don't read any of my poorly written posts, please read this one. I think this one can help D&D the most!

Back in college as I watched Saving Private Ryan in the theater it dawned on me. The difference between good intentions, and true heroes is only one thing: Luck.

Fate was all that separated them.

My buddies and I had recently finished a Dark Sun D&D campaign where we had no less than 75 characters die over 2 years. In the end the characters that survived had that same attribute: luck.

Sure there had been other campaigns that were run where when the PC's got in over their heads, the GM would make the baddies retreat or take us prisoner alive, even though that made no sense. In the end we felt cheated because we knew we really failed the mission but the GM had such a close minded view on the adventure it was going to turn out the same way no matter what stupid decisions we made.

Then we started a Shadowrun campaign. FYI: character creation in Shadowrun takes a while. Suddenly the quick death of a sniper rifle was a lot more annoying! So assuming that if we made enough characters and some would eventually survive, luck would still be all that separated them.

Can we SKIP that step and codify luck directly into the mechanic of the game? A game engine built with Fate as a defining attribute?

Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay had already been around for quite a while even back then and it had an interesting idea: each character had d3 Destiny points at character creation. When the player spent one they could literally say what happened next, no dice roll required. The DM could throw in a few permanent scars or villains who mysteriously escape, but overall the DM could not overrule what you said happened. As a player I used one to jump my horse over a small canyon to escape a gang of bandits. The DM had my horse die but I managed to catch a small tree root on the other side and pull myself up, receiving a crossbow shot that took my forearm off at the elbow; but now I had a cool steammagic artificial arm made for me by the grateful town wizard!

Sweet.

So I figured that's what we needed to make dangerous RPG settings playable. The basics of it were that you got to split your character points at creation up between the usual stats as well as a 7th "Fate attribute." Fate would determine how many Fate points you got per adventure / level / etc., and could be spent to essentially break the rules. Not spending ANY fate points on an adventure got you a 15% XP bonus, so we would keep a stimulus to try to survive on your wits alone.

Contrary to many other house rules we made up, the system worked! Suddenly the player, not the GM got to decide exactly how lenient the rules would be for them, with the trade off being lower beginning attributes. The Die Hards could still start their character at zero fate, spend their extra attribute points on enormous strengths and dexes, but if the dice killed them; they died, no excuses.

It worked fabulously. Suddenly the kid-gloves were off of the GM, encounters became a lot more 'real' instead of handed to us on a silver platter. Clever use of Fate points at key decisive moments made the "movie" we were all acting out always come through with great moments and fun. Villains now had a mechanic where they could realize that their "luck had run out" and they had better escape to villainize another day. Yet the players still got a great sense of accomplishment since they knew they depleted the bad guy of his fate points, and if he had not escaped, they woudl have surely had him. Furthermore, each time the players cornered him his Fate total would be a little less. It even as a side-effect resulted in an entire new "character class" where a character had very mundane stats but was supernaturally lucky. Sort of like Long shot from the old Marvel comics. And to top it all off we now had a way to decide who that elven sniper attacked first: the character with the lousiest Fate!

d20 Star Wars includes a primitive fate system with their Force points (took WotC long enough, WHFRP has been around for almost 20 years), but all they do is add the tiniest bit to die rolls, or auto stabilize. Its not really fleshed out very much. What we did all those years ago was a bit more extensive: (this is literally the chart we made copied from our 20 page house rule set)

FATE POINT USAGE
ONE POINT
  • Receive a hint/premonition
  • Re-roll any die roll:
  • Auto-stabilize bleeding wounds one category
  • Downgrade any lethal wound to injured and at 0 hit points (unconscious)
TWO POINTS
  • Downgrade any lethal wound to wounded and at 1 hit point (conscious)
  • Heal 33% of your stamina, and ignore pain for the rest of the encounter
  • Declare a natural 15 on any die roll
MORE POINTS
  • Alter any attack to a clean miss when possible (ie not a nuclear explosion) 3 fate points
  • Declare a natural 20 on any die roll 4 fate points
  • Spontaneously execute a magical spell, even if you are not a mage 5 fate points
  • (subject to GM approval of course)
I can't encourage enough for you to incorporate a Fate system of your own design into your games. We had a blast doing so. Please share with me if you have had any similar ideas or mechanics of your own that you use for D&D or other d20 games.

P.S. I think Tom Hanks has a really high Fate score.Back in college, as I watched Saving Private Ryan in the theater, it dawned on me that the difference between good intentions and true heroes is only one thing: LUCK.

May 13, 2009

Interview with Robert Daneri of HeroForge Software

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I was fortunate to be included in the closed-beta test of the latest version of HeroForge, a character building application designed for maximum flexibility and customization for 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons. Recently, I was also fortunate to get an exclusive interview with Robert Daneri, the Lead Programming Developer and President of HeroForge Software, LLC.

[TCM] OK, many people in the gaming community already know about Heroforge 3E; but what is Heroforge 4E and how will it compete with character builder and other tools from D&D Insider?

[Robert] For those that might not know HeroForge or what it does, HeroForge more than a character builder, but a complete Character Management System for use with 4E D&D. For those familiar with the Excel version of HeroForge for 3.5, the 4E is a actual stand alone application and not an Excel spreadsheet. I think that we have created something that any D&D player of 4E will find very useful and feature rich, especially if they are the type of user that likes to create custom content.

Our goal with the new application is not to replace or compete with anything players are currently using like D&DI really, but to be an additional tool in the RPG tool box. Sometimes you just need a different or bigger hammer. HeroForge Software has always stood by the fact that our software will never replace the need to own the books you use to play the game. There are a lot of good apps out there for 4E, and we feel the new HeroForge will stand in that category as well.

[TCM] Are there any plans to extend Heroforge beyond the PC? For instance, there's been several poorly executed attempts at making character builder software for iPhones and other mobile apps; any plans for such an extension for HF?

[Robert] Yes there is plans to have a form of HeroForge that can work on iPhones, Blackberry, Android, etc. As for how soon I can’t really be sure yet. I am one of those type of players that want to have the use of HeroForge at the table on my laptop or PDA. That was the reason I designed the Buffs tab in the Excel version of HeroForge for 3.5. This is also the reason we have designed a nice feature in the current version known as the Combat Control Console. So players and DM’s can use laptops at the table and can track their characters needed stats during combat. You can account for damage and healing, temp HP, etc. I believe that users that have laptops at the table will really appreciate this feature. Plus as I said before we hope to soon have a similar feature for PDA/Smartphones.

[TCM]Wizards of the Coast is known for being the 800-lb gorilla of the RPG gaming industry, especially when it comes to protecting their intellectual property. Given that several websites have been shut down recently as a result of WotC actions, from a legal standpoint how do you plan to position Heroforge?

[Robert] Well, legal positioning is best left to the lawyers, and it seems that nobody doing anything 4E these days really knows where they stand when it comes to what WotC will or won’t do. I guess that seems to be the big question these days doesn’t it? I think all any of us can do is place our work out there and see what happens. Hope for the best and if they come knocking with the big bad C&D go from there. But a C&D isn’t the end all of things. That is just one step in a process.

When we first decided to take HeroForge to the 4E system, we traveled to D&D XP 2008 and met with Scott Rouse and Chris Perkins about the idea of a WotC/HeroForge collaboration. We told them what we had in mind with making D&DI and HeroForge work together. After a few emails back and forth between Scott and myself we were told that a collaboration wasn’t in the cards at that time and after they get the Gold Edition of D&DI out then maybe. But we were also told in those email to “forge forward”, Scott’s words not mine. So we have done just that. We have been watching what has been happening and what other companies are doing with 4E that so far seem to be ok.

I mean really in the end all this C&D business that has been happening is really hurting the fans of the game most by taking away options for them to play it their way. RPG’s themselves are full of options, that is what the game is about. Playing it with the options you want to use. I feel the same about the tools you use to play RPG’s. I mean what if you could only buy one color or size of dice? What if there was only one brand or look of mini to use? I don’t think it would be the same.

[TCM] Sounds good, please let us know if there are any developments! Hopefully we'll see HF have a long and happy life in the company of the 800-lb gorilla. Looking back though, how did you get started with Heroforge anyway?

[Robert] I founded the HeroForge Excel character generator back in 2004 when I started playing Living Greyhawk. At the time it didn’t have a lot of content but I saw huge potential for expansion to its power. So I started learning how to be a better Excel programmer to add to it with the help of good friend of mine David Castelli. Over the next year David and I became the Lead Developers of the Excel sheet. When WotC announced 4E, we decided that Excel was to limited for what we wanted to do. So we decided to create an actual application that could run on most any operating system and not require any third party software to use. Hence the HeroForge Character Management System was born. Also by creating an actual application, we can expand HeroForge into other game systems and not only be known for D&D content.

[TCM] Sounds very promising. You are no doubt headed in the right direction, but OGL/d20 games benefit from all using the same basic mechanics, class systems, feats, skills, etc. 4E D&D however presents an interesting change of style - character generation is somewhat like a talent tree, which is very different at its core from 3E and related games. For instance, there's been a lot of buzz lately about Savage Worlds and it's extensible, genre-free system. Is Heroforge really adaptable enough to easily accommodate other game systems? Or are you just referring to d20 games here?

[Robert] The great thing about using a stand-alone programming language to do the new HeroForge and not say Excel, is that we can add anything from any system we want. It doesn’t matter if it is d20, d6, d100, etc. It all comes down to the app loading up the proper interface and knowing how to handle the rules. We really at this point have no limit to what game systems we can have the app utilize. We would love the opportunity to work with any willing game publisher out there big or small that has a need for a character management system. We feel that anyone who plays a table top RPG and deals with a characters career, would love to make that job easier. I have played many games and the less time I have to spend leveling and adding to my character means more game time. Plus if I can speed up game play at the table that means more adventure per game session too. HeroForge has the capacities under the hood to do both for any system we throw at it.

[TCM] Heroforge 3E was a great success, but in transitioning to the latest version of D&D - what was the biggest challenge in developing Heroforge 4E? What parts of the current version of Heroforge do you think are the most mature or stable? Of the features that still exhibit a need for additional development; what areas of the code base will you be focusing on most in the coming months?

[Robert] The biggest challenge was designing HeroForge so that the non-programmers of the RPG community could easily create and add custom content and have the app handle all the mechanical effects number-wise, with little or no need for the use of overrides. As for stability, I feel that the main 4E mechanic is solid. There are still parts of the “Customization” area of the app that could use a little work. The problem is that there is no way to truly account for everything that someone might want to create. So our goal is to allow for as much customization as possible without actually changing the basic core mechanic of the game system.

[TCM] So, I take it that Heroforge will be THE software app for people who are interested in homebrew or heavily house-ruled games. Can you give us any specific examples of something highly customized that HF might be able to easily handle?

[Robert]
If your group is a home brew or house-ruled type then yes HeroForge will definitely meet you needs. Our #1 goal from day one was to make it possible for users to add just about anything custom one can think of. Races, Classes, Powers, Feats, Gear, Magic Items, etc. The list of customizable parts of the app is extensive. But the great thing is that we made it so that users won’t need to write scripts or code in any way to make the numbers work all the way through the app with your custom content.

[TCM] On a side note - how much "fluff" can Heroforge accommodate? Can people attach portraits, character descriptions, and campaign notes to their characters? Is there any import/export capacity to work with DDI or Obsidian Portal?

[Robert] You can upload art for your character (none will be included with the app by default). The final product will have a full featured game log but right now that feature is still in the final stages of development. As far as import/export from or to other apps, we have some things in the works along those lines.

[TCM] When can fans of Heroforge expect to see an Open BETA?

[Robert] We hope to have an Open Beta released of the Windows version of the app to the users of our Forums by the middle of this month. Early June at the very latest. So to access the Open Beta, one will need to sign up for a Forum account at www.heroforgesoftware.com to get the most up to date news.

[TCM] That sounds awesome! I'm sure people will be looking forward to tinkering around with it. How long do you expect the BETA test to run for? And, more importantly, have you decided on a pricing model for Heroforge once the software is "done"?

[Robert] As of now we plan to run the Open Beta for a 30 day period and then if more time is needed we will go from there. As for pricing… we haven’t locked that aspect down 100% yet but we hope to determine that by what the Open Beta users have to say. It really depends on what the users feel it is worth to them. People already pay enough for the games they play and we don’t want to be priced out of reach, but at this point we have heard from beta testers that it is at least worth $20-$30.

On a side note to this and speaking for me only, it’s really not about the money, I do this more for the love of the hobby and the love I have for the community that gave me this opportunity. I am a firm believer in the saying, “The needs of the many, outweigh the needs of the few or the one.” I live by it daily. I have taken that approach to my role with HeroForge. I want HeroForge to be a program that can be used by the advanced RPG player and the newcomer alike. I also believe that all Table top RPG gamers not just D&D gamers deserve to have a great tool to use for their games. Hence why I want to see HeroForge someday be the “One Forge to Rule Them All” and offer many other game systems as we move forward. But for now I encourage all the 4E players to come sign up for a forums account at www. heroforgesoftware.com and try the Open Beta and tell us what you think.

Well, that's about it folks! This is the first interview to land on the pages of The Core Mechanic; hope you enjoyed it. If you are looking for screenshots and more info on getting involved with Heroforge 4E, then follow the link!!!

May 12, 2009

Portraits of a Villain - Morgan Le Fay

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" A veil has been lifted from our eyes, and now I see the horrifying truth and know now what we are meant to protect. I could heal the sick and mend the broken, but now all my icy hands will deliver is death to those who seek to lift this veil from the eyes of others." - Morgan Le Fey after sending her child Mabon to the Kingdom of Annwyn.
Original artwork, "Sir Mordred", by Hugo Solis, exclusively for The Core Mechanic. Looking for quality illustrations for your latest project? Visit Hugo's Gallery and get in touch.

BACKGROUND

Morgan was born the daughter of Lady Igraine and Gorlois, The Duke of Cornwall. After her father was murdered by Uther Pendragon, her mother had her sent to a convent on The Isles of Scilly to be educated and kept away from the lecherous eyes of Uther. Once there, Morgan discovered she had natural affinity for the earth, the sky, and the sea. She also met the fey druid Gallendenel there, who trained her in the "natural arts". Her master revealed to her The Veil, and through this she discovered that she was made from fey as well, not from flesh. This was a surprising and rather puzzling revelation to them both, especially as Gallendenel had never met a feyborn who was not aware of their true nature, and he encouraged her to seek out the truth at any cost. Through her training, Morgan grew closer to Gallendenel and eventually the pair had a child together in secret. Fearing that she would be banished from the convent, the elder druid took their son, Mabon, to the Kingdom of Annwn, a place safe behind The Veil. Soon after Gallendenel left, however, Morgan was forced from the convent and sent to be the bride of King Urien of Rheged as part of political arrangement arranged by her step-father, Uther Pendragon. Unable to escape, she left the Isles of Scilly swearing to return to find the path to Annwn so that she might rejoin her son Mabon.

Time passed, and although a marriage between Morgan and Urien was one of convenience, the couple managed to produce twins - a son Owain and a daughter Morvydd - mainly because of Morgan's desire to cultivate her feyborne bloodline. Soon after her children's birth, she presented them to her mother Ingrain and demanded an explanation for their feyborn nature (now revealed). Igraine confessed: Morgan's murdered father, Gorlois, was was also feyborne and was known to some as The Hidden King of Annwn.

MOTIVATION

Morgan Le Fay wants nothing more than to preserve The Veil and the protection it affords the feyborne of Annwyn. She is an enchantress with a long arm, having lovers in several important courts throughout Britain - including Accolon, a prince from Gododin, who sits at the round table in Arthur's court. Through her spies, she plots to destroy anyone who discovers The Viel. She is convinced that knowledge of it is not meant for the flesh as it only corrupts those who know of it. She knows that the king (Arthur) is aware of The Veil and has commissioned a search for powerful relics aimed at opening it. Because of this, she has decided her half-brother must die in the name of the "greater good" and has hatched several plots aimed at unseating him and destroying his band of questing knights.

Morgan is also heavily involved in promoting and training an ever expanding network of druids and other feyborn sympathizers. Not quite an Elder Druid herself, she is also trying to find the path back to Anwnn so that she can be reunited with her fey child Mabon and  Gallendenel.

Adventure Hooks

Morgan Le Fay, and her network of spies and apprentice druids, could be adapted into any existing fantasy campaign that might suite a "villain with a cause"; the cause in this case being the absolute control of access and knowledge of The Viel, or any other powerful arcane insight (e.g. planar travel, specific rituals, or other types of magic). The possibilities are endless, but here are three hooks that might fit a typical "bog fantasy" campaign setting in 4th Edition D&D.
  1. The Burning Book (Heroic Tier) - The PCs discover a Burning Book while on a previous adventure whose flames are quenched by the touch of anyone with fey blood. The book is written in a language non of the party members understand, so they bring it to a feyborne scholar who might serve to unravel the mysteries within. Upon reading the book, however, the scholar explains that the book is either the ramblings of a madman or a relic of great value - as it describes The Veil and how ordinary people might reveal its mysteries. He asks to study the book for a longer time, but instead steals it and flees the village.  A chase follows, but the scholar - a  warlock, likely evades capture. Searching the hill sides in the surrounding country, the party discovers a network of Time passes, rumours of a burning book
  2. Durendel, The King Maker (Paragon Tier) -  The PCs set out to find a holy relic: the sword known as Durendel, a weapon that cuts through the veil for any brave soul that weilds it. This mythical weapon is believed to have been once belonged to Hector of Troy, and was later used in the suicide of Ajax the Great. The weapon fell into the hands of the infamous Roman general Agricola but was lost "to goblins from the fey" during the conquest of Caledonia. After nearly four centuries, rumours of the sword's whereabouts resurface and the king (Arthur) commissions the PCs to retrieve the weapon. After a long journey, and several battles with Morgan's druids along the way, the PCs finally discover the weapon is buried in a series of Celtic burial caves. Upon arrival they are met by Morgan herself, who attempts to stop them from obtaining the sword.
  3. The Curtain of Shadows (Epic Tier) - After years of searching, Morgan's son Owain discovers the Celtic Godsrune - a powerful and ancient artifact that can open a portal to Annwyn. With the stone in hand, Morgan immediately gets to work preparing the long and difficult ritual needed to open the road to Annwyn. She ultimately fails, however, and in doing so rips a tear in the fabric of The Veil. From this gap an army of feyborne creatures come crawling out from The Otherworld and eventually overtake Morgan and her entourage at her fortress on Mount Snowdon. The king recieves news of this event and sends an army led by the PCs to surround the castle and contain the threat. Eventually, one of the PCs receives a plee for help from Morgan by way of a messenger bird - who begs for her life and explains that the only way to close the rift is to cast the Godsrune back into it. The PCs must then venture into the overrun castle, find the Godsrune, close the rift and possibly spare Morgan's life in the process.

4E Statblock




    • Level 12 Elite Controller
    • Morgan Le Fey
    • Medium Fey Humanoid (Druid)
    • XP 1400
    • Initiative +12
    • Senses Perception +16, Insight +11
    • HP 214; Bloodied 107
    • AC 26; Fortitude 26, Reflex 24, Will 28
    • Saving throws+5 vs. Charm, +2 vs. All
    • Speed 7
    • Action points1
    • Chill Wind (standard; at-will) •Cold, Implement, Primal
    • Area burst 1 within 10; +11 vs. Fortitude; 1d6 +3 cold damage the target slides 1 square.
    • Call of the Fey (standard; at-will) •Charm, Implement, Primal, Psychic
    • Area burst 1 within 10 squares; +14 vs. Will; The target can't gain combat advantage until the end of Morgan Le Fey's next turn. In addition, on its next turnthe target takes 10 psychic damage when it makes any attack that doesn't include your ally nearest to it as a target.
    • Tundra Wind (standard; encounter) •Cold, Implement, Primal
    • Close Blast 3; +14 vs. Fortitude; 2d6 + 8 cold damage and the target is pushed 3 squares and knocked prone.
    • Ensorcelled Mind (standard; encounter) •Charm
    • Ranged 5; +18 vs. Will. Until the end of Morgan Le Fay's next turn, the target can't attackher. In addition, when any creature within the target'sreach hits or misses Morgan Le Fay, the target makes a melee basic attack against that creature as a free action, with a +2 bonus to the attack roll.
    • Sunbeam (standard; daily) •Implement, Primal, Radiant
    • Area 1 within 10 squares; +14 vs. Will; The target is blinded (save ends). Aftereffect: 1d10 +5 radiant damage. Miss: 1d10 +5 radiant damage.
    • Winter Storm (standard; daily) •Primal, Zone
    • Area burst 2 within 10 squares; The burst creates a zone of difficult terrain that lasts until the end of Morgan Le Fay's next turn. While within the zone, any enemy gains vulnerable 5 cold. She can end the zone as a minor action. Sustain Minor: The zone persists, and she canincrease its size by 1 to a maximum of burst 5.
    • Morgan's Fey Escape (immediate interrupt; daily) •Teleportation
    • When an enemy enters a square adjacent to Morgan Le Fay, she can teleport 5 squares. She also gains combat advantage against the enemy until the end of her next turn.
    • Align. Unaligned
    • Lang. Common, Primordial
    • Skills Arcana +15, Heal +16, Nature +16
    • Str 11 (+6)
    • Dex 14 (+8)
    • Wis 20 (+11)
    • Con 16 (+9)
    • Int 14 (+8)
    • Cha 18 (+10)
    • Equipment Magic Hide Armor +3, Cape of Mountebank +2, Autumn Harvest Totem +3
    • Created with DungeonMastering.com's DM Tools


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May 11, 2009

Shock and Horrific Deeds in RPG's

4 comments:
Torture and Rape isn't touched on much in games, and for good reason, gaming is about fun escape and dealing with such horrific concepts always lies outside people's comfort zones. More than that though, gaming is fantasy, and normal sane people don't fantasize about such things. To do so harkens back to the early 1980's during the height of gaming paranoia and Tom Hanks starred in a disgustingly misinformed movie called Mazes and Monsters. Rest assured there are dozens and dozens of wrong ways to game out such horrific deeds, methods that will inevitably cause player alienation and more often than not kill a game, however I've experienced games where such storytelling devices were used to create compelling and provocative stories. These stories were certainly not comfortable, but they were extremely memorable.

To me the most memorable sessions were the ones where the trials were unexpected and actually challenging, they were also the ones that deeply impacted my character. Often I finished the game session upset, annoyed, or spitting mad, and occasionally I left a game in shock. Most of this was because of one female GM who has a cruel streak. Her secret? Make the players care, and then sunder that which they cared about in the most graphic way possible. Nothing was sacred to her, no NPC was immune to her destructive whim, no law of reality could not be bent or broken to shatter the PC's illusions. Sometimes she took these shocking tactics too far, but sometimes too far was best.

I've experienced the horror my character sitting helpless in a prison cell nearly overcome by his personal demons while his soul mate in the next cell over - a pillar of support in a trying time - was gasping incoherently because her tongue was cut out in a torture session she'd just been returned to her cell from...

Another session my character was restrained and forced to watch another friend become drugged and sexually assaulted by a lecherous god because this was his "process" which he used to instill her with oracular ability. This oracle would go on to help us find out pivotal information that we needed. But my character had to come to terms with the fact that the information recieved was gotten at such a cost. He wanted to discard it, but that would have made his friend's sacrifice all for nothing...

Sessions like those were far from the most fun I've ever had in role-playing, but they taught me things about myself and developed my character in unexpected ways. When I started, the character was someone I envisioned like one of the badasses I'd seen in gritty movies like Sin City, while those experiences turned him into something that was completely different than that vision, the result was far more legitimate.

I can't say that I was always ready for the sorts of horrific scenarios that I've been subjected to in some of these games. I don't think anyone is really 'ready' if they actually do care about their characters. This is why Game Masters who do these things need to know their groups. There needs to be balance in the tone, players don't come to care about their characters if good things never happen to them, and if they don't care then the horrifics won't mean anything. A game should never be horrible all the time or there simply won't be any fun to draw players back.

One element I cannot stress enough is flexibility when dealing with this kind of storytelling. Absolutes and extremism mixed create very bad things. An example of this is the Carcossa Supplement V which was a blogger-made game that featured Cthonic gods and black horror. One of the controversial points of the game was that there were spells written with listed prerequisites involving Podiatry, sacrificing babies and similar heinous acts. I've examined what was behind the writer's motivations for creating such disgusting content, and while from a setting purist's stance I do see some degree of justification, everything I know about gaming tells me this sort of thing will not play out enjoyably. Even if players and Game Masters alike can get past the distasteful nature of the content, the gameplay will never end up as intended because the system utilizes D&D's inflexible alignment mechanics.

I'll tone down the subject matter to something more acceptable and relatable as I explain. We're all familiar with Star Wars' light force dark force concepts, where the dark force offers great power and thus tempts the Jedi to use it and fuel himself by doing dark acts. This is great compelling story and character development material, but is wrecked when one includes inflexible morality mechanics such as the ones that appear in D&D.

Alignment mechanics as they sit in D&D begin to break immersion when a player goes to the extreme ends of them. You get players that start doing stupid things "because my character is evil" rather than looking at the simple question of why is that character evil? Morality isn't black and white, especially when you consider that ethics and morality aren't the same thing. World of Darkness takes a different approach and makes morality a fluid stat that can be raised or lowered based on the PC's decisions, thus you can see a slide into darkness or a quest to redeem himself. The mechanic offers incentive to RP correctly but doesn't force anything because it's flexible. An inflexible mechanic forces the Player to contrive a reason why his character acts the way the Alignment says he does, rather than letting the player decide how to play his character on his own. In the case of the light-force/dark-force temptation an inflexible mechanic offers no incentive to stay good, or feel the strain of that slip into darkness, the player just makes a conscious decision to become a dark Jedi because they get the cool powers he wants and that's that.

Certainly role-playing horrific deeds can be accomplished independent of subtle mechanics, but absent those mechanics introducing heinous acts as prerequisites for great power suddenly becomes a personal issue and is in fact enforcing certain behaviors where the only check or balance is the players and GM's own distaste for such material. Absent flexible morality mechanics, a game that has a power or spell requiring a horrific act - be it something to appease dark gods or tap the dark side of the force - you have a number of reactions occurring:

• The GM will disregard the requisites as distasteful and choose to run the game without such content.
• A player will either be disgusted and refuse to play, or apathetic and if he wants to cast that spell he'll make a character that "has to be this evil bastard, because that's what I need to cast the spell".
• Or the player is somehow intrigued by the concept of such a thing and wants to play it out.

All of these reactions miss the mark on what the intent of the component was meant to play out like. It doesn't instill the proper mindset and inevitably breaks the immersion of the game as both players and GM's alike have to decide not only what is appropriate for the game table but how their characters should feel. No game designer aims for this scenario, and it's certainly not a game mechanic I would ever want to play in, yet I've said before that I've found compelling stories based around similar concepts, so what's the difference?

The difference comes from allowing that internal conflict to flourish and become part of the character one is role-playing. This is accomplished by having variance in the mechanics showing a slipping slope of moral certainty, but also by granting benefits and drawbacks to a particular moral stance. In the world of Star Wars, wielding the power of the dark force was theoretically set to decay the Jedi's body, in the World of Darkness, monsters deprived of their humane side become more frightening and harder to blend in. In Exalted a character's virtues don't necessarily orient his moral compass but allow him to excel in the things that are backed by the strength of his convictions. These sorts of systems of flexibility combined with mechanical incentives and drawbacks allow games to survive horrific stories without breaking immersion and hopefully without making anyone so uncomfortable that they leave the game.

Ultimately that's what this is all about: the story. In basic literature we're taught that among the key conflicts is man vs. self. Horrific acts are stimulated by man vs. man conflict, but the character must resolve the implications of such acts in the theatre of his own mind. Perhaps in his struggles he will fail and become the villain. Or hopefully he will be raised by his own convictions and the aid of his allies to become a hero once again, thus making him that much greater.

As an advocate of balance in all things, I think that characters that accomplish great deeds should sometimes endure great hardships, both physical and emotional, else their greatness might become hollow. So maybe if you're a GM that has a strong repoiré with your players, maybe try going outside of everyone's comfort zone and see what the results are, they might surprise you.