Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Wasted

Or in certain circles, parlance for being drunk off your ass. As I am now. Actually, I suppose this could simply be the worst hangover I've ever experienced in my life, but I'm still not sober so it's hard to say. But, in the name of science, I abused alcohol to bring this post to you. I didn't plan it that way, it just happened; hopefully you appreciate my sacrifice. Before I delve into the true purpose of this post, what is it about me that attracts the fatties at 1AM on a Tuesday night? Why do they feel the need to openly express their interest when all I want to do is pound some shots of Jamesons? One girl of Rubenesque proportions went out of her way to make me try her shitty Jamesons substitute which I promptly dismissed as unacceptable. Thankfully, some guys drunker than I jumped on that grenade which allowed me to drink in peace and strive for my nirvana of passing out on my buddy's couch while attempting to discuss 80s/early 90s wrestling gimmicks. He didn't remember the Fake Razor Ramon, which is possibly on purpose due to his being a major Scott Hall fan. I guess some people just blot out parts of their childhood which are intensely stupid in all ways. Getting back to the fatties, I was once asked for my "ideal female body type", but my answer was met with much derision. Why ask if you simply want me to say "yours, of course"? I'm not so ignorant to completely miss the point of that question, but sorry, fat girls, a drunk me is not the person to ask anything of unless you want a direct, somewhat salacious reply. And the answer is Keira Knightley if you're wondering; flat-chested brunettes are simply at the top of my list and she exemplifies this type. In the immortal words of the Sex Pistols, never mind the bullocks, let's get on with this crap...

So, you're running a game, perhaps D&D (I almost always use D&D examples, which is fine because I like D&D, but maybe I should use something else at some point). Okay, after typing out that parenthetical statement, I decided to use BRP as my basis. So you're running BRP and one of the players says he wants his character to get drunk. In my years of gaming, I've noticed that it's far more fun for me to actually get drunk than have my character do that simply because that's something I can easily do in real life, unlike killing orcs with a club. I remember not that long ago playing in a campaign with a variety of people, one of which was a fatty who started sending me emails, hitting on me. See? That intro stuff was relevant. Anyway, she expressed her displeasure of drinking one session which of course led me to show up drunk to the next one, pounding a 6-pack of Miller High Life during the game. The emails became less frequent, problem solved. Fuck, I need to stop doing a Finnegan's Wake revival here and get to the point. OKAY SO, character drunk. If you've ever consumed far too much alcohol (which is honestly fun from time to time) you know the repercussions can be disastrous, depending on the circumstances. They're also generally hilarious if it happens to someone else. I know you don't care but I only drank so much last night because I did an insaneo workout at the gym and my traps were on fire so I needed to quench the flames of CNS and muscle discomfort with the soothing hand of my mistress Martini with a Twist. Yes, I do like gin quite a bit, and it's funny to see the looks I get rolling into a somewhat decent place dressed like a hobo, imbibing a drink prepared for a true gent. Then I hit the shots. I'm around 1/4 Irish, but I seriously am channeling Joyce right now with this nonsense. Character drunk. Roll on table below to see what happens. There we go...

D12 because I like the D12 and it gets no love:
  1. Wake up in alley, covered in vomit, presumably yours. (You can't dust for vomit)
  2. Strip naked at some point. Clothing is forever lost.
  3. Shit pants, smell lingers for days.
  4. Awake to the sounds of obese woman cooking breakfast whilst in her bed.
  5. Face has new and interesting doodles.
  6. Decide to get into a fight with professional MMA fighter. Hospital..?
  7. Overnight jail stint, replete with attempted rape.
  8. Pass out on couch at 9PM, miss stuff everyone else discusses for years.
  9. End up at ex-girlfriend's house. 50% chance of sleeping with her.
  10. Four hour argument over trivial minutiae resulting in fist fight.
  11. Try to contact everyone you know, especially women you shouldn't.
  12. Discover random, inexplicable injuries.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

V8 Interceptor



I suppose this is just a cheapass way to discuss post-apocalyptic media, specifically Mad Max. When I was a kid, I must have watched The Road Warrior and Mad Max fifty times apiece one summer. Like most young boys growing up in Texas, I already had a growing interest in fast cars, guns and motorcycles. Smokey and the Bandit sparked a desire to be a long haul trucker, but it was Max who made me want to drive the rig through a barren wasteland, fighting off hordes of bikers. As I got older, I began to realize that the "pockyclipse" wasn't getting here anytime soon, so aspirations for running a biker gang of my own never came to fruition. I did, however, get proficient shooting shotguns, fixing cars and riding bikes. I'm a fair diesel mechanic now, and could probably patch together a truck if I had to. Welding really isn't a strong suit, but I could get by in a pinch. For the better part of two years, I thought almost daily about getting some solid-core tires for my Suburban "just in case". Bolting on steel plates was always in the back of my mind. The real problem here is how glamorized things are in the movies. How much would it suck to be in a world like that? I saw The Road last year, and I can safely say I have no desire to be in that situation. Further, that situation is a lot closer to reality than driving cool cars and getting into shoot-outs. Scrounging for food would be a way of life, not mere annoyance.

Yesterday I got a peek inside a state-of-the-art data center. Lots of computers and cooling systems, battery backups, generators...all that sort of shit. A normal person might walk through such a facility and think, wow, there sure are a lot of computers here. After we passed through the third security check point (complete with retinal scanner) I started looking over my shoulder for terminators. At one point, I asked where the liquid nitrogen was, and started to feel naked without my gun. Better safe than sorry, right?

I wonder what would be better...Mad Max apocalypse, Terminator apocalypse or Zombie apocalypse. In the latter two cases, there is all sorts of crazy shit trying to kill you, but at least you have some idea who the enemy is. In the former case, EVERYONE is trying to kill you, but at least they gotta sleep and eat. It's a difficult question to answer, but I'm going to go with the Australian dystopian future because I already have a motorcycle, leathers and a shotgun.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Therianthropy

Why do we use the term lyncanthropy in roleplaying games (specifically D&D), when we really mean therianthropy? It would be better to say ailuranthropy when talking about weretigers. Wererats are prime examples of theriocephalists in that they have a form that shares human and animal traits simultaneously.

Related to D&D terms, here's an article that discusses the neologisms created by Gygax for the game.

Unicron

Peripherally related to Unicron...



Why hasn't there ever been a published Transformers rpg? It'd probably suck, but surely someone has thought of it about a million times, right? Almost all the anime-style giant robot games assume there's a pilot. I suppose you could just give the robots themselves character traits...maybe something like HERO or GURPS could do it, but those are way too rules-heavy for fast paced rpg based on an action cartoon. I'd really like to replay this scene in a roleplaying environment and have Optimus win. Hasbro killed him off in the movie simply to make way for a new line of toys, but they didn't expect massive backlash from hordes of kids who literally despised the film due to his death. My cousin cried, if I remember correctly. I'm really wondering why Megatron was a stupid spaceship in the live-action movies as opposed to a gun. It's kind of dumb that he turns into a pistol when everyone else is a Ferrari or F-15, but hey, that's his schtick, why mess with it? Even as Galvatron he transformed into a cannon of some sort. Is this turning into a fanboy rant? In all seriousness, how would you do a proper Transformers rpg campaign? What sort of rules would work the best?

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Why play AD&D

...if you're just going to house-rule it into 3/4th edition D&D? Seriously, I don't get some of those responses. Yes, scrap weapon speeds and adjustments to armor class, most people do that. But the rest of that crap...why not just play one of those other games? I'm not a big fan of attribute checks for AD&D, really. That seems more like the DM's responsibility to decide. The DM certainly might choose to roll to randomize it, but not the players. As stated before countless times on this blog, the players should be left in the dark about stuff. The ideal situation would simply be Black Box interaction with the referee where they get to roll zero dice, but that can be a bit excessive at times. Plus, I tried that before and it was a pain in the ass to keep track of everyone's hit points, weapon modifiers, etc. But still, most of that stuff should be secret.

Will someone please explain to these people that NOT knowing what's going on is 90% of the fun?

Free games are better than for-pay games

Here's an example: 0 A.D.

Yeah, it's Alpha right now, but look at those screenshots...I thought Age of Empires II was one of the best RTS games ever made, this will essentially be AOE2 on crack. And free! I linked to a bunch of free boardgame implementations yesterday, and I play most of them. It's surprising what someone can do when motivated only by the love of the work itself. Rpgs like Labyrinth Lord and Swords & Wizardry are prime examples of this. LL is better than D&D4 (it is, seriously), yet the basic game is free. Here are a couple more free games that are damn good:

FreeCiv - Civilization
FreeCol - Colonization
FreeOrion - Master of Orion
LinCity - SimCity
Egoboo - Rogue/MMO amalgam
MegaMek - Battletech simulator (I play this all the time)
Hedgewars - Worms
Widelands - Settlers
Thousand Parsec - Another MoO

TMNT

Here's my T post...I thought of doing "t-bag", but that might be a little over the top. So instead, I'm going to talk about some random TMNT crap.

First of all, I like the original comics AND the old cartoon. They're related in the sense that both feature anthropomorphic, talking turtles who practice ninjutsu, but otherwise worlds apart. There's been a couple new cartoon shows, but the original one is the best. That's right, even with the ridiculous dialogue (cowabunga, anyone), and the utter lack of weapons use, it's a good show. How they became so enamored with pizza is anyone's guess, but that shit was marketed on a level that will probably never be approached in my lifetime. 25 YEARS later, you can still find TMNT on anything you can think of. And people still buy it. I suppose it's the same for Superman, Batman, Spiderman, etc. What kid doesn't want a Spiderman-themed birthday party? Next year, TMNT-themed.

Now, the comic on the other hand...quite frankly, it destroys any "gritty" crap Marvel came out with in the 80s and 90s. Yeah, yeah, Punisher fanboys are screaming at me right now...so what. The TMNT would have kicked his ass. In the first issue they kill the Shredder, in the second they're battling Baxter Stockman's mousers, and by the fourth and fifth, fighting TCRI aliens and jumping light years across the universe. In a couple more issues, at odds with a literal time-lordish demon. Just a great, great comic with an absurd premise that works incredibly well. I say absurd, but how are mutated turtles any more ridiculous than a character who can heal insanely fast and had adamantium bonded to his bones? Plus, the turtles kill shit. All the time. They stab and flay and totally fuck up anyone who gets in their way. One of them is a computer programmer nerd ninja...another one is a marginal psychopath with sociopathic tendencies. Somehow they work on the same team.

The movies...I'll admit I was the first in line to see the original. I was not pleased. The second I saw at the dollar theater and tried my best to ignore the Vanilla Ice rap. It wasn't on the same level as something like Mac and Me's McDonald's dance sequence, but was still pretty awful. At least they picked a better looking actress to be April O'Neil. What's humorous to me is that in the comics, April is probably mulatto or something and Stockman is a black dude, but in the cartoons and movies they're both white. I suppose it doesn't matter, but Black Baxter was such a kickass villain compared to the dorky nerd they had in the cartoon. It was like making Lex Luthor into Harpo Marx or something. Comic relief for its own sake. So then the third movie comes out and I didn't see that piece of crap and probably never will because it looked stupid as hell. First of all, ninjas dressed as samurai? I heard they don't even fight, which is dumb as it gets. The animated TMNT movie that came out a few years ago, I was actually surprised; it was decent, almost good. Another one is slated for this or next year, maybe it'll be better.

What I'd like to see is an animated series based purely on the original comics. Maybe up to issue 20. That's a good two-three years worth of shows right there, and it would be awesome. "Not for kids", even though as a kid I would have loved every second of it. Ditch the rainbow colored headbands (they're all red, by the way...and the comic is black-and-white, which means you had to use context to tell which turtle was which, meaning their personalities were extremely well developed), stupid pizza-loving nonsense and get back to killing Foot and fucking up cross-dimensional entities.

Almost forgot to mention something rpg-related...the Palladium TMNT rpg was literally the second rpg I ever purchased, right after D&D. Say whatever you want about Palladium rpgs in general, this game is pretty damn good. The quirky mutation rules and combat system complement to comics pretty well, and the writing is honestly better than most rpgs I've read since. Transdimensional TMNT is one of my favorite rpg books just because of the inherent weirdness contained within..."And Other Strangeness" is the tagline of the original game, and it fits.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Star Fleet Battles

I've said it a few times, but seriously, this whole alphabet thing is stupid. I realize the intent is to get people motivated to write but, just like diets, those who are already going to succeed don't need crap like this and the failures will drop out before they get halfway through. Next month, I'm going back to writing whatever I want every day, as opposed to coming up with random letter-related topics. Like today...there are a bunch of things that start with S I could write about, but not one of them interest me. But this is a gaming blog, so I shall take the literal sense of that term and extemporize about my favorite game of all time: Star Fleet Battles.

The first wargame I ever played was Gladiator, an Avalon Hill bookcase game. I was around 6 or 7, which meant it was the coolest thing in my world of existence. My parents bought Wizard's Quest around the same time, but I never really got to play it much, something I want to rectify. I found a Windows version of WQ on the internet, but apparently some "pay for download" site had confiscated the file and was charging people for access; is it really that high in demand? Oocities to the rescue. Seriously, fuck those people. I don't understand how you can charge for shit that's not yours and was free distributable not more than a couple years ago. Lawsuit? Come at me, bro.

Sorry about the rant...moving on. I played Titan (which has been digitized as Colossus), Magic Realm (Realmspeak), Car Wars, Supremacy (online version), Squad Leader (VASL), Platoon, Dune (The Dune Emulator), Third Reich (Warplanner), Wizards (Wizards Java App), Civilization, and a ton of other shit I forgot. If it was an Avalon Hill game, chances are I played it at some point. When I was around 14, I had only been playing rpgs for 2 years, but wargames my entire life (I definitely consider myself a "wargamer" as opposed to a "roleplayer"), yet had never encountered Star Fleet Battles (yep, online version). That changed one fateful night at a hangout called The Gamer's Edge. The place was a rented out karate studio, converted into a gaming space where people would congregate at night and on the weekends to play whatever game they wanted. There were weekly Rolemaster games, Civilization tournaments, and plenty of pickup games of all sorts. I usually showed up to play Axis & Allies or some D&D variant. For whatever reason, no one was up for A&A and I was bored, but saw some guys pushing around Star Trek miniatures on a giant hex board. When I say giant, I literally mean 12'x12' at least. It was huge. The minis were awesome, and I certainly did like Star Trek at the time; that was an appealing aspect. The game seemed incredibly complex, which coincided with my wargaming sensibilities, so I asked how one could play. Some of the older guys grew pissed and told me to fuck off, but one of them named Darrell told me if I was interested to watch a few more games and then come back the following weekend. So I did. I absorbed an insane amount of information that night by simply watching two or three games of SFB. If you know anything about the game whatsoever, these were 300-400 BPV games and they took forever to play out. The next weekend, I showed up and Darrell taught SFB 101. He played an Orion CR, I took my first Klingon D7 on its maiden voyage. Darrell was an excellent player, but a CR is no match for a D7 in any possible way, even when played by a complete idiot. I won that first game, and was hooked. In retrospect, I imagine Darrell purposefully played a much weaker ship to provide me with a reasonable advantage due to my lack of skill and understanding, but also because the SFB players were always looking for new blood due to attrition. Had I lost, perhaps he figured I'd never play again. That certainly would not have been the case, but he seemed to be a bit Machiavellian in his approach to things, so I really have no idea what his intent was. I remember clearly a comment he made after the game: "Well, you didn't do anything stupid like fire your weapons too early." The reason being because I didn't understand the firing order, so I was unsure when I could actually fire weapons. What might have looked like skill was blind luck on my part.

Over the course of almost two years, I played SFB nearly every weekend. While I certainly wasn't the best player, I became a rather respected opponent amongst a group of guys who had been playing 10x longer than me. I never kept a running tally, but I'd say I won at least 50% of the time, which isn't too bad. Fleet action was my favorite, one-on-one was a trifle boring, and I despised cutthroat games due to a horrible experience of being gangbanged by three dudes out to prove a point. I suppose the point was "kids can't play this shit", but when three ships are blasting at a single ship of the same BPV, it doesn't matter if you're Stephen Cole or a disheveled hobo off the streets, so I have no idea if their point was proved or not.

In one of my proudest moments, I sold a box of Judge's Guild modules to buy the Doomsday Edition of SFB. I have regretted that decision sometimes because I could have made a lot more money off those modules, but I never regretted getting my own copy of the rules. I must have read through them five or six times over the course of a month, putting off studying calculus and biology. It was literally like reading a textbook, but so much more fulfilling.

I haven't played SFB in almost 10 years, and it sucks. But, honestly, who the hell would want to play besides hardcore SFB fans? The learning curve is steep as it gets (ASL might be as hard...and yes, I love ASL), game play takes forever and there are easier games out there that are arguably just as fun. But as I already stated, I'm a wargamer, which means playing overtly complicated shit is in my blood. Perhaps this is why I am drawn to heavy rpg systems like HERO and GURPS, yet have no desire to actually play them because they fail in their intent. The intent of SFB is to simulate a battle, the intent of HERO is to simulate heroic fantasy or pulp action or whatever. It sucks at its intent compared to D&D, but would make a pretty decent wargame. I like creating HERO characters, pitting them in mock fights against one another, but playing the game as an rpg? Can't see that happening. SFB and all the other wargames I've ever played shaped my views on gaming in general, and for that I'm thankful. I honestly believe that many approaches to rpg design are due to the inability to differentiate between these styles of play. Rpgs require just enough complexity to be interesting, but much less complexity than a game like SFB due to the nature of play. Magic Realm is a fantastic fantasy game that has some roleplaying elements, but can you ever imagine a weekly campaign based on that rules-set? And that's really what it boils down to: a wargame is a finite entity, meant to be played from start to finish, but rpgs are open-ended and can last a long time with no end in sight. Less rules make the open-ended approach easier to achieve. I had an idea for a grandiose Federation & Empire campaign, where all the battles were played out with SFB. Every player picked a race. I'd probably take the Klingons, maybe the LDR. I figured that each turn would probably take a month, with simultaneous battles, upwards of 10-12 hours a week. Fuck that. While it'd be fun for a while, the game would go nowhere fast. Would anyone even last more than a month? The rules are too heavy to sustain any momentum, but a game like D&D can last literally years.

I don't know how to end this, so I'll leave you with an SSD of my favorite SFB ship...

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Recon

Recon: The Roleplaying Game of the Viet Nam War

That's a nice title, isn't it? This was a game that didn't pull any punches whatsoever. It was in no way cinematic; you were dead if a .50 cal hit you, and probably gonna die from a simple knife wound or small arms fire. Just like in real life. You could play a SEAL, Marine Recon, Army LRRP or as part of SOG. The really brave might pick an "Indig", maybe a French-speaking Cambodian or something. Either way, you spoke Vietnamese and therefore were an asset to the rest of the group. Until you sold them out, of course.

The game broke down play into legitimate military action. A preliminary briefing of a mission, insertion into an LZ via chopper, or maybe an airborne drop, followed by a debriefing. After your character got shipped home, you could look for other work as a merc, contracting out services to the CIA or maybe some South American banana republic. There were some pretty good, concise rules for combat, and the hand-to-hand section talked mostly about garroting or stabbing people. Not a lot of "fair play" in war.

The best part of the book has to be the POST-VIETNAM MERCENARY MISSIONS table. My favorite result: "Answered magazine ad in 'Soldier of Fortune'". That's right, after getting shot at for 18 months in the jungle by the VC, your character makes his way back to Kansas or Missouri or wherever, reads a magazine and gives some warlord a phone call. I guess that military pension wasn't paying the bills. Some of the encounter tables are also rather noteworthy. "Three older women gossiping at doorway", "Old man weeding vegetable garden", and even "One young man ('schoolteacher')" with a footnote of "In wartime villages contain only women, children and old men." Like I already said, this game pulled no punches. It was about war, a very real war, still fresh in the minds of a lot of people.

I'm not too sure who this game appealed to, but I always thought it looked rather fun. Unfortunately, my dad would never tell me enough about his tours of duty in Vietnam to ascertain whether or not the game was an accurate depiction of events that transpired. If you're curious about Recon and want to know if you'd be interested in it, here's an image to help with that decision.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Quasi-elemental planes

Well, there aren't a lot of decent subjects that start with Q, so I sort of cheated and picked this one. To start, my ideas of elemental planes, and alternative planes of existence in general, were formed by the last few pages of the AD&D player's handbook. I'm sure this is the case for quite a few gamers in my age group. Air, earth, water, fire...these made perfect sense, as they are the classical Greek elements. Then the Manual of the Planes comes out and throws a monkey wrench into the whole affair with all these other elements that seemingly made no sense whatsoever. The para-elemental planes, those were somewhat plausible; but the quasi-elemental planes? Nonsense. Until we realize that, yes, these are actually part of the alchemical tradition. There's historical precedent for their existence, which proves once again playing D&D was like getting a Renaissance education under the guise of fun. As an aside, my love of classical music was in fact a direct result of Bugs Bunny cartoons, so there's certainly nothing wrong with it. Anyway, the planes themselves are described fairly well, but why would anyone ever adventure in such a place? Hmmm...

Lightning
Basically it's like being in a perpetual thunderstorm with no rain. Continual lightning strikes mean eventual deafness and probably deadness because you have a 10% chance of being struck by lightning EACH ROUND. Yeesh. At least you can breathe in here. This one might be cool if you're a crazy wizard and build a tower on some chunk of earth that's floating around. Better put up some sort of way to keep out all the lightning, though.

Rating: B-

Radiance
Out of all the quasi-elemental planes, has got to suck the most. Breathing is nearly impossible, you can go blind easily, and there's literally nothing here but bright ass light. Hey, would you enjoy having an adventure on the Sun?

Rating: F

Minerals
Now things are getting interesting. Solid ground, basically throughout. I imagine it would be possible to find tunnels and caverns, hiding possible settlements of weird, crystalline creatures. With a lot of prep and plenty of luck, this one is ripe for exploration.

Rating: A-

Steam
Like being in a sauna. Not much else here besides slow moving inhabitants, and pretty boring. Just like a real sauna. The Manual of the Planes says that steam elementals resemble smoke elementals which essentially means they smell like cigarettes. Not hostile, but really annoying.

Rating: D+ for booooooring

Vacuum
A void with no air, but pressure and a decent temperature. How that works, I dunno. About as hostile as Radiance, but less fun. At least you won't go blind.

Rating: D-

Ash
A cold, barren wasteland that sucks the warmth from the souls of living creatures, sort of like Ohio. Another possible playground for a crazy wizard, or maybe some weird cold creatures. This one has potential if the DM is creative.

Rating: C+

Dust
This one is like ash, but has even less going for it. You just eventually turn into dust. For exploration, this place sucks, but as punishment, it ranks near the top. Drop off your hated foes here and laugh all the way to the tavern.

Rating: C-

Salt
Resembles Minerals, but it sucks up moisture like there's no tomorrow. Again, with proper preparation, this could be pretty good. Weird salt creatures in a desert environment. I'm sure some enterprising individuals have dug out inhabitable areas and safe-guarded them against drying out. A little better than Minerals because it's easier to avoid dying of thirst than getting cut to ribbons whenever you take a step.

Rating: A

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Petard

This was going to be a post about gunpowder, then I realized that petard is ultimately derived from the Latin word for farting. I think that's enough of that.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Opine

Here's my opinion: there is a lot of good, old code on the internet, most of which is in a state of uselessness. What I mean, specifically, is that ever since computers have become accessible, people have been writing games and game utilities for them. By extension, this means there are a ton of old D&D programs that do extremely useful things, but are pretty much dead because of rapid technological changes. That web front-end on the NPC generator is a prime example...the commandline program is pretty great, but compiles only with some effort and requires a working knowledge of how to use a terminal. This Spellbook Generator falls into the same category. I just used the same stupid front-end and called it a day. It does the trick and required very little coding on my part. Reading through old magazines like Dragon and even crap like Family Computer, there were obviously a lot of smart people making all sorts of badass programs to track rpg stuff. Unfortunately, most of these programs cannot be used without a lot of effort now. The prime examples are the AD&D Dungeon Master's Assistant Volumes I & II. I had these for my Apple ][ back in the day (pirated, of course) and they were insanely useful, not to mention did exactly what they were supposed to. Thankfully, I can run them in DOSBox whenever the need arises, but the interface is still a bit clunky compared to modern offerings. Modern offerings, though, don't fully implement the functionality of these older programs, for whatever reason. I've thought about porting them, but honestly, it's a lot of effort. And some of the output almost seems like Deep Magic. I'm not a hacker, nor any sort of programming wizard, so I'd have to guess at a lot of this. Maybe someone with a good Hex editor and memory dumper could figure it out exactly, but that's not me. So, I resort to stupid tricks like simply calling commandline programs from a web interface and parsing their output. It works, but it's less than ideal. Something like JavaPC might be an option, but what does that solve? You might as well just use the program under emulation in DOSBox.

I sort of feel like I probably should make those DM's Assistant programs work, somehow...maybe I'll try.

Nigromancy

I didn't make my N post Saturday as I was hungover from the night before. Sunday wasn't much better...this one will be short as N is an unpopular letter with me, for reasons best left alone for now.

Nigromancy is a cool word, mostly because it's a prime example of how English forms new words by stringing together shorter words from two different languages. I already wrote up a Sorcerer character class and a Necromancer (and a witch), so I think that pretty much covers my ideas about black magic within the context of D&D. I do, however, wonder at the motivation for these types of people. What drives an individual to knowingly put their life and soul in jeopardy to essentially be the pawn of a dark force? It's a classic trope in literature: someone was wronged, perhaps unintentionally, and they strive to gain power through any means necessary to lash out at the world. Lex Luthor, depending on the source, becomes one of the most feared criminal masterminds in the universe simply because Superman pissed him off when he was a kid. Lex could easily cure cancer, create unlimited free energy for the world, solve hunger problems, whatever. He's literally that intelligent. Yet, he resorts to criminal pursuits, in much the same way that sorcerers in Conan stories kill a bunch of people for no reason other than to please a demon who can give them just a little bit more wealth.

Wealth to sorcerers and most supervillains isn't an end in itself, but merely a means to fulfill their goals. Henchmen require money, opulent clothing and ostentatious furnishings require money. Revenge cannot be bought, however; money is essentially meaningless to the most vile of villains. The best villains gloat over their victims, simply because they want the acknowledgement that they "won". What fun is there in creating elaborate death traps, complex machinations to entrap a hero, if you don't tell him about it, about how smart you were to devise the plan. Of course, some villains are just generally interested in creating havoc, and these are the irredeemable ones. Killing for killing's sake, not because they want to best their grade school rival.

In the latter case, that's the classic D&D definition of evil, someone who knows they are doing wrong and enjoys it. Murder and mayhem are a way of life. But is Lex Luthor really evil at his core? What about Darth Vader? These types of villains commit evil acts, and sometimes enjoy doing them, but their true motivation has nothing to do with being evil in the absolute sense. Killing another man makes one a murderer, but that doesn't necessarily make the offender evil, does it?

For rpg purposes, orcs should be evil in the absolute way. They can be killed indiscriminately with no remorse as they have zero qualities worth preserving. And the same can be said for most of the other humanoid monsters. The DM's job isn't justifying the bedlam they create. The DM should, however, decide on the motivations for the sorcerer commanding those orcs to burn down villages. It's a much more satisfying experience in-game for the main antagonist to be somewhat complex instead of a propped up cardboard caricature. The sorcerer himself could simply be absolutely evil, just like the orcs. Sure. But who is pulling his strings? A demon lord? You don't get to be insanely powerful without also being somewhat diplomatic, even if they diplomacy is nothing more than a ruse. You may not be able to bargain with the sorcerer, but you can surely bargain with his boss Orcus. This by no means is me saying Orcus is just a misunderstood bad guy, but he's certainly much more complex than faceless orcs. Lex Luthor is evil, but he still did some really good things, even if it was only to stroke his own ego. Orcus might actually do good if it would in fact further his goals for spreading evil. Good is uncompromising, but evil frequently makes concessions if necessary.

Anyway, for low-levels of play, these sorts of things are irrelevant as the characters will simply be splitting orc skulls. As they gain in power, so too must the adversaries become stronger. As already stated, increases in power should result in an increase of complexity in the major villains. How boring would Hamlet have been if King Claudius was simply a cold-blooded murderer? He's actually a pretty good king, somewhat regretful, but wholly corrupted. A true antagonist in the play, not a mere orc for Hamlet to dispatch. Hamlet himself cannot make up his mind whether to kill the king (justified) or let him serve as monarch and maintain the status quo. Hamlet, in fact, acts a lot like a D&D PC. D&D certainly isn't a high form of performance art, but having villains with deep rooted motivations beyond simple "evil" can only make the gaming experience better.

Friday, April 15, 2011

The best video ever made

Munchkins

Another short post; I need to go to bed earlier and stop programming until midnight. Granted, the end-product will be good (I hope), but I need more sleep. If you're bored, here's an AD&D NPC Generator. Basically, there was this old NPC generator written in C I found, but it was flaky to compile and some of the computers I use don't have gcc or something comparable (which boggles my mind, really...back in the old days, EVERY computer had a BASIC interpreter and you could write your own programs. They're nothing more than toasters now, internet devices. Oh well.) So I slapped on a half-ass web front end and hey, it does the trick. Here's some sample output:
Random NPC party for dungeon level 20

Human Magic-user, Level: 13
Hit Points: 54
Str: 15 Int: 17 Wis: 16 Dex: 17
Con: 17 Chr: 15 Com: 13
2 potions: healing, giant strength
1 scroll: 2 spells, level 1-4
1 scroll: protection from magic
wand of illusion
ring of protection +3
rod of cancellation
robe of scintillating colors
1: Detect Magic
Jump
Magic Missile
Read Magic
Shield
2: Ray of Enfeeblement
Shatter
3: Explosive Runes
Slow
4: Confusion
Dimension Door
5: Conjure Elemental
Passwall
6: Extension III
Geas
Glassee


Human Thief, Level: 13
Hit Points: 68
Str: 13 Int: 13 Wis: 13 Dex: 17
Con: 16 Chr: 15 Com: 15
2 potions: extra-healing, polymorph (self)
1 scroll: 2 spells, level 1-4
1 scroll: protection from magic
wand of negation
bracers of defense, armor class 4
sword +4 (25% special type)

Human Thief, Level: 13
Hit Points: 73
Str: 17 Int: 10 Wis: 7 Dex: 13
Con: 16 Chr: 11 Com: 16
ring of mammal control
ring of mammal control
1 scroll: 2 spells, level 1-4
dust of disappearance
1 figurine of wondrous power: serpentine owl
2 ropes: climbing, entanglement
cube of force

Human Thief, Level: 13
Hit Points: 61
Str: 13 Int: 16 Wis: 10 Dex: 15
Con: 18 Chr: 12 Com: 13
ring of protection +1
2 potions: climbing, flying
2 potions: healing, giant strength
cloak of elvenkind
wand of negation
sword +4 (25% special type)
cube of force

Now remember, this is a randomly generated party of characters. It does use a fairly decent generation algorithm however. I wonder why a magic-user was wandering around with three thieves, apparently in the 20th level of a dungeon. Two of the thieves have +4 swords, possibly special. This wouldn't be a party I'd want to meet in a dark alley, you're just asking to be backstabbed. Still, the MU has a fairly paltry list of spells which resembles nothing a PC would have. I think that's cool, because as this is completely random, you can see what characters might look like if the DM didn't sort of "help" by placing certain items within the game. Sort of like how Gygax would always have a scroll of Stone to Flesh in the lair of a medusa. Where are all these wizards learning Fireball anyway? Tongues or Suggestion would be more useful in a wider variety of situations, right? That leads into...

The definition of a munchkin according Wikipedia's article on the subject (a reason you should never use Wikipedia as any sort of scholarly reference): a player who plays what is intended to be a non-competitive game (usually a role-playing game) in an aggressively competitive manner. I'm not so sure I agree with that statement, to be honest. Everyone who plays rpgs is a little competitive with the other players; all of us want to have a useful character. Wiki goes on further, explaining that munchkins engage in cheating, misinterpreting rules, and min-maxing. This last one, that's what I usually think of. Min-maxers don't take spells like Tongues. They load up on Fireballs and Lightning Bolts, no matter what the situation. But again, where the hell are these characters finding the Fireball spells? There's a certain level of blame that has to be placed on the DM for munchkinism, obviously. He's the one who populates the world with monsters, treasure and magic items. He also influences the encounters that take place, and after the party has fireballed its ninth townsman this week, perhaps the DM should have the town guard come after their asses. If the DM is putting scrolls with Fireball in an easily accessible dungeon, he can't complain if a player character finds that scroll and learns the spell. Of course, plenty of rules exist in a game like AD&D to limit this sort of thing. The player has to roll to determine if his character can learn the spell, assuming of course he hasn't reached the maximum number of spells for that level. Almost every game I've ever been a part of, these rolls were summarily dismissed, even by me-as-DM. And almost every time, even with players who aren't munchkins in the general sense, there was a bit of power creep and gamism I didn't particularly care for. But you want the players to be happy...if you're playing a Magic-User, 9 times out of 10 you want to learn Fireball. It's a good spell. Isn't that the whole reason you put up with fearing house cats and giant rats for 4 levels, to make it to 5th and get some real power?

I'm not sure I think munchkins are any different than "normal" players, really. When I was in junior high, my 15th level fighter had an awesome dominion and a Star Destroyer. A few legions of robot warriors who eradicated all the orcs in a 500 mile radius. What...didn't everyone play this way? What's funny is that the fighter was actually challenged all the time. He fought gods and demons and whatever else on a weekly basis. He was resurrected countless times due to getting owned by some super-heavy badasses. I don't consider that being a munchkin at all. 15th level fighters should be in the thick of things with ridiculously powerful demons. The Star Destroyer surely didn't hurt. But I don't think I was a munchkin player. I didn't cheat die rolls or argue over rules interpretations. When a demon lord attacked my character on the bridge of his Star Destroyer and blew it up, of course that sucked, but I didn't whine about it. When his dominion was taken over by a rival magic-user of immense power and he was stripped of all his wealth and outcast to a distant land, that REALLY sucked, but I didn't bitch. In fact, he got a bunch of primitive tribes together, overthrew that evil wizard and took back what was his (directly ripped off from RotJ, of course). Certainly that's not munchkinism. However, if I had said, okay, this sucks ass, you can't blow up my Star Destroyer! And the DM rescinded his ruling, allowing me to keep it, then yeah, that opens the door for munchkinism. If I was unbeatable and the evil wizard couldn't possibly take over my dominion, no matter what, then that's probably munchkinism. To be sure the game was more juvenile than the sort I play now, but it was still legitimate, I think, due to the possibility of character loss. It could easily have led me to be a munchkin player had the DM not been on top of things.

I think the DM needs to set the tone of a game and not give his players everything they want. Just enough to make them thirst for a bit more, but also enough that they're somewhat happy. Players need to achieve goals in-game, but always have another one just out of reach. Giving the players everything they want without effort creates the munchkin attitude. Some players come into a game with that attitude already in place. I think a good DM can knock them out of it by being fair and unwavering, just like you can teach a kid to deal with disappointment. Consistency is the key. Unfortunately, some people never grow up, and their munchkin tendencies persist throughout their gaming careers. I say fuck 'em, and don't play with those types. Anyone who expresses a sense of entitlement when playing a game, especially an rpg, needs to be excluded from the table. The players are entitled to have fun, the DM is entitled to have fun, the character isn't entitled to a +5 sword of dragon slaying just because...if you want it, you gotta work for it. What sucks is a game like D&D 3rd edition actually encourages this sort of behavior. 5th level characters SHOULD have X amount of gold and magic items. Screw that.

My main point in this rambling essay that has turned out to be not-so-short is that I think random rolls are pretty great for the game. Randomly generating treasure and scrolls and whatever else, that eliminates some of the DM bias and places more emphasis on player skill rather than whining ability. It's possible to eliminate all the munchkins if the DM just randomly rolls for every bit of treasure in his game because how can you whine and rationalize your stupid arguments to dice? As a DM, it'd be rather enjoyable to be just as surprised as the players. I'm not advocating this all the time, but for certain styles of play the completely random method could add a lot of value to the game.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Lejendary Adventures...

..kinda sucked. Let's not even get started on Cyborg Commando. I sorta liked Mythus/Dangerous Journeys, but it really didn't offer anything that Runequest couldn't do better. The implicit question here is did Gary Gygax get lucky writing D&D and just sucked as a game designer otherwise? Nothing else he did ever approached D&D's level of success. I remember his posts on Dragonsfoot; he'd usually want to talk about Lejendary Adventures, but was hounded with rules questions concerning AD&D. Literally 30+ years after the game was published. Was he simply a one-trick pony, analogous to multitudes of rock bands with one good song?

I'd say no, because of one fact: no other rpg ever written has been able to overtake D&D, either. RQ and The Fantasy Trip and Tunnels and Trolls, Vampire, Chivalry & Sorcery, GURPS, Traveller, HERO, and probably a metric ton of others...these games are all popular within the confines of the rpg community. We'd call them successful, most likely, but in the grand scheme of things, they're irrelevant. No one has ever heard of Runequest except other gamers. D&D, that's in the lexicon of modern English. I don't think it's possible to ever make a game more widely known and representative of rpgs than D&D as, for all intents and purposes, it is essentially everything that constitutes roleplaying. It was the first and defined a whole genre of new games. You cannot supplant D&D, and anything that follows looks like a clone of sorts, even those that differ in wildly imaginative ways.

At one point I decided I was only going to play GURPS, and only buy GURPS supplements. I figured whatever D&D did, I could do better with a unified gaming mechanic and much more realistic rules. Any other game that was published, I was sure GURPS could emulate the setting. This lasted about one month as I purchased Mekton Zeta. GURPS couldn't do giant robots beating the shit out of each other very well, but MZ could. I tried to run a fantasy campaign using GURPS not long after, and all the house rules I came up with ended being nothing more than ways to copy D&D-isms. Dungeon Fantasy does basically the same thing. It's pretty good, but honestly, why bother? You can play an easier game, like Labyrinth Lord, and be done with it.

It's sometimes the case that an artist comes right out of the gate with his magnum opus, and forever seeks to duplicate his efforts, perhaps in an effort to duplicate success. I don't think Gygax ever did so. It's my feeling that he knew D&D was the best he could do, or really, anyone could do, and left it alone to make other games. Artists create art, game designers design games, even when their best work is in the past. Sometimes you can build an empire on one insanely popular work, as did Gygax. Jimmy Buffett owns an island and has a chain of restaurants based on a stupid song about margaritas, and like Gygax maybe he realizes it's not a bad thing to ride that pony into the sunset.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Miniatures or no miniatures, that is the question

More pseudo-Shakespeare to start a post...I guess when you're a super popular playwright with a ton of work under your belt, it's bound to happen that people quote your stuff, usually wildly out of context. Fortunately for me, both times have been sort of appropriate. I guess all the education paid off; here I thought I killed those brain cells with beer. ANYWAY so minis. This isn't specifically about minis, but physical tokens of all sorts. Original D&D has its roots in wargaming, so it makes sense that miniatures were typically part of the game. As time went on, the role and necessity of using minis decreased, with some games calling them crutches to true roleplaying (which is fucking patently absurd, but whatever). First of all, I don't think minis were ever necessary to play D&D, but they were extremely useful. Even when D&D moved away from purely combat-oriented pursuits, miniatures were still a physical reminder that it was just a game. Conversely, and almost paradoxically, miniatures helped immerse players because it allowed players to identify with their characters in a different way. Visual stimuli affect minds differently than verbal stimuli, and having both only enhances the overall experience.

I don't think we should consider miniatures a holdover from battle maps and position-based combat systems, but simply a method in which the game itself was made more fun. I'll admit I have zero ability to paint minis, but some of my friends are pretty good. It's always cool to show up to a game with a well painted mini, isn't it? Plus, as a DM, sometimes I want an important combat played out with minis; there is a lot less room for argument regarding stuff like who can be hit and if a dragon's breath will reach a character. They're also fun to look at, and play with when you get bored during a game. Which leads into...

Dice are nothing more than a physical token themselves. I've tried to use electronic rollers during games, and quite frankly, they aren't nearly as fun. In fact, they seem to suck out all the fun. Online games and Skype games, there's not much you can do about it, but if I have the option, physical dice all the time. It's a satisfying experience to roll the dice, using jedi powers to alter the outcome. Gamers have unlucky dice or dice that are only used for certain rolls, etc. I have some dice I always use for Cure spells whenever I play a Cleric. Obviously, there's no real rationale behind this besides the fun factor. Why do some people always have to be the boot or hat in Monopoly? They could use any piece, or even a quarter or belly button lint, yet not using their favorite piece diminishes the experience.

By extension, I think this is the main reason I don't like PDFs. Books provide a tactile, auditory, optical and olfactory experience, all in one. I suppose you could taste them, too, but I prefer to avoid such things. PDFs essentially have one path to convey information, which is probably why they irritate me. There's nothing quite like hearing the creak of an old book, smelling the musty insides, perusing its contents under a dim light, feeling the texture of the well-worn pages within. My Macbook Pro has a nice, brushed aluminum outside, but it's not quite the same. For as much as Old School gamers bitch about computer games taking over, why do they seemingly ignore the physical aspects of the game itself? Board games are cool as hell, especially ones with great art. I always thought Candyland was the coolest game when I was really young, simply because of the bright colors and candy artwork. It's probably the same reason I like to browse the AD&D PHB every so often.

I wouldn't say I'm a strong proponent for minis when gaming, but I do think they add quite a bit to the overall fun factor. And not just minis: anything physical that adds to the game. I don't like props, I think those are kitschy, but what about pragmatic things like spell cards? I remember a guy I used to play with in high school who had a box of index cards. On each card was the name and description of a spell his Magic-User could cast. Basic information that made opening the book unnecessary. Whenever the party rested, he'd open the box and pull out all the spells his character memorized, arranged in front of him on the table. When a spell was cast, he'd put it back in the box. I always thought this system was great because much like an analog tachometer on a motorcycle, there was zero information that had to be processed consciously. He could look down and know exactly what his character's capability to cast spells was at any time. Plus, it was convenient for the DM: he'd simply hand him the card and specify the target. The act of putting the spell on a card made that spell just a little more real than if he had simply said he cast it. I don't mean real in the Dark Dungeons sense, but more like the "it's actually having an effect in the game". I think things like this need to be a part of rpgs more than not. I'm not advocating showing up dressed in fucking chainmail to your next session, but maybe bringing a mini or two and some special dice would make the game a bit more fun.

Kinison

I stayed up way too late last night programming some rpg-related crap, so here's my worthless K post for today:

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

What's in a name (besides letters)

To paraphrase Shakespeare within the context of Gygax: does it really matter what we call attributes? A thread on the Goblinoid Games forums sparked this thought; I played my usual Socratic role in the discussion, although I'm sure most of the people posters thought I was being deliberately obtuse. Well, I was, but purely as an exercise in getting to the root of the matter. Isn't that what philosophers do? Piss you off because they don't understand simple words? I contend that the names of attributes are convenient placeholders for less wieldy (I swear, it literally took five attempts to type that...this keyboard sucks) terms, and do not in fact simply indicate one strict intent.

I made the argument that Strength, for instance, doesn't necessarily indicate how strong a character is; it could also indicate inherent martial ability. And it does. The game bears this out: an 18 STR character in B/X adds +3 to hit and damage. +3 is a huge bonus, especially at low levels. A 1st level Magic-User with an 18 STR will be as competent in melee as a 5th level fighter with average STR. A Magic-User with an average STR will not be able to hit as effectively until 11th level. Is being ridiculously strong really that important in swinging a sword? I'm sure it is, but there's a lot more to it than that.

This quote was posted in an attempt to dissuade me: "Strength (STR) measures a character's muscle and physical power." That it does. The question here is if you think power and muscle have the same meaning. I surely don't. Strength capital S is the attribute name. Strength lower s is what we use to denote the ability to move heavy shit. It usually is identified with large muscles. The second term, power, is where I take issue with the notion that STR is only musculature. Power is the ability to use strength at its maximum capacity, how quickly that strength can be put into action. Oddly enough, I talked about this very subject a while back. Bodybuilders and powerlifters are extremely strong, but they typically aren't powerful. Not compared to Olympic lifters, for instance. A 200 pound gold medalist may not be able to benchpress as much as a bodybuilder, but he can probably snatch twice as much as the bodybuilder. In D&D terms, the bodybuilder doesn't have an 18 STR, the Oly lifter does. Why? Well, because swinging a sword isn't merely about moving a piece of metal around as hard as you can, there's some skill involved, the ability to control that muscle. This is the power component of the composite STR score. Some people want to attach melee skill to DEX when talking about light weapons...why? The STR score already subsumes the very idea of "quickness" when talking about melee weapons.

In that same thread, I offered the following names for attributes in an attempt to divorce the notion that Strength only means strength:

Pugnacity
Coruscation
Piety
Adroitness
Verve
Glamour

In this case, it's more obvious that STR means "melee ability". Sure, you can also move bigass rocks around or lift a portcullis. That's straight out of Conan. However, in-game, 95% of the time a high STR means how well you fuck up orcs with a sword. Again, I don't think the name is the meaning, it is merely a convenient shortcut, a more user-friendly word than something like pugnacity.

This is the case with the other attributes as well. I called WIS piety above; and why not? It directly affects the ability of clerics for experience and spell casting. It also provides a bonus to spell saves. Divine intervention? From an in-game perspective, attaching some sort of additional meaning doesn't matter to me, ESPECIALLY within the context of Old School gaming. If we remember some of the anecdotes about the original D&D campaigns, it's fairly obvious the player's skill was challenged, not the character's. Puzzles and traps and riddles were solved by players figuring them out, not by merely rolling dice and consulting attribute charts. In light of that, it's hard to justify INT or WIS or CHA rolls. Those are the province of the player thinking intelligently or wisely or making compelling arguments to NPCs. As the players cannot actively perform physical activities to demonstrate their skills as sword-swinging or arrow-shooting, STR and DEX are convenient placeholders. But that's not all they mean. Within the game itself, STR is nothing more than a way to determine how good a character is at killing stuff, at least initially.

Jesters

This has nothing to do with my post, but it's certainly worth watching:



So, I really like the idea of a jester class in D&D. Perhaps it's because they disguise rapier wit and sarcasm with buffoonery, which allows them to get away with a lot more than a normal person. Even though they're often called fools, jesters are anything but foolish; frequently they are the smartest in any group. Talented entertainers, storytellers, jokesters and musicians, most jesters usually mix in good diplomatic skills and shrewd business acumen. It's not hard to see why almost all kings had a royal jester. My guess is that a lot of jesters moonlight as bards, simply to get the ladies. And new information for jokes.

I was pretty sure there were write-ups for jesters in D&D somewhere, and it took me around four seconds using Google to be proven correct. This page deals with D&D jesters far better than I could here. It also makes me really want to go back over my Dragon Archive very carefully; there was a lot of good stuff in those magazines.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Inlapidaters

Old School D&D had a multitude of ways to kill you, but none more scary than shit that turned your ass to stone. And there were all sorts of these things...medusae, basilisks, gorgons, cockatrices. As a DM, I love inlapidaters; as a player I despise them. One of the major issues when running one of these monsters is how to fairly apply their special abilities. Gorgons and cockatrices seem to be easier, as the players can either run away or avoid physical contact. Medusae and basilisks, however, have gaze attacks. It was never very clear how these operated. I mean, everyone who plays D&D has probably read some Greek mythology and seen Clash of the Titans: you use a mirror when you're fighting a medusa. But what if you're one of the unfortunate rubes who is just wandering through a dungeon when the encounter takes place?

Viewing these monsters through the lens of "modern gaming", we should have all sorts of rolls and precautions, fifty chances of avoiding the gaze, whatever. Old School, however, isn't as forgiving. It tries to emulate epic fantasy, which means some people unfortunately are turned to stone. Sorry. And that's how it should be. We already have a mechanism for avoiding the gaze of a medusa, it's called Save vs. Petrify/Stone. You stumble into a room and a medusa looks at you, well, roll the dice to see if you survive. Perseus was warned ahead of time. The PCs may not be so lucky. But the DM shouldn't just have a random medusa in a 10x10 room with no indication that anything is out of the ordinary. Perhaps. A sloppy medusa might have left stoned adventurers (both kinds) in a few places around her lair. Smart players would realize the possibility of an encounter and take proper measures. A smart medusa would try to entrap the characters, her trophy room away from prying eyes. In the latter case, someone is probably going to die. It's not fair in the modern sense, but again, don't go into dungeons unless you're seeking trouble.

I suppose this is mostly a gripe with "modern gaming", because we used to avoid those types of monsters in all the AD&D games I've ever played in until we got powerful enough that they weren't a real threat. Once you have a 12th level Magic-User, getting turned to stone is extremely inconvenient but not insta-death. Unless the MU gets turned to stone; you're screwed. Then again, a 12th level MU in a party of characters of comparable level probably won't be killing medusa as they don't have enough treasure to justify the risk. So, it's the low level PCs who try to kill medusa. Or at least just steal their stuff. The trade off between risk and reward is weighed, and if you're 4th level, it's a good payoff. Yes, you should avoid those things, but PCs are heroic adventurers, which means they sometimes do things that have a high chance of death. If the DM reduces the risk, the encounter is made meaningless.

It sucks to have a character die, that's for sure. But it also sucks to lose a football game or get beat in chess. After a lot of introspection, I've decided I actually despise roleplaying in its modern form. There seems to be a major shift from playing a game to doing some sort of improvisational theater. That's fine. But, hey, Shakespeare killed off a lot of his lead players; why are DMs so loathe to do so in rpgs? How can there be any meaningful storytelling without loss? I like playing games, some people want to explore the psyche of a fictional character. More power to them. But, again, how does making death an impossibility create a better experience? Modern rpgs seem to use game mechanics as a crutch to prop up stupid decisions by players. No game mechanic can ever replace good judgment. These same mechanics generate a sense of entitlement to boot. I'm probably never going to play a rules-heavy rpg ever again because of this. Oh sure, I like buying and reading them, but playing...I want epic, heroic fantasy, not an exercise in character building. Heroism cannot exist without extreme risk, a very real possibility of loss. If you're going to nerf monsters like medusae and cockatrices, you might as well just make your characters 1000th level and say you won. No one wants their PC turned to stone, but if it happens, 3D6 down the line.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Your Highness

Yes, I saw this movie yesterday afternoon. I shant bore you with a lengthy review, merely some thoughts...it starts off strong but starts to get a little boring toward the end. Excessive numbers of dick jokes. Which is fine, really, but some scenes were pretty fucking gross. Again, fine because I knew that was coming. Overt homoeroticism, but that wasn't over done and it stayed humorous throughout. Acting was pretty good, but oddly enough, Natalie Portman was the worst of the bunch. And she's the most "serious" actor in it, besides Charles Dance (how they roped a legit Shakespearean actor into this I'll never know, but he's pretty convincing).

Alright, whatever, it was a decent flick and I only paid $4 at the matinee...but I gotta ask: did Danny McBride play a lot of D&D as a kid? This movie seriously reminds me of someone's fucked up D&D campaign turned into film form. And there's nothing wrong with that. In fact, I hate to admit this, but all the games I run seem to turn out exactly like Your Highness. Literally. I don't want to give any spoilers, but there's literally not one scene in the film that didn't remind me of stuff that happened in my games. I'm not sure if that's good or bad...

Overall, probably a B-.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Humans vs. Humanoids

Why do humans get the shaft in D&D? Elves and dwarfs and even halflings (hobbits!) have all sorts of cool abilities, but in general humans are pretty vanilla. In ye olde versions, humans have unlimited advancement whereas demi-humans do not. Okay, that seems like a major bonus. But honestly, how many games have you ever played that got over around 10 or 12th level? I've been in a few, but we never went over 14th (AD&D), and even then the elves were STILL better than the human magic-users due to being able to wear magic armor and swing swords (why anyone would play a single classed demi-human is beyond me). I think the break point in AD&D is 12th level, as that's when MUs get 6th level spells; elves can only go up to 11th level. But realistically, you're probably looking at 15th or so before the humans really start to outclass the demi-humans. In 3rd edition, this pretty much goes out the window, as there are no level limits. Of course, the designers took this into account and gave humans more skill points and a feat to make up for it. Mechanically, this is a major reason to be a human. But honestly, I think it's an oversight on their part: humans are the most powerful race in all versions of D&D, by far. Even at low levels.

Did I just contradict myself? I complained about humans getting the shaft, then said they were still the most powerful. Not at all. Using purely the described mechanics, yes, humans aren't as good. We're old school, though...mechanics don't mean shit. Humans have the greatest possible power in D&D, that of being tolerated by every single other humanoid race in the game. Humans can easily make friends with dwarfs, halflings and elves. Half-orcs act favorably toward humans most of the time. Humans can make deals with roving orc bands, call truces with goblin tribes and probably engage in some form of trade with kobolds. Ogres will serve a high-powered human fighter. Lizardmen can be browbeat into forming an army by a human leader who is strong enough. Gnolls and trolls can be placated if there's a lot of treasure involved. None of the other playable character races can claim to have such diplomatic ability. In fact, they cannot even get along with each other most of the time. An elven fighter might be strong enough to coerce an ogre to working for him, but the ogre will never trust the elf, and will rebel whenever possible. That same ogre would probably have no problem working for an evil human fighter, and in fact might even enjoy it. Orcs attack elves instantly; they'll usually listen to what a human has to say before melee is started.

Of course, this all depends on how you play the game. 3rd edition assumed that mechanics needed to dictate "fairness", much like how black and white both have the same number of chess pieces. If I take away a couple of black's pawns, that surely doesn't seem fair. But D&D isn't chess, fairness has nothing to do with game pieces or movement capabilities. Player skill is paramount, not rules-lawyering. It is up to the player to determine how to exercise the implicit advantages offered by humans, and by extension, character classes that seem to suck. 1st level magic-users suck, no doubt. Their survivability rate is low compared to fighters and clerics. So what? And they only suck IN A FIGHT. Any MU character who goes into melee deserves to get killed. A clever player can easily turn these disadvantages into an advantage. No one will get pissed if the MU hangs in the back and runs away from a fight that is going poorly. Fighters are expected to be meat shields, MUs are expected to be smart. Conversely, a 9th level fighter is overshadowed by a 9th level Wizard. MECHANICALLY. So what? That same fighter can create a dominion, become very popular, and strike fear into the hearts of countless orcs whenever he's out and about. The wizard will be respected, but out of fear. The fighter is respected and loved. To use a real-world example, Warren Buffet is insanely rich and powerful. But Mick Jagger gets lots of hot chicks and has legions of fans. In the context of a game, it's hard to quantify the latter quality, but it's arguably as "good" as the former. Games like GURPS try to assign points to such traits; I don't know how well that works.

I almost always play humans in any D&D game that will last more than a few sessions, even if I don't think we'll ever get past around 3rd level. As far as I'm concerned, if the elf or dwarf are outshining my character, it means their players are doing a better job and I need to concentrate on superior play.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Grognerdia

After spending the better part of my evening fooling around with figuring out hosting stuff for the rpgfiles.org website, I decided that I should have named it Grognerdia. I think that's somewhat clever...okay, not really, but it makes me laugh anyway.

I've talked about this before, but have had time to refine my views a bit...gamers, in general, are the worst ambassadors for this hobby. At least the most vocal and visible ones, anyway. The same could pretty much be said for most groups, be they political parties, lobbyists or rpg enthusiasts. I'm sure most people who game are just normal dudes who have regular jobs, wives and kids, but with a slightly nerdy inclination toward fantasy, sci-fi, rpgs, etc. So why are gamers identified with fat, trenchcoat wearing virgin losers who work at Safeway and have social skills that would make Rainman look like a sophisticated gent? No knock on autistic people, they can't help it, but surely the fatcoat (my new coined phrase of the day) can, right? Maybe he can't. Maybe he has Aspergers and that sucks for him. I'm willing to grant that he could be socially retarded due to a medical condition. It sure as fuck doesn't help that he hangs out in the gaming store all the time, becoming the face of roleplaying to everyone who walks in.

Those sorts of people exist in every hobby or activity I've ever been a part of. Socially inept dicks. It's not restricted to roleplaying games. One of the biggest social misfits I ever met was when I played basketball. Great player and athlete, absolutely impossible to relate to. Almost all the musicians I've ever worked with has some sort of social anxiety, too. Or megalomania. Typically, though, we don't put up with that sort of crap most of the time. People are called on the carpet, the "come to Jesus" meeting, whatever. Yet, I've seen absolutely wretched behavior ignored in the rpg hobby. What is it about rpgs and other sorts of "nerdy" hobbies that causes people to put up with that sort of shit a hell of a lot more than in other pursuits?

See, I don't think it's put up with. Not at all. My theory is that the normal dudes just say, "Fuck that," and play at their house with their buddies and have a good time. That's good. What's bad, though, is that Mr. Fatcoat is still hanging out in the gaming store, looking for other players. Maybe he meets someone new in town with no friends. New guy thinks, hey, I can play D&D with this dude, how bad could it be? New guy either struggles through the BO and bad manners, questioning his decision, finds some normal gamers, or he quits playing rpgs altogether. Unfortunately, this last category seems to happen far too often. Perhaps that's why the hobby, as a whole, is on the decline. Computer rpgs aren't helping, surely, but Fatcoat is hurting more.

My proposition is that the guys with a modicum of social skills need to get the fuck out of the house when they play. Start playing at the gaming store. Schedule a game during Fatcoat's time so people can see rpgs are a social activity, not an outlet for the mentally repressed. We need to demonstrate that, yes, groups of dudes can get together and play rpgs, just like dudes play poker or pickup basketball or whatever. It's a game, enjoyed between friends, and we need to make the public aware of that fact.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

RPGFiles.org

This is a project I thought would be pretty cool to do. Basically, it's free file hosting for OSR stuff. Sub-domains, completely user controlled. If people are too lazy to setup a real site, they can use XODA or something. No idea if this will take off or whatever, but I figure there are a few people out there who think it's a pain in the ass to use crap like MediaFire. If you see this, pass the word along. I hate trying to shill crap, even if it's awesome and free...

http://www.rpgfiles.org

FUDGE

Why don't more people play FUDGE? I'm not talking about FATE (which I actually dislike quite a bit but I do like Diaspora; I think this proves that logic doesn't apply to brain chemistry), but the original game that Steffan O'Sullivan cranked out back in the early 90s. The die-rolling mechanic is simple, it distills the essential parts of attributes into modifiers, uses words to describe power levels, and is completely open-ended as a system. If a DM wants to add some new mechanic, it is trivial to do so. And required, really. I've heard that FUDGE is really nothing more than a toolkit, not a complete game. That's probably true in the same sense that the original D&D (why do people call it 0ed? That term just bugs the shit out of me) is nothing more than a toolkit. Is that such a bad thing?

Call FUDGE whatever you want, to me it's a great RPG that has often been overlooked in its original form by most people. There have been successful implementations of FUDGE, but for whatever reason the game itself doesn't get that much street cred. And what a shame it is. As far as free RPGs go, it's probably the best. It was written by a professional game designer over a period of several year, with tons of input from other qualified people. And it's free. I already said that, but I'll say it again: free. You can download the 1995 rules for free and print them out. I own the 10th Anniversary book, and it's great. But really, all it does it collate FUDGE and a ton of other resources based on FUDGE into one handy reference. You don't need it.

The best use of FUDGE is by far 5-Point FUDGE (also free), which makes it insanely easy to create gritty fantasy characters. Or cinematic characters if you give the players enough Gifts. You can also get some FUDGE Dice (these are the coolest looking ones I've found) and never have to refer to a table ever again when you're playing. Seriously. I mean, I like tables...I played Star Fleet Battles every weekend when I was in high school (wow, if that doesn't sound nerdy I don't know what does; in my defense, I also played sports every day after school). But not having to look at a table every time you roll the dice, that's pretty solid.

When I Googled for FUDGE to find a picture, this came up: a recipe for Kraft's Fantasy Fudge. Yes, kids, the Internet wants you to eat this. When it becomes self-aware and renames itself Skynet pretty soon, you don't want to have to tell it you decided against making this stuff.

  • 3 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cup butter
  • 2/3 cup evaporated milk
  • 1 12-oz. package semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 7-oz. jar Kraft Marshmallow creme
  • 1 cup chopped nuts
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

  • Combine sugar, margarine and milk in a 2-1/2 quart saucepan; bring to full rolling boil, stirring constantly. Continue boiling 5 minutes over medium heat, stirring. Remove from heat, stir in chocolate till melted. Add marshmallow creme, nuts & vanilla beat till blended. Pour into greased 13 x 9-inch baking pan. Let cool and cut into 1-inch squares.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Stupid RPG Concepts

That last post was el retardo, I admit. This alphabet crap is becoming annoying because it's forcing me to write stuff I don't really care about simply based on a letter. E...I couldn't think of shit that began with E that wasn't already being used by eleventy-billion other bloggers. Thankfully, I have something in mind for F tomorrow I might actually want to discuss. Anyway, for absolutely no reason whatsoever, I was playing Street Fighter II via MAME and thought, hey, the fighting tournament would make a pretty cool roleplaying game. Right? Then I had a recollection of a SF game White Wolf did a long time ago. And boy did it suck.

Now, don't get me wrong. I don't think the system sucked, per se. In fact, I happened to think it was rather well implemented given the medium. I'm sort of annoyed I didn't buy it when it came out because I was a major SF fanatic. Maybe I'll look for it on ebay or something. Anyway, it still sucked as a game. It's pretty awesome to think about, pretending you're some badass world warrior, beating the shit out of dudes with can throw fireballs or fly or whatever. I'd really like to play that. Well, I can...that's sort of the whole point. That game already exists. What purpose is there in creating a roleplaying version of something that already implemented the idea in a way that makes sense? I can play SF2 and do exactly that: beat the shit out of dudes. What would a roleplaying version of this game offer me?

Okay, so I thought of some stuff...you could make NEW heroes not in any of the games. That's a good idea. But who cares? Most of the time RPG characters are just variations of an existing archetype anyway. Hell, every movie, tv and literary character resembles some sort of existing proto-character from the past. Yeah, so I make a new guy for the SF2 RPG and his name is Chicanery. He basically has Guile's moves and is paramilitary, too. Wow, that's pretty lame, isn't it?

I guess I could play out the adventures of Ryu as he roams the land, looking for new battles. Lengthy sessions of Ryu crushing kids in villages who took karate for a year. Ryu can do a fucking dragon punch. Those kids will die instantly. So, either the DM has to make up random bad guys (which is fine, I suppose) or let Ryu fight legit bad guys from the games that already have a back story and are plausible threats. Time to fire up SF2 again so I can beat Bison.

Hmmm, maybe I could come up with a completely new concept and have him fight new concept bosses. Sweet, now we're getting somewhere. But what ruleset shall we use? I know, how about an RPG called Street Fighter! It describes how to have Street Fighter-style battles. And boy is that a pain in the ass. My new character has to conform to the SF2 paradigm of fighting, which means he's not new at all. Good thing I didn't turn off the emulator.

The same thing happens with a game like the Dragonball Z rpg. I bought that and thought it would be great. Instead, I get to read how Goku would kick my character's ass. Great. Another game based purely on fighting that sucks.

WEG's Star Wars RPG, is oddly enough, probably my overall favorite game ever. I could play a SW character from now until the day I die and never mourn for my loss of D&D. Why is that? Surely the SW setting is just as closed as the SF setting, in fact more so. There's no functional difference, at least from an objective view. So why is the SF game crap (even though the system itself is decent) and the SW game awesome (with my favorite non-D&D system)? Everyone inevitably ends up making a Han Solo clone or a Jedi Luke clone...EVERYONE. Why wouldn't you? That's fun as hell.

There have been a billion SW video games made, and you know what...except for Dark Forces and X-Wing/TIE Fighter, I'd have to say most of them weren't that engaging. KOTOR, yeah it was fun, but dammit, I didn't really care too much about a random Jedi dude, I wanted to fight Darth Vader and kick his ass. Oh, so I did...The Force Unleashed. Yep, I fought Darth Vader, owned him, and still "lost". Can't beat Vader without messing up the SW canon, can we? Even if it's only a game. Maybe that's the whole point as to why the RPG is more fun than a lot of the video games, because we can do things that we imagine doing that the computer medium won't allow us to, either by technical limitation or some other impediment. Sure, we could make a video game and I could kill Darth...then what? Just seems a bit anti-climatic to me. If we did it within the confines of an RPG, that'd be great.

Most licensed games suck balls. That's just the truth of it. It's nearly impossible to capture the feel of the world properly without losing a lot of the flavor. SW D6, that game is great. The revised version, not so much. D20, mediocre. Saga version, utter crap. MERP is pretty good in my opinion. The Decipher Middle Earth game, ehhh. Not awful, but really didn't do much for me. Is it possible that there really aren't any stupid concepts for an RPG, but the games based on those concepts suck because of how they were implemented? Is it possible to create a Street Fighter RPG that is more fun that the video game, more engaging?

I have a bunch of weird games based on movies and anime...Sailor Moon (don't laugh), Tenchi Muyo, Ghost Dog, Bubblegum Crisis, Star Trek, Hellboy, some other stuff. The FASA Star Trek game is good, the other versions aren't. Most of those games I listed are excellent sourcebooks but make lousy games. BESM is a pretty fun game, as long as you don't try to use it to play Sailor Neptune (and spend the whole session detailing a lesbian love scene with Sailor Uranus...see a couple posts ago). Again, why aren't these fun to play? The Tri-Stat system itself is good; it sucks within the confines of Bubblegum Crisis.

All this can be boiled down to a simple question: Is Gygax the only one who could run Greyhawk? I'm inclined to say yes. It seems to me that a good RPG should provide a framework for a certain style of gaming (like the old Traveller did) with perhaps some implied setting for reference, but nothing specific. It should be open ended, allowing the players and DM to dictate everything. I hate playing in Forgotten Realms because it seems like there are a million NPCs way more powerful than my character will ever be running around, doing important crap. I thought the PCs were supposed to be saving the universe, not El Minister. Am I misguided, or simply missing something?

EverQuest didn't start it

But it sure didn't stop it, either. I'm talking about cheesecake in RPGs. (This whole alphabet thing is just retarded...but I said I'd do it, so whatever) Pin-up girls have been around forever. Literally. I've heard that the walls in manger where Jesus was born were covered in a mural featuring Raquel Welch. Or at least someone who looked like her. Okay, but in RPGs, and especially CRPGs, they've gone from subtle to not-so-subtle to over-the-top. This post is really just an excuse to do a GIS for half naked animated chicks.


Yeah, that's some sort of mage in Everquest...so, I guess she can get away with a bare midriff and a halter top thing. Still, that bone shrapnel might actually do some damage. Ever heard of a coat?











Some chicks from Guildwars. The one with the face tatttoos (definitely a bad decision) is some sort of druid, I guess. The other one is a rogue. Hey, at least her boobs won't get cut too easily.










Random Lineage 2 dark elf warrior chick. How the hell are you going to fight in garters and gauntlets? She's wearing metal boots and hardly anything else.















Another dark elf, this time from World of Warcraft. If this image isn't suggestive, I don't know what is. At least they got the proportions a bit closer to reality.











No such luck in this picture from Warhammer Online. There is so much wrong with this image...unless, of course, breast implants are en vogue with elf warriors. That's possible. I mean, you can even see the scars underneath the left one. Should she really be going into battle before she's properly healed from the surgery? Why anyone on the front lines would wear a bikini to kill orcs is beyond me.












Girl from Final Fantasy. This one isn't bad at all, and it's almost freakishly realistic. But do ANY of these broads wear normal clothing? This chick is lacing up the gloves to do some serious ass kicking, but she puts on a tank top that doesn't even fit. Gina Carano aside, I can't imagine that implants help too much when you're throwing punches.












My absolute favorite, I admit it. Kasumi from the DOA series. Not an RPG, but so what...I guess since she's a ninja she can get away with that outfit, but her stealthy skills might be improved dramatically with a simple breast reduction. Seriously, those are like DDs and she can't be more than a buck-o-five. Back problems, anyone?








And, of course, the classic...




Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Super duper automated character creation

So, I made this like three years ago: Labyrinth Lord Character Generator

I had pretty much left it as-is until now because, hey, it worked fine and I didn't really use it anymore. Then, I saw this thread on Dragonsfoot...apparently, someone took the program I wrote and made a B/X character generator. At first I thought, kickass, maybe he cleaned up all the cruft and made it snazzy looking. No such luck. Basically, from what I can tell looking through the code, he simply made my giant OO mess into a much nicer mess. Not even a nicer interface. Kind of annoying, as I wanted to redo the whole thing, basing it off something better. (Also, it's rather irritating that he's asking for donations when 95% of the code he's using is mine. I did release it under the BSD license, but geeze, it just rubs me the wrong way)

Still, I was inspired now...if I decided to recode the chargen, why not do it right? Implement all the features I initially wanted (portraits, character database, direct editing of characters, all of that) and make it a stand alone, platform independent program. Well, the only thing that might possibly work would be Java. And I don't know Java worth a shit, especially not the GUI programming part.

The past three days I took a crash course in Swing and some of the data handling aspects of Java. After fooling around with it for a while, I figured out the relevant bits I needed to know to code this up. Thankfully, Java's syntax is C-like, which means I can pretty much port over all my data structures and algorithms with minimal editing. Some of that stuff was a bitch to figure out; what seems insanely simple for a human can sometimes be nearly impossible to code on a computer. So much for computers being superior, right? Anyway, at least now I have a project to work on, something that'll be fun and hopefully useful to other people.

When I code the character generator this time, I'm definitely going to use text-based data files for things like spell lists, hit dice, experience, custom classes, etc. Anything that a user might want to edit, I'll put that in a text file, read when the program loads. This will not only make it easy for me to cut-n-paste crap, but it also means if anyone wants to tailor the program to give thieves slightly better attacks or clerics worse saving throws, they should be able to do so with minimal effort. I still gotta figure out how to embed SQLite into my project for saving data...it's trivial in PHP, but Java seems to have about 50 different implementations for database drivers. Maybe I'll stick with flat text files for saves. Who knows?

Anyway, if you read this and have some suggestions for features, lemme know. Hopefully I can crank out the basic generator fairly quickly.

Yes, the image below is programming related.


Men and Female Characters

I admit it, I've played female characters before. Only once seriously, though...for a Shadowrun game. It made sense at the time. In retrospect, it was probably a mistake. The last female character I played was an elven Fighter/Magic-User named Black Sybian. She ended up killing one of the other party members in a drunken four hour session. Probably one the the finest moments in my history with rpgs. Anyway, I really dislike it when dudes play female characters; it just sorta bugs me. I couldn't really decide why that was the case when I thought of typing up this post, but then I realized it was probably because every single "serious" female character I've ever seen played by a guy was a raging slut. Some more subtly than others, but generally overtly promiscuous and disgusting.

As I get older, it occurs to me that this could simply be the product of adolescent stupidity. Obviously, that's not the case because some of the shit that has happened in recent games I've run or played in is just as stupid, if not more so. Then again, no one was making female characters and requesting they be raped in-game (not making that up). Far be it for me to give an exposition on my hangups with sexuality (they pretty much don't exist), but that's the kind of crap I'd prefer to never see in any game. Is this hypocritical on my part? Murder, theft, pillage, arson, necromancy and more murder was a common theme with my last AD&D group. Sometimes it got boring or annoying, but we had fun. Yeah, the players would say their characters were getting whores in town. So what. If the players had began describing ways their characters were violating the whores, or molesting the barmaid, I'd probably tell them to STFU. I don't want to hear that. And almost inevitably, when a female character is played by a man, this sort of shit creeps in. Much more emphasis on what the character is (not) wearing, descriptions of physical features far beyond what I'd consider normal, and they're all lesbians. If roleplaying has taught me anything it's that every single woman is a homosexual nymphomaniac whose advances are welcomed by all other women. Seriously, who wants to play in a game like that?

If played satirically, like Macho Women With Guns, it can be fun. But usually it's a 30-something fatbeard virgin playing the naked elven lesbian very seriously. Disturbing. It's rare to see anyone take a mature attitude toward this sort of stuff, and I don't think I've ever directly experienced it. However, women playing male characters, whatever...don't care in the slightest. Most girls I've met who play rpgs were much more mature, though, so perhaps that has something to do with it. Actually, in high school I played in a game with a bunch of college students and working adults, two women in the group. Both were hideous and with wretched personalities (the classic rpg nerd prototype). So of course they played female characters with 18 CHA, casting charm spells on all the men in town and raping them. I dealt with this for about two sessions, but decided to depart after one of the girls made friends with a horse and wanted the DM to roleplay out the inevitable sexual encounter. Not even making that up.