Sunday, March 24, 2013

Hey, Latino Readers!

Can anyone tell me how the Paraguayan presidential debate went tonight? Specifically, I'm interested in Cartes, but I can't find anything on-line in English (and my Spanish isn't really up to snuff). Thanks!

Meanwhile, I am at what must be Greenwood's classiest bar where live opera singers are doing pieces from Mozart (the Magic Flute was off the hook, y'all!). Still waiting for my burger, though.

I am so weird.
; )

"Trust in Allah...but tie up your camel!"

I'm going to bed. I really, really am. But first I've just got to make a quick post while it's still fresh in my mind because, well...because it is (and I keep "never getting around to" the other thoughts that pop into my mind...I've got a backlog of mental posts!).

Just finished watching The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, a Ray Harryhausen film from 1974 that I've never seen (or if I have seen it, it was so long ago that exactly zero parts of it were familiar to me). And, may I just say, wow. Like, If anyone was interested in knowing what my Arabian version of D&D is all about...just watch this film. I mean, my it plays, what it just about exactly that.

Yeah, I don't care if it's campy or acting is less than stellar or the special effects are subpar even compared to some of Harryhausen's other work. I'm talking about the story, the plot, the characters, the action, the themes, the dialogue...that's what my game is all about.

Now, no, it's not exactly like that...for example I don't have an "animate statue" spell in the book, nor does sorcery age the magician that practices the black arts. However, even that could be modeled using the rules (conjure demon could stand in for the "animation" spell...putting a demon into an inanimate statue...and since the demon's service has to be negotiated, 10 years off the magician's life seems a fair trade for the tasks presented).

"Lecherous" is the term I use.
And I will say that "centaurs" in my book are more-or-less identical to this beast...right down to being Chaotic and feral and demonic in appearance (that's because in my monster cosmology, centaurs are an abomination, the offspring of a demon and a horse...yeah, some parts of the setting are a little gruesome).

[I will say the griffon is NOT a Lawful or "angelic" beast in 5AK, but it is a "natural" creature of the world, unlike a centaur, so having the two of them squaring off in this film is still pretty's like Harryhausen was channeling my game; or like I was channeling Harryhausen]

Now, I have a great urge to go back and watch the other two Sinbad films Harryhausen did. I know I watched that Eye of the Tiger film just a couple years ago (and I thought I'd posted about it, but couldn't find it anywhere...*sigh*), and I thought I'd watched 7th Voyage, too...but just rereading the plot on wikipedia didn't ring any bells. Well, whatever...this one was so damn close to my game, I might as well list it in the credits as "inspirational reading."

Other points of similarity: the presence of Old Gods (or the remains of their magic/temples/prophecies) alongside Allah, slavery (dancing girls!), potions, henchmen, and "the dark forces." Totally dig it!

Note to self: must make sure to include cool rules for ships at sea (especially storms), and the existence of "mythical islands" (since so much of the mainland geography is based on our "real world"). Getting players shipboard should be a feature of gameplay. I AM going to bed. Today's Palm Sunday y'all and I've got to get to Mass in a few hours!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Armor...Why the Hell Do I Bother?

People who dig fantasy artwork (like myself) or watch a lot of fantasy films or read fantasy comics, or appreciate a decent Frazetta cover (or his many imitators) have been treated to a wide range of terrible, historically inaccurate images of armor over the years.

Kayce down at Gary's Games is a trained visual artist and has at least some experience with both costume design and historical armor and I showed her the following image and put the question to her:

What the hell is this supposed to be exactly?

Bronze Age?
Keep in mind that I realize actual gladiators didn't tend to wear much in the way of torso armor. But here's this...what? Leather breastplate? It's not metallic, it appears to be flexible. Despite a ceremonial appearance, it would appear to offer at least some protection compared being bare-chested or just wearing a toga. But what would you call this, and was such a form of gear ever actually worn in battle?

And the reason I ask is you see this kind of thing in film. Conan the Barbarian is full of stuff that looks like this...perhaps more or less decorated but the same general theme...something stiff, but flexible, perhaps moulded from rubber like the Batman costumes of the last twenty years.

[speaking of the last twenty years, man, do I feel old sometimes. I heard a Nirvana song playing at a restaurant the other day and realized it's been twenty years since that song was first on the radio. In the 90s I used to listen to the "classic rock of the 70s" radio, something that was NEW when I was in college is just as old as those "oldies" I used to listen to. That's just...ugh. I feel OLD. And going to yoga classes this week has just made me feel FAT and old. I better hurry up and get these books published before I'm too fat and old and decrepit to get out of bed!]

It's possible that this is supposed to be some sort of light, embossed cuir boulli (what gamer folks often equate to "leather armor") but from everything I've read, people weren't boiling leather for armor until around the 8th or 9th centuries (if that early), whereas the Gladiator film is supposed to take place in the 2nd century (and Conan is set sometime 1000 years plus earlier).

But these are films, sure, and films designed to be visually spectacular, which leads to all sorts of weirdness: like King Arthur and his knights wearing full plate armor in the movie Excalibur (despite the Arthur's legend being set in the 5th or 6th centuries...only missed this technological development by a millennium or so). Or this from the most recent Conan movie:

What IS this?
Fantasy armor is cool and's fun to look at, it's fun to fantasize about , and it's neat to visualize one's character (or a neat NPC) wearing some sort of weird hardware in your fantastical, semi-mythological RPG world...but then why even bother trying to inject ANY kind of historical reality into your game?

Padded armor in action!
Have you SEEN what padded armor looks like? Do you think wearing heavy, knee-length padding would make it any easier for a thief to scale a sheer castle wall than wearing a hauberk of chain? Come on! You've got to be friggin' kidding me!

The point is this: in my opinion you've got two ways to go with your armor in an RPG...specific or abstract. And if you're going to be specific, you should either being paying close attention to historic accuracy (like not including plate armor in a time before the invention of firearms, for instance), or making up your one whole-cloth fantasy environment with people wearing crab carapace armor and fiber-and-hide and whatnot. In other words, go big or go home.

[by the way, you CAN choose to go the way of D&D and just include a big mish-mash of nonsensical and historic, though inaccurate, armor types lumped together, where a brigandine jack from the 17th century is seen on the thief in your pseudo 10th century world. Maybe YOU have more important things to worry about like what orcs plan on doing with all that hard earned coin they've stolen and hoarded. When I say "you've got two ways to go," I really mean I have only got two ways to go, for my own peace o mind]

Of course, if you go for the "specific" approach where you actually want to say, "Here's your chain costs 100 silver shillings and weighs X number of stone and is this effective against axes and that effective against bludgeoning weapons..." if you're going to model that degree of specificity then you had better make sure it actually makes sense, or else people are going to give you a shit hard time...the same way people give Gygax crap (even in death) for originally charging 60 gold pieces for plate mail armor.

You can say, "it's just a game," or you can give it don't get both ways.

For me, I've decided to go abstract, because...well, because it's easier. Originally, Gygax was abstract, too (with his CHAINMAIL rules), grouping individuals as light or heavy or armored (for plate armored). Since my game (5AK) is set in the 8th century, I don't have plate armor so I can get away with just saying characters are wearing light armor or heavy armor (or that they're unarmored). And even if I ditch my semi-historical setting and shift back to a prehistoric myth age like Howard's Hyboria, I'll probably do the same. 'Cause it's just damn easier.

People have worn armor, in some form or another, throughout history. Protective gear is important when people are trying to do you bodily harm (duh), and what you wore was pretty frigging custom compared to the way we treat it. You didn't just walk into Sears and pick up a size 42 long coat of chain off the got sized and measured and paid a ton of scratch for a decent armorer to fit something to you. And hopefully the person knew their craft and wasn't having an off-day or suffering from a lack of decent material or the need for new tools or some other monkey wrench that might throw the process off. But even so, different cultures did their tooling and lacquering and styling differently from each other...resulting in very different pieces of the (ostensibly) "same armor type." And, no, I'm not just talking about different looking helmets.

So rather than try modeling how one guy's double-layer pauldron and vambrace gives him a better AC than the guy with the outmoded spaulders, I'm just going abstract: are you lightly armored or heavily armored. Now, sure, it's a bit more fiddly than that because, well, because I'm a big nerd...but not much more. And while I realize it's not terribly ORIGINAL of me to go this route (Randall Stukey does this in his book, as I recently noted...and the earliest place I've seen it in a true RPG is probably WHFRP), but being "original" isn't, in the final analysis, the point of the exercise. The point is to craft a game that I want to play and that models what I want it to model and leaves out what I don't need.

Good against stakes.
My RPG isn't about historic reenactment, it's about playability, and the different armor types found in most versions of D&D just include more minutia than what I care to include solely for the sake of "options." My players already have PLENTY of options and choices to make (as they should)...the type of armor one wears, in the end, is more a matter of STYLE when it comes to fantasy role-playing. Does your character wear a heavy chain coat that would drop a lesser man to his knees? Do you have interlocking plates, lacquered with the colors of your family crest? Or is it simply a quilted coat with metal studs, easily pierced with a well-placed spear or sword tip?

Now folks using the standard D20 versus AC combat system that want to go this same (abstract) way will need to look to something like Stukey's book...or else rename "leather, chain, and plate" to "light, medium, and heavy" or similar. Folks playing AD&D or Pathfinder with their wide range of armor nuance are going to have a much tougher time, because those editions of the game are designed to be more fiddly (i.e. "detailed") than OD&D or B/X or Chainmail. And if you're playing a more detailed version, there's a chance you're doing so specifically because you LIKE detail and specificity and so an abstract method of doing armor ain't your cup o tea. But boy-o-boy you folks have your work cut out for you...unless you're not into taking yourselves (or your game) too seriously.

But then, if you weren't about taking it seriously, why would you opt for a system of specificity? Just saying.

For me, abstract is the only way to do armor that's going to keep me sane. It doesn't matter to me if your armor looks like something off a medieval tapestry or something out of the Road Warrior. The form doesn't matter nearly as much as the function. At least, for the sake of modeling the armor's effect in combat. There are, of course, other considerations (like cash outlay and routine maintenance, but I generally hand-wave the latter for the sake of I hand-wave characters answering the call of nature).

Thus ends my game design "thought of the day."
: )

Monday, March 18, 2013

Tarnhelm's Terrible Tome

Just finished reading Tarnhelm's Terrible Tome, a book I'd consider to be the latest entry into the phenomenon I call D&D Mine.

Nice work.

You can download Tarnhelm's Terrible Tome for free from Retro's blog here. Randall Stukey (the author) has presented a nice little 40 page book with his personal house rules for 0E. Similar to Planet of Eris, you'll still need a copy of the LBBs to play D&D using TTT...and would, in fact, appear to need some extra books, too (like the supplements detailing higher level spells and later classes and subclasses). But regardless of whether or not you have access to those things, there's plenty to peruse and (possibly) purloin for your own games...even B/X and LL.

Stukey's approach to D&D is much more fantastic then my own, what some might call "high fantasy"...though I use that term with some hesitancy as (for me) it has derogatory connotations and Stukey's handling is much more classy. Some of the ideas in his book that I'd call highlights include the following:

- the craft (and use) of magic implements. Whereas I have kicked "magic wands" to the curb in my book, Stukey revels in them. Of course, they have to be hand-crafted by the mage (if you want one), but you don't have to wait till 9th level to do so and afterwards you gain bonuses to your spell-casting when using such implements.

- minor magic that's always on contributes to the "high fantasy;" magicians ability to do minor conjurings (or throw "magic darts" which here doesn't feel nearly as crappy as, say, 4th edition) makes the character class a joy to play from level one, while still providing room for "power ramp-up."

- Stukey's handling of clerics...again, he went a different route from myself where, instead of making them more different from magicians, he made them more similar, right down to carrying "prayer books" with their magical spells (clerics use their holy symbols the same way magicians use their wands). It's tidy...we're simply looking at two different schools of magic...or two philosophies...that still operate under the same principle. That's all to the good if you want a more magical campaign setting.

- I see he went the same direction as myself with regard to armor (in the sense of light, heavy, etc...this is a separate blog post that I'm planning for the immediate future). The class bonus to AC is nice, as are the spell-casting penalties...magicians lose their highest castable spell level with light armor, highest two with medium armor, etc. This means that a 1st level mage has too much to deal with (mentally) to wear ANY type of armor and still cast spells, while a high-level sorcerer can wear plate and mail and still toss off fireballs without batting an eye. That's pretty hip (though now that I reread it, I see this is an "optional" rule...isn't everything in this book kind of optional?)

- I like the combat maneuvers based off critical hits and misses. Simple and effective.

- I liked the divine intervention rules (though again, this is only an "optional" rule): not only does it make the game more "magical" in feeling (the gods are among us!) it provides a decent mechanic for getting players out of trouble, while forcing them to sacrifice goods for the privilege. No more must the DM send thieves to steal that +5 sword...just put the PCs in a death trap and make them break it themselves! Ha! No, in all seriousness...sacrifice to the gods is a GOOD thing to have in a fantasy game (it's very much a part of our own ancient and mythological past)...and adding mechanics to encourage its use is the best way to make it a part of your game. I also like that lesser gods and demigods are MORE likely to intervene (their attention is less divided) than greater powers.

- I think I like his character "background" rules as written better than the DMG secondary skills...or even his own "skill system."

Anyhoo, Tarnhelm's is not a book I'd choose to adopt wholesale for myself (a lot of the bits are just too fiddly for my taste...why not simply substitute CON for "body points," for example?). But it has good ideas and it's a nice example of what people should be doing: making their own "Gaming Bibles" for use at the table. This one's nice, clear and concise...and illustrated to boot. Not a bad free offering to the discussion.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'll be getting back to writing my own version of D&D Mine.
: )

Sunday, March 17, 2013


Waaaaay back in January 2012, I started writing this particular post on PVP. For various reasons I shelved it. Now I feel compelled to bring it out again. Why? F'ing Alexis, that's why. Jeez, seems like every third post I write these days has to mention that guy and his blog.

Alexis recently posted a 10,000 word essay on how to play a character (mainly with regard to D&D, but there is good stuff in the essay for other RPGs). If you haven't read it, I suggest you echoes a lot of the same things I've been saying over the years (like being proactive and its effect on the DM), but he does it in a much more concise (yes, for 10K words, it is concise) and elegant fashion then myself. But then Alexis is a writer...I'm just a dude with a laptop.

[he also has some good bits about untwining rope and using your shield straps for something other than carrying your shield on your back...something for everyone!]

Even for DMs (which is the seat I find myself in more often then not) it has good stuff to say, and it is pertinent whether or not you choose to run a campaign world as detailed as Alexis or not. Really. I can use the stuff in this post and the mile-by-mile detail of MY campaign worlds (any of 'em) is haphazard at best. "Nonexistent" would actually be a better term.

So, yeah, a good read. Of course, I didn't it myself till tonight, and only because I was intrigued by someone getting so bent out-o-shape over it that they'd...well, you can read his other post about that if you're interested. Still it got me curious enough to read the whole thing (I was at the bar eating my corn beef and cabbage solo tonight's still out of town)...and having read it, put this whole other post (which I did read) in a different perspective, and raised a very significant question for me:


I shall now quote from Alexis's original essay (there will be some editing):


…We want to win the game.  Or we would, if this was monopoly, and a 'win' was something as clearly designed as a goal post.  It isn't in an rpg.  Winning is this fairly amorphous quality that means different things to different people.  For some, just gathering all the money they can in the shortest space of time defines a win.  For others, having a good time is the measure.  For still others, challenging themselves, either by overcoming the odds or 'solving the problem' is the ideal. 

…three or four generations back, the business of winning was obvious.  Make money, use it to make more money, use the massive amounts of money you've gained to build a personal world of power and triumph, use that to beat back the other fellow and - if you're really successful - use it to tell the state and the other fellow what to do.  You know you're winning when everyone around you is clearly on their knees.  If you're still on your knees to someone ... you're not there yet. 

That doesn't allow for a win for very many people ... but in a strongly heirarchical society, everyone understood that humbling yourself before authority was expected and ultimately  unavoidable...  

The roleplaying game has a lot more in common with the old heirarchical system than with our modern avoidist philosophy.  You're not only awarded for increasing your abilities and influence ... you're positively punished for not taking the power-acquisition path.  How?  Well, the game is boring…If you're not fighting ... and thus increasing both the level of your danger and the potential reward from the risk you're taking, it's just a dull, dull game.

Whatever your personal motivations - coin, fun, challenge - you must first and foremost recognize the social structure surrounding your eventual achievements:  right now you are nothing.  With time and effort and perseverence, you will be something.  To be something requires acquisition - of power or wealth - and that acquisition will come, must come, from someone or something else.  There's nothing to be done about it.  You may be a nice person.  You may have no personal desires for global domination.  But someone has, and your meager acquisition of wealth and power (in the beginning) is, at the very least, an annoyance to someone.  Eventually it will become an annoyance they can't ignore, and in the interest of keeping all the wealth and power they already possess, they will have to put a timely end to your existence… 

So where it comes to the subject of winning, we can at least acknowledge that you will have to be taking something from someone.  Who you take it from is up to you.  Your gamemaster is probably going to make this very convenient for you, nicely standing up strawmen you can beat into submission easily with your pain stick ... but if you have any influence on the decision-making process at all, you really ought to sit down and think.  "What is it that someone has got that I would really like to have?" ... and ... "Who is it that has things that I think really ought to have nothing?" 

Those are two very simple questions, and they will greatly help in establishing a purpose for your character. In the greater sense, they will build up those goal posts we were saying earlier didn't exist.  The questions are open and non-moral in structure.  The who and the what could be anything, after all…[cheat edit]…So first and foremost, go get the thing you want.
[the cheat edit is one where I have deliberately removed Alexis's context; in context, he's saying "go get the thing" from the (presumably NPC) target and its "minions." But for the purpose of this post, I could give fuck all about such boss monsters]

We shall now return to my post on player versus player conflict that I started writing well over a year ago. I will leave out the opening paragraphs about a trip to the dentist and the cutesy-ness that I was able to incorporate with dental puns. You folks don't need that anyway. SO, picking right up:

One of the things that got me in trouble with Alexis’s campaign yesterday [note: 14 months ago], was my stated willingness and/or intention of instigating an intraparty conflict. I had previously read his post on the subject of PVP (to sum up: he doesn’t allow it), but I had completely forgotten about it by yesterday morning; after all, at the time I read it I had not been preparing to play in his campaign, and since it didn’t fit with MY way of running games, I had dismissed it from my mind after perusal.

Needless to say, when I read his post yesterday that linked to that earlier article I felt even more silly…not only had I been a heel, I’d violated a cardinal mandate of the DM!

But as I said, it wasn’t in my mind because that’s not how I run my games.

If you look over to the right of my blog, you’ll see some “badges” (whimsically placed by Yours Truly, not awarded by any neutral panel). A couple of them are the typical “old school cred:” random dice rolls governing cause and effect and regular player character death. Personally, I’ve never been big on “fudging” for a better story/game…in games where heroic success is supposed to be a regular occurrence, designers inevitably include rules for “hero points” or “drama chips” or whatever, and that’s totally cool. And along similar lines, I generally give the benefit of the doubt to game designers that they are making games exactly as deadly as they are supposed to be, with no “fudging for life” needed. Intellectually, I know this isn’t always the case, but I generally prefer life and death struggles with a high body count…makes victory for the survivors all the sweeter.

The other two badges I would consider matters of GM philosophy that might flip either way. The mirror indicates I will mirror back what players give me…that is, player input (if any) will go into the design of an on-going game. Some DMs don’t operate this way, or don’t make it a large part of their game, instead focusing on creating the setting and scenarios for players to which players react. I prefer proactive players, myself…but especially when starting a new campaign (or a new group of players with a fresh and fragile social contract) this is trickier to get as everyone (including the GM) is still “learning the ropes.” Or, at least, tightening the knots.

The last badge…the little stick figure with arrows in his back…indicate I allow, and often welcome intraparty conflict, or PVP (“player vs. player”) as it’s known.

Not everyone does PVP in their games; a lot of experienced DMs (like Alexis) have decided that the cons of players attacking each other far outweighs the pros. And it’s easy to see that point of view:

-        Role-playing is a cooperative exercise and party conflict drives a real wedge into players cooperating.
-        It’s easy for some players, especially those who’ve invested a lot of time and emotion into a character, to get upset (and want to stop playing).
-        Party conflict can derail the “adventure at hand,” sidetracking the party and stopping the whole “fun thing” we’re doing.
-        It’s easy for random dice rolls or unbalanced class abilities to prevent any type of level playing field for actual PC conflict. Unlike, say, a PVP Arena in World of Warcraft, there’s no artificial “Thunderdome moderation” that occurs in an RPG. The magic-user casts power word: kill or the cleric casts harm or destruction, or the fighter uses a vorpal sword , or the assassin auto-kills someone when he’s not looking, or multiple PCs gang up on a lone PC…none of these things are “fair” to the victim.
-        Grudges and vendettas between PLAYERS can spill over into the game leading to all the bad things in bullets 1, 2, and 3. “You killed my elf so my new fighter is going to kill YOU.”

All very valid reasons to NOT allow PVP conflict at one’s table. Long-term, one has to decide what the game is about; once PVP begins to occur, there’s the possibility that this is ALL your campaign will be about…assuming it doesn’t simply dissolve entirely.

And don’t tell me it’s necessary for “realism” to the game…there’s a lot of things in D&D that are unrealistic. Vancian magic. Talking swords (do they have mouths?). 15th level master thieves unable to hide in shadows (Mentzer’s BECMI edition only). Grell. In a world where many “unrealistic” things are real, it is perfectly acceptable to say, “player characters have a bond of camaraderie such that they would never EVER attack each other.” Kind of like telling the cleric he would never pick up an edged weapon.

Having said all that, I STILL allow player versus player conflict. I welcome it in my games; to a certain degree, I’ve been known to encourage it.

Why, JB, why would you do such a thing?

Ahh, that’s the part I’ve been trying to sort out into words. Let me start with a couple of real examples.

#1 (from many, many years ago): My character, a lightly armored swordsman, encounters a hulking barbarian (the other PC) on the road.  The barbarian immediately begins talking smack to me because he is so much bigger and stronger (18/90+ strength). I draw my sword and tell him he should be more polite or he’ll regret his words. He insults me further. I roll to hit…and miss. “That was just a warning shot,” says I. The barbarian guffaws and makes some more ill-conceived remarks; he may also have attacked me, but I don’t recall. I roll to hit and this time succeed, doing maximum damage and killing the lout. The player is upset; the DM asks why he antagonized my character, instead of just “partying up.” I believe I then bound his wounds (he was only at “death’s door”) and we continued on to our adventure, none the worse for wear.

#2 (from last year): Play-testing DCC, my two 0-level characters ambush our two (cowardly if well-equipped) NPC companions, murder them, and take their gear. Later on, one of my two characters dies in combat. A little while after that, another player in the group decides to attack and kill my remaining PC. When asked why, he explained my character had proven to be a loose cannon, and it was only a matter of time (he felt) before I turned on the other party members. Combat ensued, one of his PCs fell on his own knife (dying, as is a not uncommon experience in DCC), and the other mortally wounded my PC. When I brought a new PC to the table, he (I) did not hold a grudge against the other guy.

These are examples of PVP play in which I’ve been involved as a player. I could cite other examples…a time when another player “lightning bolted” my PC for calling his character by the wrong name one too many times (“That is NOT my name!”), and an instance when two PCs (mine and another) was attacked (from stealth) by a third for a grudge he carried based on treasure distribution. In instances where I was a DM/GM, I’ve had PCs bushwhack each other or plot against each other, and times when a PC simply stood by when another PC was in mortal danger due to a prior slight or argument.

Some will say I’m stupid and/or destructive to allow this behavior at a game table. Some will say I’M a jerk for participating in this behavior at all. As wiser, cooler heads have pointed out:

The character is an avatar of the player. The player is directly responsible for the character’s choice of behavior. It is not a defense of “jerk” behavior to say, “I’m just playing in character;” as the person making the character’s choices, YOU are responsible for your character’s behavior.

[that is a paraphrase and, no, I am not taking it from Alexis, but from a different arrogant intellectual I respect: Ron Edwards]

But there IS a real, down-to-earth reason that I have allowed (and have participated in) PVP conflict over the years and it is this: it drives home, more than anything else, the consequences of one’s actions.

Players DO act like douches from time to time, for a whole helluva’ lot of reasons, justified or not. Sure, as a DM or GM I could “hit them with a lightning bolt from God” or some other type of Divine (DM fiat) Karma. I'd guess many DMs have tried this approach in the past…I know I did on one or two occasions as a kid. But while I take my role as rules arbiter and referee seriously, biased fiat justice of this type just doesn’t sit right with me. It breaks the suspension of disbelief that the game is a game (it IS a game, but we’re using it as a fantasy escape for awhile)…it also gives a feeling of DM “playing favorites” (even if the “favorite” is the DM himself!) by taking a side.

I could also just boot players from the table. That depends on your tolerance level for miscreants. Personally (and I realize this is personal) I prefer a little drama and conflict so long as it is “in character” (that dreaded term) and in the spirit of the campaign…and my long-term games tend towards a darker tone to them. At least, my AD&D games always have in the past.

So for me, the best way to drive home the point of consequences is to allow other players to administer the beatings. Or (as a player) to administer the beatings myself.

[now, that's all stuff I wrote back in 2012. Here's the new bits...]

Engaging in PVP behavior is one form facilitating the gamist creative agenda...of providing an outlet for players to indulge in the mini-game of "who's the biggest swinging dick at the table"...and if you'll pardon the gender specificity of the expression, I've found female gamers fond of the same indulgence from time to time. Part of a game like D&D is showing off "how awesome" your character is...your creativity in designing the character, sure, but also your effectiveness within the game. Your tactics, your strategy, your acumen when it comes to kicking ass. And simply kicking the ass of the DM's "strawmen" does eventually (as I think Alexis implies) wear thin. 

Now creative agenda (showing whose sword is bigger) may not be enough to put PVP in your game, but how about when intraparty conflict is appropriate based on your character's objectives? What happens when the thief wants to fence the loot and party when the paladin wants to give it all to the poor? If you're a proactive player, one not afraid to establish your own goals and agenda, sometimes that agenda doesn't jibe with those of the other players at the table.

So what do you do then? Give up your f'ing goals for the sake of "getting along with everyone?" Based on Alexis's later post, yeah, that's exactly what you should do...because D&D is a group activity, and if you're not "flexible enough" to play nice, then your option is the highway. Even, apparently, if the players at the table are all insipid knuckleheads.

See, I don't agree with a player OR as a DM. I do agree with most everything in the 10,000 word post, including the parts about the psychology of a DM and the need for "self respect;" though in place of the latter term I'd probably use something more prosaic and floofy like "being true to yourself" or something. And if I a player character IS "self respecting" and has an agenda that breaks with the rest of the party, I think that should be allowed and, yes (often), encouraged. Because otherwise you're doing a couple things that I'm really not a fan of:
  1. You (the DM) are breaking the illusion of the reality of the game ("why can't I stab Jimbo?" Because you can't, jerk-face)...which interrupts the whole escape portion of the game (i.e. the third foundational pillar on which the game is built).
  2. You (the DM) are supplanting the player's own objectives and expectations of play. It disempowers (or "deprotagonizes") the player...and that's as likely to break the player's drive to creatively engage and participate proactively as anything else.

I realize that for some DMs, their attitude towards #1 is "it serves the greater purpose" of facilitating a game that involves a group activity, and the attitude towards #2 is "so the fuck what...I don't want 'em in MY game, they can go play elsewhere." And I also realize that my little post here probably won't change any DM's mind about whether or not they include PVP-type action in their campaign. My point here is to explain my perspective, and why I allow intraparty conflict in my own games. Hell, I have an expectation of party conflict within a game when it's appropriate...and part of that expectation comes from my same reasoning about how to play a character as Alexis outlines in his essay.

To me...well, I guess I only really know how to do this from my perspective. I can "turn it on and off" when it comes to gaming...I can be very in the moment, living vicariously through my character when we're playing, and yet be detached enough outside the game to not let another character stabbing mine in the back irritate me too much, so long as its justified and appropriate. That part is where I see the DM having a role in the issue: as a referee and arbiter.

I'd never shut the door on PVP completely. I'd much rather see PCs administer their own lumps (and suffer their own consequences) then have to "force" cooperative behavior (said force being accomplished in any number of ways). Besides, to me it is totally (forgive the term) "unrealistic" to think that a band of rogues (the typical D&D party) is going to get along all the time or always have the same agenda. In the military, yes, you put your lives in the hands of your brother (and sister) soldiers and trust them implicitly, have been trained in point of fact to lay down your lives for them. But a D&D party is no such Band of Brothers...while they might experience horror and combat and traumatic experiences together, they are still a group of independent mercenaries and sell-swords with grand ambitions and monstrous egos...the kind of Type A personality that drives a man to go brave a dragon's den instead of minding the shop or plowing a field. These are folks with agendas...and agendas that don't always synch neatly with the other characters. Thinking otherwise is just too fanciful for my brand of fantasy.

So, yeah, players should have a mind for what "winning" means to them (and their character)...and sometimes, that means taking it from someone else, even a fellow player character. The way I see it, that's part of the nature of the game, and it's up to each individual player to decide how far they want to push it and risk the wrath of their fellow players; you never know when you might get taken out for being a "loose cannon."

To me it makes for an interesting game. But then, I am kind of an ass.
; )

[and BTW, none of this is meant as a retraction in any way of my earlier post. If you agree to play in another DM's world, you agree to abide by the DM's rules. I'm just talking 'bout how I roll, dig?]

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Saints and Sinners

It's 11:18am and I am down at the Baranof.

I slept in till 9:40 or so this morning, then remembered my cable box is totally kerfluey (I wrestled with the f'ing Comcast people on the phone till nearly midnight last night), and in a moment of sheer disgust sat down and watched Conan the Barbarian (or most of it anyway...skipped a few of the more gratuitous flesh scenes for the sake of expedience). In comparison to The Sword and the Sorcerer (which I watched last night prior to discovering the cable issues) it's hard not to see Schwarzie's film as the hands down best S&S flick of 1982. Which is saying something, considering the ton of competition from that year (low budget or not...recall most everyone cast in Conan, including all the protagonists, were "no names" in the movie biz at the time). But we'll get back talk about these films in a bit.

Yesterday was NOT a banner day for me. I mean, I did manage to get my car "fixed" (still need to put $400 into the brakes, but the dealership told me I could wait another thousand miles or so), got to the dentist, managed to remember not to eat meat (still Lent), and put in an otherwise full day at the office. But boy-o-boy did I have a splitting headache the entire day. No nausea, but pretty close.

And that's because Thursday night was "game night" and having my family out of town led me to going longer than normal (till close to 1am) and drinking more than usual. Ugh.

[hmm...these eggs seem a lot more over-easy than over-medium. Ah, well]

Coupled with that, it wasn't a great play-test. Two of the "regulars" weren't able to make it, and two newbies were in the house ("new" in the sense that they hadn't yet played 5AK and had to be brought up to speed). The end result was that little actual play occurred after chargen, but things ARE well set-up/positioned for next session...assuming I can get everyone present. These guys and their busy work schedules and families...sheesh!
; )

But one thing that DID get tested were the rules for holy texts...i.e. "cleric spell scrolls" which are a little different in my game. And guess what: they don't work. That is to say, the mechanics don't work. Hell, the concept doesn't work.

Here, I'll give you a little background first regarding saintly or shamanic ("clerical") magic. Unlike magician spells in 5AK, saintly magic is a limited resource. What exactly does this mean? It means the mechanics for saintly magic is very similar to the way they'd play in "normal" D& have a limited number of divine supplications ("spells") you can make of your God/gods, with said prayers being answered depending on your level of importance as a tool for the divine (i.e. your level determines how many spells and of what magnitude they can cast). And unlike magician spells, they always work...there's no casting roll to see if the saint "prays correctly." They also tend to be "spells" that don't carry saving throws, and that create lasting, permanent change (i.e. they can't be dispelled). These are divine miracles, after all.

So enter spell scrolls. While magician spells are simply "spells written down" (suitable for reading or memorizing or bundling up with your other magical books and texts), the idea behind clerical spells would be that they were an "infusion of holy power" or "a prayer of manifest power" in a bound form...or something. I don't know what exactly I was thinking. The problem was that (probably) I wasn't thinking enough. Functionally, holy texts in 5AK are the same as clerical spell scrolls in D&D. Which is to say, they have a saintly miracle (clerical spell) that if comprehended by the saint (cleric) can be "fired once" and then loses its power.

Which really doesn't make any f'ing sense.

First of all, there are holy men and women of many faiths, but they don't interact very well together (we're not talking the 21st century where you have joint-faith communities...this is back in the day when a schism within one's own faith led to wholesale war and slaughter. Think the Protestant Reformation or (for my setting) the battle between Sunni and Shia). So the idea that a holy man could pick up a prayer text of a different faith (probably a long dead pagan/heathen faith) and use the magic is just ridiculous.

Then there's the idea that a divine favor (which is what a miracle is) could be stored at all. Unless the text was provided directly to the saint by his deity (perhaps through some angelic intermediary) the audacity that a mortal could somehow distill holy power and capture it in a piece of vellum is pretty repugnant. I mean, most D&D players laugh at the idea of treating the gods as monsters to be killed (Odin has 400 hit points? What's his armor class?)...but harnessing divine might for mortal need is pretty outrageous, too, once you think about it.

Then, of course, there's the whole "fire and forget" part of the scroll which is only silly due to the context of MY game.

Originally, cleric magic and magic-user magic worked pretty much the same. You get a certain number of spells per day. The whole "spell book" is open to you (yes, in OD&D magic-users had access to the whole spell list). Once you cast a spell, you couldn't cast it again for the day (no "doubling up" on spells in OD&D). And spell scrolls provided a valuable resource to the PCs in the GAME. A place to store additional magic or (if unable to construct scrolls yourself) and occasional benny resource found in the course of the adventure. Putting a scroll of cure wounds in a treasure trove was the equivalent of putting a potion of healing there. And similar to the potion, there was always a risk associated with the thing's the potion poisonous? Does the scroll have a magical curse built in?

That's part of the whimsical nature of the original game, which didn't take itself all that seriously. Since then, of course, a lot of folks have tried to take a more serious tact with D&D, tried to force it to make justify its nonsensical elements (those hodge-podge concepts that were combined at first simply to make something "fun"). Certainly, I've fallen into that camp more often than not...probably because I'm an up-tight individual at heart who has to remember not to take myself (and other stuff) TOO seriously. Life is short, yes, but not everything has to be "life and death."

Typical Scorpio drama-queen.
; )

Anyway, the way I see it is can either embrace the over-the-top weirdness and pursue the "fun at all costs" mode which seems to have been the way of our founders (with their mix of mythology, camp, literature, pulp, and B-sci-fi/horror flicks)...OR you can write your own game for a particular setting where everything makes sense in the context of that setting. As I'm trying to do with 5AK. The benefit to pursuing the latter (other than my own up-tight piece of mind) is this: it provides an opportunity for a role-playing experience that is deeper and richer than that of a shlocky funhouse world.

Now, I am NOT saying that schlocky and funhouse aren't cool and acceptable: I loves me my White Plume Mountain and Tomb of Horrors and Pharaoh adventure modules. But I really like running long-term campaigns where character development occurs over time, and the only way to really do this effectively is to have a setting where stuff fits together and makes sense. Which requires EDITING, something the beloved founders were none to fond of. I mean, stuff got ADDED, but rarely were things DELETED from the game, unless they thought it was going to hurt their "bottom line" (like Tolkien intellectual property or the IP of Lovecraft and Moorcock that was being used by Chaosium or the demons and assassins and half-orcs that might have brought on the Christian Right in the late 1980s).

No, if it didn't run the risk of getting 'em sued, the D&D people just "left shit in" even if it didn't make a ton of sense. And then they'd create campaign settings (like Krynn) to attempt to justify it. Why are ogres hulking brutes but then have ogre-magi? Well because the latter are Japanese of course! Poor Weiss and Hickman at least made a stab at justifying this kind of crap, even if the idea of "steel pieces" as currency is pretty friggin' bogus.

[quick: how many "steel pieces" does it cost to buy a sword? Now how many pieces of steel will you get if you break that sword up into tenth-of-a-pound coins? Does the quality of the steel make a difference in the value of the coin? Do the coins rust or are they "stainless?" Do they need to be oiled?]

SO, yeah, editing. Basically after testing Thursday I figured out that "cleric scrolls" don't really fit my all. Not in the concept of "piece of writing that provides a magic resource" (one-time or not). So I'll be removing this section from my book...which is good since I was looking to delete half a page for space consideration anyway!


Okay, it's 12:30 now (had to pause a bit to clean up my hash and toast...where's my waitress? I'm missing coffee!)...and I haven't yet gotten to my thoughts on those two movies. I think I'm going to do a separate review for each, at least with regard to gaming (I've already said all that I wanted to say about Beastmaster)...and that'll come later.

[by the way, some are probably wondering why the hell the title of this post is "saints and sinners;" originally I was going to talk more about the role of religion in S&S, i.e. swords and sorcery fiction as relates to these films...but now I'm going to do separate film reviews, I'm just feeling too lazy to think up a new title to this post. So there!]

Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got to run to Lowe's to return an air filter!

Monday, March 11, 2013

*whew* Spells...Glad THAT's Done

Sorry for slacking off the last week. My wife got back into town and is leaving again tomorrow (with my child!) for two weeks, so I've been spending my free time hanging with them.

When I'm not gaming or writing that is.

I'll recap last Thursday's play-test of 5AK later. Suffice is to say the game went well, we had a third player (who took on the newly updated "holy man" class), and things got clarified in a good way. Also, while the "fable" feel continued, it's definitely a grittier fable, complete with pick axes buried in skulls, enslavement, and giant rat swarms. Oh, yeah...and while they don't know it yet, TWO of the PCs leveled up, which is a very good thing in my opinion (more on that later, too).

As for the writing, I've just today finished the magic portion (i.e. "spells section") of 5AK (previously, I'd only written up the first couple-three levels of spells for each class). *whew* What a chore! This is the THIRD book I've had to write spells for (unless you want to count spell examples from CDF or or psychic powers from my KWN space opera supplement...but those were only a page or two each), and it always seems to take longer than I anticipate. Not because it sucks or is boring, but you just run into unforeseen complications.

Like, considering the cosmology of the game and knocking off the spells that don't make sense in the game context and then finding yourself missing spells that do fit the context but that you never thought you needed. When I did the initial spell lists, I started with an OD&D / B/X/C hybrid...but then, as I filled in the blanks I found there were some spells that were superfluous (how many different curses did I really need) and holes that seemed like gross oversights (no summon demon?).

You also run into unforeseen mechanical difficulties. Going with an all D6 system is fine and dandy, but without percentile dice you lose a lot of easy random tables action. Instead, you're forced to find elegant workarounds that still accomplish what you want while staying in-line with the rest of the game systems. Contact higher plane, for example, was a real pain in the ass...but now that it's reworked (and renamed) I actually like it better than the original version. Same with reincarnation which as originally written, is NOT really in-line with a cosmology where only divine magic has the ability to create lasting, permanent change (aside from simple matter manipulations).

And then of course there's space restrictions.Trying to be pithy is hard enough but as it is the magic system runs about 27 pages (including charts)...which only leaves nine pages for monster descriptions (since I'm putting magic and monsters together), and I've got close to a hundred of those buggers. THAT, by the way, is the next hurdle I'll be jumping. I suppose I could always use a smaller font...but then there are still illustrations I want to include.

Ah,'s still progress, pure and simple, and I'm immensely proud of how it's turned out so far. Hopefully it won't take me a week to write the next section. It shouldn't...I'll have a lot of free time on my hands with the fam out of the country.
: (

Monday, March 4, 2013

Clerical Conclusions & Cosmology (Part 2)

[continued from here]

Tolkien’s world postulates that there’s this Fallen Angel-type (think “Lucifer”) that created a bunch of monsters by twisting and f’ing around with the beloved creations of The Big Guy in the Sky (think “God”), so orcs are just corrupted elves and trolls are just corrupted ents, for example (humans apparently don’t need to be corrupt as they already have “evil versions”). When you realize orcs are just corrupted elves, you get a better sense of things: why they might crave and hoard treasure (and live in underground “cities” and craft weapons and armor, etc.). You also have a justification for killing them without much guilt (demonic spawn of Satan!). See how that works?

When I was working out the system for 5AK, I had to consider these things, this cosmology, too. And I still like the answers I came up with. For example, it’s one think to want S&S style “beastmen” or “apemen” or “halfmen” in your game (those “subhumans” Conan and his ilk are always running into in pulp short stories). I mean, they’re already present in B/X (read the description for “orc” in Moldvay and forget the illustrations in the MM)…but in a world were civilization has continued to march forward, how do you explain the appearance of these organized, intelligent, tribes of savages. At least, without creating some Great Evil Overlord like Sauron or Morgoth?

I decided to go a little Biblical.

But, of course, that’s the problem…once you have a rational cosmology (even a fantastical one) at work in your game, you start losing the ability to wahoo-style pulp. Vance’s Dying Earth makes little rhyme or reason sense in general, except that the world is SO LARGE and SO DIVERSE and SO OLD that it is simply fraught with a huge amount of weirdness…weirdness that doesn’t need to make sense. On the other hand, part of the theme found in his books is the absurdity of behavior and culture especially in its diversity (when set-up in isolation based on a break-down of society) and how despite culture and tradition some aspects of human foibles remain regardless and can be played (and preyed) upon. But I don’t want my game to be a discussion on human weakness.

Instead, I want a game that creates the opportunity for heroic fantasy, with individuals whose greatest asset is their natural drive and ambition, rather than any “superpowers” (“feats, “ etc.) or the acquisition of powerful gear/equipment.

Ugh…this post is just rambling now. Let’s try to tie it up.

I know I wrote (back in the beginning) that I was a little distressed to find my game becoming a little too fairy tale in feel and not as “S&S” as I would like. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I hold “sword & sorcery” on some pedestal of absolute coolness compared to other types of fantasy (tried to sit through Tales of an Ancient Empire the other night and found it to be absolutely terrible…meanwhile, I still consider Disney’s Dragonslayer which is much more “fairy tale” in nature as one of the greatest fantasy films ever made). But I wanted my game to be a little more “gritty” and if anything has forced it to be too clean it’s the polite and ordered nature found in an idealized SETTING like the Golden Age of Islam circa 800 CE.

Unfortunately, moving the setting BACKWARDS in time (a la prehistory "Hyboria") makes it much harder to conceive of certain game elements: like a clerical class that makes sense sans traditional monotheism, or large cities like Baghdad and Basra and Constantinople. However, keeping the setting makes it hard to rationalize why there are still perilous adventure sites of the kind that would be considered “typical D&D” or rationalize the presence of huge humanoid populations or the existence of Evil High Priests…at least without moving waaaay away from even “mythic history” (like saying China is ruled by some Darth Vader-ish figure or something…I mean, you just start going down a really silly road that way). Greyhawk and Blackmoor got away with this (a bit) by creating a main megadungeon “tent pole” around which to build an otherwise functional fantasy world (still based on a 10th or 11th century European feel)…but just reading Gygax’s novels you can feel his world was much more a world of MEN (even “elven men” and “dwarf men,” etc.) than MONSTERS. It’s a world of politics and war, not dungeoneering…not surprising, really, when you consider the man was a war gamer that created D&D from the CHAINMAIL (war game) chassis.

I wanted (and still want) my game to be one of heroic individuals (the player characters), but I want real heroic tales, not just counting clacks and coins or whatever…I mean maybe I’m just being stupid about this. Maybe the best thing I can do is simply give folks tools and inspiration…I mean, they’re going to tweak the rules as they see fit anyway, right?

But I really can’t help but think there is an advantage to having these things thought out in advance. I want there to be a reason why it’s okay to find a female fighter out and about in an (otherwise) medieval, patriarchal society without simply being a matter of transposing ideas of 21st century equality onto this otherwise historical (fantastical) world. I want to know WHY if magic-users are SOOOO powerful with their “wish” spells and whatnot, how come only clerics can raise the dead or create food? And why the gods would even ALLOW such a thing as a “raise dead” spell if they’re in the business of collecting souls? I mean, assuming we have multiple gods from conflicting spheres fighting over the same batch of sentients for worship and adoration.

And why haven’t the orcs run roughshod over the whole of civilization again?

I realize that to many players of Dungeons & Dragons and other “fantasy games” the cosmology of the thing makes little difference to them. They are content to enjoy the escapism of the thing, blow off steam pretending to be a sword-swinging merc or a spell-slinging wizard. There are also plenty of folks who think modeling “romance” with a mechanical system is a completely cockamamie idea and one with no place in their “fantasy story.”  One has to be careful about introducing real morality in a fantasy adventure game, not because you might offend someone (I mean, I don’t THINK making an atheist or Christian play a Muslim-knockoff would be any harder than asking one to play a priest of Odin or Zeus), but because introducing morality brings question to the whole “adventuring idea” of killing things for their stuff. If a creature was intelligent enough to gather wealth, then this is tantamount to murder and theft...and yet, how else is one to get rich in a medieval world if you aren’t born into wealth and nobility from the get-go? Sure you can try your hand at dragon slaying (good luck at 1st level)…but how many dragons with hoards are left in the fantasy world?

And if there are evil wizards holed up in castles of brass and basalt, why haven’t the forces of Christendom (or Islam) already knocked down their walls?

It’s a tall frigging order to reconcile in your mind (or your game)…if you happen to be someone who cares about these things. When I was ten years old, I didn’t…nor when I was 14 or 24 for that matter (though I certainly wanted some level of sense to my game world…even if it was only “Krynnish” sense).

At this point, I think I will keep the rules for 5AK as I’ve already written them, clerics and all. I still LIKE how I did clerics (though I’m going to change my own “undead turning” rules to be more in-line with OD&D), and even though I really like the typical swords & sorcery take on priests (a la The Beastmaster take), I’m not quite ready to devolve my setting to one of Neolithic prehistory. Instead, I’m going to rework the cosmology a bit to account for why clerics have one sort of magic, and why magicians have limits on what they can do (and I’m talking spell-wise, not armor-wise). And also make sure that the wilderness of the world remains “barbaric” enough to account for the diverse amount of monstrous fauna. I guess I really need to play-up the “ancient ancestral people” that once inhabited the region and left “dungeons” (i.e. “adventure sites”) dotting the landscape.

You know, now that I think of it, perhaps my biggest issue with the cleric class is making it common. Like every temple has a high priest (9th level cleric) with a number of “under-clerics” filling out the administration. MY idea is that clerics with true healing ability (i.e. the saints) should be even fewer and farther between than magic-users, let alone adventuresome fighters and thieves. Maybe I need to rename the classes to get the point across that these individuals are rare and wonderful? Perhaps something like:

Adventurers (for thieves)
Heroes (for fighters)
Saints (for clerics)

[I already use the term magician for magic-users, but either way any suggestion that a person possesses magical knowledge implies a special and uncommon individual]

Of course, I’d have to rewrite large sections of the book, since I generally use the term “hero” and “adventurer” interchangeably for the term “player character.” Or perhaps I should retain the term “adventurer” for PCs and simply call thieves…um…skill-monkeys? Or something.

[no, not scoundrels]

But Saints, Heroes, and Magicians sound good in place of Clerics, Fighters, and Magic-Users. After all, a cleric sounds a bit more staid and traditional in the stay-at-home pastoral sense. And ALL of my adventurers can fight (members of the “fighter” class just do so more heroically). Mmm…this is all stuff I’ll be meditating on over the next couple days. My wife just got back into town, so I’ll have the opportunity to return to my play-testing Thursday. We’ll see if I can get out of the “Ali Baba” realm and into something a little more dark and grisly.

I'll keep you posted.
; )

Clerical Conclusions & Cosmology (Part 1)

[sorry for the delay in getting this wife just got back into town this last weekend and I've been doing "family time" ever since. Which is a good thing, but has resulted in substantial delays. There will also (probably) be more delays in the coming few days and for similar reasons. Just letting folks know]

In writing up this recent series of posts on clerics…

[hmm…please reference:

-        Clerics: What You Get
-        Undead Turning
-        Armored Spell-Casters

If you haven’t already checked ‘em out]

…in writing these posts, I come back to a blog topic that I’ve been meaning to sit down and write up for awhile now, which is the importance of COSMOLOGY for your RPG.

For those unfamiliar with the term, the American Heritage Dictionary defines cosmology as:

1.     A branch of philosophy dealing with the origin, processes, and structure of the universe.

With regard to a fantasy role-playing game (like Dungeons & Dragons), I break this down into the answers for the following questions:

-        Where do monsters come from?
-        Where does magic come from?
-        Where does the world come from (i.e. the nature of God or the gods)?

And (specific to D&D or similar games):

-        What part of the world’s history provides the adventuring environment, i.e. the dungeon?

For me, these are the questions that need to be answered for the world to make any type of sense. I also find it personally helpful to find a baseline correlation (if possible) with a particular history/time period in our own “real world” in order to get a grasp of the types of technology and politics one will find in a particular game.

Now some folks might be saying, “Hey, man! When I design a fantasy heartbreaker, it is GENERIC…just like D&D! The stuff you're talking about is all ‘setting material,’ and I don’t care about the setting…let the individual DMs fill in those blanks!”

To which I say: if you don’t know how these base building-blocks of your game came to be, you are cruising for a bruising. Or at least, you are opening yourself up to the (very strong) likelihood of criticism and ridicule. At least at the hands of people who have half a brain and care about coherent, sensible (as opposed to nonsensical) game play.

If you can’t tell me how all the monsters of your world came to be and why, nor how and why magic functions the way it does, nor what role the gods (or God) have in the grand design of your game world, then you might as well be playing a board game. “When you pass GO, collect $200 okay? That’s just the rules.”

Don’t be nonsensical.

Or at least, don’t be nonsensical if you want me to buy or play your game. Your purported-to-be role-playing game. It’s hard enough putting myself (mentally) into the shoes of a dwarf or wizard or whatever…don’t hamstring me with a ridiculously lazy attitude like, ‘hey, it’s just all there, folks.’

Don’t tell me wizards can’t wear armor unless you can tell me WHY they can’t wear armor. No, game balance is not a reason. I say:

“My wizard is going to wear the plate mail.”

DM: no you can’t do that.

“Why not?”

 Because it’s a rule.

“Screw that, MY CHARACTER CAREFULLY BUCKLES THE ARMOR ONTO HIS OWN BODY; if I have problems, I ask the fighter to show me how…there, I did it…what are you going to do about it?”

Well, you can’t use cast spells now.

“Who cares? I already used my sleep spell for the day. Anyone have an extra mace? A metal spiked club seems like an easy weapon to use…you just swing with it, right?”

You have to give me a reason WHY things are the way they are, because one of the draws of playing an RPG is the ability to act in the role of your character. As if I was a wizard poking around this imaginary world, get it?

Assuming you have an explanation for the sprawling underground labyrinth (of not less than six levels, per the instructions in OD&D)…why are there monsters living down there? What exactly are monsters anyway? If they have intelligence, why aren’t I trying to build alliances and trade routes with them? They can provide me with mined gold, I can bring them fresh rations from the surface world…this sounds like a “win-win” for everyone concerned!

Look, it’s not hard and it’s not rocket science…any half-assed reason or excuse can be come up with to answer these questions of cosmology. But you have to put in the (minimal) time and (minimal) effort to do so. You can’t just say “because.” Or rather, you CAN but then we will mock you for being a knucklehead.

Why don’t magic-users wear armor in Krynn? Because it was forbidden by the gods (oh, yes, the gods are very active in this world…like fighting it out with each other on the material plane and not being content with ruling their heavenly plane but trying to rule the material world as well). What happens if a wizard puts on armor or tries to wield a weapon? Well, then the gods will punish you for your arrogance in some way…maybe strip your “magical gift” or blow you up with a lightning bolt from the clear blue sky. Um, so why can elves (or dual-class humans) use weapons and still learn magic? Um…because the elven ancestors performed a lot of divine fellatio? I don’t know…Krynn doesn’t make that much sense! Hopefully your world will make more.

The point is you have to consider it. You have to think about it. And it’s helpful if you WRITE IT DOWN so that other people who play your game will know what the F is going on, too.

[to be continued]