Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Musings on Alignment Abuse

Look in your heart, you know it to be true...
Last year, I wrote a short post about the alignment system present in Dungeons & Dragons and Pathfinder (which you can find HERE). In that post, I mentioned how I'm rather fond of the alignment system as a concept and like how it gives the player a starting point for their character's personality and personal philosophy. I also like the idea that forces of absolute chaos, good, evil, and law exist within these fictional settings and how mortals who might not meet up to those same standards might interact and align themselves with them.

With that being said, I understand why some people would love to set the alignment system on fire so they can just watch it burn. Alignment is one of the most easily abused systems in D&D and Pathfinder. I've heard numerous horror stories about the Lawful Stupid paladin forcing the party to play a certain way or the Chaotic Evil douchebag who does terrible things and uses the classic excuse: "I'm just playing my character."

While there are a few ways one can try and prevent these problems from occurring, I believe it usually boils down to two different approaches. The first approach is to simply remove alignment from the game. This would include removing any spell or effect that deals with alignment, probably banning the paladin class, reworking certain elements of the cleric class. While it might seem like a daunting task, its actually relatively easy to accomplish if you set your mind to it.

The second and most likely easier approach is to just sit your players down at the beginning of a campaign and have a quick discussion about alignment with them. In this discussion, you would present your view of alignment and allow the players to do the same. After a few minutes of back and forth, you would come to a definition that both of you can agree to during the game. Due to my already mentioned fondness of alignment, I generally prefer this option.

However, both of these options assume you aren't playing with dicks. An asshole will ruin a game, whether alignment exists or not. I know this is probably really obvious, deciding to not play with dicks can make your entire gaming experience a lot better. Before dealing with any problem, you should first look at your group and see if you have a dick in your mist. If you do, you should probably remove him as soon as possible. Trust me, its for the best.

Alignment can be an interesting starting point for a cool character or it can be a straight jacket that you struggle against. Its all based on how you perceive them and actually handle them at the table.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Game of Thrones Reviews: "Breaker of Chains"

I will never get tired of seeing Joffrey dead. Does that make me weird?
PLOT SUMMARY
After being accused of the murder of King Joffrey, Tyrion is thrown into the dungeon and wonders if anyone will help him prove his innocence. Meanwhile, Tywinn offers Oberyn Martell a deal if he helps judge his son at his trial; Sam takes Gilly to Mole's Town with the hope of keeping her safe; The Hound continues to show Arya the darker side of life; and Daenerys arrives outside the walls of Meeren and gives a proclamation to the city's slaves. 

WHAT DID I THINK
Like the season premiere, "Breaker of Chains" spends most of its time setting up things to come in later episodes and possesses a slower pace because of that. However, I feel like "Breaker of Chains" did a better job balancing the multiple plots and keeping the narrative enjoyable to watch. 

While I liked the episode, there was a certain element that really got under my skin and kept me from enjoying it as much as the previous episode. The scene with Jaime forcing himself onto Cersei while their dead son is laying on the altar next to them really bothered me. If I recall, this scene is much more ambiguous in the books. However, its hard to call this anything but rape and I feel it kind of goes against the character development Jaime received last season and it feels like it was added to try and make Cersei more sympathetic. Deciding the best way to make a character more sympathetic is to rape her instead of simply writing her better is kind of problematic. Now, I know someone is going to cry, "But this is an adaptation!" That's true, but that hasn't stopped them from changing scenes and reworking character dynamics before. If they really wanted to make her more sympathetic, they could have easily done that through the writing. 

Putting that one scene aside, the episode just falls short of the previous episode in the quality department. The directing is solid and the acting great as usual. Oberyn Martell continues to prove why he's such a cool character and I actually didn't mind Daenerys' scenes this time. That one scene just kept me from fully embracing it. 

FINAL VERDICT
While the previous episode was definitely better, "Breaker of Chains" is a solid episode that really only falls short of "The Lion and the Rose" for me due to the scene between Cersei and Jaime. If it wasn't for that one scene, I would like have liked this episode a lot more. I know some people might not agree, but this is about me giving my opinion, so that's what I'm going to do. 

Friday, April 18, 2014

Cosmo-Joe's Magic Missile Dice


I have a soft spot in my heart for strange dice. I think its the inherent collector inside me, wanting to find new and unusual dice to add to my collection. These definitely fit that bill perfectly. Andy "Cosmo-Joe" Watkins has started a kickstarter to fund the creation of special "magic missile" dice. These dice look like your average d4, but the results already include the initial +1 bonus granted by magic missile

While adding the relatively small bonuses associated with magic missile has never really been that much of a hassle, these would be fun to use at the table and would make for an interesting conversation piece. If you're interested in donating to the project, click HERE

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Fantasy Art Thursday: "Echoes of Glory" by Ralph Horsley

((Click HERE to go to Ralph Horsley's DeviantArt page))
Last year when I started this series, one of the first artists I featured was Ralph Horsley. Hailing from the United Kingdom, Horsley is mostly known the work he's done for Dungeons & Dragons, Pathfinder, Talisman, and World of Warcraft.

The above piece is the cover for the Pathfinder Player Companion Taldor: Echoes of Glory. The picture depicts two different battalions from the empire of Taldor clashing as the sun slowly sets over the horizon. I love how Horsley has captured the chaotic nature of battle, seeing the two knights clashing over the bodies of their fallen comrades while numerous cavaliers and warriors fight in the background. I love how the knights' tabards are tattered  and their armor and weapons are stained in blood, showing how brutal this conflict has been. It really does capture the internal struggles of Taldor and the empire's slow decline. 

Question Time: What is your favorite Ralph Horsley piece?  

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Random Thoughts on Material Components

I've always loved material spell components as a thematic element in my games. The idea of a spellcaster carrying around all of these weird bits and bobbles that might look incredibly strange to the magical layman has always been an interesting one to me.

However, trying to represent material components mechanically has always been problematic. While they add a certain flavor to spellcasting that I like, trying to actually keep track of these weird items just adds a lot of unnecessary bookkeeping to a game that doesn't need another layer of complication.

With that in mind, I've been toying with a few ideas on how to handle material components at the table while keeping the amount of additional bookkeeping relatively minimal. While that might sound like an impossible task, I think I've come up with three potential ways to approach this situation.

The easiest approach is to just handwave material components that lack a listed price and only track the ones that do. You wouldn't worry about the rhubarb leaf and the adder's stomach needed to cast acid arrow and would only focus on the diamond worth 10,000 gold pieces needed to perform resurrection. Essentially this is the cop-out option.

The second option would make material components something that enhances a spell instead of being something necessary to cast the spell. For example, adding a red dragon scale to the preparation a fireball spell might add an additional 1d6 to the spell's damage or adding a phoenix's feather to a cure light wounds allows you to heal more damage. I find this option rather attractive because those who don't want to fiddle with material components won't have to, but those who choose to use them can and will only have to track those they plan on actually using. This idea is actually based off the Metamagic Components variant from Unearthed Arcana.

The final idea was inspired by Dungeon World and is a little more abstract than the other two. With this variant, spellcasters would have a spell component pouch that possesses a number of "component charges". When preparing your spells, you spend these charges to "pull" the necessary components out of your pouch. When you run out of charges, you have run out of components. You may replace these charges by either using a combination of Knowledge (Arcana)/Survival to forage them or spend a number of gold pieces equal to the maximum number of challenges the spell component pouch actually has. Every time a character obtains a new level, the maximum charges increases. This option would allow for the possibility of you actually running out of components during an adventure and having to figure out a way around that and makes the bookkeeping rather simple.

Personally, I feel like the second option might be the way to go. Creating the effects material components might have on spells is relatively simple and I could always use the metamagic component variant if I decided to be lazy. Also, it would be cool to see wizards taking weird body parts with the hope of enhancing their spells. However, the third option might be interesting as well. Unfortunately, it might be a little too abstract and weird to use at the table. I guess I'm just going to have to wait and see how they actually work.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Fantasy Fiction Tuesday: The Hedge Knight (1998)

Originally published as part of Robert Silverberg's Legends anthology, The Hedge Knight is a 160-page novella written by George R. R. Martin, set in the land of Westeros and taking place roughly 90 years before the events of his A Song of Ice and Fire series.

The Hedge Knight relates the adventures of Dunk, a young hedge knight who grew up on the streets of King's Landing. After the death of his mentor, Dunk decides to enter a tourney behind held at Ashford. On the way, meets up with a strange boy known simply as "Egg" who later becomes his squire. When he finally arrives at the tourney, Dunk slights a Targaryen prince and must submit to a trial by combat to prove his innocence. However, this is no ordinary trial by combat. Instead of fighting just the prince, Dunk might find six champions to stand by his side. Will he be able to find brave knights to take up his cause, or will he be found guilty of his crime and pay the ultimate price?

I've mentioned before that I have a complicated relationship with George R. R. Martin and his A Song of Ice and Fire series. I love the world that he's created, the interesting characters that inhabited it, and how the plot can keep me on the edge of my seat. However, I feel like Martin is sometimes better at coming up with cool ideas then he is at actually executing them and his writing can be somewhat problematic the less focused it is.

Thankfully, The Hedge Knight's shorter format and smaller focus really allows Martin to shine as a writer. While the story itself is a relatively simple affair, the characters at what makes it really stand out. Like Jon Snow and Tyrion Lannister, Dunk is something of an outcast. A former street rat who has lived a hard life, Dunk just wants to be a honorable knight. However, he is constantly seen as a lesser individual by those of nobility and constant examples of those who happen to be true knights acting in very dishonorable ways. While he might not be the brightest individual, he does have a good heart and tries to do the right thing, even if it might end with his possible death. Dunk is incredibly likable and you want to see him succeed.

Like A Song of Ice and Fire, the majority of The Hedge Knight's cast is interesting. Because its set before Robert's Rebellion, we get a chance to see what the Targaryen's were like while they were still in power. Although some of them are similar to the Targaryens we have seen, we also see they weren't all bad. Specifically Prince Baelor is incredibly honorable and Prince Daeron has easily the best line in the book. If you enjoyed the myriad of characters within A Song of Ice and Fire, you will not be disappointed with The Hedge Knight.

I feel like The Hedge Knight would be a perfect starting point for those who are interested in giving Martin's work a try, but don't feel like reading the large tomes that make up his main series. For those who are already fans of A Song of Ice and Fire, The Hedge Knight gives you a different look at Westeros and allows us to see what it was like before the fall of the Targaryens.

While some might criticize the simplistic nature of the story, I found it enjoyable and thought the characters were the main selling point of the novella. Sometimes, you don't need a overtly complicated tale with numerous twists and turns. Sometimes you just want a short, little story about a young man who wants to be a knight.

Monday, April 14, 2014

New Archetype - The Dervish

Art by Alexey Aparin
In the arid desert, no enemy is as feared as the whirling dervish. Most individuals only see the flash of a blade and a quick blur before their blood splatters across the sands. These spinning warriors prefer to wear light or no armor and wield scimitars with deadly precision, dancing throughout the battlefield to deliver devastating blow after devastating blow.

The dervish is an archetype for the swashbuckler class. The dervish receives the following abilities:

Weapon Finesse (Ex): Like the base swashbuckler, the dervish receives Weapon Finesse as a bonus feat at 1st level. However, the dervish receives the benefits of the feat when wielding a scimitar.

Deeds: The dervish swaps three of the normal swashbuckler deeds for the following deeds:

Desert Stride: At 7th level, as long as the dervish has at least 1 panache point, he can move through 10 feet of difficult terrain as if it were normal terrain. This ability replaces the Swashbuckler's Grace deed.

Rapid Attack: At 11th level, a dervish can spend 1 panache point to combine a full attack with a single move. He must forgo the attack at his highest bonus but may take the remaining attacks at any point during his movement. This movement provokes attacks of opportunity as normal. This ability replaces the Bleeding Wound deed.

Lighting Strike: At 15th level, as part of a full attack, the dervish can spend 2 panache point to make one additional attack. This attack is at the dervish's highest attack bonus. This ability replaces the Dizzying Display deed.

Fast Movement (Ex): Starting at 2nd level, the dervish increases his base speed by 10 feet. Every four levels beyond 2nd, his speed increases by an additional 10 feet. This ability replaces Agile.

((For those of you who are very astute readers, you should realize this archetype is based on the Dawnflower Dervish archetype from the Inner Sea Primer. I always liked the archetype, felt like it would be a perfect fit for my swashbuckler, and decided to adapt it. I hope you all like it.))