Monday, April 29, 2013

Flavorful Features

Art By Matt Cavotta
Last night while hanging out with one of my oldest friends, we started to chat about Dungeons & Dragons/Pathfinder and talked about what classes were our personal favorites. Usually, we'd mention how we liked the mechanics of one class or the concept of another.

One of the classes that I mentioned was the Wu Jen from Oriental Adventures and Complete Arcane. While this eastern-flavored spellcaster wasn't the best class in the world, it had a certain feature that I've always found interesting: their Taboos.

For those of you who might not know what I'm talking about, I'll elaborate. For a Wu Jen to maintain their supernatural power, the character must abide by a number of taboos that might seem weird and inconsequential to other characters but are vitally important to the Wu Jen. If the character violates one of their taboos, they cannot cast any more spells that day. Some possible taboos include:

  • Cannot eat meat.
  • Cannot own more than they can carry.
  • Must make a daily offering (such as food, flowers, or incense) to one or more spiritual powers. 
  • Cannot bathe.
  • Cannot cut their hair. 
  • Cannot touch a dead body.
  • Cannot drink alcohol. 
  • Cannot wear a certain color. 
  • Cannot light a fire. 
  • Cannot sit facing a certain direction. 

While this class feature has no real mechanic effect beyond causing a Wu Jen to lose their spellcasting ability for the day if they don't abide by them, these taboos add a mountain of flavor to the class. They help make the Wu Jen a more exotic and mystical spellcaster than your average Wizard or Sorcerer. 

As I think about the Wu Jen's taboos and what they add to the class, I started to think about some "flavor" features that I could add to some of the classes in Dungeons & Dragons/Pathfinder. Probably the first that came to my mind was for the Sorcerer class.

For those of you who are not familiar with Pathfinder, the Sorcerer class is an arcane spellcaster who derives their magical abilities from a mystical bloodline of some sort. When you read the descriptive text for the bloodlines, they touch on the fact that the Sorcerer might have some physical sign of their bloodline. I decided to take this descriptive text and flesh it out into a "flavor" feature for the class.

At 1st level, the Sorcerer manifests a minor sign related to their bloodline. This would be something that isn't to noticeable, but would show there is something off about the Sorcerer when it is noticed. For example, a Sorcerer with an Abyssal Bloodline might smell like brimstone or have a faint reddish tent to his or her skin. At 5th level, the Sorcerer manifests a moderate sign related to their bloodline to represent the further awakening of their inner power. Continuing with the previous example, the Sorcerer's eyes might turn completely black or a pair of tiny horns might start to grow from the Sorcerer's forehead. At 10th, 15th, and 20th level, the Sorcerer manifests a major sign related to their bloodline. Now, the Abyssal Sorcerer's horns might grow larger, their skin could change to a dark red tent, their tongue might split and become forked, or they might start to grow a fiendish tail. 

While these signs would have no actually mechanic elements, they would help reinforce the strangeness of the Sorcerer and why society might look down upon them or mistrust him. Also, it helps to further distance them from the Wizard. 

I have a few more ideas for flavor features for the other classes, but I still need to flesh them out more. I really like these features because they help make each class something more than just a bundle of mechanics and abilities. You can even add some flavor features to the races to help emphasize the roles they play in your campaign world. The sky's the limit really. 

Friday, April 26, 2013

Dark Dungeons: The Movie Kickstarter

So, apparently a Kickstarter has been created to raise money to fund the making of a movie based on Jack Chick's incredibly stupid anti-RPG tract Dark Dungeons. After watching the video for the Kickstarter, I think this is going to be hilarious and I'm definitely going to back it. If you're interested in backing the project, you can do so here.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

What Dungeons & Dragons Character Would You Be? My Results

I Am A: Neutral Good Human Bard (2nd Level)

Ability Scores:

Neutral Good A neutral good character does the best that a good person can do. He is devoted to helping others. He works with kings and magistrates but does not feel beholden to them. Neutral good is the best alignment you can be because it means doing what is good without bias for or against order. However, neutral good can be a dangerous alignment when it advances mediocrity by limiting the actions of the truly capable.

Humans are the most adaptable of the common races. Short generations and a penchant for migration and conquest have made them physically diverse as well. Humans are often unorthodox in their dress, sporting unusual hairstyles, fanciful clothes, tattoos, and the like.

Bards often serve as negotiators, messengers, scouts, and spies. They love to accompany heroes (and villains) to witness heroic (or villainous) deeds firsthand, since a bard who can tell a story from personal experience earns renown among his fellows. A bard casts arcane spells without any advance preparation, much like a sorcerer. Bards also share some specialized skills with rogues, and their knowledge of item lore is nearly unmatched. A high Charisma score allows a bard to cast high-level spells.

Find out What Kind of Dungeons and Dragons Character Would You Be?, courtesy of Easydamus (e-mail).

((Decided to not make a normal post today as a late birthday gift to myself [I turned 21 yesterday]. I saw a similar post on Gamers & Grognards, and I thought I'd make a similar post to fill in the blank.))

Monday, April 22, 2013

Musing About Skills

Art By Steven Belledin
Recently, I've had a lot of free time on my hands. So, to keep myself entertained so I don't die from boredom, I have been working on my very own fantasy "heartbreaker." Basically, I'm taking the different elements that I've liked from the different editions of Dungeons & Dragons and mixing them together to make my own personal edition of the game.

One of my goals with this project is to make the system as simple as I possible so the rules will get in my way as little as humanly possible. To satisfy this goal, I'm trying not to add anything that isn't absolutely necessary to the game.

After figuring out which races and classes I want in the game (for the time being), I've been sketching out the other elements I want to add as well and I believe I've hit a bump in the proverbial road. I'm wondering if I should add skills to the game or not.

On one hand, I've always liked skills. They are an easy way for players to further customize their character and allow two characters of the same race and class to have different areas of expertise. However, skills have a bad habit of contributing to the bloat of character bonuses and there is always the question of how many skills should there be and should they be broad or specific?

If I decide not to have skills in the game, I would probably put more emphasis on ability checks and would implement a simple "advantage/disadvantage" mechanic. Basically, if you are attempting an action that your race or class would be good at, you would receive a plus 2 bonus to the check. Since I'm also going to be implementing the 1/2 level bonus from 4th edition, I think the plus 2 bonus would stack rather nicely. Also, I think it would cause players to have to actually describe what they are doing instead of just saying, "I make a Diplomacy check."

While I'm leaning towards ability checks with an associated advantage/disadvantage system, I might end up adding a skill system later if I decide to add more "advanced" rules to the system to allow for more customization for characters. Only time will tell.

Friday, April 19, 2013

The Problem With Women In Fantasy Art

While it might be strange to say this since I'm a guy, but I have always considered myself a feminist. I have always believed that everyone should be treated equally, no matter what their gender is, and the objectification they suffer from in both our entertainment and society is both stupid and wrong. So, with that in mind, it should be obvious that I've always had a problem with the depiction of women in fantasy art. 

Art by LuckyFK on DeviantArt
The "sexy armor" that a good number of women in fantasy art are shown wearing is both impractical and idiotic. For example, the above image shows what would logically happen when a character wears "sexy armor" instead of more practical armor. The "sexy armor" doesn't cover a number of vital areas on the human body, which makes the armor rather pointless when you think about it. Why would anyone wear armor that would leave the chest, the stomach, the legs, and most of their arms and head uncovered? The only reason she's wearing the armor is to appeal to the male audience the designers assumed would be the majority of their customers. 

Art by Eric Belisle
The depiction of women in fantasy art can also be idiotic because of the lengths they will go to make the character sexual in one way or another. The minotaur picture above is a perfect example of this. The artist has given the character this slender, curvy body that should not be able to support that thick neck and large head of hers. That neck and head of hers would be heavy, and it would require a muscular body to support it. The only reason she has this body is so the readers would find it attractive, even though it doesn't make much logical sense. 

Art by Wayne Reynolds
Now, not all depictions of women in fantasy art are bad or exploitative. The above picture depicts Kyra, the iconic cleric for the Pathfinder RPG and is an example of a good depiction of a female character in fantasy art. Her armor actually covers her and she is not sexualized in the slightest. Plus, she actually looks like someone who could hold her own in a fight and actually wield that scimitar she's holding. 

Art by Eric Belisle
This piece depicting one of the characters from Dave Gross' Pathfinder Tales novel Queen of Thorns is another good example of how women should be depicted in fantasy art. She is wearing practical armor and looks like a cool character and makes me want to know more about her without the art trying to make me fantasize about her in a sexual manner. 

I want to make something rather clear. I don't think all sexual art with women in it is bad. If it makes sense for the character to be depicted in a sexual manner or the art is part of something where the point of it is to be sexual, that I'm okay with it. I only object to art that is overly-sexual for no real reason beyond "sex sells". When the art shows women in "sexy armor" and posing in ways that would probably break her back, you are sending a message that this is the norm and female characters should be like this. However, when you should pictures of women in the same style of armor as the men, you are showing these characters are equal and the women can be just as cool as their male counterparts, even more so at times. 

Having art that depicts both the sexes in a positive light that makes the readers say, "That's awesome, I want to be that guy or girl" isn't too much to ask, right? 

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Crunch Overload

I've mentioned before that my gateway into the roleplaying game hobby was the 3.5 edition of Dungeons & Dragons. While I have fond memories of 3.5 and its spiritual predecessor Pathfinder is one of my favorite games at the moment. However, I have always been bothered by "crunchy" nature of the d20 system.

For those of you who are new to the hobby and haven't learned all the strange, little terms that we use yet, "crunch" is the mechanics that are the basic foundation of these games that we play. Some games, like Risus and a number of "indie" games, are rather light on crunch and just give you a basic framework of rules that you can expand and build upon during the game. Others, like the d20 system or the Hero system, have a decent amount of crunch, meaning they have a large amount of rules for numerous things both big and small.

While I enjoy running and playing Pathfinder and it is still my go-to fantasy game, I starting to find the amount of crunch it has unattractive. I understand the idea behind having a robust system. It is supposed to provide the players with a large amount of choices and hopefully give you a rule for pretty much anything so you won't have to worry about every being caught off-guard.

That basic idea is an admirable one and I can understand why a number of people would find it an attractive one. However, recently, I find the amount of crunch in Pathfinder rather annoying and in a strange way restrictive. With the amount of rules present in the game, I find myself hesitating when a situation arises that the rules don't cover. Instead of just quickly figuring out a way to handle it and move on, a little voice in my head keeps popping up and saying, "Wait, maybe you should check one of the rulebooks. There might be a rule for this somewhere."

So, I have been doing a lot of thinking and I'm going to be taking a break from Pathfinder for awhile. Instead, I'm going to be running a Savage Worlds-based Sci-Fi game. Unlike the d20 system, Savage Worlds is a lot more simple and straight-forward. It has a lot of variety, but that variety never causes the game to become really complicated or restrictive. While I'm running this campaign (which I might talk about in a later post), I'm actually going to be working a rules-light fantasy game that has somewhat of an "old school" feel, but includes a number of rules and elements from more "new school" games. Once I get the basic rules written up, I might just post a PDF of them there for others to check out. I think this break from more crunchy games will be good for both my future games and my own creativity.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Why I Love Random Ability Score Generation

Last week, I talked about randomly generating hit points and mentioned that I'm not a big fan of the idea. While I think I have found a nice middle ground where players can randomly generate their character's hit points and not have to worry about getting just a single, measly hit point, I still have some reservations with randomly generating new hit points.

With that being said, I would like to make it very clear that I don't hate all random elements in character generation. On the contrary, I rather like them. I find randomization speeds the process up and I find it entertaining to "work with what fate has given me" occasionally. For example, I absolutely love randomly generating a character's ability scores.

One of the reasons I prefer randomly generating a character's ability scores is that I find it to be more enjoyable than the "Purchase" method. While the Purchase method allows a player to build the character they want and have more control over the process, I feel that it is incredibly boring and causes the process to grind to a halt. However, grabbing a couple of six-sided dice and rolling them a few times is both fast and entertaining.

Secondly, I feel like the random nature behind rolling for a character's ability scores better represents the fact that not everyone is created equal. Some people are better at certain things than others. Just because someone has an 18 in Strength doesn't mean you can't be useful to the party with your 18 Charisma. Personally, I find playing characters with average ability scores more fun because I now have to come up with fun and inventive ways around problems since I can't rely on high ability scores to save me.

While I like randomly generating a character's ability scores, I will admit that it sucks when fate decides to turn her back on you and you end up rolling a really horrible set of scores. So, like the rule I'm thinking about using for hit point generation, I'm thinking about using this one rule that Brian Patterson from d20monkey uses:

  • Roll 4d6 and remove the lowest number.
  • Roll that six times per set. 
  • Roll two sets of six. 
  • The player chooses one of the two sets (no mix-n-match). 

While it would slow the character generation process down slightly, it would give the players a slightly better chance of not being stuck with completely horrible ability scores. Since I'm going to be running a Savage Worlds-based Savage Worlds game for the next few weeks, I'll probably have to wait awhile before I can actually implement this method of ability score generation and see how well it actually works at the table, but I'm sure it will work fine. 

Friday, April 12, 2013

Clerical Musings

From Pathfinder RPG Core Rulebook
By Wayne Reynolds
I have always had a strange fondness for the Cleric. While I'm an Agnostic in real life, there is just someone about fantasy deities and religions that gets my imagination working and play those rare few who have decided to dedicate their lives to these divine beings and the philosophies they are associated with. 

Because of my love for the Cleric, I have been thinking about a few different ways to hack the class to better fit my view of it and how I'd like it to work in my game. 

One of the things I have been toying with is possibly changing the cleric into a Charisma-based spontaneous caster much like the sorcerer. My reasoning for this is rather simple. The Cleric, instead of preparing its spells like the Wizard, would pray or "ask" their patron deity for help, but they can only do this a number of times per day before their deity starts to ignore them. I'd probably slow their spell progression down so they wouldn't be overpowered. However, I'm hesitant to actually make this change because I'd have to make a few more changes to the class that I'm not sure I'm willing to do just yet. 

The second idea I have been toying with is one that came to me after reading through the D&D Next playtest documents. I have always disliked domains and have been looking for something I could use to replace them. While reading the Cleric entry in the playtest document, I found myself really liking the idea of a Cleric's patron deity having a more profound affect on the Cleric than just choosing two domains. 

Instead of choosing two domains at 1st level, the Cleric would instead choose a Divine Patron. These Divine Patrons would be very broadly defined so Game Masters could build their setting's deities around them. Examples would be things like the Life-Giver, the Protector, the Storm-Caller, and the Warmonger. The Divine Patron would grant the Cleric additional armor/weapon proficiencies (The basic Cleric would only be proficient with light armor and simple weapons), bonus skills and spells thematically tied to the Patron, which alignments the Cleric can be, and a number of powers thematically tied to the Patron. Basically, the Patron would act a lot like a Wizard's School. 

While this change would make Clerics dedicated to different deities more unique (Clerics of the Warmonger, for example, would have more armor/weapon proficencies and powers that affect their combat abilities than Clerics of the Lifegiver), but would make the class more complicated then I'd probably like. I think I'm going to let this idea sit in my House Rule notebook a little longer before I actually do anything with it. 

What are some of the changes you would make to the Cleric? Would they be minor changes or drastic ones? Why would you want to make the changes? I'd love to see other peoples' ideas. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Minimum Hit Point Totals

From Unearthed Arcana by John and Laura Lakey
One thing that I have always hated about Dungeons & Dragons and its close cousin Pathfinder is the random generation of hit points. It sucks to be the wizard with a Constitution score of 10 who rolls a 1 on their hit die when they level up. So, for the longest time, I used the variant rule presented in the Pathfinder Society Guide where characters receive the maximum result of their hit die plus any miscellaneous modifiers at 1st level and the rounded up average of their hit die plus any miscellaneous modifiers each time they gain a level.

Recently, I have been reading the Rules & Magic book for Lamentations of the Flame Princess and one of the rules in there really seemed to catch my attention. For LotFP, each character at 1st level has a "minimum" number of hit points they receive. When they roll their hit die and they happen to roll lower than their minimum amount, they receive the minimum amount instead. I really like how the rule creates a safety net so players don't end up going into a dungeon with just 1 hit point and get killed by a simple house cat.

So, I'm thinking of adapting this rule for my future Pathfinder campaigns. However, I'm going to make a few changes to make it fit that game better. At 1st level, you receive the maximum amount of hit points for your class plus your Constitution modifier and any additional modifiers you might receive. Each time you gain a new level, you will roll your class' hit die and add your Constitution modifier and any additional modifiers you might receive and compare the final result to your class' minimum hit point total found on the table below and add whichever total is higher to your hit points.


I contemplated having your Constitution modifier and any miscellaneous modifiers you might receive to your minimum amount so you would just have to roll your hit die each time you gain a level and compare its result to your minimum total. However, there was the fear that your minimum total might end up matching the maximum result of your class' hit die or even exceed it. So, I just had the modifiers affect the roll of the hit die like normal.

I think this will be an interesting addition to my Pathfinder games. It will allow players to sometimes get lucky and receive a larger amount of hit points than normal each time they gain a level, but gives them a safety net so they won't end up with just a single additional hit point.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Choosing Degrees of Fantasy

Cover of Mythic Adventures Sourcebook
By Wayne Reynolds
Last week, while dealing with a rather bad case of the flu, I found myself spending the few moments I wasn't asleep or coughing up a lung jotting down a few concepts and ideas for a "Points of Light" style setting that I'm going to flesh out for a future Pathfinder game.

Before I can fully flesh this setting out though, I need to make a few decisions that will influence the setting in a number of different ways. The biggest decision I need to make, in my opinion, is how fantastical the setting is and what is the magic level of the setting.

Most people tend to file settings under one of three levels of fantasy and magic. These are High Fantasy/Magic, Medium Fantasy/Magic, and Low Fantasy/Magic. Each category has its own unique elements that can make a game feel radically different from another.

High Fantasy/Magic settings are worlds where the fantastical elements are cranked up to 11. Powerful magic is extremely common and almost anything is possible. Low Fantasy/Magic settings are worlds where the fantastical elements exist, but are not very common and magic is rare and usually feared and misunderstood. Also, Low Fantasy/Magic settings seem to be grittier and darker in my experiences with them. Medium Fantasy/Magic settings are worlds that fall somewhere between High Fantasy/Magic and Low Fantasy/Magic. The fantastical elements are prominent, but not as overly-abundant and magic is common, but as ubiquitous as in High Fantasy/Magic settings. As the name implies, it is a middle ground between the two.

Personally, I have never been a big fan of High Fantasy/Magic settings. To me, the ubiquitous nature of the fantastical elements and magic makes those elements less fantastical and magical. When I play a fantasy game, I want the creatures and magic to be mystical, strange, and interesting. The fantastical elements should not be something so...normal. While not all High Fantasy/Magic are like this, enough are and I just try ignore them.

While I love Low Fantasy/Magic settings, I feel the concepts and ideas I have for the setting wouldn't mess that well with that degree of fantasy. Also, the Pathfinder rules system doesn't do Low Fantasy/Magic settings that well.

So, after going through the process of elimination, that leaves me with Medium Fantasy/Magic, which I believe will be a good fit for the setting. The Fantastical elements and magic will be common, but not common enough to make them trivial and boring. The basic idea of the setting is that it is a large, but isolated landmass that is slightly smaller than Australia that was once ruled by a mighty kingdom that was established by foreigners who landed on the landmass after flying a cataclysm that destroyed their homeland. A few centuries ago, the kingdom was torn asunder by a vicious civil war. Now, a number of independent city-states (three ruled by humans, one by dwarves, and one by elves) rule the surrounding towns and villages and large swaths of frontier separate them from each other. Most people have only traveled a few miles away from their home town or village, so most of their knowledge about the known world is based on rumors and hearsay. While magic is a well-known force in the world, only a handful of individuals ever gain the ability to actually use it and those few who do learn it tend to be very wary when accepting apprentices to teach their secrets to. While people know dwarves, elves, and the other races exist, they are not normal sights in the human-controlled realms and tend to keep to themselves for one reason or another.

One of the major concepts I wanted to explore with this setting is the thrill of exploration and the discovery of the mystical and mysterious. Because of this, I really think the Medium Fantasy/Magic level fits perfectly and I'm going to run with it for now.