Monday, September 30, 2013

Alignment & Belief

The Alignment system presented in D&D/Pathfinder seems to be one of those elements that people either love or hate. Personally, I like how alignment can act as a useful shorthand in determining a character's moral outlook on life and what they might and might not do. With that being said, I can understand why a lot of people dislike alignment. The system can be rather restricting depending on the character you are trying to play and the system doesn't represent the "shades of gray" morality that a lot of people like to play around with.

Recently, I've been thinking about a few alternatives that one could use in the place of alignment in D&D/Pathfinder, and one specific idea popped into my head while reading through the Mouse Guard rulebook. In Mouse Guard, each character has a "belief" that represents an important idea the character lives their life by. Like aspects in FATE, a good belief is a simple phrase that can both help and hinder the character and should influence how a player roleplays the character. I wonder if you could do something similar for D&D/Pathfinder characters.

Like FATE, every character receives three beliefs that represent the character's core ideas and philosophies. The player of the character creates the beliefs from scratch and the beliefs should affect the character in a positive and negative way during certain roleplaying situations. If you're using action/hero points, you might allow players to spend an action/hero point to gain a temporary bonus in situation where one of their beliefs would help them. Likewise, you can also offer them an action/hero point if they take a temporary penalty in situations where one of their beliefs would hinder them.

If I were to use such a system, I'd probably take Paladins out of the game since I don't feel like re-balancing them to better fit this system and remove the spells and abilities that require the current alignment system. I think this "Three Beliefs" system would allow for more "shades of gray" campaigns and would gives the players a three sentence reminder about how their character thinks and acts. However, this is still just a concept and I'd like to really think this through before I even think about bringing it to the table. However, I'm one of those guys who likes to brainstorm out loud and see what others thing, so feel free to give me your own thoughts and opinions.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Fantasy Art Friday: "Eowyn vs the Nazgul" by Florian Stitz

Artist's DeviantArt Account
I'm just going to be honest and say that I really love this picture. I love how iconic the image feels, having Eowyn standing up to the Witch King of Angmar riding his fell beast mount, showing absolutely no fear. I love the simple and soft colors that cause the image to really pop draw our eyes to our fierce shieldmaiden and the deadly Nazgul. Finally, I love how awesome Eowyn looks. She looks like a bad-ass warrior who is willing to lay down her life to protect the land from the evils of Sauron. This is how I want women depicted in fantasy art. Cool, determined, and simply bad-ass.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Logic & Verisimilitude in Fantasy Settings

Yesterday, I was reading an article on about the negatives of "boob plate armor". While reading through the comments and seeing the usual arguments for and against "sexy armor", I noticed one specific argument continue to show up again and again. The "It's fantasy, it doesn't have to be realistic" argument, an argument that I really hate. 

I do agree with the idea behind the argument. Fantasy settings, by their very nature, tend to contain a number of elements that do not exist in the real world. For example, people cannot use magic in the real world or fight dragons while riding on the backs of pegasi. Since these elements do not exist in the real world, they can never be truly "realistic." 

However, just because a fantasy setting contains unrealistic elements doesn't mean it can't have a internal sense of logic and verisimilitude. Yes, you can have a world filled to the brim with unrealistic elements with no real explanation about how those elements work in your world. However, doing so will most likely push most people's ability to suspend their disbelief too far. Every setting, especially ones with fantastical elements, needs to be at least believable and have a sense of logic so people will be more willing to buy into it. 

For example, lets say you are designing a fictional world and you want magic to exist on this world. While you could say, "Magic exists and it works because I say so," that would be lazy world-building. Instead, you decide people perform magical spells by focusing their inner energy through arcane rituals to warp reality around them. The bigger the change, the more complex the ritual will be. Since you've set up the rules for how magic works, people will be more willing to except it because you've given them an explanation that makes sense to them. 

So, while fantasy settings can possess unrealistic elements, they still need to make sense within the world that you are presenting. If your setting has the same physical laws that our world does (and most seem to), you have to make sure the things you present conform to those laws or have a logical and understandable reason for why an element breaks those laws. I think that's an easy enough thing to remember, don't you? 

Monday, September 23, 2013

A Lovecraftian Survival Guide

Since I'm starting a new job this week and had to go in and do some paperwork today, I didn't have time to write a real post. So, I thought I'd post this rather funny picture I found awhile back. Hopefully, I'll have a real post for Wednesday. Anyway, I hope you enjoy these rather helpful tips!

Friday, September 20, 2013

Helpful Tips for Playing Paladins

Art by Matt Wilson
When I was younger, I really disliked the Paladin. Being the pseudo-rebellious teenager that I was, I despised the fact that I had to be Lawful Good to play the class and I wasn't the biggest fan of the "Righteous Knight" archetype. However, as I've gotten older, my appreciation for the Paladin has grown and I'm actually quite fond of it now. I would even go as far as saying its one of my favorite classes in the game.

While I have grown to love the class, I will admit its one of the more trickier classes to play. Due to the alignment restriction, the concept behind the class, and the code players have to follow to keep their abilities, it's very easy to be disruptive and ruin a game with the Paladin. Therefore, I thought I'd post the following tips to help would-be Paladin players play the class "right."

1. Read & Define The Code: One of the most important aspects of the Paladin class is the Code of Conduct they must follow. For the purposes of this post, I'm going to be using the code as presented in the Pathfinder RPG Core Rulebook. However, depending on the edition or version of the game that you are playing, the exact nature of the code might be different. With that being said, there are certain elements that are common between the editions, so this should remain true for most people. In the Core Rulebook, the Code of Conduct says:
A Paladin must be of Lawful Good alignment and looses all class features except proficiencies if she ever willingly commits an evil act. Additionally, a paladin's code requires that she respect legitimate authority, act with honor (not lying, not cheating, not using poison, and so forth), help those in need (provided they do not use the help for evil or chaotic ends), and punish those who harm or threaten innocents. 
 At first glance, the Code of Conduct seems to be rather straight forward. However, if you read it closely, there are a few ways you can interpret certain elements of the code. For example, the code says a paladin must "respect legitimate authority," but how do we define "legitimate authority"? Do we define it as someone who has gained their position of authority through the normal process in the region? We could also define it as someone who uses their authority for the betterment of their society. Since its all about context and interpretation, its really important that you read the Code of Conduct closely. Afterwords, you should then sit down with your GM and define the different parts of your code, making sure you are both on the same wavelength when it comes to how certain parts will be interpreted.

2.  You're Lawful Good, Not Lawful Stupid: There's a gaming stereotype associated with Paladins, where they are called Lawful Stupid. The idea behind this is that because of their alignment and the Code of Conduct, the Paladin will end up doing stupid things. For example, the Code of Conduct says the Paladin must "act with honor." Because of that phrase, some people believe the Paladin has to always tell the truth, even if it would cause harm to their allies or cause, and must shout challenges to all their enemies before EVERY fight.

Obviously, this is completely idiotic. While you are supposed to "act with honor," it doesn't mean you have to be stupid about it. While you're not supposed to lie, there is nothing in the code that says you have to be honest about everything and that you can't leave certain elements out if it would cause harm to your allies. Also, you don't have to shout out challenges against every enemy. You just need a legitimate reason to attack them (like they are trying to hurt an innocent villager, or you know they raided a nearby town and killed some of the townsfolk) and you can inform them of why you are attack them during the fight or afterwords if you subdue them. Just because you are supposed to be a champion of righteousness, doesn't mean you have to be an idiot about it.

3. Remember, Don't Be a Jerk: While this is something everyone should remember no matter what their character is, I think its especially true for Paladins. Some players who decide to play Paladins use the character's alignment and Code of Conduct to force the other players into acting a certain way, which eventually will piss the other players off and most likely ruin the game.

Paladins are supposed to be paragons of good, and using their status as Paladins to force others to follow their view of morality isn't something a truly good person would do in my opinion. Also, everyone is participating in the game to have a good time, not to have some dick tell them what to do. While you can voice your concerns about something the group is doing that you find wrong or evil, don't use this difference in opinion as an excuse to strong-arm them into doing what you want.

Paladins, if played right, can be some of the most fun and interesting characters in the game. However, if played wrong, they can be some of the most infuriating characters in the game. The trick is knowing how to balance your alignment with the rest of the group and work with them for the greater good.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Random Inspiration: Fantasy Campaign Based on Legend of Korra's 2nd Season

Last Friday, the first two episodes of Legend of Korra's second season (or Book 2 for those of you who are Avatar: The Last Airbender fans) aired on Nickolodean. For a quick review, I thought the two episodes were a great start to the season. They caught us up on what the characters have been doing since last season's finale, introduce the major conflict the characters will have to face, and add a few elements that have me curious and interested in watching this week's episode to learn more. While there were some problems with the two episodes (the animation dipped in quality at times and I feel like Korra was too quick to abandon Tenzin and her father for her uncle), they were still enjoyable and I'm excited for Friday's episode.

After watching the two episodes for a second time (mostly to make sure I didn't miss anything), I found myself inspired to run a campaign in a world similar to Legend of Korra's setting and with a similar theme as well. Instead of going for a straight adaption of the series, I think I'd just take the basic ideas and run with them.

The setting for this future campaign would be a collection of kingdoms that are heavily influenced by different Asian cultures. Elemental magic would have a major place in the societies of these kingdoms and each school of magic would have a different philosophy tied to it. Tradition and the Spirit World would play a big part as well.

For one reason or another, these kingdoms have been fighting with each other for over a century. However, after seeing the sheer destruction they were causing, the leaders finally come together and sign a peace treaty that ends the war. Seventy years pass and the world becomes a rather peaceful place. Due to the nations now working together and sharing their advancements, the kingdoms enter into an industrial revolution. However, these changes begin to clash with those who prefer the traditions of the past.

The campaign would begin with the players arriving in a small village for a seasonal festival. During the festivities, a group of corrupted nature spirits attack the village and the players would have to defeat them. Afterwords, they learn that attacks like these have been happening throughout the kingdoms and the Traditionalists believe its because the Industrialist have thrown the world off balance and the spirits are angry.

How the story would unfold from there would be up to the players and there actions, but I think it would be a pretty cool campaign. For systems, I'd probably either use Savage Worlds or FATE (probably Accelerated since I prefer it to the full FATE rules).

Monday, September 16, 2013

Thoughts on Experience Points

Experience Points seem to be one of those rules that people like to argue about. Some people like experience points and regularly use them in their games, others despise them and prefer a more "ad hoc" system of character advancement, and some have no opinion one way or the other and just roll with the punches.

For the first few years of my gaming career, I would place myself among the gamers who disliked experience points and rarely used them in my games. Usually, when playing a game like D&D or Pathfinder that used XP, I would just ignore it and have the players level up whenever it was appropriate. While this "ad hoc" system worked for the most part, I always felt weird using it for reasons I could never figure out.

Eventually, after thinking long and hard about it, I realized why I was feeling weird about using the system. Basically, I was stripping the players of some of their agency in the game. While I was basing the level rewards on the actions of the character, I was still the deciding factor in when they leveled up instead of the players themselves. With experience points, the players receive a different number of points based on the challenges they choose to face. Because of that choice, the players are determining how fast their character's advance instead of just the GM.

Now, while my opinion of experience points as a mechanic have changed, I still have some problems with the way they are presented. I've never liked the large amounts that it uses, especially when you realize they are using those big numbers for pretty much nostalgic reasons. In some of the older editions of the game, characters would earn experience from acquiring gold pieces as well, which made the large number of experience points needed for each level make sense. However, since the newer editions don't use that standard anymore, there's really no need for the big numbers.

Instead, you could easily make it where characters need 10 XP to reach the next level. They receive 1 XP from monsters with a CR lower than theirs, disabling traps, and handling RP challenges (like a diplomatic situation). They receive 2 XP from monsters with a CR equal to theirs. They receive 3 XP from monsters with a CR higher than theirs and for completing an adventure. If you want advancement to be somewhat slower, maybe make it where they need 20 or 30 XP. That makes the numbers a lot easier to handle and hand out during the game. I know I'm not the first person to come up with this kind of system (similar systems have shown up on Blog of Holding and Papers & Pencils for example), but I think its still a good idea to point out the designers could have gone with a much easier system instead of keeping with the traditional numbers just because of nostalgia.

Also, I think it would be cool if more groups experimented with what actions and choices will reward experience and which won't. For example, lets say your group is playing a game where the characters are treasure hunters and most of the adventures revolve around that idea. You could possibly reinstate the "Gold for XP" rule from older editions of D&D or grant experience whenever the characters find a magic item or artifact. Doing so would reinforce the concept of the campaign since the players are being rewarded for finding treasure. There would probably be some universal things that grant experience (like fighting monsters and completing quests), but you can add an additional one or two just to reinforce the concept of the setting and rewarding players for playing with that concept. Just a thought.

So, dear readers, what are your opinions on experience points? Do you love, hate them, or have no strong opinion either way? If you love or hate them, why? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Fantasy Art Friday: Dragon's Lair by Ralph Horsley

Ralph's DeviantArt Page
Who doesn't love a good piece of fantasy art? Being someone who has always preferred the more "visual" mediums of art, I love looking at images of the fantastical and its always nice to find a cool picture that ends up inspiring you to either write a story or add something new to a future game session. Because of this, I've decided to occasionally use my Friday post (probably every other week) to showcase an image or artist that I find interesting or just pretty darn cool.

Which brings us to our first image by Ralph Horsley, a freelance illustrator based in Leeds in the UK who has been working in the fantasy art field for over two decades. Horsley is one of my favorite fantasy artists and I love his particular style of embracing the fantastical without going overboard with it. Also, his pieces always manage to inspire me in one way or another.

"Dragon's Lair" is a cover illustration for the Pathfinder Campaign Setting sourcebook Dragons Unleashed and depicts the two Iconics Seltyiel the Magus and and Kyra the Cleric fighting a black dragon who is guarding its hoard of treasure. This image perfectly captures that classic fantasy art trope of some adventurers taking on a dragon. Every time I look at this picture, I just want to go back to that old genre trope and have my players fight one of the scaly bastards. I also love how this picture isn't set in some dark dungeon or on top of a high mountain, but what looks to be a swamp, which is a nice change of pace with this kind of image.

Question Time: What is your favorite "adventurers fighting a dragon" image? Why do you like that particular image so much? Leave your answer in the comments below.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Thoughts on Encumbrance

Art by Chuck Whelon
Encumbrance always seems to be one of those rules that people either ignore completely or try to house rule so that it can actually be used at the table. For the longest time, I belonged to the former category. I understood why the encumbrance rules were included in the game and I could respect the attempt to add a shade of realism to the game. However, I've always felt the rules as written required too much math and calculations to actually be used at the table without causing things to grind to a halt. Seriously, who wants to stop in the middle of a session and re-calculate your current weight to make sure you are still carrying a light or medium load?

Now, after seeing some other people's attempts at re-designing the encumbrance rules, I believe the idea can be salvaged. I think the key to creating an encumbrance system that can actually be used at the table without affecting the speed of a session and the overall enjoyment of the players is abstraction. While the system presented in the Pathfinder RPG Core Rulebook is more "realistic", that level of realism just adds another layer of complexity to a system that is already rather complex. However, I think if you were to take the basic idea of encumbrance and build a more abstract system around it, I'm pretty confident it would work better at the table.

With that in mind, here's the encumbrance system that I've been toying with for awhile now. I'm pretty sure I'm not the first person to come up with it, but I thought I'd post it anyway so that I could get feedback and continue to refine it. In this system, every character can carry a number of "significant" items equal to their Strength score without being encumbered. The character can carry up to double their Strength score as a Medium Load and up to triple their Strength score as a Heavy Load (suffering from the same penalties and restrictions found on pg. 171 of the Pathfinder RPG Core Rulebook). So, for example, a fighter with a Strength of 16 would be able to carry up to 16 significant items as a light load, up to 32 as a medium load, and up to 48 as a heavy load.

Now, I keep using the term "significant item" a lot in the above paragraph and I should probably define it so people will know what I'm talking about. Since I'm trying to make the system easy to use, I don't feel like a character should count every single little thing they are carrying, but only the items that would have a significant affect on the capacity of items the character can carry. Those items would be:

  • The character's backpack
  • The character's armor
  • The character's weapons
  • The character's magic items
  • Any item the character would carry in bulk (like rations, ammunition, etc.). These items are counted by the bundle, which for these rules, is defined as 10 items. So, a character carrying 20 arrows would be carrying 2 significant items. 
So, that's the basic system that I'm working with. It might not be the most original re-working of the encumbrance system, but I believe it will make things easier at the table. However, I have yet to actually test it, so keep that in mind. I'd love to hear what other people think of it and if there is anything they believe I should change or alter to make the system better. 

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Three Comic Recommendations for RPG Players

I've been an avid reader of comics ever since I was a little kid and I picked up a few back issues of Spider-Man. While the majority of the comics that I read tend to fall into the Superhero genre, there are a few fantasy series that I enjoy greatly. Because of that, I thought I'd act as a "Comic Evangelist" and talk about five comics (some old and new) that I believe fantasy roleplayers will enjoy as well.

1. Pathfinder by Jim Zub and Andrew Huerta (#1-#6)/Jake Bilbao (#7 onward): Set in the Pathfinder Campaign Setting of Golarion in the region of Varisia, Pathfinder from Dynamite Entertainment follows six of the Iconics (characters who represent the different character classes in the RPG) as they fight goblins, thwart an evil cult, and attempt to slay an evil dragon. While the writing is far from perfect and the art in the first six issues is rather hit or miss, I think the first story arc and the current one entertaining reads that feel like stories that could actually happen at the gaming table. Also, it doesn't hurt that the main characters are interesting as well. If you'd like to read from the beginning, you can find the first story arc in the Dark Water Rising tradeback, and issues #7 and #8 should be relatively easy to find.

2. Demon Knights by Paul Cornell (#1-#15)/Robert Venditti (#16-#24) and Diogenes Neves (#1-#12)/Bernard Change (#13-#24): Set in the Medieval period of the DC Universe history, Demon Knights follows a team consisting of a demon bonded to a human man, a powerful magician with ties to Merlin, an immortal caveman, a transgender knight from fallen Camelot, a mysterious woman never seen off her horse, a strange woman with ties to the Amazons, a fallen angel, and a Middle-Eastern fighter and tactician with a good knowledge of mathematics. This was easily one of the best books of the "New 52" with interesting characters who have interesting relationships with each other, entertaining and well-written stories, and wonderful artwork. Unfortunately, it was cancelled due to low sells in August of this year. However, it should be relatively easy to get your hands on the tradebacks of the series. If you like fantasy and love some of the more obscure DC characters, you will love Demon Knights.

3. Dark Horse's Conan the Barbarian by Brian Wood and Various Artists: Based on the stories and characters created by Robert E. Howard, this on-going series from Dark Horse comics is rather entertaining. While I haven't read every issue of the series (mostly due to the store where I purchase my comics rarely ordering issues of it), the issues I have read have been well-written and the art has been just as good. Supposedly, it will end its run at issue #25, but luckily almost all of the series has been collected in three tradebacks and are relatively easy to find.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

What Does Your Hobby Look Like?

Yesterday, while reading a few blogs, I discovered the image presented above. On one side, we have an image of a scantily clad woman surrounded by warriors wearing appropriate armor. On the other, we have a photograph of a young woman wearing practical armor. As I looked at the picture, reading the caption accompanying it, I found myself understanding the sentiment, but strangely disagreeing with it.

Anyone who has been reading my blog for awhile should probably know my opinion on the depiction of women in fantasy art. For those of you who are new here, let's just say I'm not the biggest fan of fantasy art cheesecake and wish women were depicted as more than sex objects for the male audience to fantasize about.

With that being said, I hold no ill will towards those who DO like the more "risque" imagery. As I've said numerous times before, everyone is allowed to have their own opinions. If we all had the same opinions and acted the same way, the world would be a very boring place. Variety is the spice of life after all.

So, I have no problem with those who like the image on the left. If the "sexy" outfit is appropriate for the character or is being depicted in a product meant to be titillating, I'm perfectly fine with the character wearing it. My only complaint is when almost all the images of women in a product are depicted that way and the product is meant to be a game book that is trying to appeal to as wide an audience as possible.

Basically, to sum everything up, I have no problem with those who like to see a female character in "sexy armor" and I don't mind when a character is depicted in such if the outfit fits the character's persona or the product is meant to be titillating. However, I do have a problem when ALL the women in a product are depicted in a sexual manner and the product is not meant to be that kind of product.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Designers & Dragons: First Impressions

Today, I managed to get a copy of Designers & Dragons by Shannon Appelcline. I've been casually reading through it all day and I thought I'd give my first impressions of the book.

History books like Designers & Dragons have always been rather hit or miss for me. There are some that are written with a very engaging tone that manage to hook me from page one, while there are others that are written very dryly and put me to sleep within seconds. Thankfully, Designers & Dragons belongs to the former instead of the latter. While I had only planned on casually glancing through the book for now, I found myself so engrossed in the text that I didn't notice the hours flying by.

Also, I love the "What to Read Next" sections at the end of each article. It made navigating the book to find the stuff that really caught my eyes a lot easier and helped show how interconnected the roleplaying game industry really is, seeing how all these different designers and movements affected the industry as a whole and help create some interesting narratives throughout the book. The additional side-bars, such as "Ye Settings of Yore" and "Mini-History", also give some interesting information as well.

While I still have a lot to read, I feel like Designers & Dragons was well-worth the money I paid for it. I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in learning more about the history of the roleplaying game industry.

Monday, September 2, 2013

"You're Doing it Wrong!"

Art by Tyler Walpole
A few weeks ago at Gen Con, Paizo announced what the 2014 adventure paths would be. The first will be called "Mummy's Mask" and will be set in the land of Osirion, the Egyptian-themed kingdom of Golarion. The second adventure path will be "Iron Gods" and will be set in the region of Numeria, a savage land where an enormous spaceship crashed years ago and is inhabited by robotic terrors and barbarians wielding alien technology. 

Both adventure paths represent a departure from the "traditional" fantasy milieu, and I'm perfectly fine with that. Like most, I have my own ideas about what does and does not belong in a fantasy game or setting. Some, like me, like having the occasional piece of advanced technology (whether it be something as simple as musket or pistol, or a piece of alien technology scavenged from a crashed spaceship) or fantasy element derived from a non-European source such as Asia or Africa. 

However, there are some who would rather have their wisdom teeth pulled for a second time than have those elements show up in one of their games. While most see that as an opinion and leave it at that, a small group are rather vocal about their disdain. They see anything that doesn't match their personal perception of fantasy as inherently wrong and will insult you for wanting those elements and "ruining" the game. 

Sadly, these people seem to forget the entire point of the game: to have fun. The only ways you can "do it wrong" is to A) not have fun playing the game, or B) purposefully cause someone else to not have fun playing the game. If you find the concept of adventurers in a fantasy setting finding and exploring a crashed spaceship interesting and want to include that in your game, you have every right to. As long as you and your players have fun doing it, you are doing it right. However, if you hate the idea and would never have that happen in your game, that's perfectly fine as long as you remember that is your opinion and not the one true way to play the game.  

For example, I'm not really a big fan of high fantasy settings. I prefer my settings to fall somewhere in the middle of the Low Fantasy and High Fantasy access and I would have trouble running a truly high fantasy game. However, I know some people love that degree of fantasy in there games and I have no problem with that. As long as they have fun playing in that world and are not trying to force it onto me because they want to show me the "right way" to play the game, I will not deride them for their tastes and would never say they are "doing it wrong." If I did, I would be a dick, and I don't want to be that.