Friday, February 28, 2014

D&D 40th Anniversary Blog Hop Challenge - Part Four

Here's the fourth and final part of the D&D 40th Anniversary Blog Hop Challenge. Click here, here, and here for Part One, Two, and Three.

22. First D&D-based novel you ever read (Dragonlance trilogy, Realms novels, etc.): I believe the first D&D-based novel I ever read was The Thousand Orcs by R. A. Salvatore. That was back in 8th grade and I remember enjoying it.

23. First song that comes to mind that you associate with D&D. Why?: The first song that comes to my mind when I think D&D is probably "Holy Diver" by Dio. This is probably due to the video showing Dio as some barbarian warrior entering an ancient ruin to slay a demon.

24. First movie that comes to mind that you associate with D&D. Why?: The first movie that comes to my mind when I think D&D is probably Conan the Destroyer. I know its not a very good movie, but it just feels like a stereotypical D&D adventure to me.

25. Longest running campaign/gaming group you've been in: The longest running gaming group I've ever been in was probably my gaming group in college.

26. Do you still game with the group that introduced you to the hobby?: Since I wasn't introduced to the hobby through a gaming group, that would be no.

27. If you had to do it all over again, would you do anything different when you first started gaming?: Probably not. Those early, horrible games helped shape the GM that I am today and showed me what to do and not to do.

28. What's the single most important lesson you've learned from playing D&D?: The most important lesson I've learned from playing D&D is "Don't be a dick and just have fun." I think if more people took that lesson to heart, there would be a lot less problems in the hobby.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Fantasy Art Thursday: "Fafhrd & the Gray Mouser" by Mike Mignola

((Click HERE to go to Mike Mignola's website))
Created by American author Fritz Leiber in 1934 while corresponding with his friend Harry Otto Fischer, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser are the quintessential fantasy duo. One is a tall barbarian from the North who talks like a romantic, but his strong practicality usually wins through. The other is a small, mercurial thief who tends to come off as cynical, but is prone showing strains of sentiment at unexpected times. They are a perfect pair and its easy to see why Gygax listed their stories in Appendix N. 

The above piece of the duo was the cover of the 1st volume of the White Wolf collection of the Lankhmar stories. Fans of Hellboy should recognize the artists responsible for this piece as the one and only Mike Mignola, who also happened to be the artist for Epic Comics four-issue adaptation of several Fafhrd & the Gray Mouser stories.

I feel like Mignola's stylized artwork, the dark shadows utilized in the picture, and the choice of colors captures the feel of Lankhmar and the pair of rogues perfectly. Honestly, whenever I picture Fafhrd & the Gray Mouser, their depiction in this image is usually what comes to mind. I love how Fafhrd doesn't look like your average barbarian, I love the bits and pieces hanging from their outfits, and I find the skulls a strange, but interesting touch. 

Question Time: What is your favorite Mike Mignola piece and what is your favorite Lankhmar story? 

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Defense Score VS. Defense Roll

As I've mentioned before, I've been toiling away on my own roleplaying game called Dungeons Deep & Caverns Old (a incredibly imaginative name, isn't it?). Recently, I've been working on the game's combat system and determining what to include and how to string it all together into a cohesive whole.

At the moment, the combat system works like a more stream-lined version of D&D combat. When attacking someone, you roll a d20 and add the appropriate modifiers to the die's result. If that final total is equal to or greater than the opponent's Defense Score, your character hits and rolls damage. However, due to my recent reading of Hackmaster, an alternative has occurred to me: Defense Rolls.

Instead of each character having a Defense Score, they would have a Defense Bonus. During combat, the character would roll a d20 and add their Defense Bonus to the die's result. If their final total is greater than the opponent's attack roll, they successfully defend themselves and aren't harmed by the attack. If the two rolls match and result in a tie, the character with the highest bonus succeeds.

I find this alternative attractive for a handful of reasons. 1) Having players roll to defend against attacks keeps them engaged throughout the combat, 2) It would allow me use Armor as Damage Reduction, which is another alternative I prefer, and 3) It would allow me the option to have the players make the dice rolls during the game (I would just take the NPCs Attack and Defenses Bonuses, add 10 to them, and have those be the numbers a player has to roll to successfully attack someone and defend themselves in combat).

While I'm really tempted to go with Defense Rolls, I'm wondering how I should handle shields. Should they just grant damage reduction like armor, or should they grant you a bonus on Defense Rolls. I might try both out and see which one works the best.

What do you guys think? Do you like the idea of having to roll to defend, or would you rather have a static Defense Score?

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Fantasy Fiction Tuesday: Princeless (2011)

((Click HERE to go to Princeless' tumblr page))
The Damsel in Distress is an incredibly pervasive trope within fiction, with one of the most well-known version of this trope being a princess locked away in an incredibly tall tower that just so happens to be guarded by a ferocious dragon, waiting for a brave prince who is noble at heart to rescue here.

Princeless by Jeremy Whitley takes that common trope and subverts it in a fun and interesting way.

Princeless is the story of Adrienne, a 16 year old princess who hates the idea of being rescued by some prince and becoming his reward. After finding a sword underneath her bed, Adrienne decides to go on a quest with her guardian dragon Sparky to rescue her six sisters from their own towers and show that princesses can be heroes too.

While the story's critiques of the Damsel in Distress trope aren't very subtle, Princeless makes up for that with a sense of fun that keeps you engaged with the story and its characters. I love how independent, smart, and determined Adrienne is and I want to see her succeed and free all the other princesses.

Princeless' story is enhanced by Mia Goodwin's fantastic art. The cartoonish look and bright colors really helps the comic feel like a fairy tale that just so happens to have a subversive twist to it. Goodwin's art was a perfect fit for Princeless and after reading it, I can't really think of what it might look like without her work attached to it.

Princeless is a fun fantasy comic that presents a nice twist on a commonly used trope. If you're looking for something good to introduce children to the world of comics, Princeless would be an excellent choice. However, that doesn't mean adults won't find something to like here either. As a 21 year old man, I can say without a doubt that I love this comic. Anyone who loves good comics should give Princeless a read.

Monday, February 24, 2014

The Essential Elements of Dark Fantasy

Dark fantasy is easily one of my favorite literary sub-genres. While I enjoy a good, light-hearted fantasy story as much as the next guy, there's just something about a gritty fantasy story that sends my imagination into overdrive and makes me want to run games with similar themes.

Unfortunately, dark fantasy is one of those sub-genres that has to be approached carefully or it can go horribly wrong. Due to my reverence for the sub-genre and my disdain for "grimdark" games/stories, I thought talk the important elements of any good dark fantasy story and how one should handle them at the table. 

Moral Ambiguity
The mortality presented within a dark fantasy game should never be presented clearly as black or white, but a shade of gray. While some shades will be lighter and others will be darker, they still possess an element of gray. Characters with noble intentions might utilized questionable tactics, while characters performing seemingly noble deeps my have not-so-noble motives.  People are complex creatures and you should try to present them as such. 

Actions Have Consequences
Almost every action a character makes should have an obvious consequence. Whether that consequence is a positive or negative one depends on the nature of the action and the factors related to it. While the name "dark fantasy" might lead you to believe the majority of the consequences should be negative and lead to grim situations, that doesn't have to be the case. Just try and go with the most fitting consequence for the action. If the most fitting consequence would be a positive one, then make it a positive one. Also, remember that consequences can both positive and negative elements. 

Presence of Failure
No one should have plot immunity in a dark fantasy game. If a player tries to due something and they fail, let them fail. However, don't be overtly harsh with their failures because if you beat them over the head with it, they will most likely not want to play and you'll end up without a group. Make sure the chance of failure is present, but its not an oppressive shadow hanging over the game. 

Presence of Hope
In my opinion, the presence of hope is the most important element of any good dark fantasy game/story. Even though the world is a gritty place and life is hard, there should still be at least a glimmer of hope for the players to latch onto, holding up a candle to fight off the darkness surrounding them. Without hope, there is really no reason why you'd want to fight the darkness or do your best to resist it. Hope help give things a point. 

Friday, February 21, 2014

D&D 40th Anniversary Blog Hop Challenge - Part 3

Here's Part 3 of the D&D 40th Anniversary Blog Hop Challenge. Click here and here to read Part One and Part Two.

15. What was the first edition of D&D you didn't enjoy? Why?: The first edition of D&D that I didn't enjoy was 4th Edition. When it was first released, I disliked how it was so different from 3rd Edition, how many disassociated mechanics there were, and it just didn't feel like D&D to me. While my opinions about it have softened over the years and there are certain elements of the edition I do like (flatter math, rituals, the fluff, etc.), I still prefer to run & play older editions.

16. Did you remember your first Edition War? Did you win? ;): My first Edition War was the one that happened during the switch from 3rd Edition to 4th Edition. When 4th Edition first came out, I was a very opinionated detractor and would bash 4th Edition at every possible opportunity. However, I've come to realize that Edition Wars are rather pointless. It doesn't matter what edition or game you are playing. As long as you are having fun, you are doing it right.

17. First time you heard that D&D was somehow "evil": I was born and raised in a rather religious area of the country, so I heard that D&D was evil very early on. However, being an agnostic, I pretty much knew that claim was bullshit. Sadly, that didn't stop people from thinking I was a Satanist because I played this demonic game. I might return to this topic in the future.

18. First gaming convention you ever attended: Unfortunately, I have never attended a gaming convention. However, I hope to change that in the near future.

19. First gamer who annoyed the hell out of you: The first gamer to truly annoy me was a guy I'm going to call "Dick". Dick was that player who would constantly make Chaotic Evil characters who would act like total assholes and would give the "I'm just playing my character" argument when you called him on it. He's the reason why I banned Chaotic Evil PCs from my game.

20. First non-D&D RPG you played: While I'm not 100% sure of my answer, I believe the first non-D&D RPG I ever played was New World of Darkness. It was a short campaign where the players were police detectives investigating a strange murder. The game started out serious, but quickly devolved into a dark comedy.

21. First time you sold some of your D&D books - for whatever reason: I've actually never sold any of my D&D books. I'm one of those people who rarely sales something they have purchased.

Continued in Part Four...

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Fantasy Art Thursday: "The Bloodstone Lands" by Larry Elmore

((Click HERE to go to Larry Elmore's website))
Larry Elmore, like Erol Otus or Clyde Caldwell, is a fantasy artist that needs no introduction. Even if you've only been apart of this hobby for a short period of time, I'm pretty sure you've at least heard Elmore's name and have probably seen some of his work. His work helped define the look of 2nd Edition AD&D and he definitely left his mark on the hobby.

Since I feel like showcasing something a bit more "classic" today, I thought I'd post one of my favorite Elmore pieces: the cover to the Forgotten Realms supplement The Bloodstone Lands. While this might not be one of his most memorable pieces, there's just something about it that I love. I like how bleak the snowy landscape looks. I love how dark and stormy the sky is. I love how the mage looks more tribal and is probably going to feel the bite of that sword before he can finish casting that spell, and I love the spots of rust on the warrior's armor, giving the image a more gritty feel. It really makes me want to play in the kingdom of Damara and the lands surrounding it.

Question Time: What's your favorite Larry Elmore piece? 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Thoughts on Feats

Feats, like almost every game mechanics, have their supporters and their detractors. Some people love how feats allow you to further customize your character and give them cool abilities, while others feel like they just add another level of complication to the game and the sheer number of them only exacerbates the problem.

Personally, I fall somewhere in the middle of the two extremes. While I love how feats allow me to further customize my character, I dislike the large number of feats that are available and hate that certain feats require you to pay a "feat tax" to take them. Why should I have to take this feat that I really don't want and will probably never use to get this other feat that I DO want?

With that in mind, I started to think about ways I could fix the problems that I have with feats. Thankfully, a solution popped up while I was reading a forum on Paizo's website (I guess good things can happen on forums). Instead of having hundreds of feats and these long feat trees with the occasional feat tax, why not combine certain similar feats into one feat that grows in power as you gain levels?

For example, we could combine the Weapon Focus, Weapon Specialization, Greater Weapon Focus, and Greater Weapon Specialization feats into one feat called simply "Weapon Specialization", which would look a little something like this:
Choose one type of weapon. You are particularly skilled in the use of this weapon. You can choose unarmed strike or grapple (or ray, if you are a spellcaster) as your weapon for the purpose of this feat. 
Prerequisites: Proficiency with selected weapon, base attack bonus +1 
Benefit: You gain a +1 bonus on all attack rolls made with the selected weapon. Four levels thereafter, you gain a +2 bonus on all damage rolls with the selected weapon. Eight levels thereafter, the bonus you receive to attack rolls with the selected weapon increases by +1. Twelve levels thereafter, the bonus you receive to damage rolls with the selected weapon increases +2. These bonuses stack with any other bonuses you might receive to attack and damage with this weapon. 
Special: You can gain Weapon Specialization multiple times. Its effects do not stack. Each time you take the feat, it applies to a new type of weapon.
Now, you just have to take this one feat to eventually get the effects of all four. This combining of feats would cut down the number of feats while also opening up your choose of feats during later levels. While this doesn't address the level of complexity that feats add to the system, I feel like I'd be more willing to deal with it since I would have less feats to juggle in my head at a time.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Fantasy Fiction Tuesday: Prince of Wolves (2010)

Game related fiction seems to have a very negative reputation within the community. Most people seem to view it as glorified fan-fiction at best and downright garbage at worst. However, I've never subscribed to that common viewpoint, preferring to judge the fiction on its own merits. Occasionally I'll read a novel that re-enforces that popular reputation, but then I'll read one that proves that reputation isn't absolute.

Prince of Wolves by Dave Gross is an example of the latter.  

Prince of Wolves was the first entry in Paizo's Pathfinder Tales line of fantasy novels set in the world of Golarion. Prince of Wolves follows the half-elf Pathfinder Varian Jeggare and his tiefling bodyguard Radovan as they travel to the Immortal Principalities of Ustalav in search of missing Pathfinder. Beset on all sides by noble intrigue, mysterious locals, and deadly creatures of the night, Varian and Radovan must use both sword and spell to discover what happened to the Chelaxian Count's associate and uncover an ancient secret of unimaginable proportions. 

Dave Gross gives us a very solid mystery story that is made all the better with some very interesting characters. Varian Jeggare is a noble from the infernal empire of Cheliax who takes his role as a Pathfinder very seriously, but also has a good heart and will do what he can to help someone and takes it personally when he fails. Radovan is a tough individual who has had a rough life and has a weak spot for a beautiful girl, but he's far from one note and has a lot of layers just waiting to be peeled back. Even the secondary characters, like the mute priestess Azra or the deformed villager Tudor, are great and I want to see more of them (especially Azra). 

Prince of Wolves also does a fantastic job at breathing life into the Gothic Horror-inspired nation of Ustalav, its tragic history, and its inhabitants. After finishing the novel, I really want to run a game in the nation and I would definitely utilize a lot of the information presented in the story. 

The only complaint that I have about Prince of Wolves is the writing style and the switching perspectives. The story is written in the first person and switches between Varian and Radovan every chapter. Due to the nature of a first person narrative, it sometimes took me a few seconds to realize which character I was hearing this from at which time. However, that was only a VERY minor inconvenience that didn't take away from my enjoyment of the novel all. 

For those of you looking for a good fantasy novel with interesting characters and a good dash of mystery, I would highly recommend Prince of Wolves. You will not be disappointed. Now, I need to get my hands on Master of Devils so I can see what's in store for this Pathfinder and his bodyguard.   

Monday, February 17, 2014

Simplified Stat Blocks

A common complaint I hear about Pathfinder and other d20 system games is how frustrating stat block creation can be. While it isn't that hard to create a low level stat block, creating stat blocks for higher level games can become incredibly time consuming and have a bad habit of slowly zapping away my creativity as I write my notes. Its one of the main reasons why I don't like going over 10th level.

In an effort to make my job as GM a lot easier and cut down on the prep time for each session, I've been toying around with a simplified stat block for less important NPCs. I'll still create full stat blocks for important NPCs for that adventure/campaign, but I can use the simplified version for minions and other characters that might just show up once or twice.

With these simplified stat blocks, I'm just going to focus on the information that I actually need at the table and ignore the superfluous information. However, I will have to decide exactly which parts of a character are actually necessary for me to know so I can actually run the character without constantly "winging it." I'll need to know the character's total amount of hit points, their total amount of hit dice for the purpose of certain spell effects, their Armor Class/Touch AC/Flat-Footed AC, their speed, their Base Attack Bonus/CMB/CMD, their attack information, their ability scores, their saves, any special abilities, and their gear. Since we'll only be focusing on that information, a regular goblin warrior's stat block might look something like this:

GOBLIN WARRIOR: HP 6; HD 1d10; AC 16, Touch 13, Flat-Footed  14; Speed 30 ft.; BAB +1, CMB +0, CMD 12; Short Sword +2 (1d4/19-20) or Short Bow +4 (1d4/x3); STR 11, DEX 15, CON 12, INT 10, WIS 9, CHA 6; Fortitude +3, Reflex +2, Will -1; Darkvision 60 ft., +4 bonus on Initiative, Ride, and Stealth checks; Gear leather armor, light wooden shield, short sword, short bow with 20 arrows. 

While looking at this stat block, you might notice that I omitted the goblin's skills and feats. Honestly, I really don't need to know your basic goblin warrior's skills or feats to run it. If I need it to make a skill check, I can just make a simple ability check. I also included the racial bonuses the goblin receives to Ride and Stealth checks so I can remember those and the bonus it receives due to Improved Initiative.

Now, this stat block is just a starting point and I'm still thinking about how it'll work for higher level characters or monsters that have unique powers. Most likely, I'll just write the unique powers underneath the stat block and focus on the important information there too. For NPCs that have spells and more feats, I'll probably just pick the ones that I will most likely use when running the character and ignore the others. However, I'll have to see how that works at the table and I'll try to work the kinks out. 

I'd also love to see other people use this format for their stat blocks and I'd love to receive feedback about how it works and what I should improve. 

Friday, February 14, 2014

Six Pick Up Lines for Tabletop Gamers

((Art By Bob Raymond))
((Warning: This post contains a good dose of cheese. Read at your own risk.)) 

Today is Valentine's Day, the holiday where you are supposed to show that special someone how much you love them. However, for those of you who haven't found their personal dungeon master yet, I thought I'd lend a helping hand. So here are six pick up lines for you to use on that handsome/lovely gamer of your dreams.

Better yet, you can roll your pick up line randomly by using a d6!

1. "Is that a rod of wonder in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?" 

2. "What's your Challenge Rating, because there's no way you're a random encounter." 

3. "How about you make a saving throw, because I'm casting charm person on you." 

4. "That's right, they're natural 20's." 

5. "I may not be a necromancer, but I know how to raise something." 

6. "You're so fine that I'm taking a -2 to my attack rolls." 

Question Time: What's your favorite D&D inspired pick up line? 

D&D 40th Anniversary Blog Hop Challenge - Part Two

Here's Part Two of the D&D 40th Anniversary Blog Hop Challenge. If you'd like to know why I'm doing this blog challenge as a four-part series instead of a daily series, see Part One.

8. First set of polyhedral dice you owned. Do you still use them?: My first set of polyhedral dice was the set packaged with the 3.5 Basic Game box set. If I'm correct, it had a purple d100, orange d20, yellow d12, green d10, blue d8, red d6, and black d4. Unfortunately, I've lost all of them over the years. 

9. First campaign setting (published or homebrew) you played in: While technically the first campaign setting I played in was a homebrew, I'm not going to count it since it was basically just a string of modules with very little setting development. The first true campaign setting I ever played in was the 3.5 edition of the Forgotten Realms (specifically the Dalelands). 

10. First gaming magazine you ever bought (Dragon, Dungeon, White Dwarf, etc.): The first gaming magazine I ever purchased was an issue of Dungeon magazine during the time Paizo published it. I can't remember the exact issue number, but it was during the time they were publishing the Savage Tide adventure path. 

11. First splatbook you begged your DM to approve: I believe the first splatbook I begged my GM at the time to let me use was the Expanded Psionics Handbook for 3.5. I had just purchased it and I really wanted to try out a psion. 

12. First store where you bought your gaming supplies. Does it still exist?: The first store where I bought my gaming supplies was my local Books-A-Million, and it still exists. 

13. First miniature(s) you used for D&D: The first miniatures I ever used for D&D were the plastic miniatures packaged with the 3.5 Basic Game box set (I'm getting really tired of typing that line). 

14. Did you meet your significant other while playing D&D? Does he or she still play? While I'm currently single, I'll talk about my recent ex-girlfriend. While I didn't meet while playing D&D, I did meet her while roleplaying online. I eventually got her to try out Pathfinder and we played a few solo campaigns together.

Continued in Part 3...

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Fantasy Art Thursday: "The Quest for Adventure" by Jon Hodgson

((Click here to go to Jon Hodgson's website))
I've always believed that a good Dungeons & Dragons game should include some elements of horror and dread. When delving into an ancient ruin that just so happens to be inhabited by undead monstrosities, alien aberrations, or other horrifying creatures, I think its only logical to make some of those encounters scary and foreboding.

The above piece by Jon Hodgson captures that dread perfectly. You have two of the adventures watching their backs as they descend the stone steps to the dungeon's door (which happens to be decorated with skulls and monstrous faces), with the halfling sporting an uncertain look about  the whole affair. The trees are dead and barren, and an ominous tone hangs over the entire piece. Also, the angles and perspective are a little off, giving the picture a strange quality to it, making you feel like something just isn't right about this location. This is the image I want to place in the mind of my players as their characters are about to enter a new dungeon, building the tension for what is about to come.

Question Time: What is your favorite Jon Hodgson piece? How do you feel about adding horror elements to your fantasy roleplaying games? 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Levels & Limits

Art by Brian Lee O'Malley
Over the past few months, I've been toying with some ideas that I hope to bring together into a cohesive roleplaying game. Like with other games, this possible game will use levels/tiers. However, a thought occurred to me while I was jotting down ideas.

How many levels/tiers should this game have?

Before we can answer that question, we need to define what a level actually is. At its most basic level (ha!), a level/tier represents how powerful a character is at that point in time and their progression in power throughout the course of a campaign. For example, a 5th level character is generally more powerful than a 3rd or 1st level character. With that definition in place, the answer would probably be based on the maximum power limit for the game world. If you're running a game set in a world with a lower level of power and you would like things to be a little gritter, your game might only have 5 or 10 levels/tiers. On the flip side, if you want your characters to eventually have the power of demigods, your game might have 20 or 30 levels/tiers.

However, power limits shouldn't be the only factor into the number of levels you have within a game. You should also consider how many levels you personally enjoy playing with. Some people love having the ability to obtain 20, 30, or even 40 levels. Others, like myself, prefer a smaller scale of levels and are happy with about 10. Since most of us playing these games to have fun, what you actually enjoy should always be a factor.

Question Time: When playing a game that has levels/tiers, how many do you like to use and why?

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Fantasy Fiction Tuesday: The Weird of the White Wolf (1977)

Originally published in 1977, The Weird of the White Wolf is the third book in the Elric Saga by Michael Moorcock. This volume includes the first two Elric stories ever published, the novelettes "The Dreaming City" and "While the Gods Laugh", along with "The Dream of Earl Aubec" and "The Singing Citadel".

The book opens with "The Dream of Earl Aubec", which acts as a prologue to the Elric Saga, introducing the conflict between the forces of Chaos & Law and how the world was shaped because of it.

"The Dreaming City" tells the tale of Elric's return to Imrryr with a fleet of warships at his side. However, he has not returned to reclaim his stolen throne, but to kill his treacherous cousin Yyrkoon and rescue his beloved Cymoril. However, as one would imagine, things don't go necessarily as planned.

"While the Gods Laugh" takes place a year after "The Dreaming City". Now working as a mercenary throughout the Young Kingdoms, Elric is approached by Shaarilla, a fair maiden of seeking an ancient artifact known as the Dead God's Book and wishes for the Last King of Melnibone to accompany her. Elric accepts her offer, hoping the artifact will answers a question that has been plaguing him.

"The Singing Citadel" is more light in tone when compared to the two previous stories. After sailing to the land of Jharkor, Elric is recruited by Queen Yishana to investigate a mysterious citadel with ties to the forces of Chaos and the disappearance of those who have entered the otherworldly fortress.

Reading The Weird of the White Wolf was an interesting experience for me. This was my first foray into Moorcock's work, having found the book in a used book store for about a dollar or so. "The Dreaming City" and "While the Gods Laugh" felt like stories from an author who is still developing his craft. While they were still interesting, the angst was laid on a little too thick at times and the writing was solid, but not spectacular. The work isn't particularly subtle either, with Stormbringer being an obvious metaphor for addiction and corruption.

With that being said, I wouldn't dismiss these stories. While Elric can be a little melodramatic at times, its balanced nicely by his ironic sense of humor and his relationship with the more lighthearted Moonglum of Elwher (who's introduced in "While the Gods Laugh"). Also, Moorcock does a great job at making Stormbringer a character in its own right and its relationship with its wielder has a really nice dynamic. Finally, the stories present an interesting world filled to the brim with imagination that keeps you enthralled. "The Singing Citadel" does this especially well, with the mysterious fortress being incredibly interesting and Elric's experiences within were fun to read. After reading these stories, I want to read more of Moorcock's work and I can see why Elric has influenced so many people. They definitely got my creative juices flowing.

I've already talked about modelling elf culture after Melnibone, but you can draw so much more from these stories. For example, Stormbringer acts as a good example on how to play an intelligent magic item. You don't have to have it speak to give it some character, showing you that you can present the item's personality by how you describe it and how it reacts to certain situations.

The interaction between the Higher Worlds and the earthly realm is interesting as well and could used as an example on how to handle an adventure with planar elements. For example, you could borrow the mysterious citadel and have it appear in a town your party is passing through. They are asked/hired to explore it, not realizing its actually connected to Limbo and infused with the plane's chaotic nature.

Finally, you can play with the conflict between the forces of Chaos & Law. As most people know, the original alignment system actually did this. Instead of having nine alignments, you had three: Law, Neutral, & Chaos. While you could interpret Law as Good and Chaos as Evil, you don't have to and this natural gray area for more interesting character. In fact, I actually think this version of alignment is superior to more recent versions in that regard and it shouldn't be that difficult to adapt to Pathfinder and the like. All you would use is the Lawful Neutral, Neutral, and Chaotic Neutral alignments and discard the Paladin class from the campaign.

Question Time: What was the first Moorcock story you ever read? Do you have any Moorcock inspired elements in your games?

Monday, February 10, 2014

Revised Skinwalker

Art by Ian Llanas
One of my favorite monsters is the lycanthrope (specifically the werewolf). I love how savage the creatures can be and how they represent the primal beast that lurks within us waiting to free itself. Wow, that sounded a little pretentious, didn't it?

Anyway, due to my affinity for lycanthropes, I was really looking forward to Paizo's Blood of the Moon. Like its sibling supplement Blood of the Night, the 34 page book presents information about the lycanthropes of Golarion and introduces the Skinwalker, a race of humanoids who can transform into a bestial form due to a lycanthrope heritage. Basically, they're the dhampirs of werecreatures.

It should be of no surprise that I find the idea of the skinwalker intriguing since I basically I made my own version last year. While I love the concept of the race and the flavor, I feel like the actual mechanics are somewhat lacking. With that in mind, I thought it would be fun to make a revised version of the race.

While most of the race's features remain mostly the same, I did change some elements and added others. I haven't seen how this new version works at the table and I'd love some feedback so I can make this race the best it can be. I concept this cool should be mechanically cool as well.

Due to a lycanthrope ancestor located somewhere within her family tree, the skinwalker has the supernatural ability to harness a bestial nature buried deep inside her and become a hybrid between animal and human. All skinwalkers are humanoids with the skinwalker and shapechanger subtypes. They have the same random starting age, aging effects, and random height and weight as a human. Skinwalkers have the following racial traits. 

+2 Constitution, -2 Intelligence, +2 Wisdom: Skinwalkers are tough individuals who rely more on instinct instead of reason. 

Medium: Skinwalkers are Medium creatures and have no bonuses or penalties due to their size. 

Normal Speed: Skinwalkers have a base speed of 30 feet. 

Low-Light Vision (Ex): In dimly lit conditions, the skinwalker can see twice as far as humans. 

Animal Senses: Skinwalkers receive a +2 racial bonus on Perception and Survival skill checks. 

Bestial Form (Su): A skinwalker can change into a more bestial form as a standard action. They can do this a number of times per day equal to 3 + 1/2 their character level. While in this form, a skinwalker gains a +2 racial bonus to their choice of Strength, Dexterity, or Constitution and one of the following animalistic features: 1) 2 claw attacks that each deal 1d4 points of damage, 2) a bite attack that deals 1d6 points of damage, 3) darkvision to a range of 60 feet, or 3) +1 racial bonus to natural armor. A skinwalker can return to her humanoid form as a swift action. To change forms and gain a different benefit, a skinwalker must first return to her humanoid form then use her bestial form ability again. 

Skinwalker Magic: Skinwalkers with a Wisdom score of 11 or higher can use speak with animals once per day as a spell-like ability. The caster level for this ability is equal to the skinwalker's character level. 

Languages: Skinwalkers begin play speaking Common. Skinwalkers with high Intelligence scores can choose any languages they want (except secret languages, such as Druidic). 

Friday, February 7, 2014

D&D 40th Anniversary Blog Hop Challenge - Part One

I guess I should explain this post and what happened to the other six posts that were apart of the D&D 40th Anniversary Blog Hop Challenge. While I had planned to do this as intended, making a post every day throughout the month answering one of the twenty-eight questions, I found that to be somewhat tedious and boring.

However, I don't want to give up entirely because some of the questions are interesting and I want to answer them. So, instead of answering one question per post, I thought I'd make four posts throughout the month where I answer seven questions each. This first post will be summarizing the previous six questions that I've answered and the seventh one as well. You can expect the next three posts to drop on the 14th, the 21st, and the 28th.

1. First person who introduced you to D&D. Which edition? Your first character?: The person who introduced me to D&D was my father, but not because he was a gamer himself. Originally, I wanted to play Warhammer Fantasy due to a visit to a Games Workshop store while on vacation. However, he discovered how much the miniatures cost and vetoed that. Instead, he looked up similar games and discovered the 3.5 edition of Dungeons & Dragons. Afterwords, we purchased the Basic game box set for that edition and I managed to get some friends to play with me. My first character ended up being a GMPC who was a human fighter named Ydoc (not very imaginative I know, but it worked).

2. First person you introduced to D&D. Which edition? Their first character?: Since I wanted to play this new game right away, the first person I introduced to D&D was my little sister. If I remember correctly, her first character was a halfling rogue who liked to stab things.

3. First dungeon you explored as a player character or ran as a DM: The first dungeon I explored was the example dungeon that came with the 3.5 Basic Game box set. I remember it being a pretty bland dungeon with very loosely connected encounters and rooms. It wasn't very memorable to be honest.

4. First dragon you slew (or some other powerful monster): The first dragon I killed was the young black dragon presented as the final monster for the example dungeon I mentioned above. I believe we managed to survive by the skin of our teeth thanks to some lucky dice rolls. That encounter actually helped me realize how stupid it is to have a dragon as the final boss for a 1st level adventure.

5. First character to go from 1st level to the highest level possible in a given edition. (Or what's the highest level character you ever ran?): The highest level character I ever ran was a 8th level multiclass wizard/fighter/rogue for a 3.5 Forgotten Realms game set within the Dalelands. I have never reached the higher levels for a number of reasons (mostly my preference for the power level of lower levels and campaigns dying before we can reach those levels).

6. First character death. How did you handle it?: My first character death happened when my first character Ydoc was killed by a demon while exploring a hidden temple of either Demogorgon or Orcus. I remember handling it pretty well since Ydoc's death allowed me to play something new and I wasn't attached to him anyway.

7. First D&D product you ever bought. Do you still have it?: While the first D&D product I owned was the 3.5 Basic Game box set, the first D&D products I purchased with my own money were the Player's Handbook, the Monster Manual, and the Dungeon Master's Guide, all of which I still own.

Continued in Part Two...

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Golden Rule of Gaming

Throughout my gaming career, I've heard numerous horror stories about how a player decided to be an asshole and ruin everyone else's fun for one reason or another. Luckily, I've only had a game ruined by a bad seed a handful of times and I was able to handle them with relative ease. 

However, those situations did teach me an important lesson that I like to call the "Golden Rule of Gaming." Its a very simple rule that I believe can fix a lot of problems that people have at the gaming table. Here's the rule:

Don't play with dicks.

That might sounds like the most obvious rule ever to some of you, but you'd be surprise how many people don't follow it. A majority of the problems people complain about can easily be fixed by not playing with a dick. 

For example, the complaint that wizards can do everything can easily be handled by not having an asshole who will take those spells that invade on another player's niche. He might carry a scroll of knock just in case they get into a tight pickle and the rogue's player is having some bad rolls, but he's not going to purposefully step on the rogue's toes each chance he gets. 

Now, I understand that some situations make it harder to control which people you end up playing with (like at a Pathfinder Society event or playing at a convention). That's a much harder situation to handle and the best advice I can give for that is to try and get through the session as peacefully as possible and do your best to avoid future sessions with any problem players. 

However, when playing in a home game, do yourself a favor and try your hardest to not play with dicks or be a dick yourself. 

Monday, February 3, 2014

The Important of Character Death

Art by Jack Chick. Yes, that Jack Chick.
Last Friday, I had an interesting experience while playing Pathfinder Society that helped strengthen a belief of mine. Some friends and I were playing the first part of The City of Strangers scenario and during the session, the entire party almost bit the dust. However, thanks to some VERY lucky die rolls and a sheer determination to succeed, we managed to overcome our opponent and remain alive.

What I'm about to say might sound like hyperbole to some people, but that combat encounter was one of the most entertaining and tense moments I've had while playing Pathfinder in the past few months. Although I believe there were other factors to why that encounter was so fun, I believe the main one was that chance our characters might have died and the adventure would have been over. That simple chance made us fight harder and play more intelligently, doing everything possible to win in the end and remain alive.

This encounter reaffirmed my belief that character death (or, at least the chance of it) is an important element in roleplaying games and should be present.

Now, I know there are some people out there who abhor the thought of character death. They don't find it fun and hate the idea that a character they've put so much time and creativity into might perish. I understand that, and I don't like seeing characters that I care about die either. I also don't want to play a game where ever session feels like we're delving into the Tomb of Horrors and each player has a stack of blank character sheets sitting close by just in case.

However, I don't want the other extreme either. I believe character death (or at least the chance of it) can add a lot to an adventure. For a cinematic example, lets take a look at Die Hard. Throughout the movie, John McClain is faced with numerous situations that might end with his demise. Those scenes can be incredibly tense because we as an audience are uncertain if he'll make it out alive.

Death can also be a great motivator. For example, the chance that your character might perish can motivate you to play him or her more intelligently so you can lessen that chance. That's what made us fight so hard in that Pathfinder Society scenario. We didn't want our characters to die, so we did everything we possibly could to survive.

So, I believe we can have a balance between the two extremes. Death shouldn't be a constant where you're bringing a new character to each session, but the chance of it happening should be there. If a character does something and the natural consequence to that action would be that character's demise, then the character should probably die unless you can find a way to logically save them. Also, the death of a character can lead to adventures as well. Maybe the remaining party members decide to travel to the Realm of the Dead to retrieve their fallen comrade's soul so they can resurrect him. Maybe they have to make a deal with the deity of death, who promises to give them the character's soul if they make an equal exchange (which could be anything really).

Character death isn't a dead end. Its just another door which leads to new possibilities.