Monday, September 29, 2008

My apologies for the lack of posting

I would like to apologize for the lack of posting.  Things have been hectic at work and at home.  Next thing I know the eleven days have passed!

At first I was truly concerned because the local cleric is only level nine, meaning that I was two days too late to have a Raise Dead cast on the blog.  Luckily, after consulting with him I found out he had taken a mail order course and converted to 4th Edition, meaning he now had a thirty day buffer in which to cast the Ritual!

He did make me provide the components, which really sucked.  You ever go to your local Bath and Body Works and ask for 500 GP worth of Mystic Salves?  Trust me, it will get you plenty of odd looks.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Sometimes you just need a little closure...

I will be the first to admit that I am what the 4th Edition Dungeon Master Guide would call a Storyteller.  When I play, I am more interested in a coherent narrative than any other element of the game.  I enjoy watching how the campaign unfolds, especially because the collaborative nature of D&D means there are always twists and turns I would not expect. 

There is only one problem: Most of the stories never get a proper ending!

When I think about it, I am amazed at how few D&D campaigns I have been in end in a satisfying manner.  Rather than building to to a natural climax, they tend to end abruptly.  This is probably because most campaigns I am a part of have been open-ended, meaning that they tend to end only when the DM can no longer run them.

When I was young, this usually wasn't a problem.  Unfortunately, as I get older, this tends to be happening much more frequently.  Why? Well, the old stereotype is that a gamer is an overgrown man-child who is unemployed and lives in his parents basement. 

In reality, most of the gamers in Lords of Tyr have a spouse, a child (or children), a full-time job (or jobs), and a house to maintain.  With all of that going on it is not surprising that few of them can find the time to DM.  Those that do often burn out quickly, since there is so much else going on in their lives.

Recently, I have been thinking of reviving some of these old campaigns to give them proper send-offs.  At first blush, it seems like a good idea.  After all, it will give everyone a chance to play beloved characters again and (hopefully) end the campaign with a proper sense of closure.

Unfortunately, I have found that returning to a dead campaign can be like attempting to hook back up with an ex-girlfriend.  It may seem like a good idea, but inevitably the issues that broke you up the first time will probably resurface.  To be a little less glib: Changes in group membership, changes in edition, lost character sheets, and a losing track of old plot points all work to spoil these attempts to resurrect the past.

So what is an aging gamer to do?  I think the only thing I can do is try to avoid adding to the pile when I DM.  One technique I am considering is running a series of mini-campaigns.  Instead of attempting a long-term campaign, I am going to focus on shorter campaigns that can be finished in 4-8 sessions.

This doesn't mean that there may not be continuity between the campaigns though.  I might start a campaign that brings a group of characters from level 1-3.  Then I will halt the game to let another DM take over for a bit.  Later, I will start my next campaign to take the characters from level 3-6.  Time will have passed "in game" from the last campaign.  While players will be allowed to bring their characters over, there will be no penalty for new players or old players who want to play something new.  Lather, Rinse, Repeat.

This should prevent the campaign from feeling like it ended mid-storyline regardless of when it ends.  After all, even if the game does have to end abruptly, it won't be as difficult to tie up the game's loose ends as it would in a longer running campaign.

Or I suppose I could try to convince all my friends to quit their jobs, leave their wives and children, and go live in their parent's basement.  Then we should all have plenty of time to game!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Random Reviews: Power Cards by Ander00

I want to apologize about there being so few posts this month.  Work has been a bit crazy, so I haven't had much time to devote to the blog.  This has been especially hard on my Alignment Series, as I still have to do some research before I can begin posting my new system ideas. 

That being said, I did get an opportunity to actually play in a 4th Edition D&D game this weekend.  It was a 15th level D&D 3.5 game that converted over last session.  I have to admit, I had a bit of trepidation jumping into my first 4th Edition game (as a player) at 15th level.

I shouldn't have worried, because I had found Ander00's Power Card's on ENWorld.  These cards have a clean, functional design.  Each card includes a summary of the power, boxes for you to fill in your modifiers, and a little flavor text.  At the moment Ander00 is pretty much up to date with all of the powers in the Core Books, Dragon Magazine, as well as a few fan versions of old favorites, like druids and bards, from the ENWorld forums.

It's amazing how functional these cards are during play.  Laying them out on the table allowed me to easily scan my available powers.  By turning them over as I used them I could keep track of which ones I had used.  I know that none of this is rocket science, but it really helped me get into my 15th level character without worrying too much about what I could do.

As for downloading and printing these cards, Ander00 basically presents two ways to do it.    One is to download the PDF Version of the cards and print them out.  This works fine, but it is a 95 page print out!  Another option is to download the Magic Set Editor, an Open Source Card Creation program.  Using this program, you can not only choose which cards you wish to print out, but you can edit them or even create your own.

I suppose you could print them on card stock, but I just bought 100 card sleeves for $0.55 at my local comic book shop.  I then put them in the sleeves with actual cards to provide the necessary stiffness.  Cheap, but effective.

Seriously, I just want to tip my hat to Ander00 for doing excellent work putting these cards together.  Considering how 4th Edition D&D powers were designed to easily fit on cards, it's simply amazing to me that Wizards of the Coast hasn't already attempted to sell me something like these.

But I must admit I enjoy getting them for free.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Separated at Birth?

Got Souls? In this corner we have the mighty Solamith.  As you can see, he is an exceptionally ugly demon slob who likes to devour souls in his spare time.  Apparently has some issues with digestion though, as the souls writhe around underneath his skin.  

If you cross him, he is capable of ripping off chunks of his own flesh an hurling them at you  The souls trapped in his flesh explode upon contact.

Apparently ectoplasm is composed of 75% nitroglycerin.  Who knew?


abzorbaloff In this corner we have the Mighty Absorbaloff!  An especially ugly alien with a penchant for devouring gullible Londoners, gaining all of their memories in the process.

The Absorbaloff is know for hatching convoluted plots to lure the ultimate repast, the right kind of Doctor, into his grubby little hands (or should that be "on a silver platter").

His success rate leaves something to be desired though.

So what do you think?  Separated at birth?  Mere unlucky coincidence?  Or something more sinister?

Sunday, September 7, 2008

The path to a better alignment system? (Part I)

I have never been a big fan of the alignment system in D&D.  In the old days there were nine alignments: Lawful Good, Neutral Good, Chaotic Good, Lawful Neutral, (True) Neutral, Chaotic Neutral, Lawful Evil, Neutral Evil, and Chaotic Evil. 

Unfortunately, often the names of the alignments were all the gamers in my group could agree on.  What those alignments actually meant seemed to be different to each player.  One player might argue it was ok for his Lawful Good Samurai to cut off the hand of the party thief because that was lawful in his society while other players considered it evil.  Another might argue that his lawful neutral monk had to follow up on every thing he vowed to do while other players felt his behavior was chaotic because he could choose to vow to do anything.  Who is right and who is wrong in these cases?  It's hard to say.

Oddly, the Lawful Good alignment was one of the most problematic.  Many Paladins and other players with this alignment felt forced to become "party police", much to the resentment of the other players.  Those that didn't want that role were forced to become "Lawful Stupid" and feign ignorance to what was going on around them.

I suppose I should point out that I actually like the concept of alignment in some cases, mostly in the case of extraplanar beings who are often little more then the living embodiment of an ideal anyway.  It just seems like it would be very difficult for natural beings to act within the rigid strictures of alignment.

When 4th Edition came out, they revamped the alignment system.  Now there are only five alignments:  Lawful Good, Good, Unaligned, Evil, and Chaotic Evil.  They way they are described, they probably could be more accurately called "Really Good", Good, "Screw Alignments", Evil, and "Really Evil".

I don't consider this much of an improvement.  It still has a most of the issues of the old system, with the only advantage being that there is an "opt out" button in the middle.  Still, I like the concept that aligning yourself with a faction is a choice that not everyone makes.  So it's a step in the right direction.  The real question is: How can it be improved?

Luckily for me, I have no problem stealing drawing inspiration from other systems.  So lets take a look at a few.  Warhammer Fantasy has a Law versus Chaos setup similar to Dungeons and Dragons, which is not surprising since both were inspired my Michael Moorcock's fantasy novels.  I do feel that Warhammer does a better job of integrating the war of Law versus Chaos into its campaign setting, as well as highlighting the issues with the extremes of both sides.  Perhaps some aspects of this can be put into the new system.

Another option is presented in Wizard's Oriental Adventures for the 3rd Edition game.  They remove alignment entirely.  Instead they use the concept of Honor and Taint.  The Honor system basically keeps track of how well you stick to societies codes of conduct, while Taint measures how much the "evil" of the Shadowlands has infected your soul. 

I actually like the concept of Taint a lot.  It gives nice mechanics to a the concept that the natural and unnatural may not be meant to cross.  I will admit, it has a more horror feeling to it than your average D&D game contains.  As for Honor, it works well in Oriental Adventures and probably would work well in a campaign with a more "knightly" feel than your average D&D game.  Still, there are some interesting concepts that could be incorporated into a new system.

White Wolf's new World of Darkness system provides some interesting mechanics as well.  Rather than an overarching alignment system, each character chooses a Virtue and a Vice.  Whenever the character indulges in a Virtue or a Vice, they gain a Willpower point. 

I like this a lot.  By providing an incentive to indulge in both, I believe it encourages role-playing.  Many heroes in literature are as well know for their flaws as their virtues.  Conan was strong, brave, and had a strong sense of barbarian honor.  Still, Conan was just as well know for overindulging in drinking or whoring.

Mixing and matching some concepts from these systems, and an interesting new model begins to emerge.  Taking a cue from 4th Edition D&D, lets assume that most characters are unaligned.  The unaligned would simply use a virtue and vice system similar to the one found in World of Darkness. 

On the other hand, a character could choose to align themselves with extraplanar forces.  This would provide additional benefits and additional penalties.  It also would require an opt in to a stricter morality than those simply playing an unaligned character.  It may take on some some aspects of "Taint", namely that your actions could move you up and down a scale and may have some physical effect on your character. 

So where are the details?  Well, in all honesty I don't have them.  That's the reason I placed a "Part I" at the top of the article.  I am going to be working on this alternative alignment system over the next couple of weeks.  This post is the "fluff", while future ones will present the "crunch". 

Also, while I believe this goes without saying, I will say it anyway.  Since this is a work in progress, I would love to hear peoples comments and suggestions. 

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

A Game Table Worth Using?

I have to admit I am pleased that Wizards of the Coast has kept it's word to break the silence on the Digital initiative.  The most recent article featured a Q&A which brought some interesting changes to the initiative to light.

One of the big changes is how they will be handling virtual miniatures for the D&D Game Table product.  It appears they have scrapped the idea of purchasing miniatures with micro-payments and on limiting how many clones you could make of a virtual miniature.  Now, your subscription to the Game Table will give you unlimited copies of all of the miniatures they have produced.

This is great news.  The micro-payment model was one of the most ridiculed aspects of the Game Table product among my group.  Limiting miniature cloning was a big issue caused by this model as well.  After all, if you bought an orc miniature and it came with the ability to be cloned ten times, did you really want to spend extra money if you had a room with twenty orcs in it?

It does sound like their may be "special edition" miniatures, but that they will be bundled with digital modules.  This makes sense to me.  If you can buy online versions of the modules that come with pre-built encounter areas and special miniatures for the module?  That seems like less of an overt money grab than charging me for an extra twenty orcs. 

Of course, this may all change between now and when the Game Table launches.  It seems like this will be one of the last of the major Digital Initiative products to launch, and a lot can change between now and then.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Google Chrome Comic Book art by Scott McCloud

Not sure if any of you have checked out Google Chrome yet.  It is basically a new open source web browser with several innovations like a privacy mode and multi-threaded tabbed browsing.  I downloaded it today and have been using it almost exclusively since then.  Which is pretty impressive considering how much I love Firefox!

Why try out a new browser when I was happy with my old one?  Was it because of the technical merits? Well, I am impressed with some of the technology behind it.  Honestly though, it is the fact that they created a comic book justification for it.

I mentioned that Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics changed the entire way I look at the medium of comics.  One of the things Scott bemoans in Understanding Comics is that comic are pretty much seen as only capable of producing stories about adolescent power fantasies (i.e. superheroes).  Manga shows us that there is nothing inherit in the comic medium that prevents us from telling all-manner of stories.  Instead of just superheroes, why not write police dramas, romances, historical fiction, situation comedies, and even non-fiction?  Seriously, a lot of potential is being wasted.

Scott even mentions how the potential of comics as an instructional tool is often overlooked.  An example of comics being used that way are the "comics" in airplanes that explain how to put on air masks, assume crash position, etc.  Sadly, comics are almost never used this way.

When I saw Google had released a comic book about why they created Chrome, I was very intrigued.  Within the first couple of pages I thought, "Wow, whoever did this certainly read Understanding Comics".  I am embarrassed to say I did not recognize that Scott McCloud was actually doing the art for the comic until I was half-way in!

Since Google sent some work to one of my comic creating heroes, I figured the least I could do was try out their product.

I have to admit it is way better than I expected for a beta product.  Heck, it's better then some mature browsers.  Like Safari.

Yeah, you heard me Apple.  Watch your back.