Published on 4/28/2011 Written by 4 comments

Skeletons and Starships

I don't buy a whole lot of new games every year, at least not in printed form, but PDFs are another story. For me, dropping ten bucks on a game I may or may not enjoy is a heck of a lot better than doing the same thing on a forty-dollar and up scale. So Drive Thru RPG is one of the big stops on my digital shopping sprees. I've picked up good and bad alike from there, but thankfully it seems that the cream rises to the top. Cheap little adventures, supplements, and even game systems. Especially older systems that still play beautifully (I'll save a rundown on some of the best, and worst, PDF purchases for a later date).

Being a cheapskate New Englander, I also like free. Free is good. Often, a free game is just a little afternoon time waster, good with beer and pretzels, but not much else.

And then there are the quality games that exist in a free form. The well-known Risus (the rules-litest game ever?), Labyrinth Lord, Basic Fantasy, OSRIC, and Swords and Wizardry. These games are superb and also have paid options available, usually in printed form. It's great to support quality games like these, especially when they are willing to risk giving their product away while also trying to make a buck.

But then there are just some choices that are simply incredible. Games that offer an obscene amount of content and playability, all without a single shilling in cost. Games that dare to try something a little different from your standard Retroclone. Games that truly give you a different experience.

Mazes and Minotaurs.

This game is actually very well-known, likely because it was one of the earlier Retroclone-style games and has been around for years now.

The premise is simple. It's D&D as done by Ray Harryhausen. Greek legends, huge monsters, and sword swinging action all fill the game to the brim with wild ideas that make it so much more than a mere D&D mod. Play an Oracle and gleam the secrets of the future, or venture forth as a Noble and spend your coin freely, or even play a Centaur among the human lands. Options aplenty for creating your own odyssey among the sun dappled isles.

It's a universal rule to feature this scene after Harryhausen's name is mentioned.

And it's a parody to boot! Cleverly marketing itself as the "first ever roleplaying game" from 1972, it has anecdotes and commentary on gaming as a culture. Sure, it's a little heavy-handed at times, but so what? It's a tasty little free addition to the overall product.

And speaking of product, it's fully featured! Combat, a loose magic system, random tables, a massive bestiary, and enough rules-lite gameplay tweaks to satisfy both grognards and newcomers. For one, there is no spell list, just a list of impossible things you can do with magic; it takes all the busywork out of magic and turns it into something more appropriate to the genre. And for those with an aversion to randomness, it features simple character creation that requires only random stats, nothing more. It's great for newcomers and it seems to have found acceptance as an alternate game system for the more experienced members of my group as well.

To some, it might seem limited, with a level cap at 6, but to those of us truly seeking something with a different flavor, it's a refreshing taste in a world of 'me too!' fantasy.

And the cost? Zip. Nada. Nothing. This is the sort of game I'm always happy to spend ten or fifteen dollars on, and here they give it away for gratis. Unthinkable.

This game has already provided my group with more entertaining adventures than I can count. And it has done it with a style nearly unimaginable even in a commercial product.

Plus, it now has extra Vikings!

Stars Without Number.

Okay, so technically I haven't played this one (I've said it a dozen times before, but my group just doesn't like science fiction), but it's been making the rounds for the last few months and I finally got past the ugly cover to see what lurked within. It's safe to say that reading through it blew my mind. It's a real D&D-style sci-fi Space Opera that, on the surface at least, appears to work. Yes, even with the dreaded ol' d20.

Three classes (fighter-type, mage-type, and...other-type), a rich backstory with a huge universe of adventure, and some other delightful additions like a hundred million random tables (Gygax would be proud), ship combat rules, and a highly polished appearance with full art, all combine to make me think of a commercial game.

There's a skill system that reminds me just a bit of the kits from 2nd Edition D&D, a clever set of magic guidelines channeled through a Psi system that eschews the traditionally massive spell list in favor of a simpler spell-per-level style. Heck, it's so old school that classes still have traditional hit dice, including the dreaded d4 for psychics! Do you need more? Oh, right. It's free. You can't argue that it's at least worth a look!

At least these guys don't seem as insane. They are, after all, selling supplements to the main game. So I suppose you could call it a microtransaction system, almost like all those Korean MMOs that bill themselves 'Free-2-Play'. Only in this case they give you a real game to enjoy.

Just goes to show that, when your gaming budget's in a pinch, there are still plenty of options.

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Published on 4/26/2011 Written by 8 comments

iPod Adventure Design

A while back Joe Nelson wrote a post about using music in your games. I'm a big supporter of soundtracks for RPGs, as it helps set the mood and create atmosphere. The trick, however, is finding the right music to match your game.

I think I've found the answer: What if you write the adventure to fit the music?

I'm going to do an experiment. I'm going to write an adventure module, entirely inspired by random songs from my iPod set on shuffle. I'm not going to even decide on a setting or a game system before I begin: I'm just going to hit play and see what comes up. I'll try to build my game around the songs.

I will need 8 pieces of music to inspire the 8 components I think the adventure will need:

Setting/Theme: To set the overall tone of the adventure.
Plot Hook: How and why do the players get involved in this story?
Big Bad: Who is the villain? Villains with theme music are always better.
NPC/Resource: There should be some sort of non-player resource to support the players and give them information. This could be a mentor or patron, an organization, whatever.
Encounter 1: The first conflict or complication (not necessarily combat) the players have to overcome. This will hopefully set the theme and pace of what's to come.
Encounter 2: The middle act. Again, not necessarily combat, but it very well could be.
Encounter 3: This is the main event. The battle against the big bad, a huge chase scene, an edge-of your seat debate or argument, whatever. This is what you plunk down your $5 for. (What, you don't charge your players to play in your game?)
Aftermath/Denouement: If your game was a movie, this is what would play over the credits. This should epitomize your heroes' victory or defeat.

In case you're not familiar with the songs, I strongly recommend firing up Grooveshark in another browser window, so you can listen along and see where I'm coming from.

Make Sense? All Ready? Let's do this! *Shakes iPod vigorously"

Setting/Theme - "Indestructible" by Disturbed
Awesome way to start. I don't know what the actual setting/system is, but the players are going to be tough, disciplined fighting machines. They could be knights or mercenaries in a fantasy game, a team of special forces/marines in a modern or space warfare game, or maybe even bad ass antiheroes in a dark supers game.

I'm talking about guys that would slap Satan in the face. And teabag him.

Determination that is incorruptible.

From the other side,

A terror to behold.
Annihilation will be unavoidable.

Every broken enemy will know,

That their opponent had to be invincible.

Take a last look around while you're alive,
I'm an indestructible master of war."

This is the kind of character any good role-player worth their dice would want to play.


Plot Hook - "Anymore" by Savatage
Fuck. Savatage is awesome (they're the fore-runners of the Transsiberian Orchestra, you know), but this is one of their wussier songs. Really takes the wind out of the Disturbed song.

This is either the cover of a Savatage album, or the cover the 1st Edition DMG. There are so many better songs from this band that are practically the text from an old adventure module set to music.

It seems to be about regrets; wishing for a simpler time when we were children and our friends were alive and we still believed in god... or it's about a sailor remembering a shipwreck.

"Or if it sank down through the depths
Of cold reality

To rest upon the ocean floor
For all eternity

For at the bottom of the sea
The dead d
o not feel pain
And neath the ocean made of tears
They never fear the rain"

Let's go with that. The heroes are looking for a shipwreck. And treasure. Moving on.

Big Bad - "Hot Patootie/Bless My Soul" from the Rocky Horror Picture Show
What? Um, okay. So the bad guy is Meatloaf. In a denim vest, leather pants and a white plastic belt. And he rides a bitching motorcycle. Let's call him a rival treasure hunter, trying to beat the players to the shipwreck. I can work with that.

As far as villains go, he's no Darth Vader, but c'mon: Don't you want to punch him in the nose?

NPC/Resource - "Gives You Hell" from Glee
You may be thinking: "What the fuck is this doing on your iPod?" My response to that is: "no comment."

Though I did think the Singing in the Rain sequence from episode 2-07 was pretty kicking.

Let's say the person who hired the PCs to find the shipwreck is the girl that Meatloaf felt-up in the Hot Patootie song. Her family owned the ship and she believes she has rights to it, but she foolishly told the slick greaser dude where to find it, then he took off on her. She wants the heroes to "Give him hell" for using her.

See? I saved.

Encounter 1 - "I Am Hated" by Slipknot

Maybe these guys should be the villains. Looking like this, your job options are kind of limited. It's not like you can be a babysitter or a Wal-Mart greeter.

Okay, this helps get back the bad-ass cred of the adventure group. I don't care who the wussy supporting cast is, this is the party's chance to prove their mettle in an awesome combat encounter. I don't care who they fight, but they need to kick some major ass. It's them against the world. According to the lyrics:

"The whole world is my enemy - and I'm a walking target
Two times the devil with all the significance
Dragged and raped for the love of a mob
I can't stay - because I can't be stopped

Eat motherfuckers alive who cross us

I know you're all tired of the same ol' bosses
Let me tell you how it's gonna be

I'm gonna kill anyone who steps up in front of me "

I actually think this is a theme song for kids about to shoot up their high schools but I'm not touching that with a ten foot pole. So let's say the PCs fight ninjas on jet-skies.

No explanation necessary.

Encounter 2 - "Breadfan" by Metallica

Another song that makes the heroes seem like badasses with swagger. It talks about robbing and stealing and it has fast guitars and pre-sucky James Hetfield. Unfortunately, I think the titular "Breadfan" they're singing about is actually a seagull (heavy metal in the 70s, people). Let's just say the heroes have to have another sweet battle in motorboats while they're stealing/escaping with some cool treasure or weapon, with seagulls providing complications to the chase scene. (Getting stuck in the engines, maybe?)

Music trivia: This was originally recorded back in the 70s by a British thrash metal band called Budgie.

"Dude, I got an awesome name for our metal band: Budgie!"
"What the fuck is a budgie?"
"It's one of those giant man-eating birds, isn't it? Like a griffin or something?"

Encounter 3 - "Swete Sone" by Mediaeval Baebes
Are you kidding me? After two kick ass songs for the build up, THIS is the climactic scene? For those of you who don't know the Medieaval Baebes, just go listen to this song and you'll understand. It sounds like Loreena McKennitt on roofies. However, if you listen closely to the lyrics, and translate it to modern language (they sing all their songs in Chaucerian English), this is a very dark song about Mary weeping at Christ's feet during the crucifixion.

"Sweet Son, have pity on me
And deliver me from this life
For I think I see

Your death approaches quickly

Your feet have been nailed
to the tree
Now I may never prosper

For without you, all of this world

Can never make me happy."

Depressing shit. But how can I work this into the adventure? Does one of the heroes' get crucified/otherwise deaded, and his mother weeps at his feet? Maybe it's Meatloaf's ex-girlfriend that's crying for the dead guy? Maybe she's actually crying for Meatloaf, after the heroes waste his ass? Maybe the treasure on the sunken ship is something out of a Dan Brown novel? An actual artifact of the crucifixion, like Jesus' ripped muscle-shirt?

I think that if the Gnostic Gospels were more widely accepted, then more people would go to church.

It could go many ways, but let's keep it simple and say someone dies (a PC would be more striking, but we'll work with Meatloaf if we have to) and the chicky-boo cries about it. She should. If she hired the players, it's her fault if they killed him. (That's how you use rationalization to keep your character's "good" alignment.) Hopefully it provides a nice stirring contrast to cold butchery the "heroes" have handed out until this point. Depending on your players, though, the emotion may be completely lost on them.

Aftermath/Credits - "I'm Still Breathing" by Katy Perry
And there goes what little metal cred I had left. Sigh. So I thought this song was about a girl getting ready to kill herself, which made me go: "What the fuck? That's way too deep for that muppet-humping Zooey Deschanel look-a-like!" Then I realized it's about a girl breaking up with her boyfriend and feeling like she may as well be dead, which made me go: "What the fuck? How am I going to fit that into my adventure?"

Finally, a practical purpose for Calvin's Duplicator...

I guess it kinda makes sense, if the chicky-boo really did love Meatloaf, and is now bemoaning his loss, and of course it is all her fault. She did hire some brutal killers to murder the guy, remember (if you keep telling yourself that, you can make your GM believe it). Unfortunately, this leaves the PCs as merely a plot device in the real story, which is about Meatloaf and Zooey #2. It would be much better if Zooey #2 was actually involved with one of the characters, to give them more connection and motivation to the action.

So what do you think? I never decided on a game system - I was picturing some kind of modern combat-heavy game, but it could be modified for fantasy or sci-fi with minor tweaks. And though I kept referring to the Zooey #2 character as female, you could easily swap sexes/genders as necessary.

Warning: Success at gender modification may vary.

I don't know if this would make a good adventure module, but I think it would make a kick-ass action movie. Feel free to add any suggestions for changes, but how much more awesome could it be?

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Published on 4/20/2011 Written by 9 comments

I want to know about your DIY RPG projects and products

Some people call it the OSR, some call it DIY D&D, I call it DIY RPG.

I could care less what game you play, what edition of what game you play or the style (or lack thereof) of the game you play. I only care that you are playing a game that you enjoy, and that you're making up a bunch of stuff that you and your friends think is awesome.

To me DIY RPG is all about making up cool stuff to enjoy on game night. Whether this idea becomes a polished adventure that you publish, or just a bunch notes scribbled in your Moleskine - the only thing that matters is that you made it, and used it in your game. And now with this whole Internet RPG blogging thing we can share these cool ideas with other gamers.

If you look at the top of the blog there is a button labeled resources. If you click on it you'll find an empty page. I want to fill this page with all sorts of links to your awesome DIY RPG stuff.

Leave a comment with a link to an RPG world, adventure, map, or whatever interesting idea you're working on currently and I will add it to my resources page. This can be a link to your blog or to a product you're selling, or just something you think is cool. The only rules are - it must be DIY RPG (no commercial products from big companies), and  it must be something that people can use in their games. So please don't link to game commentary or reviews etc...

I am already aware of a huge amount of DIY RPG stuff, but I also know there is a tonne of stuff I don't know about. Help me compile a kick ass DIY RPG resources page, and leave a link in the comments to something you think is awesome.

(Any comments that argue over the semantic differences between the OSR, DIY D&D and DIY RPG will be deleted, and anyone who starts a nerd fight over the use of any of these terms will be banned, and considered a dick... forever)

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Published on 4/19/2011 Written by 15 comments

D6-ing Battlestar Galactica: Why Do We Make Games?

(After last week, I'm taking a break from talking about D&D. I appear to have attracted undesirable riffraff to ruleofthedice.com.)

I want to play a Battlestar Galactica RPG. I've been on a BSG kick as of late, and I'm going to try to convince my PBEM group to play a one-shot (or two) once our current D&D game runs its course. I want to use the D6 rule set from the old Star Wars RPG, and I've already started playing around statting out Vipers and Cylon Raiders and such. It helps using the X-Wing and TIE Fighter stats as a base, actually. It's appropriate since BSG was originally ripped off Star Wars, anyway.

I love making up games, though most of them never actually see the light of day. I've made video games through RPG Maker, whole sets and expansions for Magic: The Gathering through Magic Set Editor, and more pen-and-paper RPGs than I count. I didn't think anything of it at first when I opened up a file and started hammering out rules and stats for a BSG game. Then I had to stop and think about it for a second: Why am I making this game?

Just because you can make an RPG from scratch (or clone/copy as the case may be), I wonder if you really need to. It's like when McDonald's has a sale, where if you buy a Big Mac you can get a second one free. Just because you CAN get two Big Macs for the price of one, doesn't mean you SHOULD.

The pitfalls of sales at McDonald's.

For instance, I can easily think of a number of reasons against creating a D6 version of Battlestar Galactica.

1. There's a perfectly good version of the game already published by Margaret Weis Productions. I haven't even played it, so I can't claim I don't like the rules.

2. It will never go anywhere besides my small group of friends. It's not like I could ever sell it or market it. The D6 rules might be open content, but the BSG licence certainly isn't.

Say hello to Richard Hatch's lawyer.

3. My group may never even play it. There's no guarantee that everyone won't want to just keep playing D&D. Even if I (the DM) get bored or burnt out and refuse to play anymore, I can't force them to play something else if they're not interested.

4. It's potentially a big wasted investment of time and energy if nothing ever comes out of it (see points 2 and 3).

So why, then, would I just start making stuff up for no good reason? I've got a few ideas about that, to:

1. Compulsion? Why do smokers smoke? Writers write? Pedophiles... yeah, I'm not going there. You get my point. Sometimes you just can't help it. You get an idea and you just have to put it down, even if you know it will never go anywhere.

2. For fun? I like making games. Most of them never come to fruition (though I made a really spiffy RISK variant for my in-laws a few years ago, with a full-size glossy game board and all), but most of the fun is in the process.

No, seriously, it was pretty cool.

3. I know the D6 system. I love the D6 system. Nothing against the Cortex system the Margaret Weis version of the game uses (again, I've never actually played it), but D6 reminds me of my misspent youth, and makes me nostalgic.

So: Do the pros outweigh the cons? Do most folks agonize like this before making up some half-assed rules that will probably only be used a couple of times, if at all? I've seen a lot of crap in this world that if its creator only stopped and asked themselves, "Does the world really need this?" then it probably wouldn't exist. (How many RIFTS source books are there???) Do I want to add to that pile of uselessness?

Fuck. Who gave the separatists giant robots?

I suspect there's a much longer post and discussion involved here; I'm hardly scratching the surface. The Internet Gaming Community, especially the OSR folks, love creating games. But why? What drives them? Why am I making up my own game, basically stealing two ideas mostly intact from two other intellectual properties? Is it the same reason people write pornographic Harry Potter fan fiction?

God, I hope not.
It's too many questions. And before people start bitching at me, I am not mocking anyone or telling them that shouldn't make games (except maybe Kevin Siembieda). If people want to ride the DIY revolution, more power to them. I'm just curious why. I'm doing it myself and I have no fucking clue what my motivations are.

No, seriously. Any insight would be appreciated.

If you know anyone else who may be of help, click below...

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Published on 4/17/2011 Written by 3 comments

Awesome Pic of the Week - 04/17/11

This weeks pic(s) comes from the most excellent artist Adrian Smith. I first came across his work on the French blog Illustrateurs, an excellent art blog (with the occasional NSFW pictures), well worth checking out.

Here are a few of my favorites...

Bad ass Dwarf

Bad ass Elf

Ya gotta love Gnomes
Yep, Dwarves are awesome

Sharing is cool...
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Published on 4/14/2011 Written by 6 comments

Empty Sandbox

When I was a kid, my favorite toys were the simplest. You could have handed mini-Joe an action figure and a toy gun and he would have spent hours, if not days, coming up with elaborate and increasingly violent hallucinatory adventures. So I suppose it's little surprise that I have grown to love generic gaming systems now that I'm older (we won't delve into the ludicrous possibility of being wiser).

By generic system, I am referring to a system largely devoid of setting or fluff material. A system I could use to play in any number of fictional universes that fit in the mold of the genre; from Tolkeinesque fantasy, to Star Trek style sci-fi.

The system and the setting are separate things in my mind. I compartmentalize to the point where playing a Forgotton Realms game using Hackmaster or even D6 Fantasy sounds interesting. But there are games where the line between setting and system are hopelessly blurred, to the point of being inseparable. 4th Edition D&D is a good example of this. System-wise, it's not obviously tied into Eberron or any other setting, and yet its mechanics are singularly designed so that they are required to work within a certain framework. You can change the Powers, or even try to do away with them altogether, but then you lose the vital skeleton of the system.

Mind you, I've heard good things about the new Gamma World, which uses 4E rules, but I haven't yet played it.

For me, the joy in a system is that it be moddable to my whims. In fact, I would declare Dungeons & Dragons, up to 4E, to be the single most moddable fantasy system. The basics behind the d20 system have been used to power an unbelievable number of games, from Mutants and Masterminds, to Conan, to Stars Without Number, to a massive number of Retroclones, to the not-quite-so-retro-clone Pathfinder, and even the older Mongoose Lone Wolf game. What's the common denominator between all of these games? If you've ever played any version of D&D, especially 3.5, you will feel an eerie familiarity with each ruleset. Things were changed, especially that blasted Vancian magic, but the bones are the same.

For my needs, these games are perfect. I could play a Marvel-styled comic adventure with Mutants & Masterminds, or a game in Lankhmar with Mongoose's Conan rules. Some alteration might be required, but it would be short work, and the results would--and have--been quite good.

I suppose that's because I'm a tinkerer. I like to tweak this, adjust that, and see what happens to the end result. It's rarely balanced, but I find balance to be overrated anyway.

Call him a Munchkin, I dare you.

Now, I should note, I'm not trying to knock published settings. There is something vital in having high-quality, published settings. It saves time on the part of the GM and it can provide less imaginative GMs with great ideas and tools to use. But when the system is so firmly integrated into the setting it can be a mixed bag. I would rather pay a little extra to buy a setting book than have my ruleset designed around a very specific setting.

I guess that means I would rather have an empty sandbox with a shovel and bucket than an entire jungle gym.

Of course, maybe I'm in the minority. What about you? Would you prefer the setting to be integrated into the rules or a separate entity? Is it more value to have both together?

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Published on 4/12/2011 Written by 28 comments

Why My Favourite D&D Class Sucks

I don't get to play D&D as a player very often. I usually end up on the DM side of the screen, which is cool because I generally enjoy it more anyway. But from time to time it's a nice change of pace to only have to worry about a single character instead of an entire world. It's also fun to throw down and beat the living daylights out of some monsters.

My current D&D of choice, for better or for worse, is 4th Edition. The first time I got to run my own character in this edition was at last season's D&D Encounters event (Keep on the Borderlands), and I made the damn fool mistake of playing the cleric. (See here for why Clerics, especially 4E Essentials clerics, suck. And while we're at it, here's a good argument for the suckiness of Monks). Next I tried a Gnome Bard for a high-level Living Forgotten Realms game, but that turned out almost as bad as the cleric.

Seriously, what was I thinking?

For the new Encounters season, I almost made a Slayer(Fighter build), until I realized that all they can do is hit stuff. Literally. Every turn your choice of options is either a) attack or b) attack really hard. Finally, I went with a Hunter (Ranger) because they seemed to have so many more options.

For you Grognards unfamiliar with the Hunter class (which is a variation on an archer ranger), imagine taking a wizard and all the neat things they can do (stunning spells, charms and enchantments, fireballs), and then have your archer make attacks that have the exact same effect. But with ARROWS.

The result is both awesome and incredibly stupid at the same time. On the awesome side, the Hunter has lots of neat tricks. Even at low level, you have choices every single turn. Observe the cool list of possible special attacks that a first-level Hunter can perform:

Aimed Shot: A highly accurate attack that ignores cover. Handy when you just absolutely have to hit certain monsters.

Clever Shot #1: Hit, do damage, and knock the opponent prone. Cool. I imagine shooting the guy in the knee or something.

Clever Shot #2: Hit, do damage, and slow the target. Also cool. Maybe you pin his cloak to a tree or something, so it takes him some movement to pull the arrow out.

This guy can actually stun you before he even fires the arrow.

Clever Shot #3: Hit, do damage, and fling the target 10 feet. In any direction. Um, okay. Maybe the force of the blow knocks him back? (Note: Not actually possible with an arrow) Or maybe there's a string tied to the arrow, and you pull him toward you? Or maybe he just stumbles around in pain from the wound, and just happens to move in exactly the direction you want him to?

Disruptive Shot: Daze or immobilize the victim. This one makes a bit more sense. Maybe you hit him in the head or some other vulnerable area to stun the guy, or you pin his foot to the ground with an arrow.

Rapid Shot: You hit every target in a 15x15 foot area with an arrow. Um, yeah.

They also gain an inherent bonus to sense of style.

These attacks from a gameplay point of view are great, and give you lots of options during combat. Way more fun that each turn just being, "I hit something."

The problem is that I have a hell of a time wrapping my head around how any of these things are actually even fucking possible.

One huge glaring problem is that these attacks do exactly what they say no matter what target you use them on. Shoot a 100-foot long dragon with a measly little wooden arrow? Sure, you can stun it or knock it back 10 feet or pin it to the ground. Why not?

Hey, if some random dude named Bard (who isn't actually a bard, by the way) can do it, why can't I?

That being said, Dragons aren't even the worst scenario. At least they have some kind of semi-natural anatomy. Some other things I've done with a Hunter, by shooting an arrow at it:

  • Knocked an undead beholder right out of the air (a creature that flies by magic, not through wings or other normal means).
  • Slid an 8-foot tall demon 10 feet across the floor perpendicular to me, while the thing was lying on his back.
  • Best one? I've knocked a jelly slime creature prone. A creature that doesn't even have an anatomy, let alone legs of which to be knocked off.

Don't believe how stupid this is? Try this at home: Go get a really big bowl. Then find an even bigger fridge. Make about 400lbs of Jell-O, and dump it in a big mound on the floor. Now shoot an arrow at it. Did the Jell-O fall prone? Would you even be able to tell?

I think the Hunter gains this power at level 14.

But do you want to know the one that annoys me the most? The rapid shot ability. Nevermind whether or not you can effectively fire up to 9 arrows in less than six seconds, whether all at the same time or in rapid succession (even stupider, you can actually do the same thing with a goddamn crossbow), but the power actually forces you to roll an attack against any creature in the area of the effect. Yes, that includes your allies. Yes, that even includes you.

(Try this at home part 2: Go get a longbow. Now shoot yourself with it. Seriously. I'll wait.)

I know it is designed this way so it works like a fireball-type effect, where you have to be careful where you aim, and to make it fair, yada yada, but explain the logic to me: You see two goblins standing next to your buddy. You load three arrows into your bow. WHY? Doesn't even matter if your buddy is unconscious on the ground, you still have to shoot at him. Are we supposed to believe that you're just shooting wildly to blanket the area with arrows? Are you using your bow, literally, like a machinegun? In that case, shouldn't you actually be firing more than three arrows at a time? And then wouldn't you have a chance of hitting some targets more than once? Your ranger is going to have to hire a half dozen caddies to follow him around, carrying all his extra quivers.

Okay, that should be enough arrows for the first encounter.

I know 4th Edition is supposed to be over-the-top, fantastically heroic. I know it tried to simplify some rules at the expense of realism. But come on. At least pretend to offer some explanation as to how I can immobilize an insubstantial ghost with an arrow.

All that aside, I love my hunter. I would still rather play him than most other classes. It's frakkin' awesome and I'm not giving him up.

Anyone else have a class that's a guilty pleasure? Or a other examples of throwing realism and logic out the window for the sake of cool game effects? Go ahead and chime in. What else is the Internet for, if not for ranting?

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Published on 4/09/2011 Written by 3 comments

Saturday Sorcery - Ghouls

 A little horror themed Saturday sorcery this week.

I have a notebook dedicated to write ups for all the various undead monsters that lurk in the dark corners of my campaign world. The following is gathered from the notes I had on ghouls, or more precisely notes on how one becomes a ghoul.

Ghouls - The eaters of the dead
A ghoul is perhaps the most hideous of all the undead. In life this person was obsessed with death, usually exhibiting abnormal perversions such as the desire to drink blood, collecting corpses of animals or the recently deceased, and possibly necrophilia. When their unwholesome and unholy obsession finally reaches fevered pitch their desires can only be satiated by killing. At first it will just be simple murder, but this soon graduates to cannibalism, and finally to necrotic cannibalism.

Now the dark powers start to beckon, whispering terrible secrets in their deranged ear. The downward spiral into hellish oblivion is almost complete.

At some point the persons appetite will become absolutely ungovernable and the dark powers will step up and make an offer to help. Because of the persons exceeding wickedness the dark powers will invite them to join them, and be reborn as their servant - which to a completely deranged, death obsessed cannibalistic pervert, isn't all that bad of an idea. All they have to do is fulfill some simple requests.

They need to find a suitable sacrifice (often a wizard, priest or person exhibiting supernatural powers or is otherwise holy etc...) - sacrifice them using the ritual prescribed - eat of their dead flesh - and ritually commit suicide - and at last, they will be reborn.

Unfortunately they will be reborn as a ghoul.

Ghoulish Sacrifice
Casting Time: 2 hours
Range: N/A
Duration: Permanent
Save: N/A
Components: The spell casters blood.

The exact ritual for this spell can only be revealed by the dark powers. It's left to the GM to decide who or what dark powers these may be in their campaign.

Once a suitable sacrifice is found (see above) the ritual begins. It would be my suggestion that if you're the GM you should make this ritual as dark and fucked up as your players can handle. I won't bother with the details here, but I would suggest a healthy dose of twisted 80's satanic weirdness to set the scene.

Once the spell/ritual is cast and the final act of ritual suicide is completed, it takes one full turn before the final transformation to ghouldom is complete. If for any reason the ritual is interrupted, or not completed properly, the caster will die, become a ghost, and be tortured by the dark powers for all eternity - which is pretty much where they were headed anyways, so it's cool.


I used this idea in an adventure several years ago. It started out as a standard murder mystery, but then the ghoulish truth was revealed. It went pretty well, and scared the shit out of some of the players, which is always a good sign.

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Published on 4/07/2011 Written by 14 comments

My Favorite Game (that I never played)

In a recent article, C.D. talked about some of the best games he's never played. We all have them, of course. Those games we wish we could play but, for one reason or another, do not. I have a large pile of them sitting either in PDFs or on my desk, but the one that has bothered me the most deserves a mention today.

The game is Traveller.

I've always been a Star Trek fan. There's something about the Space Opera genre that I love, even more so than fantasy, and finding a truly good system to use for those kinds of star-spanning adventures isn't nearly so easy as it is to find one of the billions of fantasy-based systems.

So when I finally broke down and got the classic Traveller rules from Drive Thru RPG, I was pleasantly surprised to find that here was the ultimate set of Space Opera roleplaying rules. Everything, all in one self-contained little package of awesome. Truthfully, I probably ought to have splurged and got the Mongoose edition, as I hear it's basically the same thing and a little more readable, but the old-school text was perfect to my eyes.

And for the past six months, it has been sitting, unused, on my hard drive. Why? Because, my current group doesn't care for science-fiction as a setting.

The rotten bastards.

Don't they see what they're missing?!

And it's a shame, because as far as systems go, Classic Traveller is right up there with 1e D&D in terms of grooviness.

It's more abstract than a lot of modern games, in that the dice require some interpretation, and has a lot of randomness, including the infamous ability to die during character generation. But never have I seen a game include so much, so elegantly.

The rules include sections for generating unique planets each with their own eco-system, detailed ship combat, information on building your own spaceships, a simple and yet fun trade subsystem, a decent set of pisonic rules, and the ability to do battle with fancy laser guns and primitive swords. Plus, Classic Traveller had real computers. You know, the type you had to code by archaic ticker-tape punch outs.

Look Johnny, it's...THE FUTURE!

And all of this clocks in at only 68 pages in the PDF Starter Edition (plus a few charts). It's a tad messy in places, and obviously modern readers will want a cleaner format, but it's all there. A universe of possibilities, distilled into an itty-bitty package. It's a mix of crunchy (calculating flight times will almost certainly require a calculator for the less mathematically inclined) and abstract (combat is short, lethal, and lacks the tactical finesse of, say, 4e).

It is a system that changes based around how frivolous or serious you want to play it. I've created characters ranging from a "hard" sci-fi researcher, addicted to a future narcotic, to a revolver-wielding anthropomorphic dinosaur. With no set classes or races, you really are limited only by imagination and tone. Of course, supplements added these things in, but to me the real joy is coming up with your own version of the universe, and with rules as easily adaptable as in Classic Traveller, you could be creating alien races as easily as changing one or two features.

In Star Trek terms, just add extra forehead and you're done!

Bingo! Instant alien! For extra-special bonus awesome, just make him green and add an eye stalk or two.

I've heard Traveller called the game that everyone talks about and no one plays. I really hope that's not an accurate description. How about it? Anyone else ever manage to play Traveller, any edition? If so, how did it go?

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Published on 4/05/2011 Written by 14 comments

A Game of Thrones Battles in D&D

I love the Game of Thrones board game by Fantasy Flight Games. Not only is it set in the world of some of my favourite books, but the actual game design is brilliant. It is fairly simple to learn but the strategy is very complex, and it touches on a number of different gaming mechanisms; resource management, diplomacy, bluffing, combat tactics. The best part? Combat doesn't involve dice; hence, there is very little left to chance in this game. The victor is decided by strategy and player interaction, and of course a little friendly backstabbing.

This game is way more exciting than it looks, trust me.

It looks like there may be some mass combat coming up in my PBEM D&D game, and I would love to play this out using the combat rules from the AGOT board game. I need to figure out how to adapt the rules of the board game to fit in an RPG context, which creates a few interesting problems. Let me share with you the agonizing conundrums that keep me awake at night.

Concern #1
  • In AGOT, the players are technically all on different sides
  • In my D&D game, the players will (probably) all be on the same side
I can't give everyone control of their own army. I will control the enemy/ies, while the players will have to maneuver their troops to defeat them. I suspect I will give each player their own small group of units to control. They can work together for overall strategy, but ultimately each player will decide what their troops will do. Will this cause issues when some of the players don't follow orders, or refuse to go with the plan? God, I hope so.

Concern #2
  • Variety and options
In AGOT, there are really only two units of note in combat: Footmen and Knights. The variables come from how you negotiate with the other players to get them to support you in your attacks. Again, since the players will be on the same side and presumably supporting each other, I think I will have to add a few more units so there is some choice on where and how to use them. I'm thinking light and heavy footmen, pikemen (strong on defence), and light and heavy cavalry.

A 4E Dungeon Master's worse nightmare: Okay, you roll a 17, you hit. That's 12 damage and pushed 2 squares. Now you rolled a 5, you missed. Oh, don't forget to save against daze. You rolled a 12, hit for 9 damage. You can't reach, you're out of range. What do you mean you have a paragon path power that extends your reach by 1? Fine! Hit, 15 damage, knocked prone. Next...

Concern #3
  • House cards
In AGOt, during combat each player plays a "House card," which represents the lord or other personality that is leading their troops. Each card has special bonuses and penalties, but they can also interact with the other player's house card. Because you don't know what the other player is going to play before you choose, it adds yet another level of strategy. Example, if I play X and my opponent plays Y, I win, but if he plays Z, I lose. I could use my best card and win automatically, but then I've blown my best card and can't get it back until all the others are played. See? There are so many options it's painful, but in a good way.

Because each group is going to have a leader (the PC), I don't want to use "House" cards per se. I'm thinking I'll call them tactics, and instead of something you can only use once, I'll make them something you can reuse, but will interact with and be heavily dependent on your opponent's card. It's a rock paper scissors sort of thing. Eg, A phalanx beats a charge, a charge beats a flank, and a flank beats a phalanx.

Concern #4
  • How do the PC's abilities affect their troops?
The PCs powers, skills and abilities should affect their troops in some way. I think they should be able to use their skills (Diplomacy, Intimidate, Bluff) to rouse/inspire their troops to increase their combat strength. Conversely, if they fail their skill check, it will probably decrease their strength instead. Maybe Nature and Stealth can be used to set ambushes, and Perception/Insight can be used to predict them?

Also: Kitties add a +2 circumstance bonus to surprise.

I think they should also get abilities based on their powers/class. The Cavalier/Paladin is obvious, the class already makes mounted characters move faster, so any cavalry units under his command would have increased move speed. The Cleric would be able to protect units from being destroyed in battle (the "Fortification" icon in the AGOT game). The ranger may be better at setting ambushes, or moving faster/fighting in forested terrain. The warlock and wizard are a bit more difficult - just adding a straight combat strength bonus is boring, I'd like something a more interesting and flavourful.

So that's what I have so far. I have no idea if this will work, and there's always a possibility that my players will diffuse the situation before it breaks down into war, so these rules may not be necessary... though I doubt it. PC adventurers are great at causing violence and conflict. It's kind of their job, really.

The line between hero and murderous psychopath is very thin, and infinitely flexible.

If anyone has any thoughts or opinions on the topic, such as suggestions on how to adapt/use these rules, I would love to hear them. Stories about mass-combat and warfare in your own campaigns, and how they worked or not, would also be appreciated.

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Published on 4/02/2011 Written by 3 comments

Saturday Sorcery: More Spells by Teenage Designers

I'm back with your weekly dose of home-brewed magical goodness. Hopefully you're not getting sick of me; I'm trying to catch up with John for most posts on this site. He currently leads me about 85 to 15, but I'm gaining on him.

This week, I once again dig deep into my bag of tricks (all the way back to 1996 or so) for some 2nd-Edition priest spells. These come from a campaign I ran back in high school that was over-loaded with priests from a variety of different faiths. I encouraged the players to create their own spells to give their characters and their gods more of a distinct feel and, well, you'll see what we got. (See last week's Saturday Sorcery for more).

These spells I believe were originally imagined by Steve B, playing a priest of the god of Storms and Weather. Once again, if the balance seems screwy that's entirely my fault. I tried to force his vision into game statistics, while making sure it fit into a level he could actually cast.

So without further ado...

¥ Raincloud of Infinite Pain ¥
(Alteration, Conjuration/Summoning)
Sphere: Weather
Level: 3
Range: 0
Components: V, S, M
Duration: 1 turn/level
Casting Time: 3
Area of Effect: Special
Saving Throw: None

This spell creates a black rain cloud which envelopes the spellcaster. The cloud has a volume of approximately 5’ x 5’ x 5’. The cloud will levitate and fly, carrying the caster under his direction. The cloud can scoot along at a respectable movement rate of 12 at an altitude of up to 60 feet, but has a maneuverability class of E. The cloud can also stop in a complete hover. The caster can conceal himself inside the cloud, effectively increasing his AC by -1. However, the cloud is obviously magical and cannot be mistaken or ignored for a normal cloud.

Maintaining the cloud takes about as much concentration as walking, so the caster may cast additional spells and do other things while still maintaining a movement rate of 3.

The cloud may, once per turn, loose a light drizzle of pure rain water which lasts for one round.

At the time of the casting, the caster may opt that for the duration of the spell, his voice echoes and booms like thunder (though it is not amplified by a notable degree). However, if this option is activated, the spellcaster may not invoke any spells requiring the use of verbal components for the duration of raincloud of infinite pain.

The cloud dissipates immediately at the end of the duration, dropping the priest to the ground. The caster may cancel the spell at any time. If the caster is rendered unconscious, the spell is terminated immediately.

The material components for this spell are the priest’s holy symbol, a flask of pure rain water, and a ceramic jug. Only the flask of water is consumed in the casting.

§ Enduring Gloom §
Sphere: Weather
Level: 1
Range: 5 yards
Components: V, S, M
Duration: 1 hour/level
Casting Time: 8
Area of Effect: One creature
Saving Throw: Neg.

This spell creates a dark, black, obviously magical rain cloud which appears over the target’s head. The cloud occasionally drizzles on the target, usually just after he has dried himself. The target may make a saving throw vs. spell to attempt to avoid the effects of this curse. The cloud causes no game penalties, other than to make the victim’s life miserable (though it may cause the victim to catch a cold, at the DM’s discretion).

Enduring gloom lasts until remove curse or dispel magic is cast, or until the duration expires.

The material component for this spell is a drop of rainwater.

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Published on 4/01/2011 Written by 6 comments

Links of DOOM: D&D 5th Edition Sneak Peak

It's that time of the week again: Time for a random list of stuff that you probably won't click on. And why not, I ask? There's lots of neat stuff out there on the interweb, and here I am consolidating it for you in one nice, neat package.

PICK OF THE WEEK: The good folks at Gothridge Manner pointed out this book review and the author's insane response in the comment section. SWEET MOTHER OF GOD, this is hilarious, and I hope I don't react like this if anyone ever reviews my work.

Here's a cool post about turning mistakes into character-building opportunities at Exchange of Realities.

This guy is having an existential crisis about our favourite hobby. Check out KORPG to see if you can figure out if we're really still playing D&D or not.

Redwald told me in the comments of a post a few weeks ago that I should try Labyrinth Lord. I didn't know much about it, but then I stumbled upon this great review at Gaming Brouhaha.

Convention season is approaching (actually, a few have already started), so here's a helpful Convention Survival Guide from Roles, Dice and Fun.

What would happen if Tiamat had a Facebook profile?

I love MapTools. But this guy is way better at using it then I am.

Need some cool music for your game? Or just want some awesome metal/industrial/electronica to brighten up your day? Check out SHOUTcast DEMONIC. Go, do it now. I'll wait.

That's it for me! Have a great weekend!


P.S. Yes. The title of the article was my lame April Fool's joke.

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