Monday, July 24, 2017

Dungeons and Dragons, "Cursed Items"

Standard Introduction
            I have been writing about Dungeons and Dragons semi-regularly this year and in the course of writing those I found a 30-day blog challenge.  As I have done those a couple times before it seemed remiss not to jump on this one.
            If you want here is a link to my 30-day challenge on Disney Movies, here is a link to my 30-day challenge on Video Games, and here is a comically out of date 30-day challenge on Movies (it is old and the writing is rubbish).
 
While I am sure this thing would be totes evil in any story written about it,
It is for sale on Etsy at time of writing.
Day 24- Cursed Items
            Cursed items are a classic arc type in fantasy literature.  One of the earliest fantasy stories, “Ring of Gyges” by Plato is the story of a magical ring which granted the power to become invisible.  The story explored whether an intelligent person would remain moral when no longer afraid of being caught doing immoral things.
            You could argue, and I do “Gygas” has more in common with what we would consider science fiction, with how it treats the fallout of the ring as a technology to be utilized for good or ill, but that is not too important for the purposes of this discussion.
            Let’s ignore the sci-fi aspect, let’s ignore the fact that Plato invented the One Ring of Power and I am uncertain if Tolkien was directly referencing or inspired by this story.  Let’s also ignore that “Gyges” sounds too much like “Gygax”.  Instead we’ll focus on the fact that this magical item does not have a curse built into its rules, but is cursed in a more thought provoking way.  That it corrupts simply by being super powerful.
            The magical technology of “Gyges” is not being super common and thus it is a source of ethical conundrums.  The desire to transgress when given the ability to do so almost demands its wearer use it for such things.  Curses in mythology, generally speaking are not often all that literal, and more often function in the vein of this ring.
            Aside from the Ring, most cursed items in myth are more like the Hope Diamond, vague misfortune or great plight befalling those who have the item, but none of that plight directly relates to having it.  Readers should understand all of these stories for what they are, morality tales.
 
"It is a strange fate that we should suffer so much fear and doubt over so small a thing. Such a little thing."
-Boromir, on the topic of the One Ring

Moral Curses
            Having a powerful magic item or weapon necessitates its use.  If you’ve got it, flaunt it, so to speak.  The idea of a sword that cuts thru armor like cutting thru cloth, or a dagger that never misses its mark when thrown means that the wielders of such weapons will not feel the need to seek a more difficult peace when they could have an easy victory in battle.  They will become merciless, they will become violent, and over time that behavior will warp and consume them.  When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail; when all you have is a sword, everything looks stab-able.
            When you have power, every verbal argument turns into a duel, and when people realize they can’t win the duel, every disagreement gets pushed aside or hidden and allowed to boil into something more dangerous.  The holder of the Vorpal Sword or the True Strike Dagger will soon have to check their food for poison because they are now only vulnerable in states of rest.  And as paranoia consumes them, the holder of the sword or dagger begins to turn on all those they once trusted, killing their friends, their family, and ultimately sitting alone atop a throne of blood.
            The best curses in fantasy are also the best metaphors.  Let’s look at two examples, one is super well known and the other is classic but not nearly as in the popular consciousness.
 
Here is an interesting concept,
even though this prop is kind of underwhelming looking,
the connotations of it make it cool looking.

The Iron Throne (aka, the super popular one)
            In “Game of Thrones” the Iron Throne is a massive chair that serves as the symbolic seat of power for the king of Westeros.  It was created by melting down hundreds of swords into a hard place to put one’s ass, and due to a lack of proper buffing/smoothing the damn thing has metal burrs all over it.  It was created by the first king of Westeros and serves to illustrate the role of the king, uncomfortably sitting on top of the largest number of military arms that can be cobbled together as a single unit.  You know, like an army.
            The Iron Throne is a symbol of conquest, they are after all the weapons of the defeated.  It is also a symbol of rulership, only by sitting on powers that are uncomfortable (and often cut you if you are careless) can you call yourself king.  This point is often illustrated by unworthy rulers like Joffrey or the Mad King, as they cut themselves on the armrests, or when Eddard Stark sits on the chair briefly to pass judgment on Gregor Clegane’s butchery and notes his discomfort sitting in the place of power.
            Different would-be kings mention putting cushions on the Throne, illustrating how they miss the point.  In the TV adaptation, Littlefinger and Varys (the two most devious people on the continent) mention how the modest sized throne (it was made smaller for the show) doesn’t contain nearly as many swords as is often claimed… Subtle, it is almost like the show keeps reminding the audience of how the pursuit of power has forced everyone to overextend and bluff their way into situations they can’t handle.
            The Iron Throne isn’t literally cursed, aside from one shout of “The Throne Rejects Him” when Joffrey cuts himself, nobody really believes that.  But the Throne does hold symbolic weight that could be interpreted as a curse.  It is a stand in for all the trials and tribulations of rulership.  Why would anyone want to sit on such an uncomfortable chair?
 
Aside from its general radness.

Stormbringer, the Black Sword (aka, “Sorry?  What?  I don’t know that one.”)
            This is the more obscure but is also the more blatant example of a curse.  Stormbringer is a sword of black metal with deep runes carved into its blade and is wielded by Elric, the King of Melnibone (please ignore that Elric is an anagram of “relic”, I am not sure that is even symbolic).
            Stormbringer grants strength and power to its wielder and can cut thru any armor not protected by magic.  Beyond that, even the slightest wound to an opponent steals that victim’s soul because the sword is actually the earthly manifestation of a demon named Shaitan… Which definitely sounds a bit like “Satan”.  A real big bit.
            Elric is a physically weak person and the strength and power the blade gives him is all that keeps him from losing his throne to members of his own family that are far crueler than him.  But that is the rub, constantly fighting to keep his throne leaves Elric all alone and in the end, he too is consumed by the blade.

Elric is an albino, which is apparently a dire fate in his culture.
He is perhaps the best example of the tortured-loner-badass in fantasy before Drizzt Do'Urden showed up.

            It is comically on the nose to have a cursed sword this transparently evil (and there are lots of these swords in the series, all demons operating as weapons).  A sword, a weapon of war that all at once is the classic symbol of nobility (Excalibur), classism (because you need a lot of leisurely free time to practice), and in many cases virility, is made into a literal devil.  It is almost like the actual villainy is a toxically masculine culture that forces its rulers to value strength just to hold onto power instead of valuing mercy and compromise.
            For heaven’s sake, the weapon grants strength but steals souls, how is that not considered preachy?  I guess sometimes you need to be really on the nose with symbolism when you want to tell a story about how power corrupts.
            Being not-subtle has its place.  Say what you will about “Game of Thrones” being excellent (it is), but there are still people in the real world arguing about who should be king at the end of the story; guys, the correct answer is, “Kings are bad because their power is derived not from the will of the people but from strength of arms derived mostly from manipulation and bullshit.”  What the world of Westeros needs are a fantasy Oliver Cromwell and a fantasy Robespierre to show up and start moving things toward a Democratic-Republic.

My Favorite Cursed Item in DnD
             “The item is intelligent” and “it doesn’t really like the fact that you own it and thus will not do what you say all the time.”  No specific item in question, just items with this drawback.
            Much like Stormbringer this does push the players toward certain tactics if they want to be able to use a potent item, but they can just as easily not compromise their values by simply not utilizing the item.  I feel that is a rather fair arrangement and allows for roleplaying while at the same time presenting a mechanical incentive to character “growth”.
 
There is also magic "items" like Golems who inevitably turn on their creators.

Coming Tomorrow
            Tomorrow I am going to talk about my favorite Magic Item.  It is goofy.

______________________________

            If you like or hate this please take the time to comment, +1, share on Twitter (click that link to follow me), Tumblr, or Facebook, and otherwise distribute my opinion to the world.  I would appreciate it.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Dungeons and Dragons, "Puzzles and Traps"

Standard Introduction
            I have been writing about Dungeons and Dragons semi-regularly this year and in the course of writing those I found a 30-day blog challenge.  As I have done those a couple times before it seemed remiss not to jump on this one.
            If you want here is a link to my 30-day challenge on Disney Movies, here is a link to my 30-day challenge on Video Games, and here is a comically out of date 30-day challenge on Movies (it is old and the writing is rubbish).

Day 23- Puzzles and Traps
            One of the books I enjoyed from 3rd edition was the “Book of Challenges”.  Prior to them releasing numerous hard covers with rules, monsters, and encounter locations as part of a great big all in one strategy for their supplements, the emphasis for 3rd edition was soft cover books.
            Soft covers were often targeted either to players (with books made almost entirely of prestige classes, weapons, feats, and spells) and those that were for the GG running things emphasizing NPC’s and adventures.

This is the cover art of  the "Book of Challenges"
            “Book of Challenges” was definitely for the GG in that regard.  Rather than an adventure or a bunch of flexible characters that could be put into the world it was instead a bunch of clever/exotic traps and rooms that could be put into dungeons.  It was super narrow in focus but it did something distinct by showing how the rules of the game could be made into puzzles.
            The first issue of Dragon magazine I ever bought (and read to the point that it started falling apart) was #282 an April Fool's issue that had a substantial section on building puzzles in game… a section I considered nearly unreadable at the time.  The Dragon article was too dense and in need of more practical instances rather than a discussion of theory.  “Book of Challenges” did not have that issue and after more than a year playing (I bought the “Book of Challenges” a good while after it came out) I wanted to see more complex things put into action but wanted the help of people who did it professionally.
This was the cover art of Dragon #282 by Phil Foglio.
            I find it ironic that the magazine article in this instance was the more philosophically dense while the book was the one that had only the limited use practical applications.  Ideally, I think that the article from Dragon should have been a chapter in the “Challenges” though decompressed with some examples of each part (like logic puzzles) being used in the game.  I think Wizards of the Coast and other gaming companies have gotten much better with these sorts of theory and practice couplings in the 15 years since then.

My Favorite “Challenge”
            The “Book of Challenges” gave a variety of encounters, and while I have modified many over the years for different groups one has stood above the others as a positive example and I want to present it here, it is called “Curse of Iron” with a challenge rating of 4.  It is kind of a lame name, the door is iron, but the “curse” is a trap with a disarm switch you have to find.
            The Description reads, “Ahead is a large iron door. It has no features except a
message carved into its face in large letters.”  You are then provided with an image of the door.
 
Click for full size.
            The idea is that the door has a grid of buttons, each letter of the phrase has its own button and there are numerous blank spaces as well.  One of the buttons opens the door, the rest trigger a shocking grasp trap (or more violent traps should you want to make the challenge for a group of a higher level).  The phrase on the door is a clue to which button should be pressed.
            Feel free to try and solve which button should be pressed and post your answer in the comments (and why), and then maybe suggest other phrases that could be put on a similar door.  Or, just look up the answer because this book is 15+ years old and readily available for pirating online.

My Current Puzzling
            After participating in an escape room I started thinking of my own puzzles and after wringing my brain I got one.
            I invented for my players a new type of puzzle that involves dice with letters on them rather than numbers (I had to make my own with grid paper, color pencils, and tape; which with my huge fingers was a delicate process).  While it is solvable and I gave hints in the rest of the dungeon that would allow it to be solved more easily, it might actually be too clever.
            The dice, when arranged properly form the password to lock.  The lock has slots for each of the dice and based on how the dice are arranged lots of words can be made.  Since the dice effectively scramble the letters over a 3 dimensional space the players have a hard time seeing all of their options for how to arrange the dice into words, often they have to copy down all the letters off of each dice to see the potential jumble.
            There is an indicator about what order the dice go in, but it is not readily apparent, usually 1 of the letters on each die is a different color or written in a noticeably different way, and those marked sides can be arranged in a particular order.  When the dice are in that order, the other letters can then be arranged to form words.

If they look shoddily made, that is because they are.
            I considered it the ideal type of puzzle, one in which each step to solving it being obvious in retrospect, but there being such a chain of steps, and each step being difficult enough that the puzzle is SUPER HARD when put altogether.  In hindsight, I should have introduced the puzzle with only 2 or 3 dice rather than the 6 I used.  Like at an orgy, TOO MANY OPTIONS MAKES THINGS TOO HARD.
            If this were a youtube video I would demonstrate the puzzle but as this is written I will just leave you with this vague description in hopes that enterprising Game Runners will be inspired by what I have said enough to invent their own puzzle from the premise.

Coming Tomorrow
            Tomorrow I am going to start talking about magic items with the best Cursed Item.

______________________________
            If you like or hate this please take the time to comment, +1, share on Twitter (click that link to follow me), Tumblr, or Facebook, and otherwise distribute my opinion to the world.  I would appreciate it.



Saturday, July 22, 2017

Dungeons and Dragons, "Locations and Dungeons"

Standard Introduction
            I have been writing about Dungeons and Dragons semi-regularly this year and in the course of writing those I found a 30-day blog challenge.  As I have done those a couple times before it seemed remiss not to jump on this one.
            If you want here is a link to my 30-day challenge on Disney Movies, here is a link to my 30-day challenge on Video Games, and here is a comically out of date 30-day challenge on Movies (it is old and the writing is rubbish).

Day 22- Favorite Locations and Dungeons
            Dungeons and Dragons is both a game and a story telling tool.  The fictional “When” and “Where” the narrative takes place changes how the rules are utilized and in an effort to keep things tonally consistent the game provides many different tools to help Players and GG’s know what to expect.
            While monsters are by a wide margin the most versatile tool the GG has to change the challenge and feel of the game, as one fighting devils feels and plays vastly different from one spent fighting animals or elementals, there are other factors that have impact.
 
Can you guess what sort of setting a Sand Golem would be most at home in?

My Favorite Type of Location
            In 3rd edition, 4 books were released as a mini-series exploring campaigns that dealt with specific environments.  These were “Frostburn” (Frozen North, Viking-ish), “Sandstorm” (Burning Desert, Egypt-ish), “Stormwrack” (High Seas, Kind of lacked a cultural core, I consider it the weakest of the series), and “Cityscape” (Urban Spaces, Victorian-ish).  Each emphasized environmental factors, monsters, cultures (with a European style bend), and encounters that could be used to make the game feel more like its chosen environment.
            Of these books, I got the most use out of “Sand Storm” and I thought the Egyptian and Desert inspired stuff was cool enough to buy on release.  I wanted my players to fight a giant mummy octopus who swam thru sand and whose touch drained targets of moisture turning them into dust.  It did, and still does, sound awesome.
It is called "The Crawling Apocalypse" and it is amazing.

            You might then think the desert is my favorites location, but no.  Having looked over the 4 books, “Sandstorm” is the best written and I got the most use out of it, but it is not my favorite type of setting because deserts by their very nature are desolate and I take almost the opposite position, I much prefer Urban adventures.
            Setting the game in an urban environment allows me to have numerous diverse NPC’s all within walking distance of one another with an emphasis on politics and wealth.  The players have contact with the world around them, they have a base of operations that might need defending, their enemies have headquarters that can be located and attacked.

Ravnica, an entire world that is a fantasy city, is my favorite Magic the Gathering setting.
            In an Urban setting when things go bad there are repercussions for actions, one of my favorite little moments from a game is a player saying the words, “We could rip them off, but they’ll sue us.”  You don’t get those kinds of scenarios if all the adventures take place in the woods.

My Favorite Type of Dungeon
            Ruins make for the best sorts of dungeons.  I enjoy civilization, and as I have mentioned before, ruins are sort of the skeletal undead remains of civilization.  Venturing into a broken-down city half submerged from the earthquake, flood, or avalanche that killed it and trying to find the few good bits that are left behind, all the while fighting other scavengers (monsters and evil NPC’s) and the bad bits left behind (Undead and Traps).  This is adventuring.

More art from Ravnica.
            I try not to make things too insanely sprawling (there are levels in “Skyrim” that I find to be a hassle rather than fun because of their girth) but the idea that a whole dead city is the “dungeon” and that different buildings are the “rooms” there in is pretty cool.  You can logically camp in such a massive dungeon and not have to worry about monsters literally in the next room trying to get in and kill you in your sleep.

My Own Setting: The City of Bone
            I know the name is derivative, but you can’t imagine how miffed I was to learn there was a book series whose first entry was “Mortal Instruments: The City of Bone”.  Now if I ever want to publish anything I will have to shake up the names just to not pull aggro and confusion from the YA market.
            Anyway, here is the general setup of the city’s politics that the players start pushing around.

            Ten years ago... following the execution of the prophet Necess, there was a rebellion.
            The Dictatorial Lord of Bone, Prince Constantine was met with an ultimatum by a collection of civic leaders.  Guild Master Wilhelm threatened a strike throughout the city, High Priestess Andrea promised a religious demonstration, the Father proposed a halt on all theater and sporting events, Captain Red claimed he would have his guards stand down, and Lady Mist said she would personally kill Prince Constantine unless a formal apology for the death of Necess was issued and reparations made to the community.
            Needless to say, the Prince was dissatisfied.  Constantine ordered all of these community leaders to be arrested and supplanted by members of his court and the royal family.  Rebellion came like a bolt of lightning.
            Captain Red (Now calling himself Governor General Red the Infamous) killed or held captive the entire North East Burroughs and all of the aristocratic members within.  Father ordered hundreds of gladiators worked into a makeshift army and began tearing their way through Big Town at the head of an angry mob (a mob that carefully avoided foreign embassies).  Wilhelm called out all his guild houses, with masons and farmers using their tools as improvised weapons beside a religious militia that had been orchestrated in secret by the Church.
            All of these events overwhelmed the Prince's law enforcement and took control of the agricultural stores in the city.  Lady Mist went on a killing spree of government VIP’s looking for the Prince but he had managed to flee the city.
            In the unrest that followed, numerous parties jockeyed for the position of sovereign, civil war and pandemonium seemed inevitable.  But a new player took the center of the action.
            This previously unknown party taking the initiative was Ezekiel the Necromancer.  He had been an archeologist leading a group called “The Readers of Braille” in secret operations all over the city and had a powerful legion of undead he had been using as a labor force, now used to impose peace.
"Ezekiel cried dem dry Bones."
            Rather than make himself king, he proposed a joint government called the Oligarchy.  “I prefer my studies,” was the only explanation Ezekiel gave.  Each group controlling bits and pieces of the city with Ezekiel’s new Bleak Academy and Militant Mourners taking seats at the table along with Infamous Red, Mayor Wilhelm, Father of the Cabal, and others.
            The Militant Mourners would be a police force made of the undead from the rebellion, and the Bleak Academy would be taking over the heavy lifting of public education.  3 years later Ezekiel disappeared leaving his young friend and protégé, Claudius the Grim as head of the Militant Mourners, and Lady Mist, Claudius' wife, as head of the Academy.  There are currently 9 seats on the Oligarchy each with their own domains and responsibilities.
 
Again, the resemblance to the Guilds of Ravnica and their designated responsibilities via the Guildpact.
            I wanted to create numerous groups with their own goals and worldviews so that when the players start doing things to shake up the balance of power I could have repercussions happen.  What is more, the city itself is still in ruin in many parts because of the rebellion and its ancient status to begin with, there is an under city, necropolis, and Detroit style abandoned sections, all of which can serve as dungeons within the city.
            When I create a place, it is with the intention of it being uniquely broken and shook up.  I have run multiple campaigns with it and each has been quite different.

Coming Tomorrow
            Tomorrow I am going to talk about a key aspect of dungeons, Traps and Puzzles.  This things have actually grown on me lately.

______________________________
            If you like or hate this please take the time to comment, +1, share on Twitter (click that link to follow me), Tumblr, or Facebook, and otherwise distribute my opinion to the world.  I would appreciate it.



Friday, July 21, 2017

Dungeons and Dragons, "My Favorite Monster"

Standard Introduction
            I have been writing about Dungeons and Dragons semi-regularly this year and in the course of writing those I found a 30-day blog challenge.  As I have done those a couple times before it seemed remiss not to jump on this one.
            If you want here is a link to my 30-day challenge on Disney Movies, here is a link to my 30-day challenge on Video Games, and here is a comically out of date 30-day challenge on Movies (it is old and the writing is rubbish).

Day 21- My Favorite Monster
            Liches.  I already talked about it in the “Undead” section and here, “My Favorite Deity”.
            I find that I am getting a little redundant with all of this discussion about monsters and instead of saying again what I like about a thing that I have already said I like I would instead point back at the last few days of talking about favorite monsters and give myself a light day on this 30-day blog challenge.

Fiends
Celestials
Dragons
Undead

            Maybe Oozes, Shapeshifters, and Constructs will be something I do for some Sunday blog after the challenge wraps up.  They do seem to be the groups left by the wayside.  Maybe I should have welded them into like groups, Oozes with Plants to get their own day, Shapeshifters with Aberrations, and Constructs with Undead.
            Oh well, live and learn.


Bonus: My Favorite Dice
            No joke, there was originally a section on the challenge called “Favorite Dice” which I guess was supposed to be the free light day to catch a proverbial breath but I decided to cut that one because I thought it would be stupid to just take a picture of a chunk of plastic.
            Besides I no longer own my favorite D20.  I was hosting an Intro to Dungeons and Dragons workshop at a Convention and lent it to one of the more experienced players who sat in and wanted to help, but he took it with him by accident.  I never managed to get it back.  I also have no pictures of it, as it is not a person and thus I saw no reason to invest in it some kind of nostalgia or affection.
            I decided to that entry here to fill out this a bit and to avoid redundancy.  I hope it does not seem too off topic.
 
Quick and important lesson.
If you are going to buy dice to play a Tabletop RPG, make sure they are easy to read.
The dice pictured here have high contrast, you can read them easily from across a table.
Conversely, these dice are shit.
Low contrast between the number and the background makes it hard to read.
None of that swirly distracting crap is going to help you play the game.
They're random number generators, stop complicating them with nonsense.

Coming Tomorrow
            Tomorrow I am going to talk about.

______________________________
            If you like or hate this please take the time to comment, +1, share on Twitter (click that link to follow me), Tumblr, or Facebook, and otherwise distribute my opinion to the world.  I would appreciate it.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Dungeons and Dragons, "The Worst Monster"

Standard Introduction
            I have been writing about Dungeons and Dragons semi-regularly this year and in the course of writing those I found a 30-day blog challenge.  As I have done those a couple times before it seemed remiss not to jump on this one.
            If you want here is a link to my 30-day challenge on Disney Movies, here is a link to my 30-day challenge on Video Games, and here is a comically out of date 30-day challenge on Movies (it is old and the writing is rubbish).

Day 20- My Least Favorite Monster
            You might figure that since I already took special time to point to the Fomorians, Cyclopes, and Succubus/Incubus as examples of bad inclusions, would one of those be it?  I laid into the 5th edition version of Angels and Giants as boring, especially as they are a step down from their 4e versions, are they the target?  I also talked at length about how kind of lame Metallic Dragons have been handled, so maybe they are the worst?  I am no fan of Orcs or Drow, am I blasting them again?  What about the markedly inferior Goblins and Kobolds in 5e?  The Aboleth?
            Honestly, I don’t know.
            I know what I like and am pretty good at finding short falls in lots of things, but I rarely denounce something as completely useless.  I rarely see something in the game that can’t be used for something, even if it is not the best at anything.
            To try and find some inspiration I decided to look at a bunch of “Worst/Silliest/Stupidest Monsters in Dungeons and Dragons” lists and I have discovered something, people who tend to make these kinds of lists sound like people I would like to punch in the throat.
            I am a frequently condescending person, but I at the very least try to explain why I dislike something, how I would fix it, or point to where it has been done better.  I do not just call something stupid and then walk away, confident in the conclusiveness of my statement.
            Different things appeal to different people and though a majority of people might find the Roving Mauler to be WAY TOO SILLY for their games… Maybe they should try to take a minute to ask themselves how such a thing could be included.  Take it as a challenge to your writing ability instead of pulling the, “It’s stupid” card out and shutting down the discussion.

It does look pretty silly. Kind of the point.
            Here is a pitch, maybe you want an adventure were strange energies are warping reality or mutating the wildlife and bizarre monsters are appearing.  Strange monsters like the surreal Roving Mauler might work perfectly in such a situation as an example of the strange effects.  What is more, it is a victim of the thing the players would be working to stop in addition to being a threat.  The players might have to fight this kind of creature because it is freaking out at turning into a monster, it is a victim that the heroes are in a position of rescuing but are in the difficult position of having to fight.  Hey, look, I came up with something in 5 sentences.
            There are those articles that explain how to use certain things, which I am thankful for, but I feel that there are too many that say, “Stop having fun” too quickly and always too often.






The Worst Monster
            The worst monster is the toxic player, and beyond that a toxic fandom.  People who shoot down ideas or call everything stupid.  The guys who are drags on other people’s fun.  That is the worst kind of monster in DnD.  The Spoilsport.

Coming Tomorrow
            Tomorrow I am going to talk about my favorite monster.

______________________________
            If you like or hate this please take the time to comment, +1, share on Twitter (click that link to follow me), Tumblr, or Facebook, and otherwise distribute my opinion to the world.  I would appreciate it.



Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Dungeons and Dragons, "Legions of the Undead"

Standard Introduction
            I have been writing about Dungeons and Dragons semi-regularly this year and in the course of writing those I found a 30-day blog challenge.  As I have done those a couple times before it seemed remiss not to jump on this one.
            If you want here is a link to my 30-day challenge on Disney Movies, here is a link to my 30-day challenge on Video Games, and here is a comically out of date 30-day challenge on Movies (it is old and the writing is rubbish).

Day 19- Favorite Undead
            There are 10,000 monsters in this gods damned game.  Today is Undead, my favorite type of monster.  Look to my blog about Vecna (and undead god) for a little more, but generally it can be summed up with, “Undead encapsulate a good metaphor for Dungeons and Dragons.  Exploring the ruins of the old world, plumbing for their secrets, and facing the horrible monsters they left behind”.
            Let’s go.



            I think these two are closer to one another than their appearances might lead you to believe.  One is a skeleton that has purple flesh running thru it and causes paralysis with its tongue.  The other is a gaunt purple skinned creature that causes paralysis with its claws.  They have the same sort of role in a combat encounter, stop the movement of characters with weak Constitutions.
            I’ve never used these guys for anything but goons, they are not exactly thinker types and I would say that they are probably not the first choice on the Necromancer’s “To-Make” list.  They are a good monster to sprinkle into an encounter to make things more dangerous, but not more dynamic, they literally slow things down.



            These guys look so cool, and their use of the reach rules makes them strong encounters in any situation in which closing ground is difficult, a narrow bridge, an elevated area, that sort of thing.
            I haven’t used these to great effect, but have had them used to great effect against me back when they first came out in 3rd edition.



            Another awesome looking monster with a cool concept.  They slowly burn a trapped soul within their chest to grant them power.  I can’t even think of a way to make that better.  4th edition did by providing 3 types which took the concept and cranked up the extremeness of it.  Kudos to 4th edition.


#4: Vampire
            Quintessential bad guys of literature and screen.  They have been translated everywhere and are almost always great.  They are kind of the best monsters in fiction for all that has and can be done with them, but are not necessarily the best in Dungeons and Dragons.
            I actually think these guys were interpreted too faithfully in 3rd edition.  The number of weaknesses and abilities got to be cumbersome, so much so that I just never bothered.
            Even the best movies and books about Vampires tend to leave some of the mythology at the door so that they do not have to comment on running water; holy water; holy symbols; sunlight; silver; garlic; OCD; blood of virgins; the ability to talk to wolves, bats, insects; the ability to shapeshift into creatures of the night; the ability to transform into monsters; the ability to turn into mist; the need for soil of their homeland; the need for a coffin; vulnerability to fire; vulnerability to falling in love with bland women who consider “clumsy” to be a personality trait; the need for torpor; blood potency; spellcasting ability; the nature of the soul; transformations of one’s face in order to feed; strength level; flight; drinking blood; hypnosis; rivalry with werewolves; and jiminy cricket this list could go on forever.
            I think that a “Make your own vampire” feature might have been cool.  Pick two weaknesses of varying strength, pick three abilities of various strength and get an approximate challenge rating for facing your players.
            Oops, thought of another one, Lack of Reflection.


#3: Wight
            I had a really good use for these guys in a 3rd edition campaign in which a magical plague transformed hundreds of people into wights to be used as somewhat intelligent slave labor in the excavation of a section of underground city.
            When the players found the whole thing while looking for missing people, all of the wights had been left in holding pens and cages, they then began crying out for help in low moaning voices, “Save me,” “Save us,” “Where am I,” “Please help me,” and I do lots of voices so it was pretty creepy.  I managed to pull off some rather haunting images of pale clawed hands reaching out from between bars not to strike but to beg for mercy.



#2: Mummy
            Mummies, much like Rats from my entry on “Favorite Animals” have access to disease as a secondary rules benefit.  Beyond that, they have a lot of pop culture recognition, obvious exploitable weaknesses, and plenty of significance as a cultural marker in certain settings (Egyptian theme being the most obvious).
            Magic the Gathering just did an Egypt themed setting and the clever thing they did was take Zombies and Mummies, undead creatures associated with Black Magic, and making them more associated with the veneration and societal order of White Magic.  This is a subversion and I like it a great deal.  I think this sort of twist on what is expected can be applied to mummies in DnD and I think I will attempt something like it in the future.
            I have used Mummies before, in 3e and 4e, both times to good effect.  They make good slow moving goons that deal a lot of damage and leave an impact on play in the form of Mummy rot.  They are good monsters.


#1: Lich
            They are the best bad guys.  HARD STOP.
            I don’t know what else to add.  They are a threat up close, at range, they are capable of plans, their weaknesses are not debilitating but still exploitable.  They are the best bad guys.
            I already talked about the king of the liches, Vecna in my “Favorite Deity” entry.  They are the best.

A Special Mention: Zombies
            As I write this I have learned that George Romero died just this past Sunday.  If you don’t know, he invented the modern idea of what a zombie is with the movie “Night of the Living Dead”.  I would like to point out that do to a strange error when securing the Copyright, the movie entered the public domain almost immediately, meaning George made only a tiny fraction of the money he should have for all the times the movie has appeared or been shown.  The converse of that is the movie ended up appearing everywhere and on everything which led to it being so iconic and influential.


            The reason I want to point that out is it illustrates everything wrong with copyright law, the law does not protect creators, it protects people who know how to fill out paperwork.  It also shows how valuable and powerful the Public Domain is.  The ability for things in the public domain to be used by a wide audience allows those bits of media to quickly transcend what might have only been a cult status and change the way people look at fiction.
            I wish there had been a compromise on this.  That Romero had been able to make money off of his insanely influential movie, and the movie to be diffused into the public consciousness without needing a marketing machine like Disney or Warner Bros behind it.
            I wish more things, after having made back a healthy profit, could be released to the public domain so as to be seen as part of media culture.  So as to benefit the creators and the creative community.  Kind of like how Dungeons and Dragons provides rules and materials to help people be more creative, but at the same time is a brand that sells books and materials.  It is a business, but it is a business that serves as a powerful tool to educate people about their own creativity.
            George Romero leaves behind a potent legacy.  He was vastly more influential than I think he ever pictured himself being and added to the world.  The world is a better and more interesting place for him having been in it.  We should all be so lucky to live as long and be as positive an influence as George was.



Coming Tomorrow
            Tomorrow I am going to talk about my least favorite monster.

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Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Dungeons and Dragons, "Creatures of Nature"

Standard Introduction
            I have been writing about Dungeons and Dragons semi-regularly this year and in the course of writing those I found a 30-day blog challenge.  As I have done those a couple times before it seemed remiss not to jump on this one.
            If you want here is a link to my 30-day challenge on Disney Movies, here is a link to my 30-day challenge on Video Games, and here is a comically out of date 30-day challenge on Movies (it is old and the writing is rubbish).

Day 18- Favorite Elementals, Fey, and Plants
            There are 10,000 monsters in this gods damned game.  Expect several top 5 lists this week as there are not too many specific “favorites” more like “preferred”.  Today is Elementals, Fey, and Plants.  These are not boring, but they are also not terribly interesting (I mean, a monster made out of water would be interesting in many contexts, but they are not all that interesting by the standards of the fantasy kitchen sink approach of Dungeons and Dragons).  Let’s see what I can do with this.
            Let’s go.
 
This is art from a Magic the Gathering Card.
I just especially liked it.
#4: Efreeti
            Starting off, we have a classic figure in fantasy, the genie.  I found the old designation of “Outsider” to be misleading when talking about the Efreeti and other genies because they all occupy the elemental planes.  While that does make them extraplanar, they make more sense as elementals, as they are obviously coordinated to them.  They are living fire.  5th edition to the rescue they made them elementals.
            I have made use of one of these guys before.  A snuff box was stolen by the party’s rogue from a Mindflayer villain and the party had access to 3 wishes, which was pretty helpful when it later allowed them to kill a Lich without too much trouble, wishing for the villains phylactery to appear and then torching it.
            While wishes are potent, and require the DM to be clever in order to corrupt or bend them toward a useful story element they are something interesting to add to the game.  Too useful to squander, but too useful to leave unused.



#3: Azer
            No joke, before “Savage Creatures” and before I had any idea what I was doing, I let my brother play an Azer as his first character in a game I was GG for.  I had no clue how overpowered he was and how much he overshadowed the other players.  I had no idea how challenge ratings worked or how to make encounters fun.  It was a rough learning experience.
            I have not had an opportunity to make good use of these guys since (that is to say I have never made good use of them) and aside from liking their look, the basic premise of being flame dwarves, and the nostalgia for a time when I was still learning to play, I don’t have much to say about them.
 
Another Magic card.
Almost like Magic has produced more high quality fantasy art than any other fantasy franchise.
#2: Dryads and Nymphs
            I think I might be the only person that thinks Dryads and Nymphs should be rolled together into one creature with a weaker and stronger form.  Most people outside of gaming would have a hard time seeing the two as different things, and while they are different in the game to a significant degree, they still fill a similar role as the nice forest spirit that looks like a beautiful woman.
            I have made little to no use of these guys in the past.  In spite of running long campaigns with Druids, Rangers, Barbarians, and a Scout, I tend to play a more urban game, with the action taking place in a major city that serves as a hub for the story and several other communities that exist around it.
            Aside from having little experience with them, I like Dryads and Nymphs as story elements.  They are interesting when they show up, indicators of a pure and safe world that can serve as an oasis to the players in the midst of an adventure.  Also, their presence is kind of a reverse of the usual, they serve to protect and guide the heroes even though they are young (looking) women, normally such an archetype in fiction is the one being saved.



#1: Treants
            These guys are great.  They’re perfect metaphors for the powerful and ancient mind of nature.  They are kind and wise, but not particularly active and involved, much like the Dryads and Nymphs they serve as a tree to rest under to take a break from adventuring.  I actually had an ancient Druid reincarnate as one to guard an important forest in the game world and it served as a good recurring set piece that is not at all lifted straight from “World of Warcraft”.
            Since I have not run a game with staunchly evil PC’s in it, I have not had an opportunity to use them in a major combat encounter.  Much how I like the Kyton from my entry on “Fiends” animating chains to generate more attacks, Treants can animate trees for a similar boost to its attack power.  That is a cute idea.  Like the orchard scene from “The Wizard of Oz”.

For a Change of Pace: Some Shit Ones
            I give 4th edition a lot of props.  It took some chances (HUGE CHANGES IN GAMEPLAY MECHANICS for instance) and I feel the negative overreaction to 4e caused Wizards of the Coast to walk back too many things and drop many good ideas.  A “baby with the bathwater” reaction that I hope they revisit in the future to look for some interesting places to add in things to 5e.
            That being said, there was some god-awful shit in 4e too.  Let’s look at two big issues, the Fomorians and the Cyclops.
 
You can tell they are evil because they're fugly.
            I have no idea why the Fomorians were elevated to the status that they were in the 4e core books.  I do not know why they were given an army of Cyclops to do their bidding.  I do not know what appeared in TV, Literature, or Film that encouraged the developers at Wizards to go in for these guys.  I don’t know why they are fey when they are both clearly giants.
            Between the two, they take up 5 pages in the monster manual.  One of which is just a full page of two Fomorians looking ugly.  I cannot for the life of me see this as a logical use of page space.  I suspect they were to be the paragon (levels 11-20) monster races of choice, but that only works if you ignore the traditional giants who are there and in the same range of challenge.
            I do not see it.  I do not see the appeal of them as setting pieces.  I do not see the coupling of the two as a society.  Maybe there is a Celtic Mythology Nerd working at Wizards who was just super persuasive to pull for the Fomorians.  But then why the Greek Mythology creature, the Cyclops to go with them?  Why are they not giants?


            I know that when I talked about dragons yesterday, I encouraged going with the Oriental Adventures Dragons as my favorites and said they should have been made core in 5e for the novelty.  There is some novelty in the Fomorians and Cyclops’ status being elevated in 4e.  My issue is this, they didn’t take it far enough.
            If you want to make a whole new bunch of giants with the Fomorians as the ugliest and most powerful magically, fine by me.  You could unite the Ogres, the Cyclops, Trolls (even come up with different types), Ettins, and others and drop the traditional Hill/Frost/Fire/Cloud/Storm Giants altogether.  Hell, introduce other names for giants like Nephilim or Daityas.  Make new giants based on existing mythology, like a fire breathing race of giants named for Cacus.
            If you are going to break with something.  BREAK HARD.  Clever spins on existing material are not going to be noticed or appreciated.  Bigger departures are more interesting.  Again, I am the guy who likes “Spelljammer” and “Ravenloft” more than “Forgotten Realms” so my opinion should be taken from the perspective of wild imagination.
            The addition of “weird eyes for the giant guys” was different but didn’t displace the still present safe option of traditional giants.  They were just another monster given more space in the book than they really deserved.
 
Maybe I don't know what I am talking about.
To me though, the Cyclops clash with the Fairy Tale like atmosphere of the Feywild.
They should have been replaced with Trolls which at least originate in the same regional folklore as the Fomorians.

Coming Tomorrow
            Tomorrow I am going to talk about Undead.

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            If you like or hate this please take the time to comment, +1, share on Twitter (click that link to follow me), Tumblr, or Facebook, and otherwise distribute my opinion to the world.  I would appreciate it.