Archive for July, 2017

Wisdom

In Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream at night. God said: “Whatever you ask I shall give you.” Solomon answered: “You have shown great kindness to your servant, David my father, because he walked before you with fidelity, justice, and an upright heart; and you have continued this great kindness toward him today, giving him a son to sit upon his throne. Now, LORD, my God, you have made me, your servant, king to succeed David my father; but I am a mere youth, not knowing at all how to act — I, your servant, among the people you have chosen, a people so vast that it cannot be numbered or counted. Give your servant, therefore, a listening heart to judge your people and to distinguish between good and evil. For who is able to give judgment for this vast people of yours?” (1 Kings 3:5-9)

Wisdom traditionally has been viewed as the ability to discern good from evil with the aim of doing the first and avoiding the latter. This view is reflected in AD&D‘s explanation of Wisdom, which “is a composite term for the character’s enlightenment, judgement, wile, will power, and (to a certain extent) intuitiveness” (PH, p. 11). It is the attribute which “subsumes the categories of willpower, judgment, wile, enlightenment, and intuitiveness” (DMG, p. 15). The qualities that Wisdom represents help me understand why Wisdom is the principal attribute of clerics, as well as being important for druids, paladins, rangers, and monks. For all but the monk, Wisdom also represents a connection to the divine, and, by extension, is a factor in a character’s alignment.

Some words about alignment. First and foremost, alignment is not a set of rules that dictate how a character must act. Sure, certain characters may suffer major consequences for acting contrary to their alignments, but their alignments per se do not make contrary action impossible. Also, alignment descriptions in the rules (PH, pp. 33-34; DMG, pp. 23-24) are generalizations. But what is alignment? It is a short-hand description of “the broad ethos of thinking, reasoning creatures” (DMG, p. 23). That’s it. Alignment summarizes a particular creature’s “disposition, character, or fundamental values” (to quote the dictionary about ethos). Alignment makes it possible to predict what a certain creature will do in such-and-such situation most of the time. Deviations are always possible, and probably fairly common in at least small ways.

Alignment is not, however, a reflection of a wholly subjective set of value judgments. In AD&D as the rules are written, it makes no sense to say that dwarves only think orcs are evil because dwarves are socially conditioned to think that way, but the orcs don’t view their actions as evil and so those actions are not really evil. It cannot be denied that there is always a subjective element in all moral judgments, but orcs “are cruel and hate living things in general”. They really hate elves “and will always attack them in preference to other creatures.” Orcs “take slaves for work, food, and entertainment (torture, etc) but not elves whom they kill immediately” (emphases added). In no way can cruelty, murderous cannibalism, slavery, torture for fun, et cetera be colored as anything other than evil. Orcs are not misunderstood or functioning under different but equally valid cultural norms. They’re evil as a general rule, both individually and collectively.

Alignment is especially important to classes with a connection to the divine. For example, clerics who “have not been faithful to their teachings, followed the aims of their deity, contributed freely to the cause, and otherwise acted according to the tenets of their faith” may find themselves unable to acquire certain levels of spells (DMG, p. 38). The consequences for paladins are perhaps the most severe of all. Paladins who “knowing perform an act which is chaotic in nature” must do appropriate penance. Those who “ever knowingly and willingly perform an evil act” lose paladin status forever.

My strong suspicion is that Mr. Gygax’s wording about paladins shows at least a familiarity with classical expressions of Christian moral theology. Note that certain actions are “chaotic in nature”. In other words, those actions are in and of themselves chaotic, regardless of what the paladin’s opinion might be or what the circumstances are. Christian moral theology doesn’t really consider things on a law-chaos axis as much as a good-evil axis, but recalling that “law dictates that order and organization [are] necessary and desirable” and “generally supports the group as more important than the individual” helps me grok essential differences. Ultimately, law cannot be concerned with what is merely legal. The Western philosophical tradition, well back before the time of Christ, has understood that unjust laws are not really laws. If torture is evil, for example, no law saying torture is acceptable makes torture not evil. Instead, in its essence, it seems as if law’s main thrust is that the Other and/or the Many have greater priority than the Self and/or the One. Note well that AD&D‘s alignment system conceptually separates such considerations from good-evil.

What this means for the lawful creature is that, all things being equal, the lawful creature puts the needs of others first. If a cleric and her companions are severely injured and in imminent danger of more harm, the lawful cleric probably heals her companions first. Perhaps some practical circumstances makes another use of healing resources more prudent, but, in general, the lawful cleric’s needs take a backseat to the needs of others. Back to the paladin, avoiding chaotic actions probably means that much of the time the paladin’s ability to “lay on hands” is going to be used to heal someone else.

When turning to good-evil, we see that “the tenets of good are human rights, or in the case of AD&D, creature rights. Each creature is entitled to life, relative freedom, and the prospect of happiness. Cruelty and suffering are undesirable.” Evil “does not concern itself with rights or happiness; purpose is the determinant” (DMG, p. 23). In other words, evil is about the will to power, about the ends both justifying and rationalizing the means. Those means may be aimed at the perceived benefit of the group (lawful evil) or entirely selfish (chaotic evil), but questions about life, freedom, and happiness are unimportant. As such, evil actions are evil in and of themselves. They are malum in se, not merely malum prohibitum. They violate what has been variously been called divine law, natural law, moral law, or (to use the term preferred by C. S. Lewis in The Abolition of Man) the Tao.

Back to what appears to be Mr. Gygax’s familiarity with classical expressions of Christian moral theology. Note that the paladin must “knowingly and willingly” do evil in order to lose paladin status. In classical Christian moral theology, distinctions are made between acts that are venial and mortal. Paladins lose their paladinhood for mortal acts, and for an act to be mortal it must meet certain objective criteria, namely:

1. The act’s subject matter must be grave. In other words, the act itself must be malum in se.
2. The act must be committed with full knowledge/awareness of the action’s evil and the gravity of the offense.
3. The act must be committed with deliberate and complete consent.

Each part above corresponds to part of makes paladins stop being paladins forever:

1. The act must be evil.
2. The act must be knowingly performed.
3. The act must be willingly performed.

In instances where the paladin does not have sufficient knowledge and/or does not act freely, the action remains evil, but does not meet the criteria necessary for him being stripped of paladinhood.

So what does this have to do with Wisdom?

Well, since Wisdom deals in part with a character’s ability to judge good from evil, it stands to reason that a character’s Wisdom somehow reflects at least the voice of conscience that kicks in before a character performs some act that will have dire consequences (such as loss of spells or no longer getting to advance as a paladin). This also means that I, as a DM, need to be clear about what constitutes law-chaos and good-evil in my campaign, and that I clearly communicate that information to my players. It doesn’t means that such considerations are up for debate (although it might). If in my AD&D game I as DM say that torture is always and everywhere evil, then torture is always and everywhere evil.

Does that mean that, for example, a paladin may never resort to torture? No, for one reason: Paladins have free will. Does that mean that a paladin who tortures an enemy immediately and forever ceases to be a paladin? Probably. Referring to the three criteria above and considering that it’s my campaign world governed by certain moral absolutes I’ve defined as DM, the first criterion is met. I’ve communicated such to the players, but that doesn’t mean the paladin is all that hip to the truth. This is where the paladin’s Wisdom comes into play. If the paladin lacks sufficient Wisdom and sufficient moral training, he may be bit off in his understanding about torture. He might be fully aware of torture’s evil and gravity. Even if he is, there is still the third criterion. Does the paladin really have no other acceptable choice? If so, then, yes, the paladin commits a gravely evil act, but does not do so willingly. Some punishment from the gods is appropriate, but this punishment ought not include the permanent loss of paladinhood.

Wisdom reflects a character’s ability to discern good from evil. An exceptionally wise character ought not be surprised to learn after the fact that such-and-such action is evil. The character would have the insight to know ahead of time. The character may choose to ignore that insight as the player decides, and that is one of the ways that the moral drama implied by AD&D‘s alignment system comes into play.

July 31st, 2017  in RPG No Comments »

Ophidian Sentinels

I continue to enjoy From Unformed Realms. This morning, I’ve gone deep into my collection and pulled out Bloodshadows by West End Games. I need to run a Dinner & Gaming night with this system.

Ophidian Sentinel

We smelled them before we saw them. Rico gagged, choking like something was caught in his throat. A stench like a backed-up septic tank choked the air. They slithered out of the darkness, thick black tongues flicking. Eyeless and seeking, they resembled thick-bodied serpents covered with knobby, overlapping scales the color of spoiled olives. Each one was longer than I am tall.

Agility 10
Climbing 13, Dodge 12, Stealth 12, Unarmed Combat (bite) 15
Dexterity 5
Missile Weapons (vomit) 7
Strength 7
Endurance 10
Toughness 10 (14 with armor)
Intellect 6
Perception (smell) 12, Tracking (by scent) 12
Mind 8
Confidence 8
Charisma 5

Ophidian sentinels, blind and single-minded, guard unholy sites. These monsters communicate with each other by means of scented secretions, most of which humans find highly offensive.

Natural Tools: Ophidian sentinels have dense scales and bones (armor value equals Toughness+4/14). They bite with strong jaws sporting dozens of sharp teeth (damage value equals Strength+3/10). These monsters also have the following abilities.

* Accelerated Healing: Gains a +3 bonus to all Endurance rolls when healing. Heals one shock per round.

* Euphoric Vomit: An ophidian sentinel may attack at range by expelling a gob of vomit. Treat as a throwing knife for ranges. A target struck by the gob must generate an Endurance or resist shock total equal to attack’s power value (usually Endurance+10/20), modified by any result points of the attack. If the target fails, he is rendered senseless by the vomit’s tranquilizing properties, and the target remains this way until he makes a successful Confidence or willpower total (one check per round).

July 28th, 2017  in RPG 1 Comment »

Chitinoid Chaos!

More fun with From Unformed Realms, this time using TSR’s Marvel Super Heroes.

Adventure Hook: The heroes receive an unexpected invitation (perhaps from a medical or science contact) to watch the demonstration of a new biotech trauma care system. Unfortunately, the Mad Thinker has tampered with the project as part of a scam to hold the technology hostage in hopes of sizable ransom. The Mad Thinker is holed up in an abandoned military bunker. When the biotech system is activated, it overloads and explodes. Several people are caught in the blast. They are transformed into chitinoids, which are motivated by basic instinctual drives.

Chitinoid
From the smoke and fire stagger several people, doctors, technicians, and nurses. They transform rapidly, flesh becoming metallic, covered with thorns and razor edges. They stagger about, clicking and humming, eyeless and inhuman.

Primary Abilities: F Gd, A Gd, S Ex, E Rm, R Fe, I Rm, P Ty
Secondary Abilities: Health 70, Karma 38, Resources Fb, Popularity 0
Powers: Body Armor (Rm), Claws (Ex), Lightning Speed (Ex), Slashing Missile (Ex), Sonar (In), Transformative Nanobots (Rm), Wall-Crawling (Ex)
Nota Bene: Chitinoids are blind. A living target that suffers a Stun or Kill result from a chitinoid’s Claws or Slashing Missiles must make an Endurance FEAT check against Remarkable intensity or else become infected with transformative nanobots. Every 1-10 rounds, the victim suffers a -1CS to Reason. When Reason reaches Feeble, the target turn into a chitinoid. Before transformation is complete, only highly advanced medical care or superhuman recuperative powers stop the process. The Mad Thinker’s ransom demands include the claim that he has the cure for “chitinoidism”. The stats above are for a typical human turned into a chitinoid. It’s up the Judge what abilities and powers a transformed superhuman might have.

July 26th, 2017  in RPG No Comments »

Murklings in the Wooded Hills

Have I mentioned how much fun From Unformed Realms is? Well, it is much fun, and it’s system-neutral, which means with some thought it can be used for pretty much any game. For example, Barbarians of Lemuria:

Adventure Hook: A chance reunion with an old friend leads to some wooded hills in a frontier region. There the woods are currently being cleared by refugees seeking escape from the punishing taxes of their homeland, but the settlers’ activities have attracted the attention of a murkling swarm.

Murkling
Its gray flesh hung in tatters, covered with gaping sores, glistening with moisture. It dropped from two legs to all fours, and we heard its bones snapping, shifting, adapting to this new form of locomotion. Before it resembled somewhat a man, somewhat an ape, but now it appeared more like a great, obscene rodent. Three more emerged from the burrows, their limbs jointed oddly, unevenly. Unthinkingly, I stepped away, just one step, but still a sufficient number to press my booted heel onto a dry twig. The closest monster jerked and hissed at the twig’s popping, and the creature’s entire body swelled up, its flesh distending, a cloud of dewy particles shaking into the air around it.

Attributes
Strength 0
Agility 2
Mind 0

Combat Abilities
Move 35 ft.
Attack Bite +0 (1d6-1 damage plus possible poison and infection)
Defense 2
Protection 0
Lifeblood 10

Nota Bene
Diseased: Murklings all carry a bizarre disease. A Hero bit by a murkling must make an Easy (+1) task check using Strength. Failure results in infection that sets in after 2d6 hours. The victim suffers joint pains and dizziness (increase Action Difficulty by one step). After 1d6 days post-infection, the victim loses control of one or more limbs, which seek to kill the victim (weilding weapons against him, running him off a cliff, et cetera).

Inflation: Murklings can inhale rapidly and inflate their extremely elastic lungs and stomachs, swelling to a spherical shape. This causes hundreds of short, sharp spikes to protrude from its skin as well as shakes loose of cloud of toxic sweat particles.

Mobility: Murklings move quickly and with agility despite their awkward appearance. They swim, climb, and burrow as well. Due to their adaptive skeletons, murklings can often squeeze through spaces smaller than one would expect.

Toxic Sweat: Heroes that come into contact with murkling sweat must make a Tricky (-1) task check using Strength. Failure results in poisoning. Every 1d3 minutes after exposure, the victim loses 1 point of Strength and Agility. Paralysis sets in when both abilities reduce to less than -1, and the paralysis lasts for days.

July 24th, 2017  in RPG No Comments »

Conferencing in Austin, Texas

So, Wednesday through Friday of last week, I was in Austin attending a classical education conference spearheaded by the Circe Institute. Lots of smart people talking smartly about smart things related to the best way to educate children. I sat in on some fascinating sessions, including one that explained a basic lesson format that encourages something at least approaching Socratic discussion in math classes as an aid to memory. I have hopes that implementing those ideas will help my students this coming school year.

Unfortunately, there were some downsides. I woke up at about 0430 each morning with a migraine that I still haven’t completely shaken, but at least the pain is down to a very dull throb that is easy to ignore if I keep occupied. The conference was held in the Hyatt Regency. For the price, the rooms seemed small, especially my second room that I ended up sharing with a fellow teacher. The hotel-provided breakfasts and lunches weren’t that good. I ate out for breakfast one day and for lunch another day.

For breakfast, I had the French toast and coffee at Snooze: An A.M. Eatery. The food was good, but pricey for French toast. The menu of alcoholic breakfast cocktails was intriguing, but I abstained. For late lunch, I hit Polvos and had some tasty enchiladas and several glasses of water. I was on foot hoofing it about 3.4 miles round trip from the hotel to San Jose Catholic Church for evening Mass in a charming yet simple chapel. I walked around the parish grounds a bit, visting the small shrine to Our Lady of Fatima before walking back to the hotel.

I was about 1930 by the time I made it back to near the hotel. I stopped at Aussie’s Grill & Beach Bar to knock back a couple pints of local Live Oak Brewing Company‘s HefeWeizen with bourbon chasers. After this, my headache was mostly gone, so I went to bed to get a few hours sleep before the pain would wake me up again.

Thursday evening, I drove down the road to Tribe Comics & Games for Thursday-night games. Beforehand, I popped into the Kerbey Lane Cafe for some shrimp and grits. Tasty.

After dinner, I walked across the parking lot to Tribe Games & Comics. I was dropped into a group of six at a table getting ready to play four hours of D&D’s most recent edition. I’d not played 5E before, and I’d not done anything d20 System related for years. I don’t own a single 5E book, nor am I likely to unless someone just gives them to me.

I was given an already-made, some what generic human barbarian to play. I named him Anarch Greywulf. Player and character introductions were made all around. I was remiss and made no notes, so I can’t tell you who the people in the pictures are. They played a cleric, a fighter of some sort, a paladin, a bard, a sorcerer (I think), and a luchador-style monk. Our adventure revolved around breaking a bandit out of jail so that we could get information about a pending meeting between a bandit chief and a wicked sorceress that threatened the peace of the region.

It was an enjoyable four hours in a way-crowded gaming space. It was loud, and I’m pretty sure I missed more than one key point because I couldn’t quite hear what the DM or the other players were saying. Still, we had fun. Our characters rescued the bandit, killing an enraged and escaping minotaur in the process while the tower burned down around them. Anarch walked boldly into the bandit camp, dropped a few names, and was escorted to a tent where he was told to wait. While this went on, the rest of the party snuck up on the meeting point. Anarch befriended “Little” Eric, one of the bandits. The monk was spotted after getting too close. Chaos ensued.

Anarch convinced “Little” Eric that owl-omened treachery was afoot, and thus that NPC aided our party against the sorcereress’s kobold, orc, and owlbear minions. During the battle, our characters ran roughshod over the enemies on both sides, preventing any sort of evil alliance and probably collecting a nice bunch of treasure as well. I’m not sure on the latter since it was getting late. I didn’t stick around for the postgame report in the parking lot.

As I’ve said, it was a fun game. It’s not going to make me rush out and buy 5E books or find a local 5E game to play in. Not really my cup of tea any more. Games like Dungeon World, Monster of the Week, and Fate Accelerated fit the bill more nowadays, and shortly my little gaming group here in Houston, Texas, will start a new campaign using Barbarians of Lemuria.

Also, it’s good to be back home. Austin is a nice place to visit, but it’s not where the heart is.

So, a big “Thanks!” to the folks at Tribe Games & Comics. If I’m ever back in Austin on a Thursday, I’ll try to fit another game into my schedule.

July 23rd, 2017  in RPG No Comments »