Posts Tagged ‘ game play ’

Animal Races, Et Cetera

Things I’ve done recently:

1. Eulalia! Have you ever wanted to play your own version of a Redwall story? Of course you, and now you can using 5E D&D. This PDF not only presents several different animal player character races, it also retools the collaborative character creation and campaign major location system found in the excellent Beyond the Wall and Other Adventures and Further Afield.

2. The Valley of Rooz. Over a Facebook 5E D&D group, a fellow named Benjamin Ruse posted a picture his 4-year-old son drew. Mr. Ruse reports that his son told him, “Daddy, I drew this map for you so I can play with you and the guys. See? It has a castle and a crazy river and the X is where the treasure is! It’ll be a great adventure!” I used the map as the basis for a very short 5E D&D adventure suitable for 1st-level characters.

Lastly, here’s the Scythian wolf, the picture of which comes from The History of Four-Footed Beasts and Serpents, published in 1658. Check out the book on the delightful Public Domain Review.

Medium monstrosity, any chaotic

Armor Class 14 (natural armor)
Hit Points 22 (4d8+4)
Speed 40 ft.
Ability Scores STR 13 (+1), DEX 16 (+3), CON 13 (+1), INT 4 (-3), WIS 13 (+1), CHA 7 (-2)

Skills Perception +3, Stealth +5
Damage Resistances cold, slashing from nonmagical attacks
Senses darkvision 60 ft., passive Perception 13
Languages understands one or two languages but cannot speak, read, or write
Challenge 1 (200 XP)

Keen Hearing and Smell. The Scythian wolf has advantage on Wisdom (Perception) checks that rely on hearing or smell.

Pack Tactics. The Scythian wolf has advantage on attack rolls against a creature if at least one of the wolf’s allies is within 5 feet of the creature and the ally isn’t incapacitated.

Pounce. If the Scythian wolf moves at least 20 feet straight toward a creature and then hits with a claw attack on the same turn, the target must succeed on a DC 12 Strength saving throw or be knocked prone. If the target is prone, the wolf can make one bite attack against it as a bonus action.

Actions

Bite. Melee Weapon Attack: +5 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 7 (1d8+3) piercing damage.

Claw. Melee Weapon Attack: +5 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 6 (1d6+3) piercing damage.

December 31st, 2017  in RPG No Comments »

Hurricane Harvey Update

Well, it’s official. Hurricane Harvey has done his damage for the most part. Months to years of rebuilding await. Fortunately, I’ve been little affected. A tree in my backyard split near into thirds. It’ll have to come down, but it’s not an emergency. I’ve had electricity, Internet, food, clean water, and shelter throughout, so I’ve got nothing to complain about and a great deal to be thankful for. Not everyone in and around Houston can say that same thing.

If you’re looking to help, I recommend both Catholic Charities and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. If you’re actually in the affected area, please check in with whatever local shelters or missions might be nearby. For example, not too far from my home is the Mission of Yahweh, which helps homeless women and children and needs food, water, diapers, et cetera.

Once I’m back to work, probably after Labor Day, I’ll get in touch directly with my students for the first time in a week. While the school has suffered no damage, I don’t know about my students’ homes. I hope and pray they’re all safe and dry. Once I have a better idea about their needs post-flood, I’ll look at putting together a special bundle or two of Spes Magna products to help pay for lost books, school supplies, uniforms, et cetera.

Finally, here’re some encounters for adventurers during a flood.

August 30th, 2017  in RPG No Comments »

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 mean 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 »

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 »

Going Beyond the Wall

In case you missed the announcements on G+ and Facebook, I’ve a few new, free PDFs of content for 1E AD&D ensconced in my Google Drive. Enjoy!

The Abbey of St. Martin: A short adventure.
AD&D Monsters: Alp to Xana: A dozen new monsters.
AD&D Monsters: Apsara to Zebez. Three dozen new monsters.
The Bard: Alternate class for 1E AD&D.
The Recondite Frontier: Campaign region.
Sveti Gardarkena: Another campaign region.

I’m starting a 1E AD&D campaign on 10 January. As part of character creation, I put together these house rules, and also purchased Beyond the Wall and Other Adventures (abbreviated BTW hereafter) and Further Afield by Flatland Games solely because I’d heard good things about that system’s character creation process.

Going Beyond the Wall

During this Christmas season, I hosted a dinner-and-gaming night featuring spaghetti and BTW. I’d prepped by printing out a blank village map, a spooky scenario pack (from the free Across the Veil addon), four character sheets, and a list of playbooks (click here for a sample playbook).

Nota Bene: As you explore BTW products, you’ll quickly notice that most of them are free. Flatland Games sells the rulebook and rulebook expansion (linked two paragraphs above), and then offers playbooks, scenario packs, et cetera, for free. Nifty!

BTW Character Creation

We started with character creation. Each player picked a playbook from the list, and then I printed only those playbooks. The soon-to-be created party of adventurers included a halfling outrider, a landless noble, an elven highborn, and a student of the dark arts. Next up, the players made up their PCs. Character creation was a snap. The only confusion came from players not reading their playbooks carefully.

Each playbook (and there are more than 30 published by Flatland Games) follows the same format. A playbook starts by giving some background information for the character being created. For example, the Assistant Beast Keeper playbook starts with, “The old witch in the village took a liking to you when you were still young, and you now keep her animals for her. While what you do may seem inconsequential, the witch seems to consider you to be vitally important, and favors you above all others. You dream of a more exciting life.” The playbook then tells the player what his character’s starting ability scores are. These ability scores are the very familiar Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma.

After this, the player rolls the appropriate die on each chart to answer a question about this character. These questions cover childhood, known non-player characters, background events, and so forth. Each roll modifies ability scores, perhaps gives a skill or class ability, and so on. With a bit more than a half dozen rolls, the players end up with 1st- or 2nd-level characters (some playbooks lead to more experienced starting characters) complete with basic backgrounds, skills, spells (where applicable), starting equipment, et cetera. All of the characters know each other, and each has even shared some sort of life-changing experience with another character.

BTW offers three character classes: warrior, mage, and rogue. Each playbook feeds into a particular class or multi-class. For example, the Village Bear above creates a warrior-rogue. Three classes seem a bit limited, but the inclusion of multi-class options widens the field, and the playbooks do a good job and making sure no two warriors (for example) are the same. This really hits the Old-School groove well. In AD&D, what made two fighters different from each other wasn’t their class abilities, but instead was the backgrounds and personalities created by the players.

Based on my one game session, BTW’s best feature is character creation. Hands down. No contest. I fully intend on using BTW playbooks (with some minor tweaking) for character creation with my upcoming AD&D campaign.

Let’s Make a Village

After this, we put together a quick map for the Village of Lambsheim. Character creation includes village creation. Playbook prompt players to add elements to the village map. These elements focus on both non-player characters and locations. With our table of four players, Lambsheim started as a mostly blank piece of paper and grew into a village with eight important locations and eight important non-player characters.

All-in-all, character and village creation took about an hour. We ended up with four developed heroes and a pretty good idea about the heroes’ village, to include some village history that was at least implied by the results from the playbooks.

The Call to Adventure

While the players did their thing, I perused The Opened Veil Scenario Pack. BTW bills itself as offering something other OSR games do not, namely the “tools to play the game almost immediately and with little prep” (to quote the main rulebook). The books elaborates, “Using special Character Playbooks and Scenario Packs, a group of players with a single gamemaster should be able to play the game with absolutely zero prep in about three to five hours, from making characters to tasting a glorious success or a bitter defeat.” Our game session found this to be accurate, but with a caveat about the Scenario Pack. BTW requires little prep so long as someone else has done the prep required for a Scenario Pack.

Nota Bene: Even if the gamemaster does have to put together his own Scenario Pack, the format for such is less work intensive than, say, writing a standard adventure. (For example.) A Scenario Pack also requires far less reading than a standard adventure, and each Scenario Pack lends itself well to a more improv style of play that has built in hooks to get the players motivated.

Back to our session. As necessary details, such as nonplayer character names, emerged from the use of playbooks, I filled in the blanks in the Scenario Pack. Once my tables were completed, a few rolls of the dice generated the specifics of the adventure we would play. I had the hook, the source of the problem, the nature of the problem, and hints about complications and solutions. The Scenario Pack even included some player-generated recent events. Ready to go, we started the game in the inn (of course!).

The scenario played out as a combination of undead street fighting, a haunted jail mystery, a town drunk with looted coins, a betrayal between noble families going back two generations, several watchful spirits, a pack of zombies in the barrows, and a short but brutal fight against an ambitious wight.

The Short of It

All in all, the players had a good time. Everyone agreed that the character generation system was the highlight of the game. Kerry, who played the student of the dark arts, complimented the magic system’s distinction between spells, cantrips, and rituals (although rituals did not come up during play). The game’s systems for combat, skills, and saving throws are easy to grasp and should be at least almost instantly familiar to anyone who has played OSR-style games (or the original games that inspired them).

BTW’s system for cantrips, which work as regular spells but require an ability score check to avoid negative consequences, has found its way into my AD&D house rules. So too has the skill system. The rules expansion, Further Afield, includes rules for starting a “player-driven campaign” that is a “shared sandbox.” I’ve skimmed these rules. I like them, and they too will find their way into my AD&D campaign.

In short, the campaign creation rules are like a larger-scale version of the village creation process, but with the added wrinkle that elements added by the players to the world function as bits of character knowledge subject to degrees of inaccuracy. Just because a player’s gifted dilettante rogue-mage thinks there is a ghost-haunted tower near the foothills a few days to the north doesn’t mean that character’s knowledge about the tower or its location is entirely accurate. Degree of accuracy is determined by an ability score check using either Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisma (depending on how the character acquired the knowledge).

Beyond the Wall and Other Adventures is a great game. Our playtest included good times, good food, and I spent more time cooking than I did prepping for the game.

December 31st, 2015  in RPG 3 Comments »