Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Musings on the Second Realms

The Bat was holding court. Around his table set the largest collection of self-centered losers that had ever been produced on the plateau. They had gathered together for a night of Dungeons and Dragons, or so they claimed. In truth most of them gathered to worship at the Bat's feet and to tell tales of their sexual conquests - which should have been impossible since all but one of them was a virgin.  

Ah, but never let the truth get in the way of a good lie . . .

I was in the back room of Elton's Lifetime Loser Lounge prepping for the night's run and trying to ignore the massive egos that were proclaiming themselves from the large group private room. They were intentionally projecting their voices so that everyone else in the Lounge would know that their game was the best, the funniest, the most creative. Only problem was they played like they were acting out a script and no matter the situation the lines never changed.

I listened as the problem of the night was laid out and recited their actions along with them. "The dragon," began the Bat in his low rumble, "has been attacking Shadowdale for a week straight. Each night he crosses the city billowing fire down on the rooftops and each dawn the city tries to rebuild. This morning the call has gone out for heroes. Who among you answers?"

I'm going to find Elminster.

Yeah, me too. 

While they're looking for Elminster I'm going to see if there are any lonely ladies looking for a shoulder to cry on.

"Aren't you a paladin who has taken a vow of chastity," the Bat asked, already knowing the answer.

Not a very good one.

------------------------------------------------

I started hating the Forgotten Realms long before I actually began playing Dungeons and Dragons. Morticia and her brother, Frog, would go on for hours about their adventures in the Realms. They met Elminster and that Blackcloak fellow. They went to the Underdark and then to Myth Dranor. They did this and they fucking did that and if you didn't already know the entire story then you were a loser.

Fuck that noise.

The boys playing in the Bat's game just reinforced my notions about the Forgotten Realms, and then I started reading the Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide (FRCG) for third era Dungeons and Dragons. Why in the world presented by the FRCG do they need me? There are hundreds of high level characters running about the realms! And the way that the FRCG came across encouraged people to look to the non-player characters and to let them be the stars of the show!

My god I play the game to be the star of my own story. My fellow players are doing the same and we want to be the motivational factor of the game. We want to tell our stories, not relive someone else's glories. 

But with my current group we could play there as they either don't care about the non-player characters in the Realms or they don't know about them. So I'm going to do a little bit of investigating and see if the setting is worth playing in, if it is my next campaign will be taking place in the Forgotten Realms using the Second Edition rules set.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Book of Exalted Deeds, Post Read Wrap-up



After slogging my way through the Book of Exalted Deeds I have to admit that it is far better than the Book of Vile Darkness. The logic is better but there is still a world created by this book that I just don't see anyone being able to play in.

The Master Planner has argued with me lately saying that I'm looking at this from an overly critical viewpoint; that I'm forgetting that the book is about 'exhalted' deeds and not just 'good' deeds.

I think that he's full of shit.

The book is presenting its case for a how a good character should be and how they should behave. There are places where the book focuses on the above and beyond that would characterize the 'exalted' monicker, but those sections are not where I have taken issue with the book's logic.

Now is the book scarier than the Book of Vile Darkness as the Bus argued?

Yes.

The Book of Exalted Deeds creates a world where every act is a balancing between good and evil. Every time you slip up and damage your 'purity' you place the entire world at risk. If you stray just a little bit from their unreasonably high standards you fall into darkness and evil. And the world they create is one that is just too much to actually play in.

The Book of Exalted Deeds: Part Three, The Final Push


We're on to chapter two, Variant Rules. The majority of this chapter is crap but there are sections that are way too good to pass up on. Exalted Cohorts (pg 24) presents an interesting idea for new companions for good characters. Exalted Gods (pg 24 - 26) is mostly useless though they do present a deity that will be going into all my future games: Estanna (pg 25). That is a perfect deity that can go into just about any campaign at any point without any work at all. I love her concept and execution.

Exorcism (pg 26), Heroes of the Heavens (pg 26), Heroic Sacrifice and Martyrdom (pg 27), Mercy, Prisoners, and Redemption (pg 28), Sainthood (pg 29), Waging Peace (pg 31), and Words of Creation (pg 31) are a waste of ink in most ways that matter. On the other hand Tithes and Offerings (pg 29) and Voluntary Poverty (pg 29) are fantastic. Voluntary Poverty is especially intriguing and I would welcome the act at any table I'm running.

Chapter Three: Exalted Equipment has sanctified weapons which are cool. The idea that a weapon can be infused with holy energy is one that I find especially appealing for campaigns where devils, deamons, and demons are an active presence in the world. I don't particularly like the game mechanics for creating one but fuck I'm normally the Dungeon Master so I'll ignore them anyway.

Now we come to Ravages and Afflictions (pg 34 - 36). 
Poison and disease are generally the tools of evil monsters and characters, implements of corruption and destruction. If snakes and vermin are associated with evil, as they are in many cultures, it is usually because of their venom that they are viewed in such a negative light despite their neutral alignment. Using poison that deals ability damage is an evil act because it causes undue suffering in the process of incapacitating or killing an opponent . . . Besides the curative abilities of clerics and paladins, the powers of good have their own answer to poison and disease; ravages and afflictions, magical traumas that turn the moral corruption of evil creatures into physical corruption that wracks their bodies. Ravages and afflictions affect only evil creatures, and are particularly debilitating to evil outsiders - despite the immunity to poison that is common among such creatures . . . (pg 34 - 35).
While I understand the thought process behind declaring poisons and diseases evil I don't understand how ravages and afflictions are not. Yes they affect only evil creatures but they still cause ability damage. Logically all four should be evil. Of course this is a needless book where they're trying to justify the page count and price tag so I suppose the pages have to be filled with more than just pretty pictures. 

Speaking of, best picture in the entire book:

I love this picture from pg 35
The concept of Relics (pg 36) is really neat, like the sanctified weapons previously mentioned, but they're not as well done. Most of the items mentioned are either rip offs of existing items (the Shroud of Turin) or they're misappropriated from the Book of Vile Darkness (i.e. the Executioner's Axe from pg 36).

The rest of the chapter is crap. 

Chapter four is filled with either worthless or broken feats. 

Chapter five is mostly a complete waste of ink though there are a few exceptions: Defender of Sealtiel (pg 55), Fist of Raziel (pg 63); Risen Martyr (pg 68); Sentinel of Bharrai (pg 69); and the Wonderworker (pg 82). The other prestige classes are either so nuanced that there are few ways to logically work them into the narrative or are so well designed for non-player characters - I'm looking at you Apostle of Peace (pg 51) - that there is no reason for them to even be in a damnable book for players. 

Chapter six has some really cool spells, though most of them are either re-workings of previously published material or re-wordings of perfectly fine, already existing, spells. Some of my favorite spells are Exalted Fury (pg 99), Glory of the Martyr (pg 99), and Phoenix Fire (pg 103). In fact, just about any spell with Sacrifice description is worth using. 

That shit is cool as fuck all.

After the spells only read page 116 (Intelligent Items) through page 119 (stopping at Redeeming Evil Magic Items) and you'll avoid all of the wasted words and bullshit that fill up the majority of this chapter. 

Chapter 7 is better that it's counterpart in the Book of Vile Darkness but I could live without most of this chapter. The exception to that statement comes from pages 138 - 149 where some of the coolest paragons reside. Love these guys and could easily see working them into a campaign without them dominating the story or even taking one iota of momentum away from the players (unlike the majority of the paragons in the chapter).

Chapter 8 is useless for the most part. There are essentially five good monsters in this entire chapter: the Crypt Warden (pg 167), the Guardinals (pg 173 - 175), the Hollyphant (pg 176), and the Rhek (pg 181). Of all these my favorite is the Guardinal, Ursinal (pg 175) which is just cool as all get out and well worth the slog through this chapter.

Seriously, the Ursinal is just too freaking cool.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Random Wizard is Asking Some Questions, I've Got Answers.

As always, I seem to be late to the party when it comes to answering a survey. To be honest I don't really care about how late I am, only that I'm there. You can find the original here.

(1). Race (Elf, Dwarf, Halfling) as a class? Yes or no?


In general I prefer to have the race separate from the class. Usually this is because there are some benefits for doing so, but even in cases where there is no mechanical benefit I like being able to talk about my elvish wizard or my dwarven cleric. I like the racial distinction in my game as it's one more way for my character to be differentiated.


Of course we have souls!

(2). Do demi-humans have souls?


I believe that all sentient beings have souls outside of my game so it should not come as too great a surprise to find out that I feel the same about them in my game. 



(3). Ascending or descending armor class?


I prefer the ascending armor class for its ease with new players. Descending armor classes tend to take a bit of time to adjust to when you're first learning about armor classes; and with the game being so difficult to learn anything that makes the process simpler for new players is some thing that I'm very much in favor of doing.

(4). Demi-human level limits?


I don't in general like level limits, but I have no problem with running a system as it was originally written. 


(5). Should thief be a class?


Yes, and I prefer the term thief to rogue and its analogous classes from third and fourth edition. 

(6). Do characters get non-weapon skills?


I don't really like skills period. I've found that the use of skills tends to limit a player's ability to think on their feet. Forget that bull, use ability checks instead.

(7). Are magic-users more powerful than fighters (and, if yes, what level do they take the lead)?


In second edition magic-users became ungodly powerful once they could cast eighth level spells, but in the third era, where I tend to play most often, magic-users are only as powerful as the player. A smart 20th level fighter can still kill a 20th level wizard without too much effort. It all depends on how you build the characters and how you play. In fourth edition all the classes are essentially the same from first level on.

(8). Do you use alignment languages?


I have. 

I prefer to use the alignment languages along the Law/Neutral/Chaos axis as my games tend to borrow heavily from the Warhammer Fantasy Role Play storyline. Though there have been occasions when I use the full nine alignment languages but it tends to just over complicate the games language mechanics and that blows for everybody.


(9). XP for gold, or XP for objectives (thieves disarming traps, etc...)?


I tend to award experience points for both treasure and objectives, as well as, role playing, inventive thinking, and inventive solutions to problems.

(10). Which is the best edition; ODD, Holmes, Moldvay, Mentzer, Rules Cyclopedia, 1E ADD, 2E ADD, 3E ADD, 4E ADD, Next ?


My personal favorite that I have played is third era, but I really like Advanced and Second too. Fourth was okay but I didn't get to do more than kick the tires. 


Bonus Question: Unified XP level tables or individual XP level tables for each class?


Personally I like the Unified experience level tables as opposed to the individual tables, but I'm fine with each. 

The Book of Exalted Deeds: Part Two, In Which We Follow the Straight and Narrow


Since this series began we've looked at the definitions of good, being good and their implications on Lawful Good, Neutral Good, and Chaotic Good. Today we move on toward the Straight and Narrow Way.
When do good ends justify evil means to achieve them? Is it morally acceptable, for example, to torture an evil captive in order to extract vital information that can prevent the death of thousands of innocents? Any good character shudders at the thought of committing torture, but the goal of preventing thousand of deaths is undeniably a virtuous one, and a neutral character might easily consider the use of torture in such a circumstance. With evil acts on a smaller scale, even the most virtuous characters can find themselves tempted to agree that a very good end justifies a mildly evil means. Is it acceptable to tell a small lie in order to prevent a minor catastrophe? A large catastrophe? A world-shattering catastrophe?

In the D&D universe, the fundamental answer is no, an evil act is an evil act no matter what good result it may achieve . . . (pg 9)

Here is where we run up against some of Monte Cook's work in the Book of Vile Darkness. Monte denoted lying as an always evil act. I would contend that lying is not an evil act in and of itself. Think about the lies you tell every day: you're losing weight; you look good in those jeans dear; I must have shrunk those clothes dear; and so on, and so on.

There are lots of lies that are a natural extension of being alive. Think back on your memories and recall something that matters more to you than anything else. Now write it down and ask some one else who was there to write about the same event and compare. I'll bet that you'll find that you're not as brave or wonderful as you remember. That there were people there you don't remember and that there were entire chains of events that you've forgotten. But in your memory, where you've been lying to yourself, things are as you recall. You were brave and everything was wonderful.

Now why do we tell these lies?

According to many the reason for such lies is a result of our ability to cope with the world. We lie to ourselves about horrible events in our past so that they don't hurt as much. We lie about events where we were scared and powerless making ourselves brave and powerful so that we can live with the little and big tragedies of our lives. These lies help us to survive and are necessary for our psychic well-being.

So do I think that it's okay to tell a lie to avoid a catastrophe? Ab-so-fucking-lutely.

Now in regard to torture I find no fault in their logic. Torture isn't a part of our natural coping mechanisms and is an act that rarely gives accurate information, and that harms both the torturer and tortured. So yeah, torture always bad, lying not so much.

More:
Some good characters might view a situation where an evil act is required to avert a catastrophic evil as a form of martyrdom: "I can save a thousand innocent lives by sacrificing my purity." For some, that is a sacrifice worth making, just as they would not hesitate to sacrifice their lives for the same cause. After all, it would simply be selfish to let innocents die so a character can hang on to her exalted feats.

Unfortunately, this view is ultimately misguided. This line of thinking treats the purity of the good character's soul as a commodity (like her exalted feats) that she can just give up or sacrifice like any other possession.  In fact, when an otherwise good character decides to commit an evil act, the effects are larger than the individual character. What the character sees as a personal sacrifice is actually a shift in the universal balance of power between good and evil, in evil's favor. The consequences of that single evil act, no matter how small, extend far beyond the single act and involve a loss to more than just the character doing the deed. Thus it is not a personal sacrifice, but a concession to evil, and thus unconscionable . . . (pg 9)
Wow, what a mess of pressure on your every decision. Remember we're still working under the lines of Monte Cook's Evil Acts which defines everything from mundane every day lies to simple greed as objectively evil. So every day you, by just being a human being, are titling the scales of good and evil solidly to the side of evil.

Fuck no.

I'm with them when it comes to the though process that you can not trade your moral 'purity' for the lives of innocents as your 'purity' is not a quantity that can be traded like cows and gold. But the idea that every act is important in this war between good and evil creates a situation where a conscientious character can not act at all, and that just sucks.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Book of Exalted Deeds: Part One, Where Our Moral Code is Lost in the Weeds.


--------------------------------

Unlike the Book of Vile Darkness the Book of Exalted Deeds is designed for the players. It's supposed to provide a narrative goal for players the world over in how to strive towards being good. It provides feats, prestige classes, weapons, artifacts, monsters and a grouping of variant rules.

In many regards it ultimately fails because of the underpinning of logic that is used in defining what is good, and what it meas to be good. 
Being good requires a certain quality of temperament, the presence of virtues that spur a character, not just to avoid evil or its appearance, but to actively promote good . . . Good implies altruism, respect for life, and a concern for the dignity of sentient beings. Good characters make personal sacrifices to help others . . . Good is not nice, polite, well mannered, prudish, self-righteous, or naive, though good-aligned characters might be some of those things. Good is the awesome holy energy that radiates from the celestial planes and crushes evil. Good is selfless, just, hopeful, benevolent, and righteous . . . (pg 5)
To put these definitions in a simpler manner to be good it's not enough to act in a manner that does not negatively impact the rest of the world you have to actively engage the world and attempt combat the forces of evil. Good itself is described through implications that collectively are righteous but they create a very narrow definition. If a person is good they are charitable, they hold a respect for all life - which means that they don't actively attempt to take the life of even evil creatures, and they only observe any sense of righteousness for sentient beings (a tricky word in and of itself). 

Now this definition of good, which is incredibly restrictive, is supposed to be observed by anyone who puts good in their alignment choice; and that's a problem. If you hold that definition of good then you have three alignments (Lawful Good, Neutral Good, and Chaotic Good) that most players can not use. 

The book attempts to mollify the situation by stating that ". . .  the standards expected of good characters in D&D, especially those who lay claim to exalted status, bear much more similarity to modern sensibilities about justice, equality, and respect for life than to the actual medieval world that D&D is loosely based on, and that is quite intentional . . ." (pg 11). 

This is a huge step away from those initial definitions of good and of being good - which is very nice. But in doing so it begs the question what happened to those alignments
Lawful Good characters possess a sense of discipline, honor, and community that other good characters do not necessarily share. Lawful good characters are members of monastic or knightly orders, church hierarchies, or organizations devoted to righteous causes. They believe that morality can be legislated, and promote the establishment of just societies whose laws and customs inculcate (instill) good behavior in their citizens. Lawful good adventures fight evil knowing that they have the support of legal systems behind them: they are bringing criminals to justice as well as opposing evil.

In an evil culture or one that tolerates evil, lawful good characters are in a difficult situation. On the one hand, they abhor evil and cannot stand to see it institutionalized. On the other hand, they believe in legitimate authority and will not overthrow a kingdom because of evil practices within it. Lawful good characters usually try to work to change flawed social structures from within, using whatever political power is available to them rather than toppling those structures by force (pg 12).
So lawful good is the same as those assholes who try to legislate away a woman's right to choose and the right of a gay man and woman to be counted as human beings because their religious texts tell them those things are bad?

I think not.  

And at some point along the way I am sure that I am going to find a series of books on what it means to be lawful and chaotic; and when that day comes I'll finally understand why the fuck it is that lawful characters are just supposed to lay down to any old law they come across. Until that day I'm going to follow the teachings of John Rawls the dominant voice in modern theories of politics and justice. According to Rawls an unjust law is one that must be counteracted through the courts, through civil disobedience, and through the legislature. To follow the unjust law is to, in effect, legitimize it. With that as my understanding of the modern sensibility when it comes to laws it makes no sense what so ever to expect a lawful good character to roll over to an unjust law.

Just one more bone: why the fuck does every lawful good character have to belong to some organization.
Chaotic Good characters are strong-willed individualists who tolerate no oppression, even in the name of the common good. They usually work alone or in loose bands, rather than as part of some organization or hierarchy. They have no confidence in the ability of laws and social mores to train people in good behavior. Indeed, they have seen all too often how people hide behind rules and laws as an excuse for evil or at lest irresponsible acts. While promoting a legal system that places few restrictions on individual freedom, chaotic good individuals look to other forces - religion, philosophy, or community, for example - to encourage good behavior and punish evil. Chaotic good adventurers fight evil because it's evil, not because it's illegal. 

In societies where evil practices are tolerated, chaotic good characters are the most likely rebels, and they have few hesitations about overthrowing the existing order if it means eliminating those evils (pg 12).
So chaotic good characters are Che Guevara and Abbie Hoffman? Great. Now I have to deal with a bunch of beret wearing hippies at my gaming table.

At least this is closer to something that I can tolerate.
Neutral Good characters occupy an indistinct middle ground. they espouse the ideals of good and none other. As a rule, they don't care whether good is imposed through laws and customs or encouraged by temples and philosophers; they simply want goodness to flourish. Legislating morality sometimes works, and is good as far as it goes. When lawful good societies begin legislating every detail of their citizens' lives, however, passing laws on subject that have no bearing on good and evil, the neutral good citizen become impatient. They support law when it promotes good, but not law for its own sake. Similarly, they like the idea of personal freedom, but they're not sure everyone should have it: too much freedom gives evildoers too much room to prosper. Like chaotic good adventurers, neutral good ones fight evil because it's evil, but it certainly doesn't hurt to have the backing of legal authority whenever possible. 

Neutral good characters in societies that tolerate evil resist evil to the extent they can, without actively working to overthrow the government. They protest injustice, sometimes engaging in civil disobedience since unjust laws are useless and not binding in their view (pg 12).
I hate this definition in so many ways. It would be so much better if it were to read as follows: A neutral good character is your average person who attempts to do the best they can in the world. Sometimes they're selfish, but more often than not they try to do the best they can for those around them and their community. 

An Introduction to the Book of Exalted Deeds

All of them, Bus, Neverwas, Poot, Thief 1 and 2, Laughing Boy, Kid Icarus, Genius, Mamma's Boy and Baby Momma, had been waiting on the BIG adventure to start. The Opportunist was getting ready to run the World's Largest Dungeon. He had picked this group deliberately avoiding the most dangerous coalition of our gaming community.

That isn't to say that the other players weren't good players. In truth Thief 1 and 2 were, on occasion, very good players but they were easily frustrated and rarely played well with anyone else. The Genius was a quick study but he had to learn the hard way before he got the story right. Laughing Boy and Momma's Boy were too concerned with proving how unique and wonderful they were to remember to take care of the group. The Bus was a good player; however, at the time he was into a really idiosyncratic wizard that he took from campaign to campaign and remade time and again no matter how often the silly thing died. The Neverwas could talk a good game, and dominate a game when there were subordinate personalities, but to follow anything he said was sure to result in your having to roll up a new character. Baby Mamma had just learned to play; she would later become quite good but at that time not so much. That left Poot and Kid Icarus as the only viable faction in the group.

They were a part of our group. Poot was a hell of a warrior, a damned fine wizard, and in a pinch could be a fashionable rogue. Kid Icarus favored druids and inventive solutions to everyday problems. He was our outside man and thought of the solution to problems that the rest of us had not time or inclination to find: in a word he was indispensable to any overwhelming situation. The Master Planner ran a ranger and could hit any target from three different directions before they knew what was happening. Step-up was the rogue - not a rogue, the rogue. He ran his rogues with an almost preternatural ability to find every trap and every hidden enemy, and on more than one occasion he had saved our entire group. Biggboy was either a barbarian who enjoyed standing at the front, or the best healing cleric I've ever had the pleasure of grouping with. Then there was me, I played either the fighter who held the line or a cleric that protected the flank. When we were together there were few situations that could slow our group and we had worked together for long enough that we never had those awkward inter-party breakups that plague newer groupings.

The Master Planner, Step-up, Biggboy, and I were left off the invite list. This was done, as the Opportunist would later tell me, "Because I really wanted to explore the dynamics within a dysfunctional group when confronted with a killer dungeon."

"I'm assuming since they each went through five characters the first night that you found your answer."

"Not really."

"And the reason we can't play?"

"Well, I'd invite you guys but it would really throw off the dynamic I'm looking for. And the group is really starting to develop this synergy that only comes about through these sort of intense emotional situations."

"Bullshit."

------------------------------

Like my time trying to join in with the World's Largest Dungeon reading the Book of Exalted Deeds has been a bit like tilting at windmills. I could never get into the game and the Book of Exalted Deeds just frustrated the hell out of me.

I grew frustrated with the first five pages and would throw the damnable thing across the room unwilling to waste my time with the fucked logic and untenable moral positions that it would have me and my players put ourselves in. Yet seeing as how I've actually spent the time reading the Book of Vile Darkness I might as well read this companion volume.

Maybe it'll be better than its brother, but fuck if I can see how. 

Saturday, July 27, 2013

The Book of Vile Darkness: Post Game Report



The Book of Vile Darkness has been a disappointment on so many levels. The logic throughout the majority of the book is so corrupted by false premises and assumptions that it has created a world where there are no good guys and for a game built on heroes that is simply untenable. The gods are mostly useless and often so poorly written that it makes my head spin. The feats are either game breaking, redundant, or just an awful mess. The majority of the spells are reworkings of previously existing material (I'm looking at you No Light). The monsters are, again, from mostly previously existing material. And even Chapter 7 Lords of Evil, which is the most interesting chapter in the entire book, is nothing more than a re-hash of previously published material.

I can not understand why anyone would ever recommend purchasing this book after they've read it. Instead you're far better off answering the following questions and building your campaign's evil forces around them.

1.) Who are the major evil powers in your campaign?

2.) What makes them evil?

3.) Who and what works for them?

4.) What are their long term plans for your campaign world?

5.) Who or what is the most powerful evil entity in your campaign?

6.) What are their long term plans for your world?

----------------------------------

Now if you're looking to find some really good evil gods to pepper into your campaign then you should look at the Monster Mythology. This book has some amazingly detailed gods that can be slipped in most anywhere and that are fully compatible with most any Dungeons and Dragons style campaign. 

Friday, July 26, 2013

The Book of Vile Darkness: Part What the . . .


After wading through the asinine logic in the last entry I've found the first interesting section of the book: Evil Acts. Ideally this section would feature a mechanic to help discern a person's alignment on the good to evil axis. Unfortunately what we get is a list of acts that Monte Cook feels are evil in a black and white world; as usual, he uses a system of faulty premises to compile the list and includes some acts that are not evil, such as greed, which he assumes is so evil that ". . . it hardly seems worth mentioning . . ." (pg 9). Really?

Fuck me running Monte.

For a man who has been involved in the industry for 14 years when this book was published your logic about objective evil is coming out like a first year philosophy hack. Greed isn't intrinsically evil. But far more importantly, by this logic every adventurer who steps outside his door in search of loot is committing an evil act by simply following that great adventuring motto: "Save the girl, slay the dragon, loot the treasure."

Anyway, next we come to Monte's list of evil fetishes and addictions. Here he equates alcoholism, drug addiction with cannibalism and psychopathy. To be perfectly honest this list is such a statement on his own hang ups about sex and social mores that I really can't be bothered with it. Suffice it to say that the list should be shorted from eight items to five: cannibalism, sadism, psychopathy, necrophilia, and bestiality (though the example he uses when it comes to bestiality really isn't evil it's just misdirected love created by lycanthropy).

The next section is titled Vile Gods, save your time and skip this section as they're so poorly crafted that you could come up with better dark gods on the fly.

Of the Vile Races and Cultures presented in the book I can not honestly give an answer for why he wasted his time. The Vashar have an okay story but really there isn't a place for them in most games as they're just evil humans. Why he chose to make them a race instead of a nation I'll never understand. And the Jerren are just as bad. Save yourself the headache of introducing them as a separate race and run them as a nation. You'll get far more millage out of them.  

The villain section presents some broad strokes that if you had never read a book or seen a movie might be useful for you, otherwise skip.

The Malign Sites (pg. 21-22) are worth reading though Monte never went far enough with them. There is a clear influence of Warhammer Fantasy Role Play at work here and my suggestion would be to go to the original source instead of fooling with this derivative slag.

Now the section on possession is actually pretty neat. Far too many game mechanics at play here (more the system's fault I think than Monte's) but the main kernel of the idea is good and the section is worth reading. I'm using the main crux and dropping the rest (really, the possessed creature gets a save every god damned round? How are you ever supposed to set up interesting situations like that?).

The Sacrifice rules and reward system are complete crap.

The section on Curses is going into my game -- especially the Alternative Curses (pg 28).

The Diseases are okay though again you can see the influence of Warhammer Fantasy Role Play with things such as Warp Touch (pg 31).

It is at this point that we come to one of the biggest missed opportunity for some amazing game fodder in the Other Aspects of Evil section. Here Monte pulls from a variety of sources and screws them all up. The Calling (pg 32) would be far better if it were a single powerful evil creature began to pull all the other evil creatures to it and lead a crusade against the good nations of the world - hell you're already emulating Warhammer throughout the rest of the book you might as well pull the best stuff too. Dark Speech and Dark Chant are forced though you can adjust them to make them work for you if you've the time. Hivemind (pg 34) would be far better if it weren't just vermin.

The Lingering Effects of Evil (pg 35) section is worthless, Heroes of Horror did it far better and without anywhere near the page count.

When it comes to Chapter 3 the only part worth reading is pages 41 - 46 starting with the section tilted Drugs. Otherwise this chapter is mostly a waste.

Chapter 4 is a waste of ink.

Chapter 5 has some interesting prestige classes but you don't really need them in your game unless you're running an evil campaign.

In Chapter 6 read only pages 117-122 starting with the section titled Artifacts. Anything else in this section should be set on fire and ignored as it's predicated on his asinine logic. But if you press me to find some good spells in the previous pages of Chapter 6, I can only recommend the following spells: Aberrate (pg 84), Bestow Greater Curse (pg 85), Charnel Fire (87), Consume Likeness (pg 89), and Eternity of Torture (pg 93). There are some other spells that might tempt you to use them but most of this section is just filler (No Light [pg 100], really Monte? Why not just use fucking Darkness).

Chapter 7 is worth reading from beginning to end. There are a plethora of vile lords of darkness and evil that you can set up as major villains in your campaign. Keep in mind that most of this section is a rehash of previous material publish on the Demon Lords and Arch-devils so don't expect anything that will make this a must own.

Chapter 8: I'm not a huge fan. There are some interesting monsters sprinkled in here and there, but most of these guys just come across as filler.

At the very end of the book we get an appendix which is essentially about running an evil campaign. Now let me tell you that if you're going to be playing in the world Monte Cook created using his fucked up logic then any party that isn't questing to eradicate evil is already an evil party in the view of this book. So it should come as no surprise to find that the appendix recommends you run an evil party essentially as you would a good party.

Fuck no.

Just.
         Fuck.
                       No.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Book of Vile Darkness: Part One


Not half as good as Heroes of Horror
The Book of Vile Darkness begins by warning the reader to "Hide this book! . . . [The] Book of Vile Darkness is for Dungeon Masters (DMs) only. Just as you would keep the contents of a published adventure to yourself, restrict your players' access to this book as well. Don't let them know what's in store for their characters . . ." (pg 4). I wish that I could tell you that the book is going to live up to such a wonderful little addendum, but I have a feeling that will not be the case. Still, let's proceed.

The book properly begins by addressing the nature of evil. There are two type of evil: Objective and Relative. The Objective view holds that good, neutral, and evil are clearly defined traits and that an act, person, or what-have-you can clearly be put into one of these three categories. The Relative view, on the other hand, holds that good, neutral, and evil are subjective to the individual and the culture in which the act is committed. It further holds that a valuation of the act from an outside observer is not possible as the observer is subject to their own social mores and would not be capable of accurately determining the nature of the act. As we are playing a game in which we are able to use magic to determine another's alignment and to protect ourselves from people of the opposite alignment the book would like you to use the Objective version of evil. I am fine with using the Objective version of evil as relativism is a real pain in the ass in terms of the game. I understand its value in real life, but it can get fucked when it comes to my game.

Now on page six we come to the first major problem this book has: it can not value good and evil correctly. Allow me to quote the book and then I'll explain.
. . . Consider the paladin Zophas. When climbing to the very top of a hill of loose rocks to get away from some owlbears, he triggers a rockslide that buries the owlbears and continues down the hill, crushing a hut full of commoners. Is Zophas an evil murderer who must suddenly lose his lawful good alignment? No, although Zophas might still feel guilt and responsibility . . . But what if Zophas' friend Shurrin said, "Don't climb up there, Zophas! You might start a rockslide that will crush the hut!" Zophas goes anyway. Now is it evil? Probably. Zophas was either carelessly endangering the commoners or so overconfident of his climbing prowess that he acted out of hubris. At this point, Zophas isn't exactly a murderer, but he should probably lose his paladin abilities until he receives an atonement spell or otherwise makes amends.

If Zophas can clearly see the danger of the rockslide but climbs up anyway because he wants to get away from the owlbears, that's clearly evil. In a world of black-and-white distinctions between good and evil, killing innocents to save yourself is an evil act. Sacrificing yourself for the good of others is a good act. It's a high standard, but that's the way it is . . .

Sometimes, however . .  . [the] categories . . . [of accidental acts, reckless acts, and negligent acts] are insufficient to determine evil intent. You are free to judge an act in the context of other actions . . . A maniac puts poison in a town's water supply, believing (wrongly!) that all of the people in the town are demons. Is that evil? Yes. A glabrezu convinces a good character that the townsfolk are all fiends that must be destroyed, so the character pours poison into the town's water supply. Is that evil? Probably not - at least, not in the context of the rest of the character's actions and the circumstances involved. Still, good characters shouldn't commit even remotely questionable acts on a large scale unless they're absolutely sure there's no other way to succeed . . . But let's make it even more complicated. Another character witnesses the good character about to put the poison in the town's drinking water. Is it evil for the witness to kill the poisoning character in order to stop him? No. Again, the intent isn't evil, and the context makes such an act preferable to the alternative. Standing by while a mass murder occurs - the other choice the witness has - is far more evil than preventing the poisoning . . . (pg 6-7)
Let me begin with the situation involving Zophas and Shurrin: according to Monte if Shurrin warns Zophas that the slope might slide if he climbs it to get away from the owlbears, and Zophas ignores his warning, then Zophas has probably committed an evil act because innocents will have died as an indirect result of his direct action.

To quote one of my favorite philosophy professors, bullshit.

Zophas can only be responsible for his own actions and not for every subsequent reaction to his actions. If we break down the event into its parts we find that the act of escaping from the owlbears is not evil. Climbing the hillside is not evil. Ignoring Shurrin's warning is not evil. The resulting rockslide is not evil. The death of innocents in the hut is not evil, tragic yes, but not an evil act. Evil has intent behind it. An accident has no intent behind it and therefore cannot be an evil act.

Monte, however, is not done with our paladin. He goes on to say that " . . . If Zophas can clearly see the danger of the rockslide but climbs up anyway because he wants to get away from the owlbears, that's clearly evil. In a world of black-and-white distinctions between good and evil, killing innocents to save yourself is an evil act. Sacrificing yourself for the good of others is a good act. It's a high standard, but that's the way it is . . ." (pg 6).

What asinine logic!

Even if Zophas can clearly see the potential for danger there is nothing wrong with him taking the chance to save his own life as prior to him actually climbing the hillside as there is no way for him to know if the slide will occur or not. Yet Monte would have us believe that an accident is the same as an intentional act. For in the ruling on the scenario Zophas is as guilty of committing an evil act as if he had poisoned the family in the hut to use them as bait for the owlbears.

The ruling is wrong and the logic is bankrupt.

Let's move on and look more closely at the maniac and the player character.

. . . A maniac puts poison in a town's water supply, believing (wrongly!) that all of the people in the town are demons. Is that evil? Yes. A glabrezu convinces a good character that the townsfolk are all fiends that must be destroyed, so the character pours poison into the town's water supply. Is that evil? Probably not . . . (pg 6)
In this situation Monte would like us to believe that the maniac is guilty essentially because he is a non-player character while the player character is innocent because there are mitigating circumstances behind his action.
Seriously?

Both examples are convinced that the people in town are demons, the difference is that in the first example the character is mislead by his own mind while in the second he is mislead by a evil entity. Essentially there is no difference between the two acts. So why then would one be evil and one not?

The answer, quite simply, is that there is no difference between the acts: both are evil.

Before I move on let's look at the last part of this scenario:
. . . let's make it even more complicated. Another character witnesses the good character about to put the poison in the town's drinking water. Is it evil for the witness to kill the poisoning character in order to stop him? No. Again, the intent isn't evil, and the context makes such an act preferable to the alternative. Standing by while a mass murder occurs - the other choice the witness has - is far more evil than preventing the poisoning . . . (pg 6-7)
Standing by while a mass murder occurs is not evil, it's cowardice. Participating in the act - getting the poison, opening the well, encouraging the character to pour the poison - those are evil acts. Not acting in a situation where your help is needed because you're unsure of what to do or afraid to interfere is not evil. It's sad, pathetic and most probably an act of a coward, but it is not an evil act.

NEW D&D SURVEY UP AND IT'S ALL ABOUT SETTINGS! GO GREYHAWK GO!

The new D&D survey has gone live and it's mostly about new settings for the game to explore. GET YOUR GREYHAWK VOTES IN NOW KIDS! ...