Thursday, October 29, 2015

Tiamat is Going Down . . . Wait, That Came Out Wrong.

Back when Fifth Edition first launched I order the Horde of the Dragon Queen (HDQ) with the intention of running it and then plunging straight into the Rise of Tiamat but life kind of got in the way. We moved, the little boy started day care, I got a new job, my old gaming group could never get together regularly because we're all adults now and time is a jerk that likes to punch your 'wants' right in the gonads. Still, I don't like missing out on things that I've wanted to do that are within my power to accomplish; so I ordered the Rise of Tiamat (RoT)and the accompanying DM Screen for my birthday.

I've already been making notes on the first part of the two adventures to run for the group. HDQ seems to be a pretty fun start, what with the attack on the town and all that, so I'm really looking forward to running it. I know there are some issues with the module (see Horde of the Dragon Queen [5e] from tenfootpole.org for more) but there's nothing there that I find really all that big of a deal because I tend to adjust adventures towards the tastes of my players and their individual play styles so I wasn't going to run it exactly as written from the get go. 

Maybe I'm a little too excited because I decided to make a cover for it that I'll be using for the campaign. I could have gone with the traditional look of Tiamat in her Dragon form that graces the cover of RoT but that's kind of been done a lot in our hobby recently with her appearances in Fourth and now Fifth. So instead I decided to in a direction that makes me kind of excited to see where it goes. A bit of trash talk; a bit of a wild woman on the cover; a whole lot of the way that I play in how it comes across.



What do you think?


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Sunday, October 25, 2015

Gaming Without a Net


This afternoon was a lot of fun, kids. It started off with my friend Z teaching me how to play Magic: the Gathering (totally going to be playing more of this in the future), followed by a few rounds of Are You a Werewolf (which I recommend), and then glorious D&D. This game of D&D was unusual for me in that I was playing with three players I had never played D&D with before and none of my regular players were there. What's more is that two of the players were relatively new and the third had never played before. Talk about wanting to do a good job for them! I mean if I fuck this up they might not want to play with me again (which would totally suck a whole bag of dicks) and the new player might never want to touch the dice again. 

So I throw them into my wheelhouse: Greyhawk. I avoid putting them into Dyvers or Greyhawk city right off the bat since that tends to take away their incentive to explore and the game is always more fun in my opinion when you're getting to do and see new things. We start in the state of Furyondy, in the city of Libemen (which I kept calling Lieberman so that's what it's called now). Anyway, since I had never gamed with them it was hard to really know what they were into so I offered them the opportunity to kind of do their own thing or go straight to a dungeon. They chose dungeon because these kids rock.  Now I've got them at the dungeon and it's clear that they're not really sure where to go so I throw a kobold at them expecting them to kill him fairly quickly. Not only do they not kill Thomas the Kobold but they talk to him and even attempt to find a way to pay him for entry into the dungeon. 

To say I was shocked is to put things mildly. Most of my old groups would have just killed the kobold; and then there are some of them that would have killed him and used his head as a hat (Shout out to John!). It was clear that I would have to adjust my strategy early with these guys and provide them with lots of opportunities to talk while still giving them the option to stop the words and unleash hell on these imaginary monsters. So I figured that I'd try something new with them since they were something new for me. 

Over the last few years I've toyed with the idea of a dungeon casino and this afternoon seemed like a great time to test it out; so I introduced them to the dungeon casino of Roth-Ron-Dar (said with a flourish of the arms). The idea of Roth-Ron-Dar was to provide the players with an environment that had lots of opportunities for mischief. There was gambling, creepy robotic waiters; a den of depravity that would have made Sodom and Gomorrah say, "Maybe you're taking things too far;" a steam room with ogres and trolls wearing tiny towels; rampaging, undead warriors; passage into the Underdark; and a devil named Bo-bob-bildering who wanted a Shadow Dragon for his lobby. Along every step of Roth-Ron-Dar I kept expecting them to fight someone, but they surprised me as it never happened, and as long as they had fun that's fine. 

See that's the thing that's most important when you're playing D&D: that everyone is having fun; and it's the thing that I worry most about when I play - and the thing I agonize over after it all done. Did I give them enough options? Did they have fun? Did they laugh enough? Do they want to play with me again now that we're done? Was it too weird for them? Not weird enough? Did I hold their hands too much and make them feel like I was babying them? Did I leave them out in the wind too often? Did they fight too much? Are the combats going too long? Or was there too little combat? Do the enemies feel like they're a challenge or does it all feel too easy? Insecurities abound in my skull kids. 

Anyway, hopefully next time we play Biggboy can join us because he needs to have more fun and these cats are our kind of people.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

The Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide Releases Nov 3; So Who Has the Best Deal?

I think that it's fairly safe to say that the Sword Coast has been the dominant region for adventure in the Forgotten Realms since the new edition of Dungeons & Dragons launched. We've been racing up and down the Sword Coast since hippies were getting murdered in Baldur's Gate to bring back 'dead' gods and now we're still there thwarting a group of raging Demon Lords in the latest adventure, Rage of Demons. So considering that we've all been spending a considerable amount of time hiking our way from one end of the Sword Coast to the other in an effort to kick some serious bad guy ass I've got to ask: how much do you actually know about the Sword Coast?

Before this edition of D&D I didn't spend very much time exploring the Forgotten Realms. I had read a few articles in Dragon magazine over the years but nothing really struck me as all that exciting. Then I played Murder in Baldur's Gate and I've kind of been enjoying the hell out of the Realms since; but I couldn't say that my knowledge of the setting is any deeper than the information presented in the modules I've been running. Which is why I'm actually pretty excited about the upcoming release, the Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide.


My excitement, though, doesn't get in the way of my worrying about the state of my wallet because I'll be damned if I pay full price for anything when there's a deal to be had. So before I place my pre-order for the Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide I decided to go out and find who was offering the best deal. Here's the results; hopefully it'll help some of you out too (Oh, and you can click on the Current Price link of each to go directly to their pre-order page).
 
Amazon

List Price: $39.95
Savings: $13.90 (35%)

Barnes & Noble
List Price: $39.95
Savings: $13.64 (34%)

Books-A-Million
List Price: $39.95
Savings: NO SAVINGS

Walmart
List Price: $39.95
Current Price: NOT CURRENTLY LISTED
Savings: N/A

!ndigo
List Price: $50.95
Savings: $5.61  (11%)

Thursday, October 15, 2015

The Child Thief of Greyhawk, Murq the Wizard



Last night I was reading the Glossography for the Guide to the World of Greyhawk when I ran across a villain that actually made me catch my breath.
". . . Fifteen years ago, the city of Greyhawk . . .  was plagued by a series of strange disappearances among the youth of the noble families. The children simply disappeared at night, never to be seen again, though sometimes they were replaced by simulacrums that committed vile blasphemies and had to be destroyed. After investigation both magical and mundane, the city magistrate determined that the wizard Murq was behind these awful outrages. (His exact purpose was never ascertained.) When a grim and determined group of high level guardsmen was sent to apprehend Murq, he had already fled, leaving behind only another simulacrum that was killed vowing vengeance upon the magistrate and the city.

The magician Murq and his outrages have almost been forgotten. Recently, however, the respected magistrate’s sleep has been invaded by evil dreams. In these nightmares, mad Murq appears surrounded by a cold fen, threatening the magistrate and the city with doom. He boasts of having found an ancient volume of great power, whose secrets are enabling the magic-user to create a mist golem. This creature, Murq claims, can slay others, but cannot itself be slain. When the stars are right, the golem shall be finished. Then it shall be sent to kill; first the magistrate, then anyone it can find, until everyone is slain or driven out of the city . . ." (Gygax, pg 26)
The abduction of a child is one of the most terrifying things imaginable for any parent and here is Murq, the child-thief of Greyhawk. Think about him for a minute. He comes in the night after you've put your children to bed and takes them away, never to be seen again. Not only does he take away everything that really matters in your life in that moment but if you're really unlucky he leaves you a present that looks just like your child. Only in the place of your child is an abomination before the gods.

It's hard to imagine what act Murq could have the Simulacrum perform that be so vile that it must be destroyed. Did he have them simply doing their best impressions of the Exorcist? Or did he have them begin summoning demons from the abyss into their bedrooms when their parents entered? Was he trying to bring one of the Demon Lords into the heart of aristocratic Greyhawk?

Murq is a perplexing monster in the setting. On the one hand he feels as though he could be just another serial killer hunting down and sacrificing children to vile gods; but what if there's more behind his actions? He's only attacking the nobility in this blurb. Could he an extension of the anarchists who murdered and rioted their way through the early 1900s and were popping back up in the 1960s and 1970s? Or is he just a nightmare given life in the world of Greyhawk?

No matter what his motivations the son of a bitch needs killing and I would have gleefully joined any party rushing his home and would have rushed headlong into his room hoping that my axe would be the one to sever his head from his dainty, little shoulders. But that wasn't how it ended for Murq because he got away and then he did got on the edge of doing something that terrifies every player in the game: he nearly created an unbeatable opponent. The mist golem he haunts the magistrate's dreams with is the sort of thing that no player in his right mind would ever allow to enter into the game's world - nor would any of us allow that technology to slip through our fingers if there's a chance that we might be able to send that bad boy against our enemies later in the game (hey we might be the good guys, but we're just not that good).

What happened to Murq? Did the players kill him? Did they save the kids? We wouldn't know the answer sixteen years when he would be mentioned in 1998's Greyhawk the Adventure Begins:
". .  . Hardly less notorious was the rogue wizard known as Murq, who, in 561 CY, kidnapped two-score children of Greyhawk’s noble families and fled the city. The fate of the children was never determined, though a group of adventurers (subtly guided by the Circle of Eight) tracked down Murq in the far north and, through a magical construct, prevented him from attacking the city again. The fate of Murq and the children was never revealed to the public . . ." (Moore, 61)
So the answer is we don't know for sure but there is a possibility that appeared in Murq's final appearance two years later in the article Greyhawk Grimoires from Dragon Magazine #269:
". . . A search of Murq’s abode offered no insight into his motives for the kidnappings, nor what became of the children (though it was frequently postulated that they had been sacrificed to some nefarious deity), Furthermore, investigators found nothing that could be used to track down the wizard. Indeed, Murq had disappeared without a trace, just as his victims had done . . ." (Mullin, pg 64)
It's obvious that the conclusion that the Mullin reached is that he children were sacrificed to some dark god but I have this crazy theory that Murq was actually playing with powers far deadlier for Greyhawk than just some distant god that barely notices some robed loser sacrificing children in their name. No, I think that Murq was trying to bring in one of the Demon Lords in a bid to take over Greyhawk. Which one?

My money's on Franz-Urb'luu.



Works Cited
Gygax, Gary. A Glossography for the Guide to the World of Greyhawk. TSR, Inc. USA: 1983. PRINT pg. 26

Moore, Roger E. Greyhawk the Adventure Begins. TSR, Inc. USA: 1998. PRINT 61.

Mullin, Robert S. “Greyhawk Grimoires” Dragon Magazine March 2000: 64, 66. PRINT


Buy the Books Mentioned Here

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Dyvers, Part 3: The Rejection of Your Values is the Core of Ours



As I've already mentioned in The City You Don't Remember, Remembers You Still the rivalry that Dyvers has with Greyhawk colors a lot of the way that the people of Dyvers see themselves and the way that they see the world, but there may be an underlying reason why they've been so willing to engage with Greyhawk  that goes a bit deeper. In the Living Greyhawk Gazetteer Dyvers' history begins as follows:
". . . Long a trade port, Dyvers was also the capital of Aerdy's Viceroyalty of Ferrond. In that role, it served as a welcome port to goods and travelers who braved the unexplored shores of the Nyr Dyv. The palace of the viceroy rivaled that of his colleagues in the west, and its domed central structure and austere stone towers have long been cited in travelogues as among the finest examples of Oeridian architecture.

By 254 CY, the degradation of the Great Kingdom had grown too profound for the lords of the west. In that seminal year, the heir to Viceroy Stinvri was proclaimed King Thrommel I. The Viceroyalty of Ferrond was no more. In its place stood a vast independent kingdom, Furyondy, with Dyvers as its cosmopolitan capital.

Dyvers had been the region's capital for more than 150 years. Despite the gradeur of the palace grounds and the long tradition, however, Thrommel and his newly installed court desired a grander seat for their new realm. A short time after the coronation, plans were drawn for a new capital, Chendl, far to the north. By 288 CY, the king had abandoned the "City of Sails" for his new seat of power, the meticulously crafted architectural wonder of Chendl . . ." (Holian, 41)
I like this bit of history in the steady progress of Dyvers from the city you never remember until you need to sell something (and can't get to Greyhawk), towards the city that you need in your life. It adds another layer into why the city would use the gigantic statues of lake monsters and why it would move away from the classical Oeridian architecture that characterized the Viceroyal's Palace and towards new innovations in architecture and art. The more I delve into this the more I see Dyvers clearly in my mind's eye as a place like Atlanta, Nashville, Memphis, and Charleston. A city that was rejected, put upon, and stuffed away to be forgotten by the rest of the world because they had moved in a new direction: cleaner lines, baroque art forms, and an expanding dependence on magic as the solution to all the world's problems. 

But not Dyvers. 

Dyvers is the counter-point and the center of the counter-culture in the world by the willing rejection of what everyone else proclaims as the standard. Instead the city has been forging its own path using the natural benefits that it was founded upon to bring everyone else along, kicking and screaming. Dyvers is where you'll find colleges, technocrats, and all manner of mechanical wonders. Dyvers isn't looking to bind it's people up in the stagnant guilds that dominate elsewhere; instead they're looking for innovations. They want people to make new technologies, submarines, and robots that can fight the lake monsters. They want to push the whole damned continent into a new direction that reshape the world in their image.

The rejection of what the rest of the world considers the standard for things has some odd consequences. As this passage from the Gazetteer notes:
". . . In recent years, Dyvers has gained the unfortunate reputation of being a good place to "get lost" - or, rather, to lose one's pursuers. After the Horde of Elemental Evil was routed at Emridy Meadows, some adherents to darkness who did not flee to the Wild Coast instead traveled north to Dyvers, bolstering the criminal element in the city. . . ." (Holian, 41)
Undoubtedly this is a narrow interpretation of what is happening in the city (the Gazetteer is named for Dyvers' rival after all). It would be far more accurate to state that some of those refugees from the Elemental Evil Horde joined the criminal underworld of Dyvers, BUT that the vast majority of those refugees have integrated themselves into the city as any others would. After all, the city of Dyvers isn't concerned with who you were before you came here - only with what you do once you're here.

Fuck yeah, Dyvers.



Works Cited

Holian, Gary; Erik Mona; Sean K Reynolds; and Frederick Weining. Living Greyhawk Gazetteer. USA: Wizards of the Coast, 2000. PRINT. pgs  41

Buy the Book Mentioned Here

Read the Whole Series
Part 3: The Rejection of Your Values is the Core of Ours

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

But Don't You Care About the Orc's Feelings?

The other night I was following some incoming traffic to the blog when I found a new forum that I hadn't explored before. It seems that several of the people there were taking exception to the idea that I don't believe that orcs are black people and that all the other monstrous creatures are just stand-ins for the various minorities found in the United States. To them it was manifestly true and my refusal to look deeper beyond the thinly veiled exterior of these creatures was inexcusable. Some people just love to project their issues on the rest of us.

Here's the truth of the matter: Dungeons & Dragons is a game of heroic fantasies and that means something other than a repetition of the real world and it's troubles in our games.
". . . Heroic fantasies are laid in an imaginary world - either long ago, or far into the future, or on another planet - where magic works, supernatural beings abound, and machinery does not exist. An adult fairy tale of this kind provides pure escape fiction. In such a world, gleaming cities raise their silver spires against the stars; sorcerers cast sinister spells from subterranean lairs; baleful spirits stalk crumbling ruins of immemorial antiquity; primeval monster crash through jungle thickets; and the fate of kingdoms is balanced on the blades of broadswords brandished by heroes of preternatural strength and valor. Men are mighty, women are beautiful, problems are simple, life is adventurous, and nobody has ever heard of inflation, the petroleum shortage, or atmospheric pollution . . . In other words, heroic fantasy sings of a world not as it is, but as it ought to be. Its aim is to entertain, not display the author's cleverness, nor to uplift the reader, nor to expose the shortcomings of the world we live in . . ." (Sprague de Camp, ix - x).
The world is simple in Dungeons & Dragons. The bad guys are bad because they are. It isn't a question of what terrible thing happened to them when they were children; or where their parents when wrong in raising them; or what their psychological underpinnings are: they're just terrible people. It's not that complicated. The monsters are evil because we're the good guys and fuck 'em because they're not us. 

Kane on the Golden Sea by Frank Frazetta
Look, I'll answer all the questions that get brought up most every time that I post something like this. 
  • We kill dragons and monsters because that's what heroes do.
  • We rescue princes and ride unicorns that shit rainbows because it's awesome.
  • We dive into our treasure piles like Scrooge McDuck because that's what sounds like a lot of fun. 
  • We play gay, straight, trans-gendered and every race that we want because fuck anyone who thinks that there's a restriction on our imaginations.
  • We have monks because Kung-fu movies are the shit and we don't give a damn about your culturally appropriate classes.
  • We spout catch phrases because Arnold Schwarzenegger made it cool and everyone wants that experience (haven't you watched Hot Fuzz?).
  • We do every stupidly exciting idea that pops into our heads and laugh our asses off when the dice comes up with a one because it's fun and that's why we're playing Dungeons & Dragons to begin with, Holmes.
  • We go into dungeons, underground cavers, forbidden tombs, mad scientists' lairs, vile sorcerers' towers, and every other unthinkable place because Doc Savage, James Bond, Doctor Who, Conan, and the Avengers said it was cool and we've been reading their books and watching their movies our whole lives.
  • We spout catch phrases from our favorite movies because their our favorites. Stop judging us for liking things you smug, hipster bastards.
  • We max our abilities because it's fun.
  • We gimp our characters because Man Rider is damned champion and everyone needs to have a character that fun in their lives. 
  • We argue about editions because it's the internet and we're all insecure about a hobby that is about as cool as stamp collecting. 
  • We make up rules because it's fun and our groups enjoy them.
Now that that's settled let's go play some D&D.



Works Cited

Sprague de Camp, L. Conan and the Spider God. Bantam Books. 1980. PRINT. pgs. ix - x

Monday, October 12, 2015

GREYHAWK FOR THE WINS KIDS!

Last night I was sipping whiskey and giving +Mike Bridges unwanted and unneeded advice on how to run a bard (because +Mark Van Vlack and I are unheralded geniuses) in a campaign where I'm pretty sure he was playing a Caviler - of course it was Call of Cthulhu so I may be mistaken. Anyway, on the third cocktail it occured to me that I hadn't made any new Greyhawk posters in a while. 

Let's fix that.






Oh, and here are some of the Dyvers covers I've been doing lately because that's what I do when I'm bored.



Check Out the Rest of the Greyhawk Poster Series

As always if you like these Greyhawk posters, or just enjoy making Mearls and Co. miserable by filling their twitter feeds with Greyhawk noise, send it to them. Send them your favorite cover and tell them I WANT MOAR GREYHAWKS! Don't let them think that the only people who need official products are the Forgotten Realms kids!
 
The Wizard Cats on Twitter (that I know about)
@Mike Mearls Co-designer of Fifth Edition and Ideas Man Extraordinaire
@Chris Perkins Dungeon Master to the Stars, Lead Story Manager, and more
@Jeremy Crawford Co-designer of Fifth Edition and Rules Guru
@Greg Bilsland Senior Producer for D&D
@Nathan Stewart Brand Director of Dungeons & Dragons
@Bart Carroll Producer of Wizards D&D website
@Greg Tito Communications Manager for D&D
@Trevor Kidd Master of Social Media, Wizards Guru

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Steady Boys, the Girls Have Cats and We're On Our Way to Greyhawk!

It's quiet over here because I'm sick with a head cold that I've been fighting with pseudoephedrine and hate. So let's direct that into a more constructive outlet. 


Right, now that I've done that I need to get back to work on that little Dyvers city project I've been working on . . . Perhaps tomorrow. After I've bought a box of wine and drank it. And then bought another one. You know, with that much wine I probably won't be doing much writing now that I think about it.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The D&D Guidebook, 3rd Edition Part 3: Styles of Play


There is an old argument against the Dungeons & Dragons that goes like this: "D&D is a game built around the idea that the players should largely engage in combative behavior without worrying about the 'story' of the session or campaign. The game emphasizes combat by rewarding players only for killing monsters and looting treasure, and not for accomplishing important moments for the character in the context of the game's larger story. Therefore it is not a game that anyone concerned with the idea that the world is more meaningful than the next walking experience point waiting to be felled should spend any time playing."

When 3e was published the argument became louder with many of its proponents posting on a wide array of forums decrying the way that this newly popular version of the game was being played. Too often, for them it seems, D&D players were gleefully killing Orcs, Dragons, and Trolls and too rarely talking about how the death of the Duke's daughter affected their character's emotional well-being. The 'murder-hobos' were decried for their lack of imagination and 3e was pointed to as the source of this murderous non-sense. "The game," they reasoned, "did not reward true creativity and only indulged in the baser instincts of its players - never challenging their moral understanding of the world."

They are, of course, full of shit.


D&D is a robust game that allows for a wide array of play styles from the aggressive play of the most notorious, bloodthirsty player to the deeply immersive explorations of what it means for a character to navigate the political intrigues of the free cities of Dyvers and Greyhawk. D&D is a game that reflects the play style of the group playing the game - Dungeon Master and players alike. If your group is looking to go from dungeon crawl to dungeon crawl spending as little time playing out their characters' time away from that exploration than that's something that D&D can provide you through monstrous encounters, deadly traps, and vile malefactors in every wild space of the campaign world. By the same token if the group wants to spend weeks dallying with Dukes and petty nobles of various houses, exploring the political intrigues associated with them and pitting each against the other for the players' benefit, than D&D, and especially 3e, can accomplish that with ease.

While Dungeons & Dragons is a game that can provide players with an experience that focuses on either end of the spectrum (murderous vagrants or political dilettantes), it works best somewhere between each spectrum. In the Dungeon Master's Guide it was put this way:
". . . Most campaigns are going to fall between these two extremes. There's plenty of action, but there's a storyline and interaction as characters too. Players will develop their characters, but they'll be eager to get into a fight as well. Provide a nice mixture of roleplaying encounters and combat encounters. Even in a dungeon you can present NPCs that aren't meant to be fought but rather helped out, negotiated with, or just talked to . . ." (Cook, 8)
Reading that paragraph again for the first time in a few years I find myself remembering how I was sitting at my desk plotting out Duke Niles's motivations when I picked up the DMG and read that paragraph. It was like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders and suddenly I stopped worrying about every possible plot hook and instead concerned myself with focusing on what my players wanted when they played. I started listening to what they were talking about - the next fight, what would happen to the little girl if they didn't figure out what was going on, whether they could stop everything from collapsing in on itself and save the world - and began attempting to provide them with an opportunity to find out.

In the eleven years I've been running D&D since I've had games that ran the gamut from deeply immersive experiences to murderous rampages where no ogre was left alive and the game has always provided me with a framework to experience the game we had been looking to play (which isn't to say that I've never played other games or that they didn't provide me enjoyable experiences as well). During the majority of that time I've played a lot of 3e and enjoyed the hell out of it; which is why I decided to start this series for the D&D Guidebook with 3e.



Works Cited

Cook, Monte. Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Master's Guide, Core Rulebook II. Wizards of the Coast. USA, 2000. PRINT. pg. 8


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Monkey Business by Jens D., The Disoriented Ranger

For those of you who haven't yet heard Jens D of the Disoriented Ranger produced an adventure, Monkey Business . He's publi...