Saturday, November 30, 2013

Best Reads of the Week November 23 - 29

Welcome back to the Best Reads of the Week! This week was Thanksgiving here in the United States and while that normally means that people take time off to spend with their families it didn't affect the amazing amount of output from the hobby community. This week we've got everything from loose narrative settings to convention write-ups, to new monsters, to a new story from famed TSR author Bruce Heard.

As always, these guys and gals spend a lot of time working on their blogs and if you like one of the posts these fine authors have published be sure and let them know.

The Best Reads for November 23 - 29, 2013
Alphabetical by Article Title

Balalang by Arnold K., from the blog Goblin Punch: A setting, a loose mythology for a sandbox game, and wonderful bit of prose. This post from Arnold has everything you could want from an island based campaign. A fantastic read!

'Bring the Salt' - Superstitions in Your Game by Geek Ken, from the blog Geek Ken: The thing that I love about this article is the way that Ken starts with his wife's superstitions, and then moves on to Korean, and then ties it all together for your games. It's gotten me thinking about how to integrate superstitions into my games and wondering why I ever left them out.

Deer in the Headlights by Tom Doolan, from the blog Wishful Gaming: This article by Tom is one of the reasons why I look forward to reading his blog so much. His half-orc is exceptional and Tom's mistreatment of a powerful goddess warms my heart. Fun times are to be had over there kids.

From The Travels of Ibn Battuta: In the Near East, Asia and Africa by James Hutchings, from the blog Teleleli: While this is the shortest post that I have ever recommended it more than makes up for its brevity with the sheer beauty of its prose. James' blog is filled with gems of this sort and I eagerly await each new installment. 

Gamer Grub: Kale Crisps by Dylan Hartwell, from the blog Digital Orc: A fantastic recipe for an easy, healthy, and incredibly tasty gaming snack!

I am on one hit point right now by Patrick Stewart, from the blog False Machine: While the entry itself isn't that remarkable the idea presented by Patrick is amazing. His party has been exploring the Hex King's palace and they've forgotten to map the damned thing. So he created a partial map in MS Paint that can be changed and manipulated by other members of the party and of the Flailsnails community. Absolutely brilliant!

The Inevitable Post U-Con Post by Adam Muszkiewicz, from the blog Dispatches From Kickassistan: I'm not normally one to go in for con wrap-ups but U-Con must have been one hell of a good time because Adam's enjoyment is infectious. I really enjoyed his notes and someone needs to make a Temple of Jerks.

Infra-Red Lightbulb! by

Into the Vortex by Bruce Heard, from the blog About Bruce Heard and other news: Part one of a series of promotional stories for Bruce's new setting, World of Calidar. Like most of Bruce's works this one is a fun and enjoyable read. Part two comes from Tenkar's Tavern and is titled The Cleansing.  

Lost in the Dense Forests South of Denethix, by Gus L., from the blog Dungeon of Signs: A great take on creating flavor in your chosen area of play by taking elements from the surrounding area and using them in a chart. I really like the overall flavor of the whole thing. 

[New Monster] Demonic Flying Monkeys by David, from the blog Tower of the Archmage: Like most of David's creations this has a neat bit of fiction as an introduction to the little baddies and it's almost as good as last week's Bone Imps. This week's monster is really fun and I can't wait to use them in a game!

OK Whovians, my take on Day of the Doctor (Spoilers)! by Mark Knights, from the blog The Pathfinder Chronicles: By now I'm sure that most of us have read a thousand crack-pot theories about the 50th anniversary episode and it's impact on the future of the series, but how many of you have read about its impact on us as people. Mark opens up to tell us about the episode's impact on him and his family in this fantastic post. I wish he wrote more personal posts like this because it's fantastic

Problems in Governing, or, Storming Hekellu So We have Someplace To Sleep Tonight by chirine, from the blog chirine's workbench: This short posting from chirine gives all of us a small glimpse into one of those legendary campaigns from the early days of the hobby, and what a glimpse!

The tome of “forgotten magical items”. Volume 1, Weapons and armor / by Jon Volden by Mike Monaco, from the blog Swords and Dorkery: A confession, I really like esoteric books. So when Mike started writing about this hidden gem I was hooked from the first line. 

 Best Article from Dyvers this Week

A History of Draconic Races in Dungeons and Dragons: A meandering look at the history of the Draconic Races in Dungeons and Dragons, focusing mainly on the differences between the early version and the more accessible newer races.

I'm still looking for more great blogs so if you find one you'd like to suggest pass me a note down below in the comments! Thanks for reading!

Friday, November 29, 2013

Friday Artfest: Morgan le Fay by Brom

Morgan Le Fay by Brom
One of the great travesties of modern gaming is that Brom no longer draws dominates the art associated with Dungeons and Dragons. Just look at this gorgeous illustration of Morgan Le Fay!

The bodies hanging behind Morgan Le Fay seem to sway to an unearthly breeze as she steps forward onto the raised platform chanting some ancient spell that almost certainly will bring down a kingdom or two. The swords jutting out of the ground behind her like spindly crosses from a hastily dug grave add to the mystique of foul powers. While the rising mist behind her seems to cast a demonic glow. Here is how a sorceress should be! Not a sexualized object for pubescent boys to abuse themselves to, but a woman powerful in her glory; with arms outstretched like death reaching for your immortal soul.

It was a sad day when Brom parted ways with TSR.

A History of Draconic Races in Dungeons and Dragons

On Wednesday, November 27 James Wyatt's latest Wandering Monsters column, Born of Dragons, was released. The article was a good read, but it got me thinking about the history of Draconic races in Dungeons and Dragons and I'd like to work through that today using James' article as a framework for my own.

The First Draconic Race

The Krolli from Dragon Magazine #36
The first draconic-ish race that I've been able to identify is the Krolli from Dragon Magazine #36. While it is not explicitly stated that the Krolli are descended from Dragons it is clear from the beautiful Todd Lockwood illustration that there is a common ancestor out there - or at the very least this illustration was a forerunner of the Draconians who would premier in March of 1984, four years later. Now I should note that in actuality the Krolli does not have a clear connection to the Dragons. Instead they have a reptilian ancestry that puts them closer in line with Troglodytes and Lizardmen than does it with the draconic races. But when you look at the illustration and read the description of the race it makes more sense to set them with the draconic races then with their fellow reptilians. 

If, however, you prefer to remain close to the text and not manipulate it for your own ends, which both James Wyatt and I have done than from what I've been able to tell, the first published draconic race was the Bozak and Baaz Draconian sub-races in module DL1: Dragons of Despair which was published in March of 1984, eight months before the first novel was released in November of that same year. It's interesting reading that first Dragonlance module because there are a lot of assumptions about the sort of Dungeon Masters that would be attracted to a new campaign setting. New monsters are just stated as existing without any sort of descriptive text in the actual module until you get to Appendix 3: Monsters and Men on page 30. Which is just so damned odd for a major player in the series to be relegated to the appendix before we actually know what they look like.

Sign of the times I suppose.

Over the course of the next two years fourteen Dragonlance modules would be produced introducing the remaining Draconians to the world and launching a franchise with a rabid fan base that Wizards of the Coast has mostly ignored throughout their ownership of Dungeons and Dragons. Although that appears to be changing as there are reports that Wizards of the Coast has been talking to some of the original creators of their early settings in connection with 5th edition (see Older Editions Coming Back? from EN World).

As an aside, it has always bothered me that Wizards of the Coast has focused their attention on the Forgotten Realms to the exclusion of other settings - and that includes Eberron. I understand that the Forgotten Realms has a rabid fan base who go out of their way to bore you with their imaginary histories of a world that never existed, and that Ed Greenwood is a pretty good guy, but Dragonlance fans are just as committed to the setting and they buy an ungodly amount of materials to support their fanaticism. Why not encourage them by producing top of the line products in house instead of farming it out? Why aren't we seeing the Known World again and pulling the amazing Bruce Heard back into the fold for a setting that has humor and a long standing fan base used to it as the default?

The Second Draconic Race

The Dray
The next expansion of the Draconic races would come with the introduction of the Dray in 1994 with the publication of the City by the Silt Sea Boxed Set for the Dark Sun setting. Unlike the Draconians from Dragonlance these creatures were not corrupted dragons who became humanoid, instead they were humans who were corrupted into a dragon-like form. As with their predecessor, Dray are a form of shock trooper destined to fight in a great conflict; they are also rather weak, all things considered.

This weakness is a constant problem for these two early Draconic races as each is an alternative to the orc. They're ubiquitous in the settings and areas where they come into play and just like orcs they're incredibly easy to kill under most circumstances.

A New Breed of Draconic Races

Half-dragon on the left and Half-fiend on the right from the MM pg. 147
With the publication of Third Edition we had three types of officially playable draconic races: the half-dragon, the dragonborn, and the spellscales. The half-dragons (see Monster Manual I, pg. 146) came with a +3 level adjustment and were one step away from useless. Their abilities were not all that impressive and for what you were giving up to play one there were a hundred better options out there in the game that provided you with better flavor and mechanical benefits.

The dragonborn and spellscales would be introduced six years later in 2006. Each of these races represented a step in the right direction towards a player friendly race that could be implemented into the game from the get go without the sort of hand wringing that occurred with the half-dragon, but neither had the sort of flair that demanded their implementation into the game.

The Dragonborn Come Into Their Own

With the advent of Fourth Edition Wizards of the Coast finally got it right in many respects. The Dragonborn that premiered in the first Player's Handbook were usable, balanced, and quite frankly a lot of fun. Yet in making them so accessible to the players they lost a lot of what made the early draconic races so iconic and engaging.

The early races had an attitude that demanded respect.

Yes, they could be dopey at times, but by and large they were a menacing race of stormtroopers looking to grind the world beneath their clawed boots. The draconians were the Nazis of the Dragonlance setting conquering the world with lighting strikes and leaving behind them a world vastly changed by their passing. The dray were the servants of an undead Dragonking getting ready to fight in a Dark Sun Armageddon.

It's a shame that we've let them fall so far.

The New Generation
. . . A dragon requires the blessing of Bahamut or Tiamat to give birth to true dragons. If a dragon has a clutch of eggs that hasn't received the proper blessing, the hatchlings are not true dragons, but dragonborn. A dragonborn is a Medium humanoid with a scaly hide, clawed hands and feet, and draconic features (albeit no tail or wings). Its features resemble its draconic parents'. A dragonborn with red dragon parents, for example, has red scales and the distinctive horns and cheek frills of a red dragon . . . In some worlds, dragonborn are a race unto themselves, having interbred for so long that they have taken on a more uniform appearance, with scales of reddish-brown or gold . . . (Born of Dragons)
This latest iteration of the draconic races is as bland as cheese on toast. They have none of the power of the Draconians or the Dray and make Fourth Edition's version of the dragonborn one step away from John McClane.

It's a shame that we have been reduced to this ignominious end with the draconic races. Where once we found ourselves tense and on the edge our seats when we saw some new draconic race come into the game we now find ourselves yawning with disappointment. There is no fear attached to their approach, and why should there be?

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving and Hanukkah

I'll be posting some Dungeons and Dragons stuff later but I just wanted to wish everyone a wonderful Thanksgiving and a continued wonderful Hanukkah!

Oh, and if you haven't had a chance yet to donate to Mandy Morbid's drive I hope you'll consider helping her out. She's more than half way to her goal of $4,000 so that she can pay for her physical therapy and hip braces, but there's still a long way to go.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Let's Help Mandy Morbid Out!

Hey everybody!

I just found out that Mandy Morbid, who is often featured on Zak S' Playing Dungeons and Dragons with Porn Stars blog, is doing a drive to help with her physical therapy and hip braces costs. Neither of those things are cheap and if you've got any ability to help her financially it would be a good thing to do. So if you can help out, click on her You Caring page and donate whatever you're able, no matter how little or how much as every dollar puts her that much closer to success.

The drive only has four days left and she's still got a long way to go. Come on guys and gals, let's help her out!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Let's Talk about Reading.

Over the last few days I've been working on my reading list for the weekly Best Reads column that I started last Saturday. My initial goal was to just simply have everything in an easy to read format so that I could quickly move form site to site, but as I kept on going through these wonderful blogs I started to wonder if I'm missing out on some really good ones. So I decided to post a complete listing of all the blogs I'm regularly checking out in the hopes that if I'm missing some awesome reads out there that someone in the blogging community will be able to point me in the right direction.

Before I start with the list, I'd like to note that some of these blogs have gone dark (I think that 20 of them have, but it may be more or less). I'm including them anyway as I'm always hopeful that their authors will come back one day and start updating again.

The Blogs I Read 
(listed in alphabetical order)

A Life Full of Adventure
A Paladin in Citadel
About Bruce Heard, D&D, and new stories
Aeons and Auguries 
Age of Ravens
Aiee! Run from Kevin's Brainsplurge!
American Barbarica
Armchair Gamer
Asshat Paladins
Bat in the Attic
Beyond the Black Gate
Black Hat Writing
Blog of Holding
Blue Boxer Rebellion
Billy Goes to Mordor
Bruce R. Cordell
Built by Gods Long Forgotten
B/X Blackrazor
Carjacked Seraphim
Carto Cacography
chirine's workbench
Chimeric Fantasm
Codex Apocrypha
Consonant Opposition
Daddy Rolled a 1
Dice of Doom
Digital Orc
Dispatches From Kickassistan
DM David 
Dreams in the Lich House
Dreams of Mythic Fantasy
Dungeon Fantastic
Dungeon of Signs 
Dungeon's Master
Dungeonskull Mountain
Dyson's Dodecahedron
Elfmaids & Octopi 
False Machine
From the Ashes
From the Sorcerer's Skull
Games with Others 
Giblet Blizzard
Giant Evil Wizard
Goblin Punch
Gothridge Manor
Greyhawk Grongnard
Grubb Street
Hall of the Mountain King
Harvard's Blackmoor Blog
Hill Cantons
Hit Adjacent Ally
Hitting on a Double 1, Killed by a Double 1
Howling Tower
Hyborean Greyhawk 
In Places Deep
In the Words of Tom
Jeff's Gameblog
Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog
Known World, Old World
Lake Geneva Original RPG Campaign
Lamentations of the Flame Princess: RPG
. . lapsus calumni . .
Lawful Indifferent 
LOOK, ROBOT - the stars are coming out
Love in the Time of Chasmosaurs
Metal vs Skin
Monsters and Manuals
Murky Murky: Roleplaying Advice and Fiction
Mythopoeic Ramblings
Once More Unto the Breach!
Orcs Among Us!
Peter Adkison Presents…
Planet Algol
Playing at the World
Playing Dungeons and Dragons with Porn Stars
Points of Light
Quag Keep
Random Wizard
Raven Crowking's Nest
Realms of Chaos
Realms of Chaos 80s
Realms of Chirak
Rendered Press
Richard's Dystopian Pokeverse 
Risus Monkey
Roles, Rules, and Rolls
Sarah Darkmagic
Save Vs. Dragon
Save vs. Total Party Kill
Sorcerer Under Mountain
Sword + 1 
Swords & Dorkery
Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque
Tales from the Flaming Faggot
Telcanter's Receding Rules
Tenkar's Tavern  
The Alexandrian
The Dice Are A Lie
The Dungeon Dozen
The Dragon's Flagon
The Githyanki Diaspora
The Oerth Journal and Cannonfire Chronicles 
The Other Side
The Pathfinder Chronicles
The Realm of Zhu
The RPG Corner
The Savage Afterworld
The Sign of the Frothing Mug
The Society of the Torch, Pole, and Rope
The Splintered Realm
The Tao of Dungeons and Dragons
The Tékumel Foundation
Troll and Flame
Vaults of Nagoh
Venger's Old School Gaming Blog
Weird Opera
Wine and Savages
Wishful Gaming

If your blog is listed on here, and you'd like to add a description of it so that other people can get a good idea about your writing interests just drop me a short note and I'll add it!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Best Reads of the Week: November 16 - November 22

I'm utterly convinced that we're living in the golden age for the hobby and that the only way we can improve is by discovering the best ideas out there and using them for our own games. So with that in mind I've decided to start collecting the best articles from the blogs and websites I read each week and posting them here. Hopefully everyone who comes by and reads this page will find something new to inspire them.

Oh, and if you like one of the articles below leave the author a note thanking them and encouraging them to continue writing such cool stuff. These guys are all putting a lot of work into their blogs and it's always nice to hear that it's appreciated.

The Best Reads for November 16 - 22, 2013
Alphabetical by Article Title

[DIY] Wooden Runes by Matt Jackson from the blog Lapus Calumni: A fantastic article on creating your own wooden runes. I don't know what I would be using these runes for in my own games but I can tell you that after enjoying this article that I want them entirely too much.

Drunk Jerks with Swords by jasons from the blog The Dungeon Dozen: Great little d12 chart detailing all the drunken idiots your party might run into when out at the bar looking for an adventure to fall in their laps - as they're want to do.

In Search of Canon by Aaron E. Steele from the blog A Paladin in Citadel: Aaron reflects on some of the lesser known, third party supplements for the Original Dungeons and Dragons game. In this article he focuses on a product I'd never heard of from Little Solder Games: The Book of Sorcery.

Mass Battle, End Of An Era, Brain Eating Turns Out To Be A Good Idea by Zak S at the blog Playing D&D with Porn Stars: It was the end of an era over the weekend in Zak's long running game as the players beat back hordes of the undead and saved the city of Vornheim from destruction. Really a neat way to talk about the events in a campaign without making everything boring.  

My New Adventures in Dragonlance by the Prophet Konsumterra at the blog Elf Maids & Octopi: Reading the blog Elf Maids and Octopi is a guilty pleasure on every level and this article typifies why I love this blog. He goes directly at the heart of everything that is Dragonlance and it is a glorious site to behold.

Mythic Adventures for Pathfinder by Blacksteel at the blog Tower of Zenopus: An interesting accounting of the book Mythic Adventures for the Pathfinder game system. It didn't sell me on the product, but it definitely held my attention enough to get me looking into using it for my own games.

New Monster: Bone Imp by David from the blog Tower of the Archmage: I really enjoy the way that David writes up his monsters and the Bone Imp narrative at the beginning of this one is just fantastic. It tells you everything you need to know without even the first stat coming into play.

Peasant Deeds by ravencrowking from the blog Raven Crowking's Nest: A really cool house rule that looks like it could be used with most any non-player character you have in your game. It's really got me thinking about how to use it in my own games.

Punitive Dungeon Delving by Judd the Librarian at the blog The Githyanki Diaspora: Great little article that provides a series of really punitive reasons for a player character to be sent deep into the bowls of some dark and dank dungeon within a narrative context that just rocks.

[Resources] Apollonius of Tyana by Matt Borselli from the blog Asshat Paladins: Matt's producing a lot of great resource materials that can be used in your role-playing games and this one is pretty great.

Tayxis Art: Gustav Dore by James MacGeorge from the blog From the Ashes: James is always putting out something new that I've never encountered before and this time is no different as he's introduced me to a new artist that I'm digging like never before. Really a fun look through and it provides you with some amazing ideas for the role-playing game of your choice.

Underworld Lore #3 | Obscure facts pertaining to the lands of the Hyborian Age by Greg Gorgonmilk from the blog Gorgonmilk: Greg Gorgonmilk has a fantastic mind for creating some inspiring challenges for the hobby community, and this challenge is no different. If you'd like to be involved in his latests efforts this is a great place to jump in.

Yet Another Amazing Update - The List of Goodies for the "12 Days of OSR Christmas" is Looking Like a Lich's Treasure Room! by Erik Tenkar from over at the blog Tenkar's Tavern: Erik Tenkar is getting ready to run a 12 Days of OSR Christmas for this upcoming season and he's getting a tremendous amount of help over there. If you'd like to help him out drop him a line and donate for a fantastic holiday event. 

Best Article from Dyvers this Week

Using Guilds and Corporations in Dungeons and Dragons: The first in a series on choosing between Guilds and Corporations for use in your Dungeons and Dragons game. The big goal here was to establish some modern equivalents for Guilds so that they can more easily be used without some murky understanding clouding their use.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Friday Artfest: Aros by Frank Frazetta

Aros by Frank Frazetta

Aros was painted in 1967 and it typifies why I like these early works of Frazetta's. There's just something so raw and evocative in these works as each piece seems to move on its own and have a world of life hinted at with each masterful stroke of his brush.

Unlike previous works in Friday Frazetta Series, this one is notable for its simplicity of design. The defiant woman staring up towards the heavens with the hint of a smile on her face is typical of the Frazetta style with her muscular body and miniscule clothing. The gigantic python worming its way through the murky water leaves you with the impression that death is imminent, and yet her body posture and attitude seem to convey a wild sense of defiance that someone who has given themselves up to fate could only hope to possess.

If you'd like to purchase a print of this picture you can pick one up for $15 from Frazettas Prints 4u or you can purchase a totally legit oil painting of Aros ranging in price from $75 - $396 from Aliexpress. Honestly, neither of those options really seems all that legit kids, but they may be the only way you'll have of getting a copy of this painting.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

How Amazon Screwed the Crystal Shard

I was hoping to have a copy of Legacy of the Crystal Shard in my hands this evening so that I could get to work on prepping it for running, but I got screwed by Amazon. You see I preordered a copy of the latest encounter series back on October 17th after I had bought Murder in Baldur's Gate (really a good little set up for a campaign all on its own) and when I didn't receive it today I checked on the status of my order. Seems that Amazon decided that preordering an item doesn't mean shit as they changed the delivery date from November 22 - 23 to January 8 through 19 of 2014. I wouldn't even be able to complete half the module during the remaining time.

Screen Cap from today on

That's right. The sorry sons of bitches decided that they would fulfill the order five to seven weeks after it had been released to the public.

At first I wanted to give them the benefit of the doubt and decided that something must have gone wrong with Wizards' end of things - these thing do happen - so I called. I was informed that not only was there no problem with it's publication schedule, but it was already on store shelves. Now at this point in the process I'm still frustrated but not angry. Then I called Amazon to get this straightened out.

Normally when you're dealing with someone from Amazon they're pretty receptive to your complaints and work hard to get your issues corrected but the prick that I talked to not only had no interest in helping me but actually pissed me off to the point where I cancelled my order completely. Now I've got find somewhere else to order the thing from since the nearest gaming store is 110 miles away.

The Book Shelf: Another Fine Myth by Robert Asprin

Another Fine Myth by Robert Asprin is one of those funny little books that once populated the literary landscape like daisies. At one time everyone liked daisies and they covered flowerbeds from Nantucket to Montgomery; then we all realized that daisies are rubbish and burnt our gardens to the ground.

I, however, like daisies; and I like Another Fine Myth. In the novel Mr. Asprin has found a beautiful little world that is nuanced enough that it presents a unique world view with enough depth to inspire a legion of subsequent novels.

Taken at its face the novel is a silly little thing that barely deserves to be read. It proudly proclaims its support of humor's least humorous joke, the pun. For this offense I avoided reading the novel for nearly a year and a half - and pity me for putting off such an enjoyable read.

Another Fine Myth is an intriging novel that presents a uniquie take on everything from how a wizard actually hides their wealth to Deevils, Deamons, and dragons. Mr. Asprin's take on Deevils in particular will change how you imagine one acting. They don't ooze evil through their poors and you don't immediately feel like the Deevil is the most dangerous creature in the room - far from it - but that's what makes the character so damned inventive as even when you think the Deevil has taken the worst end of the deal he's actually outwitted you. 

Though the puns do get a bit heavy handed at times the book is a fantastic read.

Overall Rating: 7 out of 10

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

WTF Google+

Okay, this is going to sound really dumb but has Google+ gone completely bonkers for anyone else or is it just me?

A Short Bit on My Lovely Bride

Written and performed by Mark Grist   


People have asked me why I was attracted to my wife, assuming that my answer would be about her breasts or her fantastic rear. But the truth is that when I first met her I looked into those beautiful eyes and noticed that she was reading a book that bored me to death and I thought, now here is a woman who reads. 

Over the years she's filled our house with books and I have pushed back against the ever increasing volume of literature that fills my halls until I gave in and bought out used bookstores hoping that I could read even one tenth of what she does in a day. Last year I read twenty five books and was proud but I didn't say it to loudly because she had finished 326. She reads everything from classics to modern bodice ripping affairs whose titles make me blush and while I pretend that I'm half as intelligent I know that I just can't compete with the girl who reads. 

She's my everything and the reason why I make sacrifices that I would never have dreamed possible before we met and I thank God for the girl who reads.

News for The Sundering, Chapter 2

While it's just hitting actual role-playing circles today Wizards of the Coast released a video exclusive for the next part of the Sundering Encounters scenario, Legacy of the Crystal Shard, to Complex on Wednesday, November 13 - and then didn't tell anyone about it until today, Tuesday, November 19.

While the above video is well done its exclusive release to Complex was an odd move in a lot of ways.

Complex Media hosts 20 websites and boasts that it receives over 60 million views per month worldwide across all its websites with its primary demographic being that all important "20 something" males grouping. Which is all well and good but there are other outlets that are more likely to garner the attention of people likely to play role-playing games which have a larger influence and are already hospitable to our hobby, such as the Gawker group. The Gawker group includes three of the most influential websites in the hobby, io9, Gizmodo, and Kotaku which are linked to at a phenomenal rate both in the blog-o-sphere and in traditional media outlets such as ABC news. If we compare the social media penetration and retention rate for both the Gawker group and Complex Media then we find that again Gawker group has a far greater following. Across all websites Gawker group has 3,300,000 twitter followers with Kotaku (288,657), io9 (98,610), and Gizmodo (734,283) alone generating more twitter followers then Complex's (314,000). The numbers are similarly skewed in other social media avenues such as Facebook and Google+.

The reasoning gets stranger as you consider that the video is now available on Youtube directly from Wizards of the Coast so a lot of the benefit of having exclusive content for Complex was taken away when Wizards failed to announce the exclusive on their website until they had released the video to the world themselves.

Now the actual video is just as good as the launch video for Murder at Baldur's Gate with the animation being well done and the voice acting continuing to be exceptional. I am disappointed that the individual groups actions have not created a greater impact in the storyline than the choosing of a single individual, Duke Torlin Silvershield, as the Chosen of Bhaal. It would have been nice to see some greater impact on the city of Baldur's Gate or some other significant, long term changes to the setting being created by the groups who reported in to Wizards.

What are your thoughts?

Monday, November 18, 2013

Using Guilds and Corporations in Dungeons and Dragons

Today I would like to talk about the differences between Guilds and Corporations, and which one is best to use in a Dungeons and Dragons game. 

If you’re like me then you’ve probably used guilds in your games without giving much thought to their exact nature and only giving lip service to their vaguely imagined purposes. Luckily, Ed Greenwood has been thinking about them for years. 
 “. . . Many cities and city-states . . . have guilds, which are collectives of craft workers or merchants who seek to control local trade in their fields of endeavor. Guilds typically set standards (such as units of measurement, from sizes of garments to how much firewood is in a "cord" and what volume a particular sort of keg holds). They also seek to control or at least influence supplies of goods and services, both by restricting guild membership and seeking to control who can (typically guild members) and can't (usually non-members) engage in a trade, and by controlling imports and exports or influencing governments into doing so (by outright ban or stiff tariffs). Guilds are concerned first and foremost with the welfare of their members, so they tend to try to set prices, either formally or through their control over supply (scarcity driving "what the market will bear" prices up), and their presence results in higher—but more stable—prices. 

"Guilds are inherently useful to a Dungeon Master running a campaign because they can serve as an opposing force to government, and their members aren't necessarily identified by bloodright (as nobles and rival royal families are) and thus easily imprisoned or trained or both. Guilds also can more easily make contacts with outlanders and folk of all walks of life. They are also useful to anyone . . . trying to change any society, because their obvious interests and needs make them easy to manipulate or anticipate. It doesn't take bright wits to figure out how most guilds will react to, say, a scarcity of this raw material or an attempt to change that law governing what the guild does . . .” (Greenwood, The Feather Guilds
Guilds, then, are essentially unions on steroids. That gives us a lot of material to work with because now there is an attitude that we can draw on and a real life mindset that can be incorporated into our games without some imaginary framework that requires a preposterous amount of effort on our parts. We can look at films like Hoffa and Norma Rae for inspiration and can research actual modern unions such as the Teamsters Union and the AFL-CIO Union. 

I like this more complete view of guilds. Prior to this recent understanding of the guilds I had always treated them as trade businesses that were essentially meaningless in my games. As a result they were rarely a focus – hell, until the last couple of years my players hadn’t even asked about local guilds. But with this new understanding of guilds and how they behave I can now use them to my advantage pushing back against other non-player groups’ interests and my players’ interests. 


Corporations are defined by their organized approach to business and their ability to circumvent our individual ownership of the moral consequences of our actions by allow each individual in the corporation to blame their actions on the corporation as a whole; as though it were a living, sentient thing. That's a remarkably terrifying accomplishment for an institution that exists only because we have collectively agreed to believe that it's legitimately there. 

It's rare that corporations make an appearance in Dungeons and Dragons as they're usually associated with games like Paranoia and Shadowrun. However, in doing so many Dungeon Masters are dismissing a powerful tool in their arsenal. Corporations allow for the players to create an associated experience with a powerful non-player organization that will have a major impact on their characters’ financial lives. Corporations provide modern players – who have grown up with a deep seated, and well founded, mistrust of corporations – with a readily identifiable enemy. Non-player Adventuring Groups in league with the Corporation are immediately recognized as evil. The Corporation’s employees are often seen as either the down trodden little guy or as willing participants in an evil plot to undermine the government. And the Corporation’s upper echelon of employees are seen as vile overlords. 

It’s an opportunity that shouldn’t be passed over simply because they are a modern concept. 

Which Do I Use 

When it comes to determining which organization to use, guilds or corporations, the answer will depend more on the situation involved in your current setting and on the purpose you need for the organization to accomplish. If you’re looking for the organization to provide a foil to the most powerful non-player characters in the game and to become a relevant source of information for your players then you need to use the guild. By treating the guild as a modern union you’re more likely to provide the players with the sort of interactions that will elicit the sort of emotional investment in the well-being and plight of the non-player characters that is so difficult to create in game. On the other hand, if your goal is to provide the players with an organization that can be used to confront them and counter their own movements, without involving either a government or religious cult, then you’re going to want to use the corporation. 

That’s all for today, but later I’m going to be writing about the difference between a Complex Corporation and a Simple Corporation in your Dungeons and Dragons game. Hope to see you then.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Dear Blogger

I hate all of the templates you have available for our blogs.

That is all.

Friday Artfest: Apparition by Frank Frazetta

Apparition by Frank Frazetta

I love everything about this painting from the indistinguishable location to the ghostly Kong in the background. This is the sort of painting that could launch a campaign as the Witch high on the hill could appear before the party and visions of Hell could walk behind her as she beseeches the party to act or suffer for all of eternity.

Great painting.

When I last looked for it you could buy it for $20 on ebay.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Skill Checks: Climb

Climb (Str; Armor Check Penalty)

Check: With a successful Climb check, you can advance up, down, or across a slope, a wall, or some other steep incline (or even a ceiling with handholds) at one-quarter your normal speed. A slope is considered to be any incline at an angle measuring less than 60 degrees; a wall is any incline at an angle measuring 60 degrees or more.

A Climb check that fails by 4 or less means that you make no progress, and one that fails by 5 or more means that you fall from whatever height you have already attained.

A climber’s kit gives you a +2 circumstance bonus on Climb checks.

The DC of the check depends on the conditions of the climb . . .  (SRD, Skills I, Climb)
Using the Climb Skill is one of those happy little checks that just makes me excited. As a Dungeon Master it means that I have a player who is putting himself at risk which is fun beyond measure for me; and as a Player it means that I’ve got something important going on. Both situations mean that the game is moving forward.

When to Use this Skill

Now I don’t like the delineation marker between a wall and an incline being 60 degrees, so for my games I’ve always used the delineation as a wall being 90 degrees from the horizontal. It works better for the conceptualization of a wall. That demarcation might not sound like much since both an incline and a wall might require a Climb check, but it is important for determining a player character’s bonuses and penalties to the check.

Determining when to use the Climb check for a wall is pretty straightforward: do you want to climb the wall, then roll. So let’s talk about when to call for the check on the incline. According to OSHA guidelines (see Stairways and Ladders page 13) a stairwell has to be used at 30 degrees from the horizontal and can be used up to 50 degrees from horizontal. By using that as our guideline we can determine that things become difficult for our players’ characters starting at the 30 degree line. But do we call for a Check then?


While the stairwell guideline is good for determining where things get difficult it does not indicate a point at which a check must be made. Steep Hills are well within the stairwell guidelines, and while the going is tough it would be foolish to call such a hike a climb. For our purposes it is best to use the danger zone as our indicator for when to call for a Climb check. This means that for an incline of 51 degrees to 90 degrees we can safely call for a Climb check without worrying that we’re needlessly wasting time.

In the description of the Climb Skill we’re given a chart that’s supposed to provide us with the appropriate difficulty class (DC) for the check. Here’s the original chart:

I don’t like that chart. Anything that is below a DC of ten should not have a check attached to it – because when you ascribe a value to that activity some asshole is going to make his players roll to beat it. Instead the example chart should look like this:

How to Use this Skill When Being Attacked

. . . You need both hands free to climb, but you may cling to a wall with one hand while you cast a spell or take some other action that requires only one hand. While climbing, you can’t move to avoid a blow, so you lose your Dexterity bonus to AC (if any). You also can’t use a shield while climbing . . . (SRD, Skills I, Climb)
I’ve never been a fan of the idea that you need to have two hands to climb as I’ve done it with only one hand and I’ve seen enough one armed folk climb to know that it can be done. Now is it more difficult? Absolutely, but it can be done.

Now let’s talk about fighting in this situation.

While it’s reasonable to assume that a character who has a one handed weapon can use it to fend off an aggressor. It’s also very hard to imagine that the character will have an easy time of hanging onto the incline or plane – unless he’s throwing something at an enemy. It is not only possible, but surprisingly easy to hang from a tree, a rocky outcropping, or even your neighbor’s roof and chuck rocks at your friends to get their attention without falling.

Modifying the Check

Unlike the Appraise Skill there isn’t a lot that other players can do to help your character in their climb attempts. Sure they can tie knots at one foot intervals on the rope providing your character with a circumstance bonus of 2 or you can use climbing which adds a circumstance bonus of 2; but other than those two actions there isn’t a lot that other characters can do to help you out as climbing is a one man activity.

By contrast, however, there is a lot that can be done that will negatively impact your character’s ability to climb; greasing the walls, heavy rain, loose rocks, ice, snow, fire, tar, moss, and the like all provide negative modifiers, and they all stack. So if you’re foolish enough to climb a frozen mountain side that’s on fire you have no one but yourself to blame for rolling at a - 6 modifier.

. . . Any time you take damage while climbing, make a Climb check against the DC of the slope or wall. Failure means you fall from your current height and sustain the appropriate falling damage . . . (SRD, Skills I, Climb)
I really cannot adequately express how much I dislike this rule.  Instead of wasting my time with remembering all the fucking modifiers that I’ve set up I handle this situation in the simplest fashion I know: 10 + damage = DC. This speeds up play and I’m all about that.

. . . Making Your Own Handholds and Footholds: You can make your own handholds and footholds by pounding pitons into a wall. Doing so takes 1 minute per piton, and one piton is needed per 3 feet of distance. As with any surface that offers handholds and footholds, a wall with pitons in it has a DC of 15. In the same way, a climber with a handaxe or similar implement can cut handholds in an ice wall . . . (SRD, Skills I, Climb)
From what I’ve been able to understand if you’re using pitons the distance isn’t really the main point because you can go 10, 20, or even 30 feet in between each use – cause they’re not really helping you climb as much as they are preventing you from hitting the ground when you fall. So realistically using a piton doesn’t help you climb, but it does help you aid another player in climbing as they’re used in aid climbing.

When Things Go Wrong

. . . Catching Yourself When Falling: It’s practically impossible to catch yourself on a wall while falling. Make a Climb check (DC = wall’s DC + 20) to do so. It’s much easier to catch yourself on a slope (DC = slope’s DC + 10).

Catching a Falling Character While Climbing: If someone climbing above you or adjacent to you falls, you can attempt to catch the falling character if he or she is within your reach. Doing so requires a successful melee touch attack against the falling character (though he or she can voluntarily forego any Dexterity bonus to AC if desired). If you hit, you must immediately attempt a Climb check (DC = wall’s DC + 10). Success indicates that you catch the falling character, but his or her total weight, including equipment, cannot exceed your heavy load limit or you automatically fall. If you fail your Climb check by 4 or less, you fail to stop the character’s fall but don’t lose your grip on the wall. If you fail by 5 or more, you fail to stop the character’s fall and begin falling as well . . . (SRD, Skills I, Climb)
When someone falls near me, and we’ve not used pitons and rope, his ass is hitting the ground. There is no reason for anyone to attempt to catch another player because you’re only going to get both of you killed. I know that sounds cruel, but if you’re climbing in the game you have to make the determination of survival over foolish acts of bravery.

Remember: discretion is the better part of valor. Besides, you can always loot the body on your way out.

. . . Action: Climbing is part of movement, so it’s generally part of a move action (and may be combined with other types of movement in a move action). Each move action that includes any climbing requires a separate Climb check. Catching yourself or another falling character doesn’t take an action.

Special: You can use a rope to haul a character upward (or lower a character) through sheer strength. You can lift double your maximum load in this manner . . . (SRD, Skills I, Climb)
The bad thing about that Special descriptor there is that it adds a greater emphasis to maintaining your character’s weight, including all their gear. And it never fails that when I call for that, that someone hasn’t been keeping up with it. My solution: I add – 2 to the check for each minute that we have to wait. 

If you’ve enjoyed this article you can find similar ones on the Skill Checks Page and can catch up with all my past thoughts on Third Edition Game Mechanics. As always, thank you for reading, Google pluses, commenting, sharing and linking to my articles. Hope to see you again when the next one comes out!

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