Monday, June 30, 2014

Google Hangouts

I'll be on Google Hangouts tonight at 9:00 PM eastern in case anyone wants to talk about rpgs, blogging, or just shooting the shit. I'll post the invite in my role-playing games circle.

I Can Only Go Which Way? I Think Not.

Over the last few weeks I've noticed that there is an undercurrent building in my feed where people have begun to argue that there are only so many meaningful choices available to you within the dungeon environment. This argument is predicated on the belief that your players are only able to move about your game like pieces on a board, held by the imaginary boundaries established within the environment. It further argues that your players are dull, unimaginative, clods who only do what is acceptable by the standards of the Dungeon Master and the game world they have established.

You can only go left, right, forwards, or retreat back the way you came. 

Just imagine your players binding themselves in such an arbitrary manner that they seed control of the game to the Dungeon Master's map. What boring games these people must be playing in to even suggest such an argument!

Do not get me wrong, you absolutely can go left, right, forwards, and backwards within any dungeon. But you can also break down walls; pull up tiles and drop down level, by level - skipping entire sections of the dungeon outright; blow holes in the ceiling so you can escape through the roof. Hell, I've even blown up the damned dungeon!

The beauty of the Dungeons and Dragons game is that your choices are only constrained by bounds of your imagination and every choice you make as a player impacts that world. So to argue that I am suddenly bound only to travel in four directions when I have a sledgehammer, pickaxe, and no fear of explosives is to tell me that we have stopped playing D&D and are now playing your home version of Candy Land.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Reading, READing, READING!

Last night I finished Robert A Heinlein's The Cat Who Walks Through Walls. What a fantastic book! A quick writing style that made for an easy read and an infinitely quotable book that makes itself well worth reading. Then I picked up Lee Child's Killing Floor and read the first fifty pages of it. So far, so good.

What are you guys reading?

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Best Reads of the Week! Expanded Edition! June 14 - June 28

Welcome back to the BEST READS OF THE WEEK! I read over three hundred blogs and search through the Google+ Pen and Paper Bloggers community for the best articles being put out by this hobby each and every week. Below are the fruits of my effort, but they can always get better! If you've got a blog you think is being overlooked let me know so I can add you to the reading pool!

After a lay over due to illness we're back and what an eventful two weeks it's been! We've got thoughts on dungeon ecology; thoughts on how to make your game better through focusing on the things that matter; adventures and setting concepts; crazy questions; and terrible things you can do to your players!

As always, these guys and gals spend a lot of time working on their blogs and if you like one of these posts be sure and let the author know by giving them a +1 on Google+, a like on facebook, a comment, or re-sharing their work with the wider community! Feel free to re-share this list, or any of the past Best Reads of the Week as well.

Best Reads of the Week!

Exploring the Foundation of the Megadungeon Food Web by JDJarvis, from the blog Aeons & Augauries: Whether it's your first exploration into a megadungeon or the hundredth time your battle weary characters are plumbing its depths there's going to come a moment where you find yourself wondering how all these vile creatures are surviving down here and not push up into the world above ground. When those questions come about you're going to need answer that goes beyond, "Magic, duh."

The Difference Engine by +Adam Dickstein, from the blog Barking Alien: How different are your monsters from the ones everyone else is using? Is it a statistical difference? A difference in hue or emphasis? Adam has a brilliant answer to these questions that will improve your game.

Adventure Company Voyages by +Jeff Russell, from the blog Blessings of the Dice Gods This post begins a new series from Jeff that promises to influence your home games for years to come.  If you've never read any of his posts, or have lapsed in reading him, this is a great starting point. Get involved with this blog today.

Famous Ales of Greyhawk by Argon, from the blog The Canonfire Crier: If you're looking to add a few subtle touches to your game world to give it a greater sense of realism than this list from Argon is a great place to start. Use it for inspiration for your own ales, or steal the list directly and use it in your own campaign!

DIY Rust Monsters by Jim, from the blog Carjacked Seraphim: Jim's back at it! This time he's showing us how to create some great Rust Monsters with process shots along the way to help you do the same thing! In a time when so many of us are content with purchasing all of our gaming needs from established brands Jim continues to show us how much better things can be if we only make the effort! Great series Jim!

Is Mapping Unfair by Alex, from the blog Cirsova: In this thought provoking post Alex asks us to consider the idea that mapping what you're being told is exponentially harder than mapping what you see. Is he right?

Fantasophical Question: Veganism in the Dungeon by +Chris C., from the blog The Clash of Spear on Shield: In this post Chris proposes the sort of question that I love to ponder for hours on end. Well worth thinking about on an evening when you have a cocktail in one hand and a group of friends who love to argue.

20 Minute Adventure No. 3 by +Wil McKinnee, from the blog The Cuticle Chewer's & Well-Pisser's Fantasy Report: If you're looking for an adventure that will get your players looking to kick the ass of some seriously bad monsters then look no further. Wil's blog is always filled with great ideas and this one is no different!

The Anarchist League of Scientists by +Martin Thomas, from the blog Daddy Rolled a 1: If you're looking for a concept that will launch a campaign, than Martin has one for you. Lots of great ideas percolating in this post that can keep you gaming for years to come!

Forgotten Gods by OSRbaron, from the blog The Dice are a Lie: I love homebrewed gods and this one by the OSRbaron is well worth reading. Really cleverly done - even if he can't remember its name!

The Infinite Caravan by JD, from the blog The Disoriented Ranger: Are you looking for a megadungeon concept that isn't exactly like every other dungeon you've ever explored? Then read this concept piece by JD that will have you exploring a dungeon that may end with the destruction of everything that has ever been. 

Underdark Musings - Company Game Trait Generator by +Gus L, from the blog Dungeon of Signs: Not only is this chart a quick way to generate NPCs, but Gus has ingeniously created a table to will provide players with a quick reference point for replacement characters! Just a fantastic idea for a game and for replacements.

Mixing liquid from the orcs spawning pools with healing potions by Cedric P, from the blog Le Chaudron Chromatique: Have you ever wanted to do something absolutely terrible to your players? I know I have, and this magnificent post by Cedric P is the sort of delicious action I love!

The Affairs of Wizards by +Tom Fitzgerald, from the blog Middenmurk: Do you feel like magic in your games has become to codified and familiar? So too does Tom Fitzgerald, and like everything that he concerns himself with, his solution to this problem is absolutely fantastic. On a related note, if you're not reading Middenmurk then you are absolutely mission out on one of the best blogs out there.

Scavenging Free D&D 4e Stuff from WotC's Site -- UPDATED! by mwschmeer, from the blog Rended Press: If you have any interest in Fourth Edition Dungeons and Dragons than this impressive list from Rended Press is the sort of thing that has to be a god send! Great list and an impressive effort!

Best of Dyvers!

Meaningless Problems that Wastes Far Too Much of Our Time: Just talking about all the silly things we fool with every day in this hobby!

Friday, June 27, 2014

An Answer for Dither!

On Wednesday, Dither and I got into a conversation about the Fourth Edition Bard and his insults that kill (see the comments in Meaningless Problems that Wastes Far Too Much of Our Time for more). I really liked the idea that your Bard could yell something so terrible at a monster that the poor thing would just die from the insult. 

Like most things when it comes to debating rules you're just making noise if you can't talk to one of the people who wrote the rules and find out what the actually meant. So I asked one of the authors on that book, James Wyatt, about it on twitter.
Dyvers: In the 4e PH2 the Bard has an at will ability called the "Vicious Mockery" which describes its damage as "a string of vicious insults at your foe, weaving them with bardic magic . . ." and it's damage is listed as 1d6+Cha psychic. I really like this description and spell . . . but I've always wondered: how your insults could kill someone. 

I realize the simple answer is "magic," but I kind of love the idea that you fill someone with so much existential doubt that they just sit down in the middle of the game, start smoking cigarettes, and give up their lives in some sort of Sartre styled crisis.

James Wyatt: Existential crisis is fun. But (a) spell incites anger, (b) magic tears at the mind, sapping the brain's ability to function. So basically, yeah, "magic." PH2 had a serious mtg-like challenge of matching flavor to rules, and you've found a rough spot.
While it's not as enjoyable a mental image for me as the orc who puts down his axe and starts a journal with the words "Life is shit," it's still a good answer.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Where and When You Can Start Downloading D&D Basic!

After seeing a lot of speculation about where the D&D Basic game would be hosted and downloaded - without any answers - so I contacted Mike Mearls and asked the man himself.

For those of you that can't enlarge the screen cap Mike says, "WotC site. I think it will go live during business hours pacific time, in case the site crashes." I love that they're preparing for the possibility that the site might have the same problems that plauged it during the playtest's launch and are actively working to combat those problems by actually being in house when they drop the damned thing!

Okay, so for those of you wondering what time this will actually be here are the times by time zone for you to start checking (if you want to be the first of your friends to download it) at the appropriate time.

Time Zone | Opening Time
GMT       | 2:00 PM
Eastern   | 10:00 AM
Central   | 9:00 AM
Mountain  | 8:00 AM
Pacific   | 7:00 AM

What's with Them Moving Pictures?

As some of you have no doubt noticed I added Google Adsense to the blog. I've resisted adding it for a long while as I felt like it wouldn't really be very beneficial to me. It was my brother who changed my mind.

I was showing him another blogger's work that I thought he would enjoy and he asked, "How come they have ads and you don't?"

Well because they signed up for Adsense and I haven't.

"Why not?"

Because from what I've been able to tell it won't provide me with very much money. Maybe two or three dollars a year?

"So you have an opportunity to make a couple of dollars off your blog and you'd rather leave the money sitting on the table than take it?"

I hate when he makes sense.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Meaningless Problems that Wastes Far Too Much of Our Time.

Over the last few days I've been spending a lot of time exploring role-playing game forums and I'm amazed at the arguments that develop in this hobby where we spend countless hours debating meaningless concepts and attacking things we don't like. What's a Sandbox Game? Why do we always kill Monsters / Players / Non-Player Characters? How do you deal with the Quantum Ogre? Why aren't you Old School / New School? Aren't the guys in TARGA / / the RPG site / Your Dungeon is Suck all a bunch of assholes? Who does +Zak Smith / +James Maliszewski+Erik Tenkar+Geoffrey McKinney think he is? Why doesn't everyone want to be a Story Gamer / Hack and Slasher / Free-form, Anti-social, Anarchist?

It's wild to see people losing their minds during these discussions and acting like holding  a different position from their own is the same thing as a hate crime. Yet here I've been reading through these forums and watching people working themselves into a frothing rage because some poor corn gobbler had the temerity to actually like Dragonlance and hate My Little Pony.

Look, I love reading these crazy threads where people feign tears and clutch their figurative bibles to their hearts as they proclaim their opponents fans of the Devil, bestiality, and all things anti-Gygax! So what's your favorite debate? What discussion sucked you down the rabbit hole and got you way too involved?

Fucking Blogger.

So I just spent four hours updating this year's Great Blog Roll Call and leaving notes to people telling what I had done and the fucking thing won't let me update it. Fucking, fuck.

I hope whatever bug has crawled up Blogger gets fixed soon because this shit is getting old real fucking fast.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Since I'm Still Having Trouble with that Map, I Drew This

I took a bit of advice from and decided to draw something else. So here it is, the banner for the blog - at least for the next fifteen minutes.

What do you think?

I'm Having a Problem with Blogger's Reader Feature.

I don't know if anyone else is having this problem, but it sure would be nice to know the solution. When I log into Blogger my reading list is only displaying one post - which means that I'm missing everyone right now. Does anyone know how to fix this?

I'm using the current version Firefox and I've never had this problem before. Any suggestions would be much appreciated.

The Things We Can Talk About When We Dare to Talk at All.

It's difficult to talk about the new edition of Dungeons and Dragons in a meaningful way. I mean we've all spent hours pouring over the pictures, panels, and Q&As that have been released to the public like a bunch of hungry crocodiles watching a man hold a dead bird just out of reach; but when it comes to speaking about the things we love and hate in the new edition difficulties arise.

There were options that I could have availed myself of, and from time to time I did. On the playtest site there was a way to discuss each update directly through a comments section that reminded me of a blog only without the sort of genuine human interactions that generally tend to come along with having a blog. Then there was the sucking morass of assholes who circled the forums on Wizards of the Coast and waged wars of words with anyone who dared to have an opposing opinion. 

Neither of those options were acceptable. 

Instead I mostly kept my mouth shut and filled out the surveys while I patiently waited for the end of the  non-disclosure agreement so that I could actually talk about some of my favorite aspects of the new edition without fear of legal reprisals. I know that in many regards it's a silly restriction that I've put on myself when you can go into most any forum and find people openly discussing every facet of the system - but those fuckers don't write under their real name.

There are ten days left until the system goes live in the world (D&D Basic will become available for download on July 3, 2014 - see D&D Q&A at the 58:00 mark for confirmation of the date from Mike Mearls) and we can all talk openly about everything we love and hate without reservations or restrictions. That said there are some things that I can talk about in a limited way without exposing myself to danger and I would like to touch on them briefly. 

Character Creation

I've been making characters for the new edition based off the last playtest for the last few weeks and I really love how quick this process has become. Of course it's not as fast as the earliest versions of the game where you could make a character in under ten minutes, but I can realistically make a character in less than twenty minutes without rushing and having come from Third Edition that's a huge difference.


I love this mechanic.

I love that it is an easy way to integrate your players into your setting and provide them with a way that gives them a real sense of the world before they start actually exploring it without taking anything away from the natural process of exploration that has made Dungeons and Dragons so great (see Traits, Flaws, Bonds, and More for where Mike Mearls discusses the mechanic). I love that anyone can build a background and you don't really have to worry about it fucking up your game because it doesn't provide the sort of game breaking opportunities that feats, flaws, and the rest provided in Third Edition.

Advantage and Disadvantage

This is singularly the best thing to come out of the new edition. It's incredibly easy to internalize and moves the game far faster than I would have hoped when I first encountered it. Who ever came up with it - be it from some indie game, +Monte Cook, or one of the designers still working on the game - should be proud as hell. This is a brilliant mechanic and I've long since plundered it in my regular game to great effect.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Those Low Down Mapping Blues

I love maps. 

I've loved drawing my own imaginary worlds since I was eight years old and started taping pieces of graph paper together so that I could build these massive territory maps and act out my favorite imaginary wars across their surfaces. I would color each sheet of graph paper with crayons, filling in the blocks with specific colors that represented everything from woods and rivers to castles and enemy forces. 

Normally I don't have any troubles designing my own maps but last night was something odd because I drew someone else's map. 

You see for the last couple of months I've been working on a version of the Great Kingdom Map that the Castle and Crusaders used for my own games. I've probably redrawn this map twenty times since I started with each attempt a little bit smoother and cleaner looking than the last.

Great Kingdom Map from Playing at the World
Apparently as I was reworking my version of the Great Kingdom I was training myself to follow their old lines because when I put my pencil down on the page I drew it without thinking about it. So I erased the page and started drawing, doing my best to concentrate on not repeating the Great Kingdom's lines, and drew Oerth instead.

World of Greyhawk Map from Dungeon Magazine
One of my favorite worlds but not what I wanted to draw. I wanted to draw something that was original to me and not just another rehash of an established world. It was incredibly frustrating as I've never had trouble designing my own world map before.  

I kept working, trying to sculpt my own world's lines on the page, without much luck. It wasn't until I decided  to start drawing a map based loosely on my area that things started to loosen up and I was able to get something new on the page. Yesterday was really just a frustrating day all the way around.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

No Best Reads of the Week This Week :(

No Best Reads of the Week this week due to some health issues over here in the Akins household.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Don't Cross This Line. Okay, Don't Cross This Line.

When I first started running Dungeons and Dragons I wanted to be the best Dungeon Master that anyone had ever played under. I read what blogs there were on the subject, scoured forums, and listened to all the Dungeon Masters I knew as they told me their 'secrets.' I hoped that by doing all of this research that I would be able to be as great a Dungeon Master as I imagined all these others were. 

After spending nearly two years researching different styles of Dungeon Mastering I discovered what I thought was a hidden truth. The best and most exciting games I had been involved in, and read about, all had Dungeon Masters who seemingly never said the word "No." When the realization hit me I decided that I would never refuse my players; and like a fool I announced my decision to my players. They smiled at me and I had the sinking feeling that I had just fucked up.

The next night the gloves came off. They murdered and tortured their way though the underground kingdom of Goblins. It was a game within the game with my players attempting to find something that would force me to stop saying yes. 

In the end, as a group, we discovered that the lines none of us would cross should have been obvious to all of us from the beginning: rape and harm to little kids. Since that time there have been a few other points where I didn't like what was going on and stopped it - like the time one of the players was getting picked on through the game - but in general those are the two lines that none of us are willing to cross.

What about you? What things in your games are the lines in the sand that you won't cross?

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Goodbye James Wyatt, Hello James Wyatt.

James Wyatt announced on his facebook that he has left the Dungeons and Dragons team and has moved over to the Magic the Gathering team. I imagine that since Magic is one of the most profitable lines Hasbro owns that this means he's gone to a safer and more rewarding line to work on. 

I'm incredibly sad to see him go as he was one of my favorites. That said, I hope it came with a raise and more vacation time!

The Orcs are Here! Quick, Somebody Call the . . . Guys?

Call me old fashioned but I miss the days when there were good guys and bad guys in our games. Don't get me wrong. I'm not trying to launch into one of those foolish diatribes where I complain about all the young kids not understanding what it means to walk up a hill, in the snow, in fucking July, just to tell your teacher to fuck off for the summer.

What I'm complaining about is the way that so many of us are playing today where our players scribble evil or neutral in their alignment columns and then play the most lackluster and vanilla characters to ever be rolled up. I hear it in the live play podcasts and read it in the write-ups that appear on blogs and forums throughout this hobby. We're not being bold in how we play.

Look, if you want to play evil that's fucking great with me. Hell, I'll roll up a character and run right alongside you. But don't put the alignment down if the worst thing you're going to do is kill some poor corn gobbler on his way to church so that you can loot his body. Fuck, I can do that with Lawful Good and rock that shit so hard that the Dungeon Master will give me bonus experience points for playing my alignment to the hilt. 

If you're going to be evil, then fucking be evil! Sacrifice babies, offer virgins to dark gods - and for the love of god - lie, cheat, and steal your way throughout the game world! Be a fucking villain that will get under your Dungeon Master's skin and have him trying his damnedest to stop you with posses and the very wrath of the gods if you go long enough!

The problem doesn't end with evil though. Just look at our good guys who traipse about games trying their damnedest to do what the bad guys are doing only they'd like to get away with it. 


Why not be bold and try to be Ivanhoe? Why not try to be great like the Knights of the Round - who killed the shit out of everyone but had an honor system that made them something worth envying? Why not be something heroic that makes the game more than a bunch of jackasses wandering about the dungeon telling terrible renditions of Monty Python jokes?

Look I've listened and read so many accounts of these games and I can see that so many people are just muddling their way through because they either don't know how, or are afraid, to be bold in their alignment of choice. I'm telling you that if you want to play Chaotic Good get out there and be everything that choice means to you. Give away the Paladin's horse to the farmer who just lost his. Slaughter the Druid's pig companion to feed the village. Don't be a timid little thing that plays Chaotic Good the same way you played Lawful Evil and True Neutral!

When you pick your alignment and write those two words down on your sheet make them meaningful for you so that you're not just another forgettable character. Be bold and make that choice matter.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

He Told Me that Stereotypes Exist for a Reason

I was sitting in a broken down truck on the edge of a local university listening to Goose Creek Symphony sing about living on the edge of reality when my friend Super J came walking up to me. His afro had been teased out to give him the extra two feet he needed to ride a roller coaster and he was attempting to perfect his strut. "What's going on?"

Not much J. You?

"Not much," he said with a smile and a cock of his head, "just trying to look fly for all these fine honies."

I looked about the parking lot and counted the women within sight without using any of my fingers or toes. J, I said, I think teasing that fro out has fried your brains.


There's not a woman within two miles of this place. 

"Shows what you know."

Seriously though, I said after a moment, why the fro? 

He looked about us like he was about to divulge some governmental secret and whispered, "It makes the ladies think you've got a big cock."

I stared back at him as he smiled at me. "Seriously, Charlie. The ladies look over at a fine young man, such as myself, and see a great big fro like this and they just know I'm packing heat."

Give me your phone.


I'm going to call your mother and let her know you've been smoking weed and your brains are fucked.

"Man," he said as he fought for his phone. "Shows what you know! Stereotypes exist for a reason, Charlie! White boys can't dance; you can't dance. Indians are great at math; all the math professors are from India. Black people have big cocks," he said was a smile and trailed off. 

It's a damned shame that you've committed to this.

Because you're going to disappoint a lot of women.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

James Ward in the Hospital and Pulling Through.

Earlier this morning it was announced that James Ward had suffered a major heart attack and was in the hospital. According to Tim Kask and Frank Mentzer he's staying strong and will be at the hospital for the next two or three days.

Here's hoping he gets better soon!

You Will Remember My Name, Part 2

When I woke up I was laying in the back of a wagon that rocked back and forth like a drunkard as a black giantess gently ran a wet cloth across my brow. "Ah," she said with a voice that reminded me of honey, "it seems that you're not going to die after all."

Where am I, I managed to force out even though my tongue felt like it was three size too big for my mouth.

"You're relatively safe," she said as she tended to some wound on my side. "Where did you learn to cast that spell?"

I stared at her and tried to remember why she made my stomach churn. My ears were ringing and I could hear voices outside the cart that were talking in a strange, guttural language. I couldn't understand most of it but there were words here and there that I could almost make out. I tried to focus on the winds of magic so I could force them to help me understand what was being said but my head hurt too badly to concentrate.

"Not going to answer," she said as she pressed her lips together. "Okay then, let's try this another way. You're going to tell me where you learned how to cast a spell like that or I'm going to let that angry dwarf Malcolm come in here and work on you."

What's a dwarf?

Her eyes grew large as she stared at me and then she put her head in her hands. "Just great," she muttered, "we lose the entire caravan we were hired to protect and I run into a wizard that just dropped the biggest spell I've ever seen on us and he's got amnesia."

As I watched and listened to her rambling on about the troubles she'd had with the caravan since they had left out of Perrenland. Giants, trolls, goblins, and finally a bunch of savages from Ket had attacked them and now she was having to take a Kettish wizard with amnesia back to the king in the hopes that somehow that might get their fat out of the fryer. 

What is Ket?

She looked at me and shook her head, "Boy you really are scrambled up. Ket is where you're from."

No, I said as my vision started to tunnel.

"Oh," she said with a smile, "then where are you from?"

I wanted to tell her that I was from the Valley of Seven Daggers in the Sevenfold Lands. I wanted to tell her that I was a member of the Warriors of the Path before she and her friends killed all of us. Mostly though, I wanted to laugh at all her foolish questions and drag her down to me where I could press my lips against hers, but darkness took me and I fell back into a dreamless sleep.

When I woke she was gone and the drunken cart had sobered. I laid there for a few minutes looking about the cart as tried to figure out where I was but the flat lands we were driving through weren't mine. The high grass of the Sevenfold Lands was gone and so were the hills I had stalked throughout my life. The air here was too moist and thick for my liking.  

I was about to leap out of the cart when I heard voices speaking nearby. The language they used was wrong. Too many consonants and harsh pauses that caused my breath to catch in my throat as I imagined them discussing my fate.  I shook my head and raised my hands up so that I could begin to cast a spell.

"Are you having trouble understanding them," she said from behind me.

I stared at her as I lowered my hands and began to twirl my fingers. I understand you fine.

She had a musical laugh that escaped her lips as she shook her head. "You Kets are so strange."

Where are we?

"Right to the point then?" She said with a sigh. "Very well then, you're in Perrenland."

Ah, so I'm in the lands of the One True Faith?

"No," she smiled, "those fools come from beyond Perrenland."

I nodded as she told me that lie and expected me to believe it. Where are you from?

"Oh no, I answered your question first. Now it's my turn to ask and yours to answer."

I looked out the back of the cart and said, Ask then.

"You said that you weren't from Ket, where are you from?"

The Valley of Seven Daggers in the Sevenfold Lands. Now you. I could feel her staring at the back of my head while I began to trace the patterns within the winds to pull me from this cart and back towards my homelands. 

After a long pause she finally said, "I'm from Nyrond, the village of Trigol. How did you cast that spell you used on us?"

I tied off the spell I had been working on and tucked it in my pocket as I turned to her. Her eyes were searching me for some secret that I might be hiding away from her so I smiled. I imagine that it's the same way you cast them.

"No," she said with an emphatic shake of her head. "What you did was something I've never seen before. I want to know how you did it."

Show me how you cast and I will show you how I do the same.

She pursed her lips and weighed the possibilities, her head slightly tilted to reveal the most beautiful golden earrings I had ever seen. "Okay, then I'll show you how I can speak your language."

She open a small trunk near me and began to mix odd ends and bits into a glass jar that she then boiled while she checked its temperature. Ten minutes passed as she worried the mixture and then she began to speak in that same guttural language that her companions used. With each word I could see the winds strain against her as they were pulled down into the jar and bound within. "This," she said as she held the jar up, "allows me to speak any language I want and for me to understand the speaker."

Ah, I said with mild amusement in my voice, but wouldn't it be easier if you tamed the winds of magic to your will?

"What do you mean?"

I raised my hands and began to gently coax the winds to me, binding them to my ears and tongue so that I could hear and speak the languages of those I met. It was a variation on her own naive gropings. I closed my eyes as the spell worked its way through my mouth and listened to her companions talking about me. It seems I had been here a long time.

I have shown you my way. Now for a question.

"Hold on," she said with a raised hand, "I didn't see you do anything other than twist your fingers about."

I focused on her companions and called out to them, How long have I been your prisoner?

A squat face with a mouthful of broken teeth and wildly unkempt beard leaned into the wagon. "Four months, seven days, and twelve hours."

I reeled from the answer as she stared at the vile creature who had spoken to me. How could I have been out for so long? 

"You were really badly hurt," she said as she laid a hand on mine. "It happens to sorcerers a lot."

I looked down at her hand and smiled. Of course it does. Where are we going?

"We're on our way to the court Karenin," she said it like I should know what that meant so I nodded as she added, "he'll want to see you."

As will I wish to see him.

More later.

What's All This OSR Taliban Noise?

Yesterday I feel down a rabbit hole that was started with a single post on the RPG site. For the first time I ran across the term "OSR Taliban." It's an odd term that has a slew of undeserved connotations that should never have been associated with a hobby where we create imaginary characters to kill fictional creatures and take their stuff. Yet there it was.
Since some people seem to think that "OSR Taliban" is a brand-new term I specifically invented on account of certain responses to the news about the D&D starter set or the Basic D&D PDF. Likewise, some people seem to want to pretend that when I used that term it means that I think ALL the OSR (which, let's remember, I count myself as a member of) are like a 'taliban'.

For the record, the term "OSR Taliban" is several years older than the recent controversy. It does NOT refer to just anyone who isn't gushingly enthusiastic about 5e.

It does refer to that extremist wing of the OSR (fortunately now in a diminishing minority, but who a few years back seemed to be main movers of the OSR's ideas and 'gatekeepers' for it) who engage in "old school extremism", who only want to play the original editions or precise clones, who deride any mechanic created after a certain date (the date varies, and they get into contests of "who is more old school" by competing as to what cutoff date they use). They often claim to seek some kind of UR-D&D by looking at long-lost notes of Gygax or Arneson's. In short, the guys who think that if you are using anything in RPGs made after 1983, or 81, or 79, or 74 (or sometimes even earlier!) then you are "betraying old school". These are the people who just wanted the OSR to be a long string of identical "clone" games after another, and reject any innovation whatsoever. . . . (The RPG Pundit)
The idea that the term was older than the Pundit's recent vitriolic ramblings had me intrigued. Where had the term originated and did it mean what the Pundit claimed or had he bent the term to his own ends?

As I began to research the term I found it cropping up in odd places with people I liked taking it on as though it were a badge of honor - +James Maliszewski of Grognardia even went so far as to proclaim himself the "Diabolical leader of the Old School Taliban" (see the comments in Speaking of Greg Costikyan . . . for more). At times it seemed that the term took on a life of its own growing to encompass the entirety of the Old School Renascence and then shrinking to include only that vocal minority who stoutly proclaimed that their way of playing a game with funny dice was the only acceptable way and the rest of us were fools for believing in other styles of play. 

Then I found the earliest reference to the term in a 2009 post on In a thread started by +James Raggi that began with him telling the whole world why he liked older games that found +Mike Mearls responded with the following:
I think the OP's list is a fine summation of a lot of the good things present in pre-3e versions of D&D. I own copies of OSRIC, Swords & Wizardry, and Mutant Future because I like that stuff in my games.

I don't believe that all of that those things are possible only in older versions of D&D. The truth of the matter is that a lot of that stuff is still in the game. 4e is no more or less deadly than any edition of D&D, because at the end of the day the DM determines how deadly the game is.

And I think that's the root of it. All too often I see "problems" with 4e placed on the players and DMs. Players are precious snowflakes who want everything handed to them on a silver platter. DMs are wimps who feed players a steady stream of disposable enemies. Real, bad ass men flip a coin to see if their character is dead or alive.

I think the OSR catches so much flack because, for those of us who have been in the hobby for a few decades, we saw this all before when White Wolf launched Vampire. It's the same thing, just with the added attempt to co-opt the "true" nature of D&D. Back then, it was role vs. roll. Today, it's new vs. old, and it's just as tiresome, time wasting, and banal as ever.

There are many, many fine qualities to older versions of D&D. They're more freeform. It's faster and easier to crank out a character. Combat zips by. When you pull away a lot of the rules, it can be liberating.

However, the Puritanical drive some OSRers have to bemoan what other, lesser games dare do at their tables is counter to everything that RPGs are about. Quoting Gygax chapter and verse to figure out the right way to play, stuff like that, is the antithesis to the creativity, freedom, and intellectual curiosity RPGs, at their best, can and should encourage.

So yeah, old games are cool. The gaming Taliban? Not so cool. Let's enjoy retro games without getting all bitchy about new ones. (Why I Like Earlier Edition Games Comment #18)
There it was in those last two lines, "the gaming Taliban." A poor choice of words that would find itself appearing in another form, "the OSR Taliban," in forums and blog posts years later. It's clear that Mearls was directing his comments at the sort of quasi-religious fundamentalism that has gripped this hobby from time to time where individuals are trying to proselytize their one, true, version of Dungeons and Dragons while disparaging all others. Yet why did he make the comment here when Raggi began the thread talking about what he liked in older versions of the game without condemning newer versions?

After a bit of investigation it becomes clear that Mearls wasn't responding directly to Raggi's current opening post but rather to several of his older posts where Raggi had been increasingly verbose in his negativity about newer editions of Dungeons and Dragons, and in particular, Fourth Edition. His strident fundamentalism, and that of other posters, that nothing older than version X of Dungeons and Dragons could be considered an acceptable form of entertainment appears to have been the reason for Mearls comments. Mearls would go on to acknowledge as much when he wrote the following:
. . . Apologies for dredging up the past. Seriously, that's not called for. My post has been quoted, so I don't think there's any point in deleting it at this point.

More constructively, I think old school games encourage the creative problem solving that hooked a lot of people on RPGs in the first place. If you look at 4e, it's easy for players to see their powers and feats as the be all, end all of their options. Without prodding, it's easy for a player's line of sight to begin and end at the character sheet.

In some ways, the skill challenge rules in 4e, along with the DC guidelines on page 42, are an attempt to bridge that gap. On the other hand, you can simply wonder why the game moved in the direction it did. Why wasn't 4e (or 3e before it) designed in a similar style?

Starting in 1989 or so, with the publication of The Complete Fighter's Handbook, D&D slowly but steadily began to offer more depth of options to players. As it turned out, players really like that. In fact, you can see that drive toward customization in lots and lots of games.

I can go on about this, but I want to get my apology out there and avoid further derailing the thread . . . (Why I Like Earlier Editions Comment #37)
The damage had been done by that point though; but it was a fleeting damage that would quickly be forgotten as newer controversies came to the foreground and it was forgotten. That is until it started being used recently to describe a rather vocal group of trolls who are using it to wage the latest front in an edition war that's already lost before they began spitting their words on the screen.

Monday, June 16, 2014

How Do You Roll?

Last night I was reading about +Erik Tenkar rolling an 18 for a character he was playing at the North Texas Role-Playing Games Convention he had recently attended (see What Makes Rolling 3d6 in Order So Special? for more) and it got me to thinking about how I like to roll my ability scores. For years my friends and I would roll three sets of 4d6, discarding the lowest die result, and arrange each grouping as we saw fit. This method made high ability scores relatively common place and it wasn't unusual to have several players at the table who didn't have an ability with a score lower than 14. In many ways that method feels like the beginner's mode of dice rolling to me today. 

In early 2006 I picked up a copy of the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Dungeon Master's Guide for $3.46 at a used bookstore (it was a third printing for those of you who care about such things). I can still remember the first time that I opened the book and started working my way through it, fascinated by the differences between how I played and how the game used to be played - at least according to the book. After reading through the Dungeon Master's Guide over the course of several weeks I came to the conclusion that I no longer liked the method we had been using for years.

I decided to start experimenting with how we rolled our ability scores. At first I decided that we should roll in hard mode (which even Gary discourages) and  had my players use a single set of 3d6, in order, but the results weren't very satisfying. The players who always seem to roll high continued to have good scores, but those of us who the dice gods hate (read me and Icarus) would often find ourselves playing characters without a single score above 10 and most of our results in the single digits. After that initial failure of a change we tried a variety of different methods ranging from going back to our original method, to multiple sets, to even rolling d10s. In the end the method that provided the most satisfying results was rolling two sets of 3d6, in order, and picking the best result for each ability score.

So how do you roll your ability scores?

You Will Remember My Name, Part 1: Crossing that Yatils into the Sevenfold Lands

The wagon train made its way through the foothills of the Yatil Mountains. They were missionaries on their way into our lands so that they could bring the One True Faith to our heathen homes. They sangs songs of joy and salvation as they moved in between the hills, confident that their God would protect them while we waited for them to enter the Crimson Valley so that we might show them how powerful their god really was.

As I watched them move along the path I found myself remembering when they first came to the Sevenfold Lands ten years ago. The first missionaries of the One True Faith wore white robes with an azure sign that was the symbol of their God. They brought us books written in a language we couldn't read and told us that He was angry with us for rejecting His word. We were heathens that must be brought into his eternal light, they said. They told us of a loving God and we laughed at their words. Then they grew angry and told us of the eternal damnation and pain that awaited those who forsook the word of the One True Faith. In their anger they sent for their inquisitors.

These men came into our lands wearing black robes with a crimson sign that told the world of their God's displeasure. They held scrolls which gave them the right to torture, maim, and savage their way through our homes until they had brought us to the Light. Throughout the Winter of the Hungry Wolf they stayed within their stone halls and watched us from afar while we listened to their whispered plans and watched them sharpen their blades.

In the spring they rode out of their forts and into the valleys of the Harsh Lands. They came to the Village of Old Men where the shamans carried out the sacred rituals of the old gods and set it to the torch. They laughed as they killed the old men who lived there. They laughed as they beheaded each of the old men and stuck their heads on the pikes that now lined their Road to Salvation. Then they rode back to the safety of their stone forts singing of their bravery along the way. 

They had forgotten who we were.

In the days of old we trampled the world beneath our hooves and spoke to the gods as equals. We raised the necropolises of the necromancers and bound their souls to the Whispering Stones for daring to challenge our might. When the One-eyed Lich came west it was our shamans who shattered his body and scattered his soul on the winds. It was our blades that broke the armies of the civilized lands and drove them back when their greedy kings groped longingly for what was ours. And it was us who turned against the old gods and drove them from the lands when they began to wage war on this world. We are the people of the Sevenfold Lands and now they must pay the price for forgetting our names.

Throughout the Summer of Thirsty Blades we burned their monasteries and in our thirst for vengeance we left not one man, woman, or child alive. We took the Fort of Light as the first winds of autumn began to blow across the Sevenfold Lands and burned it to the ground. Before the next moon would rise we had taken the Fort of Truth and now drove the survivors before the hoard down the Road of Salvation. 

With the first flakes of winter we approached the Fort of Salvation and slaughtered all 10,000 survivors from the Fort of Truth before their gates. Then we took their heads and launched them over the walls. The Bishop of Salvation sent forth a rider who demanded a reason for our aggressions and threatened us with eternal damnation and excommunication if we did not flee from before their walls. The shamans laughed and began to sing the Ode of Gocak. 

The army of Salvation came out to meet us on the battle field with horns blowing and drums beating. They marched in time with each other and formed mighty columns that would have struck fear in the armies of the East where civilized warfare was practiced. We watched them and laughed. Then we blackened the sky with our arrows and rode into the city where we slaughtered every last living soul.

Even after we had torn down their fortresses and burned the earth clean of their taint they still came into the Sevenfold Lands. Always singing and praising the One True Faith with glory to His word. We let them cross the Yatils into our lands, winding their way into the Crimson Valley where we had made a temple to the old gods in the ways of our forefathers. 

The wagon train had just reached the mouth of the valley and I could hear them go silent as the looked at the Throne of Supay. The throne was made out of the bones of 200,000 missionaries, warriors, and settlers that had invaded the Sevenfold Lands in the last ten years. It sat at the far end of the valley where the hills parted and allowed the setting sun to set it ablaze. 

Until I passed the Ritual of Manhood last summer I had helped the shamans build it and the Temple of Supay that lay just beyond the Throne in the Valley of Salvation where we had destroyed the Fortress of Salvation five years before. It was there that we held the Bishop of Salvation even to this day and performed the dreaded Ritual of Viracocha so that we might teach him what hell really was.

The Chieftain Calp mimicked a quail and we began to work our way down the hill as silent as death. All of the missionaries had run to the front of the wagon train once word had spread of the Throne. Tears were being shed and oaths to their God were made - both would be meaningless in the next few moments. 

I reached the bottom of the hill and crept noiselessly from the high grass onto the wagon trail. All around me the Warriors of the Path did the same. Each of us had a job. Some would explore the wagons ensuring that no one survived. Most would be making their way along the trail killing pilgrims as they went. I had a different chore; I was to find their shaman and take him alive.

When I first joined the Warriors of the Path at the start of autumn I had hoped to leave behind the heady incense of the shaman and wet my blade with the blood of our enemies. Such was not to be my fate, the shaman Canberk made sure of that. He had gone to my new chieftain, Calp, and had told him of my ability to bend the winds of magic without the use of the old rituals and prayers. According to Canberk I was a sihirbaz - the first in a thousand years to appear in the Sevenfold Lands - and I was denying the great destiny the gods had set out for me by joining the Warriors of the Path. 

Calp had come to me after Canberk came to him and tried to get me to withdraw from the Warriors of the Path and instead join with the Watchers of the Ways. I had no interest in sitting at the Gate of Dagda and waiting for a message from gods who cared nothing for us. No, life in the Sevenfold Lands was short, brutal and filled with blood. If I was going to die then I would do so with a blade in my hands rather than from boredom.  My decision displeased Canberk but he could take no direct action against me. Instead he and Calp decided to force me to use my talents to capture shamans from the One True Faith so that we could use them as sacrifices to Supay.

An explosion brought my attention away from my thoughts and back to the present. I started running towards the blast as a bolt of lightening shot past me. Fuck, I thought, how did the shaman do that? I began to weave in and out of the wagons as I raced towards the fight. I wasn't prepared for what I saw when I got there.

Surrounded on all sides by Warriors of the Path stood a group of five warriors. I could see the winds of magic bending about them as they fought. One of the warriors held a maul that seemed to be breaking the very fabric of the world each time he struck. Next to him was a wicked looking dwarf with broken teeth that bleed from a hundred wounds who was standing on the bodies of half a dozen Warriors of the Path.  Behind them was a knight. His tower shield marked him as a member of the Order of the Quest and the longsword he used seemed to be cutting through flesh, bone, and steel like they were air. On his right spun a black warrior with a turban on his head and sword so large that I couldn't figure out how he was able to lift it. Yet he moved it with ease and with each rotation dropped yet another of my comrades. In the center of their group was my target, but she was different from anyone I had ever seen before. She was nearly seven feet tall - fully a foot taller than myself - and she was bending the winds of magic with every gesture. A flick of her wrist and a green cloud burst to her right killing a dozen. A wild gesticulation later with some mumbled words and an explosion of fire killed twenty more. Then she raised her staff and sent a bolt of lightening leaping amongst my fellow Warriors.

I stood there watching her move for three deep breaths and then began to bend the winds of magic to my own will. Usually when I started pulling at the winds of magic it was like cupping water from a murky pond, easy to do with a hidden depth that only hinted at the dangers within. This time though, I felt like I was trying to stand still during a flash flood. The winds were shifting wildly, warping all around me, while I could see terrifying images drawing near. My breath shuddered out of my chest as fear started creeping up my spine and these spectral nightmares began to move towards me. 

I spun my right hand and began to pull the winds towards me while I used my left hand to write the words the old shaman Meric had taught me. I forced the winds into cords and began to twist them into an arrow the size of a horse. I focused on giving it form out of the void and turned my attention back to the five-some who had managed to break the Warriors of the Path and kill nearly all of us. Anger gripped my belly as I spit into the wind and released the spell.

It was wild and went off like a deafening explosion that sent a thousand magical arrows hurtling across the valley. The giantess turned towards the incoming storm with eyes wide and began spinning her staff above her head as I concentrated on landing every blot. Too late did I notice that she had thrown up a barrier that would stop all of my missiles from landing. I didn't have time to throw up any protections for the rebounding blast. The last thing I remember was being knocked off the wagon I had been standing on and thrown nearly a hundred feet in the air before landing hard against the hillside.

More later.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Happy Father's Day!

I hope that all you fathers out there reading this have gotten to sleep in, drink whiskey in your morning coffee without having to hide it, and don't wake up to this!

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Calling on the Gaming Brain Trust for Help!

From left to right: Ernie Gygax, Scott Schwartz, Simon Todd, Andy

Last night I was working my way through the blogs for this week's Best Reads of the Week when I came across this picture. +Alexis Smolensk of the Tao of D&D has been involved in an argument with another blogger (see The Real Deal for more) and published this picture with the individuals labeled as Gary Gygax, David Trampier, Aaron Aalston, and Tom Moldvay. I think he got that impression after reading a post by +Jay Murphy from his blog The Vanishing Tower. In the post, The Health of Gaming Today, Jay was talking about the deaths of Gygax, Trampier, Aalston, and Moldvay and posted this picture which could easily lead to the misnomers.

See I know for a fact that the gentleman on the lower left side of the frame is +Ernie Gygax and that this photo was taken at Gary Con this year (Ernie Gygax has also confirmed that it is him in that picture). That means that Tom Moldvay could not be present since he died April 24, 2007. Similarly Aaron Aalston could not have been present for this picture as he passed in February, nearly a full month before this picture was taken. We also know that David Trampier did not attend this year's Gary Con as he died before the convention began. So who's in the picture with Ernie?

[[Edit 6/14/2014]] Thanks to Guy Fullerton and +Michael Curtis we now know that the gentlemen on the right, farthest back is illustrator Simon Todd. Next to him is his friend Andy. That leaves only the gentleman in the upper left next to +Ernie Gygax to discover. 

[[Edit 6/14/2014]] Thanks to the eagle eyed Guy Fullerton we know the identity of the last gentleman. His name is Scott Schwartz! Thank you all for helping me fill in these names and for getting their identities correct! I really appreciate all of your help!

Friday, June 13, 2014

Best Reads of the Week! June 6 -13

Welcome back to the BEST READS OF THE WEEK! I read over three hundred blogs and search through the Google+ Pen and Paper Bloggers community for the best articles being put out by this hobby each and every week. Below are the fruits of my effort, but they can always get better! If you've got a blog you think is being overlooked let me know so I can add you to the reading pool!

This week was a busy week in the blog-o-sphere with sneak peaks of the new edition coming out practically every single day! Yet even with such exciting news coming out the blog-o-sphere managed to explore a myriad of topics alongside the latest D&D news. We've got mega dungeons and faction interactions; new magical items for your home games; seedy bars and fantastic foods; a slew of subclasses for D&D and so much more!

As always, these guys and gals spend a lot of time working on their blogs and if you like one of these posts be sure and let the author know by giving them a +1 on Google+, a like on facebook, a comment, or re-sharing their work with the wider community! Feel free to re-share this list, or any of the past Best Reads of the Week as well.

 Best Reads of the Week!

Check This Out - Non-Combat Challenges by Justin, from the blog The Alexandrian: An interesting examination of a really clever thread that appeared on EN World. Justin takes the time to describe a series of challenges that can help add a layer of participation for events that are often overlooked and passed over by Dungeon Masters and players alike.

New Magic Item: Moraxo's Magnificent Ink by Hayao Miyazaki film in the best ways possible. A great addition to the magical menagerie in any game and one that will most definitely be involved in my own.

Cauldron Classic Recipes by +Luka Rejec, from the blog Cauldrons & Clerics: As a Dungeon Master you're always finding yourself trying to add the little touches to your game that will help establish the verisimilitude of the setting and make the game all that better for your players. This great list by Luka will provide you with a fantastic start for the meals your players will encounter as they stop over at the first affordable roadside inn they come across.

D&D Homebrew: Calvary Subclass by +Dan Head, from the blog Dan & Sally's Digital Domain: So often in this hobby the mounted combat class is treated like a forgotten holdover from the days when we involved ourselves in war games rather than role-playing games, which is a pity. Luckily for us Dan Head remembers how much fun these classes could be and has a trio of subclasses that will remind you how much fun charging your enemies down can be.

User Hostile: How to Make a Good Game Book Painful to Use by David, from the blog DM David: In this insightful article by DM David we're treated to a brief analysis of the problems with Scourge of the Sword Coast. If you're thinking about designing your own game booklet this article is a great place to see where things can go wrong and how to prevent those problems from cropping up in your own work.

Campaign Tone - What is the Tenor of Your World by +Rick Stump, from the blog Don't Split the Party: If you're having trouble creating a certain feel for your game world then you need to read this post by Rick Stump. In this really great piece Rick has used examples from literature and some of the games he's played in over the years to provide the reader with a greater understanding of what it means to create a tone for your campaign and how to maintain it.

d100 pubs in Shadel Port by +Chris Tamm, from the blog Elfmaids & Octopi: If you're like me you're looking to find ways to make your local pubs stand out for your players so that they can develop a favorite bar and a connection with the NPCs of your world. Well this excellent chart by Chris Tamm will give you everything from the bar you always wished you'd go into to the one you never want to go back to. Excellent post in every way.

Origins D&D 5e Panel Highlights by +Russ Morrissey, from EN World: In a continued push to find the best coverage for the new edition of Dungeons and Dragons Morrus has gone out of his way to again provide the community with the most in depth coverage of this ever developing story. Great piece on the new edition with 20 days till the Starter Set ships for select stores and Basic D&D launches.

Starter Set vs B/X - Spell Lists by +Rachel Ghoul, from the blog Rachel Bonuses: In this post from Rachel we get to see a comparison between the Starter Set spell lists that have been released publicly and the classic Basic / Expert sets that have dominated our hobby for decades. It's an interesting read for anyone looking to compare the two play sets.

Mega Dungeons: Under Mountain or Under Enthused? by +Marty Walser, from the blog Raging Owlbear: In this fun little post by Marty Walser we're treated to a critical examination of the Mega Dungeon and the problems inherent in the concept of using one. A good read.

Thinking About Dungeon Factions by +Wayne Rossi, from the blog Semper Initiativus Unum: When you're thinking about how to run interactions within a dungeon there's a good chance that you're not considering how the various factions in there are dealing with one and another. This great introductory piece from Wayne is a fantastic place to start thinking about those factions and how they work together.

Best of Dyvers this Week!

Nobody Makes it Out Alive: An actual play series of posts that concluded this week. A fun romp in a killer dungeon run by a Dungeon Master who gets excited when he kills a player character. I had money on the line and hate in my heart throughout this game!

Closing Comments.

Due to the influx of spam comments on Dyvers I am closing the comments. I'm not currently doing anything with this blog, but I don'...