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Robert E. Bodine, Esq. is an attorney in Virginia focusing his practice on real estate and intellectual property law. He is one of the founding members of the Gamers’ Syndicate, a Washington, DC-based gaming club. He was the author of the Loremaster.org article series, Protection from Chaos, dealing with intellectual property law matters as they relate to the gaming industry, and has represented several game designers on intellectual property matters. You can follow him on Twitter @RobertEBodine for politics, @PropertyAtty for legal matters, @GSLLC for gaming matters, and if you’re a sports fan, @MMADork.
I was searching the internet for something for Caturday and found this.
Here’s something old (2017) but new to me. Illustrator Jenny Parks created a book of illustrations of cats taking the roles of Star Trek characters from the original series. StarTrek.com published an article on it prior to its release. Its cost has dropped since the article. She did a sequel(?) based on the Next Generation and a wall calendar.
Despite the mash-up of two of my interests, these aren’t my thing, but maybe they’re yours.
I spent about $53 on this dice tower from GameStop, which arrived today. There were only two left when I bought it, but don’t worry. At that price, you would probably have chickened out anyway. On the other hand, saying there were only two left was probably a ploy to encourage me to buy it. Wasted effort. I knew I was going to buy it the moment I saw it.
I really hate my voice. Anyway, if you really want to waste some money, you can pay $250 for it, or $2,000 for a 1st print (i.e., the one with the most errors in it) Monster Manual. People are idiots. EDIT: I just received notification it dropped to $1,700! What a steal!
And if you’re wondering about the image I have as my wallpaper, here it is.
Everyone that knows me will assume that the video is doctored. I don’t roll natural 20s, even with help.
My social media discussions on the 1st Edition AD&D (“1e”) stat blocks for archdevils and demon lords gave me a thought that I doubt is in any way controversial, but there’s certainly a counter opinion to it. I was asking how one would determine the hit dice of, for example, Asmodeus, when it isn’t given in the 1e Monster Manual. His stat block simply gives his hit points as 199, which isn’t evenly divisible by any of the D&D dice (not even the virtual d3). The answer was given in appendix E of the Dungeon Master’s Guide, which provides the THAC0 – yes, there’s THAC0 in 1e! – for all of these creatures. In this discussion, someone brought up Lolth’s unusually low hit point total (66), but her stat block also gives her hit dice as a parenthetical, so I assumed that by the Fiend Folio, everyone figured out how bad the omission was. Interestingly enough, that’s incorrect, because both Bahamut and Tiamat in the Monster Manual have both their hit points and hit dice disclosed in their respective stat blocks. I have no idea why the archdevils and demon lords weren’t given express hit dice.
But now I’m off on a tangent. Let me get back to my non-controversial point. When 4e came out, there was a design decision to allow PCs to fight the gods themselves. Though some sources said these were mere avatars, some referred to them as the actual gods. I remember in one of Paizo’s adventure paths released around the time of (just before?) Pathfinder, the adventure ended with 20th-level characters facing Demogorgon, with the option of one of them replacing Demogorgon as the head asshole in charge in the Abyss. Clearly that was the Demogorgon they were facing. Back then (which isn’t that long ago), I thought that was awesome. “Epic” level mortals should be dealing with world-ending events that affect the galaxy as a whole, if not the entire universe. That’s sounds both epic and divine. This was consistent with how I approached the 1e Deities and Demigods as a kid, which I thought was an invitation for PCs to fight gods, steal their shit, and wreak havoc. (Who reads the preface of any of these books? Certainly not I.)
My discussions on 1e have brought me back to Oerth so to speak. As “epic” as mortals are, they’re still mortal. There should still be a line drawn between the mortal world and the divine world, even if mortals can get a good glimpse of that higher plane. If mortals want to fight gods (not merely their avatars), then they should ascend to godhood to do it, but that would be another game altogether. My friend and I have discussed this a bit for our game, and my thought is that we should allow fights with the divine at ultra-high levels only if the game system itself changed in some significant way at those levels. The underlying engine would be the same, but it would feel very different, thus justifying the jump in the PCs’ competition. For 3.5 and 4e players that have played epic level in those systems, I’m talking about deviations that go beyond what those editions provided. In those systems, epic level was merely lower levels but with bigger numbers. There must be a greater change than that because I imagine fighting an actual god would require more than what mortals usually employ. I threw out a couple of ideas that I think might work, but I’m not giving those away just yet. 🙂
In any event, no one is fighting the Asmodeus in my 1e games unless they have a death wish.
There are two things I want to say about aquatic adventures, one bad and one good. First, I’m going to whine.
During the 4th Edition days, we had the Living Forgotten Realms living campaign, and a handful of those adventures were underwater. How do humans, elves, etc. deal with water breathing? They buy potions of water breathing. Duh. What if they can’t afford it because they’re low level? Does no one get to play and we send everyone home? Nope. Their employer buys the potions for them.
Wait, what? Doesn’t that trivialize aquatic adventures? Why would anyone pay for the potions? Just say, “Well, my character just bought a ton of gear and has no coins on hand.” Either way, it just feels cheap to me (though no different than potions of flying for aerial battles). You should always get to play, but you should always have to pay a cost. You could have varying strengths of water breathing potions, but what would that mean? You can either breathe water or not. If the duration of a potion were shorter, you’d have to buy more, which again would be cost-prohibitive for lower-level adventurers. Moreover, if you don’t have to pay a cost, why not write the adventure for land and stick the characters on difficult terrain?
I don’t know how to solve this problem, though I have a theoretical approach. The brilliance of healing surges (for 5e players, hit dice, but a bit more brilliant than that) is that they introduced a different economy to the game. While there was some connection between healing surges and currency (healing potions cost 50 gp and let you trigger healing surges), they were kind of their own thing, being innate to the character rather than something bought. In other words, somehow your Constitution score needs to come into play for underwater combat, but failure shouldn’t necessarily be fatal, as that would bring the adventure to a halt for the most unheroic of reasons.
In 1st Edition, players have bought in to something like this being the cost of doing business as an adventurer, so in 1e, aquatic adventures were probably unavailable until higher levels when water breathing potions were affordable. There’s a logic to that, as higher-level characters are always going to be able to do cooler things than lower-level characters, and every edition from 1e to 5e has some really cool aquatic creatures. However, modern gamers tend to be turned off by that, so maybe aquatic adventures will always be cheap in newer editions. I wish I had an answer, because . . .
I can use my air combat mapping idea for underwater combat. I bought some acrylic squares (Home Depot), drew grids on them (Sharpie), and superglued Legos to them. The effect: A flexible method of stacking layers representing different heights (or depths), all transparent so that you can see what’s going on from any angle, and relatively small in size, so you can easily reach your minis.
This is my first attempt at this. I goofed up one of the lines (bottom tier, fourth from the left), but that can be fixed on the next ones. As you can see, I drew the squares with a straightedge (close enough for government work) and super-glued a single 2×2 Lego to each corner (on top and underneath). I can then vary the number of Legos between them to my preference. Five Legos are exactly 2″ in height, so that means a stack of 8 between the glued pieces makes the height 2 squares. You can call that 5′ but have plenty of room to move around the minis.
If this were done professionally, it’d be better if the gridlines were more subtle (i.e., thinner and lighter). So, next up I added a level using red ink on every other level so that the lines aren’t quite as confusing. It made things a little better, but it’s hard to see that because the quality of the lines are poor, and they were even worse because my red Sharpie smudged too much.
One bit of warning: The device requires far more precision than an impatient dude with a straightedge and Sharpie can provide. As a result of that (and perhaps the nature of Legos), the Lego connections are very sensitive to pressure. If you apply too much downward pressure, they separate. If you provide too much lateral pressure, they separate. If all your minis are human-sized, smaller columns will be more stable, but you could also tape (not superglue) the columns for some added structural integrity, which can be easily undone when you want to change the height. Or you could buy a bunch more Legos so that you can pre-make permanent stacks of varying height. Telling a nerd to buy more Legos isn’t exactly unreasonable. It’s like telling you you’re just going to have to buy more dice. Everyone’s willing to do that. . . depending on the die. Of course, none of this is an issue if you’re playing a game (e.g., Dragon Age RPG) that uses zones instead of precise measurements.
Sundays now are lazy days for me. I either post something silly or other people’s work. Usually both. Today, it relates to something I haven’t done in years but will do really soon, mixed with two things I’ve never done, combining to something I haven’t done in years.
I was searching the internet for something for Caturday and found this.
I immediately thought, “Well, sure. Every Ozzy Osbourne fan knows that.” That in turn led me down the mental rabbit hole of one of the dumbest consequences of the Satanic Panic. I’ve mentioned the Satanic Panic several times, including a brief post hinting at my experiences with it in the context of gaming. This is a different angle, and one that’s more mainstream.
Ozzy Osbourne wrote a song called Suicide Solution. Here are the opening lyrics.
Wine is fine by whiskey’s quicker. Suicide is slow with liquor. Take a bottle and drown your sorrows. Then it floods away tomorrows
So, what do those lyrics mean to you? What is this song about? If you answered, “Putting a gun to your head and shooting yourself,” then you’re an idiot. I get that not all of you are chemists. I understand that “solution” meaning “a liquid mixture in which the minor component (the solute) is uniformly distributed within the major component (the solvent)” isn’t the first thing you think of when you hear that word, but when analyzing the lyrics to this particular song, it’s clear that’s what Osbourne meant. Moreover, any fan of Osbourne would have known that even if you didn’t.
His parents insisted that young, impressionable adults were particularly susceptible to being influenced by Osbourne’s music . . . .
Yeah, so they understand the meaning of the words, which warned of the effects of alcohol and drug abuse.
To say that this song caused someone to kill themselves not only flies in the face of logic (supported by the fact that this lawsuit was dismissed), but it also diminishes the importance of factors that actually cause suicide. If you can’t identify the cause of a problem, it’s probably going to be difficult to solve it, and yes, sometimes that means admitting that you, the parent, have far more control over your child’s mental health than a public figure and stranger who has deeper pockets.
Censorship is stupid, and this case is yet another piece of evidence as to why that’s so. Not only was it an attempt to run from responsibility by scapegoating Ozzy, but if it had succeeded, it would have silenced a positive message about avoiding alcohol abuse based solely on ignorance and prejudgment. Let’s not relive the past in this regard.
Character death is yet another example of where there seems to be a great divide between modern and “old school” players, and as with all other issues, my answer tends to fall somewhere in the middle. According to the latest social media dust ups, 1e AD&D players generally see character death as a necessary ingredient to making the game fun. Without the risk of failure, not only is there no thrill of victory, but also there’s no “game” all. Moreover, the more at risk, the greater the reward. I largely agree with that, so the structure of this post is to operate from that assumption and then pull back on it a bit.
In my experience, modern players react emotionally to losses. I like the attachment they have to their characters, but more often than I’d like to see, that reaction is embarrassingly extreme. I’ve had plenty of players complain if they didn’t find every single magic item in the adventure, solve every single puzzle, or even when they get hit by a trap for zero damage. This appears to be taking failure far too seriously and “out of character.” In contrast, I see such failures as a fun learning experience. Nevertheless, I do acknowledge the modern player’s yang to the old school player’s yin, though I gather it’s not for the same reasons.
Too Much of Anything Can Be Too Much
I was in a 4e Dark Sun campaign run by Matt James. Among other writing credits to his name, he’s the author of Soldiers of Fortune. There was a stretch in which I lost 5 characters over the course of 9 weeks (i.e., my character died in week 1, then the next in week 3, then week 5, 7, and 9). All but one of those deaths was grandly heroic. NPC bards would sing stories about their sacrifices for centuries to come. But there are two reasons that much death sucks. First, I wrote up backstories at least one page in length for each of those characters. I’m particularly proud of my shardmind’s backstory. Having to do that every other week was a bit of work and eventually would have left me with little room to do something radically different from all I had written before, yet still fun for me. Second, for a character to really matter to a player (or at least to this player), the player must be invested in it, but a player shouldn’t get invested in a character with a shelf life of two, four-hour sessions. Doing so will make the game far too frustrating.
In my 1e days (1977-1982), due to limited interest and accessibility to a player pool (there was no internet back then), there were never more than five players around the table, and even five was rare. Moreover, adventures were designed for as many as 10 characters at a time. That meant we pulled double duty in the party.
Playing multiple characters militated against getting too attached, and while that has the downside, it also had the upside of giving me a wider variety of options on my turns.
I want to know that, in a fair fight, my character has a reasonable chance of survival, but at the same time I want to know that poor decisions on my part, or even just a string of bad luck, can make adventuring as risky as you’d expect it to be if it were real. That’s my often-cited “immersion in the game world/story” that I love to have in my games as either a player or DM. However, it’s ultimately a game and should be playable. Moreover, an investment in your character is another, equally legitimate path to immersion that old school players don’t seem to acknowledge.
Clearly, both sides have a merit, and I prefer them to be balanced rather have one than chosen to the exclusion of the other. YMMV.
I posted a question a couple weeks ago to the 1st Edition AD&D (“1e”) social media groups: When a 8th level paladin or 9th level ranger gain the ability to cast spells, what is their caster level? Despite literally decades of debates over the issue evidencing that the answer isn’t printed in any of the sourcebooks, I received several claims that the answer was clear, but there isn’t a clear answer in the rules. None. If you can find it, please enlighten everyone who’s come before you with a sourcebook and page number linking to a clear statement on the matter. There are, however, just a couple of reasons that I fall on the “caster level is the character level” side of the discussion.
Silence Is Telling
The fact that there’s no statement expressly saying that a 10th-level paladin doesn’t cast at 10th level places us in the default position of “caster level is the character level,” as is the case in every other context (i.e., clerics, druids, illusionists, and magic users). The wording of spells always tells you that variable effects are based on the “level of the caster,” refusing to distinguish between caster level and character level. Consider, then, the third level illusionist spell, Dispel Illusion (using my own words).
The caster can dispel any illusion, with or without an audible component, cast by a non-illusionist, and can dispel an illusion by an illusionist with a 50% base chance adjusted 2% downward for each caster level beneath the illusion’s caster, or 5% upward for each caster level above the illusion’s caster.
Player’s Handbook, p. 96
Per Unearthed Arcana, the magic user doesn’t get the spell until 4th level, and even then:
A magic-user attempting to dispel an illusion is considered at two levels below his actual level with respect to illusion/phantasm spells cast by an illusionist.
It’s one of only a couple of spells that expressly breaks the “caster level is character level” rule, and it tells us two things. First, despite the illusionist needing to be better at illusions than the magic user, it isn’t when dispelling illusions not cast by an illusionist. Even thought the magic user doesn’t get the spell as early, it immediately is as powerful of a caster. However, second, the game wanted there to be a distinction when the spell was casted by an illusionist, so it expressly stated one. It never did so for paladins or rangers. Any other interpretation is reading more into the text of the game than is there. While I don’t believe anyone who tells me that Gary Gygax himself once told them something, it makes me believe that’s possible.
It certainly helps that Sage Advice once agreed after supposedly “speaking with the higher ups.”
Much Ado About Nothing
Most importantly, however, is that it doesn’t matter. One could rule that the caster level is the character level, or a fraction of the caster level, without changing the game significantly. This report provides a list of all the spells a paladin will ever be able to cast from the Player’s Handbook and Unearthed Arcana. In it, you’ll see that there isn’t a single spell where the caster level determines damage or healing. Mostly, the differences are in duration, with a few differences in range and area of effect. Rangers tell the same story as evidenced by this report providing a list of all the spells a ranger will ever be able to cast from the Player’s Handbook and Unearthed Arcana.
Is it at all overpowered to allow a paladin to create an extra 8 cubic feet of food and water or a ranger to predict the weather for and extra 14 hours? If not, then the primary two reasons for ruling otherwise – 1) paladins and rangers should be fighters first and casters second, and 2) it would make them overpowered – are quickly undermined. A notable exception is Magic Missile, but consider how useful useless a 1st-level Magic Missile spell would be against 9th-level threats? At 9th-level, that’s an extra 4d4+4 damage (average 10 hps) against 1-2 Storm Giants with, on average, 72 hps each. A ranger is generally far better off attacking with a bow. The benefit of paladin and ranger spellcasting is increased versatility for those classes, so the real limiting factor is that a ranger could never cast even Fireball or Fly, let alone Power Word Kill or Time Stop.
This may seem like I’m trying to make a strong argument for why I’m right and you’re wrong, but there is no right and wrong here. The rules are ambiguous, and the consequences to the game are insignificant. There’s nothing wrong with ruling either way, and I’d be happy to play at a table with a different rule. I’m just explaining my rationale for my choice in order to spur more conversation and am pointing out that any claim of a clearly correct answer is objectively wrong. There’s no absolutely correct way play D&D.
Only a Sith deals in absolutes. Are you a Sith? Are you?
EDIT: @nrfoley on Twitter provided the following official ruling from Polyhedron 7 (July, 1982), though it doesn’t change my personal decision. As always, YMMV.