Unfinished Business III: Electric Jubilee @rjschwalb #4e #3e #DnD #RPG

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A recent purchase sent me down a rabbit hole. Last Wednesday, I whined about my unfinished business with 4th Edition D&D (“4e“) with 3rd Edition D&D (“3e“). Yesterday, I showed how that can put you in a “you can never go back” position. Today, I’m not whining (too much), but this is really about praising a great RPG writer, Rob Schwalb, a.k.a., the Demon Lord, a.k.a., Satan Claus.

Elf Will Ferrell GIF - Elf Will Ferrell SANTA - Discover & Share GIFs

Full disclosure: Though we’ve never sat down and had a beer together (why the fuck not?), I know the guy, and I know that he’s done a lot of writing for D&D. However, I don’t pay attention to the authors on those books because I trust the brand and am going to buy those books regardless of who the freelance author was. I honestly had no idea he authored some of my favorite D&D books. Only the ones I consider my favorites are noted below, but the full list is here (or so claims Amazon.com).

Fiendish Codexes, 3e

As I’ve whined before, the Fiendish Codexes are two 3e sourcebooks I regret having sold off, and as much as I want them in my physical library, I’m not paying $135 or more for either. Rob co-wrote the second one, Tyrants of the Nine Hells, with Robin D. Laws. I’ll have to settle on the fact that my new character I’m playing at Winter Vantasy will be Tybalt the Cursed (Tyrants of the Nine Hells, page 79), or at least as close as I can get. Feel free to make suggestions to his character sheet at 1st level and 5th level.

Tome of Magic, 3e

Only one class can truly compete with bard for my favorite class: the Truenamer from Tome of Magic (for which I’m not paying $50+). I made one my BBEG for a campaign I ran but never played one as a PC. Mechanically, it’s not the best class. It has a weird power curve because it’s attacks are based on skills, so as you level up you became weaker until you hit 4th, 8th, 12th, etc. level where you get a huge jump in power. It also depends on a very specific set of magic items in order to keep up with the NPC power curve. Nevertheless, it has great flavor, so I’d have been happy to play one. I’ve annoyed people by playing bongos or a recorder at the game table for my bards, but can you imagine roleplaying a truenamer? I’d be screaming profanity in an unknown language every time I attacked.

SRD - Truenamer
Okay, maybe it’s best that I never played one.

Drow of the Underdark

Last week, I purchased a soft cover copy of Drow of the Underdark via the DMs Guild (PDF included). I loved that book and wanted it in my physical library. I’m very happy with my soft cover of the Fiend Folio for 1st Edition D&D, so the format doesn’t bother me at all.

Martial Power, 4e (the First One)

In 4e, all I wanted to play were leaders, which were the classes that did most of the healing. This is odd because I disliked playing healers in every other edition of D&D that I’ve played (though 5th Edition D&D‘s tempest cleric is reasonably fun). However, the one 4e non-leader class/build that I loved to play as much as a leader was the beastmaster ranger from Martial Power. I could win initiative and run across an entire battle map on the first turn. Impressive, though reckless. I did it only once. Once. But being able to self-flank with your beast companion was fun.

Monster Manual 3, 4e

My favorite enemies are demons, devils, drow, and slaadi. This book had cambions, 7 demons (molydeus!) 8 devils (using a picture of a Binder from Tome of Magic for 3e), 6 drow, Lolth, Eclavdra, and 2 slaadi. Lolth’s stat block was about as clever as they come, changing from a lurker to a brute when her lurker form was “killed.” Rob confirmed with me that he drafted it. (Sly Flourish‘s Cryonax stat block was pretty good too. Never used it. Shit.)

How could I not love this sourcebook? This is, of course, just scratching the surface. This sourcebook introduced a lot of iconic monsters to 4e. I added an intellect devourer to my home game as soon as I had that stat block.

Exemplars of Evil and Elder Evils, 3e

These were not among my favorites. I mention them only to say, yeah, it figures he wrote these. Crazy bastard.

This list is itself just scratching the surface. He’s done a lot of solid work, which is unsurprising. You don’t keep getting jobs if you’re producing shoddy work. Some of my favorite titles have his bloody fingerprints all over them.

Hail!

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Unfinished Business II, Electric Boogaloo: Dragon Magic for 3.5e D&D #4e #3e #DnD #RPG #DontBeADick

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I recently wrote about my unfinished business with 4th Edition D&D (“4e“). In short, the edition was (mostly) abandoned by WotC while there was still more of their material to explore. This was a problem only because most of my friends and I were the kind of people that would always move on to the current edition, so there’s no blame to assess. That’s just the way it is. Well, as I mentioned in that post, the same thing happened with 3rd Edition D&D (“3e“); it just wasn’t as devastating for me.

So, moving onto the topic at hand, I recently came across a 3e supplement I had forgotten but was a sore point for me: Dragon Magic. In WotC’s words,

This D&D supplement presents an unprecedented variety of new options for your character, each one drawing on some element of draconic might. It presents a new standard class, the dragonfire adept, who combines a potent breath weapon with various magical invocations. It reveals many new ways to wield the magic of dragons, including draconic auras, dragonpacts, and draconic racial variants.

For the DM, this book also provides dragon-themed adventure seeds and campaign ideas, magical locations to explore, and new options for making dragons more powerful and exciting.

I’ve always been a “kitchen sink” DM, by which I mean that I never forbade a player from using an official WotC resource for their D&D character. I didn’t care how it broke the game; I’d adjust. If they bought the book, they should be able to make use of it. I found it bizarre that WotC’s Living Greyhawk living campaign wasn’t so generous. They’re the ones that were trying to sell the book. Why forbid its use? But I digress. The point is that I bought Dragon Magic and really wanted to try the class it introduced, the dragonfire adept. I never got that opportunity, and the one time I tried, the DM forbade it because he wasn’t familiar with the material.

I have no idea whether it was a fun class. I have no idea whether the draconic subspecies, variant class features, draconic feats, draconic spells, dragon pacts, or draconic auras were any good. But I really wish I had had the opportunity to find out. To be clear, I’m being a whiny little bitch about this. It’s not enough that 4e, 5e, or any other game system created similar options. I wanted to play these options in 3e at that time, and I’m a little bitter I was denied that. As I’m not a fan of 3e, and the only times I’ve played it in recent years has been within the resurrected Living Greyhawk campaign, which forbids it, so this will never happen. That’s a shame.

The NeverEnding Story Noah Hathaway as Atreyu Talking with Falcor 8 x 10  inch photo at Amazon's Entertainment Collectibles Store
All I wanted was to ride Falcor!

In other words, the real message of this post is: Don’t deny your players the opportunity to use the materials for which they’ve paid good money (i.e., don’t be a dick).

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Another Blast from the Past: Print Issues of Dragon and Dungeon Magazines #ADnD #DnD #3e #4e #RPG 

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Last week, I mentioned that, during my move, I found the hard copies of my Dungeon Delves from synDCon. Well, I also found some print issues of Dragon and Dungeon magazines. Any mechanics or setting-based discussed in the magazines is for 3rd Edition D&D (“3e“), which I no longer enjoy playing, but much of the material is system agnostic. It’s still good stuff.

As I’ve said in many other contexts, I left D&D in 1982 due to the Satanic Panic, dabbled a bit in the Star Trek RPG in high school and college, then finally returned to D&D and a small amount of other RPGs in 2005. Because of my age, my awareness, my family’s restrictions, and logistics, I didn’t subscribe to Dragon and Dungeon until 2005 or 2006. It was fantastic. As someone still trying to get a feel for writing and running my own gaming material, I loved the advice and rules explanations that magazine offered. Unfortunately, shortly after I started subscribing, the rug was pulled out. They announced that they were moving the magazines online, and shortly thereafter, 4th Edition D&D (“4e“) was announced at GenCon 2007. The last issues of each were dated for September, 2007.

I wasn’t a fan of the online magazines. I wanted to find a color magazine in my Delaware post office box twice a month, but the reality of our world took over, and I eventually started receiving them online with my DDO subscription. How much did I prefer print? I printed out several of the PDFs, but in black and white. It wasn’t the same, and the ink costs were too high despite not being in color, so that practice didn’t last.

I think this was the first online issue.

Because I appreciated Paizo for publishing them, I gave them a chance by continuing to subscribe to their Pathfinder adventure path books. I recall telling them that in response to their sales pitch they delivered via email.

You can buy these here, but they seem to have new covers.

Sadly (for Paizo), they weren’t for me, so I never used the material. Honestly, I always found their style of artwork better suited for children (especially the goblin), and, as I said above, I also knew that I wouldn’t be staying behind for 3e due to my participation in organized play. In hindsight, that wouldn’t have been a barrier due to the introduction of Pathfinder Society, but I would have abandoned Pathfinder anyway. I greatly prefer 4e, so I’m happy with my decision. Still, I’m happy Paizo enjoyed success, even though that success created a misconception as to how 4e fared, and that people were able to continuing playing an improved system they enjoyed.

My recent revisiting of 1st Edition D&D has me asking questions, and many people have pointed me to old editions of Polyhedron, Dragon, and Dungeon magazines. Apparently, these were a valuable resource long before I subscribed.

I’m old school, so I want those magazines, but I completely understand why I can’t have them.

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Unfinished Business @Erik_Nowak #4e #3e #DnD #RPG

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Yet again, my move has uncovered some things that I haven’t laid my eyes upon in years. This time, I found a bunch of 4th Edition D&D (“4e“) material that I never used, and some I didn’t really use.

I know that 4e wasn’t for everyone. If it wasn’t for you, and you’re just a hater, then this post isn’t for you. Stop reading and go do what makes you happy. No one will give you shit for it.

When 4e ended, I knew what was coming. Everyone with whom I played D&D — and I mean everyone — would be moving onto 5th Edition (“5e“). Why? Because we were all people that met, directly or indirectly, through organized play. Therefore, we were all people who’d just move on to next edition without questioning it. We’d always have to be playing the current edition, whatever it was.

At the time 5e was announced, my friend, Erik, and I had a conversation. We were both of the mindset that 4e was ending too soon. (Erik would eventually be happy because he prefers 5e to 4e.) There was far too much material that we hadn’t yet used. Well, I was reminded of this as I unpacked a ton of 4e adventures and source books that I never used. Sure, I had seen some Shadar-Kai in Living Forgotten Realms, but I never played a Shadowfell campaign. I really wanted to make use of The Shadowfell supplement, either as a player or DM. That’s just one example. There are more than I could list here, especially when you consider the multitude of adventures.

But it’s not just 4e. Once 4e came out, I was so happy with it that I completely abandoned 3rd Edition (“3.0e” and “3.5e“). (Having to confirm critical hits is the dumbest rule in RPG history, so I was happy to see it go away.) As I’ve mentioned, I sold off all my 3.5e material because, as above, I knew that everyone with whom I played would move to 4e. This was a lot of material. I owned literally every sourcebook WotC published for 3.5e, a couple for 3.0e that were never upgraded to 3.5e, as well a ton of adventures (though not all that WotC had published). I also sold off a few 3rd-party products. The only things I kept were the three core books, the Spell Compendium, and Mongoose Publishing’s Pocket Player’s Handbook. I came to regret selling Deities & Demigods, Hordes of the Abyss, and Tyrants of the Nine Hells. I don’t know what the hell I was thinking (pun absolutely intended). Fortunately, Deities & Demigods was gifted to me later, but that’s not great for campaigns. I would really have liked to used Hordes of the Abyss, and Tyrants of the Nine Hells, but I’m not going to pay a minimum of $75 for Hordes or a minimum of $150 for Tyrants.

Of course, I’m capable of reading the material and adapting it to whatever edition I want to DM. Many of the monsters already exist across editions (though not 4e‘s uber-cool Immolith, except unofficially), but the cosmology and character options are very different. Crossing those streams has two disadvantages: 1) it’s more work; and 2) it subverts my players’ expectations for how the cosmology is currently structured. I wouldn’t know how to convert the Hellbred race from Tyrants of the Nine Hells to 1st Edition (“1e“), which is my current focus. Also, I want to start with the classic adventures first. Adapting adventures from other editions will happen later rather than sooner.

I’m not sure it’s in the cards, but there’s a lot of great legacy material out there that I wish I had used.

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The Other D&D: Deities and Demigods @SerpentineOwl @Luddite_Vic #ADnD #DnD #RPG #MythologyMonday #MythologyMonandæg #folklore

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Every now and then, someone posts to a D&D group asking how everyone used Deities & Demigods in your games. The question almost always refers to 1st Edition D&D (“1e”). I suspect the reason for that is 1) many people that used it as kids so (like me) their answers will depend on how long ago they played; and 2) later editions of D&D overtly incorporated combat with divine creatures, or their avatars, for epic level adventurers. I’ve also played 3rd Edition D&D (“3e”), 4th Edition D&D (“4e”), and 5th Edition D&D (“5e”), so I’m going to address all of them.

Yes, there’s a clear pattern in my abbreviations, but this is how lawyers write.

1e

As a kid, I loved reading mythology before I had even heard of D&D. Mythology is what drew me in, so of course I was going to use Deities and Demigods anyway I could. I remember during my earliest days (1977 or 1978), I created a list of 100 (or so) magic items from that sourcebook (e.g., Thor’s hammer, Enlil’s helm), and each PC was permitted to roll a d100 to determine their starting magic weapon. Yes, a 7th-level level character could wield Zeus’s Aegis. As an adult, this sounds stupid, but there’s no wrong way to play D&D, right? We had fun with it.

Hiatus

I stopped playing D&D in 1982 due to the Satanic Panic, so no 2nd Edition or 3rd Edition D&D for me.

3.5e

I returned to the game of D&D in 2005, and 3.5e was the current edition. I never played or ran epic level for 3.5e, so that edition’s Deities and Demigods was nothing more than reading material. I sold off almost all my 3e materials when 4e came out, but when I repurchased some for posterity, I made sure to grab that one (actually, it was gifted to me by James). I love that book, but what stood out the most to me about it was the transition to Horus as the supreme leader of the Egyptian pantheon. Like the real world, leadership switched. But I never used it in game.

Side Note: I really wish I’d never sold Hordes of the Abyss or Tyrants of the Nine Hells. They’re great resources valuable in any edition, but buying them now would be a horrible waste of money.

4e

There was no 4e Deities and Demigods. Divine creatures, or their avatars (DM’s choice as to which), appeared throughout various monster manuals, and they were designed as encounters for epic level creatures. Basically, Wizards of the Coast (“WotC”) surrendered to the notion that a lot of us wanted to face the divine, and it became part of the game. How the monster was interpreted – the actual creature or just an avatar – was a matter for the DM to decide, but they were there. Well, a few of them. I don’t recall WotC publishing gods beyond their own proprietary pantheons. I believe you had to go to third parties for that material, and sometimes it wasn’t right on point (e.g., Soldiers of Fortune had a Thor equivalent, but he wasn’t called “Thor”).

Going Backwards

Now that I’m going backwards, I must decide how to deal with divine creatures. They aren’t baked into the scheme like they are with 4e. In fact, as some have pointed out, it really should be impossible for PCs to compete against the divine on their home plane, which is the only place where they can finally be defeated. Once you leave the Prime Material Plane, many spells don’t work or are severely weakened. The environment itself works against the PCs but is home sweet home for divine creatures. There’s no upper limit to class levels for PCs, so eventually PCs should be able to fight the divine within the rules, but who’s going to level up to level 1,000? No one, and isn’t advancement through adventuring the real fun of the game? I’m not just going to say, “Okay, you’re all 1,000th level. Let’s go fight some gods.” I’m also not going to rewrite the rules in some odd way to make divine encounters more practical. It’s assumed that DMs will tweak the rules a bit, but eventually that reaches a point where we aren’t playing D&D anymore. That doesn’t interest me.

Of course, I don’t have to make my decision anytime soon. In fact, I may never have to make it. Once I sit down at the table, I may lose interest in 1e quickly. We’ll see.

Shameless Plug

This isn’t much of a plug, but here it goes. Luddite Vic and I are designing our own RPG. It’ll never see the commercial light of day because we don’t meet frequently enough to get it done. However, the system so far is, unsurprisingly, exactly what I want from an RPG. One of our design schemes relevant here is to make sure that PCs can emulate characters from mythology, folklore, or literature even at first level. I’ve never seen that in an RPG.

For example, how might one emulate Thor in 5e? One less-than-ideal option would be a hammer-wielding human tempest cleric, but that cleric would barely be distinguishable from any other cleric build until 3rd level, and even then, it’s going to take a while before it’s obvious to other players what you’re trying to do. You could just tell them, but if you need to do that, you’re not really playing Thor yet. What about Tarzan? How long would a half-naked, dagger-wielding barbarian last in a game of 5e?

In our system, everyone would know from the get-go exactly what you were doing with your lightning/thunder-based, hammer-wielding, human tempest, or a half-naked, dagger-wielding barbarian, even though those characters wouldn’t be any more or less powerful than any other 1st-level characters. That’s the real solution, but I know of no other game that does that. One game was mentioned to me where the PCs are the gods, but from what I understand, they don’t start as anything resembling 1st-level for other RPGs. That’s not bad, but it’s not the same thing. I want to start as first level with that character concept and earn divinity.

That’s how I’d prefer to “use Deities and Demigods.” I shouldn’t need to. I should be able to make the PCs and NPCs exactly what I need them to be. But in 1e, they’re just avatars.

Maybe someday Vic and I will finish our game.

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My synDCon Dungeon Delves @Luddite_Vic @flashedarling #ADnD #DnD #4e #RPG 

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I know you’re all sick of hearing about my new house, but hear me out. This is a D&D post. During my move, I found some things I had lost. Sort of. I have the original Word and PDF versions, but I found the bounded hard copies. First, some context.

Luddite Vic and I ran a gaming club called the Gamers’ Syndicate, and ran a convention about a decade ago called synDCon, playing off the association with the Syndicate. It took place in the DC area (Rockville, MD, to be precise); hence, the odd capitalization in the convention’s name.

I’m like a free agent: Unrestricted.

The current edition of D&D at the time was 4th, and one of the marketing efforts for that edition was the “dungeon delve.” These were 30-45 minute (if I recall correctly) collections of three or four combat-only scenarios. They were great at conventions for giving gamers something to do if their adventures ran over. In many cases, there were minor prizes for completing the delves, which wasn’t always easy.

Well, I took that idea and ran with it for synDCon II. It was my pet project because I was able to combine a couple of ideas to make it worth my trouble. I created delves based on iconic encounters in 1st Edition AD&D adventures, added in pregens created by Galen, and named the event synDClash (shut up). Here’s the rundown:

  1. Return to the Borderlands (easy): The Mad Hermit, the Owlbear, and the Minotaur, all based on Keep on the Borderlands.
  2. Giant Problems (easy): The kitchen encounter from Steading of the Hill Giant Chief, the frozen tomb from Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl, and the children’s barracks from Hall of the Fire Giant King (they were actually “Fire Giant Tweens”).
  3. The Ruins at Inverness (medium): The chessmen, the medusa and “strange apes,” and the fire giant from my favorite D&D adventure, Ghost Tower of Inverness, which I’ve converted to 4e and 5e (only characters were published).
  4. Erelhei-Cinlu Rises (difficult): A troglodyte, wyverns, and piercers in a cavern from Descent into the Depths of the Earth; the statute of Blibdoolpoolp and some kuo-toa from from Shrine of the Kuo-Toa, and the married couple Belgos and Silussa (the succubus) from Vault of the Drow.
  5. The Great Metal Dungeon (difficult): The mind flayer and vegepygmies, the combat-based robots, and the bulette from second favorite D&D adventure Expedition to the Barrier Peaks.
  6. The Pit of the Queen (very difficult, by which I meant impossible): The demonweb maze populated by various giant arachnids, the two drow clerics sitting on towers, and Lolth herself from Queen of the Demonweb Pits.

We also allowed DMs to run the Fool’s Grove Delve, which was published by WotC. For synDClash (shut up), it was medium difficulty.

As you might guess, the Pit of the Queen was completely unfair. For those of you that have knowledge of 4e, here are three features that stand out for the final encounter with Lolth. First, the encounter begins with a lot of space between the PCs and Lolth, but with spider swarms near the PCs. The swarms have a close blast 3 basic attack(!). That is, if one PC provoked, the spider would execute a blast that could affect multiple PCs, and considering the cramped space and the range of the attack, there were always multiple targets. Oh, and of course that attack went off the moment the swarm was destroyed. Second, she had some animated statutes that kept PCs prone. Third, Lolth had a power that made her appear as “artillery.” However, the moment more than one PC at a time was adjacent to her, it became clear she was a “soldier.” No one saw that coming. They thought that once they got nearby, they’d have her, but that didn’t happen. There’s no way PCs could win this encounter if the DM played it as written, but that didn’t stop PCs from trying.

Josie, if you’re reading this, you’re credited on one of these as a playtester under the name, Jamie Morgan. I have no idea how that happened. 🙂

I was happy to see how popular synDClash (shut up) was. There were some people playing multiple delves for an entire slot, and not because there weren’t seats available at regular games. They enjoyed the nostalgia as well. If we had run a third synDCon, my next plan was to make a bunch of delves based on fairy tales, but it wasn’t meant to be.

I also found this gem from 1986.

One of these days, I’d like to run these again, and having hard copies for the adventures and the pre-generated characters makes that easy.

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Tiamutt #science #biology #gaming #DnD #ADnD #Tiamat

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Sundays now are lazy days for me. I either post something silly or other people’s work. Usually both. Today, it’s from a Facebook D&D group I frequent. Here’s what was shared (on this post if you can see it):

I know. This blog hasn’t been kind to canines (too many examples to count). But whether you’re a cat person or a dog person, everyone likes both kittens and puppies, and I’m no exception, so no backhanded compliments on this post.

Everyone’s reaction to this was some variation of “It’s a hydra!” Have they never heard of taxonomy? Reptiles aren’t even in the same class as canines. No, this is its own thing, and its name is Tiamutt, lord of all canines. Always check with me before classifying D&D monsters. I’m apparently much better at it than you guys.

Now someone stat that shit!

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Star Trek Characters as D&D Characters @StarTrek #DnD #RPG #StarTrek

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I’m not sure I agree with Uhura as a Thief. She’s clearly charismatic and never used the mentioned skills. I also would have labeled Scotty an Artificer. If I’m not mistaken (I know very little about 2nd Edition), the Alchemist is a new class in 5th Edition. The artificer goes back to 3rd Edition. Duelist is a build but certainly fits Sulu based on one of his most iconic scenes.

May be an image of text

Why not?

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The Ixitxachitl Lich #science #biology #gaming #DnD #ADnD #ixitxachitl

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Sundays now are lazy days for me. I either post something silly or other people’s work. Usually both. Today, it’s (loosely) using science to imagine a D&D creature.

Funny story. I never thought I’d ever be able to spell ixitxachitl, and only recently did it stick in my brain. Now I can spell it at will. Small victories, huh?

Now, someone stat this thing.

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Lord Gygax’s Writing Technique #ADnD #DnD #RPG 

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Flogging A Dead Horse GIFs | Tenor

A while back, I observed that, despite Lord Gygax’s writing being rightly criticized at times, he sometimes made some funny observations that I loved, and you really can’t have one without the other. Rather than accept the compliment for our beloved leader, some of you took me for task, stating there is no way (Seriously? No way?) Lord Gygax’s writing could be rightfully criticized. I have some questions for those people.

Gary Gygax" T-shirt by SaintAgnost | Redbubble
I need this shirt.

1/day, an ogre mage can cast “a ray of cold the same dimensions as that of a cold wand.” Putting aside the missing preposition, what’s a “cold wand”? A wand of cold? No, because that’s not a thing either.

Okay, that one’s not so bad. It’s probably a wand of frost. I don’t like having to go to another book to figure out what the book I’m reading is saying, especially without a page cite, but it didn’t take much work to deduce, so let’s keep going. Locathahs are “very intelligent” (intelligence of 11-12), yet they don’t speak a language. If that doesn’t seem right, it’s because it isn’t. They have their own language. How do I know this? I read the write up on the merman. Half of mermen speak locathah. That’s where I had to go to learn about the locathahs. You could also go to the triton stat block to learn that, which is my suggestion because the triton stat block is also where you have to go to learn that aquatic elves have their own language. Well, it actually says “sea elves,” which we’re all assuming are aquatic elves. Worgs may also have a language because winter wolves (that do) can converse with them, but it’s unclear whether that’s because Worgs can speak the language of winter wolves. If troglodytes speak a language, I haven’t found it yet.

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Okay, that was a lecture. Back to questions. How many hit points does an ogre chieftain have? How much damage does a punch from Orcus do? Well, you better have an 11-sided die so that you can determine that (unless you like rerolling high numbers 8.3333% of the time). While you’re at it, make sure to bring your 7-sided die to the game. You may need to calculate how many hit points a goblin has. Fortunately, you need either a d5 or a d9, not both, to determine how many hit points of damage an umber hulk’s mandibles do.

Why doesn’t a giant pike have a swim speed? They seem to run pretty fast on land (36″). Eel? Eye of the deep? Giant gar? Hippocampus? Ixitxachitl? Lamprey (normal or giant)? Locathah? Masher? Morkoth? Portuguese Man-o-War? (From Portugal? Why not? Rakshasa are from India.) Rays of all sorts? Sea hag? Giant sea horse? Sea lion? Shark and megalodon? Sea snake? Triton? Water weird? Whale? That’s every single aquatic monster in the 1e Monster Manual that has only one speed, and it isn’t for swimming.

What spells do a rakshasas cast? What language(s) do they speak? I could ask the same questions for a number of creatures. I already did once (see above). How many rounds or turns does a slithering tracker’s paralysis last? If its siphoning of plasma is interrupted by an attack, will it have time to resume that process if the attacker breaks off the attack? How much damage does a giant slug’s acid do? It’s its preferred attack. Shouldn’t we be told without having to find it in the DMG (on page 64, by the way)? On a d6 roll of 2, what psionic attack will a Su-Monster use? Okay, that last one is just a typo. 🙂

Then there are the spells being referenced with variant names throughout the Monster Manual and even within the Players Handbook itself. One psionic attack is apparently misnamed. What does a mind flayer’s “mind blast” do? I’m not even going to address this disaster. I’ll leave that to this site, which isn’t just an indictment of incompleteness but also general disorganization.

Maybe I’m sensitive, but this is poor writing. My social media posts sometimes generate over 100 responses, and those responses often make opposite claims as to what the text clearly means. For example, no one could agree on the effect of a Iron Golem’s breath weapon or whether paladins and rangers cast at their class level or their class level minus 7 or 8 respectively. A whale at the surface of water is one of many examples of a monster that strikes a target for half the target’s hps. Is that half the target’s undamaged hp total or half the target’s current hp total? I think that last question applies to the effect a Haste spell has on a Wind Walker, but I’m just not sure. The only thing these people could agree on is that their own opinion was unambiguously supported by the text. I’m no logician, but I’m pretty sure that means that one of them is incorrect. I’m still waiting for those apologists to come to a consensus as to what that text clearly says. Instead, they claim that the others are ignoring what’s obvious, missing the irony completely.

At other times, the conversation devolves into, “Well, you’re the DM. Do what you want.” I assure you I will, but I shouldn’t have to design my own game system in the process. The rules should provide a clear baseline, and from there I can tweak it knowing I won’t likely break the game with my preferences. Saying “do what you want” in these contexts concedes, intentionally or not, that the rules are horribly vague. Sometimes when they are clear, they’re disorganized or require mathematically impossible “fair” dice.

This doesn’t mean you must hate the game. There are always clunky workarounds, and I can’t wait to play it again despite my concerns. Besides, these failures are certainly understandable. Lord Gygax was a pioneer. It’s impossible to get something right the first time, especially organization. As far as ambiguity is concerned, modern writers go to great pains to formulate unambiguous language. It’s an impossible goal, but you one can’t even come close if you don’t know to try. Lord Gygax was suffering from a variation of the false consensus effect, assuming that everyone would interpret his words exactly as he intended, in no small part because he was doing this before anyone else. He didn’t have the experience of dealing with min/maxers that squeeze any ambiguity they can find from the text. There’s also plenty to love about his writing, which I’ll discuss next week. However justified his approach, it’s foolish to deny the one and only thing that is clear: Lord Gygax’s writing is often rightly criticized. Denying that denies just how much he difficulty he faced as a pioneer. Getting angry at this notion is doubling down on that foolishness.

But let’s end on something happy.

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These guys probably have only a burrowing speed.

Okay, I ruined the “happy” on that one.

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