d4s: The Black Sheep of the Dice Set #ADnD #DnD #RPG

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I really hate d4s, and just searching for “I hate d4s” on Google shows that I’m not alone.

They’re clumsy to roll, and they’re as dangerous as Legos if you lose one in the shag carpet. Unfortunately, one thing that is certain to drive me nuts when I return to 1st Edition AD&D: It seems like d4s are the most common dice rolled for spellcasting. How long are targets blinded by Power Word Blind? Depending on their hit dice, either 1d4+1 turns or 1d4+1 rounds. How long do clerics charm snakes with Snake Charm? Depending on their mood, 1d4+2 turns, 1d3 turns, or 1d4+4 turns. Maze lasts either 1d4 turns, 5d4 rounds, 4d4 rounds, 3d4 rounds, 2d4 rounds, or 1d4 rounds depending on the target’s intelligence. Animate Object, Animate Rock, Regenerate, Symbol, Wall of Thorns … the list goes on. So far, I’ve entered over 300 spells into my database, so a complete list would be impossible here.

Not only are you rolling d4s, but sometimes you’re rolling a ton of them. Flame Strike does 6d4 points of damage. For Enchant an Item, the casting time is 16+8d4 hours. Aerial Servant summons an Aerial Servant (duh), which does 8d4 damage on their attacks. How much damage does a Meteor Swarm spell do? Depending on the type, either 5d4 or 10d4. Who the hell has 10 d4s?

Okay, maybe a lot of you, but that’s your burden.

Freaking caltrops in disguise.

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Dungeons & Dragons and Forgotten Realms are trademarks of Wizards of the Coast, LLC, who neither contributed to nor endorsed the contents of this post. (Okay, jackasses?)


Visiting an Old Friend, the 1st Edition Fiend Folio: Elemental Princes #DnD #RPG #ADnD

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My review and discussions of 1st Edition Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (“1e“) has me visiting an old friend, the Fiend Folio (“FF“). My impression, which is anecdotal and thus suspect, is that the FF wasn’t very popular. Oddly enough, it was the only compendium of monsters I owned as a kid other than the small collection in the AD&D Blue Box and the monsters contained in the mods I ran. Plus, none of my friends owned it, so I had something on them. Needless to say, it holds a special place in my heart. I’m not making even more “dumbest monsters of D&D” posts. We’ve all had enough of those. These are about things I like.

| Kamadan | My Favorites | Elemental Princes | More Cats | Giants | Dragons |

As a 13-year-old, the elemental princes (FF, p. 31) blew me away. In the 1e Monster Manual, there were hints as to who ruled over the the elementals (p. 37). The FF gave us the details, stating out each of the suggested princes (and one princess). They’re all level X, but even the weakest among them, Olhydra, attacks as a 20 HD creature, so she’s still exceptionally dangerous. But wait! There’s more! In addition to the four elements, we got a fifth elemental prince of evil, Cryonax (cold). (My original user name on the WotC boards was Cryonax until they required us to create new accounts, and the people without jobs snatched up all the good ones while I toiled away.) 🙂 I don’t how he made tools with those octopus arms, but my characters weren’t about to ask. One thing that bugged me was the Ogremoch (earth) was only 10′ tall. This is hardly the “astounding size” we were promised, but hey, rumors aren’t always true, and he is probably the toughest of the elemental princes.

The last thing I’ll mention was a nice, artistic touch by Alan Hunter (R.I.P.): In addition to their stat block drawings, each of the princess has another drawing showing them commanding one or two elemental monsters, not all of whom are actual elementals. For example, Yan-C-Bin (air) is accompanied by a djinni and my favorite giant (foreshadowing!), a cloud giant. Imix (fire) was hanging with an efreeti, Crynoax with a white dragon (?!), Olhydra (water) with a sahuagin making easy work of a party of PCs, and Ogremoch with an earth elemental and what I think is supposed to be a purple worm. This gave you a sense of their power, and I loved that.

Elemental royalty was not meant to be taken lightly.

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Dungeons & Dragons is a trademark of Wizards of the Coast, LLC, who neither contributed to nor endorsed the contents of this post. (Okay, jackasses?)

Early v. Modern Gaming: Conversation Logistics #ADnD #DnD #RPG

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Yeah, when I read the title of this post out loud, I hear it. Sounds weird.

I’ve talked quite a bit about immersion in the game world, and how the lack thereof has resulted in my loss of interest in RPGs. 1e AD&D has obviously rekindled that, but that’s not today’s point. While working on my 1e database, I came across a spell from 1e Unearthed Arcana called Withdraw. Here’s a summary.

So, the spell places the cleric in a temporal bubble such that time moves at 1/10th the speed experienced by the other characters. During that time, the cleric can cast only Augury, cure spells, and information-gathering spells, and those spells must be cast only on the caster. The caster can’t even move. You see, in 1e, sometimes decisions must be made in real time. That is, the player, not the character, must think on his or her feet. If the player takes too long, the NPCs will act instead. This spell slows down time for the player, giving the player time to ponder how the character should act. That can be quite useful at times, especially at high levels. However, the key point here is this: Because the other characters are not in the temporal bubble, their controlling players can’t help. Everyone needs to shut up and let the caster’s player think it through for themselves.

This led me to something related that’s been lost on the modern gamers with whom I’ve played. Because players don’t immerse themselves in the game world, you often have characters engaging in conversation, diplomacy, puzzle solving, etc. as if they’re sitting around the same table (as the players actually are). Then, the moment combat breaks out, the archers and spellcasters (a.k.a., the cowards of the party) claim that they were standing hundreds of feet away when initiative was rolled.

run away - GIF on Imgur

How is that possible? During that parley, were you shouting from 200-300 feet away? Why weren’t the other characters ignoring yours? Why aren’t the other players on my side?!?! As you can probably sense, this is very frustrating for me. Players want their cake and to eat it too, being able to address matters requiring close proximity, but then miraculously shifting their location (without an available teleport power) to where they want to be for combat. Players should have to pick one and accept the consequences of that, and they shouldn’t be arguing with me for enforcing those consequences. I stepped away from the game because I didn’t like that my frustration sometimes got the better of me in such situations. Games should be fun, not frustrating. Except puzzles and riddles. Those should be frustrating, but that kind of frustrating is fun. Watching players essentially cheat by breaking character and ignoring simple logistics is not fun frustration.

As always, play as you want, but I think you’re removing something fun about the game if you break the fourth wall like this, and just because there’s nothing in, for example, 5e as far as I know that pushes you in that direction, there’s absolutely no reason you can’t play other editions that way.

This is why, in large part, I’m looking forward to going backwards.

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Visiting an Old Friend, the 1st Edition Fiend Folio: My Favorites #DnD #RPG #ADnD

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My review and discussions of 1st Edition Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (“1e“) has me visiting an old friend, the Fiend Folio (“FF“). My impression, which is anecdotal and thus suspect, is that the FF wasn’t very popular. Oddly enough, it was the only compendium of monsters I owned as a kid other than the small collection in the AD&D Blue Box and the monsters contained in the mods I ran. Plus, none of my friends owned it, so I had something on them. Needless to say, it holds a special place in my heart. I’m not making even more “dumbest monsters of D&D” posts. We’ve all had enough of those. These are about things I like.

| Kamadan | My Favorites | Elemental Princes | More Cats | Giants | Dragons |

I have four favorite creature types, which has remained unchanged since I initially stopped playing D&D in 1982: demons, devils, drow, and slaadi. Sure, I should have said dragons instead of slaadi just for the alliteration, but it wouldn’t be true, and I’m a horrible liar. (Never hire me to litigate. Or negotiate. Or practice law at all.)

Demons and Devils (FF p. 24-25)

As a victim of the Satanic Panic, I have plenty of reason to love demons and devils, but that love preceded all of that. They’re just a fascinating concept to me, representing two sides of the same evil coin. On the one hand, you had the ultimate lawyers, creatures that dealt in twisting words around to surprise parties to their contracts with unexpected loopholes. One the other side, you had ferocious brutes that followed no rules. There’s a place for both, but these were the extremes, and they made for great villains. The FF gave us only one of each, but the more I got, the better. Besides, Lolth scratched more than one itch, being the demon goddess of the drow, and I always loved seeing new additions to categories of monsters. Categories such as dragons and giants (foreshadowing!) can give you reasonable set of common characteristics among its members, while giving you enough of a difference to make them worthwhile. This also makes members of the group good for reskinning as other members of the group. (Side note: The 5e Monster Manual is my favorite RPG bestiary because the entire book reads that way.)

The only thing that bugged me about demons was that they had consistent forms per type. Truly chaotic creatures shouldn’t have any regularity in their design. Hordes of the Abyss addressed this fairly well. To the best of my recollection, it claimed that function influenced form, so demons with the same purposes, roles, functions, or whatever all had to be similar. That’s reasonable, but not quite good enough. There should still be lots of variation. Of course, how do you pull that off in a game played by real-world humans in need of regularity? It’s certainly forgivable.

Slaadi (FF p. 80)

Speaking of chaotic creatures, despite the concern above, I always loved the slaadi. I’m not a fan of frogs and toads, but I have an even greater, and irrational, hatred of bugs, so go Team Anura! Slaadi are the ultimate expression of chaos. (If I had ever read the Monster Manual II before the past couple of weeks, I may have had similar love of the modrons for the opposite reason.) That can be a lot of fun to run. The blindheim? Not so much. Then you’re given Ssendam and Ygorl, slaad lords of insanity and entropy. Each are level X monsters, which seems underpowered considering that the death slaad is also of the same level. Despite there being only four death slaads, I don’t think they should represent the same threat as their lords. I get that these levels aren’t hard and fast measures of powers, but they vaguely tell you what league a monster is in.

And yes, I get a smug satisfaction out of knowing the correct pluralization of “slaad.” That comes from my love of the FF.

Drow (FF p. 33)

Okay, okay, I get it; this is trite. But who doesn’t love Bill Willingham’s drawing of the drow? Certainly not 12-year-old Rob. Or 53-year-old Rob. Its anthropomorphism made it relatable, and it was accompanied by two full pages of background and culture. Great stuff. The only reason it’s fashionable to hate on Drow is because its popularity resulted in a saturation of the market. Give people too much of a good thing, and it can grow stale (c.f., tribbles), but it shouldn’t surprise you that an old man loves them. I still enjoy adventures with Drow.

Unlike my arrogance with “slaadi,” I’ve always had trouble deciding whether it was appropriate to capitalize, “Drow.” I mean, “drow.” Whatever.

Creatures Mentioned

Level and likelihood of encounter per FF:
Demon, Lolth, level X, resides in the Abyss.
Devil, Styx, level VII (1% chance of dungeon encounter)
Elf, Drow, level II+ (as III, 1% chance of dungeon encounter; as V, 1%)
Slaad, blue, level VII (1% chance of dungeon encounter)
Slaad, death, level X (2% chance of dungeon encounter)
Slaad, green, level VIII (1% chance of dungeon encounter)
Slaad, grey, level IX (2% chance of dungeon encounter)
Slaad, red, level VI (1% chance of dungeon encounter)
Slaad lord, level X (1% chance of dungeon encounter, randomly choosing either one)

Those are my favorites, but there are some other iconic monsters worth mentioning. I’ll do so all week.

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Dungeons & Dragons is a trademark of Wizards of the Coast, LLC, who neither contributed to nor endorsed the contents of this post. (Okay, jackasses?)

Ponos, the Greek God of Labor #MythologyMonday #MythologyMonandæg #LaborDay

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I don’t know if the ancient Greeks had a Labor Day, but if they did, it was likely a festival dedicated to Ponos. Ponos was the minor god of labor. Starting with his mother, Eris, the goddess of discord, his entire family tree was populated with gods of terrible things, such as murder, lies, and pain. They say hard work builds character, but I think the ancient Greeks may have had a different perspective since it was lumped in with the nasty side of life, like fighting.

Happy Labor Day!

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GIFs for Spells #ADnD #DnD #RPG

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Sundays now are lazy days for me. I either post something silly or other people’s work. Usually both. Today, once again my current old-school kick has 1e taking over. I share a recent find: GIFs for Your Spells. To a large extent, the posts on this Tumblr … channel(?) are gifs representing D&D spells. I don’t think it’s limited to any single edition, but with so much overlap between editions, it should still be a fun resource for your game. After all, online gaming has become much more important, so this may be something to give it a boost.

Of course, it’s pronounced with a hard g.

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Dungeons & Dragons and Forgotten Realms are trademarks of Wizards of the Coast, LLC, who neither contributed to nor endorsed the contents of this post. (Okay, jackasses?)


Visiting an Old Friend, the 1st Edition Fiend Folio: The Kamadan #DnD #RPG #ADnD #Caturday

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My review and discussions of 1st Edition Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (“1e“) has me visiting an old friend, the Fiend Folio (“FF“). My impression, which is anecdotal and thus suspect, is that the FF wasn’t very popular. Oddly enough, it was the only compendium of monsters I owned as a kid other than the small collection in the AD&D Blue Box and the monsters contained in the mods I ran. Plus, none of my friends owned it, so I had something on them. Needless to say, it holds a special place in my heart. I’m not making even more “dumbest monsters of D&D” posts. We’ve all had enough of those. These are about things I like.

| Kamadan | My Favorites | Elemental Princes | More Cats | Giants | Dragons |

Except this one.

Today’s post is one of a few that will discuss specific monsters that are important to me, though this one is different because it focuses on only one: the Kamadan (FF p. 55). This feline monstrosity didn’t make my cut as one of my top ten D&D cats. Maybe it would have if I hadn’t cheated on my #1, but only because there aren’t many cat-like monstrosities to choose from. Entries on my were chosen because they were either iconic or silly. The Kamadan is the wrong combination of both. It’s “clearly a relative of the displacer beast,” which makes it feel more like a rip off than a homage to of that creature, but it’s not so off the wall as to be funny. Besides, if a creature is born of magic, do the rules of evolution actually apply? Some of us enjoy overthinking these things.

The Kamadan is an oversized leopard with non-venomous (?!) snakes coming out of its shoulders. Combination creatures like this are hardly unusual, and they can work, but the Kamadan is given a sleep breath weapon that seems out of place. It appears this creature was built to be a different challenge for its own sake. And of course, the write up is sparse, so there’s no interesting history attached to the Kamadan to rope you in.

The Kamadan appears on the Monster Level IV table (p. 104; 2% chance of encounter) and the temperate/subtropical, uninhabited wilderness table (p. 118; scrub, forest, rough, and hills, each a 1% chance of encounter).

Meh.

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Dungeons & Dragons is a trademark of Wizards of the Coast, LLC, who neither contributed to nor endorsed the contents of this post. (Okay, jackasses?)

What a Confusing Web He Wove; Also, Terminology (Again) #DnD #RPG #ADnD

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During all my review and discussions of 1st Edition Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (“1e“), there have been two primary sources of headaches. The first is you guys. 🙂 Notice that I defined my abbreviation for 1e in the first sentence, as all good lawyers do (and apparently bad ones too). I do this because my use of my childhood terminology (shared by everyone with whom I played) has resulted in odd criticism. If you called little adventure packets “adventures” or “modules,” I’ll understand from context and will never going to give you grief about it. We called them “mods.” So be it. Similarly, “AD&D” apparently means different things to different people, and often isn’t the catch-all it’s intended to be. To me, there’s the Basic-Expert line of products (I rarely used them, and what I call Basic D&D), the PHBDMGMM hardcover line (my primary source, and what I call 1e), and then there’s Second Edition and its PHBDMG hardcovers and Monstrous Compendium binder inserts (I’ve played only a couple of times relatively recently, and what I call 2e). AD&D covers 1e and 2e, but if you use any of these terms in some other way, that’s fine. It isn’t worth a fight.

Organization

The second primary source of headaches is possibly the biggest barrier to entry to the game: The sourcebooks are as poorly organized as any writing I’ve ever seen. Let’s take invisibility as an example. The invisibility spell points out that the high level, high HD, and highly sensory creatures have a good chance of locating invisible creatures (1e PHB, p. 70). I went looking for that information. The PHB was useless, so I went to the combat section of the DMG. Nope, not there. I went to the index searching for “invisibility.” What index? Fortunately, the table of contents has a sub-sub-entry entitled “Invisibility” (DMG, p. 59) Trust me; that was a lucky break. Usually, you just have to thumb through a DMG with 240 pages, and in some cases only after not finding the information in the PHB.

Needless to say, this makes learning the rules far more difficult. What helps is the ADDICT and OSRIC PDFs. For reasons I discussed last Tuesday, I won’t read the spell descriptions in OSRIC, but the rest of it has been fantastic. They change the rules to suit their needs, but it’s still a great starting point. It’s clearly written, well-organized, and covers most of the rules. ADDICT is a comprehensive look at 1e combat, and [squeal!] includes footnotes with citations to each claim in the document. I suggest you give them a look.

How am I going to get through all of this? This isn’t even all of it.

Going back to my first point, which continues a rant from a prior post, the social media hivemind is still the best way to overcome the barriers of disorganized and vague writing. If you’re one of that small minority of smug pricks that insult those asking questions, you’re going discourage new and returning players. Is that in your interest? If you intentionally act as a gatekeeper, you can ignore that question. You’re beyond help.

Oh, to avoid further confusion, I should note: PHB is Players Handbook, DMG is Dungeon Masters Guide, and MM is Monster Manual. Bad lawyer! Bad!

I’d demand the ADDICT and OSRIC guys send me money for the advertisement, but they don’t charge for it. Dammit!

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Dungeons & Dragons is a trademark of Wizards of the Coast, LLC, who neither contributed to nor endorsed the contents of this post. (Okay, jackasses?)

More Thoughts on First Edition AD&D Spellcasting #DnD #RPG #ADnD

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As I’m loading my 1e database with spell information, I realized two interesting and related things about 1e spellcasting. Having not played more than 6 hours worth of 1e since 1982, my memory contains mostly modern notions of RPGs. Accordingly, I went to the social media hivemind to see if I was correct. They confirmed I was.

Spells Increase Potency with Caster Level

As a caster gains levels, the power of the spells they already know become stronger. For example, even though it’s a first level spell, Magic Missile cast by a third level magic user hurls more magic missiles to a greater distance. Protection from Evil has an increased duration (+2 rounds per caster level). Neither of these improvements require any work on the part of the magic user. That is, the casters don’t have to prepare spells in a different way, or cast them using a higher spell slot. They’re simply stronger spells because the caster is higher level. We see this in 3e. On 3e PHB, p. 209, Chill Metal doesn’t scale by caster level, but Chill Touch does. However, I don’t recall it being the norm. It’s been a while, so I could be wrong. Spells in 4e didn’t scale like this, and 5e restricts it to cantrips. Either way, I’m sure D&D players know how this works, but in 1e, it’s certainly the rule, not the exception.

No Swapping of Spell Slots

Apparently, casters can’t use, for example, third level spell slots to cast extra Magic Missiles (a first level spell). This is also unsurprising in light of my first realization, and in fact fits in trivially. Casters don’t need to use third level spell slots to do more damage with Magic Missiles. They already do. This limits casters somewhat in that they can’t freely exchange memorized spells within slots. Each slot is assigned to one spell, and that spell must be used when activating that slot. Moreover, the caster can’t memorize extra Magic Missiles using higher slots. This seems like a fair trade, especially considering how powerful high-level casters can be.

I have to say that I really like the first realization. Too many spells feel worthless once you reach a certain level. Allowing them to scale reduces regrets with respect to your choices. The second one doesn’t matter. I see that as wholly a matter of balance. If the game is built around the restriction, then it’s fine. If not, then it isn’t. However, for 1e, they’re related, so it’d be hard to separate them.

Evolution isn’t always a good thing.

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Dungeons & Dragons is a trademark of Wizards of the Coast, LLC, who neither contributed to nor endorsed the contents of this post. (Okay, jackasses?)

Premature Shark Jumping @nbcbrooklyn99 #TV #Brooklyn99

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I recently took to to social media to whine about how disappointed I am with Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s final season.

This led to a quick back and forth. Two friends agreed but characterized the failure as jumping the shark. I don’t think they’re wrong, but it’s a bit more complicated than that. There are very few new ideas under the sun. Moreover, as I reminded you on Monday, there are only seven stories one can tell. While there can be other factors, putting this together, jumping the shark occurs when the stories a show can tell run their course among their particular set of characters and settings. In other words, the combination of characters, settings, and stories grow stale even if, as with Brooklyn Nine-Nine, The Office, and Parks & Recreation, the show has talented writers. It often manifests itself with desperate attempts to try something new that stray too far from the show’s premise. When Happy Days did this, it gave the phenomenon its name.

Now that comedy is being killed by a small minority of the perpetually and intentionally outraged, writers are afraid to take any risks, giving rise to a new way in which jumping the shark manifests. They don’t just take stupid chances to keep the show interesting. They also choose to exclude a wide variety of available stories for fear of losing their positions in the industry due to the controversy they cause. That means that shark-jumping occurs far earlier in the life of a series (c.f., Community), and it manifests as recycling the same tired themes with only meaningless differences from episode to episode.

In my humble opinion, with only a few exceptions, Brooklyn Nine-Nine started to lose its originality somewhere around season three, which isn’t even halfway through its life. (I keep watching because I can’t help but finish things I start.) Sure, we remained attached to some clever, well-delivered one-liners (Bingpot!), and the Halloween competition as a recurring theme, but overall the episodes, and even the characters’ personalities, grew tiresome and/or annoying long before the final season started. (I’ve wanted to punch Charles Boyle in the neck for months now.) The writers on that show both recycled themes and also, by the last season, strayed too far from the premise. I fear the stagnation of shows will only accelerate as we continue to fear those that are offended by everything. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the current crop of writers are among those demanding these changes. In that case, they’re wasting their own talent.

Much like another phenomenon that involves premature action, the cause is often psychological.

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Follow Brooklyn Nine-Nine @nbcbrooklyn99