Aquatic Campaigns #ADnD #DnD #RPG

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Yesterday, I discussed the unoriginal notion of monstrous PCs. I removed a brief mention of a topic that could be its own post, so now it is. (Yeah, yeah. I’m obsessed with this topic.) While I don’t know how to handle low level aquatic adventures involving landlubber PCs, I could easily handle an adventure that’s entirely underwater, and such and adventure is compelling.

Though it won’t necessarily be pretty.

Working under the assumption that I may need to convert at least some monsters for play as PC races, which I expect to be rather easy, it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to convert all the aquatics with more extensive writeups. Here’s a list:

  • Aquatic Elves
  • Ixitxachitls
  • Locathah
  • Mermen
  • Nixies
  • Sahuagins
  • Tritons

The list above gives us six reasonable candidates for aquatic PC races (Ixitxachitl don’t work). Keep in mind that there are only seven standard PC races, so there’s certainly enough variety right now to make such an adventure interesting. Giving a Lizard Man gills isn’t much of a stretch. Also, this list includes only 1e Monster Manual races. Grabbing my Monster Manual II, I see the Merrow (Aquatic Ogre) as a weak candidate, but a candidate nonetheless. Fiend Folio gives us the bullywug, which can also be given gills. My point is that there are enough options to make this viable.

…and scary.

I’ve excluded monsters that absolutely make no sense as PCs, such as Dragon Turtles, Lacedons, and Mashers. Ixitxachitls won’t work despite having class levels, but that’s fine. They’re the kind of low- to mid-level boss that would work very well for aquatic adventures. In fact, there are a ton of aquatic monsters of all levels of difficulty that go largely unused or underused but become accessible with aquatic adventures, all acting under the orders of someone like Olhydra or Dagon.

As always, this is the start of a conversation. I’d be interested in your thoughts.

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Monstrous PCs in 1st Edition AD&D #ADnD #DnD #RPG

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A conversation started up (again) on Facebook about whether players could play monstrous races as their PCs. There’s a sharp divide between old-school and modern gamers on this topic, but I’m going to stick with 1st Edition AD&D (“1e“) for the purposes of this discussion. What does Lord Gygax say?

On occasion one player or another will evidence a strong desire to operate as a monster, conceiving a playable character as a strong demon, a devil, a dragon, or one of the most powerful sort of undead creatures. This is done principally because the player sees the desired monster character as superior to his or her peers and likely to provide a dominant role for him or her in the campaign. A moment of reflection will bring them to the unalterable conclusion that the game is heavily weighted towards mankind.

ADVANCED D&D is unquestionably “humanocentric”, with demi-humans, semi-humans, and humanoids in various orbits around the sun of humanity.

1e Dungeon Masters Guide, page 21.

So, it would seem that monsters may not be PCs. But wait! There’s more! He later went on to say:

My Facebook friend, Benoist, opined that Lord Gygax’s views weren’t hypocritical but rather evolved as the game did. This is a compelling explanation, though for the reasons I state below, I don’t think I’d allow a Balrog/Balor PC.

EDIT: It’s been pointed out to me that I had the order in which these were written backwards.

In any event, as someone who hasn’t (really) played 1e since 1982, and is thus a “modern” player, I’m inclined to give players more options rather than fewer. However, I don’t want to upset the game as it was designed to be played, and I’m not going to create special rules for making, e.g., dragons playable. In other words, I want to find a more expansive answer that already exists within the system itself. So, where should I draw the line?

Not All Writeups Are the Same

There are several monsters that have write ups much more extensive than the rest, and not because they’re complex creatures. Rather, these monsters have cultural write ups, including use of “human weapons,” social structure, and sometimes even eligible class levels. Among them are elves, halflings, dwarves, and gnomes, all playable races. So why shouldn’t the other ones also be playable races? Those other monsters, with varying degrees of detail, are bugbears, centaurs, gnolls, goblins, hobgoblins, ixitxachitl, jackalweres, kobolds, lizard men, locathah (don’t even have a natural attack), mermen, nixies, ogres, orcs, sahuagins, tritons, troglodytes, and wererats. Surprisingly, satyrs are not among this group. (I may have missed a few.)

Some Practical Concerns

As I’ve written, I want to include alignment (and reputation), and evil campaigns aren’t the norm, so any gnoll PCs would have to be exceptions to the general rule. I have no problem with that. In fact, I think it’s naïve to think that all creatures of a given type are hard-and-fast stuck with a particular alignment. Rather, their inherent alignment will linger in the form of a particular temperament, so I can live with typically evil races being used as PCs even in a “good” campaign.

But what do you do with a centaur? Modern gamers handwave away the practical issues with centaurs adventuring in dungeons, but that’s not the way 1e works. “Horses (and ponies) are not sufficiently agile to take into dungeons” (1e Monster Manual, p. 53). As I’ve repeatedly said, for better or worse I want to work within that system, so I must give that one more thought. Mermen and other aquatic races are out, as I have trouble dealing with low-level aquatic adventures. I wouldn’t know where to begin with a low-level party of humans and tritons. (More on that tomorrow.)

Also, the write ups for kobolds (for example) don’t expressly contemplate class levels (though Ixitxachitl do!). Instead, they simply point out that there are more powerful versions of the monster. Perhaps those creatures should be excluded, which would knock out most that I’ve listed. Nixies certainly should be, if for no other reason than their built-in ability to charm. Again, I must think this through on a creature-by-creature basis, needing to come up with reasonable limits on class levels and ability scores just as playable races have. The wealth of experience that exists on social media will help me form my opinions or point me to resources where others have already done this. This post is just the start of my conversation, not the end of it.

But no, you can’t play a balor in my game. As always, YMMV.

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Criticism #RPG #DnD #ADnD

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Criticized GIFs - Get the best GIF on GIPHY
Not exactly.

My friend (Vic) and I have been slowly designing our own game system for years. When it started, the idea was to do a clone of our favorite game system. This was a game that we both love to play, which shall remain nameless because I don’t want that to serve as a distraction to the main point. The only thing that matters is that we love to play it.

On our first session, I proposed an exercise: Create a table of the broad gaming elements that we don’t like about the system, the ones we like about the system that need no improvement, and the ones we like about the system that need improvement. There were 6 likes, 5 likes requiring improvement, and 9 dislikes. That is, there were more dislikes than likes. Only about 1/4 of the broad categories we identified needed no improvement in our opinions, and therefore had to be maintained in our new system. Gaming is, as we all know, about having fun, so logical breakdowns aren’t always a good predictor of whether any given individual will like the game. Remember, this apparent disaster (about half of it we dislike) is our favorite game system, and that’s not because we didn’t legitimately love playing it. Don’t be afraid to criticize what you love, including your own work. Whether you’re designing a game or picking and choosing which rules to use at your table for an existing game, try things out and make decisions based on your own sensibilities.

All of this reinforced a lesson I learned a long time ago: Nothing is perfect. You (and others) can always reasonably criticize even your favorite [fill in the blank], and there’s nothing wrong with that.

You Do You

Criticism GIFs | Tenor

I’ve spent the past several months publishing posts criticizing various gaming systems as a reaction to my impending return to 1st Edition AD&D (including 1e itself). My blog’s audience isn’t very big, and I’m not even sure how seriously anyone takes me. However, if you’re designing a game system and have ever heard criticism from anyone, even an established game designer, that claims you’re going in the wrong direction, never lose sight of the fact that the only person that knows the right direction is you. You should design the game you want to design. Maybe it’ll be a commercial failure, and not just because there’s too much competition. Maybe most people simply won’t like it, but maybe fewer would like it, including you, if you weren’t honest in your approach. It’s also easily possible that all those critics might really enjoy your game despite its inclusion of gaming elements they criticize.

criticism gifs | WiffleGif

Listen to the critics but form your own opinion. Design the game you want to design. If a career as a game designer isn’t in the cards, you should accept that. At least you’ll have done the best job you’re capable of doing, but perhaps, with persistence, future redesigns may result in something you and everyone else likes.

And you certainly shouldn’t get upset that someone else’s work is being criticized. 🙄

This post reads like a Roxette song.

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What is the Leviathan? @MythsExplained #MythologyMonday #MythologyMonandæg #RPG

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Last week, I discussed aquatic adventures in 1st Edition AD&D. In a few days, that subject is going to come up again. In the meantime, it’s Mythology Monday, so here’s a video about one of the most fearsome aquatic beasts in mythology. Or religion. Whatever. I don’t want to offend anyone.

I just offended someone, didn’t I?

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Wasting Money #ADnD #DnD #RPG

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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.

Jack Ruby was a shredder.

Everyone that knows me will assume that the video is doctored. I don’t roll natural 20s, even with help.

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Fighting the Divine #ADnD #DnD #RPG

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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.)

I think I can take him.

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.

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Aquatic Adventures #RPG #DnD #ADnD

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There are two things I want to say about aquatic adventures, one bad and one good. First, I’m going to whine.

They’re Cheap

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.

Image - 412214] | Wat | Know Your Meme
The Tapebot meme kept crashing.

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 . . .

3d Maps

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.

BTW, 14″ x 11″.

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.

Yeah, I ran out of white 2×2 bricks.

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.

One way or the other, I’m going to use this map.

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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?)

Venn Faire #RennFaire #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, 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.

Yes, that’s as stupid as it sounds.

I really wish these things had signatures on them.

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The Push and Pull of Character Death #ADnD #DnD #RPG

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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.

Modern Crybabies

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.

Multiple Characters

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.

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