Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Supernatural

When I writing about rangers in yesterday's post (a post in which I expressed a near 180 degree turn on the subject of the class's inclusion), I mentioned I'd deal with the alignment issue in a separate blog entry. This is it.

First: the preamble. Lots of hate for the concept of alignment out there. I've vented my own spleen on the subject, most recently just a couple months back. Today, I'm not out to change anyone's mind on the subject...of the folks whom I respect and follow on Ye Old Interwebs, I've seen good arguments both for and against and this post isn't about picking sides or shaping opinion; DMs simply need to get things right in their own head so that they can run their game with aplomb and efficiency.

Second (aka Preamble Part Deux): this post is specifically aimed at addressing alignment restrictions with regard to class and (even more specifically) with regard to the ranger class (yes, it's "Ranger Week" here at the 'ol B/X Blackrazor blog). Other issues with regard to alignment (especially as relates to constraints on player behavior and its role in inciting intra-party conflict) I reserve for a later post.

Okay...all the ground rules laid out? Cool.

The ranger is one of three classes in the PHB that have "flame out" clause in its contract with regard to alignment, the other two being the paladin and the monk. Here's the explicit text, keeping in mind that the ranger is restricted to one of the three "good" languages (lawful good, neutral good, or chaotic good):

"Any change to non-good alignment immediately strips the ranger of all benefits, and the character becomes a fighter, with eight-sided hit dice, ever after, and can never regain ranger status."

In some ways, this is a bit harsher than the paladin strictures as by the letter of the book, any change (even, presumably, an alignment changing curse or magic item), will permanently strip the character of abilities AND leave the character as a weakened version of the fighter (using only D8s for hit dice instead of D10s). A fallen paladin, on the other hand, has to knowingly commit an act against her alignment...and would (at worst) retain D10s if reduced to an ordinary fighter.

[the consequences of a monk's deviation is incredibly interesting, even as it is especially tough: the character "loses all monk abilities and must begin again as a first level character." But a a first level what? A fighter? A magic-user? With such high ability scores required for the monk, most classes should be open to the now non-lawful character]

However, with regard to the ranger, it hasn't been the harshness of the penalty that's long bugged me: it's the penalty itself. I can understand the paladin's loss of abilities: the paladin concept is one of a holy warrior, granted many divine boons (save bonuses, immunity to disease, magic horses, healing hands) based on the character's inherent goodness and holiness. These are gifts from God (or the gods or whatever) a reward for a saintly individual doing The Lord's Work. Stumble on the path and, yea, you shall be smote, etc. They are supernatural abilities, not hard won skills, and metaphysical transgressions can result in them going away.

But many of the ranger's abilities...tracking, fighting giants, sneaking up on opponents, reading magic-user spells...seem far more grounded skills, earned through training ad practice, not bestowed by some divinity. I can get behind the idea that a ranger's bonus damage is based on the righteousness of her wrath and that this might disappear with a change in alignment (likewise magical abilities, specifically the druid ones). But tracking? I turn evil and suddenly forget how to spot footprints? What's up with that?

I must not be the only person who had this thought, as the 2nd edition of AD&D removed the consequences of alignment change from the ranger class (the paladin strictures remain in 2E). 3rd edition D&D even took it a step forward, addressing the unspoken question "can't evil individuals track and hunt?" removing all alignment requirements from the ranger class.

[I'd like to make note at this point that MOST of the character classes in AD&D have alignment constraints: the cleric, druid, thief, assassin, and bard all have restrictions on their allowable alignment. However, unlike the aforementioned paladin, monk, and ranger, NO SPECIFIC CONSEQUENCES are noted for these characters, should they deviate from their alignment. Yes, clerics can have their spells withheld for failing to follow the tenets/ethics of their faith, and all characters are presumed to suffer the effects listed on page 25 of the DMG (i.e. level loss)...however, if my thief or assassin decides to "go good" and is willing take the XP hit, what's the prob? Apparently not much, other than a discombobulation with regard to alignment language]

Why should the metaphysical (alignment behavior, spiritual devotion, etc.) have consequences on the physical (ability to track, ability to cast spells, ability to both surprise AND be more alert)? It doesn't make sense for the supernatural to affect the natural...does it?

Here's the thing I realized: my gripe is based on my own post-Modern, secular perspective. A couple-few centuries ago, people ABSOLUTELY considered the metaphysical to affect the physical. Causation was based on far more than that which could be observed or scientifically proven. What a person of the 21st century might call "superstition" was an acceptable part of life and the natural world.

Even today, we have superstitions. I'm superstitious (I think this is probably more common with sports fans): I avoid walking under ladders and feel uncomfortable when a black cat crosses my path. Do I really believe that breaking a mirror will bring seven years of bad luck? No. But I still have my game day rituals when watching a Seahawks game (like not drinking a beer until they've scored a touchdown), which I feel somehow will influence the result...despite any observable causal effect.

Medieval humans were far more superstitious. They lived with spirits and folklore and magic as a part of their daily life. The "evil eye" could kill you. Treating the dead with less than healthy respect could lead to haunts and visitations (or possession!). Excommunication from the church could imperil your mortal soul. Failing to make the proper sacrifice (or seeing the wrong omen) could lead to defeat in battle.

D&D works in THIS mindset. It is fantasy, after all...it is chock full of magic and the irrational. The idea that a ranger would lose her ability to follow tracks seems as preposterous to me as the idea that masturbation makes you go blind...but I don't live in a world of wizards and elves and dragons. Why shouldn't an evil-aligned ranger suddenly lose the ability to do anything but hack and slash? The resulting causation of the metaphysical crime is supernatural...but in a fantasy setting, the supernatural is natural. It's not just a matter of playing the game "by the book;" it's a matter of establishing the proper headspace to run the campaign setting in a justifiable fashion.

Which is what I want as a DM: as I wrote in yesterday's post, I think it's imperative that a Dungeon Master gets her head right with regard to how and why the "physics" of the setting work. Doing so makes it much easier to speak and run the game with authority, satisfying questions that arise in play (both her own and those of her players) and permitting focus to rest squarely in the realm of play.

Now, I admit that there's still a question about other, non-good types having the ability to track individuals...but that's a question to be answered in a different post. Regarding the ranger, I feel my concerns have all been addressed.

Hmm...maybe I should have saved
this post for Friday (the 13th).

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Rangers Reconsidered


Back in October, Alexis chided me over a post I wrote about fatigue rules in AD&D, stating specifically:

Face it. The REAL reason you chafe at this nonsense is that you're finding excuses not to make a setting, design an adventure and start a campaign. As long as you are able to continue to futz around about this petty jazz, and get pats on the back from your readers about its importance, the longer you can find excuses to disparage AD&D and thus avoid the real meat of being a dungeon master.

And (as I admitted at the time) there's more than a little truth to what he wrote. "Futzing around" with rules complaints IS a form of procrastination. I took his advice to heart and ceased posting about "needed" rules changing that weren't pertinent to the work of actually crafting an adventure or campaign...the real meat (as Alexis rightly points out) of being a DM. With the result being very few posts on this blog aside from some Blood Bowl items.

Thing is, I have been working on campaign ideas the last couple months...something I hope to write about in a future post. Not the ideas themselves (though I might get to that just for the sake of writing), but about my approach to creation, which some might find helpful/interesting...and/or which might incite feedback that I can use to adjust my approach to creation.

However, THIS post is about rangers.

I've written about rangers before (more than once): I wrote about how I thought it was a dumb class (and my reasons), later providing some circumstances that would justify its inclusion in the game, and even added a stripped down version for Holmes basic some time later. All of which should lead folks to the conclusion that, generally speaking, I am dissatisfied with the ranger class.

I've since changed my stance. Yeah, I'm so fickle about this stuff...only took eight plus years.

As I've begun diving back into Advanced D&D, especially with the goal of simply taking the rules as written, there are two major points that have shifted my perspective:

1) The literary origin of the class means NOTHING to me. That it was originally based on some Tolkien fan-boy's interpretation of Aragorn and the Dunedain means nothing more than an interesting footnote: it's a piece of trivia. The inspiration for the class is of no concern when one is dealing with the Rules as presented; my campaign setting is not Middle Earth so I have only to examine whether or not the class "fits" as a playable option in my own world.

2) The class as originally written (in the PHB) IS well-balanced and written in relation to the other AD&D classes. The hit point bonus (relative to normal fighters) fades by 5th level, the spell abilities acquired at high level (useful but limited in compared to spell-casters of similar level) help make up the difference for a character with limited equipment/followers. These abilities, including the extra melee damage versus common foes, helps make the character more independent and self-sufficient...emphasizing the theme of the character...while NOT making the class "all powerful," at least if one is bringing the full brunt of the AD&D rules to bear.

I'll talk about the alignment thing in a separate post.

For my purposes (and to be clear, I'm speaking of my purposes as a Dungeon Master, nor as aloud-mouthed blogger), the ranger class works, and this is important because it allows me to proceed with world building for an AD&D campaign. I can justify the class in my own mind, and thus I am armed with the arguments I need to speak with authority on its inclusion in my setting. For me, it is important for me to go through these examinations so that when a player asks "why?" I can provide them with an answer that satisfies...thus allowing both of us to get back to the important business at hand: playing the game.

Rangers can (and do)
wear plate armor.
No, the ranger is not an "archetype;" it is a bit too specific in its application. But a campaign world is composed of specifics, not generic archetypes; it has to be, in order to engage the players and, frankly, to engage the Dungeon Master. The fighter class can comprise every warrior from the poorest mercenary the most prestigious knightly order with only the individual's kit (based on wealth) being the difference. The ranger is a different OPTION ("option" being the important word) outside the paradigm of "dudes seeking fortune and fame with martial prowess."

I think it's important that the campaign have these options. I think that the eleven classes presented in the AD&D Players Handbook (and their related multi-classes) provides just enough variation to sustain a long term campaign. I could kick the ranger to the curb in favor of my own "option," but there's no guarantee it would be any better. Less actually, considering the years of play testing the ranger has received.

So, yeah. I take back what I said about rangers. They're not a "dumb" class. In fact, I'm looking forward to seeing some in the next campaign I run...just no more than three at a time.
; )

Thursday, November 28, 2019

I, Jackass

Was just informed by a potential Patreon supporter that his contribution to my cause was denied. I assume that's due to me failing to complete the set up of my income information with the Patreon site.

Obviously I don't really want folks' money. (*sigh*)

Things should be working now. And I should be starting to post again soon...I'm leaving Veracruz this afternoon, and should be winging my way back to Seattle tomorrow. I hope everyone's having a happy Thanksgiving today...probably my All Time Favorite holiday (the food, the family, the football...plus the next day off!). Wonderful as Mexico is, they're a little short on starch and gravy combinations...which I, as a natural born Americano, sometimes crave.

Ah, well. There's a sandwich shop in my neighborhood that does a Thanksgiving-style sandwich all year long. I'll be sure to stop by in the next few days and indulge.

Cheers to everyone!
: )

The "Thanksgetting:" turkey, stuffing,
cranberries, and gravy + bacon.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Selling Out

I won't say it was inevitable, but it was always planned that...at some point...I would need to find a source of real income. Being the "kept man" is nice and all (and has been a solid positive as far as life experiences), but it's time to get back to earning my keep. I want a job.

Kind of. What I actually want is a source of regular income. The book sales continue (and are wonderful, thank you everyone!), but I can't turn out books nearly fast enough. Heck, it's been hard to turn out any the last couple-five years...and even so, the books I sell were always a niche market. A niche of a niche, if I'm being honest.

SO...the time has come to monetize the blog.

No ads, no pay wall. Not yet and hopefully not ever...being able to blog is, in many ways, it's own reward (as it gives me a platform for expressing myself about my weird thoughts and geeky hobbies). But the blog has to earn its keep, too. I can justify regular posting if it's bringing in some sort of revenue. If not...well, it's a luxury that has to take lower priority to other arenas of life.

You'll notice the new button on the sidebar...it says "My Patreon Page." Yes, I've created one. There's a number of tiers available...some small, some ridiculous in the extreme. I figured I may as well cast a wide net and see what kind of shekels were floating in my waters. I don't figure to get many (any?) takers, but it was fun trying to come up with suitable patron rewards.

And level titles...every old school D&Der digs on level titles.
; )

Anyway...the blog remains open to all, but please consider contributing your support. My main goal is less about making a living (off the blog) and more about getting enough money to patronize creators that I can't otherwise afford while bringing in enough cash to justify regular posting. But every bit of your encouragement and support is appreciated.  Regardless of the monetary support you can provide, know that you, my readers, are appreciated. I value you. If you value me, and have it within your means to throw a buck or two my way...well, that's juice that'll help keep me going. At present, I'm on pace to reach posting levels I haven't had since 2014; keeping that up with job searches (let alone regular employment) is going to be tricky.

Thanks for reading, folks.

Monday, November 18, 2019

National Blood Bowl League

This should be my last Blood Bowl post for a while...everyone can heave a sigh of relief.

I've been blogging about Blood Bowl since 2009...basically since I began this blog. Not terribly surprising since I've been playing the game since the second edition (published 1989) and been a ravenous fan of my hometown team since pretty much its inception.

[okay, that's a bit of an exaggeration...I wasn't a "ravenous fan" at age three (though my parents perhaps were)...my love for the team started circa 1983 with the inaugural season of Chuck Knox. I would have been nine years old at the time. I was already playing Dungeons & Dragons back then]

I've written before how I enjoy slipping on my gamer glasses and viewing the National Football League through a Blood Bowl perspective...it continues a snarky tradition of the "fluff" that I first encountered in 2E BB when the designers took the time to file off the NFL serial numbers for their own fictional Blood Bowl league, with teams like the "Darkside Cowboys" and the "Kichargo Werebears." It's all meant to be done in good fun; as I explained in this earlier post (from 2012):

The humorous fantasy world of Blood Bowl isn’t built on the standard, “logical” fantasy tropes. We’re talking about a fantasy world that imagines fans of many disparate cultures (Chaos mutants and high elves and orks and hobbits) rubbing shoulders in the stands and waiting in queue together for half-time refreshments. It’s not a RATIONAL fantasy world; it’s a silly and entertaining one. Sure the orkish team might eat any fallen opponents that aren’t carted off the field fast enough…but I don’t think that reflects necessarily on any real life pro-football team associated with the orks. Just as an orkish Blood Bowl team doesn’t really reflect the nature of ork tribes found in “standard” fantasy games and fiction (i.e. bloody awful, genocidal maniacs championing the cause of Chaos and evil by their very nature). In a standard fantasy world, one wouldn’t deal with an ork tribe in any way except at the end of a sword…in the Blood Bowl universe, one might trade them a high draft pick in exchange for a star blocker and a guarantee they won’t snack on the Halfling cheerleaders in the 3rd quarter.

Choosing the proper fantasy "team type" for the various NFL franchises is a mental exercises that I find amusing, engaging, and nicely intersects my love of both the sport and the game. Also, it's great for helping with color schemes for my painting (I must have enough BB minis these days to field 20+ teams). Generally, I base my decisions on a team's history and tendencies and overall "character" though I try to keep a particular proportion of species to the league (rarer team types show up in fewer numbers than, say, human or orcish ones), and this has been further influenced by the teams offered in various editions of the game, now in its 7th (?) edition.

While some teams are easy to pigeonhole as a particular type (the Seahawks have always been orcs, for example), others have been a lot harder to figure out, and many have shifted conceptually in my mind, generally due to rising and falling fortunes. For example, for the longest time I pegged the Buffalo Bills as a "human" team, generally based on my memory of them as a powerhouse in the 90s with an all-around slate of stars (Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas, Bruce Smith, Andre Reed, Don Beebe, etc.). However, their two decades of missing the playoffs (only one playoff appearance...in 2017!...since 1999), and a general failure to hit on draft picks, free agent trades, and coaching hires, has caused me to revise my opinion of them to a "halfling" team (nothing says futility like a team of halflings). A consistent lack of "team identity" contributes to this. Plus, of course, Buffalo wings.

[halflings in the Blood Bowl setting, are more known for their chef skills than their play]

The solid Bills' teams of the 90's are more the outlier...they show the potential of the team (yes, halfling teams can be competitive...I've seen them win tournaments in my home games. They're just a challenging team to use). Anyway, as I'm using the current 32 team league as currently constructed, I generally give more weight to team histories since the realignment in 2002. Generally.

With that being said, here's how I see the NFL currently; there are quite a few differences from my thoughts back in 2010, when I first went through this exercise:

AFC East

Bills: Halfling
As explained above.

Dolphins: Wood Elf
They thrived for years on a good passing attack, but they've just had a tough time (in recent decades) in putting it together. Wood elves are notorious for being very expensive and very fragile and running them for long term success is a tricky bit. The 'Fins miss Don Shula.

Jets: Halfling
Like Buffalo, I had these guys down as "human" for a long time, but despite a handful of playoff appearances the J-E-T-S have been a mess for a long time. Joe Namath's famous bravado I chalk up to that of a precocious (and slightly skewed) Hobbit, who somehow managed to survive long enough to acquire a decent suite of passing skills. The antics of these guys (name me a Jets QB of the last 15 years and I'll name you a ridiculous incident or scandal associated with him) borders on the comical, and halflings are the court fools of the Blood Bowl circuit. Prove me wrong Adam Gase.

Patriots: Dark Elf
I've held the Patriots to be elves for a long time, but I long ago changed my mind to think of them as the Dark variety, rather than High Elves. Sure there's the whole cheating thing, but more than that is the fashion in which they thrive in the passing game without the use of star wide receivers. Dark elves don't have true "catchers" (haven't since 2nd edition anyway) instead making use of a running game and dangerous "bashy" types (witch elves, assassins, etc.). For a while in 4E they were allowed to field a minotaur, and I'd be willing to stat one out as Rob Gronkowski. Anyway, they always seem to be playing cold night games in December (and January) and that's says "Dark Elf" to me far more than the sunny goody two-shoe variety of point-ears.

AFC North

Bengals: Wood Elf
Best as a fast, passing attack, but prone too breakage and expensive.

Browns: Chaos Dwarf
Mostly hobgoblins.

Ravens: Chaos Renegade
I had these guys as Norse for a while. They're not. They're a bashy group of miscreants that sometimes get the combination right. Lamar Jackson is a skaven...we'll see how long he lasts before his leg gets broken a la Randall Cunningham (yes, I know he's compared a lot to Michael Vick, but his physical profile is much more like Cunningham, and Vick was a far better passer). "Chaos Renegade" is a new team type for the latest BB edition, a throw-back to the original Chaos All-Stars of 2E that features neither Beastmen nor Chaos Warriors, just cast offs from various team types (generally of the evil variety) and a bunch of Big Guys (trolls, ogres, minotaurs). Tough to reign in, but Harbaugh's proven to be a solid coach.

Steelers: Orc
I kind of hate this pick because I hate the Steelers, but it fits, and Pittsburgh's wa-agh is nearly as good as Seattle's. Also, I dislike it because "Big Ben" Roethlisberger is far easier to model as a chaos warrior than an orc thrower...I guess you just have to give him a couple "+s" to strength (he's still tough to bring down). On the other hand, Roethlisberger's been more injury prone in recent years which fits with an orc thrower's lesser AV (armor value) score. Yeah, orc.

AFC South

Colts: High Elf
Is there anything more High Elf than a team that sported Johnny Unitas, Peyton Manning, and Andrew Luck? Come on. Plus those Royal Blue jerseys and shining white helmets? Really?

Jaguars: Amazon
I'm relying a bit on fluff here, but the Jags have had such a difficult time finding consistency over the years that it's tough to go on anything else. Besides the jaguar is found in the same region of the world from whence come the warlike Amazons (in the Warhammer world). And Gardner Minshew's headbands and cut-off shorts would certainly fit with normal Amazon attire.

Texans: Undead
See this post.

Titans: Goblin
I held these guys as orcs for a long time, but they're not. Just a bunch of goblins with the occasional troll or goblin looney/fanatic/bomma/pogoer thrown into the mix.

AFC West

Broncos: Dwarf
Nothing changed from 2010. Manning had to fall down to dwarf levels of effectiveness to wind up on this team.

Chargers: Elf Union
I'm convinced. The chargers are elves, not orcs as I wrote nine years ago. They're not quite Wood Elves, but they are much more of the "traditional" (2E) elf team that the latest Elf Union type seems to model. From Fouts to Rivers these guys can sling the rock...and face all the usual downfalls of that team type. LaDainian Tomlinson was one of those rare (and expensive) elf blitzers that thrived in both the running and passing game.

Chiefs: Human
I have gone back and forth on this one. How do you classify a team that had both Christian Okoye and Priest Holmes? Tony Gonzalez and Derrick Thomas? Trent Green and Patrick Mahomes? Marty Schottenheimer and Andy Reid? Though they haven't had a Super Bowl championship since 1969, they've had success and consistency, but in vastly different ways. As such, I'm most inclined to make them "humans" with the occasional ogre ally, rather than a pure ogre team as I wrote previously...comparing them to the Oldheim Ogres (hardly a successful franchise) is grossly unfair. They've showed versatility and the ability to thrive in multiple strategies, even as ultimate victory has often eluded their grasp...that's part and parcel of a human team in Blood Bowl.

Raiders: Goblin
I don't know what I was smoking before. The Raiders are a goblin team, just for their pure goblin mayhem. There are no Chaos Warriors or Beastmen on this team...just goblins (they traded their troll to Chicago last year). Jon Gruden is a goblin. Raider Nation are goblins. The Oakland Colisseum (don't give me this "RingCentral" BS) is as goblin a stadium as they come. And Las Vegas is a city packed to the brim with goblins and their ilk. Goblin goblin goblin.

NFC East

Cowboys: Dark Elf
Any team that chooses Pepsi over Coke is evil. 'Nuff said.

Eagles: Human
Ugh...this one is so hard. I keep wanting to make them skaven or "underworld" (skaven-goblin) but mainly due to the city's rather notorious fanbase. But they're humans. Hooligans, sure...these ain't the Bright Crusaders (maybe if "Saint Nick" was still starting for the team?), but that's not reflective of the team on the field. The Eagles have been at their best when they've been an all around, versatile team. Balanced is the proper term...which is another trait indicative of the humans in Blood Bowl.

Giants: Dwarf
Nothing's changed here.

'Skins: Orc
Ditto these guys. Amazing the difference that ownership and coaching makes...just like in Blood Bowl.

NFC North

Bears: Chaos
Still an easy pick.

Lions: Underworld Denizens
I've upped my opinion of the Lions. With the addition of the Underworld Denizens team to BB (a combo of goblins and skaven based on the famous Underworld Creepers), I'm inclined to upgrade them from a pure goblin team...they've just had too many stars that fail as "goblins." Matthew Stafford...man, Detroit is going to miss him when he's gone...as I'm sure they miss Calvin Johnson.

Packers: Human
The prototypical "human" team.

Vikings: Norse
Ha ha very funny. But this is another tough one. Fran Tarkenton versus Daunte Culpepper versus Kirk Cousins? Plus throw in Adrian Peterson, Chris Carter, and Randy Moss. The one constant seems to be a very tough defense, on both good teams and bad. Give me the slow-footed Norsemen who all carry the "block" skill.

NFC South

Buccaneers: Chaos Dwarf
Still.

Falcons: Skaven
Still.

Panthers: ???
I'm at an absolute loss. I have "lizard man" written in my notes, but that's one Blood Bowl team I've never owned, used, or played against so I really don't know how they handle. I mean, Steve Smith was small and speedy like a skink, but he was also a mean SOB who didn't shy away from contact. Is Cam Newton a kroxigor? What about Kerry Collins or Jake Dehomme? And how do you classify Kuechly, Peppers, and Olsen...let alone Christian McCaffrey (Kyle Allen is just "Collins 2.0"). The Panthers have had success, but not fantastic success (a couple Super Bowl appearances but no trophies). They fling it around a little too much to be called a serious running team, but they run too much to leave that out of the discussion...plus a feisty, tough defense that (for me) takes human teams off the table. Plus there's "River Boat" Ron Rivera, willing to gamble on crazy schemes and unorthodox coaching decisions. They're a little too coherent to be called a Chaos Renegade, but maybe straight Chaos? Maybe...Newton could definitely be a solid Chaos Warrior out of the Carolina wasteland.

Saints: Nurgle
See this post.

NFC West

Cardinals: Undead
I know I've referred to the Cards as halflings many times over the years. But two things have changed my mind on them in the last decade+ besides they're changing fortunes. One is the continued presence of the immortal Larry Fitzgerald; apparently, the star is a vampire who sleeps away the off-season in a restful torpor, only to be revived in August by whichever necromancer has taken the helm of the franchise. The other reason is that Arizona is where old players go to resurrect their careers.

Forty-Niners: Dwarf
The running game is imperative, but it seems to be back, as is the violent defensive front. Dwarves are a pain in the ass...just like the Niners. They hav

Forty-Niners: Dwarf 
The running game is imperative, but it seems to be back, as is the violent defensive front. Dwarves are a pain in the ass...just like the Niners. They have all the tools they need to become a new force in the west, if they can get competent play out of "Jimmy G."

Rams: Skaven 
Nothing's changed here. Steve Jackson's been replaced by Todd Gurley. Aaron Donald provides a lot of destruction in a small (for a defensive lineman) package. And Sean McVey is doing what he can to recreate his own "greatest show on turf" with an elaborate offensive attack. Moving the team from the subterranean caverns of the St. Louis "Dome" to the glitter and sleaze of Los Angeles means nothing: the rats are still the rats.

Seahawks: Orc 
And the orcs are still the orcs.

All right...that's waaaay more than enough. Sheesh! In between actually watching football and doing the usual family stuff (including multiple games of Blood Bowl with the kids), this post took nearly three days to write. As I wrote at the top, this should be my last BB post for the foreseeable future...and probably my last post period for a bit. I'm heading out of town at the end of the week for an early vacation and we won't be back till after the Thanksgiving holiday.

Later Gators. : ) 


Friday, November 15, 2019

MVP Goblin

It was my birthday Wednesday. Wasn't fantastic...in fact, I felt depressed most of the day. But folks I know have (for the most part) been nice to me the last couple-few days and I'm really trying to work through this funk I'm in at the moment.

Hence, yet another Blood Bowl post.

[and I apologize, but I just need to write (at the moment) and I need to write about gaming (at the moment) and while I've been considering various curmudgeonly D&D-related topics I just can't quite bring myself to mull about in negativity...especially as it only seems to bring more negativity to my mood]

The home town team has been playing well of late, which is always cause for happiness around my household. Yes, they seem inclined on pushing their fans to the brink of heart attack every week (two overtime wins in a row? Jeez!) but...well, when you've watched them as much as I have, you should know this has been the team's modus operandi for the majority of the Pete Carroll/Russell Wilson era.

Waaaay back in 2013, Wilson's rookie year, I wrote about the "magical" season the Seahawks were having, even daring to think "championship," although I could not have foreseen them winning the Super Bowl the following year, nor their return to the Big Dance the year after. I had no inkling that the magical rookie goblin would continue to pull rabbits (and wins) out of his hat for year after year and season after season...there was no way such antics could be sustained in a league of professional athletes and the brightest tactical (coaching) minds of the sport. Look at the top quarterbacks of his draft year: Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III (RG3), both of whom were selected in the NFL draft before Wilson. Their careers hardly panned out the way people expected (they were selected #1 and #2 overall)...but that's how NFL careers often go; nothing is guaranteed. And the sport is so team oriented that it's difficult for ONE player to make a significant difference (impact, yes; difference, no) without the rest of the team (and coaching staff) also working together.

Yet Russell Wilson has not only survived but thrived...leading his team to the play-offs even when parts of his team have been falling apart. Not that Coach Carroll has ever allowed a season to become a complete dumpster fire like, say, the Cleveland Browns...but every year seems to bring new challenges to overcome. This year it's been fumbled-handed skill players, an utter lack of pass rush (until Monday's game against the Niners), and a defensive secondary that's been horsewhipped by really mediocre offenses on multiple occasions...something unheard of in the Carroll era (who was himself a defensive back before building his career as a defensive minded coach). Through it all, Wilson has continued to deliver, only missing the play-offs in 2017 when injuries to key players (Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor) in a Week 10 Thursday night game (after the trade deadline) precipitated a losing 4 of the their last 7 games.

And he still managed to finish the season 9-7.

Cold blooded assassin...look
at those eyes.
In the Super Bowl years, everything was clicking for the Seahawks AND they had Wilson playing his normal brand of magic...I'd cite a key defensive line injury in the second Super Bowl (to pro bowl defensive end Cliff Avril) that allowed Tom Brady the time he needed to mount a comeback in the 4th quarter (and even so, Wilson still almost won the game despite throwing a grievous interception at the end). This year, the team is far from "clicking;" yet Russell Wilson is delivering his finest season yet. So much so that even national pundits are considering him the MVP of the league, at least through the first ten weeks of the season.

So, as I've done with other players over the years, it's time to revise my prior (2013) Blood Bowl stats for #3. He is currently the highest paid quarterback (and highest paid player) in the NFL, justifiably so. He is pretty much at the top of his game.  He is a superstar. His stat line should reflect that; here it is:

Russell Wilson (#3)
Species: Goblin
MA: 6  ST: 2  AG: 4  AV: 8*
Skills: Dodge, Hail Mary Pass, Leader, Pass, Side Step, Strong Arm, Stunty**
Cost: 250,000 gold pieces
Allowable Teams: Seattle Seahawks (Orc) only

* While the most recent edition of Blood Bowl does allow an increase to Armor Value (AV), it limits the total number of Star Player advances to SIX (earlier editions allowed a maximum of seven advances). This increase models Wilson's inherent durability and is reflected in his cost.
** Unlike most goblins, Wilson has shown a remarkable ability to withstand punishment that would sideline a normal quarterback; he ignores the usual injury modification for being Stunty. However, Wilson is a franchise quarterback and his coaches would NEVER allow him to be handled by a troll or thrown downfield; he may not use the Right Stuff skill.

It is a bye week for the Seahawks this weekend, and the orcs are taking a well deserved vacation. I'm not sure how long my current Blood Bowl bender will last; the kids and I have been playing a lot of Firefly this week, but if we decide to pull out the BB teams instead, you might end up reading more of these posts. Sorry, folks!

So Hobgoblin


Damn it, Browns. Really? You're finally beating the team (after five years of futility) and you start this?

So hobgoblin.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Chicken Dinner


Great season, great win.


Regular posting will resume eventually. Kids are home form school today.

Happy Vets Day.
: )

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Sherm

There's no Seahawks game today, and even if there was I'd probably be ignoring it in favor of the MLS Cup going on, featuring my Seattle Sounders versus Toronto FC. If the Seahawks get to the Super Bowl this year, it will have been in spite of several in-season missteps (including two home losses!), whereas the Sounders have already proven themselves by getting to the championship round. They get my undivided attention today.

Which is Sunday, by the way. Which is NOT the day I'm writing this, by the way. I'm scheduling it forward 100% because I intend to be fully occupied this Sunday. Go Sounders! Scarves up!

MONDAY will be the Seahawks game this week, and it features a 7-2 Seattle team attempting to hold pace with the undefeated San Francisco 49ers. The Niners are smashing teams this year based on a last place schedule and a seriously destructive defense that features no less than five #1 draft picks in their front seven and a renewed secondary benefitting from the leadership of Richard Sherman. Sherman is a fantastic player, and I fully expect him to have a good game against the Seahawks tomorrow night...not because the Seahawks are bad, but because he is an experienced, savvy vet who uses his brain, film study, and incredibly effort to get the most out of his body's ability to physically perform.

Yes, I'm still a fan of the man, even though he's no longer on my team. I watched the effort and class with which he carried himself for years, most of which didn't make the national highlight (or, rather, lowlight) reels that cast him as a "villain" to feed media-fueled storylines. Such is the way of entertainment news. Being a superstar with a big ego isn't really a crime...unlike, say, being a sexual predator or physically assaulting folks.

But I digress...this is meant to be a Blood Bowl post (it's been too long since my last one). I still see various NFL teams as having Blood Bowl equivalents, but one of the (main) ways the analogy falls down is when it comes to free agency. The Seahawks are still orcs, the 49ers are still dwarves (and yes, the Cleveland Browns are still the Hobgoblin team -- just a classic cluster***)...but how can you justify players switching between teams (like Sherm moving down to Santa Clara?)?

Short answer: you can't. Oh, maybe you (or I) could come up with some sort of house rule to justify it, but it's just as easy to say *poof* the player magically transforms into the correct fantasy race upon signing with a team. Or you could just ignore it (which I will do) and say Star Players are Star Players are Star Players and like 3E Blood Bowl's Morg N'Throg, NFL-based Star Players are true mercenaries who will play for ANY team, regardless of species.

So here's my current version of Richard Sherman as a (Blood Bowl) Star Player:

Richard Sherman (#25)
Species: Orc
MA: 5  ST: 3  AG: 3  AV: 9
Skills: Catch, Leader, Pass Block, Pro, Shadowing, Tackle
Cost: 190,000 gold pieces
Allowable Teams: Any (alternatively: limited to NFC West teams)

[notes: I realize that this version of Sherman is different from the stat line I posted back in 2013; not only have my thoughts on the player changed (cornerbacks really model better as line players, not blitzers), but the player himself has changed. This stat line is a better representation of Sherman as a character in the game as currently designed. Also, while earlier editions of BB allowed stars to have a maximum of seven advances, the current version only allows six...which is fine considering that, as an older player, Sherm might not quite as fast as he once was. Not that he was ever a "burner;" his game has always been more cerebral, based on study and preparation combined with impeccable timing]

Hoping Lockett has a better game than
Sherman tomorrow night.

Friday, November 8, 2019

The Old Man's Game

I'm beginning to think that blogging is an old man's game.

Yeah, there's probably some that disagree, and I may well be wrong. Certainly I've read plenty of blogs from "young whippersnappers" that are far more polished, commercialized, and frequented (by readers) than my own. But I'm not really talking about the "industry" of making money off the internet's social sharing platforms. Hell, it may be that I'm only targeting my own niche part of the blog-o-sphere (i.e. the "blog about the tabletop RPG" niche) with my expression...and maybe only with regard to the way I (personally) use my blog. Which is for the following:

- Sharing my thoughts, musings, and reflections on the subject matter at hand (and personal experiences that somehow/somewhat relate).
- Recording those same thoughts, musings, and reflections for my own edification and possible transformation (or, at least, later reflection).

However, while anyone (young or old) could blog for those same reasons, the older you are, the more experience you're going to have to draw from...which is quite necessary to sustain a blog over the long haul (at least, as far as as sustaining blogs that will hold my interest). Sure there are exceptions to this but in general older is better.

Probably I'm just an opinionated jerk, but the things that delight and inspire younger folks often fail to amuse me. But then, youngsters' blogs tend to be short-lived anyway: what kind of 20 year old spends a decade blogging about a game or hobby they've only engaged in for a handful of years?

Sorry...I suppose I'm having "one of those mornings" that middle aged dudes have (from time to time). Tell you what: I'm going to step away from the laptop for a bit and see if I can come back with  something, if not completely constructive, at least worth a discussion (or heated argument). Something to mull over while waiting for the weekend's festivities to begin.

Ciao.


Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Learning to DM


Most Dungeon Masters are "self-taught" (that is, they are themselves solely responsible for their own training), for the simple reason that there isn't all that many (any?) teachers taking on students for this particular curriculum.

[and, yes, I am excluding Alexis, whose on-line classes are aimed at individuals who are already "DMs;" he is, in effect, providing a higher level of training to individuals already possessing a degree of knowledge and ability in the art of Dungeon Mastering]

And yet, in the great scheme of things that can be taught, learning to DM isn't one of those things that fall in the "easy" or "straightforward" category. My eight year old is currently learning how to write in cursive...a simple enough task for someone who already has a grasp of the alphabet, consisting mostly of memorization and practicing the proper hand motions. My five year old is in the process of learning to read: much more complex (despite having a working knowledge of the 26 alphabet characters) because of the various rules and exceptions found in the English language.

Personally I have a bit of a phobia (well, more like trepidation) when it comes to working technology, yet even I can learn to configure a printer (or to change its toner cartridge) by following a simple instruction sheet...and rather quickly. Cooking simple dishes for my family (frying eggs and bacon for my children's breakfast, as I did this morning), took very little time to master...though it's a bit trickier than pouring cereal in a bowl and adding milk. And as far as learning new games (of the board and card variety)...well, it really doesn't take me long to digest the small pamphlets of instructions that come in the box, whether you're talking Happy Salmon or Axis & Allies (both games I've learned in the last couple years).

But learning to DM? No, that's a whole different level of learning.

Still, I have learned how to DM...as have ALL the DMs and GMs I've ever sat with at table (as a player). And regardless of their particular level of competence, or base adequacy (proficiency, of course, varies between individuals) we've all shared the common thread of having been forced to learn for ourselves how to do this thing that we're doing. I've yet to meet a single person who was trained in the art of running and refereeing an RPG.

Now, for the rest of this post, I'll only be discussing Dungeons & Dragons specifically.

So, how does one learn to be a DM? For myself, I've run (as a DM) at least five different versions of D&D, not counting "half" editions (3.5, etc.). My longest and most memorable campaigns were run using the 1st edition AD&D rules...but I didn't learn how to DM from those books. I learned from Tom Moldvay's Basic set (the "B" in B/X). And I think, if you polled most DMs running pre-WotC versions of Dungeons & Dragons, you'd find MOST of them got their initial "chops" from some form of Basic D&D: either Holmes or B/X or Frank Mentzer's rewrite of Basic (the one with Bargle and Aleena). Prior to 1977 (Holmes) the haphazardness of dis-integrated rules that made up "D&D" was such that unless you were one of the primogenitors of the game (Gygax and Lake Geneva folks) your D&D quite possibly looked wildly different from what would eventually become mainstream Dungeons & Dragons.

[see Arneson's First Fantasy Campaign notes, Hargrave's Arduin, St. Andre's Tunnels & Trolls origin story, Barker's Tekumel, etc. The operable phrase here is "wildly different;" certainly most (if not all) campaigns, mainstream or not, exhibit differences in table/house rules]

But I believe that it is only with the advent of "basic" that D&D has any chance of proliferating at all. DMing is just too complex a task without an entry level set of instructions.

Looking at the cover of my Jeff Easley-illustrated AD&D books, the game is explicitly written for players "ages 10 and up," an age range exactly duplicated on the covers of the later 2nd edition books. But while I don't deny (or doubt) that there are some brilliant 10 year olds abounding in the world, I find it difficult to believe that there are all that many who could pick up the AD&D books alone and start running a campaign. Can a 10 year old play AD&D? Yes, of course...my younger brother was probably 9 years old when the campaign of our youth went "full Advanced." But learn to run a game? Mmm...it's hard to believe. I could...but only because I had a basic set as an entry point.

Self-teaching...the only route open to most (if not all) would-be DMs...involves learning the rules (i.e. reading the instruction manual), integrating them, and then practicing them. Competency and skill are acquired from the practice of being a DM: designing/prepping adventures and running the game for live players. But you cannot design, prep, or run if you cannot first learn the rules...and for most individuals that means putting them in an accessible, readily digestible format. 600 pages of instructions (the combined count for the 5E PHB and DMG) isn't what I call "readily digestible." But then neither is first edition's 300+ pages. Is it any wonder that we see so many folks running games of Basic or Basic retro-clones or cutdown "semi-clones" (like Microlite20 and Black Hack)?

Dungeons & Dragons is still a game that people want to play, but play requires someone to run the game as a DM. Running a game of D&D isn't rocket science, but it is complex, requiring the internalization of a number of different systems and mechanics as well as an ability to manage a number of unique personalities (i.e. the players) while providing engaging situations/scenarios through a combination of pacing and tension based (mostly) in narration. That's a lot to juggle. And while many players have come to the game through a form of "mentorship" (being shown the ropes by more experienced players), there ain't a whole lot of mentoring available for those willing to pick up the mantle of "Dungeon Master." Videos showing actual play or providing advice on how to create a campaign are just another tool for a person engaged in "self teaching," but it's not the same thing as being addressed and coached by an actual teacher. And hell, a lot of these videos have information that is bad or downright incorrect.

Forget certification...can we get some sort of apprenticeship program for prospective DMs?

Learning to play D&D is simple. Learning to run D&D isn't. And learning to run D&D well? That's a whole 'nother level.

I suppose this might work in lieu of
a Basic rulebook. Is it 64 pages?


Sunday, November 3, 2019

1973 vs. 1974


This may not be of particular interest to most folks, but it is to me, and I just want to muse for a moment. I cry your pardon, folks.

"Generations" are a strange thing. We throw around terms like "Gen X" or "Millennial" or "Boomer," but while we assume those color our perspective based on an overall melding of "world events" during the formative years (i.e. while growing up together) leading to (presumably) similar life experiences, it takes so much out of the nuance of life, that have such a greater impact on how we feel and believe and act.

[some folks knowing my pursuit and study of astrology over the years might consider it ironic that I would make such a statement rather than buying into "sweeping generalizations" of pigeon-holing but, as I've said before, astrology takes into account a lot more than the placement of a person's sun at the moment of birth and encompasses far more than the daily blurb in a newspaper]

Fact is, there are things occurring all the time, in many walks of life that color and change us ["duh," says my readers. Just bear with me a moment, okay?] and the impact has more effect, more "pull" (in a gravitational sense) the more local it is.

For example, the city of Seattle used to have a pretty good basketball team called the SuperSonics. It was sold to an Oklahoma City businessman who moved the team to OKC in 2008. This has led to a strange relationship with basketball (and the NBA in particular) in this market. Some folks have been "boycotting" the NBA ever since. Many people refuse to patronize Starbucks (in Seattle!) as it was Howard Schultz who sold the team to outside ownership, failing to consider any responsibility he might have to a community as the guardian of a beloved local sports team. And many, many kids who may love the sport of basketball, have grown up without a local NBA team to watch and support, instead becoming fans of...well, whatever team they've become fans of I assume. My kids don't even watch basketball on TV. Where your perspective is has a LOT to do with where you were in relationship to the team at the time it was sold in 2008. That is a generational divide.

I'll give you another sporty example: the local NFL team enjoys a fairly rabid following and has for decades. Seattle has long been a "football town," stemming from the University of Washington Huskies (est. circa 1889), but the locals tend to take the game pretty seriously...so much so that the team retired the jersey number "12" in honor of their fans back in 1984.

[there was a brief period when the NFL instituted a rule penalizing a team's fans by calling "delay of game" for noise interference. This was mainly aimed at curbing Seattle fans, and a very loud concrete arena called the Kingdome. Having been part of those crowds back in the early 80s...my family had season tickets...I can remember games where our team received multiple such penalties, which only served to "fire up" the crowd more]

But amongst Seahawk fans, too, there are distinct "generational divides." For instance, I've been a fan since the early days when the team were part of the AFC West, and our main rivals were the Raiders and the Broncos (many of those "delay of game" penalties were called in those games). To this day, I still get a charge out of watching Denver GM John Elway squirm when his team is losing...the Super Bowl beatdown of 2013 will (probably) remain the highlight of my football watching career for the remainder of my life. On the other hand, people who've only followed the team since the realignment in 2002ish carry no such spite for these teams, reserving their bile for the Rams and the Niners. Likewise, there are those Seahawks fans who (like me) will always hate and root against the Steelers until the day every last member of their 2005 team has been expunged from their roster (Big Ben is, I think, the last one)...and then there are the fans who are known (derisively) by the locals as "12s since '12" meaning bandwagon fans who've only hopped on board since the Russell Wilson era. Even within a niche of a single locality there are generational divides based on particular events and our relationship to them and NOT based simply on age and geo-political events in general.

Where were you when "Grunge" music became a thing? Where were you when it became popular? And not just location-wise...where were you in your life? My mother was a young adult during the 1960s, but she never became a hippy or part of any peace movement. "I was too busy working," she says. She was still a progressive liberal, still living in a west coast, urban center (where she'd moved at the age of 18 from Missoula, Montana)...but Seattle of the 1960s was nothing like San Francisco at that time. We might all be hippy-dippy granola types now with our legalized pot and environmentally friendly bike-lanes, but that hasn't always been the case.

Beer. That's always been the case. At least out here.

SO...why am I talking about this? Well, with regard to RPGs in general and D&D in particular, it's long been a point of fascination to me which edition started players off in The Game and the age breakdowns I tend to find, especially when it comes to adherents to one particular edition or other. Occasional outliers aside, I've simply found more people of MY birth year (1973) to dig on the 1st edition of AD&D while players in the 1974+ bracket to find their "calling" in the 2nd edition. At least as far as we're talking about "advanced" Dungeons & Dragons play.

Here's the thing...I mean here is THE thing: there are two things working on this particular generational divide in D&D editions (that I've discussed before but never taken the real time to suss out). One is the prominently displayed age recommendation on the front of the game. The other is the "feeder system" being published at the time, i.e. the particular brand of "basic" D&D sitting on the shelves.

While I know that many, many people were introduced to the game of Dungeons & Dragons through an older, experienced mentor, most Dungeon Masters (if not all) were self-taught when it comes to the rules of the game. And I'd guess that this is still pretty much the case, because...because...

Most Dungeon Masters are self-taught.

Most Dungeon Masters are self-taught.

I'm sorry, my brain has just jumped the rails of what I was writing about.

Okay, I'm sure I had some interesting point I was trying to make but now I have a far more interesting thought that I want to chew over and blog about...a thought both beautiful and hideous at the same time though (unfortunately) one I probably won't get to post about till tomorrow. Um...let's sum up this one for the nonce: um...

...actually (and I apologize again), my original thought has entirely flown my addled brain. "Mind blown," as the kids say these days (attach appropriate visual cue). Really, I'm sorry.

More later.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Fatigue - An Example


So there's this fairly memorable scene in the first Game of Thrones season (also in the first novel) where Tyrion ("the Imp") is captured and taken to the Eyrie (one of the "seven kingdoms") where, in order to escape execution, demands a trial by combat. The sellsword, Bronn, offers to champion him against the knight, Vardis Egen. Despite wearing only ringmail armor (disdaining even a shield), Bronn manages to best the plate-and-shield armored knight by dint of being younger (about fifteen years) and faster and fighting in a craven-like fashion that tires out Ser Vardis. Finally wearied by chasing the spry mercenary around the battle chamber in his encumbering armor, the knight slips to one knee and is wounded by Bronn...after which the end (from weariness and blood loss) is all but inevitable. In the eyes of the attending nobility, the sellsword fights without honor; and yet, it is his canny choice of tactics that allows him to prevail with ease where he might otherwise been hard-pressed to achieve victory. Bronn was never interested in a "fair" or "honorable" fight, only in winning and being rewarded with Tyrion's gold.

I find it difficult to model this with AD&D. And it bugs me.

Unless I am completely missing something (entirely possible since I'm semi-new to this "AD&D thang"), there aren't any specific rules regarding fatigue; Gygax explicitly writes in the DMG:

"No rules for exhaustion and fatigue are given here because of the tremendous number of variables, including the stamina of the characters and creatures involved...Fatigue merely slows movement and reduces combat effectiveness. Exhaustion will generally require a day of complete rest to restore exhausted creatures. Always bear in mind that humans inured to continuous running, for example, can do so for hours without noticeable fatigue, i.e. those such as Apache Indians, Zulu warriors, etc. Do not base your judgment on the typical modern specimen."

This is written with regard to pursuit and evasion and is incredibly frustrating, as what I am most interested in is fatigue with regard to minutes (i.e. one minute rounds) of hand-to-hand fighting...an incredibly stressful and tiring exercise even for the most hardened warrior.

B/X doesn't hand wave fatigue; it has specific rules (including penalties to "combat effectiveness") in two different places (page B19 and B24). These are an adaptation of the rules found in OD&D (page 8 of Book 3) requiring a ten minute rest break in every hour of activity, and a "double rest period" after any bout of flight/pursuit (B/X changes this to ten minutes after three turns, with a double penalty the consequence for failing to rest). Still, this doesn't address combat fatigue per se...though this is mitigated somewhat by B/X shrinking combat rounds to ten seconds with any encounter being considered "to have lasted one full [ten minute] turn. The additional time, if any is spent resting sore muscles, recovering one's breath, cleaning weapons, and binding wounds." (Moldvay, page B23).

Yes, yes...I'm aware that hit points are (in part) a model of fatigue and the ability to withstand fatigue in combat. And that makes perfect sense in the abstract: a trained fighter should be more resistant to the rigors of melee than a spindly thief or wizard, and an experienced one even more so. But hit points don't take into account encumbrance...nor movement/activity that has occurred before. And hit points are famous for not diminishing character effectiveness even as they're depleted: a character may be down to half or a quarter of her stamina (hit points) but that doesn't slow her sword arm (there's no penalty to attack rolls).

What's particularly maddening here is that CHAINMAIL actually had the most comprehensive rules for fatigue. Under the Chainmail rules, a model becomes fatigued after any one of the following:

1. Five consecutive turns of movement.
2. Two consecutive turns of movement, followed by a charge, and a round of melee.
3. One turn of movement, followed by a charge, and two rounds of melee.
4. Three rounds of melee.

A fatigued combatant faced the following stiff penalties:

- Attacking and defending as "the next lower value."
- Morale dropping by one point (using a 2d6 roll, much like B/X).
- Slowed (to one-half) "uphill movement"

"Next lower value" is a pretty beefy penalty in Chainmail, but modeling it to AD&D it works out to about a -2 penalty to AC and (probably) attack rolls.

[why -2? Because an "armored" represents a figure in plate-and-mail, a "heavy" represents a figure in chain armor...which in D&D is only a 2 point difference in armor class]

All penalties are removed after the character has had a chance to rest one full turn...the turn in the Chainmail game being one minute long. A "round" of melee in Chainmail is an exchange of blows (one side attacks, then the other side attacks) and is contained within the standard "turn" but, as no more than one such round may be fought in a turn, it can be presumed to approximate an OD&D (or AD&D) round with regard to engaged figures.

Thus, it would not be a great stretch (if relying on Chainmail, the basis of OD&D and, thus, the basis of AD&D) to give characters an AC and attack penalty after three rounds of continuous fighting (or after two rounds for characters that charged), perhaps mitigated by a high Constitution score, and perhaps adjusted by encumbrance. If one wanted to add an extra level of complexity to their game.

OR...we could just ignore the issue altogether and simply allow tireless combatants to beat each other senseless for hours, perhaps fueled by adrenaline alone. In which case, why would you never carry a shield and the strongest armor available when offered? Right?

Pop goes the weasel.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Full Monty


I am sorry. I mean, I really really AM sorry. I keep searching around Ye Old Interwebs for decent content, and find myself constantly scraping the bottom of the barrel and I realize that I am as much a part of the problem/solution myself: after all, it's not like I've posted anything for the last several weeks.

And that's the tough thing. Oh, I've had thoughts, sure: stuff about fatigue (as it appears in Chainmail) and segments (as they appear in Eldritch Wizardry and how they might be applied...rather easily...to B/X) and deities and cosmology and magic. Heck, I've even had some Blood Bowl/NFL thoughts for the half dozen readers of mine who are into that kind of thing. But while I've started a few draft posts here and there, I just haven't got up the gumption to really blog anything that's A) worthwhile, B) entertaining, or C) both. And why should I waste my time scribbling (and your time reading) dreck?

Really.

SO, here's where I'm at:

There are some things, concept-wise that I really, really like about AD&D (and here I'm speaking of the 1st edition version...sorry to all you 2E fans). Many of those things, however, I have quibbles with in execution. For example, a lot of headaches could have been prevented (perhaps) by dividing the one minute combat round into six ten-second segments (as per Eldritch Wizardry) rather than ten six-second segments (as per AD&D). Works better both with regard to movement/segment AND the use of a D6 initiative die roll. The only way you lose out is with high level spells that require more than six segments to cast...and squinting at it one way, I can see how many of those spells should be more than one round of casting time anyway. But the stupid ten segment round is what led my old AD&D group (back in the day) to adopt a D10 for initiative instead of a D6 (which I wouldn't recommend unless you're choosing to forgo tactical movement - i.e. on a battle map - in your game).

Then there's stuff like weapon type versus Armor Class which really could use a once-over...I just flat disagree with some of the adjustments presented. Then again, I take umbrage with many of the weapons on the AD&D list itself (a long sword and a bastard sword are pretty much the same thing, for instance).

And, of course, there is ridiculousness in many of the magical spells, probably my biggest headache. From low-level illusions that kill to charms that "befriend" to examples of mummies being polymorphed into puppies (undead aren't alive so they can't really be considered animals, right? Can a magic-user "cure" a vampire by polymorphing it into a human? Garbage)...I mean, there's just a bunch of shite in there, you know? A lot of shite. By which I mean "shit." As in bullshit.

BUT...but, it's still better than pretty much all the alternatives. And while it's NOT a perfect system, it's still a darn good one, once you take the time to parse it all out, as some folks have bothered to do. And while I could spend my life going through it with a fine-tooth and re-writing all the stuff that absolutely drives me bonkers (as other, smarter folks than me, have done) I find that that this requires far more effort than the actual payout I'd get from the effort. That's time and energy that could be going into the design of settings, adventures, and campaigns instead instead of worrying about why a battle axe (properly wielded) doesn't gain a bonus against an AC that uses a shield, or whether or not there's even a chance that ANY blow will strike the head of a character wearing a great helm, or blah-blah, etc.

So I'm in...I'm all in. The full monty.  It occurs to me that my MAIN reason for choosing B/X the last many years was my aversion to strict encumbrance accounting, and that other than that (and some philosophical differences with regard to demi humans) the simpler, streamlined BASIC system of B/X just doesn't pack enough juice for me anymore. Now that I finally, finally have a good handle on just what makes D&D special as a game, and what makes it a game worth playing, I can't see any reason NOT to use the Advanced system of the game unless I'm introducing rank newbies to the whole concept of "dungeons" and "dragons." And despite the glaring issues with the system As Is, I'm going to go ahead and use it RAW for the time being. Perhaps over the course of a decade or so I'll feel inclined to house rule various aspects, but I'm not going to start with that. I'm going to START with the books as written, and go from there.

Yep. That's it.

Now, having written all that, and being really, really, really intentional of following through, I do have two specific caveats:

1) I will only be using the first five AD&D books to start (the PHB, DMG, MM, DDG, and FF).
2) I reserve my right to change my mind about any and all of this.

All right; that really IS "it," for now. Let the games begin!
: )

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

On (the Game of) Writing Adventures

A few weeks back Dave and Dan had another good episode discussing the "role" of the Dungeon Master in Dungeons & Dragons...what are the responsibilities of the DM, what are the expectations placed on the DM, and why they themselves enjoy running games. While I don't think their dialogue does much to put the topic to bed, the conversation raises some interesting "thinking points" for consideration.

One concept they reach, that I don't think unreasonable, is that while there clearly seems to be a number of responsibilities (hats worn) by a DM, many DMs (including themselves) have particular responsibilities they prefer more than others. To me, this is not unlike a player saying that the thrill of combat, or the solving of puzzles, or the interaction with NPCs is their preferred portion of exploring the imaginary environment of a campaign. Clearly, the majority of us play D&D because we enjoy what it offers, but some aspects of it offer more "juice" than others.

For me, MY particular preference is for designing and running adventures. Campaign or world building is actually a bit of a slog for me...it's a means to an end, that end being the parameters for a particular adventure. And yet, I would guess I am far away from the current norm of adventure design: I have little concern for plot or story arc or the design and writing of "interesting characters" (NPCs). I enjoy creating situations and scenarios for exploration and I do so in a formulaic fashion designed around the D&D system...based on whichever edition I happen to be using at the time. 

I outlined my basic design formula waaaay back in 2015 (about four years ago). It's the method I continue to use, more or less, and the method I am currently using to repurpose the 5E adventure Dragon of Icespire Peak. It's a system based mainly on treasure allocation compared to the expected level of player characters participating in the adventure, mixed in the proper proportions of monster-obstacle-rest that I have found fully functional for pacing in actual play.

Has anyone here ever taken a screenwriting class? For those who haven't (but who are interested in the process), I'd recommend Syd Field's Screenplay as the non-nonsense instructional work on how to write a solid film script. Films we watch may have more (or less) interesting stories than others, they may have more (or less) developed characters, they may have better (or worse) dialogue, but nearly all of them follow the exact same formula when it comes to writing them. Good, bad, or meh. There are reasons films tend to be the same length (120 minutes, or 90 for those aimed at younger audiences with shorter attention spans). The plot points, their pacing, are all based on standards established over the many decades of the film industry. 

For me, the fun and enjoyment of adventure design is found working within the formula that I choose to use (as outlined, in the main, by Tom Moldvay). The adventure in D&D is, after all, only a means to an end itself:

- It delivers the experience of D&D to the players.
- It provides the method (through reward) by which players advance, opening additional opportunities (i.e. content) for play.

Dragon of Icespire Peak, despite some interesting and creative ideas, is an extremely simplistic and (for my money) poor design hindered by the 5E's variant system of advancement...in this case, the "milestone" system of simply awarding a level of advancement upon successful quest completion.

[fun side note: I developed an alternate system of level advancement also using the term "milestones" long before 5E was published. This was back in 2010 and was inspired in part by Saga Star Wars's "destiny points" to represent a more streamlined bonus. Since my "B/X Star Wars" game (later re-named "Kloane War Knights") has yet to be published, its original format has not yet seen the light of day (other than this blog), but you can see the same application in my Five Ancient Kingdoms, copyright 2013...a year before 5E was published. Pay me, WotC!]

[yes, 4E had a "milestone" rule procedure; it was not related to the awarding of experience/levels]

ANYway...Dragon of Icespire Peak divides its various adventure scenarios (called "quests") into the following types: starting quests, follow-up quests (divided into two tiers), and the main dragon quest/fight. Characters are awarded one level for each starter quest up until 3rd level, one level for every two follow-up quests (presumably up to 6th), and then one more level for defeating the dragon. The adventure states that characters "should be 6th level" by the end of the adventure (and indeed, the box says it is designed to take characters from levels one to six), but a group of completist players are going to end up being 7th level by the letter of the milestone rules...and I'm not sure I'd buy that.

Here's the treasure yields I'm considering, using the B/X fighter level chart as a baseline (yes, AD&D fighters need more XP starting at level 5, but if you subtract the 10% experience bonus most such PCs would expect to have, it amounts to the same numbers or less):

Starter Quests: 10,000 g.p. each
Follow-Up Quests (tier 1): 10,000 g.p. each
Follow-Up Quests (tier 2): 20,000 g.p. each
Dragon (main) Quest: 80,000 g.p.

Considering that even a white dragon has treasure type H (average yield: 50,000 g.p.) this should be pretty doable. Icespire Hold has 24 encounter areas total (counting the two H22 areas as "A" and "B"), which works nicely with my formulaic approach:

8 monsters areas (4 have treasure)
4 trap/hazard areas (1 has treasure)
4 "special" areas (1 has treasure)
9 empty areas (1 has treasure)
With perhaps 1 "extra" treasure area. 

Rough treasure yields for the main quest will thus be:

40,000 g.p.
20,000 g.p. 
10,000 g.p.
5,000 g.p.
2,500 g.p.
1,250 g.p.
1,250 g.p. (or 625 g.p. x2)

These are parameters I'm happy to work with; more, I'm excited to work with them. Even using a formulaic system, I find it a cool challenge to see what I can come up with, working within self-imposed design limitations. I'm not concerned with the XP yield of monsters, as combat/killing monsters isn't a requirement of the D&D editions I run. That XP is incidental, and will (hopefully) make up the difference for treasure the party misses; I never expect PCs to find every last scrap of loot in an adventure site. As I'll be taking the same approach with every "quest" in the book, there will be more than enough potential XP (found treasure) to advance the PCs...assuming they play well enough to survive and find said treasure. 

I can understand if this seems like a "soulless" approach to adventure design, but I find it to be the opposite. In practice, I've discovered that taking care of the mechanical aspect of the award system up front provides me the freedom to run adventures to the best of my ability, managing the minutia, playing the NPC adversaries (and allies), creating the experience (through pacing and narration) in the players' minds that allows them to enjoy playing D&D. Involved story arcs and fancy plot devices are paltry in comparison.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Willow the WTF?!


It was a hard weekend for the Seattle sports fan...at least for one like me, who doesn't pull for the Huskies. Saturday starting with my 3rd graders soccer team being stood up by our opponent. Then my kindergartener's team got blown out by about 20-1. The boy's premier team could only manage a 1-1 tie with my kid missing on a direct kick by inches. Stayed up till midnight watching the Cougars blow a 32 point lead, despite a QB throwing nine touchdown passes. Then sat in the pouring rain watching the Seahawks throw up all over themselves against Teddy Bridgewater and the Saints while all three of our division teams (Rams, Cards, Niners) won their games. Oh, yeah...and the Sounders lost 2-0 against DC United and old man Rooney. Come on, man.

[yes, the Mariners lost, too, but they've been doing that since May...well, really since 1977. I wouldn't have even known there was an M's game Sunday if I hadn't looked it up]

So I'm a little tired and hoarse and cranky today. Mostly dried out at this point (save, perhaps, for my liver) but still a little salty.

Which is what leads me to say, WTF Gygax? Will-o-the-wisps? Are you kidding me?!

It's been a long time since I played AD&D, and I don't ever remember using will-o-wisps as a monster. I didn't include them in my B/X Companion because I consider them more of a trap/trick (little bobbing/floating lights that lead adventurers to their death) than a monster to be faced and beaten. It's been a long time (decades) since I've bothered reading the description in the MM, but one of Icespire Peak's adventures features three will-o-wisps as the main (only) encounter/danger...an adventure that is fairly lucrative from a loot perspective. And so I was checking the original stat block to see what kind of challenge this really was.

Holy crap. Negative eight (-8) armor class. Nine (!) hit dice. 2d8 damage per attack. Immunity to most magic spells. 18" movement rate.

These will kill you
dead...and eat your soul.
Forget the white dragon. A young adult white dragon has 24 hit points in AD&D...just one will-o-wisp would have no problem taking down a dragon, let alone three.

What the heck is this supposed to model, exactly? Even in their original appearance (the Greyhawk supplement), they were this beefy...I can understand giving them a high armor class OR a high number of hit dice, but not both. The thing has an AC equal to Demogorgon (or, as written in Greyhawk, plate +5 and shield +5), and hit dice nearly equalling a balrog. With a speed far exceeding any human adventurer, the ability to alter its shape or turn invisible at will, and its huge AC, why would it ever be cornered? Considering its immunity to spells, how can one ever expect to reduced in hit points to the point that it will give up its treasure?

This is a really weird (or really poor) monster design, in my opinion. And it irritates me. And it irritates me to have such a creature in an adventure, any adventure.

But then, maybe I'm just irritable this morning.


Sunday, September 22, 2019

Forgetting the Realms

I don't know jack about the Forgotten Realms.

Because I'm me, I write this with a bit of puffed up pride, as in "I'm too good for that goofy property." But the fact of the matter is, I simply missed the whole FR experience. The original boxed set detailing the Forgotten Realms was published in 1987, a year after the last new AD&D book I would purchase (the Dungeoneers Survival Guide). By that time, I wasn’t even running a game, having surrendered all DM authority to my friend, Jocelyn. I would give up the hobby entirely circa 1988, only briefly returning (a couple-four years later) to DM my brother and his buddies in a turgid, short-lived AD&D campaign. My interest in the D&D during the 90s was roughly equal to the Seahawks playoff hopes during that same period (translation for non-Seattle residents: slim-to-none).

Here’s what I know about the Forgotten Realms: it was the home campaign setting of Ed Greenwood whose “Ecology Of...” articles (as voices by Elminster the Sage) I would occasionally read in Dragon magazine Back In The Day. When I was bored. After I’d already peruses any new classes, monsters, magic items, or Marvel-Philes that might be present in the mag.

I know Elminster is a prominent figure/NPC in FR. There were some video games based on the setting (Baldur's Gate, Neverwinter Nights, etc.) that I never played. I've never read or owned an FR novel, though I understand there's quite a few of them, some of which feature a Drow ranger named Drz'zt (or whatever).

Um...that’s about it.

Of the various D&D campaign settings that were put out over the years, the ones in most familiar with are Krynn, Mystara, and Oerth ("Greyhawk")...in that order. Krynn I know because I read the first seven or eight novels (multiple times for some of them), not because I ever owned or played any of the game publications. Mystara I know from reading (and using) the Gazetteers (during my BECMI days) or from more recent research. Greyhawk was a large part of our old AD&D campaign, although we never did use more of it than the map and the names of cities/regions...I couldn’t tell you anything about the “Suel” or Iuz or the Horned Society, etc. to save my arse.

[I did read Gygax’s first two Gord novels, though. Still own them, too]

And that’s it. I picked up a used (and incomplete) copy of 2E’s Dark Suns campaign setting decades later, but I’ve never done anything with it. Oh, and does SpellJammer count as a campaign setting? Steve-O game me a copy of that back in college, though we never did use that either.

Really that is pretty much the extent of my knowledge of the “official” D&D campaign settings. I don’t know anything about Birthright or Planescape (besides the fact that tieflings originated there), or Eberron, or anything else. And I know absolutely nothing about the Forgotten Realms (besides the Greenwood thing) except for the fact that everyone loves it and it continues to be a standard setting for the current edition of D&D.

Okay, okay, not everyone loves it, but quite a few people do.

More or less how I
picture Prince Gwydion.
So when I examine D&D Essentials and see this map of the “Sword Coast,” I really have no context or sense of scale or ANYTHING as it relates to the Realms. The illo on the original box cover felt reminiscent of a scene out of a Lloyd Alexander book, but I have no idea if the setting is heavily influenced by Tolkien or Wales or, well, anything. I suppose I could look up what Wikipedia says on the subject. Here, hold on a moment...

[later]

Okay, that didn't give me much...though, wow, there have been a TON of FR-themed vid games released. I had no idea.

Dragon of Icespire Peak does provide a page briefly describing this particular section of FR ("The Sword Coast"). Regarding the Realms in general it states:

"The world of the Forgotten Realms is one of high fantasy, populated by elves, dwarves, halflings, humans, and other folk. In the Realms, knights dare the crypts of the fallen dwarf kings of Delzoun, seeking glory and treasure. Rogues prowl the dark alleyways of teeming cities such as Neverwinter and Baldur's Gate. Clerics in the service of gods wield mace and spell, questing against the terrifying powers that threaten the land. Wizards plunder the ruins of the fallen Netherese empire, delving into secrets too dark for the light of day. Bards sing of kings, queens, heroes, and tyrants who died long ago."

[in other words, it's just D&D]

"On the roads and rivers of the Realms travel minstrels and peddlers, merchants and guards, soldiers and sailors. Steel-hearted adventurers from backcountry farmsteads and sleepy villages follow tales of strange, glorious, faraway places. Good maps and clear trails can take even an inexperienced youth with dreams of glory far across the world, but these paths are never safe. Fell magic and deadly monsters are the perils one faces when traveling in the Realms. Even farms and freeholds within a day's walk of a city can fall prey to monsters, and no place is safe from the sudden wrath of a dragon."

Okay, that's mostly just an overview of the D&D game's premise. However, there are some clues in this text (besides the proper names provided) as to the make-up of the setting. I don't usually think of "steel-hearted adventurers" coming from "backcountry farmsteads and sleepy villages." But when "no place is safe" and "farms and freeholds within a day's walk of a city can fall prey to monsters" that says something about the make-up of the setting: namely that there isn't any sort of serious government or military presence and that the landscape is a frightened no man's land where death is no more than a stone's throw away.

A hellscape, really...and that's something I can work with. Those "teeming cities" are probably nothing more than huddled masses of refugees from the countryside. These fallen empires and long-dead kings, etc. (not to mention "terrifying powers that threaten the land") speak to a vanilla fantasy world that's had all the idyllic/pastoral bits squeezed out of it. This isn't the Shire...it's Mordor. There's even an active volcano less than 35 miles from the area's major city (Neverwinter). The closest large town to Mount St. Helens is probably Kelso (about 60 miles away)...and it's only the 80th large town in Washington State as ranked by population. One might think it strange that the people of Neverwinter would hang out "rebuilding" after the most recent eruption (50 years before the campaign start) "badly damaged" the city. I can only assume that other areas of the region are so dangerous and monster infested that moving wasn't a real option.

Phandalin, the "home base" for the adventure is pretty much described the same as it is in Lost Mine of Phandelver (I think GusL's comments on the village are appropriate). While there are some callbacks to the idyllic ("you see children playing on the town green") I don't think it can't be rectified by playing up the mud, squalor, and horse shit of your typical medieval village (especially a slap-dash mining town as Phandelvin is). This should be something closer to HBO's Deadwood, not Downton Abbey's little village, especially one under constant menace of orc raiders and dragons.

"I've got a f*!%ing
quest for you."
Clearly then, much of this requires the makeover treatment. The town master (and "quest giver") Harbin Wester should be much more Al Swearengen and much less the cowardly Master of Lake Town (as portrayed by Stephen Fry in the film). Wester is trying to hold his little kingdom together, and he should be manipulating the hell out of any courageous dupes (i.e. the player characters) in order to make that happen.

[actually, I suppose if you really wanted to re-skin Phandelvin as Deadwood, you'd keep Harbin as is and make Toblen Stonehill, the real "Swearengen" character. Then you could set up Linene Graywind (by way of Patience from Firefly) as a competing, slightly less underhanded town faction]

Will probably kill
you anyway.
Point is, Phandelin should be more Nulb than Hommlet. And I think there's enough textual material in the adventure to support this view. Which is important to me for getting my mind right as I try to twist this bugger into something a little more playable.

The rest of the Forgotten Realms? Meh. Not all that important at this point.