Monday, December 23, 2019

Home for the Holidays

Well, now. It's been a busy week and a half.

Folks who have (or who have had) young children can understand the busy-ness of the last couple weeks of the year, what with school ending for winter break...complete with classroom parties, holiday concerts, and field trips. Adding to that the shopping, decorating, cookie baking, office Christmas parties, prepping the house for the arrival of guests (in my case, my wife's parents: mis suegros will be with us till January 4th, which is awesome), sneaking around presents and wrapping stuff...well, it's been crazy. The in-laws are late nighters, especially given the two hour time difference, and I've been up till 1 or 2 in the morning every night since they've got here (along with waaaay too much alcohol consumption). Given that the dogs still get me up early, it's been rough.

Not that I'd change it. Exhausting as it is, and as costly (make no mistake, feasting relatives for a couple weeks is a drain on Ye Old Coffers), the festive holiday atmosphere is amazing and this time together with family is something to be cherished.

But it is a constant nag at me that my familial responsibilities pull me away from my game-related activities: not just blogging and biz-related writing, but playing...both in the form of actual table play and the "DM play" of prep work and world building. And, YES, I understand and realize that there are many, many folks who would happily change situations with me, that they would prefer doing festive holiday "stuff" instead of gaming, but that gaming is all they have, or that gaming is a much-needed escape from the toils and hardships of a not-very-festive season. I get that.

I also get there are plenty of folks who incorporate their gaming into their holiday festivities, that gaming is something they look forward to during the holidays with family and old friends. But that's not me; it's just never really been me. Gaming is something I've always done separate and apart from my family...with the exception (sometimes) of my brother, though he's never taken the gaming thing as serious as myself and games with him always had a good chance of devolving into frustration.

My identity in my "real life" is just so different from the one I bring to my gaming activities. Or, rather, it's NOT all that much different, but it seems strange to my non-gamer family, friends, colleagues, etc. that I would bring such seriousness to something so "silly" as a game. Why do I need to spend so many hours and work on such a thing, reading and writing and researching and thinking and prepping? Why is it so important? People whose most complex gaming is Apples to Apples or Monopoly just don't get it. There are more important things to worry about in the world; they don't have the free RAM space in memory.

And, yet, the things that matter to my loved ones ARE important to me, too: religion and politics and child raising and family and being a constructive member of society and how the local sports team is doing (very badly after yesterday) and...well, whatever. These things matter to me, too, and it's part of why I so enjoy my time with my non-gamer clan.

But a lot of times I feel they don't get me. And a lot of times I feel like I'm being a bit of a fraud...not only because I put on a face of "it doesn't bother me that I'm losing time that could be spent on my gaming obsession" (which it does, even while it would ALSO bother me if I ignored my family to indulge in the game thing)...but because I'm not including them in my passion. I keep it to myself, perhaps selfishly.

Mainly because when I bring it up and they hit me with a blank stare and a look of ''huh, what?" it makes me question the value of something so much a part of my identity.

My son gets it a bit. I've molded him a lot in my own image, of course. But I don't want to game with him, not yet. Hell, I really want him to develop his own imagination and way of thinking...I don't want him being a carbon cut-out of his "pops." And I want him to have a chance to be a child; I don't want him to step into the mental shoes of an adult (even a fantasy game version). But I don't want to tone down MY game for HIM either...I have no interest in running "No Thank You Evil" at this time. I'd rather play Axis & Allies (or some form of BattleTech) with him.

Or, heck, we get a lot of mileage out of just passing the football back and forth. And it's a lot more (mentally) relaxing.

But it's the wife that really hurts. I love my wife, but...well, never mind. Now is not the time to air out all the ways she and I don't jibe, when we DO get along in many ways that are very important. If she could have "cured" me of my gaming obsession, she would have done so years ago.


The point of this post is: I'm busy at the moment. Busy having Christmastime fun, busy with family, far too busy (at the moment) to write the posts I want to about bounty hunters and alignment and campaign world building and illusionists (illusionists? what? see Anthony Huso's blog for more info). I spent a lot of free time yesterday going over my posts from last April regarding the Grand Duchy of Karameikos: there's actually a lot of nifty ideas in there...kind of want to take the best of them and squish 'em into something.

[I know it's a little ridiculous to read my own content for authors read their own novels after they've published them? But that's the kind of stuff I'm often looking for...and so seldom finding...on the inter webs. I'm a strange duck]

I hope to get a couple more posts done before the end of the year...I was really hoping to get MORE posts done than 2014 (when I hit 120). We'll see if it happens. Regardless, I doubt I'll have the chance to blog again till after the please let me take this moment to wish you ALL a very merry Christmas and (regardless of your religious persuasion) a joyful week. If you can game, do so. If you can be with loved ones, do so. And appreciate the time you have. My very good friend just lost his mother yesterday, unexpectedly, and it's just another reminder of how precious our time here is. Enjoy it the best you can.

Happy holidays to one and all.
: )

Friday, December 13, 2019

Hunter of Men

Just continuing the series started Tuesday...

Are rangers the only character class able to track in an AD&D campaign?

Clearly other intelligent humanoids...especially humans...will have some means of tracking prey. Hunting has long been a means of providing meat for the table, and the ability to find and recognize tracks is nearly as pertinent to the practice as the ability to bring down the target. People have been hunting since the stone age and it is too far-fetched (from my perspective) to restrict the skill to individuals of exceptional ability and supernatural power (i.e. rangers).

Of course, this doesn't mean folks of non-exceptional ability are as good at tracking as rangers. The class as presented in the PHB provides a 90% base chance to track in the outdoors (Unearthed Arcana adjusts this to level based, though I'm inclined to ignore most of the UA). The Expert rule book (Cook/Marsh) provides a straight 1 in 6 chance per day of successfully hunting with a far higher likelihood of the turning up a hostile predator than a tasty antelope. Foraging for nuts and berries (also a 1 in 6 chance in B/X) is a safer bet.

Still, my takeaway is that it's possible for anyone (i.e. non-rangers) to find tracks (at least obvious ones), though their ability to make any sense of sign...or successfully follow it...may be far more limited than the sturdy ranger. And while there may be professional hunters or pathfinders...something equivalent to an expert hireling...these are probably little more than an NPC with the appropriate "secondary skill" (from page 12 of the DMG): something like forester, hunter/fisher, or trapper/furrier. Any PC has about a 15% of acquiring one of these skills, should the DM decide to include these in the campaign (we always did, back in my old AD&D days).

However, it's entirely possible that a player might desire more than a random secondary skill and less than the "full ranger" experience. While the clear winner of the man-hunter category is the assassin class (duh), I know there's been a long-held interest in the bring-em-back-alive archetype, usually embodied in the bounty hunter archetype.

A typical bounty hunter.
The bounty hunter is no stranger to the D&D game: aside from the Michael Sechi version (which inspired my adaptation in The Complete B/X Adventurer), I found no less than THREE different versions of the class waaaaay back in Dragon magazine #52 (August, 1981). Later editions continued to produce their own versions, first as a "kit" in the second edition (The Complete Thief's Handbook), then as one of several similarly themed prestige classes (the "Bloodhound," etc.) in third edition. There just seems to be something appealing to the concept of what is (essentially) a paid vigilante. It goes back at least as far as the Western genre, and remains active in the imagination of the TV and movie-going public (see The Mandalorian as the most recent example).

For an "advanced" D&D campaign, I think it's a bit more interesting to add such a character type to the list of permissible classes than to tweak or alter an existing class (e.g. by lifting the alignment restrictions on rangers and/or assassins). The reason I find it more interesting is that adds specificity, an additional layer to the setting. What does it say about the world that such a character type exists? If execution of wanted criminals was the only result needed, why would anyone require more than an assassin? A specialist in tracking and trapping targets can sometimes be useful, especially if one requires more information out of the subject than can be gained through a speak with dead spell. And it almost goes without saying that there are times an employer will want to engage the services of a professional kidnapper for the capture of an individual no goody-two-shoes ranger would ever touch.

Personally, I like the idea a lot. They'd use D8s for hit dice and be open to the same races (with similar level restrictions) as the assassin class, probably with a non-lawful alignment restriction. I like the idea of a multi-class or dual class bounty hunter, and can easily see the class paired with a cleric or magic-user to give them a kind of "witch hunter" vibe (without actually needing to create a new witch hunter class). Yeah, the more I think about it (and I have been thinking about bounty hunters a lot the last two-three days) the more I think I'm going to write it up...possibly for free, but perhaps as a download for my Patreon supporters. It's about time I showed them a little tangible gratitude.

More later.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019


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 (instead penalizing the class, like paladins, for "intentional evil acts"). 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 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.
; )