Thursday, November 26, 2020

Giving Thanks

 I'll try not to be glib...though (I suppose) my capacity for "glibness" these days is much diminished.

Mm. Staring out the window, wondering what words to use to type my feelings of the moment, I find myself at a loss. I'll try, though.

Today is Thanksgiving here in the United States...probably my favorite holiday of the year for many, many reasons. And I am so thankful, so so thankful, for so many selfish reasons. Thankful for my family and all they give me. Thankful we can afford to eat, unlike so many people in this country right now. Thankful of life has been spared of Covid tragedy. No small thing.

Mexico is in bad shape at the moment. Only the United States, Brazil, and India have had more recorded deaths. But India's population (1.3 billion) means its overall death rate per capita is one-eighth the rate of these other "top" countries and Brazil's governmental response has been not just indifferent but downright nihilistic.

[I don't think I need to mention the issues in the United States when a large percentage of the population refuses to believe in reality]

But Mexico is in a bad, bad way with death rates per capita equal to (or exceeding) Brazil. And it's government is trying to get a handle on things and just doesn't have the capacity to do so. And for many Mexicans "trust in one's government" is an alien concept after generations of corruption and exploitation at that government's hands.

Why do I care about Mexico? Other than the fact that it has many and huge interconnections with its neighbor to the north (i.e. the United States) and its tragedies will have a dramatic impact on my country both socially and economically? Well, mainly because my wife is from Mexico and the entirety of her blood relations continue to live there along with most everyone she grew up with. It is the home of half (well more than half) my children's relatives. It is a country I've grown to know and love and respect over the last 22 years...a country whose people and history and culture and traditions are far deeper and richer than most Americans give them credit for. 

There are a lot of people dying there right now. My wife has already lost friends to the virus. It is only a matter of time before she...we...start lost family to it. 

Today, I am thankful that hasn't yet happened. I know that there are many, many people who wish they could say the same. I realize that I have been fortunate and that my luck will probably run out before this pandemic has finished running its course, but today...on this Thanksgiving...I can be truly sincere in giving thanks for the blessings I've had till now. 

If you're one of the folks reading this post...well, it means you still have life left in your body. But for some of you...some of you who have been touched by tragedy in this last year...that may feel like no great thing worth celebrating. The Thanksgiving holiday may even feel like a slap in the face: being told to feast and celebrate when jobs and incomes are lost and when loved ones lie ill...or dead. I am sorry, truly sorry. I feel bad...I feel bad that I cannot share and shoulder more of your pain. Not because I want to one wants to suffer...but because I want to ease the stress and burden you feel. 

I feel guilty for being thankful for the blessings I have.

Maybe I should be glib...maybe I should try to be light-hearted. But I'm just not feeling it at the moment. It's 10am, Seattle time, and the family should be waking up soon. Today will be a busy day at my house, so I probably won't have more time to write that silly, light-hearted post my readers so richly deserve. And I apologize for that. I'll try to do better in days to come.

Please know that I am thankful for all of you who are reading this. Without people reading, I probably (probably) wouldn't have carried on as long as I have. And I am praying for you...for all of you...and for the world as well. For your health and your safety and your sanity and for that of the people whose lives you touch and that touch yours. I hope and pray that all of us can find blessings in our lives for which we can be thankful (selfishly or not). 

My love to you all.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

"You can be a GNOME?"

 Ah, AD&D...still king after all these years.

My kids are only now just starting to discover the majesty and mystery of that tome we call The Players Handbook. At first, they were only really using the ability score and equipment, they're starting to dive in.

As I suspected, their first excitement simply came from the fact that we were playing Dungeons & Dragons again...the boy made an elven fighter, the girl made a halfling ("kender") fighter/thief. Both were approaching the game much as one might a game of B/X or OD&D (their previous forays into D&D), though of course there was some confusion ("What's ring armor?" "What's a bastard sword?" etc.). They were both happy to purchase guard dogs.

Everything else they've taken in stride. I don't think they've noticed, for instance, that armor class goes to 10, or that weapons do different damage versus large creatures.They prefer to shoot arrows into things anyway. They appreciate the extra hit points, of course, but those are always a precious resource and never in large enough supply.

But playing D&D has once again fired both kids' desire (though my son's especially) to run the game. And Diego drafted a dungeon to run AD&D for myself and his sister. And he was tres shocked when I brought a ranger to the table. "What the heck is that?" Maybe you should read up on the new sub-classes and races in the book, I suggested. And, oh boy, did he's trying to get his sister to roll up an assassin or an illusionist, while he himself created a ranger of his own...though his has a bow (unlike mine).

[I am so tired of the ranger archer trope]

I am glad their imagination has been sparked; my own has had a jumpstart as well. However, I will whine that the old complaint still lingers: it's frustrating that one has to wait and wade through novice challenges without being able to get to the higher level content (i.e. "the good stuff"). When last we left off (last night) the party was just attacked by a handful of fire beetles, who appear to be getting the upper hand (AC 4 is especially rough for low-level PCs to hit). It may soon be time to create new player characters...too bad, as they just spent the gold and time to train up to 2nd level.

[ah, AD&D]

For the curious, I will list the particularities of the game I'm currently running:

  • Rule books being used include: the PHB, DMG, MM, and Fiend Folio. The MM2 and DDG might be used in the future but have not, as of yet, been necessary. No Unearthed Arcana or later rules.
  • Ability scores are rolled 4D6, arranged to taste, and character must have at least two "15" scores to be considered viable.
  • Demihumans who single class may add +2 to their maximum applicable level when otherwise limited.
  • First level hit points are maximum to begin; "1s" are rerolled when leveling. 
  • Training costs are in silver pieces instead of gold. Training time is determined randomly (roll 1d4), doubled without a trainer/mentor.
  • Psionics have not yet been added to the game.
  • To this point, I have simply been using 2d6 (B/X) reaction rolls when necessary, rather than the more complex system provided in the DMG. This might change once I've had a chance to put together a cheat sheet, but it seems unnecessary for a more complex system, considering that none of the PCs have any kind of reaction adjustment (average charisma scores).
  • We are not using alignment at the moment; there are no alignment languages and players have not chosen alignment for their characters. Right now, the entire issue of alignment seems an inconvenience; i.e. an obstruction to play. Not only is it difficult to explain, its mechanics are obscure. The players are basically "good" (and are playing their characters as such) and until it matters for some reason, I am simply using alignment (with regard to NPCs, magic items, etc.) as rough guidelines for motivation. 

And that's about it. Um...yep. Everything else is being used as written. I'm only going to worry about changing things if/when we run into a "snag" in play. 

Regarding the campaign setting: as I wrote the other day I am taking it extremely slow with regard to putting things together. The world definitely has a "post-apocalyptic" vibe to it, though in the way of Bakshi's Wizards rather than Dragonlance/Krynn.  Orcs, for example, are simply mutants. They are not a particularly "fecund species;" instead, mutants (caused by bad magic/radiation/something) are found amongst most species. A "half-orc" is the mutant offspring of a genetic human; tainted areas of the wilderness might give rise to a higher percentage of "half-orcs" in the population. Orcs proper are bestial descendants of such creatures being driven into the wilderness, forced to band together in tribal communities, further mucking up their own blood lines. Such creatures have an antagonistic relationship with the races that have spurned them.

[goblin kind, on the other hand, are an actual, non-mutant species. They're enmity towards dwarves are based on rivalry born of competing subterranean species; their hostility towards humans and elves come from these latter groups being allies with dwarves. Kobolds, in my game, are simply "small goblins," (like gnomes are "small dwarves") not dog-headed gremlins]

Typical orcish horde.

I've often, in recent years, considered orcs to be something akin to the sword & sorcery trope of "beastmen," creatures that, AD&D, would normally be modeled by the mongrelman creature found in I1: Dwellers of the Forbidden City and later (published officially) in the Monster Manual II. The justification for this comes directly from my reading of the Tom Moldvay's (B/X) description of the orc:

"Orcs are ugly human-like creatures who look like a combination of animal and man."

...the first time ANY physical description of orcs (outside of coloration) is given in any of the D&D books. To me, it conjures a bit of an Isle of Dr. Moreau vibe, and I'm happy to run with that...especially the idea of such mutant creatures setting down their own laws and traditions in an attempt to build some semblance of "society."

But, again, I'm digressing. And I have errands to run. The Seahawks are playing tonight (we'll see how THAT goes...), and since the MLS playoffs don't start (for Seattle) till Tuesday, that means my weekend should be very freed up for Dungeons & Dragons. Rainy days in November are good for gamers!

: )

Monday, November 16, 2020


Quick Note: The Complete B/X Adventurer will be back in stock this week...the new print run should be ready by Thursday. Had some issues with my printer misplacing the files for the book, but they've got 'em now. The button on the side of the blog has been updated.

Second Note: Wow, Seahawks. Just terrible

Russell Wilson was awful yesterday (and the last three weeks). But the Jamal Adams trade is looking worse and worse as the season goes on. Despite making the occasional spectacular play, the defense is even more terrible when he's on the field...and that is saying something. Giving up three draft picks (including two first rounders!) plus Bradley McDougall (an adequate cover safety) just to get a guy who can make flashes before giving up big pass plays and passing on opportunities to tackle? Garbage

Here's his Blood Bowl profile:

#33 Goblin: MA 7 ST 2 AG 3 AV 8  Skills: Dodge, Stunty, Right Stuff, Dauntless, Durable*, Leader, Pass Rush*, Strip Ball

* These are new skills pertinent to my NAFL version of the rules (yet unpublished...sorry about that!). Durable allows casualty type to be rerolled (kind of like a personal apothecary); it may not be used in conjunction with an apothecary. Pass rush allows a player to pass block (move three spaces when an opponent announces a pass) even when engaged (in an opponent's tackle zone) but only downfield (i.e. towards the quarterback). 

Such a player IS an asset to the team...he's fast and can take on players that are bigger than himself (there's a reason Adams isn't a linebacker, despite wanting to play like one). But it's not enough. Not when you have 2nd and 3rd string lineorcs playing cornerback and free safety and you're playing against an offense competent enough to respond to the blitz. Just...rough.

And for the record...can I just say I really dislike the Rams? And have since the days of Marc Bulger?

[***EDIT*** Having now seen the full season play out, my assessment of the Jamal Adams acquisition remains pretty much the same (garbage) and would, in fact, remove the "durability" skill from his profile seeing how often he was much so that he became a total liability on the defense in the playoff game, allowing a backup QB with a broken thumb to do just fine en route to a 30-20 point game that wasn't even THAT close. And, yes, part of that was a pick-six and a short field from a fumbled punt return. But when YOU are the guy that allows a walk-in touchdown with no attempted hit/tackle and YOU are the closest defender in 78 out of 79 passing yards, and YOU have no sacks despite being a "great blitzer"...well, sorry, I'm going to judge you harshly in the biggest game of the season. ALSO: still really dislike the Rams.]


Played some Dungeons & Dragons this weekend, specifically the Advanced (1st edition) version of the game. It's...been a while. And I'm taking it slow...not only because of my own rust, but because I'm teaching the game to my children. 

Cool monster.
No, I'm NOT running a Dragonlance campaign...although my daughter continues to insist her halfling is a kender and wears shoes. Which is fine. And I might steal some DL dungeons, just to throw in the game...Xak Tsaroth is fine as a lair for a black dragon, for example. But I see how other folks...folks much smarter than me...have thrown up their hands at trying to remake the setting.

And honestly...who has the time? 

Well, perhaps someone does, but I am (at this point) unwilling to do so; I'd rather just play. 

So, I'm not (remaking DL, that is)Instead, I'm settling back into AD&D. Very, very slowly. Right now, that means using (or repurposing) pre-written adventures. There really isn't much out there for 1st level characters, but a short scenario from issue #1 of Flipping & Turning (I'll have to talk at length about Grogtalk some time) was sufficient to start the ball rolling. We are now on the two part Alderweg series (UK2 and UK3), though I'm modifying it somewhat (mainly adjusting Fiend Folio monsters. Why the heck do we need xvarts? They're just goblins (if blue). And ogrillons aren't anything more than strong orcs, really...), and I'm just hodge-podging the world together in an eclectic fashion. That's good enough for now, while I get my feet back under me.

[hmm...just by the way, Xak Tsaroth IS kind of a crumby dungeon. And the map is very hard to read on a PDF. Skullcap, however (from DL3) is pretty groovy, and that's an adventure I have in hardcopy. Perhaps I'll change out the shadow dragon for a black. I really do like black dragons]

All right, that's all. Hope everyone's doing well. Later.

Friday, November 13, 2020

Welcome to Bartertown!

 Let's talk about Krynn's steel-based economy.

Yes, I wrote (briefly) about this before...I've had more time to ponder it and more information with which to synthesize its sheer ridiculousness. 

First, we can talk about steel itself. Oh, boy...lots there. Krynn seems to have  a technology level at least equal to the late middle ages of Earth (plate armored knights means 14th to 15th century, yeah?). Humans on our planet started working steel from a couple thousand years before that. Why? Because they were fairly ingenious and the materials they needed (iron and timber) were plentiful. 5% of the Earth's crust is made of iron...that's a LOT. And it doesn't take huge amounts of heat to extract it...just heat in the proper amounts with the proper technique. 

[rather than spend a bunch of time writing a thesis on That Which I Am Unqualified To Explain, I will simply direct you to Bret Devereaux's excellent essays on the subject]

Even if the world of Krynn is exceptionally "iron poor," as has been suggested some places, the creation of a currency based on steel makes little sense. After all, steel wasn't a unit of currency before the Cataclysm; if it was such a rare and precious commodity on Krynn, why wasn't iron used as legal tender previously? 

And let's talk about these "steel pieces;" who's minting them anyway? And to what purpose? Do folks trade them to the local blacksmith? Again, the purpose of money is for a portable unit of exchange (instead of trying to buy a helmet with a bag of grain)...steel is a commodity, to be forged and shaped. And my understanding is that blacksmiths prefer to work in billets; why would one want to go through the trouble of forging the coins into something useful?

But, again...who is striking these coins and where? Old, used, and even rusty metal can be reforged...presumably there's lots of metal scraps left over from the pre-Cataclysm days. Maybe the Cataclysm just turned everyone stupid? Maybe that's's a passage from DL3: Dragons of Hope:

"Here, the flat plain shows scars of the Dwarfgate War. The blasted heath is punctuated by the rusting hulks of ancient, broken war machines. The wind howls across the plain. 
"Rusted, broken swords, shields, and armor litter the plain, obscured by sand and drifting snows. The great iron war machines stand draped in ice, a monument of destruction."
There is nothing of value here. 

Um, no...there's plenty of value there.  And the place should have already been picked clean by now: the Dwarfgate War occurred approximately 250 years before the events of the adventure module...plenty of metal (i.e. steel), broken or otherwise, worth looting. And considering the Dwarfgate War was a post-Cataclysm event (i.e. after the rise of steel as the currency of choice) an un-looted battlefield represents an obscene amount of wealth just to be left lying around (and keep in mind that the DL setting awards X.P. for the recovery of steel based on its "gpw," i.e. gold piece weight). We're all leveling up!

[and just for the record, failing to loot a battlefield is pretty strange...there were survivors (on both sides!) after all]

The idea that Krynn is some sort of metal poor world (like MZB's Darkover) simply doesn't make sense, and neither does the idea of minting "steel pieces." It's a poetic concept (and, again, I see the implied allegory here: Krynn moving from a "golden age" to an age of war), but it's nonsense.

That doesn't mean, however, that you can't have the bottom fall out of the gold market.

Krynn is a post-apocalyptic world. The Cataclysm messed it up but good.  And if you live in a large urban area like, say, Xak Tsaroth or Tarsis and suddenly have your food supply wiped out by enormously dramatic environmental catastrophe, then it doesn't matter how much gold you have. You can't buy bread when there's no bread to buy.

And here I can see the total (or near total) devaluation of the gold piece. Monetization of an economy exists to fill a need, that need being an easy exchange of goods between large groups of suppliers and demanders (yes, I'm over-simplifying). When civil society breaks down, though, and the population exists on the edge of survival, monetization is no longer necessary. You can't eat gold. And again, as an allegory, steel does become a form of currency: the pointy, sword-shaped type pointed at the farmer whose meager grain supply he hoped would feed him through the winter. Steel...war and murder...becomes the new method for "facilitating an exchange of goods" in a post-apocalyptic world.

But once everyone's armed up (and the weakest have gone about the business of dying) you can move back to barter. And here "steel" (as a matter of currency) might be a stand-in term for "goods" or "useful items." The closer the timeline is to the catastrophic event, the more reliant one is on straight trading of goods and services (as opposed to money of any sort)...because you really don't know when the iron mines and Pax Tharkas are going to get up and running again, and you could really use a helmet and a sword for the next time those bandits try raiding the village granary. Winter is coming!

I'm reminded of various bits of post-apocalyptic fiction here. Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (of course) with Tina Turner's Bartertown, but also The Blood of Heroes (Rutger Hauer, Joan Chen) with its ritualized banditry in the form of jugging. Their money tended to be bits of scrap metal, too, but it was pretty obvious from the landscape that no one was going to be opening any iron mines in the near future. Krynn doesn't have to deal with that type of radioactive wasteland.

Additionally, Krynn is pretty far removed from its Cataclysm (by the time of the novels anyway). It's 350 years later. People are living in treetop villages, surrounded by fields of rich farmland (farmland later burned and destroyed by invading dragon armies...what's up with THAT? How is the army going to eat?!). Nation states are forming up, diplomatic relations forming between new cities like Solace, Gateway, Haven, and the plainsmen (plainsfolk?). Trade is taking place! Half-elves are wearing feathers! All that jazz.

And there are plenty of places where life is going on much as it did before the Cataclysm. The dwarves of Thorbardin are unchanged. Qualinesti is still a city of towering, crystalline (elven) spires that have stood since before the "fiery mounted" impacted with Istar. Palanthas is mostly unchanged, as is the insular culture of the Solamnic knights (though the same can't be said for their prestige and standing within the Krynnish community). The kender didn't sink into the ocean (much to the rest of Krynn's chagrin). The tinker gnomes remain on the same island they have for thousands of years. 

While Krynn has suffered an unnatural disaster of impressive scale, it is a world well on its way to recovery. The people have adapted to the new landscape, hard as that may have been. And other than the invasion of an evil goddess-backed army led by dragon riders and soldiers that explode or turn into acid when you kill them...well, life would seem pretty close to idyllic.

Which is why I keep thinking I need to change the setting to something closer to the apocalypse...something like 100 years after the Cataclysm

I was thinking that I'd call this little project, "B/X Dragonlance;" now, I'd just settle for "reasonable Dragonlance."

All right, that's enough for tonight. It's my birthday and the family is trying to fete me and whatnot. Makes it really tough to write blog posts (I started writing this morning). Ugh...all right, all right...I've got to go. 

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

So Much Wrong (Krynn)

I am really having a hard time figuring out where to start.

"It's all about the economy." Isn't that what people say? Perhaps not with regard to world building (in a fantasy RPG)...but maybe they should. Still: what part of the economy do you want to start with? The people? The geography? The resources? The monetization (or lack thereof)? The nations of the known world?

Maybe I should start with the good. 

No wait...even that's going to elicit complaints. Ah, well.

Currently reading.
The maps are "okay." I can work with some (most?) of them. It's a shame they're so poorly inconsistent from product to product (DL2: Dragons of Flame gives a scale of one hex equals two kilometers...what, is that supposed to be someone's idea of a joke?). But aside from issues of scale and nonsensical placements of some terrain (for example: steppe and grasslands being keyed differently on the world map ...despite being pretty much the same thing...and then locating the steppe along temperate coastlines, negating the main distinction between the terms). But the "dungeons" are somewhat better, at least as pre-drawn adventure sites. Which is something.

Aaaaaand...that's about it. 

I mean, with regard to the world building of Krynn. The Dragonlance story...the characterizations, the concept, the premise...those things are fine. Good enough, really (and better in novel form than in the scripted adventure modules). But other than place names, Cataclysmic wreckage, and invading dragon armies...well, I think I'm going to end up junking most of it. Or rewriting substantial bits, especially regarding the setting history...the legends can stay the same, just being chalked up to "unreliable narrators" and unsubstantiated rumor.

[hmm...though it's unfortunate that the presence of Astinus the Chronicler kind of nixes this idea, seeing as he's portrayed as both immortal and infallible with regard to his histories. *sigh* Something else I'll have to consider. On the other hand, most PCs won't have access to Astinus's archives. But (hmm, again) then why does he exist? Ugh]

There are certainly some people who will wonder why I'm bothering to continue with this reclamation project. Is it just that I dig on Qualinesti elves and "barbaric plainsmen" fighting against masked dragon riders? Um, no...problems abound with all those things (especially the "mounted dragonlance" itself which, while a cool idea, seems pretty damn impractical for aerial combat). Neither is it nostalgia...well, certainly it's not ALL nostalgia.

Thing is, folks, I'm not all that great at originating new ideas. I'm just not. I'm okay with taking someone else's idea and "refining" it...but I need some initial creative spark to work with. I'm afraid, I just don't find my own ideas very inspiring.

Also currently
And Dragonlance is something I'm familiar with...something I read and collected back in the day, something I enjoyed and supported (i.e. spent money on). So, I guess, that means that I care about it on some level...even as I feel no hesitation to be critical of it. In recent years, my wife has accused me (at times) of being a mean person. Okay, maybe...certainly I can see the way I express myself might hurt feelings. On the other hand, do the makers of Dragonlance really give a rip what I have to say? 

[though I recognize that's probably not a valid justification for being incendiary]

Suffice is to say: there's a world here to tinker with. It's a challenge, it's fun, and it is (once stripped of its railroad story plot) very much "D&D." 

NOW, having gone through all that, I did give my kids a brief rundown of the World of Krynn as a setting in which I want to run a bit. They were very excited (though it might be they just want to play Dungeons & Dragons)...and I didn't even tell them about dragons or Huma or "steel coins" or anything. All I told them was about the Cataclysm, some of its aftermath (including clerics gone missing), and their characters' hometown (Solace, which I plan on discussing in my next post). I told them about kender instead of halflings, and about elves having the potential to be single-classed, and the lack of orcs. The setting has juice...and that's even without some of the good stuff (knightly orders and the Tower of High Sorcery, for instance). There's cool stuff here. 

I think I'll be running it with some form of advanced B/X.

Monday, November 9, 2020

Gods of Krynn

In looking through the Dragonlance material, I find the thing"problematic" in its relationship with and treatment of gods and religion. Which is a little ironic, given just how IMPORTANT the whole concept of divinity (and its role) is to the unfolding story.

Let's review for a moment: like many "vanilla" fantasy settings, DL has the usual, trope-riddled pantheon of multiple gods of various alignments (good, neutral, and evil) connected to their various spheres of interest (magic, farming, war, elves, etc. ad nauseam). As per standard D&D, these various powers grant spells to their most devout followers (clerics) whose job it is of "spread the good news" to the peoples. Well, at least the followers of the good deities. The neutral deities (like Gilean/Astinus or the dwarf god Reorx) appear to be more "take it or leave it" types with no interest in proselytizing or drumming up interest in their worship. And the evil deities' clerics are more bog standard villains of the Evil High Priest variety (i.e. mustache twirling villains who, if anything, appear to be jealous of sharing their power and standing).

[with regard to this treatment of neutral and evil deities, you need to remember and consider the context of the setting. Dragonlance was originally written and developed for 1st edition (pre-Unearthed Arcana!!) AD&D. In AD&D there aren't any "neutral" clerics (only druids, which Dragonlance doesn't appear to have). And as for "evil" clerics, there is only ONE named in the entirety of the original trilogy (Verminaard) and he gets disemboweled in the first book. The adventure modules have more (including Verminaard, who is supposed to survive through most of the series), and even changes main bad guy Ariakus from a wizard to a cleric]

[it's also worth noting that pre-UA did not allow non-human player characters to become clerics, with the exception of half-elves and half-orcs. Since DL dispenses with setting-specific IP, there aren't any Tolkien orcs (nor half-orcs) in the game, and half-elves are portrayed as extremely rare (there's only one - the protagonist, Tanis - and he's a fighter)]

Where DL gets credit for changing the "standard trope" is making a post-apocalyptic world where "true clerics" have disappeared from the world. The gods have literally abandoned the people (no more spells for clerics) which has made for a rather grim and perilous fantasy world. Reconnecting the people with their gods is a major plot arc of the novels.

*DEEP BREATH* Now, I have written about this "subversion" before, and some of the reasons I find it problematic...I'm not going to rehash those here. Instead, I'm going to talk about more underlying problems to the world building; things I feel I need to address before any sort of reclamation project.

First, let's talk about clerics specifically: just what the heck are they? What do they represent? Look I realize Dragonlance is the fantasy equivalent of space opera (where explaining FTL travel, for example, isn't important or integral to the story being told), but I've grown beyond the point where I can be satisfied with "it's just D&D; there are clerics" as a definition. No. Clerics and their faith and the gods are MAJOR POINTS OF THE SETTING (in both the novels and the adventure modules!); I can't just "write them off."

So just what do they do? What are they for? the novels, they appear to fill the same role we see priests and preachers of our modern world: they counsel people and lecture people and comfort people and help guide people to positive life choices (and again, please note this is only with regard to good-aligned clerics). They have temples where they live and worship and pray, though they also do "outreach" to other parts of the world/environment. Villages and small towns have lone clerics and small churches around whom the entire community congregates; larger towns and cities have larger places of worship and multiple options of faith: whether you're talking pre-Cataclysm (note the descriptions of Istar in the Legends trilogy) or post-Cataclysm (see the Seekers of Haven in DL1). Despite being polytheistic, it's still comparable (i.e. recognizable) to our churches of today.

Except that this is D&D. That's not what priests...well, They go out on adventures. And while Goldmoon and Elistan (in the modules) are going out on adventures, it's under the thin guise of spreading the gospel of the True Gods (i.e. the ones that grant powers). While practically speaking they're offering medic and undead crushing skills to an adventuring party, that's not the fluff and fiction of the setting. What they should be doing (and what they are doing later in the novels) is ministering to the Faithful in a non-combatant fashion. Adventuring clerics are a strange abnormality in the Dragonlance setting. Even Lady Crysania (from the Legends trilogy) only accompanies the twins on their adventures unwillingly; she'd rather be doing the work of growing the newly established church on Krynn (and, in fact, returns to this work at the end of her "adventure"). And it is precisely because of her devotion that is given as the justification for her (high level) powers as a cleric.

[per the Dragonlance Adventures sourcebook, Crysania is 14th level(!!), despite a complete absence of adventuring experience]

But that (defining clerics, distinguishing their priesthood, and explaining their role as adventurers) is only part of the problem. The other parts are the actual lack of religion and ritual (kind of an important part of any pseudo-medieval setting) and the way DL treats polytheism in general (i.e. not really how polytheism worked in ancient times). Regarding the latter (a discussion on polytheism), I'd direct readers to Bret Devereaux's essays on the subject; they make for excellent reading and a decent enough overview. To me, Krynn's religion more resembles a medieval Christian theology with minor gods in the roles of the saints...nice, but not especially important compared to Paladine/Jehovah (I suppose, in such an analogy, Mishakal would be Mother Mary). 

Which is all the more crazy when you consider Krynn's gods to be literal, active beings walking amongst humans (Takhisis has been physically manifest in the world more than once, and Paladine walks around in disguise much as Odin does in the Norse sagas, while the immortal Astinus, purported to be the god Gilean, is living and scribing in Palanthas, easily accessible with anyone with the right credentials)! The gods of Krynn are VERY manifest and VERY real, and thus do not even require "faith" for belief...and, yet they're treated fairly contemptuously in many regards (though I suppose not much more so than one would treat a "divine emperor" living in a far away capital).

Fall on your knees.
In fact, pretty much the only portrayal of clerics I find "authentic" in the Dragonlance books is that of the evil clerics, especially in the form of the dragon highlord Verminaard. Not only does he exhibit the traits of the D&D class (wearing armor, bashing folks with a morning star, using his magic in combat), he also exhibits a devotion for and communion with his Dark Queen; one could certainly envision him performing sacred rites to Takhisis in Pax Tharkas, when he's not out trying to drum up worshippers (as he does with the Seekers of Haven). I'm a bit bemused that the character is killed off in the first novel of the series (via a deus ex machina!) when, as an NPC, he figures so prominently throughout the adventure modules...Verminaard is one of the characters meant to be kept alive with the Obscure Death special rule. 

But, heck, even the draconians feel more worshipful and subservient to their gods (worshipping a dragon effigy, for example). Sure, Paladine might eschew ritual and reverence (he says something to that effect in the third book, if I remember correctly), but his priesthood's rather casual treatment of religion seems at odds with, oh say, the construction of huge temples and edifices to his glory (or the glory of the other gods: Mishakal's temple in Xak Tsaroth, for example). Such buildings require copious amounts of resources in pre-industrial societies, don't they?


I guess, right now, I'm just sitting in a place where I feel it's not enough to say "the gods of Krynn move in mysterious ways." They're NOT mysterious. They literally walk among the people of the world, interacting and directing them. One of them (Takhisis) wants to enter the world with all her forces of the Abyss and "conquer" it (though to what purpose is a little obscure)...and it's not the first time she's undertaken the task. 

[ me, anyhoo...that this the DL setting also includes such iconic MM personalities as Demogorgan, who appears in the Roger Moore-penned Tasslehoff story "A Stone's Throw Away" (Dragon #85). Perhaps, Takhisis is annoyed with demonic competition and wishes a plane of existence all to herself?]

I like the religious overtones and themes found in the DL-verse; I really do. I think they should be present in any campaign set in Krynn. However, even as I think the "quest to return the gods" can and should be detached (as a plot/story arc) from the player characters, the overtones and themes should be more ingrained into the setting...there should be more intensity. The "perceived abandonment" of the gods should probably be changed to ACTUAL abandonment; bringing them back may require an atonement on behalf of wayward humanity. Maybe. But that makes for a pretty dark campaign (one where most folks are in state of despair and hopelessness) it doesn't wash with the presence of divine soldiers (Verminaard, etc.) in the service of the Dragon Army.

*sigh* More later. Next I'll be talking about the whole "steel pieces" thang.

Saturday, November 7, 2020

Reclamation Project

Despite my recent posts on running campaigns, I have to say I'm not in a position at the moment to actually start up a campaign. Not really. And that's okay! Because: A) I now have some NEW ideas about how to run/manage a campaign (based on my recent reflections) that give me a hopeful "pathway" to what I'm looking for, and B) My "position" (with regard to running a campaign) may well be turning around in the near future; there's a light at the end of that particular tunnel.

However: not now and not yet.

In the meantime, I've got a new idea buzzing around in this bonnet of mine and given how (in the past) those have morphed into some of my best ideas ( feels like that's the case, though I haven't been keeping count) I've decided to bat it around a bit and see what comes of it. Though I know it's going to bore and/or irritate the hell out of some of my readers.

Dragonlance. That's what I'm talking about.

First, the preamble: my actual knowledge of Dragonlance only goes so deep. Here's the summary of it: I read the first two trilogies (when they were first published). My friend owned a handful of the old TSR adventure modules, but we never ran any of them. I read one or two of the later short story anthologies, maybe played an "Endless Quest" book or two based in the DL setting, and have (in recent years) read/skimmed many of the old 1st edition modules. Anything else Dragonlance related (later books/stories, SAGA edition DL, conversions and setting books for 3E - 5E etc.) makes no nevermind to me; I have ZERO interest in ANY of it.

And the reason I have ZERO interest in it is this: it's all a goddamn cash grab. The first six novels aren't great; they have a certain nostalgic value to me that I'd compare to what my 30-some year old readers have in their relationship with Harry Potter (I've read the Potter books and find them to be...mostly...trash; however, they weren't published till I was an adult and kids who grew up with them will always have a special place in their hearts for Rowling's series). But once the War of the Lance was over (i.e. gods returned to Krynn, balance restored) and the "matter of Raistlin" settled, the story for me was over. I did not need to know anything about the children (or children's children) of the original protagonists or any of that...that's the same kind of BS that leads to a continuing Star Wars saga that must always feature Skywalker-Solo-Palpatine relatives. 

[and I'm not just talking about Episodes VII - IX. I'm talking about the entire "Expanded Universe" of books and novels and comics and whatnot...the merchandising machine that is the Star Wars franchise]

I'm not terribly interested in IP franchises. Some are more interesting than others, sure. But mostly I find them as callously and/or ill-thought out ways to fleece fans out of money. And while I may sound cynical with my derogatory tone and terms, I'm just trying to acknowledge the facts of the world: that's how this stuff works these days. 

  • Someone creates something that is a labor of love. 
  • It achieves an enormous popularity. 
  • Creators make some money. 
  • Corporation buys creation for exorbitant sum. 
  • Corporation milks creation in order to profit from investment. 

That's fine and dandy (I mean, it's the model we're stuck with) but that doesn't mean I'm required to "buy in" and read up on the "Chaos Wars" or the further adventures of Kronin Thistleknot or whatever. And since I'm not required, I'm choosing to opt out.

*AHEM* Preamble out of the way. So why am I looking at Dragonlance again? Welp, I was checking up on some of my old fave podcasts and saw the Boiz from Alabamia (ggnore) are still at it, and most recently have been running through DL1: Dragons of Despair. This being one of the DL modules I actually own (and being from a formative stage of D&D's evolution) I was more than a little excited to give it a listen and see how THEY handled it...especially given their penchant for "rage-quitting" every time they attempt to run a typical WotC "adventure arc" (DL being the original railroad campaign). Figured I'd check it out.

And how'd it turn out? Meh, mostly. The ggnore guys are highly amusing/entertaining, but the adventure itself was pretty mediocre. And mostly that's because the adventure itself is pretty mediocre (or worse)...though I will be the first to admit that 5th edition (which the kids use to run the game) bug the shit out of me, and is a constant source of annoyance. But I'm aware that's my hangup...and even I liked 5E it wouldn't change my opinion of the module as a module.

But if anything (this is the ridiculous part), listening to the failure or a "straight take" on Dragonlance As Written (DAW) fires me up to rehabilitate the damn thing. As I said: ridiculous. But I keep thinking about (and re-reading) GusL's old posts on the subject...and I keep thinking DL isn't that bad. Actually, it's better than "not bad:" it's downright intriguing, if one is willing to divorce it from the overall narrative structure, and from the adventure modules' attempts to execute that narrative structure within an illusionary "D&D campaign."

Post-apocalyptic fantasy world is great, in other words! For one thing (and I admit this is completely selfish of me), one can totally explain the fantasy world landscape to be "screwed up" with regard to things like geography and population centers being outside of realistic paradigms. Why is this ruined seaport town in a desert? Because of the Cataclysm! Why is this empire broken up over multiple islands? Because of the Cataclysm! It all made sense before the world was hit by a divine meteor strike...duh!'s what I'm thinking: I'm going to take a couple "exploratory steps" which (at the moment...very late at night over here) will look something like this:

Step 1: Dispense with the sundry. Boil the setting history down into a couple paragraphs. Most everything "historical" about Krynn (its basic timeline) will be myths, legends, and half-truths at best. It's a post Cataclysm world and no one really knows why there are dwarves and gnomes (for example) or why the gods abandoned the world...and it doesn't really matter. Survival does.

Step 2: REALLY dispense with the sundry. There are no "Heroes of the Lance" (Raistlin, Tanis, all those folks) least not as "player characters." Major NPCs (especially antagonists and allies) will be retained, though with more realistic bios and mustache-twirling villains! Fortunately, most of the characters ARE pretty good (if one uses the later novels as a guide)...they just need a little polishing. NPCs that become "heroes" in the books (and PCs in the modules: Laurana, Gilthanas, Gunther, etc.) will probably skip the development arcs of the Hickman/Weiss novels. But no great plot-armored "heroes with destinies;" they're all dead in ditches somewhere (yes, even Riverwind and Gold Moon...Jesus, the whole "barbarian plainsman" thing really needs a re-skin!).

Step 3: Correct one or two missteps. I've written before about my issues with the gold and religion "tweaks" in the DL campaign setting. These will need to be rethought and corrected. I like the idea of spell-less clerics (or, rather, the idea of spell-casting clerics as "expandable content" to the setting), but it needs a little reworking as presented. No, Elistan does not simply show up as a 7th level "true cleric." Un-uh. And basic issues of economy and fungible types of exchange will be better worked out when I work through the post-apocalyptic world and the population centers that exist. I haven't decided on kender, yet...or even draconians. I mean, are they (draconians) really necessary? A whole 'nother topic.

Step 4: Overhaul a module or two. Not nearly as gruesome a task as it sounds; mainly consists of editing out the bulk of the useless (flavor text, railroad arcs, pre-gen PCs, and moralistic motivations) and see what's left...I'm guessing it will look something like a handful of maps, some NPC placements (lairs, villages, and whatnot), and some kind of timeline with regard to movements and logistics of the Dragon Army. Ideally, I'd like to strip down the 12 modules that made up the original saga (DL1-4, 6-10, and 12-14) to get a general outline of the coordination of the "Krynn Conquest" and use that as the basis of play. 

The more I think about it, the more I want to do it. But man o man, it is LATE and I really need to get some sleep...there's been a lot less than normal this week, if you can imagine. Maybe I'm just a bit loopy.

; )

Tuesday, November 3, 2020


Just continuing my thoughts on running campaigns.

(especially this time of year) I listen to a lot of sports talk radio, and there's a phrase that gets bandied about a bit: "Sometimes it's not the X's and the O's...sometimes it's the Jimmy's and the Joe's." Two weeks ago the Seahawks got out-coached and out-executed by the Cardinals, losing a game they had about four opportunities to win (I counted). Two days ago, they curb stomped the 49ers because the Seahawks' players...specifically at the QB and receiver position...were flat out better. It's really, really hard to win a game when your roster has been so decimated by injuries and your starting quarterback is so woefully inadequate compared to the opposition guy.

But what does this have to do with campaigns, JB? Are you just trying to needle your rivals to the south? No (though that's part of it, of course). It's just that when people (like me) decry their ability to put together a stunning...or even satisfying...RPG campaign, there's this thought (fear?) that it's just not possible, because they don't have the Jimmy's and the Joe's. That no matter how good your game plan is, no matter how well-prepped you are, no matter how good your world building, it won't matter because the players at your table aren't going to create the right synergy...for whatever reason. You can be the World's Greatest DM/GM but if the players aren't up to snuff, then your campaign's never going to get off the ground.

I know I've felt this way, more or less, for something around 30 years. 30 years! Seriously. And it's not just about oh, these players suck and don't know the's stuff like "we have different gaming priorities" or "they don't get the theme (or aren't as knowledgable of it)" or "they're just not as excited about this [game] or [setting] as I am" or "we just aren't as compatible as a group (personality-wise)."

And, Why O Why did I feel that way? Because of the gaming group I had for the first near-decade of my youth. My "oldest friends;" my "best friends" (never mind that I've since had many friends who were better and who have lasted longer then those folks)...THEY were the ones with whom "magic happened." The campaigns I've had since my days of yore have never and will never compare to those goes the monologue has long droned in my head.

And, HEY...before anyone starts scribbling a fiery comment to me about how this is all nostalgia and rose-colored glasses and whatnot...let me say, sure, okay, maybe (and I've described this time of gaming in such terms before). MAYBE the monologue is accurate: that was just a time when the right chemistry of people gelled over a set of hardcover books that we rode hard, and those days of my wild and wooly youth will sadly never come again.

But maybe it's not. Maybe it's something different. Maybe it's not just a figment of my imagination but, instead, something that I never considered until the last few days. And maybe it has NOTHING to do with the Jimmy's and Joe's.

In my last post on the subject of running campaigns, I said there was a profound lack of ownership in my earlier campaigns. That is to say, that no one person "owned" the campaign...if anything, it was owned by ALL of us. And I'm serious about that: if I wasn't available as a DM (which happened often enough, for various reasons) someone else would take the reins and run the game. Same world, same characters, different adventures. We had co-DMs in those days and used a shared set of rules (Pro Tip: yet another good reason to run games "By The Book"), so this was totally doable. Likewise, we could run adventures simultaneously in the same world based on situational availability of the players!

Now, listen: of course we had more "free" time for gaming in our youths...kind of. But consider the time aa child has to dedicate -- really dedicate -- to gaming. As a kid, I had school to which I had to "commute" myself (on foot, bike, or bus, easily taking a couple hours in some years). My extracurricular activities (sports, Scouts, church, theater) took up several hours per week, as did my school work load. And the free time I had was hardly my "own;" I was often at the mercy of my family, especially over school breaks and whatnot (family trips and outings, etc.). As I got older and my time became more "mine," I had the extra burden of working part time jobs as well (I entered the workforce around age 14). And my friends had similar shackles. 

[my great fortune was that I was a pretty smart kid, so I could skate throughout school without spending the time "grinding" that some kids did: I aced classes with minimal work as a youngster, and was able to get decent grades when older despite shirking studies and assignments. Of course, I also got into girls and partying as I got older, so something had to give (usually the extra effort that would have allowed me to ace higher level work)...but it was important for me to develop socially, too. And I was unwilling to drop my fantasy gaming. Thank goodness this was before the days of internet ubiquity (and thank goodness also that I could never afford a gaming console...or even a personal computer of my own!)]

The point is, I prioritized gaming in those days...making time for a way that I just haven't done since marriage and family. And while I wouldn't trade my wife and kids, the POINT is that it's not necessarily adulthood that caused those "magic years of yesterday" to disappear. Just having an apartment, a car, and a job (and no classes) would enable far more "gaming freedom" than I ever had as a teenager.

So what happened, then? My later friends as I grew older were simply "not the right chemistry" to become deeply involved in a campaign? I don't think so. We had plenty of chemistry in other ways. They were plenty sharp people. They had enough interest in gaming to show up at the table. And we had more time! That precious commodity that I never seem to have enough of now (and let me tell you, my nine year old complains about HIS lack of free time as much if not more than I do). So what changed?

I did. I changed...over time, over years, I've become unwilling to share, less inclined to collaborate. When I run a campaign...any type of campaign (not just D&D)...I hold the reins in an iron grip. 

To be clear, that doesn't mean I have a "my way or the highway" attitude at the table. The activity is still role-playing, and I'm not into running railroads, nor in saying "no" to the players. I solicit feedback from players and incorporate it as I see fit (again, this is my controlling attitude), but I've given on requests for using miniatures (in B/X!) or allowed players to pursue harebrained (and not-so-harebrained) schemes, whether for navigating adventure obstacles or developing and customizing their characters.

But ALL of it has been per my consideration. I get the final say so. It's been my game, not our game. And regardless of whether or not that's been understated or demonstrated viciously (I don't think it has) or even spoken aloud, I think that attitude is still palpable...I think it still permeates the game being played. There are more than likely signals and cues being given (verbal or not) that have demonstrated my stance on the matter. 

This is different from how I ran campaigns in the first few years of my gaming career. And while there's a myriad of reasons explaining how this evolution occurred, I think the more interesting tidbit to examine is what the result of this change has been:

Exhaustion. Fatigue. Dissatisfaction. Resentment. For ME!

Lacking heavy player investment (due to lack of ownership) results in ME having to supply all the "juice" to energize and run the campaign. With no vested interest, there's no impetus or enthusiasm for players to even show up to the game (figuratively and sometimes literally)...instead I am placed in a position where I need to coax and cajole and entertain like a dancing monkey, coming up with more and more cool things to drive interest, when it should be the game itself that drives players to the table

I've been fortunate that I've got some depths of "cool ideas" to draw upon (smart guy, right), but always, eventually, I end up drying up, like a puddle in the sun. Even if I don't run out of ideas, I run out of energy and enthusiasm for my own game. Even when the players purport to be enjoying the game...and who knows if they really do? They may simply have nothing better to do that evening and that's the only reason they're showing up: something different.

I think...I THINK that when the players are invested in the campaign, when the campaign is shared, then the players have a reason to bring some juice to the party. When the onus is not completely on a single person (i.e. the Game "Master") the players have more interest in seeing how their co-creation turns out...and want to share in that unfolding vision. They stay engaged, they bring ideas, they force the GM to run the game with the same energy because if the GM won't do it then the players are quite willing to take and run the campaign themselves without the GM.

Note: the key word in that last phrase is "willing." It's rare that I've seen or heard of a group who are able to pull off such a feat (at least long term...I know of a couple, though neither involved myself). But that attitude, that FIRE is what has been missing from the players at my own table for a long, long time. And I think that the reason it's been missing is because I am the one that quenched it, with my unwillingness to share the "burden" of my campaigns.

The reasons for wanting to retain "sole ownership" of my campaigns are unimportant. What IS important is that having Absolute Control doesn't (I don't think) make for a better experience. The evidence suggests that it's antithetical to a "better" gaming experience. 

I'm going to have to figure out some ways to apply these thoughts.

[and regarding election campaigns, I have only this to say: good luck to my country. I'm praying for you]