Archive for September, 2011

Alignment.

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on September 22, 2011 by reignofjotuns

Alignment, like (at times) the whole hobby, is heavily polarized (which suits it); you either like it or you don’t. An enormous amount of the rpg section of the Internet is filled with it: get rid of it, it’s fine like it is, 3 point, 5 point, 9 point, Paladin, Cleric, Druid, how to deal how to use how to chuck, Palladium system, GURPS system, World of Darkness paths, Nazi.

And of course, every RPG blogger that I’ve read has posted about it at least once. Variations on ‘D&D alignment’ are the search terms that make up just over half of my 19 ‘views reached by googling -foo-‘.
So I suppose it’s time to finally speak my mind.

Bear in mind that this post is largely based on my own moral upbringing, which is non-church-going judeo-christian as dictated by parents who love Bob Dylan and the Grateful dead, flavored with Tolkien, Dennis Schmidt, Joss Whedon, Heinlein’s ‘the moon is a harsh mistress’, south park (gradually less and less), and conservative grandparents, all taken with a grain of salt.

It is also influenced by Jeff Rients’ Threefold Apocalyptic Alignment System.

First, there is nothing inherently wrong with an alignment system. Of course, the BEST I can say about the concept is that it may inspire you to think about morality, and that’s probably a slim chance- I’m no example, I was interested in morality before I started playing.

The main thing that CAN be wrong about an alignment system, or rather, the people who write it and the people who read it, is that everyone is entitled to their opinion. Of course, I can offer nothing more either.

And my opinion is that there are no grey areas. One of the problems, I think, with the alignment system we have is moral relativism. Most ‘good’ characters are perfectly willing to kill for the greater good. Would you kill a man for the murder of your entire family? What about just your wife? Your pet? Someone else’s pet? A squirrel?
“Does dog have soul? How about cockroach?”
Harm no one. Anything else is haggling over the price.

Is it right to imprison a mass murderer for the rest of his life, either? What about a pickpocket?
By these standards, even batman is guilty of imposing his will upon others, claiming that the ends justify the means.
Yet how can you draw a line between right and wrong between ‘hit a man in self defense’ and ‘hit a man many times with a chair leg in self-defense’? How can you be sure that someone else’s line will match? Which one of you is wrong? What can you do to prevent the wrong without falling yourself in someone’s eyes? How do you know if they’re wrong?

This is why alignment is such a touchy subject. There are many tough questions that people don’t want to ask, because the only answer can be, ‘Be Buddha, or be bad’. However, if we actually live by these rules, it goes against everything we learned about living, ever- and there will always be someone who doesn’t. Is killing a cow wrong? How about a lettuce? I believe that we should all simply do our best, in whatever way we think best, but that we should all be prepared to take full responsibility for our actions. It isn’t your fault if someone kills 32 people, and you knew and had a chance to kill him- you aren’t responsible for his actions. You are responsible for yours. Do you have proof of what he was planning to do? How do you know he wasn’t just joking? Maybe one of the people he killed would have done much worse if they had lived.
The ends still never justify the means, but it is entirely up to you to decide, as is always decided on some level, on a case-by-case basis, what should be done and be prepared to take full responsibility rather than insisting thar you were justified.

It’s called ‘flawed heroism’. The world isn’t perfect, and nobody of this world can be anything but less than perfect, and accepting that is one of the most worthwhile things you can do. What really counts is what you’re trying for, and therefore what you do when the chips are down.

With that in mind, let’s reexamine the 2 axis alignment system. As Jeff Rients said, what really matters is where you are when the chips are down. It’s Ragnarok. Which side do you fight on? Do you protect everything without stop? Do you run and hide? Do you aid the fire-demons of Muspelhiem in burning the world? Do you only save certain people, and leave the sinners to burn? In OD&D, good and evil are relatively synonomous with law and chaos, respectively. What we need to do is examine exactly what we mean by law and chaos, before we can get right down to this. The 3.5 SRD says that

Lawful characters tell the truth, keep their word, respect authority, honor tradition, and judge those who fall short of their duties. Chaotic characters follow their consciences, resent being told what to do, favor new ideas over tradition, and do what they promise if they feel like it.

“Law” implies honor, trustworthiness, obedience to authority, and reliability. On the downside, lawfulness can include close-mindedness, reactionary adherence to tradition, judgmentalness, and a lack of adaptability. Those who consciously promote lawfulness say that only lawful behavior creates a society in which people can depend on each other and make the right decisions in full confidence that others will act as they should.

“Chaos” implies freedom, adaptability, and flexibility. On the downside, chaos can include recklessness, resentment toward legitimate authority, arbitrary actions, and irresponsibility. Those who promote chaotic behavior say that only unfettered personal freedom allows people to express themselves fully and lets society benefit from the potential that its individuals have within them.

however, I feel that these descriptions are inherently reliant on opinion- specifically, the DM or other arbiter’s. Laws are made by people, who are chosen because they have the most powerful (possibly also the largest) group on their side- this does not imply that their laws are good, or even coherent. As such, one’s adherence to law should not be necessarily involved with the ‘Law’ alignment.

The belief that forms the base of these alignments seems to me to be, rather, Routine/Change. The Lawful character changes only what needs to be changed (in their mind), always aiming towards the point where everything is as it should be, and reacts badly to changes that they do not see as necessary. The Chaotic character enjoys doing things not normally done, and revels in the new, rather than the comfortable, even when it may not be for the best. the Neutral character usually doesn’t care, thinking that it won’t make a difference either way- this may be because of a ‘big picture’ mindset, or simple apathy. unlike Good and Evil, these alignments seem to represent an underlying personality type, rather than a goal. Of course, characters will not follow any alignment to an extreme, they simply are assigned an alignment based on where they fit best. A chaotic character ALWAYS would prefer to be someplace else (more or less), anything else is simply Neutral. If it seems to you that this seems like a little extreme qualification for being of an alignment, my thought process is that it makes it much simpler to separate Chaotic from Neutral to have a hard, and probably only seems extreme because most people aren’t of that alignment; Most creatures are probably Lawful, or Neutral erring that way slightly, simply because of natural selection, as it’s the best strategy for survival, usually, to stay in one general area; usually Chaotic alignment implies either mental trauma or an incredibly secure life under this definition. Of course, someone who is Chaotic simply because of boredom and a sheltered upbringing may change alignment at some point.

So, now going through every alignment with notes and behavior during a Ragnarok scenario:

Lawful Good   when the chips are down, every Lawful Good will fight to protect others and slay the enemies of the universe (if possible- I’m not implying that they should all be suicidal).

Lawful Evil   will protect themselves and their universe, likely even teaming up temporarily with other Lawfuls, but they will not stop to save anyone. They may stop to harm the innocents cowering from the armies of hell, but that would probably, under the circumstances, imply mental instability. Lawful Evil doesn’t mean they will tell the truth, keep their promises, keep the law, rule with an iron fist- it just means that they are resistant to change brought about by others.

Neutral Good, Chaotic Good will behave essentially the same as Lawful Good under the circumstances; They may be distinguished from Lawful Good by their reactions to change.

Chaotic Evil   is ‘the destroyer’- it is C’thulhu, The end of the world, Cloverfield, destroying everything and everyone, at the most extreme. beings of less-than-godlike power are limited to acting only MILDLY Chaotic Evil, simply because they cannot easily be both alignments at the same time. An example is The Joker from The Dark Knight- he is obviously largely a traveler, but he has to stay in single places for long periods of time in order to also satisfy his taste for Evil. A wanderer occasionally stopping for some mayhem by the side of the road. A good way to distinguish Neutral Evil from Chaotic Evil is to ask yourself what they would do given infinite power. Chaotic Evils will probably aid in Ragnarok and the destruction of all that is holy and unholy alike. Again, if there are Chaotic seeming personalities that wouldn’t aid in Ragnarok given infinite power, then they are more likely just Neutral erring on the side of Chaotic, but of course with less-than-godlike power they would be likely to fight the destruction, if only to save their own skin (they may fight the fighters of destruction at the same time) More so than other Chaotic alignments, mortals need an extremely abnormal adolescence to assume a Chaotic Evil alignment.

Neutral Evil is Evil indiscriminately (more or less). It isn’t really so much ‘its own brand’ as it is shared territory between Lawful Evil and Chaotic Evil. Neutral Evil may fight on the side of good (temporarily) come Ragnarok, or fight everyone- they will not fight on the side of Loki completely.

You will notice I have said nothing about Neutral Good/Evil- this is because there is hardly any such thing to my mind. When the chips are down, a hero fights. If you aren’t fighting for others, then you are fighting for yourself. I believe that it is wrong to kill ANYTHING, and if you kill for yourself when worst comes to worst, then you are Evil. Mildly Evil, maybe, but still Evil. The only way to truly be Neutral in Ragnarok is to hide in a hole and wait to be eaten, and that isn’t even flawed heroism. As such, if there is such a thing as ‘Neutral’, I don’t allow it to my players. Animals are always listed as Neutral, since they can’t comprehend morality, but Personally, I think that there shouldn’t be an alignment that says ‘misc’.

I appreciate any feedback very much, because alignment is always a subject that can be interpreted many different ways- I’m just trying to find an interpretation that is logically self-consistent.

 

-Isaac Murphy

rpG, not RPg

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on September 5, 2011 by reignofjotuns

I’ve been reading through a lot of retro-clone games, and some old 1e books I borrowed from someone, and trying to figure out exactly what it is that attracts me to the older systems so much. Especially with 1e, there doesn’t seem to be much reason. I kind of like the art in the books, but that’s no reason to like the game itself. I like the look of Uncle Pennybags too. I could just incorporate the AD&D classes into my Microlite game, though of course they wouldn’t be EXACTLY the same. If I could only figure out what it is that attracts me to certain games, then I could just emulate it in my own game, and I wouldn’t have to put up with anything I don’t want to put up with, like attack matrices. Many things that I would normally attribute to role-playing are in AD&D completely predetermined- a ranger always attracts followers at level 10, and a fighter always becomes a lord at level 9. For a while I thought (on the surface of my mind) that that kind of ‘predestination’ would be one of the things I’d want to get away from, But now I think that that’s exactly what attracts me to the systems.

Rather than being entirely about role-playing, they’re about the game. A game where you make choices and carve out your own path in the world, but still a game, with simplistic, unrealistic rules. The way you have fun with a game is to take it on it’s own terms. Rather than trying to balance chess, you just play it. My players are okay gamers, but they aren’t very good role-players. Most gamers that I’ve known aren’t especially good at it either (I DM, but if I were a player I think I’d prefer not to bother too much). They are usually perfectly willing to go with the quest that they’re given, and work towards personal aspirations when the DM gives them a cue- because that keeps the game stable by giving all the players a common interest at most times, and ensuring that nobody oversteps their boundaries. For that type of player, it can be a godsend to specific times when things happen, because then they know what to expect.

On the other hand, if you have a group of seasoned LARPers who actually know how to speak and understand ye pseudo-oldspeeche and like to roleplay conversations instead of just saying ‘I don’t think that’s something my character would do’, then having specific levels for things like that shouldn’t deter them. You can still roleplay gathering your band of Merry Men even if you as a player already knew it was coming, or you can negotiate with the DM to get some other benefit.

Dungeons & Dragons requires a careful balance between freedom and stability that is extremely hard to come by, and while I don’t endorse planning out with your DM your character’s complete rise from wandering northerner to exalted king, if I were playing in someone’s campaign it would be extremely comforting to know when to expect some little things.

The right tool for the right slay

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on September 3, 2011 by reignofjotuns

One thing I’ve always wanted to hear is a player taking the time to describe a weapon in detail. not Aesthetic details, necessarily- They come up with them on their own, if they care at all. I mean the kind of details that betray knowledge of what weapon they’re talking about. This can be expected to be rare, of course- not many DMs would even care, I don’t think. Not many players care to research weapons history even enough to know the difference between a rapier and a small sword (no, I won’t tell you, just look it up on wikipedia why don’t you).

‘Twould warm my heart for a player to take the time to think about what tool they would need for a specific job- to take the time to carry a ‘Basket-Hilted Falchion’ at their side (or even to know that falchions are actually one-handed). To have a parrying dagger strapped to their upper left arm, point down for fast draw. If they had martial weapon proficiency, I might even house rule that it gives them +1 to AC. I’d love to hear someone bundle a cloak around their off hand for a duel, or throw a ‘well-balanced schmaler langsax’ instead of just a dagger.

To hear the ‘Aspiring Warlord’ Fighter mention a ricasso and (parrying hooks/parierhaken/flukes) on their (Claedheam mor/Zweihander/Flammenschwert). To hear them consider a Falcata before it gets featured in some source book, or ask for a ‘pattern welded sword’ (never mentioned in any source book I’ve heard of).

To hear a single person put not just imagination into their weapon, but information as well.

Bards shouldn’t be musicians.

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on September 2, 2011 by reignofjotuns

Seriously, this isn’t some cartoon about a band having wacky adventures.

No. Certainly not.

You can’t just stop and have a musical number every five minutes, and you DEFINITELY don’t bring a lute to a swordfight. I think the bard is great, having a spell list that REQUIRES awesomeness to survive and the skills to carve out your own path in the game world (probably littered with lusty women).

But then someone comes along (there’s one in every group, at least) who starts ruining your character with snide comments like ‘bluff, bluff, bluff, bluff the stupid ogre’, and ‘build a wall of dead bards’ (this is hypothetical, not bitter, myself being exclusively a DM).

And it’s not like bardic performance isn’t cool- working a bit of storytelling into a speech that inspires everyone to go another mile is cool, suddenly wheeling to face the enemies while chanting something hauntingly ethereal, stopping them in their tracks, (yes, Dirge of Doom is only Pathfinder, but it’s cool) is cool. But the problem occurs when bardic performance becomes the bard’s only ability, and that’s when the bard stops being cool. You can’t overdo one type of coolness. There’s nothing wrong with a bard performing a lot, but the whole ‘Magic Music’ schtick just gets silly when used that often. A bard’s archetype shouldn’t be a musician, it should be a wanderer, endlessly travelling and picking up new things, including some magical abilities. And if your bard doesn’t use it as much as he can, what use is Bardic Performance? So get rid of it. Trade it off.

A couple of buff spells, and the bard doesn’t need inspire courage or inspire competence. Give him

No.

some more spells per day in exchange. Same for Dirge of Doom and Deadly Performance. Countersong would have to stay if you didn’t want to invent a whole new spell, but it shouldn’t have to be musical- you can just treat it as a spell-like ability that throws a wrench into the enemy spellcasters’ concentration when extending their consciousness to bend others to their will.

In fact, it would be a lot cooler if anyone could do these things- maybe have a spell that enhances one’s performance, or as the inverse, give bards an extraordinary ability that let’s them cast spells by performing- that would be a lot cooler.

 

 

The Magic Placebo

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on September 2, 2011 by reignofjotuns

It can be really cool to have magic items that corrupt your soul and control your mind in your game, but don’t start asking for will saves too soon. The minute the thing actually controls someone, everyone will be saying “alright, to the cracks of doom with it.” and safely evading any chance for drama. What is much more fun is to roleplay it. At my last-week’s session, I threw a magic item out there.

The idea is that it’s a golden mask connected to a black cowl (completely obscuring the head when worn) that is inextricably linked to the element of fire. The mask is designed to act as a focal point for the element, and its wearer is an emissary from humanity, appeasing the element and the beings connected to it. The wearer of the mask loses their identity, becoming nothing more than an avatar of fire, all distinguishing features simply melting away. The avatar lives forever, barring incident, hidden away in a temple in the mountains. If anyone kills the avatar, then the mask will form the same bond with them and they will take his place. However, a young wizard managed to steal the mask from the temple WITHOUT killing the avatar.

The mask is unable to spread its control so thin, so the defeated avatar sits in the temple still linked to the mask, waiting, and the wearer, while still largely losing their sense of self and their distinguishing features, is free to single-mindedly pursue whatever goals are most important to them personally while wielding the power of fire with no regard for safety or balance.

The mask was handed to my group by the same wizard who stole it in the first place, telling them nothing about it but simply handing them a map to the temple and telling them to return it. INSTEAD of having them make a will save right away, I just dropped hints as to its nature that could be easily construed as something else, and they just semi-assumed it was safe since none of them had been asked to make a saving throw.

For example, I made sure to mention that the wizard’s face looked remarkably average, with next to no distinguishing features (a sign that it was already beginning to take its toll on him), and described to each player the way it seemed to feel to them- I mentioned to my semi-Evil barbarian shaman that it felt much like the same raw power he used in his magic, I told the CN assassin that it felt open and beckoning her to put it on, and I told the LG paladin that it seemed welcoming, but at the same time reproachful, like a kicked puppy that just wants to play (Especially tempting, and set off some alarm bells- exactly the reaction I wanted).

After that, for the rest of the session I just had to sit back and watch mask-related drama ensue. At first, they weren’t so sure if they wanted to take the job, but the wizard had already left rather hurriedly- so they went and checked out the other available job. It turned out to be a semi-comical kind of Pratchettian adventure I had been working on for a while, with a flying pirate ship crewed by goblins, a bugbear, and an ettin (backup warriors- the captain was another goblin, just with unusually high mental ability scores). They took the job, and by the time the paladin realized he was the only LG in a CN-LE crew it was too late- the crew was specifically designed to be far too tough for the party to defeat without .gaining a couple of levels, .using good tactics, and most importantly, .working together, which definitely wasn’t going to happen since the other two players were perfectly happy with the way things were going.

Drama: the paladin is hanging out in his hammock while everyone else is up on deck waiting for the attack to begin (they are sailing over a city, preparing to sink below cloud level so that they can steal the king’s famous diamond bust, mounted way up above the castle gate). He puts the mask on, experimentally. I describe it as feeling ‘Heavy, and a bit hot and stuffy’ and ‘warm, like a mother’s womb’. he takes it off and puts it in his pack. Hears shouting up on deck, and races up the stairs. The pirates are just now sinking below cloud level, about to rain flasks of alchemist’s fire down on the city to create a distraction while they lower someone down to grab the bust from the wall. One of the goblins accidentally drops his flask next to one of the masts, and the paladin puts the mask on in the confusion, hoping to use it to conceal his identity while he does his best to sabotage the raid. Unfortunately for him, the other two see him, and the assassin grabs the mask from his head. He hits her non-lethally with his greatsword, unfortunately knocking her out and down to negative hit points (she was wounded from earlier that day, and greatsword plus 18 STR score hurts). The shaman grabs the mask and tosses it to his animal companion (a wolf), who runs away with it while he heals the assassin. The paladin runs after the wolf as the ship half crashes through the roof of the great hall- then it tosses the mask out a hatch and when he gets down to the ground he can’t find it. The shaman does find it though, hiding it away in his robe (this was kept secret from the other players).

Next session should include much more drama and player hostility.