Archive for December, 2011

Classic Fantasy: The Princess Bride

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on December 23, 2011 by reignofjotuns

The Princess Bride has not been on my radar for a while. I’ve seen it several times (we own the DVD), and I read the ‘abridged’ book it’s based on a few years ago, but haven’t actually thought about it for a while- in fact, until just now, when I googled looking for images, I had no idea that S. Morgenstern was a pseudonym. Derp. In fact my first thought after watching the movie again five minutes ago (which prompted this post) was that the original ‘going out in a blaze of glory’ ending would have been much better.

So, first things first, I’m going to assume you have seen the movie or read the book. I may give away minor spoilers, and don’t want to have to proofread myself. The novel is from the 70s, and the movie from the 80s, so you know it must be good. Starts off what I consider a bit dully in the movie, but they have to start somewhere and the dull bit is over soon. The book differs here in that it really goes into detail with the beginning, really thickening out the relationship between the titular character and (main?) protagonist. It seems to make an effort to present them as ‘jes folks’ before getting into the main story, which I like. The book gives you some backstory on the prince, which I like. It begins the long trend in the story of somewhat comical NPCs. This trend is continued a little later when you meet these guys:

Not kidnappers. Really. Just circus performers.

I like these guys. The boat scene is where the trend of uncertain protagonity (word?) begins, as the story is largely seen from their eyes for a while. This is where my first heavy gripe with the movie comes in, too: Eels. Eels that shriek. They’re a great concept, they’d make a good D&D monster, but it is supposed to be sharks. In the book, it was sharks. Deadly sharks, and the villain cut his wrist and threatened to dump the blood in the water- and I wouldn’t have minded the eels if that had been the scene, but they just don’t do it for me. Even with the shrieking.

Oh yeah.

So, in comes the next scene. The Cliffs of Insanity. This scene is excellent, it builds the tension between the group and their pursuer, and when the lone swordsman is left to kill him once he finishes scaling it with his bare hands, it starts to blur the lines between protagonist and antagonist. Watching it again and trying to remember what it was like not knowing who this guy is or who this guy’s deal is, and hearing from their pleasant before-duel chat that they’re both pretty nice guys, was excellent. The following fight scene was extremely good, speaking as someone who has taken  two years of fencing classes, in other words, just enough to groan at every ridiculously impractical move. This fight has its share of showmanship, but the action in between is excellent, and the whole fight is filled with dialogue of sorts. Again, I think I might have managed to grasp some of the feeling of seeing it again for the first time, and found “I’m not left-handed either” better than I remembered it. I always groan at easy knockouts but, I was willing to let this one slide.

The fight with Fezzik is also filled with dialogue, and serves even better to show the general character of the characters, and once again neither of the fighters has been nailed down as a protagonist more than the other (which is about half-way). All one can do without a priori knowledge of the plot is watch in amusement and wonder who’s the good guy.

The fire-swamp, with some changes, has been stolen for my sandbox campaign.

Skipping ahead further, we revisit the ‘villains?’ at Miracle Max’s, continuing the trend of comedic NPCs. I love Max and Val more every time I see the movie. This scene is especially interesting to me because it demonstrates non-groany use of Raise Dead. It might be even more so in an actual game, unless you happen to have piles of spare cash just laying around, which you won’t if using money spent instead of money earned (I actually use half-and-half, so even if you don’t or can’t fritter away your cash you get half XP).

The scene where Wesley dies under torture is tremendously magnificient. I felt shivers down my spine in a movie where all the scenery look like plastic and the music is played on synthesisers. They did a better job on that howl than LotR did on the Nazgul shriek.

Then of course the ending, where everyone rides off into the sunset and the star-crossed lovers share a passionate kiss. As I have said before, I would have much preferred the ‘everyone dies’ ending. The story had a beginning, it had a middle, there’s nothing more to be told. And do you think the prince is just going to let them get away? But of course, nobody asked me.


Here’s Hoping This Works

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

After I got into a minor argument on on someone else’s thread (it involved one rather lengthy piece of head-up-my-ass rhetoric), I realized that I was really being an asshole by doing this on somebody else’s thread.

So I made my own.

The idea here is a place where people (I) can discuss playstyles and editions on reasonably neutral (MY thread) ground, with some guidelines written down (by me. Selfish, I know, by I took initiative and made the thread) which will be followed, provided my faith in humanity is reasonably valid.

These are the guidelines I laid down in the first couple posts:

Simple Guidelines for Peaceful Discussion: Don’t make assumptions. Before you assume that your edition is being maligned, read the post again. Frequently, it will be about meta-edition

Ask questions. If someone says something you disagree with, draw them out with, ‘why do you think that?’ and ‘what if this happens?’ it may be a good idea not to put an ‘and’ before, people are more likely to be offended by ‘and why do you think that?’ then ‘why do you think that?’

Don’t use pejoratives. I’m talking faggy, emo, goth, fat, bearded, know-it-all, hipster, suits, juvenile, nerd, et all.

When in Doubt: Victorian lord test. If you can type it like a Victorian Lord without sounding silly, it’s a valid complaint. E. G., ‘do not make fun of my game of choice’ vs. ‘how dare you attempt to impose your narrative on the game’ or ‘but what of the narrative’. Note: this rule applies to complaints, not stating your thoughts in response. They are very different.

Another good one: at the beginning of your first post in this thread, please list the games you have played and not played, so people know when you know what you’re talking about.


Note that I failed to list the games I have played and not played right away. I really hope no one has tried this on before, because that would mean that I’m doomed because I don’t see them anywhere (not that I’ve searched extensively). The first four responses came fast, and seem to be pretty mellow. Bodes well?

More on Dragons

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on December 21, 2011 by reignofjotuns

If there was one thing that the Rankin-Bass animation The Hobbit got right, it was the monsters (if there were two, they would be the monsters and the soundtrack. we must away ere break of day to seek…). Smaug is an excellent dragon. He incorporates elements of the bat, the lion, and the wolf, and his eye is both feline and reptilian. When he comes on the screen, you know that either shit’s going down, or he’s playing with his victim. His appearance is fearsome, demonic, and utterly reprehensible. His character complements it nicely, and it seems almost as though his face is an extension of who he is. You can make anything look cute with a slight tweak of the eye, but you know that if this thing did it, he would tear you limb from limb the second you got close. His age is indeterminate- ageless. He could be a young upstart dragon to the untrained eye, but if you know anything about his history you can feel the centuries in his gaze. In the picture he seems to be looking at something else, but that just makes it scarier- you could take advantage of his idle distraction, but what good could you possibly do? Obviously, his attention is everywhere, regardless of where his eye is. He knows exactly what you’re doing.




And these guys. They are cold-blooded all the way through. They carry a different form of danger from the mammalian shrewdness of Smaug. Who knows what they could be thinking? You have absolutely no references for cold-blooded intelligence. It simply isn’t something in human experience. Their hissing, grinning faces are masks of impenetrable plates, their eyes are heavy-lidded but certainly alert, and you can tell without any sort of reference that they are huge. Despite their bulk, they are without doubt no lumbering beasts, but can obviously rush towards you faster than you can think. Do they play with their food? Who knows? With these guys, you know that no shit will go down until the shit flinches. Then, they will destroy it and resume waiting. They can slither on legs. They are the essence of Chaotic Evil- whereas Smaug himself might even be said to be Neutral Evil. I must admit that I have never been a large fan of Erol Otus. Much of his stuff is quite good, but I don’t actively seek it out. This, however, is awesome. Suck it, cover of the 1981 Basic set edited by Tom Moldvay!










Both of these pictures now occupy a place in my heart, competing for the ‘best’ spot with each other and the Tudor Humphries illustration that I mentioned.

Alignment II

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on December 9, 2011 by reignofjotuns

Sometimes, an idea just clicks. And you know, “Hey, that is something”. This one clicked about a week ago for me, and I’ve been mulling it over in my head for a while, trying to come to grips with it. I’ve been looking a older editions of the game for a while (particularly Rules Cyclopedia, though I’m starting to get the idea of not using a skill system), and looking at the alignment charts involved. Holmes is definitely the first inclusion of the 9-point system, but it grew, obviously, from the 3-fold system. The 3-fold system definitions of ‘Law’ and ‘Chaos’ obviously can’t be the same as the ones I gave, or they wouldn’t have been usable as an alignment system for almost 3 decades. Then, about a week ago, my younger siblings were re-watching the Neverending Story, and I was extremely bored and so going in and out periodically. One of the few bits that I happened to see was the final confrontation of the protagonist with Gmork, which seems to be the only actual villain.

Gmork: It’s the emptiness that’s left. It’s like a despair, destroying this world. And I have been trying to help it.

Gmork: Because people who have no hopes are easy to control. And whoever has control has Gmork!

I may have misheard that last sentence, because everywhere online that I can find the quote says that it goes ‘whoever has control has the power’, but that’s the way I heard it, and it clicked with a bunch of other things that were rattling around in my brain, like the 3-fold system, some philosophical commentary from the extended Lord of the Rings concerning the Nazgul, and why the cow that wants to be eaten in The Restaraunt at the End of the Universe is so disturbing- and I came up with a definition of Law and Chaos that fits with Good and Evil or stands on its own.

Law cares about everything.

Chaos cares about nothing, possibly not even itself.

Neutrality cares about a specific selection of everything, which usually includes itself.

This finally seems to have given me a good definition, and it holds up. My interpretation of each of the 6 (9, minus neutral) alignments would then be something like this:

Lawful Good is the benevolent crusader. LG may kill a kobold without hesitation, but would defend that same kobold against evil cultists, and would defend those same cultists from whatever mad demon they manage to conjure up. This is, of course, the extreme of this alignment as it pertains to adventurers- many of this alignment might view such activity as regrettably too risky to the greater good, and members of all alignments have good days and bad days.

Chaotic Good is a conundrum, and definitely a very rare alignment, but still existant. CG might be prone to ‘out of sight, out of mind’ thinking, and not feel much sadness when sorrow is elsewhere, or in the recent past. It might only subconsciously bear any sort of good will, and not ever stop to think why it behaves in a certain way. It might be the alignment given to someone completely unaccustomed to the idea of morality, who is in the process of becoming NG or LG. It might even be the alignment given to a philosophical transcendent, who does not rationally care about anything, or only in a detached sort of way (I have no idea. It merely pleases me to behave in a certain way to what appears to be a cat. What else do you do?).

Neutral Good fights for justice and right, and would gladly sacrifice itself for another- selectively. On one end, NG might almost be LG but for too little sense of mercy or remorse, on the other it might almost be CG, save being too attached to its own and its companions’ lives.

Lawful Evil is a rare type of evil to be found, but it is without doubt the most cruel. It posesses a highly developed sense of empathy, but not of compassion, and actively takes pleasure in the suffering of others.

Neutral Evil cares only for itself, and possibly its companions. How it chooses to express that could go either way. NE takes what it wants when it can get it, regardless of the pleadings of conscience.

Chaotic Evil is the most dangerous and unpredictable evil. CE has no true friends and takes little pleasure in anything. It does not care about causing pain to others, because it simpky doesn’t care. It might live perfectly peacefully, but could just as easily embark on a crusade of destruction, even at the cost of its own life.

This interpretation of CE especially puts a lot of things in context for me; it explains why that cow is so unsettling (if it doesn’t even care for its own life, would you bet that it wouldn’t kill you if someone asked it to?), and part of what makes Gmork such a great villain (that same pointless cruelty).

Rules Cyclopedia Homebrew Assassin

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on December 4, 2011 by reignofjotuns

I’m going to start a group using Rules Cyclopedia. It will be easier for me to make the transition since I’m starting a new group anyway, and this edition of the rules pulls to me more than the others (so far). it seems less complex than AD&D, and doesn’t require multiple rulebooks, so it seems like a good place to start playing Classic D&D.

This is a homebrew assassin class I made for Rules Cyclopedia/BECMI/BX. I wanted it to have 36 levels, while still following the balance shown in 1e and Advanced Edition Companion. I also wanted to distance it from the thief class- I mainly wanted to REPLACE the thief, which is essentially useless without deciding that no other characters are able to pick pockets, open locks, etc., which isn’t the kind of thing I want. In my game, if you want to be a Thief, steal something. Don’t pick a class.

The Assassin

Armor: Leather only, Shield

permitted Weapons: No Two-Handed or Bastard Sword

Hit Dice: 1d4 every level Prime Requisite: None. The Assassin gains no experience bonus for high stats.

Assassins advance at the same rate as Fighters, and use the Fighter attack roll and saving throw tables. At 9th level (Master Assassin) the Assassin gains the ‘disarm’, and ‘parry’ Combat Options and gains the ‘multiple attacks’ Fighter Combat Option at the same rate as the Fighter.
Assassins gain the following special abilities:

Backstab: when the assassin attacks unnoticed, he gets +4 to his attack roll and deals double the damage. At 5th level, he begins instead to deal triple damage, at 9th level, quadruple, and from 13th onwards quintuple. An Assassin with the Multiple Attacks Combat Option gains this bonus and multiplier on all his attacks (the +4 bonus is not factored in when determining whether he can hit his opponent on a roll of 2)

Assassination: if the assassin gains surprise, he may assassinate the target of his attack. This has a base 50% chance of success, increased by 5% for each of the assassin’s levels (to a maximum of +75% at 15th level) decreased 5% for every two levels/hit dice of the target. if the attempt is successful, the target is instantly killed.

Subterfuge: It is assumed that as part of an assassin’s training, he learned many skills that might be useful to one of this trade; skills such as manipulating small mechanisms (locks, clockwork), handling delicate or dangerous items without incident (poisoned blades), moving stealthily and unseen, and so on. The Assassin will always know how to use such skills, and will very likely have a much higher chance of success than other characters of the same level (DM’s discretion).

Many Faces: An Assassin may disguise himself, changing his appearance and stature, with extreme skill- the base chance of anyone seeing through the disguise is 2%, with other modifiers added if the assassin is disguised as some one of radically different stature, a different race or gender, etc. (if the assassin is trying to disguise himself as a specific person, there will be a large modifier if the observer is personally familiar with the person in question).

Scale Walls: An Assassin is specially trained to scale sheer surfaces without much heavy, noisy equipment. the base chance of success every 100′ is 85%, increasing by 1% every level. Other modifiers will be added at DM discretion, and may be numerous or few.

Learn Languages: An Assassin will learn more languages, typically, than his companions. An Assassin starts the game knowing one additional language. An Assassin may learn one additional language for each point of intelligence score over 14- these additional languages may be archaic, secret, or even alignment tongues (if they are used). However, only one such language can be learned per level above 8th, and though the Assassin is skilled at learning such, to find an appropriate text for especially rare languages may require questing.
Read Scrolls: At 12th level, an Assassin may read existing arcane scrolls- albeit with a 10% chance of backfiring and creating an unexpected effect.