01 March 2014

Dungeons & Dragons: 40 Epic Years

It's been a while since I've updated this blog. The level 1-20 D&D 3.5 campaign I was running came to an epic close, the Pathfinder game I was running had too many players move away so the remaining players decided to switch systems for a while to the original Deadlands as a sort of break.

This year, however, marks the 40th anniversary of the release of the Original Dungeons & Dragons. A game that I truly wanted to pay homage to this year. So in honor of Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, my group wanted to go back and play some old-school modules. Some of my players have only ever played Pathfinder, others have only gone so far back as 2nd edition, but we want to go back and play some 1st edition so we can get that old feeling. Technically, 1st edition's release is only in its 37th anniversary, but I don't think I could convince my players to go back as far as Original. It was still a tad rough back then.

The first module we're going to be running is the short but amazing S2 module known as White Plume Mountain. This module is generally considered to be one of the best from the 1st edition modules before they became adventures in 2nd edition on. In short, it is essentially a "funhouse" dungeon; a series of random rooms connected by hallways with little to no explanation as to how or why whatever strange encounter came to be in the room. These style of dungeons have fallen out of favor as of late but I personally love them. Who wants to fight an entire dungeon of just kobolds or any singular type of enemy because "that's what makes sense"? It gets boring fast. I say throw in a dragon in a massive room with no hallways enabling its egress. If the players care how it got there, they can come up with their own reasons. I say it adds to the flavor. Makes the world seem more mysterious.

So the players end up going into an active volcano (cool) to recover three powerful weapons of legend. Each wing has at the end one of the weapons, and its generally acknowledged that one shouldn't really allow players to keep them beyond the length of the module, due to their ridiculous power. Luckily, this isn't a problem for my game, as we're going to be using pre-made characters with gear packets. However, therein lies the problem. While other stand alone modules such as S1 (more on that later) have suggested characters with suggested gear, S2 does not. If you're aware of recommended pre-generated characters for 1st edition characters from levels 5-10, please let me know.

Should the delve into the ridiculous White Plume Mountain prove fun and fruitful for the players, I plan to run them through the rest of the S series of modules as well, which includes the infamous Tomb of Horrors, The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth, and Expedition to the Barrier Peaks. If nothing else, at least Tomb of Horrors. I couldn't very well plan a game in honor of Gary Gygax and not run through his most notorious adventure. I think perhaps though I will end up using the 2nd edition Return to the Tomb of Horrors adventure, as it has more lead in and story to it.

Finally, I've decided to let this blog stray free from its OGL boundaries for the time being, primarily focusing on fantasy tabletop games. D&D 5th edition (I can't bring myself to call it the marketing-friendly D&D Next) is being released this summer, and I plan on buying pretty much every book I can get my hands on and going into that edition full force. This blog will probably reflect that once that happens.

Again, if you know a good source of pre-generated characters for 1st edition let me know, and I'll be updating when we get started with the new game. Thanks for reading!

26 August 2013

Dealing With Stat Blocks

Stat blocks are an increasingly larger portion of D&D that I don't particularly agree with. If you look at how the blocks have evolved between second to fourth edition, you'll see how the area taken up by it continues to grow until they take up about half of a full page on their own. I hate that. I like to use a wide range of monsters and I've never been one to flip open the Monster Manual every time there's a new encounter. Those books take enough use without having to worry about them slowing down the game.

So what do I do? I usually make my own stat blocks in a word processor on my computer. It takes a bit longer to prep beforehand, but over time it's ended up saving me a ton of time during games as well as paper and expensive ink. As my collection of prepped monsters increases, it becomes easier and easier to prep games, as I can just copy and paste the relevant ones I want to use that night to a separate piece of paper. Essentially what I'll do is have about two and a half to three pages of stat blocks, and another half page with male and female names for when a player asks an NPC their name, and a series of short potential plot ideas that may or may not ever come into play. That will all fit into about three or four pages, and those quick, easy to reference pages have all the information I could possibly need in a night, or even several nights.

My stat block takes a page out of second edition's method. It's a packed block of text that has all the relevant game information in it, with no ecology information. My memory will serve that part, and oftentimes my ecology of a monster might be different than what's written, so it ends up being inconsequential. Things like languages spoken and treasure type are thrown out, and only combat information remains. This does not mean that the players can only engage in combat with anything they encounter, but for my style of DMing, it means that combat is the only time where rules will take a particularly enforced position. Otherwise, the creature or NPC is there to serve my purpose, and will engage with the players in a way I see fit for the situation. This is important, as it is vital not to let the rules get in the way of an interesting non-combat situation. The rules are there to serve you, not enslave you. Something my players need reminding of now and then.

So the stat block goes like this:

HD , HP , Int: +, Speed: , AC T F, Str  Dex  Con  Int  Wis  Cha , BA/CMB/CMD: +/+/, Attacks: , Special Attacks: , Special Qualities: , Saves: +/+/+. CR: . Gear/Treasure: . Space/Reach: /.

I'll fill in the name in bold and tack on the type at the end. So a simple goblin stat block looks like this:

Goblin: HD 1, HP 6, Int: +6, Speed: 30, AC16 T13 F14, Str 11 Dex 15 Con 12 Int 10 Wis 9 Cha 6, BA/CMB/CMD: +1/+0/12, Attacks: short sword +2 (1d4/19-20), short bow +4 (1d4/x3), Special Qualities: darkvision 60ft, perception -1, Saves: +3/+2/-1. CR: 1/3. Gear/Treasure: leather armor, light wooden shield, short sword, short bow, 20 arrows. Space/Reach: 5/5. NE Small Humanoid (Goblinoid).

You'll notice no special attacks there. For something with special attacks or the like, a stat block might look like this:

Chuul: HD 10, HP 85, Int: +7, Speed: 30 (swim 20), AC22 T12 F19, Str 25 Dex 16 Con 18 Int 10 Wis 14 Cha 5, BA/CMB/CMD: +7/+15 (+19 grapple)/28 (32 vs trip), Attacks: 2 claws +14 (2d6+7 plus grab), Special Attacks: constrict (grapple as free action, deals 2d6+7 dmg/rd) paralytic tentacles (can transfer grappled victim from claw to tentacle as move action, FORT DC 19 or be paralyzed for 6 rds, mandibles deal 1d8+7 dmg/rd), Special Qualities: darkvision 60ft, perception +19, sense motive +9, immunities (poison), amphibious, Combat Reflexes (can make 4 AoOs in a rd), Blind-Fight (reroll miss chance due to concealment, invisible attackers don’t gain bonuses), Saves: +7/+6/+9. CR: 7. CE Large Aberration (Aquatic).

Careful observers might detect that the Chuul actually has more feats than described. I ignore feats that are already rolled into the monster's stats, as they would just take up space and ink otherwise. In this case, Alertness, Improved Initiative, and Weapon Focus (claw) are all already accounted for in the monster's stats. Detailing that there was a feat to do so is pointless while running a game. In addition to simplifying the block, I also like to make the monster's name link back to the d20pfsrd or the dandwiki, so on my computer I have easy and instant access to the official stat block. I find it helps, and keep a record of any changes I might have made with a template or the like.

The general point is to ignore unimportant information. While it may be interesting to know that a chuul has Knowledge (nature) +8, how relevant could that possibly be to a player when confronted by one in a swamp? Or to a DM who can make up what it knows anyway? Not very.

Feel free to steal the basic stat block if you want or need to. By no means is it the most comprehensive version, but it does save me space, and in-game time. How about you? Do you have a unique solution to the massive stat blocks that are presented in the Monster Manual and the Bestiary? An opinion on the way they are done? If so, leave a comment.

Relevant Links
D&D Wiki

30 May 2013

How To Counter Meta-Gaming

Defined, meta-gaming is a character using the knowledge that a player has. When a player knows that a baatezu is immune to poison when his character has never encountered one nor studied one before, that's not meta-gaming. When that same character tells the party not to use poison on it, that's meta-gaming. All players will have knowledge their characters don't, it's only when that knowledge is used and applied to the game that it becomes meta-gaming.

The act is generally frowned upon, since it ruins the immersion of the game, and finding players who can refrain from doing it is difficult. Not that they are being malicious, it's just hard to do. A player themselves is the first line of defense against meta-gaming. I have one player who is very adamant about not doing it, and will go to lengths to not only not look up information in the books his character wouldn't know, but also make decisions he knows are ill-advised in order to not break immersion. These players are gold and should be cherished, but not held to as a standard. Not everyone can match that level of commitment. Not to mention intentionally walking into danger can be scary when the DM is as lethal as I am.

When the players are unable to avoid meta-gaming, the DM can step in to do his part. Be careful assuming that this is a problem that always needs fixing however; some games do just fine with it, and the occasional slip up won't ruin a game. But if your players are doing it all the time, knowingly or not, the DM can make moves of his own to stop it. Allow me to profer some suggestions:

Call It Out: Simply let the players know that it's happening and to make attempts to curtail it. Usually this is enough to stop it, though most players I've noticed will come up with some convoluted reason why their character knows that trolls are weak against fire. This can be fixed by agreeing with the players what is considered common knowledge and what isn't. If trolls are a common nuisance that is dealt with regularly by simple folk, sure. If there's only one troll in a thousand miles, maybe not.

Subvert The Trope: Everyone knows the mysterious stranger that comes to them in the tavern is totally going to betray them. That ring that has a mind of its own is super evil. The town full of innocent farm folk is just waiting for the moment to prove they're a crazy cult. Everyone knows these tropes, and can see them a mile away. What I like to do is make a few short mini-adventures show-casing exactly what they expect. Yes, the ring is evil. Yes, the mysterious stranger betrays them. This makes the players feel comfortable and even a little smug in their predictions. Not only that, but playing into established tropes can be really fun at times. It can even get players who don't normally role play to join in the fun, fulfilling the trope's hero roles that are expected of them. It's when players abuse this series of expectations that I will subvert what is expected. Suddenly the bad guy won't be the dark figure in the robe but the nice old lady who fed them soup when they were beaten and tired. It will be their trusted friends. The suspicious town will only be suspicious because they were planning a birthday surprise for the mayor, but they will only discover this after they've killed everyone in town. Changing what is expected can teach players that your world is not a cliché, and that meta-gaming will not be allowed.

Lie: How's your poker face? This is my preferred method to deal with the problem, and it counter-acts the most prevalent version of meta-gaming; reading the DMs face. Besides what the players already know, they actually get most of their cues from the game from you. This is perfectly understandable since their only window into the world is what you tell them. If you don't tell them something exists, it doesn't exist. Watch your players' faces the next time you are running a game. You may notice they look at you quite a bit, obviously for the aforementioned reason, but also for another. They're reading you for clues. Do you have any tells? Things you only do in certain situations? It may behoove you to study yourself sometime and see if you're the biggest problem. Since realizing this, I've become quite good at facially lying to my players. As DM I have to be truthful in my words, at least when regarding what the players perceive, but I will never let my face betray what is really going on. Even something as simple as a smile may tip off the players that a trap lies hidden on this door.

Not only can a good poker face keep meta-gaming at bay, it is all but required to convincingly play lying NPCs. If the players think the DM is lying, they will think the NPC is lying. This is also part of why I don't have every NPC know everything they ask. Why would a cobbler know anything about the city guard's schedule? Why would he care? So when the players talk to a knowledgable character, they are glad to find someone who knows about their inquiry, not thinking that everything he says could be a lie. If they display other trustworthy habits and mannerisms, all the better to make them seem reliable. Not every character lies, obviously, but some may. I have a player who intentionally says things like "I think he's lying" to his fellow players, then darts a look at me to see my reaction. He's reading me for a tell, to see if I'll give away whether he's lying or not. A shift in my gaze, a nervous roll of the dice. I give him nothing. In those moments my face is a wall. It has gotten me the reputation with that group of having a very good poker face. But it doesn't stop them from still trying. They are attempting to meta-game.

After I realized what they were doing, that's when I started to intentionally change my reaction when I wanted to instill doubt in them, whether the NPC was lying or not. Characters they knew and trusted would act normally, but I would act differently, putting on a show, acting, to make them think maybe they were lying. I was doing my duties as DM, but turning the tables against their meta-gaming. They cannot trust what they read from me to affect their knowledge of the game, and that is as it should be. DMs should remember that not only are they acting to portray NPC characters, but they are also acting for their players. There are two games going on at every RPG table, and a good DM is adept at both.

I hope I've helped you or given you some ideas on how to curtail meta-gaming at your table. I'd love to hear how other gamers managed to stop it as well, so feel free to comment below if you have something to add to the discussion. Thanks for reading!

12 May 2013

Ending A Campaign

Ending a campaign is a difficult process. One of my games is coming to a close within a month or so, and I'm actually extremely nervous. This current campaign is the final one of three that have taken three years to come to fruition, and now that the end is nigh, I have to worry about making it truly epic and worth the investment my players have put into it.

Part of the trepidation comes from the inevitability of The Big Reveal, in which a secret that I've hidden clues to throughout the campaign is unleashed, leaving the players hopefully with minds blown. Pretty much the entire game has been leading to this moment from level one all the way to level twenty. How does one reveal a game changing secret without making the players feel betrayed or cheated, and how does one end a campaign three years in the making?

My first campaign ended on a cliffhanger, with the players having unwittingly revived an evil god from the dead, leading to the death of the paladin's god and the players being banished to a realm of eternal war and strife. It was dramatic, intense, epic, and suitably final if the players didn't wish to continue. The second campaign that grew from the first ended almost peacefully, though they did change the very face of Sigil and had an encounter with the Lady of Pain. It was more a self-contained campaign story that held elements of the overarcing plot but the ending didn't expand on it much. I was a tad disappointed in that ending. Now on the third and final campaign of the story, I find myself drawn to the same elements that ended the first one. Overblown set pieces seem to really make good endings, so I hope to include some in mine.

I'm a firm believer in cliffhangers, and I am going to incorporate one into this one, despite it being the end of a three part series. The characters will move on and get their happy endings, but of course, a darker, more powerful enemy lies in the shadows, waiting for the world to lower its guard once again. I don't know if we will ever return to this campaign world, but I want to be able to go somewhere with the plot in case we do. An important part of serial story-telling, which tabletop gaming most definitely is, is not trapping oneself in a corner where the only way out is through ham-fisted deus ex machina mechanics (coughcoughCrisisOnInfiniteEarthscoughcough). Leaving a story element unfinished leaves that strand to be pulled later. Even if it's years later.

As for The Big Reveal, this is what's been giving me an ulcer since it was first conceived years ago. Keeping a secret from the players can be tricky. If you spring it on them with no clues they feel cheated and abused. As DM you are their only window into the world, you control all information, and by not sharing the proper information, one runs the risk of alienating their players. On the other hand, showing too many clues can betray the secret too soon, and the players may come to the realization before the plan can reach its natural epic conclusion. This occurrence is not as big a deal in my mind, because if they do figure it out, it's up to the DM to reward that ingenuity. Besides, enemies can always have contingency plans, or perhaps something even more epic will happen as a result of a ruined plan.

In my case, I have dropped several subtle clues here and there throughout the game, even going so far as to completely misdirect the players in the wrong direction using clues. I'll cover more on those sort of techniques in my entry on using player meta gaming against them. In the end, I plan on referencing all the clues to show the players this did not come out of nowhere. One proven method for my group is the passage of time. The longer apart my clues are, the harder they are to piece together. In a three year game, clues can be months apart. Any questions they ask about past events that they may not remember are immediately answered however. It's not my job to hinder the players in matters that their much more adept characters would know.

In the end, I think I'll probably make the final set piece into a grand encounter against their nemesis who is attempting to rise to godhood mid-fight. He will advance to different levels of deity using the Deities & Demigods rules, eventually advancing into an enemy so mind-bogglingly powerful they will truly despair and feel weak in comparison. The party had used imprison against a llinorm earlier in the adventure, well what if the fight took them to the center of the earth where it was imprisoned in stasis, and the nemesis attempts to bring it back to attack them? What if they rode the llinorm through the core of the planet? What if he teleported the whole party across all the realms of reality? Making them suffer each plane's particular side effects? There's really no reason to hold back now, it's the end of the game!

I'll be writing more regularly now that I'm finished with my short hiatus. Thanks for bearing with me. As for what happens with my campaign I'll let you know in a few weeks when it concludes as epically as I hope. In the mean time, please share with me some awesome campaign endings of your own, or even final encounters that went out in the most grandiose of ways. I love hearing about them. Maybe they'll give me an idea or two for my own game. Thanks for reading!

Relevant Links
Divine Ranks and Powers
Divine Abilities and Feats
B is for Boss
The End is Nigh

30 April 2013

Z is for Zero Hour

To me, a zero hour is essentially a time limit. And a zero hour item is an item that will destroy itself in a certain amount of time. Whether that be a time bomb, or some item that requires constant charging or feeding. Time limits in tabletop games are a tricky thing, but I know from personal experience they can be extremely rewarding. The difficulty arises from the passing of time. How does one fairly adjudicate how fast time passes in a game where a lot of the details are glossed over for ease of play? If players trust the DM to be on their side, everyone can work together to make a time limit fun and tense. In my games, I tend to use zero hour items. Some sort of item that will self-destruct if not cared for properly. I've already spoken of the wondrous item that breaks if not charged once a day. But today I'd like to talk about the best zero hour item I've ever given a player, and the resulting mad dash that drove a party to their absolute limits.

In their quest to kill an evil god, the players re-constituted a broken artifact called the Godsbane. Being the only weapon that can kill a god, they desperately needed it for their quest, lest the evil god return to wreak havoc on the realm. However, this weapon had a caveat; it was designed to kill a god, and since it had not yet tasted a god's flesh, it instead hungered each day for something similar. Gods are outsider type creatures, so it yearned for the soul of an outsider of 16 hit dice or more once a day. If it did not deal either the killing blow or its instant death effect to a powerful outsider in a calendar day, it would break forever; never to be constructed again. Obviously, the players, having played for two years previously to get to the point where they could even start to think about taking on a god, did not want to fail this quest.

Their journey took them deep within the earth, where they faced numerous undead. The day was long and tiresome, and no outsiders appeared. The players fought every inch through the darkness, hoping, praying their DM would show mercy. None was forthcoming. At first it was of no concern, but the further they traveled, the more undead they slaughtered, the more tired they became. Then the unthinkable happened. Two members of the six party team died to a banshee. The clerics had not brought resurrections with them that day, not having considered that the day would drag on as it did. The dwarf hoisted the dead up and continued their journey.

After a time, they came across salvation! An outsider! But halt, it was a bound angel, held against his will. The paladin knew no other thought, and freed the angel without hesitation, much to the wielder of the Godsbane's chagrin. Time was wasted arguing over the wisdom of this decision, before they knew they had to continue or risk losing all hope. On they went, avoiding combat any way they could. I had never seen such lateral thinking and careful planning to avoid combat, especially at such high levels where a character can cleave the sun. It was impressive.

Further on, dismay set in, the next level of the deep presented itself, with no outsider in sight. Their guide, an evil blackguard who was the twin of the paladin, held against his will, was allowed a sword and freed of his bondage to aid in the survival of the party. No rest was in store. They asked how much time they had left before the Godsbane shattered: four hours. Their stomachs turned and they continued. It was here the blackguard hatched his escape plan: in this deepest cavern, lie the dreaded fiendwurm. Unbeknownst to those new to these hell beasts, they feed an eternal pit that opens within their stomach into a layer of the Abyss. Through there would the blackguard find his escape.

When they encountered the endless maw, he charged it, fooling the others into thinking he was either brave or foolish. Bit as he approached the creature, they remembered an old tome they once read that spoke of these things and their portal to another realm. They cursed their luck, they needed their guide for these caves were massive and without a map they would wander forever, and certainly not find an outsider in time. And yet, pursuing their captive, where would they end up? They might feed the weapon's thirst but how would they get back? Would the evil god return on his own if they delayed too long? In the end, they could not afford to lose their zero hour weapon, and ran into the wurm's belly, screaming and cursing their foul lot in life.

They emerged through and instantly saw their first outsider, a massive demon-dragon that informed them that surrender is their best option. He waved toward a large sack for them all to climb into and accept their death. Of course, the paladin told him in no uncertain terms where he could put said sack. He was pulverized and instantly turned into a soggy meat in armor. Tired and worn out, with almost no spells, and low hit points, the others obeyed. They were taken to a demon prison where they waited out the remaining few hours. They looked at the clock and knew it was an hour until all hope was lost. That is, until an imp named Puck, the bane of their existence and the enemy of the party saw them. Puck was a devil, in the Abyss to convey recon for an invasion of devils. He told them he would break them out and that his boss, Dispater, Lord of the Second Layer of Baator wanted a word with them. From six now to three, the remaining party agreed.

Teleported immediately to Dispater, the players recalled that they had had dealings with this devil before, and that when last they met he had allowed them to leave in exchange for a future boon, which he asked of them now. They agreed, but informed him they needed to feed the Godsbane first. Dispater, being not unreasonable, agreed only if they would best a concordant killer (a type of devil/angel) in an arena. So with an army of devils around them, they entered a small caged arena. They were tired, broken, weak, low on spells, and had the exhausted condition. The three remaining survivors saw that there was only ten minutes left on the clock, and prepared for the most important battle of their lives. The angel's opening move was to forcecage the wielder of the Godsbane, trapping him completely. The players despaired. Rule books were pulled out, spells were researched. There's got to be something they have to get out of forcecage! Time passed while I allowed them to grasp at the straws they had left. Until finally, the wizard came into a realization: dimension door! He used it to get into and then out of the forcecage, freeing the player, who promptly threw the Godsbane at the angel. The weapon flew true, striking the angel in the gut. It rolled its saving throw... and failed! The essence of the outsider was drawn into the weapon as he screamed in agony and fear. The Godsbane pulsated with a greenish glow, and the greater good was served so that a god could be killed.

My players blew a sigh of relief! Glory! A single day of endless fear and desperation. A zero hour run that ended in the most harrowing experience of their adventure yet. To this day, my players still talk of this day, played out over at least two months worth of gameplay sessions. In my opinion, the players had never been so strained or taken to their limits, nor had their characters. They proved to me and themselves what they could accomplish in a single day. They showed me that ingenuity will arise when the characters are stripped of almost all they have, and the game did not suffer, but was instead improved. Sure, today they speak of the day in fear, as they never want to do it again, but they still speak of it. They still remember it. They still revere it as the most tension they have ever had playing this game we call Dungeons & Dragons! Thanks for reading my final A to Z Challenge entry. I hope you enjoyed it. I, for one, am going to take a well-deserved break from writing in this for a few days. But I will return, and continue to write all my opinions and suggestions and hints about how to be the best Dungeon Master one can be. I hope you'll join me and continue to read. What a month!

Relevant Links
Godsbane Wikipedia
Dispater Wikipedia

29 April 2013

Y is for Yesteryear

It is no secret that I am a fan of older versions of D&D. I'm fact, if I could convince my players, we'd all be playing second edition, maybe even first. Generally this preference stems from a distaste for rules, as the more modern the system, the more encyclopedic one's knowledge of the rules must be to play. But a large portion of this preference is due to nostalgia, and a desire to harken back to the good old days of yesteryear.

The first edition I learned to play was second. My older brother introduced me to the game and I remember taking hours crafting my first character. He was a dwarven fighter with an 18/86 Strength named Mad Gort. You may have read little excerpts of his adventures in previous entries. Ever since then I've had a soft spot for fighters, and dwarves. The game had a strange draw to it I couldn't explain. I felt immensely powerful, something that second edition I believe did very well; though still maintaining power in the DM's hands. It had its problems of course, who could forget the confusing system of THAC0, negative AC, and having to remember when rolling high was good and when rolling low was good? Monsters didn't have CR so it was up to the DM to craft his own encounters and hope it was enough to challenge the players but not overwhelm them.

I remember being totally enraptured in the game, to the point where I played until 3am any night we played. The adventures of the past will always be sacred to me. I think that companies have been capitalizing on nostalgia of late, specifically Wizards of the Coast re-releasing the 1st edition rulebook set. I hear the 2nd edition is in the works as well. I will no doubt buy them both.

In the older editions, I felt as if the world was more oppressive. More threatening and dangerous. Random encounter tables were more common then, and occasionally a die rolled an un-winnable encounter. What did the players do? It revolved more around the ability to think on their feet, do things the rules may not allow for, and most importantly encourage creativity in the players. I ran a game where partway through the story, the game switched from 2nd edition to 3rd edition, because most of my players joined in the era when 3rd edition was the primary version. They felt more comfortable using those rules. Almost immediately I saw a decline in the creativity of the solutions for problems, I saw a drop in the way in which they dictated their actions in combat. In went from "I run at the githyanki and make a downward chop to break his face open" to "I make a charge, moving double my speed to the githyanki and make an attack". The descriptive words were lost. All their solutions to problems somehow incorporate their abilities and powers now, not their minds. Lately I will admit I've purposely presented problems that can't be solved by powers and seen a return to the old form, so one could easily make the argument that the problem was me, but I find I am not the only person to have noticed this change in thinking between editions.

I dont want to sound like I don't like 3rd edition and Pathfinder and the OGL rules in general. They're great. I run two OGL games currently. I'll pick up 5th edition when it comes out and probably convert all my games to it. I'm in the beta currently and running a third game of that, just to try out rules and the like, with a party comprised of my wife, my sister, her boyfriend, my brother, and even my mom. It looks good, and if it holds to the old-school vibe I've been getting so far from it, I'll adopt it. But I'll talk more on that another time. Finally if you love old-school gaming, I encourage you to read a file I previously mentioned called "A Quick Primer For Old School Gaming". Tell me about your favorite editions, what edition you were introduced into the game with, and why you love it so much, then tell me about your favorite memories of yesteryear. Thanks for reading, stay tuned tomorrow for the last day of the A to Z challenge in "Z is for Zero Hour".

Relevant Links
A Quick Primer For Old School Gaming

27 April 2013

X is for Xenophobia

I gotta tell you, I struggled over X for a long time. I was on xill for a while, then to xorn. I had to skim through a dictionary before I settled on xenophobia. In the D&D games I've witnessed, xenophobia is not often addressed, but its something I like to put into my games when I can. Essentially, it is the fear of the strange or different. This can be culturally, racially, sexually, anything really. The fear of whatever is not you. In this way it goes beyond racism, it encompasses all that is different.

The tropes of fantasy lend themselves to the stereotypes that elves and dwarves do not get along, and that orcs are generally disliked by the other 'civilized' races. In a way, xenophobia makes itself shown all over the genre and the games. The elves tend to be withdrawn and isolationist, dwarves tend to mistrust other non-dwarves. Even humans, who are generally considered the most accepting of the demihuman races, live primarily among other humans. Of course, all races prefer their own kind, but when was the last time you heard of a human or elf living in a dwarven city?

I try to include instances of blatant racism in my games when it seems appropriate. I've had several characters flat out show hatred for specific races. A particularly aloof elven lord was famous for hating humans, though I did add some interesting character development in that he was inexplicably in love with a particular human woman, a fact that made him hate himself. I've had some NPCs be actively spiteful to party members of a certain race. I really love to do it to the race of whatever the paladin happens to be. Paladins tend to put time and skills into diplomatic relations, so if the NPC the party needs information from happens to hate the paladin's guts, it can be fun to watch the party attempt to make up for their lost member.

Sexism has also played a huge part in one of my favorite stand-alone adventures. Two elderly dwarven widower kings needed to marry their children to ensure the continuation of the family line, incidentally merging the two kingdoms together. The prince and the kings assumed the prince would take over and the princess would do her womanly duties like all good women should. Of course, the princess had other plans. She sought to assassinate the prince so that she could take full control of both kingdoms, having had her fill of male oppression. The plot was extremely intricate, and is heralded by my players as the best mini-adventure I've ever done. All from the idea of sexism and how it affects the women involved. She was a broken and angry woman, but by the end of the adventure, almost every NPC had done something despicable, and yet every one had their reasons and could be sympathized with. The players too, had to do some underhanded forgery to ensure a corrupt dwarf went to prison. All in the name of "justice".

The reason I include these aspects in my game is because I do not see my campaign world as perfect. People are flawed, and sometimes those flaws include xenophobic views of the world. More often than not I have characters who are unshakably convinced of their views, even when those views are unpopular with modern societal norms, or just plain wrong. Just because we no longer see xenophobia as the norm anymore (or at least the willingness to admit it) doesn't mean a feudal society would not. Often, the fear of the other was encouraged to provide a sense of unity against invading forces. It's like my brothers and I have said many times, if Earth was invaded by aliens tomorrow, every nation would band together to defend our home against the other. Our xenophobia is an evolutionary tool to protect us, and denying its existence, preventing it from appearing in my game, merely hinders my creativity in character choices. Thus, I embrace it, and allow my NPCs to take it as a trait. Thanks for reading, stay tuned Monday for "Y is for Yesteryear".

Relevant Links
Sexism in Fantasy