Monday, April 29, 2013

Drunken Dragons#2: Fighters*

If you're the most famous Cleric in the world, who are you? The Pope, or in D&D worlds a high priest, or even a demigod. These are all good things to be. Maybe you establish your own religion. People like to do this.

If you're the highest level Magic-User around, you're a well known wizard, sorcerer, archmagus, or maybe a lich or something. All good things. You may hold an entire nation in your sway with your power. People like to do this.

Thieves are interesting because to my mind, the highest level, most skilled thief in the world wouldn't be a household name or leader of men, but a puppet master on whose strings everyone secretly dances while the thief himself is invisible. Dread Pirate Roberts, Keyser Soze, your old nickname is legend by now, a by-word for larceny, but that was so many cons ago you've lost count. If people don't do this they fucking should.

Elfs, dwarfs, and halflings all get to be great figures in their communities, and yes that is super awesome. Being the greatest hero among elfs is awesome but elfs and dwarfs in particular traditionally have strong blood ties to long lineages of monarchs and royals, a society your actions can buy your way into, sure, but no amount of orc-thumping is going to turn Legolas into Elron or Gimli into Thorin. Oldschool D&D doesn't even afford that much consideration to halflings, you're basically the halfling everyone comes to with their problems but since the image of halflings are so non-centralized and rural you don't so much lord over a community as you lead from within. There is an untapped well of awesomeness here, especially with high level halflings being named things like Marshall or Sheriff, of the halfling as cowboy and I don't know if I've ever seen that explored. Some people don't like the oldschool demihumans having level caps but honestly I've never run into a game where it has ever been a problem and I'll start worrying about it when it does. But yeah, you can build a community but you are only ever big fish in small pond in the grand scheme of things...

Fighters are different than all these, though. There's a specific word for the fighter who's over all fighters that has, whether in history or in literature, been a word on which religions, cultures, science, art, discovery, diplomacy, sex, and legend all turn. Fighters get to be kings, and anybody who doesn't think that the virtue of simply being able to say "I AM THE KING" is at least as awesome as being able to cast Geas once per day isn't thinking all those ramifications through, or else they forgot everything they knew as a kid, or else they never saw that Brady Bunch episode about slavery.

I load Fighters down with stuff in my games. I use Encounter Critical's great companion rule ever since No Signal! reminded me of it. I nicked Jeff's idea for "bonus" subclasses for fighters of high level of skill and I put together my own not-quite-Monk-not-quite-prestige-class fighter variant. And I've got another big Fighter mod I'm throwing down in the next two days.

My reason for this is that fighters are awesome but from the outside they don't look pretty to a certain mindset. There's a line of thinking which goes if you have the stats for a fighter AND a dwarf you go dwarf, unless you can also be an elf in which case you go elf. It's not even all about min-maxing or's about options. A Dwarf searching a room always has more options than a fighter because they come standard, an Elf in combat always has more options than a fighter because they have spells. You absolutely don't need these things to have a good time as evidenced by all the rpgs out there without things like infravision and Growth of Animals, but neither does someone need seat warmers in their car. But, if you're going to be buying a car anyway and the price difference is small enough or negligible altogether, the option of seat warmers might make a difference to a lot of people. So, I try to entice my players with seat warmers.

But nothing compares to being king, especially in a D&D style fantasy landscape where for the majority of the population bread is still a pretty big deal. Anybody who has been king on graph paper will tell you, do this. Five stars of five, Would King Again. Once you become a king through conquest or good old fashioned capitalism, this is the biggest thing you can do. Wizards being too awesome at level 20 get you down? Outlaw wizards. Tired of thieves stealing your payroll? Congrats, you can commission a network of spies to counter the thieves' guild. Tired of your god's rules? FIND A NEW GOD, declare yourself a living god, or just outlaw a faith and burn its pope at the stake. You're the king and you've got the force of a kingdom behind you and all the resources and time in the world; eventually your enemies run out of Magic Missiles or bungle a pick-pocket check from simple attrition.

Once you're king you're the metal ball on the rubber sheet. Short of leaving mortal reality behind and traipsing the starways punching gods and crap, there are fewer bigger things that shape your game world. Short of casting Wish, there are fewer things your individual PC can do to make their mark on the campaign, especially when it's a given cliche that anybody given a bunch of wishes will at least try using one of them to put themselves in charge.

Now yes your elf can be king of his little burg but as far as most elfs are concerned you can fuck off. Same with dwarfs. And yes the idea of the sorcerer king has a lot of weight behind it in source literature but nowhere near as much mental real estate as that possessed by the living god-king or holy monarch because we've actually had those. In life. In reality. And even that is such a small thing compared to how large looms the vision of the ruler-by-conquest.

Just the fact that you find so many warrior kings (or Adventurer Conqueror Kings?) in fiction is a testament to just how powerful an idea that is and how central that is to our ideas about power, since so much fictional ground is given over to this idea in a world where becoming an immortal wizard is also a thing you can do. And yes the appeal of being someone who can wave their hand and do the impossible is impossibly appealing. It is. But after a particularly gnarly fight with a dragon or a mummy or a thoroughly challenging dungeon, your Magic-User may be out of useful shit for the day. The stuff they may have prepared might never come up. And worse still, when they run out of spells they are usually, practically, just a dude.

Not a king.

When you have a player king in your game as a GM it's like the biggest present because that writes your game for you. You can wake up in the middle of a morphine drip and no prep and run a game for a table almost entirely made up of neophyte players, so long as one player on your table is a king. Even a knight is a huge deal, never mind a lord or a baron. But a king? Once one of your players becomes a king, the levels-long fuse has finally burned out and you get to just sit back and watch the fireworks. Nothing automatically generates plot and story hooks like a kingdom. Nothing automatically attracts threats and dangers and challenges like a kingdom. And yes few things afford players more opportunity for high-falutin' ACTING! than being royal as hell.

All of this at the feet of a player picking her character and yet Fighters are still so often so overlooked. "Yeah their attack progression is pretty great, I GUESS, but can you throw in satellite radio and dual climate control?" So, yes, I tart up my Fighters at early levels. Because kings.


Saturday, April 27, 2013

The Campsite Rule

The players don't follow it in regards to NPCs or towns, but implicitly follow it by producing an abundance of gameable consequences.

GMs are often too quick to pull out Asmodeus or Cthulhu or a red dragon and kill them off, spending that dramatic nickel, but most GMs worth their salt throw in a dozen good ideas for every statblock they sacrifice on the altar of a drunken night of polyhedrons. Those GMs abide by it if sometimes by accident, and those who explicitly don't follow it lead short games.

GMs aren't usually particularly concerned with it in regards to players outside the structures usually put in place by the game rules or if you swing that way social contract.

When I've seen GMs sit in on established worlds like the Marvel Universe or another person's fantasy campaign they're almost over-eager to do their part to abide by it, though never to the point of overdoing it and doing more harm than good. I imagine it happens, though.

Generally, players sitting in on another person's PC abide by it as well, striving to do their buddy proud.

Players I've seen running established characters like the Hulk or Panthro have little to no regard for it.

In camping out and in dating young gay men, it's a truism that you should leave things better than you found them. I'm thinking about running a game set in the same world as a game I play in. I'm not sure if I'll go through with it but I do know from earlier conversations that my bud is amenable to this. I've done this before, as have a couple of other people in his regular group. Last time for me it was a one-off, oh-crap-something-fell-through-who-can-do-a-one-shot? kind of thing but I think I did ok...

Thinking about how I rolled last time and what I want to do this time has got me thinking about the campsite rule. So just like last time I'm going to...

Bring everything I need with me. Don't depend on borrowing the giant devil king someone has set up as a campaign's big bad. They might not be down, or they might not want to run the risk of him being taken out like a punk, or taken out "offscreen" at all. So if I decide to do an adventure about a local army defeating itself through infighting, it won't be the army my party is currently facing.

Make the most of my surroundings. In camping this means picking your spot, seeing the sights, and it's the same in games. If your adventure is set in a city, is there one nearby? If it's set in a lost temple, is there one on the hexcrawl that hasn't been filled in yet? What kids of generic monster goon are around? Kobolds? Don't worry about figuring out how to cram Svnerbinvegenjiggiden into your desert adventure. Just use the kobolds.

Clean up after myself when I leave. All you want to leave behind at a campsite are "footprints," the consequences of your party's actions. But while the consequences of the party's actions should be left around for your "host" GM to use or ignore at their convenience, the actions themselves should be self-contained. Don't leave things in the middle of the Two Towers. Scale things down so that you can wrap that shit up before you go. They should have the choice of revisiting your stuff, not be bound to it.

Avoid taking anything off the map. Seriously, you're only borrowing the glimmering spire of Hachgaggle, don't intentionally blow it up in your denouement if you can help it.

Not being greedy. Don't do a whole campaign just to set things up to be awesome for your character, or to change someone's world into something more like what you'd have invented. This is about fun, not personal profit.

Adjusting to the environment rather than insisting it adjust to me. What happens in a game happens. That's the game. No plan survives contact with the enemy or a RPG group. This isn't specific to running in an established game world, this is just good GM advice in general, I think.

I'm also going to break the metaphor by making sure I leave some usable NPCs should your "host" wish to use them. I'm not talking about a colorful shopkeeper, anybody who can't do a colorful shopkeep should stop GMing. I'm talking about Brendar the Homeless, Axe Man of the Wolverines. Targeaux, prizefighting male prostitute. Selindrenn, shapeshifting con-elf. Leave him some guys he can use if he so desires, apart from the big bad of your campaign.

For that matter, I usually try to leave behind one invention. A new spell, monster, piece of lore, or intelligence that comes from whole cloth but which can be dropped into a session independent of whatever the "host" has coming up. He can ignore it altogether or he can have it pop in for the very next session. This is me helping a GM to torture not just his players but to torture ME.

It's not just about running. This is how I try to play as well. I said try. I have a horrible case of Nick Bottom Syndrome, known in the common parlance as being an asshole. But I try to never forget that any particular game is not all about me. Once I've gotten one good moment or laugh, it's my job to try to get everyone else into the action. I don't care about magical items most of the time, better to have someone else use it. Something awesome happening is something awesome happening, whether my character did it or not. When they were filming Ghostbusters allegedly every scene was an unspoken contest to improvise the best line but, once there, they weren't particularly tangled up in who gets it. The important thing is that everything in the final product should be awesome.

It's all just talking about respect in the end. You want to play around in someone's sandbox because you think it's awesome, whether you're a PC or a visiting GM or someone scalping an existing setting. You're playing with these people because you appreciate their contributions to making everyone's time awesome and you want to do your part. Get your friends laid, get their character laid, get your setting its own Crawling Throne.

Which is like RPG... idea... sex.

In chair form.

I am....fucking tired, I think I had a point.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

"Bonus Classes" for Arcis Enumre

After Jeff here as in all things:

Crusader (Fighter with Wisdom 13+ or Pacifist with Wisdom 16+)- Gain the ability to Turn Undead as a Cleric of half level, other churches stop offering you contracts but one church you swear yourself to gives you job security.

Muscle (Thief or Gentleman with Strength 13+)- Increase Open Locks by 5%, earns double XP from Carousing. People like to be on your good side, and your retainer morale increases by 2.

Atheist (Magic-User or Scrivener with Charisma 13+)- +2 to saving throws against Cleric spells. You also know Spiritus, and your name makes it into the Register of Spellcasters in Arcis Enumre.

Exorcist (Cleric with Intelligence 13+)- You wear a hood of a color associated with your god and can cast Protection From Arcane at first level. You may reroll 1 die when Turning Undead. Others of your order treat you as one bad dude.

Scout (Dwarf with Wisdom 13+)- You gain a 1 point bonus to Dexterity checks made to avoid traps or natural hazards, including reducing falling damage, and you can find water. You are considered to always have rope.

Coldblooded (Elf with Constitution 13+)- Immune to Sleep and you don't have to conduct research or have a spellbook to create a Familiar. You live in the Coldquarter in the city and are an ethnic minority with certain legal privileges.

Wrestler (Halfling with Strength 13+)- After making a successful attack roll to grab, you may do 1d6 damage per round to any creature you have grabbed. You may spend a round Showboating to give yourself +1 to the grab attempt the next round.

 Untouchable (Gnome with Dexterity 13+)- A Gnome about to be killed may use one use of unexpended Favor per day to escape death. A Failure or No Result means the Gnome still dies. A Gnome may use this ability once per day.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Arcis Enumre- Dwarfs

The endless tunnels and caves that terminate in the cheese-like face of the Dwarf Cliffs which overlook Bastard Valley are home to many Dwarf cities and kingdoms, though all belong to a kind of ur-kingdom whose true ruler and whose very NAME are both known only to the most powerful and influential Dwarf leaders. There are rumors that these kingdoms extend beneath the human kingdoms, all the way beneath Arcis Enumre's subdungeon, perhaps beneath the Waiting Mountain herself and into the fabled endless plain beyond.

This would be easy to believe. Dwarf cities are massive affairs that can take days to cross on foot, and are always associated with large mining structures deeper within the world. The city dwarfs live mercenary and mercantile lives, devoting themselves to becoming great warriors, heroes of the faith, great drunks, brilliant craftsmen, daring explorers, wily salesmen, or raging artisans. City dwarfs are very concerned with money and a sense of propriety, and adapt to fill new needs with near light speed. As it is said that anything can be found and bought in Arcis Enumre, the Dwarfs of the cliff cities can make you anything you ask for...for a steep enough fee.

Dwarfs worship Bomdutra, goddess of stone, duty, and beer. Dwarfs are then, as a group, considerably devout. Bomdutra has a temple in Arcis Enumre that many Dwarf Rockpriests make staggering pilgrimage to. This temple has many human Clerics but it is unquestionable the Rockpriests who are in charge there. These priests represent a separate caste who never learn fine tool use for the purpose of craft, trade, or for mining or digging; they exist to be living tools, used by their goddess, and have a kickass time doing it.

So far, the party has encountered Skorkida, one of the larger cliff-face cities. There is a city known to outsiders only as Deeper where the true Dwarf regents dwell in castles made of gold and jewels.

Dwarfs do not have facility in magic but have a near-magical gift for craftsmanship, able to take raw magical components and do amazing things with them, transferring and augmenting enchantments, things like that.

Dwarfs view the Elfs as a bit stuck up and short-sighted. They constantly rib them over not being able to talk to their own god, but because of Bomdutra's temple Dwarfs and Elfs have been forced to comingle freely. Many Dwarfs live in Arcis Enumre full time, and many even inter-marry. This has produced two major new ethnic groups in the world, Gnomes (the result of Dwarf/Elf breeding) and Halflings (the result of Dwarf/Human breeding).

A Dwarf of high enough level to begin setting up a keep has a few options. First, they may buy land in Arcis Enumre, as an Elf. Second, they may buy a tunnel or mine system from a foreman in the Cliffs. Third, they may erect a stronghold above ground to serve as base camp and defense for an entirely new digging operation.