Tag Archives: D&D

There’s a rule for that: a spell by any other name

Some time ago, I ran a very (very!) short-lived tumblr called There’s a Rule for That in which I posted unusual and/or ridiculous rules I came across in roleplaying (and other) games. I hadn’t thought about that for a while, but after coming across this gem, I’m officially reviving this as an every-now-and-then series here on the blog.

Without further ado, then, I give you:

Source: Palladium Fantasy Role-Playing Game, 2nd Edition, p. 191.

It’s a second-level wizard spell. If they had just called this Spectral Sound or something, it would (well, might) be possible to not giggle.

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The walls of this 10×10 chamber are adorned with…

When my wife and I finally made the choice to became real Americans (i.e. go tens of thousands of dollars into debt to buy a house), one of my requirements was that said house have some sort of subterranean chamber which I could convert into a basement game room. One year later, my game lair is finally ready.

Of course, no game room is complete without cheesy posters adorning the walls. No longer being 13, I can’t get away with supermodel pinups or Megadeth posters. But this is a perfect excuse to dig out those vintage game posters I’ve been hauling with me around the country for the last two decades. After a few trips to Hobby Lobby to pick up some cheap poster frames, here’s what’s hanging on the walls of my game room. (I apologize for the flash glare in some of these… if my game room had adequate lighting, it would not be authentic.)

First up is a pair of (unfortunately fairly weathered) Battletech Mech schematics, bought way back in the early days of FASA:

Battlemaster

The 85-ton BLG-1G Battlemaster. Awww yeah.

Warhammer

The infamous Warhammer, complete with two PPCs and a cheesecake illustration of Natasha 'Black Widow' Kerensky in the bottom right (for scale purposes, of course).

On the opposite wall, découpaged to an oh-so-classy piece of wood, is the map that came with one of my favorite Infocom games, Beyond Zork:

Quendor map

I love this map, although I could do without the dozen compass roses pasted across it.

And now back to Battletech. The only Commodore 64 game I played as much as Wasteland was Battletech: The Crescent Hawk’s Inception. It was my introduction to Battletech, and ever since, the poster that came with it remains the iconic Battletech image in my mind:

Crescent Hawk

A tiny Locust mech faces off against... what is that, a Marauder? That's not very fair, but it looks awesome.

Moving along, we have (surprise) another Infocom poster, this one of one of their least-known games: Quarterstaff: The Tomb of Setmoth. It was a quirky RPG/text-adventure hybrid (and only available on the Mac, strangely); but I really enjoyed it back in high school.

Quarterstaff

Am I the only person who played and enjoyed this game?

No game collection in the late 80s/early 90s was complete without at least one SSI Gold Box AD&D game. Here was mine:

Champions of Krynn

Champions of Krynn, one of many SSI Gold Box classics.

The next item is a change of pace: a poster that came with one of my favorite NES games, Dragon Warrior. This game was surpassed not long after its release by Final Fantasy I, but was a great deal of fun. And it has one of the most annoying/awesome catchy soundtracks of any NES-era game.

Dragon Warrior

One of the first great JRPGs on the NES.

And last but not least, I devoted most of an entire wall to one of the most iconic locations in D&D: Undermountain, the megadungeon. I framed three of the four maps that came in the 2e Undermountain boxed set:

Undermountain maps

There are a LOT of places to die in Undermountain.

So that’s what’s hanging on the walls of my basement game lair. I like to think of it as inspirational artwork. And believe it or not, there’s a stack of maps and posters that I’ll have to put back in storage because there wasn’t room to frame them too….

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Scimitars and flying carpets: what "Arabian Nights"-style roleplaying games exist?

Prince of Persia classicLast week I saw Prince of Persia. While I wouldn’t call it a classic for the ages (it turns out that “the best video game adaptation to date!” is not especially high praise), it did get me wondering what sort of “1001 Arabian Nights”-inspired roleplaying games are out there. While I’m most interested in the “flying carpets, evil djinn, and sinister viziers” style of game, I wouldn’t mind a more historical game, either.

I was surprised to find that there isn’t a whole lot out there. Granted, it’s a niche genre within a niche hobby, but if samurai Japan and Arthurian Britain have managed have long-running roleplaying games, you’d think somebody would’ve kept the lamp of Arabian gaming burning over the years. At any rate, here’s what I’ve found; if you know of any I’ve missed, please let me know in the comments!

Al QadimThe Arabian Nights-style game that springs to mind immediately is Al-Qadim for the long-defunct AD&D 2nd edition. At one point I owned this rulebook and was impressed by it (it was lavishly illustrated in full color, I recall), but if I still own it, it’s buried in a box in my basement somewhere. This was pretty heavy on the fantasy ends of things, and to my knowledge did not attempt to tie itself into real-life history at all. Has anybody played it, and can you comment on the general quality of the line?

GURPS Arabian Nights (for 3rd edition) is available as a PDF, and I know nothing about it except what the product description lists—it looks like a nice combination of both fantastic and historical “Arabia.” Tempting to grab a copy purely on the strength of other GURPS historical supplements.

Paizo’s Legacy of Fire adventure path is set in the Arabia-analogue region of their published campaign setting for 3rd edition D&D. I actually ran the first few adventures in this series last year, and it was fun, although it didn’t quite evoke the flying-carpets feel of Prince of Persia. That may have been my failing as GM, but I also think Legacy of Fire is meant to be D&D first and Prince of Persia second. That said, there are a few supporting supplements that flesh out Paizo’s fantasy version of the Middle East, and one of them has a bonafide flying carpet on the cover. And hey, if all faux-Zoroastrian clerics looked as good as this, I’d convert in a heartbeat.

Tales of the Caliphate NightsPerhaps most promising-looking is Paradigm Concepts’ Tales of the Caliphate Nights. It looks grounded in semi-historical Arabia and appears to cover Islam in a somewhat serious manner—certainly one of the most intimidating parts of gaming in this genre.

Listing these out, it seems that there actually is a decent array of 1001 Nights-type games… they’re just spread across several different game systems (some of them defunct), so you’d need to be willing to loot from several sources and port the end results into the system of your choice.

What good books have I missed that support Prince of Persia-style gaming, or a more historical version thereof?

Update: I just remembered another one: Veil of Night for Vampire: the Dark Ages. I’m guessing this supplement does not have a lot in the way of light-hearted princess-rescuing flying-carpet action… but if I’m wrong, please oh please correct me, because, well, Prince of Persia where the titular prince is a vampire sounds kind of awesome, in a terrible sort of way.

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Sandbox gaming vs. adventure paths: in defense of highly narrative adventures

Looking back at the many adventure modules published for D&D through the decades, a distinction between two types of published adventure becomes evident.

On one side are what you might call “sandbox” or “old school” adventure modules, which sketch out a slew of locations and adventure opportunities in a particular geographic area. It is assumed that the PCs will engage the adventure at the points and pace that appeal them, based on their own motivations. This type of module is well represented by Keep on the Borderlands, which describes a “home base” surrounded by dangerous wilderness, and expects the PCs to carve out their own adventures within that very broad frame.

On the other side are “plot point” or “adventure path” modules, which cropped up a bit later in D&D’s history but continue to be popular. These are more focused adventures that expect the PCs to adhere to a pre-ordained plotline, moving through the module’s challenges in a particular order that shuttles them from beginning to end. The DL-series of Dragonlance modules is the most famous example of this type of adventure (and Paizo’s Pathfinder adventure paths are the modern incarnation).

(Of course, the distinction isn’t always black-and-white; there are many modules both old and new that combine elements of both the “sandbox” and “adventure path” extremes. But for the sake of discussion, I’ll define them as two sharply distinct adventure types.)

It is held by many gamers, particularly those of the “old school renaissance” crowd, that D&D at its best can be found in sandbox adventures, and that adventure paths marked a step away from what made D&D so good. Adventure paths are restrictive, limit player choice, and replace the open-ended nature of roleplaying with a canned narrative that players must follow in order to complete the module.

While there’s of course some truth in that assessment, I want to step forward in defense of the adventure path. This is partly because my introduction to D&D was through those railroad-y, narrative-heavy Dragonlance modules. But also because I see the development of the adventure path as an effort to correct an imbalance in the D&D game itself.

To oversimplify things a bit, D&D draws heavily from at least two very different strands of fantasy literature: the grim and sometimes savage world of “swords and sorcery” (think Conan); and epic, heavily plotted, highly moral high fantasy (think Tolkien). The influence of Conan-esque swords and sorcery can be seen in many core elements of D&D: dungeons to explore; treasure and money as a prime motivation for adventuring; the heavy representation of rogue-ish classes like the Thief, Bard, Assassin, and Illusionist; a very deadly world; and more. The influence of Tolkien-esque fantasy can be seen in many other elements: the character races available for play; lots of strange and interesting magic weapons and items; parties of adventurers who all work together; and countless “classic” monsters.

But imagine for a moment that you are a Tolkien-obsessed teenager in the early 80s (and at that time there were more teenage boys obsessed with Tolkien than with Howard, I would venture to say.) You’ve picked up a cool new game called D&D because the game’s art, language, and contents promise Tolkien-esque awesomeness: dwarves and hobbits! Rangers! Orcs! Magic swords! But scouring the available adventure modules published for the game, what do you find? Lots and lots of modules that pit you against very localized, non-epic, Conan-esque challenges: bandit attacks. Bands of slavers. Tribes of goblins. Tombs with traps.

Even the most epic of these modules generally kept the action fairly local in nature. You might save a town from a gang of bandits or take out an evil wizard or foil a demon’s plan, but you never saved the world, fulfilled an ancient prophecy, travelled across a continent to rescue a princess, or anything like what the heroes of Narnia or Middle-Earth get to do. D&D did a great job of letting you be Conan, raiding tombs for loot and collecting the bounty on kobold heads. At very high levels (which the general lethality of the game made difficult to attain), you might aspire to save a city-state or become the ruler of a kingdom.

But sometimes, if you were a Tolkien-obsessed teenage boy, you wanted to be Frodo or Legolas or Aragorn, doing something Really Important with the fate of the entire world resting on your shoulders.

And the “adventure path” type of module, starting with the Dragonlance series, aims to do exactly that. You’re not an unknown adventurer who might one day hit level 5 if he kills enough goblins. You’re an unknown adventurer who is going to change the entire world. Your quest will send you on a whirlwind tour of the whole wide world, rather than requiring you to spend months delving deeper and deeper, level by level, into the depths of a single dungeon underneath a ruin in the middle of nowhere. The price you pay for this epic narrative is relinquishing a certain amount of player control; you have to follow where the plot leads, trusting that the narrative payoff will be sufficiently epic to make it worthwhile. In a true sandbox game environment, with its emphasis on random encounters and total player freedom, it’s very difficult for a game group to put together a Tolkien-style epic fantasy story. Even the well-regarded G-D-Q-series of modules, which ended on an epic note, felt more like a loosely-connected series of dungeon campaigns than a Lord of the Rings-style saga.

In a podcast interview two years ago, Margaret Weis (co-author of those Dragonlance modules I keep mentioning) described the thinking that prompted TSR to take a chance on a narrative-heavy, epic adventure path:

[Dragonlance co-author] Tracy [Hickman] envisioned Dragonlance as a story arc that expanded over twelve different modules. He was really opposed to what was happening at the time with modules, which he kind of said was like “Find the dragon, kill the dragon, steal the dragon’s treasure, and then next month you find the dragon, kill the dragon, steal the dragon’s treasure.” His idea was that the heroes would have a nobler purpose and goal in mind, and that to achieve this they would launch out on an adventure would get more complicated and more dangerous from one module to the next.

I don’t think D&D needed fixing, exactly, but as Weis hints here, something like a creative rut had developed in the way people approached D&D modules. Sandbox adventuring was and is great. But I think there was a creative gap in the world of D&D gaming; here was a game that drew heavily from Tolkien and his successors but which made it difficult to actually play out the very things everyone loved about Tolkien’s stories. Before we condemn narrative-heavy story-modules like Dragonlance or Ravenloft or Pathfinder, consider that they’re trying to put D&D back in touch with the other half of its roots.

What does this mean today? Well, adventure paths are alive and well, as Paizo’s success demonstrates; and the “old school renaissance” has demonstrated that sandbox adventuring is as fun and viable as ever. Some of the best old-school gaming blogs (like Grognardia) have been praising old-school products and fan material that moves classic D&D in new and interesting directions without sacrificing the old-school vibe—as opposed to endlessly republishing variants of Keep on the Borderlands or Tomb of Horrors. What, I wonder, would be the result if today’s old-school designers took on the challenge of the adventure path? Learn from the mistakes made in the Dragonlance modules, of course; and take hints from the understated but intriguing narrative arcs of the A- and D-series of modules… but with the goal of giving that Tolkien-obsessed teenager with a copy of Labyrinth Lord something to get excited about? I’d love to see what might result!

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For that much money, it had better come with a clone of Gary Gygax to GM it for me

I’m getting ready to run a dungeon crawl on Friday night for my wife and some friends. In casting about for a good published dungeon to use (yes, I’m too lazy busy to create my own), my mind darted immediately to The Temple of Elemental Evil, the classic megadungeon. I can’t run the entire megadungeon in one night, of course; but there’s a neat mini-dungeon near the beginning of the module (the Moathouse) that makes for a great short adventure. I’ve run it several times independently of the much more monstrous Temple, and it’s always gone well.

Unfortunately, my copy of TToEE is literally falling apart from age and heavy use. Perhaps, I thought to myself, it’s time to replace it. And while I’m replacing it, wasn’t there a fun-looking Hackmaster adaptation of it a few years ago? Maybe I could pick up a used copy and try that out!

Off to check the used dealers on Amazon, then. Uh:

That’s just a little outside my budget. Maybe I’ll come up with my own dungeon after all.

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Lend me a hand, Wizards: sell me some non-randomized miniatures

I bet this miniature gets a lot of use in your average D&D gameI like Wizards’ pre-painted plastic miniatures, both the D&D and Star Wars flavors—I make heavy use of them in the games I run. But I really think Wizards is missing an opportunity by not releasing a few RPGer-friendly miniature sets.

By this I mean that I would be a happier GM if I could go to my friendly local game store and buy a box of non-random, themed plastic miniatures—say, a box of a dozen skeletons, or goblins, or kobolds or Stormtroopers or what-have-you. As it is, because the miniature packs sold by Wizards are randomized, I’ve got just as much chance of winding up with a celestial black bear (truly, a staple of any D&D game) as I do of getting the basic gnoll that I’ll actually use in my game.

Yes, it’s not too difficult to assemble “encounter groups” by purchasing miniatures individually from a place like GMSarli Games or Miniature Market. The former online store even sells themed encounter packs to make your life easier. But why isn’t Wizards doing this? Why aren’t they selling packs of miniatures as companions to the adventure modules they’re releasing? (Some brave soul on rpg.net has gone through and listed out miniatures that cover every monster in Keep on the Shadowfell—looks awesome, but prohibitively expensive to collect individually.)

Ah well, I’m just another GM ranting that Wizards isn’t making the exact product that he wants… but I’ve seen other gamers online calling for non-random miniature sets, and you’d think Wizards could at least test the concept with a release or two. Wizards, are you listening? Add my vote to the record….

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D&D players strike back

If you’re still smarting from those disparaging remarks about D&D by the John McCain campaign, take heart: the folks at Hasbro have stepped forward to champion the cause. Take a look at this letter from a Hasbro exec to the McCain staffer who wrote the infamous press release:

Dear Mr. Goldfarb,

I was disappointed to read the disparaging intent of your comments regarding Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) fans, both in your response to New York Times editors, and on the John McCain campaign website.

Dungeons & Dragons is a global game with millions of consumers in the U.S. and abroad. The brand is owned by Wizards of the Coast, a subsidiary of Hasbro, Inc.

For fans, the game is essentially about heroism and therefore it is not surprising to us that thousands of military personnel play and enjoy the game. Hasbro, in turn, supports the U.S. Armed Forces by sending multiple crates of game products, including Dungeons & Dragons, to our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Recently a soldier who saw your comments online said, “Wizards of the Coast (the makers of D&D) has sent care packages to the troops on many occasions, providing free gaming supplies in support of our men and women serving the country overseas to help them decompress after hours. McCain’s people should really check their facts before they spout off. Does John McCain have no idea how many GIs play D&D?”

We would very much appreciate you not making any more condescending comments about D&D — as it is a great game enjoyed by millions of people around the world. Thank you.

Sincerely,
Wayne Charness
Senior Vice President
Hasbro, Inc.

Weirdly, this is apparently not the first time that D&D has been used as a political pejorative by Goldfarb; earlier in August he issued a clever apology for his first such offense [note: looking at this apology, I’m unsure if it actually happened or is just a joke that’s circulating around the web. If you can confirm one or the other possibility, please comment below!]:

If my comments caused any harm or hurt to the hard working Americans who play Dungeons & Dragons, I apologize. This campaign is committed to increasing the strength, constitution, dexterity, intelligence, wisdom, and charisma scores of every American.

OK, that’s pretty amusing, and lends credence to my suspicions that Goldfarb is a D&Der (or a bitter ex-D&Der). I mean, he even listed the stats out in their correct order.

And lastly, faithful reader (yes, I seem to have one or two of them) Raymond points out a very nice photoshop job of McCain reaching out to the gamers his words have so deeply wounded:

mccain

(If McCain thinks the Iraq War debate has been brutal, he’d be well advised to steer clear of the D&D edition wars.)

So at any rate, this is all just a lot of silliness, although I’ve seen more than a few gamers online taking the D&D jab a little too seriously. McCain, let us put this regrettable incident behind us. And yes, I admit that I am probably shallow enough to vote for whichever candidate first poses with a D&D Player’s Handbook.

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Alienating the RPG voting bloc!

I’m back from Gencon—pictures and details in a future post. But this morning I’m just trying to wrap my brain around this quote from a recent John McCain press release:

It may be typical of the pro-Obama Dungeons & Dragons crowd to disparage a fellow countryman’s memory of war from the comfort of mom’s basement, but most Americans have the humility and gratitude to respect and learn from the memories of men who suffered on behalf of others.

On the contrary, I thought you couldn’t spend all those years playing Dungeons & Dragons and not learn a little something about courage! Maybe an enterprising DM should volunteer to run McCain and his staff through the Tomb of Horrors?

And is it wrong of me to secretly hope that “Dungeons & Dragons crowd” will become a frequently-used political pejorative this election season like “flip-flopper” or “limousine liberal”? No publicity is bad publicity. Seriously though, unless McCain is secretly nursing a grudge against a DM that killed off his 12th-level rogue years ago, I don’t really see why one would use that phrase as an intended political insult, or what it’s even supposed to mean.

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