Christians in D&D?

The AD&D books recommend that in order to avoid offending anyone, “real world & modern day” religions be avoided in game play (although, bizarrely, Hindu, Native American and Shinto religious figures were included in the Deities & Demigods book— I guess to TSR, “real” meant Christian and Jewish).

I wouldn’t care if a player wanted to pretend his PC was a ‘Christian’ or not. Back in the day one of the guys I played with had a cleric he named, “Father Francis the Franciscan.” An NPC cleric in my first game was a cleric at the Church of Saint Alphonzo (named after the church in a Frank Zappa Song). Another player wrote “Yahweh” at the top of his character sheet and when I asked him why, he said because that was the god his character worshipped. Half of our cleric minis had little crosses in their hands or hanging around their little lead necks (see image of the ‘Dungeon Dwellers” clerics at above right; I think three out of four are carrying or wearing crosses and the other one has an ankh — I still have most of those little guys. They also made an “evil cleric” mini and you could tell he was evil because he had a grimace on his face and was holding his cross upside down! Just like a satanist from a horror movie!). We didn’t delve too deeply into what form their prayers or observances took (no, we did not try to really cast spells beyond saying, “My character will cast Magic Missile at the troll!” and the like).

In the first version of the rules I owned, the price list included things like “wooden cross, silver cross,” etc., until it was later replaced in the newer editions by the more P.C. term, “holy symbol.” There was holy water in the rules and a reference to killing a vampire by filling it’s mouth with holy wafers and the pictures of clerics in the books sometimes looked like Friar Tuck or was wearing a cassock, surplice or mitre or swinging incense censers or holding chalices (admittedly, I now know the mitre was also worn by Babylonian priests)… so, to this former altar boy, much of the trappings of ‘make believe’ D&D religion came from the real world Christianity and it didn’t bother me (and I considered myself an observant Catholic at that time). I just didn’t see the harm in having the references to real world religions in fantasy, and, honestly, I still don’t — I think most of that stuff was excised to be more P.C. in the wake of “D&D is devil worship!” scandals and Geraldo Rivera style “journalism.”

Goodman’s DCC RPG rules BETA released WEDNESDAY, June 8!

Goodman Games has annouced that DCC RPG’s beta version preview of the rules is to be released as a free PDF this Wednesday, June 8th. See the Goodman Games site for details.

I don’t think I know enough people who want to play in order to get a beta test group going… but I wish I did. However, I haven’t played anything in over a month due to work and other commitments… but DCC RPG is on the top of my “want to play” list. Oh well.

The DCC RPG will include artwork by Jeff Easley, Jason Edwards, Tom Galambos, Friedrich Haas, Jim Holloway, Doug Kovacs, Diesel Laforce, William McAusland, Brad McDevitt, Jesse Mohn, Peter Mullen, Erol Otus, Jim Roslof, Chad Sergesketter, Chuck Whelon, Mike Wilson and even some by ME! That’s a drawing by the late great Jim Roslof at right, R.I.P Jim….

Check out the SWEET poster for the game, below! I love the evil guy’s flaming eyeball, skeletal face and snake tongues… great googlie mooglie! That looks like adventure!

A to Z: P is for Priests

I’ve mentioned before that a large number of the deities for Aldeboran are stolen directly from “The Church of the Subgenius” (and thus will prevent me from ever legally publishing a ‘canon’ version of this world). Others are taken from mythology, other source books, etc., and still others have been included simply to satisfy some urge or include a reference to some other item or allow me to include an NPC or a published adventure.

For example, if I were to want to include Jacquay’s “Dark Tower” adventure, I would toss Set and Mitra into the mix. Of course, references to the Cthulhu Mythos would be scattered about so I could take advantage of Goblinoid Game’s excellent “Realms of Crawling Chaos” book. And since players who read Conan would want to say, “Crom!” I better have Crom in there as well… The more the merrier!

I’m also not above placing references to ‘real world’ religions and belief systems. I’ve considered (but not yet used) a cult of people who preach that “dragons don’t exist” because one of their holy books has a passage that could be interpreted as saying so… so if a dragon attacks the village, the priest has anyone who dares mention the “dragon problem” burned at the stake as a heretic. They have statues of four saints in their churches — one who covers his eyes, one who covers his ears, one who covers his mouth and the last one holds shut his nose… “Don’t be fooled by the heretics who would have you believe in dragons my people… the good book says they don’t exist… (blast of flame from dragons mouth hits the priest) aiiiighhhh! There are no dragons… there are no dragons…

Ironically, if the players destroy or drive off the dragon, they will not be rewarded and will instead be deemed ‘heretics’ if they mention the deed.

One of my Aldeboran favorites is the hermaphroditic god Dormammu and his/her Sister/Brother Ummamarod. Both gods are often confused, but Dormammu is male/female and evil while Ummamarod is female/male and good.

I’d love to steal a page out of the book of Rotted Moon and/or PoleandRope and come up with custom spell lists for each god. including a ‘sleep’ type spell for priests of Hypnos, the god of sleep and dreams, for example… I did some custom ‘domain’ lists for 3e but I don’t know how that helps me (yet) since I really don’t want to DM d20/3e. As of this writing, I’m leaning towards Labyrinth Lord and/or OD&D, either with a pack of house rules.

Those who don’t know me might assume that, given the nature in which I portray religion and priests in this post that I am an atheist or a cynic or something similar. I will admit a distatse for organized religions… mostly due to how so many of the people who belong to organized religions behave, especially those who parade their faith in public (like Lynn Westmoreland from Georgia’s 8th District who wants The Ten Commandments displayed in the State Capitol even though, when Stephen Colbert asked him to name a single commandment, he failed). Didn’t Jesus have some pretty harsh words for those who made great show of the outward signs of faith without honoring the commitments in their hearts?

Hirelings and "The Mule Abides"

Eric Minton made a recent interesting post about Hirelings on “The Mule Abides” about players ditching or eliminating hirelings in order to game the XP system for more benefit to the PCs.

He said: (I previously posted on the subject of)“…how players try to ditch their hirelings in order to avoid giving them a share of treasure… it’s an emergent behavior that comes out of the intersection between rules and player goals: if the aim is to acquire gold and XP, and hirelings bleed off gold and XP, then it’s in the PCs’ interest to ensure that the hirelings perish in the line of duty before they can get their share… “

Minton then goes on to describe some of his suggestions for dealing with the topic; well worth a read if such things are of interest.

But it also sparked some thoughts in my own brain about hirelings in D&D… and reminded me of some thoughts I had in recent years on the subject.

I think when we first started playing D&D, we were playing a ‘sandbox’ game without really knowing it. We would roll up player characters, then we would have these player characters traipse off into the dungeon to kill things and get treasure. There was no ‘overarching plot or goal to it (and, in the context of this post, I’m avoiding arguing over whether or not that was a good or bad thing). We believed that one could not have XP levels that one did not earn and EVERY PC had to start out at level 1. We just thought that was how it was done.

At some point, however, in my childhood gaming group, we started rolling up PCs that would be of the appropriate level for a published adventure that we wanted to play if we did not already have one. This seemed like fun at the time… and that is still how we ‘do it’ in the game group I currently play 3.5e with.

One of the things I proposed to the group of guys I play with is a campaign where players all had to start out at level 1 but players could have more than character. Only 1 character could be your “active” PC at a time — all others would be temporary NPCs while the primary PC was under the player’s full control. Although I thought the idea had merit, the few players who expressed an opinion didn’t like the idea.

I was not running a game at the time that I made the suggestion. Any thoughts?

A to Z: I is for Initiative

I = Initiative. “Who strikes the first blow?” There are two different rules I am thinking of using (leaning towards option 2):

Option 1: At the start of each round, one dice is rolled for the players and one dice is rolled for the referee’s creatures. Ties can be re-rolled or may just indicate that each action occurs simultaneously. Whichever side gets the higher score goes first. The players can resolve their actions in whatever order seems appropriate (perhaps starting with the character who has the highest dexterity, then the second highest, etc.). The referee resolves the monster attacks in whatever order seems appropriate. After everyone has had a chance to perform an action, the round ends and a new round is begun.

Option 2: 1 dice is rolled for each individual character and/or each monster type (thus the DM might roll one dice for all of the orcs and another dice for all of the ogres if orcs and ogres were attacking together). One starts at the highest score and counts down to the lowest, resolving all actions in order. The type of dice used is based on the creatures dexterity; average monsters and creatures might use a d6, faster ones use a d8 or d12 and slower ones use a d4.

A to Z: E is for Experience Points

Perhaps this should be under ‘X’ for ‘XP.’ Too late. When playing a game like D&D, the ‘transactional’ nature of some of the actions within the game soon become obvious. Your character performs an action (like killing a hobgoblin). You are awarded with some experience points. Once your XP reach a certain point, you “level up” and suddenly get better at doing the things your character does. I used to be really ‘down’ on the D&D XP system (even before I played video games, like Baldur’s Gate, where XP is awarded every time you do something rather than at the end of a session like we usually do it in ‘pencil and paper’ games… or when you get back to town (the really old school system)). XP obtained for treasure used to really stick in my craw. These days it really doesn’t bother me; in fact I kind of like it. I think part of me has come to peace with the idea that D&D is, at it’s core, a video game from before video games existed and XP is just a part of that. So XP is part of your reward for playing (since it is one of the indicators of progress). Some of the games I have been involved in include XP simply being awarded periodically, or at the DM’s fiat… or players all level up every X number of sessions. I’m surprised to admit to myself that I don’t find that as much fun as ‘the pinball game’ method where you can see the numbers building up and when you reach X, suddenly you get a little reward. Admittedly, default XP rules in D&D are a pretty bald mechanic, but they have become so ingrained in the game system that I miss the XP rules when they are gone. In my mind, one of the advantages of the XP rules as written is that players have a certain amount of control over their own character’s advancement. “A goblin is worth X number of points. You need Y number of points to get to level 2. Defeat Z number of goblins and when X*Z is equal to or greater than Y, you level up.

A to Z: A is for Assumptions

The latest bandwagon has started to roll and I just managed to scramble aboard! The (unfortunately named*) ‘Tossing it out’ blog announced “The A to Z” challenge in which bloggers try to do one post per day in April for each letter of the alphabet. Never to be one to refuse to ride someone else’s coat tails to fame and glory, I’m scrambling aboard at the last minue before that wagon rolls. (I just signed up — I am blog # 1062 to join).

So this is day 1 and our letter is for today is ‘A.’ I thought about doing ‘Arduin’ but I don’t own (and can’t afford) the Arduin books so everything I know about it would be second hand. And Grubb Street already handled A is for Arduin. I was also thinking about ‘Albinos’ and ‘Apes’ (or albino apes) but didn’t get very far with that. Then I decided to do “assumptions,” as in, “what are the basic assumptions when you and your group sit down to play?” More accurately, this might be called ‘melieu’ or ‘campaign flavor’ or even ‘rules.’ And I don’t think that there is any ‘right’ answer to what you assumptions should be — I just want to mull it over.

I would start with ‘default D&D’ as my first shared assumption of what players are getting into when they sit down to play a fantasy game. And if you are reading this blog, you probably know what your own conception of ‘default assumption D&D’ is. Open the rulebook and read the rules. If it says that player characters can be humans, dwarves, elves, etc., and can perform as fighters, magic users, thieves, etc., then that is a big part of the ‘assumption’ of default D&D.

The advantages of ‘default D&D’ are probably obvious. New players can come into the game, and, if they are even passing familiar with the edition you are using, they can take part and interact with the environment without having to ask a lot of questions. And I like ‘default’ D&D even though a lot of my fellow players seem to think that it is ‘boring’ or ‘predictable.’ Part of what I like is that the ‘imagination’ part of the game can be manifest in what you do with those stock elements. In addition, if players know a good deal about the world in terms of the ‘default’ assumptions, they are empowered to make more decisions and act upon the world. And, as a player, I sometimes find 100% reliance upon the DM for all information to be frustrating, especially when I end up feeling that my actions are being directed or forced by the DM when I start asking questions that cause the DM to start erecting narritive fences and railroad tracks. If the assumptions are simple and agreed upon from the start (even things as simple as the AD&D default where dwarves can’t be wizards, etc.), it doesn’t mean that exceptions to the rules can’t occur; it just means that such exceptions are accepted as exceptions.

Settings, games and rules which violate default D&D are harder to quantify. I am an enthusiastic reader of The Metal Earth (Aos’ blog of his house-ruled campaign), Planet Algol (another pulpy ‘sword and planet’ inspired blog) and others. To the usual mix of dragons, warriors and wizards, these ‘homebrews’ toss in new rules for everything and may let players create mutants, robots, ninjas and pirates as player characters. All of the ‘base assumptions’ of default D&D are up to debate or subject to revision and these campaigns seem to enjoy genre mixing and customization. “Assumption violating” campaigns seem very exciting to me; the act of creation seems like it could be almost as much fun (or more fun) as playing. And my own ‘Aldeboran’ (which feels like a somewhat stillborn creation that I occassionally dig out of the closet, revive and tinker with only to later shove it back intot he closet again) feels like it is closer in spirit to the ‘assumption violating’ campaign than the ‘default’ campaign. Although, since I don’t run any games in that world, the point is somewhat moot. Arduin, mentioned earlier on Grubstreet, is perhaps one of the precedents in publishing of the ‘assumption violating’ campaign.

Many campaigns seem to ‘blur the line’ between the two. I’ve never managed (either through laziness or stupidity) to run a 100% “by the book” game — a fact which used to make me feel somewhat inadequate whenever I would read one of Gary Gygax’s more strident editorials on the subject of house rules or ‘Dungeons and Beavers” (as he derisively called the campaigns of DMs who deviated from the rules as written for a time). And the idea of running any game by the book bores me. But at the same time, I think it helps player’s personal investment if they feel that some baseline assumptions within the campaign are shared and immutable. To create an extreme example, it would be very frustration to play in a game where everything that effected the actions of the characters was constantly in flux at the whim of the DM and the players didn’t know from session to session whether or not water would continue to be wet, fire would continue to be hot and ice would still be cold, etc. One of the fun things (at least for me) about a role playing game is that the world described by the referee and inhabited by the players has reference back to our world… so, imaginatively, we can wrap our heads around it and share information. Thus, although there are plenty of things we never encounter in the real world (dragons, unicorns, leprechauns, etc.), we still understand the basic physics of the world and the relationship between creatures and situations we might meet. So, although I’ve never actually BEEN in the fantasy world, I would understand that ships would sail on water, milk might come from cows (or other mammals), etc. I wouldn’t need to have it explained to me that gold might be worth more than iron since I already KNEW that before I ever played D&D. There is plenty of ‘real world’ knowledge that I can use while navigating the fantasy world and that means I can envision it more easily when we are trying to share the experience of navigating the fantasy world as a group.

I see advantages in both and am still sitting on the fence as to where I would go if I were to run a game again. Since I don’t forsee that happening, I suppose I can afford to continue sitting on the fence.

* I am relatively certain that “tossing it out” is NOT a masturbation reference, but, given the eccentric nature of people in general, one can never be 100% sure.

E-Tools is for fools

I am a player in a D&D 3.5 game that meets once every two weeks. Recently the DM asked the players to create 15th level characters for a ‘special event’ of some kind (I have no idea). Because I am lazy, I used a character creation software to create my 15th level character. If it matters, I created a pixie ranger. In D&D 3.5e, there are rules that allow you to create a character of any monster race (even the gelatinous cube has a strength, dexterity, wisdom, etc., scores). Each monster ‘race’ is given an ‘equivalency’ to a character — so if you want to create a 15th level human fighter, the human will be a 15th level fighter… but a bugbear fighter will be 12th or 11th level in fighter because he will have 3 or more levels of ‘bugbear.’ So I have a 9th or 10th level ranger who can fly, turn invisible, etc., and shoots arrows with great accuracy (for something like 1-3 points of damage) and he is considered ‘equal’ to a 15th level human ranger because he has a buttocks-load of special abilities.

With all of the feats and skills and other shit to keep track of, I actually need a computer program to create a character if I want to create such a character according to the rules and in less than an hour’s time — a circumstance which bugs me. Then there is the fact that E-tools is (at best) unreliable, slow and crash prone. My experience with other similar products (some of my fellow players use a java based program that does the same thing; I can’t remember its name) isn’t much better. Since Wizards pulled the plug on D&D 3.5e, e-Tools is no longer supported.

One of my ‘dis-enchantments’ with 3.5 edition stems from the fact that character creation is just so complicated. Even if I just stick with the “player’s handbook,” there are lots of feats, skills and special abilities to be chosen. And many of the feats are ‘nested’ in other feats and abilities. So if you want to have the ‘great cleave’ feat, you have to pick ‘cleave’ first. In order to get ‘cleave,’ you need ‘power attack.’ In order to get ‘power attack,’ you need to fulfill some other requirements. This results in a game where players need to plan out their characters well in advance (i.e.: in order to get a feat like “Great Cleave” in the future, I need to pick the right feats and fulfill the pre-requisites beforehand). It makes planning a character like a visit to your college course advisor. And some players seem to love this ‘ongoing character generation’ aspect of the game. I am not one of them.

I will never DM a game again where players need xcel spread sheets or computer program to keep track of what they can or cannot do in a game. If that info does not fit on one page (2 pages at most), then I don’t want to run it.

Simpleton Skills

I think if I had to have ‘skills’ of some kind in my RPG game, I would just prefer them be a roll modified by (maybe) level and (possibly) ability. So maybe if there has to be a ‘hide’ skill, it can be a class skill for thieves (and maybe hobbits) and a non-class skill for everyone else (since anyone can hide).
So for class skills like ‘hiding’ or ‘move silently’ for thieves maybe you have a base 50% chance +5% per level, +5% for a better dex, etc., if you are a thief and a base 25% if you are a non-thief, +5% for every 2 levels. There might be some skills that are reserved for a class: i.e.: only thieves can pick locks.
Of course, perhaps the 50%/25% assumes average conditions. An ‘easy’ task (like picking a cheap and crude lock) might get an automatic 25% bonus, while a harder one (like picking an expensive and well-made lock) might get a -25% penalty. For moving silently, a character in metal armor or attempting to walk across a forest floor covered in dry leaves might take a penalty.
That said, as I have posted umpteen times before, my default is to prefer to handle such actions by “talking” and negotiating between the DM and the player(s) whenever possible. So if the player wants to hide, the player simply announces that he will attempt to do so. The player might attempt to modify his chances for success by mentioning ‘how’ he will attempt to hide… i.e.: “I will hide behind the tree and I am wearing dark colored clothing…” in order to convince the DM to attempt to rule in his favor. The ‘verbal negotiation’ method is what I prefer for ‘social interactions’ and similar events.

Immersion through Interaction

I was having a conversation elsewhere where the topic of how the referee handles “searches” in the typical D&D game. Searches, in this case, includes looking for treasure or other items, especially places in which the items sought might not be obvious to the glance or included in the referees initial description of a locale.

Back when we first played D&D, we rolled for secret doors, but not for ‘concealed doors’ (i.e.: a door behind a tapestry that you could not see unless you pulled aside the tapestry). Things that were concealed the player had to find by describing where they looked. This was (as far as we knew), the ‘correct’ way of doing it. There were no ‘search’ or ‘perception’ skills. And, if I ran a game again, I think this is how I would like to handle it.

I recall describing the characters using poles or weapons to probe things that were suspected of being trapped, etc., rather than using a dice roll. So if you thought the floor was trapped, you might toss the corpse of a dead opponent on it, etc. Personally, I find this style of play (where the player describes what or how they do things and results are adjudicated from that) to be a more immersive one than using a funny accent while speaking in the first person, predetermining psychological quirks that will artificially govern your character’s actions, etc., simply because you weren’t playing a part — you were attempting to insert yourself, mentally, into the role of the adventurer. So if you were actually physically searching the laboratory of an evil wizard for a hidden treasure, where would you start looking? I suppose one could both speak with an accent and adjudicate searches verbally, but I would posit that using accents and assuming mannerisms often falls under the general rubric of ‘roleplaying,’ as in, “I am playing the role of Fflunfreddles the Fighter who is stupid, superstitious and speaks with a broad Moronican accent…” I would offer that another interpretation of ‘roleplaying‘ might be, “I am placing myself in the role of Fflunfreddles the Fighter. I have these items and these skills. The referee has described the situation. Using what I have available in the game, what would I like to do?”

The person I was having the discussion with thought that the method I described took too much time (as opposed to using a search skill or similar mechanic). I don’t honestly think it takes up more time to adjudicate such minor tasks verbally rather than rolling for it (assuming ‘rolling for it’ involves the referee determining some sort of target number, the player (or DM) rolling a dice and adding modifiers, then comparing what is rolled to the target number, etc.).

I did notice that when I did it this way a few years ago, I did not tend to have a lot of rooms or encounter areas crowded with lots-and-lots of furnishings simply because it could get tedious to have the players describe exactly how they were searching in the 900 nooks and crannies one might find in a room crowded with furnishings… and, honestly, as DM I made up a lot of the inconsequential details on the fly. So maybe ‘realism’ in terms of room furnishings takes a hit, but so what? As DM I was not above ‘fast-forwarding’ through searches or activities that were routine (i.e.: if the player found a store room with 100 crates and announced they would search each one for valuables, I would have just determined how many hours it took, rolled for wandering monsters and given them the run-down on the contents).