Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Character Portraits

I like having a good character portrait. It gives me an idea what my character looks like and hints at the personality. The trouble is getting one. As someone with little artistic talent and even less motivation to get better, finding a good portrait is always difficult. Since I tend to avoid really generic characters finding something on the web is always troublesome but if seems to be my only option. I've tried character portrait generators but they always end up looking like bland paper dolls.
After spending a couple hours perusing Google for an appropriate picture of new character, I realised that this would be much easier if I could just do up something myself. So I found some great drawing software, downloaded it in record time and went about going through the tutorials. It was then that I realized that not only would I have to learn this software, I would still have to learn how to draw. Sure professionals can whip off some amazing art with this but I won't be able to come anywhere close until I've had years of practice. How am I supposed to have time to play MMORPGs if I spend all my time doodling on my computer?

So unless I suddenly get struck with some desire to be a great graphic artist I am stuck with Google and finding the perfect character portrait after the campaign ends. Oh Vallindra, how awesome you were.

Attack of the Retro-Clones

I started my gaming life with Basic D&D and AD&D back in the early 80s. I went away to school in the early 90s and switched to 2e with a new group of gamers. I moved away again in 2000 for work. Another group, a switch to 3/3.5e. Each time, there was one thing that was obvious, the new edition was better than the previous one. I'm sorry folks, but it was. Remember AD&D? Your dwarf fighter stopped advancing at what, 7th, 8th level? Then what? And then there were all the bloody tables to refer to. Every character class had a combat matrix. There were saving throw tables for characters and for objects. I remember thinking THAC0 was the most miraculous concept I had ever heard of.

So what's up with the sudden popularity of retro-clones? Swords and Wizardry, Microlite 74, OSRIC, all of a sudden, everyone is "kickin' it old school". Sure, I'm a bit nostalgic for the good old days once in awhile, but the joy I derived from my early gaming experiences came from the novelty of the pastime, not the inelegant and incomplete rulesets we were using.

I blame it all on 4e.


Rippin' on AD&D, Rifts has an awesome series of articles aimed at the absurdity of our favourite games. Check them out.

Monster Manual, pt.1
Monster Manual, pt.2
Deities and Demigods
Tomb of Horrors


Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Deadliest Warrior Report

Knight vs Pirate...boy, they sure blew this one. After demonstrating that a flintlock pistol can't penetrate a steel breastplate and that a grenado is little more than a flashbang to an armoured knight, they still gave the win to the pirate. The only weapon shown to penetrate armour in the pirate's arsenal was the blunderbuss and only at ranges of a few yards. Assuming the knight hadn't already killed the pirate with a crossbow by then, he would be close to melee range by the time the blunderbuss becomes effective. That one shot won't likely kill, but the knight's counter with morningstar or broadsword certainly will. The pirate is dead every time.


Monday, April 27, 2009

The Greatest Fantasy Books of All Time

Well we have a pretty good movie list but what about a good read? Some of my favorites and a brief description of the book (or series)

Wheel of Time - Robert Jordan. Great books 1-6 but the plot kept expanding and after book 7 things just never came together again - and then the author died before he finished the last book.

Song of Ice and Fire - George R. R. Martin. Medieval political thriller. Amazing character development, and unpredictable plot lines. No one is safe. Compared to the first three books, four is a bit of a dud.

Magician - Raymond E Feist - Interesting plot. A great quick read.

Assasin - Robin Hobb - More great characters. The books have a sense of moodiness and irony that is missing in most fantasy books.

The Lions of Al-Rassan - Guy Gavriel Kay - loosly based on medieval Spain. Starts r e a l l y slow but builds steam to a great finale if you can stick with it.

A few other come to mind that I am leaving out intentionally:

Lord of the Rings/Hobbit - epic in every sense but painful to read. I have an easier time of it now then I used to but still, you can tell Tolkien was a linguist.

DragonLance Chronicles - used to be my favorite but doesn't age well. The legends series is the only series I still consider readable (and actually quite good). Most dragonlance books are trash.

In fact most D&D books suck. Drizzt used to be entertaining when he was still somewhat novel but after 20 years the whole moody self examining thing has gotten very old.

I'm sure I'm missing some. Suggestions?

The Greatest Fantasy Films of All Times

Ok, here's your quest. A total newbie to the world of swords and sorcery wants to rent the 10 definitive films of the genre. Assume this person has never seen any before, not even The Lord of the Rings. What 10 films should he rent?

I will give you a list of some possibilities that don't totally suck, but feel free to add others (no animated or "muppet" films, please).

Conan the Barbarian
Conan the Destroyer
The Beastmaster
The Sword and the Sorcerer
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
The Princess Bride
The Sword and the Sorcerer
Red Sonja
The Scorpion King
Kull the Conqueror


Games Unloved

Did you ever fork over your allowance for the month on a game you just knew you were never going to play and even as you were buying it, a little voice inside your head was asking why? For me, that game was Pendragon by Chaosium. Now, there is nothing wrong with the game. In fact, it is fairly well done, with an easy-to-learn mechanic and lots of useful material jammed into the core book. However, the simple fact is, I'm not a big fan of the whole King Arthur mythology. The only two depictions of King Arthur I really enjoyed were Clive Owen's and Monty Python's, neither of which could be described as true to Malory's Arthur. As kings go, I always preferred Conan or Aragorn. So alas, the years pass and Pendragon languishes unloved in my game collection. Once, I even bought a supplement dealing with the Pictish North in hopes of awakening some interest in the game, but to no avail. Maybe someday, my kids will dust it off and derive more enjoyment out of it than I ever did.


Sunday, April 26, 2009

My Most Memorable Characters - Vladicus

My second most memorable character was inspired by the Blue Oyster Cult song, Veterans of the Psychic Wars. When I first heard those lyrics, written by Michael Moorcock, I knew someday, I would play the protagonist of that song:

You see me now a veteran
Of a thousand psychic wars
I've been living on the edge so long
Where the winds of Limbo roar

Now, I'm sure the song is a metaphor for madness or drug addiction, or some other boring crap, but to me, it spoke of a millenium war on a thousand alien worlds where psionic supersoldiers battle for the future.

In the mid-90s, I was playing a GURPS Space campaign and I finally got my chance to build my psychic warrior. Vladicus (Vlad to his friends, of which, he had none) was an amoral soldier with frightening psychic abilities and an X-ray laser rifle for hire. Having seen far too many battles and too many comrades die, Vlad cared little for anything or anyone. He lived only for the thrill of the battle and the sweet release of death. That death finally came in spectacular fashion as he and his fellow mercs were escaping an enemy base they had just infiltrated to retrieve some data files which were important to some nameless benefactor, just like a hundred before him. This time, however, they ran into a combat robot with twin gatling laser cannons pointed right at them. Somebody had to keep the combot busy for a few seconds to cover everyone else's escape and that somebody probably wasn't going to make it out alive. Vlad, for some reason which to this day, no one knows, decided to be that somebody. Two volleys penetrated Vlad's powered armour and he was all but vapourized. In the end, the last verse of the song proved prophetic:

You see me now a veteran
Of a thousand psychic wars
My energy is spent at last
And my armour is destroyed
I have used up all my weapons
And I'm helpless and bereaved
Wounds are all I'm made of
Did I hear you say that this is victory?


Saturday, April 25, 2009

Deadliest Warrior on Spike

Samurai vs. Viking...Apache vs. Gladiator...Ninja vs. Spartan...Pirate vs. Knight...who hasn't fantasized about the greatest warriors in history going toe to toe in battle? Well, Spike TV has the show that answers these vital questions and I can't get enough of it. True, the comparisons are often ridiculous. After all, why would a stealthy assassin like the ninja ever face off in battle against a Spartan? It would make much more sense to strike the Spartan in his sleep. Still, the show is a treasure trove of information on weapons and fighting styles throughout history and some of the information is surprising. For example, in the Ninja vs. Spartan battle, I assumed the steel weapons of the Ninja would penetrate the bronze armour of the Spartan fairly easily. It was not the case, however. The blade of the kusarigama barely dented the bronze breastplate. As a DM, this is good information to know.

The show is a bit tongue-in-cheek, with combat experts specializing in each type of warrior culture talking smack at each other like it was sort of sporting event. It will be interesting to see how they handle some of the later episodes which deal with modern day combatants. Episode 9 is going to be IRA vs. Taliban. Considering the current conflict in Afghanistan, this one seems particularly touchy. Given that both groups tend to use bombs and attack civilians, I'm not sure that either group belongs among the ranks of history's deadliest warriors.


Friday, April 24, 2009

My Most Memorable Characters - Drimble

I have played literally hundreds of characters over the almost 30 years that I've been gaming. The vast majority of them are forgotten (and rightly so), but a handful stand out in my mind. In this new series of posts, I am going to take a walk down memory lane and pay homage to the best of the best.

No single character I have ever played has meant more to me than the dwarven fighter, Drimble of Blackstone. Starting as a humble 1st-level fighter in an ongoing AD&D campaign I played in the late '80s, Drimble would advance to become a major figure in the campaign world, long after I stopped playing him myself. Through all of Drimble's greatest exploits, he wielded mighty Kearac, one of two holy battleaxes of Clangeddin Silverbeard, the dwarven god of war. In one epic battle against a hive of horrid insectoids from an alien plane, Kearac was destroyed by the corrosive effects of their acidic ichor. However, the spirit of the mighty weapon was forever linked to Drimble and he was able to have it remade.

Although the campaign in which Drimble existed is now decades in the past and thousands of miles away, Drimble and Kearac live on in the retelling of tales when old gamers get together and wax nostalgic on past adventures.


Thursday, April 23, 2009

What do we play? - Obiri

Me? I tend to play a lots of things. I'm getting old and lazy so sports not so much anymore. Board games tend to take too long but I am big into RPGs in all shapes and forms. I've been hooked on all the major MMORPGs, I love strategy/war/rpg computer games, and still find some time to game now and then on the weekend. I'd play more but my wife gets a frowny face if I leave her home alone too much. At least I'm not out drinking and whoring, right?

My favorite is still D&D 3.x although I've played 2nd edition and the old red box basic edition. We play a bit of star wars and chtulutech and in the past I've played rpgs such as Paranoia, Gurps, Rifts (and pretty much all the Palladium games), and probably some others I can't think of right now.

What do we play? - Rognar

By way of an introduction (or re-introduction), I thought it would be insightful to inform our legions of fans what we like to do for fun. I will start and hopefully my comrades will jump in with their own views.

I am first and foremost, a tabletop rpger. I don't care for video games at all and I am absolutely terrible at most of them. Furthermore, I can't even understand what video gamers are saying most of the time, although I have learned what it means to be "pwned". My favourite tabletop rpgs are D&D (3.5 and earlier, as well as third party variants such as Pathfinder), Call of Cthulhu, Rifts, d20 Modern (along with d20 Future, d20 Apocalypse, etc.) and Star Wars (both d6 and Saga). I have played many other games, too numerous to list, but these are the ones I keep returning to.

Besides gaming, I like action movies, reading sci-fi, hockey and playing with my kids. I also enjoy an occasional tabletop wargame such as Starfleet Battles, Battletech or Axis & Allies Miniatures.


Welcome Obiri

I'd like to welcome a new contributor to this blog. I have known Obiri for several years now, although we lost contact for awhile, even though we lived in the same city. He's a hardcore gamer with an encyclopedic knowledge of computer stuff and history. He seems to favour arcane spellcasters and plays them very well.


Character Creation Theory

We often argue around the table about how good certain classes are and why some suck. The hottest arguments always seem to develop around the bard. So today I'm going to explain what makes for a good* character (in my opinion).

*By good I don't mean fun, I mean effective

1. Spells. Most classes that can cast spells are better then those that cannot. With the right selection of spells you can accomplish just about any task. Wizards are the best example. By 5th level +, wizards are walking swiss army knives that have the ability to solve just about any problem. Can they do it all? No, but if they can't fix a problem today they can usually come back tommorrow and fix it.

2. Specialization. A careful balance has to be achieved here. Over specialize and your character will have glaring weakness or won't be usefull 80% of the time. The biggest divide is combat vs non-combat. Ideally your character won't be completely useless in either scenario (especially combat which chews up the majority of game time). The trick is to pick something and make your character really good at it. Spells need high DCs to be effective and melee characters need a to be able to hit to do damage. Ideally an adventuring party are all really good at different things.

3. Synergy. I am a sorceror and my Cha is really high. Great! now look around for other things that play off your charisma. Pick up some talky skills, pick up feats that allow you to add your Cha bonus to saves. These things require some research can can have a huge payoff.

4. Flexibility. As I mentioned in Specialization, having one trick is good, having many is better. The game is designed to require a wide variety of solutions and if you can only do one thing you'll find yourself standing in the back twiddling your thumbs often.

Now I admit playing a wizard all of the times gets a little boring and sometimes its fun to slum it with "lesser classes" but some of the same rules still apply. If you are going to do something you might as well do it well. If you want to be an archer, don't pick a bard (ranger, fighter, and yes even cleric are all better choices). If you want to be a blaster don't pick a warmage. Sure they can blast alright but a sorceror can do it almost as well and still has a massive spell list letting them teleport around, scry, conjure monsters, etc. Warmages are over specialized with no flexibility. Bards are the opposite. They can a little bit of everything but don't do anything particularly well. They are good buffers but if all you want to do is hide in the back and sing then why bother playing? Other classes can buff just as well and still be very good at other things.

I'm sure lots of people won't fully agree with this post and I welcome any comments.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

So, what's on your iPod?

This seems to be the new "If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?" question that Gen Y media types like to ask in interviews. In my case, it's a trick question, because I don't have an iPod. So, instead, I will list my favourite soundtracks and bands to play while gaming.

Rammstein - Deep, grumbling German vocals overlain on a fusion of heavy metal and industrial music is the ideal background for any combat-heavy fantasy or sci-fi rpg. Herzeleid and Sehnsucht are definitely the best choices.

Metallica - What more needs to be said about Metallica? Black Sabbath may have brought metal to the world, but Metallica is the ultimate expression of the genre. From a gamers perspective, probably Master of Puppets and ...And Justice For All are the best choices although there are certainly tracks from pretty much every Metallica release that make great gaming music.

Conan the Barbarian Soundtrack, Basil Poledouris - Star Wars notwithstanding, the soundtrack from Conan the Barbarian just might be the greatest movie soundtrack of all time, from a gamer's perspective. There is a track for everything from epic battle to relaxing at your favourite tavern and dividing up the loot. It feels more high fantasy than sci-fi, but that's a good thing as the fantasy genre doesn't seem as well supplied with good music.

Loreena McKinnett - A little known Canadian songstress and harpist, Loreena McKinnett plays a style of music I can only describe as Elvish. Her music reflects strong Celtic influences, but also incorporates Middle Eastern and Mediterranean components to give it an almost otherwordly sound, perfect for a fey-dominant campaign.


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The latest purchase from my FLGS, pt.1

The Collected Book of Experimental Might - Monte Cook (Malhavoc Press)

Basically a compilation of house rules for Monte Cook's D&D campaign, the CBoXM represents a significant revision of D&D ed.3.5 which is remarkably compatible with original game. The number of changes packed into the slim hardcover is impressive and I will not enumerate all of them here, but I will discuss the big ones.

Probably the biggest change involves feats. Every class gets a feat at every level, so needless to say, the number of available feats has been expanded dramatically. Fighters still get bonus feats and they also get sole access to two classes of extra powerful feats called Double Feats and Uberfeats. The former requires spending two feat slots, which can't be saved up from previous levels. Since only fighters get bonus feats in the CBoXM, they are ones that get two feat slots in the same level. Uberfeats are super powerful feats which are only available to high level fighters. To qualify, the character is required to retire a selection of previous feats.

Another major change is that the spell lists have been expanded to 20 levels, so that the highest spell level available to a spellcaster is equal to his caster level. Spellcasters also get disciplines, which replace class features and act more like spell-like abilities. All the class features of spellcasters, such as Turn Undead or Wild Shape have now been redone as disciplines. The core abilities associated with each discipline can be improved by spending feat slots to buy upgrades. For example, Turn Undead, which now allows a saving throw and only affects a single undead at a time, can be upgraded in terms of range, damage, save DC and types of monsters that can be affected. Rangers and Paladins, which no longer have spellcasting ability, also have access to a limited number of disciplines.

There are other rule changes related to spell effects such as polymorph and resurrection, fighter domains which resemble schools or styles of combat and the introduction of a new base class called the Runeblade. All the changes and additions make a very coherent and workable package, although the Runeblade seems like a bit of an add-on.


Monday, April 20, 2009

I'm Back!

Yes, I've been away for a long time. Since my last post on this blog, I added a couple of younglings to the family. Sammy (aka The Destroyer) is now almost 3 years old, while Abby (aka The Puppetmaster) is 4 months. The elder spawn has begun to display an unhealthy attraction to polygonal dice, song and dance and talking cartoon animals, while the younger prefers to quietly sit, chew and plot. I watch them constantly for any sign of treachery.