Alignment. Do We Really Need It?

For years I played in games where the system required you to stick rigidly to a set of morals/guidelines determined by the alignment you chose to play. Unless someone was going a paladin of some sorts almost everyone in my groups started out as either neutral good or neutral evil in out AD&D games. Both of them fitted almost any character we would chose to play and could cover almost any action they might do as long as you stayed away from the extremes. In all those years I have also never found a decent mechanism within D&D to play alignment changes although Dragonlance came close but that was very specific to the setting.


The Rocketeer @ Flickr

In later years we moved on to Vampire:TM where your actions had an impact on your humanity stat. This was the closest we ever came to a system that mirrored real life in that you could in theory do anything you wanted to but for every bad action you had a chance that you would start to spiral down into the abyss and lose touch with everything that made you human. Again though this was very black and white.

I guess what I’m getting at is why should we be relying on mechanics to mimic something that is so complex in real life that very few folk understand it fully anyway. Without being a psychologist do we need the system dumbed down that much that we revert to using lists of sins to judge how far we’ve moved from our original alignment? Why can’t it be roleplayed out? If a player chooses to make that jump it’s going to have a different affect on them than on another player and it should be worked through with the GM. That’s all you need. The repercussions of an evil/good act can range from simple self loathing to something far worse but it should be specific to that that character and not drawn from a table ina rulebook.

These are just a few quick thoughts that I might expand on later once I get back into the swing of things. Hopefully November will be a busy month here at The Dice Bag.

This post was brought to you by the letters N and E and the RPGBN carnival which this month is being hosted by Seamus over at Games of State on the topic of Morality: In-Game and Real Life.

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Cantrip

Back in the days of AD&D 2e they dealt with cantrips in a completely different way from all of the other editions. I loved it but it took a long while to work out just how powerful a spell it was.

wand
photo by jenasa@flickr

The spell Cantrip was a 1st level spell that allowed you to do almost anything as long as it was small and didn’t cause any damage to anything and anything created only lasted something like an hour. On the face of it you might think it was useless for anything other than a full on roleplay session. You couldn’t be further from the truth however.

Before we realised just how useful this spell was our mages tooled up with blatant offensive or defensive spells and that was it. Occasionally they would get their books out when they had to research some magic items for the group but usually it was ‘how many fireballs and hastes are we going to need today?’

Then one day one of our clerics died and the player decided completely against character to bring in a mage. His daily allowance of 1st level spells were always completely taken up by cantrips. It took us around an hour to work out what he was up to.

In our first encounter upon entering a hamlet was a crowd of young kids. We had asked for directions from everyone passing by but as we were armed to the back teeth and strangers to boot noone would talk to us. Our new mage wandered over to the gang of street kids and got talking to them. He ended up casting cantrips to allow him to perform a brilliant card trick and then finished it off with some mini-fireworks from his wand. The kids loved it and after a few moments we were on our way armed with the information we needed.

Now you might think that is exactly what cantrip was for but it gets better.

We arrived at the tavern we were looking for in order to track down a certain rogue that could help us fence some stolen art work. He didn’t want to deal with us and decided to hit our remaining cleric out of the way and make a run for it. One cantrip later and just as the NPC goes to barge through the cleric the holy symbol around his neck shines like it had caught the sun at high noon. Blinded by this the NPC stumbled and was easily caught by the hands of the warriors.

From that moment on I loved that spell. From pretending to burn treasure maps to get other interested parties off of our tails to magically tying the shoelaces of the guards together to aid in our escape. Every single thing the spell done was minor but it had a huge impact on the game and on our party.

I really wish they had kept the spell like that rather than find ways to limit it. I understand why they did that but it’s nowhere near as much fun now.

This months Blog Carnival is hosted by 6d6 Fireball on the topic of D&D. He has picked out 4 specific topics to write about so head on over and see what he has to say.

You can check the archives here

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March RPG Bloggers Carnival Roundup!

And so the good Rev Mike seems to have disappeared off of the face of the Earth these last few months which is a shame. It has also meant that we have been without a roundup for that months carnival and so without further ado I present to you the March roundup on Mike’s behalf.

During March he hosted the RPG Bloggers Network’s carnival which was on the topic of war. Obviously we discussed what was it good for but as you can see from the list below many of you did more than just that.

My personal favourites this time around are Greywulf’s Megadungeon Wars which sound like a blast. I’ve no idea why but it reminds me of a subterranean version of Bloodbowl that I recall White Dwarf publishing back in the mists of time and Mike Bourke’s work over at Campaign Mastery

Yet again it was a busy month but have a good read of as many as you can as each one is worth it’s weight in gold.

An Undisciplined Oaf Quartet
Keeping it Together: How To Keep War Compelling – The Basics

Critical Hits
War in Low Level Campaigns

A Butterfly Dreaming
War and How to Wage It
War Week: A Harvest of Men
A Harvest of Men II
A Harvest of Men III

Questing GM
Races at War – Dragonborn
Races at War – Dwarf
Races at War – Eladrin
Races at War – Elf
Races at War – Halfling

The Gamer Traveller
The Roads of War – Rome, Italy

Exchange of Realities
Why Must War Be Inevitable
The Supporters of War
Ten War Options for a Non-Warlike Character, Part 1
Ten War Options for a Non-Warlike Character, Part 2
The Six Year Old Child Principle of War and International Relations

Greywulf’s Lair
Megadungeon War

RPG Blog II
Guide To War By Levels

Dungeon’s Master
The Spoils of War

6d6Fireball
5 Adventure Hooks for Time of War

Alea Lacta Est
The Origin of United We Stand
Cultivation of War

Fame & Fortune
Orc Gate
Upon a Red Horse and Bearing a Sword

Save vs Pointy Stick
Social Intrigue part II – Inciting And Stopping Wars

Vulcan Steve’s Database
War! Is it really game-able in an RPG?

Compromise and Conceit
Chosen
Infernal Weapons of War

Ten Letter
The God of War

Stargazer’s World
Wars in Your Fantasy Campaign

The Dice Bag
Keeping it Irregular

Cogito, ergo ludo
War is Boring

Campaign Mastery
This Mean War – Part 1
This Mean War – Part 2
This Mean War – Part 3
This Mean War – Part 4
This Mean War – Part 5
This Mean War – Part 6

Next months carnival will beheld by A Butterfly Dreaming on the topic of Humour and Gami… oh wait that was the follow up to this carnival. The carnival for June is actually being held at Mad Brew Labs with the topic of Steampunk and Klokwerks.

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Ever See A Gnome Try and Melt Your Face Off?

I’ve never seen the appeal. Well that’s not quite true. Back in my youth I loved to play Chaos Engine on my Commodore Amiga. I liked the premise for the game but could never get my head around it’s inclusion in a setting or as a setting in itself.

This months RPGBN Blogging Carnival is all about Steampunk and hows and whys of fitting it into your game. And do you know something? It’s actually made me remember enjoying a steampunk element in the games I used to play and until now I don’t think I would ever have realised that was what it was.

In my early days of roleplaying the one setting we constantly went back to was Dragonlance. I’ve still got the hardback 1st Ed AD&D version of the setting with my handwritten corrections and house rules for use with the 2nd Edition core books. It’s the one setting I always look upon as being the root of every high fantasy setting out there. Some people reach for Greyhawk for that award but as I have never actually read a Greyhawk book never mind played a Greyhawk game I’ll stick with Dragonlance.

Now where does the Steampunk side of things come in you might ask? Well for some it’s obvious but for those that don’t get it try thinking of the Tinker Gnomes. Born with the desire in life to build, improve and design whatever comes into their little minds. They invented the catapult as a method of speedy travel long before someone else retasked them as a weapon of mass destruction. The inventing and building side of things is quite generic but they way our GM would describe the Gnomes and their home on Sancrist always struck a chord with me. It’s possibly the same reason why gnomes in World of Warcraft have never appealed. They’ve taken what I liked about the Dragonlance Gnomes and whilst griming them up they’ve just turned them into cartoon mechanics.

In the novels they were always described as being very similar to Leonard da Quirm from the Discworld novels but on various kinds of narcotics be that cocaine or LSD. They were effectively Gully Dwarves with supercharged inventive brain. Where my resident GM took them though was to the edges of known science. There was nothing comical about them what so ever. You basically had a group of people that were that driven in their quest that they forgot to eat and sleep for days on end. The contraptions they built were very similar to the steampunk designs you see in genre specific games but they were always tempered with the Dragonlance setting. You almost never found guns of any kind and although the gnomes were building Babbage-like counting machines they were never reliable enough to provide them with any real advantage over the other races. It was all very steampunk though and it worked perfectly in the setting.

We did find it a little strange however when during one encounter we came across a Tinker Gnome that was more than a little blood thirsty. They just wanted to invent things and improve things but our GM had decided to make one go slightly mad and had him purposely create a weapon. Our players kept meeting up with him as he perfected his new weapon over the years and every time there was some sort of improvement or tinkering done to it. It wasn’t so much the invention either but the gnomes dark personality that got me. How many traditional gnomes do you know that want cause people pain and find better ways of doing it?

When they first met the gnome was carrying a metal bucket on his back with a small fire underneath it which he used to throw boiling water on his enemies. It was not very user friendly and having to reach behind and grab the bucket whenever you wanted to throw the water meant he was covered in burns and always ended up getting really annoyed because his one shot weapon missed and needed refilling and heating before it could be used again. This then turned into a larger bucket and a heat proof hose to fire the water. In its final incarnation it was a huge barrel of water sitting on an exoskeleton with a hose and wand attached that fired out compressed steam for several meters in front of the Gnome. Not only could this burn his enemies at a distance further than he could throw the bucket but he could also use the wand as a cutting torch or even as a lightsaber. The drawback with this version was that the barrel was that heavy and the exoskeleton that slow that he could never hit anything he was fighting unless it happened to be a brick wall.

It’s these sort of adaptations that make me want to try and squeeze a bit of steampunk into my games but I’m always afraid I’ll go to far and ruin the setting. Maybe Dragonlance’s idea of just enough to make it different but that ineffectual that it makes no difference is the way to go?

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Suffering For His Art

Apart from the occasional Discworld game I think most of our games have always been based on epic fantasy/scifi stories and so nine times out of ten humour would have been really out of place in game.

One game really stands out however.

Caution Tape
Picture Perfect Pose on Flickr

I would never call our World of Darkness games dark gothic horror or whatever the classic WoD games are usually described as. They are dark and they can be horrific but in all honesty they are usually on par with the Blade trilogy of films. We had however just gone through a couple of sessions where we had been going up against a Sabbat pack and in all honesty the game was starting to turn me off WoD. I’m not a gore and horror fan. Unfortunately a few of our players met their final death in this last session and so were due to bring in new characters for the next session.

This is where it gets a little weird. One of our D&D GM’s had been playing a bad ass Ventrue who had been wasted and decided it was time to lighten the game up a little. We never did find out just what clan his new character was from…

Picture the scene. It’s a Saturday night and I’ve just pulled a 12 hour shift in the supermarket stacking the shelves with beer, wines and spirits. A few of my friends had been in the pub beforehand and the game was due to start at 10pm sharp. With my shift ending just as the game was due to start I jumped in a taxi with a few cans of beer and arrived not long after the start time. I walked into the living room expecting to see everyone worked up and ready to play and instead everyone was sitting in deathly silence staring at the fireplace. It was at this point our friendly D&D GM walked into the room from the kitchen with our WoD Storyteller in toe.

Now before I go any further you should probably have your mental image of the aforementioned GM. Think of a guy around about six foot four inches tall that is overweight and has a beer gut. In fact think of the Tron guy and stick a creepy unshaven face onto him. That is roughly our man. Now dress him in a gold lamay dress, a blonde curly wig and makeup. Think of the worst transvestite you’ve ever seen and you might come close.

This guy sauntered into the room as if nothing was up, sat down and proceeded to get his gaming materials out of his handbag. He played the entire game dressed like that and no one said a word about it. It didn’t take long to work out why he was dressed like that once we found out what his character was like. We never did find out if he was a Malkavian or a Toreador but either way he suffered for his art.

It was certainly a break from the gore of the weeks before but I think it provided it’s own horror’s for us to work through.

A Butterfly Dreaming is hosting this months RPG Bloggers Carnival. Although you might not pick it up from my entry it’s topic for this month is actually Humour!

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Black Stuff – D&D 4th Edition

Let me introduce the Gelatinous Cube’s Irish cousin

Guinness

Black Stuff – Level 7 Elite Brute

Large natural beast (blind, ooze) XP 500
Initiative +4 Senses Perception +3; tremorsense 5
HP 170; Bloodied 85
AC 18; Fortitude 19, Reflex 11, Will 11
Immune gaze; Resist 10 acid
Saving Throws +2
Speed 2; see also engulf
Action Points 1
Slam (standard; at-will)
+10 vs. Fortitude; 1d6 + 4 damage, and the target is immobilized
(save ends).
Engulf (standard; at-will) ✦ Alcohol
The black stuff attacks one or two Medium or smaller targets; +10 vs. Reflex (automatically hits an immobilized creature). On a hit, the target is grabbed and pulled into the stuff’s space; the target is dazed and takes ongoing 6 damage until it escapes the grab. A creature that escapes the grab shifts to a square of its choosing adjacent to the cube but is intoxicated for a number of hours equal to the number of rounds they remained within the stuff. The black stuff can move normally while creatures are engulfed within it.
Foam Head
Due to the creamy foam found on top many adventurers walking through a dark dungeon do not see the black body hanging below.(Perception DC 25) or until it attacks. Creatures that fail to notice the black stuff might walk into it, automatically becoming engulfed.
Alignment Unaligned Languages
Skills Stealth +5
Str 16 (+4) Dex 12 (+4) Wis 11 (+3)
Con 17 (+5) Int 1 (–3) Cha 1 (–3)

Black Stuff Tactics
Black Stuff tend to stand in corners gentle swaying but when they move they never go in a straight line. Staggering one way and then another with no real direction is it’s general mode of travel so it is very hard to predict it’s movements.

St Patrick's Day RPG Carnival

St Patrick’s Day RPG Carnival
The Game Traveller is hosting a day long blogging Carnival for St Patrick’s Day. Anything Irish and RPG related is game so get along and get your own entry posted.

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Keeping It Irregular

Wars have always been a major bug bear for me in roleplaying. Wars happen to change things but unless you can involve the players in some way, shape and form then it usually all feels very forced. The players feel like no matter what they do they don’t get to influence the outcome and the whole point of feeling like a hero who slays the evil mage to save the kingdom becomes null and void.

I’ve played campaigns in the past where there has been a war going on and whether the players took part in it or not the outcome was going to happen. It followed my general rule of storytelling in that the world goes on without you so unless you grab it by the horns I’m not about to put the world at your feet. If your going to be a hero you need to want to be one first.

13th Warrior Antonio Banderas

But I digress. The point of this entry is that in order to keep your players playing their ordinary game when the entire world around them is in uproar you need to find a niche they can fill. From experience a handy group of adventurers can always find work with an army but unless you are specifically running a military game they should never end up in the rank and file troops. To much discipline, a high chance of them being separated most of the time and not being able to make many decisions for themselves do not lead to a very happy player.

So where does that work come in then? Every army you come across are going to have irregular troops. Whether that’s a group of scouts or just general rag tag villagers that are given some weapons and told who to hit the chances are there will be something for everyone.

A prime example for this working comes from one of the most cliched games I’ve ever had the pleasure to play in. An ambitious ruler from a neighbouring kingdom decided to invade the land the players called home. They had plenty of chances to run from upcoming war and most of the players actually tried to get the group to do just that and return once the victor had been decided. Thankfully however one of the warriors in the group owed the king a huge debt and decided that if he could pull off a defence of some kind that it would be paid off with interest. The town they were based out of was between the capitol and the incoming army but they wouldn’t be hit head on so they set about training up the local populace.The set up a local defence force as well as a small ‘gorilla’ force to harrass and slow down the troops heading towards the capitol. There were never any thoughts of ‘we might be able to win’ but the general idea was that if we could survive long enough and cause enough nusenace then we might buy the King some time.

As the approaching army took shape it turned out that the left flank would be winging its way through the area. The warrior took a bunch of the best woodsmen out and started to harrass the wagon train and thanks to thier actions it bought the town enough time to erect some form of defence and evacuate anyone that needent be there. Eventualy the town fell but most of the locals escaped safely into the forest and they brought the invading army almost to a standstill as they went from marching right passed the towns and villages to having to secure each one incase there was more violence and sabotage on the fragile wagon train. With this added time the King managed to bring in allies and the invasion was crushed but it was with the help of our adventurers that it happened.

So what does this teach us? Even allowing the players to have what accounts to a small encounter compared to a full scale war was enough to have a massive effect on the war and it’s outcome. The combat ran during these sessions was actually very limited but the ramifications of the small victories was enough to have a major impact on outcome of the war. And it gave the players something to talk about for many years to come.

This post was brought to you by the letter ‘W’ and by this months RPG Bloggers Carnival which is this month hosted by Reverend Mike over at The Book Of Rev.

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For the Emperor!

I have a painful confession to make. I used to be a wargamer. I’ve done it all in my time from fantasy to Napoleonic to sci-fi. I’ve been clean for 3 years now and with with the power of the Great Old Ones I hope for many more. I was recently tempted back to the game by an old acquaintance but managed to deny my urges.

Space Marine

It did bring back some memories that I could really have used for the blogging carnival on Homebrew. Back in my school days we spent the weekends roleplaying with the spaces between campaigns playing either Warhammer Fantasy or Warhammer 40k. We never had much in the way of armies but we were enthusiastic and enjoyed the settings that much that even although we had the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay books we created a stripped down version of 40k with a few of the WFR skill rules thrown in and ran it as a roleplay system for around 3 years.

It was by no means a good system. In fact other than the combat system nicked straight from Rogue Trader everything else was fluff. The skills you had basically covered whether you could use the equipment you owned and nothing else. You never rolled against the skills and everything was determined by your stats which on occasion and the GM wanted to include an element of chance you might roll against but again it was a rarity outside of combat.

Thinking back at our games I cannot believe how far from the 40k setting we ended up. You have to remember that this was all years before Dark Heresy or any of the smaller hive world style games GW brought out. All we had to go on was the monthly White Dwarf magazines and the W40k rule book and compendium. We had no idea what kind of worlds were out there and apart from the mention of hive worlds we had no real idea what one of them was. We had our characters play Space Marines that would wander about a planet for a while before striding off on their own private titan and then taking off in the spaceship of the parties Harlequin Solitaire. We didn’t have a clue but we loved it. I think you could possibly put it into the branch of rpg games described as minimalistic in that we didn’t even have anything other than the combat rules written down we just didn’t need them.

Ah the memories.

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Collaboration

So this months Blog Carnival is about gaming goals and resolutions. Uncle Bear is hosting this month and even if your getting a little tired of resolution posts you should check out the rest of his site and I can get lost in there! Everyone seems to have had the same idea of posting up a top three/five list of what they aim to achieve so I’m going to try and be a little different.

I got into this blogging game because a: I like writing and b: I like gaming. I never thought for a second when the idea first popped into my head that I’d end up as part of the RPG Bloggers Network or that I’d meet so many like minded people. Were I to live in the USA I’d make a point of attending one of the larger Cons in an attempt to meet these aforementioned folk but life is not that easy. I’ll just stick to berating them on Twitter or finding some way to trek across the city and throw fruit at Games of State’s windows.

Blue Man Group

So how does this post fit into the carnival this month? Well I think 2009 is going to be a year of collaboration. Someone pointed me in the direction of a blog post last night that hit a chord. With the worldwide recession hitting us there are no startups really making it big with big money backers but there are plenty of people with shared interests getting together, watching each others backs and getting things done. The The RPG Bloggers Network is one example and the CMF Advertising Network is another. A group of people with the same idea working towards the same goal and it’s working. Look at how well the RPG Bloggers Network has been received and how quickly it’s grown. I see great things coming from those guys in 2009.

Over on the RPG Bloggers Network Google Group (We really need to come up with a quick and snazzy acronym for that) an idea has been floated about a network wide collaboration. The aim of which will end up with a campaign setting for anyone to use. The specifics are still being discussed between those interested and those that floated the original idea but I think it’s going to be huge. Not only do we get to give to the community with our every post and the network provides us with many readers but we will all be able to contribute to something that we can give back to the readers. I can’t wait to get stuck into that project.

Even if this does not go ahead I’m hoping to bring in another writer or two to give my own campaign settings a good kick and get them finished and written up.

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Just A Player

So this months blog carnival is about transitions and transformation and within seconds of putting my thinking cap on I realised I’d already started writing a post that would fit in perfectly with this subject.

They say our tame GM eats dice for breakfast and that he built his home from worn out copies of the 2nd Edition Dungeon Masters Guide. But how did he get there?

I don’t really know how I got here but I seem to be the groups gamemaster for most of our campaigns. In recent years both Mark and Willie have taken their turn and ran great campaigns but most of the time it’s me that will be sitting with the rulebooks in front of me telling the story.
When i first started out playing we had a couple of players and our GM was a friend’s cousin who would run games for us when he was visiting from London. It meant we could only ever play short campaigns maybe twice a year but because of this we savoured every moment of it. That was until one day my childhood friend Joe was given a copy of the Basic Dungeons and Dragons rules. He sat up all night reading over them until he knew them off by heart and then we sat up all the next night so we could get used to the rules. As players we were used to using the Rolemaster rules even if we didn’t understand them that well at that point so something this basic was actually a huge leap forward for us. We actually understood how the game worked for a start.

For the first year my friend was the GM. It was a no brainer. The rulebooks were his so it was his game. After a while though he soon grew tired of being the one to make up the story and wanted to play a character again. We all still wanted to be a player rather than the GM so we drew straws and I lucked out and so it would be another year before I ran my first campaign. It was not long after this that we purchased our own copy of Rolemaster. I say purchased but I’m sure a few of the Companions were pilfered from the local second hand book store. One of the group insisted that if you bought a boxed set they never checked inside so they filled the main boxed set with as many Companions as they could. I could never prove it though. Anyway we soon got to the stage where we were just lining up encounters and throwing the dice rather than actually roleplaying and I go bored very quickly.

I was never one for writing stories in English class. In fact I’d usually struggle to write a 500 word short story while I was at school and my written English skills haven’t really increased over the years if I’m being perfectly honest. With this in mind you can understand that running my own games didn’t come naturally to me. I could devour a rulebook in an evening and be able to quote back to you complex combat ‘what if’s’ or spell descriptions of even the less well known spell lists but if you were to ask me to write down what I planned for a game session I’d struggle. I still do to an extent but over time I manage it. I’m perfectly happy with an idea in my head but when it comes time to formalise it for a campaign I have real trouble.

From all this came my GMing style. I improvise. I push and pull stories until they match in game and I steal ideas from everywhere. I’ll have scribbled down a bullet point list of whats going to happen or how things are laid out but that’s it. Everything else stays in my head until it’s needed. It’s better for everyone that way.

The change over from player to GM was a very smooth process for me. I’m not sure if it’s like that with everyone but once the initial worries were shoved out of the way I gradually grew to enjoy it far more than just being a player. When your part of a group of characters you can easily get stuck concentrating entirely on your character and forgetting about the players and characters around you. It’s only natural that you’ll spend more time on that one ‘person’ than on anything else and its like a child or a favourite pet. You nurture and grow them from being a few scribbles on a bit of paper to a well rounded character than is far more than just the sum of its stats and skills. As a GM however you get that exact same feeling when you look out at your party as each and every single one of them grows and your world carries on it’s day to day routine as well as growing in the same manner as the characters. That feeling of success you get after running a successful game that has everyone talking about it can never be beaten by that you might get from just taking part in it as a player.

That’s why I can never go back to being just a player. No matter how hard I find it to succesfully GM.

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