August 12, 2015

Lights, Camera, Roll for Initiative

I confess that I haven’t seen any of the previous D&D movies (because I have way too many other things I need to watch that don’t apparently suck). But on the subject of the current hysteria regarding a new film and the possibility that said film will/won’t suck, and how to make sure it does/doesn’t, I have what I suspect is a minority view.

I don’t think there should be a D&D/Forgotten Realms movie. Like, not now, not ever, not under any circumstances. Because no matter what approach is taken to a film, no matter how objectively good it might actually turn out to be, D&D is such a vast creative phenomenon that it’s impossible for a work as brief as a feature film to even begin to capture what the game means to those who know it, and to overcome the sense of “Why should I watch a movie about this nerd game?” on the part of those who don’t know it.

Instead, there should be a D&D/Forgotten Realms cable TV series. An ongoing, slow-building, visually and viscerally compelling narrative that can take advantage of the episodic nature of that medium. Because only a medium that has the space to fully explore a world and the sense of imagination at the heart of that world is going to allow the breadth of storytelling that can do justice to the lore of the Realms, and to the sense of what the game is and what it means to the people who play it.

(Archive post from the personal blog.)

January 30, 2015

D&D 30 Day Challenge — Day 30

Best DM You’ve Ever Had

At the end of a month of thinking about D&D stuff, and with all the nostalgic reflection that inspires, I’m going to bestow this most prestigious honor on my good friend Kevin. (’Sup, man?) Kevin was the very first DM who ever ran me through a D&D session (as has been recounted here previously and was linked to on Day 1), so on some level, he can be held responsible for how much of my life has been gloriously wasted on this stuff the past thirty-odd years. But even more that, Kev was a DM I always looked up to back in the day, because playing in his games showed me how to be a better DM.

I remember Kevin for the epic scope of his campaigns. (You ever wanted to play a D&D campaign set on Larry Niven’s Ringworld? You ever wanted to play a kick-ass heroic adaptation of Lord of the Rings? We did BOTH AT THE SAME TIME!!!!) I remember the almost perfect amount of detail that went into his games — enough to make a scenario and its setting and characters feel real, but never so much that it felt like an alt-history lesson. I remember his ability to extemporize encounters out of thin air, often with no actual game materials in front of him. I remember with great envy Kev’s ability to keep a campaign moving by adroit improvisation, deftly talking his way out of the most insanely random shit that his unappreciative players (including me) could throw at him.

All the things Kev did (and made look easy, to my eyes at least) comprised skills it took me a long time to master as a DM. And though a number of different DMs (including me) have been behind some of the anecdotes relayed here over the past month, Kev’s games are ones that I still look back on most often. Not just with nostalgia, but for inspiration. I suspect that if DMing has any ultimate goals beyond the entertainment value, the world building, and the sense of satisfaction that comes with helping other people have a good time, being able to inspire players thirty years after the fact is probably high up on the list.

(Archive post from the personal blog.)

January 29, 2015

D&D 30 Day Challenge — Day 29

What is the number you always seem to roll on a d20?

No specific single number shows up more often than any other to my mind and recollection, but there’s a specific range of numbers I roll way too consistently on a d20: Under 10. As a DM, I can (and often do) go through the first ten minutes of combat — making attacks, defense rolls, and saves for a half-dozen monsters — and never roll higher than 9. Not just “rolling badly”, but seriously never rolling anything in double digits. I’m a statistical wonder that way, as my players will attest.

(Archive post from the personal blog.)

January 28, 2015

D&D 30 Day Challenge — Day 28

A Character You Will Never Play Ever Again

Multiclass spellcaster, at least using the D&D 3.x/Pathfinder rules. (5e does multiclass spellcasting quite a bit differently, and though I haven’t had an excuse to experiment with it yet, I suspect it’ll play better than the older systems.) One of my current PCs is a multiclass cleric/sorcerer, and he’s in a great campaign, and I like the character a lot. But when combat rolls around, playing a multiclass caster becomes exactly the same as playing two characters who are slightly lower level than everyone else in the party, and who can only act on alternate turns.

(Archive post from the personal blog.)

January 27, 2015

D&D 30 Day Challenge — Day 27

A Character You Want to Play in the Future

An archer. I haven’t played a straight-up archer in a long time, but I’m DMing two campaigns right now featuring awesome bowslingers (both of whom are actually using the same magic bow; the campaigns are set about twenty-five years apart), and am playing in a campaign alongside an elven ranger who does about a thousand points of longbow damage per round. As such, I'm getting increasingly antsy to break out a (virtual) bow again someday.

I’ve always loved the whole Robin-Hood/Green-Arrow-Longbow-Hunters archetype of distant, moody characters despairing about injustice and the people lost from their lives while they fight for freedom and the common folk — but always from about three hundred feet away where they never take any damage.

(Archive post from the personal blog.)

January 26, 2015

D&D 30 Day Challenge — Day 26

Favorite Nonmagic Item

10-foot pole. No other answers will be accepted.

(Archive post from the personal blog.)

January 25, 2015

D&D 30 Day Challenge — Day 25

Favorite Magic Item

The Machine of Lum the Mad.

(In my own campaign world, this ancient and dangerous artifact has been hidden and rendered largely dormant in a coffee bar — “Joe’s Mud-Puddle Cafe” — in the city of Mooncastle, where it now functions as the espresso machine of Lum the Mad. True story.)

If we’re not counting artifacts, bag of holding, because every edition of the game has specified what happens if you accidentally tear one, but doesn’t specify how tearable it actually is. Plus, even the smallest bag of holding can be filled with 250 pints of oil (that’s by the weight limit; its volume limit is staggeringly higher, but oil is heavy). Dump that out from a height and follow it with a lit torch, then spend hours arguing with the DM over whether it does or doesn’t do 250d6 of fire damage.

(Archive post from the personal blog.)

January 24, 2015

D&D 30 Day Challenge — Day 24

Favorite Energy Type

I like sonic damage from D&D 3e, because no one ever bothers thinking about sonic damage when they’re buffing up with 30 points per round of resist fire, lighting, acid, and cold.

Plus, in games with sonic damage, it’s easier to make fun of bards. And I live to make fun of bards.

(Archive post from the personal blog.)

January 23, 2015

D&D 30 Day Challenge — Day 23

Least Favorite Monster Overall

Devils and demons. It’s not that I don’t like them; it’s just that they don’t make any sense.

There are lots of cool fiends in the game, with pedigrees going all the way back to the AD&D Monster Manual and the earliest days of Dragon magazine. Their mechanics are pretty much always cool. Their design is memorable, their art is always iconic. But where devils and demons break down for me is in the standard backstory of how these extraplanar fiends crave souls and long to destroy the mortal world in order to consume the living — and then somehow just don’t ever seem to get around to doing that.

I’m not a biologist or anything, but I’m at least passingly familiar with the notion that apex predators have lesser populations than the prey they feed upon, and that the number of apex predators is always limited by available prey. Monsters like dragons are typically always rare in an average campaign, because they implicitly obey the laws of predator selection, so that it’s easy to say within the context of a game world, “There are relatively few dragons because of competition between them for prey and territory.” And it’s easy to understand that this is a good thing, because if the numbers of dragons — or beholders or owlbears or behirs or what have you — suddenly doubled or tripled, it would spell disaster as they ate their way through existing natural food stocks, then eventually overwhelmed the humanoid world.

The thing with devils and demons is that they have no such limits on their population. And they have a mission statement that specifically involves overwhelming the humanoid world. And so they’re always, like, “We long to destroy you all!”, and I’m always, like, “Fine; what’s stopping you?” And then they’re, like, “Oh, well, today’s pretty full up. Lot of stuff going on. Blood War and such, you know. So out of the tens of millions of ravening, bloodthirsty, damage-and-magic-resistant shock troops at our disposal, we’ll just send in a half-dozen or so to give this particular group of heroes a bad time. Take that! Nyahh!”

Imagine an imaginary D&D campaign (I know that’s doubly redundant; just work with me) in which I get to play all the devils and demons in the Nine Hells and the Abyss, and you get to play all the people, creatures, and heroes in Greyhawk, or Faerûn, or wherever. I win that campaign every time. In, like, fifteen minutes. So it’s not that I don’t like playing with devils and demons; I just don’t like that unless a DM takes specific measures to limit their numbers and explain why their presence in the world is even more limited (as I do in my own campaign), every devil and demon encounter comes with an obligatory suspension of disbelief that goes over and above the normal levels of suspension of disbelief that are part of the game.

(Archive post from the personal blog.)

January 22, 2015

D&D 30 Day Challenge — Day 22

Favorite Monster Overall

I’m tempted to say the 5e flumph, because the 5e flumph is really cool. When the Monster Manual finally got announced and I was free to talk in generic non-NDA-breaking terms about the work I’d done editing it, the thing I found myself saying most often was, “The flumph is going to blow your mind because it’s now really cool!”, and people were all, like, “Whaaah???”, and I was all, like, “Uh huh!”


I’m going to go for the obvious and say mind flayer. Because even though many monsters have risen to the heights of awesomeness in one edition of D&D or another, the illithids are the only monster I can think of to have hit that mark in every single edition. Right from their starting point in AD&D, mind flayers have exemplified a kind of evil that breaks the alignment system. They were the early epitome of the thinking monster — not just a deadly threat in the dungeon, but hatching plots and plans that could connect adventures and fuel a lifetime’s worth of campaigns.

As a player and DM, I’ve seen plenty of characters who weren’t afraid to die. I’ve played characters who could stand up to dragons. I’ve played alongside and DMed for characters willing to throw themselves into fights against demigods and titans without hesitation. But everybody who knows what a mind flayer is knows to be afraid of mind flayers, and I like that a lot.

(Pro tip: When the mind flayers first appear, playing the music from the Prometheus trailer can really help set the mood. You’re welcome.)

(Archive post from the personal blog.)

January 21, 2015

D&D 30 Day Challenge — Day 21

Favorite Dragon Color/Type

Of all the dragons, the ancient red wyrm probably has the most iconic feel for me, because Smaug. (Though I can’t remember how Tolkien specifically described Smaug in The Hobbithis own illustration was the cover of the first version of the book I ever owned, so I consider that canon.) However, my personal favorite in game terms (talking D&D 3e and up, where dragons began to be broken out more fully by age) is actually the red wyrmling.

I love the red wyrmling because — as the toughest of the wyrmlings — it makes a nice challenge for a neophyte party of 1st-level characters whose players might otherwise have assumed they’d have all sorts of time to level up before facing a dragon. Silly players should have paid more attention to the name of the game.

(Archive post from the personal blog.)

January 20, 2015

D&D 30 Day Challenge — Day 20

Favorite Monster (Humanoid/Natural/Fey)

I’m going to extrapolate that “natural” is meant to cover magical beasts, beasts, and monstrosities (depending on which flavor of D&D is your favorite at present) and call this for the owlbear.

At the conceptual level — half bear, half giant owl — the owlbear is quite possibly the most nonsensical straight-up predator ever created. However, its backstory captures an important facet of the essential nature of the game — mad wizards experimenting in dark towers are constantly doing weird shit, and that weird shit will eventually try to kill you.

(Archive post from the personal blog.)

January 19, 2015

D&D 30 Day Challenge — Day 19

Favorite Monster (Elemental/Plant)

Shambling mound for the win, because it’s an intelligent heap of compost that bludgeons you into submission, then suffocates you to death.

Also, because Man-Thing.

In 3rd Edition D&D’s Savage Species supplement, the shambling mound was a playable race. Seriously, what are you waiting for?

(Archive post from the personal blog.)

January 18, 2015

D&D 30 Day Challenge — Day 18

 Favorite Monster (Immortal/Outsider)

Rakshasa. Even back to the original AD&D Monster Manual (before they were called outsiders), the rakshasa freaked me out.

I loved the idea of a worldly and civilized fiendish creature (perfectly epitomized in the original MM illustration by the iconic Dave Trampier) that would focus its destructive, carnivorous urges through cunning and malice, as opposed to the chaotic destruction of demons and the otherworldly malevolence of devils. The best expression of that probably came in the Eberron books I worked on for D&D 3e, in which rakshasas played a huge part in the past history — and possible future destruction — of the game world.

Also (though it’s unfortunately not rendered as clearly as it could have been in the Trampier illustration), the rakshasa’s hands are on backwards. That’s pretty badass.

(Archive post from the personal blog.)

January 17, 2015

D&D 30 Day Challenge — Day 17

Favorite Monster (Animal/Vermin)

Monstrous spider. As I suspect is true for an awful lot of people, The Hobbit was the childhood gateway drug that got me mainlining fantasy in later years, and so giant spiders have an awesome sense of nostalgia for me. Plus, I remember that In Search of the Unknown (the first legitimate adventure I ever played) was filled with wandering-monster spider encounters that I still recall with a horrific sense of (virtual) post-traumatic stress. Plus, Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan (the second legitimate adventure I ever played) had a trapdoor spider encounter that I remember nearly killing me. Plus, I can neither confirm nor deny that spiders freak me out in real life, so imagining them the size of horses can reduce me to a quivering mass of panic attack in short order.

(Archive post from the personal blog.)

January 16, 2015

D&D 30 Day Challenge — Day 16

Favorite Monster (Aberration)

Aboleth. Too often, aberrations are built around awesomely bugfuck mechanical features that make them amazingly fun to run (though arguably less fun to fight) in combat. However, those mechanics usually don’t lend a lot to an aberration’s presence outside of combat, or provide a lot of inspiration for ongoing campaign story. Aboleths, when they’re done right, are a big exception to that rule.

For whatever it’s worth, D&D 5e does the aboleth absolutely right.

(Archive post from the personal blog.)

January 15, 2015

D&D 30 Day Challenge — Day 15

Favorite Monster (Undead)

Lich. Because a monster that consumes souls, lives forever, has insanity as its default setting, and comes with 18th-level spellcasting is always a good time.

(Archive post from the personal blog.)

January 14, 2015

D&D 30 Day Challenge — Day 14

Favorite NPCs

These guys.

To find out why, you’ll need to read this.

(Archive post from the personal blog.)

January 13, 2015

D&D 30 Day Challenge — Day 13

Favorite Trap/Puzzle

This one, which I wrote for the “Tomb of Horrors” super-adventure. (Spoilers!)

An open archway reveals a massive cubic chamber with a 3-foot-high white stone altar at its center. The characters know that this chamber contains a hidden exit leading to their goal, but there’s no sign of secret doors in the floor, ceiling, or walls. On the altar sits a skull whose eyes and teeth are gleaming jewels. No sign of danger can be seen in the room — but if the characters specifically search the floor along the walls of the room or along the bottom of the shrine, they notice a thin seam.

Any tests of the floor reveal it to be solid, because it is — a solid stone slab set at the top of a 90-foot-deep pit. The white stone altar is actually the top of a 93-foot-high stone column, around which the floor is set.

If the altar is touched, the magic holding the floor in place is disrupted, whereupon the floor shatters and falls. Any characters in the room drop 90 feet, taking damage as they hit the ground within several tons of tumbling rubble. A minute later, a false stone-slab ceiling at the top of the pit also falls, shattering to drop several more tons of loose rubble to the bottom of the pit and on top of the injured characters scrambling around in it — or those savvy enough to have triggered the falling floor remotely, and who are in the process of smugly descending, convinced that they’ve outsmarted the DM.

The central pillar is hollow, and the exit from the pit can eventually be located through a cleft halfway up its side. Assuming there’s anyone left to find it.

(Archive post from the personal blog.)

January 12, 2015

D&D 30 Day Challenge — Day 12

Favorite Dungeon Type/Location

Ruins. I like ruins. I like things crashing down and falling apart. I like the threat of fixtures breaking when you touch them. I like hallways that end in walls of rubble, and adventurers squeezing through fault cracks that have opened up new routes taking them to places they were never meant to go. I like the floor covered in a layer of scree so thick that every time the fighter rolls a Stealth check, it sounds like he’s running a rock polisher.

I like crumbling keeps and decaying castles whose original function is long gone, and which have been repurposed a hundred different times by fifty different armies and fifty different groups of monsters before the PCs ever set foot on the threshold. I like a dungeon that has its own dungeons, which in turn have their own dungeons, which neither of the groups who built the first two levels of dungeons had any knowledge of.

I like ruins because I like history. I like the idea that each generation of exploration and imperialism in a campaign world is forced to walk over and across the bones of the kingdoms and empires that rose and fell before it. I like the idea that adventurers can touch this history — and that this history can often touch them right back, in ways that aren’t always pleasant.

(Archive post from the personal blog.)

January 11, 2015

D&D 30 Day Challenge — Day 11

Favorite Adventure You Have Run

The old Saltmarsh series — AD&D adventure modules U1 to U3, by Dave J. Browne and Don Turnbull of TSR UK — are far and away the best set of adventures I’ve ever played as a DM.

“Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh” is a perfect example of how to create a multilevel mystery narrative and marry a site-based adventure to a story without railroading the characters. “Danger at Dunwater” (besides having the coolest AD&D cover art ever!!!) is a great lesson to PCs and players alike about why you should never take a straight-up hack-and-slash dungeon crawl at face value. “The Final Enemy” marries a stealth infiltration mission to monstrous political intrigue and moral dilemma. Oh, and your characters are underwater the whole time.

What are you going to do?

(Archive post from the personal blog.)

January 10, 2015

D&D 30 Day Challenge — Day 10

Craziest Thing That’s Happened to a Party/the Characters/the Players

The time a character used the last ring in a ring of three wishes to escape a sticky situation, then worded the wish: “Get me the hell out of here! No, wait!”

The dungeon so ridiculously deadly that the DM didn’t bother giving the NPC hirelings names; he just gave them numbers.

The time we played “Steading of the Hill Giant Chief” with 4th-level characters. Because how hard could it be, right?

The time a PC was badly dismembered in a flooding temple that the rest of the characters had to desperately escape. But needing to grab all of his body parts for raise dead, they opened up a bag of holding under the water and vacuumed up a sanguine cocktail of his watery remains. When they later opened the bag to pour hi out at the temple, it wasn’t pretty.

The time an eight-armed stone golem armed with scimitars of sharpness hacked apart an NPC cleric who had gone temporarily insane and tried to desecrate an area of the dungeon that the golem was guarding. Only the cleric was wearing a ring of regeneration, so after the golem dismembered him, he’d start to come back to life again. So the golem would hack apart his still-regenerating remains once more, and the cleric would start to come back again, so the golem would hack apart the even more finely diced remains again, and so on. This went on until there was nothing left of the cleric but a fine paste.

The time a troll was wearing a ring of fire resistance that the PCs never bothered to search its body for after they killed it and set it on fire for good measure. So even after burning, enough troll-stuff was left clinging to the ring that the troll eventually regenerated from it, and went off in pursuit of the party. Whereupon they killed and burned it again, once more not bothering to search it for rings. Whereupon it would regenerate again and come looking for them, even more ticked off about having been killed each previous time. This went on for about a week before they figured it out.

(Archive post from the personal blog.)

January 9, 2015

D&D 30 Day Challenge — Day 9

Favorite Character You Haven’t Played

When talking about characters I’ve rolled up and wanted to play but never had a chance to play, there are too many to name and remember, owing to my having started out playing AD&D. That was a system whose character creation rules were so simple that you rolled up new characters every few days just for something to do — and whose survivability at low levels was so tenuous that it was good to have extras on hand when your current PCs inevitably dropped dead.

From the sketchy notes that survive from back in the day, I remember Gedron Shadomage, who was created for a foray into the Caves of Chaos but set aside in favor of another PC (Morgan, from yesterday’s post) at the last minute. I also remember Endolas the Unknown — a half-drow fighter/magic-user who was lovingly rolled up but never used. And this back before everybody and their dogs were playing drow, because there weren’t actually any rules for playing drow. Then there was the paladin Ayrthond, a disinherited knight based loosely on Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe. A monk named Armir. A halfling thief named Bogie Broadfoot.

Because the thought of all these wannabe adventurers never getting their shot at glory makes me sad, I choose to believe that they’re out there in the campaign world somewhere, basking in the glory of as-yet-unwritten exploits. Or maybe they all got smart, sold their weapons and armor to open up a crossroads tavern in the heart of adventuring country, and made some real money.

(Archive post from the personal blog.)

January 8, 2015

D&D 30 Day Challenge — Day 8

Favorite Character You Have Played

Morgan, AD&D fighter, who wasn’t the first character I ever played but was the first character who stuck around long enough to become important to me. This was 1982, and he was modeled after the character Travis Morgan from Mike Grell’s The Warlord. Not specifically for the look (and my version always favored chain mail; the spandex-and-loincloth wardrobe range that the comic version sported never did much for me), but for the ethos of the character.

The Warlord was Grell's take on the classic modern-warrior-in-a-barbaric-world trope that went back to Edgar Rice Burroughs. However, in place of the detached-hero-of-destiny archetype in the John Carter of Mars vein, Grell made Travis Morgan a resolutely human warrior, carving him out of equal parts violence and morality. Morgan could hack his way through a cadre of enemy lizardfolk with Conan-like ease, but when he was done, he would talk about how his purpose as a warrior was more than just the base pursuit of blood and gold. In an oft-heard refrain, Morgan spoke of a world in which the credo of the strong wasn’t “Might make right,” but “Might for right,” and that changed my view of the world.

(It’s a simplistic philosophy, to be sure, but I was in high school; cut me some slack.)

For me, translating Morgan from the comic to the world of D&D as I did, that credo and the ethos it was built on perfectly exemplified the core tenets of neutral good, which has always been my favorite and default alignment. Ultimately, Morgan as I played him had only a few things in common with the comic character. But that sense of characters fighting not just for gain and glory, not for crown or country, but for a better world and a greater personal purpose became a key component in the way I like to play D&D, and in a lot of the professional fantasy world-building that’s followed it.

(Archive post from the personal blog.)

January 7, 2015

D&D 30 Day Challenge — Day 7

Favorite Edition

Excellent question! And no potential for controversy at all!

In general, I think the best edition of any game is the edition you’re playing and having fun with at any given time. Original AD&D was the D&D I started with, and it was exactly what I wanted it to be while I was playing it. I skipped 2nd Edition AD&D (for reasons having nothing to do with its quality; I think it’s a great revision in its own right), and when I picked up 3rd Edition, it was exactly what I wanted it to be while I was playing it. I worked on a lot of 4th Edition D&D and loved its focus and mechanics. I’ve worked in some way or another on pretty much every official release so far for D&D 5th Edition, and I can attest that it’s as great a game as everyone else is saying it is.

But stacking all the editions up against each other, my favorite would be D&D 3rd Edition. Because 3e was a game that I thought captured the feel of the best AD&D rules in ways that made narrative sense, and I’m a big fan of things making narrative sense. AD&D said, “Your magic-user can’t wear armor and your thief can’t use a shield; that’s just the way it is, suck it up.” 3rd Edition said, “Your wizard can wear full plate and your thief can use a heavy steel shield if you really want them to; but you really don’t want them to, because the following penalties will weigh you down.”

I personally loved that approach, just as I loved the way the 3rd Edition mechanics extended so naturally from AD&D — even when the mechanics were turned upside down, as with the conversion from combat tables and THAC0 to ascending AC. I loved that 3rd Edition saving throws were technically very different than in AD&D but that they felt the same. I loved that the magic items of 3e were the same as those in AD&D, except now there were properly codified rules for how they worked and how they were made. I loved that  even as 3e took the game along very different paths than AD&D trod (and I’m the first to admit that some of those directions were ultimately more complex than they needed to be), the gaming journey felt the same as the journey I’d taken all those years ago.

(I also loved the Open Gaming License, with a passion that knows no bounds. After a long hiatus from gaming, it was actually the OGL that got me interested in D&D again — and specifically, the sense that came with the OGL of what sorts of creative possibilities existed within such a license. That sense of open-ended creativity jump-started my interest in the new edition, and ultimately led to me working on it. That’s kind of a side issue, though.)

(Archive post from the personal blog.)

January 6, 2015

D&D 30 Day Challenge — Day 6

Favorite Deity

I’m going to waffle on the response to this one, because my favorite deities in D&D are the imaginary ones. As a general rule, I don’t like games in which the gods are real, extant, accessible beings with a vested interest in worldly affairs and a bad habit of messing with that world and its people. When I’m gaming, I’m into the idea that real people should be the greatest agents for change in the world, and that deciding to answer the call to heroism should be the ultimate personal choice. But in a world in which the gods are calling the shots and demanding, forcing, or tricking mortals into doing their bidding, the value of heroism and the choice to follow a heroic path becomes muddied for me.

That’s not to say that don’t like or don’t play in campaigns and settings that feature strongly “real” deities, because I do, and I’ve enjoyed many such games and campaigns. I just have a bit of an antipathy towards games and game worlds that put the machinations of the gods above the importance of the player characters as mortal agents of morality and change. (I’m looking at you, Krynn…)

(Archive post from the personal blog.)

January 5, 2015

D&D 30 Day Challenge — Day 5

Your Favorite Set of Dice

I’m stealing this response from the #RPGaDay challenge from last summer, because the answer is the same: My favorite dice are my dice. My first dice. My only dice.

In the early spring of 1981, I bought my first dice at a store in Vancouver called Dragon’s Lair (Broadway near Cambie; if anyone else but me remembers the place, I’d love to hear about it). These were the days when sets of dice didn’t exist (at least I never saw them); you bought them exclusively as singles. My first set of dice were an old-style d20/d10 (0–9 twice), a d12, a d6, and a d4, all in transparent emerald green (what were called “ice dice” back in the day). My first d8 was purple transparent, just because they didn’t have the green in stock to complete the set. In subsequent trips to Dragon’s Lair, I picked up the green d8 and eventually added a new-style d20 and a new-style d10.

I don’t know the manufacturer, but these are the same style and hard-edged, unpainted goodness of the Gamescience dice you can still buy these days. I used to fill in the numbers with crayon for long ages, then finally got around to painting in the numbers a few years ago. When the paint starts to flake, I paint them again. The only distinguishing feature on them is one weird thing about the d4 — one of the “1” marks along the bottom is an “A” for some reason.

Though I now own a whole lot more dice than these, these are the dice I’ve used for every single game of D&D I’ve ever played. For thirty-three years now, the old-style d20 is the only d20 I’ve ever rolled for any of my PCs. (I use the new-style d20 when I’m rolling as a DM.) When I’m rolling 10d6 lightning bolt damage in my current Pathfinder game, I roll my original d6 alongside whatever assortment of newer d6s are at hand. When I’m rolling the result of a cure spell, my original d8 is always in the mix. My magic missiles always include my original d4, which means I occasionally do A + 1 damage. I’m still not sure what that means.

(Addendum: Since first writing this, I have learned that the A on my d4 means it’s a first-gen Armory die! Thanks to Jon Peterson for geeking out about this stuff.)

(Archive post from the personal blog.)

January 4, 2015

D&D 30 Day Challenge — Day 4

Favorite Game World

As I expect is the case for many DMs, I will waffle to provide the default answer of “My world”, because having created a world is a real kick. But expanding beyond that to the real intent of the question, I have to waffle even further to say, “Pretty much all of them.”

I love Greyhawk because it was the first game world I was ever exposed to. I love the Forgotten Realms because Ed Greenwood made it feel ground-level real in a way that Greyhawk never did. I love Eberron because it pushed the boundaries of what heroic fantasy could do without turning it into something else (and also because I worked on an awful lot of it). I love the City State of the Invincible Overlord, and desperately wish I’d been exposed to it much earlier than I was. I love Planescape because Planescape. I love Aebrynis from Birthright, I love the Known World and how it morphed into Mystara, I love Pathfinder’s Golarian.

I read fantasy campaign setting books even when I know there’s no chance I will ever actually find the time to play or DM a game in that world. Because for me, a great campaign setting is like imbibing the best parts of a great novel and the best parts of a great real-world history all at once. A great game world should give you a sense of the all stories that might be told in that world, even as it  gives you the feeling that you’re a part of that world for just a little while.

(Archive post from the personal blog.)

January 3, 2015

D&D 30 Day Challenge — Day 3

Favorite Playable Class

Wizard, hands down. I’ve played pretty much everything at one time or another, and I don’t actively dislike any character class except bard. (Don’t get me started.) But power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely, and wizards have absolute power, and that’s some damn fine fodder for roleplaying.

(Archive post from the personal blog.)

January 2, 2015

D&D 30 Day Challenge — Day 2

Favorite Playable Race

Human. I know this is the most vanilla white-bread answer possible to this question, but my fascination for human characters extends from what the game means to me, and the way I best love to play it. I think that any sense of character in D&D should largely extend from the decisions and choices that a player makes. And as such, I like the idea that the range of choices available to players and their characters should be as wide as possible.

However, in a lot of campaigns and default settings, the cooler the race, the more baggage it carries with it — and the more baggage, the more things a player is often obliged to do just because that’s part of what the race is about. Elves and dwarves have endless histories and enmities that always somehow manage to work their way into the backstory of every elf and dwarf character in the game. Halflings and gnomes are almost always defined culturally by how they fit into the societies of the “big folk.” Characters of the l33tkewl races like drow, dragonborn, and tieflings often have to actively fight to generate any momentum of character story beyond the baseline of “This is your place in the world and here’s why everybody else hates you and therefore you’re a rebel against existing convention desperate to prove your worth blah blah freaking blah” that their race imposes on them.

This notion isn’t an absolute one, to be sure, and if your campaign and your characters manage to do better than the baseline, kudos. Likewise, it’s definitely fun to play a character who’s an outsider, and outsider status built on the basis of race is a standard trope in gaming and all other forms of storytelling. But for me, the best part about playing D&D is being able to step into the guise of a character for which literally anything should be possible, and sometimes the most generic choice of race creates the widest range of options.

(Archive post from the personal blog.)

January 1, 2015

D&D 30 Day Challenge — Day 1

I know this challenge has been around for a while (and I don’t actually know who started it; sorry). But I missed it when it was first out, and was massively busy the first time someone sent it to me, and so am jumping on it now.

How You Got Started

This one’s easy to tell, insofar as I’ve already told it. Long version here. Short version: My friend Kevin started playing, tried to explain the game and couldn’t, so showed me how to play. That was thirty-three years ago, and I’m still at it.

(Archive post from the personal blog.)