Thursday, June 28, 2012

Monster Mash: Where to Draw the Line?

I've played RPGs for a long time and as such have seen my fair share of 'monster mashes.' That is to say, taking two creatures and combining them into one. From the early days of the Owlbear to half-elves, half-dragons and 'Squarks,' combining creatures is a staple in the fantasy genre. That's why I was surprised when I found myself frustrated while working on a high power NPC for our current campaign.

Who in their right mind thought this was a good idea?  

I don't want to spoil it for my players, but I'll let a tidbit slip. I was working on a vampire. An extraordinarily long lived vampire who -for the most part- isn't that bad of a guy. He rules a small kingdom, treats his subjects well, governs fairly and provides for the poor.

He also happens to drink the blood and kill any criminals who are caught within his territory.

I'll leave the 'nature of evil' topic for another post, but I just wanted to set it straight: No matter how much good he does, no matter how fair and benevolent he is, he is still an undead abomination who maintains his (un)life by feeding on sentient living beings. Because of these actions, he is an evil creature.  But I digress...

 Apparently, Roger Corman did!

While researching vampires I came across this thread on the paizo boards. To sum it up, a PC was interested in playing a dhampir paladin/sorcerer with the sanguine bloodline. For those not in the know, that roughly translates to (deep breath!): A half human / half vampire who fights for the glory of god (and/or cause of good in general) who supplements his holy blessings with the ability to spontaneously cast arcane magical spells. Additionally, through his vampiric bloodline, he would be able to consume the blood of the recently deceased as a means to regain lost hit points.

Woo! that's a lot!

That thread, and the flurry of responses it received got me thinking about how muddled up rules and ideas can become with so much monster mashing. I am fully aware that the dhampir is not unique to RPGs and can be found in everything from old Balkan folklore to modern pop culture. Regular fiction is not the same as a game though, and needs no in-depth explanations. Unfortunately, players often do want explanations which for the most part, I am happy to provide.

Although to be honest, I have no explanation for dhampirs in our game world - because they don't exist. As I graphically explained to a PC today, vampires are not living things and as such, don't have much 'fruit in the loins' and as such, couldn't procreate.

What I'm getting at here is, has the monster mash become too much of a crutch for the game community? Should it be viewed as legitimate content or just filler for books and supplements? I understand that gaming companies are businesses and need to keep pumping out products, but do we really need a Monster Manual XXV? Or would companies be better off expanding on actual content, exploring game theory and when publishing monster books, emphasizing quality over quantity?

I do realize that this is nitpicking on my part, but it is still something that gets my goat. Here's a question for the Game and Dungeon Masters out there: Out of all of your 'monster books' what percentage of monsters have you actually used, and what are your thoughts on monster-monster hybrids?

Until next time, happy gaming!     

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Where Does the Time Go?

I swear, it feels like I lay down to bed on Tuesday and wake up on Thursday! Weeks seem to fly by and while I get a good amount done, it never seems like enough.

This past weekend we traveled north about 5 hours to Sinnemahoning, Pennsylvania. My mom has a cabin tucked away in the woods where we spent the weekend 'getting away from it all.' It was a pretty good time. A lot of driving and a lot of good country food!

Bent tree or portal to another dimension? OOOoooOOOhhH.

The highlight of the weekend was our visit to the Austin Dam. Rather than ramble on about our vacation, you can read about it by clicking here. While pictures can give you a good idea of what it looks like, you really need to see it in person to get the whole experience. If you are ever in the area, I suggest you check it out!

In other news, my wife and I did a whole mess of painting last week. We plopped ourselves in front of the TV and cranked out almost twenty mini's! Here's a few of them for your viewing pleasure.

 The ill fated wizard my cousin played. I had just painted him and then (of course) he died
 A man in stocks with some jerk kids.

A pair of ogres. The bottom one is Part of the Reaper Bones lineup.

My friend Noah actually made this figure!

Nobody here but us evil wizards!

We've got our Group 1 game this weekend and to be honest, I am completely unprepared. After fending off an underground town from demons, the group cleric has decided to temporarily remain behind and help the townsfolk rebuild their homes and their faith. (In reality, Kevin -the cleric- is getting married!) That leaves us with Blanklee, a brutal fighter trying to redeem himself through religion and Gertrude, a wily thief with a knack for trap finding. Ideally I would like to have the town implore them for help. In it's current state the town would be vulnerable to any number of nasties ready to pounce on opportunity. This would give my players something to do and keep them close to their cleric for future adventures. At this point any ideas or suggestions are appreciated. I'm close to pulling the last resort (gasp!) digging out an old Dungeon magazine!

Besides that, I'm pretty booked up for the next few weeks with games and home renovation. I'm looking forward to the games, the renovation on the other hand, is getting expensive...

Until next time, happy gaming!     

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Survival of the Fittest

Through years of gaming  (especially in more recent campaigns) I have noticed that many real-life rules and ideas also apply to the RPG world. Out of those ideas, the popular phrase "survival of the fittest" has really taken a front seat recently. Like many things however, the concept takes on quite a few different meanings in an RPG environment, so lets touch on a few of them today.

Finally, a good reason to use the comic sans font!

We'll start by looking at the most literal interpretation. It is easy to see how survival applies this way. Characters who are exceedingly fit (i.e. have high ability scores) are inherently more likely to survive and excel in a world fraught with danger. While many like to argue that stats are simply 'just one of many tool to help in role play,' it would be incredibly difficult to be an adventurer with nothing but 5's and 4's for ability scores. I'm not saying that it's impossible to play a low score character, but it is a challenge. I believe this is why we see a lot of point-buy systems becoming more popular. Point-buying guarantees that every player has a fair shot and that no one is significantly under or over-powered. Personally, I don't like point-buy systems. We still roll dice for scores in my campaigns. While it can lead to severely under powered characters, I sleep easy knowing that they will either die off or their limitations will add significantly to the situational role play of the group.

Moving on from the literal, we get into some foggier realms of thinking. "fit" could be interpreted as ability scores in relation to the character. Sometimes a player can have perfectly reasonable scores, but assign them poorly. This could be due to mismanagement or because a player wants to try a unique or nonsensical stat build. I saw this present itself recently when my wife decided to create a witch for our Group Two game. She decided to roll her character old school. That's 3 six sided dice per stat, and her stats went in order, no matter what she rolled. Let's just say her character would have made a much better rogue. Or fighter. Or pretty much anything that doesn't cast spells. While the impact isn't very noticeable at lower levels, and in some senses seemed downright useful, (high dex = better AC) the character would have really started to fall behind at higher levels. Unfortunately she never got to reach those lofty goals as she fell on the sword of a bandit at second level.

 Then again, a high reflex save might have helped her too...

Finally (and I only say finally because I'm sleepy, I could talk about this for ages!) we get to a version of "fit" that translates to: "a good fit." As in - a nice set of clothes or shoes. Sometimes a character or class is just not a good match for a player. Our resident killsmith... err.... fighter is played by my friend Jim who is a great match for the class. Just like in real life, he is straightforward and acts with purpose. He takes the damage and dishes it out. Focused on melee, he is more than happy to acts as the first line of offense and defense to keep his party alive and the enemies dead. All in all he is a good fit for his class.

On the other hand, another friend of mine by the name of Vince began playing and had to stumble through three characters before he finally found a niche. Not having much experience in RPG's and basing his decision on a brief skimming of the book, Vince chose a druid as his starting character - who died about halfway through his first game. Being persistent as he is, his second character was also a druid. He was actually the first druids identical twin brother! (It's ok, I laughed too.) Going in search of his deceased kin, he also managed to die in the exact same spot. Worrying that he might tire of the game before really experiencing it, I urged him to try a different class, one that might fit his style. He opted for a ranger and ripped apart the rest of the game, eventually chasing down an ogre boss and pinning him into a corner. Vince kept the ogre occupied while the rest of the party finished off the other boss of the adventure. He has found a good fit!

Now I realize that there are plenty of ways a 'fit' character can still perish, and I'm sure that many 'sub-par' characters have led long and lucrative adventuring careers. We run a pretty brutal game so it may stand out a bit more in our campaigns. What are your thoughts on the matter?

Until next time, happy gaming!     

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

A Weekend of Miniatures

Throwing caution to the wind, my wife and I decided to take a short road trip this past Saturday! We hopped in the car and ventured northwest along Interstate 78 until we reached the small village of Shartlesville Pennsylvania. 

Now you may be asking, "What could possibly be of interest in Shartlesville, PA that would warrant a spur of the moment road trip?" I can answer that with a simple image.

Roadside America is a wonderful attraction that boasts "The Worlds Greatest Indoor Miniature Village," and having nothing to compare it against; I'm inclined to agree! It is 8000 square feet of small town America (circa mid century) in miniature scale. The models are extraordinarily detailed, the push-button animations are a blast and the constant whir of HO scale trains is a delight to behold. 

The photo isn't great, but click it to get an idea of how huge this place is!

Better than the display itself - it's the atmosphere of Roadside America that really shines. Once inside I had the strange feeling of being pulled into a different time. As far as I can tell, nothing has been modernized since the late 60's or early 70's. While most modern attractions focus on getting the next big thing, the owners of Roadside America seem more interested in preserving the integrity of Laurence Gieringer's original creation - a lovingly handcrafted miniature world.

Reminds me of "Leave it to Beaver" 

While the miniatures and dioramas I paint and create usually fall into the fantasy genre, it doesn't prevent me from appreciating the time and effort that has been put into this monumental display. Constructed from actual wood and cast metal parts, the miniature village was built in an age before plastic pieces, foam-core boards and dremel tools. A brief look at his photos and the in-progress models that Mr. Gieringer left behind remain as a testament to his skill as a miniature maker and an artist.

 Dungeon or miniature model of Virginia's Luray Caverns? You decide!

If you ever venture into Pennsylvania, I highly suggest making a stop at Roadside America. I enjoyed it so much, I'd even go with you!

Until next time, happy gaming! 

Ps. Here's a few more images for you to check out. I apologize if they are a little fuzzy, I'm still trying to figure our camera out. If you like what you see, make the trip!


Wednesday, June 6, 2012

"Lawful Evil Dwarven Cleric" kinda sounds Swedish!

FUN FACT! The title of this post came from my good friend Noah. Years ago -when myspace was still the social media network of choice- he commented my page with the statement: "Lawful Evil Dwarven Cleric: if you say it fast it kind of sounds Swedish!" Since then it's become one of our groups "staple catchphrases." 
We had our "Group One; Sub-group B" Game this past weekend. It was a blast! We introduced two new players to the game and like my wife an I, Andre and Katie are from Philadelphia! They both had a bit of rpg experience and really brought a breath of fresh air to the table. They role played like champs and played skillfully to boot.

 Katie casting "Burning Hands." I'm not sure if homeowners insurance covers that.

The story is a bit confusing, as we've had a few character changes, but let's just say we "hobbled it together." After sorting out who was playing what, the players were brought together by fate (namely: the gm). The"heroes" were all staying in the same town for one reason or another when a series of murders and disappearances occurred. Banding together, the group set out to find the culprits and claim their reward; which was stated on the wanted poster as: "no less than 5000 Gold Piece value!"

As they investigated, rumor began to spread that the victims were found devoid of blood and that the bodies would mysteriously disappear from the crime scenes. Fearing vampires, the townsfolk and even a few of the players began carrying holy water and braids of garlic to drive off any would-be blood suckers.

After sleuthing around the township and countryside, the party was able to piece together the location of the "vampire's" lair: an old compound in the woods built by a long dead cult of flagellants. Taking the side of caution, the group waited until morning and set off  in search of the fortress.

Entering the abandoned fort, they did not find vampires, but a small army of zombies! Through combat and investigation the party discovered that an evil dwarf cleric had raided a traveling sideshow and converted it's employees and attractions to a force of terrible undead. The main attraction of this show was a pair of chupacabra, which he used to kill and drain victims before he raised them as zombies!

Not to be confused with the deliciously elusive "Chalupacabra"

After defeating the zombies, chupacabra, the cleric and a mohrg, the party returned to town to claim their reward! Welcomed as heroes of the community, they were rewarded by the mayor and people of New Prindepth with 110 head of fine cattle, worth just about 5500 gold pieces!

Rest assured, they sold the cattle off and took a 15% loss, but with the loot they found, they'll have quite a nice pot o' gold once they find someone to sell it all!

Until next time, happy gaming!

Friday, June 1, 2012

Sci Fi Role Playing

Not so much a post but a snippet of news which excited me. 

CD Projekt, the company behind The Witcher, is making a new video game based on the Cyberpunk universe!

While this may not be of any interest to a lot of traditional sword and board gamers, I really enjoy the whole cyberpunk scene. For some reason a world dominated by technology with only the sprawling lower class and select few super-rich seems very believable. I loved The Witcher so I'm pumped to see what they do in a Sci Fi setting.

Happy Gaming!