Tag Archives: gaming

Yeah, I’m just gonna leave this right here…

Review for “The Book Of eight Restful Retreats”, my first product published through Christina Stiles Presents: http://www.rpgnow.com/product_reviews.php?products_id=131265

Inspiring Images

Just a note: I occasionally stick stuff to my Pinterest board that is of interest (if not Pinterest) to games and other geeky types. So, here it is:

Inspiring Images.

Quick Link: Cool Star Rovers minis!

Since a comment on an old article may be missed by both my fans, here’s a link to awesome Not Star Wars Really They’re Not Honest Mr. Lucas Don’t Sue Us minis for Star Rovers!

The Banality Of The Fantastic

Just a little something I wrote on rpg.net that I thought ought to be here, as well.

I’ve found, in my fiction, that I tend to keep returning to the concept of the banality of the fantastic — how anything, no matter how baroque or strange, ultimately just becomes part of the background noise of daily life, and try to create worlds that are interesting to the readers but which are simply *there* for the characters. If the canonical Big Dumb Object story is “the guy gawking at things, and the guy who explains to him what he’s gawking at”, my stories tend to be “the guy yawning at things because he just wants to get home and watch TV and this is, what, the fifth giant radioactive monster this week?” And this, in turn, feeds back into my gaming preferences… I enjoy worlds where the characters do not marvel or wonder at golems or vampires, but run down their checklist of “What kills them?”, because they’re as much a part of their world as lions, tigers, and bears. They’re dangerous, they’re fearsome, they require special knowledge and skills to hunt effectively, but they’re not alien, unknown, or mind-bending.

Gelatinous Cube, Glacial

Gelatinous Cube, Glacial

In honor of the Winter Is Coming Blog Carnival, I’ve decided to try to a)post more often (hah!), and, b)post winter/cold/ice related stuff, as my fancy is struck. No promises on either frequency or content; been there, done that. For all you guys know, this could be my last post ever. We’ll see. (Note: I wrote that first paragraph on 11/04/2012. What day was this posted?)

So, for starters, let’s take one of the classic monsters, the gelatinous cube, and try some frozen variants. This is going to be a bit of an exercise in extemporanea, wherein I will “think out loud” on the page, as I try to work out what to do with this concept. This allows you to peer into the mind of the artist. Gaze not into the abyss, yadda yadda.

So. Cold gelatinous cube. “Ice Cube”, but that’s too obvious, even for me. Hm. Here’s problem one: The thing about cold, the thing is, about cold, is that it’s cold. Frozen. Stiff. Pretty much the antithesis of “gelatinous”. Sure, you can postulate the freezing point of Cube is much lower than that of water, and we might go with that, but as I ponder it… can a non-gelatinous gelatinous cube be interesting? Hmm…

Cold. Solid cube. Ice cube. Can’t absorb things, except very slowly. Like licking a street sign. Except it’s a street sign that wants to eat you. It can absorb on contact, slowly. Warmth of bodies thaws its outer surface. You get stuck, then drawn in as your own body heat softens the cube so it can feed. Hm. What else does ice do? Shatter. Hitting it causes smaller fragments or shards to fly off. Form their own monster. Hmmm. Clear. Gelatinous cubes are already clear, but arctic thoughts. Sun. Light. Refractions. Snowblindness. Cube shimmer in the sun, blinding aura, dazzling, hard to look at.

OK, that’s enough traits to work with.

Let’s see. Let’s do an “across the ages” thing here. I’ve done it for spells. Why not for monsters?


AD&D First Edition

MOVE: 4“
% IN LAIR: Nil
DAMAGE/ATTACK: 2-8+1-4 Cold
SPECIAL ATTACKS: Paralyzation, refraction, surprise on a 1-4
SIZE: L (10’ cube)

Attack/Defense Modes: Nil

Glacial Gelatinous Cubes are found only in the frozen regions of the planet, or in dungeons which are kept magically super-cold. They are much more solid than their oozier brethren. Due to this, when they hit an adventurer and paralyze him, damage begins on the first turn following the attack, as it takes time for the stricken victim to be drawn inwards.

Glacial cubes are even harder to spot than others of their kind, as they blend perfectly with the semi-transparent ice of their home regions. If encountered in daylight, the cube may instinctively make a refractive attack instead of its normal attack, causing all within 20 feet to make a saving throw against breath weapon or be blinded for 1d4 turns. It may do this only once per day.

Glacial cubes have the same treasure types as other gelatinous cubes.

Glacial gelatinous cubes can be hit by all forms of weapons, but bladed weapons do only half damage. Blunt weapons do normal damage, but on each hit, there is a 25% chance that a shard of the cube will be knocked free. This shard makes an immediate attack as a 3HD monster on a random character within 10 feet of the cube. If the attack hits, the target takes 1d6 damage and must make a saving throw vs. paralysis or be paralyzed for 1d4 turns, during which time the embedded shard will do a further 1d6 damage per turn unless it is somehow removed. Anyone killed in this fashion will become a glacial cube within 2d6 rounds after death, having but 1/4 the hit points of a standard glacial cube, but otherwise identical.

Glacial gelatinous cubes take normal damage from fire, and cold attacks heal them for half the damage they would otherwise do. Electricity, fear, holds, paralyzation,  polymorph, and sleep based attacks have no effect on glacial gelatinous cubes.

It is rumored that white dragons of the smarter sort will sometimes (10% chance) keep glacial cubes as guardians, scattering them around their lairs to ward off intruders.


(For those who care, which is to say, no one, I am using PF instead of D&D 3.x because my monster spreadsheet has been rewritten for PF.)

Glacial Cube
Large Ooze (Cold)
Hit Dice: 6d10+48 (96 Hit Points)
Initiative: -5 Dex
Speed: 15 feet (3 squares)
Armor Class: 14(-1 Size -5 Dex+10 Natural) touch 4; flat-footed 14
Base Attack/Grapple: +4/+10
Attack: Slam +6 (1d6+1d6 cold)
Space/Reach: 10 ft./10 ft.
Special Attacks: Engulf, Paralysis, Refraction, Shards
Special Qualities: Transparent
Immunities: Electricity, Cold, Ooze Traits
Saves: Fort +10,Ref -3,Will -3
Abilities: Str 14, Dex 1, Con 26, Int 0, Wis 1 ,Cha 1
Environment: Any Cold
Organization: Solitary
Challenge Rating: 4
Treasure: Incidental
Alignment: Neutral

The glacial cube is a cousin of the more common underground gelatinous cube, one which has adapted itself to life under conditions of extreme cold. It is much more solid than the normal gelatinous cube, which provides it with some measure of increased defense, reflected in both its Armor Class and its Hit Points. It also has several other distinctive traits which can catch unwary adventurers by surprise. Unless noted, it is otherwise identical to the gelatinous cube.

Acid (Ex): The glacial cube’s acid does not harm metal, stone, or ice.

Engulf(Ex): The glacial cube has a solid surface, and cannot easily engulf moving prey. However, the body heat of paralyzed victims melts its outer surface, at which point, it can ingest them. As a full round action, it can engulf a single Medium or small creature which is adjacent to it and paralyzed. There is no save. Engulfed creatures are subject to the cube’s paralysis and acid, gain the pinned condition, are in danger of suffocating, and are trapped within its body until they are no longer pinned. This ability does not affect creatures with the cold subtype.

Paralysis (Ex): A glacial gelatinous cube secretes an anesthetizing slime. A target hit by a cube’s melee or engulf attack must succeed on a DC 21 Fortitude save or be paralyzed for 3d6 rounds. The cube can automatically engulf a paralyzed opponent. The save DC is Constitution-based.

Refraction (Ex): As a standard action, a glacial cube exposed to sunlight or bright light can instinctively form its internal substance into crystalline patterns that emit a blinding light. All those within a 30′ radius burst centered on the cube must make a Reflex save (DC 21) or be dazzled for 2d6 rounds. This save is Constitution based.

Shards (Ex): When the glacial cube is struck by a weapon which does crushing damage, it sends for small shards of its frozen substance. If it is critically hit by such a weapon, it produces 1d4+1 shard. Each shard makes an attack on a random creature within 10′ of the cube, at a +6 attack bonus. If it hits, it does 1d8 piercing damage, and it will do 1d6 cold and acid damage for the next 1d4+1 rounds (A DC 15 Heal check will remove the shard). Any creature killed while the shard is in place will reform in 2d6 rounds as a small glacial cube (apply the “young” template to the glacial cube)

Transparent (Ex): The glacial cube is even harder to spot than its dungeon-dwelling kin. A DC 20 Perception check is needed to notice one when in its natural habitat among ice cliffs and snowdrifts. Anyone more than 15 feet away has a 50% miss chance for aimed spells or attacks. Faerie fire, glitterdust, and similar spells render this effect moot, but invisibility purgeor the like do not, for the same reason they don’t make glass windows opaque.

Dungeons & Dragons Fourth Edition

Ah, 4e. The easiest version to design monsters for, hitting a good balance between the “finger in the wind” 1e/2e rules and the “IRS Tax Auditors Give Up” 3.x/PF rules. Well, it would be nice if there were more formal support for non-combat abilities or integration with the rules for PCs, but, you can’t have everything.

Because 4e makes it so easy to run simple monsters on the fly, the shard effect for the 4e version produces minions, which makes it tactically more interesting, in my opinion.

Glacial Cube

Level 7 Elite Brute

Large natural beast (ooze, cold)

XP 600

HP 194; Bloodied 97

AC 21; Fortitude 20; Reflex 17; Will 18

Speed 3

Immune gaze, cold; Resist 10 acid

Saving Throws +2; Action Points 1

Initiative +5

Perception +5

Tremorsense 5

A glacial cube is invisible until seen (Perception DC 25) or until it attacks. Creatures that fail to notice the glacial cube might walk into it. if this occurs, the cube attacks (+13 vs. Fortitude; Hit: Target is immobilized, save ends.)
Standard Actions
m Slam • At-Will
Attack: +12 vs. Fortitude
Hit: 2d6 + 3 damage, and the target is immobilized (save ends).
M Engulf (acid, cold) • At-Will
Effect: The gelatinous cube engulfs one or two Medium or smaller targets who are immobilized and adjacent to it.; The target is grabbed and pulled into the cube’s space; the target is dazed and takes ongoing 10 acid and cold damage until it escapes the grab. A creature that escapes the grab shifts to a square of its choosing adjacent to the cube. The cube can move normally while creatures are engulfed within it.
C Refractive Burst (radiant) • Encounter
Requirements: Must be in sunlight or in bright light.
Attack: Close Burst 5 (All sighted creatures in burst.); +8 vs. Reflex
Hit: 1d10 + 7 radiant damage, and target is blinded (save ends).
Triggered Actions
Shardspawn • Recharge 4 5 6
Trigger: The cube is struck by a blunt weapon, such as a mace, club, or hammer.
Effect (Immediate Reaction): The cube creates a cubeshard within any adjacent square. This does not grant extra XP. No more than two cubeshards can exist at any one time.
Skills Stealth +10
Str 15 (+5) Dex 15 (+5) Wis 14 (+5)
Con 17 (+6) Int 2 (–1) Cha 2 (–1)
Alignment unaligned     Languages
Glacial Shard

Level 6 Minion

Small natural beast (ooze, cold)

XP 63

HP 1; a missed attack never damages a minion

AC 20; Fortitude 18; Reflex 19; Will 17

Speed 6

Initiative +6

Perception +3

Glacial shards are small and easy to miss against ice and snow. If in such an environment, they have +2 to all defenses against ranged attacks originating more than 2 squares away, unless the attacker is not relying on normal vision.
Standard Actions
m Shard Slash (acid, cold) • At-Will
Attack: +11 vs. AC
Hit: 5 cold and acid damage.
M Embedding Shard (acid, cold) • Encounter
Attack: +11 vs. AC
Hit: 5 cold and acid damage, and the glacial shard is destroyed. The target takes 5 ongoing cold and acid damage (save ends). If this kills the target, it dissolves and becomes a glacial shard, which will attempt to flee the area.
Skills Stealth +11
Str 4 (+0) Dex 16 (+6) Wis 10 (+3)
Con 12 (+4) Int 1 (–2) Cha 10 (+3)
Alignment unaligned     Languages

I could add some more author’s notes here, but the fact is, I had this whole thing done EXCEPT for the shard minion, and that took me over two weeks to get around to doing (and only about an hour to do it, including fighting with Adventure Tools because it corrupted my saved monster file), and I don’t want to procrastinate any more.

Common Law vs. Statutory Law

Common Law vs. Statutory Law

(I thought I posted this ages ago, but no searches return it. Weird.)

One of the best things I’ve seen that helps spell out a lot of the rules style debates on RPGs was pointed out to me by someone whose name I forget on RPG.net, namely, the difference between Common Law and Statutory Law.

In Common Law, disputes are settled primarily by judges and magistrates, who look to prior cases and try to apply the same decision to the same facts. There is no body of formal law, just an accumulation of cases, and the practice is to look through prior cases and use them to reach a conclusion. In different regions or different nations, different sets of precedents evolve, and there’s no great need to reconcile them, as it’s believed they reflect the beliefs of the people who live under the law.

Statutory Law relies on well-documented laws that specify what rules apply to what actions and what penalties to apply. In the event that a specific law can’t be found, or the law is ambiguous, the judge is supposed to interpret the laws that are written to reach a conclusion that is consistent with prior law. This also forms a body of precedent, but the precedent is a record of how laws have been interpreted (and is often an impetus for the laws to be formally clarified), and is not the basis of the law itself. Consistency among different regions is very important; conflicting interpretations will be brought to higher and higher courts until a final decision is reached.

Those who want “rulings based” games like Common Law. They want a few broad guidelines, and they run their games based on their past rulings of situations. Two different DMs may rule very differently on the same action, but they are then reasonably consistent going forward in their games. They want game companies to provide guiding principles and a few examples, from which they’ll build their body of precedent. They often want to pick and choose which facts may be relevant to a given case, and ignore what seems unnecessary.

Those who want “rules based” games like Statutory Law. They want a well-defined set of rules that spell out as many situations as possible. They recognize no set of rules can be complete, but they see the role of the DM as finding the closest possible rule and extending it just enough to cover the situation, and this then creates a new rule. They want game companies (the “legislature”) to correct poor rules or provide final and absolute answers to contradictory rules. They want a clear listing of all factors to be considered when applying a rule.

Neither of these is likely to be absolute, and neither is “better” or “worse”, but they satisfy different needs and appeal to different people.

Beginning: Comments On 5E

Race, Class, Theme, Background

Well, since a lot of my writing time (i.e, time when code is compiling, tests are running, etc) is being taken up with occasional rants on the 5e boards, it seems to me that I could kill two birds with one stone (I took Weapons Focus (Sling), Weapon Specialization (Sling), Improved Critical (Sling), Manyshot, Avian Hunter, Improved Avian Hunter, and have a +2 Birdbane Sling and Bracers of Archery…er…Slingery…Slinging…whatever) and copy and paste some of them here, thus adding to illusion that this site has “updates” and “content”, which, in turn, helps create the illusion there are also “readers”. I feel a lot like Jeremy in Yellow Submarine, creating my own world for my own consumption. Solipsists of the world, unite!

OK, Background on Backgrounds

First, you need to read this post. (http://community.wizards.com/dndnext/blog/2012/04/06/beyond_class_and_race )Really. Nothing below is going to make sense without you doing so. “Who’s Pete?” you’ll ask. “Who’s Laura?”

So, having read that, here’s my initial reply to, as copied when I wrote it, meaning, even more typos than usual. (Hm… if over 50% of my posts are prefaced with “more typos than usual”, and it sometimes seems as if they are, doesn’t that de facto make them contain “the usual number of typos”, and my “edited” posts have “fewer typos than usual”?)

So… basically, all you’re doing is providing a set of pre-chosen selections of skills/feats/powers from a larger set, and calling them “themes” and “backgrounds”? The reason this couldn’t be done in 3e, 3.5, and 4e was… ? (Hell, it WAS done, in all of them, it just didn’t get beyond first level in most cases.)

I am not seeing a whole lot of advantage here. Someone who picks a “theme” still had to read through all the feat descriptions to learn what they do, comparing one theme to another theme and so on. As characters level up, they’re going to discover they don’t like the way some part of their background/theme works and want to change it, so, really, you’re basically saying, “Here, pick this pre-defined list of stuff that goes to 20th level, except that, by third level, you’ll be ignoring it completely.”

The only reason “Pick race, pick class, boom, done” worked in the pre-3e days was that there were no other options; people who wanted detailed characters who changed as they grew played Rolemaster, GURPS, Hero, etc. If you have a game that has enough feats and options to satisfy the “Lauras” of the world, “Pete” is going to realize he’s getting the shaft. He won’t be happy with the boredom of not having any choices to make as he levels up, because the designer made them for him. On the other hand, if themes/backgrounds are the only way to get certain options (“You can’t have Thieves’ Cant unless you take the Thief theme, period.”), then people will be rightfully pissed, because that basically makes it impossible to mix-and-match, so you’re left waiting for WOTC to release the “Sort of a fighter but he can speak Thieves’ Cant” theme.

Try to remember that the 1980s didn’t happen in a vacuum, that everything occurs in a context. Just because people paid 400.00 for a machine that only played “Pong” in 1975, and it was a lot of fun THEN, doesn’t mean you can market that same machine today and say “Hey! It was fun in 1975, right? So it’s still going to be fun now!”

3e finally caught D&D up to the rest of the gaming world. 4e had some genuine innovations and actually advanced the state of the art in many ways. Both had strengths and weaknesses that are well documented. Build on their strengths and correct their weaknesses. Prior to 3e, though, D&D hobbled through the 1980s and 1990s with a design philosophy stuck in 1975. 5e needs to be a game for 2012, 2013, and beyond, not a nostalgia trip.

In Which We Explain Further

So. Here’s a longer explanation. Basically, I think what WOTC wants is for D&D to be a beer& pretzels pick up game. They envision this:

Bob: Hey, gang! We’ve got about three hours. Do we want to play Settlers of Cataan or D&D?

Gang: D&D!

Bob: Great! Everyone, pick a race card, a class card, a theme card, and a background card, and fill in your character’s name. All done? Great! Here’s the adventure, “The Cryptic Crypt Of The Crypt King”. The box set comes with 10 adventures, and there’s lots more for sale for only 5.99! I’ll be the DM!

Gang: Whee! Let’s play!

And, I ought to be clear: This isn’t a bad concept for a game. Indeed, it’s a good concept. So good, it’s been done by lots of successful games: Heroquest, for example. Talisman. Heroscape, to some extent. Dungeon. Descent. Loads I probably haven’t heard of.

It’s probably a great idea to use iconic D&D characters, monsters, settings, and terms, too. There’s tremendous value tied up in the D&D IP. Games of this type have a large market and pursuing that market is something any smart company should do, if they think they have a niche and it won’t be seen as a “me too” product hastily rushed to market (cough Spellfire cough).

But it’s not D&D the RPG, and 5e is supposed to be the “unite the tribes” edition of D&D.

So, What’s Wrong With Themes, Etc?

Absolutely nothing. I love them in 4e; they should have been part of the core. I love Pathfinders “archetypes”, which serve a similar role, changing aspects of how the character acts, removing some abilities and granting others. Backgrounds, which help better shape a character’s origin, and give them greater ties to the world and/or minor skills from their upbringing which either enhance their primary role or give them useful tricks you might not expect, are also good. On the surface, making these things core in 5e is undeniably a good thing.

So what’s the problem?

The problem is that WOTC seems to see think that the main problem with D&D is that it takes too long to make a character, that there’s too many choices, and that if you could just “start playing”, it would be great. What’s wrong with that?

First, you don’t have an awful lot of choices at first level, even in modern editions, unless a DM stupidly hands someone every supplement ever made and says “Pick a class”. For a first timer, the core classes and races ought to be enough.

Second, if one of the goals of “themes” is to collect useful choices that work together well into a bundle, this has been done since 3e; there’s always been “starting packages”.

Third, and this is really the issue here, D&D isn’t about making a character to start the game. It’s about advancing a character. It’s about playing his journey from “zero to hero”. It’s about taking him in unexpected directions as the game unfolds, both in terms of personality and game mechanics. Each level up is a chance to learn some new skills, choose new powers or spells, pick a feat, swap out old abilities, and so on, reflecting what’s happened to the character in the past couple of games.

Saying “Here’s your race, here’s your class, here’s your theme, boom, done!” works if you want a pickup game and just want to jump in. However, it’s contrary to the absolute heart of D&D, and that is the character’s ongoing story. D&D’s revolutionary idea, the concept that created the entire genre of role playing games, wasn’t “one figure equals one man”, or the integration of magic and monsters into tabletop wargaming, it was the idea of a continuing character who exists from one game to the next, growing in power and ability, trailing a story behind him. (And, importantly, not following a story laid out in front of him!)

Rules concepts like background (social skills, job skills, training, initial position in the world, cultural traits, minor bonuses and penalties from one’s upbringing and schooling and childhood and family), and themes (specializations, unique abilities, variant talents, unusual paths, esoteric powers) are great. They add tremendously to the class-based system, and help avoid the problem of drawing all character options from a single resource pool. However, and this is crucial, they must be bolt-ons to a core class system that is itself extremely flexible and capable of expressing a wide variety of character concepts and ideas within a single class. The game design, as a whole, needs to be centered around the campaign, around the ongoing adventures of the characters and their growth and progression — not on isolated adventures designed to be begun and finished in a single evening, with no continuity from one to the next, and no character growth.

But That’s Not What They’re Saying!

At this point, someone’s getting ready to point out that WOTC isn’t saying “No more campaigns” and that they’re talking about long term play, with themes offering pre-selected choices at each level, yadda yadda. Ah, but here’s the thing. The only time “too many choices” ever matter is at the moment of character creation, and then, only for very new players. If a player is intrigued enough to stay beyond a game or two, he’ll learn the rules, and want to make his own choices. The utility value of a theme, as a means of simplifying the game, diminishes rapidly with level. (This is not the same as the utility value of a theme as something which offers “out of the box” abilities or unique specializations or skills.) So, there’s a problem here. The “theme” player, if he just lets the theme run its course, is less involved in his character, and in the game, than the player who actively selects their abilities each level. He is disenfranchised, cut off from most of the game’s options, and each mechanic that allows him to ignore a theme pick and choose a non-theme pick undercuts the concept of the theme itself. Why bother with  20 level theme, if no one’s going to pay too much attention to it past fifth level? Of course, there’s nothing that says a theme has to make every choice; a theme could only come into play every four levels, or whatever, but, again, this goes against the idea of “simplifying” choices.

Of course, we’re at a very early design stage in 5e. It’s hard to say what the final form of “themes” or “backgrounds” will be. WOTC is doing 5e right, in the sense that we (the customers) are being shown the design in progress, along with the reasoning for it, instead of being told “Our professional funologists have determined that you’re not having fun. Our new game increases your fun by 78.6%. Play our new game. Have fun, Citizens. Serve the Computer. The Computer is your friend, unless you’re a commie mutant traitor.”, which was basically the 4e marketing pitch. The main test balloon WOTC is floating now, across several different columns/blogs, is “We’re thinking D&D ought to be a casual pickup game, not a long-term campaign game.” It’s time to start tossing some +5 flaming keen javelins at that balloon.

Cyborg Commando 2.0 MOAR CAPS


The Epic Saga Continues


Welcome back! I know, even for me, this was a long time between updates, but I’ve been:

Roll Activity
01-30 Ranting on the D&D Next boards
31-80 Ranting on the SWTOR boards
81-85 Actually playing SWTOR
86-90 Working on fiction for my writer’s club
91 Working on Stellar Warriors
92-95 Being distracted by funny cats on the Internet
96-00 Looking at porn Studying new coding techniques.

So, now that that’s been established… back to creating a CYBORG COMMANDO!

When we last left our intrepid CYBORG COMMANDO, he, or possibly she, was void and formless. I hoped to find some inspiration in the book for a character idea, but what I found was inspiration as to how not to write a core rulebook. The book is filled with endless details on how the cyborgs work, down to things like the precise angle of rotation of the neck and the alloy composition of various body parts and the fact your head is actually almost completely hollow and..

Oh, yeah. Your brain is in your chest. Your head… well…


You could smuggle drugs in there. Seriously.

Yeah. It’s kind of interesting that one of the leading forms of real-world nanotech now is “lab on a chip” technology, which puts all sorts of chemical analysis functionality onto a microchip, leading towards real-life tricorders. Back in the 1980s, of course, we thought you’d need to hollow out your head to do this sort of thing.

There’s a lot of really weird details in the rules, and it takes up a lot of the rules, except, it’s not really “rules”, is it? Most of this would be called “fluff”, and fluff can be good, but it’s not fluff that inspires you or gives you an idea what the world is like, it’s fluff that shows the writer probably got a degree in mechanical engineering and this is his first chance to use it. For example, we learn the Yield Strength of the frame of a CYBORG COMMANDO is 8,047 T/m2. I have no idea what that means. Is it useful in-game, in any way? No, because there’s no rules anywhere that turn “Yield Strength” into some kind of mechanic you can use to decide if your CYBORG COMMANDO is crushed by a truck or whatever. “Ten times stronger than steel!”, if technically imprecise, provides a reader with an idea, a mental image, a conception, of how tough a CYBORG COMMANDO is. “Yield strength”, for the bulk of readers, who presumably don’t know the “yield strength” of common items you find in your home and office, tells you nothing. Even in a freeform, GM-decides, make-shit-up kind of rules system (which CYBORG COMMANDO is and isn’t, and in all the worst ways), it’s a useless piece of information, because it doesn’t give the GM any assistance in making a ruling. The book is filled with stuff like this, page on page on page, and there aren’t many pages in total.

Sure, background is great, and having a little fluff to help define and ground the technology of the game is very useful — but you could cut the amount of text dedicated to this by, literally, 90%, and convey just as much useful, setting-defining, information. (Then there’s things that provide information not even used in the setting, like a page of math, detailed formulas, for hyperspace travel times, when there’s no space travel in the game. If there was a plan for future expansion with rules for space travel,  that’s where this should have gone.)

I still haven’t gone on to developing my character, have I? The above rant is a partial excuse for why it took so long to get to this point… trying to find something to hook into. Even games I’ve been unimpressed with, or which were mechanically very simple, gave me more ideas for “what kind of character can you be” than CYBORG COMMANDO does. I will be first in line to laugh at White Wolf’s purple prose, shallowly stereotyped splats, and labored emo first person narratives with light-gray text on slightly-less-light-gray backgrounds and moire pattern watermarks, but there’s no way that, by the time you’re ready to fill in the dots on your character sheet in a White Wolf game, you don’t have a lot of ideas for what kind of people exist in the game world, what you can be, what kind of k3wl p0w3rz… I mean, angst-filled personal dramas… you get based on what you pick, etc.  CYBORG COMMANDO gives you about as much inspiration as picking “Player A” or “Player B” in an 8-bit arcade game.

Even the skill list isn’t much of a help, as it’s written like a college course catalog… without any course descriptions.


The CYBORG COMMANDO skills list

"I'm going to major in Medieval English, and then join OWS."

However, this isn’t the worst thing. There are two worst things. Yes, two. Each is more worst than the other. That’s more worst than you’ll find at Octoberfest in Chicago. The two worst things about the skills are: First Worst, almost none of them are described. No, not even a single line of description — the rules helpfully explain there wasn’t room for such useless trivia as “What do the skills do”, we had to have space for the populations of dozens of cities (because it’s important to know that Caernarfon has 12,280 people, and that Cullera has 12,335), hyperspace travel formulas, and to tell you that the Xenoborgs lost 14 colonels in their invasion. You know, I gave Star Rovers a lot of good-natured ribbing over the fact there were no space travel rules, but even if I felt the rules they included instead were of secondary importance, they were at least rules. You could use them in a game. Should asteroid mining have been booted to make room for space travel? Sure, probably, but you wouldn’t stare at the asteroid mining rules in stark incomprehension and ask “Why is this even here at all? What purpose does it serve?” The other first-worst thing is that the skills are often referred to by number. How much information is gained by writing “attempts a skill check in the area of Physical Sciences (56o)”? The “560” doesn’t help you quickly find the non-existent skill description… it just wastes space.

(A few skills are described, mostly the “Psychogenic” and combat-related ones.)

Anyway, to acquire skills, I spend SP to purchase Fields, which are skills ending in multiples of 10, not Areas (which end in single digits) or Categories (ending in 00). This is the Basic game; you get more flexibility in the Advanced game, but I’m not going there unless someone pays me.

So, I have 30 Skill Points. That’s… uhm… not a lot. I mean, a whole lot of not a lot. How about 10 in 220, “Unarmed Combat”, which gives me 10 in “Occidental Combat” and “Oriental Combat”, the two Areas that are in that Field. (Somewhere, Steve Long is weeping.) That leaves me 20.

Well, 10 more in Personal Weapons. That makes me equally skilled with everything from 231 Ancient Bladed Melee Weapons (including agricultural tools) to 237 Artillery. (“Can you handle a howitzer?” “Why, sure, I used to cut down wheat with a sickle on my farm back home!”) (I should cut CYBORG COMMANDO some kind of break here, since this is “basic” character generation and many games have nothing but a “combat” stat, especially games of this era. But I’m just not in a forgiving mood right now.)

I’ll put 5 in Personal Arts 410, since that gives me access to 411 Error Avoidance, which covers “Karma & Fate” and “Serendipity”. And the last 5, I dump into 630 Criminal Activity, since almost everything under it seems vaguely useful… though with only 5 points, I’ll probably suck at it. Due to the lack of skill descriptions, it’s unclear if 634 Sex Related Crime covers “running a prostitution ring” or “committing sexual assault and getting away with it”. I guess that’s the sort of thing you need to argue with your GM about. OTOH, there’s no indication that CYBORG COMMANDOs are, ahem, “fully functional”, so it may be moot. A pity. Given the style of the the rest of the book, one might expect something like “The synthesteel duraplas pseudopenis of the CC unit is 19.8 cm in length and is covered with TextuWeave Quasiskin that transmits simulated neural responses at a rate of 10.94 megagigs per kilounit. It can be set to vibrate at 500 RPM.”

Yes, I went there. What, you expected class, decorum, or good taste? Did you read my Alma Mater review?

And so…. I’m done. My nameless CYBORG COMMANDO is ready to go kick some ass. Or get his ass kicked, since from what I can tell, I have a ten percent chance of hitting someone. No, wait…. after several minutes of studying the mind-numbingly confusing graphs, it seems I have a 27% chance of rolling 10 or less using the d10x system. Wow, that’s intuitive. (Also, raising my skill from 10 to 11 is meaningless, because you can’t roll an 11 on d10x. You have to raise it to 12 to see any gain.)

And in conclusion…  I’ve got to find something better for my next article. I have nearly 3000 game books in my collection. This can’t be hard. Synnibarr. Synnibarr should be fun. Unless someone wants to send me a copy of that game where you play flower penis vampires. That could also be fun.



(Now (6/23/2011) updated with Inferno Candle!)

Every so often, I just get some random idea and need to work on it. By “every so often”, I mean, “Ten or twelve times a day”, and by “work on it”, I mean “focus on it obsessively and pay attention to nothing else until… oooh, shiny!”.

Today (and by ‘today’, I mean ‘a week ago two weeks ago when I started this article’), that idea is candles. A quick check of the DDI Compendium shows the number of candle-related magic items for 4e is very low. This is somewhat odd, as they’re a sort of obvious concept (You light the candle, it does something magical), and because candles have a significant place in legend and lore as symbols of learning, knowledge, faith, hope, and so on. The wizard studying spells by the light of a lone candle which has encrusted  skull with wax, the pentacle with candles set at every point, the idiot venturing down the dark secret tunnel found behind the rotating bookcase in the hidden library, carrying a single candle ahead of her, etc. (OK, that last is more a symbol of “clueless person getting in totally over their head”, but these are also called “adventurers”, so, it’s all good.)

The other brilliant stupid idea I had was to take similar concepts, and stat them up for both 4e (which I’m running) and Pathfinder (which I’m playing in). The actual mechanics should be fairly different in detail, but the concepts should translate. I enjoy doing things this like this, because a big part of how I see the world is endless variants on the same idea repeated with different costumes. That, and I’m a masochist.

(And another note/apology… this is something which has been sitting open for a while, with my intending to add more, but I’ve been very busy with things that are creative and gaming related, just not intended, yet, for posting. I’ve decided it’s better to post a single candle two candles than to let the site linger in darkness. I have a lot of cool ideas for more, it’s just a matter of sitting down and statting them up!)

(The fact the DDI Compendium is currently (6/22/2011) borked didn’t help. Dear WOTC: If your business plan is to use DDI subscriptions as your main revenue stream, and your pathetically anemic lineup of dead tree books for the next year indicates that you are, it better be working all the time, and known bugs should not be met with “Meh, it will be fixed in the next monthly patch cycle.”)

4e Basic Rules

Candles — well, these candles, which are considered to be alchemical items — follow the following rules.

  • Lighting a candle is a minor action that does not provoke an OA. You must have some means of generating flame (a prestidigitation cantrip, tinder and flint, a lit torch, a pet fire elemental) readily available and in your hands. You must have both hands free to light a candle, unless the candle is placed on the ground or otherwise secured, in which case, you need one hand free.
  • Extinguishing an unattended candle is a minor action does not provoke an OA. Extinguishing a candle someone else is holding requires a standard action (Dexterity vs. Reflex)
  • Once a candle is extinguished, all of its effects end immediately.
  • All candles weight 0.1 lbs.
  • Unless otherwise noted, a candle burns for five minutes or until the end of the encounter.

Pathfinder Basic Rules

I’m pretty sure there’s a gazillion-odd magic candle supplements for Pathfinder. I’m not going to bother looking them up, because I’d end up spending a hundred bucks at Drive-Thru RPG, and I don’t have a hundred bucks to spend. (Sheesh, click some Amazon links, people!) Also, it would make the OGL cumbersome. So, here’s some rules just for these candles.

  • Lighting a candle is a move action which provokes an AOO. You must have some means of generating flame (a prestidigitation cantrip, tinder and flint, a lit torch, a pet fire elemental) readily available and in your hands. You must have both hands free to light a candle, unless the candle is placed on the ground or otherwise secured, in which case, you need one hand free.
  • Extinguishing an unattended candle is a swift action which does not provoke an AOO.
  • Extinguishing a candle someone else is holding can be tried as either a Disarm or Sunder Combat Maneuver, but these do not provoke AOO as usual.
  • Any force of wind strong enough to cause combat effects (including natural winds and spells such as gust of wind) will automatically extinguish a candle.
  • Candle duration is given for each candle.

Specific Candles

Candle of Clear Shadows

This candle is made of fat rendered from a master thief executed for his crimes, mixed with ectoplasmic residue. The wick comes from a noose used to hang a blind man. It has an oddly translucent appearance.

4e Game Mechanics

Alchemical Item, Level 5+

  • Level 5: 50 gp
  • Level 15: 1000 gp
  • Level 25: 25000 gp

Property (Zone): So long as the candle is lit, all invisible creatures within a Close Burst 5 zone of the candle will cast thin, wavering, shadows, giving them merely partial concealment. The candle can only affect beings of its level or lower. There must still be enough light to see the shadows (the candle fills the area with dim light, but follows normal rules for obstruction, magical darkness, etc, so some areas may still be dark even if they’re otherwise affected by the candle’s magic). The candle lasts until the end of the encounter or until it is extinguished. The candle can be moved, and the zone will move with it.

Pathfinder Game Mechanics

Aura: Faint Divination; CL: 5; Slot: None; Price: 750 gp; Weight: 0.1 lb

This candle creates a magical zone in a 15 foot radius burst, centered on itself. Any invisible creatures within the zone, including those naturally invisible, are instead treated as having partial concealment. There must still be enough light to see the shadows (the candle fills the area with dim light, but follows normal rules for obstruction, magical darkness, etc, so some areas may still be dark even if they’re otherwise affected by the candle’s magic). The candle lasts until the end of the encounter or until it is extinguished. The candle can be moved, and the zone will move with it. Creatures with Spell Resistance may check against it each round they are within the candle’s effect; this is done at the start of their turn or as soon as they enter the zone.

The candle burns for 25 rounds, total. If it is snuffed out but not destroyed, it can be relit for whatever rounds were not used.

Construction: Requirements: Craft Wondrous Item, invisibility purge; Cost: 375 gp.

Notes: Compare to a scroll of invisibility purge or a lantern of revealing. Unlike a scroll, it can be used by anyone. Also, because it can be extinguished and relit, it is more useful than a scroll, because it can be used in several encounters, if it isn’t destroyed. The spell effect is less powerful than a true invisibility purge spell, which is why there’s no Will save to resist it, but it’s also much easier to extinguish the candle than it is to dispel an Invisibility Purge. These balanced out, in my mind, to giving it the same cost as a scroll. A lantern of revealing is much more powerful, but also much more expensive.

Candle of Companion’s Light (Thief’s Candle)

This candle is made from the same components as any other in the local culture, with a mundane wick. However, when it is made, a drop of blood is required from all those whom it will affect.

4e Game Mechanics

Alchemical Item, Level 2+

  • Level 2: 25 gp
  • Level 12: 500 gp
  • Level 22: 13000 gp

Property (Zone): When ignited, the candle creates light which can only be seen by those whose blood was used in the making of the candle. (Creatures without blood, such as constructs or undead, might drop in a few skin shavings). For rather obvious reasons, these items are often made by rogue alchemists or wizards strongly linked to guilds of thieves, assassins, and other ne’er-do-wells, but the formula is often trained or sold under the rubric of “For adventuring companions battling the forces of darkness deep in the earth!”, thus sometimes avoiding legal scrutiny.  The light created is a close burst 3 around the candle at second level, increasing to a close burst 5 at 12th level and a close burst 7 at 22nd level. The candle will burn for a number of hours equal to its level, and it can be snuffed and re-ignited at will until the total time is consumed, however, each ignition burns a minimum of one hour of potential time (so a candle that burns for 5 minutes and one that burns for 50 both consume an hour of the total ‘burn time’).

Pathfinder Game Mechanics

Lesser Candle Of Companion’s Light

Aura: Faint Evocation ; CL: 4; Slot: None; Price: 300 gp; Weight: 0.1 lb

When ignited, the candle creates light which can only be seen by those whose blood was used in the making of the candle. (Creatures without blood, such as constructs or undead, might drop in a few skin shavings). For rather obvious reasons, these items are often made by rogue alchemists or wizards strongly linked to guilds of thieves, assassins, and other ne’er-do-wells, but the formula is often trained or sold under the rubric of “For adventuring companions battling the forces of darkness deep in the earth!”, thus sometimes avoiding legal scrutiny. When lit, it creates a 15 foot radius zone of light, equivalent to that of a torch. It will burn for up to 4 hours, and can be snuffed and ignited at will, but each ignition consumes a minimum of one hour’s “burn time”.

Construction: Requirements: Craft Wondrous Item, continual flame; Cost: 150 gp

Greater Candle Of Companion’s Light

Aura: Strong Evocation ; CL: 10; Slot: None; Price: 1250 gp; Weight: 0.1 lb

This candle functions exactly like the Lesser Candle of Companion’s Light, except that it lasts for 12 hours and sheds light in 30 foot radius.

Construction: Requirements: Craft Wondrous Item, continual flame; Cost: 625 gp

Notes: I based the cost of the Greater Candle on applying the metamagic ‘widen spell’, to create an effective level for a version twice as powerful. The ‘each use counts for an hour’ rule is there mostly to keep people from tracking seconds or minutes in a tedious fashion. Very few people would bother to do this, anyway, so why not formalize it and prevent a tiny amount of unnecessary bookkeeping?

Inferno Candle

To craft this candle, some small amount of fat from a red dragon (even a hatchling) must be blended in. The wick is from fibers soaked in alchemist’s fire for seven days.

Red dragons can smell these candles at a distance of 60 feet (no Perception check needed). They do not look favorably on those who carry them. During the first expansion of Caranail, one adventuring wizard happened to have one on his person when he explored the region later known as the Gibbering Wastes. He vanished, but some months later, a box containing 50 candles was delivered to his family in Corazain by an unknown benefactor.

4e Game Mechanics

Alchemical Item, Level 6+

  • Level 6: 75 gp
  • Level 11: 350 gp
  • Level 16: 1800 gp
  • Level 21: 9000 gp
  • Level 26: 45000 gp

Property: So long as this candle is lit, the character holding it, or any creature adjacent to it if it is not being held, causes any powers with the fire keyword, of the candle’s level or less, to gain the Brutal 1 property (reroll any damage dice that come up 1). In addition, such powers have their critical range increased by 1.   It will burn until the end of the encounter, or until snuffed. Once extinguished, it cannot be re-ignited. Holding this candle does not interfere with spellcasting, but it otherwise occupies a hand.

Pathfinder Game Mechanics

There are three sorts of inferno candle, the lesser, the normal, and the greater. The lesser requires the fat of any kind of red dragon; the normal requires the fat of a dragon of at least young age, and the greater requires the fat an adult dragon. Sufficiently little fat is required that those in the business of making dragonskin armor can usually scrape enough off of a decent sized piece of hide to make a little extra selling it to an alchemist.

Lesser Inferno Candle

Aura: Faint Transmutation ; CL: 5; Slot: None; Price: 1000 gp; Weight: 0.1 lb

When ignited, this candle increases the damage done by all spells of 3rd level or less with the fire descriptor, such that whenever damage dice are rolled, any results of “1” are re-rolled. It affects the spells of the person holding it, or those of any adjacent creature if it is set down. It will burn for 5 rounds, and cannot be re-ignited once it is snuffed.

Construction: Requirements: Craft Wondrous Item, Empower Spell,  ability to cast a spell with the fire descriptor of at least 3rd level; Cost: 500 gp

Inferno Candle

Aura: Moderate Transmutation ; CL: 13; Slot: None; Price: 4550 gp; Weight: 0.1 lb

As per the lesser inferno candle, but affects spells of 6th level or less.

Construction: Requirements: Craft Wondrous Item, Empower Spell,  ability to cast a spell with the fire descriptor of at least 6th level; Cost: 2275 gp

Greater Inferno Candle

Aura: Moderate Transmutation ; CL: 13; Slot: None; Price: 7650 gp; Weight: 0.1 lb

As per the lesser inferno candle, but affects spells of 9th level or less.

Construction: Requirements: Craft Wondrous Item, Empower Spell,  ability to cast a spell with the fire descriptor of at least 9th level; Cost: 3825 gp

It’s A Great Big Universe….

…and we’re all really puny.

Those lines, from the classic mid-90s Warner Bros. “Animaniacs”, nicely sum up one of the recurring themes in the games I run, and, in general, the games I enjoy playing in: The world extends far beyond the tabletop.

In a recent thread on RPG.net, someone asked if people liked/disliked the idea of “adventurer’s guilds”, the concept that “adventurer” was a profession which was generally recognized in the world. The OP (Original Poster) didn’t like them; I did. By the time I joined the thread, it had turned into a tedious digression on the meaning of the word “hero”. (All threads on the Internet end in one of two ways: Either someone’s called a Nazi, or the Grammar Nazis show up.) Anyhoo, in that thread, I pontificated on my beliefs (you know, like I do in every thread on every forum everywhere), and while I’d like just C&P my post because I’m a lazy bastich, RPG.net is down right now (must be a day ending in ‘y’), so, in summary:

I like worlds where the PCs are important, because they’re the PCs and the players are sitting around the table singing “Here we are now, entertain us”, but where they’re not, on a world scale, unique. They’re not the first of their kind and they won’t be the last. While they’re saving the world from the undead dragon invasion, some other group of adventurers, somewhere else, is saving the world from a mad arch-lich. This is something which goes cross-genre. If the PCs are the Avengers, it’s a much better, deeper, more believable world if there’s also the Defenders, the Teen Titans, the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, the Justice League, and lots of duos who were too lame to get their own book but who the company thought could survive if they were in a book together. How much fun would Vampire be if the PCs were the only bloodsuckers around, if there wasn’t an entire society of glorified leeches lording it over each other like High Schoolers?

PCs need equals to interact with. They need a society of their peers, people to seek aid from, or compete with, or battle.

If the game is very narrowly focused on a single story arc, this can be less so. If the game is intended to be more episodic or support a variety of play, it’s good for the PCs — whatever they are — to fit some role in the world, or to have peers. Even in a “secret knowledge” world, ala Buffy/Call of Cthulhu, where the great masses of mankind live in blissful ignorance of the horrors which surround them, there should be organized societies like the Watchers, or gangs of self-taught vampire slayer’s like Gunn’s in “Angel”. Someone had to write all those forbidden and blasphemous tomes the PCs are reading in Cthulhu, and it’s likewise inevitable that at least a few of the mad cults you’re going to run into were stopped a decade or so earlier by some other Investigators, only one of whom is still alive and is now gibbering in a madhouse.

This is one of those areas where many people have the exact opposite reaction — to them, a world full of adventurers is an unrealistic one. Consider this, though: Which makes more sense? That the Enterprise, a ship intended for the same diplomatic and exploration missions as its sister ships is the only one which, week after week, runs into godlike aliens, seductive green space babes, and temporal rifts, or that such things are pretty much par for the course, and if, one week, the USS Enterprise manages to complete a scan of a star system without a single redshirt dying, it’s highly probable that the USS Lexington just emerged from an unexpected time warp where they’d been catapulted to feudal Japan and the captain now has a shiny new katana to hang in his ready room?

Others protest that such things make the PCs less unique. I disagree. First, the PCs are going to be unique simply by virtue of being PCs — they’re the only things in the universe not created by the GM. Second, on the world scale, there are still thousands, to tens of thousands, to millions of non-adventurers to every adventurer. This is especially true in games where character power levels inflate over time — there simply aren’t that many 20th level anythings running around, and the few there are are mostly locked in a kind of stasis, balancing each other out.

There are practical considerations, as well. A world full of Adventurer Class Individuals (ACIs) is a world where replacement PCs can show up, believably. They may even have some knowledge of what the heroes have done, since they move in the same circles.

Lastly, it’s always good to remind the players that even if they’re big fish in a small pond, they aren’t the only fish. If they grow too complacent, to sure they can get away with anything because the NPCs have no one else to turn to, let them find out that someone else was called in to deal with the orc raiders, because they were half a continent away kicking the dust in some mummy’s tomb.