Monday, December 31, 2007

Raavnia: Closing the Book

I have about two more posts sitting around waiting to be FINISHED on the subject of Raavnia. So if you've been waiting for anything on it, I can tell you that I have ideas for it, but I lack the motivation to finish them.

On the other hand, I would love to put together a quick 100-page PDF on the game world, for people who want one.

I think there's enough meat and/or notes there to justify $5-10.

Not sure why I posted that, but I needed some make it clear that I have little intention of writing again on this (or maybe even Coil), so 2008 can open with strong new ideas, unfettered by the ghost of incompletion.

Friday, December 28, 2007

-2007/2008+

Looking Back I was just looking at my game shelf, at games I haven't played in years or never found people to play with. I saw a few cool books that I wish I could have gotten more excited about. And a few that fell short of their potential. I noticed a lot of weird games that I never cracked and a few that I played too much of. I spotted 3 extra decks for TORG, five copies of Twilight 2000, another three copies of James Bond, and 50+ game screens, most to games I don't even play.

Mostly, I see a history of loving something that I don't get to do anymore.

Sure, I play a board game now and again and we gather for roleplaying once a week at James' place for Mutant's and Masterminds or whatever the soup du jour is... but I don't see a lot of "projects" on my shelf, like I used to.

I don't see any notes about unifinished game worlds or adventure paths I'd like to run for whatever fantasy RPG people are up for. I no longer collect odds and ends that will never end up in a campaign, but I hope they will. It's been 3 years since I cracked a Central Castings book, or thumbed through a Better Games design document.

Looking backwards, I see a lot of stuff I'll never get to do with gaming, ever again. And it makes me wonder what the future of gaming is for me...

Looking Forward
It's tough looking forward at the idea of tabletop gaming and what it means. Everyone is in a holding pattern, waiting for the next big thing, but I think the industry is OUT of next big things. CCGs, pogs, clicky-bases, 3.0s... I think we're out of new ideas. Every time a new one comes along, people clamor around it, like vultures, trying to make a few pennies on their new idea... eventually killing interest in it prematurely.

WoWs dominance of everyone's attention has certainly curbed any chance of people gathering around a game table anytime soon and the writer's strike is sure to kill any chance of people gathering in front of a TV, either. There are no more gathering places. No more hangouts and clubs for people to enjoy their hobby. Even the internet sites are a hap-hazard array of angry kids, stoic idealists, and confused consumers all biting to be part of a community... any community... eager to taste that fruit they once bit into as adolescents.

But that's the past.

2008 is the future. A milestone in this, and every industry, as America and the West tries to make sense of variable-rate mortgages, globalization, outsourcing, recession, election fraud, global warming, entertainment, Gen-Y buying habits, and whatever new problems arise in the next 12 months.

How are people going to spend their free time? Their entertainment dollars? Their energies? What are we going to devote ourselves to?

Bigger $100 board games ala Fantasy Flight Games?
Small $10 card games ala Fluxx?
Cheap CCGs?
Halo 3.14159?
WoW expansions?
GTA 4?
Booze?
Virtual reality pets?
Live Action Experiences of the dependable kind (Universal Studios)?

What is left?

And where are we going?

ASIDE: Holy crud. The WLD thread on ENWorld.org is now over 100,000 views.

wow!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Rock Band

Okay. So my wife got me ROCK BAND for the 360, which was a total shock, since we promised not to buy each other gifts. I only played two songs on the guitar this morning, since we have so much to do. And we haven't unpacked the drum set, yet. But the highlight of the present was watching Yun pretend to sing with the microphone.

Oh dear god.

Hilarious.

You can read over at Chris Pramas' site, the story of naming his ROCK BAND.

Remakes

Movie remakes rarely live up to their potential and a majority of sequels in gaming have failed to be as fun as the original.

Traveler 2300 was no where near as fun as the original, D&D 2nd was riddled with problems (NWP... c'mon!), Top Secret/S.I. was made by people who never played the first one, and Shadowrun has yet to produce a playable version of this incredible game world. Crimson Skies has also suffered from the cool game world, disconnected rules associated with many FASA products.

Nonetheless, here's a short list of games that will always suck money out of my pocket, (unless they use photos for art).

Blood Bowl. While not an RPG, it suffers from edition syndrome and is among my favorite games, ever. The latest edition is easily the best and I always sign up when a league forms, even if people insist on playing with the very very very broken Star Players.
Boothill. Not sure why. Call me nostalgic.
Call of Cthulhu. No brainer.
Car Wars. Tell me again why this game's popularity died?
Cyberpunk 3. Desperately in need of a careful editor (who understands nomenclature), I would love to play this game.
D&D 5th. I think they'll get it right by then. I hope.
Dogs in the Vineyard. Have I mentioned yet how much I love this game?
Earthdawn. I would love to see a version of this game that actually felt like the game world and that addressed the xenophobic and agoraphobic themes in the world, as well as the frontier aspect of the story. It was sad that you weren't really "exploring" in Earthdawn the way that Lewis and Clark did.
Gamma World. I've always wanted to love this game, but if someone did a really smart version of this, perhaps using some of the INDIE design models, I would jump on that grenade.
James Bond. The original by Victory Games is still among one of the best and most underrated RPGs of all time. It's still good by today's standards and it made playing a SuperSpy viable, long before anyone found a way to do it.
Kult. In my top 5 of RPGs. 2nd Edition was ugly and impossible to read, but I still love this game. Dying to play with a smart group again.
Legend of the Five Rings. Of course, I'm biased. I would like to convince Todd that a 4th Edition is needed, with rules for Ji-Samurai, Cinematic, Epic, and Strategic levels of play.
Star Frontiers. See boothill.
Torg 2.0. Also in my top five game pile, I eagerly await this one. In lieu of that, a book that detailed that stuff would be awesome.
Twilight: 2000. Still my favorite RPG. A 3rd edition would taste good right about now (so long as they made is 2010 or something). I actually love the original system, but Spycraft is a good foundation for it.
Underworld. Ray Winninger has made some incredible games, even when his mechanics are ludicrously exponential, I still love playing them.
Warhammer Fantasy. I love what Chris Pramas and Robert Schwalb did with this latest version and would hate to see a new edition, but if they made one, I would be on board.

Anyway. It's late. I can't sleep and here I am rambling about an XMAS wishlist of games that might never be.

Peace, Noel, and all those good feelings you see in the Hallmark store.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Religions in Gaming: A Fallacy


All Art by William O'Connor. Copyright AEG.
Used without any kind of permission. See wocstudios.com for more.


One of the inherent flaws of religion (especially in fantasy gaming) is this notion that only Clerics worship gods. This mindless interpretation of human analysis is futher codified by a lack of understanding of nations as well, as though England, France, Germany, and Spain didn't all pay homage to the Catholic Church for 1,000 years. Even the Eastern Empire paid homage, even if to their own Pope or own view on Orthodoxy.

So it would seem, this lack of understanding about faith, would permeate gaming on so many levels that only Clerics worship and the only true role of a Cleric in a game is to heal wounded PCs too stupid to run away from the things that stick in this.

To give you an idea of how important religion (still) is in the world, imagine that 95% of the world has access to the Old and New Testament, in their native tongue. Consider that the word Koran means recitation and that the goal of EVERY Muslim is to learn the entire recitation. The Bagavad-Gita, one of the longest books in the world, details some 100,000 Hindu gods.

In a global census, conducted in 2001, people were asked what was most important to them from a list of five things. Freedom to practice religion ranked #1 in every nation of the world except the United States, Canada, and England. In some countries, 96% of the population considered religious freedom more important that personal freedom.

And this numbers are not unique to the 20th and 21st centuries. This data can be applied to nearly every time period of human existence, perhaps alarmingly more extremely the further from the Age of Reason you get.


So. If these number even have a +/-10% of error, that means as little as 85% and as much as 100% of a (fantasy) population worships one kind of god or another. That means 8.5 out of 10 adventurers worship a god. And if you extend that logic to other fantasy (and not alien) races, you can see an alarming trend that is vacuous in gaming circles -- devotion and worship.

Now, some people might say that worship has no place in a game about killing orcs, trolls, and dragons and others might argue that a fantasy game doesn't need to mimic the real world. Fair enough. Without derailing from the topic, too much, let me propose this. If a gaming campaign's primary goal is escapism, combat, and fun, what purpose does a cleric have, other than to heal. Why not just give wizards access to healing spells and move on? If a gaming campaign's primary goal (as some people have told me) is to be just and defeat evil, then where does this moral center extend from? How can a society have good and evil, without a clear metaphysical explanation of where these morays stem from?

Remember, societies define themselves by Law and Chaos, order and disorder. People define themselves by their actions - Good and Evil, moral and amoral. These concepts stem (usually) from a religious center that condemns some actions and approves others (it is just to kill in the name of your god? those who oppose us are our enemies.)

Fantasy games are not alien excursions into impossible worlds that defy physics, gravity, logic, and every tenet of reality we expect. Fantasy worlds are rooted in what we know, added elements of what we don't. They have humans who speak "English," use two hands, breathe air, sleep, and engage in normal human activity with the added bonus of +1 swords and maximized fireballs. If they lacked these core components, what could we expect from the game by misless random chance perpetrated by events that spin out of our control at every turn.

Why play?

Religion, while not a component of everyday life in America for every American, is still something we see and recognize in the world around us. Look around you. I suspect there's at least 10 churches within a 5 mile radius of your home, right now.

Religious Enlightenment
It is the aim of all peoples (except atheists, I guess), no matter how devote, to seek the approval of their god, and church. It has been like this for centuries. In fact, most people before 1500 AD gave an excessive level of wealth to the church in order to get a better seat in heaven. Enlightened or not, these precepts need to be recognized in fantasy game worlds.

Now. I've been vocal about my opinion against Hack and Slash munchkin gaming. Frankly, I don't see the point. But I'm not going to judge that, today. But I am going to say, that it does really apply to anything I'm saying from here on out.

Because roleplaying games are self-centered (not in a bad way, we sit down and play our character, not the world), our exposure to the morality of the game world comes through the actions and behavior of the characters. If the PCs resort in murdering NPCs at every turn, that means (whether the GM intended it or not) the world is a dangerous place to life, where life is cheap.

Should the PCs in that game world be murdered while helpless, they cannot act surprised.

The inverse example is also true. PCs that help the sick and infirm, defend small villages, and turn over bad-guys to the authorities probably live in a world where law and order are just as important as charity and goodwill. While less realistic, these kinds of game are probably more commonplace than the previous example.

So in order to maintain a semblance of religious reality in a gaming world, the characters cannot go about their days ignoring Thor and Zeus and Kali. In fact, in many instances, they can't even go a few hours without another prayer session or moment of silence and reverence.

Obviously stopping every two hours to pray to the gods of the four winds is no way to keep a campaign moving. But only cutting mistletoe from a tree on winter solstice with a silver sickle is no way to play a stoic druid who reveres nature above all things. There should be a happy medium.

Having each character select a god to worship (regardless of class) is a good start. And before someone tries to say, "even my savage fighter and barbarian characters?"

Yes.

Even soldiers in William Wallaces Scottish renegade police force worshipped god.


Hell, even the Nazis thought they were doing god's work.

And let's not forget, before the corruption of the Templars and the Catholic Church in the second crusade, religion wasn't something normal people were jaded about. Even while they were getting their thumbscrews tightened until they said, "Uncle," most people considered holiness and eternal life in the hereafter more important living itself. In fact, so afraid were people of dying and wandering purgatory forever, the number one fear of the black plague wasn't dying, but dying without a priest administering the last rites.

How then can we believe

Now. You'll notice. Since 99% of all fantasy games are either an Arthur (usually Morte d'Arthur) or Tolkien derivative (and the Lord of the Rings was surprisingly low on bishops and priests), these game worlds lack "god" as a primal focus of how the world was created. It's no wonder why they have no place in gaming.

And the Forgotten Realms is even worse.

With over 100 gods to choose from, it's impossible to keep track of. It gets so ridiculous, that a city like Waterdeep has 50+ chapels with no chance whatsoever of eliciting legitimate response to their respective causes.

So, obviously the world needs to reflect the attitudes of the GM and the player's equally. Which probably starts with people talking about exactly what it is they want from a game...
Playing the Part
Which brings me to roles.

Now. I'm not going to tell anyone how to play. That's just silly. What good would that do. If you want to play godless dirt-worshiping heathens, go right ahead. But for those of you with paladins and clerics in your games, it's sort of important to figure out what they stand for...

... and why they are here in the first place.

For starters, if a cleric's only role is to heal the other PCs, then give those spells to the wizard and/or give them more healing potions. Problem-solved. Stop reading now.

And if a Paladin's only game plan is to be annoyingly judgmental prick about every action the part takes, let any of the PCs take PRICK as a feat and give the mount ability to him or her. And since Smith Evil can be found on every third bad prestige class, there's really no cause to play this class for it's abilities.


So. With that in mind, let us design these classes the intelligent way. What is their role?

Cleric [Ignoring for a moment that every god should have its own specialized Cleric class.]
Well. Certainly priests and ministers need to heal the sick, perform marriages, christen babies, negotiate disputes between neighbors, proselytize, perform miracles, and when they have time convert "sinners" to their cause, especially in proactive religions. That can mean a wide range of things, but the majority of those non-adventuring abilities can fall under the same umbrella -- perhaps a Rituals skill that a Cleric can increase at will, regardless of level.
You've got to get father Zybron to perform your wedding ceremony. Not only was my mother in tears at how beautiful it was, but my dad claimed to hear angels speak to him. I kid you not.
Obviously, this will create a greater range of abilities for Clerics and make them a sought after character to play for people who want to "roleplay" in addition to killing things.

Clerics need to heal stuff, but I don't think they need all the BUFF spells that come with the class. Wearing armor and fighting with an improved attack bonus is benefit enough in my opinion.
Want a real challenge, have a fifth level fighter take on a fith level cleric who already has bull strength, magic vestment's cast on himself before the combat starts and then uses his spiritual weapon and inflict spells in place of a weapon. Make the situation worse by having the cleric be an orc with Strength 20, virtually guaranteeing his touch attacks. When its time for the orc to heal himself (if it goes that long), he can hold person the fighter, while using his 1st-level cure spells until he's ready to pull out his warhammer and finish the combat. What does any of that have to do with being a cleric, again?
Now, the rest of their abilities can be pulled right out of AEG's Secrets, which details acts of faith and miracles that clerics can perform as part of their "job." Obviously these need to be personalized, but I think this is an excellent place to start designing a new, more appropriate cleric class for your realistically designed metaphysical cosmology.



Paladin [Ignoring for a moment that every god should have its own specialized Paladin class, that it should be a prestige class, and there shouldn't be an alignment restriction.]
Paladins are soldiers of god. They are the most virtuous and most dedicated of the "Pope's" retinue, doing (without question) whatever must be done in the name of Poseidon, Loki, or Shiva.

So. What are they doing adventuring with money-hungry dwarf mercenaries, halfling pick-pockets, murderous assassins, and one-trick pony clerics?


Those of you who followed the design of Raavnia some months back, may recall that Paladins were entrusted with the role of hunting down heretics. And while that might not be the right job for every campaign, its a place to start for determining what paladins in your campaign do.

So.

Let's examine the class.

Smite evil. Detect evil (for free). Mount. Lay on hands. Excellent saving throws. Aura of courage (book-keeping for Munchkins). Turn Undead (a useless ability on adventures without undead; and an abusive ability in an adventure with a few undead). Special Mount. Remove Disease. And after 6th level... nothing.

Let's not forget a code of conduct (yawn) and an alignment restriction (stupid).

Wow.

Not only is that a random assortment of abilities, but that's just boring.

Okay. So let's try to make this class more useful, shall we.

Delete the alignment restriction. Check with everyone at the table... can bob play a Paladin this campaign? Is that going to conflict with any character designs? No? Okay, there's your code of conduct.

Paladins hunting heretics need to be able to detect ALL alignments, cast zone of truth, and sense motive at a level no one else can. Their "smite" needs to be a damage bonus to all attacks against all heretics equal to their Wisdom bonus. The special mount is easily tied to their "bounty hunting" style. Turn undead makes little to no sense. Aura of courage is gone. And lay on hands doesn't seem to fit this design.

This version of the Paladin needs more Skill Points, access to more skills, good saving throws, lots of money and resources, and the ability to exorcise demons/devils. Once all of that is pulled together, you can slap around some bonus feats here and there and make this class comparable with a fighter, ranger, or rogue in terms of power and utility.

Your experience may vary.


Tying it All Up With a Pretty Bow
The key ingredient, before mechanics and world design, is getting the players on board. If the players resent the notion of religion sneaking into their kill-fests, then ignore everything you've read today. But if the players want to try something new, with more realistic overtones, giving the players "gods" to worship and a reason to worship them is paramount.

Religious people attend church, which builds community, which gives people access to contacts and even information/discounts from people they trust. Followers of Odin can probably get access to really nice weapons and worshippers of Dionysus know the best places to carouse, no matter what city they are in. Followers of Vishnu can crash for free in one his temples, anywhere in the world. Even followers of Brahma and Krishna might let you stay for free as well.

While game benefits are excellent boon to give players for choosing a god, the environment needs to reflect that sort of thinking. Games like Dogs in the Vineyard encourage intellectual discussions and impassioned debate about the "Laws" and what is truly just, creating a unique game experience that cannot be paralleled with a roll of a d20. Characters that worship similar gods (from the same pantheon) give themselves room to debate what sort of course of action they should take against a lich, giving them a moral dilemna, rather than just... kill the lich, which requires no decision-making whatsoever.

This article went a lot longer than I originally planned. What started as me talking to myself in the shower about the metaphysics of the modern world, grew into a 3-hour long write-up (complete with phone interruptions, data research, and art manipulation) that spanned modern and ancient religions, bad character class design, munchkins, and new abilities for PCs that may or may not be exploited just as much as any other bonus.

Thanks for stopping by and we'll see you next time on Great Cleave.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

AEG II

So. Now that the shock has worn off... what am I doing back at AEG?

Good question Mr. Moderator. Let me try to answer that for everyone (and by everyone I mean the six people, not including my mom, who read this blog).

For starters, I am the Creative Director of AEG. Which could mean a lot of things down the road, but right now it means, I'm the writer/art director on Phase (a new CCG coming out) and the guy you finishes up the Board Games for Marcelo's new Board Game division.

I will have more information in the coming months, as this blog becomes more and more active with news and pictures from the various games we're producing. I still intend to do my own stuff on the side, but I've been swamped the past 6 weeks with work, so I hope the new year brings more energy and structure to my posting schedule.

Demolition Man?!?!

I love Order of the Stick. I love the in-jokes. The story. Most of the characters. And the constant twists and turns that a simple stick figure artist seems to muster from his wacom tablet.

However, I can not abide where this very very very very poor story is going. Are we to believe that Haley, Belkar, and a few sub-characters are going to somehow retake the city from an Army of Hobgoblins, Red Cloak, and Xykon?

I mean, wtf?

I know. Whatever. Sit back and wait. But this is one of the dumbest fiction tropes there are. Just arm the peasants. That'll work. Right? Just send in Steven Segal. That's work. Right?

Name a movie or novel that did this... and was interesting or believable?

Stargate? No.
Mad Max 3? No.
Waterworld? No.
Demolition Man? No.
Ewoks? No.
Seven Samurai? Yes. Especially because this is the very plot of the movie and not some hackneyed attempt to solve a poorly structured plot.

And order of the stick is not Seven Samurai. Not even close.

Btw. I just watched the Golden Compass (damn fine movie/spoiler coming) and near the end (before the monologuing gets really cheesy), there's a fight between nameless guards, a polar bear, a horde of Gyptians, Sam Elliot's rifle, and... children.

And not a single child or Gyptian is hurt. Yet the guards (who outnumber everyone) are killed to a man.

Bad. Bad. Bad.

Writing 101: There can be no tension without consequences.

Writing 309: Just because your comic is funny, does not mean that slap-stick plots are.

UPDATE: Go bad guys!

Monday, December 03, 2007

AEG

As of December 3rd, 2007, I am back at Alderac Entertainment, working as Creative Director and Production Manager.

A moment of silence, please.