Monday, December 25, 2006

Seasons Greetings from the Warlock

Merry Merry, cats and kittens.

For what it's worth, there hasn't been a lot of gaming going on since the conclusion of the Monday night Eberron Game.

That said, a new record of four brave superheroes has emerged, circa 1985. The alien John Doe, the winged-warrior Avoral, the robotic Rambo II, and the gun-nut CheapShot have taken it upon themselves to investigate a mysterious break-in at the newly unionized American subsidiary of the Polish company TMP Cybernetics.

Their path leads them from their headquarters near Langley, to the midnight streets of Krakow, to the depths of Siberia, in search of the (now-crippled) Rage Lord, the mysterious Iron Skull, and a man in green who may prove to be their greatest adversary yet....

In the meanwhile, have yourselves a good holiday. Whether you're religious or not, the holiday season has at least one message that we can all get on board for--peace on Earth and goodwill towards all men. Happy Holidays, all!

Friday, December 08, 2006

Musings of the Warlock--How Complete Arcane Changed Third Edition

I was in the tub a few days ago--I, like most people, do a lot of good thinking in the bathroom--and came upon a bit of a revelation.

I've been gaming for just about 15 years now. While I started in the midst of Dungeons and Dragons' second edition, I was quite familiar with the first edition rules, as well as that of Palladium's various systems.

The very foundation of the Dungeons and Dragons concept of magic revolves around a bastardized version of the magic system used by author Jack Vance, in his Dying Earth series. Within gaming circles, this knowledge is not uncommon. Vance was one of the first popular fantasy writers to come up with the idea of magic as a 'fire and forget' system. Your first level wizard would prepare/memorize/ready his magic missile, but when that spell was cast, it was gone for at least 8 hours.

This concept of 'fire and forget' magic translated easily into D&D, splitting evenly along the lines of divine and arcane magics. It was simple for a player to tell how many spells he had left, what level of spells were available, and what he could do at any given time. That said, many gamers felt frustrated with their inability to replicate the iconic spellcasters of fantasy and folklore.

And, seriously...who can blame them? Tolkien didn't exactly sit around worrying how many 8th level spells Gandalf can pump out in a day, or whether Saruman memorized that Telekinesis spell with a metamagic effect on it. Robert E. Howard didn't spend time figuring out whether Thulsa-Doom should use Polymorph Self or Shapechange. Tennyson and Malory didn't exactly worry so much about whether Merlin had cantrips or not.

This debate went on into third edition and its 'successor', 3.5e. While revolutionary, particularly in terms of the System Reference Document and the Open Gaming license, the Vancian-based magic system continued in terms of both wizard and sorcerer, both druid and cleric, and even the lowly bard. Always, we seemed pinned into 'fire and forget'.

This is not to say that other systems have not gone in other directions. Countless systems have. Even D&D has, to lesser degrees, through its psionics system, even in second edition. The problem there, though, is the fact that psionics is a marginalized segment, even within the more open scope of third edition. Within second, the system was stigmatized for balance issues, making playability and popularity minimal.

However, after the advent of 3.5e, Complete Arcane was released. And with CArc came a novel concept--the Warlock. For the first time in the history of Dungeons and Dragons, players were given a spellcaster who was not limited by spell slots or memorization. Instead, it was merely a matter of knowing or not knowing an invocation.

The uproar, at least on the Wizards of the Coast message boards, was immense. Many players simply did not comprehend how to play the class. Where a wizard or sorcerer would simply run out of spells, the warlock could run all day, non-stop, yet still remain balanced with its Vancian counterparts.

From there, the warlock's popularity led to further innovation within the D&D magic system. Tome of Magic, featuring the TrueNamer and the Binder, both featured functional magic systems that were comparable to those of the wizard and sorcerer, yet provided unique alternatives. The binder had access to any of its abilities, once per five rounds. The truenamer could use its highest abilities over and over again, provided he could make his ever-escalating true-name check.

Magic of Incarnum pushed the envelope farther, impinging on the realms of New Age mysticism and Far Eastern metaphysics through chakra binds and soul melds. Again, these did not require spell slots or memorization--just pick what you like. The higher you get in level, the more earth-shaking things you can do.

So different, so innovative were these concepts within D&D that they have spread out of the realm of magic and into the realm of melee combat, through Tome of Battle: The Book of Nine Swords. Again, rather than readying maneuvers based on a Vancian system of x per day, we find abilities that can be refreshed in mid-combat, and are automatically regained following a battle.

Now, what does this mean for the discerning player? Well, by and large, it means more fun. Players enjoy seeing their characters at their best. When we're low on hit points, low on spells, low on resources, it becomes difficult to succeed at any major task. The priority for the player and for the character becomes resting, not adventuring. We, as players, play the game to fictitiously adventure, not to fictiously rest. These new systems accentuate this style of play, moving on the action faster and more furiously, pleasing both players and DMs.

What does this mean for the industry? This, above all else, shows the gilded age of D&D that has been upon us. For 25 years, authors have felt constrained to comply with the Vancian system, simply for verisimilitude. For the first time, we have authors, on a large scale, stretching their wings within the D&D engine. New systems, new concepts, mean more innovation across the board.

Needless to say, this sort of change is hard to fathom, coming from only one base class in a splatbook. But, the Warlock, for the first time, provided a divergent point of view--showing us that D&D can still be D&D without spell slots...and sometimes can even be more fun for it. The Warlock and its ilk will never replace with typical Vancian wizards and sorcerers of D&D--there's too much heritage there to fully overcome that massive mountain--but, the point remains that D&D has changed...particularly, changed for the better.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Chronicles from Eberron--The Tale of Harrigan the Horrible (Finale)

This page is the final entry in Harrigan's journal, and appears to be a message to his comrades about his final decision regarding the Professor, Dhalia, and his own fate. To this day, the fate of Harrigan Grimgem is unknown, but it is presumed that his body still lies in stasis within the depths of DreadHold.

To Khin, Lillis, Jacquin, Johnathan, and Sparkles--

This be the end o' the road for me, ladies and gents. It's been quite the trip, and it's been happy, for the most part, but I canna simply continue my galavant 'round the world and shirk the weight o' the world that's been sittin' on all our shoulders.

I'd save ye from this, so I do now what needs ta be done.

We live in world o' great magic--a place where the impossible happens each day, and any cutter worth the eyes in their head doesn't even blink. Ye know how easily life and death are moved across, what with spells of resurrection and raised life. Trust me, ye don't live in Karrnath all 'o yer life without pickin' up something about bringin' back that what was once dead.

That said, there be too many ways to get back at the old proffy's brain. Too many ways to bring him back or raise him as some undead and make him spill his secrets.

Ye also know, then, the stares I be gettin' whene'er we're in town. The eyes on me staff--the one we took from Xen'drik. Even if not for killin' Dhalia, the Inspired'll soon be after me...and ye with me.

And so, this be why I'm leavin' ye. Here, in the depths of DreadHold's Stone Ward, I'll lie at one with the rock and stone till all this be past. I've left specific instructions with the High Warden to not raise me for 500 years, or unless four of the five of ye decide that ye be needin' me services again.

I'll be takin' only the Destiny Arms and the proffy's body in me bag o' holding. There, they'll be trapped in the stone with me, in the most secure prison in all o' Eberron. If the Inspired get at it there, it'll have meant that the whole damned world belongs to them already.

Everythin' else I have goes straight to ye. Consider it my worldly thanks for bein' good friends, good travelin' companions and...well, damn, ye already know all this. No point in me sayin' more.

If'n ye want more help against the Inspired, I know a man. Drop me name in Rekkenmark and look for Alain Fannin, sometimes called "the man in black." He'll help ye, if the bastard knows what's good for 'im.

Johnny--What ye preach is true and holy. Spread yer word to whomever'll listen, and ye'll shake the land itself in time. I hope ye find yer way home again someday.

Jackie--yer a good man, regardless o' what they say. There's more to nobility than a title, though, and methinks ye learned that sometime along the way. Take care o' the young'ens for me.

Khin--The lands o' Karrnath have been good to us both. I hope yer collection'll be lookin' fine someday. Ye've been true to yer land and yer bones. I salute ye, soldier.

Lil--The world be a rough, harsh place at times, but there be great good within it. Ye stand as testament to that goodness, and someday it might come out in all us. Keep an eye to the gnome. He'll be needin yer help some days, methinks.

Sparkles--Aye, ye addle-coved berk. Yer home awaits, and with it, the sights of yer family. My hope is that ye find them and live out yer days in peace yet. Dinna overdo it on the Temples, wee one!

Aye, well that be quite long enough for any berk to be rattlin' his brain box. Take care o' yerselves, hearties. May the ground e'er rise to meet yer feet.

--Harrigan "The Horrible" Grimgem, 2nd Rank Bone Sergeant, Prospector, Miner, War-Wizard, Martyr.