Sunday, February 27, 2011

In Which The Warlock Rolls Well...But Not Well Enough...

As with the last few years, the Wittenberg Feast of Steve went off without a hitch.  The Feast of Steve, you non-Witt gamers out there, is our yearly celebration of the guild mascot, Steve the Badger, during which we have a great spaghetti dinner and then distribute posters for WittCon around campus.

Solid!  The d20 Blaxploitation Experience
However, in honor of Black History Month, the Enigmatic Mr. Ebbs decided to run a special one shot to coincide with the event.  In the spirit of his infamous LARP, "Whatever Happened to Clevon Washington?" we broke out a copy of Solid:  the d20 Blaxploitation Experience.  This, above all else, was an exercise in political INcorrectness.

Based on the d20 Modern rules, Solid! attempts to emulate the blaxploitation films of the 70s, like Three the Hard Way, Super Fly, and the immortal Shaft.  With prestige classes like "Hustler", "Foxy Lady" and "Private Dick", the mechanics emulate the genre pretty well, all told.  But, the game doesn't really take flight unless you've got the right players.

Enter CincinnAdam.  Playing a Preacher-Man named Brother Ezekiel Johnson, he hammed it up, promising hellfire and .45 shells for any "damned sinner that dared harm the sheep of his flock."  But it didn't stop there, no sir!  Evil-Parallel-Universe-Andy took on the role of Hung Solo, a Street Hustler eager to find out what had happened to his streetwalkin' ladies.

Look out, Shaft!
Jack Boot's on the case!

And yours truly?  I took up the role of a Private Dick:  Jack "Steele Toe" Boot, a trainee on the force, taking over for Will the ManMan's retiring "Black Bart". 

The scenario was a simple one.  Find out what's been happening to a series of missing people in River City's hood, and figure out what exactly The Man--Mr. Biggs Masterson--has to do with it.  After putting the squeeze on one of Jack Boot's snitches, we found our way to one of The Man's warehouses, which was heavily guarded.  After putting the stomp on the guards, we got in somewhat over our heads, fighting against a horrid foe that turned out to be none other than the Son of Blackula!

After duking it out with Son of Blackula for a time, the villain attempted to make an escape.  Brother Ezekiel, who had fallen in the clash, lay on the ground unconscious with his gem-studded gold cross scattered on the floor.  Thinking fast, Jo-Mama Waffle picked it up, tossing it to Jack Boot just as Son of Blackula was about to slip out the far door...

That's right, sucker!  You better run!
 ...with my Black Die of Doom in hand--my player-killing, bubble-near-the-18 d20 in hand--I asked to make a ranged attack with it, throwing the cross like a knife.  EEE agreed, and I tossed the die with nonchalance.

Natural 20!

The table erupted with glee.  EEE had me toss 2d10, then double it for damage, as the cross caught Son of Blackula right in the back.  Unfortunately for me, my d10s were nowhere near as a hot as my d20.  With a 2 and a 4, the crit turned into naught but a grazing blow, and Son of Blackula escaped into the night.

Such is life, as a gamer.  Sometimes the dice love you.  Sometimes, they just won't...

Thursday, February 24, 2011

In Which The Warlock Runs Somewhat Behind...

The coming end for Actorios...

Okay, so I'm late again.  Deal.  It's been one of those weeks...

At any rate, I've been contemplating a new step for our weekly D&D game.  You see, as I mentioned in his character background on here, Actorios of Theleb Orethia is designed entirely to be a tragic figure.  While not necessarily the most sympathetic, the futility and desperation of his means will one day catch up with his ends, no matter how noble he might think they are.  Defile an entire plane, then drown a city-state?  Perfectly fine for Actorios, since his aim is to bring water to the rest of parched Athas...

The challenge, then, comes from what happens next.  Not what happens once he succeeds, mind you--I'm fully anticipating him to fail!--but rather, what happens when the deals he's made catch up with him.  He's already reneged on his pact with Yrkoon, the Ever-Hungry.  He's all but abdicated his title of Crown Prince in Theleb Orethia.  Even were he to return, nearly all of the nation hates him anyway for driving them to ruin.  His pact with Andropinis is tenuous, and was entirely made out of convenience...

So, the question remains:  what happens after Actorios gets what's coming to him?

I had earlier promised Chaotic Frederick that, should my hex-slinging anti-hero get rubbed out, my next character would be Lawful Good.  Yes, that's right, my lovelies.  Yours truly, playing the hardest alignment to play...

Another time, perhaps...
My original intent was to go with a full-on tank, trying out the psionics rules with a Battlemind.  While originally unimpressed with the damage output or the ability to draw fire of the battlemind--at least when Lupin was kicking around--additional options provided through Psionic Power and Dark Sun have made it a much more attractive choice.  On a whim, I statted up a dwarf battlemind then leveled him on up to 30.  Even with a two-handed hammer, my little experiment was pinging an AC over 50 at that point, with a potential +7 to all defenses, every round!  Man, that's tanking!

But, one of our newer players beat me to the punch.  With a Fighter and another Battlemind already in the party, adding a third tank doesn't help a thing.

So, I thought, what would be cool?  What would be challenging?  What would be outside of the norm?

I immediately thought of a Psion, but almost as quickly dismissed the idea.  Despite the psionics system differences, there wasn't enough draw for me to want to play another high-Intelligence, high-Charisma character.  But, above all else, the party needs ranged support--right now, the only "back-liner" is Chris II's ranger, who's been spamming Twin-Strike like it's his job...which, all told, it kind of is.  Even moreso, the party needs some control elements.  Damage hasn't been lacking, but control of the battlefield's been a difficult thing for us to maintain.

My next character, perhaps?

Then, it hit me.  If I'm going to play against type, why not do it all out?  A Druid.  Control elements, dangerous at range, and finally beefed-up through Primal Power.  This, indeed, would do.  Plus, there's a neat chain of powers at Paragon-tier that allows for massive cold vulnerability piling onto enemies.  This, I could live with!  While the cold damage is a little off-putting a desert world, reflavoring could make this guy into a sun-worshipper...someone whose spells sap the very life and heat out of his foes. 

So there you are, my lovelies.  My next creation is my utter antithesis--a faithful and devout, elemental worshipping, Lawful Good druid.  Man...Chaotic Frederick is going to be blown away...

Sunday, February 20, 2011

In Which The Warlock Sheds a Tear...

Bat Masterson--
The object of Roxanne's affection
Emotion is a funny thing.  No doubt, we get attached to our own characters in role-playing games, but I'm often shocked at how much emotion gets attached to the NPCs in various campaigns, particularly romantic interests!

Way back when I was running Saltmarsh--almost 5 years ago now!--two NPCs ended up in romantic relationships with PCs.  Jathalain, an elven merchant and ranger, fell for Sarah's archer-bard, Brighid, while Chris 0's monk, Daishar, fell for the NPC Paladin Ashlyn.  It absolutely blew me away that the two players, fully rounded individuals themselves, were so eager to start a ficticious relationship...essentially with me, as I narrated the NPCs' actions, but just as much with a fictional idea of a person!

The Walkin' Dude waits in Denver...
What's more, I just watched it happen once more in this week's Deadlands game.  The PlatinumChick's saloon-girl/huckster, Roxanne, has all but fallen for the notorious Bat Masterson.  They've gone on three 'dates' in game...four, if you count their "liasons" in the Dodge City North Church.  But, with the posse having eliminated the threat of the Tick-Tock Man and driving Randall Flagg out of Dodge--especially after he tried to repossess the mystic weirding stone known as Maerlyn's Grapefruit--they're on their way out of town as well, heading west towards Denver.

 Masterson, as history shows us, joins the notable Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday in the gunfight at the O.K. Corral, in Tombstone.  And, at the time, we were all under the impression that Masterson did not, in fact, survive. 

The PlatinumChick looked at me with all but tears in her eyes.  "I feel bad," she said, "because I know what's going to happen to him, even though I shouldn't know what's going to happen..."  I replied succinctly that the Weird West is a history that's not our own...maybe there was a chance to save him?

"But, I have to find my dad!  He's heading towards Seattle!"

Therein lies the choice, no doubt.  As The Dark Tower beckons and the Great Rail Wars rage around the posse, in the background is going to lie a terrible choice.  Will Roxanne manage to make her way to meet her father in Seattle, or will she turn south to save Masterson from a horrible fate?  For that matter, will she ever free her arcane powers from Maerlyn's Grapefruit? 

Time will tell, my lovelies...

(Note:  As we found out after getting home, Bat Masterson did not die at the O.K. Corral.  In fact, he later moved to Denver, where he married an actress...sound familiar yet?)

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

In Which The Warlock Has a Bone to Pick...

What else can history teach us? Only the vanity of believing we can impose our theories on history. Any philosophy which asserts that human experience repeats itself is ineffectual.

--Jacques Ellul
I remember my first gaming session.  I remember piling around my friend Nathaniel's grandparents' house with three other guys, eager to roll dice for the first time.  I remember the first character I ever played:  Miron Blademonger, an elven rogue named for luminary Pittsburgh sports announcer Myron Cope.  I remember the first D&D game I ever ran, back in 8th grade:  a mashup of Dragonlance and Ravenloft that, looking back, was the absolute worst in fanboy-ism. 

I remember the first Wittenberg RP-Guild meeting--over 30 gamers crammed in the Li Room, all eager to hear what plans were on the horizon for the Wittenberg gaming scene.  I remember my the first WittCon, our first trip to Origins.  I remember my first game of WEGS (and the first incarnation of Nordling!).  Gaming permeates my memories like smoky cumin through a rich curry sauce.  Hell, in my wedding vows, I spoke of how I live in realms of fantasy, yet managed to find a real one in the PlatinumChick.

All of these are memories, obviously, and they're all important to me.  But to anyone else, they're just vicarious experience.  I can speak as fondly as I like of my own experiences, but at the end of the day, they're mine and no one else's.  Even those who were there bring their own perspective, experience, and opinion to each scene.

Myself and Mike Mearls, at Origins 2008
The above, undoubtedly, is why I took so much issue with the article I read recently.  Mike Mearls, current Group Manager on the D&D R&D Development team (and all around 4e guru and creator) began a new column on the Wizards of the Coast site, entitled Legends and Lore, which is devoted to the history of D&D.  Mearls' opinions, show the desperation of a D&D design team that is either unable or outright refuses to continue to evolve the brand, in favor of wallowing in the successes of prior editions and creations.

Speaking as someone who owns products stretching back to 1st Edition, speaking as someone who bought the D&D 30th Anniversary Book...when are we going to get on with something new?!
My biggest problem with Mearls' ideas stems from the hypocrasy of ideas that he seems to convey.  I agree with him in the sense that D&D is less about the rules, less about the 'numbers', and more about "your experience as a group, the stories that you and your friends share to this day. No specific rule, no random opinion, no game concept from an R&D designer, no change to the game’s mechanics can alter that."  However, rather than forging unique experiences and fostering the idea of The Individual as a gamer, the D&D brand has become rooted in providing a manufactured experience, with its creations (and their creators) more fixated on doing homage to their predecessors than actually providing new and unique takes on material.

Case in point:  WotC's current release schedule.  The current gaming community--particularly on ENWorld and, but that's beside the point--has clamored for more information on the so-called PoLand setting:  the Nentir Vale and its environs.  Little fluff has been written about the Empire of Nerath, aside from the blurbs now and again referencing its past in various splatbooks.  A full campaign setting, detailing the history of the Dawn War and the Fall of Nerath would break new ground for gamers--allow these designers to put their mark on the D&D world like Ed Greenwood did with Forgotten Realms, like Weis and Hickman did with Dragonlance

Been there, gamed that...
But, such is not the case.  Scheduled material on the release calendar shows nothing of the sort.  Rumor has it that such a book was once on the docket, but was cancelled along with several other products.  Instead, we get the Neverwinter Campaign Setting...which was already covered in the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting.  No doubt this was done as a package marketing deal with the upcoming Neverwinter MMO, but still...there's nothing new on the horizon. 

Hell's bells, there's only 6 total products for D&D this year on their own product catalog!  And two of the four aren't even books--one's a board game and another's a set of Dungeon Tiles!  Don't believe me?  Go look for yourself.

And the past few products?  Well, we got Gamma World...a throwback to the tongue-in-cheek post-apocalyptic game from 2e era.  We got Tomb of Horrors, a re-write of the classic 1e module.  We got a Castle Ravenloft board game, which while mechanically fast and fun, revels in its indulgence of the revered Hickman module.  And, we got the Dark Sun Campaign Setting.  Don't get me wrong--I love Dark Sun as much as the next guy, but why not something new?!

Mearls has the best of intentions when he says views D&D as cyclical.  He states that "A cycle emerges, as each version of the game represents a shift from one gaming generation to the next. What I’d like to do in this column is inspect that cycle, take it apart, and use it to look to the future."  But, the problem with cycles is that they lead nowhere.  In any business, as with in biology, the old adage strikes true:  Evolve or die.

It becomes clearer and clearer to me that D&D, as a game, has ceased its evolution after the advent of 4e.  Obviously, 4e itself was revolutionary in terms of its mechanics, its cosmology, and its game balance.   However, the creative team in the past 2-3 years has nearly become apologist for these drastic changes, eager to "return to their roots" and win back gamers from other systems, most notably Paizo's hit Pathfinder.  WotC's biggest effort in this is obviously the Essentials line, but the product releases listed above speaks for itself.   Mearls addresses this fracturing of the community at the end of his essay, working an emotional appeal for gamer unity, pleading "Don’t let that (sic) details drive us apart when the big picture says we should be joined together."

No.  Fundamentally, no.  You don't play in my games, you don't share my experiences.  Further, you (and everyone else in the gaming business, myself included) don't share the experiences of Gygax, Arneson, Hickman, Monte Cook or anyone else.  Trying to emulate their creations only makes for pale, unsatisfying imitations, and limits your own creativity.  Instead of trying to replicate what came before, why not work on something that comes organically?  Or, if there's such a dearth of new ideas, channel the works of someone who is being creative?

Indulging in "...Inverness"
Further, the continual attempts to "standardize" the D&D experience through RPGA gaming and events like D&D Encounters doesn't provide the ability to "share our imaginations" as Mearls eloquently puts it, but rather homogenizes and sterilizes the experience.  If the concept of D&D Encounters is to be a short, new-gamer-friendly experience that shows off the uniqueness of the game, why run players through a pre-destined, linear track that wallows in its own nostalgia, making obscure references to the Ghost Tower of Inverness?  Why not put out a new setting, or a wholly new product and show it off?

A few months ago, I lauded John, over at World Vs. Hero for "making it new".  His game provides a fresh, unique method of storytelling in a format that's rarely seen--one-on-one gaming.  I joined the WEGSHogz because El Willy brought a fresh take to old-school gaming--the casino elements and unique adverserial GMing of WEGS are almost unseen, throughout all of the games I've played. 

D&D is, and will most likely always be, the king of the hill in terms of roleplaying games.  But, if the most beloved roleplaying game is to survive, it cannot stagnate.  As the saying goes, those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it...and, in this case, if you can't learn from what's gone before, you're going to be stuck back in 1973 forever.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

In Which The Warlock Posts Some Previews...

With the con season approaching rapidly and Origins event submissions due soon, it's time to start the hype machine for this year's games!  EEE, L-Train and Will the ManMan are still looking to get their submissions in, but yours truly, the PlatinumChick and Chaotic Karl already are locked and loaded. 

Take a look at our slate so far, and enjoy!

Title:  Westward on the San Juan Express
System:  Deadlands Reloaded
Dates Run:  Wednesday, 7pm and Friday, 1pm
Description:  All aboard the San Juan Express, running non-stop from Little Rock all the way to Denver! Live in the lap of luxury, as you escort the ever-charming and cantankerous Sam Clemens all the way to the Mile-High City. Unfortunately for you, it looks like not everyone on board the train seems to like Mr. Clemens' trademark witticisms. Can your desperadoes keep ol' Mark Twain alive until he can get to the Wall Street of the West? And what's that weird smell coming from the back of the train...?

Title:  The Near-Orbit Mass-Driver Blues
System: Icons:  Superpowered Roleplaying
Dates Run: Thursday, 7pm and Saturday, 1pm
Description: An advance force of Ky'yrrr aliens have erected a mass driver-an orbital railgun-around Earth, and are threatening to use it against the oil rich country of Kerplachistan. However, all is not as it seems, and there may be more to the Ky'yrrr than meets the eye.

Title: WEGS +Cthulhu = WEGSThulhu!
System: WEGS Old Skool Redux
Dates Run: Friday, 7pm and Saturday, 7pm
Description: It's time for WEGS to go a little crazy!  Join High Skolar Armitage as he looks for the Nekronomikon, but with cultists everywhere and the corrupting influence of the Mythos, who can you really trust?  The Sanity points are gonna fly!

Title:  Lawfully Blonde
System:  D&D 4e
Dates Run:  Wednesday, 7pm and Friday, 7pm
Description:  Six fabulous and stylish heiresses get more than they bargained for when they give up their posh lifestyles in favor of the grim and gritty world of the adventurer.  But, will they be willing to scuff their Manolo Blahnik greaves?  And what color goes best with goblin blood?  It looks like the life of the adventurer isn't as glamourous as it once appeared!

Title:  Chrysalis
System:  Call of Cthulhu d20
Dates Run:  Thursday, 7pm and Saturday, 7pm
Description:  Strapped for cash, you and five others volunteered for Project Chrysalis, a new sleep study at the local hospital. The doctors seemed nice, and the $6,000 they said they'd pay upon completion of the study seems like a massive windfall. There's really only one question that you're left asking, though: "Am I a man who dreamt of being a butterfly, or am I a butterfly dreaming that I am a man?"

Title:  Orcs Gone Wild!
System:  D&D 4e
Dates Run:  Wednesday, 7pm and Friday 7pm
Description:  When the shaman's ancient totem is stolen by a bunch of do-gooder adventurers, it's up to the tribe's best and brightest to infiltrate Hamletshire and get it back....what? They're dead? Oh, okay. It looks like you guys will have to work instead! Players will take the role of a motley crew of orcs, goblins and kobolds as they fumble their way through Hamletshire.

Title:  Beneath the Tomb of Dark Lord Zexx
System:   Star Wars d20 Revised
Dates Run:  Thursday, 7pm and Saturday 1pm
Description:  The planet Zexane is causing troubles again. While the stash of Sith Swords is now gone, it seems something else was buried there. Reports have come to High Command that a powerful Sith Beast is roaming the wilderness, and perhaps even in town. The last report out was signed “Zexx”, the name of the spirit vanquished in pursuit of the swords. Your team has been sent to deal with this. The group can choose to play as either a Sith Empire or Old Republic elite strike force sent to deal with these troubling developments. 

I'll keep you posted as more and more of the WittCrew's games get finalized!  Cheers all!

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

In Which The Warlock Contemplates Sleep...

With nearly a full week off last week due to the ice storm, then a weekend away at a local bed & breakfast, I have well and truly screwed up my sleep schedule, my friends and neighbors.  Having slept in comfortably for almost a week, waking up at 6:00am to do the teaching thing has been brutal.  I've been averaging about 4 hours of sleep a night, since Sunday, which has left me pretty bleary in the mornings.

However, it's occured to me:  adventurers have got to have the worst sleep routines of anyone else out there in fantasy-land. 

Bear with me here:

Wake up, Crono!  2 hours aren't enough?
A wizard has it easy at first, studying under another mage or the like, or attending a mage academy.  One would figure that if a mage academy is anything like a modern college, said wizard probably spent three nights of the week at the local tavern, followed by a harried Sunday of writing theses and practicing cantrips that will never see use in the field anyway.  Is it any wonder that warlocks and sorcerers skip all of this mess?

After graduating, that wizard must spend at least 8 hours asleep each night, followed by another hour studying their spellbook to attain their spells for the day.  Afterwards, follows an absurd amount of travel--usually to some far-off adventure site--during which there are typically three encounters, each taking approximately a minute and a half of dodging, spellcasting, getting stabbed, and trying to stay conscious. 

Following said encounters, the wizard has to make dinner for his comrades, get patched up (especially if the party's warrior-type didn't do his job well), then settle down for a night of camping in dangerous, foreign territory.  If he's lucky, he won't have to take a 3 hour watch, interrupting his sleep even further.  And then?  After all this?  He has to do it again tomorrow!  Madness!

The "ideal" version of the D&D campsite...

Imagine for a moment, if your day was like this.  You wake up after a night of sleep only to find out that your work will take longer, if you didn't get enough sleep.  You then go on a road trip, deliberately out in the middle of nowhere, during which you'll be mugged not once, but three separate times!  Then, instead of sleeping in a motel or the like, you have to camp out in the wilderness--regardless of weather--and do it all again the next day.  And just hope that you don't get woken up in the middle of the night by some more muggers!

I might complain about my sleep schedule, but if I was Magey McWizardson, I'd be passing out constantly!  It's almost a necessity that GMs hand-wave the exhaustion of travel and the like, or every adventurer would be dying of sleep deprivation and other related diseases.

All this actually reminds me just a touch of my "Tear of Ioun" game.  At the start, as the PCs explored the Forlorn Tower, their resources--and sanity!--dwindled away, they actually feared sleeping!  After all, who would want to sleep in a corrupted, dripping tower that shifted into and out of the Far Realm over and over again? 

Do your friendly neighborhood adventurer a favor--get them some rest!  That "extended rest" might not seem like much to us, but they need their beauty rest!

Saturday, February 05, 2011

In Which The Warlock is Away...

As a pseudo-Christmas/V-day present to the PlatinumChick, we're off at a bed and breakfast in nearby Eaton.  As such, I have *cough* some more pressing matters to attend to... ;)

No entry today.  Back on Wednesday!  Cheers!

Thursday, February 03, 2011

In Which The Warlock is Like, Y'know, Whatever!

In prepping for Origins 2011, the Guild has been discussing what's getting run by whom--always a massive decision, that!  My plate's already set, as I'm packing Icons, Deadlands, and my homebrew WEGS scenario: "WEGS + Cthulhu = WEGSThulhu!"

But, with the PlatinumChick still thinking up ideas, we've been trying to decide what she'd like to do best.  Already on the docket is her new Call of Cthulhu scenario:  "Chrysalis".  But, what to run during our other two sessions?  Then, the terrible truth struck....

"I play at, like, the 9th level!"

You see, a while ago, I stumbled across a horrific idea on the forums at  something that we're tentatively calling "Lawfully Blonde".

The premise is a simple one.  The entitled, materialistic daughters of the local lords have decided to take up the glamourous lifestyle of Adventurers!  With rhinestone-studded swords in hand and Glitterdust spells at the ready, they're ready to take on the world.  Just don't get orc blood over their Manolo Blahnik greaves! 

You see, my lovelies, it's become apparent you can create an entire party in 4e D&D, with every character having Charisma as a primary stat.  From Paladin to Sorcerer, from Rogue to Warlord, there's a way for every character to be a pretty, pretty princess...and still manage to lay the smackdown on the bad guys.  As such, we'll have the ultimate party of Valley Girls...

"Functional" armor....right...
Naturally, we'll have rules that apply specifically to this game.  Style points are a must, to say nothing of tiaras and plastic jewelry.  And, of course, the "Inverse Armor Rule" has got to apply here!

I feel a little bit ashamed for this.  But then again, I don't have to play in it...

Look for it at Origins 2011, cats and kittens!