Sunday, September 20, 2009

z20/Omri: Death of Myrksog

After a 3 month break, S. and I got in another Omri session today. Omri and party managed to find and slay Myrksog the bugbear; details appended to the "Myrksog" section of The Amazing Escapades of Omri Buckle & Co.

We played using z20, which is what I quietly renamed mini20 to earlier this week (thus effectively reviving that old obsession). I had drawn up some crude character sheets a couple weeks ago. They worked well, though I need more room for gear and maybe less room for tracking spell effects. I still haven't found the best way to track spell effects--how much the GM should track and how much the player should be responsible for, and how to note it in either case.

We played a little more than 2 hours, which is quite a bit longer than our normal goal of 1 hour, but it seemed to move along pretty well.

As usual, I forgot a few details here and there--such as the miss chance for shadowy light, especially when characters without lowlight vision moved away from the torch-lit area. But that's pretty minor.

I used poker chips to track hit points and spell points and that worked nicely.

z20 grapple rules worked well--there was a significant amount of grappling happening, all without GM pain! S. also used the "Heroic Exertion" rule that I came up with just a day or two ago in order to turn a failure into a success on the last blow against Myrksog. This made for a much better story (rather than trying to chase Myrksog down into some tunnel, and maybe even seeing him get away). The exertion also left me with a karma point, which I already have plans for. (Bwahhahahaha! <--Evil GM laugh.)

A couple z20 alpha test notes for myself: While I really like being able to choose from the whole spell list, it does means spellcasters can do almost anything. I think more specialist spells would be a good way to encourage focus/customization. Imposing limits on spell selection would mean more rules (so I'd rather not do it), but I may still give it some thought. The number of spells cast felt about right though.

There were some other d20 features lost in the adaptation. For instance, without feats, Jimmy doesn't have Rapid Reload anymore and now takes a turn to reload his crossbow. Also, Solomon Jack isn't very "bardy" in terms of game mechanics. Again, not sure what I want to do about that.

Not having to track squares and attacks-of-opportunity was nice. Overall, z20 flows pretty well, though it still takes a pretty hefty amount of time just adding up various modifiers. (Admittedly, there were 9 combatants involved.) I don't think I'll make any changes on any of those until after a few more game sessions.

Overall, a great evening--fun story and good feelings for the z20 game system. Maybe soon I'll be able to successfully end this 2 year obsession with streamlining d20!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Fallen Clerics in a Morally-Objective World

Waiting for the bus today, I began to puzzle over the idea of the corrupted D&D cleric and, by extension, the fallen paladin and the innocent church-goer deceived into cult worship. These things make good story hooks, but how could they ever happen? In D&D, deities grant spells directly, so how could a cleric ever unknowingly stray from the path of light? Surely the sudden lack of spells would be a wake-up call! Here's my take on it.

First of all, clerics can be one degree of alignment different than their deity. So a LG cleric of Heironeous could drift to LN without losing his spells. And a cleric doesn't have to be evil to disagree with the PCs and get in their way. Indeed, this can be an even thornier issue when the cleric is not evil and so cannot simply be dispatched.

However, the idea of a cleric actually turning to dark magic while still believing he serves the light is pretty thrilling. I think it could happen in D&D as follows: Most deities have many appellations beyond their normal (true) name. For example, Moradin of the dwarves is also called Soul Forger, Dwarffather, All-Father, and Creator. A cleric would likely develop their own personal appellation for their deity--even something as simple as "my Lord" or "my Light". Driven to distraction by sorrow, hate, greed, or a quest for revenge, they may rely on this personal appellation more and more as they slip from their true faith. Eventually, when they finally cross the alignment line and their deity refuses them spells, they would likely have a conflict of faith. Perhaps this would lead them to a period of fasting, flagellation, and praying, calling to their deity by their personal appellation. Eventually, their call is answered again. In their relief and rush to return to their work, they don't fully investigate the presence now granting their spells. (Indeed, there's probably a lot of self-deception going on by this point.) Unbeknownst to them, a new deceptive deity is now granting them spells and receiving their worship and appellation.

Now, when the PCs catch up with this cleric, they can still point out certain objective facts: the evil cleric channels negative energy, has an evil aura, and receives no reply if he calls upon his old deity by its true name. Faced with such facts, the cleric may be redeemable: he may atone and eventually return to the light. Or he may embrace, knowingly and whole-heartedly, his new patron deity and be forever corrupted to evil.

Adventurers: Embracing the Cliche

I started working on mini20 again this weekend. I also went to my local gaming store to browse around for a bit, as I've been feeling a bit dry when it comes to good story ideas. I looked through the bargain bins of old 3.0 and 3.5 OGL adventures and the like, but didn't find anything very exciting. For most of them, I thought: "Hmm... same old, same old--adventures come to town, find trouble, and so need to clear out a dungeon."

But I realized later that I'm being snobbish: adventurers clearing out dungeons for wealth and glory is the very essence of D&D! I've realized the same thing when reading pulp stories by the likes of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Robert E. Howard, and H.P. Lovecraft: yeah, this stuff may not seem particularly original today (especially after it's been rehashed and imitated in fiction and film for decades), but the stories are still damn exciting! And a sort of lite, fast, almost beer-and-pretzels dungeon-crawling campaign is exactly what mini20 is supposed to be good for. That's what's so great about using genre and cliche: you know what you're getting into, you know what the background assumptions are, and you can just jump straight into the action.

During this morning's shower, I considered this further and realized that the concept of the "adventurer" is key. Indeed, the adventurer concept is at least as important to the fantasy roleplay genre as magic and exotic beasts.

What I mean by the adventurer concept is that the fantasy world has areas of darkness and danger. These could be great tracts of wildness or simply the creepy-crawliness of the city sewers. These places are dangerous because of the foul beasts that dwell there, but are frequently well-stocked with gold and treasure accumulated by said beasts. The common citizen fears these dark places, but is willing to hire independent contractors to deal with them when the irregular need arises. Thus, in the fantasy setting, there is actually a well-established career of "adventurer". That is, the citizen of a fantasy setting should think "I need to hire an adventurer for this" as readily as they might consider hiring a plumber or a blacksmith. Sure, adventurers might not be thick on the ground--particularly since the fresh, eager, inexperienced novices are the most likely to be picked off--but their rag-tag bands are easily recognized in the fantasy world when they do show up. In such settings, there's nothing strange at all about a local striding up to such a band in the inn, tossing a pouch of gold coins on their table, and offering to hire them for an odd job.

Thus, the adventurer is an independent problem-solver for hire: mercenary, detective, explorer, spelunker, and exterminator all in one. Starting out, of course, they serve as simple caravan guards, mercenaries, and message-carriers. Some may fall from the path, becoming little more than highwaymen, brigands, freebooters, and grave-robbers (and thus giving other adventurers a bit of a bad name, though also employment to deal with their fallen colleagues). But those that do make it, and that strive for noble altruistic ideals as much as for buried wealth, become heroes, revered throughout the land: part war-hero and part rockstar.