One of the many things I’ve been trying to get off the ground in the last two years, more like three, is the Gnosis RPG. It’s a new game system and campaign setting designed to be gritty, dangerous, and easy to play and set up. The campaign world is the modern world, except it’s really not. See, all those conspiracy theories about rock music being a tool of Satanic cults, or that NASA is hiding aliens in Area 51, or that big businesses are really a front for an ancient conspiracy to rule the world after they kill most of the human population, are actually true.
Yup. Every. Last. One.
Magic is real. Science is being held back. Aliens are constantly trying to invade. Religion is a front. Tin foil hats really DO protect your brain from the spy satellites. And if you try hard enough, you can become the thing the monsters fear, become a monster yourself, or start your own conspiracy.
One of the things I wanted to do with this setting, though, was to give everything a “real-world” explanation, even if it involved fringe science or a stretch of what science said was allowed. Clearly, conservation of energy, momentum, and all those silly physics laws prevent pretty much all of this from existing, but by minimizing or at least giving some semblance of explanation, even if it’s flimsy, the game seems just a little more real. Respecting established science is one of the best ways to come up with a setting that feels fantastic yet plausible.
Take, for example, the simple matter of angels and demons.
I say simple in the same way that designing the space shuttle from scratch is simple.
I wanted to bring religious horror to Gnosis, and the idea of demonic possession and even angels as alien beings far removed from the fluffy-winged images of modern society appealed to me greatly. They would form two sides of one of the major conspiracies in the game’s universe. However, how to make them semi-realistic or at least sound plausible?
Firstly, I needed to figure out what was an angel and what was a demon.
I quickly settled on the idea that both angels and demons were not so different. In fact, in many myths, demons are fallen angels. That being said, perhaps the difference between both is more philosophical than physical. In that case, I needed a new name for this new creature and settled on the Elohim and that the titles of “angels” and “demons” were just one of the many cloaks they wore when seeking worship, an act that fed them psychic energy. The name is the ancient Hebrew name of God, and I figured a race of beings that present themselves as gods and divine beings would certainly approve of.
The most common ability both angels and demons seem to have is the ability to communicate with people despite not being in the same room, so telepathy is a must. Possession is also popular, more so for demons that angels, so that needs to get rolled in there. Barring that, what’s left?
Angels are often described as warriors, but the original texts describe them as beings that would not be out of place in a Lovecraftian horror story. They are supposedly massive, alien, and powerful. To even look at an angel is to invite death and destruction. In other words, their true form might not even be possible to have in-game. Demons are also usually described as horrific, so again there is some common ground between both camps of Elohim.
Of course, maybe the shapes and wild visions of angels and demons in the old texts are not real images, but rather hallucinations and deceit. Maybe Elohim wanted to appear as huge imposing wheels of fire and titanic beasts covered in a thousand eyes. Maybe this is part of how they bring worshippers to their side, and how, as demons, they torture others. Illusions, then, would be another power to have, but just letting them have the power of illusion is too broad. Maybe they can specifically alter the mood of those who see them in order to inspire fear. In high enough doses, that fear could manifest as visions of giant monsters. Consider how someone who is arachnophobic, for example, might see a tiny spider as a beast the size of a horse. Is this power psychic? Hormonal?
That brings up the next aspect. Should Elohim even have physical bodies? Making them flesh and blood makes them real, but it also makes them supremely vulnerable. It also makes things like possession more difficult. How to justify a physical being entering and overlapping with another living creature’s body and mind? That pesky mass has to go somewhere right? Making the Elohim energy or gas or something similar would then make more sense.
But what about a compromise? Maybe Elohim are physical beings, but their effects on this world are entirely psychic. The only way they can communicate is through telepathy, providing a conduit for their powers to present themselves as gods and demons. This would also provide a path for the power of possession. Maybe they don’t exactly “possess” a person, but rather use people as puppets, and the sheer mental power from the angel or demon mind is enough to grant the possessed some powers of their own. If they ever actually crossed over into our world, though, then the physical aspects would come into play.
So what are the Elohim like physically? What would our heroes need to fight if these beings ever actually crossed into our reality?
They need to be tough. Very tough. Rhino-hide tough. Small caliber weapons should bounce off them and nothing short of an assault rifle with armor-piercing bullets, or maybe a bundle of C4, should faze them. Humanoid? Maybe, but at least in the sense that Elohim will have legs, arms, a torso, and a head. The proportions should be suitably alien, as should the face. In keeping with the disturbing aspect to the uncanny valley, the face should be somewhat human but alien in minor aspects, certainly the eyes, but also in the placement of features. The skin would likely vary in shade between different Elohim, but that’s a detail I can’t quite place yet. I am, however, a fan of the general color scheme of the angel in the Masters of Horror episode “Cigarette Burns.”
Wings? Maybe, but not bird-like wings, or if they are bird-like, they should be large, powerful, and convey the image that this creature is a killer, a warrior, and certainly not a messenger with fluffy wings. The Elohim would need to be big, too, maybe as ten or twelve feet tall, in order to truly convey the power of an angel or demon from hell. They’re basically going to be organic tanks, super-strong, and with enough psychic power to make people fear them on sight. Most of their interactions with the world will be through their “possessed” victims, and once they actually manage to cross over… things get interesting.
Figuring out the mechanics is another matter, but at least having a solid image is enough to get going.
In the meantime, enjoy the feeling of having your imagination bring you real adventure…
June 23, 2013
Last night’s Dungeons and Dragons game had perhaps the weirdest in-game use of liquor, shapeshifting, and seduction I’ve ever seen.
The party was investigating a town recently overcome with cultists of Orcus, the Demon Prince of Undeath. Naturally, such cultists are prone to things like sadism, insanity, and, I figured, occasional necrophilia. The last one was not overtly mentioned, but makes sense.
As the party snuck around the ruined town, they happened upon a tavern being used as some sort of torture chamber for the town’s survivors. Manny, playing the drow wizard Vician, decided he had a plan. He convinced the elf bard Vittoria to go along with it. Confident, he cast a spell to make both of them appear as ghouls so they could sneak into the ruins and free the two men being tortured by a necromancer.
After some routine questions from the necromancer, Manny, still in ghoul form, decided to gift the necromancer a bottle of liquor he had “found” outside. Seeing this, the necromancer took it and threw some of its contents at the very cut and very bloody men hanging on the rack. Their screams of pain filled the room as the rest of the team looking in through a window and wondered what Manny was doing.
As the DM, I too wondered what the hell he was doing.
I then had the necromancer take a swig of the bottle.
“So… he drank it?” asked Manny.
I looked at him and said, “Yeah. Why?”
“Because I bought something… It’s called Love Philter. He’s going to fall madly in love with the first creature he sees-”
“STOP!” I said.
I rushed out of the dining room and to my computer to check the online database. From the dining room, my players counted down as I accessed the site and verified this wild claim.
“Five… four… three… two… one-”
“SON OF A WHORE!”
I stomped back and conceded that, yes, the necromancer would now fall in love with the first creature it saw, but there were six people around him, including Manny, the bard, and a smattering of ghouls and demons. I then had Manny roll to see which one would become the object of his affection… and Manny rolled the number for himself.
Fine… He wanted to play like that? He wanted to make the necromancer fall in love with him. The NECROMANCER.
As in, he “loves” the dead?
At this point, another player pulled out his phone and proceeded to play some background music.
The necromancer, being the sick bastard that he is, took what he figured was a ghoul and began leading it to the back of the bar for some… alone time.
“I… didn’t consider this,” he said as a horny necromancer guided his character.
All I could think of was this…
Manny thought quickly and managed to pantomime something to the effect of “I can’t do this with an audience.” The necromancer, eager for some cold lovin’, instructed the demons and other ghouls to wait outside. Meanwhile, the rest of the adventuring party is watching this comedy of errors through the window and wondering what to do about the monsters outside. Vittoria the bard took the hint and untied the two men, carefully leading them through the tavern while the necromancer disrobed of his armor and weapons.
Ever the sick puppy, Manny asked the necromancer, “Do you like violence?”
Also ever the sick puppy, the necromancer agreed. Manny whipped out a pair of manacles and tied the necromancer down, who at this point could hardly contain his enthusiasm.
Leaning in, many blasted the far wall and killed five ghouls before blasting the necromancer’s head into a fine red mist.
The rest of the session involved some more bloodshed and sleuth-work, but the point is that one of my players magically seduced a sadistic necrophiliac and managed to wipe out half his undead posse, thus giving the other players the chance to go after the demons.
Not sure if I should be proud or worried this plan worked.
May 28, 2013
I’ve been sick for a few days and haven’t had the energy to really do much, but I thought I’d give you, my dear readers, another round of gaming and literary-themed drinks. I’m assuming you’d already have a good shaker handy for some of these. Standard shaker or Boston shaker both work just fine. Get ready for some fun!
Ambrosia, a light green drink, appears to be the drink of choice if you have the resources in the Battlestar Galactica universe. Here’s a visual approximation with a kick.
- 3 oz absinthe
- 3 oz simple syrup
- 5 oz Sprite
- 4 oz sweet and sour mix
- 2 oz light rum
- 1 oz Rockstar energy drink (Low Carb)
- 1 oz Gatorade (any blue one)
Mix ingredients in a glass and stir. Be careful, though. Energy drinks and liquor can be even more dangerous that regular alcoholic cocktails, so use caution.
Elves are all about nature. I figure they’d appreciate a cool, refreshing drink, and for some reason, the idea of elven moonshine appeals to me. Our elf, a bard, is currently a countess and royalty. Still, she’s a tavern fly first and foremost, so there. I give you, the “Minty Elf.”
- 1/2 oz white creme de menthe
- 1 1/2 oz corn whiskey
- 1 dash lemon juice
Add all ingredients to your shaker with ice, mix well, and pour into a glass. And watch your elf fly… or pass out.
This one is based on my wife’s character in our current game. Her name is Kali, a dragonborn barbarian who is fond of spitting acid at her foes. Her companion character, a little imp she named Sally, has had her moments, too. In honor of these two characters, I present to you the “Kali and Sally.”
- 1 oz Bacardi 151
- 1 oz Wild Turkey
- Coca Cola
- 1 oz Doctor Pepper
- 1 oz Jim Beam
- 1 oz orange juice
Tieflings are humans that long ago made pacts with devils. Modern-day tieflings are the descendants of that infernal deal, but most would just rather be left alone. Our tiefling, Melek, still has that fire from hell within him, and he uses it, so I give you the “Frustrated Tiefling.”
- 5-7 dashes hot sauce
- 1 oz Smirnoff vodka
- 1 tsp lemon juice
Mix all together in shot glass until. Add more hot sauce if necessary, and drink immedietly. For a non-shot version, add the mixture to a lager beer and enjoy slowly.
Drow are secretive, underground elves with a penchant for torture, slavery, and sadism. So, of course, it figures out group has one. He’s actually pretty mellow, though, but he has moments of insanity. Like suggesting the group set an inn on fire so everyone will get to safety when a fight breaks out. Anyway, I give you the “Mad Fey.”
- 1 oz cream
- 2 oz vodka
- 2 oz raspberry liquor
Pour the ingredients into a glass with ice and enjoy! For a slightly less strong drink, consider using simply grape juice instead of raspberry liquor.
If you happen to try any of thee, write a message below and let me know what you think.
May 27, 2013
This weekend, my group had the opportunity to try its hand at the classic D&D adventure, the Tomb of Horrors. While there’s a super-adventure for 4E that’s set years after the original adventure, I wanted to give my players a taste for old school bash-the-door-in-and-pray-you-don’t-die games, so I updated the original module for their level and kept all the traps, save-or-die situations, and general geekiness that is the original.
I’ll write a full article on everything that happened, but I did want to share some initial observations.
My players have been doing this campaign since the winter of 2009, but they haven’t played previous editions of Dungeons and Dragons and we don’t really have the chance to branch out into other games given our schedules. However, I’ve been lucky enough to play 3.0 and 3.5 D&D, Fireborn, a little Magic the Gathering, d6 Star Wars, Call of Cthulhu, and others. In a way, I wanted them to feel like they were part of a long tradition of gamers. Anyone who’s played through the Tomb of Horrors knows it’s a meat grinder. Making it out alive, or with most of your limbs, is an accomplishment.
Seeing as how the party is epic level now, I wanted to give them a taste of what it used to feel like to be so vulnurable.
This is a key part of the last few gaming sessions and levels I think is missing.
Do the players have fun? Oh yes.
Did they also enjoy a night of deadly rooms and tapestries trying to kill them? Oh yeah.
Like I said, they still have another week to go to get to the end, but so far, there are stories aplenty.
Just thought I’d let you know.
April 1, 2013
After a long week of soul-searching, I’ve realized that I’ve made a terrible mistake. This entire website has been an exercise in futility and I’m going to pack it in.
I’ve realized that it truly is impossible to fight against the forces of conservatism and ignorance. They are just too strong. They have talk radio and major news outlets and they can scream really loudly. And that scares me. I don’t want people to think I’m a baby-killing pagan communist anymore.
To that end, I will do the only rational thing. I will shut up. For good.
This website will stand as a monument to my stupidity and hubris. How could I have thought for a second that I could make a difference?!
I should apologize to Glenn Beck for years of mocking him and thinking he was insane for thinking there was some vast conspiracy at work. There has to be. It makes perfect sense that he alone would have the vision to put together this web of lies that are ruling our lives.
I should also apologize to Fox News. I know I’ve said they’re the spawn of evil and deception in the world, but they’re not. I mean, they say everything so loudly and repeat it over and over again. It has to be true, right?
I’d like to apologize to the American Right Wing. I know you guys just want to make sure others can’t worship or lives their lives as they see fit, so I think you should just go ahead and do that. It’s exhausting hearing you.
But most of all, I want to apologize to my students and everyone who thought that writing, and critical thinking and expression could make a dent in the world. This is a cold, hard reality and it needs equally cold and hard people. Compassion, understanding, and curiosity have no place in it.
So, there you have it. Randomology is dead. And it failed. I’ll see you…
Well, I won’t. Just…
Bye. I’ll be leaving on a bus later today and heading to Alaska so that I may sit at the feet of Sarah Palin and learn a thing or two.
January 24, 2013
Music and gaming go hand in hand like peanut butter and chocolate. Or peanut butter and apples. Or peanut butter and chicken. If mixed into a sauce.
For our Shadowrun games, though, I had a problem. I’ve got plenty of fantasy soundtracks and atmospheric music for a Medieval Eurpean-style world, even music from other parts of the world like the Middle East. Shadowrun, though, presented a problem. The 4th Edition anniversary handbook had a lot to say about music in the Sixth World.
While traditional acoustic instruments still exist, these are relegated to niche markets. Most music may still use electric instruments or their acoustic counterparts, but the majority of music is composed mentally through cyberlinks. Genres such as goblin rock, synthrash, and neo-classical are commonplace. How would I replicate this using music from 2013?
First thing’s first.
I created five playlist requirements. Firstly, I needed ambient music to simply have on at any point in the game. Secondly, I needed three distinct genre playlists for clubs or neighborhoods. Finally, I needed music to play while a battle raged on.
The background music was fairly simple. I wanted synthetic sounds, but I also wanted a mix of actual instruments. Bear McCreary’s soundtrack for Battlestar Galactica provided tracks like “The Card Game” and “The Cylon Prisoner,” slightly off-kilter music that was still mellow enough to just play in the background. A few tracks from the 24 soundtrack like “Jack on the Move” and “LA at 9am” gave some synthetics and percussion. Once I knew the kind of sound I wanted, I added a few tracks from Bryan Tyler and Marco Beltrami. It may have only been 20 minutes worth of music, but the final listing is slow enough to just set the mood and odd enough to sound otherworldly. Plus, it can loop without being obvious.
The next three playlists would be more difficult.
First, I wanted a club mix. The easiest thing would have been to just look for some popular dance mixes and use those, but I wanted something that was more than just repetitive “umphts” over and over again. I wanted lyrics if possible. I wanted a combination of sounds to showcase the wild spectrum of music in the Sixth World. The Appleseed soundtrack had a few entries such as “Anthem”, as did the Animatrix soundtrack with songs like “Martenot Waves” and “Big Wednesday.” I chose them because there was actual texture to the music. I rounded the whole thing off with some Velvet Acid Christ since, let’s face it, heavily electronic music that resembles white noise will probably be very popular in this world.
The rock playlist was easier since it’s my favorite genre. I wanted rock music with a little bit of electronic, maybe some traditional instruments thrown in to represent the fusion of genres in Shadowrun. I started with a little Deftones, Filter, and Celldweller. Songs like “Change (In the House of Flies),” “American Cliché,” “Symbiont” were slightly electronic, and industrial, which I thought went well with the setting. More traditional rock music like Stone Sour’s “Monolith” and a few bands from The Crow: City of Angels soundtrack gave me the kind of grungy sound I was looking for, too. I resisted the urge to put in a lot of hard rock or heavy metal because I didn’t want music that might just sound like white noise, unlike some of the club mix.
The hip-hop playlist was probably my favorite to put together even though I like rock more. Hip hop started out as a way to express urban problems through music, and if there’s one thing that exists in Shadowrun, it’s urban problems. I didn’t want Top 40 stuff, though. I wanted something that, like the other mixes, had texture and maybe even odd instrumentals. I started with Atmosphere’s “Say Hey There” and Fort Minor’s “Kenji” because of the down to earth feel I think is really missing from a lot of music. It’s both lyrical and musical. I added a few tracks by Tricky, including “Christiansands” and “Antihistamine,” for dark atmospheric.
For the fights, though, I could finally cut loose with the fast tracks. Techno, heavy metal, the works.
In the end, I ended up with music that was dark, slow, and brooding when it needed to be, but also fast and electronic. There were some Asian influences, certainly a mix of genres, and that’s really what I was looking for. So far, the music has helped set the mood and tone of the game, and the various mixes are long enough that I can swap them around and they haven’t looped yet.
That’s it for me this week. I’ve been taking care of my sick wife and work started properly this week, so I’m beat. Keep sharing the articles, follow me on Facebook for up-to-the-minute rants and links, and I’ll see you all around.
In the meantime, let’s watch and enjoy Gerard Butler doing what he should really stick to doing in film: kicking ass and taking names. Enough romantic comedies already!
January 21, 2013
This week, we had our first Shadowrun game. For the non-RPG crowd, it’s a tabletop game where you play characters in the late 21st century at a time when magic has returned to the world and exists alongside security robots, elves, dragons, and trolls. Needless to say, it was a blast. In more ways than one.
Mary and I, as I’ve said before, like to cook and make food for our guests. Mary is quite keen on having food appropriate to the game we’re playing, so when we had an entire marathon session in Baba Yaga’s hut, for example, she made Russian and East European fare. When we played an apocalypse game, she made bread and made it look like it was made with blue-green algae.
Ah, the magic of a drop of food coloring and sculpting.
For Shadowrun, however, we had a bit of a dilemma. The 4th edition sourcebook says that most food is soy, krill, and processed. Soy in this world can be made into almost anything and tastes pretty much like the real thing… So the food we served should look and taste like real food.
In other words, we would serve real food and just say it’s fake.
This would not work. Going off of the cyberpunk feel that Shadowrun tries to emulate, I looked at my notes for the post-apocalyptic game we ran last year. In the end, I decided to tweak the food to make it look slightly alien, but still tasty. After all, a block of tofu with salt might be accurate, but it’s not going to have the players coming back for more.
We needed a main dish, and I wasn’t about to actually buy tofu patties. Mary and I opted for something that looked weird, but had a bit of an Asian flair in keeping with the cultural osmosis going on in such a connected world.
- 8 hot dog weenies
- Burger buns
- 2 cans of black beans
- 1 cup soy sauce
- 1 cup white wine
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
Mince the garlic cloves and place them in a small pot with the olive oil. Fry the garlic until it starts to brown but not burn. Add the wine and soy sauce and place the pot on low heat for one to two hours until the sauce reduces to about half its volume. Keep stirring occasionally and make sure the bottom doesn’t burn. It should be slightly less thick than honey, more like a syrup.
While this is going on, take your hot dog weenies and slice them lengthwise into eight thin strips. You can either boil them or fry them depending on your taste. However, if you do boil them, make sure you leave enough room in the pot for the weenies to curl and move around. Either way, you should end up with curly pieces of meat.
Take your black beans and drain them. Add a pinch of salt, pepper, and a generous pinch of cumin. Cook the beans so they get soft and you can better mash them. Cook them on low until they turn into a paste. You can leave little chunks for texture, too.
Finally, take your buns (toasted of course) and add a layer of beans to both pieces of break. Add your weenie curls, sauce to taste, and close the burger.
Congrats! You now have a burger with familiar flavors that looks like it’s made with weird “meat” product but is good, hearty, and has a slightly Asian flavor.
This one got some WEIRD looks, but as soon as our players tasted it, they couldn’t get enough. For a more mainstream dish, leave out the food coloring.
- 1 block of cream cheese
- 1 naval orange
- 1/4 cup hopped walnuts
- Orange juice
- Yellow, green, and blue food coloring
Leave the cream cheese out so it reaches room temperature and gets soft.
Peel the orange and remove the pith and seeds. Cut the remaining wedges and place them in a bowl with the soft cream cheese. Mash them together and add a quarter cup of chopped walnuts. Add orange juice to taste.
Finally, add 3 drops of yellow food coloring, 1 drop of green food coloring, and 1 drop of blue food coloring. Mix well and you should end up with a slightly gray paste filled with chunks of… something. Serve with chips and refrigerate if you won’t eat it right away.
These little cubes would actually be pretty good for breakfast any time. They flew off the plate when we served them this weekend.
- 2 blocks hard tofu
- 3 eggs
- 1 cup of flour
- Canola or vegetable oil
- Lemon pepper
- Green food coloring
Drain your tofu blocks and wrap them in paper towels to dry them. This should take half an hour or until the tofu has the consistency of a dish sponge.
Beat the eggs in a small bowl and season with salt and pepper to taste. Add a generous pinch of lemon pepper. Add one or two drops of green food coloring until you get the color you desire. In a separate bowl, mix the flour and the lemon pepper to taste.
Once the tofu is dry, cut it into small cubes roughly an inch on each side. If this is too unwieldy for you to move around with tongs (as we found out), cut the tofu into strips instead.
Place enough oil in a skillet so the tofu, whatever its shape, will be mostly covered, and place on medium high heat.
Place three or four tofu pieces in the flour until covered, then dip them in the egg wash before placing them in the hot oil. They should cook fairly quickly, but if you leave in too long, the green food coloring will turn brown. Each piece should cook in a few seconds. Place them on a plate covered with a towel to drain the excess oil.
For an added touch, once you have finished your tofu, pour any remaining egg wash into the hot oil. It will cook almost instantly into a spongy, thin membrane. Remove from the oil and place over your tofu treats for extra texture and gross-out appeal.
Of course, you can always forgo the green food coloring and make these puppies for any breakfast.
This one takes a while to make, but the result is not only delicious, but another possible breakfast treat.
- 1 cup grits
- 2 cups water
Cook the grits and water in a pot until you get a thick paste. You may need to add more water if the solution is too thick. Add parmesan and butter to taste. The final consistency should be thick enough to shape into little balls that won’t fall apart.
Place the whole thing on a cookie sheet covered with aluminum foil to cool for a few minutes. When the mass reaches room temperature, wash your hands thoroughly and start shaping little “maggots” about one or two inches long. Place them in a bowl for later use.
The funny thing is that this really does look like some processed mass of… something. The cheese flavor, though, makes it incredible. It’s good cold. If you heat it up, the grits will fall apart.
Yes, I know Slurm is from Futurama, but I found a recipe here on how to make a slightly viscous drink that looks like the bastard child of Mountain Dew and hate. I modified it slightly for my purposes.
- 3 liters of pineapple soda
- 2 envelopes unflavored gelatin
- Green food coloring
- Vodka (optional)
Heat 1 cup of the soda in a skillet until it boils. Remove from the heat and add the gelatin until it’s dissolved. Add one cup of cold soda to the mixture, combine thoroughly, and let sit for ten minutes. Return this mix to the bottle with the rest of the soda. Do this in the sink since there may be some foaming.
Add three drops of food coloring and vodka at your discretion to the bottle and GENTLY turn the bottle over to combine.
Place the in the fridge for a few hours and the final product will be slightly sweet, carbonated, and have a not-unpleasant mellowness. It should also have a slightly odd texture, a bit slimy, but not off-putting.
A word of warning, though. If you spill this, it will dry and become quite sticky.
I jacked this one from the Star Trek Cookbook. It’s quick, simple, and actually tastes pretty good.
- Club soda
For the Gatorade, I went with any of the blue flavors since they’re a color you’ll never find in a natural food. It looks nice and processed.
Combine equal parts sports drink and club soda. Mix gently to keep carbonation. Bottle and put in the fridge for later or drink right away. The final drink is cool and very refreshing.
As you can probably tell, this takes a bit of time. We also supplemented the game with bowls of chips and other snacks, of course, but we made sure to buy from the international and Asian food section. We found things like snow pea chips, lentil chips, and other oddities. Among them, we found a few bags of dried dulse.
There you go. I hope you enjoy making a few of these dishes and let me know how they turn out. I’ll be posting an article on music an atmosphere later. Until them, enjoy this little ditty I used in the game, as well as pics of the final products. I think it helped set the mood. Please share and I’ll see you later!
November 20, 2012
We finally got a chance to go through a playtest session of the fifth edition of Dungeons and Dragons, and I had a chance to take notes, see how my players worked with the new rules, and get a general feeling for how this new edition will or will not appeal to players.
In my head, however, I just kept screaming “SQUEEEE!”
I’m part of the D&D Next playtest group, which means I get access to the new materials as they are designed and I, along with hundreds of others, report back what we feel about the new changes.
The new edition feels like a strange hybrid of 3.5 of 4E, a bit like what Pathfinder tried to do, but this one is much more streamlined and open-ended. If you want to skip the technical stuff, read on ahead, but for those who are wondering, here are some major changes from 4E to Next:
- Class cherry-picking appears to be back. Players will be able to take levels in whatever classes they want instead of having to choose multiclass feats from a single class beside their starting class. This means your fighter/ rogue/ wizard rides again!
- Backgrounds and Specialties, new optional rules, can provide minor abilities such as spellcasting, contacts, and military ranks.
- Healing surges are gone, instead replaced with Hit Dice, a pool of dice you can roll throughout the day to regain hit points. Once you roll all your Hit Dice, you better rest for the night to regain them.
- It seems the “standard pantheon” will be done away with. Clerics, for example, get special abilities based on the god they serve, but these are specifically designated as the Lightbringer, the Trickster, etc. Text indicates this is done so players can create their own pantheons.
- Powers are gone, instead replaced with both maneuvers and spells. Martial characters like rogues and fighters get to choose from a set of maneuvers which cover everything from reactions, to attacks, to fighting styles, to weapon tricks. Maneuvers have virtually no restrictions aside from what class you have a level in when you can choose one. It seems you will be able to multiclass rogue/ fighter, for example, and get to pick from almost everything on the list. These abilities can be used at will.
- Vancian spellcasting is back! Fans of older edition will remember the age-old question for clerics and wizards: “Have you prepared your spells today?” Spellcasters must once again prepare spells that are lost as soon as they are cast, but there are slight differences. Characters don’t get extra spells per day based on high ability scores. Instead, clerics become more spontaneous, gaining the ability to cast from a set pool they choose every day. They can cast one spell several times or cast several throughout the day until they run out. Wizards also have the option to choose spellcasting traditions to give them at-will spells they can cast as long as they wish.
- Solo, elite, and minion monsters are gone.
- There is an actual condition called “intoxicated,” once and for all eliminating the need to cherry-pick conditions when a player decides to hit the ol’ dwarven ale.
- Defenses and attacks do not scale up, but hit points, hit dice, and skills do increase, albeit gradually. This means that low-level monsters can still be used at higher levels to function as “minions,” or one-shot-one-kill monsters.
- One of the biggest changes, and the one Wizards of the Coast will help unite the varying factions pushing for AD&D, 3.5, and 4E, is the fact that the new system is modular. If you’re a fan of old-school, classic D&D, you simply play the game as is. If you want a 3.5 or even AD&D experience, you can bring in the specialties (feats, special abilities, etc), and powers. In essence, they’re broken up the rules into distinct packages that DMs and players can choose to use to create the kind of game they wish.
Our party was 4th-level and consisted of a hafling fighter, an elven cleric of trickery, a dwarven wizard (academic tradition), and a human rogue.
Their names were, respectably, Chikis, Sadie Moon Blue, Vorg Hammertime, and Kent. Obviously, Kent was the freak in the group.
Now, for those interested in the way this all played out, here we go.
The game did away with powers and a lot of other crap and went back down to basics: adventuring. Since there are no more encounter powers, the adventure design philosophy went back to a day’s worth of adventures. That may seem academic, but think about it. You can no longer just rest and get your hit points back or get all your encounters again after a skirmish.
This makes adventuring more tactical and much more dangerous. When confronting a single low-level spellcaster and her thugs, the party made a few mistakes and the rogue wound up getting a shocking grasp to the face… and got knocked to 0 HP. After getting healed by the others, he had to contend with a handful of HP from his lone healing potion, his Hit Dice, and the protection of his comrades.
It was a sobering return to the days of clerics (AKA armored first aid kits) and healing potions, and it worked very well. Players knew they could no longer be reckless and just hope for everything to reset.It gave a slight edge over the 3.5 system, but it didn’t turn the PCs into walking hit point reservoirs like 4E.
The simplicity with the system is also a breath of fresh air. We’ve been playing 4E for almost four years now and the group is at 25th level and on its way to fighting gods, primordials, and horrors from Lovecraft’s nightmares, but even at low levels, DMing was a CHORE.
The new streamlined rules are closer to 3.5, but without the baggage or ten thousand monster special abilities. This doesn’t mean the flavor is gone. The orcs, for example, felt like brutes and powerhouses while the bandits still felt crafty, mobile, and sneaky.
One of the biggest changes, though, is the ability to do almost anything you wish with the new Contest rules. Want to flip that table over and knock someone off-balance? Make a Strength versus Dexterity check. Want to grab the guard’s sword in the middle of the fight? Trip someone? Push them? There are quick, easy rules for all of that. Plus, the new edition has the advantage/disadvantage rule. If conditions are very favorable (such as you having just thrown dirt in the orc’s eyes or having flipped said table over to knock someone off-balance), you can roll your d20 twice and use the best result. If, however, you have unfavorable conditions (you’re drunk or just happened to be set on fire before trying to concentrate), you roll twice and take the lower one. It’s a quick, easy way to handle modifiers.
There are only four classes out right now (five including the recently-added monk), and the classes only go up to level 10 for the playtest. This, however, is a product of the system still being in development, so it’s forgivable.
My biggest gripe, however, is with the way skills and damage don’t scale up. I foresee a major problem like with 3.5 wherein the players will beat on an enemy for an hour and still only deal a small amount of damage relative to Hit Points. This damage progression was fixed in 4E, but there isn’t anything like it in the new edition. Maneuvers and high-level spells might offset it, though, so we’ll see.
The fragmenting of skills is another. For example, was there a big push to make Knowledge: Heraldry, History, and Warfare skills? Any need to split Perception into four skills: Spot, Listen, Track, and Search? That was one of the nice fixes with the last edition.
Some classes also feel much less adaptable. Without a solid set of at-will powers, wizards and clerics can easily find themselves at a loss once all their spells are expended whereas fighters adn rogues can keep regenerating their maneuvers.
Overall, much more good than bad. The new edition is still in its early stages and things are changing all the time. For example, last month, they released the initial drafts of the sorcerer and warlock builds… and promptly took them back after a huge negative reaction in order to retool them.
At the end of the day, it’s like they took the lessons learned from 4th edition on ease of play and applied them to the customizability of 3.5 while streamlining the whole system. Some parts, like the skills, still feel very clunky, but since this edition is being playtested by fans BEFORE release, I’m somewhat hopeful that the final product will fix most of these problems.
And now, as promised, a few picks from our game. Have fun, and I’ll see you around.
November 9, 2012
Four years ago, I was in Washington DC, working as a speechwriter. I was working 50+ hours a week but making decent money. I was also freelancing on the side to help pay off the debt I’d incurred moving to DC. I was staying with a friend in Indiana who was kind enough to open the door for me while I found a job, but had to leave after only one week. The job started literally the day after I arrived and managed to find a place to live. I was stressed, lonely, and barely slept, but I was prepared to work even harder to be the best I could be and make my mark and possibly a new career…
Then… things happened. And I was $3,000 down, jobless, and had to pack what few belongings I had left into my car and drive and hope for the best. Longest 40 hours of my life.
Now, I’m making less than a third of my former salary…
But I met the love of my life upon returning to Laredo, I have a job with two bosses that I respect, teach children how to write using Mythbusters and Batman, have the time to write and do what makes me happy, started Randomology.org, and have a kick-ass D&D group. And did I mention my AWESOME wife?
All I’m saying is… plans change. The world kicks you in the tender spots. You know what? Get drunk. Cry. Meet up with friends and tear it up. Pack everything up and drive through snow and hope you don’t die… and when you get to your next destination… well, you never know.
Someone asked me upon returning, “What are you going to do now?” I just said, “Start over. What else is there to do?”
I guess as I sit here editing Charcoal Streets and reading the news for a new video for Monday, I look over at my wife working on her graduate studies, translating a new document, and I can’t believe I might have missed all this. I might have missed her.
Just four years ago, the world seems simple and difficult. Now, it’s still difficult, and I may not be making the kind of money I was making before, but I’m happy. Plus, I get to prove that I can bounce back from something like that and make the people who doubted me eat crow.
What more could I possibly want?
Oh right! We’re going to watch Mister Bean, Parks and Recreation, and Star Trek and drink Blue Moon later. WORLD. GOT. EVEN. BETTER.