Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Playing Around with Non-Standard Races

So, I was thinking and I'm curious if my taste lines up with anyone else among my readers. Here's a list of some alternate/non-standard races I'd personally be interested in playing in a vanilla/standard D&D campaign. I'm curious whether you'd personally want to play any of them, and what other races I haven't listed you'd be interested in playing.

Races I know I'd be interested in playing:
  • Centaurs (provided that there wouldn't be issues of fitting into dungeons, at least most of the time)
  • Insect-Men/Phraints/Formians (provided they had feelings)
  • Some type of bird-man
  • Young, low-level but intelligent dragons (I would especially enjoy taking a dragon from first level all the way through an end-game)
  • Mushroom Men/Shrooms/Myconids
  • Leprechauns or some other probably non-flying fey of that size
 Races I might be interested in if the concept was fleshed out some more:
  • Lizard-Men/Saurigs/Thracians
  • Ent/Dryad
  • Giant (probably in a wilderness phase of a campaign)
Do any of these strike you as something you'd like to play? What else would you like to play?

Another interesting question: a good while back, Noisms posted this article about how non-human races should have something about their psychology or culture different from human psychologies and cultures. In the article, Noisms links to a list of elements of psychology and culture that are universal to humans and suggests that a few of these should be changed for non-human races. I think this is a handy way to let players know a way to play their non-human PCs; it takes the responsibility for policing it away from the referee and players tend to take kernels of ideas like this and run with them in fun and unexpected ways.

Which of these human universals would you take away from some of these races to make them more interesting?

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Mike Mearls Interview at Kobold Quarterly

Over at Kobold Quarterly, there's an interview with Mike Mearls. He specifically addresses some of the questions I've seen floating around the OSR blogs and it's just generally an interesting interview.

Friday, May 25, 2012

My First Reaction to D&D Next

I've had very, very little time looking at the D&D Next public playtest materials I downloaded yesterday. What with all the downloading problems WotC had most of the day, helping my sister move out of her dorm and my dad borrowing my computer to burn DVDs of his fishing trip, I didn't even get to download it until late last night, and then I spent today helping my sister and her friends move out of their dorms some more.

Not that I'm complaining – really. Contrary to what I've heard other truck-owners say, one of my favorite things about owning a truck is being able to help other people move stuff; probably something about feeling needed.

Anyway, this isn't a truck blog; it's an RPG blog.

I've had a chance to very, very briefly scan the materials and see that stat blocks are longer than most non-Advanced forms of D&D, but not by much. I haven't taken the time to suss out what they all mean and how that will impact anything, but I'm a fan of short stat blocks any day, so that's nice.

That's all overshadowed, however, by this simple fact: Yesterday WotC allowed me to download Module B2 – The Caves of Chaos. For free.


See, you need to remember that I'm a grognardling. I've been looking forward to BUYING the DMG next month. I still haven't ever handled any core books from before Type III D&D, let alone the kind of D&D I like to play, that the retroclones introduced me to. I've read over and over the nostalgic reminiscing of my fellow OSR bloggers who cut their teeth on B2, and resigned myself to probably never getting my hands on it; really, if I was going to buy TSR-era D&D stuff, I'd probably buy rules sets before modules, so I chalked it up as something I'd probably never encounter, let alone get to run.

 (By the way, WotC, I still would very much appreciate you making the PDFs of OD&D and other older versions available again, preferably for free; we in the OSR haven't given up on that.)

So, yeah. As soon as I can wrangle a group together, I'll be running the Caves of Chaos. It's very exciting, and even a little shocking, that I'll be now sharing in something at least very close to the experiences I've only read about until now.

For this little gesture, WotC, thank you. May we continue to show good faith to each other.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Thoughts on Unconventional Races

Blog posts about using unconventional races have been circulating the OSR, so here's my two cents.

1) I've been kicking around an idea for a new setting in my head for a while, and considering using unconventional races for it. The way I've decided to try to get player buy-in to the unconventional classes is to restrict players to just playing humans at first, then, as they encounter new races, they have the option of creating PCs of the races they've encountered. (I should be clear that restricting beginning races to just humans is primarily for other reasons, but this is a nice supporting perk.) What do you think: if players first encounter new playable races in the course of play rather than during character generation will they be more likely to buy in to them?

2) Have there been any successful races that really caught on in other games? Phraints keep coming up over and over again in my Arduin books, but does anyone know whether they caught on in actual Arduin gaming, or, even more importantly, whether they ever were even moderately popular in non-Arduin games? I know next to nothing about Glorantha, but I've heard about anthropomorphic ducks; were these played a lot in Glorantha? Did they ever catch on outside Glorantha? Do any Tunnels & Trolls players know how popular leprechauns and fairies are among T&T players? I know that a lot of Science Fiction games have alien races; do those ever catch on that much?

If any of these games/settings created races that became even moderately popular, it's probably worth looking at them to see if we can figure out what they did right.

3) The argument's been made that the reason Dwarves, Elves and (perhaps to a lesser degree) Hobbits have such staying power is that they are part of our cultural awareness; that they're deep-seated and archetypal. Is that because they connect with something inherent within us or because they figure prominently in both folklore and the fiction that dominates gaming (Tolkien, Dragonlance, Sword of Shannara, etc.)?

If it's because Dwarves, Elves and Hobbits connect to something like Jungian archetypes for us, it seems that many unconventional races might not get player buy-in because they aren't similarly based around archetypes that resonate with us. New races should be based on other archetypes in order to get buy-in.

If it's because we're just so familiar with Dwarves, Elves and Hobbits from our reading habits, it seems to me that many unconventional races might not get player buy-in because they aren't similarly taken from the stories we're familiar with. Perhaps instead of crazy new races, we should try out races like giants or leprechauns.

I think that this last idea of players wanting to play races they're familiar with is probably at least part of the reality. I've had player requests to play a brownie, a Narnia-style dryad and a unicorn. It's probably worth mentioning that all those requests came from women or girls that were already, to one degree or another, well-versed in fantasy as a genre - probably more versed than me, actually. They liked what they read or were familiar with and wanted to bring that into their gaming. I actually did that – bring something I liked from my own reading into the way I gamed – in the first campaign I played in: I created a (probably under-powered) marshwiggle race for 3.5. It's also probably worth mentioning that one of the main theses of the OSR is that a lot of early gaming was, along with creating new worlds, about creating a way to bring in and play with (if not play out or recreate) things that early gamers liked in their reading.

It's this anecdotal evidence that players like to play what they are familiar with from outside gaming that makes me think that the better way to introduce new, invented races that players aren't familiar with is to have players encounter them first during play. Get players familiar enough with them that they begin to want to play them… and then let them.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

20 Questions, Part 8: A Better Wizard

I found my last entry in this series, which answered the question "Who is the most powerful wizard in the land?", to be pretty lackluster, and, judging by the whopping zero comments on that post, my readers seem to agree. Forgive me, gentle readers, and let me take a second crack at this.

Where does this wizard live? (d8)
  1. A tower out in the middle of nowhere.
  2. A tower in a major city.
  3. A cave out in the middle of nowhere.
  4. On the grounds of a magical school (depending on how common magic is in your setting, this could be anything from just 3d4 apprentices to a huge magical university).
  5. In a shack out in a swamp.
  6. In the depths of the underworld (possibly in a mega-dungeon), where the wizard can study in peace and collect rare components.
  7. With 1: Elves, 2: Dwarves, 3: a benevolent mentor Dragon, 4: the mushroom men.
  8. Nowhere. The wizard is constantly on the move, like Gandalf.
What is this wizard's specialty? (d20)
  1. Movement Magic
  2. Fire and Light Magic
  3. Animation and Disanimation Magic
  4. Time and Gate Magic
  5. Necromancy
  6. Sleep and Charm Magic
  7. Cold and Poison Magic
  8. Fear and Confusion Magic
  9. Elemental Magic
  10. Polymorphing Magic
  11. Liquid Magic
  12. Teleportation, Phasing and Dimension-shifting Magic
  13. Dragon Magic
  14. Runes
  15. Sorcerous Rituals
  16. Alchemy
  17. Illusions
  18. Meta-magic (messing with spell slots, strengthening spells, etc.)
  19. Creating scrolls, wands and rods
  20. Memorizing spells for good, so they don't need to me re-memorized, or some other alternate form of magic (if you don't like this, take wands and rods from #19 and put them here)
What is this wizard's attitude towards adventurers in general? (d12)
  1. Nostalgic: "Let me tell you about when I…"
  2. Grumpy: "Get off my lawn!"
  3. Suspicious: "Who sent you? What do you really want?"
  4. Frustratingly Hospitable: "Have another seed cake? Really, we should finish tea before we get down to business. Do you have a place to stay for the night? I insist you stay the night here."
  5. Eager to sell special (magical?) items (found and/or created)
  6. Eager to buy or order special items (rare components, lost magic items, magic items in the possession of others, etc.)
  7. Annoyed but resigned to periodic visits by adventuring parties
  8. Feigned hospitality, but, unless something changes the wizard's mind, will try to send the party to its doom so they won't come back and annoy the wizard.
  9. Eager for news of the outside world.
  10. Eager to give advice (roll 1d6 each visit: odd, very good advice; even, very poor advice)
  11. Eager to join the party and prove that he is not too old for excitement and adventure. Will be senile and get the party into trouble most of the time, but will come through for the party if they face certain doom. If the wizard hasn't already left the party for plot reasons by the time he saves the party for the third time, the wizard figures he's proven he "still has it" and returns to his abode.
  12. Eager to send the party off on quests that serve the wizard's own ends; doesn't particularly care about why the party showed up and what they want. Will always try to turn conversations back to the quest the wizard has in mind. Will probably refuse to help until one such quest is fulfilled by the party, but even after that is fulfilled the party will need to be very insistent in order for the wizard not to just send them out on another quest.
Whom does this wizard dislike/distrust? Whom does this wizard have a soft spot for? (For each question, roll 1d6 on each table and combine the results. For example, an old chaotic magic-user, a red-headed elf fighter.)
  1. Old (older than expected adventuring age, or whatever you want it to mean)
  2. Young (younger than expected adventuring age, or whatever you want it to mean)
  3. Dwarf
  4. Elf
  5. Rich and connected
  6. Poor and ostracized
  1. Male
  2. Female
  3. Lawful
  4. Chaotic
  5. Red-headed
  6. Fair-haired
  1. Fighters
  2. Clerics
  3. Thieves
  4. Magic-Users
  5. Nobles (NPCs and 7th level or higher PCs)
  6. Peasants (NPCs and 3rd level or lower PCs)
What precautions does the wizard take with those the wizard doesn't trust? (d4)
  1. Magically keeps them from entering the wizard's abode (no save under level 10)
  2. Magically keeps them silent when in the wizard's presence (no save under level 10)
  3. Requires that they surrender all weapons before entering (and doesn't make this mistake)
  4. Nothing immediately, but at the slightest infraction the wizard will administer punishment
What seemingly innocent word/action will enrage this wizard (perhaps after a single warning)? (d12)
  1. Mentioning Age
  2. Mentioning Royalty
  3. Mentioning Religious Hierarchy
  4. Mentioning Magical Hierarchy
  5. Asking about the Wizard's past
  6. Interacting with animals in the Wizard's presence
  7. Mentioning Illusionists
  8. Unsheathing a weapon
  9. A Man speaking in the presence of a Woman (if the wizard is a man, how does he communicate if the party includes a woman? some kind of magic mouth? magical writing? telepathy?)
  10. Mentioning another wizard
  11. Haggling
  12. Not haggling
What will this wizard do to those he is angry with? (Unless otherwise stated, the punishment is for the individual only; not for the individual's companions.) (d8)
  1. Imprison (1d4)
    1. In a cell in a megadungeon somewhere, possibly quite far away
    2. By turning the victim into stone for display
    3. In the wizard's personal pocket dimension
    4. In a prison run by the character's enemies, possibly quite far away
  2. Polymorph (no save if below 10th level, otherwise save at -5). Wizard takes no interest in keeping the result of the polymorph spell (except for result 14) and will happily explain the nature of the result if only the wizard is asked (the wizard must be pressed further in order to reveal certain crucial details for result 17). (d20)
    1. Troll (25% to retain memories and faculties)
    2. Owlbear (10% to retain memories and faculties, still will rage as barbarian/berserker)
    3. Rust Monster (35% to retain memories and faculties, but even so, retains ravening appetite)
    4. Giant Toad (50% to retain memories and faculties)
    5. Kobold (75% to retain memories; thinks like a kobold, whatever that means to the player)
    6. Roc egg, about to hatch (20% to retain memories and faculties)
    7. Mule (100% to retain memories and faculties; 5% to be able to talk)
    8. Griffin egg, about to hatch (20% to retain memories and faculties)
    9. Hippogriff egg, about to hatch (20% to retain memories and faculties)
    10. Unicorn egg, about to hatch (5% to retain memories and faculties)
    11. 3d12 silver coins
    12. Sword (75% sentient, 50% magical)
    13. Beautiful Necklace (worth 2d4 x 1000 gold coins - does the party sell it?)
    14. Large Wide-Brimmed Pointy Hat (wizard puts the hat on and intends to keep it)
    15. Five glass orbs containing Green Slime, perfectly sized for throwing
    16. A small cask containing 10 doses of extra-effective healing potion
    17. A Wand of Sleep/Magic Missile/Cloudkill/Fireball (The wand has as many charges as the character has hit points when fully healed; each charge can be used for any of the four spells, but each charge expended subtracts one hit point from the number of hit points the character will have when/if the character is returned to normal and fully healed. This mechanic should NOT be explained to the players unless they press the wizard for a detailed explanation, although any character able to use the wand who picks it up will immediately know how to use the wand to cast the four spells. If all charges are expended then the wand crumples to dust and the character is lost forever.)
    18. Buck's Hat of Misery
    19. A hangman's noose. Any character hung with it will die instantly, but the character that was turned into the noose will return to normal, fully healed, plus a shift in alignment towards lawful/good if the hung character died voluntarily but a shift in alignment towards chaotic/evil if the hung character died involuntarily.
    20. A fist-sized, smooth, black stone orb. If placed on the high altar of the goblin god, the character will return to normal, except without any possessions, the fee charged by the goblin god.
  3. Expel from the wizard's abode (possibly by teleportation, possibly violently, out a window, etc.)
  4. Blind
  5. Gift with a cursed item
  6. Send them (and their companions) to Carcosa! (Or some other nasty plane/planet more hopeless than their own.)
  7. Geas (related to what the wizard wants/needs; see below)
  8. Nothing… but he'll make all the poor guy's friends suffer! Roll on this chart for each companion.
What does this wizard want/need? (d12)
  1. To be freed; some magical mistake is confining the wizard
  2. To be freed; some magical act of the wizard's enemies is confining the wizard
  3. To be freed; the wizard is imprisoned in some mundane way that gets around the wizard's magic
  4. A spouse
  5. A child (1d4: 1: daughter, 2: son, 3-4: doesn't matter); adoption is acceptable. An adopted party member will get both perks and drawbacks; a party member should only be adopted if it is the players' idea, not proposed by the wizard or an NPC.
  6. Reconciliation with a family member
  7. Proper recognition from the magical establishment
  8. A job as advisor to the monarch
  9. Revenge
  10. A delicacy from the wizard's far-away home-town
  11. The cure to a magical disease the wizard has contracted (spell-slot leeches, slowly turning ethereal, etc.)
  12. A magical discovery related to the wizard's specialty
Why did this wizard put in the long hours needed to become the most powerful in the land? (Note that the wizard may or may not have already achieved this goal by the time the PCs show up. If so, what, if anything, motivates the wizard now?) (d10)
  1. Revenge
  2. The sheer joy and love of magic
  3. As a way to gain recognition and respect
  4. Careerism– a way to gain power and wealth
  5. As an escape from a life of poverty
  6. As a way to forget the pain of life
  7. Driven to solve some personal problem with magical research
  8. Driven to solve some societal/economic/environmental problem with magical research
  9. As a way to express loyalty to and serve some cause, nation or person
  10. As a way to defeat some particular threat (a dark lord, a cult, anticipated invasion, famine, plague, etc.)