Monday, December 29, 2014

I Like Pirate Stuff

I like pirate stuff.  I have for years.  My friends know this about me.  Some of my closest friends know that I am perfectly willing to do the usual polyester pirate tomfoolery, but that I really prefer the history stuff.
This makes a problem for me when it comes to gaming because I do love a rollicking sea adventure, but I tend to find the RPG sea adventures less than satisfying.  They require an entirely different mindset and in a game without firearms the pirate settings feel a bit lacking to me personally.
Now you can have firearms in fantasy RPGs.  Dungeons and Dragons has had various types of black powder weapons since the early days, but invariably those weapons are nowhere near as deadly as your basic crossbow.  And they take longer to reload.  Why would you mess about with a flintlock pistol that only does 1d4 damage and takes 10 rounds to reload when you can hit for 1d8 plus strength bonus 15 times in the same space of time with a longsword?
The historical sourcebook, A Mighty Fortress did attempt to address this problem by giving guns armor piercing capabilities and open-ended damage rolls, which helped a bit.  You were still consistently doing more damage with a longbow, but it was an effort.
Another factor with nautical adventures is the conspicuous lack of armor.  Unless you want to give everyone magical bracers or waistcoat +5 to give them armor equivalent to mail, you are going to have players getting hit more often.  Thus you either have to play a game that uses a system that provides some sort of active defense not based solely on armor worn, or you have to modify your rules to provide defense bonuses.  With this comes complications.
Most fantasy RPG, you know, D&D, is based around the wearing of armor and carrying of weapons that most people should not have access to.  Armor is uncomfortable.  It is hot in the Summer and cold in the Winter.  If you fall overboard wearing even medium armor you are probably going to drown.
So as much as I like the nautical/pirate/island style of adventure I tend to avoid those games.
I have not played, nor even read Razor Coast, but damn it just looks good.  Which is a shame because it is a pirate/island/nautical setting for Pathfinder and Swords & Wizardry.  We have some sailor chick getting up close and personal with an anthropomorphic shark.  I can think of few things more badass than an anthropomorphic shark.  Maybe a cyborg-anthropomorphic shark.  With psionic powers.
It has me thinking...
What should a good nautical/island/pirate RPG game have?
1. Magic? Yes, I think so.  It is fantasy and isn't a little voodoo part of the charm?
2. Weresharks?  Hell yes.
3. Firearms/Canons?  A must.  Time to move the tech level up on the fantasy game.
4. A "pirate" class?  Nope, not at all.  Piracy is something you do, it is not a class.  Anyone committing robbery on the high seas is a pirate.  Any of the character classes, with the exception of, say, Paladin, can be a pirate.  A paladin will just have to be a privateer.
5. Swashing of ye olde buckler?  Verily.  Swashbuckling is a style of play, really.  One that rewards bravado and style as much as tactics and good decisions.  Very important.
6. Bulletproof Nudity?  Um, no.
7. Kraken/Giant Cephalopods?  Well of course.  What the Hell kind of nautical game would it be without some giant molluscan menace?  Even Jule Verne knew that and he was French.
8. Parrots?  Absolutely.
9. Monkeys?  If you like.
10. Monkies?  Well Davy Jones, certainly...
11.  Tikis?  See parrots, singing.
12. Ships?  De rigueur actually...and herein lies the problem.
Nautical games, unless everyone is a sea elf and fully capable of breathing underwater indefinitely, require ships at some point.  Once players board a ship they are stuck on a railroad adventure of sorts.  There can only be one captain, even in a pirate crew where everything is decided democratically, the PCs are going to have to go along with the ship.  I'm sure it can be done fairly and equitably.  It can, however, lead to trouble.  If the captain is an NPC the players may enjoy dealing with their own little world within the ship, but essentially a ship means the players cannot just wander off whenever they want to do.  And there's always scurvy to consider.

Actually...what am I saying?  Now that I think about it this shit is brilliant, innit?
As long as you don't have a bloated, overly complicated rules set (I'm looking at you Pathfinder) you can have barrels o' fun playing a pirate/nautical/island game.  Singing parrots!  Tiki Golems!  Atlantean Cavalry on seahorses!  A VORPAL CUTLASS!

Who needs plate armor and spellbooks when you have a flintlock and a bottle of highly flammable alcohol handy?
And throw in some undead pirates too.  I don't care if it derivative, dammit I likes 'em.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

So You Wanna Play An Archer...

I know what you are on about, mate.  You've just watched The Battle of Five Armies and there was Legolas shooting the shit out of things-AGAIN-and now you want to play an archer type character.
Your first thought, doubtless, is Elven Ranger!
Don't do that.
In the first place Legolas is not a Ranger, he's a Fighter.  In the second place...just don't do that.
But I am HERE TO HELP.  Of course I am.  Helping is what I do.  Noblesse Oblige and all that.

Leaving race choice out of it for the moment (or entirely really because I don't care what race you play) you have two choices in class if you want to go the archery route: Fighter and Ranger.  Technically any class with access to Martial Weapons can use a longbow but you want to make this your focus, so we are going to stick with the two I have mentioned above.
What are the benefits of each?
RANGER-Rangers get a slew of cool abilities, including wilderness survival, favored enemies, and magic spells (at level 2).  At level 2 they get to choose a fighting style and at level 3 they get an archetype (hunter or beast master), with the preferred archer style being Hunter.  By selecting your Hunter abilities carefully and Archery at 2nd level and keeping your Dexterity high, you can be a deadly archer indeed.
But why would you do that?
Oh, because you are confused about what the word Ranger means.  MMOs are much to blame for this.  Somehow Ranger went from its original meaning (one who ranges, that is moves about the open land in an independent manner) to its new MMO inspired gaming meaning (one who attacks at range/with ranged weapons).  Well that's bollocks.
If you really want to be an archer you need to look to the Fighter.
FIGHTER-Fighters have access to all the weapons and armor available, gain a Fighting Style at 1st level and gain many abilities that make them ideally suited to their name-sake calling, which is fighting.  If you want to catch food, you are a hunter.  If you want to cause the enemy to catch death by a goose, you are a Fighter.
Now despite the fact that Dexterity controls shortbow and longbow attacks (vice Strength, which should be the operative ability given how much training and chest power is needed to pull a bow effectively) it need not be your highest or primary ability to become an archer.  Allow me to elucidate.
The Fighter has many options.  Focusing on Dexterity can certainly improve your attack and hit bonuses with ranged weapons, and that makes a high DEX an attractive option for an archer but a quiver only holds 20 arrows.  You are only going to recover about 50% of them per combat.  Large or particularly tough monsters will take many arrows to stop and if they charge into your face you won't be doing much shooting with your bow.  You need some melee skills if you expect to survive.  The options for finesse weapons (those weapons that can use DEXTERITY for attack and damage bonus) are somewhat limited.  The highest damage finesse weapon is the rapier at 1d8, so it's no slouch (equal to a longsword) but it lacks versatility.  But you've been watching LOTR, so you want fighting knives (short swords, really), I know.
Before you go all DEX consider the benefits of Strength to the fighter.  You can wear heavier armor, which will cap your DEX for AC bonus but not for attack and damage.  In this way you can have a decent Dexterity score (15 base) and a solid Strength score (16, maybe).  You can carry a longbow and a longsword.  Go ahead and take the archery style at 1st level for the +2 bonus to attack, use your Dex for its damage bonus and when that slavering beastie charges to close the gap, drop your bow and use your sword and board, or choke up on the longsword with both hands (versatile property) for 1d10 damage.  
At level 3 when you get your Martial Archetype take Champion.  As you level Champion will offer you a second Fighting Style spec (level 10) and since you can't take the same one twice you can choose something like Two Weapon Fighting and do your two-blade thing.  Or take Defense to get that +1 AC bonus.  The point is to be versatile and survive to get those levels and that loot.  
Often in fantasy films and films that purport to be historical the bow is a weapon for the slight of build, the squirrely little guys and the girls.  In fact a longbow is a serious weapon system that takes years of training to master and it builds a certain strength.  It needs a strong pull to be effective and the training is as much about developing endurance as it is about hitting targets for exhaustion is the foe of the archer.
Click for Joke

Just some thoughts.  Enjoy your game.

The Brave, But Dangerous, Sir Not-Too-Bright

Ah, yes...

If you've read the TV Tropes on Monty Python and the Holy Grail you might think that Sir Lancelot is an idiot as all the tropes related to him seem to be about his blood-lust.
Well the truth is that the Pythons were being very clever with their characterizations and really hit Lancelot on the head squarely, but you have to be paying attention to notice it.  And you have to know your background sources.  
Lancelot was given to bouts of madness, usually when treated brusquely by Guinevere or when his guilt got to him and he was so strong of arms that we should not be at all surprised that he solves many problems with violence, but as Chretien de Troyes told us how he shamed himself by riding in a cart to rescue the queen when she was captured, we can see he was not limited to violence to solve all his problems.  This is not a blood thirsty idiot we are talking about.  Even in the Python film it should be noted that when Arthur sends Lancelot to answer the questions 3 at the bridge of death his immediate response is as follows:
"Yes, let me go, my liege.  I will take him single-handed.  I shall make a feint to the north-east..."
See the subtlety there?  The man is not running straight into battle like a berserker.  He knows his tactics.  And let us not forget that he was the first to successfully answer the questions 3.  Okay, they were pretty easy, but my point is made.
I have made a career in RPG gaming of playing Fighters that avoid fighting, not because they are cowards but because they want the tactical advantage before they risk their precious hit points.  Back in the day when we played in small groups we almost never had a Cleric and the time we did he was an evil Cleric of Loki.  Heals were not forthcoming and we didn't have bottles of magic Tussin strung to our belts like a game of Diablo.  
We had to pick our battles carefully and carefully we did.  If I could talk or intimidate my way out of trouble I would, every time.  And when I couldn't, well there is much more to fighting the foe than running straight at him screaming.  I've talked down DRAGONS, mate.  Intelligent foes can be reasoned with...or at least distracted long enough for the nukers to get into position.  
So you've rolled up your new Knight, Sir Abattoir and he has a decent intelligence score and it's time (3rd level) to pick your Martial Archetype.  Consider Battle Master.
IRONCLAD-James Purefoy defends a keep with a handful of soldiers against the might of the King's army.  Be this guy...

What does Battle Master bring to the tabletop?
Maneuvers, that's what.  The Battle Master foregoes personal improvement in raw damage output and self-buffs for party-wide tactical skills.  The Battle Master is a leader, an officer, a KNIGHT.  He controls the battlefield and organizes his allies.  This is Aragorn, this is Odysseus, this is Jason, this is the Glory of Rome.  You remember Gladiator?  Maximus is a Battle Master, a general, a student of the tactical art of war!  
These maneuvers include goading the enemy into making mistakes, directing your allies to strike vital points, rallying your comrades, and much more.  You gain Superiority Dice which you hand out with your maneuvers to increase attack and damage rolls.  You gain access to tools (useful for making siege engines or alchemical weapons) and learn to observe your enemies to find their weaknesses and exploit them.  
This is not some blood thirsty crazed idiot with a weapon.  This is a tactically superior merchant of death, selling his resources dearly, not cheaply.  It is the essence of the heroic warrior, really.
If you are going to go the Battle Master route try to keep it in mind from the earliest levels (1 & 2) even before you gain the archetype.  Don't rush into battle; make the enemy rush and then trip him into the spike pit you dug before the battle even started.  Use the correct tool for the job.  Don't be afraid to tactically retreat and regroup and always remember to FIGHT SMART.  Remember Oct 25th, 1415, when Henry V won the Battle of Agincourt against a numerically and technologically superior French force by using every sneaky tactic at his disposal.  
Did NOT happen at Agincourt...but it would have been bitchin' if it did.
Of course he didn't have dragons and beholders to contend with either.  Which is all the more reason that you, the Battle Master, need to fight smarter not harder. 
Don't let the so-called smart characters (you know, the Wizards) do all the thinking.  Your Fighter can be both smart and kick all manner of ass and you will enjoy the game all the more if he does.

Alternative to Paladins

I like Paladins but they are damned hard to play in games.  Prior to MMOs Paladins were just Fighters with a little something extra, but post MMOs Paladins are some sort of bollixed up holy warrior.  Invariably someone in your group decides to play an evil character and that puts your Paladin in a bind.  While any good aligned character should disdain adventuring with an evil character, for a Paladin this will lead to all sorts of problems such as loss of paladinhood, which puts you at asking why you bothered to play a Paladin in the first place.
Sometimes it is the DM who has it out for your noble warrior.  Which is even worse.
The good news: there is an alternative.
Paladins are knights.  You can argue with me on this but you will be wrong.  You might think Paladins are holy warriors, but they are not and if that is how you feel just fuck right off right now.  The Cleric is a holy warrior.  The Paladin is a knight.  The creative origins of the Paladin trace back to Three Hearts and Three Lions by Poul Anderson.  The Paladin is a good, noble knight and everything about the Paladin through the original D&D, and 1st and 2nd edition AD&D supports this.  The 2nd edition Complete Paladin's Handbook even takes this knight concept to the extreme level stating that Paladins disdain wearing anything but metal armor and no armor that would be considered less than noble (it offered a low AC 7 hauberk as starting armor for poor Paladins that could not afford something better).  It also discusses origins, squires, and all the things that make a knight.
So is it a holy warrior you desire to play or is it a knight?
"Bad day to make fun of the Ranger."
If you want to play a Paladin you should really consider that you should be playing a knight.  The 5th edition offers options for this in the background section.  Indeed the default background for Paladin is Noble.  What does that offer?
Aside from roleplaying guidelines and the two background skills (in this case History and Persuasion) it offers the special ability of being able to claim hospitality from other nobles.  Many backgrounds offer variants and Noble does not disappoint here as it offers the Knight variant.  This background will make your character a knight, the lowest level of nobility and you will get retainers instead of the hospitality feature.  Any class can choose this background, but let's look at the virtues of a Fighter with the Knight background.
As a Fighter you will get the d10 hit die, same as the Paladin, and proficiency with all armors, weapons and shields, same as the Paladin.
Your saves will be Strength and Constitution, unlike the Paladin which has Wisdom and Charisma.
The Paladin starts with two abilities: Divine Sense (formerly Detect Evil) and Lay On Hands (a healing power).
The Fighter starts with Second Wind (self-heal) and a Combat Style.  The Paladin will get a Combat Style at 2nd level.  The Combat Style is where your Fighter Knight really shines.  You could choose Defense and get a +1 AC, or Protection and use your shield to guard your squishier friends.  You could choose Great Weapon style and gain bonus damage with two-hand weapons if you like.  I won't list them all here, but you have options.
At 3rd level the Fighter selects a Martial Archetype to follow from this short list:
Champion-specializes in doing damage and surviving.
Battle Master-specializes in being a battlefield strategist and gains maneuvers.
Eldritch Knight-learns some magic spells (avoid this, although the Paladin will be casting clerical spells by that time, it's anathema to the Knight concept).
The choice is yours, but Battle Master is an attractive option for the noble leader type, which a good knight should be.
As you play and gain loot you should be able to get a horse, at which point your knight really starts to seem like a knight, since knights are a cavalry component and tend to run roughshod over the infantry in battle.  At one time, long ago, before the MMO nightmare settled into the "norm", the Paladin called for his warhorse, a special mount that was his and his alone, bonded in a sacred rite.  Well those days are over, friends.  But a knight needs a horse.  It's practically part of the job description.
THIS is what knights do.  Note the conspicuous horsey.

So our take away for this lesson is the Fighter with the Noble background Knight variant is the new Paladin because it is the old Paladin as it was meant to be.  There are benefits to being a regular Fighter such as no loss of Paladin status due to a some asshole DM's personal Kobayashi Maru designed solely to fuck your Pally in his metal-plated arse, freedom to retain wealth, and some pretty nice combat abilities as you gain in levels.  Certainly you don't get the Pally's freebies like Lay On Hands or Immunity to Disease but also you don't have to worry about a handful of spells and who really needs to turn undead anyway?  That's the Cleric's job.  Give it a try, former Paladin brothers.  Use strength of character and strength of arms instead of relying on supernatural powers and see if it doesn't suit you right down to your sabatons.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Master Wizologist

Over the years of gaming Wizards have gone through many changes, some ups, some downs, and some downright strangeness.  Depending upon the game a Wizard might be an almost completely ineffectual support character or might be a nuker of the first order.  With so many extant fantasy characters to use as a basis it can be hard to decide what sort of Wizard a game should have.
Now the Dungeons and Dragons type has seen a few changes as well.  As of the third edition another arcane spellcaster was introduced that brought more raw power to the table, that being the Sorcerer, and for some classic players of Wizards that spelled D-O-O-M.  

There's no need for that.  The way to look at a Wizard is as a Master Mixologist.
What is a Master Mixologist, I hear you asking.  Isn't that just a bartender?
No and I'll thank you not to take that snarky tone.  A bartender tends bar.  They serve drinks, wipe up spills, listen to your ass as you get drunk and bellicose and so forth.  A bartender can make drinks either from memory or by using a recipe guide.  They have a limited repertoire.
A mixologist is an practitioner of the art and science of mixing alcoholic beverages.  Is the guy at Cracker Barrel that poured coffee into your mug at the table a barista?  Rather, would you call Clem a barista just because he poured your coffee?
No, then don't confuse a bartender with a mixologist, especially not a master mixologist.  I'm talking about "Trader" Vic Bergeron, here.  A mixologist is bartender, sure, but one that studies the craft and takes it to new heights.  This isn't slinging well drinks and shots of whatever is fashionable.  This is understanding the properties of the various alcohols, mixers, and techniques (shaken versus stirred, why and how) such that subtle variations can be created and new drinks conceived using the available ingredients.  A master mixologist brings in new ingredients, seeks out new alcohols and concocts unique and pleasing potables and libations.  
This is no mere bartender we are talking about.

A bartender just tends bar.  A Sorcerer is supposed to be suffused with the very essence of magic in their blood, able to bend and manipulate the raw stuff of magic into unique ways.  What they are is a bunch of low rent bartenders.  They know a few spells and that's all they know.  They don't have to study so they don't learn.  What, you get to pick up a few metamagic feats to increase a spell's power or range?
What bartender can't make it a double or put it over rocks?

Now a Wizard, he's a mixologist.  Or he should be and if you were playing him right he would be.  Wizards have to study their craft.  They create huge recipe books from their studies.  Give them the right equipment and some time and they will replicate a spell they saw and make it their own.  You got a Magic Missile?  I got a Mai Tai Missile, baby.
This is the key to really enjoying your Wizard.  Stop trying to find ways to make your magic easier or more copious, as so many editions, including the new 5th edition keep trying to do, and embrace the wide-open nature of the craft.  Be the Trader Vic of Wizards.  Seek out new ingredients, get to know magic personally such that you understand how the magic itself works.  Understand the basics, the very building blocks of magic and then experiment.  Show that you aren't the one trick Cocktail pony that flips his wand and always relies on that same old Magic Missile attack to solve every problem.  Be a MIXOLOGIST.  Maybe you'll be the Wizard that invents a Fireball that turns corners, knocks on the front door of the keep, waits for the enemy to open it, then flies inside to detonate.  A SMART FIREBALL!
Ain't no Sorcerer or Warlock gonna figure that one out, kiddies.
Welcome to your new lab, Apprentice.  Get mixin', baby.

Remember Wizard is about "wise" or at least "smart".  It's about knowledge and the power that comes with it.  All those wonderful magic items and scrolls and such are yours for the taking and all of that, combined with your KNOWLEDGE of how magic works, makes you a swinger, daddy o.

Monday, December 1, 2014

And there did come a Silver Age

Ah the Comics Code Authority.  What did it really accomplish?  Among other things it gave birth to the Silver Age of Comics, or at least was in the back seat with the Golden Age for the conception.  
See the Golden Age was a varied age of comics when readers included, honestly, our brave troops fighting WWII in Europe and the Pacific.  The Golden Age stories were varied and a single issue might have a dozen different comics in it, some one-page gags, others classic 8 page stories.  There were superheroes, funny animals, detectives, soldiers, sailors, pilots, cops and robbers, explorers, you name it, they had it.
And then came the Science Fiction and Horror comics of the '50s.  The kids didn't so much care for superheroes anymore, they wanted monsters, aliens and cowboys.  But adults just couldn't have that and unwelcome Senate attention led to self-policing and the CCA and the Golden Age ended.  Not that anyone noticed because, frankly, nobody ever knows what historical period they are in until after they have left it.  
The Silver Age covers, among other things, the Swingin' Sixties, and it was during this Age that we saw Adam West don cape and cowl on television as the Caped Crusader*.  It was a fun time.  Which is what comics should be.  Fun, I mean.  Comics should be fun.  They are not fun.  That is a problem.

I like continuity as much as the next obsessive compulsive off his meds, but continuity can be a serious problem.  When you start having to reboot your whole company every 5 years because of your jacked up continuity, you've gone too far.  The Silver Age was not obsessed with continuity.  It was quite fun.  It was obsessed with not violating the Comics Code, however.  Much of the outright violence of the past was replaced by some of the most wonderfully goofy characters to ever attempt to rob the First National Bank of Gotham.  Theme villainy reached all new heights during the Silver Age and nobody had the word "blood" in their name.  Or so I think.  I've heard it said that the Golden Age was a more violent era, that characters like The Bat-Man had darker, grittier, more violent stories than they would later in the CCA influenced Silver Age.  Well it is true, to an extent, but let's put this into perspective.  The Golden Age was not an age of top quality acid free paper stock, tight line art and computer color separations.  It was 4 color printing on cheap paper by artists that were working under deadlines to put food on the table.  Have you ever seen old westerns where the guys get shot and go down clutching their guts?  It's like that.  Yeah, it's violence, but it's not graphic violence.  
"Blazing West" issue 1, 1948, classic Golden Age violence
Anyway, about the fun.  Comics are entertainment.  They are not an art form.  Sometimes art manages to show up in comic form, but comics themselves are not an art form.  They are a visual storytelling medium and they should be fun.  Which is why I am particularly pissed that DC's New 52 bullshit has seen fit to shunt Ambush Bug off into some backpage news reporting bollocks.  Things need to be fun, or at least entertaining.  At least my wife has Harley Quinn, which is a title that, to hear her describe it, is basically fun.  What I am missing is a title, or a few titles, that actively try to be fun and possibly funny.  I don't mean letting Plastic Man loose every so often and then misusing the character.  I mean like the good old days of Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew...and not a bullshit darker modern version either, I might add.
Let me break it down for you:
Golden Age-Batman solves a mystery, busts up some gangsters, somebody might die.
Silver Age-Batman and Robin head out to stop the latest threat to Gotham, the Pogo King, a villain that eludes police capture by escaping the scene of the crime on a pogo stick.  Bat-mite decides that Batman is having too easy of a time of it and makes some hot dog carts come alive to help the Pogo King.  That's fun, that is.
Bronze Age-Batman seriously considers how the rank and file criminals of Gotham are underprivileged and talks about how something should be done about it.
Modern/Dark Age-Batman curses.  A lot.  A psycho breaks his damn spine.  Breaks his spine.  All villains are now murdering psychopaths, even the Pogo King.
New 52-Who can say, really?  Pogo King is eluded to in an Easter Egg style cameo, probably on a box of cereal, in the apartment of the latest super villain killcrazy to show up in Gotham.  Yeah, that's respect for the old days there.  Fuckers.

And don't you dare mention Deadpool to me over at Marvel.  Marvel has never been fun.  Funny at times, yes, but not fun.  Marvel, the House of Ideas.  The house that Jack (Kirby) built, has always been the company that brought you more "realistic" heroes.  Realistic meaning that they had money problems and acne and I think one time Reed Richards got herpes from Sue Storm after she'd been love slave to Namor.  You know, real life shit.  If I wanted to read about real life I'd read the newspaper.  No, scratch that.  That would hardly be real life either.

* I am of the opinion that what you call Batman, other than Batman, says much about your personality.  For some he is The Batman, stressing the definite article, for others he is just Batman.  Some like to say Dark Knight, and those are moody bastards that take themselves way to seriously.  I'm a fan of Caped Crusader.  I think it has a more upbeat moral feel to it and avoids the dark, moody, morose attitude, which is unhealthy.