Friday, January 29, 2016

When Dice Attack part 4: My Dice Hate Me

Is there any relationship more beautiful and pure than a gamer and his dice?
Crown Royal, purveyor of fine velvet dice bags since 1974

Time was when all a gamer needed was a character sheet, a pencil, and a Crown Royal Bag holding 5 pounds of polyhedrons cast in space age polymers.
Miniatures?  Meh, if you really want them.
Hex paper?  Don't need it.
Visual aids?  A scribbled note on the back of a piece of paper will suffice.
The dice, those are the tools of the trade.  Imagination, rule books, the various paraphernalia of the game all pale next to the dice.
Gamers have more lore and more superstitions about dice than any other item associated with the game.  You'll loan a pencil, a book, a miniature, give away character sheets by the score, but don't touch my dice.  Most gamers I know have at least 3 sets of dice.  One set is their private set, the ones nobody is to touch under any circumstances lest they curse them.  Then there are the workhorse dice, the ones you do the normal rolling with, and they are less sacred. Then there are the "loaner" dice.  Meaning, of course, that other people may use them if they do not have dice of their own.  Loaner dice are never pretty.  They are mismatched, often with blunted corners and have a general aura of the village bicycle, if you get my drift and I think that you do.

Dice come in many shapes and sizes, the classic cube of the D6, the diamondesque D10, the burly D8, the odd D12 that never seems to get much love, the saucy icosahedron that is the D20, and of course the sneaky caltrop that is the D4, so easily lost in the game but found later in the dark when you are in your bare feet.  Gamers know these dice and know them well, for it is the dice that determine the fate of the players' characters and sadly the self-worth of the players themselves.

Which is why there is no worse pain to the heart of a gamer than when the dice turn on you.  And they will.  Much like a craps game in Vegas, when the dice are hot, they are rolling well.  When you are rolling hot you take risks.  You feel like any plan, no matter how foolish or hopeless can succeed.
But dice can go cold, and when they do nothing can save you.  It breaks your spirit.  You can work out probabilities all day and know the odds are all in your favor and those plastic bastards go cold and you will look for any opportunity you can manufacture to avoid rolling them.

Trust me, I've a long history of being an unlucky dice roller.

Now the worst thing about bad rolling is that it affects you on two levels.

Level 1: The universe hates you and wants you to die in shame and embarrassment.  Remember when I said to not let the dice determine your self worth?  Yeah, well tell that to a gamer that has been missing rolls for several sessions.  You will begin to hate the dice.  You will buy new dice.  You will start to hate your character.  The very act of picking up the bones will be a Heraclean task, the weight of them seeming to increase as your hand rises further from the tabletop.  You will be loath to release them lest you be forced to see your own inadequacy shown to all and sundry because the universe hates you, your character, and any offspring you might produce unto the 7th generation, you sad, pathetic bastard.  And everyone else will know it when they see your roll.  Fecking dice.

Level 2:  Nothing is more annoying to a person rolling poorly than another person rolling well, even if that person is, nominally speaking, on your side.  Much like winning a lottery or getting some good news when you did not expect it, a good roll shows on a gamer's countenance.  They smile, they beam, they sometimes cheer.  In the most extreme cases they assume that a good roll is a validation from the universe itself.  "Good boy, Johnny, have a natural 20."  That shit can really upset your mood.  Even the most calm, friendly and non-self centered person will become a snide, snippy, mean spirited bastard when they are rolling crap and some other player can't seem to lose.  Friendships have been dissolved over a bad night of dice rolling at the gaming table.  Blood feuds have been declared after several such nights.  It is not just that the other guy is so damned gleeful at his good fortune, oh no.  It is that everyone can see his value right there on the table and see your vileness in the dice.  What is more, it seems that nobody has sympathy for the pariah rolling crap.  Not that you'd accept it, you self indulgent prick.  The last thing you want is any condescending sympathy from Mr. High Roller over there.

In practical terms bad rolls make the game less of a joy to play.  We are all going to fail from time to time.  That's just the reality of a randomizer such as a die.  Sometimes we take it too personally.  You really needed for that roll to succeed and even though the odds were in your favor it did not and you are pissed about it.  Understood, but that's life.  It really becomes a problem when it seems you can't succeed no matter what you do.  You avoid the dice like they came from a cesspool.  If you add to that the success of the other guys, especially if you are the only one failing, you will start to get a bit depressed.  They might start to see you as a problem as well.

Damn you, dice!  You won't destroy me!  I'll roll another character and use my "special" dice.  The ones I reserve only for making characters.  I got your D6s right here, muthaf...

You get the picture, and you are admiring the frame.

Now I said above that I have a history as an unlucky roller.  It's true.  I've seen brilliant plans come to naught simply because they hinged on a simple roll of the dice.  It's frustrating and it makes you start to suspect the screen monkey is lying about his own rolls.  At least Mr. Lucky is rolling in the open.  When some other player says that they always seem to roll poorly I instantly believe them.  Probability be damned, I've seen it too many times to doubt them.  I've lived it.

We could discuss probability all day.  I could lay it out for you mathematically and you'd say it is all just random chance, but none of us want that.  The simple truth is that your dice hate you and they want you to die.  Every real gamer knows this.  More than a few dice have found themselves launched at such speeds that they were embedded into drywall, or bounced into hard asphalt streets to be run over by automobiles, crushed as punishment for their willful failures.
Because dice hate you.  Show them no mercy, they aren't going to show you any.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

When Dice Attack part 3: Falling On Your Sword (because you tripped)

We've talked about exploding dice (vile), and critical hits (pathetic), but there is one other thing that I hate, and that's the tails of the coin, assuming that a critical hit is heads: fumbles.

I talked about the rule of 1 and 20 last time and what that means in terms of success and failure.  Summed up: you will always have a 5% chance of success and a 5 % chance of failure, regardless of your character's scores, bonuses, penalties, and relative ability.

Whenever critical hits are brought up the question that is there with it, unnoticed by the party goers at first, but eventually making its presence known like a bad oyster at the roast, is the evil twin of the critical hit, the anti-critical hit, the Lex Luthor to the Superman that is the critical hit: the critical failure, or critical fumble, or just fumble.

I hate that too.  I feel it is a necessary evil, however, for anyone that wants to employ the critical hit rule.  It provides the counter-balance to all the good fortune of the crit.  It is as though the universe must be balanced, and lo the fumble did arrive upon the scene.  In your basic D20 system a fumble is a bit of bad luck, over and above the usual penalty of failure (which is to not succeed) whenever a natural 1 is rolled on the die.

Now consider what the penalties are for failure already.
1. You do not succeed at whatever you are attempting.  That's a pretty hefty penalty in and of itself.  If you are attempting to catch a priceless Faberge egg before it hits the ground and you fail to do so, your prize is destroyed.  That's a pretty hefty penalty.  In combat this means you have not defeated your enemy, thus you extend the combat and your chances of being defeated yourself have increased.

2. If you fail at a to hit roll in combat, that is another chance for your enemy to roll to attack you.  Ideally you want combat to be over in as short a time as possible, provided that you are the one still standing when it is over.

For example, you have 12 hit points and you need to roll a 15 to hit your opponent. He has 12 hit points and he needs to roll a 13 to hit you.  Both of you will do 1-6 points of damage per hit.  Logically you can withstand between 12 and 2 successful blows depending on the damage roll.  If you miss on your first attack and your opponent hits, your total time left in combat is statistically shorter than his.  Failure already carries a pretty hefty penalty.

The fumble then is a way to add insult, often painful insult, to injury.

Unless there is a table for it, the basic rule in games that have fumbles is sort of a DM's creative choice.  The guidelines in the AD&D 2e Dungeon Masters Guide suggest that whatever happens, the player should basically lose his next attack as he recovers from the fumble, perhaps picking himself up off the floor, or recovering his lost weapon.  In extreme cases of DM Dickbaggery this could result in a whole new attack roll where the player hits himself, his friends, or that priceless magical artifact they came to steal in the first place, causing handfuls of dice of destruction and ruining the whole quest.
Don't laugh, I've had DM's with a douchbag quotient far higher than is required for that.  That would be a simple fumble to those assholes.

The critical fumble can be a source of great humor, and I like a bit of humor, but it is just as likely that it will ruin your night at the table.  The critical fumble is guaranteed to ruin your night in one of two ways, if not both at the same time, and that sometimes happens as well.

1. When it happens just when you most don't need it to happen.  Remember the rule of 1 and 20?  1 always fails and failure is already a penalty.  So when you are in that life or death situation from which heroes are born and death is the most likely outcome, to roll a 1 is a bit disheartening, even if you needed a 19 just to hit.  You were probably going to miss, you did, after all, have a 90% chance of missing.  Should you heap a fumble onto that?  You were hoping for that heroic 19 or 20.  You might have rolled and 18 and said, "So close!" but instead you rolled a 1.  In your mind it could not have gotten any worse, even though it is honestly no worse than any of the other numbers 2-18.  It's still a miss.  You NEEDED that 20, you rolled a 1.  Or maybe you just needed it to not be a 1, and you rolled a 1.  Now you are looking at a counter attack that will probably end this character's career, all because you heroically entered battle with only 1 hit point left.  You dumbass.

2. Remember when I said you should not consider your dice rolls a measure of your personal human worth?  On the flip side of the above example is the can't miss roll, where you'd actually need to roll a -2 to miss.  Of course 1 always fails, so despite the fact that you couldn't miss, you always had that 5% chance of missing.  Hey, combat is chaotic, things happen.
Were this to also be a fumble, that's just insulting and cruel.  Your skill is such that you are so far beyond your target that you have only a 5% chance of missing, and yet now you are saddled with some sort of improbable outcome where you chop your own foot off?  Or better yet, you swing wide and kill the cleric.  That will make you put your dice into your Crown Royal Bag in shame and leave the table.
Because you make these characters, and you play them (hopefully with some intelligent tactics and decisions) and you start to care for them.  You start to see the ranger you rolled up at first level, now at 8th level, as an important and skilled figure in the world, a mover, a shaker, a hero.  The numbers are in your favor.  It's bad enough to roll a 1 and know that it will always miss, but to roll a 1 and have your DM put you into some "hilarious" comedy routine of painful and embarrassing slapstick, that's just too much.  Now your family heirloom sword has flown out of your hand, backwards, and into a lava pit, all because you rolled a 1 and it wasn't enough to just miss, the DM felt that such a major boner deserved his best Three Stooges treatment.

Both of the above examples share something in common above and beyond the failure aspect: they are completely random.  That's right, they are completely at the mercy of a single 20 sided die which happens to have 2 numbers that will come up 5% of the time (each, not together).  Just as the critical hit is a "reward" for good luck, the critical fumble is a "punishment" for bad luck.  Note the quotes.  These values already carry a reward and punishment called success or failure.  Fumbles, like critical hits, are just bullshit.

For the sake of completeness, I might as well tell you that games with exploding dice also have fumbles, but how they work varies wildly depending upon the system.  The most common example of a fumble in an exploding dice system, at least as far as my experience and study can determine, is something Deadlands called "going bust".  Being a Weird Western game, Deadlands was fond of using poker terminology (such as Acing for rolling the highest value on the die, or getting a Raise when you exceeded the target number by 5 points).
Going bust simply meant rolling more 1s than any other value.  You roll 6 d6s and get 5, 3, 1, 1, 1, 1, you just busted.  Now in that game the GM (called the Marshal) was expected to put some interesting twist or complication into the scenario to make your life hell.  In other games with exploding dice the lowest possible value (typically a 1) automatically removes a successful roll.  So let us say you need to roll a 4 or better and you roll those bones and get 5, 4, 2, 3, and 1.  Your 1 would remove one of your successful dice, usually the highest, so you'd net 1 successful die (the 4).  If you'd rolled two 1s, then you'd have lost both successes and failed.  If you'd rolled three 1s, you would have gone bust again. Pretty nasty, eh?
Again, some games have their own rules for when those fumbles happen, often depending on what you were doing.  A spell might backfire if you fumble.  You might shoot your buddies if you fumble.  You might get the exact opposite reaction from a crowd than the one you intended if you fumble.  The point here is that it's worse than just failure, and as we've established, failure already carries a penalty.  It's called failure.

Please remember that this is all just my opinion.  Don't let the math fool you into thinking this is some logical or scientific fact.  Of the three cases, exploding dice, critical hits, and critical fumbles, the one I can most live with is actually the fumble.  I hate exploding dice because they destroy the game flow and lead to impossible and thus game disrupting outcomes that remove player incentive to use their brains.  I hate critical hits because I see them as disruptive, but also a reward for luck masquerading as skill.  I hate fumbles because they are often embarrassing and inconvenient, but that is why they are the least offensive to me of all them.  With a good GM and a healthy sense of humor, the fumble can be entertaining, humorous, and lead to even more game fun as you try to undo what has been done.  A simple breaking and entering to obtain the stolen crown for the king can lead to an entirely new set of adventures as you attempt to solve the even bigger problem you created when you dropped the crown and it was swallowed by a giant carp.  From adversity comes adventure!
But then that same crown and carp scenario need not be the result of some ridiculous 5% screw up.  A simple failure could lead to the exact same scenario and won't leave you feeling like an asshole.  In the end, I can do without critical fumbles.  A fumble is a failure, plain and simple.  Sometimes you roll to attack and you miss because the other guy is better and sometimes you roll and fail because the sun got in your eyes, but you don't need a special roll to tell you that.  That is all part of playing the game.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

When Dice Attack part 2: Return of the Killer Dice!

I hate critical hits in gaming.
I know, I know, it's all, "Damn, Rook, why you hating so much?  You are just an old grognard.  Lighten up, son."
Which may or may not be true, but I have my reasons.
Mostly those reasons have to do with how I see gaming in general.  The idea of a critical hit is, by its name, a hit that lands in some vital spot, thus producing much harm.  However this is gaming, not a hospital, so we are not strictly speaking critical.  Well, usually not, some games are that detailed, but I am speaking in generalities.  A game with exploding dice, as I mentioned previously that I hate, has a natural critical hit built into the exploding dice mechanism.  When the dice explode and you just keep rolling, that's a critical hit.  Rather, that is a lucky hit.

Let me clear up something for everyone, gamers and non-gamers, alike: your dice rolls are no reflection of your skill or creativity as a player.  Dice rolls are what we call "luck".  I don't mean to suggest that someone is particularly favored by the cosmos or not.  I mean that dice rolls are measurements of probability.  If the probability is low that an event will occur, and it does, we call that luck.  If a probability is high that an event will occur and it does not, we call that unlucky.  However we are human beings, so even if a probability is low that an event will occur and it is an event we do not wish to happen, because the outcome is not favorable, we call that unlucky as well.  It's a relative thing measured by human perception.  If your dice have been just one point off all night, regardless of the actual probability of any given roll, you feel unlucky (actually you feel shit upon).  If your tablemate has been getting all his rolls, again regardless of the actual probability, you feel that he is lucky.  And you hate him.
As such, it is an unhealthy human trait, found in many gamers, to see your dice rolls as some reflection of your quality as a human being.  That's unhealthy.  Stop that.  Got it?

So back to critical hits and why I hate them.
I started with AD&D, which is an old school game.  The combat was abstract.  That is, it did not involve a blow-by-blow description of events where every single action was charted in a second-by-second fashion.  Oh no.  For that, you played GURPS.  Rather in the combat round you were assumed to be doing any number of things like parrying, feinting, making blows, and fancy footwork.   You rolled a d20 and that result told you how successful all this nonsense had been.  Of course we called it a to hit roll, so we can be forgiven for forgetting the abstract part in the heat of the moment.

Originally there was no critical hit rule in D&D.   Various house rules, magazine articles, and optional rules published officially and unofficially provided the critical hit rules for us.  The concept was usually something like "if you roll a natural 20 on the 1d20 you have achieved a critical hit".  That's a flat 5% chance and it is pure luck.  It is not a reward for skill.  Indeed it defies skill.
My first problem with critical hits comes from the above.  It rewards luck, not skill.  A highly trained and skilled warrior has no more chance of landing that devastating lucky blow than does a farmer with a pitchfork.  This is very disheartening if you are trying to play with a bit of intelligence in your choices.  Yes, I know that people die by seemingly random things all the time, but this is a game, not reality.

My second problem with critical hits has to do with the 1 and 20 rule of AD&D (or D20 as it is now known).
As a quick reminder, the 1 and 20 rule is the rule that states that any roll of a 1 in combat is automatically a miss, regardless of any bonuses that would make it a hit while a roll of 20 is automatically a hit, regardless of any penalties that would otherwise make it a miss.
As we've discussed before, this means that mathematically no matter how "good" your character is the best chance of success is 95%.  Conversely no matter how poor your chances look, you will always have a minimum 5% chance of success.  If we did a historical review of the D&D systems to determine when this started we can see that the 1977 Holmes rules say that in order to hit you need to roll the number on the attack matrix or better, but that number tops out at 20, so you can always hit with a 20 regardless of armor class (penalties might reduce this, however).  The Basic rules in 1981, the rules Cyclopedia in 1991 and the AD&D 2nd edition in 1989 all declare the 1 and 20 rule as a standard rule for combat.
With the 1 and 20 rule in mind we can see that no matter how overwhelming the foe is, whether it be in terms of skill (levels), sheer size and power (hit dice) or penalties heaped upon the player, there is always a 5% chance of success.  Thus we can say that luck is already rewarded by the game's dice mechanics.  A 20 on the attack roll is a lucky blow, and that is what a critical hit really is, just a lucky blow.  If it was a well-placed blow, then skill itself would be rewarded, but it is not.
We know that skill is not rewarded, at least not above and beyond frequency of successful attacks, because there is no bonus to damage for landing a skillful blow.  If a player need roll only an 11 on 1d20 to hit, then 11 through 20 all score successful hits.  Your unmodified chance of success would be 50%.  If your opponent needs to roll a 17 to successfully hit you, then he has only a 20% chance of success (unmodified).  You will score hits more often and that's a reward for skill, but there is no reward for rolling a 19 above and beyond a successful hit.  Your opponent is just as successful on a 19 as you are.
It should follow then that a 19 when you need an 11 is no more skillful an attack than would be the 11.  So why should 20 be some mystical super hit?
Probably because it is the highest value on the die and thus people might forget that it has just as much of a chance of coming up as any other single number, that being 5%.  In the case of your attack roll, your probability of success is based upon the range of numbers that meet the stated criterion, being the minimum value you must have to succeed.  Everything above that value is simply achieving the success, not improving upon it.
Taking all of this into account, my second issue with critical hits is that a 20 already carries a significant bonus.  It is an automatic success regardless of all other factors.  It should not also carry a reward of extra damage, especially not when it is the only way to successfully hit something that is, by design, unable to be hit by any other means.  If your THAC0 score is 20 and you are facing a foe with an armor class of -3 then you need to roll 23 on 1d20 to hit him.  This is an example of facing something out of your league in skill, power, size or armament.  Certainly a combination of bonuses could make this achievable, say a high strength score, a magical weapon, a weapon specialization bonus, or some combination of those things.  Or you could just roll a 20 and hit anyway.  You do not deserve bonus damage simply because you achieved the absolute minimum required to succeed.  From this critical hits are not made.
This especially smarts when it happens to your character because your DM rolled really well behind that screen he keeps up to hide his nefarious activities.

The third and final reason that I hate critical hits is related strongly to what I said above about human perception of probability outcomes, or luck, if you like.  Once, while playing in the second game of a new campaign my cavalier was killed by a goblin in a single blow.  Being level 4 and having a decent amount of hit points, and being in a non-wounded state, this should never have happened, but the nasty little goblin and his nasty little club rolled a triple critical hit on my cavalier, killing him outright.  My DM was rolling hot that night, which is bad for the players.  It was annoying in the extreme.  I got better.  It's a game, after all.
What the players get, so too does the DM.  If you insist on critical hits, or even worse, critical hit charts, then expect that the monsters will get them as well.  As illogical as it seems, I've had a history of "unlucky rolling".  See, I quoted that because it's only unlucky from my point of view.  It becomes a problem when I would role play out some solution, think up a gonzo but brilliant plan, or just spend time and mental effort to do the smartest tactical thing, all to have it go up in smoke and disillusionment when the DM, lacking the creativity or even-handedness to adjudicate the scenario just calls for a dice roll.  Then do we see my dice betray me, the bastards.  This is not always a deal breaker, of course.  From adversity comes adventure, but it can really piss you off when you are the mighty warrior with the strength bonuses, the good weapons, and specializations and you keep missing by 1 or 2 points on the roll, but some asshat thief is just rolling hot getting 20 after 20 and killing a dragon outright while you are desperately trying to guard that last hit point and the stupid DM won't just have the dragon decide to kill the thing that is killing it steadily every round.

Or to put it more succinctly, it ruins the game flow.  It takes away the abstract adventure of the game and replaces it with simple math.  What you are left with are boring war stories of the type where some guy says, "Remember when I rolled that double crit and killed the lich by myself?" rather than somewhat less boring war stories where some guy says, "Remember that time when we spread oil on the floor and then Zandros got the mummy to chase him and you guys set the floor on fire when the mummy came into the room?"

It's marginally better the second way, I promise.
Besides, there is nothing heroic about rolling a 20, then rolling another 20, then rolling a bunch of dice and watching something die.  The life and death struggle, where you have only a few hit points left and asspull some brilliant tactic and the DM says he'll let you try it but the final assessment, after penalties, means that you have to roll 20 or die, and you do is much more dramatic, exciting and heroic than just getting double or triple damage and ending a fight before it even began.

So, yeah, I hate critical hits.  I hate fumbles too, but that's probably a topic for another time.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

When Dice Attack

I have a thing, a pet peeve I suppose, that I try not to feed, but every so often it pops into my head.
I hate exploding dice.
For the non-gamers, and the gamers that don't know what I mean, exploding dice are when a game has a rule that states that whenever a die is rolled and comes up with its highest value (e.g. a 6 on a d6) that die gets to be re-rolled and the player keeps the original value plus the new value, summed.  So if you roll a 6 on a d6 you roll again and add the new value to 6.  Typically exploding dice have no limit.  If you continue to roll the highest value you keep adding to the total until you roll a value less than the maximum.
I hate this.
In the first place it plays havoc with probability.  
In the second place it's just bullshit.
I say it is bullshit because the notion of dice in gaming is to provide a randomizing agent for actions and events that might occur but the game is not of a scale to go into the details.  When your fighter swings his sword at the orc, the GM is not deciding that the orc ducks at just the right moment or that you slip on a patch of wet grass and miss.  The dice do that for you.  When it comes time to disarm the trap, you sneaky rogue, the dice determine if your fingers are as nimble as you think they are.  This randomizer is balanced by skill, mathematically speaking, in terms of hit bonuses, defense values, skill points and various other factors.  
Let us say you have a rather complex game with many skills and some of those skills can be attempted even if your character does not possess the skill itself, such as picking a lock.  Why shouldn't you be allowed to try?  That's the attitude of most gamers.  If your fighter has no lock picking skills, can he not still attempt it?  Some games say "no" and others say "sure, here is a default rule".  
The default skill rule is by no means standard, but generally games that use it allow the player to attempt something by defaulting to a related skill or attribute and taking a penalty.  
Now add in the exploding dice bollocks.  You roll your dice, with a massive penalty, and despite the mathematical odds, your dice explodes and you get to roll again and it explodes and...
You succeed in such a spectacular way that the party thief wants to know what in the hell he's even here for.
Same applies with combat.  Lucky shots happen, I'm not saying they do not, but I've seen it happen in games with exploding dice far, far too often.  I'm describing situations where the least skilled party member, in a moment of insanity or panic throws a dagger and shear exploding dice luck kicks in and it KILLS A DAMN DRAGON.  Instantly.  That had full hit points.  
I hate that.
Not because I want people to suffer, or deny them their fun, but because it totally throws off the whole game.  It hurts feelings, it ruins carefully crafted plans, and it has to be explained.  Now your GM is having to describe some awesome event in glowing terms.  Your game has just become a Monty Python sketch.  I love Monty Python, but I don't want to play a Monty Python RPG.
There is also the problem of probability with which to contend.  
Would anybody care to work out the odds?
I am no expert, but since it is an infinite number (open ended re-rolls) then I would assume, correctly or incorrectly, that the probability is infinite as well.
I could be wrong.
Mostly it just annoys me when some level 1 nobody wipes out the evil Lich Lord first attack when he never should have been there in the first place.

I hate them.

Monday, January 18, 2016

My Total Lack of Art Skills

Anyone who is even a semi-frequent reader of the CP is no doubt well aware of my complete and total lack of artistic talent.
I have a beautiful vision in my head, but my hands will not obey that vision and instead we get:

Yeah, there are 5 year-olds with more skill than that.

Which is why we've come to expect (appreciate?) my particular style, such as the amazing visual aid below:

Ah, memories.  It first appeared HERE.

As a result of this lack of talent and skill, I tend to post up pictures that I have not-quite-photoshopped.  Or in this case screenshots from my DCUO characters because, and I am not ashamed to admit this, I like a paperdoll.
So enjoy these pictures of Rex Spacerace, Space Ranger, fighting a giant monkey!
Rex Spacerace, Space Ranger!

Take that, sinister simian!

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Even More What Is That Wizard Doing!

Again we are skipping a book since book 9 has zero Wizard or Warrior on the cover.  Book 10 features them both in a tale called Tournament for Terror!  Yes, FOR.  Not OF.  I just want to be clear about that.
I don't know if this is some sort of charity tournament for the condition of terror, like a telethon FOR muscular dystrophy, or if there is a visiting guest to the kingdom that happens to bear the Terror or what, but there is a tournament FOR it.  The title demands it.
So let's have a look at the picture:

And let us ask the ever-popular question: What is the Wizard doing?
You know, when you see fantasy art featuring wizards they are generally in the act of something really magical, like casting a spell, or posing in front of a storm while a dragon flies behind them.  The point being that in order to express their subtle and terrible magics, the artist needs to provide some vague spellcasting notion.  A warrior can pose dramatically holding a battle ax or a massive sword, but wizards standing around holding a wand tend to look like cross-dressers.
So we get these action scenes.
Here the Wizard is...
Well there's this horse, see?  And the horse is about to double hoof smash the Warrior so the Wizard is helping his friend by...?
There are sparklies, dammit!  Streams of sparklies, similar to the smokey magic when the Wizard faced the zombie king in the Castle of Ravencurse, only more focused.  And he has his mouth in that shouting pose.  So either he's saying the spell, or more likely he's shouting encouragement to his companion.  He's saying, "Fear not, friend Warrior!  I will cast Balboa's Belligerent Basher upon you to strengthen your swordarm, although it will reduce your language capacity to single syllable words, I'm afraid."
Well, that's my part done.  I'll just move out of the way and let you get us the XP.  Good job, you.

Red and purple really seems to be his favorite outfit.  I wonder why he's pictured in green on the title plate?  Maybe that's what it looks like when YOU play the Wizard.  Maybe all this time the cool red and purple has been when YOU are playing the Warrior.  In which case that's just rude.

Monday, January 11, 2016

What Is That Wizard Doing (and When Is He Doing It)?

We are skipping ahead again as book 7 just had a werewolf on the cover.  Werewolves are cool and all, but that's all it was.  It wasn't a werewolf menacing either of the protagonists.

Conquest of the Time Master is the 8th book and we have both the Wizard and the Warrior (but not You as You are assumed to be one of the twain at any given time).  The heroes face off against the evil Time Master, so there's time travel.  If you name a book Conquest of the Time Master, you expect to have a cover illustration that sums up time travel and there you have it, a bloody dinosaur.
Our heroes are standing on a bit of rock (a common enough motif, to be sure) and there is a slavering allosaurus.  The Warrior is doing what we expect of him in every case, sword arm cocked back in mid-swing, shield up to protect himself but of course we want to know just what in the hell is that wizard doing?
Sadly this is a common pose for the Wizard, isn't it?  Cloak billowing, arms outstretched and...nothing.  No magic sparkles, no lighting bolts, no weird smokey energies; he's just going, "Ahh, shit, a dinosaur!  Yes, I know I've ridden dragons but this is a damn dinosaur!  Do something, my old friend!"
Oh he looks very regal in his usual magic pose, but we have none of his usual visual effects leading me to believe that what the Wizard is doing is acting all imperious and giving orders.  Of course when faced with a massive carnivore that could snap you up and end you in one bite, it makes little sense for the guy in the robe to be leading the charge.
As usual, the Wizard is relying on his reputation as a manipulator of mystical forces by posturing rather than actually doing anything.  I'm sure his master trained him in all the right poses and such as an integral part of his apprenticeship.
A nice cover, to be sure, but our boy the Wizard is not showing much after his glorious start riding a dragon and his magical zombie duel.  I expect better, sir.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

What Is That Wizard Doing: Special Edition

Today's What Is That Wizard Doing is a special edition because it is actually What Is That Warrior Doing.
The Sixth book of the series, Revenge of the Falcon Knight, featured the Warrior on both the US and UK covers.  The Wizard was nowhere to be seen, but both covers are excellent examples of fantasy art and I wanted to make a point or two, so here goes.  First the US edition:

And now the UK edition:

And Now: What in the hell is that Warrior doing?
I presume you can see that the Warrior is bravely doing battle with not one, but two enraged crocodiles (or alligators- I can never tell the difference and to be honest when they are trying to eat you, I don't think positive identification is your main problem).  That's a bit heroic, is it not?  He's going to have to polish that armor and oil it up when this is all over because rust is a significant problem.
Now down in the UK edition the Warrior is bravely facing some unholy crossbreed of a tiger and a cobra.  I defy you to tell me that such is not the stuff of which fantasy badassness is made.
This UK edition is what we expect from a fantasy cover.  I don't know if that is in the book and I don't care because that is the sort of cover that makes you buy a book.  What is the Warrior doing?

However, a bigger question springs to my mind and it is the other point I wanted to make: Why can't we see his face?
Many of these type of gamebooks are written in the second person so that you, the reader, can be fully immersed in the story.  In J.H. Brennan's Grailquest series the protagonist, Pip, is a body for your mind to inhabit.  Pip's features are never shown, nor is Pip's gender ever revealed.  In this way you can be immersed.  In some books you are taking a predetermined role (Dever's Lone Wolf series, for example) and thus the protagonist has a name, a look, and you are allowed to see it.  Wizards Warriors & You walks the line between the two types.  The Wizard and the Warrior don't have actual names.  The books are written in second person.  Yet they are established characters with a background and a look.  We see the Wizard's face all the time.  The Warrior's face is never revealed to us.  Even in the interior illustrations his face is always in shadow, such as when his visor is lifted.  Why?
There is, logically, no good reason to make the Warrior a faceless avatar for the reader but give the Wizard a set of features we can recognize.  Oh, yeah, I know, we don't know the Wizard's hair color.  That's hardly the same thing.  We don't know if either of them are circumcised either, but is that a major identifying mark?  Does that destroy immersion?

I hope you enjoyed this brief interlude and if anyone can get a positive ID on the Warrior, inform your local authorities.

Monday, January 4, 2016

And NOW What Is That Wizard Doing?

I'm skipping the 4th book because there is no Wizard on the cover to go to the real gem of the series, in my opinion, The Haunted Castle of Ravencurse!
A great little tale where the titular Wizard and Warrior must go to rob an old haunted castle because the King is going broke.  Yeah, it's a classic dungeon crawl plot, but it also involves a haunted castle, so that's always a bonus.  Even getting to the castle, as I recall, was a chore.  The British cover featured the Warrior facing down a cyclops, which is boring.  The American cover however...

Ha ha!  Zombies!  This book was published in 1985, before the whole Zombie Phenom, which needs to go away something fierce.
And now the question of the day: What the hell is that wizard doing?
Short answer: fighting a magical duel with a zombie king.
He's front, he's not quite center, he's weaving some strange smokey magical power and there's the zombie king doing the same.  I suppose he could be a lich, but the text clearly called him a zombie.  This deserves a closer look:

See the other zombies behind him?  Yeah, he brought an army.

And here is the Wizard in close up.  Is that worry I see on his face?
This is not a time for sparkles, I think you'd agree.  Our boy is clearly dealing with something that a simple sparkle or a lighting bolt can't handle.
I have also come to the rather obvious conclusion that no matter where the Wizard is, it's pretty windy.  His cloak is always in full dramatic billow.  Maybe this is one of those things he learned from his master while he was an apprentice.  A simple effect, billow cloak, a cantrip really, but every wizard knows that magic is pretty dull without a bit of theatrics to spice it up.

So the answer to our question, What in the hell is that Wizard doing?--Wishing he was a cleric.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Now What Is That Wizard Doing?

Today we look at WW&Y book 3, Who Kidnapped Princess Saralinda to see what the Wizard is up to.
Well, first full disclosure: I never read this book either, but the plot synopsis says that Henry's daughter is to marry in a political alliance but goes missing and you, dear reader, are to take on the role of the Wiz or the War and search the castle for her.
Got it.
But that does not answer our question, which is, of course, just what in the hell in the Wizard doing here?
Following up his awesome dragon riding appearance with the lightning bolts he's just sort of standing there, making sparkles.  He looks grim and is he aware of the monstrous shadow?  I'm going to assume he is and he's making a smokey princess illusion to...scare the monster?  She looks like she's from a soap opera, does she not?
Clearly this sparkle dropping is great magic since some infernal wind is blowing his cloak all Batman-like about him.  This is that subtle wizardry we are always hearing about.  Either that or he's just run of out good spells and figures, "What the hell, I'll summon a frightening giant lady to scare away the monster."
Fear the alabaster skin and ruby lips of my giant woman, oh fiend from the pit!

If you are the observant type, you might remember this image from somewhere, like as though it was stolen and modified.

I claim innocence.
I think it is also possible that the Wizard realized he was getting a starring spot on the cover this time, full image and just wanted to strike a great pose and he thought nothing says it like glitter.