Archive for the ‘Gaming’ Category

The Fate Roll: Handling Initiative In A Split Party   1 comment

I had a curious situation this last Tuesday: I had a 3.5 gaming group where nearly every player had a character who would be in an entirely different place, doing different (though related) things at the same time.  I wasn’t sure how best to handle this… my instinct said that they should just roll initiative, but initiative wasn’t really a good story-excuse for ordering; initiative is about who can get the upper hand, about who’s faster, and about who’s wily enough to get the drop on other people.  And I didn’t want to just make it a “roll off” where everyone rolled a d20 and the number on the die was your order; one of the subtle brilliances of initiative is that it has an automatic tie-breaker, wherein those who get the same “score” can still check sheets and determine that even in a tie, one player would logically be faster than the other (though this can still lead to more ties, causing a roll-off, but that only has about a 1 in 400 chance of occurring, and then only between characters with identical Dexterity scores.)  So I wanted a Dexterity tie breaker, even though Dexterity was pointless.  Clearly I needed another stat… but all the stats were seemingly useless.

Enter the Fate Roll.  Borrowing some ideas from a few different games, I had the players add their Wisdom and Charisma scores together and divide by 2.  Wisdom tends to model your awareness of the world around you, and Charisma tends to model your self-assertion within that world, so it seemed logical that those two things might be related to a character’s ability to manipulate their own fate or destiny or what have you.  (This was probably way too much math to demand of my players; going with a Wisdom or Charisma score was probably enough, but dangit once I was committed to the idea I was gonna do it, no matter how many players had to double check what I was asking.)  This number would then be rounded down to derive a “Fate Score”, a sort of seventh ability score that could represent Luck or Fate or whatever.  Then a simple roll off to determine order of group.

As it turned out, the order was a decent one.  Everyone only had two “turns” for the entire session, but each turn represented an hour of in-game work.  In the current game, I’ve set things in Eberron and I’m using the Alabaster Cup tournament as presented in the book Complete Warrior.  It’s set in Karrnath, and many of the players joined the tournament while a few others chose not to.  The previous events have included Archery, an Obstacle Course, Wrestling, and Jousting, and the players have been trying to keep the campaign’s villain from winning the tournament since (in my version of the tournament) the winner has historically been able to ask for a “reasonable favor” from the monarch of whatever nation the tournament is held within.

All of those previous events, as you can probably imagine, didn’t really require much of a change to the order; people either did things at the same time (like in the archery tournament), in a turn-based fashion (such as the obstacle course), or they were randomly assigned placement in a bracket (like in wrestling or jousting.)  Hunting is the next stage, though.

One of the real benefits of doing it this way is that I was able to involve the players who weren’t in the tournament, who have been good sports the last few session while the action hasn’t really focused on their characters.  I grouped them together as a sort of security detail to watch the forest, and I’ve had them work as a group to discover an ominous figure who they know to be working with the campaign’s villain, apparently working with rival packs of Winter Wolves and Worgs.  They don’t know the reasons why,  yet, and they opted not to attack the figure in the forest or his wolves, but they were able to advance the story itself rather than wait for the other players to “be done” with their hunting.

Anyway… this in’t a hug revelation, and it could have been handled in a fashion as easy as me saying “Okay guys, we’re gonna go around the table from me, clockwise, to figure out what order you go in” but I liked having an actual reason. for it.  Take care, all!


Windows Ten’s Most Important Feature   Leave a comment

So, Windows 8 had one little feature that was better than Windows 10 that I’d like to mention: Windows 8 sort of let you know over time that it had downloaded updates, and gave you chances to install those updates on your own schedule, while Windows 10 (according to some friends) just springs updates on you, ready or not.  I’ve not experienced this yet on the Windows 10 side of things, but I liked that Windows 8 kept reminding me about my free Windows 10 upgrade.  I agreed to the upgrade, let it quietly download Windows 10 in the background, and last night I set it up to make the upgrade complete.  Today I had a fresh new system to try out.  My unreliable Internet connection was sketchy at best so some parts of the upgrade were held off until I could definitively be online, but all the important pieces got put in place.

Windows 10 Desktop

I never updated my background from the default on Windows 8 (just never got around to installing my image of the Ouroboros Citadel that I used on Windows 7) so it was refreshing to see a scenic island.  I may well keep it.  I, of course, did a quick check of the Start Menu and was pleased to see that it was still there.  I don’t care for a lot of the tiles and things, but that can be changed in time (especially if I dabble in third party customization options.)  While the Start menu was, for right or wrong, the most requested change to Windows 8, scrolling through it reminded me of what’s truly important about Windows:the ability to play a card game that I could just as easily play in real life.  I’m talking, of course, about Solitaire.  So when I saw Solitaire in the Start menu, I knew it had to be my first stop on the review of everything that Windows 10 does.  I mean, if Windows can’t get Solitaire right, then we know the system is doomed.

Windows Solitaire 404

So, naturally, seeing an Internet connection error right off the bat was a bit disheartening.  However, once my knee-jerk reaction was done, I determined that this was a good thing.  This wasn’t saying “Error 404, no Internet, no cards for you, does not compute Earthling, feiopfewnifpe.”  Instead it was saying “Hey, I’d like to check the news updates for this program, but they’re not really available because the Internet’s not on, sorry!”

Further examination provided a menu.  Classic Solitaire is now called Klondike apparently (I don’t know why, but I can accept it as a name for its “variant” of the game.  I’m assuming there’s some earlier version of Solitaire, so the name “Classic” would probably upset some people who play it IRL.  Or maybe they just liked the sound of Klondike.)  This game also tracks a few things like Statistics, offers daily challenges (though they require Internet access), and even rankings.  There are ways to set this up with X-Box Live and other various things (again, they require Internet) but unlike Windows 8 these things appear optional.  Sure, it was *technically* optional in Windows 8, but in Windows 8 you had to actively search to avoid messing with those things.  Here it’s just a friendly way to play, if it’s something you care to worry about.  I’ve never been a Spider Solitaire fan and didn’t want to give the other two variations a try, so naturally my first game on Windows 10 was the Classic game.  By which I mean Klondike.

Windows Solitaire First Game

Here’s my first hand!  As you can see, it was a good arrangement.  A lot of options right off the bat.  Lots of card “syngery” in play.  (Ha!)  I messed around with this for a bit, and discovered that one of my favorite features of the classic game was still intact.  Namely, the game doesn’t auto-solve.  Instead it allows me to move cards as I see fit.  So if I turn over an Ace in the draw deck, I have the option of bringing it down to put onto a Two to net myself a few extra points.  I kept playing until, alas, I was out of moves.

Windows Solitaire First Game Failure

A tragedy of the highest magnitude, to be sure.  So I took the screenshot, saved the image, and prepared to end the game… but when I came back, I noticed a gentle highlight on the three of hearts, reminding me that my game wasn’t, in fact, over.

Windows Solitaire First Game UnFailure

I was able to maneuver this into an easy victory!  The cynic in me wondered if the first game would be rigged for people for a victory, but there’s no way to test that with just my one game.  Still, it was nice to kick off Windows 10 with a win in Solitaire.  Windows has a tradition of bringing celebratory animations to successful Solitaire games, and Klondike was no exception.

Windows Solitaire Victory Butterflies

Victory butterflies sparkled around!  It was nice.  Not great, but nice.  My favorite will always be the “jumping” playing cards that create after images of other playing cards behind them.  This had a bit of an element of that, and combined it with the fireworks that would come whenever you won a game of Mahjong in Windows 7 (another game that I’d like to see in Windows Ten.  It’s probably not here, but I’ve honestly not looked.)  So, the victory celebration in Windows Ten is nothing to write home about, but it’s certainly a nice, pleasant visual.  (To whoever worked on programming this ending: I understand the pressures of making something cool and nifty that celebrates victory without overdoing it, and I think you succeeded here.  The jumping after-images tradition is just a really tough act to follow.)

After victory, I was presented with some statistics.

Windows Solitaire First Game Victory Stats

As you can see, that’s 100% victory right there.  I HAVE NEVER FAILED AT THIS GAME on Windows 10, according to this.  I’ve always had mixed feelings about statistic keeping like this.  You can only really have a three-digit success rate until you lose, and then it’s lost forever.  I thought about preserving this 100% victory forever, never again playing Solitaire… but in my heart I knew it would be meaningless, so I instantly played another game, lost it, and dropped down to 50%.  I took no screenshot, though, so you have only my say-so.  PERHAPS I STILL HAVE 100% VICTORY AND AM NEEDLESSLY LYING?!  Nope.  But it’s a fun thought.

Anyway, Solitaire on Windows Ten is a solid addition to the Windows Solitaire tradition.  I don’t play Solitaire often on Windows, but it’s always nice knowing that it’s there as an option should I ever be bored and in the mood to kill some time.  Between this and the Start Menu, I’m optimistic about how Windows Ten will unfold.

Poker Night at Pocket D   Leave a comment

Pocket D

Sometime tonight, the City of Heroes community is expected to release Paragon Chat, a social chat program that uses the City of Heroes game code as a platform for socialization, role playing, and just re-experiencing all the joys of the City of Heroes world.  There are no enemies to fight or missions to take, but the world will be brought back to something like its former glory.  If you’ve read this blog for very long, you’ve probably picked up on just how much I’ve missed this game and how much I love the community, so naturally I’m excited.

Many players fled to other games with their characters, and acted out their former reality being destroyed.  In a sense that was true, but it was never how I saw it.  Sure, I recreated Sastra Vidya in DC Universe Online, but she always stated that she was running a mission for S.E.R.A.P.H. or the Dawn Patrol or something… naturally, the folks of Paragon would be very concerned about Brainiac’s actions, would they not?

There’s a bit of a discrepancy here, and since I was so excited about the City of Heroes coming back through Paragon Chat, I wanted to celebrate by writing a story featuring a few of my characters and mentioning a couple others.  Please know that the elements of City of Heroes and DCU Online aren’t things that I claim ownership of.  Really, nothing in this piece of fan fiction is mine apart from Cyber Sunset, Sastra Vidya, Sa’d al-Bari, Warlord Taln, Jack Anthrax and Professor Flummox.  Enjoy!


Poker Night at Pocket D
By John Little

Cyber Sunset arched the cards and flipped them together before rifling the deck in his hands. DJ Zero’s ethereal electronica and tireless techno continued to surge through the air, somehow clearly audible without being overpowering or drowned out by the Rikti Monkeys fighting in the caged ring near their table. He adjusted his stetson and tapped a control on the arm of his circuitry-laden combat suit.

“Cantrell Draw,” he said.

“Shocking,” said Sastra Vidya, the eyes of her skull-shaped masked glowing green beneath the hood of her skull-themed unitard.

“You’ll get to play yer game just as soon as you get to be the dealer.”

“I’d just assume that a cowboy like you would have more affinity for Texas Hold ‘Em.”

“If you liked Omaha this much, we wouldn’t have this discussion every week.”

“She does not have the discussion every week,” said Sa’d al-Bari, the purple-skinned, raven-haired woman in the robes to Sastra Vidya’s left and across from Cyber Sunset.

“Bari, I think we all remember it clear enough,” Sunset said, grinning as he dealt the cards. “You can say it didn’t happen all you like, but somethin’ like it had to have happened otherwise we wouldn’t be here.”

“Do not assume causality is as cut and dry as it appears,” she said. It sounded serious, but the twinkle in her eye and hint of a smile behind her veil revealed the intended humor. Sastra assumed that Bari knew what she was talking about, but that the situation wasn’t as dire as she suggested.

“You again cast cards of an inferior quality into my possession!” shouted Warlord Taln from his stool between Cyber Sunset and Sa’d al-Bari. His red skin was more noticeable than Bari’s softer hue, and even if it wasn’t the environmental survival suit and bubble-domed helmet that made Pocket D’s atmosphere breathable was noteworthy even in a place like this.

“I never cheat at cards, Taln.”

“This place is protected from such subterfuge,” said Bari. “It would be revealed to us through an enchantment of my own devising, one that lingers over this table while we gather. It also prevents me from reading your thoughts without informing you, and is why your radium-infusion device broke last week.”

“That device was not mine!” said Taln.

“So, you remember last week’s game,” said Sastra Vidya, putting two of her cards onto the table and drawing two more. “It seems to me that either the cowboy with the sword and I haven’t argued about Texas Hold ‘Em and Five Card Draw, or Taln couldn’t have cheated. You can’t have it both ways.”

“Perhaps I have overstated things,” said Bari, placing a single card on the table and drawing a new one. “And perhaps my own superior view of the planes allows me to discern greater subtleties than-”

“Your ancient mysticism is no match for my technological supremacy!” shouted Taln, pounding the table with the fist that wasn’t holding his cards.

“Hate t’burst your bubble, but I think Bari’s got the edge here” said Cyber Sunset. “She may be off her rocker about the last few years, but-”

“She is not mad, Earth man,” said Taln. “She is accurate. My telluric waveform rejuvenation scanner indicates a power surge occurred today, a mighty surge consistent with a stabilization event suffusing our reality.”

“Not you too,” said Sastra Vidya. “Look, Paragon City had a rough patch, we admit that. In one month, the Red Caps almost destroyed time itself, the Unseelie Court and Circle of Thorns weakened the barrier between realities, and the Rikti engineered one of their strongest attacks ever… but we survived.”

“Better ‘n ever, I’d say,” said Sunset. “Not a single Hamidon attack or Nemesis plot since then.”

“Would you notice a Nemesis plot, Earthling?” asked Taln, discarding all of his cards and drawing an entirely new hand. “I remember that month well. It was my introduction to Earth. I crashed and was recruited as a potential Chosen One by Arachnos as all of that began. Even with the terrors of that month, I am convinced that Lord Nemesis is the only true danger to your world’s status quo… or at least he was until I arrived.”

“Right, your invasion,” said Sastra Vidya. “When does your armada arrive again?”

“The Talnian fleet should emerge from hyperspace any week now!”

“Good luck with that,” said Cyber Sunset, drawing his last cards. “Rikti and Shivans and Praetorians’ve been a great warm up. Oh, that reminds me, I saw Professor Flummox fightin’ Jack Anthrax at Portal Corp last night.”

“Jack Anthrax?” asked Sadal Bari and Sastra Vidya in eerie unison, an eager gleam entering Bari’s eyes and Sastra’s flaming skull mask sockets. Cyber Sunset nodded, not remarking on how unsettling he found their reaction. He looked forward to the day that the Praetorian Loyalist-turned-villain would be arrested once and for all, but he had to admit he was a fan. The guy was just awesome. Only Taln seemed to sneer at mention of the name, though he sneered at everything.

“To think I could’ve seen Jack Anthrax,” said Sastra Vidya, paying the ante and raising the bet. “I saw a familiar bolt of lighting and snowstorm near Portal Corp last night. I avoided it.”

“Do you not wish to meet the hero from Praetoria?” asked Bari, matching Sastra’s bet. “Their ethics may be tinged with shades of grey, but since rising from the Resistance movement against Emperor Cole he’s been nothing but pleasant to this Paragon’s citizenry.”

“He’s… a little weird, though,” said Sastra. “He drones on and on about his ‘miracles of science’, like that Sivanna guy I fought when I spent those months in Gotham and Metropolis.”

“Right, back when they had that weird outbreak of super powers caused by nanites from the future,” said Cyber Sunset, making a mental note to take a trip to try and harvest some for himself.

“Exobytes,” said Sastra Vidya. “Fighting The Rikti and The Praetorians definitely prepared me for anything that Brainiac fellow could throw at me. But anyway, Professor Flummox is… crazy. Between you and me, I don’t think his stuff is even real.”

“His weather machine gets results, though,” said Cyber Sunset. “Y’can’t deny that.”

“I’m not, it’s just a feeling I get,” said Sastra. “So I tend to avoid it if it looks like his signature weather patterns… a little too much crazy in one day. But if I’d known that Jack Anthrax would’ve been there… I might’ve changed my mind. I need his autograph.”

“He’s amazing for a mortal,” said Bari, nodding. “Even if he seems to have an overinflated ego. Though I suppose much of that ego is well deserved.”

“Fold,” said Taln, pushing his cards away.

“Say, Bari, what’s Sastra’s trip to Gotham mean for your whole ‘reality stopped existin’ even though stuff kept happenin’’ theory? Did that not happen either?”

“She moved to a different reality,” said Bari.

“State,” said Sastra Vidya. “Gotham is in a different state, Bari. Not a different reality. Rhode Island is a state.”

Cyber Sunset nodded, turning the information over in his mind. Portal Corp had shown him many things, many strange worlds and horrible results from the laws of physics being tampered with. And it had been a horrible month, too… Red Caps and the Winter family playing havoc with nature and the flow of time, the Unseelie Court releasing Jack-In-Irons and Eochai while the Abomination nearly escaped (again) from the House of Horrors, zombies rising from the dead in nightmarish quantities, the Circle of Thorns again using their magical banners to bring horrible creatures into the world during a seemingly endless week-long night… and a full scale Rikti invasion resurgence in the week after it all ended, the week right before Sa’d al-Bari began announcing that their reality had been demolished and that they simply ‘didn’t notice.’ And now reality was ‘back’, according to Bari… but why?

Some of those Rikti ships did attack near Portal Corp, after all… perhaps something had changed. Reality’s cohesion around Portal Corp was sketchy at the best of times, and what if all those calamities happening in such close proximity could have gone one step too far? What if only people with Bari’s unique view (or even Taln’s insane understanding of science) could see that a problem had occurred? Would things ever be the same again? Would they notice?

Sastra Vidya cleared her throat. Cyber Sunset looked over.


“What’s your wager, Cantrell Boy? Are you playing or not?”

Cyber Sunset looked at the cards in his hand, and carefully looked at Sa’d al-Bari and Sastra Vidya. The latter’s face was completely obscured by the mask, and Bari’s face was mostly hidden with her purple and green veil. They didn’t have poker faces, but the way they held their cards was, he hoped, telling. Bari was always harder to read, but he felt that he was just getting the hang of it.

“I’m in,” he said, pushing chips into the middle of the table. “Let’s play.”

Magical Mondays: The Anti-Aleax Assassin Article   Leave a comment

Binwin Bronzebottom tries his hand at being a rogue.

I want to be clear about one thing in this week’s Magical Mondays, one important thing before we get to the fun stuff: this is not an article about punishing power gamers, theoretical optimizers, rules lawyers, or even Munchkins. Individuals within these groups may feel punished if you use what’s in here, but the goal is NOT to punish them; in fact, if the game stops being Fun for them, I recommend that you cease and desist your use of what I’m about to tell you (but do make sure that they’re familiar with the Dwarf Fortress definition of ‘Fun’ before it gets too far.) And, as a final notice, this article will contain many specific references to D&D 3.5, things that may not apply to other games (possibly not even Pathfinder or other d20 OGL games), but I do encourage GMs of all games to read on.

This week’s Magical Mondays is about keeping your players hungry. Games like Dungeons & Dragons have a core aesthetic, and part of that aesthetic (I won’t say it’s the biggest part, but I’m tempted to) is Struggle. Some players may fondly remember waltzing into a dragon’s cave, laughing at the dragon’s pitiful attempts to damage them by breathing fire, and then one-shotting it, but if that’s the normal flow of events then I’d argue that you’re not actually playing Dungeons and Dragons. The game Legend of the Green Dragon understands that even if the fight against the Green One is ultimately an easy one, the struggle to even get to that fight makes it worth it. And let’s be honest: there’s something *fun* about getting to a major boss fight and rolling so well that you make it look easy, wiping the floor with your enemy in a single blow, especially when you didn’t think it was going to be easy to begin with.

I have two GMs who are great at this. One gives me permission to do things in game and then interrupts my character after I’ve had enough time to work on it a little, but not enough time to finish (effectively giving me a little benefit, but not the huge benefit I’d been planning) and another GM who usually says no to most things I ask for but then gives me some alternative that’s more firmly rooted in the magic of his game world. Both of these GMs know what they’re doing and know how to deal with magic on the fly.

Unfortunately, part of character building (not character creation, but building character, like Calvin’s dad always talked about) is the tension. Most people design their characters without building character, often making the characters work in some kind of frictionless void. There are honestly people out there (and you may be one of them) who believe that achieving everything they want in a campaign is “only” as hard as generating an alternate plane of existence with variable time flow so that they can do seven years’ worth of crafting in an hour. (This is based on an interpretation of a certain spell that I’m personally fine with, but their belief that the crafting will go uninterrupted is foolish. Plane hopping invaders are always a story worth exploring, especially after a caster has used a daily allotment of spells for crafting but before the item is finished.)

As a GM, it’s your duty to make this hard on your players. It’s NOT your duty to shatter their belief (however unfounded they may be) about how all of their cheesy shenanigans work… it’s apparently important to their game to create alternate dimensions in their own image while helping the local baron to save his village from ogres (though I might suggest that at this point they’re taking quests that are below their pay-grade.) Having said that, if you ever, EVER get a player who believes that their wizard or sorcerer or psion or artificer is untouchable, then it’s time for them to learn how magic REALLY works in your game. And how does it work?

However you want it to. It’s your game.

(Quick side note: some players play games like D&D or Pathfinder or even Chuubo’s Marvelous Wish-Granting Engine with a desire to *be* the best at lots of things and a wish to exercise their mastery over the rule set.  This isn’t a wrong way to play the game, it’s just a way of playing that many GMs can find problematic.  If playing in that way is important to your player, I want to repeat the note from the beginning paragraph of this article.  As those familiar with the Stormwind Fallacy will tell you, a person is capable of both optimizing and role playing.  So, again, don’t mess with players just to mess with them.  This is more about giving yourself the tools to not let power gamers run wild amid your carefully prepared games.  Moving on…)

Let’s take the classic example of a power-gamer’s magical trickery, the one this article is named for: the wizard who creates an Aleax of an Ice Assassin of themselves. For the unfamiliar, this is a trick that many players have copied from people who have an intuitive understanding of the game, much like how there are people out there who think that they’re ‘hackers’ because they’ve downloaded a hacking program that a real hacker wrote. It’s a clever trick, but it relies upon breaking certain rules (repeatedly). The end result of this trick is allegedly a being that looks exactly like you, is invulnerable to being harmed by anything but you, and follows your implicit instructions. Effectively, it’s great for players who want to have Doombots. Let’s look at the different components of this trick before we break down how you mess with it.

Sub Zero

An Ice Assassin is a creature created from ice or snow, generated through a spell of the same name from the Shadow sub-school of Illusion. (Incidentally, I love the mixing of magic here. Most Shadow spells are made from shadow-stuff from the plane of Shadow in D&D, but this is a clear example of alternate forms of magic. Sure, maybe the ice is powered by shadowstuff, but the spell never says it is, so from this we can extrapolate that Shadow magic is ACTUALLY an umbrella term for any form of magic that simulates real things by using shapable, mutable things. Arguably an Elemental could be generated with an Illusion (Shadow) spell.  But enough about that…) Ice Assassins have a furious, all-consuming desire to kill whoever they look like (Note: in this case they look like an Aleax of the caster, looking (through the transitive property) like the caster, but with glowing eyes.) The caster has complete control over them as long as they are within one mile of the Ice Assassin. Any spell cast upon the caster can, at the caster’s option, affect the Ice Assassin. It’s a ninth level spell found in the book Frostburn (one of my favorite books), and is basically a supercharged and ridiculously effective version of the more common Simulacrum spell.


An Aleax is a bit more obscure. It’s a construct introduced in the Book of Exalted Deeds (in 3.5, at least, it’s actual introduction came earlier) and it doesn’t exist until a deity says it does. Basically, if a person does something that a deity really doesn’t like (usually by betraying the deity in some way, or doing something particularly heinous in the god’s eyes) then the god creates a sort of angel of vengeance that has all the abilities of the original and looks exactly like the original except for the fact that its eyes glow gold or silver. It also knows where its intended target is and tracks it relentlessly. The target’s friends and allies won’t be of much help here, because the creature is COMPLETELY INVULNERABLE TO HARM except from its target.Put the two concepts together and a caster has a creature that copies the abilities of a creature that is immune to damage except from the caster and follows the caster’s instructions while having the abilities of the caster. Some players like to make armies of these things, and apparently have DMs who allow the players to have 20k gp worth of diamond dust every time they want it (I’m guessing the alternate plane of weird time is nothing but a diamond mine? Sure, there are other ways to do it, but man that alternate plane is a handy resource. Your first ice assassin is probably going to be dedicated to mining, or at least picking up the loose diamonds off the ground if that’s how you made the place.) Now, a player wanting to do this is within their right to play in this direction, but if you’re not going to create story hooks having to do with arcane traditions surrounding this then you’re missing some great options. Here are some methods.

The Wet Blanket: Point out that the Ice Assassin spell only works on a creature that exists, and the magician in question hasn’t yet done anything that’s made a god mad enough to cause an Ice Assassin to come into being, and even if there was an Aleax chasing them they wouldn’t have the portion of its body needed to cast the spell. They can’t make an Ice Assassin of another Aleax, because casting the spell requires a piece of the body of the subject of the spell, and the other Aleax can’t be harmed by them (Note: some would argue that snipping off a piece of hair from another Aleax isn’t “harming” it. I’d argue that point, but feel free to ignore that issue if that’s not how the magic works in your campaign setting. Others might argue that the Eschew Materials feat gets around this problem, but let’s be honest: for the value that you’re getting, Aleax Hair is DEFINITELY worth more than 1 gp.) They can make an Ice Assassin of themselves, but then they’ll have something that’s 1) vulnerable to harm by anyone, and 2) eager to kill them as soon as they leave the one-mile boundary (and will have the spell-power to do it.) Be nice about it, and let them salvage their twenty-thousand gp worth of diamond dust after the ice statue they’ve carved melts when you tell them that casting the spell fails.

The Damp Blanket: Have the casting of the spell fail… but then a later divination reveals that they may have more success a second time. Sure enough it works! But… how? What’s different? Well, naturally, trying to cast the spell created a surge of arcane power that poked a deity somewhere (it almost doesn’t matter which one) and annoyed them. The deity said “Oh, so you want an Aleax, do you? Fine… I’ll give you an Aleax!” A reasonably intelligent caster will probably work out that the success of their spell means that there’s an actual Aleax out hunting them. (How did they cast this spell without the fragment of the Aleax though? If you’re a stickler for the rules the first time but not the second, this doesn’t make sense. The answer is obvious: the deity itself provided the material component as a warning, hiding it somewhere within the ice sculpture. Or, if you were allowing the Eschew Materials feat to work before (Why?! What are you doing?!) then it can also work now.)

The Frozen Blanket: Have the spell work! Have it work flawlessly! Just ignore the fact that they’re creating a copy of something that doesn’t exist despite what the spell says! Ignore the fact that they don’t have a physical piece of the body of the creature that remains! It obviously worked because A Wizard Did It! Or a sorcerer or, like, whatever. Let ’em have a dozen of the things. Then on one day, have the Ice Assassins all creepily gather around the caster, no longer responding to the mental commands. Have one of the Ice Assassins say “The gods originally had no issues with you, mortal. But Zarthros, god of vengeance, saw your dedication to aleaxes and assassinations. Zarthros will now reward you with exactly what you requested.” Then begin the epic fight scene between the caster and twelve identical copies of the caster. If the caster dies, then the same thing happens that would happen if they were killed by an actual Aleax: they get sent to the deity (Zarthros is the name I chose, but you can use whatever deities exist in your campaign) and the deity gives them the choice of either shaping up or facing their punishment, as per the Sudden Death ability of the Aleax. If the character manages to defeat the entire troupe of Ice Assassins? I’d suggest two rewards. First, the typical Aleax reward is a small set of boosts to wisdom, initiative, AC and gaining Spell Resistence. I’d increase the first three of these bonuses by one for defeating the whole group (it’s the same basic driving force of a real Aleax; it’s not more powerful, there’s just more of it) and a bit more Spell Resistence (depends on character level, decide this for yourself.) The second reward? Well, if the player was smart enough to defeat the last Ice Assassin with fire, there’ll be a pool of water remaining. They now have the one thing they’ve needed this entire time: a portion of a body of an Aleax of themselves that, due to the divine energy infusing the Ice Assassin they used to overwrite the magician’s spell, it can get around the rule that the creature must currently exist. The reward for enduring this story arc is exactly what the players need to make three or four Ice Assassins exactly as they wanted before, no ridiculous alternate dimensions required.

I’d employ a merging of all three blankets, personally: it creates a fun story, allows the final creation of Ice Assassins to be within RAW (or at least, closer to RAW than the typical ways of pulling it off), and most importantly it concludes by giving the players a bit of what they wanted. Sure, they don’t have an endless army of ice, but they’ve got more than enough to last for your campaign. Or, at least, enough to last until Zarthros decides to work his whimsical vengeance again. What’s that you say? Once you defeat an Alleax the god is appeased and won’t seek revenge again? Well, maybe… but the player didn’t defeat an Alleax. The player defeated an Ice Assassin.

Now, there are a lot of tricks that power gamers like to pull that gloss over the deliciously complex world of magic in your Campaign Setting, and the Ice-Assassin-Aleax-Of-Myself is just one way to do it. But whenever your players get up to business like that, know that the best solution isn’t to take away their toys; it’s to change their toys when they start using them, and to make a great story along the way.

That’s all for this week’s Magical Mondays. Tune in next time, and happy gaming!

My Cabin-Con 2015 Schedule   Leave a comment

Hey, all!  It’s the beginning of con season, and that means, as I’m sure you’re aware, CABIN-CON!  I just made it into Michigan City, my old stomping grounds (and current stomping grounds) from Valparaiso, and I’m ready for Cabin-Con tomorrow.  Here, I even took my first selfie ever at a Taco Bell in Michigan City to prove that I’m ready for the weekend.


John ponders Empanadas

Now, if  you’ve never been to Cabin-Con, that’s cool.  It’s smaller than most conventions (in fact, it’s about the smallest I’ve ever been to), but that’s part of what makes it so cool.  After a few years of going, it’s rare to find a crowd of people without at least a few familiar faces (some might say impossible).  Most of the weekend consists of pick-up gaming, so if you’re a fan of Zombie Dice or Munchkin or Mag Blast or a lot of other quirky games like that it’s a good place to find people eager to give it a try.  There’s also a lot of roleplaying games that happen (they make up most of the time spent gaming, I’m sure, even if they don’t quite make up the biggest number of games played… honestly, I’d call it about even in that latter category.)  If you don’t already have your ticket for Cabin-Con, I’m sorry to say that it’s probably too late, but never give up hope.

Now, if you want to catch me at Cabin-Con, I’ll be there for a good portion of the weekend.  Most of my games will be in the room with the Moose.

Room With A Moose

And believe it or not, it’s even better than THAT room with THAT Moose.  Of course it is.  THAT room contains a horrible moosey fate, but the room with the moose at Cabin-Con’s a lot nicer.  It’s also the easiest room to find.  Tragically, I have some other business to attend to in Michigan City so I won’t be at Cabin-Con for the entire weekend (and I won’t have a room at the convention itself as many choose to do) so I won’t be there the whole time.  If you want to find me, though, here’s where to look.

Friday until 5 – Room with Moose
Friday between 11 and 1 AM(?) – Room with Moose
Saturday before 11:30 AM – POSSIBLY the Room with Moose (but also possibly not)
Saturday between 4:30 PM and ? – Room with Moose

Now, I *might* be able to get in on some of the fun on Sunday, but I don’t know if I’ll be able to make it before they start closing up shop for the season.

Anyway, that’s where and when to find me.  There are only three other things you need to know for Cabin-Con.

  1. Moose controls the weather.
  2. Moose wants a banana.
  3. Moose speaks Sanskrit.

Once you get all of that, you’ve pretty much got Cabin-Con covered.

All righty, that’s about all I can say from Taco Bell.  Follow me on Twitter (@CraterLabs if you weren’t already) for more updates from Cabin-Con 2015.  Woo!  #CabinCon #CabinCon2015 #Moose

Posted June 12, 2015 by John Little in blogging, Cabin-Con, Gaming

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Presenting: Zack Gamma   1 comment

So, while going through another computer I fired up Icon (a program that should be familiar to all the NeverDie City of Heroes players out there), and found this…

Zack Gamma

That, ladies and gentlemen, is Zack Gamma, the paranoid-because-he-knows-they’re-after-him spacefaring private investigator from my sci-fi mystery Three Virellium Coins.  As you can see, he even had the horrible hat in his first appearance, and he’s always been proficient with his Purcellian Striker Pistols.

I’ve said this to a number of people, but I don’t think I’ve ever said it in a public place like this, so it’s worth mentioning: there are a lot of elements of Three Virellium Coins that were inspired by City of Heroes.  I was working on the series well before the announcement of CoH’s closure came up, but after the announcement came that City of Heroes was closing the nods to the game became less incidental and more intentional.  (Oddly, the character of Igneous may be the most overt City of Heroes reference, but she existed well before I knew it’d be happening in that way.  Seriously, though, look at the pictures on that page.)

Now, I never actually played any of the characters in Three Virellium Coins, though I certainly would’ve enjoyed it.  The game encouraged me to think about the abilities of characters outside of the standard sets of super powers.  Carmen Shift is what a character might wind up looking like if someone made a Mutant hero with rock powers and gravity control (possibly even the Kinetic Melee power set), while Captain Calen would probably be a Tech hero (well… Tech Vigilante? Tech Rogue?  She’s hard to pin down) with the Beam Weapon powerset (and almost certainly wearing some, but not all, of the costume pieces from the Cosmic Corsair costume set.)

I have better ideas for how each of the characters would be played than others.  Zack, as seen above, is a Natural Hero (or Natural Rogue, maybe) with the Dual Pistols and Martial Combat power sets (though in truth I don’t think Zack would have much skill in the Martial Combat side of things except through instances of dumb luck.  But hey, dumb luck is valid on the rare chance that it works.)  Naturally, I don’t limit the characters in Three Virellium Coins to how they might be playable in City of Heroes… that starts creating all sorts of shackles in the story that I don’t want to worry about… but it was nice to find this picture and think about where a lot of the little story seeds started.

I had a lot of others.  Igneous, The Soul Survivor, Captain Ortega, Captain Calen, Carmen Shift, and Azar (though I didn’t have a name for him at the time, so that costume is called Hazard Pay) among others.  I quickly decided to make a costume for one of the newer characters, Nectra.  I may share more of these in time, but for now… enjoy Zack striking a pose far cooler than any I’ll ever let him strike in the story.

Magical Mondays: The Table Primordial   Leave a comment

Hey all, still overcoming my disease *cough cough* but I think I’m almost healthy again.  In today’s Magical Mondays, I’m going to be presenting a bit of magical lore from my own setting, Cantadel.  It’s something that a certain group of players in my games have been working toward for years, indirectly, so I’ve been avoiding saying anything about it online, but I think it’s unrelated enough to the story that it’s not a spoiler.  Plus, I used it as an example of something to include in a dungeon in a recent Reddit post where someone was asking for ideas about a dungeon that uses a four elements theme.  More importantly, I think that Magical Lore is one of those elements of world building that we, as GMs, aren’t encouraged to do.  We have so many rules about balancing magic and working the numbers on items that classify them in ways that relate to level or challenge rating that there’s just not enough room in the book to talk about the imagination that we’re encouraged to use.  In the back of our head, sure, we all know that realistically we can say anything we want… but the game rule books don’t really talk about it much, so it’s not really something on our minds when we say “it’s time to build the world!”  So, I hope that by presenting a little something from Cantadel’s cosmology, it’ll help you to consider yours.

Consider now… The Table Primordial.

Samurai Jack Elementals

(Note: the above image is not an actual image of The Table Primordial, it’s merely a scene from Samurai Jack chosen to present a sense of, if not literal scale, then intended significance.)

The Table Primordial is a legendary device or location, and some consider it a plane in and of itself.  Whatever the true nature of the Table Primordial, the various reports about it suggest that it is a revered meeting place and neutral territory where opposing elemental forces may congregate peacefully to discuss matters of the utmost importance.  The table seems designed to accommodate “true” users, and it recognizes those who “belong” sitting around it, resizing either itself or those who sit at it so that all may see eye to eye as equals.  Mountain-sized primal dwarf creatures have sincerely debated issues of great importance with thimble-sized water sprites with each seeing the other as approximately their own height.  No one knows the true nature of this apparent size change… it may even just be illusory… but unwelcome humanoid adventurers who have found this place have reported a massive structure with colossal beings towering over it, and at least one ancient (and unconfirmed) tale speaks of a pixie recognizing an enemy, delighting in the momentary size reversal, and stomping the poor adventurer to death.  Clearly, the table did not recognize the exploring human as someone who “belonged” there.

The descriptions of the table have changed as well, and accurate explanations of its size have remained evasive.  Most agree that it seems to be constructed of crystallized and inert elements of raw elements, each divided into its own quadrant of the table; the fire portion is as still as the rock portion.  Some have suggested that this is merely a way for our minds to interpret the Table Primordial, as this seems to show a preference for earthen elements, and that it is merely a “safe zone” where all the elements are equal.  The Table Primordial is referenced in many cultures indirectly, and a few of the more significant gatherings are known:

Twelve times a year, Sun and Moon gather to discuss matters of importance to themselves in their eternal chase around the world.  Sun is an unimaginably massive fire elemental, with a massive amount of holy energy built in to its flames, radiating out from it (call it radiant energy, positive energy, or whatever you like for your game mechanics.)  The Moon is a smaller, but still unimaginably large stone elemental.  It radiates a darker energy, but also receives light from Sun to use in its own ways, generally affecting the minds of many, ranging from lunacy on its darker evenings to lovestruck feelings on its brighter nights.  The Moon may choose to use the sun’s energy to alter its own, up to and including making it holy in the same way that the sun’s is.  Some believe that the Moon is, in fact, an apprentice of the Sun, and that these monthly meetings are also educational in nature.  It is unknown if the timing of eclipses are related to their meetings at the Table Primordial.

Thrice a year, leaders of the elemental giants convene around this table to discuss the terms for elements of sport and leisure between their distant cousins.  While each form of giant has a different opinion on what constitutes an enjoyable activity, these meetings allow the leaders to find those events that will satisfy all of their appetites for hunting, wrestling, racing, jousting, and feasting.  More importantly, the leaders can address inter-clan conflicts before these times of sport arrive.

Twice a year, usually during the Solstices, the great elementals of Winter and Summer meet.  The frost elemental Winter and the heat elemental Summer both wish to remake the world as if it were entirely under their rule, but they remain locked in an eternal balance against each other, and when that balance is removed one may finally gain the advantage over the other.  (Note to any of my long time players who may read this: The Frozen One approaches you still…)  Whenever Winter and Summer meet, they are joined by two lesser trickster elementals, Spring and Autumn.  These two don’t see eye to eye either, but they each wish to ensure that Winter and Summer remain in check.  Two other times during the year, during the Equinoxes, Spring and Autumn meet without Winter or Summer’s knowledge and compare notes of what they’ve learned while observing the other elementals, who see the lesser two as minions without ever quite noticing that they both do work for the other at different times.  Sometimes, though, Winter and Summer get along strangely well, and then their meetings become great discussions on how to settle disputes between the various powerful fey under the control of each, something that Spring and Autumn are trying very hard to figure out how to trigger.

In general, only mortals with knowledge of the Planes, Religion or the Arcane will know more than simple stories about this place.  Many casters seek it out, knowing that their spells can be improved if cast while near the table.  Others still believe that they can increase the potency of their spells if they chip away fragments of the table to carry away.  An abjuration would be that much stronger with the sturdiness of elemental stone, would it not? An arrow or catapult would launch its ammunition farther if aided by purest wind, yes?  The “true” users of the table resent the mortal casters who view the table this way, however; it both does a great disrespect to a tradition that predates humanoids while also gradually eroding their precious table.

Having said this, it is not unheard of for some casters to become accepted by the table.  One story speaks of a great war being averted when a Pyromancer general and a Windwalker admiral met to discuss terms.  Some versions of the story, though, suggest that each had a genie along as an advisor, and that the genie persuaded the table to speak for them.  Or, perhaps the table merely recognized their elemental power.  No one knows for sure.

Elements Vs Azula

It was kinda hard to not end on that image, I’ll be honest.  Anyway, this is an example of some of the magical background of my campaign world.  A lot of things in the description I’ve left vague because, well, I don’t know what I want from the story yet, and other things I’ve not filled in because while I know what the truth is, I think it’d be more fun for my players to wonder about it as well.  Regardless, it gives me a background to set stories against, and a lot of potential story hooks that I could have the players engage in.  When creating your own game world’s cosmology, come up with a cool idea and then run with it… you don’t need all the details right away, but giving yourself a good starting point can help you inform other quick decisions down the line.

That’s all for this week’s Magical Mondays.  Seeya next time!