Saturday, July 11, 2009

D&D was a Wargame

I have been giving this one some thought recently. I was first introduced to wargames, and it was only afterwards that I started into D&D. The concept of the mega-dungeon strikes me as a bit of a wargame. The object of a mega-dungeon is to explore and eventually conquer it. It is designed to be tough. There will be character deaths. It has a players vs. GM mentality, in that the players are actually trying to beat the dungeon. Sure it’s just a game, but the object is to beat the dungeon. This creates a sense of accomplishment, and provides a reason to play the game. There is a winner. This is all good stuff.

As I read through the old school blogs and dig into the history of the game, I get a sense that this is where the game started. It was a game of exploration, and about defeating the dungeon. It was a small scale wargame, in that there were not armies involved, but rather the characters where a small band of explorers. I get the feeling that characters where meant to be plugged into the adventure and they were kept basic on purpose. They were meant to be slightly better than normal men at arms, and one could consider them as leader types with special abilities. When I read through the original rules, I am struck by the notion of how vanilla they are. This idea supports the notion of simple characters, as they are meant to die. Why create a complex character that was not likely to survive the mission. We are not suppose to fall in love with them. They were there to fulfill a mission, and success was based on player interactions, not on character feats and abilities. This is the core of old school gaming. It’s a de-emphasis on creating super heroes. Characters were not meant to be points of light.

But, something happened along the way, and I think this is when D&D moved away from being a wargame, and turned into something a bit different. Looking at it, I think it was really unavoidable. As we played with our characters, we fell in love with them, and we wanted a bit more. This in turn led to an inflation of character abilities and the development of a campaign as a story. Why? Because role playing games pull players into their character. The game encourages players to become their characters, and no one wants to play just an ordinary character.

When I look over the various editions, that is the first thing that really pops out at me. The character classes have expanded in terms of options and abilities, and with the latest releases, they can become quite customized. I will go as far as to say that companies have made a living off creating new and expanding classes. TSR and latter WotC quickly realized that splat books sell very well, because players love their characters.

And to be honest, there is really nothing wrong with that. I think it’s a natural evolution of the game. As folks play with their characters, they become more attached to them. For example, one of the folks in my gaming group played with a character for a long time, and when his character died, he stopped playing for a long time. Subconsciously, the character became a part of him, and with his character’s death, it was like losing a long time friend. There was a sense of loss. Now I am not sure that he would phrase it quite like this, but I think its there.

I have written a bit on the evolution of D&D, and I will write a bit more on this. I suspect that as one plays, no matter how basic you make it, there is a natural tendency to want to move to a story-plot with characters that have more options.

I think this goes back to the question of why do we play the game? How is fun created? I have read that fun is not the responsibility of the GM. I am not exactly aligned to this. If the game is not fun, then why are we playing?

The answer to this question is really determined by the makeup of the group. I suspect that wargamers are more inline with playing D&D as a wargame, and have no problem with character death. On the other side, there are a folks that really enjoy role playing and want to immerse themselves into their character. These folks are going to have a tough time with character death. Now I have just painted a black and white view of the D&D player population, and I am sure that there are plenty of people that are in the middle somewhere.

With this said, I think it is interesting to note that the hardcore wargamer is going the way of the dinosaur, if one is to believe the sales numbers on wargames. Sure board games in general are probably doing ok, but the players that like games such as Squad Leader, Panzerblitz, and other Avalon Hill classics are becoming rarer. Part of this is because of the demands on adulthood, which limits the time available to play. Part of this is having trouble finding consistent opponents.

To go back to my earlier comment, D&D has a fan base that is greater than that of wargames. The focus of enjoyment is very different, and it resonates better with more folks. I suspect that is because the enjoyment of D&D centers around the shared experience of being the hero. There is an element of escapism, and the idea of knights and dragons scratches a certain romantic itch that quite a few folks have. To put it bluntly, we want to believe in magic. Disney has made a fortune on this. This is very different than the concept of D&D as a wargame, and I think explains the popularity of 3rd edition and 4th edition D&D.


Today officially marks our 18th Anniversary. Time really flies by as you get older.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

4th of July

I would be remiss if I did not comment on July 4th. Officially it marks the birthday of the United States which is recognized as July 4th, 1776 when the Second Continental Congress approved the Declaration of Independence from Great Britain. When I look at this document and the Constitution, I am continual amazed at the thought that went into this documents, and I firmly believe that these are two of the most significant documents created by man, particularly with regards to self governing. They were cutting edge for their time, and are still highly respected to this day.

Consider the first couple of lines from the Declaration of Independence:

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

Wikipedia has this to say about the second sentence, which I have highlighted above:

This sentence has been called "one of the best-known sentences in the English language" and "the most potent and consequential words in American history". The passage has often been used to promote the rights of marginalized groups, and came to represent for many people a moral standard for which the United States should strive. This view was greatly influenced by Abraham Lincoln, who considered the Declaration to be the foundation of his political philosophy, and promoted the idea that the Declaration is a statement of principles through which the United States Constitution should be interpreted.
That is high praise indeed.
It is no secret that I am a big fan of heroic fantasy. It’s in the struggle between good and evil that everyday people step up to answer a bolder challenge than what they have previously expected. Heroic fantasy is centered on the hero answering the call and getting involved with something larger that self, and with it comes the recognition that this is worth fighting for, and if needed, to die for. It makes for exciting reading, and I never grow tired of this theme. This is exactly what happened in 1776.

When I read the above quotes from the Declaration of Independence, I know why ordinary men and women gave their lives so that we could have freedom today. Back in 1776, it was not a given that the colonies were going to win. It was a bit of a gamble, but the ideal of freedom was strong in the hearts of the leaders at that time. The founding fathers needed ordindary people to take up arms against their mother country. Not an easy thing to ask of, but the principles of the argument carried the day, and ordinary folks stepped up to the call. Of the 56 men that signed this great document, John Hancock deserves a special note as his signature is nearly 5 inches long, and I am sure that the King of England did not need his glasses to read it. He was not afraid to make a statement on what he believed, and it was quite a statement. In many ways, the American Revolution was a victory for the principles that the Declaration of Independence stood for, and I think this is what makes the United States a special place to live.

Xi'an - Terracotta Warriors

More pics from Xi'an. This time the terracotta warriors.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Review: Pathfinder #7 - Edge of Anarchy


This is the first installment of the Curse of the Crimson Throne Adventure Path, and I will be writing up reviews on all six parts with a final wrap up, very similar to what I did on first Adventure Path series. This adventure path returns to Varisa and centers around the city of Korvosal, with its troubled monarchy. It is interesting that I just blogged a bit about Cersei from Martin’s work, as there is some similarities between the two Queens. This adventure path has a number of tie in products to support it, which offers creative GM’s a number of add in options, which should enhance play. This series also contains quite a few special features that I think should raise the interest level for groups that like to try new stuff.

Nick Logue

I wrote a bit about Nick in my review of Pathfinder #3, which he wrote, so I will try not to repeat what I wrote earlier. It was about a year or so ago now that he accepted his current job with a college in England, which has taken him away from writing. This Pathfinder represents his last adventure write up for Paizo, but I would not be surprised to see him surface again. Right now he is a bit behind on his publish of Razor Coast that has a number of us chanting, “just write the book Nick.”


The layout for the new series offers a new and improved look. From its crimson red cover, to the new font, the layout is a lot nicer than the first series. The font on the earlier AP took a bit of criticism and it has been adjusted, which makes it a bit easier to read. The book itself is very similar to overall terms with the earlier series in that it is 96 pages not counting the covers, with the actual adventure taking up 51 of these pages, with an approximate word count of ~40,000 words. The book is divided up into several sections including the main adventure, two supporting articles (Harrow and People of the Road), the Pathfinder Journal, bestiary (six monsters) and the pregens.

One of the layout features that I like is the different colored heading bar and footer bars to differentiate the different sections of the book. The previous series had a color tab on the side, but I like the header and footer bars better.

It is also worth point out that the Pathfinder Journal is a bit cleaner in look than the first series.


As with all Pathfinders published to date, this one is in full color. Wayne again is the cover artist and has drawn up an otyugh bursting out of the sewers with the ionic paladin taking center stage. The interior art is excellent, and I do want to call out a couple of specific pieces. I like the shark on page 14, but then again Discovery Shark Week is a must see for me. The art in the bestiary is very good and is probably the best section of the book from an art stand point. It is also worth pointing out that the size chart at the beginning of the bestiary is discontinued, and is replaced by a specific art piece, which in this case is a devilfish attacking a small boat.


This first module in the series is an urban adventure and the campaign kicks off with the characters hired to go after a local criminal. The characters then discover a mysterious Harrow Deck that will stay with them throughout the campaign. Things pick up as they find a brooch that belongs to the queen. The characters find out that the King has died, and they are recruited by the Korvosan Guard to apprehend a woman named Trina Sabor. In the last part of the adventure the characters need to recover the missing body of a Shoanti warrior in order to stop a war. In the final moments of the adventure, the characters witness a heroic rescue by the legendary Blackjack and mysterious black ship approaches Korvosa.
Key features
There are a number of features that this module provides that I am going to list out below:
1. The Harrow Deck, which provides more than a bit of flavor to the adventure.

2. A fully mapped out city, which is supported by the Pathfinder Chronicles Korvosa supplement.

3. Imps and Dragons. This is just wonderful flavor that defines Korvosa.
4. A roof top chase, along with rules on how to play it.

5. Six new monsters, of which the reefclaw and the raktavarna are two of my favorites of the Pathfinder monsters.

6. The Pathfinder Journal, which continues the chronicles of Eando Kline.

Final notes

Let there be no mistake in that this is an urban adventure. Folks looking for a traditional dungeon crawl will be a bit disappointed. There is a lot of fluff included in the adventure write up, which supports more role play than roll play. Some may be turned off by the heavy story elements, which are significantly stronger than in the first AP. On the flip side, this AP hangs together better than the other series, with well defined tie ins to the following adventures in this series. The Harrow Deck and roof top chase provide something a bit different for the experienced group, and I applaud the Paizo team for adding these features into this adventure. The Harrow Deck will continue to be used throughout the campaign, and I think it is a very interesting feature. There is one small dungeon in the adventure that is at the end. Most groups should be able to finish it within a session or two, as it is not very big.

Overall, I do give this module a thumbs up, but I recognize that this particular adventure is a bit of a mixed bag. Groups that really like story heavy urban adventures are going to be really happy with this one, while groups that enjoy the traditional dungeon crawl are probably not going to like it. I personally really like the way in which the Harrow Deck is used, and that makes this a more intriguing adventure to run.
Rating: 3.5 Dragons (on a scale of 5)

A Feast for Crows

I just finished A Feast for Crows, and I really enjoyed it. A number of folks had said that this was their least favorite of the four books, as it has a lot less action than the previous 3 books. Some of the stuff that had been mentioned was that it was slow, and the previous POV characters were replaced by newer lesser characters. Needless to say, my expectations were very low when I started digging in, and I ended up being pleasantly surprised by the end.

While I agree that this was a slower book in terms of action, I really enjoyed the scheming that was present throughout. I especially enjoyed watching Cersei self destruct. She is probably the character that I love the hate the most out of all the characters in the book, which is quite a few. I am still hoping that she makes it to the end of the series, as I would hate to see the train wreck that is Cersei end early. I also hope all the Frey’s end up as fish food, which I think will happen.

Westeros is a web site that is devoted to discussions on A Song of Ice and Fire, which I visit from time to time to keep up on the latest discussions. The site is very good and contains very good discussion on the series so far, along with a number of possible theories on what could happen. I will also admit that after reading some of the posts on the message board, it feels like I missed just a ton of stuff that are in the books. This is probably why I do not post there, in fear of someone telling me to go re-read the books. It is truly amazing what Martin puts into his books. It’s the big things and all the little things, that makes this such an enjoyable read. I suspect that once all the books have been published, I will re-read the series, and I might actually take some notes

As a final note on this topic, GRRM posted an update on his blog back on 6/22 which seems to indicate that he is making good progress and the book could be done in the fall. This supports yesterday’s prediction of a 2010 publish, and I am holding this bold and fearless prediction.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Martin v. Tolkien

Martin has written more and has Tolkien beaten on sheer size, but he is also a Jets fan, so he loses points on this score.

Time has called Martin the “American Tolkien,” which is an interesting comparison between two great authors. However, they are very different in terms of style and flavor. Tolkien is the master as epic high fantasy, bringing forth noble ideals of good and evil. He writes with a style similar to the sagas of old, and is closer to mythology in terms of content and flow. Martin is writing a fantasy soap opera that specializes in political intrigue and ambiguous morality.

I am almost done with A Feast for Crows, and I suspect that I will be done before the weekend. This will mean that I would have read it in just under 3 weeks, which is pretty good considering it is just shy of 1000 pages. Unfortunately, Dances with Dragons is not out yet, and my bold and fearless prediction is that we will see it next year. While I have no inside knowledge on how the book is coming, I suspect that it is about 80% complete, and that Martin is struggling with completing the final 20% or so. With a work as monstrous as A Song of Ice and Fire, getting the internal consistency right is probably a major under taking, and is easier said than done. It sounds like he worked hard on Dances in the first part of last year, and then slacked off in the second half of the year. I am not sure how he is doing this year, but I have not heard any significant updates, which means that he is still working on it, and it is going slowly. I am hopeful for a 2010 release. As for the final two books, hopefully we will see them before 2020.

I started reading A Game of Thrones about a year ago, and now I finishing up with Feast, which has given me time to reflect over the body of A Song of Ice and Fire. Without a doubt, it is a very ambitious project. In The Lord of the Rings, the scope of Middle Earth is epic, in that the entire history of the work has been laid out, and there are tales within tales of heroes and their triumphs and tragedies. Tolkien’s appendix found at the end of The Lord of the Rings and his companion works, contain exhaustive details on Middle Earth, and contains a very extensive time line of events. This goes to show the amount of detail that Tolkien put into the overall world. There is a depth of history and story contained within their pages. At its root, it is a tale of good and evil, where both are clearly defined, and their struggle is eternal. The theme of corruption is woven throughout the story, and the tragedies are in watching good men fall in with the manifestation of evil.

Martin is completely different. I used the term fantasy soap opera to describe A Song of Ice and Fire, which I think is very accurate. While there are struggles between the various houses, the story is really about the characters. The people in the story are neither good nor evil, but are playing the hands that they are dealt with to further their own person agendas. It feels like the young are innocent (or good), until they fall into their own ambitions of status and power. Once this happens, they fall into the inbetween category that can only be classifed as grey. Even the worst of the characters are not entirely evil, although, some of their actions are extremely vile. It’s this fuzzy nature of the morality of man that holds appeal, and that I think makes the story work. The reader can relate to the characters making mistakes, as there is a reflection of real life woven into the plot.

Martin has a number of strengths as an author, but his ability to turn a line is amazing. He can be funny, witty and sharp all in the same paragraph. His writing has an edge to it that makes it a very enjoyable read. Tolkien’s writing does not seem to have quite the same sharpness that Martin has, but it is still elegant and at times it is very bold in narrative. Tolkien really shines when the main character, representing the force of good, confronts the darkness and calls out the foulness of its being, often with reference to earlier heroes. In this regard, Tolkien is more related to Milton than to other writers of the fantasy genera. There is deepness to his story that is not commonly found in other writers.

With A Song of Ice and Fire, Martin has woven a tale that could easily have been pulled from medieval Europe. There is a certain attraction to the pageantry of the various houses and knights, and I found myself wondering what the jousting tournaments of Europe were like. This element clearly added to the enjoyment of the story.

One of the first 1000+ page novels that I read was Shogun, which checked in at about 1210 pages. To be honest, I read it after seeing the miniseries back in 1980, and I think it took me several months to read the entire thing. Shogun is just a massive literary work. I really enjoyed the political jockeying that was present between the Toranaga and Ishido as they fought for the right to be called Shogun. Now there were other factions present, including the Roman Catholic Church, which exercised considerable power in a non-Christian country, which I found very interesting, but Toranga and Ishido were the major players in the book. In some ways, A Song of Ice and Fire is very similar to Shogun, and one can see a number of common themes between the works.

As a final note, George, just write the book.

Sunday, June 28, 2009


It’s good to be home.

I spent a number of years in the Navy, and the return from deployment was always special. There was a special feeling that accompanied stepping off the plane and on to your home ground. I would picture it similar to the feeling of knights returning home to their lord’s castle after a successful campaign. For that brief shining moment, there is a heroic feeling. There is a taste of victory and accomplishment. Now I can say that after being in the business world for a number of years, there is nothing that compares to that feeling. Yes, we have good quarters, and yes it is good to get a big bonus, but nothing compares to the feeling of stepping off the plane, having your commanding officer telling you “well done,” and having friends and family greet you. It gives me goose bumps just thinking about it. Its a great feeling.

So coming home from China was not quite like that, but it was still a good feeling.

At last they rode over the downs and took the East Road, and then Merry and Pippin rode on the Buckland; and already they were singing again as they went. But Sam turned to Bywater, and so came back up the Hill, as day was ending once more. And he went on, and there was yellow light, and fire within; and the evening meal as ready, and he was expected. And Rose drew him in, and set him in the chair, and put little Elanor up his lap. He drew a deep breath. “Well, I’m back,” he said. Lord of the Rings - JRRT

This is perhaps one of my favorite paragraphs in all of literature. Sure one can argue that there are more heroic passages, and there are. One argue that there are passages that more elgantly captures the spirit of humanity, and there are. One can easily argue that it is not written very well, and I agree with that too. But this paragraph captures that special feeling that comes with homecoming, and there is nothing better.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Final day in China

A year goes by very quickly. We are in the middle of packing our suit cases and we just have stuff everywhere. I suspect that today will be a long one. It seems like every time we travel the night before is always a bit crazy. I will be glad when we are safely back in the US.

I started blogging a little over a year ago partly to document my time in China. Once I started to blog, I realized I wanted to blog about a number of topics, but mostly about game related stuff. Next week I will return to blogging about game topics, but I will also post some additional pictures from China. I have a long list of stuff that I will be covering, and I should have plenty of time to cover this stuff!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Xi’an – The City Wall Pictures

Enclosed are more pics from Xi’an. These were taken while walking on the wall and in the park at the base of the wall.

Sunday, June 21, 2009


Just returned from our trip through Beijing and Xi’an, and I have to say that it was awesome. Everyone knows Beijing, but not many folks may know about Xi’an. Sure folks know about the terra-cotta warriors, which are really cool, but the city itself is amazing. The inner city is surrounded by a 600 year wall that is still in great shape. The enclosed picture is from the wall. I probably could have spent the entire day taking pictures of this wall. Wikipedia has a nice summary of the city. As a quick footnote, the “X” is pronounced as “SH,” so Xi’an is pronounced “she-ann.”

Expect to see more pictures this week from Xi’an.

This one is taken from just outside the wall.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Great Wall - more pics

More Great Wall pics...


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Goblin Cave…A study in over design

It was almost a year ago, well maybe more like 10 months ago, I had this idea for creating a lead in dungeon for my 2009 Golarion Campaign. I wanted to begin in the middle of things, and basically be able to tell the players to start rolling initiatives because they are under attack, and then fill in the details afterwards. I was leaning towards using Paizo’s upcoming Council of Thieves (CoT) as the basis for my campaign. It was going to be the first AP specifically written for the Pathfinder rule set, and I was excited to use the new rule set with the new adventure that was written for it. No problem..right?

I started out with an idea of creating a small two level dungeon, which would just serve as an entry point to the larger Adventure Path. As I was designing it well ahead of time, I could run my son and his friends through it and get some feedback on it. The idea was to keep it fairly generic, in order to maximize its use as both a small stand alone dungeon, and a lead into to the larger adventure path.

As I was getting more and more into the creation phase, I realized I wanted to add a mega dungeon into AP, as I wanted to have both an AP and a sandbox, just to give the players more choices. With this in mind, I started thinking about linking the dungeon to other dungeons. All of a sudden two levels did not seem like enough. Two levels became three, but I was not fully happy with the way they ran together.

The more I read about Council of Thieves, the more I decided that I did not want to run a strictly urban adventure. I wanted a bit more diversity than just an urban adventure. In general, I like a good mix dungeon and wilderness adventures with a little bit of urban thrown in. Now I have not seen the final AP, so I could be totally off base.

I have just recently decided to go with Legacy of Fire (LoF), which of course required a bit of a re-write to align it to LoF and to give it an Arabian and Egyptian feel. Ten Thousand words has quickly become sixteen thousand, with more being added every day. Now just this past week, I am leaning towards adding potentially two more areas, which would mean at least another four thousand words, and I am not finished will all the hand outs. I have some rough sketches that I am still playing around with, so we shall see how it all plays out.

As I am not slated to start until August, this means I have another 2 months to think about this. As I am fleshing out this out, I am finding myself going back and adding new stuff to the older levels. For example, I really like the idea of the Harrow Deck, so I just added that as one of the magic items that could be found. I have a really cool idea on how to add this in, which I am rather excited about.

Of course I suspect that once I get back to the US, and start looking through my other books, I will add even more stuff. And this hits on the theme of the blog. I think that things tend to grow as you have more time to just think about them. With a year to think about a dungeon, it takes a life of its own. A couple of months ago, I thought I was basically finished except for the handouts, which I knew would be the last things I would be finishing. I have a tendency to just keep adding more and more stuff right up until the last minute. I am wondering if I am not alone in this?

What once started out as a small simple dungeon is now turning into its own mini mega dungeon. I suspect that my players may not get much past level 2, but that does not appear to be stopping the construction project that has become The Goblin Cave.

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Great Wall


That’s a big WOW, not a little wow. The Great Wall is just impressive. Pictures do not do it justice. It is a wall with numerous guard towers running along the length of it. The terrain that it sits on is rugged hilly terrain, which makes it all the more impressive. When one is actually on the wall, the verticle nature of the wall as it climbs the hills is an amazing view. Needless to say, it is a bit of a bear walking up and down all the little steps, but it is a great workout.

Now I have a soft spot for the European style castles. I love everything about the old castles, and Europe has a number of really interesting ones. The multi-floor designs with the guard towers resonate well with me. One can picture knights going forth into battle with their pageantry held high. It’s all good stuff.

But the Great Wall is a bit different than that. Looking out over the hillside is an awesome view. A number of trees have grown up very close to the wall, which I suspect were not there several centuries ago, add to the scenic view. It seems hard to believe that this was built so long ago. It would be quite an undertaking now to build something that is 4000 miles long with modern tools and equipment.
I found the guard towers to be very interesting. The inside was not just one big open area, but rather bunch of smaller areas. There where a number of walls in the towers that divided up the inner area. In most of the towers, there must have been ladders leading to the roofs, as they were all gone, except for the open hatch that lead to the roof. I was actually a bit disappointed that a ladder way was not still present to climb up to the roof.
I have enclosed a number of pictures that we took today, and I will try to post some more within the next day or two.

Enclosed is a snippet from Wikipedia.

The Great Wall of China is a series of stone and earthen fortifications in northern China, built, rebuilt, and maintained between the 5th century BC and the 16th century to protect the northern borders of the Chinese Empire from Xiongnu attacks during various successive dynasties. Since the 5th century BC, several walls have been built that were referred to as the Great Wall. One of the most famous is the wall built between 220–206 BC by the first Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang. Little of that wall remains; it lay farther north than the current wall, which was built during the Ming Dynasty.

The Great Wall stretches over approximately 6,400 km (4,000 miles) from Shanhaiguan in the east to Lop Nur in the west, along an arc that roughly delineates the southern edge of Inner Mongolia, but stretches to over 6,700 km (4,160 miles) in total; a more recent archaeological survey using advanced technologies points out that the entire Great Wall, with all of its branches, stretches for 8,851.8 km (5,500.3 mi). At its peak, the Ming Wall was guarded by more than one million men. It has been estimated that somewhere in the range of 2 to 3 million Chinese died as part of the centuries-long project of building the wall.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

China - less than 2 weeks to go

China – 2 weeks left

Well two weeks left in China and then I head back to the US. It has been a fast year. There are going to be things that I will miss and there are things that I am looking forward to back in the US. Shanghai is actually a very interesting place to live. My boss has a saying that all things are possible here in China, but not necessarily easy.

I suspect that my blogging over the next two weeks will be rather light, as I work on getting ready to leave. Once I get home, I should be back to my normal schedule of blogging. We are spending this week in Beijing and Xian, which will be our last trip we take inside of China. We waited until the last minute to travel to Beijing, but we wanted to make sure that we visited the numerous sites about Beijing, including The Great Wall, prior to coming home.

Overall, I think this has been a good experience for the family. I think the kids will really appreciate it as they get a bit older. I think any chance to do something a bit out of the ordinary is a good thing.


On a similar note, one of the things that I am missing this week is Paizocon. There were a couple of conventions that I really would have liked to have attended, and this was one of them. Gencon will probably be the only convention that I will be able to attend based on my schedule. Next year, I am hoping to attend this one, as well as a couple of other ones. One of the things that I do like is the number of postings on the Paizo boards about the various updates and such.

This brings me to a general comment on conventions. One of the things that I really enjoy about a good convention, besides meeting tons of folks that like gaming, is attending the seminars. I will be honest on this one, playing the games is fun and all, but I really like attending the seminars that give an inside look at what is coming down the pike. For some reason, and I maybe totally alone on this one, I really like hearing about all the new stuff, and in some cases being able to buy advance copies of gaming material before it hits the shelves.

The second thing I really like about conventions is wandering about the vendor booths and talking with the folks that actually are creating the material. I could spend hours just looking at the miniatures on display. The stuff on display is just stunning to look at. At my last Gencon, I stopped by the Green Ronin, and ended up talking with one of the folks there about the Dolphins for about 30 mins or so. It’s all good stuff.

As a final note, yes living here in China is cool, but I am looking forward to getting back to the states.

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Fantasy Internet of Magic

Magic is such a great topic to blog a bit about. I think everyone thinks about it a little differently. I was skimming through the Paizo message board and one post popped out at me, so I will write some of my thoughts on magic in general.

One of the things I actually liked about Forgotten Realms was the way they approached magic. Basically the premise was that there is a weave that flows through everything, and magic users tap into it to perform magic. There is probably more to it than that, but that is my take away on it. This is a simple, yet elegant way of describing how one can access magic. What I really like this is that it becomes really easy to show how dead magic areas can come about. The weave goes through almost everything, but there are some areas that the weave does not go through, and in these areas, magic is not accessible. In modern terms, it’s like not having good reception on your mobile phone. In some areas, the reception is just terrible. As an aside, I am sitting in my concrete office and the mobile phone reception is horrible. However, my internet connect is great as my wireless router about 2 feet from my notebook. This is basically how I think about magic. You are tapping into a magical wireless internet.

In the real world, sometimes the internet connect gets a bit flaky. I see magic the same way. Sometimes things do not quite work the way you expect them to. It’s not really explainable, it just is. I really like the idea that there is always a small chance that magic just does not work right. In 20 sided die terms, I am thinking a 1 or a 2. If the player or GM (for monsters/NPCs) rolls a 1 or a 2, nothing happens. With a roll of a 2, nothing happens, but the character does not lose the spell. With a roll of a 1, it’s a total dud, and you lose the spell. Same with monsters. Now as I take away, I have to give back. With a die roll of a 20, the effect or range or duration is doubled. I like that randomness of this. It’s a bit like critical hits and fumbles, only with spells.

On the Paizo board, there are folks that like this type of mechanic for magic, and there are some that just hate it. I like it as it adds a bit of flavor to magic. There is an unpredictable element to it. It is powerful, but at the same time sometimes it is a bit flaky. Now I totally understand some folk’s opinion that this punishes the magic user. So I have to agree with this, however that is why I like the idea that a natural 20 is like a critical hit.

In my games, a 20 is a critical hit in terms of using weapons, and a roll of a 1 or a 2 is an automatic miss. The concept here is that no matter how good you get, there is still a 10% chance that you miss regardless of how many pluses you have. Nothing is a sure thing. Now, the probabilities maybe very good, but they will never exceed 90%. I personally think this is a good thing. Hits should not be automatic. There should always be a chance of failure. If there is no chance of failure, then the game loses something. That feels too safe. When I play D&D, I want to know that I have accomplished something in game, and to have that feeling, there has to be a risk, otherwise the reward does not mean that much. It always feels better to earn something, rather than just be handed something.

I feel the same way about magic. I do not like the concept that it always works. I think that’s because in real life, there are no guarantees. There are no sure things. You have to weigh the probabilities and take some chances. I think this adds a dimension to D&D, and does not detract from the game.

However, with that said, I do understand the other side of the argument which says that this penalizes magic users and hurts the group. So this argument has merit. That is also why I like the idea that a roll of a 20 results in something very favorable. It becomes a bit like gambling. The payoff is huge, but there is a chance that something could go wrong. I also believe that it is the players that make up the game not characters. As the players start to run low on resources, they have decision to make. It does not mean that they have to pack it up. I am a believer that if there are any specialty item required, it should be found in the dungeon. A dungeon should not be just a hack and slash fest, but rather should have interesting and challenging rooms that require something more than just a strong sword.

Anyway, I will be adding this as a house rule and we shall see how it plays out.

The Hobbit Updates

Last week the packers came to pack up our stuff to take it back to the US, and unfortunately I had to pack up my copy of The Hobbit. I will be back in the States in about 2 weeks, and then I will start blogging again on The Hobbit. My goal is to write a blog on each chapter, which might take awhile to write up, but that is still my goal.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Future of Gaming

This week, I have been thinking a bit about the pace of technology and its effect on gaming. Clearly video games have been getting better as the hardware has been more powerful. I can remember when my buddy Doug’s dad bought their Apple II, and a new game called Ultima. Ultima was cutting edge at the time, and we all would spend hours watching him play. Doug was a good sport, and we took turns getting behind the keyboard. Fast forward ~25 years and the graphics in today’s games are just eye poppingly good. Today I do not play computer games that much, although I am looking forward to seeing Bioware’s Dragon Age game. I am sure that I will be spending some time playing around with Dragon Age. But gaming is more than just computer gaming, even though that is the obvious example.

When D&D first hit the street, the PC had not yet hit main stream. It would be the introduction of the Apple II that really got the ball rolling. Since then, everyone has a PC, and in most cases folks have a notebook computer that they send a significant amount of time on. The emergence of cloud computing has led to a dramatic increase in the ways that we communicate and share data. When I think of the greatest inventions of the past 2000 years, I have to rank the personal computer, and by extention the internet, in the top 10. Our ability to collaborate without even seeing the other person we are talking to is amazing when you think about it. I suspect that this trend will continue.

But what does this really mean at the game table? I am not sure, but it is interesting to speculate on what it could mean.

1) Technology has enabled virtual gaming. One can host a game over web with folks in other countries. I see this trend increasing. WotC is trying to get their hands around this one with their DDI, as they see possibilities of the virtual game table. I agree with them on this point. However, virtual gaming leaves me a bit cold. I like the direct interaction around the table, and virtual connectedness lacks something. It’s just not the same. But, if one cannot find a group in their local area, virtual gaming creates possibilities. My gut feel though is that computer games like WoW will rule this space, as the user experience is better.

2) Information sharing through the web. If one goes back 30 years, there was no internet. To be honest, looking back at that period it feels like the stone age. It is amazing at what is available at my finger tips in seconds. I just have type an idea, and content is available instantly. As a result, our ability to react to this information has become a lot faster. Scanning through message boards and blogs, I can find a number of good ideas for game encounters. If I am willing to engage, I can get more insight on the information that is being presented. This brings me to the topic of data. Data is just that …data. Not very useful in its raw form. The key to data is to transform it to information and to insight. The tools on the web allow us to do that very well. This really has created cloud computing.

3) The tools are changing. When I first started playing, there were no computers at the table. Now it seems that most tables have at least one, and I have seen tables with multiple computers on it. The notebook is an amazing tool to bring at the table, but it can also be a big distraction. Where I work, meetings are an interesting experience. Everyone brings their notebooks, which as a result, most folks are paying more attention to their notebook than to the speaker. The notebook brings distraction with its email, web surfing and IM’s. I can see this play out at the game table too. I mention notebooks, but the smart phone falls into this category too. This challenge will increase over time.

There are some advantages to having these tools at the table, so it’s not all bad. Regardless of which version of D&D one likes, there is a significant amount of material available. Let me say it like this. I suspect that no one has a complete collection of everything D&D. It’s just too much. However, most of us own an embarrassingly large collection of D&D material, most of which we probably do not even use. The ability to use technology to shrink the number of books used at the table is a good thing. In my lat campaign, I had a crate of 10-15 books which I had standing by for reference, as well as my notebook computer for taking notes and cross checking my campaign outline. Management of the data was critical. For my next campaign, I will greatly simplify which books I am going to use.

Staying on this subject, I am very curious to see how folks will use smart phones and netbooks at their table in the future. They are limited in what they can do, but they are highly portable and can be used to bring up specific information very quickly. I suspect that they will not be a standalone tool, but they can augment what is already being used.

4) Tactical mapping. One of the comments I see again and again pop up is that folks want tactical maps. 20 years ago, we just scribbled on a piece of paper and that was good enough. We have always had strategic maps that showed an overview of a town or a wilderness area, but these were not tactical maps. It seems like most tables have some sort of battle mat tool to help with combat. I am going to go out on a limb and say that 4th edition was designed with the battle mat in mind. That was a core feature that they wanted to include in the game. It was with the 3.5 edition that the battle mat was recognized as a highly recommended tool, and that diagrams were shown with the grid lines. Even though some us (me included) will rant against this, when push comes to shove, we will be cranking out our mats and putting the mini’s on them. To be perfectly honest here, I have 2 large battle mats. I suspect I am not alone here.

5) On demand printing. Printing is an interesting beast. Everyone has a printer. Anyone can print out a nice looking document. However, what has really exploded is the digital document. With the digital document, one does not have to print it out. With a digital document, a 3rd party can print in a variety of formats and send out to anyone. I am thinking of Lulu, but I think there will be other companies that will offer this service. Print on demand offers a number of benefits including lower inventory costs, and custom print solutions. It will be interesting to see what the effect of this new print model will have on the gaming industry. Potentially we could be moving to the growth of the smaller game publishers which can take advantage of these new tools and effectively out maneuver larger companies in some niche areas.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

2009 Golarion Campaign – The Forgotten Gods

I have a working outline for my campaign which will formally kickoff after GenCon. I will be using the new Pathfinder rule set and I will also have a set of house rules. Once I have the new rules in my hands, I will be finalizing the house rules. There is a certain feel that I am looking for. As I have stated in my earlier blogs, I want an “Indiana Jones” feel to the campaign. By this I mean that the characters are explorers rather than heroes, each with his/her own reason for wanting to explore. I will be using guilds, and the two that I am thinking of introducing right away are the Pathfinder Guild and the Delver’s Guild (from Ptolus). I like the concept behind them. The Pathfinder Guild is about exploring to gain knowledge, particularly lost knowledge, while the Delver’s guild is more about exploring in general. It’s this gritty hands on passion for lost treasure and artifacts that I want to be the player’s focus.

I finally decided on a name for the campaign, “The Forgotten Gods,” which I think sums up the overall plot arc very well. I like to have background plot arc that helps to give the campaign a bit of flavor. My last campaign was called, Rise of the Chaos Lords, in which a number of Chaos Lords from the abyss where making a power play that was spilling into the material world. While the adventure was centered inside the city of Ptolus, there were a number of chaos factions both inside the city and outside the city that ultimately had an impact on what was going on inside Ptolus. In essence, Ptolus became a smaller version of the larger conflict. It was this larger conflict that gave context to smaller things that were going on. I thought this worked out very well, and it was very interesting listening to them try to put the pieces together.

For this campaign, the overall plot arc will take the characters through Legacy of Fire (LoF) and on to Necropolis, with a stop in the City of Brass. This will campaign will definitely have an Arabian Nights/Egyptian feel to it, which will a first for me. In the past, I have run European style campaigns, so this is definitely new territory, which I think is good. One of the strengths of D&D is that one can pick from any number of settings, and each has a different feel to them. At some point, I want to run a Viking style adventure, but that will probably be a few years out.

The campaign will start out in media res, meaning that I will start them right in the middle of the action. One of them will have acquired a “treasure” map that leads to a lost artifact called the Rod of Rahotep, which has lead them to northern Katapesh and the Brazen Peaks. The actual starting point will be in front of small hidden cave that leads to a multi-level dungeon that has the working title of “The Goblin Cave.”

The Goblin Cave started out as a 3 level dungeon, but I have expanded upon it quite a bit. Now that I have decided on an overall campaign arc, it is undergoing a face lift to give it the appropriate feel of dungeon in northern Katapesh, as well as tie it in to the overall campaign. At the moment it is 15,000 words, and growing.

From here, the characters will meet up with merchant princess Almah and that will formally start the Legacy of Fire AP. Now I want to play the AP very loosely, meaning that if they want to deviate from the plot line, I am going to let them. There are a number of breaks in the AP, and I have plans to fill them with smaller quests and adventuring possibilities. Through all of this, I want to keep to the theme of Indiana Jones style adventuring. Without giving away too much, I can say that there are a couple of artifacts that play a major role in LoF, which I think will work out well with the feel that I am trying to capture.

Once LoF has played out, it is off to Osirion and the providence of Khemit, which will host the mega-dungeon of Necropolis. Necropolis is a very challenging dungeon in terms of play for both the players and the GM. After Necropolis, I have a couple of ideas kicking around, but I probably have a year or so to think about that. My thought is that after Necropolis, the characters would be 20th level, and it would be time for some epic adventuring.

One of the things I want to be very careful with is the LoF AP. While I want the players to go through it, I do not want to create a rail road that handcuffs them. With this in mind, I have a couple of ideas. The first part of LoF is actually rather loose, with plenty of options available to the players. With this in mind, I want to create meaty side treks that they can explore as much or as little as they want. I am also thinking about creating a completely different alternate adventure option that is more of a sandbox just in case they just really want to do their own thing. In other words, their participation in LoF is really up to them.

We shall see how it all works out. I have another two months to bring it all together.

General Stuff

I have been fairly lazy with my blogging this week. My motivation has been lagging a bit with the other activities that have been occupying my time. I have three weeks left in China before returning to the US. My remaining time left will just fly by. Yesterday the packers came and now we are living out of suitcases until we leave. Most of my game stuff that I brought with me will be intransit for the next 2 months or so. Hopefully we will get it soon, along with the rest of the stuff.

I was also able to close on my new car when I get back to the States. I had sold my old one before going to China, so I need a new one when I arrive back. I am picking up the Toyota Venza, as it is a good mix between fun and utility. Yesterday I received confirmation that they had acquired the car I was looking for and it will be ready when I get back. I am actually really excited about this. While I do not consider myself a car buff by any stretch of the imagination, I do enjoy getting a new car. I have a tendancy to keep cars for ~8 years, so this does not happen that often. At the moment, I have a driver and a silver mini-van, so it will be fun to get behind the wheel again. I am convinced that in China, mini-vans only come in one color and that is silver. Although, there are a couple of blue and white ones, but for the most part, they are silver.

My son has been getting back interested in playing D&D again. With him, his interest comes and goes, but he has been back interested again. When I mentioned in passing Tomb of Horrors, he immediately wanted to play through. I did give him fair warning. He and his friend created 4 10th level C&C characters, and I am using the 3rd edition version that was published on the WotC website. We played for an hour or so this morning, and they have figured out the right entrance to in, after hitting the traps on the other ones. They know to look for traps, and they have found a couple, so we will see how it goes in the next session.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Pictures and Such

Just because I am feeling lazy today. Enjoy the pictures!

As an aside, these guys really know their bamboo!

Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Hobbit – Riddles in the Dark

An aptly named chapter that hints at the darker nature of man.

Chapter Summary

Bilbo finds a magic ring and then plays a riddle game with a odd creature called Gollum. Bilbo wins the contest with a questionable riddle, which Gollum does not appreciate. After a chase through the goblin tunnels, Bilbo eventually makes his way to freedom.

Analysis and Discussion

This is the famous chapter in which Bilbo finds the Ring. The Ring in The Hobbit takes on the appearance of a simple magic ring which grants the wearer invisibility. The true nature of the Ring is not full revealed until the Lord of the Rings. With the writing of the Lord of the Rings a substantial rewrite of this chapter was required to bring it in line with the larger story of Middle Earth.

Most of this chapter consists of the riddle game between Bilbo and Gollum. Although all of the riddles told are well known at this point, it is an interesting read through none the less. The game of riddles is an old one, with riddles appearing in a number of works with perhaps the most famous of the older works being Oedipus and the riddle of the Sphinx. I suspect that the good professor took a lead from Norse mythology, of which he was very acquainted with, as the riddle game appears in a number of the Norse mythologies. This is clearly a nod to the older works.

In The Hobbit the theme of greed and the destruction it brings, is liberally sprinkled throughout. The dwarves are haunted by it, and it is gold that is at the very core of their journey. The Ring is also gold, and as the text points out it was a very beautiful golden ring, and it inspires a similar type of greed. The full back story of Gollum is not shared in this story, but there are some bits and pieces scattered about. The narrator describes Gollum as “…old Gollum, a small slimy creature.” The key descriptors here are old and slimy. Forgotten by all, but possessing a mighty treasure with the power to conquer Middle Earth, yet Gollum is possessed by small greed, and he has been forced to live life buried in the bowels of the Misty Mountains. He has become slimy and can no longer be considered clean.

The question of the Ring is whether it creates greed in the possessor or simply brings it to the surface. I would argue that man’s sin of greed is already present, and the Ring brings it to the forefront is a horrific way. Gollum was once a hobbit, but that can now no longer be said of his current condition. He has been transformed into something else entirely. The sinful nature of greed has now been moved from an inner vice to his outward appearance, which is a reflection of his inner flaws. He can no longer escape what he has become. Such is the power of greed, and this is what the Ring brings out in people. I call Gollum’s greed “small greed,” as he does not wish to conquest, but rather he wants to possess that which does not belong to him. His mind has warped events around the Ring coming into his possession, and remains convinced that it was rightfully his birthday present. It is interesting how things can become twisted as we try to rationalize events in the past, which clearly has happened, and even the narrator remains suspicious of Gollum’s birthday present claim. Even the name he gives the ring, “my precious,” hints at the greed that is in his heart. It is a frightening reminder that even little character flaws can have terrifying results. Fortunately for Bilbo, he does possess good character, and does not possess the Ring long enough to fully corrupt him. Although, one does not half to look very far to see what would have happened if Bilbo held on to the Ring longer than he did.

The back and forth that follows turns into a tense game with freedom or something worse as the stakes in the game. Bilbo holds his own well enough, as he is in the hot seat throughout the game. With the game lasting longer than Bilbo would have liked, his luck runs out as it is his turn, and he does not have a riddle to ask. He blurts out a question that Gollum takes as a riddle. The questionable riddle is now on the table, and Gollum knows that he been played unfairly. Not at all happy with the way the game has turned out, Gollum retreats back to his hole in hopes to find something to even the score, only to find that he no longer possesses his “precious.”

A cat and mouse chase leads Bilbo to the exit. Bilbo finds himself behind Gollum, armed with a sword and a magical ring, with freedom just up ahead. It would be a quick end to a pitiful creature, but something stays Bilbo’s hand.

“A sudden understanding, a pity mixed with horror, welled up in Bilbo’s heart: a glimpse of endless unmarked days without light or hope of betterment….All these thoughts passed in a flash of a second. He trembled. And then quite suddenly in another flash, as if lifted by a new strength and resolve, he leaped. No great leap for a man, but a leap in the dark.”

That is quite a paragraph. Pity stayed his hand. It was the realization that Gollum was a victim of his own selfish nature, and the punishment was a severe one. Bilbo probably thought that he was unworthy to overturn a judgment that had been made. Whereas a knife in the back would have been so easy, he finds that he cannot do it. He takes a higher road, and with this realization comes strength and resolve. It was not a great leap, yet it was still a leap of faith into the unknown.

It is at this point, that marks a turning point in the journey for Bilbo, and he has moved from a passenger on a journey to an active participant in his own development. This is not to say that he does not face self doubts, or nagging notions of smallness, but rather he has discovered an inner source of strength that will guide him well in the trials that await ahead of him.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

James over at Grognardia stirred up a hornet’s nest with his “More than a Feeling” blog. His basic premise was that old school play is more than just a nostalgic feeling, but rather it is a certain style of play that was very common back in the early days of D&D. He goes on to say that if old school really is just a feeling, then it would be difficult to argue what is really old school, as feelings are very subjective and almost impossible to quantify objectively. James strikes me as a guy that likes to look at things through an objective lense, and shies away from subjective feelings, which is difficult to form a defensible position in which to engage in a meaningful debate.

I agree that D&D is game that when it was introduced was like nothing else on the market. Created by wargamers for wargamers, it offered something very different from the traditional wargame that featured cardboard counters or historical miniatures.

But, with that said, it is still a game. New school or old school, whatever you want to call it, this is still a game. With that in mind, the enjoyment for me, comes not from the rule set, but from the folks around the table.

Originally, I was going to call this blog, “It’s all about the GM.” In my mind, the GM holds a significant place at the table. The GM is one part referee and one part story teller. There are GM’s out there that I would join up in a heartbeat. They have a special knack for pulling the players into the game. Not everyone has this. Their ability to provide that magical touch transcends rule sets. When I was younger, there was a GM in our group, Mike, who was amazing. Sure his stuff was completely off the wall, but he could weave a good story. He liked the high-level epic stuff, and it was frequently said that his adventures were the only ones in which a death salad was a wandering monster. He did not run 1st level adventures. When you joined his game, you knew that it was not going to be a standard adventure with orcs and trolls. This was going to be something else entirely. And by the way, characters died on a regular basis, but the treasure was always very cool. I lost an 18th level paladin in 10 minutes in one of his adventures. It was crazy fun, and it was his style of play that made it fun.

But that is really only half the story. For the GM, the fun is with the folks around the table. Nothing makes me chuckle more than when the characters blunder into something that turns out to be rather funny (like when paladin walked into the goblin trap that dropped a bunch of poop on his head - that was some funny stuff). To me, D&D has become the replacement for the guy’s poker night. Of course I like playing poker and drinking a beverage of choice as much as the next guy, and in that environment, it is still about the folks around the table. Winning the big hand is always a lot of fun. With the right folks around the table, D&D is a lot like that.

Now I will be the first to admit that there is a bit of nostalgia in those early games, and it is really hard to recreate that. I suspect that there are middle aged guys out there that played in the 80’s that are looking to recreate that spark, and my theory is that in some cases, this is what provides the fuel to the old school movement. This is definitely a feeling. But that feeling is hard to recreate without understanding what created that in the first place. I agree that the original rule set and the open style of play is at the heart of those early days. Everything was a bit looser, and the GM’s just made up stuff on the fly. This was all good stuff.

I think there is a natural evolution that creeps into games like this, and when more and more stuff gets published, the rule set gets longer and longer. I think that is the nature of the beast. With more rules, there is a sort of role playing physics that is created. Everyone knows the physics, as we all have the games. GM’s that deviate from these rules leave us a bit confused and may even create anger and disappointment. Things are not suppose to work like that we would argue. Magic ceases to be magic, and instead becomes physics that can be defined within a set of rules. I think there is a bit of fun that escapes when this happens. Rules Darwinism will eventually stamp out magic altogether, and the game magic that existed in the early days will go the way of the dinosaur, which would be a sad day indeed. Sometimes magic just needs to be magic.

So to come full circle on this blog post, it’s the people around the table that make the game fun. If you are going to spend 4+ hours playing this game, you really should like the folks you are gaming with. I definitely like a looser game, and I want to keep the magic in D&D. When I GM, I want to be fair and consistent, and I also want to be able to just wing it, and say “its magic” and not have to explain the theory behind it. In the early days, there was a feeling of adventure where anything could happen, and everyone at the table was aligned to this. The GM promised to bring the magic, and we promised to buy into his adventure.

In the early days, the fun was created by the people around the table, and today, for me, it is still about the people around the table.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009


So this weekend is Dragon Boat Festival in China, so we are off to Chengdu to see the Pandas. For the pricy ticket of 1000 RMB ($145 USD) one can hold a panda and get a picture taken. This compares to the free price to wander around with the kangaroos and the $20US to hold the koala in Australia. It appears that China has Australia beat on market economics.

With this in mind, I will post today, and then it will be a couple of days before I can blog again.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

1 Page Dungeon Monstrosity - The Dwarven Hall

My 1 page dungeon monstrosity

I have noticed that other are posting their 1 page dungeons, so I will follow suit. I was going to wait until after the competition was done, but it since other are posting I am going to go ahead and post mine.

As one can tell, I squished a lot into this 1 page dungeon. As one is looking through it, note the color coded locks, which I think is one of the more interesting features of this dungeon. And of course it has a dragon as the final encounter, which I thought was appropriate!

The PDF version is a little easier to read, so if anyone wants the PDF, just send me an email, and I will send it off to you.
As a final note, Chatty has posted the complete list of everyone who entered, and folks are adding their websites with their 1 -page entries. I am looking forward to reading through all the entries!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Children of Hurin

As I am re-reading The Hobbit, a number of other bloggers are posting their commentary on The Children of Hurin, which is an altogether different book. The Hobbit is quite a bit lighter compared to the tragic tale of Hurin. The Hobbit is more of a standard work of fiction that flows with voice of the narrator, and makes it a very easy read to enjoy. The Children of Hurin reads like a legend of old, which is appropriate as the subject matter is from the first age, when gods walked with men, and the elves where at the height of their power. The Hobbit has an upbeat tone to it, and can be seen as having a positive ending with the defeat of Smaug, the return of the dwarves to the Lonely Mountain, and the Men of Lake-Town seem to be destined for better days ahead. I suspect that because of this, Tolkien is thought of as a lightweight story teller. Nothing could be further from the truth. Hurin is a tale of tragedy, with its dark foreshadowing of things to come. It is here that Tolkien's vision of the first age comes full circle when added to his earlier Silmarillion. Its heroes are beings of legend, and its villians are the darkest of foes, which are committed to the destruction of elves and men. There are very few books that can boast piting their heroes against gods, balrogs and dragons, and even fewer authors willing to let their heroes suffer the fate that befalls Hurin and his sons. Beowulf would be humbled in such great company.

Enclosed are links to 3 essays by Brian Murphy and Deuce Richardson

Brian’s review
Brian’s Top Fantasy Battles #7
Deuce’s review
Enjoy, as they are very good reads.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Hobbit – Over Hill and Under Hill

Enter the goblins.

Chapter Summary

Crossing through the Misty Mountains, Bilbo and the dwarves are captured by the goblins. Gandalf comes in and saves the day, leading the dwarves to safety. However, in the final sentences, as they are making their escape, Dori loses Bilbo and the chapter ends there.

Analysis and Discussion

The Misty Mountains serve as a physical boundary that separates the civilized from the wild. On the other side of the mountains one can find the appropriately named Mirkwood, which implies something quite sinister, and of course the dragon. It is fitting that Rivendell represents the calm before the storm, as a terrible lightning storm confronts the party in the opening pages of the chapter.

One of the more interesting bits in The Hobbit is the description of the storm in which stone giants are tossing rocks at each other. This is the only place that I know of where the stone giants are mentioned. The mental image of the giants throwing rocks as the lightning flashes is quite vivid, and gives the storm a more ominous feel to it. It is as if the giants are part of the storm, not just merely passive spectators to nature’s fury. It also raises questions as to whether the storm is natural or unnatural. In the follow up Lord of the Rings, again the Misty Mountains serve as a barrier, and it is a snow storm that confronts Frodo’s party, forcing them to take an underground route. The implication in there is that the storm is a product of something malevolent, and not the work of the natural world.

As Bilbo’s party takes shelter from the storm, they are confronted and captured by the goblins. Throughout The Hobbit, the term goblin is used, while in the larger follow on work, the term orc is used. One frequently used explanation is that Misty Mountain goblins are smaller than orcs, and are more concentrated in the mountains, while the orcs range throughout Middle Earth. In The Hobbit, the goblins appear almost comical when compared to the orcs found in the Lord of the Rings. I suspect that nature of The Hobbit as a whole is intended for a younger audience, and the term orc is meant to imply something a bit darker and fouler than what is found the earlier work. This supports the claim that Tolkien meant for the Lord of the Rings to be a deeper work than what is found in The Hobbit, and as such tackles grimmer and grittier themes than those present in The Hobbit.

In the previous chapter, Elrond identifies the elven swords Orcrist and Glamdring. It is interesting to note that even Gandalf did not know of their names nor of their history. I suspect that he had a good idea of where they came from, but clearly the details eluded him. When Orcrist is presented to the great goblin after the dwarves were captured, he immediately knew what it was. I find this point very interesting, and worthy of some further discussion. Often in literature, the heroes of the story do not realize the tools that they possess to get some particularly difficult task accomplished. This is frequently used to create a story arc of discovery which unfolds as the heroes progress through the story. While the heroes may not understand what they possess, the villains always know. There is this theme in literature that suggests evil understands the power of good, and cannot stand before these instruments. They intuitively know, and shy away from these instruments. In this tale, the Great Goblin, and the rest of his pack understand what Thorin is carrying, even if Thorin does not. Their reaction is immediate.

“Also, he has not explained this!.....The Great Goblin gave a truly awful howl of rage when he looked at it, and all his soldiers gnashed their teeth, clashed their shields, and stamped. They knew the sword at once.”

This reaction is similar to how a vampire would react when confronted with a holy symbol. The reaction is immediate, as the revulsion is powerful.

“They hated it and hated worse any one that carried it.”

Gandalf appears, and rescues the dwarves from certain death. The goblins take chase, and Tolkien gives us an insight into the nature of goblins with his description of the chase. He uses the phrase, “..flap of the goblin feet, many many feet..” This gives an image of rodents scurrying through an underground tunnel, which I suspect was done on purpose. In the short story The Rats in the Walls, Lovecraft weaves a tale of horror based on the sound of rats racing behind the walls. While I am not sure if Tolkien ever read this tale, I can say that he was clearly tapping into this imagery with this choice of words, and the comparison between goblins and rats is an interesting one.

Monstrous Discussions – Goblins

For the record, I really like goblins. They are small creatures that inhabit caves and other dark places. They are not as fierce as their larger cousins, the hobgoblin or the bugbear, but there is still something special about them. They can be played serious or they can be played light and humorous, as they are meant to challenge low level players. I really like Paizo’s reimaging of the goblin that they did for Pathfinder #1, and expanded upon in their Classic Monsters Revisited.

In this chapter, I think Tolkien was looking for something in between sinister and comical. He was considerate of the younger audience when he wrote, yet he did not water the content down too much. The goblins in The Hobbit are not simply mindless beasts, but they do possess some level of rational thought. The Great Goblin could have had them killed right away, but he was willing to trade words with Thorin, before deciding that they would be better off dead.

This feel of the goblins still colors my image of them, and in particular, it is the animated version of the goblins that has stuck with me throughout the years. After the Fellowship movie, smallish creatures that can climb walls like vermin has given me another dimension to add to the goblins. This goes back to the comparison to rats, which resonates rather well with me. In some ways, I do consider goblins to be the rats of the dungeon.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Chordille Keep - The Goblin Lair

The Goblin Lair (areas 13-16)
This series of rooms now hosts a goblin war band led by a goblin brute. All the goblins in the area fear the brute, as his reputation is much greater than his actual fighting prowess. Most of the other races that make up the bestial host leave him alone, as he is particularly difficult to work with. As the characters wander into this area, it is likely to become one large melee as the goblins will join in any fight, as they do not want to face the wrath of the brute. In any combat, after 2 rounds, all the goblins in these rooms will come out to investigate. Once the goblins in the barracks join in any fight, roll once on the random re-enforcement chart to see what additional re-enforcements are available.
13. The Goblin Brute.
This is where the goblin brute can be found with his two body guards. As soon as an intruder enters, the goblin body guards will attack immediately. The goblin brute will attempt to attack the weakest party member, in order to preserve his combat legacy. The goblins in the neighboring rooms will come and investigate in 2 rounds.
1 goblin brute. AC 17, HD3, HP18, Dam 1d6+1 (short sword)
2 goblins. AC 15, HD1, HP5, Dam 1d6 (short sword)
Treasure: 4d6 gold, potion of bull’s strength

Goblin barracks (Area 14 & 15).
Areas 14 and 15 are the goblin barracks. At any given time, there will be 2 goblins in each room, with a 20% chance of additional goblins being in the rooms or close by. Each goblin has 1d4 gold. Once combat is joined, there is a chance that additional goblins join in. Roll once on the chart below to see what re-enforcements are available. The concept is to provide a larger scale battle with random re-enforcements joining in.

Re-enforcement chart (roll once)

Die Roll (1d8) Re-enforcements

1. No further re-enforcements
2. 1 additional goblin joins in 1 round
3. 2 additional goblins join 2 rounds after combat starts
4. 3 additional goblins join 3 rounds after combat starts
5. 1 goblin riding a goblin dog joins in 3 rounds.
6. 1 goblin joins after 1 round, and another goblin joins after 3 rounds.
7. 1 additional goblin joins in 2 rounds
8. No further re-enforcements

14. Goblin barracks
2 goblins. AC 15, HD1, HP3, Dam 1d6 (short sword)

15. Goblin barracks
2 goblins. AC 15, HD1, HP3, Dam 1d6 (short sword)

16. Goblin Kennels
This was once a small guard post, and is now a kennel for goblin dogs. A particularly nasty smell comes from this door, with characters having a 25% chance of noticing it prior going into the room. There is nothing of value in this room, as the goblin dog has made a complete mess of the place.
1 goblin dog. AC 13, HD1, HP8, Dam (bite) +2 1d6+3 plus allergic reaction. (See Pathfinder #1)
As long as the goblin brute is still alive, the areas 13-16 will re-populate with additional goblins. Once the goblin brute has been defeated, the remaining goblins will leave the area, and rats will move in.