Saturday, January 31, 2009

Review: Pathfinder #1 Burnt Offerings


I believe that it was during the summer of 2006 that WotC informed Paizo that they were pulling back the licensing for Dungeon and Dragon magazines. For a company that these magazines were the bedrock for, this was not a good thing. After numerous discussions and brainstorming sessions, and I am probably minimizing the chaos of the WotC decision on them, they came up with the Pathfinder concept. They recognized that one of their core competencies was adventure paths, of which they had successfully launched three of them with their flagship magazines. With this direction established, James Jacobs was appointed the lead on the Pathfinder Adventure Path, and he took on the task of writing the first installment of Rise of the Runelords.


The book comes in at hefty 96 pages not counting the covers, with the actual adventure taking up 47 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, the Pathfinder Journal, bestiary and the pregens. For the most part, the first two adventure paths would follow this layout, and with the third adventure path they would make some changes to this basic format.

The first adventure path drew a number of critics on the font size and the ease of reading. I personally did not find it that bad, but I can see how this could be a valid criticism. There have been a number of modules created with small font, and this module is not any worse than some of the others that I have seen.


In the 1970’s and 1980’s D&D art was strictly black and white, with the only color art being on cover. A number of us old timers have nostalgic memories of the early art, and some were actual very good; for the most part it was fairly basic. As the editions rolled on, the art stayed black and white, but more fantastic elements were added, and there was additional complexity in the subject matter of the artwork. By the time we arrive at the late 3rd edition period, more and more adventures and supplements were turning to color, and a number of published products were full color. Monte Cook’s publications are a good indicator of this, as his early stuff is black and white, and with the publish of Arcana Evolved and Ptolus, he is now publishing full color.

Keeping with this art direction, the Pathfinder is full color, and for the most part it is very good. The cover is design is an action sequence drawn by Wayne Reynolds, along with an iconic fighter taking up the space slightly right of center and this has become their trademark presentation for the Pathfinder AP line. I realize that not everyone likes the style of Wayne, but I like the action and detail that is invoked in his art. I agree that it is very much a departure from the roots of D&D, however enjoy flipping through his work. The interior art is done by a number of artists, and it ranges from excellent to cartoonish. In particular, I am very fond of the illustrations on pages 28, 57 and 72. The style that is on pages 12 and 42 is not to my taste, but I am willing to look past this.

I would be remiss if I did not mention the cartography, which is amazing. While I like the old blue maps from the early days, and the simplicity that is contained with in them, the new generation of color computer cartography is just stunning to look at. I love maps, and I have a noted weakness for complex fully color maps. While I can appreciate the hand drawn maps, and I have made my fair share of them, the things that can be done now days with the latest mapping software never cease to capture my fascination.

The characters are present in the village of Sandpoint, when a host of goblins invade the town, that shows an unusual amount of organization that is atypical for goblin tribes. With the initial goblin foray defeated, the effects of the attack linger on. Clues lead the characters to a goblin hideout on Thistletop for the final showdown with mastermind behind the attacks.

Key features

There are a number of features that this module provides that I am going to list out below:

1. A large dungeon adventure with 2 dungeons for the characters to explore.

2. A fully mapped out village of Sandpoint, along with a gazetteer detailing the village.

3. An interesting article by Wolfgang Baur titled The History of Thassilon.

4. The Pathfinder Journal, which has the feel of the older pulp sword and sorcery writing. Now the first one is more of a general introduction, and in the next books, it follows in a first person narrative. While there are a number of folks that consider this a flaw in the design, I consider it a feature.
5. A re-imaging of the classic goblin monster, that is both a bit comical and horrific. Count me as a proponent of the new image. I have always like their image as the small monser in the closet, that struggles in the realm of planning, but can still cause significant distruction due in part to their number.

Final notes

While the revoking of the Dungeon and Dragon magazine in my mind was huge mistake, and I can not but think that with this, there would be not be the Pathfinder AP and the other fan created magazines that have popped up to fill the void. Now I will say that Pathfinder is an Adventure Path, and comes with a defined story arc, which may not sit well with the older crowd that prefers more of a sandbox campaign in which the characters tell the story, not the other way around. I do agree that is a valid concern, but the initial sales numbers for Paizo have re-enforced their decision to move forward with the adventure path concept. I also would agree that there is something to be said for completing an entire adventure path, as it does feel like a badge of honor to say that I made it through and defeated the villain at the end. I will not comment more on this topic, as I will save it for a future blog entry. Suffice to say that first installment is very solid, and there is plenty of information provided to allow for quite a bit of role playing and adventuring around the town. For a low level adventure, there is a good amount of action, and note worthy combats to be had.
Overall, I give this module a solid thumbs up, and it is one of my favorites in their Pathfinder lineup.

Rating: 4 1/2 Dragons (on a scale of 5)

As I write this, Paizo is out of print on this book, with no near term plans to reprint this. I suspect that there are still a number of outlets available to get the actual physical copy, including e-bay and other collectors and game stores. The PDF is still available. It is interesting to note that there was an alternate cover version available at GenCon 40 (2007), that showed the protagist (Karzoug) of the series on the cover, and that version is also sold out.

General update and other stuff

Another light blog day for me. This week is a holiday week, and I am trying to spend time with the family, so my blog is not getting the attention that I would like to give it. Next week should be back to normal posting.

In other news, my Ruined Stockade adventure is completely completely mapped out, and it came in at 115 encounters. I have just started to add the text details, but I have a long way to go. My own personal technique for dungeon creation is as follows:

1) Draw out the maps in pencil
2) Write up short text on everything
3) Add the flavor text
4) Add the cross reference details, room links, and add the plot details
5) Write up the appendix with special monsters, magic items & NPC's
6) Write up the monster stat blocks as appropriate (I try to get away with as little as possible, but sometimes I can not)
7) Redraw the maps in pen
8) Finished - time to start on the next project.

I am going to take my son through to play test, and then I will use it later in the year with my old group, and I might take this beast to GenCon. This one is designed to be a mini-sandbox adventure with lots of different areas to explore along with 6 dungeon areas.

For this weekend's review, I am going to tackle Pathfinder #1 Burnt Offerings, and that should go up tomorrow. This will be the first in a six part series reviewing the first AP in the Pathfinder series.

Quote of the Day:

"Civilized men are more discourteous than savages because they know they can be impolite without having their skulls split, as a general thing." (The Tower of the Elephant. Robert E. Howard)

Somewhere in there is a lesson on feedback.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Commentary: The Horus Heresy

‘I was there,’ he would say afterwards, until afterwards became a time quite devoid of laughter. ‘I was there, the day Horus slew the Emperor.’ It was a delicious conceit, and his comrades would chuckle at the sheer treason of it. (the opening lines of Horus Rising)

“I was there.” Such a powerful statement, that I love reading it, in its many incarnations. It implies that that something so significant has happened, that the writer feels needs to attach his own personal reputation to this event. To be able to tell a story, and start it with the phrase, “I was there,” gives special meaning to an otherwise tale normal tale, and promotes it to an epic status. A short and simple way to say that the story teller was fortunate enough to have witnessed such a special event and the story about to be told is true, as it was witnessed first hand. This statement harkens back to an earlier age where minstrels would tell such stories around a fire to pass glories tales of courage and heroism to a younger generation. be able to tell such a tale and say, “I was there.”

I probably should back up a bit. I have just finished reading the 9th installment of the Black Library’s premier Horus Heresy line. After reading the first book, I have been hooked every since. The first book is by Dan Abnett, who is one of my favorites of the shared world authors. Dan is just a machine when it comes to cranking our novels, and he turns them out at a frenzied pace (maybe he really is part machine..but that’s another story). When it comes to shared world authors and subject matter is based on a game, it truly is a bit of a mixed bag in terms of the results produced. I have read some good books, and I have read books that I would describe as bubble gum, and I have read books that are “cover your eyes bad.” In this case, I think that Dan has set a high standard that the other authors are trying to achieve.

Anyone who has been in the gaming hobby is probably familiar with the Warhammer 40K game and the mythos that surrounds the game, even if it is just at a surface level. I have to applaud Games Workshop for creating not just a war game with miniatures, but rather a living breathing universe that gives the games context, and adds an extra element of enjoyment to the hobby. In each iteration of the game, they have further refined and improved upon the background fluff, and there is a consistency of theme that runs through it. I can appreciate the effort that Games Workshop has put into maintaining the consistency and the spirit of the story background, and I wish that WotC was as careful and mindful a steward of the D&D story. But I digress.

The story of Horus is an age old tale of the son rebelling against his father. In this particular tale, there is a strong tie back to the biblical rebellion of angels, and I can not but help think that this is deliberate. The Emperor of mankind is described god that has led mankind to a glorious new age. As part of his plan, he has created the primarchs to assist him. At this point in the myth cycle, it gets very fuzzy as to why the primarchs became separated from the Emperor, and it is not entirely clear as to whether this was by design or by criminal action. After the primarchs have been reunited with their father, he appoints Horus to be the Warmaster for his armies. Over the course of the first three books, there are a number of times that Horus refers to the Emperor as his father, and it further establishes the theme of a rebellion of angels against their god like father. The primarchs are continuously throughout the novels describes as angelic beings blessed with superior talents as compared to the rest of the mankind, including the superhuman Astartes.

While the prose of the novels is not as symbolic as Milton or Dante, nor as heroic as Tolkien or even as colorful as Howard, it is sufficient to breathe life into this story. Where I applaud the authors is how they inject a human element into the stoic space marines, and how they capture the tragedy that is unfolding. When reading the first one, I was caught up in the image of Horus as a heroic figure, embodied of all that is good in a leader. As the first trilogy progressed, one could see the seeds of destruction being sown, building to the scene in the temple of healing where the final tragic step is taken, and the train wreck is assured. This is a dark trilogy that has no good ending. It is truly a shame, as there was much promise in Horus, and that is what makes the first trilogy so good. There is something about a literary tragedy that holds a special place in epic story telling, as it resonates well with our circumstances in our own life. It is this empathy for the characters that leads us back to the tragedies, as it is the only reason that we would continue to read Shakespeare’s tragedies long after his death.

To date, there are nine books in the series, and I like to think of the series as three different trilogies. I will leave it at that for the moment, as I will touch on the different trilogies in future blogs and comment more on the subject matter covered in them. Suffice to say that I do consider the Horus Heresy to be one of the better series based on game material that I have read, and it is worthy of reading at least the first three books.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Small Update Today

Today will be a small update. I finished Mechanicum, and in tomorrow's blog I will be commenting further on the Horus Heresy book series. Next up for me is Conan, and I am a bit embarrassed to say that I have not read any Conan material prior to this book. I read Solomon Kane last year, and it was excellent, and I am looking forward to digging back into Howard's material once again. For my readers that enjoyed Solomon Kane, I would highly recommend Matthias Thulmann: Witch Hunter by C.L. Werner. Thulmann feels very much like Kane transported into the Warhammer universe, and it was a very good read.
Tonight I want to put in some significant time into my mega-dungeon, so hopefully I will make some good progress.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

4th edition: Commentary p1

Holy Toledo! Even the spiders have more legs in 4th ed!

Just kidding. Actually the picture to the right is of a Solifugae, of which the dreaded camel spider is one, even though it is really not a spider at all. However, it is still rather nasty, and I would not want to get bit by one.

A snippet from Wikipedia:

Solifugae is an order of Arachnida, containing more than 1,000 described species in about 140 genera. The name derives from Latin, and means those that flee from the sun. The order is also known by the names Solpugida, Solpugides, Solpugae, Galeodea and Mycetophorae. Their common names include camel spider, wind scorpion, sun scorpion and sun spider. Solifugae are not true spiders, which are from a different order, Araneae. Like scorpions and harvestmen, they belong to a distinct arachnid order.

Last night I was running my first 4th edition adventure using Brave Halfling Publishing’s The Ruins of Ramat as a base. My son has discovered my 4th ed books, and he has decided that he likes this better than C&C. I suspect that he likes the additional powers and abilities that the 4th ed characters have, and the perception of that they are more powerful than their earlier counterparts. While this is true, everything gets a massive bump in 4th ed. It’s a bit of inflation that I personally feel is not necessary.

This brings me back to my opening comment. The first encounter was a nerfed deathjump spider. I swapped out the crab spider for the 4th ed version spider, which prompted me to look for the above mentioned camel spider, and this proved to be a bit of a challenge for the two characters that my son was bringing through the adventure. He is still working on coordinating attacks with his characters, and has not quite mastered the finer points of 4th ed combat, but I am sure that will come in time.

One of my earlier blogs, I was ranting on a bit about the inflation bloat that is present in 4th ed, and I have been meaning to revisit the topic. I have enclosed a chart of some randomly selected weapons and have charted how the damage has changed throughout the various editions. I know that the picture is rather small, but you can double click on it to see the enlarged version. As I claimed in my earlier post, there is a noticeable weapon damage inflation that is present.

As time has gone by, some would say that inflation was going to happen. While I agree that a little is ok, by the time we get to 4th ed, it is a tad too much. I grew up on 1st ed, and have only played a little bit of OD&D. As a player I enjoyed the inflation from OD&D to 1st ed, and I believe this was a modest increase. However, we are a point now where it is really too much.

As weapon damage goes up, monster HD and HP’s go up as well. For example, let’s look at a couple of monsters. A grey wolf, which is a level 2 skirmisher, has 38 hp’s! Let’s look at another example. A level 1 kobold skirmisher has 27 hps. Now I realize that minions only have 1 hp, and I actually like this idea, but as you move beyond minions, the monsters themselves have a lot of hit points.

I realize that combat is one of the more interesting points in the game, and I think everyone likes to roll the attack dice and lay down some smack, but I personally do not want every combat going two hours. It feels like the intent of the game is to have combat be an epic affair. I am not sure that I am fully aligned to this concept. I think there should be some epic combats, but most combats should be resolved fairly quickly, otherwise the entire game bogs down. Count me in the group that likes to streamline things, and minimize the dice rolls, as the more dice that are rolled, the longer things will stretch out. I would much rather role play an encounter than perform numerous skill checks to figure out what happens. The same goes for combat.

As I get more exposure to 4th ed, it feels like a miniature’s game rather than a true role play game. Some folks may take this to mean that I am not a fan of 4th ed, and that is not true at all, although I am ranting a bit here. It is just moving a bit far from its original roots, but it is still a fine game in its own right.

As it appears that my son can produce a character or two a day, I suspect that I will be playing more 4th ed, and I will be providing additional commentary as appropriate. All things considered, this is not a bad thing!

Review: Delving Deeper - Paladin

Since I have recently written up my analysis and commentary on the Paladin, I could not resist buying the Delving Deeper – Paladin product by Brave Halfling Publishing. John Adams runs this small company, which I would describe as very small independent publisher, that specializes in the smaller products designed by gamers for gamers. They make no attempt to compete head to head with the bigger publishing houses, but rather provide an outlet for the creative gamer. I see this as an important part of our gaming hobby, as D&D is not just about playing, but it is also about the creation process.


This product describes the paladin class, which is specifically designed for the Labyrinth Lords game system, but it is very compatible with the older versions (pre-1st ed) of the game. The write up is mechanically very similar to the 1st edition version, as almost all the abilities of the original are enclosed in this write up. It is interesting to note that the clerical spell ability is listed as an optional rule, and is not a formal part of the class. The special horsemanship abilities and mount rules are notably absent in this version.

I do want to provide some analysis on the opening class description, as I think this is the heart of the author’s intent for the paladin class. In this case, there are two opening paragraphs of fluff that provide the flavor for the class. The first paragraph defines the class as lawful with significant good tendencies. The second paragraph describes the relationship between the paladin and his deity. It is interesting to note that description allows for alignment to a single god, multiple gods or to the universal ideal of law and goodness. This is fine on a surface level; however, I struggle a bit with this, as the class abilities are listed using the term "divine," which suggests a relationship with a deity. The concept that a strong allegiance to an ideal can bestow divine powers or cleric spells seems a bit of a stretch for me. I like the idea that a paladin is aligned to a specific god, and that it is through this special relationship that divine favors are given, as the paladin is not just a follower, but is something of an avatar for the deity. This stronger tie to the deity gives the mechanics more substance and flavor, rather than just a cold list of abilities.

The write up also includes the concept of brotherhood between paladins, which I think is unique when compared to the other write ups that I have seen. While one can argue that the versions found in the other editions of the game imply the notion of a band of brothers, this is the first time I have seen it spelled out so directly.

Overall, this is a solid product for the Labyrinth Lord system. I do applaud Brave Halfling Publishing for adding creating a version of the paladin class that is playable with this system. I will quibble a little about the layout, as page 5 seems to be a repeat of page 3 minus the opening picture. I will say that I like the artwork of the paladin that is on the cover, by Andy Taylor, with its obvious nod to the historic Knights Templar.

Rating: 3 Dragons (on a scale of 5)

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Year of the Ox

Happy Chinese New Year!

This should be an interesting week. The New Year festivities start tonight and last for the next several days. For those wondering, I have included some info from Wikipedia on the Year of the Ox.

The Ox ( 牛) is one of the 12-year cycle of animals which appear in the Chinese zodiac related to the Chinese calendar. The Year of the Ox is denoted by the earthly branch character . In the Vietnamese zodiac, the water buffalo occupies the position of the ox.

The Ox is the sign of prosperity through fortitude and hard work. This powerful sign is a born leader, being quite dependable and possessing an innate ability to achieve great things. As one might guess, such people are dependable, calm, and modest. Like their animal namesake, the Ox is unswervingly patient, tireless in their work, and capable of enduring any amount of hardship without complaint.

Ox people need peace and quiet to work through their ideas, and when they have set their mind on something it is hard for them to be convinced otherwise. An Ox person has a very logical mind and is extremely systematic in whatever they do, even without imagination. These people speak little but are extremely intelligent. When necessary, they are articulate and eloquent.

People born under the influence of the Ox are kind, caring souls, logical, positive, filled with common sense and with their feet firmly planted on the ground. Security is their main preoccupation in life, and they are prepared to toil long and hard in order to provide a warm, comfortable and stable nest for themselves and their families. Strong-minded, stubborn, individualistic, the majority are highly intelligent individuals who don't take kindly to being told what to do.

The Ox works hard, patiently, and methodically, with original intelligence and reflective thought. These people enjoy helping others. Behind this tenacious, laboring, and self-sacrificing exterior lies an active mind.

The Ox is not extravagant, and the thought of living off credit cards or being in debt makes them nervous. The possibility of taking a serious risk could cause the Ox sleepless nights.

Ox people are truthful and sincere, and the idea of wheeling and dealing in a competitive world is distasteful to them. They are rarely driven by the prospect of financial gain. These people are always welcome because of their honesty and patience. They have many friends, who appreciate the fact that the Ox people are wary of new trends, although every now and then they can be encouraged to try something new.

It is important to remember that the Ox people are sociable and relaxed when they feel secure, but occasionally a dark cloud looms over such people and they engage all the trials of the whole world and seek solutions for them.Also the Ox people are all caring and loving but at times when you mess with them they will tear out in anger.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Monstrous Discussions: Drow - Contempt

Drow. Dark elves. Familiarity breeds contempt.

I remember when I first heard about them, way back in 1981-ish, a buddy of mine was talking about the D series, and the topic of the Drow came up, and I was thinking, “wow, that is cool.” Well 25+ years later they do not seem quite the same. It feels like they are now a bit overexposed, and they do not feel as fresh and exciting as they were back in the early 80’s. I really like the concept, but it has been watered down a bit, and they do not feel nearly as mysterious as they once did. For me, the attraction was the mysterious nature of them. They lived underground, hidden from the above ground world. We did not know a lot about that them, and that was actually a good thing. Forgotten Realms changed all that, and now we have a number of different flavors of Drow (including good Drow and surface Drow). This is too much, and I think the image is tarnished a bit. Too many designers have ruined an other wise good idea. Now it is just too much.

I have pulled some info from Wikipedia on the original history of the Drow:

The word "drow" is of Scottish origin, an alternative form of "trow", which is a cognate for "troll". Trow/drow was used to refer to a wide variety of evil sprites. Except for the basic concept of "dark elves", everything else about the Dungeons & Dragon drow was invented by Gary Gygax.

Dungeons & Dragons co-creator Gary Gygax stated that "Drow are mentioned in Keightley's The Fairy Mythology, as I recall (it might have been The Secret Commonwealth--neither book is before me, and it is not all that important anyway), and as Dark Elves of evil nature, they served as an ideal basis for the creation of a unique new mythos designed especially for the AD&D game." This establishes Gygax's source for the term as Thomas Keightley's The Fairy Mythology, Illustrative of the Romance and Superstition of Various Countries.

The drow were first mentioned in the Dungeons & Dragons game in the 1st Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual (1977) under the "Elf" entry, where it is stated that "The 'Black Elves,' or drow, are only legend." They made their first statistical appearance in G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King and the sequel D series modules, which expanded on drow culture. The first D&D manual that the drow appeared in was the original Fiend Folio. The modules in which the drow originally appeared were later published together in Queen of the Spiders (1986). The drow are first presented as a player character race in Unearthed Arcana.

A couple of things to point out in the above text. I liked the way that the first edition MM just mentioned the Drow as a footnote to the elf entry. It is almost a throw away note at the bottom of the entry. I liked it. Greater mystery is only hinted at. Perfect. One of the things that I have read about world design is that you never want to wrap up all the loose ends. You want a number of dangling threads that are a bit messy. This leaves plenty of room to build upon. It feels like with all the information that has been written about them, they have become a bit too tidy. Let me be blunt on this one. When they take a crap, we know how many pieces are in the bowl. There is no mystery.

Unearthed Arcana is a bit of a mixed bag. There are some things I liked, and there are something I did not like. Adding Drow as a player race, in my mind, was a mistake. We might as well call them blue elves. We have grey elves, sun elves, moon elves, wood elves, wild elves, and now we can have blue elves. I go back to the idea that what appealed to me about the Drow is that they were something of an enigma. Not any more.

There will be more grumblin’ about this topic.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Monstrous Discussions: Drow - Initial Ramblings

I just reviewed Pathfinder 18, which was the 3rd Adventure Path series featuring the Drow. I have been giving the Drow quite a bit of thought as I have been reading through this adventure path.
I will be providing my more extensive thoughts on this in my next blog.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Golarion Campaign 2009

It seems that every blog I read recently, the mega dungeon theme is circling around like a tornado that seems to have sucked up the blog writers in its mighty vortex. In this area, it seems that my own writing is vulnerable as well, and I am being drawn to this siren’s call, and to be honest, I go willingly into these dark depths of dungeon design. The horror, the horror!

Initially, I had decided that I was going to run a straight adventure path from Paizo. I like the mood and theme of their world Golarion. It has a bit of everything, and it comes with a shiny new cover. I am not shy to admit that I am susceptible to the lure that is the aura of the new campaign world, especially when it promises to be of quality work. I have a lot of respect for (and I would say that they have some of the best talent around) the Paizo team. However, I can not shake the idea of adding a mega-dungeon to my campaign.

One of the areas that I really like in Golarion is the Lands of the Linnorm Kings. This is basically the Viking area. Paizo has not done much with this area, which gives me free reign to do what ever I want. With this in mind, I have some ideas.

The concept that I am kicking around is the idea of mega dungeon that is actually a combination of wilderness and dungeon, where the characters have to think about the environment (in this case the cold of the north) as well as the dungeon. The wilderness actually becomes an extension of the dungeon itself. The deeper one moves into the forest, the more dangerous it becomes.

The adventure centers around a town called Wolvenstadt in the northern part of Lands of the Linnorm Kings, and just to the north of the town is the Hammersfeld Forest. The woods are loaded with magic beasts, ancient ruins, and other nasty critters including dragons and linnorms. My mega-dungeon would be the combination of the forest, ruins and a true mega-dungeon that lies at the base of the mountains on the far side of the forest. There is the remains of a wall that serves as a magical barrier that prevents most of the creatures from descending on the town. This is a very similar idea to GRRM’s Song of Ice and Fire. However, this case, Vikings use the forest as a rite of passage. Those that can journey into the forest, find a linnorm or a dragon, kill the beast and come back alive are destined for greatness. This is something of a fool’s errand, as the chances of actually finding one of these mythical beasts is rare, and the probabilities of surviving such an encounter are even slimmer.

As a result, every year a number of expeditions start out, lead by a young questing knight in search of these creatures. The expedition would include the questing knight, several rangers, a number of men at arms and mercenaries and would venture past the wall. Since these expeditions are rather expensive, only the upper class families can afford them. The night before the hunt, and grand party is held at the Last Drake Tavern in true Viking fashion. With the dawn of the next day, the questing knight leads his troop north into the great forest. Now, the question of how long the expedition stays north of the wall is a completely different story.

Some quests only stay in the forest for only a day or two and come right back. Some quests never come back. Of course, there are the legendary few that actually succeed and return with the head of a linnorm, and a mountain of gold. This is the classic risk and reward equation, where the possibility of immortality through legend, is weighed against the threat of failure, which would be the mortality of life.

This would be the initial backdrop of the campaign. The characters are being paid to join in one of these hunts, and the action picks up four days out from the wall. With this introduction, I wanted to jump right into the action. I have probably over used the meeting in the tavern intro, and I wanted the players rolling for combat right away.

As I started this blog with, I am going to keep the adventure path in the campaign, and I am curious to see whether the players follow the adventure path, stick with exploration of the mega dungeon, or possibly would they do a bit of both.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Observations from China

This is normally by gaming blog, but every now and then, I will throw in an interesting observation from China.

Usually, if I am up early enough, and I stop by Starbucks for coffee (and yes they have Starbucks in China), there are a group of old folks (in their traditional uniform) practicing Kung Fu with swords in front of the store. They have a boom box shouting out cadence, and they go through their routine, which takes about 30 minutes of so. For some reason, I continue to find this fascinating. Well, this morning, there were only a couple of the gals doing their routines and they had put away their swords and were using fans, which they were able to create a bit of "pop" with.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Review: Vault of Larin Karr


In my opinion, this is one of the gems of the early days of 3rd edition. The period between 2000-2004, was perhaps the high point of Necromancer Games, and their catch phrase, “3rd edition rules, 1st edition feel.” This was the period immediately following the 3rd edition roll out, and Necromancer was one of the first 3rd party publishers to publish material under the D20 guidelines. During that time period, they produced a number of excellent products, and they won a number of Ennies with them. One such product from this era was Vault of Larin Karr, which is still one of my favorite modules.


This is a rather large module, coming in at 112 pages. The module starts with an introduction that sets the stage for the module. This is then followed by an extensive description of the three villages and the accompanying encounter areas in the town, which takes up the first 29 pages. The next 30 pages outline the wilderness areas, of which there are 13 major encounter areas. The following 40 pages detail the Underdark, which includes the fabled Vault of Larin Karr. The final 11 pages are appendix materials, which include one new monster (Juju zombie), wandering monster details, and sample Underdark tactical maps.

The general layout is ok. Structure and sequencing is sound, however I would have liked to have seen a table of contents to help provide clarity around the numerous encounter areas of this adventure. There are quite a few areas given the three towns, wilderness and Underdark areas, that I think a table of contents with a similar chart at the beginning of each chapter would have been extremely helpful.


This module features a number of black and white pieces by Brian LeBlanc that I would describe as pencil or charcoal art. While the old school art of 1st edition was also black and white, that art had a finished look that was almost cartoonish in nature, but had a sense of fantastic realism. The art in this module has rougher look to it, and I would not call it cartoonish. It is a bit different than the art from 1st edition. The look and feel of the art is very consistent throughout the book. There are several pieces which I think are very nicely done, and there are a couple pieces that could probably use some additional work.


This is an open ended mini-campaign setting which allows for sandbox play through the valley and below it. There are four basic plot lines that can be used and expanded upon:

1. The hobgoblin and orc menace
2. The embittered elves
3. The coming of the dragon
4. The vault of Larin Karr

The characters arrive in the valley, and through their interactions with the towns folks can choose to chase down any number of leads and work there way through these plot lines, or just conduct random exploration of the area.

Key features

There are several features of this module that I have listed below:

1. A sandbox environment with numerous areas to explore
2. A fully mapped out valley with three villages that contain significant detail
3. Wilderness areas with a number of predefined encounters along with a number of wandering monster charts.
4. A fully connected dungeon area that exists below the valley

Final notes

In my opinion, this is the classic sandbox campaign. There is enough fleshed out to keep the characters busy for a number of sessions, and there is various plot lines with which a GM can build a deeper experience. The valley is big enough that the GM can easily create additional content, and add his own touch to the adventure, and it is small enough that the GM does not have to spend months planning on how to run it. It also has something for everyone, in terms adventuring terrain.

Now the adventure is not without flaws. The text is riddled with clichés, bad puns and terrible names. Unfortunately, this is common in D&D adventures and I can point to numerous examples of this in other adventure modules. I wish the developers spent more time with the author to clean up these minor issues and add a bit of organization through the use of tables of contents. As I have note above, the structure is sound, however a bit of up front cataloging of topics would have been greatly appreciated.

On of the themes of this adventure is the interconnectedness of the valley. The Underdark serves as an underground connection point for all the major surface areas. Adventurers could conduct most of their exploring underground and cover all the encounters both above and below. I think this is an interesting feature that is worthy of note.

As a final note on the write up, one of the overall strengths of this module is its flexibility in terms of customization. Even though there is good detail included in the write up of the three villages, Pembrose, Bostwick, and Twain, there is still enough room to add additional NPC’s to add to the adventure. I have heard some folks say that they felt that the NPC’s were a bit flat, and I believe that the intrepid GM is more than capable of adding depth to the characters. The adventure also has a number of orc tribes, that I think just demand additional detail from the GM. I mention this as there are a number of WotC and 3rd party supplements that add numerous different types of orcs, and I think that by adding this flavor to the orc tribes, it puts a bit more polish into the execution. Continuing on with possibilities for this adventure, I added additional content to the dragon encounter with the addition of a band of kobolds that have allied themselves with the dragon. It is touches like this that are easy, and illustrate the adventure’s flexibility that I find enchanting about this module.

Overall, I still give this adventure a big thumbs up.

Rating: 4 Dragons (on a scale of 5)

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Paladin (Part 5F): Closing Comments

Wow…20,000 words (give or take a few) later here we are. I have enjoyed putting together this summary, and I appreciate the comments that I received on the series.

To start off my final official blog on the series, I want to state the two over riding rules that I think are paramount to this entire discussion:

1) The class has to be playable
2) The class should be fun to play

After all is said and done, I think when playing the paladin, both the GM and the players need to keep this in mind. If the class gets hamstrung by extreme rules lawyers, it is not worth playing. If we can create a playable character, then it should be fun to play. This is a game, and it should be enjoyable by everyone around the table. I think that some folks lose sight of this, and I think that takes away from the game experience. With that in mind, I want to hit on a couple of final topics before wrapping this series up.

I am always a little surprised at the opposition to playing a lawful good character. My first 3rd ed game I GM’ed, I was playing with a younger group and everyone wanted to play evil. My next group was an older crowd, and even they shied away from playing lawful good. I think there is this feeling that lawful good is really awful good and therefore not fun to play. I going to make a wide sweeping comment and say that most of us in real life fall into the lawful good category, and therefore I believe that this really should be the easiest alignment to play. Apparently, I am in the minority on this.

There is a perception that playing evil or chaotic is more fun. What I have seen is that it becomes a crutch for doing really dumb things in game. In one of my games set in Ptolus, the characters were involved in an urban chase, with commoners being transformed by chaos. The chase was quite a bit of fun, with chaos, confusion and destruction happening in mass quantities. During the chase, one of the commoners was killed, and the city guards were quickly approaching the body. Given this situation, one of the characters decided that he would loot the body in plain sight of the guards that were advancing with crossbows. I had to explain the situation again to the player, before it really sank in. He was using his alignment to say that it was in keeping with his character. While that maybe true, it was a really dumb thing to do.

When alignment becomes an excuse for bad play, it is time to rethink things. Lawful good does not mean not fun; likewise evil does not mean crazy stupid. Actually, I believe that evil characters are very hard to play. If I was going to run evil characters, I would want to design a campaign specific for them. Most adventures as written, actually assume a good alignment party. With the growing popularity of adventure paths and story arcs, these adventures run smoother with good characters.

The next mis-perception that I want to hit on is the thought that humble means weak. I do not believe this to be true at all. Humble implies a sacrifice of self for the greater good. When confronted with a situation that demands action to preserve law and goodness, the humble paladin rises up as a champion, and becomes capable of great things. This makes for epic tales. This can be the classic David and Goliath story. David was very humble in the story. It was only after everyone declined to meet Goliath on the field of battle did David feel the call to do something special, and he became the hero of the tale. Being humble does not mean holding off on making the hard calls. It does not mean giving dishonorable foes unreasonable mercy. It means to take a step up to a higher road to accomplish more. Humility as a player means empowering the players around you. Ponder on that for awhile. How many times have you have you seen the paladin played as an arrogant character that disables the party? I will argue that is not what the paladin is about.

I do want to comment on paladins in the dungeon. For me, this has always been a bit of a stretch. From a realism stand point, what is a paladin doing in a dungeon anyway? A paladin belongs on a horse fighting the epic battles. This is the challenge of the player and GM to make the paladin feel like he belongs in the setting. In the sandbox campaign, the paladin very well may feel like a fish out of water. In the adventure path campaign with a very defined BBEG, the paladin fits right in. I know a lot of adventures start in the tavern, and I will be the first to say, that I struggle a bit with the notion of a paladin just hanging out there. Some creative backgrounds or story lines are required to make this seem natural. Sometimes, the players just need to suspend disbelief to make the whole thing work out.

As a final note to all this, to folks that like to play paladins, this series is for you. I really like the character. Gary added it into the 1st edition book for a reason, and it has stayed in there through four editions, and several off shoots of the game. It is a colorful character, and one that excessive rule lawyers need to stay away from, otherwise it can become a totally unplayable character.

Enough of all this writing and such, roll some dice, fight the good fight, smite some evil, and tell the BBEG that the Baron sent you!
Paladin Series Summary For ease of reading, I will provide the links to all the blogs in the series:
Part 1A

Friday, January 16, 2009

The Paladin (Part 5E): The Paladin & Religion: Monotheism v. Polytheism

As a disclaimer to this blog, I am going to assume that my readers are at least familiar with the tenants of Christianity. While I will not get too far into the details of Christianity, I will be referencing the Old Testament for some of the discussion. For my discussions of polytheism, I will be referencing the Greek pantheon; however the reader is free to insert their favorite (D&D) pantheon as appropriate.

In part 5 of the series, I am trying to keep the discussion to the application of previous topics in the game play of the paladin, which holds for this blog as well.

One of underlying themes of the paladin class is religion. The paladin class occupies the space between the cleric and the fighter, and is frequently described as a holy warrior. The term “holy” means to set apart, which I think is very appropriate when looking at the paladin class. This class is special in terms of its origins and the role playing restrictions that are placed on it. In the later versions of the game, the restrictions start falling away, however, I will continually go back to the first edition rules as that is where the paladin was first introduced, and where a lot of us grognards have first started playing.

I am going to go out on a limb and say that most of us have a monotheistic view of the real world. The idea that there is a pantheon of gods watching over us has fallen by the wayside. Once the Roman Empire had collapsed, the concept of polytheism as believable religion also collapsed, and the monotheism of Christianity was firmly entrenched into Western civilization.

With the belief in the monotheism of Christianity, there comes with it the view that there is a universal truth, and a universal moral compass. With one God as a father figure over mankind, there comes with it the concept of one truth. Christianity has the Bible, which provides guiding principles by which we are to live by. This provides significant direction into our way of approaching and analyzing moral dilemmas. We carry this frame of reference into our every day life, and into gaming. While this is very good for real life, for gaming which requires us to accept the fantasy notion of polytheism, this may prevent us from seeing things from a different perspective.

With polytheistic ideology, there is no longer one truth, which means that there is no longer a universal moral compass. Each god has his/her own version of the truth and what that means. Apollo has his view, Athena has her view, Aphrodite has a different view, and of course Hera has her own theories. I would classify all the above gods mostly good, but they are all different, and they do not always agree. The Trojan War was a classic example of gods in conflict with each other. In this situation, there is no universal truth to align a common moral compass. Now we have increased shades of grey and the borders of good are fuzzy at best.

When Gary laid out the foundation of the paladin class, he was looking at history and literature with an eye towards monotheism. Looking at the write up of the paladin in the 1st ed text, there is no mention of deities, only an implication of law and goodness. I will take this as he was thinking about things from the perspective of a commonly held moral compass, which would imply monotheism. In the later Player’s Handbook, the idea of multi-god pantheons is written into the paladin text, of which the 3rd ed version is the best example of this. The 3rd ed is heavily influenced by the numerous campaign settings that were created in the late 1980’s and 1990’s, and uses the Greyhawk setting as the default setting. What is evident is that there is a shift in philosophy of the fundamental design of the paladin. I consider this fundamental, as the definition of lawful good is central to the paladin. With multiple gods of good alignment, we are going to get a slightly different view of what is good, which will shape the moral compass and our approach to resolving moral issues.

In first edition play, without a defined campaign setting, using a generic setting with little to no emphasis on deities, a monotheistic view is appropriate. Late first edition play and later editions, we need to change our orientation and think about things from a polytheistic view point. The paladin is a special servant, and I would go as far to use the term avatar, of their patron deity. It would not be correct to say that paladin of Aphrodite would approach issues the same way as a paladin of Athena would. For the player and the GM, they need to first see things from the deity’s perspective, and then determine what the paladin should do, based on what deity stands for. The monotheistic view is no longer the correct lense to look through.

As a final though on application of play, the players need to decide what kind of campaign are they playing. Is it a polytheistic campaign or a monotheistic campaign? In the polytheistic it is important to gain alignment on what is the patron deity and what is that deity’s frame of reference on approaching issues. Forcing a universal compass that is not aligned with the deity’s domains and outlooks does not make sense at all. A fertility goddess is not a war god, and the paladins of these gods should be played differently. If they are not, then what is the point of having a pantheon of deities?

Next up – Closing comments!
Paladin Series Summary For ease of reading, I will provide the links to all the blogs in the series:

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Paladin (Part 5D): Application of the Code of Chivalry

Earlier in the series, I spoke about Chivalry and the code of conduct from a historical perspective. In the origins of the term Chivalry, there was a direct connection to a code of conduct in a military context and in social settings. For the purposes of this discussion, I want to focus in on the military aspects. While I believe that the social implications are important, and they are useful for role playing in urban settings, I find that this is not as interesting as the direct application of the military aspect of Chivalry in the dungeon environment. From the social perspective, paladins and knights should obey the common rules of courtesy, especially towards women, and I am going to leave it at that.

As I mentioned earlier, Chivalry was the predecessor of codes of conduct that we have today. The Geneva Convention outlines what is considered acceptable behavior and what is not. The Convention serves as a standard by which we can measure behavior and determine whether this behavior is in compliance or out of compliance. Those that find themselves on the wrong side of the Convention will find themselves subject to criminal proceedings in the world court. Working our way backwards, we do not have the luxury of world courts and treaties, however I think there are lessons that we can apply to our games.

One of the underlying themes of the Chivalry, and I think this is a very important point, is that it is very specific on who is covered under the rules of Chivalry and who is not. I mentioned that normally only gentry (and I am using this term to refer to any noble or knight) are covered under the rules of Chivalry and that the common foot solider was not. This was a commonly held belief, and widely accepted by the gentry as acceptable behavior. This was the norm in society at that time. I think this is a norm that can be ported directly over to our game. I will argue that in general, our games are modeled loosely after the medieval and renaissance periods of history. Clearly the paladin, cavalier and knight classes are modeled after the knights of this historical and literature period, which I have described in the beginning of my series on the paladin. With this linkage established, we can dig into the application of this on our games.

In my blog on the orc from last week, I wanted to draw the connection between orc and monster. I am picking on the orc, but I am also making a broader statement with my usage of the term orc, to include any one of a number of evil creatures that are in the numerous monster manuals. One of the strengths of the alignment system is that it allows us to make broad accurate generalizations that are very useful for a number of reasons. One of the uses is to clearly identify which creatures are inherently evil. The orc is a deviation from mankind, and should be considered a monster in every sense of the word. It is the persona of evil, and they are a blight to civilized society. This is clearly the intent of the write up in the Monster Manual.

I once read on one of the message boards, granted this was a while ago, that asked the question of what should a paladin do if he was adventuring through B1 Keep on the Borderlands, or a similar module, where he came upon an encounter with an orc female and young orcs. The question is intended present a moral dilemma on the paladin’s code of conduct. What is the right thing to do? In this case the answer is a simple one. Let me walk through the analysis. The code of conduct applies to gentry with a special note that the knight should be courteous to women. In that definition, there is the implied assumption that the gentry and women are of a race that the paladin has a favorable preference towards. In 1st ed/OSRIC paladins can only be human, which makes this very easy to work out the preferences. The newer versions of the game open up the racial possibilities, which requires a bit more attention on what the racial preferences of the paladin are. Going back to my earlier comment, the orc is a monster and a persona of evil. Based on this, I think it is safe to say that the preference would be hatred. Given this, it is clear that orcs do not fall under the code of conduct, and the paladin is free to do what ever he wants. For game terms, it is important to note that not every creature will fall under the code of conduct. Creatures outside the acceptance range of the racial preference chart, especially creatures with an evil alignment, which I would classify as a “monster,” fall in this category.

The orc example is a very straightforward example as any evil creature would be. Creatures that are neutral, and that fall under the neutral category under the racial preference chart, are in a grey area. However, I think the code of conduct can be leveraged in this case as well. If the neutral creature is a leader type, and is acting with honor, the paladin would probably be inclined to treat the leader as it would gentry, and extend it the courtesies offered under the code. If the neutral creatures are not leader types, and are acting like common soldiers, the paladin is free to do whatever he wants, as they would fall outside the bounds of the code.

To go back to my earlier example, I made it very clear where I stand with regards to the definition of an orc, and what that means. There maybe some GM’s that consider an orc as a noble savage, rather than a monster. When this is true, it changes things a bit. The first thing I would say is that noble savage does not equal evil, and there needs to be an alignment shift on the orc. In this case, the orc should be treated as a neutral creature, and the above discussion on neutral creatures applies.

I do want to take a moment a define honor a little more. A creature fighting in a regular army wearing the colors of a recognized country will be considered as an honorable foe. If the creature is not wearing the colors of a recognized country, they should be treated as bandits or worse. I would use the term terrorist, but that term was not commonly used in that time period. The terms bandit, terrorist, and pirate all are ways of defining a criminal and by definition is not an honorable foe. I will also through in spies, as when they are captured it usually results in a sentence of capital punishment. No one tolerates spies (both past and present), as they fall into the category of traitor, which is a term that is devoid of honor. Honor has an implied lawful meaning to it. Persons obeying laws and acting in accordance with commonly held norms are generally going to be considered honorable.

As a final comment, the code of conduct is a rule that defines what it means to act with honor and how to treat honorable foes. In simple terms, honorable creatures will be dealt with fairly, but that does not equate to gentle treatment or with undeserved (or irrational) mercy. Not everyone is covered by the code. I realize that I have stated this numerous times, but it is fundamental to the definition. It sounds obvious, but I have seen folks on the message boards lose track of this and try to defend why a dishonorable foe/monster should be given an unreasonable amount of mercy. The code of conduct clearly does not support this position.

In this discussion, I have specifically avoided the religious undertones of the class, which I will tackle in my next blog.

Next up – The Paladin and Religion
Paladin Series Summary For ease of reading, I will provide the links to all the blogs in the series:
Part 1A

Sunday, January 11, 2009

A bit of a rant

Last night I was playing C&C with my son and a couple of his friends. Now my son just found my 4th ed book, and started to flip through it. Of course he found the dragonborn write up and proceeded to create a dragonborn character. I am not surprised at this turn of events. To be honest, I am actually ok with the dragonborn character. It is a non-standard character, but its roots are clearly based in fantasy literature, and to be perfectly honest, I have a soft spot for dragons. In my next campaign I am going to allow dragonborn, but I am going to have my own write up to make it compatible with the Pathfinder rule set. In one of my future blogs, I will include the Pathfinder write up of several races that did not make it into the main rule set.

Going back to my original point, my son found the 4th ed rule book and started to make characters inline with the guidelines in 4th ed. Since my son is just getting into the hobby and I want to make it fun for him, I am being a bit lenient with the rules. As a result, we ended up playing with a crazy mixed breed of rules between C&C and 4th ed, but that was ok too. To a certain extent, I thrive on playing a bit loose with the rules, so it is all good.

My rant is about the weapon damage and the cost of items. I get that they changed the mechanics to appeal to a wider base of players. I get that it is a new edition of the rule set, so they felt the need to make changes. However, I don’t think they needed to change the weapon damages that have been fairly stable since 1st edition. It feels like they have gone out of their way to make it difficult to be compatible with the earlier editions of the game. I like the fact that I can look at a first edition player’s Handbook and a 3rd edition player’s handbook and see that a long sword does 1d8 damage. As has been stated in many places, there is a significant amount of inflation into the 4th ed rules, and I think that some of it is unnecessary, and adds to the feeling that this is a different game than what we played in the early 80’s.

I will probably be ranting a bit more on this topic in the future.

The Paladin (Part 5C): Paladin and the OSRIC

Let it be known that I do take requests. Initially I was going to do a review of the six Player’s Handbooks that I did in parts 5A and 5B, and leave it at that. However, I have been asked to review the Paladin in the OSRIC, and I am more than happy to squeeze it in. With this review, I think I have covered the major publications of the game.

To back up for a moment, let me say that the OSRIC is the retro clone of 1st ed AD&D. It was published under the OGL 1.0a, in attempt to keep the old rules alive and to provide a method of updating the rule set with clarifications and incorporating errata as appropriate. In any review of the first edition rule set and the OSRIC, I would expect the rules to be almost identical to each other. So, without further delay, let’s get into the details.

In v2.0 of the OSRIC, there are two opening paragraphs of fluff. As I am only reviewing the OSRIC in this blog, I will reprint them below:

A paladin is a holy warrior sworn to be and always to remain Lawful Good. If this vow is ever breached, the paladin must atone and perform penance to be decided by a powerful NPC cleric of the same alignment—unless the breach was intentional, in which case the paladin instantly loses his or her enhanced status as a paladin and may never regain it. Such a “fallen paladin” is in all respects a fighter, with no special powers, for the remainder of his or her career.

The Paladin class in OSRIC superficially resembles such legendary warriors as Sir Galahad or Sir Gawaine of the Arthurian cycle, but is more closely similar to characters described in the works of Poul Anderson. His Three Hearts and Three Lions is particularly highly recommended.

On first look, this is very similar to what is in the 1st ed AD&D rules. The first paragraph is almost identical to what is in the original rules. The wording is changed around a little, but the content is the same. They both reference lawful good, penance and the idea that the paladins could lose their powers, which would be irrevocable. It is interesting that the original states that no magic may restore their paladinhood, while the OSRIC does not explicitly state that. I am wondering if the authors did that deliberately to leave to door open to powerful magic (and I am specifically thinking of a wish spell). I suspect that they wanted to leave some wiggle room for the GM to consider this possibility.

It is the second paragraph that I find the most interesting in this write up. While Gary was clearly thinking of the older myths of Roland and Arthur, he did not come out and state that in the text. He hinted at them, and provided just enough to give us an idea of what he was thinking about. In the OSRIC, they specifically state that the class is intended to resemble Sir Galahad, Sir Gawain and the book Three Hearts and Three Lions. I think the addition of this second paragraph was a very nice touch, and augments the original write up. With this in mind, it can be said with confidence that the OSRIC meant to follow the spirit of the original write up, and I think it accomplishes this in fine fashion.

The rest of the write up in the OSRIC is almost identical to the original. The OSRIC lists out the restrictions of the class as they were laid out in the first edition. An individual word or two may be different, but basically it is the same information.

I think I have shown that as D&D has moved from the first edition of the rule set, we find the paladin class starts to deviate from this definition. By the time we get to 4th edition, the rule set is very different, and the noble ideals that went into the original text are long gone. It has been said that the strength of Gary’s write ups were the reading materials that he included in the DMG. In the later versions this disappears, and the rule set becomes more generic, which waters down the original flavor of the game. I think the paladin write ups is just one example of this.

Next up – Application of the Code of Chivalry in play.
Paladin Series Summary For ease of reading, I will provide the links to all the blogs in the series:

Friday, January 9, 2009

The Paladin (Part 5B): Paladin evolution in D&D

In yesterday’s blog, I reviewed a number of the older Player’s Handbooks on what they say about the paladin class. I have three more to review today.

4th Ed Player’s Handbook

Let’s get started with the 4th ed Handbook. BTW, hold on to your helmets and coifs folks, this is not your grandmother’s paladin. The paladin entry opens as follows:

“I am the righteous shield of Moradin and a sword in his mighty hand! I fear evil!”

There are three opening paragraphs of fluff, and then it gets into the build options available for the paladin. Let’s look at some more of the opening fluff sections:

“Paladins are indomitable warriors who’ve pledged their prowess to something greater than themselves…..Take up your blessed sword and sanctified shield, brave warrior, and charge forward to hallowed glory.”

To be honest, this sounds like a champion, not a paladin. This is very different than the 1st edition paladin. Let’s continue to look at the builds available for the class.

A. Avenging Paladin

“You burn with the desire to punish the wicked and smite the unbelievers….Consider wielding a big two-handed weapon....that deliver the highest amount of damage.”

Ponder on that for a moment. This is akin to saying, skip plan A, and go right to the nukes. I have no further questions. Please pass me the dire super smiting two handed butt kicking sword, I have some punishing and smiting to do.

Let’s look at the other paladin build.

B. Protecting Paladin

“You emphasize defense, guarding your allies, and healing and bolstering them with a few powers….The protecting paladin works best as a shield carrying warrior…Select powers that help your allies.”

This feels like a buffing cleric to me.

Reading to this point in the players handbook, it feels as though this class, with the two builds that are laid out, are made for min-max miniature play. For all practical purposes, this is a champion that is made for battle.

There is one more section that I will review in this book, and that is the section on paladins and deities. In this edition, paladins can be any alignment, and have to be tied to a deity. Their powers, however, are not granted through their deity, but in stead through rites when they first become paladins. They can not be stripped of their powers. However, if they stray too far, they will be punished. The exact nature of this punishment is not spelled out, and I am not sure that it would be anything significant.

Let me add some final comments. In my view, this is a very different character than the paladins that I reviewed yesterday. Gone are all the tenants of chivalry. There are no divine mount rules, there is no mention of a code of conduct, and the strict alignment guidelines are gone. The concept of a universal law of goodness is gone. Concepts of humility, service, and honor, have been stripped away. What remains is a shell of what was originally created.

I realize that this last paragraph comes across as rather critical, and I do not mean it to be. My point is that this paladin is playing in a different game, and that game is not necessarily better or worse than any of the other games. This is a much easier character to play, as all of the harder role playing fluff has been pulled out.

Pathfinder Beta Rule set

When Paizo announced that they were going to put out their own set of rules based on the 3.5 rule set, I was very excited. Here was a chance to fix and clean up some of the craziness that had slipped in over the years. In my opinion, one of the draw backs of 3.5 is the rules bloat that comes with all the splat books and optional rules. Let’s take a look at the opening fluff of the Pathfinder paladin.

In case you missed, I will summarize the opening fluff of the Pathfinder paladin, again.

For those of you that do not have the book open in front of you, there is no opening fluff. None. Zip. Zero. Nada. Basically, Pathfinder moved all the rules over from 3rd edition, and left out the fluff. I think this is a shame. Now, to be fair, there is some fluff wrapped up in the rules, and most of the 3.5 rules have come over. There is a code of conduct. The code does mention punishment for those that wish to harm or threaten innocents. There is a section on ex-paladins that describe how one would lose their paladin hood. The text specifically mentions that if a paladin ceases to be lawful good, who willfully commits an evil act, or who grossly violates the code of conduct, loses their paladin abilities. This seems rather easy, and I think players should be able to stay in the clear. As long as they remain lawful good and stay close to the code, they are fine.

Upon review, I am actually a bit disappointed in the write up. I think they should have had some flavor text right at the beginning of the book to give a feel for the character. I think this intro text breathes life into a list of rules. With out that, the rules seem a bit cold to me. I think this is a huge miss for the Paizo team, and I will provide feedback to them on their boards, as this is true for all the classes. Now it maybe that since this is the beta version, they may have stripped out all fluff in order to have people concentrate on the rules. I will reserve final judgment, until I see the final product.

Castles and Crusades

Troll Lord Games put out Castles and Crusades several years ago, and I consider it a rules light mix between first edition and third edition. I actually like the rule set, which is why I have included it here in this discussion, as I think it offers a good contrast to the other handbooks that I have reviewed.

One of the things I really like about the book is that at the beginning of the class section, they have a quick summary of each of the classes. One can consider it an executive summary of what is in the section. For the paladins, the summary reads as follows:

“Paladins are the holiest of warriors, living lives of purity and good while serving the religious precepts of their deity. They are dreaded by their foes for they serve as the martial arm of religious justice.”

That is very elegant. Before jumping into the paladin section, I want to stop briefly in the knight section. In 3rd edition, the cavalier was dropped, and was not added back in. C&C adds the knight, which is a descendant of the cavalier. One of the things I really like about the knight write up is that it has an example code of conduct. There are 12 terms that get defined, and upon reading through them, they are very straight forward. The text is also clear to point out that this is an example, and that the player and the GM are encouraged to adjust this as necessary. This is a nice touch.

Jumping into the paladin, in the opening section, there are eight paragraphs of fluff. The high-lights include:

A. In the constant battle between good and evil, this holy warrior strikes terror into evil creatures and inspires other to greater good.
B. It is their belief in their deity that gives them strength and divine powers
C. They serve the code of conduct, and it is the greater good that drives their action.
D. Every deity or pantheon has a moral code that dictates what is acceptable.
E. They do not associate with evil
F. They can lose their powers.

I have to say that this is very well written, and I think captures the spirit of the first edition, and adds to it in a complementary way. I will just hit on a couple of items, although I probably could expand quite a bit on all of them. Firstly, there is a code of conduct, and the paladins follow it. I think this is really fundamental to the class. If you are not going to attach chivalry to the paladin, the character is less because of it. This will be the subject of my next blog. Secondly, the attachment to a deity is important, and there is recognition that each deity is a little different, and dictates what is acceptable. Again, I think that is also an important concept and I will describe this at length in an upcoming blog.

In conclusion

I started off yesterday’s blog going through the different Player’s handbooks, and I finished this up today. I think it is fairly clear, that the paladin has changed slightly with the different editions of the game. There is a common perception that all the paladins in the various games are the same, and I hope I have shead some light on that myth. There are some very notable differences, along with some subtle ones. I do want to say that I think I think the Castles and Crusades’ version is best write up of the six that I reviewed. While they are all rather similar in mechanics, which is why I did not spend a lot of time reviewing this, the fluff and flavor are different. While in a role playing game, there are certain latitudes that can be taken with a character; the way that they are writing can have a huge impact as to what is considered acceptable within the confines of the rule set.

Next up – Application of the Code of Chivalry in play.
Paladin Series Summary For ease of reading, I will provide the links to all the blogs in the series:
Part 1A

Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Paladin (Part 5A): Paladin evolution throughout the D&D editions

To kick off the final section of the paladin in the D&D game, I want to first review what is actually in the Player’s Handbook. I will review a number of sources as I think it is good to know what is actually in the various books and what is not. There are some subtle and not so subtle differences between the editions. As I go through my analysis, I am going to gloss over the paladin abilities, and concentrate on the role playing aspects of the class.

General overview

The paladin fills the niche between a fighter and a cleric. He is considered a front line fighter with some cleric abilities. The paladin is clearly not as good as the cleric, but very similar to a fighter in terms of fighting ability. If the cleric is on one end of the scale and the fighter is on the other end, I would rate the paladin as closer to the fighter than he is to the cleric. Over the years, there have been a number of PrC’s and other paladin alternatives created in an attempt to move the paladin either closer to the cleric or to the fighter, in order to give the class a bit of diversity in terms of abilities and flavor. The paladin is thought of as the ultimate lawful good character, and that leaves some players feeling a bit constrained by this stereotype. As I mentioned in my first post, I am a fan of both the fighter and the cleric, and any character class that falls in between, is of interest to me.

1. AD&D Player’s Handbook

What better place to start than the original book where the class was introduced. Gary writes, “Law and good deeds are the meat and drink of paladins.” It is in the second paragraph of the text that lays out the role playing fluff of the class. Specifically it mentions that if a paladin commits a chaotic act, he must seek forgiveness, and if he ever commits an evil act, his powers are stripped away. In addition to this fluff, there are five major restrictions that are listed out:

a. Limit 10 magic items
b. Restriction on keeping wealth (this is not a vow of poverty by any stretch as paladins are allowed to build a castle)
c. Tithe to the church
d. Restrictions on the adventuring party – good only
e. Requirements of service and alliance

It is interesting to note that there is no mention of faith or patronage to a deity. The closest comments to this would be the requirement to tithe and the requirement for penance if they do a chaotic deed. Upon review, Gary is clearly linking the paladin class to the historical knight class, and there is a striking resemblance to the old knightly orders of the Templars and Hospitallers. There is no mention of a code of conduct or a code of chivalry. I do agree that there is an implied code, but it is not spelled out directly. The only role playing requirement is that the paladin be lawful good, and act within that alignment framework. When reading through the entry, one gets the feeling that the paladin should be a force of good. There is an implied Judea-Christian foundation underneath the text, and frequently I see people quoting Christian ideology as a source of role playing guidance, but this is not directly spelled out in the text. I fully agree that there is a requirement to obey a universal law of goodness, but it is left to the players and GM to figure out what that really means in game terms. It is this fuzzy definition of the universal law of goodness that often causes heated debates as there is a sense of a universally understood moral code, which Gary is tapping into, but when it comes to specific definition of game behavior everyone’s sense of definition is slightly different. Folks will start quoting other references, but no one reference is superior to another in game terms. I will get more into this in my upcoming blog.

As a final note, this paladin has implied humility to it. He has to pay tithes, he has to give to charity, there is a limit on the wealth he can keep. The terms service, confession and penance are used to describe various element of this paladin. They do not attract men at arms like fighters do. This is a small note at the bottom of the entry, but I think it helps define the character of the paladin. This is not a brash or arrogant leader, but rather a humble protector of that which is universally acknowledged as good.

2. Unearthed Arcana

In this book, a new class, the Cavalier, was created that puts the paladin underneath it, removing it out from under the fighter. It is in this book, that the paladin looks more and more like a traditional knight, and it harkens to the days of King Arthur and Roland. This move also seems to align the paladin class to the implied military requirement of chivalry. This book also introduces power creep into the class, as it is now noticeably more powerful than it was before. In my mind, the class now becomes slightly less playable, as the usefulness of a mounted knight (human on a horse) is a bit limited in a dungeon environment.

3. 2nd Ed Player’s Handbook

I will not say too much about this book, and its influence, as I do not own it. So moving right along to 3rd ed.

4. 3rd Ed Player’s Handbook

In the 3rd ed Player’s Handbook, the fluff gets expanded on significantly. Where as the 1st edition had but one paragraph of fluff, the 3rd edition now has 10 paragraphs in the opening section. Some of the key attributes and requirements are as follows:

a. Compassion to pursue good, uphold the law, and defeat evil
b. Adventures as quests, with the paladin now seen as leading campaigns against evil
c. Divine power is now stated as what gives the paladins their special abilities
d. Paladins can be unaligned or aligned to a specific deity
e. The concept of paladins being called
f. Paladins can now be a number of races and are not limited to humans
g. The paladin is still considered a melee (fighter) type, and still fills a niche between fighters and clerics
h. There is specific mention of a code of conduct

It is very evident that the authors have taken the information from the 1st edition, and have expanded it considerably. I suspect that they wanted to further define the implied universal law of goodness, and add an element of righteousness to it. The paladin in the first edition had an element of humility to it, but this paladin has the feel of an epic divine champion. The names of the class features says it all: Aura of Good, Aura of Courage, Divine health, Divine Grace, and Smite Evil. There is nothing humble about this character. This character is a crusader against evil.

The last thing I want to mention is the code of conduct. I actually think it is significant that the code of conduct is specifically called out. The items called out are similar to what was in the first edition version, but there are a couple of slight differences. The one that I want to bring up is, “…punish those who harm or threaten innocents.” Punishment is an interesting term. There is an element of judgment associated to punishment. When I say judgment, I do not mean a subjective judgment, but rather a judgment that comes from a authority to judge, and that means there is a legitimacy to it. This implies that the paladin is authorized to judge and issue out judgments that are legitimate. This is very similar to the power that a commanding officer or a captain of a ship would have. Both have authority to issue out judgments that are legal and binding. Punishment is very different from mercy. Punishment is punitive in nature. Forgiveness and redemption are not apart of punishment. While the text does not give examples of what punishments are appropriate, there is an implied tone of what this really means in the dungeon environment.

Next up

In my next blog, I will continue on with this discussion and focus in on the 4th edition, Pathfinder Beta Rules, and Castles and Crusades.
Paladin Series Summary For ease of reading, I will provide the links to all the blogs in the series: