Monday, January 14, 2013

Relay the Message: Sorcerer Kickstarter


Ron Edwards, one of the pioneers of the indie RPG movement, is coming out with a revised and updated version of his Sorcerer RPG.  Right now you can support it on the Sorcerer Kickstarter!  The best part about this, is for $25 you get not just the Sorcerer book, but also the three supplements he has written for it.  So that's 4 books for the price of 1.  There's also some other interesting deals where you can choose a more expensive support option and get Ron to playtest your game for you.  That's not too shabby IMHO.  Anyway, check it out HERE if it's something that would interest you.



Thursday, January 03, 2013

D&D Magic Items: A Lament


If you haven’t read any of my previous laments on Alignments, Spell Components, and Troupe Play, I would encourage you to do that.

In the original D&D when a player-character wanted to make a magic item, it cost EXP.  EXP was used as a resource that could be spent, not just accumulated.  The idea was, you were giving up a little bit of your power to make something more powerful.  This is very Tolkienesque, and may in fact have been inspired by the creation of the One Ring. 

I like the idea of EXP being able to be spent on character advancement OR magic items.  It’s very primal in a way, and evocative of fantasy literature.  It forces players into making a choice and provides an alternate form of character advancement beyond the mundane level-up rules.  No doubt there were a number of players who really liked this system.

However, there were many that didn’t.  As a result, as the editions of D&D rolled out, it cost fewer and fewer XP to make a magic weapon.  By the time DnD 3.5 came around, it became insanely easy to make powerful magical weapons without sacrificing much at all.   Take a generic wand of fireballs for instance.  (I say generic tongue in cheek)  The XP cost to make a WoFB was around 600XP IIRC.  Unlike the olden days when you would be excited to find a fireball wand with five charges, the 3.5E one came with a whopping 50! With 50 fireballs to lob at anything that moves, how long would it be before a character recovered those 600XP?  No time at all.  So the ability to make more powerful magical items became less costly to the players, and therefore much less of a meaningful choice.

As a corollary, less powerful weapons became commonplace finds in many treasure hordes.  Take the ubiquity of +1 Longswords for instance.  They’re everywhere in D&D supplements from the 90’s and 2000’s.  There’s nothing special or really magical about them at all.  It didn’t cost anyone anything to get them; it was just a result of normal adventuring.  As a result, they lost all their specialness. 

But this is the system’s fault for having so many darn creatures immune to non-magical weapons.  Magically infused items are now required just to play.  Look, weapons are already amazing enough on their own.  By cheapening the effectiveness of non-magical weapons, the designers of contemporary fantasy roleplaying games cheapened the experience of having or earning magical weapons.  Especially in 4e where having magical stuff became part of a character’s expected progression.  The result is an arms race where everything just spun out of control and nothing was special to anyone anymore.

Along the way, a lot was lost IMHO.  Take weapons with personalities (Egos) for instance.  In the earliest days these were really cool.  Think of weapons like Excalibur and The One Ring.  Players and DMs didn’t just roleplay characters, they could roleplay items as well.  However, these things were very powerful, and by the time the Book of Artifacts came out for AD&D2e, severe curses and awful side effects were tacked on to sentient weapons permanently (even though the book protested they weren’t).  Oh the potential that was lost!  What about sword cults?  What about weapon deities?  What about cultures who were led by an inanimate object with an Ego?  What about options for quests to free the soul in inside the sword or mace or whatever?  These things were only explored in a most superficial way in D&D.  It’s a shame no other game took with the idea and ran. 

One of my biggest problems with item crafting in games in DnD4e and in Pathfinder is that they stick to what is in the spell section.  And I don’t expect it to be much different in DnD 5e or whatever they’re calling it.  It would be impossible to create The One Ring in these systems.  Why?  I’ll tell you what I suspect.  The new design ethos is to make sure everything is so mathematically balanced that GMs don’t have to worry about breaking the game.  They don’t want to harm the play experience by granting players the freedom to make mistakes and learn from them.  Yes, giving a player an overly powerful sword can cause HUGE headaches.  But figuring out that you can take the sword form the player by using a thieves’ guild, and thus give the player a new quest to retrieve the sword is an awesome learning moment for young GMs.

So, my call to action is for someone to design a game that makes magical items more purposeful and special than current incarnations of fantasy roleplaying games.  Make them matter both mechanically and fictionally during play.  A magic item must be more than something immune to rust monster blood.  It must be an heirloom, a cause, an enemy, an ally, a calling card, and beautiful memory.



Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Happy New Year!

Heya, Hope this new year is joyous and productive for all of you! Peace, Troy