Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Monday, April 25, 2016

Some Problems with 5e Dungeons and Dragons

"Natural Language"

So, your fist isn't a weapon but when you attack with your fist it is a weapon attack. 

You can make a weapon attack with something that isn't a weapon. 


* * *


Inspiration is a really interesting addition to Dungeons & Dragons. Finally, the world's premier roleplaying game has actual rules and mechanisms for roleplay!

Except there are some problems in execution here:

  • There aren't a lot of guidelines about when the DM is supposed to award Inspiration to the players, but what is there on paper states that you should award Inspiration when a player roleplays in a way that is connected to their character's personality, ideals, bonds, and flaws. Which sounds good, but in practice this means that the DM will need to keep track of five traits per character and be on the lookout for them in play. The DM already has enough stuff to keep track of.
  • Spending Inspiration give you advantage on a roll, but it's a bit hamstrung by the fact that it has to be spent prior to making a roll. Both dice might show successful results, which seems like a waste of a precious commodity. (You can only have one "point" of Inspiration at a time.) In this case, it would make more sense if spending Inspiration got you a re-roll or advantage on a roll.
* * *

Foe Slayer

Take a look at the ranger's capstone 20th level special ability, then compare it against any other late-level ability from the other classes. Foe Slayer is so bad that you can roll it into the ranger's 1st level Favored Enemy ability and it in no way unbalances the game. If a ranger in any of my games made it to 20th level, we'd definitely be coming up with a replacement ability.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Season of Mists (part 2)

Now that he possesses the key to Hell, Morpheus finds his dream kingdom visited by gods, angels, faerie, demons, and abstract concepts who wish to possess Lucifer's recently-abandoned domain. (Thor and Loki come calling and there isn't a damned thing Marvel can do about it! Thor is especially played for laughs as a drunken lout.) Of course, this cohort of spiritual powers is itself a kind of Hell, especially for the archly isolated Morpheus. Making matters worse is the fact that accepting the bribe or acquiescing to the threats of one party interested in taking over Hell means alienating and angering the others--therein lies Lucifer's trap.

Everyone has something to offer Dream in return for the key to Hell, but the demons bring the most leverage: they would trade Choronzon (a demon Morpheus once had to duel) to torture as he sees fit, and more importantly they offer him Nada (and threaten to devour her soul if their bargain is refused). Ultimately, though, Dream grants the key to the angels, who expressly do not want it but have been commanded by their Creator to oversee Hell in Lucifer's absence. It makes sense: no one who wants Hell for themselves is fit to tend it. 

This also discloses some very interesting truths about the duality of existence in Gaiman's fiction: for Heaven (err, "The Silver City") to exist, its antithesis must also exist. Since Heaven and Hell are reflections of each other, both are needed and thus Hell must be opened for business once more. Ponder the fate of the angels assigned to Hell's governance; it's fascinating that Heaven must manufacture its own rebels, embittered by the task given them, for its own maintenance. 

Of course, Morpheus eventually does battle Azazel for Nada's return--and win. His reunion with Nada--after what has to be the world's weakest apology for condemning her to ten-thousand years of Hell--is brief and bittersweet: he rejects her offer of becoming mortal to be with her, she rejects his offer to make her a goddess, and she decides upon being reborn as an infant in Hong Kong. Loki manages to trickster his way out of returning to his Asgardian punishment, and Lucifer learns to love life on the beach. Oh, and along the way Gaiman drops a piece of canonical lore that will become the fulcrum of the saga: the current Endless are but aspects of what they represent. They can die, and can abdicate responsibility for their realms as Lucifer did, but there will always be another aspect to replace them. The choices made on the path of destiny have consequences, even for the Endless.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Candlemen and Jay Lake

The candlemen are the degenerate descendants of engineers who were imprisoned deep below the earth in disused train tunnels. They are supplied food and candles from a mysterious benefactor (or jailer?) above. The candlemen keep thousands of candles burning at all times within their lair; indeed, the lair itself is coated with lairs of cooled, lumpen wax. The constant exposure to intense candlelight has rendered the candlemen blind, and the light within their lairs makes it difficult for non-candlemen to see as well. While their blindness renders them relatively harmless on an individual level, they tend to att‚ack in great swarms of broken-bodied madness.

* * *

I posted the above on this blog about two years ago. The "candlemen" were inspired by a particularly vivid chapter of Jay Lake's novel Mainspring. Somehow, Lake found the post and linked to it on his blog; he really seemed to get a kick out of how I adapted his idea for a game. I definitely got a kick out of him enjoying my post.

Jay Lake died later in 2014. I didn't know him, never met him, but it still felt like a loss. Of course, the best way to celebrate the life of an author is to read their works, so I'm making a point of delving into Green and Trial of Flowers this year, at the very least. 

Friday, April 15, 2016

Blue Flower Psyche Deathspiral, The Extinguished Midwinter Fire, Etched Upon the Wrist

Tracklist: Sabbath Assembly - The Burning Cross of Christ † Hexvessel - Teeth of the Mountain † Jex Thoth - Ehja † Jess and the Ancient Ones - The Equinox Death Trip † Luciferian Light Orchestra - A Black Mass in Paris † Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats - The Night Creeper † The Devil’s Blood - House of 10,000 Voices † Purson - Sapphire Ward

Tracklist: Porta Nigra - Die Mensur † Peccatum - The Change † Ancient - Cosmic Exile † Paradise Lost - Dead Emotion † Wolvserpent - In Mirrors of Water † Die Weg Einer Freiheit - Letzte Sonne † Batushka - Lekteniya 5
† Blut Aus Nord - Epitome 04

Tracklist: Raison d'etre - The Awakening † Blood of the Black Owl - Two Ravens at the Tree Line † Dead Can Dance - Towards the Within † Arcana - Winds of the Lost Soul † Elend - A Staggering Moon † Aghast - Sacrifice † Earth - Tethered to the Polestar
 † Hexvessel - Woods to Conjure

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Season of Mists (part 1)

Season of Mists opens with Destiny, one of the Endless and brother of Dream, musing about his eternal purview. A destiny is not a straight line; rather it is a series of choices that create the contours of a path. As such, moving forward means bearing the weight of past choices. And so, because fate demands it, Destiny calls a family meeting of the Endless--a meeting in which Desire makes some cutting remarks about Dream's relationship with Nada, a human woman whom he loved but would ultimately reject him and be sentenced to Hell. (Remember when I said that the events of "Tales in the Sand" would factor into the future of the series?) Desire's blatant attempt to get under Dream's skin works effortlessly; he confers with Death, who confirms that what he did to Nada was unjust, and finds himself moved to enter Hell to free her. Of course, this figures to be easier said than done, as Dream's last visit to Hell to retrieve his helmet left Lucifer nursing a grudge against him.

And so Morpheus descends to Hell, expecting a fight. What he finds is far more treacherous: Lucifer has expelled demons and damned alike and is abdicating his lordship over Hell. As a parting "gift," Lucifer gives Dream the key to Hell, making its stewardship his problem.

The expulsion of the damned from Hell leaves Death with a problem: souls she had previously separated from their earthly lives are now free to go back to their old haunts, as dramatized in the digressive story "In Which the Dead Return; and Charles Rowland Concludes His Education," a Gothic-satirical take on the turn-of-the-century boarding-school genre. Amid the horrific and comedic antics of ghostly bullies, headmasters, and the like, the unlikely duo of a newly-dead schoolboy and his long-deceased chum muse on the nature of Hell. Perhaps it isn't a metaphysical place of punishment, maybe it is a metaphysical state we inflict upon ourselves. 

This idea is evident in the actions of the ghosts at the boarding school--they repeat their past crimes and punishments seemingly without considering any other options granted by their new-found freedom--and also rings true in Lucifer's account of the damned; according to Lucifer, the dead were under no compulsion to go to Hell upon death, and the form of their individual punishments are manifestations of what they feel they deserve.

But if Hell is a state of being, what of Heaven? Curiously, the "Silver City" doesn't seem to possess that nuance--which becomes a point of contention when angels are sent to vie for the key to Hell.

(I've made the executive decision to start breaking these posts about the Sandman collections up into multiple parts, as they were getting a bit unwieldy and long.)

Friday, April 8, 2016

King Diamond's Curse of Strahd

A Thing I Want to Exist: A Curse of Strahd-themed album by King Diamond. 

Think about it.

Anyway, both Trey Causey and Jez Gordon pointed me in the direction of this cool Unearthed Arcana article about Gothic Heroes in 5e.

Here's an interesting post about turning Curse of Strahd into a one-shot adventure.

Kreg Mosier has a pretty great idea/madness-dream about Ravenloft-as-Southern Gothic:

1) Col. Strahd and his genteel mansion Raven's Loft.
2) An obviously vampiric Clark Gable-ish looking guy wearing an old Confederate uniform, brooding like a m.f.
3) "The War" was over, but "the light never came back", as some old Hoodoo priestess woman said, which were the only spoken words in the dream.
4) Barovia, Georgia basically...

Battlefield fog hung everywhere, and surrounding the estate outside was a forest that looked like something from prehistory...

Somebody run that.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Dragonborn: Sin and Becoming

The dragonborn are not a race or a species; no one is "born" a dragonborn. Rather, being dragonborn is a condition, something akin to a disease--albeit a malady of a spiritual nature.

Dragons are manifestations of human sin. Acute greed, the kind that arises out of a gold rush in a mining community, for example, might coalesce into a dragon who cares only for hoarding gold and gems. Monstrous lusts can bring into being a serpent with an insatiable desire to spawn abominations.

Sin shows itself on the face. A marred countenance bespeaks horrid deeds and thoughts, The exterior betrays the interior. Some sinners are so consumed by their misdeeds that their bodies begin to evidence the foulness of their souls. These people become reptilian, squamous, draconic; their bodies begin to grow scales; their teeth elongate into fangs and their fingers curl into claws; some sprout tails or horns. These are the dragonborn.

Here are two notable dragonborn:

Sir Edward Thorpwaite is a minor noble. As a man of means, any of the world's pleasures could be his for the taking but he eschews them all save one: he dines prodigiously and extravagantly. His obsession with consuming rare and costly delicacies has led him to cheat others, betray friends, and steal from those who manage to acquire precious victuals that he has yet to taste. Some say he has even tasted of the flesh of his fellow man. Over the years his sins have resulted in a body that has become a bloated approximation of dragon and man; while fearsome, his razor-sharp teeth seem perfectly formed for sheering through exquisite beefsteaks or munching on petite bon-bons alike. His gut, a scaled sack of flesh that hangs from his torso, always rumbles with the thunder of an approaching storm.

Born to a gravedigger and a washer-woman in some low slum, Karlin Stroud always envied the rich toffs he saw strolling about pursuing the sporting life. Though he was not born to wealth or privilege, he wanted to live as they lived: he wanted a perfumed life of status, leisure, and finery. Adverse to honest labor, Stroud became a sneak-thief and second-story man. His agility and keen eyes allowed him a measure of success; he put his ill-found loot to work by purchasing fripperies and renting a home in a fashionable district. He became a dandy, but dandyisme requires money, and so Stroud continues to operate as a burglar and pick-pocket when not performing as a peacock for the public eye. Unfortunately, it is never enough; he wants more status, more jewels and brocade, and still burns with jealousy when he sees a gentlemen flashier than he is. As a result of this profound envy, Stroud's skin has changed color and he is beginning to take on the scaled appearance that is the tell-tale sign of becoming dragonborn.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Howls of the Damned: Amber Asylum, Batushka, Wolvserpent, Raison d'etre

What I've been listening to lately.

Amber Asylum, Sin Eater
For 20 years now, the quartet from San Francisco has been known for an introspective, abysmal mixture of neo-classical music, Dark Ambient and Doom spanning all genres.

Batushka, Litourgiya
An intriguing project that combines elements of black metal, doom, and Orthodox chant.

Wolvserpent, Aporia​:​Kāla​:​Ananta
Blending the poignancy and atmosphere of classical music, folk and drone with the drive and aggression of doom, black, and death metal, Wolvserpent achieves levels of dynamic contour, innovation, and progression over the course of this single continuous song that are rarely found in any genre.

Raison d'etre, The Empty Hollow Unfolds
The darkened shadows cast on 'The Empty Hollow Unfolds' are of an eerie, almost sinister allegiance, as if the maw at the center of infinity is yawning wide and the haled breath freezes souls; brittle souls that shatter before the immense veracity of such imposing internal devastation. Bones clang over chain-link fences. Metal creaks unsteadily. Bleak is an understatement.