October 2008


"Hey, Riff... Have you ever noticed that strange and random stuff seems to happen to us on a daily-- VIKINGS!" - Torg, Sluggy Freelance
October 1st, 2008


Here are the tent-pole Evocation [light] spells from the core rulebooks:

light - Brd 0, Clr 0, Drd 0, Sor/Wiz 0
darkness - Brd 2, Clr 2, Sor/Wiz 2
daylight - Brd 3, Clr 3, Drd 3, Pal 3, Sor/Wiz 3
deeper darkness - Clr 3

I feel as if one might go mad trying to understand this progression of spells. The druid's affinity for light spells makes perfect sense, and even the fact that the paladin has access to daylight and not the lesser light spell has some logic to it (since daylight has some martial application).

But what doesn't make much sense to me is that the arcanists get access to the more powerful daylight, but not the more powerful deeper darkness.

The other odd thing is that the 3.5 darkness and deeper darkness spells actually creates illumination and can be used to light an unlit area: "This spell causes an object to radiate shadowy illumination out to a 20-foot radius." This is weird enough in its own right, but it gets even weirder when deeper darkness and daylight interact with each other and cancel each other out.

In other words, if you're in a cave and you cast deeper darkness, you can see. If you're in a cave and you cast daylight, you can see. But if you cast both deeper darkness and daylight, you can't see.

These oddities were the result of attempting to re-balance the darkness spells. In all previous editions of the game, darkness had actually created an area of impenetrable darkness (as the name might suggest). But this was considerd too powerful for a 2nd-level spell, and so the "shadowy illumination" formulation was applied as a patch of sorts.

While I tend to agree that darkness was very powerful, the loss of any way to create true magical darkness was an unfortunate loss. Apparently, someone at WotC felt the same way. But their solution was somewhat perverse: In the Spell Compendium there is a spell named blacklight, which creates a true magical darkness which the caster can see through.

Oddly, however, this is a 3rd-level spell which is, in virtually every way, superior to deeper darkness. It can also be cast by arcanists.

I'm not sure what the best solution for the darkness/light spells would be. But I would certainly look at normalizing the level progressions, add more powerful versions of the darkness spells (with matching light spells to provide the natural antithesis of the two sub-types), and smooth out some of the discrepancies in how the various spells interact with each other. I'd probably also look at creating a more powerful version of the light spell to add back in the combat utiltiy of the spell that was stripped out in 3rd Edition.

October 2nd, 2008


There are six ability scores in D&D. And there are six spells for buffing those ability scores:

bear's endurance - Clr 2, Drd 2, Rgr 2, Sor/Wiz 2
bull's strength - Clr 2, Drd 2, Pal 2, Sor/Wiz 2
cat's grace - Brd 2, Drd 2, Rgr 2, Sor/Wiz 2
eagle's splendor - Brd 2, Clr 2, Pal 2, Sor/Wiz 2
fox's cunning - Brd 2, Sor/Wiz 2
owl's wisdom - Clr 2, Drd 2, Pal 2, Rgr 2, Sor/Wiz 2

Okay, I can kinda see the archetypal reasons for the bard, druid, paladin, and ranger getting access to different subsets of these spells.

But given the fact that the cleric's key role in the party is healer and buffer, why are they missing cat's grace and fox's cunning

It just doesn't make any sense to me. Never has. In my house rules, the cleric gets access to all six buffs, just like the arcanists do.

Random thought: Given the predilection for PCs to get pumped up on stat boosters, is anyone else struck by the similarity to performance enhancement drugs? This doesn't have much (if anything) to do with game mechanics, but it can be an interesting insight into the relationship between wandering heroes and the world around them. I think the idea that PCs are, in some sense, doped up further alienates them from the common society. Not only do they wield amazing powers, but their very bodies and minds are being constantly hyped up on mystical enhancements.

One of the things I talked about in D&D: Calibrating Your Expectations is the fact that the game covers a range from sub-normal to super-human powers. I think there's something particularly interesting about a world where the guy sitting next to you may be able to unleash incredible destructive forces with the flick of a thought. What does it really mean for a common man to live in that kind of world? Even if there's only one such person in a hundred thousand?

October 3rd, 2008


So we've slapped an ill-conceived and pork-laden bailout bandage onto the current economic crisis.

But that's all it is: A bandage. This bailout bandage contains no solutions for the fundamental problems that led to the current crisis. It's the functional equivalent of pulling over a drunk driver, taking away the bottle of rum he's clutching in his right hand, and then giving him back the car keys.

So the next step must be to address the fundamental failures that led to this crisis. It's the only way to prevent another.

(1) The lack of regulation that allowed unfettered greed to flourish on Wall Street must be addressed. This means re-instituting the regulations that have been obliterated by the last thirty years of bankrupt Republican strategy -- a strategy based entirely upon the facilitation of greed.

(2) The bad mortgages lying at the heart of the current crisis must be alleviated. Main Street has been guilty of making some bad decisions in its own right, but the middle class has also been victimized by predatory lending practices. 

This means that bad mortgages held by homeowners (not speculators) need to be re-structured to ensure reasonable and consistent monthly payments. Barack Obama has proposed giving bankruptcy judges the power to restructure these bad mortages, but in my opinion that's not good enough: If we see these people hurtling towards the cliff of financial ruination, we shouldn't wait for them to go over it before trying to pull them back up.

And this also can't be an effort limited to just bailing out those currently in trouble. It also means regulating the mortgage industry so that these types of bad mortgages can no longer be created. For example, adjustable rate mortgages were legalized in the same legislation that led to the Savings & Loan crisis.

(3) We can no longer slave our economy to the fate of a small handful of companies. Senator Bernie Sanders says that "if they're too big to fail, then they're too big to exist". 

Unfortunately, in the wake of the current crisis, we have actually exacerbated this problem instead of alleviating it. Mergers of the largest banks have resulted in even larger banks. This solves a short-term problem, but we've simply replaced it with a bigger problem down the road. 

The current crisis clearly demonstrates the truism that, the larger they are, the harder they fall. These large institutions, on which our economy is apparently completely dependent, must be broken up into smaller entities. We shouldn't be keeping all of our eggs in one basket.

(4) A happy balance must be found in regards to mark-to-market accounting rules. These rules (requiring that the value of assets be set to their current market value) were put in place as a direct result of Enron's abuse and downfall. The problem is that they tend to exacerbate downward spirals, particularly when applied to long-term assets, by creating and then reinforcing destructive pricing volatility.

The SEC has now been given the power to suspend the mark-to-market accounting rules. But if they exercise that power to simply remove yet another layer of protective regulation from the system, we're simply switching one form of economic catastrophe for another.

Newt Gingrich has proposed what appears to be a logical compromise between these two extremes: "Perhaps a three year rolling average to determine mark-to-market prices would be a workable permanent system."

And now I'll say something I rarely expect to say: I think Newt Gingrich is right. A three year rolling average for long-term assets evens short-term volatility in the pricing of those assets, without completely disconnecting corporate accounting from any kind of objective reality. (The rest of his proposals, on the other hand, are just the standard Republican refrain of "cut taxes and deregulate"... which shows a rather stubborn inability to learn from past mistakes.)

Now What?

That's the real question. I'll admit that I'm not an economic specialist. I don't know the best way to accomplish these things. (Although you probably couldn't go too far wrong if you started by rolling back most or all of the Garn-St. Germain Depository Institutions Act and the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act.) But it's clear that these are things that must be done. 

Because simply slapping a bandage on an infected wound won't solve the problem. 

And, really, this is just the beginning -- a first step. Because the current and most immediate crisis we're facing is merely the tip of the iceberg. Years of mismanagement under Republican economic theories have left our economy fundamentally dysfunctional. We've got a lot of work ahead of us. But I think this is a decent outline for the first step in the right direction. 

October 5th, 2008


These have been around for awhile, so it's likely that some of you have already seen them. But Monty Oum is made of awesome, and therefore I must share him with all those who have not seen his work.

Each video is just a no-punches-pulled, wall-to-wall blitzkrieg showcasing of awesome fighting. It reminds me of XKCD's lament of yet another summer passing without a tmindless big-budget action movie. In Random DM Tips: Running Combat, I talked about taking a really great fight film and narrating the action on screen as an exercise for developing a larger descriptive repertoire at the game table. If you're looking for some truly epic gaming, Monty Oum's stuff is a great place to start.

Since I'm a compulsive quibbler, I will point that:

(1) If you're going to use the Burly Brawl music from The Matrix Reloaded (in Haloid), I probably would've steered clear of actually reusing some of the fight choreography from the same movie.

(2) The fights can get a little repetitive in places. The result can feel a little bloated, with bodies just flying around without much purpose or result. But this more than made up for in the major set-pieces, some of which are incredibly clever and very well done.

(3) In the Dead Fantasy videos, some of the choreography ends up feeling like screen-caps from a fighter game -- repetitive combo moves and the likes. Obviously Dead or Alive is a fighter game, but it's not like the Final Fantasy characters are lining up for turn-based combat.

October 6th, 2008


RPGNow - Lulu PDF - Lulu Print
20 pages


Spells of Light and Dark: The Art of the Flame and Void contains 50+ spells themed around magical light and darkness. While many may merely dabble with the unrefracted glory of magical light and the stygian forces of magical darkness, there are great wonders and terrible powers to be harnessed by those willing to master their might...

Animate Shadow
Blinding Burst
Blinding Light
Blindsight Cocoon
Control Shadows
Dark Shroud
Endless Daylight
Endless Night
Endless Twilight
Hidden Shadow
Incandescent Burst
Midnight Shroud
Obfuscate the Hidden Eye
Orb of Darkness
Orb of Light
Radiant Infusion
Shadow Chains
Shadow Spy
Shroud of Brilliance
Touch of Shadow
True Darkness
Unholy Darkness
Unholy Gloom
Utterdark Shroud
Wall of Brilliance
Wall of Shadows

... and many more!

A couple days ago, I talked about some of the oddities surrounding the ligth and darkness spells in the core rulebooks. The genesis of that post was a collection of light-and-darkness themed spells I was creating for an adventure. (I really like the idea of using rare knowledge -- particularly spellbooks filled with non-core spells -- as a type of treasure.)

As I tend to do, once I started exploring the concept of light and darkness spells I got a little carried away. When I stepped back and discovered that I had cranked out 20 pages worth of spells, I realized that what I really had on my hands here was a true mini-supplement.

So I spent a few more days laying out the book, developing artwork, creating the cover, and going through my proofreading cycles. The result is, as you can see, Spells of Light and Darkness: The Art of the Flame and the Void.


October 7th, 2008


A quick primer for some of the newer readers here at the Alexandrian: When 4th Edition was announced in 2007, Dream Machine Productions went on hiatus. We were waiting to see what would happen with 4th Edition and what direction the market was headed in.

Now that those questions have been answered, DMP is slowly revving itself back up into production mode. Spells of Light and Dark: The Art of the Flame and Void proved to be the unanticipated revival product, but we've got several more in the pipeline.

But if you like what you read here on the site, I think there's a pretty good chance that you'll enjoy what DMP has to offer. This is what has come before:

Dweredell     Aerie     Mounted Combat

Complex of Zombies     Black Mist

Call of Cthulhu

The covers above link to the RPGNow purchase pages, but the books are also available from Paizo and Lulu

Legends & Labyrinths

And now for the question some of you may be askng: What's happening with Legends & Labyrinths?

It's coming. Following the problems I had during the development phase of the project, I came back to it with fresh eyes and realized there were some fairly fundamental problems with the approach I was taking to the product. This isn't primarily a content issue -- it's a structural one. I feel very strongly that the organization of an RPG manual has a lot to do with the utility of that manual. Because of the Sidebar Reference System, reorganizing the book has meant revising a lot of content of the SRS content.

So, as I've said before, Legends & Labyrinths will be released when it's ready. Which will hopefully be sooner rather than later.

October 8th, 2008



Character Background: Elestra

I have previously mentioned that the events in the campaign journal are an accurate recounting of what happened at the gaming table. There is, however, one exception to this: The character of Elestra.

In the Shadow of the Spire originally started as an online game run through ScreenMonkey and Skype. After several sessions, however, a couple of the long-distance players ended up dropping out of the game and the third long-distance player ended up being local instead. After a lengthy hiatus, we added a new player and jump-started the campaign back to life as a face-to-face game.

This left us with two orphaned characters: Agnarr and Alysta.

One of the other players ended up taking Agnarr on as a second character. And then I offered the new player the choice of either taking over the role of Alysta or creating a new character.

She decided to create a new character (which turned out to be Elestra). At this point I had two options: I could choose to simply kill off Alysta and then figure out a way to get Elestra involved with the group. Or I could retcon the campaign journal, replacing the character of Alysta with the character of Elestra.

Normally it would be a no-brainer to go with Option #1. But I had a few reasons for going with Option #2:

First, the hiatus in the campaign had already created a natural break in continuity. Part of the process in gearing back up from that hiatus was going to be reviewing the campaign journal and getting back into the flow of things. In some ways, it was an ideal time to perform a retcon.

Second, although it would have actually been quite trivial to kill off Alysta, the campaign was structured around this specific group of people waking up to find themselves locked in a common cause. I didn't want to risk losing or watering down that essential core of the campaign.

Third, retconning would be relatively easy because Alysta had ended up being something of a cipher. Almost as soon as the campaign had started, the work schedule for Alysta's player unexpectedly shifted and she ended up missing large chunks of the game. Playing the character during these abseences had fallen to me.

Now, on the one hand, I'm not very good as a GM when it comes to playing allies of the PCs. I usually have lots of balls in the air anyway, and I tend to just forget about the extra character who has no physical presence at the game table. In the case of Alysta this particular shortcoming was aggravated because Alysta's player -- as a result of her absences -- never really defined who the character was or what her perosnality was like. Since I felt it was important for the player to be the one to define who the character was, I refrained from making any strong choices.

In practice this meant that Alysta would frequently go off and "do her own thing" whenever the opportunity arose. The result was something of a tabula rasa -- one which easily suited itself to having the label that read "Alysta of the Order of the Holy Sword" scraped off and replaced with "Elestra of Seyrun".

For those who might be curious, here's the original write-up for Alysta:

Character Background: Alysta

October 9th, 2008


I'll be appearing as "Sam" in Ronin Theater's production of David Mamet's All Men Are Whores.

Cafe Oliver, Minneapolis
1931 Nicollet Ave.
October 10th, 11th, and 13th - 8 pm

Lowry Lab Theater, St. Paul
Lowry Building - 350 St. Peter Street
October 24th - 8 pm
October 25th - 7pm and 9 pm

$12 at the door
$10 with reservation/Fringe button/student ID
Reservation by E-Mail: ronintheater@gmail.com
Reservations by Phone: 612-870-2995 x22

If you come, feel free to stick around and say "Hi" after the show!

October 10th, 2008


Your honor, I think you will find -- if you just peruse this report -- that I was not speeding when the state trooper pulled me over.

Hmm... Who prepared this report? Well, I did of course.

Now, if you'll just turn to page 2 you'll find the general conclusion of the report: I am not guilty of speeding. On page 4 you'll find the detailed diagrams demonstrating that if I was driving no more than 30 mph, I could not have been driving 40 mph when the officer pulled me over. And if you flip to page 7--

What's that? My protestations of innocence don't automatically me innocent?

I don't understand.

It worked for Sarah Palin.

October 15th, 2008



Character Background: Ranthir

Many of you are reading this website because of "D&D: Calibrating Your Expectations", the essay I wrote in March of last year. One of the points I made in that essay is that low level characters are actually more than capable of being experienced experts in their fields. Even at 1st-level, while they don't have to be, they certainly can be.

Which brings us to the character of Ranthir, the last of our main characters: This guy isn't your typical 1st-level apprentice. Instead, he's an accomplished Acolyte of the legendary Academy in Isiltur, the Spired City. Although his esoteric theories are not fashionable or popular, he is nevertheless an accomplished scholar.

In our world he would be a gifted graduate student. In the world of D&D, there is a much higher ladder for him yet to climb. But I think it's important not to denigrate the accomplishments of those who would be considered gifted and extraordinary in our world merely because they happen to live in a world where the superhuman is possible.

Which is not to say I don't like my share of neophyte characters, too. Take a peek at Tee and Elestra, for example.

All I'm saying is that it can also be fun to shake things up a bit and roll up a starting character who hasn't just fallen off the turnip truck: The guy who was already honored among his tribesmen, served a long and glorious tour of duty in the military, or distinguished himself in a scholastic career.

And I'm pointing out that you don't need to start the character any higher than 1st-level to make that happen.

October 16th, 2008


Spells of Light and Darkness: The Art of the Flame and Void was released last week. If you've been thinking to yourself, "Light and darkness spells? Sounds pretty lame." here are two spells of darkness that might change your mind:

Evocation [Darkness]
Level: Cleric 7, Sorcerer/Wizard 7
Components: V, S, M/DF
Casting Time: 10 minutes
Range: 2 miles
Area: 2-mile-radius sphere
Duration: 4d12 hours
Saving Throw: None
Spell Resistance: No
This spell creates an area of magical darkness in a 2-mile radius centered on a point chosen by the caster. Within the area of the spell the sun is blotted out, creating an area of magical darkness that suppresses natural light sources, resulting in an area of shadowy illumination. Creatures within an area of shadowy illumination gain concealment (20% miss chance). Even creatures that can normally see in such conditions (such as with darkvision or low-light vision) have the miss chance in an area shrouded in magical darkness.
        A darkness spell (one with the darkness descriptor) counters and dispels a light spell (one with the light descriptor) of an equal or lower level. A darkness spell brought into the area of a light spell of equal or higher level is temporarily negated (and vice versa). If both the darkness and light spells are simultaneously negated, the otherwise prevailing light conditions exist in the overlapping areas of effect.
        Arcane Material Component: A small diamond dipped in black oil.
Shadow Spy
Divination [Darkness, Scrying]
Level: Assassin 3, Cleric 4, Sorcerer/Wizard 3
Components: V, S, M/DF
Casting Time: 1 minute
Range: Personal
Target: Your shadow
Duration: 1 min./level
Saving Throw: None
Spell Resistance: No
This spell animates your shadow, allowing you to independently move it up to your speed as a move action. In addition, the shadow spy acts as a scrying sensor, allowing you to see (but not hear) the immediate surroundings of your shadow as per a scrying spell.
        A shadow spy can be difficult detect, making Hide checks using your skill modifier with a +10 circumstance bonus. In areas of dim light or shadowy illumination, this circumstance bonus doubles to +20. The shadow spy cannot be physically harmed.
        While the spell remains in effect, you possess no natural shadow.
        A darkness spell (one with the darkness descriptor) counters and dispels a light spell (one with the light descriptor) of an equal or lower level. A darkness spell brought into the area of a light spell of equal or higher level is temporarily negated (and vice versa). If both the darkness and light spells are simultaneously negated, the otherwise prevailing light conditions exist in the overlapping areas of effect.
        Arcane Material Component: A shard of obsidian.

The eclipse spell is the type of thing that high-level necromancers use to keep their undead happy and Dark Lords crafts into sunslayer spheres to keep the yokels properly cowed with fear. 

But shadow spy is the type of all-purpose utility spell that just about any self-respecting spellcaster will find useful. It's less powerful than scrying, but also a slightly lower level and very flavorful.

OCTOBER 2008: