Wednesday, February 26, 2014

New Comics Wednesday: Rat Queens (Image)

A Medieval wall-surrounded city with a tavern populated by humans, elves, dwarves, ogres, and "smidgens." Groups of adventurers that compete against each other for prestige and gold while they protect the town from goblins, the restless dead, and other nasties. Fighters. Clerics. Magic-Users. Thieves. Armies of trolls and secret darkly-clad assassins and magic and female dwarves with beards.

Hopefully even if you don't read comics, you at least saw that little list above and it's piqued your interest. This is, by far, the best "D&D" comic I've ever read (but of course it's not a licensed comic).

Read below for more.

Obligatory Preface
Today is Wednesday, and that means it's New Comic Book Day - the day all of this week's comics hit the store shelves (both physically and digitally). Every comic I feature here on Daddy Rolled a 1 is one that I'll personally be picking up later this evening when I go to my local shop with my daughter after I pick her up from pre-school.

Please note also that every Wednesday, I tweet out which issues I picked up that week, and then over the course of the week I send out individual tweets with 140-character reviews of each issue. You can follow me on Twitter here.

Lastly, if you're really interested in more comic reviews, I do "professional" reviews for the comic book site, ComicAttack where I post my reviews under the name "Martin." You can search my tag to see what I've reviewed lately.

As with all of my comic book overviews, I will attempt to explain what makes this comic interesting without giving away any spoilers.

Today's comic is Rat Queens, a relatively new book (issue #5 comes out today).

What's It About?
This is a fantasy adventure comedy about the Rat Queens, an all-female group of adventurers in the fantasy city of Palisades. The group consists of four characters: Betty, the "smidgen" (halfling) thief, Hannah the elf magic-user, Dee the human cleric, and Violet the dwarf fighter. The Rat Queens are known for getting into fights, carousing, and in general causing a lot of trouble in Palisades while they compete with fellow adventuring groups (each of which has exactly four members) such as the Four Daves, Brother Ponies (all of whom have pony-tails, naturally), Peaches, and the Obsidian Darkness (four pasty-white dark elves). And to be clear, the Rat Queens generally come out on top when it comes to drinking, brawling, and general hell-raising.

The creators really know their stuff and clearly at least one if not both of them are current or past gamers. They really draw on some deep fantasy gaming references, including the aforementioned "do female dwarves have beards," which if you're a relatively new gamer you might not know about. But, trust me, “Back in the Day”™ that was a "thing." There were entire articles written about it in The Dragon magazine. 

Who's on the Creative Team?
Kurtis J. Wiebe is the writer. He's relatively new - the earliest title I can see written by him dates back to 2009. He's written some critically acclaimed comics such as Green Wake and the Intrepids. Currently in addition to Rat Queens, he's also writing Peter Panzerfaust, which is described as "Red Dawn meets Peter Pan." It's the story of a "plucky" American boy, Peter, who rallies a bunch of French orphans to survive in Nazi-occupied France. It's good enough that it's recently been turned into a TV show by the BBC. 

Wiebe's command of dialogue is part of what makes this series so much fun. It's not "correct" in terms of the period that it's trying to portray, but I never let that bother me. This is fantasy, and it's a comic, and it's meant to be a fun, goofy comedy. This isn't Song of Ice and Fire. It's more like National Lampoon's Black Company by Glen Cook. There's violence, swearing, drinking, drug-use, and sex, but also some of the funniest scenes I've ever seen, in any medium. It's a perfect combination of gamer knowledge about things that never make sense (especially in some old-school adventures) and off-color humor that may sound juvenile at first glance but is actually deftly used for world-building purposes. 

Dee: "How is it that Hindman cave is already infested by goblins again? We just cleaned that place out last month."

Hannah: "Guess we didn't get 'em all. You know goblins. They breed like smidgens. No offense, Betty."

Betty: "So true. We like pushing things out of our bodies as much as we like putting things in 'em!"

Another scene involves Hannah the elf magic-user, who ends up having to talk to her mother via a magic relic that acts as a cell-phone. Hannah clearly doesn't have a great relationship with her parents. "Tell Father I'm in a serious relationship with a half-orc and we're ring shopping." After the magic ends, she quips to her fellow adventurers, "That'll make him **** his pantaloons." (The comic doesn't block out the swear words, but I'm trying to keep a somewhat family-friendly site here. And yes I know there was a crude joke up above but it didn't involve swearing).

John "Roc" Upchurch provides all of the art, coloring and inking his own pencil work. I'm not super familiar with his earlier work, but his work on Rat Queens is spectacular. Upchurch is required to create the look of all the different fantasy creatures in the series, and each of the four main characters belongs to a different species. That's a tall order, as he's required to make the features of Hannah the elf look different than just "a human with pointy ears." All his characters are distinctive and their personality shines through from their facial expressions and body language. His fight scenes are also excellently done - there's a sense of energy to the fights, and his layouts help us focus on just the important parts, even in massive battles involving dozens of characters, such as happened toward the end of issue #4.

It's clear that these two guys are having a blast putting this book out, and that's something I think has been missing in a lot of comics I've read over the past few years. Comics just got too "serious" and while I do think there's a place for serious stories in comics, I don't think they all have to be like that. Rat Queens is an excellent example of a well-crafted story that just happens to also be hilarious. 

Who Will Like It?
If you've either: Played D&D or another fantasy RPG, like comics, like fantasy fiction, like comedies, like my blog, or basically if you're just a cool person who like fun things, then you'll love this comic. Trust me. It's a bit under the radar right now since the creators aren't as well-known as some of the "big guns" now, but I see this as a turning point for them. It's got a really rabid fan-base already. 

Any Good Ideas for My Role-Playing Games?
Uh... hopefully I don't need to go too much into that after my explanations above. Yes, it's full of humor, historically inaccurate language (which, again, doesn't bother me since this isn't a history book), and such. But, at its core, it is a fantasy story about a group of adventurers. There's magic, mystery, monsters, and other "m" words. But really, there's a ton of stuff you can steal from this, like the governmental structure of the city of Palisades, to how the captain of the city guard assigns the various competing groups of adventurers to specific tasks ("clean out the goblin caves" or "deal with the restless dead at the cemetery" or even "clean the [outhouses]"), and more.

Is It Good for Kids?
As you can tell from above, most certainly not. It's not rated from what I can tell, but it's definitely for a more mature audience. What that means in respect to an age is more of a personal choice for you to decide for yourself once you read it.

  • Format: Monthly 28-page full-color series
  • Where To Buy: As always, try to buy it at your local comic shop. You can find one by visiting the Comic Shop Locator. If you don't have one, try a bookstore, or you can buy the digital version to read on your PC, tablet, or smartphone by going to Comixology. That link takes you to the Rat Queens page, where you can find links to buy all five issues that have come out so far. Issue #5 came out today.
  • Price: $3.50 per issue.
  • Rated: (Unrated)
  • More Information: The official Image Comics page for Rat Queens

Hanging: Home office (laptop)
Drinking: Tap water
Listening: "I Guess You're Right" by the Posies

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Daddy Was a Rolling Stone - Another Year's Rolled By

Once again, I've missed my blogging anniversary, which was a few week's ago on February 11th. Missing the actual date is nothing new. Sometimes I've forgotten it altogether.

But I thought I'd take a few moments to talk about why I'm continuing to blog, how the blog has changed since I've started, and say "thanks" to people who have been reading my little corner of the blogosphere here for the past three years (and 14 days).

When I began my blog on February 11th, 2011, I created it specifically as a table-top role-playing game blog, with the intent of  sharing my experiences with D&D and its ilk dating back to my first exposure to the game around 1982 or so. I wanted to illustrate that some of us "old-timers" who still actively participated in face-to-face campaigns (I'm currently involved in two main campaigns and about three other semi-sporadic ones) aren't all just grumpy old guys who complain that thieves suck and should never have been added to the game. Or that thieves are okay but their skills should be based on a D6 instead of D%. Or that thieves are okay but that doesn't mean that other people can't use their skills, too. Or that thieves are okay but they have some skills that only they can use and other characters can't. Or that thieves are okay but people have been misinterpreting what "hear noise" or "find traps" mean.

Seriously. Enough already.

What's Changed?
Over time here at Daddy Rolled a 1, things have changed. Mainly, I feel like I found my "voice." It took quite a while, but blogging more regularly the first year of the blog's existence helped. When I began, some of my words were a little too "gimmicky" and used all-to-common "blogger speak" which just isn't my style, and that's changed over time.

I also stopped trying to cover "interesting news." In my first year, I would often post multiple times a day with short posts about things like the Google Doodle for Wil Eisner or Middle Earth Built from Legos. I even got into memes for a while, such as the "Hot Elf Chick" one. But none of this really was "me." I realized that I should focus a bit more on writing stuff that I wanted to write and that had a bit more substance to it, rather than just redirecting people to another site just because I thought it was cool.

One of the main reasons I keep this blog is really to practice my writing. Some may argue that blogging is not writing, but I don't agree. I think carefully about the structure of my posts, the flow, and I do edit my posts for proper grammar and spelling. So, writing longer, more thought-provoking posts serves that goal much better than short news items with links.

Also, around the beginning of the year last year, I worked on developing a "theme" for each day. This arose from a long Word document I've kept even before I started to blog, that's a list of "blog topics." I began the list before I set up my blog so that I wouldn't run out of things to talk about. I'm not even a quarter of the way through it yet, but one thing I noticed was that my posts were relatively haphazard. Any time a reader visited here, they might see a recap from my latest game, a stream-of-consciousness post about what I did over the weekend, a movie review, or why I like the old Fleischer Studios Superman cartoons. This doesn't necessarily make for a great reader experience, so I borrowed a page from Trey Causey's blog and his "Warlord Wednesday" posts and decided to dedicate each day of the workweek to a specific topic. Mondays are typically reserved for discussing Pulp Noir influences; Tuesdays are Design Decisions, wherein I talk about certain choices I made for my ongoing World of Samoth tabletop role-playing campaign; Wednesdays are about reviewing New Comics (since they come out on Wednesdays); Thursdays are devoted to old 1980s genre TV shows; and Fridays are reviews of books, shows, or games that served as Inspirations for my current campaign.

Also during the past three years, my daughter has obviously gotten older and gained a better appreciation for things aside from Disney Princesses - namely, comics, The Hobbit, homemade geek projects, and Star Wars. That's another big reason I keep this blog - to document my roll as a "geek dad" in sharing the things I love with my daughter and seeing how she responds to them.

On the personal front during the past three years, here are a few things:

  • I lost the main client that I'd had that was the whole reason I'd set up my own agency, put in a ton of time and eventually built my business up to where it's bigger now by a factor of more than double what it was when I had that client
  • My daughter grew from barely being able to walk to almost being ready for Kindergarten
  • My wife lost two jobs but has now found a great new one (knock on wood)
  • I've added new players to my World of Samoth D&D/Pathfinder game, now coming up on its 13th year this May
  • I rediscovered "old-school" D&D and ran a group through S3: The Expedition to the Barrier Peaks (using OSRIC) and am currently running a group through S4: The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth (using Labyrinth Lord)
  • I got back into comics with the release of Before Watchmen and then began catching up on DC's New 52, after having taking a bit of a break in the early to mid 2000's
  • My rediscovery of comics also led to me reviewing comics "professionally" for the site
  • I played game systems that I'd never played before, including Savage Worlds and the original Twilight 2000
  • I was able to achieve a childhood dream of visiting the Compleat Strategist while on a business trip to New York
  • I lost my mom unexpectedly a year ago, and have been blogging a bit about her support of my non-traditional pass-times like role-playing games and comics

Interesting Posts from the Past
Over the past three years, I've covered a lot of things here at Daddy Rolled a 1. One of my first "series" of posts was a bunch of content for Gamma World / Mutant Future in the form of an Encounter List that I created to fill-in the missing pages of my Encounters pages from my old second-half 1st Edition Gamma World book. I had a lot of fun digging out my 25+ year-old notebooks and reading through those.

I've also been trying to document how, if you don't have a preconceived bias and don't get all up on your high horse, you can have fun playing any edition of D&D. So far, I've documented my games with 4th Edition, 3.5 Edition, 3rd Edition, and 2nd Edition. Next up, I'll be covering 1st Edition.

One of my current favorite things to write about are my "game shop memories" where I review game shops old and new that I've visited throughout the years of my tabletop gaming career. I guess in a way these are purely just nostalgic posts for a me and a lot of people would say they're pointless (they would prefer more stats on what kind of die a thief should use for his skill checks, or pontificate on how you're playing the game incorrectly). That's all fine and good - as I mentioned above, one of the reasons I blog is to practice my writing and writing about my memories of the game and why I play is a way of doing that. It also brings me to another reason I have this blog, which is to serve as a sort of "peak behind the curtain" into the type of person I am, so that one day my daughter might be able to understand why playing these games and reading this kind of material (fantasy and science-fiction, history, comics, etc.) is important to me, in case I never tell her directly.

Early on my blog's history, I also wrote a four-part series on my experiences working on the advertising for Wizards of the Coast, shortly after they acquired D&D from TSR. It's a really interesting (I hope) look into how corporations operate and make decisions (or actually, don't make decisions), all within the context of the world's most popular role-playing game (and also trading card games, etc.).

What's Not Changed
I started out above saying how my primary reason for starting the blog was as an exploration of my tabletop role-playing. While I have expanded a bit in terms of the things I blog about, astute readers will have noted that all of that "additional" stuff - the Pulp Noir posts, the comic book reviews, the 80's TV shows... all of those are written within the context of "is there anything here I can adapt for my games?" I think, as a whole, many tabletop role-players tend to just draw from the same well over and over for their games: Tolkien, Lovecraft, Conan... basically, the good old "Appendix N" from the 1st Edition Dungeon Master's Guide. And while those sources do have their merits, I personally enjoy trying to stretch myself and look for ways to incorporate things that might at first glance look like they have nothing to do with standard fantasy games. I also think it's just good for exercising the brain to read, watch, and listen to different things rather than just going back to what you're comfortable with.

So, I'd encourage you to take a chance and actually read some of those older posts. Maybe you don't like comics (or, more likely, you think you don't like comics) because you have a sense that they're all "men in capes." While I do read a lot of supers comics, they're really not just about that any more. I'll be writing a longer post on this topic in the future, but again, I'd just encourage you not to skip those posts just because "I don't like comics" or "I hated history class."

Some Stats
I haven't done this in a while, so here goes:

  • Top 5 Posts of All Time (based on Page Views)
    • Finally a New Post (Updated Currently Watching)
      • I have no idea why this one is the biggest but it's consistently been the top post pretty much since it came out. I suspect is has more to do with people searching for these particular movie and TV titles than the fact that it's an interesting post (because there's really not a lot of content there)
    • Really Cool Custom Action Figure Site
      • It makes a certain amount of since why this one is so popular - the visuals of the figures are stunning
    • 75th Anniversary of the Hobbit
      • This happens to be one of my favorite posts
    • Grognardia's Bookshelf Meme Thing
      • One of James' last posts before he quit Grognardia, and one of only two memes (at least, I think it's only two) that I've participated with here at Daddy Rolled a 1
    • Fun With Any Edition: AD&D 2nd Edition
      • This also wins the post for "most comments" with 16. I was shocked how many people still love talking about this version of the game, considering that it's one that tends to be forgotten - not all that different from 1st Edition, but worlds away from 3rd Edition (which gets vilified way too much)
  • Top 5 Referring Sites
    • Google: 9,413 pageviews
      • Sometime around mid-2012, Google took over as the top traffic source for the blog. Before that, it had always been fellow OSR bloggers.
    • 1,351 pageviews
    • 1,212 pageviews
    • Google UK: 721
    • Google CA: 692
  • Top 5 Search Keywords
    • the hobbit book
    • grognardia
    • the hobbit
    • daddy rolled a 1
  • Top 5 Pageviews by Country
    • United States: 53,948
    • Russia: 4,079
    • United Kingdom: 2,987
    • Ukraine: 2,966
    • Canada: 2,617

What's Coming Up and What Do You Want to See?
So, there's a look at the past three years of Daddy Rolled a 1. I still have plans to someday take my old draft copy of The Quintessential Expert for 3.5 Edition D&D and rework it (probably for Pathfinder) and publish it. I'm also working on a non-standard campaign setting that's maybe like 20% done at this point. I playtested some of the ideas with a group using Savage Worlds but it was written for an old-school RPG. It was cool to see that it could work with old and new game systems, however.

I've got more "Fun With Any Edition" posts planned, more game store memories, more inspirations and design decisions to chat about, and of course more comics to review. 

What I'd really like to know, though, is what you want to see? What content resonates with you the most?

Thanks for reading, and stay frosty.

Hanging: Home office (laptop)
Drinking: Mother Earth Brew Co. Sin Tax Imperial Stout
Listening: "Englishman in New York (The Ben Liebrand Mix)" by Sting

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

New Comics Wednesday: Kings Watch (Dynamite)

Quick Introduction: Flash Gordon. Mandrake the Magician. The Phantom. All working together in the same story...

Sound cool? Read on!

Today is Wednesday, and that means it's New Comic Book Day - the day all of this week's comics hit the store shelves (both physically and digitally). Every comic I feature here on Daddy Rolled a 1 is one that I'll personally be picking up later this evening when I go to my local shop with my daughter after I pick her up from pre-school.

Please note also that every Wednesday, I tweet out which issues I picked up that week, and then over the course of the week I send out individual tweets with 140-character reviews of each issue. You can follow me on Twitter here.

Lastly, if you're really interested in more comic reviews, I do "professional" reviews for the comic book site, ComicAttack where I post my reviews under the name "Martin." You can search my tag to see what I've reviewed lately.

As with all of my comic book overviews, I will attempt to explain what makes this comic interesting without giving away any spoilers.

Today's comic is from independent comics company, Dynamite, and is called Kings Watch. Dynamite has the licenses to a bunch of really cool pulp era characters. I wrote about one of their other comics a few months ago for one of my Pulp Noir Monday posts  - Masks, which features Green Hornet and Kato, The Spider, Miss Fury, the Shadow, Zorro, and more.

Issue #4 (of a five-issue limited series) came out today. 

What's It About?
See the "quick introduction" above. It's about three famous pulp-era heroes working together to stop a world-threatening crisis. It's a really interesting take in the development of Flash Gordon (who, of the three, is really the "main" character), and also in the setting, which is a somewhat vague modern setting. I was expecting to see a sort of 1930s era or perhaps an Atomic Age era, but instead we see these characters acting in a modern setting with modern computers and technology. However, the technology in this case doesn't "get in the way" or seem anachronistic with these characters at all. Flash Gordon is still the same old Flash - jumping into the fray with fists flying and flying cool aircraft and stuff.

Without giving away any spoilers, the story involves some strange seemingly supernatural phenomena in the skies, and people having nightmares of fantastic creatures, which turn out to be real. Like any good pulp story, there is a cult involved, and also fans of the three characters will of course get to see some very famous villains.

Who Is On the Creative Team?
Writer Jeff Parker scripts this title. Parker is probably best known for some of his previous work at Marvel, such as Hulk, Agents of Atlas, and Spider-Man: 1602. Parker's got a tough job here, by taking old pulp hero characters, none of whom have a history of working together or even similar methods, and throwing them into a modern setting where they could seem out-of-place or, at times, even a little silly. Add to that a scenario that has to be contrived to get these three working together, and you could end up with a bit of a mess on your hands.

Fortunately, Parker handles things very well. His characterizations of the three heroes are all really well-done. We get a sense right away of who these three guys are, what makes them tick, as well as how they are different, yet complementary. It's also fun to look at these characters and see a bit of the influence they had on later comics creations. This stands out the most with Mandrake as a source of inspiration for Dr. Strange, both in physical looks as well as mannerisms.

Plot-wise, it does take a while for things to get moving. Parker has a lot of work to do in the first few issues, introducing the characters, getting them together, introducing their allies (of course they ahve to have allies!) and also providing enough detail about the big mystery they are investigating to grab our interest and keep us coming back each month. This is only a five-issue limited series and I was getting a bit concerned that things were moving too slowly, but they pick up significantly in issue #3, and trust me, it's worth the wait.

Marc Laming provides pencils and inks for the series, and his work is fantastic. The script requires him to not only illustrate the huge cast of characters (not just heroes and villains but all their allies and henchmen), but also futuristic technology, huge areas of wilderness full of all kinds of flora and fauna, and locations across the globe from New England to Africa, and also other planets. The sheer amount of backgrounds is just staggering, but Laming takes it all in stride and delivers some great panels. His layouts are pretty straight-forward - we don't get a lot of odd-shaped panels or anything like that, but they're clear and easy-to-follow. His characters are all well-proportioned and easily identifiable from each other, which is easier said than done.

Who Will Like It?
This is a great action-adventure story featuring some iconic pulp-era heroes that haven't really been seen much recently. If you love old pulp tales, remember watching Flash Gordon (either in the theater or on the weekends during one of the local independent stations' Weekend Movie Showcase or whatever they called it), or enjoy classic science-fiction tales from the 1950s and 1960s, then you'll totally dig this book.

After last month's issue, I'm really excited to see where the story goes and what's going to happen in the issue that comes out today.

Any Good Idea for my Role-Playing Games?
If you've read the summary above and didn't come to that conclusion on your own, I'm not sure you should be reading role-playing games. Jungle adventures, wild and fantastic nightmare creatures, supernatural phenomena, magic, science-fiction, futuristic technology, galaxy-hopping dictators, aliens, cults... this thing is dripping with tons of ideas to last you for several sessions, if not form the basis of an entire campaign, especially if you're playing in a pulp or early science-fiction setting. As usual, I think that Savage Worlds would be a perfect system for this, but there are plenty of other systems that could work as well. As usual, the mechanics of the system are less important (to me) than how you use those mechanics to tell your story and rely on your inspirations to engage your players.

Is It Good for Kids?
The rating on this is T+, which actually kind of surprised me. I would have thought it would be rated for a big younger kids, but when I went back and re-read my issues to prepare for this review, I did see quite a few scenes of violence involving not just humans but also some scary creatures. There are also some pretty "adult" themes in terms of the cult and the ultimate bad guy that is revealed at the end of issue #3, so I guess you might want to err on the side of caution and keep it away from your little ones. My best advice would be, though, to read it for yourself and make your own decision. Only you know your own kids and what they can handle and what kind of information you want to expose them to.


  • Format: Monthly 28-page full-color limited series (5 issues)
  • Where To Buy: As always, try to buy it at your local comic shop. You can find one by visiting the Comic Shop Locator. If you don't have one, try a bookstore, or you can buy the digital version to read on your PC, tablet, or smartphone by going to Comixology. That link takes you to the Kings Watch page, where you can find links to buy all four issues that have come out so far. Issue #4 came out today, but you should be able to find the previous print copies at your local shop.
  • Price: $3.99 per issue.
  • Rated: Teen+
  • More Information: The official Dynamite Entertainment page for Kings Watch

Hanging: Home office (laptop)
Drinking: Recently had a Stochasticity Grapefruit Slam IPA (delicious)
Listening: "Chim Chim Cher-ee" by Louis Armstrong

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Design Decision Tuesday: Classes (Part III)

"The Alchemist" by Phillip Galle
Image courtesy
I've written twice before about the decisions I made regarding the classes I was going to include in my ongoing World of Samoth campaign, which I've been running since May of 2001.

In Part 1, I talked about how I used the variety of classes available in the game (starting with the various "kits" from 2nd Edition AD&D and later on all of the classes from 3rd Edition) to help with world building. For example, if I read in a rulebook that "Paladin" is a character class that's available, as a DM, I can start thinking about how the class might integrate into my world, which countries and organizations might support such a class, and even if the class is available at all. I can also start thinking about NPCs that might belong to that class and how they might interact with the PCs if it ever comes to that. As a DM, I find that a really powerful part of world building. It gives me instant things to start thinking about when building a world.

In Part 2, I expanded on this idea in more detail, and pointed over to the 9 and 30 Kingdoms blog, where the author, Talysman, has a directly opposite point-of-view. I actually like his blog a lot, so this isn't a slam against him by any means. It's just a different point-of-view. I really like classes, and as I mentioned in Part 2, I think part of the fun of playing a Class & Level system (as opposed to a skill-based system) is having a lot of classes. And this isn't a "new school" thing that happened with 3rd edition or anything like that. New, optional classes have been around since almost the beginning of the game, beginning with the Thief and Paladin in Greyhawk, then the Assassin and Monk in Blackmoor, the Druid in Eldritch Wizardry, and the Ranger and Illusionist in The Dragon.

Should Every Class Just Be a Variant of Fighter, Magic-User, or "Talent" (aka "Thief)?
Again, to use Talysman's examples as a counter-part, he suggests that pretty much any "class" you want to create could be made by just tweaking a few class abilities of one of the "big three" classes (Fighter, Magic-User, and what he calls "Talents").

To look at an example he posts on his blog, there's his Alchemist.  Talysman creates his Alchemist by making it a Magic-User with the same hit-dice, experience tables, weapon and armor restrictions, and spell-list. I presume the attack tables are the same as well. So far, what you've got there is a Magic-User, not an Alchemist. The change comes by noting that the Alchemist prepares his spells as potions (from a spellbook, just like a Magic-User uses) instead of memorizing them or creating scrolls. It also notes that the Alchemist can research spells from any spell-list (which is really the main feature of this class, in my opinion). As he goes up in level, the Alchemist can make salves (affect any material they contact, not just living creatures), powders (can affect one creature at range, via a blowgun, which is funny since I don't believe that a blowgun is a weapon allowed to Magic-Users), and incense (a ranged area-effect).

All-in-all, it's not bad, but to me I kind of feel like it just doesn't go far enough. It feels like a standard Magic-User. And I think that's Talysman's point - just make it that way, call it something else, and you're good to go. And I do think this approach does work for a lot of things - a Magic-User can be used as the base to create a necromancer, sorcerer, or whatever you want to call it for flavor, without any mechanical changes.

But an Alchemist just feels too different to me. The name "Alchemist" to me conjures images of an early pseudo-scientist in his lab, working with a variety of magic and scientific equipment, much of which actually eventually found its way into modern scientific methods. They don't just "make potions." They worked on a variety of projects, including trying to create the fabled philosopher's stone (to turn base metals into noble metals) and also the elixir of life. Many alchemists also worked on creating constructs, and they worked with the four main elements involving experiments to transform his body to take on certain elemental properties. I actually don't think Alchemist should even cast spells, which is why I guess I struggle so much with Talysman's version. I think an Alchemist should be something entirely different, and it can't be created by simply tweaking a couple of things from the Magic-User class.

Pathfinder has a version that's very different, but it's a bit too fiddly for my tastes and goes a little too far with the mechanical changes (although part of that is based on Pathfinder just having more rules than the OSR type system that Talysman is using). But I think turning an Alchemist into "a Magic-User, but with potions instead of memorized spells" is essentially the same thing as saying, "I don't have Alchemists in my game."

As David Smith pointed out over at Beyond the Pale Gate:

As a player, I would not have found it fun in the least if I had told my friend "I have an idea for a druid for your new campaign" and he said "Well, ok, we'll start with a cleric. I'll try to work something in where you can quest for the shapechange ability, and I'll look over some of the druid spells and work them into the cleric list. How does that sound?" I would have said "It sounds like I'm playing a cleric. Nevermind."
When Having Lots of Classes Goes Too Far
I definitely get the people who don't like "class-bloat" - it can go way too far, and I think the 3.5 Edition of D&D did just that. I just did a quick Google search and found an article on Wikipedia that lists 51 different base/core classes beyond the standard 11 in the Players Handbook and not including the NPC classes from the DMG. That list of 51 classes also does not include the variant classes from Unearthed Arcana (like the Planar Ranger or Divine Bard). When you get up to 51 classes, I think you're doing something wrong.

I do like how Pathfinder handles some things in their system, and it's actually not too unlike Talysman's system, which is to take a main class and then just make a few tweaks to it and it becomes a separate "class." Pathfinder calls them "Archetypes." Talysman calls them Variants (or sometimes sub-classes). Back in the days of 2nd Edition, they were called "kits" (which were much maligned but were actually a neat concept for individualizing a character type). The implementation is all the same - you take a main class, and then swap out a few things here and there to create the exact class you want.

So, the way I'm thinking, a Barbarian wouldn't need to be a separate class. It would just be a Fighter, but taking away the ability to wear heavy armor and maybe giving it some outdoor survival type abilities, or depending on the type of Barbarian culture, better skill at fighting from horseback or sailing or animal friendship or whatever. You'd need to work out the details for the specific campaign, but to me a Barbarian is too close to a Fighter to warrant a separate class.

On the other hand, a Paladin, with its divine magic abilities and spells and resistance to disease and (if you use them) alignment restrictions, deserves a separate class. It's got too much going on to just shoe-horn it into a Fighter. Druids, to me, are the same thing, as are Monks. Rangers are debatable, but if you go with the classic AD&D idea of tracking and access to Magic-User and Druid spells and animal companions, then I think you're looking at a separate class. Alchemists fit in this as well. There's got to be a way to make an Alchemist that's more than just "a Magic-User who uses potions." If that's all you've got, then sure, it should just a "variant" of Magic-User. But I think there's so much more potential to make it it's own class with rules for inventing things with a sort of magic-science blend that could be really cool.

Classes Created Merely to Exploit Game Mechanics Shouldn't Exist
Looking at the list on Wikipedia, there are so many classes that don't fit classic archetypes and aren't really filling any need other than to create new ways to exploit the 3.5E system, and that's where I draw the line. A few examples that stick out are the Crusader class from Tome of Battle which is essentially just a fighter but with all of these insane amount of options (stances, boosts, counters, and strikes...), and the Favored Soul (basically a cleric, but casts spontaneously instead of praying ahead of time for spells, and eventually grows wings for some reason).

For the Crusader, that's a class for which the only purpose of existence is utilizing a whole bunch of new rules from the rulebook it came from to make combat in 3.5E even longer as the player and DM have to wade through dozens of different options and decisions each round. It's not serving a role from fiction or history, it's serving game mechanics. That's not a class I'd say that you need.

For the Favored Soul, that's just getting into nitpicky things like "do Clerics cast spontaneously or do they have to prepare their spells through prayer?" I know that a lot of people think that's an important decision that needs an official rule, but if I were the DM for that, I'd just hand-wave it. You want to cast spontaneously? Fine. You can, but you have one or two fewer spells you can cast per level. That's the trade-off. That's not a change that's "worthy" of being a separate class to me. Then the whole thing with the character growing wings as it advanced in level... I'm not sure where this is coming from, but in a game when most spellcasters at higher levels have access to fly spells (or at least potions) anyway, I'm not sure why that's there. I'm sure it must have been some kind of "balance" thing (they probably took away some other cleric class powers), but it just seems totally out of place to me.

What New Classes Make Sense?
There are other classes that seem, to me, to be different enough both in terms of their background and their power set that do deserve to be their own class. Both the Noble (from the Dragonlance Campaign Setting) and the Artificer (from the Eberron Campaign Setting) are good examples. Both are found either in history or in fantasy fiction (or both) and are part of the "core" fantasy mythology.  By that, I mean there are nobles throughout the literature of the fantasy genre, such as Denethor the Steward of Gondor, the various characters from the Song of Ice and Fire saga, such as Cersei Lannister, Catelyn Stark, Joffrey Baratheon, and Renly Baratheon, and even Princess Leia from Star Wars. In terms of the Artificer class, you've got the dwarf smiths from Norse mythology, Celebrimbor and the elven smiths of Eregion who made the rings of power, and Weland the Smith (who created Beowulf's magic mail shirt).

Additionally, these are classes that can't easily be replicated by "take an existing class and swap out a power or two." As described in literature and history, their powers are things that aren't replicated by existing classes, and they are extensive enough and different enough that you'd be making substantial changes to a main class to try to "change them."

Some may argue that a "Noble" should just be a Fighter, but I think that's missing the point. Again, pointing back to Cersei Lannister and Catelyn Stark, and even Joffrey Baratheon, they aren't Fighters. And yet they are just as important in terms of the power they wield as the more typical Fighters in that series. I've seen others say that the "role" of the Noble is filled by the Bard class, which is again, I think, missing the point entirely. This isn't about "niche protection" or covering some kind of video-game construct that says you need a Tank guy, a Support guy, etc. Bards influence people with their music (in D&D terms), sure, but they aren't Nobles and their powers are magical in nature. Nobles don't have to have magical powers to be powerful (again, look at the list above - none of those characters uses magic, and yet they exude a strong amount of influence even in magical settings).

Similarly with the Artificer class, people may argue that it's just a Magic-User who likes to make things. You could do that, but then you're missing the opportunity to create something unique with a different set of abilities that then defines something about your campaign world. A world with Artificers in it is a completely different world than one without. I'm not arguing that you should have Artificers in your game. My point is, if crafting powerful and legendary magical items, repairing constructs, and the like is an important part of how you're defining your campaign world, then you end up doing yourself a disservice by saying, "But if you want to do that, just be a Magic-User." Think about if you're a player, and you create this awesome idea in your head, based on what the DM has said about the world, where you think, "I want to be one of the legendary magical smiths of the elves who create unique items that perform specific tasks, and I go on quests to find the rarest and most perfect materials to craft my creations." And then the DM says, "Okay, you're a magic-user" (or, worse, "Okay, roll the dice and hope that you create a magic-user", but that's an entirely different topic).

My Criteria for Creating a New Class
So, two of my criteria for whether a class should be a separate class are, number one, "Is their a historical, mythological, or literary source for the class, or is it being created just to exploit game mechanics?" and number two, "Does it do enough things that are different enough from the main classes to warrant a separate class?"

My last criteria for whether you should create a class is, "Does it fit the purposes of the game world?" This is related to the first criterion above, but as a type of counter. Sometimes, you you've created campaign world that's different enough that there are no true historical or literary sources, but the standard classes might not be enough to help you realize that vision. As an example, there's the Iron Kingdoms campaign setting, which first came out as a d20 setting for 3.5E. This is a good example of a non-traditional fantasy setting where there is extensive use of steam-based technology (but it's not Steampunk because it doesn't take place in a faux-Victorian era). With all that technology running around, you need people to fix it, so they created a bunch of new classes that focused on magic mixing with mechanics, as well as others centered around the idea of imbuing, and fighting with, magical firearms. Those are two archetypes that didn't necessarily have a historical or literary equivalent and yet fit in perfectly with the setting the authors created.

Wrapping Up
Hopefully you can understand why I think having new classes in a Class & Level system is not a horrible idea based on players just trying to get "kewl powerz" and also that not necessarily every new class can be easily made by just tweaking one or two class abilities of an existing class. Some class ideas are different enough, and make sense from the context of the campaign world or from historical/mythological/literary sources that they deserve to be a separate stand-alone class.

Those are my thoughts - what are yours?

Hanging: Home office (laptop)
Drinking: tap water
Listening: "Spider-Man Theme" by Richard Cheese

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Thanking Mom for "Star Wars"

I've posted a bit about my mom recently, as her birthday was back on 12/27. Today's a bit of a difficult day for my family, as it was exactly one year ago today that my mom very unexpectedly passed away, less than five weeks after her 70th birthday. She's obviously been on my mind a lot lately.

My intent in writing about her here on my blog is not to go fishing for sympathy, or to create a sense that I'm sitting around every day feeling depressed. Rather, I'm using my blog here as an outlet to remember my mom. If I don't talk about her and think about her, in a meaningful way, then eventually she's just going to become another face in my memory, and I really don't want that to happen. While Mom taught me a lot, from cooking to family history to old songs she used to sing, on my blog I'm trying to focus on things that related to me being a self-described "geek" - using my imagination, my love of reading, my love of comics, fantasy, science-fiction, and gaming. These are all topics which you, my audience, can relate to, of course.

I've talked before about how my mom helped support my interest in gaming, and also gave a tribute to her involvement in all of my geeky hobbies. Today I'm going to talk about one particular area that Mom really got into with me, and that's Star Wars.

Going back to May of 1977, I was six years old (my 7th birthday would come in another four months), and my family went to the movies to see "Star Wars." You have to remember that back then, without the Internet and the omni-present media coverage, it really wasn't the event that it would be today. For our family, it was just another trip to the movies, but that in and of itself was an event in our household, as it was a rare occurrence. In this particular case, it was even rarer in that we weren't going to see a Disney double-feature at the local drive-in. I have a feeling that my sister, three years old than me, and I didn't even really know what we were going to see, and we probably at this point hadn't heard about Star Wars.

I recall leaving the theater and how my mind had been blown. At this age, I'd been exposed to fantasy and science-fiction in the form of Star Trek and Batman reruns after school, and some assorted Saturday morning cartoons and also some fairy tale books. But Star Wars was, and is, nothing like that. It was its own thing - a new genre that mixed science-fiction elements of spaceships and laser guns with fairy tale princesses, magic-wielding knights, old wizards, dark lords, robots, pirates... It sounds like a mess, but it nearly broke my mind with just how cool it was. It took itself somewhat seriously, which was refreshing after having seen the campy nature of the Adam West Batman TV series, but it had a sense of fun and adventure about it (something I really feel the more modern Star Wars materials has deviated from).

Almost immediately, my headlong dive into full-fledged Star Wars fandom began, and it hit hard. Mom made me a Luke Skywalker costume (just the white tunic) and I made a lightsaber by wrapping a yardstick with tin foil. My sister got a homemade Princess Leia hooded robe, and we used to act out the entire series, which consisted of my sister playing Leia and me playing everyone else, including both good guys and bad guys. For some reason, that's how we always acted things out back then. I vividly recall acing out a scene with her in our family room shortly before dinner one night, when we grabbed huge sheets of white paper from my giant sketchbook (another gift from my mom), and scattered them around the floor to stand-in for the bodies of fallen stormtroopers during the battle aboard the Tantive IV.

As our "script," we used the giant-sized Marvel Comics Adaptation of Star Wars that my mom had purchased for me as a gift, shortly before she got both my sister and me a set of the first six issues of the regular-size Marvel adaptation of the Star Wars movie. I read these over and over again, and eventually my mom ended up getting me issues #7 - #15 as well. I remember taking all 15 issues with me to the hospital waiting room when my sister had her spinal surgery when I was about 13, and sharing them with a fellow kid in the waiting room who was also nervously waiting on a family member to get out of surgery and looking for something to do to keep him distracted.

Those first 15 Star Wars comics are what eventually got me hooked on comics for life. But even more than that, the stories beyond the movie from issue #7 on let me know that I could "play" Star Wars with my friends and my action figures without just re-enacting the movie. And that's how I played with my Star Wars action figures from that point on.

Mom, seeing clearly that I was really getting into this whole Star Wars thing, ordered the first eight Star Wars figures for me from a Sears catalog, and I remember how excited I was when I got them as a gift. A few of my friends had some figures and had started to bring them to school, and I just thought they were the coolest thing. That started a roughly 10-year habit of getting all of the figures on trips after school with my mom, to places like Gemco, Mervyn's, Long's Drugs, and Toy World. And somehow, without me ever saying anything, Mom just got it. She understood that there were new figures always coming out, and we'd go on a hunt to find them wherever we could. Mom also sneakily ordered the first mail-away figure (Boba Fett) using proofs-of-purchase cut out from the packaging, and had put it on my bed for me to open one day when I came home from school. That's how much she paid attention and learned what I was into.

At one point, I lost some of the accessories for my figures. In particular, Chewbacca's bowcaster gun had gone missing and I had looked everywhere for it. I had taken to using a paperclip as a makeshift gun. Mom noticed, and ended up calling, and then writing to, Kenner, to see if she could get some replacement pieces. Without charging her, one day Kenner mailed us a rather large box filled with pretty much every weapon (including Chewbacca's gun) along with some really nifty things like the gas masks that Han, Leia, and Chewbacca wore when they explored the "cave" inside the asteroid in "Empire Strikes Back," and a grappling hook and rope for Luke to swing across the chasm of the Death Star. This, again, was a complete surprise to me. I had no idea Mom had done that for me until it showed up in the mail.

Trips after school might consist of going to the library, or visiting a drug store where inevitably she would buy me either a comic book or a Star Wars figure. We always looked for sales on the figures, and oftentimes you could find them at the bargain price of three for $1 at certain shops. This was when Mom started to do things like buy me "extra" Storm Troopers, because she'd noticed that they were the army of the evil Empire, so it made sense to have more than one. She did the same with things like Tusken Raiders and Jawas. I'd never even thought to ask her for extras of those. It just made sense to her.

Mom was also the one who convinced my dad to take me to see the original Star Wars in the theater when it was re-released in December of 1977. That was the first time I'd ever seen a movie twice in the theater (having seen it with the family the previous May). I recall wearing my next door neighbor's Captain Kirk uniform shirt with gold trim on the sleeves and feeling all cool and grown up, and the ripe age of seven years old.

As I got older, Mom's encouragement of my Star Wars habit went beyond the figures, comics, cereals, records, clothes, and bedding. She began to cut out every article she found about it in the newspaper, to keep me up-to-date on what was happening. If there was a magazine in the store with Star Wars on the cover, she would pick it up for me. Back in the late 70's and early 80's, it was like having my own personal Internet just for Star Wars trivia and information. As they got ready to film and then release The Empire Strikes Back, the articles piled up. Mom knew I'd want to know where they were shooting, who was in it, what it was rumored to be about, and more. People started interviewing the actors and production crew, and of course George Lucas, and Mom cut out and saved every one of those for me to read.

When the prequel Trilogy came out in the late 90's and early 2000's, Mom was back at the stores hunting down every figure she could find. She kept little handwritten lists in her purse and would mark them off so that she didn't forget one or buy the same one more than once.

Mom did a lot to encourage my love of Star Wars, and Star Wars, in turn, was really one of the main catalysts for helping me to develop my imagination and tell my own stories of galaxies far, far away. And the cool thing was that my mom did all of this for me, not with me. That might sound strange, but what I mean to say is that, as I look back, it was just out of pure love for me that my mom did these things. Star Wars was not her thing, it was my thing. It was something she was happy to support and encourage, and in a way participate in through our various trips to the store, but it was something that she just kind of let me have. She didn't read my comics or the articles she cut out. She just did it for me to express her love for her son.

I'll always love her for that.

I'd really like to hear about your similar experience, either with Star Wars, or other things that your parents or a loved one encouraged in you when you were young. Share 'em below in the comments.

Hanging: Home Office (laptop)
Drinking: Hot Chocolate
Listening: "Boplicity" by Miles Davis
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