Friday, June 25, 2010

DnD: Monster Manual 3 - Review & Impressions

My copy of Monster Manual 3 arrived yesterday!

Let's cut to the chase: It's the third title in the series. You should already know if you want more monsters to pick from. No one needs three Monster Manuals to run a game, but I enjoy having options - even if some of those options are rather unlikely to ever get picked.

Here are the notes I took as I read through the manual last night, paying more attention to fluff and background than stats:
  • Flavor text is now relies more on story material than game mechanics
  • New layout for the monster stat block:

    • Basic Info: HP, AC, speed, resistances, etc.
    • Traits: Characteristics that are not powers (auras, regeneration)
    • Actions (by type): Standard, Move, Minor, Free
    • Triggered Actions
    • Skills & Abilities
    • Alignment, Equipment, Language

  • I like the Banderhobb;seems like it should be a heroic tier monster, rather than paragon.
  • For those who don't already know: In DnD, behemoth = dinosaur
  • Names of monsters I do NOT look forward to saying out loud:

    • Catoblepas
    • Klurichir
    • Nalfeshnee
    • Ultrodemon (can't stop shaking my head)
    • Girallon (I may have been negatively influenced by the rock-star pose in the picture)
    • Imix (something that dangerous needs a better name)
    • Jackalwere (Werejackal wasn't good enough because . . . ?)
    • Meenloc (I'm meen, grr!)
    • Nagpa
    • Any type of Nerra
    • Norker (fear the . . . Norker?)
    • Xivort

  • I am looking forward to using Cave Fishers
  • Having trouble buying the Chitine as an established, organized race with a culture - based on their origin (They crawled out of a vat and overran the Drow)
  • Apparently, every race needs one (or more) tainted/fallen counterpart:

    • Elves/Eladrin :: Drow
    • Dwarves :: Duergar
    • Halflings :: Derro
    • Gnomes :: Spriggan/Xivort
    • Humans :: Tieflings
    • Dragons :: Primordial Dragons

  • I'm a little confused by the Drow fluff. Is there a difference between Drow, Abyssal Drow and Dark Elves - or are they all names for the same race? Perhaps the Underdark book holds the answer . . .
  • Some monsters, like the Forsaken, have so much backstory that it seems like you'd have to build a campaign around their fluff in order to justify using them. This is a potential downside to story-driven flavor-text.
  • Gremlins? Really? *sigh*
  • Glad Primordials are an option for a campaign-ending villains, now.
  • Which came first, the Nagpa or the Skeksis from Dark Crystal? Huge rip-off, either way.
  • The Nerra live in a giant disco ball. Seriously.
  • Conceptually speaking, how does one fight a shadow without using some form of light source?
  • Did Tanarukks and Tulgars really need to be two separate races? They seem kind of similar to me.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

DnD: Chasm Bridge Battlemap

Houndin called my bluff and asked for a battlemap: a neglected stone bridge spanning an underground chasm.  It turned out a bit shinier than I'd intended - I'll just attribute that to the moisture and secretions of various underdark fauna.

Keep in mind that this is not scaled to print (1 inch squares). Like the Sailing Vessel battlemap, these squares are actually 0.46 inches.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

DnD: Sailing Vessel Battlemap

This is a pseudo-Dungeon Tile battlemap I made for my campaign on Google Wave since the Dungeon Tiles Mapper I normally use didn't have any good ship tiles.  It's too big to print out at 1:1 scale, but works quite nicely for the Fighty plug-in. It should work for GameTable or MapTools, as well.

Here are the environment rules I'm subjecting my PC's to this encounter:

  • The grate over the opening is difficult terrain (-1 movement per square)
  • Crates, barrels and sacks provide cover to those behind them but do not block ranged attacks; they are not stable enough to stand on
  • PC's and NPC's can be pushed over the side of the boat; DC 15 Acrobatics allows the PC to grab the railing before going completely over; PC grants combat advantage while in such a position
Whenever a PC moves, roll either an Acrobatics or Endurance check (DC 10) to account for the ship's movement; Success: the PC's are unaffected and can move and attack normally; Fail: PC feels queasy and/or loses his balance, moving at half speed and has a -2 penalty to hit for that turn.

If there is demand/interest, I may do more of these - though I'm not sure what sort of things people need (inns? more ships? lava-based environments?)

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Art: Robot Speedpaint

1 hour speedpaint - no refs, though the head is strongly influenced by the bandit/mechs from the Samurai 7 anime. First digital art I've done in a month or so, and it shows.

Corel Painter X
Wacom Graphire4
Windows 7

Thursday, June 17, 2010

DnD: Monomyth as a DM Tool - Part 9: Atonement with the Father

As fans of fantastic adventures, we typically think of the climax as being a final battle or showdown with a seemingly unbeatable antagonist who, up to that point, the hero was being pursued by - or perhaps had been pursuing himself. While this is certainly one of the most thrilling and overtly dangerous points of the Heroes' Journey, according to Campbell, it is not the showdown with 'the dragon' that is the true climax, but atonement with a father figure.

Atonement, in this context, seems like an odd term, as it is traditionally understood as a reconciliation or bringing together of two or more people who have been torn asunder. Campbell, though, is more interested in the hero's acceptance and initiation by whatever holds the ultimate power in the hero's life - often represented by a father figure who holds the power of life and death in mythology.  Perhaps it might be better phrased thusly: Nothing is as terrifying as the prospect of being rejected by those whose acceptance we most desire.

Campbell's synopsis of the Atonement also contains some interesting spiritual aspects to it:

"Atonement consists in no more that the abandonment of that self-generated double monster – the dragon thought to be God (superego) and the dragon thought to be Sin (repressed id). But this requires an abandonment of the attachment to ego itself, and that is what is difficult. One must have a faith that the father is merciful, and then a reliance on that mercy. Therewith, the center of belief is transferred outside of the bedeviling god's tight scaly ring, and the dreadful ogres dissolve. It is in this ordeal that the hero may derive hope and assurance from the helpful female figure, by whose magic (pollen charms or power of intercession) he is protected through all the frightening experiences of the father's ego-shattering initiation. For if it is impossible to trust the terrifying father-face, then one's faith must be centered elsewhere (Spider Woman, Blessed Mother); and with that reliance for support, one endures the crisis – only to find, in the end, that the father and mother reflect each other, and are in essence the same. The problem of the hero going to meet the father is to open his soul beyond terror to such a degree that he will be ripe to understand how the sickening and insane tragedies of this vast and ruthless cosmos are completely validated in the majesty of Being. The hero transcends life with its peculiar blind spot and for a moment rises to a glimpse of the source. He beholds the face of the father, understands – and the two are atoned."

Examples of Atonement with the Father

Up until the end of Empire Strikes Back, Darth Vader had been a symbol of death and destruction in Luke Skywalker's journey among Rebellion fighters and Jedi knights. Suddenly, it is revealed that not only is his father alive, but is that very same figure responsible for so much suffering. In the final act of the original trilogy, Anakin finally breaks free of the grip Emperor Palpatine/Darth Sidious has over him and reconciles with his son. Luke is able to gain closure and learns that he is not alone in the universe, but has a sister.

In the parable of the prodigal son, the wayward younger son returns home after blowing his inheritance and living - quite literally- among pigs.  He expects to grovel before the father he has embarrassed and spurned and hopes to earn his way back into the household as a hired man.  The love of the father for his son is such that he runs out to him (something a patriarch would never do) and embraces him whole-heartedly, immediately reinstating him as a full member of the family, much to the consternation of his older brother.

In Gaiman's Stardust, Tristran Thorne grows up knowing nothing of his biological mother.  By the end of the novel, her identity - along with Tristran's heritage and destiny - are revealed in classic Shakespearean form.

Another Gaiman novel, American Gods, centers the plot in a more direct fashion around his protagonist, Shadow and his father - or rather, his lack of a father up to that point. To say more would dip into spoiler territory, I fear.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix has a scene at the end where Harry is venting his frustrations to Dumbledore - the closest thing to a father figure he's had (yes, even more so than Sirius).  Finally, Dumbledore admits his mistakes in trying to protect Harry by putting distance between them and lets him in (for the most part) on what been going on in the escalating hidden war against Voldemort.

Atonement as a DM Tool

There seem to be two main approaches for implementing Atonement in a campaign. First, individual implementation for each PC, while requiring more history/backstory from each player and more effort from the DM to weave each player's details into the narrative tapestry, holds the potential for a meaningful personal experience for both the character and their player. Unfortunately, the other members of the group are at risk for becoming bored, alienated, or jealous when a player gets singled out for her time in the spotlight.

The other primary approach would be to provide an atonement-experience for the entire party.  While certainly easier to execute by involving everyone at once, it will likely be more difficult to set up a meaningful relationship involving every in the party that can be resolved in a single fell-swoop. A possible solution might lie in the group's motivation and/or reasons for adventuring together. Figuring out what brought them together and, more importantly, what has kept them together despite overwhelming resistance from an existence which, for all intents and purposes, seems out to get them at every opportunity.

Regardless of implementation strategy, the first thing a DM will need to know is what/who it is that holds ultimate power in a PC's - or possibly a group's - life. Find out what or who they desire to be accepted and respected by above all others, and you have the key to building a meaningful Atonement climax.

For those who enjoy an immersive experience with a rich supporting cast of NPC's, consider using the PC's to facilitate or enable an NPC in achieving an Atonement experience. Hack-n-Slash players - those generally less interested in plot than combat - are less likely to enjoy the experience, however. As always, a little insight into the personalities of your PC's will go a long way in crafting a meaningful experience for them.

Pondering Atonement
  • What is it that holds ultimate power in your PC's lives - Individually? As a group?
  • How might a PC's actions change when: They desperately want to be accepted? They've been devastated by rejection?
  • How might fellow PC's become an obstacle to achieving one's Atonement? What about NPC's?
  • What might happen if knowledge of these motivations were discovered by a villain?
  • Consider the opposite: What could your PC's do with knowledge of a villain's driving motivation?
Earlier Entries in This Series
Stage I: Departure
Stage II: Initiation

    Monday, June 14, 2010

    Misc: Using Safety Glasses to Reduce Eye-Strain Caused by Monitors

    I work in front of two widescreen monitors for at least 40 hours a week (more, if you count the majority of lunch breaks I spend at my desk watching anime on hulu) in a poorly lit cubicle with no windows or natural light of any kind.

    Recently, I noticed that my eyes were hurting and I was getting headaches.  At first, I tried turning down the brightness on my monitors - which were, admittedly, a bit 'hot' - to 50%, but that only slightly lessened the discomfort I was experiencing.

    At some point in my surfing, I had run across a reference to Gunnar Optiks' digital performance eyewear.  I seriously began to consider purchasing a pair of their CRySTALLINE glasses, which are clear for people who work with color. Unfortunately, even their low end frames do not come cheap.

    I was on the verge of purchasing a pair, but then it occurred to me, what if a pair of polarized sunglasses worked just as well? That's all well and good, but the tinted lenses might throw off my color perception. That's when I had the bright idea to try out a cheap pair of UV-rated safety glasses.

    After three days' use, my eyes are not as strained and the headaches have gone away.

    I do not have any sort of scientific data or information to prove how or why this seems to be working, only the fact that it no longer hurts to look at my monitors. I'm certainly not wearing a pair of clear safety glasses at my desk to look cool.

    This is not to discredit Gunar Optiks in anyway - their glasses may even work better. But, if you're not rich (I'm not) or have a tendency to lose or break your sunglasses (I do), I would strongly encourage looking into something like this as an affordable, low-risk alternative.

    Thursday, June 3, 2010

    40K: Update to Spreadsheet Template for Codex: Orks

    Updated Spreadsheet Template for Codex: Orks (version 1.3)

    I went back through the Codex, cross-referencing it with the spreadsheet and found out that I had neglected to add in some wargear - mainly for the named characters.  The link on the original post has been updated, as well.