Gawain's World: One Gamer's Perspective
Rather than creating a new thread for every random idea that pops into my head, I'll use this thread to post my rambling thoughts on gaming–blog style. (Some of these are reproduced from my Blog at The Tangled Web.) Feel free to share your comments on this thread, as well. I enjoy hearing other people's perspectives.
For my first post, I thought it would be appropriate to properly introduce myself. My name is Roger. I go by the UserName of Gawain_VIII and use the same "Mystara" setting logo as my avatar on nearly every online venue I join. I'm fairly easy to identify. You might've seen me on other gaming forums like WotC's Other Worlds forum, Dragonsfoot, RPTools, The Tangled Web, or The Piazza where I moderate.
I first started gaming in the early 80s with the red '83 Mentzer Basic Rules boxed set. I don't remember if I was in kindergarten or first grade, but I was so young that I certainly had no clue what I was doing. Usually, a game session consisted of myself sitting in front of my character sheet with my mother pointing to a die saying, "roll that one." After a time, I caught on, and started playing my own character, instead of having my mom do it for me. That first character, a halfling named Roger Littleguy, still exists somewhere in an old house ravaged by Hurricane Katrina.
Time passed. I grew up. I kept gaming. I've played every edition of D&D ever published as well as dozens of other non-D&D and non-fantasy RPGs, but I keep coming back to my roots–that old red box.
The box doesn't exist anymore, and the Player's Manual doesn't have a back cover or the page in the middle with the graph paper printed on it, but everything else is still there. I have just about everything ever produced for classic D&D, the Known World, and Mystara in one form or another. I am missing a few odds and ends, but I'll get those soon enough.
Now, here I am, thirty-two years old, twice divorced (no, it had nothing to do with too much gaming), father of multiple boys (being raised in the ways of geekdom), an ordained minister (Wiccan, if you must know), a 9-year Veteran of the US Air Force, and still, the one thing that remains constant throughout my life is a complete and utter addiction to Mystara and the D&D game. For me, it is a drug. While others get high or drunk, or go out hunting, or some other nonsense whenever they need a break, or just to wind down from that greatest of adventures we call real-life… I break out the dice. That is who I am. Gaming is my sanctuary, my solace.
No, I am not some whacked-out nut-job that cannot distinguish fantasy from reality. I no longer work, having recently left the Air Force, but I am expecting to use my GI Bill benefit to return to school full-time (English Education & Literature). I do remember to eat, bathe regularly, brush my teeth, and even take my kids out to eat every now and then. I have friends outside of my gaming group, as well as other interests and hobbies. I'm an avid sci-fi fan (Star Trek and Firefly/Serenity are my favorites), I'm quite politically active (a registered Libertarian) and religious (you can legally call me "Rev"). But once a week, if everything goes well, I don't have to worry about bills, or exes, or landlords, or supervisors, or papers, or anything except figuring out how many hit points can Bargle lose before he has to escape and foil the party's plan to capture him for the 1,000 gp bounty.
1. The DM is God.
Seriously! God (or the gods, as the case may be) is an NPC. The DM plays all NPCs… therefore the DM is God.
2. The DM is always right.
It's in the rules, right there on page 1. You don't see it? It's written in pencil below the "How to Play" heading.
3. If the DM is wrong, prove it.
Good luck with this one!
4. If the DM is proven wrong, refer back to rules 1 & 2.
Quod Erat Demonstrandum!
What those rules mean, essentially, is that I believe myself to be a fair DM. If you think I have made a mistake in the rules or a lapse of story, please let me know. I will take into account our argument and judge accordingly. My decisions, however, are final. Any rule that I use against the players, I will also use for myself. Any new or optional rules which I choose to implement, I will inform the players before the start of the gaming session.
5. If you say it you play it.
If a player (or the party leader, speaking for the group) makes a decision, speaks in character, or takes an action it cannot be changed after I have judged the results, even if the player misspoke or changed his mind. If you change your mind before I make a ruling on that act, you are free to do so.
6. Players are not characters.
Occasionally, character conflict can create for a good story. Players should not allow character disagreements to affect their out-of-game behavior. If another player’s character annoys your character you should not be annoyed at that player.
7. The PCs are heroes.
Yes, the rules do allow for rather unheroic, even villanous characters–but just because you can do something does not necessarily follow that you must, or even should, do that thing. From the hero PC's point-of-view, the PCs, and their allies are always considered good. Their enemies are Evil, and everyone else is neutral.
8. PCs are adventurers, not Gods.
The characters are at the center of the story, and quite often excel at what they do. They are not, however, the strongest, smartest, toughest, or most powerful. They are exceptional when compared to commoners, but there is and always will be someone greater than your character.
9. Characters are not Players.
A player may know a bit of information about the game that the character does not know. If a character tries to use player knowledge in-game, I will remind the player that the character is ignorant of that information. If the player persists, I will rule against the character’s actions.
10. My name is not Monty Haul.
Medieval life is tough, even more so for adventurers who whether the rugged climes of the world’s degenerate societies. A Character’s achievements will be greatly rewarded, but do not expect to receive the Greater Broadsword +5 of Lordly Might. Do not attempt to buy a suit of armor +2 with displacement. In fact, don’t try to buy magic items at all; they are not for sale (except for minor items like a healing potion or a wizard’s scroll of similar level). Magic is a rare and jealously guarded commodity. PCs will be fairly rewarded, but they will have to work for those rewards.
The Golden Rule: It’s a game, have fun!
Although fair, I may be, I am not the best DM ever (in fact, my Dad was). My job as DM is to entertain you, the player. If you do not enjoy your time in one of my gaming sessions, please let me know how I can fix it. I would rather adjust my DMing style than to have a player leave the group because he isn’t having any fun.
It all started in 1966 when the late Earnest Gary Gygax founded the International Federation of Wargamers as a way to meet fellow wargaming hobbyists. As with most hobbies, wargaming had a certain set of ideas–rules, if you will--that everyone followed. These rules weren't written down anywhere, but were taught from a veteran hobbyist to a fledgling hobbyist. They would use miniature figures to represent armies of people. Often they would recreate famous historical battles. Other times they would create their own fictional wars. However, the details about how those wars were fought differed from one group to another, until Gary Gygax and his friend, Jeff Perrin, decided to take the rules which their group, in Lake Geneva, WI, played by and write them down. These rules, called Chainmail: Rules for Medieval Miniatures, were published by Guidon Games in 1969.
Sometime between 1969 and 1971, Gygax came up with the idea that, instead of recreating medieval battles set in (more or less) the historical real-world, they could implement elements of fantasy, not unlike Professor J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy, complete with units of elven archers, squadrons of magic-using shock troops, and legions upon legions of orcs and giants to kill. Gygax even created a fantasy land that these armies would fight in. This land would form the origins of what later became the World of Greyhawk.
One member of the Lake Geneva IFW club decided to change things a little bit. Dave Arneson created a battle scenario that took place in a castle's sewer. The trapped confines of the sewer forced each of the players to play only one individual each, instead of an entire army. In 1972, the two wargamers, Gygax and Arneson, collaborated on a new set of rules… and a new hobby: the fantasy role-playing game. This collaboration was titled The Fantasy Game, but nobody wanted to publish it.
Undaunted, Gygax made a deal with fellow hobbyist Don Kaye, in 1972 to form a partnership: Tactical Studies Rules. They created a newsletter (entitled The Strategic Review) and sold subscriptions in order to raise the money to publish The Fantasy Game. It was not for another two years when financier Brian Blume joined the partnership. The Fantasy Game changed it's name to Dungeons & Dragons before being published. The entire first-print run of the game sold out in less than a year.
The early success of Dungeons & Dragons forced the partners to dissolve Tactical Studies Rules, in 1975, in order to create a proper company: TSR Hobbies, Inc. They continued to publish new prints of D&D, as well as expanding with new supplemental rules and expansions for their game. The next year, they discontinued the newsletter, The Strategic Review, and launched a full-fledged magazine dedicated to their new hobby: The Dragon.
As I discussed in my last post, Origins of the Hobby, the fantasy role-playing game was created by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, as an evolutionary shift of their mutual interest in the tabletop wargaming hobby. To continue that history lesson, we should look back to 1974 and the original Dungeons & Dragons game.
As the popularity of D&D grew, the game also grew, adapting to the needs of the company's bottom-line and the desires of its fans. One of the earliest complaints was that the rules were very confusing and difficult to understand. TSR answered, in 1977, with a better, updated Dungeons & Dragons game, written by Professor J. Eric Holmes. This edition, while written in a more conversational style making it easier to read, cleared up the confusion about some of the rules, but otherwise was essentially the same game as the original game.
Later that decade, a dispute between the game's creators over royalties lead to a legal battle, with Dave Arneson leaving TSR. As a result of the ruling from that legal battle, Gygax decided to write a whole new D&D system, with every bit of Arneson's contributions stripped away. The product he created, released between 1978 and 1981, was called Advanced D&D.
As the AD&D game was released, initial sales were lower than projected which TSR attributed to new players might be discouraged from buying an "advanced" game without first learning the basics… so TSR released an introductory precursor to AD&D--the D&D Basic Rules. This edition, written by Tom Moldvay, which only covered the first three level of play was very light on rules, giving the Dungeon Master a great deal of leverage in determining play style.
However, things did not go exactly as expected. Instead of being used as the introduction that TSR intended, players mistook Basic D&D as a separate, simpler game… and demanded that it be expanded beyond three levels of play. A demand which TSR satisfied in 1981 with the D&D Expert Rules. The Expert Rules, written by Dave Cook, were an expansion of (and completely compatible with) Moldvay's Basic Rules that covered play from 4th level all the way up to 14th.
By the end of '81, TSR had decided that Basic D&D was, indeed, a separate game and that they would continue the two-pronged marketing strategy of selling both games simultaneiously. However, it was determined–if this was going to be two games, then the non-Advanced line needed to be more distinct than the Advanced line. In 1983, Frank Mentzer was brought in to update Basic D&D to scrub the last elements of AD&D away and truly make Basic D&D it's own game. Mentzer created a series of rules sets, following a model similar to the original B/X release. The "D&D Basic Set Rules" covered levels 1-3, the "Expert Rulebook" went up to level 14, just as in the B/X products. However, he went even further and, between '83 and '85, created the Companion (level 15-24), Master (25-36), and Immoral Rules sets. Mentzer's game went back to the origins--including Dave Arneson's discarded material, some mechanics introduced by Holmes, Moldvay, and Cook, as well as his own innovations.
Things pretty much stabilized for a good while, until Gygax was ousted from TSR's board and was replaced by Lorraine Williams in the mid 80s. Williams, in a karmic twist-of-fate decided to reduce Gygax's share of royalties by releasing a new AD&D game that he didn't write (not unlike what Gygax tried to do with Arneson). In 1987, TSR announced the release of AD&D 2nd Edition. Second Edition was still clearly identifiable as Gygax's original AD&D game, with many modifications, clarifications, and expanded optional rules. Because 2nd Edition was written by a team of developers, it was widely considered to be a massive improvement over 1st edition and quickly began to outpace 1st edition sales.
No change was made to the "basic" D&D line until 1991, when freelancer, Aaron Allston, was brought in to compile all of the BECMI rules into a single volume. The D&D Rules Cyclopedia was the first time in gaming history that all the rules were presented in a single hardbound volume. No more swapping books depending on level (as was the case with B/X and BECMI) or based on the function of the rule you were looking up (like the PHB, DMG, and MM for AD&D). The Rules Cyclopedia (RC for short) sold like hotcakes.
The next year TSR released an introductory box-set as a companion to the Rules Cyclopedia. Titled the Classic Dungeons & Dragons Game, Classic D&D finally accomplished what Gygax tried to do with the original Basic Set. A new player would buy the introductory box, with rules provided up to 5th level, and then move on to the complete game with Rules Cyclopedia.
However, by 1995, the powers at the head of TSR shifted again, and it was decided that the non-Advanced D&D line would be discontinued for the sole benefit of Advanced D&D, which was the more popular and better selling version within the US. For the first time since 1977, there was only one version of D&D in print. In spite of this cancellation, Classic D&D (BECMI/RC), continued to be–and still is, as of the time of this blog--the single best-selling RPG system world-wide.
The same year, the Player's Options and Skills & Powers expansions were released. These books were extensive add-ons to 2nd Edition (today, it is not uncommon to refer to this expansion as AD&D 2.5). They sold moderately well, but were not up to the task of boosting the AD&D brand. The plan backfired. AD&D sales remained constant, but did not improve to fill the void left by regular D&D. This was a major contributing factor which was leading TSR toward bankruptcy.
In 1997, gamer and D&D fan Peter Adkison, founder of new-comer powerhouse Wizards of the Coast, found himself in the unique position (due to the massive success of WotC's break-through trading-card game, Magic: The Gathering) to rescue his favorite past-time and save TSR from bankruptcy. He bought them.
But that, my friends... is a story for another day.
Most, if not all, fantasy games have at least one thing in common (beyond the fantasy element): Archetypes. D&D, being the progenitor of the genre set the standard for how things work in a fantasy world. Among those standards are the four basic character types. They are the warrior, priest, magic-user, and rogue. In most games, and D&D in particular, all other character types can be boiled down to some variation or combination of those four basic archetypes.
The warrior is the fighting man. Whether it is a mercenary prostituting his sword arm out to the highest bidder or the errant knight on an unending quest for good and justice, all warriors share a single trait. They fight with strength and steel… and they are good at it. Other classes that fall under this time include the barbarian, paladin, and ranger. In most editions of the game, there are certain skills, traits, and abilities that make each of these classes unique.
Likewise, the priest archetype is a follower of some divine source--be it a deity, or simply a universal concept such as "good" or "nature". In nearly every case, the priest also acts as a healer and wise counsel to his friends. The classic concept of the priest is most readily seen in the Cleric class. The Druid also falls into this category. Like the warrior-types, each of the classes in this category have special abilities which distinguish one from the other.
The magic-user is identified, in D&D, by the Wizard and Sorcerer classes, as well as all of their subclasses and variants. The rogue-type is most commonly represented by the Thief, Bard, and Assassin.
My argument, in this post, is that all of these specializations are not only unnecessary, but they distract the player from the primary purpose of role-playing--namely, playing the role of a fictional character. To illustrate this point, I offer an example from my own experiences playing D&D as a child.
I played D&D with my parents, siblings, and their friends. Usually, I was the youngest person in the group. In one campaign ran by my Dad, two in the group were undecided as to what they wanted to play. Chris (my babysitter) and Randy (my sister's boyfriend) both decided in the end to play fighters because they were the simplest and quickest to roll up with the fewest number of decisions required. They each rolled their dice--4d6 (drop the lowest) 7 times (drop the lowest)--by pure coincidence, they ended up with the same numbers. Amused by this odd occurrence, they chose to take it a step further and place their rolls into the same ability scores as well as purchasing the same starting equipment. Except for name and alignment--the two fighters were identical in every way.
Chris names his fighter "Socrates" and decided he was going to be Neutrally aligned seeker of lost wisdom. Randy's character became "Ezekiel" (jokingly pronounced E-Z-kill), a lawful sell-sword. These two identical characters, well before the first session concluded, had developed distinct personalities and fighting styles. As the campaign continued, they remained perfectly identical in every rules-specific way for several levels. Before long, their personalities had become so polarized that the party eventually split, creating a second concurrent campaign played on alternating sessions. Several adventures later--these two rules-twins met once again as adversaries. In the end, Ezekiel wasn't as easy to kill as his name suggested, dispatching Socrates in single combat.
The point to be made here is... if you want to play a barbarian, then PLAY a barbarian. If you want to play a knight, then ACT like a knight. Robin Hood CHOSE to wear light armor and specialize in the bow--there were no rules that said Rangers aren't allowed to wear heavy armor. He just did it because it makes sense for the character. Plain and simple.
The same is true of the other types. In 3rd Edition there are different rules for Wizards and Sorcerers. I ask you: Are these rules really necessary? Both cast the same kinds of magic. Both are lightly armed and usually fairly dexterous. The only significant difference between them is that Wizards get their spells from books and sorcerers get their spells from some inborn blood talent. Tell me--why can't that distinction be role-played out? Why must there be a separate set of rules just to make a different character special? Can't you do that all on your own as a player? If there were not a rule requiring possession of a spellbook, would you be incapable of imagining that your sorcerer's "spellbook" was instead some ancient tribal totem staff used to channel the blood-power of your tribe?
To me, beyond the four basic archetypes, the only thing that prevents you from creating a unique, interesting character with depth and insight... is yourself. The prevalence of specialization--classes, subclasses, variants, kits, etc. end up leading the players to give up their natural imaginations to the glory of the almighty rulebook. "You can't kill that man for money. You don't have levels in Assassin."
Six ability scores define who and what a character is. In some cases, strengths can be augmented and weaknesses can be overcome through learned skills–but the ability score itself represents one thing and one thing only: natural talent.
Before I delve into the abilities themselves, I would like to take a moment to illustrate what it means to have a high or low score. In D&D (including NWN) all non-monstrous characters have a natural starting ability range of 3-18, averaging 10.5. PCs, being the elite and better than your average commoner have a smaller range of 8-18–but scores under 8 should still be considered in the scale when deciding how to role-play your attributes. 10.5 is still the absolute average for PCs.
In the past, on CoA, I've seen individuals with an Intelligence of 8 behaving as through they were complete imbeciles--a trait more properly portrayed by a 3 INT score. 8 INT should be played about as dumb as a 13 INT is smart.
For comparisons, I tend to compare my character's attributes to modern real-world standards. An average man, of average weight, health and fitness could conceivable be able to deadlift 100 lbs with some difficulty without injuring himself. This equates to a STR score of 10. The same man, with slightly below average strength (8 STR) should be able to deadlift about 80 lbs, give or take, under the same circumstances. On the opposite extreme, an untrained Mr. Universe prospect (18 STR) would lift 180 lbs. without strain or breaking a sweat.
Intelligence, I typically compare to IQ. Average Intelligence of 10 compares to an IQ of 100. The guy, mentioned above, with an 8 INT–his IQ would have been about 80. Not the brightest in the bunch--he probably had to study harder to pass Algebra in high-school; but HARDLY an imbecile.
Dexterity, similarly, can be compared to a sprint race. The average healthy man, in a dead-heat sprint, can reach about 10 mph, if he gave it all he had--completing a 100m dash in about 20-25 seconds. The DEX 18 Olympic athlete would qualify for the 100m in 12 seconds--or 18 mph. Usain Bolt, the world record holder in the 100m dash completed his 2012 Olympic race in 9.58 seconds, running at a speed of 23 mph. Guess what his DEX score is.
Take another look at your character's ability scores. Where do you compare to the average man? Are you role-playing your character's natural talents effectively?
Zool last edited by
Below 9 int means your unable to talk properly on nwn
Lizard last edited by
Some nice ideas in there. Thanks for sharing.
Below 9 int means your unable to talk properly on nwn
I disagree with your assessment. NWN was modeled after D&D, specifically 3rd edition. D&D has NEVER, in 40 years of the game, equated below average INT with sheer dumbness or inability to speak.
I was going to copy-paste the Intelligence descriptions and modifier tables from every edition of the game from 1974 to now… but thought that might be a little excessive. My point being, what you described only happened on once instance in the original NWN campaign... not SoU, HotU, or any other Bioware Premium Module--only the default, original campaign. Even then, the poor speech didn't happen if your character's INT score started below 9.... only if you were 9+ and affected by an ability effect like poison. Then and ONLY then did SOME conversations show poor speech. Could that not be the effect of the poison?!?
My favorite edition of the game, the classic 1983 "Red Box", specifically mentions low intelligence and speaking ability. While this isn't the version of the rules that NWN emulates, I do feel it conveys the intent most effectively.
3 - Has trouble speaking, cannot read or write
4-5 - Cannot read or write Common
6-8 - Can write simple common words
9-12 - No adjustments; can read and write Common and Alignment languages
13-15 - +1 Language
16-17 - +2 Languages
18 - +3 Languages
This is not my essay–it was written by Justin Alexander of Minneapolis, MN in 2007. You can read the original essay on his page.
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I’ve been working and playing with the new edition of Dungeons & Dragons longer than most. Ryan Dancey sent me a playtest copy of the new Player’s Handbook back in 1999, almost a full year before it was released at GenCon 2000. I had been an outspoken critic of AD&D for several years at that point and, more recently, been involved in a number of heated debates with Ryan over the OGL and D20 Trademark License.
By the time I was done reviewing the playtest document and sending my comments back to Ryan, I had basically done a 180-degree turn-around on both. Wizards of the Coast had assembled three incredibly talented game designers – Jonathan Tweet, Monte Cook, and Skip Williams – to rework the system, and they had succeeded brilliantly. They stayed true to the roots of the game and captured the best parts of it, while shedding decades of detritus and poor design. There were still a few quibbles here and there, but they had taken advantage of the largest and most expensive design cycle for an RPG ever conceived and used it to deliver an incredibly robust, flexible, and powerful system.
One of the most impressive things about 3rd Edition is the casual realism of the system. You can plug real world values into it, process them through the system, and get back a result with remarkable fidelity to what would happen in the real world.
Some people will consider this to be a remarkable claim. It doesn’t take much experience with the roleplaying hobby before you’re familiar with dozens of vehement diatribes on the lack of realism in D&D and the resulting shortcomings in the system. Whole laundry lists of complaints (aimed at hit points, the encumbrance system, falling damage, or attacks of opportunity, for example) have been generated. In fact, such claims are so prolific that making the opposite claim (as I have done) is practically a heresy of sorts.
But, in my experience, these complaints largely originate either from people carrying over their criticisms of previous editions (where many of the criticisms were true) or from people failing to actually look at the facts and run the numbers.
So what I want to do, rather than just making my claim, is to take a look at a few rules, actually run the numbers, and demonstrate how effective D&D really is at modeling the real world.
Before we do that, though, I want to make one disclaimer perfectly clear: D&D is a game. Its systems are abstracted and streamlined in order to keep things simple and, more importantly, fun. So, yes, there are compromises. (You’ll see a graphic example of the types of compromises which are made when we talk about the Jump skill.) The game is not a physics text. Nor is it without flaw.
It’s just really, really good. And part of what makes it really, really good is the fact that it does this simulation casually. It doesn’t make you do the math. It’s worked the math into the system. All you’ve got to do is roll the dice and handle some basic arithmetic.
This essay should also be understood as something more than a defense of the game from illegitimate critique. That defense is, in fact, almost an unintentional consequence of what this essay is actually about: Providing a useful resource for those who want a deeper understanding of what the numbers really mean. If a character has a skill bonus of +15, how talented are they? If they have a Strength of 14 how strong are they? And so forth.
BREAKING DOWN A DOOR
Breaking down a door in D&D requires a Strength check. So the first thing we need to understand is the distribution of ability scores in the general population.
According to the DMG, defaults NPCs in D&D are built on one of two arrays: The elite array and the average array. The elite array is used for exceptional individuals. The average array is… well, average.
Elite Array: 15, 14, 13, 12, 10, 8
Average Array: 13, 12, 11, 10, 9, 8
Using the point buy system, the elite array is built on 24 points. The average array is built on 15 points.
John Kim demonstrates that the elite array is, in fact, the statistically typical result of rolling 4d6-drop-the-lowest (the default character generation) if you round down fractional results. Similarly, although John doesn’t show it, the average array is the statistically typical results of a 3d6 roll.
The DMG doesn’t tell us how common an elite character will be, but they are supposed to be a “cut above the average”. I think it’s safe to say that they’re supposed to be rare. There are a number of approaches you can take to figuring out exactly how rare. For example, I did some back-of-the-envelope calculations using the DMG demographic information regarding how many characters are of a level high enough to suggest exceptional accomplishment in the real world (as we’ll discuss later). I also ran the numbers from MENSA (which accepts only those who intellectually qualify in the top 2% of the population) and then compensated to include the non-intellectual ability scores. And so forth. But, consistently, these inferences got me a figure right around 5%.
What does all this mean? It means that the vast majority of people you meet will be lucky to have a single +1 bonus in any of their ability scores. Most of them will, in fact, have straight 10’s and 11’s across the board.
So, with that in mind, let’s go back and talk about breaking down a door.
Breaking down a simple wooden door – like the doors you might find inside a typical house – is a DC 13 check. This means that the average person (with a +0 Strength modifier) will succeed at breaking open the door about 40% of the time. This means that one or two strong kicks from just about anybody will kick the door open.
This matches our real life experience: Interior doors just aren’t that sturdy.
Next, let’s take a look at something sturdier. For example, a well-made front door with its deadbolt secured. This would be a DC 18 check in D&D (for a “good wooden door”). This is a lot harder to bust open: The average person will only have a 10% of knocking it open on the first attempt. It’s going to typically take five or six really solid kicks for the average person to get through such a door.
Again: This matches our real life experience. Front doors are strong, but the fact that they’re not impervious to breaking-and-entering is evidenced by thousands of burglaries every year.
But once you take a thick wooden beam and use it to bar the door shut with solid iron construction (Break DC 25), it becomes impossible for the average person to simply throw their shoulder against the door and break it open.
And, again, this matches the real world. Breaking a six-inch thick beam would be nearly impossible for all but the strongest among us. Breaking such a beam without hitting it directly (instead diffusing our impact through a door) is essentially impossible.
Breaking down doors is a simplistic example, but it shows how much thought has gone into make the system consistent with the real world, even when it comes to the small details.
It’s also interesting to look at various magical effects in the system and seeing what they mean in real world terms. For example, a hold portal spell adds +5 to the Break DC of a door. So a hold portal spell is basically equivalent to adding a deadbolt to a door (make sense). An arcane lock spell, on the other hand, adds +10 to the Break DC of a door, so it’s basically the equivalent of barring the door shut.
So if the necromancer rushes through a portal and magically seals it behind him, what does it feel like when the party’s fighter throws himself against it? Now you know.
(And knowing is half the battle. Go Joe!)
One of the things which directly led to the creation of this essay was a mini-rant by Shamus Young on encumbrance in D&D:
“Now, I like to travel light: I don’t check baggage unless I really need to. For my five-day trip I managed to get everything into a single reasonably-sized carry-on bag. It was just the bare minimum of items for five days: I wore a few clothing items twice to save space, and only carried a couple of books and a laptop for entertainment. Nevertheless, the strap of this bag bit into my shoulder as I walked, and the weight threatened to pull me off balance. A full-out run was nearly impossible, and a light jog caused the weight to bounce all over the place, slam me in the leg, and generally make the simple task of walking a bit more tricky than it normally is. It wasn’t just the weight that was a problem: the volume made the stuff difficult to manage as well.
Note that I was not wearing any metal armor. I wasn’t carrying enough food for five days in the wild. I didn’t have a sword, rope, grapple hook, spare dagger, or any other items D&D characters seem to keep handy. Try lugging five days of food and a few metal weapons a half-mile or so and you’ll quickly see that the D&D rules for carrying capacity are pure comedy.”
Pure comedy? Well, let’s run the numbers.
What was Shamus lugging around with his carry-on that day? Sounds like about three outfits of clothing. A laptop. A couple of books. A complete outfit of clothing in D&D is rated right around 4-5 pounds (unless you’re wearing royal regalia, which we’ll assume he wasn’t), so let’s say 13 pounds of clothing. A quick Google search turns up this page which suggests that his laptop probably weighed about 7 pounds. Poking around on Amazon suggests that books can reasonably weigh anywhere from about half a pound to about three pounds, depending on size and format. Let’s assume an average and call it 3 pounds for two books together. The luggage probably weighs another 7 pounds. Plus another 5 pounds for any miscellaneous stuff he didn’t mention explicitly (like toiletries).
Adding that up quickly we can see that Shamus was carrying somewhere in the ballpark of (13 + 7 + 3 + 7 + 5) 35 pounds.
Now, I’m guessing that Shamus isn’t a professional weightlifter. And, by the same token, he probably isn’t a 90-pound weakling, either. My guess is that he falls solidly into the D&D average: Strength 10.
For a D&D character with a Strength of 10, the 35 pounds or so that Shamus was carrying constitutes a medium load. A medium load hits you with a check penalty on physical actions, reduces your speed, and stops you from running full out.
Which, when we compare this to Shamus’ experience, sounds like a pretty accurate mechanical representation: “…the weight threatened to pull me off balance. A full-out run was nearly impossible, and a light jog caused the weight to bounce all over the place, slam me in the leg, and generally make the simple task of walking a bit more tricky than it normally is.”
And he was also carrying the weight in the worst way possible – as an off-center load. D&D doesn’t try to model how you’re carrying a load, but it’s reasonable to assume that the rules are designed with the assumption that characters are carrying their gear in a way which minimizes the inconvenience.
(To understand the difference, grab a 25-lb. weight and try jogging around the block with it held in your hand. Then load up a backpack with 25 pounds of stuff, pack it tight, and strap it across your back. Do the same run. It’ll be a lot easier. There’s a reason backpacks were invented.)
This is one of the way in which D&D chooses to make a playable compromise rather than trying to slavishly model every aspect of reality. Sure, you could try to create a system which attempted to model how awkward it was to carry a particular item in a particular way. Maybe items carried in the hands carry a x2 encumbrance penalty. Maybe carrying more than one or two spears is more difficult than carrying an equal weight of a smaller and more compact item.
But such a system would be a nightmare. It’s already enough of an overhead headache to try to keep an accurate tally of just the weight being carried. Most groups will only do the occasional “update” of weight carried, rather than trying to account for every time picked up or dropped as it occurs. And this is fine.
But if you tried adding a whole new layer complexity in which players had to figure out exactly how many standard rations will fit into a small, medium, or large backpack or how carrying them in a bag on your hip will affect their encumbrance you’d almost certainly create a system which would never be used (because no one would want to use it). It wouldn’t increase utility and accuracy, it would reduce it.
But with that acceptable layer of abstraction in place, how else does the system demonstrate its accuracy?
Well, let’s look at the military. How much does the equipment they carry into combat typically carry?
Historically, militaries have tended to have kit weights for their infantry soldiers in the 40-60 pound range. We’ve seen that, for average people, this would constitute a medium load: Not so heavy as to be a serious impediment, but definitely inhibiting compared to wearing winter clothes.
Of course, most soldiers aren’t of average strength. Boot camp is specifically designed to build strength (among other things). It wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect an average infantryman’s highest ability score (13) to be in Strength. And with a Strength of 13, anything up to 50 pounds is considered a light load (with no penalties to action).
And take a look at this recent article: The amount of gear carried by an American infantryman is creeping up into the neighborhood of 70 pounds or more. That’s a heavy load for a person with average strength (10), and even our physically fit soldiers with above average strength (13) who were previously wearing light loads are now being weighed down with a medium load.
Our soldiers aren’t too happy with all that extra weight. And D&D shows us why.
(On a slight tangent, another common complaint about D&D’s encumbrance figures go the other way: They claim that things like longswords should be heavier and that plate armor should make it impossible to do anything physical. Most of these beliefs are either built on shoddy replicas, urban legends, or simple misunderstanding.
To pick on Shamus Young again, he also jumped on this bandwagon: “The system is even more messed up than it seems. A quick glance at the item weights in the player handbook will reveal gems like the following: A longsword weighs 4lbs. Even using lightweight modern metal alloys, I think you’d have a very, very hard time getting an adult-sized longsword that weighs only 4lbs. Even if you did somehow have a sword that light, it would feel like a toy in your hand.”
But even casual research quickly reveals that 4 lbs. is almost exactly what historical long swords weighed. The essay “What Did Historical Swords Weigh?” by J. Clements is an excellent resource for this. People didn’t make slow, heavy weapons and awkward armor because their lives depended on not making weapons and armor like that.)
KNOWLEDGE AND CRAFTING
There’s a common fallacy when it comes to D&D, and it goes something like: Einstein was a 20th level physicist. So, in D&D, Einstein – that little old man – has something like a bajillion hit points and you’d need to stab him dozens of times if you wanted to kill him. That’s ridiculous!
The problem with this argument is that Einstein wasn’t a 20th level physicist. A 20th level physicist is one step removed from being the God of Physicists. Einstein was probably something more like a 4th or 5th level expert.
This can be a little bit difficult for some people to accept, so let’s run the math. At 5th level an exceptional specialist like Einstein will have:
+8 skill ranks +4 ability score bonus +3 Skill Focus ```In the case of our 5th level Einstein, that gives him a +15 bonus to Knowledge (physics) checks. He can casually answer physics-related questions (by taking 10) with a DC of 25\. Such questions, according to the PHB description of the Knowledge skill, are among the hardest physics questions known to man. He’ll know the answers to the very hardest questions (DC 30) about 75% of the time. And when he’s doing research he’ll be able to add the benefits of being able to reference scientific journals (+2 circumstance bonus), gain insight from fellow colleagues (+2 bonus from aid another), use top-of-the-line equipment (+2 circumstance bonus), and similar resources to gain understanding of a problem so intractable that no one has ever understood it before (DC 40+). (This 5th level Einstein can also be modeled with as few as 5 hit points – 1 per hit die. Even if he rolled an average number of hit points on each hit die (3 each), as an old man his average Constitution of 10 will have dropped two points. With the resulting Constitution penalty, he still only has 10 hit points. This is the other reason why the hit point argument holds no water.) You’ll see this same fallacy trotted out whenever someone insists that the local blacksmith “must” be at least 10th level in order to be competent in their profession. In reality, the typical village blacksmith is probably only a 1st level character. At 1st level the average blacksmith’s Craft (blacksmithing) skill looks like this:
+4 skill ranks
+1 Intelligence bonus
+3 Skill Focus
+2 from an assistant or apprentice helping them
Even less capable 1st level blacksmiths (without an assistant or the Skill Focus feat) still have a +5 bonus to their skill. This lets them take 10 and craft high-quality items (the only things they can’t handle are exotic weapons and complex items). And what does an exceptional 5th level blacksmith look like?
+8 skill ranks
+4 Intelligence bonus
+3 Skill Focus
+2 masterwork tools
+2 from an assistant or apprentice helping them
What does all this mean? It means that the most extraordinary blacksmiths in the real world top out at 5th level. Amakuni, the legendary Japanese swordsmith who created the folded-steel technique? 5th level. Arachne, the legendary weaver who challenged Athena herself to a duel (and lost)? She _might_ be 10th level. Does this mean you should never throw a 10th level blacksmith into your campaign? Nope. D&D is all about mythic fantasy, after all. But when you do decide to throw a 10th level blacksmith into the mix, consider the fact that this guy will be amazing. He will be producing things that no blacksmith in the real world has ever dreamed of making. And a 20th level blacksmith is one step removed from Hephaestus himself. (Coincidentally: Why do dwarves have such a reputation for mastery of the forge? They have a +2 racial bonus to Craft checks. That means that, unlike human blacksmiths, the average dwarf doesn’t need to be 3rd level in order to single-handedly create masterwork items – they can do it at 1st level. Basically, due to their natural aptitude, dwarves are master craftsmen before they ever leave their apprenticeships.) **JUMPING** How well do these numbers hold up when compared to other skills? Well, let’s take a look at the Jump skill. Based on our analysis of the Knowledge and Craft skills, we know that a 1st level character has professional competency in their chosen field. We also know that a 5th level character represents the most legendary levels of skill – the type of people who come along once in a generation. So, when it comes to jumping, a 1st level character probably represents a typical college athlete. A 5th level character, on the other hand, represents the small handful of jumpers who challenge and break the world records. It would make sense then, that Olympians would probably fall in the 3rd to 4th level range (better than your run-of-the-mill specialists, but not quite at the level of once-in-a-generation). Let’s take a look at a 4th level Olympian jumper:
+7 skill ranks
+3 Strength bonus
+3 Skill Focus
Now, back in the original 3rd Edition (3.0), the result of a running long jump check was: 5 ft. + 1 ft. per 1 point above 10 This can be more easily paraphrased this way: The distance of a long jump is equal to your check result minus 5 feet. Our Olympian’s jumps will range from 9 feet (stumbling all the way on a roll of natural 1) to 28 feet. But a typical Olympic event involves three jumps in which the best distance is recorded. That means that roughly 80% of the time, our long jumper will be jumping between 20 feet and 28 feet in competition. Looking at the 2004 Olympics, the top forty men’s long-jump results during the qualification round range from 24 feet to 27.25 feet. Those types of results will be posted approximately 60% of the time by our Olympic long-jumper. With out 5th level jumper we can bump the ability bonus up to +4, add a +2 synergy bonus from Tumble, or a +4 bonus from the Run feat. The result would be a the ability to achieve jumps in the 29-35 foot range. The world record is currently set at 29.35 feet. So, once again we’re finding that 5th level is right at the dividing line between legendary real world performances and the impossible realms of the superhuman. And you’ll find similar fidelity with the high jump rules. (In fact, the 3.0 high jump rules are even more accurate than the long jump rules.) The jumping rules, however, are perhaps the most visible victim of gameplay compromises in D&D. When the system was revised for D20 Modern, the distance of a long jump was revised to simply equal the DC of the check. This change was later picked up in the 3.5 revision of the D&D rules. This rule is a lot simpler to remember, but it makes jumping significantly easier than any other skill (compared to real world performance). Under the new rules, 1st level characters can now trivially perform Olympic-level jumps and our typical Olympians will be routinely smashing the world record. (The high jump rules, on the other hand, remain fairly accurate.) **ANALYZING ARAGORN** So what have we learned so far? Almost everyone you have ever met is a 1st level character. The few exceptional people you’ve met are probably 2nd or 3rd level – they’re canny and experienced and can accomplish things that others find difficult or impossible. If you know someone who’s 4th level, then you’re privileged to know one of the most talented people around: They’re a professional sports player. Or a brain surgeon. Or a rocket scientist. If you know someone who’s 5th level, then you have the honor of knowing someone that will probably be written about in history books. Walter Payton. Michael Jordan. Albert Einstein. Isaac Newton. Miyamoto Musashi. William Shakespeare. So when your D&D character hits 6th level, it means they’re literally superhuman: They are capable of achieving things that no human being has ever been capable of achieving. They have transcended the mortal plane and become a mythic hero. This requires a shift of perception for some people, but I’ve found it valuable, when crafting my own campaigns, to keep it in mind: Even though the PCs inhabit a world where there are many higher level characters, once they’ve gotten past 5th level or so, they are truly special individuals. They will be noticed. Their accomplishments will be (and should be) things which would enshrine them in the legends of our world. It’s OK for them to excel. To help put this in further perspective, let me pop another popular canard: People love to stat up their favorite heroes from fantasy literature as 20th level juggernauts. Fafhrd? 20th level. Elric? 20th level. Conan? 20th level. Aragorn? 20th level Luke Skywalker? 20th level. I mean, they _must_ be 20th level, right? They’re the biggest, bestest heroes ever! They’re the greatest warriors in a generation! Some of them are reputedly the greatest swordsmen who ever lived in any universe EVAH! But when you stop and analyze what these characters are actually described as achieving, it’s rare to find anything which actually requires a 20th level build. Take Aragorn, for example. He’s clearly described as one of the best warriors in Middle Earth. But what do we actually see him _do_? Let’s take _The Fellowship of the Rings_ as an example: > He leads the hobbits through the wilderness with great skill. (The highest Survival DC in the core rules is DC 15\. A 1st level character can master the skill for non-tracking purposes. Aragorn, as a master tracker, would need to be 5th level, have at least one level of ranger, and have spent one of his feats on Skill Focus (Survival) to achieve all of this.) > > He drives off the ringwraiths at Weathertop. (It’s difficult to conclude anything from this because it’s one of the more problematic passages in the book when subjected to analysis. If the ringwraiths are truly impervious to harm from any mortal man, why are they scared off by a guy waving two “flaming brands of wood”? Are they vulnerable to fire in a way that they’re not vulnerable to mortal weapons? The point is, the true strength of the ringwraiths is obscure, so it’s impossible to know how tough Aragorn would need to be in order to accomplish this.) > > Aragorn treats Frodo’s wound, unsuccessfully. (The highest Heal DC is 15\. As with Survival, Aragorn could have mastered this skill at 1st level. > > In Moria (fighting orcs): “Legolas shot two through the throat. Gimli hewed the legs from under another that had sprung up on Balin’s tomb. Boromir and Aragorn slew many. When thirteen had fallen the rest fled shrieking, leaving the defenders unharmed, except for Sam who had a scratch along the scalp. A quick duck had saved him; and he had felled his orc: a sturdy thrust with his Barrow-blade. A fire was smouldering in his brown eyes that would have made Ted Sandyman step backwards, if he had seen it. (Aragorn slays no more than six or seven CR 1/2 orcs in this encounter. A trivial accomplishment for a 5th level character.) Even if you follow Aragorn all the way through _The Two Towers_ and _The Return of the King_, you’ll find that this is fairly representative of what he accomplishes. The only other notable ping on the radar is his ability to use athelas, and even if we don’t assume that’s merely an example of him knowing athelas’ properties (with a Knowledge (nature) check), it’s still just one ability. So what can we conclude form this? Aragorn is about 5th level. And since Aragorn is one of the most remarkable individuals in all of Middle Earth, this would imply that Middle Earth is a place largely like our own world: People who achieve 5th level are uniquely gifted and come along but once in a generation. Does that seem like a proper description of Middle Earth? It does. Tolkien was crafting a false mythology – a forgotten epoch of our own world. Thus the people in it are much like the people we know, although they live in a world of heroes and magic. (For the record, I’d probably model Aragorn as a Rgr1/Ftr1/Pal3\. That gives you the tracking, lay on hands, and quantifies his ineffable ability to instill courage in those around him. Use one of the feat selections for Skill Focus (Survival) and you’re still left with another three feat selections for the final tweaking.) Why do people make the mistake of modeling characters like Aragorn as 20th level characters? I think it arises from several factors. First, there is the assumption that the fictional world of the novel is a typical D&D world. If someone is described as “the best in the world”, therefore, they must be 20th level. Otherwise there would be people better than them and the description wouldn’t be accurate, right? But the reality is that, in Middle Earth, there aren’t any 20th level characters. (At least, none of mortal stature.) Even the most exceptional of the immortal elves are most likely no more than 8th level or so (and that’s pushing it). Gandalf is a demigod cloaked in mortal form and I’d have difficulty statting him up as even a 10th level character. Second, people can be thrown off by some contortion required by D&D in order to get a very specific set of abilities. A character is described as having one very specific ability that only a 5th level druid can have and is simultaneously described as having another ability that only a 12th level ranger can have, so clearly they must be a 17th level character, right? Well, no. Authors don’t design their characters around the class progressions of the core D&D classes. Take, for example, a character who can assume an ethereal state without casting a spell. The only way to do that in D&D, using only the core classes, is to be a 19th level monk. But if that’s the only special ability the character in question has, it would be completely nonsensical to model them as a 19th level monk – they don’t have any of the plethora of other abilities such a monk possesses. What you’re looking at is a character with a unique class progression or possibly a prestige class. Or maybe a racial ability. Finally, you’ll get into an arms race of expectations which just reinforces the whole thing: Aragorn must be 20th level. So the orcs who posed such a challenge to him must be 15th level or higher. And since those were elite 15th level orcs, Aragorn must have been 20th level in order to face them. **CONCLUDING THOUGHTS** The problem with having false expectations about what “Strength 20” or “15th level” really means is that it creates a dissonance between what the rules allow characters to do and what you think characters should be able to do. For example, if you think that Conan should be modeled as a [25th level character](25th level character), then you’re going to be constantly frustrated when the system treats him as a demigod and allows him to do all sorts of insanely powerful things that the literary Conan was never capable of. From there it’s a pretty short step to making pronouncements like “D&D can’t do Conan” (or Lankhmar or Elric or whatever). The other problem is the expectation it brings to your campaigns. If you believe that epic adventures are only possible for characters who are 20th level, then your players are going to have a long, hard slog through lower levels of utter tedium before they can get to the “good stuff” that resembles the fantasy stories they love. I’m seen people spend countless hours trying to tweak various rules so that, for example, 20th level characters (who are basically mythological demigods) can’t fall off the Cliffs of Insanity and survive because “no one could survive a fall like that”. Well, that’s true. No one in the real world can survive a fall like that. But that’s because no one in the real world is a _demigod_. You might be missing the forest for the trees here. The fact that D&D can handle a range of powers from the subhuman all the way up through the superhuman and into the demigod-like is actually one of the system’s strengths. People will rightfully point that, beyond 20th level, the system begins to break down. But compared to virtually every other RPG ever designed, D&D’s performance across that wide range of powers is still amazing. Nothing else can really compare. (For example, HERO was originally designed to model superheroes, and it does that exceptionally. It’s also very good at handling cinematic action heroes. But when you ask it to do normal human beings, it starts developing some serious clunkiness. On the other end of the spectrum, GURPS is great at handling human beings near the normal end of the spectrum, but gets progressively more awkward the more powerful the characters become.) But what frustrates some people is that D&D assumes that you’re going to move from one level of power to an extremely different level of power. So they spend a lot of time tweaking the system and trying to get it to perform at a more uniform level from 1st to 20th level. I think this is the hard way of doing it. Instead of fighting the system, I’d rather try to work with it: Target the precise range of levels which form the “sweet spot” for whatever campaign concept I’m working on, and then tinker with the character creation and advancement rules to keep the campaign focused in that sweet spot. Those changes can be as simple as “XP awards will be 1/10th the normal size and everyone should create a 5th level character”, but more complicated variants are more than possible. The point is that you find that “sweet spot” and then you tinker with one aspect of the system, rather than trying to redo the whole thing. And the first step in finding that “sweet spot” is to recognize what the numbers really _mean_. Which neatly takes us back to the beginning premise of the essay. (I wouldn’t suggest going back and re-reading it like a literary ouroboros, though. It’s long enough as it is.)
_Sprawling across the boundaries of the Known World, like a great, serpentine dragon, lies the bustling, ever-startling world of Mystara, a land where the only constant is change.
Mystara has managed to survive through three disasters of cataclysmic proportions. The first such disaster, the Great Rain of Fire, came about some four millennia ago. It was then that the ancient Blackmoors, master of magic and technology, loosed their powerful weapons on the land in an Armageddon that forever changed the face of the world.
Although the people of Blackmoor failed to survive this self-inflicted calamity, they were nevertheless players in the second major disaster some thirteen hundred years later, when unsuspecting elves unwittingly detonated a powerful artifact left behind by the men of Blackmoor. The resulting explosion not only wiped out whole races but also brought about a change in climate that spawned a new ice age.
In more modern times, vengeful gods and goddesses brought about a series of cataclysmic events known as the Wrath of the Immortals. A great meteorite struck the land, an entire continent sank beneath the ocean, and a deadly plague began to spread.
Mystara is a world of constant surprises. Where else would you expect to find a flying city, a magical mountain, a floating continent, and invisible moon complete with inhabitants, and entire region of the world with its population held under the sinister, body-altering influence of a mysterious magical substance? What other land possesses and entire separate world inside its hollow core, with neither the world’s population aware of the existence of the other?
In Mystara, you’ll discover brave adventurers, powerful mages, evil villains, majestic dragons, lurking monsters. An entire civilization that has survived underground for hundreds of years, a nation of halflings, an island kingdom of pirates. Immortals who dabble in the affairs of mere mortals for their own amusement. An entire race that has migrated to Mystara from another world.
Fire and air magic…
A blighted, magically enchanted forest…
A sunken continent…
It’s all here, and much, much more, when you dare to visit the magical world of Mystara!_
Some of the best old-school modules were set in the Known World–later renamed to Mystara. Originally presented as a "sample D&D wilderness", Mystara became the world of classic D&D. The world for Advanced D&D (Greyhawk) did little to inspire me, but Mystara hooked me right away, from its sketchy inception in The Isle of Dread module, to the fleshed-out detail in later Gazetteers. The nations are compelling medieval European analogs of our own world:
- the Thyatian Empire (Byzantine),
- the Grand Duchy of Karameikos (southeastern Europe),
- the Principalities of Glantri (western Europe, ruled by wizard-princes),
- the Ethengar Khanate (Mongols),
- the Republic of Darokin (mercantile city-states of medieval Italy),
- the Emirates of Ylaruam (Mid-Eastern Arabs),
- the Northern Reaches of Östland/Vestland/Søderfjørd (Scandinavian Vikings),
plus regions for the dwarves, elves, and halflings.
I still consider Mystara the most ideal setting for any D&D campaign.
Within the confines of CoA, and indeed, D&D as a whole, there seems to be a trend of creating the most perfectly unique and interesting character possible. In pen-and-paper games, this comes out as a list of impossibly meta-gamed, min-maxed characters: half-drow/half-dragon warlock paladins, tiefling sorcerer-rogues, and other completely asinine combinations–with backstories to justify their heritage which just don't make sense in ANY setting.
While the power-gaming race/class combinations aren't very prevalent within CoA, the absurd back-stories are more so... all in the name of creating a unique, memorable character. From time to time, this works, if it is the exception to the rule. But when every adventuring character is equally unique and the only "normal" people are the NPCs... the level of interest falls off quickly.
I remember reading, some time ago, a post by a CoA DM (Moloch, I think) about how to create a good CoA character. In the post he argued against the classic icons of fantasy literature: Don't play an elven ranger--that's not a character, that's a stereotype. With respect to the DMs, I have to vehemently disagree. The reason those stereotypes exist is... drumroll please THEY WORK! They always have and always will. It didn't start with Gygax, or even Tolkien--the Norse sagas, the bardic tales of the Celts, and even the classical Greek myths all shared common fantasy themes.
How can you create an original, memorable character out of the same clichés that everyone has heard time and time again since they first picked up a d20? Well, I'll give you an example of one adventuring party who is made up of nothing but those iconic, cliché stereotypes. (The ability scores indicated are starting stats; the asterisk (*) indicates where the "stat bump" every fourth level would ideally be placed.)
! LG human male fighter (alternatively paladin of Torm)
STR: 16* DEX: 11 CON: 16 WIS: 8 INT: 9 CHA: 14
Fleetwood is a handsome man of Chondathan stock. Quite tall and robust, this dusty-haired warrior with a chiseled face cuts an impressive figure. Still quite young, in his mid 20s, Fleetwood is a capable fighter as well as a charismatic leader.
! Fleetwood is a home-town hero, raised in the northern town of Arabel by his "uncle". Whilst his uncle swears that he is not an orphan, Fleetwood has never met his parents. (Unknown to him, he is secretly a Royal bastard, hidden away to be raised by his "uncle" to protect him from the intrigues of the crown during the Shadovar war and post-war turmoil.)
! As an adult, living in Arabel, he took several odd jobs–learning very few marketable skills and never staying in one profession for very long. When he was seventeen he had taken it upon himself to collect his savings to buy supplies needed for an adventurer's life. He then went up into the nearby hills, into some of the many caves there, learning how to live by his sword.
CLARION of Lathander
! NG human female cleric (healing/sun)
STR: 9 DEX: 8 CON: 14 WIS: 16* INT: 11 CHA: 16
Clarion is a rather short, raven-haired Damaran. Standing 5'5" with lightly bronzed skin, Clarion appears very much like a classical beauty. Her sharp jawline and piercing grey eyes gives her an aura of confidence not found very often amongst women of her social caste.
! Clarion's family consists of a myriad of well-to-do merchants that travelled throughout the Dales and Heartlands before settling in the village of Flynn. As Clarion grew up caring little for her ancestral lands, being more interested in the local populace, within which she made several childhood friends. At sixteen, she begged her family to allow her to leave home to travel for herself. Her father grudgingly agreed and set Clarion off on her own.
! Young Clarion soon found herself overwhelmed by the world around her–no longer protected by her family and their wealth. She left Flynn for the "big city". Barely a few miles outside her village, she found herself overcome with the burden she had placed upon herself and broke down on the side of the road to cry. It was then when an aging man came by her side and comforted her. The man took her in, and helped her find her way. This man set Clarion up with the church ladies in Arabel. There she soon became an acolyte to the Temple of Lathander.
! CN human male wizard
STR: 8 DEX: 16 CON: 14 WIS: 11 INT: 16* CHA: 9
Darek Felonius is of mixed lineage. His father was a Cormyran soldier and his mother was a Sembian gypsy. His is not the healthiest man, and it shows. He is prematurely aged, looking closer to his 40's while he is yet to reach 30 years of age. He stands 5'10", not exceptionally tall, but quite lean. His light brown hair has started to gray making him look more blond. He caries a short trimmed beard in contrast to his thinning hair.
! As a child, his mother left his father to marry a Sembian merchant. Since then, he has not used his first name–rejecting that portion of his ancestry. He does have a younger half-brother from his mother in the form of Greegan. His rejection of his mother's heritage does not extend to his brother, and they get along quite well.
! Felonius, true to Cormyte tradition enlist into the Purple Dragon army. However, fate interveined as his parents, including his mother's husband, was forced into service of the Shadovar where all three perished. Felonius and Greegan, now orphans, were thrown into the streets of Suzail as penniless urchins.
! Felonius did his best to protect his brother, but came upon an opportunity he could not afford to pass up. Working as a minor entertainer on the streets of the capital, he performed any number of sleight-of-hand illusions and tricks. A mysterious merchant, impressed by Felonius's ability, paid for his tuition to the War Wizard Academy in far off Thay. After forcing his brother to promise to not get in any trouble, he made his way north to study.
! After graduating from the Academy, Felonius returned home to learn that his brother had become an adventurer living in Arabel. Meeting up with him, he has traveled with Greegan and his friends ever since.
! TN human male rogue
STR: 16 DEX: 16* CON: 11 WIS: 9 INT: 14 CHA: 8
Greegan is a Sembian man. He is rather plain, being only 5'9" tall with brown hair and eyes. His only distinguishing feature being a short goatee he doesn't stand out very much, and this suits him just fine.
! Greegan is the younger half-brother of Felonius. Their parents died several years ago in some war or another–he never really cared to find out the details--only that he was left alone. If being an orphan was not enough, his brother left him to fend for himself at a time when he needed his family the most.
! On the streets of Suzail, he quickly learned to live by his wits. After a time, he joined a thieves' guild. Eventually, he was caught and thrown in jail for several months. When he was released, he had decided to "go straight" and try his hand at honest trade. He made his way into the Dalelands to begin his new business. Whether it was the wrong time, or the wrong place, Greegan never knew. He ended up being framed for a murder he didn't commit. Running from an angry mob who cared little for the life of a foreigner, Greegan stowed away in a caravan bound for Cormyr. Only by his wit and ingenuity was he able to escape back to civilization without getting caught.
After his ordeal, with a murderer's name on his head, he wanted to get as far away from the Dales as possible. He joined up with a group of adventurers travelling to Arabel. There, he was reintroduced to his brother who had become a proper wizard.
! He has continued to travel with his brother's adventuring troupe, more out of security than loyalty. Though he has learned to respect their ability to protect him when he gets into trouble. He is often at odds with his brother who seems to be making up for abandoning him by being over-protective, but he allows it so that his other companions don't learn of his wanted past.
! LN dwarf male fighter
STR: 15* DEX: 14 CON: 18 WIS: 11 INT: 8 CHA: 9
Rolf hails from the city of Thunderholme deep in the Thunderpeak Mountains, where his prominent family of the Stronghollow clan has lived for several generations. Gruff and dour with an unintentional sense of humor, Rolf stands a full 4 feet. His mediocre height is more than made up for with a stout 150 lbs. His dusty skin seems perpetually in need of washing, but this doesn't seem to bother him. His well-manicured wavy beard is a luxurious dark brown which looks black in any light shy of direct sunlight.
! True to his family's plans for him, Rolf is an engineering genius. It was always his intention to apprentice under his father and take over control and management of the largest mines of the entire clan–as his father did before him. Naturally, life has a way of ruining the best laid-out plan.
! Nearing the end of his apprenticeship, Rolf had a nagging and recurring dream telling him that he was needed elsewhere. After a time, he heeded the call and decided to travel to the Caravan City of Arabel in search of adventure.
! This decision did not sit well with either his family or his clan, who prides themselves on their regimented life, saying they haven't changed their way-of-life in hundreds of years. Rolf, steadfast in his choice to heed the call of his vision, was disowned by the clan, never to return. He lost all that he had and all that he was.
! Undeterred, he reached Arabel to join up with the most ragtag band of adventurers he could imagine. Since that time he has travelled with his new companions... his new family. To this day he has never returned to Thunderholme. He now adventures in order to, one day, found his own clan, in a new home of his choosing.
! CG elf male wizard (enchanter)/Fighter (alternatively ranger)
STR: 16 DEX: 14 CON: 9 WIS: 8 INT: 16* CHA: 11
Belrain is an elven man. Even when his pointed ears are hidden by his wildly unkempt mane of golden-blonde hair, his heritage is immediately obvious by his untamed nature. He stands an 5'3" and weighs barely 115 lbs. His earth-toned clothing are adorned with patterns of oak leaves to match his bright green eyes in contrast to his fair–nearly pale skin.
! Belrain 's clan, the Callarii elves, are from the King's Forest in northwestern Cormyr. He lived a rather carefree life, knowing neither want nor pain up until, the primordial chaos turned his forest home into a swamp at the hands of the Shadovar. Belrain had found his calling--to fight against evil wherever he may find it by any means necessary.
! In his travels, Belrain has seen many amazing things which has made him come resent his sheltered upbringing. So, too, has he seen many more atrocities that has strengthened his resolve to combat the evils of the world.
! Belrain continues to travel with his companions from Arabel. Although he doesn't always get along with them, especially the dwarf named Rolf (a fact which is usually witnessed by way of playful bickering), he remains fiercely loyal to each and every one of them... even the dwarf. The most common source of discontent between Belrain and his party members is his choice of methods utilized when battling evil.
! NG Halfling male rogue/fighter
STR: 15 DEX: 16* CON: 9 WIS: 14 INT: 11 CHA: 8
Morgan Touchberry, a Hin who prefers using his family name (he finds it amusing that humans seem to think it sounds so funny), appears rather average for a halfling. At three feet even and a portly 60 lbs., Touchberry has short (but thick) wavy dark brown hair, light brown eyes, and a lightly tanned complexion.
! In addition to the size of a human child, he also has the curiosity and temperament of one. Never satisfied, Touchberry has been constantly changing his home, his job, even the story of his past. If you ask him where he's from, you might get any number of responses. Among his favorite answers are "over there, didn't you see me walk up to you", "I'm an immigrant from my loving and peaceful home of Luiren", "I'm a refugee from the Shadovar", and "I'm a travelling bard from the great and sprawling metropolis of Neverwinter, far to the west in cold and rugged Sword Coast".
! Despite his childlike temperament, no one can say that Touchberry doesn't have determination and perseverance. Completely lacking any manner of talent, Touchberry has styled himself as a travelling bard–and he's practiced till his fingers bled to teach himself the skill required to make up for his lack of talent.
! Touchberry's adventuring career began by accident as a stowaway on a merchant vessel. One evening, in his many random travels, Touchberry happened across a band of adventurers. Naturally, he tagged along, and has done so ever since.
! With all of this seeming random happenings, Touchberry is not so chaotic as all that. He has a very good reason for each and every decision he makes... he's just not always sure what that reason is until after the fact.
There you go. A ready-made adventuring party full of adventure and intrigue–composed of nothing but every stereotype in the book! (Seriously though--if anyone wants to use this party, I wouldn't mind creating an Alt for when Balteus isn't doing anything.)
The problem of alignment is an old and complex one. If a player really wishes to use his character's alignment to guide him in play, he may find the paragraphs pertaining to alignment in the game rules to be too general and difficult to apply. The solution to this difficulty lies with the gaming group and DM, who have the authority to define specifically what is meant by each alignment in the context of the particular campaign. There is another difficulty involved in using alignment in role-playing. A chaotic character may realize that acting on his own behalf would destroy the group and all its members. Is he playing out of character by going along with the others? A lawful character may feel compelled to obey a senseless command, a good character may have to kill to survive, and so on. Many players feel that there is often a conflict between "playing in alignment" and playing intelligently (we've all heard and witnessed the phrase "Lawful Stupid"). This dilemma is not a real dilemma. It comes from considering the requirements of alignment too superficially and not integrating alignment with intelligence and wisdom to produce a consistent character. Intelligence dictates the degree to which a character's outlook (alignment) is rationalized. An unintelligent chaotic merely resents being bossed around, whereas an intelligent chaotic consciously espouses some philosophy, such as anarchism or existentialism, that promotes the individual over the group. These two chaotics will act quite differently if given an order. The unintelligent chaotic will resent any order and will probably have to be physically coerced if what is asked of him is in any way difficult or dangerous. The intelligent chaotic, on the other hand, will readily obey any order that he considers to be logical and in his own best interest. He may resist authority that he believes to be in error, although he is open to persuasion if any one can convince him that he will ultimately benefit from obedience. He will never consider obedience beneficial as an end in itself, but as a means to personal advancement he will accept it. The following notes summarize how intelligence and alignment can affect a PC's personality:
Intelligence of 7 or less
The character's alignment is inarticulate and unrationalized. He cannot give reasons for his behavior, but he acts on his natural inclinations. A neutral character of low intelligence is easily swayed by circumstance and peer pressure. A chaotic character is contrary, while a lawful one is docile and obedient. A good character is naturally sympathetic and helpful toward anyone he meets, while an evil character dislikes everyone equally.
Intelligence of 8-11
This character has at least some rational justification for his alignment tendencies. A good character may quote the golden rule or appeal to the authority of the prevailing culture. An evil character may take a "do unto others before they do it to you" attitude. A lawful character will point to the stabilizing effects of order, while a chaotic one may condemn law as a first step to slavery. A neutral character will be motivated by a simple kind of relativism ("It takes all kinds."). Characters of average intelligence can be persuaded from their natural inclinations only with some difficulty, force or threat often being more effective than words.
Intelligence of 12-15
A character in this category belongs to some specific philosophical school or holds some specific religious doctrine. He will discuss his principles and attempt to apply them when an important decision arises. However, he usually has a number of uncertainties regarding the philosophy he holds and is readily persuaded to take the most sensible course of action when in doubt. A chaotic character would speak in terms of individual rights and freedom, but a lawful character would appeal to a principle such as the divine right of kings. A good character will seek the greatest good for the greatest number and will have some interest in the survival of good on the large scale, rather than just an inclination toward generosity. An evil character will see history as a pattern of force and will measure success by the injury done to opponents.
Intelligence of 16-17
A highly intelligent character will have a detailed personal philosophy, often of his own devising. His justifications for his actions will be well reasoned and distinctive. Much of his life's goal consists of the creative realization of his philosophy. Many such characters are quite subtle, seeking to achieve some grand design that is not obvious to others. However, some find an intellectual challenge in holding to a strict code of ethics at all times. A good character of this latter sort might go to great lengths to survive a battle without taking another's life or shedding blood.
Intelligence of 18 or above
Such a genius character is a philosopher with a detailed moral system of his own devising (or at least his own unique interpretation of an existing system). Most such characters will endeavor to become philosopher-kings, found religions, or establish places of learning from which to put forth their ideas. They are looked upon as spokesmen for their alignments.
Oh wow! I had forgotten about this thread. The things you find when sleep disorders keep you awake all night. Since, I'm here, I might as well add something.
While playing earlier today, my character ran across a well-spoken half-orc wizard. I thought this was an interesting, even brave, concept for the player to come up with. Kudos to you. Here are a couple of mechanically-gimped, but perfectly suited for extensive role-play, character types:
The Weakling Soldier
Young man comes from a long line of Purple Dragon soldiers. He grew up hearing tales of war and battle from his father, grandfather, great-grandfather, and always dreamt of continuing in that tradition. However, his over-protective mother, having lost two sons already to the army and wars, never permitted him to join in the many character-building exercises of so many youths–like bullying the neighborhood kids, getting into fights, or even competing in games of courage with his friends. Because of this, our young would-be hero never developed into a virile, strapping man. He only has a Strength score of 12. Undaunted, he defies his mother's objections and enlists to follow his dreams and make his father proud.
Not being very strong, our young soldier is given the dubious honor of becoming the company clerk--preparing forms, making inventory of supplies, and ensuring everyone gets paid on time.... BUT, he's a soldier, a fighter, a warrior: trained in combat and martial prowess.
To make up for his deficiencies, this adventurer learns to use his wits (Wis 16) and training (skills) to survive after he leaves the army and begins his adventuring career. Having learned quite a bit about how things work behind-the-scenes (max points in Appraise, Discipline, Lore, and Persuade), he becomes a valuable asset to any adventuring party, easily able to convey the latest gossip and even convince the powers-that-be into doing whatever his personal plots desire.
The Street Magician, aka The Petty Dabbler
Rough neighborhood, he grew up in. Gangs, thugs, and abusive city guardsmen around every corner. He had to fight just to make it through the day… every day. He's strong (Str 18), but lean (Con 12/Dex 14). He had to be just to get to where he is today--rock bottom. He's tired of fighting. He dreams of the day when he can just sit back and read fairy tales and history books. He's not very smart (INT 13), but damned if he doesn't love a good book. Eventually, he had to learn to make a living... maybe he picked up a few tricks from that gypsy caravan that came through town last year. He can dazzle passers-by with a pretty light show, shoot fire into the air from his fingertips, and even make a killing by bilking commoners out of their hard-earned money with the invisible magic markings on the back of a deck of cards.
He will never be able to comprehend the deeper mysteries of magic (INT 13 limits him to 1st level spells, regardless of level), but his guile and strength give him the advantage of surprise. Of course, he gets caught cheating at cards every now and then--but he always gets the drop on his mark because they never expect him to pull out that nice shiny longsword and slash through them with expert control (Martial Weapon Proficiency feat). The Agents are never able to find him (Hide & Move Silent skill), and merchants can't compete with his under-priced, black-market goods (max Appraise skill) that he peddles off to anyone with coin to spare--especially when they don't even need it (Persuade skill).
As always, please post comments, critiques, suggestion… feel free to debate opposing points of view, or even a nod of agreement. I love feedback!
Mr.Moloch last edited by
Your street magician isn't all that gimped. I played that basic build on EfU, got to level 8 or so wielding a scythe. I went more the mystic diviner route, but 18 STR and 13 INT (14 by level 8) and cast a lot of True Strike and Power Attacks. That said, 13 INT limits him to 3rd level spells. On CoA, which is a much less brutal setting, I could easily get a character like that to level 10.
That said, 13 INT limits him to 3rd level spells.
Oops! My mistake. :oops: Serves me right for trying to think on no sleep.
ma1keru333 last edited by
posting to receive updates automagically in my threads list.
Way back when we old folk started playing D&D, there was a special rule… one that largely got ignored and eventually forgotten then dropped from the rulebooks. But, it was a good rule.
Title: Your fighter should use this title when talking with other characters. Instead of saying “I’m Fleetwood, a Second Level fighter,” the character should say “I’m Fleetwood, the Warrior.”
Each level for each class had it's own unique title. A 1st level Fighter was a Veteran, a 3rd level Fighter was a Swordmaster, etc. Naturally you can see why this was not a rule that wasn't commonly used, but it proved a good point. We, the players, are aware of everything on our character sheets… but our characters aren't born with magic scrolls telling us everything they are, or aren't, capable of doing. They don't know their own level any more than they know their BAB.
For the most part, avoiding this kind of meta-gaming is so far beyond obvious that we don't even think about it, we just do it. I've noticed recently, however, that it has it's limitations. Class, for example... everyone immediately knows who is playing a Paladin. Why? Are they carrying a scroll identifying their membership into a holy order? How do you know they're not a Fighter/Cleric instead? Maybe... just maybe, this Paladin (by class) is nothing more than a devout worshipper who has no formal religious training and was simply "called" to service. By-the-book, he's still a Paladin. In-character, he would NEVER be seen as one. He's not been schooled in Church doctrine. He hasn't been properly trained in combat. He hasn't joined The Grand Holy Order of Generic Stereotype Paladins. He's not been sanctioned or recognized in any way by the ecclesiastical authority of his Deity. In-character, he is NOT a Paladin, no matter what the "class" block on his character sheet says.
Another one is magic items. Take a nice piece of in-game loot: the Cormyran Orcthrasher. In game-terms, it's a Longsword+1, +2 vs Orcs. Simple, right? So… how does everyone refer to it, IC? "A magic sword with special enchantments against orcs" To me, at least, that sounds like a vague paraphrase of the sword's game-stats. Wouldn't it be better to describe it as "a finely crafted blade made from the highest quality steel, lightweight with excellent balance and a well-honed edge, perfect for slicing through the fleshy bellies of those damned orc brigands pestering the countryside"? This description has the benefit of being more interesting, it also accurately describes it's function without a single mention of the magic or enchantments which the common non-magic-using lay-person would scarcely understand or even be aware of. Remember, unless you've been specifically informed of it's magic by someone with who understand the properties of magical enhancements, the item has intelligence and telepathically speaks to you, or it has a visible aura (such as 'White Light: 15m'--even then you can explain it away as being highly polished so that it reflects and magnifies even the slightest bit of light that hits it) your non-spell-casting character SHOULDN'T KNOW IT'S MAGICAL! (Admittedly, since NWN never implemented the 'Detect Magic' spell, this last part can be largely washed over, but please don't act like a magic expert if you're not playing one. Please? For me?!?)
Similarly, what is the difference between an Outsider and an Aberration? A studied mage, or a veteran planes walker would learn the nuances and differences… but to that
2nd Level FighterWarrior entering Gilmore's Tower or the Gladstone Estate for the very first time, they're all "big scary monster things!"
And please… Please. PLEASE!!! For the love of all that is good and holy, find some new IC reason to search for the hidden portal at the back of Myron's Jell-O Cave. "Wow, take a look at this big mushroom!" is so old it just doesn't work anymore. Stop doing that!
Mortui last edited by
And please… Please. PLEASE!!! For the love of all that is good and holy, find some new IC reason to search for the hidden portal at the back of Myron's Jell-O Cave. "Wow, take a look at this big mushroom!" is so old it just doesn't work anymore. Stop doing that!
I promise nothing!