Monday, August 19, 2013

Crappy Dice: Some things really should stay in Vegas

So I just read Noisms post about superstitions and dice that he wrote-up back in '82.  While I don't really have any dicey superstitions that I'm aware of at the moment, I definitely tend to believe that some dice are better than others for certain purposes.  For instance when I roll up characters, I always pick out the same 3 dice--out of the 20-odd sixers that litter my table at almost all times.  These particular dice are dark and glossy with rounded edges and deep, golden pips.  They're aesthetically pleasing but also exude an aura of sophistication and competence that neither the classic black-on-white nor any of the glow-in-the-dark, outsized, transparent, weirdo dice in my collection can measure up to.  I'm not fool enough to believe that they turn out better results than any of the others, but the gravity of character generation demands serious dice; you're making people after all.

On the other hand I did once have a set of six-siders that were acknowledged by my entire gang to be objectively terrible. These cursed cubes were a set of casino dice my parents brought home for me after a trip to Las Vegas way back when.  They looked pretty impressive: they were translucent, red beauties, and they were huge compared to normal sixers.  Their sharp edges gave them a look of sleek precision and even lethality, especially when compared with those crappy dice made of tempered wax that came with your Holmes set.  But when it came time to roll, those sharp corners dug into you fingers something fierce.  These dice were clearly meant to be hucked the length of an Olympic-sized craps table, not shaken vigorously in the cupped hands of an 11-year old.  My palms bristled with sharp points of pain after each roll.  And clearly the dice didn't appreciate these tight quarters either; they always came up tepid when they were needed most.

Sure they occasionally rolled well, but usually only when nothing was at stake; your 8th level ranger is sadistically launching arrows into a fleeing pack of goblins?  Fives and sixes every time.  But when the game was on the line, all of a sudden the weight of all those pips on the high numbers seemed to push the ones and twos up to to the top.  It got to be so bad that any time I picked up one of those garnet-beauties to roll initiative or damage, the other players groaned audibly.  And after the inevitable shitty result, I was bombarded with insults and 4-siders.

The last time I used those badboys at the game table my 5th level thief was backstabbing an ogre or giant or somesuch who was giving the party a lot of grief.   I rolled a 19 to hit--cheers erupted around the room--then those Nevada Gaming Commission rejects puked up a sorry-ass 1 for damage.  Even with the tripled  backstab damage, the giant was pretty unimpressed with my efforts.  My older brother, whose character stood to suffer the most as a result of my inept backstabbery--picked up that vile 6-sider and heaved it across the room, taking a divet out of the wall in the process--but also turning up a 6 of course.  Piece o' shit dice.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Foundation and Star Wars: Episode II

It seems I jumped the gun with my last essay on the topic of similarities between Asimov's Foundation Series and the Wars Among the Stars films of Geo. Lucas: here's another scene from Second Foundation that even more closely resembles jedi mind trickery:

The set up (aka SPOILERS): Arcadia, a 14 year old girl from the Foundation, is pursued by the police force of Kalgan's First Citizen when she, literally, runs into kindly Preem "Obi Wan" Palver and his wife, at the Spaceport.  They take her in and help her escape the planet.  This exchange occurs when the Five-O catch up with them and demand Arcadia's papers (it should be noted that Asimov refers to Preem and his wife as Pappa and Mamma):
Helplessly [Arcadia] reached out and let the documents change hands.  Pappa fumbled them open and looked carefully through them, then handed them over.  The lieutenant in his turn looked through them carefully.  For a long moment, he raised his eyes to rest them on Arcadia, and then he closed the booklet with a sharp snap.
"All in order," he said.  "These are not the droids we're looking for."

Weird, right?

Also, a little later on, there's this Yoda-esque dialog between Preem"Pappa" Palver and his wife Mama while they eat breakfast: 
"It's bad enough they pay you what I'm ashamed to tell my friends, but at least on time they could be!"
"Time Shmime," said Pappa, irritably.  "Look, don't make me silly talk at breakfast, it should choke me each bite in the throat."
Oddly, this is the only occasion on which Mamma and Pappa Palver use the Yoda-speak.  It could be because it is the only time they are talking just between themselves and not in the presence of others, so they let slip the Yoda lingo.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Foundation and Star Wars

This essay is written to satisfy the requirements for Delta Dan's Summer Sci-Fi Seminar on Asimovian Hyper Space. This essay assumes the reader has knowledge of the events of both Isaac Asimov's Foundation Trilogy and George Lucas's film series about Wars among the Stars.  Which is to say: HERE BE SPOILERS!

First a disclaimer:  I may be  a pretty big nerd--I do, after all, have a blog about D&D on the internets--but when it comes to Star Wars, I'm pretty much a civilian.  I've seen the original three movies of the franchise 3 or 4 times each over the 3+ decades since their release; respectable, but, for a member of my demographic, not very impressive.  My record for the follow-up series released around the turn of the century is much worse: I have seen those films not quite one time each and have only very general memories of them.  Here's my synopsis of Star Wars II: The Second Trilogy:
  • Renton from "Train Spotting" cleaned up his act and learned how to use a light saber, 
  • Yoda has no patience for CNN,
  • there was a detrimental proliferation of people named Darth,
  • same goes for Fett, and
  • Nathalie Portman had a crush on some short, irritating wuss who then falls in lava and turns into Darth Vader. 

Anyway, there I was reading Foundation and Empire, the second book of Asimov's Foundation trilogy--which, not unlike G. Lucas's classic movie series, was bloated into a sextology decades after the original books were published--when I get to the part where Lathan Devers, a trader/agent of Foundation heads to Trantor, the capitol of the dying Galactic Empire, which is a completely urbanized world:
"The lustrous, indestructible, incorruptible metal that was the unbroken surface of the planet was the foundation of the huge metal structures that mazed the planet."
and I thought, "huh, sounds kinda' like the deathstar."

I thought little else of the matter until I got to Part II of the book wherein a dude known only as "The Mule" is running rampant over the the provinces on the perimeter of the galaxy, threatening the existence of the Foundation.  The Foundation calls upon a gruff military intelligence officer to find out more on the matter; that officer is named Captain Han Pritcher.  How Asimov described this guy is pretty much irrelevant because in the mind's eye of everyone who's read this book since 1977, Captain Han Pritcher is Harrison Ford; am I right?

Ok, so we've got a character who looks like Han Solo and a planet that looks like the deathstar.  Now consider the story line of Foundation and Empire: The once benevolent and democratic Foundation has become a hereditary autocracy trying to suppress a rebellion whose forces hide out on barely inhabitable planets throughout the reaches of space.  Sort of like a certain Empire in the Wars among the Stars.

Now back to this Mule dude; rumor has it that he's a mutant who never lets anyone see his eyes and that he can kill you just by looking at you.  As it turns out, these are just rumors--mostly--but still, it sounds like the force is pretty deep with this one.

And then when we get to Second Foundation, the third book of the trilogy, wherein the Mule is seeking out the Second Foundation--a fabled colony set up on the opposite end of the galaxy, where folks who have spent centuries secretly mastering the psychic sciences in much the same way folks on the First Foundation have mastered physical sciences.  Finding the titular Second Foundation, the Mule encounters its First Speaker, a man of considerable mental powers himself.  During the ensuing psychic tete a tete the First Speaker strikes the winning blow:
In the despair of that moment, when the Mule's mind lay open, the First Speaker--ready for that moment and pre-sure of its nature--entered quickly.  It required a rather insignificant fraction of a second to consummate the change completely.
The mule looked up and said: "Then I shall return to Kalgan?"
"Certainly. How do you feel?"
"Excellently well."  His brow puckered: "Who are you?"
"Does it matter?"
"Of course not." He dismissed the matter, and touched Pritcher's shoulder: "Wake up, Pritcher, we're going home."

Can you say Jedi Mind Trick?  If only Yoda had pulled this on Darth Whoever in the "Phantom Melange" we coulda' saved ourselves a lot of trouble.  I'm just sayin' is all.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Race as Class: Elves are Weird II

So with all the furor over Random Wizards Troll questionnaire, I got to thinking about race as class a bit.  I'm an AD&D (and ADD) type of guy so race-as-class has never set very well with my worldview, and I've really never seen anyone put up an argument for it that went beyond "I like B/X D&D."  Which is fine, but it's not very intriguing to outsiders. 

I'd be much more interested in Race-as-class if the races were more interesting.  But as is, the B/X race-as-classes boil down to fighter with a few racial abilities that amount to little more than window dressing--except for elves, who get to be magic users who can use plate mail and two-handers.  It's telling that, in the Moldvanian rules, the formula for level titles of the race-as-classes goes like this:
Race name + Fighter level title = Race-as-class level title

Elves manage to be even less interesting:
Fighter level title + MU level title = zzzzzzzz
If each non-human race is going to be a class unto itself, I want them to be much more unique.  So without further ado, here's my proposal for a more elfy elf class.  Bear in mind that I'm using an AD&D chassis for these bad boys.  This also assumes my previous thoughts on weird elves.

  • Fight as clerics, except when using bows--with which they fight as fighters
  • Sneak/hide/climb walls like thieves 
  • Can cast enchantments from MU or Druid spell lists.  This includes such mind-fappery as Charm/Hold Person or Plant or Animal or Monster, Feeblemind, Confusion and Finger of Death, but also, strangely but not inappropriately, Pass without trace, Trip, and Snare.   
  • Will not wear metal armor--including helmets--except elfmail, which--spoiler alert--turns out not to be made of metal at all.
  • Elves max out at 11th level.

Elves, in order to maintain some modicum of what we humans call sanity over their egregiously long lifespans, tend to forget a lot of stuff pretty quickly.  As such, unlike human MUs, they don't memorize spells or study spell formulas in arcane librams or what have you.  And none of that praying or calling upon deities garbage either; being soulless, elves are the least pious of all races.    Rather, in keeping with the Tolkienian approach to elf magic, the elves don't consider it magic, it's just the way things are done.  Once acquired, their spell-abilities become innate powers.  They can use each ability once per day, and they get a new ability every other level (1st, 3rd, 5th, etc.).  They don't need to track down some elf to teach them the way, but they do have to return to their native glade or hollow tree or wherever they're from to pick up new abilities.

Here's a complete list of Druid and MU enchantements from which Elves may choose:

Level 1: Animal Friendship, Pass sans trace, Charm Person, Friends, Sleep
Level 2: Charm Person or Animal, Trip, Forget, Ray of Enfeeb'ment, Scare
Level 3: Hold Animal, Snare, Hold Person, Suggestion
Level 4: Hold Plant, Charm Monster, Confusion, Fire Charm, Fumble
Level 5: Feeblemind, Hold Monster

So you get an elf who fights reasonably well--especially with a bow--but is limited by light armor and low-ish hit dice, and has limited spell-like powers, though the ease of accessing their magic is a boon.  Also, they've got advanced reconnaissance skills to boot.  It does rather pigeonhole the elf race, but at least the pigeonhole is more distinct than the F/MU-with-pointy-ears scene.