World of Warcraft Goes Old-School

So I haven’t posted about WoW in some time as I took a few months away from the game – I was burnt out and didn’t expect to be coming back, but a very convincing friend of mine drew me back in (although what is up with the Scroll of Resurrection? I can’t have played since March 2012? That’s pretty intense.)

However Blizzcon just wrapped up and I have been reading about it – now that I am playing WoW again. I have very, very high hopes for this upcoming expansion, Warlords of Draenor. I think this can bring a big following back to WoW. Here’s a few reasons why:

1. Character models are sexy as hell. The new models are badass and gorgeous and do the old models justice. I am really excited to see the trolls, whom I am hoping will be a bit bulkier. I think this would have been a nice time to spruce up the blood elves and draenei a little (I firmly support slim blood elf males without the goofy anvil-chest), but I just want to make an army of dwarves right now since those guys are so fucking beautiful. LOOK AT THE BEARDS, people!

2. The new world is gorgeous and well-needed. A return to space was in the works, but this is a take on it which will have both nostalgic elements (in a cool backwards time-travelly way) and gorgeous new locales in the vein of Pandaria and the Cataclysm zones. The choice of setting, Draenor, will lead to very rich storytelling and a chance to meet some fascinating characters. The zones look beautiful, the characters intriguing, and I think with a good bad guy at the end you can really encourage people to check out the game (Arthas and Illidan were obvious big draws for their first expansions – even if Illidan didn’t last the whole way through, he was still a really cool villain to have).

3. The gear changes. This might actually be what I am most excited about implementing, since the game is going old-school in an even bigger way. We have an old-school world and setting with original characters from way back (which will lead to some really cool interaction), but we also have old-school design philosophies making a comeback. The item changes documented at Blizzcon mention an item squish to make things stop getting quite so out of hand (very much needed) at high levels with crazy health and such, and the changes to equipment are FABULOUS. Dungeons & Dragons totally does this so well, and that’s having interesting equipment with fun bonuses. The ones they talk about – Sturdiness, Lifesteal, Speed, gem slots – all sound like perfect implementations of that policy, and they make armour another very special part of your character, since people can wind up with slightly different versions of stuff – just like with talents! I am really pumped to see this happen.

There’s a lot more stuff, but I am very excited to see the gear changes: they truly sound like efforts to create a more diverse set of equipment that nevertheless retains its basic properties, and makes sense. By removing the extra stats like hit and expertise (and taking dodge and parry off armour), you eliminate a lot of the extra work that players went through in optimizing their characters and instead focus on more interesting elements. In my mind, it makes perfect sense that a priest should be able to heal and DPS in the same robes, or a druid could wear the same leather armour to improve their healing and bear-form-tenderizing. The magic equipment is like a general power-augmentation: it may have certain special properties, and we’ll still see unique jewelry and trinkets and cloaks and such (which DO make sense to have different effects as accessories) but the design philosophy has me sold!

Politics

Welp, I might as well talk about it since it’s important to me.

Over time, I’ve become – or attempted to become - more involved in the political world around me, now that I can vote. It is difficult, perhaps moreso now, to find unbiased or objective information about political issues, in the good old human desire to have factual truth on our hands that, you know, answers questions and explains stuff. Perhaps it’s why people like science, because at the end of all that inquiry, sometimes you get an answer to a question, or faith, because it has a bunch of answers ready for you and some comforting possibilities when it doesn’t (maybe so long as you don’t try to poke holes in the stuff).
At any rate, the news in Toronto is getting a lot written right now thanks to our now internationally-known mayor, Rob Ford. I think I might as well state my opinion of this polarizing figure, because it’s something worth discussing.

 I have never lived in suburban Toronto. I do not like suburban Toronto very much, perhaps because of the former statement. It’s very big and empty; you can’t walk to places very conveniently; the public transit isn’t very good (although neither is it in the city itself); and it feels very isolating (yes, I did enjoy Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs, partly thanks to that last reason which I only can gleam from visiting the ‘burbs on weekends).

Rob Ford would have made a much better mayor if he just ruled that stretch of suburban Toronto, where he is much better liked than by the “bleeding heart liberals” of downtown or the “cruel liberal news media” which is out to get him (that part’s not in quotes because they actually are out to get him). The things he wanted to get done would have helped them out more: after all, why pay for Toronto’s transit when you drive every day, why pay for Toronto’s libraries when your district has its own libraries, and why pay for Toronto’s problems when your area has its own? It’s part of the problems that growing metropoles suffer, I imagine.

But Rob Ford has a very complicated life and naturally, faced with people who didn’t agree with his political motivations, it came under fire with ad hominem attacks and a string of poor decisions that he made throughout his time. With each bad decision (if you want to know about them, Google them; there’s a bushel), there was an attack and a defense, and by now the poor man is probably living a pretty stressful life that I don’t honestly find it that surprising that he would use crack cocaine, in a drunken stupor no less, to deal with the problems of his job. On the other hand, there was that report that he only came into work for a few hours every day, but we’ll accord him the benefit of a doubt and suggest that he is just really under pressure here.

I don’t hate Rob Ford, and I don’t think anyone who doesn’t know Rob Ford personally should hate him. I think, had Rob Ford been more put-together, more comfortable facing the job of mayor, and more attentive to the needs of both his suburban voters and his downtown votes, he may have been a very good mayor. But Rob Ford had mixed priorities, and we shall see how things develop for him over the next little while with regards to that. I think ultimately he needs to take some time off – nobody should have to take that much heat – and also use it as a time to become a more responsible person. My advice to the people who did vote for him is to find someone new who can emulate Ford’s good qualities (his dedication to your personal values and his everyman sensibilities, if that’s a selling point for you – it isn’t for me) but present them with more charisma and responsibility. If he or she is a good candidate, then they can respect everyone’s wishes well enough that they won’t become the target of so much anger and frustration. It’s a very hard thing to do, and I think Ford just might not be cut out for that sort of balancing, but I wish him well and hope he gets some stability soon.

I will look at the candidates myself and see who can stand for my desires as a downtown Torontonian without tossing every need of the suburbs out the window, as well as presenting him or herself as responsible and able to handle the stresses of such a complicated job. It may be naive, but I feel that perhaps what this whole debacle ultimately tells us is that we need to get rid of the suburban isolation and try to make our urban centres more cohesive. After all, if we all wanted something similar, it would be pretty easy to know what the mayor should be doing, right?

OOOOOOOOBLIVION

If there’s one thing I will always remember from World of Warcraft, it will be Kologarn’s amazing voice emotes in Ulduar, back in Wrath of the Lich King. There was a forum post someone had made detailing a conversation between Yogg-Saron and Kologarn which involved Yoggy asking Kolo what his favourite Elder Scrolls game was, and well… you get the joke (if you played of course).

I recently got Oblivion again, through the kindness of a friend, and I have been modding the game. It’s like regular Obliviononly better. I’m not running much, mostly things to make the game prettier, but I also tried Fran’s, kept having CTDs (crashes-to-desktop, as the experts say), switched to OOO. I may still get oodles of CTDs but at least the game is gorgeous and awesome.

Here’s a clip of me outside Cheydinhal, being a gangster. I have embedded it below as well, if it works.

Thanks to the mods, I can safely say the game is more difficult, more painful, more exciting, more beautiful and more sexy (no, I don’t have those mods; I’m an adult). I slowed the crap out of my leveling and made it so your enemies don’t scale, so a lot of my time is spent running and screaming from really tough marauders who show up everywhere, murder the crap out of the goblins or bandits and then make me run and scream. I fought a bunch of vampires as well, to similar results. They die eventually, but I am pretty exhausted after, since my level 2 adventurer (I went with the default because I am literally playing an adventurer. Classic lawful-good knight lady out on a quest to help everyone.) is pretty squishy. The worst is anything lightning, which just blows me up.

There are times when I consider switching over to Skyrim, and maybe after playing for a long time I will: first I want to digest the content of Oblivion again and appreciate that, then I can go and let my jaw drop at the insane vistas. That’s something Oblivion sorely lacks, but I know I will enjoy when I pick up Skyrim again.

Hearthstone Beta

So I got invited to beta test Hearthstone, after a few weeks of cancelling my WoW subscription. I think Blizzard is getting wiser.

Anyway I decided to download the game (along with the nifty new Battle.net launcher) and try it out.

I used to collect Pokemon cards as a kid. I don’t know how many I had anymore (they all were given away – stupid, stupid child) but it was a lot when I did. I even got a binder with the pockets and everything – it was kickass. I would always be looking to buy another pack, but the damn things were expensive as hell. I got a $2 allowance a week (I lived a life of luxury and continue to do so) and with the crazy markup on Pokemon cards in Canada that was four weeks’ allowance for 9 cards that I might have saved a few more weeks for a Bionicle (my other childhood obsession – looking back, I am not that surprised this is where I am now). I always wanted to actually battle my Pokemon cards, but I didn’t understand the rules at all, and I never had any friends who wanted to battle them using our half-assed understanding of the rules. They just wanted to show off their awesome cards, like teenager boys comparing dick sizes in the locker room (I assume that’s what the sporty kids were doing).

This relates to Hearthstone, strangely enough. People make plenty of comparisons with Magic: The Gathering, so maybe people who played that (I did not) will also understand. Those cards cost a fair amount of money (more at convenience stores, but on average I was probably paying seventy cents a card. People are saying Hearthstone is awful because it’s pay-to-win somehow, when it is really, in my opinion, just another trading card game. You buy your cards and battle with them. The differences are that:

  • Hearthstone is on your computer or your phone.
  • Hearthstone gives you a huge number of cards for free at the start and you are just paying to get cool ones faster, instead of playing the game to get more cards. I repeat, all you need to do to get more cards is spend the opportunity cost of sitting inside and playing the game.
  • Hearthstone cards are a dime cheaper in just the “2 packs” model, and even cheaper when you buy a crazy number of packs (which are also really fun to open).
  • Again, just by playing the game you get free stuff.

I find it totally crazy that anyone could ever say Hearthstone is pay-to-win. Let me illustrate why with Pokemon cards, as I relate best with that model:

Little Freddy plays Pokemon with his three friends, Susie, Albert and Danielle.

Freddy has terrible luck with booster packs, and so he usually doesn’t buy many: he must have at least nine Diglets and has never seen a holographic card or a card with more than 60HP (which is midrange for Pokemon cards).

Susie also rarely buys booster packs, but out of sheer luck she has plenty of really nice cards, including a Mewtwo card and a Charizard card. She also stole a friend’s cards last year when the friend told her she was going to another school, so she got some other really good ones from her.

Albert is an annoying rich kid with tons of cash to burn, but his “friends” put that aside for a chance to trade him for better cards. Albert’s parents buy him three booster packs every week and he has all the legendary Pokemon. He never gives Freddy any because his parents also neglect him and are terrible role models.

Danielle is the only one who can still compete with Albert in terms of number of cards, because her older brother had a huge set of Pokemon cards he had collected over the years that she inherited from him when he went to university. She lucked out and got a ton of cards, both good and bad, simply for telling her brother she was interested.

Those are four different players of Pokemon that are also potential Hearthstone players. Some people will never buy packs and have a decent or a bad deck, others will rarely buy packs and have a pretty well-rounded deck, still others will have dropped a huge amount of cash and have a crazy number of cards (and they may or may not be despised by everyone around them).

But we all get to be a bit like Danielle with Hearthstone, because Blizzard is the proverbial big sibling or cousin or friend or neighbour or WHATEVER who gives you a free starter pack with a fair number of cards.

And what this example shows is that it is right for the person with more time or money or whatever to have the best shit: Freddy isn’t going to complain that he didn’t get a free Charizard in the mail: he’s going to find someone who has four Charizards and trade them something, or he’ll buy packs to try and make up the difference. But even without a Charizard, Freddy can still do a good job. He just doesn’t have the fancy equipment others will drop money to get.

Obviously free is better for people, but Hearthstone is probably the easiest pay system I have encountered in some time. You don’t need to spend very much, and the free part isn’t necessarily free either, since you’re still giving up time to play which has a value as well. The ideal is finding a system which accommodates every kind of player: from Freddy who doesn’t have much investment but plenty of time to Albert who invests tons but has anger management classes all the time because he’s such a little prick. Pokemon did it, and Hearthstone, I dare say, does it better.

Indexterity Cardisma

Aside from writing snappy puns (groan), I have run my first game of D&D with my new group this week. It was really fun and I was happy to play again, especially being able to start things off with new knowledge and wisdom from wasting time on D&D sites and mucking up games for the past few months.

The group I ran with got quickly acquainted with roleplaying, as I started them off at a wedding, giving them a reason to be there as well as for their characters to meet (convenient seating arrangement, yay!)
They also could get used to talking to people at the party, meeting guests and worrying about what will go wrong, until it did: bullywugs and lizardfolk burst in and started battling one another in the middle of the wedding. The characters made some small attempts to participate but didn’t accomplish much, and the two factions charged off into the underbrush again, leaving the wedding-goers confused and alarmed.

The group, formed as they gathered up a team to go after the lizardfolk, decided to go speak to the two sides and see what was up. We ended with them breaking into the bullywug camp to get a hold of the chief and see what was going on.

The reason for the cringe-worthy title is this was an adventure I ran differently from most. Instead of my usual pile of pages with treasure and monsters and notes on how everything should work, I ran it loose and open-ended, since I wanted to ensure the players could just do what they wanted. As such, I made index cards!

Image

I wrote out names of some NPCs, what the general areas had in the way of monsters, and special stuff (like that the bullywug area has a sinkhole that leads down to the chief’s den, or that the lizardfolk had a poison trap in place in case anyone tried to attack them). What was really nice about this was that I was able to keep it super free-form while still having a quick reference for when the PCs wanted to do things. I knew how many bullywugs there were, what kinds of bullywugs had which attacks, and a knowledge of any minor special things I needed to remember to whip out to make things trickier. I also drew a little area map on the back of each card.

The session ran marvellously well, and we shall see what happens next time!

 

 

A Return

Well I am sorry I left things hanging, website where sometimes people read stuff. I was really getting into Sker, and then I had a shattering revelation.

1. I was never going to use this setting.

2. I had put too much effort into the setting that it would have been stifling for characters.

3. If Sker was to ever come out, it would have to be as a fantasy story, one which I did not feel like writing.

Hence, I dumped the whole thing. There’s a draft for the elves sitting in WordPress that may never get finished. Sorry, elves.

What made me decide not to continue my shameful hiding was that my life has in fact continued so I figured I’d blog about that. That being what blogs are for.

I have started a new session of D&D however – technically, two sessions. At my residence there is a surprising interest in trying Dungeons and Dragons, so I took advantage of such an opportunity to invite people to play. We did character generation last Friday, and I am quite impressed with the results, though most people left with unfinished sheets. Nonetheless, I had purchased Player’s Handbook 2 for this eventuality and it was well worth the purchase, as I kept people from just playing the same characters everyone plays out of PHB - the classic eladrin wizard or dwarf fighter or whatnot. I was disappointed nobody wanted to be a dwarf or a goliath: they’re my favourites and I was sad to see none of them represented.

The campaign setting was cleverly crafted to allow plenty of finagling later, as I set in 500 years after my current campaign (technology progresses pretty slowly in this world). I wrote some vague notes for each nation/city-state under a basic paradigm that would keep them equal: history, icons, people, government, environment, society, problem. No matter where the characters started, there would be something going on and they would all have a general sense about their home – one which would fit the average person from such a place. That was a happy moment for me.
Nostras - 6th era with capitals

The world thus crafted, I added some fun components to the mechanics. We have 13th Age’s escalation die (the mechanical flavour of the month) and the Angry DM’s popcorn initiative. I also will try to enforce encumbrance, just for fun at the start. We’ll see how that goes.

Our first game will be Friday, so I may report back on how that goes. I also picked up a really cool book today called English Wayfaring Life in the Middle Ages by J. J. Jusserand. It has all kinds of historical goodies about what it was like to travel in real England in the middle ages, so I’m certain it will be of use in talking about travelling in fantasy world based off that time and place.

The book I bought

The Dwarves of Sker

This will be my first in-depth post about the races of Sker, starting with the dwarves in semi-alphabetical order.
The dwarves are one of the three native races of Sker, and are the ones who gave the island its name. They are the most organized society of the original three races, and also arguably the one who has lost the most over the years.
The dwarves’ existence began beneath a mighty glacier, the Mjedkull (“Mjeth glacier”). There, the first dwarves awoke, deep in the earth, and carved out a great city along the edge of the glacier: Télmir, meaning “birthplace.” The dwarves are a hardy, hairy bunch, and they had a natural talent for sculpting and carving. Télmir was a tiered city, carved into rock and ice and overlooking a great canyon leading down towards Sker’s largest and longest fjord, the Kulla. In this city, the dwarf social structure was born, a system made up of three tiers: aristocrats and nobles, warriors and traders, miners and craftsmen. Though society became divided in these castes, the dwarves have always taught one another to value the contributions of each part of society – though the castes dictate the duty each new dwarf will carry out when he or she comes of age. Dwarf society is led by women, the matriarch organizing the family and the household. Women and men have equal right to virtually all positions in society, though women are typically given the most significant duties – generals, queens and merchant ladies rule large houses. Caste is dictated by only the woman’s caste, however, and occasionally stories emerge of dwarves “marrying up” to change castes – though such things are quite uncommon.
The dwarves live a relatively atheistic life. Though some dwarves worship gods, most dwarves are more interested in the tangible world. Yet the dwarves are all the same a spiritual people, their society instead revering its ancestors and heroes. This has grown especially important in modern times, as the ancient dwarf kingdom of Mjeth, once spanning across Sker, albeit mostly underground, has since fallen into ruin, and tales of its greatness still linger on in the memories of the dwarves. Each dwarf house, great or small, has a household hero, an exemplary dwarf who respected his or her duty and achieved something in life. Often, such tales are exaggerated, but the dwarves take pride in any hero, whether the dwarf had been a fearsome general who saved a city from orcs, or a miner who dug twice as much as his neighbours. Each family has a shrine to their hero, and in some cases a family may even be created if a hero is immortalized from a family who already reveres another dwarf.
Such was the case for one of the most famous dwarf heroes, Ndorni. Ndorni was a mighty general who rose through the ranks of the dwarf armies until she was high general, commanding all the army’s soldiers. She was put to the test when the orcs first breached the surface, her legions suffering a crushing defeat at the Télmir canyon, which came to be known as Thruindar, the “Bloody Canyon.” Humiliated and disgraced as she watched the city be taken, she took her few remaining soldiers to Vellir where they faced the massive hordes of orcs. Ndorni challenged the arrogant Orc-King to single combat and slew him, then cast his armies back into the earth, not to be seen for years. Her bravery and heroism led Vellir to change its name to Ndornir, and the plateau on which Ndorni fought was renamed “Ndornivellir,” or “Dorn’s Run.”
Other notable dwarf heroes include:
King Bjoddi, who took the throne after the death of his wife, Queen Aeldi, and led a successful campaign to retake Télmir. He also developed the mythral forges, pushing dwarf smithing to new heights and higher standards. Though Télmir was lost after his death, his rule encouraged other dwarf men to take charge in leadership roles. He was further immortalized with the renaming of the Vellfoss (“Plains-waterfall”) as “Bjoddfoss,” and as the fort he built beneath the falls grew to a full-sized city, it took the name Bjoddir after him.
Jarngi, a dwarf miner who led the drow on their fateful mission into the depths of the earth to slay Gruumsh, the orc god, and stop the orc hordes. Though she died with most of her companions, Jarngi was hailed as a heroine by both dwarves and drow, and both cultures revere her sacrifice.
Orcs play a significant part in dwarf history, as they were the ones who destroyed the kingdom of Mjeth and forced the dwarves into the situation they are in today. Few dwarves have any notion of the size of their former kingdom or how it came to be under attack by orcs, but from the day of the first attack on, the dwarves have been locked in a struggle to survive against the orc hordes. Thankfully, after the death of Gruumsh and the Orc-King, the attacks subsided somewhat, the orcs lacking a leader to organize their attacks, yet they remained in the captured cities, squatting in vast numbers amongst the ruins.
In more recent history, dwarf society has been coping with the arrival of humans on Sker. Differences in ideology and society have led to strained relationships between dwarves and humans, but this has not stopped the increase in interaction between dwarves and humans. Human traders are accepted into the dwarf commons, and men may join the dwarf castes if they marry a dwarf woman. Mul, the offspring of these unions, are tolerated within dwarf society. The one disadvantage comes from the fact that humans cannot be immortalized as dwarf heroes, and as such any human-dwarf family must pray to Pelor or be a piece of a larger household. For dwarf men married to human women, this can often cause difficulties as the dwarf is forbidden from continuing to revere a dwarf household hero, as his human wife has no dwarf household hero. While no new developments in dwarf tradition have helped to fix this problem, a lack of public interest in the matter prevents it from gaining much ground in the dwarf assemblies.
Dwarf society is governed by a queen or king, who presides over the Assemblies – three political bodies for each caste. The upper castes have more political power, but all three have an equal number of representatives. The queen or king is elected from one of the houses in the upper assembly, and rule until they no longer are fit to do so. In extreme circumstances, however, the assembly has a right to revoke a king or queen’s power, though this has not happened for centuries.

That’s a basic low-down on dwarf history, culture and society. Their cities can be found on the map as A, B and C – though Télmir is abandoned to the orcs.
Next, we will talk about elves, the most widespread of the native Sker races.
If you want to use Sker some time, I hope this helped give a sense of the dwarf culture. If you want to do things differently, or use these ideas for your own campaign, I hope this has provided some idea material.

Sker – A New Campaign Setting

This is the first of several posts that I am writing about a new campaign setting I have created, and which I hope to have enough material to publicize online for others to use. I will spend several posts writing about the various aspects of this world, before ideally assembling these posts along with any other information in a PDF that will be shared on the site.

This is a campaign setting that I have made to work with D&D 4e, but I imagine with some tinkering it can fit most systems perfectly well. The system’s main idiosyncrasies are minor enough to make it easily changed into Pathfinder or an older D&D edition or even a Fate-based RPG. These posts will outline the basics of this world, leaving the rest of the work up to an enterprising GM on how things might pan out. Today’s post will be a general introduction to the setting, along with some questions players and GMs can ask to encourage discussion of the setting.

Sker

A map of Sker

A map of Sker

Sker is a small island surrounded by cold ocean with a cool, temperate climate. It is approximately 100,000 square kilometres in size, or a minute amount less than Iceland, the real-world counterpart of this fantasy setting, to which it owes its climate, general topographic shape, size and plentiful bays and fjords. The name “sker” comes from a Scandinavian word meaning “rock in the sea,” a way of describing this land that borders on litotes.

As the picture shows (if it’s not too small), Sker is covered with forests and hills, and a great volcano stands in its centre atop a high plateau. Rivers lead down to the various fjords that dot the coast of Sker. In emptier areas, great plains roll over the rocky slopes.
Sker is a traditional high-fantasy setting. My current campaign setting was designed shortly after I finished Game of Thrones, and as such displays more Martin-esque fantasy traits. Sker on the other hand is a simple, primal world, without true nations or kingdoms. Rather, it is inhabited by small factions of races, each of whom try to survive on this harsh island. The Dungeons & Dragons races present on Sker include dragonborn, drow, dwarfs, eladrin, elves, half-elves, halflings, humans, mul (half-dwarves) and tieflings – though I have considered half-orcs once or twice. These races are divided based on culture and society, though there are overlapping areas:

  • Elvenkind are native to Sker – both eladrin and drow underwent certain phenomena which caused them to branch away from the other elves. Half-elves live outside elf society among humans.
  • Dwarfs are also native to Sker – mul, born from the union of human and dwarf, sometimes live in dwarf settlements but tend to remain among humans like the half-elves.
  • Halflings are the final native race of Sker, living apart from the other races.
  • Humans are foreigners who have settled in Sker – tieflings and the half-human races live among humans.
  • Dragonborn are born from a powerful ritual, when a sentient being drinks the blood of the Dragon.

What is different in Sker from other settings? Glad you asked. Here’s the basic pitch:

  1. Sker is a world where religious and spiritual beliefs have a powerful effect on the magical abilities of its peoples. Humans, their offshoots, and drow are the only divine-power users, while the native races of Sker use martial, arcane and primal power, though the halfling Wandering Order will teach the psionic ways to adherents.
  2. A completely different cosmology explains the various differences between the peoples of Sker, from the pious Pelor-worshipping humans, to the spirit-loving elves, to the ancestor-revering dwarves and halflings. These differences often cause tensions to emerge between the different races.
  3. Only one true dragon remains in the world after a great war ended almost all dragonkind: the Great Dragon. She lives inside the Caeth mountain, where she leads a council of heroes of the races of Sker. Her blood is powerful enough to transform a strong hero into a dragonborn, allowing the hero to carry out the altruistic goals of the Great Dragon as she helps to keep Sker from war. Depending on a dragonborn’s former race, their dragon breath will have a different elemental type.
  4. Arcane magic, while relatively harmless to the people of Sker, is the source of the tieflings: humans, overexposed to arcane energy, have their bodies warped by its power. Any human who does not seek proper protection from arcane energy is liable to transform into a tiefling. As such, arcane magic is forbidden among humans.
  5. The people of Sker live a busy life working the land to reap what they can. The earth is not particularly fertile save in areas of powerful magic, and most people of Sker must learn techniques to take advantage of what the land does give to the crafty. Three trainable skills – medicine, poisons and crafts – can also be learnt by characters, who gain special skill powers as they gain knowledge of these skills.
  6. The central foe on Sker is the orcs. Gruumsh, the orc-god, was slain long ago, but his people still linger deep in the earth, mounting raids and attacks on the people of the surface.

For non-D&D groups, most of the basic stuff still applies. Feel free to change tieflings for another race which represents a magic-addled human, or remove eladrin to simplify the many branches of elf.  The visual aesthetics of the races tend not to matter too much on a physical level: what is important are cultural and historical aesthetics, which help to explain how Sker works.

That’s the basic idea about Sker. Over the next few posts, I’ll go into more depth about the races and their histories and cultures. For now, here are some questions to ask when starting a Sker campaign.

  • What is civilization? Are certain traits more indicative of a “civilized” race?
  • What role does belief play in establishing our culture and our understanding of the cosmos (and our world)?
  • Can belief ever be “right” or “wrong”?
  • What benefits and risks lie in the empowerment of a race or people? When is there “too much” power, and when is power necessary?

 

Icelandic Milestone

Icelandic Milestone

This is a very basic post. It’s a milestone. Why the hell would I put a milestone on my blog? Well, this is an Icelandic milestone which is by a church at the site of the original Icelandic parliament, the Alþingi in the þingvellir (check out dem mighty THORNS). Fun toponymy note: because the “Alþingi” means “all-thing,” the þingvellir means “thing-plain,” which is amazingly far from the most vague-sounding place name in Iceland (there are also the two towns of Vík – “bay” – and Höfn – “port”).
I thought the design of the milestone was pretty kickass, although I admit it wasn’t me who took this sexy photo of it.
I’m also going to university in a few days, so I mean if you absolutely have to be cliched and lame, you could say it’s a new MILESTONE which makes it appropriate if my life can be metaphorically depicted as a road. But that’s clichéd as hell and life isn’t really like a road. Roads are more like life. Or some deep shit.

Legend of Grimrock

Yes I am back. I was away in Iceland and then Disneyworld and I have been recovering… with Legend of Grimrock. Yes, this post is about video games – I’ll make it quick.

Grimrock is possibly the most classical fix out there for someone looking to recapture an old-school D&D vibe, with the benefits of being playable solo, having oodles of puzzles, traps and goodies, and being old-school frustrating hard at times. I can’t pretend to have been around for the really old generation of brutal games, whether broken pen-and-paper ones or cruel video games (although I have played a fair bit of Paper Mario, which can get pretty ugly without an IGN walkthrough to hold your hand).

I got Grimrock during the Steam Summer Sale, along with acquiring a PC copy of Dragon Age: Origins (my PS3 version felt lacking and I heard the PC game was much better – which is true) and Brave New World for Civilization V. While Grimrock is the one I have played the least so far, it is certainly the most intriguing (the other two being, after all, essentially replays of an old favourite). I have not played a good RPG puzzle-solver with this much classic aesthetic in some time, and it is very satisfying when you find the solution without help (although occasionally I seek out hints – only twice now!)

However, I do have one bane – being only at the third floor. Spiders. I am quite content to fight spiders in other games - World of Warcraft spiders, Dragon Age spiders. They’re all fine. I even used spiders to terrify a member of my D&D group – our hulking dragonborn paladin, who is played by a very arachnophobic gentleman. Yet Grimrock spiders are teaching me a painful lesson, one which probably has some karma behind it (although may in any case just make me appreciate their power in terrorizing players more). The Grimrock spiders are silent demons. They ambush me from behind as I try to determine where the scuttling bastards have gotten to in dark hallways, and they sink horrible screeching fangs into my characters, who no longer have any antivenoms and have to rest after each ambush to avoid dying from poison. So far, I am usually fine against one spider while my party is at full health, but once spider number two arrives with the rest of the cavalry, I’m, to be frank, fucked. Caught in the web, as it were. The spiders corner me as I try to strafe around them, lick their fangs and dig in as I holler and weep. It is agonizing progression, possibly made worse by my preference for playing RPGs as once-removed versions of eponymous character roles: my Insectoid mage has yet to find a scroll for an air spell (which is his prime specialty), while everyone else feebly swings their little weapons and chug potions. It’s pretty desperate. We shall see if it improves with time.