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Nerd Watching: Where the liches at? (and RPG news)

Written by Nicholas - Published on April 16, 2009

Nicholas is the columnist in charge of Nerd Watching and part-time Expy wrangler. He also works as the community manager, so keep an eye out for him on RPG blogs and forums.

The Loss of a Legend

We start off with some sad news. As many of you know, on April 7th we lost of the great figures in the RPG world. David Arneson passed away after a battle with cancer. Mr. Arneson, along with the late Gary Gygax, co-created Dungeons & Dragons. Arneson also created Blackmoor, the first campaign setting. In a larger sense, David Arneson pioneered the idea of bringing personal characters and story to what used to be plot-less war games. For this great deed, all gamer owe him a debt.

I was not lucky enough have met him personally, but for the last few days I have been educating myself. I’ve learned a great deal about his contributions, his life and his philosophy.  I suggest that all readers do the same. A good place to start would be an interview he did with Kobold Quarterly. Mr. Arneson spent his early life helping to invent the hobby we all enjoy. He spent his later life teaching, first working with special education children and then as a professor of game design. If you take a little bit of time to investigate his life, you just might find he has more that he can teach you.

Expy’s Hot Link of the Week

Medieval Demographics Made Easy

A historically accurate guide to populations and merchants in medieval times. But they ignore the red dragon population completely!

Thanks to reader Jimmy for the link!

Weathering the Weather

On a sunnier note, Johnn and Mike over at Campaign Mastery put up an interesting piece about weather last week. The pair offer several different realistic weather models and random generators. It is a fascinating read which they obviously put a great deal of work into.

Unfortunately, I disagree with every word of it.

When you are writing the big bad villain of an adventure, do you use a realistic model to determine whether he is a cobbler or an evil wizard? Do you use a random generator when deciding if he should make his liar in a dead forest or in a crummy apartment? Of course not, as a DM you decide yourself based on what is best for the story! Why treat weather any differently? If it is dramatically appropriate for a foul storm to whip through the village then make it so. If you wanted the characters to deal with the consequences of a heatwave and drought then go for it! I think that weather determined by any means other than what is plot appropriate not only makes no sense for storytelling, but can actually hurt the feel of the game. No one wants to fight a dark necromancer in kite flying weather!

The problem often cited with plot-centric weather is the one mentioned in the question. When the weather is foul then your players will know something is going on. I have two responses to that. Firstly, your players should know that something is going on by the fact that you are sitting around playing it out. Secondly, when the dramatic music plays in a horror movie the audience knows that something is up, they just don’t know exactly what. If done right, foul weather just builds tension.

I don’t mean to rag on the guys too much, I do love Johnn’s piece about supernatural weather (Part 1, Part 2).

News Round Up

Krod Mandoon and the Flaming Sword of Fire premiered last Thursday. The show is a fantasy comedy that should appeal to RPG players. The show pokes fun at itself and its fantasy setting. There’s a good review of it over at Critical Hits.

Half of you are probably already sick of the unfortunately dubbed “PDFgate”. The other half probably don’t know what it is. I feel obliged to mention it, so here it goes: Wizards pulled the PDF downloads of their books from all the sites they had partnered with to sell them. This includes re-downloads of already purchased material. I think it is a very stupid move on WotC’s part but I agree with the Chatty DM about the rumor mill.

In other WotC news, the PA/PvP podcast series they have been doing just wrapped up its second game. Personally I am already craving more, which Tycho Brahe is hopeful for.  WotC also released a sneak peak at the Arcane Power epic destiny, the Archlich.  As someone underwhelmed by the power decrease of liches in the monster manual, I was quite happy to see this.

What do you think?

That’s all for this week’s Nerd Watching! Do you have something you think Nerd Watching should cover? Leave a comment or email me at nicholas@dungeonmastering.com

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Written by Nicholas

Nick DiPetrillo is the original author behind the games Arete and Zombie Murder Mystery available at http://games.dungeonmastering.com

Nick is no longer active with DungeonMastering.com, however he is an accomplished writer and published his first game in 2009.

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Nicholas is the columnist in charge of Nerd Watching and part-time Expy wrangler. He also works as the community manager, so keep an eye out for him on RPG blogs and forums.



21 Responses to “Nerd Watching: Where the liches at? (and RPG news)”
  1. Mike Bourke says:

    Sometimes a storm is just a storm. I entirely agree that using deliberate weather when it’s appropriate to the storyline is the way to go – but what about the rest of the time? You can either hand-wave it, or you can use some more realistic weather-generation system. The handwaving option has a delitorious effect on the plausibility of the campaign overall; that leaves only the one choice, really, and that’s what we set out to address.

  2. Rob G says:

    If you are craving APs go to RPGMP3.com, their latest Warhammer sessions are excellent. I think they pretty much invented them.

    Roleplaying Public Radio have some including Tides Of Doom from the Goodman Game adventure collection – In Search Of Adventure – which the host, Ross, created.

    The Tome show have a couple as well.

    There are others.

    You probably know this already, but just in case.

  3. Comparing a big bad villain to the weather is something of a category error. The big bad villian is, by virtue of anthropic pre-selection, going to be an individual with certain characteristics – he (or she) is big, bad and up to no good, and they’ve been singled out as a challenge that must be defeated by the party – they are the raison d’être for the party going on whatever adventure they’ve embarked on. So by this very fact they are definitively not a cobbler. Further, they are an individual with the power of thought and reason and will make sensible choices about where they choose to live.

    Whereas the weather is a mindless chaotic environmental system the party has to pass through on the way.

    (Though the villain may of course have chosen to live in an area that experiences a specific kind of weather, or may have powers of weather control. But surely not every villain will have these powers.)

    Now you can take the hollywood approach and fit the weather to the mood of whatever’s happening, or use the weather as a scene-building tool. How ‘OK’ that is will be down to the tastes of individual playing groups. Or even individual players. I know more than half of mine would complain about weather that constantly fits the plot with no other reason than it fits the plot.

    I think it’s definitely worth throwing in some random weather every so often as a nod to realism. And if you want to steer things a little you can always fudge on the rolls now and then with the good old DM’s +/- 1 ;-) But not so often as it makes using the tables a pointless exercise.

  4. Nicholas says:

    @Rob G: Yup, I know about RPGMP3 and heartily recommend it. Even did an interview with Hal some weeks back: http://www.dungeonmastering.com/interviews/chatting-with-hal

    @Lurkinggherkin: You call it the Hollywood approach, why sounds very dismissive to me. It is also the approach of all literature and story telling in history. Gothic horror writers did not roll to see which nights are dark and stormy. If it’s dramatically appropriate, that’s what happens. I guess during travel times or downtimes you could randomly determine what happens, but it still seems like an odd approach to me.

    I suppose it is a difference of viewpoint. My guess is that you see your role as a world builder. You want to make an area guided by a fixed set of rules that your players can run around in. I see it quite differently. I am part of story telling group. Among my duties in this collaborative story telling is to set the scene, which includes the weather. No story teller is ever going to set the scene randomly.

  5. @ Nicholas – hey, I’m not entirely dismissive of the storytelling approach. You know, I’ve noticed an irritating tendency since joining the RPG blogosphere for people to want to categorise approaches to refereeing into ‘Sandbox world-building’ vs ‘Dramatic narrative storytelling’. These two schools of thought having emerged, everyone seems to want to rush to take sides or to regard each other in terms of membership of these two sets.

    But you know, there is an intersect on the Venn diagram of those two groups, and that’s where I like to think I live.

    Believe me, I am a storyteller. And yet I do sometimes let the weather occur randomly, because it makes my story more believable. And sometimes the juxtaposition of a tragic event and a beautiful sunny day is all the more poignant.

  6. Nicholas says:

    @Lurkinggherkin: I think that last point is absolutely true, I just don’t see why that can’t be decided on purpose. I also agree that no one falls cleanly in either camp, nor is it good to. I try to make to my worlds realistic enough to not wreck immersion, even if they don’t follow strict mechanics. Likewise, I will let me party die if the situation warrants it, even though it wrecks the story.

    I just found the Hollywood comparison a little insulting so I went on the defensive, sorry.

  7. When the party one day just decide to go wandering off into the wilderness, perhaps to visit a town they’ve already been to, to do something that they think is cool or to hire someone they’ve met or for whatever reason they come up with – that’s when you use your random encounter tables… and your random weather generator ;-)

  8. Well, I’m sorry too – I didn’t mean to offend. You mentioned horror movies as an example so that sparked the hollywood comparison I guess ;-)

    And I wouldn’t be above deciding to use a particular kind of weather as part and parcel of an adventure, either.

  9. Josh says:

    I like random generators for the exercise in creativity, which especially applies when sandbox gaming. I often find myself with several elements of the story that may or may not have an obvious connection and then I find a way to make it work. Personally, I find that putting those puzzle pieces together is fun. With the weather, sometimes that might mean an ironic situation in which the villain launches his plot on a bright and sunny spring morning.

  10. I just had to give props for that title… Where The Liches At? OMFG, I laughed so hard. :-)

  11. Yax says:

    Thanks GDG! I’m glad someone thought it was funny.

  12. Megan says:

    I agree with some of the previous comments that random weather generators would be really nice to use in the same situation you’d be using a random encounter generator. That’s a nice rule of thumb, actually.

    In my current PbP campaign, set entirely in the city of Sharn (Eberron), I definitely determine the weather based on mood. We just finished our first fight, during which it was miserable and drizzling. Shortly after the fight ended, the sun finally broke through, because it was a nice foil for one of the NPC’s (an escaped prisoner) reactions. The campaign has a very noir feel, so the weather is going to be chosen to suit this.

  13. MageMirin says:

    I agree with the compromise approach: Special scenes should always be selected rather than randomly rolled. Thats what makes them special. Exploring scenes can be good on a random roll chart when the charts are made in a logical and realistic way. There’s a good article somewhere around that I can’t find right now that was talking about random encounter tables and how the tables were set for the individual population for an area, but on some of the spots on the table it said to roll on a table for a neighboring region with a probability depending on how hard it was to get from there to here (over mountains or over fields, etc.) Now, I haven’t RTFA yet, but a similar realism is needed for the weather… unless you live in Kauai… then you can random roll flooding downpour for 5 minutes after and followed by kite flying weather… I was flying a kite the other day when this happened to me, btw…

    And since no one else has mentioned it, I guess it’s my duty: Bad guys live in “lairs” not “liars”…. :) don’t you love how spell checkers don’t check context of meaning? :)

  14. MageMirin says:

    Ok, now I’ve RTFA, and the wunderground.com tip is awesome! I was thinking about it the entire time until they mentioned it. I’d totally find a RL location with a climate similar to what I want for a region in my campaign, export a random year from wunderground and put the table into my campaign wiki… And you can get tabular data with temp, wind, rainfall and humidity updated every five minutes! Now all I need is to import my campaign map into something like google earth pro and plot wind velocity adjustments for valleys and hills and such… :)

  15. Coloq says:

    Weather is sort of nice to add to a campaign. But on the whole I find it can be a little boring to work through the drudgery (I still have DM Nightmares from dealing with a group about semi-stealthy travel time at night with a human with no low light vision, and new moon VS. Full moon, and wether or not it was cloudy etc.).

    The only time I had *lots* of fun with it was throwing a tornado at my group. The look on my party’s face when the cleric said “I never slot protection from elements” was priceless.

    The trick is to bring the encounter with it up via a seemingly innocuous other event.

  16. Delf says:

    My group’s totally gonna face down Thomas, Evil Cobbler of Bane. Mwahahahaha!

  17. Nicholas says:

    @Geek’s Dream Girl: All props go to Yax for that one. He changed my much lamer title.

    @MageMirin: I always proofread my posts right before I submit them. Once submitted the editor formats and proofs them. Even so, we still miss some things are deserve to be ribbed for them!

    A lot of folks are saying that random weather generators are good for the same time as random encounter tables. I actually don’t typically use either, I like my fights to be plot critical. The only time I used a random encounter table was in a campaign set in the Vietnam war. I wanted to build a sense of paranoia, the PCs being in constant danger every time they left the base.

  18. MageMirin says:

    I’m not sure if “things are deserve” was intentionally ironic or not… :)

  19. Nicholas says:

    @MageMirin: Whenever you see something that looks like a mistake, just assume that I am being very clever and ironic.

  20. MageMirin says:

    Roger, Wilco :)

  21. u nailed neutral but character would be spell weaver duskblade beguiler spellthief

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