Sunday, 21 July 2019

Inspiration.... not Perspiration

Perhaps the most difficult aspect of DMing, when not falling back on published adventures, is inspiration.  It can be extremely challenging to come up with fresh ideas regularly, and to order, and that is especially true for someone such as myself, who has issues with a wandering mind - which goes where it wants to be, not where it *should* be, and does so when it chooses.  This is one reason why I love running ready made adventure modules.  But that cannot always be the solution, as there is so much bland dross out there.  Plus, coming up with something yourself that works can be extremely rewarding.

I'm running a 2E AD&D sandbox campaign at the moment.  It's a secondary game mostly, used to plug the gaps and change the pace between main 1E sessions.  Sandbox games, by their very nature, are a challenge - there needs to be enough material prepared to ensure the world is consistent, and much needs to be improvised around that basic framework, and even the most open of sandboxes needs to have some underlying goal or theme in order to tie it all together.

Thus I need inspiration on a regular basis.

Now I love music, dark, introspective, moody music.  It's not to everyone's taste, but it gets my mind in the desired place.  So, for my inspiration for the 2E game I decided to base the theme, the hooks of the various adventures, and some of the game imagery on the lyrics of a band I listen to - a lot.  A band who sprouted from the Goth scene of the 80s, who developed from Goth rockers with a brash, crude sound into a highly accomplished unit creating epics reminiscent of Pink Floyd's 70s peak.  Throughout though, their lyrics were inspired by mystical and occult themes - Sumerian mythos, Aleister Crowley, Cthulhu.  Frequently pompous and overblown, but always interesting, this band is the Fields of the Nephilim.

Carl McCoy - growling frontman of the Fields of the Nephilim

The setting for the campaign is 'Summerland', the name taken from the Nephilim's 11 minute epic "Sumerland", one of the highlights on their seminal Elizium LP.

Scenario 1 - Secrets (1986 - Returning to Gehenna EP, reissued on CD version of 1st album - Dawnrazor)

He rides on the crest of a wave, His anger running out,
He acts as if the same way As I ride across town to town,
I forgive you follow me
I forgive you follow me
I forgive you follow me
I'll forgive you
I'll forgive you
I've seen the hardest men fall,  I've seen them crawl
Secrets I know where no-one can find them
Behind the darkened door

It's far from their best work, written and released 4 years before they found their more polished sound - Returning to Gehenna was their 2nd EP, and McCoy's vocals were a work in progress.

Investigating a missing Halfing, the party found a deserted Druid camp and a blighted forest.  Deep within that forest, the source of the blight was found to be a tainted stream.  The Druids were discovered, their minds affected by an unknown influence (their babblings were inspired by the Nephilim track "Trees come down").  The stream flowed from a cave entrance - and at the back of the cave was a black door.  To pass the door, a PC had to utter 'I follow'.  On doing so he heard the word 'I forgive' - but that PC would now become a follower of an ancient Goat Headed Fertility God, taken from Wiccan/Pagan beliefs.  Angry at a new religion being brought to the land, the God would now be placated somewhat, having gained new followers, and the blight would be lifted from the Forest.

The campaign would then continue with 'For Her Light'...

Saturday, 22 June 2019

1E Modules - My Top 10

Most of the feedback I had through Facebook regarding my module poll and the short summaries I used to present the top 30 countdown was very positive, with a number of people asking me what my own personal top 10 is, and to summarise them... Seeing as you asked for it, here it is - but it's a bit of a cop out, I'm grouping a few series together, and I'm not listing this in any particular order, well not quite, this is *roughly* my order, but that can change on a whim.

Firstly, the low level classic that I have run more often than any other module - a perfect intro for any campaign it is U1 - The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh:

Has there ever been a module more perfectly paced? Which introduces novice adventurers so gently, and then gradually ramps up the difficulty in such a cohesive manner? Which teaches good play and then also rewards it when it is required? Add to this a loving attention to detail, logical maps that are easily reusable, touches of humour, and a plot that builds perfectly and you have one of the finest products TSR ever published....

Next up, it's a module from my own shores, UK4 - When A Star Falls:

There's a full review of this here, but I will summarise this once again. I LOVE this adventure. While it is on the surface little more than a simple 'fetch and carry', the storyline has some lovely touches, and as with U1, the attention to detail is exemplary. Graeme Morris was a master of creating authentic-feeling locations, and also incorporating some of the lesser-used rules in the 1E DMG - in this adventure we see the rules for Sages used. The UK series came a little too late to gain much of a foothold in the main US market and that is a real shame, as this is a true gem.

Third on my list is yet another UK-written module, UK3 - The Gauntlet:

The second part of the 2-part Alderweg series, The Gauntlet is another I have reviewed in more depth here. It's another Graeme Morris written module, which, as with UK4, displays his ability to make the game environment believable. Most of the action takes place inside a fairly small, cramped, claustrophobic Keep, which the party will need to map out and utilise carefully if they are to survive, as they will need ALL of its defensive strength. Again he brings in little-used rules - this time it's intoxication. Despite being fairly short, this adventure packs one HELL of a punch. Play UK2 The Sentinel 1st to get the full experience, and enjoy the challenge.

Time to cheat a little and bring in a trilogy that really *should* be viewed as one, it's G1-2-3 Against the Giants.

 I often see this trilogy criticised for being too 'hack and slash' - sorry but that is pure nonsense, if your game turned out that way it's your fault - either bad DMing or a 1-dimensional approach to play. All 3 adventures in the series are true masterpieces of module design, the maps are intelligent, the descriptions have just the right amount of detail, and they are bursting with atmosphere, plot hooks, and roleplaying opportunities. Bona fide classics, all 3 of them.

Here's the one that finished 1st in our poll, I'd not put at the top spot, but it's fully deserving of a position in the top 10, it's S4 The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth.

Lavishly presented, with stunning artwork through, this one puts many of its contemporaries to shame and shows what TSR *could* achieve when they could be arsed. It was very much a showcase of what was to appear in the MM2, but made the most of those new creatures in a mammoth dungeon crawl, backed up by a solid wilderness trek. As with G1-2-3, there's a lot of meat here, plot is kept to a minimum but it doesn't need one, there are plenty of snippets for a good DM to play with.

Great value for money, packed with memorable encounters, it's good, simple, honest AD&D at its finest.

Following on from S4 I'm including its sister module, WG4 The Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun, which was designed to be played alongside its more famous sibling.

Though it was intended to be played with S4, WG4 was a very very different beast. It suffered from poor artwork, and it's overall structure and editing gave the feeling that as a product it was rushed - and I believe that was actually the case. But delve beyond the initial impressions and you find a superb adventure - at least the Temple itself is, the wilderness section was very forgettable.

The initial battle to gain access to the Temple is a showstopper, and worth the price tag alone... digging deeper however you find a Cthulhu-esque nightmare, an atmospheric dungeon crawl with genuine horror elements.

If Otus and Easley had done the artwork, and the editing team actually done some work on this one, it would be hailed by the industry as one of the all time classics. A shame really. It's still damn good.

There are 2 main functions of an adventure module, one is to save the DM time giving them a cohesive self contained adventure, the other is to give them an inspirational framework. This is probably the greatest example of the latter, it's D3 - The Vault of the Drow.

Having introduced the Dark Elves at the end of the G series, D3 was the module which gave us an insight into their sordid society, before the Realms over-used them and later editions of the game made them redeemable - and both combined to make them feel mundane.

The Drow of D3 were anything BUT mundane, and D3 was a license for a DM to really go to town in portraying their vile and sadistic society. It was a lot of work for any DM to do justice to this classic, but hell, it's worth it.

Only adult gamers need apply.

Next on my list is T1 - Village of Hommlet.

Check out my review here to see why I rate this classic campaign intro very highly indeed.

Tuesday, 21 May 2019

1E Modules - ranked

I've posted before regarding the main reasons why I love the modules of the 1E era, so I won't go into that again in any real detail.  A few years ago I became aware that Dungeon Magazine had run an article in which they had listed their 'Top 30 Dungeons & Dragons Module", and naturally I sought it out.

What a waste of time.  It was little more than a predictable exercise in industry back slapping.  It was dominated by the lazy Supermodules of the mid 80s, in all their 'disjointed, rehashed with recycled artwork that bore little resemblance to the adventures, poorly edited, and packed with badly written filler' glory.  Certainly the source material for these Supermodules was often classic and thoroughly inspirational, but the reissues themselves, well, they were just cash grabs.  The poll also focussed heavily on more famous modules, ignoring some of the lesser known gems, and there was clearly an effort to squeeze in something from each era of D&D - whether or not these were really any good!

The article was crap.  And from time to time I'd google it and reread it, just to remind myself of how crap it was.

So, for some reason unknown even to myself, many years later, I decided to take it upon myself to do a better job.  I considered how and where I would achieve this for all of about 5 minutes, and then simply plunged in... and here it is....

Method used:

95 modules were listed in chronological order
They were then divided into 'eras', with a division line drawn every 14 modules
1 module from each era was then randomly placed into each qualifying group, creating 14 groups of 6 or 7 modules each
Members of the 1st Edition Advanced Dungeons and Dragons group on Facebook were then asked to assign votes to each module (6 votes per person, maximum 3 to each module)
The top 3 modules in each group then advanced to round 2
*Note some 4th place finishers received a higher vote % than 3rd place modules in other groups (eg I12 getting a higher % than N4, but position in the group was what mattered for qualification),

42 qualifying modules were seeded according to % of available votes received in Round 1
Modules were then put into 7 qualifying groups of 6 based on that seeding
Members of the Facebook group then had to assign a ranking to their top 5 in each group
Top 2 in each group advanced to Round 3, along with the 2 best performing 3rd place finishers

These are straight knockout rounds by means of a poll, modules going head to head.
Matchups were determined based on performance in Round 2, #1 vs #16, #2 vs #15, and so on.


Tuesday, 2 April 2019

AD&D Modules - A Chronological Index

D1 Descent into the Depths of the Earth (pastel cover - reprinted in D1-2 in 1981 and then in GDQ1-7 in 1986)
D2 Shrine of the Kuo-Toa
(pastel cover - reprinted in D1-2 in 1981 and then in GDQ1-7 in 1986)
D3 Vault of the Drow (pastel cover - reprinted in 1981 with Blue cover, and then in GDQ1-7) 
G1 Steading of the Hill Giant Chief (pastel cover - reprinted in G1-2-3 in 1981, then again in GDQ1-7)
G2 Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl (pastel cover - reprinted in G1-2-3 in 1981, then again in GDQ1-7)
G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King (pastel cover - reprinted in G1-2-3 in 1981, then again in GDQ1-7) 
S1 Tomb of Horrors (pastel cover - reprinted with Green cover in 1981, and various other versions since)

S2 White Plume Mountain
(pastel cover - reprinted with Orange cover in 1981 and as part of S1-4 in 1987) 
T1 Village of Hommlet (pastel cover - reprinted in 1981 with Green cover and as part of T1-4 in 1985)
A1 Slave Pits of the Undercity (reprinted in A1-4 in 1986)
C1 Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan (pastel cover - reprinted with Brown cover in 1981)
C2 Ghost Tower of Inverness
Q1 Queen of the Demonweb Pits (reprinted in GDQ1-7 in 1986)
S3 Expedition to the Barrier Peaks (reprinted in S1-4)

A2 Secret of the Slavers Stockade
(reprinted in A1-4 in 1986)
A3 Assault on the Aerie of the Slave Lords (reprinted in A1-4 in 1986)
A4 In the Dungeon of the Slave Lords
(reprinted in A1-4 in 1986)
D1-2 Descent into the Depths of the Earth (re-print)
G1-2-3 Against the Giants (re-print)
I1 Dwellers of the Forbidden City
L1 Secret of Bone Hill
U1 Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh

I2 Tomb of the Lizard King
I3 Pharaoh (reprinted in I3-5 in 1987)
N1 Against the Cult of the Reptile God
R1 To the Aid of Falx (re-printed in I12 in 1987)
R2 Investigation of Hydell (re-printed in I12 in 1987)
R3 Egg of the Phoenix (re-printed in I12 in 1987)
S4 Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth (reprinted in S1-4)
U2 Danger at Dunwater
WG4 Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun

EX1 Dungeonland
EX2 Land Beyond the Magic Mirror
I4 Oasis of the White Palm (reprinted in I3-5)
I5 Lost Tomb of Martek (reprinted in I3-5)
I6 Ravenloft
L2 Assassin’s Knot
R4 Doc's Island (re-printed in I12 in 1987)
U3 Final Enemy
UK1 Beyond the Crystal Cave
UK2 Sentinel

C3 Lost Island of Castanamir
C4 To Find a King
CB1 Conan Unchained!
CB2 Conan Against Darkness!
DL1 Dragons of Despair
DL2 Dragons of Flame
DL3 Dragons of Hope
DL4 Dragons of Desolation
DL5 Dragons of Mystery
MV1 Midnight on Dagger Alley
N2 TForest Oracle
UK3 Gauntlet
UK4 When a Star Falls
UK5 Eye of the Serpent
UK6 All that Glitters
WG5 Mordenkainen’s Fantastic Adventure


C5 Bane of Llywelyn
CA1 Swords of the Undercity
DL6 Dragons of Ice
DL7 Dragons of Light
DL8 Dragons of War
DL9 Dragons of Deceit
DL10 Dragons of Dreams
DL11 Dragons of Glory
H1 Bloodstone Pass
I7 Baltron’s Beacon
T1-4 Temple of Elemental Evil (re-print of T1 plus new material)
UK7 Dark Clouds Gather
WG6 Isle of the Ape

A1-4 Scourge of the Slavelords (re-print with additions)
CA2 Swords of Deceit
DL12 Dragons of Faith
DL13 Dragons of Truth
DL14 Dragons of Triumph
GDQ1-7 Queen of the Spiders (re-print with additions)
H2 Mines of Bloodstone
I8 Ravager of Time
I9 Day of Al’Akbar
I10 Ravenloft II: The House on Griffon Hill
N3 Destiny of Kings
N4 Treasure Hunt
OA1 Swords of Daimyo
OA2 Night of the Seven Swords
RS1 Red Sonya Unconquered

C6 Official RPGA Tourney Handbook
DQ1 The Shattered Statue
H3 Bloodstone Wars
I3-5 Desert of Desolation (reprint with additions and amendments)
I11 Needle
I12 Egg of the Phoenix (re-print of R series modules)
I13 Adventure Pack I
N5 Under Illefarn
OA3 Ochimo: The Spirit Warrior
OA4 Blood of the Yakuza
S1-4 Realms of Horror (re-print with amendments)

DL15 Mists of Krynn
DL16 World of Krynn
FRC1 Ruins of Adventure
H4 Throne of Bloodstone
I14 Swords of the Iron Legion
OA5 Mad Monkey vs Dragon Claw
OP1 Tales of the Outer Planes
WG7 Castle Greyhawk

L3 Deep Dwarven Delve (part of 25th Anniversary Box Set)

L4 Devilspawn (Download only)

A0-4 Against the Slave Lords (reissue of A1-4 series with additional chapter A0 Danger At Darkshelf Quarry)

Wednesday, 15 August 2018

Failing to be Critical? Part 2.

After my lambasting of the idea of 'punishing a 1 in combat', I guess its time to take a look a system that I believed handled fumbles and similar critical failures in a much better way.  Not perfect by any means, simply better.  And that was MERP.

MERP was 'Rolemaster-lite', set in Middle Earth.  It used d100 rolls as its base mechanic, with tables.  Lots of tables.  Some might say too many tables.  And yes, it was a simplified form of the Rolemaster game system which use, you've guessed it, even more tables!  Where most homebrewed fumble systems in d20 systems rely on a flat 5% chance of failure - a 1 on a d20 - the use of d100 immediately allows for greater variability, but more of that after I explain the base MERP combat mechanics.

All combatants have 4 key combat stats:
OB - offensive bonus
DB - defensive bonus
Weapon Type - 1 handed, bludgeoning, missile etc
AT - Armour Type

An attack is resolved thus:
d100 roll + OB of attacker + situational modifiers - defender's DB.  The result is then cross referenced on the relevant armour column of the table corresponding to the weapon type being used.

OB tends to improve as an individual gains levels, with fighter types improving quickly. DB is dependent largely on the defender's agility stat and whether or not they are using a shield, and is thus usually fairly static.

This is an example of one of the tables used, notice how it is easier to score damage against armoured foes (a total of 46 needed to do 1 point of damage against a defender wearing plate), but how the critical hits (letters A to E) kick in much sooner against lighter armour, and quickly become more severe (E being the nastiest):

The net effect is that an attacker with a high OB has a much higher chance of causing a critical hit than one with a lower OB.  Warrior types typically have higher OBs than other classes, meaning they are much more effective in combat, and this increases markedly as higher levels are reached.

But what about the fumbles?  See that 'UM' on the table above - that is short for 'unmodified'.  So a natural 01 to 08 on the roll *could* be a fumble.  Now look at the weapons table, or at least part of it:

Each weapon has a 'fumble range' - thus a wielder of a Broadsword has a 3% chance of fumbling, a Dagger just 1%, and a Morning Star a whopping 8%.  The chance of a fumble therefore depends solely on the combatant's choice of weapon - an unmodified roll of 01-08.  Look also at the other modifiers.  A Dagger gives -15 OB, and cannot cause anything more than a C critical.  A Morning Star gives +10 OB, and is capable of dealing 2 critical effects with a single hit.

This give the players choice - you pays your money, you takes your chances.

One key point to also note is than in MERP greater combat skill does not directly give you extra attacks, thus the idiocy of better fighters = more attacks = more fumbles is also avoided.  Instead, as they get better at fighting they hit more often (better OB), do more damage (better OB!) and inflict more critical hits (better OB!!!).

This is all good then?  Well, erm, MERP did have a problem.  Your OB with a Shortsword is +62, the enemy wears Chain armour (-10OB for shortswords), uses a Shield for +25DB.  You've moved 15' (-10OB) to attack on the enemy's flank (+15OB).    You roll 42.  Now total it up and look at the table - quickly, so as not to slow the game down.

To help you it's 74, resulting in 4 damage with no critical.

So the maths involved hurts the brain, especially 4 hours into a gaming session!  But what of the fumbles?  Isn't this meant to be about fumbles?  Ok, here's one of the tables:

Firstly take note of the extra modifier - simpler weapons have less severe critical effects - thankfully for Morning Star fans it is a 1H Concussion weapon!  Then look at the effects - lots of stuns, some breakage, some comedy, more maths (!!), and very few involving hindering your allies.  The effects often require added bookkeeping, so this is hard work for a beleaguered DM, who is likely to already be snowed under by keeping tracks of the ongoing effects of critical hits  - lots of stuns and bleeds there too.  I've only posted a snapshot of the tables - there are failure tables for manoeuvres, spells, and missile weapons too, along with attack tables for different weapon types, spells, different types of critical hit, etc etc etc.... so well, you get the idea.

It's patently obvious why the overall critical hit/fumble system works, it doesn't penalise warrior types, the effects are varied, and choice of weapon is vital.  The use of d100 allows for this level of detail, much moreso than a simple d20.  But it all comes at a cost - the DM needs a calculator, a degree in accountancy, and a ready supply of headache tablets.

It's a ball-ache, but it's better than the crap that people seem to take delight in cooking up for the various versions of D&D.

Tuesday, 31 July 2018

Failing to be Critical?

Barely a day goes by on online RPG discussion forums, Facebook, and other such avenues for people to spout drivel without someone, somewhere asking about how other DMs 'punish critical 1s' in combat.  This is often accompanied by a flurry of 'haha, weapon breaks, stab friend, fall over, etc etc', until someone sensible steps in, and calmly tells them..... "They don't."

A voice of reason, a rare delight on the internet.

Sadly this modicum of good sense then tends to be drowned out by a return of the vicious little kids screeching about 'crit fails being 'fun'', etc...

This is a perfect example of the problem with democracy, you see, 'punishing' a roll of 1, something that happens on 5% of rolls, something no player can do anything about, is just plain illogical.  The supporters of the concept most likely do not properly understand the impact, have not thought about it, or don't care.  But the cacophony of loud voices, and the effect of the pack, tend to overpower the thread of conversation, which carries the risk of the person asking the question being led to believe that Fumble rules are normal, even to be expected.  They are not, and there are good reasons why the vast majority of game designers avoid putting them in their Core rules.

Without going into anything deeper than very basic probability, here's why.

In every d20 system I've ever played, one of the benefits of gaining levels is getting better at what you do - be it casting spells, picking pockets, turning undead - or fighting.  Fighters fight, to get better they have to improve their fighting skills, and that usually means they get to attack more often.

More attacks = more chances to roll 1 = more opportunities to fumble.

Thus by getting better at fighting, they are also getting better at fucking up.

Now the predictable reply you often see to this is "But they get twice as many chances to roll a 20, so that cancels it out!"


It doesn't.

Typically, most fumble tables employed by DMs have entries such as 'Fall over, miss a turn', 'Weapon breaks', 'Confused - penalty on next attack', 'Drop weapon, need to spend a round picking it up.'... Thus causing the Fighter to forego one or more attacks, because they dared to roll a 1.  And by foregoing these attacks they are suffering by MORE than a corresponding 20 would benefit them - especially as most DMs just go by "20 is double damage", which is nothing compared to the drawbacks of the 1.

And thus, as the Fighter gets better, they get more attacks, and the problem spirals yet further.

"But but It's the same for the monsters... they fumble as well!" - this argument for fumbles is even worse.  Stop, and think - an adventure is typically spread over several encounters, sometimes dozens.  With the exception of boss-type monsters, how many encounters will each typical monster take part in?  1, maybe 2 if they run away.  But the PCs?  All of them.

So if Goblin #3 breaks his bow during encounter #1, what impact does that have on the rest of the adventure?  None.  But if Haraldar the Huge blunts his axe on a big rock during encounter #1, what impact does that have?

I rest my case, it's a shit argument made by morons.

"Waaaaa, but but but, they're funny/fun"  (*delete as applicable).  Here I concede they can be, in the short term, once or twice, depending on the situation.  But the 3rd, 4th, 5th time?  Even the best DM starts to run short of original ways to say 'The Fighter looks like a twat and stabs his own toe".

Some systems have attempted to address the Fighter handicap through 'confirmation rolls' - a 2nd roll to confirm a critical hit or fail,and yes, this goes some way to alleviate the issue, but at at significant cost to game flow.  Because yes, extra dice rolls, extra maths, consulting more tables all SLOW the game down.  I play 1e/2e/5e and ignore 3e/4e for a variety of reasons, the main one though, game speed and simplicity.  Combat is meant to be faster in these versions... and if you're playing 3e/4e you probably don't care anywhere, as those versions appeal to numbers-obsessed power gaming types - 1 extra roll isn't going to have much impact on the already ball-achingly slow combat mechanics.

Back in the days of Dragon magazine, 1E types tried to address the crits/fumbles issue with an article entitled "Good Hits and Bad Misses" - it can be found in Best of Dragon Volume V, from May 1986.  Contributors to 1E forums often cite this article as a good solution.  Get real.   I'm not sure why this was in a 'best of' anything.  Essentially it based a chance of a crit or fumble on the different between the modified attack roll and the number required to hit.  So fighting an armoured but sluggish knight with AC2, will result in more fumbles than would fighting a highly dextrous Thief with AC5?  Plus the age old problem remained - more d20s rolled in combat meant more fumbles - thus getting better at fighting still gave you more chances to make a fool of yourself, or decapitate the party Wizard.

So what should you do with 1s?  Use them to inspire flavour, and create memorable comic moments if something immediately comes to mind - don't worry if it doesn't, we all get moments of mind blank.  If so, the attack fails, move on - nobody will curse you for it.  A little spontaneity can often create a running joke that people will look back on fondly for years.  AND THAT SHOULD BE THE LIMIT OF THE EFFECTS OF THE "1". Flavour text, nothing more.

Don't add mechanical 'punishments', because if you do, you don't understand basic d20 game mechanics and probability... and if you don't understand that, or don't consider it important, you probably should not be DMing.

Some games managed to do crits and fumbles well, but that's for another day...

Monday, 28 May 2018

Aligning with Alignment

Is there a single topic in gaming that generates more discussion, anger, opinion and friction than that of alignment? Nope.  Many gamers hate it, “I don’t bother with it!”, “It’s good that Wizards have removed most alignment mechanics from the game!”, “Why should my character be forced to do something because of the alignment I chose?”.  These are all pretty common statements I see in online discussions.  True, it can be seen as a way of limiting options in play, but is that really the case?


Alignment is an underused source of inspiration, a guiding hand, and something that can be of great help when portraying a consistently believable character.  What is most important though is that it is used in a descriptive way, not a proscriptive one.  When creating a character, (or an NPC), consider how you would want them to behave in certain situations, and THEN choose the alignment that best describes that behaviour. Try to be consistent.  “I am really nice to peasants 95% of the time, I give food away. I am free with my money, but every so often, when I feel like it, I’ll murder a few just because I can, take my money back, then give it away again to more peasants.”… A DM should answer this with something like, “What causes the rage?  Are there any specific triggers? Is there a motive to it? Anything in your past that might have brought this about?”  If the player can come up with something that logically justifies such behaviour then fine, it can provide interesting storylines, generate consequences, and maybe result in a character trying to come to terms with the urges.  That’s great. The character is Chaotic Evil, often a red flag to many games, but there’s logic there, potential plot hooks, and maybe a chance of redemption.  But if the player’s response to the questions is “Dunno, lol, ‘cos I feel like it” – that’s crap, that’s being a dick, that’s Chaotic Evil too, and that’s precisely the sort of play that causes DMs to create rules such as ‘no evil characters’ and thereby make alignment proscriptive.

We all have different ideas of what each alignment means, thus discussion is important.  Players need to talk to their DMs beforehand and ask them how they picture the various world views. Define Lawful, define Chaotic, what is considered Good, etc. A player should never simply write an alignment down, then come to the table and argue the point of whether a certain action is Good or not with the DM.  That’s disruptive to the game, and should be avoided where possible. I recently had a player of a Neutral Good character try to justify torturing a child by claiming “My character has low Wisdom and Charisma”, it derailed a session, and generated a lot of ill feeling towards that player from the rest of the group.

So think about the character’s personality, their purpose, what drives them and their opinions on justice, life, law, etc, then choose an alignment – with the help of the DM, and play it consistently, according to the agreed ideals of that alignment.

But… isn’t that limiting player choice at the table? 

No, that’s called ‘Being fair to the DM and the other players.”  You see, RPG games are a group activity.  While everyone has freedom, we also have social expectations. If the PCs are erratic, murdering peasants one session, saving them the next, all on a whim with no real rhyme or reason to it, then how can a DM seriously be expected to create a cohesive story.  “Create consequences!” is the usual answer – yes, that’s good advice, but only to a point, as if it keeps happening then it becomes clear that the player(s) simply are not learning.  They are ignoring the social contract of sitting down and playing a group game together.  Also they are not being fair to the DM.  I, as a DM, like the concept of alignment.  If the player puts real thought into the personality, and then plays it consistently then games are better.

Sure, in my current 1E game I’ve not done much with it mechanically.  We’re playing 1E modules in a mostly fixed game world with 4 players, the adventures are usually designed for larger party sizes, each player has 2 characters, thus the game has been more about the adventures themselves than the characters.  I’m working however on a 2E game in a homemade world in which I will be changing that style.  Players will have multiple PCs to choose from if they wish, but will only play one in each session, so we will be able to focus more on individual motives.  Alignment play will be a factor. Reactions with NPCs will have more of a lasting impact, and the plan is for the world to evolve organically – this will require the players to portray their PCs in a consistent manner as indiscretions will be noted.  Crucially though, I will not use alignment as a proscriptive stick – “You wouldn’t do that, you’re Good” will not be in my vocabulary - but “Please erase the ‘Good’ part of your alignment” could easily be.

I’m looking forward to it.

Inspiration.... not Perspiration

Perhaps the most difficult aspect of DMing, when not falling back on published adventures, is inspiration.  It can be extremely challen...