Building A Better Alignment System

In Petals and Thorns, I have a knights and priests faction that’s all about law and order, a carnival-themed faction called “the Lunatic Court” who believe in independence, a rangers and druids faction that wants to preserve the peace between the factions instead of going to war, and a vampires faction that’s purely self-interested. Given this, I wouldn’t be surprised if some people eventually started using that adventure or setting in general as an example of how to do alignment well, provided my whole endeavor doesn’t collapse and fade into obscurity before my reach ever expands past a couple hundred readers. Setting aside the pessimistic scenario for now, I want to head off the whole “how to do alignment well” argument off at the pass as much as possible by getting it on record in advance that I don’t think D&D’s 3×3 alignment grid is particularly good for anything but memes. People like to make excuses for alignment, but the fact is everything the existing system does could be done better by another.

Let’s start by looking at the two main factions of Petals and Thorns, that being the Lunatic Court and the Order of the Lion (the knights and priests faction). I anticipate some people will view this as a “Law vs. Chaos” conflict. These people are going to be disappointed by the sequel I’m writing. The Lunatic Court’s disorganized nature is not tied to their ideology of independence and self-governance at all. The Lunatic Court is disorganized because they’re war orphans who grew into criminals who grew into a guerilla army, and their leadership is still mostly making it up as they go along. They have no established traditions not out of opposition to the very concept but because they’re the first generation of their organization and there are no preceding leaders to draw traditions from. Their leader’s title is the Lunatic Queen, and while that was bestowed upon her from below rather than being self-appointed, it signifies that the Lunatic Court is perfectly happy to take orders from an absolute ruler.

Indeed, a major point of the sequel is that Harlequin has extensive control over a large group of violent people and no clear precedent for what the rules are for staying in her faction’s good graces. She can establish whatever traditions and laws she wants (modulo the political maneuvering of intra-faction rivals), and if the party puts in the effort to win her trust, they can have significant input into that. Sure, the Lunatic Court’s current situation is chaotic, but that’s not because they’re opposed to order, it’s because they’re bad at imposing order. It’s a weakness, not a principle, of their faction.

Continue reading “Building A Better Alignment System”

The Kartoss Gambit: Story Time

Chapter 9 (cont.)

Danny’s still blind for a good long while, and some parts of his interface are even affected. He can access crafting, but not spirits. I guess maybe it’s because crafting causes the fugue state thing? At least some of the time it does. In any case, since Danny’s almost completely out of commission, he asks his landlady Elizabeth to tell him a story of the legendary dwarves of the legendary chess set, hoping that better understanding them will help him craft them. And then the narrative switches to a depiction of some dwarves. Not, like, a recounting of a story about dwarves with the quote tags taken off, but a prose story with specific dialogue and stuff:

‘Borhg, sledgehammering damnation, where are you going?!’ a stocky, practically square dwarf, his eyebrows in a frown, watched Borhg going down into the depths of the Black Maw chasm.

It’s not a bad decision or anything, just something that felt notable to me.

In the many centuries of his people’s history no-one had yet succeeded in descending below the level of darkness. To the place where the thrown torches could not drive back the black and show what the gloomy haze concealed. The daredevils who went below this fateful threshold never returned. Those who went down on a rope were lifted back up with eyes full of terror. Dead eyes. And now another young fool had decided to explore the secret of the chasm – without a rope, trusting only in the strength of his hands and the innate agility of the undermountain people.

“Father, I’ll be quick! I have to find out what is concealed by the darkness. What kind of a chief would I be if my subjects end up laughing at me my entire life? Our people need knowledge and I will gain it for them!”

Why? This Black Maw thing kills everyone who goes inside, and if it ever spews anything dangerous back out, it hasn’t been mentioned. And who would laugh at someone for declining to enter the darkness that kills every single person who enters? The dead explorers who went before? What kind of idiot calls someone a coward over something they are themselves unwilling to risk?

Continue reading “The Kartoss Gambit: Story Time”

Video GM’s Guide 6 – Social Encounters

Ladies, gentlemen, and humans NOS, I present to you the triumphant return of Chamomile Has A GM’s Guide But Instead Of Regular It’s On YouTube:

At this point these videos are mainly a vehicle for me to figure out how to sound editing decently, which is hard for me to do because I never really notice audio quality in the first place. I started using compression and normalization and stuff, plus I have a better microphone. Is it good? Is the audio done? Should I start focusing more on less generic video now? I guess the answer to the latter question is “yes, because I actually notice changes in quality there and can make meaningful progress without waiting for someone to come along and tell me what’s up.”

The Kartoss Gambit: The Dragon Dimension

Chapter 8

“Key!”

I’m a man of steady nerves, but when the Dragonkin’s malicious muzzle repeated the same phrase for the fortieth time, you developed an irresistible itch to put your boot in it.

As soon as the portal with the Orc Warriors disappeared, the Dragonkin got up from his knees and, as if nothing happened, placed himself in the doorway of the hut.

“I need the scroll that will take me to the Dragons,” I approached the four-legged NPC.

“Key!” the Dragonkin rumbled for the first time.

“What key?”

“Key!”

“I found the clearing and met all the conditions. I demand to be given the scroll!”

“Key!”

This is the first page of the chapter. Eventually, Danny gives up on getting inside and instead decides to craft a chess set for Anastaria’s birthday as was requested/demanded of him by Hellfire. He fugue-crafts the set with the Phoenix Clan on one side and the Dark Legion on the other and turns out, oops, it’s cursed, now the two clans need to play against each other once a month and the winner gets a buff and the loser a debuff. Anastaria is not amused, but it turns out crafting a unique item was the key the dragonkin was looking for. So, not only has Danny crafted a legendary unique item again, this time by doing nothing else but taking a bunch of rare materials supplied by Hellfire and then poking at them for like ten hours, but it just so happens that this is the secret key that allows him to teleport to the hidden island of the guardian of all draconic lore. The first Way of the Shaman was mostly free of this inexplicably unique kind of achievement, and while this second one is much less incessant with it than, for example, Awaken Online, the series overall is getting worse at this kind of thing.

Danny summons up his dragon totem for more help in customizing his spirits (also, Kornik, the new shaman trainer he met in the last post, is also here, but refusing to actually help him, so apparently “training” here means “watch while Danny figures it out by himself”).

“Hi. I need your help. Will you come?”

“Awe we going to pway?”

“No, we won’t play. I have to get to grips with the Spirits.”

“Awwight. I come.”

I really hope this dragon isn’t going to be a frequent conversant.

Continue reading “The Kartoss Gambit: The Dragon Dimension”

Magignosis

I’m more nervous about this Kickstarter than I should be. Magignosis is a spin-off project of Petals and Thorns containing a suite of new classes I wrote in order to make PF/3.5 NPC stat blocks less infuriating to build, focusing more on having a suite of awesome powers rather than on having tons of fiddly customization options at every new level. It’s good for a certain type of player and also for any GM who’s short on time and needs to make a villain who’s got X levels in Y class and doesn’t care about whether he’s got the Precise Shot feat because this guy is going to be dead in two weeks anyway. I don’t know if people really want this kind of thing and if they do I don’t know if they want it badly enough to pay money for it, but I’m going to find out. Ultimately this thing is just not that important compared to the Petals and Thorns sequel I’m working on, but from the moment I launched the campaign, my subconscious became convinced that its success or failure would be an omen for the future and now won’t leave me alone. Worst case scenario, I at least got a quick and easy Friday article out of the deal, which certainly helps with getting back onto a regular blogging schedule.

Speaking of which, being that this Kickstarter is ultimately unimportant, and that the blog has been derailed badly enough by all the data entry work on the last one, I’m not planning on halting content for this one like I did for the last, so blog updates will continue as normal (except perhaps with more shilling) for the duration of this Kickstarter. Maybe also for the next, more important Kickstarter due to start up sometime in late February or early March, depending on how confident I feel about managing a Kickstarter at the same time as posting blog content.

The Kartoss Gambit: Crocodile Tears

Chapter 6

Danny has returned to Farstead and picked up a tremendous amount of loot left for him in his bank vault by Anastaria. She also leaves a note in which Danny’s craft-unlocking fugue state gets even specialer:

[“]The only thing that Rick was curious about was how you managed to change stats, since you need character level of 150 and 100 levels in any profession before you can access the design mode. It goes without saying that this is unlocked via a quest chain, which needs several people to complete – it’s physically impossible to solo. Our analysts are still racking their brains how this is possible and are even putting Karachun’s words into doubt. But Eric, whom I contacted specifically on this account, has confirmed that you were able to change the properties of the rings you crafted. All my analysts are in a state of shock and can only shrug at this. This is the third reason why we want you in the clan.[“]

There’s also a letter from one of his prison buddies, Eric, confirming that the Phoenix Clan was lying when they said they’d ditched him to join Phoenix, but also that they’d told the Phoenix Clan everything about what they’d done in the dungeon. So, Danny’s earlier trick question was actually totally pointless? Apparently Anastaria did have access to reliable information on who got what item, she just didn’t have the information memorized and assumed Danny was being truthful when he said Leite got pauldrons.

There’s a new shaman trainer coming to visit town, which Danny was notified of a bit ago, and he wants to pay this new trainer a visit while he’s within Danny’s extremely limited range of travel. Upon arrival, it turns out that he is apparently expected and the new trainer came here to visit him, specifically. He’s about to give Danny a step-by-step walkthrough on how to find the secret land of the dragons and unlock sweet new totem powers, but Danny stops him. He said to himself earlier that he’d puzzle out this secret dragon quest on his own because doing things without hints always got a bigger prize from Barliona than accepting help from NPCs. The trainer visiting town apparently considers it vitally important that Danny complete his totem quest ASAP.

“All right. If you can provide a good reason why you must find the Dragons on your own without my help, I will agree. But your reason must be indisputable.”

“I cannot give you a reason. This… This is something within me – I feel that this is the way I must do things and if I accept your help it would mean a greatly inferior result,” I decided not to beat about the bush and tell Kornik the whole truth. As ridiculous as it might be. Even if he’s an NPC, he’s a clever NPC with access to the information that I need. If I don’t get help with sorting out my feelings, one day I’ll go mad from the inner contradictions between logic and emotions. This isn’t easy for someone who’d been guided by his head his entire life. And a pretty shabby head at that, I thought, remembering how I ended up in prison.

“That is the most cast-iron reason that a Shaman can give,” there was now a hint of satisfaction in Kornik’s voice.

What’s the point of even asking for reasons if your culture considers “because I don’t feel like it” to be the most impeccable excuse for doing or not doing anything?

Continue reading “The Kartoss Gambit: Crocodile Tears”

The Kartoss Gambit: We’re Gonna Need A Bigger Trap

Chapter 5 (cont.)

Hellfire has left Danny a note at the site of the wolf pack’s destruction, explaining that he’s guessed that they’re Danny’s wolves, that Danny crafted the pawns of the legendary Chess set, and that Danny would come to see what happened to the wolves when he got the notification that the quest had ended. That’s some pretty good guessing. There is one clue in that the wolves don’t despawn after dying which means they’re quest-related, waiting for Danny to come and collect the tail of the Grey Death (which he does, because at this point, why not?), and Hel does know from Danny’s traitorous prison buddies that he has the ultra-rare Crafting stat. Still, this guy would be amazing at Codenames.

Despite his growing spite for Hellfire, Danny remains enthralled with Anastaria. This feels a lot like it’s headed for Danny defeating Hel to take over the bestest clan in the game and get married to the prettiest girl in all of Barliona, but that hasn’t actually happened yet, so I’ll reserve judgement. Danny calls in to Anastaria to report his run-in with the number two clan, and she lets him know that after finishing off the last squad in the area, she and every other person in the game except Danny was immediately required to leave the Krong Province. This is one of forty provinces for the entire Eurasian gaming population, and Danny now has it entirely to himself.

[“]So, Have Eric, Leite and Clutzer really been accepted into Phoenix?” I still had trouble believing that they ditched me. They just couldn’t have, whatever Hellfire may say.

“Yes, but not all. A few days ago we were approached by several beginner-level players who had First Kill. This really piqued my interest, so I personally oversaw their testing.”

“Testing? What’s that?”

“Identification of their abilities. Eric turned out to be an excellent tank and he’s already been sent for a leveling boost. Clutzer’s a decent DD. But Leite didn’t pass the trial. He makes a pretty average DD and we decided not to take him. Now we’re looking for Karachun to assess his abilities.”

“An item doesn’t make the person. If you have clumsy hands, no amount of gear will help. We gave Leite a chance, but he didn’t take it.”

“Fine, another question. What is a Phoenix Master?” I asked nonchalantly. You can relax, Oh Gorgeous One. This just made for another point against joining Phoenix. So I am supposed to think that Eric and Clutzer are now in the clan and even came out with a full report… Yeah, right, they just ran in and typed it all up, especially about the non-existent second place and Leite’s pauldrons. So, it looks like Karachun was the one you spoke to… But he doesn’t know about the fifth place or Leite’s sword.

This is pretty clever and I like it.

Continue reading “The Kartoss Gambit: We’re Gonna Need A Bigger Trap”

Where I’ve Been

I think this 2-3 week (depending how you count it) blackout is probably the longest period of inactivity this blog has had since launching in February 2017. Second year anniversary coming up, so I guess nearly letting it die is how we’re celebrating. It’s gotten so bad that I didn’t even notice that other blog I used to contribute to made a new post about struggling from underneath the burden of his loving wife, adorable children, prestigious university degree, and stable employment to get back to what really matters: Blogging. A post which went up like two weeks ago. Even though it’s one of like five blogs in my WordPress feed. It was still on my front page when I finally logged in, that’s how uncluttered that feed is, I just hadn’t logged in since forever.

The reason I’ve been so far behind is mainly because I really wanted to get the Pathfinder version of Petals and Thorns out to my backers before New Year’s, and once that didn’t happen, as soon as possible afterwards. Illness, freelancers of dubious quality, and a misestimation of my own ability to do lots of work in the dead of winter contributed to falling behind schedule, but now the Pathfinder version is out and I have no firm deadline for the Fantasy Grounds release. I’d like to keep to my January/February release window if possible, of course, but unlike the other versions, backers were warned up front that the release date was tenuous, so I don’t feel the need to obsessively prioritize that release should it fall behind schedule.

I don’t have any deadlines breathing down my neck anymore, so I’m going to try and get the Kartoss Gambit wrapped up. I’m also going to think about whether I want to continue LitRPG reviews right away when I do, though. I definitely don’t want to leave Kartoss hanging midway through, but I’m kind of getting to the point where I think I’ve said just about everything I have to say on the current state of the genre and it’s probably best to start looking at other things. Probably readthroughs of other books, but possibly TV shows or something instead. I’d like an excuse to get back into video editing, and while I probably don’t have time for it, a show where I hack together clips of an episode of [show] with reaction commentary is something I’d like to try doing sometime.

Also, at some point in the last couple of weeks WordPress decided that their creator-facing interface needed a hideous shade of dull pink instead of blues and oranges. It’s a lot less generic but it also looks awful. I don’t think it affects your actual experience at all, I just wanted to kvetch about it.

On a happier note, some numbers that I planned on posting about early in January before early in January became dedicated entirely to getting Kickstarter rewards out: 2018 saw this blog getting over 12,000 views from over 6,000 visitors, which is over double the numbers from 2017. That’s still not even close to Big Deal numbers, but at least they’re moving in the right direction, and fairly rapidly at that.

D&D Solar System Syncretism V: Second Pass

We’re taking a second pass on our solar system syncretism. Now that we’ve assigned planes to as many planets and moons as possible, it’s time to look at what’s left over and if we can fix it by adding any extra moons and planets. We’ve actually managed to assign most of the settings (except ones like Dragonstar, which were cut for being way too big to fit inside one solar system, and Stargate SG-1, which were cut for having nothing to do with D&D’s fantasy millieu to the point where it’s baffling they used D&D mechanics to make the tabletop RPG in the first place), and we’re also just about out of real estate, so we’ve really only got a few important considerations to make here in the second pass:

  1. We weren’t able to find room for Wheel of Time, Rokugan, Pathfinder, or Forgotten Realms. Those latter two are being held in reserve because one of them would make a good Earth, but we still need to figure out which one’s gonna get it and what to do with the other.
  2. We have no room at all left for new Magic: the Gathering planes. We’ve managed to get this far by sticking fairly close to analogies for the real world solar system which allows people to import their knowledge of real world science. If you know how many significantly large moons Saturn has in the real world, you automatically know how many significantly large moons Saturn has in the D&D solar system, which means you don’t have to memorize a new fact. Bonus points: If you memorize how many significantly large moons Saturn has in the D&D solar system, you have also memorized a real fact about actual science. The problem is, Magic is going to add new planes. If they don’t happen to fit onto an existing planet or moon that doesn’t already contain another Magic plane, we have nowhere in the system to put them. We can solve this by adding extra moons to Saturn, Neptune, or Uranus and thus intentionally break the consistency with the real world, and we can also keep the consistency with the real world and just hope that all of Magic’s new planes can be fit onto existing moons or planets. It’s also worth noting that Uranus and Neptune could either or both be used as ocean planets to host mostly-water settings like Theros, Ixalan, or the Council of Wyrms, freeing up some moons. The problem is, a major theme of the setting so far is that the moons of a gas (and water) giants have lots of interaction with moons of the same giant. We have to free up either all of a planet’s moons or none of them, because if only some of them are freed up, those blank moons can’t interact with the others.
  3. Krynn is in Pluto’s position. It has a cool thing where being past the reach of the gods explains why the Dragonlance gods keep falling in and out of contact with the plane, but the problem is that Krynn is not especially cold, and people expect Pluto to be cold. I think we can get away with the moons of Jupiter being temperate because, despite being quite a bit further from the sun than Earth, people don’t expect Jupiter to be cold. They do expect Pluto to be cold. Dragonlance, and especially other settings in the far system like Middle-Earth and Game of Thrones, really don’t want to be directly plugged into the greater solar community, though. Partly because having those settings included represents a level of gonzo that some people otherwise interested in the solar system syncretism will want to ignore, and partly because they’ll be changed unrecognizably by prolonged contact with the solar community, so the only way to meaningfully include settings like Middle-Earth is if players get to see the change as it happens.
  4. Mercury is still blank.

Continue reading “D&D Solar System Syncretism V: Second Pass”

Yule Update: Red Taped

I had hoped to post an update on how Petals and Thorns did in its initial release on Roll20, but instead I am writing about why it has not yet been released on Roll20. Except the answer to that is “I don’t know,” so this is gonna be a short post. The adventure was finished back on Thanksgiving, and since then it’s been tons of database forms, and cropping my cover to fit a very specific format, and tax forms, and then…weird radio silence? So far as I know, everything’s good for my adventure, but a week and a half later, it’s still not in the marketplace, and I’m not getting answers to my emails as to what’s gone wrong. I don’t expect this blog post to affect the situation or anything – I’d just planned to write about how the adventure was doing and don’t know what else to write about except my confusion as to why it’s still caught in red tape.