Wednesday, August 6, 2014

There is a hole in my heart the size of the Great Wheel of the Planes.

I miss Planescape.

I miss the art, I miss the factions (really miss the factions), I miss the crazy races, and I miss the ratty kobolds. I miss the gate towns and mixing of cultures. I miss the Blood War between the infernal, demonic, and neutral factions. I miss the ability from level 1 in Dungeons and Dragons to open the wrong door and find yourself out of your depths in Sigil looking for a way home.

I understand the complaints, the issues with how the factions seemed too extreme, or the extreme-kitchen sink approach that Planescape offered. I understand and reject them. Planescape as it was in 2E was damn near the perfect gestalt of D&D thought for the prior editions. I could pull out ANYTHING and throw in the weird industrial revolution London feel of Sigil with the mix and most players wouldn't bat an eye. It was the RIFTS of TSR material. Giant robots, magical fairies, whatever, if you had D&D stats for it it could show up there.

You didn't have to use Planescape. You could run vanilla Forgotten Realms, Dragonlance, Mystara, you name it. The catch is if player X wanted to show up in setting Y with their character from another 'verse'. As a GM I had the Planes as my ultimate multitool. All it would include was a bit of mystery how they stumbled their way there. I found it more elegant than Spelljammer's crystal sphere's. Not that Spelljammer wasn't fun in it's own way, but I often wondered if they would fit better as a sub-genre under Planescape itself.

Then again, I also liked the 2nd Edition Chronomancer booklet and the Plane of Time, but I'm weird.

Now one of the arguments for the 4E cosmology of D&D was that it left a lot more up to the imagination of the player and DM, but I think it means there is a misunderstanding of the scale of Planescape. The wheel and it's planes are the goalposts. The middle ground between planes, demi planes, the astral, ethereal, elemental planes could be filled with countless worlds, sub worlds. Even the Outlands could be represented by a slice. I could craft a planer nation out of an uneven blog of the Outlands. Off in the distance you see the great spire with Sigil on top, but the rest of the time you deal with the mountains and vast conspiracies in your little kingdom, occasionally visited by dignitaries and monsters from the connected planes.

Or just dip your toe onto planer material a little and have Sigil, the City of Doors act as a hub to and from locations during a shorter adventure. Maybe just a small portal to the Plane of Air with weird monsters spilling out. Even more modern settings like Eberron can fit into the Great Wheel. You just have to make their connections rarer and less important in the overall story. After all Eberron has a plane of dreams where the world gets invaded. It could be a massive continent sized domain deep in the astral to everything else. Still horrific and with it's own rules.

This "The rules change as you travel" was one of the key elements of the setting.

The last thing I loved about Planescape was the races. Tieflings were not generic, aasimars were rare and important, weird hybrids, and off-shoot races, and the ever wonderful Modrons. Gods how I loved the Modrons. May the Manysided be with you!

So there it is. I miss Planescape. And why did I go on this teary eyed trip into my love for a past setting?

Because it's back baby! Early spoilers of 5th Editions Players Handbook present the old school Great Wheel on the return! Sure it sneaked in with some 4E elements here and there...but it's back baby! You ready berk?! I've got a Dabus waiting for us and you better know the cant. The last thing we need is the Fated catching wind of us using this port key. I've got business down with the Duskies. Here we go!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Divine devotion, and other dealings with dieties.

Just a friendly FYI. I'm bowing out of the #rpgaday thing. I can't keep up with the schedule, but I will cover some of the topics it brought up. Like my first GMing session and first game bought. But that's later. Still working on Swankier combat, just got done with the player side and need to do some GM advice. Expect it whenever. Moving on...

Let's talk about Patron Gods and roleplaying. In a lot of Fantasy games the characters worship specific deities. The fiction of the setting handles it as this is a normal thing but in play I've often found there seems to be issues with overly zealous cleric/paladin players, or a fundamental misunderstanding of community and how it impacts the faith of the PC and group.

First consider polytheism. I think this is one of the fundamental sticking point for players of priestly characters. D&D and it's kin settings are a weird mishmash of time periods and cultures to begin with, but polytheistic states have a very open stance on worship. After all, you pray to the forest god for food, the water god for safe passage, and the death god to protect your ancestors. A community and the shaman, priests, etc within it will have a multitude of rituals and practices dedicated to the various gods. I wouldn't be surprised that most cities and towns have a small pantheon temple or church. It's rare that you would find a specific god as the only local deity. That means there is either an effort of the church to stamp out rival factions, or something major happened in the towns history to deserve that veneration. I still scratch my head when I see town maps with 3-4 temples in them as the cost alone to support that many temples is crazy. Shines, community centers dedicated to a faith, sure. But the rainbow of faiths? You might find that only in the richest of cities.

And this matters! Because a PC won't walk into a town as a cleric/priest/whatever of god X and get aggravated if god Z is the local patron. It means the crazy monotheistic take on conversion might not exist in the PC mentality. As long as their god is appeased on with the right rituals on their holy days then the faithful character should be fine. In fact a good priest will off their services if healing is needed (for a god of healing), burial rituals (god of death), or general festivities and holy rights need to be done. (Any)

When modern players play priests in fantasy settings they confuse modern ideas of priests and behavior into their actions. Many play the Roman Catholic exorcist (which is FINE!, but not always correct for that god) or a early day Judea/Christian profit. It's the culture and media we ingest that causes this.

But a fantasy priest in many ways is like a public servant or a community specialist. They're dedicated to their flock and community as a whole. Often working with priests of other temples to officiate events. Acting as judges (if a god of Justice/Law) if the mayor is busy, advising methods of planting and crop protection (if a god of Nature/Harvest), teaching children history and arts (a god of Knowledge/Beauty), etc. Celibacy, self denial rituals, etc MAY be a part of the gods requirements, but just as likely may NOT be.

This gets complicated when you introduce monotheism and rival gods into the picture. These are the times the angry profit, the punishing paladin, etc show up. And in those cases if you are playing as would be in the right. It gets interesting when you have settings with a mix of religions and types. Let's take a look at 2 D&D settings as an example. Forgotten Realms vs. Eberron!

Forgotten Realms has a very set theology, in part because the gods meddle in mortal affairs often and with world shaping results. The various godly factions sponsor champions, send in avatars, and uplift mortals as servants. Not quite a pantheon but rather alliances. In this setting the gods are like kings and queens of the world. However they control specific elements with frequent overlap and fights. So a community might support a local pantheon of friendly gods, but have a banned list. So they might be fine with a Cleric of Bane showing up even though they worship and venerate the Tyrant because Bane supports strong local laws and strict punishment (the local bandit problem keeps them praying Bane will bring the mighty smite down on the fiends). However if a cleric of Cyric shows up he would be run out of town if not outright killed. And so on. Each community would have an alignment of gods with important exceptions written into how it behaves. Often priests would be held in contempt or praise based on their actions alone.

Eberron however is a fun hodge-podge of monotheistic, polytheistic, and cult behavior. You might run into priests of the Silver Flame who don't support the polytheistic gods and consider them fools for worshiping anything but the divine silver. Or maybe the ancestor worshiping elves find the human religions foolish and misguided. Heaven help you if you are a follower of the Blood of Vol and get preachy in the wrong country. Etc. It allows for the conflict of community values over faith. The gods in the setting are mysterious and aloof, if they are even there. It's not better than Forgotten Realms take on gods and communities, just different.

If you run into the Lawful Stupid Paladin, the zealot problem priest/cleric players in a setting where it wouldn't make sense draw the players back a little and ask them...why are you playing them this way? It might do for a GM and crew to sit down and to talk about the setting and it's gods so players interested in them can get the most out of them and not disrupt the setting or other players.

This coming from a guy who played Clerics of War Gods for years on end. And yes, I played them like war chaplains inspired by M.A.S.H.'s Father Mulcahy mixed with Dirty Harry. Later on I turned into more a classic Van Helsing meets Sgt. Rock mix when my focus turned to gods of the Sun/Dawn. But one of these days I want to play a more pagan cleric who is dedicated to nightly rituals and odd rites. I wonder if I'll step on Druid player toes.

Be fun to find out eh?

Friday, August 1, 2014

#RPGaday: First Played

So why not? I'll participate in David Chapman's #RPGaDay event. I'll do this in short form next to my usual posts. It will be a good way to oil the mental gears a bit.

My first RPG was either a home brew mess or AD&D 1E using the Tomb of Horrors. Why can I not tell, well, it's been a while and both events happened pretty close to one another.

The homebrew was a modern day, you fall into fantasy land and picks up magic items monthy hall fest filled with caravan ambushes and other weirdness.

Now for my AD&D 1E game I have more details:

It was around 1985 and I was 9. I had my friends Jason and Joey over at my house. They were friends from the Gifted Student Program and we wanted to play a game. Jason had some books from AD&D 1E and we rolled up characters. By then I was BIG into Claremont's X-men run. (I started reading Spiderman at age 4 in Japan.) So I named my fighter Havok and my Wizard Polaris. (Ya, ya.) And I can remember it was the Tomb of Horrors because of the stupid instant kill statues. Seriously Gygax, wtf?!!

The session lasted for all of a weekend but by the end of it I was hooked. This would lead to my later attempts of Gamemastering and a sweet purchase later in the year. But that's for the next few days posts.