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Category Archives: Gaming In General

When it comes to making new characters for gaming, there are a lot of processes a player goes through before pencil touches character sheet, or dice clatter to table.  It’s not that it’s necessarily a laborious process, but most players grow concerned about what they are going to play and how, if at all, that character is going to fit into the table dynamic.  When this is what is called a “shared world,” such as Living Forgotten Realms, Shadowrun Missions, etc., it becomes even worse.  After all, when it’s your friends at the table, it’s easier to know what will work and what won’t.  When there are a crap ton of other variables, including players you have never met before and may never get a chance to make a good impression upon again, the stakes are higher.

Let me let you in on a little secret: None of that matters.  The party needs a cleric?  It’s just as incumbent upon every other player at the table to consider playing one.  You think your barbarian warrior is going to be a little rough around the edges, and not very personable from the beginning?  So freaking what?  You think no one will like you if you don’t play a good little soldier that follows every order barked at him or her?  Tough crap.  Play the character you want to play.  Now, don’t intentionally dick over other players (I’ve said that before), but make the character you want to play that still fits the setting.  After all, a Sherlock Holmesian inquisitor is not going to work well in a setting built around sheer survival.  A brutish warrior known for breaking tables and NPCs isn’t going to work well in a setting that is based on courtly intrigue.  Then again, I could be wrong.  The points here come down to two simple ideas:

  1. Are you designing the character just to screw another player or players?
  2. Can you make your design work in the game?

There you have it.  It really is that simple.

You see, everyone spends all their time worrying about impressing others and playing instantly personable characters.  Here’s the killer truth though: not every PC is going to be some shining-toothed goody two-shoes.  Raistlin Majere?  Conan the Cimmerian?  Solomon Kane?  Harry Dresden?  Anita Blake? (I kinda threw up a little in my mouth there, but it’s still a relevant point)  The list goes on and on.  Hell, even Quasimodo the Hunchback.

It’s not about the personality of the character; it’s about your personality as a player.  You can play an aloof and divorced character in a game and still do it with panache and style.  You can make people enjoy being in a party with just such a character without being an insufferable suck up.  The loud and boisterous barbarian who comes to respect the fighter in the party after getting into a fistfight with him; the slightly overconfident mage who grudgingly admits his need of the others, and his constant silent support of them; even the sneaky rogue who cheats at dice with the other players, but is the first to slip a dagger between the ribs of a threat she gets the drop on.  All of these are characters that, by all conventional thought should be hated, but most often aren’t.

You see, the character works as an extension of yourself, and if you consciously paralyze your creativity, you are going to paralyze yourself.  As I said, this is discounting the impulse to play a character that exists only to dick over others, or attention whore.  But playing a character renowned for being a bit of a prick, yet very dedicated to the group he is with is not an issue.  Backstabbing, betrayal, the like… they all belong as ploys used against the bad guys.  Egotism, self-centeredness, and flat-out asshole gloryhounding are not a part of the cooperative game experience.

But tell the story you want to tell.  If you want to play a character that is not fond of divine spellcasters, but respects them enough not to outright attack them on sight, go for it.  If you want to play an arcane spellcaster who sees melee fighters as little more than cavemen with sharpened sticks, go ahead.  But when that Cro Magnon saves your ass a couple times with his “sharpened stick,” you had best acknowledge some skills.

Once again, it comes down to grace on the part of you, the player.

What do you think?

There is a certain joy you feel when you reunite with an old group of friends after months or years of absence.  And, if it is a particularly solid group of friends, it will seem like nothing has changed and no time has passed at all of note.

When this occurs around a gaming table, it is particularly poignant for the group.  Add in the factor of playing characters that have not adventured together in that time, and a sense of nostalgia overpowers even the great nostalgia from just the friendships.  There is a weight of shared adventures and exploits that, while not truly more powerful than those of the real world, are as if Jason and the crew of the Argos reunited.    It’s a delightful weight that doesn’t encumber like a millstone, but supports, like a solid foundation built on bedrock.

This past weekend, I returned to the COSWorld game setting from my local Gaming Guild (Circle of Swords, for those of you interested).  And what’s more, I was able to return not only to play as a new character in the new iteration of the world using the Pathfinder system, but I was able to update an old character and have him return to the active world of the adventure again.  Luth Stormwind strode the world once more, turning his mind to the pursuit of the righteous path and the pursuit of knowledge.

Now, I suppose I ought to provide some background here.  COSWorld is the shared world, much like Living Forgotten Realms, Shadowrun Missions, and some older shared worlds in which players can take part in the constantly developing events of the world and help shape it.  In essence, they can sit at a table where multiple other players, some they know, some they don’t, are working with them.  Since this group is not overly massive (at most, about twenty active players, max, at any one given time), we still get to know one another, and a dynamic forms.

The world was once known as Kysie, and survived through the Second and Third/3.5 editions of the D&D games.  I started playing as Luth in about 2002, and played him through 2008, periodically, as I gradually took over greater reins in DMing, and then Admining, along with my friends, the world itself.  Soon, though, life started keeping me away from when and where I needed to be, and I turned over the reins to my friend Steve.

Luth started as a wizard, venturing alongside his friends Angdor the outcast dwarven fighter, Kiara the statuesque elven sorcerer/ranger, and Jonathan the devout human cleric of the lord of battle.  There are tons of tales I can tell about the adventures, from the ruined knighting celebration of Sir Turlogh, to the now-infamous “dart-in-your-neck” story, and beyond.  If you catch me in a good mood some time, and offer to buy me a drink, I may just share them with you.

We helped shape the world, and were shaped by the world, becoming iconic adventurers in the world, along with the lord Armand (a wonderful fencer and boon companion), and so many others.  We worked towards making Kysie a better place, and told grand tales in the process.

And then Kysie changed forever.

A comet plummeted towards the world, its source unknown.  We gathered one last time in Dweomerheart, the name for Luth’s manor in the town of Deepwood.  We came together and did all we could, sending ourselves to vast and different parts of the world, gathering all who would listen to us, and finding a way to survive the coming holocaust.  Luth gathered what he could carry from his home.  One of his friends, Angdor, had died recently defending a remote dwarven outpost.  With a heavy heart, he magically locked the doors to Dweomerheart, doors that could only be unlocked by six others with the right key.  And off he went, along with Kiara, Jonathan, and others to try and save what he could of the world.

During this module, I actually had moments of tears in my eyes, so immersed was I in character.  I remember looking at my friend who plays Kiara, trying not to break down, and saying, “How do you say goodbye to home?”  I was constantly on the brink of leaving the key magical item for everyone’s survival in Kiara and Jonathan’s capable hands, and staying behind to save who all I could from the comet.  To me, in part, it was fitting for Luth.  Though insanely intelligent, he nevertheless always took the risks to do what he hoped was the right thing.  But when I turned to Kiara’s player at the table, I felt inside that even Luth couldn’t do that.  People depended on him here and now.

So, Luth left his home behind to be destroyed, trusting in the goddess of Magic who he had always served faithfully.  At the end of the module, Luth sequestered himself in his new tower, given to him by Sir Turlogh.  He was going to find a way to bring his home back, to return Dweomerheart.  I did this at the time because I was entering a stage in my life where my attendance at the conventions and game days I loved was becoming spotty.  It was time to take a sabbatical from this setting and drift a bit.

Fast forward to this past weekend.

Sitting at the Epic Level (Epic for COSWorld is level ten or so, given the nature of the beast) module for COSWorld, I was able to once more step into the boots of Luth Stormwind and adventure once more.  It was glorious.  Luth’s character is one I adored playing so much that it was second nature for me to slip into playing him once more.  The cerebral mage, known for refusing to use fire magic (“it’s inelegant and brutish; only the simplest of mages would resort to such a thing.  I prefer the power of the storm, thank you.”) was once more a part of the unfolding events of the world Caladonia (the name for the world we ended up in, 500 years in the future), and the return of a villainous old foe we had worked to oppose frequently in the old world.  Apparently, my friend who runs the world decided he would make this module just because I decided to return to COSWorld.  I feel honored.  Honestly, I really do.

But more than that… It was fun.

I bought a new set of a dozen six-sided dice just for spell damage (yes, I get to roll that many dice sometimes.  I told you, Luth is freaking awesome in the true sense of the word).  I was faced with a situation where my evocation spells, powerful dweomers of lightning, thunder, and force were ineffective.  I proved my utility by still being able to utilize spells that bolstered my companions’ abilities, making them more effective at combat.  I had a chance to teach a spellcaster of the new world a new spell Luth brought with him from the old world.  I sent a message to a mighty foe from old that some still stood against him.  And I got a chance, for one evening in game, to return to Dweomerheart, which is now the retreat of the gods and goddesses themselves.  It was what I, and Luth, needed.  The storm was reinvigorated, and my return was well worth every dime I spent on the weekend, even if I had done nothing else.  Had I not sat at a single other table, not rolled another die the rest of the weekend, that evening, that module, those friends… it was all worth it.

Don’t turn down a chance at that nostalgia.  If you get a chance to revisit something old and left behind with a group of gaming friends, take it.  Don’t even think for a spare moment; just freaking do it.  There are new stories to be told, new treasures to be won, and old tales to tell around an imaginary table in the game, passing ale and wine, eating good food from a magical table, and remembering old glories.

Just like in life, there are things out there that are good for the soul.  And old friends are one of them.

Share your stories here as comments, or just let me know what you think.


P.P.S. – Included is a swiped and recolored picture I use for Luth.

My 12th level wizard (Pathfinder), Luth Stormwind

My 12th level wizard (Pathfinder), Luth Stormwind


I have tried, numerous times, to get roleplaying started on chat systems with other RPers, and have, without failure, always found that it sucks.  I spend hours and hours trying to get something rolling, to prompt the players to move forward and craft storylines that are memorable and enjoyable.  But inevitably, it always goes the same way…

They sit around, bullshit, and accomplish all of squat.

And I mean jack damn squat.

These people take the time to make a character, get into the chat, and all they want to do is sit in the bar chats and act like a bunch of drunks just trying to find a warm body for the night.  They provide no storylines with any achievable or recognizable goal, and no one is willing to take the time to be a villain for everyone else to target.  In short, they do nothing.

Inevitably, the men are all perfectly sculpted creations with no appreciable flaws, all confident and trained in martial arts, and can kick the hell out of anyone else.  The women are all models who have no problems with maintaining their beauty, or struggling with identity.  And always they all never worry about money; they could buy the drinks for the whole bar and never even dent their bank accounts.  In short, they play shit characters with no chance for failure.

They also never create any storylines outside of their own little dramas that exist between characters.  Their stories exist around who is sleeping with whom, why is this person taking self-defense lessons, betraying each other by sleeping with another person, and all the things that make afternoon soap operas the worst programming on television outside of reality TV, which it also resembles in many cases.

What it comes down to is that these people are not interested in telling stories that most roleplaying games encourage, full of adventure, risk, and true plot.  Someone, since it takes place in a chat system, has to be willing to play the villain and lose in the end.  And it should change from player to player, each one taking on a temporary persona to present the antagonism needed for true motion in a plot.  There has to be the occasional combat, even if it is just a drunken brawl outside of the usual bar or tavern.

Any tabletop system can actually be used with great ease in a chat system.  Almost all chat systems have dice-rolling programs integrated and the use of them does not appreciably intrude in the chat of the channel.  What’s more, simple dice resolution systems are easily created and implemented if no one system will do.  Dice adds the important role of Fate into the game, simulating the teeter-totter of life tipping first one way then the other.

There is an old adage that if your life is going well, don’t bother writing.  It’s all about conflict, and just telling the stories about conflict that just deal with broken love affairs and desperate men and women looking for Mister or Miss Right Now.  The conflicts of roleplaying are less Driving Miss Daisy and more Gone in 60 Seconds.  Even highly political games like Vampire (both the Masquerade and Requiem incarnations) contain their fair share of altercations and action-packed sequences.

In order to make it work in a chat room, there are a few items that have to be contemplated:

  1. Who is the bad guy?  I know a lot of systems try to get nebulous as to who the villain is, but the primary antagonist needs to be identified.  Whoever decides to take on the role of the antagonist in the chat must be willing to play a character who should, in the end, fall.  Whether the antagonist falls prey to his or her pride, flaws, or the efforts of the rest of the involved players directly, they have to be willing to provide that service.
  2. There is no need for a GM/DM/ST.  The players keep things fair among themselves.  All agree to play by the rules that have been determined.  That’s the wonderful and potentially dangerous part of roleplaying games in this venue; it really has to be cooperative.  By default, the person really responsible for engineering the overall skeleton of the plot should ideally play the antagonist.
  3. Keeping track of minor NPCs and the rank-and-file cannon fodder is a community effort.  Narrating the combats and interactions between PCs and these characters should, ideally, by adjudicated by the antagonist player.  Remember, though, it’s a community effort.
  4. How will the events of the storyline affect all involved?  If the antagonist doesn’t die at the end, what happens to him?  Is there a chance he could resurface later?  How will the vents impact the other players?  Will the one character that was viciously, physically beaten by the thugs of the antagonist have a change in personality because of it?

Unless someone continually likes to play the bad guy, players should trade off the duty for playing the antagonist in the stories.  This way, everyone gets a chance to really participate in appreciable ways.  The same goes for NPCing.  Many chat systems allow for multiple identities to be played by one person through multiple windows.

Through these efforts, real and involved storylines that go beyond the soap opera norm can be brought into the chat.  There should always be downtime where the players just interact socially, but there also needs to be action and movement.  The peaks and valleys of action read like a heart monitor, and when it all goes flat, the life is gone.

Get out the paddles!

As always, what do you think?

In 1995, Stewart Wieck published a game using the White Wolf Studios Storyteller System called Mage: The Ascension.  It had grown, partially, out of an earlier game called Ars Magica, and was based around the idea of actual magic-using characters in a gritty, modern-era world.  The crux of the conflict was the struggle between the Technocracy, who believed that magic would only damn the earth (even though they used it as well), and the Traditions, who believed that the freedom of mankind to have imagination and power over their world was best.  The Technocracy was waging war on the Traditions, all while mages driven mad by magic’s touch (Marauders) and those driven to try and destroy all of Creation (Nephandi) ate away at the roots of the world like some thaumaturgical Nidhoggr. (If you don’t get the reference, look it up)

This was, without a doubt, the most complex of all the Storyteller systems.  Not only did you have to create a character, but you had to create for them a belief system on how and why magic worked.  You had to design the very paradigm by which they could alter reality.  This wasn’t D&D where you just picked a spell list and worked with it; oh no, you had to do a lot of spell casting on the fly, with a lot of adjudication from your Storyteller.  This was not gaming for the casually minded, which is one of the things that drew me to it as my favorite of all the Storyteller systems.  I dabbled in Werewolf and Vampire, and to a lesser extent, the other titles.  But it was Mage that really caught me.  The Nine Traditions (plus the Hollow Ones, the red-headed stepchildren of the Traditions) were great carte-blanche examples of real-world mystical belief systems.  They were perfect, blank archetypes ripe for the embellishment.

After deciding to end the current metaplot in 2005, White Wolf moved to reinvent all of the settings they had into something new.  Mage: The Awakening was released in 2005, ten years after the original was released.  It was a whole new idea, with the Mages now being inheritors of Atlantis.  No world-wide struggle between two factions, no amazing wonders that the world could have.  Just more of a whimper.

This is not to say that I hate the new system; on the contrary, I love some aspects of it, which I will detail shortly.  What I didn’t like was the new flavor.  It was like going from a five mile long, all-you-can-eat buffet of every possible ethnic cuisine that exists, to a four dish mini-buffet of French fries, pizza, egg rolls, and steamed rice.  But, I like steamed rice, you say.  That’s fine and good, but don’t you want the options?

I loved the addition of a morality system for Mages.  It was something I always thought they lacked; after all, didn’t they stand to lose their humanity just as much as the vampires did?  Of course they did call it Wisdom, which to me is not really that smart.  Why not just call it humanity?  I mean, Mages are just supposed to be the pinnacle of human potential.  I liked the more succinct delineations of what each level of a Sphere could do, as well as the division of Entropy into Death and Fate.

But one of the things I didn’t like was the renaming of Arete to be Gnosis.  Now, Arete is a Greek term referring to excellence.  Arete was a quality you had that made you a leader, a paragon.  Gnosis, also a Greek term, refers to wisdom.  (Wait, they had two Wisdom traits?  Yes they did…) Not all Mages where wise when they excelled at magic, but they all did excel as that trait increased.

One of the other things I hated was replacing Quintessence with Mana.  Crap.  Absolute crap to pander to the video game crowd.  They shucked Paradox right out the window in favor of an unnamed system of retribution for Vulgar magic.  Also, only the Atlantean paradigm of magic was established as true.  There was no more room for the role-playing possibilities of an aboriginal shaman arguing with an urban techno-wizard over the finer points of True Names.  It was gone, gone.

I also don’t care for Merit system replacing Backgrounds.  In the old setting, Backgrounds were ranked concepts that could offer you a benefit as well as work as story devices.  Backgrounds such as Arcane shielded you from casual notice, and Avatar rated how strong the magical spirit was inside of you.  But those were replaced by Merits, which were a bastardization of the old Backgrounds and the old Merits from the Merits & Flaws system.  Now the old Merits & Flaws system was meant to be small tweaks to characters that either offered them a benefit and cost them Character Points (Merits), or offered them a difficulty and gave them Character Points (Flaws).  When watched over by a Storyteller worth his salt, these systems worked well.  But, they left them in the dust.

And, as much as I like the idea of the Virtues and Vices (yes, you pick a cardinal virtue and a cardinal sin as the opposing forces of the character’s personality), I really feel it lacks that power of the original Nature and Demeanor system.  Natures and Demeanors, in the original Mage game, were personality tendencies.  Your Nature was the personality tendency that that you were at your core; Demeanor was the personality tendency that you showed to the world.  They could be the same, but playing them as different allowed the player to create a personal tension that had less to do with morality and more to do with personal peccadilloes.

But there is something else they did right: they cleaned up the mechanic.  In the Old World of Darkness (OWoD), there were two variables to overcome: the difficulty of the roll (standard 6, but could vary), and the number of successes you had to achieve.  This could be a bitchy prospect at the table when many different circumstances came into play.  In the New World of Darkness (NWoD), they set a static difficulty of 8 for all rolls, and only your dice pool would vary.  You compared your success to either a static number based on the task, or on your opponent’s pool of successes.  Margins of success detailed certain effects.  Blam, done.  (side note: I do not like the NWoD format of rote spells as being dice pools based on Gnosis + an Attribute + a Skill.)  But their mechanic was cleaner, and it worked well.

What I see as happening in the near future is my own mash-up of the new basic resolution mechanic with the old flavor and minor mechanics to create a hybrid that works best for all.  I don’t know how soon I will have this done, but I am aching to do it.  I also find myself nostalgic for playing the game again.  I really do; I miss that kind of role-playing dearly.

What do you think?

I have been noticing a trend in gamers, as I have said before, that their skills at strategy and tactics aren’t too damned bad, but their skills at actual roleplaying are so damnably lackluster that one can easily overlook how well they do at numbers.  I mean it; they are so pitiful at staying in character and helping to construct the story that it sets my teeth on edge.  Most times they don’t even try.

I came to the realization that a lot of it has to do with all of their games based around “building” a character from the ground up, instead of “growing” a character by putting together various elements.  The seeds of this capability are sown in the tradition of randomly-generated characters.  That’s right, characters grown around random characteristics that the dice dictate when figuring out what the player will play.

In the first editions of Dungeons & Dragons (including Advanced Dungeons & Dragons), you rolled three six-sided dice, and put the results down in order for your character’s statistics.  If you were lucky, your DM would let you get away with murder by switching a number or two.  Other than that, you were stuck.  You learned to work with the numbers fate handed you, and it actually taught you how to make a solid character out of an assortment of numbers.

Erick Wujcik, cofounder of Palladium Games, based out of Michigan, wrote the following as the lead-in to every roleplaying game he wrote for Palladium, explaining the superiority of random character generation:


Some readers will be surprised to discover that there is a “point system” for creating the animal characters in this book. There is a good reason for it; we want to make sure that every player could create an animal character to suit themselves. Which, if you think about it, is really not all that different from the way things are handled in Heroes Unlimited. After all, Bionic and Robotic characters also build themselves. But this game, just like Heroes Unlimited (and most other Palladium games), is based on random character generation.

There’s a fair amount of controversy in the roleplaying game community about character generation. Chiefly, some players complain that it is not as much fun or as challenging to roll up characters off a table as it is to ‘create’ the characters.

There is some validity to the argument. Regardless of our personal opinions on the subject you are free to do what you will with the game. If you are a game master, then simply let the players create their characters according to your own preferences. If you are a player, then lobby your game master for whatever changes you feel will make for the most playable game. However, here are a few good reasons to retain the random character generation system:

1. Excellent players can role-play ANYTHING; granted, the play-testers that I and the other folks of Palladium have at their disposal are superb. An excellent player can play any character, and sees a weak character as a challenge, not a liability.  When running my own campaigns, I frequently deprive characters of all their various powers and possessions. It is when the character is in the direst of straits that fantastic role-playing comes about.

Let’s look at one example. Recently a pair of players in fantasy game were captured by enemies. They managed to escape, but they found themselves lost in a strange desert with nothing but a piece of wire. The roleplaying went on for several weeks, alternating between the lost survivors dodging armoured hunters and straining to get water, shelter and food in hostile land. It was an intensely interesting role-playing adventure.

2. Another advantage of random character generation is the convenience that it provides to the game master. Instead of laboriously ‘constructing’ every new villain and N.P.C., the game master can just ‘roll-up’ the new encounters. This makes scenario design and quick response to player actions much easier.

3. Finally, let’s not forget that random rolls reflect real life. Even in the ‘perfect’ lives of fantasy characters there is no control over their origins. Super characters are usually created by accident or by forces over which the character has little or no control.

Now, take a good look at those three points made at the end of his short rant.  Points one and three are the important ones, especially point one.  A good roleplayer comes not from what super powers you have, or what rules you can exploit, but rather what kind of adversity you can overcome, both in the game and behind the character sheet.

For those that have never looked over a Palladium RPG, the character creation process entails a lot of die-rolling and table-referencing in order to make a character.  It does take a bit of time to accomplish, but in the end you are left with a very developed and three-dimensional character with an impressive array of skills and abilities, whether it is the Nightbane RPG, Rifts, TMNT and Other Strangeness, or any of their RPGs.

So if you want to know how to up your game, how to be a more solid, true roleplayer that can impress the other players at the table, I suggest you give random character creation a try.  Put away the point-buy systems and their convenience for fair play in organized, shared games, and try your hand at a character you haven’t been able to fully min-max to hell and back.

It builds character!

What do you think?

I know I can get a bit mouthy with my opinions on the state of gaming.  To say that is actually an understatement.  I get downright angry and acidic with what I say.  I love to point fingers at the game companies, especially if they are owned by larger companies, like, say, a toy company.  Gee, who could that be?

Back to the point; the addition of Fortune cards, and the upcoming Despair cards, as well as the Essentials line of products to the Fourth Edition Dungeons & Dragons game has spun me off into a special dimension of anger of late.  It really ranks on me when something is added to a game that is completely superfluous and unneeded for game play.  When I am at a table, I have actually refused the Fortune cards for my own use.  It made a lot of other people at the table give me an odd look until they saw me do my job perfectly fine without them.

The other night I was talking to a very good friend of mine, Nate, about D&D in general, and he was really expressing his displeasure at some of the conventions of the game like half-breed races, some game settings, the proliferation of fey races, all that kind of stuff.  We were arguing back and forth, good naturedly, and I realized something: D&D has ALWAYS been full of B.S. add-on gimmicks, extending back at least until second edition.

I am gonna go all grognard on some of you here, and those of you that earned your wings under the auspices of a truly Gygaxian DM are welcome to feel the aching twinge of nostalgia along with me as I write this.

In first edition AD&D, they marketed packets of Dungeon Geomorphs; premade modular maps to use as simulated underground territories.  Under second edition, it only got worse.  Priest and Wizard spell cards, multivolume spell and magical item Encyclopedias, collectible cards with NPCs, magic items, spells, and the like printed on them; and let’s not even talk about the Complete series of faux-leather bound books.  Anyone remember those?  Introducing eight new subraces of elf, forty-seven species of halfling, and one whole book of humanoid races like goblin, kobold, and pixie?  How about the class “kits” offered by the Complete Handbook classes series?

Anyone but me remember the player’s kits they marketed?  Big plastic cases to hold your character sheets, dice, notepads, pencils, miniatures, Player’s Handbook, pager, cellphone, pet monkey, torch, and Swiss army can opener?  Oh, hey, how about those nifty, handy-dandy Monstrous Compendium three-ring-binder inserts that detail monster after monster after monster that just kept adding to an almost innumerable tally of baddies to throw against your players?  And the Annuals they kept pumping out for four years, adding on to regular products?

What about the Player’s and DM’s Option series of books that offered eighteen million different optional ways to change up your game?  The book that split all the ability scores from six to twelve?  What about the first spell point systems for AD&D?  I mean, in all honesty, there was as much unnecessary B.S. in the game then as there ever has been.

Now mind you, I have never  even touched on third edition, as it was about as much maligned as fourth is, and with good reason.  The amount of crap they kept adding on and adding on, creating instances of power creep that made it almost unpalatable to play the game.

What we have to remember is that these are not artists; they are tradesmen.  They are in this for the buck, and we love to point a finger and cry foul on them time and again.  Don’t; they are only doing what they should.  If you don’t like something, don’t use it.  But at the same time, don’t act like this is something new that has happened.  This has been happening time and again for generations of gamers.  And D&D isn’t the only one; let’s take a fricking look at Palladium Fantasy or Rifts, or GURPS, or any of the various Star Wars incarnations.  It just keeps happening.  This means that it is not just an isolated instance of a game edition we wish to demonize, just because it is ultimately owned by a toy company.

Do you know who is really to blame for all this?

We are.  We, the players.

We keep going to the well, time and again for more and more, and we get downright pissy when we don’t get what we think we want.  I realized that night that I always had what I liked about games since I was too damn poor to buy the new splatbook, module, or gimmick out there: imagination.  If I couldn’t buy it, I just made it up.  We all think we have to own this stuff to “Keep Up With the Joneses.”  Well, I call bullshit on that.  And that includes myself at times.  I am just as guilty as anyone else.  Want to put a stop to it?  Stop buying  the crap.  That simple.

What do you think?

I just picked up the Player’s Handbook 3 this week, for the fourth edition of Dungeons & Dragons.  Now, I am a big, big fan of the new edition.  It runs like mad, works amazingly, and has a great amount of room for roleplay interpretation.  The classes work well as a team, instead of working on the Speshul Snowflaek syndrome most other modern games suffer from.  There are four clearly defined roles that your character may fall into, and they work well in concert.  They have returned team play to cooperative games.

Multiclassing has been handled in a great way.  By taking a progression of feats, you can swap powers between your basic class, and the class that you chose when you took the Multiclass Feat.  As well, you get access to another skill and to a spin on a class feature.  But you never truly deviate from your role.  You instead augment and reflavor your character to be slightly different than others of your class.  Furthermore, when you reach 11th level and must choose a Paragon Path, you can then opt to instead full multiclass your character, swapping around powers a bit more to mix the two.  It works, and works well, because you still do your job, just a bit differently.

Well, they have pretty well screwed the pooch now.  This new player’s handbook introduces some cool new things, like the psionic power source, canon forms for the minotaur and githzerai races, even the return of the beloved monk class.  Hell, the skill-based utility powers are cool.  What are not cool are the hybrid classes.

Like I said before, this game works because of the simple statement, “Know Your Role.”  In this game, it is still about cooperating, being good at what you do, and being a part of a group.  It is not about a group of people that loosely associate with each other, and can outdo each other constantly.  Granted, that kind of dynamic can come up in the roleplay, but I am talking about mechanics here.  This is about how it all interacts; how each player contributes to the effort, and succeeds because they did their job, and did it well.  But with the way that hybrid classing has been handled, you can mix and match, and screw the concept of doing a job well right out of existence.

Let me run down the process of making a hybrid character for you.  What you do is, instead of choosing a class, you choose two hybrid class templates.  Then you start lining things up.  Any armor proficiencies that the hybrid templates for each class have in common, you gain.  All weapon proficiencies combine (which honestly makes no sense, consistency wise, given what you know for armor).  You get special partials for hit points and surges and the like.  You alternate power choices, always keeping a balance between your hybrid classes.  All in all, you half-ass everything.  Oh, and did I tell you?  If you have an ability, for instance, that is based out of your Rogue class, you can only activate it when you use a rogue power.

The ONLY way this works in the sense of what the game has set out to accomplish, is if you choose two hybrid class templates that fulfill the same role: two defender classes, two striker classes, etc.  If not, you end up being a half-assed version of each role that really cannot do the job it is meant to do.  In essence, you become a controller that can only sometimes alter the battlefield correctly, a leader that can only support his cohorts some times.  You become the epitome of a degree just below mediocrity.

I know there are those of you out there that are going to cry foul on me, or tell me the advantages of hybridizing your character.  To you, I offer the following:

“The hybrid character rules break down each class into parts.  The hybrid version of a class provides a portion of the game benefits of the normal class (hit points, defenses, proficiencies, class features, and so forth)…  …character classes aren’t designed to be broken down and recombined in this way…” (Player’s Handbook 3, page 135, How Does It Work? Sidebar)


“The system of classes and roles in D&D is designed to ensure that every character has a clear purpose at the table and that no character can easily become marginalized by poor choices made in character creation.

“The hybrid character system discards many of the safeguards built into the normal class system.  Even though every effort has been made to craft a hybrid system that creates characters that are as viable as their single-class comrades, the sheer number of combinations available ensures that some combinations might feel less effective than others.

“If you find that your hybrid character isn’t as effective as you had expected, work with your DM to find a solution.”  (Player’s Handbook 3, page 138, Proceed with Care Sidebar)

They are saying right here that, more times than not, it doesn’t work; that it the very system they created flies in the face of everything they built the game to be.  The last quote in particular drives the point home.  Do you know how this DM would suggest you solve the problem?

Don’t play a damned Hybrid character.  Period.

This really is the first system I have seen in this iteration of the Dungeons and Dragons game, going back to my roots with the red and blue boxed sets, that the designers have almost openly said doesn’t work, right in the text of the game.  I am not saying it doesn’t completely work… I have found one way that it does.  But to do it, your choices become very limited.  You play your role.

This means when you hybridize, you pick to classes that fill the same role: two defenders, two strikers, two controllers, or two leaders.  Ideally, your combination choices should have at least one required ability in common.  It doesn’t matter if it is even the tertiary ability, but they need to have something in common.  This usually isn’t much of a problem, as many of the roles have ability scores in common.  Defenders like Strength and Constitution; Controllers like Intelligence and Wisdom; Strikers like Dexterity and Strength; Leaders like Wisdom and Charisma.  There are exceptions to this, but for the most part, these are the trends.

So, what you do is pick a class combo that blends fairly seamlessly.  A ranger/sorcerer would be good.  As would a fighter-paladin-warden combination of any kind.  Wizard/psions would work well.  As would ardent/bards.  But honestly, why not just use the multiclassing feat tree from the original Player’s Handbook?  It works.  It works well.  I think that is the biggest part: it works well!  And you don’t have to worry about making sure that the multiclass option you pick fits perfectly.  You are still performing your role.  The difference is, as a rogue, for example, your target isn’t going to know what to do when you lay down a Dissonant Strain (Bard power, Player’s Handbook 2), literally blowing his mind.  Or when your rough and tumble fighter lays a bit of divine healing in the form of a Healing Strike (Cleric power, Player’s Handbook).  But as you see, you are not changing your role, your purpose, in the game.  Instead, you are reflavoring yourself a bit.

So, in all honestly, I really think they should have skipped the hybrid character crap in this new handbook.  It is, to my thinking, an absolute waste of space in the book that could have been used for another new power source, like Shadow, Elemental, etc.  Or even just some new options for full-blood classes.

What do you think?

Recently, I wrote a blog post about Metagaming, my number one annoyance at a gaming table.  And I maintain, it’s my greatest sticking point when it comes to the games I run.  But I have to say, the second in line is a term that honestly makes me ready for a fight: Rules Lawyers.

What is a Rules Lawyer, you say?  If you don’t know, count yourself lucky, for you are a rarity.  A Rules Lawyer is a player in a game who uses the letter of the rules and ignores the spirit of the rules, most usually in order to gain an advantage in the game.  This kind of personality reveals itself in argument over the judgments of the GM and choices of the other players.  This is actually a form of metagaming, if you think about it.  You are using out of game knowledge in order to influence your position in game.

Anyway, a Rules Lawyer is the person who can and will quote the line, verse, paragraph, page number, book and edition that the rules are written in.  They use the rules only in the context that it forwards their own agenda, sometimes at the cost of undermining other players and the flow of the game.

Now before I go any further, let me say right now that I do believe that the rules are there for a reason.  They are there to keep things fair.  But, and that is a heavy but, they can also constrict the game, and conspire to prevent you, the GM, from accomplishing what you wish with your game.  They can go from a great safety rope to a noose with but one mouthy player who feels they have been slighted, or who wants to get one up on the rest of the party.

Let’s say, for example, you have led the party into a dank dungeon that was just uncovered by an aberrant earthquake.  They have delved into the depths of the lost catacombs, and they activate a magical light spell.  Now, the spell itself is listed as having a 50 foot radius around the item it is cast upon.  But you, with your GM Knowledge, have decided that there is a lingering malignancy that inhibits certain spells.  It isn’t magic of its own, just a side effect of containing a horrible evil for centuries.  So, you tell your group that the light spells only illuminates 20 of the 50 feet.  They don’t know why, because to tell them would be to give them metagame knowledge, and ruin the atmosphere.  Many players would assume there is some reason for this, but wait to discover it.

Not the Rules Lawyer.

You see, to the Rules Lawyer, you can’t do that.  It says, in the rulebook, that the spell has a 50 foot radius.  Therefore, to the Rules Lawyer, you are just trying to screw him over.  He never takes into account that you have a reason for it.  He just thinks that it is you not bothering to pay attention to the rules.  And what is worst, is that he will argue it with you.  Oh yes, ladies and gentlemen, he will argue it.  This, my friends, is a lot like argue with a tree that just fell on you.  This little runt is being a bit too big for his britches.  He is asserting, in fact, the he is you, the GM.  And this is not so.  In point of fact, he hasn’t put in the hours.  So now we have identifies this little parasite on the ass of our games.  What we have to do now is figure out how to get rid of the little bastard.

There are a couple of great techniques to do this.  One of my favorites, and I am giving away a secret here, is to then take steps to turn the rest of the party against him.  You heard me right; I said turn the rest of them against him.  You see, when the repercussions of the Rules Lawyer’s mouth comes down like the fist of an angry god on everyone, and they know he is the one that pissed that god off, they are more than willing to cry Judas, and throw him to the wolves.

In the above case, one of the best things you could do is, after a small amount of fuss, say something to the effect of: “Fine!  You get the 50 radius, which illuminates some odd forms that look made of steel.  Before you can extinguish the light, a couple of glowing red-purple eyes open, and this horrid metallic rattling sound fills the air.  What have you awakened?!  Roll initiative!”  With a little improvisation, you have suddenly shown that there is something that would not have happened, had the Rules Lawyers just kept his yap shut.  But oh no, he had to fight with the GM.

There is another technique, and this is what I call the Platinum Rule.  The GM is always right, for a reason!  All too often, players forget that this is not a game of them versus the GM.  Yes, it is our job to foment disorder and chaos, and to through exceedingly more difficult challenges.  But it is not our job to screw you over intentionally, for kicks.  Everything a good GM does, he or she does for a reason.  The light is dimmed for a reason related to the story; the barmaid doesn’t fall for your charm spell for a reason; your Jedi Mind Trick doesn’t get that particular Stormtrooper for a reason.  And honestly, it isn’t your job to find a way around the reason, but go through the story and find out the reason.  When your Rules Lawyer gets uppity, slap him with the “I am right for a reason”, and remind him that the reason may be to the benefit.  If the jackhole persists, use the previous method.

There is another method that I call the self-correcting system.  Now this method is fraught with peril.  You are going to be treading a very fine line wherein you may fall from your lofty height, and land square in the territory of the Rules Lawyer himself.  And the way you try to do this is to out-Rules Lawyer him.  I said it, you out-Rules Lawyer him.  You take his challenge as a personal affront to your honor, and you start to become a nit-picker, a fussy pain in the ass.  Go over his sheet with a fine toothed comb.  Call him out on every little infraction.  This is not as easy as it sounds, as the Rules Lawyer is often pretty damned picky himself.  Start paying stark attention to the rules, even when it applies to other players.  The Rules Lawyer will soon come to see how often it is that the rules have been fudged for the party’s benefit.

One of the other things I would like to write about is the Former GM Rules Lawyer.  These can actually be the worst of the group.  Far too infrequently, as GMs, do we get to step from behind the screen and play the game.  And when we do, we can actually be some of the worst players in the game.  It is a sad statement, but too often we measure other GMs style by our own, and can be damnably harsh about it.  We also have a tendency to look at any interpretation of the rules that differs from our own as wrong.  This makes us one of the worst kinds of Rules Lawyers: the hypocrite.

Honestly, this is one of the worst Judas moments you can ever have.  You are betraying one of your own for thirty pieces of silver.  Instead, enjoy the game for what it is, and afterwards speak to the GM and compare notes.  Just compare notes, and figure out ways for both of you to improve as GMs.

Rules Lawyering is damaging to the game.  It slows down play, it halts flow, and it ruins immersion.  This is usually an indication, in my opinion, on a very insecure player.  They are more concerned with advancing their own standing than enjoying the experience of the game.  Now, you don’t really have to get as mean as I do.  In fact, I only tend to do that after I have warned a person.  After the second warning, I will pull them aside privately and talk to them about their behavior, and that they don’t have to participate in the game if they feel it’s unfair.  After the third warning, all bets are off.

Rules Lawyers have the same potential as any other player, and we cannot forget that in our anger.  They have the potential to become just as great a player as the Dramaticist or the Pro from Dover.  (Look them up, good terms to know.)  But after a while, if a Rules Lawyer is showing no desire to improve, you may have to take some of the drastic measures I have spoken of.

And whatever you do, if you notice yourself becoming one, stop yourself.

What do you think?

PS: I am going to open up to suggestions in general now.  If you have an idea for a post, please leave it for me to see here, or even email it to me at  I hope you all enjoy the blog. EF.

I have said it before, and I will most likely say it again and again: Metagaming is a worse crime to me than cheating at dice rolls.  I am sure some of you will disagree with me on this, but let’s face it, metagaming takes place a hell of a lot more often than shuffled dice rolls.  It’s a crime against the spirit of the game, against the rules of the game, and against your fellow players.

Let me start my argument with a good, solid definition of metagaming.  In role-playing games, a player is metagaming when they use knowledge that is not available to their character in order to change the way they play their character (usually to give them an advantage within the game), such as knowledge of the mathematical nature of character statistics, or the statistics of a creature that the player is familiar with but the character has never encountered. In general, it refers to any gaps between player knowledge and character knowledge which the player acts upon.

What this comes down to is cheating of the worst caliber.  If you are playing Swen the Sturdy Fighter, known for his exploits in combat, and his rather less than excellent intellect, how the hell can you explain away the sudden knowledge that Swen has regarding the magical nature of a lich?  That’s right, without taking the necessary skill or skills (in this case, to me, it would be Arcana or Religion), you would have no honest clue.  You may know that a lich is an undead magic user, and that its spells can be deadly, but you have no idea of the nature of the ritual that turned it into a lich, or what its phylactery should look like, etc.  Details are something you will not possess.

Now, let’s look at why, to me, this is tantamount to treason.

You have all read my previous articles on character immersion, character role, and character creation, I assume.  If not, I suggest you do so, because they play a huge role in this explanation.

When you take part in a roleplaying game, and I do mean ROLE playing game (wherein you take on a role), you are subsuming your own knowledge base for that of your character.  This is symbolized by the skills and attributes you have taken, as well as any little notes you have taken along the way.  And yes, I always suggest my players take notes.  Why should I make them roll a die to remember something when they have run into it time and again?  Unless, that is, they have not written it down, symbolizing their memory.  Your character’s abilities and capabilities are logged and maintained this way.  Because of this, it also shows the limitations of your character.  This is not a bad thing.  Remember, these games are about cooperation as a group, not just the one ubercharacter, and the poor schlubs that tag along.

So what you have here is the law of the land when it comes to the game.  Your character cannot know more than what the notes and notations dictate.  Your warrior may have intense and deep knowledge of the fighting styles of the Akabarran region of the world, but that does not mean that he has an in depth knowledge of the folklore of the Cindawi people of Akabarr.  And just because you, the player, have read the novels of the Cindawi Cycle that describe all the little myths they have, it does not mean your character knows that.  Has he taken the skills?  Have you made the notes and cleared that knowledge with your game master?  Well guess what?  If you act on that knowledge that you have, in game, you are metagaming.  Not only that… but you are breaking the law of the land, and you are doing so in an effort to steamroll your fellow players, keeping one or two of them from contributing to the game in a meaningful way.  Chances are, you are even screwing over the storyline when you do stuff like this.

What this means is, if the game were a nation, you just betrayed the nation in the pursuit of your own interests.  And that, to me, is one of the worst sins you can commit in a roleplaying game.

Metagaming does a number of negative things.  It destroys the separation of the physical world from the game world.  It is in infiltration that removes the suspension of disbelief from the game.  When you do that, it ceases to be an immersive, interactive environment meant to stimulate creativity and ingenuity, and turns it into just another game of Monopoly, Axis & Allies or Trivial Pursuit.  And let’s face it, if we wanted to be playing those games, we would be.

Metagaming also destroys the cooperation of the players as a team.  When you read some of the great fantasy novels of our time, whether it is Tolkien, Weis & Hickman, Salvatore, Williams, or whomever, you see how each member of the team contributes something.  And the gaps that one may have in their knowledge can often be filled by the knowledge of another character.  There is a reason Tanis Half-Elven would turn to Raistlin when things confused the hell out of him.  There is a reason Aragorn looked to Gandalf when faced with the door to Moria.  There is a reason that Drizzt turned to Cadderly when his beloved Catti-Brie was beset by the Spellplague.  They had no idea what was going on, and these people did.  The game is not about one character grandstanding over the others constantly.  This does not even happen in the real world; otherwise we would not have specialist doctors, specialist computer programmers, and specialists of any stripe.

One other thing that metagaming does is it transforms the player from someone who is interested in experiencing the game, into one that is only interested in “winning” the game.  And I put winning in quotations on purpose.  There is no way to “win” at a roleplaying game.  “Winning” at a roleplaying game is like dividing by zero: all it accomplishes is the destruction of the universe.  It is instead about the cooperative and collaborative efforts of the player and the game master in order to craft a complete and compelling story involving everyone in equal parts.  When one player actively undermines this, they destroy the enjoyment of the game.  As said above, it ceases to be an interactive environment, and becomes a game of “let me see if I can beat you all at every turn.”  And that, my friends, is fun for no one.

There are few things in game that will set me off like metagaming, even when I am another player.  I have both banned people from my table at conventions for metagaming (where they have actually paid to play in my game), and I have gotten into damnably intense arguments with fellow players when I was not behind the GM Screen about their metagaming behavior.  If you are at my table and I catch you cheating at dice rolls, I will pull you aside, tell you I can see what you are doing, and that my suggestion is to not do it again.  I will keep it private.  If I catch you metagaming, it’s public.  I will embarrass you in order to get my point across.  This may sound harsh, but as I said, metagaming to me is a worse crime.  Fudging a die roll just means you get one over on chance.  Fudging character knowledge means you try to get one over on your fellow players.

This is what it comes down to, folks.  We all play these games to become someone different for a little while.  We do it to subsume our own psyche into one we have created.  In a sense, we truly become our character.  And when another player takes the initiative to try and make themselves better than the others by bringing along more baggage, he or she isn’t interested in being a part of the game.  They are just interested in engaging in what is, essentially, Alpha Male Behavior.  He or she is trying to one-up everyone else in an effort to bolster their own ego and sense of superiority.  And let me tell you friends, in my eyes, they have only proven their own inferiority.

What do you think?

We all dream of piles of gold coins, ornate gem-encrusted scepters, and powerful magic items when we play our favorite fantasy games.  Think about it.  It’s iconic.  You’ve braved the myriad traps of the evil cultists, fought the summoned demonic servitors of the twisted denizens of the hide-out, and eventually faced down their high priest.  And for your rewards you find… a holy sword, dedicated to the foremost deity of light and good, kept here to prevent it from being used against the cult and it’s abyssal patron.

But wouldn’t it be even better if that sword wasn’t just ensorcelled steel?  Or even the now hum-drum fantasy metals of mithril and adamantite?  What if they picked the blade up to find it was some kind of odd green metal, just as heavy as steel, but capable of withstanding the caustic nature of the negative energies that infuse the undead?  Of course it would, and it would keep your players off balance.

Even classic mythology there is talk of metals that have fallen into obscurity, such as the orichalcum of Plato’s Atlantis.  Or what of even plain old cold-forged iron, which is iron that is shaped at room temperature, allowing only one chance at making the item.  In folklore, it was of importance use against fey creatures and witches, said to be a ground against the powers of magic.

Too often we abandon some of our more creative impulses in the name of expediency when it comes to our games, and we all suffer for it.  We play games that are an outlet for our creativity, not just our chance to chuck dice and kill things, then take their stuff.

And so, let’s talk about Fantasy Metallurgy.

Part the First: Base Metals.

Base metals are, for our purpose, those metals that are found in raw form in nature.  They are not alloyed with other metals or compounds to make complex metals, and have basic fantastic qualities in and of themselves.  I will list some of the base metals I like to use first.

Adamantite:  This base metal is made, in my campaigns, by naturally occurring veins of iron that form near the coal deposits that, with time, heat and pressure, form diamonds.  Over ages of this heat and pressure, the iron, coal and proto-diamonds naturally combine to form a new compound: adamantite.  (So you all know, the root adamant actually means “indestructible”, and you can see the root of diamond in it)  Intensely strong, it is used to make the greatest of weapons, armor and items, and has properties that lend themselves to encourage protective and abjuration magics.

Iron: Considered a magically inert metal, it is only when it is combined with lime and coal that it becomes able to work alongside magic in any way.  The base metal for many other alloys, iron is easily adapted to many purposes, and is largely considered to be a lucky metal, due to its proliferation in most all lands.

Meteoritic Iron: Not the iron mined by most men and dwarves, meteoritic iron is taken from fallen stars that make it to the surface of the world, seen as a gift from the gods for a specific purpose.  Meteoritic iron is known for its disposition towards both radiant and necrotic powers, coming as it does directly from the realms of the gods, both dark and light.  Notoriously difficult to work with, many of the great suits of armor and legendary weapons may be made from meteoritic iron.

Copper: This metal is about as useful for arms and armor making, without alchemical assistance, as lead.  However, it is useful for things like amulets, luck-charms and magical devices intended to conduct energies of all kinds.  When coupled with simple quartz crystals, it can make wands of amazing efficacy when used for offensive purposes.

Gold: Just like copper, gold is fairly useless when it comes to weapons and armor.  It is a great ornamental metal, used to make swords look pretty.  It can be made into the occult metal orichalcum when alloyed properly, and the correct rituals are performed.  Gold is, however, of use in items destined for use as channels of radiant energy, and for purification through fire.

Silver: Silver is a bit harder, but still primarily an ornamental metal.  Its attunement is towards the moon, and this can be seen in how it affects lycanthropes, with their ties to the lunar body.  Silver can be used to make the alloys moonsilver and brightsteel.  Its affinities include purification in general, as well as an ideal metal for use in items meant to channel emotions.

These are Base Metals in my game.  There are more; this is just a taste.  But right now I want to take some time to talk about coming up with base metals in your game.  Because, like our last discussion about monetary systems in your game, this is about YOUR innovations, not just mine.

When you come up with base metals, the first thing you have to decide is what affinities they are going to have.  I say just affinities, because we aren’t going to go into details yet about strengths and weaknesses.  This is the point at which you decide what kind of things your metal should be used for, and will be associated with.  So take a couple minutes and really think.  I mean it, think of one or two affinities you want your base metal to have.

Got it yet?  Okay, a couple more minutes then.

Time’s up.  Let’s see here… okay, you want a metal with an affinity for cold-based magic… cone of cold, frost rays, that kind of thing; and useful against creatures of fire.  Interesting concept.  Now our next step is to think up one positive quality and one negative quality the metal possesses.  Remember, we are making a base metal, so it should be fairly uncomplicated.  Take a couple minutes.

Alright, here is what I came up with: must be cold-forged only; very light.  What this means, this cold-forged, is that whatever we make from it is never heated and cooled, so it doesn’t have a temper like good forged steel does.  But, it is light, very light, making it easier to carry.  So what we have is a metal that is a bit of a pain to forge and shape properly, is light to carry, and works well against creatures of fire and when channeling magic of a cold nature.  Good so far.

Now you have to determine its rarity.  You see, metals with magical properties aren’t something you should be able to go down to the corner smithy and just pick up.  It’s the kind of thing you undertake a minor quest for, to some remote area.  You may even have to do some schmoozing and proving yourself in order to get your request even heard.

So what are you going to name your metal?  Well, I’ll leave that up to you.  I do suggest for base metals though, you look through the Oxford English Dictionary for some good roots.  Look up words like Cold, Frost, Ice and Snow, and check out their root words.  I know I would name this metal Gelidium.  Look it up.

Part the Second: Complex Metals, or Alloys

Complex metals, or alloys, are metals made by combining various metallic compounds, as well as other materials, into a final form that either incorporates qualities of the base metals and materials used to make it, or has new qualities related to none of its basic compounds.

Here are some complex metals I like to use in my games:

Steel:  That’s right, for all intents and purposes, steel is a complex metal.  You have to combine iron, coal and lime in the right concentrations in order to make steel properly.  On top of it, about the only quality it inherits from its father metal, iron, is its magnetic qualities.  Steel is the standard metal used in weapons and armor, and accepts magical energies readily.

The various “Colored” golds:  There is actually a list of the “colors” of gold that you can get by alloying gold with other metals, from zinc to iron to copper, in various concentrations.  They are actually used to this day in our world, the real one, in jewelry.  White gold, red gold, green gold, blue gold… even purple gold exists.  And each one should have its own general proclivities.  One thing I have decided is that blue gold, a compound of iron and gold, is of use to a specific faith in my campaign world, when making their holy symbols.

Orichalcum: The famous metal of a lost civilization, it is said to be made by using gold, copper, garnet gemstones, and the lifeblood of the earth, and best done when the sun is full in the sky.  Orichalcum is the metal prized by those who fight the undead, and denizens of the unholy realms.  Its spiritual purity as a metal is unknown elsewhere, and its heavy weight makes it unusable by all but the mightiest of heroes.  It is said that even a dagger of orichalcum weighs almost three times what one made of steel does.

Brightsteel:  An allow made from steel and silver, and purified by the light of the full moon on a clear night, brightsteel is sought out by those that run the wilds, and fear those horrid creatures that have made their way to our world from the Realms of Madness.  In my campaign world, brightsteel is used almost exclusively to make weapons that will be of extra use against aberrations, those creatures that come from the Realm of Madness, the far realm of gibbering horrors.

So… when you make complex metals, you have to have a little more formulaic thought.  What are the components?  How much of each needs to go into a batch?  Are there non-metallic compounds that need to be added as well?  Certain conditions that must be met?  Hell, is it something that most mortals can even attempt?

The other thing you have to think of is what qualities they are going to have.    In the brightsteel example above, the qualities of steel (good temper) and silver (emotional purity) come together to make a metal that is of great use against those that seek to corrupt and dominate the world, and turn it into another realm of madness.  Most complex metals will either have a mixing of concepts like that, or will go the exact opposite way, and become a compound that has qualities all its own.

Part the Third: Nonmetal materials

There is something else I want to talk about here, and that is the use of non-metallic materials in pursuit of items that are usually associated with metal, like armor, weapons, etc.  Why must every sword be forged of metal?  What if it was grown in the heart of the fey kingdoms of the Summerlands, from the heart of a majestic ironoak tree?  What if the dwarves of the lost thanedom of Urthaert have come to shape the crystals of the earth, hardening them with alchemy until they hold the temper of the finest steel?

To get really fantastic, get away from using metals so much.  There are many other materials you can use for your items, from fantastic woods, to crystal, to even rare forms of stone.  Get creative, get out there and really stretch your mental faculties.  Let your imagination go.  Just remember to keep some balance.

Oh, and look up some gemstone qualities when you make your items.  If your players come to understand that sapphires, in your world, are of best use in article preventing possession by evil spirits, they will be more likely to prep for their adventures in the place called the Desert of Lost Souls in more interesting ways.  If you want to use some real life examples of folklore-ish qualities of items from the real world, I suggest the Cunningham’s series of Encyclopedias.  Scott Cunningham was a genius who really did his homework and research on these things.  Well worth the buy.

What do you think?