Monday, August 15, 2011

Magic's Effects on Life in a Fantasy World

In my last article, I discussed what sort of economic rules are in place in your typical Pathfinder and 3.5 Dungeons & Dragons game. During that article, I touched lightly on the use of magic for relatively mundane tasks because of its efficiency and availability. Today, I'm going to expand on that note and explore the kind of things that you should be able to expect from any world with D&D-levels of magic, and how magic would change the way life is lived in fantasy worlds.

Breaking Your Expectations and your Limits
The 3rd Edition Dungeon Master's Guide had a very sound piece of advice for new GMs running their favorite fantasy RPGs, and that advice is basically that it is not reality, it is not history, it is not our world in the middle ages plus dragons and orcs. D&D and Pathfinder have something that we never had access to: Magic. If a world is to have any believability at all, then magic must be taken into account and the logical progression of its use taken into account with the world itself. If you try to make a campaign, or run a game where the world mirrors our own history and technology while wizards are throwing around fireball and teleport spells, and you will find that none of it makes any sense.

Break free of what reality teaches!

The first step to creating a believable fantasy world is to decide just what magic entails in your world, and what its limits are. Now in your standard, traditional D&D/Pathfinder game, where characters can reach high levels over the course of a campaign, and wield supreme magical powers and amass vast wealth, the resulting ripples in the world will be equally fantastic. So sit back, get comfortable, and remember you're not in Kansas anymore.

Magic Affects Technological Advancement
Magic is unlike anything we have ever had. It can literally create something from nothing, and produce seemingly infinite amounts of energy through the use of magical items. Magic is the most likely reason that modern weaponry is rarely present in fantasy games. Who needs a rocket launcher when you can take an arrow of detonation and fire it silently from a longbow from a thousand feet away, and engulf everything in a 20ft radius in a ball of fire? Necessity is the mother of invention, and a lot in the way of technological advancement in our world is not a necessity in a fantasy world, and in many cases it outright inferior. The evolution of design sparks off in a different direction. People don't create airplanes because you can just drink a potion and fly, or ride a griffen, pegasus, or other giant flying creature. Get the idea?

Everburning lanterns are all the rage.
However, magic also serves as a type of technology in its own right. Magic could and would be used in ways that are both productive and economical. It would also be present in warfare, and in the lives of the people of the world. Magic would be the tool that is used to do grand things, build wondrous cities, and change life for the common man, even if it wasn't the common man preforming the magic.

In my previous article, I noted that a local lord might commission continual flame street lights for his village/town/city/community so as to enhance the nightlife of his lands, cut down on crime, or just to show off to the other lords who still have dark streets at night or are using mundane fire to light their cities. This is a simple example of how the lives of people might be changed by the use of magic in fairly mundane ways.

Some Examples of Magical Technology in Fantasy Settings

Magic combined with science can create a lot of very, very impressive things. Stuff that utilizes heat and water, such as steam engines, would be exceptionally easy to produce using magic. A simple magic item that repeatedly casts burning hands inside a boiler that is filled with a repeating create water spell would be able to produce steam while being relatively small in size. Most importantly, unlike traditional steam engines, you wouldn't need a constant fuel source (such as coal or gas) with magic, as it magically produces this energy in a manner similar to some sort of self-recharging battery.
Yeah, it's kinda like that.

Likewise, an electrical generator would be very easy to create. A simple shocking grasp at 5th caster level produces an amount of energy equivalent to about half a bolt of lightning (the environmental rules say that bolts of lightning from a thunderstorm have 4d8 to 10d8 worth of electricity damage, meaning that the average lightning bolt is about 31.5 points of damage assuming a 7d8 bolt of lightning). If that kind of power can be harnessed, you could easily create infinite generators of electrical power through the use of wondrous items.

Sir, the wyverns are approaching!

And of course things like hot air balloons would be easy to create in a world where people can produce fire out of thin air and turn it off just as easily. Any spellcaster of 3rd level could create the required devices for this sort of technology without issue, including the Adept NPC class. It would be more than fair to say that using this sort of technology to create airships would be possible.

This is how a multiclass fighter/wizard kicks butt in the sky.
On an interesting side note, there's something very wonderful about having airships in a fantasy world. There's nothing quite like sailing across the horizon, or being boarded by pirates riding flying mounts like griffons, hippogriffs, wyverns, or being beset by harpies or flying brigands. Such exciting and climactic scenes have to many gamers in recent years become an image associated with the Eberron campaign setting, but such things have existed for far, far longer in fantasy adventures of all media. Even the old D&D campaign setting Mystara had airships, and it came out in 1980. An an entire stage aboard an airship that is beset by dark elves appears in the D&D arcade game "Shadows over Mystara", where the party is traveling on a big airship that is assaulted by the villain's lackeys, some of them wizards who throw fireballs at the deck of the ship. The stage is actually amazingly dynamic for a side-scrolling adventure, as you can even knock the drow in the background off their mounts, with the easiest method being magic missile cast be the elf or the sorcerer. Adventure continues after the airship crashes down into a dark forest, and the surviving party members set off again on foot through a haunted forest of ghouls, stirges, goblins, and gnolls, as they make their way towards the climax of the adventure to save Mystara from a terrible evil.

Just beware of haunted ghost trains.
Other aspects of magi-technoloy (or "Magitek") could include systems derived from the power that magic provides. As noted earlier, infinitely powered steam engines would be a very real possibility in D&D/Pathfinder, which means that a steam-powered train could work. Or some sort of magnetic train that was powered by powerful electric currents (such as the lightning rail in Eberron). Much like airships, locomotives and other forms of mechanical transport have a place in fantasy adventures where magic is prominent. I can personally attest that an encounter with villains atop or inside a rushing train barreling down the tracks can be an incredibly entertaining experience. You don't have to call them trains though. Like airships, trains are featured in the Dungeons & Dragons: Shadows over Mystara, except they are called Juggernauts. Now that is what I would want my train named.

Summoning Elementals atop the powerful Juggernaut!

How Does Magic Affect Day to Day Life?
Well beyond merely the capacity that magic has for use in the realm of engineering, it can be used to make life better for everyone. The continual flame streetlights were one example of this. There are a lot of low-cost magic items that could affect the world in extreme ways. The most common would probably be the decanter of endless water, which can produce 18,000 gallons of water every hour, or 432,000 gallons of water per 24 hour day. Now to get an idea as to how that could affect life, let's take a moment to get an idea as to how much water that really is. There was a discussion on the Paizo Messageboards about this sort of thing, and here's a few excerpts on water usage.

Drinking eight 8oz glasses of water per day is a half a gallon. Which means that in a town of 1,000 people, they should consume about 500 gallons of water per day, just drinking. Now let's get an idea of how much water they might use if they had a running water supply, similar to today.
This source suggests the following consumptions.
Shower: 15-30 gallons
Brushing Teeth (water running): 1-2 gallons
Shaving (water running): 10-15 gallons
Washing Dishes by Hand: 20 gallons
Washing Dishes by Dishwasher: 9-12 gallons
Flushing Toilets: 5-7 gallons
Total: 86 gallons on the high side.
So our town's total intake of water if they were being wasteful with it would be 86,500 gallons, leaving a remainder of 346,000 gallons of water per day, which can be stockpiled in a reserve or similar, allowing a community to produce an excess of 10,380,000 gallons of water each month, or 124,560,000 more water than it takes to support the community each year.
So that gives you an idea as to how much water it would require just for drinking and bathing needs of people. Then the question of whether or not it could support agricultural growth came up. So the following was determined by the folks on the board, in terms of sheer quantity of water.
Diego Rossi: "That is, a decanter set to geyser will pour enough water to feed 545 people if your aqueduct had 0 wastage. As modern aqueducts can have a 30% wastage, a decanter can produce enough water to raise the food for 380 people."

Ashiel: "Point taken. So if a village of 400 people produces 1500 gp for their local lord or state per month, it would take about five months to purchase a decanter of endless water that would produce enough water to feed most of the population, and the decanter could be crafted and completed within 9 days. With a year's investment, you could outright purchase two decanters to produce enough water to supply 760 people, or 360 more people than you need to supply. Resulting in excess water, and the option to begin expanding your community."
Essentially, this means that with a few decanters of endless water, you could cultivate barren wastelands such as deserts, or better prepare yourself for droughts, where you could produce water on demand by activating your decanters and filling a reservoir. If your people were smart enough to establish fairly decent irrigation systems, you could distribute the water more effectively, make sure crops had water when and where they needed it, which results in using less water overall.

Life giving water wherever you need it.
It would be a fairly simple matter to provide people running water through systems of ducts of varying complexity (a small town might have a water tower with chutes carrying water around the village, while a city might have a grand sewer system that also functions as an adventuring dungeon). It also means that people can create oasis-like communities in places like dry, rocky deserts and begin planting and producing crops in places that could never support them in reality.

To really put it into perspective, the state of California would not be what it is today if engineers didn't come up with a way to get water to it for agricultural purposes. The grand state that is the home of Hollywood, swimming pools and movie stars, wouldn't be what it is without water being brought from another location to California through a massive engineering project. You can find out all about it here. Here's an excerpt from the piece of history.

Rain is a rarity here.
No other state has rearranged their environment to the same extent as California. The truth is, most of California is an arid semi-desert, with a climate similar to that of the North African Plain. Los Angeles is drier than Beirut. About 65 percent of the state receives less than 20 inches of rainfall per year, most of that in the winter months. While 70 percent of California’s runoff occurs north of Sacramento, 75 percent of California’s urban and agricultural demands are to the south.
The abundant sunshine and mild temperatures of Central and Southern California are ideal for agriculture; the only ingredient missing is the rain. California’s rainfall is seasonal – dry during the hot summer months, and wet for only a few months in the winter. Still, California has more irrigated acreage than any other state, thanks to massive water projects started early in the twentieth century and still continuing today.
Likewise, spells like purify food and drink or prestidigitation can be crafted into magic items like traps that continuously activate in pipelines to clean water supplies, so that communities can dispose of waste efficiently, and even recycle their waste, making a magic-driven community more efficient and less pollutant than modern societies that struggle with purification, bi-products, and waste management runoff.

Magic really is a powerful force in fantasy. It makes the impossible possible.

So What's The Point...?
The point I'm making is that ultimately magic has the power to change the world, how the world works, and the limitations of that world. More than likely, it would. So when you're sitting down to play your favorite fantasy RPG, or write your next great campaign or adventure, give a thought to the kind of things that are actually possible for people to do. Don't feel inhibited by some strange notion that the world has to be like our reality in the 12th century AD or like our reality at all.

Let your imagination guide you.

It'll lead you to grand adventures if you let it.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Economics in Pathfinder and D&D

I was recently browsing through the message boards and stumbled across a thread asking about economics in Pathfinder/D&D games. The general consensus is that economics in games like D&D is pretty screwy, and to a point, that's entirely true. However, I'm not sure they're as screwy as people seem to think. Most of us who would have a problem with the thought of economics in our RPGs tend to approach the game from a simulationist viewpoint. I myself really appreciate simulationist mechanics in RPGs, because I feel it improves the verisimilitude of the world, which in turn makes roleplaying in that world more enjoyable.

So I figured I'd take a crack at exploring the economics of D&D, and share some insights into how I've looked at economics and world building in my own games. A lot of this will be reflected in my campaign setting which I will be publishing as a pdf in near-ish future, so it might give you a jumpstart on the kind of thinking I used while working on my own world. So let's get started.

Economic Conundrums In D&D
There are a few major hangups that people have with economics in Pathfinder and Dungeons & Dragons 3E. Let's explore a few of them.
  1. Commoners are so poor that they cannot afford anything.
  2. How currency and items work in the world.
  3. Magic's effects on the economy.
  4. Magic items and their prices.
So we have an idea of what we're going to be looking at, so let's get started.

Poor Affluent Peasants
One of the main concerns with the economy is the idea that the cost of living is way to expensive for normal people in D&D (and Pathfinder), and that normal non-adventuring people can't exist and thrive. From what I can tell, most of this seems to stem from misconceptions within the rules and guidelines that the games present (likely due to different writers working on different portions of the game). The 3E Player's Handbook suggests that common laborers earn about 3 gold pieces per week, and if memory serves, the DMG has the amount set to something like 1 silver piece per day (which doesn't add up to 3 gp, since 10 silver = 1 gold).

We jingle because we're poor.
However, both of these sources ignore what they game actually says about it in the game's mechanics. The game provides two skills which are used to determine how much money a character makes doing whatever they do, in the line of Craft (Intelligence based) or Profession (Wisdom based). By examining the way the game actually handles stats, modifiers, and so forth, the average gold per week for an untrained laborer is actually about 5 gold pieces worth of income (notice I don't say coins, which is something I'll get to a bit later). This measurement assumes an average human with a 10-11 in either Intelligence or Wisdom, and no skill points or training invested into their profession (an untrained laborer). By taking 10 (an option you are allowed for doing normal tasks) our check result is simply 10. The result of the check is divided by 2 to determine the amount of income in gold pieces.

So we have a new baseline that is actually based on the game. We can also see that those who are well trained, smarter, or more observant can generate additional income (a blacksmith with a +4 skill modifier will pull 7 gold per week, which is quite a bit more money, which you'll see shortly).

Now Pathfinder has given us another benchmark, which is the cost of living rules found in the Gamemastering rules. We can see what the typical costs of living for someone in your generic Pathfinder game is, and what that living entails. Specifically, let's have a look at the average living.

Average (10 gp/month): The PC lives in his own apartment, small house, or similar location—this is the lifestyle of most trained or skilled experts or warriors. He can secure any nonmagical item worth 1 gp or less from his home in 1d10 minutes, and need not track purchases of common meals or taxes that cost 1 gp or less.
 So let's do some simple math. The average income of a person, as defined by the rules of the game is about 5 gp per week, and the cost of an average life is about 10 gp per month, so we can see that even untrained laborers can afford to live in an apartment, small house, or similar location, and this apparently counts towards minor common taxes as well. The next step up from here is wealthy.
Wealthy (100 gp/month): The PC has a sizable home or a nice suite of rooms in a fine inn. He can secure any nonmagical item worth 5 gp or less from his belongings in his home in 1d10 minutes, and need only track purchases of meals or taxes in excess of 10 gp.
 Holy cow, that's a big jump. Literally, to be considered wealthy, you have to to have an income that is roughly five times the amount of money that an average laborer makes. That's pretty huge and above the ability of most people. Just for giggles, let's have a look at the next highest bracket. This seems to be the kind of life that nobility could afford, as they likely get a lot of their income by taxing those beneath them, acquiring a large amount of income.
Extravagant (1,000 gp/month): The PC lives in a mansion, castle, or other extravagant home—he might even own the building in question. This is the lifestyle of most aristocrats. He can secure any nonmagical item worth 25 gp or less from his belongings in his home in 1d10 minutes. He need only track purchases of meals or taxes in excess of 100 gp.
 Ok, so the last one is Extravagant. This is apparently the cost of living for royalty. The character lives in a mansion, castle, or other extravagant home, or may be its owner. It describes this as the lifestyle of most aristocrats, which seems pretty likely if you've got a lot of peasants making about 20 gold per month, and you're getting 25-50% of that. If you're a landlord in your favorite fantasy setting, and you've got a village of only 200 people, and you were making a mere 5 gp off each every month (50% of the average cost of living), you'd be able to live extravagantly.

So let's go back to the average guy a minute, and get away from the nobles that are bleedin' our poor guy dry. Our commoner is pulling about 10 gold pieces in income every month that's not accounted for. So what would our typical commoner do with this sort of monthly income? Well by looking at the Equipment section in the Pathfinder rules, we can find a list of goods and services, as well as trade goods. Most mundane things, such as livestock are well within his means (a goat is 1 gold, a cow is 10 gold, but I must admit the cost of chickens is stupidly low, at 50 chickens per gold piece). Likewise, he could purchase no less than a hundred outfits of peasant clothing (cheap, non-fancy clothing). Or he could could spend five nights at a fancy inn (2 gold per night). Or he could act like a normal person, enjoy some drinks at the tavern in the evening, put his money up for a rainy day, and to purchase magic when needed.

But wait, why would a commoner be interested in buying magic? Well because it exists. Let's be reasonable here. Our commoner makes about 10 gold to the good every month. That's one person, not a household, just one untrained guy living on his own. After a while, he'll have enough money stored away that he could afford to have spells cast for him, or even afford potions, or an elixer of love.

So what about a family of commoners? Say a pair of adults, and three children, in a rural area? Well one of the adults might be working a normal job in town, pulling about 50 silver (5 gold) in pay each week for his or her work. Meanwhile, the other adult might be watching their home, as well as growing their own food, chopping their own wood, and producing a certain amount of gold pieces worth of work or gain, allowing them to live comfortably. Excess food or work they have done can be traded for hard currency or services.
In short, we have two adults and three children taking 10 of profession or craft checks (we'll assume the children have a -1 penalty for being young an inexperienced), which would produce about 88 gold pieces of wealth per month. Even counting the -50 gold pieces for living an average life for each member of the family, that's 38 gold pieces to the good. Not quite the complete destitution that most would think.

Saving for a rainy day.
Now, those of us who are avid simulationists will agree that popping 38 gold pieces out of your butt every month is a good trick, but doesn't make a lot of sense. However, keep in mind that the rules are an abstraction. This gold can come in the form of trade goods (such as grown tobacco), and it would be fair to assume that it could be calculated over longer periods rather than by the day. For example, a farming family might not produce 38 gold pieces worth of goods every single month, but it might be the average that they make per month over, say, a 4th month period. By accepting this, you could see that the family might make 152 gold pieces in profits every 4 months, and the 38 gold per month is the average. That means that they can even afford to purchase an antitoxin (50 gold) for the odd chance that someone is bitten by a viper, without breaking the bank.

Suddenly, the idea of a community pooling their money to pay brave adventurers to save their village makes a lot of sense. If you had four hundred people in a village, and just 75% of them were actually doing their part, that would be 300 villagers who were producing at least an average of 10 gold each per month, or 3,000 gold pieces between all of them. If the lord of the land was making 50% of their cost of living each month (5 gold per villager), that would be 1,500 gp in his pocket every month. In a single year, the lord would acquire 18,000 gold pieces worth of wealth from his people.

Items, Currency, and Trade Goods
Ok, so we've determined that commoners aren't as dirt poor as expected, and as a result nobility is about as wealthy as expected (maybe a bit more). So let's have a look at the goods and services a bit closer. We can see that a lot of pretty mundane things are fairly expensive, while others are trivial. Let's begin with trade goods.

Trade goods are pretty cool. They're essentially items that are traded as if they were money. Things like crops, precious metals, cloths (such as silk), spices, and livestock. Our hypothetical farming family above might have been producing Tobacco as their primary source of income. Tobacco is 5 silver per pound, which would mean that their 152 gold pieces every four months would have been equivalent to producing about 3,040 pounds of Tobacco, which they could then trade for goods and services, or for raw currency.

Trade goods are important to D&D economies. They show that money is being produced and passed around, even if it's not in the form of coins. Art objects and gems are also considered trade goods, and can be traded in the same way. In many cases, these trade goods can equate to raw materials to produce other products, such as tobacco to cigars, to continue using tobacco as an example trade material.

Looks like money to me!
It's highly likely that a lot of trading is done in these unusual currencies. This would likely be similar to the Texas cattle hands who were paid in meat as much or more than they were paid in hard cash. Likewise, in small villages or areas where hard currency may be in short supply, many adventurers (this is an RPG after all) might come to a bit of surprise when their efforts are rewarded with several yards of silk cloth, valued spices, and bags of quartz gems instead of gold pieces. Even coins are only based on the weight of the material they are made from (50 gold coins weighs one pound. Can you guess how much a pound of gold is worth?).
Sixty square yards of silk.
This is what it looks like.

Meanwhile, you also have a lot of normal items which aren't trade goods. Weapons, armor, and most adventuring equipment. This is stuff that's needed, used, but more specialized and has a bit more room for haggling. In short, these are the items that everything else pays for.

Magical Trade
Ok, so now we're getting to the crux of the "problem" for most people when they're looking at D&D economies. Magic and magic items are things that people can and will pay for in such games. Everyone can find a use for magic, from the most common man to the richest king, magic will affect the way trade is conducted and priced.

The magic in D&D is something our world had never been able to experience or have to deal with. Because of this, we can never look back on our history and draw an exact parallel with our favorite fantasy RPGs. While our games likely have knights, swords, longbows, lords, and so forth, they never had things like fireballs and the ability to produce energy and motion from nothing.

A world with magic, where one can learn to harness a power that lets you twist reality to your desires, would definitely have a demand for that power. And with demand, someone would of course begin to supply, and then it all takes off. So virtually everyone can learn to desire the benefits of magic. You might want to buy some potions in case little Timmy falls down a well and gets hurt (a potion of stabilize is only 25 gold), or you might wand to cure that case of herpes that you contracted that one time at that party (a healer can cast remove disease on you for 150 gold), and so on. Meanwhile, a +1 longsword costs a whopping 2,300 gp and some change. Who has that kind of money?

Well going back to our commoners, it would seem their nobles do. Our hypothetical ruler of a small village (with 300 taxpayers) was collecting some 1,500 gold per month. Now even paying soldiers and such, he probably has a pretty solid amount of cash floating around in his coffers, and he's just governing a tiny community. Likewise, if you recall, I mentioned the commoners paying adventurers for stuff, and since a lot of stories suggest that townsfolk pool their spare cash to pay parties of adventurers to protect or aid them, that can lead to a lot of money too. That's not even getting to the ancient dungeons full of long forgotten treasures themes that are prevalent in such stories.

So what kinds of things might you see nobles or adventurers doing with this wealth? Well adventurers would probably convert it into more equipment to continue adventuring for whatever reason drives them (if they want to retire in style, it'll take a lot more than clearing out a few goblin dens). Well nobles could create grander, more robust places for their people, or they might horde it. But just to give an idea of what a noble could do with that kind of money...

We're so awesome.
Well our noble who governs the 300 people has 1,500 gold per month. With that kind of money, you could add 10 continual flame street lights every month, illuminating your town during the night. Our noble could also commission a druid to cast plant growth to increase crop yields by about 33% over a span of 5 miles of land for the next year. He might save the money and in about 6 months, commission a decanter of endless water to give his people running water through the village with. Or he might just build statues of his family to mark how awesome they are for having a bunch of peasants making them rich.

The possibilities are endless.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

All the Kings Men - A Look a Healing

If you're not familiar with the nursery rhyme "Humpty Dumpty", you might not understand the title of this article. If so, suffice to say somebody got broke and couldn't be healed.

Which brings us to today's article. Healing. In games like Pathfinder and Dungeons & Dragons, healing is a major aspect of most combats. Characters like bards, clerics, druids, paladins, rangers, and oracles are all ready to administer some magical healing right out of the box; and with the right equipment or options, others can get into the healing mix as well (the Use Magic Device skill can be very useful when paired with a wand of cure light wounds for example).

The problem with healing is that it's generally an out-of-combat affair. As time has gone by, and rules have changed, in-combat healing has fallen by the wayside at many a gaming table. Spells such as cure critical wounds, which were once major options for healers are generally regarded as spell list filler. I won't say that every gaming table finds little use for these spells, but they're definitely at the bottom of the barrel when experienced gamers are picking their spells. Why, we must ask, is this so?

1) The first problem is that healing spells, like damaging spells (which I've touched on before), healing spells have receded in usefulness over the years. The biggest problem is that healing cannot keep up with the amount of damage that creatures in the current games deal. This makes healing a waste of effort and resources. It also makes it more prudent to try and kill enemies as fast as possible, because mathematically, killing power equates to healing power in the current game. Before I go any further, let me explain that statement a bit, because it can be confusing.

Basically, killing your enemy prevents them from inflicting damage, and ultimately is more efficient than trying to out-heal incoming damage. A very simple demonstration is with the basic cure light wounds spell and a basic orc warrior wielding a greataxe. The orc's damage would be 1d12+4 (average 10.5 per hit), while cure light wounds cast by a 1st level cleric would heal 1d8+1 (5.5 average per cast). The average healing from the cure spell just does match the minimum damage of the orc, while even the maximum healing doesn't match the average damage (and god forbid he get a critical hit)!

So what's the healer to do? Well stop the orc from attacking. The most common way would be to kill the orc. The orc only has 6 HP, and a 2-handed shield bash from a 14 strength cleric would deal 1d6+3 damage, which means your average damage would kill the orc if you hit. A morning star (1d8+2) would also do it. It also doesn't require you to have a free hand to cast, nor can it be easily interrupted, nor does it provoke an attack of opportunity.

2) The second reason is closely related to #1. The fact is that because healing cannot keep up with damage, you are losing out in the "action economy" when you try to heal in combat. If an orc hits your fighter for 10 damage, and you heal the fighter for 5 damage, you've spent your turn (and your spell), and you didn't even cancel out the orc's hit. Then if the orc hits the fighter again next turn, and deals another 10 damage, then your fighter is still taking damage and you've effectively done nothing, whereas killing the orc would have prevented the next 10 damage it would have dealt. Then after the fight, you use your healing spells to heal everyone up (also, a single wand of cure light wounds provides an average of 250 points of healing, which means the cleric would do well to invest in a wand to full-heal people between fights).

Getting the idea?

So how would we fix this from a design standpoint? Well, the first answer would to be make healing spells more powerful. If our hypothetical cleric could have healed all of the damage the orc did, he would have at least sacrificed his turn to negate the orc's turn, which would have been a start. The problem with this method is that it still isn't enough to make it a valid combat tactic, as you're also expending your spells, while the orc is merely swinging his axe; so you're still coming out behind.

So from a design perspective, we need to decide how to make healing spells stand out as valid options.
We'll explore this in my next upcoming article: A Look At Healing part 2.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

MMOs and Tabletop RPGs - Sharing Ideas Part 3

In my last two posts (here and here), I've discussed some of the benefits that MMOs could have on Tabletop RPG Design, with my most recent post discussing the benefits of having multiple classes that do similar things in different ways. Today, we're going to dive into actual gameplay a bit more, and get some ideas about tactical combat.

Status Effects are Good Tactics: One thing that's very nice about World of Warcraft (WoW) is that classes all have different methods of fighting that aren't just direct attacks. Direct attacks are generally all that is available to melee or ranged combatants in Pathfinder / 3E Dungeons & Dragons, which leaves their contributions to a fight merely at "hit it", which can get very boring to players after a while. While feats like Bleeding Critical do allow you to apply some status effects, the player has little to no control over when and how the status effect is applied.

Warriors in World of Warcraft can hit quite hard with their various physical attacks, but they definitely have their share of status effects that make them more interesting to play. A warrior can inflict Bleed damage by using the Rend attack (deals no initial damage but causes the foe to bleed out for a period of time), and can stun their foes with attacks like Concussion Blow, and slow their foes down with Hamstring, or stagger them a bit with Shield Slam (which slows their movement slightly and interrupts spellcasting).

This was one of the best things about the Tome of Battle: Book of Nine Swords, which was released towards the end of the 3.5 D&D printing run. While many meta-game tests were done that concluded that the core 3.5 D&D classes could out-damage the classes available in the Tome of Battle more often than not (the iconic examples being Barbarian and Warblade), the classes from the Tome of Battle were just simply more tactical, and to many, much more fun. You adapted your combat routine to the here and now, and could run interference for your group (in other words, you could hold an enemy off while your team got into position).

Damage Prevention: One mechanic I've really enjoyed looking at in World of Warcraft is the priest's "Power Word: Shield" spell. For discipline priests, this is a staple of their healing routine; but it's a very new concept in terms of RPG healing. It's effectively preemptive healing. Casting PW:Shield creates a "bubble" around the target for the duration of the spell. This bubble then absorbs incoming damage, similar to Temporary HP from spells like vampiric touch in D&D and Pathfinder.

In fact, a properly played Discipline Priest actually heals very little over the course of a battle, but is considered an invaluable healer. When they do heal, their healing is very efficient in terms of resources spent versus health gained, though the amount of health healed is generally kind of low (with the exception of their iconic spell, Penance which strongly heals an ally in a quick burst, or alternatively harms an enemy for about half the damage it would have healed. Very nice.

I've become a bit fascinated with these kinds of mechanics, so I will probably be toying with similar concepts in some of my upcoming pdf books for Pathfinder; which will be something fun to look forward to. ☺

MMOs and Tabletop RPGs - Sharing Ideas Part 2

In my last entry, Part 1, I touched lightly on the evolution of online RPGs like "World of Warcraft" (WoW) and their relation to their tabletop brethren. I also mentioned that modern tabletop RPGs can learn some things from this newer genre of RPGs that can improve the fun and mechanics of our favorite RPGs. Today we're going to talk about that a little more.

Games Within the Game: I've often noted that one of my favorite things about playing Pathfinder or 3E Dungeons & Dragons is that each class has the potential to play very differently. A Fighter, Druid, and Sorcerer all play very differently, for example (at least in Pathfinder where sorcerers get sorcerer bloodlines); but a number of classes often don't feel different enough to some players; or too different.

Games like WoW could teach us a lot about game design from a class perspective. As of writing this, World of Warcraft has 10 different classes (warrior, mage, priest, rogue, hunter, paladin, warlock, shaman, druid, and death knight) and 3 major specializations to each of these classes (think archtypes) for quite a few options. While I'll touch on this diversity a bit more later, I would like to draw attention to class roles for a moment.

Like in traditional fantasy RPGs like Dungeons and Dragons, you have four major roles: The warrior, the healer, the spellcaster, and the skill user (traditionally the fighter, cleric, wizard/mage, and rogue/thief). Generally the warrior deals physical damage and protects his allies; the healer casts beneficial spells for the group; the mage casts offensive spells; and the skill rounds out the group by tag-teaming with the warrior and using various tricks to outwit obstacles.

WoW has these sorts of roles too (though due to the nature of that game, the 4 primary roles are adjusted a little, into damage dealer, protector, crowd controller, healer). However, most of their classes can preform at least two of these roles as their primary focus; even though the two classes play nothing alike. For example, the Warrior vs Paladin.

  • The warrior has no magic ability. His buffs are limited to battle commands and war-shouts (morale effects, essentially). 
  • He uses special attacks by using a resource called "Rage" which he generates by actively fighting. As a battle goes on, he generates more and more rage, so as long as he doesn't run out of HP, he will actually get stronger and have more options.
  • Has 3 different combat stances: "Battle Stance", "Defensive Stance", and "Berserker Stance" which determine what kinds of abilities he can use, and also provide passive bonuses (battle stance is normal, defensive reduces outgoing and incoming damage slightly, and berserker stance increases critical hit chances).
  • He generally is specialized in dealing damage and protecting allies. Has some crowd control (he can shout and frighten enemies back for a moment), and can break out of fear effects, and can apply some negative status effects with certain attacks (he can slow your movement speed for a short time, make you bleed out, etc).
  • Wears heavy armor and wields a variety of weapons and shields.
  • Is widely considered a powerful but complex class to play because of the need to change stances as you adapt to the battle, as well as having to manage your rage resource.
  • Since he uses no magic, he is virtually immune to being silenced.
  • The Paladin relies on divine magic. He has a buff that's good for virtually every class.
  • His special attacks and/or spells rely on a mana resource which regenerates continuously, but stops regenerating while he's casting or using it, so while he begins frontloaded, the longer a fight goes the less power he will have unless he can recover mana.
  • Has several different auras which provide different benefits, and can choose one to be active at a time (one aura improves the armor of allies, one punishes enemies for attacking you, one makes it easier to cast spells while suffering damage, etc).
  • He generally is specialized in dealing damage and protecting allies. He has little crowd control (he can only turn undead), and can break out of movement imparing effects, and can apply some negative status effects with certain attacks (he can stun enemies for a short time, or increase the chance of landing critical hits on an enemy, etc). 
  • Wears heavy armor and wields a variety of weapons and shields.
  • Is widely considered a fairly simple class to play because most of the skills/spells are fairly strait-forward. Keeping track of the amount of mana you have left is easy. 
  • Since most of his power is gained via magic, he is vulnerable to being silenced.
Looking at these two classes, we can see they have a lot in common, and both tend to take on the same roles. Both are slightly better at different things, and both have slightly different weaknesses, but the main differences is how they work. The warrior's mechanic is completely different from the paladin's mechanic. This is a good thing because the warrior appeals to some players, while the paladin appeals to others, while both can play a melee character they enjoy.

Two classes that preform the same functions while working completely differently. Both are rewarding to play for different reasons, and both allow a player to try different games within the game itself. This allows players to pick and choose the classes that feel the best to them, while being a source of new interest for those who like to try things that are different. A game within a game.

In my own games, I allow players to play Wizards, Sorcerers, and Psions (essentially a spell-point caster). All of these classes fulfill similar roles, and can do similar things; but each plays a bit differently than the other, and some of my players love one, and dislike the others. The moral is, everyone has something they can find that they like, and that way everybody wins.

Monday, April 18, 2011

MMOs and Tabletop RPGs - Sharing Ideas, Part 1

Tabletop RPGs are pretty much directly responsible for the invention of MMO (Massive Multiplayer Online) RPGS; and most of the early MMO games show this very clearly. Games like Ultima Online and EverQuest have some pretty obvious tabletop RPG influences (an article in an old Inquest Gaming magazine I had actually said EverQuest was like playing D&D online), and after Gary Gygax passed away, Blizzard Entertainment – the creators of World of Warcraft (WoW) – included a dedication to Gary in one of their patches; and paid homage to the inspirations that they (the creators) gained from traditional RPGs. Several Warcraft Roleplaying Game books have been published by Sword & Sorcery, including the campaign setting and some sourcebooks.

However, those of us who play traditional roleplaying games will often scoff at these online games for their differences. Many complain that they "aren't real RPGs", or use "MMO/WoW" as a derogatory term when describing RPGs. This has been most prevalent in internet forums where people complain that 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons is "Too much like WoW" or similar statements. In short, a lot of people think that the two sub-genres of RPGs are pretty incompatible. Let's face it...some of us hobbyists can get a bit anal about things.

But what are we missing that the genres can share with one-another? There's a lot of new ideas that are developed in both fields, and to ignore some of the more innovative concepts in various games, because of their genres, can mean that we're all missing out on things that could indeed be incredibly fun.

Next post dives a bit deeper into the subject with some mechanical stuff. ☺

Monday, February 21, 2011

Tactics - Getting into the Mindset

D&D / Pathfinder is a tactical game. It traces its history back to tabletop war games, and though Dungeons & Dragons (TM) birthed the Roleplaying Game genre, it is at its heart a very fun tactical game of choices and strategy.

Now most D&D/Pathfinder games involve at least a fair share of action and combat situations. By default, these games assume worlds that are filled with man-eating monsters, ferocious warriors, evil wizards, and other "high fantasy" themes. Most of the characters are expected to participate in these heroic fantasies by doing heroic things, including slaying man-eating monsters, battling ferocious warriors, and foiling plots by evil wizards; that sort of thing. So of course, a good lot of these games have a solid amount of focus on combat.

So today, I'm going to discuss some basic combat strategies. If you saw my last blog post (A Look at Damaging Spells), then you probably know a little bit of this, as I will be commenting on tactical applications of spells as well.

The Tactical Mindset: What you want to get into is the tactical mindset. Think about things is more than just hit points and damage. You want to do things like flank opponents, take advantage of terrain, and use your resources to the best of your abilities. When you start thinking in terms of strategy, rather than brute force, you'll probably be in the tactical mindset. The truest tactician will happily work with his or her friends to soar to greater heights.

This tactical mindset can be developed even while playing real-time strategy (RTS) games and computer based RPGs like Bioware's Baldur's Gate Series, because they require you to think strategically. This tactical mindset lends itself well to the creative problem-solving of tabletop RPGs, and many of the lessons from either can be applied universally.

A Brief Example of the Tactical Mindset: The following is copied from a post I wrote on the Paizo message boards in a discussion about tactical uses for spells; and gives an idea of the transition from thinking in terms of damage to thinking in terms of tactical problem solving.

Until an enemy is either dead or disabled, they are a threat. HP is binary/Boolean. Either it's ON or OFF; either you're up or your down as far as damage goes. It doesn't matter if you have 1,111 hp or 1 Hp, you can still act and threaten your enemies. This means that even if you "soften" them up, it's not going to stop them from threatening your party; just make it so it takes less time to kill them individually.

Now, a very basic tactical consideration is "don't split your attention". The basic concept is simple. Instead of breaking off and splitting your party's focus among multiple foes, it is more effective to focus-fire one enemy at a time and then cycle between them. Generally this is pretty simple. Pick one guy, and everyone focuses on taking that guy out; then switch to the next guy, and so forth. There are some variations, and if you can take that guy out while also hurting another enemy (such as via the Cleave feat) then power to you; but try not to waste actions "softening" enemies when you could be making it harder for them to kill you.

This basic concept is prevalent in RTS games and even the ever popular Baldur's Gate series for the PC (which uses 2E D&D rules). Early in my time playing baldur's gate, I wondered why I was using spells like magic missile and fireball so heavily, and yet my party was getting slaughtered by enemies almost constantly. I had to reload from save-games like it was my job (eh, I was a young teen, tactics weren't my forte I guess). However, one day, I realized what the problem was.

My enemies didn't often throw things like fireballs. They did cast things like horror which always seemed to result in at least one person in my party having a panic attack and running off to act stupid, and they were quire happy with spells and potions of haste which sometimes had them killing my PCs before I realized they were dead. Stuff like hold person meant that my ever important meat-shield wasn't even capable of twiddling his thumbs, while various charm and dominate spells generally meant my favorite hamster loving ranger was pitching for the wrong team. >.<

Even if my enemies weren't casting spells, I found that damage spells weren't very tactical. You see, damage spells were actually pretty cool in 1-2E because enemies really didn't have many HP (honestly a 45 hp enemy was a pretty strong fellow, whereas that's about CR 3-4 in Pathfinder); so those big damage spells like fireball were a lot sexier (17.5 damage was pretty nice when your enemies probably had 9-12 HP). However, they weren't tactical. If I didn't kill the ogre with my flame arrow spell, or the mage didn't die when I used acid arrow, or that ghoul didn't croak when he was hit with magic missile, the ogre still swung his sword, the mage would cast his spell, and the ghoul would paralyze somebody.

Then I learned to start thinking about things in terms of "don't let them hurt you" or "reduce incoming fire". Suddenly the game shifted from incredibly difficult to challenging. Instead of magic missile, I prepared sleep, which made many of the encounters very easy (fighting a pack of kobolds with shortbows intent on killing poor Imoen? Shut them down!). Instead of casting fireball, summon monster I (a 3rd level spell then) was the weapon of choice, because even if the monster couldn't kill the badguys, it made it harder for them to engage my party; who could then begin focus-firing arrows, slings, and crossbow bolts into its scaled hide.

I realized that hasting and buffing your party improved their survivability and helped them kill enemies faster. I learned that instead of sending each character to fight a different foe, I would have them all pick an unlucky fellow and focus on killing him at all costs; so that when 4 becomes 3, and 3 becomes 2, there's only 3 and then 2 attacks coming back at you. It's better to take down one enemy per round than 4 enemies at once over 4 rounds.

By using buffs and debuffs that affected multiple creatures, I could often sit back and conserve my good spells. A single summon monster spell ensured that I had garnished the worth out of my wizard for the whole fight (even if the summon is killed, that's time my enemies have wasted mowing through the summon). Then my wizard can sit back and counter other wizards (in BG I & II, this is the purpose I found for magic missile, because it has a fast casting time and almost assuredly breaks their concentration; allowing me to get it off before they could finish casting a 2nd level or higher spell).

Fireball was good for abusing the system (you could fire it off screen, killing enemies without them registering that they were under attack) but for actual gameplay, spells like haste, slow, horror, sleep, and summon spells were more effective at actually succeeding. By succeeding, I mean this was the best way to try and keep you and your friends alive, conserve resources (those 3rd level spells are valuable!), and try not too use too many consumables (if you blow 130 gp worth of potions during or after a fight, but you only got 30 gp worth of treasure, the joke's on you! :P).

In actual D&D, these rules still apply. I'd actually say they apply more than they do in this computer based environments because obstacles and adventures are not limited to pre-programmed responses and tactics. You never know exactly what those crazy kobolds are going to do. You can't "cheese" your way through certain encounters by engaging the fight from "off screen", and so on and so forth. You can encounter enemies who attack from three dimensions; more enemies hide from you; and they have a wider breadth of options.

However, the core concept of this remains. If there's four of you, and you're engaging 8 kobolds and they're fighting you like kobolds mean it (could be traps in the area, they're taking cover, using ranged weapons, etc), then instead of trying to hit a kobold with scorching ray, magic missile, or flaming sphere, dive behind a meat-shield (+4 AC vs ranged attacks), and drop a sleep, enlarge person, heroism, or summon monster II and lay down the law. You might not do the killing, but you stand a good chance of making them lose actions, helping your allies kill them, or preventing your allies from getting hurt. And if that's the case, then you're a good wizard and we love you.

A Look at Damaging Spells

I originally began this as a thread on the Paizo Publishing message boards in a discussion about the tactical considerations of "blasting" versus alternatives when playing classes like wizards and sorcerers in Pathfinder (or D&D 1st edition, 2nd edition, and 3rd edition). Someone asked if it was true that "blasting" was less effective in D&D/Pathfinder than other alternatives.

"Blasting" is essentially damage dealing spells. These are the spells most commonly recognized in D&D/Pathfinder, such as magic missile and fireball, and are most commonly chosen by those new to the game. "Alternatives" is pretty much magic that doesn't revolve around dealing damage (at least not directly), such as haste, silent image, or enlarge person.

Blasting has lost a lot of spark since it's previous editions. I love 3rd Edition D&D / Pathfinder, but stuff like fireball was better back in 1st edition and 2nd edition because enemies had less hit points. You could be fighting monstrous demons who only had around 40-60 hit points, whereas the Pit Fiend and Balor have over 300 hit points each in the current edition. The thing is, damage hasn't really increased much. Fireball still deals the same 10d6 fire damage at 10th level (average 35 damage), but that can't even down a Bear outright unless you roll about 80% of your max damage, and it still gets a Saving Throw for half damage.

The second problem that blasting has is it's very limited. Most damaging spells don't have secondary effects or special features for using them, with the exception of fireball (which notes that it can catch unattended flammable objects on fire) most things just deal damage, and even fireball's secondary effects aren't terribly useful (actually, they make it riskier to use since you might accidentally start a forest fire or something). This means that unless you're actively attacking an enemy, the spell is useless to you, and only useful on the round you actually cast it (not before, not after, only during).

The third problem is that most damaging spells are incredibly situational. Things like energy resistance are pretty common in D&D/Pathfinder. For example, any simple fiendish creature has at least fire and cold resistance 5 (but up to 15), meaning they ignore that much damage when they're hit with those elements. Let's use a hypothetical Wolf with the Fiendish creature template, which we could find summoned by a summon monster spell, or serving some evil villain as a minion. At 5th level, our wizard inflicts 5d6 (average 17.5) fire damage with a fireball spell, or half damage (about 8.75) on a successful save, and then reduces the damage by 5; meaning the fireball probably isn't going to kill the 13 Hp wolf outright; but you can only do this maybe 1-2 more times today. Likewise, if you find yourself fighting a Fire Elemental of any size, your fireball is completely useless.

And for those wondering, a 5th level Ranger should have about a +8 to hit (+5 base attack, +4 strength, +1 masterwork weapon, -2 power attack) and deals around 2d6+12 damage, killing the wolf outright on a successful hit. So the 5th level ranger can kill one or two of these things per round without expending precious resources like 3rd level spells.

So What Besides Blasting?
There's a lot of better things that a wizard or sorcerer can be doing instead of trying to compete with the fighting guys at dealing damage. If a wizard or sorcerer really wants to do well and be important in a fight, it's better to change the conditions of that fight. There's a lot of ways to do this. A successful wizard can do this in a variety of very noticeable ways.

1) Buffing: A wizard can act as a "force multiplier", making his friends far more powerful than they normally would be. Casters can do this as early as 1st level, and they make it count. A 1st level wizard can cast enlarge person on the party's fighting guy, making him bigger, badder, and beefier, and it lasts 10 rounds (1 minute). That means the wizard can turn the fighter into an engine of destruction, and then either cast more spells or stall his turns by just defending (total defense gives a +4 dodge bonus for 1 round as a standard action) to increase his own survivability. He can also cast protection from evil on the fighter, preventing the fighter from getting mind-controlled and turning on the party.

At 3rd level, the wizard can cast spells like heroism to give the fighter a +2 to most everything for 30 minutes (and enlarge person lasts 30 rounds now), or cast bull's strength on the fighter making him hit harder, or casting invisibility on the party's rogue so she can sneak into an area to scout and steal the badguys' potions and scrolls before they fight them.

At 5th level, the wizard turns into a true force multiplier. He can cast spells like haste which can affect the whole party, making them faster, more accurate, harder to hit, better at evading, and even lets them get an extra attack in. Since it lasts 5 rounds, you just made everyone on your side much better for most or maybe even all of the fight.

It goes on with more and more options as your levels rise. New spells to make your party stronger become available, and old spells become more plentiful and last longer and longer; so spells that you used to cast only when you needed them can be cast beforehand and last for a good while, so you can prepare for trouble (sorry, cheesy reference).

2) Debuffing: A wizard can also make it easier for enemies to get mashed by the party's fighters. This is a bit harder than making your friends stronger, but it too can be done as early as 1st level and right on up to 20th. Spells like sleep and colorspray can knock enemies out, while grease can make enemies slip, slide, and fall down (making them easier to hit), or can even force an opponent to drop their weapon.

At 3rd level, a wizard gets stuff like hideous laughter which can take an enemy out of a fight. Glitterdust can blind a group of enemies for a few rounds (usually enough to mop them up) while outlining them so they can't hide. Blindness/Deafness can make them permanently blind until they get magical assistance. Web can trap enemies in sticky nets of webbing, making it difficult to move or fight, and other things like this.

At 5th level, a wizard can cast spells like stinking cloud, slow, and ray of exhaustion, which pretty much disable enemies (often groups of enemies) for several rounds or an entire combat, allowing the party to mop them up; and the wizard can conserve his spells.

3) Controlling: The third in the holy trinity of wizard casting is controlling the field. Controlling essentially means that you make the battlefield or conditions favor your party on a more broad scale than just buffing your party. This can involve summoning monsters to help your party with spells like summon monster I-IX, or making certain areas of the field hazardous for your enemies with spells like grease and stinking cloud. In many cases, controlling has a lot of spells that overlap as debuff spells.

At 1st level, controlling spells include things like grease to make areas of terrain troublesome. Sleep can help take enemies out of the fight for a few rounds, giving you and your friends some breathing room. Silent image or obscuring mist can conjure hazy clouds of smoke or mist that provide concealment, potentially robbing enemy rogues of their ability to get bonus damage against you or your party.

There are a lot of great controlling spells, but I'm going to point out just a few of my favorites. Sleet storm is a 3rd level spell that is amazing at controlling the battlefield, as it blocks all sight and covers a very noticeable area in rough terrain for a number of rounds. Black tentacles is a 4th level spell that creates a big area that grabs enemies and beats them up while stopping them from acting. Stinking Cloud is a 3rd level spell that can block sight and make enemies nauseated, which prevents them from acting.

Then of course there are the summoning spells. Summoning spells are a special kind of battlefield control because they literally place new creatures on the battlefield. When suddenly you have a fiendish bull bursting onto the scene, clogging up the path to your friends with its body and getting ready to trample over your enemies, you're doing good. Either they have to kill the bull (wasting their turns) or they have to try and kill the party while the bull tramples them; it's a win/win deal.

Summary: Ultimately the reason that damaging spells aren't very useful is because they lack options and they're here and gone. If you enlarge your fighter, he'll be kicking booty for a while. But you could also enlarge him to help him carry stuff, or to help him climb something, or to reach something, or to make it so something cannot pin him down, or so he cannot be caught in a web or net. You have options. All you can do with magic missile is damage creatures, and only damage creatures.

We can experience a thousand and one different situations while playing a D&D/Pathfinder campaign, so it's generally better to be prepared. Being able to conserve your spells, help you party, and adapt to different situations is what separates a good wizard from a wand of fireball.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

PCs Never Die, They Just Whine Away

For a long time now I have noticed an increasingly popular trend among RPG players on forums such as the ones found at Giant in the Playground or even Paizo Publushing's own forums; and while it may not be a universal truth, I've been seeing it enough to take notice.

There's a fine line between brave and stupid.
The trend is this idea that player characters (PCs) aren't supposed to die. I see it popping up more and more frequently in gaming conversations of all topics (GMing, adventures, campaigns, problem players, how to run good games, etc). I find it popping up everywhere and toted about as if it were common knowledge throughout the gaming community. The absolute worst thing ever must be the death of a player character.

But wait! There is one monstrosity spoken of that rivals if not exceeds the dreaded PC death, and that is the even more dreaded TPK (total party kill); where the entire adventuring party meets their demise at the hands of some terrible monster or unfortunate end; ending the campaign and the world as we know it. The horror!

Ok, so obviously I'm being a little sarcastic in my delivery of the theme, but that's the gist of it. I keep noticing that in these games where PCs are in constant life or death struggles, people are getting really testy if a PC actually bites the bullet. In d20 based games like Pathfinder (TM) or the 3.5 Dungeons & Dragons (TM) systems where they have sections of the rules entitled things like Death and Dying, one might think that the chance for a character to die doing something dangerous like waging wars and fighting monsters might be almost expected.

Surely pissing in his cornflakes wouldn't get him that mad!
It seems to me that there's a growing sense of entitlement among gamers today. The idea that player characters aren't supposed to die, or are only supposed to die if it's a "heroic death". Situatons such as players complaining that GMs being unfair because a critical hit killed a player character, and having PCs acting in illogical or outright bizarre because they don't fear that the consequences of their actions could prove fatal.

This growing trend bugs me for the following reasons:
Someone might get this reference...
1) It's very unsporting. I usually think people play games because it's fun and challenging. If you take the chance of risk out of it, it becomes boring fast. It's like going through the motions of playing a game, but the result is already forgone. Imagine playing a cardgame tutorial where you always draw the same cards, and you will always win, because it's just a tutorial and you're not really playing but instead going through the motions. It's kind of like that.

I dislike this sense of entitlement. I'm right on the forefront for PC rights, but this is just silly. I don't advocate using challenges that are beyond your PC's capabilities, and I encourage erring on the side of caution. If you make a mistake as a GM and over estimated your PCs, well apologizing and asking to try again is fine and commendable. However, when an orc warrior rolls a critical hit on his greataxe for 3d12+9 points of damage, don't complain that your GM should have made them wield 1d4+3 daggers or tell him he shouldn't count the critical hit. That doesn't sound much like a good gamer (it sounds kind of whiny actually).

3) If you don't want to play the game, why are you? When my friends and I sit down to play a good game of Pathfinder(TM), we know that our GM will try his best to give us a good game with fun challenges, interesting characters to interact with, maybe a puzzle or two, and a glimpse at heroic action. We'll try to reduce the chances of our demise. We'll make plans, come up with strategies and ideas, and try not to take unneeded risks. We don't want to be on the receiving end of enemies wielding axes, and we use spells like protection from evil and death ward to guard against mind-control and instant-death effects. If our players live, we feel a sense of great success; if they die, we roll new characters and explore a new adventure (or the same adventure through different eyes, occasionally).

This is not how the game is supposed to be played.
4) It makes us sound crazy. I was running a game online and a player begged me not to have a shadow attack his character because his character could die. Another played in an online game I was running, a group of 4 players (1 wizard, 1 witch, 1 fighter, 1 cleric) ended up attracting the attention of zombie guards who were physically very strong and tough but incredibly slow, and the wizard and the witch both ran into melee to cast shocking grasp and burning hands on the monsters who, being strong and tough, didn't fall down. The player playing the witch begged for a "deux ex machina" (Deus ex machina is a god introduced into a play to resolve the entanglements of the plot) to save the PCs from their mistakes. Sheesh, roll up a new character. If you're so attached to this fictional character, you probably shouldn't be having them out on dangerous adventures, fighting man eating monsters, and getting fireballs tossed at them.

This adventure is awesome and hard.
There's also the fact this seems to be a relatively new occurrence. Looking back on classic Dungeons & Dragons (TM) modules from the 70s, 80s, 90s, and even more recent adventures such as The Red Hand of Doom, we can see that challenges exist and are meant to be real. Player characters died. The Red Hand of Doom openly says it expects PCs to die and the players could possibly find a rod of resurrection with a couple of charges left early on, but those charges can get used up fast. Some classic modules or older editions sometimes suggested making extra characters that could be pulled into the story quickly to replace a PC that dies.

I've been playing D20 based fantasy RPGs since Dungeons & Dragons(TM) 3rd Edition was released in 2000. I spent a great deal of time on the internet on forums of all kinds discussing my favorite game. This seems to me like a rather recent occurrence in the past several years.

My Thoughts: I think that this attitude is really a negative thing in the gaming community. While not assuredly a problem in every group, the idea that playing the game as it was intended to be played is wrong strikes me the wrong way. It may sound elitist (or perhaps philosophical) but I think it's important to learn from your mistakes. When you run up to a giant and decide to poke it with your sword, and he turns you into pudding, then you'll learn not to do that next time. You can learn from your mistakes. Maybe you find yourself in a situation where you're outnumbered or outmatched; maybe you should retreat and find another solution.

Even if your PC dies, you can always grab some more dice (or your point-buy chart) and roll a new one. Give life to a new character. Try something new, something fun, or just try again. Nothing lost, nothing gained.

Setting out on Adventure...

Most traditional role-playing games have a theme that connects them regardless of genre, publisher, writer, programmer, or rule-set. That theme is one of advancement. From the oldest days of the original Dungeons & Dragons (TM) game, to the modern computer-based games like Dragon Age (TM) or World of Warcraft (TM), players set out on some sort of journey. The journey may be one of self-discovery, personal gain, valorous heroics, or even to save the world.

Ultimately, however, all these games have a common theme. Growth. This idea that your life and experiences can shape you to be something more; something greater. So too do I set out on my journey now as both a writer and designer for my favorite games; the very games that taught me to realize that life teaches us a lot. Trying to become a successful designer is a scary prospect, but it is the first steps on the road of a new adventure.

It feels like Level 1 all over again...