Back and Boston Herald Anti-gamer

And we’re back! I’ve been MIA for a few months really (wow it goes fast).  Between work, family, and a general high-level of entropy in my corner of the Universe, gaming just hasn’t been able to fit into my life of late (other than reading on odd blog here or there). That being said, we’ve turned a corner and a little bit of space has opened up…so we’ll snatch it and add some gaming back into the mix.

One of the topics that I read of late (in blog posts by The Ogre Lair Times and  Purple Pawn) was the “revelation” by Boston Herald staff writer Laurel J. Sweet that the U of Alabama shooter was a gamer….It seems equally coincidental that she also studied biology, watched TV, and wiped her own ass (sources close to the aledged shooter indicated that her ass-wiping activities dated back to childhood, but declined to be quoted as the investigation is ongoing and they were not authorized to speak with regard to said ass wiping), and voted for Barack Obama……all, subversive activities that obviously led to her murderous rampage. All sarcasm aside, I declare:

Shame on you, Boston Herald! You’ve sunk to tabloid status in my book. Any journalistic organization worth its grit wouldn’t have posted such a sensationalist piece, especially since there have been studies that refute any link to violent crime/suicide and role-playing games….other than to reduce them.


Roll-playing Redux

Almost two years ago, I posted a little rant on the use of the term “Roll-playing“. Yesterday, Gleichman included some debunking of its use as a part of his “Complexity series” (which I’ve been greatly enjoying). Anyway, I went back and read the post and thought that it might be worthy of reposting. It didn’t garner much interest two years ago, but it might now (what with the growth of my readership). So here it is.


Axe to Grind

Roll-playing – now how do you mean that?

It always irritates me when some-one uses the term “Roll-playing”. It is typically used to differentiate games that have a lot of crunch, have a gamist (GNS) agenda, or otherwise fail to fulfill some essential role-playing criteria of whomever is using the term. It is essentially a derisive term and I think it is a disservice to the gaming community for gamers to continue to use it. I mean, we’re all geeks….what do we mean by saying “Roll-play”, that “I’m a better geek than you are?” Jeeze, that’s what we need more of….

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:

Roll-Playing is a pun on the phrase ‘role-playing’ (as in role-playing game) for when character statistics and rolling dice (especially for combat) become more important than role-playing or telling a story. It generally is used to refer to hack-and-slash games such as Dungeons & Dragons. The use of the phrase “roll-playing” is generally considered to be derogatory, and snobbish.

It is also sometimes called ‘Rule-Playing,’ when the mechanical rules of the game become the most important part of the game.

If confronted with this, some users of the term will add caveats, “Dude, its not for me toSeinfeld say how you ought to play…I’m just describing a style of play that I don’t happen to care for…”. Its like saying “That’s so gay…..not that there’s anything wrong with that…”

Many people use the term seemingly unaware of the negative connotations associated with it (Stephen Chenault attempts to use it as a positive in the forward to the Castles & Crusades Players Hand Book, “Where Rollplaying and Role Playing Meet”). The fact of the matter remains that one would be hard pressed to find many who would stand by the statement, “I prefer Roll-playing over Role-playing”.

The term implies that somehow types of gaming that fall under the nebulous umbrella of Roll-playing don’t quite qualify as Role-playing or are an inferior types of Role-playing. What’s up with that? “I am the Uber-Geek! Behold my d20 and cringe in fear!”

Now, there will be some who think that I’m picking nits and there may be some truth to that. But I’m not just talking about someone knocking specific sub-types of gaming. I am talking about the precision of meaning, however.

What do they (oh, yes I’m talking about them) mean when they use the term “Roll-playing”. If not to be derisive, do they mean “games that use dice”, “games that provide a strong tactical focus”, “games that are rules-heavy”, “games that limit GM fiat”, “games with random-generation of characters, encounters, treasure…”, “games with a heavy combat focus”, “games that resolved social interactions, etc. mechanistically”, etc?

The point of using a buzzword is to make it immediately clear to your reader (or listener) what it is you mean. “Roll-play” doesn’t do that. Not by a long shot. So I wish they’d cut it out.

If you’re one of them…you know those guys who use the term “Roll-play” and don’t mean it in a bad way, please leave a comment that explains what it is that you do mean. And be precise! Who knows, I may be completely off my rocker…

~Adaen of Bridgewater

The Guild Companion

In my email today, I got my monthly notification that The Guild Companion is out. For those of you who are unfamiliar with it, the Guild Companion is a free online publication that supports Rolemaster, HARP, MERP, and Spacemaster (all Iron Crown Enterprises products). Though submissions have been low for some time now, they keep chugging along. For a free, unaffiliated publication, I think they do rather well. If you’ve ever had any interest in those games, take a look. Lately, I’ve felt a little nostalgic for my Rolemaster/MERP days so I’m going to flip through the latest installment (#129) during my lunch.


Greetings from the Guild Companion,

The November issue (#129) is now available at

In this month’s issue, Dan Henry’s epic work on analysing the social
implications of Spell Law concludes with a look at Evil Mentalism,
plus we have two “alien” races in Rolemaster terms and new Bardic
items, plus musings from the Editor on Something Wicked and other

Best wishes,

Dr Nicholas HM Caldwell, CEng CITP MBCS FRMS
General Editor for The Guild Companion
Author: Mentalism Companion, GURPS Age of Napoleon, Construct
Companion, College of Magics, HARP Sci Fi

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RPG System Design: Hero Point Mechanics

I was reading a little theory on John Kim’s page and came across this article: RPG System Design: Hero Point Mechanics. It is really a great discussion of the topic and covers some really good ground. I mean, we used “Fate Points” in Rolemaster (and other sufficiently random systems) to mitigate “unfortunately random character death”, but we didn’t really think about all the possible ways to implement these buggers way back then….over time, they’ve really come into their own.



Pathfinder Playtest

Since the Imperial Destiny campaign ended, I haven’t been doing much gaming really; not even computer games (ok, ok, IPathfinder RPG Cover did play a little of Vampire Wars on Facebook, but that is so mindless, it scarcely counts). This past weekend, I got to play the new Pathfinder RPG from Paizo Publishing (you know the folks who used to do Dragon and Dungeon magazines).

I give this well-crafted and thoroughly playtested game a solid 8 out of 10 (4/5 style and 4/5 substance). It does what it set out to do. It got me excited about playing D&D again.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Pathfinder RPG (as opposed to Paizo’s Pathfinder Setting/Serials), Pathfinder (or 3P) as it is coming to be known is a game designed off the Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 OGL. It is a straight faced rejection of D&D 4E and is intended as a way to continue supporting the discontinued D&D 3.5 (hence, 3P….some people need to be clever). The production value of the book (which includes both Players and GM sections into one volume…..Bestiary will be issued separately) is quite high.  It’s hardcover (though a pdf is also available), there’s 575 pages, the art is fairly good (and more of a throw-back to older editions of D&D, which I think many will like),  and includes both a Table of Contents and a fairly thorough index.

The design theory was to make a game that is compatible with D&D 3.5, while fixing some of the stuff that didn’t work that well (grappling comes to mind). They also wanted to enhance and re balance the core-classes so that they were comparable with D&D 3.5 Prestige Classes. They essentially wanted people to continue to be able to use their 3.5 materials in a 3P game…..which is nice, considering the thousands of dollars that many people have invested in that system.

Now I’ve read both the Alpha and Beta versions of Pathfinder and am almost wishing I didn’t. Between the 3.0, 3.5, 3.26 (3/3.5 version that we used for Imperial Destiny), 3P Alpha, 3P Beta, and the 3P Official Release, I’m bound to forget what is actually in the 3P game.  I was disappointed by some of the things that were in the Beta that didn’t make it into the Official Release, but I suppose the  year-long beta play test bore some of these out.  Some of the changes  from 3.5 include:

1) Streamlining the skill system (they’ve given a standard +3 to class skills in which a character has ranks rather than giving L1 characters 4 times as many Skill points and differing maximum ranks for  class and non-class skills).

2) Giving a player who takes a level in their Preferred class a bonus skill point or a bonus hitpoint (players choice) – a reward rather than the 3.5 XP penalty.

3) Changing the hitdie for some classes (e.g., Wizards and Sorcerers are now d6, Rogues are d8, etc.).

4) Cleric Domains, Wizard Specializations, and Sorcerer Bloodlines all give interesting and useful abilities that put vanilla versions of these classes on par with PrC’s in 3.5

5) Arcane Bond can be with a familar or an object (kind of like a spell focus item).

6) Magic items no longer require XP’s to create.

7) Lots more feats (~50% more that D&D 3.5’s core books)

8) They changed Cleave – It now is for adjacent defenders but with a -2 to AC until your next turn (oops, I think we forgot about that -2 during our playtest).

9) Grappling was simplified

10) Cantrips & Orisons – Each day, primary spell casters (Cleric, Druid, Sorcerer, Wizard) can chose a number (3 at L1) 0-level spells can be as many times as you want. This means that spell casters always have something they can do that involves magic. No more of this L1 Wizard casting their Sleep spell and then taking out the cross-bow as a third-rate archer for the rest of the session.

etc., etc., etc. They’ve taken a lot of the more obvious problem areas and fixed them up. In general, I like their fixes. They also made some decisions I like less (why do only Halflings and Gnomes get a Charisma bonus?). Most of these, thankfully, are cosmetic enough that they can be easily changed by any group wishing for something slightly different.

Here was our rundown of six characters: Human Fighter (Greatsword-wielding badass, played by Elrond Hubard), Half-elven Rogue (with aspirations of Arcane Trickster), Elven Ranger (Archer Track), Human Monk (kind of surly), Elven Cleric (Good and Sun Domains), and a Human Wizard (Evoker, with Divinations and Necromancy as restricted schools played by yours truly)…all 1st level. All in all, a pretty balanced party…..I thought we might be a little light in melee, but we’ll see how that works out over time. This is a new campaign…I’m guessing we’ll play like once/month and I’ll try to add updates as to our progress with the system here.

Anyway, here’s a synopsis of the first session: Our group was hired by the local authorities to investigate a hobgoblin attack on a nearby community. We brought them a wagon load of relief supplies, exchanged pleasantries and info with the maligned townsfolk and started following the hobgoblin trail. Upon discovering their lair, we were spotted by two sentries who ran in and warned their compatriots. Following tradition, we stormed right in and kicked some righteous goblinoid ass.

Given the fragility of first-level characters in D&D (any edition) and the boldness of our unplanned assault, I was surprised that none of our party were killed and only two of our number were incapacitated (Rogue  who was stabilized by  the Cleric’s “Energy Channeling” and then the Cleric who luckily auto-stabilized).  Everyone had something that they could do every round (except the downed characters, of course…they just bled).

I’ve never felt so useful at L1…..and as a Wizard! I didn’t even make it through all the uses of my specialist ability ( 3+ Int Bonus = 7 uses of a semi-hobbled magic missile ….It works the same at L1, but only gains +1 damage every two caster levels instead of another d4 of damage every two caster levels….what a cool way to solve the L1 Mage problem).

The Cleric’s Channeling to heal those in radius (friends and foes alike until he picks up the feat that lets him distinguish who to affect) was fantastic and allowed him to actually, you know, use his spells for things other than healing.

The Archer was irritated by the -4 penalty for firing into melee….this was expected to be a frustration. I’m betting she’ll feel better about her character once she picks up precise shot next level. Again, this is a  frustration that continues from previous editions for me – the lack of support for the Archer-trope in D&D. To a certain degree, unless you’re swinging that big-ass two-handed weapon, as a primary fighter, you’re just kidding around.

So in summary, Pathfinder is essentially D&D 3.5. It plays essentially the same. It still has many of the same warts….though thankfully, some of the uglier 3.5 warts have been surgically removed or at least smoothed over a bit. If you’re interested in continuing to play D&D 3.x but want to play a game that is still supported, then Pathfinder may be your cup of tea…..while still remaining 95% compatible with your existing collection of D&D 3.x books. If you didn’t like D&D 3.x, you probably won’t like Pathfinder either.

~AoB, High Adventure Games