Friday, June 26, 2015

Obergefell v. Hodges in Gaming Terms

Since this blog focuses on GLBT gaming issues, it's probably a good idea to note larger GLBT issues.  And today the big issue is the Supreme Court's decision in Obergefell v. Hodges.  I have mixed feelings about the ruling, so this is a really difficult post to write.  Obviously, as a homosexual I am incredibly pleased with the result.  Gay marriage is a huge win for the GLBT community and I couldn't be happier that we won.  But, from a legal perspective, I think that the case was wrongly decided.  Most people that want to talk about dissents in today's ruling will focus on the perennially snarky Justice Scalia.  And he did live up to his reputation, saying that the Justice in the majority "see what lesser legal minds--minds like Thomas Cooley, John Marshall Harlan, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., Learned Hand, Louis Brandeis, William Howard Taft, Benjamin Cardozo, Hugo Black, Felix Frankfurter, Robert Jackson, and Henry Friendly--could not" and "The Supreme Court of the United States has descended from the disciplined legal reasoning of John Marshall and Joseph Story to the mystical aphorisms of the fortune cookie."  But, more so than even the majority opinion, I believe that Chief Justice Roberts' dissent captures the correct constitutional analysis.
If you are among the many Americans--of whatever sexual orientation--who favor expanding same-sex marriage, by all means celebrate today's decision.  Celebrate the achievement of a desired goal.  Celebrate the opportunity for a new expression of commitment to a partner.  Celebrate the availability of new benefits.  but do not celebrate the Constitution.  It had nothing to do with it.                                                                                                                                                       - Chief Justice John Roberts
A Bunch of Legal Gobbledeegook Probably Not Interesting to Non-Legal Types
Like Lawrence and Windsor, Justice Kennedy authored the majority opinion in Obergefell.  And, like both of those decisions, Kennedy places a lot of emphasis on dignity as a driving factor.  14th Amendment challenges and decisions generally come in three types: due process, equal protection, and substantive due process.  Due process means that the laws cannot be arbitrary and that there is space to review them.  Basically, everyone gets their day in court.  Equal protection means that the laws have to be applied to everyone the same way.  Of course, most laws make distinctions between groups of people (prisoners cannot own guns, for example).  But the usual standard for making distinctions based on sexual orientation is rational basis meaning that as long as there was any rational basis for the law and it was not motivated solely to punish the class of people targeted, it stands.

Finally, there is substantive due process, which, despite what the opinion says claims, is the real meat of the holding.  Substantive due process is actually a really simple idea.  Many of our rights are explicitly enumerated in the Constitution and those are easier to deal with.  But, there are some rights that aren't but are so fundamental to the ordered function of society that we cannot function as a society without them.  Marriage is one of those rights.  The right to send your children to the school of your choice is another.  To be eligible for substantive due process protection, the rights have to be fundamental, well-recognized, and essential to the functioning of a liberal society.  Ultimately, Justice Kennedy found that even as marriage is a protected fundamental right, the right to choose who you entered into a marriage with is also fundamental.

It seems like a good decision and the opinion reads really well.  But, substantive due process is one of the most hated legal doctrines out there.  And it is, as the Chief Justice rightly noted, rightfully reviled.  Today we generally think of those that hate judicial activism (generally code for using substantive due process) as being on the right.  But, the most reviled substantive due process case (and arguably the most reviled U.S. Supreme Court opinion) struck down a maximum hours law passed by the state of New York to protect bakery workers' health.  It was called Lochner v. New York and in legal circles it's as radioactive as The Dread Scot Case (black people can never be citizens of the U.S.) or Plessy v. Ferguson (separate but equal is okay).  Dread Scot and Plessy are reviled for their outcomes, Lochner is reviled for its methods AND its outcome.  In Lochner, the Supreme Court basically just said, "This law is dumb.  We don't like it and therefore it must not have a rational basis.  So, we'll overturn it."

When you pull off all of the gloss, that's basically what happened today in Obergefell.  Do we have a long-standing history of extending the right to marriage to same-sex couples?  No.  Is there a rational basis for treating same-sex couples differently than opposite sex couples in extending marital benefits?  Arguably yes, which means deference to the legislature is appropriate.  Now mind you, Justice Kennedy's result is fine.  I'm thrilled that I will be able to get married in any state I choose.  But, if we're going to make changes to the country's basic playbook based solely on the whims of Justice Kennedy, let's just cast him a crown and be done with it.  Chief Justice Roberts has the right of it.

U.S. Constitution = Rulebook
To explain why I find Roberts' position so compelling, let's use an analogy.  And, because this is a blog about gaming, that analogy will be to playing a roleplaying game.  For the vast sweep of American history, the U.S. Constitution has functioned not as law itself, but as meta-law.  Unlike most State constitutions, there's very little actual legislation in the U.S. Constitution.  Rather, it's full of rules about how we govern ourselves.  The Constitution is silent on what the appropriate level of welfare payments is or what city America should recognize as the capital of Israel.  But, it speaks very clearly about how the United States government should resolve those questions.  Appropriate welfare payment levels are determined through legislation, which requires the concurrence of both houses of Congress and either the President's signature or a congressional override of a presidential veto.  Because the Constitution vests foreign policy in the President's hands, the President gets to decide whether or not Jerusalem is the capital of Israel (at least in the eyes of the United States).

In gaming terms, the U.S. Constitution is like the an RPG rulebook.  The rulebook contains all of the mechanics necessary for resolving actions at the table.  It also contains rules that deal with optional situations.  For instance, the rulebook might give mechanics for dealing with avalanches.  The rulebook doesn't say that your adventure has to have an avalanche in it.  But, if you do have an avalanche, you adjudicate its effects using the system on page X.  Similarly, it has options for dealing with player choice--you don't have to take a particular feat, but if you do it must be implemented in a specific way.

Of course, one of the core ideas in RPGs is that if the rules don't work, the GM can (and should!) throw them out.  We don't do that with the U.S. Constitution, but this does bring up an interesting next step in the analogy...  Of course, sometimes the rules do need refining and we have legislators (or game designers, if you will) for that.  Additionally, if enough fans want to change something in the game, it likely gets changed, much like adopting a Constitutional amendment.

Supreme Court = GM
Then we get to everybody in the country: the PCs.  The PCs are going to interact with, well, everything.  And sometimes the rules are going to conflict.  Sometimes the subsystem that the designers adopted in Splat Book B are going to conflict with the ones adopted in Splat Book A.  Sometimes, portions of the core rules themselves will come into conflict.  For instance, we have a strong constitutional principle that the federal government has a paramount role in interstate commerce.  But, the 21st Amendment provides that, as part of relegalizing alcohol sales in the US, States have inordinate control over regulating alcohol within their borders.  What does that mean for direct shipments from wineries in one state to consumers in another state?  (This was a real case.)  It's not that different than resolving areas where the rules in an RPG conflict with each other.  The GM makes a decision.  The GM should be making that decision in concert with everyone else at the table that has a good understanding of the rules, but might not.

(I have some ideas here about expanding this analogy out with things like case law = house rules and that GMs = District courts and games' FAQ/errata processes = Supreme Court, but that would make this post way too long).

Legislative Process = Player Agency
And this is where things get interesting.  Sometimes GM rulings are good interpretations of the rules.  Sometimes they are just GM fiat.  Fiat is necessary to keep the game going sometimes, but it can destroy the fun and immersion that are inherent to enjoying a good RPG.  This is one reason that there are systems out there that have no GM.  The GM that is doing it right aids the game by keeping it moving.  The GM that's doing it wrong robs the players of their agency (in the game sense, not in the legal sense).  In many ways, that's what happened here.

The majority opinion interprets the rules of the game and makes a policy choice that should go to the players.  Is expanding marriage to same-couples a good idea?  (Yes)  Well, that's not what we have judges for.  We have judges to answer a different question: Do the rules of the game as set up require that marriage be expanded to same-sex couples?  This is the distinction between speeding the game along and destroying player agency.  The court was actually looking at two questions in Obergefell.  The first question was whether or not the 14th Amendment required all states to allow same-sex marriages.  The opinion answers this in the affirmative, so it's largely able to gloss over the second question.  That question was "Do states have to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states even if the recognizing state doesn't allow same-sex marriages itself?"  But, you say, requiring recognition means that effectively the states have to allow same-sex marriage.  And that's true.  But we functioned that way with straight marriage for many years and still do today--there's debate between states about how distantly related someone has to be from you in order to marry them and civilization hasn't crashed.  

But, there's a fine distinction between these two and it's important.  Saying that all states must allow same-sex marriages robs the people of their agency to make decisions through the democratic process.  Requiring recognition would probably have been workable.  But, not requiring recognition could have been solved as well--most likely with legislation and constitutional amendments to allow gay marriage in the states.  Chief Justice Roberts did get one thing right today when he said:
[H]owever heartened the proponents of same-sex marriage might be on this day, it is worth acknowledging what they have lost, and lost forever: the opportunity to win the true acceptance that comes from persuading their fellow citizens of the justice of their cause.

Or, in RPG terms, the ruling destroyed the players' agency.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Vigilante Class Walkthrough

Stephen Amell as Oliver Queen
Copyright the CW, licensed
for promotional use of the
show Arrow.
Paizo recently released a playtest for the new class from it's forthcoming release Ultimate Intrigue.  The vigilante class is designed to hold one personality by day and another, ass-kicking, personality by night (or vice versa, I guess).  Honestly, at first I wasn't particularly interested in this class.  At first glance, it seemed like an attempt to port superheroes into Pathfinder.  And that's fine for some people's games, it's just not my cup of tea.  I enjoy watching Arrow, I just can't picture Oliver Queen on Golarion.  Plus, I was hoping that Ultimate Intrigue would turn out to be a more skills and social encounter-heavy rulebook and the vigilante class did not seem to be a harbinger for that.  Despite my misgivings, I persevered and found something to love with the vigilante.

Vigilante Class Overview
Alignment restrictions: None
Hit Dice: d8
BAB: 3/4
Good saves: Reflex & Will
Poor saves: Fortitude
Skill ranks: 6 + Int bonus
Class Skills: Bluff, Craft, Diplomacy, Disguise, Escape Artist, Knowledge (local), Perception, Perform, Profession, Sense Motive, Sleight of Hand, and Stealth + skills from his/her specialization
Proficiencies: Light and martial weapons; light armor, medium, armor, and shields

In general, we've got a good basis for a class here.  The playtest PDF is 14 pages long, though 2.5 of those are title page, short forward by Jason Buhlman, and the OGL text.  The class skill list is pretty good, especially considering that each vigilante's specialization will add a few extras along the way.  The one exception is the choice not to give Intimidate as a class skill.  Only the Avenger and the Zealot specializations add it as a class skill.  But, one of the vigilante's most useful abilities, renown, is keyed to it.  If you're going to key a general class ability to a skill, it ought to be a class skill.  On top of this, all but one of the vigilante's class powers are extraordinary abilities, meaning that magic will have few effects on the vigilante's ability to fully exercise his class skills at any time.

Also, for those into this sort of thing, the different vigilante specialization descriptions switch between male and female pronouns, which indicate that we could expect to see multiple iconics for the vigilante.  Or, maybe that's just an error since this is a playtest document.  It seems like much of the vigilante base class is really just a chassis which the specialization will fill in.  Even more than other chassis-style classes like the sorcerer, the vigilante really seems like a blank slate.  Or perhaps I should say blank slates--since a lot of the vigilante's powers are tied into whether he's in full-on vigilante mode or mild-mannered daytime social mode, it's almost like a study in multiple personality disorder from a fantasy RPG perspective.

Vigilante Class Powers
Dual Identity (Ex) (1st):  What good is a class with two identities if you can't keep them separate.  And the two identities are very different from each other.  Changing back and forth from one to another takes 5 minutes and must be done in secret.  And each identity really is separate.  If you attempt to scry on the vigilante's secret identity while he's doing his daytime thing, you get nothing.  Vice-versa for attempts to connect the day to the night.
Interestingly, each identity can have its own alignment, provided that both are within one step of each other.  This can be a challenge, because although you can take feats and class abilities based on one of the alignments, you can only use them when in the identity that qualifies for those abilities.  So, if you're a Zealot (divine caster inspired) vigilante with a nighttime lawful neutral identity that casts divine spells granted by LG Iomedae and a daytime true neutral identity, no divine spells for you during the day.  Some might see this as a challenge, others might see it as an interesting role-playing opportunity.

Social Grace (Ex) (1st, 2nd, 6th, 10th, 14th, 18th): You've got your dual identities, but don't want them getting connected.  A vigilante gets a +20 bonus to Disguise checks while in his social/daytime identity to appear merely as a member of polite society.  A word of caution: this does not work both ways.  There is NO corresponding ability not to have the nighttime identity linked back to the daytime identity, so be secretive and don't get caught taking the law into your own hands.
Also, at 2nd level and at every 4 levels thereafter, the vigilante picks a skill tied to a mental ability score.  The vigilante gets a +4 bonus on checks related to this skill when in his social/daytime identity only.

Vigilante Specialization (Ex) (1st): Each vigilante picks a specialization between avenger (warrior focused), stalker (roguish), warlock (arcane caster), and zealot (divine caster).  I'll cover those in more depth later.  But, one thing that I do like about this choice is that it opens up lots of space for more design.  There's space for new vigilante talents AND there's space for more specializations.  The specializations are more keyed to the nighttime/vigilante identity, but I'm digressing there.

Vigilante Talents (2nd): At 2nd level and every even level thereafter, a vigilante picks up talents related to his specialization.  To me this was something of a 50/50.  On the one hand, it's cool that the talents are tied into the specialization.  On the other, the vigilante has the opportunity to do a lot of interesting things with skills.  I'd have preferred that there be some universal vigilante talents that any vigilante can take.  I like this for two reasons.  First, it recognizes that there are some abilities that would be useful to any vigilante, regardless of specialization.  Second, universal talents go a long way to opening up future design space.  If Paizo or a 3rd party publisher wants to design a new vigilante specialization in the future, they are stuck designing everything in that specialization from the ground up.  With some universal talents, it'll be easier to fit a new vigilante specialization on a 1-2 page spread in a Player's Companion.

Renown (Ex) (3rd, 9th, 15th): The vigilante gains the power to go around town in his mild-mannered identity and talk up how scary his secret identity is.  At first this can only be done for a small area (village or neighborhood of up to 200 or so) but it grows over time.  The vigilante spends his time talking up his nighttime identity and word gets around: he gets a +4 bonus on Intimidate checks while in his nighttime identity.  At 9th level, the vigilante can influence a community up to 5,000 people large or two communities of up to 2,000 people.  The intimidate bonus increases to +6.  At 15th level, the population area increases to 25,000 (or two cities of up to 10K) and the Intimidate bonus increases to +8.
This is a cool ability, but it could be improved in a couple of ways.  First, Intimidate isn't a class skill for the vigilante.  The Avenger and Zealot specializations get it, but the Warlock and the Stalker don't.  This ability is too central to the vigilante's schtick not to be a class ability to everybody.  Secondly, the jumps are too big.  There are more gradiated settlement sizes and there's no reason not to expand this ability out to take advantage of all of them.

Startling Appearance (Ex) (5th): Okay, this is just awesome to conceptualize.  The vigilante is setting up an ambush and--wham!--the hammer of justice is falling on some malefectors.  If the vigilante makes an attack against a foe that's unaware of his presence, the foe is treated as flat-footed for the rest of the vigilante's turn.  But also, the foe takes a -4 penalty on attacks made against the vigilante until the start of the vigilante's next turn.  Basically, this gives the vigilante the opportunity to attack twice or to go up against some foes that might normally be able to hit him hard and take him out early.

Loyal Aid (Ex) (7th): What kind of a vigilante doesn't have a good support crew.  Now there are game mechanics to make this happen for you as vigilante.  Within the vigilante's area of renown, the vigilante gains a bonus on diplomacy checks to gather information equal to 1/2 his level.  So, that's starting off as a +3 and rising pretty quickly.  Once per week, the vigilante can also increase the DC of skill checks for others gathering information about him or trying to track him by his level.  So, if the vigilante controls when he'll be striking, he's going to be incredibly hard to follow back to his lair.  Similarly, if the vigilante knows someone will be looking for him, time to up that Diplomacy DC to figure out what the vigilante is up to!

Many Guises (Ex) (9th): Allows a third identity, John Q. 6-pack.  The vigilante appears as a generic person of his race; his alignment detects as neutral; and he ports over that +20 Disguise bonus to appear this way.  Assuming a decent Charisma score and a few ranks in Disguise, it's going to take about a 30+whatever the vigilante rolls on the d20 to figure out that he's not who he appears to be.  To whit, you ain't catching him.

Frightening Appearance (Ex) (11th): This stacks on top of Startling Appearance and improves it.  As a free action, the vigilante makes an Intimidate checks against his target and enemies within 10 feet to demoralize them.  Note that because of his Renown ability, the vigilante is getting a +6 bonus to that Intimidate check in addition to any skill ranks, class skill bonuses, ability score bonuses, and a d20 roll.  Chances are excellent that the demoralization will work and good that it'll extend its effects by beating the necessary DC by 5.

Quick Change (Ex) (13th): The vigilante can change identities as a full round action, but must make Disguise checks to stop those that know his other identity from making him.  On the other hand, using a whole minute means the change is made and nobody figures him out.

Stunning Appearance (Ex) (17th): It starts with appearance, so it must improve on the Startling and Frightening Appearance abilities, right?  You betcha!  And it stacks.  If the vigilante's appearance attack hits, the victim must make a Will save or be stunned until the end of the vigilante's next turn.

Everyman (Su) (19th): The vigilante can now appear to be specific random Joe Q. Six-Packs.  The vigilante gets the +20 Disguise bonus to be this rando person and a +10 bonus on Bluff checks to act like that person (remember bonuses if the vigilante knows the target of his impersonation).  The vigilante is even so good at this that spells and spell-like abilities designed to find that other individual find the vigilante in disguise instead 50% of the time.

Vengeance Strike (Ex) (20th): A vigilante can use up to 5 consecutive standard actions to study his target before striking from unawares.  For each round the vigilante spent in study, the vigilante gains the option to use following: +4 bonus on the attack roll, +3d6 precision damage, or treat the die roll as 2 higher for the purpose of threatening a critical hit.  (i.e., for each round in study the vigilante picks one and if the vigilante picks the same one twice, the effects stack.  Does that mean that 5 rounds of study can yield +15d6 damage?  Yes.  That's why this will likely be nerfed to +2d6 damage per round in study, but that's still pretty awesome).

Vigilante Specializations
Class Skills: Climb, Intimidate, Knowledge (dungeoneering), Ride, Survival, Swim
Base Ability: Full Base Attack Bonus
Selected Talent Options:
  • Armor Silence (Ex) & Armor Skin (Ex): Avengers that take these talents don't apply armor check penalties on Stealth (silence) or Acrobatics and Escape Artist (skin) skill checks when wearing light or medium armor. it me or is this an ability that rogues would love to have?  Why don't they get it?
  • Close the Gap (Ex): Designate one foe within 20' not adjacent to the vigilante.  That foe doesn't get attacks of opportunity against the vigilante so long as the vigilante ends his turn adjacent to the foe.
  • Environment Weapon (Ex): Choose a ranger favored terrain.  So long as there are moveable items around, can find an improvised weapon as a swift action and use it without penalties to attack rolls.
  • Favored Maneuver (Ex): Gain Improved [insert combat maneuver here] AND gain another +2 bonus on foes that are unaware of the vigilante when the vigilante uses the maneuver on them.
  • Fist of the Avenger (Ex): Gains Improved Unarmed Strike and does bonus damage of vigilante level divided by four.
  • Living Shield (Ex): When grappling an opponent and being attacked by another opponent, make a combat maneuver check against your grappled opponent.  If you succeed, opponent takes damage from the other opponent's attack.
  • Signature Weapon (Ex): Choose a type of weapon.  Gain Weapon Focus feat as a bonus feat.  At 8th level gain Weapon Specialization in that weapon.
  • Vital Punishment (Ex): Gain Vital Strike as a bonus feat.  Once per round when making attack of opportunity, apply Vital Strike to the attack.
Class Skills: Acrobatics, Appraise, Climb, Disable Device, Knowledge (engineering), Use Magic Device
Base Ability: Deal +1d6 extra damage against foes that are unaware of the vigilante's presence.  Increases by +1d6 every 2 levels.  Can also use it against foes that are aware of vigilante's presence when sneak attack would normally be in play, but the d6s are lowered to d4s.
Selected Talent Options:
  • Another Day (Ex, Su): When dropped unconscious because of hit point damage, automatically stabilize but appear to be dead.
  • Case the Joint (Ex): Spend one hour at a location while in social identity.  Make a DC Knowledge (engineering) check.  If you succeed, may reroll any one failed skill check related to that location (stealth, disable device, and sleight of hand are specifically called out).
  • Foe Collision* (Ex): When dealing hidden strike damage (base ability above), deal an equal amount of nonlethal damage to a foe adjacent to the enemy (even if not adjacent to you).
  • Leave an Opening* (Ex): At beginning of foe's next turn, if stalker vigilante threatens the foe stalker vigilante gets an attack of opportunity.
  • Mighty Ambush* (Ex): Successful hidden strike allows vigilante to drop damaged enemy unconscious for 1d4 rounds.  (Fort negates)
  • Perfect Fall (Ex): As long as there's at least a wall nearby, never suffer falling damage.  Even if no wall, suffer only half damage.  Always land on your feet.
  • Perfect Vulnerability (Ex): Make one attack per day against a foe's touch AC (denying Dexterity bonus).
  • Rooftop Infiltrator (Ex): Gain climb speed equal to half of normal speed.
  • Strike the Unseen (Ex): Gain Blind-Fight as bonus feat and make hidden strike damage against foes who are totally concealed.
  • Throat Jab* (Ex): Successful hidden strike on an opponent renders opponent unable to speak until vigilante's next turn.
  • Twisting Fear (Ex): Whenever vigilante imposes the shaken, frightened, or panicked conditions on an opponent, opponent also suffers extra non-lethal damage equal to half the vigilante's normal hidden strike damage.  This applies with the normal ability to apply shaken condition to enemies by demoralize them?
Class Skills: Fly, Knowledge (arcana), Knowledge (history), Knowledge (planes), Spellcraft, Use Magic Device
Base Ability: Ability to cast limited number of 1st level arcane spells.
Selected Talent Options:
  • Arcane Training II-VI: Available at the levels at which a warlock vigilante would become eligible to use a new level of spells, the warlock vigilante must use talents to gain spells of the higher level.
  • Arcane Striker (Su): Gain Arcane Strike as a bonus feat.  At 12th and 16th levels gain further effects normally tied to magic weapons that can be applied to the arcane strike.
  • Bombs (Su): Gain bombs like an alchemist.  Don't add intelligence to bomb damage because "don't possess the alchemist's thrown anything class feature."  So, if you take the Throw Anything feat, do you start adding Int damage to bombs?
  • Caster's Defense (Su): Gain Combat Casting as a bonus feat.  If successfully casts defensively, gain DR/magic equal to 1/2 vigilante level for one round.  At 10th level, the DR also gains an alignment component.
  • Educated Defense (Su): If successfully identify a spell using Spellcraft, use immediate action to negate the spell.  Can negate up to as many spell levels per day as the character has vigilante levels.
  • Elemental Battle Armor (Su): Gains resistance 5 to cold, electricity, or fire.  At 4th level, those attacking vigilante with natural weapon or non-reach handheld weapons take 1d6 points of that same energy every time they strike the vigilante.
  • Mystic Bolt (Sp): Gets a ray-like melee touch attack of elemental energy.  Using it doesn't provoke attacks of opportunity.  Can also be used as a ranged attack with a range increment of 30 feet.  Does 1d6+[vigilante's level] damage of energy damage.  Can take Weapon Focus for it, but must take Weapon Focus (mystic bolt) rather than Weapon Focus (ray).
  • Social Simulacrum (Sp): Create simulacrum (as per lesser simulacrum) that lasts up to 4 hours.
  • Tattoo Chamber (Su): Magically absorb some items via a tattoo.  Can retrieve the items with a swift action and can also trigger spell-like abilities of the items while stored as if the vigilante were wielding them.
Class Skills: Intimidate, Knowledge (nature), Knowledge (religion), Knowledge (planes), Spellcraft, Survival
Base Ability: Limited spellcasting ability of 0th and 1st level spells off of the inquisitor spell list.
Selected Talent Options:
  • Channel Energy (Su): Channel energy as a cleric of vigilante's level minus 4.
  • Divine Bastion (Su): Swift action to gain CMD bonus equal to 1/2 vigilante level.  At 5th level can grant bonus to allies adjacent to vigilante as well.  Can use as many times per day as the character has vigilante levels.  Comment: I'd feel like this ability was more balanced if the character had to expend extra uses for each other character that receives the CMD bonus.
  • Divine Training I-VI (Ex): First of all, this HAS to be a type.  This can't be an extraordinary ability, can it?  Anyway, gain ability to cast inquisitor level spells of higher levels as the vigilante achieves levels when those spells would normally be castable.
  • Domain: Gain one cleric domain's powers, though not it's bonus spells or spell slots.
  • Empower Symbol (Su): As standard action, empower holy symbol to act like center of consecration/desecration spell.  At 10th level, this just happens passively.
  • Life Bond (Ex): When ally within 30 feet takes damage, vigilante can instead take half of that damage.  Useable once plus vigilante's Charisma bonus times per day.
  • Revivifying Touch (Su): Once per day can use to heal an ally that died within one round.  Touch heals 5d8+[one point per vigilante level] and brings that person back from the dead if healing sufficient to bring back to life.
  • Stalwart (Ex): If vigilante succeeds at a Fortitude or Will saving throw, the vigilante avoids all effects of whatever caused the saving throw.  Basically this is improved uncanny dodge for the other two types of the same time.
In general, I don't think I like this class very much.  First of all, it just doesn't feel particularly coherent.  Rather than discrete classes, these just seem like abilities that could be layered onto the fighter, cleric, wizard/sorcerer, and rogue class to let them be dual-identity heroes.  One on hand, it has a lot of abilities that I find to be a little bit overpowered.  On the other, they don't all fit together very well.  In general I find the class disorganized and lacking coherence--for players at least.  I find that this class is fantastic for villains!  Villains need some of these abilities to get past things like alignment detection and Sense Motive checks.  Not all villains of course, but certainly the main villain mastermind that orchestrating everything.  What fun is it if the villain can't overcome that.  So, I think that I might grant some bonus levels in vigilante to villains.

But for players, this just doesn't seem like a well-organized class.  I have high hopes for Ultimate Intrigue.  My plans for running an entire Kaer Maga campaign hinge on giving players the ability to do a lot more with skill checks.  (Okay, actually, they really just hinge on convincing the PCs that there will be ramifications if they kill humanoids or other civilized creatures, but I still have high hopes for Ultimate Intrigue).  What I'm seeing about this class doesn't fulfill those hopes.  I'm used to better class designs out of Paizo.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Blue Rose Kickstarter Launches

Green Ronin's Blue Rose Kickstarter has launched.  First launched in 2005, Blue Rose has always focused more on romantic fantasy and has always been GLBT-friendly--which has had some mixed reception.  The Kickstarted launched earlier this week.  Green Ronin will be using its Adventure Game Engine (AGE) system for mechanics.

I haven't made a decision about whether to back or not yet.  On the one hand, I want to back something inclusive.  On the other, I've got a lot of setting books and already have dropped significant funds on Kickstarters this year.  I will likely star this one and make a game-time decision with 48 hours left.  It's already funded, so I don't feel like I'm holding them back.  Anybody have thoughts on this thing?

In addition to the setting and mechanics themselves, there are some cool stretch goals.  Here are a few of my favorites:

  • $22,500: Designer Crystal Frasier will detail the laeyvel, embodied souls beyond the more common expressions of male and female in Aldea.
  • $27,500: Designer Jeb Boyt will write a series framework called A Game of Thorns and detail the Pirate Isles.  
  • $33,000: Designer F. Wesley Schneider will write the Orchard of Tears micro setting.
  • $50,000: The setting book goes hardcover.
Crystal Frasier and F. Wesley Schneider are two of my favorite Paizo staffers and have good perspective on making products GLBT-friendly, being GLBT themselves.  I don't know much about Jeb Boyt, but I love all things involving pirates.  And a hardcover is obvious why it's good!

Green Ronin is also promoting the return of Blue Rose with a T-shirt design contest.  Those want to help design artwork that demonstrates "Blue Rose RPG’s world & theme of diversity and inclusion" and invited to do so before July 18.  (Actually, the official rules say the contest runs from June 18-July 18 but that entries must be submitted before June 18, but this seems like a typo).  Winner gets a copy of their shirt and a free copy of the RPG book.  Second and third places get their choice of a free shirt (winner's design, not theirs) or the RPG book.

EDIT: I'm told that winner of the t-shirt design contest also gets a cash prize of $300!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

One more GenCon GLBT Event

I've missed a GLBT event for the GenCon schedule.  Greg's, and Indy gay bar, is hosting a GenCon Appreciation BBQ & Gay Gaymer Meetup.  Unconfirmed rumors also say that a GenCon badge gets you in to Greg's cover-free on Friday evening.

When: Saturday, August 1, 6:00p.m.
Where: Greg's Indy, 231 E 16th St
Why: Because they love us and are giving us free things!

All the details (from Greg's):
During the RFRA debacle earlier this year, we were proud to see GEN CON take a stand supporting the GAY COMMUNITY.

As a way to say THANK YOU Gen Con - and encourage any GAYMERS and all our FRIENDS at GENCON to be united once more for FREE BURGERS, HOTDOGS, COLESLAW, COOKIES, VEGGIES, and CHIPS at our first annual GEN CON APPRECIATION BBQ & GAY GAYMER MEETUP.

As our door now states after the passage of RFRA: "WE PROUDLY SERVE EVERYONE" and welcome any, and all GAMERS visiting our fine city this weekend to come enjoy our grilled tastiness,affordable cocktails, and other people who have a flare for dressing up in costume when its not Halloween.

Food to be served from 6:00PM to 7:30PM, or until its gone. 

GREGS is located on 16th street (1.6 miles north of Monument Circle) and Alabama (3 blocks east of MERIDIAN). We encourage GAMERS to ride together and use UBER ($5 each way)

Monday, June 22, 2015

Invoking IP: What is it with the OGL?

All of the usual disclaimers about my being a law student rather than a lawyer apply.  If you're reading this post after I've passed the bar, I'm not YOUR lawyer, so it doesn't matter anyway.  Consider this an inquiry into a question rather than definitive legal advice.  If you want legal advice, call someone who can give it (including me--AFTER I've passed the bar), but don't roll into a courtroom claiming that the article below is in any way definitive--it's not.

I followed a post on Bat in the Attic back to an earlier post on Tenkar's Tavern where they were talking about gaming products.  Apparently, someone created a one page dungeon/adventure design contest, someone dropped a trademark they shouldn't have on it, and all hell broke loose.  I can't say that I 100% endorse either blogger's views, but here's a few portions of Tenkar's post that I do agree with:

  • Mocking the OGL while displaying a compatibility logo isn't just poor taste - it's asinine.
  • Compatibility logos and licenses. You get to use someone's trademark on your product. It's awesome until you fuck with it. Why are you fucking with it? Sure, this is the internet and we are all to some extent attention whores, but why piss on someone else's work that you are making a claim to appreciate?
  • If you're not sure it's fair use, assume it isn't.
In response to this, Bat in the Attic decided to pen what's actually a pretty decent article about complying with the OGL.  The Bat hits the highlights of the distinction between the Open Gaming License and Creative Commons--to whit that one is an all or nothing proposition (not 100% true with the multiple CC versions available, but we'll let that slide) and the other allows for the protection of some content but not all content.

I continue to contend that the OGL and all its successors are a fantastic piece of legal chicanery.  This comes from two fairly well settled pieces of law.  First, it's well accepted that games and their rules are not subject to copyright.  It's also well settled that the "sweat of the brow" theory (I worked hard for this, so I must have a copyright) is a legal non-starter.  That means that if there is a true copyright for tabletop roleplaying games, it must come from a different source.  One theory could be that the "rules" to an RPG are somehow different from the rules of other games like Monopoly or Spades.  Another possibility would be that the game rule materials are so intrinsically tied in to trademarkable product identity and copyrightable elements in RPGs pre-cooked settings that the copyright must extend to them.  

A third possibility is that the rules of an RPG extend so far beyond what's historically considered rules for a "game," that they should somehow be afforded greater protection.  This theory cuts both ways.  One on hand, the protection would be created based upon the RPGs technical complexity.  But, that's not the province of copyright law.  That's the province of patent law, which requires that anything patented be "novel."  This means that while the RPG might have been eligible for a patent when Dungeons and Dragons was first conceptualized forty years ago, the fact that it was never patented means that the "invention" spilled into the public domain anyway.

I have a fourth possibility, built out of cynicism: RPGs are assumed to have a level of copyright (by the public) because there are big (okay moderately sized) game companies out there that have legal departments and outside counsel that are willing to file lawsuits to bury anyone that wants to contend otherwise.  Under this theory, RPGs as games still lack copyright protection but no one with the legal muscle to fight back has cared to.  (In case reps of any large game producers are reading this, I don't have any desire to do so either).

This is where the OGL and its successor agreements come in and why they are so genius.  The OGL bills itself as a license, but really it's a contract.  Contracts are just private laws.  When you contract with someone, you create private law between the two of them.  You make an agreement to do something (or, sometimes to refrain from doing something) in exchange with the other party's promise to do something.  Once a contract is accepted, it becomes binding, aka it is the law for everyone that's a party to the contract.  Questions about how that gets applied?  Take a look at the OGL:
3.Offer and Acceptance: By Using the Open Game Content You indicate Your acceptance of the terms of this License.
Say someone offers me $100 to paint my house blue.  I take the $100 dollars.  At this point in time, I have a legal obligation to paint my house blue.  Or, maybe the contract is to pay me $100 to only paint my house with a particular brand of paint.  I'm now locked into using that type of paint.  Licensing agreements work the same way, only with copyright things get a little more interesting because there are large criminal and civil penalties prescribed in 17 U.S.C.  

That's what makes the OGL so fascinating.  It's a licensing agreement whereby the producer of the game says, "I'll let you make material related to my game, but you can only do so under a specific set of circumstances.  Oh, and by the way, you have to agree that previous "owners" of the game rules have a copyright (which would make challenging the copyright at a later date difficult, to say the least):
6.Notice of License Copyright: You must update the COPYRIGHT NOTICE portion of this License to include the exact text of the COPYRIGHT NOTICE of any Open Game Content You are copying, modifying or distributing, and You must add the title, the copyright date, and the copyright holder's name to the COPYRIGHT NOTICE of any original Open Game Content you Distribute.
 Now, it matters a lot less whether or not the game manufacturers hold a valid copyright or not.  Maybe they do, maybe they don't.  But, you've sat down and agreed that you won't challenge their copyright as part of a contract.  Contracts allow people to waive their rights all the time and that's exactly what's happening here.

So, to bring it back to gaming terms, the copyright status of RPGs are a little bit like gods in the Forgotten Realms.  In and of themselves, they lack power.  But, once enough people believe in them (by producing 3rd party products or just buying into the idea of the license's power), they grow in power and can influence you.  And, once you've given them that power, you've given it to them and there's little you can do about it.

To whom does this apply?  Well, if you've purchased physical RPG books, you aren't bound.  Even if you've bought PDFs from websites, you're likely not bound.  Even if the website made tacit agreement to honor the terms of the OGL and/or successor licenses are part of its terms, it likely wouldn't hold up--that's not the kind of right you can waive in small print.  But, what if you are an adventurer developer in one of these OGL systems or a game designer that wants to model some mechanics?

You're in trouble if you've produced anything and put the OGL or successor agreements on the product.  Because that implies that you bought into the contract and accepted it--see Section 3 of the OGL above.  If you've done that--especially in a commercial product--a court is likely to assume that you either knew what you were doing or that you should have known what you were doing.

What's an aspiring adventure writer to do?  Well, my personal advice is to keep the behemoth off of your back by just signing the damn thing and agreeing to its terms.  Paizo themselves are proof that even with a monolithic opponent that you can keep to the OGL's terms and still make good money.  (They are also, coincidentally, excellent proof in the conspiracy part of my theory.  Even if WotC wanted to challenge Paizo at this point in time, Paizo's likely defense would be to challenge the OGL writ large and if it fell it could become non-binding on everyone that's signed it.  That's also bad business for Paizo at this point, so a lawsuit between the two is unlikely to happen.)  If you've never signed anything, you're probably good to go, but don't be surprised when one of the big guys' lawyers comes knocking once you've had a little bit of success.

All OGL material referenced from:; copyright to the text of the contract (WTF?) claimed by WotC.
Some caveats: This article examined the OGL and its successors from a copyright perspective.  While copyrights in games might be on shaky grounds, the inviolability of their trademarks stands on strong firmament.  So, if you decide to take a "no copyright in games" scorched earth approach, be very clear in differentiating what is a game's rules content and what is original, creative thought.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Breaking: Playtest for new Pathfinder Class the Vigilante

BREAKING:  No--I'm not Paizo and I'm not Pathfinder, but I do love them both!  Paizo's opened up the playtest for the class that will be coming out in its new Ultimate Intrigue in 2016.  Visit the site to check out the class.  I'll be doing the same and letting you know thoughts once I've had a chance to check it out.

Gayming in Greendale -- Community Campaigning

So, I play RPGs.  But, my roommate doesn't.  Once, when my college roommate was visiting, we got her to play a game of Fiasco.  She was fantastic, taking on the role of a Swedish research scientist at an Antarctic research station.  But, from time to time, she'll ask about something in an RPG even if she's not interested in playing.

Lately, we've watched a lot of Community together.  There are two fantastic episodes of Community (called "Advanced Dungeons & Dragons" and "Advanced Advanced Dungeons & Dragons") where the gang actually plays an RPG.  On the show they claim it's D&D, but it's a highly modified version more suitable to TV.  The theory behind it isn't changed, it's just that the DM does all of the rolling.  I can get behind the idea of having the players do all the rolling (thank you Monte Cook Games and the Cypher System!), but making the GM do it is just one more burden when your GM could be doing something to make the game more interesting.

But, I'm digressing.  This weekend, I hit on an idea to introduce my sweet roommate to the RPG world.  I built a fantasy world based on the tropes in Community.  This is not the world that Abed creates for his games in the show.  Rather, this is a game that utilizes the tropes from Community to build something totally new (or, as we'd say in the world of copyright, an unauthorized derivative work).

One of the most difficult parts about campaign settings is getting into them.  If it's homebrewed, the GM knows everything and the players have no frame of reference and that's a lot to learn.  Ditto for other campaign settings.  I love Paizo's Golarion setting and dutifully subscribe to the Campaign Setting line as well as devouring gazetteer articles in Adventure Paths.  Most people don't.  Golarion is a tough setting to get into.  Ditto the Forgotten Realms, Dragonlance, Greyhawk, the 9th World, and any other setting you can think of.

Shadowrun might be able to overcome this problem since it's setting is based on the modern world.  Unfortunately, Shadowrun's gameplay is so totally opaque that I have no way to evaluate this statement.  In fact, I'm attending a two-hour GenCon session that's just about creating Shadowrun characters.  There's no adventure--just character creation.  Maybe.  Just maybe, after I get back I will have an idea about how Shadowrun is supposed to go down.

So, a campaign setting is probably best if it's accessible.  One way to do this is to create it from the ground up.  The GM doesn't know anything more about the setting than the players do because the GM hasn't invented anything yet.  Have a player that wants to be a cleric?  Okay, pick a couple of domains and tell me about the god(dess) you worship.  Is there a cobbler in town?  Hmm...okay, sure.  Her name is Shawna Tumbletights and she's an ancient gnome who's warding off the Bleaching by investigating all forms of footwear.  She'll provide you a discount on a pair of shoes created custom for your feet if she can investigate your strange bunion...

But, worlds built from the ground up fall easily to internal discontinuity.  What if you need the Vermin domain to be the sole province of the evil insect god and your player already picked it as part of her worship of the goddess of music, who happens to be incarnate as a giant cricket?  Well, you either have to take something away from the PC (never a good idea) or be SOL.

I won't dwell on the problems of playing in a setting familiar to just about everyone, like Middle Earth because we've all hung out with that one guy that can recite the entire Silmarillion.  So, back to Community.  This seems like a great compromise.  My roommate's already familiar with the show's tropes, so it's accessible to her.  There will be some changes, of course, but she should get the general concepts.  Greendale is a good place.  The Pala-Dean is a good guy.  The Greendale Seven are good guys.  Commander Chang is a bad guy.  Etc.  Etc.

I shared the one-page Google doc with her last night.  Thus far the only comment is that the Pala-Dean sounds a little bit like Paula Dean--which only goes to show you why accepting feedback is important.  Anyway, I thought it would be fun to share the one-pager with y'all as well.  Since my family is visiting this weekend, I'll plan on posting the stats for a few of the characters, including Dingleberry the Troll(kin) on Monday.

Harken close to hear the tale of Greendale...

latestOnce upon a time, in the Aumverg region of the Idlemann River Basin, the bucolic Kingdom of Greendale flourished under the rule of King Greendale, the Human Being.  The king was advised by Baron Carl Bladt of Rusty Bucket Manor; Duke Richie Countee, an overweight alcoholic who believed he could read others’ minds; and Benjamin Chang, known today as the Betrayer.  After consultation with his council, King Greendale directed the Pala-dean, a holy warrior dedicated to love, education, and fabulous costumes; to enact his will.  The Pala-dean was assisted by great champions, known collectively as the Greendale Seven.

But all was not well in the kingdom.  Chang played to the fears of the little people within the kingdom; the dwarves, the halflings, and--especially--the gnomes.  In secret he recruited them to his cause.  Chang made common cause with a band of wizards that operated a bakery.  The wizards wanted to corner Greendale’s grain market.  The wizards carved secret passages beneath the city of Greendale.  When the time came to strike, his Changlorious Bastards attacked through these tunnels, known as the Subway.  

Chang coopted Baron Bladt and Duke Countee.  They sent the Pala-Dean to challenge the dread dragon, Draconis.  With the Pala-Dean distracted, there was no one to protect the king when Chang struck.  By the time the Pala-Dean realized Chang’s plan, the deed was done.  The Pala-Dean returned to Greendale, making haste to the castle.  Fighting through Chang’s midgets, the Pala-Dean entered the inner keep.  He exited an hour later, spurring his horse to the east.  None have seen him since.

The Greendale Seven attempted to free the king, but were repelled by Chang’s men.  Early on, Chang was successful in framing them for the coup.  By the time the truth came to light, the Greendale Seven were scattered and unable to form effective resistance.  Shirley the Cloying, ever an enemy to the wizard bakers, fled south to New Fluffytown.  Troy the Obtuse and Abed the Undiagnosable vanished.  Only Britta the Needlessy Defiant attempted to organize resistance, but none rallied to her cause.

Today Chang imposes arbitrary law and rules with an iron fist.  Chang keeps Baron Bladt and Duke Countee loyal by plying them with alcohol and women.  Anyone who speaks out against Chang is jailed as are any even suspected of defying Commander Chang’s authority.  Just last night, you were imprisoned.  Perhaps you were taken by surprise, perhaps the guards tricked you into coming in for questioning, perhaps they threatened your family.  Now you sit in a cell among other suspected traitors, awaiting what passes for justice in this Chang-blasted country.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Gay in Gaming Cons

For now, I want to talk about the gaymer movement in conventions.  The most visible of these is the group that operates the Tabletop Gaymers website.  They're the ones responsible for all of the rainbow Gaymer and Ally ribbons you see at GenCon every year.  This year they're doing it again, but with a twist.  At first they planned to fund the ribbons through a GoFundMe (disclaimer: I donated), but later the makers of Cards Against Humanity agreed to spring for paying for all of them (or here, for those without group access), leaving more funds to go to other conventions and to be pledged to help end LGBT youth homelessness.  For those of you that don't know, LGBTs make up a hugely disproportionate share of America's homeless youth.

The Tabletop Gaymers have put together a bevy of awesome events this year and I want to make sure that you know about them!  There are social events for meeting up on Thursday evening and Friday lunchtime and evening.  There are several seminars including Diversity in Gaming Culture, Gaymers, Diversity in Gaming panels by GenCon and by Paizo, the ever-popular Queer as a 3-sided die (sold out), and How to Make Gaming More Inclusive.  Of course, don't forget the Saturday night party event at Talbot Street.  This thing starts at 9PM and is definitely NOT sold out.  So pick up some tickets for only $22 (includes entrance and shuttle to/from downtown).

I also want to talk about another seminar that's already happened.  At PaizoCon back in May, Paizo's staff presented a seminar about diversity in Pathfinder.  There are some really good points here and I like the candor with which Paizo's staff deals with this issue.  To whit:
1) They admit that diversity is something that everyone needs to constantly strive for;
2) They admit that there are some areas where they feel like they have made strides (GLBT, gender) but there are others where they face real challenges (primarily racial diversity);
3) They admit that they need to improve on all fronts, even the ones where they have made progress; and
4) An audience member asks about diversity and incorporating characters with physical disabilities such as blindness.  This was among the best discussions about how the company could bring discussion of this topic into the game--both as an accessibility issue for reading sourcebooks but also as presenting characters like that in their materials.  Great job!

I was going to round this post out with a reference to FlameCon, which just concluded in Brooklyn.  But, I've used up a lot of space already so check out pictures on

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Eidolons Review, 13th Age Monthly (May 2015)

This is my second post attempting to write a review about this issue of 13th Age Monthly.  My first post ("What the *@$# is an Eidolon?") turned into a long investigation into what, exactly, an eidolon is.  Short answer: I was not able to answer this question but did come up with some interesting content involving binding spirits to ships to make them sail better, metaphorical places that tautologically cannot be visited, and an Adventure Path outline that involves stealing an artifact that binds spirits to ships so that your nation can get advantage and ultimately prevail in a naval war.  Good stuff.

Now let's talk about Eidolons, Ash Law's May 2015 offering in the 13th Age Monthly product line.  I've previously indicated that I really like this line and this is no exception.  All of the supplements are 8 page PDFs that investigate something interesting that could be expanded onto a 13th Age game.  In this case, it's eidolons.  This guide has roughly 5 full pages of text, one full page art cover, one page credits and OGL, and two quarter page pieces of art.

What is a &$^# Eidolon, anyway?
Nope.  Not falling into that trap again.  Ash has already answered the question for us, "Eidolons are powerful spirits [that embody] a specific concept...such as honor, love, imagination, fear, destruction, despair, temptation, [or] remorse."  Eidolons appear like they work well as a great piece of deus ex machina that has some in-world ramifications and can therefore provide PCs with a level of agency over a situation they might not normally.  Ash starts off by answering a few questions about eidolons for us like what do they look like, how do they get here (two theories, both with good options), what does their spirit status mean, and how can they change?  

This first page section was really helpful, but I did find one drawback--it's unclear whether an eidolon appears the same way to everyone that's seeing it at the same time or if it takes a different appearance in the mind of every person that sees it.  Because some of the language later on implies that our minds make substitutions for what we see in place of what some eidolons look like, it would be cool to know if this is something that our minds do (every individual has own unique vision of what an eidolon is like) or something that the eidolon controls (everyone sees the eidolon as it wishes to be seen).

Next we get some unique abilities that will apply to all of the eidolons listed.  Think of these as the generic bestiary page you get for a group of related monsters.  The abilities are listed here so they can save space printing them on every creature's entry.  What are they?

Universal Eidolon Abilities (and a new sub-system!)
First, eidolons can't die.  Instead, they get an ability that when they drop to 0 hit points, they discorporate.  I love everything about this except the missed opportunity to use the phrase deliquesce into ectoplasmic vapor.  And, get this, there is no way to permanently kill them.  So, these kids are firmly in the GM plot device camp.  Players may mess with them, but they are going to return.
Additionally, as a free action each round (and keep note of this, because these abilities are insanely powerful), an eidolon has a few options:

  • Split Reality: Every character rolls a d4.  Only PCs who rolled the same number on their d4 roll can interact with each other.  The eidolon interacts with all the realities, but it can assign its allies to realities of its choice.
  • Warp Time: The eidolon either just switches two people's place in the initiative order or rolls the escalation die.  The eidolon's result becomes the new escalation die.
  • Reshuffle space: I love this option.  At its simplest, it's just reposition two people on the battlefield.  But, if you are going full-on miniatures its much more fun.  Basically, do the following:
    • Pick up all the minis
    • Shake them up
    • Drop them randomly on the battlemat
    • Go from there
Still not enough for you?  There's more!  There's a new Madness subsystem.  It's got both general applicability and eidolon-specific application (this is a guide to the eidolons, after all).  To be eidolon-specific, madness is tripped during attack rolls against an eidolon.  For general applicability, any d20 roll will do.  If they roll "equal or less than their Intelligence ability, they gain an insanity point."
Pet peeve here:  Do they roll against their ability modifier or their ability score?  That's a huge difference and can have some pretty big effects.  Either way, it does have one interesting solution as well--it means that the higher your character's Intelligence score (since the modifier is derived from the score), the more susceptible the character is to insanity.  That's right.  The smarter you are, the more easily you go insane.  Which, from what we see in some literature, might well be accurate to the way things go in the real world.
But, what happens with these insanity points?  Well, once every full heal-up, you roll a simple save and lose one point on a success.  Otherwise, insanity points can accrue and cool stuff happens as they do.  Characters pick up backgrounds, gain phobias, and possibly die.  For instantaneous death, "Resurrection has a 50% chance of bringing you back somehow 'wrong.'"  I love this as the seed for a campaign.  All of the characters were brought back from the dead after going insane fighting [insert BBEG here].  Part of their condition means that they have no memory of their past.  But, they're also "wrong" in another way, which can be their unique thing or not as they choose.  PC that makes up the best "wrong" option gets an extra skill point!

Stat Blockbusters
First, eidolons are the first of an entirely new creature type: the spirit.  Unlike most 13th Age Monthly content, which is self-contained, the spirit will become a regular part of the game.  Pelgrane indicates in a side-box that we should expect to see more spirits in upcoming Glorantha and Battles Scenes books.  The spirit looks pretty interesting, so I'm cool with this.
There are also four stat blocks for eidolons.  There's a 1st level troop, a 3rd level troop, a 4th level troop, and a 6th level troop.  Remember that eidolons can take any form that they like at any time, so all four stat blocks could conceivably be the same eidolon.  In fact, in my PCs came back wrong game, I'd want to design the eidolon bad guy in just this way.  The PCs would encounter her in her various forms (human appearing, attached/possessing another human, and one of the more spirit/outsider-y forms).  But, I wouldn't want to use the eidolon more than 2-3 times because an enemy that can never be killed undermines the ability to have a conclusion to the story.

Icon Relationships
Ash has given us information tying the Archmage, the Diabolist, the Elf Queen, the Great Gold Wyrm, and the Priestess to the eidolons.  The Elf Queen and the Priestess' relationships are particularly good.  There's also advice on how allied, neutral, or opposing eidolons name themselves (they are related to concepts, remember?  We haven't heard a lot of that along the way, because the concept controls have the eidolon acts, not its mechanics).  
There's a suggestion that learning an eidolon's true name gives control over it.  This is cool.  There's countless examples in literature and folklore where knowing something's true name gives control over it.  Since eidolons here are basically concepts' souls, it's neat that this works (note: gives control over the eidolon, not the concept itself.  Learning the Love eidolon's true name does not grant the PCs control over all love, at least not as written!)
Here are some suggestions for some of the other Icons (generic Archmage engine SRD terms used).  Anyone have other ideas?
  • The Blood Knight: Every time a hellhole is destroyed, eidola of rage appear all over the Empire.  But do they want to return the hellhole to its former condition or do they have something more sinister in mind?
  • The Longbeard Thrane: Products from the subterranean world haven't been moving in trade in the last few months.  Rumors are that a spirit dedicated to greed has the Longbeard Thrane's ear and all valuables are being hoarded beneath the earth.
  • The Deathless One: turns out the undead can't be affected (or affect) eidolons.  The Deathless One claims to know why.  But what will he do with this knowledge?

Blessings, Curses, and Flavor
Eidolons can bestow blessings and curses.  They can also bestow some mixes.  My favorite of which is the Runemarked Blessing.  The rune is on the PC's forehead and once per battle a PC can use it as a free action to treat one item being wielded as if it had a tier-appropriate rune on it.  
The book suggests that the rune normally looks like a faded burn or old scar when inactive, but that it lights up clearly when used.  I want to take this a few steps further.  My memory-lost PCs wake up and have come back "wrong."  They also all wake up with the rune on their forehead.  And the rune means something.  And having it on your head can get you in trouble with some and grant you aid from others.  When the PCs start, the rune's only clear when it's being used.  But, as the rune is used more and more often, it becomes clearer and clearer even when it's not in use.  I like this campaign idea, but this could also be a fun present for a PC that rolls a 5 on their Icon Relationship roll at the beginning of a session.
Finally, Ash suggests some flavor eidolons and how they might work as plot hooks.  There are bliss, exploit, fated, herald (whose plot plan dovetails nicely with the runemarked gig above), integrity, motley, and quietude.  Queitude is the ultimate toy for helping parties learn that there are role-playing solutions and that not everything can or should be settled with a sword.

Final Analysis
At the end of the day, I really like this!  13th Age Monthly has been an up and down product, but this month's release is definitely on the upside of the swing.  I really like the art and I really like the concept.  8 short pages have inspired the basics for a campaign as well.  Now, if I only had the time to actually run the damned thing!  This may be the best piece in the series.  If you like 13th Age, this is a good buy!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Legendary Planet Adventure Path

It's no secret that I'm a fan of Legendary Games or that I'm a fan of Kickstarters.  What I'm really excited about is Legendary Games' new Adventure Path, Legendary Planets!  They are planning 7 linked adventures that take characters across space (and time, even if it's only forward) in a space and swords craziness in either 5th edition or Pathfinder rules.  Best of all, they are going to make lots of use of all the ridiculous Pathfinder Mythic stuff they've been working on for the last couple of years!  Since the last of these was a well-funded and well-executed Kickstarter to fund Mythic expansions for every feat, spell, and monster in the game...I'm looking forward to them getting to use their proven track record to make some awesome stuff!

Don't just take my word for it.  Visit the page or watch the video:

As of today, just the second day of the Kickstarter, they're already funded for 3 (really 4) of the books.  Here's a quick rundown of titles and authors to whet your whistle:

The Assimilation Strain by Tom Phillips and Neil Spicer
40 pages long for a party of 1st level adventurers
Already written and run a few times at PaizoCon by the Legendary Games team.
Presumably it's introducing the PCs to space.
Neil Spicer wrote the first installment in Paizo's Iron Gods Adventure Path.  It was an excellent introduction to technology for fantasy RPG characters and this promises to be a good next step.

To Worlds Unknown by Jim Groves
Jim Groves is all over the Paizo boards as a poster and all over Pathfinder products as an author.  I've enjoyed everything he did, including the opening adventure in the Mummy's Mask Adventure Path.  Since The Assimilation Strain is supposed to be a sort of pre-quel to the space adventure, Legendary Games has done something smart by placing another good AP-opening author on their official first adventure.
It's already 96 pages long (64 adventure, 10 Bestiary, 10 page planetary gazetteer, and 12 pages TBD) because of stretch goals.
This one is designed to cover levels 2 through 5.

The Scavenged Codex by Mike Shel
Another experienced adventure writer is jumping on board here.  This one has also funded to be a 96-pager (same format for all modules).  It will cover levels 5-8.

The Dead Vault Descent by Matt Goodall
Another experienced hand.  This third adventure has also funded at the 96-page level.  So, if nothing else, we can expect to get three amazing adventures post haste.  The Legendary team has promised to finish the AP even if their Kickstarter stretch goals for doing so aren't all will just take them much longer to do so.  This adventure covers levels 8-11.

The Dead Vault Descent is the most recently funded item thus far.  From here on out, the formula works as follows:
+ $2,000 beyond last book: New book written at 64 pages
+ $2,000 more: 10 page Bestiary is added
+ $2,000 more: 10 page planetary gazetteer is added
+ $2,000 more: 12 more pages bonus content for 96 pages total

+2,000 more: another book is opened and the process starts again.

The rest of the series is:
Confederates of the Shattered Zone by Richard Pett for 11th to 14th level player characters.
The Depths of Desperation by Steven T. Helt for 14th to 17th level player characters.
Mind Tyrants of the Merciless Moons by Tim Hitchcock for 17th to 19th level player characters.
To Kill A Star by Jason Nelson for 19th to 20th level player characters.

What more could you ask for?  Maybe all of them bound together in a single hardback book?  Well, that's happening.  Plus, as more people sign on, more content gets created.  Jason's being coy on the boards, but it's pretty clear that one of these sharing or people joining on goals will be a free player's guide.  So get out there and get signed up!

What's an Eidolon?

This post started off as a review of Ash Law's article Eidolons for 13th Age Monthly. Since then it's expanded into much more, though I still intend to give my thoughts about Ash's article. The article expanded because as I was printing Eidolons, I wondered, "What exactly is an eidolon, anyway?" And so my research began. Fortunately, I was researching for a blog post instead of a scholarly article, so it was more important that my quest yielded ideas than that it be comprehensive. In fact, it need not even be correct, though I believe that it is.
For a completely unsurprising first step, I visited the Wikipedia page on eidolons. The term comes from a Greek word meaning image, idol, double, apparition, phantom, or ghost. Specifically, in Greek history it was the visible but incorporeal spirit of a person, either living or dead.
Eidola (the other plural) exist both for the living and the dead. In fact, they seem to be very akin to souls. Wikipedia gives a great bit contrasting the eidolon as housing a person's psyche after death (Homer) against the eidolon as a vessel for kleos, an individual's honor or glory. Kleos did not decay, so it was the best type of fame. It also passed down to children, both actual ones and your ideas and inventions.  Since the ancient Greeks believed that a man's spirit lived on through his reputation and his mark on history, the two ideas aren't mutually exclusive.
Symbol of the Theosophical Society
The Theosophists believed the eidolon was a person's astral body. This fits in nicely with the Greek concepts but by extension means that the body couldn't be active while the eidolon was away. That seems to clash with the idea of Helen of Troy's eidolon being in Troy while she was physically living in Egypt the whole time. (I'm going to ask y'all to rely on Wikipedia here.  I do not have time to read The Odyssey and The Iliad to double check this.) From a game perspective, I like both the idea of the separate spirit and the person's consciousness being active while the consciousness is also active in the physical body. It makes for better stories. So the eidolon is kind of like the you that you are when you are having a daydream.
But there is so much more! I'll spare you a list of all the eidolon references from the Wikipedia post, but there are several in literature as well as games. In Pathfinder, Wikipedia refers to the eidolon as "a golem-like animated statue brought to life by a shard of divine energy."  I'm no fan of Pathfinder's summoner class, but this doesn't sound like the original or the unchained version to me.  
H.D.'s Papers hosted by Beinecke Library.
Hosted on flickr.
I said that I wasn't going to list all the literary and historical mentions of eidola, but I would like to discuss a couple of them. First, H.D.'s (Hilda Doolittle, who apparently went by her initials but also needs to be identified in full so effectively is just double mentioned all the time) epic poem has a section called Eidolon. The poem is Helen in Egypt. My tablet's listing it as 91 pages long, so I only read Book III, Section 4, which is called Eidolon.
It's about the figurehead on Achilles' ship, which was carved in the form of a mermaid to represent his mother, Thetis. H.D. asks:
had she been cut from an awkward block
of ship-wood at the ship-builders,
and afterwards riveted there
 or had the prow itself been shaped 
to her mermaid body,
This can be interpreted as the eidolon spirit being somehow separate from the ship. One interpretation is that the eidolon was "riveted" to the vessel as a final piece of ornamentation. But, another, cooler interpretation is that the spirit was somehow placed/trapped in the piece of wood that would become the boat's figurehead and that the ship was built up and around it. Imagine if all ships came with a bound spirit? What would that spirit be like? Would it be a bound person or mermaid or a portion of a greater idea--like a portion of the spirit of the ocean or of a forest or of a country from whence the wood was cut. Maybe building a ship is an evil act and the figureheads take on the form of dryads that are bound to the wood. If the god of sailors/sea travel/the ocean is evil, this is a great way to incentivize land travel. Sea travel might be fast, but it's unsafe. Or, if it's safe, it's only through the use of the bound dryad spirits, so merely traveling by ship is an evil act.
Thetis.  (c) 2008-2015 by Quicksilverfury
Hosted at 
After speaking to the mermaids form, H.D. asks, "Did anyone touch her ever?" Touch is being used here in a metaphorical sense, but it's still open to ambiguity. If touch is being used to indicate sexual intercourse, it implies that the spirit imprisoned must come from a virgin. That's all fine and good for vampires and traditional hero stories but I don't think that's how H.D. is using touch here. Instead, it makes sense if touch refers to establishing a sympathetic emotional response, as in "Her story touched my heart." Thetis, who the mermaid is carved to resemble, was an ocean goddess. The ocean is often portrayed as being uncaring.
But maybe the ocean can learn to care. From a benevolent perspective, the bound spirits could be a portion of the ocean that ties the ship to the ocean itself. Perhaps ship-builders are priests of the ocean goddess and preside over the binding process. Want a quest for an artifact? The priests of Country A can bind ocean spirits into their ships as a sign that their people are favored of the ocean goddess. The PCs are from Country B, which will soon go to war with Country A. The PCs are tasked with stealing the artifact from the temple in Country A's capital to even the score. Maybe the artifact can be redeemed to bless Country A's ships after a quest is fulfilled. Maybe the artifact isn't in Country A's capital city but instead rests at a nigh-inaccessible shrine on an island near the edge of the World's Ocean and blesses the country of the last person to successfully pass its test. Country A's ocean dominance comes from being the last to visit the shrine. Plus, this also allows for a sea full of the spirits of those who died searching for the island floating within it and emitting phosphorescent green light and I like that image. Maybe all three: the artifact has rests in the temple in Country A's capital city, but it can only be reconfigured by taking it to the distant island shrine. Of course, no one knows where the map to that island shrine is located anymore, so the PCs will need to find that as well. And, I've drafted an Adventure Path outline...the poem mentions a 'girdle of sea-weed,' and that sounds like a cool magical binding agent to me.
Maybe the ocean does have feelings: feelings of rage. Part of its spirit is trapped within the figurehead and cannot escape. Can these ocean spirits come to have Stockholm Syndrome?  Maybe by properly caring for the ship, sailors transform a part of the heartless ocean into an ally. Really, the possibilities for a nautical eidolon are endless.
Jason Thompson has created a web comic version of The White Ship.  You can read
the whole thing online at

The other source for eidolon inspiration is H.P. Lovecraft's The White Ship.  It's only seven pages long and, being out of copyright, there are free versions everywhere. It was originally published in The United Amateur (Vol. 19) No. 2 in 1919. In the story, our narrator cares for an aging lighthouse and used to receive glimpses of the ways beyond, the ways beneath, the ways that were, and the ways that might be. A bearded captain sailing a white ship takes the narrator on a long ocean voyage to visit several lands (it's all part of a larger metaphor about self-knowledge, but that's for another time).
Thalarion is a *rough* place!
(c) Jason Thompson
Hosted at
The second of those lands is "Thalarion, the City of a Thousand Wonders, wherein reside all those mysteries that man has striven in vain to fathom." We don't learn much about Thalarion (because it's a metaphor for what we don't know and therefore it tautologically unknowable). Lovecraft tells us that it's huge carven (I originally read this as 'craven,' which puts a whole other spin on the story) gate is called Akariel, its populated by daemons and mad things, it's ruled over by the Eidolon Lathi, and the streets are white with the unburied bones of those who looked upon Lathi. Is Lathi forbidden knowledge? Lovecraft was definitely a fan of the trope that there were some things humans were just not meant to know. This is a good way of covering that ground. There are lots of things that man does not know (maybe they escape as we learn about them? Maybe Lathi's legions trade them for [insert weird thing Lathi wants here] and we learn them?) but the things the humans don't know are ruled over by those things that can never leave Thalarion, the things that humans were not even meant to know.
Eidolons could be ephemera of unobtainable knowledge. They could be the reflections of reflections of reflections of the sounds of humans uttering the profane words. They could be the spirits of the profane words themselves, wandering the universe in hopes that someone will speak them again. There's fascinating information out there about eidola. Just plumbing two literary sources brought out a wealth of ideas. Walt Whitman also has a poem called Eidolon. Does anyone else get ideas from there or elsewhere?