All posts by Dragonhelm

In with the new, out with the old: the fallacy of game edition garage sales.

The new edition of your favorite game is out. It’s hot off the presses and has that ‘new edition smell.’ The cover is new and shiny, the rules fixed all the problems with the old edition, and you want to take it out for a spin.

Too bad all your old books are ‘useless’ now. Time to package everything up, take it to your local gaming store, and hopefully get enough to buy the new monster book.

Say what?

*insert record scratching sound here*

If there is any pet peeve of mine, it is the idea that, just because a new edition is out, all of your prior edition’s worth of materials is useless. I’ve seen people cash in on their old books just as soon as they get their hands on the new ones, and you know – they often regret it.

Why would anyone sell their old materials in the first place? Didn’t you have fun with them? Even though people did indeed have fun with the previous edition’s materials, they may have reasons for not wanting to keep older edition’s gaming books around. Some of them are legitimate (i.e. game books taking up house space), but I feel that most are based on some basic fallacies.

Most of it seems to fall back on the idea that the books of yesteryear are somehow rendered useless by the new edition. Really? Maybe there’s more that is useful than you think.

For example, take a look at fluff and setting information. Maybe the new edition of your favorite game has all of this. That’s fine and well and good, but sometimes as editions change and timelines progress forward, world events happen that don’t suit your tastes. Your old books are a snapshot back to a time you may have liked more. The Forgotten Realms is a prime example here. Yes, maybe the 4th edition D&D books for the Realms are out now, but then again, maybe you liked the timeline of the pre-4th edition Realms better. Keeping the old books lets you look back towards how things were. This is also good in terms of historical perspective on how a setting evolved. The various editions of Dragonlance are a prime example.

‘But I’m just getting rid of the splatbooks. Those are just rules.’

Shenanigans. They’re more than rules – they’re ideas. Let’s say you have a book called the Completely Quintessential Hobbit. It’s a halfling splatbook, filled with all sorts of alternate or expanded rules for halfling characters. The rules may not jive with the new edition, but those books are also filled with ideas. I may no longer be able to play a Hobbit Ringbearer prestige class, but the idea can be translated to the new edition. Not a game designer? No problem. Online communities are filled with amateur game designers, many of which are quite helpful. Hey, maybe you don’t have those exact rules, but again, we have fluff and background behind your Ringbearer prestige class. Maybe you just don’t need a prestige class in the new edition to represent the same role.

One of my favorite books is the AD&D 2nd edition Arms and Equipment Guide. By far, it is one of my favorite gaming books. The D&D 3rd edition counterpart paled in comparison, and few other sourcebooks out there had all that wonderful info. I could have traded it in years ago, but I kept it, because it continued to be a source of inspiration and knowledge for me. Here I am two editions later (three if you count 3.5), and I still use the book.

Likewise, your favorite adventures can be translated to the new edition. Go ahead and play Temple of Elemental Evil with 4th edition rules. You may find that the new edition mixed with the old module produces some interesting results!

Don’t forget about the collectability factor too. Some of those old books are worth quite a penny. If you can find a first printing Deities & Demigods, you know what I’m talking about.

What happens when you get a new gaming buddy and he plays the old edition only? Now you’re out of books. Oops!

New editions come and go, and often, they produce a knee-jerk reaction to sell all your old stuff, typically out of some fear that your old books are ‘useless.’ While there may be some reasons, such as house space, for trading in books, it may behoove you to look at those books a little closer. You may find that those ancient tomes still hold great ideas.

When You Don’t Fit In

Recently, I was reading a thread online from a person whose character just did not fit in with the group dynamic. I had thought back to times when I had a similar situation myself.

I once played in a Star Wars game a friend ran using a variant of White Wolf’s Storyteller system. Since it was Star Wars, I naturally wanted to play a Jedi (or at least a guy trying to become a Jedi). I had settled on a wookiee who was searching to become a Jedi. I had a nifty dynamic of wookiee rage vs. Jedi control.

There was some good storytelling, but some of the other players played mercenary-style characters. So my wookiee Jedi didn’t fit in. It ended with a battle between my Jedi and one of the player characters (a Twi’lek bounty hunter) who had it in for my character. Both characters lived, but my guy was effectively out of the game.

I tried a mechanic for a short bit, but didn’t care for him. So then I created another Jedi, but this one was very much a scoundrel as well. This guy fit in with the group and the game much better.

Later on, I ran a Star Wars game with the DM from that game and the player I mentioned in it. They played bounty hunter types while my friend played a Jedi. Again, there was conflict. My game came to a halt that night.

What I have learned from these experiences is that DMs and players must talk first about the type of game they are running, what the characters are going to be like (i.e. heroic, mercenary, etc.), and what some of the themes are. It isn’t that any one style of play is better than another. We just all game a little differently and sometimes character concepts just don’t work together.

What I also discovered is that if a character doesn’t work in one game, try another game. My wookiee Jedi thrived in a few other games another friend of mine ran. I’m playing him to this day via e-mail. While I hated the way the wookiee ended in the one game, he’s had tremendous growth in the other game. Recycling can apply to characters too.

Also, don’t settle on something just to fit in. Play what you want. Otherwise, you may resent the character. Nothing is worse than playing a character you don’t want to play. If the game isn’t accommodating to you as a player to play what you want (within reason), then maybe the game isn’t the best for you in general.

And don’t be afraid to recognize when the group isn’t working. I like my friends who play the mercenary types, but I don’t like gaming with them so much these days since my style is different from theirs. And that’s okay. We’re still friends; we just realize we have different styles of play. There is no shame in admitting when something isn’t working.

Likewise, if a character isn’t working, then talk to the GM and see if he can help you to create a new character you like that may work better in the group template. In the realm of fantasy, you may have several options.

Know your group dynamic as much as possible as you go in to play. Talk to your DM about the type of character you want to play and see if that will fit the group template. If you get stuck in a game like this, then see about other options. Above all, remember that the game should be fun.

Dragonhelm’s Take on Star Trek: Voyager

In my last blog entry, I voiced my criticisms on Star Trek: Voyager. See the comments section for details. I was asked what my take would be, so I thought I would share it with all of you.

Star Trek is the idealized and hopeful future. What if that concept is thrown on its head, and we find out that not everything is peaches and cream? What if Star Trek boldly went where it hadn’t before?

I imagined Voyager as a show where there would be a lot of philosophical debates going on. I imagined that some elements would be explored more, and gone into depth.

For example, one would think that two groups of humans would put aside differences to get home, but can old animosities ever be dropped? I would like to see this developed at a slower pace. Yes, the end result is the same, but there would be some disagreements between the crews. Maquis who don’t want to show up to work in uniform. Federation vs. Maquis arguments popping up. Chakotay having to get in the face of the Maquis crew members to calm them down, then someone turning against him. In the end, the two sides are somehow forced to work together for survival. A common enemy – perhaps Ceska?

I would have liked to see Tom Paris as more of a “bad boy”, and having to be reined in. I’d like to see him evolve more. Likewise, Harry Kim needed to face some tough things, even tougher than he faced in the series.

I wanted to see Janeway having to make those tough choices, and instead of siding with the Prime Directive, purposefully breaking it one time for the sake of her crew, then questioning herself afterwards. She was a good captain, don’t get me wrong. She was a tough female character, who remained feminine.

Neelix – Great character overall. However, limited in scope. I would have liked to see him become more of a horse trader, bargaining with the seedy crowd to get the supplies Voyager needed.

Kes – I really wished she had lasted the whole show. Seeing that short lifespan played out throughout the series would have resonated better.

The two-part Year of Hell is more of what I imagined for the show. Voyager would go through tough times, be forced to make the hard decisions in order to survive. There would be some exploration, but make the Prime Directive something that may require interpretation and that may need to be broken. Make the show edgier. Integrate alien technologies with Voyager’s more, especially since there was no spacedock.

Something to that effect. Basically, take the extra leap and go the distance.

Where Star Trek: Voyager Went Wrong

Like many of you, I grew up watching the original Star Trek series. I came to love The Next Generation as well, and got enthused when I saw Deep Space 9.

When Star Trek: Voyager came along, it held a lot of promise. This was the ship that was on its own in an uncharted part of the galaxy, trying to get home. The journey would take decades, and the Federation and Maquis crews would have to learn to live together.

This produced what should have been an excellent story, yet it couldn’t get past several boundaries. Where was the Maquis mutiny? It never happened, yet the possibility was mentioned by Tuvok on an episode. The Prime Directive. I wanted Janeway to have to struggle with breaking the Prime Directive, then doing so for the sake of her people. Yeah, they benefited, but she would have to live with the guilt. The opportunity was there, but in the end, Janeway is a goody-two-shoes. It was an opportunity lost, in my opinion.

Don’t even get me started on the Borg. There was an enemy that went from fearful in ‘The Best of Both Worlds’ (TNG 2-part episode) to just another alien on the block. I don’t know about anyone else, but I got tired of the Borg.

Where Voyager shined the best was in a two-part episode called ‘Year of Hell.’ This episode showed Voyager in a two-part alternate reality where the ship had been beaten up for an entire year. By year’s end, it was unlivable. The storytelling was great, and this was the sort of turmoil I wanted Voyager to go through! It was a shame that, at the end, the timeline is fixed and none of it happened. That kind of cheapened the efforts of the crew. However, I can overlook this

The cast was formulaic. We got to see our first female captain, which was awesome. Yet I felt like she was designed to be “she-Kirk.” Anyone else notice the initials? JK (James Kirk) and KJ (Kathryn Janeway). Uh…yeah. Then we have our gratuitous Klingon in the form of B’Elanna Torres. She doubled up as the gratuitous half-breed. The humans were largely forgettable. Harry Kim was so generic it wasn’t funny. Tom Paris could have been the bad boy, but that was hardly touched. I always felt that it wasn’t the actors’ fault here. Rather, the humans were not allowed to shine.

Tuvok was the gratuitous Vulcan, yet I’m not too critical of him. Tim Russ did an excellent job of portraying a Vulcan whose focus was security, not science. Was it realistic having a black Vulcan? Not every Earth race has a duplicate on other worlds. Yet despite this, I have to applaud Paramount for showcasing that there could be more than one brand of Vulcan.

Neelix was a fun alien, though the writers had to think about his purpose after he was no longer useful as a guide. And did Kes have a point? She was nice, and a short-lived race was cool. Still, she could have grown further.

Then there’s Seven of Nine. She was nice eye candy. I’ll give her that. However, I think they made the Borg to human transition way too quickly. Had it happened in the span of a year, I could see it more. I really could not believe that she was once Borg.

Of all the characters, Chakotay was my least favorite. I had a hard time believing he was Native American. My take is that he should have been one of the Native Americans that Picard ran across, who now live in Cardassian territory. Add more spiritualism to him, and he would have been fine.

Of all the characters, my favorite has to be the Doctor. Yes, he’s the gratuitous artificial life form looking to become more human. That being said, his character was a novel concept and Robert Picardo was so much fun. The mobile EMH transmitter seemed a bit hokey, but then again, he needed to get out of sick bay once in a while. My favorite aspect of him was when they added the emergency engineering and command subroutines so that he could take on new roles.

Two more items: the ship and the theme song. I have to say that I truly enjoyed the theme song. Very nice composition. The Intrepid-class Voyager was a nifty design, though I didn’t care for the miniature warp nacelles. Still, I liked watching them fold ala the Klingon Bird of Prey. All in all, a good design.

Between the subpar goody-two-shoes writing, the ‘greatest hits of Star Trek’ casting, the idea that they were going in the wrong direction (to Earth, not away!), and not allowing the cast to really shine, Voyager had many faults. It took what could have been a phenomenal series and dumbed it down to a so-so Trek series at best. Even though I enjoyed Voyager, I kept re-writing it in my head.

While the suits shot for the elements of classic Trek and TNG that made both of them a success, the suits just weren’t able to achieve that kind of magic. That being said, I still enjoyed Voyager, though it could have been so much more.

A prude? Nah, just different.

I’m a teetotaler. I hate the taste of alcohol. Oh, yes, it’s an acquired taste, or so I hear. That just tells me it wasn’t good to begin with. Plus you can act stupid (which I can do very well on my own, thank you) and you’ll have regrets the next morning.

I never really went to any parties, either. Not any “real” parties. I got invited to one that Tina Graham was throwing. She just knew I wouldn’t be there. I showed up to prove her wrong (I’m ornery like that), but when I got there, she was already passed out. Talked to Nikki some. It became evident quite quickly that this just wasn’t my type of environment. I left shortly thereafter, especially since the police were right across the street.

I say all of this not to demonstrate what sort of “prude” I am, but rather to say that we don’t all beat to the same drum. I’m different. I’ve always been different. I like to have fun, sure, but I think what I define as fun and what other people define as fun are two different things.

Sometimes I regret that I never fit in better. But then I start to think about it, and I realize that this wasn’t such a bad thing after all. I think it made me stronger. I have the strength to say no, to walk my own path, and to realize that it’s okay to do so.

I also believe that my path has earned me a certain amount of respect. No, maybe I won’t get invited to parties. But that’s okay. I’ve had some amazing adventures of my own, some that transcend parties and booze. I have hobnobbed with authors, been published, traveled to Yellowstone, and journeyed upon fantastic worlds of the imagination. I will take that any day of the week.

My Dad…The Invincible!

My dad is invincible. This is a fact set in stone. You might think that this is the case for any boy, but my dad is more invincible than your average invincible dad. Indeed, I have seen him pull off the impossible time and again, and always he survives. He never fails, and never falters.

My dad is a World War II veteran who, to this day, carries kamikaze shrapnel within his body. For that, he has won the Purple Heart. He has worked on an automotive assembly line for 28 years, and has since retired. He works extensively in the church, and even served as pastor for five years in the process. He is an honorable man, who would give you the shirt off of his back if you asked him to. During most of this time, he also owned and operated a 200 acre farm, raising all manner of livestock, and has worked the fields as well. He stands a half foot shorter than me, but I know that he could still give me a run for my money.

I notice that he gets flustered a lot. This is caused by his desire to make the world a more perfect place. It shows in all facets in his life, from his farming to his work within the church. He knows that he can’t fix the world. This is especially hard for someone who is a fix-it man. Yet he tries constantly to do what he can to make the world a better place.

We had a family reunion at our house one summer. It was a warm, beautiful summer day. The sun was shining, and the sky was perfectly blue. I was a young boy at the time, and everyone in my family that I did or did not know showed up. I had not seen many of them in a very long while. As you can imagine, it was the absolute worst time for a tragedy to occur.

My dad wanted to get our farm looking as good as it could. He decided to hook up the mower to the tractor, and touch up the place. He even tried to mow the pond bank. In so doing, he rolled his tractor. I have heard of countless people who have killed themselves when their tractor rolled on a pond bank. No one survives that.

No one, that is, save for my dad! I knew that the tractor flipped. As I looked on in unspeakable horror, I saw my dad rise above the pond bank with a scowl and a look of embarrassment on his face. We all rushed to him and asked him if he was okay. As it turns out, the only thing that was hurt was his pride.

So it went throughout the years. My dad has tangled with tractors, finagled with flagpoles, battled with bulls, persevered against pugnacious pigs, and he even survived the Reagan Administration, being the stern democrat that he is. There was even a time that he survived sharpening his leg upon his chainsaw. Yes sir, my dad is truly invincible.

Or at least I thought he was, until he had his stroke. It was around mid-January 1999 when I received a phone call from my mom. I was at work, thinking only about the tedium of my day when my life was turned upside down. My dad had been taken to the hospital. He was diagnosed as having a minor stroke. If you ask me, no stroke is minor.

This was a blow to my sense of reality, at least as far as it concerned my dad. I rushed to the hospital to see him bedridden. I still couldn’t believe that this was going on. This was my dad! He’s invincible! Oh, he could get around, but he was supposed to have someone help him at all times. He is a prideful man, and as such didn’t want help from anyone. He never has asked for help in his life. For the first time, he had to. By the time he got out of the hospital, I’m sure the nurses were glad to get rid of him.

You don’t just get over a stroke. You never do. He works with his diet and tries his best to exercise. It is a constant battle that he fights every day. In some ways, it is a more dangerous enemy than any he faced in World War II. He knows that he will never be to the point that he was once at, but he has come somewhat close. I know in my heart just how much it frustrates him, not being able to do what he once did.

Now my dad is back in his wood shop making crafts. He still makes them too fast for my mom to paint, even though he is slower than he used to be. Sometimes he needs to lean on a shopping cart in the grocery store, even as he leans upon his faith every day to make it through. His days vary from good to bad. However, he has family to count on who will help him through.

His two-year-old grandson, especially, keeps him going. For in his grandson, he sees a reflection of himself. He sees a short bundle of energy who can not be defeated by the world. He sees curiosity on how the world works. And he sees a kind heart.

I, for one, know that my dad is going to be okay. Why?

Because my dad is invincible. He doesn’t quit. He takes every day in stride, and doesn’t falter, no matter what cards he has had dealt to him in life. He has always taken care of his wife and son, and done right by those around him. His body may not be what it once was, but it is truly his spirit that is invincible.

If our spirits are strong, particularly strong in the love that God gives us, then we can all be invincible.

Crystalmancy: The Powers of Gems Review

Crystalmancy: The Powers of Gems is, simply put, a sourcebook on crystal magic. Overall, I thought this book was great. It was simple, to the point, and refreshing. One of the big selling points is that the zip file includes both a color and a black-and-white copy, just in case you don’t have access to a color printer. Just a note to those who print this out – be sure to print as ‘landscape’, rather than ‘portrait’. At first, it looks a bit odd in a 3-ring binder, but I think that adds to the charm.

Chapter One is about the Crystalmancer, a new base class modeled after the Player’s Handbook wizard. Scribe Scroll is replaced with a Spellcrystal ability, and the bonus feats are replaced by various Crystal Mastery abilities. What unbalances this class, though, is that it adds several trinkets at every even level, some of which are near equivalents of metamagic feats.

Don’t want to add a new base class to your campaign? No problem! One can always use the variant Crystalmancer prestige class instead. This is, unfortunately, the only prestige class in the book. I would have liked to see more. Perhaps something akin to the Crystal Proselyte in Malhavoc’s Mindscapes.

This chapter ends with two new feats (Craft Spellcrystal and Create Crystal Familiar), and a Knowledge (Gemology) skill, as well as a sidebar on spellcrystals. This section could have been better labeled, and would benefit from some touch-up layout work. It isn’t clearly labeled otherwise.

Chapter Two is Magic of the Gems, a guide to all sorts of new spells. What I like about this chapter is that it not only has a sorcerer/wizard/crystalmancer spell list, it also has one for bards, clerics, and druids as well. In other words, one can be nearly any spellcasting class (save for paladin and ranger) and be able to use crystalmancy spells. There’s tons of great spells in this chapter, including a particular nasty called Crystallize Blood. That one sends shivers up my spine.

Chapter Three is Crystal Items. This provides an assortment of magical weapons, armor, and other items, including some artifacts as well.

Chapter Four is Locations and Personalities. This chapter includes the Plane of Crystal, a place similar to our world, but made of crystal. There’s a map, as well as various places of interest. Meet Tresmril, Lord of the Crystal Realm while you’re there. Plus, there’s some adventure hooks. There’s also a group of Crystal Keepers, various Crystal Lords, and even a nifty language called Crystil. The alphabet corresponds to the English alphabet, which makes for a fun tool for game masters to add flavor.

Chapter Five is Gem Beasts. This has several new monsters, including a Crystal Creature template and sample Crystal Worg. There’s various other monsters, including a gem dragon. One can even play the Berylis as a player character race.

Overall, this book was a great read, and a lot of fun. Most of my criticisms are nitpicks (i.e. layout on the skill-and-feats areas), and the only real area of concern is game balance for the Crystalmancer base class. I would have liked to see more prestige classes, and it may have been nice as well to delve into the relationship of crystalmancers and psions, especially on how they each use crystal. This is not really necessary, though.

This book was simple, to the point, and covered what it intended to cover (the magic of crystals) quite well.

The Verdict

THE GOOD: I found this book to be quite fun and refreshing. It’s hard to find new ways to keep spellcasters fresh, but this book does it well. There’s an underlying thoughtfulness for those who buy this, not only for player options but for the color and black-and-white versions.

THE BAD: This book could stand a bit of touch-up on layout (and that’s really a nitpick), and could stand to have more prestige classes. It may have been nice as well to delve into the relationship of crystalmancers and psions, especially on how they each use crystal.