Why I love Eberron

I love Eberron. I have been reading some Eberron novels of late, and it has reminded me of this fact. With the exception of Spelljammer, Eberron has been my favorite D&D setting. Before you get to the question, I love a lot of D&D settings, but I will put a pin in Eberron, and say it is my favorite for a number of reasons.

Setting and system walk hand in hand

I have played D&D for, oh my gawd, 31 years or so. I have been through several editions and I will not get into the edition wars here. I liked them all, in their time, including Pathfinder, and I am certain I will enjoy the next one. Third edition, and 3.5 for that matter, was interesting for many reasons. One of those reasons is the adding of system to things people sort of winged before. You want to play a monstrous race? Well, it is much like playing the normal pc races, except for adjustments. You want to make magic items? Well, here are clear rules about how much it costs to make them, in material and xp. Edition 3.5 was probably the ultimate expression of D&D as a tool box system. What you wanted to do probably had a systemized approach, which, while it may be time intensive, was relatively clear.

Move to Eberron, and you see that approach to magic items and monstrous races reflected in the setting. Magic becomes less of a mysterious and legendary thing. It is instead, like the system for it, itemized and systemized. Magic is the technology of Eberron. They have the equivalent of trains, air ships, and magical telegraph systems connecting the major cities. The monstrous races of Eberron have clear presence in the world beyond the typical, “they must all be evil” approach. They are very much a part of the world’s structure as they are part of the rules structure.

Very little is simple

I like a world that has complexity to it. The world of Eberron is very complex. Not much is simple, and just one thing. Breland, is not always a good guy, despite being mostly good. Karnath, which uses undead soldiers, is not inherently evil. The Silver Flame, religion built around protection and good, has also been responsible for great persecutions in their past. Goblins are not always petty, stupid, and serving a greater evil. Droaam, a nation of monsters, kind of wants peace with its neighbors. Everywhere you look in this setting, preconceptions are being challenged.

There are also some interesting themes to work with. How do cultures recover from a century of war? What purpose do Warforged have, when there is no war? Can the “monstrous” races live side by side with humans, who have traditionally hated and feared them?

This is not to say other settings don’t have their own complexities, but more often than not, they are providing just enough conflict to be clear on who is evil and who is not, so the adventurers don’t have to have moral problems with killing said bad guys.  Those kinds of enemies exist in Eberron as well, but it is not always the base assumption, which is nice.

High Adventure

Despite all that more and ethical complexity, the game has a lot of fun and adventure as well. This is a game where skyship chases are the rule, where lightening rails have heroes fighting for their lives on top of them, and where all mysteries start with a dark and stormy night. The heroes are assumed to be THE HEROES, and not just some random bunch of halfwit, dime-a-dozen, adventurers. Why have a back ally ambush when you can have one a platform a half mile above the earth, in the city of Sharn.  A lot of the aesthetic of Eberron is pulp action adventure. Seat of the pants adventure seems to be the rule. There are dungeon crawls here, but the adventure feels much less restricted to just that venue.

All in all, I really love this setting for a lot of reasons. Even divorced from 3.5 rules, it has a lot of interesting things going on it. It is not a generic fantasy setting, but there is room for people to do some of those classic setting things if they want them. Reading the novels by Keith Baker reminded me of that. The novels are better than I expected. I have a relatively low opinion of game tie in fiction. There are some which rise above, but, more often than not, they are not well written. Baker does not give George RR Martin or Sanderson something to worry about, but he is solidly entertaining. He writes good adventure stories with just a hint of depth to keep me interested.  I would actually recommend his Eberron novels, which I suppose should not be surprising as he created the setting.  Whether it is the novels, or looking at the game, I have a strong affection for this setting and I am eager to see what the next edition of D&D does with it.

Schlock Mercenaries

About a month or two back I started reading Schlock Mercenary from the beginning. It is pretty good, actually, though the art at the start is a little painful. Thing is, I will be reading for a while. There is over 10 years of daily comics here. I have been reading it for a while now and I still have more than 10 years to go. I am not going to lie. It is bit daunting, even reading a month’s worth every couple of days.

Schlock Mercenary

Continue reading “Schlock Mercenaries”

the social problem of MMO’s

A thing that has occurred to me. I play a number of MMO’s. I play them for two reasons. One, my career path requires a certain amount of keeping on top of things, and more importantly, I want to play with my friends. That is the point of an MMO, to me.  MMO’s are rarely as much fun solo, as a good single player game.  I want to play with other people, preferably with ones I know.

The problem is, it is often hard to get that going.  Part of that is on the players. A lack of coordination in when and where to meet up is something that the players can work on their own, but part of it is also on the MMO’s.

So here is the thing that occurred to me.  Whatever the next big MMO is, they need to work on making it easier to find your friends. It is a fine line to walk, trying to preserve your privacy, but also making information searchable enough to make you easy to connect with.  Maybe they could on work integrating social networks or the like so when you look at your friends tab, you see people you potentially know, so you can connect with them.  Maybe integrate a calender function, so I could invite my friends to a game night, online and they can respond or not. I recognize that those are not perfect suggestions, but they might be starting places.

Currently, if I don’t know your character name, I cant find you a in a lot of games. That means if I log on to go play with my friends, I have another hoop to jump through.  If I spell it wrong, then I am still not seeing you.  Make it easier on me.  Allow me to share a button on line, and my friends can just click on it and when they log on, they have me listed on their friends list and vice versa.  Allow me to share all my characters at once, so when I share with my friends, it doesn’t matter what I am logged in as, my friends know.

There are problems with getting something like that in place, and I understand that, but they are resolvable.  One of the quickest ways for me to lose interest in an MMO is to find no one I know is playing. That is something that effects churn, and it is worth some time and effort to come up with a solution for it.

Just a thought.

defining worlds for the game

Do you ever look at a TV show or a movie, and think to yourself, I could absolutely play in that world?  Plenty of gamers do.  I suppose it is the same sort of inspiration that fan fiction writers get.  There is something about looking at a well formed world, that make you want to play there.

I recently watched the first season of Lost Girl, and I had that reaction.  Now the show itself is not super awesome, but it is entertaining.  It is a bit sex heavy, like a paranormal romance. There is nothing wrong with that, I guess, but it can be off putting if you are made uncomfortable by sex scenes. The cast is generally pretty interesting, and they do a good job of building a world. Lost-Girl

The heroine in the show is a succubus, which is a sort of Fey. Fey are like the fair folk, or Tuatha de Dannan of Irish myth. All the supernatural beings in that world are considered some sort of Fey. This is the first world rule that you can look at for game world design.  This simplifies things as it makes everything fit into a familiar framework.  The succubus, vampires, werewolves, leprechauns, and basilisks are all Fey, and you don’t need to cook up a new backstory, and metaphysical origin, for each.  Having a framework is something that simplifies the world and helps give it parameters.  That is important in fiction and in game design.

Most of the Fey feed on humans in some manner.  This shapes their relationship to humans, and it helps define their differences.  Each of them also has a power, usually related to how they feed, but not always, and weaknesses unique to their breed.  They are not immortal, but ageless for the most part. These points make it easier to define the individual characters.  In designing a game for this setting, you would want to require the pc’s choose what they need, what their power was, and maybe a weakness as well. That weakness can be a difficulty in controlling their urges like the protagonist, or maybe silver as is the case with the werewolf. If I were doing this in Fate system, for instance, the High Concept would be their type, and powers would be acquired, and the weakness would be an aspect.

The Fey fall into two camps, for the most part.  The Light Fey are ostensibly are for the good aspects, and protecting humanity.  This is not always true, though.  A lot of the Light Fey look at humans as pets or annoyances. The Dark Fey are all about the nastier side.  Humans are cattle put there for the Fey’s amusement. They are decidedly not friendly but they are not always kitten eating evil. They all see humans as beneath them. They obey rules and compacts that exist to keep them from going to war again. Many of these compacts were set in place by a peace making Blood King a 1000 or more years earlier.  These societal rules, and history elements, make the world feel more real.  It grants a level of verisimilitude to have factions with definable traits and expected behavior.  You can break those expectations, but it should only be done as something you draw attention to the oddity of it.  The heroine in the series is unaligned, but it is made clear, this is not only unusual, but it brings its own complications.  When defining the game elements, you would want to makes sure those defined behavioral expectations are known, and also the consequences for stepping out of them.  If a Light Fey kills a Dark Fey, or vice versa, a war could result that might kill a large number of humans as well. The consequences are well defined and that will help govern behavior, for PC and NPC alike.

Converting a world from one medium, like a TV show, to a game world is a fun exercise. It can provide you with fun worlds to play in, and it can also help you further refine your own skills at world design. Even as an intellectual exercise, the value is definitely there.  The decisions you make in the process with will help you make better world of your own, whether it is for writing or gaming.

The Hobbit The Unexpected Journey

I saw the Hobbit: The Unexpected Journey.  It is good, very good in fact.  It is not perfect, but very few things are.  I like how they handled the added elements and from everything I know about Tolkien’s middle earth, which is actually quite a lot, they did not stray over much from the cannon found in appendices and his other writings.the_hobbit_movie_wallpaper

It was nice watching Sylvester McCoy playing Radagast.  He is a lively and expressive actor, which I suppose you need for that sort of character. All the actors are good, and while there is just an edge of too much silly at times, it doesn’t quite cross the line.

I saw it in 3D with the High Frame Rate. I am actually a little disappointed I couldn’t find a non-3D HFR version showing. The effect is odd.  The HFR makes it not look right, at first. I got over it about 20 minutes in, but the initial impression was, “This is not film.”  It was like watching a video tape of someone acting for film. Like I said, after the first 20 minutes I just stopped noticing. It just looked like the movie from then on out.

There has been much hey made of the fact they split it into three films.  I get the complaints, but ultimately, I don’t disagree with them.  There is enough story in the book of The Hobbit, that it would be hard to fit it all in a standard film story format.  They would have had to cut some stuff.  Instead they went the opposite direction and added in all the hinted at bits, the supplemental material from sources that would never get filmed.   I like what they have done and the first film is off to a good start.  I definitely recommend the film.

Marvel Super Heroes RPG

I am a fan of superhero RPG’s. I have since the first Marvel Superheroes RPG came out. I have played, or run, most of them, and I buy and read almost all of them. I learned to love comics at an early age and the combination of comic book superheroes and gaming is my heroin.

So, of course, I bought the new Marvel Superhero Game. It is a game written by some really quality people, and I am a big marvel comics fan. While I am a big Hero system fan, I am always looking for new systems to run a superhero game in.

The system as it stands has a lot going for it. It uses cortex plus as a base. You have variable die types based on how skilled you are. Yes, you roll a small handful of dice, but not as many as some games and I like rolling a handful anyway. The doom pool as the opposing currency against the pc’s plot dice is a wonderful addition. Overall the system encourages you to role play, to change up how your character does things and keeps things dynamic.


There is a problem. There really isn’t a way to make your own hero. There is a system in place, that is intended to be used to recreate a character which exists in the comics. The system could be used to make the character of your creation, but the guidance available there is sparse at best. The overall conclusion is they would really prefer you play an existing character.

This mystifies me a bit. One of the core experiences in any RPG is making your own character. I would love to play in the marvel universe, to fight sentinels or doctor doom. I would love to have characters run into Spiderman and Captain America. I would not want to be Spiderman or Captain America. There are some who would want to play them, and it is good that you allow for that, but I would think that is the exception, and not the rule in the gaming market. I would be satisfied if they would even announce an advanced version or a supplement or the like to help you make characters, but that does not appear to be the case. The lack or formal system for character creation is not an oversight. The little system they do have amounts to “wing it” within a certain loose set of parameters.

Ironically, one of the most memorable portion of the Marvel Superheroes RPG that TSR put out, was the character creation system. It was random, and in no way balanced, but it was always memorable, especially if you used the Ultimate Powers book.

The actual game play portion of the system is nice. It doesn’t blow me away, but it is solid. There is a strong influence of narrative style games. They do a good job of systemizing the sort of tweaks good GM’s would do anyway, but sometimes not evenly. Unfortunately, I find it hard to picture it a game that my players would want to play. The lack of full character creation rules is daunting. In no way is playing an existing hero compelling to me, and I imagine my players will feel the same. It is just hard to invest in a character you are not creating. Spiderman is never going to be an extension of me, or my creativity, so I will be less invested in him as a player. As a reader, I love him, and the only time I want to play him is in a video game, which is very much a different experience. Given that problem, I have hard time recommending the new Marvel Superhero RPG as a good superhero game. It could have been an awesome one based on the mechanics they do have, but without a good character creation system, it feels very incomplete. Perhaps future books will do a better job of giving more guidance on making your own adventures and heroes. It is not for a lack of skill on the designers part or a lack of inventive systems.

Worry not though, if you wish to have your good system, and even a token effort to make the characters of your own, then my friend Stephen Cheney, has kit bashed a point based character creation system which can be found here. That bit of rules mod might make a real difference. Despite my concerns about the lack of strong character creation in the system, I will be asking around to see if anyone wants to give the game a shot. There is enough there that I am still interested in where they are going. I just don’t think this is a point they should stop at.