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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

P is for-

First, I must apologize, this post is going to be much more brief than I had intended; I have a lot going on this week and my kids have the week off from school. So, without further delay-

P is for Paladins, probably the first Kit/Prestige Class/Whatever you want to call it; they took all the best bits of being a Fighter and threw in all the best bits of being a Cleric, then added some extra stuff too. Sure, they level slower and the Cleric bits come at a level regressed rate, but the Detect Evil (at will), Disease Immunity and the Lay on Hands are right from the start. As a player I love these guys. I love to play them (from time to time, not always a first choice) and I love to have them in the party. Conceptually I love them. They are the purest form of knightly hero, a Galahad or Percival for the D&D game. As a DM I hate them. Their Detect Evil ability is practically a game breaker, as a DM you need to rules lawyer that to the max if you ever want to include any kind of intrigue in your game; plus that ability is like sonar in a dungeon. You can only have so many neutrally aligned monsters waiting in ambush before they start to get suspicious. I guess what I don't like about them is that they get, at will, a 1st level spell. Nobody else does*.

P is for Princesses who are, apparently, hard-wired into human consciousness as either needing to be rescued or as a chattel reward for a job well done. Historically this meme was popular enough that Attila the Hun used rescuing the Princess Honoria (and taking her as his bride)** as his excuse to invade the western Roman Empire. You would think that this meme would have changed over time as human society became more mature and progressive, but popular video game franchises such as Super Mario Brothers and Legend of Zelda would seem to argue against this.

P is for Peasant, you know, the other 98% of humanity that wasn't a member of the lucky sperm club. They do most of the work and reap the fewest rewards, in feudal times this was a fairly equitable system; training and equipping a fighting man took years and was greatly expensive, now my oldest daughter is a soldier. In RPGs peasants mostly serve as part of the background scenery or as a plot device. PCs want to rub elbows with the noble-born, not some smelly peasant! With the exception that, particularly back when I was a teen-ager, PCs knew they could entice peasant girls to occasionally give them a roll in the hay, the noble-born ladies were far too dangerous game; at least until they got high enough level to marry themselves into the nobility.

P is for Poison. Since practically no one is allowed to use it AND it has a horrible tendency to go awry, I am not really sure why EGG felt it necessary to include poison rules for PCs; but there you have it. Probably because somebody felt the need to "explore" their "dark" side in the Lake Geneva game. I assume it's the same reason we have Assassins as PCs.

P is for Potions. My favorite treasure items to give away as a DM. Usually one use and they're gone from your campaign. I guess I am just gun-shy of too much permanent magic in D&D; I've seen it really screw things up.

P is for Psionics, man I have always wanted to love them and never have. I guess I have two main issues with Psionics: first, they are a clunky subsystem that doesn't really work well with the rest of AD&D, kind of like "Pummeling, Grappling and Overbearing"; second, and I stress this is my opinion, the whole idea fits better with a pure sci-fi game than it does with a medieval fantasy one***.

P is for Politics, not the real world politics that I mention from time to time and try not to annoy people with my political views, which- for the record- are pretty far left of mainstream American politics, which I guess would make me somewhere right of center in most other countries :) But, no, I want to talk about the political game in D&D, the part that so often gets skipped over. All of my best villains have been politicians and all of my most tragic heroes have failed to understand politics and that was their downfall. Everyone seems to think that D&D politics can only begin when your characters are high enough level to be granted land or carve out their own domain; I am here to tell you that political seeds can and should get sown at level one. Maybe it won't matter who the mayor of the PCs home town is when they're all 20th level, but maybe it will. Not every political seed you sow will reap fruit, but enough will over time that it gives your entire world verisimilitude and your players will think you are a bloody genius.

P is for Pilgrimages which were a pretty important religious rite in the middle ages and, if Chaucer is to be believed, a good excuse for a vacation filled with bawdy story-telling. EGG knew that Pilgrims were somehow important to making your setting seem more medievally real, he included Pilgrims in the Monster Manual under Men, Pilgrims appear in the DMG encounter charts; so I ask you this- has anyone ever had anything other than a throw away encounter with Pilgrims? Keep in mind, from a purely technical standpoint, the Crusades were a series of organized pilgrimages. Maybe it's because here in the US we always think of those lame Puritans wearing black clothes and shoes (and hats) with buckles sitting down for Thanksgiving dinner with the natives.

P is for Polearms and by God do we have them! I know Gary was of Swiss descent, but for Christ sakes, there are like 16 different types of polearm in the PH. In my experience there are something like 4 types in reality, those being, in no particular order; longer than normal spear, axe with really long shaft, sword at the end of a fairly long stick and, lastly, the combination of two of the others. Swords, which are by far more useful in a close quarters environment like, say, a dungeon; got no where near the fiddly variation in the PH that EGG gave the polearms.

*OK, Thieves eventually get Read Languages, which acts as a Comprehend Languages spell and at high enough level even works as Read Magic, but there is at least a chance of failure there.

**There was a whole thing, Honoria was the sister of the reigning western emperor Valentinian III. Valentinian wanted her to marry a Roman Senator of his choosing and she refused, he placed her under house arrest until she changed her mind; and in one of the most stunningly stupid plots ever hatched by a woman who didn't want to be forced into an arranged marriage, she sent a letter to Attila begging for his help and apparently offering herself as his bride if he would rescue her.

***Yeah, I know, Gamma World cross-over rules in the DMG and S3: Expedition to the Barrier Peaks, but by and large AD&D was sold as a solidly medieval fantasy game.