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Thursday, April 21, 2011

R is for-

Rangers. I can't decide if Rangers were invented by EGG as a class when someone said to him "Hey Gary, can I play Aragorn?", thus prompting him to create a prestige class (or sub-class as he called them) of Fighter during the dungeon crawl days or if EGG decided after running a couple of wilderness hex crawls that something like Aragorn would be handy to have around. No other AD&D class refutes EGG's argument that LotR was NOT a real influence on D&D's development particularly. In retrospect maybe this is why they decided to "Drizzt" up the 2nd edition Ranger, so it wouldn't look like such a Tolkien rip-off?

R is for Rogues, not the renamed Thief, but the bunch of rogues that all adventurers usually are. Most of the roguish PCs aren't even cooly roguish like Han Solo, but are more like the dick guy in the Cantina that picks a fight with Luke and gets himself and his buddy schooled by old Obi-Wan; PCs just think that they are cool like Han (or cool and menacing like pre-Jedi Boba Fett). Keep trying guys, your better when you are trying to be the good guys.

R is for Robin Hood, the contrast to the knights are virtuous ideal; in the Robin Hood story the knights and nobles are the bad guys, ranging from slightly corrupt and bumbling incompetents to the truly malicious. So a force of disaffected peasants and clergy rise up to oppose this corruption and manage to not get themselves killed until, finally, a true noble knight arrives and leads them against their evil oppressors- in most recent retellings to put Richard the Lion-Heart back on his rightful throne.

A lot has accreted to this legend over the years. Robin Hood is a favorite though because he robs from the rich to give to the poor, something that most of humanity can get down with; without getting too political, i think most of us can agree that the bulk of the burden of taxation should not fall on the people with the least amount of money (or goods). Prince John is unpopular in England because he raises taxes that put the screws to ordinary people, but as a prince must still be seen as living a life of conspicuous consumption or lose status in the eyes of both his people and his peers, neither of which is a good thing if you are dependent on your status to keep peace and maintain authority in the realm; and it was all Richard's fault.

Richard was busy waging expensive overseas wars and conspicuously consuming goods and services himself, then he got captured by that dick Leopold, whom he had insulted, on the way home; forcing another high special tax for his ransom. So, basically, because Richard had a penchant for war and insulting other high ranking nobles, England was forced to pay for two separate royal courts, the Third Crusade, a home defense (that included defending half of France from the French king Phillipe, whom Richard had ALSO insulted) and a crippling ransom payment to get their popular warrior king back from that nefarious Austrian Duke; all of this in addition to the normal expense of running a nation- and somehow this is Prince John's fault, at least in the eyes of popular historical myth.

R is for Religion which I have covered tangentially a few times here and here and here and here and here a bit and probably at least a little bit elsewhere in my blog too.

R is for Revenge, which I am told is a dish best served cold. Honestly, I usually would rather just take care of the matter while I am still pissed off.

R is for Roads. We modern folk don't appreciate what a giant pain in the ass it is to create a road out of nothing. I have hacked trails through the woods using modern tools that weren't intended for much use beyond getting a tractor through a few times and it's real work. I read somewhere once that most of the roads roads that the Romans built in Europe were still in use in some capacity; I don't remember where I read that now, so I can't check the quote for veracity, but it is at least plausible. When the effort is taken to build a proper road it is unlikely to be completely abandoned in my opinion. Proper roads are built by skilled crews using engineers to design them. They have proper foundations laid. They are quite impressive feats actually, and we take them for granted because most of them were already there when we were born and the new ones take practically no time to build because of the modern labor saving machinery. They are the life line of modern nations.

R is for Rivers because rivers do everything that roads do, almost as well, for less effort. There is a reason that most ancient cities developed on rivers and it's not just because of access to fresh drinking water; trade builds cities and river borne water craft can carry a huge amount of cargo for a small amount of labor. Rivers are so efficient at moving cargo around the interior of a continent that we make artificial ones, canals. Until the invention of the railroad nothing could compete with the river/canal system for moving a high volume of goods and even afterwards it was still a pretty competitive mode. Trust me, I know, I grew up in Oswego county. The city of Oswego is the terminal point for the New York State canal system (the famous Erie canal), goods shipped to the port of New York were loaded onto river barges and moved up the Hudson river and into the canal until they reached the Oswego river port of Oswego, NY; where they were then loaded onto great lakes ships. Now the NYS canal system is mostly for pleasure craft, since the St. Lawrence seaway opened up ocean traffic from the Atlantic can make it directly into Lake Ontario cutting out us middlemen. I try not to take it personally, but my father and my grandfather were both Longshoremen at the Port of Oswego. That solidly middle class union job should have been my fall-back position.

R is for Ranged Weapons. I have to say I have been looking at some of the older rules stuff on ranged weapons and they are pretty cool, the way they work with initiative in early editions where everyone declares there action before initiative is rolled, then the specific order in which actions take place. That said, I think that my long tendency towards running wilderness based adventures that are, you know, out doors, has kind of over inflated the importance of ranged weapons in the minds of my players, specifically Ashli, who keeps searching for ways to use a bow even when it's not advantageous to her or the party; it's become her crutch, she gets a good rate of fire and a dexterity bonus to hit, so she really wants to do it. Now that we are back to dungeon crawling they might as well be muskets, fire them once, drop them and draw a mêlée weapon. Short distances, poor visibility and lots of cover make them next to useless.

R is for Race. As I get older I see less and less need for a multiracial world. It's another D&D trope inherited from Tolkien and I lean more toward Howard. Other races should be other planar entities, degenerate forms of man, magically mutated animals or some combination. I always liked crazy Gygaxian monsters like Owlbears and Rustmonsters.

R is for Resurrection and Raise Dead. These should be rare and wonderful and come only at great price, an example might be Joel Rosenberg's Guardians of the Flame series. I hate games where death is just a minor inconvenience with a monetary penalty attached, if that's the case why don't wealthy aristocrats live forever in those worlds?

R is for Ruins & Ronin. Until quite recently Ruins & Ronin was the ONLY OSR product I actually bought. Ruins & Ronin has gotten some pretty lukewarm reviews, but I don't get that; R&R is exactly what it claims it was going to be. It's Swords & Wizardry as if the base game were written from an east Asian, specifically Japanese, point of view. Reviewers complained that they didn't get taught how to run a R&R game mostly and I think that means they were just too lazy to figure this stuff out for themselves and wanted to be spoonfed. OSR S&W style (or OD&D) is a tool box, it's up to you to make something with the tools. Could there have been more tools in R&R? Sure. Maybe a future supplement or something will take care of it. Mike Davison has been pretty cool about supporting the game on his blog with free stuff too. So check it out!

R is for Rikishi or "Sumo wrestlers". Rikishi in modern Japan live pretty regulated lives and, apparently, it has been the case since the great sumo crack down during the Tokugawa Shogunate where they banned "street sumo". They live in special houses where they take all their meals and work out and practice wrestling practically all day every day. There is also a religious element to their sport, so it's all pretty serious; but for big, fat guys* they are like rock stars; these guys are always surrounded by hot chicks. Being a pretty big fat guy I always kind of respected this.

R is for Ronin or "Wave-Men" or master-less Samurai. These poor guys have lost their jobs as Samurai, maybe it was their own fault, maybe it wasn't. Often despised by their former social peers they become the Robin Hood types in the movie "The Seven Samurai", in reality they often become mercenaries, bandits or hired muscle for Yakuza because they have no marketable skills beyond being trained warriors. As with so many things in Japanese history, the rise of the Tokugawa Shogunate changed the role of Ronin too. Many Samurai were forced to become Ronin after the Sengoku Jidai by economic circumstances and mostly just moved down into the merchant class, although some took the plunge and became craftsmen and farmers**.

*Don't let the fat fool you, the bulk is there just to make them harder to push or throw; these guys are athletes and quite muscular and skilled.

**Which is actually LESS of a social hit in the Japanese caste system, merchants rank above outcasts only.