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RPGs

Playing Lawful Neutral

When we step from good but do not reach evil, we must instead discuss what is justifiable, and law, chaos, or whatever other ethos you use becomes simply a means to an end.

While there are those who fall within Lawful Neutral’s umbrella who see the law as the end to which all means are necessary, and blindly pursue upholding the law as a duty in itself. Still others are simply searching for a peaceful life, or the pursuit of their own goals within the confines of the law, or in accordance with some code of conduct or ethics. LN characters are not necessarily interested in saving lives, nor are they necessarily out to enforce their law upon others, but in their actions they are constantly guided by an outside force. (more…)


Playing Chaotic Good

Meet the Robin Hood of the D&D moral alignment system. Here we find the vigilantes, the renegades, and the rebels willing to stand up for what’s right in a world gone tragically wrong, and most importantly the heroes of freedom. For those who swing towards chaos on the side of goodness and the rights of the people the call to heroism comes when tyrants, slavers and oppressors threaten the people and their ability to live their lives in peace and quiet, without the demands of others to intrude. Sticking up for the little guy has the potential to lead people into trouble, and a tendency to run afoul of the law, but that’s all part of the fun for a CG character.

It’s one of the easiest alignments to play, but it’s worth looking into how to play Chaotic Good well.

Equality & Justice For Most

Law and it’s associated organisational structures have a tendency toward being easily exploited by the cruel and manipulative, and that tends to generate inequality and unfair treatment, and it’s exactly these injustices and inequalities a CG hero might seek to combat, but it’s not a must. It might simply be that a thief is content to leave the establishment untouched, but make a habit of taking things from them to redistribute, or a brutish mercenary might go hunting criminals in the underground with methods that local police might deem unnecessarily violent. You might seek to champion the cause of freedom, or you might just want the freedom to do what needs to be done.

Administration, bureaucracy, and all its trappings can often give villainous sorts more than enough time to wreak havoc while those who are supposed to be stopping them are busy making sure things are done properly, and that kind of restriction can rile a Chaotic Good character. The lawfully inclined may not draw distinctions between one criminal or another, no matter their intentions, and if a chaotic hero goes off on a well-meaning rampage then they may be regarded as playing judge, jury, and executioner. How does your character decide who deserves their attention?

The Problem With Anarcho-Syndicalism

Chaos, and a life without an authoritative force tends to form one; someone always wants to be in charge, and if they’re free to do so then crueller people will vie for the top spots. If you seek to overthrow the ruling force you run the risk of allowing another to rise, and if you live among the fringes of society you’ll often find yourself confronted by the worst of those who rule over society’s dregs. The problem with freedom is that people are free to do whatever they like, for some that steps on the toes of the freedom of others, and not everyone will use their freedom to go about their own business.

This raises some very serious ethical dilemmas for a CG character, at least those who care enough about the fate of the world to engage. Is it enough to keep swatting down villains until they take the hint, or should a vigilante lead by example, making themselves a symbol for all to aspire to. Anyone who has the kind of social impact heroes do must at some point confront the consequences of their actions, and a good person will face up to their responsibilities instead of shrugging it off, that’s for the neutrals and evils of the world.

For Example

People who travel through the Forest of Noon need to watch their step, and be sure not to destroy anything or kill the local wildlife. A local logging company still tells stories about how their trucks suddenly turned into hornet nests, and how their tree surgeons found themselves upside-down, dangling by the ankles from an ivy rope in the branches of the very trees they were supposed to be cutting down. No one knows what’s happening, how, or who could possibly be doing it, and for now she’d rather keep it that way. Let people say what they like about the Forest of Noon, so long as no one hurts it.

A character like Wolverine or Jessica Jones would easily be considered Chaotic Good, as both may despise authority and seek to pursue life their own way without interference they’ll ultimately end up doing the right thing. Despite a gruff and anti-social exterior they are fundamentally compelled to help save lives and protect anyone close to them, or even fight to defend a stranger when the cause is suitably just, and are unlikely to sit by and watch as someone else suffers. Unless they deserve it of course.

A singer has a tendency for writing songs deemed “troublesome” by the Earl, and his penchant for wearing an oversized novelty moustache in mockery of the Earl’s own is rather irksome. And yet every time the Early has the man arrested it seems to stoke some great rebellious fire amongst the people, the King’s guard are overworked by the little insurrections happening daily. Maybe it’s time to repeal the law about singing the damn minstrel’s songs on the street, but how is a duly appointed ruler to be taken seriously when he’s ritualistically mocked by his peons, underlings, and the common peasantry?

The crew of the Serenity in Firefly are almost entirely CG, with the exceptions of Inara, and possibly shepherd Book. They pursue criminal enterprises and illegal transactions that help keep tax revenue out of the hands of the Alliance, and to deliver help where it’s most needed. They stand up to anyone who seeks to stick a boot on someone’s neck whether they’re government or just some Ben Tian Sheng De Yi Dui Rou with a superiority complex.


Playing Neutral Good

I hate Neutral Good.

As a player it’s an easy pick, all the advantages of heroism without the need to be tied down by an ideology like the rule of law or the right to be free, ignore the rules whenever you please – oh sorry, whenever the cause is just – without suffering the wrath of the police. On the bright side it allows players to explore ideologies and philosophies more readily than might a lawful or chaotic bound player, and different perspectives on what one must do to be considered “good”. As a player it needn’t be a cop-out, claiming to do the right thing just because it’s the right thing, it can be a chance to explore what can drive someone to a life of heroism. (more…)


Playing Lawful Good

The much maligned moral alignment system has something of a bad history. In past editions of Dungeons & Dragons it’s been too restrictive, poorly explained and interpreted worse still, but take some time with it, break free of its constraints and bend the rules a little and it can actually be as useful a method of categorising and guiding the decisions and progression of a character as giving them a Myers-Briggs personality type, or a background. And of course it needn’t be restricted to a D&D or fantasy character.

Lawful Good! The alignment most commonly associated with the gleaming warriors of god, the Paladins and Clerics, or the guy who inevitably gets attacked by the barbarian for getting in the way of unrestrained carnage once too often. Having an LG character in the party can often feel like being lumbered with a chaperone or a policeman, everyone has to be on their best behaviour because the LG can’t stand by and simply watch as the less restrained members of the group do what needs to be done. An LG might be so inclined to hand over inordinate amounts of loot to charities and those less fortunate because it’s the “right thing to do” which is often a major source of conflict. (more…)


Review – Volo’s Guide to Monsters

It has been a couple of years since the release of the core set – Players Handbook, Monster Manual and Dungeon Master’s Guide – and in between we’ve mostly seen the release of campaign books that have added their own flavour that a half-awake DM can implement to great effect in his/her own games.

Across the last two editions we’ve seen something of a template in terms of extra material, and the same with independent adaption Pathfinder; more monster manuals, more player options, flavour books that add new worlds or mixed materials that play to a theme, accompanied by campaign modules which are primarily focused on a playable adventure, rather than adding usable material for anyone to use. (more…)


Top 10 Gods

For the love of all that is holy, we’re back for another Saturday Top 10. So for God’s sake, pull up a chair and have a gander through these ancient scrolls that we’ve uncovered, telling us all of the power of these beings. They might not always be physical, but they’re certainly righteous in their own way. So whether or not you’re a believer, this list has been made to try and convert you to our beliefs.

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Dungeons & Dragons Online Support

This is something of a review, because one area I must criticise 4th edition D&D on was the support it received online.

Enjoying 4th edition places you in something of a minority, but it had it’s truly beneficial features. Stripping away to the bare bones of the system and starting again from scratch was a bold step better executed this time around, but in so doing Wizards of the Coast learned a few valuable lessons. However, for players new to the format the at-will/encounter/daily breakdown of powers, spells and abilities made for a readily comprehendible set-up for combat that was easy to grasp, and for DMs it made the process of creating new monsters, traps and various other key elements much easier.

Still I have come to appreciate 4th’s failings, and it’s hideous decline into Essentials – VAMPIRE IS NOT A CLASS YOU ~cough~ – anyway, and I can almost fully understand the outrage many of the die-hards and old school players felt during the releases. I’ve refuted some of it’s so-called weaknesses, espoused it’s strengths, admitted graciously it’s failures, and recognised how the mistakes I made as a 4th edition DM have hardened me into a far stronger practitioner.

D&D 4e all core (Small)

But that’s not what this article is about, no edition wars in the comments please!

Wizards of the Coast offered up four pieces of support to subscribers to their Insider services: The Dungeon and Dragon magazines offered supplementary rules, errata updates and useful lore to DMs and players respectively, the former with regular dungeons and/or mini-campaigns, the other expanding on class, race and character options.

The Character Builder began as an excellent tool for… well building characters, and better yet it was a piece of downloadable software you could continue to use long after your subscription had ended, but could only be updated while you’re subscribed, seems reasonable. But when Essentials came around the software became restricted to in-browser only, and there were no more updates. Alright, not a great loss, right?

Adventure Tools started life with a catalogue of monsters that the DM could filter by level, role, and keywords, as well as searching by name. It allowed for easy encounter building, and also included a fantastic monster-building tool that did all the essential maths on your behalf, as well as offering up necessary guidelines to help prevent over- or under-powering your creations. Like the character builder it was available to download and update to subscribers, but subscribers never got the one thing they wanted most from the adventure tools, any other adventure tools. The software lived and died as the monster compendium.


Mini rant out of the way, now credit where credit is due.

5th edition began life as a series of .pdf files that were freely available to everyone with a request for as much playtest feedback as possible so that they could refine the game into a cleanly finished product that could be enjoyed by all, and it worked beautifully. What’s even better is that they have not finished the process.

wallpaper_Class- Warlock

If you have any kind of internet-capable mobile device that is able, get the Dragon+ app or get it straight to browser, which features a free monthly magazine with news, articles, lore, podcasts, and even better, new character options that are in a constant state of playtest. For example, the Mystic class – a psychic of many talents that falls somewhere between monk and spell-caster – is currently in its second iteration after a few months of being trialled, and is still subject to change as a final version may never reach a published book, and only ever appear in the hands of those who read regularly. The same is true of some Eberron-specific races like Shifters and Warforged, available somewhere in the archives of Dragon+, I forget where.

Free core rules are readily available for anyone to download including basics on character building for players and a limited selection of classes, races and spells to pick and choose from (although 114 pages is most of the Players Handbook, so you’re not losing all that much), and for DMs a collection of monsters, how to build encounters with them, and some magic items to hand out afterwards. Without spending a penny you can have enough to dabble into the full game, but they’ve given just enough to make the books well worth buying. If you own the books already get these downloaded onto your phone or tablet though, it helps when travelling light, or for sudden and unexpected gaming situations.

So that’s it, right? All the core rules and a nice little collection of extra supplementary material for free. They can’t give any more away, surely?

No, hypothetical reader, I am not done! And stop interrupting me!

Monster-by-Type

If you’re a stalwart of the WotC flagship product then there’s a few other online tools you’ll be familiar with that some consider an absolute must for play. The virtual tabletops Fantasy Grounds and Roll20 are both now fully endorsed by Wizards and have official support for new releases, making it easier for people who prefer to play online – or are forced to by time and distance – to join in and get a richer experience. Granted that support isn’t free, but there’s a limit as to how much can just be handed out.

The DMs Guild powered by the DriveThru team who support content creators for RPGs is a dedicated platform for writers wanting to generate content for D&D within the official guidelines laid down by WotC. That may sound limiting, especially when you can just use the normal DriveThru RPG platform and make money the same way, but if you play by their rules Wizards might just pick up your content to go official, and the chance to have your work appear alongside the official staff writers. It’s a great way for Wizards to source the best material straight from the fan community, but it’s also a great way for writers to make money and get publicity at the same time.

There’s more, there is so much more, from the fan site toolkit, the Podcast (which featured the writer of Rat Queens one time and I squealed like a fangirl), the Open Gaming License, to associations and respective nods to other major companies, many of which fan-made that have grown to industry giants, some of which seemingly unrelated… like My Little Pony… just, click that link, you’ll be richer for the experience. Is it all perfect? No, but it is a huge step towards improving company-customer relations, and one that a company like Wizards sorely needs in order to keep revenue flowing. Those books aren’t cheap, but when you feel like your money is put to good use it all suddenly becomes a little more worthwhile.

Dammit Hasbro, you cunning puppet-masters, you made me love you a little bit.


Player 101 – Becoming Heroic

What drives a “normal” person to take to the wayward life of adventure? Tanners, soldiers, smugglers, musicians, rarely are people born heroes, and even when presented with great power they may not be so inclined to take up the great responsibility. Ordinary people have lives, families, jobs and a status to keep quo, and don’t want to spend weeks walking between death traps for ungrateful clients and nations that will never know their names. It’s dangerous, difficult, stupid, and frankly not a great return on investment. (more…)


DMing 101 – Lies 2: Duplicity

 

DMing101

Deception is rarely fun for everyone concerned. Ok, so the longer you can keep the grand reveal from your group the more incredible it may be, but in between there’s a long stretch of frustration because people prefer to know things than be kept in the dark.

Ah, but when someone is in on it, then things get more interesting. Bringing someone into the fold makes for an interesting dynamic, pitches the group against one another in the best possible way, and can make for a few rather interesting story moments that will leave your group exchanging dirty looks at one another for years to come. (more…)


Top 10 Cows

GeekOut Top 10s

Mooo-ve over goats, it’s time to pay our respects to the bovine beasties of the world with our next list. Trot on over to your seats ladies and gentlemen, as it’s Saturday and that can only mean it’s time for another strange collection to graze through. Selected by you, we’ll prove we’ve got no beef with this weeks choice. We’re not playing around when it comes to milking these puns today, it’s time for our Top 10 Cows!


Top 10

10. The Tauren – Warcraft

Taurenew

“Moo, are you happy now?”

Ah yes, the Tauren of Warcraft are an incredibly nomadic people. These huge humanoids resemble cows and bulls, akin to that of a Minotaur. The difference with these folk are their shamanistic and druidic ways, as opposed to a typical Minotaur view of solitude and isolation, making the Tauren a lot more of a herd mentality that we’re used to from cows in general. The Tauren are a noble people, who sided with the Orcs and their Horde.

One interesting point about the Tauren is their strange relationship to the Night Elves. On the one hand, war separates the two, yet they’re both keen on the protection of the Earth. If only these two races kept to themselves; perhaps fel energies wouldn’t be so present there on Azeroth. Coming in only at number 10, the Tauren are one of the more neglected, but certainly lovable aspects of Warcraft.

9. The Brazen Bull

Brazen Bull

Torture is a terribly creative affair, it’s incredible the ways we find to bring each other pain. The bronze bull or Sicilian bull was devised a means of executing prisoners by imprisoning them in a metal sculpture that is slowly heated until the victim is cooked to death, oh but that’s not the creepiest part. Smoke was allowed to curl out of the beast’s nostrils, and a series of pipes and tubes made the horrified screams emerge as the enraged howling of the bull.

If you want to see exactly how horrific that can be, watch Immortals by Tarsem Singh, it’s a rather superb take on a classic Greek tale, but it’s also rather gruesome. Magic: the Gathering also brought out a Brazen Bull card entitled Deserter’s Quarters. And as if Amnesia wasn’t creepy enough, there’s even a haunted Bull in the torture chambers that still screams when a fire is lit beneath it.

8. Cow – Cow and Chicken

Cowandchicken Cow

The cartoon series that featured the grotesque and childish mishaps and happenings of the brother sister team, hard-done-by 11 year old Chicken and his overly emotional 7 year old sister Cow. While Chicken largely tries to ignore or berate his sister he cannot escape the fact that he is literally overshadowed by the big, fat and ugly cow he is charged with protecting.

Cow is massive, loving, easily brought to fits of hysteria or bouts of tears, either accompanied by an emotional moo. Considering their neglectful and unhinged parents it’s little wonder that the unlikely siblings have issues of their own, although it probably doesn’t help that they share a creator with Ren and Stimpy.

7. #241 Miltank – Pokemon

241Miltank

When Miltank was released upon the Pokemon franchise, at first I thought it was going to be a bit of a joke Pokemon, not really understanding the meta-game importance it would achieve. Even to this day, a well trained Miltank can seriously soften a blow for a team that needs the time to set up. This beefy, tanky cow is able to withstand some really devastating attacks from many different types.

Miltank isn’t anything special really; but the fact it was such a sturdy tank for so long and can still soak up the damage is testament to how well this bovine Pokemon has fit in with the franchise. Whether it’s surviving by the skin of its teeth and drinking… Er… It’s own milk to recover health, or if it’s the surprisingly useful move set that jumps out at you, don’t worry: Miltank will never be forgotten as one of the greatest assets from Generation 2.

6. The Secret Cow Level – Diablo 2

CowLevel

If you’ve never heard of the Secret Cow level, then you’ve either never played Diablo 2 or you’ve never used Google before. The Secret Cow level is an Easter Egg of mythical proportions, a secret passed down from player to player and even from Diablo to Diablo (only it sometimes changes forms to other things, such as rainbow unicorns and ponies in the process).

The Secret Cow Level requires you to get the Horadric Cube and to place inside of it Wirt’s Leg, a seemingly useless item from Tristram and with it, put a Tome of Town Portal in there with it. Transmute the items together and a red gate will appear, as if conjured up by hell itself. This only happens when you’ve beaten Diablo and are taken back to the Rogue Encampment for the first time. Do not select a higher level of difficulty, for you’ll have to beat that ones Diablo. Be prepared, as these cows are tough, wielding halberds and polearms of all sorts… But the treasures beyond the portal are immeasurable.

5. Ballistic Cow/Fetchez la Vache – Monty Python and the Holy Grail

We have a Holy Grail, it’s very nice, but you cannot come in to see it. Now go away or we shall taunt you a second time! Or hurl livestock at you via trebuchet, or possibly mangonel.

In the same way that this flung cattle is the opening salvo in a barrage of assorted debris, clutter and livestock, this is one of the many, many, many many, manymany MANY jokes from Holy Grail that would seemingly live forever in the form of a wide variety of weaponised cows, many of whom appear on this list! It may not be the most famous part of the scene, but it’s perhaps the most parodied.

And this one is for your mother.

4. Cow Launched – Earthworm Jim

Considered one of the weirdest plot devices in all of video game history, Earthworm Jim is about an earthworm, named Jim, who becomes super powerful whenever he puts on his intergalactic suit. With the universe in danger from Queen Slug-For-A-Butt, Jim sets out to go and save Princess Whats-Her-Name and to hopefully steal a smooch from her. Little did he know, his dreams of smooching the damsel would be completely smooshed.

In a weird twist, the princess is flattened by a cow that falls from outer space. Jim, beside himself, leaves the scene… Only to return to steal her crown after the land has cracked away at the cow and the princess. But why would a cow fall from space like that? Back in the first level, a trap is set up to force you to progress the game. The trap forces you to launch the same cow into orbit, where you see the cow travelling by at insane speeds throughout the game. Crazy, silly ending, for a crazy, silly game.

3. Cows & Cows & Cows and Moo – Cyriak

Cows & Cows & Cows is a video featuring a large bunch of cows in a field, perhaps even a whole herd of cows. They start to moo in a rather catchy rhythm, mooing cheerily, but somewhat eerily too. They then start to bounce around in silly manners – Oh the joy in those moos. But then, suddenly, the joyful bouncing turns into weird shapes, such as spider cows… And even puddle cows. Very odd. Moo is just as odd, featuring aliens and cows fighting it out for… Something.

It’s really hard to explain what makes these videos (and thus Cyriak) such a highly talented piece of animation. But hey, Cyriak’s YouTube ventures, including both Cows & Cows & Cows and Moo saw his animation expertise be snapped up by both the BBC AND Adult Swim. Who would have ever thought that making some cow-monstrosities would create such an impressive career?

2. Angel/Demon Cow – Black and White

Cow BAW

Black & White was a highly anticipated game by Lionhead Studios, who recently shut down for good. It’s a shame, as Lionhead produced some amazing games, such as Black & White and of course, the legendary Fable series. WIth this said, the cow in Black & White was hilarious in many respects. This was a cow that could be bigger than a mountain; or “only” as tall as a building. This was a cow that could be good and heal the sick, or be rotten by healing the sick… then eating them. It could inflict pain like no other, or it could help those who truly were in need. This cow was not only a godsend: It was a literal avatar of a god put on Earth.

This was a close call, having almost made this our number one pick… However, it just loses out because this simply isn’t as well known as our number one choice. That was the only determining factor between the avatar of a god and our next choice…

1. Minotaur – Mythology

minotaur1

Asterion, the bull of Minos, was the misbegotten child of Pasiphae and the Cretan Bull, sent as a curse upon King Minos for failing to sacrifice the bull. In his dispair Minos commanded Asterion imprisoned in a labyrinth, to be slain years later by Theseus, a son of Poseidon. The minotaur is also one of the first things most people think of when they hear the words Greek Myth.

Minotaurs have entered gaming circles as an entire species of evil carnivores bent on destruction. It may be a misappropriation of the source material but it’s one that’s spread throughout the fantasy genre and has built something of a mythology around themselves. A playable race in D&D, a pivotal race in Magic’s plane Theros, and in the mythology based RPG Titan Quest you can fight your way through a horde of the beasts to kill the original beneath the palace of Knossos.

Was there really another choice for geekiest cow? Well yes, it got pretty close with the Avatar in Black and White. In the end it was the far reach and cultural impact of the bullheaded maneater that won out the number one slot.


Honourable Mentions

That wasn’t so bad now, was it? Now that these Moo-vers and shakers have been shuffled along, it’s time for two more to be mentioned. There’s always a couple of layabouts in a large herd. So whether it’s all about being punny, or it’s all about hoofing over another ‘potential’ for our list, here are two more that just deserved to be mentioned.

Bison – Street Fighter

YES m bison

BECAUSE HE’S A BISON?

I am so sorry. Bad pun it may be, but it is nerdy, and it’s kind of an interesting piece of trivia. The powerful crime lord in the red military garb is actually named Vega in the original Japanese, the masked fighter with the claws is named Balrog, making the original M. Bison the pugilist we know better as Balrog. The name swap was brought about by the unapologetic similarity to Mike Tyson.

But no matter which Bison you know, both are almost comically exaggerated combatants, and regular antagonists of the series. The boxer is a dirty fighter, and cheats to land bigger paychecks, but the head of the operation has a real god complex that has driven him to pursuing the dark Psycho Power beyond his physical limits.

Not exactly cows, but we couldn’t resist.

Mad Cow – Worms

 

 

Amongst the wide variety of brilliantly ridiculous weaponry at the disposal of the heavily armed invertebrates are a collection of barnyard animals, including the sheep, super sheep, concrete donkey, and of course the Mad Cow.

Not the most devastating, not the easiest to control, but a rather interesting balance of the two. Point and shoot to unleash a stampede of wildly trampling cows that detonate on impact, y’know, like cows do. The problem is what they might make contact with, one badly angled launch can be result in a devastating backlash or a heartbreaking waste, but I have seen some rather effective uses by dropping cows from a grappling hook.


 

I’ve gone mad from all of this cow-talk. So give yourselves a pat, you’ve seriously made us need to farm through the banks of our memories for this one. But don’t think you’ve defeated us, because once again we rose to the occasion and we’ve come up with a list that is definitively GeekOut and is as barn-y as we are. Oh, I really should stop with milking these puns. Take a moment to help us pick our next Top 10:

Don’t have a cow man, that’s the end of our list for this week. Whether or not you had fun trotting through this list, or if you now have some personal beef with us for forgetting your favourite cow, let us know in the comments below. Do you agree with our ordering of these shapely creatures, or do you think we’ve forgotten one all together? Alternatively, share your bovine frustrations with us over on Facebook, Twitter or Reddit.