So, I was bored, and I had this Tome of Horrors Complete and a strange desire to fiddle with some stats… So I took the giant hamster, changed it to Diminutive size, awakened it, and slapped 12 levels of barbarian on top. The challenge rating was eyeballed and may be off.

I am struck by the staggering stupidity and pointlessness of what I have just done.

Also, I know you don’t get iterative attacks for natural attacks (nor have I found a way to acquire them) but I figured that since the poor guy doesn’t wield a weapon, it’s not gonna break the game.

Boo                                                            CR 5
Male awakened miniature giant hamster barbarian 12
N Diminutive magical beast (augmented animal)
Init +10; Senses low-light vision; Perception +6
AC 30, touch 21, flat-footed 22 (+9 armor, +1 deflection, +6 Dex, +4 size)
hp 113 (1d8+12d12+26)
Fort +14, Ref +11, Will +8; +4 vs. traps
Special Defense improved uncanny dodge, trap sense +4; DR 2/–
Immune disease
Speed 30 ft., burrow 10 ft.
Melee bite +26/+21/+16 (1d3+4 plus grab/19-20)
Space 1 ft.; Reach 0 ft.
Special Attacks cheek pouch
When raging, Boo’s statistics change as follows: AC 31, touch 21, flat-footed 25; hp 152; Fort +15; Will +9; Melee +26/+21/+16 (1d3+8 plus grab/19-20) and 2 claws +25 (1d3+7/x3); Str 18, Con 24; CMB +21 (+25 grapple); CMD 32 (36 vs. trip); SQ pounce
Str 12, Dex 23, Con 18, Int 9, Wis 14, Cha 7
Base Atk +12; CMB +18 (+22 grapple); CMD 29 (33 vs. trip)
Feats Agile Maneuvers, Improved Critical (bite), Improved Initiative, Improved Natural Attack (bite), Iron Will, Weapon Finesse, Weapon Focus (bite)
Skills Acrobatics +22, Climb +10, Intimidate +14, Perception +5, Stealth +19, Survival +18
SQ greater rage (28 rounds/day), rage powers (beast totem, greater beast totem, intimidating glare, knockdown, lesser beast totem, strength surge)
Languages Common
Combat Gear potion of cure serious wounds; Gear +3 mithral breastplate, amulet of mighty fists +3, belt of physical might +4 (Str and Con), ring of protection +1, 50 gp
Cheek Pouch (Ex) A giant hamster can try to stuff a grabbed opponent of two sizes smaller than itself into its cheek pouch by making a successful grapple check. A creature stuffed into the giant hamster’s cheek pouch takes no damage, and can escape by making a successful DC 5 Strength check or can cut its way out by using a light slashing or piercing weapon to deal 10 points of damage to the cheek (AC 11). Once the creature exits, muscular action closes the hole; another trapped opponent must cut its own way out.
A Diminutive hamster’s cheek can hold 1 Fine opponent. The check DC is Strength-based.

The giant hamster is from Tome of Horrors Complete from Necromancer & Frog God Games, designed by Scott Greene and based on the giant space hamster in MC7 Monstrous Compendium Spelljammer Appendix from TSR. The rest of the stuff is from Paizo’s Pathfinder RPG stuff. The beast totem rage powers are from Advanced Player’s Guide.

ICv2 Report 2011, Fourth Quarter – Pathfinder Still on Top

…Santorum surges from rear.

Erm, sorry. I don’t know where that came from.

Tuesday saw the release of ICv2’s quarterly report on the top-selling RPGs (and other things, but we’re less interested in those right now) in the hobby stores. Its contents are not surprising. Pathfinder RPG leads, as it has since last summer. With the 5E announcement, it’s been speculated that Dungeons & Dragons might even fall to the third place, since interest in the outgoing edition tends to wane as the new one draws near, but time will tell. My understanding is that it’s quite a gap between the second and third places on that list, and D&D would have to do badly indeed (or FFG’s games tremendously well, which would actually be less surprising) to fall to that spot.

Fantasy Flight Games’ Dark Heresy, Rogue Trader, Deathwatch and the most recent member of the family, Black Crusade have been hanging on the third spot for a long while now and nothing seems to be able to dislodge them. I suspect there’s a similar gap between #3 and the rest of the list, which tends to fluctuate more – though Dragon Age seems to have also cemented its hold on the #4 spot, which is a real achievement with a release schedule of four products since 2010. I have no personal experience with the game, but I understand it is solid work (Unlike the property it is based on, which bored me out of my skull. If ever a game needed the option to skip fights…).

On the fifth spot, we have a new contender, The One Ring, Cubicle 7’s brand new take on the age-old idea of the Lord of the Rings RPG, which knocked Shadowrun off the list. It’s another game I’m not familiar with, and don’t even have any idea if it’s succeeding on its own or Professor Tolkien’s merits. A big licence like that, just in time for Christmas, as the Hobbit hype is beginning to build up… mmm. Either way, good for Cubicle 7. Now can we finally get our goddamn penguin game? I know you have it. Just print it, box it and ship it already!

I am well aware that the ICv2 report is not the final word on who’s selling the best. Nobody is releasing their numbers and this is just through hobby store distribution. However, the sales ranks aren’t all that different: Pathfinder RPG Core Rulebook at #2 in Science Fiction & Fantasy Gaming Books, the D&D 4E Player’s Handbook at #13. However, there’s a surprise contender that’s far too new to appear on ICv2’s list, Marvel Heroic Roleplay at the #5 spot, from Margaret Weis Productions. Actually, it’s not even released for another month. It’s yet another of MWP’s licenced RPGs using the Cortex system, and looks rather promising. I’m fond of their previous work, though I’ve never actually gotten to play any of it (ah, Leverage, our love has been denied consummation for far too long!). I’m now making the bold prediction that Marvel Heroic Roleplay will be making the 2012 Q1 list.

For a Finnish view, we have the most sold RPGs of the last 30 days from Fantasiapelit, which is always amusing reading. You don’t really need to sell like hotcakes to make that list, which explains stuff like Cyberpunk 2020, a game released 22 years ago, at #9. Apart from that, we’ve got three WH40K books, five Pathfinder books, a new Legend of the Five Rings release, 3:16 Carnage Amongst the Stars and one 4E book, Player’s Handbook 3 (3?! How many of them are there?!) at #15.

So, that’s the state of the realm today.

RPG Blog Carnival: Things to Love, Things to Hate – Giant Space Hamsters and Eclipse Phase

There’s a blog carnival going on at Nevermet Press, on the topic of things that we love and hate. They’ve even conveniently limited it to RPG products, which works well for me.

As long-time readers know, I’m very good at hating things, especially 4E. I decided that this time, I’d direct my considerable powers of derision towards something else, especially since nobody has sent me any new 4E books to detest. I hear they’ll be going for cheap soon, though.

But then, I’m not in this hobby because I hate everything in it. There are great things in it, beautiful things, things that I love and things that inspire me to create, and to rave about how awesome this thing here is. There are many books and product lines in the hobby that I absolutely adore. I’ve written on a number of them, but there’s a conspicuous omission in my oeuvre, especially considering the subheading of my blog.

Hamster, Giant Space

D&D’s been around for a long time, and been blessed with circumstances that have allowed prodigious amounts of content to be produced. When you have a corpus of over a thousand volumes, there’s room for some pretty weird stuff. A lot of this weird stuff accumulated into theSpelljammer setting, which essentially gives astrophysics the finger and goes with a grab-bag of the coolest misconceptions we’ve had of the makeup of the universe to take D&D to the stars.

(That’s probably the subject of a blog post all on its own – the astronomy of Spelljammer, much like the Cant of Planescape, isn’t just random stuff that they made up. They based it all on something. But I digress.)

Anyway, like all AD&D settings back then, Spelljammer received its own entries in the Monstrous Compendium series. It was still the early years after the release of Monstrous Compendium I, which was packed into a three-ring binder. The idea was that you could use the binder to put in all the other Monstrous Compendium entries and sort them alphabetically, for one, ginormous binder full of things to challenge your players. There are also some loose monster pages in boxed sets from this era. I really have no idea how it worked in practice – I came to the game just a few years too late for it and own only a few of loose-leaf Monstrous Compendiums. There were two of these collections for Spelljammer, both annoyingly titles Monstrous Compendium: Spelljammer Appendix. They’re MC7 and MC9 (MC8, in case you’re interested, is the Outer Planes Appendix).

The first one of these includes stats for one of my favourite creatures in all of D&D, the giant space hamster.

It’s pretty much what the name says, a really, really big hamster. Unlike your average D&D giant rodent, which is gonna be the size of a big dog at best (such as the dire rat), the giant space hamster isn’t called “giant” for nothing – the common breed grows to the size of a brown bear. Of course, they were originally bred by the tinker gnomes of the Dragonlance setting, and lemme tell ya, their biological creations work no better than their technological ones. I quote, from MC7 Monstrous Compendium Spelljammer Appendix, released by TSR in 1990:

Possibly the worst aspect of the giant space hamster (aside from its ludicrous existence) is that enchanted substances from numerous other sorts of nonhuman monsters can be introduced into its reproductive processes, producing unbelievable (except to a gnome) new sorts of giant space hamsters. Some gnomish communities deliberately breed unique subspecies in competition with other communities to produce the most interesting varieties. Usually, the results are more or less like the normal sort of giant space hamster, such as the wooly, mottled, ochre, Oriental, Occidental, chartreuse, spotted, not-quite-so-spotted, only-a-little-spotted, plaid, cave-dwelling, three-toed, lesser, greater, greater lesser, lesser greater, albino, and flightless giant space hamsters.

It makes no sense. It’s absurd humour, out of nowhere, and it’s hilarious. According to 30 Years of Adventure: A Celebration of Dungeons & Dragons, the coffee-table book WotC released in 2004, it originated when Jim Holloway was drawing spelljamming vessels, and came up with the gnomish sidewheeler, which has these huge paddlewheels on the sides. Jeff Grubb, noting that there’s nothing for them to churn in the void of space, declared loudly that they must be giant hamsterwheels. Roger E. Moore overheard this, and the rest is history.

MC7 supplies us with stats for other funky variations of the giant space hamster, such as the carnivorous flying giant space hamster (“a regrettable if understandable line of inquiry”), the two-headed lernaean bombardier giant space hamster, the fire-breathing phase doppleganger giant space hamster, the great horned giant space hamster, the abominable giant space hamster, tyrannohamsterus rex, and the fearsome giant space hamster of ill omen, also called Woolly Rupert.

The giant space hamster has since made appearances elsewhere, and most gamers of today will most likely remember it from the Baldur’s Gate games, where the berserker Minsc has a miniature giant space hamster called Boo as a pet. It was also recently updated to Pathfinder RPG in Frog God Games’ Tome of Horrors Complete, a work of such weight that while its contents will kill your character, the book itself can be very easily used to kill you.

To me, the giant space hamster is a reminder that there’s room for humour in everything. While I do take games very seriously indeed, it’s good to remember that nothing should be taken allthat seriously.

And now, for something to hate… hard one, especially if I lay off 4E. Let’s try something, though.

Eclipse Phase

There’s a surprise for you. Actually, I don’t hate Eclipse Phase. I kinda like it. Its setting is a beautiful distillation of all the greatest works of transhumanist science fiction. Its recommended reading page alone has yielded me countless of hours of enjoyment in the discovery of new authors. The art is magnificent, the PDF copies take advantage of the format in ways I’ve only seen Lamentations of the Flame Princess’s last two releases do, and the Creative Commons licence and innovative, courageous distribution model is make it a thing of the future in not just content but in fact. I want to love the game. I just can’t.

It’s the system. Though on the surface, the game appears slick, cool, and modern, under the hood it’s straight out the 1980’s. There are percentiles and endless tables and charts and they are making my eyes bleed. The character generation system has you allocating a hundred points in a hundred different places on a sheet that looks like it was vomited forth by Excel after a night of heavy drinking. It’s MERP all over again, the game I started with but could never learn. There are just too many fiddly bits and moving parts, and subsystems. The character generation looks especially daunting. They’ve put up a heroic effort to try and explain the system in the quickstart adventure Don’t Mind the WMD, but I just can’t bring myself to study the system with the dedication it would require.

So, that’s me and Eclipse Phase. I want to love it, but I can’t. Sorry, not much hate here. The last post took it all out of me, and it’ll take some time to build up the reservoir.

Foul Relics of the Past and D&D 5E

I haven’t been following the 5E development much. I figure that if something interesting comes up, it will intrude upon my consciousness in one way or another, via IRC, forums, an instant message one minute after I’ve gone to bed, or the like. I’m also waiting for the damn thing to come out before passing judgment on it, unlike the online army of prophets and oracles that has looked into the future or received a divine message and thus know for a certain fact that 5E will either be a terrible flop or usher in a new Golden Age of roleplaying games.

However, my fears of the former were grown today when I had to witness a flamewar on Monte Cook’s newest 5E poll, Uniting the Editions, Part 3. There’s one thing among the poll options that gave me pause, as it was not like the others. There’s an option there that does not belong in the 21st century, was a poor idea when it was first conceived over 30 years ago and wholly deserves the quiet grave it has lain these past three editions. The option has no place in a serious discussion on game design except as a warning example and should not be brought to light except to reflect on how far we have come as a hobby and as a society. The option conjures images of the worst stereotypes of roleplayers and will, if actually included in a finished product, bring deserved scorn upon the game and the brand.

No, not THAC0. I’m talking about gender-based ability score maximums. Though the term is pretty self-explanatory, I’ll explain it anyway. It’s a relic of AD&D 1E, where the Player’s Handbook contained this little chart:

It’s a bit small, but the only difference between the sexes is that female characters cannot have as high a Strength score as males. The chart lacks humans, but the earlier Strength Table I notes that a female human’s Strength caps at 18/50, while a male’s goes all the way up to 18/00. Basically, it makes women second-class citizens.

The only purpose these rules serve is to take up space on a page and, well, to be sexist. It’s worse than the Random Prostitute Table (from the Dungeon Master Guide), because that’s at least amusing in its pointlessness. This is just odious. Seriously, it brings nothing positive to the game, and this shit right here and shit like this elsewhere are a major reason the gender makeup of the hobby looks like it does. It is indefensible, useless, and offensive, and the only reason I can figure out for it to be trotted out every now and then like it was a good idea is because some people have this masochistic desire to be thought of as troglodytes.

Now, I’m not numbering Monte Cook among them. From what I’ve seen, he’s one of the good guys, but still, including the option in this poll even as a joke was a bad call. They’ve now made the results secret, but when I cast my votes, it had Feats leading with around 2000 votes, Skills coming up behind with over 1000, and Gender-Based Ability Score Maximums in the bottom end with 324, or about half again as many as THAC0. I think it was also leading over System Shock. The poll is also just begging for goons or Anonymous or a particularly vile strain of Redditor to dump it full of votes for chauvinism. This particular old hat has resurfaced a couple of times online during the last year, and we’ve had some lovely flamewars indeed (and I’m mostly writing this because of those other flamewars – it feels like something of a current topic and this poll isn’t just a single, strange anomaly).

The usual argument is for “realism”, which I suppose would hold water if the game were committed to absolute realism and Phoenix Command level of simulation. However, it isn’t. The hit points and ability scores and armour class are all abstractions, and the player characters are supposed to be exceptional individuals unrestrained by how much the “average” human can bench press. No “average” person decides to go down that hole in the ground and hunt some orc. 3.0 had rules for swimming up waterfalls and balancing atop clouds as feats theoretically attainable without the use of magic. This is not a level of realism the game has ever been particularly interested in replicating. Hell, as things are, most D&D settings even have gender equality, certain trends in armour fashion notwithstanding. We have a game where characters going to the sauna would spontaneously combust, and this is where you choose to make a stand on “realism”? (Besides, enshrining the gender binary in the rules like that also excludes people who do not fit in it, which is unrealistic. Somehow, that notion tends to make people advocating this crap rather uncomfortable.) And no, giving female characters a bonus on Intelligence, Wisdom or Charisma in the name of “balance” would not fix things, it’d just turn this into a different load of bollocks, since then it’d also discriminate against men.

The arguments against it are far more compelling. It discriminates against women and punishes a female player for wanting to play a character of her own sex. It enforces outdated and offensive sterotypes. It’s sexist and drives women away from the game, and its inclusion would be pandering to the pig-ignorant mouthbreathers and social also-rans that this hobby is trying to rise above. Indeed, one player I know has mentioned that she doesn’t want to play D&D because the game’s portrayal of women makes her feel like her character would be dead weight to the party – and this two decades after the chart above was consigned to the wastebasket of history.

Approaching from another point of view, even a less socially enlightened mind would perhaps wish to consider the notion that effectively excluding 50% of humanity from your game might not be the soundest financial decision, either in terms of directly lost sales or the public relations issues it would cause. This could actually be damaging to D&D, since it’s notable enough that mainstream media outlets like Forbes ran stories on the 5th edition announcement. If a generic fantasy heartbreaker someone released out of their garage has a 1920’s attitude about women, the most flak it can expect to catch is three pages on and maybe an irate blog post somewhere. However, if D&D pulls a stunt like that, it’ll be all over the place, and not necessarily limited to the geeksphere.

Seriously, now. That chart has no place in this game or any other game, even as an optional rule. Put a picture of a dragon or a random sock colour table in there if you can’t figure anything else to fill the page. If I need to throw a player from my table, I don’t need the rulebook to help me.

Afterword: And then they figured it out, fixed things, and posted a follow-up, all before I got this blog post up. Good job, guys. However, I spent a couple of hours on this rant and I’m not about to let it go to waste.