Tag Archives: alignment

Review: Dresden Files 14–Cold Days

At last! Family is out of my house, and I’ve had a chance to read Cold Days. Hope everyone enjoyed their holidays, I got a cold, so this post might be short. Now let’s see what trouble Harry has gotten himself into now…

Physical therapy has never been exciting until you’ve had the fae version, or so we start out with. Harry has to recover from his brush with death, which is not easy to do when you are also in training as the new Winter Knight. Mab has no mercy…and for good reason. Her first task for Harry borders on the impossible. To make matters worse, he has to try and find balance with finding his place in the normal world again, despite no longer clearly being on the good side. And what on earth is going on with Demonreach? Oh, only the potential end of the world. And a lot of trouble for Harry even if he does manage to save things again. Nothing major.

A lot of this book was me sitting here, on my couch. Swearing. Loudly. My friend (who has read all of these) laughing at me. Yeah. But…there were a few hiccups, like what I’m coming to realize is always going to be the case with this series. Usually where there was the bad, there was some good though, so it was managed to balance out better than it usually did.

To begin with, there was some issues balancing out the world building. On one hand, we were dealing a lot more in depth with the fae than we ever have before. (And I might regret saying that, but from where I’m sitting… yes, more than ever before.) So that’s a lot of information. But we’ve got Demonreach’s secret going on, we’ve got more information about what happened when Harry “died,” we’ve got Outsiders and Gatekeeper and just… Too much going on, man. And to make it worse, the first fourth or so of the book sets up for basically fae adventures only…and then we’re back in Chicago and it’s total whiplash. And it’s a weird pace compared to the rest of the book. Overall, kind of a clunky transition. I get why he did it, and I like the details it gives us. But it just creates a clear dividing line in the book between sections.

Plot wise, it takes a bit for him to get going. I blame the last book being such a plot-spinner book. It didn’t give him quite as neat of a jumping off point as he normally has. So he had to actually deal with some mess he left behind, and that just takes time. But then once he gets going… the plot is more than a little amusing. I repeat, I was swearing. Not the, “Oh lord, I want to throw this book at the WALL,” swearing, but the, “This is too cool for proper words!” kind. It starts to get clunky at the end, but I’ve about decided that Butcher just doesn’t know how to handle loose ends. He wants to throw all these things together, but he struggles with weaving everything together until he starts knocking out parts so he can focus on two or three.

Character wise… I have mixed feelings. Some of my favorites get little to no screen time in these recent books. I mean, Thomas at least has his moments, but… I miss Ramirez. I miss Michael. I miss all these characters that helped us remember Harry’s humanity. I think we really need to see more of them, or all that nerfing we just did of Harry’s character is going to be lost. I’m also REALLY getting annoyed over how many female characters keep dying. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I have issues with character death period. It’s usually done for shock value rather than anything else. But the proportions of main character deaths between the girls and the boys is feeling off to me.

Overall, Cold Days was a fun read. I enjoyed the excitement of it once it got going, and there were some character moments that shone through. But I think it is possibly the worst book for a first time reader to pick up, making it incapable of existing outside of the series, which I think is a problem. And then on top of that, even for a long time reader, there was some serious clunkiness and issues with the world building.

I would say more, but… Cold. Headache. I have work in the morning. I’m interesting in hearing other opinions though. Any highlights (or lowlights) from this one catch your eye? Comment and let me know!

Advertisements

Tabletop RP: Alignment Woes

Okay, I give up on my local libraries and am trying to find a friend who owns a copy of Cold Days that I can borrow. Cross your fingers! (It’s trickier than you think, most of my friends prefer audio books…) And since nothing comes to mind for forum RP, I thought I would discuss an element of tabletop that is a lot murkier and troublesome than people give it credit for: alignment.

For those who haven’t dabbled in the DnD waters, Paizo is the wonderful company who gave us the two axis alignment system. What that means is that a character can be Good, Evil, or in between at Neutral, but they are also Lawful, Chaotic, or again, possibly Neutral between the two. This gives nine different alignments to play with, and some have multiple interpretations to go off of. Here are my very brief descriptions, but for more in depth ones, I suggest wiki walking through TV Tropes.Org. I am barely touching on them here. So, by the law-chaos line…

Lawful types are rigid and rule bound. Despite the name, the actual laws of the kingdom may not be the rules a lawful character follows. It could be vows made to a religious order, or a strict personal code. Good characters usually incorporate the more common laws into their personal code if they go that route, while Evil types tend to enjoy exploiting their own loopholes.

Chaotic types re the polar opposites of Lawful, and yet, they can be close cousins. For these characters, either the Id of their psyches or their pride makes them scorn rules (and sometimes morals). To some, the law is the enemy while to others, they just want the freedom of choice. Good characters are more willing to accept or take frowned-upon actions, such as sniping and thievery, while Evil types usually take every opportunity they can to flout the rules. Unlike Lawful, who can’t break their code, Chaos types can obey rules…if it suits their own purposes at the time.

The Neutrals are where everything gets fuzzy. At what point do you cross the line and become straight evil or good? How often do you follow the rules before you are considered lawful? What are your motivations for not being one extreme or the other?

Because things get so fuzzy, Paizo introduced a numeric scale within their two axis system in Pathfinder. 1-3 is Good and Lawful, respectively, with 1 being supremely good/lawful. Neutrals are 4-6, and Evil and Chaos are 7-9, with 0 being supremely evil/chaotic.. It is meant to help DMs judge where their players are at in alignments. For example, if a character is Chaotic Good, but only has a 3 in Good and a 9 in Chaos, they know that the character isn’t always going to take the good action if the chaotic one makes more sense.

Now that I’m done rambling about the basics, here’s the part that I think causes problems. Some DMs consider general tone of actions. For example, when I was playing my Half-Elven Deep Wood Sniper, Bevan,who was Chaotic Good, I was allowed to snipe and shoot an unarmed, asleep man. Why? Because most of the time I wasn’t that chaotic in my choices and I tended to side with the Lawful Good knight. The occasional act of mayhem helped me keep my alignment because it fit the overall tone. I feel the same way when I DM, not worried about each individual action, but about the overall playing style.

But recently, my group had a huge blow up. Part of it was because of a very frustrating dungeon that was accidentally set at Death Trap levels and our DM didn’t check to see if we could survive it (answer: we couldn’t with our party set up), trusting the generator. He ended up nerfing multiple monsters and all the traps, since we were level 1 and it was impossible for us to make them or defeat the monsters. And then afterward the dungeon when dealing with the one who created it, it became a discussion of what did and did not constitute good when he tried to push an alignment shift on another character because of one, singular action. Two didn’t care, but three other players, including myself and the player who was being forced to take the shift, were rather incensed.

Now, neither side was in the right here. The DM should have cut the discussion off and talked to us privately about it rather than let it continue to escalate. I think not getting us set up to have mounting feelings of frustration by throwing us in that dungeon at level 1 goes without saying. But this is where the players should have shut up–it was the DM’s decision. Once he makes his ruling, we should have respected it and talked privately about it later. His style is very much by the book, you break the alignment once, you take a hit, and now that we know that, we as players are really going to have to adjust how we play to reflect that.

So my suggestion? Before you start a campaign, make sure as DM and players that you understand how strict the alignment is going to be and make sure that any hits are intentional hits rather than punishments (as much as the idea of the DM doing any punishing irks the tar out of me).


Tabletop RP: d20 Future

…I have no idea how I skipped a week. Really, I don’t. But I’m sorry! Hopefully I can get things straightened out around here…

This post is talking about another system, created by the same people who brought us Dungeons and Dragons, meant for people who intend to try and RP something in either a modern or future setting. My friends and I just call it d20 Future to reference both. While some of the schematics are the same, there are some differences that make the entire process more enjoyable…and more of a headache.

First, the fun side. I know it might sound crazy, but I really like that it breaks from the traditional alignment system and instead focuses on what a character is loyal to. Sometimes, the three by three system is  rather limiting if you have a particular concept that you are trying to base your character’s motivations around. Using this loyalty based system, it allows you to play with that rather than limiting your actions to just what is considered good or evil or lawful or chaotic. Sometimes your decisions you make for your character are based on something like what their family would think of him/her or if its all about choices (taken from a friend’s idea). It opens up a lot of what you can do with your character.

In the same regard, the classes are really versatile. They focus on a particular strength, such as dexterity/speed or charm, but leave so many of the particulars up to you and what you pick for the profession and feats. It makes the classes super customizable, perfect for a modern or future RP since for a DM, you can run almost anything, and as a player…you can run almost anything. Really, it can cause some seriously awesome campaigns. I have a character who is not what she looks like at all, just because of the different things I picked for her. And she’s in a Gundam inspired campaign. Yeah, this is going to get amusing. I’ve also made a space pirate of all things. There are almost no limits.

…notice I said almost. Some of the things are kinda wonky, and I’m not afraid of calling them on it. To begin with, the way different progress levels work together is often confusing or completely nonsensical, and it makes me wonder if anyone capable of logic looked over the book before they published it. I also think it relies rather heavily on the player being interested in the mechanics about scifi. As my earlier post on hard sci fi versus soft sci fi shows, I am not that big on hard sci fi, and like having wiggle room for interpretation. Having had one DM who thrived on being rule-bound and loves hard sci fi, I wish that there was almost two versions of this. One for the soft sci fi people, one for the rule mongers.

The characters are also very, very squishy at first. And experience is hard to get. It makes the first few levels hard from a DM’s perspective, because you don’t want to just curb-stomp your players. Or at least, most people don’t want to. From a player’s perspective, it’s hard to meet almost any check, and then to further complicate things is battle. Most of the weapons are guaranteed to kill you in one hit, if not two, and there is almost nothing you can do to bolster AC at first level. So you have the problem of how do you get experience points to be less squishy…without getting riddled with bullets in the process. Both times I’ve been involved in any kind of campaign, the DM’s solution has been to give us mechs, which can sometimes actually over power the opposition until everything blows up.

Speaking of stuff, oh my lord. The purchasing system. I seriously think they’ve lost their minds. You basically end up with these point systems to reflect how much something is worth in comparison to each other, and you start out with that point and basically can afford…EVERYTHING that costs that point or less. And then if you want something higher, you roll (oh, but you can take 20) and just… MESS, it’s a  MESS. With more issues from the progress levels changing how many points something is worth or if its available or if a better version is available… I hate doing inventory with this system. Absolutely hate it. And I normally love that part, so that says something.

Overall, I think this is a good first attempt at trying to take their success in the traditional high fantasy settings and RPG, and shift it to modern and future scifi. But they were a little too broad with it over all, and if they had broken it down into very clear, separate systems rather than sort of meshing and merging everything to work together, I think it would have been stronger. Except the inventory system That needs taken out back and shot.