Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Saint Raphael the Archangel-Part 3

This one of my favorite (and most anxiety-ridden) stages of the process. This is where you start putting highlighting everything and hope that it comes out even. This doesn't mean I don't pre-plan my colors: I do. But it always looks different on the board then it does in a test. So far I'm pretty excited about that green robe. I may have to re-work it a few times, but the basic concept's definitely in place. Now I just need to highlight the face a bit more so I have an idea of how much brighter the rest of the icon will get.

Saturday, November 26, 2011


Now y'all are gonna laugh at me, but I was checking out my page views, and I noticed that people from the Netherlands and Singapore are looking at the site. Now, I realize that this is the internet, and everything I post gets seen by the whole world, but I gotta say:


I apologize for that... outburst. It was childish and immature. Oh well. SWEET!
EDIT: If you are outside the U.S., please don't hesitate to leave a comment! I've always wanted to go traveling, but funds (and timing) has always been less than satisfactory. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

4EMOD: V-Classes

For those of you who don't know what V-Classes are, I'll explain. Most classes have one attack stat, with two (possibly three) secondary stats its based off. These are called A-Classes (one attack, two secondary). Most classes in 4th edition use this set up, especially the most successful: fighter, rogue, etc. And it's considered good design, for good reason! It works. But there are four classes with a different class set-up: Cleric, Paladin, Ranger, and Warlock. These classes are known as V-Classes because they have two attack stats and one secondary stat. And I have to ask why. I really must. Why the designers thought this was a good idea I don't know, but it made these classes some of the hardest to play in the game effectively. If you want to make your attack powers more effective, you have to upgrade both stats. But if you want your effects to be better you have to ignore one of these two attack stats and upgrade your secondary stat.

Part of the problem has to do with stat generation in standard 4th edition. You can only really get one 18 in a "main stat", on average, and that's assuming that you only play race to match with class, or if you decide you'll take the hit on overall effectiveness later on and go with 16's. As At-Will and several other char-op boards have noted, having an 18 in your main stat is vital. These were my reasons for modifying the classes in the first place, but something changed after I made these house rules.

I removed ascending math from my game, and these classes became more effective at their jobs, because they're not having to keep up with the ridiculous moving-but-not pace of standard 4th. These classes can breathe and relax, and be themselves. That should solve everything, right? Wrong. There's one last problem. These classes have a split in them thanks to the V formation. While further books have cut down on the problem, the fact is that each of these classes is essentially two halves of a class. None of the other classes have this joyful burden. I see no point in continuing this love fest. 

This is one of those classes that works really well before you modify it, and it becomes so much better after, because you're able to mix and match tactics as you wish. You can stay out of battle and buff your allies, and then switch it up and wade into battle to kick ass righteously and hand out buffs and debuffs as you wish. You don't have to do that, of course. You can play a straight ranged or straight melee cleric. But with this mod it becomes a choice, not a restriction.

Rules: Powers
All powers are now Wisdom powers. Change all Strength attack and damage lines to Wisdom. All abilities that rely upon a secondary stat in Strength powers become Constitution to bring it more into line with Essentials and to deal with the fact that clerics don't have the absolute best armor. Leave the secondary stat of Wisdom powers at Charisma.

Rules: Divine Domains
Give yourself a domain feat from Divine Power for your deity as a bonus feat. You should have this anyway, you're a cleric! 

It's no secret that paladin is my favorite class in the game. I like paladin because I get to zealously play out a religious person and be a tough-as-nail warrior, someone who genuinely believes, a symbol  of incorruptibility. Changing this class allows you to mix and match the more defender-y and striker-like aspects of this class freely. I'm also going to put in a few rules that better reflect the flavor of the paladin, without (hopefully) changing game balance that much.

Rules: Powers
All powers become Strength powers. Change the Strength power's secondary stat from Wisdom to Charisma. Leave the Charisma powers alone. 

Rules: Divine Challenge
This is probably the biggest rules change for the paladin, honestly. Change the punishment damage in Divine Challenge from Charisma+3(+6/+9) to Strength+Charisma or Wisdom+3(+6/+9). Ban Mighty Challenge in Divine Power. Change all references in all paladin powers from "marked" or "divine sanction" to "Divine Challenge". This unifies all the Paladin's marking mechanics, and makes sure that if you want to maintain those marks you make you can.

 Rules: Channel Divinity
Give yourself your Deity's Channel Divinity as a bonus feat.

Rules: Fearless
You get a +2 bonus to all defenses and saving throws against fear and charm effects.

Rules: Weapon of Faith
You may use your weapon as your holy symbol. Use all the normal rules for using a weapon as an implement.

This makes the paladin a truly formidable warrior, free to smite the enemies of his god with an abandon that should make fighters shake in their boots. To those of you who are looking at the changes and think that they're broken, please remember that most of the work done on this blog post is correcting mistakes that the game designers tried to fix in Essentials. This paladin looks broken in comparison to the old paladin, sure. But is it broken? Not really, no. When you make the comparison to the Fighter, the unabashed best defender in the game, you'll see that the paladin still doesn't do what the fighter does.

And that's the point. If a fighter gets next to you there's no escape, period. A paladin will make you wish you were next to him. There is no other class in the game that is designed to take on large groups like the paladin and walk out alive. Is a fighter better at its job then a paladin? Hell yeah. But a paladin does its job better than a fighter. You'll find in all these posts where I "fix" things that I'm not plugging holes as much as pushing the class to do what its designed to do. The paladin is the best multi-marker there is. Let's remove all the crap that keeps it from doing that.

Most people don't think of ranger as a "problem class". It's one of the most effective strikers in the game, after all. But the V-Class formation, like all the others, has to go. Besides, dual weapon rangers have the issue of being constantly stretched between Strength and Dexterity. Archers have a natural advantage over dual-wielders in that regard. Time to get rid of that.

But what stat do we go with?  Strength is very important to a dual-wielding ranger, but we're not looking for what's important. We're looking for what's iconic. And the plain fact of the matter is rangers are known for their dexterity, even good ole Drizzt do Urden, a dual-wielder. Other dual-wielders in every single piece of fiction I've read or watched are more acrobatic than strong. So Dexterity is the main stat.

Rules: Powers
Change all powers to Dexterity. In Strength powers change the secondary modifier from Wisdom to Strength. Now comes the tricky part, the Utility Powers. I would suggest changing most of these powers to say Wisdom or Strength. Use your best judgment, and if your player can make a good argument for why they should be able to use Strength instead of Wisdom for a modifier I suggest giving it to them. I mean, why not? You're changing the rules either way.

Rules: Inner Compass
I know this sounds silly, but I like giving my rangers the ability to find true north. For free. While there's a slight increase to their overall effectiveness it just feels right to me, so I added it in. Feel free to ignore this rule as you see fit.

You'll notice that, as with the Cleric, the Ranger becomes less about filling a specified role than being a versatile player that can do high amounts of damage in close and ranged combat, depending on what the player wants at that point. Does it make the ranger better? Yup, it does. But I have difficulty seeing as to how that's a problem. Rangers have always had a versatility that other classes simply are not supposed to have. This fix allows for that.

Warlock is my second favorite class, and narrowly behind the paladin at that. It's easily the most flavorful of the Player's Handbook 1 classes, with a story that practically screams "Play me!" It's also the worst class of the first handbook. It barely fulfills its striker role, being more of a controller than the bloody wizard of the same book. Oy, what a mess. Well, fear not, there's a way to fix it!

Rules: Powers
All powers become Charisma powers. The following pacts use Intelligence as their secondary stat: fey, dark, and star. The following pacts use Constitution as their secondary stat: infernal, sorcerer-king, and vestige. Increase all damage dice by one step, as outlined in the equipment section of the Player's Handbook. This should do more than enough to make any warlock a competitive striker, on par with the sorcerer! It doesn't look like much, but those little bumps in damage will make the warlock a force to be reckoned with. 

Constitution-Secondary Warlocks
All pacts that use Constitution as their secondary stat may use their Constitution modifier in place of their Dexterity or Intelligence when calculating AC. This is because these warlocks are so proficient at channeling raw power that could destroy a less being through their bodies they can ignore hits that could kill a normal being. A Constitution Warlock does with his bare skin what a paladin or fighter does with heavy armor. He's that badass.

Give warlocks the dagger as an implement. Use the "normal" rules for weapons as implements.

Rules: Warlock At-Wills
You get your pact's at-will, eldritch blast, and one other at-will of your liking in the warlock class. For those of you who have the Eldritch Strike, limit it to the dagger, and add 1d8 to the damage.

So, give these rules a try, and let me know what you think. These rules are tested a bit, but I won't pretend that they're exhaustive. Comment below.

Next week I'll cover other random fixes in Player's Handbook 1. For now, Happy Thanksgiving to those of you in the States!

Monday, November 14, 2011

4EMOD: Races, Ability Scores, and Playing

I apologize for being late this week. I didn't sleep well Thursday, and spent most of Friday recovering and playing DnD. Here's the post!

When I first started to play 4th Edition I was DMng and playing (a state of affairs I used to find myself in often), and so I needed to make a character.Oh, I knew what I wanted to play. We were re-creating our first campaign, and so I was going to re-envision my first DnD character: Xenith Amakiir, the paladin of Bahamut. I knew exactly how I wanted to do it this time around, too. I wanted Xenith to be an eladrin, because elves and teleportation together was just too cool for me to not mix. I also wanted to multiclass into warlock with a fey pact, because Xenith's former job had involved... pleasantries... with a fey that could have been called the Summer Queen from the Manual of the Planes.  Xenith was going to keep paying visits to this fey for his usual jollies, while being a faithful follower of Bahamut, right? Right.

But as I read through my Player's Handbook in my first two days of getting it I noticed something that was a bitter disappointment: the character wasn't going to work. For those of you who aren't familiar with 4th edition, here's why:
  1. Both classes are multi-stat, splitting the class powers cleanly between two main attack stats, and rely upon a tertiary stat for the classes abilities
  2. While eladrin do have a bonus to Intelligence, they don't have a boost to Charisma (they do now thanks to errata, but they didn't then).
In other words, a corner case. On the first try. Wasn't I excited? I took a look, and knew that I had a powergamer in my group. Now, not to rag on the guy or anything, but he was a bit.. competitive. This guy (we'll call him James) would turn anything that was cooperative into a competition to see who could contribute more. If James contributed more he would gloat, and if he didn't he'd try to prove that he was important to the team. After four years of playing with James I'd enough.  I knew I wanted to be optimized, so that way I didn't have to hear how much more awesome his character was than mine. But I truly wanted to make something cool and unique, and 4th edition as written can be a bit...restrictive. Now while you may be thinking that I'm too personally involved, I could recount all the tales of people picking a race that benefits the class and who don't think any further about it. The great majority are players let the race's stat bonuses pigeonhole each race into certain classes.

Examples: When's the last time you saw an eladrin swordmage, a class that they're practically made for? Or a dwarf bard? Or a dragonborn spellsword?

The fact that these race-class combos can be made to work is besides the point. People want to take advantage of the good math that's associated with the racial stats. It's rare to see someone work against those stat boosts. And while it does happen the fact remains: people are loathe to go against those all-important stat bonuses. Even though adding more options in Essentials was a nice gesture, it still puts the players in an imaginary straightjacket. What I want to do is remove the straightjacket and let the nuts run loose in the nut-house.

Remove all ability modifiers from all races; no races get a +2 to any stat. Ignore all stat generation rules in the rulebooks. Use these stat generation rules instead.

Stat Generation
Balanced: When generating stats you get an 18, 16, and a 10 to put where you wish. Then roll 2d6+6 "straight down the line" for the rest (see example).

Split Stats: You get two 18's  and two 10's to put where you wish. After that roll 2d6+6 and apply them wherever you like. (see example).

Example of Balanced Stats:  I decide to make a dragonborn fighter that uses hammers. I give my fighter a Strength of 18 and a Constitution of 16. I put my 10 in my Intelligence. I roll 2d6+6 three times: 13, 16, 10. The remaining stats (in order from top to bottom) are Dexterity, Wisdom, and Charisma. I apply them "straight down the line".  My stats are Strength 18, Constitution 16, Dexterity 13, Wisdom 16, and Charisma 10.

Example of Split Stats: I decide to pick an eladrin paladin multiclassed into warlock. A paladin's main stat is Strength (in my houserules), so I give it an 18, and a warlock's is Charisma (in my houserules) so I give it an 18 as well. I decide to put a 10 in my Intelligence, and the other 10 in my Wisdom.  I roll two more times: 14 and 13. Looking at  my character sheet, I see the rest of the stats, and they (in order of top-to-bottom): Constitution, Dexterity, and Wisdom. I apply them wherever I like: Constitution 14 and Dexterity 13. These are the final stats: Strength 18, Constitution 13, Dexterity 14, Intelligence 10, Wisdom 10, and Charisma 18.

These rules will allow any class to be combined with any race for story reasons, as opposed to game reasons. There is almost reason to not use this houserule, period. The benefits of doing this are just too good. I mean, I have a shardmind battlemind who has just as good of stats as the halfling rogue who's also in the same group. These people both picked races and classes they thought were cool, and didn't have to finagle with the character to give them something that worked well. They could both have fun. And that's what's important.

EDIT: I forgot to mention what I was covering next week. Next week will be the first installment of Player's Handbook 1: Cleric, Paladin, Ranger, and Warlock, the V-Classes!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The School's Trees Announcement

I've decided to port the Top Ten Favorite Characters and my posts from The School's Trees over to this blog. They've all be inserted chronologically into this blog, so if you wanna read any of the earlier posts you need to go back to 2010, or look up The School's Trees tag. I've modified the posts slightly like removing anachronistic details, taking down broken links and pictures, things like that. If any of the other writers want me to port their posts over onto this blog, please let me know.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Saint Raphael the Archangel, Part 1

Here you go, folks! As you can see, I'm experimenting with the under colors a bit. The yellow is Cadmium Yellow Medium, in case certain folks (like my lovely girlfriend) are wondering.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

4EMOD: Ascending Math

Familiar much?
A few weeks ago I helped my friend, Raphael (mentioned in an earlier post), start a Star Wars campaign. This meant that a lot of people were interested in playing, and most had never done RP in their lives. Fortunately Raphael and I were up to the task, and we started teaching 6 of the 9 people who showed up that day how to make a character. One of them got flustered after a few minutes of working, so I asked what was wrong. She pointed at the level bonuses to everything, and said:

"This is more complicated than doing my taxes."

I was astounded, and quickly shut my jaw and moved on with teaching her how to fill out her tax form. I wasn't astounded by the dumbness of the girl in question, mind you. She had shown herself to be quite intelligent. I was astounded because someone had actually said something that I'd thought for a long time.

Why have ascending attack, defense, and skill bonuses? What's the point? It's so much work, and for what? Nothing! Spyder, have you lost your mind? It's because people get better at attacking and defending themselves!

I am quite sane, thank you. And we already have something for that. It's called damage and hit points. Let me explain. Hit points in Dungeons and Dragons have never been strictly health. They are a stat measuring the luck and health (physical and mental) of the character. Hit points represent the ability of an adventurer to turn a lethal strike into a graze or even a narrow miss. The only time that a real physical hit's talked about in Dungeons and Dragons is when a character is bloodied and when they drop to zero. That's it. The rest of it's narrow escapes scrapes. Damage, then is actually the measurement of not only how "damaging" the blow is, but how good the attack is to begin with. The actual attack roll only determines if you whiff so badly it's not worth notice.

But what about the whiff? Well, that's something that does change, if you keep it at that. See the houserules below on what you can do to fix that. Epic tier is epic tier for a reason, people who have achieved that level of awesomeness shouldn't be bothered by a bunch of kobolds! Hold your horses, I agree. Read the actual house-rules first.

But what about skills? Shouldn't those  go up? Yes, but not all of them at the level that 4th edition says they should. A friend of mine (we'll call him Spawn of Satan, he loves that nickname) rightfully pointed out that if a wizard's never seen water before how is he supposed to know how to swim? If he doesn't know how he just doesn't know how, and it shouldn't be a breeze for him to swim, no matter how high in level he gets. Also, the fact is this: the skill DCs increase with you at the same right as you level, meaning that nothing really changes. Can you jump farther? Oh yes! But convincing the guard that he should let you sleep with his mom still has the same chances. While most people will argue that the DC should stay the same, we all know that the numbers don't mean anything because all they do is change. Just because I've become a world class hammer swinger doesn't mean that my flexibility's increased enough to go beneath that stupid limbo pole. I'll probably still throw my back out for trying, knowing my luck (This isn't from personal experience of mine or anything, just from... a friend. Yeah. Actually a friend of a friend. On the limbo thing, not the hammer thing.).

Anyway, here's what you need to do to implement these ideas, in case you agree with me!

On the Player's Side
Take out  the half level modifier for all things that require it. Do not apply enhancement bonuses from weapons, armor, and magical items to attack and defense. To simulate that skills still develop over time, give the character a +2 to two skills every time you upgrade your stats. The skills improved in this way do not need to be trained. This means you get a +2 to two skills at  levels 4, 8, 11, 14, 18, 21, 24, and 28. Simple, right? Oh, but if you're the DM, just wait...

The DM's Side
This is where things get... painful. The DM has to remove all the ascending math so the players don't have to put up with it. While this doesn't affect the players all that much beyond their initial buy-in the workload for the DM is enormous, and really shouldn't be attempted unless you want your rule-books to be entirely written-over. Apply a half-level penalty to the monster's initiative and skill checks. But removing the half-level modifier doesn't actually make the defenses hittable, because the internal math of 4th edition doesn't operate on half-level for attacks and defenses, but on level; you have to try a different approach.

At heroic tier, apply a penalty of Monster's Level-1 to all of a monster's defenses and attacks.

At paragon tier apply a penalty of Monster's Level-2 to all of a monster's defenses and attacks.

At epic tier apply a penalty of Monster's Level-3 to all of a monster's defense and attacks.

You'll find that all the numbers you arrive at do not go higher than 25 at the very most. Most of the time a monster won't even have a defense higher than 20, which puts you at having to roll a 16 to hit a monster's defense at the very most. Crunch the numbers, see if they work. A lot of my monsters have been converted over, and honestly, it works out really well.

The last bit, to deal with fighting monsters ten levels higher?? Give the target of the attack Damage Resist 10 All for each ten levels it's above the attacker. If that attacker deals zero damage to the target then it counts as a miss. Effect lines in powers still happen as normal, as do miss lines (do NOT apply the Damage Resistance to damage from the Miss line.)

Example 1: Colin is a level 5 warlord fighting a level 11 drow. The drow is in paragon tier, so it gains Resist 10 All against all of Colin's attacks, since he's one tier higher than Colin. He rolls his damage dice and gets 12 damage. That damage is 2, instead. Whatever effects Colin wanted to happen go off, because he dealt damage.

Example 2: Martha's level 6 psion is fighting the Tarrasque, a level 30 solo. Martha shouldn't be in this fight, her character doesn't have a snowball's chance in Hell. The Tarrasque receives an additional Resist 20 All (And since he has Resist 10 All already, which puts it up to a 30!), since he's two tiers above her character. She rolls 11 damage, which is reduced below zero. Normally any additional effects wouldn't happen either, but Martha used a power that has an Effect line. No damage is dealt, but the effect happens anyway.

However, if the target of an attack is 10 levels below the attacker then the target gains vulnerable 10 against that attack per every 10 levels they're below the target..

Example: Colin has advanced his warlord to level 11. Yay for Colin, he survived fighting the drow! He's attacking a kobold. Kobolds are dumb, they need to be squashed. Since the kobold's level 1, it gains vulnerable 10 to Colin's attack. Colin rolls 12 damage, which becomes 22 because of the vulnerable 10. Holy crap, if the kobold's not dead already it better run!

Example 2: Remember Martha, and how she was fighting the Tarrasque? Yeah, she's still fighting that thing. Martha goes to her happy place as the Tarrasque rolls his attack roll and hits. The Tarrasque rolls his damage. 36 damage, right? Wrong, it's 56 because Martha has vulnerable 20 to all its attacks! Martha needs to start rolling death saving throws. 

One thing that you must do is use the Monster Manual 3 damage figures for all monsters; it's the only way make them a legitimate threat. I've gone through and started writing the new figures into my MM and MM2 books, and man do they look nasty.

Other Changes
Another part that has to be changed are feats that give attack and defense bonuses that scale with level. Personally I'd get rid of all the Expertise feats; they're a pain in the butt and an unnecessary feat tax. The same is true of the defense feats pre-Essentials, and can be removed without much trouble. Scaling damage however? I'd actually encourage improving those feats by a +1 at heroic tier, a +2 at paragon, and +3 at epic tier. Speeding up combat is a good thing, particularly in 4th, and you'd be surprised how useful that +1 to damage is with every single hit. Especially if someone can tell you "Hey, fire's my specialty! See how much more damage I do with it!"

Skill DCs
Skill DC's are pretty easy to fix, actually. Keep them static. Here's the DC's I use.

Easy: 8
Medium: 12
Moderate: 19
Hard: 23
Master: 30
Heroic: 34

You may not benefit from Aid Another at Master DC and up, since that level of difficulty is so balls-hard that it's almost sheer dumb luck to achieve it, even for a god.

Since the players are only going to be truly good at one or two skills they'll have bragging rights on the ones they're good at, with holes that the rest of the team can cover, all without having to edit that damn sheet every two or three sessions. The numbers will actually mean something, since they change so little! There's an actual sense of scale and growth as characters slowly increase their abilities and get gradually better at their skills.

The last session I DMed for my level 11 rogue was proud of rolling a 34 (+12 I believe, rolled a nat 18 and was aided twice) and convincing a Pit Fiend they hadn't roughed up the criminal whose soul the thing had come to collect: the nice angels who were trying to kill him had done it instead. The rogue then excused himself as the pit fiend tore into the angels instead of him.

This is the most easily ignored part of 4EMOD, although I think it's an incredible little fix. Unlike the rest of the system, which depends on balancing the classes against each other, the ascending math house rule is modular and doesn't need to be implemented to get the effects of 4EMOD. I included it first, however, because I'm working from general to specific.This is a pretty good indication of what's to come, folks. Hope you enjoy it!

Next Thursday we'll cover races, ability scores, and how to improve role-play opportunities with both.

EDIT 1: Modified the DC's a bit, added in an additional level of difficulty. Tweaked the Aid Another Rules
EDIT 2: Changed things from tier to 10 level increments as suggested by Little J. Thanks for the input!

The School's Trees: Jun Maeda and Allegory

... but the Clannad Fanpage had a link to something I've meant to see for a long time: an interview with Jun Maeda, one of the chief writers of Air, Kanon, Clannad, and Angel Beats:

I have to admit, I'm a remarkably jaded person. I think authority is a corrupting influence at best, people and ideals should almost never mix, and never mistake a creation for its creator. The popular series Death Note is a good example. From what I've heard from my friends the anime is a lot better than the manga it was adapted from. Why? Because apparently the writer has said the story doesn't have any symbolism beyond a boy who finds a notebook that can kill people. Now, one of these days I really will write a note about how Death Note is an allegory for the human psyche. So to say that I was disappointed by that revelation was a bit of a let-down. JRR Tolkien also stated multiple times that Lord of the Rings was not an allegory, but was just a story about at a hobbit. Now don't get me wrong, the story is very much so about a hobbit. But just consider for a moment the sheer symbolism in Lord of the Rings. It's a huge letdown. Considering how much I like Lord of the Rings and Death Note it's rather difficult to accept that the authors didn't intend a meaning beyond what they had written. It's hard to take allegories seriously when two of the strongest allegories you know of were never intended that way. So it's nice that at least one of my favorite pieces of fiction was meant to be a symbol of good, that it wasn't just a paycheck, that there's someone out there who wanted good in their stories.

Corny as it sounds, a part of me needed to hear what Jun had to say in this brief snippet. A lot goes into writing a story, and it's nice to know that someone who is not only successful but still looking pretty idealistic can believe. Maybe that's what I needed to see: Maeda's belief that he was doing good with his writing.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Top Ten Favorite TV Shows

I know I know, people make these corny lists all the time, but I'm a big sucker for reading stories. And watching stories influences the arcs of your own life, so it's important to know what a person reads and watches. Because you'll probably find out who that person is in a way that they couldn't begin to show you. These are the shows that make me laugh, cry, believe... they inspire me. I come back to them, time and time again, to enjoy and remember a little bit of what the world is really about. I hope these shows can give a good snapshot of who and what I am. Not that it matters or anything, gosh that last paragraph was corny as hell. On to the next thing!

10. Eureka Seven

Speaking of corny, here's Eureka Seven! Like most people, I started out on Fullmetal Alchemist, and liked it. My friend Marty told me that Fullmetal Alchemist was alright, but there was better. When I scoffed at him, he showed me Eureka Seven. Yeah, he was right. Don't get me wrong, I like Fullmetal, and will gladly watch any of the two shows with anyone, but it lacks a certain... passion... to be on this list (both of them). That's a different argument for a different day, anyway.

Eureka Seven is about the stereotypical whiny 14-year old, Renton, who instantly falls in love with the beautiful and distant Eureka. Of course, as a 14-year old Renton has no idea what love actually means, but that's why the show's so good.

He finds out. 

The show slowly walks you through the story of these two falling in love and what it takes to stay that way. As stated before, it gets corny at times, but damnit if this show isn't inspiring in the midst of that then you obviously don't have a soul! The things that this show puts the two kids through illustrates the  truth about love: it's a choice. You must choose to love someone, because they'll be in need of your choices one way or another. The entire reason it works out between people who are childhood sweet-hearts, a pairing that's rare at best, is that they learned this truth together. And that's why Eureka Seven is awesome, because it dares to say what we actually mean when we say "I love you": "I love you, no matter what that means."

9. Deathnote

I'm not going to lie, this is probably the darkest anime that's on the list. No one's an actual good guy, but are shades of grey and black in a depressingly limited world. But that's not why I like the show. It occurred to me that the show is an allegory of what must be done to defeat evil inside yourself. If you look at each character as an aspect of the human mind, you'll notice the show makes perfect sense. It's not the most intelligent man who defeats evil, but the most ruthless. The one who makes use of every single opportunity to defeat evil in himself is the one who will win. I think it's really the only way to watch the show and actually "get" it. Watch it again with that in mind. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.

8. Gurren Lagann

Oh, I hated this show for the first seven episodes. It was cheesy, messy, fan-service-heavy crap. No, I did not enjoy Kamina, nor did I enjoy Simon's whininess. The plot was non-sensical, and for the love of all that is good and holy please stop showing me fan-service! But my friend Sunohara (name changed to protect the guilty) told me to keep with it, that this show was truly amazing. I didn't believe him. I suffered through those seven episodes.

But as of episode eight all that changed abruptly. The show started to look at what ails mankind, and how to fix it. Their answer's pretty simple: the will to love. And they show that in the most gloriously messy, irrational, and awesome display of manliness you will ever see in anything. The show tells us something that I think we forget about all too easily: loving is, at best, irrational. It's an act of will, that destroys all that doesn't agree with it or converts all that will. It goes against reason, the past, the future, whatever gets in its way, and tries for the good. Forget action Arnold, Jet Li, Bruce Willis, and all them. THIS is what manliness looks like. 

Not literally, of course. I don't think any of us would willingly dress up like these guys on a regular basis. And I'm certain the girls would get too cold if they dressed up like Yoko. The amount of complaining that would generate would be... gah. Earplugs wouldn't be enough. 

7. Scrubs

Y'know, I doubt I have to really introduce this show to many people. It's about a hospital and a bunch of people in the hospital. There, all done. Well, not really. See, Scrubs is a really good show. Despite the fact that there's way too much sexual stuff going on and the show's views on said sexuality is a bit... messed up is a good word(!)... I really like this show. It's hilarious, thoughtful, bittersweet, and outright bitter. Every character has their hubris, something to them that, while hilarious, is treated with a certain gravity and honesty that really makes me pay attention. Yeah, it's funny to laugh at the janitor because of his troubled childhood, until they show you that they're not joking. Elliot's a nervous wreck, and later becomes a slut. But meet her mother! Gah, no wonder the woman's got issues. I could keep going, but that'd take up so much room that you'd no longer want to watch the show. Suffice to say, Scrubs has heart, which is something you won't find me saying about most shows.

6. Baka To Test Season 1
The one on the top left is a guy.

Y'know how I watch Scrubs when I desperately need to laugh? Well, if Scrubs won't this show will. The first season of this show is absolutely hilarious, for all the reasons a 13-year old would laugh and then some. It's no big secret I have a juvenile sense of humor, and I'm glad I have a show to cater to those taste. I'm sure the shows "lower" on the list are more insightful. I know they are. But damn, this show makes me laugh! Funimation just put out a dub, which I recommend avoiding, because it sounds like the people are reading their scripts and edit out the "turn the page" thing they're all saying. Watch the subs, people. Watch.

Oh, and the opening's awesome too.

5. Walking Dead, Season 1

I usually hate zombie films. They're a boring, unimaginative, gorefest. So I heard about this show and immediately brushed it off. A TV show about zombies? Please, find something more... original... please? But my brother started watching it and got hooked. My brother prides himself on having a half-way decent taste, so I started watching. I was hooked. I started reading the comics. I'm too broke to buy them, but I'm hooked on those too. I haven't seen the second season yet, because I'm waiting to watch all the episodes with my girlfriend, but the reviews have been overwhelmingly positive so far. I look forward to it.

Anyway, you're probably wondering why this hit so high on my list, aren't you? Honestly, it's the season finale that really grabbed me. As a person who had lost all zest for life for quite a number of years I can honestly say the last episode truly inspired me to get up and try again. The other five episodes are really good too, but they all culminate in episode 6.

We are the walking dead.

4. Darker than Black

Oh my gosh, this show is depressing. The main character, Hei, will probably never achieve peace in this world. His attempts to do the right thing are constantly rejected. The people he love die or turn out to be monsters that have to be put down. Nothing ever works out for him. But on he goes, trying anyway. I don't know if that's why so many people like the show, but that's why I do.

3. Lost

I recently got to re-watch Lost and man, did it bring back memories. The show still holds up, several years after all's said and done. The characters are amazing, the story sets those characters up so well, and the acting makes me believe in those characters. If you can't tell, Lost is about characters. It's the "main" reason I love the show, and it's the reason why so many people did. But for me, there's something more important: the characters finally arrive at peace. As someone who looks for peace on a daily basis, I'd be lying if I said that Lost's ending didn't hit me hard. The fact that it's a happy ending after six seasons worth of trial and turmoil for these people is far more important to me than anything else. I'm glad I gave the show a chance a few years ago, and I'm glad I gave it another chance. Definitely worth buying.

2. Firefly

Talking about these next two entries is going to be rather difficult. What can I say to add to what's been said? In Firefly's case, probably not much. Most people who read this blog know how awesome this show is, and the horrible injustice done by Fox to all humanity. All I will say about this masterpiece of a show is this: this is the show that convinced me that I wanted to write. I wanted to create something as awesome as Firefly, and I hope that one day I will.

1. Clannad/Clannad After Story

Sorry, couldn't resist.

This paragraph is rather small, but that's not because I don't have much to say. I do. I wrote about nine months of a review for this, it's called The School's Trees. Suffice to say, this is my favorite show of all time. Watch it. 

Monday, November 7, 2011

4EMOD: Introduction

I played 4th edition D&D before it was released. I loved the At-Will, Encounter, Daily, and Utility power set up from the beginning, and tried making it work in 3.5 Dungeons and Dragons, with varying levels of success. I pre-ordered all the core 4th edition books, and played a campaign jumping between all the different spread of levels. So when I tell you that I love 4th edition Dungeons and Dragons I want you to get my full meaning. I truly love 4th edition. So when I say that I've designed a series of house rules for 4th edition, I want you to understand three few things:

  1. I do not think standard 4th edition is a bad game. As a matter of fact, I played 4th edition "by the books" for three years before I even started to imagine house-ruling it. 4th edition is a very well designed game, and playing it "straight" is extremely enjoyable.
  2. Most of my house-rules are inspired by the errata published by Wizards of the Coast, as well as Essentials and later design stuff that they did. Anyone looking at this stuff should know that this isn't me going "WTF WY DIS GAME NO WORK???? WERE'S MAI GOD-WIZARD??" I played the game for awhile, read what Wizards said about their own game in the errata, the interviews... I did my homework first. For a long time. And when the designers of a game themselves say the game isn't perfect it certainly makes me feel less arrogant for thinking I can make a set of good house-rules. 
  3. That being said, some of my house rules are not mentioned in errata, and even go against the notion of the game itself. 
  4. These are not entirely tested house-rules. The fact that they're based on the official errata doesn't mean they're perfect.
I'd like to dedicate this series of house-rules to the folks of the former At-Will, the people who gave me the courage to work on what I'm going to start posting. We'll miss your presence in the 4th edition field, guys. You were amazing.

I'll start posting my house-rules this Thursday, starting at one of the basic assumptions of the game: ascending math. Tune in on Thursday!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The School's Trees: On Pessimism and Clannad

As most people who read this blog know, I used to write and lead a blog called The School's Trees, which is about the TV shows Clannad and Clannad: Afterstory (one of the writers was Carpe Guitarrem, whose blog I suggest checking out, if you love RPGs). I've said repeatedly this is my favorite show of all time. I've now watched the show 9(!) times, and consider it part of the reawakening of my Christianity; a vital part of who I am was formed watching this show. I'm one of those nuts who thinks that people should watch good TV shows, and I heartily recommend what I think is the best of the best. So of course I recommend Clannad to people, and most of the time I get a "the scruffy hobbit with a foul mouth just recommended something to me and said it was really good, I'll pass" look.

But sometimes someone decides to take me up on my offer, albeit with the same look on their face. Two of my friends finished watching the show this Sunday while I was completing an icon of the Resurrection (which is amazing, I'll get a pic uploaded for ya'll later!). One of the friends (we'll call her Mary) loved the show, as well as the ending. I don't know if she "got" it, but I don't think anyone fully gets the ending of this show the first, second, or even third time around. But my other friend (we'll call him Raphael), didn't like the end. When I asked Raphael why he didn't he said that the show had been set up for tragedy since the beginning. I told him that wasn't so, and he looked at me like I was a bit nutty. Which is understandable, I suppose. There are warning signs. But I told him that there had been indications that the ending was going to be happy, that things would end well for Tomoya.

Then he looked at me like I was a real nutcase; that took me aback. I told him to watch it again, and that he could borrow my DVDs if he wished. But that look's stuck with me, and here I am trying to write about it. Because I know I would have given that same look to anyone who had told me that after watching the show for the first time. I went and watched it again, not because I liked the ending, but the exact opposite: I hated the ending, but loved the show so much that I figured I had to have missed something. A show that's this amazing doesn't screw up like this at the end.

I found out that I was right.

I had completely glossed over every single time the writers had foreshadowed that goodness was at the end of this show. It wasn't even that I ignored it, it had completely gone over my head. I had found all the workings of a tragedy, so that's what I focused on, I let situation blindness get to me, and only looked for what I wanted to find. It was then that I realized something really awful.

I wanted Tomoya to fail. And why shouldn't I? Why should Tomoya get a loved one back when I can't? I don't have an orb of light, children really aren't made of light orbs, wishes usually aren't granted like that, and damnit to hell that's just unreal! I wanted Tomoya to move on, marry Kyou, and be in the same sobering and depressing reality that I live in: that we can't get what we want, but must settle for something else. That'll shut him up, having to labor in a life that's the second choice that's... wait...

I love my life. I'm in a good place, and have everything that I could possibly want and more. I'm doing art and enjoying it for the first time in years. My iconography is finally becoming what I'd always wanted it to be: a personal source of inspiration, giving, healing, and love. I have an amazing girlfriend, someone who came up and out my childhood in a story of hope and love that would put this show to shame. I have friends who I could whistle for and they'd help me. I have an amazing family. All against odds that really are a snowball's chance in hell.

Everything I've asked for I've received, and then some.

So what am I so bitter about?

And that's just it. That's the joke. There's nothing right now that I'm in want for.


Absolutely. Frickin. Nothing.

Well, a car would be nice... a teleporter machine, if I could get my hands on it.


I don't think I've ever asked for a miracle that bends the laws of physics, time and space, so why should I get one? I don't need something like that, and I don't know of anyone who does. And the only people I know of who have gotten such a wish got it because they needed it. A widow had her son returned to her, people die for over an hour, see Heaven, and come back home. The largest religion in the history of the world teaches that we get our bodies back at the end of time because they're so fundamental  to our existence that even God won't let us go without them long.

Come to think of it, reality's a pretty nice place to be! The people who need stuff have it given to them in the time it's needed, in the right amount. As a Christian that's my avowed creed, something that I profess every single day in the Nicene Creed, every Sunday with a whole bunch of people I don't know but am brother to. We get what we need, God sees to that. He is good.

So why be so jaded about Tomoya? He asked, he got. So have I. So did the widow. So did the centurion. So did Francis of Assisi, Peter the Apostle, Saint Padre Pio, Saint Seraphim Rose, Saint Photini, my father, my mother, my girlfriend, my friends at Franciscan, Benedictine, wherever, and whoever's reading this post, even if they don't realize it. We've all got what we need.

So why does it bother us that Tomoya got his wish?