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It Is Surprisingly Hard To Create An Incompetent Ass-Clown In Dungeons & Dragons

Kotaku Game DiaryDaily thoughts from a Kotaku staffer about a game we’re playing.  

The great escapist fantasy of Dungeons & Dragons is that you are not a salaryperson shoveling handfuls of gummy bears into your mouth and rolling 20-sided dice. Rather, you are a singularly important hero with a singular capacity to disarm some impending plot bomb. It’s a time-tried formula, one that basically spawned an entire industry (see: role-playing games)—but let’s take a pause on that and consider a less-trodden way to play Dungeons & Dragons: being an incompetent dimwit.

Sucking in totality is just not something Dungeons & Dragons readily accommodates. And yet playing an idiotic character tests everything you knew about Dungeons & Dragons, from the core of its mechanics to the way you navigate your dungeon master’s plot.

On Sunday, I made Vicco “The Veech” Vadalucci. He’s a Dwarvaan acquirer-of-things, a man of business, a hobbyist gambler with a New Jersey-Italian accent. He’s the kind of guy who says he can get you anything—whether it fell off the back of a cart somewhere or he knows a guy who knows a guy with some connections in rare potions. “The Veech” might leave a room for 30 seconds and then come back saying he’d just consulted with “his buddy outside,” who told him to ask the quest-giver for more gold. In truth, the only “product” he can reliably come by is toy dolls for his beloved little daughter, and he has essentially no business connections at all. He’s full of shit. He can’t do anything—at least anything epic.

Lest it come off like I was purposefully sabotaging the campaign, allow me to defend myself: Dungeons & Dragons changed the world in 1974, in part, because it was a game that could not be won. It’s a storytelling game played using tactics and strategy. Yet battles must end, information must be extracted, and campaign adventures must come to a close. Inventing an incompetent stooge and inserting him into a party of sharpened blades with lofty personal fitness goals runs a high risk of making everyone have a bad time—if they’re focused on taking down baddies and amassing treasure. That wasn’t our vibe on Sunday. We were all about role-playing dummies and telling a good story. “The Veech” was in-bounds. The only problem was making sure his stats matched his unskilled character.

In Dungeons & Dragons’ player handbook, the player-character is described as someone who can “solve puzzles,” “battle fantastic monsters,” and “discover fabulous magic items and other treasure.” This is how the game is designed, and making a character who can’t do these things is surprisingly tricky. For example, first, a player must choose a character class like Sorcerer, Ranger and Bard. By even falling into one of these classes, each of which demarcates the player as someone with special capacities, the player-character is immediately assumed to be a little more powerful or have a little more potential than the norm.

“The Veech” is a phony and a plot catalyst, which made it hard as hell for me to fill out abilities and statistics on his Dungeons & Dragons character sheet. I made him a Cleric of the trickster god Tymora, also known as Lady Luck. (I couldn’t think of another class that made sense, although I’m willing to admit there may have been better options.) He was someone who had to rely on his Charisma statistic to keep up the charade. But he definitely was not a powerful sorcerer, an artistic bard or a holy paladin warrior. As a devotee of Tymora, “The Veech” could gamble to his heart’s content. He could disguise himself with magic and make mirror images of himself. That all fit. Alongside all that, he also had this whole “intermediary between the mortal world and the distant planes of the gods” thing going on. He could proficiently battle with a warhammer and could casually turn undead.

After choosing a class, I needed to fill out his stats. Players in Dungeons & Dragons can either roll their scores with six-sided dice or assign predetermined scores to their stats. I wanted “The Veech” to be bad at everything—just a very sad man—except maybe Charisma-based things, since his bullshit being believable made the game more fun for everyone. The predetermined stats—15, 14, 13, 12, 10 and 8—all indicate that the player-character is, for the most part, well above the average, which is 10. So I wanted to roll the dice, like my man “The Veech,” hoping he would find no success.

The way you do that in Dungeons & Dragons, though, also assumes higher-than-average capacities: You roll four six-sided dice, drop the lowest score and add up the others. Alas, “The Veech” turned out to have ridiculously high stats in every category. He was as wise as the oldest monk, as formidable as a brick wall. He was persuasive as a seasoned used car salesman and as strong as, well, a guy who was pretty strong. His lowest stat was intelligence, which was just one point below average. “The Veech” was too capable, and we hadn’t even started the game yet.

The Dungeons & Dragons player’s handbook says that it’s fine to break whatever you rule you want in pursuit of a good game with lasting memories. Yet at the core of the role-playing game are some truths: Your character is special, and their class and stats make them more special. There are other role-playing games out there that facilitate overt buffoonery and shittiness, but I wanted it to work for my little man, “The Veech,” in Dungeons & Dragons.

In the first hour of the campaign, “The Veech” spent more time arguing his quest rates up with increasingly elaborate hoaxes than murdering goblins. This was expected; though as the campaign went on and as I kept trying to up the ante with his ridiculousness, I ended up tapping more and more into “The Veech’s” Cleric-specific talents: Taking a mission off a police officer, he duplicated himself and put on a mustache to pretend he wasn’t, in fact, that “Veech,” a known criminal. In a temple dedicated to a more pure and good god who despises undead, “The Veech” bragged that, in fact, he’d turned a couple undead in his day.

He wasn’t about “ghost ships,” “cursed bones” or “cults amassing increasing power across the realm.” “The Veech” was there to play the fool to my friends’ more focused heroes-in-training, and even if I wasn’t role-playing completely true to his capacities, some of what made him super-powerful made his super idiocy just that much better.

Source: Kotaku.com

A Very Silly Flowchart For Picking Your Next D&D Race

Old habits die hard. That still doesn’t mean you should play a half-elf every single time you play Dungeons & Dragons. It’s times like these that we need people like Redditor Domogrue to expand our horizons.

“Stayed up until 3am making my definitive ‘What Race Should I Play’ flowchart,” wrote Domogrue very early this morning. It’s a very silly flowchart that, regrettably, has informed me that I should play a boring human. Harumph.

Let us know what you got in the comments. (via Reddit)

Source: Kotaku.com

Bethesda Pulls Free Elder Scrolls Tabletop RPG That Ripped Off A D&D Module

Yesterday Bethesda released a free promotional tabletop role-playing game module set in Elsweyr, the setting for the next expansion for The Elder Scrolls Online. Now the module has been pulled from The Elder Scrolls Online Facebook page due to its striking similarities to a Dungeons & Dragons adventure published by Wizards of the Coast in 2016.

“We have pulled a previously shared ESO tabletop RPG adventure while we investigate the source,” a post on Bethesda’s page now reads. “Thank you to those who reached out with concerns.”

The Dungeons & Dragons module in question is “The Black Road”, published as part of the D&D Adventurers League, the ongoing official campaign of the classic tabletop RPG. Written by Paige Leitman and Ben Heisler, it’s an adventure for beginning characters that tasks them with guarding a caravan delivering a statue to the Shrine of Axes in the village of Parnast.

The Elder Scrolls Online: Elsweyr adventure, helpfully archived online by the folks over at Ars Technica and still available via Bethesda’s Dropbox, tasks players with guarding a caravan as it travels through the desert of Elsweyr in order to deliver a statue to the city of Rimmen. According to the byline at the end of the PDF file, this adventure was written by someone named Karrym Herbar. The Facebook post that announced the adventure, now removed, said it came from “our friends over at Bethesda Netherlands.”

Here’s the opening of The Black Road”, via a copy of the module I purchased for a couple of bucks from The Dungeon Masters Guild store.

There’s nothing like the desert to make people feel small and insignificant. In every direction, huge dunes roll across the landscape, and an even bigger sky looms above. The oasis of Vuerthyl is a motley collection of sun-bleached tents in the vast Anauroch desert. Through various means, it has been arranged that you would meet Azam the caravaneer in the large, Calimshanstyled tent that passes for a tavern here. A pair of tieflings, who seem to be unaffected by the heat, eye approaching visitors warily. The dim interior of the tent is a relief from the bright light and wind, though it’s as hot here as anywhere else. The gentle sounds of a stringed instrument fill the air, and the people inside are hunched over food, drink, and conversation. A dragonborn with rust-colored scales greets you, and guides you to a private table. There are a few other adventurers here.

And here is the opening to the Elsweyr module.

Nothing beats the desert to make people feel small and unimportant. In every direction enormous dunes roll across the landscape, and an even larger empty air skies above it. The oasis on the border between Cyrodiil and Elsweyr is a colorful collection of sun-drenched tents in the vast desert of Elsweyr. In various ways it is arranged that a group of adventurers would get acquainted with the caravan leader named Kar’reem. His big tent is filled with several Khajiit, which seem unaffected by the heat, they stare at you cautiously. The dim interior of the tent is a relief compared to the bright sunlight from outside, even though it is still as hot inside as out there. The soft sounds of stringed instrument fill the air, and the people are busy over eating, drinking, and conversation. An Argonian servant escorts you to an empty table.

It’s a very sloppy rewording of “The Black Road” version, with The Elder Scrolls locations replacing those of Dungeons & Dragons’ Forgotten Realms setting. The whole text is like that. The original D&D version mentions a “dragonborn servant.” The Elder Scrolls Online version changes it to an “Argonian servant.” The original version has the players fight goblins. The copy changes it to bandits.

Bethesda’s announcement post was filled with people pointing out similarities between “The Black Road” and the Elsweyr adventure. Eventually, Paige Leitman, co-author of the D&D module, entered the thread to post a series of comparisons between the two. Ars Technica archived the whole set. Here’s one, comparing the information the leader of the caravan is willing to give players on the two adventures. Even the non-player character’s name is the same.

Having read both adventures through completely, it’s obvious to me that the Elsweyr adventure was completely cribbed from the work of Leitman and Heisler. I can see how the blatant plagiarism might have slipped by Bethesda’s notice, but somewhere down the line someone took the pair’s work, twisted it and presented it as their own.

Source: Kotaku.com