Victorian Brazil AAR

April 6th, 2015

It’s my understanding that in Victoria 2, the five-year-old grand strategy game from Paradox, Brazil is in a pretty good position to do quite well. I’m a veteran of several Crusader Kings, Europa Universalis, and a couple of Hearts of Iron games, but new to Vicky 2 and I think things turned out pretty well.

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One of my first goals was to liberalize Brazil enough to become an immigration magnet. The first 50 years or so were rough going in this regard, as all three initial political parties available (Reactionary, Conservative, and Liberal) weren’t big on granting legal rights to immigrants.  Once the Partido Paulista came in, I was set.  The Paulistas favored full citizenship rights, were pro-military, and allowed “state capitalism.” State capitalism is a great position to be in for this game, as you can interfere with the economy whenever your computer-controlled capitalists are making dumb choices like putting liquor distilleries in the wrong places or doubling down on fertilizer when it’s losing money.  With full citizenship on the table and lots of trouble in Europe and China, the immigrants started pouring in and Brazil’s population flourished.

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Military expansion in South America was limited to Brazil’s core provinces. This meant giving Bolivia, Colombia, and Paraguay (not shown here, as it was later gobbled up) a bit of a haircut. Colonial expansion was the goal here, not strife with our Spanish-speaking cousins.

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Speaking of colonial expansion, Brazil wages three separate wars for colonial concessions from Sokoto and Egypt to get a toehold on the Dark Continent. This provided access to Darfur and the Hausaland early on. Portugal was able to colonize inland from its initial holdings.  In 1870 the race was on, with Brazil being first to unlock Colonial Negotiations (an in-game euphemism for diplomacy by machinegun). After spending decades building up naval facilities along the Brazilian coast, my patience and foresight were rewarded with rich territories in Nigeria, the Congo, Somalia, Kenya, Togo, et cetera.

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The other colonial nations were slow to pick up the Southern end of Africa, so Brazil mopped up with a few late expeditions. France cut us off from linking with our Northern colonies, something that would cause headaches in the Great Wars.

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Speaking of Great Wars, colonization, industrialization, immigration, and a bit of military enthusiasm put Brazil into a tenuous Great Power status. Through moderately-shrewd diplomatic action and the judicious use of influence, Brazil was able to force the United Kingdom to give up money of her initial holdings.  Here we see a late 1935 British Isles with an independent Ireland (sphered by Germany), an independent Scotland (sphered by Brazil), and Brazilian-held Cornwall. That’s right, they’re speaking Portugese in Bath.

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For spheres of influence, Brazil did nicely. Several fascist and communist revolutions aside, Brazil ended up with 17 subsidiary states, including the bulk of sub-Saharan Africa (a revolution kicked Portugal and the Netherlands out of our sphere late in the campaign, otherwise it would be green here). We were able to grab Cuba and Haiti away from the United States, and aside from lands held by Britain and France, the entirety of South America lay under Brazil’s protective umbrella.

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A little look at the end-of-game summary:

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And the ledger:

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We were able to enact all of the political reforms, abolishing slavery, introducing universal suffrage (including for women). We were able to enact most of the social reforms, with a 98% literacy rate, won several Nobel Prizes, hosted the Olympics four times, and sent the first successful expeditions to both the North and South Poles. We defeated Britain, France, Russia, Italy, and the Ottomans in multiple wars, and formed a mighty three-way alliance along with Germany and China that was so potent that France spat out Algeria diplomatically rather than risk open conflict.

My only regret is that there was no battle between North and South America for dominance of our hemisphere. The USA and Brazil were allied early on, but they proved worthless in intercontinental struggles, reluctant as they are to send soldiers abroad. They had a tremendous early edge on immigration flow, swiftly outpacing Brazil in population and industry.


A Few Simple Admonitions

January 30th, 2015

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Some things never chance. Observe, for a moment, the “Tips to the Players” found at the back of D&D Module B2: Keep on the Borderlaneds (published in 1979 when I was but a wee lad):

It often helps for beginning players to have advice on how to play D&D. Many points are overlooked by novices is their eagerness to get on with the adventure, The following points are given to help these players.

Most importantly, players should be organized and cooperative. Each player should have complete information on his or her character easily on hand and should supply the DM with this information quickly and accurately if asked. As parties will usually involve a variety of alignments and classes, players should work together to use their abilities effectively. Arguing among players will cause delays, attract monsters, and often result in the deaths of some or all of the members.

Cooperation should also be given to the DM. He or she is the judge of the game and his or her decisions are final. If a player disagrees, he or she should calmly state why, and accept whatever the DM decides. Shouting, crying, pouting, or refusing to accept decisions only angers the other players. The game should be fun for all involved. Not everything will go the way players want it.

Planning is another important part of play. Players should be well equipped, comparing each member’s list and balancing the items on each. No character should be overburdened nor under-equipped. This may mean sharing the costs of extra items. Rope, oil, torches, spikes, and other useful items should always be carried. Plans should be considered for encountering monsters and casting spells.

Caution is also necessary and is a part of planning. A party that charges forward without preparation is almost certainly doomed. Danger should be expected at any moment and from any direction, possibly even from one’s own party. Lying and trickery are not unknown. Cautious play will help avoid many (but not all) tricks and traps and may save a life. However, too much caution is as dangerous as too little. Many instances will require bold and quick actions on the part of the players, before all is lost.

Above all a player must think. The game is designed to challenge the minds and imaginations of the players.

Those who tackle problems and use their abilities, wits, and new ideas will succeed more often than fail. The challenge of thinking is a great deal of the fun of the game.

It’s like a Five Commandments of tabletop roleplaying. They keep releasing new rules and we keep adapting our own house rules, but the game’s the same it’s always been in the ways that matter most.


Variant 5e Genasi

January 23rd, 2015

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It can’t be helped. They’re putting out more playable races and character options for Type V Dungeons & Dragons. It would be foolish to think they wouldn’t, but we’re about to find out whether they’re capable of exercising a little restraint. It’s expected at least four additional races will be introduced, cribbed from material previously available going back at least to the Planescape setting, the Genasi.

Genasi are plane-touched people, humans native to the various major inner planes of fire, earth, air, and water. They exhibit characteristics that make them better suited for survival in strange worlds dominated by forces hostile to normal life, as well as features that tie them in thematically with their affiliated element. The literal and allegorical natures of air, earth, fire, and water vary tremendously. By some ways of thinking they vary absolutely, which is why they were ever thought of as the fundamental building-blocks of the universe. Clearly they cannot be a single race for game purposes. Most of their characteristics would differ.

Let’s start by taking a look at how previous incarnations of this oddball cluster of player character races worked before.

2nd Edition Genasi

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The Genasi of Planescape are the direct offspring of an elemental native (a djinn, sylph, ifrit, dao, etc.) and a mortal, and are exceedingly rare. They don’t get along with each other or other mortals very well and do not form communities among even same-type Genasi. They are described in terms that closely associate them with the themes of their elemental parent. From the Planewalker’s Handbook entry for Fire Genasi:

Fire burns, destroys, and consumes. Lesser creatures are afraid of fire, and so fire genasi believe themselves naturally superior – they are avatars of this fearful, destructive energy. It’s easy to see why those of other races dislike the arrogant and hot-tempered flame lords even more than other genasi. Most (sometimes wrongly) assume that fire genasi are innately evil.

  • Air – +1 Dex +1 Int -1 Wis -1 Cha, can cast Levitate as a 5th level wizard, +1 on saves versus air-based magic for every five levels. May be priests, fighters, wizards, fighter/clerics, or fighter/wizards. Specialist wizards must specialize in air elementalism.
  • Earth +1 Str +1 Con -1 Wis -1 Cha, natural AC 8, appraising proficiency, can cast Pass Without Trace as a 5th level wizard, +1 on saves versus earth-based magic for every five levels. May be fighters, wizards, or priests. Specialist wizards must specialize in earth elementalism
  • Fire – +1 Int – 1 Cha, immune to normal flame, infravision 60′, can cast Affect Normal Fires as a 5th-level wizard, +1 on saves versus air-based magic for every five levels. May be fighters, wizards, or fighter/wizards. Specialist wizards must specialize in fire elementalism.
  • Water – Amphibious, +1 Con -1 Cha, can cast Create Water as a 5th level wizard, +1 to saves versus water-based magic for every five levels. May be fighters, wizards, priests, rogues (including bards), fighter/priests, and fighter/thieves. Specialist wizards must specialize in water elementalism.

3rd Edition Genasi

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The Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide was our introduction to 3rd Edition Genasi. In the Forgotten Realms they are presented as the descendants (but not direct offspring) of elemental creatures. They get lots of bullet points for maximum d20 splatbook satisfaction. Mmmm… Bullet points…

  • Air – +2 Dex +2 Int -2 Wis -2 Cha, medium size, 30′ speed, darkvision 60′, can cast Levitate as 5th level sorcerer, +1 saving throw versus all air-based effects for every five levels, do not breath, outsider creature type, favored class fighter, +1 level adjustment.
  • Earth – +2 Str +2 Con -2 Wis -2 Cha, medium size, 30′ speed, darkvision 60′, can cast Pass Without Trace as a 5th level druid, +1 saving throw versus all earth effects for every five levels, outsider creature type, favored class fighters, +1 level adjustment.
  • Fire – +2 Int -2 Cha, medium size, 30′ speed, can cast Control Flame as a 5th level sorcerer, +1 saving throw versus fire effects for every five levels, outsider creature type, favored class fighter, +1 level adjustment.
  • Water – +2 Con -2 Cha, medium size, 30′ speed, 30′ swim speed, darkvision 60′, can cast Create Water as a 5th level druid, +1 saving throw versus water effects for every five levels, Breathe Water as an extraordinary ability, outsider creature type, favored class fighter, +1 level adjustment.

Here we see a fair amount of standardization between the four. They’re all the same size, the same land speed, they all get darkvision, they’re all outsiders, they all have the same level adjustment value.

4th Edition Genasi

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In 4th Edition we see the four separate races turned into one race with five kinds of souls and five manifestations to match. They all get +2 Strength and +2 Intelligence, are medium-sized, have a 6-square speed, with normal vision, +2 endurance, +2 nature.

  • Earthsoul – +1 fortitude defense, +1 bonus to saving throws, Earthshock encounter power that knocks opponents prone as a minor action.
  • Firesoul – +1 reflex defense, resist vs fire, Firepulse encounter power that deals damage as a reaction.
  • Stormsoul – +1 fortitude defense, resist vs lightning, Promise of Storm encounter power that increases damage of lightning and thunder effects as a minor action.
  • Watersoul – can breathe underwater, +2 on saves versus ongoing effects, Swiftcurrent encounter power that lets you shift your movement rate as a minor action.
  • Windsoul – resist vs cold, Windwalker encounter power that lets you fly 8 squares as a move action.

In this edition they are treated as a species unto themselves with no particular animosity or affinity towards other races. This is a long stretch from their lone-wolf elemental-bastard origin from Planescape, but we can see here that the primary constant between takes on this character concept is change.

5e Genasi – Speculative

5e_genasiWhen putting together the Genasi for Type V Dungeons & Dragons, it is not necessary to tie yourself closely to previous takes on the theme considering all this flux. Trying to bear in mind the rough trajectory we’ve seen from 2nd edition to 4th and combining with what we’ve seen from the PHB playable races, I suspect we’ll see something like the following:

Common Features – +2 Charisma. A complete 180° turn from their initial incarnation, but we’re likely to see an elemental bloodline for the Sorcerer class, and the Genasi are a thematic slam-dunk as elementalists. They’ll be medium size because there’s no particular reason not to. They’ll probably speak and read Common and Primorial, depending on how 5e’s take on the Forgotten Realms pan out. They’ll get 60′ darkvision because almost everybody does. They’re giving out darkvision like candy. Pick one subrace.

Subraces – There will likely be more than the original four subraces, possibly the same as 4e, each with its own +1 to a single attribute (Strength for earth, Intelligence for fire, etc), resistance to an associated damage type, and two additional thematically-appropriate minor features. I expect wind-themed Genasi to have a higher movement rate, earth-themed Genasi to have some additional defensive benefit, and so forth.

The main thing we’re going to learn from this first post-release expansion to 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons is what they’ve actually learned from previous experience. Can they keep it in their pants? Has the cancer of character option bloat gone into remission? Or is every DM out there going to have to consider radical surgery and chemotherapy to keep their games off life support?