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Building Character – Background Vignettes

April 29, 2013 2 comments

I hate making characters. Oh sure, sometimes it’s fun, especially with a new system, or with a system that makes a lot of choices for you: Dungeon Crawl Classic‘s ‘Funnel’ system of creating four 0-level characters and seeing who survives to first level is a blast (if a deadly one), and the total randomness of  the classic Traveller or Palladium’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles can be fun too.  But outside of that, I need inspiration to get behind a character, and sometimes that’s not that easy.

Inspiration comes from a lot of places, but I think for most of us it comes from the Appendix N books, movies and TV shows we’ve seen. I use a lot of Shakespearean villains as a template for my anti-heroes: Othello’s Iago, Lear’s Bastard, Henry IV’s Falstaff or Prince Hal, to name a few. History Channel’s Vikings has got me inspired right now, and I’m sure Game of Thrones is packed with inspiration as well.

Once inspired, however, I start to mull over the story of the character, try to figure out how he or she talks, and what got them to be where they are. For a while, this was something I whipped up on the spot, or maybe jotted as a few notes on the back of my character sheet. As I played more, I found the back stories getting more elaborate, and there was just too much to get across as an improvised statement, and other players didn’t have time to digest what I had put into it.

When the Skyland guys started getting together back in the day, we started a web group for our campaign. In that group, the players started crafting player introductions which varied in elaboration, but which gave a great platform for an introduction that could be read prior to the game, and referred back to. Eventually this grew into some great story telling, and was eagerly anticipated by the rest of the group. We used google groups, but a lot of people have used Obsidian Portal, Roll20.net or a free wiki for the same purpose.

Next time you’re getting ready to try out a new character for your longer campaigns, give it a shot. It’s a helpful tool to flesh out your back story and gives the other players (if not the characters) something to make your character and the setting itself come to life. Not sure where to begin? Check out Goodman Games’ PC Pearls as a system-agnostic starting point.

By way of example, my Drow Artificer was to be our ship’s doctor on our Pirate campaign.  While I could say his family staged an unsuccessful coup and he had to flee the city for the surface world, the following tells that tale a little bit better:

THE DOCTOR

“Your obsession with corpses is starting to seem most unnatural, Master V’rderist” said Agaed Malag’tel from the shadows of the
external image DrowfromPlotPoisonAGuidebooktoDrow.pnglaboratory.

Vaeldti did not look up from the body on which he labored, though Agaed’s presence was a surprise. He may have acted differently if he had known he was being observed. He was, if nothing else, unshakable however, and reacted no differently now.

“It’s far from an obsession, Agaed,” said Vaeldti without looking up from the corpse, “Were the few meager years I’ve spent experimenting with the anatomy of the creatures of the Underdark taken as requisite for ‘obsession’ then you, sir, would be ‘obsessed’ with spying on me.”

“But I am obsessed with spying on you, friend Vaeldti,” purred Agaed, pulling himself off the wall. Vaeldti smiled gently and palmed a scalpel from the table, slipping it into the sleeve of his surgical gown. He carefully removed the second heart of the umber hulk on his table, and readied a jar to receive it. Agaed was being too informal. This could not be good.

“Be that as it may, friend Agaed,I believe should this be considered some vice of indulgence, it is by far the smallest transgression, compared with other crimes…” Behind Vaeldti’s back, Agaed stopped smiling, then jumped back slightly as the umber hulk heart dropped hissing into the clear glass jar filled with preservative fluids.

“Have you ever considered what a disappointment you must be to your family, what with your training for those many years in Sorcere only to squander it by sequestering yourself for a decade with those ridiculous Duergar? I’m sure you must have been flayed within an inch of your life when you were finally caught.” Agaed laughed mirthlessly.

Vaeldti’s smile did not wane. “Yes,” he answered, “Yes to both the disappointment, and the flaying, but I must offer a correction. I returned of my own accord. That is to say, the Duergar held nothing else to offer me.”

Two large metallic spiders emerged from the cavernous chest cavity of the Umber Hulk, their glass abdomens full of ambergris harvested from the corpse; enough to pay for new equipment when Vaeldti reached the surface. He smiled, and seeing that his small automatons were growing low on magical energy, extended his index finger and started only slightly as first one and then the other of his mechanical assistants latched on and drank.

“Not that they do not have some fine secrets worth keeping, however,” said Vaeldti stroking the back of a clockwork arachnid.

Agaed frowned. “Be that as it may, it would have been, perhaps, more beneficial to your House if you could have added that power behind the forces that moved against my House last night! For they have fallen, and you, sir, will be next to die!”

As Agaed moved to pull his longsword, a sudden sharp pain forced him to clutch his neck. A handful of metallic spider stung at him again, then scurried to Vaeldti’s side as he finished cleaning his tools.

“I did say that I was flayed, did I not, Agaed…” Vaeldti turned as he finished, “and it is not something I have forgotten. This House can rot in the Demonweb Pits for all I care, as can this whole wretched cavernous pit. The foolishness of it all.”

Holding his arms behind his back, Vaeldti paced as though lecturing a first year student of Sorcere. Agaed’s knees buckled and sweat began to bead upon his brow.

“Do you know that they teach the study of anatomy in both Sorcere and Melee Magthere, but only for the purposes of torture and killing, respectively? Such wasteful foolishness presupposes that the gods shall stay set in place, and that the Matrons will always have the ear of Most Divine Llolth to close wounds and purge disease. I see there is more to it than that…”

Leaning over Agaed, Vaeldti held his face within inches of the sweating cowering form.

“Perhaps it is due to my altruistic nature that I am so flawed. But, it will require my leaving for the surface, which I am already prepared to do…. especially now that I’ve captured you.”

Agaed staggered upright, leaning into the corner as he felt his strength drain. “Ca-ca-cap-captured? D-d-d-do you pl-plan to ransom me?” he stuttered as his jaw locked under the effects of the paralytic poison.

“Ransom? Aha, no…. No, for you, I will give you the opportunity to contribute to my work, and thus redeem yourself…. One last contribution…. to science. ”

Agaed’s screams barely escaped the stairwell… and three hours later, Vaeldti make his way to the surface, seeking to learn more about the mysteries of the natural world.

——

The sea captain stared at the forged letters carefully, then examined Valedti from head to toe.
“Ships doctor, you say?”
“Indeed”
“Any good?”
“Very good”
“If I am not mistaken, you are a drow,” said the Captain conclusively.
“And if I am not mistaken, you are a pirate sir. Strange bedfellows, I believe the expression goes?”
The captain sighed….”You’re hired, Mr….”
“Doctor… and it’s Vaeldti V’rderist”
“Welcome aboard, Doctor Valedi Venderost…”
“No it’s….”
“Below decks, Doctor. Men need tending to… ”

“…Indeed.”

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Categories: Character, Pirates, RPGs, Tips

The Ten Con-mandments

April 22, 2013 2 comments

I am, I admit, a bit of a grognard. I’m of an age where I am perhaps overly concerned that teenagers are on my lawn. I like to watch the news and I generally go to bed around 10 o’clock. And yet… I like to go to conventions and play games. Recently, I attended a small-size convention, and while overall I had a good time, there were many instances where I was annoyed with the other players. Whether it was a complete and utter lack of personal hygiene, an endless series of inane stream-of-consciousness questions, or the GM texting or e-mailing while reading boxed text and then getting confused and asking us to wait while he finished… it made me much more cranky than usual. While we have previously published a list of 10 general commandments for gaming with a group of friends, I figured I needed to share my 10 Con-mandments.

 

1. Thou ShaGeekOut2012lt Keep Thyself Clean and Fresh
We’ve said it before. I’ll say it again. Especially if you are at a convention. Clean yourself. Yes, with soap and water. Use deodorant. A tiny spritz of whatever Axe body spray you like is more than enough. Don’t try to just cover the funk. Every hotel room has a shower. Go forth and clean everything. Your face, your neckbeard, your taint. Everything. For real. There is nothing worse than three days of stank.

2. Thou Shalt Not Keep Thy Dice In Thy Hand Overlong
There’s an old adage of “If you shake it more than once, you’re playing with it”. The same applies to dice. Once or twice is fine… but shaking your dice back and forth continuously does not somehow magically make your damage higher or your hit better. You totally look like you’re masturbating, so stop it.

3. Thy Hit and Thy Damage Shall Be Rolled Together
If I have to watch you jack your dice off when you are rolling to hit, I don’t want the action repeated when you actually succeed. Roll everything (or as much as you can) together. It will speed up play and I can get back to my hotel room in time to watch Matlock.

4. Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbor’s Dice
If your rogue does 3d8 damage with every hit… why do you only have 2d8 in your Crown Royal bag? I do not want you to touch my dice and ruin the magic they contain, but on the other hand I do not want to wait every time your turn comes up. I’ve taken to carrying a small bag of random dice for the express purpose of giving them out to dunderheads at conventions. Pencils and paper, too. Some days, I feel like a kindergarten teacher at an inner-city school helping out the tragic children unable to help themselves.

5. Asketh Not Thine Stupid Questions
We’re fighting a beholder in the last room of a dungeon crawl and you are playing your elven wizard. This is no time to ask the GM’s thoughts on whether or not a barbarian can dual-wield giant-sized clubs. It’s your turn to blast the evil beholder into atoms, don’t suddenly ask the grognard next to you how underwater combat works. Nobody cares what your kitsune can shapechange into, don’t pontificate on it’s powers while you should be stepping up and cleaving goblins.

6. Thou Shalt Understand Thy Character
You’re a 7th level sorcerer? Why don’t you know the damage of that magic missile you just shot at the darkness? A 9th level barbarian gets several thousand rounds per day of rage, I’m sure. How can somebody get to the point where they travel to conventions to play and not know their character? I’m not talking about someone just starting out, I’m talking about people who have, allegedly, played their character enough times to get several levels under their belt and had no idea that their oracle was a spontaneous caster. Okay, I confess, that last one was me, but in my defense… uh… Alzheimer’s?

7. Thou Shalt Get Rest So As Not to Sleepeth Past Thy Initiative
If you do sleep past your initiative, don’t throw a hissy fit when you wake up three turns later and realize you missed everything. It’s not the GMs job to make sure you are paying attention. Yes, it’s a convention and there’s Midnight Madness games and parties and it’s all about having fun. Well, you can’t “hoot with the owls at night and fly with the eagles in the morning” unless you are well-caffeinated or able to handle it.

8. Thou Shalt Use Electronics Only For Reference Sake
I’m sure that video of a goat screaming like it’s a human is hilarious, but pick up your dice and throw them down. It’s your turn, dagnabbit! If you are the GM, it’s even worse. There’s legitimate reasons to take a moment and check your phone, of course, but carrying on a 15-minute text conversation with your wife, sister, husband, lawyer, lover, cousin, brother or friend about what you want to eat? Save that for a break.

9. Thou Shalt Not Wear Thy Favorite Shirt More Than One Day
At larger conventions, as long as you’re taint is clean and the shirt’s not crusted with two days of burrito, you can probably get away with shaking the crumbs off your magic special re-roll shirt, but at smaller conventions where you play with the same pool of people? Not a good idea. Even after the first day, the funkishness is going to intensify, so be kind and think of the people around you. Please.

10. Thou Shalt Wash Thine Hands After Sneezing Into Them
I cannot even… seriously? And did you then try to pick up one of my d8s? If you’d like to keep that hand attached to that arm, I suggest you excuse yourself and go wash your hands. Or carry a small jar of sanitizer, or better yet, vampire sneeze. Shoving your filthy, stinky paw up under your nose and letting one go is not the right way to live life.

BONUS: 11th Commandment!

11. Thou Shalt Be Courteous
A well-run and well-organized gaming convention is hard to pull off. Many times it is like herding cats. Large, smelly, angry cats. Do your part to help the organizers by telling them when they do right, and helping them when things go wrong. Adapt. If your game is cancelled, don’t scream at the organizer, it’s not her fault. Find something else to do. When you sit at a table with all 1st level characters, don’t demand that they play higher tier so you can play your highest level, roll up a new one.

As GenCon approaches… as Origins nears… as our own home-grown GeekOut gets ready next weekend… remember that common courtesy and common decency can make for an uncommonly good time.

Categories: Uncategorized

DABDA Do, DABDA Don’t

April 15, 2013 2 comments

Players give ‘life’ to their characters with traits that are usually extensions of themselves in some way.  Even while playing games such as Dungeon Crawl Classics or Traveler which uses a prolific amount of random character generation tables, players cannot help give personalities to their characters.  Other games, such as Dungeons and Dragons and Pathfinder, use a more detailed character generation system that allows more customization in which players put much more of themselves into their characters.  This results in players becoming attached to their characters and factors such as naming their character, customizing options and achieving higher levels contribute more to this attachment.  But we all know what inevitably comes to any character – death.

I used the widely-known Elisabeth Kubler-Ross 5 Step Model, also known under the acronym DABDA, as a basis to help explain player behavior when character death occurs.  Although Kubler-Ross initially applied these principles to those suffering from terminal illnesses, we can easily modify the principles for this article.  It is wise to remember that some players will not experience every step and if they do, it may be only briefly (as in seconds; think of any console game where you re-spawn).

1.       Denial – “Wait, what just happened?  No way!” 

In this first stage, players may deny that their character even died.  As a defense mechanism, some distance themselves from other players around them by becoming extremely quiet or sulking. 

2.       Anger – “That’s not fair!  That’s bull!” 

This stage usually manifests as a brooding anger instead of as an outburst.  Sometimes you may witness a player outburst, but that is usually not in a public setting such as a convention or at your local game store.

3.       Bargaining – “What if I do this, will that save him?”

Players hope to delay, postpone or reverse their characters’ deaths by reviewing what happened to get them killed.  Negotiations with the higher powers (game masters, judges and sometimes deities) are conducted thoroughly and this is usually where the resident ‘rules lawyer’ shines.

4.       Depression – “I sure do miss Rangaar, but who cares?”

At this stage, players actually grieve for their character.  They tend to reminisce about achievements, comedic exploits and general good feelings that this particular character gave to that game world.  Players usually do not dwell too long at this stage as they usually move quickly to the last stage.

5.       Acceptance – “I’m dead.  Can I roll up another character?”

In the last stage, players finally accept the loss of their character and move on.  They either need to re-spawn, get raised or roll up another character because ‘life’ goes on.

Creatures Critters Denizens Review

April 8, 2013 Comments off

ccd coverHere is the short review: Creatures, Critters and Denizens delivers a whole lot of bang for the buck.

Now the long review: Weighing in at 251 pages for $9.99 (PDF version) or $14.99 (Print on Demand) This is a whole lot of material for not a lot of money. Detailed within are really nicely done stat blocks for mundane creatures like dogs and chickens (helpful in the funnel if your farmer peasant starts with an animal, or wizard familiars) to the most fantastic mutants, demons, and fey creatures you can imagine. Also included are a lot of optional rules and the methodology that was used to create these creatures, so you can create your own.

This book has a very authentic old-school feel to it, which is good in some ways, bad in others. The book has a lot of flavorful black and white drawings illustrating many of the beasties within. Unfortunately, it looks like they have been “enhanced” with lens flares and blur effects, which may be a matter of taste, but I find pretty annoying. It makes it look like someone was using a color scanner and the lid has some light leaks, so the scans of what would be excellent black and white art are kind of ruined. Its a shame too, because a lot of it would be really cool without the effects. Also some of the layout is a bit crowded compared to most recent books, but again is true to the old-school feel of 1st edition books. To Cognition Pressworks’ credit, they do pack this book to the gills!

The actual critters themselves are really well presented with a lot of flavor text and back story for each entry, as well as relative sizes for hatchling, juvenile, and adult versions of several of the entries. This allows for putting some version of the creature you want, at an appropriate level of difficulty for the party you have; Very handy!  It also includes some stats you wouldn’t think you would need, but who knows? Maybe you’ll need to know how much a small raccoon can carry, or drag, or … lift. It is possible! This again, leads to it’s old-school mentality which is both quirky and endearing.

Overall this is a solid buy. It is a TON of material for the money, and works well to augment the creatures available in the Core DCCRPG book. It also allows you to peek behind the curtain and use the same approach to create your own monsters for your adventures to face. Support DCCRPG and support 3rd party publishers!

Categories: DCCRPG, Monster, Retro, Reviews, RPGs

Bombshells in Miniature

April 1, 2013 Comments off

While we all wait for Reapermas to arrive, another company has already delivered their new line… and it’s the bomb (as the kids say).

Bombshell Miniatures has started delivery of Bombshell Babes, a set of more than 24 miniatures of “strong iconic female characters from various genres.” Samurai, cave girls, modern doctor, steampunkers, rocket girls, pirates… something for everyone. Sculpted by Patrick Keith, the concepts come from a veritable Who’s Who in gaming miniature design including Tim Collier, Robert Cirillo, Keri Ruediger, Matt Dixon and more.

Bombshell Miniatures

Tetsu Ko, Dr. Helen Salinger and Wu Ling Shu… three new releases from Bombshell Miniatures.

My two choices were Wu Ling Shu, a Asian swordswoman that I will paint up and use in our local Pathfinder Society games as my Ninja/Cleric and Tetsu Ko, a samurai. As part of my level of funding, I received a nice postcard set of all the concept art and I also received a third figure, Dr. Helen Salinger. Another bonus (a stretch goal) was the inclusion with every figure of inserts for their round bases. I love the bases, but… I’ll be using a standard square base since the round bases provided are just a tiny bit wider than one inch, and wouldn’t play well with other figures.

This is one of those Kickstarters where I really wish I had pledged more. I’m definitely not going to make that mistake with the new Dwarven Forge offering…

Categories: Uncategorized