Monthly Archives: February 2009

X-Box Away!

Yesterday my shipping box arrived, and today I sent out the x-box.  Pretty easy, the box had instructions, and I just opened it up, put in the x-box, taped it up, and slapped their shipping sticker on it.  I didn’t even need to pay UPS.  Sweet!

While I was over by Pegasus Games, I couldn’t help but stop in.  I had some store credit saved up, so I made a few purchases: Savage Worlds Sundered Skies, which is post-apocalypse fantasy air pirates, and Anima, which is by Fantasy Flight, might be a fantasy heartbreaker, and costs $60.  I’m not sure what’s going on with that game, but it’s exactly the kind of game I would have drooled over in college, so reading it is a big nostalgia trip.

Horror Movie Roles

After seeing Friday the 13th a few days ago, Tim and I had a conversation about what the real plot of Freddy vs. Jason was, who was more awesome (I prefer Jason, Tim prefers Freddy), and slasher killers as D&D roles.

We figured out that Jason is a Striker.  As Tim put it:

“Appear!  Machete!”

Jason dishes out lots of damage, has lots of stealth, and mobility, and as it happens, he’s also impossible to kill.

Freddy, as it happens, mostly messes with his opposition, weakening them and stressing them out before going in for the kill.  He’s clearly more of a Controller, putting status effects on the opposition.

Me: “So, both Defender and Leader depend on having others to work with- either taking the beatdown so someone else doesn’t, or buffing their allies.  That doesn’t seem to work within the slasher paradigm.”

Tim: “Pinhead is totally a Leader.”

I can see that.  He mostly bosses the other Cenobites around and has them do the fighting.  He’d be a good Leader for our evil-horror-movie-character party.

Neither of us can think of a good Defender character.  Sure Jason might have a ton of hit points and healing surges, but he works alone.  Any slashers out there that distract their victims and take the beating so someone else can slip in for the kill?

Character Creation Tips and Tricks, Part II

Continued from here, because it’s long.

Start in Medias Res

The most exciting, most vivid characters I have ever seen were those in the thick of a meaty situation. The ones with an unfulfilled desire, an important quest or motivation, one that they started play with.

This goes back to Building Character Though Play- it’s more exciting to rescue the princess through play than it is to do it in your backstory. But it goes beyond that technique, into one of its own. Cops should have the case they’ve been working on for a decade that is on the verge of a breakthrough. Vampires should have baggage inherited from their Sires. Occult Investigators should have their own personal demons. Anyone can have an enemy, a rival, or family problems.

This isn’t about establishing a long term motivation- it’s about establishing a short term motivation, adventure hooks that you can hand to the gamemaster, and getting yourself in the thick of things. A good gamemaster will take what you give him, run with it, and make it more exciting.

Start out strong. Put yourself in the hotseat.

Give Yourself a Flaw

No one is perfect. More importantly, perfect characters are boring. Flawed characters are much more interesting. A flaw will add another spark of life and uniqueness to your character. It will set him apart from all the other fighters, vampires, or superheroes. It’s what makes him human.

Mechanical flaws can be fun. You want to turn your weakness into a character trait, and think of ways to play around your weakness. In D&D, Wisdom is my favorite dump stat- I enjoy playing characters that are overconfident, eager, and often in over their heads. I find it fun to roleplay, and I don’t mind losing out on Wisdom-based skills or occasionally being mind-controlled. Another classic weakness is the physical disadvantage- missing an arm, leg, or more, or just having low physical stats. Many systems reward you for taking physical disadvantages, mostly to compensate for mechanical effectiveness, but these can also add color to a character. What additional challenges does a veteran soldier with no legs face?

Personality flaws and quirks deserve mention. Lots of systems reward you for these. (For example, in Savage Worlds, you get just as many hindrance points for having one leg as you do for being severely overconfident.) Don’t just stock up on these because they look like free points! Stock up on them because they’re fun! Let them inform your play of the character, and make them more complicated.

Let your character fail in play. Allow them to show weakness, emotion, and humanity. Let them grow as a person.

Talk to the Gamemaster

This is probably the most important thing you can possibly do. Talk to the gamemaster about your expectations- expectations for the game, expectations for your character, whatever.

Have a dialogue. Talk about your background. (For massive background writers, you’ll find when giving an oral summary of your background, you end up distilling it down to the most important points.) Talk about where the character might be going. If it’s an established game, talk about how you’ll fit into the setting and with the other characters. If it’s a new game, talk about how your contributions can affect the setting.

Get feedback from the gamemaster. Listen to his feedback. If he offers mechanical advice, consider it. If he suggests a minor background change, you should probably accept unless you have a compelling reason- he’s probably tying it into other campaign events.

We started with something that excites you, right? Convey that excitement to the gamemaster. Get him excited about your character, for the same reasons you are. He’ll develop situations that excite you.
While going over the rules, especially those that affect your character, if you have a question, ask the gamemaster. Get a ruling. If you see an edge case, don’t make any assumptions. When it comes to rules advice, the gamemaster can be your best friend.
Let the gamemaster help you build character through play. Get him on board with your situation. Gamemasters will love you for coming up with situations, it saves them work and inspiration, and all they have to do is stat it up and figure out how to make things worse. Seriously, we love that stuff.

Talk to the Other Players

Make a character you think will fit in the group, and not exist in an environment where you will have to player-kill or be player-killed. For highly tactical games, you can touch base on what the group needs, but always go back to step one, excitement. Think about social flaws and biases. A character who rabidly hates elves is probably not the best choice for a group containing two elves and a half-elf. Grim loners who never talk to anyone, sorry to say, are not badass, they’re not worthy of attention.

Think of ways to make your character enjoyable not only for you, but for everyone sitting at the table. Ask yourself, if another player brought a character like this to the table, would it irritate me, or would I be impressed? Avoid the former, aim for the latter.

But First and Foremost, Have Fun!

Character Creation Tips and Tricks, Part I

As you may know, I’ve been making lots of characters lately. As a consequence of this, I’ve been thinking a lot about what makes a character fun to create, and fun to play. I thought I’d share these techniques.

Start with Something that Excites You

Above everything else, it’s important to have a character you’re excited about, or it will be boring to play. Too often, this can be forgotten, thinking in terms of rounding out the rest of the group and starting with things like race and class. You can go there, but first, think about what’s going to make this character enjoyable and interesting for you to play.

It can be a mechanical excitement (“The Sneak Attack class feature looks cool, so I want to play a Rogue!” “I’ve never played a Defender before, and the Warden looks pretty cool.” “Oh man, that is the coolest feat/edge/skill/discipline/charm/trait/whatever ever! I’ve got to make a character around that.”) a situation excitement (“and I swore revenge against Majestic-12!” “The vampire prince is my Sire, but neither of us can publicly admit it!” “My partner of 20 years betrayed me on the last case. I have to find out why!) or a character quirk that excites you (“he keeps trophies of all his kills!” “he’s an uptight obsessive-compulsive introvert!” “He’s got a Scottish accent!”) Whatever. As long a you’re excited about it, and feel it’s enough to base a character on, you’re good to go.

Mechanics can inform personality (“My Rogue is a flamboyant Swashbuckler.”)
Personality can inform mechanics (“My uptight obsessive-compulsive introvert is that way because she’s a Malkavian.”)
Situation can inform mechanics, and usually informs personality. (“Since I’m a veteran cop, I should pick up appropriate skills, and a well rounded base, both physical and mental. I’m probably a little upset about the whole betrayal thing, and there’s a host of cop archetypes to play off of.”)

This sense of energy and enthusiasm is important, since it will carry you through character creation and play. Remember, always make characters that you’re excited about playing!

Familiarize Yourself With the Rules

I don’t think it’s necessary to make “optimized” or “min-maxed” characters. I do think it’s important to be proficient with the system you are using. The more complex the system, the easier it is for a player to fall behind the power curve of the other players. At best, this results in reduced character effectiveness, and a resulting loss of spotlight time and prestige. At worst, in a highly competitive game, it can get your character and other characters killed, and incite feelings of acrimonious envy.

Know your limitations! If you’re new to a system, sit down and read it over, or ask a veteran player to guide you through character creation. Keep yourself in the driver’s seat, but ask them for their advice. In a system like HERO, this is a must. (And even experienced players may want to have someone else to compare notes with.)

It can embarrassing to make a master fencer in a World of Darkness game, with maxed out Dexterity and Weapons, only to realize you’re going to be rolling Strength + Weapons because you didn’t take the right Merit. (A good GM will let you move your Merit points around. Sadly, not all problems have such an easy answer.)

This doesn’t stop at character creation. For your Rogue, you’ll want to know what Combat Advantage is, how to get it, and what other conditions might allow you to get your Sneak Attack. You’ll probably want to have a good idea of how stealth works, and what skills on your list can be used for what. Know what abilities and skills are useful for your class, and what aren’t. If you cast spells or use powers from a list, know what your capabilities are, and write them down. You’ll save time during play, and you’ll have a better idea of your options.

Build Character Through Play

This is probably going to be a controversial point, because it’s counter to a lot of accepted theory about character creation.

I think writing long, detailed backstories for characters is a bad thing.

When I write a backstory, I write two to three paragraphs. There’s only a few major things you need to hit on: Important, life altering events, (for Exalted, you get what you did before you Exalted, how you Exalted, and what you’ve been doing since then) a personality snap-shot (a few key traits, anything that has game effects like a Motivation) and an ability summary (highest skills, where your charms are at, a note for any key magic items.) Anything more than that is a waste. You risk increasing the signal to noise ratio, loading down the gamemaster with information that they’ll never use.

Leaving blank spots in your background lets you fill them in during play. It also lets the gamemaster mix and match backgrounds to weave the characters together. Maybe the cruel old sorcerer who tricked me into a cursed immortality is the same person as the corrupt vizier in your background. If we had both named those characters, and given them elaborate descriptions and information about their relations to us, that connection doesn’t work.

But more importantly, you run the risk of frontloading character. I think the most important events to your character should happen during play. And the most important revelations about your character’s personality- about their essential character- these should happen during play, at the gaming table.

I’m going to pull a book off my shelf, Legend of the Five Rings 3rd Edition. For character creation, it suggests that you answer 20 questions for your character. Let’s look at some of these:

Some of them, you can’t play without answering: Clan Membership, School, and Family are all things you will have to decide to make a character. It’s probably a good idea to ask what your character’s main motivation is. Because of the societal expectations, it’s a good idea to figure out if you’re married, and who your lord is (though that question is only indirectly asked). Since the question will come up early in game, it’s a good idea to figure out what your appearance is.

But let’s scrutinize some of the other questions:
What does your character think of Bushido?
What is your character’s opinion of his own clan?
What about your character’s emotions?
If you could, what advice would you give your character?

On the one hand, thinking about these in advance can give you insight into the character, which is good. On the other hand, overthinking about them can easily lead to creating a stiff, rigid character bible to which you must follow.

Here’s what I think the worst question on the list is:

How would your character handle a subordinate’s improper behavior?

You know why I don’t want to answer this question in advance? Because it’s a hard choice. It’s also one that’s likely to come up in play. When it happens, I want to have that moral quandary. I want to have to make that choice at the table, with everyone watching me. At home, typing up a background, I can answer that question without the same emotional intensity, and then I have a prepared response available. I deny myself a tough, formative, roleplaying moment.

Save the hard choices for play. Let your character grow and breathe at the gaming table. Let them surprise you.

Red Ring of Death

It finally happened.

My xBox console, my ardent companion of almost two years, has died, suffering the dreaded Red Ring of Death. But it’s not as bad as I might have feeared- they have a 3 year extended warranty for just this problem, which means my box is still covered, and the repair is free.  I learned some important tips (like remove my hard drive before sending in my xbox), but hopefully I’ll have a replacement in under two weeks.

But what the hell am I going to do until then?  I suppose I could always write games.  Or blog posts.

Roleplaying Character Crossover Meme

I got this from Sabe.

Step 1: List 10 of your characters.
Step 2: Answer these questions!

I had a hard time coming up with a good list of characters, since I tend to GM, and play lots of one-shots. I was able to come up with the full list. Most of these were played for an extended time. Some of them were only a few sessions. Zagnamenon was only one, but he was flavorful enough and I might play him again.

Victoria was from the Blazing Rose Archer Investigations game, I don’t have her character sheet anymore so I don’t recall her last name. Sabe’s character number #2, Elias Grey.

1: Salvatore Jones (Rainbow Wizard, D&D)
2: Desiree Atwood (Undead Chronically Depressed Mad Scientist, Deadlands)
3: Victoria (Vampire Paranormal Investigator, Blazing Rose)
4: Gaston Lotridge (Evil Wizard with a Heart of Gold, Fantasy Hero)
5: Sayonarra (Post Apocalypse Militia Officer, True 20)
6: Inarra, Queen of Bataria (Harsh but Awesome Queen, In a Wicked Age)
7: Tiffany Rochester (Filthy Rich Industry Heiress Vampire Slayer, Buffy the Vampire Slayer)
8: Prince Zagnamenon (Hedonist Conjurer Prince, In a Wicked Age)
9: Therese Beloit (Nigh-Immortal Nymphomaniac Sorceress, Deadlands)
10: Beowulf (Troll Mystic Warrior with a Sense of Honor, Shadowrun)

Four invites Three and Eight to dinner at their house. What happens?

Gaston would be a nervous wreck setting up the dinner, having a beautiful investigator and a handsome and powerful prince over at his humble abode. When I last left Gaston he was a mercenary, living in tents and camps, so I think for entertaining guests he’d pay to get a nice room at an inn nearby.

Dinner might be interesting, with Victoria on the verge of discovering Gaston’s dark secrets, and Zagnamenon unintentionally providing distractions by trying to make everyone have a good time- if you’re going to invite someone on the list to a social event, he’s a great choice. I think the dinner would be enjoyable for all involved, but Victoria would leave knowing something wasn’t quite right about that Gaston Lotridge.

Nine tries to get Five to go to a strip club. How?

Therese would probably be willing to go to a (male) strip club, and Sayonarra, while not exactly Puritan, would probably be reluctant to do so. In the end though, Therese is very persuasive, and Sayonarra would likely go just to see what the fuss was about.

You need to stay at a friend’s house for the night. Who do you choose, One or Six?

Salvatore Jones was a wandering wizard, who practiced rainbow magic. Queen Inarra was a brutal tyrant queen who rules with a iron fist. While the Queen’s palace is probably better digs, I’d be too worried about getting caught up in an assassination plot, coup-attempt, or court-positioning and losing my head. Salvatore’s dwellings might be more modest, but he’d be the perfect gentleman, and have some smashing fashion advice.

Three falls in love with Six, Eight is jealous. What happens?

Victoria was previously madly in love with Alexandra Archer, so this doesn’t terribly surprise me that she’d be attracted to a powerful, forward woman. Victoria doesn’t exactly seem like Zagnamenon’s type, but I can see him falling for Inarra as well, and seeing a tempestuous love triangle, as the Tyrant Queen finds herself in a Blood and Sex story, torn between the exotic vampire sapphist and the charming Prince Zagnamenon. Inarra would probably want to have it both ways, and I imagine any story with two In a Wicked Age characters and a Tragic Blazing Rose character would end in heartbreak and blood, but in a way no one could predict.

Four jumps you in a dark alleyway. Who comes to your rescue, Ten, Two or Seven?

Why is Gaston jumping me in a dark alleyway? Who knows? Maybe he’s desperate for body parts for a necromantic experiment, and is really torn up about the whole thing. He’s not that great in a fight, but if he gets a good knife hit in on a normal dude, he could probably be his own Igor.

I think Tiffany Rochester and Beowulf would simultaneously come to my aid. The first is a Vampire Slayer- patrolling the big bad streets, looking for evil is her calling. The later is a career criminal with a secret drive to be a superhero, so he occasionally patrols the big bad streets looking for evil. While he’s got a number of supernatural tricks up his sleeve, against an accomplished Slayer and a troll with mystic kung fu, he’d be toast.

One decides to start a cooking show. Fifteen minutes later, what is happening?

Not a bad choice. I think Salvatore would be a decent cook. He’d also have a celebrity guest.

“Welcome to Cooking with Sparkles, I’m your host, Salvatore Jones. Today, I’ll be making my famous rainbow soufflé. With me today, is my special guest co-host, Oscar Wilde.”

Three has to marry either Eight, Four or Nine. Whom do they choose?

Victoria has the following suitors to choose from: Gaston Lotridge, Prince Zagnamenon, or Therese Beloit. She had a lovely dinner with Prince Zagnamenon, and has Gaston to thank for that, even if he’s a bit of a creep. She’d probably be most attracted to the beautiful and mysterious Therese, but would those feelings be reciprocated?

Seven kidnaps Two and demands something from Five for Two’s release. What is it?

The slayer Tiffany has kidnapped Desiree Atwood! No doubt Tiffany has discovered Desiree’s undead nature, but has heard tales of her doing. Is Desiree Atwood working on the side of good or evil? She requires that Sayonarra go find her former patron the Prospector, and find out the truth of where Desiree’s loyalties lie.

Everyone gangs up on Three, does Three have a chance in hell?

Nope. While she’s a vampire, and can whoop some ass when she’s in a vampiric frenzy, she’s not an accomplished fighter and there’s a number of powerful warriors and magicians amongst the opposition.

Everyone is invited to Two and Ten’s wedding, except for Eight. How do they react?

Desiree and Beowulf are getting married! How romantic. One’s a would-be knight-in-shining-armor, the other’s a chronically depressed wandering do-gooder. I don’t think they’d be a very good match. They both have similar goals, so might get along well. And things might be physically tough- he’s a big big troll, and she got spatially twisted and is a much smaller than normal woman. But hey, she’s crazy, so maybe she’s madly in love.

But the dashing Prince Zagnamenon isn’t invited! What a stinging insult. Prince Zagnamenon would have to crash this wedding, and crash it in style, bringing a fantastic gift for the married couple that would put all other gifts to shame, and then fly away on some sort of magic carpet or tamed roc.

Why is Six afraid of Seven?

Inarra does not lightly admit fear, but she recognizes suitable precautions. The Slayer Tiffany Rochester is a potential rogue element, a foil to her plans, and a dangerous rival- and easily more than her match in combat. The Tyrant Queen of Bataria is wary for figures such as this, for they could spell death for her and ruin for her kingdom.

One arrives late for Two and Ten’s wedding. What happens and why were they late?

Clearly, Salvatore found out about Zagnamenon’s nefarious plot to crash the wedding, and goes on a side quest to get an even more suitable gift. He arrives just as the smoke bombs clear, and the conjurer and illusionist face off against each other, in a magical duel of splendid gift-giving. One thing is for certain: whoever wins, it will be an awesome sight.

Five and Nine get roaring drunk and end up in your house. What happens?

Therese tries to seduce my boyfriend. She’d probably try to do that sober. Sayonarra is normally a bit brash but fairly level headed, and can probably hold her liquor well, and probably keeps her in line. Sayonarra is probably just amazed at the working technologies of this age.

Nine murders Two’s best friend. What does Two do to get back at them?

Desiree’s best friend in the world is Nigel Rhodes, man of adventure, also undead. While Therese knows the value of undead allies, she also knows their risks. If she thought Nigel had gone rogue, she’d be willing to take him out. She’s sneaky enough to get away with it. Chances are Desiree never finds out. She’s also supernaturally absentminded- eventually, in her foggy depression, she’d forget all about Nigel.

Six and One are in mortal danger, only one of them can survive. Does Six save herself or One?

Inarra, Tyrant Queen of Bataria, values her life and power above all else. Salvatore is a foolish pawn worthy only to be sacrificed to dark implacable gods. I think it’s clear who’s getting out of here alive.

Two and Three go camping. For some reason they forget to bring any food. What do they do?

Desiree is undead, and doesn’t have to eat. Victoria’s a vampire, so she feeds on people. She doesn’t mention it, but waits it out hungry as long as she can, and maybe heads back to town a night or two early so she can get to the blood bank. (It was never really defined how often Victoria needed to feed. Who knows, maybe she could go for a short camping trip without worrying about food.)

Because It Bears Reading

I link to a post of Rob Donahue’: Ten Useful Pieces of Gaming Technology.

I think War for the Throne will use several of these.  I hope character generation will be play.  There will be fruitful downtime, namely the faction-level mechanics.  As a Fate game, it has Narrative Currency, and we’ll see some interesting stuff with different types of characters, some being Heirs, some being Companions.

Open Grave

I just got D&D’s new sourcebook, Open Grave in the mail last night.  It’s a GM book, lots of undead monsters, lots of tips on using undead monsters, and a couple of undead-lairs.  It’s the same format as Draconomicon, which I enjoyed, but I think I’m likely to get even more use out of this one.

(Short note concerning Draconomicon- there’s a number of non-Solo dragons in there which is more useful for building encounters, but rubs me the wrong way.  I also don’t terribly like the way they did hatchling dragons, but that may just be because I did them differently in my own game.)

Anyway, I’ve only gotten to skim over the book, but I already love it- there’s a reference to my favorite movie.  Check out the Drowned Ghost- the art, the stat block, and the knowledge check.

Retail: Garden of the Surreal

“Why is the drawer short $3?”

“Oh, it’s complicated.”

So, this lady was checking out at one of the registers, and had some coupons.  Usually when there’s coupons, we put them up on the counter so they’re out of the way and ring up the rest of the items, then handle the coupons last.

So the coupons are on the raised counter next to the price display and credit card reader.  And the lady must have been very intently looking at the price display, because some guy walked up and stole her coupons.  Just snatched them off the counter.

I don’t know if either of them saw it happen, or if they noticed later, but it escalated to management, who looked at the security tapes, and indeed, someone had stolen the coupons.  So we just gave the lady $3 (what she said her coupons were worth.)