Last of the Freaks

Here we go: last of the supernatural characters we’ve created. This is Gerhardt Rothman, a policeman with a dark secret he’s trying to hide from.

I’m working on putting together actual play sessions starting next week, so I hope to have some reports on the actual games around then. I’m going to set the adventures in Magical Winnipeg, and will be brainstorming this weekend. I need to create two separate adventures, each of which may take one or two sessions to play out, because of the size of the group. I’d like to tailor each adventure to the group playing it, but I’m not sure how workable that’s going to be in the time I’ve got.

Anyway, the actual playing is coming up. Stay tuned.

Child of the Night

Got another of the characters in my e-mail a few minutes ago. It’s almost midnight here, so it’s kind of fitting that I introduce you to Elaine De La Roche, who’s working really hard not to bite you in the neck.

For those of you keeping score at home, we’ve got one more character to go. I’ll post that one as soon as it arrives.

Gotta Remember This Trick

So, I’ve been listening to the audio book Hyperion, by Dan Simmons on my commute to and from work, and I just finished on the drive home today.

I liked it a lot, but that’s kinda beside the point.

The book is about a pilgrimage to visit a mysterious site, and each of the pilgrims, in a very Chauceresque fashion, tells the tale of how they came to be on this pilgrimage. It’s through these tales that the future world of the book is laid out for the reader, with each character’s story highlighting different aspects of the far-flung World Web and the Hegemony culture.

This is, in itself, a really neat little conceit, and it does a good job of showing the myriad possibilities of that universe and time. And, as a big-time English Lit geek, any shout-out to Chaucer and The Canterbury Tales gets a big thumbs-up from me.

But Simmons does a couple of other things that really make the book work.

First, he tells you (and the characters) that one of the pilgrims is, in fact, a spy. This is a nice trope, in that it focuses you on the stories each pilgrim tells, sifting it for hints and clues and inconsistencies, for hidden motives and evasions. You go through each story very critically, with attention to detail, because you want to be able to figure out who the spy is before the big reveal. I found that this meant I got a lot more out of each of the tales than I might otherwise have.

Second, and this is golden, the characters decide to tell their stories in order to find the common thread that brought each of them to the pilgrimage.

This is genius, because it makes you compare the stories to each other, looking for common themes. You begin to analyze what each one is saying about personal transformation, hope, faith, control versus freedom, the power and terror of the unknown… All these things. This little trick lets Simmons spin an entire philosophical argument without explicitly talking philosophy. It’s brilliant.

And it’s eminently  lootable.

I think it might be a fun thing to try in a game, telling players that there’s some common element linking different events, and seeing if I can use it to reveal things about the game world and the themes I want in play without having to tell them explicitly. It might even be a good way to generate the themes, having the players that there’s a linking theme, but really letting their discussion and analysis create that theme. Or use the method as the last stage of a shared world creation exercise: once all the elements are in place, generate the themes based on perceived commonalities.

Something to think about and play with.

Anyway, I’m starting on Fall of Hyperion tomorrow.

More Supernatural Nuttiness

Last night I held another character creation session. Only one of my players was able to make it, and it was the only night he was able to make this week. So, I created another character alongside him, and we used the character I had created on Monday night – Crazy Tom – to fill out our novels and guest star roles. It worked fine, but Tom’s novel’s getting crazy long.

Here are the folks we came up with last night:

Matthew Cross, star university athlete with an inside line on death.

Paul Roman, our first spellslinger, who has a few… issues.

RIP, E. Gary Gygax

1938 – 2008

Yeah, I know I said on the About page that I wasn’t going to talk about personal stuff, but this man’s passing deserves mention.

Gary Gygax has given me some of the greatest moments in my life through Dungeons & Dragons, and all the games that followed after from all the other creators out there. He and Dave Arneson are the fathers of the hobby that has given me good times, good friends, good stories, and good thinking. They are the first causes of this blog; without the red box that I got for Christmas when I was twelve, I wouldn’t be doing this.

Since those early games, I’ve moved on to other games, and game design has come a long, long way. There have been trends and fads in games: rules heavy, math heavy, story-focused, rules light, narrative, diceless, dice pools, etc.

One thing hasn’t changed since those days, though: the love of the game, whatever the game is that you love.

We play because we love to play.

And now we witness the passing of one of the men who brought us this gift.

I invite you all to join me in thinking about how much richer your life is because of this man.

Thank you, Mr. Gygax.

Away We Go

Tonight was the first supernatural character creation session. It went very well. I had four people attend this evening, and we came up with five characters. Two of the character concepts did not fit the structure of the Supernatural Stunts chapter, but they were both very easy to house-rule in. Took maybe five minutes of discussion, total. I like that sort of robustness in a system.

What were they? One was a ghost, which winds up with a 0 Refresh Rate after all the required stunts. Easy enough to make one of the stunts optional, giving the player a Refresh of 1, and therefor a playable character. The other was a ghoul, which necessitated creating a new permission and deciding what other powers he should have. Easy. Done.

The rules so far stick very close to canon, but have a flexibility that easily allows one to extrapolate and house-rule things. With a little bit of thought and comparison, it’s easy to fit pretty much any concept that fits in the Dresdenverse into the structure and build it for a PC.

So, as a treat for those of you who have been waiting, here’s the first supernatural character to be posted. It’s a supernatural remix of Crazy Tom, one of my mundane characters. I did this to see how the system handled it. I wound up with an interesting pair of characters – supernatural Crazy Tom is more powerful, but mundane Crazy Tom is more resourceful. I like it.

Have a look.

All Good Things…

This weekend, we moved into the endgame on a D&D campaign that I’ve been running since March of 2001. We’ve got about three more sessions, then this seven-year campaign is done.

It’s an interesting experience; I had envisioned the campaign running about three years, but the vagaries of scheduling and the way the story rolled out stretched it much beyond the planned time period. Over that time, I’ve lost three players, and had one rejoin. Everyone started at first level, and now the survivors are twenty-second and twenty-third level. The characters have grown into legends in the world, responsible for massive positive changes. And they’ve all suffered real losses over that time.

See, here’s my philosophy of roleplaying games: the characters should be able to do great things, if they’re willing to pay the price.

Yeah, there are combat challenges, and puzzles, and secrets to unravel, and treasure to find. But the real story is the choices the characters make, and how they deal with the consequences.

Want an example? Okay.

While dealing with wererats infesting a town, the party managed to capture one and interrogate him. At the end of the interrogation, they offered to cure the wererat of his lycanthropy. In this world, all werecreatures are cursed by an evil god; there are no good ones. So, this wererat refuses the cure, because he has pledged his soul for this power. And one of the characters, who are all soldiers in a sort of UN Peacekeeper force, executes the bound and confined prisoner.

Now, this caused a number of problems, because the PCs technically had no authority in the town, which was part of a very protective kingdom. So the extranational army they worked for offered them a choice: they could be turned over to the local authorities, they could request a court martial, or they could accept administrative discipline. The guilty character immediately came forward and accepted the administrative discipline (25 lashes) as long as his comrades were not punished. The others stepped forward and claimed responsibility for not having stopped the execution, and accepted administrative discipline as well, though they were only given 15 lashes each.

We had a whole play session for the punishment detail, with descriptions of the parade, the reading of the charges, the lashes, the recovery, the whole nine yards.

And I’ll tell you, it really turned the disparate characters into a tight-knit unit. They were about 5th level, and had been hesitant to work with or trust each other up to that point. Not afterwards. After their shared discipline, nothing could turn them against each other. They were family. They still bickered and argued, but they trusted each other implicitly.

Another example?

One character is now a king. He got there as a political compromise. See, his powerful family were scheming to place him on the throne by overthrowing the current queen. They had already assassinated the crown prince. When the character, who had always been very proud of his family, found out about this he decided to turn them into the crown. As a test of loyalty, the queen sent him to arrest his own father, with the promise that the rest of the family would be free to leave the kingdom and live out their remaining lives in exile. The family accepted this, but the father decided that he didn’t want to be executed in the traditional manner for traitors (public exposure and starvation), so he challenged the character to a duel in order to die on his son’s blade rather than in a traitor’s cage.

He showed up again, in Hell, and sacrificed his soul to allow his son to harrow Hell and destroy an evil god.

Those are examples of some of the stories we’ve told together in this game. There are tons more. Seven years is a long time. Not the longest campaign I’ve been in, but the longest campaign with a single throughline of story.

So, now with the end coming, I start to reflect. What would I have done differently? What would I change if I were doing this again today?

  • Start smaller. My original world document was two hundred pages, with everything fleshed out and developed. Most of the characters didn’t read it, and I wound up not needing large sections.
  • Stick more to official sources. Pretty much every character had some special case or arrangement or benefit that I had stolen from different sources or created. The flavour it added to the game is not necessarily commensurate with the effort it required to keep track of the changes. I’m not a young man, anymore; I have job and family obligations that mean I can’t spend all the time I used to on gaming stuff. Sticking to official sources minimizes the difficulty.
  • Stick to a regular game schedule. There were long periods when we were lucky to get in a single game in a month. By sticking to a regular schedule, people are better able to schedule around the game, rather than scheduling the game around everything else. Would have kept better pace and focus, and probably wrapped up a fair bit earlier.
  • Group character creation. Get everyone together to create characters, and make the players decide how they know each other. The novel technique from Spirit of the Century and The Dresden Files are brilliant for this, and I plan on implementing them in pretty much any game I run.

It’s been a long, wild run, but we’re coming down to the finish line. I’ve still got a couple of surprises up my sleeve, but all the questions (that I can think of) will be answered. I am excited and sad at the same time.

I hope they like the ending.