Saturday, December 12, 2009

Notes from the Past

I uncovered a time capsule full of treasure earlier today. I was cleaning out some of my old stuff, when I discovered a few of my old notebooks from my first few classes at ACC.

I've been kinda wandering the halls of memories, finding lost gems amidst old formulae and hasty notes scribbled about the Civil War with illustrations of swordfights in the margin.

I'll share with you my favorite one. It's an entry of adventure notes jotted down in between acting class review notes. It reads:

Magic Traps
AoE Attacks

Life, she is good.

Friday, December 11, 2009


I updated the Saga of Arnthorr.

We'll see how it goes tonight. I like that I have a character equally at home in D&D as Shadowrun here.

More on this later on. Stay tuned!

Thursday, December 10, 2009


No not this one.

Wait... why aren't we talking about him? I mean, do you not see this?

Well, be that as it may, I was going to talk about quests in D&D. And Questar seemed like a cool title.

Seriously? I mean look! Dinosaurs! LASERS!

But... quests and laser... dinosaurs. Holy cow, are those missile pods on a Diplodocus? Is he riding a deinonychus? Well, dang. I guess it's on now.

Dang skippy.

Are those a smaller set of robot T-Rex arms underneath the gatling lasers? Gah, I, buh.


So... awesome...

Okay okay. You got me. We'll talk about Questar. He's the leader of the Valorians, a noble race of space-faring humans. They have telepathic abilities and advanced technology, including the STEP (Space Time Energy Projection) which allows them faster than light travel.

Besieged by the evil Rulon armada, Questar was forced to abandon the Valorian's home planet, and flee. While attempting STEP they were caught in the Rulon flagship's tractor beams, and both leaders of the warring empires were transported back through space/time to prehistoric Earth.

There, the peaceful Valorians befriended the dinosaurs with their psychic powers, while the ruthless Rulons used "Brain Box" technology to enslave their own army of tyrant lizards, including the mighty, nigh-unstoppable Tyrannosaurus Rex, ridden by Emperor Krulos himself.

Their evil ways were no match for the brave leadership of Questar, however. He marshalled his forces beautifully, using dinosaurs to fortify their ship and the valley into which they had crashed, and disguised the weapons they'd equipped the dinosaurs with, so that when the Rulons came, looking for trouble, they were prepared.

The Rulons were driven back, and Questar triumphed.

This is the story of the Dino Riders.

Tomorrow I'll talk about Quests in D&D. Assuming I can survive this much awesomeness.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Saga of Arnthorr

Real men wear tights.

"When I met him, it was like one of our album covers walked in through the door and sat down to eat some cheese fries." -- Ufthak Orcobal, lead guitarist of Ragna-ROKK.

Born in 2051 to a human father and an Orkish mother, the Ork known as Arnthorr Odinkarr lived a reasonably normal life until the 9th day of his 9th year. Tormented by visions of the world consumed by fire, and its people trapped in the nightmares of a dying god, he Awakened.

It was not a peaceful Awakening. His power manifested without prelude or overture; it was a sudden crescendo of energies burning through his body, overwhelming him with its symphony of destruction.

He claims to have survived due to the grace of the All-Father, who left him bloodied for nine days, hanging from Yggdrasil, the World Tree, during which he learned the secrets of the runes.

While this may or may not be true, exactly nine days after his Awakening left him in Intensive Care, he was completely healed. School was troubling for him after that, he was placed in a program for Awakened youths, but found himself chafing against the program's more formulaic, hermetic structure.

In 2064, he found himself once again troubled by dark dreams. This time it was the 13th day of his 13th year that he claims to have been visited again by the Grey Wanderer, and the meaning of his dreams revealed. The Norse cult known as Winternight, in collusion with the corrupt Otaku, Pax, unleashed the Jormungand Mega-Worm upon the Matrix, and struck with electromagnetic pulse devices, bringing down the informational infrastructure of the world. They claimed to be ushering in Ragnarok.

There is little record of what happened in those dark days before the Matrix 2.0 was unveiled and some semblance of order reestablished. Fighting had spilled over into the streets, and Arnthorr disappeared.

He resurfaces some years later, in the service of an order of warrior priests. It is unknown when he adopted his current alias, but for some months now he has, as he puts it, "Wandered the Land in homage to the Grey Wanderer," finding his particular skill set suited to life as a small time mercenary.

He has recently arrived in the Auburn district of Seattle, as a result. He has fallen in with the Ork Underground there, his friendly nature and slightly unusual convictions netting him friends in the all too cynical world of today. Helping him to acquaint to life on the shadier side of the street is an Ork going by the name of Ufthak Orcobal, the lead guitarist in the Goblin rock Band, Ragna-ROKK.

Suspected of having ties to the Sons of Sauron, Ufthak has introduced him to other figures in the Ork underground. While he might not agree with the Sons' violent 'extreme' methods, Arnthorr cannot help but support their cause. Perhaps one day he can turn his friend from the path of violence, but in the meantime, he enjoys their shows and has found part-time work as one of their roadies.

As far as Seattle's occult community goes, he's reacquainted himself with a familiar face from his school days. Now an antiquities and oddities dealer, the Elf known as Asgrim Rauðskeggjaði has taken to entertaining his fellow Icelander, even going so far as to introduce him to Etehe Golden Eagle, an Amerind Shaman and Talismonger who has taken it upon herself to fill in the gaps in Arnthorr's magical knowledge in exchange for his patronage of her talismongering services exclusively.

Though he is a bit of an oddity in his "traditional" garb, complete with chain tunic and floppy pointy hat, and possessed of a prideful and fiery nature, he's willing to help people, and that counts for a lot in Auburn.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

This may be the most metal character I've ever thought of

I'm going to be playing Shadowrun in the near future.

I am excited about the character I will be playing. He is a nordic warrior-priest-skald who fights the unrighteous with a magic sword and chainmail armor. He is also an ork. His primary means of attack is by shooting things that will either set you on fire or on lightning with Magic.

All I need now is like, a wicked guitar solo or truly earth-shattering power chord to announce his presence, and like some lightning crashing in the background, and people holding up their lighters in awe and I am set.

Oh yeah... his name? ARNTHORR ODINKARR.

A Day in the Life

That is one of the things I love about Shadowrun. Stuff like the above picture can fit in perfectly with the world. People don't bat an eye. Another of the things I love about it is illustrated in Arsenal, the Sears catalog of the year 2077, specifically in the armor section.

They feature several lines of designer armored clothing, so that you can look incredibly stylish while at the same time not getting as shot as you might otherwise get. But that's not the part that sends me into giddy fits of why don't more people wear these... no that comes from the Heritage Line of clothing, designed by Zoe, who if you are not familiar with the setting is THE Fashion Designer's Fashion Designer. It doesn't get more high class than Zoe's. The Heritage Line was created after researching the cultural roots of Scottish Highland society. So yeah, they have designer armored kilts... but not only that... "Pueblo, Navajo, Salish, Spanish courtesan, Italian Renaissance, fifteenth-century French royal court, Hanseatic trader, Russian Cossack, Confederate aristocrat, Indian Maharajah, Aztec, Mayan, Imperial Rome, feudal Japanese, traditional Chinese, Nubian, Victorian-era colonial gentleman, and Scottish Highlander."

This means that at a gala event, like a black tie super elegant party type gala, it is not only not frowned upon to wear, say, samurai robes or a poofy renaissance outfit, but in fact, it is considered to be the epitome of style, grace, and class. Did I mention Victorian-era colonial gentleman's clothing?

Some day.

Some day.

A cultured gentleman

I have been working on the various cultures for the game I'd like to run.

Again, bearing in mind that these ones are created with the Explorer in mind, I'll go ahead and talk about what I have in mind so far.

Apparently I didn't actually enter something here. Anywho...

The characters will start off in a feudal society. Perhaps a little more oriented around defense, as it is a necessary part of day to day life. I'm going with feudalism because it implies that the social order is more stratified and likewise control of information and education is pretty sparse.

As I'm making up the world, and hoping to encourage the Explorer to learn more about it, I can situate the characters in a backwoods farming type village and it would make sense for them not to know too much about the world at large.

Also by setting up society as stratified it makes it a little easier to contrast it with other cultures. When you know a lot about the system you're in, it makes the other ones seem novel and cool. Or so I would hope.

Monday, December 7, 2009

You shall have my update...

For those times when you must simply ROCK into Mordor.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Cultural Attache

I am still working on creating an interesting cultural encounter. At least something more so than the usual stuff I'd do, which is try and present the players with something familiar with fantastic elements.

My friend Frank has said that it's good to draw on something familiar, because it "fills in the blanks," meaning that from what everyone knows about, say, feudal society, they can infer all of the little details that I don't give out when describing the society. This in turn lets them draw their own conclusions as they synthesize the data I give to them with the rest of what they know, making it easier for them to get involved in the (social) action.

So what I have done so far is taken a look at other "created cultures" to see how they've taken the fantastic elements of the worlds they're from and how they relate/effect the society that makes use of them.

The best example of this I can think of is from the show Avatar: The Last Airbender. They have four distinct cultures, each loosely based around a certain vaguely Eastern type of society and the mastery of one of the four classic elements, Earth, Fire, Air, and Water. The four different elements equate to four different styles of dress, methods of defense, cultural mores, etc. And of course, four different kinds of awesome powers. Another thing that I've noticed tends to shape the behaviors of the nations in this show (and hopefully in any game I'd run) is the effect that worldwide events are having on the interactions between each culture.

The Fire Nation is attempting to conquer the world. To this end, they are very industrialized, focused on making machines of war. As a result, their nation is militarized, their structure is very strict. Duels of honor known as Agni Kai are a very striking and visual example of this society. Two combatants square off fighting each other in a manner displaying their skill at Firebending.

Whereas the Earth Kingdom, having been invaded, is heavily focused on defense. They combine the strength of the earth with the intractability of stone. Combat (of the non-lethal variery) tends to be focused on moving your opponent, or crushing them beneath the weight of the earth. Their society, while structured, affords a greater deal of freedom.

Now I am not sure what about meeting a new culture would appeal to any given Explorer, so what I plan to do is come up with encounters among culture that run the gamut from diplomacy to combat. In the examples above, both nations, Fire and Earth come equipped with different devices that can be used to make encounters in either feel different; whether an Agni Kai or an Earth Rumble (kinda like the Royal Rumble, but with more boulders) the fights can feel different, as can the mannerisms of any given subject. I know there's more to society than just its mannerisms, there's also the values, and by extensions taboos to consider, alongside of the style of dress and even local flora and fauna.

So in building the social encounters, I will try and keep these ideas in mind, remembering that my world is as fantastic as I make it. I have a wide variety of elements to choose from. So for example, I could take the Agni Kai and apply it to the Dragonborn, and maybe call it the Breath of Honor, or something, which would be a fight between two Dragonborn, with the goal being to wear one combatant down and render them unconscious with a single, powerful breath weapon blast. Or I could steal a little less blatantly and describe an inn in one of these Dragonborn cities, where the chef happens to be heating food by breathing fire.

And that's just one race. The key here, I think, will be keeping in mind both what races and classes the pcs are, and their backgrounds, so that I can lead them to cultures different from the one they've gotten to know in their first few levels. And in order to speed up the process of developing expectations, I can start them off in a very standard, very generic fantasy/pseudo-medieval feudal society. I'll have them be above serfs, but in a village full of them, so they can see firsthand what life is like. And as mentioned before, the players should fill in the blanks on society.

Then after a while, when they encounter a new culture, they'll be a little more surprised, as it will be something different from what they've experienced to this point. It will be new enough that they won't immediately know everything about it, but easy enough to pick up the information, allowing them to get more and more involved.

That's the main goal, to keep the players interested and involved.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Close Encounters of the I made a bad joke

Today, I've been back to world building. As I said earlier, I've always been kind of fascinated with the Explorer.

So while exploring ways to interest and engage an explorer, both with cool cultures and exotic locales, I've been looking at designing encounters that would appeal to this kind of player as well. With that in mind, I'm going to take a look at a sample encounter I might build with an appeal to the explorer. To make it a little simpler, I'm going to focus more on exotic locale, rather than cool culture for this encounter.

One of the big keys seems to be in setting the scene. It's the chance to really convey where the players are, allowing me to differentiate between fallen ruins that act as difficult terrain, or thick gnarly vines which are difficult terrain, and so on, which is itself, difficult terrain. I know right?

But it's not enough to set one encounter apart from the others with a description of the environment. I've got to try and make encounters in the more "explorey" locations stand out from the others. One thing I am thinking of doing, is giving the terrain a bigger part in the scene. It is already an important part of any combat, what with difficult terrain slowing up monsters, and cover and concealment allowing lurkers to get around to shank more vulnerable PCs. But I think I can try and give it a little more active role, whether through traps/hazards or interesting terrain effects.

So, say I send the party deep into the Shadowfell. Possibly so deep they are in Shadow Shadow bo Badow, and they come through this twisting shadowy mist into a cavern. In this cavern there's a copse of exotic ghost mushrooms the size of trees that give off a faint bluish/white glow. They are slightly translucent, perhaps they have grown so large from eating the dead and decaying ghosts and specters and other haunted souls that roam the lands of the dead. All around them motes of dust and spores dance in their light.

So let's say I have a few stands of these giant mushrooms spread around the cavern. That's kinda cool in and of itself. Maybe if I gave the mushrooms some kind of importance to the story it might make them a little more interesting, maybe they need to harvest young mushrooms for a cure to a deadly disease, or something like that. I don't know, as I've said, I've never really done up encounters/locations like this before.

Now amidst these rare mushrooms, maybe there are ghosts that are trapped, slowly being digested by these giant fungi colonies. And to top it off, there are some monsters here they'll have to fight. Maybe they've been tracked here by their enemies, or maybe it's just a bunch of shadowy cavern monsters. Either way, there's a fight.

So when the fight breaks out, I could probably try and encourage the PCs to explore around the mushrooms, by hinting that say, the shadows around the mushrooms seem eerily thick, they provide concealment to adjacent creatures. Or maybe give players that fight in squares filled with floating mushroom spores a bonus to their attacks at the cost of a penalty to defense.

At some point, the half-digested ghosts might wake up, and either join the fray if the fight is going too easy, or perhaps they start thrashing about, which would give me the excuse I need to change the effects of the mushroom. Maybe this causes clouds of spores to move around, or a different kind of ghost spore to be emitted, which damages anyone caught in it, storing the life energy of creatures within the mushroom stalks. Maybe at this point, they could try and free a ghost from a mushroom, which would allow them to spend a healing surge, or regain a healing surge or something like that.

That seems kinda cool. I like the idea of the dynamics of the encounter changing over the course of the fight. It would encourage people to revisit the terrain. I guess the danger here is in not being clear about when things are changing, but if I can describe the shifting of spores or something, then I could prompt active perception or dungeoneering checks or something, to give players the opportunity to use their skills and feel like they were worth taking. Oooh, I could totally have freeing the ghosts be a skill challenge or something.

That's how I might engage the explorer in an exotic location. Tune in soon for cultural encounters of the third kind.


Thursday, December 3, 2009

Dungeons and Dragons Bloggin' 2: This time, it's Personal.

When D&D 4th Edition first came out, everyone in my gaming group was amazed. Everything was new and shiny, and just seemed so cool. Then came creating characters, which brought with it the following proclamation: "You don't need an 18 in this edition."

For those of you who weren't there in 3rd edition, if you didn't have an 18, or better yet, a 20 in your main stat (generally Strength or Intelligence, but possibly Dexterity) and proceed to acquire the magic items to boost that by whatever was reasonably priced, you were shooting yourself in the foot. Trying to be a fighter with a strength of 16 was like trying to take on three machine gun nests at the top of Tiger Mountain: unless you were Yogendra Singh Yadav you were going to die a bloody bloody death.

Today, we've a few more games of D&D under our belts, and it looks like you do really need an 18 in your primary stat, and if you can swing it, a 20 is the way to go. It makes sense, too. You've got to hit to do most of the cool stuff in the game.

But I stand by our original claim, and I also stand by the Standard Array (rray ray ay). Mind you, this takes a lot more work and the style of play it caters to isn't everyone's cup of tea. More on that style after the jump, but suffice it to say that it hits my secret weak points for enjoying a game.

You guys have one of these... right?

It is also important to bear in mind that these are based on my own, admittedly limited, observations from playing D&D, and also a lot of looking at theoretical situations. So, it may be that I am just making things up, but I still think it is possible.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Explorer and You. Or. Well. Me.

Man, I guess it's been a while. Let's dust off the old blog.

This means you!

Sorry about that.

Now, on to business. I've been thinking of running a D&D game as of late. It all started back in historic This One Time. The scene went a little something like this:
It was a busy night at Chuy's. Thanksgiving was around the corner, and darned if the hungry masses were gonna cook up a hot meal at home. There'd be time enough for that come Thursday. But tonight, the city was one hotbed of dining out. Money would change hands more than once tonight, and the people? They'd pay.

But that didn't matter, not to me. I'd seen too many lives wasted in the gutter, too many dames with sob stories and killer instincts.
A dame a dime a dozen, you could say.

I thought I'd take in the scenery, with my closest buddies. Sometimes it fee
ls like they're the only ones I can trust, but I know it's only because I know where the bodies are buried. That kinda sentiment really gets ya, right here.

The waitress broad brought our orders, and Pat, formerly Big Angry Pat, formerly "Knuckles Mahoney" Pat, the kinda guy who'd bust your nose for lookin' at him funny, reminded me that my life wasn't really a film noir scene, and try as I might, I don't really sound like Humphrey Bogart. (Sadly.)

So Pat spake, proclaiming: "You want to run a game."
And lo, did I ask of them, "I do?"
Verily, did Frank reply, his voice portending the future to mine ears, "Yeah, kinda."
Which brings me to today. I've been doing a little bit of world building, and with a lot of help from Frank I think I have a winner. What really struck me as interesting about the whole process, is the amount of thought put into the various cultures in the game, and the cool/unique scenic and aesthetic elements that I'll be describing.

I don't want to give away too much here. Not yet anyway, but suffice it to say, this has struck a chord with me, as I've always been fascinated by one type of player, the Explorer.

For those of you who don't know, the Explorer is the kind of player who delights in getting to see new parts of your campaign world. When there's a lull in the plot, they're the ones who want to travel somewhere new to see what's out there, they long to climb the next hill, meet the next interesting people, and take in as much of the game world as is possible.

This is easy to understand. After all, part of the appeal of D&D or any similar game is getting to explore a more fantastic world. But for me, it's always been exploration through, either combat with its inhabitants or through the unfolding of a story. The setting has always been kind of a secondary character.

In my experience, the players in the group I'm with have always been more interested in doing than seeing. Often times, travel through the countryside is hand-waved, reduced to something along the lines of "A few days pass of you walking through the woods and you get there." Even if there's an encounter in the wilderness, it's never really described beyond, "And there's totally some trees here, which count as blocking terrain, and some bushes here which are difficult, but provide cover." Everything is always laid out simply and practically, with an eye towards the mechanics.

There's a dearth of flavor text in my gaming experience. Now, mind you, this is probably just my group, but as such, I've often wondered how to describe something effectively enough to invoke a sense of wonder, or at least stoke the fires of nascent explorers. How does one describe "the woods" in order to make them as engaging and interesting as the owlbear that just came crashing through them? How do you convey the timeless sense of ancient ruins and a bygone civilization that wrought such works upon the world, only to fade with time, without having an all too jaded/detached party of players encourage you to get to the fightin'?

So in building this world, I'm attempting to put in details to try and encourage exploration. This means I'm gonna have to practice description. The DMG advises showing, not telling, as a means of encouraging player interest, and engaging all of the senses. Coincidentally, or not, this is also an acting exercise that is used to really evoke "the scene" for you and for the audience, making it more real; they can tell if you're "smelling something good" vs. "smelling freshly baked cookies." The latter is more specific, and it lends a kind of emotional weight that other people pick up on. It helps to fill in the blanks and engage the senses of the audience.

With that in mind, as Frank and I have been coming up with peoples and places, I've been trying to picture them as detailed as I possibly can. I'm still kind of at a loss, but then, this is new territory for me. It seems a pity to give up on exploring it now.

You saw that one coming, right?

Now, if you'll excuse me, I must continue to atone for my misdeeds and redeem/regain my lost honor! Details at 11.