I received word last week that a story that I had submitted is going to be included in an anthology! This will be my first paid writing project.

I’ll share details about the anthology as soon as it is clear that I should. What I can share is the process, as several people have asked me about it.

My assumption has always been that we should write the stories that we want, and then find a way to get those stories to our audiences. That simple description is based on the probably flawed assumption that we only have one story to tell (at a time).

The Cloudless Admiral

My first attempt to get a story published was by sending a story to Broken Eye Books, for their Ghost in the Cogs anthology of steampunk ghost stories. This was a bit out of my realm of experience, as it was the first short story that I ever tried to sell to someone, and I’m not a steampunk reader. That is, there are probably underlying conventions to the steampunk genre that I am simply unaware of.

In that case, I envisioned a story that literally matched the call, that is a ghost story that involved an airship. I invented some intriguing characters and placed them at the scene, and then did terrible things to them. In the background, I tried to weave tidbits suggesting an alt. history backstory. I had to cut the story short to fit with in the parameters of the call for submissions, and eliminated an entire character.

Lastly, I had my wife and two of our friends edit the manuscript, and then made the suggested edits. After formatting the story to match the formatting guidelines of the publisher, I sent it off. Alas, they did not choose to accept the story, and referred me to another publication that was looking for similar stories.

What I Learned

Writing can be fun. A hard part about the empty page is that there are too many choices. Each choice seems dire, in that, right now, maybe I have only one story that could succeed critically, and if I deviate from the mysterious path, I’ll wander from the road to readers. But that is hogwash, reading the above should be as clear to you as to me while writing it.

When writing to match specified criteria, you have guidelines. It has to be a tale that can reasonably be described as fitting in the steampunk genre, and it has to have ghosts or similar supernatural elements.

The page then focusses down to a manageable size. Ideas come spilling forth, the skeletons of potential characters dance in your mind’s eye. Like a potter, you begin to shape the clay into a mold, turning the story into the vague form required. The rest is the art and is unchanged from writing ‘what you want to write’.

Round 2

The second submittal was a similar process. This time I knew more about the genre and could write freely without worrying that I was missing important genre conventions. The anthology has a comedic element, and I knew that I was on the right track because I giggled throughout the writing process. I then let is sit for a few weeks and edited it, my wife providing valuable feedback as my beta reader on the last day that submissions were to be accepted. Once again, I followed the publishers guidelines for how they wanted submissions formatted, and sent it off.

This second story was significantly less work than the first. Partly is that it was half the length of the first, but partly because I was ‘write what you know’-ing.

A few months later, I got an email stating that my story had survived the initial culling, and then last week, work came in that my story had been chosen. A contract was included, which I reviewed, signed and returned. Voila!

Random Plot Generator

There are such things, Google it. And then write a story with that plot. Okay, random sometimes ends up looking nonsensical, but the challenge is intriguing. A story that you can hold in your mind, start to finish, without planning, may end up being obvious to the reader, or rather, predictable’s unpopular cousin, boring. That may be what drives pantsers, people who prefer to write where the story goes rather than preplanning the outcome; the fear that plotting will eliminate the magic. If anything about the process of submitting short stories has taught me, is that I am much more comfortable knowing what I need to write, rather than trying to figure out what I should write. The story will attend to itself.

I have more years than this one planned, so I needed worry about writing my one and only novel the first time.

Writing, writing vs writing

Posted: January 9, 2016 in Uncategorized

One of the purposes I had for creating this blog was to write more.  As such, I have certainly succeeded and failed.  That is, I haven’t written as much bloggedy stuff as I intended, but the amount of writing that I have done has exploded.

My typical writing revolves around the needs of gameplay.  Writing detailed character backgrounds for PCs that I play (rare) and writing exposition and background, plot arcs and dialogue snippets for RPGs that I’m currently running (often).  Occasionally, I get the bug to write down a series of plot points for some future project, and inevitably stash them away in my slush pile of ‘things I might use later’.

Writing in this style is awesome without being difficult. The creative process, i.e., brainstorming, made manifest without having to worry about grammar, narrative structure, or oxford commas. However, it is ultimately less than ultimately fulfilling, in that there is a satisfaction to be gained by rounding out a story, by finishing a story.

So, with the inspiration of close friends who are publishing their own novels, I have stopped resisting the urge to write. In November, I participated in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), and wrote over 50,000 words in one potential novel. I’ve also written and submitted two short stories for publication (one rejected, the other so far surviving rejection).

The failure can only be considered in relation to this blog, which has languished for 4 months or so. It is not my intention to abandon it.

In the writerly vein, I would like to discuss my process so far in attempting my first novel. Actually my second… my first was abandoned nearly 20 years ago, after succumbing to one of the first DO NOTs of writer advice – do no attempt to edit your work until you’ve finished the first draft. The danger is that you become engrossed in minor details that distract you and get you second guessing your design. I still have 65 pages somewhere, that I may return to one day.

Aware of this prior failure, I approached this project differently.

(EDITING NOTE: After publishing this, I noticed that WordPress has weak sub-bullet abilities, and automatically reformatted the sub-bullets to be whole numbers instead of simple bulletpoints. I’ll leave it as it is, but… weak.)

  1. Groundwork. Before attempting to write the story, I decided what I wanted from the story.
    • I wanted to write a story about why the greek myths stopped being written. Something must have happened to the gods.
    • I decided that there would be 4 main characters, and I spent some time planning their motivations, emotions, backgrounds, and responses to stimuli.
    • I reviewed Joseph Conrad’s Heroes Journey, and mapped a rough idea of how such applied to each of the main characters.
    • I decided on a theme for the novel, and jotted some notes on how to represent that theme.
    • I reviewed the setting in detail, Mycenaean Greece – culture, technology, political organization, the greek gods, etc.
    • I plotted the story in bullet point form, so I knew what had to happen for the ending to occur.
    • I wrote a scene involving two of the main characters, in order to organically explore what I wanted to write and how I wanted to portray them. This scene was not duplicated in the novel, it was merely an exercise, but the characters first came to life in that piece.
  2. NaNoWriMo. I wrote nearly everyday, writing as much as 6,000 words on some days, staying ahead of the goal the whole time. The goal with NaNoWriMo is to write 50,000 in the 30 days of November, which is about 1,667 words per day. I wrote 5,000 the first day, and tried to average 2,000 for each successive day. However, as I neared the end, I had exhausted my plot and wrote an ending to the story that was very satisfying to my vision. This false sense of closure confused me, and I took nearly a week off, before realizing that I had another major plot that I could add in. The last 12,000 words happened very quickly, and I finished a couple of days early.
  3. Pre-editing. After NaNoWriMo ended, I quickly jotted down notes on what I would need to do next.
    • I decided that I needed to research the territory of Mycenae more completely, and then edit the place names used in the events to make sense.
    • I needed to research how I handled magic more completely, and then make an editing pass – magic has rules, make sure that they are followed. I spent a great deal of time on this, researching the magic system I had adopted and fleshing out the rules that I wished to employ.
    • Review tension between the characters – characters that get along are uninteresting. Make sure that the tensions between them remain present in each scene.
    • Edit for theme – make a pass through the novel for theme – the central theme should be peppered in each scene.
  4. Outlining book 2. It became clear to me that the tale would not be told fully in the first novel. A much grander story emerged during the planning process. So I outlined book 2 (cannibal horror). In fact, as my second attempt at outlining, I was much more pleased with the results of outline 2. I wrote the major notes in numbered bullets, and then I added sub-bullets to represent minor notes that would occur between the major story points. I then fleshed these out until I had every potential scene described briefly.
  5. This is where I am now. I have a few more things that I would like to do before I start editing the novel. These include:
    • outline book 3 (African steampunk)
    • outline book 4 (urban fantasy)
    • outline the last book (hard sci fi)
    • do a scene outline for book 1, like I described in 4. above. Then I would like to notate the scene outline for the character arcs (including parts of the heroes journey).
    • once I’ve finalized my scene order, then I will write any missing scenes, or edit scenes with an altered scope. Lastly, I will perform the editing passes that I need, first for continuity, then character tension, and finally for theme and tone.
  6. Then, I’m going to NaNoWriMo twice this year. I really want to write my first draft of my cannibal horror story (probably in April), and we’ll see if my outlining for book 3 generates a similar vision that I am compelled to execute in November.

So there you go. What else have I been doing writerly wise? I did begin to outline a story I’m tentatively calling Dragon Angels. I wrote in depth character explorations, plotted the story out, and then realized that what I had written would make an awesome RPG campaign. More to come on that, heh heh. What I’m undecided, is if a) I should write the story, and then see if the player characters make the same choices or if the story gets told to a different ending, or b) I should just outline the story, and use it as background for the campaign.

Because RPGs are about collective story telling, I’m hesitant to write this story in too much detailed – there is a fine line in RPGs where the game master is just telling a story to the players, versus allowing the story to organically evolve from the players choices and desires. Maybe that’s not a fine line at all, but it is an easy one to cross. All roads lead to Rome, you know.

So that’s where I’m at today. Still running 2 or 3 campaigns, playing in another. Writing has markedly increased, just not here. So I think that this blog has been a success (I am writing more) even if the success isn’t reflected in the blog itself. Writing is a habit, and a mantra I have been telling myself over the past few years as I contemplated whether or not I would ever call myself a writer is: “Writer’s write“. Right?

One Game to Rule Them All

Posted: September 12, 2015 in DM Tips, RPGs
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There’s these people, I think, that believe that there is a platonic ideal game system, that is universal in nature, that can be applied to any type of story, in any setting, and excel. Let’s talk about that for a bit, shall we?

RPGs are mostly about fantasy.  My experience leads me to assume that at least half of RPG activity is in the fantasy milieu. Other genres, such as Sci-Fi, Modern Horror, anime, superheroes, spy/technothrillers, drama, historical realism, etc. are well represented. There are further subsets to these genres, but to keep it simple, let’s just list designed settings (where much of the world-building grunt work has been done by the writers of the RPG) and open settings (where very little world-building is included).

A system is the ruleset, that is mostly there to resolve conflict. Does your arrow hit the orc baby? Roll a d20, and if you roll a 4 or higher, you hit. Does the Psi Cop convince you to let him leave Babylon 5 without further incident? Roll a dice and add your resistance bonus, the Psi Cop will roll a dice and add his skill bonus, and if you roll higher than the Psi Cop, then you overcome his telepathic manipulation. The system tells you how to make characters, how to use skills, how to achieve effects and what effects are possible.

Most RPGs marry a setting to some sort of unique system. Traveller is both a system and a setting. Vampire: The Masquerade was originally both a system and a setting. Now, with V:TM, the system used in the game was separated out and is called the Storyteller system, and has been reused in various other games that either share the same setting (the World of Darkness modern horror setting) as V:TMas (such as Mage: The Ascension, Werewolf: The Apocalypse, Changeling: The Dreaming, Wraith: The Oblivion) or an entirely new setting, such as Exalted which is more like a fantasy anime. Here we see the versatility of a system originally designed for a single setting to be applied successfully to different settings.

Other RPGs took a different approach, and set out to design a Universal system. GURPS, which stands for Generic Universal Role-Playing System, was designed in 1986 and has certainly had success in being Universal. Here is a list of GURPS books, and you can see from the diversity that many many types of games can be easily played using the GURPS setting.

A more modern game, Savage Worlds (2003), attempted to do the same thing as GURPS, but with a more rules light approach. Again, a list of Savage Worlds books shows the breadth of gameplay that has been published with the single, core system.

Finally, FATE Core and FATE Accelerated should be mentioned side by side with Savage Worlds, but with an entirely different approach to system design. Your character is defined by aspects (free form descriptors) and approaches (one of 6 ways problems can be approached – forceful, brash, clever, etc.). If you attempt something, you really just need to sell to the troupe whether an aspect applies, choose an approach to the situation and then roll. A Star Wars character might have the aspect of “rogue Jedi Knight”, a James Bond game PC might have “double 0 rated British spy”, and a medieval knight might have “mounted knight in the service of King Hegabold”. The simplicity and utter genericism of such an approach is truly universal.

A universal system has a huge advantage over other games. You can play entirely different games without the need to spend any time learning a new system. Maybe for a year, your gaming troupe explores wild west horror, but then you collectively decide that you want to explore play in the Star Wars universe. Later, you all get excited about the Avengers movie and want to roleplay superheroes. Next, you get the idea that you should explore deep characterization in a setting very like Gone With the Wind. Without a universal system, that’s four games that you would have to learn, each with their own intricacies and flaws. House-rules might have to be applied, sometimes retroactively, to match the game systems to the needs of your troupe.

With each game, there are idiosyncrasies that sometimes don’t match your game style. For instance, maybe healing is too slow or too rare in the RAW (rules as written) for your high adventure, high pace game. With a universal system, once you’re familiar with the system, you can apply it to another game setting, and you will probably know enough about the system to apply a skin or set of customizations to the system to match your goals and theme of your new setting.

To be fair, there are gaming groups that do this, and only play one game system. Like, ever. I know, right?

All roleplaying game systems can be applied to any other unintended setting. If you have a copy of Dungeons & Dragons 2nd edition, but you want to play Star Trek: The Next Generation, then all you need to do is reskin everything. The Fighter class becomes the Security Tech class, elves become vulcans, a crossbow becomes a phaser, spells are discarded or repurposed as tech -> Teleport becomes the transporter. That’s a lot of work, but the harder part, which is designing a system where you understand how to balance obstacles and conflicts for the characters, has been done and you know how it works.

Some people love to repurpose games. D&D 5e, a recent darling of the RPG community, has been converted to countless systems as people take what they love about the 5e, and attempt to reproduce it in another setting to tell different stories without having to buy a new game system that they may not love as much. That’s awesome, and that DIY attitude is fundamental to all geekdom. You see it in cosplay, in home decorations, in historical reenactments, and in medieval faires.

The core argument that I will make, however, is that there isn’t One Game System to Rule Them All. The ‘media is the message’ rings true here for me, so let me attempt to explain my thoughts.

A superhero game is action heavy, and the game system needs to encourage the characters to attempt outrageously heroic endeavours with an appropriate change of success. A modern day horror game, however, needs the characters to be vulnerable. You could use the same system to roleplay both stories, but if the system is action heavy, the players are going to feel the urge to use some of those action possibilities in the game. It may be limited to the narrative, it may expand to character choices during character creation. If they’re sufficiently afraid of failure, they may attempt to steer their character design to maximize survivability. Similarly, if the setting is action forward but the game system is action unfriendly, say where a sense of realism is layered on the game, then the narrative and character choices are going to be mired down by action economies not intended for the high-flying caricatures of a superhero story.

The theme and mood of a story are exemplified in the system. The system informs the expectations for the characters, the realm of possible actions that can be achieved, and the relative chances of success. While experience with a system allows a player to better design the character they want to play, it doesn’t necessarily engender the mood of gameplay desired. Let’s be clear… good roleplayers can make Hamlet given greed eggs and ham, but it takes a viking child to raze a village. I get that, and even acknowledge that. But if you give those same good roleplayers a better set of tools, wouldn’t their game experience be even more on point?

On point… I think that is a ballet reference. You know, where the cyborgs are genetically engineered for perfect thigh gap and can stand on one toe? But the ballet is a good analogy. Consider Swan Lake but with Britney Spears music. Could be good, there are some decent Hollywood musicators out there that would make it work, but probably harder to mimic the intended mood of the without the original orchestral score.

As we have reached the point of the posting where my analogies are spinning out of control, lets change the channel to a new day and see you on the flip side. Variety is the spice of Arakis.

MMOs and RPGs

Posted: August 4, 2015 in Uncategorized

It’s no accident that my last post was more than 5 weeks ago. I resubscribed to World of Warcraft to try out the last expansion, Warlords of Draenor. I have to say that I have enjoyed it more than the last two expansions, and spend several hours a day to that end, hours that were previously dedicated to Twitter, GamersPlane.com, and this blog.

I play MMORPGs somewhat obsessively, particularly WoW which I’ve played off and on since 2007, but I’m aware of this OCD-like tendency, so I don’t keep the subscriptions running for long. As soon as the fun curve starts to dip down, I cancel and give it a few months or a year before returning.

What occurs to me is … are MMORPGs really RPGs? I’m sure that several publicly available definitions will claim such, with sufficiently shallow definitions. But, are we really ‘playing a role’? Are we immersed?

Stylistically, MMORPGs often are skinned with High Fantasy or Sci Fi settings, and use random number generators to resolve conflicts, so they so seem very similar to RPGs.

Take Monopoly. You play it as if you were some kind of mogul or real estate tycoon, and acquire property, charge rent, and attempt to own everything, at which point victory or loss is determined. There are even Fantasy and Sci Fi skins of Monopoly. But you don’t immerse yourself in the fictional world of Monopoly. You don’t make choices based upon ‘what would your character do’ versus ‘what should you do tactically’.

Isn’t WoW the same? You make choices, yes, but not as a character. I don’t choose options based upon what my character would feel that he/she should do, but instead, I make choices to progress the characters along measureable paths, such as acquiring currency, or advancing skills, or gaining levels, or replacing gear with higher quality.

Here we stray into the gray area of roleplaying… are you really roleplaying if you aren’t immersed in the setting, or if you are really just playing as yourself. My wife and I both felt that in the times when we really got involved in miniature combat, our PCs became staler and we slowly drifted away from immersion and roleplaying into the tactical boardgame side of the hobby.

So there, are MMORPGs really like RPGs, or are they more akin to tactical boardgames?

Theory

There is no United Nations agreement or Geneva Convention on what constitutes a roleplaying game. There is no tax implications or professional body that certifies what is and isn’t a roleplaying game. As such, existing public sources such as Wikipedia are more inclusive in their nature rather than definitive. Wikipedia, for example, states that MMORPGs are RPGs, but trading card games and wargames are not. Why? How is this defined? Is every MMORPG automatically grandfathered into that, even if it’s really just Farmville?

If we want to re-examine the premise (or to be precise re-re-examine as I’m sure that The Forge and other RPG theory sites have discussed this), let us examine what delineates two popular games, Monopoly from Dungeons & Dragons. According to Wikipedia’s lame definition, Monopoly is a RPG because it “is a game in which players assume the roles of characters in a fictional setiing”. My character might be a Shoe, and the board of Monopoly is clearly fictional. Now, calling my shoe a character may worth being challenged. After all, apart from the acquisition of wealth and property, the character doesn’t develop. But that is just a way of keeping score. The same is true of a World of Warcraft toon, in that it’s gear, skills and wealth may develop, but that is just how we keep score.

However, the acquisition of more stuff allows your WoW character to do new stuff, new abilities are unlocked, new actions become possible. You character does change. Having more money and property in Monopoly does allow you to do new things, too, for example you can’t build houses until you own a set of linked properties.

In Dungeons & Dragons, however, the possibility exists that your character can develop based solely upon your portrayal of the character, that is, you can roleplay and have it be persistent and meaningful in the game. Games like Dragon Age are clearly RPGs in that they allow your dialog choices to influence future events in the game. In WoW, you simply choose to Accept or Deny quests, but there is no character, no personality being evoked by the player.

I’m sure that there are MMORPGs that allow for actual roleplaying as we would define it in tabletop RPG terms. WoW and other games even have RP (roleplaying) servers where immersion is nominally required by the guilds that operate on those servers. In these circumstances, RP elements are attempted to be grafted onto what is otherwise and engaging but non-roleplaying experience.

And to be fair, I’m sure that many gaming groups blur the very definition of roleplaying but playing almost entirely as a tactical, combat game with little or no focus on character personalities and emerging histories rather than the rote overcoming of obstacles.

In the end, I don’t interact with other players in WoW as if we are immersed. Instead, we talk as players would over headsets in Call of Duty, or on reddit. That is, we converse as players not as characters. Because of this, for me, World of Warcraft, Age of Conan, EVE Online, Star Wars: The Old Republic, TERA, Perfect World, Dungeons & Dragons Online, Lord of the Rings Online, etc., have never been roleplaying games. Just games.

Day 21 – Favourite Dragon Colour/Type

I guess that I am most interested in the Silver Dragons. They spend most of their lives in human or elven form, which makes them great NPCs. They are also not overly aggressive in combating evil in the world, but instead just protect those elves and humans that they are living among – unless asked for help. It’s good when your powerful NPCs don’t automatically try to solve all of the parties problems for them.

Day 22 – Favourite Monster Overall

I would have to say dragons in general. Because I tend to run and play in low level campaigns, dragons make very seldom make appearances in the game. I would love to run a draco-centric game some time, where dragons are a key part of the player’s world. Whether this is like Dragons of Pern, where the player characters are dragon riders waging war against an unforgiving enemy, or the PCs themselves are dragons, I think it would be a lot of fun. It’s difficult keeping suitable conflicts for such powerful characters, but someday it will happen.

Day 23 – Least Favourite Monster Overall

I would like to say that I don’t like Skeletons, because they visually don’t make sense to me, and their implementation in D&D is so different than in most fiction and movies. However, I do use skeletons in D&D, so they can’t be my least favourite. I flipped through the 3.5 Monster Manual, and the only thing that jumped out at me was the Tarrasque. I’ve never used a Tarrasque or encountered one in a game. To me, they are intended to be a nearly unstoppable threat, but their form is uninteresting. If I were going to put something in the game that was such a legendary creature, I would call it a god, or a rare dragon, or anything else that evoked… something… in the players minds, other than “hmm, that’s going to be a tough fight”. Any the abilities are just so dickish, like they were designed by a petulant teenager DM whose players were walking through all the other uninteresting threats that they encountered.

Day 24 – Favourite Energy Type

Acid. Horrific, painful, with creeping residual effects, acid has a great character. Be it the uber-acid of the Xenomorphs in the Alien movies, or the idea of acid raining from the sky, acid is so visceral and threatening.

Day 25 – Favourite Magic Item

I like the Quaal’s tokens. Rather than just utility type effects, they’re super evocative of magic that you could imagine as being in a fantasy novel, rather than just duplicating some D&D character effect.

Day 26 – Favourite Nonmagic Item

Spiked platemail. So cool. I’ve tried to build a character that fought with the spiked armour, hugging peeps to the pain!

Day 27 – A character you want to play in the future

I’ve wanted to play a warlock-turned paladin for a while. Chained to a past and a dark, unforgiving former master, while trying to do what’s right. It’s really a fantasy version of Ghost Rider, but it seems compelling. Another paladin variant that I’ve wanted was a paladin who has sinned, has had his powers stricken, and must atone.

Day 28 – A character you will never play ever again

This ‘challenge’ can be interpreted in a few ways. A character that I’ll never have the opportunity to play again versus a character that I would never choose to play again given the opportunity. Also, is this meant to be a character build or a specific character. I’ll choose the latter since I rarely have to chance to replay characters. I wouldn’t play Kasuma/Kakita/Daigotsu Li again as I found her to be unsatisfying. A healing focused Water Shugenja of the Kitsu school (Oriental Adventures, D&D 3.0, set in Rokugan, the setting of the Legend of the Five Rings), I had designed her to be a support character, with a rich and interesting backstory. I chafed all along at the restraints that I imposed on myself. Every step of the way, every level gained, I sought to find a way to make her effective in some way. Instead, I followed a courtier’s path. She was too lawful, torn between a desire to heal people and to be an icon of courtly behaviour.

Day 29 – What is the number you always to seem to roll on a d20

3

Day 30 – Best DM you’ve had

With the caveat that the best DM doesn’t necessarily mean favourite? Ha ha. I would have to say Tracey. While the character that I played (Daigotsu Li from Day 28) was unsatisfying, that was entirely my doing. She put a fantastic amount of work into plot and NPCs, and it showed in the game, and that made the game itself very moving.

Day 12 – Favourite Dungeon Type/Location

I prefer organic locations, by which I mean, locations that have a purpose. The idea of a dungeon created as some sort of open maze with various creatures trapped behind unlocked doors serves a metaphor for player agency, and so is the heart of the boardgame element of D&D. But the other side, which is the story, is not served by randomness. Who built this thing, and why? What purpose did it serve, and what events lead it from its original function to its current state? How did the inhabitants come to their current status quo, and are they in tension with their neighbours? How do they feed, reproduce, treat their old?

It’s easier to imagine a community originally built as such that has evolved into its current state. The dungeon is thus ruins, which have been re-purposed for some nefarious ends, or overrun by its fell denizens. I like dungeons that make sense from a “hidden history” perspective, rather than a simple set of obstacles to confront the players with.

Day 13 – Favourite Trap/Puzzle

Traps and puzzles are also metaphors in D&D. They are immediate problems that can be solved by thinking it through, unlike most problems that people have. It is true, however, that sometimes our problems are simply about arranging your priorities in order to maximize the utility of your actions – if I take centre street north, then I can cross over on 6th avenue and then come back south on fourth and get to make a right turn into the alley, rather than a left turn across busy traffic. But many problems have no solution – you can’t out-think a recent health diagnosis, or solve all of your interpersonal conflicts. We spend sleepless nights agonizing through our problems, trying to find a solution. It would be great if we simply overcome all of our obstacles by the direct and safe application of thought.

So I like puzzles where you turn statues and then something unlocks.

Day 14 – Favourite NPC

My first immediately was be Xëff (pronounced Jeff), a half-orc, dual battleaxe wielding cohort to a PC (through the Leadership feat), from a highly successful, long-lasting D&D 3.5 campaign where the party were all evil. The PC was Warlady Zana Skullcrusher (a Favoured Soul), and Xëff always referred to her as Warlady. I gave him a very deep, gravelly voice with tons of timbre, much like the Uruk’hai from the LotR movies. “Yes, Warlady.” Xëff didn’t have a very high intelligence, and I put all of his 1 skill rank each level into Craft (Pies). Whenever the party would camp, he would serve them some of his delicious pies so that they always ate well. His signature move was to half-crouch with battleaxes held high on each side, while looking suspiciously from side-to-side. This move would be employed in the most inappropriate times, and basically just signaled that he was unhappy and wanted to murder someone. Both the players and I always enjoyed it when Xëff would be in the scene, and he added a lot of flavour to the campaign. I include Xëff has an NPC because the player wanted me as the GM to play him, rather than have her manage that.

Day 15 – Favourite Monster (Undead)

How do you not say Dracolich? The cornerstone of many stories set in the Forgotten Realms are those rascals from the Cult of the Dragon. The Dracolich, a dragon that has turned lich, is an amazing, powerful villain. So powerful, that the Cult has emerged because the hipster fanboys of the FR want to be in on the ground floor of each awakening of a new Dracolich.

Day 16 – Favourite Monster (Aberration)

Flumph! haha… maybe facing your players with a flumph is the D&D equivalent of rick-rolling them. SRSLY.

There are three aberrations that really stand out to me: beholders, mind flayers / illithids, and aboleths. Like the Dracolich, these creatures all can serve as capstone bosses of a campaign. They’re hyper-intelligent, massively powerful, and have well-developed cultures. They also have long histories of realm domination. Beholders have a bewildering array of attacks, mind flayers are masters of strange psionics, as are aboleths.

I need to use more aboleths, but until I do, Illithids are my fav.

Day 17 – Favourite Monster (Animal/Vermin)

Badgers. Say it with me, badger badger badger badger. In 3.5, they had an amazing array of multi-attacks, and enough badass rep to claw their way through their enemies corpses.

Day 18 – Favourite Monster (Immortal/Outsider)

Outsiders are a key aspect of my games. I tend to bring them in because they give me perspective on the system. For most creatures, I try to understand their role in the world, and how they interact with their neighbours and environment. An outsider, however, is an alien to the world, and has no established framework, no established ties or preset reactions to the world. In that way, they are the epitome of disruptions to the system and such are my default point of tension in most games. Things were going fine until this unknown element mucked things up and now the world is trying to reorient itself.

My favourite outsider that serves this purpose is the Rakshasa. Humanoid, shapeshifters, infiltrators, slavers, with a non-European flavour… they serve many of my needs for a visitor from outside the system.

Day 19 – Favourite Monster (Elemental/Plant)

I’ve discussed Shambling Mounds in a prior post, but my favourite plant monsters are Treants. Big, giant, ambulant trees with attitude. I recall treants being super creepy in prior editions, but in 3e they seemed much less interesting. I’m not sure why, but I don’t think I’ve ever used them since I stopped playing 2e. I just looked up the stat blocks in the Monster Manuals for AD&D and for 3.0, and they seem similar. The art in 3.0 looks less threatening than the art in AD&D. It’s probably a case of head canon, where when I was young, someone ran a particularly threatening encounter with Treants and I’ve always seen them as gargantuan and terrible, rather as semi-frightened twigs. I’m going to make a point of using a Treant in a game in the near future, and do them justice. Their branches will drip with flavour text!

Day 20 – Favourite Monster (Humanoid/Natural/Fey)

Gnolls. These dudes are ripe with attitude and animal-like musk. With those savage teeth and evil dispositions, a gnoll seems entirely capable of reveling in depravity. Enslaving, raping, killing, and eating their prey. They’re nasty and brutish, and not nearly as friendly as their PG-13 cousins, orcs and goblins. I see gnolls as a slavering horde of chaotic rampagers and pillagers. They’re energetic and violent and don’t at all seem like they should be anyone’s favourite anything. But we are talking favourite monsters here, and a gnoll is definitely that.

Of all the humanoid monster races, gnolls are the least likely for me to mess with and create complex civilizations. Orcs are typically seen as fallen elves, tortured by malevolent intelligence into a mockery of their origins. Goblins are sometimes given a zany, mad bomber what bombs at midnight kinda feel. Hobgoblins seem like they need to be samurai. But gnolls, gnolls are just fine being what they are, nearly animal engines of destruction, and the only trappings they have of civilization are from civilizations that they’ve pillaged.

D&D Thirty-Day Challenge

Posted: June 2, 2015 in RPGs
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Random challenge found on Twitter.  I’ll start the first two days here (to match the daily challenges to the days of the month of June), and edit the post later with answers on successive days:

Day 1 – How you got started

I was introduced to D&D by a friend’s older brother, when we were in grade 4 or 5, circa 1981. We quickly went and bought our own books: Red Box ‘Basic’ D&D, and Blue Box ‘Expert’ D&D, while the older kids migrated to AD&D. We took turns being dungeonmasters, and in those days, it was almost entirely dungeon crawls with maps we drew ourselves. There were a few TSR modules played, as well, such as the Isle of Dread. D&D also lead to trying Star Frontiers, Gamma World, and Top Secret, but mostly we played D&D.

Day 2 – Favourite PC Race

I’ve always loved elves more than others non-human races. They felt oodles more heroic and ripe with fantasy than the other races. Over time, I realized that I didn’t really like how elves were treated in D&D, however, being so slow to learn stuff (starting characters are typically 80-100 years old). I used to joke that they should get a 90% reduction in experience points to reflect their flighty and dim-witted nature, which was really a joke at the systems expense rather than at elves. Once I had that in my head, I ceased playing elves entirely, and preferred half-elves or humans.

Day 3 – Favourite Playable Class

Spoiler alert: it’s paladin. It used to be wizard, because I’m a smart guy and tend to like using smarts to solve problems and wizards are smart so if I’m a wizard I gets to use the smarts. I grew out of that, though. I’m mostly drawn to roleplaying opportunities, and nothing beats the built out of the box motivation of a paladin. Sure a fighter is cool and does cool stuff, and rogues are awesome, and everything is awesome. But with these other classes, you need to mess around with complex backstories and who did what and why and the feelings and, come one, LeT’s Go MetE OuT SoMe JuStIce! For Kitteh! I try not to play paladins all the time, because I like variety. Or I’m a pleasure delayer.

Day 4 – Favourite Game World

Limiting my choices to published worlds so that might be accessible to you, dear reader, I would pick Forgotten Realms. I prefer my fantasy served with high magic, and FR delivers that. There are plenty of nations with many different cultures and structures in place, to accommodate different styles. Caveat: I have not played Ravenloft or Dark Sun, and had only a single session play with Spelljammer, all of which intrigue me.

Day 5 – Favourite set of dice/individual dice

I purchased a set of Blue Sandstone real gem dice from a kickstarter from Metallic Dice Games. They’re heavy and amazing, with a phenomenal sparkling effect.

Day 6 – Favourite Diety

I would have to go with Vecna or Tyr. Two very different gods, the first a villain from Greyhawk, the second a champion for Forgotten Realms, they both are very godly and feel that they really personify their ideals.

Day 7 – Favourite Edition

My favourite edition is 3.5, in which I include Pathfinder. The ability for strange and unpredictable customization is key, and added much wanted game complexity to the system, partially with feats, but mostly with the concept of Prestige Classes. Many other editions limited your choices is very odd ways (remember when only demi-humans could multi-class?) in order to strive for some semblance of game balance.

Day 8 – Favourite character that I have played

I would say Rirpha, a chaotic evil tabit barbarian. Tabits are descended from halflings and cat folk. I played Rirpha as a super cute, fuzzy childlike creature, who occasionally would rage and eat faces. The cute factor was a disguise and a trap. The character build was a hot mess of poor choices for feats and prestige classes (reflecting his chaotic nature) but was super fun to roleplay. Memorably, he took the Bear Warrior prestige class early on which gave some limited shapechanging ability, and would go to taverns and yell “Who wants to punch a bear!?”

Day 9 – Favourite character I haven’t played.

In experimenting with D&D 5e, I rolled up a human paladin. I used the variant human that started with a Feat, took Magic Initiate. Magic Initiate gives the character magical training in another spellcasting class (two cantrips, and one 1st level spell per long rest). I gave him warlock spells. The idea of a paladin with warlock training seemed to beg a long complicated backstory, rife with the potential for love, loss and recurring antagonists. Perhaps, the paladin has turned away from the dark pact, but every time he uses a warlock power, he regains the attention of his one time patron.

Day 10 – Craziest thing that has happened that you saw

Many years ago, we were playing through some WotC pregen adventures (Sunless Citadel, …, Bastion of Broken Souls). Each of us took turns DMing one adventure (with their own PC not participating, but still leveling up with the others). I don’t recall which adventure it was, but it was of a higher level, and we were being attacked by a teleporting drider assassin who would one-shot my Mystic Theurge and then book. We came up with a plan. I cast Anticipate Teleport and we waited. When he teleported to us the next time, his ‘port was delayed one round, and we knew exactly where he would arrive. The Elementalist Wizard cast Transmute Rock to Lava on the street and I cast a spell called Chains or something when he arrived. The Elementalist was specialized in electricity magic, so his Transmute Rock to Lava became Transmute Rock to Lightning, and I Chained the Drider in place so that he was unable to move or teleport away. Then we just stood back, waited for him to die, and tried to imagine what this lightning-transmuted ground would look like, haha.

Day 11 – Favourite adventure I have ran

Keeping this limited to published adventures, I think that my favourite was Heart of Nightfang Spire. Part of the pregens that I mentioned in Day 10, in this one, we had the Elementalist Wizard and my wife was playing a Shifter Druid. She could wild shape into a plant, and chose the Shambling Mound. We had also allowed her to take a Feat that allowed her one Supernatural ability from a wild shaped form. Now, when a Shambling Mound is exposed to electricity damage, it gains 1d4 Constitution. So the Elementalist Wizard would cast Wall of Lightning (Fire) and the Shamblng Mound would bathe in its glow for, like an hour. Her Con would be in the hundreds, with hitpoints over a thousand. Then the Shambling Mound would go open all the doors and chests and clear all the traps. She would return to the rest of the party, who had been playing cards, and report an all clear. There would be darts stuck in her, and smoke emanating from burnt parts, it was so viscerally funny. Then they would go through and see where the fireball trap had gone off, the busted chest she beat through, etc.