Monday, March 30, 2009

In Which The Warlock Changes His Persona...Again...

With the demise of "Shadows of the Cold War", Kat has taken up the mantle of GM and is prepping us for our first session of Ravenloft this evening, using an Island of Terror of her own design.

I, for one, am ecstatic. In all my years of GMing--now almost to 15!--no one has ever run Ravenloft for me. I've loved the setting for years, as it was the second D&D setting I'd ever read, but no one would run it. I've run it myself countless times, but few seem to be up to task to put together Gothic Horror with Medieval Fantasy.

That is, until now. So, without further Ravenloft character: Nadia Ir'Ralya, burgeoning sorceress!

Name: Nadia Ir’Ralya
Age: 28
Race: Human
Location: Port-a-Lucine, Dementlieu
Parents: Unknown (both). Raised by Varrek Ir’Ralya
Siblings: Unknown
Friends: Camille DelaCroix (deceased), Eriol
Faith: “Gods? Are you kidding me?”
Fav. Food: Blanquette des veau over potatoes, with deep red wine.
Pastimes: Juggling, practical jokes, drinking. When alone, drawing and writing.
Party Role: Stealth and reconnaissance, social skills, raw damage potential.
Strengths: Stealth, high damage capability, high defenses, versatile skill uses.
Weaknesses: Low AC. Low physicality (negative Str).


Varrek Ir’Ralya was a “second story man” working for the Bleakers—an up-and-coming thieves’ guild in Port-a-Lucine—when he came upon something that he, to this day, has never been able to explain.
Varrek was commissioned by his Guildmaster—the enigmatic Melancholy—to break into a house in the High End. Port-a-Lucine’s High End was the most wealthy and elite district, and this house was no exception. Varrek slipped his way in and began cleaning out the lower floors. When he got to the second floor, though, Varrek had no words to describe the strangeness found there. On the floor, a married couple—still in their bedclothes—lay scorched and bleeding. Scant 5 feet away, though, a young girl of 3 years old—presumably their daughter? –lay sleeping on the floor.
Varrek was immediately faced with a feeling he rarely felt: guilt. Taking the sleeping girl with him, he looted the remainder of the house and made his way back to the Guildhouse. While the Guild Undermaster wasn’t happy with Varrek’s choice, they kept the girl around as something of a mascot at first, but later as a trainee. Nadia, as such, grew up in the absolute roughest of circumstances…and reveled in it. She proved adept at stealth and lockpicking, as well as swindling and baiting hapless men in taverns. Nadia always had an ‘exotic’ loot about her, which attracted many…and often left their purses lighter.
While Nadia enjoyed her work and her training, she had few friends. Among those few were an elf, Eriol, and another orphaned human girl, Camille. Eriol was fun, but had the typical arrogance of the Sithican elves, which made him annoying for long periods of time. Camille, though, was something different. She was wild, like Nadia, and the pair would spar in the training hall with abandon.
However, Nadia was continually haunted by strange dreams—dreams of whirling colors and oozing, amniotic seas, in which…things…swam. In the darkest of these dreams, a hideous figure would float through the sea towards her: a tatterdemalion, but one of royal bearing. A proverbial King in Rags and Tatters. She would often wake up screaming from these dreams, with no one left to comfort her.
The dreams soon became worse, over time. In fact, Nadia began to manifest sorcerer powers as the dreams compounded…which led to tragedy. Nadia, at Camille’s request, tried to keep use of the powers to a minimum—keeping them only for emergencies.
Such an emergency came as the pair, alone with Eriol, attempted to lift a supposed “religious artifact” from the vaults of Councilor Dominic D’honaire, at the request of Guildmaster Melancholy. When the trio was caught by the guards, they attempted to fight their way out, only to be vastly outnumbered. Camille, swiftly surrouned, begged Nadia to use her sorcery. Nadia summoned her mental reserves, blasting out with waves of psychic fire, consuming the guards…and Camille. Nadia shrieked, but the carpets of the vault had begun to catch fire, and Eriol was forced to pull her, still screaming, out of the manor house.
Since that day, Nadia has kept to herself. Guildmaster Melancholy has all but forced her from the ranks of the Bleakers, putting her out on the street as a liability. As such, Nadia has stowed away on the La Perle Volante, believing that a new land might give her a new start. She worries daily about her burgeoning powers and how she possibly learn to control them. She has no friends, only underworld contacts, and feels like this world has abandoned her. If there was only a way to control this raw power, any price may be worth it.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

In Which The Warlock Runs Himself Ragged...

I swear, WittCon has the tendency to come around at the absolute worst times of the year.

You see, March is not only right in the middle of spring IEP/MFE renewals for my work, but is also the month in which all my weasels at school take their OGT exam. Needless to say, the stress level is a little high, particularly as WittCon nears, and I prep myself to run games like a madman.

Is it any surprise that I typically try to take the day before the Con off of work, as a personal day? Further, is it any real surprise that I didn't get to do so this year?

But, WittCon VI has come and gone, with a mass of great gaming memories for all. I must say, though, the dice were running more chaotic than usual as the weekend went on!

We began the weekend hitting up Rudy's Barbeque in Springfield with El Willy, before shuffling on over to Shouvlin to throw down my latest completed project: WEGS SuperZ. I was honestly pleased to see how well the thing came out--no doubt, running a reskin of an indie game for its creator is a little unnerving, but a great time was had by all. The party crawled sloughed their way through my intro adventure: "The Terrible Island of Doctor Crab-Clops!", slinging Plasma Blasts and Mental Bursts all the way. While I still have quite a few revisions to make--not the least of which being the 5 SuperZ races!--the game was strong and ran quickly around the table.

The day of WittCon, I started off by running the day's D&D Game Day adventure:
A Dark Night in Weeeping Briar for some of the Guild regulars. This was made even more interesting by the appearance of a Witt Torch reporter, requesting to play with us! She may have gotten more than she bargained for with our group, but it seemed like she had a great time, as the players bounced between encounters, generally breaking the game.

The second encounter of the game took place in a mill. Fire damage, naturally, caused bad things to happen. Naturally, with my luck? Natural 1 on the enemies' first attack roll...with a fire attack. The mill explodes in a fireball. I hang my head.
The third encounter involves several tough demons, led by a Mezzodemon. The party, thinking quickly, layers him down with status effects--dazed, blinded, and then Dominated. Naturally, this led to one drowned demon.

Hanging my head and carting off my minis-swag, I headed to my next game, my much anticipated (and filled!) Dark Heresy game: Survival of the Fittest.

I originally envisioned this game as something of a cross between honest-to-God-Emperor Dark Heresy and Paranoia, as the various Acolytes plotted against one another on the war-world Thanatos IV. Nick's Imperial Psyker, though, had other ideas.

Not once, but twice, he caused warp energy to burst out, incinerating himself and the party. The game was over in a matter of an hour, as the party descended into bloodied in-fighting. I laughed, but simultaneously hung my head. All those hours spent building characters and backgrounds...poof. Alack, alack.

By the time the third session came around, I was ready to kick back. And there's no better way for this gamer to relax than with some WEGS. In a matter of minutes, Nordling VI was well on his way to Arkeation.

Some explanation, I suppose, is in order. Ever since my first game of WEGS, I've nearly always run the same character--a Humz Lucky Trickster named Nordling. Nordling's had an unprecedented survival rate. Despite the lethality of WEGS, he's never died...not once! Even facing down the vicious mummy KlattaBarraBoo, he escaped. This time, he managed to weasel his way away from a RingReaver in El Willy's classic "Over the Reaver and Through the Wyrds".

By Sunday, we were all exhausted and ready to relax. Hitting up Jeet India and Bookery with Karl, Lionel, and El Willy was a welcome relaxation. Kudos to El Willy for getting Bookery aboard the WEGS train!

Oi. Stress and all, this whole con experience just makes me want Origins to come all the more! It's looking like another massive experience this year, cats and kittens!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

In Which The Warlock Inadvertently Causes a Mess on Interstate 76...

I am sad. No bones about it; I am disappointed.

My Monday night Heroes Unlimited game--"Shadows of the Cold War"--has gone up in flames. The remains of it are strewn across the north side of Pittsburgh (sorry, Keystone City).

My illustrious players were all set for a pre-planned road trip off to the wild locale of Centralia, Pennsylvania, after being led there by a mysterious message found in the sundry items of their fallen foe, Mr. Kisses. After some horrific happenstances at the Shining Stars Bar, Grille, and Restaurant (run by the always enigmatic Stephen Alzis), they were ready for a new change of scenery.

Unfortunately, they never got that far.

For whatever reason, my players have the horrible tendency to roll miserably when it comes to any Driving test. Regardless of system, every time that they seem to enter a car, their luck seems to fall down an abysmal shaft leading to certain doom. Last night was no different.

In Dark Heresy, a few months ago, my players died in a massive conflagration as they ran their transport into a bar, trying to escape from some gangers on their way to investigate a corrupted morgue. Only one escaped, running panicked through the hive being chased by chain-gun wielding gangers.

This time around, Lockshanks was the one to fall first. Falling asleep at the wheel after a long night of DJing, he skidded CheapShot's van/arsenal into a guardrail, then overcompensated, driving it into a jersey-barrier along I-76, on the northwest side of Keystone City. Two more crashes later, the van's fuel tank blew, with three of the four heroes inside. By that point, the fourth was nothing but a grease smear along the highway.

I must say, I'm really disappointed by all this. While the group has been a little bit off-topic, game was genuinely fun. People were truly into their characters and really heavily role-playing through scenarios. Makes me wish that I didn't "let the dice fall where they may"...

As such, we're switching gears for a tick. For the remainder of the WittKids' semester, we're going to run a few one-shots and give them some shots to GM. It gets them some experience and some more confidence behind the screen.

I'm just going to miss my Monday supers crew. :(

Monday, March 09, 2009

The Warlock's Review: "Watchmen"

Anticipation is a funny thing. While the high expectations it creates often lead to heartache, the lead-up and hype for a movie often lend it even more weight once it hits the box office.

Watchmen has been among my most anticipated movies since it was announced nearly two years ago. When its release was nearly held up by 20th Century Fox, I was aghast. When the first trailer aired, pulsing along to a Smashing Pumpkins anti-ballad, I was in awe. And now, having seen it...'s honestly hard to breathe. As a fan, it's utterly mind-blowing.

In all honesty, never before has a "comic-book movie" been as faithful to its source as Watchmen. To be honest, I cannot envision another movie challenging it on this front. Scenes directly from the book are placed on screen one after another. Director Zack Snyder is flawless in this respect--his adoration for the book itself is phenomenal.

Several other critics have criticised this, both on the front that he has "embalmed" the movie (i.e. staying too close to the source material), or that his changes, made for time (the movie is nearly 3 hours, without the cuts!) were not faithful to his overall vision. Considering both arguments, as well as my own opinion, I dare say that he managed to walk a fine line in this respect. While changes to the book are present, they're dealt with smoothly and without hassle. However, scene after scene are pulled directly from the book.

I'm jumping ahead of myself. If you haven't read the book, or have much familiarity with the universe at this point, here's the basic summary. In 1977, the Keene Act is passed, banning acts of "masked vigilantism" following a massive police strike. Vigilantes have been active since WWII, impacting history in various ways, including the accidental creation of the first actual superhero, known as Dr. Manhattan (and played in a perfectly stoic manner by Billy Crudup). It's now 1985, and someone has started killing former vigilantes, starting with the fascistic gun-nut The Comedian (Jeffery Dean Morgan). Rorschach, a sociopathic (and still active) vigilante played by Jackie Earle Haley, begins to investigate.

As I said, the scenes are literally pulled straight from the graphic novel, and thus have a grim, edgy tone suited to this alternate history tale. Haley's gravelly tone narrates us through the world via Rorschach's journal, as he attempts to warn his fellow heroes. At the top of the list is Dan Dreiberg, better known as Nite-Owl (Patrick Wilson), who has fallen into despondancy and impotency.

By and large, the portrayals in this movie are near flawless. Haley's Rorschach oozes with loathing and menace, while Nite-Owl's near-fetishistic obsession with the costumed lifestyle display him as torn between his desire for a normal life and his primal need for the adrenaline rush of adventuring.

Opposite Nite-Owl is Malin Ackerman's Silk Spectre II, forced into the costumed lifestyle by her mother (Carla Gugino), now aging in a rest home. While Ackerman's portrayal is adequate, it does not carry the emotional weight of Haley's narration, Morgan's psychopathic violence, or Wilson's despondancy. The only truly poor performance I would assess for this film is Gugino's, which centers primarily around her age. The elder Silk Spectre simply does not look the part, particularly in the 1985 sections, where she looks just as old as her daughter, instead of 40 years older. Her delivery--too energetic and youthful--only exacerbates this feeling.

One of the few flaws I can find with this movie is with the sheer level of graphic violence in Watchmen. I had gone in knowing much about the violence, having read the book numerous times, but I was not quite prepared for the sheer intensity of the gore in this film. Fight scenes are choreographed with no punches pulled, and no strength unused. During a fight with some street thugs, Nite-Owl breaks a foe's elbow, cracking it in a hideous compound fracture. When invading a mob speakeasy, a gesture from Dr. Manhattan splatters gun-toting mobsters across the room. If you are weak of heart or faint of stomach, even the first scene--wherein the aging Comedian fights for his life and falls to an unseen assailant in his apartment--will sit ill with you.

Snyder pulled no punches with his violence, and I can respect that, but I do question the necessity of it. Whereas the book is just as violent, many of the actions are 'between panels', where it is understood what happens--a typical Shakespearean motion. On screen, the actions overshoot their visceral intent and roam into the unnecessary. The same can be said of the sex scene between Ackerman and Wilson, high above New York aboard the OwlShip. Were the scene half as long, it would have had the same impact--the sheer length and graphicness of it overshoots its intent.

Much has further been made of Watchmen's soundtrack, which brings together an ecletic series of tunes from across the late 20th century. However, I was more impressed by the score itself, penned by Tyler Bates. The background music was more subtle than expected, yet held a great deal of menace, particularly throughout Rorschach's theme, as well as that of Ozymandias, the adventurer-turned-businessman played adequately by Matthew Goode. While I own most of the soundtrack's songs as it is now--yay for being a classic rock junkie--I fully intend to go find the score itself as soon as I'm done here.

All in all, Watchmen is a difficult movie not to recommend. It is utterly faithful to its source material, and the experience of watching it is much like watching a horrifying accident. The story itself is midnight-black, which makes it hard to watch, when shown in all its glory on the screen. If you can stomach through the intensity of the violence, the movie will leave you stunned, with your jaw on the floor. It is, quite literally, the best (and most likely) fulfillment of the comic book lovers' dream.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

In Which The Warlock Succumbs to the Inevitable...

When D&D 4e came out, one of their largest pushes was for the traditionally table-top game to take a step into the digital world, in a large way. Dungeon and Dragon, the flagship magazines of role-playing, were taken out of circulation, only to be replaced with online editions as part of something enigmatic known as "D&D Insider". At the announcement, other nebulous features were shown off...a 'virtual miniature' generator, an online table utility with chat functions, a character generator, and several other features.

And it was met, by and large, with a resounding "WTF?!"

As it seemed, people didn't exactly like Wizards of the Coast futzing around with their beloved magazines. And who would need an online game table, when it's much more fun to sit around a real one? And there were tons of character generators out there--why pay for one?

Nerdrage poured forth like a rushing river, as WotC slowly trickled out updates to their "D&D Insider" and Gleemax--their failed attempt at a social networking site--bit the dust. And all of it was free, so every angry geek with a wi-fi connection could dance on the monolithic industry's corpse...or so it seemed to said weaselous buggers.

I'll admit--I wasn't happy when the two magazines went to online-only format, but I was relatively neutral in the wars between pro- and anti-Insider gamer geeks. That is, until recently.

Both L-train and I finally broke down and purchased 1 year memberships to D&D Insider--at just around $5 per month, it cost me approximately $60 for one year of content, which granted me access to the Character Generator software, issues of both online magazines, several online utilities, and all preview articles (only about half of which are accessible to non-Insider visitors).

I came across this somewhat skeptically, as I wasn't sure exactly what I was...wanting. I used HeroForge, primarily, for character generation, and the magazine articles did not seem to increase in quality compared to the days of Paizo.

I'll admit now, I was utterly wrong.

The official character generator--built from the online compendium (another benefit of Insider membership--is updated monthly, and features a database of selectable WotC products, usable by campaign. The generator is intuitive to use, and is graphically smooth, allowing you even to import your own photos to attach to characters. Even without going through any sort of tutorial or help system, I was able to create a 30th level character, complete with level-appropriate gear, in about 20 minutes.

20 minutes?! Hell's bells--I was ecstatic! This sort of thing would take me hours to do by hand, or even in HeroForge. And, what's more, the Generator tells you whether the character is RPGA legal, auto-calculates all of the math for you (which has led to some player-favoring error-solving in L-train's game), and creates a beautifully laid-out character sheet complete with character cards.

While the character generator does lack a "Create a Character of X Level" option, which would make it perfect, the leveling system is of sufficient speed and quality to make it almost unnecessary. Seriously--it's that good.

That alone would be worth my $60, considering that it updates with all WotC products each month, but the magazine articles have seriously been increasing in quality. One of my favorites has been the "Wish Upon A Star" article, beefing Star Pact Warlocks--Ia!--but there are numerous others that bear mentioning.

In all truth, I'm completely satisfied with my Insider subscription, and have no regrets on it whatsoever. I look forward to what comes next very eagerly...surrounding nerdrage notwithstanding.