Wednesday, August 25, 2010

In Which The Warlock Assembles the Dream Team...

Something I managed to skip--don't ask me how!--were my remarks on my GenCon experience this year. Yes indeedy, the PlatinumChick, Will the ManMan, BoardGame Karen, and yours truly found ourselves at GenCon Indy this year.

I will be honest, though. I didn't get to see much of the show. I did manage to swing by the GameWick booth to say 'hi' to El Willy and his crew, but I almost immediately had to ship out to my game--a private Eberron game run by none other than Keith Baker, the creator of Eberron. Little did I know, though, that we would be joined by C.A. Suleiman (author of Dragonmarked and several other Eberron books) as well as E, the infamous blogger from Geek's Dream Girl!

After a brief meet-and-greet, Keith got the game started. Our characters were all members of the Order of the Ebon Skull--a military order in Karrnath which was defamed and banned at the end of the Last War. However, this involved a pretty major twist--all of our characters were either undead or necromancers! I ended up playing Mandible, a former con-artist turned flameskull. Keith really did a smashing job making these characters unique and interesting, while keeping the "feel" of 4e.

All told, the game was really a blast, but it got me thinking. I got to game with some of the big names of the gaming industry, in their own setting. But if I could game with any celebrity--whether they're an actual gamer or not--who might it be? As such, my lovely readers, here's my list!

Stephen Colbert: This one's almost cheating, as Colbert's a self-professed gamer on his own, back in the days of 1e and 2e. He's just got such a sharp wit and a conviction about him, both in real life interviews and in his 'show persona', that I had to include him. Classwise? He'd make for a perfect Paladin or Warlord, leading the charge into battle with carefully crafted repartee.

Bruce Timm: This is a guy who needs no introduction. As one of the masterminds behind the DC Animated Universe, Timm's writing skills and creativity are without peer in the Western animated world. In the interviews I've seen with him, both live at conventions and recorded on the DVD releases of his animated series, Timm displays a craftiness and a deep knowledge of his subject material. He'd make for about the most epic wizard I could imagine, building plot upon plot, contingency upon contingency.

Lady Gaga: Shocked by this one? Don't be. Of all of the musical minds out there, Gaga's got to be one of the most creative of the modern era, and she's not afraid to make a statement. It's likely that she's never slung dice in her life, but I doubt that would stop her! I'd love to have her at the table, dicing up baddies as a Red Sonja-esque barbarian or avenger-chick, replete with the most fashionable chainmail-bikini that gp can buy!

Ben 'Yahtzee' Croshaw: Yahtzee is the mastermind behind the tongue-impaled-in-cheek web-series, "Zero Punctuation", which is hosted on "The Escapist" web magazine. While I doubt that Yahtzee would be willing to descend "back into the basement" for a session of D&D, I could easily see him joining the party as a snarky, dagger-slinging rogue or a sardonic warlock.

Mario Batali: For those of you longtime followers of my blog, you'll know that I'm a self-proclaimed foodie. I love small, family-owned restaurants, and I follow Food Network and the like as if it was my job. My favorite celeb chef of all time has been Mario Batali: the Rutgers-educated, clog-wearing, maestro of Italian cuisine. In addition to his affable nature and personality, Batali absolutely looks the part of a classic Viking warrior. I've joked before that, as an Iron Chef, he carves turkeys with a battle-axe. Having him jump in as a straight-up, sword-and-board fighter or warden would round out our group perfectly.

So, how about you, gamer nation? Who would you ask join your table for a night of dice-slinging action?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

In Which The Warlock Contemplates The Next Step...

Now that our yearly convention season (and my delicous summer break!) is at an end, the WittKids and I are in a bit of convelescence. After traveling all summer, running games at Origins and the other conventions, and running our weekly games in-between, it's made for a really hectic season. I'd say I'm almost looking forward to getting back to work, but we all know that's a joke!

Rather, I'm more looking forward to the start of the new semester and the resurgence of games over at Wittenberg. With a new batch of freshmen on deck, and a really fantastic group of upperclassmen executives, this year looks to be a really positive one for the Guild.

However, I find myself in something of a quandary. Thanks to a much less hectic schedule--no wedding planning this year, and a much easier series of prep at school--I'm actually planning on running a game during the week at Wittenberg. I attempted doing one last year, if you'll recall: a 4e D&D game, set in Eberron. Unfortunately, due to my multiple engagements, it fell through. With a freer schedule, I shouldn't have as much problem with a weekly game, though I do want to avoid the idea of setting up tiles, minis, and the like. I'm not averse to them, but they're just a pain to haul over to Witt, only to pack up again a few hours later.

I've narrowed my game ideas down to two, which you can find below. What do you think, gamer nation? Which one should it be?

Delta Green: Die Karotechia, Die!
System: d20 Modern/d20 Call of Cthulhu
Genre: Cosmic Horror/Conspiracy

There are many things that man was not meant to know. Sometimes, these are the secrets of the universe. Sometimes, these are the secrets held by your government. Sometimes, these are the very things right in front of you. You know these secrets. You've watched them unfold before you like the yellow envelopes you receive every so often. You know the truth about the world around you, and you fight against it every day. You're Delta Green, and you won't go down without a fight.

A shadow ops group working outside of the government, Delta Green stands on the tiny precipice between the world we know and utter chaos and blasphemy. The remnants of Nazi Germany's occult program, the machinations of aliens from Pluto, even the corruption and naivete of your own government stand against you. But you're Delta Green, and you won't go down without a fight.

Your day job is a cover, working within the United States government. By night, you dig deep into things that 'man was not meant to know'--things that your government has lied to the public about. Things you have been lied about. You see, the War isn't over. Never will be. It's just gone rogue...and that's a war you've prepared for.

Gotham City Breakdown
System: DC Adventures/Mutants and Masterminds 3e
Genre: Bronze/Iron Age Superheroes

Years ago, the Wayne family was mugged on the way home from the theater by a small-time thug named Joe Chill. Thomas Wayne and his son, Bruce, were killed by Chill in the incident when Thomas refused to turn over his wallet. Martha Wayne killed herself 4 years later, stricken by grief. Wayne Enterprises, Thomas' company, filed for bankruptcy 15 years later, and has since been dissolved. The man known as The Batman has never come to be.

Gotham City is much as it ever has been. Crime families like the Bertinellis and the Falcones rule the streets, with the police able to do little against them. Masked and deformed criminals--the "freaks"--roam the sewers and alleyways, leading vicious gangs. Gotham teeters on the edge of chaos.

You have chosen to rise up against this scourge. As a masked adventurer, you believe in justice. You believe in law. You believe that something must be done. And you're the right person to do it. It's time to take up arms against the likes of Intergang, the Royal Flush gang, and others, and fill the void left in a world without The Dark Knight.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

In Which The Warlock Summons a New Personality...

With my ranger, Ishmael, on the way out, it came time for me to come up with a new character for Kat's weekly Marrakesh game. Instead of my normal format, I used the "Ten Minute Background" presentation, as found from several sources online. As such, enjoy a look at Sular Etani Mahalesh--a tiefling summoner from nearby Cordoba!

In an attempt to get all the information I need to create stuff from character backgrounds without having to continually push for information, I am asking that you create backgrounds the following way:

Step 1: Write 5 background and concept elements that you feel are important to your image of the character. These can be a concept overview, a list of important life events, a physical description, a personality profile...whatever you need to get an image in your mind. 5 is just a minimum...more elements are encouraged!

1. The Man Who Lived Forever: As a tiefling, Sular is the literal embodiment of one of the djinn, the immortal spirits of the desert. Sular has lived for nearly 275 years, and has shown no signs of slowing down or stopping. He fears little, and carries an attitude of “been there, done that” towards most things.
2. The Pacts of Ancient Cordoba: Sular learned wizardry at the feet of the infamous sorcerer Al-Azif, an eladrin who dabbled in the dark arts. Sular turned his arcane training towards the arts of mental manipulation and assault, and towards summoning. However, it was rumored that Al-Azif’s magics came not from study or inborn talent, but rather through a pact he had made with a creature known only as Iog-Sotot. Further rumor states that Al-Azif’s pact with Iog-Sotot is chronicled in full, along with hundreds of lost spells, in a book known only as the Testament of Carnamagos.
3. A Merchant Dynasty, Fallen: For over 75 years, Sular and his brother, Qatar, ran a successful mercantile caravan, running from the city of High Cordoba, criss-crossing Europa, all the way to Byzantium. Occasionally stopping in Marrakesh, he is passingly familiar with the city, though is clearly not a local. Sular’s merchant empire, however, fell to the Inquisition (see point 5).
4. A Scholar and a Gentleman: Sular, while not a master of all arts, has at least some training in most basic skills. He carries a finely made Cordoban khopesh, and has been known to cross blades with enemies on occasion. He relishes new learning, and can often be found trolling libraries and other upscale areas, reading for pleasure and new learning. Sular has also spent many years refining his courtly manner, and he treats all nobility with a genteel hand.
5. The Inquisition: The crusaders of Erathis, pushing south from the northern coast of Cordoba, have put forward what they refer to as a “Grand Cleansing”. With the support of the Erathian Queen Francesca, they swept south towards High Cordoba, driving out any who did not swear fealty to Erathis. For a desert-spirit like Sular and his family, this Cleansing meant certain death. His assets were seized, his caravans were sacked, and his servants were tortured, often to death. While Sular was able to escape to the south, his parents—in a dreamlike torpor for many years—were left behind. His brother? Not even Sular knows.

Step 2: List at least two goals for the character. At least one of these goals should be one that the character has, while another should be one that you, as a player, want to see developed over the course of the game.

1. Locate the lost lore of Al-Azif.
2. Work his way up the nobility of Marrakesh, and reestablish his trade empire.
3. Evade the Inquisition, and find out if his parents—still in torpor—survived the Great Cleansing.

Step 3: List at least two secrets about your character. One is a secret the character knows, one is a secret that involves him but that he is not actually aware of yet. This will help me in creating plots that center around your character. I will also be creating a third secret which you as a player will not be aware of, so expect some surprises!

1. (Known) Sular is a member of the Three Lobed Eye—a sect of Ioun devoted to the preservation of “heretical” magics and the like. As the teachings of Al-Azif are among these, Sular takes a particular interest in the Three Lobed Eye’s work. While he himself is not particularly religious, his goals have always lined up with that of the Three Lobed Eye, and he is a respected member.
2. (Unknown) Sular’s brother survived the Inquisition, and has located the Testaments of Carnamagos! He currently has taken up with a group of desert nomads, wandering the wastes surrounding Marrakesh. Qatar has a map that, he believes, will lead to the resting place of Al-Azif’s eyes (Al-Azif was torn apart by Erathian fanatics after his death, with the fragments buried separately), which may hold the forbidden tome.

Step 4: Describe at least three people that are tied to the character. Two of them are friendly to the character, one is hostile. If you like, you can include an enemy of yours here as well, so I have an instant NPC nemesis to throw at you.

1. (Friendly) Rahman Abu al Kayeff, human Priest of Ioun. Rahman is a high ranking member of the Three Lobed Eye in Marrakesh. A vestige-pact warlock, Rahman often will debate arcane theory with Sular over a bottle of brandy or a hookah of hashish. Rahman is of a similar temperament to Sular, though he has less of an “aura of invulnerability” compared to his tiefling comrade.
2. (Helpful, but Indifferent) Nawal Salimah, half-elven Spice Trader. Nawal was affiliated with Sular’s mercantile group, when it was still active in Cordoba. Widowed of her arranged marriage at age 17, she stood to inherit her husband’s lucrative spice trade. Assuming control of it at age 23, she forged an alliance with Sular that was mutually beneficial. When Sular’s enterprise fell, due to the Inquisition, her business took a substantial hit. However, she persevered, working with other purveyors, both Narbonne and Marrakeshi.
3. (Actively Hostile) Amadis Baldomero San Marcos, human Knight-Paladin of Erathis. Amadis is an agent of the Erathi Inquisition, charged with the extermination of heretical magics. Amadis has been following and killing mages of all sorts for many years, and is quite the tracker. Amadis has sailed for Marrakesh in search of the book known as the Revelations of Glaaki, though has heard rumors of a much more dangerous tome, currently held by refugees of High Cordoba. The tome? The Testament of Carnamagos.

Step 5: Describe three memories, mannerisms, or quirks that your character has. They don't have to be elaborate, but they should provide some context and flavor.

1. Sitting at the feet of Al-Azif, questioning the master on the nature of the Elemental Chaos while eating dates and sipping coffee.
2. Fighting off caravan raiders alongside Qatar, in the early days of their shipping empire.
3. Escaping through the back alleys of High Cordoba, losing sight of his brother, and sailing for Marrakesh, when the Inquisition reached High Cordoba.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

In Which The Warlock Has a Showdown with Destiny...

In my recent defense of John Wick's "Play Dirty", I mentioned the idea of the "heroic destiny"--the premise that, given a character in a role-playing game, said character should be challenged with great tribulation so that they can evolve, meet that challenge, and emerge with a sense of victory.

It's been my experience that, while this is a great (and admirable!) aim, it's very hard to achieve at times. There are a lot of victories in gaming that tend to feel hollow or empty. Players can come away from many combats saying "Oh, I guess I'm down a healing surge or two" (or, insert other HP-tracking method here), with other encounters following suit. Players are often expected to succeed, one way or another, with actual setbacks coming few and far between.

Back at Wittenberg, when I was still an undergrad, one of my fellow Dirty GM's--Callon, by name--really managed to flip this on its head. I had been playing Maxwell Craedon, a 6'6" mountain of a Fighter/Paladin, but more so...I (as a player) had been trying to play Maxwell as a Lawful Good character. That's definitely a difficult thing for me!

Session after session, game after game, Callon managed to challenge my assumptions in-game about good and evil, law and freedom. What's more, he didn't pull any punches in doing so. The villains he created were unabashedly evil and unafraid to take advantage of both player and character hang-ups and weaknesses.

The resolution of Maxwell's quest--a search for The Dark Tower, straight out of Stephen King's storied septuplet--was made all the sweeter for these tribulations. Maxwell became an exarch of his deity, acting as a force for justice across the planes.

It's been a long while since I had found such a fitting end--a heroic destiny--for a character in game. Much of that's been due to the fact that I've been GMing most of the games I've been involved in over the past few years, but even when playing, games either devolved into a series of continual speed-bumps or were so drenched in failure that mere survival was considered victory (Pyramid of Shadows, anyone?!). Luckily for me, another GM has managed to pull off the 'heroic end' particularly well.

Kat--another devotee of John Wick's--has been running her weekly Marrakesh games with a decidedly schizophrenic group. My ranger-mariner, Ishmael, had all but turned into a terrorist, destroying Narbonne warehouses and the like in an attempt to drive them from Marrakesh. After a disastrous encounter with other members of the native resistance, Ishmael was all but set on a suicide mission to destroy two Narbonne warships in the Marrakeshi harbor. His background had sat idle for many sessions, with little resolution of his mysterious shipwreck or the reappearance of his comrades. Ishmael's party was starkly divided over his actions...

But at the end, all was tied together. In a short session with Colt's swordmage, Sayyid, Ishmael found himself back aboard a ghostly, corrupted version of the Fleur de Tempete, fighting his old crew-members and drifting between alternate realities. This culminated in a massive sea battle as two versions of the Fleur de Tempete drifted together, each fighting the kraken that would send it to its doom.

By the end, Ishmael had found redemption. He had saved his crew and avoided the curse that his captain had laid over the ship. And more, he did so by relying on his comrades--Sayyid proved invaluable in stopping the captain. As the alternate realities merged, Ishmael disappeared into the void, ready for a new adventure.

That, friends and neighbors, was a heroic end. After challenge after massive challenge, I (both in-game and out) felt satisfied. That, above all, was the essence of El Willy's "big win". Here's for more games like it!

And now? Well, continuing in Kat's campaign means bringing in a new character: the tiefling summoner Sular Etani Mahalesh. Expect a character background up next week. Plus, we're heading out for our one-day survey of GenCon on Sunday--and, with it, Keith Baker's Eberron game!--so expect some observations and pics from there in our next entry.

Game on, brothers and sisters!