Wednesday, March 30, 2011

In Which The Warlock Muses on Thread Necromancy and Group Building...

For those of you that aren't frequenters of rpg-forums and the like, "thread necromancy" refers to the act of bringing back a "dead" thread, months or even years after its last response.  I was somewhat shocked, recently, to find that a thread that I'd started over at had been necro-ed, dealing specifically with the idea of "allowing" items in a campaign.

If you're interested, the thread still exists--just poke around and you'll find it under "Allowing Things in a Campaign", but that's not what I'd like to talk about today.  Rather, I'd like to focus on one of my responses.

Has no business in a pirate game...
One of the biggest problems that I had in starting the first "Pirates of the Underdark" game was that...well, no one wanted to be a pirate!  In the wild and chaotic days of 3.5e, I ended up with almost every combination you could think of, but not one was even remotely piratical or linked to the Underdark.  I ended up with an anime-style sorcerer girl, a modron swordmage, and a "gelatinous orc", but nary a pirate in sight!  Needless to say, this campaign imploded nearly from the start.

You see, friends and neighbors, I've become a bigger and bigger fan of "group" character building, the longer that I've been gaming.  This isn't to say that people shouldn't generate characters as individuals--that's half the fun!--but rather that some degree of communication has to occur when a group sits down to plan an extended campaign. 

Our current Dark Sun group suffered from that, as half of the group were planning on playing amoral desert survivors, while others planned on being active agents of the Veiled Alliance.  As you might have seen in previous entries, such did not turn out well.  Had we managed to be honest with one another at the start, expressing what we wanted out of character development and plot points, a compromise could have been reached, but we just didn't think that far ahead.
Equally, has no business
in a Call of Cthulhu game...

Honestly, this is also one of the issues that I have with Call of Cthulhu.  Don't get me wrong:  I love CoC in all its various incarnations.  But, the disparity that exists when you bring together a history professor, a private detective, a teppanyaki chef, a college student, and a half-crazed journalist makes for a group that is ultimately unskilled in necessary areas, while are masters at items that may only come up in one session or as a group-joke.  That takes the inherent horror of CoC and degenerates it into slapstick comedy.  It's a fine line to walk, believe it or not...

For extended campaigns of all sorts, I've taken to spending an entire session for group-building and, as ChaoticFrederick calls it, "theorycrafting".  While this has met with mixed results--particularly in the "Tear of Ioun" game last year (heavy on the 'theory', light on the actual 'crafting')--it's helped to explain how the group got together in the first place, as well as what tactics they use when in combat or in investigations.

Madness encouraged!
But, on the other end of the spectrum, there's The Laundry...which takes the exact opposite approach, and hits it out of the park.  The Laundry encourages offbeat, especially nerdy professionals, with totally disparate skill sets.  However, it rectifies this by providing each character with a baseline of "Laundry Basic Training" as well as a set of skills that come as part of their directory assignment.  While characters are free to individualize their skills based on their own former profession and their preference, it becomes almost impossible to create an "ineffective" character or, for that matter, a character that overlaps or does not fit within the group as a whole.

Have you encountered another system that rewards diversity or group character-building?  Or, do you have your own methodology that works?  By all means, do tell!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

In Which The Warlock Mourns the Death of a Plane...

One of the neater things that I'd come across in a while--and still wouldn't have even known about it, if not for the much more tech-savvy DigitalKat--is the premise behind the RPG Blog Carnival, whose archive is hosted at NeverMet Press.  Essentially, it provides a monthly theme for gaming blogs, as well as an opportunity for bloggers to read one anothers' posts and see some new perspectives.  Well, sparky; sign me up! 

The boneyard grows...
This month's theme is "Life and Death in RPGs," which couldn't be more fitting after last night's session.

I'm of two minds in terms of character death in games.  While it can be frustrating, even painful, to see one's character wiped out, that threat of death continually has to exist, in order to provide challenge and consequence for players.  But, simultaneously, a character death must have meaning.  One of the biggest mistakes I've made over the years is allowing my "let the dice fall where they may" attitude superscede the narrative necessity of having main characters.  Really, it's also why my players refuse to get into any car in one of my games...but that's another story.

But in terms of ChaoticFrederick's ongoing Dark Sun game, I've been expecting death.  My character, Actorios, was built to experience and play through a "tragic downfall", as he replicates (in his own, DS-filtered way) the path of Michael Moorcock's Elric of Melnibone.  To be honest, I've expected Actorios to die.  His lust for power, his constant manipulation of rival factions, and the wake of enemies left behind him will inevitably catch up with him at some point.  I've accepted this.  I've even started planning my next character...which I'll divulge a little later.  Needless to say, it's going to capitalize more than a little on Actorios' pathos.

But, what I wasn't ready for was the actuall fall itself.  You see, friends and neighbors, I was able to prepare for the death of Actorios, even though it hasn't come. 

What I haven't been able to prepare for, was the death of his entire homeland.
Cast out into Athas and exiled, in response for crimes against his kind.  Actorios as a character is embittered.  He wants desperately to be the "hero" he was destined to become while Crown Prince, but hates his own race and their shortsightedness.  Mind you, it's actually Actorios being shortsighted...he just is so arrogant that he'd never admit his wrong. 

So, when the opportunity arose to bring water to Athas, in the form of a massive sea, Actorios leapt onto the quest.  But the sacrifices that must be made?  The actual Feywild must die.  Yes.  Not just an individual, a city, or even a nation.  An entire plane must die, to bring water to Athas.  The Land Between the Winds must be defiled, in its entirety, using a series of spellshards created by Andropinis, Sorcerer-King of Balic.

The fall of Theleb Orethia...
As the plan unfolded, I saw Actorios as a willing, excited participant.  A chance to be a true hero?! A chance to redeem himself, and make the Tyr region itself into a new Feywild?! Absolutely!  But, with our last session, all that's changed.

You see, friends and neighbors, our last session completed this arc of our quest.  Our characters traveled to the last location of the Feywild, and defiled it away.  Theleb Orethia--Actorios' home kingdom--is nothing but ash now...because of him. 

This has really represented a turning point for how I've been playing this character.  For the first time, Actorios has begun to wonder "Was the price of power, of heroism, actually worth this price?"  Mind you, it's all moot point now.  All that remains of Theleb Orethia, New Samarthia, and the rest of the Lands Between the Winds now resides as pure arcane energy in the spellshards of Andropinis. 

Was it worth it, Actorios?
I came away from the table last night visibly sad.  Chaotic Frederick actually asked me if I was all right.  I was, of course, primarily because I had done my job too well.  Tragedy is even more beautiful and terrible from the inside-out. 

Death, on this scale, is never just a plot point.  Rather, it has to have emotional resonance, with both the characters and the players.  This should be what happens when Green Lantern fails to save Coast City.  This should be what happens when The Laundry fails in its mission to prevent CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN. depth, is realism, and is necessary for truth in storytelling.  And no one--GM, player or character--should immune.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

In Which The Warlock Aims for the Infin8...


That's about all I can say.  Whew.

Don't get me wrong--I love having a hand in WittCon.  I love running games, writing scenarios, and all of the chaos that comes with running a convention.  That said, it's exhausting business!

But, you know what?  It's really worth it.

This WittCon was somewhat unique for me, in the fact that I actually had nothing scheduled during the first session.  So, instead of running game like usual, I wandered through the Shouvlin Center, snapping pictures of all of the happy gamers.

What makes me most happy about WittCon is the reconvergence of friends and neighbors from across the Springfield-Dayton community.  Alumni like High Priestess Emily and ChaoticKarl came in.  ChainMailSarah debuted her new business, GenesisMaille, at WittCon.  My fellow teacher and convention junkie Shane came out to provide Reaper Minis Paint-and-Take.  It's just fantastic to see so many of my gamer friends all in one place, enjoying a beloved hobby.

And, on the plus side, we got to try out some of our newest scenarios! 

Lawfully Blonde and Chrysalis both went over really well, with only minor changes to make it ready for the big-time at Origins 2011.  With OldSchoolBrian in my Westbound... game, I knew I was in for some chaos.  I just wasn't anticipating him totally backstabbing the poor Dr. Ignatio Metz!  At least he won't have to worry about the Three Caballeros anymore!  And, while the Pendulum adventure style needs just a touch of tweaking, Splitting Heirs was a blast...

To take a look at all of this year's events, follow this link to my Facebook album!  WittCon VIII--Infin8 Possibilities (Photo Album)

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

In Which The Warlock Goes Up to 11...

...and we're not just talking about Actorios, who's finally hit Paragon tier and become an Avernian Knight.

Rather, it's my writing.

The Warlock's keyboard, for the past 6 nights...
With WittCon VIII coming up fast on the horizon, I really had to kick it into gear this week, in order to get finished.  While having everything done will make things much easier on me during the actual convention season, it doesn't make life much easier while putting it all together!

Let's run down a brief list of what I've written since last Saturday:

  • 6 Character Backgrounds, formatted into table-tents  (1,300 words)
  • 7 Statted NPCs (850 words, but very time-consuming)
  • Westbound... Adventure Outline (6,500 words)
"Splitting Heirs"
  • 8 Character Backgrounds, formatted into table-tents (1,500 words)
  • Splitting Heirs Adventure Outline (3,600 words)
"Lawfully Blonde"
  • 6 Character Backgrounds, formatted into table-tents (1,000 words)
  • Lawfully Blonde Adventure Outline (1,800 words)
  • 6 Character Backgrounds, formatted into table-tents (1,600 words)
  • 6 PCs statted up (no word count available--done via HeroForge)
  • Chrysalis Adventure Outline (4,900 words)

That's...*checks calculator* SWEET ZOMBIE GHANDI!  23,050 WORDS!

Let it be known, I have never, not in my most creative, most productive, and most-sleep deprived days, done this much writing at once.  What's more (and this is me putting aside my usual arrogance), they're good.  Seriously.  Westbound... has a spectacular parallel plotline structure that'll make it a blast to run.  Chrysalis and Splitting Heirs are both Pendulum-style adventures, which adds to the difficulty in writing/running them, but the adventures themselves are creative and inspired.  Lawfully Blonde...well, it'll just be hilarious to play.

Now, two provisions have to be added to this. 

1) I'm not done.  My responsibilities for The Laundry have me pumping out an additional series of documents on the various beasties of the Laundry-verse, which I'm about halfway through, on top of everything I've written for WittCon/FOPCon/DenCon/Origins.  I've written something in the neighborhood of an additional 4,000 words just in rough drafting, with plenty more to go!

50k words?  Feh...
2) There's a little contest that you might have heard of, called NaNoWriMo.  Each November, budding writers from all over the world do their best to assemble a novel in 30 days.  I've never done NaNo, though I've been tempted in the past, and both DigitalKat and PhillyLaura have given it a go.  The goal for NaNoWriMo is 50,000 words--about 175 pages, all told.

I've done over half of that 6 days.
Madness!  Insanity!  Obsession-compulsion on the level of Howard Hughes or Rain Man! 

Yeah, probably.  But I'm riding a high right now that's unfathomable.  I'm going to surf this wave till I come into shore, and even then...I'm going to be up on the beach, wondering where the wave went!

As a last bit, there'll be no entry this Saturday.  Why, devoted readers?  Because it's WittCon VIII!  Get your skinny keisters to Springfield, and throw down with us!  See you there!

WittCon VIII!  Be there!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

In Which The Warlock Can Rebuild Him...We Have the Monster Builder...

With DigitalKat re-igniting her blog, her first post dealt with--you guessed it--Marrakesh.  Her pet setting didn't go that well over at Witt, primarily due to some conflicting views and goals in the party.  Restarting her game back in NY, she's decided to restart her game, but with some pretty definite changes.

So, when the idea came up of having some buff NPCs to keep her players and their PCs in line, immediately our thoughts both went to a certain half-orc mariner/revolutionary. 

As such, I jumped to and pumped out a new version of Ishmael Mellouk ben Hassib--one set to strike fear into any PCs that wander into the wrong back alley...

There he is...hopefully, he'll put a dent in any adventurers' plans! 

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

In Which The Warlock Concludes the Previews...

Whew!  This is the last set, I promise.  With 39 total events on the docket, we're out in force for this year's Origins Game Fair. 

If you missed the previous preview links, check them out here:
Set I:  In Which The Warlock Posts Some Previews...
Set II:  In Which The Warlock Posts More Previews...

Title: Sovereigns of the Sea
System: Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space
Sessions: Wednesday, 7pm and Saturday, 7pm
Description: The Doctor and his companions have found themselves aboard the Queen Anne's Revenge under the command of Blackbeard the Pirate. But little does the infamous scoundrel know that the ancient treasure he's been searching for belongs to an alien species that doesn't take kindly to pirates. (Featuring characters from the Doctor Who television show. Rules taught, new players welcome!)

Title: Stargate SG-1—Shifting Loyalties
System: Savage Worlds
Sessions: Thursday, 7pm
Description: The Goa’uld Klorel, son of Apophis, has contacted the SGC and says that he wishes to defect to the Tok'ra. It's up to SG-1, Bra'tac, and Jacob Carter to determine if they've found a new ally against the System Lords or if this a clever ruse to discover the location of the Tok’ra secret base. (Featuring characters from the television show. Rules taught, new players welcome!)

Title: Stargate Atlantis—No Man Left Behind
System: Savage Worlds
Sessions: Friday, 7pm
Description: Todd, the Wraith scientist, has contacted Atlantis with an interesting discovery: Michael has captured Lt. Aiden Ford and hopes to discover how the Wraith enzyme interacted with him so that he can make an army of super-soldiers. It’s up to John Sheppard, Rodney McKay, Teyla, Ronan, and Carson Beckett to rescue their former team member and work with Todd to thwart Michael’s plans. (Featuring characters from the television show. Rules taught, new players welcome!)

Title: Lord of the Rings Risk
System: Lord of the Rings Risk—Trilogy Edition
Sessions: Friday, 7pm
Description: The classic game of strategy, set in Tolkein’s Middle Earth.

Title: Dilbert: Corporate Shuffle
System: Dilbert: Corporate Shuffle
Sessions: Saturday, 7pm and Saturday, 9pm
Description:  Crawl up the corporate ladder in Dilbert’s wacky world of bureaucrats and corporate chaos. Get rid of all of your cards to win!

Title:  What’s Summoned in Las Vegas…
System: Scion
Sessions: Wednesday, 7pm and Thursday, 7pm
Description: On your thirteenth birthday, you found out that the world wasn’t quite what you thought it was. As it turns out, one of your parents is actually a God, and you have been blessed with some of their abilities. Life for a scion isn’t easy, though: now that you’ve been recognized by your holy parent, you’re basically at their beck and call, fixing any problems that might pop up. You’re basically a magical fixer, but with crummy pay and little appreciation.  One day, your godly parent tells you that there’s trouble brewing in Las Vegas. Someone is trying to summon a titan, which is one of the great enemies to the Gods. But the Gods have rules about when they can and can’t interfere, so you end up being sent along with a group to stop this person before they can summon the titan. 13+, rules taught.

Title:   Road of Trials and Tribulations
System:   Blue Rose d20
Sessions: Friday, 7pm and Saturday, 7pm
Description:  Aldis is a country which prides itself on its excellent education system. One of the schools is in the capitol city of Aldis, where the best and brightest train to become top-notch Shapers (magic-users). And wouldn’t you know it, but it’s exam time at the Aldean Academy of Magic, and the Shapers all have to complete some pretty tough tests. One group of Shapers in particular has an especially tough set of tests. This group is made up of the top Shapers from each area of study, and they will have to work as a team to help a group of weary travelers go from a nearby village to the capitol city. There will be many trials and tribulations waiting for them, but if they succeed then they might just get that A they’ve been looking for. 13+, rules taught.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

In Which The Warlock Begins Living the Dream...

This is a short one, but with some really exciting news.

Back when I was still a student at Witt, I became acquainted with Dread Pirate Tim--a comics/game shop owner in Springfield.  Dread Pirate Tim had some pretty serious health issues, which contributed to his store closing, but he's an avid gamer and occasionally makes appearance at WittGuild meetings.  I hadn't talked to him in quite a while, when he messaged me out of the blue.

Apparently, Cubicle 7--the company that produces the Doctor Who rpg, among several others--was taking an open call for freelance writers, to work on their new rpg The Laundry.  Deadline was March 1st.  Hurriedly, I worked up a submission to their specifications and sent it off.

Just yesterday, I received an e-mail from Cubicle 7--they want me on board for a new product release!

I'm not sure how much I'm able to say at this point on the new product, but I'm beyond excited to be working with them. 

Ever since I began gaming, back in 7th grade, this has been my dream--to actually write for a real, published RPG product.  And now, years later, that dream is really coming's unbelievable!  :D

Thursday, March 03, 2011

In Which The Warlock Posts More Previews...

When we set out to stack up our Origins events for this year, the WittGuild expected to bring a great showing.  However, with 9 GMs, we're now up to a whopping 39 events on the schedule!  Madness!  It's going to take me a whole 'nother blog post, just to be able to show them all off.

In the meanwhile, take a look at the descriptions on some of the entries for this coming year.  It'll definitely be a game-fest to remember!

Title:  Orcs Gone Wild
System:  D&D 4e
Sessions:  Wednesday, 7pm and Friday, 7pm
Description:  When the shaman's ancient totem is stolen by a bunch of do-gooder adventurers, it's up to the tribe's best and brightest to infiltrate Hamletshire and get it back....what? They're dead? Oh, okay. It looks like you guys will have to work instead! Players will take the role of a motley crew of orcs, goblins and kobolds as they fumble their way through Hamletshire. (A 9th level adventure for 6 players. Sense of humor recommended.)

Title:  Beneath the Tomb of Dark Lord Zexx
System:  Star Wars d20 Revised
Sessions:  Thursday, 7pm and Friday, 1pm
Description:  The planet Zexane is causing troubles again. While the stash of Sith Swords is now gone, it seems something else was buried there. Reports have come to High Command that a powerful Sith Beast is roaming the wilderness, and perhaps even in town. The last report out was signed “Zexx”, the name of the spirit vanquished in pursuit of the swords. Your team has been sent to deal with this. The group can choose to play as either a Sith Empire or Old Republic elite strike force sent to deal with these troubling developments.  New Players welcome--no experience necessary.

Title:  Excavation Extraction
System:  Deathwatch
Sessions:  Thursday, 7pm and Saturday, 7pm
Description:  A month ago, on the barren planet KooperStrum, a group of Tech-Priests discovered an important relic. They said the artifact was of such importance that they would need a group of Imperial Guards to help secure the area lest the artifact fall into the hands of the enemies of the Imperium. The Administratum agreed and dispatched a mixed Imperial Guard contingent to the site. A few days ago the Imperial Guard contingent sent an urgent request for reinforcements, as they were under sustained attack by enemy forces. The artifact is important enough that a Deathwatch Kill team is being sent into secure the relic before it falls into the hands of the enemy. You are that team.

Title:  Zombie Graveyard
System:  d20 Modern
Sessions:  Wednesday, 7pm and Friday, 7pm
Description:  You are members of an elite and supersecret anti-paranormal government squad, with a good amount of fire power. Your job is to take care of paranormal problems before they get out of hand. In this scenario you are dispatched to take care of a zombie outbreak in the local graveyard. This scenario has slightly adult themes, with tongue in cheek humor, think Porky's R movie rating.

Title:  Song of Silence
System:  CthulhuTech
Sessions:  Thursday, 7pm
Description:  Anew band is coming to town and several key members of the community are planning to attend. As members of the local security, you must locate any potential threats and quell them before the concert. This event is played on the investigator level of Cthulhutech. New players are welcome and rules will be taught.

Title:  The Plague of Man
System:  CthulhuTech
Sessions:  Saturday, 7pm
Description:  Members of scout team 1175S are requested to investigate several crash sites of migou vessels from a failed invasion mission. Scouts are to locate the source of the failure and eliminate any potential threats to future missions in the region. The game will use Cthulhutech rules. All levels of players are welcome and rules will be taught for newcomers to the system.

Title:  The Beacon's Call
System:  Deathwatch
Sessions:  Wednesday, 7pm
Description:  Recently members of the Deathwatch have received an ancient coded message deep in enemy territory. After much deliberation, it is determined that a small task force be sent to investigate. You are members of the team sent to investigate the message. Is is a trap, a trick of the warp, or is it really a distress signal? It is up to you to find the answer and hopefully return. This game is open to new members and rules will be taught.

Title:  Last Hope
System:  Deathwatch
Sessions:  Friday, 7pm
Description:  After finishing a long mission of purging a world of heretical threats, it is time to return to the long sleep and await your next mission. Unfortunately for you, the sleep must wait, as a loud rumble cracks your ship and you and your team must assemble and investigate what is happening. This game will use the Deathwatch rules set by Fantasy Flight games and Games Workshop. New players are welcome and rules will be taught.

Title:  Ninja Nuttiness--Castle Edition
System:  Ninja Nuttiness (Homebrew Board Game)
Sessions:  Friday, 1pm, Friday, 3pm, Saturday, 1pm and Saturday, 3pm
Description:  Play as one of 30 different Ninja clans attempting to topple the reign of the Shogun. Wander through the Shogun's castle in an attempt to topple the lord, but be wary of his Samurai and Ashigaru guards. Also be wary of the monks visiting the castle, as they are not to fond of those following the way of the Ninja. Don't forget that the other ninja may attack you as well if you get in their way! This game is easy to learn and rules will be taught at each session.

Look back next Wednesday for the last of our events for this year's Origins Game Fair!