(a broadside)

Saturday, January 21, 2012

In order to get back into the spirit of things, I thought I'd fill out a questionnaire from the wonderful old school blog Playing D&D with Porn Stars.

1. If you had to pick a single invention in a game you were most proud of what would it be?

Probably a group of villainous NPCs called The Resurrection Men. They are largely responsible for the name of this blog, surprise surprise. 

They're a sect of a dozen necromantic miscreants who, but for the leader, know each other only by a number. They're organized as separate two-person teams, each with a different job within the organization. The basic idea is that they use their necromantic abilities in the name of rampant amoral capitalism.

 A favorite scheme is to kidnap a beautiful person, kill and animate this person, pimp the corpse out for the pleasure of secretive clients with exotic tastes, and then send in another team that pledges to locate the missing person, who is then taken out of rotation, resurrected, and returned to kith and kin seemingly unharmed.

2. When was the last time you GMed?

There was a brief Deadlands campaign in the summer of 2011 that followed the exploits of a traveling Dog and Pony (and monsterhunting) Show throughout Kansas. I moved to a different area, however, and play was suspended.

3. When was the last time you played?

Last night, 1-20-11. It was a wonderfully silly Slipstream game wherein my character, a weird robot thing made out of botched medical goo, garbage, and a Lite-Brite for a face, lead a small town of marooned folk in defense against the onslaught of awful half men, half locomotive people.

4. Give us a one-sentence pitch for an adventure you haven't run but would like to.

A prison escape behind enemy lines and through leagues of hostile territory in a war torn countryside.

5. What do you do while you wait for players to do things?

Cross my fingers in front of my face like a boardroom supervillain.

6. What, if anything, do you eat while you play?

Chips, pizza, chicken wings, whatever.

7. Do you find GMing physically exhausting?

In a good way, yes.

8. What was the last interesting (to you, anyway) thing you remember a PC you were running doing?

A half-orc paladin of Kord refraining from dousing the flames from his person while fighting off a pack of enemies because he thought it was crazy awesome enough to make Kord proud.

9. Do your players take your serious setting and make it unserious? Vice versa? Neither?

Serious games tend to go off on benders of silliness with some regularity, but I can't recall having a comedic setting turn ghastly.

10. What do you do with goblins?

 I prefer not to use them as fodder, but as sneaky little bastards full of sadistic tendencies and low cunning. Surprise big bads, monsters under the bed.

11. What was the last non-RPG thing you saw that you converted into game material (background, setting, trap, etc.)?

Renaissance Florence. I'm working on a sort of quasi historical Shadowrun for kicks..

12. What's the funniest table moment you can remember right now?

From a culturally inappropriate player in that last Deadlands game came a bit about the group's Indian Strongman. The strongman's character had yet to give him a name, so the other gentleman in question, in character, told the joke of how Indians received their names. In short, "When Red Deer Running was born, at the moment of his birth, the first thing his mother saw was a beautiful deer running off into the forest... and so Running Deer was named. It is the custom of our tribe to name the offspring according to the spirits in nature visiting upon the birth." "Why do you ask, Two Dogs Fucking?" 
So the character was henceforth known as Two Dogs Fucking. Which is awful, and was awfully funny. Writing that out, I now feel kinda shitty about that..

13. What was the last game book you looked at--aside from things you referenced in a game--why were you looking at it?

The Iron Kingdoms monster books. Love that setting, love the bizarre critters of that setting.

14. Who's your idea of the perfect RPG illustrator?

Someone who does the art for death metal albums.

15. Does your game ever make your players genuinely afraid?

Nah. At least I don't think so. No one has ever said as much.

16. What was the best time you ever had running an adventure you didn't write? (If ever)

I have never had that work out all that well without some heavy overhaul on my part.

17. What would be the ideal physical set up to run a game in?

A basement dungeon with a 4 x 8 table with a dry erase top, nearby library of books, and a nearby mini-fridge. Also kitschy posters and trinkets.

18. If you had to think of the two most disparate games or game products that you like what would they be?

I don't know. I'm not really looking for any at the moment.

19. If you had to think of the most disparate influences overall on your game, what would they be?

Historical accuracy and left field wackiness.

20. As a GM, what kind of player do you want at your table?

One who is serious when it is warranted, funny where required, and at most times enthusiastic.

21. What's a real life experience you've translated into game terms?

I accidentally recreated a sniper scenario. So there's that.

22. Is there an RPG product that you wish existed but doesn't?

A fantastic representation of the Earth in its entirety, down to the last detail. I'm pretty sure that Alexis at the Tao of D&D is working on addressing that, however.

23. Is there anyone you know who you talk about RPGs with who doesn't play? How do those conversations go?

My wife. She's tried, but the feeling of not being as knowledgeable or as into it as others at the table, as well as social awkwardness and an absolute antipathetic relationship with dice have hindered that.
Goddamn, but it's been a while.

Despite best intentions and at least two New Year's resolutions, I've been puttering around for the last couple of years. I keep telling myself that I should be putting more words out into the universe, but I have this dreadful nihilistic belief that nothing that I say matters or is meaningful.

I should get over that.

I've repeatedly promised myself that I should endeavor to write about a thousand words a day if for no other reason than to keep my skills sharp. Sharp may be overselling me a bit. Maybe something along the lines of "slightly pointy" or "less dull than a pecan shell."  Besides, when was the last time I wrote an essay for something that wasn't school related?

How would you know? Why am I asking you?

Yes, there is certainly no small chance that I'm talking into the wind, but so what? I get a handy dandy little online journal in which I at least pretend to write to an audience. Couldn't hurt.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Dawn of Worlds: We are as gooooods

Four of us gathered together with only a pdf of the Dawn of Worlds rules set and a leaf of 15x15 paper, blank but for this outline (or a close variation of it).

That is, if you're interested, a modified drawing of a methane sea on Titan. I'm fond of using interesting natural/extraterrestrial shapes as map outlines.

First things first. As we were supposed to be gods creating this world in our respective images, we thought we'd go a little bit beyond the scope of the rules and give ourselves some spheres of influence. How we came to these spheres was created and decided by the lot of us, and quite neat in my opinion.

Dawn of Worlds divides the timeline into three ages. The First Age is largely land form creation and tends to be very long, with each turn being approximately 500 years. The Second Age is the big time civilization period, with each turn being approximately 100 years. The Third Age is the recent timeline, each turn being anywhere from 1 to 25 years.

We decided that, for the First Age, we would each randomly roll for two spheres of influence. We decided on eight spheres that we thought of as universal enough to be the basis for budding, prehistoric gods.


The combinations were . . . interesting. These were:

Light and Water
Nature and Darkness
Earth and Wind
Death and Fire

I rather liked how this turned out. These are not typical combinations for most gods you find out there. They do, however, set the imagination a'going as to what kind of world this is gonna be. Nature and Darkness? Man. That right there told me that the natural world is probably going to be at least slightly hostile and twisted.   Earth and Sky gives me the image of an Earth Mother sorta goddess. Light and Water? Would not have seen that coming, either. And, of course, Death and Fire (which was rolled up by none other than lil' ole' me). That...that's just awesome. Oh, the mind churns all sorts of wonders that could arise from that!

We would each bear these two spheres for the first age, keeping in "character" with our decisions as we forged the earth. More on that later.

At the turn of the Second Age, we decided each god would, in turn, decide upon a new sphere to give to him/herself. We appraised our actions of the First Age, the results being:

Light and Water and Change
Nature and Darkness and Conquest
Earth and Wind and Strength/Endurance
Death and Fire and Conflict

...it was a mean First Age.

The (highly tumultuous) Second Age came to end, and we decided to add a final sphere to our portfolios. This time, however, the other three gods would decide amongst themselves as to what would be an appropriate sphere. 

Light and Water and Change and Pride
Nature and Darkness and Conquest and Corruption
Earth and Wind and Strength/Endurance and Vengeance
Death and Fire and Conflict and Fertility

...yeah, the rest of the game wasn't much nicer, actually.

Stay tuned for an abridged version of the actual game play, and how we each earned these appellation. Feel free to guess in the meantime.

An Experiment in Collaborative Creation

     I often say to my players that, "if you don't tell me what you like, I'll give you what I like, which may be completely at odds with anything you're remotely into." Left to my own devices, I'm prone making campaign settings filled with needless amounts of historical background, scads of the walking dead, and overwhelmingly gloomy . . . 'cause that's what I'm into. I'm a fan of horror, history, pulp and shlock.

     I've had people go into one of my games, voicing no opinions as to what they'd like to see, and then have them become disinterested and/or drop the game because it wasn't what they were looking for. 

     While I will continue drawing up fantasy worlds at the drop of a hat and for my own pleasure, I've been inspired recently to engage in acts of collaborative world creation with prospective players. The animus for such an idea came from the Dawn of Worlds game (found here) and by the excellent Dogs in the Vineyard (found here).

     To nutshell it, Dawn of Worlds is essentially a game of world creation. You get together some friends (preferably people who'll be playing in this setting), pretend to be gods for a few hours, and use a turn based point system to build a world up from a blank map outline to a thriving campaign setting. A campaign setting where the players all know the history of the world. A setting where the players themselves have an emotional investment because they built a good portion of it. Dogs mainly inspires me here by way of its "say yes or roll dice" philosophy. Don't stifle player creativity because it may not fit into your image of things. It's their game, too, after all.

     A few weeks ago (sorry for the lack of updates, O my public), I introduced members of my university geek club to the idea. They chomped at the bit for an opportunity to engage in the experiment. I'll be making a series of posts recalling the results and the findings of the experiment shortly.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Origin of Species

In my mind, the idea of dozens of sentient species all sprouting up around each other on the same planet doesn't necessarily make a whole lot of sense. Look oat our own. Several precursors, several pretenders to our throne of dominance that we either ate or mated with, and we're the latter day result. Numerous racial divisions exist, but we are all homo sapiens. Bipedal, omnivorous mammals that have proven to be highly adaptable to whatever surroundings we happen to wander into. That's why humans are all over the damned map, even in otherwise uninhabitable areas. We're tough suckers with a stubborn streak a mile long. No other being on Earth comes close. Arts, crafts, language, thought, and society separate us from the beasts of the wild. We are alone on this blue marble.

Since we pretty much killed or humped our opposition into oblivion, it seems unlikely that other higher life forms would rise to the same level at the same time.  This also points to the idea that everyone "close" to doing so was of the same genus ( Homo erectus, Neanderthals, etc). Are "demi" humans just other homo species? That could make sense. Add magic to the mutation mix and I could see hominids splitting off into wild directions to match their environment. And that would explain why most look vaguely similar and why crossbreeding is possible. Using this idea, perhaps these could all come from the same planet and from the same common ancestor. 

But what of other sapients? Mind Flayers and aboleths and beholders and so on? Well, we can always make those bizarre aliens from deep space, no problem. Prehistorical monstrosities from beyond time and space make me happy, anyway.

Perhaps animal-human hybrids (like raven men (kenku), lizardfolk, frogfolk, etc) are the result of mad science. That would work. Again, it would explain why so many beast-men types are at least somewhat cosmetically similar to men. How many monsters are just 1/2 man and 1/2 other thing, anyway? Lots and lots and lots.

Still, in line with the likes of Conan, I like the idea that certain races are bizarre precursors, strange leftovers from a previous time. Ancient people who's civilizations are long fallen, who dwell in weird lands that eschew humanity. Yuan-ti and kuo-toa for a D&D example.

But, if the races are not so closely related, it would make sense if each races started on its own native world, where it evolved in just such a way to meet its own needs. Elfkin could hale from a light, airy world, low on gravity, clean, splendid, and bursting with magic. Dwarves could originate from a hostile high gravity world whose toxic surface forced them underground. The home world of the goliaths could be a vast, rocky land of thin air and unbelievably vast mountain peaks. Halflings could have originated on a small moon, fertile and forested, with enough bad things to encourage roaming and higher gravity to encourage short growth...or they're short to discourage giant beasties from eating them.

Halflings are the ewoks of D&D. Think about that.

I like both origin ideas. I like when things make some manner of logical sense, instead of "poof, a god did it." (Sure, I'm planning on creating such a setting with some people, but that's beside the point...) Sadly, both origins don't particularly work at the same time. Both explanations would, however, point a related campaign in a different direction, making for some interesting background material.

The first option (interrelatedness of humanoid sapients) leads me to think of an ancient, cosmopolitan world of super science. Ethics issues ("we've created all these beast folk and they're kinda pissed that we treat 'em badly...who knew?" "The warforged want rights again? Can't those jerks just be happy we give them jobs?"), religious issues ("If you made us, what is "god?") could arise. Truly ancient racial rivalries could arise, not unlike our own world.

Maybe civilization has risen only to fall again in a cycle so that the origins of each is shrouded in the annals a a lost Golden Age?

The second idea (otherworldly origins for all) points me towards a Star Wars like Spelljammer setting . . . or, perhaps the remnants of one. What are all these species doing on this one lonely planet? What happened to their home worlds? Did a doom of epic proportions befall the solar system? Did sudden competition for resources arise?

Both settings could have a Great Age. Both could just as easily lie in ruins. I do have a special fondness for ruining a perfectly good world . . . .

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

[RPG Blog Carnival] "What Inspires Your Games?"

From the very nice Campaign Mastery comes the titular topic of discussion.

Specifically, "what non-game media has inspired your game and how?"

While I can easily trot out any number of novels, fantasy and otherwise, or point to a  selection of films that I've filed free of their serial numbers, these don't have quite the depth of material to plumb as our world's own written history.

As a history major, I'm sure that I'm biased. However, the fact that our history is so chock full of madness, murder, and monstrosity, of political maneuvering, quid pro quo and backstabbing, that there is more than enough material to contribute to any number of campaigns from here to eternity.

Let no one tell you that history is boring. History is nuts. It's full of epic tales and heroes and villains, each one more brilliant or mad or zealous than the last.

Need a passionate leader to stir up the common man against rapacious nobility? Look no further than Father Hidalgo of old Mexico. I could probably put together an entire campaign from his history, changing only names and locations.

Need a setting? I like to mix various places from the past into a blender with another culture or a novel/film/lone idea and see what happens. For example, I had an idea that involved mixing Pre-Tzarist Russia and The Pirates of Dark Water. Instead of one vast rocky wilderness, break up the continent into a massive archipelago ruled by a horde of petty princes, where life is only worth a blood price, and replace the horsemen Mongol invaders with a massive fleet of pirates. Bam. Skeleton of an idea. Could be fun.

The plots and personalities of history can be skewed and reinvented in a practically infinite number of ways. I can and do appropriate history for settings, the people who live in those settings, their cultures, and the plots that drive them.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Formative Canon

My parents, bless 'em, were a lax sort in some ways. They didn't police my interests, religious views, or television/film viewing. They trusted me to see after myself in such things. Also, when I was a young fella, they were under the impression that, if something was animated, it was meant for kids. An idea which we of the Internet know is not remotely true.

Therefore, I was permitted to see and delve into a variety of strange things in my formative years that helped mold me into the goofily sardonic headcase that I am today.

Ralph Bakshi's Wizards is a far flung future Earth, millions of years after a nuclear holocaust. What remains of mankind are twisted abominations wracked with radiation. With mankind gone, the magical folk that ditched the scene after Technology won the world started waking up and engaging in lots of magical hippy activity. Two wizardly twin brothers are born, one a kind, handsome fellow, the other a hateful cadaver-lookin' sucker. Oddly enough, they end up wanting to kill each other. Happy bro turns to peace, love, and Magic, while Scary Spice turns to demons, Nazis, and Technology. That's right. Undead Nazis. I was watching undead Nazis kill elves and fairies and stuff at the age of three.

Hell yeah.

Sure, the underlying message is kinda head slapping, but the world is bizarre and captivating. It was an early example of walking dead folks, truly vile villains, and a rare fantasy world without humans mucking about.

The film version of The Last Unicorn was on a pretty constant rotation for me when I was a kid. I found the music catchy (because I dig 70s band America, apparently), and the animation was beautiful for the time. The company Lord Grade produced the film - they're mostly known for a bunch of holiday specials back in the day. They did their work in English, but they hired out Japanese animators. So this is some sort of quasi anime. Anyway, the all-star cast portray a fairy tale of the last remaining unicorn trying to find her sisters. She meets an incompetent wizard, Misses Lovette the witch, a sad ex-virgin, a handsome prince, and Christopher Lee being Christopher Lee. This one also features a sentient skeleton guarding a secret, demanding a bottle of wine before he'll give up his knowledge.

"But you're dead! You can't taste wine, can't smell it!"

"But I can remember . . . "

Ah, dead people.

It's a wistful, bittersweet film, and the novel is even more so. It is beautiful and sad - a world of crumbling magic and legends where "there are no happy endings, because nothing ever ends."

Ghostbusters. Film and cartoon. Dead people everywhere. The cartoon featured an Apocalypse episode and a Cthulhu episode (my first encounter with the big guy and one of my favorite episodes as a kid).

Add the Rankin and Bass animated version of the Hobbit and I think that about covers my formatives.

One of the greatest fantasy tales ever told, a bittersweet story about unicorns, a risque post apocalyptic fantasy, ghosts and snarky protagonists. Shows and films that I would watch over and over and over again.