Sep 032013
 

Well, actually two, but I’ll get to the details in a moment. First off you may have noticed a new option in my menu header above that just says “Weapons“. This is because of a little but of advice from a friend about how to make my blog a little bit easier to navigate, especially when it comes to finding my more popular posts. By a country mile these have been when I have taken my years of historical research, and applied them to weapons in RPGs.

So from now on, whenever I put together another article on the subject I will update said page so that anyone looking can find them as easily as possible. What i have also done is take the time to reformat each post and put together a document containing each one, sorted by time period and popped it up on Drivethru RPG. The writing on this document has been tidied up somewhat, and the images better laid out. There is even a few extra little bits that I have come across since I first wrote them out.

This document does have a price tag on it, but I have kept it very low indeed. If you decided to take a shot and pay for it, you not only get a much better looking set of articles but you will only have to pay the once. I promise that each time I come up with a new article I will update the Drivethru document so all you’ll have to do is download the updated file.

Sep 022013
 

I know, “the Slaughter sword”. It just sounds like something you’d want to use in any game ever doesn’t it? The thing is, you’ve probably encountered it by a different name, as this is just what it was known as to certain English speakers. More commonly it was called a Zweihänder, although it did have many other names. For simplicity’s sake though, we’ll just be calling it a two handed sword. This is actually a very important distinction though, as to be a true two handed sword, it must be designed in such a way as that it must be hefted with both hands. Although there are plenty of swords that can be used with both hands, they can also be swung with just the one, and more often than not would be thought of as “hand-and-a-half”  swords.

two-handed-great-sword-88wgs-full-1I have written in the past about ways to get more use out of a longer sword whilst fighting in confined quarters, but swords of this length would not be useful for such conditions. Before we move on to how one would go about getting the most use out of this kind of sword, lets address what a lot of people are concerned about when it comes to picking up and using it, the weight. I could go on a bit of a metallurgical rant here, but I think that’s better left to the professionals who have devoted more time to the study of such things. In simple terms, what everyone needs to understand is something that most gamers know, but has yet to make its way into the popular consciousness: whilst the Katana is indeed an elegant weapon, it was far from the unique marvel of sword craft that a lot of people seem to think.

In the early medieval period, vikings (Yup, no capitol letter there, a lot of current historical theory is pointing towards viking being a verb rather than a noun. As in, “lets all sharpen our axes and go viking”!) were using a very similar method of steel folding and smelting to create lighter weight but still large swords to take raiding. So even swords made that would be long enough to be considered two handed would not have been overly heavy during the medieval period that most fantasy RPGs seem to be set in. In historical terms. the Zweihänder was actually used more commonly during the renaissance period anyway, when metallurgical techniques had been greatly improved. But since history is often fluid and only used when it is fit for purpose during RPGs, lets not get ourselves too bogged down in that kind of detail.

Taking ceremonial blades out of the equation – which were considerably heavier, but not designed or intended to be swung into the face of a charging barbarian – the most one would be expected to weigh is roughly 7 pounds. I know that that might seem heavy compared to other blades, but it was designed to be used effectively with two hands, offering greater leverage for the swing. And as we all know, in physics, leverage is very important indeed. Swinging the weapon is no problem when held correctly, and the weight it has will make it formidable indeed on the battlefield. Why didn’t we see such a weapon getting greater use then?

Apart from the afore mentioned fact that it wasn’t around so much during the medieval period of great battles, it was mainly because of the cost of such a weapon, and the fact that it never made sense to equip units with it. Most of the other weapons I’ve talked about on this blog have mainly been used to great effect by massed troops. The warbow was wonderful when hundreds of archers loosed volleys into the enemy ranks, the gladius was easy to produce in numbers and very effective when used by close knit ranks of well disciplined troops and so on and so forth. The Zweihänder though was inconvenient to say the least to with fight when you are stood in close formation with your allies.

This actually makes it a great for player characters in RPGs as they would not often worry about maintaining formation when they fought a pack of angry gnolls. It is a weapon for an individual, and the fact that having one made was an expensive and time consuming would make them rare weapons with a whole bunch of mythology all of their own. They are also more versatile then you’d think. The rather excellent cinematic game 7th Sea has a whole lot to say on the fighting styles one could use for a weapon this long, and I advise anyone with an interest to pick up the relevant nation book for more details.

For those without the resources to pick up said books, the three basic stances allow for the wide swing – and historically there is evidence to suggest that such a swing could take out up to three combatants in one go – with the legs apart to keep balance; the bracing stance, holding the weapon almost as a pike to fend off mounted troops or small units of halberdiers. And finally, holding it with the hilt over your shoulder and the point aimed at chest height, using both hands and the leverage to move to weapon at speed to combat against units wielding smaller edged weapons. A lot of Zweihänders even had gripping rings at the cross guard to make it easier to hold it in this fashion and maintain a high degree of maneuverability.

If you are lucky enough to hang out with a few other people also skilled – and rich – enough to wield such a ferocious weapon, you can do some real damage. Just make sure you’re spread out a little first. With three to five people holding a loose formation, swinging the Zweihänder, you can hold off large units of pike men, the swords cutting through the shafts before bringing down those holding the long pole arms. Small units such as these were favoured in battle for useful and versatile they could be, and once more are a great idea for your very own role playing games.

Aug 262013
 

It’s been a while since the last update on the up coming Cyberpunk computer game, but since we have a new edition of Shadowrun, plus a PC game too, the interest in the Cyberpunk genre is obviously still high. With that in mind I thought I would try and capture a few important things about people in the dark near future interact with each other. The problem with that is that not every game set in a Cyberpunk world has the same values. My last game using the CP 2020 for instance didn’t really live up to the style over substance and chrome chrome chrome ethos that’s mentioned in the book. Instead it was a much darker take, with cyberware being sinister and the thought of wasting money of frivolities rather than necessities would have seemed very strange indeed.

images (1)So instead of trying to capture the feel of an entire genre, I am picking a setting that I have reviewed in the past and thoroughly enjoyed: Kuro. If you’ve never come across the game or just prefer a more traditional future noir game, then it’ worth remembering that the Japanese are currently the predominate producers of personal electronics – including computers – and robotics, which will surely set them up well to be an important culture in any Cyberpunk future. So here are a few things worth bearing in mind when dealing with the Japanese either socially or in business.

  • The business card. In Japanese culture, the business card is even more important than the calling card was to the Victorians, and has similar uses. There are very important differences though, and the devil is very much in the details. If one is handed to you, it will be while the giver is bowing towards you, presenting it with both hands. You must reciprocate this action. Bow a little deeper to show respect to the person giving you their card, and make sure you take it with both hands. When you have it, take very special care of it. Whatever you do, son’t just slip into your back pocket while the giver is still in your presence. In fact, never stick it in your back pocket, as sitting on it would be a grave insult. Keep in your wallet or in a special case for business cards until you can put it somewhere safe in an office. You see a business card is more than just someone’s contact details. It is a promise that the person will take your call, and maybe even a personal meeting. Keep all such cards safe, as you never know when it may be required to make a call to that one person who can help you out.
  • Being a Gaijin. Unless your game is particularly focused in such a way, it’s probably unlikely that everyone will be Japanese. In dealings with Japanese people, those from outside the country will of course be afforded all due respect – more on this later – but they are still outsiders, and will never have the access or acceptance that fellow countrymen will receive. never draw attention to this, instead do what you can with the help you will be given. You may never be accepted into the inner circle, but it is possible to make very good friends with individuals within said circle and get them to act on your requests.
  • Respect. By far and away the most important thing to the Japanese is respect. For elders, for superiors, for anyone deserving it, and for anyone that is newly introduced. This might seem strange to western eyes, but rather than run the risk of not showing someone the respect that they are due, a Japanese person will show a complete stranger total respect. This comes across very clearly if you walk into a Japanese store. The staff working there will treat you like royalty, bowing deeply and making sure that everything is to your satisfaction. This even runs counter the above point about foreigners in Japan, they will be also be treated exceptionally well by strangers rather than them risking offending anyone by not showing them the appropriate amount of deference.
  • Conflict Avoidance. The point on respect above ties in nicely with this one. It may sound like a lazy stereotype, but it does seem to hold up the vast majority of case; a Japanese person is likely to go to great lengths to avoid any type of conflict or unpleasantness. This means making sure that you show the correct amount of respect, always erring on the side of caution by going above and beyond what might be expected, but this desire for peace and calm runs through most day to day activities. In a working environment for example, it would be unheard of for an employee to complain about their company, coworkers, or superiors whilst at work. Outside of work though there exist a social contract that allows workers to gather together and imbibe alcohol and get all their complaints of their chests without ever worrying about the consequences. It would in fact be a massive social faux par to even bring up these grievances the next day at work.

So there we have it, a far from complete list of social guidelines for dealing with what could quite likely be a dominant super power in a Cyberpunk future. Most of the credit should go to the excellent writer and blogger Héctor García and his excellent site and book, A Geek in Japan. Most of the points in this book have been researched through reading his work, and if you have any interest in checking out more on contemporary Japanese culture, I can’t think of many better places to start.

Aug 202013
 
Click through for Cubicle 7 page.

Click through for Cubicle 7 page.

As I’ve mentioned once or twice, this last month has been pretty damned hectic for me, so a few things have sadly fallen by the wayside. I have just about managed to keep regular postings on this page, but almost everything else has been put to one side until I can give the various projects I’ve taken on the time and effort they deserve.

One such thing is my attention towards the rather excellent, and massively anticipated third edition of the Steampunk role playing game Victoriana by those lovely people over at Cubicle 7. For a full disclosure and to explain why I’m annoyed that this one has taken me so long to get round to, I was sent a free copy of this book for review purposes. After hinting pretty damned heavily that I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. So sorry everyone for the delay, I know it would have been better for another positive review to be out there before Gencon, but this will have to do.

To make up for it, I’ll be doing what I did for my review of Kuro, breaking it into several bits, each being about a significant proportion of the main rule book. Today then we’ll be starting with the setting and background section, The Encyclopaedia Victoriana.

As a history nerd – seriously, check out how many articles I’ve written about historical weapons – it’s hard to describe just how much fun I had reading this section. They cover things as one would expect for an alternative history book; in broad strokes. But there’s detail in there, and a lot of it is their own, but some of the stuff they’ve put in there had me breaking out in a huge grin. I don’t want to start listing them here (there were loads of them) but they were all brilliant, and impressed me with the level of research that must have been put into this section.

I do have to point out one thing that I wasn’t 100% happy about. I know that their world is very different too ours, and that there is more to the sapient races than just humanity. I think this is a great selling point for the game, and is handled with considerably more style than I think Shadowrun ever managed. Each race – not species – has a particular place within the social landscape. The Eldren sitting at the top, with Ogres usually at the bottom (links seem to go to an older wiki that may not be up to date with the current edition, and are used only for descriptive purposes). I also understand the need to change things a bit, and that there is no reason why they should stick faithfully to something when it serves no purpose. But Napoleon was actually taller than I am, so casting him as a Dwarf was a little bit strange…

The way it’s all tied together makes for a damned entertaining read too. Historical narrative can sometimes be a bit of a pain to read if it it’s written poorly, and this is some very good writing indeed. They break things down by event, and present them as mini case studies done first hand from the point of view of a character within their world. And it such a well realised world too. Page after page for the various countries and nations that exist, and even a few that don’t, at least not in our world.

What surprised me, as I haven’t played previous incarnations of the game due to lack of opportunity, was how important religion is, and how much was written about it. They go to some lengths to make sure that the readers know to differentiate between real world religions and the “fictional”* ones that they’ve created. Although there are similarities, and it’s pretty easy to see where they’ve taken inspiration from each of the three Abrahamic faiths, along with a few others, each is different enough that it doesn’t come across as a lazy pastiche.

So far then – and you may have noticed that I’ve kept actual content to a minimum to avoid spoilers – I’m absolutely loving the book. The layout makes it pleasure to read (I do like books with fully justified margins) and the writing is top notch. This is what I’ve come to expect from Cubicle 7 though. Each and every one of their games has been great to just sit down with and devour while sipping from a mug of hot chocolate.

Next time I’ll be looking at character creation, and as such a few bits of the system too. Hopefully the gap in reviews won’t be as long as the gap between acquisition and this one, and since work has calmed down somewhat, hopefully it should be within a week. Until then, feel free to pick up a copy for yourself. In fact, if you know me at all, I’d really appreciate it, as I would love to get the chance to play this game, based on what I’ve seen so far.

* Sorry, my atheistic side comes out around now, and I struggle to think of any any religion as being anything other than fictional.

Aug 192013
 

As some of my more regular readers will know, I’m a big fan of comic book writer, and general amazing chap, Warren Ellis. As a fan I tend to find his writing pop up quite a lot in my general searches, and a few days ago a saw a quote attributed to him as part of an interview about his latest ebook short prose piece, Dead Pig Collector. The quote stuck with me, but I’ve been unable at time of writing to find the exact interview, so I don’t have a link right now. What he says, in simple terms, is that no killer ever writes themselves up as the bad guy in their own story.

No matter how deplorable they are, no matter how many innocent lives they either end or permanently affect, they all manage to do so without seeing themselves as the villain. Today then I’m going to look at a few choice villains, either from pop culture or my own games, and see how they perceive themselves. This should give GMs out there some inspiration when it comes to creating better villains for their campaigns.

The Higher Calling.

For this one you should really have already watched the flick Se7en. If not, now would be a great time to stick it on, but probably best not to have eaten much before hand. Especially not tinned spaghetti.  The bad guy in question here is called John Doe, and he believes with a powerful intensity that he’s doing the right thing when killing people. And he kills them in violent and disturbing ways. Really, this one is not for the faint hearted. But he justifies it all by convincing himself that none of his victims are innocent. True enough of the drug dealing pedophile, but the chubby guy and the pretty woman did nothing to deserve a fate as gruesome as they got.

John is a man on a mission, and although there is never a tacit acknowledgment that he believes he is doing God’s work, it is implied quite heavily. Even if we take God out of the picture though, he still thinks he has a right to these horrible things as he is telling a story and doing so in a very public way to highlight what he sees as society’s flaws and over all corruption. This goes beyond a delusion, and out the other side, becoming everything that John Doe is. Once we see that this isn’t just a way of getting attention, or a cry for help, we have to start asking ourselves why he is the way he is. I couldn’t possibly answer for this particular John Doe, but if you’re creating  bad guy with a mission, it’s worth bearing in mind.

Taking out the Trash.

So Dexter, pretty much. In that particular case we’re dealing with a psychopath that does what he can to use his impulse to kill for the greater good, but we don’t need to carbon copy the idea, and could easily do away with the psychopathy aspect entirely. But the idea that the PCs will be dealing with a brutal murderer who has a body count that staggers the imagination, but is only killing the bad guys is worth thinking about.

True, he does so in violent and ritualised ways, disposing of the bodies in such a way as to offer no closure to any of the victim’s victims, and getting in the way of state appointed justice. Would the PCs be quick to bring him in? Would they just kill him if there wasn’t enough evidence to convict, thus making themselves as bad our serial killer? Would they maybe even sympathise with hi cause, realising that he is doing the best thing he can in such terrible circumstances? Maybe the would even stop thinking of him as the villain…

The Pillar of the Community.

From what I can gather, the show Boss never did great guns state side. To be fair, not many people I’ve spoken to here in Blighty have heard of it, but I happen to think it was a powerhouse performance by Kelsey Grammer and a stellar cast. Without going into too much detail, it was a political show with the main character being massively corrupt for the entirety of his career, and only a degenerative mental illness started to slow him down. Clearly the bad guy of the piece then, but by doing what he does, he has made life better for thousands of citizens of his city.

His friends get kick backs, to his enemies he is wrath incarnate. Those he can’t silence by threatening their families with violence are quietly disappeared. And to become his enemy takes very little indeed, with even those who are his closest friends and confidants only a serious error away from being taken out of the picture. True he is almost untouchable, but even if he could be taken down, the power vacuum could be worse than leaving him where he is. Would the PCs just rush in to deal with him, or side with his enemies and engage in the kind of corrupt power plays they were trying to being to an end.

If Boss hasn’t made it onto your radar, the the truly wonderful Boardwalk Empire has a similar character played by the vastly underrated Steve Buscemi.

“I’ve earned this!”

Sadly I can’t think of anything from a movie for this one, so unless you were lucky enough to play in my Cyberpunk  2020 game last year you won’t know exactly who I’m talking about. A quick recap: a powerful man seeking more power struggles to deal with the stress of his hectic life and turns to deplorable activities. Never once does he think of himself as a bad guy though, instead justifying his actions as stress relief, no matter how much he hurts people.

It would be easier for the PCs to see this type of character as villain, but always bear in mind that he never will. The people he hurts are just collateral damage to him, and each one that falls is nothing compared to the people he thinks he will be able to help from his position of authority. They are stepping stones, and he is always careful to choose people who  will not be missed. He has no reason to justify these murders as taking out the trash, and the act of murder is a necessity for him, and a small price to pay.

I hope some of that was useful to you, and has given me some things to think about when it comes to my own villains. Especially thinking on some of  my earlier creations that were decidedly one dimensional when compared to what can be done with a ad guy. I was going to include a little bit on William Cutting from Gangs of New York, but that ended up being a larger bit of writing so may very well be a blog post all of its own in the future.

Aug 122013
 

So, anyone want to take a guess as to which movie me and the missus curled up in bed with last night? That’s right, I was on a bit of a nostalgia kick, and Big Trouble in Little China was one of the first movies I ever owned. Roughly working it out, I think in fact I was about 9 years old. One could argue that I was a bit young to be watching this flick, but it I think I turned out OK. Having seen it more times than I could easily recall, there’s always been one line that has stayed with me, and this is the title of the article. Although I’ve spent most of my research time at the moment looking into Japanese things – both for a future post here, and an article over at Stuffer Shack – I decided after watching the film one more time to see just how many hells there are in Chinese mythology.

As with all things involving mythology, there is no correct answer to this question, and a lot of answers that are out there openly contradict each other. If you have enough interest in this subject yourself, there’s plenty of writing out there, and I invite to start with our old friend Wikipedia. Since this is not an academic paper on the subject though, instead being a place that I hope some of you come to for inspiration, I will be dealing in broad brush strokes with a few ideas that come across like they could be useful in a role playing game. If you’ve ever played Feng Shui, you’ll know just what I mean.

The Hell of the Upside down Sinner. In the movie this was an underwater scene with rotting corpses chained upside down beneath the surface. A truly terrifying place to come to after any adventure that required swimming through a tunnel to escape from.

The Hell of being cut to pieces. Since the body cannot die in Hell, this one is all kinds of unpleasant. For the still living an abattoir comes to mind, the floor slick with blood that has yet to make its way to the channels cut into the floor. Discarded digits getting crushed underfoot, and rusty blades hanging from blackened chains.

The Hell of the Razor Cliff. A sheer rock face, seemingly without end. The sinners have no choice but to climb though, and every place they could put there fingers or toes conceals a razor edged blade. It could  be the cliff, it could be a mountain; it could simple be every wall of a an open topped cell that contains your enemies.

The Hell of boiling in Oil. Chambers full of  metal cauldrons, filled to the brim with boiling oil. Sinners in cages that rise and fall in random patterns, submerging them in the oil as they scream in pain. The smell of cracked and burning flesh in here wold be beyond description, only the wailing of the victims outdoing it for shear awfulness. Would you try and help anyone, or just get the hell away before you were dragged into a cage of your own.

The Hell of being fed into relentless machines. The grinder has a beginning, and each soul is fed into it kicking and screaming, but no one has yet found the end. An eternity being spent moving slowly through grinding gears and hammering pistons, the body wrecked beyond mortal endurance but still feeling everything. What mind could conceive of such a contraption, and what is their final goal?

The Hell of the Frozen Sinners. An entire world of ice, where the hatred the sinners feel for themselves has extinguished all the fires of hell, leaving a desolate frozen wasteland. Each Sinner suffers frostbite, with blackened limbs giving way to oozing puss. The closest thing to respite is to throw themselves into the icy lake where there bodies will flash freeze and shatter at the merest touch. Could there be any escape from this place, or have the sinners made it themselves?

The Hell of being torn about by animals. For every sinner in this hell, there lives 50 animals, hungry and angry, red in tooth and claw. The larger beasts run uncontrollably, hooves crushing those unfortunate to have fallen, while horns and antlers rip and rend anyone still on their feet. Snakes and scorpions bite and sting at any exposed flesh, with carrion birds hovering above, looking to peck at anyone to feeble to fight back. 

As I said above, this is just a few examples, of the tens of thousands of hells that exist in Chinese in Buddhist mythology, so please feel free to add your own. There is one very particular place I haven’t mentioned though. All those listed above, act more as a Purgatory for sinners, with the length of time spent in a particular hell the result of the nature and severity of the sin. For the most unforgivable sins there is Avīci. This is a place of continual suffering, and much closer to what westerners might think of as hell eternal. And after all that misery, the least I can do is implore to you to go and check out the inspiration for today’s post, Big trouble in Little China.

Aug 052013
 

I haven’t done a weapon post in a while, because I like to bring something to the table that might not be common knowledge. As much as I could wax lyrical about basic sword fighting techniques or go on at length about my favourite kind of axe, it’s all stuff that most gamers will be familiar with. What doesn’t get that much attention though is the humble sling. I can see why, as most fantasy role playing games are set in a time period pretty similar to that of the dark ages through to the high medieval period, and at that time, slings were nowhere near as common as they once were.

There are very good reasons for this in pure historical terms, but few of them translate well to a role playing game. For instance the time it would take to become proficient with a sling was far too long. Most people who knew how to use them to full effectiveness trained since they were children. Although medieval bowmen also practiced from a young age, it wasn’t as necessary to be competent with the weapon. In game terms this shouldn’t be a big deal though, as time spent to master skills is a little bit more abstract.

In terms of using a weapon for warfare, the bow is superior as it is easier to arrange for massed ranks to volley fire. The sling, by its very nature is tricky when it comes to getting more than a handful of people to loose their shot in unison. But since standing in massed ranks firing arrow after arrow is hardly what most people would expect out of a role playing experience, this again shouldn’t be too much of an issue. Finally – before we get to the good stuff – warbows and crossbows were excellent to shoot from behind cover. They were especially good when it came to firing through loopholes in walls. Doing this with a sling is pretty much an impossibility.

Sling-1-There are a fair few excellent reasons to use the sling more in RPGs though. Firstly the range and damage of a sling – firing optimal ammunition – is at least as good as a bow and arrow. Average range is roughly 150 metres by someone without a lifetime of practice, but the world record by a skilled user is considerably longer. The velocity of a lead shot is also greater than an arrow in flight. This means that accuracy is improved as it can be fired at a slightly more direct angle rather than a large arc.

Arrows do have a slight edge when it comes to penetration though, as they have a smaller point of impact and are much more likely to pierce flesh and armour. Don’t think that I’m selling the sling short though, although a shot is unlikely to punch through armour, the can still do a massive a mount of blunt trauma damage. Based on anecdotal evidence a lead shot can punch an inch deep dent into a corrugated iron. Just imagine what that would do any flesh beneath the metal armour. You don’t need to imagine too much though, as we know from historical documents that ancient Roman army surgeons had a special set of forceps used to extract shot that was embedded into combatant’s flesh.

So, we have a ranged weapon that matches if not exceeds the longbow in terms of range and damage, and it is also a damned sight easier to make it, as is the ammunition it uses. An effective sling is made from natural fibers such as hair and flax, which is pretty easy to come across almost everywhere. Although it is time consuming to weave a sling, once you know how to it, practice will reduce the time taken to make more. And compared to the time required to make a compound bow or to treat the wood necessary for a warbow, it was really very little time at all.

As for ammunition, well basically you can just pick up something that would suffice from the ground. Any small stone will do the job, but if you can find them, stones that have been smoothed by river water are far superior as the smoothness makes them more aerodynamic. The ideal shape is not unlike an Rugby ball, as this allows the shot to sit snugly in the sling pouch, and aids in the aerodynamics by putting on spin on the shot. What you really want though is a lead shot. Because it is a denser material it will better velocity and be much more likely to cause an injury. The fact that each shot can be cast to a desired shape is also very important.

If you’re just picking stones up from the ground then each shot will need to be made differently to take into account the changes in weight and size of the stone. As mentioned above the density of the lead means that you can will do more damage when you hit, but it will also have a better range and accuracy and too. And if you want to have some fun, it is possible to cast your own personal message onto a lead shot. Historical examples include the Legion number of the soldiers loosing the shot, and some slightly sillier ideas like, “catch!”, and “beware your teeth”.

In conclusion, for a single user wanting something quick and easy to use and obtain ammunition for, the sling is pretty perfect. Maybe not ideal within the enclosed spaces of a low ceiling-ed dungeon corridor, but out in the wild, there’s a reason that they were used for centuries to hunt with.

Jul 292013
 

I will happily admit that this is another of those posts that I start while knowing full well that there’s a whole lot I have to say on the subject, and it probably won’t fit into just one post. I make no promises as to when I will get back to the rest of it though, as right now I have one particular element of the character generation process on my mind.

I am a few short months away from creating a character for a game that I will play in for roughly 9 months, and providing I don’t go and get myself perished, I will play said character for the duration. So I should be thinking about playing the kind of character I would happily be stuck with for a good long while. But here’s the kicker; there’s every chance that I won’t get to play that character. There are several factors determining whether or not this is the case, and I’ll deal with a few below, but I’m popping the advice for any gamer out there right here: Be prepared to play a character that you never planned on playing.

The game I will be playing has a character generation system that mixes dice rolling for attributes and a points system for skill levels. Lets look at the dice rolling though, as this is the most obvious way that your finely considered concept could be turned on its head. I wish I could share with you all the character creation system, but it is still a work in progress and as such they have asked me not to share it. To sum up, each attribute is decided by three 20 sided dice, but certain nationalities roll more dice and the player chooses the three they would prefer. Dice being what they are, it is totally possible for a character who really wishes to play a hard as nails Northern pirate raider, but when she rolls the dice, ends up with a strength score of seven in a percentile based game.

I’m sure there’s a whole bunch of people out there who will tell you that they have had amazing games with characters that sucked. I know there’s at least a couple because I’ve read about them. What I’ve found to be more common though is people who would much rather ditch a character build as they’d got their hearts set on something that is now unfeasible based on the stats they’ve rolled. My advice here may not be popular, but in its simplest form it is thus: change the thing you want to play.

People may be tuning out now, thinking what the hell is this crazy person talking about?! I don’t mean change the entire concept, just change the bits that no longer make sense, A little while ago I wrote a quick little plot seed up about the start of an adventure that I think would actually be a lot more typical of starting character’s jaunts out into the wild away from their homes and families. You may want to be a huge viking warrior, but if can’t, re-imagine her as a younger woman. Starting out with nothing but a knife and a rotting leather jerkin, it may not matter how she strong she is right now, but the character you want her to be, becomes a promise to yourself of the hero that the character will become.

Of course you also have the more extreme option to just change your concept. I have never yet been in a position where I have felt the need to do this, but that doesn’t mean this situation doesn’t exist. The closest I have come came down to a series of random rolls for backgrounds. What started off as a pretty cool idea for a conman character, would have been hamstrung by poverty and a drug addiction. Either of which is far from ideal, but both together meant that I had little I could bring to the character other than these facts when starting out. Rather than start from scratch, or struggle with a character concept that I had very little interest in, I spoke to my GM, and we decided to just re-roll the things that had such a negative effect.

Talking about issues is the biggest tool you have at your disposal when it comes to a bad result on the dice during character creation. Most GMs are at least open to a discussion if you’re thoroughly unhappy with what you’ve got on the rolls, but be prepared to not get your own way. Compromise is key at this point, and if you are able to really sell your concept to the GM they might be willing to allow a bit of wiggle room to get you closer to where you want to start.

Of course, there are times when talking about the character is exactly what leads to you not playing the type of character you have in mind, and this for me is slightly more important. I dislike creating characters in a vacuum, and for me this means doing it without any sounding board. I have in the past as a GM ended up having to create an entire group of characters one at a time with only myself and one player in the room. Sadly it was a necessity because of scheduling clashes before the game that I wanted to get started by a certain date. If I could go back and change it though, I would start a week later and let the players sit together in the room and make their characters as a group.

party_balance

That’s not to say that the characters necessarily needed to be part of a gang that already know each other, but I really like the idea that some thought has been put into making a group that when they do get together, are able to function. Now, I’m not saying that you need to sit around and worry about having the absolute correct balance of healer/fighter/mage/McGuffin, but avoiding the loneliest of lone wolves problem is worth taking some time to think about.

A party of characters needs to be able to work together and even if you don’t set out to create a lone wolf, it is totally possible to have one or more members of the group with characters that just don’t mesh with the party as a whole. This can be for a variety of reasons, such as societal class or criminal leanings, none of which should be a reason for a party not to work, but will need talking about. To look at a game that really does social classes well, lets focus on Unhallowed Metropolis. Why would a high ranking nobleman spend his evenings hanging out with a working class pick-pocket and whore? Sure there may be reasons, but take the time to work these before hand, and sometimes this means you might have to make some changes.

Don’t feel like you need to completely re-write something from the concept up, but there are things that can be altered that will make the group more playable from the starting sessions. As a group plays together then party friction will cause interesting relationships, but to start with, try your best to come up with concepts that will at the very least be able to play nice with each other. Again, compromise is going to make everyone’s lives easier here. If one person is totally unwilling to back down from an overtly disruptive character concept, it might be time to have a chat with the GM as a group, but for anything other than that talking between players should  be enough.

Jul 222013
 

I understand that it is widely known, understood, and lamented in games mastering circles that plans do not survive first contact with players. True, it makes for an interesting game, keeps us on our toes, and means we rarely run the risk of being thought of as predictable, because we’re often just making it up as we go along, but it can be a little tiresome at times. After many years as a GM, this is something I have not only come to accept though, but to look forward to. At it’s absolute worst, it can be highly frustrating, and today I want to talk about one facet of this issue that has struck me twice in succession; never knowing who the players are going to trust.

When I create NPCs, I don’t just make up a bunch of antagonists. At the start of any campaign, it’s quite nice to know that there’s at least one person who has the best interest of the player characters at heart, and might just be able to keep them out of trouble for a while. This isn’t some catch all plot device to steer them away from mistakes; they are more than entitled to make as many as they would like. This is the person who gets them an early contract, maybe even gets put on retainer by their boss to help keep them supplied. Not every trip down to Guns & Ammo needs to be part of the adventure, so having a valet or some such to nip down and pick up things that could eat up adventuring time should be a good thing.

Since I also like creating interesting NPCs just for the fun of it, I tend to make them more than just two dimensional caricatures, but instead give them a reason to be involved in the plot for more than because someone higher up tells them to be. This has in the past been because of a desire to find answers about a missing relative – that the PCs have some information on already – or the need to get a particular voting block on side in time for a Presidential Primary. On both of these occasions, the NPCs in question went above and beyond the call of duty in assisting the player characters in any way they could.

So of course, the players thought they must be up to something, and promptly began to suspect their every action as having sinister undertones. *sigh*

Not the end of the world though, as I got to role play out some rather righteous indignation, and storm off – figuratively, as I was still the GM – when the players continued to call into question the motives of one of the these NPCs. While admittedly fun, it can get in the way, and cause massive delays to the game, which sucks when you GM on a yearly schedule. What is there that can be done about this situation then?

Well, the simplest seems to be to stop using friendly NPCs and let the players flounder around without help, as that is exactly what they deserve. Yeah, read that back and realise just how petty it sounds, so we won’t be doing that will we? We’ve all (hopefully) moved away from a generally antagonistic relationship between players and GMs by now. What we can do though is cut down how important these friendly and helpful NPCs are, and it shouldn’t make too much of a difference. But as I mentioned earlier, that could mean missing out on some great opportunities to role play while GMing, and also run the risk of these characters being the two dimensional puppets we were hoping to avoid.

Instead, I think it could be time to subvert the players expectations, by giving them almost exactly what they expect. Let the NPC get mad, let them storm off with the players feeling proud of themselves for getting one up on their presumed enemy. An enemy who will now be looking for ways to strike back at them, but subtly. Let the NPC maintain the charade of a good working relationship after apologising for leaving in a bad mood, and continue to have them help out wherever possible. But things start happening a little later than the players would like, and substandard help is all that is now provided. The players will soon complain again, that much is a certainty but now the NPC just meekly apologises, biding their time.

They have been inside the machine of the player character’s organisation, and could jam any number of spanners into the works, all while being the most contrite bugger in the world. And when enough damage has been done, and the PCs really need some help to get their arses out of the fire, the friendly NPC who wanted to help is nowhere to be seen.

That’s just one idea of course, and I imagine that this has happened to a lot of the readers of this blog, so why don’t you share those stories below, either from a Gm stand point, or what any payers out there might think about this.

Jul 172013
 
Click to download the free pdf of pre-generated characters for Victoriana 3rd Edition

Click to download the free pdf of pre-generated characters for Victoriana 3rd Edition

As mentioned yesterday, I have been working my way slowly through the latest edition of Cubicle 7‘s excellent work of Steampunk fantasy, Victoriana. This has slowed down a little due to being sent a new novel to read by Gollancz that I’ve been waiting almost seven years for. That being said, I took great pleasure today going through some pre-generated characters for the game in question.

Since I’m not that far through the rule book so far, I can’t go into too much detail, but what I have seen; I like. The little bio style write ups for each character are inventive and interesting, giving a wonderful insight into the world of Victoriana and the type of story that could take place there. Each character has its own hooks that could easily be extrapolated into a full adventure, but for now I’m just looking forward to taking a shot at some Spring Heeled Jack fun! With any luck I should get the chance to run this for a group by the end of summer, so will write up a full actual play report by then.

There’s still a little bit extra to to go, so come back tomorrow for some extra shiny. Until then, don’t forget to head over and grab a copy of the main book, which you’ll need to play with any of the freebies available so far.