Q is for Querulous #AtoZChallenge

Apr192014
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querulousThe word “querulous” is an adjective as well as a noun, according to the Oxford English Dictionary (my favorite dictionary, in case you wondered, access provided through our campus library). Why am I writing about the word in a blog challenge about roleplaying gaming? Has the alphabetical nature of it caused me to slip into rubber-roomosity?

Just bear with me.

Yes, I could have written about Q is for Quest, which I nearly did, but the idea bored me, and I don’t really know what I would say about it that hasn’t been said already.

Is your gaming group querulous?

I have read all sorts of horror stories about gaming groups where people didn’t like each other or didn’t get along, or didn’t try. I’ve been fortunate that the groups with which I played back in college and my group now were people who got along and behaved in a friendly fashion. I know it’s common in some groups for the gamemaster to have an adversarial manner toward the players. Again, that’s not been my experience. Maybe it’s because I hate, detest and despise conflict.

If you don’t like the way the game is going, talk about it with the gamemaster one-on-one and make constructive suggestions. Do your part to keep the other players’ complaining to a minimum through positive peer pressure.

For me, life’s too short to put up with querulous people in my spare time. I can go to work and hear that.

How’d the dynamic in your gaming group? Comment below!

P is for Paraphernalia (AKA Stuff!) #atozchallenge

Apr182014
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All you really need to play a roleplaying game is one copy of the rulebook, paper, pencils (Ticonderogas, please!) and the requisite dice. But it’s so much more fun to have additional stuff.

You’ve already seen a glimpse of my dice collection and the dice bag I use to hold them in D is for Dice, and a few painted miniature figures in M is for Minis. What’s left?

D&D tiles

D&D tiles

Knowing where your character is in proximity to the bad guys is important, so map tiles come in handy. Wizards of the Coast, publisher of Dungeons & Dragons, makes themed sets of map tiles out of thick laminated cardboard.

D&D tiles with accessory tiles

D&D tiles with accessory tiles

Paizo Publishing carries a line of Game Mastery tiles, easily affordable in thinner card stock. If you want to get really fancy, Dwarven Forge makes beautiful cast resin dungeon walls, floors, water features and accessory pieces of scenery, such as doors.

Dungeons & Dragons game in progress. Miniature...

Dungeons & Dragons game in progress. Miniatures from Dungeons & Dragons Miniatures Game and others on Master Maze scenery by Dwarven Forge. Around the dungeon can be seen many multi-sided dice, a character sheet (bottom left) and a D&D manual (top right). Note that the circular template at the bottom is not from Dungeons & Dragons, but rather is from Warhammer 40,000. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Lucite platforms and columns, called Combat Tier, are useful if you have creatures who can fly, or the need for characters to climb into the heights. They are marked with the typical one-inch-equals-five-feet grid.

Combat Tier platforms

Combat Tier platforms

Last but not least is scenery. I had great fun constructing this tavern for our Leviathan campaign, using some of the same materials for model railroad scenery.

Heart o' the Dog Tavern, made by the author

Heart o’ the Dog Tavern, made by the author

Another view of the Heart o' the Dog Tavern, being visited by Rafael Ceurdepyr and Rashmali

Another view of the Heart o’ the Dog Tavern, being visited by Rafael Ceurdepyr and Rashmali

What have I left out? What paraphernalia do you like to use in gaming? Comment below!

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O is for [Davin] Orccleaver #atozchallenge

Apr172014
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The keep of Pendennis Castle in Falmouth, Corn...

The keep of Pendennis Castle in Falmouth, Cornwall. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The party is enjoying the famous bazaar on the outskirts of the city of Keldath, a day’s journey from Stoneshadow, the village where Grayl lived as a boy after the death of his mother.  The crowds are heavy today, and suddenly they are jostled as a beautiful young woman with black hair shoves past them.  A dwarf—a man with braided beard and scarred face and arm–presses through the crowd after her, calling anxiously for her to stop.  She climbs atop the town crier’s stand, raising her hands above her head.

Suddenly, the crowd shrinks back from the figures appearing abruptly before the stand.  In the vision, a massively built warrior fights for his life against an onslaught of dozens of ogres that seem but the vanguard of a wave of hundreds of them.  Off to one side, gloating, is a regally dressed man bearing a shield on which is affixed the crest of the House of Cernawyn.  Even at this distance, you can feel a flicker of horror that someone from the line of the present ruling House would betray such a valiant warrior.  The feeling comes from outside you, as if generated as part of the vision.

The crowd nearest the stand is obviously more affected than you, appalled and terrified by what they see, and they storm the crier’s stand.  The dwarf is shoved backward into the party by the city guards, who storm the stage and Jon recognizes him as Davin Orccleaver.  The vision stops abruptly as two guards grab the woman while others stave off the mob.  Davin demands to know where the guards are taking her.  She seems to be unconscious at this point.  They say, “We’re taking her to the administration building.  That vision or whatever she was projecting was treasonous.  The governor needs to know about this.”

At this moment, the dwarf spies Jon and recognition dawns.  “Help me, Jon,” he says.  “I’m Mistress Palethorpe’s bodyguard and I can’t let anything happen to her or her uncle might turn me into a … a halfling or something.  I don’t think I can handle all of the guards alone.  The governor’s paranoid about anything that can remotely be construed as treasonous.  He’ll hang her without a trial.”

And thus began the first adventure of our gaming group. I called it the Sachov Saga. It was far too complicated (the adventures I create tend to be, but I’m getting better), but it was the first time two members of the group had played Dungeons and Dragons, and we had a lot of fun. It was also the first time they met each other. They soon began dating, fell in love, got married and have two beautiful daughters who know what you do with monsters: Kill them and take their stuff. We’ve all (including my husband) been through a lot together, and they’re my best friends.

And to think it all started with a roll of the dice and a few character sheets.

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N is for Nia MacGavan #atozchallenge

Apr162014
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English: Belgian Congo Postage stamp, 1925 iss...

English: Belgian Congo Postage stamp, 1925 issue, 50c (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Way back in 2002, my husband Thomas ran a GURPS Call of Cthulhu game for us. It was one of the creepiest and most entertaining games I’ve played, and I think he made up most of it as he went along. We started out in Massachusetts (of course), ended up in Louisiana fighting Deep Old Ones, “died” and woke up in giant clay jars in a landscape from Dante’s Inferno—literally. After a particularly harrowing experience summoning somethin’ they had’n’t oughta summoned, Drs. MacGavan and Nelson consummated their relationship. Nia got pregnant, and when Danny found out, he punched Kent in the mouth. Nia had morning sickness along the way. Great way to fight monsters. We ended up completely off track in Africa (and my dear husband allowed us to do so), traveling all the way to the Belgian Congo for no good reason. To this day, we refer to “going to the Belgian Congo” when characters are off track or in danger of becoming so.

Here’s Nia’s starting biography (see I is for Intricate Backstories). She and Kent married and had a baby girl (if memory serves). No, the baby did not have tentacles.

Nia [Niamh] Áine MacGavan, Ph.D, was born May 1, 1900, in Mulranny, County Mayo, Ireland to a devout Catholic couple named Caoilte and Áine MacGavan.  Her sister Caitlin was born two years later, and Brenna came along in 1904.  Caoilte’s mother Medb also lived with them until her death in 1912, but Medb’s tales of the Fair Folk and her superstitions stayed with Niamh the rest of her life.  She gave her granddaughter a locket with a four-leaf clover in it that she always wears, believing it to help her see through faerie glamour.

Niamh’s life was chaotic.  Her father, a day laborer, was passionately involved in the fight for Irish independence.  Toward this end, he moved the family frequently to wherever there was trouble or the possibility of stirring up more.  He taught his daughters to fire a rifle in self-defense—or offense, if necessary.  Niamh’s light sleeping tendencies and milder nightmares grew out of this constant uncertainty and risk.  Caoilte also believed strongly in women’s education, and he and Áine made certain that Niamh and her sisters studied.  Niamh had a flare for languages and an interest in ancient cultures that took her mind away from the terrors of daily life.

Caoilte successfully eluded the authorities despite his terrorist activities until 1916, when they moved to Dublin.  He was preparing a bomb in the kitchen of their home during the fighting that followed the Easter Uprising.  It exploded unexpectedly, killing him and his youngest daughter instantly; the ensuing fire took the lives of his middle daughter and wife.  Niamh was away at the time and returned just as the fire was being put out.  The terrifying nightmares about fire began shortly thereafter.

Caoilte’s older brother Arthur, who lived with his wife Muriel in London, took Niamh in.  Arthur and Muriel worked at the University of London and, with very little convincing necessary, persuaded Niamh to enroll in the School of Oriental Studies, where she studied Near Eastern languages and linguistics.  Her aunt and uncle were infinitely more liberal in their outlook on life than Niamh’s parents, and introduced their niece to a social scene unlike any she had ever experienced.  She gradually came to view her parents’ religion with scorn, contrasting the teachings they supposedly espoused with Caoilte’s love of violence and chaos.

Innately superstitious (she leaves cream out for brownies as she has since she was a child and really believes in the power of her necklace), Niamh became interested in the occult through acquaintances of Aunt Muriel’s.  One frequent guest of the MacGavans was Phillip Parnell, a medium who offered to teach Niamh about the occult.  The intensity of their year-long relationship alarmed Niamh’s aunt and uncle, who, after she graduated with honors in 1924, strongly urged her to apply for positions in America.  Arthur called in a favor and soon Niamh was hired by Blackstock College in Massachusetts to teach linguistics.

Despite Prohibition, in America Nia, as she is now known, has explored the taste for carousing she developed in England, although she does it discreetly to avoid censure by the school administration.  Her beauty has caused one scandal, when the dean cornered her in the cloakroom at the Christmas party and his wife walked in on them kissing.  As she finishes her first year of teaching at Blackstock, Nia has begun to use her beauty to her advantage and has become something of a tease.  She has become friends with a student, an aspiring movie stuntman named Danny, who accompanies her to speakeasies and roadhouses to indulge her desire for carousing.

Nia teaches Introduction to the Study of Language, Introduction to Linguistic Analysis, and Elementary Akkadian.  Her research interests include Akkadian and Sumerian literature, particularly incantations and magic.  She has developed a crush on Kent Nelson, the serious archaeology professor ten years her senior, and has made it her mission in life to encourage him to loosen up and relax.  She is somewhat in awe of him and his accomplishments, and would love nothing better than to go on a dig with him.

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M is for Minis #AtoZChallenge

Apr152014
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Miniature figures (“minis”) are used in many roleplaying games, particularly those that use a grid system to represent player character and monster locations in combat (or sometimes out of it). These days, minis are often made of plastic and pre-painted, or pewter, which are not painted. In the olden days, they were made of lead. Minis made by one of the largest makers of miniatures, Reaper, are 25mm tall, although special edition minis can be as tall as 38mm.

Painting minis is a skill unto itself requiring patience, acrylic paint intended for use on minis, very tiny brushes and, optimally, magnifying goggles. Tutorials are available online for how to paint in various styles and techniques. One style is called “non-metallic metals” or NMM for short. This technique uses non-metallic paint to create the look of metal. A great place to see painted minis is CoolMiniOrNot, a site where visitors vote on how cool a particular minis is.

I don’t have as much time or patience these days to paint minis, but it used to be part of our ritual. Once we decided on a character race and class for a particular campaign, we’d head out to our Friendly Local Gaming Store to purchase minis. The minis would go home with me, and my husband or I would paint them before the next gaming session. Those expeditions produced the minis below.

L to R: Ka-Quindath, Rafael Ceurdepyr, [ ] , Olmos

L to R: Ka-Quindath (Mosaic), Rafael Ceurdepyr (Leviathan), Bellos (Mosaic) , Ulmas, druid companion (Borders of Despair)

L to R: [ ], Brand Hammerlock, paladin companion, Kyria Leodegar

L to R: Rashmali (Mosaic), Brand Hammerlock (Ptolus), paladin companion (Ptolus), Kyria Leodegar (Ptolus)

What do you think about minis? Comment below!

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L is for Leviathan: Adventures in the World Sea #AtoZChallenge

Apr142014
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One of my favorite games of all time has to be the Leviathan campaign, run by my friend Scott. It’s probably one of the longest campaigns we played as well. As Scott described it in his original document from 2003, “Adventure in a world of merchant princes, pirate treasure, ancient ruins, noble orders, and the all too ready death that lurks below the surface of the world sea.” The campaign had a swashbuckling, Renaissance feel to it, personified by my character, a bard named Rafael Ceurdepyr (about whom more in R is for Rafael).

The rules we used included action points, a number of points usable to reroll low dice results or perform amazing stunts; low magic; starting backgrounds, such as aristocrat, criminal, rascal, soldier, street rat or student; lives, meaning each player began with 1d4+2 “lives,” representing “your chances to cheat death and recover from wounds that would otherwise be fatal,” although only the gamemaster knew how many lives the character has; and gunpowder weapons. Races allowed were humans, the predominant race; half-elves; goblins; paragoblins, which was Rafael’s race, resulting from a human-goblin interbreeding; and ogrun, somewhat similar to half-orcs.

House Rayale

House Rayale

Here’s Scott’s description of the present world, 2500 years after the great Cataclysm:

Seven Great Houses and the Parliament govern the Archipelago Concord States.  The Seven Great Houses are more businesses than aristocratic dynasties, although they are that as well.   A merchant patriarch, who speaks for the House and sets policy, rules each.  The House Rayale is the largest and most powerful, being the house that successfully crossed the Sundering Sea, it now enjoys a near monopoly on trade in Dwarven made goods.  The House Merlyean is the next most powerful, and the primary maker of ships in the Human-Goblin controlled States.  The House Grumalaniakin is the only Goblin Great House, it is the primary source of chemical substances, dyes, medicines, and plant based oils.  The Sunrod House controls the few mining operations in the Shallow Sea, as well as most of the heavy industry, it is the arch-rival of the House Rayale.  The most peaceful house is the Granmar.  The Granmar House controls the most land, and manages the vast agricultural lands of the larger islands.  The House Hienter specializes in fishing and harvesting the sea while its major ally,the smallest house, House Ferinne deals in light industry and various types of trade. 

The houses are a constantly shifting battleground.  Rarely does it come to outright war, but each house maintains its own militias and armed fleets.  They vie for power over the lesser houses, the city-states they do not control out right, and the Trade Guilds.  Espionage, assassination, betrayal, and subversion are the common tools of the merchant patriarchs.

The Parliament serves as a check on the Great Houses, although a small one.  Given the power to tax and regulate trade the Parliament sets tariffs and grants rights to shipping lanes, new islands, and various other resources.  These various sets of licenses and taxes serve as fertile ground for pirating and smuggling, for there is always profit to be had in skirting tariffs.  This is a trade and tactic well known to the Major Houses.  The Parliament is made of the Lesser Houses, most of whom rule the city-states or various subsidiary industries for the Great Houses, the major guild representatives, and officials from the Faith of Alyander.  The Elven Fleets also send representatives, always human in their hire, to Parliament to speak on their behalf, but they have no formal vote.   The Parliament meets once every three years, at which time it elects a Prime Minister and a Cabinet who do most of the business of Parliament.  Admission to Parliament is made by petition to Parliament based on societal influence and must be ratified by a majority vote.  That rarely happens

The main islands of the ACS are the Six Sons, a chain of large islands all but completely dominated by the Great Houses.  At any given time there are as many as 100 smaller islands, some equaling the smaller of the Six Sons down to a few miles across, that are also nominally controlled by the ACS, its companies, houses, or members.

Outside the ACS, within the Shallow Sea, are several Freeholds, the largest of which is Nan.  It, and others like it, are seen as pirates and outlaws by the Great Houses, but are often employed in their schemes. In reality Nan and its fellows are haven for free enterprise of one sort or another, at best, and petty slaver kingdoms at worst.

The Dead Isles are the remains of the Gnome Republic.  For generations no one lived there. In the last 100 years they have been colonized, but little is known about them in the ACS.

The Elf Fleets travel the world, never allowing a member of another race to travel beyond the Shallow Sea with them.  Occasionally large fortress-towns enter the Shallow Sea, and rumors of larger ones remain.  The elves are on friendly terms with many of the freeholds as well as the ACS.  Captains and Admirals govern them, in a semi-informal military structure.  They never set foot on land voluntarily.  When elves set foot on lnad involuntarily it usually precipitates into suicide, both of the elf in question and the town or ship that harbored his tormenters.  Elves are as fierce as any when it comes to dealing with pirates, but they will in no wise tolerate being taken to land. To force an elf to land is to invite the wrath of every elf in the Shallow Sea, and perhaps beyond.  Many wise men know to leave the elves alone if they wish it, but only fools ignore them.

The Dwavenholms across the Sundering Sea are dug into the Last Land and are vast and ancient.  Their rule, customs, and laws are largely unknown to the human culture, and only speculations are possible.  Some form of clan and guild hybrid rules, dominated by great Patriarchs and Keepers of Tradition.

There are many small islands that are home to tribal cultures at the edges of the Shallow Sea.  Most of the races there are Human, Orc, or Goblinoid.

What’s your favorite campaign of all time? Comment below.

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K is for Kyria Leodegar #AtoZChallenge

Apr122014
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Kyria Leodegar was the second character I played in the Ptolus campaign. The first character was Brand Hammerlock, featured in I is for Intricate Backstories. (Because our gaming group is so small, we frequently play two characters each.)

Here’s her story:

Kyria Leodegar in prayer.

Kyria Leodegar in prayer.

The room wasn’t large enough to echo, but the Eldest’s dying words still rang in her ears as if he had pronounced them in some cavernous temple hall. “I have seen the up-thrust spire which the land rejected and I have seen the City at its base. It is there that the Blood of Adaljour will find its purpose. It is there…”  Kyria already had some thoughts about the meaning of his words, but now was not the time for speculation. She folded Childe Albert Erlicher’s icy hands on his bony breast and slipped to her knees, no great distance from the narrow cot on which he had slept as long as Kyria could remember. She prayed to Adaljour to receive the holy old man’s soul in the Hall of the Just.

Her prayers complete and the proper words said over the body, Kyria rose and wondered how she would bury him alone. She twitched the threadbare curtain aside and peered down into the little courtyard with its cracked pavement and amputated statuary. It was raining again. Frena and Hugo had been gone for two weeks now, with no word. Maybe Anselme would return in time to say farewell to Childe Albert’s mortal frame, but it didn’t seem likely. And Friederich… Kyria shook her head as she let the curtain fall and turned back to the Eldest’s frail form. After Friederich’s temper tantrum and his reaction to her remonstrance of his behavior, she didn’t think he was ever coming back. A sudden thought struck her.  He was raving about money he was owed. Did he take—

She crossed the worn wooden floor that gleamed with beeswax to Childe Albert’s old desk and pulled open the ornate brass box in which the small treasury of the Congregation of Adaljour resided. A handful of shields and pennies were all that remained. Kyria ground her teeth and leaned against the desk. Adaljour would have to provide for the burial. She carefully closed the box, resisting the urge to fling it across the room. Childe Albert’s words rose in her mind: “Righteous anger is a tool Adaljour can use. Unrighteous anger is the tool of the enemy.” Kyria replaced the box and began to sing her favorite hymn, “The Faithful are the Blest,” channeling her frustrations into useful activity, gathering up what she needed to wash and prepare Childe Albert for burial.

The sun stayed hidden the next two days behind thick clouds, although the rain had ceased. As she went through her routine, Kyria caught herself listening for Childe Albert’s call. She threw herself into scrubbing every available surface of the crumbling manse, although there was scarcely a speck of dirt to be found. It was easier than figuring out how to bury the Eldest of the Faith with bread money.

She was cleansing the stone entry hall when the sound of hooves outside in the courtyard froze her in mid-scrub. Anselme? Maybe Frena and Hugo? She scrambled to her feet and flung open the warped and cracked oak door. Alighting from a glossy chestnut steed was a sturdy man with waves of steel-gray hair. He was clad in a tunic dyed the rich color of springtime leaves beside a riverbank, trimmed in silver braid as thick as her thumb. His rough trousers were tucked into sturdy, well-crafted leather boots embossed with a leaf pattern.

“Is this the Congregation of Adaljour?” he asked when he saw her. His face was deeply scored, weathered from years outdoors in sun and wind and storm. His mouth was set in a grim line, but his dark eyes were kind.

Kyria remembered the manners Anselme had painstakingly taught her. “You won’t always need steel to fight for the True Law,” the woman had said. “The truth needs pretty words sometimes.” “Yes, sirrah,” she replied with a curtsey.

“I am Torin Fletcher,” the man said, looping the reins around a post beside the dry fountain. When he stepped closer, Kyria noticed the pattern of leaves subtly woven into the green fabric. “An old companion in adventure of Albert Erlicher. We had a grave pact, he and I. I’m here to bury him.”

Kyria stared at him for fully five seconds and then, to her shame, she burst into tears.

Torin paid for everything—a splendid coffin as befitted Childe Albert’s rank, a simple but elegant headstone marking his place in the burying ground with the other Eldest and Children of Adaljour overlooking the river, a pair of laborers to dig in the muddy earth. Kyria spoke the traditional words, wishing someone else were there with them. Afterwards she fed Childe Albert’s old adventuring companion and plied him with questions. She knew the man had been quite an adventurer in his day, and many of his friends stopped in from time to time, teaching her the ways of the sword that her mentor was no longer able to. Torin spoke of Ptolus, and an idea began forming in her mind.

When he was gone, Kyria spent the entire day in prayer and meditation and opened her heart to Adaljour. The answer was clear. She could do no further good here. She had served Childe Albert and ministered to the poor in the area around the old manse from childhood. But the city had changed and the time for action was now if the faith of Adaljour was to remain and grow strong as it once had. Followers, and money to minister to those followers and the needy. That was the key. She remembered hearing about a Shrine of Adaljour in Ptolus, home of a relic…The Cardumford Vestige, if her memory of her extensive studies of Adaljour served. She would gather her books and Childe Albert’s sword and the old leather armor she had painstakingly cleaned and mended, leave a note for her missing companions, and journey to Ptolus.

For the first time in many months, Kyria smiled and burst into song.

We come in the might of Adaljour,
With armor bright we meet the foe,
And put to flight the demon host,
To send them back below. 

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J is for Just Do It! #AtoZChallenge

Apr112014
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I’m sure many other people chose “Just do it!” as their blog subject for the day, but probably none of them mean it in the context of gaming.

Yes, you can game and hold a baby at the same time!

Yes, you can game and hold a baby at the same time!

Before I proceed, though, I have a confession. I was really stuck on a topic for “J,” so I crowd-sourced. My brother Rick helpfully contributed with, “J is for June–the month Roger Dungeon and Darryl (not that one) Dragon sat down in their basement one fateful rainy Saturday and invented their famous fantasy game.” This revelation would come as a surprise to Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, but I felt it deserved sharing. Thanks, bro!

Scott gave me the title for this post. It’s my plea for you to try out gaming just once. I’ve greatly enjoyed hearing from those of you stopping by for the A to Z Blogging Challenge, and so many of you say that you’ve never gamed (in the sense I’m talking about). So why would you take it up now? Here’s some reasons:

  1. It’s a great way to relax with friends. (If your gaming group doesn’t break out in laughter frequently, you probably need new friends.)
  2. If you’re a frustrated, wanna-be or closet actor, roleplaying is a fun way to submerge yourself into the part of another character. For an hour or two once a week, you can be the hot Asian chick wielding dual katanas or the dour yet fierce dwarf whose axe is the downfall of many a bandit or the dashing singer who doesn’t need a weapon to intimidate or charm her opponents.
  3. Through gaming you can blow off steam in a socially acceptable way, especially after a tough week at work.
  4. You can find an outlet for your creativity. Paint miniatures (more about that on M is for Minis), write an intricate backstory, draw a picture of your character, knit a scarf just like your character would wear.

I’m sure I’ve left out some reasons. If you game or have played in the past, why do you enjoy it? Comment below!

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I is for Intricate Backstories #AtoZChallenge

Apr102014
5 Comments
Brand Hammerlock

Brand Hammerlock

You might wonder, if you’ve read my previous posts, why it’s called “roleplaying” if all you do is kill monsters and take their stuff. Ah, but there’s more to it than that. Much more.

I enjoy the interplay between characters. I love to create intricate backstories. As a writer, I’m fond of torturing my characters, and I’m no less fond of it in gaming. The classic stereotype is that everyone’s character has parents who were killed by orcs. Not mine. Oh, no, that’s too simple.

Examples? Thought you’d never ask.

Mordecai Shadebane (Mosaic Campaign) is a Glimmerfolk (a sort of fae humanoid with small glowing balls of light orbiting their heads). He was born into a Puritanical society at just about the time their entire settlement was relocated (part of the conceit of the campaign). His parents were horrified to find the orbs were the color of shadow, and he had a scrollwork mark on his upper back. Mordecai’s father pronounced it evidence of the taint, possibly a consequence of his mother’s years of scouting out Enemy positions. If the elders of his settlement had known, Mordecai would have been drowned at birth. When he came of age, he became the apprentice of an aasimar sorcerer, leaving his settlement just ahead of a mob intent on stoning him for his own sorcerous abilities.

Brand Hammerlock (Ptolus Campaign) is a dwarf, an urban druid with a dragon pistol and a stone dog for a companion. He had been a journeyman in his uncle’s gun smithy, but he had no magic of the kind expected. He roamed the great city of Ptolus, sleeping in doorways, eating whatever the city provided (even it was rats and rainwater), and listening to the Voice of the City.

“What do you plan on doing?” the master asked when he said he was leaving his service.

“I don’t know,” Brand said with an unconcerned shrug. “Learn the City, I guess.”

Master Strikeflint frowned and stroked his braided beard. “Learn the City. Where will you sleep? What will you eat?”

“The City will provide.”

And one last, mentioned already in E is for En Arcadia Est:

(Francis) Drake Corrigan was born in 1900 in Rivercrest, a small factory town near Chicago, Illinois. His father Francis worked in a factory. In her spare time, his mother, the former Lyra Drake, dabbled in drawing and taught her son to love art, something Francis scorned and discouraged. “The boy’s already too much of a daydreamer,” was a frequent accusation heard from Francis.

Lyra died in an influenza epidemic when Drake was 13. She had always acted as a buffer between the two, and her death drove them further apart. Drake was often in trouble at school for drawing or daydreaming instead of listening to his teachers. When he drew, he often felt he was on the verge of discerning some larger Truth about his artwork altering reality, although at that time he never thought of it in those terms.

Finally, when Drake turned 16, Francis decided his boy had had enough schooling and that he’d been too soft on him since Lyra’s death. He signed him up for the Army.

War had already raged in Europe for three years when Drake’s military training was complete, and he was shipped over to France as part of the American Expeditionary Force. Through a series of strange coincidences and serendipities that Drake could never explain afterwards, the young man ended up as a sketch artist working for military intelligence. The horrors he saw and drew renewed and intensified in him the old desire to alter reality as a way of helping others and holding those horrors at bay.

Early in 1918, he received a letter from home that his father had died. Drake knew he had no reason to go back to Illinois and pondered his next course of action. When the war ended several months later, an older soldier who had befriended Drake and shepherded him through the war came to him and confessed that he had shown Drake’s work to a professor at an art school in Paris. On the basis of the sketches, Drake secured a scholarship to the school from the Zenith Foundation, an American-based organization.

Not long after Drake began his studies, a battered old trunk was delivered to him from back home. It is mostly filled with junk that he recognized from his boyhood home. Among the detritus, however, was the large art book filled with color plates his mother would pore over for hours and read to him. Tucked between the pages, he found two sketches by his mother, one of herself and one of him as a child.

Over the next few years, Drake immersed himself in the world of art, especially art of the Renaissance, learning French and Latin along the way. The turning point came when he discovered the journals of a group of wildly flamboyant Renaissance painters known the Rue d’Obscurité, after the street in Paris where they lived and worked. These four men and one woman used their art in occult ways, exploring illusion and reality and how to alter their nature. Drake devoured their works, deeply affected by the writings that struck a chord in his soul. He knew this was what he had been seeking all his life.

The fact that they died in some mysterious disaster that destroyed their home and most of the surrounding street daunted him not at all, and hints of the cause being demonic entities made him aware that the world may hold even worse horrors than what he witnessed on the battlefield. He began experimenting with the spells he found in their works, hesitant and tentative first steps into the world of the occult.

He has continued to study magik through the creation of runes, sigils and other icons, guided by the concepts of the Rue d’Obscurité, but adapting them in his own way. He even acquired a familiar, a gray tabby he named Henri after one of the Rue d’Obscurité members. Drake tends bar part time at an ex-pat bar called Chicago to make ends meet, studying art and magik and accepting commissions along the way. He has no particular plans for the future, keeping his eye open for opportunities as they present themselves.

Yeah, that last one was the most detailed. Have you ever created such detailed backstory for a character in a game, or am I the only one so obsessive? Comment below.

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H is for Horror Gaming #AtoZchallenge

Apr092014
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Fountains Abbey

Fountains Abbey (Photo credit: Jon Pinder)

“[Horror fiction] shows us that the control we believe we have is purely illusory, and that every moment we teeter on chaos and oblivion.”― Clive Barker

Fantasy is not the only genre represented in roleplaying. Probably my favorite genre is horror gaming, as you know if you read my post C is for Call of Cthulhu.

Any game can have elements of horror. In fact, it could be argued that by definition Dungeons and Dragons is a horror game, because of the presence of the classic monster tropes such as vampires, ghosts, specters, werewolves, ghouls, skeletons and zombies.

But a horror game is distinguished by its tone. The typical D&D game is about wading in and dispatching the monsters as quickly as possible, without any sense of fear and trepidation. A gamemaster running a horror-flavored game sets the tone by emphasizing the atmosphere, by engendering uncertainty in his players about the outcome of their characters. If he knows his players well (and depending on the level of trust in the group), he can prey on their fears by including certain triggers in the gameplay.

Many of the horror games in which I’ve played have been set in modern times: Call of Cthulhu, The Dresden Files (maybe not entirely horror), and Unknown Armies come immediately to mind. In these games, the character doesn’t usually have amazing strength or dexterity. Although she may have a limited power or ability, she’s more vulnerable and thus more susceptible to the loss of control mentioned in the Clive Barker quote.

What do you find scary in a roleplaying game? Did I leave out your favorite? Comment below!

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