Archives for April 2014

P is for Paraphernalia (AKA Stuff!) #atozchallenge

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

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

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

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

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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