Tuesday, December 8, 2009

I've Lost My Mojo

It happens every couple of years or so.

At first this delay in updates was technical: I lost possession of my copy of Photoshop, for example. Then I got caught up in RL business and my computer busted (I am posting this from my new, super-fancy one). There was a whole month in between when I could have at least made a non-animated comic, though, and the reason for that is simpler:

I burned out.

It happens. Games just started to feel more like work, and usually if a game becomes that you should stop playing it unless you're a World of Warcraft fan. I don't like just cancelling games on people, though, so I've been foolishly trying to ride it out.

I haven't been posting because I haven't felt like I have anything to write about and I refuse to make a post without a comic, but maybe we can take some time to sort out why that is.

It's probably because I've been running so many games.

At the moment I have a lot of free time and I have filled it with online D&D. I run 5 games and play in 2 - not every day of the week, obviously, most of them are in back-to-back night-time D&D blocks - and that's a lot to plan for.

Okay, I lie. Word of advice: If you ever want to learn how to come up with a good gaming session on the fly, do it five times a week.

Really though, it's still a lot. And up until recently, I've run a lot of solo games as well. These aren't much - generally dice-less stuff with a friend to flesh out background elements of my settings and campaigns. There is one guy who expects a proper campaign with dice-rolling and mapped-out dungeons and everything, but that's because he has had a shortage of games recently (he is a little pickier than most and refuses to play with most of our gaming group, meaning he rarely gets to play; I tried once, by inviting only people he approved of, but when a couple of them could no longer make it there were no replacements left.)

This isn't a HUGE problem, at least, because a) a lot of those games are grouped together so I only play like 3 days a week, really, and b) that guy is cool with not doing anything for a while because I am too busy for it.

It's still a problem, though, and one compounded by the fact that I haven't had a "week off" from gaming in a long time. After a while, it starts to wear you down, I guess. I'd like a weekend where I don't actually do anything, and...

Oh, wait.

So I wrote this over the last week or so, and now that the "Thanksgiving, My Birthday (was on the 27th, by the way!), Christmas" period has hit, I've had more time off recently. I'm starting to feel better, actually.

If my situation doesn't improve, there's only one sensible thing to do: stop playing. If it's getting me down, I can't run a game well, and if I can't do that then what's the point?

There's nothing I can do right now but wait a couple weeks and see how I feel. Fingers crossed.

And happy birthday to me, by the way.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Some Tips on Characters

Sometimes you just have to ignore everything your character sheet says you can't do, transcend the boundaries and limitations set by statistical probability, go against the system's established design philosophy and just go ahead and fuck someone's shit right up.

Click the image for a bigger one, by the way.

Last week a friend of mine asked me if I had any tips on making NPCs. Apparently this is something I am pretty good at, but I am a little ambivalent vis-à-vis people stroking my engorged member. I quite enjoy praise and mentioning how awesome I am, but I just don't want to be a jackass about it. It's a hard line to find, so I have decided to err on the safe side lest I cross over.

Let's just go ahead and write some character tips. I'm mostly thinking of NPCs here, but it can apply to PCs too (and I've used some PC examples). This is by no means comprehensive or entirely accurate, mind.

Practice Makes Perfect

The reason why it's not comprehensive or accurate is because I can't tell you how to do it. Nobody can. They can give you pointers, but the best way to make a good character is to keep at it until it comes naturally.

This point is so obvious it can be seen from outer space, but it's a nice place to start.

This Isn't A Freaking Novel

One of my players in my steampunk game has an ex-girlfriend who is interested in joining. I have no idea why anyone, ever, would invite their ex-girlfriend to play Dungeons & Dragons with them. (She's in once we have room though.) Apparently she already has a character planned with pages of backstory.

This is my face: ·_.

Okay, for a PC, it's not too bad. For most characters, though, you don't need that much detail. Most people won't see most of it. Ever popped open an adventure module? Most of the NPCs there have a few major personality traits and relevant major events in their lives noted and bang, done. Detail is great, but try and save it for the major players.

Character Quirks Are A Great Substitute For Personality

My Planescape game has a character called Uno, an enterprising and friendly young Fated lass. She's grown a bit over her few appearances, but one of the responses I've gotten is that her habit of saying "o-kay!" and making a ring gesture with her hand is adorable.

It's a little cynical, but character quirks, habits, ways of speaking, funny accents etc. can fill in for personality traits that aren't there if they have to. That's not to say that they should replace personality, but if you're stuck for an interesting character, they can help a lot. Besides, even when you've finished a character, they can still help it stand out. Nobody just stands around flapping their jaws like wooden puppets outside of video games. Unless that's their thing.

It's Okay To Be Gimmicky

This is what one of my players says a lot to dismiss ideas he doesn't like. In this context it's a statement against things that are done for their own sake, especially things done to make a character "wacky" or follow some obtuse theme that doesn't add much to the story. Usually I don't mind, because he's generally so picky about who and what he plays with that games are generally run for him instead of just with him anyway.

However, the same guy also names most (if not all) of his character's weapons things that reflect their wielder, regardless of whether it is in-character to do so. This extends to NPCs he has made for me.

Who cares? It's a roleplaying game, not a writing competition in Serious, Texas. If you want all your characters to have an unhealthy obsession with hats or something, do it. As with everything else, take this in moderation.

Don't Rub Their Noses In It

Sometimes you have a character which is just awesome. Maybe he's a badass warrior or a spunky mage or something, and you've got all these cool witty one-liners they can say and all these cool ideas for things he can do to establish how badass or spunky or judeophobic or whatever he is and you have awesome ideas coming out of your butt. That's great, really.

However, unless you are an amazing social outcast who stays at home all day indulging in amateur gaming design and drawing comics about how World of Warcraft changed your life on DeviantArt, you are playing your roleplaying game of choice with at least one other person. They have their own characters. They are not interested in taking a back seat to the antics of yours.

Especially don't act out your badass moments when it's not appropriate. Disarming an enemy just because you can and smiling smugly is kind of cool if you can do it without looking like a jackass. Disarming the king's guard just because you can and smiling smugly gets you jailed.

One of my players used to be the poster child for this one. She was so obsessed with her characters being badass and cool and unique that when required to make a low-level ordinary person for one campaign, she couldn't even make it through creation before begging me to allow her paladin to have a bear as a special mount. Being kind-hearted and kind of dumb at the time I said yes, and sure enough that bear (just like every familiar, animal companion and interesting rock she gets) was treated like a second PC and would be brought out anywhere, including into other people's homes, just to let people know she had a bear. Before that she was so obsessed with her characters being the best at everything ever that she'd probably have a meltdown over a lich PC dying.

These days she's improved and merely cries "railroad!" when her character catches a cold, or does things like make a foreign PC and spend enough time going "look at me! I can speak a foreign language you can't!" that people start telling her to knock it off.

That's another thing - you don't need to show off all your character's skills and abilities, especially when it would slow down the game to do so. (Especially don't complain and consider removing the skill entirely when you don't get to, start holding up the game to yell and hurl insults because you don't like the tone of the reply and then demand an apology for the way you were treated.)

Flaws Are A Good Thing

One of the things I like about the BESM system is that it forces and encourages players to take flaws - not the shitty D&D "I'll take a flaw to reduce my primary stat to 16, all right bonus feat!" kind, but things like "I have an NPC nemesis who actively meddles in my affairs!" and "I am claustrophobic!" Characters whose only discernible flaws are all suspiciously related to his dump stats are not particularly interesting, and it's not going to gimp you to be afraid of spiders or something.

Provided you don't ham it up, personality flaws can make your character really interesting, and don't necessarily detract from the character as a whole. I enjoy trolling people, frequently vent and say terrible things about friends to other people to get them off my chest (as seen on this very blog!) and am a huge hypocrite about most of the advice I give but you don't see me getting hate messages.

"But It's In Character!" Is A Stupid Phrase For Dumb Babies

The second half of this article says it better than I probably could, but here's an example.

So one of the PCs in my high school mecha game is a mind-reader and illusionist. One of his personality traits is that he reads the mind of every character he meets and acts very surprised, innocent and offended when people take offense to that. He has explained to me out-of-character that for the PC, mind-touching other people to get a read on their thoughts is as natural to him as a blind person touching someone else's face.

However, nobody gives a damn, because to everyone else he's still a creepy guy who invades people's privacy. Also, he has expressed a preference for re-visiting the minds of cute girls.

Just because you're being in-character doesn't make it fine. It's good that you are, but you should be prepared to accept the consequences of your actions - and if those consequences create problems out of character, it's an even worse excuse and you're a dumb baby. Okay?

Lacking Statistical Correlation Doesn't Make It Funny

Lol, that's so random!

Did you want to punch me in the mouth just now? If so, congratulations, you can skip to the next point.

To everyone else: I have these friends. I really like them, but they actually say "Lol!" out loud and make Portal jokes and I want to break their teeth and make a necklace out of them (bushman's rules). I think if one of them said "that's so random!" I would be making balloon animals with their intestines.

"Random" characters are basically the syphilis of roleplaying games. That's right, I said it. If your character could be described as "random" on his Facebook profile then I'm going to scrunch your character sheet into a ball and force it through your eye socket.

For The Love of God, Diversify

A few of my players have this tendency to play characters very closely to themselves. I've seen various arguments for this behaviour (like highlighting singular character traits that set each character apart from the others or "I treat all my characters as shards of my own personality"), and most of them are flawed. This is usually more pronounced in stressful, life-or-death situations when the player might be more willing to break character and do what they would do to get their PCs out of it.

It can be as something simple as having a lot of characters with the same class and/or race and/or cheese preference, or as complex as having a lot of characters who happen to be intellectual casters who say "Hmmm" a lot. Just... I don't know, try making an orc who likes cheddar for once? Something different.

The more characters you make that aren't like the ones you've made before, the better you become at making characters, and the better your games are for it.

Don't Stuff Straw In Their Butts

This one's a little complicated, so here's the summary. Just because you like something or hate something doesn't mean you can't make good, interesting characters that feel a different way.

I'm going to be edgy! and use politics as an example. Say you're a young and hip left-wing student who hates elves, religion and pudding. You've just gotten behind the DMing screen. What do you do? If your answer is to make a utopia of atheist liberal dwarves who prefer custard, no. Bad hypothetical person!

Here's an interesting experiment: Make a utopia of right-wing pudding-eating elves with a monotheistic religion that adds meaning to their lives, and the dwarves a dystopia.

This is a hard concept for some people to wrap their heads around, for some reason, but you're making a world here. Not everyone in it is going to be alike (usually). People can disagree with you and still be smart, intelligent people who can get things done.

I'm running Savage Tide for some pals - okay, I'm running my own adventure and cribbing from Savage Tide a lot - and they're currently at Farshore. The current de facto leader of the place is this guy Meravanchi, who comes across (at least the way I play him) as fairly lawful and right-wing, and while he is very, very good at running a town, his foreign policy ("let's assimilate the natives and take their land") is disliked by some residents. I tried to set it up so that both him and his opponent had their own merits and drawbacks, and I feel I succeeded.

However, one of my players insists that this makes Meravanchi a "snake" and has had his character threaten to cut ties with NPCs who like his style because his player doesn't like it.

This is what I mean here. If you really want to have varied and interesting characters all over the place, they have to be different. That means not all of them can like the same things or have the same viewpoints on religion, politics, sexuality and toast.

And most importantly, you still have to sell the ones that like things you don't as people the PCs can relate to. They're not evil mentally-damaged strawmen just because you don't like the cut of their jib. They're people - intelligent, interesting, likable people - and you damn well better play them that way.

Phew. That was longer than I thought it was going to be. Still, I hope it helps, even the rambling parts I'll probably need to rewrite and clarify later. Just remember the first one:

You don't make good characters by listening to people telling you how to make good characters. You listen to them and then you work on it until you, too, are able to make good characters and write silly blog posts about twenty people read giving them pointers.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

This Is Why We Still Can't Have Nice Things

Hello there!

I couldn't really decide, so instead, I'm going to do my best to illustrate everything I was submitted.

Yes, it is animated.

Demogorgon is awesome. Demons are awesome. Ask any of my players what comes up in every frigging game I run, and they will tell you demons. Or, if they are feeling snarky, elves or catgirls. Punch them in the face for me.

I don't know why but I really enjoy the idea of planar... stuff. Demons, devils, celestials, rilmani, it's all good. Especially demons, though. And modrons. Unfortunately I got into the tabletop scene just after Planescape was going out of style, and I never got the chance to enjoy it.

I did once get invited to a friend's game, though I was in a silly mood at character creation and rolled a rogue modron rogue who (rogue) worshipped Aoskar and was also a member of the Expansionists. His backstory was that he got mazed a long time ago (I wonder why) and now that he'd finally figured out how to escape he was extremely paranoid and tried to hide. He named himself Incognito and wore a huge fake moustache because he heard these things helped.

My eventual real character was a tiefling monk and a Sensate - only a namer, mind - who liked bar fights, and wanted to start one with every creature in the multiverse. Apparently when I asked around for advice I pissed off a lot of "purists" who forgot that not everyone in a faction is a shining example of perfect philosophy.

Then that friend of mine who was running the game scheduled it at the same time I was playing another game, and suggested that his game was better and I should cancel. I declined. As far as I know his Planescape game isn't even running any more, but I could be wrong.

And so, I still didn't get to play Planescape. It is a little late now, to be honest.

Then April 1 happened, and I made this post.

Around that time I was chatting with some friends in #suptg and discussing the possibility of starting another game. These conversations usually run the same way - things are suggested, we agree they would be cool but don't get around to doing them, I say I don't have time, etc.

But this time...

<Ettin> I could run something silly, cirno
<Ettin> not sure what
<PrivatePlatypoda> Run a steampunk game in 4e, Ettin. In the Forgotten Realms setting.
<Ettin> PP> D:::
<Emo_Duck> Dragonborn boobs. :3
<Ettin> I dunno, "silly game" would probably end up being something retarded
<Ettin> Like it's planescape and the PCs are planar detectives and their secretaries are all catgirl angels in bikinis and the BBEG is scooby doo
<PurpleXVI> I'm in.

A matter of moments later:

<Ettin> OH OH
<Ettin> PURPLE
<Ettin> Run it in BESM
<Ettin> Instead of detectives, magical girls
<LatroPrime> :|
<Ettin> One for each plane
<LatroPrime> ETTIN
<Ruler> :3
<PurpleXVI> The Lady of Pain should turn out to be a little girl in a costume.
<Ruler> I'd play it now.
<Ettin> Actually
<Ettin> Raise your hand if you would totally play Magical Girl Planescape
<Ruler> Lady of Pain finds a new source of power: Denying little girls ice cream.
<PurpleXVI> ...Ettin, it shames me, but I would give it a shot just to see how awful it would get.

And give it a shot we did.

Planescape: Magical Girls

Yes, shut up, we're doing this.

The system is BESM, because D&D is a big enough pain in the ass to run for things it's supposed to do. The setting is simple: It's Planescape, and for some reason the Lady of Pain has decided that each faction will appoint someone to be given magical girl powers and join a team of magical girls as a sort of Sigil Defense Force. Then D&D adventures happen, except instead of meeting in an inn, they meet in Fell's Ice Cream Parlour.

This is a horrible idea.

It's been all right so far. Kind of like Planescape meets Touhou. The setting lets me use all the bits of PS I like and screw with the bits I don't. And the bits I do, to be honest. Recently I decided to put a bit of modron in there and we're running the Great Modron March module, with a few adjustments.

I occasionally update /tg/ on the game's progress, and if you poke around the SupTG archives you'll find most of the threads. Reactions were interesting - naturally, some people flipped out, and I got some amusement from that in much the same way that I derive enjoyment from reading terrible webcomics. Around the time the first few threads went up someone even came into #suptg to ask why we were being such pedophiles. Good times, good times.

For the record, I specifically banned little girls for this very reason. We might get off on schadenfreude but not on that, and that little rule shut down all but the unfounded speculation (which, to be fair, is all of it).

Anyway, enough of that. Here are the characters that have appeared so far, sorted by faction (or plane)! PCs are in italics.

Athar: Athar-tan is Adie Dawkins, a half-celestial human girl with glasses and an adorable little angel-wings-and-halo set. Adie does not like to be reminded that her father is a god. He thinks it is a phase she will get over when she stops being a teenager.
Believers of the Source: Godsman-tan is Minorin Kawashiro, a pleasant and hard-working girl who likes inventing things. She fights with a backpack full of mechanical parts which she can put together into teleporters, force fields, etc.
Bleak Cabal: Bleaker-tan is Oresta Typhon, another human with an oddly upbeat and extremely naive outlook; she likes to help people, even evil people and demons.
Doomguard: Doomguard-tan is Neitz O'Misree, a heavily-armoured girl who fights with a shapeshifting weapon and is pretty laid-back most of the time. Very clumsy.
Dustmen: Dust-tan is a tengu (well, a humanoid with crow wings) girl who was designed by taking the idea of True Death as an analogue to Nirvana and stretching that as far as possible until we got a Dustman Shaolin monk. Knows kung fu or whatever.
Fraternity of Order: Guvner-tan is Sami Pythagora, a human and a huge nerd. Apparently she was still voted the cutest -tan so far, though. Best friends and occasional roommates with Bleaker-tan.
Free League: Indep-tan is Henrietta Winkler, a laid-back human who works at a maid cafe near the Great Bazaar. The Indeps aren't a real faction, so Indep-tan is pretty much anyone who qualifies and feels like it, but she's been around a while now.
Harmonium: Harmonium-tan is Aribeth de Tylmarande, an elf from Faerûn who wants to be a paladin and tries to combine the Harmonium's outlook with a Lawful Good paladin of Tyr's outlook. Once let Revolu-tan become her roommate. It's like the Odd Couple only with magical girls.
Mercykillers: Mercy-tan is actually two people, a pair of half-elf twins. Alexandra Enoreth (also known as Sons of Mercy-tan, or Son-tan) is a kind-hearted Lawful Good crusader who tries to punish people in the name of the moon for great justice, and her sister Cassandra is a half-barmy Lawful probably-Evil crusader who likes hurting people. Luckily the PCs have only encountered Alexandra so far - Cassandra is generally attacking people on Mechanus or something - but since the only visual difference is the hair, have they really?
Revolutionary League: Revolu-tan is Kunin Ropokin (aka Revolutionary Girl Kunin), an half-elf who is somehow in the group despite being a freaking Anarchist. Actually she is more of a Communist.
Sign of One: Signer-tan is Rene Cartesia, a tiefling from the gate-town of Hopeless who has found happiness with the power of IMAGINATION! (yes it has to be coloured every time.) She is from a long line of tieflings and has the blood of so many fiends within her she can will herself into a different form depending on what is needed or looks cool (horns, goat legs, marilith form, fire breath, etc.).
Society of Sensation: Sensate-tan is Lagina, a tiefling raised by modrons who shoots spice-flavoured laser beams and has an obsession with cakes.
Transcendent Order: Cipher-tan is Sakura, an Oriental human from Rokugan who is also a ninja and dresses like Taki and wields a katana. (I pretty much designed her to annoy someone specific!) Her family was slain by demons and she is incredibly zealous about hunting fiends.
Xaositects: Xaosi-tan is Katy, some kind of chaos planetouched. All the PCs are scared of her. Exploits so far have included being "random", shouting "DOOOOM!", exploding in a shower of penguins, pretending she is a door, insisting she is a modron and convincing real modrons of such, and convincing modrons to "do the modron!" while singing a Modron March version of Thriller.

There are other -tans based on the Planes, but most of them haven't come up and I've typed enough.

Sure, it sounds ridiculous, and it is, but it's fun. That's what matters.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

My "Settings": Epilogue

In more TVTropes-related news that nobody who reads this thing actually gives a crap about: It has been drawn to my attention that the entire "I Am Not Making This Up" entry has been deleted, complete with a discussion page that seems to be populated almost entirely by people who wear their pants on their head.

Naturally, in the meantime someone posted the following story to the completely unmoderated page I was making fun of last post:

Last night, (6/26-27/09) this troper dmed a 3.5 campaign set around finding and killing a great warlock bent on sapping the world of magic. On one adventure during the campaign, I had set the party off to finding and killing a large snake-like creature, so that the king of the dwarves within the city would give them passage through to the underground cave that was normally fit for royals to exit in case of immenant evacuation. Well, the party headed off to gain supplies at a store selling most everything needed for a good adventuring trip. It was over seven hundred words, good lord, I pasted this thing into Microsoft Word to do a word count and it nearly took up an entire A4 page, there is even an aside 100+ words long describing everything in terms of Super Smash Brothers, no seriously look:

...Coup de grâce on the creature, finishing it off in a super smash brother's smash attack combo like none has ever seen. To my mind it was like Having Marth on one side and Shiek on the other (the level being Final Destination) while Ike is doing Great Aether, Knuckle Joe and Smashing it, the hammer brothers are throwing hammers up at it at the same time and palkia and dialga are going back and forth slicing it, lynn strikes it and as Ike brings the creature down to the ground both Marth and Shiek release their attacks, a huge light arrow from one end and critical hit from the other, dealing so much damage and epicness that instead of the creature being shot off in some random direction while yelling "we're blasting off again!!!" *ding*, it just disappears in a puff of smoke and confetti Halo 3 style. WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE.

My brain is now permanently damaged.

Of course, I am told that I would have to be brain damaged to come up with some of the settings I've run, which makes this only a 6 on the 1-10 Awkward Segue Scale.

I haven't mentioned a few settings yet - most of them, because they're not fleshed out, or even not mine (e.g.: Eberron, if I ever ran it). This post is dedicated to those, to let some people know what I am doing.

And if you scroll down, I tried 4th Edition!!

Chelsea Clinton High School

A few posts ago I mentioned I'd like to do ">Something set in some kind of unusual high school, because for some reason I've been pretty interested in that." And so I did!

Actually the game is called "BESMecha" by the players, because it's in BESM and has mecha. Normally naming a game when you're a player seems to be (at least when I'm the DM) some kind of weird gateway drug to composing "soundtracks" for the game to show off your "musical talent" and trying to make everyone listen to and comment on your retitled Guilty Gear vs. SNK songs that are vaguely thematic, but at this point I have digressed so hard that I am now going to have to go through several seasons worth of dimension-hopping and poor storylines just to get back to the original point, which was describing this game.

Short version: Far future. Humanity has spread into the rest of the Solar System (a prototype faster-than-light ship went to Alpha Centauri and never came back or established contact) and divided into three economic blocks:

  • Atlantic-Pacific Treaty Organization, pretty much the US + Canada + the UK + Australia + Japan + New Zealand, I guess.
  • the New European-Russian Union, aka the rest of Europe + Russia, and
  • the East Asian Alliance, which is fairly obvious.

...And a few other states fending for themselves nobody cares about. The point is, for some reason a bunch of kids have started to show strange psychic powers (generally telekinesis, telepathy etc.) and the government (in this case APTO) has decided to enrol a lot of them in a military high school on the Moon where they just happen to be able to get mecha.

Yes, it is fairly loose on the science.

So far it's doing pretty well, though there have been a few problems that usually stem from BESM being an easily breakable system (advice to all readers: openly considering giving your character permanent mind-control powers and then insisting you're joking usually goes down about as well as calling someone a "borderline dog molestor" and acting surprised when they're offended). Then again, the latest edition of BESM explicitly states that the rules rely on people using some damn common sense, so what the hell.


Another horrible name for a horrible game aw snap!

The M is for Magic! It's one of those "Modern setting only magic is real!!!1" things, which so far has been an excuse for whatever silliness I can come up with. So far the game has included

  • Lethacoatl, an Aztec god trapped under an ice cream store
  • Mad scientists who can make weather machines and spaceships that travel through dimensions but can't make money
  • A land of dreams guarded by a lawful/chaotic pair of gatekeepers who mostly pester each other
  • Kukulkan challenging the PCs to soccer
  • Internet wizards
  • Immortal pirate businessmen
  • Edward Lincoln riding a time-traveling wooly rhinoceros
  • The Yith as time-traveling energy beings devoted entirely to running temporal zoos, with preserving the space-time continuum as a secondary objective
  • A Roman firefighter ghost haunting a phone box
  • Isaac Newton founding an order of wizard-assassins
  • Extremely irritable Super Nintendo machines
  • Witches, wizards, warlocks and webcomic artists
  • Specifically, shapeshifting gorilla webcomic artists
  • Bunyips
  • An angel so small his occupation is sitting on shoulders and his "mighty steed" is an RC car
  • Fenrir is female
  • The Ghost of the Internet, a major villain despite the fact that he doesn't actually exist yet in-universe and little of his backstory is logically consistent
  • Aliens obsessed with disco

The PCs are a detective-wizard, a soccer player who gets his powers from Lethacoatl (whose remains he kept in a duffel bag), a myconid, and the first PC's NPC witch girlfriend's PC familiar.)

I love this genre, I really do.

4th Edition

Yep, I did it.

A bunch of IRL pals wanted to get into D&D, and I figured I'd break their tabletop virginity on 4th Edition. We're running Keep on the Shadowfell; right now we're in the middle of Irontooth's lair, which is a bitch of an encounter.

It's hard for me to give thoughts on 4E yet; I want to play it a little more, first. Also, this is really not the right group for qualitative playtesting. At the moment it consists of

  • A friend and veteran gamer playing a cleric of the Raven Queen to fill a player slot (doing a pretty good job)
  • An "Unaligned" human fighter who tends to assume everything works like a console RPG and is clearly into hack-and-slash with the minimum of talking
  • Another human, this one a rogue, who has at least played a bit of D&D before and whose only flaw is his character tends to insult people a lot and his player metagames
  • An openly evil tiefling warlock whose player assured me he can play evil well

So, er, yeah, going well.

The warlock has at least avoided the whole "kill! maim! burn!" chaotic-stupid way of playing Evil; most of any problems he causes stem from not thinking things through properly. Once I talked him out of "giving" a kobold minion he'd Intimidated into service to the village wizard, having it rob the wizard of his scrolls, and framing the rogue.

He's also the source of the comic; the adventure is set around the village of Winterhaven, which is having a kobold problem. The mayor is offering 100gp for the problem to be dealt with, though nobody had stated the price by the time the adventurers approached him. The book also mentions that the mayor has respect for "heroes" and not "treasure-hunters", which I took to mean he didn't like greedy people who seemed to be in it for the money.

Either way, though, it's generally a bad idea to play the "we're amazing adventurers and don't care about you enough to stay behind and stop you all dying unless you give us lots of money" extortion card against a farming village when you're level 1 and nobody has heard of you.

I'm not sure exactly what will happen when villagers start telling them how impressed they are with the PCs being modest and charitable enough to accept a lesser price, but it's going to be interesting.

That's all for this week. Next week, by popular demand: Planescape: Magical Girls!

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Not Awesome

Not awesome at all.

For a change, here is a comic that is not self-contained; it is from a game I am a player in, the same as the previous comic. One of the other players is some kind of Evil warlock whose apparent goal is party conflict. The events depicted are true, including the party cleric Calm Emotions-ing everyone. I was told I should totally draw this, though it is quite possibly the most underwhelming thing that has ever happened.

Speaking of - awkward segue! - you've probably seen me link TVTropes before. It's basically Wikipedia for fiction tropes, and a lot more informal - but like Wikipedia, in the shadows of the discussion pages lurk an army of hooting monkeys with the sense of humour of a Betamax tape ready to argue for countless posts about stupid details nobody actually cares about, like whether or not you are allowed to say "I".

This post is not about those people.

You see, there is a sort of point to that - a lot of the people who say "I" are just rambling on about themselves, and if there is one thing nobody gives a crumpet about it is people who write about themselves on a tropes wiki. Unless it's awesome.

For example, there's the page for Crowning Moment of Awesome. What is that, you ask? Well if you clicked the link you'd know it was "the moment when a fictional character does something for which they will be remembered forever, winning for them the eternal loyalty of fans," idiot.

There are specific entries for "Tabletop RPGs" and "D&D", which are mostly people talking about their "awesome" characters. Unfortunately, these "awesome" characters are often... well, finger-quotes exist for this kind of shit.

I'd like to stick to D&D for now, because I am lazy, but nobody has bothered to check these pages for true awesomeness, or even format them; either a bunch of D&D tales were left in the "Other/Unspecified Game" section by mistake or some people are stupid. So let's start there, shall we?

"This troper DMed a game where a character, a rogue/cleric of a chaotic good homebrew god, was fighting in a floating house one thousand and five hundred feet off the ground, against a nigh-invulnerable construct not unlike an inevitable. The cleric, seeing that this thing was powerful, jumped out of a window, summoned a celestial hippogriff, and flew to safety. Awesome."

Awesome retreat, guys!

Can you imagine doing that and trying to explain why it was great to someone else?

"Well, we were in a floating house, and there was this nigh-invulnerable construct. It was powerful!"
"So what did you do to it?"
"I ran away."
"I cast a simple summon monster spell, summoned something that could fly, and ran away."
"...Is that it?"
"Of course!"


"This troper had two different CMOAs in his first and only campaign. The first occurred during an indoor map where his ranger, after a series of unsuccessful attacks, manages to land a critical on a guard with each sword!"

The hard part is trying to read through these while keeping in mind this is a list of "moment when a fictional character does something for which they will be remembered forever". That's right, this guy's most awesome thing ever was rolling two criticals! What are the odds?!

But wait, there's more!

"The second, and even more awesome, was during a section where the party was intended to wipe, but most of them were so experienced in the game that the DM had to bring out a high-level wizard to cast Fireball."

wow, what a formidable opponent

"The attack managed to knock everyone to 0 HP or lower...except me. This gave me one turn to act, and given few options, I eventually blurt out "play dead". Even though I have no ranks in anything that should give me skill in that. And I pull it off!"

I want to laugh, but the sad little exclamation mark at the end there makes me feel guilty about doing so.

Why do people confuse "awesome" with "cowardly"? If you made a last stand and took everyone down, that would have been awesome. If you made a last stand and got killed, but heroically, it could still be considered awesome. You played dead? Yeah, good idea, but I wouldn't say "awesome". I would say "nobody gives a shit".

"We had a campaign that was so amazing that EVERY character in it had at least one of these. At LEAST."

The examples listed after that are mostly pretty decent, actually, but I really can't get over the gratuitous use of capital letters ("DESTROYS the thing in ONE ROUND") like this only just happened and the writer hasn't had time to get flaccid.

Minor point, though:

"The skald, whose exploits were so legendary I couldn't possibly come up with one example. Let me put it this way: she was a gnome with levels split between bard and barbarian. She had a constitution score so high that she had over 250 hit points by level 21, even though the majority of her hit dice were d6."

Pro Tip for young writers: Show, don't tell. One example of these legendary exploits is fine. Really. Please stop masturbating.

I won't argue the bard/barb thing (one time I half-jokingly argued that a DM can stat a tarrasque with class levels if he wants with someone who insisted my group and I weren't "mature enough to play a real roleplaying game"), but if having a high Constitution score at epic levels is legendary, then I'm a plesiosaur. And since I don't see flippers...

"In one campaign I was in we were facing a Troll that was chained up. My ranger then went behind the Troll, grabbed the chain and pulled. The Troll went down and we were able to finish him off."


Really. Really? This is your ranger's defining moment of awesomeness? You grabbed the chain? And pulled, even? And what happened next? Did someone make a statue of your ranger? Maybe when your PC finally dies they can put it on your tombstone: "Here lies Ranger Guy. He grabbed the chain and pulled.". Because that is a crowning moment of awesome.

Oh wait, no it isn't. Go ride a wheelbarrow of dicks.

"This troper has DMed a scene that was fairly awesome. (3.5, level 1 PCs)"

"Fairly" awesome? You come onto the Crowning Moment of Awesome page to tell a "fairly" awesome story? Fuck you!

"Well, from the PCs' point of view it might have been called "humorously pathetic."

You can almost hear the DM touching himself from here.

"There were only a few players so the party at that comprised then of a human fighter and a halfling rogue."

Has anyone really been far even as decided to use even go want to do look more like?

"Thew [sic] were in, essentially, a hall of doors. About six doors in the rogue is tired of hunting for traps. In the next segment of passage is found a seven foot deep pool of clear water with a chest at the bottom. The human
[...] dived in. He [...] stayed under long enough to tie the rope around the lock in the chest. [...] He motioned to the halfling to start pulling on the rope as he lifted the chest himself. As soon as the chest was moved the water began draining downward and acid began [...] filling the 'top' of the pool. Now out of air in his lungs the fighter swam through the acid, lugging an iron chest [...] He made it out with major burns, but with the chest. The chest contained two drowned rats and a broken wand."

I decided to cut out entire chunks of that wall of text because if I made you read the entire thing for that terrible payoff I think you would have killed me.

Honestly, is that it? They nearly killed themselves for nothing? Is this supposed to be awesome? Because instead it is kind of like the trap and treasure described: a painful, retarded waste of everybody's time.

"Feeling foolish, the pair headed for the next door. The rogue searched for traps again and found nothing with a roll of 17. Feeling secure they opened the door and were struck head on by a flash trap that blinded them both. The halfling stumbled back, 'into' the acid. Now both temporarily blind the fighter had to take the rope, throw it to the halfling and pull him out."

You can kind of tell why there were only two people playing at the time, can't you?

There's more, but it's just more of the same stupid bullshit.

Hurr hurr, guys, I totally screwed two PCs over with a stupid trap that wasted everyone's time and then totally set off another trap in their faces! Crowning moment of awesome right here!

By the way, did the halfling actually fall in or did the DM just declare he did? Either way, this story is fucking stupid.

"This troper's managed to GM one of these combined with a Crowning Moment Of Funny in the first session of his Maid: the RPG campaign."


I think it's time to go to the D&D page. It will take me a while to find some bad things in there oh wait never mind here's the second one:

"This troper once played a single-classed Fighter who had a feat that gave him a free attack whenever he was hit with a critical. A shadow dragon on it's last legs proceeded to critical the fighter to negative HP, and with my last attack, I rolled a natural 20. Not a single player would refer to me killing the dragon by any other means than hitting it in the nuts. The fighter's name? "Lord Kittensquisher", due to the DM's fondness for cat-like enemies, and unfortunate tendency to walk them into melee range. This troper took down a displacer beast Packlord with one round of hits. Ah, good times."

Source on feat, please. (Is this balanced or not? I can't tell. Honestly, since he's playing a fighter, he probably needs everything he can get.

As for the rest of it:

Actually, you know what? Screw you, Lord Kittensquisher. You're not even un-awesome enough to feature prominently in this blog post.

"This troper fondly remembers an impromptu D&D campaign he got involved with, where his first task was to take out not one but two cyclopes. He did, just barely, in no small part to flicking green sparks into their eyes to blind them."

A pattern emerges.

See, whenever I read these, a little voice in the back of my mind asks: "and then what happened?" It is waiting for the crowning moment, the definitively epic conclusion to the end of this tale. Not "I blinded them cause they had eyes

Where did these green sparks come from, anyway? Is this a spell? Was it prestidigitation, or a spell that is actually intended to blind people?

"This troper was once playing a game of D&D as my signature Half-Elf rogue/bard, Tobac, and was running away from a balor, along with my band of NPC rogues and 2 lower level PC companions. My friend, who played Davror, my high level Half-Orc half brother who had been killed, was, through months of pestering of the DM, just brought back as an even higher level angel. He was my guardian angel, and if I were to die, he would be banished from the material plane..."


A "signature" character which the other players are lower-level "companions" of? Are you perhaps journeying through Marysutopia?

The rest of the wall of text is, well, a wall of text, but it basically runs as follows: "I was trying to survive the balor until my angel half-brother showed up! It killed most of my NPC followers. Then the other PCs who apparently enjoy this rubbish either sacrificed themselves to save me or were thrown at the balor by me. Then my high-level bodyguard showed up and killed the balor in a few rounds. Then I went to recruit some more NPCs."

What is wrong with your DM? This isn't Dungeons and Dummies. This is the roleplaying equivalent of taking a huge steaming dump in everyone's laps while they thank you for the ice-cream.

"This Troper had a half-elf ranger who, through variants and ability switching, had a base land speed of 60 ft. Combined with a Str of 18, his total Jump modifier was +40. So, because I could, my character leaped 60 ft horizontally from one tower to another. Anything less than 20 was failure. Leap of faith, indeed."

Really? And then what happened?

"D&D. Twenty-three cultists. My gnome sorcerer. One fireball. Damage roll, and...twenty-three dead cultists. How many people can say they're made their own jaw drop?"

grats on killing mooks

you are special

"Okay, I've seen a few of these. One of them was when a player was a Half-Orc Barbarian, and he was up against an army of 20 goblins, and was only about Level 1..."

I'm not targeting this one for its content so much as I am for the fact that the whole thing is a series of bullet points that fills my screen and is filled with sad little exclamation marks and liberal use of even sadder capital letters. I keep imagining someone actually trying to explain these examples to people:

"Also, don't forget that our PCs managed to succeed in breaking the will of the Big Bads of TWO Adventures."
"Kalarel of Keep on Shadowfell, and Palamar of Thunderspire Labyrinth. Kalarel by a CLERIC OF BAHAMUT cheating in a fight, and Palamar by 12 Success skill challenge!"
"You don't have to shout, I'm right..."
"...Involving tricking Palamar and friends to fighting amongst EACH OTHER over the possibility that the PCs had the EYE OF VECNA!"
"Oh god, my ears! My virgin ears!"

Another Pro Tip: Capitalising things to make them more dramatic does not work if you are capitalising a significant fraction of your writing output. Tone it down, please.

Unfortunately for you guys, I really can't be bothered sifting through the rest of this mix of wonder and garbage. The little thrills that may be obtained from deriding something which is bad are very nice, but like most drugs they take their toll on the body, especially if you overdose.

For now: As a sort of antidote, I want to hear your awesome stories. Anonymous posting is on and you are free to omit names, if it is required.

Tell you what - I will draw the most awesome stories posted by, oh, let's say a month from now. Don't be shy!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Stupid Evil

There are some things I just want to punch in the face.

As part of my university degree I do things in a physics lab, and also in this lab is a guy with... a face. It’s not ugly, as such, it’s just he has these huge lips and a big nose and something about them makes me want to punch him. (Lately he has been growing an afro and a little moustache, which is not helping at all.) I also have an acquaintance who insists on responding to things people say with “you do realise that...” when he isn’t asking a question.

I would also enjoy hitting at least half the population of the TV Tropes forum.

The top of the list, though, is evil PCs.

I will admit I am a little biased. The first ever time I DMed a friend of mine (well, ex- now, she cut off contact with me years ago over a D&D argument of all things) decided she wanted to play a Chaotic Evil character, and since this was a first-level game she ended up nearly killing another PC so she could loot a masterwork scimitar. (On the upside, she swiftly got bored and rolled some kind of snarky halfling instead.) Since then I have not seen evil PCs played much better.

The main problem, I think, is that nearly all of them were played with the same goal in mind: create party conflict, screw over the other PCs if they can get away with it, and generally shit on the game. Contrary to what some people might think this does not amuse me.

There isn’t actually much that I mind, as far as games getting screwed up go. My players have told me they feel they aren’t on rails and can do what they like, and half of my adventures start with me sitting down and saying “Okay, what kind of adventure do you guys want to have?” and rolling from there. (Generally they take turns picking adventures related to their character’s interests.) If they happen to find something fun then sure, whatever.

What bugs me, I suppose, is when one person’s idea of fun is something that happens at the expense of others.

You probably know what I mean. The party rogue killing the party when they are low on health just before the campaign’s end is a pretty unsatisfying ending for everyone else, finding your wand of healing relocated to the party kender’s pocket when you really needed it is not enjoyable, etc. (Then again, it is probably your fault for partying with a kender.) It’s especially annoying if the person in question brags (“oh man, I screwed everyone over sooo good last week!”) or cries (“You didn’t like that? What are you, a faggot?”) as well.

Evil characters can work, I’ll grant you that, but you need to play the character well, not just for the sake of starting that kind of trouble, and be prepared to accept any consequences of your actions. And you probably need the right kind of group to work – a group which, should you try to screw them over, won’t feel like they were abused for someone else’s enjoyment.

You probably need a DM who isn’t biased, also.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

My "Settings": Otherworld

Extra-long(ish) update for my fans (both of you) who I am sure were waiting anxiously for one!

For the record, that was a late (unless you don't like stupid rules) and lame (unless you don't like stupid things, oh snap) April Fool's. I even like Pratchett!

At first I was going to leave it up for two weeks, because though I don't link this thing much other people do and I got to see some people go "oh my god is he serious D:<" two weeks later. Then I just couldn't think of anything to write. See, I wanted to finish with my 'main' homebrew setting, Otherworld. (In case you're wondering, it's a placeholder name which has lasted for years and become the name by virtue of my being unable to think of anything else.) Why this was hard will become apparent in a few paragraphs when I stop babbling.

It was (is) my first setting, and so I constructed it in the manner which I assume (pending the ability to assert) most other DMs did, by following these ten simple steps:

  1. Start with an idea which was probably shit anyway
  2. "Borrow" or "pay homage to" things from other settings you like (read: steal blatantly)
  3. Toss a few more ideas you had on the way in there
  4. Do #2 again
  5. Complain liberally about the things about other settings you don't like, contemplate how these things could be better, put them in
  6. Have an original idea
  7. Make up something you can actually use as the plot of a campaign
  8. Watch your players ignore most of it
  9. Retcon things like there's no tomorrow
  10. Repeat steps 2, 4 and honestly pretty much every step including this one.
So, I did. Step ten was particularly difficult. There were only a few short bumps in the road caused by players being a little too liberal in making up character backstories; one of my players once presented to me a new character, her homebrew race of gorgons, complete with a backstory that involved a war between the races to see who was the coolest every thousand years which her race naturally won a lot until the elves (who had apparently had a massive cultural alignment shift in my own setting when I wasn't looking) beat them up unfairly, or something, and committed genocide or whatever and now her character was the last of her kind and being hunted or something because their tears were very valuable and aaaaaaaaaauuuuuuuuuuggggghhhhh.

What was I talking about...

Oh, yeah. So that is what I did for my setting. But, every time I look at it now - and it's still incomplete, because I've left large sections of the setting blank out of laziness or lack of ideas I feel are worthy enough - I can't help but think "man, most of these ideas are probably terrible or not original enough." Sometimes I even just loathe that humans, dwarves, elves etc. are there and not original races. But since the things I occasionally hate are a core part of the setting, and I am not Metzen, I do not feel like performing major surgery just yet.

That doesn't mean I think the setting is bad, or I am fishing for praise, though. On the whole I like it, it's just that for some reason describing my work in glowing terms feels almost as pretentious as using phrases like "dear reader".

I'll skim the basics, though. If you do not want to read all this shit, please scroll down to the red line of text marking the ending and I will talk about the strip!

Otherworld is my standard setting for 3.5 D&D, and as such contains a lot of the trappings you'd expect (i.e. ornamental coverings for a horse). I have heard it described as a "pastiche" or a "satire" by players whom I trust because they tell me how great a DM I am a lot. I won't bother covering much history, because it is mostly an excuse for swords-and-sorcery action, but here are the Cliff Notes:
  • In the beginning, the world was created. It seemed like a good idea at the time.
  • Stuff happened.
  • The various ancient civilisations that predated everyone else popped up, and then promptly collapsed out of historical etiquette.
  • The major races of the world today got their act together and sorted out most of their nations.
  • About five thousand years ago, powerful demons decided to establish themselves as the primary antagonists of the setting (what can I say, I love demons) by appearing to major leaders and whispering in their ears, corrupting people, etc. This made a lot of people very angry, created some interesting new races and caused interesting things to happen to many of the existing ones.
  • Demon problem was solved via careful application of extreme violence and hostility.
  • Gods decide to intervene in the protection of the world, and create the Titans, four powerful elemental quasi-divine beings charged with making sure everything is hunky-dory.
  • The Titans get bored and decide to use their divine powers to create life. They also decide to ignore anyone who points out they're a little late.
  • The Titans create dragons.
  • The Titans decide to make this race a king, and create the very first Hydra, a being which quite resembles Tiamat.
  • The Hydra goes completely off the deep end with power, to the surprise of nobody.
  • Chromatic dragons are rallied to its cause. Metallic dragons ally with the Titans. A colour-coded dragon war begins.
  • Eventually the Titans destroy the Hydra (and most of a continent in the process) by combining like Voltron and then exploding, neatly avoiding "what the hell were you doing" interrogations from the gods afterwards.
  • The gods wisely decide to back away from the world slowly and stop mucking about.
  • And so on, until whatever the present time is.
Current races include:

Humans, who are to mundanity what the modrons are to perfect law - adaptable and relatable;

, who follow a philosophy of the harmony of opposites which influences them to live on mountain peaks and underground, worship elementals and a small pantheon of gods, and have very few women which are allowed to take multiple husbands and tend to be wizards;

, which come in two flavours with cultural differences; the "main" elves, which live in a jungle on the eastern continent and ride dinosaurs, and the "vanilla" elves who live near the humans in pretty woods (with giant mushrooms for housing, though) for people who are boring;

Gnomes, swamp-dwellers with a thirst for knowledge and a drive for creativity (in music and magitech, mostly) who also happen to think secrets exist for a reason and free press is weird. Gnomes who go around saying "I just LOVE to tinker!" and making stupid things like mechanical chickens are like their version of senile people and usually put in "special homes";

Faeri, who are actually elemental humanoids kind of like genasi that just look like fey (hence the name) spawned from the remains of the Titans, who still haven't been perfected because I need a name that's actually good and their racial stats are still a little all over the place...

There are a few minor races like naga (elves which sided with the mariliths that showed up to corrupt people in the bad old days and have more in common than Warcraft naga, cough), sthein (stolen from Bastards & Bloodlines with an only-slightly-edited backstory), drow (you can be a chaotic good rebel or a chaotic good non-rebel from the chaotic good surface city of Drizzimatizz!), orcs (read: pirates), goblins (little demon-worshipping bastards), asian people, etc.

Sadly, there are still no black people in this setting.

There's also some nations! Made with
geography! Real geography!

Short version:

There are four continents known: Lerioth ('primary' one, humans and dwarves etc. mostly), Nhaudan (exotic eastern jungle land, humans and elves), Abudhamos (shattered by the Titans and a mysterious wasteland, but you can bet there are humans in it!) and Taishiria (for Oriental Adventures games).

I can't be bothered listing every nation and their nuances, and most of the map is still... unmapped (you won't believe how handy a continent-spanning mountain range is for avoiding having to flesh out chunks of your setting), but I can run through the basics again. Lerioth has (in alphabetical order):

  • Aldanath, fairly standard medieval fantasy kingdom which is recovering from two wars (one of them covered in that campaign I mentioned once!) with a lich and developing some pretty sweet magitech to get back on their feet;
  • Brellan, swampy and partially mountainous gnome homeland with the occasional gnome-built floating city (and I hope you liek oozes!);
  • Czeras, vanilla elf land built in the forests of Linde'taure nobody else wanted because the giant mushrooms smelled weird;
  • Dall, the mysterious homeland of the dwarves in that huge mountain range I mentioned;
  • Drizzimatizz, a hidden surface drow city dedicated to Eilistraee ecause all those chaotic good drow rebels had to go somewhere;
  • A land of Druids and nature which I have fleshed out so little it doesn't have a name;
  • Epinoza, which would be a bit like the toga version of Greece if I bothered fleshing it out more as well;
  • Genera, a floating island city-state of wizards in pointy hats and beards;
  • Glaswegia, a little-known snowy country in the mountains which is reportedly very cold;
  • Jai-Kaldor, the obligatory powerful city-state in the middle of things that is not Waterdeep or Ankh-Morpork in any way;
  • and Rayaleigh, an extremely mountainous place inhabited by peery Germans, or at least peery what-I-think-Central/Eastern-Europeans-are-like-having-done-little-to-no-research.... s.
That covers about half the map. The rest just has "STUFF" and "UM" written on it. My players suggest that these are actually plains, travelled by the dreaded Um Horde of barbarians which prevent anyone crossing the mountains from returning alive.

The Iriscian Islands, are an island chain which links Lerioth to Nhaudan, and has a lot of ruins and pirate action between Rune (a good(ish) city-state which used to be part of Kaldor before that stopped being a kingdom) and Skull City (the obligatory evil(ish) "monster city" which is where most orcs probably come from). Nhaudan itself has:
  • Cabelaba, the first human nation on Nhaudan which happens to be the most boring by far;
  • Gnoll Country, an unimaginatively-named lawless stretch of badlands which seperates the human places on the western side of the eastern continent from the elves on the eastern side;
  • Jhaka-Szark, neutral evil wizard peninsula which is in no way Thay;
  • Khanjo, jungle land of jungle elves living in cities high on mesas;
  • Merchant City, the port city to the west where time is money, money is everything and assassins are legal, a polite way of conducting business and a government body;
  • and Paladinia, a lawful good theocracy which just happens to be north of Jhaka. Actually, Paladinia is the name of the capital city, but I forgot the name I came up with for the whole thing (a sure sign that I didn't like it anyway) and I can't bring myself to use a player's suggestion of "Aclerica". Then again, I was planning to name the True Neutral outer plane Switzerland.
That is pretty much it. I'd include cosmology but this is way too long already (at least new players can read it later and get aquainted) and, as any of my players will tell you, it changes every two weeks when I get a new idea. So, that is it for now.

And now, in red text as promised for those tl;drs among us, the comic!

It was actually intended to be filler, but I couldn't think of something that applies to my setting (note to players preparing incriminating comments about things I left out: shhhhhhhhhhhhhhh)
. It is true, though. God, I wish it wasn't.

Sometimes my players read this thing. Most of them don't - I'm sure if most of the people involved actually read Natural 21 they would have had a conniption fit - but a lot of them (at least, those I met in /tg/-related rooms) do read those comics I post here and to that board under the This Just Happened title (the oldies would make good filler, actually...) and, sometimes, they get the wrong idea.

Specifically, that I am in the business of drawing awesome things my players did.

I have a few problems with "awesome" D&D stories, one of them being that most of the "awesome" D&D stories people tell are awesome or fake. (For more on that, see the post I promise to make in the next couple days.) The main one, though, is "terrible" D&D stories are funnier.

Admit it, hearing about someone doing cool things, while fun, is not as fun as hearing about just how bad a player is. There's a perverse pleasure in swapping tales of (and heckling) things that are bad. That's why I still have Ctrl+Alt+Del and Dominic Deegan bookmarked. Not that my players are that bad - most of them are quite lovely, and I will dedicate a post to them one day, I promise - but that don't make for good reading, and the silly things they do on occasion are more fun to vent about anyway. It's cathartic.

Sometimes they don't get the message, though. Back when this was just a few comics posted on /tg/ every once in a while, I ran a game where one player got a lucky critical hit and I decided his frenzied brokenserker removed the arm of an ultroloth bad guy. He decided this was awesome.

He demanded I draw a comic of it for months.

The answer was no. At the time I'd just drawn players doing silly things, and "my player critted and cut a yugoloth's arm off, and he begged me to draw it" seemed to break the flow.

Besides, trying to get a discount fiendish arm graft from it in Paladinia and declaring he would kill anyone, PC or NPC, who objected was a much better subject.

Well, you know what? I guess it is a little harsh. I have drawn something for a player last week - partly because it was a good opener to a post I've had in mind for a while now - so I suppose I can draw things my friends did that are awesome for them.

Just don't expect me to write this many words on how great you are.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

How To Fix Planescape

I have been running campaigns since 1980, and I have had my basic philosophy about being a DM since pretty much day one...though it took years to hone it to a fine edge. One of the things I learned later was that like every human being, every edition of D&D must have its own asshole. It's always something, something marring the setting and becoming the giant gaping rectal cavity of this generation's D&D lineup.

For 4th Edition, it's the pointless change and
cynical pandering to MMO-addicted basement-dwellers who wouldn't know good fluff or roleplaying if it crawled out of the gravetrees of the Deepdark and bit them in the ass. For 3.5, it was CharOp, the colon of the Wizards forums, where people with self-diagnosed Asperger's gather to complain about social interaction and do math. For 3.0, it was being released early and shitty and swiftly replaced with the superior 3.5.

For 2E, it was the settings.

These things were so bad, they were the reason TSR nearly folded and had to be sold to Lorraine Williams. In a matter of years, the company put out Al-Qadim, Birthright, Council of Wyrms, Spellfire, Dark Sun, Kara-Tur, Rokugan, Planescape, Ravenloft, Athas, Mystara, Greyhawk and Spelljammer, hoping against hope that one of them would become a blockbuster. Spoilers: How many of those got a book in 3.x? Yeah, none. That's because it ended up in the hands of Wizards, who decided to cut back on the bullshit and release only a few settings.

One of them (which was palmed off to a bunch of grognards with a fansite) was Planescape, which ranks up there as one of the all-time worst settings devised. It started life as a cynical attempt to score some more money off gamers by re-releasing the same material (by taking the Great Wheel from Forgotten Realms and applying it to every setting ever) and, in an attempt to disguise it, covered it in Dr Seuss artwork and more ham-fisted philosophy bullshit than Terry Pratchett trying to write a Discworld book after about 1987.

In short: You play on the Outer Planes. There's a convenient Adventure City (TM) you're forced into, where everyone forms into guilds based on philosophical theories that would be laughed out by anyone who actually finished their philosophy degree and is kept in line by a giant floating DMPC, because they couldn't think of an original or interesting way to keep players in line outside of "an invincible lady kills you!!11". Oh yeah, and there were supposedly an infinite series of badly-designed parallel dimensions like Baator and Pandemonia which were full of interesting and playable ideas; if only it didn't have to be one or the other.

Anyway, over the years I've been thinking long and hard about this (if you know me, you know I'm a planar lorefag) and I have some suggestions for those DMs that want to make Planescape workable.


If you don't want to just get rid of it, at least either remove the Lady of Pain, stat her up, or make it Aoskar's divine realm. Boom, done, no major changes.


Get rid of these, and set up one for every major alignment instead. Boom, done. (If you're up to it, do some goddamn research and rework the factions to base them on real schools of philosophical thought instead.)

The Planes
  • Elemental: Just roll all the elemental, quasi-elemental and para-elemental planes into one big elemental soup (hey, look! Something 4E got right!). Keep positive/negative if you want.
  • Elysium: The good planes are actually hard for me to comment on, because naturally nothing interesting or fun ever goes on there. How about this: The celestials get their own Blood War! They can fight in Elysium, which would be like Heaven only fluffy cloud cities floating over a battlefield where the happy flowers and stuff from before the Holy Wars continually regrow admist the bodies. It'd explain why the celestials don't just smash the fiends while they're busy with the Blood War, anyway.
And while we're at it... is it me or was the guy who invented "guardinals" probably in a giant orgy pile at a fur convention at the time? durrr, humans are too evil to be angelic! Let's get some anthropomorphic horses and draw erotica of them in the Book of Exalted Deeds! Seriously, just use devas instead.
  • The Beastlands: Honestly this plane is fine as-is, though I'd be careful since the fluff is probably a furry's wet dream these days.
  • Arborea: Why the fuck would you give a race its own plane? Kick out elves, make eladrin related to fey or something instead, add some rampaging feral animals or something and tada, you've got a workable adventurin' land.
  • Ysgard: Why not make it less happy and fluffy? It could be a plane of constant, pointless war, where dwarves and humans futilely fight the enemy until they lose all sense of identity. See, that's interesting.
  • Limbo: Oh look, it's the elemental planes mark 2! Shame, because the slaad were one of the few interesting planar races. How about making it truly random, where you're as likely to get a sudden mass of fire energy as you are to get an explosion of kittens, or potato boats, or penguins? Since, you know, it's the plane of RANDOM and all.
  • Pandemonium: This is one of those Outer Planes that seems to be a good idea for part of a plane, but not the whole thing. Eh. Add a really windy, mountainous surface layer, perhaps? Less dull tunnels, at least.
  • The Abyss: Leave as-is. It's excellent as it is. (So, naturally, the diaper-wearers at 4E had to fuck it up. Sigh.)
  • Carceri: Hey look, something that doesn't work as an entire plane. Stretching it out with infinite spheres didn't work, either. Why not make it one giant dyson sphere prison, or something? And maybe add a place where petitioners can appeal their sentence or do community service and eventually go to a better plane instead. They have to go somewhere, and it's not like petitioners mysteriously vanish into the plane eventually or something.
  • The Gray Waste: *gag*. Oh look, it's a boring wasteland because nothingness is scary, you guys, that's how Cthulhu worked! Actually, my main problem with this place is the yugoloths, what with their being pointless card-carrying villains that don't really do anything except go I AM eVil!!. Find me one book that actually explains how a yugoloth thinks and acts besides "I'm an evil mercenary lol" and I might change my mind, but this plane actually works well if you remove the yugoloths from it and make it what it should be: dark, desolate nothing.
  • Gehenna: Fire and brimstone, except no devils. Make up a race of fiends that live here or something, spice it up a bit.
  • Baator: It's okay, but the arch-devils need to be more non-humanoid (or at least not as samey - Dispater and Mephistopheles might as well be flat-chested twin sisters) and have some more thought put into them. Maybe some old Bibilical characters like Lucifer or Metatron could work as replacements.
  • Acheron: Ysgard, but EEEVIL!! Dedicating planes to specific races (this time orcs) in a setting which theoretically has infinite worlds and thus infinite race is fucking stupid. Take them out, take goblins out, take the maug from Fiendish Codex, relocate them here and make them the major race. Now it's not so bad.
  • Mechanus: Modrons always looked like the other outsider's retarded little cousins. Replace them with inevitables and this plane is fine.
  • Arcadia: I keep imagining a Wizards employee saying "Hey, a plane where nothing happens!" at their Planescape design meeting and facepalming. Make this the staging point for archons on their Holy War I thought of above, and it works.
  • Mount Celestia: Basing a plane off the Bible is never a good idea. Make it a more lawful (ie, even) number of layers like eight and maybe put some thought into the rulers of the archons. Have you read BoED? They're all glowy transgendered weirdoes. Bahamut is pretty good, though; maybe he can run the place.
  • Bytopia: If giving planes to races wasn't bad enough, you had to give it to the race of short and cute childlike tinkers with their nuclear robots and mechanical chickens. The only way to salvage this place is to kill it with fire, maybe say the eladrins wiped out the gnomes and put them in concentration camps during the Holy War.
  • The Outlands: Mashing random shit from all the other planes together like a patchwork and putting representative towns around the edges does not a hub world make. Replace it with a stand-alone hub world with its own unique geography, like Yggdrasil or something, and we'll talk.
There we have it, folks. Tomorrow I'll show you some more of my settings.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Super Amazing Anniversary Spectacular Go

CR25 Hypermitotic Dungeon Master is now a year old.

There's not much I can say.

Actually, yes there is. Normally I try not to get a big head and act pretty reserved or make fun of myself but today, I am awesome. And so are my stick figure comics and their giant tl;dr blocks of text! All I need to do now is enter a Wizards campaign setting contest and come second place!

I can't even remember when this started, exactly - the above is the first image in that style I saved and posted, and honestly I forget when I posted it. Or if I did at all. I don't remember scanning this shit. My computer says sharkcannon.png was created on the 13th of January, 2008, but I think it is lying. (The first TJH was drawn on the 23rd of May, 2007.)

This blog has come along way, at least when compared to the original comics scratched out and posted as the This Just Happened series on /tg/. Well, not that long, but whatever.

I would like to thank the following people and go back to the game I just put on hold while I typed this:
  • /tg/, for inspiring me to do this thing and for any time it is not acting like /b/ with Warhammer;
  • LordLicorice, for making the awesome sup/tg/ and hosting the old comics (including the Fictional Boogaloo ones which never actually happened), and being a swell guy in general;
  • Everyone in #suptg who is also a swell guy;
  • Urch for being a cool player and also helping inspire Sir Brian Consumptington which I promise I will put into an actual game one of these days
  • All of my other players, who are nice guys, really.
  • Except you. Fuck you.
  • All the readers who have read this thing, especially the ones that comment and make me feel special.
Here's to the year ahead. Hopefully I haven't jumped the shark yet!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Natural 21

Onward to part 2!

I sometimes wish I had a perfect group. What a perfect group is for you might be a little different to my perfect group, but the basics should be there - good guys, everyone works well together, et cetera.

Of course, this is pretty hard to get and you'll probably end up with a fuckmuffin or two. It's to be expected - pretty much everyone is going to be a cockwaffle of some description at least once in their gaming career, possibly near the start of it. That doesn't mean you shouldn't play with someone just because they can be a buttcake, though - nearly all the fuckcrumpets I know have redeeming qualities that make it worth playing with them, and with luck they might even grow out of the habits that made them a bitchpudding in the first place.

Case in point, pretty much half of that campaign I mentioned in the last post. I was a years-long game, and people who were huge shitbreakfasts around the start improved immeasurably toward the end. I would play with most of these people again. With that in mind (and the fact that this was a while ago so I might be misremembering details), here we go:

The campaign started with four players, only one of whom made it to the end. (I actually had to stop playing after a few sessions, and picked it up months later with mostly-new players.) Those players were (actual names avoided):
  • Gorgon (unrelated name) who was decent at roleplaying (and might have played D&D before, I forget). This was my first game, so I allowed her to play a chaotic evil character. She stabbed and nearly killed another player over a nonmagical scimitar, which is pretty much all anyone remembers, but the entire game was terrible really so who gives a shit?
  • Sir Not-Appearing-In-This-Blog-Post, who played a cleric without problems and was just plain unable to make it again. Pretty cool guy.
  • Sorceress, who will later roll a non-sorceress but I don't care. Played a sorcerer with the intention of going into Dragon Disciple, and thought "chaotic" meant "crazy", but didn't do much except stop the party one time to sniff things. Fairly harmless!
  • Forgetmenot, who played a multiclass wizard/fighter (in a level 1 game! We were new). Aside from being the unfortunate stab victim above, not much happened.
Later, when I evolved from New DM to Newbie DM, I picked up the game again, starting the campaign a few in-game weeks after the last session.

Sorceress had taken the character to a campaign with another guy, who made it to epic level. She had also picked up a host of ego problems there somehow; she rerolled a wu jen, but wanted to cameo her old PC as an NPC who helped hire the new players. And she wanted to use the epic-level demigoddess from the other DM's game plus her fey-with-class-levels familiar. Eventually she "settled" for her original PC, plus a couple levels, and the familiar which proceeded to interrupt the scene with its wacky antics! until I banned it from future appearances.

Oh yeah, and she cheated on her dice rolls and ignored restrictions I put on treasure. I was a newbie. :/

Forgetmenot rolled a half-orc monk, or something. Unfortunately, Forgetmenot has a habit of missing sessions and then quitting games (or at least rerolling characters) because he no longer "feels" the character. This happened fairly early on and he couldn't be bothered coming back. Bah.

New players were:
  • Afk, who rolleda half-fey cleric. He lasted to the end, and was actually a pretty good guy - interesting backstory, roleplayed fairly well (including his character flaws), etc. I have few problems with him, except that his character wasn't awesomely memorable until a scene where his character proposed to another, which was pretty swell.
  • Defias, which was the name of the guy's dwarf character. A WoW player (can you tell?) who was actually pretty cool except for the WoW references (and reads this blog!). He had to stop playing for some reason so his PC decided to stick around the town they were in to pursue a relationship with a minor NPC. That's... about it.
  • Roffle, who played a half-drow soulknife with a tragic backstory who also stayed to the end, despite the fact that his character spent most of the game moping and distancing himself from the party. Actually a pretty decent roleplayer. I will explain why I want to punch him later.
  • Fleet, a pretty cool guy who played a half-orc (or was it an orc?) with a really interesting backstory who sadly had schedule conflicts after the first couple sessions and never played again - don't even know if he played D&D at all after that. FFFF.
Later (I think around when Defias and Forgetmenot quit), we picked up:
  • Catphone, Roffle's sister (I love making up names) who played a were-tiger who was also a lone wolf with no real reason to interact with the PCs or anyone else. (Dear D&Ders: Please stop doing this, or at least stop crying to me about it when you have no in-character reason to do anything.) Catphone missed a few sessions because she was too sad to play, or her cat was sick, or she was sad that her cat was sick.
  • Timberlake, who played a half-dragon fighter and showed up to a bunch of sessions high, or just fell asleep. Yeah.
At some point I decided to run a second side-game with evil PCs opposing the party. It did not last long at all. It consisted of:
  • Georgio, who just took over the halfling villain I had from before. Stopped eventually, though he made some suggestions on what to do with it.
  • Power Samurai, a powergamer who wanted to use the game to playtest a homebrew iajutsu-related PrC he made (again, I was new); he killed the first boss before anyone else had time to act, then quit the game because it was "boring".
  • Revy, who played a thri-kreen and was actually pretty cool. I was sad when we couldn't continue the evil-PC game. I should invite him to another game sometime...
  • Hack, who usually plays melee fighters, and this time decided to... play a drow melee fighter. When the evil-PC game had to be cancelled, his character "defected" and joined the heroes.
Around this point, things got weird.

Sorceress got really touchy about anything bad happening to her PCs. It didn't help that in another game, she threw a literal tantrum at this happening (despite playing a lich. Think about it) and I didn't feel like dealing with that crap. At one point, she threatened to murder another Timberlake's PC for giving her familiar a slap on the wrist for snatching things out of his hands so she could see. She tried to make a semantics argument about how she didn't really mean she would kill him, though later she made a secret "deal" with Hack to kill Timberlake in his sleep. Another time she yelled at me for including "a challenge way over our level" (something about their level I took from the Book of Challenges and toned down) because her character took damage.

Meanwhile, Hack was slowly deciding he was the only genius in this whole fucking business. After deciding Afk and Timberlake both sucked and so did their characters (for reasons varying from "valid" to "fucking trivial"), he at first planned to off them, then quit the game and demanded a solo campaign (which he now demands whenever he quits a game, or whenever I start a new campaign he can't join because he refuses to play with half the gaming group) with dice-rolling combat action and adventures and dungeons planned with as much care and effort as the actual campaign. This did not go as well as he hoped.

At one point, the party (which was about 6-8th level) got a hold of a unique trident from some book (MotP?) It was treasure "for the party", but what ended up happening was that the party fighter sold it, kept the money for himself and commissioned a +1 keen holy frost greatsword. If I had the experience I did now I would have smacked him in the face.

Sorceress heard this and tried to put a small "down payment" on an epic-level spear for her cohort. I said no.

Oh, yeah! There were cohorts. Sorceress' was actually a PC of hers from another game who was mostly remembered for being thick, nearly killing the entire party by doing something she was told not to several times in a row, and blaming it on everyone else. It was also a fighter she was trying to set up to be like an FF dragon. She played it and her familiar like two extra PCs. Timberlake had a ranger, and Afk had a sorceress (mostly to carry his stuff). If you've been counting, you'll notice that this made way too many characters in the one party. There might have been another cohort I forget, I don't remember.

Sorceress and Hack (who hadn't quit yet) brought this up with me. In a dazzling display of generosity, they suggested kicking Catphone and Roffle out of the game. I told them to go eat a bag of dongs and kicked out all cohorts, except for Afk's after he made a good case for keeping it (it didn't do much and carried his stuff).

Timberlake accepted provided he could swap Leadership for another feat, which seemed fair. Sorceress, though, was a little miffed (she has a problem with people touching her PCs in and out of game, she treated her familar and cohort like extra PCs, 1+1=...). Eventually she told me she was "finally okay" with it, and then began to threaten me because she was worried I would remove the cohort from the game by killing it. After being told that she would "react" if I fudged the die rolls against her, I told her I was no longer comfortable with her cohort participating in battle and it was to sit on the sidelines until removed so I didn't have to worry about sudden explosions of anger because someone did damage to it.

She stormed out of the game. Happily, with her and Hack gone, that solved the too-many-players issue.

That left Afk, Timberlake, Roffle and Catphone. At some point Catphone changed characters, and rolled a half-fey princess sorcerer/blood magus who was also very shy and had little reason to interact with people. (!!!) Roffle was still mopey and didn't do much IC - but I forgot his OOC behaviour!

See, OOC, Roffle is (well, was, he's not that bad now) a jokester, cracking any joke or making any pun that came to mind until people told him to shut it up (which he'd ignore anyway). He liked to say he was "MST"ing games. He'd also play World of Warcraft during sessions and we'd have to make Catphone give us his character name (provided she wasn't too sad to play) so we could chase him down and tell him that it was his turn in battle twenty toastfucking minutes ago.

We recruited one more guy - Lewl, a WoW friend of mine who decided to play a(nother) sorceress who was also the sister of a popular NPC. And called Lewl. Heh. Good guy, really.

The final dungeon came up - that one I mentioned last time, which turned out to be too big and annoying. They decided to bring along some NPCs, and Afk and Sorceress bugged me to let her back in. She didn't want to play her wu jen again, no - she wanted to play the familiar from the first session, which Afk's half-fey had taken a liking to. After being pestered about it, I said yes, provided things didn't get silly. Later, I had to correct her when her fey rogue/sorcerer casually talked to the other PCs while trying to stealthily disarm a trap behind an orc guard several corridors away and around a corner.

More dungeon action. Lewl had to quit due to schedule problems. Shitwafers. By this point I had also rejected several requests by Hack for his PC (or his PC's higher-level father) to swoop in and save the day.

A boss battle came up - long story short, Georgio had been brought back again, this time as an undead made out of blood. Since there wasn't enough of his own blood left, the BBEG used a fellow henchman who was no longer useful as bait for the PCs and set up a dungeon which drained any blood spilled inside into a hidden chamber beneath... Oh, and then they used some of it to make a generic "the party must fight evil versions of itself" encounter, except it was "evil undead halfling versions of itself made of blood".

Even though he was a fighter, Timberlake's counterpart was a warblade. He complained about this, because it was important for some reason, and when the next session was due to begin after the battle had started he suddenly announced he "didn't feel like playing", basically ruining any chance we had of running a proper game that day, then stayed around anyway to talk to the others and make remarks that, if read by a grumpy asshole (or perhaps someone who no longer believes "oh but what I really meant was..." defenses), could be construed as snide remarks about said warblade.

So, naturally, I yelled at him and called him a fuck-bánh xèo. And he quit. Fuckbacon.

We trudged on anyway, with Afk, Sorceress, Catphone and Roffle left. Catphone didn't do much except be sad, act bored and shoot of acid arrows. Later, I looked at her blood magus after she complained about being underpowered.

Turns out she thought "+1 level of existing arcane spellcasting class" in the blood magus description meant "you get another bonus spell slot" and hadn't actually gotten any new spell levels since taking the PrC. After pointing this out, she declared that she was too lazy to fix it and quit the game. Shitternational House of Pancakes!

That left Afk, Sorceress and Roffle, who had by this point failed to respond for twenty minutes because he was "Youtubing". The final boss loomed.

I decided to just get it over with (in fact, I cut most of the final floor) and decided to make the boss battle worth it. With that in mind, I planned out a pretty good final battle arena - a multi-tiered 'roof' at the mountain's peak. In this setting, the reason magic-users don't end up dominating wars is because everyone trains casters for counterspelling the enemy's magic, and the excess magical energy from countless dispelled spells (and a little extra magical energy from spells that are cast) eventually builds up in the air and forms a magical storm above called a counterstorm, which eventually turns into a magical hurricane raining random spells and death on all. The BBEG's plan hinged on forcing one of these to appear by making the good guys bring more mages onto the battlefield, then using a magical doom artifact to absorb the storm's energy and focus it into a massive unstable death ray to nuke their capital. The artifact sat in a room at the very tip of the peak, already sucking in a vortex of energy from the storm above. While they fought, zombies and other undead would pour up from the slopes and the rooms below, which the NPCs they brought focused on holding off; nevertheless, the wave of undead would force them up the tiers with each "stage" of the battle until eventually they were fighting the lich mano-a-mano in the artifact's room.

Man, that would have been awesome.

That did happen. The problem was, since it was the final battle, I wanted to set a mood it deserved. So, I ended up wasting half an hour (with the player's permission) thinking up an appropriately epic description of the arena and the lich himself, poised to destroy a kingdom. (It was not long; most of that half-hour was spent silently thinking.) And, since this relied on a certain atmosphere, I accosted Roffle privately.

I knew he had a habit of inserting jokes all the fucking time, regardless of whether it would ruin the atmosphere or just distract everyone from something they were trying to do. I told him explicitly that if the thought of cracking a mood-breaking joke so much as crossed his mind, I would murder his children.

That vital task done, I went ahead and described everything. I described the room. I described the thunderstorm above. I described the lich. He was dark, he was ominous, he was frightening.

"...And he's FABULOUS!!"
The atmosphere crumbled.

After being specifically told not to, Roffle had opened his mouth and made a fucking joke as soon as I had finished.

His excuse?

"But I'm the MST3K of D&D. :<"

I did my best to make the final battle great after that. I really did. And, I feel, I made an awesome finale that everyone enjoyed. But whenever I look back on it, I'll always remember that. And then I'll remember the bad times.

Oh, well. Now that I've gotten that off my chest, I have to admit, overall it was a good game. I was even asked to run a sequel. A few bad moments will never get in the way of a really good game, not in the end. We did it, and it was liked, and everyone who stayed till the end had fun.

And isn't that what matters?