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You Only Live Twice: Espionage RPG’s and Gaps in the Genre

June 10, 2011 3 comments

As I still struggle to return to Marrakesh with my players (as I talked about in The Selfish GM), I thought I’d run something a touch different. That is to say, a mix of Ocean’s 11, Casino Royale, Inception, and the Italian Job.

Armed with a playlist of the soundtrack from those and a few other movies (notably The Dark Knight and Tron), I ran a variation of Andy’s “City Lights, Late Nights, and Encyption Chip 416,” detailed in his upcoming Pendulum supplement for gamemasters. Emphasis on the variation, as I did not have the time or fortitude to roll not one, but two pre-gens for each of my players.

Because I already had eight at my table. Ha.

Systematic Sampling

Fast, Furious, and Fun

The first decision I faced concerned the system itself. Because I had some experience running and playing it at college I defaulted to Savage Worlds, its simplicity seeming all the more appealing in light of my very full game table. It should say something that I was able to create eight characters in just two hours or so, though admittedly I had the Savage Worlds Character Generator at my disposal.

Unfortunately, there is such a thing as being too simple, too streamlined. Where I wanted–even needed–complexity, I was on my own. A prominent aspect of the adventure involves hacking into the casino’s servers to disrupt (or divert, depending on your alignment) a mafia funds transfer, but I had little to no resources to draw from the Explorer’s Edition. I didn’t want my tech-savvy players to resort to rolling and re-rolling Knowledge(Computer Use) every round while their compatriots started a fire-fight.

I needed something more.

A Little Game about Spies, Crooks, Missions and Heists

Going off a strange gut feeling, I decided to stop by the online store of my favorite game designer, John Wick, and see see if there was any material I could use for “City Lights.” Sure enough, he’d recently released Wilderness of Mirrors 002, which was just what I was after.

I tore through the 20-page PDF in half an hour, and was really impressed with a lot of what I saw, but couldn’t think of a way to adapt the material to Savage Worlds quickly. The system runs on a dice pool of d6’s, much like Houses of the Blooded, with the Virtues translated to areas of Expertise. What I really loved about it was the concept of players designing their own missions and being rewarded with more in-game bonuses for every layer of difficulty they added. Requiring a Source for the information regarding the mission’s plans provides an easy lever for Operations (codeword for the GM) to pull when the need for a complication arises.

But this ability to plan your own mission, as well as the concept of narrative control (remember Privilege from HotB?), is a hard concept for new gamers to grasp, and for some old-hat role-players as well. “What do you mean, we don’t roll to get the GM to talk more? We have to decide what we do ourselves?” is the usual reaction, replete with deer-in-headlights faces.

Finally, I wasn’t sure if my players wanted the cutthroat nature of the system. In addition to assigning a leader for the mission based on whose skills are most relevant to the task at hand, Ops designates an agent to be put on “abeyance,” meaning he or she was disposable, or perhaps even needed to be eliminated. “Trust” dice are given to players who are actively sabotaging their teammates. Ops included. But does the leader really believe that the agent earned this status? Yet, it’s the only way besides from using up the limited mission points to get more dice for a particularly risky action…

Sadly, it was already 4:00 and I had a game to run at 7:30. I’d have to put Wilderness of Mirrors 002 on the backburner, hopefully to playtest another day and review it more thoroughly.

Beyond Espionage, Beyond Military Mayhem

So I turned to Spycraft 2.0, albeit too late in the game. Clocking it at 500 pages, this is a hell of a tome. You want complexity? They give you complexity. With twelve spy-related classes to choose from, there’s more room for specialization than I’ve seen in most other RPG’s. This makes sense, because espionage is a highly-specialized profession, and this book is dedicated to it and it alone. And so they have fully-developed rules for arbitrating complex technological and interpersonal “skill challenges,” ranging from chases to hacking to seduction. This was what I needed.

I printed out the cards from the PDF and gave them to my players when they were racing against the double-crossing agent Esquire to hack the bank transfer first. We couldn’t use the Lead mechanic outright, though, and I had to halve the modifiers for use with Savage Worlds, but they gave the process a level of realism and a measure of spice we wouldn’t have gotten from Savage Worlds alone.

Up and Coming to the Genre

As I was researching systems I came across Mark Meredith’s own espionage game, Pointman, Hacker & Thief, but it was still in the design stage. Those interested in the system have brought up a lot of good suggestions in a thread over at the RPG Table Talk forums, and I’m looking forward to see what he brings to the genre. Perhaps he can even fill in a few of the gaps I found while running my heist game on Tuesday, namely, bringing the locations to life, integrating actual gambling, and devising a stealth mini-game that’s both tricky and fun.

Gaps in the Genre

Location, Location, Location

Part of what sticks with the reader from the Bond movies are the exotic locales he visits. The underwater battle in Thunderball, a Russian satellite station in Goldeneye, the Ice Palace in Die Another Day, and the floating opera stage in Quantum of Solace. Wikipedia estimates he visits three countries per film, with sixty countries on his passport in total. Bond gets around, same way he does with his ladies.

Location should matter mechanically, too. Ideally it’d be nice to have a couple of classic (inspired by movies and books) and new backdrops for GM’s who are feeling the time crunch to drop down and use with little prep. Each location would affect dice rolls in a number of different ways, taking a cue from the Fortune and Despair cards recently released by Wizards of the Coast. For instance, in certain Central American countries American and British agents would get negatives to any charisma/diplomacy type rolls, but an increase to streetwise (to find illegal goods) and thievery (because the police force is absent/corrupt). Maps, features, and maybe an NPC contact or two would round each entry out nicely, and would make the book they’re included in worth the money.

Included in location would be time. I know I’d certainly love to see Edwardian, World War II, and Cold War spy scenarios or skins (re-named guns, gadgets, and the like); bonus points if the settings are distinctive to the time period, such as the RMS Olympic, 1940s Berlin, or a Russian nuclear submarine, respectively.

I can suddenly see a Pendulum-style spy adventure jumping between a past and present version of the same location, as players learn the terrible truth about what was thought to be a satellite accident as past agents, and then dealing with the modern ramifications in the present…

But no high-class world of espionage and intrigue is complete without a few cards, cocktails, and casinos.

Hit, Split, Double Down

Though by no means is a full-on manual necessary, gambling should be treated in some detail in any spy game. Blackjack, Craps, Monte Bank, Texas Hold’em–the list goes on. Then you have horse-racing, sports-betting, even the stock market, for all intents and purposes. More than just briefly describing what it is and how it’s played, a few examples of how to integrate the game into the plot would be excellent. Similar to how Bond wins Dimitrios’ car in Casino Royale, using gambling to reveal information, characterize major villains, and potentially turn the tide of the plot heightens the risk–and the stakes–for the players involved more than any single die roll could ever do.

Luck in the Shadows

Better yet if one could figure out how to integrate gambling into a mini-game/skill-challenge, the same way certain magic is handled in Deadlands: Reloaded: you’re essentially playing poker against the Devil to see how effective, or how botched, the spell is. The skill challenge that needs it most, I think, is stealth. I have yet to discover a way to have my players sneak around with the same tension as I felt in the Metal Gear Solid games (though perhaps adding the exclamation point sound would elicit a laugh or two). No cardboard boxes need apply.

My instincts say that you’d want a map for the player to feel like he or she is moving around tactically, instead of just making stabs “in the dark,” though I could see the blue-moon “blind” mission providing a good deal of tension, especially if it stands out from the rest of the stealth challenges. This is another place where the systems could shine, by giving us a few tiles of corridors, rooms, and surveillance/security devices to rearrange and create a unique map. Otherwise, the best I can think of for us GM’s is to pillage our Prima guides for video game level maps, which may or may not be recognizable to some of our players. Certain maps, though, might hold a level of nostalgic appeal. The Oblask Dam level from Timesplitters 2, for instance.

Alternatively, an abridged version of a strategy game like Chess or Backgammon could make a particularly complex infiltration mission more fun. Really just anything to break up the monotony of opposed stealth and perception rolls. Maybe there’s a system I’m not aware of that already has something like this? If so, I’d love to know.

Wrapping it Up

On the one hand we have hyper-complex systems like Spycraft, and on the other, rules-light like Savage Worlds and Wilderness of Mirrors 002. Where do we find a happy medium, with rules enough to make for challenging stealth missions and hacking attempts while still running a game that moves at the same brisk pace of our favorite spy movies? One with exotic locations and memorable time periods that affect gameplay and that integrate gambling into the plot itself. With upcoming releases like Pointman, Hacker & Thief, maybe we’ll get to see some of these genre gaps filled.

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Gods for a Highlander

May 31, 2011 1 comment

With Eric and my characters in Le Morte de Mordred both having pagan gods in our backgrounds, I thought it might be fun to flesh them out a little more, replete with alignments and domains for Dungeons & Dragons 4e, along with suggested classes and builds to fit. The names are Scottish Gaelic, though you could make them more or less Irish, Welsh, or Saxon according to your taste or setting.

The Greater

Alluidh-boireann

Moon Den Mother
Alignment: Lawful Good
Domains: Life, Moon, Protection
She who howls the moon into the sky, who counts the months, governs the cycles of females and childbirth. With her consort Alluidh-geal, the Silverwolf, she leads her pack, raises her young, and defends against any who would threaten her territory or den. She is also the harsh mother, known to kill pups if they won’t be able to make it on their own. But to those who make it she is fiercely loyal, and would lay down her life for her young if need be.

Winter is her season; the solstice is most holy to her. When the sun has retreated and snow blankets the land, it is to our dens that we return, to spend time with family, and it is the moon that brings some comfort and light to the longest night.

The devoted might wear an animal claw or tooth as her symbol.

Suggested Classes: Any Primal class, especially Wardens, Shamans, and Druids, but also Beastmaster Rangers

Iolair-bhuidhe

Soaring Sun Father
Alignment: Good
Domains: Freedom, Skill, Sun
He who flies high, sharing the sky with the sun, unbound from the earth and keen in sight. His golden wings are the rays of the sun, the ripening wheat fields, the warmth of life itself. And yet, he also is a bringer of death. The golden eagle is a peerless hunter, swift and precise in the kill. He is the best at what he does, and serves as an example for all to follow. Freemen and craftsmen are his, and those held in captivity or darkness pray to him for release.

Summer is his season; the solstice is most holy to him. The sun is at its zenith, the long days providing the farmers and craftsmen extra hours for their work. The fields are full of beasts and the earth’s bounty, ready to be harvested by those who have the skill–and drive–to take them.

The devoted might wear a brown feather or golden disk as his symbol.

Suggested Classes: Any Martial class, especially Fighters, Rangers, and Warlords, but also the Bard

Sailetheach

Stag Star-bearer
Alignment: Unaligned
Domains: Arcana, Fate, Wilderness
The white stag is the one who carries the stars in his antlers, walking across the entire world from dusk to dawn, that they might see the deeds men have wrought, both good and ill. He cannot be found except by those who are not looking, in those remote places of the wilderness rarely touched by men, and in those whose pure hearts still beat in time with the land. As keeper of the stars, he is privy to their wisdom, whispering all that they have seen in his tufted ears, and portents of the future besides.

The transition seasons are his time, the spring and fall equinoxes when life itself is in a state of balance. To those with the knowledge, stars are tools of navigation, be they for journeys of the foot or soul.

The devoted might wear forked twigs with tiny glass pebbles as his symbol.

Suggested Classes: Any Arcane class, especially Cosmic or Wild Sorcerers and Fey or Star Pact Warlocks, but also Seekers

The Lesser

Nathair

Shadow-stalker Serpent
Alignment: Evil
Domains: Change, Darkness, Poison, Trickery
The Greater gods did not deign to give her a place at their side, though shadow should have been hers. Cast out from alongside her brothers and sister, she has lain in wait, plotting their demise, waiting for the time to strike. The black adder is often hidden, waiting to bite the unwary adventurer, and let her venom do the rest. Sneaks and thieves pray to her for luck in the shadows, and apothecaries look to her to perfect their poisons. She is the patron of the traitor, the lady of turmoil, and the consort of darkness.

There is no time that is hers alone. She is always there, lurking out of sight. Moonless nights are her time, and eclipses are her high holy sabbats.

The devoted do not wear a symbol, or they might wear another god’s, so as to not be marked as hers.

Suggested Classes: Any Shadow class, especially Assassins and Rogues, but also Vestige and Dark Pact Warlocks

A Contest-Worthy Character?

May 29, 2011 Leave a comment

I was sitting at the red light at Five Corners, puzzling over who I wanted to submit to DriveThruRPG’s Tell Us About Your Character Contest. None of my creations immediately leapt out at me, and the more I thought about it, the more it bothered me. Why was I looking at Solandre, my blood elf paladin from World of Warcraft, or Ragnavar, my Black-jeweled Eyrien Warlord Prince from a Black Jewels Trilogy forum RPG, or even Ealasaid, my Vistani Seeress of Le Morte de Mordred fame.

I shouldn’t have been looking to other’s games at all–not when I had a novel of my own to plumb.

But that says something about my characters, doesn’t it? That’s there’s something not quite right about them. They’re not fully-fledged yet. Not distinctive enough yet. Or lovable. Yet.

It got me to thinking about what kind of character would win that contest, and I wonder if I couldn’t use those traits to try and develop them more completely, if not in time to try and win a tablet, at least for the novel I have half-way outlined.

Here’s what I think I’ve found:

Driven, and Dogged

Nobody cares about the character who doesn’t want something, and bad. But a good goal isn’t enough, either. He needs to meet enough resistance to make it a real challenge. Enough to make it seem nigh-impossible. Maybe it is impossible, but at least the struggle will keep us turning the page. Some have said that if Lord of the Rings is grim, A Song of Ice and Fire is downright bleak. Isn’t that nigh-overwhelming conflict part of why we love it so?

Stands out from the Crowd

The Hound’s no Florian

There’s no such thing as true creativity, but at least we can make original arrangements of the same tired tropes. Better yet, what about turning that cliche around? Isn’t that just what George R. R. Martin does with his characters–takes most of what we’re used to in fantasy and turns it on our head? What convention(s) do(es) your character confront?

Engages the Audience

And what does that character have to say to the audience? What is the fundamental theme–message, maybe even–that our readers take from our hero/ine’s tale? What does it say about our world that the Hound is more honorable than any knight?* Or that love proves folly for Robb? Why should we, at our core, care to see your character succeed? What do we learn about ourselves in the process?

But Wait, There’s More

Yet, those elements alone won’t be enough to sway the judges, not in that contest. It looks to be that form is just as important. How do you relay all three above elements in 400 words or less? You’ll need to mix enough flash fiction into the backstory to make it more narrative (or other creative presentation) than mere encyclopedia entry. And anyone who’s made a conscious effort to write flash knows just how damn hard it really is to pack enough punch into a page or less.

Give me the novel any day. You short story and short shorts writers are the ones who’ve got it rough.

Do I have what it takes to make a winning entry? No, not yet. But I can damn well start to learn.

Your Turn

What other traits befitting a memorable hero/ine would you count here? Do you agree with the ones I’ve chosen? Disagree?

*Note: I’ve only read about one-fourth through Storm of Swords, so forgive me if I like some of the foresight the rest of you may have.

The Selfish GM

May 28, 2011 10 comments

When you realize that your once-weekly game becomes a chore, something you dread and stress over, you’re doing something wrong. The game is supposed to be fun, for players and GM alike. So this week and next I’m taking a break to re-focus and hopefully answer the question that’s bugging me most: why have I lost interest in running my campaign? And, more importantly, what can I do to fix this?

I see Grand Vizier
Rainier Desmarins

They see Grand Vizier Jafar

It seems to be boiling down to the truth that many GMs run the games that they wish they were playing, as Telas points out at Gnome Stew. Or we try, to, anyway. Right now I just don’t like the way my players are taking the game. I have an epic movie playing in my head, something along the lines of the original Assasin’s Creed or Kingdom of Heaven. At the table I feel more like I’m running Aladdin and its sequels, with progressively crasser jokes and characterization. My players have even gone so far as to refer to one of my top-ranking NPC’s, the Lord Admiral and Grand Vizier Ranier Desmarins, as Jafar.

I’d rather they be brushing elbows with the thieves guild, delving into the politics of the city, while they would rather try to steal the underwear off a drunken nobleman or fling shit in the eyes of their French adversaries.

And I have a hard time standing by and watching them make a mockery of my homebrew setting. So on Wednesday, after a hour and a half of what felt like pulling teeth, I gave up, unceremoniously sent everybody home, and called off the next week’s session. (For any other GM’s out there, please, please listen to your gut instincts and deal with the problem before it blows up in your face, like it did for me.)

But there’s a bigger question at stake here: is that really their problem, or is it mine?

Am I too prideful as a GM? Am I violating Oakspar’s cardinal rule that the game is about the players, not the campaign world (“Lessons from GMing with my Girlfriend”)?

It may very well be the case that I’m too protective of my own creations, since I had a much easier time with their torturing of the NPC’s when I was running Dark Sun pre-made adventures. In any creative work, ego does get involved, and it’s a better wo/man than I who can keep them separate all the time.

But at the same time, isn’t a little too much to ask the GM to run a game he has no interest in running? He or she isn’t the group’s private role-playing server to program however they like. I firmly believe we have a right to have fun, too.

So then we have to come to a compromise. And that requires, most of all, communication. (Looks like I should have taken Gamemastering’s advice from the first section better to heart.)

When I set out to start a campaign in late January, I essentially offered Marrakesh as-is to my players; I had complete creative control, and they could either play if they want or leave, as one player did early on. It’s likely my own inflexibility that led to the total disintegration of session Wednesday night. And so it’s with a heavy heart that I realize I need to tie it up, reach a suitable conclusion, and move on to another setting, genre, maybe even system.

Gloomwrought:
My next campaign setting?

Because I need to run the game that we both want to play. If that means I need to find some different players, then so be it. They’ll be happier for it too, to be able to play with a GM who likes–encourages even–their wild hijinks.

Am I selfish, then? Maybe. I want storytellers and actors who are in it for a serious campaign, preferably with a good dose of dark fantasy and intrigue.

Then again, so is everyone who plays–we all want to have fun our way. The trick is to find the way to bend those styles just enough to make it enjoyable for all, player and GM alike.

More Contests for your Characters

May 25, 2011 Leave a comment

Fred Hicks, Eddy Webb, and John Wick are judging DriveThruRPG’s Tell Us About Your Character Contest. Grand prize is a sweet Android tablet. Ladies and Gentlemen, start your engines please! The Deadline is June 2nd, so jam-pack as much character as you can in 400 words and gooo~

A Double-edged Sword: Making Your Greatest Strengths Your Greatest Weaknesses

May 22, 2011 Leave a comment

For the typical D&D player, the game essentially boils down to “winning.” You slay the monsters, find the treasure, level up. A steady upward climb. Fun, to be sure, but I’d rather just play a board or video game if I wanted that. Tabletop allows for a little something more, that is to say, the unparallelled ability to tell any story, act any part. It’s the stage on a smaller scale, in which the audience are also the actors.

What drives a story more than anything else? Conflict. So the GM twists your arm a little. Hits you where it hurts. But who says the GM is the only one who can introduce conflict? What happens when the players take it into their own hands to make a multi-dimensional, real character, replete with desires, strengths, and weaknesses?

Whoever said they couldn’t be the same thing?

“Okay,” you say. “That’s just fine taking advantage of a character’s disadvantages. That’s no new trick. So what?”

All right, how about using a character’s advantages against him?

John Wick, Play Dirty, 2006


Tag! I’ll use your very strength for my gain.

This is the ideology at work behind the Tag/Invoke/Compel mechanic of the Fate system. You can invoke an Aspect (think of them as formalized backgrounds or personality characteristics) to gain the advantage in a Risk. But so too can your allies and enemies Tag that very Aspect to tip the scales, or even Compel you to do something in keeping with your character, but potentially destroy everything you’ve been working towards.

It’s what makes Houses of the Blooded, which uses the Aspect system from Fate, a fundamentally tragic game. You are your own undoing. You’re doomed to fall, but when that fall is spectacular, we enjoy it just as much as “winning.”

You can do this in other systems as well, it just requires a little more work on your part.

Exercises

  1. Identify three to four primary traits that you would qualify as your character’s cookies–those signature traits that set him or her above the rest, that really define the character. In Dungeons & Dragons you’d look to your Background, your Feats, your Class and Race features. In Savage World they’re your edges. Don’t forget the setting as well, the time, place, and flavor, which will give you a whole slew of considerations. Write them down if they’re a little more abstract and independent of the game mechanics, like, “pure-hearted,” or “long-lost prince.” Consider both internal and external conflicts, since all one without the other make for either pure pulp or too “literary” feeling characters. It may help to denote some as major and other minor. Finally, the traits needn’t be as fine-tuned as, say, Aspects are in Houses of the Blooded, because they confer no in-game benefit. This is pure role-play and story fodder, here, so don’t torment yourself.
  2. List the benefits of each trait. Sure, you already know this, but it doesn’t hurt to write it down to really see it, make sure it crystallizes into thought properly. Too many things we just take for granted as knowledge because it’s swimming up in our minds, but won’t come out straightforwardly on paper. This is the time to really define what it means to be a woman warrior, or half-breed bastard.
  3. Now comes the tricky part. You have to figure out how those very traits can also be a Very Bad Thing. Our pure-hearted one, for instance, becomes too trusting, easily taken advantage of. She can’t even conceive of stealing, or lying, or using others for her own gain. So it’s bound to happen to her. Or another character might have claimed to have divine bloodlines. Depending on the nature of the cult (I use the term in its theological, not pop-culture context), he could be named a heretic and even hunted down. Sure wish he didn’t have those extra powers now, huh?
  4. Consider developing these as story arcs to address over the course of the campaign, each with a beginning, middle, and end.
    1. Start with the spark, the instigating act that serves as a departure point from the status quo. What could happen to bring the strength and weakness into relief? Is it an NPC from the character’s past? A quest set before the adventurers? One of the player characters themselves (bonus points)? You should work with your GM to find a launch pad you can both agree on.
    2. Try not to plan the middle, instead, letting it develop organically over the course of the campaign. You want to leave room to be flexible, to adapt to the moment, and perhaps allow the campaign the guide the progression of the issues. Just think of the ups and downs of narrative structure. Build the tension, throw in more obstacles, and build us back up again until we hit the climax, which may or may not be the same as the ending.
    3. Finally, however, you can think about the ending. What do you want to see happen to your character? Would you rather use the weakness and conflict as a hurdle that makes victory all the sweeter? Or would you rather play your character’s downfall, falling further and further from grace into their own self-made hell? There’s also the possibility of a mix of success and failure, including self-sacrifice to achieve their ultimate goal, or giving in to their desires and winning true love over their allegiances or ideals. Just don’t feel like the climax has to be set in stone. You may find as you go that you want to change things up, that the other option makes more sense now. Just be sure to communicate these to your GM, who is there to help you realize your characters, whether it’s for good or ill.

So you think you can use this as you plan your novel, too? Sure can. You’ll just want to develop the middle as well, seeing as you have complete control over the plot and don’t have to worry about those other pesky players at your table…

A Character Study

To illustrate what I mean I’ll be using Ealasaid NicRuraich, my red-headed Vistani Hybrid Sorcerer-Thief for my friend’s upcoming campaign, Le Morte de Mordred. In this case, the setting provides the primary context for her struggles, though some are internal as well. Let’s take a step-by-step look at how I go from flat, fantasy female to a gutsy girl who brings her own struggles to the table, without the GM having to lift a finger.

  1. For her traits, I’ve gone with a mixture of feats and a background, as well as extra themes that were inspired by songs I explored when trying to find a theme for her.
    • Seeress (Major)
    • Arcane Familiar (Major)
    • Vistani (minor)
    • Falling in Love (minor)
  2. I’ve decided on the following benefits accordingly, though a few are already covered by mechanics.
    • Seeress (Major) Ealasaid’s primary character “cookie,” if you will, is fortune teller. Much of it is putting on airs to fatten her purse, but there are time when she really Sees. She’ll be mastering Divination rituals, and her feat lets her cast one without components per day.
    • Arcane Familiar (Major) What’s cooler than a little Magpie flitting about your shoulder? One who talks, can give you advice, and serves as a second pair of eyes? And pushes you to grow as a magic user?
    • Vistani (minor) There are a good number of perks to being part of a caravan. You learn all sorts of trades, see more of the world, meet all sorts of people. You also get their nifty little abilities, and an extended family to reach out to when need be.
    • Falling in Love (minor) Not so much a benefit to her, but it allows me as a player to indulge in my favorite bit of role-playing: romance.
  3. Some of these came easily, others were assisted by the setting. If you need help, reach out to your GM or fellow players.
    • Seeress (Major) Given the Arthurian setting, being a magic-user can be a very, very dangerous livelihood. Christianity is the dominant religion of the nobles (if not the pagan masses), so that “witchnose” of hers is like to get her killed.
    • Arcane Familiar (Major) Magpies are perhaps one of the smartest animals in the world. A magical one is even moreso. But in English folklore, a single Magpie is a sign of bad luck. What starts to happen when Pica joins Ealasaid? You guessed it. Then he starts to nitpick at your decisions. Questioning their wisdom. Having altogether too much to say. And seems to have been sent by someone to sharpen Ealasaid’s abilities… but why? Only my GM knows.
    • Vistani (minor) Insta-outcast, go. People assume she’s a cut-purse, and for good reason. The same charm that endears most to her is a liability when she’s dealing with the lawmen of the villages.
    • Falling in Love (minor) Finally, the very boy she feels drawn to may be the wolf who consumes her in her dreams. The Betrayer. So think again, Ealasaid. What did Grandmama say about the dreams you dream about yourself? And is he worth it?
  4. Now let’s take a look at the beginning, middle, and end for these. Right now I’m painting with broad strokes, since I have yet to really play with her or talk with my GM at length.
    1. The spark is her leaving the caravan with her sister because of the dreams she’s been having,meeting Shane MacGreggor, embarking on whatever journey our DM has planned, and later, once she’s reached level two, meeting her familiar, Pica the Magpie.
    2. I don’t have much idea of how the campaign is going to develop, but I do have a sense of how I’d like to see things go. I’d like Pica to be an antagonistic force, pushing Ealasaid past her own boundaries. Shane will also be a source of torment, and her sister/the Vistani may prove a hurdle as well. Finally, she’ll have to hide her magic as best she can, while simultaneously trying to master it.
    3. Ultimately I don’t know if she’ll fall or rise to the occasion. I’ll let the game decide. My characters usually fall somewhere in the gray zone, succeeding in some respects and failing miserably at others. What she decides to make a priority is up to her.

And there you have it. It’s a touch more of a sketch right now than a fully-fledged character biography, but it doesn’t need to be. Her strengths and weaknesses will find different applications when the game is played. And we’ll see which of the two win out.

Further Reading

Don’t Turn that Dial

May 17, 2011 Leave a comment

As the noticeable drop in entries indicates, I’ve been busy. I’ve been bumped from part to full time, I’m organizing a local group of gamers that already numbers in the fifties, and am still trying to fit what amounts to a second job–being a writer–in there somewhere.

But I haven’t forgotten about you guys, as a matter of fact, I have quite a few projects in the pipeline for Triple Crit:

  1. For Writers, A Review of Writing a Novel with Scrivener by David Hewson
  2. For Role-players and their characters, “A Double-edged Sword: Making Your Greatest Strengths Your Hidden Weakness”
  3. And, most notably, for Gamemasters, a Blood & Honor pre-made scenario:

    Sasarindō: A True Tragedy in Old Japan

    Once upon a time in Old Japan there were two Clans whose clash would end an Era. Their battles bred the samurai, replacing the bureaucracy of courtiers who had dominated Japanese politics for half a millennium. The defeated clan drowned their entire house and Emperor at sea; the victors would found the Shogunate, though their line would not survive to claim the title. The proud, indeed, will not endure. Nothing gold can stay.

    Here is a dramatic reimagining of the Tale of the Heike, a true Tragedy in Old Japan, that centers on the resurgent Minamoto clan, whose crest is the bamboo leaf and gentian flower, the Sasarindō.

    I’ll be needing playtesters for the scenario, so stay tuned for that if you’d like to have your and your buddies’ names in the credits!