Category Archives: RPG Talk

Player Loss / Opportunity

It happens to the best groups, it happens to the worst groups- eventually every Gaming crew has a loss of a player or two, or three or, even all of them.

It can be a tough thing even assembling enough players at a table on a regular basis, but once a solid and reliable group has formed, any loss to consistent players can feel like a threat to the continuation and the future of the campaign. Despite these losses there is an interesting opportunity that this event can provide to a gaming group, provided there are enough players to make a table still viable.

In my weekend home-game we’ve had our share of player adds and player…deletes? But through it all there’s been a core group that has been around from the beginning. This continuity has provided stability and also reassurance I think to the players and to myself as the Game Master.  It has given both myself and the group license to try all sorts of ventures in the gaming world that a less predictable group might not have done for fear of keeping the player base content.

One of the things that it has allowed us to do is run a separate party within the larger Fourth Edition Campaign that we are engaged in that is comprised of these ‘lost heroes’. Calling themselves the Helm’s Heroes (after a particular deity’s lost keep in the fantasy world of Faerun), the group is a conglomerate of players who over the years we have been playing together, came and went with the passage of time.

Some of these Heroes were veteran members of the group who due to job or family had to leave the group, others were one or two session dilettante’s- as one of our resident comedian’s humorously dubbed a particular stop-over PC, ‘two-session Sam’.

What we created with this second group of Player Characters was an entire party, with a much less serious, much more comical tone that incorporated the remembered aspects of these wayward former members and interlopers. To me, this provided the group a few things that I really wanted to incorporate into the group.

Chiefly, it expanded on the concept of continuity; player’s got the sense that their characters had a place even if they had to leave the campaign, not just any place, but a sort of hallowed remembrance status, where other players would take up their characters’ mantle long after they left the group. This may not be an appealing idea to some players, they may prefer to control the destiny of their characters from start to finish, but so far we haven’t run into any players who’ve objected to the idea (because they aren’t around!)

Secondly this party of Heroes also gives a bit of reinforcement to the original party and to the members who show up week in and week out. Its a bit of a positive affirmation as to the importance of the group and to the dedication of its members. Helm’s Heroes may be off doing their own thing that may be every bit as adventurous and awe-inspiring, but the real campaigners keep chugging along, building up their repertoire and experience.

All in all its a different approach to dealing with player loss; instead of delegating one-time or a few week members to the mists of forgotten memory, Helm’s Heroes provides a good concrete way of coping with the real-world challenges in getting a good mix of players together on a consistence basis.

So if you’ve had a player loss due to a move, a job change, or just wander off, rather than never speaking about them or their character again, why not let one of your current players inhabit them for a session or two? If you’ve suffered enough change of seats over the life of your campaign group, why not compose an entire party of these Lost Heroes, and have some fun by giving the players a chance to put a new take on a familiar personage, and above all let them,

Game Forth!

  • Player loss can come from without as well as within, check out this humorous approach to how the Gaming world suffers from player stealing and edition indigestion: Edition Wars.

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Classical Classes: The (Native American) Druid: Compendium

One of the most often played classes of the Dungeons & Dragons pantheon is the Druid. Based upon the historical priests of the same name from Celtish antiquity, the beliefs and practices of these real-world members of this ancient Order of mystics share a great many similarities with other tribalistic societies throughout the ages.

Native American culture had their own such versions of nature worshiping religious figures. In shaping the values and traditions of their peoples, their beliefs in magic and the spiritual truths about the world around them infused their lives with many of the concepts that their Druid and Shaman role-playing counterparts are synonymous with.

In looking at the various incarnations of druids throughout the editions of D&D, and especially with the newest playtest for DND Next still in alpha phase where so far the druid is absent (although I can certainly attest to the power of the Barbarian), I thought it might be nice to inject some real-world sensibilities into the Druid class, accompanied by a Native American perspective. Regardless of the edition of D&D these mostly cosmetic additions should be an interesting flavor to your gaming experience. They’re certainly not meant to imbalance your game hence the bonuses offered in the descriptions should only be a single point, or at most two. Hopefully these ideas will provide you and your table some added layers of character nuance. Use them, enjoy them and- Game Forth!

 

Consumables

Face-Paint

Item Cost: 5 Gold

Weight: –

Application: 10 Minutes

Consumable : Once daily

Requirement: Druid or Shaman Class

Most shamans and druids the world over utilize body painting to connect with nature and to represent the primal forces they wish to tap into. Tied to ceremonies and specific rituals for healing, sending and prophesying, different patterns and colors constitute different boons your typical practitioner seeks to be granted with. The styles they adopt are generally particular to the gods, spirits or animal protectors they wish to commune with.

Amongst the different tribes of North America, there were similar ideologies around what each color and marking meant, but the exact interpretations were often regional and quite specific. By having your druid character apply paint to their visage, perhaps in the morning before dawn or perhaps beneath the stars in front of a roaring campfire, small boons may be teased out of the spirit and shadow world to aid the practitioner in their daily struggles. Based on the particular patterns and colors a druid may gain a bonus to a single check, an attack or receive temporary health from applying their comportment with the essence of the primal  energies that surround them.

Chants

Tribal Chant

Frequency: Daily

Ability: Cantrip, Ritual or Supernatural Ability (Su)

Requirement: Druid or Shaman Class

The practice of religious ceremony amongst the tribes of North America was universally accompanied by song and dance. Through rich oral traditions, the entire community of a tribe or neighboring tribes could engage in these affairs that were tied to significant events in their lives. Through such expression their faith could be experienced by the entirety of their peoples. Usually occurring within sacred circles, dances and hymns were a means of rejuvenating their connections with one another and strengthening the harmony with the natural world. These events were facilitated by the tribes spiritual leaders who infused the scenes with chanting and drumming.

A druid party member, while not necessary demanding their brethren to take part in such a celebration, nonetheless has the potential to inspire renewed faith and determination in her allies. Although not as potent as the soothing words of a bard, or as commanding as the inspiring words of a warlord, a druid may mix her chanting with just enough primal energy to restore her companions with a bit of strength from the very land around her.

By chanting sacred hymns that may typically last several minutes a druid has the potential to restore the health of her nearby allies. For all those who hear her song, a small allotment of hit points, perhaps only a maximum of four or some variable amount thereof are restored. Additionally a druids chanting may grant a second chance on recovering from certain small effects a party member is under, such as nausea, fatigue, persistent damage, a mild poison or staving off the effects of a disease.

Of course gaining the ability to affect her allies with chanting generally should come about as a boon to the player through storyteller discretion, perhaps a gift from a primal entity, or small quest that has significant importance to the land a druid calls home.

dreamcatcher_207847

Image source:
http://all-free-download.com
By: Helen Barth Villareal

Charms

While not as powerful as true magical items, charms offer minor effects that primal druids and shamans can carry with them to gain small protections and insights against the world and its dangers.

Created by the druid himself, charms are designed as a means to focus the primal energies that the worshiper communes with and are infused with these primal spirits who then act as guardians and protectors to the worshiper.

While not intelligent in their own right, the spirits tied to these charms are disposed towards helping the druid provided they seek harmony with specific inhabitants of the natural world. For instance, a dream-catcher charm crafted from the shavings of an oak tree, plucked raven feathers and the webbing’s of a spider may be infused with spirits that demand a druid tend to these particular flora, mend a broken wing, and stay the hand of a home keeper who happens to have an arachnid roommate in their sights. Provided these interests are met, the most typical of these charms will then act as wards and seers on behalf of the druid.

Dream-Catcher

Crafting cost: 50 gold

Weight: 2 lbs

Additional components: 2 raven feathers, oak shavings (5 lbs worth), spider webbing (2 lbs worth)

A druid can place a dream-catcher above or near them when they take an extended rest, and the spirits imbued in this charm provides protection over the course of that rest. Warding them against evil spirits, this charm can prevent intrusive agents from entering the druid’s dreams while they sleep.

Additionally, upon waking, the druid can become aware that such machinations took place by observing the webbings of the catcher. If malign forces attempted to enter the sleeper’s dreams, a dark tar-like substance remains in the catcher’s webs.

Rabbits Foot

Crafting cost: 10 gold

Weight:

Additional components: 1 rabbit foot (left hindleg)

Frequency: Daily

While not unique to native North American tribes, this quintessential charm gifts its creator with the small amounts of luck believed possessed by its animal patron, especially when in tight situations.

When a druid fails a skill or their attack falls just short of hitting their mark, the wearer can call upon the spirit tied to the foot to grant them an immediate bonus to the failed attempt equal to their wisdom bonus. The bearer may do this only once per day, as even a rabbits luck is limited.

While a druid will generally never know much they have failed an attempt by, a wise druid will use the luck granted by the charm in the right situation.

The most difficult aspect of this charm is gaining the trust of the spirit it is wedded to and keeping it satisfied. The foot, which has to be the left hind leg of the animal, must come from a living rabbit; hence the druid may have a difficult time binding a rabbit he or she has personally assaulted. As a result, the foot is most often stolen from a rabbit trap set up by a trapper, which consequently may not endear the druid to the huntsman.

However the charm is obtained the protection of the charm comes from the animus of the living animal, and lasts only as long as the animal is satisfied, both its living self and its spirit self, meaning that an animal who meets an untimely end at the maws of a predator are the tip of an arrow, or a druid who has a succulent rabbit stew may find their boon has prematurely come to an end, often at the worse of possible moments.

Animal Companions

Cost: Class Option

Requirement: Druid Class

For indigenous American tribes animal companions and totem guides was not simply a spiritual concept but could determine the outcome of an individuals very destiny.

As such, the spiritual members of the tribe were typically closely bound to a particular animal, sometimes even as early as upon their birth. Once an individual grew to adulthood, their own character and the way they were ultimately viewed by the rest of their tribe could mirror in many ways the personalities of the animals they were assigned.

Within the tribal cultures of the North there were specific traits ascribed to various animals, with some being seen as more noble, cunning or protective than others. All animals though were considered possessed by particular quirks that endeared them as spiritual sponsors to the individuals they bonded with.

The following list includes traditionally less common choices for druid companions but that have a rich narrative history amongst real tribes and can be easily adapted to fit any particular setting.

Beaver – Adaptable and industrious the beaver imparts upon their human counterpart a tenacity to achieve anything, even and especially in the face of adversity. While in private, a druid who follows the path of the Beaver may be nervous, arrogant and possessive, the mask they show the world is one of practicality, stubbornness and resourcefulness. Those looking to embody the traits of the beaver as a totem animal might be more adapt at a particular Craft or have a finer eye for Dungeon building than others, a helpful trait that can prove useful to the party overall.

Buffalo – The most revered animal to Native tribes, the buffalo was a symbol of fertility and abundance. They were closely associated with the earth and marriages between humans and buffalo formed the making of many a legend. To those who are blessed with a buffalo totem, leadership and the desire to maintain the health and well-being of their fellow party members should supersede all of their other desires. As such they come to hone their Diplomacy abilities more than most druids do. In return, the druid expects a firm hand in all the decisions made by her companions.

Coyote – Most tribes see the Coyote as a trickster, a shape-changer and a clown. Yet all perceive them as crucial to transforming their worlds, both the physical and spiritual ones that surround them. Druids who are chosen by a coyote companion, as it is typically the animal that chooses the druid and not the other way around, are blessed with a pranksters mentality. Amongst their companions, these jokes and pranks can become quickly tiresome, but over time their subtle prodding is revealed to be a clever way of changing ones understanding of the world itself. As such, druids with coyote companions typically are adept at Concealing objects, being subtle and maybe even borderline Thievish in nature, but they are all adept at talking their way out of bad situations, which invariably they are oftentimes the culprits of its making. However, every party ultimately comes to not only accept but value the odd wisdom imparted upon them by a coyote druid among them.

Elk – Blessed with stamina, an air of nobility and pride, a druid who takes on an elk companion is nonetheless somewhat aloof. Hard-headed at times, they display great courage and unfailing devotion, and are usually the last to seek out aid when in distress. However, even the prideful elk realizes that the cohesiveness of the party comes first, and while not always vocal about it, they always rise to any adverse challenge presented to them. To the elk druid, their ability to Endure any adversity and remain stoic is a badge of honor.

Horse – Swift and elegant, those druids who walk with a horse companion take the animals traits as valued lessons. A horse’s spirit can be both wild and fully domesticated and this duality between the life of the tribe and the desire to run free courses through these druids’ hearts. Ultimately they see the necessities of their group as the price of companionship but are always quick to find time for solitude, where their wild tendencies can be unleashed in their fullest. A druid whose totem is the horse generally places greater emphasis on Athletic and more physical skills than most.

Spider – Cunning, patient and an architect of great and deadly traps, those druids who take a spider as a companion are a much quieter, manipulative breed than their more outspoken brethren. The simple fact of choosing a giant insectoid creature as their personal guide tends to favor these druids towards more tactical concerns. Hence, intellectual pursuits like History, the Arcane arts, Forbidden or Forgotten Lore or even Religion may be a suitable passion that these druids have, quite counter to their primalistic natures. Yet these pursuits do not distract them from seeing the world as still inherently animalistic, and their more mental understanding of this can prove to be a very powerful weapon for any party to have.

Websites detailing some typical Native American Symbolism:

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RPG Talk: Wizards Landscape

Image Copyright: Wizards of the Coast

At Wizards of the Coast, publishers of the oldest role-playing game around, the open window for submissions to their online magazines Dragon and Dungeon has just closed. But for aspiring writers, another opportunity is about to get fully underway in the shadow of the veteran gaming company. This chance lies with a small satellite group overseen by the business and tasked with running a community based organization that utilizes the Fourth Edition rule-set on a global scale.

Even in the twilight of the Fourth Edition system, Wizards is still okaying developments for release. Such developments include gaming adventures that are being released even as its much harangued DND:Next system is still in Alpha testing. One of these opportunities lies with their long-running, now largely independently organized, Living Forgotten Realms Campaign.

The Living Forgotten Realms Campaign is a shared world setting. Shared worlds are groups of adventures published and played anywhere in the real-world by random or not-so-random players who get together with characters that can be ported between each of these separate but unified scenarios. The once thriving but now fading LFR puts these characters in the high-fantasy world of the Forgotten Realms, one of the oldest and most famous role-playing settings. Since 2011 the campaign organizers of this world, known as Global Admins, independent folks outside the payroll of Wizards, have issued a call for aspiring writers to show their stuff in creating new and exciting adventures.

The program, known as Excursions, seeks to bring budding writers into the Wizards fold and showcase the company’s apparent desire to include players in the creation process. It’s an effort that looks to be run entirely by the Global Admins and one that offers new entrants into the authorship role, and is an awesome chance for enthusiasts to become a part of the gaming Canon for one of the worlds most famous Campaign Settings.

This years opportunity begins on June 17, and for details, just head over to the Wizards website and browse their online forums built specifically for LFR. The rules for the Excursion program are fairly straight-forward, and they’re looking for new authors and ideas, and from my own experience, they don’t bite..

Image Copyright: Wizards of the Coast

Aside from this chance to publish in their periphery, Wizards’ has also recently green-lit another independent foray into their trademarks, the release of a popular and well-known Campaign that uses one of their proprietary fantasy worlds similar to the way that LFR takes place in the Forgotten Realms. Previously only offered at conventions by its indie creators, Baldman Games, the Ashes of Athas Campaign, another smaller, and more narrowly focused shared-world setting is being piecemeal published and distributed by some of the Global Admins involved with organizing LFR.

The campaign, a series of 20 role-playing adventure sessions takes place on the fantasy world of Athas. A non-traditional fantasy-scape, Athas is a desert planet ravaged by the over-use of magic. In the setting, seemingly immortal rulers hold sway over cult-like armies inside walled cities where legions of slaves and fearful citizens toil beneath a harsh and unforgiving sun. It’s a world devoid of the verdant, European foliage and fauna and one where more prehistoric elements and dangers lurk beneath sand-dunes. It’s also a setting rich with motifs of the ancient Near East, reminiscent of Conan the Barbarian and a homage to the Dying Earth genre. As a viable Campaign world, it premiered way back in 1991 by Wizards’ D&D forefather and antecedent company TSR, under the Dark Sun banner.

Baldman Games ran the campaign adventures at select conventions over the past few years and with its conclusion, Wizards has apparently given the go-ahead for the LFR admins to start handing out the modules to the requesting public. For long-standing 4E gamers the world of Dark Sun is notorious for its difficulty and the Campaign document that comes with the published adventures in the Ashes of Athas packet speaks to this. In Ashes for example, players start their characters out at level three, rather than the norm of first level like most settings, a testament to the difficultly inherent to the world.  A quick glance through the first adventure also reveals the deadly consequences of taking on challenges in the gaming module that awaits careless players who make the wrong, however noble, decisions throughout their play.

To request these adventures along with sample characters suitable for the campaign or for any home-brew Dark Sun adventure, click on over to Wizards and request a copy of them from one of the writers and game-aholic Admins who is personally emailing out the packets on the Wizards forums here. And if you’re feeling generous, why not tell him a coyotl sent you..

And if you’re really interested in being a part of the Gaming community, why not sign up for the Wizards D&D Next Playtest..

Game Forth!

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RPG Publisher Spotlight: LPJ Design

Louis Porter Jr. Design

Image Copyright: LPJ Design

Since 2001 the online clearinghouse DriveThruRPG has been providing downloadable content by publishers producing material for a  bevy of genres suitable for all types of games and Gamers. Perhaps one of the most prolific of these publishers is the independent gaming company, LPJ Design, short for Louis Porter Jr. Designwho has carved out a niche for himself by developing a wide variety of action-infused alternative products since before the turn of the century.

In business since 1998 and the only role-playing game that was ‘optioned for a movie‘ before its publication, the independent role-playing company by the self-professed, and eternally self-promoting, Louis Porter Jr. has a dearth of content to suit games of all stripes and tastes. By hiring a diverse and talented pool of artists and writers, LPJ Design has produced literally hundreds of role-playing supplements that span multiple decades and genres.

One of the companies oldest lines of games, Haven: City of Violence, is a modern role-playing setting built around corporate and urban adventures using the d20 Modern rule-set. It’s basic formula, a core campaign setting that goes against the norm featuring lush artwork and action powered stories supplemented by one-off downloadable PDF files is a framework that LPJD has used successfully for most of their other product lines.

It’s an intriguing business model and one that has done the brand a great service. Serializing a core theme around single-shot PDFs, LPJ Design has been able to produce content for over a dozen separate role-playing campaign worlds, each with their own feel and flavor that is both incredibly individualized but also easily adaptable to games taking place in worlds entirely different from their original intent. Churning out these individual pieces has led to products suited for such varied backdrops as the Victorian era days of Shakespeare to one of the other core settings of the company, their futuristic science-fiction and fantasy blended world of Neoexodus: A House Divided.

Image Copyright: Louis Porter Jr. Design

Fully compatible with the Pathfinder core rules, the Neoexodus line follows the world of Exodus that is “a place of political intrigue, arcane wonder, deadly monsters, and dark secrets with infuses the landscape of the world.” Included in the setting are unique races with familiar ties to fantasy troupes like elves and dwarves, but with entirely new playable creatures like the cavian’s, dalrean’s, P’tan’s and others. What makes the setting so unique is its depth of detail, engaging artwork and expansive mechanics that add to the basic rule set. Overall it’s an entirely self-contained world, that carries with it echoes of traditional fantasy into a landscape truly unique. And from the mind of the self-proclaimed mad-man of LPJD, the world has spawned a host of unique artifacts, classes and monsters that rival their traditional counterparts; Infinite Fury, Machinesmith, Fleshwraith, Fleshweaver.

Put all these factors together and you get the basic fundamentals of LPJ Design; innovation and proliferation. Whereas the products themselves may be flying to production, leaving room for some editing here and there, one can’t deny the zeal that accompanies their publication. It’s a desire that has to date spawned four successful Kickstarter projects, hundreds of downloadable content and a host of blog posts – truly a man and company possessed of the will to push Gaming in new directions.

So when you get a chance, why not try out some of LPJ Design’s creations and,

Game Forth!

  • Catch a glimpse of a game of Neoexodus as its being played.
  • An interview with LPJD founder and prolific mad-man, Louis Porter.

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Django Unchained: An Epic RPG

Image Copyright: Columbia Pictures

Although Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained didn’t walk away with the Academy Award for Best Picture last year, the film did carry with it elements that to my Gaming eyes seemed to have all the hallmarks of a valid and engaging cinematic version of an Epic role-playing game.

But when I point this out to most people I find my understanding of the film usually fails to be greeted by anything short of complete and utter incredulity. So I thought I would take the chance this week to go about explaining just how it is that a movie set in the Antebellum South about a freed slave and his German accomplice so closely mirrors the structure of a typical gaming session and is in fact possibly one of the best examples out there of how a typical role-playing game unfolds.

First off it would help to establish a few things about the basic ideas upon which your typical role-playing game is built. Most RPGs take place in a setting of High Fantasy. From a genre standpoint High Fantasy settings are worlds that are radically if not entirely different from the real and historical one we all exist in, worlds like Dungeon & Dragon’s Faerun, Dragonlance’s Krynn, or Mistborn’s Scadrial. These worlds have timelines all of their own, filled with mystical bygone ages of make-believe kingdoms and rulers. They also have elements within them that are inconsistent with the traditional way we perceive reality, the most obvious of these inconsistencies are things like magic, but also include much more mundane differences like other humanoid races who exist alongside mankind like trolls or elves or uruk hai.

The quintessential novel of High Fantasy is J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. Set in the fantastic world of Middle-earth where beings of elves, dwarves, hobbits and the like use magic Tolkien’s novels set forth a universal formula upon which all role-playing games take their lead. In these works the familiar tropes of what makes a role-playing game were fleshed out in full; a group of heroes battling against the forces of evil by going on a quest, against a backdrop of fantasy elements and otherworldly beings who along the way utilized a variety of skills, swordplay and sorcery.

And while with elements like this Tolkien revolutionized the High Fantasy genre, he most certainly did not invent it. In fact the history of literature itself can be traced to a work of High Fantasy every bit as detailed as The Hobbit.

In the Epic of Gilgamesh, a poem from ancient Mesopotamia and one of the earliest surviving works of literature known to man a powerful almost semi-divine King of Ancient Uruk (Notice the name of the City? Tolkien sure did!) battles evil forces as he goes on a series of challenging adventures. He is aided on these quests by his wild man companion Enkidu. The two of these mythical heroes encounter many supernatural and dangerous scenarios before Enkidu is ultimately cursed by a goddess and slain,  prompting Gilgamesh to journey to a fantastic underworld in search of immortality.

And so in both the Epic of Gilgamesh and Tolkien’s Middle-earth series there are unfolding themes that clearly seem to unite beneath the banner of not only what constitutes High Fantasy, but also what people have ultimately agreed as to what constitutes acceptable role-playing concepts . At their core, these stories were about companionship set against a rewarding adventure out to battle the unsettling forces of their respective worlds. And its this core concept that can be seen operating throughout the entirety of the film Django.

For starters, the film character of Django is on a quest.  Two in fact. The first concerns capturing a group of outlaws, the Brittle Brothers while the second is a more personal quest; freeing his wife Broom Hilda from slavery. Like Gilgamesh, Django is aided on these quests by a companion, in his case, the German Dentist/Bounty-hunter Doctor King Schultz. It’s Schultz who during the course of the film literally describes their undertaking as a Germanic Quest for Django’s wife. Though bearing little semblance to the actual mythology of the German Siegfried and his Brynhildr, Schultz never-the-less paints their pending journey as that of an adventure against a dragon-spired mountaintop within which lies the prize to any good fantasy-tale; a beautiful bride. 

Tarantino’s script thus reveals quite explicitly that Django Unchained is in fact an Epic Tale. What’s more, like Gilgamesh, Django’s side-kick and arguably his ‘civilizing’ companion Schultz ultimately dies during the course of the quest they are on. And just like any Epic its this relationship between adventurers that forms the core of any good role-playing session.

From a story perspective, the fact that they are battling the forces of unmitigated evil only glorifies this point even more. In any good RPG, like it’s High Fantasy genre counterpart, the bad-guys need to be completely and irredeemably bad. I can think of no worse villain’s in any Module or Campaign I’ve been in that didn’t share the characteristics of the villains in Django; slave-owning, murderous, wantonly cruel- clearly folks of the Lawful Evil alignment.  I’ve personally seen my share of gamers unquestionably put down such types for crimes far less nefarious. Who hasn’t? (I’m looking at you Dwarf fighter with the blood of a half dozen orcs on your warhammer.)

The parallels to role-playing only get deeper the more you look at Django. In the very first scene, Schultz kills one of Django’s captives, a Speck brother, and then Django himself proceeds to take not only the dead man’s coat, but also his horse. WOOT! Another instance of any good role-playing game on full display; the concept of gaining rewards or treasure during the course of play and specifically here in perfect synchronicity with what goes on during a typical session-looting the bodies! Your party kills a dragon, they get his hoard. This is the universally acknowledged course of action among Gamers as the proper way to end a combat scene- wanton corpse theft with gold and magic items proving its acceptability. Even the very profession of the Epic heroes in Django, that of bounty hunting, and its dubious moral Code of killing bad people for a reward ties into this image as that of adventurous opportunists, especially when it comes to dead bodies.

From a mechanical standpoint, Django also holds up to close inspection. Role-playing games are essentially a collection of individual characters who each have unique builds including things like skills, hit-points, armor class, experience points, et. cetera that revolve around systems well defined in advance. In this respect we have Django who clearly has traits that embody these qualities, with Dexterity arguably the most obvious stat, evidenced by Django’s skill  with fire arms (Ranged Weapons), his Stealthing prowess and his superb Riding  finesse- clearly an optimized Stat. Living in the wild, a Skill that requires Survivability or perhaps a Nature Check, practicing his Deadly Aim, and even learning how to talk his way out of a chain-gang, clearly a Diplomacy Crit! also demonstrate various character assets familiar to any RPG fan.

As for the nature of the world of Django, this is generally where my argument losses its bluster. In order for the film to be of a role-playing-esque sensibility the consensus seems to be that it has to take place in a High Fantasy setting. Indeed I myself even spelled that out above as one of the requirements for a successful game. However there are some points that can turn this perception around. 

G. R. R. Martin’s highly successful Game Of Thrones series is a fantasy epic set in a world of what is known as Low Fantasy. Contrasted with High Fantasy, its a genre that falls within the Fantasy umbrella but bases its drama on more mundane and grittier human interests with a splash of the fantastic added for good measure. These types of works of Low Fantasy are based on our own history with a mix of supernatural elements; think of a world where vampires, ghosts and alien abductors were to actually exist. And as a setting for a role-playing game this concept has already produced a huge amount of gaming material that draws upon this very idea.

Games like World of Darkness, Wizards Modern D20, Chaosium’s Cthulhu or Cataylst’s Game Labs Shadowrun all depict worlds similar to our own but within the context of Low Fantasy and all of them are systems fully and quintessentially fantasy. What Tarantino presents in Django is likewise a world very much like our own, but clearly set in an alternate one with a differing version of historical events, hence a Low Fantasy Setting, which is entirely within the realm of what constitutes an acceptable setting for an Rrole-playing game.

Unconvinced? Let’s take a look at some of the things that set the world of Django into such a secondary and Low Fantasy setting.

The film has been pointed out as including a number of historical inaccuracies both major and minor comparable to actual historic record. Most notable to critics is the inclusion of Mandigo fighting, that being the pitting of slaves against one another in gladiator like matches to the amusement of their owners. Tarantino himself gave only vague indications as to their historical goings-on but their inclusion gives the film a wavering view of history as we know it. The appearance of white-hooded Klansmen in the film also stir up cries of faulty research. Drawing their presence backwards through time by about ten years to a point when they were known as the Regulators Tarantino takes certain liberties with the timing of events to add a flair for not only cinematic but also poetic license. Likewise as pointed out to me by a gaming buddy of mine, Tarantinos inclusion of dynamite in the pre-civil war period when it was actually invented post-wartime also port the film into a world of make-believe.

This isn’t the first time that Tarantino created such a film, his Inglorious Basterds was a similar attempt at alternative history, one where the great villain of World War II died in a horrific execution style shoot out that never in fact happened in real life. And it’s clear in both films that Tarantino deliberately went for an alternate version of the past with its own internal timeline of events.

Aside from the historical differences between the film and the actual past, there are also structural differences in the way things work in Tarantino’s Django compared to our own world. The most obvious display of this and one that seemed to irk some viewers of the film concerned a scene at the end of the movie when Django shoots the plantation owners sister and rather than tumbling backward, she flies sideways into another room. This may seem like a deliberate and Tarantino-esque fluke of excessive violence but it’s actually rather in keeping with other elements of incredulity within the world of Django. For one, the shooting skill of Django himself is entirely beyond the bounds of anything a normal human being could be said to be capable of especially given the state of firearms of the time. While these may be brushed aside as simply elements of a movie, its clear that the intent was to create a world of fantastic happenings, that runs counter to normal perceptions of what human beings are capable of thus creating a setting that is different but similar enough to our own world to be called Low Fantasy.

And just like G.R.R. Martin, Tarantino creates a Low Fantasy world within which mythical heroes embark on a transformative journey. For Django this is the metamorphosis from being that of slave into that of a smooth talking Epic figure complete with seemingly mystical, if brutally effective, powers. Clearly, a story about a character who Levels, both in terms of skills, and damage output, another quintessential quality of role-playing. And he developed them on a quest with his companion, fighting evil to get to his long lost love in a world different from our own, with its own rational center of physics.

A Low Fantasy Epic.

And a perfect setting for a Role-playing Game.

All the elements are there, and leave it to a progressive thinker like Tarantino to twist them all together.

Want more proof? Take a look at the following character build, a simple enough Pathfinder mock-up based off of the Gunslinger Character Class, an obvious acknowledgement by a Role-playing Publisher that agrees that Gun-men have every bit of a place alongside the likes of wizards and warriors in a role-playing game… although in this case I used a Low Fantasy Point Buy of 10…

DJANGO
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“I count two guns, friend.”

Male human gunslinger (mysterious stranger) 17
CG Medium humanoid (human)
Init + 9; Senses normal; Perception + 11
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DEFENSE
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AC 22, 17 touch, 15 flat-footed
(+5 armor,+6 Dex,+1 dodge)
hp 117 (17d10+11)
Fort +10, Ref + 17, Will +9;
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OFFENSE
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Speed 30 ft.
Melee unarmed +0 (1d4/x2)
Ranged revolver +17/+12/+7/+2 (1d8/x4)
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STATISTICS
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Str 10, Dex 24, Con 10, Int 10, Wis 10, Cha 16
Base Atk +17/+12/+7/+2; CMB +17; CMD 34
Feats Dodge, Extra Grit, Gunsmithing, 
Improved Initiative, 
Improved Precise Shot, Iron Will, Mobility, 
Pinpoint Targeting, 
Point-Blank Shot, Precise Shot, Quick Draw, 
Rapid Shot, Shot On the Run, 
Weapon Focus (Revolver)

Skills Bluff +23, Diplomacy +9 (+11 vs. slavers), 
Handle Animal +11, Intimidate +16 (+18 vs. slavers), 
Knowledge (Engineering) +8, Knowledge (Local) +6, 
Perception +11, Ride +23, Sleight of Hand +16, 
Survival +15; Armor Check 0

Traits Enemy of Slavers, Freed Slave

Languages English

SQ deeds (bleeding wound, clipping shot, deadeye, 
dead shot, expert loading, evasive, focused aim, 
gunslinger dodge, gunslinger initiative, 
lighting reload, menacing shot, pistol-whip, 
slinger’s luck, startling shot, targeting, 
utility shot), grit [char](5), gunsmith, lucky, 
stranger’s fortune

Combat Gear alchemist’s fire (4), 
amulet of bullet protection, 
belt of incredible dexterity + 4, 
far-reaching sight; 
Other Gear +5 leather, 
revolver (2) with 4 cartridges, 
hat, scarf, smoked goggles, tobacco (4), 
travelers outfit, gunsmiths’ kit, 
wanted poster bill, waterskin, 
light riding horse, 200 dollars

But of course, like Gilgamesh, Django didn’t quest alone…

DR. KING SCHULTZ
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“My good sir, perhaps we got off on the wrong boot.”

Male human bard 2, gunslinger 9
CG Medium humanoid (human)
Init + 8; Senses normal; Perception + 7
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DEFENSE
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AC 22, 17 touch, 15 flat-footed 
(+4 armor, +6 Dex, +1 dodge)
hp 57 (9d10+2d8+8)
Fort +8, Ref + 18, Will +10; 
(+4 vs. against bardic performance,
sonic, and language-dependent effects)
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OFFENSE
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Speed 30 ft.
Melee unarmed -1 (1d4-1/x2)
Ranged revolver +10/+4 (1d8/x4)
Bard Spells Prepared 1st – Adoration,
Anticipate Peril, Charm Person, 
Undetectable Alignment
0 (at will) – daze, flare, know direction,
mending, prestidigitation
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STATISTICS
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Str 8, Dex 23, Con 8, Int 15, Wis 9, Cha 14
Base Atk +10/+4; CMB +10; CMD 25

Feats Deceitful, Far Shot, Gunsmithing, 
Improved Initiative, Iron Will, 
Point-Blank Shot, Precise Shot, 
Rapid Shot, Quick Draw, Weapon Focus (Revolver)

Skills Bluff +20, Diplomacy +16(*calculated bribe),
Disguise +15, Handle Animal +11, Heal +6, 
Intimidate +9, Knowledge (Engineering) +11, 
Knowledge (History) +11,  Knowledge (Nobility) +8, 
Perception +7(+8 vs. surprise), 
Perform (Oratory) +9, Ride +16, 
Sense Motive(*Performance) +9, Sleight of Hand +18, 
Survival +11(+12 vs. tracks); Armor Check 0

Traits Calculated Bribe, Bounty Hunter

Languages English, French, German

SQ bardic knowledge, bardic performance, cantrips, 
countersong, deeds (deadeye, dead shot, 
gunslinger dodge, gunslinger initiative, clear, 
pistol-whip, startling shot, targeting, utility shot), 
distraction, fascinate, grit (5), gunsmith, 
gun training, inspire courage, nimble +2, 
versatile performance, well-versed

Combat Gear alchemist’s fire (4), 
belt of incredible dexterity + 4, 
far-reaching sight; 
Other Gear +3 quilted cloth, 
coat pistol with (6) fire arm bullets,
revolver (2) with 4 cartridges, 
rifle with 2 cartridges, hat, pipe, tobacco (4),
travelers outfit, gunsmiths’ kit, waterskin,
light riding horse, 12,000 dollars

Game Forth!

Any other builds for the Epic Hero Django and Dr. King Shultz from other systems you might have a suggestion for?

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Star Wars: Edge of the Empire – Outta the Box

 

Image Copyright: Fantasy Flight Games

As I mentioned in a prior post, I’ve recently donned the DM cap once more for a campaign set in a Steam-punkesque landscape. Still in its infancy, I am running that endeavor using the EnWorld Setting of Zeitgeist which gives both myself and the players access to a relatively modern assortment of gear and weaponry including things like guns and steam-ships. Unfortunately the technology of the late Ninetieth century, even mixed with spell-casting and arcane infusions just wasn’t enough to sate my more Sci-fi leaning tendencies. So to quench that fix I casually mentioned to my weekend group a few sessions ago of possibly running a Star Wars series of adventures for them- which was met by unanimous enthusiasm and annoying impatience that we weren’t dropping what we were playing right then and there and doing that instead.

A modest Star Wars fan, I’ve watched my required repeats of the movies as well as read a paperback, graphic novel or two from the plethora of spin-offs from the films, and made my share of Boba Fett references both at the gaming table and awkwardly away from it. But this was going to be my first attempt at trying out a Star Wars role-playing game. Well to be fair, it wasn’t.

See a long time ago in a borough far far away, back in my High School days, I had a group of eclectic friends, nerds if you will, and it was through this gang that I actually encountered my first role-playing game; and it was a Star Wars one. I still remember my friends’ obsession over the layout of the Millennium Falcon, and their hard-core science tendencies, ones that to this day I don’t share in abundance.

The take-away from this game was that I was wholly unprepared for what a role-playing game was at that point in my life. My friend, the GM running the mod, had us in an Imperial Starships’ prison hold trying to escape and my solution, annoying now in retrospect, was to don the bed sheets and have my character claim to be Socrates imprisoned for his beliefs. I was taking philosophy at the time, what?

Anyway, fast-forward to today and my enthusiasm for a Star Wars game has come back with a vengeance, a phantom menace if you will. So after my announcement I started investigating the newest Star Wars system to come out, or rather the newest system slated to come out- Fantasy Flight’s Star Wars Edge of the Empire.

Still in its Beta phase I’d seen the system at some events in my neck of the woods specifically the Beginner Box(BB) being played which prompted my suggestion and desire to give the system a try.

After looking into the Beginner Box online, and talking to some of the staff at my local and great gaming store, the Compleat Strategist, I came to the conclusion that for my needs and my groups needs we would get more use out of the Beta Book than the simplified rule-set the ‘red box’ provides. For one thing, the rules in the BB were limited and didn’t include any character generation outlines, a major drawback as I know my group; some of whom are optimizers to a fault.

So taking the plunge into the Beta I shelled out the bones and picked up a copy. The original plan was to give it a quick read-thru and create characters at the end of a session with the group. But sometimes plans go awry and at the session this was supposed to happen at, all but two of the gang were no-shows.

But sometimes plans go better than expected too.

After playing through a couple of Card games the three of us decided to give the Beta a try and come up with some characters to get the ball rolling with the system. We followed the step-by-step generation rules and between our trio we ended up deciding on creating a bounty hunter, a pilot and a colonist for myself from the available Occupations.

In Edge of the Empire, player’s portray characters from the fringes of the Galactic Empire, under the guise of scoundrels and smugglers, living a life away from the grip of the Emperor and his Imperial forces. In the game, the Force, an idea that plays a central role in all the films is largely absent and instead characters are expected to rely on their abilities and their innate, non-force natures to see them through the day.

The ability to customize your race, your occupation and your skill set are how Edge of the Empire allows you to create unique individuals but its the Obligation mechanic that the system uses to breath life into the characters themselves. Through Obligation, or really the equivalent of a back-story that comes into play during each game session, player’s are expected to use this as a motivating factor into why their character has fled or lives on the fringes of the galaxy rather than making their living within the structure of the Empire.

This mechanic along with how the game itself plays lends towards a much more narrative feel than systems I’m familiar with. Instead of a battle-map or dice rolls involving exact numerical values to beat, Edge of the Empire employs a pool of dice with modifying dice given the difficulty of the situation or challenge. These dice are unique to the game and have specific sides, a fact that presented its own set of problems for us.

Asides from the dice there were some confusions as to the character generation rules, specifically some of the racial traits that perhaps from the wording or our lack of familiarity with the broader system itself left us scratching our heads. But after our characters were given life we decided to run through a small mini-adventure with the characters, I mean why not?

I set up the bounty hunter and pilot on an escort mission, leading them into a situation where they unwittingly were trying to free my colonist from a low-level bureaucratic job in the bowels of a Galactic planet. Using their Obligations as plot devices I sent them on a fairly simple mission that I hoped would encapsulate the feel of the Star Wars universe. And that’s where I really liked the implementation of the system itself.

With the use of dice pool granting a basic ‘pass-fail’ mechanic along with beneficial and harmful side-effects the narrative of both the role-playing and combat in the game was much more open-ended and fluid. It allowed me and my players the benefits of running a game that was much more cinematic and fast-paced than the tactical planning I’ve grown accustomed to with D & D systems out there. It helped to have an entire universe of content I was already familiar with to flesh out the world I was sending them into as well and overall, the grittier, smuggler aspect of characters like Han and Chewbacca that the players more or less appropriated and my own Lando-esque character really gave the mini-session a sense of depth and believability.

I’ve played other systems that consist of dice pools like the World of Darkness system, but the lack of exact numbers and levels really gave the experience a free-form improvisational feel that matched the sci-fi fantastic and gritty intent of the Star Wars universe itself. It was actually a very welcome change from the highly tactical and often times clunky and overly meta gameplay I have become used to in terms of a role-playing system.

Overall the Star Wars Beta is a great improvisational system where the designers really attempted to give both players and GMs a chance to fill the shoes of a fringe adventurer. The fluid hands off tactically, hands-on narrative elements make you constantly cognizant of the fact that the characters truly are the ones driving the story as opposed to simply being rote statistics and bonuses to dice rolls. By incorporating from the moment of character creation itself ideas like Obligation and open-ended occupational abilities rather than simply traits and a matrix of skills the Beta thus far has fleshed out a system that puts the emphasis on a truly collaborative story-telling and role-playing experience. In all, a good attempt and a system I’m looking forward to playing more of in the future.

Game Forth!

 

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Steam-Punk: A Difference Perspective

For over a year now I’ve organized a weekly Dungeons & Dragons Campaign set in the Forgotten Realms fantasy setting. One of the story arcs in this year-plus campaign has involved the group journeying through the Astral Sea, a combination of the players’ desire to role-play pirate personas and my own predilection towards a fantastic-fantasy setting involving otherworldly encounters. In fleshing out this tangent adventure I began to see that I had been adding elements from this divergent subplot to the main story long before the arc had begun. Things like automatons, ‘golem-armies’ and an uprising beneath the City streets based loosely on the American Revolution complete with early functioning muskets were somehow making their way into a pre-industrial society of myth and magic.

Taking a step back and seeing all these little factors organizing themselves in my world, seemingly of their own volition, it became apparent that I was clearly looking for a way to experience, and run, a more modern Home Campaign than the one I was currently Game-mastering. And what also became pretty clear to me was the fact that I was looking for a distinctive feel to this setting; a Steam-punk feel.

Once I was able to understand what tone I had been pushing for, I soon got the mechanical itch to invent a new world, a Steam-punk one, with new players and a whole new story to watch unfold. Eventually after deciding that even though my schedule left little room to run, let alone plan, write and explore such a World I none-the-less decided to try and set up a second, Steam-punkesque weekly Home Campaign.  And by the grace of the Internet and all things Science, I did.

And as tough as it was to find my new Steam-punk players, it was an even harder decision for me to finally inform my first group about this ‘other’ party. With assurances that I wasn’t leaving them, I mentioned to my players that this new group would be a Campaign of the Steam-punk variety. As for reply, one of the two budding comedian’s in the group gave me a surprising though not entirely unexpected, grumble-grumble-grumble-Steam-punk!-grumble-grumble-grumble!

An outspoken bloke and one of the original members of the party, when it came to Steam-punk, his thoughts on the setting were that it was nothing more than English narcissism. It’s also, as he expounded further, a rather exclusionary setting being that it takes place in England during the time of colonization, technological Darwinianism and European elitism. All valid points as well, and ones that to his eyes, given to him by his Dominican parents just to clue you in on his own background, leaves it a bit difficult to immerse oneself in. Again, a good point.

Where his and my opinions diverge regarding Steam-punk is when it comes to context. As a literary form, Steam-punk derives its attitude from an alternate history put forth where computers arrive much earlier. In this parallel time-line, electricity is replaced by steam and Victorian style often trumps form. With Charles Babbage’s Difference Engine the bisecting point along this alternate history there is a fascination in the genre for things which push the boundaries of what has happened into the area of what could have happened, often subversively, hence speculative fiction at its finest. And like most speculative settings it’s really the essence and spirit of the genre that appeals to me and I imagine to the vast majority of other admirers as well of Steam-punk.

This essence is that of a sense of wonder with technology, a wonder that is expressed in gadgetry accessible by a populace using an almost mystical basis to develop these gadgets. It’s the idea of the sole inventor creating new ‘gear’ amidst a back-drop of rapid technological change. Change which is none-the-less welcomed. And change that is counter to what came before, hence the ‘punk’.

This welcoming attitude towards technology combined with the liberating aspect of its application is perhaps best expressed by comparison to its parent genre of cyber-punk. Whereas cyberpunk displays an oppressive intrusive and disillusioned view of technology, the detached scientist whose work filters in through forcible consumption, Steam-punk seeks to empower the individual through a straightforward unblinking eye of the wonders that technology engenders. It’s a technology of the engaged, hammered out in the sweat of a forge instead of designed by committee in a sterilized lab-room. And yes it is a genre that may have been birthed in Victorian corsets and top-hats but its spirit can don the trappings of any industrializing culture one may choose.

And much like traditional Dungeons and Dragons, where the fighter, the wizard, the thief and the cleric have expanded to include formerly exotic but now quintessential base archetypes like the monk, the gunslinger, the barbarian, and the ninja, the troupes of a genre can be adopted to fit whatever world you’re looking to enter, or create. Heck, who wouldn’t get a kick out of a Japanese Steam-punk during the Shogun-era with spring-loaded shurikens and Samurai tech alongside Geisha’s who recline behind paper-walls as clock-work birds sit perched on their night-stands. (It’s already been done!)

The spirit of Steam-punk, like any good genre, transcends its own origins to encompass all types of cultural icons and personas. And for Steam-punk it is a belief in the individual, and how that individual incorporates technology into their life, through adaptation, wonder and a rebellious attitude that makes it easily skinnable towards any Campaign world you create. And so much to my funny-man player’s distain, I myself have no problems grafting the ideas of Steam-punk, with or without Victorian styles and British sensibilities to my own Campaign world, where the ‘future’ may hold mechanical dragons, Eastern or Western.

Because ultimately, Steam-punk is fantasy.  At its most pure, unapologetic face, a face hiding clock-worked gears and beneath a shade of skin, whatever color or nationality we choose it to be, that reflects a mechanical, accessible and intimately familiar desire to tame the wonders of technology however we so desire.

Want more Steam-punk? Check out the links below and,

Game Forth!

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