The Sage Welcomes You

So, here you find a blog about life in general, but with a focus on family, games, books and creativity. Other "stuff" will creep in from timt to time.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

13th Age--So this happened

A couple of months ago, I jumped on the 13th Age bandwagon by backing the kickstarted of the first 13th Age supplement, 13 True Ways.  I have since laid the foundation for a 13th Age campaign which will be starting in late February as far as play sessions (though the description of our character creation session results is here).  In the mean time, I have been awaiting the full publication of the 13th Age book and working with the pre-publication editions they have released so far to backers of 13 True Ways and those who pre-ordered 13th Age directly from the publisher.

One of the fun things about 13 True Ways is that, having hit a number of stretch goals, they have really involved the community in what the final expanded content of the book is going to be.  One of the "contests" that they held was the opportunity to shape the art work in the book through submitting a 130 word essay, story, or polemic on your favorite 13th Age or D20 SRD monster, which then, if selected, would inspire one of 13 new illustrations in the supplement.

Yesterday, the announced the authors of the selected submissions, and my name was among the chosen.  This is very fun and very exciting for me.  Right after they announced this part of the ongoing involvement of backers in the book, I had my monster picked out, and I sat down and wrote my 130 words.  My son never doubted that I could get picked, but, really, in a community of incredibly talented and imaginative people, I figured it was a long shot.

I am happy that it worked out for me.  I don't know how many essays were sent, but I would be a lot.  They let people do up to two submissions (different monsters) and it took them some time to decide on the "winners", though I am sure they were doing many things besides reading 130 word essays in the time between the due date and yesterday's announcement. 

So, what happens next is that the artists are going to come up with initial sketches to capture their plan for the art, and those will get posted one at a time to reveal the monsters and the essayist behind them.  The have opened with the first winner, with the nom de plume of "The Dormouse", who wrote about a truly Giant, giant praying mantis.  There are 12 more sketches to go, including one of my chosen monster, and I can't wait to see each of them.

So, what's my monster?

Well, that would be telling.

Suffice it to say, Rob Heinsoo and the rest of the 13th Age masterminds have decided they want to draw out the suspense and reveal the monsters one at a time to surprise us all.  Who am I to spoil the fun.  Some people, after all, picked two monsters, and they don't know yet which one got picked.

So, despite it being a small thing, and the real achievement going to be from the artists of 13th Age (who are phenomenal!), I am inordinately proud of making my small contribution.

Good fun, and my son got to say "I told you so, Dad."

Friday, January 25, 2013

Heroes of the 13th Age: Part 1-Character Creation

So, last Saturday, my time finally came.  I gathered together a brilliant group of people at my house to launch a campaign of Pelgrane Press and Fire Opal Media's 13th Age.  We had four kids (pre-teen and teens), and five adults (I'll call them two Moms and three Dads) and me (another Dad).  It turned out to be a really good mix.  We took up a lot of time with the mechanics.  Lots of people rolled dice for their characteristics and some did the point buy.  People poured over my home-brew character creation work flow sheets and reference sheets.  This was a new game to everyone, including me.

Eventually, we ended up with assigning stats, choosing race and character class, which resulted in the following breakdown:

Spirit-Touched (my version of Aasimar) Cleric (Mom)
Gnome Cleric (Dad)
Half-Elf Rogue (Mom)
High Elf Ranger (Kid)
Half-Orc Fighter (Dad)
Human Bard (Kid)
Human Paladin (Kid)
Wood Elf Sorcerer (Kid)
Half-Elf Fighter (flovored Samurai) (Dad)

This was an interesting and diverse group, and looks like it will provide versitility for meeting challenges.

Next we went into backgrounds, Icon relationships, and One Unique Things.

This was definitely the highlight of the evening.  Everyone got to introduce their character and talk about their backgrounds.  One dad did steal the show.  Our Half-Orc Fighter gathered his two kids who were at the table close to him as he prepared to tell us about his character.  I wondered if he had some touching or serious story to tell, with his kids close.  Nope.

He introduced himself, in character, as HEY WATCHIT!  He gestured wildly with his hands, making sure to gently buffet each of his kids multiple times as he described how his orphaned Half-Orc Character, who talks with his hands, was "raised by whole village" and "it take a whole village to raise HEY."  While no one had us laughing or as enthralled as much as Hey's player, everyone had really interesting, sometimes goofy, definitely some off the wall ideas.  However, when we finished going around the table and I had finished taking notes, we had changed the world.

Literally, the Dragon Empire of the 13th Age was different before and after we discussed player backgrounds, Icon relationships and One Unique Things.  I had already been customizing "My Dragon Empire" (which you can read about on prior entries to my blog [Chaos Shaman and Man-Orcs; Paladin Orders; and my cosmology:  first post here, the second here, the third here and the fourth here, fifth here]).  However, my vision was narrow compared to the wild and crazy ideas that arose out of character creation.

Here are some things we know about Our Dragon Empire after character creation.

1. The First Crusader appeared in the Third Age, and his direct descendent is one of the player characters.
2. The High Elves have invented a magical toy which allows people to share thoughts and sketches by carrying around a magical scroll in a scoll tube and "posting" things.  Because of the Fey Magic, it doesn't usually do anything very useful.  It is only for amusement.  It is called ELF SCROLL.
3.  The Dragon Empire has suffered a lot of turmoil.  Since the start of the Age, there have been at least seven conflicts large enough to be called wars.
 4. The Diabolist and the Orc Lord have been working together in this Age.  Who is using who?
5. You can get croissants in the Dragon Empire, and apparently the best ones made in the Santa Cora region are baked by Hey Watchit.
6. The Frost Giants of this era are not so bad.  They are kindly enough to take in a raise orphan Gnomes.
7. There is something called "Cheese Trees" and apparently one of the characters is the only one of his kind who can grow them.
8. There are apparently whole tribes of Necromancers out there (come on 13 True Ways!)
9. There is an Imperial Music College
10. There are Samurai in the Dragon Empire.
11. The High Elves have developed a Zen-like archery discipline/philosophy
12. The Court of Stars has its own military Special Forces
13. The Emperor has an organization called the Emperor's Rangers who are not "Rangers" in the character class sense necessarily but instead are made up of different units of homogeneous ethnic groups (Mongol like horse raiders in one, Frankish style knights in another, Samurai, etc.).  Also, the Emperor's Rangers builds "Forged" Units of diverse people to deliberately foster closer ties between disparate groups in the Empire.

That was a lot to learn.

But wait, there was more.

This was where I stole a page from Evil Hat and their Spirit of the Century game (based on the FATE system).  In that pulp hero themed game, they suggest a mechanic of party building by each character writing down the title of an adventure story where they were the "star" and then passing it around so that a couple of other characters sign on as "Guest Stars" so that everyone is chained together through past adventure stories which happened before the game began.

So, the last thing we did was that I pulled out the index cards and explained what I thought I wanted.  I had made a list of prompts to help like a what "I survived . . ." what/where "the battel of  . . ." why "in the service of [x]."  After a bit of discussion, I thought I had communicated the concept, and people wrote down their past adventure.  Then, everyone read what they had written.  My plan was that each story would have something like two or three "guest stars" for each story.  I could not actually remember what the Spirit of the Century process was at that moment.  Instead, as each person read their little back story prompt, many people at the table said, "oh, I was there" or "oh, I saw that" and cards got furiously passed and people wrote things on them.  The constant refrain was "Hey thinks he was there TOO!"  In the end, I think Hey did end up in most of the stories.  It was not quite the clean and ordered process envisioned in Evil Hat's book, but it really worked to give the cast of characters a complex and interesting back story that wove them all together.

So, below are the stats for the characters, my interpretation of their individual stories.  This is followed by the epic history of how they all came togehter over time (which I created by arranging the index card stories until they made an intelligible chronology and then I wrote it out), and the teaser for the first adventure (which is sadly some weeks off still; the difficult of grown up lives and schedules).

Enjoy, comment, create and go play!

CHARACTERS

Cerise
Female Spirit-Touched Cleric
Str 11 Con 14 Dex 14 Int 10 Wis 18 Cha 12

One Unique Thing: Found on doorstep of Abbey of the Priestess.  I don't know who my parents/family are.  I left to find out who I am.  I have a birthmark that looks like a comet on my shoulder and I was wrapped in a silk blanker with the symbol of the Great Gold Wyrm.

Backgrounds:
Raised in The Abbey (of the Priestess) +5
Sailed on the Midland Sea +3

Icon Relationships: 1 (pos) Priestess, 1 (pos) Great Gold Wyrm, 1 (neg) Diabolist

Talents: Cleric Domains: Sun, Leadership, Life

Spells:
Bless, Cure Wounds, Javelin of Faith, Spirits of the Righteous

Feat: Toughness

Cerise is a Spirit-Touched Cleric, a follower of the Priestess.  She is tall and has an other-worldly appearance.  The Spirit-Touched are sometimes called “Holy Ones.”  The Spirit-Touched are a near-human race touched by the bright gods and their spirits.  Some say that, with the appearance of the Priestess and her Cathedral, the Priestess has brought the Spirit-Touched to the Dragon Empire for some special purpose through the Cathedral’s power.  Cerise was raised as an orphan as a ward of the Priestess’ Order in an Abbey outside of Santa Cora (the holy city that holds the Priestess’ Cathedral).  She has already travelled across the Midland Sea many times for her Order, but is now going out into the world to spread the Word of the Priestess and to search for her origin.  She wears the distinctive plate and mail armor of the defenders of her Order and looks like she knows how to use the sword at her side and the brace of throwing daggers in her sash.

Indigo
Male Gnome Cleric
Str 16 Con 10 Dex 14 Int 10 Wis 17 Cha 10

One Unique Thing: Was raised in a traveling circus.  Parents were a magic act and 3 siblings (1 bro, 1 sis & me (the youngest)).  Attacked on raid by band of Gnolls.  Circus destroyed, saved and raised by a Frost Giant.

Backgrounds:
Raised spiders +5
Makes cheese +1
Is a tattoo artist +2

Icon Relationships: 3 (pos) Priestess

Talents: Cleric Domains: Healing, Trickery/Illusion, Strength

Spells:
Cure Wounds, Turn Undead, Hammer of Faith, Javelin of Faith

Feat: Rapid reload

Indigo is a Gnome Cleric.  He too is a follower of the Priestess.  He, like all Gnomes, is really short and slight.  Gnomes are a Fey race, distantly related to the Elves, but also taking on some of the characteristics of the Dwarves, and some say they are related to Haflings, but you can’t believe anything anyone says about Haflings.  He can’t be any more than four feet tall at the most, but he has the strength of a grown warrior half again his size.  For some reason, he seems to know everything there is to know about spiders, which is a little strange.  Also, even though he’s usually the shortest person in the room, he acts like everyone else is just another “short person” because he was raised by Giants.  At least that’s what he says.  He also has all sorts of tattoos, and he can give you one himself if you want.  I think I saw one on his arm that said “Gnoll Killer”, but I’m not sure.  Usually he is wearing his armor from the Warrior Order of the Gnomish Gods, emblazoned with their symbols.  He is fierce wielding his two handed war hammer, but even more important is his great power to heal the injuries and illnesses that may befall his friends.

Z
Female Half-Elf Rogue
Str 8 Con 18 Dex 18 Int 14 Wis 16 Cha 14

One Unique Thing: Has an elaborate chain necklace with many colorful gems.  Periodically a new gemstone appears.

Backgrounds:
Grew up in a tavern +5
Travelled with a menagerie +3
Got lost in the Wild Wood +2

Icon Relationships: 2 (pos) Priestess, 1 (pos) High Druid

Talents: Shadow Walk, Swashbuckle, Thievery

Powers: Evasive Strike, Flying Blade, Roll With It, Sure Cut

Feat: Roll with it (enhancement)

Zelda or Zatana or Zephyr or something starting with Z (it changes, like all the time), she is a Half-Elf of many talents.  That’s what she likes to say, though quietly, your friends nod and wink and whisper the word “Rogue.”  She grew up in a tavern and has travelled all over with the most interesting people and dangerous animals, putting on shows.  She is usually dressed in non-descript travelling leathers and a plain looking cloak.  She seems to want to appear non-descript all the time, but she definitely gives off a bit of an “elfin” vibe.  But then, when you blink she could just disappear and then suddenly, she is right next to you coming out of the shadows.  That’s pretty cool.  She has one rich piece of jewelry and the gems on it seem to always be changing.  Her weapons are like her, discrete.  Until something is going wrong, you don’t usually see the long bladed dagger or the crossbow she has with her (seemingly at all times).  Who knows what she has up her sleeves?

Legolis (absolutely no intellectual property problem here whatsoever; move along)
Male High Elf Ranger
Str 11 Con 13 Dex 17 Int 11 Wis 14 Cha 13

One Unique Thing: I grow cheese trees.

Backgrounds:
Champion athlete +3
Fought in seven wars +3
Sleeps for 15 hours a day +2
Posts pictures of ugly monsters on the Dragon Empire’s version of Facebook, ELF SCROLL +1
Lives with a Hobbit (okay Tolkien Estate, Halfling . . .) on the weekends +2

Icon Relationships: 3 (pos) Elf Queen

Talents: Archery, Ranger’s Pet (Serpent); Fey Queen’s Enchantment (Acid Arrow)

Feat: Archery (enhancement)

Legolis is a proud High Elf Ranger and devoted servant of the Elf Queen.  He is both a champion athlete and a renowned strategist who has led the defense of the Elven people and the Empire many times.  He has the classic look of the High Elves, all tall and blond and athletic build.  Like any good soldier, he knows that getting sleep where you can is important, so he always seems to be able to nod off.  Like many a famous elf, he dresses in greens and browns (the better to blend into the landscape) and he carries a big bow.  However, he may have dwarven friends, because he also carries a big axe.  He has a big pet snake that is always with him.  For some reason, he usually smells faintly of cheese.  When he isn’t fighting, competing, sleeping or advising the Elf Queen’s army on strategy, he spends time on the new Elf Scroll network.  That thing can’t communicate anything important, but it sure has funny pictures, especially the ugly monster ones that Legolis posts.  Legolis also has a Hobbit (Halfling) roommate on the weekends.

Hey Watchit
Male Half-Orc Fighter
Str 16 Con 15 Dex 13 Int 9 Wis 11 Cha 8

One Unique Thing: Has a bag given by old one-eyed Maude, the hedge witch from his village.  Only opens in case of DIRE EMERGENCY.  So far it has never opened.

Backgrounds:
Pastry chef/cook in a tavern (try the Croissants!) +1
Caring for small animals (shepherd) +1
Knowledge of plants/helped Druid +1
Modern interpretive dance (entertaining the village) +3
Cousins everywhere +1
Has wandered around everywhere (looking for the DIRE EMERGENCY) +1

Icon Relationships: 1 (neg) Orc Lord (he’s mean), 1 (pos) Elf Queen (she’s pretty), 1 (pos) High Druid (I don’t know her, but she seems nice)

Talents: Heavy Warrior, Skilled Intercept, Tough as Iron

Powers: Brace For It, Heavy Blows, Deadly Assault

Feat: Reach tricks

Hey Watchit is a Half-Orc Fighter.  He is always very excited and he talks with his hands a lot.  He is big and brawny, and a little scary looking, until he starts to smile and talk in endless run-on sentences.  He was raised as an orphan in a village outside of Santa Cora (the Holy City that holds the Priestess’ Cathedral).  No one family was able to handle him for any length of time, but he was passed from hand to hand and eventually grew up, showing it truly does take a village, especially if you are trying to raise Hey.  Hey has learned to fight, but also to care for things.  He has been a cook and baker (remember to try his Croissants!), a shepherd, an herb gatherer and a dancer/entertainer.  He has traveled some, but always comes back to his village to do some more baking.  He wears bits and pieces of plate, chainmail, other old metal pieces, and whatnot that make him very well armored.  Unlike most proud fighters, he carries no sword.  He has what looks like a small tree and a bag of rocks.  Don’t stand too close, he likes to talk with his hands, and sometimes he forgets to put down the tree.

Lief
Male Human Bard
Str 13 Con 12 Dex 16 Int 13 Wis 11 Cha 19

One Unique Thing:  Spell placed on me by a necromancer tribe for an unknown reason.  It works sometimes to create random magic effects.

Backgrounds:
Survived alone in the woods +2
Agile and fast from running for my life +2
Hired for a circus and later ran away +1
Thieved to live +2
Studied music at the Imperial Music College +3

Icon Relationships: 1 (pos) Priestess, 2 (pos) High Druid

Talents: Songmaster, Storyteller, Balladeer (Air of the Elf Queen)

Battle Cries: Move It!, Stay Strong!

Songs: Song of Spilt Blood

Spells: Battle Chant

Feat:  Battle Chant (enhancement); [still needs to choose a second Feat]

Lief is the most dreamy, nicest, best singing, best looking, and most interesting guy ever.  Yeah, he’s a Human Bard, and he knows all these songs and riddles and stories and he’s so nice.  Everyone just thinks he’s the best.  He has colorful clothes and a flashy cloak.  He’s travelled in the woods and met the High Druid and he’s played concerts at the Cathedral.  I bet his voice sounded even more amazing there!  He has all sorts of instruments that he can play, and his voice is just like being in heaven.  He has all sorts of weapons, but why would he ever need to fight with them?  Everyone just wants to hear him sing and tell stories.  He uses his weapons to do juggling and to tell his stories.  Have you ever seen the puppet show he did with a dagger, a long sword and three arrows?  It was amazing!  Yeah, that guy’s great!  Only . . . sometimes really creepy weird magical things happen around him, and that’s spooky.

Delthen Eversoar
Male Human Paladin
Str 19 Con 15 Dex 13 Int 9 Wis 10 Cha 14

One Unique Thing: Descended from the original Crusader who appeared in the 3rd Age

Backgrounds:
Privileged House of Eversoar +3
Inquisitor of The Crusader +5

Icon Relationships: 2 (pos) Crusader, 1 (neg) Diabolist

Talents: Way of Evil Bastards, Fearless, Implacable

Feat: Smite Evil (enhancement), Implacable (enhancement)

Delthen Eversoar is kind of scary.  He is a Human Paladin, but not the warm fuzzy kind.  He is a dark and serious Paladin, one of the Crusader’s demon hunters from the Inquisition.  He is from an important noble house from the Empire, but he gave up all his titles and lands to join the Crusader.  They say he helped take one of the demon fortresses in the Hellhole of Drosh.  They say he is one of the strongest men alive, and he walks around all in dark plate armor, with his big shield with the symbol of the Crusader’s Inquisitors blazoned on it.  Nobody wants to mess with him, and certainly they don’t want to see how well he handles the mace or heavy crossbow he always has with him.

Rolen Stillwind
Male Wood Elf Sorcerer
Str 10 Con 14 Dex 10 Int 12 Wis 16 Cha 17

One Unique Thing:  Has a cursed mark on his left hand.

Backgrounds:
Student of the Archmage +3
Experience with Diabolit Magic +3
Old friends within Concord +2

Icon Relationships: 1 (pos) Elf Queen, 1 (pos) Archmage, 1 (conf) Diabolist

Talents: Sorcerer’s Familiar (Raven), Fey Heritage, Infernal Heritage

Spells: Burning Hands, Lightning Fork, Resist Energy, Scorching Ray

Feat: Infernal Heritage (enhancement)

Rolen Stillwind is a Wood Elf Sorcerer.  His magic comes from his emotions and force of personality.  You could say that he is fiery.  Certainly things that threaten him end up on fire, incinerated or struck by lightning.  Despite being a sorcerer, he carries himself pretty seriously, almost like one of the Archmage’s wizards.  He sometimes talks about being under a curse and he has a curious mark on his left hand.  You know he has performed some important tasks for the Court of Stars (The Court of the Elf Queen), and he seems to have offended the Diabolist in some way.  Perhaps he has stolen some of her secrets.  He looks very graceful in his flowing sorcerer’s robes, but don’t let him try to stab anything because he might hurt himself.  Just let him stand back and unleash elemental fury on your enemies.

Yoshi Antien
Male Half-Elf Fighter (Samurai flavored)
Str 17 Con 16 Dex 17 Int 9 Wis 8 Cha 8

One Unique Thing: Split childhood between the Imperial Court and the Court of Stars (court of the Elf Queen)

Backgrounds:
Elven taught archery-zen +2
Groomed to be a Castellan +1
Seaman +1
Horseman +1
Emperor’s Rangers +2
Likes to cook on campaign +1

Icon Relationships: 1 (conf) Elf Queen, 2 (pos) Emperor

Talents: Deadeye Archer, Power Attack, Skilled Intercept

Powers: Deadly Assault, Second Shot, Precision Attack

Feat: Improved Initiative

Yoshi Antien is a Half-Elf fighter.  He grew up in the Imperial Court and the Court of Stars (the Elf Queen’s Court).  He is from an honorable order of Samurai who are the first sent in for all the hot spots of the Empire.  He has sworn allegiance to the Empire, but also has the favor of The Court of the Elf Queen.  He’s done a lot of travelling and has some hidden skills.  If you have never had a meal prepared in the field by Yoshi, you should.  He is amazing with his bow.  I wouldn’t get to close to him when he is swinging his sword either, but when he is picking off the enemy with his arrows it is like he has become one with his bow.

EPIC BACKSTORY (in which we learn even more interesting things about Our Dragon Empire)

Some years ago, Indigo was invited from his gnomish settlement near the Northern Colossus at the end of the Frost Range (where he had helped forge friendship between the Frost Giants and the Gnomes) to Santa Cora to “exterminate” a nearby colony of Giant Spiders that was attacking pilgrims visiting the Priestess.  During his work, he met Hey Watchit in his village, because it was on the pilgrimage route.  Z was also visiting Santa Cora with a menagerie with which she was then employed.  She and Indigo met.  Indigo provided a “small” Giant Spider to the menagerie, and taught Z how to care for it.  Indigo also met Cerise while on assignment around Santa Cora because the Abbey where she was raised was on the pilgrimage route.  Indigo decided to stay in the vicinity of Santa Cora to further his religious studies and he and Cerise became colleagues in their religious life.

Not long afterwards, the samurai Yoshi Antien was sailing on a ship from the imperial capital, Axis, to the city of Concord.  Disaster struck the ship upon the Midland Sea as it passed between the haunted and deadly island of Omen and the lighthouse at Vigil.  Although there are no monsters in the Midland Sea, by the power and authority of the Emperor, and the weather conditions are almost always favorable, due to the magic of the Archmage, a terrible monster storm, or possibly a terrible storm monster, or perhaps both, struck the ship.  The ship tried to run before the power of whatever was menacing it for miles, until it ran aground in Fullcatch Bay.  Yoshi was the only survivor of the wreck.  Hey Watchit was on the beach watching the monster storm (or storm monster) when the ship crashed into the rocks.  He pulled Yoshi from the sea and fed him some croissants.  Rolen Stillwind was also present on the beach investigating various phenomena for the Archmage and he witnessed the storm, the wreck and the rescue.  He joined Hey and Yoshi around Hey’s fire and ate croissants and talked with them for a while (in a mysterious and sorcerous way).  As the monster storm abated, Yoshi thought he saw something flow into the edge of the Wild Wood from the monster storm.  Hey had to go home, but Yoshi, revived by Hey’s care, investigated as one of the Imperial Rangers.  Rolen accompanied him into the Wild Wood to gather facts for the Archmage.  In the Wild Wood they came across Indigo the Gnome Cleric, who was studying the spiders of the Wild Wood and seeking counsel from the High Druid’s followers to try to understand why Giant Spiders had been attacking pilgrims.  Indigo gave Yoshi and Rolen advice about the local area in the woods to try to figure out what flew out of the monster storm.  Even following his advice, however, their investigation was inconclusive and after several days in the woods, they returned to the road between New Port and Santa Cora to go to Santa Cora.  On the road, they met a travelling menagerie and saw the wondrous monstrosities, including a smallish Giant Spider under the care of Z.  Yoshi and Z spoke a bit about the road where the menagerie was travelling.  Rolen did not pay much attention to Z.  Yoshi and Rolen continued to Santa Cora and there parted ways.  Outside of Santa Cora, Yoshi rested for a few days at the Priestess’ Abbey, where Cerise was a novice.  Yoshi recounted to Cerise his experiences during his voyage, shipwreck, and journey to Santa Cora, and Cerise recorded them in the Abbey’s book of traveller’s stories.  Yoshi continued on foot, braving the dangers of The Demon Coast and skirting Gorogan’s Maw to finally reach Pocket Bay.  On the shores of the bay, he met Legolis who was leading a small scouting party out from Horizon.  Legolis escorted Yoshi around the bay to Horizon where he was preparing a military unit for a strike against a Hellfort in support of the forces of the Crusader.  Yoshi and Legolis traded archery tips during their time together.  Legolis posted a sketch of them shooting arrows at monsters on Elf Scroll.  They parted in Horizon and Yoshi took the Imperial Road back to the Capital, Axis, to report his adventures.

After Z left Yoshi and Rolen with the travelling menagerie on the road to New Port, she was thinking about the mysterious “something” that Yoshi had claimed he saw pass from the monster storm into the Wild Wood.  Z never made it to New Port, however, and has never learned the fate of the menagerie.  Her next memories are of being lost in the Wild Wood, the stronghold of the High Druid.  Z cannot really remember how long she wandered in the woods, remembering herself and learning to survive.  Eventually she came upon a gathering of the followers of the High Druid performing a ritual.  This was a sacred tree spirit ceremony, and the spirits of the forest danced through the woods spreading strength and vitality.  Leading the followers of the High Druid in dance was Hey Watchit, who was always ready to dance, and Lief the Bard, who was playing beautiful music and singing haunting songs.  Z also became aware that she was not the only spectator.  Indigo the Gnome had become a frequent visitor to the Wild Wood since his previous investigations into Giant Spiders.  This was the first person Z recognized after she became lost in the woods, and she was very glad to see the face of an old friend.  Indigo informed her that he often came to the rituals of the High Druid’s followers to give them tattoos.  Indigo, Hey and Z all returned to the area around Santa Cora together, and Z stayed for a time at the tavern in Hey’s home village.

Cerise later travelled around the Midland Sea seeking clues to her origin and her family, while spreading the words of the Priestess.  On one trip, she went to pray at the ruins of the Golden Citadel, the old stronghold of the Paladins of the Great Gold Wyrm.  However, after departing the Citadel,  the demonic forces of the Diabolist captured her.  The Diabolist’s lieutenant tried to convince Cerise that she must come to the Abyss to meet with the Diabolist because the Diabolist knew the truth about her family.  The lieutenant hinted that the truth was that Cerise and the Diabolist were related!  Though tempted, Cerise divined that the lieutenant meant to sacrifice her, and she sought to escape.  She was aided in this by Hey Watchit, who is always happy to help nice people, and by Delthen Eversoar, who is always happy to kill demons.

After meeting Cerise, Delthen Eversoar and Hey Watchit travelled together and participated in the taking of the Hellfort Dosh, a demonic outpost near the KneeDeep in the foothills of the Giantwalk Mountains, by the Crusader’s forces.  Because of the threat of this Hellfort to Axis, the capital of the Empire, the Emperor and the Elf Queen sent a top strategist, Legolis, with a group of Elven Special Forces to help in the elimination of the Hellfort.  Delthin, Hey and Legolis all became comrades in arms and trusted one another with their lives.  Legolis posted sketches of them killing demonspawn on Elf Scroll. 

Meanwhile, Lief the Bard travelled the long journey from the Wild Wood on a trip to the Abyss, doing research for an epic story and song cycle that was an extension of his work studying at the Imperial College of Music.  As he travelled out of the Wild Wood, he met Z, who had been lost in the Wild Wood.  Z had been with a travelling menagerie, but could not remember how she went from travelling in its company to being lost in the middle of the forest.  However, when Lief met her, she had learned many of the ways of the forest and was a good travelling companion.  Z left him as he passed through Santa Cora.  After he left the Holy City to travel the Demon Coast on his way to the Abyss he met Cerise who was on her way back to Santa Cora after escaping the Abyss.  Lief and Cerise exchanged stories and became friends.  Though Cerise warned Lief about the dangers of the Abyss, he continued his journey.  He stopped at the ruins of the Golden Citadel to seek a sign from the Great Gold Wyrm that he was permitted to visit the Abyss.  He then continued into the Red Wastes.  There he met Hey Watchit and Delthen Eversoar who were on their way back to Hey’s village after the Battle of Hellfort Dosh.  Hey and Delthen travelled with Lief to the edge of the Abyss to protect him while he sought inspiration for his poems and songs.

Rolen, after completing his investigations around Santa Cora and the Wild Wood, voyaged to Concord and conducted research and studies among the Fey of the city.  Without warning, an army of Orcs appeared around The Fangs and marched across Throne Point to lay siege to Concord.  The terrible army laid waste to the areas around the city and summoned demons to terrorize the population.  Rolen was prominent in the defense of the city, and he put his knowledge of the infernal powers to use in countering demonic attacks.  During the siege, he came to the attention of Ranger and strategist Legolis who was helping to organize the defense of the city.  At a critical juncture in the siege, the Crusader’s forces arrived at the gate where Rolen and Legolis led the defense.  The gate was saved by a mad charge led by Delthen Eversoar.  There was a joyous reunion between Delthen and Legolis, and Legolis introduced Delthen to Rolen.  Legolis posted sketches of them fighting Orcs and Demons on Elf Scroll.  As the siege was lifting, a support fleet arrived from Santa Cora.  On board were Cerise and Hey Watchit.  Cerise came to minister and heal, Hey came to fight the mean people (Orcs).  Hey found his old friends Delthen, Legolis, and Rolen and brought Cerise to the inn where they all were staying.  Cerise was introduced to Rolen, but she already knew Delthen and Legolis.  Hey made up a new “dance of friends meeting” and they all danced it.  Legolis posted a sketch of them dancing on Elf Scroll and then went to sleep.  Some Dwarves saw the posting on Elf Scroll and came to see the dance. 

After the Siege of Concord, the Elf Queen ordered a strike against those behind the attack.  The Court of Stars declared that the Diabolist and a pretender to the title of the Orc Lord had launched the attack from The Fangs.  Legolis was commanded to help with the planning of the campaign against the Hellhole of The Fangs and to lead the scouts at the vanguard of the army.  Delthen Eversoar and the forces of the Crusader rode with the armies of Concord.  Rolen Stillwind went along with the army as an advisor on diabolic matters (and to set things on fire).  Yoshi Antien was with a contingent of Imperial Rangers dispatched to aid in the attack.  Hey Watchit thinks he went too.  Indigo arrived from Santa Cora to join the healers for the campaign.  In the end, the Imperial Forces pushed the demons back into the Hellhole and obliterated the army of Orcs, but the forces were not strong enough to occupy and hold the Hellhole in The Fangs, so the victory was not decisive.

At the end of this war, Hey Watchit received an invitation from Forge to participate in an important birthday celebration for one of the hundreds of Dwarven princes.  Hey enjoyed teaching iron-toed tap dancing in the Dwarf King’s Hall in Forge at the Dwarf prince’s 14th Birthday Party.  Those guys knew how to have a good time.  As one of the heroes in the war against the Demons and Orcs (and also for helping the Dwarves find Hey to be the dance instructor through Elf Scroll) the Dwarves invited Legolis to come to the party, where he ate a lot of cake (and posted sketches on Elf Scroll).  Because of his prominent role in the war, and the close kinship between Dwarves and Gnomes, Indigo was also invited to the party.  He gave a tattoo to one of the Dwarven princesses.  The renowned bard Lief provided much of the music and other entertainment at the party.  After feasting and dancing for a week, Hey was ready to go home, and he and his friends Indigo, Legolis and Lief all travelled from Forge to Anvil by means of The Undermarch.  From there, they followed a caravan to Glitterhaegen, and in that city of merchants princes and commerce they obtained passage to Santa Cora.

In the Holy City, they received words that other friends had been summoned, including Cerise, Z, Yoshi, and Rolen for a mission of importance to the Elf Queen and the Priestess.  Hey didn’t want anyone left out, so he brought Delthen to meet with the representatives of the Cathedral and The Court, even though Delthen was very uncomfortable walking into a bastion of light.  There, the assembled nine heroes were told of a mission to find a lost artifact of the Orc Lord which was made to kill Elves.  Only time will tell what will happen next.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

My life with RPGs: a few thoughts

I am very close to resurrecting my life with RPGs, and I could not be more happy.  This is not to say that I have not been maintaining my interest and study of RPGs in the last few years (okay, it might actually be DECADES), but I have not played regularly in a very long time.

Now, I am about to return, with baby steps, through the magic of 13th Age.  I have also been running some pick up games using Marvel Heroic Role Playing, and that has done wonders for my confidence as a game master.

As I step (or stumble) towards this new opportunity, I am feeling a bit introspective, and I think back to how it all began.

It really began with The Hobbit.  My mother read The Hobbit to me when I was quite young, probably as a Kindergardener and first grader.  That sort of sunk into my DNA, but then was really sparked again by, of all things, the animated Hobbit movie from 1977.  I was actually allowed to watch it on TV, and even though there were many flaws with it, when I was 10 (and it premiered right after my birthday that year), it seemed pretty awesome, and even to this day, John Huston's voice as Gandalf as well as the art design for Smaug and Elrond, are pretty awesome things.  Shortly thereafter, I re-read the book and found it superior in every way to the movie.  However, I was ever thankful that the movie spurred me to read the book again.

I then proceeded to wade into the Lord of the Rings for the first time.

And then a friend (who was about 3 grades ahead of me, but whose dad worked with my dad) introduced me to D&D.  That would have been probably late 1977 (we probably went to Yosemite with that family for some winter cabin camping, if I recall correctly) and early 1978.  My friend, David, took me through character creation and some little adventures, that I don't really remember well.  He and his older friends had a game, but I was too young to be invited to that.  I had to content myself with some solo adventures with him as the Dungeon Master.

At some point around 1978/9, I acquired the Dungeons and Dragons Basic Set (and I think I still have one or two dice that remain from that box), and I tried running things for my friends.  I still had only a rudimentary understanding of the game, but I was hooked.

Then came the next real turning point.  When I was in Sixth grade (1978-79), my mother actually enrolled me in a "class" for Dungeons and Dragons.  I grew up near Monterey, California, and there was an educational enrichment organization called the Lyceum (still going strong), and my mom signed me up for all sorts of things, from caligraphy to opera appreciation.  But this time, she really went to bat for me.  She knew I was getting obsessed with D&D, but had no real outlet.  So, even though I did not meet the age/grade requirements, she argued that I was an advanced student and mature for my age and got me in the "class."

One evening a week for eight, ten, twelve weeks, I'm not really sure, I got taken into town, and I got to play the NEW Advanced Dungeons & Dragons.  Tim and Bart and Valerie ran the game.  The game world was Tim's, but Bart did a lot of the DMing and Valerie subbed in a couple of times (I think; this was 34 years ago).  Tim was a rancher in Carmel Valley and Bart was, I think, some kind of engineer/IT (to the degree there was IT in 1978) guy and I think Valerie was some kind of scientist as well, though I have to admit I don't really know (spoiler alert, of them all, I have only kept in touch with Tim).  They were all in a gaming club called The Myth Masters which met every Sunday down in Monterey.

They were amazing storytellers.  It took me a very long time to internalize all of the things that they taught us by playing the game (and I may still not have them mastered) but they really did a great job.

The first night, we made characters of course.  I was in there with a bunch of other guys (and yes, it was all guys) who were in high school, but they all treated me pretty well.

So, my first ever real AD&D character, whose scrawled character sheet I have to this day, was a fighter; Ged (yes, I had just read the Earthsea books by Ursula K. LeGuin).

Here is how he statted out:

Human, Male, 1st Level Fighter, Neutral Good alignment
Strength 11
Intelligence 10
Wisdom 6
Dexterity 6
Constitution 14
Charisma 6
Hit Points 7

[The really amazing thing I saw when I looked again at this character sheet, was that Ged had the same birth date as my first child (in real life!) just by coincidence.]

So, Ged has terrible stats.  Most of us would just roll up a new character (or use a point buy, where it would be impossible to get such crummy scores nowadays).  But this was a play them as you roll them time in the life of RPGs, and I have to say, Ged was always fun to play.

We lived in The Vale, in a small village that was cut off from the larger world.  The Vale was surrounded by a terrifying mist that no one crossed.  Our village was beset by a legendary evil, the Shadow Hound, which had recently risen again to stalk and kill inhabitants from the village.  This was a spectral half hound half human monster that seemed unstoppable.

So, the village trained and equipped the eldest sons of the village (I was the miller's son), to go into the wilds (though not beyond the Mist) to find the source of the Shadow Hound, and to destroy it if we could.  We did a lot of dungeon crawling thereafter and while I have forgotten most of the details, I do remember that we adopted a pet Goblin, named Snarg, and my character lasted until the last session, when a fumble by one of my fellow players got me killed (he hit me with his two handed sword, which the DM had clearly told him would endanger me).  When Ged died (still first level, just before the climactic battle with the Shadow Hound), I was no longer the "mature" kid.  I cried and had to be told to get a hold of myself.

I sat through the rest of the adventure.  I think everyone was first level, except maybe one or two characters.  We had one magic sword, wielded by our leader (who was Snarg's "master").  The Shadow Hound killed every one.  It was probably a three our four hit dice monster, but immune to normal weapons.  It cut everyone down, though our leader was the last and put in some hits with the magic sword.  Then Snarg actually took up the sword and killed the Shadow Hound. 

Unfortuntely, that just caused the Hound to rise, taking over the soul of its last victim, which was our dead leader.  Unfortunately, Snarg then died screaming, "no master, no!"

It was amazing.  Even though we all died (my first TPK), we all had a fun time, and even though I lost my cool, I got invited to join the Myth Masters.  Tim, who was just the nicest guy ever and a real live cowboy, lived not far from me, and he agreed to take me in to do marathon, all day AD&D every Sunday.  That was a wonderful and amazing time for about a year and a half.  I had many characters, played in several campaigns, and learned to get along with working adults, college students, army guys, and high schoolers, all of whom were included in the weekly games.

From then on, I never looked back.  I had to leave the Myth Masters in Eighth Grade, because my family relocated for a year while my dad was a visiting professor (in Philadelphia).  I continued to play some Ad&D there, and also got into games like Ogre and other Steve Jackson goodness (and amazingly, that guy is still making stuff my son loves (Muchkin to the max)).  However, when I came back and went to high school, I really found my peers to play with.  I played and ran AD&D and Gamma World, I was introduced to RuneQuest, Traveler, Top Secret, and FASA Star Trek and Call of Cthulhu.  Into college and grad school I would add Twilight 2000, Stormbringer, Cyberpunk 2013 (ha!), Paranoia, Star Wars (D6), Vampire:TM, Superworld, and GURPS. 

For many years how, I have been on hiatus from regular gaming (really since 1993), though I have had a pick up here and there, and I continue to collect read and follow systems (principally FATE, PDQ#, Cortex+ and D20 of late, but various others as well).  I have really missed a regular game, but as a guy with a wife, children, a house payment, a full time job and a (very) part time job, it is hard to fit regular game play in.

I loved RPGs.  In the end, it was always less about the systems and more about the characters and the stories.  It has been a great road to travel.  And I am about to hit the road again!

It all started with the Hobbit, and now, with the latest film iteration, I begin again with what I hope is a new birth of playing RPGs as a regular part of my life.

Watch this space for further reports.

Go play!