Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Your Magical Elves Make Too Much Sense to Be Real

In Fantasy and Scifi gaming, cultures tend to be built around a single, unified theme, and then have every aspect developed from that narrow perspective. Elves are long lived and love nature. So every Elven city is an airy, open affair with wondrous architecture that practically invites nature indoors. Their nations are peaceful primeval forests and they're always distrustful of the brief, ravaging nature of mankind. Their gods are pretty much aloof tree-huggers just like the elves themselves.

Doesn’t seem to ring very true, does it?

In the real world cultures are a strange morass of often incompatible ideas and actions. “Turn the other cheek” doesn’t match up well with the ravenous, violent, and sometimes cannibalistic nature of the first crusade. Anyone who’s looked beyond Bulfinch’s Age of Fable, knows that thinking of the Greek gods as a unified pantheon is completely ahistorical. Hesiod doesn’t show the same gods as Homer. Homer’s accounting of the gods and their values doesn't agree with the various Mysteries. It’s all one big, complicated, ever-changing mess. The irony in the violent, criminal vandalism of the 
Temperance movement in its efforts to stop the violence and criminality that alcohol breeds should be lost on no one.

So the next time you decide to create a new culture for your campaign, you may want to consider what inherent contradictions or ironies are central to the people. Do the people of a wealthy empire hold it together with the might of their armies, while worshiping gods of peace, penance, and suffering? Does that tribe tell stories of their wanderings, persecution, and hardships in foreign lands yet hunt and kill any who cross their borders? Do the people of that city-state have ritual cleansings before and elaborate hygienic practices during meals but wear the same unwashed undergarments until they literally fall off? And when dealing with religion or any other construct of ideas, it will ring truer if it changes through time and by region. It’s amazing how different the services of two Baptist churches right next door to each other can be. Shouldn't the people on the other side of the mountains have different practices and ideas, even if they're of the “same” religion?

The irony of this article? It’s sensible that when it doesn’t make as much sense, it makes more sense.

Update! Update! From Cosmic HQ!

Well Cosmic Patrol was every bit as fun as I'd expected it to be. With a shifting roster of the Patrol's finest, we burned through two mission briefs in about 5 hours. Once we finally got used to the Plot Points and how necessary/fun they were, things went swimmingly. Our's was a foul-mouthed, R. Lee Ermy style take on the Patrol.

A giant, psychic, and very evil space squid was unwittingly released from its icy imprisonment. We destroyed or own ship, the Freighter Uturon Infinity, beyond any hope repair, but put the tentacled horror down. The Flagstaff Corporation somehow profited greatly from this endeavor.

The Command Class ship Genesis fared much better. Atomic Igniters were stolen from a ship full of hostile spider-bots. These spidery kill bots, we discovered, don't fair well in zero-g. A gravity drive got used as an enormously powerful space-bumper. Thousands of kill bots were destroyed in a failed boarding attempt. Whiskey was consumed in  a victory toast as we headed finally towards platform alpha for some overdue shore leave.

Those plot points really took some getting used to. Cosmic P's very different from the simulationist immersive type of game we usually run. I think I may just write up a review for it in full one day. But not today.

Monday, April 15, 2013

One of those Posts...

Wherein the author in question waxes poetic about his gaming exploits.

Well, we finally wrapped up "Burning Meadows", the low-fantasy campaign I started back in August. I'd meant for it to be about a 6 month ordeal, but it stretched into nearly 9. Still, there was less actual game time than I'd wanted.

It started with a bang! and kept up an appropriately grim emotional resonance for the first couple of months. Then we went from meeting 3-4 times a month to an average of once monthly. It wasn't long before the tone lost a bit of seriousness between each session. That was fine, really; however, it wasn't quite the same game by the end.

We had a few things working against us:

  • We weren't playing often enough for full character immersion; life as adults simply got in the way. In the time between sessions the subtlety of the PCs & NPCs simply got lost.
  • We also weren't hanging out much beyond the game so when we got together fun/stupid hijinks/anecdotes would ensue.
  • I lost some of my initial enthusiasm as the game went forward. The game as I'd envisioned it was going to be a tight, emotional journey examining a  few insane months of heroic struggle in the lives of these characters. When the time between sessions started retarding character growth, I wasn't enjoying it as much. Plus, the cool ideas I got for different campaigns while wishing we could play did not help my attitude. 
  • When we did get to play, it was squeezed in between life's responsibilities so I didn't always bring my A game.
  • The ending should have taken two sessions, but I squeezed it into one. (I did this for a few other sessions as well.)

The end wasn't as good as it could have been, but I'm still happy with it (and of equal import I think the players are happy as well). The campaign was a playtest and introduction my Ayhton setting, using the most current version my system, Grit. In that regard it was a total success.

Campaigns rarely (practically never) work out according to plan. Hell, that's part of the fun. Roll With Punches is a skill that needs to be on every GM's Character Sheet. When a campaign becomes less than a joy though, it's time to cut and run. We are in this hobby for pleasure, are we not?

Though in my experience, few endings are more unenjoyable than those that simply stop. (Take a lesson Post-Modern Short Stories!) After weighing the pros and cons, you will usually find that rushing the endgame is more pleasant than dropping the campaign altogether. Your Mileage May Vary.

And now for something completely different...

This weekend I shall finally begin my series of one shots, as written about in the NYNG article. Cosmic P here we come!

Soon, I will be a Player for the first time in like a damn year! I'm really looking forward to being on the other side of the screen. I can't wait to play the cross-dressing, pansexual, drug-manufacturing weirdo I've got bouncing around in my brain-box. I'm a father-to-be so I expect I'd better get in all the weirdness I can before normalcy consumes my existence.

Until next time, May You roll Max Crits in Times of Need! (And When You Don't: Remember, Disaster makes the Game more Fun [at least for the GM].)

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Sir Havart the Unbent

Small Hall Family Arms

For your gaming pleasure, a systemless NPC suitable for most Fantasy campaigns.

Name: Sir Havart the Unbent
Age: 31
Family: Small Hall
Family Motto: Blood Makes the Soil Black

            Sir Havart stands at nearly six feet tall. His broad, strong frame still carries the noble bearing of his station though his weather-beaten skin bespeaks of years spent in the elements. An angry red scar runs from his left brow to the top of his pate creating a noticeable void in his dark grey hair.
            He’s normally found in his worn green broadcloth tunic, loose leather jerkin, woolen hose, and high leather boots. His estoc and knife are always within arm’s reach if not on his hips. When he knows violence is at hand, he dons a hauberk and steel cuirass.
            He’s a quiet and stern-looking man though generally affable when approached politely. His dark green eyes miss very little; Sir Havart has only rarely come out on the wrong side of a negotiation.

            He had a generally happy childhood. Havart’s earliest memory was of his father digging in rich, black soil. The bright sun shone through his father’s long, sandy hair. Blue, the sky seemed too blue to exist. He had been warm, and he had been happy.
Sir Aelfred of Small Hall, Havart’s father, was a landed knight in the far north of the Duchy of Hapbend. Through his mother Lady Katherine’s excellent estate management and his father’s love of horticulture, the House of Small Hall managed to purchase freedom from their fealty to the coin-strapped Duke of Hapsbend.
Aelfred was known as a generous and kind lord. He earned the respect of his tenants and serfs by working the fields alongside them. He kept a small library of ancient texts on soil and crop rearing as well as dozens of small experimental gardens. Aelfred’s personal vineyards and his tenant’s abundant crops kept all the people of Small Hall and its holdings prosperous. Through him Havart learned the importance of proving yourself even to those below your station.
Havart spent his youth in martial pursuits. His war-scarred though gentle father could not assuage his son’s love of the tilt and the clash of arms. He excelled particularly in armed and armored fencing.
When he was but fifteen years old, Havart fought in his first tourney. In the general melee Havart struck down the Reginald II of Hapsbend, heir to the Duke. The fight was fair. Havart called him out, gave him opportunity to ready himself, and soundly trounced Reginald within moments. Young Havart took for ransom Reginald’s sword and armor, but not before treating the young man’s wounds.  He then fought for several more hours aiding greatly in his party’s victory.
After the tourney, Reginald journeyed to Small Hall to buy back his lost arms. Aelfred welcomed the young gentlemen, treating  him as an honored guest. While at Aelfred’s table Reginald, practically swimming in wine, fondled Alaina one of the serving girls. She struck the young wretch with a silver pitcher, breaking his nose. Reginald dove at her with a knife in his fist. In the ensuing struggle, Aelfred took a deep knife wound to the shoulder and Havart crushed Reginald’s skull with a serving tray.
Aelfred died of infection within a few weeks. Shortly thereafter the Duke of Hapbend successfully brought suit against the house of Aelfred for the loss of his son and heir. Small Hall and all its verdant holdings became a direct holding of the Duchy. Havart and the Lady Katherine left with only a handful of valuables and the clothes on their backs.
Havart found his mother shelter with the grateful family of Alaina and set off into the wild, cruel world. He sold his sword at first to any who’d pay, but soon saw the horror such a life would reap. Havart then learned how to live off the land and bide his time for a worthwhile cause.
He’s fought for serfs in exchange for a pittance and warm bed. Nobles have given him shinning coin for his steadfast service. He’ll not fight for free but he scales his fee to the means of the man asking. Whenever he can, Havart sends coin along to his mother.

Martial: Estoc, Knife/Dagger, Shield, Mounted Combat, Lance
Other: Hunting/Trapping Small Game, Survival Light Forest/Meadowland

Wilderness Gear (rope, hatchet, bedroll, etc.), Weapons and Armor as Above, Pack Mule, Small Cache of Silver.