Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Chronicle 013: Interview with Kyle S.

DARK HERSEY Q&A with Kyle S.

Back in August I was looking into a possible crossover game for Star Wars, using Fantasy Flight's Dark Heresy as a base. The idea came to me when FF released their newly licensed BETA test for Star Wars (you can read my initial thoughts on the new game here.) I felt Star Wars had gone soft and needed to be brought into a very brutal universe. And the best universe/system for that was Dark Heresy. But I had only played that system a few times and wanted some additional help. So I turned to the only “expert” I knew of who could help me run a game. That expert was Kyle, a person I met and befriended through my good friend Brandon.

This was intended to be an interview, but it comes out more as a Q&A, as all of the questions were answered via Facebook. So for all of you who are looking into Dark Heresy, or even any Fantasy Flight game, you should read the following. But first, I’m going to start with a set of question that I was first asked when I was interviewed on Rho Pi Gamma.

Who or What got you first into gaming? What was your first game as a player? What was your first game as a GM?

KYLE: Josh Orr got me started with a bastardized version of AD&D while I was in Boy Scouts. My parents were deathly afraid of me accidentally learning sorcery and rocketing straight to Hell, so I wasn't allowed to play RPGs (among other things). I didn't listen, because even in middle school I knew that was idiotic, so that's where my journey began.

I still have my first character sheet: Sedius the Maelstrom, an Elf Wizard. The name was inspired by Warhammer: Shadow of the Horned Rat, which was a computer game that introduced me to my one true fictional love: Warhammer. Josh was the DM and we loosely followed a canned adventure with a pirate theme, and I was joined by my best friend James and one or two other people. All I really remember is standing in the Crow's Nest dropping a +1 Arrow on the head of James' Warrior, killing him instantly. So, in my first RPG experience, I indulged in the darkest act of role-play etiquette: Player Killing. Maybe my parents were right to worry...

My first DM experience was a solo adventure with my other best friend, Corry (yes, THAT Corry). [That’s a story for another time folks. Moving on.] After a few adventures, I had absorbed Josh's sadistic and brutal DM style and wielded it unfairly on Corry's Dwarf character. Josh hated Dwarfs and went out of his way to have misfortune befall them (don't ask, I don't know why either), so I followed suit and abused the poor fellow. We both had fun (I think), as the misfortune was more silly than mean (I'm not as sadistic as Josh). Overall, though, I gradually became more fair as I learned that Dungeon Mastery is a responsibly to ensure that all seated at the table have an enjoyable cooperative experience.

What advise would you give to someone who would want to run a Dark Heresy game with a group who know nothing of the universe?  And what tips do you have on running this game? The group I want to run the game for are very familiar with d20 games, but none, to my knowledge, have played anything produced by Fantasy Flight.

KYLE: D20 is geared towards action/adventure style play because it has a very streamlined combat and encounter system with relatively few rules governing social and environmental conflicts. While it is technically possible to do any genre of storytelling with D20, straying from action / adventure is like taking a Camry off-road: it's going to get bumpy and you'll probably get stuck.

Dark Heresy, on the other hand, lends itself towards mystery/horror/drama style playing because it is heavy on character development and NPC and environment interaction, but it's VERY difficult to set up an appropriately challenging combat encounter. The core rulebook has a tiny amount of things for the PCs to fight, and they are grouped into very broad "Threat Levels". Most of the monsters are either pitifully easy to kill or ungodly dangerous. However, this fits the gritty themes of the 40K universe so it's ok.

The problem is that players today go into an encounter assuming that any monster can be killed / overcome with the skills and equipment at their disposal. Think of the movie, "Alien", no one could stand up to the Alien one-on-one, so they had to rely on their wits to evade and eventually destroy their enemy. So how do players that never run away deal with a genre that has a built-in fear system and beasties that can kill with a thought? Intelligently and carefully, hence the horror genre. Also, Dark Heresy is best played open-ended and not on-rails because most of the skills and abilities are for investigation or environmental interaction. Think of a procedural crime drama like NCIS, the characters use their skills to follow cryptic clues to finally uncover the ones behind the crime. Those are the mystery elements.

This forces the players to use their minds AS WELL as their dice to move through the game. I have had more fun running Dark Heresy than any other RPG so far, but have also had the hardest time running it smoothly. I don't know if I can tell you how you can best run the system, but the above are some of the first things you should consider from lessons I've learned.

You mentioned that the core rulebook has very little in the way of generating a combat encounter, using the term “Broad Threat Levels”. What did you do to over come this challenge? Did you edit stats? Make your own creatures, etc.

KYLE: To overcome the issue I used trial and error as well as reading published adventures.

With trial and error, I wrote adventures with extremely weak adversaries and gradually added/upgraded the monsters until they were too powerful. This had a twofold effect. Firstly, the players had much more fun with the weaker encounters because I had built vignettes and role-play challenges to offset how weak they were in combat. The vignettes and RP turned out to be great fun without the combat system weighing things down. It wasn't a matter of whether or not they could be killed; it was what was gained / lost by killing / wounding / capturing / intimidating / letting the adversaries escape; which resulted in incredibly memorable encounters. The higher level encounters, while tactically challenging, turned into more of a grind which left people checking their smart phones for football scores when it wasn't their turn.

Reading and running published adventures helped a bit, but even the professionals seemed to struggle with finding the best balance for an encounter. It was always unbelievably easy or fatally difficult; or worst of all: boring.

I still don't have it 100% worked out, but what I've learned so far is not to worry about making a challenging combat encounter (as D&D is geared almost exclusively); but rather to combine NPCs and challenges in ways that tell a story that allows the PCs to interact with it and effect the story with their own choices (for better or worse). Once the Players feel like their actions are important is when they aren't checking Facebook on their phones when it isn't their turn.

You also said that you've had more fun running DH than other rpgs; what other RPGs have you run? And which was your least favorite? and why?

KYLE: I've run D&D, AD&D, D&D 3rd, 3.5, and 4th editions, Alternity, SAGA system (Dragonlance with cards), HeroQuest, BESM D20, LOTR Roleplaying Game, Exalted 2nd Edition, Dark Heresy, Deathwatch, Pathfinder, and countless other unpublished systems such as the illustrious "Gundam Game" by Corry Houpt. I'm sure there are more because I love collecting core systems, because I'm unhealthily interested in how the rules are written (but that's a whole nother topic), but the above list is what I could remember off the top of my head. I've started more campaigns than I can possibly remember and I've finished exactly one.

Anima was my least favorite. Brandon bought the book for us to try because it looked cool. It did (and still does!) look awesome, but the rules are so unwieldy that you literally need a calculator to run even the simplest action. I think we made characters (which took FOREVER, I might add) and then struggled through about 15 minutes before giving up. Worthless.

- - -

Thanks Kyle for those words of wisdom. If you have any questions for Kyle, please post them and I'll be sure to pass them on.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Chronicle 016: A bit of everything

A bit of everything

So after running Savage Worlds the other week, I started thinking about what adventure or adventures I would want to run for the Anime USA convention in November. While some people on another message board strongly suggested focusing on one game, I think I'm still going to try and have three or four ready. While this means generating enough characters for each game, I believe I can make it work. The adventures lend themselves well to allowing practically any type of hero to be played, so I could easily use the archetypes in the book and then select which ones I felt worked best for each game. Then when it came time to run, I'd pull the appropriate characters and off we'd go.

However, this year I'm going to allow the players to customize their characters to a point. Savage Worlds makes this very easy. I can simple pre-select two or three hindrances (both major and minor) and put them on the character sheet. Then the player can choose which hindrances they want, if any. And then duplicate that process with edges. While some players will load up on the negatives to get the bonuses, others I foresee wanting to keep the characters pure. Which is great. But one thing comes to mind though. I may have to create a character generation guideline -- which may turn some people off, as those who just want to play won't want to deal with "figuring things out."

So I am open for some suggestions. Do I create the characters 100% or leave parts unknown for the player to fill in? Do I have multiple games on hand, or run just one game, and make it awesome?

- - - 

While I mull that over I'm starting to look at another RPG. With Fantasy Flight Games releasing the BETA test for their Star Wars RPG I thought it would be cool to give the setting my own twist. So I picked up, and dusted off, my copy of Dark Hersey. (Forgive me if I am repeating myself from a previous post). I'm currently reading through the Classes section of the book, and starting to generate some ideas. I'm getting adventure ideas in mind, but I do have a copy of Wizard's only Epic Adventure for Star Wars called Dawn of Defiance. I intended to use this adventure with the Saga Edition rules, but then I thought it would be even cooler to use Dark Hersey (or Rogue Trader, if I can get my hands on a copy of the book). So here I go on my next quest. First to read the core rulebook or Dark Heresy or Rogue Trader, then to read through Dawn of Defiance.

- - -

I don't know why I have such a problem with creating a single character. Not that I have a problem with the actual creation process, instead its limiting myself to ONE IDEA. Sometimes I can go into a game knowing exactly what I want to play. But in the past month I've noticed a major hesitation in committing to one choice. Two for instances:

1) The brothers, Chris and Tim, asked for me to join their Sunday Pathfinder game. As far as I know, the players are just Tim and our mutual friend Byron (the host of the podcast: Rho Pi Gamma). While each player was willing to play two characters they (Chris and Tim) wanted to get another body in on the game. And since the three of us had been rping rather recently I came as the logical choice to fill a chair. So I set out to create a character., in which I created four. Here-in lies the problem. I only need ONE character and I came up with four. I had a general idea for a character, but knew there could be several ways to take said character. Here are the classes I looked at: Samurai, Monk, Cavalier, and Rogue. In the end I chose the Samurai, but it was a hard elimination process. The Samurai won because he had the most compelling background story. But the fact that I even had to do this entire process is ridiculous. While I didn't go through entire character creation with the classes (which I find myself doing now for another game), I had to really dig deep to limit myself to a character class.

2) Chris and Tim are heavily involved in roleplaying in forums (AKA play-by-post), and got me into it some time ago. More to allow me to kill time while at work, but also to give me further opportunities to roleplay. Which has been nothing but awesome so far. But in one particular game they are using D&D 4th edition rules, and requested I play my famed Kennedy character. I warned them that he probably wouldn't be the exact character that brought him into infamy, but I would give it a shot. So we posted a couple of times and then I introduced an NPC into the game. As it's turned out I want to make this character into a PC. So I'm now finding myself struggling to choose not only a class for this character, but a race as well. At least I've limited myself to two races: Human or Half-Elf, but I'm stuck with three classes (Sorcerer, Wizard or Warlock) and each have two intriguing builds I can choose from. While that is potentially twelve different builds, I have chosen to limit myself. I'm taking one build and choosing a race, then the other race gets the other build. This way I can see what the potential differences could be and not spend all my time creating characters (although I'm far too late for that anyway).  

I think my biggest problem is that I'm a visual person. I need to see the character in all its glory (sometimes -- as I stated in the Pathfinder game, I was able to make my choice based only on background story). But in the latter case the character's background could fit any of the listed classes or races. So what to do. I may just have to ride this one out, but if anyone has a suggestion for me, please post a comment. Thanks!

Monday, September 3, 2012

Chronicle 015: Savage Worlds II


This past week I had the opportunity to not only run one Savage World game, but two. Both were canned adventures, one from the Deluxe Edition book, and the other I found on Pennacle's website. The players in these games were the same brothers I had in my first adventure, and both played their rolls well.

The first game, which was Thursday night, was entitled: Blood in the Snow. This was a Viking adventure, set in a fantasy world (though we had discussed making it historical), much in the line of Beowulf. In this game I introduced an additional roleplaying option called an Interlude. This mechanic is intended to help break-up the monotony of back-to-back skill challenges, or combat scenes, and offer players a chance to R-O-L-E-play their characters.

In this instance the two vikings set off into the frozen north to find the captured daughter of their, now dead, leader. At one point the heroes had to climb a large cliff, and the adventure called for an Interlude. Though this was only a one-shot adventure, a combat heavy one at that, I thought it was a great opportunity to have the players stretch their acting chops. So I drew a card and had each one tell a tale from their character's past. Each explored a different story, one told of Love, while the other told a story of Desire.

What I like about this mechanic, is that it allows players to FINALLY divulge their backstory/backstories.  Many games just let the players plod along and, unless you have an amazing GM or players, that backstory remains a mystery. That is why so many players just write-off this aspect of the character sheet, as it is never explored. But now Savage Worlds has found a way to work it in. And not every adventure requires, or needs, an Interlude -- during lengthy campaigns, or combat heavy scenarios, having an Interlude is a perfect way to mix things up.Now the players can let their inner thespian, or inner Tolkien, out in a new, and fun way.

The Interlude doesn't have to be long, but if the player does well at describing their past event, you (the GM) could give them a Benny for a story well told. Sure you will have people who do better than others, but hopefully you know who your strong storytellers are, and who has to work hard to express their thoughts. The brothers took these Interludes in stride and ran with the concept. The youngest told of a lost love, while the elder told of his desire be respected, feared, and a ruler of men. While this had no effect on the story, if it had, it would have given me plot hooks to use in the future.

I encourage everyone, GMs and players, to use this mechanic in any game you play. I believe it to be a valuable tool, that will make your game more enjoyable. It will add further flavor to your game, and give everyone at the table an insight into the characters around them. This will hopefully provide the players with an opportunity to bond with one another and, as I said above, provide the GM with source material to use later (the GM shouldn't have to do all the work to write an adventure.

The second mechanic I used (which I used in both games) was that of Setting Rules. Setting Rules allow you to tweak the current rules of the game to provide a different feel to the game, Some rules you may want to have in effect for every game, while others you will only want when you really want to get dirty. And when I mean dirty, I mean, driving home the point that not all heroes are invincible. When taking a wound could mean loosing an arm, or possibly falling to your death on a failed roll. These rules could also benefit the players by allowing them to re-roll damage (normally something not allowed in any game), or getting back up after being hit with a nuclear bomb.

While these rules may not fit every game on the market (or off market), but the concept is there. These rules allow you to set the tone of the game. Want to run a bloody war game? Use the Gritty Damage rule where every wound the hero takes could mean loosing an eye or limb. Or how about a game of spellslingers? Use the No Power Points rule, where magic users take a minus to their rolls, rather than tracking their spell cost -- this means more Fire Balls vs Undead mooks.

But as I said, these rules may not fit every system. Lets take Star Wars Saga for example, and you want to use the Gritty Damage rule. You're not going to roll on the Injury Chart every time your Jedi takes a hit from a blaster bolt. But should she fall to 0 hp, then perhaps she sustains an injury to her leg, and gains the Limp Hindrance for a session or two. Or lets take an instance from the movies, when Vader severs Luke's hand. While the mechanic for Luke to loose his hand isn't in the Saga rules, this new Setting Rule, now provides a dramatic effect on the game. Luke lost his hand, and was temporarily give the Hindrance: One Handed. This mechanic helps when a game that has gone stale in combat, where wounds are merely superficial, and unless you die, mean nothing.

The second game I ran was on Monday, in which I ran a scenario from the Deadlands campaign setting, called Hungry Night. While I know little to nothing about this setting, this particular adventure could have been run in any of the Savage Worlds. This game saw a similar ending to the first game I ran, in which the eldest brother ended up overkilling the villain. In both scenarios he Aced his damaged rolls several times, which dealt massive amounts of damage to the bad guy. Which is opposite of the results we had in the Viking game, in which this same brother used the Puppet  spell to capture the villain and end the game.

Why has there been overkill in two of the three games? Because I allow the player to roll +1d6 for each Raise that they get on an attack.  The rules state that a player should only get 1d6 no matter how many Raises they get, but I feel it's better to reward the player for an excellent roll, than to limit them. [A Raise is 4 over the TN you're trying to hit. Example: Chris is using his sword to slash at a vampire. The Vampire has a Parry (or TN) of 8. Chris rolls a 6 (on a d6) and a 2 on his Wild Die. Since he Aced (rolling the highest number on a die) his d6 roll, he rolls it again and gets another 6. So he rolls again, and gets a 4, for a total of 16. This gives him a raise of 2. Awarding him +2d6 on his damage roll!]

I won't go into any details about Hungry Night, as I intend to run this scenario at AnimeUSA, but I will say that this is a very enjoyable scenario. If either player wants to comment on this, please feel free, but try not to spoil the game for anyone else. I hope to run a few more Savage World game before the convention, but if not, at least I know I have one solid game to run. Although, I could run the previous two adventures if I wanted to mix things up. Even though my players have been enjoying my games I know there are things that I am missing or have been in error about. But for the time being I'm trying to stick with Pennacle's ideal of "Fast, Furious, Fun."

Monday, August 27, 2012

Chronicle 014: Star Wars


Finally! Fantasy Flight has announced that they are putting the license to use.


Take a look. I'm excited!

Not that I need another RPG system to learn, but this should be good. Although my guess is that FF will use their acclaimed system that's used in Rogur Trader, Deathwatch and Dark Hersey. Playing as a band of heroes during the Rise of the Rebellion will hopefully bring back the classic feel that we all experienced in the original films.

I did not see a reference to Jedi, which can be a good thing, as Wizards of the Coast made Jedi to be GODS in the Star Wars Universe. If you played any of the older versions of SW, if you didn't play a Jedi you were sort of lack luster during play. So perhaps by excluding them from game play, at least initially, then we'll see a more balanced party system. Not to say that the all powerful Force wont be in the game, probably a slow integration of it, but I can see it becoming something you develop into.

If you've played any of FFs previously mentioned games (I'll take what I know from Dark Hersey), level progression was a career path. You chose your character class and then as you gained experience you gained access to improved feats and skills. And instead of a numeric classification (1 thru 20) you gained a new title. So a Solider could become a Demolitionist, having access to skills and feats set towards that title. Meaning that your character becomes more specialized the further you develop your character. Not to say that you won't have access to other things, you just won't be as good in certain skills as someone who chose a different path. Compare it to prestige classing.

I'm really looking forward to this game. However, it's only in the Beta stages, leaving only a few the opportunity to play test this new game.

(Yes I know 14 comes after 13, but I've had writer's block)

Monday, August 13, 2012

Chronicle 012: Savage Worlds - A Review


About a year or so ago I bought the Savage Worlds: Explorer's Edition. This thin, soft cover, inexpensive sourcebook was my first look into this game. I had seen it several times on the shelves last year, but knew absolutely nothing about it. Tony, at Neverland Games, brought my attention to it when I was looking for a new system to run. The groups I played in, at that time, were playing several different games, but the systems were all the same. To me, the system was specific for that genre, and there wasn't much give and take with the world in which you wanted to play. Sure you could hand wave the setting and make a fantasy game take place in modern times, but that thought had never occurred with these groups (at least, not to my knowledge).

So Tony told me about Savage Worlds, especially pushing the price and versatility of the system. At the time he was looking for someone to run a weekly game (well any game really), but I was unavailable due to life. I went home and read the book once through (more liked skimmed) and downloaded a couple one sheet adventures.
----Side Note: Savage Worlds is awesome for this alone. They offer an entire adventure that is printed on the front/back of one sheet of paper. All the fluff is pulled out; there are no descriptions, no stat blocks, just the critical information that you (the GM) need to run the game. Everything else you could need is in the main sourcebook----
The thought of running  the game excited me (as does any new system that I pick-up) and I informed one group that I was willing to run a game or two. Alas, life got in the way. The sourcebook soon found a place on my shelf and the adventures went MIA.

Fast-forward to a couple months ago with the release of: Savage Worlds: Deluxe Edition. I snagged a copy of the online pdf and took a read. The rules once again sucked me in. What I found fascinating was their use of a single target number to determine a dice roll success or failure. Target Number: 4. All you have to do is roll at or above this, and pretty much no matter what it is you succeed. There can be conditional modifiers to this number, but otherwise, you just need to a roll a 4.

So, which die do you roll to try and hit this TN? That depends. There are no d20 rolls. NONE. The dice used are the d4 to the d12. Your stats are based off of one of these five die types (much like in the Firefly RPG). There are five abilities (Dexterity, Smarts, Strength, Vigor, and Spirit), and there are skills tied into those skills (like is all other systems). Each of which are bought with points (5 for the abilities and 15 for the skills) when the character is created. Picking out some Edges (aka Advantages) and some Hindrances (aka Disadvantages) help round out your character. And then finally there are some Derived Stats that come from all the above. And POOF! you have a character ready to play. Or you could have skipped all that a used one of the archetypes that are brilliantly presented in the book. Regardless of your character building option you are now ready to play Savage Worlds.

There are many "savage" settings for this system, including Deadlands, 50 Fathoms, and Weird Wars. Each have a unique twist to them that sets them apart, but maintains the same game mechanics. The rules allow you to also play in a high fantasy setting similar to D&D. Or play super villains in a setting called Necessary Evil where all the super heroes have died defending Earth from an alien invasion, and the only people left to fight are the villains. You can also have games set in the modern era, like d20 Modern or Call of Cthulhu.

This past Friday I was finally able to run a game for two brothers, Chris and Tim. Both have years of gaming experience and are great at analyzing rules, as they are R-O-L-E players first and R-O-L-L players second. What's going to make the game more enjoyable, is a common idea for them. First let me point out that Savage Worlds presents their One Sheet adventures in such a way that you could possibly play an adventure with one person. While this wouldn't be as fun, it is plausible. But with two, we were at least able to have a lead character (Tim) and a major support character (Chris). I didn't feel there was a need to have any NPCs, as the rules are written to tell a story.

Neither had played a Savage World game before so there was some introduction required. However, I was greatly assisted by this with a beginner's character sheet, aka Training Wheels. This sheet explained where stats were derived from and presented a summary of actions, all while maintaining a front only character sheet. There was no flipping from front to back, it was all right there on page one. As well, to get to the game quicker I had them choose which archetypes they wanted to play. These are great as they allow for some customization -- permitting the player to choose their own Edges and Hindrances. Tim took advantage of this and let his choices dictate who his character would become. Where Chris had a preconceived notion of who he wanted to play and made his choices based on that concept. In the end Tim played Manny Mans an investigator, and Chris played Joan Earhart, a Fencing Fighter.

Chris' choice in character slightly altered my perception on the overall feel of the canned game that I was going to run (which was in the core rulebook). So instead of having a straight up Detective/Horror story it became more Pulp Horror, which was completely fine. I set the adventure in 1944 Hagerstown (where I live) and set the events in motion in which the heroes discovered that a vampire was feeding on workers in a renovated theater.
----Reminder: when pitting monsters against heroes, be sure to know how that monster can be killed----
When the heroes faced off against the vampire and his youngling, the heroes wiped the floor with them. Tim killed the youngling in one shot, and Chris flashed his blade and brutalized the elder in two rounds. Which shouldn't have happened. One of the descriptors I missed was that vampires can only be killed in several ways. Holy Water, Holy Symbols, a Stake through the Heart and something else were the ONLY ways to cause wounds. While Chris had Holy Water, he never used is, as I had mistakenly permitted him to kill the foul creature with a mundane weapon. So what should have been a hard fought battle, turned into a ass-whooping. Oh well, I know better now.

One of the other cool things that I enjoyed about Savage Worlds was how combat initiative was handled. Instead of rolling dice, as it is in most rpgs, you are dealt a card (from a standard deck of cards). Higher card goes first, and in the result of a tie the tie breaker is determined by suit: Spade, Heart, Diamond, Club. And while in other rpgs the order of combat never changes, in each round of Savage Worlds a new card is dealt. This way no one person has to go last each round. As well, if a Joker is dealt, then that person can go at anytime and even interrupt another character from going. Once a Joker is dealt, the deck is reshuffled.

I think this system is fantastic! Compared to recent play tests of Sword's Edge and the Dresden Files, this game ranks very high on my replay list. It's versatility for settings is great, and it's ease of use is nearly perfect. I highly recommend you at least pick-up the pdf version of this game on DriveThruRPG. It is my opinion that this system would easily replace the systems used for Star Wars, Shadowrun, or Dungeons & Dragons or Legend of the Five Rings.

Until next time gamers.

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Saturday, August 4, 2012

Chronicle 011: Dice


In almost every RPG I've played, dice were involved. Whether it was Exalted (d10), Dark Heresy (d100), WEG Star Wars (d6), or D&D (d20 system) we all came to the table with a multitude of dice.

ice come in all sorts of colors and styles, and ranged in type from marble to metal. Some of use have mismatched sets that we've collected over the years. While others of us seek out the next perfect set in our local gaming store as if we were searching for a sign that the Gaming Gods exist.

But why is this? What's with this obsession with different dice?

From my standpoint, an avid collector of dice, I must say that dice are like children. Without a doubt you'll have a favorite. You'll have a bastard. And then you'll have the red-headed step child that you wish wasn't there, but keep around because you have some odd attachment to it.

Your favorite die will change from time to time. There will be one day when the dice land in your favor, and so you keep that set close. No one else can touch it or even breathe on it. But then one day, and it always happens, where the die will not be in your favor. These days, where the Gaming Gods are not looking upon you in favor, you curse your dice and banish them to the dice bag. "Shame on you dice. You have failed me this day." So you reach into your Crown Royal bag and pick out a new set of dice. When these produce better results they become your new favorite, for the next couple games.

The bastard set is your cursed dice. And everyone has a set of these. No matter when you roll them they always do the opposite of what you need them to do. The very first set I had was a black d20 set from Wizard's Star Wars game -- a box set called Invasion of Theed. No matter if I was the GM or a player, when I need to a critical hit, I got a critical failure. When I needed to make an ability check I'd fail. If a player was about to die I'd pray that the dice wouldn't come up a hit. Yet low and behold the attack would and result in the player's death. "Bastard!" I'd curse my dice.

Finally, there's that red-headed step child set of dice. It's a set that has no two dice from the same set. You vaguely remember where each die came from and maybe one matches a set you have. This may be a set you  proudly use or a set you hide away, denying their existence.   They sort of double as your bastard dice, so you keep another full set on hand when you need a "good set". While I don't have a set like this, I have seen them in many a dice bag.

So again. Why the obsession? I believe it stems from us needing choices. In life we desire the option to choose our fate. Do we take a chance with the bastard dice? Do we use a favored son? Or, do we bring out the mix-matched dice and hope the Gaming Gods are on our side? We need choices. It's like, which game to play. We're not always in the mood to play D&D, so we pull out Victoriana, or Sword's Edge. Choice.

Choose wisely my friends.

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Monday, July 23, 2012

Chronicle 010: PvP


In the Season 3 Episode 20 of Rho Pi Gamma, they talk about Player vs. Player conflict. In most games when a conflict arises between two player characters the Gm, and probably the players, will call for a time out before the in-game conflict results in attacks from the opposing characters. You'll find PvP in many MMOs, but when it comes to the gaming table, often times PvP is discouraged.

It breaks down the group's cohesion and can possibly bring about the end of that particular game. Unless it's a one shot game, PvP has not shown it's ugly head in any game I've been in. However there was one instance in which I was the receiving end of one such encounter.

It was during a one-shot game of Gundam. There was no real system for the players, the GM was the only one rolling the dice. Whether the rolls actually meant anything is still a mystery, so I guess you could have called this a free-from game. Anyway. The game had been cooperative up until what was ultimately the finale of the episode.  Our group was going to assault a flag ship, and my character was going to kamikaze the bridge, in hopes of bringing a swift end to the battle. Everything was going as planned until I maneuver my ship for it's final run.

Suddenly my friend, Brandon, says "I shoot at his ship."  I was shocked, to say the least. Never before had this occurred in any game. An ally was actually going to kill me before I could kill "the villain". So the GM rolls his dice and I explode in a brilliant ball of fire. No way was I going to let that stand. So I spent a "fate point" to ask for a redo. The GM granted it. Brandon did his action again. Dice were rolled, and I died again. Needless to say I was a little pissed.

At that point in my gaming career I had never thought someone would pull the PvP card. Every game I'd been in, up to that point, had been PvE (player vs environment). Yet the dice and been rolled, and my character was dead. Granted he was going to die anyway, but it was supposed to be in a much more glorious way.

From what I remember, Brandon had claimed that his character's view on what my character was going to attempt was cowardly? Or somehow against some moral code? Something like that. And I guess that's all well and good, but it still came as a shock to me; and still does to this day.  Why would anyone want to kill their fellow gamer's character?

As Howard said in the Rho Pi podcast, he, the character, had no other choice. You play a character a certain way. And you need to play that role the entire game, otherwise you loose the essence of "roleplaying". Playing the beliefs you've established for a given character is what makes roleplaying so much fun. To step into a different mind set and act against those who oppose those beliefs.

Other times you may have to invoke PvP to defend yourself. Should another pc want to put you in harms way, that would likely kill your character, you may choose to defend yourself. Again, taking Howard's example, another pc was going to feed Howard to the wolves, and instead Howard defended himself, thus killing the other pc.

Is it right? Sure. As long as it's justified. I have come to grips with what happened to me (as shocking as it was). Do I feel like Brandon should have acted differently, yes. But games don't get remembered for the "typical" ending. They get remembered for "epic" events such as this. However, fare warning should have been given to every player if the GM is going to allow PvP.

I've never had to deal with this as a GM, but should it ever arise, I would certainly allow it. But first I would give everyone fare warning that if a death occurs, for all parties involved to show true sportsmanship when the final die are cast and the results are given.

All I can really say to end this is, take caution when PvP arises. you don't want the in-game actions to adversely effect the out-of-game actions. For the sake of roleplaying if a PvP occurs, be sure that no hard feelings are kept. Gaming is supposed to be fun. And if FUN is ruined, then what's the purpose of gaming. Talk with your players or GM and make sure everyone walks away with a positive experience.

Until next time . . .
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Sunday, July 15, 2012

Chronicle 009: What Makes a Character Finale


Yes! We're here! It is time to wrap up our conversation on "What Makes a Character". I want to apologize that this process took so long, but, as I stated before, there's more to a character than just a set of stats on a piece of paper. If you're anything like me when it comes to gaming, each character is a machination of who I am -- to an extent. I try to find something about me that will keep me connected to the character. 

So where are we? (If you haven't been following along so far, this is the Cliff Notes version):

Vigo, 1st Level, Human, Fighter
Vigo's name came from the villain in Ghostbusters 2.
We took Human because the race receives a bonus Feat and Skill Points at 1st level.
Fighters are generally the easiest the play for first time gamers.

Strength 16 (+3); Dexterity 12 (+1); Constitution 14 (+2)
Intelligence 10 (+0); Wisdom 11 (+0); Charisma 13 (+1)
Our hero's stats derive from the Standard Array which can be found in most d20 games. Since we were wanting to make a melee fighter Strength (bonuses "to hit" and "to damage") and Constitution (bonuses "to Hit Points" and "Fortitude Save") were our Primary Abilities. Charisma was chosen as a third main ability as we wanted a character to lead with an iron fist.
Bluff (+3); Climb (+3); Craft (+3); Handle Animal (+4); Intimidate (+6); Jump (+3); Listen (+2); Ride (+4): Spot (+2) and Swim (+3)
The Fighter starts with very few skill choices: Climb, Craft, Handle Animal, Intimidate, Jump, Ride & Swim. With his generally good bonuses  from his Ability Scores, we distributed Vigo's skill points evenly to show that he balances his time between being a farmhand and a "leader" in his village. With some choice Feats, we also picked up some needed bonuses to three new skills: Bluff, Listen and Spot, which can be supported by his background. 

Weapon Focus, Persuasive and Alertness
Weapon Focus was chosen to show Vigo's brutality on the battlefield. Persuasive and Alertness were chosen to support his background has a farmhand and "leader".
So now we just need some Gear, and then we'll be done!
We'll start with Armor choice and then move onto Weapons. Weapons are listed first in the book, but Armor is pricey object, and may require the most out of our meager budget.We have 150 gold to spend on equipment. This is the average amount, so we'll take it! 
What's great for the fighter is they have access to ALL armor and shields, so we're given lots of choices. We could spend a good bit of our gold here, by taking a Chain Shirt at 100 gp. This is a good piece of armor, giving us a +4 to our Armor Class (what opponents need to roll to hit). But that would limit what weapons we could choose. So instead we could choose Scale Mail. It provides the same defensive bonus (+4) at half the cost (50 gold), but invokes a penalty to our movement (-10 ft). But I don't see Vigo having access to anything that well made, although he could have taken the armor off a dead man I suppose, and had it mended. Studded Leather or Hide, both give a +3 to AC, are good options too as they are cheaper in price. However, Vigo wants to look immaculate in battle, and Scale Mail, though cumbersome, will provide the "look" he's wanting.
Knowing that battle can be dangerous we know that Armor is critical, and with only a +1 to Dexterity, and a +4 from the Scale Mail we can see that we need further protection. So buying a shield would be a valuable purchase. The Heavy Wooden Shield would round out our AC well, with a +2 bonus, bringing our grand total to +7, for a total of 17. Not too shabby for a first level fighter. And the extra protection only cost us 7 gold. That leaves us with 93 gold left to use on weapons and additional gear.

Fighters need to have an array of weapons to combat any type of foe. So this means at least having a ranged weapon and a melee weapon. As we've determined, Vigo is a melee fighter, so his choice of a ranged weapon can, be cheap (easily discarded) and possibly double as a back-up melee weapon. His main weapon, could be a two-handed weapon or one-handed weapon. We have chosen to carry a shield, so a one-handed weapon would be a good first weapon. However, we could carry an additional weapon if necessary.

The Longsword and Battleaxe are the typical choices for most fighters, though some may choose the Warhammer or Flail as well. But Vigo is going a slightly different route, He's going to take the Trident. It does the same amount of damage as the previously mentioned weapons, but it's the only one in the group that can also be thrown. Also, since Vigo is a farmhand, when not defending the village versus invaders, the Trident (aka Pitch fork) could have been the first weapon Vigo grabbed when he was younger. Refining it, Vigo turned the awkward Pitchfork into a Trident and started throwing at short ranged targets. But he knew a good weapon when he saw it, and his axe made a great weapon in the heat of battle. And so he keeps a battleaxe on his hip at all times. The cost of these weapons takes 25 gold out of our pocket.

Every adventurer needs gear. Items that will help them survive in the wilds when hunting down an orc tribe. Or when seeking the mighty red dragon that stole the princess from the lord's keep. Heroes need gear to get them through the daily grind of travel. And Vigo knows a little about traveling and always keeps the following items ready to go: Backpack, Bedroll, Block and Tackle, Winter Blanket, Fish Hook, 5 days of Rations, 2 Torches, Waterskin, Whetstone, Pitons, 50 ft of Hempen Rope, Grappling Hook, Hammer, and Flint and Steel. In total 16 gold. Leaving us with 52 gold. 
Needing an extra set of hands on the farm to heard the animals, Vigo bought a guard dog (25 gold) to help him in his daily tasks. The dog also proved useful in battle when things got really rough. And with just 27 gold left Vigo purchased a set of Artisan tools to aid him in his craft.

So here's Vigo in his final glory:
Vigo, 1st Level, Human, Fighter
Ability Scores
Strength 16 (+3); Dexterity 12 (+1); Constitution 14 (+2)
Intelligence 10 (+0); Wisdom 11 (+0); Charisma 13 (+1)
Bluff (+3); Climb (+3); Craft (+3); Handle Animal (+4); Intimidate (+6); Jump (+3); Listen (+2); Ride (+4): Spot (+2) and Swim (+3)
Weapon Focus: Trident, Persuasive and Alertness
Base Attack Bonus
Melee: +4(+5) = +3 Str, +1 Class, (+1 for the Trident focus)
(Battleaxe [1d8+3 dmg, Crit x3],  or Trident [1d8+3 dmg, Crit x2])
Range: +2 = +1 Dex, +1 Class 
(Trident [1d8+3, Crit x2, Range 10 ft.])

Armor Class
AC 17 = Base 10, +4 Scale Mail, +2 Shield, +1 Dex

Saving Throws
Fortitude: +4 = +2 Con, +2 Class
Reflex = +1 = +1 Dex, +0 Class
Will +0 = +0 Wis, +0 Class

And that's it. In a nutshell we have completed our character.  Vigo is now complete. His background as a farmhand and self-proclaimed village leader helped us shape the skills and feats we took. And his name's reference provides us with a possible personality, which is reflected in his skills.

I hope you enjoyed this lengthy journey through What Makes a Character. If you have any questions, or need help with your next character idea, please feel free to ask me for assistance.

Until next time . . .

Monday, July 9, 2012

Chronicle 008: What Makes a Character Pt 4


This week we were going to wrap up our series on "What Makes a Character", but then I realized the Feat selection process is daunting enough. So we'll talk about Feats today, and then wrap things up next week.

Feats are special abilities that your character possesses, improving traits they already have, or granting them new capabilities.

Before we get to the Feats, lets do a quick review of what we've learned so far:
  • In Part I we looked at "What's in a Name". A name needs to have meaning. Whether your character concept is derived from the name, or the name is chosen by what/who your character is, it should have some importance. Anyone can be called Bob or Larry, but Attila or Constantine have certain connotations, and further define your character.
  • Part II explored Character Background. What motivates your character to go out and be a "hero". Though not always vital to the game, at least knowing a little about your character's past will help you role play them in-game. 
  • Finally, Part III explored several areas, Race, Ability Scores, Class and Skills. Though each could have been explored in their own post, they each tie into one another, and each help further define your character. Race defines your external appearance, while also providing racial bonuses. Ability scores determine your mental and physical equities. Class is the job or role you will play in the group. And Skills show what you're good at, like knowledge of biology or crafting a sword.
So where does that put us?

As I stated in Part III, the character we're going to create is a Human Fighter. Why? Because for first time players, this is the most straight forward race and class to have. Humans provide the fewest, yet some of the best features: bonus feat at 1st level, four extra skill points at 1st level and a bonus skill point at every level thereafter. Fighters are great because they have the highest attack ratings, and rely solely on Feats to improve their effectiveness.

We've already chosen a name for the character, Vigo. Which derives from the villain in Ghostbusters II, Vigo -- the painting that is possessed by the evil spirit of it's namesake. Though this character we're creating is not evil himself, he is brutal in combat. The other part we've determined is the character's background. Vigo is a farmhand and amateur craftsman, who is apart of a village's local militia; as well, he has appointed himself a leader of the village. His ability scores are:
Strength 16 (+3); Dexterity 12 (+1); Constitution 14 (+2)
Intelligence 10 (+0); Wisdom 11 (+0); Charisma 13 (+1)
His scores reflect that he's strong in physical strength, and could probably take a punch or two and keep ticking.
While his skills are the standard set that a fighter has, they are balanced to reflect his time as a farmhand and "leader":
Climb (+3); Craft (+3); Handle Animal (+4); Intimidate (+4); Jump (+3); Ride (+4) and Swim (+3)

As for feats we have a large list to pull from. So, how many do we get to pick at 1st level? Well, we get one for just being a 1st level character. A second one comes from being Human. And a third one comes for picking the Fighter as our class. However, the one given to us for being a Fighter is restricted to a list, determined by the class.  [Before choosing any feat though, it would be best to consult your GM to see what kind of game they're running, so that you can tailor your character accordingly.]

We'll pick the restricted feat first. Looking back on our background, we see that Vigo is known for his brutality on the field of combat. The list of Fighter feats offers Power Attack. This feat allows our fighter to trade his attack bonus (his chance to hit) for additional damage. When comparing it to his background, the feat fits well. Vigo may not be an effective fighter at times, hitting fewer times then others, but he can occasionally take down a man in a single blow.

His two other feats are not restricted, as long as he meets the prerequisites (usually defined by a minimal Ability Score, Base Attack Bonus or other Feat). Before we go forward with those, let's look at what Feats the Fighter is given at 1st level, these are feats that every fighter is given for just being a fighter. Simple Weapon Proficiency, Martial Weapon Proficiency, All Armor (light, medium and heavy) and Shields (including tower shields). These will come into effect when we look at what equipment Vigo will have, and tells us that we do not have to waste any feats to get armor or most weapons.

There are several feats that we could take with our two slots. So let's see what's out there:
  • Any feat that gives a +2 bonus to two Skills would be helpful, especially if we wanted to improve what skills we already have, or to gain bonuses to ones we may need. This list includes, Acrobatic, Alertness, Animal Affinity, Athletic, Negotiator, and Persuasive (more on what they do in a moment).
  • Along that same line, Skill Focus adds a +3 to one skill.
  • Feats that help with our Saving Throws (which are rolls we make to avoid certain types of damage -- falling rocks, a wizard's spell, poison, etc.) -- which are Great Fortitude, Iron Will, and Lightning Reflexes.
  • Consider taking feats that are not from the Fighter's limited list. As we have 10 more opportunities to pick up feats from that list. Whereas we only have 6 chances to pick up feats that will help add flavor to our character. But picking up more combat oriented feats is not out of the question.
Our Skill list (Climb; Craft; Handle Animal; Intimidate; Jump; Ride and Swim) is limited, but we can improve the skill bonuses we have on them by selecting a feat or two. Our background can once again help us a choose a feat. Vigo is an amateur craftsman and farmhand. Craft would be a decent skill to increase, but Vigo is an amateur, and we'll want to focus more on our other skills first, so we'll skip increasing our Craft skill. So that leaves Vigo's experience as a farmhand -- giving us options to take Alertness (+2 to Listen & Spot, as farmhands need to keep track of their herd), Animal Affinity (+2 to Handle Animal & Ride, to help the farmhand in maintaining a horse or pet), or Athletic (+2 to Climb & Swim, perhaps Vigo likes to swim or rock climb). Vigo is also a self-elected village leader, so Negotiator (+2 to Diplomacy & Sense Motive) or Persuasive (+2 to Bluff & Intimidate) would be helpful.

It's really a toss up as to which skill(s) to increase. We could increase the scores in two skills, or select the Skill Focus feat and get a +3 to one skill. Which I think the latter is a good direction to go in. Vigo's self-appointment to village leader was done through his use of Intimidation. He's okay with the people skills, but the lack in Diplomacy is made up in his Intimidation. Therefore, one of our two feats will go to Skill Focus (Intimidation). This raises our Intimidation score from +4 to +7! "Iron Fist" Vigo has a nice sound to it, doesn't it?! It also doesn't hurt that we can use Intimidate in combat.

This leaves us with one more feat to spend. As mentioned above, we could use this last feat to increase a Saving Throw by +2, of which are: Reflex, Fortitude, or Will. As a Fighter Vigo gets a +2 bonus to his Reflex Saving Throw, for a total of +3 (+2 for the bonus and +1 for his Dexterity). His Fortitude and Will get no bonuses, so he gets is base Ability Score in each, Fortitude (Constitution ) is a +2, and Will (Wisdom) is a +0. So he could take Lightning Reflexes for Reflex, or Great Fortitude for Fortitude, or Iron Will for Will. But Vigo has never had to face many dangers outside the village, so we will not be taking any of these feats. Again, all this is for flavor.

So, what are we going to get with this second feat? We could get any number of feats, but we can narrow it down to three choices. 1) Improved Initiative, +4 to initiative check (this check determines order during combat, the higher the score the better) -- right now our Initiative is only a +1 (from our Dexterity modifier). 2) Cleave, extra melee attack after dropping target -- Vigo is vicious in melee, so potentially getting an extra attack in a single round would be good. 3) Weapon Focus (choose a weapon), +1 bonus to attack rolls with chosen weapon -- our total melee attack bonus right now is +4 (+3 from our Strength modifier and +1 for being a Fighter), this would give us a +5.

Vigo doesn't mind being slow, because he's big and can take a hit, so we'll leave Improved Initiative for later, possibly a future Fighter feat. Cleave is a good choice versus low hit point enemies, but has little use against high hit point enemies. Weapon Focus is good, especially since Vigo can take points away from his attack bonus, with Power Attack, to deal more damage. With the potentially limited use of Cleave, we'll take Weapon Focus for our second feat.

So we've taken Power Attack for our Fighter feat to get bonus damage. Skill Focus for our 1st level feat, to improve our Intimidation.  And Weapon Focus, for our Human feat, to help balance out the reduction from Power Attack. Any number of feats could have been chosen for Vigo. In a combat heavy game we could have chosen only feats that gave us bonuses in combat, like Improved Initiative and Cleave. On the flip side, in a role-play heavy game, we could have chosen Negotiator and Persuasive to increase our Charisma based skills -- giving us larger bonuses to our Fighter's skills and cross-class skills.

Instead, we took feats that played off of our background. There's so many alternatives we could have taken too. Especially if we wanted to maintain the illusion that Vigo is not really an adventurer yet. In which Power Attack would instead be Weapon Focus, to show that Vigo means business on the battlefield. Then we would have changed Skill Focus (Intimidation) to Persuasive; this still gives us a bonus to Intimidation, but also gives a needed bonus to the Bluff skill (which can be used in combat too). The third choice for a feat would have fallen to Alertness to provide coveted bonuses to Listen and Spot; as a farm hand these are important skills, but also help prevent surprise attacks in combat situations.

On second thought, let's have Vigo go this direction instead. It makes more sense for him to take Weapon Focus, Persuasive and Alertness as Vigo is looking for more to life than just the village. He's taken the safe road so far, and it will only take one little quest to put him on the road to adventure.

- - - -

Next time on Dice Harder: What Makes a Character Pt 5 - Gear and Finalizing the character

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Monday, July 2, 2012

Chronicle 007: What Makes a Character Pt 3


When it comes to making a character who they are is largely affected by these four parts: Class, Race, Ability Scores and Skills. Class is the role you play or what "job" function you fill. Race is pretty simple, are you Human or some other creature (Elf, Wookie, to name a few). Ability Scores cover your physical and mental equities. And Skills define what tasks you excel in, and which need further training. While not all game systems have each of these parts, the main ones that I partake in do. So in order to discuss these parts further, this post will explore each of these parts, as we go through the actual creation of a character. And in so doing, we'll discover what drives a player to make certain choices, as I continue my series on: What Makes a Character.

I already have a concept in mind: it is the most basic build that is highly suggested for the beginning player, and that is the Human Fighter. This is the easiest build and requires little, to no, adjustments. For the character's name I have chosen Vigo. The name was pulled from "Ghostbusters II", in which the villain's name was Vigo ("Vigo the Butch", "Vigo the Carpathian", etc.; I'm sure you've seen the movie).  While this character won't be a villain, he does have a reputation for violence on the battlefield. His background covers very little of his past, but it does show that he is, when not fighting a war, or saving the village, an amateur craftsman and general farmhand. [Click on the links for more information on Character Name or Background.]

You have in front of you a character sheet and a book, in this case I'll be using D&D v. 3.5. The very first chapter is Ability Scores. There are a bunch of charts that define what these Ability Scores mean, and if your score is high enough you can incur additional bonuses. For D&D your Abilities are grouped into six major categories:
  • Strength: This is your brute force ability; which influences melee attack rolls, damage rolls, and certain skill rolls. If you want a character like He-Man or the Hulk, this is the ability you want a high score in.
  • Dexterity: This is the agility ability (hey, I can rhyme!); which influences ranged attack rolls, your Armor Class, and certain skills. If you want someone like Jackie Chan, this would need to be a primary stat.
  • Constitution: This determines how sturdy you are; basically, can you take a hit and keep going. Hit Points, your health, and the Concentration skill (your grace under pressure) are based on Constitution. 
  • Intelligence: This determines your book knowledge, as in, how many languages you know and how well versed in your skills you are. Einstein and Tony Stark would have high Intelligence scores.
  • Wisdom: This ability covers your senses, which covers skills like, Listen, Spot, and Sense Motive. 
  • Charisma: Personality and sexual magnetism are covered in this ability, affecting skills like Diplomacy and Intimidation. Some U.S. Presidents would have a high Charisma score.
So in general, these abilities set the stage for who your character is going to be. But how is this determined? I talked about 'scores', but what exactly are scores? In essence a score is the base measurement of how well you do in a give task (lifting weights, bandaging a wound, etc.). In D&D this is represented by a number from 1 to 45+, which are assigned a modifier (a number you add to a d20 roll); heroic Humans, have a base score of 8, 9 or 10 in each of the six abilities.

When character creation begins these base scores can be changed in one of three ways. The easiest method is to use the "Standard Array", which is 16, 14, 13, 12, 11, 10. This method provides positive modifiers to at least four abilities. And allows us to move forward with character creation the quickest. And since I know I want to create a Fighter, a melee combatant specifically, I know I will want a high score in at least Strength and Constitution.

Looking at the Ability Scores chart in the D&D Player's Handbook, we can see that each of these six scores provide a positive modifier. The 16 gets a +3; 14, +2; 13 and 12, +1; while 11 and 10 get a no bonus. These modifiers will later help us determine the placement of these scores in our abilities.

In many games there will be a variety of races to choose from. In Star Wars we see Humans, Wookiees, Droids, etc.. And in D&D we have Humans, Elves, Dwarves and so forth. Each race is unique and carries with it the possibility of an ability adjustment and additional racial traits. For this purpose we're specifically going to look at the Human race, as they are the dominate, and probably most favored race in gaming.

In D&D Humans have no ability adjustment. This means that the scores above will remain the same at character creation. However, should we have chosen to make a Dwarf Fighter, we would have had to adjust our scores in two abilities: Constitution and Charisma. While we haven't placed these scores yet, a Dwarf would have received a +2 bonus on his Constitution Score and a -2 penalty to his Charisma Score. Dwarves are sturdy creatures, but not always the friendliest. But we're not playing a Dwarf, so our scores will remain the same: 16, 14, 13, 12, 11, 10.

Human's have racial traits, which provide bonuses during character creation. They receive the following: An extra Feat (discussed in a future post) at first level; and four extra skill points at first level, plus one additional skill point at every level thereafter. The additional skill points will help us out, as more skill points could mean higher skill rolls or more skills. Humans have additional racial traits in D&D but they will be ignored in this instance.

Since we have chosen to make a Fighter in D&D we can skip all the other available classes in the book. There are however many more classes available, like Cleric, Wizard or Barbarian. In other settings the names of these classes may change, but their role is likely similar. A fighter may be a soldier in a modern day game, while a cleric may be called a priest instead. Each class has a set of abilities that define their station in life. In our case, the Fighter is known to be centered on melee attacks, so a high Strength score would be good to have. Constitution would also need to be a high score as the Fighter needs to be able to take lots of damage. Their third score could be in Dexterity, to show their prowess with a ranged weapon, and to give them a higher defensive score.

But Vigo is not a dexterous person, though he is strong and stout. So we will assign the 16 to his Strength and the 14 to his Constitution. This leaves us with the 13, 12, 11 and 10 to distribute amongst Dexterity, Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma. Looking at what these abilities do we have a choice of what we want this character to become. Since Vigo is a fighter we probably should have at least a +1 modifier in his Dexterity, to help with ranged attacks and any skills the fighter may have. So we'll put the 12 there. Vigo isn't the brightest or the smartest person in the village, that's why he's a fighter, so we will put the 10 and 11 into his Intelligence and Wisdom abilities. Which leaves the 13 to be placed in Charisma, which will be great for a man who sees himself as a leader of his village.

This is what we have so far:
Strength 16 (+3 modifier) 
Dexterity 12 (+1 modifier) 
Constitution 14 (+2 modifier) 
Intelligence 10 (no modifier) 
Wisdom 11 (no modifier) 
Charisma 13 (+1 modifier)

These scores now effect everything else that sets the Fighter apart from any other class.This includes Hit Points, their Attack Bonus, Saving Throws, Feat choices, and Skills/Skill Points. Skills and Skill Points will be discussed below, while the other aspects will be brought in at the end of this series to wrap things up.

Since we chose to put a score of 10 into Intelligence our Fighter will start with very few skill points to distribute amongst his limited skill set. So what are skill points? Skill points are a number we add our ability modifier, which is then added to the d20 roll when we make a skill check. The number of skill points we get are determined by our class. In this case, our fighter starts off with (2 + Intelligence modifier) x 4. So if we do our math correctly this is what we'll get: (2 + 0) x 4 = 8. Our Intelligence modifier is 0 as stated above, which means we add nothing to the 2. That 2 is then multiplied by 4 to get a total of 8. The amount of skill points we receive at character creation could have been different if we had chosen to make a more intelligent fighter. Had we decided to have the 16 in Intelligence then we could have had 20 skill points at character creation. However, let us not forget that we are Human after all, and that means we get 4 additional character points at first level.

Instead, we have 12 points, rather than 8, to distribute amongst the following skills. In parenthesis we're putting what ability the skill is linked to. Abilities are abbreviated by using the first three letters of that ability, so Strength is STR. Here is the Fighter's skill list: 
Climb (Str); Craft (Int)*; Handle Animal (Cha); Intimidate (Cha); Jump (Str); Ride (Dex); and Swim (Str).
* = Choose Specialty

As you can see, we actually chose pretty well in the placement of our ability scores, as many of our skills will be receiving an ability score bonus, in addition to any skill points we place in them. Before we put any skills points into our skills, let's see what they would look like with just our Ability modifiers in place:
Climb (+3); Craft (+0); Handle Animal (+1); Intimidate (+1); Jump (+3); Ride (+1) and Swim (+3)

Since we are trying to go for a flavorful character here, we know that, because of his background, Vigo needs to have some skill in Craft and Handle Animal. After all, he's an amateur craftsman and farmhand -- we may want to consider putting skill points into Ride too. Swim, Climb and Jump look like they have decent scores in them already, at +3. And Intimidate could use a boost, especially since Vigo is a self-proclaimed town leader.

There is a limit to how many points you can put into each skill, this is called a Skill Cap, and for first level characters that number is 4. Which means that if we so choose, we could put maximize three skills and move forward. But we have four skills that we want to make better: Craft, Handle Animal, Intimidate and Ride. This means that with 12 skill points we could put three points into each skill, which sounds like a great idea! So here is what our skills would look like after the point distribution:
Climb (+3); Craft (+3); Handle Animal (+4); Intimidate (+4); Jump (+3); Ride (+4) and Swim (+3)

Things can get more complicated with skills, as you are permitted to buy skill ranks in skills that do not belong to your class. These are called Cross-Class Skills. But in order to buy a rank in those skills you must spend twice as many points; and are only permitted to have half as many ranks in those skills. So we could have put a point in Spot and a point in Search, as they are skills needed by a farmhand, but it would have cost us 4 of our 12 skill points to do so. Too expensive for someone of low Intelligence.

So let's review our character so far.
Vigo the Human Fighter
Strength 16 (+3); Dexterity 12 (+1); Constitution 14 (+2)
Intelligence 10 (+0); Wisdom 11 (+0); Charisma 13 (+1)

Skills: Climb (+3); Craft (+3); Handle Animal (+4); Intimidate (+4); Jump (+3); Ride (+4) and Swim (+3)

He chose the Human race and the Fighter class to keep things simple, and built his skills around what natural skills he already possessed.

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Next time on Dice Harder: What Makes a Character Pt 4 - Feats, Gear and Finalizing the character

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Sunday, June 24, 2012

Chronicle 006: What Makes a Character Pt 2


In my attempt to put a series of posts together, I'm here today to continue on that road as I discuss: What Makes a Character. This time I'll look at Backgrounds' those wonderful life stories that may never see the light of day.

During my many years of roleplaying I don't believe I have ever been in a game that played off of any background story I created for my character. Granted Dresden Files sort of delves into that, but in those games I played the actual background had no effect on the game. However, that's not to say that a good background story isn't important. In large part it is, it's what makes your character unique.

The great debate about background is just that: is it important? As I said above in most cases background didn't mean anything and so it was omitted from character creation. It was always something we glossed over, as the majority of us were more interested in the here and now; our character's past was irrelevant. On the rare occasion that a background was required it was just a short blurb that was used as a plot hook to get the character engaged in the story. After that it was never of any further use.

But, background IS important. Even if it never gets used, it helps define your character. On those rare occasions in which it is explored it will help develop your character even further. For instance, in an play-by-post game that I am in I have slowly been divulging my character's background story. Though I had not written one out ahead of time, I knew one was needed immediately after writing my first post.

In many of the D&D games I have been involved in, my character's background was maybe a couple sentences to help bring the character concept together.  It was always for my personal use and was never explored in character, until this game. When the GM had set the initial scene my immediate thoughts were to bash the 'holy day.' It wasn't something I usually would do, but for some reason my character was becoming an atheist. But I couldn't just leave it at that so I had to figure out a backstory to help explain his attitude. And since this was a PbP game, I knew I'd have an opportunity to tell my story for once.

As it came out, my character was once a devout follower of Bahamut, but when his eldest brother died he cursed the god and set out on his own forgetting his previous life in hopes of starting anew, or dying. When he returned home his family was missing and it had been said that they left town. Which is what had brought my character to the town that the game is currently set in. The background story has since been developed further, and I hope to have the opportunity to tell it in its entirety.

I hadn't intended for his background to be so rich, but given the chance to express it has made me believe that backgrounds, no matter how short (referring to both the shortness of the game, and the length of the backstory) is worth having. Had I not given my character's reaction to the church service any further thought I probably would have just let things slide and moved on with the game. But now that I've laid out some points of interest, I want to make sure to eventually explore those plot points. Even if it means having a couple of lengthy posts of flashbacks.

Even for short games it is important to know where your character came from.  This is especially helpful in one-shots, so you don't have to spend precious game time determining group cohesion. Here is where Dresden Files comes in and does an excellent job of bringing a group together.  The author of each pre-gen game has a little questionnaire that is conducted at the beginning of each game, which basically asks how each person is tied to the NPCs and PCs. Though its not a descriptive background, it's enough to give players a sense of motivation.

I did something similar for the con game I ran last year at AnimeUSA. But rather than ask questions, I wrote a short paragraph on each of the preg-gen characters which tied everyone together. In that case, everyone was linked to the Imperial Officer PC -- which made his character somewhat vital to making the adventure go forward. Yet, he was their motivation.

And that's what it all really boils down to, motivation. You could have a three page backstory about where your character has been. Where they're going. What they've been through. Who or what they're looking for. and how they're going to do it all. But it don't mean squat without some motivation. What drives the character to do what they're doing. Is it gold? Is it power? Sex? Drugs? Rock-n-roll? Whatever it is, it defines your character.

Background makes a character because it helps drive the character through the campaign/adventure. You don't have to be a Stephen King or Tolkien to figure out what's going to motivate your character to go out and risk their life for fame and glory. Writing a lengthy novel of a backstory isn't required here, all you need is: Motivation. Put that motivation into a sentence and you've got a background story.

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Next time on Dice Harder: What Makes a Character Pt 3 - Skills and Ability Scores

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Sunday, June 17, 2012

Chronicle 005: What Makes a Character Pt 1

Over the years I have come to see character creation as something more than just a random grouping of numbers and letters on a page. It has grown into something more of an art form. With each stroke of a pencil a new life is born on paper. And as each new life takes breathe their personality, their uniqueness unfolds. What I would like to explore over the next few posts is: what makes a character.

Some players see their character's as just a piece of paper with stats on it. But for others, like myself, creating a character is like telling a story. You come up with a concept, or plot, and use the various stats to drive your plot, like a name. Which is where I would like to begin this series. The name of your character is what I believe to be the vital part of your character.Without a name your character is nothing.

For some people coming up with a name for their character is as easy as pointing a figure at some random name. But for me, it's more about finding meaning. Sometimes finding that meaning doesn't come until the end of character creation.  For example, when I played The Dresden Files I knew I wanted to play a Quixotic Jedi. While it probably wasn't a concept the creatures originally had in mind, it was do-able. I built the character around the concept, but knew that in the end his name had to have meaning. Something that would drive home the point that he was a quack pretending to be a "Jedi". So I chose the name Lucas Andador (translated Luke Walker -- as in Skywalker). This sealed it, and during the course of gameplay Lucas became a memorable character.

Other times it's the name that will be the catalyst for the created character. Like, Vigo the Butcher, is probably not going to be a Lawful Good Paladin. He might be an anti-Paladin, but more than likely he's a vicious fighter type. Or perhaps you took a literal meaning, as in he's a butcher, in which case creation possibilities increase. If I gave you the name Drizzt, your mind may automatically create a Drow who duel-wields scimitars. Or Harry Potter, and you create a young boy wizard who's scarred by a curse that backfired.

You see, names have meaning. They define who the character is, and maybe what they will become. Regardless if the game we're playing will be short lived, I like to make sure the name fits the character I've created.

Let's take a recent example from one game I was in. If anyone watches WWE you may have heard of Mr. Kennedy (now Mr. Anderson in TNA). Kennedy used to come down to the ring and call out his name: "Miiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiisteeeeeeeeeeeeer Ken-ne-dy! Kennedy!" emphasizing each syllable of his name. I took that single aspect, and name, and made a character from it: a charismatic swashbuckler named Kennedy. Though more youthful than the person he was portraying, Kennedy became the "problem child" of the group. Despite his Chaotic Neutral alignment, he had good intentions -- intentions to the point that many thought he was destined to be a Paladin. But to do that would take an act of God, in which case it was Bahamut. However, getting there was another thing. As having already established Kennedy as a free spirit, this required a major shift in character interaction, which was nigh impossible in-game. And so Kennedy was soon written out of the game. But now, anytime I mention the name Kennedy to my GM, he cringes. Knowing the chaotic, uncontrollable nature that Kennedy was, he now fears it being unleashed once more.

The point is is that the name, and the personality, left a lasting impression upon the GM and the other players. When Kennedy was written out of the game I was disappointed, but yet determined to find a game in which I could bring him back to life (as of yet this hasn't happened). His replacement in that game, though short-lived, was a half-orc named Ode. I searched through hundreds of names before finding this one in a list of African names. Ode, meaning 'born on the road' was appropriate in this setting as half-orcs were rare, and orcs were a nomadic tribe. So there again, the name has meaning, and helped define who Ode was.

I find that searching through baby names is very helpful, as meanings are provided with each name. Sometimes I find myself looking at the meaning more than the name itself. As I want my character's name to mean something. The name can then help shape who the character is as I go through character creation. Or at least help me shape the character's backstory. But that's for a different post.

In closing. While picking a random name can sometimes land you a memorable character, I have had better luck finding a name that has meaning.  It helps me keep the character's identity during gameplay, but also serves a constant reminder for others who you are playing. If the name "The Marvel" pops up in conversation, we all know who that is. "Kennedy" is also a popular frame of reference. But perhaps it's more than the name that made this character memorable, but it's a start.

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Next time on Dice Harder: What Makes a Character Pt 2 - Background

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