Tag Archives: role-playing games

H. P. Lovecraft Gaming

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Back in the early 1990’s my little group of game players turned the full power of nerd obsession on the fantasy role-playing game Call of Cthulhu.  It is a totally weird little game based on the novels and short stories of H. P. Lovecraft.   It is a game about solving mysteries that, if successfully solved, will lead you to confrontations with all-powerful ancient evils that you cannot win against.  And you keep playing until your character absorbs so many insanity points that they go completely insane.  Your character then becomes a minion of demonic and irresistible evil that the next player character you roll up will have to hunt and defeat.  It is not a game you ever win.  You merely have to learn to survive and stay sane, things at which the game is set up to make you fail.

In 1991 the television gods took an old vampire soap opera that I had loved in the 60’s and remade it.  Dark Shadows came back to life starring Ben Cross as Barnabas Collins (the Chariots of Fire guy playing the vampire role that would later have a part in the downfall of Johnny Depp.)  The lead player in our group, a kid who was such a nerd that he would go one to be in the intelligence division of the Marine Corps, decided his character would have to be the vampire Barnabas Collins.  He reasoned that the only way to fight big evils was to fight back with evil that had been converted back to goodness.

And his instincts were good.  Barnabas and his lady love, Victoria Winters, were the only player characters not eaten by the minions of Nyarlathotep in the first adventure.  And Victoria had to be raised from the dead by having Barnabas turn her into a Vampire.

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Of course, the very next challenge would be from a white witch voodoo priestess from New Orleans, the Vampire hunter Sofia Jefferson.  (She was an NPC, not Sofie’s player character).  And she had a special potion that, given to a vampire, would restore it to normal human life.

This was a problem for Barnabas, because he really depended on his powers as a vampire and was not willing to go on without those powers.  So the vampire hunter had to be avoided without killing her and putting an end to her good work fighting evil.  If you can’t tell from the picture, Sofia was blind, yet could see with uncanny vision through sightless eyes.

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The next player character added to survive more than one adventure borrowed Luis’s vampire idea by making his character from the movie Darkman, a Liam Neeson movie about a doctor who had burned his face off, but could become other people by wearing their cloned skin.  He was the lead investigator to help solve the werewolf problem in the bayou , and took on the dark circus adventure where the foolish sideshow people were trying to make money exhibiting the captured Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow.

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There was a lot of death and horrible murders in those game sessions, but not committed by the player characters.  They had to keep good notes and draw conclusions and manage their characters’ powers and assets.  Notes like these;

And so, while the game never ended to my satisfaction, the players did get the feel of acting in a horror movie and fighting on the side of goodness against evil.  It was weird, but definitely worth doing.

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Filed under autobiography, Dungeons and Dragons, horror movie, horror writing, humor, Paffooney

Book Nutty

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Being a role-playing-game dungeon master, you have to be familiar with how to absorb and implement the many, many game-playing books that are published to help you keep the adventure humming along towards epic goals.  I have to admit to being a book addict.  That is true for all books, but particularly game books.  I collect them obsessively.  I still troll Half Price Books looking for old and out-of-print D&D books and other game books.

Every role-playing game has certain necessary basic books.  There is a book full of advice for the game master.  It will tell you how to run an adventure and how to plan or map-out your events.  There is a guide book for players that advises them on how to create a character, develop that character over time, and how to use the rules to create success.  There is also usually some kind of enemies compendium, a monster book, filled with the characters you will have to defeat, slay, or outwit during the course of the adventure.  Then there are game supplements that provide detailed settings, often complete with maps.  They can give you non-player characters, adventure seeds, extra statistics, and sometimes additional useful tables.  Equipment books are a thing as well.

I have a huge collection of Dungeons & Dragons books going back to TSR and continuing through their current publisher, Wizards of the Coast.  I have practically every Call of Cthulhu book, a game system to turn H.P. Lovecraft’s horror fiction into RPG adventures.  I have almost all of the Talislanta books, a D&D-like game with no elves, dwarves, or humans in their game.   I have practically everything put out by Game Designers’ Workshop for Traveller.  I have a few books from the Rifts RPG, a time-and-dimension bending science fiction game.  I have practically all of the Star Wars RPG books.  I have a lot of Star Trek books.  I have some G.U.R.P.S.  books (Generic Universal Role Playing System), some d20 RPG books, and many other odd books, including a boxed set of Rocky and Bullwinkle’s RPG, complete with hand puppets.

So, please don’t file paperwork on me with the authorities who put insane people in white jackets with extra long sleeves.  I am a collector who suffers from hoarding disorder.  And I love books.  I just can’t help it.

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Filed under collecting, Dungeons and Dragons, humor, monsters, old books, wizards

Representing Star Wars RPG People

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Traditionally, D&D-type role playing games are played with miniature figures to represent characters and npc’s on the battlefield.  But when the kids were small and we started playing Star Wars RPG I didn’t have the proper figures.  So. to visualize characters, we used what I did have plenty of, dolls… err, action figures.

I told you who the player characters were a couple of Saturdays ago, but let me remind you.

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Princess Moreno, represented by the Barbie dressed in Emperor Palpatine’s robe was the leader of the adventuring group, and the player character of my niece, who was available back then because they lived in the Dallas area too.

Juba Jubajai, Jedi Guardian, was the muscle-brained power of the group.  He was my oldest son’s player character.

 

 

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The sidekicks and NPC’s that rounded out the group were Hrowwuhrr, the Princess’s loyal Wookie companion, and Keebo Kloohorn, the Rodian minstrel, quick of wit and poor at shooting.

 

 

 

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Of course, there were numerous other people you run into in an adventure, like Jedi-trainer Master Link Conn (played by an Abraham Lincoln Presidential action figure) and Barrabas the space pirate.  I customized some.  Luke Skywalker and Han Solo played a lot of them.  And others were only present in our imaginations.  For a brief little while, it was a quaint and happy gaming experience to play Star Wars with dolls and dice.

 

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Filed under doll collecting, Dungeons and Dragons, heroes, Star Wars, strange and wonderful ideas about life

Time Travellers

In role playing games I was always willing to go where no other game master has gone before.  Such was the case with the role-playing game Traveller and the matter of time travel.  No rules existed in the rule book to cover time travel.  But I didn’t let that stop me. I made them up as we went along.

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I got a boost when one of my players wanted to create a character based on Dr.Who.   The British series played on Friday nights on PBS in the 1980’s.  But that particular player, though very creative, was not a precisely cerebral type of kid.  He spelled it “W-H-O-E”.  So, forever after, we referred to the character as Doctor Hooey.

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Good old Hooey was always getting the group into impossible situations that took a great deal of thinking to get out of again. He had a penchant for crashing time machines.  And when he got the destination right, he would get the time wrong on the year, century, or millennia.  And when he got the time right, well, what do you know?  He got the place wrong.  The players never seemed to realize that I was taking them to planned adventures no matter what the dice rolls supposedly said.

Many such adventures would encounter weird and wild characters who would inevitably also become time travelers, whether fellow travelers for the sake of goodness and light, or as recurring villains.

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For example, Brech was a student space ninja traveling through space and time with the teacher characters among the players.  And by time traveling, they ran afoul of the Revenant, a time-traveling cyborg assassin who stalked the players for accusations of serious “time crimes”.  The cyborg turned out to be young Brech’s future self.  Which proved lucky.  Brech was able to establish a psychic link with his future self just as the cyborg was about to execute everybody, and Brech thereby turned a deadly enemy into an ally.

We tended to adapt movie characters who were time travelers into important NPC’s, and they did not all come from the Dr. Who show.  The characters shown above were Doc Brown from Back to the Future and Professor H. G. Wells.

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When I stole characters from Dr. Who, like I did with Lady Romana here, I tended to adapt them totally to my own game universe.  Romana was nothing like her TV counterpart.  In fact, only the name was the same.

We soon had so many time-traveling characters in their different time machines that we had to organize it all.  This we did by founding the organization known as the Time Knights of Gallegos.

And we needed a leader to coordinate the various initiatives through time and space.  For this we chose a specific NPC, the boy super genius, Ryan Beowulf.  He was a charming super-brained perpetual ten-year-old who worked with his own future self, the thousand-year-old Time King Beowulf.

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Traveller, it seemed,  was never more fun than when we were free to go rock and rolling through both space and time.  We had some harrowing adventures and even made use of my own vast storehouse of useless historical knowledge that can wow ’em in the moment and make them wonder why they needed to know about that upon further reflection.  Time traveling, like fez’s and bow ties, is cool.

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Filed under characters, Dungeons and Dragons, imagination, Paffooney, science fiction

Demons and Devils

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Playing Dungeons and Dragons in Texas during the ’80’s and ’90’s was basically a subversive act.  The reason?  Fundamentalist Christians actively stepped in and persecuted you for it.  It was their sincere belief that a thing that had demons, devils, and dragons in it had to be from Satan.  Satan, they reasoned, used a game like that to poison the imaginations of innocent children and turn them to the Dark Side of the Force.  Or, rather, the Devil’s side of religion.  They were terrified of subtle corruption of the mind, believing that certain patterns of words and ideas could turn goodness into evil.  In other words, their religion advocated living in a bubble of non-association with certain words and ideas in order to superstitiously inoculate themselves against badness.  They were, of course, not entirely wrong.

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Kids playing the game will often develop the desire to play the Dark Side, to be an evil character, to commit evil acts and murder without the hindrance of conscience.  That is the reason I wouldn’t let my own kids even consider playing Grand Theft Auto or similar murder, rape, and pillage sort of video games.   It is, in fact, possible to desensitize yourself to violence and immoral behavior, and I have serious philosophical doubts whenever anyone tries to tell me that that can be a good thing.  My Dungeons and Dragons games always contained a rarely spoken understanding that if you chose to play an evil character you were going to lose everything, because any adventure is solved and overcome by combating evil and siding with the forces of goodness.  Paladins with their magical swords of ultimate sugary goodness are always stronger than evil wizards with their wimpy bat familiars and potions in the end.

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But leaving out demons and devils was never truly an option. If you never face decisions between good and evil during playtime, what hope do you have of avoiding a life-altering mistake later in life when faced with evil for real.  If you are going to make an evil choice, say for instance, committing an act of murder, isn’t it better to learn the consequences of such an act when the murder was killing an imaginary rival wizard for a magic staff you coveted than if you committed that murder in a fit of passion in real life?  The fact that the rival wizard’s spirit takes up residence in the staff and finds a way to punish you every time you use it for the remainder of your adventuring life in the game may teach you something you can use when faced with the opportunity to steal for profit and get away with it to make a better decision about what to do.

In the Tomb of Death adventure that the three demons illustrated in this post came from, the only solution was to find the weakness in the demon team.  Estellia had been ill treated by the other two and deeply resented it.  She resented it enough to tell the adventurers’ thief about the brass demon bottle that could be used to magically imprison the demons and then force them to do the bottle owner’s bidding.  Viscarus had been using it to control the other two, so only his soul truly needed to be captured.  The demon-hearts of the other two were already inside.  That story taught several lessons.  Manipulative evil can bite you in the neck even if you are the one wielding it.  (If only Trump and his cronies had learned that about their own brass demon bottle.)

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Evil people don’t see themselves as evil.  Often they only see themselves as victims.  And it is true in real life that there is goodness in even the most heartlessly evil people.  You can find it, appeal to it, and possibly even reach the goodness in their hearts necessary to change them for the better.

I truly believe that those kids who over the years played my story-telling games were better, stronger, and more inherently good because they played my games and learned my lessons.  I believe it is true even though there may have occasionally been demons and devils in the stories.  And if I believe it strongly enough, it must be true.  Isn’t that how faith is supposed to work?

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Filed under Dungeons and Dragons, heroes, humor, Paffooney, strange and wonderful ideas about life, villains

Life By a Roll of the Dice

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These are Warhammer 40,000 Harlequin Warriors I painted myself.

Over the years I have played many role-playing games.  Virtually always I have done so as the game master, the dungeon master, the story-teller behind the action.  Players decide what to do about the story problems I represent to them.  They have characters that have painstakingly advanced in skills and levels of skills to use for the problem-solving the plot centers around.  But ultimately, when they take action, the outcomes are decided by a roll of the dice.

Life is like that.  You labor hard to control what happens next in your life.  But random chance intervenes.  If you are the Harlequin Space Elf known as Smiley Creaturefeature (the masked elf in the green robe on the front row, far left in the picture above) and your band of high level Harlequin War Dancers have come to Checkertown City Square hunting for your hated enemy, Bone-sucker the Space Orc, it is entirely possible when you use your scanner operator skills to find him, you could roll a “1” on the twenty-sided dice.  This would mean failure.  Not merely failure, but failure on a spectacular level.  The scanner would explode, killing your entire squad, yourself included.  And all those weeks of building the character up to level 17 in order to defeat Bone-sucker and his mutant minions, would be lost and become all-for-nothing in the disappointment department.

Of course, a benevolent game master would alter the outcome in some way to keep the story going.  Perhaps the exploding scanner, instead of killing everyone, created a mini worm hole in the fabric of space-time and transported them to a parallel dimension where Bone-sucker is actually the chaotic good hero of Checkertown, and you must now work out an alliance with him to fight his enemies, the other-dimensional versions of you that are actual Evil Smiley Creaturefeature and his band of Evil Harlequin Space Elves.  You must then defeat your evil selves carrying out the evil plot that the game master had originally designed for the villain Bone-sucker to employ before returning to your own original dimension.

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Real life does not work that way.  It works more like you see above.  The lovely, metal-bikini-clad female barbarian of swimming pool repair is faced with the attack of the giant rats of city pool inspection, necessary electrical repair, and limited finances.  You can see, if you look incredibly carefully at the purple twenty-sided dice, that her defensive attack roll is a “2” for catastrophic failure.  Her sword cuts off her own leg and causes personal bankruptcy.  The giant rats roll a lucky “13” on the black twenty-sided dice for successful tooth and claw attacks.  They then go on to eat her and force the pool to be removed from the property, using up all the money the player (who is me, by the way) has left.

No game master steps in to create a more reasonable outcome.  The worst possible outcome is what happens.  That is how real life works.  Roll the dice, and lose your swimming pool.

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Filed under action figures, angry rant, Dungeons and Dragons, feeling sorry for myself, metaphor, photo paffoonies, self pity

Kaurak Kholzil

I could very easily have titled this post “How to Use a Published Adventure to Establish an Adventure Site“.  I didn’t because that title would be ridiculously long and foolishly boring.   People already click past my posts at near the speed of light.  So, instead, I used the name of the dwarven castle in the above published Dungeons and Dragons supplement from 1995.  The name means “griffon nest” in the Kundarak dwarven language.

The supplement provides the interior floor plans of the castle embedded in the mountainside.  It saves a lot of work.  Making castle floor plans takes time.

Once you have the place established, then you have to populate it with non-player characters.  This dwarf castle has a mining operation.  You only reach the castle site by air, so there is an exterior tower that contains a griffon aerie.  You have to ride a griffon to enter the castle.

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If you don’t have a crazy griffon rider like Madryk Featherstone to give you a ride through the air to the castle in the side of the Graywall Mountains, then you have to come through the mines which are so deep they connect to the underworld.

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Solfaera Dezzav, the drow dark elf, was exiled by the drow people in the underdark of the Khyber realm.  She came to Kaurak Kholzil as a refugee and helped to set up the protective network that shields the castle from the terrible things that lurk under the mountain.

The rulers of Kaurak Kholzil are Daggan Mastersmith, the King Dwarf, his wife, Rorrina Gembright Mastersmith, and his father-in-law, Dennin Gembright.  They mine the precious and martial metals of Kaurak Kholzil.  Daggan is a particularly severe and demanding ruler, rather joyless and humorless.  His wife is much younger than he and is a bright soul who often suffers in the darkness her husband rules.  She often seeks solace and entertainment from visiting adventurers.  Dennin, the old dwarf, once ruled here.  but now is a bit of a doddering buffoon, no longer capable of thinking in straight lines.

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Of course, there are a lot of other colorful characters that live in Kaurak Kholzil.  They all have their personality quirks and know things that could lead to future adventures.

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Some of them, like the Mastersmith Twins who raise and cook giant spiders to feed the castle on spider steaks, are potential comedy relief.  But they can also serve as noble castle defenders, using meat cleavers and enraged spiders to take on any invaders.

So there is a little insight into the mind of a dungeon master who steals good adventure ideas from published sources and embellishes them at will to continue to make the game interesting.  If you are a dungeon master too, feel free to steal all these ideas for your own D & D game.

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Filed under Dungeons and Dragons, heroes, Paffooney