Tuesday, March 11, 2008

A New Life Awaits You In The Offworld Colonies

So, a few weeks ago, I was idly paging through my copy of the Aliens Colonial Marine Technical Manual, when I began reading the chapter dealing with Synthetics. Synthetics, in "Alien" terminology, are biological androids. Ash (from the original film) and Bishop (from the second) are both synthetics.

As I read, I said to myself, "Huh - organic androids. Kinda like Replicants in 'Blade Runner'."


What if one were to ignore the opening placard in "Blade Runner," and assume that, instead of Los Angeles of 2019, it was actually Los Angeles, 2219 or so? What if a Blade Runner was called in to deal with a group of Replicants/Synthetics who had broken with their corporate employers - Weyland-Yutani - and were now loose on Earth? What if, in the course of tracking down the Replicants, said Blade Runner discovered that they were trying to stop a Weyland-Yutani cargo from making earthfall, or were trying to destroy one of their biotech research and development facilities that was dealing with off-world organic materials?

If you know what I mean.

I probably don't have to go into what it might be like if said Blade Runner were to learn that Something Else was also looking around for the same xenoform...

My D&D Stats

Okay, I usually skew as Lawful Good in these things, but checking the results I see that I was only one point away, so I guess I'm okay with that. My Dexterity is higher than my Wisdom? My Prime Requisite? I must not be a very good Cleric... I think that the only reason my Dex got rated so high was because I have pretty good aim. See, this is why 2nd Edition AD&D Player Options allowed you to split attributes...

I Am A: Neutral Good Human Cleric (4th Level)

Ability Scores:







Neutral Good A neutral good character does the best that a good person can do. He is devoted to helping others. He works with kings and magistrates but does not feel beholden to them. Neutral good is the best alignment you can be because it means doing what is good without bias for or against order. However, neutral good can be a dangerous alignment because because it advances mediocrity by limiting the actions of the truly capable.

Humans are the most adaptable of the common races. Short generations and a penchant for migration and conquest have made them physically diverse as well. Humans are often unorthodox in their dress, sporting unusual hairstyles, fanciful clothes, tattoos, and the like.

Clerics act as intermediaries between the earthly and the divine (or infernal) worlds. A good cleric helps those in need, while an evil cleric seeks to spread his patron's vision of evil across the world. All clerics can heal wounds and bring people back from the brink of death, and powerful clerics can even raise the dead. Likewise, all clerics have authority over undead creatures, and they can turn away or even destroy these creatures. Clerics are trained in the use of simple weapons, and can use all forms of armor and shields without penalty, since armor does not interfere with the casting of divine spells. In addition to his normal complement of spells, every cleric chooses to focus on two of his deity's domains. These domains grants the cleric special powers, and give him access to spells that he might otherwise never learn. A cleric's Wisdom score should be high, since this determines the maximum spell level that he can cast.

Find out What Kind of Dungeons and Dragons Character Would You Be?, courtesy of Easydamus (e-mail)

Monday, March 10, 2008

Dungeon Crawl

Ever since learning about Gary Gygax's death on Tuesday, I had been in the mood to play some D&D. The more old school, the better. Fortunately, Budzik, Aaron, Haleanna and my wife were all available and interested in playing. Budzik and I decided that we should play a good, old-fashioned dungeon crawl, and figured this would also be a good opportunity to test out some variant D&D rules I had in my possession. His D&D campaign had been getting bogged down in combat and excessive feats usage, and he was looking for a simpler way to run the game.

Marilyn bought a whole lot of snacks and treats, some healthier than others and all of them great. Budzik brought left-over snack-bags of food from his work, and Haleanna brought some mocha frozen yogurt from her job. Aaron, true to form, arrived late, but at least he came.

After considering a couple of different rules adaptations and variants, we ultimately decided to go with Microlite20, probably the simplest version of the d20 engine I've yet seen. All of the rules fit on one double-sided page (and the flip side of the rules are really only of use for the DM, anyway).

My wife used a half-Orc Fighter we had made for a D&D3e Birthright game that I ran a few Christmases ago, though when questioned about her character later, she said she was a full-fledged Orc. Budzik rolled up a Human Mage who was eager to earn some gold. Aaron made a Gnome Thief, amusingly portrayed with a German accent, and we rolled up an Elven Cleric for Haleanna, since she was arriving late.*

I had decided that the game should be set in Xaria, our LARP setting, since that would be most familiar to everyone. After considering some free maps on Wizards of the Coast's website and a couple of PDF adventures I had on my computer, I eventually settled on Looking Glass Deep by Malhavoc Press. It narrowly won out over Gary Gygax's Keep on the Borderlands, because it seemed like we'd have a better chance of actually finishing it in one night**, and I was intrigued by its promises of monsters that used tactics. I set the adventure, as per Budzik's request, in northern Quivera, the Orange Duchy, which is ruled by Duke Kagrug the Orc. Lots of concerns about monsters invading from Uragoth to the north, especially what with King Onk's latest forays.

Now, given my intended goals for the evening, and given that we'd spent a considerable amount of time talking and catching up on things (nothing I regret, certainly), and that the players spent more time creating their characters than I really thought they would, I probably should have started them at the mouth of the dungeon. I was going to do so, but they immediately started asking me about whether they'd met at an inn, and Budzik explained to Haleanna how that was a hoary old cliche about D&D. Since it was such a cliche, and we were doing Old School style, I embraced the cliche and even had them met there by a Mysterious Cloaked Old Man, the full nine yards.

After a few minutes of listening to the players bantering in-character (which was marvelous - these folks are very good roleplayers), the Mysterious Cloaked Old Man came in out of the rain, spoke a few hushed words to the innkeep, and came over to the PCs with a proposition. He needed someone to go to an old, ruined fortress and map it out for him - he would provide them with parchment and mapping tools, and he hinted at the fact that while the ruins had been deserted for over a century, it was not unknown for bandits or foolish treasure seekers to go there and pick over the cold, dead stones. In exchange for a rough map of the place, he would pay them a gold piece per day, which he thought was quite reasonable, since scribes only get paid about three silvers a day.

Haleanna surprised me by immediately and coldly haggling with the Old Man, and before you know it, she had negotiated the Old Man up to twenty GP up front and fifty upon delivery of the map, with the provision that they would disarm any traps that might still be in the old place (since the old Baron who once had the run of the place was rumored to have dabbled in magik).

Then came more discussions as to how they would proceed, what lodgings they would require, whether the Old Man should be followed (he was), etc. By the time the characters finally reached the mouth of the box canyon where the fortress was, and the Gnome had scouted the first wall, Budzik had to go home to feed the baby and my wife was beginning to fall asleep. As is typical, we never got as far as the "dungeon" part of our dungeon crawl. *sigh*

Nonetheless, they all thoroughly enjoyed the simpler new ruleset and the gaming experience, and all wanted to continue at some point, though a round of questioning revealed that no one will be available again for a few weekends. Oh, well. Even though I hadn't even looked at the adventure an hour before the game began (I was trying to read it while they were making characters, and of course there would be no concentrating going on while that was happening, so I read and re-read the first page about six times before I finally got anywhere with it) and completely improvised my cheesy cliche opening, we all still had fun. I got to have at least a little bit of an old school gaming experience again, which is what I really wanted after all.

*We cut Haleanna slack because a) we didn't know if she was going to be able to make it in the first place, b) she brought mocha frozen yogurt, if I hadn't already mentioned, and c) she's cuter than Aaron.

**Foolish me.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The Ending of An Age

E. Gary Gygax, co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons, father of this quirky roleplaying hobby and author of a style so idiosyncratic that the word "Gygaxian" had to be added to the geek vocabulary, has died at the age of 69. Without him, this hobby may still have come into being, but it would have had a completely different flavor. This blog would have a different name, for one - I think that the lich Vecna was his creation; it was a part of the gameworld he created (and the first gameworld I ever roleplayed in, the one I grew up with), the World of Greyhawk.

Though the man's gaming style was not to my taste, his work certainly made its impression on me. He improved my vocabulary, teaching me words like "milieu" and "dwoemer" through his rulebooks; through his bibliography and recommended reading lists he introduced me to some of my favorite fantasy authors, Fritz Lieber and Robert E. Howard. It wouldn't be going too far to say that the man's work was a significant inspiration to me, and had a considerable impact on my life. In fact, without the work that he created, I think it's fair to imagine that many things which have shaped the geek subculture came into existence because of his influence, such as World of Warcraft (born out of Warcraft, which was born out of Warhammer, which was born out of D&D). He suffered through a lot of legal battles and unfair treatment over the property he created with Dave Arneson, and ended up being unjustly kicked out of his own company. Yet from what I've seen of him, he was open and kind toward his fans and colleagues. He came to The Source in St. Paul once while I was there, and I watched him run a D&D game for a little while. I think it would have struck me as odd to see a white-bearded old man playing a roleplaying game had I not already been prepared for it by seeing our elder friend Vern play Campaign, or met renowned fantasy artist and southern gentleman Larry Elmore, whose artwork will forever in my mind be associated with Dungeons & Dragons.

Sadly, the lives of gamers tend not to be so long. A few other industry creators and professionals of note are in poor health, from what I read on RPGnet. Gamers in general are not known for the good shape of their bodies. So Gary's passing comes as another warning to me - I've been eighty pounds overweight for a while now, and with a father who was diabetic, I'm really pushing my luck.

I don't know what Gary's personal beliefs were, so I can't comment on his ultimate destination. If you'll forgive me for being a bit cheesy and maudlin, all I can do is raise a tankard, say a fond farewell, and thank Uncle Gary for all the fun.

EDIT, Again: I went to the TrollLords website, publishers of Castles & Crusades, and one of the forum posters quoted the last e-mail he received from Gary, on January 16:

Thank You, Michael,

All I am is another fellow human that has at last, after many wrong paths and failed attenpts, found Jesus Christ.

Via con dios,

"Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven." Matthew 5:16

Moreover, here is one Christian gamer's story about Gary, both his regrets and his triumphs.

Praise God. We'll see you on that far shore in the House of the Lord.