#RPGaDAY 26: Coolest Character Sheet

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The #RPGaDAY prompt was concocted by Dave Chapman of Autocratik. Grab the list and join in!

Deadlands Reloaded Character SheetDespite never having gotten to play the game, Deadlands Reloaded easily wins coolest looking character sheet in my library. I’m not convinced it would be very functional at the table, with all the textures, spatters and layers of graphical elements, but it is far and away the most impressive to look at.

#RPGaDAY 13: Most Memorable Character Death

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Lucky day thirteen of #RPGaDAY brings us to the happy topic of dead characters. Carrion Crown had a slew of memorable character deaths and maulings, thanks to Hunter’s merciless cleaving to the unswayed justice of the die. Three stand out in particular in my mind:

  • Callimachi, attempting to be the stealthy scout of the party, explored some corner of a fortification the creepiest, darkest mountains of Ustalav and took a point blank banshee shriek to the face. Save or lose an excessive number of hit points. Hit points: lost!
  • Solis the elven summoner got caught on the wrong side of one of Thadeamus’ walls, as I recall, leaving him to fight a big bad alone. That big bad opted to employ a suffocation effect — in a whirlwind? — and it ended poorly for Solis.
  • Horace Gunderson was the first of the Carrion crew to fall. Exploring the acid factory of Vorkstag and Grine, he was mauled horribly by a golem hound. And, interestingly, Horace was the only adventurer in that campaign who opted to stay dead.

#RPGaDAY 8: Favorite Character

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The #RPGaDAY prompt was concocted by Dave Chapman of Autocratik. Grab the list and join in!

For as few characters I’ve played over the years, you’d think it’d be easy enough to pick one out. But it’s not just characters I’ve played. It’s Favorite Character, period. That could be another player’s character, or a GM’s portrayal of a non-player character. Or even one I read about in a book, and never saw in play or acted out by someone else.

It’s a tough call to make. Do I go with Andrew Kane, the federal agent in a BPRD adventure I ran, who kept a heavy sigh at the ready and a clicker on his belt to tally collateral damage wrought by the team? What about Thadeamus Straw, the evoker played by Joey in Carrion Crown who always had a story about Granny Straw, and was a lateral reincarnation of Louis Tully? Or good old Porthos Fitz-Empress, the alleged bane of player agency in Mage: the Ascension, assigning jobs to novice mages while capering on the precipice of the most combustive Quiet you never expected?

I can’t pick a favorite character, not with that many on the field, and however many more I might recall in the days to come. I’ll just salute everyone I ever played with who created a vibrant, compelling character that still managed to carry the narrative forward and draw other players into the weave.

The Pathfinder System Reference Document

With all the Pathfinder action I’ve been up to lately, I would be remiss in acknowledging what’s made it all possible. Sure, I’ve owned the core Pathfinder rulebook for a couple years now and that’s helpful at the table for referencing basic rules — did you know a rolling a 1 on a saving throw is an automatic failure? I didn’t — but between core, base and alternate classes and scads of archetype variants for each of those, the options for a game are dizzying and not easy to track.

Fortunately, Pathfinder being an open game and all, there is not one, but two online resources comprising all that open content: the reference document maintained by Paizo itself and Pathfinder SRD, an independent web site. These two sites have been tremendous help in building Alexandros Callimachi and Morley Bishop. I don’t really know what I’d be playing without having the opportunity to idly browse pages in my own time, rather than scanning someone else’s book at a character generation session.

At this point, with all the use I’ve gotten out of their open content, I really ought to flip Paizo some more business. The Advanced Player’s Guide? What supplement would you recommend for a Pathfinder player?

Skull & Shackles, Me Hearties

Demonstrating the adage that you wait ages for a bus, then three come along at once,[1] I get to climb on board a shiny new Skull & Shackle Pathfinder campaign tomorrow evening.

I’m feeling a little more hip to character creation this time. Partly because of the on-going learning experience with Alexandros the inquisitor in Carrion Crown,[2] but also because, well, it’s another game. The mystique and onerousness of character creation is fading.

I actually have two compelling character ideas, the second thanks to Neil, who gave a little character consultation the other night. H suggested a sea-oriented warden who skulks along the coastline and into hidden coves to deliver smuggling cargo. And I would totally play that — and have it in my hip pocket as a back-up — but he also rendered the opinion that the archaeologist as a knavish dealer in lost antiquities and contraband could totally work, so I gotta go with that, because that was kind of my idea to begin with.

See, it comes from misreading the campaign primer. I somehow conflated the trait of coming to the Shackles to explore lost civilizations with the section where it recommends particular character classes and archetypes as well-suited to the campaign. And that got the idea of the archaeologist archetype in my head.

From there, it spun out into this fellow being the disreputable sort of tomb robber.[3] He grabs the shiny stuff, books it and delivers said goods to someone with a sufficiently large purse. And since he’s kicking around the Shackles, he has to supplement with transporting more menial contraband and black market goods.

So he’s going to be a high social character, what with his abilities running off Charisma and all the Intelligence-related Knowledge skills. That’s going to be a first for me. I have to be vigilant about jumping to the fore with Sense Motive and Bluff-related conversation. Plus he looks to be the only arcane spellcaster, which is a nice niche to have covered.

Tomorrow is character creation and maybe introductory play. I hope to get most of my heavy lifting done tonight. All things considered, this is turning out to be a pretty awesome period of role-playing in my life.

And yes, I will blog the sessions as I have done for Carrion Crown. Given that we’re playing Fridays, they won’t be part of Actual Play Fridays. It may be necessary to annex Mondays to the cause.

[1] But only in the places where it’s possible more than one bus may traverse a particular road. Not a common sight where I live, at least.

[2] As in, “Crap, I didn’t take that?!” and “I’m not eligible for any good choices this level. I get something, but it’s not very good. Why didn’t I plan better?”

[3]Like this one.

[Carrion Crown] Character Creation Comes the Inquisitor

After a suitable period of mourning for the prolapsed Masks of Nyarlathotep campaign, the group is embarking on a Pathfinder adventure path called Carrion Crown. Set in the region of Ustalav, I gather it’s fraught with undead and squicky things, as it calls on the tropes of gothic horror.

Wanting to make a monster hunting type, I opted to make an inquisitor, a “base” class from the Advanced Player’s Guide. I didn’t find as quite a robust guide to the class as I did when creating Kaye the joke-telling bard for Pathfinder Society, so I felt the familiar sense of being adrift in a sea of mechanics with no optimization paddle. No matter. There aren’t many choices to make at first level. He’s a ranged fighter, given his good Dexterity and a heavy crossbow. That’s enough for now.

Given the context of Ustalav and the campaign primer, he turned out to be the scion of a once-proud noble family from the region which has since fallen under the alluring sway of democracy, a group of city-states calling themselves the Palatinates. So I’m thinking he’s pretty resentful of the rabble that rose up, deposed his family and made him get a job of all things.

That’s not really a sustainable attitude, but I’m thinking it’ll soften over time.

I think we start playing next Wednesday. More as it comes.


Dan of More Than Dice has a cool concept for a cardsharp cursed with immortality and the ability to inflict good and bad fortune on anyone who takes a card: Jack of Spades: Cursed Hero.

I especially dig the representation of the Deck of Fates in HERO terms. It adds an element of randomness that one doesn’t often find in super hero combat.

What Does a GM Do During Character Creation?

While discussing how to read verbal and non-verbal reactions while playtesting, Robin Laws made an interesting point about the GM’s perspective versus the player’s in the character creation process:

As a GM, time spent during character creation can seem dull. You don’t get to join in until it’s over. That doesn’t mean the players aren’t having a rich experience. The designer/GM must see past his own wandering attention to see how engrossed the players are. Prep can be a tedious slog, or it can be play. If it is play, a design might be ill-served by streamlining efforts that rush players through a process they’d sooner linger over.

This is a personal failing of mine. I get hugely impatient during character creation. Even when there’s a surfeit of books for players to reference, finding entertainment in their internal processes is not something I’m good at doing, or have even thought to attempt.

Character creation is certainly an interesting time. In a lot of games, it’s the time when the players have the most creative control. They’re calling the shots about who their character will be, at what their character will excel. Around a table of excited players, concepts come flying thick and fast, so that it can be difficult to pick just one on which to focus.

It’s also the time when a GM can start gathering information about what the players want to see in the game. You can infer from the choices they make in skills the tasks they expect to tackle in the course of the campaign. So take that opportunity to either figure out how to accommodate their expectations or let them know those points or slots could be better spent in other ways.

[Scions of Time] Character Creation

Photo by Josh Burker.

Monday evening, I fell asleep still buzzing with excitement. Earlier in the evening, we newly-minted Scions of Time met to create characters for this campaign. As promised, I’m turning my thoughts into actions and finally getting a campaign off the ground.

The main gimmick of Scions of Time borrows from Ars Magica‘s troupe play model. There’s a pool of characters that are drawn from for individual story arcs. This way, every player has their own personalized incarnation of the Time Lord, as well as companion characters to play alongside other player’s Time Lord personas. Also coming from Ars Magica are the power level tiers: the Time Lord’s abilities and knowledge makes him analogous to magi. Then there are the competent companions, your Marthas and Captain Jacks. Then you’ve got your Mickeys and Jackies, who rough out to match grogs, the servants and comic relief in a Hermetic covenant. And yes, characters can move between the tiers. Mickey eventually became a very competent companion, once he socked away enough experience points. Donna broke through to the Time Lord tier, albeit temporarily.

So on Monday evening, we got together to make characters. We’d had some conversation online beforehand, as I wanted to make this as collective a process as possible. The players are going to share the lives of a Time Lord, so the basic essence of the character had to be something they all wanted to play; my own primary concern was that the character kept to the basic spirit of Doctor Who: having mad adventures and generally doing good.

After a lot of discussion and throwing ideas out on the table, the group landed on someone who escaped from Gallifrey during the few moments it hung in the sky over Earth during “The End of Time.” He’s some sort of veteran soldier or weapons researcher scarred by what he saw happen in the Time War, so he has a motivation to work to prevent any more atrocities like that. Specifically how he escaped or what he did in the war are questions we’ll let be answered through the course of play. His TARDIS is young and immature, taken straight from the creche. Still forming, it behaves unpredictably and lacks some of the abilities of a fully-cultured time ship. The idea reminds me of Talyn from Farscape, of all things. He struck me as an impetuous, hot-headed ship, though that might have been Crais’ influence as much as anything.

Our Time Lord’s going to be the traditional roving renegade, I think. The companions are a somewhat more varied lot. On Monday, everyone made two: a competent companion and a tin dog, as the slang emerged. Concepts included: a starfighter pilot, a 19th century physics professor, a post-apocalyptic junker, a Sudanese lost boy, a 50s rollerskating waitress, a hair metal wanna-be rock star, a 1920s rum runner and a game show host with exceptional hair. Additionally, I have some ideas for pick-up characters that I’ll create over the weekend, in case anyone wants to drop for a week and help those players who couldn’t make character creation catch up.

Next Monday is our big pilot episode, bringing together a number of disparate companions and a mysterious alien fleeing a world on fire, discovering that the universe isn’t like he remembers it at all.

This should be good! I’ll keep you updated as we play, natch.

Mutants and Masterminds 3rd Edition Preview Reaction

Last week, Green Ronin published a series of art previews for the forthcoming edition of Mutants & Masterminds, starting with a new team of signature characters called the Sentinels, then going on to the stages of developing the cover piece. The Sentinel team roster includes thumbnail descriptions of its ten members.

At first, I was deeply underwhelmed by the character portraits of the Sentinels. My first thoughts were along the lines of “These all sound very painfully like standard issue player characters. They all fit that archetype of awkwardly ‘cool’ name and ‘best powers.’ They aren’t a patch on the Freedom League, which is a much more classical superhero team.” And by “classical,” I of course mean fond homage.

I bit my tongue, though, and thought about it for a bit before writing anything down. After a while, I realized why the Sentinels smelled so strongly of player characters: that’s who they stand in for. The line developer for Mutants & Masterminds, Jon Leithusser, wrote in his post:

But one of the other considerations that loomed large in the creation of the Sentinels is that we wanted them to be disposable. Yep, you heard me, disposable. If you don’t want the Sentinels in your universe, you can remove them and replace them with your own heroes. Our goal was to make it easy for you and your players to jump into playing, but we also wanted to make sure you had an even better chance to make your PCs the central heroes of your series, without other heroes around to take all the glory . . .

The Sentinels are PL10, which is the standard starting point for player characters in a typical four-color campaign. You can play them as written, use some or all or replace them outright. That works pretty well.

Granted, you could do the same thing with the Freedom League, ousting them or any number of Freedom City’s super-teams to make room for the players’ group. Even though the League’s average power level hovers around 12 or 13, PL10 player characters tend to have the advantage on tougher non-player characters because it’s multiple cooperating minds against the GM’s segmented ingenuity.

I’m curious to find out if the Sentinels replace the character archetypes in the front of the corebook completely or appear only in art and system examples, in addition to their role as stand-ins in Emerald City. Those archetypes tend to be straightforward in their mechanical construction, unlike the byzantine contortions some people feel it’s necessary to put the rules through to achieve a character of their liking.

So yeah, now I think I get where they’re coming from with the Sentinels. I’m still not a fan, but I am interested by the mention of Emerald City as a place where the super-villain set has had time to put down roots. I had mentally checked out of the third edition because hey, I’m perfectly happy with the second, but I’ll certainly keep an eye on Emerald City. At the very least it could be a good source for tone and flavor with which to repaint Freedom City. Call it my East Coast bias, but I like this end of the country for my role-playing exploits.