Monthly Archives: July 2013

Literature and Gaming

Note: As many of the books I will be discussing are in the public domain, their titles link to where you can download free ebooks of them from Project Gutenberg or MobileRead, the online community that provided the vast majority of the books on my ereader.

Both as players and as GMs, we get our inspiration from a variety of sources. I’ve always been a fan of classic literature, but lately I’ve been reading even more than usual. As I was working my way through volume 3 of Tarzan, the next story in the book sounded like it might be a sort-of sequel to Jules Verne’s Journey to the Interior of the Earth. As that was also on my reading list, I decided to read it first, especially since Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea is one of my favorite books.

One thing I love about roleplaying is that it makes me relate to books in new ways – even books I don’t otherwise enjoy!

I’m sad to say that the book was rather disappointing (prompting me to read The Mysterious Island, over which I have lost sleep since I can’t put it down), but it still inspired me to run a sci-fi or sci-fantasy campaign set inside a Dyson Sphere-inspired planet with a small artificial sun, but the population has no idea that they are inside a man-made sphere, because millennia ago something happened that knocked civilization back to the Stone Age. One thing I love about roleplaying is that it make me relate to books in new ways – even books I don’t otherwise enjoy!

That got me wondering how many other roleplayers are literature buffs. I assume that most, if not all, are at least familiar with The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, even if they haven’t read them, but what about other classics?

So here’s what I’d like to know:
1) What is your favorite work of classic fiction?
2) What is your favorite work of classic fiction to use as gaming inspiration?

I’ll get us started:
#1 has to be A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, the only really old book I read at least once a year. Time travel stories have always been among my favorites, as are any that star engineers (at the time of my accident I was studying Mechanical Engineering, with my sights set on being an inventor; now I instead invent games and stories) – Yankee has both. In a very rare occurrence, I even like every adaptation of it I’ve ever seen (especially Bing Crosby’s rom-com treatment), despite the fact that I have yet to see one that is even remotely close to the source material, especially in tone.

#2 is tougher. Tolkien’s writings, especially The Silmarillion, have always determined what I think of when I hear “elf” when talking about roleplaying games. Oddly, even though I hear people repeatedly say they are tired of all the Tolkien elves in trpgs, I have yet to see one that actually has Tolkien elves. Tolkien’s elves mostly look like humans, but are more beautiful and imbued with more innate magic.

That last aspect inspired the three different types of humans in one of my books (elves have more magic potential, and that tends to make them have strangely-colored eyes and hair, but they are otherwise exactly like other humans). For the past several years that world has been my default setting for each new campaign (although I don’t always stick with it), so I think it’s safe to say that it is from Tolkien’s books as a whole that I have derived the most gaming inspiration, from The Silmarillion most of all.

So what about you? What are your favorites?

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Pre-gens for D&D Encounters Search for the Diamond Staff

Since Wizards of the Coast hasn’t provided any pre-generated characters for the Search for the Diamond Staff season of Encounters, I decided to adapt some of my old Encounters characters. As they are all characters I’ve actually played they they have their names (except one that I never named) and other fluff details filled in, but there’s no reason why players can’t make up all of their own fluff.

Since characters this season will start at level 4 and advance to level 6, these characters have all three levels represented on a single sheet of paper, making them suitable no matter when a new player shows up during the season. They are also designed to be relatively simple for the sake of players new to the system, but are still marked as to the relative difficulty of each (with Slayer being a 1 and Runepriest and Swordmage being 5s).

I’ll be adding a human to the mix eventually. Initially I had planned to make a mage (based on my much-beloved “haiku mage” who only speaks in haiku), but our Encounters group already has two sorcerers, a hexblade, and a bladesinger, as well as a hunter, so they really don’t need another spell-chucker or another controller.

For the most part each of them has the character on the front of the sheet, and a summary of the game on the back. The back side explains the action economy and defines a few game terms, shows how the character’s attack, damage, initiative, and defenses are calculated, and details at what levels the character got which abilities. That way the player should only need to flip over the page to look up an unfamiliar term and can more easily focus on the action.

I certainly wouldn’t mind hearing what you think of the layout and what terms I included on the back. I struggled to limit the list to not overwhelm new players, but also wanted to make sure they had all the most crucial info they needed right there on the page. My most doubtful addition is Readied Actions. I have removed and re-added it so many times that I’ve lost count.

My wife and I both proofread these to make sure they were correct, but if we missed anything please let me know so I can fix it immediately. Likewise please tell me if you think I’ve given one the wrong difficulty level. We disagreed on one of them so I’ll be surprised if no one else does (and I’m still not sure if Knight actually deserves to be a 4 or should instead be a 3).

So please take them, try to break them, and let total newbies try them out. Then tell me what you think (although I’ll be away from the Internet until the weekend).

Lastly, each sheet includes “Do NOT remove from store” and “Return to DM” in the top margins. If you intend to let players take them home, then I’m happy to remake them without that, or can you provide the OpenOffice.org Writer originals (which I’ll probably do anyway after I get back next week).


Character Summaries

Remember that you are required to use absolutely none of this, but I though you might be interested in seeing what guided me through the character creation process.

Dwarf Knight – Farga Kneecleaver

Farga started out as part of my party in Icewind Dale, but took on a life of his own once I began to play him in a HackMaster 4e campaign.

Too poor to afford fighter school and from a family that couldn’t support him, Farga made a deal with a traveling half-elf merchant: in exchange for tuition, he would serve as her bodyguard for two years after graduation. As she was a bit of a swindler – and more than willing to use her looks to get a better deal – Farga learned quite a bit from her that he would not have otherwise. Among other things, he became fluent in Elven (his background bonus). He only lacks Bluff because I had to choose between it and the roleplaying potential of a dwarf speaking Elven.

He is acquainted with Jeron because Reine, his half-elven benefactor, is Jeron’s “baby” sister.

Elf Sun Warpirest – Jeron Sheàri

Jeron is the son of an elven ranger and human fighter. Among other things, his mother could use magic to enhance the efficacy of herbal poultices. His father, Alden, was the youngest son of a merchant family. As there would not have been enough inheritance to go around, Alden left home with only his father’s sword and armor and made a name for himself as a bounty hunter and slayer of goblin-kin.

Thus Jeron has his father’s combat prowess (and hatred of goblins, thus his third language) and his mother’s healing magic, yet is far more soft-spoken than both.

He is acquainted with Farga because his “baby” sister, Reine, hired Farga as a bodyguard.

(I’m not totally happy with the spelling of his last name even though I’ve been working on it for more than five years. It is supposed to be pronounced she-are-ee, with the emphasis on the middle syllable. If you can think of a better way to spell it, then please tell me.)

Halfing Thief – Unnamed

He was originally inspired by the kobold slingers in Keep on the Shadowfell. Using their kobold racial ability Shifty (shift 1 square as a move action), they would step out from behind some boulders, fire off a shot (frequently a pot of something unpleasant), and then shift back behind the rocks. Thus they became known as “shifty little bastards”, leading me to code-name him “SLiB”. Unfortunately I only played him twice and never thought of a better name, so SLiB it remains for now.

Abandoned at an early age, SLiB was raised by kobolds and now considers himself a kobold rather than a halfling. It is no surprise, therefore, that he learned to fight like one of them. He was also quite surprised to learn that dragons speak Kobold, his first language (he rejoined society long enough ago to learn Common, but just barely).

Half-orc Scout – Kronk Axefist

Originally a highway bandit, Kronk joined the side of good during the War of Everlasting Darkness. Sadly I never got to play him so I don’t have much beyond that, but his fighting style very much decided his class for me.

He prefers to start each fight from the shadows, where he has sized up his opponents. Then, on his order, the party charges from all sides, causing confusion. At first he literally charges into combat, lashing out with has axes in all directions. Once engaged he constantly dances around the battlefield, staying out of harm’s way while injuring as many enemies as possible (using his Aspect of the Cunning Fox).

To date his only real combat experience is against caravan guards and unarmed travelers, so how he will fair in real combat is yet to be known.

(Bonus “You Are Awesome” points if you know where I got the name “Kronk”.)