Friday, August 14, 2020

CANYON: A one-page solo RPG

The inimitable Luther Gutekunst of Archon's Court posted a 200-word RPG today. Here's his description:

Canyon is a duet game about resource management and unexpected solutions, set in a largely undescribed post-apocalypse. I haven't gotten to test it yet, but I'd like to.

It's really good. I played a test run. It wasn't supposed to be a solo RPG, but the way the ghoul acts seemed so perfect for scripting that I couldn't help but think of it as one.

A handful of discord messages, a hastily googled public domain stock photo, and an hour and a half in photoshop later, I turned it into a one-page solo game:

Click for big, or here for PDF.

Like all solo RPGs, this one probably requires a little bit of interpretation on the part of the player/GM - but not much. 

In case it helps, here are two playtest reports with very slight differences in interpretation. Both are correct:

Saturday, August 8, 2020

Let Me Tell You About My D&D Character(s)

DandyMan over at Throne of Salt posted a whole bunch of their old characters and it got me thinking I should do that. I don't have the character sheets, but I'll see if I can assemble an approximate timeline of my life in TTRPG characters regardless!

I fully expect nobody will read this, as it is both deeply personal and by far the longest post on my blog to date (not counting the Mountain PHB I guess, if you include linked documents). Ah well, it was a fun trip down memory lane.


The Mists of History (c. 2000)

I started playing D&D with the red box, which my parents bought for me at a garage sale or thrift store when I was in elementary school and about 7 years old. I played one or two abortive games with the example dungeon in the box. I don't even remember who DM'd - it might have been me! I do remember the party being TPK'd by the fucking Carrion Crawler, however. And that the teacher I had roped into playing with me rolled a Magic-User with 1 HP.

I did not play red box again. Which is too bad, because it managed to teach a 7-year-old me what D&D was and more or less how to play it - albeit with the help of an older student and a teacher who had both also never played before. That's pretty incredible!

Regrettable Youth (c. 2001-2005)

Middle school! One of my friends knew what D&D was, and he ran a game that was certainly not D&D, played with our imaginations and absolutely no dice, books, pencils, or paper. I remember it cribbing heavily from Warcraft 3 and a little bit from like, Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver, which I had forgotten the name of and my (genius) partner somehow managed to identify from the extremely flawed description I gave them while writing this: "what was the like, PS2 or PS2-era PC game with the vampire guy who was ugly and had a big scarf over his face? I don't think it was Devil May Cry but it might have played like it... I wanna say "soul eater" but apparently that's an anime fighting game"

We did not ever play a tabletop game with rules.

<Foucault quote> (c. 2006-2007)

High school! 3.5e was out, I was old enough and nerdy enough to understand it, and there were people who played nearly every day! None of our games played at school lasted very long, but I did play in one fairly successful campaign run outside of school, near the end.
  • 3.5e - Bob, Human Fighter. Yes, I played a (presumably white) male human fighter named Bob, in one of many short-lived school games. He started at level 5 and was eaten by a vampire in his first or second session. He is one of the only characters of this era I remember.
  • 3.5e - CN Goliath. All I remember is playing a goliath and taking Monkey Grip for a stupendously oversized weapon.
  • 3.5e - Deep Imaskari Transmuter. Created for a game outside of school, a high-level (10th?) dungeon crawl through some module or other. Discovered an illusory wall concealing a tunnel, walked through it, was promptly bitten by a giant spider, and succumbed to the poison - all within the space of the first session. I don't remember if the game lasted beyond that.
  • 3.5e - I don't remember my character at all but we tried to play Expedition to Undermountain at least twice. I think I was an artificer at least one of those times.
  • 3.5e - Spellscale Sorcerer. Focused on fire magic, blew things up in a brief campaign run by my girlfriend at the time and including only one other player (who was playing a duskblade of a race I forget). The campaign was notable for being set on a world comprised of nothing but a single, immense Mountain... a concept which obviously left a lasting impression on me.
  • Shadowrun 3e - Troll. We played Shadowrun at least once. I think it would have been 3e, at the time. I was a heavily augmented troll, I remember taking a shotgun blast in the chest from a Lone Star agent and jumping out of a 3rd story window. I think I was fine after both, but we never played again.
  • 3.5e - 9² (pronounced "nine squared"), LE Warforged Monk/Rogue. Relied on a generous reading of the Monkey Grip feat that let it apply to Battlefists, a Warforged item that gave you a giant fist. I think I combined it with some other ability for a truly gigantic fist - as large as my character, because of course 3.5e has rules to determine how big a weapon is. 9² also had Rogue levels, the feat that allowed rogue and monk levels to stack for Sneak Attack or Flurry of Blows or something, and the Exemplars of Evil alternate Monk class feature that allows one round of invisibility on a three-round cooldown - which I recall I decided was too powerful to use as written (it was) so I stated that 9² would invariably use it on cooldown - flickering in and out of view on a regular timer like some sort of multidimensional fluorescent on the fritz. As an explanation for why 9² possessed these abilities, they were a construct created by some great extradimensional evil ("the old gods") and sent to the campaign setting to understand, consume, and eventually destroy it. I mostly roleplayed this by making a point to scoop the warm brains out of everything I killed and jam them into a grate in the front of my warforged skull to be incinerated. Unfortunately, I don't think the campaign lasted beyond a handful of sessions.
  • 3.5e - Rage McCoy, CE Strongheart Halfling Rogue. Created for an out-of-school dungeoncrawling campaign, I think the first successfully long-lived campaign that I participated in. Rage was mechanically a Strongheart Halfling, but narratively a creature born of the Infinite Layers of the Abyss - after all, it stands to reason that if the abyss is truly infinite (it is) then races exactly alike to those on the material plane would exist somewhere in it. I had a whole backstory about how and why he was present on the Prime Material, but I don't remember it - something about being banished by a demon lord or powerful sorcerer, and questing to find a way back home to kill it. A very small, very angry, extremely deadly halfling, who was briefly possessed by a bloodthirsty cursed hammer and, I think, died to a gargoyle. I (much) later recycled this character concept for Skin, a character in an entirely different game, so I definitely liked it.
  • 3.5e - Sol, CG or NG Human Cleric. I believe this was the character I played after Rage died in the same campaign, and he was a fairly standard holy-warrior cleric type - boosted by the fact that we were 7th or 8th level by then and he could be a twelve-foot titan of divine might with full base attack bonus 24/7 thanks to Divine Metamagic. I recycle this guy as an NPC often, and he might have been the start of my love for playing bombastic and extraordinarily confident heretical religious nutjobs.
I know this is a bit of a heretical opinion among OSR grogs, but 3.5e remains my favorite version of D&D to this day.

The Innocence of Youth (c. 2008-2010)

When I was 16 I dropped out of high school, got a job, and moved in with my girlfriend at the time. She ran a very long campaign with several of our mutual friends, which is to date the only long-term D&D campaign I've played in that actually managed to reach a conclusion. I've run games (both D&D and not) that reached a suitably climactic endpoint, and I've played in non-D&D games that did, but this remains the only D&D game I was a player in which achieved that.
  • 3.5e - Grittinius Vox Vercettitrix ("Vox"), TN Wood Elf Barbarian. Oh my god. This was a whole thing. I found the Obsidian Portal page for this campaign. Unfortunately it looks like we stopped using it after four sessions - although the campaign continued for the better part of a year, going from 4th to 9th level. I'll see what I can remember.
    • Vox's character was based almost entirely, from what I can remember, on (NSFW) Kronar of Oglaf. Don't click that link if you're a child.
    • His description contained the phrase "Clad in a small leather pouch and a large shirt of brilliant silver mail, he strikes a figure both intimidating and resplendent with masculine sensuality.", which might be the single best line of prose I've ever written.
    • His 'bio' was this, which is mostly notable for proving that my sense of humor hasn't changed at all in the intervening almost-exactly-a-decade, since it's one of the funniest things I've ever written I think: 
    • Immediately below that, there was a link to a 4-page backstory of incredibly purple prose.
    • I described his wood elf (more of a 'snow elf' really) tribe as generally making use of two weapons - the long knife and the hunting spear
    • The "long knife" is a greatsword, the "hunting spear" is a glaive. I thought this was tremendously funny as well.
    • Being a wood elf (STR bonus) barbarian (with Whirling Frenzy and Lion Totem - the Complete Champion version) with Leap Attack and such, he was an absolute fucking terror.
    • His main character trait was aggressively intimidating people into telling him "everything they know about dragons".
    • I had a blast.
Unfortunately, Vox died (I think he leap attacked right off of the deck of an airship, it was a glorious death) around level 6 or 7, and I had to make a new character.

  • 3.5e - ???? ("Arbor"), LE Grey Elf Psion/Thrallherd. Unfortunately this was after we stopped using Obsidian Portal for the campaign, so I've lost most of the details for my followup to Vox. What I do remember:
    • He was a member of the shaman caste of the same viking-esque elf tribe as Vox.
    • Being a shaman, he used the traditional weapon of the caste - the Ame spirit axe (it was a greataxe). Mostly for the x3 crit on coup de grace, because as a psion he mainly fought by rendering opponents helpless.
    • I had a thrall who was basically mini-Vox, because of course.
    • This campaign had a fairly uncontested main character - one of us was an Aasimar cleric of nature and light named Evayna, a good person by any metric, and generally played the 'straight man' to our collective comedic urges and attempted derails and kept us on track. 
    • The main goal of the campaign was to acquire some sort of incredibly powerful magic amulet, which would end the world and allow us to remake it according to our whims. It was basically a foregone conclusion that the cleric, Evayna, would be the one to do this since she was the only person in probably the entire campaign setting that could be trusted with that sort of power.
    • At the very end of the campaign, we fought the BBEG - some sort of ancient nightmare dragon. There was a climactic battle, Evayna was wounded but not dead, and finally, our foe was brought down.
    • I'm sure you can see where this is going.
    • Arbor stole the amulet from Evayna's weakened grasp at the last moment, triggering its ability and ending the world only to remake it into an icy crucible of suffering and hardship exactly like the snowy island he was born on.
I feel kinda bad about that now, but damn was it ever fun at the time.

  • WEG Star Wars D6 - Zlotto Malchik, Toydarian. An attempt to play an inversion of the anti-semitic caricature of Watto in the Phantom Menace, backed up by the excellent combat-related stats given to Toydarians by some kind D6Holocron editor. Since the Empire are (blatantly) Space Nazis crossed with the British Empire, Zlotto was a grizzled mercenary veteran in the model of B.J. Blazkowicz, just with a little pot belly and wings. Unfortunately that campaign only lasted a handful of sessions, but it inspired in me a deep love for the WEG SWD6 system which lives on in my heart to this day.

The Early Modern Era (c. 2016-2019)

There followed quite a long time (six years? ish?) where I didn't play in any games, though I did run several games of a post-apocalyptic d20hack that I should really type up for the blog some day, but here's a link to the generators I used to stock it for the time being. One of the most positive outcomes of this was that in doing so I introduced a friend to the wonders of TTRPGs, and he later went on to run several cyberpunk and time-traveling weirdo games using the same system. The latter three characters below were for his games, the first one was for a Roll20 campaign of FFG Star Wars that I played with some pals from leftbook.

  • 5e - ????, ?? Elven Cleric. I don't remember this game at all, and it might have been slightly before 2016. I played a single session, was bitterly disappointed in the generic fantasy setting of the campaign, the GM's style, and the 5e rules, and never went back.
  • FFG Star Wars - Eka, Droideka. Eka was a Destroyer Droid and veteran of the Clone Wars, rescued from the scrapheap by a rogue Nemoidian engineer named Puf Sriiko during/after the fall of the Trade Federation and spirited away to some backwater planet where it became one of the founding members of a Rebel cell. One notable trait was that it had a vocalizer module pulled from a riot control droid vehicle, so it had two volumes: "loud", and "ear-shattering".
    • This campaign inspires pride in me, not a strange combination of laughter and shame like the one Vox was a part of, so I'll post some direct links to the Obsidian Portal for it:
    • I had a (much shorter than Vox's, thankfully) little backstory as to why Eka was sentient. 
    • The campaign involved us (quite quickly, actually) staging a large-scale prison break at the Imperial detainment facilities on the planet where we started, seizing a custom luxury megaliner, and assembling a rag-tag flotilla around it for our little Rebel army known as "The Nameless".
    • I wrote a few notes on our organization as well as the charter for it, the former largely from my thoughts on how a self-sufficient Anarchist military force might actually be organized for guerrilla warfare and the latter largely from some research notes on historical pirate charters in the age of sail.
    • This game has been in stasis for at least two years now, but I still hold out hope it will be revived some day.
  • Time Cops - Sunflower Jade Ocean ("Sunny"), US Marine/Stoner/Pilot/Wasted Youth. Sunny was a gifted child born to a pair of neo-hippies (hence the name). Due to never being vaccinated, he had a close brush with death as an infant and never fully recovered (he had like, 6 CON). He flew a crop duster for his parents' vineyard before he was drafted, acquiring some flight skills, but wasted them (as he did his innate grasp of technology and generally amazing hand-eye coordination and physical dexterity) by spending his free time getting high.
    • The core conceit of Time Cops was that our party were a small band of losers drafted into the USMC as a result of some nightmare war with Russia in 2026 (this game started around when it looked like Hillary was going to win), who were quickly press-ganged into some time traveling shenanigans by a secret government organization, rescuing a young scientist named Teddy and escaping into the past just as the first ICBMs hit San Francisco.
    • Although the campaign was called "Time Cops", we mostly ended up shooting and and being shot at by cops, actually.
    • The campaign lasted a very long time, and was one of the more fun games I've ever played.
  • Pacifica - Janus "Sick Boy" Stanislawski, Old Tech Enthusiast, Self-Destructive Drug Addict, Smart Aleck, Soundcloud Rapper, Sharpshooter. Sick Boy was a very similar character to Sunny in many ways. He had essentially the same statline, and his story followed approximately the same beats - signing up with the Corporate Coalition in the 2040s, he was shipped to Denver to fight the US government in the crisis that won the megacorps collective extraterritoriality and destroyed what of the state's little legitimacy was left at that point. Unfortunately, he was hit with some sort of bioweapon, and nearly died before even seeing combat. Treated at a military hospital, he was discharged immediately once he had stabilized, and cut off from further corporate aid.
    • Sick Boy had probably the deepest characterization and best arc of any character I've ever played, going from a relatively incompetent layabout to a genuine revolutionary leader. Along the way I learned a lot about him - his struggling with and eventual acceptance of his sexuality, his gradual move from self-destruction to self-actualization and improvement, his freedom from drug addiction (fraught with several relapses), and his appreciation for high-powered plasma rail rifles.
    • Pacifica was also run with the ruleset I designed for my post-apocalyptic game, but was set in a more traditional cyberpunk world. The campaign ran for more than two years and spanned themes from low-level gang warfare, to Shadowrun-like deniable asset missions, to consolidation of our hold over territory, to liberation of an entire city from its corporate overlords in, essentially, a massive ground war. It was immensely satisfying.
  • Time Cops 2 - Skin, Raider. Skin was a character for the sequel to Time Cops. He was a small, angry man (or boy?) of indeterminate age and race, plucked from the post-apocalyptic setting I ran several campaigns in - we decided that since Time Cops was a pastiche of everything, it made sense for it to have tendrils in every game we had run or would run in the future from that point, and so every PC in the sequel came from a different timeline. He was very similar to Rage in many ways, but I had a lot of fun with characterizing him further. He didn't have quite the same arc as Sick Boy, but I was still very pleased with it - he developed from a frantic, angry survivalist who couldn't read and never thought of anything beyond his next meal, to a more coldly melancholic figure who was resigned to the futility of trying to fix time itself but determined to keep trying to win, literally, a better future for everyone.

Present Day (c. 2020)

Now we get to the characters I'm either currently playing, or was playing in games within this year:

  • Starfinder - Saros “BADSTAR” al-Hariq bint Ayasellah Mihelar Khalidlah, Bastard Princess of the City of Brass, LE Ifrit Solarian Noble Scion. A friend of mine from the Starsector community started a Starfinder PbP campaign at level 3, so naturally I rolled up a character with an incredibly overblown backstory involving her being, yes, literally the bastard princess of the City of Brass, and also time travel. I think I did this partially out of protest at Starfinder being one o' them newfangled D&Ds where PCs never die. I had a whole two-paragraph copy/paste written for a magical girl transformation sequence where she summons her Solarian sword and another one for her "finishing move", It was glorious and I got to use each one about twice, since the campaign proceeded through one "mission" and then went on indefinite hiatus.
  • Lancer - Hex, Horus/IPS-Northstar Pilot (Pegasus/Raleigh Mech). Made for a Roll20 campaign set in the world of Starsector with the addition of Lancer mechs. Had a bit of cool story about being a cloned Knight of Westernesse who was brutally fucked around by Alpha-level AI during some mission to the Fringe, but never really got to explore it - the GM didn't really understand the rhythm of Lancer and the game was extremely unsatisfying.
  • 3.5e - Jesh the Accursed, CG/CN Dragonborn Mongrelfolk Dragonfire Adept. I joined a PbP 3.5e server that was running several concurrent games with different GMs in a shared homebrew Forgotten Realms campaign setting, and made a DFA because I wanted to flex those CharOp muscles without ruining the game for the rest of the players in the game I joined (who were, I think, two Fighters and a Samurai). Jesh was formerly a famed paladin of Bahamut, who had been struck down and cursed by a great evil and now wandered the world in penance for her failure. I had started her as CG but planned to switch her over to CE relatively quickly (helped along by one of the first engagements we had being killing some sort of Lovecraftian elder god thing, which disillusioned her greatly) to become an Ur-Priest. The character went well, I was happy with her and she contributed hugely to a couple of fights without overshadowing anyone, but I quit after only a handful of sessions because the GM, while meaning well, was frankly incompetent. That was the closest I ever got to the RPG horror stories I hear about 4e/5e campaigns that are just a railroad of setpiece battles with very little player agency between them.
  • BFRPG/GLOG - Many Bugbears. I joined Wizzzargh's open table campaign (BFRPG but allowing GLOG classes) during an intra-party civil war, which in retrospect was probably a mistake. I rolled up Many Goblins, which was upgraded to Many Bugbears on account of there already being some bugbears around, and was promptly involved in a quadruple-cross plot by one of the players, which in retrospect was definitely a mistake - especially because we promptly lost the civil war! The Many Bugbears were summarily executed to a bugbear, and the last one fled into the mirror realm.
    • Really wish I hadn't done that, tbh. The quadruple-cross plot part.
  • BFRPG/GLOG - Mani skel Etons, Fassulian Human Necromancer (Skerples' version). My replacement character, after the resolution of the civil war, was Mani - a greenskinned noble necromancer from Fassulia, a desert country that forbids necromancy. I'm very fond of her, played her for a few sessions and she's still technically playable, but I haven't been able to keep up with the breakneck pace of the game for quite a while now so she remains in stasis. She had a lovely text accent, affect of humming constantly, and unquenchable curiousity, which I picked up from another player in the Starfinder game I played Saros in.
  • BFRPG - Magpie Burnt-Face, Dwarf Cleric. Created for another BFRPG game on the same server but run by a different person, going through an edited version of Peril of the Purple Planet, a DCC module, and played for two or three sessions. Also still technically alive, but in stasis for the same reason of it being hard to keep up with the open table for me.
  • Vain the Sword - Panko Fang, Gnoll Acolyte of Iron. A crochety old gnoll who worships an anti-god devoted to the destruction of all things and the final death of souls. A sort of weird wise man, who tells koans to rocks, lies to mercenaries, shattered his own legs with a WORD of power once, and is utterly assured that his philosophies are correct. He fully fits the mold of "bombastic and extraordinarily confident heretical religious nutjob" and I love him.
  • G20/NO LIGHT NO WARMTH - Alpha Priest, Umbran Oiled Paladin. Is it a conflict of interest to play a class I made? Maybe, but I'm having a grand time. She was created for deus ex parabola's Face campaign, fully fits the mold of "bombastic and extraordinarily confident heretical religious nutjob", and she's one of my favorite characters I've ever played.
  • Sunless Horizon - Eni L√©ashvath, Iklen Jackal. After playing Panko and Alpha, I realized I had hit upon a stellar formula for characters I love to play, so naturally when I was invited to the Sunless Horizon playtest game and saw there was a phenotype who had been created to be priests for the malign super-AI that governs Ein Soph and serves as its god I jumped at that chance. Eni is sort of a reptilian sci-fi restatement of Panko, fully fits the mold of "bombastic and extraordinarily confident heretical religious nutjob", and I greatly enjoy playing her.

Observations

What have I learned by typing this?
  • I love 3.5e, it's my favorite TSR/WOTC D&D game. Both earlier and later editions just feel lacking to me. Basic (not ECMI or /X, just B) is a close second, I suppose, but if I wanted to play Basic I'd play OSE and not a TSR product.
  • My early characters, even the long-running ones, had a certain immaturity to them. But I reimagined some of those earlier tropes into more complex characters later (Rage -> Skin, Sol -> Panko, Alpha, and Eni, Vox -> Saros kind of in a way) and found them immensely satisfying.
  • I've played most 'archetypes' over the years. Wizards are probably my least favorite, but I do like Mani a lot, so that's not a constant. I've done a lot of stabby/snipey roguish types (Rage, Sunny, Sick Boy, and Skin all fit this mold), skilled and fearsome noble warriors (Vox, Saros, plus some I never got to play), and bombastic and extraordinarily confident heretical religious nutjobs (Sol, Pano, Alpha, Eni), and those are definitely my favorite tropes.
  • This is a fun thing to do and you should make a post like this.

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Ultimate Megasuperultracombinant Class Generator

Since my last post there have been like, at least four more batches of GLOG microclasses.

The posts relevant to this that are known to me are collected here:

Because I am a slave to the zeitgeist, I compiled all of them into a single generator.

Be warned, it is much less coherent than the last one. I may prune it a bit later - it was actually doing great until I added the last batch.