D&D: Le Tome of Bread

So, the post previous to this one was quite strange, out of the blue, and possibly surreal (your mileage may vary.) Regardless, I felt that providing context would be at the very least amusing, until such a time as God strikes me again with great spiritual motion to write something else significant.

So, Pierre is an NPC from my most recent Dungeons and Dragons campaign, hosted with a group of new friends from my also new church here in Tampa. They were all new to the game, while I have several years of experience in writing and designing not only my own campaigns, but my own balanced rule-sets to incorporate mechanics I could not find in any amount of rule supplements (nor did I have the inclination to spend money on them). They needed a Dungeon Master, and I thought it would be a fun way to spend a weekend (not knowing I would also get dinner and enough Dr. Pepper to drown in).

So, there they were on a halfling caravan, adventurers from far-off lands various: Erik Withakay, an alcoholic palace guard from the mountain kingdoms of Nowhertall, who put in a two week notice and left to see the plains below the mountain peaks; Elle Many-Daggers, the gnome grad student turned chipper, socially-awkward thief; and Volos, the unwanted scion of King Haddock of the Tritons, on a journey to find meaning in life, and acridly criticize everything along the way. Arriving in the little village of Lapplaken, which was the only habitation across the wide Lapplake swamp, they quickly discovered that this pit-stop was not only going to be extended by the oncoming flood rains making land-bound traveling an impossibility, but this pit-stop was to be in the hodunkest of hodunk towns. The nominally elven sheriff and his deputies probably had a combined alphabet of maybe three vowels and six consonants, and the intellectual level of the majority of the town’s public figures was comparable to a concussed sea slug. Depressed by their rude surroundings, Withakay quickly fell prey to mushroom rum, began quoting some unknown troubadour group called Verdant Day, and passed out over the bar. Elle was able to hold her liquor well enough to be mentally present for a harried young woman looking for the help of altruistic adventurers, and Volos was able to restrain his inner critic long enough to agree to help the single mother find her lost son without laying into her on her poor parenting skills.

Now a lot happened in between; they grilled the Three Bobs for information, and deduced that Short Bob was an idiot, Tall Bob was even more so, and Weird Bob was either the only smart man in the entire village, so stupid he was approaching intelligence from the other side, or just an imbecilic vampire.

There was a gnome archaeologist named Avelldon who was related to their quest, to find a missing boy who was lost in the swamps (which were also filled with ancient and mysterious ruins, because the people of Lapplaken were just full of great ideas when they settled their little village on top of the drowned ruins of an eons old undersea city of the dormant empire of dimension-swimming snake people. Good call Sheriff Rourke).

Avelldon was to be a collector of magical knickknacks and this-or-that’s, who could be pressured or persuaded to help the party by giving them enchanted gear and spell scrolls to help even the odds against their vastly more numerous and more powerful enemies (since they only had level 1 gear and were up against CR 8 monsters). One of these items was a magical talking book who could conjure bread at will, named The Tome of Bread. I thought this would be an amusing way to help the party not worry about the logistics of feeding themselves while still instilling in them the importance of packing sufficient rations for when they graduated to a more hardcore adventure.

So their first meeting with the Tome of Bread was on the trek to Avelldon’s house, after being subtly prompted by the frankly abysmal intellect of the average Lapplaken villager that he was probably their best bet to get any remotely useful intelligence. Upon walking up to the house, they were greeted by what sounded like a boisterous Frenchman shouting, “LE BAGUETTE!” repeatedly.

Moments later, a leather bound book appeared in the window, opened its pages, and with a LE BAGUETTE to ring down the ages, bombarded them with a hail of fresh baked baguettes.

To be continued in Part 2…

 

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Half-Lucidity: Getting into Character

Actors, singers, dungeon masters, and roleplayers all talk about getting into character, stressing how vital it is to the quality of the performance / game to have good roleplaying. And we know what it is, or at least what it looks like, just by intuition. But how does one get there, without years and years of practice or innate talent (or psychopathic manipulation)?

The answer is (not-entirely) simple: what would your character do, and why?

Roleplaying will come more naturally if you understand your character’s background and why their personality has turned out the way it has. This requires some more effort on the development side, but will reward you with increased immersion. It’s one thing to have your character obsessively collect puppies and paint them sky blue. It’s funny a few times, but after a while, with no apparent reason for it, it can quickly become a mere annoyance.

But what if he had a strong reason? Strange as it may be, what if his reason for painting puppies is because he’s secretly part of a doomsday cult that believes the world will end under an invasion of blue dogs, and he is setting up the end of the world by painting the dogs blue and indoctrinating them into hyper-aggressive dog soldiers when no one else is looking? Not only is it more interesting and possibly generating its own involved storyline, it’s also freaking hilarious, and evolves from slapstick to an inside joke.

Here’s my example:

Jenny has decided (or been coerced by her impatient and demanding DM) to expand her horizons and roleplay someone besides the standard-issue lithe, manipulative rogue type. So, she goes with a gruff male fighter named Jeff, because she wants to use the line from 22 Jump Street. But her DM isn’t satisfied with that. ‘What’s his personality like? Why is he a fighter? Why is he going out to save his village?’

Now, the easy way out is to make him a gruff mercenary who is (naturally) grizzled by his years of experience, and is saving the world for dimes and dames. But such a character is so cliched it’s difficult to play him well without spending an exhaustive amount of time developing the history of an already matured character.

So Jenny makes Jeff a nervous, withdrawn momma’s boy. And before her DM can pester her again, she preempts him and thinks about why he might be this way, and how on earth such an individual would become an adventurer.

“Jeff was never really any good at anything. He was always middle of the back, and never stood out. He wasn’t really that strong, or smart, or clever or talented. The only thing that others ever noticed about him was that he was always there, rain or snow, sleet or hail. He knew he would never stand out here, and he feared the loneliness of growing old without someone beside him or real friends. So though he’s not really brave, strong, smart, or any adjective that would indicate a hero, he’s got a heart of gold and a will of iron, and no matter how many times you knock him down, he’ll get back up, again and again. The strongest warriors are those that don’t quit. And though he hasn’t received a lot of love from his village, and has little to keep him from leaving, he wants to be the hero. He wants to save the day. And he wants something to matter enough to him that he’d die for it. Realizing that nothing will matter that much if he doesn’t try, he’s decided to risk it all, do or die to be reborn a hero.”

Jenny’s DM stares at her, and slowly begins to grin.


More important than mannerisms, accents, quirks or oddities, knowing why your character is risking his or her life is the most important part of roleplaying in D&D, and roleplaying in general. Embedding yourself in the character’s desires and emotions will allow you to more easily perform their associated verbal tics and make player decisions that feel like they really matter. From this proceeds a story that makes more sense, requires less DM prodding, feels freer, more organic, and much more entertaining.

Quirks are just icing on the cake (very much appreciated and iced cake is preferable to plain cake).

P.S. Doing young or inexperienced character with a fairly shallow background is actually better for roleplaying than some guy who’s had decades of experience and taken every sort of blow a man can take. Those young characters can still have traumatic events that define them, but their youth and relative inexperience means that the adventures they undertake can still leave a mark on their still impressionable minds. Plus, the younger the character, the less time you have to cover when making your background.

It’s Been a While, so Here’s a Game!

Something I didn’t make clear in my previous D&D centered posts is my absurd and self-flagellating obsession with modding. Tabletop games, that is, not computer games (which at this stage still overwhelms my capacity for code lingo.)

I find D&D a flawed system— but only in the same sense of a large hunk of unsmelted iron oxide. With a forge, hours of labor, a few watts of electricity for computer power, and the anvil of my desk (using my forehead as the hammer), I can make nearly any imaginable creation from it.

Continue reading It’s Been a While, so Here’s a Game!

Day Six: How Cramping Doesn’t Cramp You

Shame upon me, I’m late!

In spending an evening listening to remixes of the glorious compositions of the underestimated Ennio Morricone, I entirely forgot to put up a post last night. Which, really, isn’t that big a deal.

But principles matter.

And that’s why I adhere to realism in my roleplay.

No, not for its own sake, to accurately model fencing manuals of the late fifteenth century and paint a stark lithograph of a fight in armored harness. At the end of the day, it’s still a game, not training for a post-apocalyptic scenario in which your local SCA group must band together to defend the town against mutants and zombified football hooligans.

Continue reading Day Six: How Cramping Doesn’t Cramp You

Day One (?): It’s the Players that Make the Play

Okay, first real post.

Now that we’ve made an acquaintance of each other (if we haven’t PM me for an intimate, sensual, and mentally disturbed personalized Acquaintance-Maker 9000), here goes:

The Case Against Heroes: Storytelling in Roleplay and Writing

Heroes just aren’t that fun to GM for.

This is not a belittlement of players, nor of the heroic narrative. It’s a commentary on what makes a truly fascinating hero, as far as writers, dungeon masters, and role-players are concerned, condensed into three neat points, and probably leaving out a lot of other details (I need more than one post, alright?)

In a good campaign, regardless of what plot the DM may have laid out, it is ultimately the players’ characters who tell the story. At least, I assume that’s what a good campaign is because my players are still with me, and I’ve come to accept that whatever story I write down is not the one that will be told.

With that said, the player characters do not necessarily tell a good story. The DM may not have a better one either. In fact, separate, without communication, it is virtually impossible to create a quality story. It might create some occasional eye-roll worthy moments or the odd burst of laughter as a random passerby is mugged for his kidneys, but characters disjointed from setting can’t tell a story that can touch (a subject for another blogpost in itself.)

When it comes time for a new setting and to ask my players to roll up new characters, I’ve noticed they tend towards the epic scale of character origins. The example I’ll use here is with a Pathfinder campaign I homebrewed in a vaguely Asian setting called Saichu, a low fantasy feudal JapanChina with some Scottish elves and giant lizard men (called Syntar in setting) tacked on for flavor. I began preparations for it about a month in advance, my players having the same time to stew on their characters.

What we got was a former bodyguard to the empress of the Syntar turned bounty hunter, a possessed sorceress whose father was a retinue man of the shogun, an initiate demon-hunting monk of a long forgotten order dedicated to fighting the god of chaos (and talkative crows), a crackshot yakuza assassin cancer patient (an example of everything that can go wrong with dice-rolled stats), and a drunken samurai with serious daddy / brother / mommy / relative issues.

Though taken as a sum this should have been an amazing combination, it quickly became a train wreck of a campaign. Players tried to murder each other on at least three occasions, someone tried to debate trickle-down economics with a samurai lord, and the Syntar kept kicking people through doors. Not only was the balance of combat destroyed, but the story itself failed to progress meaningfully, in large part because the characters were already too developed. Not by levels or power, but by their stories. With so many vastly different objectives and no particular reason to work together nor common background, the group lost cohesion, and stumbled sluggishly from one DM-suggested objective to another.

This mess was in large part my fault. Because I had failed to effectively communicate the idea of ‘progressing’ characters to my players and had failed to coordinate their character creation, the campaign limped on for six sessions before they caused an apocalyptic flood while attending a communist musical.

Was it a boring campaign? No, not by any stretch. That result depends on what you, whether player or DM, want out of a campaign. If you’re just here for a bloody good time, then there is no reason not to indulge in ridiculously overblown characters and frequent overreaction; i.e., trolling.

But if you are intending to tell a serious story in which your characters undergo meaningful change, and exit the plot with some profound internal insight, then the characters must also fit the setting.

At any rate, this is a complex topic, best discussed in multiple parts, and preferably without Charles Barkley yelling at me from the next room over.