Nov 29 2010

Fictionlet

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Greg looked wistfully at his web browser. “Alas! Leslie Nielsen has passed away.”

Brigid shook her head. “He shouldn’t have had the fish.”

Greg narrowed his eyes at her. “Surely it would be inappropriate to joke at a time like this.”

“It would be inappropriate,” said Brigid. “And don’t call me ‘Shirley’.”

-The Gneech

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Nov 24 2010

Whither (Wither?) the Rogue?

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Two seek adventure...Something that struck me recently as I was pondering the state of roleplaying games, is “Whatever happened to the rogue?” Is it my imagination, or did somewhere along the way the whole rogue concept get neutered? Do games have thieves’ guilds any more? Have locked, trapped doors really disappeared or does it just feel that way? And when was the last time anybody actually took ranks in Thieves’ Cant?

Granted, the rogue (thief, burglar, scout, choose your term) was always something of a problem character, particularly in a dungeon setting. Without townsfolk to pick the pockets of, it wasn’t that uncommon that he’d try to skim an extra share off of party loot, and worse, as they guy forever running up ahead, he was prone to hogging the GM’s time and attention for long stretches, leading to three bored players watching one guy having a ball … with the net result being that the rogue annoyed everybody at the table and generally made a crap game without a lot of careful compensation by the GM.

There are ways around that problem, such as putting trap-type hazards in the room with the monsters instead of sitting alone in the hallway, so the rogue’s moment to shine comes at the same time as the fighter’s and the wizard’s, but most groups seemed to handle it best by either all being rogues (or rogues-at-heart), or by beating the rogue senseless until he learned to behave as a functional party member, and then letting him “get away with it” from time to time to throw him a bone.

2E seemed in some ways to be the golden age of the rogue, with Lankhmar — the city of wickedness from which the Grey Mouser himself sprang — being an officially-licensed setting, and the awesome-from-start-to-finish Complete Book of Thieves, which included very nifty ideas on an all-rogue campaign (and got a lot of use as background during my various Fantasy HERO campaigns in Richmond).

3.x, by comparison, wasn’t real kind to rogues … traps, when they appeared, were generally designed so they could hurt anybody in the party, including the fighter, but the poor rogue only had a squishy little d6 hit die and a modest AC. Granted, if the trap called for a Ref save, the rogue would just point and laugh while everybody else went up in flames. But aside from unlocking the occasional door and un-poisoned-darting the occasional chest, the rogue didn’t actually have that much to do in the new “back to the dungeon” world.

4E was the unkindest cut of all, where a rogue’s job had nothing to do with sneaking, scouting, or even stealing treasure, but was all about trying to out-damage the fighter. Everything that used to make a rogue interesting (at least from the traditional rogue’s point of view that killing monsters is a dull and inelegant way of getting what you want) got lumped into a single skill called “Thievery,” and then a bunch of pointless combat skills were piled on.

I’m told that Essentials has relabeled “the mobile damage-dealer class” as thief instead of rogue, but I don’t have the product, so I can’t say if any actual burglary has been added back to the class. But given that “Essentials” is still 4E at its core, my suspicion is that at the end of the day, it’s still all about how you stab things, with infiltration and espionage still considered part of that boring stuff that happens between combats.

And don’t even get me started on playing a rogue-type in a computer game. I imagine the Thief: The Dark Project series probably did reasonably well, I never could get interested in the series … but for my money the only CRPG that really did the right thing by rogues was Quest For Glory II — which came out in 1991. (Although I see here there’s a recent remake! I’ll have to try that out.)

Anyway! I guess there’s not much left to say on the topic, other than a general lament on the current state of gaming. My current Pathfinder campaign has only a part-time rogue in the form of a ranger/rogue archer who dodges dragons’ breath weapons with amazing regularity, but has never picked a pocket in his life. I added a barbarian/rogue NPC to the party with the intent of adding some more tricks-and-trapsy goodness, but the last time a trap showed up, the party tank walked up to it and deliberately set it off, just sucking up the damage. (It was a great comic moment, but a low point in party subtlety to say the least.) Maybe later today I’ll roll up a rogue or two in Hero Labs just for the fun of it. They’ll get saved in the “Characters I’ll Never Get to Play” folder with the rest, but at least they’ll have lots of company. ;P

-The Gneech

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Nov 12 2010

The Hillbillies Out of Space Filk

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(To the tune of “The Beverly Hillbillies”)…

Lemme tellee little story ’bout a man named Nahum [1]
he lived west o’ Arkham and never did any harm [2]
Then one day a hill exploded in his face
and Nahum had to cope with a colour outa space!

(An alien that is. Amorphous. Intangible.)

Well the first thing you know, ol’ Nahum’s lookin’ spare
his kinfolk said, “Nahum, move away from there!”
But Nahum and his folks couldn’t muster up the fight
and the trees and hills were glowin’ in the night

(From radiation, that is. Sickly crops, mutated animals.)

Well now it’s time to say goodbye to Nahum and his kin
not that there’s much left of ’em except some dust and skin
They’re dammin’ up the river and floodin’ the whole place
so now yer drinkin’ water’s full o’ colour out of space!

(Y’all flee for your lives now, y’hear?)

-The Gneech

[1] Pronounced “naaum”
[2] Pronounced in a New England accent, “haam”

EDIT: Maxgoof recorded it! Click through to hear it.

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Nov 09 2010

Dem Bones!

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The leg bone’s connected to the arm bone
The arm bone’s connected to the head bone
The head bone’s connected to the telephone
Now cheer the nerds on the job

The left bone’s connected to the right bone
The Fred bone’s connected to the Ethel bone
The football’s connected to the end zone
The lyrics are coming undone

Dem bones dem bones live underground
dem bones dem bones gonna go to town
dem bones dem bones never hear a sound
da dee da dum de da dum

No bone’s connected to the nose bone
my tongue is connected to the Toblerone
Greg Peck was in The Guns of Navarone
da dee da dum de da dum
da dee da dum de da dum
da dee da dum de da dum

-The Gneech

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Nov 04 2010

Awesome = Do-It-Yourself Game Handouts

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Lepus Magnus, drawn by SirfoxI have, as I may have mentioned from time to time, a lot of very cool friends. One of these is Josh, a.k.a. “Sirfox,” who is a fellow artist and is also a member of my gaming group.

I mentioned in my Gamma World review that the intro scenario in the game was woefully short on background material, not even providing the “boss” at the bottom of the dungeon (so to speak) a name. In the firm belief that this is a piss-poor way to write an adventure, I fleshed out the character a bit in a between-sessions handout, which in turn inspired Sirfy to provide his own illustration! Here’s the scene I wrote (forgive the ALL CAPS parts … Gamma World is an over-the-top game, and calls for an over-the-top writing style):

“BEHOLD!” said Jack, known to some as ‘Wild-Eyed Jack,’ leader of the gang known as ‘The Rippers.’ “We can move this enormous … mechanical … thing … using only THE POWER OF OUR MIND!” Jack was a “hoop,” a man-sized humanoid rabbit, as were all of the ‘senior management’ (as they called themselves) of the gang. Upon Jack’s head was a cybernetic ‘crown’ with cables running to the factory’s central computer — the wounds around his skull from where it had forcibly inserted implants when he’d first put it on had at least stopped bleeding, but still looked nasty. Across from him, a robotic armature some thirty feet across lurched and swung around, dancing to the strange rhythms in the hoop’s head.

“Yeah, Jack,” said Gutter, another member of the gang, “thrilling. But can we get serious a minute? We’ve been in this stupid factory for days now and we’ve got nothing to show for it but some tubs of glowy purple goo and a bunch of self-destructed robot parts.”

“Jack? JACK? We told you, we are no longer JACK! We are LEPUS MAGNUS THE FIRST! As for what we have to show for it, what do you call THAT?” He pointed at the wildly-swinging robot arm, and its clanking, grasping claw. “For too long, we sat quiet, dormant, damaged, and dark! But soon, SOON we shall have a MASSIVE ROBOT ARMY at our command! And with it, we shall SWEEP ACROSS THE WORLD! All shall fear our power and majesty!”

“Eh, Jack…” said Gutter. “I’m worried about you. I think those things may have hit some important parts when they drilled into your skull. Maybe you should … y’know … take it off now?”

“Take it off?” said Jack, voice rising to a wild shriek. “TAKE IT OFF? Infidel! Defiler! You would STRIP US of our POWER!”

Gutter backed away, raising his hands in an attempt at a calming gesture. “Whoa, Jack, Jack! Don’t — GAACK!” Suddenly, the hoop was hoisted into the air by the mechanical arm, his own arms and legs flailing wildly. “Jack! Jaaaaaack!”

“We are not JACK!” shrieked the gang leader, his eyes bulging and bloodshot. “We are LEPUS MAGNUS! And you shall DIE for your TREASON!” The mechanical arm released Gutter abruptly; he plunged into one of the vats of squirming nano, which quickly climbed up his arms, legs, and face, engulfing him.

“Jaaaaaaaaack–!” howled Gutter, until his voice was cut off by a squishy gurgle.

“Does anyone ELSE doubt us?” demanded Lepus Magnus, formerly Wild-Eyed Jack. The rest of the congregation of hoops around him looked back and forth nervously, then almost as a body they knelt before their new king.

Now, isn’t that much more interesting than “Iron King, Level XX Controller”? I think Josh captured the character pretty well, don’t you?

-The Gneech

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