Mar 17 2021

Shady and Androgyny

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Shade-Of-the-Candle, Like a BOSS

It’s no secret that my preference is for leading ladies in my work. From Tiffany Tiger to Verity Anjo, there are reasons both practical and philosophical that nine times out of ten I will pick a gal to be my hero. And while Shade-Of-the-Candle is a character who grew organically in my mind rather than being deliberately created, the same is true for her. But of all the female leads I’ve created, Shady is probably the least “feminine.” Physically, she’s a skinny beanpole, “all elbows and knees,” and while lithe and flexible as any other cat (and, let’s face it, clad in a leather corset and thigh boots), she’s not Superhero Sexy like Catwoman or Black Widow. Depending on her age and circumstances, Shady ranges from a scraggly alleycat to a scrappy tomboy to a Georgian duelist in a longcoat and feathered tricorn hat. In terms of her personality, she is snarky, aggressive, goal-oriented, and covers pain or vulnerability with bluster or bravado… all of which are pretty typically “masculine” (or at least boyish) traits.

Which led me to thinking about the role womanhood plays in the makeup of her character. I know some male writers whose women come off pretty much as “men with boobs,” and I have always worked to avoid that. But as I examined it, I found that I couldn’t really picture a male Shade-Of-the-Candle, and have it be the same character. The closest analogue I could come up with was Disney’s take on Aladdin—he’s got the imposter syndrome, the very cavalier ideas about property, the swashbuckling physicality, and so on. Aside from the fur and tail, a male version of Shady would probably hit a lot of the same beats.

But at the same time, there’s an external-vs.-internal difference between Aladdin and Shady. Aladdin is “unworthy” because he’s poor, because society says he’s unworthy—the words may sting, but he never actually believes them. He just has to get past it, like an obstacle. Shady, on the other hand, has internalized it. When Maraldo and the pawnshop owner and however-many-other people told her over the course of her life that she was nothing and nobody, on some level she believed it. Even with her own ship and crew and having slain a dragon and more, the fight that Shady can’t win is inside her own head.

That’s not an inherently “male/female” dynamic—lots of women know they’re more than society says they are, and lots of men never get over toxic voices from their childhood. But in our culture at least there is a “masculine/feminine” dichotomy that it does play into. (“Male/female” and “masculine/feminine,” while closely related, are not actually the same.) And I think it’s a dynamic that would express very differently in a male Shady who’d grown up under the same circumstances. I suspect male Shady would have ended up a lot meaner, certainly more wrathful, and run with a more cutthroat crowd. He’d also be a lot less clever, more inclined to intimidation or violence than charm or wit. Would he have even Shady’s sketchy version of a conscience? Hard to say. Shady’s feminine aspects inclined her to identify more with Velas’s kindness than Maraldo’s brutality (and I notice that she has diametrically opposed father figures but no mother to look to); I think in a lot of ways it’s the push-pull between her aggressive and “masculine” traits and that quiet-but-persistent “feminine” side that make her compelling, to me.

-TG

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Mar 14 2021

Shady, Rogue or Bard? Time To Choose

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Shade-Of-the-Candle Takes It Easy... But Takes It
Yes, Shady, choosing is very hard in this case.

WARNING: Lots of rules rambling ahead. Read only if you are a big ol’ D&D nerd.

So last night Shady hit 6th level after a fun session fighting against the most cheerful demonic bounty hunter ever. So now I have to actually choose, Rogue or Bard? Neither option is great immediately—6th level rogue gets her expertise in Investigation and Persuasion, but nothing else changes. 1st level bard gets her a new skill, a new proficiency, a small handful of spells, and three uses of bardic inspiration per long rest.

So neither choice is about what happens at level 6; they’re really about what happens at levels 7, 8, and 9.

If Shady sticks with rogue, at 7th she’ll get evasion and more sneak attack, at 8th she’ll hit 20 Dex, and at 9th she’ll get that awesome Panache ability and still more sneak attack. If she jumps over to bard, at 7th she’ll get Jack of All Trades (double-bumping her Initiative on top of her swashbuckler boost), at 8th she’ll get Blade Flourish (which is a game-changer ability) and Two-Weapon Fighting*, and at 9th she’ll finally catch up with that 20 Dex.

The problem is, I want all of this stuff for Shady! Panache especially is something that suits her perfectly, that whole “piss off the baddie so they chase only you—but also can’t actually GET to you” annoyance/avoidance tanking strategy goes all the way back to her fight with Kresthianze the black dragon. Having a mechanical backup for what she’s been doing purely through RP would be very nice.

On the other hand, in play, Shady’s biggest weak spot is totally her AC. The pattern with her, from the mimic that one-punched her at 2nd level, to the fight in the warehouse, to fighting Gornstard the Wailer last night, has over and over been:

1) Combat starts
2) Shady gets almost one-punched before she even gets a turn
3) She spends the rest of the fight either out or reeling from the first hit

To a certain extent, this is the rules working as intended. Rogues are glass cannons, and even swashbucklers—who are intended to get in melee and stay there—are expected to jump in and out, hide, and generally be evasive more than durable. Fortunately, Uncanny Dodge is a big mitigator here—when I remember to actually USE it—but the fact remains that Shady’s paltry 16 AC is her big ol’ Achilles Heel.

But short of magic items (and man, she is looking for that Cloak Piratey Longcoat of Protection), the only ways for her to boost her AC are 1) maxing Dex, or 2) Blade Flourish—either of which she can get at 8th level, it’s just a matter of which.

20 Dex will set her AC to 17 whenever she gets attacked, before she gets a turn or after, all the time. Blade Flourish, using the Defense option, potentially adds +1d6 to her AC (typically putting it around 19), but only after she’s made an attack, and only up to three times per long rest. It also boosts her already-crazy speed and bumps her damage on the initial attack roll.

The biggest thing is that going the bard route gives Shady the 20 Dex at 9th level—which means that in terms of AC, she gets both of the boosts by going the bard route, at the expense of a bit of sneak attack, evasion (which has not been a factor so far since we don’t have a lot of fireballs flying around, but might become one if more dragons start showing up), and, of course, panache.

I dunno; I keep going around and around and not being able to land. All of this is solved by 15th level, in which she has all the bard and all the rogue she wants and everything after that is gravy… but what are the chances of any campaign getting there? Generally not considered good. That’s what makes this a tough choice—whichever direction she chooses is likely to be the only choice she gets.

-TG

*Theoretically it would also open breastplate + shield, but even if the breastplate looked like a leather battle corset, the Dex cap would make it a net wash, and I just cannot see Shady carrying a shield. Dusk does, because he’s a fighter-flavored-with-rogue, but Shady is not a gird-her-loins type.

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Jan 29 2021

GeekQuery: Respect At the Table

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InkBlitz and Gneech discuss respect at the table during D&D games, or really any time human beings are interacting with each other if you think about it. ¬.¬

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Jan 05 2021

Shady’s Solo Adventure, Scene Seven: Nothing to Scene, Here

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Sea cave concept art from Assassin's Creed IV

After the last scene I realized that it would have actually been faster for Shady to go alone via road to Saltar’s Port and send the Moonlit Horizon along after, since to get there from Everkeep Harbor by sea you need to go an 20 miles around the cape of Winnowing Reach. But since we’ve already had Scene Six, we’ll just assume that Shady was working out plans with her Quartermaster and First Mate during the trip.

Going in, I have no idea where the adventure is gonna go here. Shady knows there are gunrunners in town somewhere, and she probably grilled Telekain about the adventurers’ raid. (SHADY PERSUASION CHECK w/ Adv: 25. Telekain gave her all the information she wanted, including what he told the adventurers, what they found and where, etc.) So now all I’ve got to do is figure out what he told her. >.>

We know the gunrunners have some well-placed backers in Saltar’s Port. FATE QUESTION: Are the Saltar’s Port authorities corrupt and in on it? 50/50, Chaos 4: 97, “Exceptional No.” So they’re not only in on it, they want to root it out. FATE QUESTION: Have the Saltar’s Port authorities taken action against the gunrunners since the alchemist’s fire was captured? Somewhat Likely, Chaos 4: “Exceptional Yes.” They’ve gone to roust them out completely! FATE QUESTION: Has this been successful? 50/50, Chaos 4: “Exceptional Yes.” Soooo… crap. It sounds like the Saltar’s Port trip is a complete waste of time. And the gunrunners being out of business means that Shady’s top pick for a fall guy for the alchemist fire theft is a no-go.

Is it possible for a procedurally-generated random story generator to have writer’s block? >.>

Well I need to do SOME kind of scene here! So I guess I’ll say the scene is Shady arrives at the gunrunners’ hideout and finds it obliterated. Chaos Die for interruption is: 7, none. Scene focus is 24, 4, 54: NPC action, “fight of investment.” Hmm.

Shade-Of-the-Candle stared at the burned-out cave fortress. It had been little more than brick-and-mortar palisades blocking a natural cavern that had been built out with floors and a few walls. Great scorchmarks blacked the walls and ceiling, and the tang of fire and death tickled her sensitive nostrils, even though it had been at least several hours since the battle was over. The charred skeleton of a large frigate dominated the central lagoon area of the cave, burned nearly down to the waterline and listing drunkenly in the shallow water. Some bodies still floated in the water, being fished out by laborers under the direction of soldiers wearing the livery of the Saltar’s Port guards.

“Well there’s THAT idea shot down,” muttered Shady’s Bosun.

“The powder magazine must have gone up,” said Shady. “Saltar’s Port doesn’t have anything bigger than a patrol schooner, no idea how they bottled that frigate up in here. But if the guards had a wizard worth his salt among them, and a hold full of powder… Foom!”

“Hoy!” shouted one of the guardsmen, noticing Shady and her men at the mouth of the cave. “Get out of it!”

“Who’s in charge, here?” Shady shouted back at him.

“Who wants to know?” the guard shouted back, collecting up his musket from where it leaned on the cave wall nearby.

“Shade-Of-the-Candle is my name,” Shady said. “Captain of the Moonlit Horizon. I’m a Sea Lancer out of Everkeep.”

“A bit late to the fight, aren’t you, privateer?” the guard said, approaching close enough so he didn’t have to keep shouting, but far enough away to still bring the musket to bear if needed.

“Nobody told me there was a party or I’d have been here sooner,” Shady replied. “I was following up on a tip that there were gunrunners here, I was just coming to scout them out.”

“Well you can take your scavenging hide back on to Everkeep, it’s all over here but burning the last of the bodies.”

“Take any prisoners?” (FATE QUESTION: 50/50, Chaos 4: 88, “Exceptional No”)

“Not a man-jack left alive,” said the guard. “Most of them went up with the ship.”

“I heard there were two more ships,” said Shady. “Did they get away?” (FATE QUESTION: Somewhat Likely, Chaos 4: 77, No. Wow, just shut her down, dice!)

“Nope. We had a little help from one of your own, the Dragonfly. She just stood off the inlet and blasted anything coming out of the cave. Why do you think this frigate was hiding in here?”

Shady’s tail twitched once. “Ainsworth,” she said.

“Now THAT’S a privateer!” said the guard. “Maybe you shoulda checked with him first.”

“Maybe I shoulda,” said Shady.

“Now beat it. Sail on back to Everkeep. Some of us have REAL work to do.”

“Sorry,” said Shady. “Didn’t mean to interrupt your picking over the dead.” Ignoring the scowl on the guardsman’s face, she herded her crew back towards the cave entrance. “C’mon boys, leave the vultures to their picking.”

CHARACTER LIST:
Shady
Lady Patrician
Dragonwatch Keep
Captain Dryden Ainsworth
Wharfmaster Fean Wavecrest
Sea Lancers: Kia (Captain of the Recluse)
Sea Lancers: Sterling (Captain of the Silver Corsair)
Sea Lancers: Adric (Captain of the Blue Fin)
Telekain
Gunrunners
Cardinal Maraldo
Scullery maid
Patrician’s guards
Prince Mibakaaz
Morely

CHAOS: 5 (SO. MANY. EXCEPTIONAL RESULTS.)

THREADS LIST:
Steal the alchemist’s fire
The privateers’ rivalry
The L.P.’s intrigues
Ainsworth’s botched security vs. Shady’s spying
Gunrunners
Morely (and henchmen?) set adrift

Dec 15 2020

GeekQuery — D&D Is a Team Sport

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Or, “You’re A hero, but you’re not THE hero.” This week InkBlitz and Gneech discuss group dynamics in Dungeons and Dragons.

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Dec 13 2020

Shady’s Solo Adventure: Titan Out of Nowhere

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Marid illustration from the 5E Monster Manual

Okay, after the last scene Shady has a goal and some obstacles: she needs to steal the shipment of alchemist’s fire back from Dragonwatch Keep, after it’s been delivered (or at least the deal has gone through), but without letting anyone at DW know she’s working for the LP. In a normal tabletop game, this would involve a lot of brainstorming among the players but… there is only me. >.> In the story world, I imagine Shady is going to her most trusted compatriots (presumably the other officers of the Moonlit Horizon) to hash it out, but in the tradition of heist movies, this would be a very boring scene and only revealed in flashback. But I still have to figure out at the very least where things are going!

At this point in her career, Shady has been around the Dreaming Sea a bit. FATE QUESTION: Has she ever actually been to Dragonwatch Keep? (Very Likely, Chaos 4: 22. YES) Does Shady have detailed knowledge of Dragonwatch Keep’s operations? (Unlikely, Chaos 4: 19. YES) Oh ho! That’s interesting. How about this: does Shady have any inside contacts she could bribe or otherwise finagle into getting her access to where the shipment will be stored? (Very Unlikely, Chaos 4: 34. NO)

So she knows enough to make an educated guess about how the deal will go down and where the shipment is likely to be stored, but doesn’t have an “in” to get her to it. She’ll have to work out access.

There also has to be someone else to take the blame when the theft is discovered. “Persons unknown” is the safest bet, but if the Moonlit Horizon is spotted sailing around Dragonwatch Keep, that would put Shady onto the suspect list. Shady kinda likes the idea of pinning the theft on the actual gunrunners—they are likely candidates after all, and causing them more grief might earn a few more points with the Lady P.

So Shady comes up with a cunning plan: go to the gunrunners offering to help them recover the shipment, “for a price,” only to turn around and capture their ship herself once the heist is done. Bad kitty!

That means that scene six becomes “Go to Saltar’s Port and find the gunrunners.” I don’t really want to play out a whole scene of Shady getting information about the gunrunners from Telekain, so I’ll just have Shady make a Persuasion check to see how much she gets out of him about it: 9. Whoops. XD Telekain was not forthcoming at all—sworn to secrecy by the LP, maybe? So off to Saltar’s Port with nothing but her wits to go by.

FATE QUESTION: Is there an encounter on the sea? 50/50, Chaos 4: 24. YES. Going to http://dndspeak.com/2017/12/100-sea-travel-events/ I find 36: “In the dead of night, a panicked bell toll rings. A massive beast is striding in the ocean. It appears the ocean depth only reaches up to its hip.” Meep. O.o Dragon turtle? Storm giant? Some kind of god astride the sea? Mother Hydra herself? Let’s check the event focus table for some clues: “NPC Action: Proposal of Fame.” Um.

“Captain! Captain!” The banging on Shady’s door caused her to leap to the floor, the Crescent Moon in one hand and a pistol in the other. “There’s something ahead! Come quick!”

Shady frowned, tucked the pistol into her armpit, and yanked open the door. “Something ahead? Why the hell are you… the… hell?” Looking past the face of her panicked crewman, she saw a titanic figure looming in the sea beyond the bow of the Moonlit Horizon. It was humanoid in shape, but gargantuan in stature, with green-scaled skin and massive fins protruding from the sides of its face. Bedecked in a turquoise silken sash that had more fabric than the entirety of the ship’s sails, and a similar turban that could cover a house, it was awash in massive jewels, seashells, and enormous gold chains.

The figure had crossed arms and was staring down at ship, clearly and deliberately blocking their path.

“By all the gods, what is it?” muttered a crewman. “What or who? Will it smash us to splinters? Does it want a tribute?”

“We’re not going to find out standing around gawking,” said Shady. “Approach the thing. Slowly.”

“Surely we should turn and run!” said another crewman.

“You think we could outrun it?” said Shady.

“I…?” said the crewman.

“Exactly. Approach it. Slowly. If you can slip around it while I’ve got it talking, so much the better.” She collected a hailing horn from a hook, then climbed out onto the bowsprit of the Moonlit Horizon. Once she felt they were close enough, Shady shouted through the horn, “Ahoy, titan!”

The creature seemed confused by this form of address. “WHAT DID YOU SAY???” it bellowed, with a voice that rolled like thunder.

“Ahoy!” Shady shouted again. “My compliments on a fine and starry night! Captain Shade-Of-the-Candle of the Moonlit Horizon, at your service! Be so kind as to state your name and purpose, please!” (SHADY CHARISMA CHECK: 5. Way to go, Shady. -.-)

“YOU DARE ISSUE COMMANDS TO ME, MORTAL INSECT?” the creature bellowed. “PRINCE MIBAKAAZ RULES THE SEAS! GROVEL AND MAKE YOUR OBEISANCES TO ME, IF YOU WISH TO LIVE THROUGH THE NIGHT!”

(SHADY HISTORY DC 15: 17) Shady blinked; “Prince Mibakaaz” was the name of a djinn in stories Brother Velas had told her years ago, exiled from the Plane of Water for reasons that nobody could agree on. The idea that such a creature was real had never even entered her mind… much less that she would ever run across him. Without missing a beat, she instantly dropped to one knee, making a grand flourish with her free hand.

“Oh mighty Prince Mibakaaz!” she shouted through the hailing horn. “Forgive me for not recognizing your magnificence instantly! We are but humble sailors, un-used to honors of such magnitude, and blinded by your eminence!”

“OBVIOUSLY,” replied the creature, but preened a massive frill nonetheless. “YOU ARE LUCKY TO FIND ME IN A GENEROUS MOOD.”

“For what purpose have you revealed yourself to us, Oh Mighty Prince?” asked Shady. “Surely our humble vessel can only be of minor service to you.” The djinn seemed to drift to Shady’s left as she spoke—her Pilot casually adjusting course as instructed.

“I NEED SLAVES,” replied Mibakaaz. “SLAVES FOR MY PALACE BELOW THE SEA!”

“We would hardly be suitable for that, Your Immensity,” said Shady. “We must have air to survive. Have you considered looking among the tritons?” She winced internally—Rulita would skin her alive if she got word of that.

“I KNOW THAT, YOU FOOL!” bellowed Mibakaaz. “AIR CAN BE PROVIDED. BUT I MAY NOT SET FOOT UPON THE LAND, THEREFORE I NEED SOMEONE TO PROCURE THE SLAVES FOR ME. YOUR SHIP IS BEDECKED WITH CANNONS AND A RAM FOR WAR. YOU MUST BE A PREDATOR OF THE SEA. SO YOU WILL FIND THEM FOR ME!”

“Er…” said Shady.

“IN EXCHANGE, I SHALL GRANT YOU A WISH. ANY WISH YOU DESIRE.”

“Any wish at all?” Shady called through the horn.

“YES, YES YOU STUPID MORTAL,” said Mibakaaz. “A MOUNTAIN OF GOLD? CONCUBINES AND ARMIES? I KNOW HOW YOUR MORTAL MINDS WORK. NAME IT AND IT’S YOURS.”

“Captain!” called out a crewman behind her. “A mountain of gold!” She turned at looked at him—Morely was the name.

“Are you serious?” she said.

“He could sink us with a whim!” said Morely. “Better to do as he says. Think about it. The world at our feet!”

“Uh huh,” said Shady. “At a pretty steep price.”

“It’s death or fortune,” said Morely. “I say we choose fortune! Agree to his terms! Make the accord!”

“WHAT ARE YOU TWO JABBERING TO EACH OTHER ABOUT?” demanded Mibakaaz. “I’M THE PRINCE HERE!”

Shady turned back to the djinn. “My apologies, Oh Tremendous One,” she called through the horn. “One of my subordinates speaking out of turn. I shall have him flogged for interrupting you!”

“AT LEAST YOU HAVE SOME SEMBLANCE OF DISCIPLINE,” Mibakaaz sneered.

“But there is something in what he says. So if Your Hugeness will cast the wish now, I shall immediately attend to the needed course of action.” (SHADY DECEPTION vs a marid’s passive Insight DC 13: 13 exactly!)

“GRANT THE WISH FIRST?” said Mibakaaz. “PRESUMPTUOUS OF YOU TO SUGGEST, MORTAL! BUT I ADMIRE THE BOLDNESS, IT WILL MAKE YOU A GOOD SERVANT.” The djinn performed a grand series of gestures, surrounding himself and the Moonlit Horizon with a vast glowing magic circle. “SPEAK YOUR WISH, SHADE-OF-THE-CANDLE, AND IT IS GRANTED!”

Shady stood up and smirked. “I wish for Prince Mibakaaz to return immediately and irrevocably to the Plane of Water and be gone from my life evermore.”

‘WHAAAAT?” demanded the djinn, as the magic circle flared. Both he and the circle suddenly vanished with a balloon-like pop.

A cheer went up from half the assembled crew; a handful of others looked disconcerted, and Morely looked astonished. “Captain!” he demanded, as Shady tossed the hailing horn to the Bosun and hopped down to the deck. “Why would you throw away—”

Morely didn’t get to finish his sentence: Shady had driven her knee into his groin, and then brought her elbow hard down across his back as he doubled over. “A mountain of gold? The world at my feet?” Shady demanded. “You’d happily turn slaver on the word of a giant magical fish?” She shoved him away with a foot and turned to the Bosun. “Put him in a longboat and set him adrift. Anybody else who doesn’t like what I’ve done tonight is welcome to go with him.”

The Bosun nodded approvingly. “Aye, Cap’n,” he said, and Shady returned to her cabin.

NEXT: Saltar’s Port does not help.

CHARACTER LIST:
Shady
Lady Patrician
Dragonwatch Keep
Captain Dryden Ainsworth
Wharfmaster Fean Wavecrest
Sea Lancers: Kia (Captain of the Recluse)
Sea Lancers: Sterling (Captain of the Silver Corsair)
Sea Lancers: Adric (Captain of the Blue Fin)
Telekain
Gunrunners
Cardinal Maraldo
Scullery maid
Patrician’s guards
Prince Mibakaaz
Morely

CHAOS: 4 (this was weird and out-of-nowhere)

THREADS LIST:
Steal the alchemist’s fire
The privateers’ rivalry
The L.P.’s intrigues
Ainsworth’s botched security vs. Shady’s spying
Gunrunners
Morely (and henchmen?) set adrift