Mar 28 2018

Gamers of the Galaxy

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WHAT ARE YOU DOING

DM: Ronan comes striding out of the wrecked ship. Like before, he appears to have taken no damage from the crash. He sneers at you and bellows to the crowd, “Behold! Your ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’!”

GAMORA: Gaah, that damn infinity stone! He’s basically casting globe of invulnerability on himself.

DM: He also steps in Groot.

ROCKET: Son of a bitch!

DM: Rocket, your turn.

ROCKET: The infinity stone is mounted in his hammer, right? Could I maybe shoot the hammer out of his hand?

DM: With a regular gun? Not likely.

STARLORD: Unfortunately, you used your hadron enforcer already. That recharges on a short rest, right?

ROCKET: Yeah. …But, hey! Can I spend my inspiration point from protecting all those civilians to get the hadron enforcer‘s charge back?

DM (thinking): Okay, sure, but it got kinda smashed up in the crash. Make a DC 15 tool proficiency check to get it working.

ROCKET (rolls): Aw, shit! What a time to roll a freakin’ nine.

GAMORA: Geeze, and you blew an inspiration point on it.

DM: Well, you can keep trying on your next turn– if you get a next turn. Ronan’s on the ground, now.

ROCKET: Crap.

DM: Drax? Your turn.

DRAX: I assist Rocket on his next roll.

DM: Okay. Gamora?

GAMORA: Um… crap, I dunno, I’m a fighter. Can I just… I dunno, keep my eyes open and be ready to jump in?

DM: Delay requires an action and a trigger.

GAMORA: Okay, I guess if I see an opportunity to grab the hammer, I’ll do that.

DM: Good enough. Starlord?

STARLORD: What’s Ronan doing?

DM: He’s getting ready to smash the hammer down and destroy all life on the planet. Y’know, like one does.

ROCKET: Craaaaaaap.

STARLORD: I challenge him to a dance-off.

GAMORA: What???

DRAX: Pffft!

ROCKET: Oh God.

STARLORD: You said my tape player was going, somewhere off in the wreckage, right? Well, it says right here: my bond is “I treasure my mixtape from home more than life itself.” If I’m gonna die, I’m gonna die dancing to my mixtape!

DM (laughs): Sure, why not? Go ahead and make a Deception check, with advantage for tying into your traits.

STARLORD (rolls): Aww, yeah! Twenty-frickin’-SEVEN! (sings) Oooo-ooh child, things are gonna get bet-ter!

DM (still laughing): Okay! Ronan tries a DC 27 Wisdom save (rolls) and blows it bigtime. He’s effectively stunned for a round at Starlord’s pelvic sorcery.

TABLE: (laughter)

STARLORD: Gamora! Take it!

GAMORA: I am so not taking it.

STARLORD: I meant take the hammer.

GAMORA: Can I use my readied action to grab the hammer while Ronan is stunned?

DM: Call it a disarm check. Make an unarmed attack roll against Ronan’s Athletics check. (rolls)

GAMORA (rolling): Uh… man! Another nine.

DM: Yeah, no. Ronan’s got a vice grip on that thing.

GAMORA: Yeah, I’m just gonna stand there and stare at Starlord like he’s nuts.

DM: Okay, new round! Ronan is stunned and just stares at Starlord. “What are you doing?”

STARLORD: I’m distracting you, ya big turd blossom!

DM (laughs): Rocket, roll on your tool check again. You have advantage this time, thanks to Drax’s aid.

ROCKET (rolls): Nineteen! Hadron enforcer online, baby! I shoot the motherfucker! I mean, I shoot the hammer out of his hand.

DM: Unfortunately, it took your turn to make the skill check.

DRAX: So it’s my turn? I shoot the motherfucker.

DM: That works! You grab the hadron enforcer from Rocket and basically use it to make a ranged 5d10 disarm! Go ahead and total it up, the damage will be the difficulty for his Athletics check. (rolls)

DRAX (rolls, with no small amount of satisfaction): Thirty four!

DM: Ahahahaha, no. Not only does Ronan not make his Athletics check, the hammer explodes into a bazillion pieces, sending the infinity stone flying into the air!

ROCKET: Oh crap oh crap oh crap!

STARLORD: I’m basically standing next to Ronan, right? ’cause we were having a dance-off? Can I grab the infinity stone before it hits the ground?

DM: You can try! Give me a Dexterity save.

GAMORA: That thing does 100 necrotic damage per round and then you have to make Charisma saves to not explode!

STARLORD: Yeah, but while I’m lying there making death saves you can slap a container onto it. The Charisma save I’m not worried about.

GAMORA: But we don’t have a healer!

STARLORD: Well maybe there’s a paramedic in the crowd. (rolls) Anyway! I roll a sixteen.

DM: You nab it out of the air! You take 100 points of necrotic damage!

STARLORD: Ow.

DM: Fortunately, your Mystery Boon kicks in– turns out you are resistant to necrotic damage! So you only take 50.

STARLORD: Yay? I have fifteen hit points. (rolls) Twenty-two Charisma save.

DM: You are not killed outright on this round, but you are stunned and unable to act. A massive ball of purple-black necrotic energy swells around you, engulfing you and Ronan both. Ronan looks more than a little offended that you aren’t dead.

STARLORD: I bet he does!

DM: He also takes 100 points of damage, and is offended by that, too! It’s not enough to kill him, but it clearly hurts. He shouts, “Who are you???”

STARLORD: So all I gotta do is stand here dying at him to take him out?

DM: Pretty much!

STARLORD: Winning! When he shouts “Who are you?” I just give him my most smug, “You said it yourself, we’re the Guardians of the Galaxy, bitch!”

DM: Starlord taunts the badguy! It doesn’t do anything, but points for going out in style.

GAMORA: You said the damage happens every round, right? So he’s going to keep taking it?

DM: Yes. It spreads out through everyone in contact with whoever’s touching the stone.

GAMORA: Okay, I grab Starlord’s hand to absorb some of the damage and ready an action to shove a container onto the stone when Ronan drops.

DRAX: I’ll grab on too.

ROCKET: Ditto.

DM: Okay, new round! Ronan takes 100 points of damage, which is forty-odd more than he had. He explodes with a look of deep resentment on his face.

TABLE: (cheers, high-fives)

DM: You all take 100 points of damage split four ways, so 25 each, except for Starlord, who resists it and takes 12.

STARLORD: Two! I have two friggin’ hit points! Eat that, Ronan the Dickhead!

ROCKET: Ronan-the-A-Loser, more like!

GAMORA: I shove the infinity stone into the container!

DM: The purple-black cloud of necrotic energy immediately dissipates! Revealing Yondu and a dozen Ravagers. “Well, well, that was quite a light show!”

DRAX: Seriously?

STARLORD: Geeze, if it isn’t one damn thing, it’s another around here.

-The Gneech

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Nov 15 2017

Laconipedantism

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About 2/3 of the way through the opening sequence of Heathcliff/Cats and Company, Riff-Raff and Cleo randomly go zooming off in a bathtub.

It’s not a bathtub on wheels, there are no rockets or other means of propulsion. It’s just a friggin’ bathtub.

I mean, the cats living in a random James Bond-esque transforming Cadillac in a junkyard, didn’t bother me. But flying off in a random hover-bathtub? That bothered me.

Last night, I had a random dream in which I was watching a “behind the scenes” video about this series. I don’t know if this dream was based on a long-lost memory, or if it was my brain making stuff up, but it doesn’t really matter. In the dream, somebody my brain identified as one of the show-runners coined the term “laconipedantism.” “What that means,” he said, “is that our policy was to explain as little as possible, or with as few words as possible, or to just not explain things at all. ‘How does it work?’ We’re not going to tell you! What you see is what you get, deal with it.”

That struck me as a gutsy approach. I don’t know if I would always consider it a good approach, but it was a gutsy one. But as I started to think about it, I realized that lots of storytellers work this way. Sometimes, you even get Lampshaded Laconipedantism.

Even Kronk thinks it doesn't make sense!

Lampshaded Laconipedantism, or “We’re not gonna tell you! Neener-neener-neener!”

Obviously, cartoons have the most leeway for this kind of thing. Contemporary shows like The Amazing World of Gumball work entirely on this premise. But heck, the Marvel Cinematic Universe runs on this fuel, as does most fantasy literature. Star Trek and a lot of science fiction does a weird inverse, where it starts with “teleportation exists” and starts playing around with the ramifications of that, but it still can’t tell you how teleportation really works, just that it does.

Not every wild premise actually qualifies as laconipedantism, however. What makes it laconipedantism is the refusal of the artist to explain, address, or even acknowledge that there’s anything weird about it. Riff-Raff and Cleo go zooming off in a bathtub, man. Get over it. Done well, it creates a feeling of confidence in the work, even when it leads to headscratchy moments. Done poorly, it just becomes an incoherent mess, where the world makes no sense and the story falls apart.

Use with caution.

-The Gneech

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Aug 14 2017

In Which I Need to Start Getting Somewhere

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So recently, at Barnes & Noble, my attention was drawn to a hardback on the “fantasy new releases” table, featuring what was described as “flintlock fantasy with airships, a touch of humor, and an engaging female hero.”

I nearly burned the place down. ¬.¬

After the writing, revising, submitting, re-revising, submitting again, and so forth that Sky Pirates of Calypsitania has gone through, to see this thing sitting there made me want to scream at the top of my lungs, “THIS SHOULD BE MY BOOK!”

So. Yeah. I was upset. Deep breaths. Let’s work this thing out.

On the positive side, clearly someone must think there’s a market for the kind of books I want to write. I mean, there it is. But I have to connect to it.

And to be clear, I’m pretty sure that the author of that book worked just as long and just as hard on it as I did on mine. My own personal green-eyed-monster popping out notwithstanding, I wish them success.

That doesn’t alter the fact that I had this extreme, intensely emotional reaction to seeing “my book with someone else’s name on it” right there on the very table where I have been trying to get my book for years now. What I have to do, is direct that energy in a positive direction.

If this is the team that put the book on the table, I reasoned, then it could serve me well to hook up with that team. A little research turned up the agent of not-my-book. I went back and rewrote the opening, again, to address feedback the book had received on the previous round, getting thumbs-ups from my beta readers, and sent it to that agent. Given that this particular agent has a strict “Don’t call us, we’ll call you,” policy, however, the response could easily range from an excited followup any day, to chirping crickets until forever.

I don’t intend to wait. As far as I’ve been able to make out, the main thing that makes a writing career succeed (besides lightning in a bottle) is sheer volume. The most popular and well-paid writers I know get that way by writing a lot of books. And as much as I love Sky Pirates of Calypsitania, it is only the one.

What this boils down to is, I need to work on another book. I’ll keep shopping Sky Pirates around as long as it takes, but I can’t leave my career on hold waiting for any one project to move.

I have been trying to write a more “mainstream” fantasy, and I got maybe a third of it done as part of last year’s NaNoWriMo, but I keep running into a fundamental paradox: in trying to adhere to more standard tropes in order to make the book “sellable,” I feel like I’m just aping other people’s work, which in turn makes for a book that I’m not sure I would read, myself.

Of course, it’s just the first draft of said book, and so there’s an argument that I should just finish the thing, with “rip out all the Tolkien” being one of the goals of the second draft. But if I know all the Tolkien needs to come out anyway, then leaving it in there for the first draft feels like creating work I don’t need to do.

So perhaps I should just leave that one in the drafts folder and start a whole new project that’s more like what I want to write.

But I need to do something. I need to get somewhere.

-The Gneech

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Jul 15 2017

The Halfling Lass From Appletop

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Berelandine the Halfling Serving Wench by Dunlaoch on DeviantArt

A popular barracks/meadhall song in Orbis Leonis, sung to the tune of “The Mademoiselle From Armentiers.”

[call]
The halfling lass from Appletop is a tavern maid.
[return]
The halfling lass from Appletop is a tavern maid!

The halfling lass is a tavern maid.
In gold or kisses she gets paid!

[chorus]
Will you have another round, me lord?

[call]
The halfling lass from Appletop is three foot high.
[return]
The halfling lass from Appletop is three foot high!

The halfling lass is three foot high.
She looks your codpiece in the eye!

[chorus]
Will you have another round, me lord?

[call]
The halfling lass from Appletop is a lovely girl.
[return]
The halfling lass from Appletop is a lovely girl!

The halfling lass is a lovely girl.
She’ll take your stallion for a whirl!

[chorus]
Will you have another round, me lord?

[call]
I asked the lass from Appletop to be my bride.
[return]
He asked the lass from Appletop to be his bride!

I asked the lass to be my bride,
and spend a lifetime at my side!

[chorus]
Will you have another round, me lord?

[call]
The halfling lass from Appletop said “Nay, sir, nay.”
[return]
The halfling lass from Appletop said “Nay, sir, nay!”

The halfling lass said “Nay, sir, nay!
Not until your tab you pay!”

[chorus]
Will you have another round, me lord?

Put that in your weed-pipe and smoke it. 😉

-The Gneech

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Nov 16 2016

Fantasy Novel vs. D&D Campaign

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When I started trying to brainstorm for NaNoWriMo this year, I had nothing to go on. Months of shopping Sky Pirates of Calypsitania around to agents had received mostly chirping crickets, with the occasional “You’re a good writer, but… nah.” On the advice of J.M. Frey, I decided to write a more “mainstream fantasy” novel that would help me get my foot in the door, figuring that once I had a body of work, it would be easier to get people to buy in to other stuff.

But again, what to write? I can craft prose all day, but creating a compelling story is much tougher. Finally, with nothing else to work with, I said, “Fine! I’m taking some of my unplayed RPG characters, tossing them into a scenario, and writing it as a book!”

On the good side, it definitely got me rolling. I have some protagonists and a broad story arc, and that’s all good. However, there is one big problem with this framework, which is: most RPG campaigns, even good ones, tend to be a never-ending string of fights. Whether it’s orcs or stormtroopers, the “filler” of an RPG campaign is generally going to be battles with monsters… which can make for dull reading.

Yes, the blow-by-blow of a tense action scene can be exciting. Bilbo’s encounters with trolls, goblins, spiders and dragon (and later Frodo’s encounters with ringwraiths, orcs, trolls, more orcs, more ringwraiths, more orcs, easterlings on oliphaunts, more orcs, a giant spider, still more orcs, and a giant pit of lava) are iconic. But what really makes a battle interesting is not who slashed what or cleft the other in twain– it’s what changes as a result of the battle.

And that’s where the neverending string of fights in a D&D game fall down as fodder for a novel. As a rule, they don’t change anything, other than to nibble away at resources. In a novel, the “five rooms full of orcs” at the front of the level that lead up to the “boss” at the end would lose readers after the second fight. “We’ve seen this already!” would be the cry of the frustrated reader. “Get on with it!” (And they’d be perfectly right to do so.) The first fight with orcs is interesting, because it’s new, which means it changes things. The fight with the boss at the end is interesting, for the same reason. (And presumably the boss has some kind of plot coupon or other thing to make them worth fighting in the first place on top of that.) The stuff in the middle? Gets mercilessly summarized unless and until it makes an impact.

So this is where my NaNoWriMo project actually hits an uphill climb: I have more or less completed act one, with the hero about to set off on her journey with her new companions. While I have the next big change– the “boss” of the next section so to speak– worked out, I need to figure out interesting and relevant things that will take the character from here to there. In a D&D game, this would be an overland journey with some random encounters, ending in a dungeon complex, easy peasy. For a book? It has to matter, or be cut. And that’s the tough part.

-The Gneech

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Sep 29 2016

Whither the Warlord?

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Faramir and Boromir wonder WTF is that?

For all I bag on 4E, it did have some cool stuff in it, and one of the coolest things was the Warlord class… which is conspicuously absent from 5E. I mean, it’s kinda-sorta there, in the Battlemaster Fighter, or possibly in a Valor Bard, but neither of those are really as robust as the Warlord was. Some of that may be intentional as part of the “We’re not with that guy!” treatment of 4E generally, but I think a big chunk of it is just a matter of focus. The Warlord class was really tied into the “miniatures skirmishing with a roleplaying game grafted on” nature of 4E, and with 5E‘s push to return to “theater of the mind” style gaming, they have a tougher time finding a place.

In short, Warlords as presented in 4E made combat crunchier, which is anathema to the 5E style. The question of whether there is a 5E-friendly way to make a Warlord is one that’s been discussed at length in the community. I think it could be done, and I think that the Battlemaster Fighter probably fills a good 65-75% of the gap, but I’d really like to see it fleshed out.

So what is a Warlord, exactly? Well, they’re a support class, who buff, heal, and provide tactical options for the rest of their team, but without using spells to do it (and without the religious baggage of the Cleric or Paladin, or the fantasyland rockstar thing that Bards have going on). Frankly, I always thought “Captain” would be a better name; in various incarnations across other games they’ve also been called “Nobles,” “Leaders,” “Standard Bearers,” etc.

In D&D the first thing that looks kinda like a Warlord– assuming you don’t just take it as read that every fighter above 9th level is one thanks to old-school level titles– is AD&D‘s Cavalier class, which was kind of a poor man’s Paladin. (Ironically, Paladin was revised to be a subclass of Cavalier when it came out) The Cavalier was intended to be a mounted warrior first and foremost (hence the name) and had all kinds of mount-related stuff going on, but they also provided a few team buffs, such as immunity to fear.

The real antecedent to the Warlord, however, came out in the Miniatures Handbook under the name Marshal. That class had auras (an extraordinary ability in 3.x/PF terms, and therefore explicitly not magical) that added various bonuses to allies within a small radius and could grant actions to other members of the party. They couldn’t do any healing, but by buffing party AC and hit points, they effectively “pre-healed” their allies. This was followed by the Noble in Star Wars Saga Edition, who combined some of the Marshal’s buffs with the Bard’s debuffs, basically rolling all the “leader” abilities into a single (again, non-magical) class.

Why is the emphasis on not being magical important? Well, that’s pretty much the appeal of the Warlord class when you get down to it. The Warlord is an inspiring leader, a masterful tactician, or even just the grumpy drill sergeant who tells you to rub some dirt on it and get back into the fight. Basically, it’s the Captain America class for D&D. This is both its appeal and its drawback, unfortunately. D&D already has a class for that role, to wit, the Paladin.

But the Paladin has baggage. Oh so much baggage. From idiot players who gave Paladins the reputation of being Lawful Stupid, to asshole DMs who create their whole campaigns around putting Paladins into no-win situations and then gleefully stripping their powers because they couldn’t find a lawful good way to prevent the demon-possessed king from slaughtering children in the first round of combat (or whatever), Paladins have a long history of being a problem class. On top of which, they have a “knights templar” semi-religious overlay which just doesn’t suit every heroic leader. Just like Robin Hood never cast a spell, Boromir never went searching for the Holy Grail.

So yeah, as far as I’m concerned the Warlord absolutely has a place in D&D as an archetype and as a class (or sub-class), although as I say I still prefer the name “Captain.” 😉 And it needs to be a little more interesting than the “+1d6 to do a not-attack thing” model of the Battlemaster. What that might be, while still fitting in the 5E mold, I’m not sure. I’m still working on that idea.

-The Gneech

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