Another wizard dead in Marsui…

Yesterday was an exhausting day. Work had me running hither and yon, so by the time I got to Jay’s place to game, I was bone-tired.

I had two wizard crime lords, The Unicorn and King Roach, on index cards but could only find The Unicorn, a spell-slinging transhuman crime lord with a crystal horn coming from the center of his forehead. So, Humberto handed them the Unicorn, letting them know that the Carchez brothers were on the King Roach job.

They were gambling, chatting, cajoling, trying to get a feel for the place or a clue that could give them some advantage when the Unicorn walked in with a posse of thugs and hired knives who went through the kitchen to who-knows-where. After they destroyed the morale of the half a dozen thugs guarding the front door, they decided that the time to jump the wizard was right now.

Alia, the cleric was in no armor and had no weapons, as she was trying to blend in but Vassaly was in full harness…wait, what? Yeah, he was in full plate, in a pub, tossing dice around. I’ll write this off to me being half awake and make sure I am more aware of when the characters are dressed for full-out war, trying to act cool and slick in a public place. Signs of me being tired were all over the place – the lack of strategy from the NPC’s, my inability to come up with names.

As with every battle so far, the whole thing came down to one or two big rolls. Tonight it was the wizard’s initiative roll that got him killed and then the morale roll that sent his thugs running. The Wizard’s Force of Forbidment spell went off and the Fighter failed his save but Vassaly cleaved the bastard into pieces, prompting the morale check, before the wizard could simply step away to safety. It was a close thing.

We had a few system hiccups, trying to figure out if someone could wield a two-hander, wear chainmail and then move about. I ruled that they could, that a two-hander wasn’t as awkward as the book let on. Mercs carried them on the march all over the place, I reckon.

The fighter is second level and the cleric might’ve hit third though the elf is still trudging up that last 3000XP. They have gathered together a gross amount of money, probably too much. I reckon the repealing of the law that has allowed for these monster hunts in downtown Marsui is like the gold rush and it might eventually thin out a bit. They are all looking into ways to spend that money. Deacon Aria wants to open a soup kitchen. Vassaly is looking into risky investments and maybe a plot of land. Lafayette has purchased the services of a seamstress and gross amounts of raw material to make him a fine array of clothing.

Lafayette was convinced that because the wizard had a crystal horn, the sound of pistol fire would shatter his innards. He was wrong.

Vassaly gave he battle-cry, “Triple Play!” once again.

Alia used the power of her deity to make a thug shit himself.

A forget spell makes a cluster-mess, all the more clustery.

They got a dagger from the Unicorn’s stash, made in the iron age and they paid to have it Identified it. The dagger, called King-Killer, when used against a king, destroys his entire lineage and invokes a powerful curse, causing their state to crumble. They are keeping it in the union vault and have hired a scholar to study it, as they want to know what it has done in the past. The party is torn, Alia wants to destroy it while Vassaly and Lafayette aren’t so sure.

4 Adventurers + 8 cultists + 1 priest +1 dinosaur demi-goddess + 30 mercenary musketeers =

It was only Jay and Rob tonight and they both forgot their characters. So, eff it, we rolled up new characters. Rob rolled up what turned out to be another cleric, Deacon Alia. He decided that she was from a different sect of the same religion of her humanity-worshiping cleric he rolled up previously. Jay ended up with a bad-ass fighter, a former city-guardsman with a gambling problem, Vassaly Kordor.

They were offered the possiblity of joining up with another duo to make a party of four if they were interested. They opted for a brother/sister pair of Specialists, Raya and Adam, who just got back from a crypt up north.

They took a job from Humberto, their union rep. Setting aside a pair of wizards who run rival gangs in the city, they decided on She Wears a Crown of Feathers, a dinosaur goddess with a cult of fallen nobility and crumbling upper crust types. They hoped that this would mean lots of money and they were right.

They knew that ‘Crown of Feathers has a small cult. They sent Adam to follow a pair of the cultists and then they broken into their house and threatened the shit out of them. I rolled their disposition and the husband got a 12, which means Helpful.  Fuck it, a law’s been passed that has declared their goddess a monster and he’s ready to roll over on them. He takes them to a fellow cultist family’s house and gets them past the gatekeeper just long enough for Vassaly to shoot the gate guard in the face.

Essentially, they broke into the family’s house and shot them both. They were using the original cultist’s as cover and the wife got shot, covering Vassaly in gore.

So, the back-story of the game that allows me to run city dungeon-y crawls is that the city of Marsui once had an open door policy for monsters. That law was revoked and now the Adventurer’s and Salvage Union has full rights to kill these monsters. Here’s where things get hazy. The monsters are otherworldly and inhuman (wizards, demi-gods, vampires, constructs) but the law states that anyone who aids them is also legally a monster.

This was hazy territory in a new, largely untested law that was only on the books for a week. They called their union rep and he called the union barrister. The barrister called a magistrate. The magistrate gave it all a green light, right there in the middle of the night.

They used the considerable silver they pulled from the cultist family to hire 30 musketeers for a day and armor up a bit. They also offered triple pay if the goddess falls.

They blew up the door of the dinosaur goddess’ temple with a barrel of black powder, attempting to drawn her out into the musket-fire. She was invisible in the middle of the temple and then she blew out one of her own walls, giving her a new exit that they had not anticipated  Raya and Adam got wounded and Alia had to heal herself a bit but other than that they were okay as the musketeers started to mobilize to take fire on the new side exit in the temple.

But Wears a Feathered Crown came around the other side and was in the middle of the musketeer mercs before they could fire and bit their sergeant in half. And in the critical roll of the game, they made their morale roll just as Vassaly hit her from a distance with a nat 20 rifle-shot, letting loose the battle-cry, “Triple-PAY!”

The Muskets were supposed to let loose their fire in 3 volleys of 10 but that was before a dinosaur goddess bit sarge in half. I rolled 30 d20’s on my phone’s dice roller app. She Wears a Feathered Crown fell dead, filled with musket balls, having taken a few shots from the adventurers on their way in and out of the temple.

I had rolled 4d20 x 100 for her money, as she come up as moneyed, so it was 5000 silver, along with a battle with an 11HD beast and there we were.

Deacon Alia leveled up and Vassaly surely will do so next game. With their XP from their crypt run up north, I bet their NPC Specialist friends leveled up too. I’ll keep them for future NPC’s.

That was fun.



  • I looked over the summoning table more carefully and will use some bits from that for future Marsui-approved monsters.
  • They ended up with a ton of money, which is fine and fun. They took the risks, their plan paid off.
  • I want to put together some Union-approved equipment packages so that we can make chargen even faster.
  • Drawing all over maps is fun. I had a good map of her temple but I need to print out some city geomorphs for future games.
  • I like how we’re slowly making up these different sects of Rob’s Humanity Church. Alia’s holy symbol is an open palm, fingers down and there are different hand symbols for different philosophies.
  • Jay gave some decent weight to Vassaly killing people, which was nice. He wasn’t a cold, killing machine. Thank goodess because morally, this whole set up is kind of terrible and I’m just not thinking about any kind of metaphorical greater meaning that comes with declaring your neighbors as un-people for their religion and beliefs but…oof.
  • EDIT, two days later: The game really came down to two key roles. 1) the cultist’s reaction roll. The double 6’s that made him friendly changed the course of the game. Then the mercenaries made their morale roll and fired 30 shots at the Dinosaur Demi-Goddess. The players made good plans, took solid action and nickeled and dimed her, taking out her supporters for that key moment. Good stuff.

Whitehack: The Bone Codex, Chapter 1 of 3

The Nine Spells of the Archmages

There were three great Archmages that historians remember: Ancev of the Seeing-Hand, Mordiggian the Wanderer and Wraith-friend Phariom.

After the feuds, wizarding wars and zealot-fueled purges, only 3 spells are widely known to have survived from each of them. New spells are sometimes written but they are often hidden away to give the spell-caster an edge when dealing with other sorcerers, wizards, warlocks, witches, magic-users, mages, Archmages, witch-hunters, lich’s and adepts. These 9 spells are commonly used to teach apprentices the basics of magic-use and are put into journeyman mages’ spell-books due to their proven utility. The spells below are all taken from a copy of Pharium’s Bone Codex, which had all nine spells within.

The spell-book was from the corpse of a failed apprentice, whose margin notes appear under each spell description in italics. The apprentice’s name is lost to time.

The 9 known common spells:

  • Ancev’s Spectral Fist
  • Eye of Ancev
  • Wizard’s Mouth
  • Prismatic Missiles
  • Mordiggian’s Rainbow Door
  • True Vision
  • Wraith’s Kiss
  • Pharion’s Zombie Horde
  • Phariom’s Pain

From the Ancev’s Arcane Axe Tome

Ancev’s Spectral Fist: Ancev called upon a spectral hand to do his bidding after a henchman betrayed her in an hour of need [the fist can can lift up to 100 pounds her hit point spent or be used as a weapon, doing 1d6 damage per 1 hit point spent in its casting. The fist lasts for 3d6 minutes unless it is used as a weapon, which uses up its arcane power and causes it to disappear after the damage is dealt].

Ancev was said to have chopped off one of his hands in order to finish this spell. Among unseasoned casters, the hand is said to strongly resemble Ancev’s lost hand until they grow in their power and make the spell their own. Some bend the spell to make it able to manipulate fine objects from a distance or even to carry around an object upon which the Eye of Ancev is cast to see around corners or into dangerous spots. 

[Time to cast: 1 Round]

Eye of Ancev: The Body-Mage was fond of inscribing the pictogram of an eye on a surface, so that she could look through this eye as if it was her own, they need only cover up one of their eyes with a pinch of whatever material the surface where the eye is drawn is made of [The eye will see for 1d6 hours per hit point spent].

Just as Ancev was said to have sacrificed a hand to finish his first spell, he took out his own eye to gain the wisdom to finish this one. Many wizards and sorcerers agree that this sacrifice was an unnecessary act.

[Time to cast: 3d6 rounds]

Wizard’s Mouth: By casting this spell and whispering the words to be spoken upon an inanimate object, Ancev would cause an arcane mouth to form, saying a word or phrase when a prescribed event occurs such as someone walking over a spot, saying something specific, taking an action [the mouth will say one word per hit point spent for one month per level].

Arcane scholars hypothesize that this spell was not created by Ancev but was in his spellbook from his master, whose name is lost. Ancev once cast it on a rock and cast the rock into a deep pit, having it yell out a sailor’s cuss should the rock come across any dangerous beasts.

[Time to cast: 3d6 rounds]

From Mordiggian’s Spectrum Codex

Prismatic Missiles: Mordiggian could fling darts that glowed with fantastic colors due to their otherworldly radiations and powers [spend 1 hit-point for 1d6-1 missiles that cause 2 points of damage].

This was Mordiggian’s first spell and it is said that he regrets ever having shared it, feeling responsible for the blood-shed it has caused. He should instead consider how many wizard’s lives he has saved.

[Time to cast: Goes off at the end of the round, the caster automatically goes last in the initiative order with bending the spell.]

Mordiggian’s Rainbow Door: The Wanderer used this spell to create a shimmering doorway that he often placed over his laboratory’s portal in order to lock it or open it as per the his wishes or he would often cast it against a wall, allowing the him to walk through walls (5 feet of solid stone per level to the other side).

Mordiggian had further uses of the spell, putting his rainbow doors over certain keystones that allowed him and his companions to travel great distances in only a few steps. The art of making these keystones is lost but it is said some still remain in the hidden crypts, abandoned wizard’s towers and lost barrows in and around ancient cities and villages or in the untamed, unmapped parts of the world.

He wrote extensive cautions about using this spell underground, cautioning his apprentices, not wanting them to run into a Rainbow Door in an act of desperation and become buried alive or phased into solid stone.

[Time to cast: 3d6 rounds]

True Vision: Mordiggian used this spell to see magical auras, otherworldly beings and hidden ghosts (the vision lasts for 1d6 rounds per level).

Mordiggian was obsessed with the limits of mortal vision and wrote this spell while seeking colors that were not visible to his eyes.

[Time to cast: 1d6 rounds]

From Phariom’s Bone Codex

Wraith’s Kiss: Phariom would inhale deeply of the air exhaled by her target and and take their life force [1d6 damage to the target, with half of this going to the caster as hit points]. She cautioned against taking in more of someone else’s life than you have [if you take in more hit points than your max number of hit points, you must make a saving throw or begin to blend your life with the life of your target] and suggested that casting this spell on otherworldly creatures was an especially dangerous way of losing one’s humanity.

A librarian who is said to have a copy of Phariom’s own spellbook wrote a treatise on this spell, saying that it is the spell that led to the Arch-Mage’s eventual true demise. Several apprentices become otherworldly beings in their own right through the use and mis-use of this spell.

[Time to cast: 1 round]

Pharion’s Zombie Horde: She raised zombies by putting a piece of currency in their mouth and and cutting her sigil into their bodies. Pharion’s zombies last until they decompose and fall apart or are destroyed by violence or magic [the zombies last until the next dawn, when the caster has to make a save, failure meaning they either fall to dust or fall out of control of the caster]. Anyone killed by the zombies can be raised without any [hit point] cost but the ritual must still be enacted. Zombies can only follow simple one word commands, and when subtlety is called for they err on the side of bloodshed and flesh-eating.

[Common zombie upgrades: feral, independent, noxious, independent limbs, skeleton]

Pharion studied the ancient necromancers, attempting to side-step the hubris common to the Styx Art. The third time the world thought Pharion was dead was when she led 300 zombies against a rival chaos duke and lost control of the undead horde on the sunrise after the battle.

[Time to cast: 1d6 round per body + 1 rounds for any upgrades]

Phariom’s Pain: By saying the target’s True Name, Phariom could inflict terrible pain, usually taken from a painful moment in their life, amplified by arcane energies [save or writhe in pain for 1 round for every point of Wisdom bonus of the caster].

Phariom claimed she invented the spell to deal with otherworldly beasts sent to kill her during wizarding feuds but there are documented cases of her casting this spell against bandits on the road and thieves in her tower-crypt.

[Time to cast: Goes off at the end of the round, the caster automatically goes last in the initiative order with bending the spell.]

Spell-casting for the Wise and unWise

The Wise begin with one of the Archmage’s 3 spells and one other spell from another tome, randomly determined.

Casting a spell as described above costs 1 hit point. The Wise may bend a spell’s effect in subtle ways at the cost of an extra 1 hit point. Making the spell permanent, as will be covered later under Enchantments, is done by spending a point of Constitution.

The Wise are best at magic, though the Strong and the Deft may play at it when they belong to a group who have taught them a touch of the Arcane Arts. The unWise have the following casting limitations: casting a spell takes double-the amount of time listed in the duration and costs double the normal hit-point expenditure. They may not bend the spell in any way. They start with 0 spells and must acquire them through adventure.

For every two arcane/spell-casting groups the unWise belongs to, they may get rid of one unWise casting limitation: double casting time, double hit point expenditure, no bending.

Soon to Come:

Chapter 2: Summoning

Chapter 3: Enchantments

Whitehack, first pass on the train home last night

Read over Whitehack on the train ride home last night. Here are some first thoughts as originally posted in this SG thread:

The pamphlet’s layout is nice and crisp, from the character sheet front cover to the pre-made characters, table of contents and list of names for the setting included in the pamphlet on the back cover. I like the bits of 3.0 and 4.0 it brings in – just a pinch without getting convoluted.

Characters belong to  groups (species, vocations and affiliations) and that makes some rolls skilled (roll 2d20 and keep the highest). Basically, if what you are doing is within the purview of one of your groups, you get 2d20 to your roll, keep the highest. If both d20’s succeed it is a special success and if both fail, a special failure. Also, props for using the word, species and not race. If something is particularly difficult it can be 2d20 keep the lowest – clever, simple and well done.

Casting Spell costs hit points, which is nifty. I want a touch more structure for the magic system, so inspired by Dying Earth stories, Sorcerer and the Magic Burner, I’m making a few magic sub-systems: Summoning, Spells, and Enchanting. I’ll post those up once I have them.

The way monsters are made is simple and fast and it includes 72 or so monsters. The auction mechanic is really slick and it is nice that they give examples of when they’d use that in the example adventures in the back.

It has that descending Armor Class is better, which is the only real bummer for me. I’m thinking of bringing over the AC system from LotFP, 12 hits and armor makes that more difficult.

The setting included doesn’t set me on fire but it isn’t bad. I liked that the setting uses white and black in its imagery, just like the book. It is more of a campaign framework and it has suggestions for players taking either side of the conflict. Though I winced a bit when they talked about where to set either of the campaign finales. This game is too fast and loose for big set pieces. I would have liked it if the setting included talked about using the mechanics in tangible ways. They hint at it but I’d like it to be driven home a bit more as they do with the adventure and the auction mechanic.

I’m looking forward to tossing this pamphlet on my table. More about it once that occurs.

Into the Odd: Random Expedition Generator

I’m digging Into the Odd.

This is a <Roll on Table 1.0>, made by the <Roll on Table 2.0> during the <Roll on Table 4.0>.

All that seems to remain of the <Table 2.0 Result> is a <Roll on Table 3.0> and some  <Roll on Table 2.1>.

The site was re-purposed during the <Roll on Table 4.0>.

Table 1.0, what?

  1. Crashed Warship, after a brutal exchange
  2. Observation/Research/Study Station, made to study some facet of our planet
  3. Diplomatic Post, where humans once made deals with otherworldly powers
  4. Fortress, where otherworldly powers once made war
  5. Hospital, where otherworldly powers once did what they considered healing
  6. Shrine, where otherworldly powers paid homage to powers greater than themselves

Table 2.0, who?

  1. The Silver Empire, who don’t lay siege to a whole world, only its greatest mind to take it for their queen as a prize
  2. Blue Sun Hivemind, who sicken the sun so that the environment will suit their needs
  3. Jurassics, who want to return to an era of thunder lizards of pre-history
  4. Robots, who want to understand their makers but rarely with any morality we can understand
  5. The Dolphin/Whale Alliance, who have watched us fuck up mother earth for centuries
  6. Other, Roll on Table 2.1 for more obscure shit

Table 2.1, more obscure shit

  1. Space fungus
  2. Astronauts with symbiots
  3. Altered silverbacks
  4. Altered squid
  5. Ancient religious sect
  6. Cyborg Enclave
  7. Humans with otherworldly blood
  8. Psionic enclave
  9. Vat grown monstrousities
  10. Dinosaur cult
  11. Cryogenic zombies
  12. Mirror-spawn
  13. Witch-hunter zealots
  14. Digital ghosts
  15. Summoned thing, bound to this place
  16. Former explorers, gone made
  17. Possessor spirit
  18. A cyclopean beast
  19. Techno-mummies
  20. Your favorite monster

Table 3.0, describe it

  1. Guard-beast
  2. Warrior/Hunter/Killer
  3. Scholar/Scientist/Librarian
  4. Exile
  5. Violent Teenager
  6. Prophet

Table 4.0, past epochs, ages and events that have left scars deep in the earth

  1. Second Wizard-Witch War
  2. Golem-Robot Apocalypse
  3. Revelations
  4. Ragnarok
  5. Golden Age of the Mage-Gates
  6. Jurrasic Resurgence
  7. The Post-3rd Ice Age Demi-god Feuds
  8. The Psionic Wars (often confused with the Psychic Wars)
  9. The Fall of the Space Elevators
  10. The White Plague
  11. The Flood
  12. The era of unbridled optimism, peace and tranquility that was bought with a terrible price and therefor doomed.

I rolled a few up on the train:

This is a <Fortress>, made by the <Blue Sun Empire> during the <Fall of the Space Elevators>.

All that seems to remain of the <Blue Sun Empire> is a <Exile> and some  <Psionic Enclave>.

The site was re-purposed during the <Second Wizard-Witch War>.

Nice, I pictured the Blue Sun Empire as illithids, so the psionic enclave is a nice touch. I figure it was a fortress, built like a monastery, so I’ll grab a monastery online somewhere for the map. During the Second Wizard Witch War I think it was a labor camp the wizards used to round up villages who were supporting the witches and put them to work.

I’ll make up an

This is a <Fortress (again, dammit)>, made by the <Robots> during the <Golden Age of Mage Gates>.

All that seems to remain of the <Robots> is a <Scholar> and some  < Possessor Spirits>.

The site was re-purposed during the <White Plague>.

Cool, a robot in an automated fortress, ancient and breaking down. There will be guiding markings to ancient Mage Gates on the roof. What are Mage Gates? I have no idea yet.

The fortress was a way-station to guard against the gates being used to invade earth and to study how humans react to various otherworldly stimuli…hence the possessor spirits.

During the White Plague the site was seen as a place of healing, because some possessor spirits could actually hold the plague off, so people would willingly subject themselves to possession.

I’ll grab a secure cyberpunk skyscraper of some kind as the map.


Things I’m Reading: Dinosaurs, White Box and Monster-Haunted Children

Dinosaur Priests:

By default, dinosaur clerics worship Tyroganon Ferox, the Paradox Lord of the Infinite Boneyard.  It’s a misconception that Tyroganon Ferox is an evil god.  Yes, he wants to bring back dinosaurs and destroy all mammals, but he is also a stalwart enemy of cruelty, undead, and death cults.  And the mammal tribes who worship him are treated well, and some are even allowed to become dinosaurs themselves.

Whitehack discussion on OD&D discussion:

When was the last time an RPG caught your attention and demanded to be played – DCC ? LotFP ?

Whitehack is a newly-published complete fantasy role-playing game in only 32 pages (6″ x 9″). It’s author, Christian Mehrstam, has taken the Swords & Wizardry (Whitebox edition) retroclone and has developed his own vision of a old school-meets-new ideas ruleset.

What makes this ambitious ruleset stand out from the pack is the depth of design. From the cover as character sheet to the rules within there is a clarity and creativity that is positively endearing. It will be played…

[More to come]


The world grows dark and shadows lengthen, take on new forms. From the trunks of passing cars, voices call your name. Under the floorboards, scratches. Things want to be let out, they want to be let in and they are always hungry, curious, violent, terrible.

Roll d8+6. This is your age.

Choose a character class/type: there are ToughStudious and Truant.

Tough characters have 6 Endurance Points. 0 Secrets. Damage die: d6. Starting stuff: clothes, 2 other things.

Studious characters have 4 Endurance Points. 1 Secret. Damage die: d4. Starting stuff: clothes, books, notebooks, 2 other things.

Truant characters have 5(4) Endurance Points. 2 Secrets. Damage die: d6. Starting stuff: clothes, cigarettes and/or a key to a safe place or one other thing.

And more OSR links and such over at Story Games…

Interview: Megan McFerren on Moldvay D&D

Megan McFerren was kind enough to talk to me about her recent first tabletop RPG campaign, playing Moldvay D&D. When her group tweeted about the game, they used the twitter hashtag, #wednd.

You just got done playing a D&D campaign and correct me if I’m wrong but it was your first tabletop experience but you’re an experienced video gamer? What are some of your favorite video games ever?

Yes, D&D was my first tabletop game that was more than just a one-shot or a one-session play test (and I’d only had a handful of those). I’ve been playing video games pretty much my entire life, though. My favorite games ever are the original X-Com, Joust, and pretty much anything by Valve or Bethesda (I am an Elder Scrolls and Fallout junkie). Bioshock was also one of the most intense, memorable experiences I’ve ever had in gaming – actually maybe any form of media. I’ll never forget the way I felt when I played through that story for the first time.

I’ve played a number of MMOs over the years (starting with Meridian 59, old school!) but over the last couple years I’ve mostly been hooked on super-intense permadeath type sims – Dwarf Fortress and Day Z are the purest forms of gamer crack I’ve ever found in video games.

I don’t play many video games at all but before I had to reformat it, I had Dwarf Fortress on my little notebook and enjoyed the hell out of it. It is a mad, baroque game.

Dwarf Fortress turns me into a mad hermit. I get obsessed with it and go through black-out fugues when hours of my life just VANISH. Love it!

What did you think about your transition between your long-time video game experience and your first foray into campaign play via Moldvay’s D&D?

When this started I was in the midst of a really all-consuming Skyrim obsession, so at the time I was feeling very “in the mood” for the setting – delving into great caverns to pillage anything that isn’t nailed down? Bethesda PRIMED me for this! I also thought that those games had primed me for the style of play and It took me a handful of characters to realize how totally unprepared I was – that I can’t just charge ahead and fight everything, because that leads to death. Lots of death. This was a really rude awakening from the video game version of role-playing, which is “kill everything and take potions not to die.”

What did you like about it? What was similar and what was different?

I remember coming back after losing a particularly rad character (a cleric who lasted a whopping two sessions, which was like a RECORD for me at that point) and complaining about how frustrating it was that there’s no do-overs, no “reload from save”. I didn’t even realize how much I just EXPECTED that option to be available in games. In retrospect, this might be what turned me off a little to the video games I had been playing and made me really enjoy the thrill of permadeath experiences like Day Z. When there’s consequences for actions, everything feels so much more important.

I think we owe it to that cleric to hear that story and honor their memory.

He was the first character that I really put thought into creating a backstory for – just for myself to feel more connection to that character (oh the irony). My prior character, along with another at the table, had died in an unceremonious fall through a pit trap, INTO WATER, and they both died instantly, so this new cleric was “found” with the other new character as the original troupe made their way deeper into the dungeon. I had a whole story in my head about how he got there, who he was before he was stuck there, why he was a cleric, everything. Two sessions later, in an attempt to be heroic (he was Lawful, naturally) and save one of his rescuers from a Hobgoblin (not as scary as the Stirges we’d just encountered, by way capable of killing the hell out of any of us), he took a fatal blow – just one! – and was a goner.

One of many before and after, but I was very bothered at the time – I actually cared about this silly character and I let him die! I knew at that point that I was playing the game “wrong” by always trying to fight, plunging ahead without being cautious, and so on. And slowly the game was teaching me, trial by fire style, how it actually needed to be played.

Sounds like D&D was a tough teacher.

How did you next character or characters do once you learned some caution?

Actually if I remember correctly, the next character I made was the one that I stuck with until the end, so I guess I did something right after that point. That lesson of “don’t just try to fight everything because you’ll mostly lose” hit pretty much all of us at the same time, and we had to be reminded of it a few times, but we were increasingly cautious after that. There are a number of really powerful options for avoiding hand-to-hand combat. We learned how to stop and listen for possible danger before plowing ahead thoughtlessly, how to parlay our way out of trouble (my character spoke like seven languages – you never know when Doppelganger is going to come in useful!), and how to best utilize distanced spells to kill outright or immobilize (or Charm – Charm Person was in use CONSTANTLY for us, having the added benefit of creating cannon fodder… I mean, new friends!).

Did you make less exciting choices due to that fear of death or just more prudent choices? Did the game get better once you started boxing clever?

I think these were smarter choices, but they weren’t less exciting – they were perhaps more so, because we’d learned just how much it sucks to have to start a new character from scratch. It definitely added an excitement that was very new to me in my experience of gaming. There was a sequence where another character and mine both took an Invisibility Potion and scouted a cave of bugbears – by far the biggest, nastiest character we’d encountered at that point – and I remember feeling my palms sweat and heart race as we tried to get as much information as possible without alerting anything to our presence.

Going back to Skyrim felt seriously hollow after that!

Are there video games that capture that kind of fear and harsh lessons?

Day Z is the only one that immediately comes to mind as coming anywhere close to that experience for me. The impulse is to approach it like any other zombie shooter, such as Left 4 Dead, and it doesn’t take long to realize that’s the exact opposite of how you should play. When you die, you start over completely with nothing but a backpack, a flashlight, and a bandage – anything you’d managed to scrape together is otherwise gone. And since there’s an injury system (broken legs mean you can’t walk and often go into shock, a bad hit will draw blood and unless you can bandage yourself you’ll bleed to death, etc.) all of this gives you a very definite reason to avoid conflict with zeds, and ESPECIALLY to avoid conflict with other players.

My first life ever lasted approximately twenty seconds before someone shot me for my meager little bandage. My first encounter with another player ended with me shooting him in a moment of hysterical panic, after swearing up and down I’d “never be that kind of player”. And my longest life (a few months at this point) has lasted long because I’ve gotten good at being sneaky, and I stay far far away from other players that I don’t know personally. You learn by making mistakes and being harshly corrected!

Are there cool game design lessons that tabletop can learn from computer RPG’s and of course, are there game design lessons that computer RPG’s can learn from tabletop?

I probably sound like a broken record at this point, but I really think video games can benefit from becoming quote “hard” again. The reload from save, auto-targeting, it’s okay you made a mistake because it’s on a rail so everything will proceed as though you had succeeded feeling of games has become a real turn-off for me – I want to play a game that challenges me to learn how to play it, and doesn’t hold my hand through each step of the process. Games like Call of Duty now to me just feel like watching a movie where you push a button occasionally – give me a sense of exploration and let me discover on my own how to play, because the rewards are so much grander when there’s consequences for failure.

I wouldn’t know what lessons can go in reverse, though – I’m still very new to tabletop gaming and there’s so much out there that I’m not yet familiar with! I’m expanding my experiences though, as our D&D game is on hiatus for the moment. We played a particularly rough game of Paranoia, and are now doing a weekly FreeMarket game, and I hope soon to start Dogs in the Vineyard, which I’m so excited about that I can’t even stand it. Maybe once I’ve experienced more of what tabletop games have to offer I’ll be able to better answer this question!

Thank you for taking the time to interview with me, Megan.