Tag Archives: Dungeons and Dragons

Back-Up Characters, Yay or Nay?

We have all heard the horror stories of TPK–where the DM or the dice decided to just off the party. And sometimes it isn’t the whole party, just your character that was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Depending on your level and how high the treasure is running, you may have no hopes of resurrection either. Even if you can afford it, you may not have someone able to cast it right away and what are you supposed to do in the meantime?

This is where it can be handy to have a back-up character. Thing of them as second-string, someone to run with the party until your main is brought back to life if they even can be. My group also uses them because sometimes, we get bored with our main or they aren’t the right fit with the party, or even because something story wise has come up that it makes more sense for them to leave the group (usually to settle down somewhere) because their goal has been accomplished or they have been thrust into a role of responsibility.

So this raises a question. What do you do for a back-up character?

I don’t like playing the exact same thing I’m replacing–it feels like cheating. But you have to think about your group dynamics. Do you need a tank, a healer, a damage per second, what? While there is a way around most gaps, it’s something to think about–you can have a party of entirely clerics, but you need to be different types of clerics. So keeping that in mind, then you need to decide what this character is going to be–a loner who is temporarily joining the group, either by their own will or being hired as a mercenary, a permanent addition. That will help you decide on backstory and class archetypes.

Whether or not I have a back-up character usually depends on the campaign. For example, Hekate is basically the linchpin for her campaign. If I lose her, I would need to consult with the DM on what exactly we could do. As a result, I haven’t built a back-up character and probably never will. But for Jadzia’s campaign, where death is a pretty constant threat? I’ve been contemplating a back up for a while, I just hadn’t settled on anything until the last couple of weeks. My new back-up in case of Jadzia retiring or dying is now Aurora, a Justice Archon Legate Paladin of Athena.

Now that I have a concept, the next question is how far should I go in building this character? There’s some schools of thought, such as waiting to build until you need them, but that could bring a session to a grinding halt if you die within the first hour of a planned four hour meeting with your group. (Or at least it would for me.) Sometimes the rest of the group can keep pushing on, sometimes they can’t and they have to wait for you to build. At the same time, your group is going to run into a lot of items that if your character dies, may be good to pass on to your new one. But if you’ve spent your gold on it already, it can become a headache to backtrack. Plus, gold for a new character scales with their level, more headaches.

My personal way is to get the backstory figured out. Race, name, age, family, home region, and class. Also go ahead and get my stats rolled up and assigned as needed. This lets me get my skills sorted, and I usually go ahead and pick out my feats. With all that figured out, I can level this character at the same time as my main, or at least close to it. That will make the needed character creation should something happen to my main limited to just buying items. (Which can also take forever, but once you get your basic kit, everything after that is just bonus.)

Like I said earlier, not all campaigns want or need a back-up character. And you should always talk to your DM if you want to retire your main, and give them plenty of warning. (I saw a tweet where someone had been setting up a character-centered arc for months, only for the player to change characters out of nowhere on them, I felt sooo bad…) If they know who your second string character is, they also know are prepared for what is coming with that new character and can keep in mind how to introduce them if needed.


Tabletop RP: Let us play dragons, you cowards!

This is a personal complaint, but I can’t be the only one who gets frustrated about this mechanic in Dungeons and Dragons and Pathfinder, which if I am understanding correctly, stopped even including after 3.5. That’s the level adjustment to actually let players play dragons. You would think a game called Dungeons and Dragons would encourage encountering and playing with dragons, but really outside of encounters as enemies or people you have to persuade to help you, you don’t actually deal with dragons much unless your DM is kind.

And this drives me nuts.

I want to play a damn dragon! It is not my fault that they’ve overpowered their dragons to the degrees that they have. There has to be a way to create a scaled-back, but still reasonably powered, race of dragons that the player can play in combination with a class, even if it’s as simple as only allowing certain classes (like sorcerer and a few others) that have bloodline variants to dragons anyway.

There are two points that everyone who thinks I might be needlessly whining are going to bring up: Dragonborn/Half Dragons (let’s be honest, there’s not a huge amount of difference outside of lore and a few stats/attributes), and the level adjustments of older versions of the tabletop games. For some people, this may serve as a fix. For me, eh. I have issues with both.

First, the Dragonborn/Half-Dragon idea. It’s not a bad one. As they grow more powerful, depending on classes, they can become more and more draconic in appearance. It’s a peace offering, a way to try and let people play dragons without the power dynamic problems. Except it isn’t an actual dragon. I get stuck on this, because there’s a ton of world building that goes into most of the races and creatures. The Dragonborn/Half-Dragon cultures aren’t the same as the clans of dragons themselves, and each color of metallic has their own culture within themselves, and we don’t get to see it hardly at all as players. I want to tap into that, not just into looking aesthetically like a dragon.

3.5 did allow players to play dragons… to a point. If you were playing in a campaign that started at later levels (or had a pay off system that your DM arranged), you could play as a dragon. But the problem was that a) it wasn’t consistent between the colors of dragon as far as what you could play as age-wise, b) it was a high level adjustment because most campaigns didn’t start you past level 5, and those were pretty rare, and c) they were only for the stupid-young dragons. I mean, stupid-young. I’m talking freshly hatched to before puberty is even a dot on the horizon ages. Under ten in a human, ages.

Speaking as someone who has played that young of a character before in a joke campaign, it is so hard to get into the right mindset. Not to mention having a child-like character in the party can be super frustrating for the rest of the party. And at that age, per the own descriptions in the books, the baby dragons would want to stay close with their siblings, and there are at least two eggs. So what the heck is the party going to do with two of them? And that’s if you can convince one of your friends to play as your sibling, which is…very dependent on personalities.

By bending the rules a little bit (and starting our campaign stupid high in terms of level so the DM could be sure he wasn’t going to kill us), I’ve gotten to play Jadzia, a silver dragon sorceress. She is still, maturity speaking, about the same as a twelve year old human. I can play off her maturity versus her actual age a lot…but you know, my inner sap would really like to have to be dealing with being old enough to arrange her contract to a male, and how all her adventuring is affecting it, like how one of my fellow players is experiencing with their princess-rank character. I can’t expect it to happen like at all though, because of the age mechanics have pushed me down to, and I’ve made peace with it for this campaign…but it sucks that there isn’t even an option or mechanic if we wanted to.

I’m not sure what the answer is. Both of the current “solutions” have their pros and their cons, from a pure, “I want to play a dragon of some sort,” stand point. From my wants and desires, neither meets what I want. One solution is to use homebrew and playtesting with 5e or something to figure out how to make it work for an older dragon, or how running a campaign for all dragon characters would work. (Which is a possible solution, but I’m supposed to DM the first 5e campaign for our group, so still wouldn’t get to do what I wanted since I wouldn’t be the player.)

On the other hand, it would be a hell of a lot easier for the folks behind Dungeons and Dragons to come up with an expansion or something similar to let people like me have our fun with the dragons without it being a battle/counter diplomacy mess.


Writing: On Historical Horsemanship…

Odd little mini-rant time. (It came up somewhere else, and honestly I don’t see this compiled anywhere? Writers need resources!) So you have things set in a pre-autonomous vehicle time period, or at least the only one that exists is the train and it don’t go everywhere. Your hero has two options: his own two feet, or buy a horse. What does this mean for your timeline and what sort of details do you need to know?

First things first: please do not go by Dungeons and Dragons or Pathfinder. They don’t know how horses actually work, I swear, and it’s not worth the fight to try and make their mechanics apply to your story. (Seriously had to have a convo with a DM about why a harness isn’t helpful in a riding situation. It wasn’t his fault, the entry was just written very poorly and I was like, “My inner equestrian is offended.”) They also tend to box horses into neat categories, which allow me to laugh uproariously over that. If only it were that simple.

So what do you need to know? Okay, so let’s go into some pretty broad categories and we’ll go from there. You have a general, all purpose horse. A riding horse, something bred specifically for good paces and pretty looks. Your war horses, these are trained for combat situations and usually are some ugly buggers, so be prepared. And then your cart horses, which again come in two sorts depending on how heavy your load is. Yes, there are ponies, no, unless your character is under the age of 13 or so (or has never ridden before, period), they won’t be riding them. Being mounted on an actual horse was a really big thing for the nobility, the younger the better.

(There are multiple official terms I could be floating around here, but I’ll be honest. Most are French thanks to the Norman invasion of England. If you are writing before that invasion or in almost any other country, those terms would just sound weird.)

Your general all-purpose horse is just that. It can be trained to pull a cart or buggy, it can be trained to carry a person on saddle or serve as a pack horse.  Usually a combination of all three. This is what most merchants and lower owned, if they owned one at all. This horse would come up to about the chin of a grown-man, so around 15 hands or 5 feet tall. Unlike our current breed books, medieval horse breeders literally did not give a fig about colors, so they came in everything.

Now for your stupid expensive horses. A rich merchant might have nice riding horses, the nobility definitely would, but the war horses are going to be limited to those who serve in your military, whether that’s nobility or a combination of classes. Riding horses are leggy with good proportions, high spirits, and can turn on a dime. They can be the same height as a general horse, but they can also be taller, up to 18 hands, because of their legs. Warhorses, on the other hand, were stout, with lots of muscle and tended to look short in the waist and kinda awkward to watch outside of specific maneuvers. They were also remarkably calm animals, unless you threatened their rider and then all hell broke loose. Please note, these horses usually topped out at 16 hands. They weren’t tall, just strong.

So what should your horse be wearing? Believe it or not, you’re going to want to check out Western gear, it’s the closest analog we’ve got. A simple bit with headstall (no chin strap) is in line with what they wore as basics (unless you want to get fancy), and a Western saddle without a horn or quite as wide stirrup leg is more in line with what a medieval saddle tree would look like. Note, a jousting saddle would actually have an even higher front and back. They had breast collars, which I think is a very important tool because horses have slick backs. You wouldn’t see much of the fancy barding or cloth coverings outside of a joust, they just did nothing but make the horse hot.

So who is riding these horses and how fast? Having a horse at all was an expensive enterprise, but most families owned at least one because you had to get the produce to market somehow, and horses were faster than oxen (and oxen or mules weren’t always available). Please note, women would ride astride just like men. That’s why you’ll see skirts with riding slits–gaps in the fabric in the front and the back. This would let the fabric part enough to let the women sit comfortably in the saddle. The only type of side saddle that existed was basically a chair on a horse who would be led, as seen here in the Russell Crow version of Robin Hood, being used by an elderly Eleanor of Aquitaine.

Side Saddle

As for speed, well, you have options. The fastest two are the ones you’ll use in a chase scene, because they are literally only good for short bursts. A canter or lope will run you 12-15 miles per hour, and a full-out run will get you anywhere from 20 to 30 miles an hour, it just depends on the horse. But remember, short bursts. I’m talking half a minute at a run, you’d get about two minutes max at a lope, and that’s being probably overly generous. Your best bet is to alternate the slower of the two gates, trotting and walking. A trot runs about 8-12 miles per hour, and a walk is around 4 miles per hour. Some horses have what are called ambling gaits, but they slot in with canter and trot pretty seamlessly in terms of speed, they are mostly about comfort of the rider. Assume you are going to travel about 30 to 40 miles a day.

(As a note, that’s about how often you need a small roadside inn or tavern on a road. Despite what most DnD campaigns tell you, people didn’t camp out on the road very much. Even if it’s a farm that opens its barn up to travelers, there is a place to sleep for a bit of coin somewhere without camping.)

…Hopefully my horse nerd-knowledge is helpful, I just like having it all in one blog post instead of digging through seven different Wiki articles and tumblr.


Tabletop RP: My Top 10 Spells

Everyone has favorite spells that they use, and thankfully most of them transition between editions without losing too much of the fun. Some spells are good for causing shenanigans, like Grease, others just do an insane level of damage that is always fun to inflict on enemies. I decided to list my favorite spells, at least one for each level (sorta), and why I enjoy them so much, therefore why you might like them for your character.

Please note that this list is for arcane casters only, such as wizards, sorcerers, warmages, etc. I’ll do another list of my favorite divine spells later, since I do enjoy playing oracles mixed in with my rogues and sorcerer types. I am also a bit of a blaster-type mage when I have magic (thus why I like warmages so much). My lists rarely have things that just entangle somebody or create alarms, and are more likely to cause maximum amount of damage that fits within the character’s particular theme (because sometimes, you gotta pick something besides fireball because it offends the ice mage).

Zero Level Spells/Cantrips
….No one likes these, why would I pick one here…? These are little spells that really, I pick based on the campaign.

1st Level Spells
Magic Missile is a must have. It’s a guaranteed hit whenever any enemy is annoying as hell, and you can shape them to reflect your character. I always approve of customization options.
Snowball is a Pathfinder spell of this level that has been a go-to for one of my characters too, it does some decent damage and has additional affects that can go in hand. Perfect for the ice mage, lol.

2nd Level Spells
In your early levels, you are working to maximize your spell selection so not only are you strong in your specialty, but you aren’t completely screwed if your DM throws something your way. Now, Jadzia didn’t bother learning Shatter because one of my party members already had it, but as Psyche, it was one of the first things I picked because if we met a golem, I wanted to be able to fight it. So definitely my first pick for 2nd Level.

3rd Level Spells
…Sadly, my favorite spell is a homebrew creation because I am playing an ice specialist and the DM thought it hysterical to create “Iceball” which functions exactly like Fireball, just with ice. That being said, Fireball is also a great spell, so if your DM won’t go for the giant snow/ice ball of doom, it is your first chance to really start slinging damage around.

4th Level Spells
There’s a series of spells that I used with Psyche that were by far my favorite spells. Different spells, there was one for each element, including Force and Sound, and they had additional affects depending on the element. I loved those damn things, plus I always knew how much damage I was dealing, I just had to look up the effect, and I could cater it to sensitives if the enemy had any.

5th Level Spells
Oddly enough, my favorite 5th level spell is defensive. At this point, I usually have a solid base of offensive spells, and I’m ready for something that not only defends my squish mage butt, but will also help my fellow players. Fire Shield, Mass, gives the entire party a line of defense, as well as attacking enemies.

6th Level Spells
Dude, Chain Lightning all the way. It does lots of damage, it continues to do more damage as you level, and can attack more targets or the same target multiple times. And if you are facing foes in metal armor, it does even more damage. I love it.

7th Level Spells
Here is where it really starts to depend on what problems my mage has run into when fighting. Do we keep getting hoards that attack us and we are way out numbered? Or is it something really big that we have to hammer through? Usually, this is why I take a mass-area spell, because I have enough one-on-one spells and could use a wide-coverage. So go with Fire Storm or something similar.

8th Level Spells
For 8th Level, your spell options really start to narrow down. You don’t learn as many of them, and you don’t get to cast as many times per day for spontaneous casters. For my favorite, gotta go with the multi-tasker and use Great Shout. It’ll damage golems, traps, and other objects, as well as doing a good chunk of damage to enemies even before you apply meta-magic to it.

9th Level Spells
Really, I have only gotten here once before, so it’s harder for me to pick a favorite or one that I am most likely to use. (Jadzia may yet get there and I’ll change my mind, but eh, we’ll see.) Considering the celestial theme that Psyche had going on… Gotta go with Meteor Swarm as my go-to final spell for this list.


Writing: Teenage Characters and Aesthetics

Sponsored by last night’s DnD session and poor Jadzia, who gained two items. Now, for beginning reference, Jadzia is a juvenile silver dragon whose favorite form when she’s shape changed is a late-adolescent human with silver dragon bloodline traits. An elegant goth late-adolescent human. She actually hoards gem stones of a very specific series of colors (no yellows, oranges, bright or true greens although super dark or milky and pale greens are fine, or reds, unless they are the deepest, darkest shades of red like her lipstick), and rejects anything with gold metal work. Her primary hoard items feature star sapphires (her favorite) and are a belt of magical gem stones that fit these rules. She dresses in a flowy pretty dress with vest and corset work to add structure all in black and charcoal grey.

Her first newly gained item last night I tweeted about, a lesser ironward diamond. It basically is a different type of magical gem stone, and being a smokey grey diamond, it fits just fine. The problem is that second item, which as a player, I wanted. I wanted badly. It was a rod of Piercing Cold. This lets me ignore or at least help combat with benefits Jadzia herself has so if we’re ever in a fight against her brothers or other family who we haven’t met yet, I’m not screwed with her being specialized in cold/ice themed spells to a high extent.

The staff part was fine–it was ice blue. The topper, though… The topper was deliberately made to rub her the wrong way. It’s an angry snowman with a knife.

Jadzia was balking so bad, ya’ll. I wanted it, but she was going, “SNOWMAN! NO!” and ugh. It was a long few minutes and we had to poke at dragon greed to get her to take it. Thankfully, her trying to change it to match her aesthetic is actually planned into the DM’s goal for the thing, so no hurt feelings. But there was some confusion when I mentioned the twelve year old was THAT attached to her aesthetic. Some of it was fellow players forgetting, which considering how she normally looks and her usual maturity, it’s hard to remember that she’s only 48 and that’s barely entering puberty by dragon standards. But I think a little bit of it is that for male writers, even the best ones, they don’t quite understand it.

I’m not saying aesthetic isn’t important to pre-teens and teenagers in general. I know for some boys, it’s just as important as breathing. But then I also know that there are people like my brother, who can and will wear warm colors with cool in such a way that if he was doing it with super nice clothes, I’d cringe. Even I can get pretty lax when I’m in casual mode. But for some people, it is life, and the truth is, many of those people are preteen and teenage girls.

Some of that is cultural. We have most of our societal pressure about our appearance pushed onto us as girls between the ages of 11 and 19…which is cruel and unusual, because that is when your hormones and body are doing weird things and you have very little control over anything, yet have to start planning for the rest of your life. Fretting over how you dress and what colors you can’t stand anymore is an easy way to re-establish that control. Some of it is personality. I am naturally an extremely fussy person about color because I can tell dye lots apart even with the smallest of differences, and that’s about the age that people really start taking an interest in fashion, and apply themselves to a very specific look.

As a juvenile dragon, Jadzia is not only in that mindset, she is stuck in it for the next several decades…if not centuries, I’ve not looked at the higher dragon age categories. So for me, I really have to keep it in mind that she is very concerned with appearances and how she is perceived. Particularly with her high level of responsibility, since she’s the most powerful of her clutch and the only female on top of it. She has decided for whatever reason that the gothic look is how she wants to be seen–possibly because she wants to be seen as serious and grown-up, overcompensating for her real place in development. To her, this is just as important as any moral or ethical question she could be put in, because at her age, it is just as important.

In case people still don’t get it, let me explain it in terms of an appropriate holiday metaphor. Intellectually, I can acknowledge that a green, gold, and red Christmas tree is pretty and festive. I will compliment it and may even investigate for reference for a character who might like it. I still want it no where in my home. My Christmas colors are silver and blue and I decorate more with snowflakes and plain deer than Santa Claus or snowmen. (An occasional penguin might sneak by, but shhhh.) Am I so set in my ways that I won’t accept a pretty gift? No. But will that gift actually get hung up in the house? I’ll wait and see if I change my mind, but it’s a no promises situation. I’m also double the maturity level of a teenager.

A lot of male writers do a good job of understanding that this is a thing for young girls, including the guys that I play DnD with. Even some girls don’t experience it and can be confused, depending on how they grew up and their personalities, and then have to try and write it correctly. But sometimes I don’t think writers completely understand it, and that’s what I hoped to try and explain better.

Happy holidays, everyone, and I’ll see you on the cusps of the New Year.


Tabletop RP: 3.5 versus Pathfinder

My group had mostly been playing Dungeons and Dragons v 3.5 when we first started out. And like any game, you play it enough times you start finding holes in the nuances of the game. Not necessarily flaws, I hesitate to say that, but rather places that because the writers/creators were so deep in the woods, they couldn’t see the trees. (Hey, it happens to all of us, even me! That’s why I have a dev-partner.)

But when the difference in classes (some of it admittedly on my shoulders, I didn’t do as much in-depth research on classes, I just picked something fun to try) started biting us in the butt and making the power balance between players kinda funky. So after a couple campaigns, we decided to try Pathfinder. There was a bit of a learning curve, because not everything is the same, but we quickly fell into using it.

So what are some of the key differences between the two? Like we moved over for, the big thing is classes. Things progress a little faster–you get more feats in general, there are more traits to classes to try and balance them out. They also introduced archetypes and variations, so you don’t have to bounce around and multi-class, take prestige classes, and God knows what else in order to build the type of characters you want. Fighters, rogues, and some of the other fighter based classes got evened out with the sorcerers, clerics, and other magic classes in later levels.

Bad side: prestige classes are basically useless at this point. I haven’t seen a single one that was worth the buy-out for advancing through a prestige rather than continuing into the upper levels of the class I was already in, at least in my current campaigns. (I made a character to deliberately aggrevate one of Ginny’s werewolves who hosts a DnD session.) And if you do need to do a multi-class character, you are screwed, the new system is so messed up. We honestly homeruled it out and said just to use 3.5, because otherwise it’s almost impossible.

What about races? There was a somewhat complicated way of figuring out if a race was playable in 3.5, I rarely messed with it because it was all the eww. I wanted to keep things simple for my own insanity. Pathfinder makes it much easier, helping identify what creatures are possible player characters as well as introducing a bunch of new races to play. I played several outside of my elven standards, and had fun with them all, for different reasons, in different settings.

That being said, some of it seems…random? I remember certain creatures being playable in 3.5 that aren’t available in Pathfinder, I guess to prevent being over powered. But the big one (my silver dragon) wasn’t that powerful with her base classes helping her out, not when you weighed in how much she paid in levels in her class in order to be that race. And some of it is very…weebo. I mean, I enjoyed playing a kitsune, don’t get me wrong, but in combination with a lot of stuff that was added to Pathfinder, it definitely feels like it is catering more to anime, I want to play a ninja/samurai/whathaveyou like out of such-and-such show, rather than the more traditional fantasy crowd of usual Dungeons and Dragons. I don’t mind the representation, I mind that it seems more like catering to a particular fanbase instead of acknowledging another world culture.

What about the worlds in general? Well, general rule of thumb, we tended to play Homebrew worlds for 3.5. I don’t think I even ever learned the “official” canon of the world for 3.5. And while we sometimes headcanon something or adjust a rule to suit our playing styles better, for the most part, we are playing Pathfinder a lot more straight to the actual information in the books. So I can’t really comment on whether the world-building/religion is better or not.

As for mechanics, not a lot has changed, and even if one thing is easier, something else is more difficult. On one hand, yay, there isn’t this ridiculousness of seeing something but you don’t hear it, everything is tied to Perception. On the other hand, I have no idea what this CMB or whatever it’s called is. (Which is bad, I am currently playing a rogue!) So for every step forward, there was a step back in terms of general mechanics. I prefer elements of both…and still hate non-spontaneous spell castors, so really, there wasn’t a huge enough difference for me to reconsider how things work and slate my preference.

So what is the end result? Well, we haven’t fully converted. My solo campaign with the rogue is being run Pathfinder, as is a future campaign with another rogue-variant type. But my silver dragon is being played in a campaign that mixes elements of both 3.5 and Pathfinder together depending on what is easier/suits the character better, which I think is brilliant, though there are obviously still issues. That one is also being run with Greek mythology for the religion, it’s awesome. And as for me… I’m going to look into Dungeons and Dragons v 5 to see if it’s any good for running a short campaign.


Character Study: Bevan

Ahhh, the first Dungeons and Dragons character. Always fills you with nostalgia. Especially with how broken she ended up being, it was really funny, since I didn’t build her that way, it sorted of just happened.

Like most beginning players, I was an idiot and gave the DM too much to play with. I have a stated preferences of elven characters, and Bevan was no different as a half-elf…whose human side ended up being nobility as we found out later. Further, we crack shipped her with the Lawful Good character in the party, who had issues with non-human races, and she was Chaotic Good, so you can imagine how they got along. In addition, he thought she was a he, because Bevan started as very androgynous in appearance (we eventually time skipped and she grew up a little more so that ended). So I got bored and made a giant genetics chart like you learn in biology class, and yeah… See, I’ve learned!

Bevan was a lot of fun though partly because of how much info I gave my DM to hang me with. She had lots of family problems, serving as an indirect bridge between a hidden village of elves and the nearest human local. While some of her village didn’t view her any differently, some saw her as nothing but a half-human. Similarly, her human family just saw her as an elf getting in their way. Add in the fact her mother was killed on purpose when she was a child, rather than it being an accident, and you’ve got a whole mess of a character arc to deal with. And as awkward as it was to RP a relationship later on with her and my friend’s character, we had some fun too. (Okay, I remain firm that it was hysterical that when he had to “kill” her, he took forever, and in a similar situation, she was like, “NOPE, not my real husband, BYE!”)

A lot of the fun with this character was how broken she ended up being. Some of that came from us modifying a prestige class from version 2.0 into 3.5, because deep wood sniper was the class that made the most sense for how Bevan was set up, but oh lord did it do broken things to this character. Add to that a couple of items we found–a sentient ring designed to protect those of elven descent and turned her invisible at will and a quiver of everful so she never ran out of ammo–and the stockpile of poisons we ended up with and she was the sniper from Hell that no one wanted to be up against. Due to feats and class skills, she had insane range, could fire a lot of arrows per round, and you wouldn’t even see her while she was doing it. I had all the giggles.

If all of that wasn’t enough, we had a wild mage in the party. Wild mages do…interesting things…to the characters who are around them. I’ve had to come to terms with it, despite my hatred of people screwing with my characters. (My control issues are legendary.) Bevan had one of these funny examples. At one point, she got hit with a surge (pre timeskip, I remember that much). And she got a random racial template assigned to her. The problem is, the half-elf race is set up assuming that you are half-human. That part didn’t change. When the dice landed on half-Raptorian on the table, DM ruling was that I got the wings and would be able to be targeted by Raptorian-centric stuff. I wouldn’t lose my human or elf statistics either. The only way that’s possible in DnD is if you are half of each race. So Bevan became, effectively, half human, half elf, half Raptorian.

…All I can say is, “A wizard did it.”

So now the sniper can fly, doesn’t that just fill your hearts with glee? Not really, I know, but it was a lot of fun to play her. And you know, Bevan’s story was so complete, I actually don’t have any drive to write it as something else. We really covered a lot of ground with her, and she had an ending she deserved. Okay, plus I’m not sure if I’m capable of writing her story as a book. So many of the wild craziness was dependent on other people for humor and was so off the cuff, I couldn’t remember it all if I tried. Add in the fact that she was, for the first few sessions, a quiet member of the party, and she isn’t set up to be a major protagonists.

Bevan was my first character, and honestly if she hadn’t been as much fun as she was, I probably wouldn’t have kept playing. But she was, and she will always be special to me as a result. Probably why I’m so fond of the name still!


Review: She Slays Monsters

Something a little new here, this play recently showed at the University of Oklahoma’s theater program, and it struck enough chords that I felt the need to review it. Let it be known, reviewing a play is a little trickier than reviewing a movie or a book. Each production, each show, is a little different, all depending on how they worked together. I’m going off of the way the story was shown this particular time, and how it was designed to appear to the audience. Another production might be different. We’ll see.

The story revolves around Agnes as she seeks to cope with the death of her family, including her younger sister, Tilly. She and Tilly had a difficult childhood growing up together, with neither really understanding each other. Agnes is given a second chance when she discovers a notebook Tilly wrote in: a Dungeons and Dragons module that while only half-finished, contains some hints of her sister’s life. With the help of some of her sister’s friends, she starts to piece together what she didn’t know about her sister…and what she didn’t know about herself.

As a person who plays Dungeons and Dragons… I could tell that no one in the cast or at least the production team actually played. No offense meant to them, but they were obviously relying on their consultants with the local game shop to make sure things looked right…as much as possible. While I’m willing to give some slack since DnD has changed a lot over the years, I can’t help but wonder how much of it changed due to the cast not knowing what questions to ask or the game shop to answer. Which of course in turn makes me ask how many notes the playwright put into the script. You can’t always rely on people to do the research for you, and I feel like he should have placed some more hints into what certain creatures and characters looked like.

Which somehow gets my brain to costuming. Tilly looked great, as did Agnes. What irked the shit out of me–and this was written in the script via dialogue, so I place no blame on the costuming team whatsoever and think they did great with what they had–was the way some of the other characters dressed. You get that some of this is meant to be empowering for these party members, and the people who play them, but there’s something that almost every DnD/fantasy MMO player who is also feminine-leaning will tell you: they hate having no other option but to dress their character in bondage outfits or chainmail bikinis. And I mean we hate it. It hit so many offended buttons for me, right off the bat, and sort of colored the rest of the way I saw the play. Normally, you can say that it gives the production team a break as far as finding or making armor (as an excuse). Except that I know for the fact that SCA is an international organization that is usually up for working with people in exchange for publicity, and cosplay has created all sorts of cheats, that it shouldn’t actually be an issue.

At times, a lot of beats were cringe inducing unless you kept the setting and the age of Tilly in mind. You had to remember it was the 90’s, you had to remember she was fifteen when she died, you had to remember that she lived in a small town. It was too much from a story standpoint because we were watching this play out, we didn’t have the ability to rewind or flip back a few pages to remember important facts to keep things in perspective. While some of the monsters were named after people in her life, creating interesting moments for Agnus to interact with, it just sat weird to me because the way they worked into the story didn’t make sense. I think he was relying on Tilly’s age to explain it…except I was a fifteen year old writer, and I wouldn’t have done anything that blatant. It felt like the writer was trying too hard to make the audience see the parallels between Tilly’s real life and the life inside the game.

Because the writer in question is a fight choreographer, I have to pick on that a little too. This is where it’s hard to tell what was a production choice and what was written into the actual play without having a copy of the script in my own hands. But all of the party members used melee weapons–practical for a play, not so much for a party. The only healer was Tilly, and she was limited severely (more than I think even early DnD would limit a level 20 paladin). There was no magic-centric class. And even then, everyone used swords, daggers, or a battle axe (with the occasional shield). There are a lot of interesting options available, even in the early DnD stages, that could have helped spice up the monotony of the fighting and made the party make so much more sense. Of course, better spacing of the fighting and making it less random as hell would have helped too. While that’s part of DnD, this…pushed it severely, especially for a play. (Okay, I could nitpick the actual fighting in this case, but that would be cheating and I’m spoiled with my own experience.)

Some of this was very…trite and tropey and not what I expected of this play. I may have had too high of expectations because this was (I thought) written by someone who was in the know about this aspect of geekery. But I ended up feeling a bit disappointed in the writing, in things that I have issues with as a player myself, and in how this tried to show DnD to the world. In the audience, I heard people talking about the game like it was old and dead, like no one had played Dungeons and Dragons since the 90’s and like the game hadn’t changed. And you know what? They are right in a way. No self-respecting DnD group would function like this, at least not anymore.


Character Study: Yun/Psyche/Mageris

…This character went by a lot of names, okay? This was the warmage character…that eventually got turned into a favored soul/warmage gestalt and had a lot going on, both in front of and behind the scenes.

Short story on why her classes changed: we had one campaign going with her as the warmage, and the DM realized the story was going in a direction he felt was in his comfort zone and he wanted to stretch himself. We all agreed to a restart, most of the players changed their characters entirely…but I am the sort of person who wants some conclusion for characters, so I just modified her (only I didn’t, we’ll get there). The campaign, through no one in the current group’s fault, ended up dragging and then getting wrapped up quickly, but the conclusion was definitely there and so I am quite content with this character.

First off, I got to play with the amnesia trope, which is one of my favorites. This character was raised as Graceella (childhood name, elves are weird) and took on Mageris as her adult name. She was a lower born noble, but was lifebonded with the heir to the empire. But considering how being lifebonded can make life complicated, the adults in the situation decided to separate them in hopes of weakening it a little. Unfortunately, one adult (who Mageris thought was her mother, actually her aunt and this was a lot of fun later) took it too far and wiped all of her memories. All that there was for this poor girl to figure out who she was was her scrawl of her signature at an inn, which she thought said “Yun.”

Now, while I was pretty careful about fleshing out the mother’s side of the family…I hadn’t paid attention to the father’s side. So the DM got to have some leeway with them, and boy did he take it. It also led to us having to keep two different histories straight. Yep, we had parallel world hopping going on, and while most of the party was from the same world, I was from the original RP’s world, which was two different situations. At several points, we ended up killing that world’s version of Psyche, as several different possible outcomes to her situation played out. This is also how I ended up with the sword I used, which was pretty epic and I loved. The DM really worked hard to make sure everyone in the party stayed balanced, which is great when you contrast people who understand how the classes are in strength compared to others…and then people like me, who just create a character and find the appropriate class and run with it, regardless of how strong of a class it is.

And what’s really fun is the change that happened to this character without her memories. She had been raised the gentle, retiring lady who happened to have warmage capabilities, someone who was frequently overwhelmed by the lifebond who was used to getting his way as they got older. But without those memories, away from friends and family, she had to learn to stand on her and found her own voice and authority. When her memories returned, she had to try and mesh those two different personalities together. Thus, when she started going by Psyche. This was also when she started having real trust issues with the adults in her life, because she was very upset over how they had treated her, and God can elves hold grudges. And it was fun when she met her paternal uncles, and she was full of stubborn authority instead of being demure. (One really didn’t like it, it was funny.)

The favored soul aspect was fun too, because Psyche was Neutral Good, the Good is Not Nice trope at times, definitely not the gentle maiden anymore. But she was chosen by a draconic deity who was true Neutral, and his focus was on maintaining balance and stability…even if that stability couldn’t be considered “good” by an objective eye. There were a couple of instances where Psyche had to convince her deity to do something that was going to destabilize the world they were in at that time, where the “good” argument wasn’t going to work. Usually she managed to pull it off by arguing that they were about to throw the balance off anyway…it didn’t always work.

Something fun I did with her (just because I could) was do an elemental thing with her spell choices. While warmage’s known spells are set, with lots of fire and lightning, I got to pick her favored soul list. I ended up going with ice and holy light offensive spells aside from the request healer spells, creating what I consider this interesting contrast in the two sides to her nature, and what ended up being the two conflicting personalities in her head: headstrong and authoritative Yun and the more retiring and quiet Mageris. Funnily enough, it was the favored soul stuff (which matches Mageris better) that flared up with the loss of memory.

As for the lifebond, there was a lot of shenanigans, but things ended up working out there well…sorta. We didn’t get to RP much with him, or rather the real him (which is probably for the better for everyone’s comfort level), but I imagine the epilogue was pretty entertaining. Both end up being chosen favored souls of draconic deities, but he doesn’t get as much of a chance to interact with her after she has her memories back and both of them are aware of it until it has ended and they are now being the clean-up crew. I have mental stories and musings about how he would handle the change in personality in his lifebond, and the different path their lives have taken. Though really, he is probably happy about the difference–he has magic now, when previously he didn’t, so yay equalizer.

I honestly think I might return to Psyche at some point, though not as a DnD character. Rather, I’d like to play with her as an original fiction character. I think it could be a lot of fun, and let me explore some things with her that I couldn’t in a DnD setting, since there’s either no mechanic for it, no point to it without possibly taking up time that isn’t fair to the other players, or just be something I’m more comfortable writing rather than RPing in a tabletop setting.


Tabletop RP: Gender and DnD

So. I play DnD. With a bunch of guys. No other girls in the group, and all attempts to add girls to the group have not been met well (one for other reasons, but yeah, hasn’t worked out). Now, I know other girls who play, and have groups that are much more mixed gendered. I just didn’t fall into those groups, and my schedule doesn’t mesh with them. Leaving me stuck with the guys.

And let me tell you, this gets uncomfortable for very quickly.

Now, it doesn’t get uncomfortable for these guys. Because I don’t talk about girly things with them and I work very hard to keep topics away from subjects that while I might enjoy them, I know will bore or make them uncomfortable. Because that’s what our society encourages in female behavior.

Now, if only I could get the same respect.

Frequently, things take a turn for the disgusting, the over-sexed, or sometimes a weird mix of both that really makes me uncomfortable. Especially when they start making references to certain animes and video games, which are notorious for being for the male gaze. And speaking up doesn’t get me any favors, not really, since nothing will actually change. Now, I could be overly sensitive, but I think my experiences and the conversations I have with other female players reveal some serious differences in how the genders play DnD.

For one thing, I’ve noticed that guys tend to go out of their way to make crazy characters. And by crazy, I mean mixing, matching, and combining races, classes, and feats in order to get the most over-powered character possible. Now, if I make something overpowered, it’s by pure accident (the wu jinja gestalt class comes to mind, though I haven’t had enough chances to play it to be sure). I tend to pick a class that fits with the kind of character I’m playing, sticking to classes I know I’ll enjoy playing rather than ones I know will irk me (…like the wu jin, not a good pick in hindsight). The more complicated it is, the more I have to keep up with which distracts me from the game.

So with these crazy characters, you would think the guys were just as invested in the games we play as I am, right? Well, sorta. Some of the group is just wanting to push to see how much they can get away with by terms of the rules. They don’t really do back stories or character investments, and are pretty blase about their characters dying. Even the others who do care about story are always ready to move on to the next thing. Which is pretty contra to Ginny’s understanding of other groups, which treat the characters as investments (which is how i would prefer to play). I create complex back stories for my characters for a reason, and to see it go to waste just frustrates me, so one DM has even lost the privilage for me to do that anymore.

More than anything, I’m noticing, at least in my group, that it comes down to differences in what they play for. Now, these are huge generalizations, but it seems to me that boys play for the laughs and the oh my gods. They want to see how outrageous they can get and the more crazy, the better. But for us girls, it’s about the story, it’s about the characters and the actual RPing.

I’m not saying that boys don’t enjoy the characters and story. They can, and do. But get a group of them together, and they are going to be forgotten in favor of seeing how much damage a fireball spell can do. I’m not saying girls don’t enjoy battles. I love blowing things up and getting critical hits too, but if you put me with a group of other girls, we’re probably going to focus almost entirely on the story and the rest of the system will be an afterthought. Groups need either balance or focus, depending on the set up. So in my case, I have one DM who understands my need for story, the others needs to blow things up. The other…can’t seem to figure this out.

And as a DM myself, I need to learn to read what a group needs. Obviously, I’m going to want to lean towards the story angle myself, but that isn’t going to work with this group of guys. I need to figure out how to feed their need for chaos and my own for story at the same time.