Monday, 31 January 2011

Monstrous Races - What To Do With Them?

So, one of the most common elements of a given fantasy setting is non-human races. In older games/settings, this was pretty limited - elves, dwarves, halflings, maybe the odd "savage" race like orcs, goblins, drow - just a few "cultures", if you like. At some point, someone in any given group will suggest playing a member of one of these races as a character - it'll happen in every group, trust me.

In "newer" settings/games, variety seems to be key - you want Elves? Have High, Forest, Dark, Aquatic, Desert... So, not content with the usual races? Want to play a Hyena-Man? An anthropomorphic bat? Or a psychic fungus? Here's the rules, batter in!

Personally, I like players being able to play multiple unusual races - so ong as they fit into the setting. In a setting where, for example, all Drow are backstabbing, evil, matriarchal and dark-skinned, then really, you should play your Drow as all of these things - fair enough, you don't need to be Always Chaotic Evil, but I don't fancy a Lawful Good Drow without a very good reason! So long as it fits the setting, players are free to do whatever they want with their characters, within reason.

But, sometimes, you will find players who will not take the hint regarding non-human races. For every Conan-inspired Hyborean Age game, where magic is rare, and non-human means either non-sentient or evil, there's a player who wants to play a half-orc were-unicorn.

How do you guys run them?

Monday, 17 January 2011

Another Game Plan: Dark Sun

So, as you may be able to tell, I like to have several things going on at once. As well as working on Risus, my Unnamed Fantasy Transhumanism Setting, and running a PbP Planescape game, I'm going to tackle running Dark Sun as a play-by-post.

Dark Sun is, in a word, awesome. A product of TSR's period of trying out new and unusual settings (see Planescape, Spelljammer, Council of Wyrms), Dark Sun games take place on the world of Athas - once a lush, verdant land, but years of powerful "defiling" sorceries abusing the ecosystem have left it a nearly planet-wide desert. The land is split into City-States, each ran by a tyrannic, nigh-immortal Sorcerer-King and his/her Templars (personal police force).

Magic is dangerous - "defilers" can use the life-force of the planet (like the people on it, plants, wildlife etc.) to make their magic stronger. These people are outcasts at worse, and Sorcerer-Kings at best (feel free to redefine "best" here). Most everyone knows this, and arcane magic-users are distrusted and persecuted. As such, psionics (referred to as "The Way") is the main source of power, and is weilded in some small way by everyone on Athas (in game terms, everyone starts off with a Wild Talent - a minor psychic power like telekinesis, telepathy, or being able to smell with your elbow). Divine magics don't exist - the Gods abandoned Athas a long time ago. Religion isn't a massive deal due to this, so most people pay tribute and worship to their local Sorcerer-King.

The rule of the Sorcerer-Kings has led to slavery, and the breeding of races to fill certain niches - like Half-Giants (does what it says on the tin) and the Mul (half-dwarves, who are to a man tough as all Hell). Even the established D&D races are changed - Elves are now desert-dune sprinting, nomadic tribal communities, Dwarves get so focused on one task as their life's work that if they fail and die, they will come back as crazy undead intent on making sure no-one else can do it, and Halflings are terrifying cannibal raiders. Orcs, Gnomes, Goblins and many other races have been wiped out - genocided in the face of the Sorcerer-Kings humanopcentric early rule.

Another big step away from the norm is that there are no dragons (odd for a game called Dungeons and Dragons). Well, there is one - a Sorcerer-King who genocided his own people to gain the arcane might to transform himself into The Dragon of Tyr, pretty much a physical God (and the closest to such you'll find in the setting), and almost killed the sun in the process.

So, all in all - pretty grim.

Starting out for old-school AD&D, and recently ressurected for 4e, it's been a cult favourite amongst a cult gaming community. It takes the emphasis away from collecting loot and gaining power, and puts it into survival on a daily basis - whether you die from stavation, dehydration, or one of the wildlife (Dark Sun is also the only game I've seen which has combat stats for a cactus. Shit grows harcore on Athas), there is one guarantee - you will die. It's just a matter of when.

Will update when I have a better idea who's taking part, and what we'll be doing.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Planescape - Update, Part 2

So, after starting two separate play-by-post games of Planescape, using D&D 3.5, one has sadly dried up a bit. The other, however, is still going strong!

The players started out as members of a trading caravan, travelling the Planes trying to earn some jink. They were led by K'Liv, a Mercane trader. Mercane are very Lawful, and as such make great trading NPCs in games (they come, do deals that you probably won't get screwed over on, then leave - perfect!). K'Liv, however, is something of a rebel - he still makes deals, but with unusual clauses, and oftens twists his words to get the best for him. Think "Plane-hopping Opium Baron" and you're pretty close. The PCs didn't know any of this, of course, until he was ambushed by an Zelekhut - a big-ass clockwork centaur, built to reign in those who break oaths and deals. General consensus is the other Mercane traders saw him as a threat to their good name, and called in the services of the Zelekhut to bring him to trial.

So, the players were left with K'Liv's caravan, cash and goods, as well as his Mimir.

A Mimir is an enchanted skull, designed to hold knowledge and information - while K'Liv could have used it for many functions, it tended to act as his personal organiser, holding dates, info and tid-bits of info on clients and potential dangers. (As such, I styled it on a slightly buggy PDA I used to own, complete with indecipherable junk-text and bizarre grammar. Also, due to the influence of Alistair Reynolds Revelation Space, I went with a text-based interface - glowing letters that float in the air beside the Mimir, instead of a voice and personality. Skilled users can probably get a bit of a Minority Report- style switching of "holograms" to order information.)

After enquiring about K'Liv's current buisness deals, the group found a meeting scheduled for that day in a local pub, with Ashen-Khe (very little other information given). They hung around and waited for him/her/it, Bilal hitting on the Goliath barmaid Rose to while away the time.

Ashen-Khe made his grandiose entrance, and took the PCs on as bodyguards to escort him into The Courthouse, home of one of Sigil's most powerful Factions, The Guvnors - champions and students of Law. He claims to have information that may help prevent an attack by the Xaositects, a Faction devoted to Chaos and its place in the universe. They managed to recruit the raw muscle of Rose the barmaid, and managed to get him there in one piece, despite being tailed by three suspected Xaosmen - some nifty thinking meant the group split, leaving Tik-Tok (as the shortest) to sneak Ashen-Khe into the building, while the flaming-headed Bilal and the winged Tam'lin caught their attention, and led them into an alleyway.

While there, the three Xaositects shed some very worrying light on the situation - they were tailing the group to get Ashen-Khe, but not for grassing them up - they claim his real name is Kirrish, and that he may be planning something against the Guvnors himself - somethijng to do with a Xaos splinter-group, The Sons of Arril.

Time will tell who is lying...


So, the game is going pretty well, and is reminding me what I like and dislike about PbP.

Firstly, the game is slow. This is a night's worth of game, played over three months. Fatigue can set in quickly, but the group seem to be intent on hammering through and sticking with it - fine by me.

However, it also allows for a much greater deal of flexibility - as an example, I saw that the originally planned "Escort Ashen-Khe to the Courthouse, fight some Xaosmen, get rewarded and make some allies" wasn't going to cut it - not by a long shot. So I threw in the possibilty of betrayal, the reveal of unexpected allies, and the chance to be big players in something way above them - namely, the plans of The Sons of Arril.

It also means more prep time - I don't need to work out stats for fights until they are about to happen (don't tell anyone, but I haven't had stats for anyone yet!), unexpected turns and twists cn be looked at, evaluated and ajudicated, instead of a knee-jerk ruling.

We will see what the future holds, soon enough - the plot has really started kicking in now, and I can't wait till it all comes crashing together!

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Back In The Saddle

So, after a particularly busy Christmas period, I can start to keep this thing up to date again!

More updates soon, I promise!