Saturday, July 23, 2011

Superpowers: You’re the one that I want

In keeping with what you may expect of me by this point, I’m a big fan of superheroes, superpowers and all things super, natural or otherwise.  Heroes was one of my favourite TV shows while it was on and I was very sad to see it go.  There will be a few other blog posts to come on this genre I’m sure, but I today I thought I’d go through the three superpowers I would most like to have.  Self-indulgent, but fun.

So, in ascending order of desire:

3rd) Teleportation – From A to B instantaneously

                The ultimate ability for those who want to travel a lot.  Considering I have lived in several continents, this ability would save me thousands in flight expenses, and the everyday applications of it are equally useful.  Shopping, going on trips, all are made much easier by this.  Also, vacations are also much easier.  This ability tends to come in two types, exemplified by Hiro from Heroes and Nightcrawler from X-Men.  Hiro had to concentrate very hard, but when he did, he could teleport anywhere (including through time, but that’s a separate thing).  It took longer, but his abilities were very powerful.  Nightcrawler, on the other hand, could teleport at will.  He could only teleport within a short range, in many storylines only within eyesight, but he could do it repeatedly which made him almost impossible to hit.  In a fight between the two of them based solely on teleportation powers, Nightcrawler wins hands down.  Of course, Hiro can stop time and has a sword.  But that’s another matter.  At any rate, while Nightcrawler is definitely the cooler of the two, I would have to go with Hiro’s teleportation for its range.  I want to just pack a suitcase, hold my girlfriend’s hand, concentrate and Yatta!  I’m in New York.  On reflection though, Hiro’s power proved a little unstable (I’m not going to spoil it for those of you who haven’t seen it), so I think teleportation is not for me.

2nd) Telekinesis – Moving objects with your mind
It can get ridiculously awesome.  That's a flood by the way.  Hundreds of tons of water.

                It’s the utility power.  Depending on your level of finesse, it can do pretty much anything.  From grabbing the pot from the top shelf of the kitchen to moving the car that parked in your spot, from terrorizing evil headmistresses Matilda style to ripping the molecular structure of someone apart X-Men 3 style.  Telekinesis has more uses than a Swiss Army knife on Batman’s utility belt.  I would take this over teleportation because even if I can’t fast travel, I can fly with telekinesis and that will do just fine for getting me places.  Because it is the ability to move anything with your mind, its uses are only confined by your imagination.  It makes a handy shield if you project a wall of force, making you as invulnerable as you have the power to make yourself.  I’ve been told of an X-Men comic where Jean causes a group of soldiers to flee just by moving the contents of their stomach up and down inside them.  Nasty.  Its infinitely useful, it can be very subtle if you have the right variant of the power, and you can fly.  Only one power in my opinion can top this.

1st) Cryokinesis – The creation and manipulation of ice
You remember this guy....
                 You heard me.  Ice.  It’s awesome.  Check out the wiki on Iceman’s powers.  You’ll be amazed.  He has a bunch of extra powers which I feel would probably come with anyone with cryokinesis, but for now, I’ll just stick with the basics.  To begin with, you can freeze things.  Pretty useful if someone’s annoying you, because its not fatal unless you overdo it.  Also, using ice, you can create some pretty awesome instant-erosion effects by pouring water into a crack in something (say a wall of concrete).  Then freeze that water.  It expands, it cracks the wall.  Done properly, you can bring down buildings – either through breaking the walls or wrecking the foundations.  Good times.  But yes, most days you will not want to wreck buildings.  What else can you do?  You can make things.  In as little or as great a complexity as you can manage.  My favourite: Sword and Shield.  It just makes life that little more entertaining when at will you can summon pretty much any weapon you can work out the design of in your head.  Also, need to get up a building?  Tower of ice.  Busy road you need to cross?  Ice bridge.  It’s not subtle, but my goodness it will get the job done.  Need more dice?  Ice dice.  Need more ice?  Ice ice.  Cups, a table, an extra chair (I recommend you sit on it, not someone else)?  Spilt something?  Make it into ice and transform that stain into a flower!  Telekinesis would have trouble with stains, let me tell you that right now.  Cryokinesis is a difficult ability to hide, but when you can do so much with such a simple ability, why would you bother to hide it?  Send the scientists their precious tissue samples and carry on with your life.  And have someone follow you with a boombox at all times playing ‘Ice, ice baby.’

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Atmosphere in D&D: Are You Sure We’re In a Dungeon?

One of the stereotypical images of a Dungeons and Dragons game is the group sitting around a table in a dark basement.  While often seen negatively, it does highlight one of the important qualities of a good D&D game – atmosphere.  An excellent Dungeon Master can describe a situation is such a way that the players really feel immersed in the experience – the bright living room becomes a gloomy forest with a few well-chosen and well-orated words.  I am aiming to become that good, but I don’t think I am as of yet.  One of the tools which can help this process however, is to have at least a vaguely similar atmosphere in the real world to the one you are trying to create in their minds.  The basement therefore rears its eerie head once again.

Of course, some people just have awesome rooms
Here’s a story for you.  When I first started playing D&D, I was living in Brazil.  I ran a campaign in my friend’s living room – a quest filled with undead-infested cities and chasing elves through dark woods.  The only problem with this was, not only was I a rubbish DM, but it was a little difficult to make the atmosphere convincing when his living room was gloriously sunny with a beautiful view looking out over Ipanema Beach.  The lovely sunshine meant that every so often I would be saying “You enter the cathedral slowly, uncomfortably aware of the unholy aura emanating from the blood-soaked altar at the end of the aisle.  Shadows swirl about the place, obscuring the corners of the hall.”  The players would then look outside and look confused.  Sometimes, suspension of disbelief is a little more difficult.

Always appropriate
So other DMs have solved it with darkened rooms and relevant music.  I find music to be the most useful type of scene setter, because it is a lot easier to come by compared to an appropriately decorated/lighted room.  Muse makes excellent battle music, and Rhapsody of Fire have an entire album describing their own fantasy adventure which is fun to listen to.  I find Youtube to be a saviour of games, though.  A good mixture of music from Zelda, Bleach, and Kingdom Hearts gives a wide variety of moods available, and everyone enjoys listening to Gerudo Valley.  However, if it is possible to get a comfortable room which is appropriately themed to the campaign, then that’s certainly a help.  The artistically inclined could simply decorate the room with certain additions like tree branches.  I’m sure there are other ways of doing things, but I am not so inclined.

So DM’s out there, how do you deal with this?  Music is easy and effective, but does anyone go any further in creating a setting that is actually believable to the players?  A sunny living room is not always the ideal spot, unless you run a desert campaign I suppose.

Monday, July 18, 2011

4th Session of the Kaldahar Irregulars – A Comedy of Errors

Dalziom – Dwarven Cleric
Gotrek – Dwarven Warlord
Ika – Tiefling Rogue
Kuraileon – Me – Eladrin Wizard
Seraphim – Human Warlock

Chapter 1: Regroup and Ambush

After fastforwarding through the long journey back to Arasamar, the capitol city where we began our quest, Dalziom and I arrived on the docks and began to search for our companions.  By luck that could only have come from a divine hand (the DM railroaded it), we all found each other quickly and without issue.  We met back at the tavern where Seraphim and Ika were staying in order to recount our respective stories.  Seraphim had found that there was a large price on his head (about 5000 gp) and a sizable price on my head for the murder of two civilians (a total accident, but still worth about 1000gp).Even Gotrek, the fearsome human-hating dwarven warlord who had been absent for so long finally managed to join us. 

Funnily enough, that’s about when the trouble started.

The innkeeper knocked at the door, declaring that we had visitors.  Fearing the city guard, I hid in the back corner.  When Gotrek went to answer it, he had the door blown back into his face and I managed to see a series of scimitars embed themselves in his chest before a mysterious black fog enveloped the room in front of me.  Someone (I think Dalziom) called for Ika, Seraphim, and I to check the back alley to clear an exit for the party.  There was a back door to the room, so this made sense, and Ika, ever eager to leave the fray, ran outside but saw no one.  I teleported backwards through the wall into the alley and spotted a rather ugly looking Halfling at each end of the alley (they weren’t Halflings, but something more malicious).  A quick attempt to freeze them both in place was easily dodged by them and then rushed in at us.  Seraphim used Spider Climb to climb on the ceiling and attack the three stabbing Gotrek from above.  He then used the same curse he used on the dragonborn at the bandit camp to suspend one in the air and eviscerate it.  Gotrek, flaming pick in hand, saw the dangling legs of this creature and decided to “pick the dark one’s crotch”.  Hand motions were employed. 

Not the best plan, but I survived... ish

After my second attack missed and I had been viciously stabbed, I decided that I had to end this quickly.  I cast Wall of Fire, sending a blazing inferno down the entire alleyway, which was full of wooden crates and lined by buildings made of wood and mould.  Things caught fire.  To remedy this, I cast Ice Storm, which coated all the houses in ice, dousing the fire, but causing half the walls to collapse.  Ika and Dalziom were busy - Ika braining one monster with a sling with one hand and stabbing it with her short sword in the other, avoiding attacks with ease, and Dalziom doing his best to keep Gotrek alive as he got repeatedly stabbed from all directions and laying about him with his mighty hammer.

Shortly, the battle was over.  One Dark Creeper remained alive and captured.  The alley was in ruins, but no one appeared to be hurt.  One other creeper had been caught in my ice storm and was trying to free its leg from being encased in ice.  I had Dalziom hold it while I freed it to try and take it in for questioning.  It promptly twisted out of his grip and vanished.  Frustrated, we went back inside to the other captive, who also disappeared whilst being held down.  Angry now, and determined to get answers, I grabbed his stomach and cast magic missile to make him be still.  He never moved again.  Disembowelment will do that to a person.

The guard showed up at the front door to the inn, and arrested Gotrek and Dalziom, who had gone to speak to the VERY shady innkeeper.  They went quietly, knowing their innocence, while the rest of us legged it out the alley, knowing our guilt.  Ika did manage to bottle some of the dissolving essence of the Dark Creeper as she left though.  It started evaporating into dark mist, but she caught some in a flask and put it away.  We followed the guard troop to the garrison they took the dwarves to, and holed up in a nearby tavern to recuperate and plan.

Gotrek and Dalziom were interrogated, and their packs investigated.  Unfortunately for Dalziom, I had given him a scroll of Exploding Runes a few weeks ago in case he got into trouble and needed it.  It exploded in the officer’s face, and so Attempted Assassination of an Official was added to the list of charges.  Gotrek enacted a secret plan of his own (the player grinning all the while) that would not come to fruition until the trial they were to face the following day.  It was obvious from the harsh interrogation that the trial was going to be little more than a formality before their execution.

Hearing this through Seraphim’s contacts in the criminal classes, we decided to start planning their rescue.  First, we needed nice clothes.  Ika purloined some from an undisclosed criminal source, while I went to the finest tailor I could find and paid with a large gold shard to have a marvelous suit made.  It’s ruined now.  Punctured with many, many holes, and burnt on the cuffs, but we’ll get to that later.

Situational Ethics: Team Rocket, Slavery, and the Pokemon RPG

I’ve talked a lot about the Pokemon RPG I’m running now, and I think after this I will hold off for a little while, but it was suggested that I should write about the ethics of the game, and I think it could be interesting.  If nothing else, it will be a nice summary for the players.  The campaign has taken the party to each of several groups involved in the greatest conflict ever to hit Kanto (remembering that this is 700 years before the adventures of Ash Katchem).  The debate over who to side with raged so violently within the party that we have had to split into two groups just to accommodate the results of their decisions.  So, I would like to tell you just a little bit about how this conflict has shaped up, so you can decide which side you would come down on.  I’m not sure where I would side if I was playing, to be honest.  Prepare for a deluge of Plot!

A few years prior to the start of this campaign, Vincent, current leader of the Ground Gym, discovered the existence of Aprikorns, mysterious nuts from the west which, when used properly could control a Pokemon and cause them to serve you.  Unhappy with the poor standard of government exercised by the Elite Four and the very disparate Gyms, he decided that Kanto needed uniting under a single banner – his, naturally – and he now had the tools to succeed.  So he created an army in secret, giving each of his gym members Aprikorns to train their own servants with.  Believing in order at all costs, he recently sacked Cerulean City with this half-human, half-Pokemon army, capturing two Gym leaders and cutting Brock off from the world.  The world trembles as they await the next actions of the most dangerous force in the world, united under the new banner of Vincent’s family – Clan Rocket.

Image by TheDarkHell - DeviantArt

As for the Pokemon, by far the most intelligent and the most powerful is Alakazam.  He has been the secret force behind the strange conflict-free zone around Celadon City, created in response to the Grass Gym’s vow of pacifism.  On the other hand, he also organized and permitted the haunting of Lavender Town by a horde of Ghost Pokemon, forcing the entire population to evacuate.  Most terrifyingly, he is currently in sole control of the Psychic Gym, being the only being capable of understanding and containing the tragedy which befell the gym’s members when they abused their power and lost their minds.  Even Sabrina is little more than a soulless husk, after trading her own soul for more power.  Alakazam keeps the members contained, to prevent them from harming the populace.  All of this has been to create a single political statement: Pokemon are intelligent, powerful, organized, and can be negotiated with.  If he had simply shown up on Brock’s doorstep asking for an audience, he would have been hacked to pieces.  Now, he has the respect required to negotiate a permanent peace with the governing bodies of Kanto.  He is also, however, somewhat distracted by Vincent’s army, as are the rest of the gym leaders.

So, here are the sides:  Vincent and his Pokemon army sitting in Cerulean City, with Koga on his side, but too far away to be much help.  He has a few other allies, but I can’t mention them just yet.  On the other side, you have Brock, Blaine, Gaston (Misty’s replacement), and Sabrina (emissary for Alakazam) gathered in Vermillion City.  Vincent is seeking a new world order, where people no longer fear Pokemon as they are controlled and servile.  Alakazam is seeking a respectful peace between humans and Pokemon, where neither harms the other, and also wants the Aprikorns destroyed.  Brock, Blaine and Gaston just want the war to be over, Vincent to be stopped, and the world to return to normal.

The party on the Vermillion side of things just visited Cerulean City to see what Vincent was up to.  They left somewhat confused as to which side they should be on.  Vincent is treating the people well and rebuilding the city conscientiously.  He is though, also creating siege weapons.  Out of character, the players are realizing that for the world of Blue and Red Version to exist, Vincent must logically win, because Pokeballs do exist, and they are made from Aprikorns.  But Vincent is from the Ground Gym, and is the head of Clan Rocket, which must be the predecessor of Team Rocket.  So for the future to occur, Team Rocket has to win.  At least, that’s how they are beginning to see it.

I’m quite proud of this campaign to be honest.  It’s complicated, and there are a lot of players (NPC and PC) moving about the place all the time.  I have to keep track of the movements of at least 20 NPCs to know what is going on in the world.  I understand if this summary wasn’t very coherent, but I am keeping it as condensed as I can.  But yes, where would you stand?  Vincent is a little dictatorial, but still polite and has a good point to make.  So too does Alakazam.  The Vermillion Army seems to just be trying to keep things safe.  At least, these are the positions as they are appearing to the party at the moment.  They may well change over the weeks to come.