Thursday, 28 June 2007

Auxiliary Languages

Auxiliary languages, the invented "universal languages" have been a long-standing fascination of mine, and was re-awoken during an earlier tidying up of my web presence, some years back.

Most of the technical terms will be explained by a quick visit to Google.

Esperanto

Unfortunately, this is the most popular invented language, the one that most people will have heard of, and the only one with easily available treeware documentation, but it has problems. The first is the one that really stopped it for me, back in the '70s and '80s, when all I had was a manual typewriter, with no accented characters…

The very alphabet

The Esperanto alphabet is:

A E I O U; B C Ĉ (or Ĉ) D F G Ĝ (or Ĝ) H Ĥ (or Ĥ) J Ĵ (or Ĵ) K L M N P R S Ŝ (or Ŝ) T Ŭ (or Ŭ) V Z

Maybe you didn't see all those letters - C^, G^, H^, J^, S^ and U-inverted^ - as they don't live in the ASCII, or even the Latin-1 range of common characters. In the full Unicode standard, they are in the next block, the Latin Extended-A set, and in the character justifications, while U-inverted^ is shared with Latin, the rest are Esperanto-only.

For a language that was happy to throw away X in favour of 'ks', the addition of these accented characters seems strange. If you have only ASCII, I'd prefer the following reform.

The letters involved are ones with multiple sounds - C is a 'ts' and C^ a 'ch'; G as in 'gay' and G^ as in 'gem', H^ as the 'ch' in 'loch', J is as the 'y' in 'young' (or the Germanic 'J' in 'Jung'), but J^ is a 'zh', S as in 'gas', but S^ as 'sh' in 'ship', while U-breve is as W.

Why not one of the following?

C->S (merge the 's' and 'ts'), C^->C, G->G, G^->J, J->Y, H^->Q,S^->X,U-breve->W, J^->* if you're stuck with ASCII, or

C->ç (soft C as in French garçon), C^->C, G->G, G^->J, J->Y, H^->Q,S^->X,U-breve->W, J^->Ð using Latin-1.

The assumptions

The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis is that language constrains the thoughts we can have, as without words, we cannot articulate a thought. Esperanto shows the reverse is true. The language was first published in 1887, and shows some of the values of the time - the word for 'father' is the obvious patro, but the word for 'mother' is patrino, using a feminine modifier. You can't even say "single parent" in the language as the word parent only formally exists in the plural, gepatroj, ('ge-' meaning "both sexes together") from which one has to hack off the pluralizing -j to coin a clumsy singular.

Similar value-laden decisions in the vocabulary have us use maldekstra, rather than something based off gauche or sinister, for left. But south is sudo, rather than "malnordo"!

The long words

In natural languages, common words are short words. Esperanto's systematization leads to long words for simple common concepts. For example rust (iron oxide) is rusto; iron rusts (fero rustig^is), and becomes rusted (rustig^inta). In this case, there is the shorter rusta (rusty), but that offers a slightly different shade of meaning in English.

Admittedly, English does have an unusually broad vocabulary with different shades of meaning, having assembled fragments of a number of other languages, something not common to other languages, so this may be an idiosyncrasy.

Interlingue

I discovered this one when searching for the ISO-639 language code for Latin (la) and Classical Greek (there isn't one, but there is an ISO-639-2 standard 3-letter code (grc), for Greek from before the fall of Byzantium). But there are first-class, 2-letter codes for Esperanto (eo), Volapük (vo), Interlingua (ia), and Interlingue (ie). I'd been aware of the first three, but it took Google to unearth the last.

It's a real minority choice among auxiliary languages, being kept alive by the ability of the 'net to bring together scattered individuals of like mind. It starts with the same sort of brief - gather together common European Romance word roots and a systematic grammar, but is much more accessible.

It uses just the 26 ASCII letters. There are some apparently complex rules for pronunciation, such as for whether 'C' is soft or hard, or whether 'T' is sibilant (like in caution) - but they are just the ones we use everyday in English.It is quite happy to use doubled letters, usually with H, - 'ch' as in 'church', silent h after g (ghetto) or k (khedive) or r (rheumatisme), 'sh' (or occaionally 'sch') as in 'ship', 'th','ph' for Greek derived words that had θ, φ - but 'ss' for a hard S, 'zz' for a 'ts' as in plazza.

I like its use of shorter words - for example, its use of simple and more obviously European e,o for and,or, as opposed to Esperanto's kaj,aŭ (that's u-breve); and it uses forms that are much more natural for an English speaker.

This remains my current favourite.

Esperanto to Interlingue dictionary

Interlingue to Esperanto dictionary

Ceqli

This is the c.2003 state of the language. More at its now somewhat spammed Yahoo! group.

Pronounced Ching-lee, a Loglan(lojban) derived language with a Mandarin influenced grammar, and a global reach in populating its vocabulary, being constrained to have fundamental words with alternating vowels and consonants. Being a language of the 1990s, it has a neutral form, pam, for parent, with father, mother, being pamzo, pamxi by adding systematic elements meaning man, woman.

It does use some "funny pronunciations" - C is 'ch', Q is 'ng', X is 'sh' (that being only half-funny, being akin to the familiar use in the Portuguese place name, Xeres, that gives us the English 'sherry'), so where I've used it as a quasi-gibberish language in my SF, elsewhere on this site, I've written it in a phonetic style.

Wednesday, 27 June 2007

Forgotten Cults

One project that I considered was to use the Forgotten Realms maps for an alternative far future Glorantha, where Orlanth and the Red Moon fought to a standstill, and Jar-Eel ended up in a role akin to the Lady, out of Glen Cook's Black Company books. The campaign would be set long ages after the fall of the Red Dominion. The AD&D2 Complete Priests' Handbook is assumed. The inspiration was sparked when a player chose a priest of Strength with the Barbarian kit, and it looked a lot like a Storm Bull cultist…

Commentary

Mother Night is probably not an attractive choice for players; Lady Starbow will gather some women warriors; the Secret Moon is not really a player character option, given its secrecy and restrictions; the Blood Moon is a relict cult, found only in a few out-of-the-way places and usually despised. The Red Magic secrets it teaches are one of the prized posessions of the Red Wizards in their mountain lands, rumour of which makes them hated and feared beyond what their own efforts can achieve. Mistress Moon is a semi-fighting and partly mystic priesthood, suitable for player characters.

Mother Night

One of the nameless spirits of the Dark under the Earth, Mother Night first became noted when Thunder Father struck down Emperor Sun from his throne at Skytop. As the dying, bleeding Sun fell down the sky into the underworld, its inhabitants fled the sudden light. Mother Night led those who ascended into the sky, spreading her protecting cloak of darkness over the land, as she still does to this day.

She has only a small following, as she is content to spread her benefits to all, each night. Her importance is more mythological and practical than spiritual.

Alignment: True Neutral. Priests and worshippers may have any alignment.

Minimum Ability Scores: Wis 9

Races allowed: Any, though most common are creatures of the underdark.

Proficiencies: Recommended — Religion, Blind-fighting (no extra out-of-class cost).

Duties: Protecting those who are distressed by the raw light of the Sun.

Weapons and armour: Chain, shield, any club or similar blunt weapon.

Other Limitations: Function at -1 level in natural light, and half level (drop fractions) when in direct sunlight.

Spheres: major — All, Sun(reversed), Protection, Wards, elemental fire (reversed); minor — Healing, Necromantic.

The reversed form of Summon Fire Elemental summons an elemtal of darkness, with similar stats to a Fire elemental, whose attack has the effect of a Cause Fear along with regular damage.

Followers and strongholds: As a minor deity, her priests only have those followings they can personally attract.

Powers: Darksense (sonar based sense, including “acoustic daylight”, rather like dolphins); Hide in shadow 50%+5% per level, modified by race, armour and Dexterity as thieves; Carpe Noctem: Once per level per night, the priest may cause a 10' radius sphere of night's darkness around him or herself to become fixed, and endure through the coming day. If the priest has cast any spells during the day, one of the priest's choice is renewed at sunset.

Symbols: A black disk.

Lady Starbow

As Emperor Sun fell dying into the underworld, splashes of his burning blood fell onto the sky. When even Lord Gloaming, the least and last of the sons and retinue of the Emperor, had followed his master beneath the Earth, the spiritual nature of these bloodstains quickened them to life. Nurturing these last remnants of light came a hitherto nameless and despised sister of Lord Gloaming (the Sun having considered the only feminine spirits of worth to be the fertile Earth, and then worthy only for their fertility).

Defending Heaven and Earth against the encroaching Night, she took up the great Sky bow her father had let fall, defending each remaining spark until the Sun was finally freed from Hell.

Alignment: Neutral Good. Priests and worshippers may have any good alignment.

Minimum Ability Scores: Wis 12, Dex 12, Cha 12

Races allowed: Human, elf(except drow), half-elf; only women may advance beyond 4th level, and only those who have quested for and won a Unicorn mount beyond 8th.

Proficiencies: Required: Riding(land-based) Recommended - Religion, Blind-fighting, Tracking. Crossover: Priest, warrior.

Duties: Protecting the weak and oppressed, especially women.

Weapons and armour: Chain, shield, spear, lance, javelin, shortbow, short sword.

Other Limitations: Often despised by patriarchal Sun worshippers (her worship being most common in areas that revere

her father and brothers).

Spheres: major — All, Sun, Protection, Combat, Elemental Fire; minor — Healing, Necromantic.

Special spell: Shooting Star: as the mage spell Flame arrow, but the spell is cast on the weilder's bow, which then transfers the spell's effect onto each arrow fired and lasts until the maximum number of arrows have been affected, or one hour has elapsed. Detect Silver and Gold (1st level)

Followers and strongholds: As a minor deity, her priests only have those followings they can personally attract.

Powers: Infravison 60' (120' for elves and half-elves); May track as a ranger if there are stars visible in the sky if she has the Tracking proficiency. At 4th level, if virgin, may quest for a Unicorn mount (stats as for a Paladin's war horse). May choose one melee and one missile weapon to have Warrior THAC0.

Symbols: A silver bow; a labrys (double bitted axe) — note that this is a weapon that the Starbow priests may not actually use in combat.

The Secret Moon

Only initiates of her mysteries know any but the barest rumours of her past and current actions. She was the barely visible moon only glimpsed in the radiance of the Unfallen Sun, and who fled beyond the sky at his fall.

Alignment: True Neutral. Priests and worshippers may have any alignment, but usually tend to Lawful Evil.

Minimum Ability Scores: Wis 13, Cha 13, Dex 15

Races allowed: Any, though usually from outcast populations.

Proficiencies: As the Assassin kit from the Complete Thief's Handbook, plus Recommended — Religion, Blind-fighting (no extra out-of-class cost). Crossover: Priest, Thief.

Duties: Furthering the cryptic purposes of the Secret Moon; ensuring that things best kept secret remain so.

Weapons and armour: As thief; weapons of quiet death like the stiletto or the garotte are preferred.

Other Limitations: Must obey their superiors without question. All aspects of the Assassin kit.

Spheres: major — All, Summoning, Divination, minor — Healing (both normal and reversed), Necromantic (reversed), Sun (reversed).

Special spells: Glow: A variant on Chant. The priest glows with am eerie blue light, which gives him and all his associates +1 on all their defensive rolls and -1 to be hit. Lasts 6 rounds, plus 1 per level of caster. Summon Secret Moon Elemental: As Summon Fire elemental. The elemental is invisible.

Followers and strongholds: As a minor deity, her priests only have those followings they can personally attract.

Powers: Gain thief skills as a thief of the same level and the benefits of the Assassin kit.

Symbols: A wavy-bladed dagger.

The Blood Moon

After the first War in Heaven, and the return of the Sun from the Long Night, there was at first no moon. How the Moon later arose is not known. She may have been the Secret Moon returned, or a once-mortal sorceress who attempted to fuse Solar might with the feminine principle, or even a synthetic construct built through arcane engineering as an anti-Sun either by creatures of Darkness or as a weapon against them. Whatever her origin, the presence of a new power enthroned in the sky led to a Second War in Heaven, culminating in a battle between the Moon and the Thunder Father from which both took sore wounds, and in which the world was shaken and remade.

The worship of the Blood Moon is a weakened survior into historic time of the days before that final war; and is without doubt a debased form of the original worship

Alignment: None. Worshippers may have any alignment (but see below). The worship of the Blood Moon is often appealing to mages of an appropriate mindset.

Minimum Ability Scores: Wis 12 Int 13 Cha 15

Races allowed: Any.

Proficiencies: Required — Spellcraft, Astronomy, Recommended - Religion, Reading/Writing, Ancient Languages, Ancient History, Astrology. Crossover: Priest, Wizard

Duties: Spreading the liberating and enlightening message of the Blood Moon, if desired.

Weapons and armour: Chain, shield, Sickle, Scimitar, Shortbow, Scythe, Rhompia (crescent bladed axe).

Other Limitations: Receive only D6s for hit points; subject to the equivalent of Ravenloft Power Checks, and hence may often sport some malformation (power checks may occur for any essentially selfish act): with freedom, such as the liberation from alignment, there comes a corresponding responsibility, and those who succumb to temptation wear their failures externally. The Blood Moon is also regarded as a demonic figure from myth, so her followers also labour under that burden of prejudice, especially in areas that were once conquered by, or under threat of conquest by her Dominion.

Casting of priestly spells is affected by the phase of the moon as follows:

  • Dark of the Moon — 1st and 2nd only
  • Crescent Moon — up to 4th
  • Gibbous Moon — up to 6th
  • Full Moon — any

This does not affect casting of wizard spells for split or dual class Wizard/Priests.

Spheres: major — All, Law, Chaos; minor Sun, Charm

Special spells: Moonbeam (Sun 5th), Summon Moon Elemental: As Summon Fire Elemental. The Moon elemental attacks for only half the damage of a Fire elemental, but those attacked must save vs Death Magic or make a Madness check.

Followers and strongholds: As a minor deity, her priests only have those followings they can personally attract.

Powers: Worshippers may follow any alignment, but its value is hidden. Alignment detecting spells yield only "Neutral"; and take no damage or other adverse effects from magic items based on their alignment; and gain benefits as the better of their own alignment and Neutral. When casting any spell, may modify it with metamagic spells (as per Tome of Magic) as follows:

  • Dark of the Moon — none
  • Crescent Moon — level totals equal half spell's
  • Gibbous moon — level totals equal to the spell's
  • Full Moon — level totals equal to spell's + 2

without memorising the metamagic spells or using extra spell slots. If the priest is also a wizard, these benefits transfer to casting wizard spells as well. Spells so affected glow bright red, even if normally not visible.

Symbols: A half-red, half-black disk.

Mistress Moon

After the War in Heaven between Thunder Father and the Blood Moon, when calm at last returned to Earth and Sky alike, and the clouds that had long blocked sight of Sun, Moon and Stars alike parted, a white moon was revealed, rolling along the same path as the Sun. Perhaps this was the conquering Blood Moon washed clean by the storms, but broken like the Sun before her to wheel between Heaven and Underworld.

Worshippers of Mistress Moon align themselves according to their age into the appropriate aspect — maiden, matron or crone.

Alignment: True Neutral. Priests may have any part-neutral alignment. There is no restriction on worshippers.

Minimum Ability Scores: Wis 10, Cha 12

Races allowed: Any surface dwelling; only women are permitted into the priesthood; few men even join the worshippers.

Proficiencies: Required Astronomy; Recommended Religion, Navigation, Astrology, Spellcraft, Reading/Writing.

Duties: Guidance, Marriage, support of women in the transitions of their life.

Weapons and armour: Chain, shield, Sickle, Scimitar, Shortbow, Scythe, Rhompia (crescent bladed axe).

Other Limitations: The secretive and nocturnal nature of their worship can cause a negative reaction from non-worshippers.

Spheres: major — All, Charm, Divination, Summoning, Sun; minor - Elemental, Healing (and Necromantic if you use the unrevised spell spheres).

Followers and strongholds: As a minor deity, her priests only have those followings they can personally attract.

Powers: A priestess of the moon as maiden has Charm/Fascination; a priestess of the moon as matron has Soothing Word; a priestess of the moon as crone has Turn Undead. Saves against any of their magical effects are at -1 during the appropriate phase of the moon.

At 5th Level, all gain Inspire Fear (as per the CPHB).

Symbols: A silver disk.

Mountain Daughter

The martial daughter of Mother Earth, the patron of warrior women, and especially those who fight to defend, or, damage done, to avenge.

Alignment: Chaotic good.

Minimum Ability Scores: Wis 10, Str 12 (gain +5% xp if both are 16+)

Races allowed: Human, elven or half-elven women.

Proficiencies: Required Tracking (as Ranger); Recommended Religion, Reading/Writing, Riding, Healing. Crossover Priest, General and Warrior

Duties: Defending, especially other women; avenging harm done to them.

Weapons and armour: Any armour and shield, any axe or axe-like pole arm. May specialise in one chosen weapon.

Other Limitations: Joining this priesthood separates a woman from her normal society. In particular, she may not marry

Spheres: major — All, Healing, Protection, Elemental Earth; minor - Necromantic, Guardian.

Followers and strongholds: TBD.

Powers: Bladethirst, level times daily, castable on her own axe. Incite berserker rage in self or other members of the cult.

Symbols: A bloody axe.

Sir Sword

Once a brother of the Thunder Father, now the wielder of the archetypal sword, and that sword itself, that first brought death to the world.

Alignment: Lawful Neutral.

Minimum Ability Scores: Wis 9, Str 13

Races allowed: Any.

Proficiencies: As CPHB war god, including crossovers

Duties: Excelling in martial prowess, separating the living and the dead (including laying to rest those who should be dead, but are not - the undead).

Weapons and armour: Any armour and shield, any sword. May specialise in all swords.

Other Limitations: May not be raised or resurrected or even turned into undead (though the physical remains of the priest may be animated as a skeleton or zombie). Any transition to undeath e.g. by level draining by high level undead, results in the character's death rather than transformation into undead.

Spheres: major — All, Combat, Necromantic (but may not raise the dead); minor Healing, Protection.

Followers and strongholds: TBD.

Powers: Turn Undead; Sense Assassin ( WIS based proficiency ); CON bonus as poison and such as a dwarf (doubled if you are one).

Symbols: A sword.

Volcano Brother

The youngest brother of the Sun, who fell into the Earth, not into the Underworld. As the CPHB Fire god with the following changes:

Proficiencies: add bonus one forge-related and one farming-related

Duties: Aiding and being an example to the workers on the land.

Spheres: major — All, Healing, Elemental Fire; minor — Healing, Necromantic, Protection.

Symbols: A burning spear.

Thunder Father

The son of Sky and Earth, who fell in the Gods War long ago. This is how his priests of that age might have appeared.

Alignment: Neutral good.

Minimum Ability Scores: Wis 10, Con 12

Races allowed: Air-breathing males.

Proficiencies: As CPHB Sky/Weather god

Duties: What a man's gotta do; to be an exemplar of the role of man as father, provider, protector, and, as needs be, warrior.

Weapons and armour: As the CPHB ruling god.

Spheres: major — All, Weather, Elemental Air; minor — Healing, Combat.

Special spells: Add the following mage spells at their original level — Fly, Dimension Door, Teleport, plus Conjure Air Elemental (as Conjure Fire Elemental).

Powers: Incite berserker rage and Inspire Fear as CPHB.

Symbols: A thundercloud.

Desert Storm

A brother of the Thunder Father, patron of berserk warriors who strive against unnatural monsters. As the CPHB god of Strength, with the following changes

Alignment: Chaotic (urrr... Disorderly) neutral.

Duties: Destroying unnatural monsters.

Special spells: Replace Flamestrike with Conjure Air Elemental.

Symbol: A bull's head.

Mothers of the Moon

The wizard-priests who created, empowered or restored the entity whose remnant is now the Blood Moon were at one time worshipped as demigods in their own right, and in their collective role as those who brought the moon into being, as a fully powered god-equivalent. This is how their worshippers might have appeared

Alignment: Neutral.

Minimum Ability Scores: Wis 10

Races allowed: Any.

Proficiencies: As CPHB god of Everything

Duties: Spread the word. Bring civilsation to the barbarian and savage.

Weapons and armour: Any armour and shield, scimitar, sickle and scythe. May specialise in scimitar.

Spheres: major — All, Charm, Necromantic, Sun; minor — Healing, Combat.

Followers and strongholds: TDB.

Other Limitations: Casting of priestly spells is affected by the phase of the moon as follows:

  • Dark of the Moon — 1st and 2nd only
  • Crescent Moon — up to 4th
  • Gibbous Moon — up to 6th
  • Full Moon — any

This does not affect casting of wizard spells for split or dual class Wizard/Priests.

Special spells: Summon Moon Elemental: As Summon Fire Elemental. The Moon elemental attacks for only half the damage of a Fire elemental, but those attacked must save vs Death Magic or make a Madness check.

Powers: Turn Undead.

Symbols: A silver moon.

Emperor Sun

The first ruler of the cosmos.

Alignment: Lawful (= bureaucratic) good.

Minimum Ability Scores: Wis 12, Int 12

Races allowed: Men whose fathers were priests of Emperor Sun.

Proficiencies: Required Healing; Recommended Religion, Reading/Writing, Riding (horse), Play Harp. Crossovers as CPHB Sun god.

Duties: Governing. Being an example of austere virtue

Weapons and armour: As CPHB Sun god

Spheres: major — All, Divination, Healing, Necromantic, Sun; minor — Charm, Elemental Fire, Plant, Protection.

Special spells: Imbue with Spell ability — despite only having minor access to the Charm sphere.

Followers and strongholds: TDB.

Powers: Turn Undead, Soothing Word, Inspire Fear.

Symbols: A golden sunburst.

Tuesday, 26 June 2007

A&E Ig-theme capsule essays

The posts for today are my responses to the optional theme-for-the-issue posed in Alarums & Excursions

The difference between Old and New campaigns

How old is old? While 1960s rock stars may have talked the talk, my experience is of campaigns that actually did die before they got old. Usually I was introducing new campaigns (often also implying new systems) to old players.

The only longish running campaign with some later introduction of players was the Champions game from the mid '80s. There, the genre conventions were strong enough, assuming the players understood them, that they could hit the ground running. In the case of the genre-unaware player cited above coming in later, I guess that the campaign in mid-flow had enough momentum to ride through that sort of local difficulty, whereas a newly starting one, with less player investment all round, might have foundered in favour of something more attuned to the new consensus.

Working around Combat Patterns (he hits, I parry)

I didn't play Ars Magica for long enough for the variant “He hits, I soak” to become clichéd, though my converted high-CON ex-AD&D2 Uruk Hai was very good at that version of the old standard. And it depends what you mean by a pattern — if you take the software engineering meaning, that really means a stereotype, in the same sense that that word used to have in printing, of a ready made format Opening gambits are a source of behaviours that often get thus stereotyped — “Here come the flying feet of Kung Fu!” or “We Starsky & Hutch the door.“ — a reference from when they were on the TV (as opposed to the 2004 movie), not that long before the very early D&Ding days — the fighter knocks down the door while a mage stands ready to Magic Missile what may be revealed.

But I guess the real intent of the topic was on the behaviour that emerges when you actually invoke the game mechanics. At this point the fact that each entity in its turn — and that encompasses even the different turn rates for different entities that is part of the Hero system — is given an action that may be used to attack, and that usually meets some implicit resistance from the target. The underlying game mechanics will always drive you to some variant of the the “I attack, he defends” iteration; even in Over the Edge and Feng Shui, no matter what their respective authors would like to have you believe.

All that those games attempt to do is hide this inconvenient fact under layers of fluff. Such spurious detail has for me the effect of reducing both my immersion (as a distraction) and also the credibility of the action — I would rather hide detail I'm no expert in under the abstraction of the mechanics. Otherwise you get to the ludicrous things like in the Theatrix thread on r.g.f.a about 8 years back where what the acting player described in the belief that it is a strong move was resolved by the adjudicator taking the point of view that it was a weak one, or descriptions of a combat in terms of fencing stances (recalling a somewhat more recent thread on u.g.r or perhaps r.g.f.m). Not only am I not au fait with the technical terms, but I do not find it credible that such technically precise stances would be applicable to wilder melee — especially in the example I recall of a combat with a broo. This style of play also seems distressingly full of examples in which a player asserts what his opponent is doing as much as his own character.

No, either you go to systems that plot moves at the sub-100ms increment with Laban Notation, using complex transition rules to simulate physical limitations on how far you can move, and that you can't move one arm though another, and computing whether you'll fall over given that current stance, and how to recover, and then you have to learn how to fight properly, for real, to use it — something I contemplated over 25 years ago, and then drew well back from — or you're stuck with the abstracted action/re-action iteration.

What do you use for genre sources

The one time I found I really needed to get players into the groove for anything I ran was Shadowrun when few if any of the players had read anything even vaguely cyberpunk-ish. To remedy that, I handed around the first accompanying volume of fiction, the Into the Shadows braided anthology, for them to read in advance of the character generation session. In other cases, my players seem to have already had some idea of the genre or at least conventions typical of these games absorbed by osmosis from the surrounding culture. The main exception I recall was a player who just wasn't into superheroes who joined in one session of Champions. I don't think a reading assignment would have helped in the short time available.

The time I really went looking for genre material (as opposed to things like historical references for period context before finally not getting around to joining the Saxum Caribetum saga) was when running Vampire — and there it was easy enough to find source material in the usual bookshops — which I then plundered for NPCs.

Kill or stun — which to do

One reason to kill is when you cannot deal with the opponent in any other fashion. The last game I actually played had just about come to this point - the mind warping powers of the elves out of paratime were such that they couldn't be kept prisoner by mere humans for any length of time. So, for our own security, the only good pointy was a dead one.

Saintly PCs — what makes them, what game mechanics might they use, and

I think we have to distinguish between pious characters and those who are merely holier-than-thou; and also have some ground rules on what the piety is being measured against to do this topic justice. How would a character that's not following something close to one of the Faiths of the Book be judged as saintly?

It is true that many characters that say “pious” or “holy” on the character sheet actually turn out aligned simply Lawful/Obnoxious — the one I remember from local play being an LG dwarf cleric by the name of Aman Naug who came over as very austere and puritanical, and noted as to be one of the first against the wall when the CG revolution came. Most interestingly, when dusted off post AD&D2, as a priest of Aurochs, lord of berserk strength (the CPHB Strength specialty priest type), he became the rather lighter-hearted Noggin the kung-fu barbarian dwarf in very short order. And he was doing a lot of righteous smiting as befitted his faith. Was he saintly?

In a more familiar style, I remember affectionately the write-ups from long, long ago of the Tale of Two Clerics, two pious characters and their unfortunate companion, the rather more self-interested Frank (and all his relatives — replacements — of the same name). They sounded saintly, and certainly seemed to work.

Had I actually completed character generation for Saxum, my character there would have been inspired by Roger Bacon, as portrayed in Blish's Doctor Mirabilis, and would have had a definite background from the Church, even if a mildly heterodox one, from time spent in the University at Paris, a pious inquirer into the majesty of Creation. As it turned out, I don't think he would have fitted the rest of the group, so that's saintly character that wouldn't have worked, but in that case only due to the particular context in which he would have been set.

Why are some players reluctant to GM

I can't say for sure about the habitual player-only type, but I might share some of the problems. For me, my reluctance to resume after burn-out was, and remains, centred about the problem of excessive GM authority in anything adjudicated. It's about not being able to sustain the necessary illusion of player free will from my PoV, while keeping the amount of GM prep needed to a manageable level. For a fully live quasi-simulation, a world that “runs itself”, in which the players can really do what they want, the workload is enormous (at least compared with the amount of time and energy I feel I can devote to it these days). That's before one faces the possibility that every player takes off on a separate agenda (as helped crash my V:tM chronicle). For anything constrained, I have to guide the players, and this feels wrong.

On top of that, choosing a system, choosing how to customise it, can all lead to analysis paralysis even before getting to the crunch point of selecting a setting, and trying to set it in motion. And then you have to worry about whether your players will be happy to consume what it is you have to offer, whether they will propose characters that you can handle, and that won't do violence to what you wanted to run.

It was all so much simpler when a satisfying evening's gaming could be put together by selecting opponents for two fight scenes and a skeleton of narration to join them up. Things started to go downhill when gaming evenings had to stop at half ten rather than one a.m., and violence had to be suppressed after the 9 o'clock watershed and/or speeded up by abstraction, and other things had to be introduced to fill the space. Nearly as good are the few very best pre-packaged adventures where the GM can just play the hand he's been given without needing to rewrite it to eliminate crass bits, and allow the time for the game system to produce results, rather than have to also make them up.

Rules that players disagree with

Long, long ago, the real biggie was the wizards and swords one. We cured that one when one time the mages and thieves, the sole survivors of a mêlée, started to squabble over the division of the loot, drew swords and axes, and slaughtered each other tout de suite. Then they saw the wisdom of the arbitrary ruling. By the early 90's, it had even become one of the bits of antique charm of the *D&D rules (another thing to dislike about 3e) that made it attractive to pick up AD&D2 and play that rather than RQ.

And nobody liked the fire-and-forget magic system, so we replaced it almost from the get-go.

I can't remember any other focussed little rules that were contentious, though there must have been many. More often it was whole-system things not amenable to single-point changes (bricks über alles in Champions, the system sagging by about 8-9th level in *D&D, the unreasonable effectiveness of mages when played with a little thought in Shadowrun). The nearest to a point problem was with Pendragon (which we used in a Glorantha setting), where no-one liked the number of shots a slinger could get off on an opposing foot-soldier charging at him, a combination of range, rate of fire and movement rules conspiring together, but that was washed way by the other problems with that particular campaign.

Have you tried hitting PCs with a baby

One time, this was almost literal - a small child was used as a missile by a supervillain (Malice, of the Bad Girls) in a Champions game. It's not a very effective thing to do, as they are limited in the damage they can inflict by their low BOD and zero DEF. Paving slabs are more effective.

As for the idea of inflicting parenthood, even adoptive or something like, and transient, it was never explored while I was involved. Heck, we didn't even have any “spunky kid” PCs (thank goodness, worse than kender…) The only episode I can recall in which children actually appeared was an almost off-screen incident in the Glorantha/RQ game where the PCs had returned to their home steading, and my Babeester Gor axe-murderess was co-opted by the Voria nursemaid as an assistant. This being a cult obligation, she grimaced, went along, and into an off-screen interlude.

Subsequently in the same GM's Saxum Caribetum saga, I gather the mages get involved in orgies, sparked off by faerie wine, which have resulted in offspring as well as points of vis, but I get the impression that the grogs are left to deal with the sprogs. There may be more sordid details on the campaign web page than I wot of.

Creating a home base for PCs

In many cases, PCs were peripatetic, where not simply garaged somewhere abstract between weekly dungeon delves, so the issue rarely arose. In the earliest days, some characters had (off-screen) castles - something spend six figure fortunes on. My MU, Ororo, was planning to create a demi-plane, a cottage in an eternally summer garden in a small valley magically hidden in the middle of a howling snowy waste, the way in being through a gate in the wastes, but the campaign folded before she could organise the magical wherewithal. It would have had home comforts, defence in depth, and, most importantly, significant swank value.

The one home base that had significant time invested in — both design and play - was Doc Savage's lab in the London Watch Champions campaign, but despite the fact that I did the job of putting it into a CAD system, the passage of the years has eroded memory of the design process. In that game I did have a PC with a defined pied à terre; Pushover had a flat [never detailed] in the block containing the Women's Centre where she worked, but having been developed as a character, decided that the macho super-hero thing wasn't for her and faded out of play. [I'm getting my revenge now — an alternate version of her is co-starring in my latest fiction, and she's going to have to deal with being faced with the problem of saving the world this time.]

There was a home base in the last AD&D2 game, a castle, but as that was the holding of the NPC Baron for whom the PCs worked as elite forces, it was a given, rather than being chosen. In the paratime/60's spy game, we were also eventually given a base, an alternative where a paratime capable civilisation had been wiped out. The most involved base-like stories with off-beat design criteria would have come from the local Ars Magica saga ( Saxum Caribetum ), where founding the covenant took most of the first realtime year's play, and it took a resolving a lot of squabbling about the library before construction even began.

What tips can you give about starting a gaming group

Thinking about it I guess I was always lucky, I always joined existing groups, already accumulated by someone I knew from university, so it was more a case of finding a group than founding it.

What do the players want the PCs to accomplish

I don't really recall having much in the way of grand PC-level goals. This was one of the difficult things about trying character play. The satisfactory games tended to be the ones in which what was to be accomplished was limited and tactical — goals like “Clear out the deserted Wiri colony on 3rd level”. Such goals, of course, arose on a player level, answering the question “what do we want to do tonight?”. The episodic nature of the games — dungeoneering, superheroics — lent itself to such tactical play. Adding continuity did tend to replace the answer of “whatever we feel like” with “whatever we were lumbered with as a leftover from last week, again”. This, in retrospect, may not be an entirely unalloyed plus.

Pulling heartstrings — friends and family as levers

I never did much with this. On the family side, starting RPGing at college when leaving home was a big step just being taken, characters had automatically done much the same thing. For those of us who stayed close to University, and especially those who have also refrained from breeding, the same lifestyle decisions seem natural. The only vestiges of such things were the DNPCs taken for a few odd points, when other disads have been mined out.

But then much F/SF writing has the same conventions.

Restarting old games — whether to and how

That's restarting as in a car, though one could have written revive, to avoid the sense of reinitialise.

Ignoring essentially stillborn games, in my experience games falter most often for one of two reasons. The most prevalent is that the game mechanics have given way under play; restarting means porting to a different system, in which characters don't work like they used to, and it soon needs to be put out if its misery (after seeing it happen a few times, we stopped doing it).

The other is that some of the players — often the GM — can't get out enough to justify what is being put in. This may manifest as the thread getting lost, perhaps due to pushing past a logical stopping point, or an acrimonious terminal session where divergent goals can no longer be smoothed over. In this situation, admitting that this is dead, and burying it is the only way.

What rôle does Party pressure play

This is more a player level set of agreed — even unspoken — conventions in my experience. The characters work together as a genre given; so I can't really comment on in-game effects.

What helps players stay in character

I'm not sure my experience is typical. In recent years at least, the problem, when gaming in the evening after work, was keeping players from lapsing into a comatose state, rather than dropping to player level. Caffeine has little effect on the habituated. Worse, when players were out of the limelight, multi-tasking happens as people took to maximizing the use of their free time (reading, checking e-mail on laptops), to the extent of needing to prod people when their PCs' actions came round in combat.

At that point a simple “Your turn” and a pause for context-switching sufficed.

No-one violated character, but were active only fleetingly.

How do you treat anachronisms like Futuristic Wizards

Futuristic Wizards are entirely OK if the genre accepts them (e.g. ShadowRun). Things like the Arduin Techno class are, as written, much more of a problem as their tricks would really need a large technological and industrial base to support, and thus don't ring so true. Like the old “mages can't use swords” argument, it's best if the players just take any limits as one of the canons of the game, and the worst is to respond to provocation with a tantrum — “I'll ban it forever!”

Does your GMing style vary by the rules set you're using

In hindsight, I can't see much difference in my own style in broad, save perhaps in some slight and gradual maturation over the years. There may have been a selection effect, in that games that didn't gel with my style I simply passed by.

I also tended to treat games more as different ways to slice reality, and impose different limits on the possible; and can't off-hand think of any game which came with an associated setting that I have ever used the setting from, at least without having customised it myself, until at the very end when I used the Planescape setting.

Even the late slide into a style which was more low-dice, narrative with adjudication came more as a response to trying to fit more than just a fight scene into an evening's play, and happened as much with AD&D2 as with V:tM! It was an exploration of what I could do to improve the execution of the game based on current received wisdom rather than being tied to the actual set of mechanics or genre in play.

What to do about occasional players

When in the past players have been unable to show up for one or more sessions, the characters have by default been played by the other players by committee, and somewhat in the background. In some genres (cyberpunk, superhero) it is easier to agree that the character is doing his/her day-job or similar schtick and can't respond to “Avengers Assemble” or whatever.

How have you used game mechanics to explore religion in your games

I never did much with this. RQ cults were the best mechanism I've given any time to — they did give a notion of concepts like “holy” that an entirely barren (i.e. state education requirement for religious instruction) Church of England background had only rendered meaningless.

When is breaking character the right thing to do

I think one needs to take a utilitarian approach — what will bring the greater good for the greater number of those assembled to play. This covers the jerk chaot and narcissistic thespian cases nicely with reasons for breaking (or retiring) the character. It also stands against the breaking character just to follow along with what the GM alone wants.

For me, keeping character usually led to PCs leaving the story to do their own thing off-stage, while ciphers prospered.

What makes for Bad experiences

Well as I note elsewhere, they have all been about alienation from the hobby (not alienation as a tool within it), when I could no longer say why I was doing this thing. Encounters with dorks get forgotten, or maybe turned into war stories.

What's good or bad about Convention games

I had a brush with tournament style rules (a choose-your-stats D&D where CHA was made useful by controlling how many times the player could speak during the game) at the first Dragonmeet I went to (c1980); and didn't stop to play. I've only actually played or run “delegate organised” games, haphazard pick-ups that were at worst forgettable.

What makes for a Sense of wonder moment?

Thinking hard on this one, I think I can honestly say that the only gaming related sense-of-wonder experiences I can recall have been while reading the books, or maybe a decade ago (c.1991), trying to infer Glorantha trivia with a similarly minded friend. GMing is always looking at the scenery from the wrong side; and as player, the charge I used to get was adrenalin highs from chancy combat.

One how not to do it with a really nifty setting is to play tour guide. Taking one example from experience, visiting Tada's High Tumulus in game is likely to concern itself more with logistics than any “gosh wow” one might derive from taking the old RQ2 Prax map and talking out the consequences of assuming that it depicts the tumulus to scale, never mind whether the other players are or are not Glorantha groupies at the time.

(How) do you limit the spectrum of choice of PCs

My first reaction was: Doesn't everyone, at least when it comes to “genre appropriate”? But then I remembered the Arduin Techno character class. The real limitations I'd impose along with genre are “able to get along with all the others” and “plausibly sane” which are both fairly vague; and usually unspoken or implicitly expected of players. I have done “no non-humans” as an explicit limitation in D&D games, but that has been a part of the setting — I've deleted the damned clichés and added in different races without the usual baggage of preconceptions.

I don't really recall any significant player reaction; the general principles are part of the cooperative playing style that evolved fairly naturally; a style that led to “Does not compute!” reactions when later once faced with Paranoia.

There are a couple of instances where I should have limited but didn't — vetting character secret agendas up-front for the Vampire game (rather than having it explode into five separate solo stories), or helping a player doing a one-off appearance in out mid-80s Champions game who had no experience of the superhero genre to build a superhero rather than a fantasy character.

How would you treat sentient plants?

Should they be mobile? how would they communicate? How would they react to harvesting their fruit?

I never so much as considered this sort of thing in any of my games, even though Ents, the Aldryami, and the various plant peoples in Stapledon's Star Maker were part of the genre background. (My exposure to the possible motile sentient plants of SimEarth came only shortly before my burnout.) But I do have one war story about them.

It was one of our “armageddon” games — a bring a couple of characters for a wild weekend's gaming — back in the mid 80s, aimed at superheroes and using Champions. As some players were lacking any Champions characters, they brought along character concepts for statting up. One of them was Pete Windsor's character, Falain, a sentient, motile tumbleweed, with a Judge Dredd-style hoverbike — apart from that it was generally a Pete character (aligned chaotic-daft); apart from its making disparaging comments about animals (the other PCs), I can't recall any other details at this decade-plus remove. ISTR that was also the game where another player had a swarm of killer bees — People's Attack Regiment #5 — with a yellow rain area effect NND.

Not quite a sentient plant war story — One player's non-gaming wife, had managed to take on board, from games being held at their house, that Gloranthan elves were walking sentient plants; so some while after the Glorantha game crashed, and we were playing Shadowrun, she commented, à propos of something that the elf street samurai did “But aren't you supposed to be a lettuce?”
The character was ever after known as the Electric Lettuce.

Monday, 25 June 2007

Memorable games

So what does make a game memorable? And is it for the right reasons? This is an essay I wrote for the 300th issue of the venerable treeware publication, Alarums & Excursions.

To a first approximation, games from the long ago were either great or forgettable; while more recent ones have been so-so or dreadful. Asking which were more enjoyable than more recent memorable ones is, on one level, facile. The true question is “why did it stop being good?”

I feel a major factor is that the early games were run while innocent; later games cannot regain that state of grace.

Although I got into D&D in late '76, I just tinkered with game systems for the next couple of years primarily because I didn't find a group I wanted to join whose schedules meshed with mine (i.e. not an all-nighter every Sunday), and actually did more than one or two sessions before folding. So the '78-9 when I finally got into a regular game, and got a character through more than a couple of levels was the real start of my practical experiences. Yes, it was a dungeon crawl, with maps kept neatly on graph paper, one 2mm square to the pace, with one-pace-thick walls, and I couldn't repeat it and enjoy it these days — but, oh!, the memories!

  • Like the time some randomly encountered mage dropped an Ice Storm (not your wimpy D&D version, but an proper area-denial spell doing a few dice per 2s melee round for several minutes) on the party, and Ororo (my elementalist) tumbled out of the room at his feet with just a handful of hitpoints left, and had to do a highly risky fast-cast Dimension Door to get the hell out of there.
  • Like the infamous 36+ hours with only a few cat-naps post-exam Overland Expedition to the fabled Crystal Pyramid — so we were getting stoned on sleep deprivation by the time the characters reached their goal — and dealing with the thousands of vampire bats arising from the trees ringing the pyramid — one mage's owl familiar strafing them with a wand of fireballs (“How many charges are you using?” “As many as it takes.” “30 seem reasonable?”), and mopping up stragglers by waiting until flocks were strung out chasing flying mages, and then Cone of Colding them. Plus the escape from the surrounding gardens with the wagon train going hell-for-leather ahead of a horde of nasties — ropers, shambling mounds, probably more — and the STR37-equivalent Knock Ororo cast (involving major rolling up an open-ended 20 on the casting roll) to blast open the gate to get out of the surrounding garden.
  • Like the time when, lacking other healing, and with the front line fighters well down on hit-points, we broke out the herbal tea acquired from a group of pot-head pixies from the Planet Gong — which did the healing required, but left them stoned and chatting amiably with the guy in black leather with a guitar who strolled by. Meanwhile the rest of us were having to deal with a type V demon and her friends.

About the only early memorable negative I can remember is the campaign where characters were assigned, rather than rolled or designed, and when the GM presented us with what was in effect the script outline for the campaign's second season, everyone declined.

And so we fast-forward over the 80s. More recent memorable gaming incidents from the early to mid 90s (i.e. as recent as they get) are somewhat different, such as

  • Having designed a character in a 60's spy genre campaign to complement the skills of the team (the other characters were a boffin and a proper secret agent) a hippy with a VW bus who was mainly a driver/mechanic with a bit of Kung Fu on the side (having to have some combat skill, but with stats in the Star Wars based system being used that made firearms a liability), we found out that the villain organization, Paradox, was actually from out of paratime. Essentially without exception, the parallel worlds encountered either had vehicles that even the boffin couldn't figure out how to tinker with, or used horses. It was bad enough violating character when the agent's player — who did fine with the suave jet-setting role-play aspects I can't handle — couldn't remember the genre clichés required to pull off the field operations! I didn't want also to buy, from an unfavourable base, a duplicate of the other characters' strong points. So I gritted my teeth and made a silent protest by usually leaving 2-3 sessions worth of xp unspent, and never — at least never voluntarily — improving firearms skill (I can't remember if towards the end I was forced to). To cap it all, he kept on getting into situations where his hair got cut and beard shaved, while none of the other characters were exposed to any equivalent indignity.
  • The RQ2.8 (later Pendragon based) Glorantha game which involved a little bit of sightseeing, and a lot of running away from small groups of trollkin, while acting as gophers for the agents of the aides of the people who looked like they might actually be the ones going to make a difference in Dragon Pass. And including a shameless bit of coerced power-gaming (having been knocked over by a werewolf while companions were dealing with its packmates, I DI'd out — and then rather than let me fold my hand with a POW 2 character, I was argued into buying POW by the process of buying a spell, getting a POW check from the spirit combat, forgetting the spell to free up INT, lather, rinse, repeat). Pendragon made things worse in that it went from having to take a couple of volleys from emplaced trollkin slingers when closing to melee from extreme range to dozens. This destroyed my faith in a couple of game systems and a world that had been for many years almost a gold standard to me.

Those weren't the entirety of my playing during the 90s — there was an AD&D2 gritty Central European campaign, which fell over when the first story arc concluded and the characters were converted to Ars Magica; but I was playing like a lump all through and never really got drawn in. About the only thing that sticks in mind as exceptional was finding that after the systems conversion, my Uruk-hai warrior was even more heedless of damage than she had been before (Soaking all of an attack doesn't whittle away any hit-points). Another Ars Magica game started when 4th edition came out, but I just zoned out when faced with assigning skills for my magus, and never finished chargen (having no good idea as to what level was beginner, what competent, what expert).

Note that all the above events have been from the player perspective, where the visceral experiences have been, even if in the latter days it was desperately trying to prevent my frustration bursting out in a fit of petulance that would be more appropriate to a two year old. GMing has always been a much more cerebral pursuit, since I can see the hidden side of all the stage scenery, and have to manage the cast of thousands. I know I've GMd more than I've played, but the olden days on that side of the table are lost in the haze, with very few flashes where an incident has remained clear in memory. All I know is that I must have enjoyed doing it, even if designing a session was mainly an issue of setting up two fight scenes and threading them together.

I have more positive memories of later GMing — the catharsis of the AD&D2 modules I ran (the Horde campaign) after the RQ mentioned above; the quiet satisfaction of watching the players thinking their way through a run of Shadowrun modules (when those used to be good); the ambiguous Vampire run, which was technically well executed, albeit at the cost of far harder work than the result justified.

And then there was the worst — a few sessions where I foolishly agreed to GM because no one else had anything ready, and after frantic ad-libbing I just burned out hard.

So, after all that, the conclusions? That the really good experiences were early times, with no preconceptions. Yes, the PC was just a thin proxy — I know the adrenaline was pumping when rolling for the DimDoor, but at the same time I was thinking how long it would take to work a new PC up to the same level — what I was fighting for was to protect an investment in playing time. Later games also suffered under the load of raised expectations while familiarity was breeding contempt — a feeling of “once you've gotten a mage to 12th level, doing the same again is just going through the motions”.

And then there was role-playing in the character crafting sense rather than “my tactical role is as combat air patrol” which was good enough for Ororo at high levels. This has been held out by some as a source of high-octane emotional charge when done right (just see the archives of the r.g.f.advocacy newsgroup during 1995, for example).

Naturally, I was seduced by this concept, and threw myself into it; alas also getting infected by the rider to the meme, that “if it isn't working for you, you're not trying hard enough” which seems to be the sub-text of most role-play evangelism — and is well crafted for inducing guilt trips. Note for example the difference in terminology between the 1970s and 1990s era experiences discussed above.

At one extreme, characters are nothing but barriers (condoms?) between me and the action, where I have to consciously work through their thought processes to arrive at their responses; at the other extreme where they work naturally, both of them that got this far said “Sod this for a game of soldiers, I'm off somewhere safer.” and continued in play only under protest, and not for very long.

Role-playing games and me

I got into the hobby from SPI games and thus reading about this D&D thing in the SimPubs UK 'zine in the spring of '76, which was during my first undergraduate year. It then took me six months, finding only a random copy of either Greyhawk or Blackmoor in one of the general games shops in Soho, before I tracked a copy down, and a group of gamers who were using a highly variant home-brew set of systems. Taking it home at the Yuletide holidays that year, I plunged immediately into DMing (mainly for the crowd at my old school), and system tinkering.

I would probably have drifted out of the hobby in a couple of years, as my brother did, but for meeting Karen. Shortly after we had gotten together, she told me about this wonderful game one of her friends had been playing, and wondered did I know about it. I said that I did and advised she probably didn't want to. But she wasn't deterred.

That became the classic 78/9 highly variant dungeon crawling game that really (mis-)informs my opinions of (original, pre-Basic, pre-Advanced) D&D. That in turn drove me to stop tinkering and start DMing again myself, on a regular basis this time.

This early period while still in and around Cambridge was marked by a lot of variously successful home-brew FRP systems, many unrecognisable as derivatives from D&D, as well as some “roll a d20 and see what it looks like” super-hero games (finding Superhero 2044 unusable as it stood). There were attempts at C&S, DragonQuest and TFT which came to naught, and a little variant RQ. Burnout with fantasy by the early '80s, and moving away for work, led to playing a bit of Trav that got nowhere, and then Champions, the latter turning into an open campaign where everyone who had something to run GMd, until the flaws (bricks rule, energy projectors suck) were too blatant to ignore. One off (and never again) sessions in this time also included Call of Cthulhu and Paranoia.

Returning to Cambridge in the late 80s, gaming mainly alternated between myself and one other GM (who has now gone on to run the Saxum Caribetum Ars Magica Saga), with AD&D2 being the default system, but also RQ2.8/Glorantha (later Pendragon 3rd edition), Shadowrun (1st & 2nd), V:tM (2nd), and Ars Magica(3rd), with a little bit of Trav, MegaTrav, and Star Wars (2nd) (this last being used as a generic RPG) on the side.

Gaming keynotes

  • in 1984, while preparing for a “everyone bring a couple of favourite characters” gaming weekend, while others were exercised narrowing down to a couple of characters from a vast portfolio, my problem was coming up with characters to shortlist. I could now call upon the many Champions PCs I later designed - but it established that I was already more the GM than the player
  • my first character of any consequence (as opposed to first that lasted to gain levels at all) was an elementalist mage from the 78/9 game, almost the only mage I've ever played. The later PCs have tended to be simple “walk up to other people and hit them a lot” types, perhaps with a little magic on the side (e.g. RQ characters or AD&D2 priests).
  • the all-comers Champions aside, I've not run or played in a long running “signature” campaign. Too many one-shots that folded ignominiously, and campaign longevity meaning lasting 6 months.
  • In 1995 I went through a serious bit of burnout, and that's why I'm only in 2003, so many years later, actually getting round to scanning and uploading all this stuff.
  • In summer 2003, I went to the Conjuration, the biennial con at New Hall, and saw the demo games of HeroQuest, almost on the 25th anniversary of the original RuneQuest which promised it as one of the few detailed “To be published” sources. And it fired my enthusiasm enough to start to look for players — but these turned out to be thin on the ground, and by the time I'd managed to accumulate a possible quorum (and that needing to take account of players with children having to work around their bed-times), work was going through a “as many hours as it take” patch, and after that, I'd managed to get distracted by watching anime DVDs on the PC, and finding that other things had then arisen to take up my creative energies, away from dealing with flea-bitten barbarians. And so I'm in total RPG burn-out.