Wednesday, June 29, 2011

MLP D&D: Pinkie Pie

One does not choose Pinkie Pie as a friend. Pinkie Pie chooses YOU.

Name: Pinkie Pie
Race: Earth pony*
Alignment: Chaotic Shiny
Class: Bard

How does one adequately describe an incarnation of chaos?

The first time we see her, she gasps and runs away after meeting Twilight Sparkle. The second time we see her, she's thrown a surprise party for same. The third time... she mouths off to Nightmare Moon and gets away with it. And then later, she banishes fear with... a song?

She isn't just a bard, she's the most chaotically chaotic bard ever. While all of the ponies are cartoonish to one degree or another, Pinkie Pie is the only one who seems to understand that she IS a cartoon, and therefore can utilize cartoon logics and physics to bend space, warp time, and defy gravity. Is she altering reality with her madness? Or is she just so genre-savvy that she understands the most efficient way to do things?


Her personality is best described as "disgustingly perky" and yet she is surprisingly likable. She seems to know everyone in town and is friends with them all. She can talk to anyone about anything (whether the conversation makes sense or not is another matter entirely), has a surprising breadth of (bardic) knowledge, and is either immune to fear or too dim to realize when she's being threatened.

At one point, she tries to reason with a dragon by dressing up to make it laugh.

Didn't Daffy Duck wear something similar?

Pinkie Pie is practically the lost Looney Toon. She can walk on air like Wile E. Coyote, bounces and stalks like Pepe le Pew, and always has a smartass comment like Bugs Bunny. Plus, she can sing and dance like no one's business.

To summarize:
  • Charisma is her core stat.
  • Wisdom (common sense) is her dump stat. 
  • Weirdly good at finding stuff out.
  • Sings, dances, and plays tons of instruments. 
  • Embodies chaos. 
  • Can banish fear and inspire competence:

Key "Pinkie Pie is a Bard" episodes:
  • Banishes fear in The Mare in the Moon
  • Does all sorts of bardic things in Dragonshy
  • Save Ponyville (solo!) with the power of polka in Swarm of the Century
  • Breaks the 4th wall multiple times in Feeling Pinkie Keen
  • Tries to stop a war with a song and dance routine in Over a Barrel

*Ponies which are neither Unicorns nor Pegasi are called Earth ponies. Don't ask me why.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

MLP D&D: Twilight Sparkle

Name: Twilight Sparkle
Race: Unicorn pony 
Alignment: Lawful Studious
Class: Wizard

Twilight Sparkle couldn't be any more of a wizard if you painted the word "wizard" on her in primary colors.

She is the first pony we meet in Friendship is Magic, and at that moment she's studying a book of either prophecy or forgotten lore. She then races back to her home, which is part library, part laboratory, and part observatory, and enlists Spike, her pet baby dragon, to help her confirm a prediction that the Mare in the Moon is the dreaded Nightmare Moon. Let me repeat that: she has a dragon assistant.

My little grimoire, my little grimoire...

Twilight Sparkle is incredibly book-smart and organized to the point of obsession, but has such poor social skills that her mentor -- who also happens to be Princess Celestia, ruler of all Equestria and essentially Goddess of the Sun -- has to outright order her to make some friends. (This is essentially her first quest. We've all seen versions of the "straighten up and fly right" plot, most recently in Thor, but this is the first time I've ever seen a quest to "Loosen the heck up and get a life.")

Due to her superb organizational skills and unmatched intellect, she is not only the brains of the group but also its natural leader due to her ability to match problems to ponies with the proper skills for overcoming them. And while other unicorn ponies have some mild magical abilities relating to their raison d'être  (see: cutie marks) as well as weak telekinesis, Twilight Sparkle's magical ability is for, well, magic. She uses her horn the way Harry Potter uses his wand.

Oh yes, did I mention she frequently wields incredible arcane power?

To summarize:
  • Intelligence is her core stat.
  • Charisma is her dump stat.
  • She has tons of knowledge skills.
  • She has a baby dragon who serves as her improved familiar.
  • And she totally rocks the wizard look.

Shown: robe. Not shown: wizard hat. I blame Trixie for making them unfashionable.

Key "Twilight Sparkle is a wizard" episodes:
  • Assembles the Elements of Harmony to defeat Nightmare Moon in The Mare in the Moon
  • Tranquilizes an Ursa Minor in Boast Busters
  • Leads her PC to fight a dragon in Dragonshy
  • Fights a hydra -- solo! -- and defeats it with strategy in Feeling Pinkie Keen
  • Casts spells that enable non-flying ponies to visit Cloudsdale in Sonic Rainboom
  • Has her magical origin in Cutie Mark Chronicles

This isn't canon, but it should be. Kick her flank, Twilight!

Tomorrow: is Wednesday, and that means Wacky!

Monday, June 27, 2011

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic vis-a-vis traditional D&D

Yes, it's time for my blog to once again delve into the murky waters of gonzoid analytic comparisons between two things that have more depth than is frequently realized, or as Chris Hogan put it, "Erin does pop culture camp." In this special week-long series, I shall explain, in great detail, how the six core characters of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic comprise a functional Dungeons & Dragons adventuring party.

Look, would you all just stop screaming? I realize that most of my readership is male, and therefore cannot bear to be exposed to any entertainment that is expressly for girls lest it cause your testicles to shrivel and fall off, but trust me on this one. Has Auntie Palette ever steered you wrong?

Well, okay, other than that time with the Hot Gossip video?

Bah, you're all Philistines. Anyway, just give me 90 seconds of your time and watch this clip before you click away and I promise you that all of your concerns about MLP:FiM will evaporate faster than snow during winter wrap-up:

Did that remind you of anything? A classic cartoon, perhaps? If any of you said "Chuck Jones," "an episode of Looney Toons," or "Pepe le Pew," then give yourselves a gold star.This is a good cartoon, a fun and funny cartoon, and just because it's aimed at young girls doesn't mean it can't be appreciated and enjoyed by adults of all genders.

Now that's out of the way, I can proceed to my main thesis, which is: My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic is about a Dungeons & Dragons adventuring group.

No, really. And do stop shrieking like that, it's unbecoming.

Consider this: A young wizard discovers an ancient prophecy which states that, within two days, the deposed Goddess of the Moon -- who has been imprisoned for a thousand years due to a failed coup against her older sister, the Goddess of the Sun -- will escape her imprisonment, vanquish her sister, and cover the lands in everlasting night! 

This young wizard tries to tell everyone of the impending apocalypse, but being a young student, is ignored and instead given menial tasks to perform. Lo and behold, the prophecy does come to pass, and the student knows that the only way to defeat the Moon Goddess and reinstate the rule of the benevolent Sun Goddess is to find and utilize an ancient artifact. To that end, she recruits a diverse group of individuals with conflicting personalities but complementary skills. They must embark upon an arduous overland quest to the ruined keep of the Sisters, where it is believed that the artifact still resides. Along the way they are imperiled by terrain, the elements, monsters, and temptation.

After much travail, the group finally arrives at its destination, and before the young wizard can assemble the artifact, the evil Moon Goddess appears! In a last-ditch effort, the wizard discovers the proper activation sequence for the artifact, vanquishes the evil Moon Goddess, and restores the Sun Goddess to her rightful place in the sky.

Perhaps it's not great literature, but this plot would be right at home in any fantasy setting. Monsters, artifacts, ruined castles, apocalyptic deicide -- these are all quite epic and heroic, not to mention staples of many D&D campaigns. And a group of individuals who sometimes squabble but all have unique talents? That's pretty much the definition of a group of Player Characters of diverse classes and alignments.

And guess what? I just told you the plot of the two-part series opener of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. 

I therefore declare this Pony Week, and will devote a blog post to each of the "mane" characters in MLP:FiM -- Twilight Sparkle, Pinkie Pie, Rarity, Applejack, Fluttershy, and Rainbow Dash -- and how each of them perfectly embody a character class in D&D/Pathfinder and, together, form a perfect adventuring party.

Now you may commence screaming.

Apologies & housekeeping

I sincerely apologize for not being present for all of last week (though I must note some degree of irritation over the fact that, given the subject of previous posts, no one thought to check on me to see if I was all right or if I had been burnt to a crisp by wildfires) but due to the vicissitudes of weather -- both the wildfires churning out smoke and the lightning storms which are causing them -- I have been subject to crippling headaches. And not simple "My head hurts, I cannot brain" headaches, but far worse "Oh god what did I do to deserve this agony, I'm going to go lie down in a dark room with a cool compress over my head and try to lapse into unconsciousness" headaches.

Yesterday was the worst by far, as I woke up with (never a good start to the day) a pain that felt like a molten icepick was stabbing into my optic nerve and it lasted for, I kid you not, over twenty-four hours.  The only times I have hurt worse than this involved either physical injury or passage of kidney stones.

At any rate, I can hear the thunder rumbling outside again, so I will try to get this post finished before the onset of more pain. I'd like to begin a new series of blog posts this week but that will depend entirely upon how well I can concentrate.

Regarding the change in font size: Out of 28 participants, only 4 of you said you didn't like the new, improved legibility, with everyone else weighing in at positive to neutral, and zero votes for "I still can't read it." So the change in font & size will stay.

Regarding Disqus: Okay, I get that some of you don't like it. However, when asked, only one person expressed a seething hatred for it, and four respondents (20%) said they'd comment more if I ditched it. Compare and contrast that to the 55% who either liked it or had no problem with it, and the other 20% who said they didn't leave comments so it doesn't matter either way for them, and we have a clear winner.

Besides, I like the functionality Disqus gives me. I can reply directly to comments; I can edit my comments in case I make grammatical errors; and participants are notified via email when someone replies to their comments. This is a big deal for me, folks. I might have dropped it if there was overwhelming support for getting rid of Disqus, but there wasn't, so it's staying around. Also, it's ridiculously easy to sign up for a profile so that you can comment, so that really shouldn't stop anyone (I'm looking specifically at you, Barking Alien.)

Anyway. I'm doing better (at the moment) and I've removed the annoying poll results.If my head ever relents I've got a wacky idea for a week of posts that will either leave you laughing or screaming in terror. Perhaps both!

-- E to the P to the OIC

Friday, June 17, 2011

Friday Fiction

This is dedicated to Miakoda, who was nice enough to give me encouragement to keep writing Curse/Or. Don't worry, there will be more -- this just got the ball rolling.

Also, the current story so far has been turned into a downloadable PDF.  Firefox 4 users may be unable to open it within their browsers (I'm one of them) but if you right-click the link and save it to your computer, it will open just fine from there.

And now...

She was flat on her back, staring at the ceiling. She didn't remember falling. She didn't remember much of anything prior to coming out of the toilet. It was as if the movie of her life was a reel of celluloid and, having jammed in the projector, simply melted where it had stopped.

Remove reel.
Excise burnt section like a cancer.
Splice together healthy frames.
Life continues.

Teresa, she realized as her thoughts rearranged themselves into cohesion. My name is Teresa. I'm on the floor of a hotel room. I used to be in prison.

She took a long, shuddering breath as the memories came crashing back. The screaming had been rusty nails clawing at the inside of her mind. The suckling that ate at her soul. The constant, maddening demands. And then it had started talking, less than a year old and it was talking and pawing at her and killing other children whenever she left it alone.

It. The demon seed. The one good thing in her life, and it had become corrupt and possessed. Teresa had ruined everything she touched, just as her mother said she would.

I was in prison because I set my baby boy on fire.


Shotgun linkdump

Not really enough here to make a Monday Gunday post, so this is a quick & easy linkdump that follows up on Monday's discussion about shotguns for home defense:
Lots of good reading there. 

Don't keep those home fires burning.

My apologies for not having updated much this week. There are several significant wildfires near my home and while we aren't in any immediate danger, Chateau Palette is frequently downwind of a particularly large (over 5000 acres) and nasty (45% contained) blaze. While these fires aren't as bad as the Firestorm of '98 where, I shit you not, every county in Florida except the Keys was on fire, they're still pretty bad and are getting worse. Just to give you an idea, I can look out my front window and see everything covered in a thin smoky haze.

Breathing smoke is not good. Being allergic to what's burning is also not good. I had to go to the ER in '98 for smoke inhalation, and now it seems like I'm even more susceptible to the stuff. I'm spending a lot of time in my room, trying to make it as over-pressured as possible. When I do leave the house, I'm wearing a wet dishtowel over my face like a cosplay of the Worst Bank Robber Ever.

What we need most is a soft, gentle rain that lasts for hours and soaks us with several inches of water. What we are getting, unfortunately, are thunderstorms with lots of lightning strikes which are starting even more fires.

Today's been a pretty good day, or at least it was until about 5 minutes ago. The wind has shifted, I've started hacking again, and we're under a severe thunderstorm warning.

I tell you, hurricane season can't get here soon enough.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

WNW: A bedtime story read by Samuel L. Jackson

This is a long-distance dedication going out to my friend Adam, who has insomnia.

Dear Adam,
Please go the fuck to sleep.
Love, Erin. :D

Monday, June 13, 2011

Monday Gunday: Meet Leo

I still haven't had a chance to go shooting recently. Today marks exactly one month of not having gone to the range. This bothers me greatly, because I have found the practice of putting small precise holes in distant pieces of paper to be both addictive and relaxing.

No word back from the Store Owner regarding the status of Rev (as described here), so I will have to call him this week. I did however receive the new scope mount for Izzy in the mail today and installed it with a minimum of fuss. I will describe it in greater detail once I've had a chance to test it, but initial impressions are promising as it feels very solid. 

But enough about rifles. It's time to introduce you to another one of my boys, and he's optimized for home defense. Ladies and gentlemen, meet Leo, my 12 gauge Mossberg 500:

Actually... wait. That's not quite right. That's what Leo used to look like, back when I got him as a Christmas present. You will note that one of the first things I did was replace the 28" barrel with a much shorter 18.5", because Leo's main purpose is home defense. Trust me when I tell you that it's much easier to walk around corners with a foot-and-a-half barrel than it is with one in excess of two feet.

Why is he named Leo? Because he has a mighty roar.

This is Leo in his current configuration. You'll note that I have made him "tacti-cool" by replacing the handsome blond wood (which I still have) with a tactical foregrip and six-position pistol grip stock. Now, while I will plead guilty to the charge of over-accessorization, I made all of these changes for very good reasons and not just because "It looks cool."

The six-position stock should be obvious: I am a short person with short arms and regular fixed stocks are too long for me. The addition of a pistol grip gives me increased control over the weapon in tight spaces, and between that and the sling mount, it will be very hard to disarm me. The TacStar SideSaddle gives me increased ammunition selection, so that (for example) I could carry whatever mixture of birdshot, buckshot, solid slug, or less-lethal defense rounds I felt necessary.

The front pistol grip, in addition to giving more aim control, also gives me a surer grip when racking the slide to reload. The tactical foregrip has Weaver rails on three sides and the flashlight mount puts the power switch less than inch away from my thumb. I don't recall the type of the flashlight, but it is LED and very very bright -- over several hundred lumens, if I recall. It has two settings: "Ohmygod I'm blind" constant beam and "Induce epileptic seizure" strobe. Having caught a reflection of the beam in my bathroom mirror, I'm half-convinced that the blinding light alone could neutralize an intruder.

So we've covered the basics here: postive, two-handed control over the weapon at all times; a sling to prevent the weapon being taken from me; added ammunition should the need arise; a light so I can tell the difference between family and intruder; and an overall low-profile for maneuvering through halls and doorways. The only question remains: why a shotgun for home defense?

There are two excellent reasons for choosing a shotgun as a home defense weapon. The first is that it has an unparalleled combination of not needing much in the way of aiming (due to the spread of the shot) and that it's guaranteed to knock an intruder on his ass and leave him with large gaping holes where his guts used to be. This is critical because, in a self-defense situation, your aim will probably be terrible due to adrenaline, and you may only get one shot, so that shot had better count.

Note: This is not a recommendation that you blindly fire or shoot from the hip. Put the stock to your shoulder and aim like a sensible person. The spread of the shot will correct errors in technique, not miraculously save you.

The second reason is that, unlike a pistol, you don't need a 3-day waiting period. If you ever feel that your life is danger and you need a weapon for self-defense, I urge you to head to your closest gun store, sporting-goods store, or even certain Wal-Marts, and get yourself a pump-action shotgun. I got mine and most of these accessories as Christmas presents, but even a casual Googling tells me you can get a good one for $200-300 -- which, I would like to point out, is still less expensive than any handgun in .32 caliber or above. If you think you can use a .22 pistol for self-defense then you'd better have incredibly good aim.

Get a box of 00 buckshot (if you live in an apartment building or are otherwise worried about shooting through drywall, consult with the person behind the counter about what ammunition you should get -- I suggest #8 birdshot but I am no authority on these matters) and take your weapon to a local trap & skeet club where someone will show you how to operate it if you ask for help.

After that, it's quite simple: aim barrel, make hole, problem goes away.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Thither Pellatarrum?

One question which I have not been asked (to my great surprise) is "Why would I want to use Pellatarrum as a setting? It seems like a lot of work."

And to that I have to reply, "No, it's not a lot of work, it's supposed to be the antithesis of work. What you perceive as work is just a high weirdness threshold."

There are many, many things which players and game masters take for granted about their game worlds, usually through a combination of convenience and familiarity. Sometimes these things are good; since all humans on Earth are used to 24 hour days, nearly every fantasy setting has a 24 hour day, because the effort involved in creating and then implementing a different-length day would not be worth whatever benefits such a thing would give.

Sometimes these things are neutral, like a moon in the sky. Moons are nice because they provide light at night. Every setting I have seen has at least one moon; Dragonlance's world of Krynn has three. I have yet to see any setting without a single moon*, perhaps because removal of such would bring up such questions about lycanthropes, tidal forces, and possibly even fertility cycles.

And that's where the problem creep in, because now you're forcing scientific problems upon a fantasy world, where they have no place at all. You'd be surprised just how many scientific assumptions you bring into your fantasy game without realizing it.

Does it get colder the further north you go? Why?  Does the spirit of ice live there, or do you just take for granted that the world is a globe that rotates upon its axis and the colder regions are where the poles are? To me, this is terribly hidebound thinking. If you can accept the existence of dragons and magic and gods, then why must the setting be so boring? The north pole can be the source of all wind and chocolate if that's what you like, and your players have no place to gainsay you, because FANTASY, that's why.

Once you learn to let go of these preconceptions and accept the weirdness, you as the GM gain massive amounts of freedom. Put a glacier right next to a scorching desert if that's what you want. Fantasy should astound and amaze, and having everything be exactly the same as on Earth except with magic isn't especially fantastic.

As a word of warning, however, I would caution against creating a world that makes NO sense, because that will frustrate players (unless you're all into that sort of thing, in which case go for it). As I told a friend of mine:

"Pellatarum is a world that deliberately doesn't make scientific sense. It makes poetic sense.

How does this translate into the antithesis of work? Well, once you've determined why things work, the hows either fall into place or become irrelevant, and that means greater flexibility for incorporating other material.

Do you really like parts of the Forgotten Realms? Put 'em in Pellatarrum. Yank out what you like of Dragonlance and Greyhawk and Dark Sun and whatever else you like, and put them right next to each other if that's what you want. Make a fantasy version of Battleworld if that really suits you.

That's one reason I made the disk of Pellatarrum's Material Plane infinite: it gives me (and you) the ability to put whatever terrain we want, where we want it, without having to account for things like ocean currents and prevailing winds and rain shadows.

If it makes sense to you, put it there. Figure out the why and the rest is easy. That's the opposite of work.

*I would LOVE to see a setting where in place of a moon, the campaign world has a ring system like Saturn.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Pellatarrum in Print!

The first installment of Pellatarrum is now in print (well, e-print, really) and is looking quite pretty within the covers of Unicorn Rampant Publishing's Claw/Claw/Bite Magazine issue #18.

I beseech all of you, with hot goth-girl beseeching action!, to buy a copy. This will make money for the publisher, who will then use that money to pay me to write more articles, and so on. This creates what I like to call a "virtuous circle" which ultimately ends up with me writing a full and complete campaign setting and you, my dear readers, having a full and complete campaign setting in your hot little hands.

There's also cool and usable stuff for both 3.5e/Pathfinder and 4e. So buy it for Pellatarrum, get other cool things as well! It's a win-win!
See this? She is totally beseeching you to buy CCB 18. 

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Irritation: A Play in one Act

This is essentially what happened to me today.

Erin: Hello, I would like to pick up my gun which you have had for a month for repairs.
Owner: Here is your gun. Please pay us.
Erin: I shall.

Erin: Now I shall do a function check of my rifle before I spend money and gas to go to the range only to have the rifle malfunction.
Rifle: (jams in exactly the same manner as before)
Erin: Oh, it is ON, bitches.

Erin: Owner, we have a problem, namely, you did not fucking fix my fucking rifle.
Owner: That is indeed odd. Let me see it. (opens chamber, notes that bullet is jammed at a 15 degree angle to the bolt and is completely incapable of being fired)
Owner's Wife: Oh my fucking god, it's still loaded! (goes hysterical)
Erin: (Pointedly ignoring Wife) You will note how it jammed in exactly the same manner as I described, but was unable to replicate for you previously. I left it as such that you might see it firsthand.
Owner: (Also ignoring Wife) Yes, I do indeed see that. How curious. 

(technical discussion between ERIN and OWNER dissolves into a series of grunts and clicks which only firearms enthusiasts would understand)

Owner: With your permission I would like to take this to the range myself and shoot many different brands and grain weights of .22 bullets through it to see if I can experience the problem myself.
Me: You do that. (Note: the subtext here is that ERIN has neither the time nor the money to amass a collection of various .22 bullets to see if the problem lies with a certain brand or batch, but that the OWNER clearly does)
Owner's Wife: That gun looks too small for that ammunition, are you sure you're using the right kind?
Erin: (levies an icy stare upon Wife which seems to say, "You clearly know nothing about guns, you idiot, so shut your fool mouth and go back to the register where you belong before you embarrass yourself further.")
Owner: I will take it to the range this very weekend.
Erin: You do that. (see above)

Owner had better hope and pray that Act 1 concludes with Erin happily blazing away at the range, or else Act 2 will begin with Erin lodging said Rifle up Owner's rectum, sideways.

WNW: Magnited States

This has just started making the viral rounds, so if you haven't yet been infected, here you go.

I think that Maglite corporation should immediately make a derivative commercial, where a woman is using a (feeble) cellphone to find a way in the dark, tripping over people and cursing before being thrown out. On the way out she passes another woman who discreetly pulls a tiny flashlight from her purse and easily finds her seat.

Voiceover: "Join the Maglited States of America." Show the product, and cut.

Pincers (and a call for players)

Still trying to catch up on my blogging, as I've made a promise to myself to try and post something daily, even if it's not what I would consider a "quality" post. The trick to being a writer is to write, as has been said, so the more I write, even if it's toss-off soundbites, the better off I am.

So even though I didn't get much done this weekend other than editing, I went ahead and put up a page for my all-Mantis L5R campaign, which I have named "Pincers" because I am oh-so-clever.*

I am issuing a blogosphere-wide call for players, because one of them has had to drop out of the game for family & financial reasons, and another hasn't spoken to me for something like two weeks. Everything you will need to know about the game and character generation can be found on the handouts there.

Game Details
The game is tentatively scheduled for Sunday afternoons/evenings and will begin as soon as I reach a critical mass of players with already-made characters. Sessions will last approximately four hours and will run every week. The game will be conducted over Skype, with Dabbleboard used for combat and sharing visual aids. If you are interested in playing please contact me: erin dot palette at gmail dot com.

Oh, and a brief warning: Don't assume I will follow the canonical timeline. Every time I have run L5R I have done terrible, horrible things to the timeline.

*No, really. They're caught between the Scorpion clan (has pincers), Crab clan (pincers) and the Crane clan (technically no pincers but work with me here) in what might be called a diplomatic "pincer movement".

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

How I spent my weekend

I spent Friday through Monday proofreading, editing, and generally bleeding corrective ink all over the pages of Unicorn Rampant's Claw/Claw/Bite Magazine, issue 18. In return, I was promoted me to Assistant Editor of said magazine.

Not yet a paying gig, but it will look fantastic on a resume, and perhaps I can use this to get the magazine out faster. Which will hopefully result in it buying more Pellatarrum articles, me making more money, profit profit profit, and maybe getting a collection of my work published.

So that was my Weekend.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Alys Kaah 2: Electric Boogaloo

Von said:
Thank you for pushing beyond merely "unusual build" and into "genuinely bizarre character"; there's hope for us all yet.

Don't let my wacky characterization fool you; deep inside me beats the heart of a gamer who knows how to abuse the system. I'm not quite so bad as to min-max and I don't think I'm a powergamer, but when I make characters I pick a schtick or a role and build them to be very, very good at it. With Alys it's the role of "mounted cavalry that charges a lot," and her design allows me several stupid-powerful abilities. Allow me to demonstrate.

It all started back when I was making cavalier feats, and had a nifty idea for an Order based upon summoners who ride their eidolons into battle. Since an eidolon at 1st level is size medium, and gnomes are size small, and the Mount evolution (which lets summoners ride their eidolons into combat) is available at 1st level, it seemed a nifty way to get around certain restrictions.

Being a small character is a tradeoff: you get bonuses to Dexterity and Armor Class, but penalties to Strength and are easier to knock off your feet, and you don't move as fast as medium-size characters. But riding on an eidolon with a base speed of 40' doubles your speed, and allows you to keep up with your larger-sized comrades. It also makes you nearly impossible to grapple, as you're riding a ferocious beast who will take exception to that. It also eliminates the problems of being weighed down with gear, since your mount is stronger than you and, being either a quadruped or serpentine, can carry a lot more than a biped.

So basically, that's all the benefits of being small, with the only drawback being decreased damage -- and with the right evolutions (such as improved damage) your eidolon can more than make up for it. But wait, there's more.

Since Alys' eidolon is medium-sized, he takes up the same tactical space as a human. Which means that she can ride him anywhere a human can go. Yes, the big drawback to the mounted cavalry, that they're only good outdoors, is totally eliminated. Which means that Alys can use her lance all the time, and as long as there's enough room, she can charge and deal double damage.

But wait, there's more! By picking the right feats (ride-by attack & spirited charge ) and the right evolutions (improved damage, pounce) she has the ability to charge, do triple damage, have her eidolon do a full claw/claw/bite routine, and then continue on for the rest of her movement, taking her out of the path of danger and setting her up for another attack run.

Oh, and if Mister Boodles takes damage? Alys has a couple options. With the Mounted Combat feat, she can make a Ride skill check to avoid the hit entirely (and wow, is her Ride skill cranked up). Failing that, she can either utilize the 1st level Summoner ability of Life Link to sacrifice any number of her own hit points to prevent that damage being taken to Mr B. Thirdly, as a spellcaster, she has access to spells which heal her eidolon.

Now, of course, Mr B has wings, can fly at 60' with good manueverability and has the Wingover feat, so now he's even more mobile, and Alys' lance, Tsundere, is a +1 Flaming Frost weapon.

I actually feel slightly ashamed having written all of this out. Let me say this in my defense:
  • I never intended to exploit the rules, I just thought the idea of a gnome riding a magical construct like a knight would be funny. 
  • I didn't think I'd be able to get away with half this stuff. Of course, when I found out I could, it's not like I stopped...
  • When I joined this campaign I was 4th level and everyone else was around 9th, so I had a LOT of catching up to do so I could actually contribute to the team instead of being a gold and XP leech. 
  • The really nifty combos didn't kick in around levels 6 or 7. She's currently level 9. 
  • The half-orc barbarian STILL manages to out-damage me most of the time.
But yeah. Summoners are tons of fun, because you basically get to play two characters for the price of one. I rather short-circuited by that having Mister Boodles be a mount instead of an independent source of damage, but that just allowed me to make a "Master Blaster" type of character.

She's a crazy character, yes, but crazy strong. I can't wait until we go after the dragon at the end of the campaign. I've already had a double saddle made, so her bard can "ride bitch" and provide her with musical accompaniment and spell support.

Forget Ride of the Valkyries. Bring on Ride of the Gnomish Airborne Owlbear Cavalry.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Alys Kaah

(A biography of my player character in Shaddakim's Southern Reaches game)

Alys, the Jagirdar Kaah, gnomish summoner/cavalier,would have you believe that she is a fierce warlord of the Fey Court and an ambassador of their land to these distant shores.

Don't you believe a word of it.

This much is true: she is the daughter of a noble house from faraway lands, but those lands are not of the Fey Court, and while her family has a good reputation and some land, they are only barely nobility and mostly ceremonial at that. Her mother is a sage of the court and her father runs the stables; they are, in fact, quite responsible members of the community.  Or, as Alys would put it, "Boring."

Her alignment could best be described as "Chaotic Shiny." She is impulsive and selfish in an ADHD sort of way -- not necessarily evil or cruel, but desiring the maximum payoff for the minimum amount of work, because work is dull and gets in the way. Naturally, she gravitated towards danger the way a moth is drawn to the flame. 

Perhaps madness skips generations, for it turns out that Alys was much closer in disposition and abilities to her late Great-Uncle Chom Skee than to her parents, possessing an inherent ability towards Summoning and what might be considered an unhealthy fascination towards owlbears. Her mother, seeing her child's inherent skill at magic and potential for a dangerously unhinged personality, sought to ingrain Alys with discipline at an early age by apprenticing her to a court wizard. Alys actively rebelled from the requisite study and practice, her only interest being in the books of magical beasts her mentor had lying about.

It wasn't long before she was skipping lessons with a "borrowed" grimoire, trying to summon an owlbear of her very own. Perhaps fortunately, she managed to summon an owlbear-shaped eidolon which instantly bonded with her, instead of an actual owlbear which would have instantly eaten her. Calling her new best friend Mister Boodles, she declared herself a knight and began riding about upon his back, looking for trouble and/or adventure. 

Alys' parents were skeptical at first, but upon realizing the bond she had with Mister Boodles, were relieved that there was at least someone in the world who was able to keep up with her and who could, if not protect her from harm, then at least help her get out of whatever trouble she had gotten them into.

Since the path of a wizard had been a failure, and seeing as how Alys was running about the land styling herself a knight and challenging people to combat, her father used what few favors he had in the local court and had her trained as a cavalier. This she took to instantly, as it involved wearing cool armor and waving around sharp things and charging into danger. It was not long before Alys was at least a competent warrior with the sword and lance. Mister Boodles grew in martial proficiency alongside her, and soon became a combat-trained mount capable of rending and tearing with beak and claw.

It was about this time that Alys' mother started making "why don't you marry one of these nice boys" noises, and so Alys ran away from home in search of... well, pretty much anything, as long as it wasn't boring. She soon joined up with a group of like-minded lunatics adventurers and has made quite a name for herself in the weeks since, mostly because she has paid a local bard large amounts of gold to tell amazing stories of her prowess (read: inflate her importance and make the other PCs sound like members of her entourage).

Her most recent scheme involves posing as a Jagirdar of the Fey Court, which her bard Thomin (also a gnome) says is the title given to a warlord who rules a parcel of land. She has found that the local Baron desires a larger, more stable barony, and has a son of approximately marriageable age. When the Baron asked what to call her, she said "I hope that in the future you can call me daughter." While this took the Baron somewhat aback, he has yet to nix the idea and has promised her a further discussion on this topic (presumably once he has his wits about him). At the very least, she has gained recognition of her own (fake) noble credentials within his court.

Does she think she can get away with it? Probably. It seems a decent jape of which the Fey might approve. And if not, things will certainly become very interesting, very quickly.

Why is she doing it? Not out of any desire to rule, or lust for power or wealth. She just wants to live in extreme luxury for the rest of her life without having had to work for it, while having all those boring, hard-working people kissing her ass. The Baron's son can rule; Alys' goal can be summed up as Triumph of the Lazy.

Take Lini, the Pathfinder iconic gnome character...

... and combine her with Nitrine from the webcomic Flaky Pastry.

That's basically it.

Her heraldic symbol is thus:

Argent, an Owlbear displayed Tawny, armed Or. 
If I knew who drew this I would happily give them credit.

Yes, this is on her armor. Alys is a connoisseur of bad taste, and we haven't even gotten to the leopard-skin cloak with purple trim yet.

As a point of interest, her Eidolon Mister Boodles actually looks more like this.

Bitchin' art courtesy of Michael Merissi at Owlbear Re-concept

He has wings because he can fly. Flying Gnomish Owlbear Cavalry, bitches!

For those who would like to know what it's like inside of Alys' mind (it's basically a collection of "boing" noises and explosions of color), you may read her account of an adventure here. An excerpt:
So like, we decided to go somewhere, I forget exactly, some kinda old place with lots of stones and something crazy, I dunno. It sounded boring until they mentioned near-certain death and then I was like "Yeah baby!" So we went to the place, and everyone else was lame because their horses rode on the ground. Mr. Boodles flew above them proudly and was awesome.

We were flying, and flying, and flying... and then I heard "Beg pardon, old chum, but might that be a Dyre Tyger lurking like a ruffian in the tall grass, waiting to thuggishly ambush our compatriots?" Mr. Boodles is always so formal.

"Quite so," I said in his language, because that's a secret bond we share. "Let us go forth and roust the cad forthwith. Yoiks and away! Tally-ho!" and we were all zoooooooom! and charged the sucker. I gave it a good poking with my pokey-stick (Dame Yasha insists it's a lance... silly knight) and Mr. Boodles pounced on it! Bite! Claw! Claw!

The other party members did some stuff too. 
For the more boring version of what allegedly "really" happened, go here.

In conclusion
Alys is insane, yet terrifyingly effective in combat. She's the most amusing character I've ever played, and is probably my favorite. 

Thursday, June 2, 2011


One of the big problems I had to overcome while planning my L5R campaign was running combat remotely. I had decided that, for various reasons, a webcam aimed at a map and miniatures would not work. The most logical solution seemed to be a Virtual Table Top of some kind.

Problem: VTTs have a high learning curve, are filled with junk that I don't need, and are typically expensive. Why, I thought to myself, can't I just have a whiteboard and magic markers like I used in college? And that was obviously the solution to my problem: I didn't need a VTT, I needed a virtual whiteboard.

After some investigation, I happened upon Dabbleboard. While I have yet to use this application for a game, I took an instant liking to the program just by fooling around with it. Not only is it easy and intuitive to use, it has all sorts of neat features:
  • shape recognition
  • ability to save images
  • ability to upload images
  • a grid overlay
  • an integrated text and voice chat application
This promises to be really neat. I can upload maps and all sorts of other handouts for the game, and I can mark all over them during combat. And the best part is that it's 100% free!

If you'd like to find out more about this amazing GM tool, here is a tutorial video:

I can't wait to use this for my campaign.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Comfort Zones

I realize it's at least a venial sin to blog about why I haven't posted for a week, but fuck it. This is my blog, and I'll break the rules if I want. Besides, it's not like I have more than a handful of readers anyway...

Speaking of which: whom do I have to fuck in order to join the cool kids' table? I realize my posting schedule is rather erratic and that my topics are all over the place, but I'm certain this blog falls under "general geekery" in that I regularly talk about guns, science fiction, superheroes and role-playing games. I suppose my inability to commit to a certain movement, like the OSR, prohibits me from being categorized as a "gaming blog" or whatnot like that of Jeff Rients or ChicagoWiz, but come on! I prefer to think of myself as a multi-lingual nerdette and would greatly appreciate it if someone, anyone, would include me in their Reindeer Games rather than just exiling me to a random spot on their blogroll.

I'm cute, I'm eloquent, I say "fuck" a lot and I can tell you anything you'd like to know about Larry Hama-era G.I. Joe. Doesn't that get me SOME kind of pass here?

Anyway, a quick explanation about my absence and then I'll pay my Joesky tax*. I'm not sure if it's hormonal, linked to my depression, or just a facet of my screwed-up personality, but there will be times when my patience to deal with the BS inherent in dealing with other people drops to zero, and I want nothing more to become a recluse. I typically retreat into my room where I listen to offensive comedy, read postholocaust novels, sharpen my knives and tinker with my guns. It doesn't happen often -- maybe once every three to six months -- but during that time I simply cannot be bothered to do anything constructive. As you may have noticed, last week was one of those times. I seem to be better now, though I make no guarantees.

It has been over a year now since I've run a game, and it's past time to correct that. Having been in a bit of a samurai mood lately, I've decided to run an L5R game over Skype. What I think will be unusual, though, is the premise. From the briefing I sent my players:
The year is 1120.  You are all samurai of the Mantis Clan, the largest of all the minor clans (which is a bit like being the tallest midget in the room). The Mantis are a clan of seafarers and their holdings are on the Islands of Silk and Spice.

Except for one. The Mantis Isles, while rich in many resources, do not have an abundance of fertile land. They have to trade timber, ore, and other items to buy the rice that feeds their people. Fortunately, they are rich enough that this isn't a problem.

Feeding their people IS a problem for the Crab Clan, however, who are cursed with the troubles of fighting an eternal war against the forces of the Shadowlands (aka Hell on Earth) and lacking the arable land needed to support the largest army of the Empire.

However... while the Crab are shit at farming, they excel at kicking ass. It was very easy for them to march north and claim a fertile village in the middle of unaligned lands for food production. The problem arose in administering it, because the Crab can't afford to garrison troops there when they are needed on the Wall.

Fortunately, the Crab and the Mantis share a common ancestor, and have always looked upon each other as brother clans. In addition, there is a proud tradition of the Great Clans using Minor Clans as buffer states.

So the Crab say to the Mantis, "Here is a village we can't protect. Would you like it? No, don't ask us where it came from, it fell off the back of a truck. Anyway, here's the deal: You protect the village and grow food. We get half your village's rice crop to feed our armies. Everything else is yours to keep or sell, plus you get a foothold on the mainland."

The Mantis agreed.

So here you are, Mantis samurai fresh from the boat, assigned to a new village on the Mainland (A15 on the map). It seems nice enough, but it sits at the intersection of two merchant roads. To your north and west are the lands of the Scorpion Clan -- liars, backstabbers, and cheats, and those are their nice qualities. To the south lie the lands of the Crane -- prissy fops who nonetheless control the machinery of the Empire and who have a wickedly lethal dueling school to boot. To the east are mountains, mountain passes, ronin, bandits, another Minor Clan called the Wasp who specialize in bounty hunting but who might also be bandits themselves. Your best neighbors are some monks to the southwest, but they're close to a hundred miles away.

Into this mess you are tossed, to serve the clan and protect this village. The locals call it Mimura, but your clan refers to it as "Promise Village". Your time here promises to be memorable. As low-level Samurai working for the local lord, you will have ample opportunities for heroism, but few of them will be epic. You aren't the FBI; you aren't even NYC homicide. You're small-town sheriff's deputies.

This will be a "return to base" game, in that at the end of each game session every character will need to return to Mimura. This is so that if one of the players can't make it that night, it's easy for the GM to state that the character had to pull guard duty at the castle (or whatever) and isn't available.

It's often said that samurai movies are westerns with swords instead of guns. If that's true, then this game is the samurai version of COPS. I've also never run L5R as a location-based campaign before; prior to this, the PCs have been wandering magistrates at either clan or Imperial level.  It will be interesting to run a non-epic game for once, where the stakes are small but no less important for all their immediacy.

Plus, with them all being Mantis, it allows me to make terrible "Fish out of water" and "Land-based pirates" jokes. This is an important consideration, because the GM needs to be amused, after all.

So far, I have 4 PCs: 1 bushi, 1 courtier, and 2 shugenja, all of the appropriate Yoritomo schools. I think I'd like to have one more bushi, just to balance things out, but I'm being very picky about whom I choose to play with me. I want this game to be as tightly-knit as possible. 

Kurosawa's Seven Samurai is a main source of inspiration, of course, along with Yojimbo and basically any small-town Western, ever. Tombstone seems particularly apt, along with Unforgiven.

I have no idea how well this game is going to turn out, and that thrills me no end. It's exciting to go outside my GM comfort zone and try something new. 

If you'd like to know more about this game, and how the campaign progresses, leave a comment. You guys know I'll always write about things in which my readership shows an interest.

*Basically, any time you whine about RPGs, be it players, DM styles, edition wars, etc, the Tax requires you to post something of creative use in your system of choice. This offsets the entropy inherent in whining. 

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