Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Pen & Paper: My Ever-Dying Character List

My role-playing career (as anything except a GM or DM) has been filled with short lived and extremely unlucky characters. Needless to say, here is a synopsis of my life's experiences compiled for your amusement...

My introduction to role playing was a 1 on 1 game with my childhood friend Julian who was running a pen and paper game... only without the pen or paper because we were only 7 or 8 at the time, I was illiterate, and neither of us owned dice. One afternoon he posed a question asking if I had an imagination and wanted to play a game of words and hypothetical situations. Not quite sure what he was talking about, I agreed and was instantly thrust into the life of an orc named Bleu He (a play on the word "Hebrew") with no real depth or description beyond "a green skinned orc warrior." The game ended almost immediately when the Julian informed me that I had entered a human village because my reaction (having just played Warcraft 2 just moments before) was to kill everything in sight and burn the village. Before the town guard caught up to me and ended my career, three maidens, two peasants, and twenty four elementary school students had been defeated by my hand in glorious combat. Bleu He didn't learn anything from the experience, but I learned a bit about how the game worked and how I needed to be thinking about self-preservation, lest my character die.
A few minutes later I created a new character known as "Jarvis The Chosen One," a blond haired knight who had fulfilled a prophecy of some sort by killing orcs that were attacking his village (I didn't see the humor in this at the time). Jarvis's extremely lengthy career (lasting a full day) consisted of him being hunted by evil knights with glowing eyes and glowing swords who seemed to burn every village he traveled to, fighting undead, exploring a ghost pirate ship, being chased by a Zaratan, killing the Zaratan, stopping evil priests from doing something vague but certainly evil, traveling through time to cure world hunger, and finally facing off against a multicolored dragon that seemed to be controlling the evil knights in the present time (for Jarvis). Having little knowledge of dragons at the time I thought it'd be a great idea to charge the beast directly, not fully understanding that dragons breathed fire. Lesson learned... Thus ended the career of Jarvis The Chosen One... Burned to death by multi-colored flames.

The next month I wanted to play again, this time as yet another nondescript character. Keep in mind that this was strictly a verbal game of storytelling without dice, probabilities, or any visual reference beyond our minds and i'm admittedly a non-visual thinker. I was a "bodyguard" (a word I didn't even understand at that age) in modern times with a gun who worked at a science lab. After some stuff went bad at the lab (hissing sounds, explosions, and flashing lights which it turned out were not a surprise birthday/rave party) I found myself trapped inside one of the rooms with an ill described monster-thing (which, in retrospect, it's release was a direct result of Jarvis's time traveling antics). As the thing slowly walked towards me breathing heavily and being generally creepy, I tried to escape the room through a giant glass window that led to the greater lab areas. I tried poking the glass, kicking the glass, and body-slamming the glass which landed me straight on my tailbone. As I laid on the ground, paralyzed with pain the monster killed me. It was about 12 seconds after being consumed that I realized that I had a gun... Lesson 3: Always write down what's in your inventory...

Julian started to get bored of my deaths and I became the regular GM in our group of friends. A few months later, Julian moved away, but before he left I was able to play one last game with him. I was a member of a super-advanced alien race (that doesn't age and that has unlimited patience) which wanted to observe other species. It was my job to monitor and test inferior races to see if we might want to contact them and invite them to our grand interstellar alliance. As the lucky alien assigned to "Earth" I somehow wound up capturing a few subjects and changed my form to match theirs (as I was bi-pedal and about the same size it wasn't that tough). Apparently I found out the hard way that my alien symbol for peace resembled the middle finger to the human race and was forced to mind-wipe my subjects and return them to their homes in Texas. I wasn't sure why I'd chosen to invade Texas (of all places), but he let that bit of information slip mid-game. Weird. After that, I somehow managed to capture the president (of Texas?) by beaming up a section of the (Texan?) White House, but during my escape into the atmosphere my ship was crippled by Texan gunfire just as I jumped to hyper-space. (I'll admit at this point that I might not have been the right alien for the job and wasn't the brightest tool in the shed...)
Because my warp-drive was sentient it helped me avoid an instant death and instead I crash landed on an alien world where giant zerg creatures that built colonies out of mucus attacked my ship. We (the president, secret service, and myself) survived the attacks by working together and preventing the creatures from getting on board while I worked to repair the ship. We eventually had to leave the ship to get a few parts and traveled through the old sewer system left behind by the older races. It was long overrun by the bug-creatures but we ultimately escaped. I remember noting that no real "boss" aliens were seen, just a few larger bug-things. I think the real strength of the enemy was in their numbers and many of the secret service guys died during the journey. So, after saving the president the human race overlooked the whole "you tried to kidnap and perform all sorts of horrible experiments on us" thing and our races became friends. I guess he was the president of Earth (perhaps Texas took over the world?) or something. Anyways, we took a sample of the bug-monsters for study (which I realized later is the monster that killed my previous character), advanced the human race centuries into the future with our technology, cured world hunger (a common theme in Julian's games), and lived happily ever after. I was starting to get the hang of Role Playing games it seemed...

It would be at least two years later (middle school) until I played my next game as a Player Character, this time with a new group of friends. My character (a nondescript human) was devoutly evil, betraying his king, his race, and home by helping the arch-fiend (generic bad guy overlord #1)'s minions enter the walled city through a hidden passage I somehow knew about. Once the forces of evil (grey-skinned humanoids) destroyed the city I was given rank within the bad guy forces and became the bad guy that the other PCs were working against. It was a game of paranoia where (having read many of the D&D Monster Manuals) I would regularly stab at my shadow, or strike people while yelling 'Doppeganger!' The game ended abruptly when I killed all of the other players involved (who were not playing concurrently, but rather in a series of 1-1 or 1-2 sessions) and I was told "congratulations, you beat the game!" Lesson learned: Killing everyone else involved generally ends the game.

At one point Julian returned to town for a few days and when we were extremely bored I played a Zaratan. I did all sorts of cool things that a giant turtle with ESP would do... I took long naps, ate wayward sailors, submerged myself every few thousand years as people would try to build civilizations on my back, and hit on female turtles. It was pretty baller... All of this ended when I tried to eat a guy on a boat, followed him all the way home to his village and was murdered in an oddly familiar way. I was admittedly feeling a foolish after I'd realized what had happened, and we went back to playing Goldeneye for the Nintendo 64 or a board game he'd designed out of legos and balsa wood. I don't think I learned any real lessons from playing this game except perhaps a few fun facts about turtles and their courtship rituals.

Unspeakable Evil!
I played a few goofy one-off session characters like a vampire who could hypnotize people upon eye contact (so i'd frequently challenge them to staring matches or say something like "Why don't you say that to my face?"), a pipe-organ bard (who admittedly didn't get out or do much of anything), and various PC-hunting foils that I would be asked to play from time to time. By this point there was not very much simultaneous play, just a series of 1-1 sessions affecting the same world where the plot is generally to kill the other players (at least from my perspective). I'd bribe bar-keeps to poison them, I'd pay beggars to give hand-drawn treasure maps to other players that would lead them to their doom, I actively financed dungeons, mercenary bands, and death-traps. I'd trap treasure chests (generally to release explosive or poisonous gas), I'd swap out signposts at forks in the road, and I'd build diverse splinter-cell factions of evil in every town I came across. I think the other resident GM (besides me) just ran out of ideas and wanted someone else to make challenges in his world because after a while it felt like I was the real villain in the game... Eventually the players put together my Professor Moriarty-like schemes, sought me out, and I found myself entering into a duel with one of the other characters (against my will I assure you). It was at that time that we concluded that we'd need some sort of system by which to manage player vs player combat beyond the GM arbitrarily saying "you hit" or "you don't." We tried a few systems like "I'm thinking of a range of numbers between 1 and 100," but this fell short of fairness. We concluded that since we called our game DnD we might as well learn how the real D&D (in it's shiny new 3rd edition) was played since we were now over the age of 12 (the minimal age requirement for playing). Because of an idiotic episode of 60 minutes and the 1982 film Mazes and Monsters a few of my friends had to stop playing when their parents found out we were converting to the real game.

Dual Wielding Ranger
Our first D&D game was run by our older friend, Tom, who had a well established world that was in the D&D 3.0 system which supposedly had almost become some kind of expansion book made by Wizards of the Coast/TSR. My character (well described, per my interest in completely filling out the detailed character sheet) was a gothic black-haired ranger with a hatred of plants, animals, and the proletariat I dubbed "the Red Terror." Armed with a hammer (medium weapon), a sickle (small weapon, important for dual wielding bonuses), awesome stat rolls, and a hatred of the outdoors it didn't seem like anything could go wrong... But because I had really bad luck at the whole "roll the dice" thing it didn't seem to matter how intelligently I played my character because I walked into more traps than cross-dressing bingo night. I'd volunteered to keep the night-watch only to critically fail the first roll and immediately fall asleep, I failed all of my intuitive direction rolls (making me a useless ranger), and critically failed a "knowledge divine" check that ultimately caused me to put my hand into the mouth of a statute when I thought I saw something shiny inside... The bite that followed killed The Red Terror immediately. In short, I was almost entirely useless largely because of my bad rolls, partly because I didn't have enough points in useful skills (but I could speak 7 languages). So I learned that you need to put some extra thought into making your character statistically useful or you won't last long no matter how well you role-play.

Wild Antics
The above experience was pretty demoralizing, so it would be a few years before I'd pick up the dice and try again... I played as a short gnome (even for gnomes) rogue named Swa Malescar Ekal Vizie-Vare the Twenty-Third, whose bad luck and misfortune was legendary among my social circles. Swa, a noble who left the high life after her mad uncle tried to murder her, was a well intentioned chaotic good character with a case of kleptomania (per the GM's specification). Posing as a traveling dwarf knight with a bucket helmet, and a beard of goat-fur, every roll I seemed to make resulted in taking me one step closer to death. For instance, critically failing a basic depth perception check while trying to use a parachute (don't ask), the GM being polite and saying I landed on a hay bale in enemy territory, critically failing a much needed stealth check to avoid detection from the guards who heard my impact, succeeding in my jump check to avoid getting caught and jumping out of what I thought was a first story window only to land in a moat. After critically failing while trying to swim in the moat, being "rescued" and tied up by the evil uncle (who happened to be there for some reason), failing to roll over "5" on a 20 sided dice with my 3 "escape artist" attempts, and failing a few other really key rolls shortly after, I was sacrificed on an alter to some evil deity he worshiped.

On a Boat
This was a part of a series of one on one games to try and get a better understanding of the mechanics of D&D with my friend Justin, when we went on a summer-long boat trip up the east coast of the US. Next I tried a Stone Giant character who was crushed to death by a herd of buffalo I accidentally startled, then a bug-controlling wizard who was beaten to death by peasants with newspapers and pitchforks after casting what I didn't realize was a harmful 'area of effect' spell in the middle of town after I got into a bar fight. Next a Lawfully good Paladin who considered "consorting with evil" a capital offense (I didn't fully understand alignment at the time) who the king had executed for treason despite my sound logic, and finally a Golumn-crafting sorcerer who didn't do a whole lot after I finally earned the ability to craft Golumns. The "Golumn Goddess" was sort of an interesting character because it took ALL summer to earn enough xp/gp to start crafting Golumns. The GM had me start off as a servant (who incidentally had magical powers) doing super-mundane household cleaning quests for noble families. Over the course of three weeks (in real time) I worked my way out of cleaning homes and worked as an apprentice blacksmith in the most mundane campaign ever conceived. I made HORSE SHOES for the next week, worked my way up to armor, eventually got better than the blacksmith I worked for, and reached level 12, having never entered into combat or any vaguely life-threatening situation. I was forced to "retire" the character as a master armorer, who ran a shop surrounded by hidden Golumns in a peaceful merchant town after my friend told me he had no ideas for a serious story line for that character now that I had Golumns. Justin later went on to work for city services (in real life) as a maintenance guy doing all of the chores he'd described for my character... He still doesn't have the ability to craft Golumns.

Characters Slightly More Useless Than My SWG: Teras Kasi Master!
Then, after finally getting used to the mechanics of D&D I was reintroduced back into the world of multiplayer (3+ people) role-playing games through Vampire The Masquerade... which uses a completely different ruleset. A good friend at the time was running a game and lent me the books for a week before the game. I spent a day and a half learning the system and making my first character, only to die about twenty minutes into the first session after one of the other player characters thought my character concept was stupid and shot me with a flamethrower. 
In his defense my character was a deranged and mentally unstable vampire (which is sort of the point with Malkavians, one of the main character options) but I was forced to create a new character while everyone else progressed with the story... I was specifically by the GM asked to make a character with a deep backstory that would work well with the other characters. I was also asked to avoid creating a combat-heavy guy "just because." Cool! Character depth was not really a new concept to me but I'd never tried intentionally making a combat-useless character before so I came up with Gav, a rich artist with lots of contacts whose only weapon was a lighter and a canister of silly string... Incidentally vampires are extremely flammable so this worked out alright. I sprayed, lit, and fled at the first mention of combat with maximum efficiency! However, I seemed to botch all of my diplomacy rolls (though the words I said were not poorly chosen), and generally found myself speeding home in my econo-Prius in frustration after the team would tell me to take the night off. Once home I'd horribly botch my craft-art rolls and feel bad about myself. Perhaps this guy was a bit too realestic... Once we realized that main story was going to turn south on us (the 'prince', who hired us to investigate a series of seemingly unrelated crimes was the bad guy, setting us up as the fall guys) I bough a bunch of C4 from my 'contacts', liberally "operated" on one of the vampire PC's (to where he had C4 inside himself and was able to heal up the wounds using "blood points") and drove away in my econo-Prius as he gave the prince a hug and detonated the C4. The whole experience sort of left a sour taste in my mouth (a lazy GM and a group of players that thought I was a bad RP'er because I rolled poorly) and I didn't play as anything except a GM using D20 systems for the next few years.

Castle Ravenloft...Vania (Instruction Booklet)
At one point my college family invited me to play a game, so I played a greatsword wielding monster-hunter in an extremely enjoyable Castle Ravenloft campaign. This was a "to the letter of the book" campaign that I found insanely fun and won't go into detail about because other people will undoubtedly try to play the game would appreciate a lack of spoilers. The campaign ended abruptly after some sort of social fo-pah I wasn't a part of that ended with the GM breaking up with the leader of the social circle. Hrm... A few years after that I played as a psychic Pokemon Trainer in a Pokemon Role Playing game which was pretty awesome! Before you judge me, let me explain that I was able to possess people or pokemon, temporarily steal their abilities, and use sed abilities in any body that I possessed (except my own). The party received countless benefits, shout outs, free gifts, won the lottery, twice, and won every battle we took part in because no opposing Pokemon Trainer was able to issue attacks to their pokemon (whom I would possess). No one suspected the little "fainting" paraplegic kid in the wheelchair was behind it all, and we got away with outright murder (technically suicide, but the jumpers were unaware until after they'd jumped) in one or two instances. Sadly my mind-war of terror (that the other players were genuinely oblivious of thanks to an awesome note-passing system the GM allowed) was cut short when a wild Scyther impaled me through the chest, killing the 15 year old boy. He died with no regrets and I learned the importance of 'bug spray.'

Sometimes Games are Broken
My last conventional D&D game (as a player character) was a brush with 4e. I got to play a gnome fighter named Malachite and abuse just about all of the cantrips given to me. I'd magehand arrows from the quiver of archers, magehand a short sword or giant beach towel to distract enemies, prestidigitation the smell of bowl movements upon my enemies when I'd make intimidation rolls, etc. It was all going really well until I missed a game and in that week the entire party died. I told them that if they would have waited for me I could have certainly slain any monster, but in actuality I was only level 3 so it's unlikely that it would have made much of a difference. There's something to be said for the great balancing act of combat, especially in instances where PC's have no other option (e.g. a giant mono directional cave system) but to fight.

Picture From Blizzard HQ

My last Roleplaying experience (as a PC) was a fantastically run Call of Cthulu themed Nemesis-System (D10) game. My character was a mob hitman who got pulled into a giant conspiracy (with all the other player characters). In short (because I don't want to spoil the fantastic plot which is available for other people to play), when we found the 'bad guy' base in 1920's New York, I went in with one of the other guys armed with a Tommy Gun, a switchblade, and a healthy amount of TNT, and we wiped out 4 city blocks. 
As we raced across the world to stop their leader we were chased by the police for our actions in NY, which was kind of inevitable given the previous statement. A silly thing of note in the game was that one of our number (despite whatever dice he used) consistently got critical headshots to such an extreme that the GM actually started giving all of the bad guys magical bullet-proof bubble-shields on their heads. Because I was a combat-character, it was the Nemesis System, and I was still generally botching every important roll in the game I didn't last much longer than the first few sessions but had a great time because it was extremely story driven (as opposed to combat or XP/Loot driven). The GM even let me finish the game with the group as a nondescript sailor the party rescued from the clutches of the evil cultists in Egypt!

So that's been my botch-tastic experience with Roleplaying... Feel free to share your own memorable experiences...

Shadow of the Catlossus

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