Saturday, September 22, 2018

To sleep, perchance to dream...

The new job that I started in February is at a university, so the past couple weeks have been the busiest since I started there: the beginning of the school year means a ton of registration changes and admissions documents to process. That work load has not left me enough free time and head space to prep a regular blog post this week. (I usually aim to post on Wednesday or Thursday.) However, my subconscious has apparently stepped up to help by giving me a very bizarre dream last night, which begs to be used as a part of a surreal modern-day horror adventure, so I'll share the highlights of that with you.

It started mundanely enough, with me being back in the part of central Indiana that I grew up in. I was there for a high school reunion, or something similar. I ran into a couple of the women who had been among the pretty, popular girls in school, but now (despite one being extremely pregnant) they looked old, and their husbands (who I didn't know) were even older and grayer.

Everyone was staying in rooms in a sort of delapidated industrial tower that had been built and abandoned since I lived there as a kid. It reminded me very strongly of Isengard or Barad-Dur, but in a quaint, comical way, so I decided to spend some time exploring it and taking pictures with my camera phone.

I went up to the roof, but couldn't find a way to look down over the parapets at the surrounding countryside, or to get into the handful of boxy turrets that went even further up. Then I noticed that I could see mountains. (Mountains? In central Indiana? Even immersed in the dream as I was, I could tell something very weird was going on here!)

Up here, the structure looked even more like a castle than before, and that impression was further reinforced as I went back inside to find someone to talk to about it. The hallway I took crossed a short bridge over a stony channel that had water flowing through it. It was rather dark here, but the channel was dungeon-like enough that I tried to get a picture of it. As my camera tried to compensate for the dim light, I suddenly saw three shapes running/swimming/splashing down the channel towards the bridge. They made me think of merrow or Deep Ones--and they were big, so I didn't wait around to find out what they were or what they wanted. I ran--

--and woke up.

It's been a very long time since I remember being scared awake by a dream--and even longer since I could remember so many details of a dream this clearly.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Drawloween is coming!

I participated in #Drawloween in 2016, despite a hand injury late in the month of October that year, but seem to have completely failed to follow through in 2017. (I think I printed the list, then forgot about it. Oops.) I'll be trying this again next year. 

My daughter (now in her first year of high school) has inherited my obsession with drawing monsters. She makes art far more regularly than I do these days, and thought this idea was cool when I did it two years ago, so I may see if she wants to join in and let me share some of her work.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Time of the Tarrasque #14: Family Matters

Our lengthy hiatus has finally ended! Huzzah!

As I explained recently, we had a couple of players move away, and we will be continuing the campaign with a smaller group. I've also decided to retcon the PC death and reincarnation that occurred in our last session so that it affected one of those departing characters (Jubair, the rogue) instead of the one who actually died during play (ZhaZha, the cavalier).

Because of the many months since our last session, plus the party's need to adapt to losing their monk and rogue, I have allowed the players to make some changes to their characters. For some time, I had been considering using the background skills rules from Pathfinder Unchained, so implemented them at this point. That gave each PC (all currently 3rd level) six additional skill points, most of which went towards Knowledge skills and a little bit of the new Artistry and Lore skills.

Our bard's player decided to change his archetype from magician to archivist, which gave him back bardic knowledge, allows him to disable magical traps, and will give him jack of all trades in only two more levels. These changes greatly improve Edel's ability to fill gaps in the party's available skills. (The archetype's naturalist ability should prove invaluable, too. It certainly has for my wife's archivist bard in Pathfinder Society!)

The other continuing players made only minor tweaks to their characters. Apart from adding background skills, we had a few feat and trait changes, but nothing more extensive.

Our continuing heroes include:
  • Edel Naergon, high elf bard (archivist) 3.
  • Fatou Damiri, human wizard (evoker) 2/cleric of Yaziel 1; and Nochaesh, owl familiar.
  • Jumari Boneface, half-orc inquisitor of the Lost Egg 3.
  • ZhaZha, half-orc cavalier (order of the dragon) 3; and Zafira, camel mount.

(Now, on the the session! But first, a little rewinding...)

While the party was in Zahallan to sell loot gained from the orcs and buy the rare oils needed for the reincarnate spell, Lucretia (the zen archer monk) received a message. She did not share the contents of the message with her new friends, but explained that she would need to leave them, and did not know for how long. [Lucretia has ties to the military of the northern nation of Thovalas, and was summoned for a new mission. This provided a convenient built-in way to explain her leaving the party.]

During the return trip to Zahallan, Fatou asked Jumari about what religion she followed. The inquisitor explained the basics of the cult of the Lost Egg. [With the retcon, ZhaZha was present for this discussion, but decided to keep her own perspective on the Tarrasque to herself, so we did not need to replay that scene from last session.]

(And now, moving forward...)

The new Jubair
The party returned to Spine Hollow, and gave the oils to Razima, the settlement's chief druid. She cast reincarnate on Jubair's remains, and he returned as a gnome with light brown skin and dark hair. The ordeal left him feeling miserable, and he was horrified at his dramatically smaller body. [Jubair is used to being tall and very strong, and is suffering from negative levels from coming back from the dead.] Jumari tried to assure him that being a gnome was nothing to be ashamed of--they were a noble race. Edel made a joke in Gnomish--and Jubair was surprised to find that he understood it. The rogue was soon distracted, though, with obsessing over eggs--he craved eggs, and couldn't stop thinking or talking about them. He also dreamed about eggs during his first night's sleep back among the living.

This talk of eggs unnerved Jumari a bit, given that Jubair was her first convert--albeit a lukewarm one--to the Lost Egg, before she shared that information with the rest of the party. She spent some time talking to him about it, and offered to take him to her teacher. She didn't think her teacher could cure the lingering after-effects of Jubair's revival, but he might be able to help make sense of Jubair's dreams.

Jubair had been given halfling-sized clothing immediately after the reincarnate ritual. Over the next couple days, the druids of Spine Hollow helped him exchange his weapons, armor, and other gear for items more appropriate to his new size.

Jumari made a habit of commemorating significant events with tattoos, so offered to give Jubair one. He agreed, and they settled on a scorpion inside the outline of an egg. Jubair asked for it to be placed on his calf, so that he could always have a scorpion in his boot that couldn't sting him. He seemed to think the idea would help ward off his usual bad luck with such vermin.

Jumari informed the others that she wished to visit her family, and believed Jubair needed to speak with them. (ZhaZha opined that it was a better idea than visiting her home, where outsiders tended to be killed to ensure the settlement's safety.) The inquisitor wasn't sure where she would find her family, as they tended to move around frequently. She decided to try the closest of their two favorite haunts, located on the Zahal River downstream from Zahallan. If that didn't work, she would try a different hideout on the other side of that town. Either way, the party could easily return to Zahallan afterwards, or between stops.

The inquisitor easily navigated south through the hills to the river, a journey of a couple days. Towards the end of the second day, they reached the river, but could not see it until they crested a rocky rise parallel to it. Then they could see half of a barge that had been broken on the river's rocks, and pulled well clear of the water for the safety of other water traffic. That ruined boat had been turned into a sort of squatter's hut, and soms of the PCs spotted signs that it was currently or recently inhabited. As they approached, the could see a Jubair-sized person hiding in the shadows of the boat's interior, with a crossbow trained on their group.

Jumari unwrapped her head covering to show who she was, and the man relaxed and came out. He was a gnome, tall for his race, with wiry gray hair and tattoos of eyes, circles, and similar designs all over his face. Jumari made introductions--this was Morganox, her adoptive father and teacher in the ways of the Lost Egg. She explained to him that Jubair had been human until a few days before, was reincarnated as a gnome, and now had dreams about eggs, so she had brought him here. This amused Morganox greatly, but he did not explain why (yet).

Morganox invited the party inside to join the evening meal with him and his other daughter. Jumari's adopted sister was Banuqa, a human woman who kept herself as carefully wrapped up as Jumari did, but for somewhat different reasons--extensive plague scars could be seen on the visible parts of her face and hands. Over the meal, Jumari told Morganox about what had happened to Jubair, and about the rest of her adventures with her new companions. The gnome was very pleased by their efforts against the death cult. He offered to take care of Jubair for a while while the rogue adjusted to his new body and learned more about the Lost Egg. Morganox revealed that he had once been an orc from one of the Tarrasque-cult tribes. He was reincarnated by a powerful orc witch, but when he came back as a gnome with visions of the Lost Egg, she tried to kill him. He narrowly escaped with his "much shorter life." (This phrase confused ZhaZha, who thought gnomes lived longer than orcs. Edel suggested an improvement to Morganox's size joke in Gnomish, which the priest appreciated.)

ZhaZha asked which tribe Morganox was from, and he replied that it was the Hornback Tribe. They control The Horns, one of the most holy sites of the Tarraqsue cult. He has not dared to go within 50 miles of the place since his escape. He knows little about the tribes that worship the death god, other than the fact that they exist and that the Tarrasque-worshipers usually seek to wipe them out. (The Ghost Fist warlord Yazdanyar's name was unfamiliar to him.)

The PCs' talk then turned to how to find more information about the death cult, so that they could track them down and deal with them more permanently. Their thoughts included:

  • Someone at the Burburan Oasis might know more about the cult and/or the Ghost Fists. That tribe dwells near the Stairs, and Burburan lies on the trade route that goes there.
  • ZhaZha's home village is not terribly far out of the way to Burburan. She might consider inquiring there.
  • The temples in Zahallan may have learned more about the cult's activities since the last time the party visited them. Fatou had given the death cult text the party discovered to her temple's mullah, and hoped the older cleric might have gleaned more from it.

The group decided to spend the night at the ruined barge. In the morning, they said their farewells to Morganox, Banuqa, and Jubair, then followed the river west to Zahallan.

Fatou, with Nochaesh
As Fatou led the way to the Temple of the Moon, she told her new friends a bit about her own family. Her father (a wizard with his own school) expected her to follow in his footsteps, rather than her late mother's (a cleric of Yaziel). When she left home, she left him a letter explaining her desire to see more of the world; she didn't tell him in person because Father always wins arguments. She guessed that her brother Balban would understand what she'd done, but he's a little older and tends to stay put in his alchemy lab.

(This was followed by some joking discussion, more or less in-character, about just how much Fatou's friends wanted to scandalize her father--for example, by giving him a half-elven grandchild. Fatou does find Edel very handsome, but hasn't really pursued anything beyond some hesitant flirting.)

When they arrived at the temple, Fatou found the letter from her father that she had been dreading--but she didn't expect her brother to be the one sent to bring it to her. He had arrived a few days before, and had been told of her new status as a cleric by the mullah. While Fatou and her brother talked, the others withdrew a short ways and pretended to not be paying attention to them.

Balban explained that he was sent because Father's duties wouldn't let him leave the school for long. Buthayna, a friend of the Damiri family and a mentor to Fatou, had tried to talk to Father on her behalf, but Balban was uncertain whether it had helped. But apart from the situation with Fatou, Father was well.

Fatou showed Balban the alchemist Jibral's formulary and the oil of decompose corpse, and briefly explained how she and her friends had acquired them. This distracted him from further surrogate badgering. From a cursory examination, he agreed that some of the writer's research was disturbing--and certainly outside what Father would allow in his school. This intrigued Balban, and he promised to study it further and let Fatou know if there were any clues that she could use in her own investigations.

Balban needed to return home, now that he had delivered the letter.  ZhaZha chimed in to ask if their father would be upset if Balban didn't go home right away. He replied that he would wait a day or two while Fatou composed a reply. He suggested that his sister may want to ask the mullah to write to their father, too.

(Fatou's reply will restate her intention to not return home at this time. She has learned a great deal at the temple, and plans to keep exploring her mother's path.)

Leaving Balban, Fatou went to go speak with the mullah...but that conversation will be part of our next session.

ZhaZha, on Zafira

Appendix: Previous Sessions

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

LEGO Minifigures: Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts

With the upcoming release of the second Fantastic Beasts movie, the LEGO Group is reviving the old Harry Potter theme alongside new sets for the new movies. Part of this return to the Wizarding World is the Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts LEGO Minifigures series, which includes 16 characters from the original series and 6 from Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

I have versions of many of these characters from other sets--some dating all the way back to the first LEGO Harry Potter sets from 2001--so I do not intend to collect all 22 minifigures. Those that I have acquired are marked with an asterisk (*) below. I've consulted the excellent Brothers Brick review of this series for a few details of figures I have not yet seen in the plastic pink flesh.

This series nicely showcases some new features of the Harry Potter theme:
  • The new wands are no longer just a simple bar, and can be posed in at least two positions in a minifigure's hand (as shown in my photo above). The wands come as a pair on a sprue, so even casual collectors will soon accumulate a large supply of extras in various colors (mostly shades of brown).
  • Characters dressed in full-length robes or dresses have a new part for the lower half of the minifigure. Unlike the printed sloped brick skirts used before now, the new piece is the same height as standard minifigure legs. It also has larger pegs instead of studs, which helps keep the figure securely attached at the waist. The back of the skirt falls in a slight curve to a short train, which covers the same 2x2 space as the older trapezoidal brick, but looks more natural.
  • Some characters have new, shorter jointed legs that are midway between the size of the traditional minifigure legs assembly and the immobile short legs piece. This allows Harry and his friends to be depicted at three different heights as they grow up over the course of theitr years at Hogwarts. (Harry himself appears in two sizes in this series.) As someone pointed out on the LEGO Dungeons & Dragons Facebook group, these new legs are also perfect for making dwarves, who are shorter than humans but taller than hobbits.

Fantastic Beasts

I find the characters of the movie Fantastic Beasts rather disappointing compared to the far more compelling heroes and villains of the Harry Potter series. I bought Newt's Case of Magical Creatures solely for the excellent creature models, not the characters. Thanks to that set (and Grindelwald's Escape), I already had versions of most of the characters who appear in this Minifigures series, so have no real interest in acquiring more of them. I did, however, buy Newt for the minifigure-scale briefcase and an extra Niffler.

Credence Barebone: Credence wears a staid 1920s suit and has the old Ron Weasley bowl-cut hair in black. His only accessory is a tile printed as a "Witches Are Among Us" pamphlet. Like all of the Fantastic Beasts characters, he would make a good Depression-era Call of Cthulhu mini, but is a bit boring. (He does, however, have a double-sided head with glowing eyes on one face.)

Jacob Kowalski: Kowalski's briefcase is rather nice, with a hinged lid and a hollow interior big enough for a 1x2 tile; his comes with two round 1x1 tiles decorated as pastries.

*Newt Scamander: Newt's briefcase is identical to Kowalski's, but doesn't include any contents. His printed torso has a Bowtruckle peeking out of his pocket, but the star of this mystery bag is the Niffler, which stands about 1 brick high. It would make an excellent mini for a mole or platypus familiar.

Percival Graves: Graves wears an expensive-looking suit, but has no accessory except for his wand. However, he comes with a double-sided head and two hair pieces: the silver-templed black hair he has for most of the film, and a white wig for the big reveal at the end.

Queenie Goldstein and Tina Goldstein apparently eat quite well after meeting the baker Kowalski. Tina comes with a hot dog and bun, Queenie with a large strudel. (I can't help thinking that the big segmented pastry could be used as a giant maggot mini.)

Harry Potter

Albus Dumbledore: Dumbledore has a nicely sculpted hat with flowing hair and a beard gathered in a tie towards the bottom. He also has dapper blue robes with the new skirt piece. His accessories include a wand and a silver dish printed with a swirling blue design: the Pensieve.

Cedric Diggory: This is Cedric's long-awaited debut as a minifigure, finally addressing a criminal oversight in the eyes of all Hufflepuff fans. He is dressed in his Tri-Wizard outfit, and comes with a large Tri-Wizard Cup trophy. Cedric is older than Harry, so has full-size adult legs. His hair and smiling face will serve well for other handsome male characters.

Cho Chang: Cho's light brown skin is rare among LEGO minifigures, especially women. Her long, straight hairdo has appeared elsewhere (Spooky Girl, in Series 12) but is still a nice piece worth acquiring. Cho also comes with a gray fabric skirt, the new shorter jointed legs, and an owl.

*Dean Thomas: Like Cho, Dean's minifigure is interesting primarily for his skin color and hair (a short, nappy style). He has the new legs as well, though his have the end of his colorful scarf printed on them. He carries a Gryffyndor pennant as well as a wand.

*Dobby: This minifigure is a slight update to two older versions of the character. There are very slight changes to the printing on his face and torso, and the 1x2 tile with a printed sock. His legs are cast in two colors, tan and pink flesh, and the diary is a newer design, with a hinged cover and two studs inside to hold the sock tile securely in place.

Draco Malfoy: Draco appears in his Slytherin Seeker robes, with a soft cloth cape, a green broomstick, and a very detailed Golden Snitch. The Snitch has a small post on the bottom so it can be held by the minifigure. This would also allow it to be mounted on a base and used as a mini for a tiny flying creature, such as an arbiter inevitable or a 4E arcane eye familiar.

This series includes two versions of Harry Potter. The first is Harry Potter in Pajamas, which includes the invisibility cloak (made from two shiny cape accessories). This Harry is obviously new to Hogwarts, as he has the shortest of the three leg options. The second, Harry Potter in School Robes, comes with Hedwig as well as the new legs assembly. (I have so many Harrys from older sets--with both yellow and pink skin--that the cloak would be the only reason for me to consider buying either of these versions.)

*Hermione Granger in School Robes: Hermione comes with the new jointed legs, as well as her cat Crookshanks and a wand. (My kids think the cat mini looks suitably grumpy-looking for the part.) Her neat robes form a nice contrast to Ron and Harry's more rumpled appearance.

*Lord Voldemort: You Know Who has a stark white head and hands, and the only white wand available at this time. He has a dark green robe, with the new skirt piece. He is accompanied by Nagini, which is a very handsome large snake piece. However, I wish Nagini had been designed with at least one attachment point--there are no anti-studs or other legal connection points. The tail has a short segment that looks like it's meant to be grasped by a minifigure hand, but it's actually a little thicker than a bar, so could cause that hand to break if done incautiously, or too often. (To quote the Brothers Brick review, "Nagini is a great looking snake, but a poor LEGO element.") The Nagini piece also seems to be identical to the Basilisk from the massive microscale Hogwarts Castle set, though the two serpents are different shades of green.

*Luna Lovegood: Luna comes with bluejeans (with the new legs), a colorful fabric skirt, a pink jacket, and a new blonde hairpiece that fits over the strap of her shoulder bag. Her head is double-sided, with one side wearing SpectreSpecs, and she carries a copy of the Quibbler printed on a 2x3 tile.

Mad-Eye Moody: Moody comes with a wand as well as a staff and a potion flask. He also comes with a double-sided head and two hairpieces, for when the imposter is exposed.

*Neville Longbottom: Neville wears earmuffs and gloves while tending to a young mandrake. His head is double-sided, with the other face showing him fainting. The mandrake is a nice feature, with a plume of leaves and a bulbous root-like head/body. It would make a great head for a small plant creature, such as vegepygmy, by inserting the pin at the bottom into a brick with a hollow stud. Between the mandrake and Neville's short jointed legs--which lack the printing most of the other students' legs have--this is the character I could most easily justify buying multiple copies.

Professor Flitwick: Flitwick is a tiny man, with the older short legs piece. Besides his wand, he has a bow tie, fabric coattails, a megaphone, and dandyish hair.

Professor Trelawney: Sybil wears a somewhat frumpy dress that uses the new skirt piece. Her huge mop of curls includes a brightly patterned headband, and would look great on any vaguely hippy-ish character. She also comes with a rather nice-looking teacup and saucer.

*Ron Weasley in School Robes: Ron's messy orange hair (apparently the same as Han Solo's, in a new color) is a vast improvement over the old bowl-cut his minifigures used to sport. Like Hermione, Dean, and the taller Harry, he has short jointed legs printed with the bottom part of his Hogwarts robes. He also comes with his rat Scabbers, which is (perhaps ironically) a much nicer looking rat figure than either the classic Castle rat or the previous version of Scabbers (both of which were monotone and lacked printing).

Past Collectible Minifigures Reviews 

LEGO Minifigures Series 14: Monsters!
Series 15 Minifigures
Disney Minifigures
LEGO Minifigures Series 16
The LEGO Batman Movie Minifigures
The LEGO Ninjago Movie Minifigures
The LEGO Batman Movie Series 2
LEGO Minifigures Series 18: Party

Thursday, August 30, 2018

How do you go about creating a character for play?

Nefereanu, my Osiriani oread brawler/living monolith (and his embiggened form)
I recently came across an old thread on the Paizo Messageboards titled "How do you go about creating a character for play?" The original poster wanted to know whether other players started with a optimized build, a purely character-driven concept, random rolls, GM assignment, or some other method. My own answer would have to be that I don't have a single method; I have created player characters using a wide variety of starting points. That's hardly a satisfying answer by itself, so I'll give several examples.

First, I should mention that during my 30+ years as a RPG player, I have GMed about as much as I've played as a PC, and that influences my choices as well. I get frequent opportunities to try out new character ideas as NPCs in games that I run, and I enjoy a wide diversity of character types, so I'm pretty flexible about what niche my PC will fill in a party. If some of the other players have strong preferences about what they want to play, I'm usually willing to take one of the unfilled roles as my starting point.

That goes double if I'm joining an established group with a campaign already in progress. I will almost always feel out what the party most wants or needs and try to oblige, while insuring my own fun:
  • When I joined a fantasy GURPS campaign many years ago, my first chat with the GM revealed that current party was rather light on combat skills, so I chose to build a weapons master. (This choice also allowed me to focus on learning the intricacies of the combat system without having to learn the magic rules at the same time.) Most of Sura's character points went towards making her a very effective warrior, but then I looked for ways to keep her interesting to play when she wasn't fighting. Shopping for disadvantages helped here: Secret intrigued me (I decided that she pretended to be a man in order to learn swordsmanship), as did Minority (she was a Muslim in a Christian-dominated region). As the game went on, Sura's faith and her sense of honor defined the character at least as much as her battle prowess.
  • Some years later, when I was recruited into a Buffy RPG game, the group had just lost two players who had played witches. I was willing to take over the spellcaster role, but I needed a hook that would get me invested in the character. I am a longtime Lovecraft fan, and the campaign was set in a fictional New England town, so I proposed a character based on the Deep One hybrids of Innsmouth. The GM turned out to be a Cthulhu Mythos junkie as well, so gleefully worked a "Triton" race into her game. Most of Baz's personality and interests were an exaggerated version of my own--if I had been born a half-demon sorcerer--which made him easy and fun to play.
These days, most of my new PCs are created for Pathfinder Society. Unlike most of my other RPG experiences, participating in organized play means that you rarely play the same character in the same party from session to session. There are special rules for home games and/or campaign games if you want that kind of continuity, but it's not the default assumption. Instead, there's a certain amount of randomness about party composition, though players who (like me) have several established characters can mitigate that somewhat by substituting in a different PC before the mission starts if the table desperately needs a certain role filled. But in general, this "luck of the draw" element is embraced; players are encouraged to play the character that they want to play for that event, rather than settling for a second or third choice simply because the party is full of, say, strikers instead of healers or diplomats. 

Ansari Zolta, human rogue
When I first started PFS, I played pregenerated characters for my first several scenarios before committing to building my own character. I started with the iconic rogue, because that class can contribute in almost all types of encounters, and because the table lacked one. That made me decide to build a rogue as my "dash one" character. Ansari was a fairly typical thief-style rogue, good at sneaking around, noticing things, and disarming traps. However, I made sure to include a few hooks to make him more interesting to play: He was Keleshite, but was a devotee of Cayden, the god of drink, because he had been apprenticed to a brewer. His master had been a dwarf, so he knew the language and enjoyed being around others of that race. As play continued, Ansari remained faithful to Cayden--even to the point of dipping a single level of cleric--and he was surprisingly honest and forthright for a thief, except when the mission demanded subterfuge. All of which was development from my very sketchy notes about his background at 1st level.

Rauadabjorn Kjallaksson,
dwarf stonelord paladin
My second character was a paladin, because I had also tried out that iconic for a couple scenarios. This time, however, my character was entirely built around a racial archetype, and I never really worked out much background apart from the minimum implied by his stat block. Bjorn was actually based on a fighter/paladin/stalwart defender that I created for a 20th-level one-shot that a friend of mine has yet to run. I had deliberately built the "dwarfiest dwarf that ever dwarfed" (in that friend's words), but when I decided to recycle the name and core concept for PFS, I discovered that a single-classed stonelord paladin was actually a better fit, especially at lower levels. (The archetype gains stalwart defender abilities, without multiclassing.) The details of his personality and motivations have arisen almost entirely out of play: He's a fairly straightforward crusader hero, but his open mind and genuine concern for the welfare of the people he's protecting have been known to put him at odds with more jaded soldiers.

Some of my other PFS characters have started out as finding an interesting combination of classes and abilities, then draping roleplaying hooks over that frame:
  • Neferanu came out of a desire to try out the Living Monolith prestige class when I acquired People of the Sand. I decided to aim for the more martial option, rather than a spellcaster, and settled on brawler because I hadn't played a hybrid class before and that class seemed the easiest of the lot (only four pages of text for the entire class!). The prestige class's requirements dictated most of his early feat and skill selections in order to qualify as early as possible, but I did find room for a few custom touches. To play up the stony theme from the beginning, I made him an oread, and chose a background trait that gave him Bluff as a class skill. (Sadly, I learned that the mask of stony demeanor was errataed well out of his price range, but I still gave him Combat Expertise so that he would have access to Improved Feint.)
  • Mariko Snowtop,
    undine white-haired witch
  • Similarly, I picked the White-Haired Witch archetype for my first character of that class because it sounded weird and intriguing. I chose a king crab for Mariko's familiar because it gave a bonus to grapple checks, which would help with her hair attacks. That choice suggested an aquatic origin, so I made her an undine. At this point in my PFS experience, I had characters from about half of the different Pathfinder Society factions, and I've tried to avoid duplicating any for as long as I could. I had had no interest in the Exchange before then, but decided to give it a try, and gave her the Diplomacy and Profession (merchant) skills to support that career path. That choice has worked out quite well for her, and she's very close to becoming my first PFS character to unlock the final reward (7+ goals) on a faction card.
My wife Erika joined PFS later than I did, but is now just as active in it as I am (and has actually GMed more PFS scenarios than I have). We play together often enough that we eventually decided to add some pairs of PCs to our stables who were designed to work as a team.
  • Our first attempt was designed to eventually make use of teamwork feats, which are difficult to use unless you can regularly play with a character who has the same feats, or have a class feature that gets around the normal restrictions on using them. I chose to go with an inquisitor, while Erika built a rogue. The fun (and somewhat silly) part came when we decided that the Greenbottles were half-siblings--a half-elf and a half-orc--who were raised by halflings. 
  • One of the GM boons that we've both earned allows us to create an aasimar or tiefling character, which are normally prohibited in PFS. Even before we received this boon, we had the idea of creating a pair of lawful neutral Chelaxian Asmodeus worshipers, each with Profession (barrister). This subskill shows up in a surprising number of PFS scenarios, and is a perfect day job skill for bureaucratic devil cultists. Erika settled on a cleric early on, though was undecided about race until recently (she chose aasimar, to mess with people's expectations). Before the race boon, I was considering an unchained summoner with a devil eidolon, but I've since settled on a tiefling investigator instead. I've also changed his Profession skill to scribe, though he'll likely pick up a rank in barrister within a level or two so that he can aid the cleric. We originally envisioned them as members of the Dark Archive, but we already had active characters in that faction. On the other hand, our original Grand Lodge PCs will reach Seeker level soon, so we made our Asmodeans members of that faction, with the idea that they promote inter-faction cooperation. (We've yet to play these characters, but hope to debut them soon, now that we've finished earning the necessary race boons.)
Nar-Lok, half-orc
heavens shaman
And then, sometimes, I just revel in being weird. I'm not sure anymore exactly how I came up with the idea for Nar-Lok, my half-orc heavens shaman. He is a combination of interesting mechanical combinations as well as some over-the-top personality elements. I gave him the sacred tattoo alternate racial trait, which gives a luck bonus to saves, and the Fate's Favored background trait, which increases any luck bonus he receives. This gives him very good saves for his level, which is critical in PFS--especially once I decided that he was Dark Archive, and thus would be making ill-advised experiments on a regular basis. His interest in the stars and weird magic suggested a day job as a fortune-teller, and to advertise this, he wears clothing covered in stars and other astrological symbols, and has a number of tattoos in the same theme. Despite his brazenly bizarre appearance, he's quite diplomatic, and with aid from his talking thrush familiar, regularly serves as the party's "face." (On the other hand, he will only get creepier as he advances and gains new hexes and spirit magic. He has also earned a very exotic improved familiar as soon as he's high enough level to claim it.)

I'd love to hear in the comments how you lovely readers come up with your own character ideas!

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

#RPGaDay2018: Days 28-31

WEEK FIVE [continued]: SHARE...
28) ...whose inspiring gaming excellence you're grateful for.
Everyone who's been willing to run games for Pathfinder Society at my FLGS. It's hard work to run an adventure, and even more so when you don't know who you'll be playing in your games from week to week. Naturally, some of those GM are better than others, but right now, I'd rather encourage all of them rather than call out the especially good or bad individuals. They're willing to run so that I can play, which makes it easier to give back and run more stuff for them.

29) ...a friendship you have because of RPGs.
There have been many of these! Here's just a couple of examples:

My friend Mike recruited me when his Buffy/Angel group needed to replace a couple departing players, and I quickly hit it off with the other players. The two primary GMs, Cassandra and Katie, were both very imaginative people whose other interests had a high overlap with mine. They introduced me to many cool things I would have missed out on otherwise--and also gave me a much-needed education on certain topics that I needed to be more aware of.

That's the key to making lasting friendships through gaming: Find people who you want to spend time with when you're not gaming.

30) ...something you learned about playing your character.
Well, since that old Buffy/Angel game is on my mind...

That game had a disproportionate number of PCs and NPCs who were LGBT, to the extent that there was a running joke in-game about "there must be something in the water." My character, Patricia "Trick" Tillinghast, was dubbed "straightest girl alive" at one point due to her obsession with boys and her obliviousness to her best friend's infatuation with her.

Then she went through a couple of experiences--becoming a tantric warrior of Dionysus, and being body-swapped for a week with one of the male PCs--that widened her horizons and made her confused for a time about her own sexual orientation. With the help of her therapist, she concluded that she must have always been latently bisexual, but only recently started to recognize it for what it was. Between this newfound curiosity about her feelings for women and the fact that her last couple of relationships with men had ended spectacularly badly, she effectively swore off dating men for the remainder of the campaign. Her love affairs with women were just as tumultuous, but she did manage to make one of them last far longer than any other relationship she had ever had.

31) ...why you take part in RPG-A-DAY.
I find many of the questions to be interesting, and hey, I have a blog dedicated to RPGs! So it's good practice.

Monday, August 27, 2018

#RPGaDay2018: Days 24-27

WEEK FOUR [continued]: WHICH...
24) ...RPG do you think deserves greater recognition?
This time last year, I would have said Fantasy AGE, which I finally made time to try out for a couple short adventures late last year. However, with the release of the Modern AGE RPG, and the resounding success of Green Ronin's recent Kickstarter for The Expanse RPG, it seems that the AGE system is receiving quite a lot of attention.

25) Name a game that had an impact on you in the last year.
I first tried Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition back in 2014-2015, but it was a little over a year ago that I started running Tales from the Yawning Portal for my wife and children. I've enjoyed those games a great deal, which has led me to investing more in the system, and blogging more about it here (as attested by my Freeport 5E series).

With all four of us heavily involved in Pathfinder Society, it's become harder to make time for D&D these past several months, but I hope to return to and finish The Forge of Fury soon.

26) Your gaming ambition for the next year.
Two things come to mind: 1. I want to have my "Time of the Tarrasque" campaign running regularly again by 2019, and 2. I hope to finally make it back to GenCon for the second time.

27) ...a great stream/actual play.
I have watched only a handful of actual play streams, and never live. It's just not my thing--I'd rather be playing a game myself than watching other people getting their gaming fix on. (It must be a generational thing, at least in part. My 13- and 14-year-old are perfectly happy to watch YouTubers playing video games I've never heard of for hours on end. That would make my eyes and ears bleed.)

On the other hand, I have enjoyed some shows where the action at the table gets an aggressively professional editing job before it reaches the audience, such as Titansgrave on Geek and Sundry, and the couple of RPG-related episodes of Tabletop that preceded that series. I'm not sure if that counts as "actual play" as most people use the term, but I find that format to be a much more rewarding investment of my time.