Sunday, August 23, 2009

Favourite Characters

I was reading a blog today about "Awesome things I've done in a game." This got me to thinking about some awesome things I've done, and I realise that more than awesome things, I'm drawn to awesome characters. I say this because the vast majority of entries in my version of this list would have been "played Character X."

So I decided that for today's entry, I would post a list of my ten favourite characters. These aren't all characters that I've run, but they're characters that I really like and remember with some sort of fondness. We'll start with:
  1. Sarah Storm. Game: Changeling: The Dreaming. Player: Me. Overview: Piskie grump.
    This character was inspired by two simultaneous events. First, I read an entry on the White Wolf forum that was talking about how Changeling is a purely fantasy game. As I've mentioned here before, Changeling is as close as you can get to a universal-genre system without actually being a universal-genre system. So I wanted to disprove this statement. Secondly, a friend of mine complained that I am incapable of and/or unwilling to play combat capable characters. I wanted to prove him wrong too (for the record, I don't dislike combat-capable characters; I demand deep, well-rounded, dynamic characters, and so prefer to avoid gun bunnies). Anyway, so I made a cyberpunk piskie; her Chrysalis was triggered by William Gibson's Neuromancer, and her Dream Dance spawned TIM, the sentient chimerical cyberdeck. She has a chimerical cybereye through which she can interface both with TIM and with her treasure: a ray gun. She's smart, sassy, doesn't take any lip from anyone. Plus: Cyberpunk piskie! 

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Loner

I am reminded of an article I read once (I don't remember where I read it) that was talking about the tendency of gaming characters to be loners. It's really not surprising that in games which emphasise the free-wheeling high powered adventure, characters are likely to be free-wheeling sort of people with no bonds to hold them down. After all, it's really not likely that a middle-age middle-class middle management corporate drone is able to just pick up at random and fly to Rome to help stop an international espionage plot. Better to have a young, fit, unmarried guy with no restrictions on his ability to plunge headlong into excitement.

But there's something to be said for breaking the mould a little. I once played in a rather non-standard game; it was a crossover of all the World of Darkness games, and though we started out as mortals, we soon ended up with the three main players running a Vampire, a Mage, and a Werewolf. My character, the vampire, was a teenager plagued with family issues resulting from a murder that he witnessed, so has had to move in with the other characters. The mage was a married guy, and after a couple of years of in-game time, he ended up with a daughter. I still remember the daughter, Alexis; she was a a very smart and capable kid.

Sunday, August 9, 2009


Here's an interesting concept: gods. Most often, this shows up in fantasy gaming, where clerics have divine powers (often including the ability to cast certain magic spells) granted by their deities.

Most games don't give much thought to how exactly this works. Do these gods exist? If so, do they all exist, or do certain pantheons exist while others are simply the imagination of their followers? If more than one pantheon exists, how do they interact?

I think that the most elegant analysis of this conundrum is the cosmology created by Rich Burlew (ok, heavily borrowed by Rich Burlew from many already existing sources) for The Order of the Stick. If you read his entire oeuvre, you eventually learn that "in the beginning," so to speak, there were four pantheons of gods who created the world. Their inability to co-operate resulted in the slaying of the Gods of the West (based on real-world Greek gods; Zeus, Hera, Athena, Ares, &c.). The remaining pantheons (North, based on Norse mythology; Odin, Thor, Loki, &c. -- East, based on Babylonian mythology; Marduk, Isthar, Tiamat, &c. -- and South; based on Chinese mythology; the "twelve gods" include Dragon, Rat, Pig, Monkey, &c.) thus agreed to stay in their respective areas and not interfere directly in the regions of the other groups. This is why clerics are important; they can be the agent of their gods in other places. Later, the goblins and elves developed gods of their own too, who were grudgingly welcomed into the celestial realms.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Magic Systems

I often find myself thinking about magic systems in games. I've seen many. Just a couple:
  • D&D: Spells are divided into levels, with certain spells available at each level depending on your class. You can cast a number of spells of each level per day of game time, again based on your character's level.
  • GURPS: Spells are divided into colleges, which are really only important as organisational tools. You learn each spell individually in the same way as skills, using weaker spells as prerequisites for more powerful spells. Casting spells costs Fatigue Points, which are based on your character's Strength.
  • Shadowrun: There is a spell list. You can learn any spell you like. When you cast a spell, you have to roll (the exact roll depends on which spell you're casting) to determine the effects of "drain."
  • Ars Magica: There are five "verbs" and ten "nouns," with varying ratings in each. To cast a spell, you roll a number of dice equal to the verb + noun.
  • Mage: There are nine spheres that govern all possible magical effects. The higher your rating in a sphere, the more control you have over that realm. Spheres can be combined for more powerful effects. Roll your Arete (magical awareness) to cast spells.
  • Talislanta: there are twelve "modes," which cover different potential actions (such as Attack, Defend, Heal, Move, Illusion, &c.). Roll your rating in the appropriate mode to cast a spell.
There's a lot of variation there. I've even seen a book (Authentic Thaumaturgy) written by a man with a degree in Magic describing how to use "real world" magic systems as a basis for gaming magic.