Monday, November 30, 2009

Some Say "People Suck," But No One Ever Sucks on Me

Would there be any interest in Bowl Games and poker the afternoon of January 1?

An Investigation into the Habits of John Brown

Crew 1: I can’t ever figure that John Brown, even though I’ve sailed with him for a couple of voyages now. He’s the largest man on the ship—gotta be twice the size of many of us—and looks so fierce all covered in tattoos and the wild way he carries himself. But he mostly sticks to himself, all quiet like and even gentle about most of what I’ve seen him do. And when he does talk to people he always has a smile on his face and is quick to laugh. Really about the friendliest man in the crew in his own way. And to think the way he could bully us around—he could probably run this ship if he ever chose to act like you’d think he would to look at him.

Chef: Most people assume John Brown doesn’t say much because he has trouble with the language, but he’s picked up plenty and does fine when he wants to. My theory is he just doesn’t see any need to waste words and only uses them when he really has something to say. But even then he never just says whatever point he’s trying to make—he always seems to talk circles around it and never quite gets there, but you get this sense of the territory he’s trying to cover. My favorite times to listen are when he’s telling tales of the gods where he comes from, all fierce storms and giant waves and huge powers that make men puny. Most men worship their gods with reverence and joy, find inspiration and hope in them, but that John Brown talks about gods like they’re just something to be feared. Maybe raged against, but mostly feared.

Captain: John Brown. I’m sure he has some other name in his native tongue, but the only one he’s ever shared on deck this boat is John Brown. Says that other name is from a past life if you really push him, but he doesn’t even like to admit he was ever anyone else if he can help it. And he’s funny about it, too. He won’t answer to just John and if you try calling him Mr. Brown he corrects you. Really it’s easier if you just think of his name as Johnbrown.

The name was given to him by his previous ship—I’m not sure if it was captain or crew. I suppose they chose John because it was common and easy and Brown due to his appearance. That’s the only other ship he’s known to my knowledge, and I believe the experience was both good and bad for him. He had a rather defeated look when I took him on, so I asked the captain what he knew. They had picked him up a couple years prior when blown off course during a storm. They made land at an uncharted island for repairs and he begged to join them. Didn’t know the language or anything of ships, but was so desperate the captain took pity. At first he was despondent when not coached aggressively, but he gradually picked up the skills and language to make a passable sailor. Since he switched to my ship, oh, three years ago now, he’s continued to improve and has become about the most reliable crewman I’ve ever known. He’s still largely unassuming, but we’re a better boat for his presence.

Crew 2: That John Brown, he’s got secrets I tell you. I seen him one night dig deep into his chest and pull out something wrapped all in cloth. He thunk the rest of us was asleep, see, so he slowly unwrapped it and held it up. At first I couldn’t make out what it was, just that it was long and big and hard. He started talking to it in some language I ain’t never heard before, all soft and kind of like he was praying. Then he got another cloth and some oil and polished it up, and that’s when I got a better look. It was some kind of wicked club, made from dark wood and with patterns drawn all over it like the ones on his skin, like they was two of a kind and made to go together. Sure, he seems all kind and soft, but I think one of these times he’s gonna pull that thing out and clobber the lot of us in our sleep.

First Mate: Having John Brown on crew is one of the best things for morale I know, but I don’t know how long he’s going to last at this rate. He always volunteers for the hardest, most dangerous work available. The more dangerous the better. The rest of the crew loves not having to worry about those duties because they can always count on John Brown to take care of it, but he relishes the work with such recklessness that I fear for his life. I asked him about it once and, like usual, he gave me some roundabout answer that I’m not sure was really an answer. It was something about the strongest warriors in battle are those who don’t care if they live or die because they have nothing to lose, so they slip into a battle trance that allows no room for thought, pain, or fear. Something along those lines, at least. I guess he meant that’s the way he works, and it’s a pleasure having him to take care of things, but I still worry.

Crew 3: That John Brown doesn’t talk much, but I’ve seen it happen. Just once, when we were in port and he got further into the ale than I’ve ever seen him. It was long and rambling and hard to make sense of, but after thinking on it long and hard I think I can put together some kind of a story about him. I’m sure I have some of the particulars wrong, but this is the way I think of it now. He grew up on this island and was the pride of his tribe. Son of someone important, maybe the chief or whatever you’d call it. He was the strongest and fastest at anything athletic, best at all the skills, something to be reckoned with in their community, and never knew the meaning of the word failure. He was just coming into manhood with a wife and young child when some kind of disaster struck. I couldn’t make out if it was the ocean or a war or what, but whatever it was he blames himself for the death of his family. Felt it was his duty to protect them and he didn’t. And he didn’t know how to deal with it. His community was supportive, tried to convince him it wasn’t his fault, but John Brown wasn’t having any of it. So when this strange new ship showed up one morning, he jumped at the opportunity to leave his shame behind and start over as a new man. I know he doesn’t like to think about it so I keep that story to myself for the most part, but I think that’s more about his past than just about anyone knows.

Second Mate: It took a while for John Brown to really learn the ways of a ship and the intricacies of our language, but now that he knows how to use his knowledge in our setting he’s a treasure. They say he grew up on an island and spent more time in the water than on land. I can believe it. He’s become almost unnaturally talented as a seaman, with a canny familiarity with the ocean’s currents, weather, and wildlife. The captain makes the calls around here, of course, but when I can I always get a second opinion from John Brown. When they disagree about anything, more often than not it’s the captain who’s wrong.

*I’m from Kansas; please forgive my weak nautical knowledge and terminology.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


I saw a personalized license plate that said "THACO" this morning on the way to work.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Count Me a Definite Maybe

Or a maybe definitely. I'm speaking, of course, of Nate's aquatic themed campaign. I've really been wanting to play lately and, as I seem to be getting to KC about once a month anyway, I figured "why not?" Anyway, it looks as if the party is, tentatively at least, a rogue, a barbarian, and two bards. Which does seem to leave us a little light as far as healing goes. Personally, I was considering a druid or one of the arcane spellcasters. Thoughts?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Long Term

Despite my assertions that once I'm settled in at a new job and new apartment I will concentrate on integrating myself into social circles replete with young single women at the expense of geekier pursuits, I have started thinking about the long anticipated Ptolus campaign. To that end, I retrieved the Big Book of Geeky Awesomeness from my storage unit whilst in mid-Missouri this past weekend, and have begun reading it again. I'm thinking that the campaign should probably begin in late Spring or Summer 2010 (though this may be influenced by how far along Nate's campaign is at that time, whether Lummox has his game up and running, and other external factors like jobs and such). So, I'm preparing for that by studying the setting. I'm pretty sure that for the campaign to be entertaining the DM is going to have to pretty well know the city of Ptolus inside and out. So, I'll be doing that over the next few months when I have snippets of free time that I don't feel like using for more practical pursuits.

Long ago I created a dedicated site for the Ptolus campaign here (you should go and see the posts already up). I'm not sure how exactly I'm going to use it, but I expect it and the Cringing Wiki to be useful resources for when we play. And, if you haven't already, those of you that intend to play should download and read the Player's Guide to Ptolus available for free here. Even though the campaign proper won't be starting for some time I think it might still be a good idea to start thinking about characters and backstories. In fact I have an interesting idea with respect to that. I was thinking that in the months prior to actually beginning the in-person-rolling dice-battle maps-Mountain Dew and Cheetos game, we could play sort of a "pre-game" online via email and the blogs. Basically, as I envision it, this would be a chance for you guys to work out your character backstories in a way that made it feel like the characters were actually a part of the Ptolus world-- by having me collaborate with you and parcel out bits of information that a native of that world would have. It would also give us the opportunity, long before we ever sat down at the gaming table to figure out how the party comes together and allow us to hit the ground running when we actually get to the game. Plus, it will let us come up with individualized character hooks and connections to Ptolus and the NPC's there.

I don't see this as an exercise that would utilize the rules so much. Instead, I see it as a way to explain how your characters get to level 1, and begin their journey as adventurers. I'm not exactly sure how this will work-- that's a topic open for discussion. For instance, I'm not sure if the stories we work out would be posted for all the players to see, or kept strictly between the DM and the individual-- and then only later shared with the rest of the group. So, thoughts? ideas? discussion?

(And it should be said, I'm not trying to draw attention away from Nate's game or Lummox's plans-- I'm thinking long term here.)

Friday, November 13, 2009

Too Many Comments: Or, Rounding Out the Party

So my first reaction to ocean-based campaign was a finesse, skill-based player. It seems everyone else's was as well. So far we have a rogue and two bards. Not helpless in a combat (especially the types you fight on a ship), a bit of healing, a bit of arcane magic. So no big strengths outside of skills/thieving, but no absolute weaknesses. Instead of overbalancing things in any one direction, I'm still drawn to my original concept with some kind of hybrid that allows us to complement each other's dispersed strengths. Here are some of my brainstorms. What do you eliminate, Nate, and what does everyone have to offer that might tip me one way or the other?

- A Swashbuckler (Complete Warrior) - a flashy, attention seeking, finesse fighter type.

- A Wizard - with the hopes of becoming a master of winds, storms, and the weather.

- A Duskblade (PHB 2) - an elvish (or elf influenced) hybrid that combines combat expertise with spellcasting.

- A Barbarian (maybe Ranger) variant of some sort - a "savage" islander picked up on some far ocean voyage, but not sure rage or tracking make sense with this character concept and looking for some logical substitute for that aspect of the class.

- A Druid - a "savage" islander picked up on some far ocean voyage . . .

- A Beguiler (PHB 2) - kind of a bard, but focused on illusion and deception. If I'm this you probably won't know, as I'll be trying to pass myself off as one of the others above.

- Other suggestions?

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

A new game

I think it's about time we get rolling on our next game. Here is what I propose.

  • We meet Saturday nights once a month for the next year. I would prefer to use my place since we can get started a little earlier that way. I'm thinking about starting the first weekend in December.

  • Standard races and classes. 3.5 rules

  • bonus feat for all characters at first level: Sea Legs - +2 bonus on Shipboard Balance and Tumble Checks and +1 Bonus to Shipboard Initiative.

  • To roll up characters we will be using a standard point buy system (pg 169 DMG)

  • Maximum HP at first level and half max at each level afterwards. so... at level 2, a D6 class will automatically be 3+ Cha modifier. This rule and the last will help avoid unbalanced characters.

  • We will be using the Stormwrack book, which, while out of print, can be easily downloaded here. Focus primarily on the rules associated with combat on board a sailing vessel. Please steer clear of reading up on the monsters, I may be using a few of those and would prefer to keep some surprises.

  • Table rules to include: No electronic devices aloud at the table during play. This includes iPods, iPhones, laptops, etc. We use real dice and paper character sheets, and of course, books. Between the lot of us we have two copies of Stormwrack, so we shouldn't need more. No Television. Background music is aloud for mood. Courtesy should be payed to characters taking actions. Sidebar conversations are fine, but should not be disruptive. I may use a computer strictly as a DM screen and a source for the game, but will try to keep that to a minimum.

  • XP bonuses will be awarded for back stories, strong character role play, (especially among the PCs.), cooperative gameplay strategies and even good table etiquette. For example of that, if we are all focused on the game and run into confusion on a rule, a cooperative resolution amongst all players will be rewarded.

  • The story begins a month into a long voyage over the great sea. You will all be members of a crew that is on the verge of mutiny as weather is getting progressively erratic and the labor is severe. Crew members have been promised a handsome sum at the end of the voyage, but the harsh treatment by the second in command has led most to conclude that no reward is enough. It is known that the ship is transporting something rare and magical in addition to its usual cargo. A special task force of the king is aboard to guard the artifact. No one on the ship seems to know what the object is or what it is worth, but at least 2 attempts by crew to steal the item have ended in violent bloodshed. The guards know what they are guarding and won't be easily distracted from their mission. Your back story should include a reason why you have chosen to serve aboard this ship.

So, who's game? I'm open to thoughts on the above.