Monday, January 28, 2019

D&D Askbox

I got a D&D Ask over at my Tumblr, and since it's relevant, I might as well repost it here.  Expect references to other RPGs in addition to D&D, because I dig a wide variety of games.

1. A favorite character you have played.

Maurice Bleuchamp, high-class l’homme fatale in a Arashi​'s 7th Sea game.  If we’re sticking with D&D, Lady Sardonica, my human sorcerer that I played like once.  (Weirdly, they’re both social characters, which isn’t my normal milieu.)

2. Your favorite character that someone else has played.

I used to run a massive, sprawling, Mage: The Ascension game, and Rusty ended up being a favorite.  He was an escaped cyborg who broke his conditioning, and while he could have been a powergaming nightmare engine, the player really delved into his psychology.  He ended up dying when he finally found something that could kill him.  (I didn’t record that campaign as diligently as I do modern ones, but I talk a bit about it here.)

If we’re sticking with D&D, I’ve enjoyed many of them.  Granny, the kindly old lady who was trained as a rogue and had plans to create a criminal empire, was a recent favorite.

3. Your favorite side quest.

In that Mage: The Ascension game, we once had a whole session that was a sleepover.  (One of the NPCs grew up as a child soldier, and the PCs were aghast that she’d never had a proper sleepover.)

In D&D, I’m enjoying the current quiet sidequest of the fighter to find Nicole​'s bard’s children and give them gifts.  That game is going to some weird places.

4. Your current campaign.

I’m running and playing in a bunch.  (It sounds like a lot, but on average, it means I’m running or playing in something once a week or so.)

Currently playing:

A Dust Bowl-era occult horror game (using the classic Deadlands rules) where we’re trying to stop the Devil from bringing Hell on Earth.
D&D game where we’re just dicking around the continent, uncovering all these political conspiracies.
rushputin's Operation Unfathomable game with D&D 5e rules.
The aforementioned awesome 7th Sea game, where we’re also uncovering these political conspiracies as well as ancient Lovecraftian evil (and trying to untangle the Gordian knot of the player characters’ unrequited polyamorous relationship mess).  It gets pretty intense.

Currently running:

Crux of Eternity, a D&D5 game.  As mentioned earlier, it’s gone to some weird places: starting as a bog-standard D&D 4e game, it’s gotten into some political stuff (there’s a theme), and they keep bumping up against all these criminal conspiracies and factions.  It took a while, but it’s turned into the kind of free-wheeling chaos I love to run.
Arctic Death, Infinite Night, a D&D5 game taking place in the Frostbitten & Mutilated campaign setting.  We just rebooted after a total party kill, so I’m not exactly certain where it’s headed.
Tip the World Over on its Side, an Unknown Armies game in 2011 Los Angeles.  It’s weird, postmodern occult horror, and it gets surprisingly emotional at times.  They’re untangling all these weird conspiracies, and currently trying to save the city from someone symbolically turning it off and turning it back on.

I think that’s everything?  There are some assorted random things in the middle there, but such is life.

5. Favorite NPC.

Ermolai, Nosferatu information broker in my Mage: The Ascension game, was always a fun time.  I dig whenever I get to play the Headmaster in Crux of Eternity, too — he was an old LARP character, and it’s good to know he’s still out in the world somewhere.

6. Favorite death (monster, player character, NPC, etc).

I’m not sure I have a specific favorite.  Any death that’s results in a memorial session is a good time.  Tactically, I dig it if someone gets thrown off a cliff, or when the wizard plane shifts people into the Abyss.

7. Your favorite downtime activity.

I dig downtime in general; my favorite Mage: The Ascension sessions usually started with “we go to a restaurant.”  In terms of canonical D&D downtime activities, spreading rumors is severely underutilized by my players.

8. Your favorite fight/encounter.

In Mage: The Ascension, the fight in an abandoned nightclub was pretty memorable, if short.  In D&D, I liked the dragon’s maw trap fight.  It was kind of unfair, but had all these weird elements that meant players really needed to keep moving.

9. Your favorite thing about D&D.

About role-playing games in general, you get to crawl around in someone else’s head and see things from their perspective for a time.  (Like Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird says, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”)  For D&D specifically, it’s the fact that it’s an anachronistic hodge-podge of stuff, so you can pull in almost any themes you want.

10. Your favorite enemy and the enemy you hate the most.

I’m usually running the enemies, so I’m biased.  Games I’ve played?  deGaulle in 7th Sea is great because we’re absolutely terrified of him, but he’s been nothing but nice and generous to us.  Conversely, the Dog-Stitcher in the Dust Bowl game is kind of a dick.  Glad he’s back East, I guess.

11. How often do you play and how often would you ideally like to play?

We play once or twice a week across various games.  Ideally, I’d run professionally and play daily.

12. Your in game inside jokes/memes/catchphrases and where they came from.

The guy who played the cyborg used to say, “Back to reality,” when table chatter left the game.  “This is fine,” is the new one, because everything is terrible.

13. Introduce your current party.

I’ll just get the three most recent:

7th Sea: Leoric (thief from the Highlands of Avalon, and the unfortunate New Guy who fell into our angsty polyamorous fuckpile); Maurice Bleuchamp (my character, former prostitute-turned-coutier-turned-revolutionary); Tiesa (thief and Samartian witch, also a revolutionary-type); and Vidal (Castillian swashbuckler, and the only actual 7th Sea hero-type in the party).

Crux of Eternity: Bezaldooz (gnome wizard, used to be a vampire but he got better); Bosabrieln (half-elf bard and total sociopath); Peren (elf ranger, devoted to the Raven Queen); Torinn (dragonborn fighter, honorable and somehow acquired power armor).

Tip the World Over on its Side: Jones (former Air Force and former FAA, currently unemployed and hating the supernatural); Kevin (hippy-dippy bike courier who has delved way too deep into the occult and keeps getting grievously injured); Leah (New Age, Instagram-famous personality, who has possibly gone through enough hardship to start growing a soul).

14. Introduce any other parties you have played in or DM-ed.

Too many to count.  The Mage: The Ascension game had a rotating cast, so I’d be hard-pressed to list them all.

15. Do you have snacks during game times?

Frequently.  The content varies, though.  Anymore, most of the games we play have people bring stuff, potluck-style.

16. Do you play online or in person? Which do you prefer?

Usually in-person, which I prefer.

17. What are some house rules that your group has?

It varies from game-to-game.  I like to use Jeff Rients’ carousing rules whenever possible.

18. Does your party keep any pets?

Only really in Crux of Eternity.  They had a dog and a dinosaur that died.  More recently, they had a Shield Guardian until they had to leave it behind.  (I’m sure they’ll get it back some day.)

19. Do you or your party have any dice superstitions?

None specific.  I always put my dice “1″-side up, though.

20. How did you get into D&D? How long have you been playing?

I got into RPGs when my parents read a newspaper article about LARPing and showed it to me because it sounded like something I would like.  At my request, they got me a copy of Vampire: The Masquerade, and the rest is history.  That was spring of 1998.

For D&D specifically, I had some books, but only got into it when wildeschilde’s coworkers expressed interest in gaming.  That was 2011, when we started Crux of Eternity.

21. Have you ever regretted something your character has done?

Oh, probably.  They tend not to linger in the mind, although Maurice is full of regrets these days.

22. What color was your first dragon?

I actually don’t use dragons all that much, and neither do most of the DMs with which I’ve gamed.  My player characters met a younger white dragon their first day of adventuring, though.

23. Do you use premade modules or original campaigns?

A combination.  Premade adventures require more prep, but they usually make situations that I wouldn’t, which I like for verisimilitude.  On the other hand, I dig making my own content.  I often intersperse other people’s stuff into my own homebrew worlds.

24. How much planning/preparation do you do for a game?

I try to go sandbox-y, so it’s a lot of upfront preparation, and then relatively little for individual game sessions.

As a player, not much.  I GM a lot, so I’m used to getting in character quickly.  That having been said, if I’m way into a game, I’ll probably spend lots of time for preparation.

For DMs

25. What have your players done that you never could have planned for?

Drop a fireball in the enclosed slave pits!  I expected that to be a straightforward session, but they’re still dealing with the fallout.

26. What was your favorite scene to write and show your characters.

I usually don’t have a lot of stuff mapped that far in advance, given how improvised my games tend to be.  I liked the reveal that notorious crime boss Lord Oculus was, in fact, a beholder, though.  The players seemed to enjoy that, along with the egregious use of beholder puns.

27. Do you allow homebrew content?

Some, yeah.  People can usually make the characters they want to make with official sources — they’re more customizable than they appear at first glance — but if you have a unique concept or a cool piece of homebrew, I’ll let it slide.  (I would probably modify it a little, but I love the concept behind The Beloved pact warlock and think someone should play it.)  And of course, if you want a custom thing, I’m usually willing to oblige.

28. How often do you use NPCs in a party?

Varies.  My D&D players randomly met an orc just yesterday, and it seems like they’re recruiting him for membership.  (They’ve had a rotating cast of allies and hirelings in their time, though.)  I’m pretty sure my Unknown Armies cabal considers three or four NPCs to technically be in the cabal.

29. Do you prefer RP heavy sessions or combat sessions?

RP-heavy, of course!

30. Are your players diplomatic or murder hobos?

A combination.  Pure hack-and-slash will get you killed in one of my games, and you have to royally fuck up for negotiation to be removed as an option.  For the most part, the NPCs want to die as little as you do.

For Players

31. What is your favorite class? Favorite race?

I’m partial to magic-users of all stripes, although I frequently try to play against type, so I’m probably not known for playing magic-users.  I dig elves, even though they’re a bit cliché.

32. What role do you like to play the most? (Tank/healer/etc?)

Theoretically, I think I would enjoy healer the most, but I’ve only played the one.  I play a lot of tanks because I don’t have to worry about the rules so much (hit things, repeat) and then I can just focus on the role-play aspects.

33. How do you write your backstory, or do you even write a backstory?

I’m used to running games from a handful of notes, and from the D&D retrogaming mantra of “your backstory is all the stuff that happens before 3rd level,” so I rarely write full backstories anymore.  (Although I have a couple of GMs who request them.)  That having been said, even the most casual game has a pretty strong character concept in mind.  I have a dwarf barbarian whose backstory is not written anywhere and has not yet been revealed in-game, but his past is suitably Tragique™.

Since Stelian Negrescu, though, I’ve been using an X-meets-Y method.  I wanted to play a vryloka paladin in D&D Encounters (it was a spooky adventure, so I wanted to leverage some of the spookier character options), and Stelian was the result.  D&D Encounters was a quick, once-a-week, “have a fragment of plot with a combat encounter, and we’ll see you next week” sort of thing.  It was casual, but I still wanted to get into his head.  Stelian didn’t click until I realized he was Buddha-meets-Dracula — a dark prince who didn’t realize he was unhappy with his life until he went into the world and saw suffering, so he became a paladin to fight injustice.  X-meets-Y.  Most of my quick character concepts are like this anymore.  Here’s the background for my old Deadlands character, Father Seward.  The seed of that idea was Jack Crabb from Little Big Man meets the Preacher from Pale Rider.  X-meets-Y.

34. Do you tend pick weapons/spells for being useful or for flavor?

Combination.  If there’s a conflict, I’m usually a flavor sort.

35. How much roleplay do you like to do?


Friday, January 25, 2019

Spell: Baron van Hook's Microcosmic Eye (5e version)

Baron Lee van Hook is still out there, studying microbes and performing other magical research.  So here's a version of his microcosmic eye spell for fifth edition.  It appears on the Wizard spell list.  (It probably also relies a bit more on DM fiat than normal 5e spells, but that's Rulings, Not Rules for you.)

Baron van Hook’s Microcosmic Eye
1st-level divination (ritual)
Casting Time: 1 action
Range: Self
Components: V, S, M (a small, finely-crafted lens worth at least 100 gp)
Duration: 1 hour
You can magnify objects by sight and will alone. While focusing on an object, you can “zoom in” to a magnification as high as one thousand times, the upper limit of modern light microscopy. As an added benefit, the spell automatically enhances contrast, replicating some of the utility of microbial staining.
While using Baron van Hook's microcosmic eye, you may gain advantage on certain Intelligence (Investigation) and Wisdom (Medicine) checks to diagnose diseases or investigate other microbial phenomena, as determined by the DM.

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