Anniversary and Post a Day Reflection

This year wasn’t a great year for the blog over all, at 39 posts since my last anniversary post, that’s less than a post per week, and that’s even ignoring the fact that 32 of those 39 were done as part of my post a day challenge last month (1 introduction post and then 31 daily posts).  With 94 posts on the blog total, that makes this second year account for a bit over 41% of the posts on the blog (all stats not including this post right here).

On one hand, this blog is something I do for fun, it’s not my job, and I don’t make any money off it (any ads you may see/be blocking are wordpress ads because I am using their free site), so if I don’t feel like doing it, I don’t feel like doing it.  On the other, I actually like having written APs of my gaming sessions, and like having my random gaming thoughts and ideas written down, and, presumably, you all like reading them.  So it kind of bums me out that I’ve not been doing it.

I decided a while back that I wasn’t going to make excuses for not writing, 90% of the time it just boils down to simply… not doing it.  I decide that playing video games or just browsing the internet is more interesting to do right at that moment.  I showed just this last month that I can find time to write every day if I really motivate myself to.  Blogging and talking about games is actually something I enjoy doing, I wouldn’t be doing this at all.  It’s just something that takes more effort to do than passively watching something on youtube or whatever, and so even if I enjoy it my natural procrastination nature kicks in (also why I am combining the Post a Day review with the anniversary post).  I’m not particularly happy with my output this year, but the only real solution is to make a conscious effort to write more… We’ll see if that happens.

As for the Post a Day Challenge itself…  I’m actually really happy with how that turned out.  I got 31 out of my 31 perfect posts up, with only two of them being late, and both of which still falling into the “Between getting up in the morning and going to bed at night” loose definition of “day”, just not the official “midnight to midnight” definition.

I’ll be honest… I half expected myself to miss a day around 9 or 10, and then just give up on the rest of the month.  Part of why I explicitly worded my challenge in such a way that missing a day was not a “Fail” per se, just not quite ideal.  All but like one or two of the posts were written the day of with only having done a few the day before and scheduling them for the next day to give myself an off day, and those were mostly “Wow this is long enough that I could split it up and not feel bad about it”, like my undead post about the Gulf, rather than doing that intentionally.

Many of the early posts WERE based on half-finished drafts I had lying around beforehand, which, honestly, one of my goals for doing that was to get the drafts that were still relevant published and out of my draft folder so I’m gonna rate that as a positive.

What I am not too happy about are the game theory editorials I used to fill space.  I don’t think I necessarily disagree with any of the ideas I was TRYING to express, but normally that kind of post would have been written, edited, and re-written over several days to ensure I was actually saying what I meant and not digressing into unrelated topics.  With only one day to write and edit, those probably weren’t really up to par.  Maybe I’ll review and revise some of them one day, but for now I will just leave them as is.

I think my gulf posts, my play reports, and my general homebrew is probably all fine, obviously a lot of the stuff I posted didn’t have time to get playtested, but that’s sometimes true of stuff I post not of a schedule. I’m particularly glad a I got the Triforcebearer classes done, as last year’s anniversary post I mentioned them being done “soon”, so they’re long overdue.

Overall, I had a good time, but I am not 100% sure if I will do it again, the hardest part of the whole thing was coming up with an idea to post every day and next time I do it I’ll already have a lot more down the drain, but we’ll see.

Anyway, thanks to all of you who stuck with me, here’s to another year of blogging!

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Thirteen Masks of the Gulf

Many magic items and ancient treasures are said to exist in the Gulf, and rumors about them abound and many ancient tomes grant clues to their location.  Given the significance of today’s date, today we will look at 13 types of masks thought to be lying in wait in the Gulf, waiting for brave adventurers to find them.

The Mask of Power

This mask was broken into 5 shards in time immemorial, yet even its shards contain great power.  It has been said that the full mask’s power is such that it can even make the greatest wish of its wearer come true.  Wars were fought as kingdoms brought their armies to bear to try to claim that power for themselves, yet none were able to gather all five shards.

Records tell that the Saint-Hero Lucius managed to gather the four shards of Asila, and set sail for the Cursed continent to find the 5th.  Many rumors exist about his point of landing and ultimate fate, but many modern scholars believe the Gulf is a fairly likely destination, and perhaps not only Lucius’ four shards, but the 5th shard exists in the Gulf as well…

Hood of the Just Executioner

It is said that these hoods were once the final appeal measure of an ancient magical empire, many know this empire once was active in the Gulf region, but it is unclear how many of these hoods still exist.  The hood is an ancient cloth executioners hood, embroidered with various runes to invoke their ancient god of justice.  The hood is not see-through, even for the wearer, so any wearing it is effectively blind.

That said, if the wearer declares a specific crime (IE, “Murder of John Smith of Main Street” and not merely “Murder”) and that the sentence for that crime is death, they may swing their blade and if the guilty is within their reach, their blade will find their neck without fail.  The wearer of the hood can not kill or permanently harm those innocent of the declared crime (though they may be guilty of other crimes), but it is said that getting hit with their blade still really hurts.

The King’s Mask

The story goes that a King of long ago feared that he was being targeted by assassins.  In order to better protect himself, he commissioned the greatest mages of the time to create an item that would fool any assassin coming for him.  The an enchanted mask was the result of their research.  A mask that would allow any of the King’s bodyguards to appear to be the King’s exact double.  So good was the enchantment that none could even tell the bodyguard was wearing a mask until it was removed.  Ironically, the King ended up being killed by a conspiracy of his own bodyguards, each of them taking a turn with the mask to live as the King.  Some versions of the story end with the bodyguards turning on each other and them all ending up just as dead, but many agree the mask is very real.

The wearer of the King’s Mask assumes the form of a human man in his early 40s with long blonde hair, green eyes and a regal bearing.  His facial features look vaguely foreign to the Salvati, but not too different from their countrymen.  The illusion is quite convincing and stands up to even touch and most common magical detection (although those who know the trick could still remove the mask if given the opportunity).  While in the past this mask was used to imitate a King, only the most well versed scholars of history are likely to recognize the form the wearer assumes as such, in effect, this allows the wearer to assume a second identity while the mask is worn, with little fear of their disguise being seen through.  Of course, because they assume the same form every time, there is a decent chance that their second form will gain a bad reputation as well.  When removed, the king’s mask looks like a clay imitation of the ancient king.

Mask of the Lord of Ages

Contrary to the other masks listed here, the Mask of the Lord of Ages is not thought to have magical properties.  It is said that this Mask was once the symbol of office for the Lord of all the Elves, made of crystallized light of the first stars, it is a treasure beyond value.  The story goes that the Mask was stolen by the Lord’s brother, one of the first elves to have turned to the paths of spite and one of the first of the Dark Elves.  This kicked off a great battle which eventually lead to the Dark Elves retreating underground, but the mask was lost.  The elves of the Elda Spires have long believed the mask is in this land, but it says an ancient Dark Elf curse prevents any elf from finding it.  To return the Mask to the Elves would earn their eternal gratitude, but the right buyer might be willing to pay something more tangible than gratitude for it…

Mask of the Forge

The Dwarves have a lost mask of their own.  While Dwarven craftsmen regularly use forge masks to protect themselves from the heat of their mighty forges, THE Mask of the Forge is on a whole other level.  It is said that a Dwarf wearing nothing but the Mask of the Forge could use his bare hands to shape a blade in the very heart of a volcano and not even singe the hair of his knuckles.  It is even said to resist dragon-fire and the fires of hell called forth by demons.  The Mask of the Forge will not make anyone a master craftsman, but true dwarven artisans could probably use it to create a masterpiece the likes of which have not be seen in a Gigashift.

Mask of Spirit Sight

Appearing as a death mask of a nondescript person, the eyes of this mask have a green-blue filter over them.  While worn, this mask allows the wearer to see into the world of magic and spirits.  Viewing magic auras, leylines, and various spirit and fey activity.  Often this can make viewing the physical realm at the same time very difficult.

Mask of the Beast

Treasures of the Kalotti, Mask of the Beast is a special magic known only to them.  Warriors who have undergone special spiritual trials overseen by the the village elders will, as their final ritual, venture out into the wilds of the gulf and craft a mask imbued with the spirit of a wild beast.  While more recent arrivals to the Gulf might be quick to dismiss this as superstition, the Masks due seem to grant the wearers some aspects of the animal they represent.

The Kalotti are also Salvati by origin, just removed by many generations of tradition, so it would not be impossible for one to learn this technique if they were to gain the trust of the Kalotti.

Veil of Secrecy

Thought to be crafted by spies from an ancient nation of the nearby desert, the Veil of Secrecy is an opaque Veil that covers the nose and mouth.  The Veil is said to have two unique powers.  The first, is that the holder of the veil can make copies of the veil if they have any reasonable skill and supplies to make clothing.   These copies will crumble to dust in a week’s time, but they have all the same powers as the initial Veil, including the ability to make additional copies (which always last a week no matter if they were made from a copy or the original).  The second power is that the wearer of the veil can speak in such a manner that all the wearers of the veil (whether copies or original) can hear them, and no one else can.

While this allows any number of people to communicate secretly, if any outside party gets their hands (even for just a short while) on one of the Veils, they may continue to make copies and listen in on these communications without anyone else knowing about it.

Rider’s Mask

Looking like a highly decorated helmet, this mask is said the embody the spirit of an ancient hero.  It is said it makes your fist strike like iron, and can inspire others to acts of greatness for a just cause.  It is thought to only work for those of noble hearts.

Domino of the Assassin

This unassuming black half-mask is said to have once belonged to the Saint-Hero known only by her criminal alias of Reine Noire.  The “Hero” in Saint-Hero has long been held to mean one who has accomplished great deeds, not merely heroic deeds, but Noire’s status as one is still a sore point among many of the nobility.  In particular, this is due to her having been known to assassinate at least four monarchs and dozens of minor nobles for reasons that are unclear to this day.  Some hold her up as a folk hero, believing her to be striking against tyranny, others believe she did it as a test of her own skills, or for the fun of it, while others believe she was just well paid.

Regardless, it is said that her Domino imparts some of her skills on the wearer, allowing them to look as though they belong in places they do not, and strike deadly blows on the unsuspecting.

The Bloody Wedding Veil

A man slain while at the alter.  His bride fueled with rage and a desire for vengeance.  Tracks the killers down takes justice into her own hands.

The exact details of this tale, including whether the bride succeeds or fails, vary with every telling.  Many however believe there is some truth to it, and her bloody wedding veil still exists and is ready to empower whoever wears it with a spirit of vengeance (and all the brutality that entails)

The Serpent’s Hood

Some believe this is just a Kalotti Beast Mask, yet the Kalotti claim it is a vile thing, and never make their beast masks out of snakes.  The Serpent’s Hood goes over the head goes over the head and covers the eyes.  It is said to give the wearer snake-like senses, the ability to command snakes, and to spit poison.  It is also said that the longer you wear it, the more snake-like you become…

Mask of the Necromancer

Made out of the front part of a skull of unknown origin, this mask is coveted by those who wish to raise and command the dead.  It is said that with it, even a novice could animate and command skeletal and zombie minions.  In the hands of one who has already mastered the black arts however, it might grant them the power to raise an army.


Current PaDC score: 31/31

Happy Halloween everyone! I’ll likely have a bit of a reflection piece on how this challenge went in a few days!

Triforcebearer: Gerudo, Sheikah, and Yiga Hylian Class Variants

 

553px-triforce-svg

In truth, there is not much difference between the Gerudo, Sheikah (including their less honorable cousins the Yiga), and the native Hylians.  In the post-calamity land of Hyrule one can find plenty of instances of these various races living together in harmony.   While the art of the Ninja and Spellblade are closely guarded secrets of the Sheikah and the Gerudo respectively, the same is not true of the classes of the Hylians.  A Gerudo that devotes he studies purely to the mystic arts to the exclusion of her skill with the blade is practically indistinguishable in ability to a Hylian mage, likewise, a Sheikah might use their natural inclination for sneaking for less noble pursuits than their brethren who complete their training.

In addition to their unique stock classes Gerudo, Sheikah, and Yiga can be Clerics, Magicians, Paladins, Thieves, or Warriors.  If your choose to be one of these stocks with one of these classes, write the appropriate stock on your sheet, then follow the standard rules for character creation for these classes with the following exceptions:

  • All Gerudo are female.
  • Gerudo’s Will can not start Higher than their health, Sheikah’s Health can not start higher than their Will.  A Gerudo Paladin therefore must start with Will and Health 4.  After character creation these stats may advance as normal (with any restrictions for class).
  • Instead of the Human special skill, instead choose from the options appropriate to your stock (below), the chosen skill starts at 3, unless your class already has that skill, in which case it starts at 4.
    • Gerudo choose between Pathfinder, Survivalist, Laborer or Hunter
    • Sheikah/Yiga choose between Pathfinder, Criminal, Scout, or Peasant
  • Gain the appropriate nature descriptors and ask the appropriate nature questions accorting to your stock (see the Ninja and Spellblade pages for the relevant descriptors).
  • Gerudo whose classes grant them a shield or helmet have a special third option, described in variants below
  • Sheikah can not have a starting alignment or Chaos, Yiga can not start as Lawful UNLESS starting as a Paladin.
  • Upon leveling up, Gerudo, Sheikah, and Yiga have a few additional options taken from there base class that they may gain at certain levels.  See Variants Below

Racial Variants

In some cases, even those who choose to forsake the standard fighting styles of their people still incorporate some amounts of it into their own interpretation of the common classes.  The abilities listed below can be taken at the listed level in the listed class INSTEAD of a normal level benefit for that level.  However, there is no requirement to do so.

Due to only gaining spells or prayers at most levels, Magicians do not have a variant option, and Clerics only have the variant option at first level of Desert Flower Duelist for Gerudo.

Gerudo

Desert Flower Duelist: At first level, any Gurudo in a character class that starts with proficiency with a shield, may trade proficiency with a standard shield to gain the benefits of the level 3 Spellblade benefit of the same name.  If they do, they may start with a second sword in place of a shield or helmet.  Clerics must still be able to “present” their holy symbol to cast prayers.

Desert Guide: Gerudo Paladins, Thieves, and Warriors may take the Spellblade’s 6th level “Desert Guide” ability in place of their level 6 ability.

Gerudo Paladins

  • May take Bravdo as their 4th level ability.
  • May take “Daughter of Din” as their 10th level ability

Gerudo Thieves

  • May take Wilder as their 2nd level ability
  • May take “Desert Flower Duelist” as their 3rd level ability

Gerudo Warriors

  • May take “Gerudo Master” as their 5th level ability, if they do, they may choose two weapons instead of one.
  • May take “Daughter of Din” as their 10th level ability

Sheikah/Yiga

After character creation, a non-Ninja Sheikah or Yiga follow the same rules for alignment as any other member of their class.  A Sheikah or Yiga Thief who becomes lawful may find a mentor among the Sheikah and become a Sheikah ninja instead of a Warrior.  A Sheikah who does this suffers no penalties, but a Yiga who does this follows the same rules as if they had previously been a Yiga Ninja that became lawful.  This option is NOT available to those that became Thieves by abandoning the path of the Ninja.

Sheikah/Yiga Paladins: Yiga who become paladins might retain (and struggle against) their base nature, but may take Sheikah abilities listed here in place of their paladin abilities

  • May take Bodyguard as their 3rd level ability.
  • May take Decoy as their 4th level ability
  • Both Sheikah and Yiga Paladins may take “To Die Without Leaving a Corpse” as their 10th level ability.  Sheikah and Yiga Paladins who attain the Spirit Warrior Condition though that ability ALSO gain the benefits of the Holy Avenger level benefits at that time (if you want the benefits while alive, that the Holy Avenger Level benefit instead).  The Holy Avenger counts as the magic item you leave behind for the Spirit Warrior condition.

Sheikah/Yiga Thieves

  • May take “Ninja Tricks” as their 2nd level ability
  • May take “Gone in a Flash” as their 5th level ability
  • May take “Technological Heir” as their 6th Level ability

Sheikah/Yiga Warriors

  • Sheikah may take Bodyguard as their 2nd level ability
  • Yiga may take “Going Bananas” as their 2nd level ability
  • May take “Ninja Warrior” as their level 7 ability
  • May take “Conservation of Ninjitsu” as their 10th level abilities.  Warriors with this ability count as Ninja for the purposes of that ability.

Current PaDC score: 30/31

Image from Wikimedia commons: link

It’s not the Destination…

The concept of the journey is used quite frequently in fiction, and not without reason.  It is a wonderful device to have your protagonists explore interesting locations, and meet interesting characters and deal with interesting situations.  It allows for episodic adventures while keeping some amounts of continuity with the main cast.

Today we’ll look at the journey in fiction and how we can use it for our games.  In RPGs, we often like to include some sort of overland travel/survival minigame into our journeys.  Often with rolls for navigation, random encounters, and tracking rations and/or foraging/hunting for food.  This often can be done to model how dangerous traveling can be for the ordinary person.  Ideally, if you are doing this, the players and GM are all down for this type of game planning the trips and avoiding dangers and surviving on the way there is actually part of the fun and not just something that feels obligated to include.  This might involve a random encounter table, which varies, either in frequency or encounters, enemy type, or both depending on the route the PCs take, as well as things like tracking rations, river crossings, and other sorts of survival-type events.  I don’t think every game needs to have this, but feel free to include it if it fits the tone of your game and is fun for your table.

When we are discussing journeys in fiction, in particular how they might apply for our games, I think we can very broadly put them into three separate categories.  A particular story might change between any of the three as suits the narritive’s need, but I think this, in a sort of general way, fits most specific journeys we see, included in the list is an iconic example of each.

  1. The ‘Get You There’ Journey. The Characters just need to get from one place to the next because the next bit of action is at the destination (Indiana Jones).
  2. The ‘Perilous’ Journey characters need to get from one place to the next, but their are significant obstacles in their way which they must overcome to accomplish their goals (The Lord of the Rings).
  3. The ‘Wanderer’s’ Journey characters are on a journey, but frequently get involved in the various situations they encounter, many of which might not even be necessary for them to complete the journey, (But might be the POINT of their Journey, see Star Trek)

Get You There

Dr. Henry Jones travels around the world to all sorts of exotic, set-piece locations and gets into all sorts of adventures in all sorts of places.  However, how we rarely spend much time on the actual travel scenes in the movies, unless there is some action scene or plot-important pit-stop to break it up.  More often than not, we see a map with a moving red line to give the audience an IDEA of how far along he’s traveled, but ultimately we very quickly cut to the next exciting scene.  In RPGs, particularly if you are not interested in dealing with the survival aspects mentioned above, there’s little reason to do anything besides that.  In such cases (and, in fact, for any non-important gaps between legs of the journey for all categories), I would suggest to simply resolve journeys as such:

“You make your way North, following the Azure Coastline, until you reach the mouth of the River Massus.  From there, you hitch a ride with a local fisherman and he brings you upriver.  It is only a short ride more until you round a bend and see your destination.  After 12 days of travel you arrive the Iron City of the Feral Queen”

And we’re done, now whatever it is the PCs need to do in the Iron City, which is presumably what we all want to do can just be gotten to.  If our game isn’t about trekking through the wilderness, let’s not waste everyone’s time on it.  If you want to make those 12 days more meaningful, then make the passage of time itself matter.  If the PCs only have two weeks to stop the ritual, and they know you’ll actually do it if they delay, maybe they’ll consider paying through the nose for a chartered boat instead of hiking up the coast.

The Perilous Journey

Mt. Doom is not a dungeon, not in the D&D sense, and not in the classical sense.  All that needs to be done is to throw a ring into a pit of lava (although admittedly the corrupting influence of the Ring makes it a harder task than it sounds).  The tricky part is getting there.  Frodo and Sam spend nearly the entire trilogy just traveling, only making detours our of necessity and having to deal with hostile terrain as well as the dangerous creatures that inhabit them.  If Tolkien had used the methods described above, the Lord of the Rings would be a much shorter tale.  Moria, on the other hand, is D&D dungeon, and perhaps one of the urexamples.  And yet, why does the fellowship go there?  Merely because they have no other way through or around the mountains, it is a danger they must face in order to get there.

A Perilous Journey, in practice, actually functions a lot like a “Get You There” above.  The key difference is that rather than just narrating directly to the destination, the GM narrates the player characters to some set-piece obstacle to overcome, which in turn leads to the next one, and the next.  There is a bit of overlap between a Perilous Journey and the survival minigames mentioned above, as both can introduce obstacles in the middle of traveling from one place to another.  In general though, I feel like there is a distinction to be made between making the game out of the logistical challenges and environmental dangers of a journey, and the particular set-piece dangers that make up a perilous Journey.  That said, you are free to include both at once if you think that will make a more fun game.

The Perilous Journey requires a bit more buy in from the players then a Get You There journey above.  If the players do not know (and are cool with) that the challenges along the way ARE the adventure, they may feel frustrated about all the time “wasted” when they could be getting to the “plot”.  It also can be rather tricky to run as a GM if you desire to give your players more freedom than the linear adventure.  To make things a bit more free-form without driving yourself prep crazy, have an idea of the overall terrain and routes, and then paint in broad strokes the dangers of those possible routes.  Then, ideally, you get the players to commit what route they will take next time before the session ends and then prepare for that.

Sometimes they’ll change their mind, and sometimes they’ll come up with a route you didn’t think of “Can we just climb down the canyon walls over a few days and camp hanging from the sides?”, but that’s within normal expectations of players for any game you run.

The Wanderer

The Enterprise doesn’t have a true destination in mind, it’s mission is to “to explore strange new worlds. To seek out new life and new civilizations. To boldly go where no man has gone before!”.  The Enterprise inevitably finds itself faced with a new planet, alien, or cosmic phenomenon every episode.  Their mission, their own sense of morals and duty, and the danger to the ship and themselves compels them to get involved, deal with, and sometimes resolve the situation they find themselves in.  The people they get involved with often change with each adventure, but the crew mostly remains the same, and sometimes an old friend or enemy catches up with them.

Wanderer games are truly not about the destination.  While a perilous Journey is ultimately about the struggle to get to the destination, the Wanderer finds themselves in a variety of situations that often have little or nothing to do with why they are traveling in the first place.  The Wanderer might not even have a destination, just be unable or unwilling to settle in one place, they might be looking for something or someone that they do not know where is, or they might be pursuing an objective that requires them to travel all around or a great distance.  In any case, their wandering mostly serves as a framing device for whatever situation the protagonist(s) find themselves in.

Wanderer games require the MOST player buy in out of any journey.  The Wanderer party can just move on from a situation that disinterests them, and, there are plenty of examples in fiction of such protagonists that need to be dragged kicking and screaming to get involved in the local events most of the time.  For GM and player alike though, there is only so many times circumstances can contrive to keep the wanderer party in place just long enough to see the situation through before it gets old.  And, personally, I feel as though deciding to just leave because this situation is not worth salvaging is a perfectly valid choice… it just is much more powerful and meaningful after the character has tried to engage first.  Instead players who sign up for this kind of game should intentionally make busybodies, or otherwise characters whose morals or weaknesses won’t allow them to just ignore trouble when they see it.

On the other hand, the GM should be making situations that actually ARE interesting to the players (although that is true for most games).  In particular, the players in such a game are not really free to choose their own missions, but rather have agreed to deal with what’s presented to them on a given session.  Therefore, problems that ask interesting questions and have no obvious solution (otherwise the locals would have already come up with it!), and give the PCs freedom in how they want to solve it can be used to make up for the lack of freedom in scenario choice.  That said, there’s nothing wrong with an occasional Seven Samurai action when you just want to set up a big fight!

 

I’m sure there are even more examples you can think of for each of the types of journeys I mentioned.  Are there any journey archetypes you think I left out?  How do Journeys go in your games?


Current PaDC score: 29/31

I Don’t Want to Hear Your Backstory…

What I’d rather hear is your character concept.  Give me a few key relationships, positive or negative.  I might have a few questions, depending on the game, system, and/or depending on the setting.  I might want to know if your hometown is nearby or what have you, but ultimately let’s leave some space for these things to be discovered in play.

I often see the question online about how long a backstory should be, with people giving a wide variety of answers.  Often, these answers are framed around the premise of anything too short means the player didn’t put enough effort in, while anything too long comes down effectively for not wanting to read that much amateur prose.  But honestly I think that question misses the larger one of “do I need a backstory in the first place?”

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that you should have characters that seem like they’ve sprung from the earth fully formed, with no history, no home, and no attachments to anything.  It’s just, I don’t think a backstory is the necessary way to go about that.  A strong character concept gives the character enough of those things, and if the GM cares a bit of probing can get the other information they need.

Richard became an adventurer to gather the funds needed to take care of his sick sister.  Aside from maybe being a bit cliched for your table, I think it is probably all you really need as long as you are willing to elaborate a bit more as the GM needs you to.

“What about your parents?” “They died of plague.”
“Why did it have to be adventuring, why not do your parents job?” “They were blacksmiths, I didn’t have the talent for it, all I am good at is fighting”
“Who’s watching your sister now?  Where is she?” “Maybe some distant family? My cousin, I guess… And she’s probably nearby, I don’t think I would travel far at first.” “How about Clearlake, that’s near where we’re gonna start?” “Oh, yeah I bet the lake water there is supposed to be really clean and good for her!”

None of that stuff needed to be written in a story in advance, but just a short conversation gets the details that the GM actually cares about, and so likely will use (or at least keep in mind) with their future planning.

This also doesn’t preclude including additional elements beyond your base concept.  If Richard’s player thought it would be neat if Richard had a rival or enemy on top of all that, he’s free to bring it up with the GM and then they can have a similar conversation about that.  There’s also a point where the GM can say “You know you’re throwing a lot at me, I’m worried I won’t be able to incorporate it meaningfully.  Can we just pick the important bits to focus on?” if they keep piling those details on. Exactly where that point is depends on the GM, but with traditional written backstories that can also happen when someone submits a 10+ page monster.

As a bit of an aside, I do enjoy lifepath character gen, like in Traveller or Burning Wheel.  Again, I don’t believe characters should have no history, and I think lifepath gen gives you a decent amount of history, but also does so in a way that matters for play, .which, often is not the case when you are writing a backstory for a system that has some other form of character gen.

There’s a common mistake that people bring up when people talk about writing backstories for PCs.  That is, playing before the game starts.  There’s this strong urge to make your PC seem cool and awesome, and so you have this cool story about how your brother murdered your whole village except you and so you decide you had to train really hard and track him down and kill him.  And then you do, and in fact, you go on a bunch of other cool, personal adventures, in your backstory.  Adventures you could have played out and experienced at the table with everyone else.  Now the closest they get to is reading your prose about it and you are this cool badass in play who doesn’t care about anything because you’ve already did everything that mattered to you.

While no where near as big a problem, I would argue that there is a similar issue in having a highly detailed written backstory at all.  The more you fill in, the less gaps there are to discover during play.  While you’ll (hopefully) never get to the point where you detailed every single day, if you get to the point where you describe all your army buddies and what they are all up to now, it become much trickier for the GM to incorporate that type of character in on the fly and have it make sense.  Where as, if you are just playing an Afghanistan vet, and left that up in the air, it’s much much easier to say “The man slaps James on the back, saying ‘Sargent Mason, you son of a bitch, never thought I’d see you again!’ and then laughs, James you recognize this as Specialist Rick Tailor, you served with him back in Afghan.”.  Sure, it’s possible that someone like that is on your list already, and meets the criteria, but it is much less likely if it is spelled out in detail, and lots of that work can get passed over if there is no way to fit them in.

What’s ultimately important, and what the GM and other players need to know, is not every event in your life leading up to the day you became a PC, but rather, what character is going to show up at the table, who (or what) matters to them, and what kind of person they’re going to be (at least at the start).  From there, we all can discover more about the character during our time together.


Current PaDC score: 26/31

Stars Without Number: The Varlin Expanse

Varina Phi Marked

Map made very quickly in Hexographer.

One of the games on my back burner is a Stars Without Number game.  This is a map of my sector, semi-randomly generated by yours truly.  I’ve run exactly one session in this sector thus far, a heroic game on a night where only one player was able to make our normal Kaigan time.  I might tell that story another time, but for now I just will describe the main Polities (outlined in various colors on the map).

Silvas Corporate Space

Our first game tool place in this part of the sector, on the planet Silvas (02, 07).  Silvas has a fairly ineffectual planetary government that has been tied up and controlled by coporate interests for as far back as anyone can remember, resulting in a fairly Laissez-faire economy, mostly controlled by several large mega-corporations and a number of smaller sub-contractors and subsidiaries.

The planet Silvas was the first of the immediately local systems to recover from the science, and has since taken a dominant role in the trade of the nearby sectors, with Silvas corps having a large control over their neighbors modern economies, if not actually dejure control over their planetary governments.

Without oversight over their plans and R&D, it is rumored that some (if not all) Silvas corps are involved in not only pretech research, but maltech as well.  Still, various work can be found for enterprising individual even in the age of megacorps, many have use for the occasional contractor that is willing to take a job outside their normal operations, as well as “Deniable assets” for questionable ops.

The Orbis Empire

Claiming to be the rightful successors of the Terran Mandate, any principles of democracy the Mandate might have once held seem to have been abandoned long ago, instead ruled by a complicated hierarchy of nobility with the “Steward of the Mandate”, emperor in all but name, acting as the head.

Starting from their capital on Terra Minor (02,01), the empire began attempting to bring more worlds under its control from the moment it re-discovered spike drives, catching some planets before they had managed to re-develop sufficient tech to be able to fight back.  As more planets reached the current state of pretech, and orbital defenses and defensive stations were brought back online, the advance of the Empire has slowed.

Imperial space is highly regulated and monitored, and has the most warships of any Polity in the sector, but an aspiring adventurer can still make a fair living in Imperial credits if they know how to cut through the red tape and deliver goods at reasonable prices to the hungry citizens of the empire.  A skilled gun can make their way as a mercenary, or even an officer in the military if a stable career is their inclination.  For the less scrupulous type, the various nobles in the Empire always seem to be scheming something to get the better of their rivals, and often will pay an unconnected party handsomely for their part in their schemes.

The Free Planet Alliance

As Spike Drives returned to use in the Expanse, word of the Empire spread to nearby systems, with many fearing that they would be next.  The Free Planet alliance was formed out of that fear by several worlds right in the empire’s shadow.  The alliance is a loose confederation of Planets, united for their mutual protection and benefit, with a firm stance against further Imperial expansion.

Unfortunately, that stance is about all else they have in common, and tensions in the Alliance run rather high, many systems (perhaps rightly) fearing that as soon as the threat of the empire goes away, their “allies” of today will be tomorrow’s attempted conquerors.  Thus, while there is a strong incentive to build up military force in the planets of the Alliance, very few of the members want to risk USING it, for fear that their neighbors will capitalize on that weakness.  This hesitation to risk their own troops and the clamoring for advantage over their rivals is widely considered to be the primary reason one of their former member planets (04,01) is now under Empire control.

As most of the shipbuilding resources in the Alliance go toward building their warships, outside traders have an easy time finding work building up the slack.  That is, if they can avoid being accused of spies for another system.  Coincidentally, outside intelligence specialists also tend to find decent contract work in the FPA, both in spying on the Empire, and… other targets.

The Theocracy of the Guiding Light

Many believe the Guiding Light was a minor cult before the scream, however, in the time since it has become the single most prominent religion in the Expanse (although practicing it is officially banned in the Empire).  The Guiding Light believe that the universe itself has a divine will, and that MESS is a blessing from that divine will, given to humanity to guide them out of the darkness and into  new age of enlightenment. The meditative practices taught by the Guiding Light were also instrumental in the sector redeveloping basic psychic training methods, and, while some have attempted to remove the mysticism from them, all psychic disciplines in the sector have their roots in Guiding Light techniques.  To the faithful, the Theocracy promises reincarnation, which shall bless you with psychic powers if you act righteously in this life, leading up to a psychic lead paradise in harmony with the universe as beings of pure energy.

Much to the disdain of other polities, however, is that the Guiding Light also preaches psychic supremacy, and that the only valid government is a psychic lead government that is rooted in following the Divine will of the universe, and that such governments should all be united as one under the faith.  That is, any government that is not subservient to the Guiding Light is blasphemy against the universe, and further, violent revolution is not only justified, but demanded in the face of such blasphemy.  The Theocracy claims to be that government and consists of planets that have been successfully converted thus far.

Still, the Theocracy has fairly lenient trade policies so long as you are not shipping anything heretical, and even for non-psychics work can be fairly plentiful.  Theocracy Missionaries and aid packages also often pay more than standard fare for travel to other parts of the sector (although sometimes those aid packages are for what they government of the destination planet would call a “religious terrorist group”)

The Varlin Way

The Varlin way consists of the two known stars that connect the two halves of the sector together, without them, travel between the two parts would be impossible without pretech spike drives.  The two planets within Phrais (04, 04) and Mythis (04, 06), have both managed to stay fairly independent by leveraging their positions as trading hubs to convince the larger entities nearby that it would be in everyone’s best interest if they remain free trade planets.

Still, both the Empire and the FPA see the advantage in blocking their enemy from obtaining Silvas goods and eying Phrais, and both the Corps of Silvas and missionaries of the Theocracy have been attempting to establish stronger roots on Mythis.  If any of these planets fall into the hands of one faction or another, it will give the holder significant control over the trade that passes through the sector.


Current PaDC score: 25/31