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400vas - How Did They Meet

400vas - How Did They Meet

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How Did They Meet?
Jim Vassilakos
Last issue, I presented an exercise called \u201cHow Did
They Meet?\u201d which called for GMs to roll up a

random party and then concoct their shared back- story. Deciding to try out my own system, I selected a fantasy campaign and rolled a 5 for the number of characters.

# Name
1 Dim
2 Elena
Female Elf
3 Ginger
Female Human
4 Nemita
5 Rolo

If the players were up to it, I\u2019d weave in whatever they might choose to give me in terms of back-story. Sometimes, however, they want the GM to start the ball rolling. To give myself a little extra data to work with, I decided to roll the pre-existing relationships for this party using my standard method1:


2-3 Animosity
4-7 Neutral
8-9 Friendship

Dim Elena Ging. Nem. Rolo
Initial Thoughts: With all those A\u2019s scattered all over

the chart, I\u2019m sensing a fair amount of ill-will between party members, however, there are also a few strong ties that are probably keeping the group together at some level. In particular, the two elves are probably life-partners. Likewise, Dim and Ginger get along rather well. Rolo seems to be the odd-halfling out, Ginger the only one who\u2019s even neutral toward him. It\u2019s possible that he\u2019s distrusted. Perhaps he was caught stealing from the party. Or maybe they\u2019ve been using him to check for traps, and he\u2019s been whining and bitching and threatening to slit some throats. Finally, the two females don\u2019t seem to be getting

1 See my article in A&E #348 for a more complete
description of how this works.

along so well. At least there are presently no hatreds between party members, a sure sign of imminent party disintegration, although my bet is that it wouldn\u2019t take much to push Rolo over the edge.

Finally, it is rather interesting that we\u2019ve got two assassins in the party. In AD&D, an assassin is mainly just a thief with a little bit extra going on. The instant- kill can be unbalancing, but just because they have it doesn\u2019t mean they\u2019re paying guild members looking for jobs. Nonetheless, a party with two of them plus a monk indicates that these guys may be some sort of surgical strike force or perhaps even a group of spies tasked to work together as a team. I\u2019m definitely thinking espionage mixed in with a little bit of cold- blooded murder.

The Backstory: Long ago, the Elves of the Eternal

Forest were chased from their realm by the fast- breeding orcs. Their kingdom shattered, they scattered into the lands of men where they were often poached or enslaved. A secretive order of monks, however, known as the Grey Sisterhood, began protecting the elves, giving them sanctuary within their network of safe houses that lay scattered across several mannish kingdoms. In return, the elves began training their benefactors in their arts of sorcery, and, in particular, in the age-old arts of item enchantment and potion brewing. Thus, the Grey Sisterhood grew in power, and magical items of disguise were created, allowing the elves to masquerade as humans.

As per tradition, the Sisterhood composes its operational teams of five members, each team called a \u201cHand\u201d. This particular Hand is nominally led by Ginger, a young member of the Sisterhood. Her team includes Dim, a dwarf fighter who the Sisterhood freed from enslavement deep beneath the surface world. Like many dwarves, Dim has a solid sense of personal honor, and he will not leave the Sisterhood\u2019s service until he reckons that he has repaid his debt in full. Otherwise, he trusts no one. Elena and Nemitar are elven lifemates. Because the party has been magically equipped through the efforts of the elves, they both view their debt as paid and are therefore less likely to take direct orders than Dim, although both recognize that the elves and the Sisterhood still need one another, and, of course, they recognize Ginger\u2019s position as party liaison to the Sisterhood\u2019s hierarchy. Rolo is a recent recruit, rescued from a prison chain- gang where he was forced to exercise more than his nimble, pick-pocketing fingers. Although happy to be free, he feel no special indebtedness and realizes that if he wants to prove his trustworthiness to the party,

he\u2019ll have to go above and beyond the call of duty, something he\u2019s not particularly sure that he cares to do.

Afterthoughts: One thing that strikes me as

interesting about this exercise is that rather than try to fit the party into a traditional fantasy niche, I ended up warping the world around the party, creating racial animosities (between elves and humans) as part of the justification for them working together in a sort of espionage-themed campaign. Essentially, what I\u2019m saying is, \u201cShow me your characters, and then I\u2019ll come up with a campaign.\u201d This might work well for players who are well-disposed to such GM- experimentation, however, what about the guy who wanted to play in a more traditional, fantasy niche where the demihuman races all get along more-or- less? At a certain level, any deviation from the norm is a negotiated settlement between the GM and the players, but I can see the value of Brian Roger\u2019s approach of sampling player tastes before simply forging ahead.

Past Zines Floating Online

I mentioned last month that I put my past zines online at esnips.com. Well, it looks like esnips has partnered with scribd.com, and so now my zines are appearing there as well (and who knows where else). This is slightly embarrassing, but who know\u2026maybe it\u2019ll enlighten some gamers as to the existence of A&E (at which point they\u2019ll say, \u201cOh\u2026it\u2019s like a bunch of gaming blogs except on paper\u2026but why?\u201d).

Comments on A&E #399:
Michael Cule: Enjoyed the write-up on the party

cleaning out the necropolis. I was also very impressed with your handling of the missing player, and how you turned this into side-adventure, going back in time to establish event that linked into the campaign. This was absolutely brilliant. Well done!

Spike Jones: ryctm on Traveller being hard science

vs. space opera: Traveller, being one of those old games that wasn\u2019t terribly well-defined when it first came out and which has subsequently gone through several incompatible editions, is a bit hard to nail down in terms of exactly what it\u2019s supposed to be emulating. Bear in mind that it now has two competing timelines, one involving a civil war and subsequent war against a killer AI, and the other where the Imperium went on without so much as a hiccup. Hence, if Ty or anyone else wants to screw around with the astrography, I can hardly see how

they could do any worse damage to the feel of game
than the powers that be have already inflicted.

Likewise, it is worth noting that when it comes to SF-RPGs, flat maps and reactionless thrusters aside, Traveller is still harder SF than any of its popular rivals: Star Trek, Star Wars, Dragonstar, etc. If you can think of an SF-RPG that is further along on the Hard-SF continuum, let me know. Universe, perhaps, comes closest. In any case, I could see how pushing Traveller toward Soft-SF would substantially change the feel of the game, but I don\u2019t believe that pushing it slightly toward Hard-SF would have a deleterious impact.

It would, however, have some sort of effect, one of the seemingly most obvious relating to the permeability of space to invading forces and pirates, both of which Ty has already considered. These could be ameliorated to some extent by positing \u201cjump drones\u201d, unmanned sensor platforms (some active, others passive) that would monitor strategic areas, the locations and movements of which would no doubt be top secret.

The problem, of course\u2026and this is something that Traveller pretty much fails to address\u2026is that when it comes to this issue of permeability, there are lots of strategic areas in space\u2014too many to be effectively monitored. In order to get through an area, all you need is a refueling point. There are probably hundreds of not thousands of such locations around any given star system in the form of the star\u2019s cometary halo or Oort cloud. Likewise, no cubic parsec in galactic space is likely to be utterly vacant. Given what little we presently understand about astronomy, brown dwarfs, rogue worlds, asteroids and comets should all abound, all of these being possible sources of hydrogen, which Traveller supposes to be the fuel for interstellar travel. Hence, unless the Imperium can afford to put thousands of \u201cjump drones\u201d in and around every star systems along its periphery and extending this defensive layer for some distance within its own borders, then space in Traveller really is porous, regardless of what Ty does, but I think that what he is suggesting would at least make things more interesting.

ryctm on Liberalism vs. Conservatism: Just for your information, you\u2019re talking to a Californian who voted against Proposition 8.

ryctm on not wanting to be labeled a liberal: Sorry, I didn\u2019t realize that you\u2019d be annoyed at the inference. In any case, you\u2019re right. Most of us cannot be so easily categorized into either of the two major political camps.

ryctm on your status quo of not defending status quos: Silence is often interpreted as a tacit form of acceptance, although to your credit you did bring up Sapienza\u2019s quote from A&E #88. This, incredibly,

was more than anyone else did, and I say that with no
small measure of disappointment.
ryct Patrick Riley: Unless, of course, God is
Louis La Mancusa: re the rant by Jeff Rients arguing

that the peak for RPGs was during the 1980s: Thanks for pointing out this blog. As for Rients\u2019 thesis, there are a few factors to keep in mind. First, I don\u2019t know how many active roleplayers there are now versus how many there were in the 1980s, but I do know that finding them has gotten a lot easier.2 Likewise, I don\u2019t think it\u2019s just my perception, but I would hazard to guess that the amount of published material available for roleplaying games has increased exponentially since the 1980s, and there are more avenues to obtain it than ever before. Now, much of the reason for this is probably due to the existence of the Internet, which has positively impacted us in more ways than we might even guess. Regardless, there are now more roleplaying games out there than I can ever hope to read, let alone actually play, and there are more roleplayers in my immediate area than I am ever likely to meet, let alone game with. In short, Rients is right when he says the \u201cgolden age is happening right

now,\u201d but I think he\u2019s dead wrong in calling the

hobby a fad. The signature trait of fads is that they die off, by and large, and this hobby is very far from dead\u2026at least by my reckoning.

Conversely, I think the biggest obstacle the hobby faces is the diversification and segmentation that has been prompted by its own success. When I started a gamers\u2019 guild back in college, almost everyone played 1st or 2nd edition AD&D, and the two versions were close enough that if you knew one, you could easily play the other. Differences among gamers came down primarily to the question of style: hack & slash versus problem solving versus characterization/roleplaying. AD&D was still the de facto standard that people assumed when someone talked about gaming. It was the common reference point. Now, we\u2019ve got a whole bunch of different games\u2026lots and lots\u2026and for the popular games, we\u2019ve got many different, wholly incompatible versions.

You brought up this problem some time ago, citing it as a potential reason that politics keeps cropping up in A&E, because gaming-content is often too niche- specific to draw general interest. I think that there is a good deal of truth to this observation, as it is far easier to reply to a political comment than to a discussion of some game system with which I am unfamiliar and am, perhaps, disinterested. And this is the big problem today, in my view. We\u2019ve got so many options that the market is overly segmented. The d20 system did help us quite a bit, in my opinion, providing a

2 nearbygamers.com, penandpapergames.com

common ground3, but with the advent of D&D4e, I\u2019m not altogether sure that the market will follow in the way that WotC evidently expects it to. It\u2019s a big gamble, as in trying to get the goose to lay another golden egg, they may end up inadvertently slaughtering it, which is the risk they\u2019ve taken every time they\u2019ve introduced a new edition. The problem, I think, is that not only is their challenge a bit like Russian roulette, but it\u2019s also a bit like trying to move a big pile of dirt by just shoving it across the grass. You lose a little bit no matter which way you go. In any case, it\u2019ll be interesting to see what happens.

Brian Misiaszek: RAE the Raiders of the Lost Egg

write-up. I\u2019m wondering, however, since the rat-men had the party cornered in that tunnel, couldn\u2019t this have been a good opportunity to use this to their tactical advantage? I could see a flask of oil doing wonders in such a confined space.

Lisa Padol: re A Touch of Evil and your professor\u2019s
take on Shakespeare, saying \u201c\u2026those who said that

people control their own fates are villains. The good guys understand that there is a providence that shapes our ways\u201d: Of course, this reliance on

providence didn\u2019t quite work out for Hamlet, reminding me of the old saying that the Lord helps those who help themselves. Nonetheless, this does illustrate what is perhaps the key difference between those who are focused solely upon the ends versus those who are cognizant that the means can easily become a slip-n-slide to Hell. I\u2019ve also struggled over how to define evil in RPGs, if only for the purpose of allowing paladins to detect evil with some measure of reliability, and some years ago I finally threw up my hands and redefined the ability such that it can only detect emanations of the lower planes. Hence, the paladin would detect evil on a devil masquerading as a mortal, regardless of the devil\u2019s intentions, while he or she would be unable to detect evil on the murderous assassin sneaking up behind him. Granted, this is more of a \u201cshooing away\u201d of the ability and could be viewed as unfair to the class. Nonetheless, it\u2019s the way I chose to handle the issue.

Brian Rogers: Regarding question 1:4 of A&E #395

and your reaction last issue to my reaction in A&E #398, I do see your point. The players have a certain right of expectation. But my criticism goes to the heart of a story, which is its surprise.

You see\u2026and this relates to my question last issue regarding the guy (or gal) who wakes up naked and bloody\u2026at a certain point the characters find out who they are through the course of the story. I suppose they have a right to know what sort of world it is that

3 See my article in A&E #300.

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