Wednesday, October 22, 2014

An old friend

I drew this sometime in the mid-90's.
Today, I am going to talk about someone who is near and dear to me. And in so doing, I am going to do that thing that all D&D geeks do, but that we all hate when others do it. I'm going to talk about my favorite character. (If you're not interested, get out now. I will completely understand.)

In the beginning...
Sometime around 1985-86, my friend, his sister, and I decided to start a D&D campaign using the Expert Set. In looking back, I had thought that the Expert rules had introduced the half-elf as a player race. This is not true, as it turns out, so we must have been incorporating elements of AD&D into our B/X game. Either way, I made a half-elf fighter named Tomos.

Though visually Tomos was initially based on the Marvel Comics character Longshot, he was actually an idealized version of myself. His stats were phenomenal (and honestly rolled), and I have never truly matched him in that area since (though I occasionally come close). By the end of that short campaign, he was 5th level, and filthy rich. I'm pretty sure we fudged the XP rules, but whatever. He was the highest-level character I had ever had up to that time.

First Upgrade
Jump forward to my Senior year (1987-88). The old friend has graduated and his family has moved away. That year I reconnected with some other friends whom I had met in 8th grade, but who had left and come back three years later (it should probably be noted we were all Air Force brats living on Kadena AFB, Okinawa). They played AD&D, and had middle-level characters. When we decided to start a campaign together, they wanted to use those characters. So, I dusted Tomos off, since he was the only one even close to their level, converted him from B/X to AD&D, and he went gallivanting around Oerth with Panthrus, the human ranger, and Styol Ganthral, the elven fighter/magic-user.

About this time I was deep in the throes of my budding love of Conan and Robert E. Howard. So, when I converted Tomos to AD&D, and his 18 Strength became 18/90 (the strongest a half-elf could be in AD&D), I naturally started thinking of him as Conan with blond hair and pointed ears. But, he also had a 17 Charisma, and since we were using Unearthed Arcana, his Comeliness came out to be 19. So, he was a VERY attractive and pretty Conan. That's when his personality took off in my mind. He soon became an amalgam of Conan and D'Artagnon.

That campaign got him up to 9th level, and I had much fun with his Vorpal bastard sword (treasure from his very first campaign), with which he was Double Specialized ( do the math). I had decided that Tomos had spent much of his amassed fortune on a ship, and was now a seasoned sailor and ship's captain. That worked well, since the campaign took place on an island, and it provided a neat way for the three characters to meet (they hired my ship).

Back from obscurity
Skip forward a few more years. I'm graduated and completely out of touch with all of my old friends from high school. But, I still have Tomos' character sheet. Somewhere around 1990-91, I'm in the Army at Ft. Bliss, TX, and I get the 2nd Edition books. Not having anyone to play with at the time, I proceeded to convert Tomos to 2E just for shits and giggles. Not much effort there, but I made some cool additions (remember fighter followers at 9th level?). I eventually found people to play with. But, sadly, I never played Tomos in that edition.

A brief solo career
A few years later I am out of the Army, living in San Diego, and working my way through school. Having no regular D&D game, a friend offers to run me through tome casual solo adventures. So, once more I dust off Tomos, and we have a few adventures involving a Drow assassin, the Forgotten Realms goddess of Luck, Tymora, and a few other fun events. The game abruptly ended, and Tomos is kinda left hanging. I do remember that he now had a keep of his own from that brief stint. But, not much more than that.

Cameo appearance
Jump forward again to the late 90's. I'm living in Salinas, CA. 3rd Edition comes out, and I jump in with both feet. Found a group through the FLGS, and started playing. After a while I get an idea. I convert Tomos to 3E, and run him in a short campaign that lasted all of one module. I'm not even sure he leveled beyond 9th. As it turned out, that was the last time I ever saw him as a D&D character.

Tomos has stayed with me throughout the years, usually as a character I planned to write fiction about. I did write one complete, very Conan-esque story about him on my first computer, but lost it somewhere over the course of several moves. I would also imagine him meeting famous characters from Forgotten Realms, where he had ported to for 3E, like Drizzt Do'Urden. Of all of my characters over the years, Tomos Elvenblood (he picked up that none-too-imaginative surname somewhere around 2E) has always been very special to me.

And now I am thinking it is time to bring him out of “retirement” once more. I have long wanted to write an epic fantasy trilogy. And I have had numerous ideas, plots, settings, and such related to that. But the more I think about it, the more I feel like Tomos is the character I want to be center-stage for that epic story. So, with nothing but time and imagination, I may just sit down and start plotting that out. I’m sure elements of his D&D origins will make it onto the page, and that would suit me just fine.

Monday, October 20, 2014

A bit of a quandary

So, while working on the content for Zine-O-Morph #2, I have a bit of a dilemma.

As I have mentioned before, the focus of #2 is supposed to be Military Science Fiction. The main focus, as I have developed the content, has been on how to run a military sci-fi game that feels like a REAL military game. So, a lot of the info in there is about how the real military works, and how to work some of those details into your game to give it the right feel.

However, I am finding that the majority of the information relates to real-world military, with the science fiction part being pretty secondary (except for the races I created). So, now I am wondering if maybe I should re-direct my efforts a bit. Perhaps make the focus this issue about military in RPG’s in general, and save the sci-fi stuff for a later issue.

Right now, I could tailor a lot of my content to the new Covert Ops game (see my last post). In essence issue #2 would switch from Military Sci-Fi, to Modern Action/Adventure. It would give me a place to detail out the stuff I have for an old SpyCraft game that I ran years ago, as well as flesh out some cool ideas I have for a fictitious organization similar to SPECTRE from the old James Bond novels and movies (but, sadly, not from Victory Games’ JB RPG).

And the Sci-Fi elements I have written (including three new races) could be saved for a future issue. Possibly in time to coincide with DwD’s release of FrontierSpace, depending on when that comes out.

So, what do you folks think? Does the idea of issue #2 being about Super Spies and paramilitary action heroes sound like a good idea?

Monday, October 13, 2014

Covert Ops

My latest RPG acquisition is Covert Ops from DwD Studios. I paid out the $32.99 for the hardback print of the Core Rules, plus PDF’s of everything. All in all, a good investment so far (the print copy is still in transit).

Overall quality is quite good. It’s well-written, well-organized, and very easy to follow. The layout and design are nice and clean, without a lot of the “crap” filler you see in products from larger companies. The artwork is pretty serviceable, and gives the whole game a very comfortable feel.

The mechanics are nice a smooth, and really harken back to the old days of gaming, while still remaining relevant. The guys at DwD are unabashed fans of Star Frontiers, and you can see its influence here. The percentile systems, the use of d10’s exclusively, and the simplified skill system all provide a very concise method of resolving rolls without burdening the game play. And if you’ve read anything I have personally written, you know how much I like that.

As I normally do, after giving the main rules a good skim-through, I printed a character sheet (which is also very nice-looking, and available in two formats, one being more print-friendly), opened my dice-roller app on my iPhone, and rolled up a quick character. The process was extremely easy, and I found that by having you roll your background first, it made placing the rolled attributes in a more logical manner. After only a few minutes I had all of the basics that I needed to play, and all I would need to do then is come up with a good story.

The PDF’s are chock full of goodies that I wish every game had. Worksheets for creating your own missions, agencies, and villain organizations. There’s initiative cards, a hit location sheet, and a few other things that all fit nicely with the simple mechanics. I’m thinking of taking a cue from DwD in this regard, and developing some of these things for Mutants & Marvels.

For a little history, DwD is the company behind BareBones Fantasy, which, I understand, is quite popular, and uses a similar system. They are also developing a science-fiction game based on these core mechanics, which promises to be the spiritual successor to our beloved Star Frontiers. I’m quite eager for that.

In the meantime, I am going to continue to delve into Covert Ops, and try my best to get a group together for some good, old-fashioned super-spy/paramilitary action adventure.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Talking the talk

It occurred to me yesterday that I currently spend more time and energy on writing stuff for games I don’t play, than I do actually playing RPG’s.

Due to my real-world obligations (kids, college, work, etc.), I am unable to commit to much gaming time. I have a regular game of D&D with a group comprised of three couples in our 40’s (more or less), with kids and similar obligations. We meet roughly every two weeks, with occasional interruptions due to a child’s school (or in a couple of cases, martial arts) functions, family vacations, visiting relatives, and so on. We even have a player (also a 40-something) who recently moved from Wisconsin to Florida, but still participates through Google Hangouts and Roll20.

When I compare my past experiences to the recollections of others who have been interested (if not participating) in gaming for as long as I have, I find my experiences somewhat lacking, as it were. I started D&D with Moldvay’s box in 6th grade. But, I don’t recall getting to play a whole heck of a lot. I mean actually play. There were no campaigns, no long-running sessions. There was just a lot of talk, conjecture, and planning. In fact, until I was a sophomore in high school, I’m pretty sure I had only ever gone through one module (Slave Pits of the Undercity).

When I was a sophomore, I finally found a gang of buddies who were also into RPG’s, and we played a lot. But, we still never played any campaigns. The closest I came to one was when my friend took me (as Andrew Hearst, 005) solo through three different missions, using Victory Games’ James Bond RPG. We also played a lot of Marvel Superheroes, a bit of Gamma World, and a few odds and ends games. But nothing terribly long-lasting.

Then, during my senior year, I met a couple of new friends. My old gang had broken up, as a couple of their parents had moved away from the Air Force base we lived on. So, when I met these two brothers (who it turned out, had been there when were in 8th grade a few years prior as well), we started an AD&D game that lasted several months. That was probably my first “campaign” of any kind in D&D.

Through my 20’s and 30’s, there were several dry patches. In the Army I had some buddies who played, and we played a lot. Even a couple of mini-campaigns. But nothing lasting more than a few months. This trend continued, with breaks, when I got out and moved to San Diego. My last group there liked to play all kinds of games. And while the Stargate SG-1 run was pretty long, even it had breaks in the middle for other stuff.

So, now I find myself in my 40’s and finally experiencing the kind of years-long campaigning so many of my fellow gamers talk about doing back in high school and college. It’s an interesting experience, and I can’t help but wonder what it would have been like to do this kind of gaming back when I was a young man, without much of a life beyond my own personal gratification.

Now, if you have stayed with this post to this point, you get bonus XP. Honestly, in my rambling and reminiscing, I may have forgotten what my original point was. I think what I’m trying to say is that my gaming experience sometimes feels like it has always been atypical. I’ve always had an interest in a wide variety of games, but haven’t played half of the ones I’ve wanted to. Maybe it’s time to try and rectify that. I’m in a position where I have a wife who totally understands the jones to play (she is running a Dragon Age RPG session at our local Con next month), so I might be able to finagle some time to join another group. Can’t quite get myself to try out the online thing, as I would be very self-conscious about talking into a mic, not to mention being interrupted constantly by the 5-year old. But, I might get to that point someday.

Either way, I will continue to generate content for games, just as I’ve always done. I have reams of old papers containing ideas I would dream up during my dry spells, where I didn’t have anyone to game with. So, I guess that just comes naturally. Now, if I could just find a way to quit my day job and do this stuff full-time…