Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Holy Gaming

I have a group in a religious school. Today, the school had held some function, and we were asked to relocate to a nearby synagogue. While less comfortable than a classroom, the prayer hall of the synagogue was certainly roomier and more atmospheric, with its stained glass windows and booming echoes.

I rose to the dais, placed my books on the stand and called the kids, one by one, to receive their blessed character sheets. As I called out their character names, my voice reverberated eerily in the large empty hall. Perhaps pacified with the heavy atmosphere, the group was utterly silent, a rare event indeed when kids are involved.

This is more or less how it looked...

After I finished distributing the sheets, I said, “let us recount the events of last session. And so it came to be that the PCs did evil in the eyes of the DM and he sent a great host of undead to smite them for, eh,” at this point I rolled the dice, “19 points of damage and lo! For the damage was great and even caused the wizard to bleed. And on that day the PCs knew that I am DM and I roll high. Amen. Now, consulting the sacred list of initiative, we see this is the turn of righteous elf seeker Nanoc, long may he live. Speak now in great reverence and let your words be backed by the rolling of the die as it was decreed in the Book of Laws.”

Hilarity ensued.

As always, if you enjoy my yarns either because I’m such a charming and droll fellow, or because I happen to occasionally find myself in the center of amusing events, feel free to contribute to my Levantine fantasy anthology. Everything helps!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Get Out of Sacrfice Free card

The way things are going right now, it's only a question of time until your government becomes an evil polytheist theocracy that regularly sacrifices citizens to appease monstrous antediluvian deities and vast multinational corporations controlled by fleshcrafted monsters and vampires, literal or otherwise.

I mean, let's face it. If Santorum gets elected it's a question of time until your firstborn will be offered to eldritch monstrosities on top of pyramids made of dollars and the U.S constitution is replaced by a poorly spelled summary of Gor (and not even the best parts).

A modest contribution to Israeli Storyteller will win you this awesome card and surely save you from the priests' wicked daggers. You owe it to yourself and to your family.

Get one now, before it's too late.

Art by the most awesome of all men, Stav "the one who got away" Croovman

Monday, February 20, 2012

Magic of the Kabala #2

Wow, the previous post on kabala magic got almost ten times more hits than an average post. Thanks guys!

As previously stated, this series is part of my greater effort to push Hebrew mythology and folklore into gaming, challenging Greeks, Vikings, Celts and whatnot in the process. If you have an image of a hassidic rabbi struggling with a viking guy at the moment... you're awesome!

Three Blessed Charms
While not part of the seven virtues, these charms are also useful and powerful and are worthy of mentioning. They follow the same rules as virtues, but don’t require such strict purity to attempt and have lesser consequences of failure (usually simply a -2 luck penalty to all rolls for 1d6+1 days or a minor misfortune of the DM’s choice.)
I am what I am
Protect and save

The Charm of Augury (see below)
Take a new knife with a black hilt and make a circle on the ground of such a size so that you will be able to seat inside it with a boy or a girl who are younger than nine years and older than eight years, and anoint the child with oil mixed with soot scraped from a pan, and warn him not to look outside the blessed circle, and after that whisper in his right ear "Catcriel who Answers, may you show yourself to this boy and answer truly to what I ask” three times whisper this and then the child will see a strange man riding a white mule and say to the stranger three times “welcome in the name of God," and after that say "right before my eyes, may you get down from this mule," and after that ask your question. And after you found out what you wanted to know, tell the stranger "leave in peace" and if the boy didn’t see anything of that, he will repeat all the above mentioned three times, but if the stranger lied, the child will say "in the name of Sansiel, may you tell me the truth," and remember naught of this and that.
And do this only once for every cycle of the moon* lest you invoke the wrath of the Almighty’s great host of righteous angels.

* a lunar month (29 or 30 days).

This powerful charm summons an angel to answer truthfully and to the best of his knowledge to a single question asked by the kabalist. Note that not all angels are friendly and certainly none of them are omniscient, so the answer given is likely to be untrue or partial, depending on the angel. In any case, as long as the kabalist and the child remain within the circle, both are safe from any physical or magical attacks attempted by the summoned angel.

Roll Outcome
1          The angel is offended and attempts to harm the kabalist
2-10     The angel gives an incorrect answer
11-16   The angel gives a partial answer
17-19   The angel answer the question
20         The angel answers the question and gives a useful advice

"Please, do pass..."

The Charm of Protection (DC 13)
To bring in the thief, take a newly-bought axe and write on it this holy name, and hang it above your door and the thief will come and surely be destroyed.

As soon as someone with ill-intentions enters the kabalist’s home, the axe immediately comes to life, attacking the intruder with a +14 attack bonus for 2d8+14 points of damage for three rounds before becoming an inanimate object again. Only one door per home can be trapped; trying to trap more doors simply cancels the previous charms.
This charm can be used in conjunction with the Virtue of Success.

The Charm of Legacy (DC 14)
For the baby to be wise, let the woman’s son or husband write on her breasts; Asa on the right breast and Tma on the left breast, and the baby will suck wisdom, and grow in wisdom, and walk only the path of righteousness, and fear no evil.

This charm is used by kabalists who want to ensure they have proper heirs to inherit their places and lead their communities in justice in wisdom. A baby who enjoyed this charm will gain a +4 inherent bonus to all mental abilities and his alignment will be Lawful Good regardless of the circumstances of his childhood. Substituting "Asa and Tma" with "Koh and Zri" will instead enhance the child’s physical abilities, but this is rarely used since Kabalists don’t particularly value physical prowess.

"Asa and Tma," sadly on paper...

Using all four names will grant a +8 bonus to all abilities, but will also guarantee the child will grow to be Chaotic Evil and betray his family and faith when he reaches maturity. Such monstrous children often grow to be mighty but depraved warlords or insane, scheming sorcerers of unspeakable potency.

I hope you've enjoyed this post. See you soon with more awesome rituals, creatures and even an antediluvian mini-campaign...

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Magic of the Kabala #1

A few years ago I was making my bread translating medieval tomes of Jewish mysticism into English. Many of the books I translated felt like excellent fantasy material. Below are some of these translations. Stuff written in italics is direct translation, everything else is my... update.

Translate?! I can barely read it!

The Awesome Power of the Explicit Name
Throughout their long history, the Jewish people had often been confronted with various threats, ranging from murderous pogroms and persecutions to supernatural assaults by evil spirits and antediluvian demons. Always the minority, and far from warlike, the Jews have developed a system of charms based on exploiting the immense power hidden in the explicit name of God (YHVH), also known as “The Great and Terrible Name.”
The charms presented below are mostly taken from the works of Rabbi Moshe ben Mordecai Zacuto of Venice (1625-1697), a poet and philosopher who also dabbled in kabalistic mysticism in his old age.
Because kabala is a tricky art at best, every charm has a chance to fail even if performed properly and with the best of intentions; whenever attempting to use a kabala charm, make a Wisdom knowledge check against the chram’s DC. Failure indicates the charm fizzled harmlessly, while a critical fumble bestows a curse (as if cast by a 20th level cleric) on the kabalist or inflicts him with some other kind of misfortune (chosen by the DM). In most cases, the kabalist will not know whether the charms worked or fizzled until it is too late. Where applicable, all charms have a save DC of 15 plus the kabalist’s Wisdom modifier.
The author does not recommend trying these charms in real life… just in case.

The Seven Virtues
The Seven Virtues are a collection of powerful charms given to Adam and Eve after they sinned before the LORD and were exiled from the Garden of Eden. The Holy, blessed be He, realizing that the fragile couple won’t survive in the harsh primordial environment into which they were cast, naked and unarmed, has created the Seven Virtues to insure the survival of humanity.
Upon finishing this wonderful tome, a massive book with sheets of crimson gold, letters of precious stones and covers of lustrous sapphire, He passed it to his most trusted servants, Raziel and Galizor, who delivered it to Adam and told him, “from these virtues you will know all that is destined to happen and will be able to accomplish whatever you want. But,” and the great angels’ features suddenly turned severe and terrible, “be wary, for it is consuming fire to abuse them; perform every virtue as ordained and you will succeed with great purity!”
The original tome given to the First Man was lost eons ago, but lesser versions of these charms are practiced by students of the mystic art of kabala to this very day. However, even the greatest scholars rarely choose to attempt these for fear of the consuming flame of God. Even these lesser virtues are extremely powerful and must be treated with caution and purity. Any of the following is considered impure and will result in the automatic failure of the charm and inflict a curse or some other kind of divine retribution on the kabalist;

• Touching a dead humanoid
• Eating tame food
• Straying from Lawful alignment
• Practicing any form of arcane magic or psionics
• Worshipping any beings save God
• Breaking or failing to perform a commandment (there are 613 of them!)

A right proper charm. Now all we have to do is skin a deer...

1. The Virtue of Kings (DC 13)
If you wish to go before a king or a ruler and have him do as you desire and to give you everything you want, take a miter on which a baby was born, and write on it these ten names and put it in your sash, and go with it before the king, the lord, or the government and he will undoubtedly give you your desire.

The Virtue of Kings grants a 2d4 temporary enhancement bonus to Charisma, adding the usual benefits to Charisma-based skill checks and other uses of the Charisma modifier. This bonus applies only to NPCs who are wealthier or more experienced than the kabalist and only if the request is just and sincere or works for the common good. So while asking for a bag of gold to help the community would work, suggesting the baron executed the kabalist’s rival would not (and probably cost the villain his own life).

2. The Virtue of Flying (DC 11)
For the Jumping of the Path, that is, to walk the path of a year in a single day or to cover the passage of a month in one hour, write these ten names on deerskin parchment and take a cane of four cubits, as the measure of a man, and cut the cane and insert the scroll inside it, and, during prayer, put on your face a handkerchief and ride on the cane and say this: “by the ten names which are written on the scroll which is inside this cane on which I ride, lead me from this place to place so-and-so,” and you will be there.
And be careful not to remove the handkerchief from your face before you reached your destination for then you will surely fall. And after you arrived to wherever you wanted to go, fest in reverence for three days and wash and purify your body and praise the LORD, for he is great and merciful.

The Virtue of Flying enables the kabalist to fly at the speed 50 miles per hour for as long as a day (12 hours) at a time, after which he must rest and purify himself before attempting the virtue again. During flight, the kabalist is extremely vulnerable because he must keep his face covered with a handkerchief, his arm holding the cane and his tongue repeating the prayer. If he fails to do so, the cane will lose its divine powers and the kabalist will plunge to his death.

3. The Virtue of Success (DC 5)
Wash and purify, and write these holy names on the newborn baby’s miter and on a forged silver flier and bury the miter and flier under the earth when the sun doesn’t rule, and in the morning remove them and hang them on the entrance to your shop or home and you will succeed in all of your endeavors.

This useful virtue grants the kabalist a +2 luck bonus to all non-combat rolls made inside his shop or home, as long as the kabalist deals fairly with his customers and treats his family kindly. Greedy kabalists who try to bless both their home and shop, suffer a
-4 luck penalty to all rolls as long as both fliers are in their places.

There is a lot of fun stuff you can do with the Explicit Name

4. The Virtue of Invisibility (DC 13**)
Take a twig, make a small cut in it, and write on a parchment made of a fallen deer’s carcass these excellent names and put the parchment inside the twig, and place it against your heart and walk in front of any man and he won’t be able to see you. But be warned; it is not proper to write it save during the month of Tamuz*.
* mid-June to mid-July.
** Wisdom check must be re-rolled for every minute of invisibility

This useful virtue has enabled many Rabbis to escape their persecutors without committing the sin of bloodshed. This works just like invisibility but is cancelled if used for theft, peeping, assassination or any other immoral purposes. In any case, the kabalist is able to see himself and can judge whether he is visible or not only by others’ reactions.
Also, the old manuscripts say that one should not stay invisible for more than ten minutes per day else he would disappear from the world completely. So far, no one has dared to test the truth of this dire warning.

5. The Virtue of Safety (DC 15)
To pacify the sea’s rage, take a new cauldron and write on it: “I, so-and-so, implore with the ten names of the fifth virtue that the lord of the sea, Zerukhael and the lords of the four winds pacify the sea from its rage and tumult and safeguard this ship from all evil until it comes to shore and let it be unharmed.” And shatter the cauldron and throw the shards to the four winds of the sea and reach your destination safely.

This powerful virtue is usually used by travelers who must travel to faraway lands. If properly performed, it guarantees good weather throughout the passage and automatically cancels any harmful encounter such as pirate raids or monster attacks.
The Virtue of Safety doesn’t work if there are more evil than good NPCs on the ship, instead turning the voyage into a nightmare of violent storms and murderous assaults until the good-to-evil balance is restored.


6. The Virtue of Commanding (DC 15)
Take a staff of the loz or ashira tree, and write on it these fabulous names. And if, while walking down the road, you see people who are mean to you or seek to do you harm, take the staff and strike the earth with it three time, and say each time “go your way” and they will go their way, and if you wish to hold them, say “stand” and they will stop, and write these names in great purity and use them not for evil lest you be swallowed by the earth.

This virtue is designed to protect the lone traveler from brigands and thugs. It affects anyone able to see and hear the kabalist and whose attitude is hostile. The first command causes the target/s (7 humanoids maximum) to walk away in a random direction for 2d4 minutes, while the second simply causes them to stand confused in their places, unable to decide what to do or where to go. Both commands can be avoided with a successful Will save (DC 20).
Any violence towards the target immediately ends the virtue’s effect and cracks the staff, rendering it useless.

7. The Virtue of Love (DC 17)
If you wish to be loved by all people and have them follow you because of the power of their love, take the born baby’s miter or a deer parchment that was worked by a pure man, and write on it these admirable words in purity and holiness. And after you have finished that, roll the parchment into a scroll and touch with it every man or woman and immediately they will follow you.

This virtue is the most morally ambiguous and as such is the least used by honest Rabbis and the most abused by corrupt kabalists. It causes anyone who doesn’t hold a specific grudge against the kabalist to become helpful for 24 hours, after which his attitude returns to what it was before the virtue’s application. Those affected by the virtue are not aware of the fact that they are being manipulated and attribute their sudden helpfulness to genuine respect or attraction, depending on their gender.

Need more kabala rituals for your game? Find them here!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Hear Ty Roar!

Fantasy author Ty Johnston is touring the blogosphere this month to promote his new e-book novel, Demon Chains, and each day he appears as a guest poster on a blog. Today he is here spouting out words of wisdom. Okay, maybe not words of wisdom, but words. His novels include City of Rogues, Bayne’s Climb and Ghosts of the Asylum, all of which are available for the Kindle, the Nook and online at Smashwords. To learn more about Ty and his writing, follow him at his blog

No demons or chains were harmed in the making of this photo.
Sadly, I can't say this about people and animals...
First things first. I want to thank Uri for not putting up too much of a struggle when I commandeered his blog today. Guess he missed a saving throw, or maybe I made a really good one.

Anyway, I have to admit to being drawn to Uri’s blog for two reasons: 1.) Uri and I shared the table of contents of a collection of speculative short stories and novel excerpts titled Dreams in Shadow, and 2.) This blog has a big focus on gaming, mainly D&D, and I miss gaming.

See, I used to play D&D, and other tabletop RPGs. A lot. I stopped about a decade ago. Why did I stop? Partially by choice, but not totally.

I was switching jobs, and moving, and my future wife and I were moving in together. All at the same time. Leaving behind two gaming groups, I soon found myself missing the artistic aspects of being a dungeon master and the creative outlet of playing a character. Where I moved there were no gamers, at least none I could find, so I could not hook up with a new group. Online gaming was just coming into its own, but for me it’s not the same as tabletop gaming, though I’ve enjoyed plenty of online gaming.

Needing a creative release, I turned to writing fiction.

I had been writing short stories for years at that point, but I had never tried anything more substantial. Still not feeling ready to take on a task as large as a novel, I turned to writing screenplays. By the time I had finished two of them, I felt ready enough to try my hand at a novel.

For years my mind had been filled with an epic fantasy tale, one that would need to be told in dozens of novels. Now I was finally serious about novel writing, and I got to it. That first novel turned into a trilogy, my Kobalos trilogy. Since then I’ve written five more novels in that same world with some of the same characters, the latest novel being Demon Chains.

I’m one of the fortunate in that I get to write fiction for a living, but I continue to miss gaming to this day. I’ve moved a few times since giving up gaming, but I never seem to have any luck finding a new gaming group. Either I’ve lived in the sticks where there is no gaming to be found, or when I have discovered gamers, we haven’t quite clicked in our gaming styles.

But actually, honestly, that is for the better. While I do miss gaming just about every day of my life, I have found that for me, much of the same creative energy I used for gaming I now use for writing. And since writing is now my career, I have to save all my creativity for my fiction.

Could I write and game together? Yes, I probably could, but I feel each would suffer from it. As a dungeon master, I tended to become fully immersed in the worlds I created, and as a player I became entwined with my characters. I do the same as a fiction writer, so much so I don’t feel I could do both without draining myself mentally and emotionally.

It’s a shame. But that doesn’t mean I would pass up a solid gaming group if it came my way. I’d just have to adjust. At the least, I might have to write something other than fantasy.

I’d like to try it someday. Until then, every now and then I take my dice out of my old gaming backpack and stare at them longingly. With memories sometimes comes inspiration.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

A Letter From Paul (gamer, not saint)

It's been a while since I actually talked about gaming with children, this blog's original intention. Last month, I have received a letter from a reader named Paul. This letter was full of fascinating insights into gaming within the family (something I'd never done), a very useful general use Q&A and some surprisingly poignant and precise (as well as fun and flattering) comments on the scandal yours truly was involved in last year.

With Paul's permission, I'm now sharing this very interesting and useful essay with you :)

Oh, and Paul -- thanks! :)

Hi Uri,

Where were you when I needed you?  Oh well . . . better late than never.  Actually, you have already answered most of my questions.  I may sound like a sycophant stalker when I tell you that I have just finished reading all of your articles and your entire blog archive.  So why have I done so much research and then written this epic email?  Probably for the same reasons you have – because the kids deserve the effort.  Because it’s fun.  Please allow me to explain:

Three years ago I decided to introduce D&D to my kids and my wife.  I hadn’t played in twenty years so it was a daunting surprise when I began reading through the Player’s Handbook 4th Edition.  I wanted to ensure my kids didn’t get bored while I studied the rules, so I closed the book and just made-up the rules.  We needed a map or a grid and we had nothing of the kind, so I designated our lounge room rug (6’ by 4’) as the entire underground network of dungeons.  We needed miniatures or figurines so I asked each member of my family to go to their bedrooms and return with something that could represent their character.  We all laughed as we surveyed the collection which consisted of a clay brontosaurus, a smiling Buddha and some sort of Decepticon Transformer.  At one point, my youngest son’s character got trapped in a cage.  He (6 years old at the time) ran to the laundry and returned with a washing basket.  He placed it over his dinosaur and exclaimed, “He’s trapped!”

As I said, this was three years ago and just reminiscing is bringing back fond memories.  I was delighted that the television was turned off and my family was embracing the opportunity to be creative together, so I decided to make this a regular event.  I bought the core 4E books, studied what I felt was the necessary minimum, and printed some 1” square maps.  Then I journeyed to ‘The Shadowfell’ with my youngest son (Puck the Elven Fighter), my teenage son (Cralu the Human Rogue) and Tamara (Zoe the Halfling Ranger); all represented this time by coloured tokens borrowed from Chinese Checkers. 

We’ve come a long way since then.  We have a wet-erase mat, dungeon tiles, lots of miniatures and a DDI account.  The party are now Level 17 PC’s and I’ve led them through many of the ‘Wizards of the Coast’ published adventures, from H1: Keep on the Shadowfell to P1: King of the Trollhaunt Warrens and now P2: The Demon Queen’s Enclave. 

However, there were many ‘bumps’ along the way.  We got some of the rules wrong – confusion with opportunity attacks, bursts and blasts, stacked temporary hit points - and other rules that have since been cleared up in updates/errata.  But it was arguments at the table that brought our gaming to an end last year. I found myself constantly putting out fires that were fuelled by negativity, jealousy, selfishness, interruptions, usurping and exploitation.  (Wow!  It sounds like a Rupert Murdoch newspaper.)  It just wasn’t fun anymore.  Yep, I got burned too.

In fairness, I have been DM for a group consisting of a genius (my youngest son – now nine years), an actor who will probably accept an academy award before he turns twenty (my teenage son – now 18 years) and an Early Years Childcare worker who, although very responsible, is indeed sillier than Lewis Carroll and Dr Seuss combined (Tamara – my wife).  Although that may sound like the perfect mix for an adventure in Willy Wonka’s factory, it also perfectly polarizes personalities and penalises popular play - paralysing persona. My teenage son moved out of home so we put the game on ice and focused on schoolwork, homework, bookwork, housework and all the other boring elements in life that concatenate with ‘work’. 

Earlier this year, Tamara and I realised just how much we missed D&D.  We also realised that we had never played with other adults.  We wondered - considering we are self taught - if we were even playing the game correctly.  (In hindsight that thought is most existential.)  So we started looking for a game to join.  We were surprised and delighted at how easy that task proved to be.  Indeed, we were welcomed to a table and complimented on our role playing.  The DM said it was refreshing to invite players who knew the rules and I personally found it equally refreshing to be a PC/hero after two years as DM.

However, arguments were occurring at the table, not with Tam or I, but between the other players.  One player left the game permanently.  He was so disgusted that he decided to stop gaming all together.  That was a shame because he was instrumental in our initiation to the campaign and we really liked his playing style.  I won’t bore you with further negativity about that scenario; suffice to say that although we persisted with that campaign, the ‘fun’ had clearly left the building.  The grownups at the table were behaving like children.  Correction – children behave better.

Again I needed to re-evaluate my needs and desires in the world of RPG’s.  What is it that I really enjoy about D&D?  That’s easy – it’s the storytelling, the creativity, the challenge, the puzzles, the teamwork, the fantasy, the combat, the dice rolling, the spontaneity and the anticipation.  Mostly though, it’s the look on the faces of the players around the table when . . . well when anything happens.  When Dark Vision reveals a lurking dragon, or a Wizard teleports a stupid Ogre off a bridge, or the DM rewards a PC with a magic weapon, or the entire party completely missed the objective and got arrested by the village militia.  It’s the facial expressions and the sounds of ‘oooh’ and ‘aaahh’ that fulfil my senses; much like watching a movie thriller. 

I also realised that I missed playing with my youngest son.  Did I mention he’s a genius?  D&D has been excellent for him.  He knows every stat of every monster in the manual.  I’ve even asked him to DM a campaign known as “The Sceptre Tower of SpellGard”, and at only nine years old he did a remarkable job.  (I think he likes rats just as much as you do.)  His mental arithmetic is . . . intimidating to say the least.  Best of all, his smile and his laugh are infectious, contagious and frequent.

The solution is obvious.  My wife, my son and I need to host a game that caters to kids. We could invite parents and their kids to our house.  Perfect! 

Hang on! That will require some research and careful planning.  Although I have been DM for my own kids, and I know their personalities very well, there were many problems that caused arguments at our table.  It could be worse with strangers and their kids.  Therefore, many questions need to be answered before we jump in the deep end:

What is the minimum age that I should accept at the table?
Should I use a scripted/published adventure or write my own?
Character generation and levelling up could be very complicated. How do I simplify it?
How do I maintain balance (and interest) between role-play and combat?
Sandbox or railroad?
Should I handle rewards differently?
How do I police behaviour and discipline?
Do I omit religion?
How much gore and violence (if any) can or can’t be included?
Will there be tears and permanent emotional scars if a PC dies?
I assume girls will respond differently to boys.  So what can I expect and how do I cater? 

As I said, you have already answered most of my questions.  When I Googled “D&D for kids.”  I found your July post on the Wizards community forum and I was immediately attracted to the words, “author of the D&D Kids tutorial series.”

Then I found the famous article that apparently ‘broke the internet’ titled, “D&D Kids: Girls at the Table”.  You said in your (un)disclaimer, “my aim as I embarked on this monumental project was to help DMs avoid some of the pitfalls into which I had stumbled in the beginning of my career”.  Eureka! I have found the mother-load. You are speaking directly to me.  I have much to say abut this article but my spider senses tell me that you may be sick of talking about it, so I’ll say only this: Boys and Girls respond differently because they are different.  Knowledge is to be shared.  Those with experience teaching boys and girls have acquired knowledge regarding the differences and should pass this knowledge onto other teachers for their mutual benefit.  I thank you Uri Kurlianchik for passing this valuable knowledge onto me. 

Yes, I also read the comments from people such as Kynn (or Caoimhe), and I was saddened by the smear campaign.  I shall offer a unique perspective to this, because the whole saga makes me contemplate the Super Heroes’ Curse.  Huh? The what now? Well, have you seen the Will Smith movie - ‘Hancock’?  Or perhaps you’ve watched Pixar’s - ‘The Incredibles’?  The concept at the beginning of both movies is the same – the super heroes are criticized and even sued by the public for leaving a mess and damaging public property each time they rescue someone.  The super heroes become disillusioned and depressed with their own lives.  What the hell am I talking about?  My point is you were only trying to help by passing on your knowledge and experience.  Although there will always be people who criticize and cut down the tall poppies, I’m glad that you continue to do what you do.  You summed it up nicely on Saturday, November 12, 2011 when you said, “I rule. You don't.”  (I also like that you don’t take it all too seriously and your quirky sense of humour shines through at all times.  Hopefully you can hear in my tone and by my ‘super hero curse’ analogy and other absurd parallels that I am also talking somewhat tongue-in-cheek.)

I continued to read all of your articles as listed on and you continued to answer most of my questions. (I’m writing this next section to ‘think out loud’, and also to provide mutual confidence.)

How much gore and violence (if any) can or can’t be included?

One of my favourite movies from the late 80’s is ‘Parenthood’ with Steve Martin.  So many good lines – even from Keanu Reeves, “you need a license to buy a dog, to drive a car - hell, you even need a license to catch a fish. But they'll let any butt-reaming asshole be a father.”  Anyway, before I start quoting all my favourite lines, the scene that’s relevant for this topic is when Steve Martin’s character Gil Buchman has to dress as a cowboy for his son’s birthday party because ‘Cowboy Dan’, the hired balloon-animal clown, didn’t arrive: 

The kids aren’t fooled, “You´re Kevin´s father.  You´re not Cowboy Dan.”

“That´s right” says Gil in a southern drawl, “They call me Cowboy in ‘guil-ty’.  I saw Cowboy Dan.  I didn't like the look on his face. It was like this, so l killed him.”  The kids look a little pleased so Gil continues, “I blew a hole in him this big.”  The kids don’t seem overly impressed so he embellishes, “Actually it was about this big.” Some applause.  “You know, when I think about it, that hole was about this big.”  The group, (mostly boys) cheer loudly and Kevin is delighted with his Dad. Gil continues, “And his guts were spilled out all over the floor.  As I was walkin´ away, I slip around on his guts.  A couple of other people came by and started slippin´ on his guts too.  After I blow a hole in somebody and slip around on their guts...afterwards, I always like to make balloon animals.”  Gil begins to twist balloons into a shape that resembles no living animal on earth, and the kids look disappointed – until Gil announces, “Your lower intestines!”  The kids laugh and shout and applaud.

The kids know that it’s all pretend.  They’re smart enough to separate fantasy from reality and they will never act out the fantasy in real life.  They don’t want to hurt anyone.

I like your universal solution of making the violence over the top or funny and very metaphorical; just like Gil Buchman did.  I shall honour your sixth commandment, “Thou Shalt Be Gory, Goofy, and Cool!” because I want my son and his friends to smile; just like Kevin did.  You’re right - it is a controversial position and I will certainly be mindful and respectful of parent’s wishes.  The last thing I want is traumatised kids.  If parents ask me to never mention blood, then I’ll call it ‘goo’ or ‘slime’ or ‘pus’; Nickelodeon-esque.  That reminds me, I downloaded some amazing poster-size maps created by a brilliant cartographer/Photoshop expert, and for every map that displays blood spatter, he has another version with luminescent green goo to accommodate and appease parents.

I assume girls will respond differently to boys.  So what can I expect and how do I cater? 

In my youngest sons’ early years, we offered him toys from both gender stereotypes. For example: cars, trains, tools and footballs were made available, but so too were dolls, perambulators and tea sets.  He always opted for the ‘boys toys’ and our friend’s daughter always opted for the ‘girls toys’.  It would not have been a problem if my son had chosen to play with the dolls, but he just didn’t want to.

My wife found it very interesting when you profiled that girls “like nature-based, ranged and quick classes, and value Dexterity more than any other ability.”  You said, “Girls I played with preferred short and stocky characters to lithe and elegant ones. Given free reign, most started the game as dwarves, mulls, halflings or simply short humans. I think the character statistically most likely to be attractive to girls is a female eladrin ranger. Describe her as a friend of nature and a protector of the forest, not as a hunter or avenger.”  Interesting because the two characters Tamara has developed, up to level 17, are a female Halfling Ranger and a female Gnome Bard. Furthermore, I personally think Tamara plays the game better than anyone else at the grownups table.

I don’t want to lose good players so I will do as you suggested and intervene a little at first. I think I will role-play the NPC’s to pay attention to the pets.  That might encourage the girls to respond imaginatively.  I’m also thinking maps and puzzle stimuli.  I love puzzles.

A few apologies:

If you have read this far, I apologise for keeping you away from your family and I thank you for your persistence. 

I apologise for mentioning “Wizards of the Coast” as that must leave a sour taste in your ears. ;-)  Seriously though, I can’t believe they have removed your articles.  I was looking for Mavet Rav because that article has a legendary reputation. 

I apologise on behalf of the rude people who say your classes looks like a jungle.  They mean to insult you, but I’m pleased you are complimented because I agree - a jungle is such a nicer place than a prison.  With that you remind me of Robin Williams as Professor John Keating in “Dead Poet’s Society.”  Carpe Diem.

I look forward to putting into practise all you have taught me.  I look forward to “resting safely, knowing that I served as a fine guide for a bunch of warlike young tourists making their first steps in a fantastic world we built together.”

Who am I?  I am a teacher.  I teach software at Sydney University.  Pleased to meet you,

Sydney, Australia.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Limit of Lesbianism and the Art of Chainsawing

Most excellent and noble ladies and gentlemen, it is time to tell you of our second Fading Suns session.

I am writing about this session more than a month after it had happened and without notes to refresh my memory. If any gross mistakes or omissions are found in the text, I trust my players would be so kind as to correct me. If you’re interested in my previous games with this group, take a look at the first session and at Niki’s brilliant idea from a different game.

While contemplating how to respond to the Decados challenge, the group spent several hours socializing with the other nobles. It was decided (by the men of the delegation) that that the perfectly straight Op-la should seduce the equally straight Rene Hawkwood, because the latter is rumored to be a pirate and thus must be a Lesbian. Needless to say, while the two women had a perfectly pleasant conversation, nothing exciting ensued.

Drake noticed that the Princess had obvious latent psionic talents, which her deeply religious family had suppressed. He started talking about philosophy and art with her. Given the Princess’ constant giggles and rosy cheeks during the conversation, it’s possible that Drake had done a too good job in swaying her heart...

Drake teaching the princess about the art of the mind. The King does not approve...
Art by Yan, player of Drake

Dovis Lax, always the schemer, socialized with everyone and overheard many interesting rumors, including that Shaquille is hardly interested in marrying the Princess (or indeed, any woman) and thus offered to support whichever party paid him the most. He also acquired some highly illegal surveillance technology from the Kodaks delegation, which he employed to good effect to spy on the Decados. Low on cash, the delegation had stated that they will straight-out murder Shaquille if he interfered in their affairs. The statements had a profound effect on the young nobleman and he excused himself for the rest of the evening.

Young Quintus, despite his tender age and small stature was more than willing to face his accuser in the field of honor, something that would have doubtlessly resulted in his death. Knowing how stubborn the boy is, the group had devised a plan how to save his life without antagonizing him or compromising his honor. They staged a fake attack on the group’s suite and had Op-la and Quintus bound on the floor. At the same time, using his amazing control over his body, the somatic Drake changed his appearance to look like Quintus and fought in his stead.

"Gimme the sword, I can kill him, no problem at all!"
Source unknown

The chainsaw-wielding Decados duelist was no weak foe, but eventually Drake defeated him, garnering much admiration from the guests and the King. Afterward, Quintus was released and it was made clear to him that the rest of the delegation looked for him while he was in the bandits’ hands. To save his reputation, Drake fought in his stead. Quintus accepted the news with good grace, but also visible disappointment.

Throughout the duel, the pious (yeah right) Flint whispered religious promises in the King’s ear, making him further well-disposed toward the Van Gelder delegation. All would be well, if not for one little problem – Lord Arthur of Hawkwood, an experienced duelist and soldier, has strong suspicions about whether it was really Quintus fighting in the duel.