Friday, January 30, 2009

Character Death

To get off my rants for a while, and back to the even MORE geeky subject of gaming, I'd like to discuss my views on the subject of character deaths in an RPG campaign. From what I hear of other GM's stories, my own campaigns are a lot more forgiving than most. A lot of other GMs would probably consider this a mistake. I am 'coddling' the players by not being more strict with the letter of the rules.  I am sabotaging my games by not giving the players consequences to their failures. I am ruining game balance by allowing characters to get too powerful.

All of these are valid arguments—or rather, would be if I as a GM allowed these things to become issues in my campaign. I am reasonably certain that in my years of gaming, I have managed to avoid these pitfalls, and I believe that player death is NOT a necessity to a well run, well balanced campaign.

In my games, in most circumstances and settings, I will not kill off a character due to an arbitrary die-roll. Unless they stray so far afield that I have no option, I will usually give them some way to survive. This is my stance. 

In defense of this stance against arbitrary PC killing, I would like to offer the following points:

1) I do not like an adversarial relationship with my characters. As a GM, my job is to make the game fun. This often involves working WITH the players, to listen to their ideas and give even the most insane of them the chance (however slim) to succeed—especially if the insane idea is something incredibly cool story-wise, but maybe a bit implausible 'reality' wise. I don't have a lot of ego when it comes to the players 'beating' a scenario I devised. In fact, I can applaud them for it, especially when it is done with style. 

2) I believe that a Character death should have meaning. Yes, I know life is cruel and deaths often do not have a meaning. But as an advocate of plot/story-driven adventures, I think that arbitrary death (i.e. "you rolled bad. You die.") should be avoided. I even like to avoid letting major NPCs get snuffed unless it is at some climactic moment. Death is dramatic and should be played as such.

3) I believe that Character failures should be met with fates other than death. This is where consequences for actions come into play. You may screw up and not die, but you lose in some other way: You get chewed out for failure, you lose one of your precious toys (ship, favorite weapon, etc.), you tick off someone who might have been an ally otherwise, etc.

4) I want players to be emotionally involved with their Characters. I want them to develop elaborate back-stories. I want them to develop elaborate personalities and quirks through game play. I want them to identify themselves and evolve through the course of play. This is MUCH more difficult in a campaign where arbitrary death is involved. I mean, if your character is likely to die every session, what is the point of putting any work into him? What is the point of getting attached if you're going to just roll up another?

5) Ultimately, I WANT my players to get powerful, to have a big impact on the world in which they live. That is the stuff of epic stories. To see a character grow from humble beginnings and rise to greatness. Yes, this means that it is more difficult to challenge the character, but a good GM can devise ways of doing that, usually by shifting gears to either 'epic' struggles (tougher and more opponents) or more abstract challenges (political maneuvering and moral dilemmas). This aspect works closely with the whole emotional involvement thing. If a character becomes powerful, he has more of a say in what happens in 'his' world—it becomes 'his' world.

6) In certain settings, death SHOULD be a remote possibility. In Star Wars especially, death isn't something that happens to the main PCs. They're the heroes, after all. They may succeed and fail, but they keep on going. Since Star Wars is my favorite system, it is only natural that that kind of attitude would prevail through my other games. 

That having been said, there are some exceptions to the rule. Certain settings are inherently less-forgiving than others. And certain players sometimes leave you with little choice when their characters go off and do something incredibly dumb. In such cases? Well, I reserve that GM right to enforce the letter of the law. Thinking back on it, though, I can only think of one occasion where I actually allowed a character to die. It was (rather appropriately) in a Dark Conspiracy game. One of the players, Doyce, was just a bit too confident in his new Sorceror's skills. His first mistake was to walk off alone into a swamp, without telling anyone where he was going. In a horror-type setting, all of these things are a big no-no. He ran across a critter there in the swamp. Rather wimpy, actually...a fist-sized, blood-sucking urchin like critter that stuck into him and started sucking blood. For the next three rounds, his Sorceror completely ignored the pistol strapped to his leg and tried to use his magic to kill the demon-urchin. He failed. He got weaker. He failed. he got weaker. He failed...well, he died. I think that Doyce was expecting that I'd save his guy somehow, but...well, I couldn't think of any way how, other than deus-ex-machina. Considering the setting? I thought death more fitting. Doyce was surprised, but he took it with a good attitude.

So anyway, that's my stance on that, for what its worth.


As much as I love Star Wars, I look back at a lot of these posts and see that they are little more than rants. As I think about it, I figure it is for a couple reasons:

1) To name all the things I LOVE about Star Wars would take way too much time.

2) I am passionate about the setting, story, movies, etc. When I see something I think is 'wrong', I want to speak up about it.

The latter just shows how much of a true geek I am. I admit it. I'm comfortable with it. 

I don't think that I'm being immodest when I call myself a creative person. I am an artist. I am a professional ad designer and concepter. I am a game-master. All of these things require creativity. And in the six or so hours of the original Star Wars movies, I found something that really captured my creativity and imagination. I grew up with these stories and these characters, and in the years between the trilogies, I came to feel as though I 'owned' some of them. I think it is the mark of a great movie when you feel that much a part of something that you internalize it. 

Running the RPG only increased my sense of ownership. I was able to 'fill in the blanks' with my own imagination and creativity. I was able to flesh out my concepts of various characters and the setting as a whole. I took what I liked from the various sources and modified it to suit my own tastes (and the tastes of my players, at least I think I did). In fact, when it seemed as though there would never be any other Star Wars movies, I grew to like the fact that the 'future' of the galaxy was in my own imagination.

Examining that, I think I've found the source of much of my dislike of aspects in the books and movies. A lot of it doesn't fit my concepts—doesn't live up to my imagination. And really? It isn't fair to expect it to. But hey, I don't think my opinion or imagination is any /less/ valid than those of the other creative minds who imagined this universe—so why not rant? It isn't like anyone is really paying attention to this, anyway. So I'll chalk it all up to making myself feel better about the things that tick me off. And so far? Its working.

George Lucas and the 'Heart' of Star Wars

Looking back on my posts, it may seem as though I hate George Lucas. But honestly, I don't. Oh, I get frustrated with him, to be sure, but how can I dislike someone who crafted the movies that so greatly impacted my life. When you look back at his earlier movies like American Graffiti and Star Wars itself, you see a really great talent—someone who is able to make truly memorable films. Star Wars in particular has a perfect mix of action, effects, character moments, humor and a 'mythic' plot. He also had a hand in the rest of the original trilogy and the equally brilliant Raiders of the Lost Ark/Indiana Jones movies (we'll just leave the 4th one out of this for the time being...) 

The man has talent, and drive, and in a time where studios were trying to tell him how to do everything, he went out and did it his own way—and it worked. 

I know that I was very excited when news of the prequel trilogy first surfaced. And when I heard that Lucas was going to direct them, himself, I was psyched. But as much as I tried to convince myself otherwise, the prequel trilogy just fell flat for me. As a Star Wars fan, I liked the films. But I don't love them. Yes, of course I had high expectations, but I don't think that those expectations were out of line. Lucas has proven how good he is. Why shouldn't I expect that?

Everything in the prequel trilogy was top-of-the-line, from effects, to sound-design, to sets, to costuming, to talent to...well, about everything except writing. Oh, the plot was solid enough—In fact, I earned a whole new respect for the Emperor in these movies—but the dialogue between most of the characters was just...boring or outright cliche. The prequel just didn't have the 'heart' that the first movies did. 

In the original trilogy, you get a real idea of who the characters are by how they react and interact. They all have 'moments' where the action stops and its just the people, the 'human' element. You see the eager and excitable Luke trying to convince the mercenary Han to rescue the princess (Luke (slyly): "She's rich..." Han (suddenly interested): "How rich?"). You see Han and Leia sparring on the Death Star (Leia (snidely): "You came here in that? You're braver than I thought." Han (Testily): "Nice."). You see the droids actually being funny (Threepio (scoldingly): "I don't think he likes you very much." Artoo: "*Plaintive, inquisitive whistle*"Threepio (huffily): "No. I don't like you either."). It is these moments of brisk, clever dialogue—not just the special effects or scenery—that truly make the original trilogy great. 

Somehow, that all seems to have gotten lost in the prequels. It is quite ironic when you look at the caliber of actor in the prequels. Liam Neeson, Natalie Portman, Ewan Macgregor and Samuel L. Jackson can act. I've seen them all do it before. And yet they all seem so cardboard. You don't get a sense of who they are by how they act, it is more like we are just expected to feel for them because we're told to. The relationship between Obi-Wan and Anakin is a prime example of this 'dictated emotion'. We are supposed to believe that these guys have a friendship that rivals brotherhood, and yet in the movies, all we ever see is the two of them not getting along. Obi-Wan comes off as a snide nag—never ever satisfied with anything Anakin does. Oh sure, Anakin is impulsive and ambitious (and even whiney about it), but come on, have the Jedi never heard of positive reinforcement?

The same can be said for Anakin and Padme's relationship. In Attack of the Clones, Anakin comes off as kind of creepy and obsessed. Some girls may like that, maybe Padme is one of them, but I think even those kind of girls would be a bit put off by the whole "I slaughtered an entire tribe of Tusken" thing. And yet it seemed to have the opposite effect on Padme, who announced her love just hours/days later. There was an attempt to show the growth of their relationship, but it seemed rushed—probably because it was. In any case, I didn't really feel the connection between the characters. It was like they fell in love because the script says so. 

Don't even get me started on the whole droid comedy relief thing. Their 'humorous' moments in the prequel trilogy were more annoying than funny. Threepio's one liners ("This is such a drag") were so bad, I recall the entire theater groaning audibly at the puns.

A friend of mine (Martin) put it best when he said (and I'm paraphrasing): "When all George Lucas really had to work with was actors and their characters, he made a movie about those characters—filling the screen with them and letting their stories carry the movie (as it should be). When George Lucas has the money to build (RL or CG) sets, then he focuses on those sets." And that truly seems to be the case. The characters and their moments get lost in the sheer spectacle of a grandiose and imaginative setting. Even from what I've seen in the documentaries and commentaries on the prequel trilogy, Lucas was incredibly involved in the designs and effects. Maybe its just my perception, but I don't recall any moments showing him having writing workshops or working with the actors to perfect their roles and characters.

And so, what we get is ultimately bland writing, bland humor, bland dialogue. But not just bland, sometimes just plain wordy. It could have done with some serious editing. We didn't need the Force explained to us with the god-awful concept of 'midicholorians'. I think everyone was pretty much onboard with Ben Kenobi's explanation in the first movie ("Its an energy field"). We didn't need Anakin to tell us he was obsessed with Padme, he could have just acted it. Likewise, we didn't need Anakin to tell us he killed all the Tusken. Imagine how much more dark and brooding it would have been if he had kept that bottled up inside, even as Padme tried to console him (maybe even hearing the screams of the tusken as she embraced him). In fact, Anakin could have had half his lines cut and wind up all the better for it. I think that audiences are smart enough to pick up on inner turmoil without him saying things out loud (.i.e. "Gee, I really shouldn't kill Count Duku..."). And again, imagine that scene where Anakin becomes Darth Vader. Instead of the incredibly lame "Noooooooo!", how cool would it have been if he'd just stood there, completely silent, and destroyed the room with his telekinetic fury and anguish. 

But I digress. My point was, Lucas was a good film maker once. I'd like to think he could still be, but he's in a position now where he doesn't seem to take any creative input from anyone, and so he just delves into the things he likes, seemingly without a thought as to what made the movies popular in the first place—the characters.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Force Unleashed


When I first heard about Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, I was cautiously optimistic. I enjoyed both Knights of the Old Republic games and both Battlefront games as well. I learned that Unleashed was going to be an action game (combat, jumping, etc.), and I was still onboard—after all, the graphics I was seeing were awesome. It wasn't going to be an 'RPG' like the KotOR series, but everyone kept saying that the 'story was going to be great'.

Then I saw some things that started to give me pause. A Jedi using the force to crash a Star Destroyer? Okayyyy. Again, somewhere, someone explained this away as well. The character in this game was supposed to be something of a force 'Freak'—a Jedi wrecking ball, raised from childhood to be an engine of destruction. Alright, I'm still willing to play along.

A few days after the game came out, I bought it and played it. My initial reactions were still positive. The first level, where you play as Darth Vader, battling through hordes of Wookiees was very enjoyable. The graphics /were/ great, and the game play was pretty good, too (of course, not being a 'twitch reflex' person, it took me a while to get the hang of things). By the time I reached the first cut-scenes my cautious optimism had returned. Okay, so the lead character was a little shallow—but there was time to develop. His droid, Proxy was interesting, able to holographically mimic various opponents. An interesting idea. And thankfully, they didn't completely rip off his personality from KotOR's HK-47. Still, I like the idea of a droid 'Cato' to your character's Inspector Clouseau.

Even the original meeting with your pilot (and love interest, Juno Eclipse) was reasonably well done. Okay, so her costume's prominently displayed cleavage was a bit much. I mean, as a guy, I like that sort of thing, just seemed so blatantly done (which I'm sure it was, considering the target audience of this game). 

I was all set for the story to blow me away, as everyone kept saying it would. The characters seemed to be the kind that might prove interesting once developed. Even when I started hitting portions of the game where the game-play began to frustrate me (mostly due to my own ineptitude) I kept playing in the hopes of seeing the story play out. 

Unfortunately, the game play frustrations continued and were only multiplied as the characters failed to develop at all. The dialogue was just bland. Your hero and his love interest exchange stilted barbs—which is of course a sign that they are falling in love. And yet there seemed to be absolutely no reason for either of them to care about the other, except for the fact that they just happened to be in the same ship sometimes. Simply put, they have a 'relationship' because the script says so. Meh.

The further along the story got, the more I grew to detest it. Admittedly, a lot of that detestation stems from the fact that I (like many fans) think the original Star Wars trilogy was much, much better than the prequel trilogy. So when the writers deliberately trampled over plot points from the original trilogy, just to 'fill in the gaps' between the two series, I was disgusted (in a very fan-boy way). 

A game reviewer that I enjoy ("Yahtzee", from Zero Punctuation) put it best when he said: "Apparently the plot is supposed to tie the Star Wars prequel trilogy to the original series, which raises the question: Why would we want to do this terrible thing? Its like tying your breakfast to a plague rat."

It started with the fact that every Jedi or Sith presented in the game (including the hero) were even MORE bad-ass than any we had seen in any of the movies. I can get over that as just being style—after all, its more fun to play a complete bad-ass (and bashing Jawas into the ceiling until they die from it is, admittedly, very enjoyable).

It continued, however, by including a whole plot line about Princess Leia—in which she is under arrest by an Imperial Moff under suspicion of treason. Since this pre-dates Star Wars, it essentially tramples over the plot of the very first movie. If Leia was already being imprisoned and threatened with death, why was she allowed to roam free again in her own ship and get the Death Star plans? Why did she even attempt to pretend she was a Senator on a diplomatic mission?

Even moreso, Leia's FATHER is arrested—caught red-handed plotting treason against the Empire. The Emperor himself is going to kill him and other rebel leaders. And yet, after you rescue him, apparently Bail Organa just returns to Alderaan and...sits there to wait for the Empire to blow him up with the Death Star—a Death Star that Bail obviously KNEW about already, since he was imprisoned on it. This is just sloppy plotting. I mean, Alderaan is defenseless. The Emperor could have just sent a ship there and picked up Organa again—arrested him publicly to make an example out of him, or even use him as an excuse to disband the senate (which he was already going to do anyway). And how stupid does it make Bail Organa look? He could have done lots of things: evacuate people from Alderaan, make a public announcement about the Death Star, try to drum up more rebel support, anything but just sit there and do nothing.

So there I was, already shaking my head at the plot, when it completely jumps the shark (or more appropriately 'nukes the fridge'). In the final confrontation, your character defeats both Darth Vader and the Emperor, back to back. I was just stunned. So, pretty much, this guy you're playing is the 'Best Jedi Evarr'. He's done what no other character in any movie has been able to do. To me, this just completely defuses everything that happens after the game (i.e. the entire original trilogy). I mean, compared to Starkiller's Badassery, everything else pales in comparison? Luke? He's even more of a blip than everyone at Lucasfilm and Lucas Arts seems determined to make him. I mean, he can't even defeat ONE enemy, let alone both one after the other. 

And how can one follow such a horrible climax? By turning to a very horrible cliche SECOND ending. So, you've defeated Vader and the Emperor. You've saved the entire galaxy. But suddenly (if you're playing the game as a good guy), your mentor says. "No, don't kill [the Emperor]! If you do, you'll be no better than he is!" At this point, the game takes over, and you don't kill the Emperor. And, surprise, surprise, he turns around and stabs you in the back (with force lightning). Gee, didn't see that one coming. So not only is your character the 'Best Jedi Evarr', he's also the most stupid: The one who had the chance of ending the Emperor's reign and saving the galaxy (thus saving Alderaan and countless billions of lives) but just...well, decided not to because it would be arbitrarily 'bad'.

As I recall from the movies, Jedi had no trouble killing when they had to. Windu killed Jango without any remorse. Windu was going to kill Palpatine without any regrets. Hell, even YODA was going to kill Palpatine. Why? Because as long as he was alive, he was a threat to the entire galaxy. But at the end of this game, after killing HUNDREDS of others along the way, we are told that just killing one more (the source of all the killing in the first place) is 'bad'. I'm sorry, but some people need killin', and the Emperor was one of them. I think any non-stupid Jedi would agree with me.

And then, when your character has died (stupidly), we're given one more slap in the face. Seems that the symbol for the Rebellion was Starkiller's family crest. It was adopted by the Rebellion to honor the man who had 'saved' them. Nevermind the fact, he was a moron who could have stopped the war before it began...and nevermind the fact that even in other Lucasfilm projects (i.e. the new Clone Wars CG animated series) they seem to show that the symbol was just an evolution of the crest of the Old Republic, worn on the shoulders of the Jedi knights.

All in all, the plot of this game just pissed me off. I'll admit that a lot of it seems nit-picky. I'll also admit that I am an unabashed fan-boy of the original trilogy. But to me, the whole thing just seemed like another in an unceasing effort to bury the goodness of the Star Wars franchise under the heartless glitz and noise of the new material. And keep in mind, I really didn't HATE the prequel trilogy. There were a lot of things I enjoyed about it. What I do hate is the way that the people in charge of the franchise seem to be shoving it down our throats, trying to make us love it more than the original movies by making everything 'better'. 

Oh, and on a final note? The whole scene with forcing the Star Destroyer to crash on a planet? Wow, was that frustrating and lame to play. An 'action' sequence that goes through 15-20 minutes of the same, repetitive thing can no longer be termed an action sequence.

Revisiting Greatness

The Star Wars campaign that began in South Dakota all those years ago, and which has grown to include about everyone I consider a friend, is a source of great joy in my life. The shared history that I have with these people—real and game history—is part of the fabric of who I am. And so it was with great anticipation that I greeted the chance to sit down with a few of my far-away friends and revisit this history one more time. 

It began while chatting with a friend (Steve, the other one) online. He said he was heading back to Vermillion for a game-weekend there. I said I was envious. There was a pause in our chat, then suddenly he comes back with "You know, plane fare from Florida to Colorado is only $218." I am not a spontaneous person, but...about a week after this discussion, I was flying to Colorado in order to meet up with Steve (the other one) and drive to Vermillion. 

For the 8+ hours of the trip, I ran a couple adventures for Steve—fleshing out his position as governor of Mandalore. This began with a hunt for an ancient, Mandalorian weapons cache (which netted him some Basilisk War Droids) and eventually turned into a trial by combat battle with Boba Fett for the title of Mandalore (after Fett decided he was going to assume the title). The play was awesome. The final battle incredibly dramatic. The 8+ hours passed in a blink. A very good start to the weekend. 

As a side-note, Steve's character did defeat Fett. In fact, he wound up killing him. I know many GMs and players out there would probably see this as a 'jump the shark' moment in a campaign. After all, Fett is a bad-ass. But then again, this campaign is now 13 years past the battle of Yavin. The PCs are now on about the same level as many of the Feature Characters in the galaxy. Plus, in the 'canon' of the movies, Fett actually died (like a punk) in the Sarlac's belly. At least in this case, he went out with a bang. The fight between Oman (Steve's character) and Fett actually went on for an epic 20+ combat rounds—and for the first 3-quarters of that, Oman was losing. It was again one of those rare moments when dice rolls and storyline work together.

In any case, my arrival in South Dakota turned out to be quite a surprise for our host, Steve—likewise for Todd and Martin, who were also in town for the weekend. Needless to say we planned on playing Star Wars. And play we did. Oh, it wasn't the marathon all-day-all-night sessions we used to be able to pull off, but what we lacked in hours, we made up for in quality. It was like meeting two sets of 'old friends' again—the players and their characters. Once again, Arianne the Jedi, Bob the Tusken, Horatio the Pirate and Oman the newly christened Mandalore were in action together. 

It reminded me of the good old days. None of these guys had lost a beat as far as roleplaying goes. In fact, they'd all gotten better with age. There were many many memorable moments in these sessions, in and out of character. And so many good ideas that it threw me for a loop (in a very good way) as a game-master. They kept surprising me with their ingenuity and their audacity and wound up foiling several different plot points. In fact, due to a brilliant idea by Oman (brilliantly executed by the entire party), they actually wound up saving Coruscant (or at the very least, saving the Republic fleet from a major defeat). 

Despite the bitter-cold of the South Dakota winter, the trip was a blast. Even after about 18 years, the campaign and the characters haven't lost much steam. Table-top gaming as a form of recreation seems to be slowly dying out. But it continues to be my favorite hobby—and one of the best ways to spend time with good friends. 

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Star Wars novels and my problems with them

As stated in my previous post about my hero, Luke Skywalker, I have a rather low opinion about most Star Wars novels. 

Some of the earlier novels were, in my opinion, quite good. Splinter of the Minds Eye (by Alan Dean Foster) was awesome—a great way to pass the time between Star Wars and the Empire Strikes Back. Okay, so, in retrospect, there is a lot of creepy brother-sister lusting going on between Luke and Leia, but at the time, nobody (including Lucas) knew they were related. I just... umm, edit those parts out in my mind. 

Brian Daley's Han Solo Trilogy were absolutely great. The best group of Star Wars books ever presented. I thought they captured Han Solo's smuggling career wonderfully, with a great mix of action, comedy and cleverness (I still love the part where Han, gaining access to an enemy base's computer system, decides that instead of trying to kill the alarms he has already set off he's going to set off every alarm in the facility, just to throw everything into confusion). These books also included a slew of memorable supporting characters. Bollux the labor droid and Blue-Max, his tiny computer counterpart; Gallandro the Gunman (a complete badass); Skynx the alien historian (a fluffy catepillar with a doctorate); to name just a few.

I was excited when Zahn's Heir to the Empire trilogy kicked off, too. But as those books continued, my enthusiasm began to wane. Too much emphasis seemed to be focused on Mara much that it was starting to feel like 'Mary Sue' to me. Still, when all was said and done, I liked the books. 

Started reading Truce at Bakura. Stopped because I got bored. I guess a boring book is better than a bad one.

Then...The Courtship of Princess Leia. Horrible. Utterly horrible. The author, Dave Wolverton, just modified the character's personalities to suit his convoluted plot. Seemingly without regard to everything that had happened before, Leia just began to snub Han, who became simultaneously insanely jealous. And all of Han's friends? Chewie? Luke? They're either too busy or just don't seem to care if Leia does dump Han. Reading what I did of this book (it soon pissed me off to the point I had to stop), everything just seemed to make no sense. Where was that tight-knit group of friends who trusted eachother with their lives in the movies? 

The Rogue Squadron Novels. Being a HUGE fan of Wedge Antilles, I was incredibly psyched to hear of this project. And then...I started reading all about the adventures of the hella-cool Corran Horn! The Half-Han Solo, Half Luke Skywalker poser and all his wonderful life as the bestest pilot ever in Rogue Squadron! Yay! Oh, and Wedge was there, in the background as usual. Needless to say, after the let-down of the first novel in this series, I didn't continue with the others.

Jedi Academy? It had a few interesting much so that I actually read through the whole trilogy. But  some of the pseudo science involved (i.e. the SunCrusher) was just too much. It can ram right through the bridge of a Star Destroyer? Okay, I'l buy that the hull is tough enough to survive that. But unless you have some massive inertial dampers, everyone inside is likely to become jello. It can survive a hit from a supernova? Yeah. Right.

Children of the Jedi. Again, started reading. Got bored. Another mary-sue for Luke to fall madly in eternal love with...until the end of the story, at which point (according to 'official canon') the two of them just looked at each other and said "Welp. Seeya.". And Callista was never heard from again. Yeah. Great continuity there.

The Black Fleet Crisis was the next series I read. I liked the plot-lines that actually dealt with Leia as Chancellor, reacting to a crisis and border war. The political intrigue and military maneuvering was interesting. Luke's plot? Boring and seemingly completely unrelated-with another mary-sue type force-user for him to woo. Oh sure, they bring this school of 'hidden force users' back for the finale but...bland. Lando's plot? I was almost excited about. Trying to figure out an enigmatic drifting alien ship. I kept wondering in what wonderful way this would work into the main story. It never did. Boo. 

There were a slew of other novels, including eventually all the crap based upon the prequel trilogy. By this time, I was jaded, and ignored most of it. Then came Vector Prime. Its biggest selling (out) point was the death of Chewbacca. Hey, kids, want to know how to drum up press for a series of novels! Kill off a major character! Needless to say, this didn't start me off on the right foot with the series.

The overall idea I liked (and in fact, I am using a modified version of it in my own Star Wars campaign). A powerful alien force, unlike anything the galaxy has ever dealt with. The joining together of old enemies—New Republic and Empire—to face this overwhelming threat. I'm with you. Cool. Bio-technology? Also cool. But...where it starts to lose me is in its handling of characters and its drop into the worst of cliche.

First of all, as stated in my "Heroes" post, Luke has become an indecisive twat. He's so concerned about somehow screwing up and 'failing' at running the Jedi Order that he pretty much just refuses to participate in the war. Oh, right, because going to war is totally against anything the Jedi did in the past. Right, they weren't generals in the clone wars. They didn't fight for the republic in every other major conflict since the dawn of freaking time. No, its suddenly a 'new and frightening' concept. Whatever.

The Peace Brigade? Give me a freaking break. Okay, so the alien menace has destroyed entire planets, killed billions, has utter disdain of all life-forms but their own. They've backstabbed and betrayed  everyone, left and right. But noooooo. Its all the Jedi's fault. And suddenly, the scum of the earth is lining up to join forces with a group of people they KNOW are going to betray them eventually because they are seen as lesser life forms. The whole 'persecution of the Jedi' plot was done already. It was done in the prequel trilogy and (surprisingly enough) it was done well.

And finally, my biggest gripe and the ultimate cliche. The Republic is corrupt and paralyzed by its own political infighting. Wow. Where have I seen THAT particular plot point before. Oh, right. That was the main plot of the prequel trilogy. I'm sorry, but that is just lazy writing. If the New Republic (which has only been around a few decades at this point) has already reached the point where it is too corrupt to function through a major crisis, then they should just hang up their hats. Hell, it took the Old republic what.. 10,000 years to finally get to that state? In my opinion, it would have been even more terrifying if the New Republic WAS functioning and still getting their asses handed to them. It would have made the invasion seem even more threatening. 

In any case, I am fully jaded now. I don't hold out much hope for good novels from this point out as they are either based upon what I consider a 'flawed' post-movie history or they're set in an equally 'flawed' prequel trilogy timeline. Depressing. But at least I've still got my own campaign world.

My Heroes: Luke Skywalker

If anyone were actually reading this blog, they would likely think I was nuts for writing this, goes.

Luke Skywalker was, and is, my hero. 

Yes, he was a whiney punk. Yes, in retrospect, his force powers were feeble compared to the 'ultra-mega' Jedi presented in the prequel trilogy. No, he wasn't a suave and cynical smuggler or the badass bounty hunter. He was just a simple farm boy from the middle of nowhere who had a hard time living up to all the expectations laid on to him by the circumstances of his birth.

Luke Skywalker was the kind of hero you don't often see anymore- the uncool and even fallible type. It wasn't his looks or iron-will or even really his skill that saw him through everything that happened, it was his heart. He succeeded because, as he said in Star Wars: "I care". He wanted to make a positive difference, he wanted to help his friends, he wanted to help his family—even if they were evil. He wanted to do good. And in the end, it was his heart that carried the day, redeemed his father, and destroyed the Emperor. 

Luke is the quintessential 'boyscout'. At least in my concept of him. He reminds me of heroes like Captain America, or even Superman. Honest and forthright because that's just how they were brought up; Naive (to an extent) and rather unsubtle (in a refreshing way). In a world of Han Solos, Wolverines and Batmans (Batmen?) the 'boyscout' really isn't cool, but I guess that's part of the reason why I can relate to him. I'm not cool, either.

Luke's fallibility is also endearing to me. I remember being shocked during the Empire Strikes Back, when he was essentially FAILING every test Yoda presented him with. Luke was the hero, right? He should be a natural at this! But he wasn't. He went against the advice of his instructors and went to save his friends—where he proceeded to get his ass royally stomped by  Darth Vader. Again, I was shocked. But in the following years, as I matured (I was only 9 when ESB came out), I began to understand what that movie was all about. It showed the heroes at their worst, lowest points. Yeah, maybe that was a bit of a downer, but it made me identify with them even more. And it made me appreciate it all the more when Luke, learning from his mistakes, finally got his stuff together in time to kick some butt in Return of the Jedi. Again, Luke wasn't perfect. Things were difficult for him. And again, that is something I can relate to.

Unfortunately, like many things from the original trilogy, Luke has been abused and 'modified' in the resulting slew of novels that came out post RotJ. His character differs from writer to writer, with only Timothy Zahn seeming to capture what my concept of the character was. It is as though people are trying to make him into a brooding bad-ass, abandoning the core of his character—his 'inner farmboy'—in order to cater to the "I like cool dark heroes" crowd. Others give him almost godlike powers (I recall him 'building a castle' with just the power of pure telekinesis in one of the novels...). Still others (starting with the abysmal Vector Prime) portray him as a watered-down namby pamby who is so choked with self-doubt that he won't take a stand against what is clearly a galaxy-threatening conflict.

But through it all, Luke remains my hero- perhaps made even moreso because of all the times I was able to jump into his skin in online play him how I thought he was, how I remembered him. As Lucas and others continue to rape the corpse of a once great franchise (wow, that sounds harsh...), I have compartmentalized it all and, in my own heart and RP universe, Luke is still true to himself; still a farm boy at heart. He still cares.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Story Gone Bad

In working up my thoughts on Sandbox versus Story, I got to thinking of some examples of Story-based adventures. There were quite a few very well-presented ones in the Star Wars game system, but there were also a couple stinkers. The one that really stands out as how NOT to do a story-based adventure is the whole 'DarkStryder' campaign. 

The presentation of the Darkstryder products is superb, as are the story lines and the idea of a 'Star Trek' type exploration campaign in the wilds of the Star Wars galaxy. And yet, as intended by the creators, the idea is (in my opinion) fundamentally flawed. First of all, there is the crew of the ship—pre-generated player characters designed to fill specific roles in the story. Pre-gen characters aren't necessarily a bad thing, if your players are willing. But the fact that the destinies of these characters are pre-ordained from the outset of the adventure leaves very little room for actual development by players. Simply put, these characters will live or die because of how the story is supposed to go, not because of any player actions. Or at least that is the stated intention of the authors.

The rigidity of the story line is the other killing aspect of this campaign. Like the players, certain events are just going to happen, no matter what the characters do. A little bit of inevitability is to be expected at times. If a GM needs an event to happen to start something off, then that even will happen. But to exclude the players from having any real impact throughout the course of an entire campaign? That is the epitome of bad story-adventuring. 

Perhaps it isn't surprising that things are so plotted out in Darkstryder—author Timothy Zahn was one of the creators of the campaign. The whole thing reads (complete with dialogue and cut-scenes) like a novel. It is an entertaining novel to be sure, but it serves as a showcase of what I dislike about certain story adventures. Players are completely along for the ride, watching from inside pre-generated characters as the story unfolds the way it was planned from the beginning.

In these ways, Darkstryder reminded me of the entire Dragonlance Saga from Dungeons & Dragons. Great presentation, great ideas—all stifled by a pre-determined outcome. Of course, any good GM could take either campaign and modify it to suit their needs. The source material is sound and thought-provoking, and the idea of letting players make their own saga is one that intrigues me. I've even made preparations to run both campaigns at one time or another, but...well, lack of time, lack of players—the demons of real life are hard to slay.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Sandbox vs. Story

First of all, I should give a tip of the hat to the very entertaining and thought-provoking blog I stumbled upon called 'Grognardia'—hosted right here on blogspot. Its author, James Maliszewski, is an eloquent writer, who's thoughts on gaming inspired me to start my own ramblings, even if they really are (ultimately) only for my own gratification.

In many ways, I very much agree with James in his views on gaming in general and the rather bleak path that many 'modern' games seem to be treading now. And yet my own odd upbringing in gaming (detailed in earlier posts) has given me a different view on the whole idea of 'story driven' adventures.

I'll start with a brief explanation of what I mean by sandbox and story-driven. Sandbox is a method of gaming whereby the game-master sets up a world or scenario then turns the characters loose in it to do whatever strikes their fancy. The 'goal' in this kind of game is whatever the players set for themselves—wealth, power, etc. Whether they achieve it or not is a combination of their own decision-making and pure chance.

Story-driven games are those that include a specific plot through which the players progress, essentially making them characters following a particular plot line from point to point to achieve the goal (whatever that may be).

I've played in and GMed both types of campaigns, and I can see the fun in both. But as my particular tastes matured, I found out that the story-driven method was ultimately more fulfilling for me as a GM—and luckily, I found a group of players who found it likewise fulfilling for them. 

It is probably no coincidence that my love for story-based gaming really began with the Star Wars RPG. It was explicitly stated in those rules that the story was the key—even going so far as to show how to plan adventures in an episodic manner. The Tatooine Manhunt module was an excellent example of this. 

The criticisms of story-based gaming generally center around how the plot can railroad players into a linear progression, preventing them from feeling as though their actions really have any effect on what's going on around them. From my own experience, I have found this concern to be valid—done the wrong way, story-based adventures can be frustrating or even just plain dull.

The real trick to running a successful story-based game is flexibility. Yes, there is an over-arching story, and usually specific plot points that have to be hit. But never force characters to stay on those rails. Always give them enough room to pursue their own tangents and alternate routes. They will often surprise you with their own ingenuity, coming up with ways that may even skip some of those set-piece episodes you planned on. Flexibility also includes coming up with contingencies for failure, because sometimes the character's actions mean that the 'happy ending' to your story may not be as happy as you'd intended (for my players, they should well remember their glorious failure on 'Mission to Lianna'). 

Another must for story-based gaming is at least some kind of initial buy off by the players. They should know its a story-based campaign or adventure. They have to want to be part of the story you're telling (i.e. if you want to do a classical Star Wars campaign, then the players have to want to be rebels). By investing themselves in the story, the players are essentially choosing to go along for the ride—choosing to let their characters become involved in the 'plot of the week' by being ordered on a specific mission.

And finally, what I consider the third key to good story-based gaming: making the characters the heroes. This may sound obvious, but if the NPCs in the plot overshadow the PCs then they may well feel they are just supporting characters in someone else's story. No matter how cool your GMPC (or Feature Character) is, he should not outshine the main characters in your story. Also, give the characters a chance to become truly 'epic' heroes through their actions. In Star Wars especially, but in many other games as well, Player Characters represent people who are head and shoulders above the normal folk around them. Let them be exceptional. That way, even their failures seem to have more impact on their world. It is empowering, I think for players to feel their characters 'oats'. After all, when we imagine ourselves in movies, who do we want to be? Some pogue in the background? or the hero?

This all having been said—and my preference for story-based plots now out in the open—I have to say that the best campaigns actually include both kinds of plots, in a mix. Sometimes, in the course of a story, a player may pick up on some particular aspect and want to investigate it more thoroughly or they may have some bit of their character's background they want to explore. This is where the sandbox returns to the mix, with the players leading the direction of the campaign for a while.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Game Systems

Like many gamers, my experience began with Dungeons & Dragons. In my case, I went from the 'Basic' rules and eventually blundered my way into Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. These rules, I thought, were workable, especially since I had only a very vague concept of them before diving right into playin. As I got older, I managed to refine my knowledge of the system, but still, I found myself discarding a lot of the number-crunching aspects that I felt only slowed down combat (one such thing being the weapon versus specific types of armor). I also never liked the abstract 1 round = 1 minute convention, so in my game, I always assumed a round was around five seconds long. There were more omissions and additions on my part, but that doesn't matter—the point I'm trying to make is that I took what was presented, changed what I didn't like and made something I enjoyed running. Looking back on it, simplicity and speed were the things I was looking for.

 The next system I was exposed to was the Star Frontiers system, a direct percentile game. Again, it was simple and easy to use—and it had something that intrigued me greatly: A skill system instead of a class system. This seemed to make a lot more sense to me. You could have a computer specialist who was also a marksman, or a medic who was a thief. It offered the kind of flexibility that I found more 'realistic'—without pigeon-holing people into one single aspect. Where I found it lacking was in the number of skills (maybe two-dozen, total) and the way that some didn't seem to make logical sense (i.e. in order to be able to drive, you had to have the technician skill). Add to this the fact that you needed to be 'master level' in technician just to become a rookie starship pilot just didn't quick click. It didn't prevent me from enjoying myself, but it did put that thought in my mind: I liked skill-based systems.

There were a few other systems I tried. Top Secret/SI (another percentile/skill-based system) and Twilight 2000 (which a friend ran, so I don't remember much) but they didn't have a big impact on me. 

And then, in 1987, I saw the first ads for the Star Wars RPG, by West End Games. Being a huge Star Wars fan, I rushed out and got it as soon as it came out, buying in quick succession the original Rulebook, Sourcebook, Campaign Pack and Module 'Tatooine Manhunt'. What struck me first as I delved into these books was the simplicity and flexibility of the D6 System and its rather eloquent solution of a gaming situation that had always bugged me. In the grand scheme of things, this 'issue' never prevented me from liking a game system, but it was something I considered a shortfall in both D&D and Star Frontiers: Hit Points.

Yes, I know, hit points don't represent actual physical endurance, but rather 'luck and skill' at avoiding the killing stroke. But game-mechanic wise, by second or third level, it was very difficult to kill a character with a single hit from just about any weapon. Thus, a typical third level fighter could likely wade through a hail of arrows to hack an archer to pieces. Yes, there are ways around this: rules for critical hits or attacks against 'helpless' characters, but.. for me again it seemed to take away the 'reality' of combat, because players knew that these weapons likely wouldn't kill them with one shot.

In the D6 System, if you're hit with a weapon that does 4D damage, you roll your Strength to resist (which is an average of 3D). If the damage is higher than the strength roll, you're injured. If its a LOT higher, then you may be mortally wounded. Thus, by random chance, that 'wimpy' little 4D blaster could kill you. Anyone who has ever played in a game I ran knows that I rarely allow a player to be killed by a bad dice roll. So my reasons for liking this mechanic were never because it was more 'deadly', just because it was more real, in a very abstract way.

I know that all sounds rather nit-picky, but that was one of the first revelations I had about the D6 game system. And then I saw that it was: A) Fast Paced and Streamlined and B) Skill-based. It had all come together finally. The game system I was looking for. And wouldn't you know it? It was the setting for my favorite group of movies of all time.

Beyond the simple mechanics of the game, however, was the type of play this game proposed: Cinematic roleplay. Story-based roleplay. The module Tatooine Manhunt is what really introduced this idea to me. The 'Cut Away' devices that frame the different 'episodes' of the adventure lend a distinctly movie-like quality, giving the players an out-of-character glimpse as to what their enemies might be up to and helping set the mood for whatever event was going to happen next. It was also a nice way to introduce a villain, give them a bit of character development so that when they finally DO meet the characters (and likely get gunned down by them) they will be more than just a name. 

The emphasis on story and roleplay rather than sandbox was something I found I liked—and indeed it will be the focus of my next posting. 

The Characters (Continued)

The following characters wandered in and out of the campaign at various times (and still do)

Starstalker (played by Troy)

Character Sketch:
Female bounty hunter. Easily the most 'mercenary' of the group. 

Memorable Moments:
Starstalker wasn't a particularly active member in the group, and unfortunately, the only story I remember about her was the time one of the team substituted a depilatory cream for her shampoo.

Yelstain Keete (played by Todd—no, not the same Todd as earlier)

Character Sketch:
Yelsainian force adept. Started out as a partner to Hugganut, but fell out of the campaign soon after.

Memorable Moments:
The only one that comes to mind is the time he wanted to put his lightsaber to the back of a poor Imperial Technician's chair and turn it on. I'm not sure he had a good grasp on the whole light-side, dark-side thing.

Jared (played by Doyce)

Character Sketch:
Another Yelsainian force adept—but one with a much better grip on the lightside vs. darkside thing. Floated in and out of the campaign at various times.

Memorable Moments:
Jared loved telekinesis. I mean he REALLY loved telekinesis. Many of his hard-won experience points were funneled into his Alter power while his Control power sat dormant at about 1 or 2D. Thus, he was kind of like a force wrecking ball—culminating in the scene where, to break out of a holding cell, he applied several metric tons of force to just blow an entire wall down. Oh, and then there was the time he tried to 'disbelieve' a very potent force illusion (the Domain of Evil adventure) only to seemingly get his arm torn off by a Rancor. At which point, he suddenly believed the illusion and almost blew himself up with the Thermal Detonator he always carried, trying to sacrifice his life for the greater good.

Syril Vanus (played by Lee)

Character Sketch:
Failed Jedi. Was a dark and quirky character. Soft spoken but gruff. Sometimes benign, but with 'issues' boiling beneath the surface (centered around something Darth Vader had done to him in his past). 

Memorable Moments: 
The one that stands out for me is when, during a time-travel adventure, Vanus (and his player) were seriously contemplating trying to kill Anakin Skywalker (whom the group met briefly) before he could become Darth Vader. 

Brandig (played by Matt)

Character Sketch:
An ex soldier/scout (or at least that's what I remember of his background). Not a surprising background considering his player was a soldier/scout in real life.

Memorable Moments:
Alas, most of Brandig's memorable moments were performed out of character, by his player. And those moments probably shouldn't be repeated here (trying to keep a PG-13 rating).

Character Name:
Martell (played by Mark, my buddy from High-School during the short time he was the same college I was)

Character Type:
Ex-bounty hunter turned rebel commando. Had a love for Zeltronian women and tiny, ferocious pets.

Memorable Moments:
Martell was a catalyst for quite a few memorable moments. It was he who put the nair in Starstalker's Shampoo. It was he who kept a pet dinko in a sealed box, much to the chagrin of an Imperial Customs inspector (though in fairness, Martell DID tell him not to open the box). But I believe that Martell's most memorable moment was when he and Rick Oman went awol from the main group, pursuing their own tangent investigation of the mission—a tangent that eventually led them to speeder-jacking the star wars equivalent of a corvette.

There were other vermillionites who came in and out of the campaign, but I can't really remember much about them, they were played by 'Mike The Hat' and Keenen (as I recall).

Now, the Final two characters in this list get a special place, because they weren't part of the original Vermillion crew, but have since played in several sessions with the group during our post-college gatherings. Plus, I ran an online campaign with Adren for years.

Character Name:
Adren Olin (played by Sharon)

Character Sketch:
Smuggler turned rebel agent turned reluctant Jedi Knight. She has a problem with certain authority figures. She idolizes Han Solo. She likes Wookiees, and taking long walks on the beach. She discovered during the course of play that she was the long lost grand-daughter of Lady Santhe (of Santhe Seinar Technologies) and she's made a name for herself in the swoop racing circuit.

Memorable Moments:
Many many in our online campaign. One that stands out is her horribly failed con attempt ("Negative, negative, the... people..."). Another is her fighter training with Han Solo, which became one of those rare moments where roleplay and dice rolls were completely in tune. Her introduction to the Vermillion group was quite memorable, too—she wound up punching Arianne in the face. That pretty much set the tone for their IC relationship.

Character Name(s):
Otto and Shagg (played by Philip)

Character Sketch(es):
Otto was the closest thing the group had to an 'evil' guy, though not in a specifically intentional way. Otto was just incredibly pragmatic and callous in regards to people he considered 'the enemy'. Torture was not something he shied away from to get information. In keeping with the group's overall 'good guy' tone (and increasing focus on force-user types), Otto was eventually replaced by Shagg, a young Wookiee padawan with a strong sense of honor and incredible skill with his lightsaber-weaponry.

Memorable Moments:
Otto's 'shocking' behavior was memorable—especially for such a squeaky-clean group as this. I also remember the time where his player first discovered just how good his character was with a blade, dispatching four Imperial soldiers in a confined space in just five seconds. Shagg, though a stalwart new addition to the crew, hasn't really had the chance to create 'his moment' yet.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Characters

As I said in previous posts, the Vermillion Star Wars campaign had a lot of people pass through it, but always retained a core of players and their characters. Since this whole blog is basically for my own amusement, I'm going to dedicate this post to giving a short description of the characters. Just so none of my buds think I'm playing favorites, I'll try to list them all in order of when they joined the campaign.

Arianne Volar (played by Steve)

Character Sketch:
Arianne began as an idealistic rebel officer. She slowly evolved into a Jedi Knight over the course of the years. She has the dubious distinction of being the de-facto 'leader' of the group. I say dubious because as the other character's personalities became defined, the 'leader' position made you the target for a lot of grief.

Memorable Moments:
Many. But the one that comes to mind is her trip to 'Chez Domination' when she was preparing to seduce an Imperial officer. Of course, any of her comrades will remember her 'ego signature', delivered via comm or otherwise to the Imperials as she escaped once more: "Love and Kisses —AV"

Marko "Fat Man" Razmussen (Played by Scott)

Character Sketch:
Corellian Smuggler who evolved into a commando and was, for a time, the best dodger in the group. 

Memorable Moments:
Also many, but again, some stand out. First of all, there was the time he was a bit...mean to the ship's ever expanding population of droids and woke up one morning duct-taped to his bunk. Then there was the time he worked for Alliance Internal Affairs to inform on and investigate a possible traitor in the group (this was a masterful bit of playing on his part and I was quite pleased when this was revealed to the entire group and they were actually surprised). His nickname of 'fat-man' was an in-joke with the group after Scott had put down a rather hefty 230+ for his weight and didn't really have the height or stats (Strength/Stamina) to back up being 'muscular'. It was Harold Hugganut's player who pointed this out, and the nickname carried over from out of character to in-character. To Marko's credit, though, he went on a diet shortly thereafter.

Ruu'khan and Horatio (played by Todd)

Character Sketch(s):
Ruu'khan was the group's wookiee. Big and bad with a quirky sense of humor (mirroring his player's). Horatio was a pirate who joined the group later and, despite having proved himself in several missions, is still considered the 'Rookie' of the crew. Horatio is in love with Arianne's adopted 'Ward' Reen (much to Arianne's chagrin).

Memorable Moment(s):
Ruu'khan had a taste for strange weapons. For a time, his primary one was a power-prybar, which he put to good use against the Charon. There was also his liaison with a blonde female wookiee that nearly shook hotel the two of them were in to pieces. Horatio (as noted before) is probably best known as being a thorn in Arianne's side (in regards to her Ward). Plus, as I recall, the rookie is something of a smart ass.

Rick Oman (aka "Fenn the Mandalorian) (played by Steve—the other one)

Character Sketch:
Began as a Mandalorian bounty hunter working for the Rebellion and, through a time-travel incident, wound up trapped in the Clone Wars era. Eventually became leader of the Mandalorian resistance against the Empire under the pseudonym of 'Fenn' (yes, the Fenn from the comic books)—where he eventually met himself. Yeah. Time Travel adventures really mess with your head. In any case, he's now the Governor of a Free Mandalore.

Memorable Moments:
Oman/Fenn is very well known for his gunnery skill, even going so far as to install a luxury seat within 'his' gunwell. And then there is the incident which nobody in the group (especially me) will ever let him live down. Suffice it to say that even bad-ass Mandalorian armor is sometimes no match for a primitive ape-man with a big rock and a good throwing arm. My personal favorite of his moments, however, was his whole 'Omega Particle' con. Priceless, but too long to go into right now.

Harold Q. Hugganut (played by Rick)

Character Sketch:
Harold was a Yelsainian street-punk, gambler and con-artist. He may no longer be a punk, but he's still a con-artist and gambler. He's also 'gone respectable' (in the mode of Lando Calrissian), using his generated wealth to create his own planetary resort. But don't let the nice suits fool you, he evolved into one of the deadliest pistoliers in the party.

Memorable Moments:
Where do I start? Could it be the time his player actually cheated me in real life while playing a 'live action' version of Sabbacc as part of an adventure? Or maybe the time he programmed his droid to always refer to Arianne as one rank below her current rank (much to Major, err.. Colonel Volar's chagrin)? Or maybe even the time he 'complimented' an aging Han Solo and Lando Calrissian by saying "Gee, you guys used to be my heroes". 

"Bob" The Tusken Raider (played by Martin)

Character Sketch:
A tusken raider Shaman who somehow wound up traveling through space and joining the Rebellion. Over the course of play, his meagre force powers grew, eventually allowing him to reach the rank of Jedi Knight.

Memorable Moments:
Again. Where do I begin? I think 'Bob' holds the record for memorable quotes, including his Tusken lamentation about the type of planets they always visit: "Always swamp planet or ice planet... swamp planet or ice planet..." and the time he commented on his first time ever attempting to fly a starship (in an emergency, of course) "How hard can it  be to land. Planet big. Ship small." Bob was well known for his penchant for charging into the line of fire of the rest of the party—Gaffi stick in hand. Fortunately, he was equally well known for being gunned down or knocked out shortly thereafter, thus clearing the lanes of fire. 

These were the first six main characters, I'll continue later down memory lane with the rest.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

My gaming background, part deux

The Vermillion  Star Wars campaign (Vermillion being the town in South Dakota where I went to college) stands out in my mind as some of the best gaming and life experiences I've ever had. So much so that it is what inspired me to start up this blog—just to explore an 'save' some of these experiences before they're lost under the deluge of everyday life. 

Though the gaming group swelled to over a dozen at certain points, there were certain gamers I consider the 'core'—all of whom I still consider good friends and many of whom I'm still in touch with (however sporadic). These include Steve, Todd, Steve (the other one), Rick, Martin, Scott, Doyce, Lee and Matt. I was the game master of this motley assortment, and it was pure joy to be so.

We were madmen. We gamed during the week when we could. We gamed every weekend—usually in the Brookman Hall Lounge—all night Friday, all night Saturday and into the day on Sunday. Looking back on it, I marvel at the energy I used to have back then. We began the campaign shortly after the events of Star Wars: A New Hope and went on through the rest of the trilogy, the Thrawn Era and beyond. Characters rose from novice rebel agents to powerful leaders and major galactic heroes. This was the 'real' gaming I'd always wanted, and I made the most of it. We played plenty of other games during my time in Vermillion, but Star Wars was really the core of it all (hence the name of the blog).

It was during this time that I also got my first taste of being a player. Doyce ran several short-lived but well-remembered campaigns (Dark Conspiracy, Mythus/Dangerous Journeys). It was great to actually sink my teeth into playing ONE character. Strangely enough, this all happened just as the phenomenon known as 'MUSHing' hit my campus and circle of friends. (NOTE: MUSHING is essentially text-based chat roleplaying). It began with a Battletech site that included not only text-based, player-versus-player simulated combat- but also a 'character' you played as part of the Battletech universe. Oh, there wasn't much in the way of roleplaying, got me thinking.

With the crash of Battletech came the search for a new online addiction. It surfaced in the form of a Star Wars MUSH (aptly named "Star Wars MUSH"). That is where I really began to roleplay as a player. To say I was addicted was a vast understatement. Thankfully, a lot of my gaming friends were avid MUSHers as well. Despite the fact that we were all hopelessly hooked, we managed to maintain our 'real life' games (strange as that sounds), too. 

MUSHing soon consumed my life, but not for the bad, really. It was a different kind of gaming, but still gaming. I put my skills as a GM to use online, though the translation was a bit awkward at times (steep learning curve as to what did and didn't work). I even helped my friend Steve build and run several MUSHes of our own. My academic and personal life were in complete flux, culminating in my nomadic migration to Utah, where I stayed for only a year and a half before taking a complete 180 and moving to Florida. 

During this time, I met a lot of other MUSHers in real life, including the crew I lived with in Utah and my eventual (and current) best friend (omg bffl!), Sharon and her husband (who I now live near in Florida). Perhaps its no coincidence that all these people were also gamers. And so I got to stretch my legs with more gaming- including two different Dark Conspiracy campaigns (one in Utah, one in Florida) and a host of shorter lived campaigns using various settings. 

Its been more and more difficult to game, though—as real life keeps rearing its ugly head. Between work, video games and my own sloth, I haven't been able to run a real campaign for years. But still, whenever we can, my friends and I get together to play. And when we do, it is often a trip down memory lane, expanding upon the stories of their characters who have now 'existed' for...good lord, has it been that long? They grow up so quickly. 

In any case, I'm sure you're all bored to tears, but I kind of wanted to get this all down as a baseboard. So that my future ramblings might make a bit more sense, knowing where I cam from.

My gaming background

Exactly how I first heard of D&D is lost in the mists of time—or at least in the mists of my increasingly addled brain. I seem to recall being aware of it when I was 9 or 10 (1979-1981). In retrospect, that's kind of impressive, considering I was living in a small town in the middle of nowhere (aka: South Dakota)—where such things as gaming (or paved roads) weren't exactly common. I seem to remember ads for it in certain comic books (I sporadically read Marvel Star Wars and Conan comics). I also seem to remember my Cousin (Todd) talking about it. Plus, there was the awesome Dark Tower game that came out in '81 (with those even more awesome Orson Welles narrated TV commercials).

In any case, by the time I was 11 or 12, I had the Basic set of Dungeons and Dragons, and I was completely hooked. Being 11 or 12, I never read the rules completely and jumped in with both feet, trying to run games with my Sister(s) or a few times in my church Youth Group (weird, yes, I know) or at school during study time (in 7th grade). But the experience was never like what I read about in the gaming books. I never considered any of this really 'running' a game. Plus I was a little confused about just how D&D and AD&D related to eachother. With no older gamers (or even other gamers) to 'mentor me', I had to just piece things together.

What I consider my first 'real' gaming experience came a few years later, with the release of the Star Frontiers game by TSR. Being a huge star-wars fan, I jumped at the chance to run a science fiction game. And luckily for me, my cousin (Todd again) was onboard, too. We used to go visit my aunt and cousins about every summer, and for the 4 or 5 days we were there, Todd and I would stay up all night and play. Over the summers, the game branched out to include Todd's friends (George and Ed), my sister (Jessica) and even my other cousin (Todd's sister, Chris). Here, finally, I had a 'gaming group'. It felt like the game sessions described in the books and in the Dragon Magazines (I'd picked up a few of those by this time). It was fun. Much Mountain Dew was consumed and pizza devoured. Now, I was a gamer.

The realities of living in South Dakota, however, ensured that for the other 51 weeks of the year, I was pretty much SOL. Oh, I tried to run every now and then for friends in town. It was okay, but not the same. It wasn't until 1987, that I met the only other gamer geek in town. Mark was younger than me, and was just recovering from his bout with leukemia—which explains why our paths really hadn't crossed before this. But now I had someone I could talk gaming with, and that was great. That fall, we started a D&D campaign- with myself as GM and Mark running the party. It was hack and slash through the Temple of Elemental Evil, Slave Lords, Giants, Drow and beyond. We even tried our hands with some other games—Battletech, Top Secret S.I., and this new game that had also just come out in 1987...Star Wars.

The D&D Campaign went into retirement when I went off to College in 1989. And despite the fact I was in a larger South Dakota town, the gaming scene still seemed to be non-existent. I tried gaming a few times with various room-mates and friends. But again, it didn't really come together. It was in '91 or '92 when I saw the flyers on campus. The Fellowship for Creative Roleplay and Gaming. I took a chance and went to the meeting. One of the best decisions of my life. Met some of my best friends there and at the small gaming convention that was held that year. I ran the 'Tatooine Manhunt' adventure for the Star Wars Roleplaying Game. Little did I know that this could kick of a gaming campaign that would continue (in one form or another) to this day.

Now, having reached this pivotal moment (I'm sure all my thousands of subscribers are hanging on my every word), I will break and continue later.

Monday, January 12, 2009

A long time ago, in a dorm room far, far away...

Well, its about time I got with the...err...times, and wrangle me one of these here 'blog' things. What I intend this to be is a place for me to reminisce about the 'good old days' of my Star Wars campaign back in college, as well as discuss other aspects of gaming and my other hobbies in general. Not that I imagine too many people are going to read this, but...meh, why not? 

I know you're thinking this is a bit of a weak first post, but...just give me time!