Friday, July 3, 2015

A Different Point of View

I just finished a very interesting (in many different ways) writing project for my friends at Iron Wind Miniatures. It was a good experience, but also yet another good lesson about being careful what you promise.

Iron Wind (hereafter IW) was running a KS in March to re-issue the old Ral Partha Chaos Wars figures. This was a line of elves and other goodie-two-shoes vs orcs and goblins, who also had a smattering of wicked allies. Their original goal was $7K. At the time of CincyCon in March, they had hit $17K and looking at stretch goal premiums. In a brief spasm of lunacy I told them that if they hit $25K in the 8 or 9 days left on the KS, I would write them an RPG adventure as a stretch goal.
To be completely and embarrassingly honest, I never thought they had that archetypal snowball’s chance and I would not have to deliver. They put up the announcement of FB with a picture of me at the Con that afternoon. The joke was on me when they closed out at $36K. Sometimes grandiose gestures come back to bite you in the butt—hard.

The folks at IW and I sat down to talk out the parameters. I would write an adventure for up to 10 Player Characters, I would design a minis battle and tie the two together.

As most that know me well, or have played with me often enough, will tell you, I am not a fan of Elves, at least not as routinely played in fantasy RPG’s or portrayed in fantasy literature. They’re just too damned goodie-two-shoes in too many books. (I hate that two-weapon freak with the white hair, Drizzle(?), from a DM and game-designer point of view. I met the author and he’s a really nice guy, by the way.) The snobby, nose-in-the-air elves as portrayed in the last Hobbit movie fit much more closely with my image of elves. “Hello, you inferior, laughingly mortal man. We are superior to you and we neither excrete nor fart, ever.” (Gary Gygax really despised JRRT’s vision of elves; at one point he thought they might ruin his nascent game. Gary never understood why anyone playing his game would wish to be anything but humans; nothing else fit his heroic fantasy mold. They are the main reason people started wanting to multi-class. He was not a fan of multi-classing, either. Hence, he made it so hard he thought nobody would bother trying. Lesson learned…)

So I went the other direction, in the main part because of a couple of books I read by Stan Nicholls. His Orc series is a great read and cannot but change your POV in regard to orcs. So I developed a pool of 10 orc and goblin PC’s (based on actual figures in the line, as pre-gens for the adventure and wrote up little backgrounds to help them play them. It was a refreshing change.

The basic premise is that the orc and goblins, in their endless strife with elves, are on an upswing right now having driven the elves from the mountains, thereby enabling this side-mission to loot a dwarven tomb where there is supposed to some sort of super-weapon from the last cycle of wars. Eeezy-peezy: duck off into the mountains while the elves are battling the main army, find the tomb, loot the tomb, return with the super weapon. But nothing is ever quite that simple, is it?

A swarm of irascible bugbears are but one of the obstacles the doughty heroes must overcome to complete their mission. There are things that should be dead, things that have no business being where they are, several ways to die and a few mysteries and puzzles along the way. At the “cheese screen” (anyone remember that term?) I got to channel Gary for a bit when I was forced to describe something hitherto unknown to the party in terms and comparisons they could relate to. (He drove us nuts when playtesting Metamorphosis Alpha; it took three nights for us to finally realize that those “neatly stacked piles of wood” were steps.)

Lou Reed said it best: Everyone should “Take a walk on the wild side…” now and again. There was a craze of sorts years ago with something that was called Monster Dungeon (or something like that) where players played the monsters eating and killing anonymous adventurer types. It is not that, by any means. In it, I have advised the DM’s to have some input and encourage their players to get evil, but not dumb-brute, unthinking evil.

Because I refuse to kowtow to the OGL, and my partners at Eldritch Enterprises share my vehement disregard for it, we developed a new set of stats or classifications, or whatever you may choose to call those ratings that define the physical and mental parameters of player characters, and dubbed it Gamer Common, and copyrighted it. We also licensed IW to use it in the adventure I wrote so that anyone buying the figs and planning to play it can, with whatever RPG system they use, and we will do the same for others that wish to write non-system-specific stuff for RPG’s

I went a step further in this one: I came up with some new ratings/stats/parameters and encouraged the DM to interpret them as they like. The numbers that the 3d6 generated for OD&D were meant to generate the iconic Bell Curve. A rating/result of 9-12 was average; below that range was lacking and above that range was exceptional. It is all relative. An orc with a Smarts (one of my new ratings) of 16 is damned smart, for an orc! That does not mean he can find a scroll of differential equations and even recognize them as such, let alone understand them. (Hell, I might not recognize them, for that matter.)

So I got to create an assessment system that bears little or no resemblance to any other, but can, I hope, still be easily translated into any other system. I used terms like Cunning and Force of Will; the context is the main guide.

Damn! It was fun walking on the wild side and creating a new POV for RPG’ers to try on for size. Now I just hope they have as much fun playing it as I did writing it. If only I could come up with a good title…still working on that.

   Notice of Hiatus

On July 6, my wife, Cheryl, and I are leaving for Europe. It is only our second time to Europe and we are doing a Viking River Cruise up the Rhine. We have stuff we are doing or seeing in Kinderdijk, Cologne, Koblenz & Rudesheim, Heidelberg & Speyer, Strasbourg, Breisach and Basel. On the 10th of July we will celebrate 45 years married.
I will not be posting again until the 3rd or 4th week of July. Have a happy 4th of July and blow up some stuff for me, OK? Stay safe…

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