Published on 4/30/2014 Written by 2 comments

Splatter-Elf Week Day 3: Combat! - KILL 'EM ALL!!

Splatter-Elf week continues! On Monday we introduced you to the genre, yesterday we showed you how to make a character and today we get to the most important part of the Splatter-Elf RPG: How to kill stuff! Killing stuff is very important in a dark fantasy world where your merit is judged on how many buckets of blood you spill on a daily basis. "Heroes" (and I use that word veeeeery loosely) are expected to fight and kill at the drop of a hat for any slight, perceived or genuine.

Of course, Splatter-Elf as a sub-genre of Grimdark would not be possible without Philip Overby, so be sure to show him some love. You can even follow him on Twitter!


Combat in Splatter-Elf works much the same as most fantasy role-playing games, except there should be LOTS of it, and the game master and players are encouraged to describe it as bloodily and gorily as possible. Use lots of adverbs.

“She slices out your liver expertly, your hot life blood spraying gushingly onto the dirty even as she licks the ichor off her blade lustily.”

It’s basically the same thing as saying “she hits your for 7 damage,” but slightly more interesting.


Action is broken down into rounds. A round is roughly 6-10 seconds of game time – the exact amount doesn't matter; it may vary slightly from round to round as required for dramatic effect. Just assume it’s enough time for each character (player or monster) involved in the battle to get at least one useful action in.


At the start of the battle, each character involved rolls d12, modified by their Dexterity bonus. The highest roll acts first, and play proceeds in descending order of rolls. Once everyone has acted, the character with the highest roll (assuming he’s still alive) acts again and play continues in order until one side is defeated (either killed or run away/surrender like a pussy).


The two main things a character does on their turn are attack and move, and each character may do one of each (ie, make one attack and move once up to their movement rate).

Instead of attacking, the character may do another fiddly thing like try to pick a lock, snatch an item from an opponent's hand, kick down a door, etc, but let's be serious: usually if a player has the option to attack something, that's what they're going to do. Many monsters can attack more than once on their turn.

A character may also choose to use their attack action to move again, this basically means the character is running and can move up to double their movement rate.

Doing things like yelling instructions, threats or dropping an item in your hand does not count as an action. Drawing a new weapon, readying a light shield that's not already in your hand or standing up from a prone position counts as a move action.

Casting a sanguine sorcery spell also counts as an attack action.

Attack Resolution

If you attack an opponent with a weapon, you roll d12 and add your Attack bonus. You also add relative attributes modifiers (Strength for hand-to-hand attacks, Dexterity for ranged attacks). The target rolls d12 and adds his AC bonus. If the defender ties or beats the attacker's roll, it's a miss - the blow goes wide or the defender parries, blocks, etc.

If the attacker rolls higher than the defender the attack hits and does damage equal to the difference on the rolls, plus the weapon's damage. The weapon damage various tremendously depending on the weapon, and is often less important than a really good hit (a high roll) by the attacker or a really poor parry (a low roll) by the defender.

If the defender is wearing armor, the damage is reduced by a few points according to the armor's Damage Reduction rating. No matter what the DR however, an attack that successfully hits always does at least 1 damage.

Example: Cletus Veinslicer attacks Moebius Flip with a longsword. Cletus’ attack bonus is +4 (including all bonuses) and Moebius’s AC bonus is +5 (he’s using a light shield), and he’s also wearing chainmail armor (DR of 2). Cletus rolls an 11 (7 on the die +4) and Moebius rolls a 9 (4 on the die +5), for a difference of 2, which is a hit.  Adding the longsword’s weapon damage of +4, that’s 6 damage to Moebius, minus 2 for his armor’s DR, for a final total damage of 4. Not a serious wound, just enough to make Moebius angry…

Certain special attacks and magic spells may attack other defenses besides AC. If so, the specific description will detail the effects but the resolution is the same. Attacker rolls d12 + applicable modifiers, defender rolls d12 + Fort, Ref or Will, whichever is appropriate. Poisons and heavy physical trauma that can't be blocked or dodged usually attack Fortitude. Area attacks like a dragon’s breath or certain magical bursts usually target Reflex, and enchantments and charming spells target Willpower.

Injury and Death

Art by lamlok
Wounds, blood and death are an ever-present danger in Splatter-Elf, because of course they are (that’s kind of the point). Damage inflicted upon a character up to 50% of his maximum hit point total is usually not considered to have drawn blood. This damage are merely bruises, sprains, strains, etc that wear the character down but not put him in mortal danger. When a character is reduced to 50% of their hit point total or less however, then they are considered wounded. They are bleeding, bloodied and battered, and though they can keep fighting (only cowards would give up because of a mere flesh-wound) they do suffer a -1 penalty to all of their rolls until they have a chance to rest and/or heal. Certain other game effects may have specific rules when used on or against a wounded character, so keep that in mind.

If a character is reduced to 0 hit points, they are out of the fight. Non-player characters and monsters are usually considered dead. The player inflicting the killing blow may choose to simply knock out the foe instead of kill him – as long as they declare this action BEFORE making the attack. It may sometimes be advantageous to keep an enemy alive for ransom or torture (for information or for pleasure).

If a player character is reduced to 0 hit points, they have (in most cases) 2 choices. If they believe that their character has suffered a worthy demise, or that his story has come to an end, they can turn over their character sheet and the character is dead. If, however, it was a shitty death, or the player needs to keep fighting for some reason, or the player is whiny and they don’t want to make a new character, they can choose to have the character live. The character is reduced to 1 hit point instead, is knocked unconscious, and is maimed instead of killed. The game master or player rolls d12 and decides which part of the character’s body is destroyed:

Note that after the crippling injuries start to pile up, the player may choose the death option the next time they hit 0 hit points, or may simply retire the character. A warrior without legs or an archer without eyes is not going to be very helpful in a fight.

There may also be times when it is appropriate to the story (such as during particularly dramatic and epic scenes) that the game master may remove the maiming rule to increase the tension. He should warn the players in advance in this case. Unless he’s a dick.

Character Class: Nefarious Cutthroat

Thieves kill for money. Assassins kill for the art. Cutthroats kill because they can. The lowest of gutter trash, cutthroats are the dregs of society that even other criminals loath to deal with, but keep around because they need their skills. Cutthroats know how to stab people and really make it hurt, able to inflict crippling wounds that can take an opponent out of battle quickly and painfully.

Cutthroats tend to be jacks-of-all-trades, dabbling if not mastering a variety of skills to help them track, trick and sneak up on their victims. Their skills make them a considerable addition to any group of mercenaries or treasure hunters if their comrades can get past their generally sick and twisted behaviour.

Cutthroats can be found across the world in many roles. The majority act as special enforcers for gangs and criminal organizations. Some are mass murderers who prowl the alleys of major cities picking off whatever victims their code or whimsy tells them to. A few live as brigands, prowling country roads for unwary travellers (whether for money or the sheer pleasure varies between individuals). Those who can work within a group for an extended period of time are rare indeed, as while they are handy to have around few people with even half a brain in their head can sleep comfortably with a cutthroat in their camp.

Attribute Modifiers: Dexterity +1
Movement Rate: 30' (6 squares)
Weapons Allowed: Any
Armor Allowed:  Any, but they prefer leather armor and light shields. Anything heavier interferes with their Skullduggery skill.
Skills Allowed at First Level:  Calisthenics (STR), Skullduggery (DEX), Tinker (DEX), History (INT), Acuity (WIS), Beast Mastery (WIS), Carnality (CHA), Guile (CHA)
Skill Bonuses: Skullduggery +1
Open the Vein: When a cutthroat catches a living opponent with a discernable anatomy unawares (usually through careful application of the Skullduggery skill), or an opponent unable to fully defend himself (either bound or slowed by magic or normal means), he may pin-point a deadly attack that severs a vein or artery and creates a gushing, potentially rapidly fatal wound.
The cutthroat makes an attack with a melee weapon, targeting the victim’s Fortitude instead of AC (the cutthroat gets a +2 to his attack roll for attacking a surprised target). If the attack is successful, it inflicts damage normally (bypassing any DR from armor), however at the end of the victim’s next turn (and every round thereafter) the victim takes damage equal to double the Cutthroat’s level. This additional damage cannot be reduced by any sort of damage reduction under normal circumstances.
In order to stop the bleeding and hit point loss, the victim or one of his allies must successfully use the Sawbones skill to staunch the bleeding. At the very least he can do nothing but hold the wound and move at ½ speed to stop the blood loss for that round. Otherwise the blood loss continues until the character dies.

The Nefarious Cutthroat

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Published on 4/29/2014 Written by 2 comments

Splatter-Elf Week Day 2: Character Creation - How to Make a Badass Dude

Welcome back to Splatter-Elf week on Rule of the Dice! What is "Splatter-Elf," you ask? Well, you can check out yesterday's post or Philip Overby's treatise on the sub-genre of Grimdark, but here's the short version: It's a dark fantasy role-playing game where blood is spilled by the bucketful (technically, at least ten bucketfuls). To survive in a world like this, you're going to need a mean sonaffabitch-type of character, so let's figure out how to make them, shall we?

Official Groteskia World Map by Philip Overby.

Character Creation

Player characters in Splatter-Elf are created much the same as most fantasy style RPGs. The big thing to remember is the tone and personality these characters are meant to portray. Characters in Splatter-Elf are tough. They chew nails, take names, kick asses and sever heads. Love and mercy are foreign concepts in Groteskia. Warriors in the land of Grimmer Grimdark give no quarter and ask for less than an eigth. They expect no peace or prosperity in their lives – the best they can hope for is to die with their boots on, a sword in their hand and the enemy’s blood splattered on their face.

Keep all of this in mind when generating your character!


Art by UltimaFatalis
Splatter-Elf uses the same attributes as most fantasy role-playing games: Strength, Constitution, Dexterity, Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma. They represent and measure the same things that you should be familiar with.  The only real difference is that they are generated by a roll of 2d6, so their range is a little smaller. To create your character, roll 2d6 for each of the attributes, in order.  If you’re a pussy, you may swap one set of attributes to tweak your stats to something you would find more “appealing.” Enjoy it now because it’s the last time you’ll find anything appealing in Groteskia.

Based on your score, you will add modifiers to other stats and die rolls throughout the game:



Alignment represents a character's moral viewpoint and moral outlook.The world of Splatter-Elf however is not about the battle between good and evil or law and chaos. It’s a battle about who has the bigger sword and stabs the other guy faster. Choose an alignment that fits with the way you think your character will act and behave. It will give you a guideline to determine how your character reacts when faced with choices and situations.


The Disciplined character has a personal code of honor (or at least a code of conduct) that dictates their actions. This does not mean they are good-spirited or law-abiding in any way – even thieves are honourable sometimes. It just means they have certain rules to which they hold themselves. Perhaps you will not kill an unarmed foe (though that doesn’t mean they won’t attack, beat-up or torture them). Maybe you won’t harm a child (at least not physically – that doesn’t mean you won’t kidnap or otherwise use them).  Maybe you always keep your word… as long as you think the person you made the promise to is worthy of your respect.


A Selfish character’s actions are even more predictable than a disciplined one.  You always do whatever’s best for one person: yourself. You will keep your word and protect others as long as it’s in your best interest. If someone or something better comes along, you will switch allegiances faster than you gut a beggar that looks at you sideways. You won’t go out of your way to hurt or kill others – unless there’s something in it for you, or they wronged you in some way.


A Reprehensible character is erratic, unpredictable and usually violent. You harm others not because you have to or they deserve it, but because you enjoy hurting people. You cannot be trusted to keep your word and will steal, cheat and destroy without a second thought, sometimes for pleasure and sometimes just because you’re bored. In other worlds you would be the monster hunted by the heroes. In Groteskia you’re just another dude.

Character Class

Art by Butteredbap
Choose a character class that looks interesting to you based on their abilities and your play style. They will be described in further details through the week, but a short description of each is below.

Bloodlust Berserker

Barbarian raiders from the North East (The Baronies of Bloodbathy and Centaur Tongue), Bloodlust Berserkers rush into combat fearlessly. The move quickly on the battlefield and strike hard. They become stronger the longer a battle goes on, though once they enter their bloodlust rage they cannot stop fighting until every enemy is dead at their feet. Beserkers will be discussed in full detail later today.

Detritus Dwarf

Filthy, ugly and misshapen, the “dump dwarves” live in the refuse piles of Groteskia, building strongholds and temples out of other races' garbage. The can turn trash into useful tools of all kinds, can make weapons out of anything, and their time living in waste has made them tough and highly resilient to poison and disease.

Hematic Thaumaturge

Also known as blood mages, thaumaturges fuel their dark magic by drawing the life force from the blood of other intelligent creatures.  They are feared and loathed as vile cultists by everyone else in Groteskia, but their magical skills are unparalleled.

Nefarious Cutthroat

Thieves kill for money. Assassins kill for the art. Cutthroats kill because they can. The lowest of guttertrash, cutthroats are the dregs of society that even other criminals loath to deal with, but keep around because they need their skills. Cutthroats know how to stab people and really make it hurt, able to inflict crippling wounds that can take an opponent out of battle quickly and painfully.


Splatter-elves are the dark fae-like creatures that stalk the woods, killing those who cross them and taking mercenary jobs at their whim. They serve no one but themselves, and through their long lives have mastered many skills, able to act as warriors, thieves and blood mages as the situation calls. Splatter-elves were described in full detail in yesterday's post.


Sort of a cross between hobbits and gnomes, these diminutive, aggressive bastards are complete assholes. They love to drink, fight and swear and will brawl at the drop of a hat. They are quick, dirty scrappers that are highly skilled at fighting foes larger than themselves (which is pretty much everyone) and are masters at low blows (which are actually high blows for them).

Other Bonuses and Statistics

Fill in your character’s other stats as detailed in your class description for your level.

Hit points is how much damage you can take before keeling over. Starting at level 2, you may add your Consititution modifier to your hit points gained each level.
Attack bonus is your bonus to hit opponents in combat. You add your Strength modifier to hand-to-hand attacks, and your Dexterity modifier to ranged attacks.
Armor Class (AC) is your defense used to avoid getting hit by weapon attacks. You add your Dexterity bonus to your AC.
Fortitude (Fort) is your defense against physical attacks that can’t be dodged, like poisons, gases, crushing and infections. You add either your Strength or Constitution modifier to your Fort defense, whichever is higher.
Reflex (Ref) is your defense against physical attacks that can be dodged, such as area of effect attacks, explosions, falling and certain magical rays and beams. You add either your Dexterity or Intelligence modifier to your Ref defense, whichever is higher.
Willpower (Will) is your defense against attacks that target your mind and psyche, such as enchantments, illusions and charm spells. You add either your Wisdom or Charisma modifier to your Will defense, whichever is higher.
Blood points is the amount of magical energy you have to cast sanguine sorcery (not all characters have this ability). At first level, you gain bonus points equal to your Wisdom modifier (if you have a negative modifier, you cannot cast blood magic). You do not gain additional blood points due to high Wisdom  as your progress in level.
Skill points are assigned as you choose to various talents and abilities of your character (see below).


Art by thatDMan
Each character begins with a set number of skill points and a list of skills they are allowed to put those points into. It's up to the player if they want to put all their points in one skill or spread them over several skills.

The maximum number of points a player can put into any skill is their current level +3 (so a character starting at level 1 can put no more than 4 points in any skill).

Skills are used when your character needs to accomplish something that doesn't involved bashing an opponent on the head. Often, skills will help you get closer to an opponent so you can bash their head, or help you come up with new and more efficient ways to bash heads. Sometimes the game master will tell you to make this roll, other times you may suggest it try it in order to accomplish something if you think it's approval the to the situation.

To successfully perform a skill, roll d12. If you roll is equal to your score in that skill or less, you succeed. If you roll higher than your score, you fail (you may or may not be able to try again based on the situation and the game master’s discretion). A roll of 12 always fails.

(You can put more than 11 points in your skill. On rare occasions you may receive a penalty to your skill, so a having a 13 knocked down to an 11 is better than having an 11 knocked down to a 9.)

There are 12 base skills in the game. More may be introduced later, but these twelve cover a wide range of tasks you may wish to attempt. Each skill has an Attribute associated with it (Strength, Intelligence, etc). If you have a modifier from your attribute, make sure to add it to your skill score. Note that this bonus does not affect the number of skill points you add based on level; the modifier is added (or subtracted) after the skill points are assigned.

If you have no points assigned to a skill, the game master is free to not allow you to even attempt an action which would normally require it.

Acuity (Wis) is the ability to notice and find things quickly. Listening for sounds, spotting an ambush, searching for secret doors all fall under the category of tasks that can be performed using the Acuity skill.

Beast Mastery (Wis) is the ability to train animals and bend them to your will. Anyone can ride a horse, but breaking in a wild horse, soothing a wild animal or knowing the best way to catch a snake requires a Beast Mastery roll.

Bush Whacker (Wis) is the ability to survive and thrive in the wilderness. Tracking animals (or people), hunting, skinning hides, setting snares and building fires and shelter all fall under things you can accomplish with the Bush Whacker skill.

Calisthenics (Strength) is your ability to do physical activities. If you want to climb a high wall, swim across a river, jump a chasm, you can make a calisthenics roll to attempt it.

Carnality (Charisma) is the Art of Seduction. You can make a Carnality roll to convince someone to go to bed with you, and you make another roll to see how well you perform once you get there.

Guile (Charisma) is the ability to get other people to do what you want, usually by trickery. This includes conning, bluffing, fast-talking, disguise, oration and intimidation.

History (Intelligence) is the ability to know about lost civilizations, old wars, famous scholars and kings and so on. This does not mean you can simply remember random facts, but you can use the history skill to study old texts, architecture and so onto recognize their meaning, and if you have access to a library you can attempt to look up particular bits of information.

Mettle (Constitution) is the ability to fight through pain and fatigue. To survive extreme weather or temperature, keep concentration when struck during spell casting, or to make a final desperate attack when struck with a mortal blow takes Mettle.

Occult (Intelligence) is the ability to recognize and learn things which Man Is Not Meant To Know. Learning new spells, recognizing arcane runes and figuring out how magical devices work require an Occult roll.

Sawbones (Int) is the ability to fix wounds and cure some diseases and poisons. Using the skill does not simply or immediately restore lost hit points – it can be used to stop major bleeding, to set broken bones, and to treat poisons and diseases. A successful Sawbones roll in conjunction with rest will heal a character faster than simply rest alone.

Skullduggery (Dexterity) is the ability to perform the basic tricks of thievery. If you want to hide in the shadows, sneak up on someone from behind, pick a pocket or tail someone without being seen, make a Skullduggery rolls.  Note this does not include using or bypassing mechanical devices like locks or traps – that falls under Tinker.

Tinker (Dexterity) is the ability to build, repair or modify mechanical devices. To set or disarm a track, pick a log, fix or repair a firearm or build a catapult requires a Tinker roll. The amount of time required to perform these roles varies tremendously and will be adjudicated by the game master. Certain complicated devices – such as a siege engine – may take multiple Tinker rolls to complete.

Character Class: Bloodlust Berserker

Art by Butteredbap
From the far northern wastelands come a tribe of brutish, uncivilized barbarians who are rumoured to drink the blood of their foes and mate with woolly mammoths. Their greatest warriors, their champions, are trained their entire lives for war and raised on strange potions and drugs to unlock untold abilities that normal mortals are not meant to possess. 

Bloodlust berserkers enter battle with unparalleled, unstoppable rage, turning themselves into killing machines of flesh and blood. Once they fully commit themselves to the blinding hatred and blood fury of the battlefield, they cannot stop fighting until either they or all of their foes have been defeated.

Attribute Modifiers: Strength +1
Movement Rate: 35’ (7 squares)
Weapons Allowed: Any, but they prefer melee weapons as they cannot use ranged weapons with their raging bloodlust ability.
Armor Allowed:  None, but they may use shields.
Skills Allowed at First Level:  Calisthenics (STR), Mettle (CON), Bushwhacker (WIS), Beast Mastery (WIS)
Raging Bloodlust: When berserkers enter battle, they begin to feel overwhelmed with feelings of unbridled rage. This rage grows stronger every round, as does their combat abilities.
In game terms, beginning with the first round in which the berserker enters melee combat with a foe, he gains a +1 bonus to attack rolls as well as a +1 bonus to damage. Each round after that, the bonuses increase by +1, until maxing out at the berserker’s level (thus a 6th level berserker will max out at +6 to attack and damage). A first level character obviously then maxes out on the first round.
Once the berserker has reached maximum rage, however, he cannot stop fighting until all enemies are destroyed, or until he dies or is knocked unconscious. He cannot be calmed or soothed by any normal means.
Slaughtering Charge: A berserker can make a special charge attack. If he uses two move actions (which normally pre-empts an attack action), as long as he moves more than his base movement rate but less than double his base (so usually between 7 and 14 squares) in the direction of an enemy, he may then make an attack as normal and immediately enters maximum rage, with full combat bonuses and all the drawbacks associated with it.
Regeneration: Starting at 3rd level, when a berserker reaches maximum rage, his metabolism is working at such supernatural levels that he actually begins healing wounds at an unnatural rate. He regains 1 hit point every round, which increases by 1 every 3 levels.

Tomorrow: Combat Rules and the Nefarious Cutthroat!
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Published on 4/28/2014 Written by 2 comments

Splatter-Elf Week Day 1: Introduction to Splatter-Elf

What is “Splatter-Elf?”

A term coined by Philip Overby, Splatter-Elf is a sub-genre of Grimdark fantasy (which itself has a great definition at KnowYourMeme), taken to weird and unusual extremes. Philip's treatise on the subgenre can be found here, but here's my short interpretation:

Splatter-Elf is high fantasy with all the shiny edges filed off. There is no beauty, no hope, no good, and lots and lots of blood. Like A LOT of blood. It's basically the main element. If blood could be the protagonist, the antagonist and the denouement of a story, that might be enough blood to satisfy the requirements of Splatter-Elf.

Of course, plenty of fantasy is bloody. Splatter-Elf requires a little bit more. The grim grittiness shoots well past the bleak moodiness Grimdark until it hits a sort of ridiculous level of camp. Is it supposed to be tongue-in-cheek? Sort of. In my opinion, the epitome of Splatter-Elf would be a story where the creator was aiming for dark and gritty, missed by a fucking mile, and ended up being hilarious in his attempt to be serious.

Army of Darkness is a fair example and precursor of Splatter-Elf. It's not perfect, but it's close. Bruce Campbell is a little too goofy to be a true Splatter-Elf hero (remember, true Splatter-Elf tries to be serious, and its heroes certainly don't aim to be heroic). If say, Elric of Melbibon√© was the protagonist of Army of Darkness, then we'd really be in business. 

What is “Splatter-Elf: The Roleplaying Game?”

It started out as a joke. Philip challenged people to come up with examples of his new genre, and I thought I would whip up a few fake character classes for a blog post. As I made them I had to tweak a few rules, which gave me the idea to insert some other rules I had always wanted to put in a game, which required me to change and define other rules. Suddenly I was creating a brand new game without really intending to.

(Aside: Somewhere along here when researching Grimdark RPGs I discovered that Lamentations of the Flame Princess is waaaay more fucked up then I realized, but it's an awesome game and was a big inspiration for some of the stuff in Splatter-Elf: The RPG.)

So the Splatter-Elf RPG ended up being a quasi-OSR game with some nu-skool elements thrown in built on a modified d20 base system (my game uses d12 instead of d20). It is set in the dark fantasy world that Philip has started to create, a world where dragons are mindless, feral engines of mass destructions, wizards are blood thirsty cultists and elves are heartless murdering sociopaths.

I didn’t want to overwhelm anyone with a single brain dump of material, so I plan on revealing the game, rules and setting bit by bit over the next few days.  Bear with me and be sure to keep checking back for more gooey, gory goodness.  To get you started, today’s subject is the game’s first playable character class, the namesake of the game and the genre, THE SPLATTER-ELF!

Just a note: Though the game rules are mine, borrowed and modified from many other games, the name "Splatter-Elf" and many of the place names and other material you'll read over the next few days were created or inspired by Philip and are being used without his input. If he has a problem with it then I will of course modify a few things down the road. But for now, this is meant entirely as a sincere ode to his ideas and I hope it will receive his blessing.

Character Class: Splatter-Elf

Art by Arsinoes
In most worlds elves are the defenders of the forest and the keepers of knowledge, magic and culture.  In Groteskia, they are called taur-en-nuru, the "death in the woods," and they ain't got time for protecting shit.

The taur-en-nuru, called "splatter-elves" by the other races of Groteskia, have seen the direction the wind is blowing and have decided not to fight against it, but to ride along its gusts and squalls like a razor-sharp leaf slicing through history.  If the younger races won't respect the ancient forests and the ways of the Old Ones, so be it.  Let the mewling babes of the New World see what the Old Ones can do, and let them be weaned on their own blood to satiate their lack of faith and foresight.

The "civilized" races of Groteskia fear the splatter-elves, as they stalk silently through the trees of the land like violent ghosts, striking quickly, mercilessly and without provocation. Their motivations and goals are their own, not to be shared with those the deem unworthy (which is pretty much everyone). Splatter-elves usually travel alone or in small packs of their own kind, but occasionally they can be found in groups with mixed races serving mercenary ends if the price is right and as long as their comrades are not completely worthless (a tall order by splatter-elf standards).

Splatter-elves are about the same height as humans, but are leaner and made of wiry muscle. Their long pointed ears are very sensitive, both to sound and physical contact. For many elves their ears actually act as erogenous zones. With this in mind it is somewhat odd that many elves choose to wear numerous piercings in their ears.  Splatter-elves can live incredibly long lives but rarely do so, usually succumbing to wounds and injuries sustained in combat long before reaching the end of their “natural” lifespan, whatever that may be.  They claim to need less sleep than “mortals,” resting only for a few hours a night in a supposed trance-like, meditative state, though their pallor and dark-ringed eyes lead many to question exactly how much sleep they really need.

Player-character splatter-elves are similar to Fighter/Thief/Magic-users, able to wield a wide variety of skills they have mastered over their long lives. 

Attribute Modifiers: Dexterity +1, Wisdom +1
Movement Rate: 30' (6 squares)
Weapons Allowed: Any, but they prefer one handed weapons and bows, as they need a free hand to cast their spells. 
Armor Allowed:  Any, but rarely wear anything heavier than leather as bulkier gear interferes with their stealthy abilities and spellcasting.  They don’t usually use shields for the same reason. They say they prefer not to use protective gear because they do not fear the weapons of mortal foes, though this stems entirely from their own arrogance as they can bleed and die as easily as any other creature.
Skills Allowed at First Level:  Skullduggery (DEX), Tinker (DEX), Occult (INT), History (INT), Acuity (WIS), Bushwhacker (WIS), Carnality (CHA), Guile (CHA)
Skill Bonuses: Acuity +1
Magical Abilities: Splatter-elves use Sanguine Sorcery, which will be described later this week.
Backstab: Splatter-elves are really, really good at stabbing people in the back. If a splatter-elf surprises an opponent or creeps up behind him unseen (usually through careful use of his Skullduggery skill), the elf attacks against the victim’s Fortitude (instead of AC), bypasses any damage resistance from the target's armour, and inflicts extra damage equal to the splatter-elf's level.

The Splatter Elf

Tomorrow: Character Creation and the Bloodlust Berserker!

Official Splatter-Elf logo by Philip Overby.

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Published on 4/23/2014 Written by 6 comments

Why Incomplete Games Are Sometimes the Best

We've all played poorly designed games, whether they are badly run RPG campaigns or poorly thought out board games.  You know the ones I'm talking about - Games with random winners, Games with so many rules it takes 3 hours to set up and learn the first time, games with terrible game-play, or that obscure puzzle the GM throws at you where you need to remember a tiny insignificant detail from 2 campaigns ago that just happened to be in the same world, but is otherwise unrelated.

"I know, we'll put some magnets in a box and sell it as a game!"

But every once in a while a game comes along that could be so much more but isn't, and it's a good thing. The example I'm going to use is: Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures game.  As a quick overview of the game, it is designed to be a 2 player or 2 team PVP tabletop game.  Each player chooses a side of the table, and a faction (Rebel Alliance or Empire).  You then choose your ships, pilots, and modifications. Each has a point value, and you build your fleet to the agreed upon total.  After that, it's a fight to the death.

That looks like it might hurt a little...

Please don't misunderstand: In this way it is a complete game, and quite fun to play.  There are a growing number of tournaments for this game, and deep strategies are emerging.  The problem is, outside of tournys you can only have so many dogfights before the game gets stale.  To help with this, also included in the original game and a couple of particular add-on expansions are missions with specific goals. These missions add a new dimension of play to the game, especially for casual play.  An example of a mission from the Millennium Falcon expansion can be watched on TableTop.

SpongeBob gets it.
So now we come to the crux of the statement: There are only 8 official missions, and they are spread across the core set and 5 expansions.  In a more static type of game, this would be a game-killer. But in an open fleet-building game, it allows the players and community to use their imagination and to draw on the lore of the background universe to get creative.   The original release of the game was on August 17th 2012, and since then there have been tons of player created missions.  A quick peek through BoardGameGeek.com shows many posts in the forums of people sharing their own ideas, and replies after play-testing to try to refine and properly balance the scenarios.

To that end, I have been busy with Google image searches and Photoshop, creating the custom tokens I'll need for my next game day, a mission inspired by the Battle of Hoth, but in space.

The Imperials must defend the base and its shield generator from the attacking rebel fleet.  I printed the pieces on 110lb paper from Staples, put the mission parameters in writing so everyone is on the same page, and boxed it up in my kit.  Hopefully all goes well when we play it next week.

So, thoughts on this game? Disagree with my assessment? Opinions on my first post?  Leave them all below in the comments section!
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Published on 4/22/2014 Written by 6 comments

The Only Cleric That Doesn't Suck Is Jesus Christ

While the title sounds like a ballin' song by a Christian rock band, don't worry - I haven't gone all Born Again on you.  Nor do I intend this to be an insulting or blasphemous post - JC's all right by me, though I would never, ever, not in a million years, let him take the wheel. He doesn't have a fucking driver's licence! How many Hyundai Elantras do you think he was tooling around in two thousand years ago in Palestine, huh?

I have long been fascinated by the connection between Christ's miracles and Clerical magic in Dungeons & Dragons. Virtually every single one of his displays of divine power are described EXACTLY as spells in the old Player's Handbook.  I actually pointed this out to a Church of England minister once, who kind of harrumphed about it. To be fair, he was an avid gamer and I'm sure he must have noticed it himself.  (Funny story: He was way more pissed when I, while trying to explain D&D to a new player, said that the Dungeon Master was God.)

The Cleric class in D&D sucks. It's not a subject open for debate. But if you're going to run a cleric you have to play it LIKE A BOSS, and no one makes cleric-ing their bitch quite like Jesus.

Look at some of the spells Christ has in his prayer book:  Cure Disease (level 3), verified in Mark 1: 40-45, Matthew 8: 1-4, Luke 5: 12-16 and 17: 11-19 where he's healing lepers like they're little red viruses in a jar and he's Dr. Mario. Cure Blindness (also level 3) is cast on not less than four different occasions, mentioned at least once in each canonical Gospel.  For neutralize poison (level 4) though you'll have to go to the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas, chapter 16, where a young Jesus cured the poison of a viper from his brother James.  That means that he was at least a 7th cleric when he was just a kid.  I don't know of any fighter, thief or rogue that wouldn't want him in their party.

Like all clerics, Jesus doesn't use edged weapons.  He doesn't have to - he has his fists.

I didn't remember this from Sunday School (probably because I only went to Sunday School like, twice), but there's actually seven different examples* of Christ casting the level 4 spell exorcise (called abjure in 2nd Edition). And he usually did it very quickly, which means he was NAILING those percentile rolls for success. Plus he probably got an OBSCENE level bonus.

What level, exactly, is Jesus Christ?  He's got to be up there, because he regularly busts out the top level spells.  He raises the dead at least three times (Mark 5:21-43, Luke 7:11-17, John 11:1-44), though it's unclear whether he casts a simple raise dead (level 5) or the full on resurrection (level 7).  He definitely busts out weather control (level 7) when he calms the storm in Mark 4:35-41, Luke 8:22-25 and Matthew 8:23-27, and he definitely seems to use regeneration (level 7) on some of the more serious healings, like the man with the withered hand (Mark 3:1-6, Luke 6:6-11 and Matthew 12:9-13) or the woman who suffered from bleeding for 12 years (Mark 5:21-43, Matthew 9:18-26, Luke 8:40-56).  The classic "walking-on-water" miracle (Matthew 14:22-33, Mark 6:45-52 and John 6:16-21) could be a careful application of the wind walk spell (also level 7).  In order to cast these spells, Jesus would have to be at least level 15 (or 14, or 16, depending on which Edition you use), which is pretty good, but there's a specific Bible story that seems to indicate he is WAY more potent than that.

One spell/miracle that we can use to pinpoint Christ's exact clerical level is the Feeding of the Multitude (The only miracle besides Christ's own resurrection that appears in all 4 canonical Gospels - Matthew 14:13-21, Mark 6:31-44, Luke 4:31-44 and John 6:5-15).  The story goes that Jesus fed 5000 people with just a few fish and loaves of bread.  This sounds like a pretty obvious comparison to the 4th level spell create food and water, which creates enough food for 3 people for one day, multiplied by the caster's level (so a 10th-level cleric could feed 30 people for one day, or 10 people for three, etc).  Now assuming he was just feeding people for one meal instead of a full day, I think would could safely triple that number (9 people per level).

Ummm... on second thought, you can keep my share.

If Jesus was a 20th level caster, he could then provide a meal for 180 people per application of create food and water.  Not too shabby.  However, a 20th level caster can cast only eight 4th level spells a day, which adds up to enough food for only 1440 people - well short of the multitude described in the four Gospels.  In fact, in order to feed 5000 people, Jesus would have to be in the neighbourhood of a 60th level caster (assuming he maxes out at 9 spells a day) - which on the one hand is within the realm of possibility since he's the Son of God and all, but on the other hand is a bit of a stretch because you would have to kill A LOT of ancient dragons to hit the 10 million or so XP required to reach 60th level.  I don't remember Jesus slaying any kobolds, let alone any dragons (maybe in the Gnostic gospels?).  I'm sure if Jesus, Peter, James and Judas had survived the Temple of Elemental Evil like 30 times, it would have been mentioned in one Sunday morning service or another.

(Of course, it's also possible that the Apostles, who by now had been following Jesus for a while and were probably grinding up their own levels in Cleric, could have cast a few applications of create food and water to help him out, but their levels would not have been particularly high so the bulk of the conjuration would still have had to come from Christ himself).

Also, this give me a great idea for another post - statting out all the Apostles.  You know Judas Iscariot would be a back-stabbing rogue.

Don't think I would dig JC as a Game Master, though.  I imagine all of his adventures would end with a preachy moral.

So yeah, Happy Belated Easter, everyone! For those lapsed Christians who didn't make it to Church this past Sunday, that was your religion lesson. You're welcome.

*Capernaum (Mark 1: 21-28 and Luke 4:31-37), Gerasene (Mark 5: 1-20, Matthew 8: 28-34 and Luke 8: 26-39), Canaanite's daughter (Matthew 15:21-28 and Mark 7:24-30), blind and mute man (Matthew 12:22-32, Mark 3:20-30 and Luke 11:14-23), boy possessed (Matthew 17:14-21, Mark 9:14-29 and Luke 9: 37-49), sunset (Matthew 8:16-17, Mark 1:32-34 and Luke 4:40-41), the mute (Matthew 9:32-34).  The Gospel of John is disappointingly devoid of demons.
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Published on 4/15/2014 Written by 3 comments

My Top 6 Campaigns of All Time (Part 2)

Last week I kicked off a list of my favourite RPG campaigns.  It was too long to get them all in on one shot, so here are the rest.  I ranked them numerically but the position on the list is fairly arbitrary - they were all fun and memorable for their own reasons.  Some of the games were technically well put together, some of them were terrible but just fun because of the player interaction.  That's what I love about role-playing games: even when they're kind of awkward and you do it all wrong, you can still have fun with it.  RPGs and sex have a lot in common that way.

So without further ado, here's the bottom (top?) three...

3. Battlestar: Salvation

System: Battlestar Galactica by Margaret Weis Productions
Date: 2011

This is the only campaign on my list that I didn't GM.  That's not a knock against anyone else's skills as a game master - it's just that I very rarely ever play as anything but the GM so I don't exactly have a broad and fertile field to harvest.

I wrote about this campaign once before and how it gave me the sweats.  I loved it because it was tight, exciting and kept me on the edge of my seat.  I don't know if it was as cutting edge as I remember or if I was just not used to being a player anymore, but I had no idea what was going on or what to expect.  You know how some games have those tropes, where you know who is going to be the bad guy, and who is going to swoop in to rescue the heroes at the last moment and all that jazz?  This game had none of that.  The GM kept us guessing, and I think the players kept the GM guessing, too.  We all did things that surprised each other, like one of the other player characters randomly announcing that he was my long-lost brother without telling me or the GM beforehand.  It made no sense whatsoever (especially since my character was a Cylon, but only the GM knew that at the time) but we ran with it and made it work.  It led to some tense drama that culminated in my half-brother going nuts and shooting me (actually at that point I purposely sacrificed my character because I suspected he was a Cylon and I wanted to know for sure).

If I had been the GM for this one, I totally would have changed my mind at this point and said "Nah, sorry, fooled you!  You're human."

Interesting to note that this is the only Play-by-Email game on this list.  Since I've primarily run PBEM games for the past several years and none of them were noteworthy enough to make this list, this tells me a couple of things. First, nothing beats the fun and spontaneity of playing a role-playing game live.  Second, I must be really bad at running PBEM games.

2. Gate and Necromancer

System: ADnD 2nd Edition (though we started to convert to 3E at the end)
Date: 2001

This campaign is special for a few reasons.  First of all, it was the first time I played with a new group (most of whom went on to become very good friends of mine) several years after having left the comfortable womb of high school.  We were all working at the music theatre at Paramount Canada's Wonderland north of Toronto, putting on five half-hour long musical review shows every day throughout the summer.  We had an hour long break between shows, and while we probably should have been cleaning the theatre and repairing gear and changing light bulbs, we instead rushed backstage after every show to play D&D in the costume shop.

It was a glorious time, probably the last time I really felt like a kid (though at 21 I probably should have fucking started growing up).  I mean seriously - we were hanging out all day playing with colorful lights and pyrotechnics in the middle of an amusement park and playing Dungeons & Dragons in our down time (while still on the clock no less).  Who wouldn't feel like a kid in that situation?  And why the hell did I get out of that business???

The game itself was great fun as well.  It was a direct sequel to the game I ran in high-school (see Part 1), though since it featured none of the same players no one actually knew it was a sequel except for me.  But the long-running game from years before provided a wealth of background material I could use for this new game - the PCs kept running into old characters and locations from the original game that felt like they had a developed backstory because for once they actually did.  I didn't just have to make up names and towns on the spot like I do for 90% of my games.  And the best part was that I could re-use some of the traps and tricks from the first game, because this group hadn't experienced them!  (Girdle of Masculinity/Femininity for the win!)

There's actually a terrifying number of these pictures on the Baldur's Gate forums.

I admit my memories of this campaign have been somewhat coloured by the fact that I used it as a basis for a fantasy novel I wrote several years later (and that you all may someday read).  The characters in my book morphed and changed quite a bit between the way they were originally presented and how I eventually used them, so I'm a little hazy over what I actually remember and what I later made up. But some of it I couldn't make up, as much as I wish I had.  The elf rogue that was unceremoniously turned into a woman and was totally fine with it, not even bothering to try to undo the magic.  The ranger that became a werewolf and found out he was the long-lost heir to the throne but ultimately just spent the campaign chasing and trying to save a hot elf chick he only met once just so he could kiss her at the end of the story.  The Rastafarian dwarf named Ruffo. I don't remember anything else about him; that was the entire extent of his character development.

1. Beware the Dark Side

System: Star Wars 2nd Edition by West End Games
Date: c. 1995-96

And this was the legendary campaign that I spoke of in one of my very first posts at Rule of the Dice, when I announced that Star Wars was the best RPG ever.  I still believe that Star Wars is the best game, and that this might have been my favourite campaign.

This one is interesting as it is the only campaign that I plotted out pretty much entirely from start to finish.  I wrote out an entire book detailing adventure-by-adventure and almost encounter-by-encounter how the game would play out as the struggling band of heroes started from nothing and became an epic band of Jedi Masters. I wish I could find that book.  I wrote it in Novell PerfectWorks for Windows 95 (you can still read the press release on their website!) and printed it on my dot matrix printer.  I felt like I was a big-time game designer!

It is very important to point out however that this game was not good because I had planned it out, it was good IN SPITE of it.

In reality the script I had created was way too restrictive and formulaic, and the guys had way too many ideas and ridiculous things they wanted to try for me to plot out the whole story arc.  The core group was a 7-foot tall (human) quixotic Jedi named Wookie Nookie (yes, that's how he spelled it), a young Jedi apprentice named Kan Saga, a brash X-wing pilot named Chris Bahn and a bounty hunter who's name escapes me.  They started out as a gang of loser stoners (based loosely on the cast of the film The Stoned Age). They had a ship called the Blue Torpedo and an archaic R1-droid named Snot Rag.  The ship and the droid had a special mystique themselves - they specifically installed a faulty voice chip in the droid so that I had to speak in a dumb robot voice on his behalf (which was actually pretty fun).

Wookie was a favourite character of many because he was a goofy idiot who continually mocked his master (Luke Skywalker) for being a virgin (this was before Luke got married in the Extended Universe novels).  Despite being a colossal fuck-up, he somehow became a Jedi Master himself in the end (and also a collector and connoisseur of fine art, for some reason).  Kan also became a Jedi master, and his ultimate claim to fame was gleefully murdering Chris Bahn when in the final battle Bahn failed a Dark Side roll by ONE POINT and turned.  Bahn didn't even get a chance to actually do anything evil - Kan jumped on him and slaughtered his ass without missing a beat.

Bahn: "Seriously, it's just one Dark Side Point.  I can roll to remove it at the end of the adven-"

In retrospect, Bahn was probably the most interesting character. During character creation Bahn joked that he would destroy 12 Star Destroyers in his career.  The joke eventually grew into a challenge, and over the course of the campaign he took part in destroying exactly 11 of the Imperial behemoths - but then Kan Saga killed him before he took out the 12th one.  He became a Jedi during his adventures as well, but never reached the heights of his illustrious allies as he diversified his skills; not only was he an ace pilot and military commander, he also owned a galaxy-wide shipping corporation and got married and had kids.

Maybe that's why Kan killed him - he was jealous.

There were other memorable characters.  The bounty hunter who was there for pretty much every game but made such epically-poor character advancement choices that his character was totally useless and had to sit on the wayside whenever the other players did cool stuff.  The other X-wing pilot who nicknamed his droid "Cumbucket" (think about it - he would often spend long journeys alone in a spaceship).  The actual wookiee who was put on trial by his people for using his climbing claws against a living being, and then read the entire lyrics to Gowan's "A Criminal Mind" as his defense.  Of course, no one else spoke wookiee, so all they heard was "RROOOWWWWRRR!  RAAAWWWRRRR, ROOOORRROOWWW!!"

Damn that was a fun game.  Anyone up for a session or two of Star Wars?

What was your favourite games/campaigns?

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Published on 4/11/2014 Written by 7 comments

5 Things About My Campaign

Sly Flourish's Twitter stream is always sharing great tips and pointers for improving your D&D game. One that hit me in particular a few weeks ago was the following:
This was struck even further home a few days later when Rule of the Dice's own John Williams invited me to join his home game (or maybe I invited myself, I don't remember), and he sent out a nice, concise background primer for new players to his campaign. This immediately made me realize that I'm an idiot.

Why don't I do this? I've been GMing for years, you think I would have picked up this really simple trick by now. Players will get into the game way quicker if they know what's going on. Games based on popular pre-existing properties are easy (ROBOTECH, Star Wars, etc) because the players already have a pretty good idea what to expect. Now that I think about it, the game I felt was my most successful was good in large part because I provided the players with key background points to hook them in before we started.

So long story short, here's the 5 Things You Should Know about my current D&D/Labyrinth Lord campaign. Yeah, we've been playing for months so this is not really helpful for my players at the moment, but it's helpful to me to remind me what we're doing, and it may be useful for any new players that join in (we just added a guy last week). And hey, it might be interesting for you guys, if you're wondering what I'm up to.

1. It's PBEM 

 Most of my games these days are run Play-By-E-Mail. It's the reality of working full time and having a family (and taking classes on the side, and not having any friends close by, etc...). PBEM has it's own variety of merits and flaws, but here's the most important points to remember:

  • It takes time. Because we go back and forth between emails, sometimes you're waiting for other players to reply. A few rounds of combat could take days (though I've found tricks to streamline this over the years). 
  • If you don't respond within 2-3 days, the story goes on without you. This is not to be mean, it's just a necessity to keep the game going at a reasonable pace, especially with 5-6 guys in the group. As long as at least half the party replies within the allocated time, the story moves ahead based on their actions and the decisions. The other characters don't die or disappear, they just play slightly less of a role in the story until their players get back on board. 
  • You get XP for writing and developing your character. In fact MOST of the XP comes from role-playing and moving the story along. I won't penalize you if you're not a big writer; as long as you say your character is doing something, you'll get along fine. 

2. It's a Swash-Buckling Adventure on the High Seas 

I make no qualms about admitting this game is heavily stolen from inspired by KOEI's Unchartered Waters: New Horizons game for the Super Nintendo. The player characters' party own a ship and travel the world, visiting exotic ports, discovering lost treasures, and battling pirates and sea monsters. Not every adventure will take place on the deck of a ship of course (the current story in fact has taken them far away from the sea for far longer than I expected due to the slow progress you sometimes experience in PBEM), but it will always come back to the sailing theme.

We also have a three pirate stereotype minimum. Please choose from the following list or roll randomly: Peg-leg, hook hand, cutlass, pet parrot, beard, eye patch, gold earrings, Jolly Roger hat, penchant for rum, penchant for buggery.

3. There's a Major War Going On 

...but you don't necessarily have anything to do with it. Two of the more influential kingdoms in the world (Stalomark and Tirglas) have erupted into a violent war after years of tension and minor conflict. While all the characters in the main group come from these lands or their neighbours, they are not directly involved in the fighting... at least not yet. Because the crew are sailing around doing their trading and exploring thing, it is inevitable that their travels will eventually cross them into the war-zone, but it will be completely up to the PCs how they play this. Will they choose sides? Will they fight, or try to profit off the war in some way? They have this choice, because...

4. The Players Will Dictate the Direction of the Story 

Usually in my campaigns I set up a big bad or evil that must be overcome, and "gently" steer the players toward it. This time, I've tried to encourage them to set their own goal and motivation. Do they want to seek out and fight against evil? Do they want to focus on trading and mercantile endeavours to make their forture? Do they want to achieve fame and fortune by finding lost civilizations and treasures? I've given a few of the characters particular bits of information to motivate them based on their back stories, their organizations, etc, but it's up to them how they use them and how they can work with (or manipulate) their companions toward their goals. There's several antagonists that have been introduced to oppose them, though I haven't necessarily said they're "evil."  They simply have different goals that are in opposition to the players. This is becoming important, because...

5. The Player Characters May Not Be the Good Guys 

I didn't even realize this at first; one of the players had to point this out to me. Because I didn't set them up with a specific villain, and because I've let them choose the direction of their game, the players have become very mercenary.  Usually there's at least a few of the players who strive to do the right thing, but not in this group.  There's no righteous paladin driving them to do the will of the gods.  Their captain is a one-eyed homicidal elf who tortures captured enemies for the hell of it. The cleric refuses to heal his own party members if they get hurt doing something he considers stupid. Even those who are not psychopaths don't go out of their way to help anyone but their own crew,: they do what they have to do to survive.  They don't fight fair, they gang up on enemies and stab them in the back.  Just this week they were faced with an opponent willing to detonate a bomb in a crowd of innocent people.  Unable to reach the bomber in any other way, the PCs literally hacked their way through the bystanders to reach him in time.  It wasn't a case of "sacrificing a few to save the many."  They were entirely just trying to save themselves.

Seriously.  If my players were the crew of the Enterprise, this movie would have been called "Fuck that pointy-eared bastard, let him rot."

Hmmm... I just realized that I had actually intended to come up with 5 "background" or "story" points for my campaign, and it ended up being far more about the meta-game.  Still important points to consider, but I may have to revisit this with more story-based ideas at a later date (first I have to finish part two of Tuesday's post).

Still, do you get what I'm going for here?  Would you want to play this game? (For those already involved, God I hope so...)
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Published on 4/08/2014 Written by 2 comments

My Top 6 Campaigns of All Time (Part 1)

Lately I've been following the fabulous Power Score blog (thecampaign20xx.blogspot.ca) where Sean has been sharing oodles and oodles of great old role-playing tales.  It's gotten me to reminiscing about some of the best games and campaigns I've been involved in.  Since I know that many of the guys who took part in these games are floating around and reading this blog, I thought it would be fun to share and take a stroll down memory lane.  

If you were not actually involved in these games you may not be so interested unless you're the kind of person who likes to read about other people doing and saying dumb things.  Personally I find it fascinating.  Not only are the stories funny, but I learn about how other people play these wacky games we love which shows me things I should or should not do in my own games.  

Let the following be a cautionary tale for everyone!  

(Note that as I started writing this I realized it was going to be quite a bit longer than I expected, so Part 2 will follow in a few days).

6. Zompocalypse!*

System: Dead Reign by Palladium

Date: 2009

*Not the actual name.  That’s just what one of the players called it so it’s how I remember it.

This is probably the campaign I'm most proud of as a GM.  It wasn't particularly long, just a few months of real time and maybe a half-dozen sessions, but the big success was how well I managed to immerse the players in the game.

Set in the near future after a zombie apocalypse, I started setting the scene even before the game began.  For two weeks before our first session, I sent the players fake news reports detailing a new mystery illness that was sweeping across the world.  The reports grew more and more dire until the outbreak was in full swing and the stories began to detail the fall of civilization.

In the actual sessions I made frequent use of props and conventions I rarely use in games.  In one adventure where the party searched through an old abandoned mansion, they kept finding scraps of paper from a damaged journal.  I actually handed the players each piece as their characters found it, each one strategically torn and weathered and stained with fake blood.  As they collected the pages they were able to piece together what happened to the denizens of house and how to unlock its secrets.

In another session they found some computer files detailing information about the zombies collected by scientists early in the outbreak.  I gave them an actual CD and they had to dig through the files to get the pertinent info they needed to combat the monsters.  One of the players poured over it obsessively, trying to unlock the fake files I had loaded on the disk because she was certain there was something else important there even after I told her there wasn't.

Then there was the scene where the group had to convince a senile old woman to help them (she was leader of another group of survivors, I recall).  One of the players' characters tried to win her over by appealing to her history as an actress and recited a scene from Romeo & Juliet with her.  But I didn't just let him roll his "Performance" roll, oh no, we got down the Complete Works of Shakespeare and recited it right there and then.  Of course, we were in a group of theatre nerds and the player was the ONE person who WASN'T an actor (not to mention I was playing an 80-year old woman playing a young girl), so it wasn't exactly Olivier, but we all got a huge kick out of it.

Anyway, we had a ton of fun with that game, and I have plenty of more stories (including the infamous moment where one of the players stripped the bad guy naked and forced him to help her before murdering him in cold blood) that I'll save for another day. The best part is that I brought it to a satisfying conclusion with both hope and pathos (one of the characters sacrificed himself to save the others), something that rarely happens in my games.  It was without a doubt the best arc from start to finish I've ever run.

5. Love in a Cockpit: The Moon Brothers Saga**

System: ROBOTECH by Palladium

Date: c. 1996

**Again, not the real name.  I’m terrible at naming campaigns.

I've written about this game before, but I had to mention it again because it still stands out as an impressive feat of storytelling.  We had 15-16 year old guys running characters way more developed and interesting than any RPG character I've seen since.  The three Moon brothers are some of the most memorable PCs I've had the pleasure of running into in any game in any system.  The eldest brother that became a combat medic and refused to fight anymore to protest the war.  The middle brother that developed PTSD from seeing so many of his friends (including his fianc√©) die and ultimately became an alcoholic that flew more and more dangerous missions trying to off himself.  The youngest brother that was a womanizing screw-up that rebelled against authority but ultimately became a father figure to his asshole commanding officer's little boy.  This was brilliant stuff, and it was made up on the fly by antisocial teenagers. Incredible.

The only sign the characters were run by immature little twats were their names: Leonardo, Donatello and Michelangelo.  And no, they weren't named after the artists.

Well, and then there was the fact that the youngest brother kept a very detailed “little black book” of all the girls he had hooked up, including his own ranking system of their attractiveness (which is easy to do since RPG characters already have a numerical attribute assigned to their physical beauty).  

14. 14. 16.

And then there was the constant stream of jokes they made at their commanding officer’s expense.  That one was my fault – I named him Commander Assman (“It’s pronounced ‘Oz-man!’”) based on an old David Letterman joke, but the comedy ended up being straight out of Police Academy (which is either is awesome or terrible, depending on your point of view).  There was also another non-Moon brother player who kept designing and mounting larger and larger prototype guns onto his mecha to the point where the mech could no longer move but if an enemy starship happened to pass in front of him (and he didn’t miss) it could blow anything out of the sky.

So yeah, maybe we were a bit childish at times.  But it was still a damn good time.

Unfortunately this campaign never got a proper conclusion.  We were re-creating the Macross series and got as far as the main Zentraedi assault on the Earth, but then we took a break to play something else and never got back to it.  I actually still remember some of the plans I had to continue the campaign, and man, it was going to be a good one.

Oh, and I can't mention a Palladium game without a dig at Kevin Siembieda, so fuck Kevin Siembieda. (Dead Reign, above is also technically a Siembieda game but I modified it so completely it’s barely recognizable as such anymore).

4. Swords of Power

System: AD&D 2nd Edition

Date: c. 1996-97

This was my most ambitious campaign, back when I was in high school and thought a D&D campaign was the most important thing in the world.  I cannot tell you how many hours and days were spent creating the backstory and history and maps for this world, as well as the NPCs and religious institutions and deities.  This campaign featured more priests and clerics than any other game I've ever been a part of (probably because I spent so much time on the gods and religions, so there were a lot of interesting options to play).  It also featured some of the largest gaming groups I've ever run - as many as 12 people at one time - which I don't recommend because it was god awful boring.  Just a terrible slog that took forever to get through anything. 

But those nights when we had 5-6 players, oh, those were the best games.  So many memorable characters came out of those games.  William Half-Squirrel, the half-native ranger who loved fishing ("fishing" was his code word for slaughtering the people who killed his mother in the first adventure).  Halen, the Gypsy Prince Elf Cleric/Thief, who had to introduce himself to every... single... NPC... he met by loudly announcing "Greetings!  I am Halen! Prince of the Gypsies!" Literally.  I mean this happened like 6 times every session.  Shaftobo, the "urban" elf wizard so obsessed with killing goblins that he developed a new magic spell with the sole purpose being to fight goblins, and the material component was goblin penises.  Orf Gorfson the Dwarf, whose player eventually introduced his various cousins and uncles including Korf Gorfson the Dwarf, Gorf Orfson the Dwarf, Gorf Gorfson the Dwarf and so on.

Did you know that when you type "dwarf" into Google Image Search, this is the first image you get?  Not a picture of a little person ("midget") in sight. Hey Google, not all dwarves are imaginary, you know.  Kids growing up today are going to think that Peter Dinklage is CGI.

The campaign eventually got bloated and I became too ambitious.  After defeating the Big Bad, the main party was split as some characters died and others were lost.  I decided to try and run a bunch of short adventures featuring some of the original characters along with some new PCs. I wanted the players to swap different characters and try to tell different stories.  It was one of those cases where I thought it was a great idea but no one else had any interest at all, and the campaign fizzled and died because of it.  We never did get a proper ending to that otherwise momentous campaign (we sort of got one much later, which you will see in part two).

Did I mention that I shamelessly stole most the theme/premise and background for this campaign from Fred Saberhagen's Swords of Power series?  Yeah, that's a whole other blog post for another day.

Anyway, that's Part 1.  I'll be back in a few days with Part 2.  In the meantime, please feel free to share some of your favourite games and campaign stories.  Lately I've been on a kick for reading about other people having fun.

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