The One Ring: Signy Fire-hair

My monthly gaming group has just finished our campaign of The One Ring: Oaths of the Riddermark.

Signy Fire-hair
Shieldmaiden of Rohan (Wanderer calling)

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Signy’s minis, mounted and unmounted, painted by our GM.

Signy had always wanted to be a Shieldmaiden. Her mother, Emma, had been a Shieldmaiden and was also a great storyteller. Signy’s strongest memories of her are sitting at her mother’s feet by the hearth while Emma sang of the great deeds of heroes and plaited Signy’s bright, coppery hair, while Signy looked up at her parents’ swords and spears glinting in the firelight over the hearth, or of sitting in front of her mother while riding, and the terrifying joy of leaping over fences at a gallop. Her mother’s death in childbirth left deep wounds in Signy’s heart, and from a young age Signy feared death by childbirth as the foe against whom even a Shieldmaiden could not prevail.

In time, her father took a second wife and after the birth of Signy’s half-brother, Signy was given the care of a newborn foal. The dappled-grey foal became young Signy’s obsession, and the girl even slept in the stables some nights. Signy devoted herself to Renna’s training and to learning swordplay from her father and his thanes.

Despite her father’s attempts to keep Signy from feeling like she and the memory of her mother had been replaced, Signy still felt alienated from her father’s ‘new’ family. Even worse, when she was eighteen, Signy overheard her stepmother say that Signy should become a good wife to one of her father’s thanes. Indignant and proud, Signy rode away from the homestead for Edoras and the King’s hall. She was of age now; she would bring renown to her own name based on her own valor.

In Edoras, Signy became one of Thengel King’s outriders, riders tasked not only with carrying messages, but also relied upon for their tirelessness and speed. Her service as an outrider sends her far across the fields of the Riddermark.

Then, one winter, something began attacking a series of homesteads in the West March, her friend Felwyn’s homestead among them. Signy, Felwyn, and their friend Ava go to investigate, joining with two Gondorians and a Dunlending in what becomes only the first of many adventures…

TOR campaign 3c

L-R: Ava, Felwyn, Signy (a.k.a. the ‘Valkyries’); Falcon, Boriel, Trevir

*

The One Ring: Oaths of the Riddermark is the third The One Ring campaign my group has played. It’s set in Rohan in Middle Earth at the beginning of Thengel’s reign (Theoden’s father; Theoden is king in The Two Towers). The premise is that Thengel has returned from exile to claim the throne after his father’s death and is now trying to fix the corruption, rivalries, and distrust his father had created during the previous reign. The adventuring party here is tasked with helping the king unify various parts of the kingdom.

It’s a cool premise and makes sense for the lore of the world, but one I sometimes found frustrating as a player because I had built an archetypal Anglo-Saxon hero when I made Signy. Yes, she was skilled in Song and Awe, but not in Inspire or Courtesy — and it was Courtesy we needed the most. The success of several of our missions was determined by if they didn’t devolve into fighting, and I had built a character who had wanted to win glory and renown by fighting. I often felt like I had the “wrong” character for this campaign — except that I didn’t, because I had built a character that was “right” for this particular culture.* There seemed to be a disconnect between what the writers of the campaign wanted and the setting. I don’t know how much the other players felt this incongruence; however, I’m always going to notice medieval-related things more than the others, considering that I am the medievalist at the table. (The GM is a history teacher, but the medieval period is my speciality.)

TOR_Rohan_campaign

Fortunately, we weren’t all stereotypical Anglo-Saxon heroic characters: we had a smooth-talking Gondorian with us, and for a while a Dunlending to be a liaison with the other Dunlendings, and then this strange man from a place called Lake-town who claimed he’d seen a dragon (yeah, right), but who was also really good at talking to people. If we had all been Rohirrim though, maybe there would have been more fighting, because we’d have all botched the Courtesy rolls and not gotten along…

At any rate, Signy Fire-hair Orc-killer Kings-guard survived the campaign and did manage to win much renown during it, though perhaps not as much and not necessarily in the manner she had wanted. She may yet go on other adventures. We are returning to the north for our next campaign and picking up story threads (and some characters) we had left off with a previous campaign. What has been happening in Mirkwood and Wilderland while we’ve been riding in Rohan? I guess we’ll find out!


* Having two degrees in medieval literature, I think I’d have some idea of what Tolkien had in mind when using Anglo-Saxon source material for the Rohirrim…

Reading & listening in 2018

Every year I keep a list of the books I’ve read and then add the list to the Books Read List page of this blog. If you look at the Books Read in 2018 list and compare it to the last couple of years, you might think that 2018 was a poor year for reading.

Well, I would counter, it wasn’t as bad as 2013 or 2015. Even so, I would admit that I feel a little bit of disappointment in seeing that 2018’s count is twenty books fewer than 2017’s.

Screenshot_PodcastsBut then I would remember that 2018 could also be described as the Year of the Podcast and the Year of the Non-Traditional Narrative: in 2018 I began listening to and watching actual-play D&D campaigns podcasts and web series, Eberron Renewed and Critical Role.

For the past few years I have chosen a book series to binge-listen to during my long commutes for my summer teaching job. Instead of choosing a book series in 2018, I chose to listen to my friend’s D&D podcast Eberron Renewed. Some 90 episodes later (each weekly episode running between an hour and an hour and a half), I estimate that the amount of time I’ve spent listening to this podcast is the equivalent to about a dozen audiobooks. Eberron Renewed is just a very long narrative being “written” collaboratively and in improv.

And if I had been reading instead of watching Critical Role? Well, that’s another very long narrative being told in real time that also amounts to about 15 books in terms of hours. (Though I could just as well have been watching other TV shows to be honest, which I haven’t had the time for.)

Then there are the BBC and PRI news and linguistic A Way With Words podcasts I listen to at work, when I could be listening to audiobooks.

So it’s not that I’m not getting healthy doses of narrative, fiction, news, ideas: I am. I’m getting them from not only reading and listening to audiobooks, but also from unexpected, non-traditional narrative sources by following along other players’ D&D campaigns. Getting my entertainment from these sources and from playing RPGs myself with my friends has had me thinking about role-playing games as narrative sources, as sources or modes of entertainment: a form of oral narrative, community narrative, an exchange between those who create entertainment and those who are entertained by it and the nexus of when those groups happen to be the same people gathered around a table with character sheets and dice.

I’ll be exploring some of the ideas that have sprung up in my musings about RPGs as non-traditional narrative sources in an upcoming blog series.

Do you keep track of what you read? From what sources do you get your doses of fiction?

Savage Worlds: Askha

My Tuesday-night RPG group has changed ‘seasons’. Now we are playing Savage Worlds: The Last Parsec.

TLP Askha mini

Askha’s mini with my first set of polyhedral dice. The mini was made by Hero Forge.

Askha bel Sayid Zadasi
(Rakashan)

TLP-Art_01


Art by Bryan Syme for The Last Parsec. Askha has tortoiseshell coloring.

Askha grew up in Odezza, the capital city of Tazan on Rakhat, in the heart of what outsiders call the Tazanian Empire. The Great Empire counts non-habitable planets and planetoids among its holdings; many of these are mined for their resources even if they have not been completely terraformed to sustain rakashan life. Rakashans are often thought to exaggerate the size of their empire because the name of their empire (in Tazanian) translates literally into Common as ‘The Empire of a Thousand Worlds’, even if the actual tally (including planetoids) is closer to two hundred. This is because of a quirk in translation: the word meaning ‘great’ or ‘exceedingly numerous’ also translates as the word for the number ‘thousand’. Sometimes the name for the empire is translated as The Great Empire; however, as a rule, Tazanian rakashans are proud of their empire and prefer the hyperbolic translation.

Askha and her twin, Nikith, are middle children. (Nearly all rakashans are fraternal twins.) Her older sisters are fierce, disciplined, and rule-abiding, perfect daughters of their retired Marine mother. Following them, Askha and Nikith both were misfits: Nikith, an introvert in a large and social extended family, and Askha, resentful of her older sisters and protective of her brother. From an early age, Askha chafed at being told what to do, especially by her bossy sisters. Manasa and Akasis dominated the cubs in their family, but Askha habitually ignored them, only increasing the tension between them. Where her mother was pleased at Manasa and Akasis’ leadership skills, she also despaired at her youngest daughter’s lack of discipline.

rakashan_by_bryansyme-d83wksw

Art by Bryan Syme for The Last Parsec.

The only one of her siblings that Askha likes is her twin, Nikith. She frequently fought with the others on his behalf, fiercely protecting him when he wanted to be alone and read or keep accounts of their toys or books. When it came time for their military service, however, they were separated and served in different units. Askha trained hard and took naturally to weapons and combat. Like most rakashans, Askha’s blood sings in the heat of battle: once she has drawn blood, she desires nothing else than to bring down her foes, and nothing is as satisfying as feeling her enemy’s flesh give way beneath her claws. (Thus is the brutality that made their empire and puts down any rebellion.) Even so, the strict discipline of the military was too much like being ordered around by her sisters. When her military service was completed, Askha returned to Rakhat.

Both of Askha’s older sisters were already career officers in the Marines, following in their mother’s footsteps, and Askha had no desire to imitate them and continue to compete for their mother’s favor. Instead, she tried various stints as a bodyguard or security officer, but neither saw much action in the heart of the Great Empire. Eventually, her father suggested that Askha leave both Rakhat and the empire for a more satisfying career. It pained him to send one of his children so far away, away from both clan and empire, but he also hated to see her so dissatisfied with her life in Tazan.

The next year, Askha bought passage on a ship that took her to the edge of Tazanian territory, and from there she worked her way across several systems as a mercenary of sorts. Askha accepted a position in JumpCorps’ Security division at a time when she needed a more steady income. After more than a year on Harmonia Station, though, she was beginning to get bored with the work, all of it routine. Then she received a message from the station’s Administrator with a new assignment…

*

It’s taken a while for me to get a feel for Askha. I purposefully built her to be unlike any of my other characters: Tess is the mad scientist and gentlewoman adventurer and Maya is the privileged and charismatic privateer, but Askha is the bloodthirsty mercenary. She’s a fighter, not a diplomat; noncompliant, rather than rules-abiding. Case in point: During last night’s session, our team ran into a group of thugs in a darkened corridor on a mining station — there were 11 of them and 5 of us. One of our team set off a smoke grenade and in the confusion of the darkness and smoke, Askha slipped forward and efficiently clawed out the throats of four of the thugs. She had to be pulled back from chasing the remaining four that fled. In addition to being an effective killing machine, Askha is also somewhat arrogant, firm in her belief that the Great Empire is the paragon of civilization; a bit aloof, but also loyal to her crew. She does care about them even if it’s sometimes difficult for them to tell that she does.

Askha, obviously, is very different from my own personality; to help me play her, I’ve decided to channel Zoe from Firefly and Carol from The Walking Dead (the TV version). Because she is so different from what I usually play and because the setting is new without much of an established canon, I’ve often felt adrift when playing her. As one player put it, we all have creative imaginations but also don’t want to impinge on anyone else’s world-building. In order to create a shared universe, though, we each need to speak up, step on each other’s toes, and negotiate when ideas clash. So, before returning to The Last Parsec, our GM asked us to do some more backstory- and world-building and we went over these developments as the introduction to our third season. This post is the product of my own world-building and definitely helped me to play her better last night.

Regarding her mini: Sci-fi big cat minis don’t exist, and the existing fantasy big cat minis are ridiculously ill-suited for a sci-fi setting. Luckily, the GM who makes our minis was able to order a mini for Askha from Hero Forge, a company that uses 3D-printing to print out any mini that you design on their website. Of course, the coloring I chose for Askha (tortoiseshell, with forest green and grey clothing) makes her very difficult to take pictures of, but rest assured, she’s pretty awesome.

DIY clipboard binder

After nearly a year of use, my (second) gaming folder was looking like this:

This paper folder was fine when I had only a few character sheets to keep, but not when I had several, plus notebooks and other ephemera. It was time to upgrade. One of my fellow gamers uses an Officemate Slim Clipboard Storage Box, but after looking at it, I found that the clip was too stiff to open easily with my arthritic hands. I decided that I wanted a binder so that I could keep my system of keeping each character’s papers together in a plastic protector. I didn’t want just any binder though: I wanted one with a clipboard. I was always asking our hosts where the clipboards were and wanted one of my own, without having another item to keep up with or weigh down my game bag even further. Surely I could buy a binder with a clip on it, right?

Wrong. The few that I could find online were out of stock or had the clip on the inside of the front cover, rather than on the outside. Well, attaching a clip to the front of a binder shouldn’t be too hard, I thought, and decided to make one myself. Since I couldn’t find a binder that had the cover/design I wanted, I also decided to take a plain binder and re-cover it as well.

To put a new cover on the binder, I used this DIY tutorial from Thrift Diving. These were my supplies:

One of the issues pointed out on the Thrift Diving tutorial is that the paper isn’t sealed to be water proof. Having had one gaming folder damaged by water already, and knowing that we often have drinks on the table, I wanted to protect the paper from getting wet by accident. My solution was to line the paper with a self-seal laminating sheet before gluing it onto the binder. The type that I used allows one laminate a single side.

After I laminated the paper, re-covering the binder was pretty straightforward. The tutorial covers each step, so I just followed along. When it came to putting the clipboard clip on, however, things started to get a bit tricky.

I used a hammer and nail to make holes for the rivets that would attach the clip to the binder. It seemed like a simple job: make the holes, put the clip into place, and set the rivets. Only, the rivets wouldn’t set. I went out and bought a rivet setter, since part of the problem was not having the right tool on hand, but neither the rivets that came with the clips nor the ones that came with the setting tool would stay fastened.

gaming binder 8

In the end, I admit to using superglue. I used the setting tool and anvil to squash the two sides of the rivet together for the glue to adhere.

For a finishing touch, I used washing tape to make a border on the inside of the binder, covering the edges of the paper.

gaming binder 9

The inside, featuring a washi-tape border. I splurged and bought new mechanical pencils.

gaming binder 10

It only looks full already because of the notebooks I keep for our campaigns.

gaming binder 11

The binder in situ, with spell cards, notebook, and dice bag (which I also made).

I’m quite pleased with the final product! I have used it several times since making the binder and it is holding up well.

Now that I know what I’m doing, and have extra binder clips and rivets, I might make more clipboard binders as gifts in case any of my gamer friends decide they want one for themselves.

D&D 5e: Maya d’Lyrandar

As mentioned in a previous post, my monthly gaming group has started a campaign in the D&D setting Eberron.

Maya Zandos d’Lyrandar
Bard Class (airship captain extraordinaire!)

D&D Maya mini 2

Maya’s mini, painted by our other GM (who also painted Tess), and her dragonmark-themed dice.*

Maya is the daughter of Admiral Valanthe d’Lyrandar and heir to the dragonmarked House Lyrandar. Despite her early years and training in Stormhome, she calls the Lhazaar Principalities her home: Admiral Valanthe established a significant Lyrandar enclave in the pirate confederation due to the growing tension between herself and her twin, the House Baron Esravash.

She is captain of the airship Falling Skies, which was taken during the Last War. Maya was promoted from Midshipman Zandos to Captain Zandos a decade before her time by seizing, as she calls it, an opportunity. Airships are powered by bound elementals and when a ship is taken as a prize in battle and the crew subdued, the new presumptive captain must obtain the cooperation of the elemental in order to take control of the ship. Standard procedure allows the first lieutenant priority, and thus win a promotion and his first ship. But the elemental of Falling Skies wouldn’t talk to the first lieutenant, nor to the second lieutenant. As the captain and lieutenants discussed what to do next — they were considering towing the ship back to the closest Lyrandar enclave to let other high ranking lieutenants have a go — one of the midshipmen slipped over to the dragonshard at the helm, placed her hand on it, and asked the elemental its name. ‘Aeris,’ it answered with surprise. ‘Excellent,’ said the midshipman, ‘My name is Maya. What was your last captain like?’ Before the officers could intervene, Maya had established a rapport with the elemental and it would talk to no other. While some in the House were disgruntled at this turn of events, others noted the daring that is admired in House Lyrandar leaders.

One of Maya’s philosophies is: Good things come to those who seize opportunities.

Eberron - Rinmaru Mega Fantasy - Maya 3bAfter the cataclysm of the Mourning ended the War, Maya transported cargo and engaged in privateering — seizing opportunities — as well as attending society functions whenever she was in port. For both her status and her winning personality, Maya always gets invited to the best parties. It was at these parties that Maya came to know Lady Ceana d’Cannith, heir to House Cannith; Claire Loreden, the famous fencer-at-law; and Jett Keshi, an enigmatic Brelander spy. These four, along with Maya’s ship engineer, Jerrick Torrn of House Tharashk, and the gnomes Gnor and Rong, agreed to open their own inquisitive firm in Sharn. After a mishap with the Prime Minister’s cousin, however, they relocated to Stormreach in Xen’drik and took the name Skyfall Inquiries, Ltd.

Another of her philosophies is:  It’s easier to ask for forgiveness than it is to get permission.**

mehndi dragonmark

Her mark looks like blue mehndi.

The dragonmarked House Lyrandar bears the Mark of Storm and Maya’s dragonmark covers the right side of her face, neck, and the entirety of her right arm. With this mark she can fly or pilot an airship or elemental galleon, and (through further training?) some weather working abilities. The Eberron setting was created for the earlier editions of D&D, but hasn’t been released for 5e, the system we are using. Thus, we are translating the Eberron setting into the new system, which means we’re still figuring out how the dragonmarks function practically. I plan to focus on weather-related spells when leveling up.

Eberron partyFor this campaign, our group held a pre-session party-making party to introduce our characters to each other and establish how they know each other and came to be working together for Skyfall Inquiries. We used the Fate Core system to create the character connections: using index cards, we wrote our characters’ names, tag lines, and the beginning of our characters’ first post-war adventure. Then we passed the cards around and added how our characters had supporting roles in those adventures. In this way we determined how Jerrick became engineer on Maya’s ship; that Maya, Jett, Ceana, and Claire frequented many of the same dinner parties; how Claire and Jerrick came to be mixed up with Gnor the Gnome (and his psychic friend, Rong); and so on. Then the GM led us in a pure role-playing session (no dice or character sheets) that served as the prologue to our first session.

These activities, combined with the group email in which we tossed the incident with the Prime Minister’s cousin back and forth round-robin style and the emails I’ve exchanged with the GM establishing the changes to House Lyrandar, have resulted in me as a player feeling more confident about both this new setting and my character. I’m also proud that I successfully built my character sheet on my own and needed only minor corrections. Needless to say, I’m excited to play my super charismatic half-elf bard airship captain who has a weakness for exotic jewelry, especially if it already belongs to someone else…


* Isn’t she marvellous? She even has a dragonmark. He also replaced the gun in her right hand with a sword. All of the minis he’s painted for this campaign are fantastic.

** I love that this quote is attributed to Rear Admiral Grace Hopper. Female admirals FTW.

The One Ring: Never split the party

This past weekend, my monthly gaming group decided to pause our campaign in The One Ring, which, if you can’t guess from the name, is set in Middle Earth. The setting begins a few years after the end of the Battle of the Five Armies, though our campaign has progressed a further decade or so. This is actually our second campaign in this setting and I really like my current character — so much so that in our last session she turned down a job offer from her king (and lost standing as a result) to avoid retiring her early. As a result, I am a little annoyed that we are pausing our campaign because I might have played her differently if I had known, but I also agree with the reasons for our decision.

no admittance

There was cake, though it wasn’t anyone’s actual birthday.

Our party consisted of three humans, two dwarves, and an elf. Two of the characters had the ‘Warden’ calling, meaning that their motivation for adventuring is to strive against the growing shadow spreading across Middle Earth: these were the elf and the Dúnedan (Ranger). Two others had the calling ‘Treasure Hunters’: the dwarves. Because we played our characters, their callings and racial prejudices, our party was often at odds whenever we encountered a crossroads and made it difficult to maintain a narrative arc as we did in the last campaign.

TOR campaign 2

It was a challenge dressing the women in sensible clothing without putting them all in exactly the same outfits. Except for the dwarf, that is. (There also wasn’t a mattock among the weapon options. Sorry, Lili.)

So the session after our characters reunited after splitting the party (never split the party, especially in a setting where it is near impossible to send messages to anyone with any speed, and especially when no one is where they told the others they would be…if they told the others at all), our group ordered pizza and discussed over the next several hours what to do next.

Our fortnightly gaming group plays RPG campaigns in ‘seasons’ to avoid GM burnout. Our current campaign, as I mentioned in a previous post, is in the Pathfinder setting Golarion. We are a few sessions away from reaching the end of a ‘chapter’ in our story, so to speak, and will pick up our campaign in Savage Worlds: The Last Parsec, GM’d by someone else in our group. This way the GMs both get to play in turns, we avoid the risk of getting tired of our characters or setting, and we all get to experience a variety of settings and systems.

We decided to do the same with our monthly group. Another of our group will GM, which will be new for several of us, and we’ve chosen the D&D5e system and the Eberron setting. Per the new GM’s rules, we immediately began building our party. To avoid a similar discord as our last The One Ring campaign, we are being more deliberate in how our characters’ backstories brought them together. As one of our party said: ‘We all chose to work together and we all like each other.

Thus, instead of a profile on Myfanwy Linalwen, my character in The One Ring, you get some insight into how our group handles party dynamics and avoids both GM and setting fatigue.

 

D&D 5e: Tess Winters

My gaming group’s current fortnightly RPG is Pathfinder: The Mummy’s Mask.

Nicola Annette Tessalyn Winters Camherst
Artificer Class (Gunsmith)

D&D Tess mini

Tess’s mini, painted by our GM, and her steampunk-themed dice.

Tess — as she calls herself when adventuring abroad — hails from the aging empire of Taldor, where her father is a senator and her mother part of the old, landed but minor aristocracy.

Doll-Divine-Creation-wide Tess 2

Here Tess is holding one of her signature ‘light marbles’. (The character generator did not have a gun as a weapon option.)

She was tutored alongside her older brother when the tutor and fencing master got tired of throwing her out when she would sneak into the room for their lessons. Her family tried to turn her tinkering into a ‘respectful’ hobby of jewelry making, and she did start a craze for intricate spinning lockets that could only be opened by the owner and her timepieces were highly-valued gifts. However, when the more adventurous of her peers would have spent their Grand Tour mostly in Absalom or the major cities of Osirion, Tess went to Alkenstar in the Mana Wastes, where she  learned to be a gunsmith and inventor of gadgets. Since then, she has travelled extensively through Nex and Osirion, experimenting with infusing her gadgets (and gun) with magic. Though she’s dropped her mouthful of a name and is used to an adventurer’s life, she still keeps her Taldan love for the finer things. Her traveller’s clothes are plain until you notice the brown-on-brown and gold embroidery along the hem, with matching embroidery on her tricorne hat and leather boots. Both her pistol and prototype gun are works of art and she always has a spare neckcloth for when she needs to look respectable.

D&D Tess gun 2

Black Powder Revolver (replica)

Tess is my favorite RPG character so far. Technically, I built the character for the steampunk RPG Savage Worlds: Sundered Skies, and our GM converted her character to work for the D&D setting we were going to play instead. At the time, there wasn’t an official Artificer class in D&D, so he used a homebrew class called ‘The Artificer of Alancia’. The Artificer class allows for a variety of proficiencies, including Gunsmith. The change of setting resulted in a different backstory for this character, so while she is somewhat-mechanically similar to the Nicola Winters in Sundered Skies, Tess Winters is a distinct character of her own.

I’m still relatively new to role-playing games, having only begun in 2015, but I find the dice mechanism in D&D 5e the easier one of the RPG systems we’ve played. The number of spells (or gadgets, in Tess’s case) to keep track of, however, do make this setting more complicated, nor am I as familiar with the ‘world’ we are playing in. I’m frequently checking the Pathfinder Wiki for information about countries, customs, and creatures that Tess would likely know but I don’t, and would be helpful for playing her character. I’m paranoid about stumbling across spoilers for our campaign, though, and so I read cautiously, just in case.