Thursday, February 24, 2011

Dresden Files RPG: Eyewitness Testimony

As Samhaine has mentioned, he has started up a Dresden Files game, in no small part so that he can comment on it in the greater scope of his review of FATE. I'll be posting my own commentary here in Harbinger, and it may cover anything from FATE rules (which I don't know all that well) to the neat things that Samhaine did in the session to oddities of the Dresden universe. I don't know a lot about the Dresden Files, though I know more than the other players; I've read through Summer Knight, as of current writing, and I don't remember stories that I read all that well. At this point, I'm even avoiding reading the Wikipedia article, just so I don't run across major spoilers. As a disclaimer that might make a lot of my friends scowl at me, the books I've read so far are okay. Certainly they're getting better as they go, but I have an axe to grind with Harry as a character, and with a number of things in Butcher's style. (I promise these posts won't mostly be book reviews, though - that's for another time, if ever.)

My character is a wizard named Samuel Bailey. I struggled to differentiate him from Harry Dresden, such that ideas I bounced around for my character made the GM think I was referring to things that happen in later books. It's kind of tough, though; I need a character who can justify being a nosy investigator, be interested in the world, without having phenomenal cosmic power. Also, the Laws of Magic knock out a lot of the classic wizard archetypes - mind magic and even relatively "white" necromancy are Right Out. This has presented me with something akin to culture shock - I play wizards all the time in other games, and a lot of the go-to tricks will get me knifed by the local Warden. (Which is, ahem, another thing my character would have in common with Harry!)

So Samuel is bookish and pretty determinedly non-violent. He's really good at violence, when nothing else works, but he'd much rather make some bargains and get things sorted out. The reason he's so good at violence is that I'm still a powergamer, for crying out loud, even if I'm willing to have my character hem and haw and look for other solutions first. Samhaine warns me, however, that blasting my problems to smithereens is not a great idea in this system anyway, just because of how quickly the Stress and Consequences build up. The reason he wants so badly to avoid violence is that two of the other party members are Gertrudis (played by Kainenchen) a.k.a. Buffy the Serial Killer, a.k.a. "what if Dexter Morgan were a 5'2 Hispanic black chick?" and William (played by Wombat Warlord) a.k.a. "Lycanthropy Grand Central Station." Both have one or more Aspects that really push them to eviscerate first and ask questions to the next of kin, and I wanted something that would help me push back against that when I as a player especially wanted to continue diplomacy.

(Digression: This was an issue in some previous tabletop games with a different player roster, and I knew I wanted something to at least push back against the fact that in tabletop games as in life, the person who chooses to escalate the situation to bloodshed always gets to do so, while people who want to negotiate stand by and watch. There isn't much you can do about this as a player, since none of us are here for a rousing round of tabletop deathmatch PvP using classes never balanced for such, and you can't refuse to take that character along on your adventures - or you can, but now the GM is faced with choices that are universally unpleasant: choose to pay attention to one group or the other, or deal with a split party.)

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Kagandi

I have tallied the results (both of them!) and have settled on a mixture of versions 2 and 3 of the kagandi described in this post. Of course, both responses wanted me to have written something about the race relations of the setting before they chose a preference. I am not, unfortunately, awesome enough to design something before the initial moment of its design. Anyway, what I want from this race is a group that will go adventuring with humans, veytikka, and beruch without it being a constant race war. The levels of conflict typically played out between elves and... everyone, but mainly dwarves, is acceptable. There may be some members of this race that don't like other races, but a mixed group of PCs is well and good, and your character will react to a kagandi NPC based on who he is, not just his race. (Compare this to orcs. And yes, I realize that many campaigns do involve goodly orcs - you know perfectly well that they're the exception among games as a whole, not the rule.)


The kagandi are a widespread race, equal in number to humans. On average they are slightly larger than humans. Kagandi skin is more leathery than human skin, and ranges in color from jet black to mahogany brown to emerald green; these colors also sometimes show up as streaks of color in other skin tones. The majority of kagandi live within two days' travel of the ocean or other large bodies of water.

Kagandi physiology requires certain nutrients found in fish, and they begin to suffer significant malnutrition after two weeks without it. They discovered, however, an alchemical process that duplicates this nutrient, allowing them to move farther inland. Kagandi alchemy is years ahead of human alchemical guilds, such that many humans apply to study within kagandi guilds. Most are turned away, but a few are admitted after they swear binding oaths of secrecy.

In addition, kagandi have an idiosyncratic reaction to ulishau root poison. Ulishau root grows in the Fens of Vashtal's Gift, but the poison is exported to kagandi communities everywhere. While they suffer from the poison, kagandi gain sorcerous power; they claim that this is in fact a bargain that the first of their people made with the god Vashtal in the dawning of creation.

Kagandi first encountered humans over a thousand years ago, as kagandi explorers landed on the shores of the human homelands in the east. Early conflicts gave way to an extended period of peace, shattered almost seven hundred years ago in the War of Fallen Towers, as a faction of kagandi ship captains, guildmasters, and other people of note organized attacks on the human settlers that they saw as intruding into their domains. This war eventually engulfed almost all human and kagandi nations (and resulted in a massive population boom among the veytikka). Humans and kagandi alike were ruined by years of warfare; large areas of human-settled land were ruled by kagandi, and vice versa. Instead of reverting these lands to their previous owners, they stayed in their current hands, and the races began to live together; uncomfortably at first, but no one really wants to go back to war, and they have found ways to profit from one another.

Kagandi and humans tend to separate themselves by neighborhood. In port cities, as much as 75% of the population may be kagandi, whereas cities far inland may have only a single family. While some groups of kagandi and humans try to stir their fellows up against the other race, most people are more concerned with the world's actual dangers and, more recently, the mysterious beruch who have arrived on their strange ships.

3.5 Stats

  • Ability Scores: +2 Dex, -2 Con
  • Medium: As medium creatures, kagandi have no special bonuses or penalties due to size.
  • Kagandi base speed is 30 feet.
  • Low-light vision: a kagandi can see twice as far as a human in starlight, moonlight, torchlight, and similar conditions of poor illumination. She retains the ability to distinguish color and detail under these conditions.
  • Familiarity with Alchemy: Craft (alchemy) is always a trained skill for kagandi. They receive the Kagandi Alchemical Lore feat for free.
  • Sorcery of the Fen: When a kagandi consumes ulishau root poison and voluntarily fails her saving throw, she gains the spellcasting abilities of a 4th-level sorcerer for three days, or increases her existing spellcasting abilities as a sorcerer by three levels for three days. The character does not gain hit points, skill points, or any other class benefits of sorcery. The kagandi does not avoid any of the damaging effects of ulishau root poison. The kagandi's spells known are determined the first time she takes ulishau root poison and do not change thereafter, unless the character gains a sorcerer level.
  • Poison Tolerance: Though otherwise not especially hardy, kagandi are resistant to poison, receiving a +2 racial bonus to all saving throws against poison.
  • +2 racial bonus to Climb, Listen, and Swim.
  • Automatic Languages: Common, Kagandi. Bonus Languages TBD.
  • Favored Class: Any. When determining whether a multiclass kagandi takes an experience point penalty, her highest class level does not count.

Kagandi Alchemical Lore
Story Requirement: Must be kagandi, or trained by kagandi alchemical guilds
Benefit: You have learned how to apply the knowledge of many fields to your practice of alchemy. You receive a +2 synergy bonus to Craft (alchemy) for having 5 ranks of Decipher Script, Heal, Knowledge (arcana), Knowledge (dungeoneering), Knowledge (nature), and Knowledge (the planes). You may not receive this synergy bonus more than three times (total bonus of +6) from this feat.

4th edition Stats

  • Average Height: 5'10"-6'6"
  • Average Weight: 200-260 lb.
  • Ability Scores: +2 Dex, and +2 to Int OR +2 to Cha
  • Size: Medium
  • Speed: 6 squares
  • Vision: Low-light
  • Languages: Common, Kagandi, choice of one other
  • Skill Bonuses: +2 Athletics, +2 Nature
  • Familiarity with Alchemy: Kagandi receive the Alchemy feat for free. If they would receive this feat for free from another source, such as the Artificer class, they create alchemical goods as if they are two levels higher.
  • Poison Resistance: Kagandi have resist poison equal to 5 + one-half their level.
  • Kagandi Sorcery: Once per encounter, a kagandi may cast a sorcerer at-will power, chosen at character creation. The character's highest ability score is used in place of Charisma for purposes of attack and damage bonuses, and the character may apply any weapon or implement he wields to this spell. While under the effects of ulishau root poison, the character gains a +2 attack bonus and a +2 damage bonus when using the power granted by kagandi sorcery. This damage bonus increases to +4 at paragon tier and +6 at epic tier.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Development in progress: The Kagandi

Kainenchen pointed out that the veytikka and the beruch are both written as minorities in a human society, which is another part of what brought up the whole topic of unfamiliar races and how races are used in games that we've been talking about off and on for the past couple of weeks. We talked around it a bit more, and I decided that I wanted humans in this theoretical setting, but another roughly-equal-population race would be good. In theory, when you meet a random group of travelers in this setting, you are just as safe assuming they are kagandi as assuming they are human. I've had a hell of a time sorting out my visual image for this race; with these guys, I'm trying to start with the visual and work backward, the way I did for the beruch, rather than starting with a brief phrase and seeing where that phrase took me, as I did with the veytikka.

In my head, Kagandi are a little larger than humans (averaging a little over 6') and commensurately broader. They have either leathery skin or scales (don't know which) ranging in color from jet black to dark green. They are sort of like lizardmen and sort of like 4e's dragonborn, so I'm not sure how I'd want to distinguish them from those two types. My main problem with lizardmen is that I only ever see lizardmen unarmored or in very minimal, Conan-like straps of armor, and I really want a race that (in terms of image) is comfortable in all types of armor - primitive is directly counter to my goals here. AE has two player races that are nominally similar here - the magically gifted but frail mojh and the beefy dracha. It would be fair to wonder whether there exists any clear conceptual ground for me to stake out. Oh, and there's also the yuan-ti - I'm not interested in making the kagandi be snake dudes.

At least for 4e purposes, I could probably satisfy my goals by applying a culture to the dragonborn. Their breath attack is neither especially wrong nor especially right for what I have in mind. On the other hand, I might completely shift them away from being the least bit reptilian. Zoomorphic races are for some people, but typically not for me, which is as good of an explanation as I can give for why I don't want relatively straightforward snake dudes or crocodile dudes.

Inasmuch as this thinking is kind of getting me nowhere, I'll try the "brief phrase" method with a number of different phrases. Reader comments will help me select one of the phrases to develop further as the "official" kagandi.

  1. Slightly smaller than humans, lithe, with golden scales, completely black eyes, and tails; they came from beneath the mountains and return there briefly at the age of majority, at the hatching of their first offspring, and when they enter into a long phase of senescence.
  2. Taller than humans, bulky, with skin tones ranging from jet-black to emerald green; the "whites" of their eyes are distinctly silvery, and have no irises. When they consume a certain poison from the Fens of Vashtal's Gift, they briefly gain sorcerous power, but it sickens them for a long time afterward and costs them some of their natural lifespan.
  3. Dwelling chiefly by the sea, they are unusually dependent on certain nutrients found in fish. Their skin is a deep brown, and most of them paint decorative patterns onto exposed skin. They are most recognizable from humans by their pointed teeth, as they are predominantly carnivorous (though they would regard eating any sentient as cannibalism and an abomination). They practice advanced alchemy in very secretive guilds; these guilds do sometimes accept other races, but require certain binding oaths of secrecy from them.
(Note that 2 and 3 are not reptilian at all, but have basically human-like skin.)

If any or all of these sound like a race you would want to play, I'd particularly like to hear that.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Quick note: Continuing Conversation

Since my last post, Kainenchen and the Wombat Warlord (which could be the title of a kind of awesome YA novel, I think) have each written extensive posts on topics related to mine. As they'll be relevant to any further posts I make on this topic, I wanted to post links to them for the benefit of my faithful readers.

Kainenchen's is here, and Wombat Warlord's is here.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Player Investment and the Unfamiliar

For the past several weeks, I've been involved in relatively frequent conversations on a related set of topics with Kainenchen, Samhaine, the Wombat Warlord, and this guy. This got started as a result of talking about the theoretical setting in which the veytikka and the beruch dwell. From the start, I had imagined it including humans, and honestly have a hard time getting my brain around a setting that doesn't include any humans. Kainenchen objected strongly, and favored the idea of a setting (not necessarily this setting, but some theoretical setting) with no humans. We went around and around about why humans are or are not necessary for a setting, and brought the topic up around the above listed gentlemen of note. For the record, I'm now more interested in the player psychology of the whole thing than the anything else about it. I will attempt to represent the views of others in as impartial a light as possible, despite holding the opposite view myself.

For starters, I asserted that humans are a helpful touchstone for players new to the setting. If everything else is going to be strange (not even any other been-done-before fantasy races), having humanity as a clear point of familiarity is useful for making the setting still feel approachable. Kainenchen countered that a setting without humans would establish its own baseline of normalcy that could be (here I'm presuming K's motives) a purer fantasy. It's tied up in some rather thorny conversations about otherness that are... materially different if one has grown up as a straight white Anglo-Saxon (okay, I'm actually mostly Norman, I think) Protestant male. I'm going to tear this post away from the issues of race and otherness that this whole line of conversation leads to, though, because... well, I can't speak about it in a remotely educated way, and I would rather not embarrass myself further on the internet. Fortunately, K has not decided I am a terrible person as a result of these conversations.

Moving along. So you have a setting in which there's a lot of new, weird stuff, plus humans; or you have a setting in which there is a lot of new, weird stuff full stop. Samhaine approached the question as a GM, noting that getting players to read enough background material to make this feasible has been a challenge in the past. Some percentage of the overall player populace are simply disinterested in engaging with whatever idea the GM wants to put into the world, whether it's a new kind of magic or a new race.

I'm about to start rambling a lot more.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Dust to Dust Website and Rulebook

I am pleased to announce the launch of the Dust to Dust website and rulebook.

Please excuse a few remaining issues in the editing of the rulebook and a few remaining areas of the website.

Committee members will do all that we can to answer your questions. We are accepting early drafts of character histories. Full culture packets are not yet available.

Known Issues:
References to chapters by number in the rulebook are incorrect.
The Economy page of the website is under construction.
Detailed information on the Redwood Throne is under construction.
A few questions on the FAQ page are still unanswered.
The rulebook and website will eventually use more images from the photo shoot.
Forms and events are not yet available.
Images are intended to open in a new link, but some may not.
Site List and Directions page is under construction.
The Codex of Dust does not yet offer any content.
Tharici caravan symbols will be uploaded soon.
Formatting and editing in Historical Events may have some issues.

More comprehensive in-text links will be added in the future.

A very brief list of credits:
The Dust to Dust Plot and Story Committees
Caitlin Holden, for both the Dust to Dust Photo Shoot and the design of the website
All of our lovely and/or handsome models from the Photo Shoot
Jonathan Cantrell, Will Kotas, Jorge Diaz, and many others for contributions to the design of the rules
Jen Mines, the General Manager
This Guy, our first Staff Member Emeritus