Black Flag, White Space

Page layout
I’ve finished up the stat blocks for Cap’n No-Beard and her pirate crew. So I’m done with those entries, right? Well, that’s what it would mean, except for one thing.

I’d originally thought I might use an abbreviated stat block for No-Beard’s crew of Grimlock pirates, just noting the points on which they differed from a typical Grimlock. Except, wait, Grimlocks aren’t actually in the Pathfinder RPG Bestiary! Oops. They were in the core rulebooks for Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition Monster Manual, but the Pathfinder guys didn’t see fit to include them. So, no problem, they’ve been converted by others (thanks, Open Game License!), but that means my whole layout has to change to include a complete stat block for them. And now there’s a gaping hole on No-Beard’s page, while the Grimlock pirates get a half page of their own. Check out the gaping-ness of the gaping hole in the latest version.

Filling graphical space is not a problem I’m accustomed to when writing. So that’s something I’m learning in this particular exercise. Hooray, learning!

“We Calls Her that to be Polite”

Today, in honor of Gary Gygax’s birthday, I return to my Dungeons & Dragons-based character sketches. This entry is the first based on a character I’ve actually already used in a game: the sea hag pirate, Cap’n No-Beard.

Cap'n No-BeardNo-Beard is based on a fairly simple concept of synergy between monster types. On the one hand, the sea hag, with her debilitating gaze attack. On the other, the eyeless grimlocks, who will be her crew. Perhaps not the best sailors in the world, but a terror in midnight raids. Continue reading

Power t’Assume a Pleasing Shape

Pressed for time today, I was going to just put together the web page for the International Checkers project, and so put that to bed. Unfortunately, TheGameCrafter.com was down for a good part of the day, so instead I’m going back to my thief character notes and banging another of those sketches into shape. The updated file now includes Pistil, a goblin thief with a sinister secret.

PistilThis is another monster sketch, though unlike Kargen, which focused on the Wight’s skill bonuses, it’s based more on magical abilities. When you can fly, turn invisible, and resist most conventional traps, the typical thieving skills aren’t so important. The idea of an Imp that takes on a humanoid disguise was suggested by the D&D 3rd edition Monster Manual, which simply said that (although animal forms were given as examples) an Imp had access to “one or two forms no larger than Medium-size.” Who could turn down an engraved invitation like that?

These days, you have to break the rules in the Pathfinder RPG Bestiary to get the same effect. But the Gamemaster can invoke Rule Zero to break any other rule he wants, which means that Rule -1 must be that the writer can tell the GM what rules to break.

(Character portrait, as before, from 108 Terrible Character Portraits, ©2010 Jeff Preston. Used under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.)

Half Cast

This next chartacter sketch isn’t part of that batch of notes from 2000. The whole thing progressed from the notion of using only Halfling racial levels in a single-class build. While the idea of treating character race and class equivalently is a very old one in D&D (in fact, it’s the only mechanism for character race in the 1977 Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set, where I first learned the game), it was long out of fashion until reintroduced in Monte Cook’s Arcana Unearthed in 2003.

I drifted around a bit on a personality hook for the concept, though, until I decided to take my cues from the game mechanical concept itself. The notion of race in D&D is open to tremendous interpretation, from a Tolkienesque view where (to use the canonical example) orcs really are just irredeemable brutes by nature, to much creepier stuff based on human prejudices. I figured I could go whole hog with this concept by going the latter direction. The boxed character quote is broadly based on a couple of real-world statements by a white supremacist who shall remain nameless.

When heading in this direction, I had was originally going in a much more overt direction, but I was influenced to back off by my choice of character portrait. The guy just looks so smooth and friendly, doesn’t he? It makes it so much more interesting to me if he’s not up front about being a racist scumbag.

Variations on a Theme

My current material goes back quite a way, to around the release of Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition in 2000. So, I’ve had ideas for several of these characters sketched out on one laptop or another for over 10 years. I understand that this sort of stocking-up of the seeds of ideas is fairly commonplace (see what I did there?).

When I first put these down, I was still not far from my work on Thief, so stealth games were something I was thinking about a lot. And the 3rd Edition of D&D was the first to have a coherent approach to the topic. Seriously, if a ranger is only surprised 1 encounter in 6, but a huge spider surprises others in 5 encounters out of 6, you might want to say something about how those two facts relate, or what either of them has to do with the thief’s 55% chance to Hide in Shadows. Avoiding little puzzlers like that just wasn’t considered important.

At the same time all of that was being straightened out (with a skill mechanism that applied to everyone), the game was dropping “thief” as a character class name in favor of “rogue.” The rationale for this that got focus was that the new system was flexible enough for characters built with the rogue class to fulfill a lot of other roles, which was true enough. But the converse was equally interesting: if not all rogues are thieves, are not all thieves rogues?

The easy answer to this is to identify some core job skills (say Hide and Move Silently, or simply Stealth in the Pathfinder RPG system), and run your finger across the “class skills” chart to find all of the classes that fit the bill. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But, because it’s not interesting if there’s no challenge, I tried to find other solutions.

I’ve cleaned up and updated the first of these, a shadowy, undead sort named Kargen. There’s all sorts of things you can do with “monsters” in this game, though in this case (the Wight) I will say the rules as written still make all the personality of a rabid wolverine pretty much standard issue. So forget that, and imagine instead what happens when a small-time tomb robber dies, and comes back the equivalent of eight character levels sneakier.