Here’s a site with a nice random name generator for RPGs. Pick the gender and the general nationality and hit generate.

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I got permission to repost this from jetshield over on the Wizards of the Coast community boards:

So there I am, watching my group bicker (in character) about how to get into the Temple of Akargon to retrieve the Rod of Improbability that’s rumored to be there. The little one (she’s 7), comes in from the next room, taps on one of my player’s shoulder to get his attention, and says “I’ve got the key I can sell you.”

Now, most groups would probably drop out of “game mode” at this point, humor her, and get back to playing. I don’t play with most groups.

The player says to her (still in character) “What do you want for it?”

“Five thousand gold” she replies, “and an ice cream cone.”

“An ice cream cone?! What’s that? More to the point, where do I find one.”

“There’s an ice cream store over near the school, but they’re closed now.”

“What if I just give you six thousand gold instead?”

“Okay, six thousand gold…and an ice cream cone.”

“No. No. I meant six thousand gold and no ice cream.”

“No ice cream, no key.” she says with her hands on her hips and a scowl on her face.

“I’m not sure it’s worth it. We could just kick the door down.”

“If you don’t have the key, the guards will kill you. They’re really tough. You’ll never get to the door to kick it.”

“According to our sources, there are no guards. Besides, a few soldiers shouldn’t be much of a problem.”

“They’re statues that come to life if you don’t have the key.” [note: this is news to me]

“We can handle a couple statues if we have to.”

“There’s a thousand of them.”

Another player chimes in (also in character). “If she’s even half-right, we’re going to need that key. I say we get her her ice cream. We’re wasting time.”

First player: “Okay, little one, we’ll get you some ice cream. How do we find you when we’ve got it?”

“I live here, silly. I’ll be in my room.” She says, and heads off. [another note: the characters were having this conversation in a burned out ruin in the middle of a barren wasteland]

The characters head off on a quest for ice cream (minus one player, who went to the store to buy ice cream and cones).

Just thought I’d share.

The original post can be found here:  http://community.wizards.com/go/thread/view/75882/27928765/Well,_I_didnt_see_that_coming

This post was inspired by a similar post on Gnome Stew (whichI would link to, but the site seems to be down at the moment) by Don Mappin. In it he asked if children were appropriate as player characters in a game. His primary concern was about power inequities between the characters — if you’re playing a 12 year old, you’re not really on the same level with the adults. Most likely, you’ll have to listen to what they tell you…or do you?

The comments seem to suggest most of the readers found the idea acceptable, save for one opining, “…a child PC would be like a one-legged cheetah man and I wouldn’t allow it…”

Well, that’s your loss, ennit? Most recently, my wife played an 11 year old Chinese street urchin named “Shanghai Sally” or “Monkey” (no racism there…nope!) during our Hollow Earth Expedition campaign. She was the employee of an PC, Roland “Boss Banana” Kessik (half Chinese,  half-Scot — his racist sobriquet came from the Chinese gangsters he worked for.) Small, physically weaker than most of the opposition, but fast and athletic, she was a challenge to play. Yes, she listened to Kessik’s orders. Yes, she tended to listen to the other adult PCs. But like child characters from movies, television, or books, she did her own thing. In a fight, she needed to use the environment to either escape, or gain the upper hand. (She once used a big brass rolling bellboys rack to knock a bad guy through a plate glass window.) Like Short Round, she had her uses — she was a street kid and knew how to get around unobserved, slip into places she shouldn’t be, and knew kids who knew…pretty much everybody. (No one much pays attention to street kids…)

So how can you use a child character? (Or a one-legged cheetah man…? I can think of a few.) Let’s look at a few kid characters from movie and TV franchises, and literature. First off — who is a “kid”.

In the Middle Ages, you could be a page as young as six. Would you get dragged on your master’s adventures in a D&D game? Probably. Figure the strengths of a youth — small size, innovative thinking, a tendency to blend into the background until needed. Maybe make the kid a 1st level thief (or whatever the hell their calling it in the edition you play.)

Who is a “kid” in, say, the Victorian period? You could be tried as an adult in the UK for any crime committed as a child, and many street kids were intimately involved in the criminal underworld — see Oliver Twist. In a historical or steampunk game, the kid has a lot of uses — the street urchin thief or enforcer. (Child soldiers, for instance, are notoriously violent.) Are the other characters military folks — the kid could be a drummer, or flag bearer, or a quartermaster’s aide delivering ammunition during the battle. In Napoleonic times, kids shipped out as midshipmen — officersin training. This is how Horatio Hornblower gets his start. Billy Budd was a sailor in his early teens. Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer…

What about the smart kid? Thomas Edison was inventing by the age of 20. He had saved a child from being hit by a train in his mid-teens. Think of the precocious genius characters — they’re annoying often (Wesley Crusher — whose awfulness was a function of crap writing than the actor), but they can be useful. Maybe he’s the kid that just “gets” machines. I recently had a character like this for a Hollow Earth one-shot I ran; the engineer of the small tramp steamer was a late teens Italian kid who could make anything mechanical work. They just made sense to him.

Who’s a child in the 1920s or ’30s? By this point, the idea of a specific period called “childhood” that should be cherished or considered important to a person’s development has come into vogue. You could be tried as a juvenile and avoid prison for all but the most serious crimes. But when did childhood end? Legally, it was 18 to be an adult, but rural kids were working in their early teens. Get outside of the developed nations and childhood was still just a word. Some examples of child characters would be Short Round from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, or even the young Indiana Jones from the television series. .

In modern day, what is childhood. You could argue it stops about 45, nowadays, but legally it’s 18 (unless you want to own a gun or drink in the US, then it’s 21…even though you’re more dangerous with your vote.) In modern fiction you have kids battling government jerks in ET, or finding lost treasure in The Goonies, or stopping nuclear armageddon in War Games. (The ’80s were a truly great period for the kid hero in movies.) How about something more realistic? How many kids are involved in gangs, the drug or sex trade, or violence? How can this be used?

Science fiction, as with historical game, are an excellent setting in that you can give kids leeway to act like adults, even if their abilities are up to snuff. Let’s take Luke Skywalker — he’s a late teen (or supposed to be.) He’s whiny, idealistic, and often just clueless. But he’s brave and he’s a hell of a pilot…and eventually he becomes a Jedi. Even the execrably written Annakin Skywalker shows some of the tropes from above — good with machines, good as a pilot. Weesley Crusher — genius: He can fix things, act as comic relief. Paul Atreides is a young noble and a combat expert. Child heroes populate a lot of the fiction (check out Cory Doctorow’s works.) And we haven’t even touched on alien children…

Children as PCs might not be appropriate for every campaign, but they certainly don’t need to be reflexively ignored as a character archetype. The player, however, needs to realize that there are going to be certain limitations and weaknesses to the youthful character — this is what makes the child character interesting and challenging; keeping yourself in that mindset is difficult, but can be quite rewarding.

Author’s Note: Sorry if this post was a bit disjointed. I’ve been trying to turn it out for two hours, while entertaining my daughter (or rescuing her from getting her foot caught in a piece of furniture.)

Last night was one of those nights where everything is just a bit off. The day started off badly, continued to be problematic with a finicky, sick kid. We were shifting the gaming venue to the lovely house of one of our group for the night, (And I mean, lovely!) so I have to coordinate to pick up one of the gamers, so that meant juggling the schedule with the wife so she was home early enough to get me out the door for the rendezvous. This was all accomplished with enough time to stop at the liquor store and pick up an on-sale six-pack of Blackthorn cider for the group. So far, so good.

My gamer nearly misses the rendezvous because he thought I wasn’t in my car; fortunately, I see him before he gives up. On the trip to the game — a trip I’ve done half a dozen times, so far — I simply miss the turn off and drive 4 miles out of my way. And miss the turn coming back. No big deal; amusing, if anything. Eventually, we all manage to get to the game. Food has been provided by the host — good stuff! We eat, we chat, and it’s time to play.

Except while I remembered to bring drinks, and my computer, and my books…I forgot the file folder with the characters in it. Crap! Do we have a printer? No! Simple — email the files to another gamer that has his laptop and tablet…except they’re out of power! We go Old School and I have to jot down the characters. this takes half an hour. We’re now getting toward 8pm.

Finally, we get going and have a blast — it was Hollow Earth Expedition last night. The teaser for the new character takes a bit longer than I wanted, mostly because i was having a blast. My descriptions, however, were a bit off; I’ve had a cold all day and I’m a bit fuzzy by 9pm. Press on!

We make it through the session and everyone has fun, despite the stumbling blocks. Takeaway? Roll with it and have fun.

CODA: After all this, I drop my gamer at home, and nearly get sideswiped by some college douche in a souped up Honda rice burner (a Civic, I think, but it was hard to tell a few seconds later.) He tries to jump the line of traffic getting onto I-40, biffs it at the last minute and gets ploughed into by the pickup in front of me. The Civic is tossed into scrap, the pickup loses control and hits the wall.

After checking on them both — the kid is hospital bound and good riddance, you idiot; the truck driver is just dazed from having his airbag break his face — I have to sit for half an hour until they clear the path onto the highway. This on ramp is too dangerous to just back up.

Eventually, I check my texts, find out I have to run a medicine errand for the wife, and get home just before midnight.

Most of these aren’t canon, but were cobbled together for our Battlestar Galactica campaign. Added them to the Twelve Colonies document in the RPG section of the site, as well.

Pancolonial Political Holidays:

Armistice Day Junius 21 — Colonial government holiday

Colonial Day Sextilus 8 — Colonial government holiday

Colonial Fleet Birthday Sextilus 12 — Military “holiday”

Pancolonial Religious Festivals:

Bacchanalia Martius (last weekend) — big drinking holiday, arts, celebrations to Dionysus.

Thesmophoria Aprilius 17 — Mostly a “women’s” holiday in cities. Big in farming communities. Honors Demeter.

Diasia Junius 6 — General Colonial government religious holiday.

Olympic Games Junius, second week every four years. Sporting competitions honor Zeus.

Panathenea Games Julius, first week every four years [midway between Olympic Games. Military-oriented sports competitions; honoring Athena.

Thargella Sextilis 19 — Celebrates Apollo.

Exodus Novilis 1 — Celebrates the tribes’ leaving Kobol. Probably not the real date.

Mars Day Novilis 11 — Celebrates Colonial veterans.

Saturnalia Decilus, last weekend. Festivals, parties, noted for costumes and masks.

Traditionally, the rich and poor, aristocrats and servants traded places for a day.

Posidea Decilus 26 — Honors Poseidon. Horse racing on Leonis, Picon, and Virgon.

Apaturia Febrarius 14 — Known as Eros Day on Caprica, honors Aphrodite.

Colony-Specific Holidays:

Arelon: Thesmophoria, Aprilus 17 — Honors Demeter. Farming fesitvals, known for drinking.

Independence Day, Septimus 12 — Celebrates the independence from Virgon.

 

Aquaria: Hermaia, Decilus 11 — Honors Hermes. Practical jokes, hospitality to travelers. People put out herme, small phallic stones, to bless those traveling.

 

Canceron: Eleusina, Sextilus 15-18 — Celebrates the mysteries of death and rebirth.

Democratia, Septimus 21 — Celebrates the creation of the Canceron global government.

Independence Day, Septimus 12 — Celebrates independence from Virgon.

 

Caprica: Hyacinthia, Ianarius 17-19 — Three day holiday celebrating aspects of Apollo.

Eros Day, Februarius 14 — Apaturia on most other Colonies.

 

Gemenon: Heraea, Martius 10 — Honors Hera.

Diasia, Junius 6 — General thanksgiving day to the gods.

 

Leonis: Daphnephoria or “The Hunt”, Aprilus 22-24 — Hunter’s weekend.

 

Libran: Athenaia, Julius 28 — Known for sporting and craft competitions.

 

Picon: Pohoidaia, Decilus 28-30 — Horse and boat races dedicated to Poseidon. Picon’s version of the Posidea.

 

Sagittaron: Lycaea , Novilis 12-14 — Honors Zeus.

Freedom Day, Octilus 29 — Celebrates independence from Leonis.

 

Scorpia: Dionysia, Maius 3 — Celebrates Dionysus. Best known for wishes hung on trees.

Saturnalia, last weekend of Decilus. — People change roles, wear costumes, etc. Popular vacation draw to Scorpia.

 

Tauron: Enyalia, Junius 14 — Celebrates Ares. Known for impromptu bouts of fisticuffs.

Our Day, Martius 2 —  Celebrates the independence from Virgon.

 

Virgon: Hestaia, Octilus 10 — Worship of Hestia, involves parties at home.

These holidays use our campaign specific date system:

The months of the year are as follows (assuming Sextilis is the sixth month, the year starts with March): Martius/01, Aprilus/02, Maius/03, Junius/04, Julius/05, Sextilis/06, Septimus/07, Octilis/08, Novilis/09, Decilus/10, Ianuarius/11, Februarius/12.

Often, romance is an element missing from roleplaying game campaigns, especially with male gamemasters.  There is a stereotype of the male gamer as somehow clueless, nerdy, and out of touch with women, but this is strangely not my experience; most are married or dating (often a gamer.)  This was not always the case:  in the early phase of the hobby, I’d say 90% of gamers were male, young, and way too into Conan the Barbarian.  We looked like the two guys from the Fear of Girls shorts on YouTube.

Romance, in those days, revolved around the character getting laid.  “I want to have sex with her,” enthuses Raymond in Fear of Girls, when confronted with a sexy elven priestess.  Doug, the DM, responds, “Gimme a roll…”  That was a pretty good example of “romance” in the early days.  Rape, pillage, get the treasure, repeat as needed.

Early on, I moved out of fantasy settings to modern day espionage.  Femme fatales are standard trope, and romancing them still was mostly to get laid and get information.  But the reality of the femme fatale is the honeypot:  the girl that makes you fall for them so that they can play you for information (or assassinate you…)

But by the late 1980s, I regularly had at least one female in the gaming group, and throughout the 1990s and 2000s, I average two women at the table.  Many were drawn in by different genres of RPG — there was the advent of “steampunk”, with it’s Victorian setting that brought the romance of the period to bear.  The period also saw the rise of the White Wolf settings, the World of Darkness, with the heavy-handed sexual innuendo of vampirism, and courtly style of interaction.  It, and steampunk in the Castle Falkenstein game,  favored LARP-style gaming, so they got to dress up, as well.

Women, I think, often bring more maturity to the table.  They are looking for more than macho self-aggrandizement.  They want story, they want character interaction outside of quaffing ale and randomly fighting each other (leave that to the English on a Friday night.)  And they want romance.  Not just sex.

Gamemastering romance can be tough, but it’s almost always fun, if you relax and enjoy it.  First thing:  don’t assume that characters romantically involved mean the players want to be romantically involved.  Yes, it’s often a hint –quite a few players with characters involved were themselves having a relationship…or were thinking about it.  But it’s not always the case.  Mature players will know this;  immature ones need to have rules laid out up front about the in-character/out of character situation to avoid misunderstandings.

Second, look at movies and television for ideas on how to run a romance.  There’s the popular “slow burn” romance — where the characters are attracted to each other, but don’t quite get to act on things, either because bad guys are distracting them, they sometimes misunderstand each others’ queues, or professional relationships forces them to pretend they aren’t into each other.  Even if these things aren’t in the way, real life has a habit of slowing things down a bit.

Start the relationships off slow — often a few well-placed and thought out NPCs can catch the attention of the players’ characters.  Don’t make the NPCs too easy if the players show interest.  Cock block them with missions, family issues, or put the love interest in danger.  Make them work for it a bit.  You’ll find that the players will take to it…even the guys.

This brings us to the inevitable conclusion of romance:  sex.  How much is too much?  As with violence, how (or if) to play out sex really relies on a few things.  1)  Is it something the players are going to get embarrassed by?  Making them play out the blow-by-blow is usually unnecessary, and unless everyone is feeling a bit randy, is probably not the way to go.  2) Are the players mature enough to handle it (especially if two players’ characters are getting involved)?  3) Is it necessary to the plot?  Probably not.

There’s the quick gloss over.  Think about the movies of the 1940s and ’50s.  The couples go for the kiss, then we pan to the blowing curtains, and then it’s the next morning.  This is usually enough for the players.  Some might be interested in their performance, however, and if they feel the need, you might have them test for it in some way.  (And it’s a hoot for all when they biff the roll!)  Essentially, it’s very hard to say how far a scene should be described…it’s up to your discretion and the maturity of the players.

Romance, however, is ultimately about relationships.  They connect characters to each other (or NPCs.)  If they care about these connections, they can be used as plot hooks (the kidnapped wife/husband/kid or the murdered lover or relative is always good material.)  they can also define the character for the player, giving them motivations and something to care about.  It’s easy to fly off for an adventure in Borneo when there’s no one home to leave alone.  The loss of a loved one can plague the character with guilt or doubt (if their fault), or cause them to act in a manner that might not be conducive to their safety.

Remember to use romantic attachments not just for cheap thrills, but to help the plotting and the definition of the characters.  The players will thank you for it.

It might seem a bit silly to do a piece on violence in roleplaying games.  From Chainmail and Dungeons & Dragons, to Twilight: 2000 and Space: 1889, to the Vampire and other White Wolf titles there is one overarching connection — fighting.  For D&D, the whole raison d’etre is violence — against monsters, against people, against other races in the hopes of glory and wealth.  Vampire and Werewolf appear to be more courtly, and more backstabbing in their type of violence, but ultimately you’re still playing creatures that eat people.  Or war on each other, ala Underworld.

However it’s the approach to violence in the various settings that I want to address, and how you can capture the appropriate tone for your game.  Over the years, I’ve tried to make violence fairly realistic in my games.  That doesn’t necessarily mean gory, but violence has real consequences beyond how many “hit points” you lose.

I’ve run espionage games most of my life.  The goal is frequently to avoid violence, or even the hint that you were operating in the enemy’s AO.  But when it happens, it’s usually fast, messy, and not well choreographed.  (The latest James Bond movies have captured the frenetic pace and hurt of fights for your life.)  So how far do you go with describing the attacks, the injuries?

The easiest genre to attack is War, and combat-oriented games like Twilight: 2000 or Battlestar Galactica.  War is dangerous, fast-paced, confusing, and often deadly.  you might not have to give graphic depictions of everything happening around the characters — in fact, often “fog of war” keeps people on the battlefield from having a full picture of the proceedings.  Think of the beginning sequence of Saving Private Ryan — the chaos of the battle, the randomness of injury.  The character has his hearing go out temporarily, time seems to speed up and slow down.  There a re moments, like the soldier looking for his lost arm, that catch his attention.  This give you an idea of the kind of flavor you might want for this kind of campaign…

Here you would go over the effects of the injuries sustained, as much as the hit points/life points/whatever points lost.  Say a character has 14 life points and is shot with a high-caliber rifle — say a .50 caliber.  The damage they sustain might only be 5 points (they get really lucky), but that’s still roughly a third they can take…they’ll live, but they’re mashed up pretty good.  Maybe they lost an arm or a leg.

Smaller caliber weapons do different things.  The 5.7x28mm of Galactica‘s colonials is a .224 round.  It does a lot of temporary damage through hydrostatic shock, but it’s a small wound.  They tend to close and not bleed heavily.  9mm rounds in ball zip right through a person, even in the chest cavity, with some possibility of doing slight damage.  Or they can paralyze you.  The exit holes tend to bleed worse the the entrance wound.  Knife wounds hurt! and they bleed!  They also have a higher chance of doing permanent nerve damage.  Even a fist fight, the person delivering the blows — in my experience — rarely walks away without bruised knuckles or some kind of mild sprain.

You don’t have to go through the blow by blow, as in The Morrow Project, of what is happening as a bullet passes through someone.  Usually, most people aren’t that self-aware, and often an injury incurs some level of shock.

But say you’re not interested in the traumatizing effects of violence.  For a more genteel campaign, like Space: 1889 or Castle Falkenstein, you might want to keep the description of violence to a minimum, instead going with a “movie style” or “TV style” of violence.

Think about the way violence was portrayed in old Westerns, pulp movies (including the Indiana Jones series.)  There might be blood squibs, but often there’s just a clutching of wounds and collapsing.  Only during the truly horrific — the wrath of god or the evil fiend torturing an NPC do you see anything.  (Or not even then.  Think about the end of the flying wing fist fight in Raiders of the Lost Ark, for instance…)  No hero loses limbs, and no shoulder wound involves the brachial or subclavian arteries and bleeding out; no brachial plexus that means no feeling or movement in the arm.  The character, if tortured is given their resistance rolls, as the villains move in to do their dirty work and we pan away to the sounds of their screams.  (Think Han Solo in The Empire Strikes Back…you didn’t need to see the torture to know that it sucked egregiously.)  This sort of violence style is much more appropriate to the pulp campaigns of Hollow Earth Expedition or Savage Worlds, and it works well if you want the more campy period of James Bond.

Even TV-style violence varied from the weekly “shot in the shoulder but I’m okay” violence of Starsky & Hutch, to the more serious effects of gun play in Miami ViceMagnum: PI avoided gun play for the most part, and when it happened, it was sanitized for the prime time audience.

Cartoony violence, in which violence is used as slapstick comedy might be appropriate to Paranoia or Toon campaigns.  The horrific ends the character might face are mitigated by the internal logic of the campaign itself.  Similarly, a “golden age” style superhero camapign would involve a lot of collateral damage and knockback…but ultimately, the villain is only knocked unconscious and taken into custody (only to escape later.)  People rarely die prior to the angsty-realistic comic themes of the 1980s and later.

The key is to 1) Know your audience.  Are they mature enough for graphic violence?  Are they the kind to go into vapors if their character is tortured, raped, scarred or physically impaired by injury?  2) Is it appropriate to the setting?  More realistic campaigns the answer might be yes, but for light entertainments of pulp or romantic adventure..?  Probably not.