ART LYON: design, editing, writing, illustration, digital coloring, and other arcane secrets.

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ALIGNMENT CHECK!

RPG Blog Carnival, March 2017:

THINGS IN THE DARK

 

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This month’s RPG Blog Carnival theme is “Things in the Dark”. Much like MoebiusAdventures, the host of this month’s theme, I’m going to focus my post on a creature – actually, a race* of creatures.

This was really my first thought as I read the theme description for this month’s Carnival, because I’ve been working on a race of literally dark beings for a Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition game I’m currently running. So, I’d like to thank MoebiusAdventure for showing that was an acceptable approach; otherwise, I might have thought it was too far afield.

So, ever since the I first saw the entry for “Shade” in TSR’s Monster Manual II for the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons edition waaaaaay back in 1983, I’ve been kind of fascinated with them, and really it was this image that captured my young imagination:

D&DShade


SpooOOOooky, huh?

Basically, by the book, Shades are a not-quite-a-race of beings that other races can be transformed into under the right – or wrong, depending on how you look at it – circumstances. But for me, my first impression from that image was of Shades as a race unto themselves, with a powerful connection to some primordial essence of darkness or shadow. Young me thought that was pretty cool.

So, yeah – that stuck in my head…for about 30 years!

I started actually developed my version of them for a 13th Age game I ran a few years ago. Races are really easy to write up in 13th Age, so I was able to create a basic representation of my idea. In the fantasy cosmology of that homebrew setting, they were one of the very first races, one that existed even before light illuminated the world.

But for the game I am currently running we’re using the Celtic mythos and cosmology as a basis for the setting, and so I fit the origin of the Shade into that. In a common Celtic creation myth the mother and father of the gods, Danu and Donn, are formed out of a cosmic chaos, love each other, and become inseparable. They have children who eventually become some of the bigger names of Celtic mythology – but these children cannot truly grow without first escaping the womb-like embrace of their parents. They do so by running Donn through with a sword and sundering him into bits that form the Earth.

In that womb-like darkness I saw a perfect place for the origin of the Shade. In this version, there was disagreement among these First Children about how to break out or whether to do it at all, at the risk of killing one of their parents. Among the dissenters was Scaedh (skage). Scaedh saw value in the dark, and sought to further explore its reaches untainted by the light of what would come should one or both of their parents be destroyed. In the end, Donn was slain and the world was made. Scaedh fled to the darkest reaches of this new world, high and low, and from Scaedh sprang a race of shadow-people.

Culled from various versions of the Shades for various editions of D&D, here’s my write-up as it stands now, for the purposes of our current game. There are a lot of darkness-related abilities I could give them, but I’m trying to strike a balance of benefits and restrictions that matches the overall power-level of the core races in the D&D 5E Players Handbook. This is my first try at this, so it could easily have many issues. I haven’t introduced Shades as a racial option for characters yet, and since I’m basing a lot of the setting on choices the players make I don’t have any solid ideas regarding Shade culture and history.


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Shade

Shades are descended from Scaedh, one of the First Children – the original offspring of Donn and Danu.  Scaedh preferred the original darkness of the inseparable Donn and Danu to the harsh light of the world that was made when Scaedh’s siblings slew Donn to gain their freedom from that dark womb-like existence.

Shades are human in size and shape, but their skin and features are all a barely-reflective black. Even the clothing they wear and items they carry take on a similar shadowy appearance. The longer an item has been in close contact with a Shade’s body, the longer it will take to regain its normal appearance when removed from their presence.

A Shade’s body is made partly from the essence of shadow and darkness. They weigh less than what a normal creature their size might weigh and produce less body heat. They require little food or drink, and in fact have little sense of taste or smell with which to enjoy such things.

Shade Names

Shades use names common to wherever they are living at the time. They also have a Shade name which is a treasured and closely-guarded secret. Shade outcasts are formally stripped of their Shade name and all Shades are thenceforth forbidden to use it in any way.
Female Shade Names often end with -el, -em, -en, -eth, and -ith,: Gilel, Kivem, Velen, Seseth, Nilith.
Male Shade Names tend to end in -ef, -ek, -en, -eng, -ev, and -ik: Vekef, Velek, Ekden, Geneng, Grenev, Villik.

Shade Traits

Ability Score Increase. Your Dexterity score increases by 2, and your Wisdom score increases by 1.
Age. Shades mature very slowly compared to humans, reaching maturity by 100 years of age, and can live as long as 1000 years or more.
Alignment. Although leaning toward chaotic alignments, Shades find distinctions between good and evil and law and chaos rather small-minded.
Size. Shades are generally between 5′ 6” and 6′ 1 “. Your size is Medium.
Speed. Your base walking speed is 35 feet, 45 feet when in shadows or darkness.
Shadowsight. You can see normally in dim light and even total darkness, both magical and non-magical.
Light Aversion: You have disadvantage on any Concentration checks when you are in brightly-lit environments. You are not able to cast spells with the ‘fire’ or ‘light’ descriptors.
Darkling Form. You have resistance to poison and cold, but vulnerability to radiant damage. You only need  4 hours of sleep per day, but you cannot regain hit dice or hit points in brightly-lit environments.
Shadow Step. When you are in shadow or darkness, as a bonus action you can teleport up to 60 feet to an unoccupied space that you can see that is also in shadow or darkness. You then have advantage on the first melee attack you make that turn.
Whispers in the Dark. As an action when in shadow or darkness, you can whisper a message to a single creature within 120 feet who is also in shadow or darkness. The target hears the message and can reply in a whisper, that only you can hear. The whisper can pass through solid objects if you are familiar with the target and know it is beyond the object(s). This ability is subject to magical silence spells and their effects.
The Stuff of Shadows. You have advantage in stealth checks made to hide in shadows.
Proficiencies: Arcana, Intimidate, Stealth
Languages. You can speak, read, and write Shadic, Common, Undercommon, and Primordial.
Shades are classified as the humanoid creature type.

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That’s it! Like I said, this is my first try at this, so please comment below with any thoughts or suggestions.

*For those unfamiliar with the usage, the term “race” in fantasy roleplaying games is used to distinguish elves from humans, hobbits from dwarves, etc., rather than in the modern, very unscientific usage which seeks to distinguish one ancestry of homo sapiens from another.

ALIGNMENT CHECK!

STAR WARS: EDGE OF THE EMPIRE 

An evolving review, deconstruction, and reconstruction of the game
Part 3

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I’m going to start getting more into my critique and evolving, probably incomplete hack of Fantasy Flight GamesStar Wars: Edge of the Empire roleplaying game. I’ll be talking about the game’s dice mechanic, but for a detailed explanation of how that works in the game as published, see my previous blog post.

Basically, SW:EOTE uses a dice pool system for task resolution. There are six kinds of dice – seven if Force Dice come into play.  Those six kinds of dice each have a different color, so it’s easy to grab the ones you need, but the exact number of each kind of die will change with every new situation.

Those six kinds of dice come in two types: positive dice and negative dice.

There are six different possible results on them: Success,  Advantage, and Triumph are the positive results, and Failure, Threat,  and Despair are the negative results.

Each of those six possible results are more common on some of the six kinds of dice than on others.

Some negative results cancel out positive results.

Some die faces have more than one result on them.

One or more faces on each die are blank, with no result.

Every time I describe this dice system, no matter how I slice it I’m struck by how awkward it is. There are aspects of it that would become second nature with practice, but that seems like an unnecessary barrier to new and/or casual gamers. Being such a high-profile, cross-media, all-ages popular culture powerhouse, a priority in designing a Star Wars roleplaying game should be accessibility.

But what I also see are seeds of a simpler, more streamlined system that integrates the excellent three-tiered positive and negative results idea throughout the system. More on that later.

Now, I am not qualified to analyze the probabilities of rolling any given result on N number of dice of X types, so I’m hesitant to suggest an alternate dice system. Any alterations are going to change the odds of one thing or another, but what follows are three options I’ve come across that could be improvements.

Trentin C. Bergeron (user name: TreChriron) offers an option on the rpg.net forums that uses common six-sided dice only, in just three different colors. That simplifies the dice themselves right off the bat. A base “chance roll” of 3d6 is rolled simultaneously with positive and negative dice, the net result of the latter two adjusting the former.

Basically, you come up with two totals and adjust one with the other. The net result is compared to a target number of 13 to determine how well you succeed or fail. Rolling doubles gets you your Advantages and Threats, and rolling triples gets you Triumph and Despair results. I’m a big fan of rewarding multiples on a roll.

Overall, it seems a little awkward still and rough around the edges, but worth pursuing.

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Over at Yaruki Zero Games, Ewen Cluney has created Destiny Dice, his own open license dice mechanic modeled after SW:EOTE’s dice pool system. Destiny Dice is designed for use in Evil Hat’s Fate games, but could easily be used for FFG’s Star Wars rpgs as well. He’s come up with much more obvious, intuitive symbols for the six possible results, and uses customized 6-sided dice only. He hasn’t eliminated much of the awkwardness of reading the results, though.

He also replaces the Triumph/Despair poles with Hope/Despair which both makes more sense and is a nice reference to what started it all, A New Hope. One could also go with Triumph/Defeat, which also makes more sense. This might all be the pedantic grammarian in me coming out, though.

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Bill Edmunds’ Meta Dice are also a promising replacement for SW:EOTE’s dice, and have exciting applications for many other games as well. Definitely worth a look.

If I were to choose or design an alternative dice mechanic to replace FFG’s – which, as I mentioned above, I do not feel qualified to do – I would want fewer kinds of dice, only one result per die face, more intuitive icons, and maybe no blank faces. I would base the negative dice on the stats (Characteristic scores, Skill ranks, etc.) of the opposition.

However, I’m getting into the topic for my next post: changing how characters are built, and integrating character and other stats into the existing dice mechanic.

BRUCE WAYNE: GHOSTS OF GOTHAM

I’ve known Gene Ha and Lowell Francis for…well, let’s just say “a long time” and move on, before my lumbago starts acting up.  There was a stretch of a few years during which the three of us worked together developing ideas into presentable comic book pitches.  Many of these involved DC Comics characters,  because we all grew up reading comics, Gene had good relations at DC,  I had colored a bunch of Gene’s (and other people’s) work there, and Lowell had a lot of storytelling and editing cred.  (Eventually we all worked together on Project Superman, but that’s a story for another day.)

There were two ideas that reached a full pitch level, complete with conceptual art by Gene.  Lowell posted about Riddles: Edward Nigma, Consulting Detective (with comments and some of the illustrations) on his excellent gaming blog, Age of Ravens.  Riddles had a small cast of weird characters, and each issue was going to be an homage and send-up of traditional detective and pop-culture tropes and settings. It would have been a wild ride!  He also posted about the more recent, text-only pitch Lowell and I put together for a  revival of Warlord for DC’s “New 52” relaunch.  Those posts by Lowell and the news about Fox’s  upcoming “Gotham” tv series got me thinking about one of our pitches that hasn’t seen the light of day…

Of all the ideas the three of us pursued in depth, Bruce Wayne: Ghosts of Gotham was by far my favorite.  It would have been part of DC’s  “Elseworlds” imprint, an alternate take on existing DC Comics characters, their connections, situations, histories, motivations, modi operandi, etc.  I kind of fell in love it, I think because of the fun and challenge of working out all those differences and new connection, because it was our own little version of the DC universe, and because of the chance to make more interesting a some characters who I normally don’t have much affinity for.

Initially it was a broad, sweeping thing that included characters from across the DC universe, including Superman, Lex Luthor, the Legion of Doom, and many more.  There was a whole alternate Teen Titans idea in there somewhere. Because of the scale it started feeling a bit like Mark Waid and Alex Ross’ DC mini-series Kingdom Come.

Eventually we wisely narrowed the focus to Batman’s usual stomping grounds, Gotham City, perhaps with the thought that we could explore the larger-scale ideas and implications in theoretical sequels.  Once we made that decision, the story really started to gel.  Lowell still loves our treatment of Edward Nigma (traditionally the real name of the classic Batman villain, The Riddler).  Once we started calling Green Arrow “Black Arrow”, I immediately thought of Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Black Arrow: A Tale of the Two Roses (a personal favorite of mine), and wanted to have his background and story arc mirror some of  things in that novel.

The basic premise of Ghosts of Gotham involved the ripple effects of one simple change to a seminal event in Bruce Wayne’s childhood:

Instead of the classic moment in Batman’s “origin story” when a random thug with a gun senselessly murders Bruce’s parents before his eyes – setting Bruce on a disciplined path of revenge, justice, and a war on crime – in “Ghosts of Gotham” Bruce’s mother alone was shot and killed, and his father proceeds to beat the thug to death with a brick – as Bruce watches on in horror.

But I should let the pitch speak for itself.  These are the actual full pages of the proposal we presented, so you’re seeing what the folks at DC saw.  Text by Lowell, art by Gene, layout by me.  I have no idea how I would have colored this comic at the time, had it come to that.  Looking at it now, I would approach it very, very simply, since Gene was using a lot of blacks.  The background images behind the text are taken from Gene’s rough sketches.

Click on the thumbnails below for bigger, readable versions.

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Sadly, aside from any story problems that might exist, there were two sort of editorial problems that kept this idea from going to any next stage:

1. Apparently, in an Elseworlds story about Bruce Wayne, by the end of the story someone has to put on a Bat-costume of some kind.  It’s a rule or something.  I think we just didn’t want to force the whole bat-thing, and kind of wanted to explore a Gotham that didn’t have that.  Oddly enough, our original, larger-scale idea would have not been so focused on Bruce Wayne and would have gotten around that.

2. By the time we presented the idea, DC was kind of done doing Elseworlds stories, but hadn’t made a point of it publicly.  They were trying to refocus their brand, which eventually led to The New 52 version of the DC universe.

So, there you have it.  I still have the crazy dream of using this idea – or something stemming from the same altered turning-point – as the setting  for a role-playing game with friends some day.

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ceci says

did I just say that? (adventures in stream-of-consciousness writing)

Ellen Starr Lyon

commited to creating art while being a full-time working mom

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