The Dresden Files RPG

Cover to the Dresden Files RPG, copyright Evil Hat Productions

Cover to the Dresden Files RPG, copyright Evil Hat Productions

Recently, Evil Hat announced that they were launching a playtest of their upcoming Dresden Files LARP, based on the RPG shown above. This is awesome, and is something I’ve been hoping would happen for years at this point. At one point I even started designing one, but never got very far into it. I applied (I don’t know if my application will be accepted or not. They start sending out letters on 02 May), but regardless of what comes of that I really enjoy the game and want to get back to playing it.

This post contains spoilers for the Dresden Files, by way of talking about my Dresden Files RPG/LARP game. If your concern for that makes you uneasy about playing, then you might want to click back now. Everyone else, read on.

Back when I ran a game, it was set in New Orleans, just after the end of Changes. As you might expect from the name, that book introduced some important changes to the Dresdenverse, and I felt that running a game prior to that point would be cheating my players out of something important. Running it later than that wasn’t tenable because Ghost Story hadn’t been released yet, but Jim Butcher already alluded to it not being as epic and world-shaking as its predecessor, so I felt pretty safe in my decision. I included some additional material that appeared in things like Side Jobs as well, because I thought it was fun and applicable.

Given that I applied to run a playtest, it should come as no surprise that I am interested in recruiting new players. If you’d be interested in that playtest, drop me a note here or on Facebook, or via e-mail or phone or whatever. Most of you have that info; if you don’t, then comment and we’ll work it out. This is a local thing being run live in Baton Rouge, at the moment, so people who can’t play in Baton Rouge probably shouldn’t worry about it right now. I don’t know if Evil Hat is interested in testing out how the game works in a play-by-email or IRC or other chat format, to be honest, but if they are I’m not averse to running that provided I have an appropriate venue and player base.

I’d like to have a fairly diverse set of players with a variety of interests and tendencies, as well as schedules. It’s okay if you can only make it to a couple of games or if you’re busy many weekends; I’d like to vary the cast to get a more meaningful playtest, anyway. The Dresden Files RPG is a highly narrative game, more in the vein of the World of Darkness (classic not new, unless you count God Machine, which you should because OMG) than Dungeons & Dragons. It is also a highly cooperative game, though I expect that will be toned down somewhat (to what degree I can’t say) for the LARP. The rules were fairly simple, and I expect them to be even simpler in the LARP. I do not expect (but cannot guarantee) it to be a boffer-style LARP (the hitting people with foam weapons kind of LARP). I expect the overall playstyle to be somewhat similar to the World of Darkness, except it seems much more inherently interactive between supernatural types; everyone doesn’t stay in their own swimming pool, not even a little bit. I could be wrong about any or all of that, but those are my expectations going into it. Also, anyone with experience playing FATE-based RPGs will probably have at least some transferable experience, since it will probably be based on that. Games will probably be run on no more than a bi-weekly schedule, because that is my work schedule, but I can vary the days session to session in order to vary the cast of players if that’s needed. I don’t need time commitments or anything right now, either; I just want to gauge interest. Working out schedules will come later.

Now, to the good stuff. The setting and plot this is going to be based in is the setting from my previous Tabletop Dresden Files RPG game, described above. It is just after one of the most tumultuous events in recent supernatural history. The Red Court is in ruins, and there is a war going on over the scraps of their empire, a war to fill the power vacuum they left behind. The supernatural elements in the city are as follows:

Wizards and other Magical Humans

The White Council itself has a comparatively weak presence within New Orleans. Only one Warden claims his domain here, in the Lakeshore neighborhood of northern New Orleans. He mostly controls and manages finances for the Council, though, and so was only conscripted as a Warden after the War started and demanded all able-bodied persons join the fight. A robust network of minor talents, held together by Priestess Marie Tusaud of the Voodoo Temple of New Orleans and the Paranet, manages and protects most of the magical persons within New Orleans. Rumors persist of a necromancer within New Orleans, claiming to be the child of Kalfou himself. Priestess Tusaud, when pressed, will not acknowledge that such a person even exists, but says that if he does then he is certainly her enemy.

Vampire Courts

The Vampire Courts in New Orleans (and everywhere else, for that matter) are in an uproar right now. Their previously established paradigm and balance of power has been thrown into complete chaos by the destruction of the Red Court at the hands of Harry Dresden. As a result, the historic home of the Vampire Courts in New Orleans, the French Quarter, has become something of a battleground. Fights and gang violence are on the rise there, despite the city cracking down on such things in the heart of their tourist district. The Black Court has as yet remained unseen, so it is the White Court that has primarily fought and gained territory in these areas, at the expense of ghoul gangs and other long-time allies of the red Court in New Orleans. Those gangs have, as a result, withdrawn to their strongholds in the lower Ninth Ward, in neighborhoods that have not as yet been rebuilt after being flooded by Hurricane Katrina and looted in the chaos that followed. House Raith and its allies lead the White Court in New Orleans, allying with other supernatural powers to secure their base of operations and assets as necessary.

Faerie Courts

Unlike in Chicago and many other temperate and northern cities, the Winter Court has only a very small presence in New Orleans. The Summer Court has its stronghold in the Garden District, Audubon and City Park, led by a noble living in the Garden District, but they are primarily opposed by two different foes. The Court of Storms, led by the Erlking himself, threatens and does battle with the Summer Court (and everyone else) every hurricane season. Occasionally the Wyld Hunt breaks into the city itself – the last such time being during Katrina – but most years it simply nips around the edges and is repelled by the allied forces of the magical practitioners and the Summer fae of New Orleans. The other force the Summer Court perpetually battles against for control of the Nevernever is the Court of the Lwa, a unique entity found only in New Orleans and throughout the Caribbean. From Baron Samedi to Legba, Erzulie, and even Kalfou, the Lwa represent for New Orleanians a mix of concepts, filling a role as Catholic Saints and pagan gods. Supernaturally, they are something all their own – a kind of spirit, kind of god, a collective power unto themselves that only holds sway within cities where traditions like Voodoo are held dear. Their power is by its nature somewhat decentralized, but it is most prevalent where older, poorer, and more superstitious people live. So it is only natural that many of the neighborhoods on the West Bank, such as Algiers, Gretna and Marrero, along with some of the older parts of New Orleans itself, like the Ninth Ward, Bywater, Treme, and Uptown, are where most of these shrines and much of this influence can be found.

The Restless Dead

New Orleans is famous for its zombies. They are an undeniable part of the folklore of the town, and there is a reason. Every time it rains, it seems more of them rise out of the wet, dark earth. Some of these are merely corpses dropped in the bayou or dumped in the river by New Orleans’s criminal element, but many of them are anything but mundane. The ghoul clans of the lower ninth ward regularly leave caches of dead to feast on, and sometimes even kill runaways and homeless persons in order to maintain their supply. A few of these produce ghosts, and as a result of New Orleans’s unusually thin veil, these ghosts sometimes find their former bodies and inhabit them. Others are bound to bodies by necromancy or other dark magic, and still others are created through mind-altering, coma-inducing chemicals and rituals mastered by the Bokor, members of the occult underworld who practice the dark side of voodoo and venerate the dark Lwa in the back alleys and shadows of New Orleans, not as Wizards per se but as servants to and extensions of those dark powers of the Nevernever. In addition to the zombies, bodiless undead like ghosts or poltergeists also call New Orleans home. These dead cluster around places of suffering and paid, so they tend to congregate in places like the condemned ruin that was once Charity Hospital and in the Cemeteries found throughout the city. Late at night, the dead even stir around the Superdome, which during Katrina was the site of much suffering and violent death. Priestess Tusaud and others have been working to correct the manifestations, especially the last, but as yet the work is merely ‘ongoing’.

Shapeshifters and Lycanthropes

Stories of gator-men and bog bears and bayou panthers occasionally make the news, but there are very few genuine instances of lycanthropes or their kin living in New Orleans. Only one major instance bucks this trend. A gang called the 3’n’G, located on the West Bank in Westwego and Gretna, is known among some for being one-and-all a pack of lycanthropes. The anger that fuels these men also helps them to protect the neighborhood they call home, though their particular manner of protection is as bloody as it is efficient. More than one dirty cop has been found strung up and stabbed to death in this part of town, and as such the police generally avoid it unless they can enter in significant numbers with plenty of backup. Elsewhere in the city there are certainly a small number of theriomorphs, but they have not formed a society or otherwise gathered together in any way.

Men of Faith, Hallowed Ground

There are only a few men of faith to be found in the churches in New Orleans. Despite being very deeply Catholic, the city is also deeply involved with the voodoo sub-culture, and what men of faith there are are often Houngan of Mambo, serving as priests or extensions of the Lwa, rather than priests or holy warriors. These men and women are found in no particular place. Perhaps the strongest man of faith is Monsignor Harold Watkins, serving as a priest on staff at St. Louis cathedral in the French Quarter. It is rare for genuine men of faith to be given this assignment, but Msgr. Watkins’s activities sanctify the ground of the church so that the servants of darkness and pain cannot enter (a fact that displeases the White Court to no end). He is not himself aware of the darkness, but the holy ground he maintains makes St. Louis cathedral itself a useful island of calm and safety amid the storms going on in the world. A more aware priest is Fr. Thomas Montegut, priest at St. Patrick’s, located near St. Louis on the edge of the French Quarter. He works with elements in the church such as the Ordo Malleus and Fellowship of St. Giles, helping to coordinate their efforts and house people on the run from the White Court or other dark powers in New Orleans. Rumors of his holding one of the blackened darnarii persist, but he denies them when and if he is ever asked. Predictably, this does nothing to quell the rumors.

Neutral Ground

While the greenways in the middle of the streets in New Orleans are popularly called “neutral ground,” the only place in New Orleans that is properly Accorded Neutral Territory is in the French Quarter. The bar-cum-pirate safehouse, Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop, is the one place that all the supernatural denizens of New Orleans can meet relatively secure in the knowledge that violence will not break out. It is run by the descendant of Jean Lafitte himself, a man by the same name. He is known by everyone in town, but known to very few of them. It is known that he is close to several Lwa, good friends with Priestess Tusaud, regularly attends mass with Msgr. Watkins at St. Louis, and on a first name basis with the only Warden in town, but no one knows how he acquired these connections or how deep they go. He seems to like it this way, and if nothing else it makes his in-the-know patrons that much more wary of crossing him.

 

For those who wish to play, I’ve whipped up the following poll to help me schedule games. They’ll also have to be scheduled around my time, but I’ll manage that part. If your schedule varies bi-weekly, answer for the week starting on May 6th, 2014 (so 10 days from now). Again, if your schedule is irregular, clarify it in the comments.

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Alera Nova

AleraNovaIt has been a while since I posted on this, but I’ve been quietly working on the above named RPG for the last few months. I have nailed down much of the basics; I’d like to tell you about them. There may (read: will) be spoilers below if you’ve not read the Codex Alera. Read on only if you don’t care about that.

The game is based in the world of the Codex Alera, and its mechanics are inseparable from that setting. It uses dice pools of 6-sided dice so that every roll reminds one of the 6 furies of Aleran life – Air, Earth, Fire, Metal, Water, and Wood. As well, 6 Attributes directly tied to those furies – Quickness, Strength, Passion, Resolve, Empathy and Perception – define the inherent capacities of every character. Every character starts with between 2 and 4 levels in each Attribute at character creation, with the ability to learn up to and even past the normal, unmodified maximum of 6.

Inherent capacity does not come from nowhere, however, nor is that the sole determiner of a character’s power or position within the game’s narrative. Skills also play a large role, representing those learned or earned capabilities that go beyond inherent ability to something more focused and specialized. A character learns Skills in one of two ways: through his background and through his profession. The former always stays the same while the latter can change periodically, as a character evolves and as the narrative develops. In that way, while a character’s growth is within certain limits at any given moment, in the grand scope of the chronicle a character can be or become almost anyone he wishes to be. Experience is earned as play progresses, and is spent on new Skills (or Magic, detailed below), expanding a character’s repertoire of available options. A character’s Attributes never increase through direct experience expenditures, but there are certain Skills that have the benefit of increasing Attributes.

Mundane skills are not the only options available to the peoples of Carna, however. Each character has access to magical tricks and benefits that vary according to their background. Marat characters gain power or speed or skill through their chala bond, for instance, while the Canim unleash powerful ritual sorceries to bless their allies or curse their foes. Alerans, of course, master the six branches of Furycraft, learning to smite their enemies with vicious Firecrafting or grant themselves the unnatural speed or flying abilities of advanced Aircrafting. In the years since the end of the Codex Alera, the doors to Furycrafting have been thrown wide open by the First Lord, so that even Marat or Canim may learn Furycrafting to a degree. They are not as adept at it nor do they take as naturally to it as do Alerans, but they have the option to learn at least a few powers or applications of Furycraft if they so choose.

The world has also changed a great deal in the generation since the end of the Vord War. In some ways it has grown; in other ways, it has stagnated or even gone backwards. The Canim have been given reign over two provinces within Alera Nova – the province of Shuar’a in the frozen north, and the province of Narash’a in the swampy south. The rest of the provinces within Alera Nova have been redrawn and reorganized, creating new provinces like Tiberia and Appia while erasing old ones like Ceres or Kalare. New technologies, developed by adapting the Canim war machine to Aleran use, have empowered the masses and helped fuel a generations’ long conflict between the different classes of Aleran society, between the newly- and long-freed men (not that slavery has been outlawed in all official capacities), the citizens, and the nobility. While Alera’s armies have pushed her enemies back to the swamps and ruins of old Kalare, they have stalled there for more than a decade, unable to penetrate the stinking ruins and root out for good the odd alliance of pirates, criminals, and Vord that dwell there. Rumors have even been heard of a few Marat who’ve abandoned their racial enmity toward the Vord, even going so far as to extend the chala bond to the vicious, perverse creatures. How this works, or if this is simply a ploy, remains a mystery. What is less mysterious, and more threatening, are the remains of dead Leviathans that have washed up on Alera’s beaches in the past few months. To a one their bodies were hollowed out, used as thus-far-failed transports for collections of Vord takers and spiders from, it is presumed, the captive lands of old Canea. Unable to meet this threat head-on due to failing health in his twilight years, and having lost his only heir to a disastrous military campaign, the First Lord Gaius Tavarus Magnus is in dire straits.

This uncertain hour demands new heroes. From the lands of the frozen north, the boiling south, the decadent east or the austere west, young heroes are born to the Academy, the Legions, or the Citizenry, and join together in common destiny and shared purpose. You are among them, and it may well be your choices that decide the fate of Alera Nova.

Jake Rush, and the Media as the new Jack Chick

Biased Editing 101

Just today, I saw a news item that hit me in a somewhat personal way. The man pictured above, Jake Rush, is running for U.S. Congress in Florida’s 3rd Congressional district. You might think certain things on seeing the picture on the right – weird, gothic, freak, outcast, deranged, maybe even dangerous – and I’d like to talk about that for a minute, about how the media went WAY into left field, and intentionally so, on this one.

First, this article seemed to start it all. It is from a blogging site in the district in which he is running, it looks like, and the article can be charitably described as a “takedown” piece – that is, one meant to do damage to his public life and Congressional prospects. A more accurate description might be a “nearly slanderous pile of trash.” Several others have followed on Huffington Post, Vanity Fair, The Miami Herald and the Sunshine State News. They have been various shades of unfair or silly, occasionally substantive or useful, but all have suffered from being derivative works based upon the original article linked at the top of this paragraph.

Now, before I go on, I want to dispel some illusions. I am not a supporter of Jake Rush. I don’t like him, I found his behavior in the Camarilla/MES to be various shades of stupid, unfair, immoral or unpleasant, and were he running to be my Congressman he would not have my vote unless his opponent were Alex Jones, Rush Limbaugh, or the equivalent. He is running to the right of the Tea Party, and I’m somewhat to the left of the Democratic Party, so we don’t get along.

His politics are not what is being attacked, however. His hobbies are, and they are being attacked in a way that very much reminds me of certain tracts I once read by Jack Chick. That man once wrote a pamphlet (that you can find after the last link) called “Dark Dungeons” in which he uncovers the evils of Dungeons & Dragons, how it encourages the occult, devil worship, casting spells, and teen suicide. The rhetoric of Saint Petersblog sinks to this level and stays there. It plays on misconceptions and misunderstandings, perpetuates biases and stereotypes, and mischaracterizes him in the worst way. It’s frankly quite sickening. There ought to be plenty to attack him on without resorting to this sort of rhetoric, and that they have shows at best a certain laziness on their part and at worst an intent to deceive or distract that makes them undeserving of a place in any legitimate news media.

Vampire role-playing games grew out of vampire fiction, and have been a part of the collective imagination for a very long time. Even before Bram Stoker wrote Dracula or Anne Rice wrote Interview with the Vampire, the vampire or something very much like it has been a part of the collective imagination. That people should want to explore that, that people should make it their hobby, is not “bizarre” or even noteworthy. The “Twilight Saga,” as groan-inducing as it is in some circles, proves that vampires have a very widespread appeal. Even 50 Shades of Grey, which is not explicitly about vampires, was inspired by vampires because it was originally composed as fanfiction (amateur short stories written by fans, based in the universe or on characters of some popular work of fiction) based on the aforementioned “Twilight Saga.”

If my readers want me to, I’d be happy to break down the (many) factual errors in the Saint Petersblog article about Jake Rush, but I don’t know if the investment of time is worth it right now because it would be substantial. At first blush however, this reminds me somewhat of a certain media explosion in the mid 90s, the Roderick Ferrell case. In this tragic case, a mentally-unbalanced young man carried out several murders in Florida and tried to make it to New Orleans, all under the delusion that he was a vampire. He was insane, clearly, but instead of delving into this fact and understanding that insanity will find an outlet the media examined the question of whether the role-playing game Vampire: the Masquerade was dangerous in and of itself. This assertion is ridiculous, for the same reason that the accusations of Patricia Pulling about Dungeons & Dragons are ridiculous, because so many people who play that game do so little (I in fact played this game, and though some may think me a little weird I think I’m quite sane thankyouverymuch). In fact, I’d be willing to bet a reasonable sum f money that there are fewer people per capita that commit capital crimes and play Dungeons & Dragons or any role-playing game, than who commit capital crimes and watch football or basketball or baseball or soccer or hockey or NASCAR.

If you want to attack the man’s politics, go ahead. To take what he said while playing a character as his own words, however, is the same as judging any Hollywood actor by the things a character of his once said. Would you attack Mel Gibson because of his role in “Payback?” Would you attack Samuel L. Jackson because of his role in “Pulp Fiction?” Would you attack Robin Williams because of his role in “One Hour Photo?” Would you attack Ronald Regan because of his role in “The Killers?” Would you attack Arnold Schwarzeneggar because of his role in “Predator?” I wouldn’t, and I don’t condone it of anyone else.

Attacks like these perpetuate a misunderstanding and a stereotype, and they do great harm to kids all over the country. The very kids who are marginalized, who are “geeks” or “outcasts,” who seek an escape from these games, grow into lawyers and aspiring Congressmen, police officers and military officers, in my case into scientists and engineers. Calling them weird is grade school bullying, and it is unbecoming of adult discourse. Find better reasons to attack him; I don’t doubt they exist. I can even give you a few if you ask nicely. If you don’t alienate everyone he ever associated with in the Camarilla by keeping up this line of attack, I’m sure you’ll find their memories improve greatly and you’ll not have to troll Wikipedia for your character research. So do yourself a favor, Saint Petersblog, and give up on this line of attack.

Dystopia Rising

It will not come as a surprise to all of you, but it will certainly come as a surprise to some of you that I’m involved with (or at least interested in) the post-apocalyptic live-action role-playing game Dystopia Rising. Specifically, I am interested in Bravo, which is based near Austin, TX.

My wife and I have been talking about this for several months. We come to this from experience in the Camarilla Fan Club, which is a primarily social LARP based in White Wolf’s World of Darkness. Before that, we both spent a number of years playing Dungeons & Dragons and other tabletop role-playing games. This is a bit of a divergence for us, then. We don’t come to this from the SCA or any other form of combat/boffer LARP, and we don’t have a lot of experience with that. My own background includes a couple of years spent in Olympic-style fencing, but that was forever ago so I don’t know how relevant that is going to be. I don’t know how prominent boffer fighting is going to be in how the game works, either, so I don’t know how that aspect of the game is going to work out.

The character I plan to play is a little bit of an OOC hedge, but it should work well. You see, as you might have guessed by now, about three years ago I was diagnosed with a brain tumor. That’s mostly not relevant to this, but for one thing: I still have some residual nerve damage that affects the right side of my face. My right eye sees at approximately 20/50-20/100, and still doesn’t quite line up with my left so that I have double vision and no depth perception. The muscles of my face on the right side do not move as fully as the rest of my face, meaning that most people don’t read my emotions quite as well because they mostly read emotion from that side of the face. That is why I chose to play a certain kind of character called a Lascarian, who among other things almost always wears a mask. That will help me protect my eye and see more clearly, and minimize the effects of my face being largely immobile on the right. I also like fishing and find exploration fun, so I’ve built my character around that sort of role-play.

My wife, who is significantly more reticent about the game than I am, chose to play something closer to home. She likes making thread, making cloth, and making things made out of thread and cloth. Because there’s no particular skill for that in the game, she is also focusing on one of the other things she likes to do: cooking. Because of the game’s mechanics, there are a few particular strains (DR’s equivalent of a race; a particular kind of human that inhabits the post-apocalyptic world) that work best for achieving this, but she has chosen to go with the Nation of Accensor, who are focused on finding religion more than anything else but whose special power lets them recover the resource that one spends when doing things like cooking or building stuff. It should be pretty easy for her to play.

The final hurdle is one of logistics. For a long time, my problem was finding transportation to the site, especially before my wife decided to play too. Now that she has decided to play, the issue has shifted to us not owning some of the things that we would need to be successful at Dystopia Rising. These tools are pretty simple – a tent, bedrolls, things like that. We need to get those things, with a special mind to staying warm. That last is because I happen to have been born with Familial Cold Autoinflammatory Syndrome (FCAS), also known as Familial Cold Urticaria (FCU), which essentially makes me allergic to cold temperatures. I break out in hives, my joints swell, things like that; basically, it’s highly unpleasant. Although I’ve been told that this means that I can request and will probably get a place in the special medical cabin (although I absolutely hate, hate, hate to need special accommodations), it leaves my wife out in the cold somewhat. So I have to figure out all the details of that.

… and since the game is 1 week away, I ought to figure this out soon. Fun times!

Workworkworkwork… nerdy fun.

I’ve been doing a great deal of work on Alera Nova, as I posted last time. Ever since my last update, I have:

* Added a great deal more detail to the Character Creation and Character Types pages

* Updated some of the Other Rules Systems, but it has mostly been minor stuff

* Added more info to the The World page, describing much of the history that links the Codex Alera to Alera Nova.

 

That can all be found here.

Brainstorming RPG ideas

AleraCover

For the past few years, I have been kicking around a pen-and-paper RPG based on Jim Butcher’s book series (no, not the Dresden Files – that already has an RPG) called the Codex Alera. It lends itself rather naturally to an RPG of that kind, and I wanted to play around with how to design an RPG and this is a useful lab experiment in which to teach myself the skill.

I don’t want to get too far into the nitty-gritty of the RPG, but to give you context for my remarks later I do need to give you context. So, with that in mind, here’s a short summary to help you get where I’m going (note: spoiler alert from this point on):

Alera Nova is set about 80 years after the last book in the series, First Lord’s Fury, and is based on carrying many of the events and changes explored by the series out to their natural end. As such, things like merit-based furycraft, citizenship for Marat and Canim, and a generation’s worth of growth in the empire back into the lands taken by the Vord are assumed. Gaius Tavarus Magnus is on his deathbed at the start of the game, and that is about to set the empire itself on edge as it was his charisma and personality which for a long time held old rivalries in check. Now that he’s gone, and his successor is far too young to take the throne, the question of how he will leave the empire in the mean time naturally arises. Also, there are escalating problems with the Vord still living in the volcanic catacombs unearthed beneath old Kalare.

As for rules, I decided early on that I wanted it to be d6-based. There are 6 elements in the Aleran cosmology, so it felt right to make 6 an important number in the game. I settled on a basic design of counting successes and failures a la the World of Darkness or Shadowrun 5th edition games, and of limiting the field of attributes to only a few things and making intentional exclusions that in my experience would make the game better. That meant that I finally settled on 6 attributes, with each attribute being tied directly to one form of Furycraft. There is Strength, the element of Earthcraft; Quickness, the element of Aircraft; Perception, the element of Woodcraft; Resolve, the element of Metalcraft; Empathy, the element of Watercraft; Passion, the element of Firecraft. Note the absence of Intelligence and Charisma. Intelligence was removed because my experience with it has been that this is particular was always almost impossible to fairly represent, especially if the player was prone to poor decision-making despite his character’s high Intelligence score. Charisma is admittedly partially covered in Passion and Empathy, because those skills relate to how one socializes and relates with others, but unlike those skills Charisma in my experience always turned into a “so now you have to like me” skill, and thereby got in the way of role-play rather than fostering it.

To go with those Attributes I designed a race and profession based system that works something like the live-action rules for Dystopia Rising, in that the primary function of either is to give you access to particular Skills which you then acquire through the acquisition of experience points. I’d like to introduce an additional system for detailing a character, like Merits & Flaws or Backgrounds or something like that, but I’ve not settled on it yet. I might take a page from Numenera on that, because I really enjoy the character typing/creation process detailed in that game.

Having said all that, I’m pondering two things that make me go ‘hmm’.

1. Perception-based ranged attacks. Bow attacks are traditionally based on Dexterity in games like this. Originally that was my Attribute for Woodcraft, but I’ve since changed it because Perception is an important attribute to have in the game somewhere and there was no intuitive combination of Attributes that seemed to fairly represent it. That rippled through the system the way foundational changes do, and it left me with the question of how to handle bow attacks. A dice pool of Perception + Archery seemed odd at first, I’ll admit, but the more I thought about it the more it made sense. Dexterity (or some proxy for it) was not really what a person used to hit things with a bow, in my experience of bow hunting when I was younger (thanks dad!). One used strength to draw the bow, but it was really an informed understanding of how fast an arrow fell from true and an accurate guess of the distance to the target that determined whether a person would hit what they aimed at, once they had the base muscular strength and dexterity it took just to draw the bow down. Thus, it made sense to make this attack based on Perception rather than Dexterity.

2. Eidetic Memory as a Flaw. Normally, all games with merits and flaws have some sort of merit representing a character who rarely/never forgets, whose memory is photographic or nearly so. This is often one of the most popular merits in the game because it lets to player tell the storyteller to¬† tell him the stuff he has forgot without making a roll for it. Well, having done some reading about real life eidetic memory (called Highly Specific Autobiographical Memory, or HSAM), I see that many times and in many ways, it’s not really a boon on someone’s life. Neuroscientists now believe that the cause of HSAM isn’t improved neural functioning which stores memory more efficiently, but what amounts to a broken ‘Forget’ button. People with HSAM tend to live in the past, almost get addicted to simply reliving good days, and have trouble relating to other people who assume that if they remember something then that’s because it was significant to them. I’m still thinking about how best to translate that into mechanics, but I think it would be really neat to make that equivalent to a Flaw rather than a Merit, and I think I’m going to do that.

 

A Knight’s Tale: The Untold Story

black_prince

How Kings do Business: Royal Betrayal in A Knight’s Tale

Before we begin, I want to state up front that this is a work of fiction. It isn’t the actual story – but I think you’ll agree with me, it would be awesome if it were. It isn’t even the story I think they intended, it’s just what I saw peering between the cracks. I’ve seen A Knight’s Tale literally hundreds of times, and it’s nice to see something new in it.

In the movie, we meet a few memorable noble figures. One is Adhemar, Count of Anjou. Another is Jocelyn, Princess of Navarre. Another is Edward, Black Prince f Wales and Crown Prince of England. Before I go on, lets unmask this rogue’s gallery.

Edward is easy. He’s a major historical figure in his own right. But he provides a bit of context and substantiation of one of the dates in the film. That date is 1370, the year of his return to England. He returned to England because of the Treaty of Bretigney, which temporarily ended the Hundred Years’ War between England and France. It ended with a major French defeat, and marked the height of England’s power within France.

As part of the treaty, certain French nobles agreed to enter ‘custodial care’ in England as collateral for France paying its debt to the victor. Among them was Louis I, Duke of Anjou. He is the closest and most reasonable historical facsimile to Adhemar, and there are a few good reasons to think that. First, in his lifetime he was known also as the Count of Anjou before being promoted by the King of France. Second, he is Duke at the time of the movie. Third, he has close dealings with Edward, the Black Prince, being his hostage. Now, hostage takes a little explaining here. Being a noble hostage in these times did not equate to being kept in a closet. It was expected that if your captor was honorable – and Edward was honorable – then you would be treated according to your station, which frequently meant the ability to move about and frequent travel with or in your captor’s entourage. We see exactly this in the movie.

Here is where the betrayal sets in. Historically, the Duke of Anjou escaped captivity and returned to France, only to be ordered on pain of dishonor to go back into custody and pay his debts. In order to pay those debts he needed money. Enter Jocelyn, the Princess of Navarre, presumably the daughter of King Charles II of Navarre. There is no solid historical analogue of her character in the historical record, but if we assume a little bit and pencil the rest in, a story starts to emerge. In 1369, just before the start of the movie, King Charles conspired with John V, Duke of Brittany to form a mutual defense treaty, effectively aligning himself with the French King by making an alliance with a noble who was both loyal to France and a direct traitor to the King of England. Jocelyn is Princess under these conditions and is a lovely jewel that, if captured, could be of great benefit to any man seeking an alliance with her father (yes, I know, this is fairly anti-feminist. It isn’t an unreasonable take on the attitudes of the day, though). Edward wants that alliance, but can’t have it himself because it would be an alliance with a traitor and that looks weak. Louis (Adhemar) wants that, because it will mean he can curry favor and perhaps leverage his freedom. And, of course, William wants that because he loves Jocelyn.

At one point, Adhemar says boastfully that he has “entered into negotiations with [Jocelyn’s] father” to make her his bride. It is possible that as quietly as it was said, someone in Edward’s entourage heard Adhemar saying that and reported it to him. This would have told Edward two useful things:

1. Adhemar plans to marry the Princess of Navarre and will try to use that as leverage to avoid paying his debt and/or secure his freedom.

2. That William also loves Jocelyn. If he didn’t, why would Adhemar have used that as a barb in the first place?

Knowing the second, Edward hatches a plan. First, Edward places Adhemar in command of the Free Companies. Then he sets him loose on France, in order to disrupt his alliance with King Charles by forcing him to fight Frenchmen. Because the Free Companies do not follow the codes of chivalry and honor, though, and because Adhemar allows them to pillage madly, he grows wealthy by feasting on the spoils of war. Thus, Edward has to disband the Free Companies, lest he lose his mercenary commander because he grows rich enough to buy his freedom. He recalls him to England, and there hatches his second treachery.

Over the summer, he’d been allowing Sir William Thatcher / Sir Ulrich von Lichtenstein to grow more and more skilled and noteworthy at the joust. With each victory and tournament championship he got new armor, a new horse, new gear and new confidence. At just the moment he becomes “on a horse, with a lance, unbeatable” Edward disbands the Free Companies and goes to tournament, knowing that Adhemar will have to go with him and will naturally compete.

Adhemar proves canny and self-aware at this moment, because instead of fighting a superior opponent honorably on the jousting arena, he defeats him by exposing his secret fraud. He exposes that Sir Ulrich von Lichtenstein is nothing but a commoner in disguise, nothing but a fraud. Rather than accepting defeat at this moment, Edward decides to move more openly and capitalize on an opportunity.

As William Thatcher is exposed, at this darkest moment, his old friend Edward comes as a friend. On the surface, Edward’s decision to knight William makes no sense. The dichotomy between nobility and commoner is one of the best forms of social control available to royalty in these times, so it would take a powerful inducement for him to set that aside. However, if we look more closely, we see exactly that.

By knighting William, Edward gains several things. One, he reactivates his best weapons against Adhemar’s growing prestige. Two, he enables William – now firmly an English noble, not a mere Flemish nobody – to have the credentials to marry Jocelyn, keeping her father from forming a more permanent alliance with John V and thus weakening English control of France. Three, he gains prestige for both himself and his court, confirming that the most valorous knight in the world is English (not Flemish; of London not Gelderland) and that he will himself be seen as progressive and merciful for helping a man in his darkest hour. So he benefits personally, financially (through Adhemar’s continued ransom payments), and politically. A win all around. So in a way, his decision was not only good strategy, it was inevitable.

Then, in a desperate last bid for power, Adhemar cheats. He breaks the code of the joust and tips his lance, then because of this he brings Sir Thatcher to deal to him the greatest disgrace – he defeats Adhemar while wearing no armor at all, showing him that he isn’t the least bit afraid of Adhemar’s power. That is a terrible strategic move on Sir Thatcher’s part, but it work out, punctuated by his screaming “William” – an exclamation which, like the choice to knight him in the first place, is both seemingly inexplicable and ultimately sensible in context.

Because, you see, with Edward’s help, this nobody-knight William defeated him. He was defeated by a name, a story, a boy. William.

It really makes a whole lot more sense, I think.