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(Gaming) Meet Bunkin Johnson, the Devoted Squire

ctd20

Last Friday I wrote up one of my characters for the Changeling 20th Anniversary Edition — Sergei Kolov, the Silent Knight. Now, meet his Devoted Squire Bunkin Johnson! I’ve had these two in my head for a very long time now; I had a vague idea for a Changeling-based TV show called “Sleepwalkers”, where faeries were running around as normal people except for folks who had “the sight”. They’ve gone through many different iterations, and I’m happy that they get to come full-circle to the setting they were always meant to be in.

Bunkin Johnson is (of course) a rabbit pooka with a whip-crack wit and a keen desire to give himself over to a cause that’s bigger than him. He finally finds it in Sergei — as his eyes, ears and mouth if necessary. They’ve thankfully relaxed the rules on pooka lies in C20, but I imagine that Bunkin’s lies are still fairly frequent, serving the purpose of advancing Sergei’s agenda and reputation. Also, they serve to deflect attention away from him; he works best when no one’s looking.

BUNKIN JOHNSON, THE DEVOTED SQUIRE

Background
Even though Carver Johnson comes from a family of Baltimore natives, the half-black/half-Irish student has never felt at home in the city. His father — a police administrator — couldn’t reconcile the fact that his son was interested in his office for all the wrong reasons even from a young age, so he left the bulk of the rearing to Carver’s mom, a veterinarian whose work often came home with her. Animals were one of the only things that young Carver could focus on, so his parents assumed he would follow in his mother’s footsteps someday. It was a mild shock when he chose to go to Baltimore City College for high school instead of its science/engineering focused rival, Baltimore Polytechnic Institute.

Carver’s love of words rivaled his love of animals, though, and he quickly became one of the most popular “nerds” in school. He was the class clown the teachers couldn’t get angry enough to punish, the geek that somehow avoided beatdowns by the jocks. As easily as he navigated the treacherous landscape of high school, however, he still felt something was missing. He found what he had been looking for all his life the night he saw the Silent Knight rescue one of his teachers from a couple of thugs.

He thought he went crazy when he noticed the huge stranger grow horns and lupine fangs, or saw that his teacher had pointed ears and two eyebrows. His sense of hearing and smell grew sharper; colors popped way too brightly; voices cheered on one side or the other from the shadows. When the overly-pierced monsters were finally dispatched, Carver ran up to the stranger and begged to be his squire. He had no idea why; it just felt like destiny.

Nine months later, Carver has learned much about his own pooka nature and the world of the fae. He sees himself as the voice for the voiceless knight, making sure Sergei’s needs are attended to. His parents are quite suspicious of this newfound passion for helping the homeless, but they chalk it up as just another phase their strange son is going through. Hopefully, eventually, he’ll settle down and be a vet.

Mortal Seeming
Carver is one of those kids who looks reasonably put together; his fade is fresh, his edges are lined up, and his clothes are bright and well-kept. He presents a really nice silhouette. But that doesn’t change the fact that there’s something in his expression and demeanor that gives him an air of awkward discomfort, like he’s just waiting for something frightening to happen. His eyes are spaced notably wide apart, his nose looks like it wants to lead right towards his lips, and two large incisors are prominent due to an overbite. His cleanliness looks fussy; he will never be calm or still.

Fae Mien
As a fae, Bunkin looks much more calm and collected. His brown eyes are huge and dark, taking in his surroundings with calm alertness. His long ears are often pointed in different directions, though it’s unclear how much he can actually hear. For all intents and purposes, he comes across as a tall, self-possessed bipedal rabbit in “simple” Victorian clothing. He prefers his feet to be bare, covered with tailored spats at most, with a messenger bag slung over one shoulder and across his chest. His companion, a tiny cockroach in a top hat, can frequently be found on the other.

Vital Statistics
Court: Seelie
Legacies: Squire/Beast
Seeming: Wilder (16)
House: Commoner

Physical: Strength 2, Dexterity 3, Stamina 2
Social: Charisma 4, Manipulation 3, Appearance 3
Mental: Perception 2, Intelligence 3, Wits 3

Talents: Alertness 1, Athletics 1, Empathy 2, Expression 3, Intimidation 1, Kenning 2, Subterfuge 2
Skills: Animal Ken 1, Etiquette 1, Performance (oratory) 2, Stealth 1
Knowledges: Academics 3, Computer 3, Enigmas 2, Investigation 1, Law 1, Politics 1, Science 1, Technology 1

Arts: Chicanery 1, Legerdemain 1, Metamorphosis 1
Realms: Actor 2, Fae 2, Nature 1, Scene 1
Backgrounds: Companion 2, Contacts 1, Dreamers 1, Resources 1

Tempers: Glamour 5, Willpower 4, Banality 3
Merits: Acute Hearing 1, Good Listener 1, Loyal Heart 2
Flaws: Echoes 2

 
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Posted by on October 13, 2017 in RPGs, Sleepwalkers, Writing

 

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Friday Fiction: The Exchange (Kraugh – Star Wars: Age of Rebellion)

Gaming 150This is a short short story featuring a character I’ll be playing for a friend’s Star Wars: Age of Rebellion game. He is a Togorian (a tall, feline-like alien species with a really interesting sexual dichotomy) who eschews the typical nomadic lifestyle of his species by choice — he views traveling throughout the galaxy as merely an extension of that lifestyle, where he gets to meet all manner of different sapient beings and find interesting technology for his wife. I like playing big guys who are more interested in the intellectual, spiritual or social, what can I say?

Kraugh slouched low in his chair, made sure his hands were under the table, kept his voice low and didn’t display his teeth. He knew that his size and teeth and claws had the potential to put his trading partner on alert, and he really didn’t want that. If he could manage to pull of this score, it’d be a huge boon for the crew.

His ears flicked around the bar as he scanned the riot of people stuffed into close quarters, shouting over each other to be heard. No sign of his partner, but it was early yet. He wouldn’t start to feel nervous about being stood up for another few minutes.

For now, he simply watched people. There were a pack of Bothans sitting in one corner booth, drinking something brightly colored out of a glass as long as their forearms. They were speaking quietly, their big ears turned towards each other, fur rippling in ways that meant something only to them. Kraugh briefly thought about heading over there, buying them a drink and striking up a conversation. He’d bet at least a thousand credits that they had something intensely interesting going down. Bothans tended not to gather in one place otherwise. He shifted in his seat and drained half of his drink in one long draught. The evening would pick up soon enough, he told himself. No need to go chasing excitement when it was coming to him.

A Wookiee and a Twilek sat at another table, speaking animatedly. He could pick up a few of the growls and muted roars of Shyriiwook, but couldn’t make much sense out of the conversation. They were worried about…either a person or a box that had gone missing either three days or three hundred years before. Either way, that sounded intriguing too. Maybe if he listened closer, he could find a way into–

A Rodian slipped up to the table, holding a satchel close against its chest. A shock of reddish-brown hair leapt between its antennae and presumably continued down the back of its skull. Kraugh would have guessed it to be female, but it was difficult to tell with reptilian races. He shifted his weight to stand, thought the better of it, and simply nodded to the empty chair across the table.

<<Thank you.>> It spoke in Rodese; thankfully it was one of the few phrases Kraugh knew.

“Basic, please,” he purred. “I’m sure you don’t want to hear me butchering your language any more than I’d want to mangle it.”

The Rodian sat down with a nod. “Fine. It’s enough of a surprise to see a Togorian away from his homeworld. I guess it’s too much to expect one to speak other languages.”

Kraugh flicked an ear, taking his partner’s measure. Clearly, she was nervous — the smart play here would be to put her at ease. “I’ve picked up a few here and there. You can’t be a Galactic citizen for very long without learning a few things.”

“True.” The Rodian clutched the satchel even now. “Like being brief when you’re making a deal.”

Kraugh smiled, remembered his fangs, and stopped. “I won’t keep you.” He nodded towards the bag. “Is that it?”

The Rodian nodded, shrugging the satchel’s strap from around her shoulder and pushing the package across the table. “Open the bag and inspect quickly. If you need a closer look, you can take it into the refresher.”

Kraugh perked a brow. “You’d trust me alone with the package?”
“You wouldn’t be. There’s a Gamorrean there who’ll be glad to escort you back to the table.”

This time Kraugh couldn’t suppress a grin. “Smart.”

“You have to be to do what I do for very long.”

“I’m glad you are.” He opened the satchel with the flick of a claw and lifted the flap to peek inside.

The gun looked like the standard issue SE-14r given to stormtroopers with a few modifications. The sight was missing, the barrel was slightly shorter and the overall form factor was a bit sleeker. The pack was notably smaller, presumably to make room for a slightly rounded bulge near the safety mechanism. That could mean only one thing.

“They did it.” Kraugh purred as he closed the satchel and shoved it back towards the Rodian. “They got the gyroscopic sight to work.”

The Rodian simply nodded. “You can fire as many shots with a smaller battery, too. Small, efficient, accurate. It’s a big improvement.”

“But this is only a prototype, right? So what’s the problem?”

“The laser battery is right up against the gyroscopic sight. So if you auto-fire or shoot off a few too many rounds in too short a time, you start to warp the scope.”

Kraugh blinked. “So the more you shoot, the less accurate you get.”

“That’s right. But you don’t want a functional weapon anyway, do you?” It was possible that the Rodian smiled. Kraugh would really have to become more familiar with the finer points of their physiology.

“No, I don’t. Let’s just say it’ll be neat to see how this thing works.”

The Rodian clicked once. “A Togorian interested in technology? Now I’ve seen everything.”

Kraugh shook his head. “Oh, it’s not for me. Give me a good sc’rath any day. This is a present for my wife.”

“A romantic Togorian is even more surprising. Who’s your wife? I might have had dealings with her.”

“Give me your name and I’ll see if she knows you. She doesn’t meet many off-worlders, but that could change once her position improves.” Kraugh grinned, showing teeth this time.

The Rodian waved off the comment good-naturedly. “Perhaps another time, then. Once we’ve learned to trust each other.”

“Once you’ve learned to trust me, you mean.” Kraugh dug into the pack at his hip and fished out a number of credit sticks. They were easily hidden in his hand, and he placed them under the satchel. “You’ll find it all there, plus a little extra for making this run so smoothly. Hopefully, that’ll help.”

He leaned back while the Rodian counted the credits and slipped them into her pocket. “It does, a little. It’s been a pleasure, Togorian, but I’m sure you have other places to be.”

Kraugh lifted a brow. “Other business here?” He drained his drink and stood, grabbing the satchel in one big hand. “If you have anything else for me, just pass a word along to Talik. He’ll make sure it gets to me.”

“I sure will,” the Rodian said. “Until then.”

Kraugh nodded and stalked towards the entrance of the bar. It only occurred to him when he ducked out into the heat of the day that this could be some sort of sting operation, but he quietly dismissed it. Just because they were engaged in a number of under-the-table activities doesn’t mean they couldn’t trust one another? There had to be such a thing as honor among thieves, after all.
The Rodian looked to make sure the Togorian was gone before speaking into her comm. “The mark has taken the bait. Repeat, the mark has taken the bait.”

 
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Posted by on July 3, 2015 in Furries, RPGs, Writing

 

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Grappling Nightmares

Gaming 150I play in a Shadowrun game about once a month with a few local friends, and I’m enjoying it. My character’s concept — and if you know me, you know that of course this is how I roll — is that he’s a member of the Sioux nation who’s been goblinized later in life during puberty. His parents, being a fairly extreme “back to magic/nature” set, took this as a sign that he was destined to be a great shaman. He spent the next seven or eight years learning the finer points of magic, until his sister disappeared in Seattle and resurfaced in Tokyo.

Shadowrun is a pretty classic cyberpunk role-playing game, by the way. The idea is that a new age of magic has arisen somewhere in the early 21st century and the world has gone through a series of upheavals trying to incorporate it. The setting is a heady mish-mash of ultra-powerful mega-corporations, crazy cyber-technology and old-school magic mixing with near- and retro-future concepts. It’s insane, and that’s great. But one of the things I’m learning is that for a character like mine to hang, he needs to be really, REALLY good at the things within the niche he’s created for himself.

That may include things like “unarmed combat”, which turns my blood cold and makes me immediately apologetic to the friend running the game. I’ve played in any number of systems during my now two-decade (!!) tabletop gaming career — everything from D&D 2nd/3rd/4th ed to White Wolf’s Storytelling system to RIFTS/Palladium to FATE — and almost all of them share one common feature despite all of their differences. They all suck eggs when it comes to laying down rules for fist-fighting.

It’s such a simple thing to want. You take a look at a really great martial-arts movie or a gloriously ugly fist-fight in a gangster or action film, and you want to make a character who can do that. But in almost all of the settings you play in, the designers assume your standard adventurer is going to rely heavily on melee or ranged weapons. For some reason, introducing your bare fists — or Frith forbid, improvised weapons — introduces this extra layer of complication that either breaks the game or bogs the system down with so many situational rules it’s often just not worth it.

In RIFTS (which, to be fair, is a completely broken system anyway), taking martial arts beefs up your physical attributes to a potentially insane degree. In Pathfinder (an offshoot of D&D 3.5), unarmed combat is a labyrinth of rules that shifts depending on conditions. Entering into a fist-fight there is a lot of work for very little pay-off; the system is designed so that it’s way, way easier to just swing a sword and tally the damage.

The only system I’ve seen that deals with unarmed combat reasonably well is the FATE system, and that’s because it tries to be as malleable as possible. Everything you want to do has one or two effects: it either deals direct damage to your opponent, or places a condition on your opponent or the environment around you that lets you do something else a bit more easily. Done. It’s quite elegant, and works roughly the same as every other form of combat.

But that’s the exception rather than the rule, and it’s kind of amazing to me that the simplest form of fighting has the most complicated rule-set within the world of tabletop gaming. Why IS that, anyway?

So I’m throwing the question out into the ether. Why do you suppose unarmed combat is so hard to get right in tabletop games? What’s the best example of an out-of-the-box system of rules getting it right? What sort of house rules have you implemented to make unarmed combat less of a headache? I’m, um, asking for a friend.

 
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Posted by on June 8, 2015 in RPGs

 

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Pathfinding Problems

Gaming 150I’m in the relatively early stages of Book 2 of my Pathfinder campaign. So far, the group has uncovered the existence of a war between shadow cults that have been slowly but steadily engulfing the civilized world. After beating back the cult that plans to do the most damage and forming an uneasy alliance with the other one, they’ve been travelling around the kingdom of Elsinore surveying the damage done to other towns and warning those in power about the fight that’s been brought to their doorstep.

The first “book” of the game was a success, I thought. There were a number of great character moments, some truly memorable sessions and the characters ended up quite empowered by their experiences. The second book started off with an intriguing hook that took advantage of one of my player’s shaky schedule — we swapped out his previous character with one that opened up a different aspect of the game and made it easy for the player to miss a game or two if he had to. Thankfully, that wasn’t necessary; and it turns out that the new character has introduced a few interesting wrinkles in the party dynamics.

But the past few games have been misses, which have thrown me into a crisis of confidence. New mysteries aren’t clicking well, encounters expose flaws in my game master abilities and my understanding of the system, and the momentum of the story has suffered because of that. What was meant to be a highlight of the game so far has turned out to be kind of a mire. I’ve written myself into quicksand and I’m struggling to write my way out of it.

Not that I would compare my writing to that of the Lost staff, but I imagine they must have felt like they were in the same situation when people started to complain about the dip in quality between seasons 1 and 2. You can’t keep doing the same thing you’ve been doing, but at the same time the expansion of the mythology isn’t as entertaining as you thought it would be. What do you do in that instance? Do you walk it back? Do you scrap what you’ve planned and find a new way to connect the pieces that have already shown? What can you do to right a story that’s gone off the rails when you can’t go back and retcon easily?

I’m faced with that dilemma. I’m in the middle of a failure with my game, and I’m trying to figure out how to fix it. My players are amazing, down to a man, and I want to provide a story worthy of them. That hasn’t happened for a little while, so it’s time to take a step back and regroup.

This has happened before in other games. Usually what happens is my crisis of confidence gets worse and worse until I freak out and let the game fall apart. I’m sure this admission is a reassuring one to my players, if they’re out there reading this. But this time it feels like things aren’t out of my control; I can still step in and fix this.

It’s all a matter of realizing what works, what doesn’t, what to keep or change or discard. I’ve learned that telling a story through gaming is quite different from just writing it down. Your players are variables who take the story in all kinds of new directions that are often so much better than what you could have come up with on your own. Capitalizing on that is almost never a bad thing; integrating bits and pieces that intrigue your players into the main narrative elevates the character’s stories and the over-arcing plot. If a wrinkle that you’ve introduced lands with a thud, it’s all right to simply, tidily address it and move on.

In my particular case, I think it might be a good idea to simplify and clarify the narrative. Learn what the players and their characters are most interested in and work with that. And for goodness’ sake, learn how to deal with the Pathfinder system so I can either make sure the rules work with the story or at least get them out of the way so I can do what I want to do. One of my biggest mistakes starting out is making the assumption that Pathfinder is almost exactly like D&D 3.5 with a few minor changes. It differs in many surprising ways, and I’d do well to get my hang of the system.

So that’s my project as it concerns the Chronicles of Oak’s Home — simplify the story, make sure the characters (and their players) are re-invested in it, and gain control of a system that I didn’t know as well as I thought I did. Piece of cake, right?

Maybe not. Then again, maybe the problems in the game aren’t as bad as I think they are — I do tend to harsh on my own stuff quite a bit. But it’s not unmanageable, and that’s worth noting here. This is the first time I’ve encountered this problem, took a deep breath, and kept my head. Things aren’t working out the way that I’d like them to. What can I do to course correct? With a cool head, you can bring any ongoing story back from the brink — Lost, Fringe, The Newsroom and Supernatural have all bounced back from weak seasons with some of their strongest work. Those are the shows I’ll look to for inspiration. And maybe Heroes for a lesson on what not to do.

 
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Posted by on September 9, 2013 in RPGs, Writing

 

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