I’ve Been Writing About Games Every Day…

….just not here.

After a while of being a semi-employed freelance writer, I lucked out and got a job writing for an online video games magazine. On staff. Full time.

On the one hand this has been great for me. A full time writing job is a dream come true and a big step towards some major long term life goals.

Unfortunately it also means that I get pretty burned out after a full-time work week in typing in front of the screen, and I’ve been neglecting the blogs I used to update more regularly.

I’ve still got a ton of ideas I want to get down on here, it’s just a matter of setting aside the time to make them into good posts.

In the meantime I’d encourage fans of my writing to check out my day job. Mainly if zou’re into CRPGs or video games in general, but just in case you’re not, here a few things I wrote about tabletop gaming when I could get away with it:

The Secret Obsession of Your Favorite Celebrities: D&D

Video Game Mechanics You Didn’t Know Came From ‘Dungeons and Dragons’

Top Fighting Fantasy Books That We’d Like to See As Games After ‘The Warlock of Firetop Mountain’

Check them out, let me know what you think.

 

A Dwarf’s Tale

Fiona is a dwarf fighter in our long running (3 years and counting) AD&D campaign. Fiona isn’t the strongest warrior in the gang but she’s definitely the toughest, with 19 CON and ungodly saves and HP. She’s Chaotic Neutral and possessed of a somewhat belligerent, beserker nature, prone to axe heads first and ask questions later. Fiona’s ferocity in battle is balanced somewhat by her artistic side when it comes to her appearance. Aside from making good use out of the precious jewellery liberated from dungeons, she carefully maintains her face with makeup, unguents and oils, and braids her hair with the colourful feathers of fell beasts which have fallen under her axe.

Fiona’s a fabulous fighter, but her sex on the character sheet doesn’t say ‘F’. It’s M, because Fiona is transgender. And she’s amazing, beloved by her comrades and feared by her enemies. She’s the first transgender PC I’ve ever had the pleasure of DMing, but it wasn’t in any way difficult to incorporate her into the game.

How often does the fact of her gender identity come into play? Not so much. In the smaller towns and villages where the party sometimes make their base, she turns a few heads with her flamboyant appearance, but the adventurers as a whole are a ragtag bunch of misfits, and is a dwarf with some feathers and makeup going to freak out more people than the half-orc as strong as an ogre who flies around in full plate, or the wizard in a robe of moving, staring eyes, with a tiny dragon on his shoulder? In fact, Fiona’s managed to bond with village women over hair and fashion tips. Beauty is her weakness in more ways than one, however, and she’s had unfortunate encounters with sexy vampire ladies and succubi which have resulted in loss of life levels. Nowadays she still reacts strongly to encounters with enchantingly beautiful monsters, but is more inclined to reach for her hammer than her lipstick.

Dwarf society in my game world has the Discworld element of strict conformity to one gender role for both sexes. Fiona’s chaotic nature and rejection of tradition may make her an outcast from the more isolated communities of her own kind, but out in the wide world she has no trouble being taken for who she is.

Fiona’s player is a lesbian and an activist for social justice and I point this out because the character has NEVER been used as a soapbox for any kind of political agenda in the game world. In fact, Fiona as a character is irreverent, occasionally vulgar, and as ‘un-PC’ as they come. Sexuality has its place in D&D, but her gender identity is important to her story but not a major focus in the game.

I write this because of the vitriol and hate I witnessed from a certain toxic element of RPG fandom with regard to the AD&D-based CRPG Baldur’s Gate: Siege of Dragonspear, in which a minor NPC can mention to the protagonist that she was raised as a boy, sparking a massive reactionary backlash and mod spamming of bad reviews against a game that apparently ‘shoved SJW LGBT agenda and political correctness down the throats’ of some fragile, bitter souls. Despite as high an authority on Realms lore as Ed Greenwood defending the character’s inclusion, idiots continued to insist that trans characters had no place in the ‘medieval’ world (and D&D’s about as authentically medieval as Monty Python and the Holy Grail, not like was ever intended to be any more so, though), or that sex-changing magic made trans individuals obsolete (just how many girdles are there to go around, really?). These sad individuals look at all the possibilities of a game like D&D and insist that must conform to a particular kind of oppressive hierarchy found in the real world, or they feel threatened. What scares them so much that they try and police the fantastic?

I’m putting Fiona’s story out to demonstrate that I know from experience that anyone who claims that having trans characters in a game somehow spoils D&D is spewing bullshit. And because I’m sure that Fiona isn’t alone out there in many gaming worlds that populate tabletop roleplaying, old or new school, and I want to make queer D&D chars visible on the web for inspiration to anyone who is nervous about playing the character they want.

So that’s Fiona. She’s no one’s political token or fetish. She’s a fabulous fighter and hard-as-nails tank who dreams of find some magic sabatons that let her fight in high heels. Charmer of dusky maidens and slayer of demons. In our last session, she was hurled by a storm giantess onto a polar bear and managed to ride the enraged beast into a throng of enemies. Gods bless you Fiona, whether you find those heels or not, you’ve made your legend.

fifi

This isn’t mine, and I think is meant to represent Cheery Littlebottom from Discworld. Not as many transgender dwarf images online as you’d think.

MOOOOORTAL KOMBAT!

I hope everyone had a nice time over the holiday season. I for one certainly did, and although 2016 has been a bit of a shaky start for yours truly, I had a good time with my parents and siblings on Xmas. A personal holiday tradition in my family house are games of Mortal Kombat with my younger brother, and I’m pleased to say that despite only playing once a year, my muscle memory remains solid enough to reliably kick his arse. It helps that the series remains pretty consistent in gameplay. As a callow youth I was a poster boy for the satanic panic, and naturally Mortal Kombat was my fighting game of choice. I played the hell out of MK2, 3, and Trilogy and later MK: Deception on my console and after leaving the nest I got to play some of the latter instalments with my younger sibling. Although I haven’t owned a console for years now, I still look forward to my annual tournament but sadly 2015 brought no joy on that front, the family had sold the old console and its complement of games. Still, ’twas the season and I had MK on the mind, and it occurred to me that there’s more than one way to get that fix.

Mortal Kombat’s rather convoluted backstory seems to have a lot of D&D DNA in it. There are humanoids, elementals, planes of Order and Chaos, sorcerers, clerics, undead, fantastic worlds, dungeons and so on. Throw in some Big Trouble in Little China-style cod-Orientalist mythology and you have Mortal Kombat. There are a whole of  D&D-able elements from the series, for the purposes of this post I’m going to tackle my favourite monsters from the games.

I for one, can see a lot of potential in replacing the standard goblinoid army guys with these badasses:

The Tarkatans, represented in-game by playable character Baraka, are the shock troops of the Shao Kahn’s, the setting’s Evil Overlord. Distinguishing them from hosts of pointy-eared-fanged-ugly humanoid type are the retractable blades of bone that grow from their forearms. More alien and savage than the halberd-hefting hobgoblin, they would make for nasty beserker-type mooks. I can see them being fast, handy, and good at parrying and blocking with their bony growths on their arms that surround the main blades. Under a sophisticated leader, I can see them being trained in the use of crossbows or javelins before closing to melee.

Tarkartan –  HD:2, AC:6, 2 attacks/round, d8 damage.

Elites/leaders –  HD:4, AC:4, 2 attacks/round, d10 damage.

I could even see them as player characters for mercenary/fighter types. I’d model them with the same ability adjustments and level limits as half-orc fighters, but with the ability to deploy their blades as ‘natural’ longsword attacks. To counter this advantage, they would not be able to develop proficiency or specialisation in any artificial weapons, putting them behind human warriors once magical weapons are more desirable.

I’m also down with assassin class human/tarkartan hybrids a la Mileena, to serve as infiltrators and leaders. No bone swords but better class options and full weapon proficiencies.

milly

The games don’t exactly give much in the way of background depth from the tarkartans, except that they apparently have their origins as human/demon hybrids. In one cutscene a character hurls a bottle of tarkartan scent on her nemesis, whose tarkartan bodyguards proceed to turn on and eviscerate, believing her to be a ‘rival male’. I can imagine tarkartans being fiercely bestial, aggressive and competitive in their natural element, sharpening their bone swords and keeping one eye on their uppity underlings and the other watching their boss for signs of weakness.

Goro and his ilk, the hulking, four-armed shokan race, are also a good candidate for higher HD, ogre-type antagonists.

goro

Just to really emphasise their gimmick and distinguish them from ogres, I’ve give them 4 attacks per round, d6 fist damage from each. Their multiple limbs would give them a huge grappling advantage and allow for some weird combat manoevres, and even in D&D’s abstract system, I’d give them something similar to the bear-hug attacks, where if all four attacks hit, a man-size or smaller opponent is grappled and lifted by one pair of arms and suffers an automatic 2d6 damage pounding per round from the other pair of arms unless they can successfully escape with a bend bars check or are freed by outside assistance. Shokan rarely use weapons, but some employ scythe-like daggers or grippable claw blades, known as ‘dragon fangs’. These add +1 to hit and damage but disable their grapple attacks. Ceremonial guards may carry great halberds, with which they are limited to a single attack per round but with a +4 damage bonus due to strength. Shokan nobility have scaly growths upon their backs and claim descent from dragons. These fearsome warriors have a limited ability to throw fire from their hands, as well as +4 on saves versus fire-based attacks. Other, lower-class shokan warriors have been sighted with a tiger-striped, feline aspect to them. Female shokan are typically smaller in stature than their male counterparts, of equal fighting ability but less brute strength (d4 damage dice for unarmed attacks, d6 for champions)

sheevathrone

Shokan  –  HD:4+4, AC:5, 4 attacks/round, d6 damage, special: grapple.

Elite  –  HD:6+6, AC:4, 4 attacks/round, d6 damage, special: grapple, at-will burning hands 6th lvl spell-like ability.

Champion  –  HD:8+8, AC:3, 4 attacks/round, d8 damage, special: grapple, at-will burning hands 8th lvl spell-like ability.

Shokan appear to have a more sophisticated culture than the tarkartans and are at least as intelligent as humans, although I think their natural abilities make them too overpowered to be PC candidates.

Also, this picture is good enough reason for me to mount them on tyrannosaurs for added awesome.

MK3 introduced Motaro the centaurian, in my memory the most difficult boss in the entire series. I lost game after game to this guy, stuck on the penultimate rung of the ladder before big boss Shao Kahn, getting my ass-kicked over and over again by this demonic centaur on steroids.

I like centaur-monsters, but standard centaurs are not very scary as an antagonists. MK didn’t give the centaurians much attention, but Motaro’s plethora of powers and great strength makes his people good candidates for D&D monsters. Their skin has a special magic resistance that deflects magic bolts, rays and energy blasts (magic missile, cone of cold, lightning bolts, fireballs etc), with a 30% chance of reflecting back towards the caster. Centaurians also can use the following spell like abilities once per round: dimension door, magic missile (a single missile, fired from the tip of the tail).

Centaurian – HD:6+6 AC:4, 1 frontal attack for d10 damage or standard weapon damage +4, rear kick for 2d8 damage, tail whip for d6 damage if missle not fired. Special abilities spell deflection, spell-like abilities.

I can see centaurians as being threats to even high-level parties due to their great mobility, special abilities. They’re difficult to deal with at range and their dimension door ability, high speed, and ability to attack from the front and rear make them very hard to out-manoeuvre.

As fun as it might be to set a campaign in MK’s Outworld, I think that I would use these races on a lesser scale. Maybe feature them in a dungeon on an island, under the command of a soul-stealing, shape-shifting sorcerer. Or have them appear as the result of a monster summoning spell, bound to serve as warriors in the campaign world through ancient pacts, similar to Elric of Melibone’s kelmain or vulture lions. Perhaps a cursed artefact opens a portal to Outworld that allows for the invasion of Shao Kahn and his shock troops. A mixed group of these three types, with their multiple attacks and unconventional special abilities, would be a force to be reckoned with. I might not have the hardware to run any of the newer Mortal Kombat games, but it won’t be long before I see a shokan battle at the table.