Monday, August 19, 2013

Tales of RPGs Past: "A Tenday in the Care of Berrani"

Here's a bonus piece I wrote after Shaba's initial backstory to help flesh out some other aspects of his character. (This takes place after Shaba met Samhein but before the latter gave him the kyte.)

During one such foray into the dust-choked caves and jagged ravines that abut the World Beyond, Shaba went alone, following one of the trails that Samhein had shown him. Not long into this misguided adventure did Shaba sense the presence of something stalking him in the dark—a predatory beast on the prowl, a desert tiger perhaps, or was it merely a shadow? When the thing moved so too did Shaba, stumbling over crags and trampling down coarse scrub underfoot. So wild was Shaba’s escape that he lost his footing and fell down a long slope, coming to rest only when blackness found him.

When he came to, a massive mustachioed man stood over him, helping him to his feet. Strangers surrounded Shaba, each of the outlanders drawn up in fancy leathers and plate armor. The large man introduced himself as Sir Claude Roancoat (LG male human Msl 3/Pal 6 of Torm, age 37), a boldblade in the service of the Forest Kingdom. Shaba looked at each of their faces. He had never seen such a gathering of people before. There was a slight female, with pointy ears—an elf, Shaba thought—who wore twigs in her hair and smelled of tree bark, and one who stood half as tall as the man, closer to a D’tarig in stature, wearing a smile and carrying a lute decorated with imprints of bare feet. But it was the ugly one, a snaggletoothed half-orc, proudly wearing a pearly breastplate and a shield devoted to the Lord of Battles, who gave Shaba the leery eye. Samhein had spoken about such people before—“adventurers” he called them. They invited Shaba to sup with them while he recovered, and unwilling to accept hospitality without giving something in return, Shaba agreed so long as they would trade with him. It was through these interactions that Shaba acquired a finely crafted but rustic looking dagger with a cruel edge, much akin to his liking.

As the night wore on, Shaba learned that Roancoat’s company was intent on finding the ancient city of Rasilith, lost as it was in the concealing sands of Anauroch, the Great Desert. Trouble had arisen in a place called the Stonelands, and it fell to the adventurers to track the source of that trouble back to where they believed it had come. Shaba knew that Rasilith was said to stand in a region of the Great Desert known as the Quarter of Emptiness, a more desolate and lifeless place that did not exist anywhere else. It was not a place to be sought. But the smallman was confident, singing songs of yore and playing his lute to rally his friends’ convictions. The smallman also claimed to know much about Shaba, telling his friends that the D’tarig was a fortunate find and that he could help them in finding their destination. The druid seemed open to the idea, stating that her powers were more attuned to the woods than the sandy plain. But the half-orc, with the leery eye, was doubtful, warning his friends against trusting “One Who Lives Under Shadow.” Roancoat calmed them, and bid them to rest on it for the evening.

Meanwhile, Shaba’s mind was racing. The strangers had been kind to him, on the whole, and he felt he should repay them. He would draw them a map while they slept and leave to rejoin Biradoon by sunup. Alas, the strangers were always wary of him, though he felt he gave them no reason to be. It was the half-orc that proved to be his greatest foe, tricking Shaba into thinking he was asleep before catching Shaba as he tried to sneak away. Shaba whirled on the half-orc with his new dagger, believing the shadow that had stalked him when he fell had returned. The brief skirmish awoke the rest of the camp, and Shaba was quickly captured. Unable to properly communicate his stance, mostly by the half-orc’s bullying, Roancoat decided that the D’tarig was likely a spy attempting to return to the desert to warn his masters. This was something they couldn’t chance. Thus, Roancoat held Shaba hostage, though treated him well, as they moved on.

Days past, and Shaba grew to appreciate the company of the smallman, trading stories of the Zhentarim’s conquest of the desert and teaching Shaba how to read the stars. Roancoat fed and sheltered Shaba, always trying to cajole some new bit of information about the desert from the D’tarig, but forced to settle on half-truths and hearsay. Shaba would often find discussions of ultimate good and evil interesting—which is to say confusing—and would often question Roancoat’s proclamations of good deeds that ever seemed invisible to the near future. Shaba entertained his captors by flying his kite, and getting them to reveal more about the lands outside of Anauroch. Practicality—he was making use of the situation however he could, giving the adventurers only what they deserved in light of his predicament. Beshaba had repayed him for his hyper-curiosity, or was Shaundakul rewarding him for his adventurous spirit?

Finally, the day came when the adventurers were ready to enter the desert. Shaba’s usefulness to them was at an end, and so too, it would turn out, was their usefulness at an end for Shaba. They had taken care of him, had led him into no harm, but had kept him from his appointed place for longer than he needed. For this he would help them, to a point. Shaba would give them the map he had created, a map that remained incomplete since the night he had been captured. The map indicated a safe route through Desertsedge to the rim of the Quarter of Emptiness, but from there it ended. With a few finishing touches, directional indicators and warnings, Shaba’s map would appear to lead them directly to Rasilith, when in truth it would only take them part of the way, and perhaps even get them lost because of it. Thus, he would be repaying his captors for delaying his return to Biradoon by delaying their discovery of Rasilith. Indeed, Beshaba provides!

This time, back in Biradoon, it was Shaba who had a story for Samhein.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Tales of RPGs Past: "Of Sand, and Kytes, and the World Beyond"

In looking back at my neatly sorted collection of RPG documents, I've recently dusted off and rediscovered a treasure trove of written material from long ago and not so long ago. Much of this is original DMing material I still guard jealously to this day, but a goodly portion of it is character sketches and backstories I developed over years of gaming. Thus, I'll share a character each in narrative form (with graphics when I have them) in a series that looks back at my past roleplaying endeavors.

First up, the spellthieving caravan thug and Realms wanderer, Shaba of Biradoon.

In a time before the Godswar, dark-eyed and sand weary soldiers rode into, or rather atop, the steeped ridges and paths of Tel Badir, casting their long shadows over the populace there. Many months earlier, they had traveled from faraway Teshwave, an expedition sent by the Zhentarim to aid in the continued building of the Black Road. At their lead was a man by the name of Darev Nemetsk, a low priest of Beshaba. It was his duty to see the natives of Tel Badir employed as laborers for clearing the Road, as well as navigational guides during the long months, and indeed years, to come. His primary tactic was to use his faith in “Lady Doom” as a cattle prod to stir up the fears of the local D’tarig people. When a well went dry, the goats died, or pigments used to make black eye turned out to be poisonous, Holyman Darev was always conveniently there to point to Beshaba for succor. In no time, the Zhentarim’s sway held out and they received the help they needed.

As for Darev, his appetites were of a more carnal nature. When he wasn’t torturing the D’tarig by withholding their rations of water, he would take their females to bed in return for water. Out of one of these meetings a child was conceived. Nine long months of unyielding labor kept the poor mother on her feet, and, when the time came for the baby to be born, it proved to be too much for her. Beshaba’s grace spared the boy, despite the mother’s death, and though there would be no love shared between father and son, Darev was proud to have made something his in the lifeless desert—a boy named for the deity Darev so revered (nay, feared), Shaba’d-at Voonsyr.

And so the formative years passed. A sisterhood of D’tarig wet nurses sought to the baby’s early needs, weaned on a daily diet of goat’s milk and sand grains. As the Road progressed, ever leering away from the broken earth of the Plain of Standing Stones, Shaba learned to walk. His first words came when Zhentarim blades flashed against the encroaching threats of Bedine and barbarian alike. At each oasis they came to, Shaba learned more and newer methods of discovery, from identifying eatable grasses and vivid flowers, to shearing crag sheep for wool, and reading the signs in the stars. But his father gave the most important lesson he carried with him: “Bad things happen to everyone,” his father had told him, “and only by following Beshaba may a person perhaps by spared the worst of her effects.”

When at last the Black Road had reached the eaves of the Greypeak Mountains, Darev’s quest was at an end. All that remained now was to return home, but before plans could be made to prepare to leave, a Bedine raid left the Zhentarim caravan leaderless. Bad things happen to everyone, and that included his father, Shaba realized. Afterward, the soldiers fled or were killed, and the D’tarig laborers were caught in the middle with nothing keeping them any longer. Hundreds of miles from home the journey would prove hazardous. One after another D’tarig corpses marked their path, while the dangers of the desert tested their every resolve. During this trying period Shaba grew to learn of a power welling inside him. The “Maid of Misfortune” had not fully forsaken Shaba, awakening a fraction of magic inside him that had lain dormant since his turbulent birth. It was that measure of magic that saved his life so many times, causing the fearful and superstitious Bedine to run rather than face him.

In the end, Shaba was one of only two of his kind to make it back to Tel Badir alive. The world had changed in all that time—with the appearance of the City of Shade and an unstable climate to say the least—and Shaba no longer had a place in it! He would have to put what he had learned through a life of travel and avoidance of danger to best use if he was going to survive. And survive he would!

Playing on his ties to the Zhentarim, Shaba became a commodities gopher, easily moving between Zhent strongholds along the Black Road and native villages throughout the Sword. He became what the D’tarig call a “desert walker,” trading Zhent metal for camel-loads of collected resin from the Bedine. Once he learned the difference between loyalty and reliance, Shaba began to view people’s worth by their individual skills, rather than by blood, or alliances. He never came to be marked by friends, but was always friendly to any marks that he came by. Soon, he grew bored with life in Tel Badir, and joined the D’tarig trading caravan, Biradoon. Driven by Master Drover Urshek (NE male human [D’tarig], Exp 4/Ftr 2/Rog 2, age 42), the traveling village of Biradoon trolled the tumbleweed valleys and dunes of Desertsedge, the perilous rim of the Great Desert that marked the edge of the world.

Shaba’s time spent in Biradoon was the easiest of his life, "easy" being the only word Shaba knew to express happiness. He developed a fondness for daggers, and an aptitude for close-quarters knife fighting. And it was during this time that he came to know Samhein Jirnwal (CN male dwarf, Clr 5 of Shaundakul, age 319), and of the “World Beyond the Sand.” This outside world intrigued Shaba, but also frightened him. One day, Samhein gifted Shaba with a strange red gnomish device called a “kyte.” Samhein showed him how to operate the device and Shaba was amazed. Samhein also told him that if he wanted, Shaba could take flight and leave the confines of the Great Desert behind, much like the kyte. This idea thrilled Shaba, but would the Maid of Misfortune approve? Shaba looked again up at the kyte and thought something was missing. Later, alone, Shaba added a paired grouping of crooked black streamers to either side of the red kyte. His symbol to Lady Doom was complete, but would it fly again? The next day, Shaba went out again to see if the thing would fly. As he watched its red underbelly soar in the wind—By At’ar’s Looking Glass!—he knew he had Beshaba’s blessing. After a minute of this, Shaba noticed a brown hawk with silver-tipped wings swirling about the kyte. When the kyte came down, Shaba found it curious that talon scratches were faintly noticeable on one side.

Since then, Samhein has made secret midnight forays across Desertsedge to spy on the lands beyond. Occassionally taking Shaba with him, Samhein explains that he is “scouting the horizon.” Samhein has long claimed he will be moving on soon in an attempt to appeal to Shaba’s capricious nature, to which Shaba always spits and curses, “Outlander tales!” in jest. Until then, Shaba works hard to free himself from any remaining debt or duties he owes in Biradoon before collecting his things and following Samhein’s example, or until some other lucrative venture presents itself in the wide desert. Keenly aware of his surroundings, and the freedom it permits him, Shaba despises boundaries and always seeks to overcome them. After all, “Beshaba provides!” (misery and misfortune)—the very things Shaba of Biradoon does not seek.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Candy & Games & Shadows

Took Yume in July to the world famous Jelly Belly Factory in neighboring Fairfield, CA.
She started her visit by picking a "boog" out of The Gipper's jelly-bellied nose.
There's jelly bean art aplenty in the factory lobby.

Our tongues were ready to feed our Jelly Bellies! How about yours?

Ever since Japan, Yume and I have engaged in a number of Scrabble battles both to make use of the neglected game that sat in a dusty box of my closet, but also as a fun means of expanding her vocabulary. It's been more fun than I would have thought, and we keep it up to this day. Here, I've decided to commemorate the first in a series of Scrabble games between her and I (and others) for posterity. After a set of prelim games to get her re-familiarized after a year's absence (during which she managed to tie me once 93-93), I won the above game 192-77. We played standard 7-tile Scrabble, used her English-Japanese dictionary as a guide, and employed a rule to help cut down on the length of the game that says, "Once tiles touch two different sides of the board, each player is granted one final turn apiece." Her remaining tiles are on the bottom rack; mine on the top.
Yume and I played against Mom and Dad for this one (using team rules). We won (based on the same game-end rules as before) 144-101, thanks largely to my play of "ZEBRAS" for 54 points! Dad's (top) and Mom's (bottom) remaining letters are on the left racks; Yume's (top) and mine (bottom) are on the right.

Later, Yume and I beat Mom and Dad again (103-62). For this game, we house-ruled blanks so that each player could make them into anything they wanted. Clockwise starting at the top are my, Mom's, Yume's, and Dad's remaining letters.

Last week, we all went out for Yume's first bowling experience in America…!
Dad was up first…
Tossing his "family-patented" curve…
…a little too much curve~ :p
Then Mom took a turn…

…reminiscent of a mother hen laying an egg~ :p
Yume and her cherry red bowling ball was next…
…but could she pick up the spare?
My turn…
"Stay on target…"
"Stay on target…!"
Okay…a lone pin standing…
Pin: "Wagh! Wagh! Wagh!" Voice-over: "KO!"
Voice-over: "PERFECT!"
Yume: "Great idea to go bowling, Mom!"
Me: "Ditto. Thanks!"
Then, the other day, Yume and I were looking at our shadows in the pool and a reflective idea washed over us.
Snatching up my iPod camera, and with a little bit of photo editing elbow grease, these pictures came to life.
The flex.
The double FU!
The joined heart.
The hi-5.
The helloooo kitty.
The pointer.
The victory pose.
The thumbs-up.
Until next time!
Enjoy summer!