Wednesday, January 20, 2021

31 Days / 31 Characters - JORVAN STARSBYNIGHT

Another character created by the late, great David Cotton.

It's interesting to note how often the same players pop up when I am thinking of characters to post for this challenge. To reiterate, I am trying to choose ones who were not only awesome and memorable but who additionally haven't been discussed on this blog before or at the very least not in great detail.

Character: Jorvan StarsByNight

Player: David Cotton

System: Dungeons and Dragons AD - Homebrew Variant of D&D
Campaign: The Winghorn Guard: Golden Ring

Gamemaster: Adam Dickstein

Circa: 2005-2006

Origins: I really can't say whether or not Jorvan had a specific origin or inspiration. I can only recall that this campaign was one of the first I ran with Dave, Dave's friend Lee, and our mutual buddy Jeff, following the first campaign I ran wherein we all met for the first time. 

Part of the reason I ran this particular Aerth/Winghorn Guard game was that Dave really wanted to try my homebrewed D&D variant. He was especially intrigued by the world/setting and wanted to not only explore it but play a 'Race' and 'Class' that was uniquely 'Aerth'. 

I wanted to help him fulfill these interests by suggesting he play a Corindel Elf, inaccurately referred to as Half-Elves, as well as a Sorcerer. Both quite different from their traditional D&D counterparts. Additionally he used his one his character's 'Personal Talents' to get a sailing ship, thereby checking the 'explore the world' box. 

Backstory: Jorvan StarsByNight is one of the 'Elves' of Corindel, a descendant of the island's Elven and Human inhabitants who have been interbreeding for many centuries. Referred to as 'Half-Elves', this nomenclature is inaccurate as the lineage of the Continent-Island-Nation's inhabitants are much harder to accurately identify. A given Corindel Elf might be only 1/10th Elf, or 95% Elf, or anywhere in between.

He inherited his ship from his father; an adventurer, explorer, and occasional privateer. StarsBySea, his father, was himself about 2/3rds Elf. His mother was a Sorceress from somewhere within the Southern Freelands of Rae. It was she taught Jorvan the sorcerous skills of communicating with Elementals and beings from Beyond this Realm. She died when he was fairly young, payment for a deal made with an otherworldly oceanic entity to protect Jorran and his father from a terrible storm.

After that incident Jorvan's father ventured out into the sea less and less but Jorvan himself did so more and more. He was convinced the sea would always protect him and his time on land was borrowed. By young adulthood, he was a pirate of sorts, though one preying on other pirate ships or the vessels of petty warlords and other villains. Having assisted a Winghorn Guard group on a mission to defeat a sea monster and the Sargent of that party suggested he try out for the Winghorn Guard himself. Not long after that he was Chosen and assigned to Golden Ring, the Guard division located at his homeland of Corindel. 

Overview: We first encounter Jorvan as his vessel, dubbed 'The Lady Luck', chases an enemy pirate vessel in the Sea of Polaris. A Sorcerer aboard the pirate ship had summoned a massive and powerful Sea Spirit that was creating a thunderstorm and terrible waves. Jorvan's allies were flying overhead, trying to wrestle control of Kargas (Griffin-like creatures from Turkish folklore) from their pirate riders. 

Combining his own Sorcerer abilities with his charm and gift of gab, he convinces the Sea Spirit to turn on its summoner for a favor to be bargained for later. Using his magical 'Hand Canon' (a Flintlock Pistol that can never needs physical reloading), Jorvan fires at the opposing Magician and appears to miss.

The Sorcerer taunts Jorvan for his wasted shot until Jorvan points out he wasn't aiming for the magic-user. StarsByNight looks down and the enemy follows his eyes to see the Summoning Circle on the deck of the pirate ship damaged by Jorvan's shot. The villainous Sorcerer looks up again as the Sea Spirit transforms into a tidal wave that crashes against the vessel, sending his head over heels into the ocean. 

When asked by the pirate ship's first mate how he was able to do all this, Jorvan replied with what would become his catchphrase, "Cheating!".

Jorvan's Caracca, 'The Lady Luck'

Indeed Jorvan favored cleverness and trickery above any other power or weapon at his disposal. He and the team's Aegytian (Aerth Egypt) Warrior / Cleric would often have friendly debates over his use of Cheating and the latter's preference for Knowledge, Honor, and Truth. Both agreed time and again that the others ways were not for them but certainly effective. 

In addition to the many missions the group would go on in the name of heroism and in service of the Winghorn Guard, Jorvan would rack up additional quests trying to buy or pay for favors of the various supernatural entities he dealt with to gain his powers or their help. 

The Highlights:

One of my favorite exchanges was when the Sea Spirit mentioned above wanted the bones of a sailor returned to his wrecked ship that had sunk to the bottom of the ocean. The bones had drifted inland and where now in a river. The River Spirit would only let the bones go if Jorvan planted a red-brown mushroom of some importance to the local river wildlife. The fungus had died out for some reason. This led to the discovery of an undead thieves guild organization using a poisonous black mushroom to kill opponents and raise them as new members. The black mushroom had killed off the red-brown ones. 

What seems like side-quests at first turned into a complex relationship of enemies and ecosystem while eventually united a Forest Spirit, the River Spirit, the Sea Spirit, AND Osiris, God of the Nile to aid our heroes against their soon-to-be reoccurring nemesis, an Eye of Fear and Flame!

Legacy: I think I may have mentioned or used Jorvan as an NPC briefly in a one-shot but for the most part he hasn't been seen in many years and that's a shame. He is an extremely fun character with a lot of personality.

I will try to find a place for him the next time I run a game set on Aerth.

Game Info: The other days I went looking for Jorvan's character sheet, which I was certain I had and yet I could not find it at all. Bizarre as I found the other PCs from that campaign as well as all the notes from it. Is it possible I gave it to Dave? Maybe but it seems unlikely. 

It would be difficult to give you Jorvan's stats and specifics without context as, although he was a D&D character, he was actually a D&D-But-Not character. My house-rules version is so different from any official version as to make them almost incompatible. Well, maybe not incompatible, but there are significant alterations. 

The Sorcerer Class and Half-Elven 'race' (I prefer the terms Species, Tribe, or People) are quite unlike their commercial counterparts. Jorvan possessed the abilities of Seafaring (granting bonuses to anything related to ships), Sorcery (here the power to communicate with, summon, and borrow powers from otherworldly beings in exchange for favors), and skill was both sword and pistol, a very rare talent on Aerth. 

Additionally his ship was enchanted to give him increased Defense and Saving Throws while aboard it (hence 'Lady Luck) and as mentioned, his pistol need only be shaken once after firing to 'reload' it. 

Next it's back to the Star Wars universe for one of my favorite characters, who belongs to one of my favorite species, played by one of my favorite players! Meet KASHPA!

Barking Alien

31 Days / 31 Characters - JET 'OHANA' KAHELE

Wow am I behind.

Real life and my ongoing gaming pursuits - of which there are many - have gotten in the way of yet another of these online challenges. To be honest with you dear readers (and I always am) I'm pretty bummed. 

However, I am not giving up! Not only will I keep going but even if I don't do 31 Characters by January 31st, I will continue afterwards and complete this even if it's well into February. I am enjoying doing this and the characters, not to mention the players who played them in many instances, deserve to been seen. 

With that...

This next character is notable for a few unusual features. First, he is only the PC of mine to appear on the list. Second, he is the only one so far who didn't make it. He died. He was not the most in-depth character I ever had by a long shot and he didn't stand out with a fantastic backstory or anything. He was just fun to play, likeable, and went out a hero. 


Character: Jet Kahele

AKA: Lieutenant. Jet 'Ohana' Kahele 

Player: Adam Dickstein

System: Mekton II - House-rules and Modifications to more accurately reflect setting.
Campaign: Mobile Suit Gundam 0088: Sign of the Times

Gamemaster: Cory? Cameron? Damn. I forget. I think it was Cory. 

Circa: Late 1991

Origins: This one is interesting. While working at the uptown Forbidden Planet (a popular Sci-Fi Book/Comic Book/Toy store in NYC), I became friends will a customer named Cory who was really into Japanese Anime and Manga, especially anything Mobile Suit Gundam related. As I too am a big Gundam fan, we got along really well. 

At some point Cory's friend was going to run an RPG campaign using Mekton II and set just after the events of Zeta Gundam. The fellow, Cory, and I all loved Zeta Gundam and had been largely disappointed in its sequel Double Zeta or ZZ-Gundam. We much preferred Gundam Sentinel, an illustrated novel that came out around 1987, with a story set between Zeta and Double Zeta. The Gamemaster's story was also set at this time and kind of ignored Double Zeta, making it a sort of alternate history. 

What happened next was that at the last moment, like the day before their first session, the guy panics and says he isn't ready and can't do it. He eventually calls the campaign off completely and apologizes to everyone, gripped by some kind of 'stage fright'.

Cory had been so looking forward to the game and was really disappointed. The next day he offered to take over the campaign and run it himself so that A) all the work the first fellow did wouldn't go to waste and B) the players who were really excited about it wouldn't be upset. The guy said yes and asked if he could be a player. Cory said sure and then asked me if I would like to join in. 

You see...Cory had never GMed before and said it would help to have someone there who had played and ran Mekton before and knew Gundam especially well. I jumped at the chance. 

Backstory: As I mentioned in the opening preface, there isn't a long and brilliantly written history about this character prior to his first appearance in the campaign. He basically just shows up with the conceit that he is friends with the lead pilot and knows a lot of the deck crew, engineers, and other 'working class' personnel aboard the Earth Federation Mobile Suit Assault Carrier Llamrei.

We learn over the course of the campaign's two dozen or so sessions that he is from Hawaii on Earth (though not which island in particular) and that he largely joined the military because he had to. His parents wanted him to get a real job and stop loafing about all day surfing and having fun. His father in particular wanted him to learn responsibility, discipline, and leadership skills. 

Like everything else in his life, Jet took this in stride and still found a way to enjoy himself. For example, he and a bunch of engineers rigged a way to 'air surf' by placing a surfboard in a low gee section of the ship and then engaging exhaust fans. His makeshift surfboard has the word 'Ohana' painted on it, which is how he got his nickname.

Overview:  Throughout most of the campaign, Jet is a voice of calm wisdom and light hearted positivity for the band of Mobile Suit Pilots operating between Earth and an outer O'Neil colony called 'Logres'. Though the situations were often violent and dark, I feel like Jet grounded the team and made it clear what they were fighting for, especially when that wasn't easy to see. 

Another thing I really liked about him was that he added warmth and humor to the campaign without resorting to sarcasm and snappy, one-liners. I had felt that wasn't quite right for the character and almost too easy. I wanted him to lighten the often heavy mood but in a more genuine, organic, and perhaps subtle way.

Jet Kahele's Customized
MSA-005s 'Strike Methuss'

The Highlights:

Sadly, Jet's greatest moment was also his last. 

In the final session of the game the PCs were in serious trouble on account of some bad intel and awful rolls. The pilot of our prototype mech, the Gundam 'Excalibur' (a sort of hybrid Zeta Gundam and Gundam Mk. II - Cory and I collaborated on the design and even built a plastic model of it) as well as the Mobile Suit itself, had taken severe damage. Most of the rest of the team was pinned down in Sol's asteroid belt by enemy fire.

Fast and maneuverable, I had avoided taking major damage thus far in my MSA-005s 'Strike' Methuss. As the enemy reloaded their ammo or recharged for another attack, I transformed my mech into 'Fighter Mode', dodging behind asteroids to avoid opposing Mobile Suits. I flew my Methuss below the plane of the 'battlefield' and then climbed to reach the Excalibur. Flying past it, I fired my lasers to get the Enemy Ace Pilot our fearless leader was facing to back off. Coming down into the fight from 'above' were three lesser Aces, 'Lieutenant Level' opponents there to back up the main villain. 

Transforming back into a humanoid robot, I grappled all three enemy Mobile Suits and continued rocketing upward with everything the Methuss had. I ended up slamming all four of us into an asteroid which then collided with the Enemy Command Ship. This was followed by a Boom. A really big Boom. The Boom lead to several smaller Booms and a final Super-Boom that consumed the three enemy mechs, Jet and his Methuss, and more than a third of the command vessel. 

Jet died buying the squad leader, his best friend, some much needed breathing room as well as taking out three opponents who could have caused him additional damage, making what he did next unlikely to happen or succeed.

The Excalibur, without the Enemy Ace and his Mobile Suit in our hero's proverbial face, was able to access his super-charged, prototype Beam Saber, eject it into his good hand and go absolutely Miyamoto Musashi on his opponent. Not only did this turn the tide of that duel, it inspired everyone else to think they could actually win the day. 

And they did. 

Legacy: Lt. Jet 'Ohana' Kahele was posthumously awarded a Medal of Honor. The other PCs had a kind of 'Irish Wake' funeral for him which was pretty awesome. 

Honestly, I haven't thought much about Jet or used him since this campaign nearly thirty years ago. It wasn't until I was trying to think of more of my own characters to use for this challenge that his name and story came back to me. That isn't a slight against the quality of the character or how much I enjoyed playing him mind you. He simply, for whatever reason, never came up again. 

Now that could be because he died. Granted, I can recall quite a few characters I would call 'memorable' who didn't survive their campaigns, including my very first PC ever. It's just that, I wonder if we are more prone to re-tell tales of those that survived.

Game Info: Jet Kahele's character sheet is long gone, possibly even one that I never got back from Cory, the GM of that game. The same is true of the Mecha record sheet for his Mobile Suit. I don't recall anything too exceptional about his stats or skills except that he had high scores in Cool and Technical Ability, decent Luck and Reflexes, and an average Intelligence. 

Look here for the specs on the standard MSA-005 Methuss from Zeta Gundam. Jet begins the campaign with one of these but it is customized over the course of the series to feature even more thrust, improved maneuverability, only four standard beam sabers, a shield, and a 'Beam Bayonet' that extends out of a casing on top of his left forearm; the device is hidden underneath his arm-mounted Laser Gun and feeds off the same power supply.

Next up, we return to Aerth yet again to meet The Winghorn Guard's resident Pirate Hero, JORVAN STARSBYNIGHT and learn the secret of his successful career. Cheating!

Barking Alien

31 Days / 31 Characters - IPPERIUS WITSPEAR

This entry has taken me far too long to complete and I don't feel like its anywhere near done or that it came out how I wanted it to.

This was a hard one. Aside from wanting to honor my friend Pete Hernandez, I wanted you - the reader - to really 'get' why Ipperius WitSpear is one of my favorite PCs of all time. I am not sure I did him justice or that I even could. I've had 35 years to get to know this character. You have this post.

Character: Ipperius Argenti-Hydrangea WitSpear

These days the character's name is written Ipperius WitSpear, with the second part of the compound word/name being capitalized. Originally it was simply Witspear. This change was made to match with the naming conventions of the other Elves of my original setting of Aerth. 

AKA: Ip, The Sage of The Silver Flower

System: Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, 1st Edition - Heavily Modified, House-Ruled Variant.
Campaign: The Legend of Ipperius Witspear and others. 

Gamemaster: Adam Dickstein

Circa: 1986-1988. Still used to this day. 

Origins: A number of factors went into the creation of Ip Witspear.

First and foremost, this was not only the first Dungeons and Dragons character Pete had ever created to my knowledge, it was among the first PCs he created in a game run my yours truly. Possibly the first. 

A lot of the character was created on the spot, the result of various choices and die rolls. Mixed into the character's design are such influences as Bugs Bunny, David Bowie in Labyrinth, and Michael Moorcock's Elric of Melnibone'. 

Backstory: When we first meet Ipperius Witspear, he is asleep in a cabin aboard some sort of large ship bound for the continent of Ledgorna. Ip swings his feet off his bed to the sound of a splash and the awareness that he is ankle deep in sea water. The vessel he was on was sinking. 

Witspear gets dressed, puts on his armor, weapons, and gear, and goes top side. Fighting his way past several pirates, Witspear discovers the ship he is on has been besieged by boudy buccaneers! He is able to put up a respectable fight but is overwhelmed and forced to walk the plank of the pirate vessel. Moving his hand in a quick motion similar shaking off water, Ipperius then ran his hand through his hair and down his body as if dusting himself off. This, unbeknownst to the pirates, was his way of casting the custom spell, 'Dry'. 

Stepping off the plank, Witspear plunged for some time through the air unobstructed; the ocean moving away from him in all directions. Dry creates a protective barrier against water, causing it to reflect or run off at some three-to-five inches before touching the object or person the spell is cast on. Eventually, as the water reformed above him and Ip found himself in a sort of oblong bubble, he knew that eventually the spell's duration would run out and he would be in very deep (pun intended) trouble.

Luckily, the pressure built up below him and a moment later shot him out of the ocean, high into the air and with a bit of acrobatics he landed squarely back on the plank. The pirates stared in astonishment. Murmurs and whispers started to move through the pirate crew; "He's not dead?", "How did he do that?", "The sharks didn't get him?", etc. Finally one pirate in the back says, at standard speaking volume, "Ee''s not wet?"

The pirates erupt into a screaming frenzy, running in all directions repeating 'He's not wet!' and 'Demon!' and bumping into the masts and each other. Taking advantage of the moment, Witspear knocks some pirates overboard, frees the held passengers and crew from his ship, arms them, and eventually maroons the pirates on the sinking vessel. In addition, the crew, passengers, and Witspear steal the pirate ship and head for land.

What we don't know at this point is: 

Where is Witspear from? Where did he get on this boat bound for the old world?
Why did he leave? What made him take this trip in the first place?
Where exactly is he going? Specifically that is.

We wouldn't find out the answer to those questions for a very long time as Ip Witspear got sidetracked by dozens of humorous misadventures and colorful characters. 

At some point early in the campaigns second year, Ip says his home is 'an isle lost at sea'. When other Elves encountered WitSpear they noted not recognizing his family name (the House of Wit) and were unfamiliar with his accent. He identifies himself as 'The Sage of The Silver Flower' before the Duke of Drakkenheim, a title neither the Duke nor anyone else in his court had ever heard of. Even those with extensive Elven knowledge were unfamiliar with the term.

It wouldn't be until many years of real time later, over a decade and a half in fact, that we would discover WitSpear's true origins. He was a member of the Eldritch or 'Pale' Elves, all of whom were now believed to be dead. They had attempted to violently conquer the world for its own good more than 500 years earlier, forcing the other Elves to unite and destroy the Pale Elves' 'Del Stone', a crystal connecting them to Aerth.

Just prior to these events, Ipperius' parents and many other Pale Elves who didn't agree with their people's tyrannical aspirations, fled the coming war for the Western Sea. Only a relative handful of the conscientious objectors made it to land, lucking upon a set of islands not found on any map. The islands were hidden by a mist that rarely parted and no scrying magic of any kind could pierce it. Unfortunately they were also cursed but that is a tale for another day. 

With his home no utopia to be sure and always curious about the place from which his kin had come (though I suppose in truth that would be Arcadia, the Realm of Faerie), a young adult WitSpear had found his way to the port on a near-ish Southern island not part of his hidden archipelago. Following that, he bought passage on a ship bound for the continent of Ledgorna and we are back to the beginning once again. 

See the fifth entry of the month - Ceren-Dee Windrake -  for more on the last of the remaining Pale Elves. 

Overview:  What can I say about Ipperius WitSpear that would even scratch the surface of how awesome he is? Thanks to the incomparable RPG talents of his Player, WitSpear made every session a delight. Every action clever, every line hilarious, every moment of emotion deep and heartfelt. 

I have often said that I GM at my best when I have great players playing at their best. This was especially true with Pete. I could throw challenge after challenge at him, be they puzzles, enemies, or deep pathos. He was so fun to GM for and that made the character just as enjoyable to run as an NPC years later. 

He was a staple of Ceren-Dee WindDrake's campaign, as she often went into his shop - WitSpear's Wondrous Wizardry Emporium - to obtain material components or identify magical items. Each time you walked in, some strange and often ridiculous situation was transpiring.

Everything in the store, except you of course, might be upside down, with the store counter, boxes, and Witspear himself all standing on the ceiling...which was actually the floor. One time the entire interior of the shop was in various shades of orange, including Ip and Gronk. In yet another instance, it was snowing inside the establishment, with customers shivering, Gronk giving out hot cider, and a group of small children building a snowman in the corner. 

Oh, Gronk...

While exploring the bowls of a Dark Wizard's fortress, WitSpear encountered a Troll (Aerth Trolls are more like those of Scandinavian Myth and Folklore). After humorously avoiding the Troll's attacks in a fairly tight space, WitSpear tried to talk the Troll into quitting his job with the Dark Wizard and coming to work for him. This led to an almost Discworld-ian discussion of Fantasy World workers' rights, labor unions for dungeon guards, and world conquering war machines as a sustainable business model. Eventually, after offering a decent pension package and a 1 week paid vacation each year, the Troll agreed to switch sides. 

The Troll remains with Ip for the rest of the campaign and into all his later appearances. I remember when the two signed off on their deal...

Witspear: "It's settled then. Oh, and I shall call you...Gronk."

Troll: "What? That's not my name. My name is..."

Witspear: "Not the point dear boy! Regardless of your actual designation, Gronk is the name I will call you and the name with which I will refer to you is Gronk. Good? Excellent."  

I love Gronk. Slow and deliberate but much smarter than he appears on the surface, Gronk is a friendly, kind-hearted everyman who can also throw a fully loaded cart, with horses, across a town square. I wish I could remember his real name. 

The Highlights:

Oh man, so many Witspear stories...

He fooled two Gnolls into paying 1 gold piece for a copper piece he convinced them could cast a magic Shield. He then backed their idea of going over to the Ogre at the front entrance of the dungeon and telling him off. With their new Shield Coin, well, they'll show him!

Using his Dry spell and a modified crossbow, Witspear fired several bolts into the air, each attached with blanket sized pieces of canvas. The end result was a cover of floating 'umbrellas' that protected an area below from rain as they slowly parachuted to the ground. This enabled Witspear and some NPCs to save a young child who fell into a collapsed well before she drowned. 

Using only complex word play and knowledge of his opponent, Witspear tricked a Dragon into taking a single book of his treasure hoard of magical tomes and giving the rest to Ipperius. Angry, roaring, and seemingly about to eat or breath on the clever Elf, the Dragon cleared his throat, straightened himself, placed tiny binfocal glasses on his snout, and thanked Witspear for such a challenging engagement. "Perhaps again in say...a year? A chance to win the books back? What say you?" WitSpear agreed, bowed, and departed. 

Legacy: Ipperius WitSpear has appeared in every Winghorn Guard/Aerth campaign since 1999 and will continue to appear in them for as long as I find myself returning to that world. 

Game Info: As with many of the oldest characters I've been posting, I don't have Witspear's first character sheet any longer. I am not even sure where his 3E version is these days. 

I recall that he was originally an Elven Wizard/Thief in Advanced D&D 1st Edition. In his campaign he made it to 6th and 7th levels respectively. His later incarnation, in 3E and 3.5, was much higher in level, something in the range of 14th or so in each class. 

In my D&D AD homebrew variant he has the additional ability of Perfect Timing, a natural talent of all Eldritch Elves that gives them a bonus to anything involving timing their actions against external events or the actions of others. He is especially knowledgeable about magic items, artifacts, and relics of all kinds.

He can not only identify most items but often knows the history, nature, and powers of these items. He collects and experiments with a variety of different material components and is always trying to swap out one for another to see how the new ingredient will effect a spell. 

I could write so much more. 

Next up, we head for Universal Century 0088 and believe in the Sign of Zeta! Say hello to Lt. JET OHANA but be prepared to say good-bye as well.

Barking Alien


Tuesday, January 19, 2021

31 Days / 31 Characters - THE HYBORIAN

The Hyborian

Character: The Hyborian

Early in the campaign we sometimes called him 'The Hyperborian'. It wasn't a mispronunciation or a mistake so much as we hadn't actually decided on his name. Eventually we settled on The Hyborian, jokingly calling him Hyperborian in the campaign finale for reasons you'll glean later.

Player: Andrew Frank Rodriguez

System: Mutants and Masterminds, 2nd Edition.
Campaign: Dynamos Unlimited

Gamemaster: Adam Dickstein

Circa: 2003-2004

Origins: I am going to let my good buddy Andy tell this tale, piping in only as needed. Take it away Andy:

I was about 20-something, the year was 2003 going into 2004 

I had heard that a friend of mine was going to be playing a new game with Adam [as GM] called The Dynamos. It was a superhero world of Adam's creation that’d been around for a few decades. This was years before I had started a career in comics and creating content for gaming myself.

So here I was, this 20 year old looking at a bunch of players that had all these great, heroic creations. Some that could fly like a laser beam, a paragon with phasing abilities, a man in a black suit with tactically applied, mental energy abilities, and even a circus clown styled character.

You had these amazing players, some of which were industry folks, some were young guys and first time gamers, all walking into the Compleat Strategist in NYC one Saturday a month and everyone really excited about this game. Now here's me, wanting to play a character that is not just bonkers but one hell bent build. I decide to create a Hercules meets Spartan type wrapped in the mindset of a Cimmerian but here's the kicker; they [the character] were not alive but a psychic imprint, a collection of heroes through the Ages of Mankind enveloped in a device that can be worn on your head.

Once activated, you get full battle armor and can summon weapons that are hand-held and of a martial nature. No guns. Just about every sword ever made, hammers, flails, pole-arms, clubs, and any ranged weapon before the gun. You also all this collective knowledge of the past wearers in a magical matrix database within this ancient helm that predates even the earliest of humanity’s history of warfare. When I created this, Images of Frank Frazetta and Sword and Sandals movies came into mind. Once I approached Adam this idea.. Adam, he just smiled and stated “Oh I know what we can do with this character!” 

Backstory: The story goes that during the Second World War, the uncle of the young man who would become The Hyborian witnessed a German Soldier take out dozens of allied soldiers single handedly. Observing him from a distance and behind cover, he realized the German soldier was garbed in a suit of armor not unlike a Teutonic Knight. 

When the soldier removed his helmet, his armor vanished. He was once more in the standard uniform of the German army and the helmet changed to resemble one more ancient and like something out of a Pulp magazine. Before he placed the helmet on his head once more, the uncle shot him with a rifle. He than retrieved the helmet and placed it in a duffle bag. 

It is unclear how the uncle returned to the United States with the artifact. The helm would disappear during bunk inspections and reappear later more than once. It seemed to have some peculiar power to hid itself when necessary. When the uncle got home to New York City, he had every intention of selling the strange helmet to a museum or auction house, yet whenever this occurred to him he would find he'd misplaced it. 

Some years later his son and his nephew were exploring the old family house when they discovered the helmet hidden in a box in the attic. One of the boys convinced his cousin to try it on, saying it looked like something out of a Conan movie or a game of Dungeons and Dragons. Donning the helmet and having that thought in mind, the cousin was transformed into The Hyborian! The two spent time testing out the powers and new body of the Hyborian when the young man wearing the helm first heard the voices of past wielders. 

Focusing on the one he could make out, he was rewarded with a bit of an explanation and tutorial. He also had to explain to his cousin why he was talking to himself as no one other than the wearer could hear the voice in the helmet. 

Not long after this, the Hyborian made his first crime-fighting debut and the young man was immediately contacted by his uncle. Now an old man, his uncle revealed how he came upon the item and warned that it was neither good nor evil. Clearly the helmet could be worn by anyone. The helmet disagreed. According to the spirits within it, many who've worn it have found it to be simply an ancient example of costuming and nothing more. The ghosts within determine the worthiness of the wearer though they have widely varying and mysterious criteria. The German soldier for example may well have personally been a man of honor, even if he served a terrible regime. 

Eventually, the young man and the helmet came to accept and to a small extent understand each other. His uncle and cousin are the only two people to know his secret identity until he befriends the Dynamos and key agents of I.N.S.I.G.H.T. (The International Suprahuman Intelligence Garrison Highly Trained).

Overview: So here's the first “Hero meet up”; all the players I knew from games past at the Compleat Strat, some new players I wish I'd met years before, and a few I didn't think I would ever get along with but are now my closest friends, gathered around the table. (Adam's Notes: We had somewhere between 7 and 9 players in the first session and by the end of the campaign there were around 10 or 11 players at once at maximum) Everyone kind of recognized each other from other gaming stores and game groups.

We made our heroic presentations (everyone introducing their characters to the other characters - that was key) and I took a deep breath. I made my hero's introduction “Heracles, Ajax, Achilles, Alexander, Genghis...They are all wimps compared to me! For I am the one who made them...I am of the time when heroes were legends and the very gods bowed in my passing! Call me...The Hyborian!”  

This was an amazing character.  Everyone at the table felt it was kind of cool to have a 'Conan the Barbarian'-style Superhero in the party and I was welcomed right away. 

I loved the idea that throughout history, especially successful warriors both famous and unknown had worn this magical relic and their wisdom and skill were passed down into the helmet and then on to the next person to wear it. Those who had died while wearing it or holding it were not just psychic impressions on the helm but actually inside it, their spirits forever haunting the artifact. 

The look of the Hyborian - R.E. Howard inspired bare-chested warriors with pieces of armor, furred loincloth, and of course the epic, horned helmet itself - were revealed to be an unconscious side effect of the wearer. In past incarnations, the helmet had changed shape to be compatible with Samurai armor in Edo Period Japan or an antlered, Germanic helmet and hood during World War II. The current look was a result of the current wearers preference for Sword and Sorcery art and fiction. 

This is also why he didn't use guns. At first he thought it was because most of the helmets previous owners and many inhabitants had never used guns but that was only partially true. It was because that's how the current user thought things should be based on the way the helmet looked to him. Indeed it even took time and consideration for him to realize he could make a bow and arrow or crossbow. 

The Highlights:

Early on we knew that the Hyborian was one of our heavy hitters, though perhaps not as versatile as the density altering Mass Master, the psychic powerhouses Big Brother and Psychosis, or IMPACT!, our resident Juggernaut-like wrestler. It was really fun imaging his battles, using ancient Javelins, Bolas, and even Chakram to fight Robots, Supervillains, and other modern or even futuristic opponents. 

There was one instance where I got Hyborian but good in an uncharacteristically 'EVIL GM' move that the player absolutely loved even though his character totally did not. The team was trapped on a strange, other-dimensional planet called Nth World - a homage to Jack Kirby's Fourth World stories of Darkseid and the planet Apokolips. There they faced but four villains: Afterlife, The GAMMA MAN, The Relic, and the Sovereign (an evil doppleganger of the recently lost hero the Savior). 

Hyborian goes after Afterlife who has among his abilities the power to 'haunt' an opponent with voices and images of the dearly departed. Focused on Hyborian, the power caused the hundreds, if not thousands of spirits inside the helmet to all talk at once, many shouted advice to the overwhelmed wearer. As Andy describes it, "My Character had felt, heard, and saw every single one of the helmet's dead former occupants and was nearly rendered insane."

Another part well remembered by both Andy and I was in the final arc of the campaign when the Earth was invaded by an Alien Empire. We divided the team, along with a ton of NPC heroes we'd met throughout the series, into three teams. One would be on the moon protected a secret weapon being built there. One group would be in the Earth's upper atmosphere to take out as many alien ships trying to land as possible. Finally there would be a group on the Earth, ready for anything that got passed the aerospace team. 

As Andy notes...

So the question is who would you send to protect a Moon Base filled with Scientists and their families? A group of Space/Sci-Fi style characters or maybe a Science based hero with an assortment of Space Age high tech weapons? Nope! In an Adam Dickstein game you go full Pulp comic! I dubbed this chapter: BARBARIANS ON THE MOON! - Starring: The Hyborian! 

Legacy: I haven't used the Hyborian since that M&M campaign in 2004, largely because I haven't set a follow-up campaign in that particular setting/game universe. I would though and I would love to see a previous wearer of the helm in some earlier period RPG.

It would be really interesting to see an Ars Magica or Bushido version of him wouldn't it?

Game Info:

This one is tough as I can not find any of the original character sheets for this campaign. I believe that is because I let the players keep theirs this time. I do recall that we were running 2nd Edition Mutants and Masterminds and started with 10th or 12th level characters, so around 150-180 points I believe. We ended the campaign about 15th or 16th level. 

In addition to Super Strength, Super Endurance, and some kind of Invulnerability/Toughness, The Hyborian's main ability is Item Creation. He can, as noted above, 'Summon into Being' virtually any weapon that can be wielded by a single individual, needing no outside power source or ammo (although a loaded or connected power source or ammo is allowed), no more advanced than the year the wearer of the helmet is familiar with. 

This means that for a modern wearer, a Flamethrower or Rocket Launcher is possible but a Sci-Fi Laser Pistol or 'Laser Sword' is not. A Machine Gun is possible but once the clip or belt feed is empty the weapon can not be reloaded. A new one would have to be summoned. 

Furthermore, if the wielder is not knowledgeable about the weapon he must rely on help from one of the spirits/minds of previous wearers inhabiting the helmet to use it. If none of them are aware of the weapon, the current wearer receives no Skill bonus. For example, the last wearer prior to Andy's character was a German soldier during World War II. If Andy's PC watches the demonstration of a new-ish grenade invented five years ago, neither he nor any of his predecessors would be familiar with the weapon. 

It should also be said that while most of the previous wearers of the helm were soldiers or warriors of some kind, Andy's PC's secret identity was a researcher for a TV news channel. Helpful for investigations but not directly helpful in the use of his Super-Abilities. I always thought that was very cool. 

Next up, a character I have discussed before but never in full detail. He's another of my all time favorites and he deserves some love, so here comes the one, the only, IPPERIUS WITSPEAR!

Thanks for the help Andy!

Barking Alien

Thursday, January 14, 2021

31 Days / 31 Characters - HEREK

 The only thing more mind-blowing than the fact that it took 10 entries to reach my first Star Wars character is that it's taken 13 to get to a Star Trek character. 

What the Devil in the Dark is going on here? Am I right?


This character is rather special and unique for reasons that will become obvious fairly quickly. Let's get right to it...

Character: Herek

AKA: Lt. Commander Herek

Player: Allen Halden

System: Star Trek, The Role Playing Game - FASA Deluxe Edition
Campaign: Star Trek: Gryphon

Gamemaster: Adam Dickstein


Origins: My dear, departed friend Allen Halden and I were driving to Connecticut to attend RobCon and it was a very long trip. RobCon was a convention, held annually, at the overly large home of our friend Rob. Rob's massive house was in a secluded woodland area that could only be reached by driving to the middle of nowhere, making a right, and then continuing down dirt roads for another hundred miles. 

I don't actually drive so it was Allen that was doing all the hard work, asking only that I help him navigate and keep him awake and focused. It was the least I could do. 

We joked, told stories, even sang, and finally started talking about starting a new Star Trek campaign. Allen wanted to play an alien Science Officer, as he often did, with each alien being stranger and more well thought than the last. For this campaign, set during The Original Series era and using the FASA system to give it that old school feel, Allen was curious to play an Edosian (or Edoan as they were known back then). 

With very little canon information on the species and some of the published non-canon information being a tad contradictory, Allen made a dedicated effort to merge all the known data and then extrapolate something totally new and fleshed out from there.

What he created was, like his other alien species developments, absolutely brilliant. The focus was the conflicting ideas that the species was very individualistic but also focused on community. How can one be about the group but also very much about themselves? The result was hilarious, thoughtful, and most of all downright alien.

He saw the Edoans as very much about the community and the greater good. Their society embraced socialism and true (not as it is normally enacted) Marxist communism. Everything was done for their neighborhood, region, province, nation, planet, species, or the Federation as a whole. Privately they were welcome to indulge their own interests, to set aside time for the self, but publicly this was a taboo and seriously frowned upon. This went so far as having Edosians experience extreme anxiety and embarrassment if publicly identified or called out for any reason, positive or negative. 

If the Federation News Network announces that Inax, an Edosian doctor, has cured an illness effecting Humans in several sectors and the UFP wants to give him an award, poor Inax will likely never live it down. How disgraceful, having his contributions pointed out like that. Better that he cure the disease and it simply be announced that the disease was cured. No need to point out that any one person had anything to do with it.

This has led an increasing number of Edoans in fields where they might gain off-world notoriety to join Starfleet. Still, adapting to the cultural differences of Starfleet life could be very difficult. I asked how we'd make that matter to his character, Herek. "We make him First Officer if that's OK with the rest of the group", said Allen. "In addition, there aren't any Edoans at this time above the rank of Lieutenant and he's just become Lt. Commander. It's all over the news." 

"Oh my gosh. It's the talk of Starbase 7! You know how fast gossip travels", I teased.

"Don't remind me. I don't know how I'll show my face back home."

Backstory: The nephew of famed Starfleet Medical Officer Inax, who now lives in self-isolation at the Medical Research Outpost on Caduceus III, Herek knew he would one day join Starfleet. It wasn't because of his drive to do so or even his brilliant mind but rather his uncanny ability to stand out and be noticed. 

Before submitting a paper on Xeno-Anthropology to the Vulcan Science Academy, Herek was careful to be accepted to Starfleet Academy first and requested the Vulcans quote, 'not make a big deal about it'.

Overview: Sadly, we only played three sessions of Star Trek: Gryphon, the campaign that saw Lt. Commander Herek as the First Officer and Chief Science Officer of the converted Avenger Class Destroyer-turned-Scout. Various personal and professional conflicts got in the way of that campaign and we had to scrap it.

While looking through my Star Trek gaming archives (yes, I have Star Trek gaming archives), I discovered that I had converted many aspects of the campaign over to Last Unicorn Games' ICON System, clearly hoping to get back to the game using those rules.

When we later resumed a regularly scheduled game the group make up and dynamic had changed slightly and we decided to run something else.

My memory of and affection for Herek comes less from how he was played than it does from the long car ride where Allen spit-balled, organized, and edited the ideas for the character. Well before we used the game mechanics to generate him, he existed in Allen's mind and mine as well. He was a well thought out individual from an interesting alien society before he saw a second of in-game action. 

Yet another reason my buddy Allen was an amazing guy. Miss you brother.

The Highlights:

There are two moments that stand out as highlights for me. 

The first was in the initial episode/adventure when Herek, after putting together all the clues to the mystery at hand and coming to a realization about what was going on, made a sort of 'Ah-Ha!' or 'Eureka' exclamation to the group and then quickly apologized, composed himself, and called the Captain into a private meeting.

In his one-on-one with the Captain, Herek divulged his findings, theories, and recommendations. Before returning to the rest of the bridge crew, he asked the Captain to down play his contribution to solving the relevant conundrum. She smiled and said she was less surprised by his request than she was at his conviction that he had the right answer. Hanging his head he replied, "I usually do", further shaking his head and whispering, "I usually do".

In the third of the three episodes in which Herek appeared he did this...this amazing thing that could only be done by Allen. Once he realized what was going on in the adventure, he would hint at elements of it to each of the other players and several of the NPCs. Over the course of the session he would make inquiries, lead conversations in particular directions, and subtly, almost imperceptibly, guide the rest of the crew toward solving the situation at hand. In the end the mystery of the episode was not solved by Herek but by the combined talents of all involved; but really mostly by Herek. 

Legacy: It has been some time since I've thought about Herek and I don't believe I have ever used him in a game post Star Trek: Gryphon. In an odd twist, I have used Inax as an NPC in a medical-oriented adventure. 

Like every character that appears in one of my games, I am sure he is out there somewhere, doing incredible things, helping people, and hoping nobody notices. 

Game Info:

Lieutenant Commander Herek

Edoan - Male, 30 years of age.

Position: First Officer, Chief Science Officer

Current Assignment: Executive Officer - USS Gryphon, NCC-D386, Avenger Class

STRENGTH:        45             
ENDURANCE:     53                       
DEXTERITY:        76                    
INTELLIGENCE:  65                        
CHARISMA:         58
LUCK:                  48
PSI:                      26

Herek's areas of specialty included Planetary Ecology, Xeno-Anthropology, and Xeno-Biology. He was quite adept with a Phaser and quite the Acrobat, especially in jungle environments.

Next up, behold the Helmet of A Thoughtful Warrior! This relic of the First Age has been donned by knights and killers, conquerors and saints, but only once by a young man from Brooklyn who would use it to become a Superhero. To become, THE HYBORIAN!

Barking Alien

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

31 Days / 31 Characters - GATES

Teenagers from Outer Space is one of my all time favorite RPGs for so many reasons.

First and foremost, its super simple, straightforward, and easy to modify. Second, the game is written in a fun, humorous manner with enough personality to get you into the feel of things right away. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, it is a game about Japanese Animated Comedy by Mike Pondsmith, a man who understands Japanese Animated Comedies. 

When this game came out I was already a huge Anime fan at a time in which not everyone in the USA knew what Anime was. This game and its author 'got it' though and I used that to introduce this particular brand of awesome-ness to all my buddies. 

My first and possibly best TFOS campaign was 'Blast City Blues' and my own character in that setting is Gates.

Character: His real name is a series of high-pitched squeeks, chirps, and clicks that end in what sounds a bit like 'GEEL'. 

AKA: Gil Gates

Player: Non-Player Character, turned PC. Played by Adam Dickstein.

System: Teenagers from Outer Space - 1st and 2nd Edition. 'Advanced TFOS' Houserules.
Campaign: Blast City Blues and Blast City Blues: Summer Break.

Gamemaster: Adam Dickstein and Others

Circa: 1987-1989

Origins: The original version of Gates came about from a practice drawing.

I was teaching myself to illustrate in an Anime/Manga style, with my major influence being Rumiko Takahashi, the renowned female Manga artist famous for some of the most popular series of the 80s and 90s (including Urusei Yatsura, Ranma 1/2, and Inu Yasha to name a few). I drew a basic male character who bore some resemblance to Ryunosuke from Urusei Yatsura (a female character often mistaken for a boy) and Ryoga from Ranma 1/2. 

A few days later, after buying the first Teenagers from Outer Space book and reading it through several times, I found myself opening up a notebook to joy down some campaign ideas and I saw my drawing right there in front of me, having been put into the book for safe keeping. I think I stared at it for a few moments before I added glasses to the fellow. Then antenna. That's when the character and the idea for Blast City Blues rushed into my head. 

Backstory: Unpronounceable-GEEL and his twin sister Unpronounceable-GEEGEE were orphaned when their parents stayed behind during the mass exodus from the United Galaxy Alliance region of space to the Earth. It was implied they had invented the Star Drive technology that got everyone else away before the voracious Dreggetti arrived. 

The two infant Googlimooglians (Gates' species) were not in the main ship but one of several vessels forming a convoy behind it. Their vessel finally reached Earth some years after the capital ship that became Blast City and were released from stasis about 15 years before the first campaign's 'present'. The twins were adopted by First Contact Specialist Gertrude Gates and her Exobiologist husband Godfrey Gates. This is how the Googlimooglians got their Earth names, Gil and Gigi Gates.

As they grew up they couldn't be more opposite. Like all Googlimooglians the twins were remarkably intelligent and good at engineering and science but Gil was an introvert, nerdy, emotionally detached (on the outside), and socially awkward. His sister, who was considered very attractive by Humans and other aliens, was outgoing, cool, in-your-face, and wore her feelings on her sleeve. 

The rebellious Gigi was a trouble-maker and too much for the aging Gates couple to handle, so she was sent to live with relatives on Mars. 

Gil on the other hand was a genius, a model student, excepted into all kinds of advanced programs, and felt very, very alone. With his sister gone he had no friends, was teased for his odd appearance (there weren't any other Googlimooglians around), thick glasses (our Sun generates more light during the day hours than their home star), and his egg-headed pursuits. 

He begins Blast City High School a sad and lonely super-scientist.

Overview: When we meet Gil for the first time in the game he is attending Blast City High and getting picked on/bullied by a bunch of Humans and aliens. He is saved by Miguel 'Mecha' Herrera and the two end up becoming best friends. The cast builds and builds with all sorts of offbeat and even downright bizarre Humans, aliens, robots, and other manner of people getting involved in their crazy adventures. All but one...Gigi Gates.

For nearly a year of play, no one knew Gates (everyone called him by his last name) even had a sister. She is never seen or referred to. Then there were a couple of more serious episodes and in one Gates mentions that there are very few Googlimooglians left in the universe. To his knowledge, "We may be the last." The other Players/PCs thought he meant 'we' as in the ones living in Blast City but what he really meant was he and his sister. 

In one of the last story arcs in the original campaign, Earth is invaded by a fleet of Galactic Pirates who are there to obtain some Time Travel device they think is hidden in the bowls of Blast City. Leading the charge is...GIGI?!? Yep, Gigi Gates, who had been attending Blast City's rival school Mars High, quit school to become a space pirate. 'Mech''s player begins a running joke were he is trying to defeat the Googlimooglian Space Biker Chick with Gates' help while also trying to get Gates to fix him up with his sister. "But...It's...THEY'RE THE SAME PERSON!"

"I know", says Mech, "You're a genius Gates. Multi-tasking like this should be easy for you."

The Highlights:

Gates was often the catalyst of the trouble in many adventures. 

Gates once invented a teleporter that ended up being a duplicator, generating an exact copy of the person who used it...only evil. 

There was the time he determined the mathematical calculation for Cool and made himself the coolest kid in school, as well as a complete mega-jerk. He attracted a legion of other mega-jerks resulting in a horde of smooth, well dressed, zombie a-holes. 

There was the time he borrowed a library book while on a school trip to Alpha Centauri and relativistic time from lightspeed travel made it over 4 years overdue. The Library Network sent a Librarian to retrieve it; a Terminator-like combat android whose exterior looked like a thin, grey haired old lady but she could smash through steel walls and fire stun blasts out of her eyes. This story was illustrated into a comic book for our RPG Clubs entry into the Art & Design High School Art Festival. 

During the Boogie Ball Championship between Blast City High and Luna Prep, Gates and Speed (my friend David Concepcion's character) realized the Luna team was cheating. While Mech played against them despite this, Gates and Speed investigated and had to deal with some tough opponents and a kid who was essentially as smart as Gates! That was fun and really challenging.

Legacy: Gates hasn't been seen in a game in many years, which makes me a little bummed just thinking about it. The image I used above is the first picture of him I've done in forever and it made me smile to depict him once again. 

Hopefully he'll get the chance to mad-science again in the near future.

Game Info: As I've mentioned before, one of the first changes I made to TFOS was to change its die type from a D6 to a D10 to get a greater range and make it more compatible with the other 'Interlock' games from R. Talsorian. Therefore Gates' stats read like this:

'Gil' Gates - Near Human, Male.

SMARTS: 10                    DRIVING: 4
BOD: 4                              LOOKS: 6
R.W.P.: 7                           COOL: 3
LUCK: 3                            BONK: 5

KNACKS: Super Science: 4, Latest Invention: 4. Investigate: 2

POWERS: Mad Genius: 10

Next up, we warp into the Final Frontier - FINALLY! Let's go where no one has gone before with Lt. HEREK of the USS Gryphon!

Barking Alien