The Truth, and Nothing But the Truth

I’m running a character that uses a non-PHB class, to wit the wu jen from Complete Arcane.  One of the things about this class is that, every ~3 levels, you have to pick a “taboo”, something your character isn’t allowed to do lest she lose her spellcasting ability for a day.

My problem with this is that most of the example taboos are things that you don’t, in D&D, really have to deal with.  “Oh, by the way, I never cut my hair,” you say, and voìla! your taboo for that level is fulfilled.  Even stuff like “make a small sacrifice once a day” doesn’t specify that you actually have to spend any money on it–heck, you could say that you prick your finger every day before memorizing spells, and that’d cover it.

So for Altariel’s 3rd-level taboo, I picked one I’m actually going to have to roleplay: Cannot lie.  (Note that this is in the sense of “cannot make an untrue statement”, rather than “cannot allow someone to come to the wrong conclusion based on what I say”, but still, it makes perfect sense.)  If the universe is to be expected to listen to me when I say there’s a fireball over there, I can’t go around telling lies about other things, now can I?


Gamist Gaming

In the Sunday night Dragonstar game, my character has recently had some bad experiences–basically, seeing that her homeworld is being run by an imposter (of her) who is the tool of the chaotic evil black dragons.  Cordelia (and that is her real name and she’s not going to forget it, thank you) is True Neutral, though she really wants to be Neutral Good, and she’s basically a social monster (as opposed to a combat monster or a skill monster or whatever). 

There’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg problem with Cordelia’s preferred method for working out negative feelings; does she use sex because she’s a social monster, or is she a social monster because using sex required her to become one?  Girl’s also got some identity issues, in that a large chunk of her skills are focused on allowing her to pretend to be other people, and in fact her continued existence depends heavily on not claiming her real name in public…but her recent trip to her homeworld showed her that her unclaimable identity as Grand Duchess of Vorbarra is actually important to her.  For that matter, she’s come to regret telling the other PCs that they should call her Ekaterin, her usual nom de guerre, even in private.

Now, D&D is not what you’d call Narrative-focused.  In fact it’s the flagship of Gamist gaming–witness how easy it is to gimp a character at first level with a bad feat choice.  So an important character issue, which in some games might be handled with “Secret Identity” or “Identity Issues” or whatnot on the character sheet, is instead a matter of me telling the GM that Cordelia makes it a point to use her own face whenever it’s not advisable to be someone else.

Right.  So back to Codelia and her bad experience.  She’s back with the rest of the PCs, and she’s feeling intensely stupid and self-destructive.  Being a social monster, she’s decided, mostly unconsciously, that the way to deal with this is to make someone else just as miserable as she is.  She’s picked out Krellit, the Geeky Mechanic ™ of the party, as the most logical candidate, i.e. the one most likely to, you should pardon the expression, fall for it.  It hasn’t really dawned on her yet that this is going to be Bad for Party Cohesiveness.  It should have dawned, mind, but I mentioned stupid and self-destructive, right?

Cordelia is aware that Krellit, not being an idiot, knows she can literally bluff the pants off him should she so desire.  So she went into it pretending to be awkward–the theory being that when blindsided by real emotion she’s just as unsure as anyone else.  And he went for it, and they have started a sexual relationship.  Which led to an issue.

It occurred to me that, while I am aware of the in-bed competence of Krellit’s player, Krellit the character is a different story.  And at some point I said, “Um…I have to roll dice.”  And the GM looked at me and asked for what, and Krellit’s player and I said, pretty much in unison, “Bluff”; that is, Cordelia was faking it (“I’ll have what she’s having.”).  Which led to the slightly injured question on Krellit’s player’s part of why I thought she was going to have to fake it.  How did we know Krellit wasn’t an erotic genius? 

Unsurprisingly, D&D doesn’t have a “Have Sex” skill.  It also doesn’t have anywhere in particular that one can be shoehorned in, with the exception of Perform. Problem is, Perform is Charisma-based, which leads to the ludicrous conclusion that unattractive people are ipso facto lousy lovers.  Amid much laughter, the GM went for Sense Motive on the strength of “paying attention to body language”, which was amusing but not IMO quite right.  Me, I’d go for a Dex-based Perform, or just a whole new skill, with possibly a Con check for how long the characters can, and I swear no pun is intended here, keep it up.

But anyway.  My problem is that I love D&D, I really do, and at the same time I adore games that center on or at least include issues that D&D just isn’t equipped to handle.  In some games, Cordelia’s identity issues would have gotten her extra points or provide a mechanic in some situations; in D&D it’s basically me looking at the GM and saying “I want to have a plotline involving this.”  (Note that the GM has provided one, it’s just that he had to do it with no system support pretty much at all.)  Similarly, it would be amusing if Cordelia discovered that Krellit’s watched enough porn to have a, hmmm, firm grasp of the basics and that she was actually having a good time, even if not so good a time as she pretended; lacking any way to work it out, we fall back on the image of the hopeless techie (“You!  Have you ever kissed a girl!?”).

I don’t know as I have any coherent point here, aside from a personal preference for Gamist mechanics and Narrativist play.  It’s just so hard to abstract things like a brilliant conversationalist…


In the immortal words of Smee, I have had an apostrophe.

Rienna’s conflict was “Is it more important to be good, or to be loyal?”  She chose loyal, and it cost her.  Annis’s conflict was “How do you handle passion when everything that matters to you depends on denying it?”  I never really got to work that out, alas.  Cordelia’s conflict is “When you can be anybody, who are you really?”  I’ve just worked out Astrid’s conflict, which is “What will you give up to stay in control?”  See, Astrid just cut a man’s throat in cold blood.

The man was Mindshark (excellent name for an evil telepath, by the way), a newly-formed super who had no compunctions about taking over other peoples’ minds.  He never did it to her, nor to the best of my recollection threatened to, but the possibility was enough; Astrid is willing to kill to ensure that she’ll stay in charge of her own life.

This means that one of the powers she acquired in our recent conversion (to 2nd edition Mutants and Masterminds)has got to go.  If she’s immune to psychic domination, it’s not a threat anymore.  Must be chucked.  Also, Blackhawk is going to be…interesting should she encounter him again.

She’s Gorgeous, but She’s a Bitch

I have this character.  Her name’s Altariel Naïlo–don’t ask me how to pronounce that, by the way, ask the D&D people who put it in the list of default last names–and she’s a grey, OKfinegray, elf.  From the SRD: “gray elves have a reputation for being aloof and arrogant (even by elven standards).”  She’s pretty darn smart and reasonably sensible, and therein lies the problem.  Well, one of two problems.

First: I’d like her to actually be arrogant at people.  The usual style of arrogance, however, is damn likely to get her, and possibly other party members, really really dead; we’re 1st level and a -2 to Con (to balance the +2 to Int that her race gets) does not make for happy hit points, especially on a d4.  Wandering around insisting on having her own way is going to lead to the rest of the party deciding they can get a new arcanist; even if I make another character, I won’t get to play this one any more, and I’m interested in her.  My solution so far has been to be arrogant in downtime, but smart enough to work as a team when actually faced with danger.  I’m not sure how it’s working.

The other problem is inherent in the awkward D&D construction of Charisma.  It’s in the book as “force of personality”, but I dare you to name a group that doesn’t also take it as “attractiveness” in some way or another.  Yes, I know that a forceful personality doesn’t also have to be an attractive one, but that’s the way it seems to usually work out, and if you conflate this with physical attractiveness the problem gets worse yet (“That’s Ogrec.  He’s a dwarf.” [gate guard studies the Cha 3 character]  “Are you sure?”).  See, I picture Altariel as being one of those absolutely flat-out gorgeous people whose looks say, quite clearly, that if you dare touch her she’ll fry you.  But she’s got a Cha of 12.  This does not work, and it annoys me. 

Some people have added a seventh stat, Comliness, which is purely how good looking you are.  This solves some problems, such as being able to build “Well he’s kinda ugly but something just makes you want to look at him” characters, or Altariel the gorgeous bitch.  However, it adds others, especially if you don’t base any possible characters on the new stat; it becomes a dump stat if you’re rolling, something to be shoved down as far as possible to raise useful stats if you’re doing point buy.  And The Book of Erotic Fantasy (which title I may be misremembering) to the contrary, basing things like spellcasting on how pretty the caster is just makes me boggle.  About the best I can come up with is allowing Comliness to be a bonus to skills like Diplomacy and Perform.  But you still have to decide how to figure it in the first place.  I like just letting the player pick, maybe with some racial modifiers, but that leads to abuse.