I mentioned that this blog might hold something a bit different from the AARs I’ve been doing. I didn’t have anything specific in mind, but now there’s something: A roleplaying game.
We’re using the fourth edition of Dungeons and Dragons, which is somewhat contentious among fans of the franchise in general, as it has a more unified mechanical approach to rendering player abilities, making martial combat and battle magic operate on the same system. It also gets some flack because the bulk of player abilities are oriented towards combat, though personally I think this is typical of D&D in general and would point to utility powers, skill powers, and magical rituals as evidence to the contrary, despite a readily obvious contradiction springing to my mind easily for each of those three. The system was chosen without my input, but although I have opinions on game design, I find that almost every system leads to a good time when in good company, and although 4e has flaws, it really is a well designed game for its purpose when compared to the vast array of games that exist.
In case it comes to pass that someone reads this game without already knowing about Dominions, this paragraph describes it; other readers may feel free to skip down. Dominions is a turn-based grand strategy game, and where players move units from province to province and engage in magic with the aim of eliminating all other aspiring gods and assume the mantle of divinity. Besides strategy, you have tactical battles which you can’t influence directly but must plan ahead of time by choosing formations, orders, and script involving over 2000 units, 800 spells, and 300 items. And one would think that among those there’s useless ones and overlap and cases where one’s a straight upgrade of another, which is true, but applies to a far smaller portion than one would suspect. Dominions is tactically the deepest and most complex game ever made, to my knowledge. In terms of pure strategy, I think that there are historical wargames which exceed it and the empire building is a bit lackluster, but the pure complexity of actions (as well as world-scale magical rituals, and divine scales that change things about how your provinces work) still put it far above your typical fare, and it’s not for nothing that the game is generally played over a period of about three months, but sometimes as long as several years.
This particular game doesn’t use the Dominions mechanics, but only the setting. It’s run by Lambert, who is known in the Dominions community for doing everything, but in particular he quickly turned Therodos, a then-new nation of subaquatic ghosts from Rhodes, from a nation looked down upon as underpowered into the nation with the greatest win ratio on record. He also plays up to 25 games simultaneously, compared to the usual recommended guideline of no more than three. And he apparently does all this while having a job and life. The players are people of no particular fame, but who I shall assume are good folks nonetheless; I am one of them after all.
The party’s leader is a young senator in the republic of Ermor. This is in the early age of the Dominions time line, so Ermor is basically the Roman republic with the early Christian-analogous church taking over. He goes by Caius Aurelius. He is attended by a necromancer called Behesh, who has come from C’tis (Lizard Egypt) to preach caution in the use of Necromancy and somehow found favor with house Aurelius. He is also attended by an elf, one of the Vanir (Norse elves) named Gunnlaug. He is in name a mercenary and a body guard, but who is rumored to be kept for another equally physical purpose. Whether those rumors are true I couldn’t say, for I’ve only just now made them up. Aurelius also keeps three slaves. Two of those are Ulmish (Conan the Barbarian flavored Germans), one a smith and the other I know little of. The third is myself.
I am a pale one, of that great and meritorious race that dwells in the caves beneath the world. I include my background below.
Twothought was spawned in the deepest caves as is the natural way of all the Pale Ones of Agartha, and, (as is the natural way) had a vigorous childhood chasing such fast-moving prey as mushrooms and snails. As a young adult, he enlisted as an engraver, and began to understand the ways of stone, but found little joy in the great honor of recording history in walls. Instead, he hid his small magical talent and enlisted as a scout to see the bright world above ground, and provide valuable intel for less ambitious failures to go and die over in the inevitable conquest of the surface. Once top-side, Twothought found that the stars and moon held a great beauty, and the wealth of plants and food were amazing compared to the stone of his home – and indeed, though stone could be found in only one direction, it still remained comfortingly present in many places.
And so Twothought wandered around aimlessly looking at stuff, until one day he saw a delicious roast of cooked meat, in a camp of humans. Trusting in his great stealth and the inability of humans to see in the dark, he crept in to seize it, and as soon as he did, could not resist the temptation of the wonderful aroma that arose from it, unlike any type of meat he had then eaten. He knew he needed to flee, but couldn’t resist tasting it, and after one taste, couldn’t resist another. How many minutes he spent eating he does not recall, but it was too many, for some human spotted him and gave the alarm, and suddenly he was surrounded by steel.
Thereafter he was taken prisoner, and as a great curiosity to the people of Ermor, those who had conquered him, he was soon auctioned off as a slave for a substantial price.
This game began at a parade in the city of Eldregate. As a slave – a mere curiosity really – I don’t know exactly what the big to-do was about, beyond that Ermor had conquered some barbarians. Things soon went to hell, as the primate (an official, not a monkey) was decapitated and suddenly there were zombies all over. The senator decided it was a good idea to go while the going was good, and so his entourage shoved through the crowd and we made our way to the Aurelius family manor, packed up and skipped town. The maid had become a zombie, which was unfortunate. On the way out of town, we met some plebs with a cow and a wagon. I would have liked it if we had taken charge of them and made them de facto servants of house Aurelius and made their resources our resources, however the senator was not interested and we told them to wait and leave the city after we had cleared a path. On the way out, we did indeed kill the zombies at the gatehouse, but I have no way of knowing whether they survived and followed us, or whether we’ll ever see them again, because the session ended there.
It was a short introductory session, pocked (as they often were) with unfamiliarity with the system and the technology we were using, with a brief need to step aside (as is somewhat common in online games) and by one of the players mysteriously vanishing, which we decided to ignore and play past anyway. The battle came out a bit lackluster, since it was the first and Lambert, not having seen our combat potential, wisely erred on the side of mercy and as a result the zombies were annihilated without them dealing any damage to us. I look forward to future sessions, which promise to be longer, and which may include such joys as flashbacks and slice of life scenes, more difficult combat, and deeper political plotting and character, uh, characterization. This was a solid first game, as they go, and bodes well.