Your Better Third

March 26, 2016

Let me be mundane and explain the title.  People often use the term the better half to refer to their life companion, SO, or whatever term is in these days.

How do I see PCs?  This is not in any way scientific and YMMV, but I see the RPG experience for me being:  one third player – I make decisions; one third character sheet – resolution goes off of values; one third world engagement – primarily through NPCs.

“But, what about other PCs?”

As I’ve said before, I rate this as far less significant.  Tangent alert.  Tangent alert.

Why?  First, let’s compare tabletop RPG play to LARPing.  I’m not that into LARPing for so much of it is player versus player, even with such things as gathering information.  I’m really not into human vs. human.  If I play videogames, I want to destroy supercheaty computer opponents.

So, what about tabletop play?  I just care less about other PCs because reasons.  One reason is that the PC already has a spokesperson in the form of the player, but, really, the main reason is probably more that I’m interested in exploring the GM’s world and not another player’s world.

I’ve played in pure storytelling games.  No resolution system beyond “I say this happens”.  Feels hollow to me.  Why do I need other people to make up a story?  I can just write a story that interests me.  I don’t feel like I accomplished anything, overcame any challenges, because the challenges are all self-imposed and/or player vs. player.

Yeah, my 100% storytellerness has always been suspect.  There’s something gamist in the idea that a GM creates a qualitatively different world from another player and that a resolution system is necessary to determine event outcomes.

So, to get on topic.  NPCs.  These are the primary interfaces into a world.  Sure, events happen, locations exist, whatever.  But, how much more engaging is it when those events affect NPCs, those locations are populated with NPCs, whatever with NPCs?

My last post was an example of romance.


Why do I consider romance the easiest form of NPC interaction?  Read a book.  Watch a movie.  Watch TV.  Love stories are superultramegaubiquitous.

Even when entertainment is about murdering those who murdered your family or crashing helicopters into submarines, you get romantic subplots.  Indiana Jones movies, the better ones, have female character to provide motivation.  Even Doctor Who can’t get away from “this new hobo with a science degree is kind of hawt” anymore.

Let’s not create elephants where room don’t have them.  Sex for sex’s sake amounts to a tiny, little insignificant throwaway.  There’s a reason I don’t normally have characters with some form of lechery disadvantage, even though it’s really hard to avoid chasing loincloths/kimonos/et al.  Anyone can go off … and envision their own fantasies.

To have the meaningful romantic subplot means doing that silly romantic comedy stuff where the couple can’t just be with each other until challenges occur.  I see the aim being more like chivalric romance, where you do crap for your beloved, when you aren’t banging other people because of illusions, love potions, or other things straight out of the Camelot stories because Galahad needs to be born.

Maybe a bit too much of the usual – my example of Junhime and Kidai.  They can’t be together as a couple (no matter how much they horizontally socialize) because one is way higher status than the other.  So, motivation is to do something that results in evening up the status difference, while pining (with nontrivial pinewooding).  As events occur, goal gets closer and closer until … the horrible tragedy occurs that leaves everyone traumatized.  Well, or, you get a GM who doesn’t believe misery is fun and you get a pleasant ending.

Basic writing 101 – the relationship has to have challenges.  Soap operas exist because they screw … over … their characters endlessly.  Basic RPGing 101 – the relationship should actually involve some sort of relating, i.e. just rolling dice is hollow.  Don’t need some full-fleshed NPC, can be things like “I go on quest number 81 for Count whatshisname to prove my eternal devotion.”, though may want to make it a bit more realized than that.

Got to move on.


I bring this up second because it’s something I constantly think about when thinking about ways to try to interact with NPCs, yet it’s one of the hardest to make work.  Speaking of work, not going to spend time on coworkers for the obvious reason that we play games to get away from real life.

Let’s say I’m playing L5R and am playing that mundane, ole boring character concept – Asako Henshin grain merchant patron.  So, my peasant slaves, I mean, peasants have grain production.  I want to turn that into kites to give away to my besties so that they can gloriously fly them.  This is not something that I find all that challenging.  Yes, weird as it is, Rokugan, where money isn’t supposed to matter and commerce is beneath samurai is a place where I actually not only can see but experience business transactions.  Probably because Rokugan is more real than a lot of worlds.  Instead of “heh heh, give you some gold for your diamonds”, you get “the harbormaster is into sculptures of monkeys” … as a totally I-can-roll-with-this thing.

Where I’ve seen it be painful is in such things as Vampire: The Masquerade or even games that are supposed to have an economic component, like Shadowrun or Traveller.  It’s just way too much effort.  Probably because it’s too modern.  We live in a world where we deal with currency and credit transactions every day, where we shop based on prices, realize monopolies exist, marketing is a thing, and so on.  In gaming, I don’t want to deal with the real world.  It’s the concept of “how do I start a business? maintain a business profitably? ruin my enemies? embezzle enough to run around in a private plane and have tactical headsets for the party?” that we are looking for.

I see dice-rolls being useful to economics.  However, couple of things.  First, don’t want to overdo dice-rolls, then you are just scratching off lottery tickets.  Second, the point of this post is NPCs.  I’m not into NPC interactions where it’s all about who can rip off whom.  Sure, you can get ripped off, but there should be some story reason behind it, not just because you only put two ranks in Commerce and every NPC businessperson has five dots.

There should be some coherent goal with ecomonics.  I had a Ventrue PC who settled in the New World back when it was the wild Colonies, who had to survive Sabbat ownership of territory.  The in game goal was credibility with the other Ventrue and everyone else.  “Yo, yo, yo, I just woke up from a hundred year nap, and Ize got all the banking and lumberyardz under my never diablerized by a Sabbie thumb.”  Then, it was a way to actually interact more with a Giovanni PC – no, I don’t totally ignore other PCs.  I want them to succeed and not be eviscerated and stuff.  It was a way to relate to other NPCs by saying “of course I, Ventrue extraordinaire, not only have bucks but neither work for a living nor get involved in crime”.  It was not a strong enough goal.  Our business endeavors came up like once and was resolved weirdly.  Needed to have something more tangible to abuse with wealth.  Also, there was no specific NPC to interact with.  Without a “face” to put on the challenge or interaction, it is prone to becoming background noise.

The other pitfall I encounter is having to be responsible for something that is constantly being screwed with.  I get incredibly weary of my nightclub being shaken down by the mob, burned down by gangs, etc.  That’s not the point of having economic assets.  We aren’t playing a videogame where economic survival is all you do.  We are playing a game where commerce interacts in enjoyable ways with the PCs – enjoyable involving challenge but also not overriding the importance of murdering people who murdered your family.

A similar “can we just burn everything down and become murderhobos?” situation is when you have incompetent employees.  Employees who could use raises, better health care, getting off drugs, not being stalked by vampires, or the like are far more palatable than what I’m used to.


As someone not into player vs. player, I’m not into PC rivalries.  Oh, sure, there can be a bit of friendly rivalry over who wins at snooker.  But, besides just not getting the appeal of counting up how many goblins you murdered, rivalries over prowess*, rivalries in getting NPCs to favor you, and similar stuff just doesn’t seem fun.

*  A note about prowess.  One reason to never get into prowess competitions with PCs is because then you open up the whole whoever designs better mechanical characters feature of RPGs.  This is pure anti-fun for me.

However, prowess competitions with NPCs is a great way to get someone to either dislike or respect a fellow archer.  When we were at Winter Court in the Princess Police campaign, we had anywhere from a bunch to a ton of competitors for various events.  I was all set to care about some Daidoji dude because he owned me at kyujutsu, though that never happened because I had better things to do, like not-doing a Scorpion.  While the competition was kind of nuts in that dice mechanics do not favor an individual in a large competition who might have some advantage (I ended up at the bottom of the top third – more than 30 competitors – even though I was by far the best archer in the party at the time) as dice explode and stuff, the competition managed to identify certain NPCs as someone to take interest in.  Because – Glory is a thing in L5R and kind of should be in a lot of games (Reputation was a thing in Conan).

If the blind archer dude had done better, I would have been more motivated to “sensei, teach me all of your blind secrets”.

Where I worry about rivalry as a tactic is when it feels forced.  The premise of us having two competing martial arts high schools just doesn’t really engage in the same way that organic rivalry can.  There should be several instances of competing to build things up to a level where you care what happens.

I suppose organic is a good word.  Any sort of NPC relationship gains from organic development.

Enemy (but not that kind)

There are enemies you murder, then there are enemies that you can’t.  Enemies you murder are not what I normally think of when I think of NPCs.  I think of those as antagonists, villains, or some number of hit dice.  Yes, recurring villains should be in every campaign, but …

Let’s talk about not-rivals-but-enemies as present forces.  Someone who just screws with you constantly is obnoxious, so we aren’t talking about “my boss is an elder dragon lich with a crystal ball”.  We are talking about someone who is in opposition to you in a way that still allows for you to interact with the NPC in a variety of ways.

Another key.  Variety of interaction.  The jealous lover can be fun if not nearly as much fun, perhaps, as the “game on, big boy” lover.

HoR2, where I felt like I interacted more with the campaign villains, had some instances where you would hang with someone who didn’t like you, you didn’t like, but you two didn’t do more than play a shogi match.

More compelling are situations that arise where it’s like “Oh crap, we won, but this only makes Heinous Warlock get more souls.” or like “At least poisoning are entire water supply so we are forced to drink imported Tang will mean Heinous Warlock’s microbrewery is shut down.”


Might think of this like business/economics, but it usually plays out somewhat differently.  Government is all about authority and the perception of power (where wealth disguises power).

Again, an oppressive government is just annoying.  Far more interesting is having officials that you favor and disfavor and either try to get someone elected or appointed or couped.

I do mean someone.  Government can be a world interaction without involving an individual, but that’s a different topic.  What we want here is someone in government, even possibly a subordinate to a PC who is an official.

Other than get out of jail cards, the official can provide intel, invitations to parties, affect your business, detain someone you want to interrogate.  This all seem obvious?  How often does it come up in your games?  I find that having a specific person I interact with in government is virtually nonexistent.  This may be due to things like traveling the world in Conan or the government being in pure opposition in something like Shadowrun (one of the reasons I don’t like the idea of playing a criminal).

One of my goals in the Princess Police campaign was to promote minor clans.  Trying to get someone appointed in a position of status meant the possibility, if not the actuality, of having that someone nebulously improve the lot of minor clans.  Beyond just playing favorites when it came to clans or personality, there was also the game of trying to get someone into your debt or for swapping political benefits (favorable marriages, for instance, in a world like Rokugan).

Criminals work much like government, suspiciously so …  They get you stuff or they have authority or they rescue you from jail.  I’m not a fan of criminal activity, but, for those genres where it can be better appreciated, can try to have interesting things happen.  Note that “I go to the fence and haggle for 10% more” is a boring activity.


Assuming some sort of reused locale, informants are a rather common thing to develop.  But, are they interesting?  Is it just a way to progress plot?  I find that I rarely come to care about informants because their roles are so limited.  Again, variety of interactions.


Can overlap with government, especially in a world like Conan.  We are talking about having someone who relates to you in some sort of social way that faces others, rather than a direct relationship.

It didn’t develop much, but I saw potential for this with one of my V:TM campaigns.  My Belgian Tremere was totally willing to French with some Toreador at Elysium.

I’m not much into embarrassing people, so the caustic society of, say, V:TM Harpies doesn’t interest me as much.  But, just like how someone might want to be a successful businessperson, someone might want to run with the in crowd, whether death bikers or parents’ groups or the well known death biker parent group.

Again, what’s the goal?  Just having bigger parties at nicer mansions isn’t much of a goal in our murder those who murdered your family world.  I find society less of a thing in games because most games aren’t oriented to popular-but-not-rich-nor-powerful-nor-more-swordrrific.


I hate thinking about family before playing a character.  Well, not always, just much of the time.  I don’t give a crap who my parents are, who my siblings are, who my children are up until the point that I need to murder someone for murdering them.

Or, up until the point I play for a while and need to flesh out my PC.  I never find parents to work well as actual NPCs.  As hooks, “Emperor Evil hates you because your mother called his painting pedestrian”, that’s fine, troperrific.

Children I see being more of a goal for a campaign.  You not only murdered those who murdered your family but rescued supercutie from their murderous clutches and now breed to create a new family from which your child will survive and lead a life of perpetual vengeance.

Siblings are good for providing contrast.  Sure, everyone can have schoolmates or whatever, but the feeling of connection to such is more limited than someone of your ilk.

What’s the downside of family?  Most of the time, I come up with my own family, rather than the GM.  So, this runs into the “trying to explore GM’s world” problem.  A NPC I create might be fine for interacting with another PC, but it’s awful for interacting with me.

Yeah, the GM can have things happen with family that don’t require you to interact with the family member but with the NPCs or situation that interact with the family member.  This can feel forced or not, depending upon how interesting the situation is for your kin.

Secret family is not something that comes up that often IME, but it is something in our Through the Breach campaign for one of the PCs.


This could fall under a bunch of other categories, but let me start with an example.  Because Kidai wanted his novels illustrated, he sought out a painter.  He also developed his painting skills because it was a way to get hot chicks to pose for him, er, a way to bring the beauty of art to the world.

This is a diamond mine for games.  Consider.  PCs tend to be really good at certain things, mostly murdering those who murdered their families, but, occasionally, because of the game mechanics or ancillary needs, also stuff people actually care about, like putting on puppet shows.

Why wouldn’t NPCs seek out expert PCs to help or teach them in the ways of putting on better puppet shows?

Yet, how often does that happen?  Sure, in a supers game, Brainmaster may be found at science-con until Mindrot appears to steal all of the knowledge of the elite scientists in the world.  I don’t play in supers games.  What I play in hardly ever sees NPCs want PCs for anything besides investigations, murder, murder investigations, infiltration, escort duty.

Meanwhile, how often do PCs seek out NPC experts?  Occult ones, all of the time.  In one-shots, seems common.  But, this sort of “can you illustrate a hot chick with a sword and a tiger for me?” thing doesn’t happen enough, probably because players don’t care enough about creating fantasy novels in a fantasy world to get into areas where PCs aren’t already awesomest.  And, if it’s something important, like healing or murdering, players don’t want NPCs to be more awesome.  Where, I’m totally okayish with a NPC teaching me the fullest depths of Lore: Tropical Fish.

The thing about experts is that it’s rarely adversarial.  Instead, we get helpful without “you can’t defeat Emperor Evil, Brainmaster, I, Nuclear Propulsion Champion will send him into the gray hole” levels of players feeling overshadowed by NPCs.

On the other hand, experts are experts.  How much variety can you get out of them?  Kind of similar to informant in that a specific need is addressed, rather than a relationship that could be varietous.  On the other paw, Kidai was quite fond of his painting instructor, without wanting to “brush” her “canvas”.

Guides can make for another form of expert, though I find guides are often either too much into screwing you or too much into running away when the fan cuts your fingers off.  Dangerous worlds should have guides expecting danger.

That’s it, folks.  Ran out of brainvapor to make this longer.

Every Hare In Its Place

July 20, 2015

Before getting into material from the PPC (Princess Police Campaign), a review of Imperial Archives.

Imperial Archives isn’t long.  The POD books are actually among the most expensive because I’ll get both the .pdf and a hard copy.

I haven’t read much of it.  What I did read was the courtier section.  This.  This is what I want from L5R supplements.  This is exactly what should have been in Sword and Fan.  This is the sort of breakdown of both the thematics and mechanics in a lifecycle format that I’d like to see for all sorts of aspects of the game.  I don’t recall anywhere else ever seeing analysis on how to build a PC mechanically.  While there are pieces of the lifecycle of a character in the world, with an unusual emphasis on birth, marriage, and death, this was by far the most coherent and relevant explanation of how a character type fits in the world.

Yet, somehow, this didn’t make the cut in another book?  I just don’t get it.  The priorities of publishers are just so off.

Is the book high value?  Up there with EE, EotE, and TGC?  I don’t know about that.  It is random stuff that didn’t make it into other books of varying relevance and only about 100 pages of such.  But, it was certainly intriguing that the best description of what it’s actually like to be a samurai in Rokugan and how to build a productive character ended up in an odds and ends book.

In the Princess Police, I started out playing an Akodo Bushi.  He’ll get some attention some day, probably.  But, it was the latter two thirds of the campaign that I played an Usagi Bushi.  I already blogged about the criteria for this character, a direct response to the problems with my initial character.  I’ve also blogged or posted to the AEG Forums about some of the odder features of the character.  While I even posted some of this material, I thought it would be productive to post it here, anyway.

Usagi Kidai has had two paths and what we have called the first rank of an advanced school, though, really, since the campaign was never going to last long enough to get to a second rank and since an advanced school is thematically rather implausible, could just think of it as a third path.

Usagi Woodsman
Rank = 2
Requires = Hunting 3 or Lore: Nature 3
“One with the Wild”
The Usagi Woodsman is never so much at home as in the wilderness he loves so dearly. While in the wilderness, you gain a +1k0 bonus to all non-Weapon Skill Rolls.

At SR-2, Kidai became a Woodsman.  Actually, it turned out that a major NPC was a Kitsune who was an Usagi Bushi, which is how I got more enthused with going in a nature direction.  This is right out of 3e, except for the requirements and except for using the 4e nerfhammer to bring +1k1 down to +1k0.  I forgot to use this ability a lot at first.  At some point, I think I just took it more seriously as a feature of the character and started doing a pretty good job of remembering.  Of course, it helped that we left Winter Court to where more sessions were in the wilderness.

Not weak, even with the blah +1k0.

Usagi Ranger
Rank = 4
Requires = Hunting 3
“Feller of Beasts”
An Usagi Ranger is always aware of his surroundings, swiftly identifying and bringing down his prey. You may add your Perception rank to all attack rolls. Also, while in the wilderness, you add twice your Perception Rank to Initiative rolls.

I waited to go to SR-3 for Secrets of the Empire to come out.  Since SotE had nothing relevant, I got simple attacks with a whole bunch of things that Kidai sucked at.  At, SR-4, because Kidai was not “a leaper”, I pushed forward with the nature kick.  Our GM came up with the mechanics based upon the Empress’s Guard path, though there was various back and forth about what made sense.  Actually, these mechanics were what he came up with for a different titled path, but we just switched the name of the path and used the other title for the planned IR-5 ability.

The bonus to Initiative is just amusing.  I never care about higher Initiative.  I somehow cared just as equally zero about higher Initiative for my Reflexes 5 character.  The attack bonus counteracted such things as firing fleshcutters at armored enemies and range penalties.  Two extra damage on Feints.


Master Hunter
“In Two Places”
The Master Hunter learns to fell enemies with startling speed and mobility.  SAA with a weapon you have 5 ranks and an emphasis in but only one attack may be made per round using this technique.

The mechanics here were all mine, could be tightened up some, but who cares?  Amazingly enough, SAA are not that fantastic when rolling 3k2 on attack rolls.  The optimal combat play for Kidai was to use a naginata.  SAA with samurai weapons plus Iron Forest Style (using the “anyone can take a kata at +1 requirement” mechanic for having this kata) = decent.  That was out of character.  Besides being a yumiist, the character naturally decided that the nagamaki was the clear choice for melee weapon.

So, now, the character could attack and guard!  In the same round!  The character could run all over the place and still attack, considering he moves at Water 5 speed.  Without this ability and without some great need to shoot someone once with an arrow, he should always be Guarding or moving and Guarding, as that gives him two relevant actions versus one.  Got kind of repetitive.

Interesting discovery once I started using this ability.  See, Kidai always had a monster ATN.  In Defense Stance, at IR-1, it was 44.  It didn’t scale up that much, but it went to 51.  Even while Guarding twice, an ATN of 41 plus eight Reduction (Kaiu Armor) was hefty defense.  However, being in Attack Stance … and Guarding, not so great ATN anymore, only 38 while armored, a paltry 30 when not armored.  Considering that his one attack didn’t have much behind it – no exploding 9’s on damage, for instance – just not as impressive a combat ability as it seemed like it would be.  Well, he would gain IR in ATN for free action drawing a knife, having Usagi Ranger compensate for the -5 of dual wielding nagamaki and knife.  So, yes, he could be ATN 56-5/10 if all he did was Guard, dropping to a measly 48-5/10 when not armored.

Plus, we were often mounted once Winter Court ended, so taking actions to move were meaningless.  (As much as it sucked to fire a yumi from horseback for my archer, it still didn’t make any sense to give up free moves from a steed.)

So, there you go.  Kidai may not have been “a leaper”, but he sure was a lover … of nature.

Princess Police – Episode Guide

July 16, 2015

Saturday, July 11th, 2015.  Our final session of a Legend of the Five Rings campaign that had its first session on March 3rd, 2012.  The second longest RPG campaign I have ever played in.  While technically not complete, as we await the denouement of the campaign from the GM, plus there are some things I might send out, no more actual play.  I am very likely going to post some from fictions, session notes, emails, or whatever here – those things I think are interesting for someone who wasn’t “there”.  While our Conan campaign had a lot more material, quite a bit of it isn’t suitable for public consumption, not that everything from this campaign is suitable, either.

First up, a breakdown of the sessions, with a variety of injokes – some of which I might get around to explaining:

Princess Police Episode Guide

Topaz Championship
Sessions: 1-4
Important Locations: Tsuma
Events: #3 – Izumi Topaz Champion

The Kitten Trail
Sessions: 5-12
Party: Daniwa joins #7
Important Locations: Zakyo Toshi

Ryoko Owari
Sessions: 13-23
Party: Tanshin joins #21
Important Locations: Ryoko Owari, Kudo Mura
Events: #21 – Bird “killed”

Kudo Mura
Sessions: 23-26
Important Locations: Kudo Mura
Events: #26 – extensive information on organization

Kyuden Miya
Sessions: 27-31
Important Locations: Kyuden Miya
Events: #27 – Kitten executed

Winter Court
Sessions: 32-64
Party: Kagayatsuki leaves #32, Kidai joins #32; Mikael joins #42; Lia leaves #??
Important Locations: Pale Oak Castle, Otosan Uchi
Events: #32 – Otomo Seiji appears; #38 – picnic!!; #40 – geese murder!!; #41 – Izumi Sumai Champion!!; #44 – Touch of Jurojin; #45 – Mikael Horsemanship Champion!!; #45 – Bird flies again; #51 – Yoake appears; #53 – Seiji flees, Emperor saved, Emerald Magistrate for everyone!!; #55 – Diwe dream; #56 – costume party; #57 – Shadowspawn attack Emperor, Nana’s soul freed!!; #58 – Yobanjin; #59 – Mikael Kenjutsu Champion, Shorai Iaijutsu Champion!!; #60 – Vision tomb sealing; #63 – Mikael Phoenix, Tanaka Centipede, Tanshin ends Undertaker’s streak, Gaijin attack Emperor!!; #64 – WC ends, promotions, bandits + Yobanjin!!

Mantis Isles
Sessions: 65-66
Party: Katsuro in the ‘hood #65
Important Locations: Mantis Isles
Events: #65 – Seiji slain!!

Mura Sabishii Toshi
Sessions: 67
Party: Katsuro not so much in the ‘hood
Important Locations: Lonely Shore City
Events: #67 – Kumohito defeated, Bayushi Courtiers 0, Kidai 2 …

Tani Senshio
Sessions: 68
Important Locations: Valley of the Centipede
Events: #68 – Moshi heir slain, Blessed by Rokugan’s preeminent hottie, Tanaka Moshi-ed!!

Sessions: 69-76
Important Locations: Tsuma, former Unicorn Lands
Events: #69 – Crustaceans!!; #70 Ostrich no Oni, Shino; #72 Fuyumi recovered, Kitsune guidance; #73 Lia’s fiancee finished; #74 centuries ago!!; #75 Kibatsu’s love!!; #76 Dragonfly divination, Taka Topaz!!

Ryoko Owari Toshi
Sessions: 77-80
Important Locations: Ryoko Owari Toshi, Three Willows Village
Events: #77 Toritaka Akane/Heichi Yokichi; #78 Junhime taken!!; #79 Izumi patricides, Junhime freed!!; #80 Big Bunny presses Bunny Babe on Harried Hare, Legion traitor dead during duel, 1st Legion/3rd Division command!!

Mission’s End
Sessions: 80-88
Important Locations: Razor of the Dawn Castle, Plains Above Evil
Events: #81 Inaka Runs, Shadowlands horde, hurricane!!; #83 Onwakaze; #84 Naga, Yume-do!!; #85 Akasha City; #86 Tear of Heaven; #87 Kira killed!!; #88 Diwe, Done!!

RPG Fiction Guide

December 25, 2014

I had this idea noted for a long time.  I was going to spew the knowledge on how to write fictions for your RPG campaigns.  Not specifically HoR fictions, maybe not even ones that well suited to campaigns where you are trying to gain something.  Fortunately, the vast majority of my blog posts are just made up with a few sentences in the cranial region and end up being whatever I type in the moment.  So, I’m going to forget some highly important things … that I get to use for a subsequent post on the very same topic.

What is the point of a fic?  Okay, in HoR, it’s to get something.  Let’s go with why you would write fics in your home games (and HoR, too).  To add depth to the campaign.  How do they add depth to the campaign?  By doing some of the character development that’s not going to happen on screen with your PC or someone else’s PC or a NPC.  By developing some other part of the world than a character, like providing info on a location or a group or a character’s activities or whatever.

Other reasons for fics:  entertain the GM, entertain the other players, provide a record of what has happened.  Actually, for our Conan play, it was the last that was the original intent of fics.  I take notes on every RPG session I play in, online, in person, convention.  After a certain point, I can’t read my own notes.  One of our Conan players was watching me take notes for a session and the GM was going into a long description of us on a boat moving under an archway with an aged, bronze(?) statue of some dude with a weapon … and so on.  My note was “some guy” or something like that – I’d have to check my notes.  That sort of shorthand is the bane of preserving gaming knowledge for posterity.

So, other than fics to describe what did happen, what is an obvious thing that shouldn’t exist in fics?  What could happen on screen.

Some of my campaigns are more heroic than others.  Let’s assume that you do heroic stuff a reasonable amount of time on screen during a campaign, on screen meaning during your play sessions.  Then, your fics shouldn’t have heroic stuff going on.  Not only is it tacky to give yourself achievement for things you didn’t earn, but the contrast between the heroic action during sessions and comedy/romance/philosophy/whatever in one’s fics only highlights the cool things you earned.

Now, everything is a guideline, and I’ve thrown some action, even heroic action, into some fics, but I think that tended to be in campaigns or in phases of campaigns when there wasn’t heroic action going on on screen.  As part of earning your achievements (or going for humor, or cetera), usually, in my fics, my characters fail or get some sort of mixed result.

What are my most common types of fics once a campaign has been going a while?

Youth (Backstory)

It may be my PC as a child, my PC as an adolescent, or just my PC before the campaign started.  Yesterday, I wrote about my Princess Police PC’s life just after adulthood (which is like only a couple years or so before the campaign started) during a memorable Winter night.

It went for humor, which is one of the most common things I go for.  It went for contrast between the immature frat boy of a few years prior and the post Imperial Winter Court romantic military commander.  But, one of the things I aim to do is highlight a particular aspect of a character that still exists.

The character gets a rap as a lech, when he’s really just a flirt.  I also throw in character sheet aspects of the character, like how one of his patrol buddies hops away from a grapple attempt as they drunkenly brawl.  My Hare is “not a leaper” but, rather, a lover … of nature.  Not just thematically but mechanically as Usagi Woodsman replaces his SR-2 technique, so he can’t do the Usagi leap.  I wrote in activities that try to get at how he has a low Agility but high Reflexes.  His patrol leader calls him “idiot” and the others call him “stupid” because he will always have an Intelligence of 2, which is not bad in the world but really kind of dumb for a PC and extremely stupid for the sort of characters I normally like to play.

I don’t know if people catch all of the things that are written with intent, but any time I go to the “this is what the PC used to be like before the campaign” well, there’s usually a number of different things I’m trying to go for.

Sometimes, there will be a lesson.  Maybe, there will be some connection to what is currently going on in the campaign.  We are getting towards the end of the Princess Police and the carefree, backwoods days for the PC are gone – again, contrast.  A lot of times I go to the “see how this PC started developing this skill/interest when he was young” well.  An earlier fic was about the Hare getting trained in kyujutsu while practicing patrolling.  Because I’m all about the sleazy character builds that totally min/max, this character started with a Reflexes of 5 (as a replacement, he didn’t start as a newb character) and was all about the “you can’t touch this” and Kyujutsu.

Soap Opera

As a lover of NPCs who won’t rush out of bed the next morning, I often work on romantic subplots in fics because they don’t work so well during sessions, depending.  Actually, probably the best benefit of online play is being able to easily have side conversations going on that don’t involve the rest of the party.  In our Conan play, the relationship stuff was mostly done through fics.  In our Princess Police play, most of the relationship stuff is done in private chat windows.

But, it can be other soap operaesque stuff, too.  Maybe, it’s NPCs plotting against my PC.  Maybe, it’s bro’s doing bro-y stuff.  But, the focus is almost always on quiet things, like conversations … especially conversations, as I love dialogue.  Could also be the PC’s thoughts or could be a NPC’s observations of one or more PCs.  This last tactic is commonly used to help explain why the party adventures together.

One of my Princess Police fics, and I’m focusing on this campaign both because it’s most on my mind at the moment and because the fics are far more recent than the vastly greater number of Conan fics I did, was about NPCs talking about who my PC had the hots for.  Now, the original version had one of the NPCs being an evil mastermind that was the behind the scenes villain of the campaign and how my PC’s on stage efforts only facilitated her rise to ruling the Empire with her healthy hips, but it was too much like another campaign villain, so I wrote a second version where she was just an interested observer.

Another fic was to both highlight and refute the PC’s reputation as an insatiable lecher.  The character has actually managed to avoid having affairs with nearly as many women as he’s had affairs with.  After one session where I actually rolled to resist Temptation, I wrote a fic to take the private conversation the two characters had and make their actual, siblingish relationship known to the other players.  With humor.  I think it was one of my better fics for the campaign as I did pull in other PCs and write dialogue and actions for them and the players were cool with that.

Because when you have geniusness, you are totally in the brainthings of others, knowing all and seeing less.  Or, you could just send people a draft and have them approve/disapprove of your characterizations of their characters.  But, hey, that’s the less geniusness way to go about things.

Anyway, the soap opera aspects of campaigns are often not easily played out on screen because they lack action and often lack involvement for the rest of the players.  Obviously, different sorts of campaigns can be really different.

I also wrote an epilogue for a NPC that the players had no idea my PC cared about and where they basically had no idea who the character was, let alone why my PC was motivated to see someone get boiled ASAP as vengeance for what he had done to her.  Fittingly, as one of the big differences between fiction and gaming is that the narratively most appropriate thing often doesn’t happen, someone else managed to dyify the baddie while my PC lay around on the ground, badly wounded.

Tying Up Narrative

That last example could fit here.  One thing that often happens, especially when the other players aren’t as interested in the coherent narrative as I am, is that the on screen narrative is kind of disjointed.  Session writeups, actually, while being their own category of fics, also can help immensely for clarifying the overarching narrative.

I have something that could fit into this category for the Princess Police, but it’s kind of strange in that it wasn’t intended to be used for such.  I had written a fic to highlight something the character was trying for, when the GM decided to use it as a prologue for the next session.

I suppose another PP fic does address an on screen failure on my PC’s part (though it was failure by fiat), as the people I play with tend to focus on party successes and ignore screwing up, where I think the screw ups have tremendous narrative impact.


Speaking of which, HoR and its ilk incentivize writing fics to achieve personal goals that aren’t going to get reflected in module play.  I’ll write fics for home games that reflect how someone developed a new ability as reflected on the character sheet.  But, I also might write a fic about something the character is working on.

I wrote a Princess Police fic that goes into both.  My Hare needed someone to illustrate his fantasy novels.  He found a painter well-suited to such at Winter Court.  At the same time, both because my PC would be really good at painting due to natural aptitude (Awareness went from 3 at beginning of WC to 5) and because she wasn’t deemed extremely reliable enough to where my PC would go to her every time he needed another novel published, I wrote about my PC taking lessons from her, struggling at some things but showing potential at others.

Again, fics can achieve many different things at once.  I also highlighted how hyperactive the character is in the fic, something that doesn’t always come through during sessions.  And, I referenced my PC’s affair.  And, I gave voice to a couple of campaign NPCs with what they thought of his learning how to paint.  And, I introduced the character’s parents ever so slightly with a reference to prior events.

OPC Development

It’s not unusual for me to play with folks who just want to play a game that has a story.  They aren’t all that invested in their characters as characters, though they may be invested in their characters as character sheets.

Besides developing NPCs, which often will fall under the “Soap Opera” category, sometimes I like to give my take on OPCs (other PCs).  This can confirm my vision of them or it can possibly even give another player something to run with to flesh out the character for oneself.

I’ve said before that I care more about NPCs than other PCs as characters, if not in these exact words, because NPCs are the interface into the greater world where other PCs are just more constructs like my PC, who often know less about the world than I do.  But, it doesn’t have to be that way.  I can get more interested in what other PCs are doing and what the players are trying to do with their characters from a thematic standpoint.  I just need to have a sense of those characters and their interests and goals.  If I can facilitate them having more “character”, more interests, or more goals, well, maybe worth an occasional story [fic].


I’m running out of categories that come to mind off the top of my head.  I’m sure looking back at more Conan fics will jog my memory of others, but to bracket the categories, let’s finish up with the … future.

I come up with lots of ideas for what can happen in campaigns I play in.  I wish it were as easy when I run them.  I think it has to do with how restrictions breed creativity – shout out to Magic articles that I no longer read because of their suck new website.

While I will throw out ideas to my GMs, I also write about possibilities.  These fics tend to be not only vague but really, really hard to follow for other players and the GM.  Since they don’t relate to anything that has happened, they come across as “that’s an interesting story, but, uh, wtf?!?”

For my initial character in the Princess Police campaign, I wrote a fic that was about him, but it wasn’t at all clear, as it was about the character after he grew old and retired, and it involved a bunch of characters that had nothing to do with the campaign (considering how I’d just created them for the fic).  What the point of the fic was wasn’t even clear.  It was trying to do some of the character development that “Youth” fics do, only going the other direction timewise.  I didn’t think it was bad, but I had the hardest time thinking about how I’d follow it up for that brief period before I got bored.  That PC was a disaster, anyway, with his coolest achievements being kind of out of character.


Writing fics is awesome.  I’m not always in the mood.  I sometimes struggle.  I can easily get pretentious and write horribly out of character fics where average intelligence PCs use numerous enormical words.  And, my style probably doesn’t enthuse people who care about action rather than the behind the scenes soap opera, navel gazing, or the like.

But.  I have a lot of fics I wrote that I enjoy reading.  I surprise myself with how many subtle aspects of character development I can put into a story that might not even end up a full page.  I often nail the personalities and something of the speech styles of GM created NPCs or other PCs, or, at least, I sometimes do and the other times nobody cares enough to complain.

The thing is is that I lack the patience and sustained enthusiasm to write enough to write professionally, even short stories (on my bucket list to write a novel but have a hard time seeing it), but I think (and read) in terms of scenes and dialogue, so as long as I don’t get bogged down in describing how things/people look, which I’m not so good at, and focus on two characters going back and forth about … who is sleeping with whom, who is going to be sleeping with whom, or who should be sleeping with whom, it’s all good.

Did I mention that I love writing romantic comedy, one might even call some of it farce?*

*  How ironic is this when I tend to find slapstick in TV and movies painful?  Guess it needs to have more romance and brain-humor and less physical comedy.