Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Rogue Rant: Suck it!

No, not her.
Like most of you, I like to pretend that I don't give a crap about the edition wars; as if they're beneath me and all that.  And like you, I actually prefer the older, mustier versions of the game to those 21st century editions that the kids are rabid about these days. 

Unlike you, however,  I've actually found indisputable evidence to support my personal bias.  You see, post-Gygaxian versions of Big D are  objectively inferior for one simple reason: the Rogue.  Introduced, I believe, in the much-vaunted 2nd edition of Advanced Big D, rogues are essentially thieves with a coat of paint to give them somewhat less illegitimacy.  Or something.  I don't really know why they changed the name, but I do know that it has been scientifically proven that any edition of D&D that includes a class titled "Rogue"is clearly the product of an inferior mind and should be derided mercilessly at every opportunity, except in those circumstances during which simply ignoring it seems more palatable.

I can almost rationalize why TSR might have decided to change the thief moniker: presumably cuz of its criminal baggage--this was around the same time that the title of Deities & Demigods was changed to Legumes & Lorries after all.  But rogue?  Couldn't you try not to suck so bad at naming stuff?  Sure, thieves tend to steal stuff; that could be kinda' off-putting to some.  But at least "thief" points to a skill set that has potential value in a dungeon setting.  Rogue, however, is just a disposition of scoundreliness. While that may be fun to run in the tavern, what the fug good is that gonna do a party of adventurers?  Who needs a jaunty-capped seducer of ladies when your six levels down in the Acrid Tomb of Malcontents?
DM: The chamber is filled by a viscous, burbling black blob; it reeks overpoweringly of vomit and strychnine and seems to be sliming its way toward you.  What do you do?
Roger the Rogue: I flash my most menacing grin and offer a defiant witticism.
DM: Ok, roll against your "Crack Wise in the Face of Danger" ability.  While you've got your 20-sider in hand go ahead and make a save vs. flesh-eating bile.  
The term rogue has come to mean an outlier, someone who lives outside the norm, someone possessed of an attitude of nonconformity.  While definitely more open ended than "thief," this makes no sense at all as the name of a character class.  What you have is a class that specializes in not doing what's expected of it.  While there's no reason that you can't count on a well appellated thief to climb walls, decrypt codes, or defuse bombs for the good of the party, all you can expect from your rogue is that s/he's going to give you lip if you ask him or her to do something:
Fred the Fighter: I try to open the door on the west wall.
DM: It's locked.
[The rest of the party looks meaningfully at the "Rogue"]
Rachel the Rogue:  Stick it ya' buncha' hosebags, I'm not your lapdog. [Leaps onto a nearby table sending crockery flying and raises a fist in the air]  Fight the power!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Sinister Location of Saltmarsh

I'm flying to England in a few days to meet with the location scout for the "Shakeshaft" tv series I have, of late, been hawking.  In preparation for the trip I've been researching the south coast of England since, as the U1 authors make explicit, that is the model setting for all things Saltmarshy.

Anyway, it took about 4 seconds on an internet search engine to find out that, while there doesn't appear to be a town by the name of Saltmarsh in southern England, there is a town named Seaton in Devon.  As Saltmarsh devotees will no doubt recall, Seaton was, along with Burle, one of the neighboring, more prosperous towns in the vicinity of backwater Saltmarsh.  Thinking that was pretty nifty, further investigation yielded this tidbit in an article about a grocery store opening in town:
"Sandwiched between the red and white cliffs of the Jurassic Coast and surrounded by acres of unspoilt saltmarsh, the Devon resort of Seaton has prided itself on its status as a serene backwater whose last serious skirmish with an unwanted invader was 700 years ago when it supplied Edward I with ships and sailors to fight off the Sahuagin." [Emphasis, c'est moi] The Independent, 25 March 2008.
So the town of Seaton, like U1's Saltmarsh, is a backwater village located on the seaside adjacent to a saltmarsh, and is within spitting distance of cliffs on which to position everyone's favorite haunted house.  An image search quickly revealed the cliffs upon which the Haunted House is perched:

These are the cliffs.


As well as the house itself: 

This house is haunted.

Except a closer look revealed that this cool old joint is actually in a different Seaton altogether--Seaton Delaval way up in Northumberland.  Apparently Seaton is a pretty popular name for any village within a stones throw or two from the sea, as Wikipedia lists 11 towns, villages, hamlets, dorfs and/or thorps named Seaton either wholly or in part.  The Seaton of County Durham is the most intriguing; here is its Wikipedia entry in its entirety:
"Seaton is a village in County Durham, in England. It is on the A19 road south of Sunderland. The village boasts two pubs." -- Wikipedia entry on Seaton, County Durham, 5/19/15

Anyway, I hope I get to visit both taverns on my upcoming tour of the Seatons.


Saturday, April 25, 2015

Shakeshaft Goes Hollywood!

Jack, circa 1953.
Thanks to Claw Carver--just hired on as the casting director of "Shakeshaft: the Series"--for pointing out the striking similarity in appearance between Saltmarsh's shadiest character and the young Jack Palance, see below.  The intense stare, pronounced brow, and peaked hairline; it's really uncanny isn't it?  The producer of the upcoming tv series is in discussions to secure 1950's J. P.  for the part.  This could be a real gold mine.





Ned, circa 1981.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Ned Shakeshaft: Sinister Assassin of Saltmarsh

I haven't had much time for blogging lately because I've been working on a script for a tv series based on the adventures of Ned Shakeshaft, the beleaguered assassin in U1 Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh who gets assigned the unpleasant job of tying himself up in the haunted house in order to divert attention away from a smuggling operation going on in the basement.  A method actor to the core, Ned took the added step of stripping down to his skivvies and having some cronies beat him up before leaving him to his role.   
Insert BDSM jokes here.

Now, if you were a respected professional, would you volunteer for this gig?  Not a friggin' chance.  Not only is the scope of the operation well beneath you, but you gotta' know that there's not a lot of money in it either.  So what's Ned's motivation?

First off, he's clearly not a Respected professional.  Likely he's got a long rap sheet of botched hits and failed enterprises--like his laughable attempt at joining the Ulek gnome-wrestling circuit, or that time he got arrested for "attempted pimping" in Gradsul.  Whatta' Schmuck.

But still, how did he find himself hogtied and stashed like a sack of hirsute potatoes in a decrepit house waiting for a band of well-armed, sociopathic adventurers--who, it should be noted, gain XPs for killing people--to come along and free him from his bonds?  Fortunately for you I've uncovered the answer.  You see, old Ned's got gambling debts out the yang and The Receiver--the prominent Saltmarsh merchant with ties to the Smugglers Under the House--has purchased them because, hey, you never know when your gonna' need a disposable assassin for exactly this kind of dirty work.

The Receiver has decided to give Ned one last chance to make good on his debts so he sends him to the haunted house to wait for the meddling party of adventurers.  But do we really think that he wants Ned to stop the party from finding the smugglers?  Heck no, compadres; this is where the module-writers grossly underestimate the ruthlessness of The Receiver.  As mentioned in the module, Ned's presence will make it obvious to even the least observant party that there is something decidedly non-paranormal going on in the haunted house.  This is entirely by design because, as you'll remember, The Receiver has as yet failed to find the Smugglers den--which clearly indicates that he's been looking for it.  It's been my experience that one doesn't go looking for smuggler hideouts for academic purposes, especially when one has a financial link to said smugglers.  The Receiver is not interested in protecting the Smugglers Under the House at all: he wants to take over their operation.  That's right, the Party has stumbled into a gangster turf war. 

So The Receiver sends Shakeshaft* not to stymie the Party but to assist them in finding the Smugglers hideout and, indeed, to encourage them to keep looking should they consider leaving without finding it.   As soon as the Party finds the secret lair of the Smugglers, Ned is then to slip away and alert the gang of toughs that are hiding out in the woods across the way.  These goons will then descend on the hideout and pound any survivors--on either side of the conflict--into submission.  Ned also knows full well that those same thugs have been tasked with doing the same to him should he fail in his mission. There, my friends, lies his motivation.

* This has got to be an alias, right?  I suspect that "Ned Shakeshaft" is the UK equivalent of "Jack Meoff."

Friday, March 20, 2015

Happy St. Cuthbert's Day!

I know you're all still recovering from ol' Paddy Snakebane's Festival of Greenery on Tuesday, but get your party hats back out because today marks the feast of St. Cuthbert!  Besides knocking back a pint or three of St. Cuthbert's IPA, you might consider celebrating by being nice to animals as Cuddy was famous for his rapport with the critters of the world.  Also, get in some cudgel practice whilst sporting your favorite chapeaux.

Not sure why he's in a boat in the photo above, but it's a somewhat common theme in non-Greyhawk Cuthbertian imagery. Check out his soccer team's crest (right).

Although Wanderers--along with the similarly themed Rovers and Rangers--is a fairly common team nickname for F.C.s in the British Isles the name is especially appropriate for a club honoring ol' Cuddy; his posthumous wanderings are the stuff of legend.*  For centuries after his death his remains were repeatedly moved from one hiding spot to another in order to avoid plundering by Minnesota Vikings.

* Despite all the Old Country emulation that goes on in MLS nomenclature--see the Uniteds, Reals, Dynamos, FCs, and, now, Cities, that clutter up the standings--no one has taken a shine to the Rovers/Rangers/Wanderers theme.  Wanderers is perhaps too desultory for modern tastes and Rangers is already taken by both a hockey and baseball team here in N. America, but Rovers, I think, would make for a damn fine futbol team.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

U2 Danger at Dunwater: The Alliteration Continues

Perhaps because U1 Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh turned out to be a TPK, my gang never played its sequel Danger at Dunwater.  Which is to say, I have no firsthand knowledge of how this bad boy plays out.  However, that will not keep me from spoiling the crap out of this thing, so move along if you'd rather avoid that sort of confab.

U2 Danger @ Dunwater picks up where U1 left off, riffing on the presence of lizardmen on the smuggler's ship.  It turns out that the lizardmen [Aside: are lizardmen actually amphibians?] were striking a deal with the smugglers to buy bulk armaments at a discount.  The Saltmartians--concerned that the mud-wallowing lizard-freaks are planning an invasion of their despicable burg--hire/coerce the PCs into running off and dealing with the problem for them.  Reviews of U2 (the D&D module, not the high altitude spy plane) praise this module for "not being what it appears," which is too bad, because what it appears to be is a lizard-themed dungeon crawl, and who doesn't like hackin' up lizardmen?  But it turns out that you're supposed to be helping the lizardmen, not flaying them alive.  As written though, the party probably isn't gonna figure that out until it's way too late. 

Essentially, this module is supposed to put the PCs in a moral quandary when they find out that the the heavily armed lizardmen they've been slaughtering all evening are not planning on harvesting the gizzards of the good citizens of Saltmarsh.  Yet the only indication that something unusual is up with these slithery goons is the presence of some Mermaids and other assorted aquatic types sipping tea and snarfing seaweed crumpets in their lizardy den.  Now, if you enter through the front door you'll find this out right away.  But the front door involves swimming, so you're probably not going to opt for that one, preferring one of the land-bound entries.  Which means that by the time you get to Neptune's tea party,  you've already made a stylish belt--with matching boots and luggage--out of the wives, children, and siblings of the lizardude chief and his elite guardsmen.  Fortunately, the Lizardians aren't too sentimental: they'll forgive and forget as long as the party goes off on a wild crocodile hunt on their behalf.*  

But what if a group of PCs actually did take the time to figure out what the Lizardudes were up to instead of collecting their spleens first and asking questions later?  Would this module hold up if it was confronted with such thoughtful PCs?  Consider this scenario: 
Party [approaching the front gate of the Lizardarian Lair]: "All right you slimy, fork-tongued bastards, we know you've been stockpiling weapons for a raid on the village of Saltmarsh.  You'd better cut that crap out right now or you're gonna' be in big trouble."

Lizardudes: "Get lost ya' dandruff-ridden landlubbers, we've got a sahuagin invasion to deal with."

Party: "Say who again?"

Lizardudes: "Sahuagins.  Evil, scaly bastards?  Page 84 of the Monster Manual?  Anyway, they've been harassing us for months, moving in on our turf.  We're here negotiating with the Locathah and merdudes to team up against those creeps."
[As confirmation, Merdude chief and Locathah chief pop their heads out, smile, and wave]
Party [taken aback]: "Oh! So you're not hoarding weapons in order to raid Saltmarsh?"

Lizardudes:  "Raid Saltmarsh? Why would we do that? We're justa' good ol' Lizardfolk, never meanin' no harm."

Party: "You're certain?  No assaulting the village?  No rending townspeople limb from limb?"

Lizardudes [somewhat miffed]: "Absolutely not."

Party [crestfallen]: "Very well. Sorry for bothering you."
[Party dejectedly turns to leave.  The Lizardudes, their annoyance turned to pity, confer with Merdude and Locathah. After some whispered debate, they turn back to the party.]
Lizardudes:  "Say, you guys wouldn't want to help us, would you?"

And so, unless the Master of Dungeons has U3 The Final Countdown on hand and prepped for play, your big Friday night gaming session is over before the pizza's even arrived.



*Since the PCs are working as independent contractors for the Village of NaClmarsh, they would be entirely within their rights to point out to the Lizardmen that this is not within the scope of their agreement with the Saltmartians and will first require negotiating new terms with the town council.
  

Friday, January 23, 2015