639 – White Smoke Mountain • 08

Dear DM

@nalA: MD raeD, Other than GURPS, can you think of a (Good) way to do crossovers with different RPG systems, either using time travel, or due to some kind of time/space incident using, say, D&D, and WFRP characters in the same group universe?

Dear nalA,

Honestly, the first thing I would do would be to use different rules. You can do everything you want to with D&D rules, but it’s so much extra trouble. The point of doing this (I assume) is to take advantage of the “feel” of a different world, part of which is a different system. So, you can either Dungeons & Dragon-ize that other world, watering down the feel of it you wanted to inject into your game, (which is also going to take a lot of time and effort) or you can convert the PCs to each different setting they enter. (Big advantage here is that you’re pushing all the work off on your players.)

Now if you want one game with one party of players from different worlds and systems, you can try an experiment me and my buddies performed back in high school. Each of us picked our favorite game, made up a character, and played as a party. We had five different systems mashed together, and we used them all simultaneously. The DM handled to hits on a very basic scale, assigning easy/medium/hard ratings to the bad guys and figuring what each of those would be for each game, and everyone used their own damage, hit points, and abilities. We only ever did it once, but it was a blast.

@Stephen: Dear DM, have you ever played or had a player play as a vampire? I’m not talking about sissy twilight vampires I’m talking Buffy’s Angel or Forever Knight’s Lucien LaCroix, The kind that can spank Buffy and eat her for breakfast, if so how did you balance it? did the typical weaknesses suffice and the player only could be at full power in certain ideal circumstances?

Dear Stephen,

This is actually really hard Stephen. Unless you’re starting with an underpowered character and vamping him up will bring him in line with everyone else, there is going to be trouble. (Well, there’s likely to be trouble anyway, but let’s press on.)

As we looked at last week, giving a character very limited power, no matter how tough it is, is usually fine since the DM gets to say when and where that power influences the game. A vampire among mortals is likely to be tougher in all combat situations the party finds themselves in, and will probably outshine them. Unfortunately a vampire’s weaknesses aren’t going to help any, since for the most part they simply dictate he won’t be around whenever they come into play. What you’re left with is either the vampire stealing the show while the others watch him dominate, or the vampire left at home in a box while the other players complain about being a man down.

Your best/worst case scenario is that all the other players get tired of the inconvenience and ask the vampire PC to bite them too.

@TSED: Dear DM, who is the best ninja turtle?

Dear TSED,

Raphael, hands down. (Though Donatello doesn’t suck.) Back when the “internet” was using one of the VAXMUS BBSs on campus, my account name was Raphael, and I always signed off with “Your Rascally, Raspberry Rafe”.

Don’t forget to ask Dear DM your questions for next week in the comments below!

62 Responses to 639 – White Smoke Mountain • 08

    • Cursed belt of gender bending. They just uncursed it enough to get it off and our tricky rogue cohort Fleece tricks our dumbass half-orc mage-fighter to put it back on.

          • Turn him into an animu character obviously, like something out of a fanart sketchbook filled with Final Fantasy derivatives. Ridiculous costumes with too many belts are an anime, manga and bad weeaboo fanart thing afterall, and since Kevin isn’t Japanese it would have to be weeaboo.
            In specific, since both the belts would be gender bending him he’d still be a she, except really bent so he’d have giant animu eyes, no nose, and one of those triangle mouths that always hovers near the middle of the current forward facial side instead of where a mouth should actually be. This feminized Enkidu would also have either giant boobs that do Gainaxing or a tiny flat chest that gets disregarded often, resulting in Enkidu-ette often hammering people who didn’t ogle him-her enough–or ogled him-her too much, either way–with a giant mallet that inexplicably comes out of nowhere and disappears back there immediately after.

            • “Ridiculous costumes with too many belts are an anime, manga and bad weeaboo fanart thing afterall,”

              And a D&D 3E thing. And D&D 4E. And Arcane Codex. And the artwork of every “modern Fantasy” (anything that’s not Ars Magica) RPG in the past 10 years, it seems. 😯

    • Even if you didn’t remember the bit about the cursed belt, the simple fact that Enkidu used to be male, but has been female for some time now up until last Friday’s strip, and that the belt came off the moment Enkidu reverted back to male (technically the other way round but a comic panel is a static picture so it’s hard to tell which came first for casual readers)… not to mention that panel 3 was all about the belt too… should have been a hint about what was going on. Just saying. 🙄

      The cast page https://www.heroesoflesserearth.com/what-is-hole/ mentions it too.
      I tried looking for the strip in question to find out which number it was, but apparently the Archives are offline?
      Kevin, you might want to add the tag “belt” to the old comic strip where Enkidu first puts the cursed belt on.

  1. Thanks for the explenation, AC, I also didn’t get it. Though in hindsight it looks fairly obvious now.

    Is it just me or is Morty getting uglier(as in, trollish-ier) by the minute…or panel?
    When was the last time he was an actual Dwarf?

    • While in troll-country, (Garandür) Morty has been allowing himself to look like a troll to hopefully grease the wheels for the rest of the party. Expect him to go back to looking like a dwarf soon, as the group will be getting away from the trolls and into the bowels of White Smoke Mountain!

      (And in answer to your actual question… while at first I was a little unsure of Morty’s “troll look”, I have become increasingly fond of it, and have begun having more and more fun drawing him. I expect that is what you’re seeing.)

      • “Expect [Morty] to go back to looking like a dwarf soon”… no prospect of him actually going back to BEING a dwarf then? Wasn’t there something about him being a zombie too? It’s so easy to lose track…

        • Well he died a lot and was brought back using reincarnation, so that might have been where you thought he was undead. (The whole dead, then not. Not quite the same as undead.)

          Although I’m trying to picture a zombie lawful good cleric. “Braaiins, Braaaains, but only those of the truly wicked… I couldn’t possibly harm someone who didn’t deserve it…” I wonder what his god would think of a zombie follower.

    • No problem, I am a technical writer, my second job is to make sense of and explain what is unclear to others.
      My first job is to use as much sarcasm as possible. Opinions are mixed as to why this is necessary but whenever I stop bad things happen; because of this now it is expected of me.

  2. Dear DM,

    Is there any way to make a child a suitable antagonist for a party? Or have I just painted myself in to a corner?

    • Depends on what you mean with “suitable antagonist”?

      Suitably powerful?

      Depending on what game and setting you play, all sorts of antagonists can be children or at least look like them: child-sized ancient vampires, mechanical killer robots disguised as children, goblins in d20 Modern Urban Arcana who use their glamour to look like children or teenagers, crazy psionic supermutants born in a secret military test lab… basically anything that isn’t a child inside despite looking like it on first glance.

      Or “suitable” in terms of personal taste, because you don’t want your player characters actually beating up or killing an underage NPC?

      In a pseudo-medieval world, a child or young teenager might be in a position of great political power, even be a crowned king. If he (or she) was put there at a young age, and grew up spoilt because no-one dared tell him “no, you can’t”, you end up with a little monster that has people put to death or exiled on a cruel childish whim. Alternatively, a child-king might be ruling on paper, but the real power behind the throne is the widowed mother (obviously this only works in settings where women are not allowed to rule as queen, otherwise the widow would simply have succeeded her husband the king on the throne herself).
      Not to mention that in medieval times, 15- or 16-year-olds were often considered adults already.

      In a cyberpunk or post-atomar-holocaust world, gangs of feral street children can be common place. And these children are armed with real weapons and theycan be as cruel as any adult or even crueler.
      Heck, just look at the real world news: Teenagers threatening or even killing adults and other teenagers, sometimes for nothing more than a pair of brand-label shoes, or because the victim was the wrong color/homosexual/homeless and poor, or because the perpetrators were drunk and bored. School children killing each other in gang warfare between different schools. Policemen in megacity sprawls like Rio de Janeiro hunting and shooting homeless street children as if they’re vermin. Child prostitution (not just in the Third World!), and sexual abuse of minors. Medical experiments on orphan children. Child soldiers, kidnapped from their villages, brainwashed, pumped full of drugs and sent to slaughter whole villages. These things are not common-place in the real world, or more preciseley they are endemic only in certain times and places. But let’s face it, we are living in a Cyberpunk world by now.

      If you can put your hands on the Japanese anime movie “Spriggan” , the main villain there is a Colonel MacDougall, head of the Pentagon Black Ops Cybercorps. (Yes, the Americans are the villains in that movie, suck it up.) Outwardly, he looks like a 10-year-old boy with white hair. Biologically and chronologically, he is a 10-year-old boy. Mentally, not to much. They stuck an experimental brain wave amplifier magnetic resonance technobabble device into his skull, along with half a dozen dataports. Not only does this enable him to link up to computers, but also to control magnetic fields around him, including the Earth magnetic field. Unfortunately, his estimated remaining life span is less than 4 years. Oh, and he’s technically insane (like all the cyborgs we get to see) and megalomanic, in a cold, calculating way. So he quietly walks around frying enemy electronics and people who displease him with his mind.

    • There are a number of examples Ican think of, depending on the campaign…

      1) Is it really a child, or something disguised as one (Doppleganger, minor demon, shapeshifted dragon)
      2) Is it the child of some nobleman or (god forbid) the King? “We can’t kill the prince…but he is SUCH an evil brat!”
      3) the movie “Firestarter” ring any bells?
      4) Or is it just some incredibly clever and sneaky kid (Ala the boomerang tossing kid in one of the Road Warrior movies, I forget which one)

    • In terms of stats it isn’t hard. IIRC it’s -1 to all ability scores for teens, -3 for kids, and -6 for toddlers. But now you need a reason why he a) has obtained a large amount of experience in such a short time, b) has had great power bestowed on him somehow or c) isn’t a real child.

      The other option is to not make him a combat foe at all, but a roleplaying foe. Perhaps he is the leader of a much more dangerous group or knows all the traps and so on of a dangerous locale like the back of his hand. Or you could mix this option with any of the above options.

      • Or the character used to be a powerful, high-level villain, who fell into a Fountain of Youth and now no-one takes him seriously anymore because he needs a high chair to sit at the table… 😉

    • Reincarnation, this time this reincarnation of a Lama is very much not on the eightfold path! (Cue distorted guitar chords.)

  3. As far as the comment on Vampire PCs, why not go back to the original Bram Stoker, where a Vampire’s powers were a lot more subdued, and his weaknesses less harsh than in “Buffy” or other modern vampire stories…Yes, Dracula was stronger than a mortal, had hypnotic/mez type powers, and could only be killed by specific means, and could shapeshift into a bat or a cloud of mist, but he was NOT a super-acrobat with the strength of the Hulk, and Sunlight did NOT burn him…all it did was remove his power to shapeshift, and (once he was resting in his coffin, but not before) paralyze him.

    (From Dracula): “The sun that rose on our sorrow this morning guards us in its course. Until it sets tonight, that monster must retain whatever form he now has. He is confined within the limitations of his earthly envelope. He cannot melt into thin air nor disappear through cracks or chinks or crannies. If he go through a doorway, he must open the door like a mortal. And so we have this day to hunt out all his lairs and sterilize them. So we shall, if we have not yet catch him and destroy him, drive him to bay in some place where the catching and the destroying shall be, in time, sure.”

  4. “Unfortunately a vampire’s weaknesses aren’t going to help any, since for the most part they simply dictate he won’t be around whenever they come into play. What you’re left with is either the vampire stealing the show while the others watch him dominate, or the vampire left at home in a box while the other players complain about being a man down.”

    Thank you! You perfectly illustrated what has been bothering me about that kind of character for a couple years now.
    It’s not just vampire characters, but any “weird” character in a group of “normals”. It’s the reason why I hate players who want to play a vampire or were-creature in Shadowrun (and the GMs who stupidly allow it).

    The “weird” character reaps the points for the flaw, but outsources the actual disadvantage to the whole group. 😡

    It’s even applicable to players who load up their character with a combination of mental flaws like trigger-happy, berserk button, short fuse and similar, or stuff like tortured soul, flashbacks, poltergeist, debilitating phobia of any common household item; because to their mind, these aren’t disadvantages, instead they are the perfect excuse for the emotionally instable character to go on a bloody rampage or drama-queen emo binge whenever the player feels bored (quote: “Hey, I’m just playing out my character’s flaws!”). And it’s never their character who suffers any repercussions from it, but the rest of the group who are forced to run around trying to constrain their comrade-in-arms and minimize the damage.

    Heck, the GURPS Third Edition Revised Core Rules[1] offered a disadvantage that is this phenomenon in a nutshell. It was called “Jinx”. It’s similar to the disadvantage “Bad Luck”, in that whenever something can go wrong at the worst (or most embarrassing) moment, it will. But if you have a Jinx in your group, the fall-out from Murphy’s Law always hits the other characters and never the Jinx himself. A jinxed character is like a metaphysical Typhoid Mary, spreading bad luck where-ever he goes. For maximum annoyance, you could combine “Jinx” and “Ridiculous Luck” in the same character, creating a person who wanders through life blessed and happy while leaving chaos in his wake.[2] Prepare to be gruesomely murdered when the other players find out.

    [1] I believe they wisely deleted Jinx from the GURPS 4th Edition rules. At least I can’t find it in the index anymore.
    [2] While this might sound funny in theory if you’re making a comedy movie, it’s not so much fun in a roleplaying game.

    • Ah, the old “disadvantage-but-not-really-a-disadvantage” exploit.

      The best one I can recall was from a Champions campaign a few years ago. The GM had just purchased a sourcebook on an evil high-tech organization bent on world domination – Viper, if I recall correctly.

      We all found out he bought the book and planned on basing the campaign around it, so guess what? We all took “Hunted by Viper” as a “disadvantage.” Free build points.

      • That’s hysterical, Ron. It also played well into the DM’s campaign, I suspect.

        My favorite Disadvantaged character I ever built was a hobgoblin (in GURPS) who was sweet but an emotional two-year-old. I took Poor because he would immediately spend his money the instant he got it on anything he could find. (Always presents for his friends.) There were some other disads as well… Innocent I think was one… but the resultant dynamic that worked itself out was that a few of the other players took over managing all of my character’s resources, and told him which skulls to bash, and when. The best part for me was getting to experience a “gritty game world” through the eyes of a perpetually happy and innocent character who genuinely loved and trusted his cohorts. It was a COMPLETELY different type of gaming experience, and it was one I really loved.

        (Of course this has nothing to do with vampires.)

  5. Dear Dm,

    What is your opinion of Computer RPGs as a replacement / addition to PnP roleplaying?

    Yours concerned,


    • Alan I used to use a computer RPG to do some online rp, for me I found it very engrossing, i like visuals and due to the phenomenon of faceless interaction (ie you do not suffer repercussions for your actions cause you hide behind an avatar) it was much easier to experiment with characters I would never do in person.

      I used an old UO client on a private server using C# to run the game, we could program it to do anything we wanted, and the game itself was simple enough that Text was the dominant aspect of the game for communication and we were not limited to 50 word text boxes.
      The biggest advantage to this over going to someones house to RP was the fact that the Server was online 24/7 so a player could continue to develope their character in the world without having others with them, and have the chance to meet strangers to the world.

      I would not recommend using modern RPG’s like WOW (sorry kevin!) they tend to be too sophisticated and actually limit how you are able to play by using too strict rules.

      • Even “Dungeons & Dragons Online” falls into this category unfortunately despite the roots in D&D. It’s got very specific “do this, don’t do that” rules that promote min-maxing and punish anyone who tries to do things differently.

        I still enjoy it… but I’d like to be able to find alternate ways past a quest and the computerized model is just too limited, (although as a programmer I can understand why it is.). You’re going to disable that trap, then kill exactly 30 skeletons if you want to move past this room. And your wizard is going to focus on fire magic because of firewall, not say illusions, even acid damage spells just can’t compare to firewall.

        Having said that though, computer RPGs are fun, they are just a different type of game. Sort of like how Chess and Monopoly are both board games and you might enjoy both. PnP RPGs and computerized ones are very different but they can both be fun.

  6. Isn’t it in the rules that if your character gets turned into a vampire then they are automatically an NPC monster and under DM control? Cause there’s your answer. I had a buddy who got tore up by a werewolf in Deadlands and was all worried that he’d have to hand over his character sheet every full moon. I told him he was fine, the werewolf only tore his belly open with it’s claws. It has to bite to infect. He wiped his brow, scooped his guts back in and soldiered on.

    • That’s definitely not the case in:

      1) WoD
      2) D&D
      3) GURPS

      Can’t say about any more. Houserules are different, though, and you should be aware of them.

    • Used to be in AD&D first ed.
      A lot of that version was orientated around chars=good/party-based, so anything that turned one into a “monster” meant loss of character so that the DM would play it properly (read: villian/target) and so “failure” would still be adversarial (read: death)

  7. If I were the DM there, I would have decided that the antagonists were all part of “Mambo” instead, and then killed the players with “Viper” by having them show up during a battle against “Mambo.”

    But then, I’m kind of a dick.

    • Watson: It’s “Mamba”, not “Mambo”
      Holmes: What’s the difference?
      Watson: Very little, except that one is a deadly poisonous snake, and the other is a rather festive carribean dance.

      (Michael Caine and Ben Kingsley in the movie “Without a Clue”)

  8. guess that vampire stuff works better in video games.

    Dear DM
    if it isn’t too much trouble would you mind making us a “Character Sheet” on your least fave celb/and or politician >=D

  9. Dear DM,

    what, to your mind, are the pros and cons of having a rules lawyer in the group?

    Also, in which rules systems can a rules lawyer outrun an arrow aimed at his head?

    • Pros: someone who knows the rules
      Cons: someone who knows the rules too much (And it gets in the way of your rails)

      You can outrun an arrow aimed at your head in any system – provided the person doing the aiming doesn’t actually fire it.

      Other than that, Gurps (Supersonic flying), and probably at least one of the superhero systems.

  10. Dear DM,
    What game systems and source materials would you recommend for someone who finds FATE and FUDGE a bit rules-heavy? Assume I haven’t kept up with anything that has come out in the last decade.

    Bonus round, optional pending ability of your sanity to withstand it:
    Dear DM,
    The last time I had anything to do with Ars Magica was its 4th ed, which set my standard for systems so weighed down with rules it takes spreadsheets to make sense of it. What has happened to it/with it in the last decade?

    • Heh. reminds me of the old Chivalry and Sorcery combats.
      Watched 7 people playing, they took out a dragon. It’s death throes did farrr more damage than the living dragon could do 🙂

    • Dunno. I don’t know details about Ars MAgica 5th edition, but I just finished creating 2 Ars Magica 4E characters…. argl. Only took me several days.

      But there are systems that are WAY WORSE, where you really need Excel tables to build and/or level-up a character. Spacemaster Privateers for example. And Perry Rhodan (a German scifi RPG, based on the Midgard system, a German fantasy RPG, unfortunately, the Midgard designers got their hands on the Perry Rhodan setting and screwed it over. Trust me, I know people who got so fed up with paging back and forth through the rulebooks and adding up stuff in tables that they programmed a database specifically for these two systems.

      GURPS and Ars Magica just have tons of options, but not brain-breaking rules full of exceptions and bugs.

      • This fits nicely into Alan’s question about computer RPGs. Sometimes the PnP RPGs are so complex they spawn computerized versions of themselves!

      • My experience of GURPS was an “all-nighter” where I fell asleep at midnight and work up at 3am. The party was still in the same encounter/combat and most of the folks didn’t realise I’d been asleep (for 3 hrs) as the “Party Caller” generally just decided what everyone was doing (amongst debating the rules).