Never Gonna Give You Up, Tabletop

[The above image is from the tabletop roleplaying site It's pretty cool, check it out.]

It’s Friday, and I’m feeling a little lazy, so I thought I would relate something that happened at our game table.

In this particular campaign, we are now 16th level, and we are planewalking. Not the normal D&D planes, but something a lot more like the Nine Princes in Amber version. Only there are regular gates, which we must find and open. Mrs. Darkwater is playing Tamsyn who is a person Of The Blood that allows her to sense and open these gates. Recently we found a Pattern, which helped us figure out where we should go next. (I was serious about the Amber thing) We’re trying to make a map, and establish some trade routes on behalf of the King in our parts.

I’m playing Lurinda Sabelaqua, an illusionist. If your Latin is good, you will note that Sabelagua is kind of Latin-ish for “Darkwater”. This might make you suspect that perhaps Lurinda has fabulous red hair, and is an elf. She does and she doesn’t.

Lurinda is in fact, one of the first characters I ever played in tabletop RPGs. She was Second Edition Illusionist. When I rolled her up, (using the 4-choose-3 method) one of my stats was a 5. No really, a 5. My die roll was two 2′s and two 1′s, of which I got to pick the best three.

But I got to put that into whatever ability score I wanted. The only thing is, under AD&D (aka Second Edition) rules, whatever ability score I put that 5 into would determine what class you could play. If you had a 5 or lower in Strength, for example, you could only be a Wizard. In Int, you could only be a fighter. In Wisdom, only a thief, Dex only a cleric. And if you put it in Con (!) you could only be an Illusionist (which was broken out from Wizard, with a quite different spell list in that day). So that’s what I did.

In that group, my first gaming group, we cross-dressed all the time. We’d roll 50-50 for character gender, because, well, why not? We’re role-playing, right? Our GM was a woman, she played all the male NPCs, so no big deal right?

So about one minute after I decided to make her an Illusionist and name her Lurinda, my friend Chuck announced that he was making a female wizard named Luinda. Oddly, this gave me a good portion of Lurinda’s personality. My reaction was, “Wait, you can’t do that, my character is an Illusionist named Lurinda!” And thus the rivalry was born. It was so much fun to snipe at each other, that years later, Chuck and I could drop back into it in an instant, much to the mortification of his wife, who had never, it seems, seen him play D&D. His kids thought it was pretty cool, though.

Also Lurinda was vain. Once she got a little money, she bought a wagon (and team) to go adventuring, and two tents. Why two? Because, silly, one’s for her clothes, so they don’t get wet.

Our GM had made a Markov chain to model the weather in his world, and one night he announced it was raining. Nobody else had even bought themselves one tent, so they all crowded into Lurinda’s tents, getting her clothes all wrinkled, wet and nasty. It was horrible, I tell you, horrible.

But Lurinda was also brave and loyal. So brave that she got caught in a Cone of Cold which one-shotted her. Constitution 5 in Second Edition was only worth -1 hit point per level, instead of the -3 it would be in 3rd Edition, and she rolled well, but she was still pretty fragile. So she died. And now the party had a problem. A Raise Dead spell had a significant chance of just flat-out failing because her Constitution score was so low. Not to mention that the spell, even if successful, would knock another point off her Con.

So they got a Reincarnation instead. A druid Reincarnation. There’s a table you checked to see just what sort of woodland creature you come back as. The DM taunted me for about two weeks with that table. He pointed out that one of the possibilities was a bugbear. This of course, would be mortifying to Lurinda.

So when the big day came, she woke up in a fury,

“You got me REINCARNATED!?!! WHY DID YOU DO THAT? I could have been ANYTHING! I could have been a BUGBEAR! OMG, give me a mirror so I can just LOOK. WhatamIwhatamiwhatami?


Oh. I’m an ELF! Well never mind then.

I still don’t know whether he cheated the die roll or not. I’m guessing yes.


But that was a long time ago. In addition to Tamsyn (Mrs Darkwaters character), we also have a barbarian, Elta, and an elf (not dark elf) with two scimitars Selena. Lurinda is a social climber and a ersatz elf, whereas Selena is actual royalty (she likes to growl, “I’m a duchess not a princess, get it right!”) and a natural-born elf. They don’t get along. It’s glorious.

So we ended up on this plane where there were dinosaurs. Lots of dinosaurs. T. Rex, gallimimus, and triceratopses. Lots of Triceratopses. Some got mad at us and tried to kill us. Unfortunately for me, spells did not work all that well on that plane, so I was limited to mostly first and second level spells. Also, all my crowd control was limited by hit dice, and the monsters were too big, so they just flat wouldn’t work. (This is a design I would not recommend, by the way. It has the “I gave you an ability, but no place where you can use it” problem) So one of the things I did was to cast Blur on Elta. Blur means that every time the target is hit by something there’s a 20 percent chance that it didn’t hit after all, because you were just slightly somewhere “else”.

We went through the whole fight with Blur being useless. Elta, being a barbarian, gets hit a lot. Mostly her defense is, more or less, “Arrgh, I’ll kill you!” Every time she got hit, I’d pipe up with, “Twenty percent miss chance!” and the DM would roll it and it wouldn’t help. Bleh. I was thinking, “this spell is useless.”

The last Trike standing (a bigger, nastier one) got a threat on Elta, which confirmed. They hit hard, the damage was rolled, it wasn’t quite enough to down Elta, but it was close. I piped in with “Twenty percent miss chance!” and by the Seer, it worked! The critical hit turned into a miss! There were high fives all around. Well, ok some of them were more metaphorical.


I don’t think it’s possible to engineer this kind of thing. This is the reason we roll dice. If we simply made up a story where Blur didn’t work until the end of the fight when it mattered most, that would seem kind of cliched and rigged. But we didn’t, it just happened that way. This is why I think I’ll keep playing tabletop games, even though I love MMOs.

I’ve rarely had that sort of drama in an MMO, either, even though they use a random element. I’ve had things be squeakers, though, where I finish a fight with no health left. But MMOs focus on action, rather than drama and suspense. As a business, focusing on making combat faster-paced was probably a good move, but it often eliminates drama. Of course, MMO devs have been trying to push drama back into their games, anyone who’s fought a dragon in GW2 knows this. Still, that’s mostly preprogrammed drama, awe-inspiring though it may be. Dragon fights in Skyrim, some of which would kill you, got a better feel.

And the story above, about Lurinda’s origin is something else that feels like it belongs to the tabletop. Somehow, the tabletop games engender far more tales about, “Do you remember that time we …” The characters are much more vivid and differentiated. MMOs are pushing in that direction, I think. Most of the people that work on them play tabletop, too.

I’m on a personal quest to figure out how to push the joy of tabletop that I know into the digital realm more. I’ve got some ideas, I need to get them down on paper. Maybe I will share more here.

Have a great weekend. May you have many adventures, and slay many dragons.

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