Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Rope Trick; A Tale of Epic Skill!

So games have come and gone, and recently I've been running a new campaign.  I was lucky enough to be invited to the D&D NEXT Playtest.  Given the specifics of the non disclosure agreement I agreed to (and respect to the developers of the game I love so much) I won't mention much about the rules set, other then I love them and that there are skills.  I don't think that's too much, as skills have been part of the game since...oh...Advanced D&D?  And to those of you who have not played Dungeons and Dragons (you potential new players, you) skills are abilities that define what your character specializes in doing, be it tracking, swiming, expansive knowledge of the world's history, or the ability to read and write foreign languages, like Goblin, (or as I like to call it Goblinese or Gobbledegook). I believe went a bit into skills in a previous post.
Probably not a written
language though...

Anyway, as the game is currently a "Playtest", parts of the game or constantly being changed to see what works and what doesn't.  This includes the list of skills.  And in one itteration, one of those skills was "Use Rope".  One of my players picked it up and for the past couple games was looking to use it at almost every opportunity.  Now this was part joke, as the Use Rope skill itself is a flaccid one, the kind of skill you'd only see in use by a sailor, circus performer, or cattlehand (which this character is).  Seeing as how a player has so few options for skills to be trained in, trying to make Use Rope viable for situations other then tying up enemies, getting yourself out of being tied up, etc. would be seen as a bit of a joke. Or would it!?

I made a horrible mistake once, not too long ago, my friend, roomate, and six-year hetero-life partner Eric made a character based loosely on one of his favorite television personalities, someone so skilled in perception that they would notice clues that even the most dedicated detective might gloss over, and because of this ability, could make deductions so percise they seemed psychic, prophetic, and almost magical.

Skill Focus Perception and
Knowledge: Pharmaceutical
Of course, being the dream crusher of a GM I was (not wanting players to take advantage of the rules, and afraid admittedly of losing control over the game) I said "No! Just because you're proficiant in a skill doesn't make it a magical power!".  You know what, I was wrong.

Epic Tales are my business (except for the making money off of it part), and my favorite by far is the Albanian telling of The Skillful Brothers (which featured seven brothers instead of four), each endowed with a special skill, some not so far out of the bounds of human accomplishment, some definantly on the the side of "Miraculous Power". In the tale the brothers are asked by a king to save his daughter who has been abducted by the Devil, each must use their trait to save her.  The first can find the location of anyone or thing, and finds the Devil's lair.  The next can open the earth to any depth, and does so to reach the Devil's home.  The third could steal anything without being caught (taking first the girl, then one of the devil's shoes, which must've been quite stylish.), The forth threw the shoe to the end of the earth, as throwing was his strong suit.  The Fifth erected an impregnable tower instantly to protect the group when the Devil arrived to reclaim the girl (winded as he was, having taken the time to retreive his footwear.).

The Devil has had many
Depictions in History. This
is my favorite.
Unfortunatly the brothers were a little too trusting, and when the Devil asked for one last look at the fair maiden before leaving the brothers to their victory, they opened a small hole to allow the Devil a glimpse.  The devil reached through and immediatly pulled the princess out and laughed as he flew away.  Leaving the sixth brother (an expert marksmen) to shoot the Devil with an arrow that struck him with such force that he dropped the princess, leaving the seventh brother to catch her (and only he could, as he could catch anything that fell from any height.  Imagine the games of catch between Four and Seven.  Nike commercial material.)

As a side note, this is my favorite telling because when the brothers return, all are rewarded.  And unlike the four brothers, none bicker over who marries the princess as she is the one who chooses her husband to be (Spolier Alert: She chooses brother Seven, who caught her and was the youngest brother and most handsome, as younger brothers often are.)

Now let's tie it all up.  Skills ARE magical powers! The power to speak, the power to write, the ability to influence others, "THE ABILITY TO READ!". These are things that we take for granted, these are things that ARE magical and miraculous.  I work with a guy who could take my car apart and put it back together and it would run just as well.  And though I know that it is possible and not "extraordinary" in terms of what humanity is capable of, in terms of what I'm capable of my car is made of Glass, Metal, Fire, and Magic, and that man is a Caromancer!  The ability to use a rope though we are disenchanted with it, could be something amazing! Look at what Indiana Jones could do with a whip!

Skill Focus: Use Rope and
Knowledge: Archeology
The point is that as time goes on, and I realize that my struggle to contain and control the confines of what characters are capable has been equal to struggle to remain innovative and inventive in my story because the two are inexorably linked! (I really enjoyed that sentance.)  I've been trying to protect a rules set like it's a sacred text when really it's just a decision system.  When I try to contain the world I've created I've served only as it's opressor and to free it I must face simple facts.  I am not an all powerful being, or omnipotent overseer of an alternate reality!  I am merely a chronicler, a watcher, a simple force with the illusion of control! In truth the rules mean nothing! The players have no limits other then what they can imagine!  My imaginary constructs are alive the moment I share them, they slip away from me and the players can take them to heights I never imagined!

And those my friends, have been my very favorite stories, and my job is the best, because no matter how high they go, I get to be the one that catches them.


  1. Older brothers are absolutely the better looking sibling. That's a proven fact. I like your second to last paragraph because it sounds like the aftermath of an existential crisis.

    1. You are mistaken, older brothers are not better looking. Classically speaking, they need not be for they receive material endowments from parents. It's the younger brothers that are forced to survive by charm and (incredible) good looks, it's like nature's endowment because they know younger siblings always get the raw end of the deal. What the hell would you know about it anyway, First Born!? Also, I did have it was the aftermath of an existential crisis. Creating worlds and leaving them open to other sentient influence is terrifying, especially if one of those sentients is Brian Stepp. If there is a Glob, he must be insane with worry.