Thursday, January 10, 2013

Goodbye Ethrus, Hello Superheroes

So our planetary romance campaign, Ethrus Prime, has finally ended, and I realize that--unlike Atlantis--I haven't really been posting updates of it here. Of course, since I moved Out of the Vault and Super Movie Mondays over to Hero Go Home, I've barely posted here at all in the last year. I posted a tutorial on how I created my character portrait, and then there were only a couple of other posts in the next couple of months.

Part of that is due to the exhaustion of trying to keep up with the daily serialization of Run, Digger, Run! But part of it was due to the game itself. It just wasn't as emotionally involving for me. And much of that is my fault for my choice of character.

Coming up with a character for this world was a bit of a challenge. It was a brand-new world, and quite extensively thought-out by the gamemaster, but I had trouble finding the kind of person I wanted to be within it. I had this idea that I wanted to be someone crazy who slowly goes sane, and so I came up with this idea: a guy who has had something done to his brain by a machine designed to fight a long-ago war. It overwrites people's brains with the memories and personalities and skillsets of loyal soldiers, therefore eliminating the need for recruiting and training and indoctrination. Grab a prisoner, stick him in the machine, and voila, instant soldier.

Problem was, a spy from the other side had infected the machine with a virus, another personality hidden in the code that would take over and defect to the other side, or perform sabotage among the enemy troops. The otehr problem was that the machine was old and defective, and so the job it had done was incomplete. Sunder (my character) was still himself, but he heard the voices of two other people in his head constantly. One was Torin, a trained sniper and assassin, a cold-blooded killer. The other was Amaris, a master spy who had the ability (like The Mentalist) to read people by their reactions, their tells. He could seduce women and fast-talk men, trained to infiltrate and persuade people to do exactly what he wanted.

Not a horrible concept, actually, and it produced some good moments in game. The problems were:

1) In an attempt to not seem like I was actually getting three characters for the price of one, with every Mary Sue skill in the book, I ended up buying almost all the skills for all three characters with one set of points, and advancing each character's skills separately. So for instance, Torin and Sunder had different pistol skills, and if Torin didn't make an appearance between skill advancements, his skills wouldn't advance. Buying all those skills meant all my skills were lower than I would have liked, and they never advanced as fast as everyone else.

2) Because I was unsure of the game world, I tried to dodge around it by giving Sunder amnesia. I planted hints as to what kind of background he probably had in my background document, but lots of it was left to the gamemaster. This might have worked out better if, in addition to having to create the entire game world from scratch, he hadn't also had another (more interesting) amnesiac character to fill in.

3) Although Amaris had one of my character's coolest moments in the game, he was not really a good choice for the game world. His conception as a con man/human lie detector might have worked well in a modern setting, but in the world of Ethrus, populated by a number of extremely paranoid non-human races that we mostly ended up interacting with, and in a party where more than one character had the mental ability to dominate a character and make him tell us the truth, he was basically pretty useless. Entertaining, but superfluous. It didn't help that the gamemaster and I had different conceptions of his reality (I posited him as a real person, like Torin, while Sargon insisted he was just code).

4) My character's main personality was paranoid and risk-averse, not the best choice for an adventuring party.

So to sum up, Sunder liked to run and hide a lot, Torin was a "master" sniper who was a worse shot than practically everyone else in the game (and falling behind all the time), and Amaris was as useful as a third nipple, plus nobody liked him. And yet, we ended up getting stuff done and having fun, and in the end, Sunder became a pretty interesting guy, I think.

Now it's time to move on to Orion Dusk, a futuristic superhero fighting space pirates in the asteroid belt, or something. I'm hoping I've done enough things differently that he'll be a better fit than Sunder, and yet, he's going to have his own issues. I'll leave those as a surprise to the people who'll be playing with him.

Oh yeah, and since I did this with Smeaton long ago, now that everything's over, I'll leave the members of the group with a couple of bits of Sunder trivia.

Back when I was first conceiving the character, I didn't know that it would be taking place on an alien world. I only knew "post-apocalyptic." So when I was coming up with my alternate personalities, I gave them more recognizably ethnic human names. Nicolai was going to be a spy/assassin, while Diego would be a historian/medic or healer.

Also, during the game, there was a physical tic I would use whenever I played the other personalities. Torin was on Sunder's left side, and Amaris was on his right. So if I would turn my head to left or right while "hearing voices," I was deliberately hearing one or the other of them specifically. And when their personalities would take over, I would tilt my head to that side--Torin to the left, and Amaris to the right. I'm not sure anyone ever consciously picked up on it, but I like to think it helped differentiate them. I know it gave me a crick in my neck sometimes.