Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Dungeons and Dragons 3.5

Game Premise

Battle hordes of monsters. Explore forgotten ruins, vast wilderness, bustling cities and even the multiverse of planes. Learn secrets of eldritch magic and call upon the power of the Gods themselves. Adventure for wealth, glory and destiny.

It's the game of the Temple of Elemental Evil, Barrier Peaks, the Abyss, the Tomb of Horrors, the Keep on the Borderlands. It's the worlds of Greyhawk, Forgotten Realms, Eberron, Ravenloft, Planescape and countless others. It's the game of rust monsters, beholders, kobolds, the tarrasque and flumphs.

This is the game that started it all. It's about exploring a living, breathing fantasy world. It's about the story of a group of wanderers plying their trade with sword, skill and spell. It's about killing things and taking their stuff. It's Dungeons and Dragons.


Game Overview

If you know what a roleplaying game is, then you know what Dungeons and Dragons is. Played by millions worldwide for almost 40 years, it was the brainchild of a pair of miniatures gamers, the late Gary Gygax and David Arenson. They combined minis gaming, sword and sorcery fantasy and in the words of one of their players 'some shit we thought would be fun' and in doing so founded this wonderful hobby. Without it, this hobby would not exist, nor would any of the games I have covered. It's the standard in fantasy RPGs, yet undeniably its own thing. D&D is quite often inspired by D&D, which kind of makes it difficult to explain adequately in this section. Fortunately, being the world's most popular RPG it's not like finding out more about it is hard.

Dungeons and Dragons has gone through many revisions and edition changes in its almost 40 years of existence, the most current being Dungeons and Dragons 4th edition, released in 2008. Despite its name it is not the fourth iteration of the game and I'm not even going to try and list all the versions. My experience has mainly been with both that edition and the one I'm covering in this post, 3rd edition (OK, technically 3.5), although I have played a few sessions of Advanced Dungeons &Dragons. Third edition was the first developed by the IP's current owner, Wizards of the Coast. It introduced a bunch of new concepts to the game, including the D20 system and the idea that any Race could be any Class. It's also known for the OGL, a licensing agreement that allowed other companies to use material from the game's System Reference Document in their own games. While the vast majority of material published using this was of...dubious quality, it did lead to some real gems in the gaming world including the superhero system Mutants and Masterminds and Pathfinder, a revision of 3.5 that has sky-rocketed in popularity to become the number two dog in the gaming world.

While every edition of D&D has a few similarities, 3rd edition was the first to use the D20 system, standardising the rules around a core 20-sided die mechanic. Roll your d20, add modifiers, beat a target number, simple as that.

Allow me to go on a bit of a tangential rant for a second. Wizards of the Coast have recently announced a new edition of the game is in development stages, creating waves of speculation and discussion all over the internet. It's also seen a resurgence in edition warring, where gamers with far too much time on their hands condemn others for the rules iteration they use to play elven make-believe. Yes, that sounded condescending, but the entire enterprise is more than a tad ridiculous. I've enjoyed every version of the game I've played. They all have their quirks, their problems and their glowing gems. If the new edition appeals to me, awesome, I'll play it. If it doesn't, then I have several versions I do enjoy, not to mention the scores of other games at my disposal. Your favourite version of D&D isn't going to go away. The world would be a better place if we spent less time arguing about games and more time playing them.


The Character

Step 1) Check With Your Dungeon Master

D&D is going to be different with every Dungeon Master you play it with. Each campaign will have its own rules variants and party dynamics. This is the step where you check with them, both to make sure you conform with the rules and also to have a look at what other players are making to ensure you aren't treading on anyone's toes. For obvious reasons, I don't really have to worry about this step.


Step 2) Roll Ability Scores

These are the original six Ability Scores and thus every game with an equivalent stat will resemble these six in some way, covering similar areas even if the names differ. There's Strength (physical power), Dexterity (agility, reflexes and hand-eye co-ordination), Constitution (toughness), Intelligence (knowledge, memory and reasoning skills), Wisdom (sensory perception and empathy) and Charisma (social skills).

A 10 or 11 is average, with anything higher giving you a bonus and anything lower giving you a penalty. 18 is considered to be the human maximum, Charles Atlas strength and Einstein levels of intelligence. The shorthand way of working this out is to subtract 10 from the score if it's even, 11 if it's odd and divide by two for the modifier. So a 12 or 13 will give you a +1 bonus, a 16 or 17 +3, an 8 or 9 -1.

There are a few different methods by which you can generate your ability scores. The traditional method is Random Rolling of some description, usually either 3d6 added together or 4d6 with the lowest score dropped. There are also set Arrays of stats (so you could assign, for example, a 15,14,13,12,10 and 8 among your scores) or Point Buy, which gives you a certain amount of points to purchase abilities with higher scores costing more points.

I'm going to go with random rolling, the latter of the two methods I listed. I'm also going to roll them in order, rather than just rolling the numbers and assigning them to stats afterwards. This is because I'd like to develop a concept as I go along.

So, after rolling, my scores are thus: Strength 13, Dexterity 11, Constitution 11, Intelligence 16, Wisdom 7, Charisma 13. That's not too terrible. Mostly above average, a quite nice Intelligence score and only one penalty in the form of Wisdom (albeit a -2 penalty). So, our character is physically fit, incredibly smart and personable, but a bit absent minded and rash.


Step 3) Choose Your Class and Race

These are the two central building block of your character. Your Class is your character's profession, with all the fantasy staples like Fighters (skilled warriors), Wizards (practitioners of arcane magic), Rogues (thieves and dungeoneering experts and Clerics (servants of divine forces) as well as some more offbeat stuff like Monks (martial arts experts), Paladins (holy warriors) and Bards (performers and jacks-of-all-trades). Your Race is your fantasy species, all of whom should be recognisable to anyone even passingly familiar with generic fantasy, including Elves, Dwarves, Gnomes, Halflings, Half-Elves and Half-Orcs.

I'm a little bit pigeonholed when it comes to my class choices, due to my ability score rolls. While having a good score in a Class' primary ability is not 100% essential to a good character, it certainly helps. Fighters want a decent strength score, rogues need to be dexterous and sorcerers charismatic. While Intelligence is helpful for everyone, because it gives you extra Skill Points, the Wizard is the only class that primarily relies on it. So y'know what, I think I'm going to go with that.

Now for Race. Each Race modifies your ability scores somewhat and come with a bunch of small bonuses and features. None of them have a bonus to intelligence, although Half-Orcs get a penalty so I think I'll avoid them. I'm going to go for a somewhat non-standard choice and make a Dwarf Wizard. Dwarves tend to be a bit distrustful of arcane magic, so my character will be something of an oddity. But what adventurer isn't odd?


Step 4) Assign and Adjust Ability Scores

If I hadn't already assigned my ability scores, this is where I would do that. I will now factor in the ability score adjustments I get from my race. Dwarves are hardy and stout but also gruff and standoffish, so they get a +2 to Constitution and a -2 to Charisma. This changes my scores of 13 and 11 respectively, a good trade-off considering wizards are a bit fragile and don't necessarily need to be all that personable.


Step 5) Review the Starting Package

One thing 3.5 does to help new players is list a series of Starting Packages, pre-made selections of character types for people who don't want to mess about with character creation. For obvious reasons this step doesn't apply to me, but good to know it's there!


Step 6) Record Racial and Class Features

Like I said, each race and class has its own features, known as Racial Features and Class Features respectively. Racial Features tend to be smaller bonuses like a +2 on saves against Fear Effects or Low-light Vision, while class features are abilities and maneuvers that the entire concept can hinge around like a Barbarian Rage or the Druid's ability to Wildshape.

Dwarves get a seriously massive number of Racial Features, it's a bit ridiculous. Starting with the standard stuff everyone gets, Dwarves are Medium Size, which doesn't give them any bonuses or penalties. They move at a Speed of 20ft per round, which is slower than most medium creatures, but they are on the short and stocky side. On the other hand, unlike other races that speed isn't reduced when they're wearing Heavy Armour or carrying lots of stuff. They get Darkvision, a nice little ability that lets them see in the dark up to 60ft. Stonecunning is another nifty bonus, giving me +2 to pretty much every check to do with stone, because dwarves are awesome at stone like that, as well as a free check to spot any unusual stone feature like a secret door. This is on top of their +2 to Appraise and Craft checks involving stone or metal. They get a +1 to attack Orcs and Goblinoids, as well as a +4 bonus to avoid getting hit by creatures with the Giant type, because yay racism! They get a +2 on saves against poisons, diseases and spells because they're tough as rocks. Finally, because of their stockiness they get a +4 against attempts to trip them or send them flying.

I also have to pick what Languages my character knows here. You get a couple of defaults, plus an extra bonus language for every +1 you have to intelligence, in my case three. I start off automatically knowing the Common tongue and Dwarven. I'm also going to grab Giant, Gnome and finally Undercommon, the language spoken by intelligent creatures that live underground.

Right, now onto Class Features. First we have Weapon Proficiencies, which dictates which weapons a class can use without a penalty to attack rolls right off the bat. Wizards aren't exactly meant to be slugging it out in hand-to hand, so their list is short, consisting of the Club, Dagger, Dart, Quarterstaff, Sling and all members of the Crossbow family except the Hand Crossbow. Wizards aren't much for armour either, not only am I not proficient in any (meaning if I wore any the Armour Penalties would be doubled) but I also suffer a chance of Spell Failure if I wear it, a straight chance for any spell I cast to just fizzle out.

Now for the stuff unique to being a Wizard. The big, obvious one here is Spells. Wizards are one of the classes that get them. The spell system is based roughly on a system called Vancian Magic (based off the magic in the books of Jack Vance), where you 'memorise' spells at the beginning of the day and once you cast it you are temporarily unable to use it again until your next preparation period. Every class capable of casting spells has their own rules governing them, from how many they know and can cast per day to the spell lists they get to choose from. As a wizard, pretty much all mechanical effects, from how hard they are to resist (you need to beat 10+ the spell's level+ relevant ability bonus) to how many bonus spells I know hinge off intelligence. I get a Spell book, which contains all the spells I know and from these I can prepare spells each day. I can cast three 0-level spells and one 1st-level spell, plus an extra one from my high intelligence.

Hmmm, time to do a bit of character background developing. My dwarf wizard is part of a special corps in his home clan's military. This group of warriors sneaks in behind enemy lines underground and then wrecks the enemy's stuff (particularly equipment) before running away. Let's see if I can't hinge my spell list around that. I begin play with my spell book containing all 0-level spells and three 1st-level spells plus an extra spell per point of intelligence bonus for a total of three. Looking at the list, I'm going to pick Magic Missile (a D&D mainstay, a bolt of energy unerringly strikes your target), Obscuring Mist (creates a fog that surrounds you and obscures vision), Enlarge Person (makes one person Large Size, with a corresponding increase in strength), Sleep (puts creatures to sleep), Hold Portal (holds doors shut against all force) and Feather Fall (reduces rate of falling so no damage is taken). Most of these spells would help my wizard's unit get into and out of places, with enlarge person and magic missile being ways to assist in the rare event of a drawn-out fight.

Apart from spells I get a couple of other bits and pieces. I get the Scribe Scroll Feat for free, letting me craft Scrolls, which are kind of one-use versions of my spells that anyone who can read and understand arcane magic can use. I also may obtain the services of a Familiar, a mundane animal imbued with magic and basic intelligence that serves as a companion, assistant and guardian. I'm actually going to decline that for now, my character would probably see a small animal as more of a liability on the battlefield.


Step 7) Select Skills

In 3.5, all classes will receive a certain number of Skill Points that they will use to purchase ranks in Skills. How much these ranks cost depends on whether that skill is a Class Skill or not, with the former costing 1 point per rank and the latter 2 points per rank. You can have as many ranks in a class skill equal to your level+3 (in my case 4) or half that for cross-class skills. Each rank gives you a +1 bonus to rolls with the skill and you also get to add the skill's relevant ability.

As a wizard, I get a number of points equal to 2+my intelligence bonus, and these are quadrupled at first level, so I have 24 points to spend all up. I'm going to start by putting 4 points each into Hide and Move Silently, which are both going to be important if my character was a guerilla warrior. Likewise, it seems that Knowledge (Architecture and Engineering) would come in handy, so 4 points for 4 ranks of that. Spellcraft, which lets me identify spell effects, Concentration, which lets me cast spells in distracting circumstances and Knowledge (Arcana) are all standard parts of a wizard's arsenal, so I'll put 4 points into each of those as well.


Step 8) Select a Feat

Feats are minor little boons that your character can get, giving them bonuses to skills, the ability to craft certain items and so on. Every character gets one of these at first level, an additional one at level three and one every third level thereafter. I've already obtained Scribe Scroll due to being a wizard. I'm also going to grab the feat Stealthy, which gives me a +2 to hide and move silently checks.


Step 9) Review Description Chapter

This is the bit where we take a step back and consider the character's fluff and background details. Most of these have no in-game effect except for Alignment, which affects play in several ways. Your alignment is a broad way of classification your character's moral and ethical outlook. It operates on two scales, the Ethical one which divides characters into :Lawful, Neutral and Chaotic and the moral one which divides them into Good, Neutral and Evil. These combine to allow you to fit into one of the nine alignments, which can render you vulnerable to certain spells, prevent you from gaining levels in certain classes (all Monks have to be lawful, for example) and can change during play depending on your actions. Alignment is, to say the least, controversial and there are countless debates about when a character's alignment should change, whether it defines a character or their actions define it, what alignment various fictional entities belong to and so on. I like to play fast and loose with it, because limiting someone's moral and ethical outlook to one of nine different slots doesn't seem terribly constructive. I'm going to make my character Lawful Good, which generally means they care about others, obey the law when it's right and strive for justice and equality. Your standard goody-two-shoes stuff.

Rolling randomly for gender, my dwarf war wizard is going to be Male. Heck, while we're figuring out these kinds of details I'll roll randomly for height and weight, which results in him being 4'1'' and 149lbs. A bit on the short and stocky side, even for a dwarf. I'll also roll on the age table, with my character being 75, on the more mature side for an adventuring dwarf.

I think I'll settle on a Name here as well. Taking a look at the typical dwarven names, I'm going to take Ulfgar Rumenheim and heck, I'll add the title Corporal. He was in the army, after all.

On a final note I'm going to pick which deity my character worships from the list. The game's default gods are based on the campaign world of Greyhawk, one of the most popular and long-lived campaign settings in D&D. I'm briefly tempted to take Boccob, god of magic as my patron, but I figure as an army man he's a bit of a patriot so I'll take Moradin, god of dwarves.


Step 10) Select Equipment

Before I can start buying stuff I need to see how much Starting Gold I get. Rolling under wizard on the Starting Gold Table, turns out I have 70gp to play with. Considering your avergae commoner earns a single Silver Piece (10sp= 1gp) daily, that's not a bad sum. Plus, it's not like I have to buy a bunch of weapons and armour. Having said that I will certainly grab a Dagger for 2gp and because I don't want to be naked, a Traveller's Outfit for 1gp. I also want to have a nice amount of self-sufficient adventuring gear, so I'm going to pick up a Backpack, Waterskin, 3 day's trail rations, Bedroll, Flint and Tinder. I'll also need my Spellbook, a Spell Component Pouch for carrying my eye of newt and whatnot and some Ink and an Inkpen. Totalling the cost of all that I'm left with 49 gp and 4 sp, which could come in handy later.


Step 11) Record Combat Numbers

Now it's time to work out all those derived statistics that come up in combat.

Your Hit Points (how much damage you can take) are largely derived from your class, plus you get to add your constitution modifier each level. Each class has a different sized Hit Die, which is the die type they roll to determine how many hit points they get each level, for example Fighters get to roll a d10. As a wizard I'm fairly fragile, only getting a d40. Fortunately that's maximized at first level, so all up I'll have 7hp.

Your Armour Class is the number enemies have to roll to hit you. Normally your AC is equal to 10+ your Dexterity bonus+armour bonuses+any other misc bonuses you may have. Not having much of any armour, my AC is a flimsy 10.

Initiative is the bonus you add to a d20 roll to determine combat order, usually your Dexterity bonus. Once again, a boring +0 for me.

Attack Bonuses are what you get to add to your D20 rolls to hit. This usually includes your Base Attack Bonus, which differs from class to class and is in my case +0 (generally it's warrior types who have a bonus at this level). I also get to add my Strength bonus and Dexterity bonus to melee and ranged attacks respectively, for a total of +1 and +0 respectively.

Finally, Saving Throws are what you roll to avoid the nasty effects of things like spells, poison, dragon breath and so on. Each class gets varying bonuses to these as well as an applicable ability score modifier. Fortitude Save, which is used to resist physical effects like poison, disease or a medusa's stone gaze gets a base of +0 for being a wizard and +1 from my Constitution bonus. Reflex Saves, used for getting out of the way of things like dragon breath, spear traps or a wizard's fireball, gets again a +0 and +0 from my Dexterity Modifier. At first you'd think things would pick up as wizards get a +2 to Will Saves, the save for resisting mental attacks, but it's keyed off my Wisdom modifier, which at -2 brings it back down to 0. Good thing I get all those save bonuses from being a dwarf!


Step 12) Details, Details, Details

Right, all the mechanical stuff is done! Now I just need to flesh Ulfgar out. I have his description pretty much down pat and I've identified a few key elements of his background. So, why has he decided to become an adventurer? I think I'll make it a fact-finding mission. See, the region of the world that Ulfgar comes from is home to several dwarven clans who periodically war against each other. These conflicts are fairly small scale border skirmishes and raids with few casualties that help determine that local pecking order among the chiefs, deep kings and thanes. The Rumenheim clan periodically (read: these are dwarves, so every century or so) send out one of their mages out to learn new spells to ensure they maintain an edge on the competition. Ulfgar, who is reasonably personable for a dwarf as well as being a skilled and intelligent caster, has been sent into foreign lands to accumulate knowledge for the glory of his clan.


The Finished Product

Corporal Ulfgar Rumenheim

Level 1 Dwarven Wizard; Lawful Good


Strength 13 Dexterity 11 Constitution 13 Intelligence 16 Wisdom 7 Charisma 11

HP:7 BAB: +0 Init: +0

Fort:+1 Ref:+1 Will:+0


Skills: Concentration+5, Hide+4, Move Silently+4, Knowledge (Arcana)+7, Knowledge (Architecture and Engineering)+9, Spellcraft+7

Feats: Scribe Scroll (B), Stealthy


Spells per day:3/2

Spells Known: 0-Level All; 1st Level Enlarge Person, Feather Fall, Hold Portal, Magic Missile, Obscuring Mist, Sleep


Equipment: Backpack, Bedroll, Dagger, Ink Pen, Ink (vial), Spell Book, Spell Component Pouch, Trail Rationsx3, Traveller's Outfit; 49gp, 4sp

Languages: Common, Dwarven, Giant,Gnome, Undercommon




How I'd Run It

I have run a few different campaigns of 3.5 over the years, the main two being a game set in the world of Eberron where the PCs made it into the high teen levels and World's Largest Dungeon, a 3rd party supplement adventure taking characters from 1st level to 20th and featuring (almost) ever monster in the Monster Manual. Sadly, both of these petered out due to real life getting in the way before we could reach a satisfying conclusion.

I do kind of want to go back to WLD, but I want to mix things up a little. There's an absolutely phenomenal setting produced by Goodman Games called Xcrawl: Adventures in the eXtreme Dungeon Crawl League, set in an alternate Earth with magic, monsters and fantasy races where dungeons crawling is one part extreme sport, one part professional wrestling. I want to run a campaign of the World's Largest Dungeon set in that, WXD or World's eXtremest Dungeon. Furthermore, I want to take the 3rd party wackiness of 3rd ed and turn that dial to 11. let players use material from basically any supplement they want, go all out. It would not be the most balanced game, but it could be great balls off the wall fun.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Sweet Dreams

Game Premise

The school is a battleground of teen-angst bullshit, underhanded politics and the supernatural and no one will believe you.

Your high school has a secret. Well, a lot of secrets. You see, some of your classmates, perhaps yourself included, are not what you might call normal. Some are practitioners of the dark arts. Some are inhabitants of the Dream World, disguised as adolescents for various purposes, sinister or otherwise. Some are even robots and aliens. They stick to the shadows, with everyone vaguely aware of their existence but none of it being dealt with in the open. But like I said, chances are you're one of these individuals or at least associate with them, so that should make mundane matters pretty easy to coast through, right?

Hell no, this is high school, remember? A person doesn't need black magic to make your life hell, just a complete lack of concern for the mental, physical and social well-being of others. Even without magic or weird science, the conspiracy is a cut-throat world of social and sometimes physical violence. Add on homework and those strange new feelings you're starting to develop about some of your fellow students and things couldn't be harder to coast through.


Game Overview

Sweet Dreams is a game of dealing with all the usual pressures of high school while also being wrapped in the skulduggery of the conspiracy, the shadow war between students who know about the supernatural world that lurks beneath the surface. PCs might be ordinary high-schoolers (although on the more talented side) or they might be vampires, witches, aliens, mutants, the possessed or any other manner of strangeness trying to fit in. If you read or watch anything in the 'young adult' market, whether or not you're the target audience, you're going to have a point of reference here.

I'm really quite impressed by the array of source material present. Scattered throughout the book are quotes not just from the usual suspects like Buffy and My So-Called Life, but also some lesser known yet no less awesome stuff like Heathers ('My teen-angst bullshit has a body count' is the exact kind of quote you want for a game like this).

While the game doesn't really tackle anything anyone would be unfamiliar with, it still has its own flair with the idea of the Dream World being emphasised quite strongly. The Dream World is where ethereal beings like Faeries and Dreamwalkers come from. They have a strange interest in our world, not to mention elements of our world having an interest in them. I also quite like the Motif element, a signature aesthetic that your character might emphasise in different ways. So, if you're just an ordinary jock and your motif is Football then it just means you're hanging around in your football gear all the time, but if you're some kind of faerie with the motif of Fire, that will colour your magical effects. It really helps emphasise both supernatural elements and the search for a strong identity that is central to every teenager's life.

The basic mechanic is a bell curve, roll 3d6 and add your skill total to beat a target number. The default is 16, apparently set so that your average person will succeed half the time at an average task. Many actions will also require you to take note of your Passing/Failing Grade, the difference between the target number and what you rolled. I was surprised at how mechanically intensive and nuanced the system is, as most games that try to go for romance fall somewhere around the rules-light end of the spectrum. But there are several parallel combat forms, letting you not only break an opponent's body and mind with physical or psychic attacks respectively, but also letting you terrify them, erode their confidence and self-worth and even seduce them until they're willing to go to crazy lengths to gain your approval. You'll also notice the quite large number of steps to go through to make my character (granted, they're fairly small and granular).

One of the things I do quite like about Sweet Dreams is that you could easily strip away the supernatural stuff and run it as a pure high school game. It would be perfect for something along the lines of Rockstar's highly underrated Bully. Heck, thanks to the shockingly brutal mental and social combat rules you could run some kind of exciting homage to the Breakfast Club where possibly for the first time people use attack rolls to work through each other's social issues.

Oh, the editing could definitely have been better, though. Typos everywhere, font alignment issues and one particularly amusing bit of proofread fail where the text for the Carrier flaw has been replaced with an editor's note reading 'WHAT THE FUCK GOES HERE, ALLAN?????v'. That sort of thing isn't really a deal breaker for me, but it definitely takes the polish off. Besides, that flaw had some really interesting implications I'm missing out on!


The Character

Step 0) Create Concept

While the character creation steps for Sweet Dreams are numbered, it has a whole bit about picking out your Concept and a few other associated aspects beforehand so you have a strong idea of what you want going forward. This system is a combination of class template and point buy, so knowing what you want ahead of time is important.

So, let me ask you this: Could Twilight have been a hit if it were about mummies? A couple of webcomic authors seem to think so. And hey, I love the idea. The bad boy that hides himself behind bandages because underneath he's secretly an inhumanly beautiful god-king stuck in perpetual youth. I give you David Kemesiri, eternal Pharaoh turned high school student.

Now I need to pick my Motif. As I explained above, your motif is your character's identity as expressed through aesthetic. I'm kind of tempted to take the lazy route and go with Ancient Egypt, but I'm going to pick Jewels. I'll get more into how this affects him in the later step.

I also need to determine my level of Belief. A lot of odd stuff happens in the world of Sweet Dreams and how open you are to that stuff can make life easier or harder. The default is that you are a Believer in the supernatural and weird, what with potentially being one. But it's quite possible, especially if your character is a Nega-Psychic (has the ability to unconsciously tamper with supernatural powers), that they might be in Denial about the whole thing. This can cause complications for your character but also net them bonus points. I figure an eternally resurrecting god-king of Ancient Egypt isn't really going to have problems dealing with the concept of werewolves and magic, so I'll stick with the default.


Step 1) Choose Caste Template and Record Respectability

Your character can be divided into two distinct elements. The first of these is their Caste, where they belong in the social morass of high school, which clique they are associated with. Whether you're a Jock, Princess, Geek or perhaps even a Traveller in between cliques, this will determine everything from your standing in the social hierarchy to your general skills.

One interesting thing is that you can have a separate Caste Affiliation from your actual caste, meaning that while your stats are largely determined by one caste, how others see you is determined by another. For example, you might be a Brain, all pepped up on book smarts, but you might hang with the Criminals and tend to put those book smarts to shady use. This generally only affects how adults perceive you, Popularity among students is a whole other kettle of fish.

I think I'm going to go with the Loner caste for David. Technically it's not really a caste, but he likes to keep to himself. It's better for brooding and being mysterious. I'll have very few friends, but will also have to deal with less clique bullshit.

Your Respectability determines how well adults will relate to you. They tend to react better to kids who are active participants in school life, be it sport, academia or student politics and are wary of kids who seem like social malcontents. As a Loner, my starting respectability is 9. This gives me a -4 on the use of all Political and Social skills with adults. This is actually fairly common, only older students in certain cliques tend to escape penalties in this area.


Step 2) Attributes

Attributes are your basic stats and Sweet Dreams has seven of them, your starting scores are determined by your Caste. Three is the human average. As a Loner, David is going to start off with a Strength (physical power, athleticism) of 4, and Agility (reflexes and hand-eye coordination) of 4, a Mind (raw intellect) of 4, a Will (self control and determination) of 5, and Appearance (general attractiveness) of 3, a Charisma (social skills) of 3 and a Soul (artistic ability and general purity of spirit nebulousness) of 4. So, not incredibly personable but overall quite decent. I'll get a chance to boost these later.


Step 3) Skill Sets

While Sweet Dreams has Skills like most RPGs, it focuses more on picking them in Sets rather than individually. Each set gives you a bonus in five separate skills and you may get a chance to improve specific skills depending on your caste.

I get a +3 in Adult Skills, which include Area (lets me know my way around the town and surrounds), Bureaucracy, Drive, Life Skills (general day-to-day house maintenance) and Self-Control. All pretty handy to have. On the flip side, I also get +2 in Child Skills, which include Child Culture (knowledge of cartoons, video games etc), Dream (helps me make my way through the dream world), Expression (performance art), Sensitivity (empathy for the plight of others) and hey, once again, Self Control. Unfortunately I only get the higher of the two, so that one is wasted.

I now get to pick between a +1 in either Adventure Skills or Wilderness Skills. I'm going to take the latter, which nets me Athletics, Bully, Perception, Stealth and Survival. All fairly self explanatory.

Finally I get a +1 in any skill of my choice, as long as it doesn't take it above +3. I'm going to put it in the Flirt skill. We're shooting for teen romance, after all!


Step 4) Backgrounds

Your Backgrounds are little side benefits and connections you get from being a member of your caste. They are external things which can potentially be taken away from you.

I have a choice between either a Job at a rank of 3 or a Pet at a rank of 2.I think I'm going to pick the former, an assistant job at the local museum collecting donations and cleaning the place up. I'm going to put two of the points into the Company aspect, making it a Local job which nets me +3 to my respectability, with the last point going into the Trust aspect, meaning I work there about 6 hours per week and get a further +3 to my Respectability.

I also get 5 points in the Privacy aspect, meaning I have a secret place to call my own. I'm going to designate it as a forgotten storeroom under the museum. It has 3 points in Security, which means I have an extra, tiny room (perhaps some kind of sarcophagus) and a secret entrance to the hideout. The other two points go into Space, which means the entire area is about the size of a small apartment.

Finally, I have a single point in the Resources background. This helps determine what kind of stuff I can buy and what stuff I already have access to. At this level I possess one item worth about $500, another at $300, a third at $100 and pretty much as many items as I want at $10 or less. I'll detail those later. Apparently the income from my job doesn't count and instead goes to paying for my future. I actually had a discussion with my girlfriend about this and I think this system does a pretty good job of reflecting how oddly well-off high-school students are in fiction.


Step 5) Equipment

As noted above, your starting Equipment is determined by your level in the resources background. My character has one item worth $500, another worth $300, a third at $100 and myriad $10 items. I actually don't really see anything that I particularly want in the equipment list, apart from a Knife as my $100 item. It's going to be a fancy, jewel encrusted ancient Egyptian knife as well, because why the heck not? I'm going to keep those other items in reserve, don't see why that would do any harm.

I also get a few bits and pieces from my caste. I get a leather jacket, which seems pretty mandatory, as well as school supplies, a pocket knife and a $25 wardrobe (ouch). I then get a choice between Camping Gear and a Computer, I'll go with the former.


Step 6) Caste Subplot

A Sub-plot is a story-based complication that your character has to deal with in the course of play. It might reflect personality traits like Clean Freak, Denial that the supernatural exists or a Feud with another student. Whenever your sub-plot comes up in play, you get Experience,with larger sub-plots potentially gaining you more XP if an entire story revolves around it.

Some castes get to choose their sub-plot, but as a Loner I get Casteless. This 1 point sub-plot reflects my lack of clique affiliation, meaning my character is vulnerable to targeting by bullies and has no one to stick up for him. I'll be picking up a few more sub-plots later.


Step 7) Choose Nature

This is the second major building block of the character, your Nature determines what your character actually is, be it normal human, magical practitioner or some kind of supernatural being. Natures are separated into broad groups, including the Dreamwalkers (inhabitants of the dreamworld possessing a human host), Faeries (pure supernatural constructs that have taken material form, including ghosts, angels and true fae), Humans (average joes who nonetheless deal with the supernatural), Mutants (science based strangeness, including aliens and robots), Mystics (folks empowered by magic, including your Buffy-style slayers), Nega-Psychics (people whose rejection of the supernatural lets them subconsciously wreck it) and last but not least your Vampires and Werewolves, staples who need no elaboration.

Each Nature comes with several Templates which allow you to fast track the creation process. Otherwise, you get 100 points to spend on various powers, bonuses and stat boosts. I'm going to go with the latter option since I think the mummy template is a bit dull and not quite what I'm going for.

As I've said previously, I'm going to be playing a Mummy, which is a Faerie template. The idea is that mummies are lost spirits possessing a physical body. In my case, back in the lost bits of Middle-Eastern history, boy-king Kemesiri II of a now forgotten dynasty of an unknown kingdom was bound into a jaw-droppingly ostentatious statue after his death by a rival throne claimant because destroying a physical body and preventing your enemy reaching the afterlife is a grave insult. David has been around for a long time now (although sometimes he slips into torpor and misses a few odd centuries) and passes the ages by brooding and staying on society's periphery. He was shipped to the States while in one of his slumbering phases by an expedition, eventually broke out and now lurks around the high school, being mysterious and strangely alluring.


Step 8) Attribute Bonuses

Every Nature gets a bonus to one or more specific attributes. Even better, these don't count towards your total score for the purposes of determining the cost of increasing that attribute bonus later (you'll understand better what I mean later on). All Faeries get a +1 Natural Bonus to Appearance, which helps with the whole 'hot mummy' thing I'm going for (be thankful I'm not using the phrase 'yummy mummy'. Don't think I won't).

I also get to spend points here to boost my attributes. Since we're going to for Twilight with mummies, that means I'm going to go hell for leather on my Appearance. Apparently mummies can have a natural maximum of 8 out of 10, so I'm going with that. Raising it for 3 to 4 is going to cost me 5 points. Then we come into contact with Levels. The better your stats get, be they attributes, skills or powers, the more they cost to improve. Levels 1-4 are Low Levels, 5-7 are Mid Levels which are double the cost to improve and 8-10 are the High Levels, which cost x3. Therefore, it'll cost me another 30 points to increase my Appearance to 7, +1 from my Natural Bonus.

That has already taken a fair chunk out of my points, so I'm going to leave this for now. Maybe I'll revisit attributes later when I get some more points to play with.


Step 9) Manna/Science

Manna is a vague measure for how creative and imaginative you are. It's also the fuel for magical powers. While only folks who possess the latter really make use of it, having a good store can be incredibly helpful from a group standpoint. It also makes you alluring to Chimera, the ethereal creatures that waft in from the Dream World. Mutants instead get Science, which seems to be some kind of weird quasi-radioactive energy that fuels their powers.

This is the first thing I have to spend my points on. I don't want to go too overboard here, but I want a good store of Manna to fuel any powers I might get. Therefore, I'm going to buy up 9 points at the cost of 1 per point. A young God-King who has lived for millennia should have a fairly active imagination.


Step 10) Skills

Now to take a look at my skills. I figure a guy who has been around as long as David probably knows a few things, so I'm going to drop 10 points to get +2 to Knowledge Skills, which includes Academics, High Culture, Linguistics, Lore and Research.


Step 11) Skill Bonuses

No joy here. Dreamwalkers, Humans and Nega-Psychics get bonuses to certain skills, not me.


Step 12) Talents

These are relatively cheap extraordinary abilities that people can buy, like Ambidexterity, Speed Reading or being a Good Listener. Most of these have a Soul requirement, because if that ever gets reduced you become more detached from the world. It's also where you pick up Disciplines that allow you to perform Magic, or make strange Inventions.

I'm going to grab one of the slightly more bizarre ones, Past Lives, simulating the fact that David has been around for a long, long time. A number of times per Story equal to my soul, 4, I can get insights into a situation related to my past life, which I have to elaborate on. That will set me back a further 18 points. I'm tempted to grab the True Love talent, but I think that is probably something that should be developed in-story.


Step 13) Backgrounds

This is where I purchase more backgrounds, if desired. Having a look through the list, I'm fairly happy with what I've got. Besides, I'm already running low on points and I haven't even gotten to the supernatural power bits.


Step 14) Powers and Creature Features

Speak of the devil! Whether it's the ability to turn into a wolf, posses a human body, raise the dead, read minds or possess a pair of wings which a certain subgenre of fanfic tells me apparently makes you hideous (as if, wings would make you the coolest person ever), this is the step for that. Sweet Dreams has a fairly comprehensive list of supernatural bits and bobs to choose from in this department, split into two broad categories called Powers, which are intangible abilities, and Creature Features, which are physical. The main difference is that the former tends to require either Manna or Science to use and having too much of the latter will give you levels of the Weird sub-plot, requiring you to hide if you don't want to be outed as a freak.

Before I delve into spending my points, I should note the natural Gifts I get for being a Faerie. Faery Sight means I can always see Chimera (invisible dream inhabitants), as well as their aspects and effects, even when they're disguised. So, even if your faery is disguised as a teenager, I can tell. Thanks to Faery Touch I can also always use my powers and make contact with these immaterial beings. Finally, I can Lucid Dream, meaning I can control what happens in my dreams, an important aspect of a game with a Dream World.

This is where the vast majority of my remaining 28 points are going to go. In fact, all of them. I'm going to buy all three levels in a creature feature called Inert, which costs me 18 points for the first level and another 5 points for the other two, reflecting my golden, jewel encrusted body. This makes me immune to all diseases and toxins, cold, heat, pressure, the vacuum of space and means I don't have to eat, drink or breathe to survive. I don't show up on infra-red and attempts to track me by scent suffer a -6 penalty. On the downside I have to take three levels of Inert Flaws. Flaws are mechanical drawbacks which would normally give me bonus points (we'll get to them later), but in this case I get no freebies. Inert has several flaws, each reflecting a disadvantage of being a non-living material thing. I'm going to grab Heavy, considering I'm essentially a statue, doubling my weight for 1 level, with the other two going into Can't Swim. One important note, normally I'd suffer from 3 levels of the Weird flaw for my levels of Inert, but a Faery's creature features are only visible as part of their Chimerical Aspect. When my magic is disguising me as a strangely attractive, brooding teenager, nobody is any wiser.

Oh no, it appears my points have all been spent! But we still have a few steps to go. Not to worry, there may be opportunities to pick up points later,


Step 15) Natural Sub-plots

Being a vampire, alien or witch sure can be complicated at times. Every Nature comes with at least one Natural Sub-plot, a sub-plot intrinsic to their supernatural condition. In my case I get to choose between two. Either I'm a Changeling, a being substituted for a real child (better not let the parents know) or I'm an Orphan, lacking any kind of family (better not let authority figures know). I'm going to pick the latter, since he lives in the museum by himself and hasn't had a family for a few thousand years now.

I also have a Chimerical Aspect. Every faery is a mystical being of fantastic appearance hiding behind an illusion. It behooves them not to make this known if they wish to blend in. David only appears to be a young man of Middle Eastern appearance with a leather jacket and brooding exterior. In reality he's a spirit possessing a flawless golden body covered with priceless gems and jewels of inestimable worth


Step 16 ) Magic

If I had purchased any of the talents that would let me use powers through some kind of art or device, rather than being an inbuilt ability I possess, here is where I would purchase them. While having some cool Egyptian mystic powers would be awesome I lack the points.


Step 17) Passion

Every teenager gets +1 level in the Passion sub-plot, meaning they like someone (as in like like). Can't have a game about high school without teen romance and I especially can't have this kind of character without the same. In my case, David has his immortal eye on the new girl, a clumsy and relatively bland yet strangely alluring young woman by the name of Mina Robin. He doesn't yet know that Mary is a Nega-Psychic, which is why powers have a hard time affecting her and she kind of sucks just a little bit of colour out of everything, but this mystery only makes her that more intriguing.


Step 18) Nexus

As I've hinted at, dreams and the Dream World play an important part in Sweet Dreams. A Nexus is a place that your character dreams of when they sleep which opens a doorway between their dreams and the dream world. Unsurprisingly I'm going to pick the Ancient Egypt Exhibit at the local museum, particularly the cases that hold the royal artefacts.


Step 19) Traits

In this step I calculate all of David's Traits, attributes derived from previous scores. His Movement (measured in feet you can move per turn) is equal to 10+ Agility for a total of 14. His Confidence, his health that is targeted when someone wants to frighten, bully or seduce him is his (Charisma+Will)x3 for a total of 24. Stamina, his physical health, is (Strength+Will)x3, equalling 27. Focus, his psychic health is equal to (Soul+Will)x3, also 27. Popularity, fairly self explanatory, is (Charisma+Appearance)x3 for a nice total of 33 (sadly still not enough to get him a bonus with other students). This is also where I would normally record Status, a measure of your standing within your Caste, but Loners don't have this.


Step 20) Contacts

If your traits are high enough you may know useful people in various spheres of influence. These can usually be bought as a background, but you may be eligible for free levels of Contacts, with the more levels invested in contacts the better they are. These contacts might be fellow students, adults or even supernatural being.

Having no status score means I have no Caste Contacts. My Popularity of 33 does mean I get three levels of High School Contacts. I'm going to sink all three levels into Yasmina Smith, an up and coming, overachiever sophomore who's a member of the prep caste and the only other student of vaguely middle Eastern appearance. She'll associate with David out of solidarity and may occasionally do him favours among her clique.

I have one level of Adult Contacts thanks to my Respectability score. Rory the Janitor works at the museum and is willing to overlook the young mummy's frequent trespassing onto the property.

I now have three levels of contacts to split between Child and Imaginary Contacts because of my manna score. I'm going to go with two of the latter. Odji is a small dream creature known as a Goblin, looking like a deformed cross between a baboon and a cat. It helps guide David through the Dream World and occasionally pilfers shiny things for him. My 2 level contact Akhom is a serious, eagle-headed Bogeyman, a greater dream inhabitant who claims to have been assigned to guard David while also preventing him from entering the afterlife. He's good for allegorical, cryptic advice, grim stare downs and isn't too bad in a dream fight either.


Step 21) Combat Scores

As Heathers taught us, high schools can be violent places and sometimes you will get hurt, even before you add supernatural weirdness. This bit is going to be a tad boring for me, mainly because I didn't take any combat skills

My Initiative, the score I roll before combat, is equal to my Agility+Mind+any other mods, for a total of 8. Because I lack any combat skills, my Unarmed and Simple Weapon attack bonuses, used in melee, are both +4, using solely my Strength. My Tech Weapon, used with devices, is equal to my Mind of 4. While I don't have any supernatural Powers, my attack with them is also +4, equal to my Mind.

On the defense front, both my Dodge and Block scores are going to be equal to my Agility of +4, which also happens to be the same as my Power Defense. I only get to use these if I see an attack coming. If I don't I switch to my Passive Defense, which, unsurprisingly is +4 for physical attacks thanks to my Strength, but a whopping +5 against psychic attacks thanks to my Will.


Step 22) Flaws

Now here is a chance for me to pick up extra points. Like I said before, Flaws are disadvantages you can take that hinder you in play, but whereas sub-plots give you XP for complicating a story, Flaws give you points now. I can grab up to 5 points of flaws, each of which gives me an extra 6 points to spend on my character. I'm going to milk this for all it's worth.

I'm going to start off by taking 1 point in Faery Weird. A little bit of my weirdness gets through even my glamour that hides my Chimerical aspect. In this case, David's hands and feet both shine with the gold of his body. He hides it by, you guessed it, wrapping them in bandages (he claims it's a skin condition). Next up I'm grabbing the two points Taint flaw. Due to the magic used to bind David to his body, he emanates supernatural evil and characters with the power to sense that sort of thing can spot him in a flash. Finally, I'm going to grab 2 points of the Iron Allergy flaw, thematically appropriate for Faeries. Cold Iron weapons deal extra damage to David and I take three focus damage every Time Phase I am touching Cold Iron.


Step 23) Bonus Points

Right, now to spend those points! First off, for 12 points I'm going to grab the Creature Feature Dark Dependency. I have to spend at least 16 hours in the shadows, but not only can I see in the dark, but David also heals much faster than ordinary people in darkness. He can even regenerate limbs! The other 18 points will go into Armour. Normally a character's Toughness can't be applied to weapons more damaging than fists, but in my case they do and I even get a +1 bonus to it!


Step 24) Extra Sub-plots

I can take extra sub-plots here if I feel like it. They don't give me anything now, but might come up during play. Just for fun, I'm going to take the two points sub-plot Enmity (Werecats). Yeah, turns out the werecats hate mummies. Why? I dunno, some kind of ancient feud, probably.


Step 25) Year and Rank

It turns out the default starting character in Sweet Dreams is a Freshman around the age of 14 (I admit, I find this a tad creepy).If you want to go up grades you can get an extra +160 points, which I find to be a handy way of both having more powerful character (I struggled a bit with my points budget) and dealing with more mature themes in game. As it stands I'm going to leave David where he is.

I should also record David's Rank of 3, which is just an abstract level of power for the GM's benefit. As David gets more experience, he goes up ranks.



The Finished Product

David Kemesiri aka Kemesiri II

Nature: Faery Caste: Loner

Year: Freshman Rank: 3


Attributes: Strength 4, Agility 4, Mind 4, Will 5, Appearance 8, Charisma 3, Will 5

Manna: 9

Confidence 24 Popularity 33 Status n/a Respectability 15 Movement 14 Stamina 27 Focus 27


Initiative +4 Unarmed +4 Simple Weapons +4 Tech Weapons +4 Powers +4

Dodge +4 Block +4 Toughness +5 Resist Power +5


Motif: Jewels Nexus: Ancient Egyptian Exhibit

Gifts: Faery Sight, Faery Touch, Lucid


Skills: +3 Adult, +1 Adventuring +1,+2 Child, +1 Flirt, +2 Knowledge


Sub-plots

Casteless 1

Chimerical Aspect 2: Body of gold and jewels

Enmity 2: Werecats

Orphan 1: No mortal family

Passion 1: Like (Wilhelmina Robin)


Backgrounds

Contacts: Adult Contacts 1 (Rory the Janitor), High School Contacts 3 (Yasmina, Prep Sophomore), Imaginary Contacts 3 (Odji, goblin guide; Akhom, bogeyman warden)

Job 3: Company 2, Trust 1 (Casual museum assistant)

Privacy 5: Security 3, Space 2 (Secret private room under the museum

Resources: 1


Talents/Powers/Features

Armour 1: Add Toughness+1 to damage from lethal attacks

Dark Dependency: Heal 1 time phase faster in darkness, regrow limbs, can see in the dark

Inert: Immune to toxins, diseases, heat, cold, do not need to eat, drink or breathe, does not show up on infra-red

Past Lives: 4/Story, gain insights into situation based on past life.


Flaws

Faery Weird 1: Gold hands and feet show through glamour.

Inert 3: Can't swim, Heavy

Iron Allergy 2: Double damage from cold iron, 3 Focus damage/time phase touching cold iron

Taint 1: Evil aura detectable through magic and ESP.

Equipment: Wardrobe ($25), Camping Gear. Jewelled knife, Leather Jacket, Pocket Knife, School Supplies.



How I'd Run It

I didn't realise this when I purchased it, but Sweet Dreams is a two-book game, meaning that I'll need to purchase the game running guide if I ever want to actually sit down and run this properly one day. I have a feeling I could probably get away with just the Player's Book, especially if I stay away from the freakier dream stuff, but hey, complete is complete.

Were I to go ahead with this, I think I could run it pretty straight, but there are a couple of other ways I'd want to do it that differ from the main premise: The first is that Bully idea I mentioned earlier, the supernatural stuff stripped away. Clique of new kids taking over the school block by bloody block. The second is inspired by another, although quite different game, Dangerous High School Girls in Trouble, which surrounded the meddling antics of a clique at an all-girl's school in the prohibition era. Take that, add supernatural elements and see what happens.