In which our intrepid hero tries to rationalise his slackness.

WoAdWriMo is about halfway through, and I’m not really anywhere near where I’d like to be with it. In my defence, I’d like to tender the following ten lame excuses. (If you’d prefer to just read about Chaddma’s Legacy and ignore my whining, then skip the paltry justifications.)

  1. My Internet access has been down for over a week due to billing issues with my ISP (thus depriving me of one of my main research tools), and I’ve only just got back on.
  2. Normally, I’d set aside the wee hours of the morning to do something like this, as I find it hard to concentrate enough to write during the day. Medication I’m on screws with my body clock, though, and Mim K/W sometimes frets if she wakes in the middle of the night and I’m not there, so I have to keep normal(ish) hours.
  3. Outside of working hours (and all through the Queen’s Birthday long weekend), Mim K/W has needed the computer to write a training manual for her work.
  4. Over the past fortnight, I’ve gone mad in the kitchen. Mim K/W has coeliac disease, so I took it upon myself to cook her a wide variety of scrumptious (and gluten-free) fare, partly because the gluten-free portion of her diet largely consisted of gluten-free junk food, and partly as an “I love you”.Thus far, I’ve made: eggs Benedict (and I should note that the method for poaching eggs that came with the recipe was concocted by crackheads—the end result looked like bukkake shot through with orange bits); Moroccan potato salad; marinated fetta; chicken and almond pilaf; baked caramel custard (an Irish version of crème caramel); potato, beef and peanut soup; pork sausage and chestnut balls; hoki and ling fillets in lemon-dill sauce; baked brie in apricot sauce; chicken thigh fillets in tarragon vinaigrette; strawberries in sweetened sour cream; Welsh rarebit (fortunately, O’Brien Brewing makes gluten-free beer, and—from memory—Woolworths Home Brand Worcestershire sauce is comparatively free of gluten); tomato soup (from scratch, no less); egg and onion salad; kangaroo fillets with spiced lentils; apple snow (another Irish dessert); potato omelette with spinach and fetta; duckling liver and brandy paté (for some bizarre reason, there was a run on chicken livers over the long weekend, so we had to settle for duckling); daube Marseillaise (a beef, bacon, red wine and brandy stew, which was worth the day-long preparation, just for the look on Mim K/W’s face when I got her to flambé the brandy); strawberry sorbet; tuna and spinach melt; lamb curry; baked rice with tomato and sausage (twice); and double-glazed bacon (which I’m strongly tempted to cook again today).

    All of this has proven that I should learn to chop faster and that I need to move somewhere with a kitchen big enough for a dishwasher. Fortunately, I’ve also built up an immunity to the effects of syn-propanethial-S-oxide.

  5. I’ve been tinkering with the framework for my Call of Cthulhu campaign and reading Secrets of Kenya to boot.(Incidentally, if David Conyers is reading this, I’m about a third of the way through Secrets, and it seriously kicks butt. If I could suggest one thing, though, it could’ve done with a good proofread—spellcheckers often miss block capitals and heterographs.)
  6. I’ve been watching far too many DVDs over the past few weeks, including: 100 Girls, 100 Women, All Over the Guy, Amelie, Boys and Girls, Centre Stage, The Brothers Grimm, Carnivàle, Casanova, Clerks II, Conan the Barbarian, Conan the Destroyer, Constantine, Das Boot, Demolition Man, Dungeons & Dragons II, Eegah, Election, Elizabeth, Fallen, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, First Knight, Forbidden Planet, Ghosts of Mars, Gunpowder, Treason & Plot, Henry Rollins: Live at Luna Park, The Incredible Petrified World, Journey to the Center of the Earth, The Lake House, The Life of David Gale, Love Actually, Never Been Kissed, Nosferatu, Paycheck, The Peacemaker, Sahara, Shadow of the Vampire, She Gods of Shark Reef, Sneakers, Spy Game, Starship Troopers, Take the Lead, Talisman, Three to Tango, Time After Time, Ultraviolet and Wing Commander.White Pongo is next.

    Some of these have been inspiration for WoAdWriMo, and many have been to spend quality time with Mim K/W, but just as often I put them on for background noise whilst I was writing, and got distracted.

  7. I’ve been hobbling around the house for the last week-and-a-half with a strained tendon in my foot. Also, given that this is an unusually cold winter (for Sydney) and Mim K/W doesn’t take the cold well, I’ve been sitting in front of a heater for the first time in nearly seven years, and my eyes keep playing up as a result.
  8. Mim K/W contacted an employment agency a couple of weeks earlier than I would’ve liked, and they’ve been bugging me about a couple of positions. Normally, I wouldn’t mind, but the timing’s just out.
  9. I’ve been busy compiling cat pictures for Mim K/W (as mentioned here), designing our dream home with Visio, and researching my family tree.
  10. I’ve been writing too many long blog posts, like the one you’re reading now.

On the upside, however, this means that I still have two weeks to pull finger and write the rest of Chaddma’s Legacy. Although I’ve done very little actual writing over the past week, its structure has finally started to gel.

I always thought that the ending was a bit weak, but by promoting an NPC who was a minor nuisance all the way to chief bad guy and rewriting his backstory a bit, I’ve come up with a way to solve this problem. It makes the adventure half as long again—necessitating a third act—but it’ll be worth the extra effort.

The outline now looks something like this (again, without giving away too many spoilers):

Act I: The PCs are resting in an inn when humanoids attack the village. Subsequent investigation reveals that the humanoids have raided other villages in the past few weeks, mostly taking equipment, but also enslaving one of the villages.

The PCs follow them back to their encampment to discover them excavating a ruined temple, at the orders of Chaddma, the ghost of a little girl slain by a party of adventurers some seventy years before. Chaddma makes it clear that she’ll continue her efforts until she’s avenged.

Act II: Clues from the temple reveal that one of her murderers is from a noble family in a nearby town. In order to put Chaddma to rest, the PCs must either return with the murderer who physically killed her or prove that he’s died in the interim. To do so, they’ll have to break into the family keep, but the keep is by no means defenceless.

Act III: The PCs learn that the reason behind the original attack on the temple was to acquire a Maguffin. The murderer who originally sought the Maguffin—and who still serves the noble family as a valued retainer—has spent the better part of his life looking for it, in order to carry out a Diabolical Plot. It’s in the PCs’ interests to stop him.

I love to play with in-game expectations (just ask any of the poor schmucks who’ve played D&D alongside me), and part of Chaddma’s Legacy revolves around alignment.

Being the diehard Nietzsche freak that I am, I’m suspicious of absolute notions of good and evil in real life. Now, I realise that the kind of high fantasy that characterises D&D requires an alignment system, but above and beyond the rules in the Core Books, there’s a series of assumptions (metarules, if you will) that are near-universal. In the space between the rules and the metarules lies some interesting philosophical terrain.

Games like Call of Cthulhu and Unknown Armies are big on the consequences of PC actions, but it’s not something that gets a lot of play in D&D.

Ostensibly, if a good PC in D&D commits a “good” act, then all is well; any unintended, possibly “evil” fallout usually slips between the cracks in the plot. Alignment merely provides a gauge for the explicit “goodness” or “evilness” of acts—or rather, the motives behind them.

You can either take this conventional route, or punish PCs for the objective outcomes of their acts. In essence, however, unless they directly observe these outcomes, then this retribution will appear arbitrary. And that’s an effective method to break up a gaming group very quickly.

The conventional route works fine as is, but it requires a certain level of ignorance on the part of the PCs to work.

I’ve been thinking about using this as the basis of an adventure for quite some time. Serendipitously, I discovered a couple of posts on other WoAdWriMo writers’ blogs that touch on PC motivation, although not in the context of their WoAdWriMo submissions (as far as I know).

From Jeff’s Gameblog:

[O]riginally, the alignment system didn’t have any metaphysical implications. The nine alignment oriented planes came much later and there wasn’t much in the way of alignment-based spells or other mechanical effects. Instead, alignment referred to simply what team you played for. Elves and unicorns and such are “us” while red dragons and orcs are “them”. It was as simple as that.

The metaphysical element of alignment, in my experience, still isn’t often touched on; the most it’s been used for—in games I’ve played in—is to differentiate demons from devils (or tanar’ri from baatezu, or whatever). In practice, the older approach to alignment still prevails to this day.

And from Neitherworld Stories:

One of the first things that I thought was that [the backstory for the Dexter TV series] would be a cool RPG concept. Take someone who has a keen interest in vivisection, but only practices it on bad people… or evil creatures. In D&D, humans and demihumans may be off-limits, but orcs and goblinoids could be fair game.

Then I stopped and realized that I just described half the D&D characters in existence.

In essence, alignment works like a traffic light, stuck to the forehead of every creature in an encounter. If my PC is good, and perceives the creature ahead to be evil, then the light turns green and my PC can kill that creature in all good conscience. So long as my PC is never disabused of that notion, then he remains, for all intents and purposes, good.

Chaddma’s Legacy muddies these waters considerably. It’s about the evil consequences of an evil NPC tricking a good NPC into performing a good act to further an evil plot, and the evil that good PCs must perpetrate upon good NPCs in order to vanquish evil and set things aright—all without knowing who’s good and who’s evil to begin with.

Only, I hope, it doesn’t play out as confusingly as that last paragraph.