Reinventing Characters

One of the tricks I use to learn a new edition of the Dungeons & Dragons game is to re-envision an old character in a new edition. Often times, I pick some NPC who got little “air time” to make it easier. He has no mega-history to worry about, and only a very basic amount of rules and story development. With the new 4th edition rules, and in particular the Player’s Handbook 2, I decided to toy around with the character builder (available through a D&D Insider subscription) to see how I can make the old new again.

I should mention that the 4th edition D&D character builder is addictive. It’s relatively quick, it presents choices and suggestions. I love it. Combine that with a love for all the options 4th edition has to offer, and I’m like a kid in a candy store.

I decided to go hard-core. I pulled out my old half-giant gladiator from Dark Sun. He was an NPC I had who followed around one of the player characters. In Dark Sun, every character gets a psionic wild talent. My character, Kalador, had this power from the Dragon Kings sourcebook titled Strength of the Land. It had two prerequisite powers that he gained automatically as well – Lend Health and Share Strength. Something about a half-giant who could give of his strength and HP to fellow adventurers seemed great. The fact that he could draw power from the very earth beneath him was just awesome.

Imagine my surprise when I got the PHB2, cracked it open, and saw the warden class. Here was a class that seemed to be based around the Strength of the Land theme! I was so excited. I also had my eyes on the goliath race, which had awesome written all over it. I knew what I had to do.

Using the character builder (Did I mention that I dearly love this program?), I transformed my old half-giant gladiator into a goliath warden. I won’t bore you with all the details, but I found a few tricks that may help you if you decide to re-invent your character.

1. It’s okay to change the race. If a new race works out better, or if the race is thematically similar to your old one, give it a shot. Sometimes you will find some new gem, whether rules-based or fluff-based, for your character.

2. Ditto with classes and powers. In my case, I went from an arena gladiator to a primal warden. Yet they share certain similarities. I went from one defender type to another, and I maintained the Strength of the Land theme. In fact, I built upon the theme. I’m not certain yet about the other powers, but maybe PHB3’s psionic power source will have something to offer.

3. Backstory can be modified, but you can also keep it as-is and provide an in-game explanation for the change. I had a 3.5 wizard recently that just wasn’t cutting it for me. An in-game change made him into a favored soul. The cool part about this change was that it added some fantastic story to the game.

4. You will always lose something, but you will always gain something. It’s the trade-off of making a change.

5. Did I mention themes? You won’t ever get a direct translation, but you can use the themes to re-build characters from the ground up. Just remember to build them within the game system you’re using, keep your foundations, and be open to change. My goliath’s tattoo pattern, for example, is eerily similar to his old slave tattoos.

6. Above all, have fun with it. This isn’t too serious of stuff here. If the changes fit, great. If not, don’t convert!

So give it a try and see what becomes of your old characters. You may find new life to old characters, and the desire to play them once more.

Buying Books for the Wrong Reasons

Recently, I bought a book not because I liked the author or subject matter, but because I wanted to support a guy whose book got some undeserved criticism. J. F. Lewis was recently interviewed on Dragon Page: Cover to Cover episode. His book, Staked, was the cause for him and his family to nearly be kicked out of their church. It’s hard to explain, so I can only recommend that you listen to the podcast. I was quite appalled at the way the church talked to him about the book, and so I decided to buy a copy to support the guy.

While my intentions may have been noble, I have discovered 90 pages into the book that I really shouldn’t have bought the book. There were a few reasons. Mainly, the book came across as juvenile to me. The transitions in the book were bad; the characters didn’t act in a believable way. Also, I haven’t read vampire novels in the past, but I thought I’d try something new. I should have listened to my gut instinct here. When I think of vampires, I think of Dracula. I prefer to think of individual monsters with strength of personality, not some sort of secret society caste system where being a vampire is almost commonplace. At 90 pages in, I’m ready to trade the book in at a used book store. Others may find it to be good, but it just didn’t work for me.

I began to look at this book and think of other books that I bought over the years, and wondered how many others were bought for the wrong reasons. First, though, I think we should define some good reasons to buy a book. Perhaps you enjoy a particular setting, or you like the author. Maybe the book has art that you enjoy, such as a comic book. Maybe the book has vital information, such as an RPG sourcebook. You may have a friend who broke into the business and you want to offer him your support. The list goes on.

There are, however, some reasons not to buy a book.

1. I’m making a statement. See my story above as an example. All you’re really saying is, “Here’s my cash. ”The chances of your hard-earned dollars making any sort of statement are minimal at best. In the case above, I may have been better served either e-mailing the author to express my point of view or just venting to a friend. Now I’m out $14 on a book I probably wouldn’t have read normally.

2. The author had one good book, so they must all be good! This one is real tricky. How do you know? You might be able to catch some clues from reviews, but oftentimes, you won’t know until you read the book yourself. I enjoyed Scott Sigler’s podcast novel The Rookie quite a bit, so I also listened to the podiobook of Infected. It was well-written and well-produced, but had way too much gore for my tastes. I tend to buy print copies after hearing the podcast novel version, but I really can’t justify spending the money on this book when it is just…gross. Don’t get me wrong, I like Sigler’s writing. I just think he can write a good story without all the gore.

3. It’s got a cool cover! Remember foil covers for comic books? They could sell the worst of comics because they were all shiny. And the price was jacked up too.

4. It’s part of a collection. Guilty! I’ve got quite a bit of that collector gene in me. I collected the original X-Factor comic book series, and have every issue. I was quite proud of this collection. Yet despite having them all, I hadn’t enjoyed the stories since issue #100. That’s nearly 50 issues I bought just for the collection’s sake. I read characters acting out of character, had bad art…all for the sake of a collection. I need more.

There are probably a few dozen more, but you get the idea. You’re not buying the book for the right reasons. Your brain suffers a serious malfunction, and you spend your hard-earned cash.

I don’t have a lot of advice here. If I did, perhaps I would know how to stop myself. I think, though, that the best one can do is to just stop, put the book back, and think about it for a while before making the purchase. If you’re still interested later, you can just get your book. However, you may find that the interest is fleeting at best.

I may have lost a few dollars and a few hours reading Staked, but I came out of it knowing a few things. I know now that vampire books are not for me. I know what genres I like and what ones I don’t. I’m not afraid to try new things, but I must expect that I won’t like them all. I know that buying a book based on some sense of’ righteous fury’ just isn’t good. In other words, I know that I bought the book for the wrong reasons.

Be sure that, when you buy a book, you do it for all the right reasons. Happy reading!

Balanced? Yeah, but is it fun?

When 3rd edition D&D came about, one of its promises was to have a balanced game system. In fact, game balance had become so prevalent that it seemed that every other topic on some forums was about whether some element of gaming was balanced. Is the new prestige class balanced? What about X spell from Y sourcebook? It would go on and on and on.

I have to admit that it reached such levels that I wondered if this is what new players thought gaming was about. Were they assigning numerical values to every class ability and weighing them against one another? Was there a mystical set of scales by which all things were weighed upon? Were those scales provided by Hiddukel, the evil god of tricks and lies in Dragonlance known for his symbol of the broken scales?

I wondered how all this talk of the almighty Balance entered our vernacular. I remember the occasional talk of something being “overpowered,” but we never used the term “balance.” That isn’t to say the term wasn’t used, just that my own experience never saw the use of the word. I would say that it was the internet that saw the term gain prominence. Despite the mass-communication medium, it also takes a force to drive the new terminology. Enter the game designers, perhaps most notably Monte Cook. They used the term “balance” quite frequently.

Needless to say, the almighty Balance began to annoy me to no end. Why was it that people were asking if every little rule was balanced? Why this obsession? Did nobody ever have fun before the almighty Balance? I sure remember having fun playing AD&D with some off-balanced rules.

That’s when it clicked with me. Why do we ask left and right if something is balanced? Why do we not ask instead if something is fun? I mean, that’s why we came to game, right? To have fun?

Don’t get me wrong. As a game designer, I fully understand that game balance is an important factor in the game. You don’t want your wizard doing nothing while your fighter is having all the fun. Everybody should be able to take part in the gaming experience.

However, we should not forsake the fun in the name of game balance. Keep balance in the background, but focus on the fun. You will find your gaming experience to be so much more enjoyable because of it.

Revised Editions – Good or Bad?

Lately, as I scour around for new RPG’s to buy, I’ve been bombarded by a ton of products that have either been revised (typically for the 3.5 rules) or have had a new edition put out. Just off the top of my head, I can think of Mutants and Masterminds 2nd Edition, Shadowrun 4th Edition, Everquest II, Spycraft 2.0, World of Warcraft 2nd Edition, and the Tome of Horrors Revised book (only released as a PDF, no less!). I’m sure I missed several in there.

If you’re big into role-playing games, this is a serious blow. At $30 – 40 a book (if not more), that puts a big dent in the pocketbook. The general feeling that I’ve seen among RPG fans, and I tend to agree with this sentiment, is that they don’t like paying for the same thing twice. I’m sure that the die-hard fans of each of these books are more willing to shell out a few extra dollars for the improvements made in the new editions and revisions, but casual fans get hit a little harder.

Revisions and new editions have been around since RPG’s began, but the intensity of them seems to have increased in recent years. Wizards of the Coast’s 3.5 revision to the D&D rules is largely to blame for this. By changing the core rules to the 3.5 version, they caused a backlash wave. Many publishers put out revised editions of old products to match the new rules, which again disenfranchised the public by “forcing them to buy the same product twice.”

I know, I know. Nobody is holding a gun to your head. You’re still capable of running a game with the outdated version. Yet we, as RPG fans, are an obsessive lot who want the most current materials so that they work with the most current materials without having to do conversions. Many fans, self included, don’t like to make the conversions, and they want something in print (rather than the SRD).

At this point, we come to another major point in the whole mix from the other end of the spectrum – relevance. If an RPG company’s product is not relevant (i.e. compatible with the 3.5 rules), then it simply won’t sell. Many publishers revised their products to keep their products relevant so that they can continue to bring in revenue from them.

The 3.5 revision, like any edition change, has its good and bad points. While it improved the rules dramatically, it also had an adverse effect on publishers (who had to revise their own products to remain relevant) and fans (both in terms of cash flow and trust).

New editions allow for companies to take already good products, and make them better. The new World of Warcraft RPG stands as a means to appeal to the core Warcraft computer game audience, rather than a D&D audience. Mutants and Masterminds, an already great game, is reportedly even better now.

All of these revisions and editions bring to mind a few questions.

How can we trust that the products we buy will be the final version? Quite simply, we can’t. We don’t know what the industry will do, and when a new revision or edition might come down the pike. People have been predicting 4th Edition D&D since 3rd Edition came out. Do not doubt that it will happen eventually. It’s just a matter of when. It might be next year, it may be ten years down the line.

How can RPG companies, who have been forced to make tough decisions, maintain an audience when they’re doing what they need to in order to survive? Some may have solely been motivated by profit, but there are some who truly need to make the revisions in order to be able to sell a product. Do they get too greedy with new editions? Do RPG companies make revisions just for the sake of making a revision and profiting off of it?

All of this being said, this is an editorial, so let me editorialize.

Though I can see all sides to this, and sometimes people make the hard choices that don’t necessarily make them popular, I think it gets to be too much after a while. RPG fans could use a sense of security. I’d like to know that, if I bought a product, it won’t become irrelevant in two years’ time. I’d like to know that I won’t have to relearn the rules.

Though substantial profits are made, the market does suffer for it. How many RPG companies didn’t last through the 3.5 revision? How many companies find that their revisions split the fan base?

Don’t get me wrong. I think RPG companies have the right to make their products better and to make a profit. At the same time, they should consider all the effects that a revision or new edition might make, including on their fan base. For fans, I recommend voting with your dollar. If you feel the product is worth getting, then by all means buy it! If you’re a little strapped for cash or don’t feel you should “have to buy it again,” then don’t worry about it and spend your money elsewhere. Be sure to communicate with your RPG company (on boards, through e-mail or snail mail, etc.) and let them know what you think.

Also, ask yourself if you would even use such a product. For example, I played Shadowrun in college with the 1st edition rules (right when 2nd edition was released). Most of my Shadowrun products are 2nd edition. I haven’t played in probably 10 years, so it doesn’t make sense for me to buy the 4th edition book. Yes, we sometimes get attached to those worlds and our instincts tell us to get the latest and greatest.

It’s a tough road to walk down, for fans and RPG companies alike. The choice of making a new edition will always cause some sort of backlash in the fan base. Companies should look to make sure that the revised editions are necessary, and that they’re not making a revision for revision’s sake. Know when to say when, and look towards the internet as a way to accomplish some of the same goals. Fans should vote with their dollar, using their head to temper their heart. Don’t buy a revised edition just because it is there. Buy it because you want it. Or don’t, if you don’t feel it is worth it to buy a new edition. Above all, though, it should be fun. If a new edition isn’t fun, don’t buy it. If it is, more power to you.

Happy gaming!

Mad Ramblings From a Gaming Nostalgist

What do you think of when you hear the term ‘grognard’? Is it someone who is bitter about new gaming books? Does this person hate new things? Or is it a badge of honor? I’m certain that each one of us could offer a slightly different take on what it means, but the fact remains that the word can come with a certain amount of baggage.

Lately, I’ve been referring to myself as a ‘gaming nostalgist.’ For those of you who would remind me that ‘nostalgist’ isn’t a word, I will simply remind you that I am an American and we Americans have been bastardizing language for far longer than anyone. So nyah!

So what does being a gaming nostalgist mean? Well, a nostalgist is a grognard minus the negative connotations. We nostalgists are proud of our origins and seek to keep a bit of that with us. We make no apologies, yet we also aren’t going to poo-poo over everyone else’s fun. We’re the folks who play Star Wars Saga Edition, yet still love our old West End Games d6 Star Wars books – and use them. We’re the folks who play Castles & Crusades, and use both AD&D and d20 versions of D&D in our games. We are not ashamed of our origins, nor do we condemn them. We celebrate those origins.

We’re an odd breed of gamer, having the ability to love the new and the old all at the same time. It also means that we sometimes have a hard time in fandom. We’ve got one advantage in that we can work with a diverse group of gamers, but it can also be difficult working with gamers who are adamant about their own point of view. I have a hard time dealing with fans that have to rain on AD&D’s parade, yet I also have a hard time dealing with folks who have to be down on d20. Despite AD&D’s flaws, did you not enjoy the game at the time? It’s a perfectly workable system and people still play it, so why spoil their fun? For that matter, why rain on anyone’s parade for having fun in a different way than you? Maybe I’m more of a story-driven gamer, but if Joe Gamer prefers a tactical minis-based game, why should I spoil his fun?

Being a nostalgist also means that you have your own style of play. Do your 4th edition games carry with them a 2nd edition feel? This reminds me of Necromancer Games, whose tag-line of “3rd edition rules, 1st edition feel” really set the tone for all their products. It was a formula for success, as evidenced with their highly-successful Tome of Horrors. I know that as I go forward in the world of Dragonlance, I will always keep the feel from the Margaret Weis Productions books with me.

A nice mix of the old and new can lead to a lot of fun in your games. Celebrate your origins, but don’t be afraid to try new things. Respect others. Above all, play the game your way.

Love the Product/Hate the Company

D&D anymore is kind of like how I feel about Michael Jackson. I loved his Thriller album when it came out, so I bought it. His Bad album was pretty good too. But let’s face it – Michael Jackson is freaky in the extreme. I like the music, but not the performer himself. At the time, I didn’t know that Michael Jackson would turn out the way he did; none of us did. Would I buy those two albums now knowing what I do? I may debate it some, but I think I would. I would just look at it as buying a product I enjoy, rather than as supporting Michael Jackson.

Recently, I’ve been confronted with a similar situation in terms of Wizards of the Coast and D&D 4th edition. I’m really digging 4th edition. There’s still a lot I need to learn, but I’m genuinely excited by this version of the D&D game. Yet as I say this, I can’t say I’m as big of a fan of Wizards of the Coast as I used to be.

As of this writing (12/2/2008), several WotC employees, including Dave Noonan and Jonathan Tweet, were laid off. This is the same company that laid off gaming legend Jeff Grubb, one of the original Dragonlance designers, the guy largely responsible for Spelljammer, and an all-around gaming legend. He’s worked on D&D for many years, and they nixed him.

I can’t say I’m a big fan of WotC’s lack of continuity between editions. Or the Forgotten Realms’ time jump. It’s the Realms’ version of Dragonlance’s Fifth Age, in my opinion. Or the discontinuation of Dragon and Dungeon magazines (and no, the online subscription versions are not the same). And so on and so forth. Nor do I feel like paying for online content from WotC’s digital initiative. Partly, I feel that you’re not getting your money’s worth. I also feel that they shouldn’t charge for materials that were once free on their site. But I digress.

Wizards of the Coast is but one example. Any number of other companies may have great products, but lots of background drama going on. You may find that you like their product, but they have poor shipping. Or perhaps their customer service skills are lacking. Maybe you don’t like the people behind the company. So what’s a gamer to do?

I talked with my friend and fellow Dragonlance game designer Cam Banks about this, and he suggests that you buy the products you like. You’re not supporting companies here; they are not charities. I think this is an excellent idea. Separate out the company from the product. When I buy a D&D 4th edition product, I’m not doing so in support of WotC. I do so because I enjoy the product. Voting with the dollar also has the added benefit of sending the message to WotC about what you like and what you don’t.

What happens, then, when a company’s definition of some game element doesn’t match your own, or changes over time? Lately, I have been concerned about the heart and soul of D&D. While I like 4th edition, it is a very different game than its predecessors. It’s definitely a reinterpretation of what D&D is. In this process of transition, we’ve seen some reimagining of some D&D elements. Some of it is good, some not so much. Of course, I also felt a bit this way when 3rd edition came about. Take the halfling, for example. Once, it was a knock-off of the hobbits from Lord of the Rings. Since 3rd edition, they have been more kender-like. Hobbit fans may not like the change. However, that’s easily remedied by changing a little fluff. Likewise, the renaming of dragon types to become “new” chromatic dragons (i.e. deep dragons becoming purple dragons) is annoying.

Rules and flavor are often not one and the same. Sometimes they’re tied together. But in D&D’s case, there is room for adaption. I have so many pre-4e Realms gaming supplies that making the time jump forward doesn’t make much sense. I also prefer the pre-4e Realms flavor-wise. So I’ve got the 4e Forgotten Realms Player’s Guide, but my plan isn’t to use it for playing in the current era. The FRPG gives some good basics for playing in the Realms in the current era, but materials can be adapted for using 4th edition rules in previous eras.

In other words, just because WotC says that dragons act a certain way and halflings look a certain way, that doesn’t mean it is gospel. Use the rules you want, and if the flavor doesn’t match what you want, then grab some flavor elsewhere or make up your own.

I know I’ve singled WotC out quite a bit here. That’s not my intention. It’s just that they are the company I’m most familiar with, and are the most well-known gaming company out there. The same basic principles I mention here can apply to any company.

These principles also apply to fandom. I’m a huge fan of the Castles & Crusades game by Troll Lord Games. The Trolls are great folks. Unfortunately, some of their fans can be quite negative and vocal about d20. It’s enough that some people stay away from the product due to its fans. What I did to circumvent this was to just no longer bother with their forums. Problem solved. I have a nifty RPG I like, and I’ll play it my way, even if that way is ‘incorrect’ by some peoples’ definitions.

So in short, buy the products you like and don’t pay the companies any mind. Getting involved in company politics and drama will just sour you on the gaming experience. If you don’t like the decisions companies make regarding in-game elements, then discard those elements and use the ones you want. And if the fans of said product or company bring down the experience for you, then feel free to ignore them.

It’s your game. Focus on that and ignore the rest, and you’ll have a happier gaming experience.

In with the new, out with the old: the fallacy of game edition garage sales.

The new edition of your favorite game is out. It’s hot off the presses and has that ‘new edition smell.’ The cover is new and shiny, the rules fixed all the problems with the old edition, and you want to take it out for a spin.

Too bad all your old books are ‘useless’ now. Time to package everything up, take it to your local gaming store, and hopefully get enough to buy the new monster book.

Say what?

*insert record scratching sound here*

If there is any pet peeve of mine, it is the idea that, just because a new edition is out, all of your prior edition’s worth of materials is useless. I’ve seen people cash in on their old books just as soon as they get their hands on the new ones, and you know – they often regret it.

Why would anyone sell their old materials in the first place? Didn’t you have fun with them? Even though people did indeed have fun with the previous edition’s materials, they may have reasons for not wanting to keep older edition’s gaming books around. Some of them are legitimate (i.e. game books taking up house space), but I feel that most are based on some basic fallacies.

Most of it seems to fall back on the idea that the books of yesteryear are somehow rendered useless by the new edition. Really? Maybe there’s more that is useful than you think.

For example, take a look at fluff and setting information. Maybe the new edition of your favorite game has all of this. That’s fine and well and good, but sometimes as editions change and timelines progress forward, world events happen that don’t suit your tastes. Your old books are a snapshot back to a time you may have liked more. The Forgotten Realms is a prime example here. Yes, maybe the 4th edition D&D books for the Realms are out now, but then again, maybe you liked the timeline of the pre-4th edition Realms better. Keeping the old books lets you look back towards how things were. This is also good in terms of historical perspective on how a setting evolved. The various editions of Dragonlance are a prime example.

‘But I’m just getting rid of the splatbooks. Those are just rules.’

Shenanigans. They’re more than rules – they’re ideas. Let’s say you have a book called the Completely Quintessential Hobbit. It’s a halfling splatbook, filled with all sorts of alternate or expanded rules for halfling characters. The rules may not jive with the new edition, but those books are also filled with ideas. I may no longer be able to play a Hobbit Ringbearer prestige class, but the idea can be translated to the new edition. Not a game designer? No problem. Online communities are filled with amateur game designers, many of which are quite helpful. Hey, maybe you don’t have those exact rules, but again, we have fluff and background behind your Ringbearer prestige class. Maybe you just don’t need a prestige class in the new edition to represent the same role.

One of my favorite books is the AD&D 2nd edition Arms and Equipment Guide. By far, it is one of my favorite gaming books. The D&D 3rd edition counterpart paled in comparison, and few other sourcebooks out there had all that wonderful info. I could have traded it in years ago, but I kept it, because it continued to be a source of inspiration and knowledge for me. Here I am two editions later (three if you count 3.5), and I still use the book.

Likewise, your favorite adventures can be translated to the new edition. Go ahead and play Temple of Elemental Evil with 4th edition rules. You may find that the new edition mixed with the old module produces some interesting results!

Don’t forget about the collectability factor too. Some of those old books are worth quite a penny. If you can find a first printing Deities & Demigods, you know what I’m talking about.

What happens when you get a new gaming buddy and he plays the old edition only? Now you’re out of books. Oops!

New editions come and go, and often, they produce a knee-jerk reaction to sell all your old stuff, typically out of some fear that your old books are ‘useless.’ While there may be some reasons, such as house space, for trading in books, it may behoove you to look at those books a little closer. You may find that those ancient tomes still hold great ideas.

When You Don’t Fit In

Recently, I was reading a thread online from a person whose character just did not fit in with the group dynamic. I had thought back to times when I had a similar situation myself.

I once played in a Star Wars game a friend ran using a variant of White Wolf’s Storyteller system. Since it was Star Wars, I naturally wanted to play a Jedi (or at least a guy trying to become a Jedi). I had settled on a wookiee who was searching to become a Jedi. I had a nifty dynamic of wookiee rage vs. Jedi control.

There was some good storytelling, but some of the other players played mercenary-style characters. So my wookiee Jedi didn’t fit in. It ended with a battle between my Jedi and one of the player characters (a Twi’lek bounty hunter) who had it in for my character. Both characters lived, but my guy was effectively out of the game.

I tried a mechanic for a short bit, but didn’t care for him. So then I created another Jedi, but this one was very much a scoundrel as well. This guy fit in with the group and the game much better.

Later on, I ran a Star Wars game with the DM from that game and the player I mentioned in it. They played bounty hunter types while my friend played a Jedi. Again, there was conflict. My game came to a halt that night.

What I have learned from these experiences is that DMs and players must talk first about the type of game they are running, what the characters are going to be like (i.e. heroic, mercenary, etc.), and what some of the themes are. It isn’t that any one style of play is better than another. We just all game a little differently and sometimes character concepts just don’t work together.

What I also discovered is that if a character doesn’t work in one game, try another game. My wookiee Jedi thrived in a few other games another friend of mine ran. I’m playing him to this day via e-mail. While I hated the way the wookiee ended in the one game, he’s had tremendous growth in the other game. Recycling can apply to characters too.

Also, don’t settle on something just to fit in. Play what you want. Otherwise, you may resent the character. Nothing is worse than playing a character you don’t want to play. If the game isn’t accommodating to you as a player to play what you want (within reason), then maybe the game isn’t the best for you in general.

And don’t be afraid to recognize when the group isn’t working. I like my friends who play the mercenary types, but I don’t like gaming with them so much these days since my style is different from theirs. And that’s okay. We’re still friends; we just realize we have different styles of play. There is no shame in admitting when something isn’t working.

Likewise, if a character isn’t working, then talk to the GM and see if he can help you to create a new character you like that may work better in the group template. In the realm of fantasy, you may have several options.

Know your group dynamic as much as possible as you go in to play. Talk to your DM about the type of character you want to play and see if that will fit the group template. If you get stuck in a game like this, then see about other options. Above all, remember that the game should be fun.

Dragonhelm’s Take on Star Trek: Voyager

In my last blog entry, I voiced my criticisms on Star Trek: Voyager. See the comments section for details. I was asked what my take would be, so I thought I would share it with all of you.

Star Trek is the idealized and hopeful future. What if that concept is thrown on its head, and we find out that not everything is peaches and cream? What if Star Trek boldly went where it hadn’t before?

I imagined Voyager as a show where there would be a lot of philosophical debates going on. I imagined that some elements would be explored more, and gone into depth.

For example, one would think that two groups of humans would put aside differences to get home, but can old animosities ever be dropped? I would like to see this developed at a slower pace. Yes, the end result is the same, but there would be some disagreements between the crews. Maquis who don’t want to show up to work in uniform. Federation vs. Maquis arguments popping up. Chakotay having to get in the face of the Maquis crew members to calm them down, then someone turning against him. In the end, the two sides are somehow forced to work together for survival. A common enemy – perhaps Ceska?

I would have liked to see Tom Paris as more of a “bad boy”, and having to be reined in. I’d like to see him evolve more. Likewise, Harry Kim needed to face some tough things, even tougher than he faced in the series.

I wanted to see Janeway having to make those tough choices, and instead of siding with the Prime Directive, purposefully breaking it one time for the sake of her crew, then questioning herself afterwards. She was a good captain, don’t get me wrong. She was a tough female character, who remained feminine.

Neelix – Great character overall. However, limited in scope. I would have liked to see him become more of a horse trader, bargaining with the seedy crowd to get the supplies Voyager needed.

Kes – I really wished she had lasted the whole show. Seeing that short lifespan played out throughout the series would have resonated better.

The two-part Year of Hell is more of what I imagined for the show. Voyager would go through tough times, be forced to make the hard decisions in order to survive. There would be some exploration, but make the Prime Directive something that may require interpretation and that may need to be broken. Make the show edgier. Integrate alien technologies with Voyager’s more, especially since there was no spacedock.

Something to that effect. Basically, take the extra leap and go the distance.

Where Star Trek: Voyager Went Wrong

Like many of you, I grew up watching the original Star Trek series. I came to love The Next Generation as well, and got enthused when I saw Deep Space 9.

When Star Trek: Voyager came along, it held a lot of promise. This was the ship that was on its own in an uncharted part of the galaxy, trying to get home. The journey would take decades, and the Federation and Maquis crews would have to learn to live together.

This produced what should have been an excellent story, yet it couldn’t get past several boundaries. Where was the Maquis mutiny? It never happened, yet the possibility was mentioned by Tuvok on an episode. The Prime Directive. I wanted Janeway to have to struggle with breaking the Prime Directive, then doing so for the sake of her people. Yeah, they benefited, but she would have to live with the guilt. The opportunity was there, but in the end, Janeway is a goody-two-shoes. It was an opportunity lost, in my opinion.

Don’t even get me started on the Borg. There was an enemy that went from fearful in ‘The Best of Both Worlds’ (TNG 2-part episode) to just another alien on the block. I don’t know about anyone else, but I got tired of the Borg.

Where Voyager shined the best was in a two-part episode called ‘Year of Hell.’ This episode showed Voyager in a two-part alternate reality where the ship had been beaten up for an entire year. By year’s end, it was unlivable. The storytelling was great, and this was the sort of turmoil I wanted Voyager to go through! It was a shame that, at the end, the timeline is fixed and none of it happened. That kind of cheapened the efforts of the crew. However, I can overlook this

The cast was formulaic. We got to see our first female captain, which was awesome. Yet I felt like she was designed to be “she-Kirk.” Anyone else notice the initials? JK (James Kirk) and KJ (Kathryn Janeway). Uh…yeah. Then we have our gratuitous Klingon in the form of B’Elanna Torres. She doubled up as the gratuitous half-breed. The humans were largely forgettable. Harry Kim was so generic it wasn’t funny. Tom Paris could have been the bad boy, but that was hardly touched. I always felt that it wasn’t the actors’ fault here. Rather, the humans were not allowed to shine.

Tuvok was the gratuitous Vulcan, yet I’m not too critical of him. Tim Russ did an excellent job of portraying a Vulcan whose focus was security, not science. Was it realistic having a black Vulcan? Not every Earth race has a duplicate on other worlds. Yet despite this, I have to applaud Paramount for showcasing that there could be more than one brand of Vulcan.

Neelix was a fun alien, though the writers had to think about his purpose after he was no longer useful as a guide. And did Kes have a point? She was nice, and a short-lived race was cool. Still, she could have grown further.

Then there’s Seven of Nine. She was nice eye candy. I’ll give her that. However, I think they made the Borg to human transition way too quickly. Had it happened in the span of a year, I could see it more. I really could not believe that she was once Borg.

Of all the characters, Chakotay was my least favorite. I had a hard time believing he was Native American. My take is that he should have been one of the Native Americans that Picard ran across, who now live in Cardassian territory. Add more spiritualism to him, and he would have been fine.

Of all the characters, my favorite has to be the Doctor. Yes, he’s the gratuitous artificial life form looking to become more human. That being said, his character was a novel concept and Robert Picardo was so much fun. The mobile EMH transmitter seemed a bit hokey, but then again, he needed to get out of sick bay once in a while. My favorite aspect of him was when they added the emergency engineering and command subroutines so that he could take on new roles.

Two more items: the ship and the theme song. I have to say that I truly enjoyed the theme song. Very nice composition. The Intrepid-class Voyager was a nifty design, though I didn’t care for the miniature warp nacelles. Still, I liked watching them fold ala the Klingon Bird of Prey. All in all, a good design.

Between the subpar goody-two-shoes writing, the ‘greatest hits of Star Trek’ casting, the idea that they were going in the wrong direction (to Earth, not away!), and not allowing the cast to really shine, Voyager had many faults. It took what could have been a phenomenal series and dumbed it down to a so-so Trek series at best. Even though I enjoyed Voyager, I kept re-writing it in my head.

While the suits shot for the elements of classic Trek and TNG that made both of them a success, the suits just weren’t able to achieve that kind of magic. That being said, I still enjoyed Voyager, though it could have been so much more.

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