Friday, January 28, 2011

When NPC’s Chime In/Super NPC’s

When I was first introduced to D&D as a kid, and for years afterwards, it was very common for Dungeon Masters to use what has become known as the “Super NPC.” A classic example I can remember is from a game some dude ran at the Santa Monica Jewish Center on Santa Monica Blvd when I was in my mid-teens. Yes, that was kind of a trippy place for a catholic kid, but one of my D&D buddies at the time was Jewish and we often had games there on a Tuesday night. I was going there almost every week for a year at around the age of 14 to play. I had been to this pal’s Bat Mitzvah as well. Maybe these experiences are why I have such love for Israel and Yiddish people worldwide (I would run into this guy a few years later when I was going to some Society of Creative Anachronism events with a girlfriend of the time. He had been a good kid, but by then it was obvious he was growing up to be a grade-A dipshit; I hope D&D didn’t do that to him).

Anyway, one night an older guy, probably in his early 20’s, ran a game for us. I don’t remember the particulars of our characters, but I remember our asses getting kicked in the game. We ended up needing help, and helpful locals pointed us out to what was obviously a favored character of the DM’s that he was using as an NPC. That was as easy as it could happen. Mr. DM is winging it in a game, needs a strong character to save the day, and then *taadaaa* he just inserts one of his characters from some other DM’s game he’s played in into the mix. Oy vey!

In this case, it was some badass fighter with twin magic blades who could cast Haste on himself. I can recall our PC’s walking down the city street with this super-character, who was whirling his blades around at Haste speed and juggling them and generally showing off before the big fight. Some big fight. I think his guy mopped up the bad guys while our PC’s stood on the sidelines shouting “hooray” while doing a respectful golf clap.

I have to admit that I fell into this heavily in the 80’s. The very first character I rolled up as a kid, a ranger named Arcturus Grimm, was my first major NPC in my homebrew gameworld, and I still use him to this day. Although as a player character I probably had only gotten him up to around 5th or 6th level before he became a super-NPC in my world. But what with all his misadventures over the hundred years or so of game time that has gone by since around 1980 (no worries, he’s partly elf) he stands today, a ranger in the upper teens of level and on the verge of some kind of godhood (yeah, that is very high level for my world). I’ve used him quite a bit in the early portions of this current campaign, but only as an advisor really. He has some sons and daughters as NPC’s involved in the ongoing campaign shenanigans.

I could easily give a dozen examples of other favored super-NPC’s (one or two actually former characters like ol’ Arcturus), but the overall point to this is that I don’t use them so much anymore. I never really used them as in the example I gave about the DM at the Jewish Center, but I have toned down their general involvement. And after so many years, some have retired or disappeared altogether. After some bad experiences in the last couple of years, I am inclined even more to use them less.

Like when I went to a couple of Sunday Star Wars Saga sessions in Santa Monica (trying to little avail to get to know the rules so I could run for the infamous Hollywood Star Wars group). The GM, a 20 year old, pretty much just ran tactical combats with his super-NPC Jedi’s jumping in and doing most of the work. It really sucked.

The months later when I went to run KOTOR for an established group, the “lady” who was “in charge” was almost fanatically against NPC’s. She even talked about the young dude in Santa Monica’s use of NPC’s, which blew my mind (she knows somebody who went to one of his games). I said “no problem,” but I did have an NPC involved with the group as part of the ongoing adventure and I learned later that was one of many things that bugged her. Not that I care about what bugged the clueless dolt, but it did make me give some more thought about my use of NPC’s.

When player are having confabs as their characters, I have a bit of a habit of jumping into the conversation with an NPC (hey, the DM is supposed to have some role playing fun too, ya' know?). This is usually when there is information to give or it is just an appropriate time for them to speak, but I realized I was doing just a bit too much of it. I should be encouraging characters to speak more. Given, I only really have two players who really have conversations in character, with the others speaking up here and there. But I’m trying to lean more to letting it be the characters words that rule the day (good or bad).

So in our Night Below session last week, there was a point where a player or two were cooking up plans for another assault on The City of The Glass Pool, and rather than be a part of the conversations or have to hang on every word, I spent time doing other things. Looking in books, stepping outside, etc. Just listening to enough to catch good role play. It’s really only the DM’s job to react to what the players try to carry out, but in this case my distancing myself from the planning there were a few misunderstandings. So there needs to be a fine line. Me listening to important stuff, without feeling compelled to speak out as an NPC.

Now, I’ll readily admit that a lot of speaking up as NPC’s has come from a certain degree of my having to give information to move the game along. This group is kind of quick to action and short on understanding. They aren’t stupid, but I believe a “thinking man’s D&D” is not necessarily what they are after. They want combat and cool set-pieces to have it in. Hey, I can relate. As a player I like action over politics and making the proper decisions to move storylines along.

Also, for me, NPC’s have been an integral part of how I present my world. I’ve been using my homebrew game setting for going on 35 years , with well over a hundred years of game continuity. This is the gaming James over at Grognardia likes to speak of; starting with a tiny section of a game world and expanding from there. That was the beginning, like, 1978 for me. In the many years after that, I have expanded upon the gameworld big time, and I’m not just happy with that, I’m proud of it. I have a personal connection to my gameworld (and therefore to my own childhood) that I think is rare. My players can often feel that. So yeah, I take NPC’s seriously. If it is more than just an innkeeper or farmer the players will never see again, then it is an NPC worth investing in. But like I said, there needs to be a fine line when NPC’s are involved, so as not to gyp players out of character time. NPC’s should complement the character experience, not supplant it.

Should they just be extra muscle? The clich├ęd hirelings of old school D&D? Or should they be an integral part of the group sometimes. After all these years, this is still something I am trying to figure out.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Dark Knight Rises

Warner Bros and Christopher Nolen have announced the two lead “baddies” in the next Batman flick. He also has settled on their actors.

Anne Hathaway has been cast as Catwoman. Tom Hardy (Inception) is set to play the South American brainy, muscle-bound “super steroid” freak Bane.

As a comic book fan who came up in the “silver age,” I have always loved Batman, despite in my earliest years being a diehard Marvel fanboy. I loved Neil Adam’s run in the 70’s, and Nolan’s Batman has a close resemblance to that incarnation. Before Nolan, my favorite of the films was the first Tim Burton effort, and also the Val Kilmer Batman (my only three problems with that one being a Robin who is too old, a two-face who is too ugly on the normal side of his face, and a Gotham City that is just too wrapped in neon – even the damn guns had neon tubing on them? Sheesh.)

Nolan has brought a great sense of realism to the world of Batman, and the first film was a fantastic origin story that hit all the right notes with comic fans and the “unbeliever” general public.

I really did love that first Christian Bale Batman film, and the second had a lot of great moments. I thought Two Face was kind of wasted (a criminal career that lasted around 20 minutes. Hardly worthy of entry into the Rogue’s Gallery down in the Batcave to be sure.) I think the new actress playing the love interest was a very strange choice. And I don’t *gasp* think that the late Heath Ledger’s Joker portrayal was all that extraordinary (although I do like a more toned down Joker, as he was often just too giddy and silly in some former incarnations). Overall, I think they should have shortened the film by around 20 minutes (something I say about a lot of movies. I’m looking at you, LOTR). It was just too much for one theater sitting.

So, how will Catwoman and Bane fit into the more realistic, non-comic bookey “Nolanverse?” Well, Catwoman was kind of a given anyway. The question is, which way will they go with her. The crazy leather bitch made famous by Michelle Pfieffer in Burton’s Trannyfest Batman Returns? The dominatrix prostitute of the 80’ and 90’s? Personally, I think a good take for Nolan to fit her well into his world is to make her more like her high society cat burglar persona from the olden days.

The Batman Animated Adventures from the 90’s did that with her, and did not have to stoop to making her a crazed, psychosexual being like Burton did. She actually pretty much had it together. I liked that version. Throw in that versions animal activism, and you’ve got yourself a reason to have Anne Hathaway bare her teeth and throw down with some martial acrobatics.

Bane? I dunno. I think it is a shit move. This was never that fascinating a character, and he only got into the consciousness of the fanboys by being the foe that literally broke Batman’s back. He also is not part of the old rogue’s gallery, which I think should have a focus on the old. A Nolan version of The Penguin (a non-mutated version, please), Riddler, or even bringing back Two Face would have been a much better choice. Nolan would have to take Bane to an entirely new vision for me to get behind it. I think he is a lame character.

This is most likely Nolan’s last Batman, and I think it is a shame that we will not see the return of Liam Neeson’s Ras Al Ghul, or at least his daughter Talia (who would be a perfect fit for the exotic and currently very popular Mila Kunis from Black Swan. Hell, maybe Anne Hathaway could have pulled off Talia) during his tenure.

OK, the film is at least a couple of years away from theaters. Sue me, I like talking about Batman.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Taking Pride in your Group

(pictured above: Our usual host Andy, and also a group that is not us)

As it has been pointed out here and there occasionally in my post comments, I don’t necessarily lean towards the positive all the time when talking about my games or my players. Let’s face it, some of us deal with happiness by just enjoying the happiness without making a big deal out of it. We deal with things we aren’t necessarily happy with by ranting about it. It’s sort of like guest reviews on a hotel’s website; you see so many negative ones because it’s mostly people unhappy with the experience who are compelled to review in the first place. I actually love my group, and I want to talk about it a bit from that perspective.

Currently there are seven of us regulars in the group, which is perfect really. Our games at maximum occupancy are one GM and six players. Perfect amount of players, because you can still have a fun and epic game with 5 or 4 players. Even with three players available we can do alternates or whatever. I keep the player count at a max of 6, but usually have sort of a waiting list of people who want in (a problem I have not heard that other locals groups have). I hear on an almost monthly basis from locals from various sources wanting in on the games. So many that I have considered trying to get a second, separate group together. But it’s hard enough to put together the time for one such group, so I think that is going to have to be my one and only group. Fine by me.

Four of us have been there pretty much since game one (or “game zero” as I like to call it), two and a half years ago. Me, Andy, Dan, and Terry (our token chick player). For around a year we had two or three players come and go, which is usually par for the course in any groups that weren’t all friends to begin with. Then Big Ben and Paul came along around the same time around a year or so ago, and we have had the same steady group now for close to a year and half. Little Ben, who played for a bit the other year but had work obligations, returned a few months ago. He has missed a few games since then, but more out of happenstance of his schedule more than anything else.

So, a solid group for many moons now. That seems to be a bit rare, at least in the Los Angeles area. Most groups I have seen or have experience with don’t seem to be able to keep it together the way they would like to. Not a knock at them, just part of my gratitude for a steady, steadfast group of great players. One experience I had was with a DM in West LA with a presence here in the old school blogs that resulted in my freshly created character being slain by an unfriendly and somewhat hostile player less than an hour into the session (I won’t include any links or names here. Regular readers can figure it out; I don’t wanna be starten’ nothing or cause any epic weirdo freak-outs), who turns out is the DM’s ONLY regular player over the years. Hmmm…wonder why. Regular player and co-founder of my group, Andy, had similar experiences with that GM and that player. As a matter of fact, Andy’s experience with these same people a few years prior to mine caused me to see Andy in a whole new light after my own shitty time with them, and to gain new appreciation for him and his play style. Andy seems just as happy to have a great and friendly group of regulars as I. With what is locally available out there, no wonder.

So yeah, I am happy with, and proud of, my group. For anybody in the past that has commented that perhaps some of my unhappy experiences outside my group is perhaps my own doing, I can only put forth my evidence against that theory: I have 3 people who have stayed over two years for my games, a pair who have stayed regulars for well over a year so far, and one who came back after a several month absence. My running of some OD&D at a local mini-con and then an Orange County Gaming Con last year were very well received, although I will admit that I think some of the friendships I made at those may have been affected by some of my harsh words in my blog about some of my other local experiences. Even Bob over at Cylopeatron, who I think looks at me with an eyebrow cocked lately after initially being fairly friendly, will admit that in his Gamma World session at the MiniCon event that I was the player MVP of the day (helping take the one-shot session to a solid conclusion when it was looking like it would end in a cliffhanger or forced conclusion at best).

So in regards to myself, my conscious is clear despite the occasional kerfuffle: I’m a very decent, fun and welcoming GM whose decades of experience shows, and as an occasional player I put a lot of my priority into the good time of the GM and the other players at the table besides my own. The proof has been in the pudding for anybody who has met me and played with me or under me.

Enough kissing of my own big ass. Let me kiss some butt and heap some praise on my worthy regulars a bit (in order of appearance in the group):

Andy: Sometimes drinker, sometimes toker, always smart-ass. Andy pretty much co-founded the group with me. He saw me on looking to run some 1st edition (after a several year break), and after some of his less than satisfactory experiences with local groups he wanted to be in on something new. Andy usually hosts us, with his lovely wife Kara giving us the use of her fabric workshop in the back. It’s a nice cozy area, not too small and not too big, with a patio for the smoker/tokers. I was initially annoyed with Some of Andy’s play style choices, but in the long run I have come to really appreciate his excellent attitude towards role playing, and general welcoming nature to new folk who came along over the short years. Along with Dan, Andy is a very vocal player who loves to run his characters in an outgoing fashion, and any GM knows that is a valuable person to have at the table. Not everybody has to be real vocal, but a couple of people need to be. More than anybody outside of Terry, Andy is the most accepting of playing whatever genre I want to run. Can’t `put a price on that. I’m glad we have that. In the main AD&D campaign Andy runs Vaidno, a half-elf bard. In my occasional Champions games he ran a very cool Chop Socky Jackie Chan sytle Hong Kong cop, and in my Metamamorphosis Alpha/Mutant Future sessions he ran pretty much a mutated Billy Bob from Slingblade.

Dan: Big guy originally from South Africa (white) who has lived and travelled around the world. He has swum with sharks, trained in mountain rescue, and all kinds of crazy shit. He is some kind of computer related international business man, and has a nice pad up off Mulholland where we have played occasionally. He recently married his hot girlfriend. Dan has it all, and it’s one of the reasons I give him so much shit. A very outgoing player much like Andy, Dan also tends to be a little powergamey and argumentative with his characters, but funnily enough not in a negative way that you would usually find those traits in gamers. It’s fun to play the put-upon DM to his Munchkin play style. Dan loves the escapist nature of the games, and loves to kill things. I’m hoping he doesn’t one day decide to kill the DM. Dan’s main character in the 1st edtion games is the controversial Krysantha, a female drow raised by druids. She isn’t evil, but is for sure one hell of a bitch.

Terry: I have known Terry for over 20 years, and she has played on and off in my games for that long. I met her at the very first Renaissance Faire (formerly in Agoura Hills) I ever worked in the late 80’s. I actually posted about my appreciation of Terry as a friend and player a few months ago (inspired probably by her treating me to a weekend in Las Vegas), and you can check out that feel-good post here.

“Big” Ben: Call him Big Ben, because we have another Ben in the group who Big Ben has a few pounds on. Ben has a lot of 1st edition experience from the past, and actually knows the rules btb better than the rest of us, without being a rules lawyer. Ben has actually been very valuable in looking up things in the books when I don’t feel like it and am ready to just house rule something (Andy is handy that way too). Ben runs a high Elf mage, Lumarin, in my main campaign. Ben also runs the occasional 1st edition game for us so I can take a break and be a player. In his campaign, he had us all required to run high elves or half elves. Can you see a pattern? Yeah, Ben seems to have an elf fetish. If he was skinny with long flowing blond hair it might seem to explain things, but Ben is around 6 feet tall, burley, and bald with a goatee. Hmmm…

Paul: a young college student with no tabletop D&D experience, he has a lot of experience with the D&D video games, and that seems to pay off at least in game concepts being familiar to him. For a new player, Paul has really taken things to the grill with the MU/Thief, Lily, that he ran. He eventually betrayed to the party to former allies of his, basically screwing himself out of getting to run the character any more. And it was not just to be a dick like a lot of experienced, anti-social type players might. He was actually role-playing what he thought that character might do, in the process having to start playing an NPC provided by me to continue in the game. In the Met. Alpha/Mutant Future mini-campaign we ended this week, Paul ran a mutated tree. He is very cool, with a powerful shriek and acid sap damage abilities. This character was probably the most interesting in the entire campaign. Paul sort of inadvertently named out group last year. I started a private Yahoo page for us, and needed a name for it. I didn’t want some dorky gamer name, so Paul said “you should make it something abstract, like “Waves of a Forgotten Box” or something like that.” Thus, a group name was born. Call us “The Wavies.”

“Little Ben”: not really little, but smaller then Big Ben. He played for a bit the other year before his schedule got involved, and is now back playing again. A good guy, he is a solid player despite running a non-combatant in the Night Below games. His gnome, Ormac, chimes in with the occasional illusion. When another player murdered a captured NPC a few games ago, he refused to accept a magic item (want of magic missile) that had belonged to the victim. To me that is some pretty good role playing of a good character. How many spellcasters, especially one with few combat spells, would pass up a wand of magic missles?

There you have it, the current group, and I’m damn proud to be a part of it, much less the main GM. Without them, I would be awash in the gamer sea of flotsom and jetsom out there. How I got so lucky, I’ll never know. Or maybe I’m just that damn good ;)

So, tell me about what makes you proud, or at least happy, about your group…

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Mutant Future Campaign done and done

Really, last night I was finally able to admit to my players that we have really been doing Metamorphosis Alpha, just using the Mutant Future rules. The big reveal. OK, they didn’t really know what Met Alpha was. Makes me feel old.

The forest valley is not the entirety of their world, and they finally passed into the between decks areas and eventually to the command deck to meet starship captain and other unfrozen crewmembers, who are striving to save some of the ships failing systems, all the while fighting an ongoing war with androids who have taken over sections of the ship.

The characters learn of the original home known as “Earth,” and that the world they know is a starship that has long since passed it’s intended destination, and now hurtles through space. It was fun role-playing all this, and seeing character reactions.

Actually Andy knew, as he had read many of my blog posts after a mysterious emailer hipped him to my blog, that was formerly only a rumor amongst my players. Well, with the big reveal completed along with this campaign, I was able to go ahead and inform the others about my blog, which they can now read with impunity.

Two secret things, my blog and the Metamorphosis Alpha nature of the Mutant Future sessions, were never that important to keep secret. It’s easy enough to refrain from foreshadowing game events in the posts, and as far as any hard talk about Andy or Dan or any of the others, well, it’s nothing I don’t really say to their face. I think I can continue to be open and honest about my player’s headache inducing foibles without offending anyone. And for the starship nature of the characters world, well, Met Alpha was not designed as a game with keeping the secret. The players knew what they were playing in Met Alpha originally back in the old school heyday of that game, and that fact that only the PC’s were ignorant of the true nature of their world was fairly superfluous. Fun gameplay is fun gameplay no matter how you slice it.

For Posterities sake, here are the characters from this campaign:

Gamo-Ik (Andy): with a hillbilly persona and look inspired by Billy Bob Thornton’s Slingblade character, Gamo has teleport and disintegration powers. He also has Slowness, which makes him take actions every other turn. How did a slow moving humanoid survive the dangers of the valley? Well, he also has Teleport. So he cannot run faster than any of the characters in the party, but his still often appears in front of them when they travel. Slow of body, he is the most intelligent and wise of all the characters, so he is more accepting of the true nature of the world once it is revealed.

Rizgar (Dan): I mutated bear with Quickness, Telekinesis, and Dwarfism mutations. Belligerent and contrary (like most of Dan’s characters).

Will O. (Paul): a mutated tree-man. When travelling with the group, some characters keep a distance from him. See, he gives off a damaging Shriek when damaged to those nearby, and also bleeds out acid sap when he gets damaged. At one point got his hands on a large cell-powered chainsaw that he uses to great affect. One scary tree. Often damages himself in combat to get the Shriek power activated.

Korm (Big Ben): no obvious mutations and looking very much like a normal human, he has Weather Control and combat intuition powers. He also has increased metabolism, so the character is always looking for his next big meal. His use of weather control on the forest valley level over the years may have made the breakdown of ship atmospheric systems occur more quickly than they otherwise would have.

Donald “Don Juan” John Garth (NPC): a ship engineer who got trapped on the forest level over a year ago, he has become a known as a wise travelling shaman to many of the valley people. Let himself be known as “Don Juan” to many as an inside joke to himself – he was a big reader of Carlos Castanada. Eventually led the party out of the valley level and to the command deck at the end of the campaign.

Also, little Ben played in one game as a lizard man from the valley, but actually I forget his name.

Oh, in last night’s final game I got to use classic beasties from The Barrier Peaks D&D module in encounters, including VegyPymies and hostile Android weight trainers in a gym area. Nice.

So there we go, one little campaign wrapped up. We usually played this alternate when Terry could not make a game, so we’ll have to find some other alternates for the future, including White Box OD&D, of course.

Friday, January 7, 2011

WOTC I do not wish you well

In a recent post over at Cyclopeatron. Cyclo talks about a new trading card element for D&D from WOTC, and of course it is just a lame move by this company to try and recapture a collectable card fad that had its heyday over a decade ago; plugging it into a game with a name that has serious geek zeitgeist. This was the first I heard of it, and I still do not know all the details, but jeez, what utter shit this once mysterious and wonderful game has been made into by these modern marketeers. No wonder so many of us hold on to the retro.

But what strikes me even odder is the commentary you hear from blog followers who do not play current WOTC products, but “wish them well.” What kind of “happy happy joy joy” mentality does somebody have to have to wish this corporate crapola well? Who that does not play with current WOTC merchandise would give a flying rats ass about WOTC and it’s chickenshit schemes for its product. These well-wishers are more Pollyanna than the chipper gay policemen from Demolition Man.

OK, you say “it’s good to get new people into the hobby.” Why? Because you can’t get/keep a group together? Do you hope D&D will take off gigantically like the mid-80’s again when groups were too full and closed to new players, starting a soup line of hungry players wanting to play at your table? Or is it so it becomes more mainstream and therefore you no longer have to have some weird guilt/shame thing in your gut when you are around people who are talking about wine and cars and The LA Lakers and who think this kind of activity is for the proverbial geektards?

I mean, when I started D&D the late 70’s, you talked about it in school in whispers. Just like comic books and being into Sci Fi movies instead of cars, it was like we were part of this little secret society. “We” watched Star Trek and Dark Shadows reruns, “They” watched C.H.I.P.S and Movin’ on (you may not remember it, but it was an action drama featuring truckers that all the dipshits in “special” classes watched in the early 80’s). Even in elementary school I remember the class voting on it's favorite TV show, with "That's My Momma"( a piece of junk Sanford and Son rip-off) getting the winning nod, and me being jeered for voting for Kolchak: The Night Stalker.

By high school, I would sneak away after football practice to run Tegal Manor for the Fantasy Role Playing Association meeting in some unlocked classroom. If word got out to my teammates what I was doing, I’d have probably gotten goofed on relentlessly in the locker room, and the cheerleader dates would have dried up. I loved that this was a small, underground, niche hobby. That was half the fun for me.

Patton Oswalt, D&D playing geek comedian, puts how I feel well here in one of his rants about underground geek culture:

“…Admittedly, there’s a chilly thrill in moving with the herd while quietly being tuned in to something dark, complicated, and unknown just beneath the topsoil of popularity. Something about which, while we moved with the herd, we could share a wink and a nod with two or three other similarly connected herdlings.

When our coworkers nodded along to Springsteen and Madonna songs at the local Bennigan’s, my select friends and I would quietly trade out-of-context lines from Monty Python sketches—a thieves’ cant, a code language used for identification. We needed it, too, because the essence of our culture—our “escape hatch” culture—would begin to change in 1987…”

I don’t think anybody needs to hate WOTC, and if they actually play their products then more power to them. But if you don’t, you at least wish them well? Do you actually know the people who work there? The top brass all the way down to the lowest goof-off file clerk who after hours pisses in the office coffee pot? Fuck them. I don’t wish them anymore well than I do any other souless corporation in this country. That they are in the game-making business holds no mystique for me, and does not for sure automatically garner my well-wishes. James Raggi I wish well. Geoffry McKinney I wish well. Goodman I wish goddamn well! WOTC I wish them all a jolly springtime standing in the goddamn unemployment line.

Wizards of the Coast, please fail horribly and die a miserable bankruptcy court death. I still have my copies of OD&D and 1st edition, and it is all I will ever need for my D&D.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Blood Meridian and the Immortal Warrior

“Whatever exists.” He said. “Whatever in creation exists without my knowledge exists without my consent.” He looked about at the dark forest in which they were bivouacked. He nodded toward the specimens he’d collected. “These anonymous creatures may seem little or nothing in the world. Yet the smallest crumb can devour us. Any smallest thing beneath yon rock out of mens knowing. Only nature can enslave man and only when the existence of each last entity is routed out and made to stand naked before him will he be properly suzerain of the earth.” – Judge Holden

Judge Holden is like something from another world. A kind of mutant in the old, pre- civil war west. He is almost 7 feet tall, an albino, and is completely bald and hairless right down to the lack of eyelashes. Seemingly strong as an ape, he has been observed to lift a large anvil up over his head, and then toss it nearly ten feet on a bet. He has escaped near certain death by doing outlandish things like firing on his enemies point blank with a Howitzer under one arm and a lit cigar in the other hand. He is widely travelled and highly educated, maybe self so, and can converse with others in multiple languages (German, French, Italian, etc.) about such far ranging subjects as philosophy, paleontology, archaeology, linguistics, law, geology, and astrology. At night in the wilderness he will often spend his time collecting natural specimens of flora and fauna, keeping careful notes. To even those who know him, the Judge seems more than a little supernatural and fully out of place in most situations.

In Cormac Mccarthy’s 1985 book Blood Meridian, Judge Holden rides along with a group of border scalp hunters, fighting renegade Indians for a price. Apparently, the Judge met the current group he rides with as they were fleeing from superior numbers and low on ammo. Holden is sitting on a boulder in the middle of nowhere as if waiting for them, and in mere moments after their meeting, the Judge has gathered the proper local materials to show them how to create gunpower, with which they chase off their foes. Every man in that group of disparate men claim to have met the Judge at one time or another in the past, adding to his spooky mystique.

On top of everything else, Judge Holden seems supreme in his evil. Even among cutthroats, bushwackers, rapists, murderers, and thieves he stands out. When the group of outriders devolve into killing and scalping innocent villagers and pilgrims, the Judge takes no hesitation in slaughtering children when others flinch. An obvious pedophile, the Judge will keep a young captured boy or girl alive for a couple of days, before tiring of them and scalping them to add to the loot pile. He flatters children with sweets, and in communities the Judge arrives in a young girl or boy will invariably go missing or be found murdered.

In Blood Meridian the brutally biblical seems to meld into the blatant metaphysical. The colors and textures of the Southwest, much like those Carlos Castenada’s Don Juan experienced, take on an alien life of their own. But here it is more sinister. Every sunset seems like an open gateway to hell. When a lone tree in the prairie is struck by lightning at night, tarantulas, lizards, scorpions, and vinegaroons seem to gather around it in natural awe as if summoned by demons.

Judge Holden walks this landscape like some sort of ancient and devilish warrior of a bygone fantasy age. Like the good hearted immortal warrior John Carter of Mars, Judge Holden seems to come out of nowhere in the past and is not necessarily restrained by natural laws. Decades after the beginning of the novel, towards the brutal and controversial end of this visceral epic, Judge Holden seems completely unchanged and unaged in any way, his great strength and great appetite for evil undiminished.

I just finished this book, and one thing was on my mind at the end. What a great character Judge Holden would be to insert into a Boot Hill, Old West Cthulhu, or any weird west. The Judge could obviously appear in any age one wished, him being a supernatural entity and all (at least in my conclusion). A Roman citizen; a black knight in the Middle Ages; or even a futuristic setting. But I think to use him in the Old West would be best, to portray him as he appears in the book. And as I said, he appears to be the same in the 1850’s as he is in the 1870’s. I feel he could easily show up in the 1920’s, prancing to dark music arm in arm with Alister Crowley at an occult function.

If you haven’t read Blood Meridian: or the Evening Redness in the West, do so. But only if you can stand the brutality; inhumanity; and Cormac’s ruthless use of metaphors. I think that if you are a descriptive game master (or even not) you can up your game by making as study of this author’s colorful and flavorful (to the point of delirious overload) prose.

In true gamer fashion (and because this is a game blog) here is the basic Call of Cthulhu stats for The Judge as best I can make them on the spot. I may just use him if I ever get around to my Old West Cthulhu campaign. Hey, what if the Judge is yet another avatar of Nyarlothotep? Hmm…

Judge Holden
Occupation: Soldier/Warrior. Holden is an unapologetic lover of war and conflict.
Age: unknown. Appears generally to be in his late 30’s/Early 40’s.
Strength: 18
Dexterity: 15
Intelligence: 17
Education: 17
Constitution: 16
Power: 17
Charisma: 16

*Note: as a supernatural/near supernatural being, Judge Holden is already “crazy,” and therefore immune to sanity affects.

Anthropology, archeology, paleontology, geology: 60%
History, linguistics, chemistry, physics: 50%
Accounting, law, psychology, calligraphy, occult: 40%
Climb, jump, ride, sneak, drive carriage: 50%
Oratory, persuade:65%
Pistol: 70%
Rifle: 75%
Knife, club, brawling, grapple: 80%

*The Judge likes to dress in clean white clothing whenever possible, including a hat to cover his bald head in the sun. If he finds himself hatless in outdoors, he will first bargain, then kill, for one. Same for weapons if he is weaponless. Gaining a firearm, especially a pistol, will be a priority if he is unarmed.

Judge Holden prefers to be naked when camped out or in private, sometimes donning a light robe. When travelling he likes to carry his gear in a European Portmanteau instead of the more rugged leather satchels of his companions. If encountered “in lair,” he will probably be only wearing an open robe or coat and otherwise nude. In this circumstance he is likely to have: 40% a young but adult female (50% whore/50% against her will victim), 40% chance of a child under the age of 13 (60% female, 40% male). In addition, there is a 10% chance Holden will also have some form of unusual person (mentally disabled person, midget or dwarf, carnival freak, etc). All will be naked and possibly assisting Judge Holden in his abuse of his other “guest.” The Judge seems to also be capable of restraining and raping a strong, full grown man.
In this case he may only commit this act out of some kind of vengeance, although it is possible he has an attraction to certain grown men outside of revenge. His preference for evening “companions” is almost exclusively children of a pubescent age.

The Judge loves to use his oratory/persuasion skills to cause ruin of others. He once convinced a mob at a church revival that an otherwise steadfast preacher was a child and goat rapist. This is the type of thing he might do in a town for laughs. Once somebody becomes his enemy, the Judge will seek revenge on them relentlessly, even if he has to wait decades for the opportunity.