Thursday, May 26, 2011

Usagi Yojimbo Volume 21: The Mother of Mountains

Usagi Yojimbo continues to advance the characters in directions they already travel even as it reveals more of their background, as well as the background of the setting.

In terms of setting, gold comes to the front again as a peasant finds a gromwell, a bush that has absorbed some of the gold mineral deposit below it. Gold is always a useful tool for rulers. It brings power with it. Its also something worth killing over. Anyone see the anime Ninja Scroll? The first one, the movie, not the series? Yeah, gold has a lot of power.

Those who seek the gold appear to be mere bandits but they are lead by Noriko, the cousin of Tomoe. Tomoe, being an ally of Usagi, has made others into her allies, such as young Motokazu.

In their dealings here, Tomoe is sent to investigate rumors of a plague. Much like in Ninja Scroll, it's a cover for the discovery of gold. This mission is being lead by Noriko known as the Blood Princess due to her ruthlessness. In flashbacks, we see training and sparring between Tomoe and Noriko with Noriko always gaining the upper hand. These flashbacks provide foreshadowing of a future duel and the difficulty that the hero will have in overcoming her nemesis.

But there are complications that Stan throws in. Turns out that the two's relationship is not that of cousins, as Tomoe believes it to be, but of sisters. Noriko and Tomoe share the same father and it turns out that due to an arranged marriage that Norkio wound up in a loveless family. So in typical villain fashion she poisons her false father and seeks acknowledgement from her true father. When if fails to arrive, she kills him too. When she explains this to Tomoe, it fills in the answer of who murdered Tomoe's father and brings them both reason to hate each other more. Noriko, right or wrong, feels that Tomoe had the life she should have had and Tomoe father's death is all the reason she needs.

This tying of character into character, of trying motivation into the scenes, is a powerful tool that can make adventuring more than merely dungeon crawling. There has to be logical reasons for linking characters and events though. Just randomly throwing some information out probably won't make for a better game, but if the players have relatives that work for a castle with a known dungeon or have relatives who have gone ahead of them into a famous dungeon and were never heard of again...

Usagi, despite being the star of the book, is in many ways just another character in the saga here. His sword skills continue to perform, his ability to joke in dark times under dire circumstances, such as when unarmed he takes out the eye of a mercenary and tells him, "Now you'll be known as the one-eyed orphan maker", continue to support the character he has shown in previous volumes.

This brings a nice level of consistency to the character. One of the issues that other types of media can suffer, is a change of staff or writers. In speaking with friends and reading various online sites, I'm not the only one who found later seasons of Heroes to suffer horribly due to quick personality changes and character goals switching every few episodes. Continuity and consistency can provide your game with a stable footing for the players. If things change rapidly, this should be a big clue to the players that something is seriously wrong and in need of investigation.

For the big duel between Tomoe and the Blood Princess, it doesn't end in anything other than a stalemate but in an interesting way. In the past, Stan has proven capable of 'killing' a character by having them have some thing befall them which prevents the body from being found, often using this 'trick' with Jei, the demonic spear fighter. Here, The Blood Princess runs into a mine that explodes and collapses. While Tomoe has a vivid dream of how her cousin could have escaped, we, the readers, don't know what actually happened to her. By providing the villain with an out, Stan is able to bring her back in the future without diminishing her potency and in fact, providing more reason why she would want to battle Tomoe again.

On other fronts though, Tomoe's lord is slowly coming under influences that are not goodfor her. They do not come out and accuse of incompetence, at least not in anything other than trying to use past events to paint her in an unflattering way, but the seeds planted in earlier novels continue to move forward, perhaps foreshadowing Tomoe's fate?

Stan continues to provide characters that don't need to be dark and gloomy with histories rebooted time and again in order to provide entertainment that brings a lot of ideas to any game and especially to an Oriental Adventurers based game.

Sunday, May 15, 2011


Zatoichi has provided the fuel for many an offshoot ranging from the blind swords pig to this movie, Ichi, the blind swordswoman. Where Zato was a blind masseuse who worked for the Yakuza, Ichi is a blind shamisen  player.

The clever bit here is Ichi is treated as the daughter of the original Ichi from the old series.  This is never mentioned directly. Instead, its tip toed around but its well done I thought.

For character motivation, Ichi has what I'd call a singular quest; to find her father. In role playing games, having an overall quest can be a good thing. In the manga Berserk, prior to being thrown into a much larger cosmic plot, Guts main motivation is to test his strength against strong fighters. It's not deep or anything, but much like Dragonball Z and Goku, it does leave him a lot of wiggle room in what can be done with the character in terms of an ongoing series.

For Ichi, the singular goal of finding her father would be difficult in a role playing game that was lengthy because either the Game Master is going to have to jerk the chain around a lot, or the father figure has to be found at some point. If the player is good at improvising and taking events in the campaign and incorporating those into character motivation, this can work well.

For example, a player is looking for his lost cousin and discovers that she died due to being caught in a city with the plague. What does the player do now? Depending on the circumstances that lead the character to leave home in the first place, either the character decides that he enjoys life on the road or retires.

In games like Champions and Mutants and Masterminds, as well as GURPS and perhaps Call of Cthulhu, putting a character to the side for a while isn't that big a deal. While there is a power curve to the first three of those games, it's not as steep as level based games. When that character's arc is done, move on to the next character.

However, depending on the motivation of the character and the events of the campaign, the character can be given different opportunities. Say that the plague in the city was caused by worshippers of Nurgle? Now the character has a reason to hunt down those individuals and fight those daemons. What if the cousin didn't die at all but was transformed into a Nurgle spawn? What if the aunt and uncle blame the character for not watching out for his cousin?

Singular motivations are useful tools to keep things in sharper focus than open ended motivations but remind the players to be ready to roll with the campaign when those arcs close.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Zatoichi The Blind Swordsman

Every now and again, I'll break out the old DVDs and watch some of Zatoichi, the Blind Swordsman. For those who are unfamiliar with him, there's a fairly decent article on the old Wiki.

In terms of pacing, at least during the first four movies, it has a lot of similarities to other movies where a showdown is coming. The first act introduces the major players. The second act sheds some light on their motivations. The third act brings in the glorious combat.

Like many other forms of media, even though it is older, Zatoichi continues to use some of the formulas that should be familiar to any fan of say, Dragonball Z. An introduction to the main character. He may be taken for helpless. He may have people who know his skills. An introduction to the villain. In many cases, some type of battle occurs to display just how powerful and dangerous this villain is. Then, some type of set up where the hero and villain must battle it out.

In my viewings of the first four movies, the continuity between the first two is strong, and while lighter in the third and fourth, still has elements that viewers can relate to.

For those who enjoy games build more around character and character interaction, Zatoichi provides a lot of opportunities.

For off, due to his Yakuza background, Ichi isn't quite a shining virtue of good deeds. His creed tends to be something similar to say, a player character in that he is loyal to those who are loyal to him. Class and creed mean something to him only when the people are living up to the ideals of that class.

For example, in the first movie, Ichi befriends a samurai. In this time period, samurai have a lot of status and for the most part, if any of them cross Ichi, he has no problems returning the favor. However, as this samurai is also of the humble nature, perhaps due to himself being an alcoholic or dying of consumption, the two get along and share a few drinks and discuss some philosophy.

However, they later duel to the death. This is a good study in character motivation. One of the most difficult things to arrange in some instances, is having two individuals who would normally be on the same side fight. Part of this may be due to alignment issues in games like Dungeons and Dragons. Ichi moves above this by having the samurai's motivation be simple, yet having some depth to it.

For one, he knows he's dying. His desire not to die at the hands of an unskilled yakuza thug is powerful. For another, he realizes Ichi's skill with a sword. Fighting the blind swordsman would be a duel worthy of him even were he not dying. Three, his own code, the 'honorable' thing, pushes him to it. See, the yakuza boss figures that the easiest way to take care of the blind swordsman is with a rifle. To the dying samurai, this goes against the principle of swordsmanship, so to save Ichi, he must fight Ichi.

Ichi's battles with others in the series sometimes have similar deeper connections. For example, in the second movie, he battles his brother, who initially appears to be a one armed samurai. As the movie progresses, we learn that no, like Ichi, he is not on the side of angles and is a thug with a wide array of crimes on his head. He hates Ichi for cutting his arm off while Ichi hates him for stealing his woman. When they fight, even though Ichi wounds his brother to death, Ichi allows no others near him, fighting off those coming for the bounty on his brother's head. This 'hands off' approach has been used in other media, like the anime Gun Grave. There, the main character fights to kill his best friend and when he finally has the chance, his best friend is himself on the lamb and the two join forces again.

In the third movie, Ichi is taken under wing by his mentor. But the depth of the characters here, generally mean that the mentor isn't what he seems. He's fallen on hard times and is a murderous fiend intent on advancing his clan. The sister of said mentor though wants a simple life and approaches Zatoichi about it and he agrees to leave his past life behind him.

The thing that is striking here, is that the continuity of the films, brings us a yakuza who wishes Ichi dead but upon seeing the blind swordman's love for this woman and his willingness to give up the life he lead, including an arm even, the Yakuza leaves him alone. Here we see a flip of the standards where a villain performs a good deed.

This allows the world to have more depth. If the players are not sure of the full consequences of their actions, they may pause and hesitate before killing those in places of power. They may need to ask for mercy from those they have wronged in the past. And if the GM wants the world to be more than just a hack fest, he should allow it.

Zatoichi and his mentor eventually come to blows due to his mentor's murderous ways and perhaps just as importantly, his mentor's attitude towards Zatoichi. Being a caste system, Ichi is impressive in his bladework, but what does that really mean? He can perform feats of sword skill, but that in and of itself isn't enough to change his status. When the opportunity is there for him to marry into Samurai, his mentor shuts him down. Not only is he a criminal, but he is blind. The swordskill he has is no insurance of raising status.

Zatoichi in the same rank as many adventurers. In the first movie, he notes that he learned his swordskills to showcase his strength to fellow Yakuza. For players, their abilities and powers, if they don't have the proper connections and ranking, may just make them more useful pawns to be moved about, regardless of what 'level' they are. Sure, they can lay independent siege to a castle and the king will be forever grateful, but hey, now that that's done, would you mind moving on?

On one hand, this allows the Game Master to keep pushing the players from place to place as they look for a place to settle down. On another, if it's a level based game where power increases occur over a short period of time, the players, depending on their mood and style of campaign being run, may soon wonder why they are NOT running the place.

The fourth movie pits Zatoichi against another samurai. This time, the samurai is the current love interest of one of Zato's old flames from the previous movies. The line of continuity allows the viewer to follow along if he's seen previous episodes and doesn't hinder the story greatly if you haven't. The interesting thing here, is that the samurai, like others in the series we've seen, is interested in the money. For you see, Zato has a bounty placed on his head.

The film starts with a bounty of like ten 'gold' pieces. A fair amount I supposed but by the end, due to treachery and manipulations of the Yakuza around him, the price is three hundred ryo. That's almost as much as Lone Wolf and Cub command per assassination.

The interesting thing in this episode, is how the Yakuza maneuver one of Zatoichi's allies into betraying him. With the start of the movie, the Yakuza would be assassin that Ichi kills is a member of the man Zato is allied with later. Because of the death of the Yakuza, by not taking action against the killer, Zatoichi, it proves that the leader is not worthy of having his territories. But going against Zato is in and of itself death. Hence, the three hundred ryo bounty on Zatoichi's head, placed there by a man whose life he saved several times.

This, the altering of circumstance, is another instance in where those who might otherwise be allies, become enemies. Sure, you and the Duke get along well, but hey, you remember those bandits you killed last week? Yeah, turns out they were nephews of the duke who were 'in disguise' as bandits to hunt down the real bandits and by killing them, you've made a laughing stock of the Duke. Yeah, you can help him, but it just makes him look weaker and all his political allies are moving away from a man who relies on outsides so much.

In addition to the characters, the land has its own personality. For example, there are times when Zatoichi complains about how hot it is. Others complain about how dirty he is and demand that he bath before seeing the important people. The land itself almost has a gritty feel to it. In some of the scenes, either through providence or careful planning, the cups and plates used have cracks and flaws in them.  It's an imperfect, harsh world where only a man's sword arm can provide any measure of safety.

Those looking for thieves to build in off beat cities, or for motivations for heroes fighting heroes, need look no further than Zatoichi, the Blind Swordsman

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Usagi Yojimbo: Glimpses of Death by Stan Sakai

While the previous graphic novel collections of Usagi, Travels With Jotaro and Fathers and Sons, builds on the continuity of the series, Glimpses of Death builds on what I'd call 'interlude' moments.

While Usagi does have a few brief adventurers here, much of the book also comes into play with other elements. For example, Jei and his unwilling victim remain in a state of contest for the body. This is another showcase of things that will continue to play out as the series progresses.

Another example of this is the hunt of Gen on Jei, who discovers that Stray Dog, another mercenary and bounty hunter, is also on the case. While the two don't find their quarry this trade, it sets up the events that will occur further down the road. Another 'glimpse' of what is to come in the future. Another interlude.

Usagi's old inspector friend meets a new nemesis; a robin hood style thief. Stan isn't afraid to borrow from the rich history of Japan and if Stan can do it, GMs everywhere should do it. Don't let a good idea for an NPC, building, monster, or magic item fall by the wayside because its already been done. Toss it into the game and see what happens. Trust me, if it sucks, your players will be more than happy to let you know.

Lady Tomoe suffers some politician setbacks when a new lord comes into contact with her master. Her Stan uses a mist to provide Tomoe with a flashback of what happened in an event that the political rival spins to make it look as if it were her family's fault that a critical battle was lost, even though Tomoe lives out the battle in the mist and knows the truth. These little glimpses into the past can be useful if you're playing in a political heavy campaign. The real trick in such situations, is how to prove the accusations false and bring the reality to light with naught but a spirit quest vision to do so from?

In some instances, people may wonder, what good are these interludes? What benefit do they bring to the game? Why should GM's or players want them in the campaign.


They add depth to character motivation while providing further details of how the setting itself works.

This isn't to say they are for every game. If you're heavy into dungeon crawls and see little use for the city or town outside of a potential place to spend loot, then having interludes where your characters learn that some outside religion is being persecuted, or that one lord is lying to another or that a skilled thief is on the lose, then no, those things would have no point.

But if in the course of the campaign you do learn of those things and they do match with what your groups interest is, then roll out the interludes.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Prince of Wolves by Dave Gross

I tend to enjoy fiction based around a pre-existing setting. Things like gaming novels ranging from the Forgotten Realms and Dragonlance to computer gaming novels ranging from Diablo and Halo, to well, novels that follow off of movies, like Star Wars. They generally fall under the old 'popcorn' reading. Light and sometimes informative and expanding the setting sometimes.

So when Borders was going out of business, I picked up Prince of Wolves by Dave Gross.  It's not the first paperback I've seen at $9.99, but it is one of the few fantasy ones. A trend I'm not looking forward to seeing continue mind you.

Dave has two heroes here, Varian Jeggare and Radovan. The former a half-elf wizard-noble, the later a thug tielfling. The two have a boss-bodyguard relationship that has many elements of friendship and evolves as the book continues.

The book is fair. It could be that I'm not that familiar with the Pathfinder setting yet, and there are no 'big' style characters here. No armored fighters, no 'wizardrly' spellcasters, etc... but another thing could be the use of second person. Varian talks about "and you and you and you" and that style of writing really pulls me out of the book. It's essentially addressing the reader and for me, serves no good purpose. I've seen it work well in a handful of times and this isn't one of them for me.

The one thing that did work for me though, is Varian is searching for one of his fellow Pathfinders. These individuals seek out lost or forgotten knowledge and bring it to light. When they find the pathfinder, she has passed. They bury her. It's an actual nice scene where the dead person is honored, the mood is sombre and serious, and things get back to the action.

In role playing games, often the role of death itself is overlooked in the hunt for bigger, badder treasures. But it doesn't have to be. Are there certain roles that religion plays? Do people prefer burial? Are members of the national military service buried somewhere else?

Adding little details like that doesn't require a lot of time and adds a different book end to the game.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Kingdom of Shadow by Richard A. Knaak

One of the things that prevents me from busting out with a Kindle or other e-reader, is the prices of the books. Some of them range from $7.99 to $9.99 or higher. To me, that's just a stupid pricing point that says, "Not for you."

There are benefits to the e-reader. Instant accessibility, accessibility to material out of print, and perhaps to me, most importantly, no physical book. There are huge drawbacks though. Is that technology going to be around for one, among others.

When I can go into Half-Priced books and wander through the dollar spinner rack and pick up a novel by one of several New York Times best sellers, like Richard A. Knaak, I'm not buying a Kindle to pay $7.99 for the same book. But that's just me.

Anyway, Kingdom of Shadow would make a pretty good D&D module with a few adjustments. There will be no directly call outs below, but expect spoilers. You have been warned.

The main characters are hunting down a jungle ruin that is empty, it's real presence only felt on the world once every X amount of years. The players are there just in time to view the city emerge into the world and manage to make it into the city and begin to interact with the ghosts and shades of this city, seeking to learn its mysteries.

The biggest problem in terms of the book, are a few, in terms of riffing ideas from it. One, while the book isn't short, the difference between game play and reading is huge. A story that takes four hundred pages, especially if it's a fairly straight forward tale like this, in terms of gaming, might be a night or two. Maybe three if you really padded it out.

Next, the core characters are stupid. Well, I shouldnt' say that. The author makes them stupid. It's not that they are unbelievably stupid mind you. I've spoken before of internal character conflict. Of putting something the players want in front of the characters and seeing how they react. However, its done here so ham fistedly, any players who did indeed fall for the lure wouldn't be able to overcome the lure as the fictional characters do.

Positive aspects?

The book keeps things moving.

The book keeps playing with base assumptions. This allows the players to hunt down the 'real' information and try and push aside numerous red herrings.

The book provides some nice snippets of world view through interaction with the characters. By talking about how the world sees necromancers, how they've developed their abilities in response to this, etc..., it allows a snippet of the setting to shine through.

The action is fast and flowing. One of the thing I dislike about some books, even by writers I really enjoy, is that hundreds of pages can move by with detailed backgrounds and side plots and other bits moving back and forth. Here, the combat is fast and furious ranging from natives of the jungle like 'tentacle beasts' and gargoyles, to various denizens of the undead world itself.

Kingdom of Shadow is a quick read that can be the foundation for a ruin exploration for GMs looking to snag some quick encounters and ideas.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Winter King by Bernard Cornwell

When many of the local Borders Bookstores closed, I managed to purchase many a book for low prices. Among those was The Winter King, recommended to me from a reader based off of another Bernard Cornwell book I had read.

The Winter King tells a far different tale of Arthur that I'm used to, much like the Hawk of May, but does so in a well written fashion, in first person, as a sort of historical account of Arthur.  While many of the themes are present, the greatness of Arthur, how Arthur wishes for a kingdom where the normal people who live there are unafraid, it also brings in many differences, such as Mordred being the true heir to the kingdom Arthur is fighting for not due to his relationship with Arthur, but his relationship with Uther, who has disowned Arthur. There are other differences but I'll leave those to people who read the book.

Below I'll be pulling some quotes out of the novel so spoilers will follow. Any page references in this instance are from the trade paperback.

"I had once escaped from a druid's death-pit. All Owain's men, like soldiers everywhere, were mightily superstitious. Every omen was considered and debated; every many carried a hare's foot or a lightning stone; and every action was ritualized, so that no man would pull on a right boot before a left or sharpen a spear in his own shadow." pg. 126

Sounds silly in some ways, but it's still a part of many soldier's every day routines today. The need to ritualize things is the effort to control them. When making a warrior, a character that relies on martial power or is otherwise expected to be in the thick of it, how does he try to control his destiny? Does he have a lucky talisman that he rubs? Does he have a certain gesture he makes before combat?

"We have a change- Arthur leaned on the high rampart as he spoke- to make a Dumnonia in which we can serve our people. We can't give them happiness, and I don't know how to guarantee a good harvest that will make them rich, but I do know that we can make them safe, and a safe man, a man who knows that his children will grow without being taken for slaves and his daughter's bride price won't be ruined by a soldier's rape, is a man more likely to be happy than a man living under the threat of war." pg. 144

When it comes to character motivation, sometimes warriors are easy to do. After all, the lure of battle itself should be enough to stir the blood! In Dragonball Z, the entire series is essentially a one up fight. However, after many volumes and episodes, even Vegita is like, "Uh, yeah, you're stronger, let's move on. I'm going home to be with my Earthling wife."

So what comes next? Many people believe in a better world. Many people would like to live in a better world. But the worldly warrior? He's willing to fight and kill for that better world, even when he doesn't want to. Even when he regrets the loss of life. He has a cause and a purpose that is more than his own life, it is the betterment of his people.

"There was no news of Merlin." pg. 164

Through most of the first half of the book, Merlin is a known, but missing entity. His presence or lack of it, is a powerful thing with its own omens and meanings. The desire to know where Merlin is propels much internal character motivation.

In a game, while this could easily be applied to any high powered spellcaster, such as a druid, wizard, or cleric, because after all, each of these entities at higher levels is a potential campaign changer, it could just as easily be applied to a dragon. "None know for certain where the golden scaled dragon Anbrosis is but he has been missing for three years so far... your mission is to hunt down his whereabouts and see if he still supports the Jade Throne or if his support has gone another way."

...he who initiated me into Mithras's service. Mithras was a God the Romans had brought to Britain and He must have liked our climate for He still has power. He is a solders' God and no women can be initiated into His mysteries." pg. 193

... I dressed and then  was given the secret words of the cult that would allow me to identify my comrades in battle. If I found I was fighting a fellow Mithraist I was enjoined to kill him swiftly, with mercy, and if such a man became my prisoner I was to do him honour." pg. 194

Being a warrior, or rogue, does not necessarily mean cleaving only to the metal that one wields or the allies one has. In the 'dark times' that most fantasy campaigns take place in, especially in those with clerics who are actual spellcasters, the lure of the gods is strong and most warriors will at least follow a patron deity, if not worship the whole pantheon  depending on the circumstances.

In addition to swearing by such deities, these cults often have their own little codes of conduct, as given example by the two requirements here when fighting fellow cultist.

My men had all stayed on the mainland and I wished I had brought them to see the wonders of the city: the carved gates; the steep stone stairs that plunged up and down the granite island between the temples and shops; the balconies houses decorated with urns of flowers; the statues; and the springs that poured clean fresh water into carved marble troughs where anyone could dip a pail or stoop to drink. pg. 215

Making cities distinctive from each other can be difficult. It can be even made easier though, if you know the short term plans for a city. It's easy to make a city, like Myth Drannor, into a thing of wonder, if you know its going to fall. So would go Ynys Trebes and so its grandeur is expanded upon and seen from a fresh set of eyes, perhaps made more magnificent than it would be to those who already lived there.

"In this small place, my dear fellow, is stored the wisdom of our world, gathered from its ruins and held in trust." pg. 219

"I'm saying the fight is lost, but yes, you're oath-bound by Arthur to fight, and every moment that Ynys Trebes lives is a moment of light in a dark world. I'm trying to persuade Father to send his library to Britain, but I think he'd rather cut his own heart out first." pg. 224

Most fantasy settings try to paint a setting where literacy is not taken for granted and knowledge is rare, but most fantasy settings tend to fail at that by making literacy rates higher than some countries have today. The arts of magic, seen in many mage schools, are also places of learning and hold vast stores of knowledge. But if you can portray to the group how rare something actually is, then its perceived value goes up dramatically. Its unique nature becomes easier to place.

"...when god made man He gave us a paradise in which to live, and it occurs to me that we have been losing that paradise, inch by inch, ever since. and soon, I think, it will be gone. Darkness descends.' He went silent for a while then sat up as his thoughts gave him a new energy. 'Just think of it,' he said, 'not a hundred years ago this land was peaceful. Men built great houses. We can't build like they did. I know Father has made a fine palace, but it's just broken pieces of old palaces cobbled together and patched with stone. We can't build like the Romans. We can't build as high, or as beautifully. We can't make roads, we can't make canals, we can't make aqueducts."... 'The Romans built whole cities...'places so vast... it would take a whole morning to walk from one side of the city to the other and all of your footsteps would fall on trimmed, dressed stone." pg. 227

What if the world really is ending? What if the world that the characters have come to inhabit, from the start, from the get go, is like the of the Dying Sun? That there are still miracles and still individuals of note, but as a society, or even as a species, that the bright star has passed and regardless of what happens on the morrow, or what treasures are reclaimed or what monsters slain, that it's all just a flickering torch holding back the darkness?

"I kill, I lust, I envy.' He was truly miserable, but then Galahad like Arthur, was a man who was for ever judging his own soul and finding it wanting and I never met such a man who was happy for long. pg. 228

Internal character conflict can be a powerful thing. Some games build elements within the game to stimulate this. Others rely on the GM and players hashing it out through actual game play. When characters are conflicted, they can be tempted. This doesn't necessarily have to be a monetary temptation, nor one of conquest, but rather, something that appeals to an inner need that may take the character out of the orbit of the rest of the party. A mage who searched for ultimate power who finds it probably isn't going to be travelling with the party for long. After all, he's got ultimate power, why would he travel with the party at this point? To do so, he would need to drop his ultimate power. What's a mage to do?

"take a bath... Stop staring at me...." these phrases come up a few times when other characters are talking about the narrator. They are catch phrases so to speak and while they are spoken to the character, and not by the character, such as more classic battle cries, it's an interesting way to describe characters. For example, if there is a wizard, perhaps every time he visit a guild, they give him  a pointy hat or every time he visits his mother she fixes him a certain dish that everyone anticipates.

Even you, Derfel Cadarn, do not need more enemies," Guinevere replied just as coldly, so I knew she would become my enemy if I blocked Lancelot's desires." pg. 281.

Character conflict in traditional Dungeons and Dragons often takes form through characters crawling through dungeons, killing things and taking their stuff.

But what if the character can't attack his foe directly? What if his foe is friends of the character's friends and to actually make that attack, even if not successful, winds up costing that character's allies?

"I hear you were in Ynys Trebes? pg. 315

Some battles and events are so large or epic or known, that just having been in one and surviving or having tales of it, will long shadow a character. Have the characters fought a siege? Have they lost a city to giants? Have they burned down a town that refused them tribute?

I was in Benoic. Agricola was right to hope that Merlin would come for an army without Druids was giving away an advantage to its enemy. pg. 338

One of the things that can be impossible to really work into the standard game settings that Dungeons and Dragons takes place in, is how magic would effect the setting. That line above though tends to work out a lot of it. Magic, or other unique entities or abilities, provide advantage against those who don't have them.

Galahad shook his head. 'He knows Arthur's an honest man.' he allowed, 'but Arthur's also an adventurer. he's landless, have you ever thought of that? He defends a reputation, not property. He holds the rank because of Mordred's age, not through his own birth. For Arthur to succeed he must be bolder than other men, but Tewdric doesn't want boldness right now. he wants security. He'll accept Gorfyddyd's offer.' He was silent for a while. 'Maybe our fate is to be wandering warriors,' he continued gloomily, 'deprived of land, and always being driven back towards the Western Sea by new enemies." pg. 370

One of the things that was fairly inherent in earlier editions of Dungeons and Dragons, was that characters could claim land, gather followers, and build legacies. 3rd and 4th edition moved so far away from this, that the real answer as to what 30th level character do hasn't really been answered, despite a few feeble attempts by WoTC in Scales of War and well, few if not other epic adventurers.

Previous editions didn't need 'epic' adventurers because there was already another type of end game build into it. Sure, if you wanted to keep fighting more and more powerful entities, it was possible. It was even easier to mix different power levels around because magic items and spells weren't quite so carefully balanced in the mix and lower level characters might have some fantastic magic items that they would NEVER have in standard 3rd and 4th edition games.

When thinking about higher level characters, think about how others see them. What do such characters do with their power and ability when they have no land or people to be loyal to?

The Winter King is a solid read if you're looking for dark ages action that is grimmer and more brutal than you can find in even the harshest D&D ficton line. Its characters have flaws but are often worth rooting for.