"And so Glorthoc the Intimidator stumbled back from the barbarian Kalthira's mighty hammer blow, bleeding from the wounds inflicted upon him by the paladin Sir Frain's holy sword and the fighter Meluna's spear. He stumbles back into the traps laid by the kobold rogue Raast, which explode, dealing... roll it, Ren."
Ruby Rose was struggling to sound interested in the final moments of her current D&D campaign mostly because it was the same ending to her last three campaigns. Not only did her gaming friends play the exact same characters, but they also used the same tactics over and over with only tiny variations based on how she tried to counter them.
Five six-sided dice clattered across the table.
"Nineteen." Ren announced.
Ruby didn't bother checking Glorthac the Intimidator's hit points. She just wanted it over.
Because she had a plan for the next campaign. Things would be different. Things would be interesting. Things. Would. Be. Fun.
"Uh... Ruby?" Jaune asked, snapping her out of her reverie.
"Ren rolled his damage. Is Glorthac still up? You just sort of froze up with a sadistic grin on your face. You're not going to kill the whole party are you?"
Now that was an idea. Ruby considered it, but she was just too impatient to get her current trainwreck over with. "Nope. That's just enough. The alchemical fire trap goes off and shreds Glorthac's lower body. He collapses to the polished stone floor, his blood mixing with the soot and burning globs of alchemist's fire. The wold-be lord of the Dead Mountain lies in his ruin upon his own throne room floor. The world is safe once again."
"Whoo!" Nora bounced in her seat, doing a little victory dance. "We are awesome! High fives all around!" She leaned across the table, insisting on collecting said high fives from Ren, Jaune, and Pyrrha before stopping at Ruby. She held her hand up, but got no five.
She stared at Ruby, eyes gleaming with the eternal energy only Nora could possess.
Ruby stared back, sighed, then lazily touched her hand to Nora's, earning her a bright smile as the hyperactive girl flounced back into her seat. A sigh heaved from the depths of her weariness, now with guilt added. It wasn't her players' faults; not entirely. If they were in a rut, it was partly because she was in one too. Although no one ever complained, she'd started noticing that her campaigns had started being a bit... same-y and never lasted very long because she got bored of them for that very reason.
"Is... something wrong, Ruby?" Pyrrha was packing up her things, but had paused to give the younger girl a concerned look. Being the Freshman hanging out with a group of Juniors, Ruby was used to being treated with kid gloves by everyone, especially Pyrrha. She'd learned to live with that even if it seriously pissed her off sometimes.
Pinching the bridge of her nose, Ruby almost shook her head, but then changed her mind. Time to be honest and open with her friends. So instead, she nodded. "Guys... what have you thought of the past couple of games? Be honest?"
"They were fun!" Nora chirped, "I got to go crazy and break stuff like always!"
Jaune raised a confused brow. "I had a good time. It's nice to be the shining hero."
Pyrrha nodded in agreement. "I have no complaints, Ruby."
"But I'm guessing you do." Ren scrutinized Ruby with a keen eye as he neatly filed away Raast's character sheet in his binder of various rogues, thieves, footpads and skill classes from dozens of campaigns.
Another sigh. Ruby sat up straighter. "Okay, look: we're getting in a rut. All our games are basically the same these days. Jaune is always the nearest thing he can get to a Paladin even in Shadowrun and Vampire where that shouldn't even be possible; Pyrrha is always a Lawful Good Dex-fighter; Ren is the rogue and the only one who really even bothers using skills, and Nora..."
Nora grinned proudly, waiting to hear Ruby's assessment of her. Everyone at the table recalled Nora's litany of characters: a barbarian, a physical adept with a mass driver hammer, a fish-Malk who was for some reason heavy into strength and Brawl, and most memorably, a cleric of Thor—specced for melee with a hammer. She somehow managed to be varied and play the same basic character every time.
"...is Nora." Ruby finished with a little cough. She squeaked a little when she noticed the uncomfortable and somehow shamed looks the others (aside from Nora were giving her. "Look, it isn't just you guys. I've gotten... comfortable in my tropes too. Always a quest to stop some bad dude destroying the world, never any real, y'know... back story or personal hooks for your characters to keep you engaged."
"But..." Pyrrha spoke up with some hesitation, which amused Ruby greatly. Probably the most physically imposing person she knew that wasn't her sister and yet on game nights, Pyrrha seemed to deffer completely and utterly to Ruby's authority as Gamemaster. This pleased her; if only Yang would do that... "Isn't the whole point of an RPG playing what we want?"
Ruby bit her lip. Well she had her there. "Uh, yeah, but are the characters you guys always play the only kind of thing you want to try? Infinite possibilities, here people! Pyrrha, you don't always have to be a goodie-good: haven't you ever wanted to be the bad guy? Jaune, why not let someone else be the hero sometime and be support or a skill monkey? Ren, don't you ever get tired of everyone else crutching on the fact that you're the only one who uses skills? And Nora..."
Looking into those glimmering, mischievous eyes, she knew she had at least one lost cause already. "...You're just going to do whatever you want no matter what, aren't you?"
"Yep!" Nora said with a cheerful grin.
"Right..." Ruby hung her head. "Anyway, I was thinking that starting next week, we start fresh. You know, really shake things up!" She reached into the pile of books lying on the floor by her chair and held one out. "And that's why I bought this: a brand new campaign setting with a tweaked rule set! And oh yes," she drew out the 's' as she pointed at Jaune and Nora, "There's no Paladins and no Barbarians!"
Pyrrha regarded the book with a hint of familiarity. "I think I've heard of this. This is the system that gives mundane combat-based classes techniques to keep them on par with spellcasters isn't it? I saw a playtest sample online with some really impressive abilities for polearms..."
"No." Ruby said firmly. She got up and leaned across the table to lightly tap her fellow redhead atop the head with the book. "Bad Pyrrha. No polearm users. In fact, I forbid you from playing a melee class at all." She say Ren's lips twitch out of the corner of her eye, "And you: nothing with more than four skill points a level."
"Every class in this system has six or more." Pyrrha said, pouting a little at having her go-to class of choice forbidden to her.
"Then no more than six!" Ruby corrected. "Oh, and backgrounds. I want all of your characters to have a back story that doesn't have something to do with the main bad guy killing their family or something!" She stood tall at the head of the table, back straight as she lifted her book aloft and pointed to the heavens with all due drama. "This game will be new! This game will be different! This game will be AWESOME!"
In her head, a flag bearing a D20 on it dropped down behind her and fireworks went off as a roar of applause crashed over her. In reality, her friends just stared at her until she came down off her power trip, grinning sheepishly. "Um... so is next Friday okay for everyone?"
About twenty minutes of haggling over schedules and small talk later found Jaune and Pyrrha walking up the street toward Jaune's car. The pair had been next door neighbors since before they could walk, friends for nearly as long, and Pyrrha's parents refused to get her a car, so Jaune was her ride almost everywhere. It was less of a burden than most would think because aside from track and field practice for one and academic team and drama events for the other, they were essentially inseparable.
The night had just the first hints of the approaching chill of autumn and the sky was painted with the dying colors of a sunset that was coming a little bit earlier each day.
"So..." Jaune said, looking a bit perturbed, "What do you think of Ruby's new 'marching orders' for us? Got any ideas for a character yet?"
Pyrrha took the time to zip up the light jacket she was wearing. "I actually think it's a good idea. We have become a bit set in our ways, don't you think?"
He shot her a mildly betrayed look. "Seriously? But I love playing Paladins."
"Maybe you'll like playing something else just this once?" she offered.
"Like what?" he pouted.
Pyrrha shrugged. "I'm not going to tell you what to play... but I will tell you what I'm considering: a sorceress."
"A magic-user? Really?" They'd been gaming since Junior High, before they even knew Ruby and Pyrrha never played any sort of mage class unless that was literally the only choice the system allowed. Even when they were little kids play-acting, any stick she picked up was guaranteed to be a sword or spear, never a wand or staff.
"Ruby did ask us to play against type. She also asked me not to be so nice with this character, so I'm considering an evil sorceress." Pyrrha squared her shoulders upon announcing that, looking quiet pleased with herself.
They had reached Jaune's car, an ancient Mustang from a model year that most high school 'car guys' wouldn't even recognize as one. They certainly wouldn't accept the vehicle that had been handed down from one Arc child to the next as they went off to college with only sporadic tender loving care as one. The paint job was interrupted with alarming regularity by rust, when it started, it did a very good impression of an old man with pneumonia, and the rear of the vehicle was encrusted with five Arc sisters worth of bumper stickers, and decals plus Jaune's 'I Don't Road Rage, I Shift To Crinos', Roll For Initiative, Monkey Boy', and 'My Other Car Is An Epic Mount' additions to that collection.
He paused in the middle of unlocking the passenger door for her to give her an odd look. "Suddenly, my world doesn't make sense any more."
Pyrrha socked him in the shoulder as she opened the door for herself and climbed inside. "It's just one campaign, an it sounds like it will be interesting." She waited until he ran around to the other side and got in to continue, "I was also thinking about a back story and I was wondering: what would you think about our characters knowing one another? Maybe they've had adventures together before?"
The car grunted, groaned and wheezed to life while Jaune gave the idea some thought. "Yeah, that sound cool. Though I don't know if I can come up with a character who would adventure with an evil sorceress."
"We have all weekend to think of something, I suppose." Pyrrha tapped her chin with a single, long finger. "I guess there's nothing I could do to convince you to be evil as well, would it?"
Jaune made a face at her. "I'm going to be going through holy smite withdrawals as it is. You're going to be lucky to get me to not play Lawful Good."
"Too bad," Pyrrha mused, turning to look out the window at the scenery going by, "We could have been a Fantasy Bonnie and Clyde. You know there are guns in this setting, right?"
He let out a dramatic, mock gasp. "A gun-slinging, evil sorceress? I don't even know you any more." They shared a laugh as they headed for home."
"You really don't have to wait for the bus with me." Ren said.
Nora had been sitting on the bench beside him, rocking and bopping along to a little song she was humming. When she heard this, she rounded on him with horror in her eyes. "But Ren, this is a bad part of town!" She gestured around at the well-lit street lined with ranch-style homes with manicured lawns and cute little flower gardens. "What if you run into a gang? What if they kidnap you and drag you back to their base and they say 'join our gang or we'll kill you' and then you join and get tattoos and we never see you again because you've risen through the ranks and become some cartel boss in Mexico?!"
He gave her a deadpan stare. "Nora?"
"Yes?" she drew out the word with a sweet smile.
"That was the movie you Netflix'd Monday night."
"Oh." she calmed down for the space of a breath, "But what if it was a documentary!?"
Ren squeezed his eyes shut. He knew what she was trying to do: convince him to let her drive him home in her brand new pink minivan. And he would have gladly accepted the ride if not for the fact that it would have taken her miles out of her way. As much as he enjoyed Nora's affection and loyalty, he wasn't about to take advantage of it for his own gain and her detriment.
So instead, he changed the subject. "So... have any idea what you're going to play in Ruby's new campaign?"
She shook her head. "I don't know! It's a new system and there's sooo many options. Also, Ruby was wrong: there is a barbarian, it's just that you have to take Rage feats. But that means you can be a barbarian rogue or wizard or something. Oh my goodness, I could be a wizard who rages to cast her spells!" Then she frowned, "Only Ruby wouldn't like that. We're supposed to be something different. Maybe I could be a bard! Like a really happy bard whose specialty is throwing parties! Did you know there's a god in this setting whose whole thing is getting people drunk and throwing parties? Maybe I can get some kind of magic item that lets me just make decorations and refreshments appear!"
All that was said on one breath, after which Nora had to stop for a gasping inhale... at which point she dropped back onto the bench beside Ren and regarded him with wide eyes. "So what are you going to be playing?"
Ren stroked his chin. "That's a good question. I don't think Ruby knows how, well... screwed we are as a group if I don't play a skilled character. We simply can't trust either Jaune or Pyrrha to do any kind of dirty work and without that. My only real recourse is to play something so utterly powerful and broken that I can carry the whole party on my back by brute force if need be. The new system is still D&D-based, right?"
"Cleric it is, then."