Features > Tell Me About Your Character > Terry O'Brien
 

Your name: Terry O'Brien
Location: Indiana
Age: 50
Sex: Male

Family: Two parents, two older brothers

Pets: None - I get my pet fix when I visit my parents, who have a dachshund named Suzie

Education: College graduate in Computer Science from a major Midwestern university

Hobbies/Activities: gaming (of course), reading and writing SF and fantasy, playing in the SCA

Community service: Volunteer camera and audio operator for local cable television access center for a variety of religious and public information programs

Just to test the stereotype - Have you ever lived, or are you currently living, in your parents' basement? Never. I lived in the same upstairs bedroom at my parent's from the time we moved in when I was in junior high to the time I moved out when I bought my own house twenty-some years ago.

What is your favorite way to spend a weekend? Lazing about the house, reading, surfing the Internet or watching TV.

What is the most frightening thing you've ever done? Discovering that I almost fell asleep driving.

Which of your accomplishments are you the most happy with? I worked several years at ITT Aerospace/Communications, which had the contract to deliver the optics for the new weather satellites being produced at the time. I was responsible for writing the software to test and validate the alignment of the sensors. Therefore, I am in some small way responsible for the weather pictures you see on the evening TV news.

What is your favorite word? It would have to be "felgercarb", that wonderfully vague swear word from the old Battlestar: Galactica TV series, especially the way Starbuck would say it, but recently I've been using "frel" from Farscape in its place.

How many languages do you speak? Of real-world languages, I learned Spanish way back in high school and can still do things like conjugate verbs and fight my way through some vocabulary. Of computer languages, I speak BASIC, FORTRAN, C, Pascal, SQL, Java, JavaScript and PHP.

What is your favorite time of year, and why? Late summer through early fall, when the temperature starts dropping but hasn't quite reached the point where something heavier that a jacket is necessary, and you can smell the scent of burning leaves in the air


What is your most prized physical possession? Many years ago at a Chicago Comic Con charity auction, a set of acetate cels from the Thundarr the Barbarian TV series were auctioned off. These weren't from the series, they were the scenes used before and after each commercial break. Each was autographed by Jack Kirby, the comics legend who worked for the animation studio at the time. My friends and I decided among ourselves which each wanted, and we all got the piece we bid on.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? My eyesight. I have had poor vision ever since childhood and wear thick glasses. I would wear contacts but for some reason that my doctor can't remedy, I can't. For a while I did, and I got used to being able to read the clock beside the bed without having to reach for my glasses, plus I could get up in the morning and see clearly immediately without having to put my glasses on. I haven't gone the laser eye surgery route yet because its too expensive and just the thought of something cutting into my eyes is quite disturbing.

Did you have any embarassing nicknames as a kid? Fuzzy. I have very curly hair.

What is your favorite section of the newspaper? The editorial and political section

Do you have a useless talent that no one else that you know can do? What is it? I can crack my knuckles on my index fingers just by flexing the joint, and make the same sound by flexing my wrists.

What are three things you can't live without? Information, friendship, and laughter.

If you could have one superpower, which power would you pick? Teleporation. I dislike wasted time, and many times, travel is just that. It would be so much handier if I could only wait until the last minute to arrive at my destination. It would also save on hotels.

What is your favorite mode of transportation? By automobile. That way I can be sure to carry everything I would expect to need without having to go through the hassles of airlines or trains.

What is one thing that you regret that you would go back and change if you could? Meet a number of people who died before I ever really knew about them, like Bruce Lee, Roddy McDowell and Myrna Loy.

What is the one thing you want to do before you die? Visit the places I've always wanted to see, like Stonehenge and New York City.

Tell us about your favorite RPG character that you've ever played. My favorite was and still is Brigid.

Originally she was the development of a character I had originally considered for a novel, who eventually became a Champions character. She had a lot of mystical powers, including shapeshifting and psychic powers, was decidedly Fae in appearance, and had a mysterious past. When the campaign died when I wasn't present (working out of town) I decided to continue the campaign in my head by figuring out what Brigid (code named Changeling) would have done to avenge the deaths of the rest of her team. Having the Disadvantage Code Against Killing, she came up with a novel means of stopping the main villain (a world-conqueror) and one of his henchmen by sending them through reincarnation without killing them, carrying them both as her own children.

It was soon after that I started wondering about the character and her powers, realizing that they all fit into the Amber Diceless system. So, I re-created her as an Amber character. Unfortunately, I didn't have a campaign to play her in.

That changed one Sunday afternoon, at the after-GenCon Amber party
that Erick would sometimes throw. There, I remarked that I was stuck on
a contract assignment in the middle of Wisconsin (in a little town named
Appleton) and was looking for an Amber campaign to get in to. Erick
pointed out a guy sitting by the window and said that he lived in
Wisconsin and ran an Amber campaign. I was amazed to discover that
the GM lived in the next little town over from Appleton (at least 6 small
towns are all jammed together in that area at the north end of Lake
Winnebago): I showed him the character of Brigid and he said that
she might fit in to the campaign.

It turned out that the players were spread out from there to Chicago, and met on alternate Saturdays in a community hall just across the border in Illinois. The next Saturday, I and the Wisconsin players all piled into a van and drove down. On the way, the GM introduced Brigid to Amber by having her discover another member of Amber in her Shadow, who discovered that she had Pattern potential and took her to Amber.

At the game that night, Brigid was introduced to the rest of the characters. One, in particular, was Ombra, Oberon's younger step-brother and Prince of the Unseelie Faerie. She also had a blood scan performed, and was told that she was Fae, which attracted Ombra's attention. It eventually came out that Brigid was the lost Seelie Princess, Ombra's exact opposite in most everything. And they got along fabulously.

This went on for several years, even after the GM moved back to Milkwakee, which meant I drove myself down to Illinois every other weekend just to play in an Amber game. (It also shows how dull Appleton was.) Then, when I moved back home to Fort Wayne, I tried to stay in touch as best as I could through email. One message about a critical event in the campaign eventually led to one of the most heartfelt moments in my roleplaying career.

Back in Milwaukee, the other players had been talking about what their characters knew, and suddenly realized that the BIG MENACE they had been warned about was just about on their doorstep. They (and only they) were the ones fated to prevent the universe as they knew it from being destroyed. They were successful, but my question to the GM was, what was Brigid doing when all this went down?

Since I wanted a little more immediacy, I called the GM instead of using email. He explained that Brigid was back in Faerie, mustering the troops for the defense of the universe, which only she could do, as both Fae and Amber. (Ombra was one of the fated ones, so he was unavailable.) Brigid had to become the gateway to take all of Faerie to the battle site. After taking almost all of Faerie into her heart, Brigid's father (whom she had met only a few times in her current incarnation) turned to her and gave her a cold iron blade, which, for a Fae, was a literal death sentence. At that point I choked up (literally!) I could feel Brigid's pain at having to kill her own father, even though she knew if she was successful, everything would turn out all right. But it was still a shock that required a few moments to recover from.

Once that was done, Brigid went to the battle site, where it was still being fought. She didn't have any pre-ordained role in the battle, so she made the same sacrifice the rest of Faerie did, transforming herself into her avatar form of the Phoenix and diving into the energy matrix that was all that was left of reality that two other characters were maintaining, in the hope that upon victory, it would be used recreate the universe. And when that was done, Faerie became a part of reality instead of being independent.

The campaign continued on, and I would go back up to Milwaukee a few times. Finally, the GM ran out of ideas and opponents to challenge us, and finished the campaign.

What are your favorite RPGs? I like RPGS where the system is created to let the character shine. That includes Amber Diceless RP, Hero/Champions, various forms of White Wolf games, among others. Anything where the rules take a backseat to the character generation and play.

I'm also a nut for games set in detailed worlds, like Runequest and Empire of the Petal Throne, because I'm a world-creator at heart, too, and I can appreciate the work that has gone into these worlds to make them come alive in such vibrant (metaphorical) colors.

What was your first RPG session like? It was back in the summer of 1975, when a friend of ours named Bill Gammel came over from Iowa to show us this strange new game called Dungeons & Dragons. We had met through the PLATO computer system, based out of the University of Illinois, which included computer games like Empire (a Star Trek strategic game), Airwar (air combat) and a number of fantasy RP games. It was through one of the fantasy RP games that we were introduced to Bill, who said that there were similar games we could play without needing a computer.

So, one Saturday afternoon, Bill arrived in the common area of Kettler Hall at Indiana-Purdue Fort Wayne to show this group of college students this game called Dungeons & Dragons. I don't remember much of the game itself, but it was enough to get another player to get all of the books and our own play group (with me first as GM) started soon after.

What was your WORST RPG session like? I usually don't try to remember bad experiences, but I do remember one because I wrote about it afterward.
It was at GenCon, back when it was still in Milwaukee. An event was listed as being a scenario for White Wolf's Vampire: the Masquerade setting, with player-generated characters.

The first problem was that the GM let more players in than the event called for, and more than he could possibly handle. Secondly, he let in a character from his home campaign, who knew much more about the scenario than the rest of us. Thirdly, that same character was a massive combat monster that pushed all the rest of the characters to the sidelines. Finally, the GM made several changes to the standard White Wolf campaign setting without forewarning us.

The whole thing quickly became a massive power-gaming trip, which was not what I was expecting at all, nor do I like as a roleplaying event.

Who is your all-time favorite person to game with? I would have to say the many people I've gamed with at Ambercon, which attracts the finest pure roleplayers I've ever met. That includes Erick, one of the most wicked gamemasters I've ever played with, the people in the GenCon Amber campaign mentioned in the Amber book (especially Felicia Baker, Carol Dodd, Michele Spainhour , Chuck Knakal, John Speck and Eric Snider), and others like Mike McKinnon, Simone Cooper, Scott "Stormy" Whitney, Chris King, Ben Ekdahl, Carrie and Lucas Amadio, Joe Saul and John Schippers.

And I have to give a shout to the players in Darrel Butler's Amber campaign in Milwaukee, many of whom were also Ambercon attendees.

 


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