Thursday, July 31, 2014

A Deliberate Embrace of Savage Worlds


An obvious choice

One of the major issues with RPGs is that it can take a lot of time to play one. Most of my campaigns have run on a weekly to biweekly schedule with roughly six hour sessions as the plan. This worked well enough until 4E became the main game and it became tough to get through more than 2 combat encounters in a session. Now in general it's worth it if you want a very tactical flavor to your combat but it definitely slows down what you can do in each session if you're used to things moving somewhat faster. This also ruled it out as weeknight game as even a 6-10pm session is really only going to allow for one to two fights maybe, at least the way we played.

Now with jobs and kids a weeknight game is hard to do anyway so this wasn't a huge loss but when the kids want to play something on a weeknight, well, 4E is probably not my first choice. Pathfinder is faster, but I'm already running that and with the suspended 4E campaign lurking in the background I'm not sure how much more dungeony-stuff we all need. M&M does alright, and ICONS does things even more quickly but we haven't been in as much of a superhero mood lately.  ICONS is great for one-off runs so I'm sure it will return but at the moment it's not really on the radar.

Think I can sell this one to them but we will see

What does play fast, has enough crunch to satisfy us all, and is very well supported, is Savage Worlds. With a variety of settings, fairly simple rules, interesting mechanics, and some nicely done small adventures and plot point campaigns it's tailor-made for running a "smaller" game. I think the campaigns could be as epic as anything else we've done but they seem to fit into the available chunks much easier than a lot of games.

So we're going to try it.

Now I've been a fan of the game for a long time and I've run a fair amount of it but most of it has been scattered across the years with a session or two here and there. This time I have talked to the apprentices and we'll be making a conscious effort to use it for our home games, especially on the weeknights.  

A one-sentence description drew a lot of interest in this one
So far I've been asked for Deadlands, "Pirates", and "that Van Helsing Monster Hunter game" (Rippers)  so there is definite interest in the options. With Red heading off to college in a few weeks things are going to be different around here but I'm sure he will come back occasionally.

Note: This is totally NOT 40K
So as we break out the cards and dice I'll post the results up here. Hopefully one of them takes hold enough to turn into an ongoing campaign but I'm not going to force anything just yet. I'm going to see what they ask to play once we have a few sessions under our belts and go with the flow. Deadlands is first on the list and then we will work our way into some others.

...and this is totally NOT Conan

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Overreaction Wednesday - 5E Positivity!



Here's a link to an interview with Mike Mearls. The first section is what really interested me, where he is asked about making the rules available for free:

By sharing the rules, we’re making it easier than ever for people to get into D&D. For way too long the rules have been a deterrent. So, it’s really about focusing on what’s important – campaigns and adventures – and selling that, while removing barriers to entry.

Wow! That is 180 degrees from everything I have ever heard from TSR or WOTC and from what most other RPG companies have done, with one or two exceptions! It very clearly is what Paizo is doing, and I think it's been noticed over at the Wizards place. Now granted, the rules were somewhat freely available with 3E and the SRD, but that was not quite as user-friendly as the new PDF so I'll take that this is a new attitude. There is more:

As far as worrying about sales goes, we’re definitely approaching the business in a different way. In the past, the way to make the business work was to release more and more RPG books. In reviewing sales records, it’s pretty clear that after a few expansions people simply stop buying and many even stop playing.

This works for smaller companies, mainly because they can't release books all that often. I admit that I got that drinking-from-a-firehose feeling with 4E because there was a book every month for a while. That's a lot to keep up with when you like other games too.

Could you imagine trying to keep up with a boardgame if a new expansion or three came out for it every month?

Imagine it? I've lived it, back when Warhammer Fantasy & 40K were well-supported in White Dwarf it was a must-have to get all the rules expansions and new units. 40K has been on quite the run for the last two years as well with some kind of new book or PDF coming out about every month. I will happily take a slower-paced release schedule, especially for an RPG.

In hindsight, it’s actually a fairly obvious move. Let’s say you buy the three core rulebooks and then the two volumes of the Tyranny of Dragons campaign. That gives you everything you need for the next 6 to 12 months of gaming. Do I really have much of a chance to sell you more RPG stuff during that time? Why fight that battle?

Hallelujah! They finally get  it! "Support" does not require a new book every month!

...I think in the past D&D relied way too much on a volume strategy, where we did so much stuff that it was hard for people to get excited about any one thing. Book after book came out each month, far faster than anyone could absorb it all.

Our philosophy now is to make everything count. If we release a new super adventure, like Tyranny of Dragons, or a new rules expansion, we want it to be an event. When you add stuff to an RPG, you’re asking all the DMs out there to evaluate their campaigns, learn new options, and then try to implement them. You have to be very careful in how you add things to the game, and very deliberate in making those additions exciting and compelling.


My dream would be a world where new expansions are real events, where people are seeing exciting new ideas and concepts for the game.

So Paizo is the obvious model here: Rulebooks 3-4 times a year, some kind of small setting supplement every month, and an adventure every month. Campaigns/settings/adventures as the focus instead of rules mechanics. I really really like this approach.

The only other company I can think of that's taking a similar philosophy is Pinnacle with Savage Worlds. For quite a while now the rules have been available for $10 in book or PDF form and the emphasis is on adventures and campaign settings rather than rules expansions. It seems to work alright for them. 


This is what's being said now and I wonder how it will hold up and what we'll be seeing in 2015-2016 as sales numbers start to become real. Perhaps those last two years of not selling a whole lot of books tempered the expectations to more tolerable levels. 

I also wonder if this change means we might see more support for old campaign settings. We know the Realms are going to be a focus for this first wave. Maybe Greyhawk gets some love? Maybe Birthright? Planescape seems like a pretty rich vein to mine for adventures and campaign material. One or two setting "events" per year and it could be a really nice run if this course holds.  

Will I be running it? Not anytime soon, at least as far as a campaign goes. we have a pretty full plate here with Pathfinder, a potential 4E continuation (someday!), and whatever games we can fit in on the side. But I am more interested now than I was, and I would not be opposed to playing it either.

This is about as positive as I have felt about 5th in a long time. I'm looking forward to what comes next.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Retro Post: My First TSR Catalog


With all of the new stuff on the way from Gen Con I thought I would share something old that I came across recently. This is the TSR catalog from my first Basic Set back about 1979-1980.


I was a little surprised that it was still intact as it's thin paper and it's been through a bunch of moves and a fire years ago.


You can see some of the staining from the fire even after I've tried to clean it up a little bit. About the only other company putting out games on this scale was Avalon Hill, another big name that's no longer around.


 Now I was thinking this was from 1979 but the inclusion of Top Secret in the page above complicates the timing as TS was a 1980 release. It's not in the big picture on page 2 but it is in this one which makes me think it was brand new or about to be released, which could push this back to 79 again. That aside, those were some pretty evocative covers at the time. Gamma World especially spoke to me. I'm sure they look amateurish to newer eyes but when they were new I thought they were cool.





This is the big center-spread of the booklet. So much D&D! By the late 80's I had copies of everything on these pages and had played or run all of these original adventures but it seemed like it took forever to get there. This page also leads to some uncertainty - Top Secret was a 1980 release but so was Deities and Demigods and it's nowhere to be found - surely the next big D&D book would be here if it was close to ready.


I have some experience with Dungeon and Awful Green Things - and The Dragon -  but I never laid hands on the other 3 board games on the page. That cover to Warlocks and Warriors is interesting though.


When I started playing I had no idea what "Lankhmar" was about (I was 10 after all) but that Knights of Camelot and Divine Right looked really cool. Fight in the Skies did too but in a different way. I never saw any of them played in person but I did see a Dawn Patrol game (spiritual successor to FITS) at a convention years later. It was done with miniature biplanes and looked really good.



I always felt like I should have picked up a copy of Chainmail and Swords and Spells - roots of the game and all - but I never did. I just never saw them in stores back then. I am also pretty sure we never got that promised version of Metamorphosis Alpha. Well, at least not in the next couple of decades.

There it is - a bit of nostalgia before the Next Big Thing hits in a few weeks.

Friday, July 25, 2014

40K Friday - Return to Tranicos: Against the Stompa!



Back in early 2013 I came up with a loose background for what I thought would be an ongoing series of 40K games. As it turned out we played a few and then it fizzled out. The two I did write up are here and here. The idea was to do an escalation-type series of battles with more points each week to give us time (and incentive) to get stuff painted. It didn't stick and so we have just been playing one-off battles for the last year and a half.

The new edition of the rules stirred things back up for us, and the new Ork Codex added to the frenzy. Apprentice Red decided that he needed a Stompa since they are now in the codex so he ordered one and built it over two days. Then of course he needed to try it out. It just so happened that I had a day off from work and Apprentice Blaster was around too so on a rainy Thursday we returned to the disputed planet of Tranicos where the Crimson Fists are trying to reclaim what was once theirs. Clearly the campaign has had mixed results at best as some ork has had enough time to build a stompa, but it's time to fix that problem.

This was 3000 points per side, one of our bigger battles. Red fielded the Ork army (including one Stompa!) and Blaster and I combined his Space Wolves and my Crimson Fists at 1500 each.

The only annoying thing here is that I have been focused on my Chaos Space Marine force for 2014 trying to get it organized and painted up and as complete as any 40K army can be. I haven't looked at a loyalist marine codex in quite a while, yet that's what I was going to have to play to make any sense of this. I briefly considered deploying the Deathwing, but a) it's hard to make a DW army at 1500 that I like as part of a combined arms force and b)  I figured 20 terminators might get swallowed up too easily in a 3000 point ork army. The Crimson Fists made a lot more sense. My final force is below:

Crimson Fists1500 Pts  -   Space Marines:  Imperial Fists Army

1 Pedro Kantor (HQ) @ 185 Pts
     Warlord Trait: Iron Resolve; #Iron Halo; #Dorn's Arrow; Power Armour;Power Fist; Frag Grenades; Krak Grenades; Warlord

1 Librarian (HQ) @ 90 Pts
     Infantry; (character); ATSKNF; Chapter Tactics; Independent Character;Psyker (Mastery Level 2); #Psychic Hood; Power Armour; Force Weapon; FragGrenades; Krak Grenades; Bolt Pistol

9 Tactical Squad (Troops) @ 235 Pts
     Infantry; ATSKNF; Chapter Tactics; Combat Squads; Combat Squads; Power Armour; Bolt Pistol (x9); Bolter (x7); Multi-Melta; Flamer; Frag Grenades;Krak Grenades

     1 Veteran Sergeant @ [59] Pts
          (character); Frag Grenades; Krak Grenades; Power Fist (x1);Combi-Flamer (x1)

     1 Rhino @ [35] Pts
          Vehicle (Tank, Transport); Capacity: 10; Fire Points: 2; Access Points: 3; Repair; #Searchlight; #Smoke Launchers; Storm Bolter

9 Tactical Squad (Troops) @ 210 Pts
     Infantry; ATSKNF; Chapter Tactics; Combat Squads; Combat Squads; Power Armour; Bolt Pistol (x9); Bolter (x7); Missile Launcher; Flamer; Frag Grenades; Krak Grenades

     1 Veteran Sergeant @ [29] Pts
          (character); Melta Bombs; Frag Grenades; Krak Grenades

     1 Rhino @ [35] Pts
          Vehicle (Tank, Transport); Capacity: 10; Fire Points: 2; Access Points: 3; Repair; #Searchlight; #Smoke Launchers; Storm Bolter

9 Tactical Squad (Troops) @ 210 Pts
     Infantry; ATSKNF; Chapter Tactics; Combat Squads; Combat Squads; Power Armour; Bolt Pistol (x9); Bolter (x7); Missile Launcher; Flamer; Frag Grenades; Krak Grenades

     1 Veteran Sergeant @ [29] Pts
          (character); Melta Bombs; Bolt Pistol; Bolter; Frag Grenades; Krak Grenades

     1 Rhino @ [35] Pts
          Vehicle (Tank, Transport); Capacity: 10; Fire Points: 2; Access Points: 3; Repair; #Searchlight; #Smoke Launchers; Storm Bolter

1 Predator (Heavy Support) @ 115 Pts
     #Searchlight; #Smoke Launchers; 2 Sponson Lascannon; Turret Autocannon

1 Predator (Heavy Support) @ 140 Pts
     #Searchlight; #Smoke Launchers; 2 Sponson Lascannon; Turret TL Lascannons

5 Devastator Squad (Heavy Support) @ 144 Pts
     Power Armour; Bolt Pistol (x5); Bolter (x1); Missile Launcher (x4); Frag Grenades; Krak Grenades

     1 Space Marine Sergeant @ [14] Pts
          (character); #Signum; Bolt Pistol; Bolter; Frag Grenades; Krak Grenades

0 Land Speeder Squadron (Fast Attack) @ 170 Pts

     1 Land Speeder Typhoon @ [85] Pts
          Multi-Melta; Typhoon Missile Launcher

     1 Land Speeder Typhoon #1 @ [85] Pts
          Multi-Melta; Typhoon Missile Launcher

Models in Army: 45

Total Army Cost: 1499

Blaster took his usual core of 15 Blood Claws + Wolf Priest in a Land Raider Crusader, plus Long Fangs, plus a unit of Grey Hunters, some bikers, and a triple-lascanon predator. He also had a squad of Grey hunters and a Multi-Melta Dreadnought in drop pods. 

Red took the Stompa, a unit of 10 nob bikers (his other new favorite toy), 10 burnas in a trukk, 20 boys on foot with a big mek w/KFF, 20 more boys with a weirdboy (in the stompa), 10 nobs on foot with the warboss, a flyer, a big unit of deffkoptas, and 15 lootas with a mek with the Shokk Attack Gun. He went unbound for this one, our first experiment with that. I suspect he could have fit this into a normal set of force orgs but he went the other direction.


We ended up with lots of heavy stuff on the right side, less on the left. We all wanted to use the Maelstrom Missions so we went with the "hand of 3" type and started the game. Red had first turn.

Turn 1
On the left there was some movement, but not a lot of firing.


Our goal was to secure the bridge objective then head across to take the other objective in the woods. Between the Long Fangs, Predator, and speeders we had lots of firepower but only one tactical squad to maneuver so we were going to have to be cautious here. Red's foot nobs moved up to take the woods objective.

In the center the LRC moved up to block the truck and the foot boyz from coming between the storage tank and the river. This would drive them towards our heavier concentration on the right. That's pretty much what happened.

Pedro and the boys hang out in their rhinos as the fight begins
 
Over on the far right Blaster decided to bubble-wrap my rhinos with his bikes - actually I think he was just hugging the cover but it was funny. With the Stompa, and nob bikers rapidly advancing covered by the lootas this was going to get ugly quick. We had a lot of trouble sorting out who was going to move where on this side and it never really sorted out in the early turns.

Red managed to blow a side lascannon off of the wolf predator, and strip a hull point off of the fist predator. We blasted 3 hull points off of the stompa and that was about it for turn 1.

Score: Orks 0, Marines 2 (first blood, #55 psych warfare (making a psych test)

Turn 2
 On the right: 

The nob warbikers come roaring in and kill a few more grey hunters. The deffkoptas move up. The foot boys and the trukk burnas swing around the storage tank hotly pursued by the LRC full of blood claws. 


The Lootas kill my predator, the stompa shoots up some stuff and it's generally unpleasant for us but manageable. Then we get to shoot and the nob warbikers take fire from all over the board - both remaining predators, the devastators, the grey hunters, the wolf bikers, and more. The Wolf bikers charge what's left, wiping them out - ten nob bikers dead by turn 2!

On the left: 

The foot nobz claim the objective and the ork fighta-bomma flies on.

Everything the orks have shoots at the pair of land speeders. One dies, but the second defies all attempts and lives on with a single hull point. The fight for the wooded objective is shaping up to be pretty nasty. The rhino moves up and deploys the squad while the speeder screams over to support.

Score: Orks 1 (#53 killing units, he almost had 3 of them for a D3 VP's), Marines 2 ( #31 Obj #1, 26 Obj #6 ) Totals = Orks 1- Marines 4



Turn 3

On the right: 
Everything moves up. The stompa is getting very close to our back objective in the woods and he has a lot of help on the way, plus the lootas are blasting stuff pretty handily. The fists are forced to deploy from their rhinos to ensure we don't lose this one, instead of zooming across the table to take one from the orks. It's a traffic jam in our backfield, despite ork efforts to help clear things up.

End of Ork Turn 3

Behind the storage tank the Crusader moves up and unleashes the blood claws on the foot boys with the KFF 

The poor wolf bikers, left out in the open after crushing their ork opponents, are gunned down mercilessly by the greenskins. In something of a repeat of last turn, the deffkoptas are targeted by multiple units, thinned,  then charged by the grey hunter squad and defeated. They flee back towards the ork backfield. The burna trukk is blown up and the surviving burnas spill out. 

In Orbit: 
Apprentice Blaster realizes he has two drop pods waiting to come on and manages to bring in the one full of grey hunters. Following the plan he drops them nearly on top of the Lootas. They emerge from the pod and with flamer and bolter do a number on the ork heavy weapons specialists. This solves a lot of problems.
The drop pod is borrowed from my old Howling Griffons army.
It's a relic from the time before, as in "the time before there was an official drop pod".
(End of Marine Turn 3) 

On the left

There's not a lot of movement.

The orks take a few more shots at the speeder and kill one tac marine. The ork plane drops a big bomb on bridge, killing two marines and causing them to flee the objective.

The stompa, seeing exposed marines, launches one of his big stupid rockets of doom and lands it perfectly - Str 8 AP 3, no cover save, large blast. Instead of nine marines I now have one. It is the one with the missile launcher, but he's no longer an objective-taking force - he's going to sit there and fire missiles as long as he can.

Massed fire has slowly cut the ork nobz down to the warboss and one nob. There aren't many bodies left over here.

Score: Orks 0, Marines 3 ( #56 Harness the warp (casting a power) Obj #1, 24 & 34 Obj #4 ) Totals = Orks 1- Marines 7

Turn 4
There is a general feeling that this is the headed for the finale. We've whittled the stompa down to about half of his hull points but the thing is right up on our main group of units right and something is going to have to give.

On the right:
The Stompa deploys his passenger boys mob (and weirdboy). shoots the grey hunters off the table, and moves to assault the Crimson Fists who are now in the wood.  This squad is lead by the librarian and has the multi-melta so I need it to live. Fortunately the librarian manged to cast invisibility on them on the previous turn. This helps keep them safe although the Stomp attack does not roll to hit and so does not care if you're invisible or not. The marines take a couple of casualties but hold.

(Unfortunately this means the stompa is locked in combat with them and we cannot shoot him! I'm sure there's a rule somewhere but we couldn't find it and what we did find had no special exception for super-heavy walkers  that keeps them from being locked up so that's how we played it. This was worrisome because in melee i have one sergeant with a powerfist that has a chance of hurting the thing and that's all. With no lascannon/missile launcher/multi-melta help he's probably not going down.)

The blood claws, having won their fight, load back up into the Crusader and rumble towards the main arena. The Grey Hunters blow away the remaining deffkoptas and take the ruins objective while their drop pod claims the hill objective which are both now free of orks.

On the left - things pretty much stay as-is. We did manage to gun down the warboss as he was all by his lonesome. Regardless, this fight will be decided on the right.

Score: Orks 1 ( #56 Harness the warp (casting a power), Marines 7 ( Slay the Warlord, #44 Ascendancy (control multiple objectives - gave us 2 points ) 52 blood and guts for killing a unit, 53 no prisoners for killing multiple units gave us 3) Totals = Orks 2- Marines 14

End of Ork Turn 5

Turn 5

The ork plane bombs my devastators but we only lose one.

The stompa pounds on the invisible marines some more, stomps a couple and they break! Hallelujah! They run back a bit but not far.

Pedro Kantor takes a charge (with 5 tac marines) from the boyz behind the stompa and wins the fight, barely - but the orks stay put. On the marine turn, Kanto's squad gets the invisibility.

The last drop pod slams down behind the Stompa and a dreadnought with a multi-melta steps out.

As the marine shooting phase begins the big target is the smoking stompa. He takes lascannon fire from the predator, and multi melta shots from the Crusader, the tac squad, and the dreadnought and explodes! Fortunately most of the blast goes upwards and only a few of the foot orks and the drop pod are hit.

End of the line for the Stompa and the rest of the ork army

We called it here as he had a couple of boyz a weirdboy, and a plane left on the table and was losing pretty badly in VP's.  It was a great game, we spent probably six hours playing it, and though Red felt a little bad he still had a lot of fun too.

Parting Thoughts:

  • The Stompa is extremely nasty. There's a reason it's 800 points. I think he would have been better off loading it up with his nobz foot mob instead of the boys. He could have moved up, dropped them out, then charged into the land raider and the hunters on the ruin objective to try and change things up. 
  • He set his lootas up in the open and that was bad. Even then they were fine until the drop pod landed as we had bigger targets to worry about with the bikers and the big guy moving up on us. 
  • You have to play to the cards. Red and Blaster are both learning this. We had two cards for objective #4 by Turn 3 and Blaster wanted to discard them as it was "too hard". We didn't, and  a turn later we scored both of them because we sent a unit after it. The cards are supposed to represent incoming orders and that's exactly how to play them - look at card, then do what it says on this turn, or set it up so you can achieve that goal next turn. It's not always going to be easy and it may cost you a unit, but that's how you win! There are no VP's for units left on the table sitting in safety at the end of the game. Red had cards for killing our leader (Pedro) and a psyker (my librarian) and he would have gotten Slay the Warlord as well and he was right there on them at the end of the game, he just ran out of time, so he was almost there.   
Hopefully we will get the chance to do another of these big battles before summer is over and schedules get complicated again.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Distraction of the Week - Deadlands!



I talked to the boys about working in some RPG time beside our miniatures and boardgames and asked what they were interested in. There are always superhero options but this time Shadowrun and Deadlands both came up big. Something with magic and guns both that's not strictly superheroic was mentioned in the conversation.  I still like Shadowrun but I've been thinking about doing some more Savage Worlds and decided it was a better fit for now.

I've had the game for years and only run a few sessions. maybe this time we can string together a whole adventure. I decided to run some published stuff to begin and as I figure out what they like I can mix in more of my own.  I do like the plot-point campaign approach so I may end up sending them into The Flood if this goes well but with Red heading for college in a month I don't know that we will hold together that long. It could be a very long campaign if we only see him on holidays.


Going back through the original edition material has been a lot of fun. I needed to brush up on my Deadlands History to figure out when I wanted to start things. I'm still working on it. Right now I'm looking at the old stuff and they're thinking up characters. First session will happen next week sometime.

I also finally managed to pick up a copy of Hell on Earth Reloaded. I'm about halfway through it and so far I like it. I don't think we have room for two side games but with an introduction to the mythology through the Weird West, I suspect a visit to the Wasted West would be welcome too.


It's yet another setting I love but have not spent nearly enough time actually playing. Maybe that will change now. I'm a sucker for the post-apocalyptic game anyway but this one is a little different and runs on a very playable system ... we will just have to see.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Wrath of the Righteous - Mid-Summer Update




Looking back it's been a while since I updated this. I'm going to have to do some catch-up session summaries. We've played 16 sessions, the PC's are running 5th-6th level, and are a few sessions into the second adventure in the series. It's been a lot of fun so far and I see no reason for that to change. We've been on a pretty steady every-other-week schedule for the last few months and though it seems so basic it's really one of the keys to keeping a campaign going.

Some details:

  • Mythic Power - It definitely gives the characters more options but it does not seem overpowered so far. There are echoes of 4th edition in some of the abilities too, which is a little fun. They are only at the lowest tier of Mythic right now so this could change dramatically. Coolest thing so far: Mythic Web adds spiders - biting spiders - to the regular Web spell and that was a nice little wrinkle to a spell we all know so well. 
  • Mass Combat - Another attraction to this campaign is the chance to lead an army! The built-in use of the mass combat rules from Ultimate Campaign makes for a nice change to traditional combat encounters or general hand-waving of the clash of larger forces. There are mechanics and numbers the players can affect with their character actions and so far it works well and plays fast.
  • Adventures - Both of the adventures so far have an excess of NPC's. They are presented logically and there are reasons to include them, but I still think they can easily turn into a DM distraction or crowd out the party. The first adventure throws them in with the party similar to the characters in a disaster movie. You don't get to pick your companions when escaping from a natural disaster and it does make sense in that view and switches things up from a more typical party-only dungeon crawl. I still kept them in the background as much as possible. The second adventure does a similar thing but since they're leading an army anyway I embraced the madness and let them bring along whoever they wanted as far as NPC's - what's one more at this point? The scenario and the encounters and the adventure as a whole are still great and I will make sure my PC's are center stage regardless. 
Anyway, I'll put more detail into the individual session write-ups as I get to them. More to come!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

A Reminder to All Captains - Count Those Drones!

So we played a little Federation Commander over the weekend ...

Contact!

I took the CC Yorktown and the old CL Arizona out on a "keeping the cats out of the yard" mission against Apprentice Blaster's Kzinti BC and CM.

End of Turn 1
My idea was to have the CL stay in close and play wingman to help keep the drone wave off of the CC. Things went well until Turn 2.

Middle of Turn 2
Each of my ships had launched a drone on Turn 1. The Kzinti launched on Turn 1 and early on Turn 2. As we closed in we lit each each other up with phaser, photon, and disruptor fire. After some close-in maneuvering, I realized all four Kzinti drones were going to hit the CC on the same impulse. I managed to turn off so that two were hitting the #2 shield and two were hitting #3. "It's only four drones, I can handle that". This was a tremendous error and shows just how rusty I was.

So the drones hit, I line them up for defensive fire and say "OK, four drones - " and Blaster says, no, that's four drones. "What, I have four drones out there-" No, there are eight drones he says. "OK, eight drones-" no, eight drones on this shield, eight drones on that shield he says. "Wait, those are four drones PER COUNTER?!" - yes, he says, "I wondered why you weren't shooting at them before."

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHH!

Apparently at some point a few weeks ago I told Blaster to use one counter for all the drones he launched the same turn at the same target. He remembered this, I did not. I was so wrapped up in my own thoughts I didn't notice that his pair of ships with 8 launchers had only lunched 4 drones over 2 turns - at least going by the number of counters on the board. The outcome was pretty bad. I did manage to stop 7 of the 16 drones. I stopped two more with tractor beams though, and when I lost the tractors those two hit the ship as well. Been a long time since that's happened to me.


At the end of Turn 2 the CC is in pretty bad shape but still has some teeth. It's not going to outrun anyone but with a fresh shield towards the enemy and some charged phasers I should be able to stop drones long enough to get some more shots off.

(I did manage to rip up the Kzinti Battlecruiser before this happened - overloaded photons are still nasty up close (even with only 2 left) - but not as badly as the CC was hit)

Turn 3 was pretty much the game. We were still in close but I was reloading photons and the Kzin had disruptors and drones ready to go. The poor Yorktown did manage to turn a new shield but did not have enough phasers to stop the incoming drones. After a final volley of phaser fire the CC went down hard.



On Turn 4 the CL disengaged with no internal damage other than armor, ending the encounter.

Notes:
It's been a long time since I marked off that many boxes on a Fed CC and an even longer time since I've actually had one blown out from under me. It was largely stupidity on my part with the whole counter-counting thing. All I can say is I won't forget that anytime soon.

One tricky thing with drones vs. old-school SFB thinking is that given the turn structure a drone can move 3 hexes before you will ever have a chance to fire at the thing. This makes the job of an "escort" quite a bit tougher as once the drones close to zero range only the target can shoot at them. That 0-3 hex range is where phaser-3's are most effective, and it can be tricky to make that work, especially on slow moving ships. I'll be puzzling that out more, especially since Blaster seems pretty attached to his missile boat Kzinti ships.

A dislike: Federation drone racks in Fed Commander are terrible. Most ships only carry one, and it's the hybrid-loadout type, i.e. the G-racks from SFB. Now in SFB they are fine  - against the Klingons I could load up with all anti-drones, giving me an 8-shot defensive system. On the Romulan border I could load all drones, giving me an extra offensive system. In Fed Commander the Feds go halfway - 2 drones, 4 ADDs. Against drone-heavy opponents I can burn through the ADD ammo in half a turn and against non-drone opponents I only have two shots and then have to reload. It's inadequate either way. Beyond that, with only one drone on the ship, any halfway decent penetrating volley will kill it anyway. I've played a few battles with them recently and I'm not loving them at all.

Not my lights, but a nice set.

One big like: The Federation Old Light Cruiser - It's not terribly expensive, it has a lot of power, a solid phaser suite, and it can take at least one good volley from any direction thanks to the armor. I've always had a soft spot for these ships and so far they've worked pretty well. Sure, I expect to lose both torpedoes and the drone rack on any significant amount of internal damage but with 8 phasers and 30 power I should have enough energy left to move and take some shots afterward.

Monday, July 21, 2014

The New D&D Starter Set - Pros and Cons



Reviews for the new starter set for D&D have been popping up over the last week and they are almost universally positive, which is good, but surprising. I keep thinking back to the reviews of the 4th edition starter and they were mixed at best for what is a very similar approach.

  • The new set contains pregen characters, a small rulebook, and an adventure that will take a party to 5th level (and dice).
  • The 4E Red Box contained a limited character generation system through a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure style short adventure, a small rulebook, and adventure material to get characters to 2nd or 3rd level (and dice).

The main criticism of the 4E set was the limited long term value of the material. You could make a few characters, run through the adventure (and a downloadable adventure) and then other than future use of the poster maps and the tokens there was not much left to do with the contents.

I see the same issue with the new set, but it seems to be less of an issue for people this time. Pregenerated characters are an issue I will address below but this set has the same limited-use issue: once you finish the adventure there is not much utility left in the box. Sure, it has a longer adventure, but it doesn't have the poster maps, tokens, miniatures, or pawns that some of the other recent starter sets had that might be useful components for games down the road, so there is a tradeoff.

Later 4E starter

Finally - pregens. Including only pregenerated characters in this set is a real negative in my opinion. The 4E set had limited character creation so that at least the player got to pick a race and class and some details - like a name - to make it their own. Making players take a character they didn't create lessens the connection and the feeling of having a personal stake at risk in the game. This isn't Conan, Gandalf, Sinbad, and Lancelot teaming up for some epic quest - this is a party of beginning heroes so give the players an option to create them right there in the box!

Pathfinder Beginner Box

Bonus comparison: The Pathfinder Beginner Box had pregenerated characters (the iconic characters for the 4 main classes) but also included basic character generation rules so that it had the best of both worlds - the speed of play of pregens plus the more personal touch of player-created characters. It was more expensive, but I suspect that was more due to the 80-plus pawns included in the game rather than a few extra pages of rules.

Original 4E starter

The earlier 3rd and 4th edition starter sets included miniatures and poster maps or dungeon tiles but did not have character generation rules so there has been a general trend over the last 14 years towards making these kinds of products a very limited introductory item and less of a true gateway like the old Holmes/Moldvay/Mentzer Basic sets. I thought the Pathfinder set might change this trend but apparently not.

3.5 starter

Now the ray of sunshine with the new box is that the new D&D "Basic" rules are available as a free PDF download. That's good. I was thinking the decision not to put character creation rules in the game was still driven by the idea that people might not buy the Players Handbook when it comes out if they had basic rules but clearly that's not the reasoning anymore. Could they really not include some of that in the box? A printed version of the basic rules for character creation for the 4 core classes and a few of the races, through level 5, would have made this a much stronger product for actually exploring the game. I expect the $20 price point forced a ruthless paring down of material though.

3.0 Starter

For me, a huge part of the fun of the game is making up your own character, not playing someone else's. Thinking that it's not essential to me is missing the whole point of why people play the game. Including them as a quick start option, sure - including them as the only option, well, that's just bad. It's saying that individual characters aren't that important and I think that's a bad way to get started. Sure, those of us who have been at it for awhile know that you can have fun playing almost any kind of character if the other players and the DM are good and into the game, but for new players "my character" moments are one of the first things that distinguish RPG's from boardgames.

Also, practically speaking, with the modern emphasis on selling books full of character options, I don't see how de-emphasizing character creation in your first product is a smart move. I'd think the plan would be to emphasize that instead but maybe this is part of the new approach to the game they're supposed to be taking.

In the end this isn't aimed at me and it's probably not even aimed at the apprentices anymore considering they have a fair amount of RPG experience now. I may give them a copy to try out but there's not really a burning urge for a new edition here since they're happy with 4E/Pathfinder/Savage Worlds/M&M/Shadowrun. I do have some interest in running at least a few sessions so I can talk about it with some experience but I am not sure when that will happen. If I do, I'll post about it here.

Motivational Monday