Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Post-Holiday Update - DC, M&M, and Emerald City Begins!

With a 3-day weekend and all of the Apprentices coming home for at least a day I planned absolutely nothing and paid the price. Red wanted to play 40K, Blaster wanted to play Deadlands, Who wanted to play something with Superheroes, and I was thinking about trying out 5E. Great - no consensus at all! We finally settled on superheroes, but I had done zero prep for anything supers this week. I decided to start the Emerald City Knights adventures for M&M, but they wanted to play in the DC universe ... alright ... the first part isn't really going to change anyway but I'm going to have some homework to do for future sessions. Also ... characters:

  • Who took Arsenal, formerly Speedy, Green Arrows old sidekick - who has also had some addiction problems over the years. He was a little disappointed to find out after the fact that he doesn't have a bow in this writeup! We decided he was moving out to the west coast to get away from his old problems and in the wake of the death of a family member.
  • Blaster took Batman Beyond - clearly this is some kind of "next generation" campaign in the DCU - and since I didn't have a Hero Lab file for him ended up running him out of the book itself. He's in town running down a case that is honestly pretty vague right now.  
  • Red made up his own hero named "Archangel" who is a winged mentalist. No, he hasn't read a ton of X-Men so I don't care about the name - besides, this is DC! As it turns out he didn't recall the finer points of character creation even though Hero Lab declared it legit and this caused a few problems later. He's a local who has been genetically modified by someone into his current state.
Emerald City is a quiet city on the west coast up around Seattle/Tacoma. It hasn't ever had a significant or long-lasting hero presence - but that's about to change. The characters are all downtown when there's an explosion and a silvery cloud whips through downtown, moving on its own with no regard for the wind and blasting out blue bolts of lightning, bringing havoc and devastation to an otherwise nice afternoon. It dissipates as quickly as it appeared but there is a great deal of damage, numerous injured citizens, and some people have ... changed.

After leaping into action to help pull people from damaged cars and clear the rubble from a partially collapsed building (to many thanks), the heroes notice that one of the victims has multiple rubbery arms and is throwing other survivors around. Another is hovering over the area near the center of the destruction and pulling pieces of cars and signs towards her. One more victim is glowing, rotating through the colors of the spectrum, while one more is crumpled on the ground, surrounded by swirling black shapes.  

Of course a fight breaks out - what kind of jerk mugs people during a disaster? - but it's a tough one for our heroes. The octo-man fights BB to a standstill until he and Arsenal bring the mutant down together. The light-guy and the darkness-guy take a few shots and then disappear. Magnetic-girl blows Archangel out of the sky after he takes a few shots at her and his attempts to mind-control her come to nothing. At the end, three battered heroes stand amidst the damaged downtown with an unconscious octo-man as the police and fire finally begin to push past the traffic jams and rubble. Their intent is to ask the "villain" a few questions then turn him over to the authorities but that will have to wait until next time...

DM Notes: The word of the day is "rust" as in it felt like I had never run this game before. Between the character scrambles, the last-minute setting changes, and not having read the rules in months, I was really sloppy and really slow. This is a fairly simple game to run but you wouldn't have known it if you were watching me today. We only spent a few hours doing this and some of that was set-up time, but that's as "off" as I have felt in a long time. I maybe should have run ICONS but we really didn't even consider that option. Some points:
  • One was running from the book, two were running from Hero Lab sheets so just the basic "where is this stuff" was a little different between the two, slowing things down
  • I'm trying to run 4-5 separate villains with completely different types of powers with no prior review  - that's not a good place to be. Advantages, maneuvers, different action types - it really slowed me down as I realized I don't know what the powers do by sight like I do with say, Champions so I spent some time flipping through books to figure out exactly how some things work. 
  • Red was not really thinking about power limits when he made his character and so was not really running at a full PL10, with lots of things like attack 10, effect 5, shorting himself when it came time to roll dice. 
  • I'm still not great at managing the transition to M&M's damage system, and it's the one part of the game I think might be hardest for my players to handle, so I need to make it work. That whole resistance roll mechanic with bruised/dazed/staggered/out is not as visceral or intuitive for us as "I did 37 points with my greatsword" and that's hard to embellish when I'm struggling to work the rules and the villain tactics and the players are just as raw as I am. 
Anyway it went alright and they are interested in playing more. It will be a while before we play again and I will have time to refresh myself on the mechanics. I've been so focused on Pathfinder and 5E the last couple of weeks that it's tricky to keep all of the details for all of the games in my head but I think i'll be fine with a re-read when I'm not actually trying to run a game.

The fun part will be re skinning this adventure to fit into the DC Universe. I had started working on this a few months back and then put it aside as we played other games. Looks like it's time to put that back on the front burner. As a campaign it has some railroad in it, but that's a plus if we're going to have some breaks between sessions anyway. I kind of like the idea of time-shifting it forward too, where the sidekicks and younger heroes are taking a place in front, and some of the older heroes are semi-retired. I'm not sure I'm going to stay with that, but I'll be chewing on it for a while. I expect some familiar faces will be dropping in and out regardless.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

RPGaDAY - Day 31 - Favorite RPG of all time

This one is a little difficult because I don't really think of RPG's like this, ranked or favored or in some kind of order. They're more like a cloud, with the ones I am running and the ones I am reading more prominent in my mind at that time but still floating against a backdrop of hundreds if not thousands of systems, settings, adventures, and campaign possibilities.  There are memories of what I have played and done in the past, thoughts about what I am playing or running now, and speculation on what I might do in the future.

Then again, it's fairly easy because there is one game I have run or played pretty much continuously for 35 years and that pretty much says everything that needs to be said. It's not an accident that we're circling back around to the first couple of days of this event.

I don't think there's been a time longer than 3-4 months where I wasn't running or playing some kind of D&D game. Now I've done plenty of things with plenty of other games in and around the D&D stuff but it's been the constant. Even those times when I have grown tired of something about the current edition I've kept with it for my friends who were still excited and enthusiastic about the game. Even then there is usually some shiny new or overlooked old article or supplement that brings a new angle to the game, or even a new edition.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Gamma World - I've had so much fun with Gamma World over the years that it deserves a mention even if it has been a long time. The most post-apocalyptic game of all!
  • Star Trek - One I have talked about more but still haven't played much recently, I think I like the potential I see here for long-term interconnected campaigns  more than anything else.
  • Champions - I expect we will reconcile one of these days. I need to run or play more supers
  • Mutants & Masterminds - the most likely of all of these alternates to turn into some kind of regular thing, I hope it's around for a long time.
  • Savage Worlds - So much potential, I like everything about it and have to  find time for it. Of the "multigenre" systems I think it has the most built-in style and is the easiest to learn as a new player. 

So as I write this on Labor Day weekend 2014 I've handed the 5th Edition D&D PHB over to Apprentice Blaster and I'm reading through the 5E Starter Set adventure to see if I might want to run the boys through it while we're off. I also have some Pathfinder Iron Gods stuff to read through, and just to mix it up the Traveller 5 hardback (ridiculous!) arrived this week and awaits my attention too. Thinking about all this, I'm comfortable labeling D&D my "favorite of all time". I'm ready to roll with any edition and any offshoot, and I'd be perfectly happy playing any of them.

Have I told you about my 20th level ranger ...

Saturday, August 30, 2014

RPGaDAY - Day 30 - Rarest RPG Owned

I'm not terribly concerned about this one. Who cares if it's rare? Plus, between used bookstores, eBay, and now PDF's there's not much out there that can't be acquired one way or another. Plus, well, if by 'rare' you mean "a lot of people haven't seen it or played it" well, it may be because it was a crappy game.

Lords of Creation seems to be at least uncommon. I talked about it here.

Battle Born came in a magazine 20+ years ago and I talked about it here.

I have Tarantis and some of the old ziploc-baggie format Invincible Overlord stuff from Judges Guild but those are really settings/adventures, not actual games.

I have one of the Cthulu/Melnibone Deities and Demi Gods that is at least a "limited run" but it's just a supplement not a full RPG.

I have a couple of "fantasy heartbreaker" type games that I had never heard of before seeing them in person.

  • I have a version of "Phatasy Conclave" that is 3 small paper, uh, "booklets" staple -bound that look like something that would be handed out at a PTA meeting. It's somebody's tweaked version of D&D and is in no way memorable. Heroic Worlds says there was a boxed set for it in 1984 but all I have are the booklets and they don't really look like something you would have put in a box at that time but who knows?
  • I have something much more recent, the Peryton Fantasy Roleplaying Game from 2009. It's a 140-odd page softcover that is a pretty direct rip of the D&D SRD that doesn't do anything really special or unique. The classes are a little different, but not enough to matter. It's really just a cut-down compilation of D&D 3E. 

In the end despite the large number of game books I own I don't really care about rarity for its own sake. I keep games that I am playing or running, that mean something to me, that I think I might play in the future, that serve as a resource for another game, or that are cool even if I may never get to play them. 

Friday, August 29, 2014

RPGaDAY - Day 29 - Most Memorable Encounter

Lots of choices here, both as a DM and as a player. I'll focus on one from awhile back because it still comes up in conversation sometimes.

We're playing AD&D 2E. This was a mid-level party with everyone in the 5-9 range and about 6-8 characters in any particular session. We were traveling cross-country somewhere in the Forgotten Realms, I don't remember the region but it was an area of open plains probably near the Sword Coast.

Camp for the night, Someone casts Leomund's Secure Shelter as was our routine. We eat, sit by fire, then sleep. LSS is a great spell for travelling (4th lvl wiz) in that it pops in a stone building with wizard locked doors and alarms and an unseen servant all built-in - no lousy tents & bedrolls for us! Also it meant no need for watches as we felt pretty secure.

So this particular night everything seems normal until the building disappears from around us in the middle of the night. So we are a)surprised b) unarmored and unarmed c) on our butts in heavy darkness. Then the breath weapon hits. I'm pretty sure one character died in that first blast with a failed saving throw.We start scrambling around for gear and get hit again. Then the thing lands and tears into one of the unarmored fighters and takes care of him. A Great Red Wyrm has stumbled across us, dispelled our Secure Shelter, and attacked with surprise.

It was as one-sided a battle as I have ever been in with characters past starting level. I don;t know that we could have taken it if we had prepared for it and surprised it - we had pretty much no chance given the way it began. I was running one of my clerics, Brutallus Maximus the First I believe, and he died of course - unarmored war clerics don't last long once the unarmored fighters go down. I know our bard turned invisible and hid - and survived - but that was kind of his thing.  The only other character that lived was our paladin, who the dragon picked up in one claw after beating him down into almost no hit points, and who started bargaining for his life with one of the mightier incarnations of chaotic evil on the planet! I was so disappointed, though it was a little funny to watch the up-til-now lawful good character completely ignore any "heroic last stand" thoughts to try and save his own skin as the beast flew off with him, leaving our shattered party behind.

I believe that was the end of that campaign in that form. Even though the bard could have some of us raised I think we called it as a group, and then created a new party, recruited by the bard for revenge on the dragon that killed his comrades. We never did get that revenge as we got sidetracked with other adventures, but it was a sore spot for a long time:

  • "Where did he come from?"
  • "Wouldn't there be some kind of local legend about the huge ancient red dragon that lives around here?"
  • "How did he see our little cottage at night from way up there?" (OK I thought this one was a little weak but it did come up)
  • "How have we not heard anything about this thing if it's out flying around and attacking things?"
Anyway, we survived as players, if not as characters, and moved on. Turned out it was a completely random encounter, a good (!) roll on the wandering monster tables he had for the area. That really didn't make us feel any better when we found out, and it's still a legendary story among my long-time players today.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

RPGaDAY - Day 28 - Scariest Game

I've never really been "scared" in a RPG session so I don't have a lot to say on this one but I can relate a few things:

  • Being seriously wounded in a Twilight 2000 game can be pretty scary as there aren't any clerics, there aren't many hospitals still functioning, and you're lucky to have someone with a little medicine and some medical skill nearby when you need it. Even then, it's not always enough. Neither the characters nor their immune systems are superhuman and it puts a different feel into the game. 
  • Games where a single hit in combat can kill or seriously maim your character can put some fear into a game. Old-school Runequest and low-tech games of GURPS both have this "feature" and it can be quite a bit different from a D&D session.
  • As a DM the one thing I have seen consistently put fear into players is old-school level-draining undead. Any level of character tends to go pale when they run into a pack of spectres or vampires. Nobody likes losing levels and losing a bunch of them at once is a great reason to run away.

Note that all of these deal more with the practical side of the game and not so much with atmosphere. Atmosphere can be interesting, even creepy, but I've never felt it was scary. Scary in my view tends to happen when your character is under direct threat of some kind. I'm sure we will see some different views on this one but that's how it works for me. 

Overreaction Wednesday

Alright this is relatively minor but there's an interview with Mike Mearls on EN World that is pretty good overall and is worth reading if you're interested in that kind of thing. Early on he's talking about the design thinking behind 5th edition and says this:

But they’ve probably played a role-playing game… they’ve played Skyrim or [World of] Warcraft or any of those game, so they probably actually know what a role-playing game is. We can probably just assume they know what a role-playing game is and they know they just need to make a character, and let’s just start explaining how this game works.

Sure. Except you left that whole how-to-make-a-character thing out of the Starter Box! I know there's a free PDF download, but seriously, to make that statement then leave it out ... ah well the PHB is really nice. More on that as I work back through it.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

RPGaDAY - Day 27 - Game I'd Like to See a New Edition of

Making a return appearance ...

Somehow, even with a pair of successful movies in the last five years,  Star Trek hasn't had a game in print for ten years now.  Why not? Is the era for Trek in tabletop gaming over? I just don't think so. The Attack Wing miniatures game seems to be doing OK. Star Fleet Battles lives on. Other boardgames seem to do alright. The MMO is chugging along, doing well in the free-to-play era. Why not Star Trek?

D&D has a new edition, Pathfinder is rolling along, Star Wars has a current edition (even if I'm not its biggest fan it had one I did like recently), DC had a good run with Green Ronin. Game of Thrones has a game! Editions come and go, publishers and rights holders to various settings come and go, yet Trek still sits on the sidelines.

I'm assuming it might be feared interference from CBS/Paramount. It might be the short lifespans of the last two attempts (both LUG and Decipher Trek flamed out in about 3 years). Maybe it's the cost of the license, I don't know. It just seems like someone out there should be able to find a way to put together a Trek RPG and stay in the black for a few years. I don't care who so much as I would like to see what someone could do with it using current design and production trends.

I'm assuming there's still a clause that prevents Star Trek and Star Wars from going to the same company and that's a shame because I'm sure FFG could make some beautiful books that would be very expensive and probably use some radical new system but at least it would be well done and well supported for a few years. WOTC hopefully has their hands full with D&D and Paizo with Pathfinder as I don't think d20 is a great fit for Trek, but it could be worse. I don't know that Savage Worlds is a great fit either but they would find a way to do some cool stuff with it.Green Ronin probably has the best track record in this area and I'd love to see what they could do if they were given the chance.

I'm not sure what it's going to take, but one of these days ...

Runner up: How does Marvel still not have a game with all of these damn movies coming out? Even with that last attempt blowing out early, there has to be someone who could make that work too.

5E PHB Quick Thoughts - 4th Edition Class Types Live On

After spending a fair amount of time with 4th Edition over the last 4-5 years it was nice to see some familiar elements some of the 5th Edition class details:

  • The Fighter has 3 sub-types that covers the traditional Fighter, the Warlord, and the Swordmage
  • The Paladin covers the traditional Paladin, the Warden, and the Avenger
  • The Sorcerer keeps the Wild Mage option that was available in 4th and goes back all the way to the 2E Wild Mage.
  • The Warlock keeps the pact options it had in 4th including the Fey pact which always seemed especially flavorful to me.
Now with a new system everything is not going to work exactly the same but when the Battle Master Fighter has an ability called "Commander's Strike" that lets him forgo his own attack to allow another character to make an attack with a bonus, well, it's nice to see some of the good ideas in the last version of the game have carried over.   

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

RPGaDAY - Day 26 - Coolest Character Sheet

I don't know, while I used to get kind of picky about which character sheet I used, I have also spent years using some of the plainest, most perfunctory character sheets ever made. Just as an example:

It's just dull dull dull but that's what we used a lot, I think for AD&D 2E.

The basic sheets that came with AD&D (1st edition) had more flair than that.

The last few years though I think Savage Worlds has the coolest character sheets. Here's Deadlands Reloaded - it's probably my favorite right now:

Here's Necessary Evil:

Here's the sheet for Slipstream, the retro pulp sci-fi setting:

Here's Weird War 2:

I like these a lot and think they add to the atmosphere when you're getting a campaign off the ground. Considering they are usually juts a front and back print job I'm willing to burn up some ink for a nice-looking sheet.

5E PHB Quick Thoughts - Barbarian

I'm re-reading the classes and the barbarian stands out as a real tank type character. With the traditional d12 hit points he's off to a good start. They get up to medium armor + shield, but with no armor (shields are allowed) they get to add their Con bonus to their AC - could be a viable option if you can manage 3 decent scores (Str + Dex + Con). Rage gives resistance to B/P/S damage so you're taking half damage from pretty much all physical attacks. That's a strong start and they do have some offensive options as well.

The "Primal Paths" up this even more.

  • Berseker is a slightly more offensive option as it gets a bonus melee attack every round. By 6th they get immunity to charm and fear while raging. 
  • The Totem Warrior/Wolf grants his allies advantage on melee attack rolls against any creature within 5' - that's a pretty strong bonus if you're going to have some fellow melee combatants in the party. 
  • The Totem Warrior/Bear path though, while raging ... "resistance to all damage except psychic damage" ... that's very strong. At 14th any creature within 5' of them (while raging) has disadvantage on attack rolls against targets other than you - hey look that's a real 4E-style tanking feature! It's a shame it takes until 14th level to come through, but that's a really nice ability for a "tough" fighter type.

It's a very combat-focused class but I think that's almost expected of a Barbarian, right? Someone has to be the combat monster and this class can definitely fill that role.