Thursday, June 18, 2020

Old Habits Die Hard

The fact that I first read this as "Amazon Echo Show 8 hit dice touchscreen" probably says a lot about how things work in my head.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

The Last Month of the First Half of 2020

...hopefully we're almost done with all that ...

Where to begin? Such a weird year. I was actually running and playing in games again and then ... POW! Nope!

Two college kids doing school from home full time, one working more (delivery), one working a lot less (retail).

Friends isolating so the only way we see each other is online. Tabletop simulator is interesting, Lords of Waterdeep is a really good group game, and we've played a lot less of the MMORPG option than I thought we would - even City of Heroes. Thank god for Steam sales, GOG sales, and the Total War series of games, especially Warhammer 1 & 2. I might be a little obsessed these days.

Working from home full time ... I worked from home a few days a week already so all I really did was slide that control over to "max" and have more time to do whatever I wanted to do. It was not a tough situation here, especially compared to a lot of other people.

RPG Talk:

As all of this hit and shut everything down I had decided it was time to push the Pathfinder 2E tryout campaign into something real. I had been running it using Frostgrave as a model for the setting and while everyone was having fun it was not all that conducive to a long term campaign - it's kind of limiting as far as social activity and general downtime fun when you're in a giant uninhabited frozen ruined city and the nearest outpost of civilization is a village like the one  in "Hardhome" in that great episode of Game of Thrones.

I had high hopes for it but quickly realized that by fairly strictly following the structure of the miniatures game's background I had crippled the potential in a lot of ways. Even worse, when I thought through what I could do to improve things it quickly turned into my Phlan campaign with more snow being the main distinction. What can I say? I kind of have a template for running a ruined city D&D game and I didn't really want to repeat myself just yet.

So I poked through the stacks and realized there was a fairly obvious thing to try: What if it's not a ruined city? What if it's a living breathing city full of interesting situations? now I've thought for a long time the next time I ran a city campaign it would be Waterdeep and all of those nice supplements they've put out covering it over the last 30 years. Nope!

They ran a kickstarter a month or three back for a D&D 5E version  of it but if I'm running it for Pathfinder 2E then I don't really need that do I? I can convert from the book that's been sitting on my shelf for 10+ years now just as easily!

So that's the plan for the Big Fantasy Game that I always seem to be running ... well, once the restrictions lift and everybody feels comfortable gathering again. More on this later.

The plan is to run a game weekly but sometimes that's not schedule-friendly so to allow some of my players to lighten the load I'm considering running two games, alternating weeks. For the second game I presented a few options but we settled on Star Wars, FFG-funky-dice-Star-Wars because I want to give it a real test. I'm adapting one of my old ideas so the actual work is small and feels like a lot of fun as I look back through it. Setitng it in the Clone Wars era opens up a nice set of options, including active Jedi types, and with official FFG support material it's pretty damn easy to put together.

Oh and now there's a 9th edition of 40K coming soon too - I'll save that for Friday.

Monday, May 4, 2020

Campaign Length

I'm looking at campaign options for when the current situation winds down and we can begin gathering again. This means I'm poring through old binders and spirals looking at what I've done before and I thought I would share some numbers from the last 20 years:
  • 3E Seas of Kalamar campaign - 34 sessions
    This was set in Kalamar and combined the original Freeport trilogy (which we finished) and the Savage Tide adventure path from Dungeon magazine (which we did not). This was my last 3rd edition campaign.
  • 3E Scarred Lands campaign - no fancy name here - 54 sessions
    This was set on Ghelspad in the Scarred Lands and covered quite a bit of territory from Vesh and Mithril out to the Blood Sea and eventually spent a bunch of time in the city of Amalthea. I used a lot of Necromancer Games and Goodman Games modules in this one - Seroent Amphora, The Wizard's Amulet, Idylls of the Rat King, The Dragonfiend Pact, Tomb of Abysthor, Bloody Jack's Gold, White Plume Mountain, The Blackguard's Revenge, and Iron Crypt of the Heretics, where the whole thing ended in a TPK around 11th level.
  • 4E Return to the Ruins of Adventure - 30 sessions
    Yes it's Phlan,from the AD&D Ruins of Adventure module and the Pool of Radiance computer game! It was a lot of fun.
  • 4E Savage Swords of Impiltur - 30 sessions
    Most of this campaign was following the Red Hand of Doom mega-adventure from D&D 3.5. I had heard good things about it, never ran it in 3E, so I converted it to 4th and we got very close to finishing it but not quite. 
  • 4E Temple of Elemental Evil - 11 sessions
    This was a side campaign I ran for the boys in between other games. It didn;t last as long as the others but they did explore Hommlett, cleared ourt the Moathouse, and cleared the ruins of the Temple. We just didn't dive into the dungeon beneath as other things took priority.
  • Pathfinder  Wrath of the Righteous - 38 sessions
    I've written about it, particularly why it ended, elsewhere on the blog but it was fun most of the time. We've discussed picking it up with PF2E but we all want more experience with that system before we try to go high-level with it. 
  • 5E Cormyr Classics - 21 sessions so far
    This is set in Cormyr and has included conversions of Keep on the Borderlands and Isle of Dread and is ongoing though it's been a few months since we last played.

I ran an earlier 3E campaign set in Greyhawk but I didn't keep notes like I did with later games. It ended in a self-inflicted TPK in the middle of the crater ridge mines in Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil. There have been various other one-off, short runs, and faded campaigns with other games over the years but I'd say these are the "core", longer-running games I've had.

Seems like 30-50 sessions is my sweet spot - should I consider this in planning a campaign? No more epic adventure path type runs? Maybe shorter ones? Or should I go for it - buckle down and aim for a full level 1-20 progression, even if it takes 100+ sessions?

Something to think about.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Goodman Games - Temple of Elemental Evil for 5E

Well, this was announced over the weekend. I'm in.

I have their first 3 books: Into the Borderlands (B1 & B2), Isle of Dread (X1), and Expedition to the Barrier Peaks (S3). I've run a group all the way through Borderlands, and the same group through most of Isle of Dread and they are excellent - if you like those old adventures.

I do not have the 4th - The Lost City or the 5th - Castle Amber. I don't think they're actually available just yet but those don't carry the impact for me that the others do. I liked Lost City but I didn't play it as much back when and it's kind of a self-contained campaign all it's own. Castle Amber was even less "my thing" back then - I didn't really care about puzzling out the politics of a family of crazy people when I could be doing .. .well ... pretty much anything else in a D&D game.

But this ... ToEE is potentially a cornerstone adventure for an old school campaign - particularly a Greyhawk campaign. Most of my 5E experience has been running old school adventures so this would make for a nice second campaign option in that vein. I've been running everything in the Realms thus far and I would probably do the same with this. For the Realms I already worked through whether to put it in Impiltur, settled on the Dalelands, and then agonized over the backstory. So a lot of the work there is already done.

There is some temptation to open up Greyhawk here, though I'm not sure it's worth the separation from the other campaign. Placing them both in the Realms opens up some crossover potential and other interesting possibilities.

Ah well - it's a good problem to have. More to come I'm sure. 

Monday, April 20, 2020

RPG Ripoff - Onderon

One of the things I've been doing during this quarantine extra-downtime thing is going back through some books and movies and comic books that I haven't touched in a long time. last week it was "Tales of the Jedi" - the first one. Reading through it pushed the "that's a cool idea" button pretty hard so I thought I would share it in this post.

The Premise: 
Onderon is a world in the Star Wars universe. It was once a peaceful, idyllic planet populated by simple tribesman. It's moon, however, was basically a 40K deathworld full of savage monsters. At a certain time of year, the atmospheres of these two would touch, and some creatures from the moon (mainly flyers in the book) managed to navigate from the moon to the planet. This went about how you would expect.

The tribesmen were unprepared and had to learn to fight giant flying predators, developing skills and technology - like hunting with bows - just to survive. Over time they were slowly driven together to the point they ended up in one great city where they walled up, built other defenses, and held their own. So you have one huge heavily defended city full of humans, and the rest of the planet is a monster-infested forest-jungle waiting to eat anyone who steps outside.

As they became more civilized there were inevitably people who just could not get along. Criminals were exiled out of the city and early on this was pretty much a death sentence. Some survived though and as the smartest and toughest of a rough bunch they eventually started to build their own society. One of the interesting developments is that they started capturing and taming some of those monsters. So now we have the big defended civilized city while outside the walls we still have a bunch of monsters but we also have the "beast-riders" of Onderon - barbaric types who survive at a lower level of technology with the help of their tamed beasts ... and yes, a lot of them hate the city and its people.

Ripping it off for an RPG campaign:
So ... I'm sure a lot of you who have run games can see the potential here, and it doesn't have to be Star Wars or any kind of Science Fiction game at all! This works just fine as a the setup for a fantasy campaign. The city could be a center of arcane/academic type magic while the beast riders are more of a center of nature/innate magic. The obvious conflict is between the city and the exiles but there could easily be inter-tribal conflicts ... and what if some of those "monsters" are intelligent too?

I can't help but think the writers were familiar with the Dragonriders of Pern books - with nasty stuff dropping out of the sky when the moon gets too close - so we could borrow a premise from those two and say the wider planet used to be inhabited by a more advanced society, maybe some fantasy kingdoms and empires, so there are interesting things to be discovered out in the wilderness.

To start the action we could steal a premise from Fallout and say some vital, ancient device in the city is failing and someone has to venture outside to find a replacement.

Let's mix them up and say that a person is responsible for energizing the lightning field that protects the city when it's attacked and they are dying or dead and someone has to journey to the ancient temple outside the city to become the new wielder of the lightning. 

To me, finding a good reason to leave the city is the key to starting the campaign. We have an interesting situation, but we need a reason for the characters to move around. A lot of this depends on your players:

  • Explorer-types will want to poke around anyway. You tell them 99% of the planet is unknown and they will self-motivate and start packing backpacks.
  • Power-seekers are easy - legends of ancient power lying out in the jungle ruins - artifacts, oracles, ancient masters of the force/magic/kung-fu - this also fairly easy to set up. 
  • Story-folks want to know they're part of a story or making a difference. In the comic books the daughter of the queen of the city has been kidnapped by a tribe of beast riders and rumor has it that she will be forced to marry the son of that tribes chief. Now it does get more complicated than that but this is the main driver for the Jedi in that first story to head out and look for trouble rather than just defending the city from those evil raiders. Rescue the princess is not a new story but it's a classic hook and one most players should be able to see and enjoy. 

Other hooks:

  • Ripoff Gladiator and a thousand other stories: Old king is good, the PC's are his friends, he dies, bad king takes over, and the PC's have to flee or are exiled and have to work with what's "outside" to come back, oust the bad king, and set things right again. This sounds like a great setup for a Savage Worlds style plot-point campaign.
  • Flip the basic concept around and have the PCs start as tribesmen from outside the city. They get to play around with the jungle and monsters and other tribes right from the get-go with the city as this mysterious "other" place and group. Maybe they're good, maybe they're bad - let it develop in play. An easy way to start this one off is with the "ritual of adulthood" where the characters have to go to a sacred place and do something and return alive to become full members of the tribe. 
  • Take it full post-apocalyptic and make it a tech city that survived the great war while the rest of the world is ruined mutant-filled monstrous wilderness. Many of the same reasons for leaving the city apply here too .. and what if in their explorations the PC's discover that theirs is not the only city to survive ... and what if those other survivors are far more dangerous than the mutant tribes everyone was worried about back home? 
You knew this was coming, right?

Long term ... well if you stay more with the original concept that the monsters originally came /are still coming from the moon ... well, someone has to go there at some point right? Once you've explored everything/built an empire/united the tribes/saved the city/rescued all the princesses/hit 20th level ... I mean, that's where you go, right?! The situation implies some kind of manipulation to have a moon passing that close to a planet yet somehow remaining stable and separate ... there's clearly some kind of technology or magic or deity at work - and PC's can't just leave that kind of thing alone. So there's the capstone to your campaign - To The MOON! 

Anyway I can see a ton of ways to use this concept in an RPG. There's incentive for traditional D&D type loot-questing, there's plenty of room for empire-building, and there is opportunity for role-playing everything from personal relationships to political maneuverings and Star Trek-style diplomacy between rival groups.  

Let me know what you think. 

Monday, April 13, 2020

40K Friday - Monday Edition - Catching Up: 2018

Well ... that's a lot of title. Yes, 40K is still a thing here and has been all along - I just haven't written about it much.  I thought going year by year for the last few would allow me to cover it in a  just a few posts. So ... 2018 ...

Fittingly, given some of the other things going on,  2018 was mostly dedicated to Chaos. I did some further work on my Iron Warriors and World Eaters but the main focus was on Daemons.

First up was finishing the Nurgle part of the force which I did. In fact it's the one "completed" part of the army. It's 3 Soul Grinders and a Daemon prince so while it's not quite that simple it is only 4 models.

Khorne was supposed to be the bulk of the force and it is ... it's just not quite all painted yet. It's my usual trap: I have a bunch of stuff partly to mostly painted and nothing actually finished other than some of the old metal Bloodthirsters. Painting is very much a "when I feel it/what I'm feeling" kind of process for me so it's very uncommon for me to start one unit or model and carry it all the way through to "done" without starting another unit (or six) in between. It's something I've been working on improving for the last year or so but I have yet to attain total compliance. It's mostly the same force as described here, but I've added more Bloodcrushers (because I just like them, not because they're dominating on the table) and more hounds but that's really it. By the end of 2018 I had acquired, built, played multiple games, and partly painted a mixed Khorne/Nurgle daemon army. I need to play them again and see if I've learned anything in the past year.

The other army that had my attention for the year was the main opposing force for Chaos Daemons - Grey Knights!

The army itself is already summed up pretty well here. I have since added more Paladins, and Ancient, a Medic, a Brother-Captain, and a third Dreadknight. It's about 2700 points now and doesn't feel like it needs much more. I might bulk out the Strike Squads to ten each just to have the option. I might add more Paladins just because they're cool.

One thing I have avoided is adding the big expensive units - Land Raiders, Stormravens, etc. GKs are expensive enough already so I'd rather have more squads than a 300 point tank or transport. With every unit being able to teleport or deep strike there's not a huge need for transports so I'm holding that at the 3 Razorbacks for now.

I haven't played them yet,. At all. yes, I have nearly 3000 points of these guys with zero 8th edition games played. I know ... I know ... Hey they're almost all painted at least! That counts, right?

Next up: 2019!

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Duty. Honour. Nourishment.

(Thank you Games Workshop!)

Tuesday, March 31, 2020


This is not a new book but I finally got around to reading it the past few weeks - so here are my thoughts ...

A few background points:

  • Titans have a soft spot with me as just a few years after I started playing 40K I discovered the epic scale version of the game and the release of the second edition of the game coincided with my graduation from college. I finally had some money to spend on my hobby interests so i dove into "Space Marine" in a big way and had a ridiculous pile of titans - mostly painted! - for most of the armies. I still have most of them even though we haven;t played in a while.
  • Dan Abnett is a really good writer, particularly action/intrigue/thriller type stuff. He's written a bunch for Marvel and DC and he's written a lot of the better 40K fiction as well over the last 10-15 years. 
  • It was published in 2008 so some things have changed a bit with the setting. The descriptions of Skitarii in this book as barbarically ornamented techno-warriors is notably different than how they are presented now but it's not a huge problem for the story.
Short Version: 
If you are interested in Titan operations in 40K it's definitely worth a read. If you like military campaign stories set in the 40K universe in general you will probably like this book. If you like mixing in how "normal" people act and react in the 40K universe when a storm hits this one should be on your list.

The Good:
The action is great and world-spanning. One minute it's a titan ripping down void shields and blowing a gun arm off of another titan, then it's Adeptus Mechanicus Skitarii ground troops rampaging in a ferocious melee, then it's a few scrappy Planetary Defense Force remnants retreating though a desert just trying to stay alive. It's strong and there are interesting characters put in interesting situations. I think my favorite is the head of one titan legion, centuries old and mostly artificial, trying to retain his identity as the imprint of all the past Princeps of his titan (10,000 years worth) and the titan itself threaten to absorb his personality into their own. It's an interesting struggle as he forgets names and has flashbacks to prior battles while in the middle of leading the current campaign. The view of the "bridge crew" operating each titan is interesting to explore and does get significant time in the novel.

 The Not-As-Good:
It's a 600 page novel and there are a lot of plot threads and a lot of characters. Some of them fade out part way through the story and have little to no resolution or pay off. One character that gets a fair amount of first-person time early on ends up being killed off-screen in sort of a throwaway resolution late in the book. A major political/religious schism gets resolved incredibly neatly. One minor character keeps showing up, does nothing but wonder what's going on, and by the end of the book I was wondering why he was included at all.

It feels like the book was written in chunks, likely with significant gaps in between some of those chunks. Some plotlines are totally coherent and satisfying, many of them come together nicely at the climax, but some of them just wander, to no conclusion or to what feels like a rushed conclusion. Not enough to derail my enjoyment of the book but it's not 100% satisfying in the end.

Wrapping Up:
So, it was a good, interesting, and mostly satisfying read. It's a good 40k yarn. Another note: here's a 40K battle action story with no marines! So if you're looking for a fight without the Adeptus Astartes  jumping in to save the day here's a good candidate for you. It's not the best ever 40k novel and it's not Abnett's best work but it is pretty good and enough to keep me entertained for a few days.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Catching Up - RPG Burnout

There are a variety of reasons for the blog going silent last year. I wasn't playing as much tabletop gaming and I wasn't playing as much online either (I burned out on City of Heroes after about 4 months) so I did not have as much to say. The single biggest reason though was that for the first time in 40 years of playing RPGs I ... burned out.

This was a new experience. I've never gone more than a few months without playing or running something, and I've usually also worked in some prep work or some board or miniatures gaming even in those gaps. This time I let almost all of it go for roughly six months.

The last couple of years I've mostly been running 5th Edition D&D and playing in a Pathfinder campaign and a Savage Worlds 50 Fathoms campaign. There have been some smaller runs and one-offs with other games mixed in there but those 3 have been the core.

The 50 Fathoms game has been steady but hits bumps sometimes. We aim for weekly and sustain that for a bit and then hit stretches where we're lucky to play once a month. It's a weeknight game so it's especially vulnerable to schedule issues. It was frustrating at times but it's been a lot of fun and we should wrap that one up later this year.

The Pathfinder campaign had been running for over 5 years, theoretically once a month, but had gotten really spotty over the past year and 2019 was not really going any better. We had 5 players and it seemed as though it just was not a priority for any of them. After months of rescheduling without actually playing a couple of us finally told the DM it was time to let it go and he eventually agreed. It was not the way any of us wanted it to go, but that's just how it worked out. Regardless, I felt bad about how that went.

My campaign ... let's talk about that. I had been running Keep on the Borderlands intermittently with several players as our intro to 5th Edition. I've run it in every edition of the game so why not keep that going? A few years back with some variation in player availability I started running Storm King's Thunder as the "other" 5E campaign and scheduling sort of depended on who was available on any particular weekend. The SKT game was eventually sidelined as we regrouped and everyone decided to focus on the Old School game. I picked up Goodman Games "Into the Borderlands" super-version of B2 and used some of that material and then we moved into Isle of Dread - also guided by Goodman Games new-at-the-time-super-hardback-edition.

Things went well at first - enthusiasm and attendance were high and it felt like we were really accomplishing something. Then in the second half of 2019 it felt like we hit a wall. We were playing every other Friday, I had six players in the campaign, and vowed to run as long as 4 of them were available. Well ... pretty soon we were regularly having 3 or more unavailable. This jammed up the schedule, frustration grew for all of us, and I finally threw up my hands and said I was done even trying to run thru the end of the year. This was one big reason for the burnout - running a campaign as an adult means facing schedule conflicts and I've been doing it for years but last year it just exploded and all of our games were getting kneecapped by scheduling issues.

The other major thing was that some of the shine came off of 5th Edition D&D for me. I've been a fan of simpler rulesets for RPGs for a long time now but 5E is maybe too simple. After 20 years of 3E, 4E, and Pathfinder I've come to expect a certain level of crunch in my fantasy RPGs. While it does play faster than those other versions it is ... really really simple. I know it's super popular and tons of people have come back to the game this edition and I've not been a system mastery snob for a very long time but ... there's just not a whole lot there mechanically.

Character progression is really simple - you have a lot of choices those first 3 levels but once you've chosen your sub-class at 3rd most of your choices have been made. About the only customization you have left is the option to pick a feat at 4-8-12-16-19 but the game recommends you just stay with the stat boosts - how boring is that?

Monsters are mostly bags of hit points with 1 or 2 ways of doing damage and that's it - there are very few interesting monsters in the published book. In interesting here meaning they give the DM something to do besides roll a d20 and tell you how much damage you took. After 4E and Pathfinder I expect more - inflicting various conditions ... forced movement ... team-up abilities ... there are so many ways to challenge players in interesting ways beyond "The ogre hits you for 10 points". I'm pondering a post to illustrate this in more detail but for now most of the 5E monsters feel like a let step down from what we've seen before.

Bonus negative thing: I realized I am tired of running other people's material. My 4E stuff was almost all loose homebrew conversions of older material and I was very happy with it. My Pathfinder and 5E campaigns have all been published stuff and it is time to get back to writing up my own adventures.

So yes, the combination of disrupted schedules in all of our games, to the point of permanently ending one, plus the lowered enthusiasm about the main game, plus just a general frustration with the whole thing led me to "cancel the season" last fall and set the whole RPG hobby aside for months. I've gotten better since then, played some more, and even run a few sessions of  Pathfinder Second Edition to see if that satisfies that mechanical need - and so far it does seem promising. Now of course we have Ultimate Virus Lockdown as a worldwide status effect and that is this year's schedule killer.

Despite that, I'm planning to get some things moving. Interest has returned and as the year moves along I expect a return to at least one regularly scheduled campaign. I will also be getting back to keeping up the blog on some kind of regular schedule as well.

It's time to get back to work ...

Friday, March 20, 2020

Looks like it's time to dust this place off and light the beacons!