Saturday, April 24, 2010

Star Wars - Campaigns I Have Known

I have played in 1 d6 session mentioned in yesterday's post. It ended badly.

I have played in 2 short d20 campaigns. In one I played Jeet Kundo, a Rodian Scout. It was fun but it only lasted about 3 sessions. In the other I played Shub Nurath, a Duros Scoundrel with maxed out piloting skills and a light freighter just waiting to be modified. that lasted 3 or 4 sessions too. What can I say, my friend the usual DM is a bit fickle and his campaigns tend to shift fairly often.

Now I have run 3 campaigns myself:

Campaign 1 was a conversion of the old Star Frontiers Volturnis Trilogy. I set it in the time between Episode 1 and Episode 2 had the star frontiers systems as a distant cluster in the uncharted regions that was resource-rich and would be a big asset to the republic if war broke out. The players were part of a small diplomatic expedition that included senators and jedi. Their ship was attacked by pirates near Volturnis and that's where the campaign began - with the characters trying to get off the crippled ship before the pirates captured them or it crashed into the planet. The whole thing followed the plotline of the modules with the Sathar being an old ally of the Sith who had been hiding and biding their time way out here. With their modified creature army they fit some of the old Sith material very well and the epic battle at the end of the third module it would make for a very Star-Warsian climax and open up future encounters with them.

This campaign unfortunately only got about halfway through the first module before schedule issues killed it, but I still have my notes and doing it in d6 or Saga would be pretty easy.

Campaign 2 was "Desperate Measures", my special forces campaign set during the Rebellion right at the beginning of ESB - the rebels have been chased off of Hoth and are sending out some strike teams to try and knock the Empire off balance or at least distract them while rebel leaders try to re-establish control and a base somewhere. The PC's are one of these teams.

Now this was designed from the start to be a "limited campaign" - I had a concept, I wrote up one good adventure, and ran the players through it. When we were done, we were done. We could always come back and do a new adventure with some of the same characters (and we did) but I wasn't promising an open-ended freeform campaign - I wanted a definite start and a definite end - basically a movie's worth of action. This was the first time I really thought about this kind of game and it set a pattern for everything that followed, whether Star Wars, D&D, or Shadowrun. I always set a campaign goal now - it may be as simple as" get to level 20", but it's a goal. Also we were playing this on our weeknight game and the weeknight game was always our more experimental session where the games changed frequently. It was also the only night I got to play so I didn't want to sign on for a year-long adventure path or something on top of my regular saturday night D&D campaign - this was my compromise.

Anyway it was awesome - it went on for 2 or 3 months, probably 8-10 sessions (I didn't log it the way I do the Saturday campaign) of roughly weekly play and the players still talk about that run. They started at 6th level because they aren't supposed to be newbies, they're supposed to be experienced so they could do some cool stuff right from the start. I won't get into the details of the campaign (another post) but I worked in a nice little arc for the Jedi player, some chances to shine for the soldier, some fun for the pilot (stealing an AT-AT was big for him) and a big-bang climax with the unfrozen clone wars era jedi dueling his old padawan who has a nice new red lightsaber atop a giant mining vehicle while the soldier tosses thermal detonators into massed stormtroopers and the pilot tries to get their ship close enough to evac them before the star destroyer in orbit blows him out of the sky - it was great and I had as much fun as the players as everything came together - it's one of the high points of my DMing career.

About a year after Campaign 2 ended, my guys wanted to do another run with those characters. I had been thinking about this and decided to run Tatooine Manhunt, the very first Star Wars RPG adventure which I had owned forever. I added some material to it to make it a "movie" but I thought the basic plot worked really well in the context of a special missions force. They jumped right on board with their now 8th level PC's, including some new faces, and landed right in good old docking bay 94. There was a lot of fun roleplay around Mos Eisley, at least one barfight, and several encounters with Bounty Hunters looking for the lost republic general. I'd say the high point was the encounter with the Krayt Dragon out in the desert with only a pair of landspeeders and hand weapons to use against it. The soldier was happy that he finally got to cut loose with his big repeating blaster but it is a _very_ big beastie. It swallowed the jedi whole, and that almost had the other PC's turning around to run "We can't beat it - let's just leave!" until he finally managed to get his lightsaber turned on (while being crushed in the thing's gizzard) and cut his way out from the inside.

Alas this one was never finished due to schedule issues again - by the time we could get the group back on track I wasn't keen on trying to pick up where we had left off. Too much time had passed and some of the players were different so it wouldn't have made much sense anyway.

I can say that converting the d6 to d20 was very simple - I just used standard NPC's for soldiers, stormtroopers, pirates and bounty hunters out of the main rulebook. I had creature stats too and just used them where necessary. Spaceships, speeders, weapons- it's very simple. I basiclaly had one page of notes adding some encounters and NPC interactions and one more page covering some equipment changes and that was it. I put standard vehicle and NPC stats on different colored index cards and keep them in an index card box so I can pull them during play - it's a snap to run, even totally on the fly and everyone knows star wars so well it just works out.

Heck even the Star Frontiers conversion was easy - jet copters become air speeders, Explorer ATV's become landspeeders, guns are guns, sonic swords become vibroblades, etc. Again it ws a few pages of notes, namess, target numbers for skills, and connections and a page on what = what and then I just translated on the fly.

So there are my main experiences with the galaxy far far away. I'm sure they won't be the last. If I do start running d6 for the apprentices then I will probably start with Tatooine Manhunt - it's a classic and this time I won't have to translate anything.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Star Wars RPG Thoughts

Last weekend due to being in schedule hell one of the apprentices and I discussed letting them play the d6 Star Wars RPG. He read the rulebook some time back and thought it was cool and I think the d6 version is perfect for kids as it's pretty simple - read the numbers, add them up. It's a nice universal mechanic and it reinforces basic math very well. Since the Red apprentice was going to be unavailable I thought Blaster, Lady Blacksteel, and the Aspiring Apprentice could sit down for an hour or two of old-school d6 rebellion-era Star Wars.

Well that didn't happen to due to some last minute schedule issues. I was not happy, but I let it go. We will probably play it this weekend, but it may take a back seat to Basic D&D, we'll just have to see. It kind of depends on who's available. If nothing else it will make an appearance in July when everyone is here for an entire month.

But back to my reasoning- the Aspiring Apprentice is only 7, so I want to limit what we try to play - no 3rd edition D&D, no Hero System, etc. I though about basic D&D but even that is a little much IMO. He is a Star Wars fanatic though, and that counts for something, plus the d6 version is right in his math skills target area so it's a perfect fit. He already knows what a Jawa is and a Stormtrooper and a blaster and a lightsaber and he knows how Star Wars works. Plus the concept of "if you are better at something you roll more dice" is easily grasped.

Now I have only ever played 1 session of this. We just weren't into it back when it was popular. I am part of the Star Wars generation being in 3rd grade when it came out and I picked up the 1st edition rulebook about 1990 and thought it looked cool but no one ever wanted to run it - too many other games and D&D was always first. Eventually my main GM decided to run a game of it. I made a jedi -ish character. In our first session our 4-man party landed our tramp freighter on a primitive planet, walked down the ramp, encountered some natives, who then attacked us for no apparent reason and my jedi took a spear to the chest and died before getting to hit anyone with his lightsaber - I did get to draw it, I just never got to swing it. 2 other PC's died and the only survivor locked himself in the ship, unable to pilot it and unable to fight off the remaining natives by himself. That kind of put the group off of Star Wars for a while.

I did get interested again when WOTC started making the d20 version. The first edition was alright but lacking in some areas. The second edition was much better and I ran 3 short campaigns using it and the player's were all very pleased with how it played. Saga edition looks like the best by far to me (and is what D&D4 should have been but that's another story) though I have yet to run it.

After playing around with the d20 version I started picking up the d6 books on the cheap for extra material like maps and adventure ideas and figured out that even with a good d20 version there was merit in the d6 system too. It looked like it would play faster and there was a ton of material out for it and it was not expensive to acquire. So I did and I have a lot of it now and I am going to run it at some point, probably for the kids as mentioned above. I like that the mechanics take less overhead then d20 which I think makes it better for new gamers - d6 still has the "look at what I rolled" factor but d20 has that and also has the metagaming thing too - what feats to take, what prestige class, should I multiclass or not - and that's fine but it's better for more experienced players. I don't want them getting bogged down in those kinds of details yet which is why I think the d6 version is the better choice for this. If I was going to run it for the NE crew or the D&D4 crew then it would be Saga, no question about it.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Pool of Radiance - the novel

While preparing to run the new campaign I went ahead and picked up the old "Pool of Radiance" novel too, from 1989. I'm not going to do a full review of it because it is not worth it - it's not great. There are a few interesting bits here and there but it fails my main test of game fiction - does it faithfully recreate the world it is set in? This isn't a huge problem until the end, during the climactic battle against the dragon. The Dragon, a bronze, thinks to itself that it can't hit one character with it's breath weapon because He's "too close". A paragraph later the magic-user realizes she can't hit it with a lightning bolt -her favorite blasting spell up to now - because it's a bronze and since they breathe lightning her spell wouldn't hurt it. Then a short bit later the dragon's breath is reflected back at it and severely injures the dragon! A bronze dragon damaged by its own breath weapon? Even if a decision was made to ignore the immunity thing for purposes of the story, then why would the wizard girl think to herself that she couldn't hurt it? Just trim that one comment and then even if the story deviates from the game universe the novel is at least internally consistent - as it is, it doesn't follow D&D as we knew it AND it doesn't make sense within the novel either! This was a pretty big disjunction coming in the climactic fight of the book and I was disappointed as it wasn't as bad as I had expected up until then.

A few other nitpicks -

  • One character is a Human Ranger Thief. This novel was written during 1st edition and I'm not even sure how that would happen. I suppose he could have been dual classed but even then it's pretty rough with the level requirements. Oh, and he uses dual shortswords - this is pre-Drizzt pre-2nd edition, and pre-decent rules for dual-wielding. Maybe some playtesting for 2nd edition had been going on and so they worked it in. Regardless, two weapon use was looking cool even back then.
  • One character is an apprentice wizard and her master goes off to Phlan first to help a colleague fight off a monster attack. He leaves her a) his familiar, which is a horse - I don't remember that being an option under the "Find Familiar" Spell and it effectively serves as a fourth party member during the book b) his Wand of Wonder - OK I don't have a problem with this. Hell I've handed out a wand of wonder at the beginning of a cmapign myself just for the funny factor c) his STAFF OF POWER ?! WTF?! Can you see any wizard going into a big fight leaving an item like that behind? Maybe if he had a Staff of the Magi?! Even then wouldn't you let your buddy mage use the Staff of Power to help keep your hide intact? I can tell you none of my player's would ever do that - they tend to be of the "my items die with me" school - so I found this to be a pretty obvious sore thumb.
Anyway the story is pretty much an abbreviated run-through of the adventure by 3 characters of differing backgrounds who grow significantly in power during the tale. It's not the worst D&D fiction I've read, but it's not great. For what I'm doing it wasn't a waste of time as there are some names and things I can steal but that's about it.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Necessary Evil - Session 4 - Underground

Our Party begins at Night Terror's hideout. Their comlinks all have a blinking light when they check them in the morning - they have voicemail. Dr. Destruction's voice comes through and tells them that he knows the now-deceased supervillain Terron had a secret base under Star City, and that he used a special geothermal power source to run it. Destruction needs that power and has placed a power terminal in the drop warehouse. He wants them to get the terminal, head underground, find the base, and hook things up. He suggests using the Underground Irregulars as guides.

The team is on board with this plan. They check out the device they will be transporting and decide to use the anti-grav clamp they kept from the incident with the robot to make it easier to move. They also do some investigation into how to get underground quietly. In the end they grav-clamp the device, load it on a truck, and head over to a nearby pumping station that has access to the sewers.

Terron's base was located in the caverns beneath the city which are below and separate from the sewers, but there are known to be access points from the sewers to the caverns. Night Blade's ninja sense detect one right away and the group heads down even deeper, planning to try and make nice with the Underground Irregulars as plan A. If that fails, plan B is to beat them into revealing Terron's base.

Once they enter the caverns they are quickly detected and followed by the Undergrounders, though our villains only have a vague sense of being watched. Distracted by this they are ambushed by a group of hungry G'Roks, alien beasts released into the sewers some time back to try and flush out the Undergrounders. Combat ensues and Nissa quickly discovers she has a hard time fighting the beasts - they are the size of a horse, heavily armored, and have an animal level mind, rendering them impervious to most of her offensive capabilities, though her Vampiric abilities mean she is also immune to most of their attacks. . Night Blade and Night Terror find their armor resists the creatures' claws and teeth but that a vicious shaking might not be fun, so their weapons come out and Night Blade cuts one creature cleanly in half with a mighty sweep of his katana. MegaStrike, tough enough and strong enough that he fears no beastie uses his fists and piledrives one into the cavern floor with his powerful radiation-enhanced punch. The fight is fairly short, and our badguys emerge unscathed.

The Undergrounders have been watching and make contact after this fight. They lead the group to a large cavern where many people are gathered, including their leader - who is Valerie, the helpful prisoner from their first mission, who also displayed something of a crush on MegaStrike back then. She is very happy to see him again, and the rest of the group too. After hearing their mission she agrees to show them where the base is but she wants them to bring down food for her people - 1 ton of food. Nisavin considers mind-controlling the woman and Night Terror attempts to haggle with her over the timing - he wants to do it after hooking up the generator - but it's not looking good until MageStrike joins in and convinces her to do it his way.

A team of 5 Undergrounders leads the party to Terron's base. It is very apparent that most of the base collapsed during some kind of attack - maybe aliens, maybe a super hero - but the generator is still intact. Terror phases out and checks out the room through the walls and notices several dead G'Rok's in the room along with ANOTHER GIANT ROBOT! This robot however is all spiky, pointy,and bladed, much different than the Cosmic Robot the group recovered at the golf course.

Getting in to the room is tricky as the tunnel is a drainage tunnel, not a passageway. MegaStrike takes his time to carefully widen the hole until it's big enough for him to pass through while Terror watches the room (remaining phased out) and Nissa and Night Blade watch the cavern passages. All is quiet though (no more G'Rok encounters) and the opening is large enough after about an hour.

Mega steps into the room and almost instantly the robot lights up, announces "STOP THE INTRUDER", and attacks. Mega punches it and stuns it while Night Blade drives his katana deep into the metallic torso. Nissa finds she can barely scratch it. Night Terror phases in, pulls out his HeroKiller pistol and begins blazing away, actually penetrating the armor with the big gun. The two dark viallains manage to connect with their special powers and succeed in blinding the robot completely. After a brief struggle, Terror finishes the thing off with his dark blast that penetrates into the bot and fries its inner workings.

With the robot guardian down MegaStrike plugs the device in and starts it up. Their commlinks beep immediately as Destruction informs them he is receiving the power signal. He congratulates them and says he will be in touch. After using the smashed bot to block the passageway that accesses the generator the group heads back to the Undergrounders HQ.

Once there they work out some details with Valerie then part of the team heads up to arrange the food delivery while Mega stays behind to close the deal with the attractive leader of the Undergrounders.

DM Notes:

  • This was a pretty loose session. Since we hadn't gotten together in a while we spent a lot of time talking about things other than the game. I didn't push very hard since part of the reason we get together is to chit-chat and once we got started we stayed on track pretty well. That said one thing I like about Savage Worlds is that it plays so quickly that we had time to to that talking and we still got through a complete adventure with 2 combats, some legwork, and some roleplay/negotiation. Most other systems would not have allowed us to do that.
  • The Underground Irregulars are not especially well detailed in the book so I described them as part street gang, part homeless people, part resistance group and a little like the Outsiders from the Batman comics. There may be some minor supers among them but it's mainly regular humans who have chosen to live outside society and they are not liked by the aliens. The romantic interest with the leader was something that got started in session 1 so I was pleased that the players continued with it and it turned out to make things a lot easier for them.
  • Mechanically there was some confusion for all of us with the G'Roks - they aren't mentioned as having heavy weapons for their claws which are described as "razor sharp and hard as steel" so I ruled them to not be heavy attacks. Now this matters because 3 of the villains have heavy armor and if you don't have a heavy weapon they are essentially immune to that attack. You can bypass armor by attacking at a -6 and I decided the G'Roks would try to shake them hard if they couldn't bite through but it would take the same -6 to set this up. This really decreased the threat level of the things, which is my fault. When I read over them before I saw the heavy armor descriptor for them and just assumed they had heavy weapons too. Reading it when the fight started I realized they did not. I probably should have thrown in more of them to make it a slightly bigger threat but I didn't.
  • Defenses are interesting as we discussed after the game. Heavy armor means you are immune to non-heavy weapons but it doesn't actually raise your toughness - it's just a property that you can have regardless of the toughness number. MegStrike has the highest toughness in the group at 15, but he doesn't have heavy armor. At first I thought this was a problem but after looking it over most normal guns and weapons do about 2d6 or 3d6 in damage which is unlikely to do more than Shake him in one hit, so he is already nearly immune to normal weapons anyway! Most man-portable heavy weapons do 5 or 6d6 or more in damage which is going to punch through everyone's defenses (including his) anyway and heavy armor doesn't help you there. So it looks to me right now like if you really want to be tough, you don't sweat heavy armor - you just build up your toughness. Heavy really only helps if you want to be bulletproof but do not want to build up your vigor stat to high levels. It lets those pistol rounds bounce off but it means when they bring out the bazooka your toughness of 8 is going to be a problem. This is the kind of stuff that really only comes out in play and ensures that your second character will be much more efficient than your first.
  • Bennies continue to be used very conservatively - none were spent until more than halfway through the game, mainly in the robot fight, and everyone ended with at least 1. It's smart play, but I would like to loosen this up a bit, I'm just not sure how.
All in all it was a good session and I like the way the campaign is going. There is a lot more focus on character and story than on mechanics and XP's and it makes for a nice change from our prior 3rd edition D&D campaigns.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

4th Edition Campaign Starts Friday!

We played Necessary Evil on Saturday Night - update coming tomorrow - and it was decided to go ahead and kick off the 4th ed game next Friday and we will probably alternate the games after that. We've also located a 5th player so I will be able to follow the 4th ed design template to the letter, though he probably won't be there for session #1.

This will be the Phlan game I talked about in some earlier posts. I have decided to stick with a coherent theme - this will be "Return to the Ruins of Adventure", not an exact copy of the original. This gives me a little more freedom to make some changes to fit D&D4 a little better. I am still using the various city areas and many of the high points - the temple of Bane, Valhingen Graveyard, Stojanow Gate, the Pyramid on Sorcerer's Isle - all will be pretty similar to the original. Plus if we ever do a retro campaign it means I can go back and run the original as-is.

I have sketched out the Slums and Kuto's Well in some detail and have a lot of notes on the civilized area. I need to finish those up and start sketching in the rest of the city. Sokal Keep and Podol Plaza are up next. My overall plan is to make the cleansing of Valhingen Graveyard the climax of heroic tier - the city proper will be liberated at that point and the characters will hit 11th level after doing it - those that survive anyway. I plan to make it more personal by tying in the Invulnerable Coat of Arnd, which is presented as a Heroic Tier artifact in D&D4 and will have a grudge against the ruler of the graveyard, pushing its owner towards a confrontation. Plus I should have at least one background hook from a character that I can tie in somehow.

Once the characters have had a chance to bask in the glory and choose their Paragon Paths, it's time to finish the job and cement their legendary status. They will have to tackle Stojanow Gate first, which will be guarded by a beholder, among other things. Then they will have to attack the castle and I am planning some old-school nastiness to really push them. In keeping with the feel of the original, the big bad will be some kind of modified dragon - if they do some recon work it will not be a total surprise, but if they just blunder in then it will be tough - as it should be.

I want to work in a lot of old-school monsters keeping a classic feel to the adventure while we work through the new mechanics. So there will be several dragons of various sizes and types, all the classic humanoid races will make an appearance, undead in several classic forms, a hydra, a gelatinous cube, etc. Part of the garrison will be giants, which will let me lay some groundwork for the next thing, which I am tentatively planning as "Against the Giants 4th ed"a using my own material and working in some of the Revenge of the Giants 4th ed adventure, which is set for levels 12-17. I'm not sure exactly yet how it will break down and I'm not going to worry about it a whole lot yet - I have a whole initial campaign to work through first.