Saturday, August 24, 2013

Star Trek Saturday - Voyaging Online

Just to throw something different out there, here's an update from the world of Star Trek Online:

At the end of last month’s State of the Game there was a poll that asked the following question: “Which Trek series’ ships, characters, species, and stories, would you most like to see more of in a future STO Expansion?”

Here are the results of that poll as of today:

Enterprise – 409
The Original Series – 198
The Next Generation – 371
Deep Space Nine – 474
Voyager – 1,216
You have overwhelming voted for more Star Trek: Voyager. 

Argh ... the worst of the various Trek series is suddenly the guiding light for the game that covers all of them. I'd prefer to see this as more than 50% of fans who voted saying "anything but Voyager" but I don;t think they will take my interpretation of it. I would expect TOS to come in fairly low as quite a bit of it is in the show already, and there's a fair amount of TNG and DS9 in there too. However, I would rather they mine every last scrap of cool from those shows than start paying more attention to Voyager.

To be fair the article does address the difficulties of mixing Delta Quadrant stuff in with the traditional Trek material they already have and I kind of like the approach they are contemplating. I do think it would be strange to have a playable faction in an MMO RPG that is completely cut off and separated from the existing factions in the game, and I can't think of another game that has tried that. If they find a way to do it right though I would at least give it a look.

Friday, August 23, 2013

40K Friday - A Complete Lack of Content

Remember when you could detail guard troopers like you did marines?
We've played exactly zero 40K around here for the last few weeks. What little time we've had has been spent with RPG's, mostly D&D, and the armies of the 41st millennium have been taking a break. Once the D&D situation is sorted out I expect we will be rolling the d6's again. The new Marine Codex will certainly give me a reason to set up some games. So 40K Fridays are just on leave, not gone altogether.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

A2, A3, and A4 - More Thoughts on Nexting Them

A2 - If A1 was a raid on an enemy outpost, A2 is ... a raid on an enemy outpost. It's bigger and there are more guards, but there is still a fortified upper level and then a secret dungeon level where the link to the next adventure can be found.

The upper level seems to make the assumption that the entire party will be sneaking around looking for the dungeon entrance. I've never had parties that could do this for long, nor did they want to. If I remind them that this is like the death star part of Star Wars it might help but even that may be asking a lot.

The lower level is a mix of clever and ridiculous - not that unusual for AD&D dungeons but people are supposed to live and work here? I like some of the traps but I dislike some of the monsters and forced situations that are included here.

I'm not a huge fan of phantoms and haunts and some of the "haunted visions" that are included in this one. I think they distract from the main point of the adventure by trying to tell some kind of history of the fort, but it's not like this is a some famous landmark - it's a nameless ruin in the wastelands that are the Pomarj. No one cares about its backstory.

There's also a tremendous focus on one enemy character that the PC's won;t even meet until the very end. We get Markessa's this and Markessa's that - but she doesn't have any real presence in the place outside of her little suite of rooms. I would probably plant some seeds to at least drop her name ahead of the final confrontation but there's not much of that kind of thing in the adventure as written.

On this one I am torn - I can see it playing out like a lot of action movies and being cool as a whole but I'm not that thrilled about the parts that make it up. I think some small tweaks to the dungeon level could put it over the finish line for me. I think playing through some of the journey to the fort could make a difference too, introducing the boys to a little hexcrawling along the way.

A3 is a raid on an entire city. This has to be one of the earlier mapped towns in a D&D product and I didn't remember there being as much information in there as I am seeing now. Basically there's a cave sequence that leads to the hidden city, there's exploring the city itself to locate the enemy, then there's another small dungeon leading to the final confrontation.

The cave sequence is fairly short but has an ending that's, well, you don't get stuff like that in published adventures any more and I kind of like it.

The city itself is detailed enough that I could see it being a lot of fun, maybe the best part of the adventure. It's enemy territory but it is a city, not a fortress, so there's room to walk around and talk to people. I like the potential here.

The dungeon is small, much smaller than A1 or A2. The finale can go two ways - you can use the tournament ending and railroad them right into A4, or you can let the dice and the chips fall in a climactic battle with the slave lords themselves. I think that's the way to do it but I see two issues with it:

First, it's not like there are billboards up around the city with the names and faces of the lords on them, so your players are going to confront them without it necessarily being personal. I think that's a missed opportunity and I'm going to have to think about how to rectify it.

Second, letting the fight happen at the end of A3 likely eliminates the bulk of A4 as a usable adventure. The premise of A4 is that the PC's are captured and have to escape from the Slave Lords. I would absolutely hate that forced ending as a player so I'm not going to do it to mine. I think the second half of A4 could be used as the big escape sequence (following our movie analogy above) from the city.

A1 I already knew fairly well. A2 I have never run or played and my interest levels were dropping as I finished it. A3 completely renewed this, and A4, even cut in half, could make a decent ending to the story. I admit there's a part of me that says forget these, let's just run Isle of Dread and let them wander around an island sandbox.

Say they finish up the Keep at 4th, then A1 at 5th, A2 at 6th, A3/4 at 7th-8th depending on how things work out, this would work right into the G series which is where I want to go.

Alternatively I could go Isle of Dread which probably has 2-3 levels in it, then White Plume Mountain, maybe Ghost Tower, and maybe Lost City and then into the giants

Yes, I am interested in taking a "classics" tour for this run.

Then of course there is the option to go with the Temple of Elemental Evil, pulling it back from our 4E game into Next. Might have to discuss that one with the boys. The big issues with that and with some of the other options is that I don't have a full monster list or any kind of monster mechanics now for Next. I have full monster lists for the Caves, the Isle, and the Slavers. There's something to be said for using the tools you've been given.

I'm still thinking Greyhawk for the setting. I don;t really want to drop this plot into my homebrew world, and while I think there's a place for it in the Realms, probably around the Moonsea, it's really part of Greyhawk's lore and that's where it feels the most "right" to me.

Assuming we can manage an adventure/level per month then working into the G series puts us into next year and into the possible release window for Next which would work out nicely.

Now to get the operation on schedule!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Converting A1

So ... good ol' Slave Pits ... I had forgotten how linear a dungeon could be. The only time I ran this was in 3rd Edition and between the Basilisks, the troll-in-the-box and his assassin friend, and the immune-to-a-bunch-of-stuff insect men it was nearly a TPK At the time I blamed it on the conversion that I was using but there is some crazy stuff in this adventure in any edition.

Re-reading it with an eye towards Next I don't think it will be too difficult to manage, With the monsters already converted the bulk of the work is done.- Half-Orc Cleric Assassin? Yep, it's in there. I don't have multiclassing rules for characters but sure enough I have a set of multiclassed monsters - All that's left is adjudicating some of the stuff they are sure to try, and the simple methods in next of using ability checks is flexible enough to accommodate almost anything on the fly. I'm going to resist the temptation to over-plan this and rule these on the fly. Which is pretty much what we did back when this was new so it feels appropriate.

Setting-wise I'm still leaning towards Greyhawk - if I'm going to run an AD&D module in a somewhat retro system, why not use the AD&D setting? I did look over some ideas people have had for placing these adventures in the Realms but it just feels wrong.

Magic items may be a problem as not all of them exist in Next right now. There aren't a ton of them in the adventure, but this is one area I will have to detail ahead of time. Rings of protection and potions of healing are easy enough but rings of spell storing and rings of shooting stars are a little trickier. I'm going to look at Basic and at AD&D and try to come up with workable versions rather than changing them out for something else completely.

Gold is also a potential problem - there is a large amount of coin to be found in this module. Take out the leader and there is 5000 gp sitting right there in a box. This is mainly a byproduct of the original gp = xp system. That said I've never been all that afraid of letting the characters have extra cash in settings where they can't buy magic items. Either they blow it on something like gilded plate armor or they save it for their future castle, and both choices help tie them to the game world.

Finally, I'm a little concerned about running it as-is because there are some large groups of monsters in some places in here and I don't see us running 8-9 PC's - like we might have in the old days - unless we pick up some additional players. I'm going to start off assuming I can run it with the numbers as written and adjust if it proves to be too much.  

I also have to give the slave lord in this one a name. Any ideas?

Monday, August 19, 2013

Next Angst

Looks like we did get some details from Gen Con. Article here if you're interested.

We played some more Next over the weekend, basically the Apprentices are thrashing the goblin lair in the caves of chaos. They're level 2 now and feeling a little bolder than at level 1. It's a lot of fun to watch them become experts on the area and the mechanics as they spend more time with both.

Schedule conflicts did keep us from playing as much as we wanted and this brought things to a head. Red and Blaster are both tired of playing and "never getting anywhere". The highest level they have reached in any version of D&D is 3rd and they've been playing for a few years now. Some of this is my fault as I've been using them as guinea pigs for different games, but their interest levels jump around quite a bit too. That said, they are asking to concentrate on one game so they can make real progress in it and I agree that it's time to do that. With school starting back up next week schedules should settle into a routine so it's a good time to do that.

Challenges: Red is a senior and has a job and is in a bunch of extracurricular stuff (including being the school mascot) and usually has a girlfriend at any given time. Blaster is starting high school and is in marching band and isn't with us every day of the week. Who is younger and isn't as tied up but will likely be seeing an uptick in homework as he enters middle school. With those first two it means fall Fridays are booked, weeknights are busy, and weekends are tricky at times. Oh, and Twilight is learning to drive, but that's a different problem...

Since I'm already running a game for the grown-ups that's a chunk of my time taken up, and Lady Blacksteel and I try to have some kind of a social life too so schedules are complicated. I've told both Red and Blaster to make a serious effort to find some players at their high schools - there are pockets of us everywhere, and they don't have to hide like they used to. The LGS is on my radar as well. They have some group running old school D&D one night a week but we may have to do something on our own up there to really stir the pot.

So then, what to play? If we're going to play one game every week/two weeks then it needs to be something we all like. Now they like Marvel/Deadlands/Shadowrun/M&M/Star Wars but they're asking for D&D. Over the last couple of years we've played Basic, Advanced Labyrinth Lord, 4E, Pathfinder Beginner Box, and Next and they have asked about AD&D 1 & 2 and 3E. So yeah, not a ton of focus there.

  • Apprentice Who thinks 4E takes too long so that's probably out. Plus he's right to a degree, and if we end up trying it on a weeknight that's going to be a challenge given the limited time available. 
  • Red likes the way his characters are working in Next.
  • Blaster keeps looking at the wall of 3E stuff on my shelves and asks about Pathfinder or 3rd Edition.
  • Red and Blaster both like 4E too but realize the time is a problem and that losing Who is not as much fun as including him

There's a lot of 4E stuff yet unexplored - The original WOTC "adventure path" of Keep on the Shadowfell etc., the Dungeon Scales of War path, the Dungeon Chaos Scar path, Neverwinter, and a bunch of other one-offs, plus our converted ToEE game. I'd love to spend more time with it but that seems less likely right now, for this anyway. I still have the grown-up game regardless.

3.5/Pathfinder - there's no lack of material here either and battles aren't as time-consuming so it could work in a 2-3 hour weekly session. I'm considering it.

That really leaves Next as the looming choice - all three of them like it and it plays fairly fast, more like Basic than 4E. With the announcement that there is only one more packet coming my interest momentarily dropped away - why waste time on it now? We can play something else and wait for the official release. Then I got to looking at the available material for it and realized I could probably string together a campaign out of this stuff. I see three paths forward:

  • Convert Stonehell to it and intersperse it with my own stuff - the most old school option and while it would take some work it shouldn't be too extreme. This would use my homebrew "Dragonport" world I've been using for our Basic type adventuring.
  • The recent packets have included conversions for the monsters in the Slave Lords hardcover. Now I don't have this particular collection but I have the 4 original modules and I have never run  anything past A1. This would push a lot of buttons for me - running an old adventure series for the first time, running the boys through an old-school adventure, possibly introducing them to Greyhawk - oh yeah this could be fun, and it would easily lead into the G series and then the D series down the road.
  • Going in the opposite direction there is a series of adventures coming out as part of "The Sundering" event for the Forgotten Realms. The first one is "Murder in Baldur's Gate" (top of the post) and there are supposed to be 5 total. The boys like the Realms, especially Blaster who has been reading a lot of the novels. The downside is that I suspect they are heavily plotted and I'm not sure I want to be that tied to a possible railroad. It's cool that it has stats for 3.5, 4E, and Next all included but I'm really just looking at the Next option at this point.
Right now I'm leaning towards the Slavers series. It's minimal work, I could bring in a setting I haven't touched in a few years, and it has long term potential. I'm going to re-read all four of them, plus "The Slavers" from Second Edition to see both what I can do with it and to see if the XP numbers and the treasure make any kind of sense. I can go free-form and just level them up when it makes sense but if I can make the math work then I'd rather do that - it helps keep the old school feel a little bit more. Instead of using the "A0" provided in the book we're just going to finish out the Caves of Chaos and they should be level 3-4, ready to start chasing slavers. 

I'm hoping this promised September packet is bulked up a bit. I can pull this off but it would be nice to see some additional magic items and their plans on monster advancement, etc. DM-side stuff. 

It's a little strange - all these books on my shelves and we're going to end up playing a game that's not even published yet. At least it's free, unlike some other Betas. Assuming we make this a weeknight game then we will still have some weekend time for superheroes etc. 

Motivational Monday