Saturday, December 8, 2018

Greatest Hits #7 - The Star Trek Model of Campaign Design

Another one of my favorites ...

1) The World is Not Known: In contrast to the Rangers or Star Wars, exploration is the focus and that means the setting is a major player in the campaign. Compared to the Rangers campaign where the setting is really just wallpaper behind the big action, in this style of game everything from geography to races and civilizations to even the weather can play a big role in the campaign and any of those could be the focus of a session. Compared to Star Wars the physical layout of the setting and the cultures are largely unknown, and while both can feature interaction and combat, this concept adds in the whole getting-to-know-them stage. In short: In Power Rangers you don't need a map, In Star Wars you just look up the map, in Trek the campaign is about the people who make the map!

2) Travel will be common and interesting. The PR game characters might never leave their hometown. In Star Wars travel is common and mundane but not typically a focus other than as a rest period between adventures. For this style of game travel is how the campaign advances. It may well involve a craft of some kind.  This could easily be ship based, even a flying ship or an airship if you're going in that direction fantasy-wise. A literal interpretation of the source material could lead to teleportation circles and flying carpets as supplementary travel options.

3) Character Diversity: This one is not as essential as the first two but in keeping with the source of the inspiration the concept can easily handle a wide range of character types, classes and races. It also makes some sense to start above 1st level if you're so inclined. Think those flying races are overpowered for a traditional campaign? Not so here. Always wanted to play a locathah or merman or sea-elf? This might be the place to do it. Reluctant to include the Drow character in your usual game? This is where you can "Worf" in your Drizzt wanna-bes. Steal justifications and explanations from the source without remorse.

4) Steady State: Unlike PR there is not necessarily a strong character progression here, making it more suitable for non-level-based games. That said it works fine with a level progression, and an expedition into distant planes of weirdness can be a good explanation for why your former frontier farmboy becomes a demigod. Unlike Star Wars there is not typically a huge amount of social change going on, and adding that in can distract from the exploration theme and change the campaign, moving it towards a Star Wars style game. In general the home social situation stays the same, and the characters may or may not progress a great deal, but the discoveries made by the players can certainly stir things up back home.

5) Open Ended: Also unlike PR and SW there is no requirement that characters defeat a world-threatening evil or change the state of the world. Individual characters may come and go but the exploration can continue for years. It might be different quests, different missions, or one really long Odyssey, but there is no inherent limit on it.

I did something like this with a Rifts campaign years ago described in this post. Here's how it breaks down as far as the elements in this post:
  1. In this version the only information available were a few scattered reports from other travelers and some pre-apocalyptic maps.
  2. Travel took place via a giant robot with room on board for everyone. They stomped across the post-apocalyptic US and had to deal with various challenges
  3. It was Rifts, so character diversity is a given. Wizard? Check. Ninja? Check. Cyborg? check? Dragon hatchling? Check? Power armor guy? check. Not a problem.
  4. They started at first and made it up to about 6th by the end. They were not in regular contact with the home base so it didn't really figure in the campaign. The world itself was not in the middle of a war or an invasion, just the usual Rifts stuff
  5. Some characters died, some dropped out, others dropped in, and at least one underwent a racial transformation. There's plenty of room for change, even with a seemingly limited crew.

So running this in Trek or Traveller is easy enough, and I've given a Rifts example above, how about D&D? It's not difficult as it's a fairly traditional sandbox/hexcrawl game at heart. I think I will save that for a separate post - check back tomorrow.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Greatest Hits #6 - The Star Wars Model of Campaign Design

So I did something like this once before and I've been thinking about it again, but this time with a different model. I'll try to use a similar format too. Note that this is based more on the universe than it is the movies themselves.

So, principles of a Star Wars-modeled campaign:

1) The Universe is Known: Some games feature a lot of exploration. This one does not. This actually fits a lot of fantasy campaigns pretty well, from the Forgotten Realms to Warhammer's Old World. The big picture geography is well documented, but one can easily find pockets of "unknown" here and there and some areas are "far too remote" for decent people to care about anyway.

2) Monolithic Stability: Someone is In Charge - of almost everything! Sometimes it's the good guys, sometimes it's the bad, but most of the time most things are controlled mostly by one entity. One of the driving forces of the campaign is to change this.

I'm sure this is all completely fine, nothing underhanded here at all, nope
3) The Pendulum:

  • A creeping threat to the existing order is discovered. This is where the game begins.
  • This order begins to fray as the threat grows and factions begin to disagree on how to deal with it. Heroes adventure and important figures on both sides are identified.
  • Open conflict breaks out and this conflict may go on for years. Heroes and villains do a lot of leveling up during this conflict.
  • The old order collapses and a a new one rises. PC's may directly cause this.
  • The purge - allies and power players of the old order are hunted down as the new order consolidates power. Heroes pay back old foes or go out in a blaze of glory.
  • The interim - Things appear to stabilize. Surviving high level PC's retire or go into exile. 
  • The next generation - descendants or allies of the old order begin to gather power and make plans to overturn the new order, beginning the cycle all over again. Roll up your new characters.

4) Generations, Lineage, and Legacy: There's a lot of attention paid to redemption and revenge. Characters may have intertwined family histories or religious affiliations. Enemies may be related as well. There is a little more demanded of the players here when it comes to linking up their characters than in a typical D&D game but hopefully that's what they are looking for. There is plenty of room for diversity in character types, they just need to have some connections. This game will spend a fair amount of time on relationships, so your role players should love it. For your action junkies - well there is a war on...

Once again level based games give a nice built-in progress clock for what needs to be happening in the universe. This is another "finite" campaign in many ways, as there is a planned end point for the game (we won! - or-  we lost!), but it has a huge connection to the next one (or the previous one) that makes them almost a continuous campaign.

There's plenty of room for players to control their own destiny within these larger events, even taking control of some of them as high level characters are going to be leaders in a wartime situation without having to ask for it. 

Also, it doesn't really matter which side they are on! If they go Old Order heck, give them a chance to stop the change - perhaps only to have their NPC leader turn out to be the biggest threat of all! If they don't manage to make the change (hi Mr. Windu!), well, the survivors get to set the seeds for the next generation to carry on the fight. If they go New Order, well, let's hope they win so they can all retire to desk jobs by the time they become the Old Order again.

Among published settings for D&D, well, Eberron is the direct aftermath of a war, possibly headed for another one, and Greyhawk has had a few too.

I haven't deliberately run a game like this yet but I think it has a lot of potential. I'm laying a little ground work for something like this in my 4E Red Hand of Doom campaign as there is a 4E campaign that follows up on the events of this adventure a generation or more later. I didn't plot it out ahead of time but there is the potential there for the future. 

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Greatest Hits #5 - Notes from a Campaign that Failed

You won't win them all - why not pass along some notes from a failure too ...

Whatever tone you set and whatever level of campaign buy-in you are comfortable with, it's also important to make sure that's where the other participants are too.

In the early 90's, Champions was our Superhero game of choice. By 1994 I was ready to start a new campaign and over several weeks wrote up the background for "Miami 2000" which was set in Miami... in 2000... which seemed like a good idea at the time. I did a lot of research on the real-world Miami, gathered maps and travel guides, then imposed a few changes on the city to make it more of a near-future superhero setting. Characters were discussed and created - a mentalist, an energy projector, a brick, and others were all written up and reviewed.  and we were ready for my semi-serious Bronze Age campaign.

First session opens up as PC's discuss their characters and we have a bank robbery - heroes respond. Within one round "The Rose" has used her Thorn Blast at full strength on the escaping villain "Pulsar" which is enough to kill him outright, and he tumbles out of the sky over the bank and crunches onto the street. This triggers her code against killing and she shuts down. The other heroes flee the scene, grabbing her on the way, looking suspiciously like THEY had committed the robbery. I decided to go with that and give them some trouble with the police. They went underground like the X-Men and it looked like we were set for a slightly darker game than I had planned but I was ready for it. Then the mentalist adopted the name "Professor Y" and things disintegrated. 

Now The Tick was on TV and setting our circle of friends on fire at the time and I blame this completely for the ruining of that campaign. Once the dam cracked it was all over - it's Professor Y and the Y Men ("Y? I'm glad you asked!") running all over Miami talking in funny voices, coming up with newer dumber costumes and flipping the bird to anyone who has serious questions for them. Ugh.

I tried to get on board by introducing The Hedgehog (also known as Weapon P), Hogan to his friends (because if adamantium spikes coming out of your hands is cool, adamantium spikes coming out all over your body is clearly even better). He's the leader of a crazed band of underground rebels who all think they're mutants (even though most of them are not) who hide out in an abandoned amusement park and hear about/start/make up crazy stuff all the time which Hogan takes very seriously and asks the PC's to handle but it was too far gone by then. We played for less than 3 months total and then I had Godzilla step on them all, ending the campaign.

Clearly there were some different expectations here. I was thinking bronze age to gritty supers and so were the players when we talked about it. Then The Tick came out and completely changed the environment. I tried to roll with it but the campaign was just not built to run that way and I fought it indirectly. I should have just started over from scratch and ignored what I had written up before but I could not do it. We could have had a lot of fun with it but I was not really in the mood to break my vision and just ended the campaign rather than try and adapt. Sometimes that's just the way it has to be. 

So I would say my lesson learned here was to make sure everyone has approximately the same view of how the campaign is going to run and try to keep the focus there. If there a planned "premiere" session then send out some teaser emails to reinforce the sense of the game and maintain the momentum and interest. Also make sure there is some level of buy-in for the characters - pick a name, pick a home area, pick an organization to be a part of, something to ground them in the game and keep them there. Also:
  1. Never let characters with an overpowered killing attack take "Code Against Killing"
  2. Always set your games in coastal cities as Godzilla lives in the ocean. 

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Greatest Hits #4 - The Power Rangers Model of Campaign Design

Still one of my favorites and something I try to keep in mind when coming up with a new campaign ...

Ha!, Bet you didn't see that coming! So what do I mean by this? First, let's look at Power Rangers.

Despite being a fan of Japanese giant rubber monsters I was not a huge Power Rangers guy when they first came out, mainly because it was kind of after my time. It was a pop-culture thing though so I was aware of it. Some years later though, after introducing the Apprentices to Godzilla and Robotech I noticed some form of PR was running on one of the cable channels and we started recording it. I watched it with them so I learned a lot about it - more than many might want to- and after coming across it again recently I started thinking that it's not a bad model for a campaign. So here are the important points:

1) Progression: Each season begins by introducing the characters, introduces the concept of the Power Rangers to the characters, then slowly escalates both their powers and the power of their enemies along the way to a final confrontation with the master villain that ends with a titanic battle that challenges them to the utmost, sometimes requiring great sacrifice to win.
This screams "LEVELLING!" to me. Having watched a few seasons of the show they start off inexperienced and need a lot of help from the mentor figure, but by the end they are confident and competent and taking on vastly more powerful foes than when they started. It wouldn't even have to be a strictly D&Dish form of levelling. In M&M it could be as simple as raising the power level at certain intervals.

2) Characters: Each season features 3-5 main characters including the young untried potential heroes and a master/mentor figure. During the season at least one new Ranger or non-ranger powered hero joins the team. There is typically one master villain with several lieutenants of varying power and competence and a whole lot of minions along with a few expendable villains of the week.
Hmmm, the main characters sound suspiciously like a typical party in most RPG's. The new character joins in and sometimes is someone they have known all along (NPC promoted to PC) or may want to work alone at first (the mysterious new PC) or may even be mistaken for a bad guy and end up fighting the other heroes in one of his first appearances in the finest comic book tradition.

3) Archetypes: The characters are individuals but the show doesn't lose sight of the focus - Action -  so they tend to be archetypes: the Jock, the Nerd, the Artist, the Surfer, the Daredevil, the Old Master, the Not-So-Old Master, and others.
I find this is an acceptable level of characterization in most games that fall in the "Action" end of the RPG spectrum - D&D, Shadowrun, Star Wars. At the very least it's a good starting point that can be modified or explored as the game progresses.

4) Environment: The heroes usually have a base area (often hidden and secret from the world) but lead otherwise normal lives in a typical society in a peaceful home town that is threatened by the enemy. There is not a lot of traveling, the story is usually centered around one region.
This really fits low-level D&D and Supers campaigns in my experience. Shadowrun can use it as well (Seattle) as can Gamma World and even Star Trek if you set it up that way.

5) Action - there are multiple levels of challenge in each episode. Sometimes they fight mooks and win easily then try to figure out what they were doing. Sometimes it's a single tough opponent that they cannot defeat as individuals. Sometimes several of those opponents team up to challenge them.  Sometimes it's a lieutenant trying to prove himself to the master villain. Sometimes the master will try to subvert one of the heroes in a more subtle attack but even then it usually leads to big fight at the end of the episode once the hero realizes what is going on. Regardless of the exact type of action, there is always conflict in each episode, often more than one scene's worth.
So this is like every version of D&D, many Pulp games, many Supers games and really most RPGs I have played. Drama, angst, and introspection have their place but this type of campaign is probably not best for them, at least not as the focus of the experience.

6) Closure - each season begins with a new group of heroes and a new villain in a new location. The show unfolds, the characters progress, and in the end there is a fight with a big bad which the Rangers win but give up their powers afterward or drop into the background. It has a beginning, a middle,and an end, telling a complete story.Someone coming in next season needs no knowledge of the previous season (or any previous season) to jump into the action. They may learn something about history along the way, but they don't need to know it to start.
This is something that makes it different than many campaigns - there is a definite end point. D&D 4E follows this model in this way but many earlier versions really did not - there was no end game. this type of campaign really depends on having one and it's one that is figured out in advance: you're going to fight Lord Zedd or Orcus or Lolth as they are the one behind all of the problems you've been facing.

7) Continuity - in spite of the closure mentioned above there is continuity. Often, one of the characters from the prior season will end up being part of the new team in the next season. One of the early season leaders ends up being the mentor for another team 10 years later! Plus, almost every season includes a crossover episode featuring the team from the previous season who join in and then together they handle some shared menace - either an unusual one-off threat or an alliance of bads from both seasons. One special episode featured the team leaders from the first 10 years of the show teaming up to defeat an old menace and even as an adult I thought that was cool and showed that the creators cared about what they were doing.
This softens the blow a bit from #6 - yes the campaign is over but your other games still happened! Throw in artifacts, news, NPC's, even guest appearances by PC's to connect THIS campaign to THAT campaign in some way and you are building a richer world than you might realize - it doesn't always have to be one long run with the same characters. Sometimes knowing that other groups are out there makes the story that much better and the world that much deeper.

I think this would be really appropriate for any level-based game but in particular it works for D&D and Supers campaigns. I also think it would work for Feng Shui, Mekton, Mechwarrior, and even Twilight 2000 with the right setup. I can see a Star Trek game working under this premise as they try to defend a particular sector from some new enemy (I might even say that DS9 follows this premise to an uncanny degree). That said, the more cinematic the game system the better as they tend to feature a more action-oriented play style and allow for rapid recovery between fights.

Now this is a heavily plotted campaign - it is the opposite of a sandbox or West Marches type game as it has both a scheduled end point (Session #X), possibly a calendar endpoint (December 31st 2011) , and a plot climax (the PC's face off against Iuz in the ruins of his capital as the armies of Nyrond surge into the city). This is (weirdly enough) almost required for some groups and anathema to others, so know your players! Telling a lot of D&D players that you're not going to track XP's is going to cause some eyes to bug while telling a Mechwarrior or T2K player he doesn't have to worry about tracking ammo between fights is likely to bring tears of joy.

Say you decided at the end of 2010 to run a new D&D campaign in Greyhawk and the concept is that you are fighting Iuz to free the Shield Lands from oppression. You let everyone know you're going to run it for one year, twice per month (so 24 sessions) and that you're not going to worry about XP - leveling will happen as certain tasks are completed or enemies defeated and it will pretty much be once per session so that at the end the group will be 20th level for the final confrontation. I would sketch out what the major opposition would be for each session, come up with some villain plots that are being carried out, then roll with it! Let the players go and see what happens. There are some hurdles here that the show does not have to deal with:

  • What if somebody dies? Well most games have a raise dead mechanic - use it. if not then the new character joins in as an experienced member of "that other team you've been hearing about" - you were dropping hints of another team right? or an envoy from a distant ally "The King of Nyrond has sent us his best knight to aid us in our struggle". Give him a nice entrance and move on.
  • What if the PC's lose a big fight? Well, they say you learn more from failure than success so let them level up anyway then give them a challenging Plan B to make things right. They couldn't stop the enemy agents from recovering the magic crystal? Let them raid the enemy fortress where the crystal-bearer has stopped for the night. Let them go after the anti-crystal hidden in ancient shrine at the top of the world
  • What if they lose the big fight? Then the badguy wins and you have the plot for your next campaign, possibly featuring a crippled survivor from the previous PC team as a mentor.

So my initial idea was that this show makes for an interesting framework for a limited campaign (something I've discussed before) and might help someone get the idea of how these non-traditional campaigns would work. I think it also shows that you do not have to give up many of the good points of those campaigns just by doing this. The biggest difference from my previous manifesto is that this style of game doesn't blow up the world - the heroes saved it, so it's going to be around for the next campaign. This let's you build those stories up over time The whole point is to have a complete campaign in  a finite number of session (or episodes, or issues) so that you can move on and do another one later.

In a Trek game,maybe it's the story of the Federation in the 23rd century as they struggle to hold off first an ambitious and ruthless new Klingon Warlord, then are challenged by a new Romulan faction then maybe even a mutant Gorn who rises to power among his people and sends the whole race off on a crusade against the non-reptilian races of the quadrant. Maybe the admiral who takes command of the starbase featured in the Gorn campaign was a PC captain during the Klingon campaign, or maybe one of the enemy captains from it is an ally in this new one.

 In a Mechwarrior game you could be loyal House Davion troops holding back an invasion by a ruthless Kurita noble bent on conquering your duty planet and in the end you face off against him and his personal bodyguard. Or maybe the other way around. Or maybe you're a merc unit made up of gladiators from Solaris 7 caught in the invasion. Or maybe it's a civil war. Maybe some of those come later. Then you all get caught in the clan invasion and get to deal with that, fighting alongside your old Kurita opponents.

In a Mekton're a group of teenagers entrusted with incredible ninja powers and a set of powerful giant robots that you use to fight off an evil alien bent on conquering the Earth...

 One final note: "Plotted" does not have to mean "Railroad" - it means I have an outline of what the bad guys are going to do, leading to their ultimate victory. It's the players' job to change that. If your players decide to go on the offensive and attack an enemy outpost but you didn't have that written up it doesn't have to be a disaster. Get a feel for what they are thinking at the end of each session, try to spur some conversation between sessions, and adapt the outline to what they do. Some groups are fine being led though a fairly tightly plotted game, others will not and all you can do is hit the high points as "plot points" and let them take control in between. In that case, if you make the bad guy bad enough, or annoying enough, and powerful enough, then by the end of the campaign they will want to face off with him, and it's not railroading if the PC's go after him because they want to - it's a satisfying climax.

 I'm actually thinking about retooling my Atomic City Supers campaign to better fit this model, making the focus more on one long term enemy than the somewhat scattered plan I had before.  I'll let you all know how that turns out.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Greatest Hits #3 - The Disposable Campaign - A Manifesto

From October 2010 - I still feel the same about this topic

In the early days of RPG's, most players I know and most articles I read assumed that a "Campaign" was a long-term thing. Many articles were written on world design, making it real, making it coherent, making sure your player's had something to do in it, crafting NPC's they will know for years, etc.

In practice, most campaigns were short-lived mish-mashes of published adventure modules, stuff out of dragon, and homebrewed material. I doubt most of them lasted more than a school year as most of the players and DM's were in school in those days.

So much effort was expended in creating a thing which was almost never going to be allowed to fully flower.  Vast colored and detailed hex-paper maps, graph-paper maps of cities and towns on a 1 square = 10' scale, NPC's with back stories, personalities, and families of their own, magic schools, temple hierarchies, noble houses' family trees detailed out over several sheets of notebook paper - all of these were lovingly created and I would guess 75% of them ended up languishing in a notebook or a box somewhere for years before eventually being tossed out in the trash. Such a waste...

I was a part of this too. Before all of the boxed campaign worlds became so popular most people wrote their own world. The '81 D&D Expert set in particular was a crime against DM's as it included a country and a world-scale hex map as examples of campaign design and a bunch of mapping symbols to be used on  hex paper when mapping your own. To this day a black triangle inside a hexagon screams "mountain" to me and any hex map I do ends up looking a lot like those old D&D maps. Maps speak powerfully to some people and I am one of them. Gamers in particular seem to have it more often than the general population. This combination of examples and tools set off a storm of creativity and the sad thing is much of it was never used because the campaigns never got off the ground or lasted very long if they did.

Now I have no statistical evidence of this. I see campaign sites on the web where people have outlined the campaign they have been running for 30 years. I think those are by far the exception rather than  the rule, and if you look closer many times the group in question gets together once a year or twice a year to play their old characters - they haven't been running weekly or biweekly games since 1985 in most cases.

So something occurred to me about 5 years ago, has been slowly building since then and crystallized for me really this year: Role-playing campaigns have traditionally been treated as permanent or long-term things when they really should be treated as expendable and consumable. Building and running a campaign shouldn't be comparable to buying a house  - it's buying a computer. Something you expect to use a lot for a few years at most and then replace.

This started to get easier when 3rd Edition D&D introduced the concept of the level cap: Characters max out at 20th level and then retire. Prior to this character advancement was open ended with no defined limit (other than racial limits) so no thought was given to "when does the campaign end" and this was despite the fact that I only ever got one character up to 20th level - and that was insanely powerful when a 9th level fighter was considered "high level". Now 4th edition D&D goes a step further and breaks it down into Tiers and sketches out what a typical adventuring party is doing at each tier (Heroic = local problems, Paragon = national problems, Epic = world problems).

This is also expedited by the vast number of campaign worlds published over the last 30 years. Is someone really going to look at all of the options out there (plus the option of making their own) and pick one with the idea that "that's it - I'm going to run Eberron for all of my D&D from now on?" Why limit yourself?

Do yourself a favor. Next time you start up a new RPG campaign, put a limit on it. Say to your group that you're going to run it for the next year and you're assuming that you will play twice a month, so that's 24 sessions. Alternatively pick a level limit - say that everyone is going to start at 10th and the goal of the campaign is to get to 20th. After that it's time for a new game.

This also frees you from the tyranny of canon. One of the upsides of published campaign settings is that there is usually a considerable amount of history and lore to delve into - it makes for a richer world and lets your players dig in if they like that kind of thing. The downside is trying to make sure your world stays in line with the published material if it's still being actively published. Stop worrying about that! It doesn't affect your campaign because it's YOUR campaign - not the company's! Pick a starting year in your published world, say everything up to now in canon is good, but what happens from here on out is up to the PC's not some pre-scripted list in a book somewhere.

Now if you like a particular campaign world or if you have crafted your own, this doesn't mean you have to toss that world out. When this campaign is over, you can set the next one in  the same world but you have a whole new set of choices. Last game set in Cormyr? Start this one in Waterdeep. Last campaign was a rebellion era free-trader game? Make the new one a clone-wars era Jedi + special forces game.  Did one of your PC's become king of a nation? Start the next game 20 years later as the throne is threatened by an invasion or take a real jump and move it up 100 years, change up a few things but leave in a lot of the familiar and have a blast with it!

Designing your own world? Focus on where your PC's will be, not on indexing an entire civilization. The old bullseye approach is good here - detail a starting town and the surrounding countryside. Sketch out the kingdom it exists within. Make a few notes on other nations of the world. Add to it when the PC's move in that direction. Heck, let the PC's define some of it. If one player is running a dwarf and you don't have a unique vision of how dwarf society works in this world then let your PC have some say in it -they may surprise you. Don't worry about elven birthday customs unless someone decides it's their birthday and they're an elf. If it's not something you plan to use in the next month or two of running the game then it's not worth nailing down as your PC's may never get to it. Plus you may have a better idea by then anyway so it saves you the mental anguish of erasing what you have already written and replacing ii with new material.  Don't try to make this your Magnum Opus - you don't need it. you just need a world your players like to play in.  Most of us DM's have a sort of masterwork in us somewhere - a grand campaign, a super-detailed world or setting, or a homebrew set of rules that will cover everything the way we want it to be covered. My Philosopher's Stone is a systems with all the gonzo awesomeness of a Rifts for background, character concepts, and art but with a mechanically reasonable and balanced mechanical system like Hero or 4E to run it with. The thing it, you don't have to have that to have a good time, so don't overkill.

By looking at the campaign as a finite thing, a consumable good rather than a durable good, you free up your game to go wherever you and your players want it to go. Campaign guides are not Bibles - they are material to be consumed for your game, not something to be preserved for future generations in an untouched state. Forget beating Drizzt or shooting down Vader - if your players wreck Waterdeep fighting off the tarrasque that's an epic story and the Realms will be just fineYou are not responsible for keeping the world safe from your players - it's there for your players! Blow stuff up! Shock your players! Let them know the world is wide open and let them impress you!

Monday, December 3, 2018

Greatest Hits #2 - 4th Edition Campaign Idea #3 -Return to Phlan

Another from April 2010  - This was the starting point of a multi-year campaign 

This is a somewhat smaller scale campaign idea than the other two, and really only applies to Heroic levels. At this point I almost see that as a benefit and this is probably the one most likely to get played in the next few months.

I LOVED Pool of Radiance when it came out in 1989. I spent a huge amount of time playing it on my Commodore 64 as did my friends. It centered around a ruined city in the Forgotten Realms that was being slowly reclaimed by the inhabitants. Players made up a party and worked through the different sections of the city clearing out the monsters which were all conveniently level appropriate with the weaker ones nearer to the civillized section and the stronger ones deeper in the ruins. There were also side trips outside the city to a huge graveyard, a lizardman lair, and a mad wizard's pyramid. The computer game was awesome for the time and it came with a great little background book that really captured the favor of the area. TSR also published a 1st ed module version of this campaign titled Ruins of Adventure. It should have been the Realms version of Keep on the Borderlands but it failed badly and has largely been forgotten. Except by me.

So to start a new campaign of D&D I like to have a safe base area, some dungeons close at hand, some options for local countryside wandering, and some political or religious things going on to give the more roleplay oriented types something to do between dungeon crawls. This adventure fits that perfectly. Plus many of the adventures in the ruins involve more than just a frontal assault - many are centered around sneaking into something or talking your way past guards and many areas have some kind of guardians that can be reasoned with so there is more here than just carnage. There is plenty of violence though, and every kind of monster from kobolds to hill giants and dragons, lots of the D&D staples. Re reading the module made me realize it has a lot of good ideas just some poor presentation and limited monster stats - perfect for a conversion to another edition.,particularly this edition if its proponents are to be believed.

Classes: Anything goes. I'll pick up the Realms guides for 4th and however they've worked them into the Realms works for me.

Races: Same thing here - there's a book that explains all this so no extra effort for me.

The Gods - again, there's a whole book for this so that's what I will use.

Environment - it's a single large ruined city on the coast of the Moonsea and some of the surrounding features. Perfect - I don't have to build or convert a continent, just a one-page map.

Adventures - This is a fixed mission in some ways - reclaim the city! - but it's not a railroad, it's more of a sandbox. There's a big map and the players can approach it however they want. If your 2nd level band wanders into the hill giant lair then a lot of bad stuff is going to happen. Add in some factional differences on the town council and everyone should be able to find some interesting things to do.

Phlan and the Moonsea was the first area of the Reams I was exposed to and I really liked it. I have run almost no D&D in the Realms, spending most of my time there as a player as my friend ran the Realms like I run Greyhawk. But things change, so maybe it's time I tried it.

Note on the 100 year jump: I know the 4th edition realms is set 100 years after the old realms stuff but I don't think it matters. Phlan was ruined once and now it's ruined again sometime during that 100 year gap. My players didn't play through this module then (other than the computer game) so they have no investment in the original situation. Heck, maybe Tyranthraxus survived last time and has returned to finish what he started 100 years ago - either way it doesn't matter and doesn't cause any continuity problems with my game.

Expanding and improving this adventure should occupy my campaign through the Heroic levels and set them up as well known heroes around the Moonsea and major players in Phlan itself. At that point we could decide to continue, switch to something else, or start a new 4th edition game using the lessons learned here to improve the next one, maybe one of my other campaign ideas. Whichever way I think this is the best for a DM & players new to 4th edition and it's probably the way I will go.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Greatest Hits #1 - 4th Edition and Me

From April 2010 - and as it turned out ...

I played a lot of AD&D during the 80's, probably more than any other game. So when they announced they were making a 2nd edition about 1988, it was a HUGE deal. However, we had not really seen the edition changes with RPG's at that time that we have now, so the idea of a new edition was still kind of a new thing - they're going to make the game better, right? Plus there was some discussion in Dragon magazine and eventually a full insert that described what the new edition was going to do and it looked really good. There were no internet message boards - just friends, the people you met in stores, local game groups, and BBS's. Everyone I knew was pretty excited about it - we liked non-weapon proficiencies, we liked "spheres" for clerics, we liked the initiative changes - it was all good! Well, we did lose half-orcs and assassins but in my experience at the time most of the people who played assassins were jerks anyway and tended to assassinate party members just as often as they did monsters. Anyway, the game came out in 1989, it was huge, and everyone I knew switched over right away and we didn't touch 1st edition ever again.

I played a lot of AD&D 2nd edition in the 90's, probably more than any other game. So when they announced that they were making a 3rd edition about 1999 it was a big deal. We had seen multiple games go through multiple editions by now (Shadowrun, I'm looking at you - 1st ed 1989, 2nd ed 1992, 3rd ed 1998) and had to repurchase books and emotions were a little less positive. Plus they ran a year-long preview series in Dragon and a lot of the changes I saw looked suspicious and pretty radical. I was skeptical right up until the books came out then once I read the "whole" instead of selected parts, I fell in love with it instantly - the unified mechanic was huge and the single experience chart was a massive change for the better, freeing up multiclassing in amazing ways. level limits were gone, finally! And monsters finally had full stats, which eliminated a ton of problems. It was awesome and I totally dropped my misgivings and started up a new campaign within a month. We never played 2nd edition again once we had 3rd.

I played a lot of 3rd ed D&D in the 2000's, probably more than any other game. The 3.5 revision in 2003 was way too early in my opinion and my group largely ignored it as no one wanted to buy the books all over again. So elements of 3.5 gradually filtered into my existing campaign until we started my last 3rd edition campaign in 2008. that one I declared to be officially 3.5 and picked up the last few class books I didn't already have. The games were close enough that at the lower levels (where we spent most of our time) the differences didn't matter a great deal.

Then rumors of a 4th edition started seriously flowing about 2007. WOTC denied them flat-out in January of 2008 so i felt pretty comfortable that we weren't going to be seeing a new edition for another year or two - I assumed they would announce it at GenCon a year in advance like they did the last time. So when they did announce about February or March that it was coming in June of 2008 I was shocked - no dragon previews, no big online previews even. They did put out some books that you could buy (!) that were previews but considering I had not had to pay anything extra for the previous ones there was no way in hell they were getting my money for those. But I did get a good deal on a preorder through the local store so I did it. After all, I had liked each previous revision so why not? Plus, as the bits and pieces leaked out I really liked what I saw - a lot of things were very much like what I had houseruled during my 3rd ed camapigns: skill consolidation, more HP's, simplified languages, stc. Then I picked up Star Wars Saga Edition, described by some as a test bed for 4th edition, and it was awesome - it was everything I would have changed plus a little more and it worked and I was very excited for 4th edition - it was going to be great!

Then 4th ed was released, I picked up my books, started reading the PHB and felt awful - this was not anything I recognized, with the changes going far beyond anything that was in Saga. Radically different, it didn't look or read or feel like D&D anymore. At the time I did not play and had not played any MMORPG's but even I recognized the elements taken from them and didn't like most of them. In short, I thought that I was going to get D&D Saga Edition and I didn't and I hated it.

So we continued with our 3.5 campaign and the 4th ed books gathered dust for the next year and a half or so.

The 3.5 campaign ended and I thought about introducing my "apprentices" to D&D as they were now 13 & 10. I decided I should give 4th edition another chance and start them off with "their" version of the game, the "modern" one, letting them skip all the legacy material in my head from the past 4 versions that I had played. So I started reading the books and I actually got through all 3 of them this time and there was actually some good stuff in there. I can see a lot of what the designers were trying to do and a lot of it actually makes sense and could be a lot of fun. I tried running the boys through the adventure in the back of the DMG and it took FOREVER. Plus, they pretty much focused on their powers to the exclusion of all else - I didn't like that so I dropped it and started them off using Moldvay Red book basic. We've been playing for a couple of months now and it's going very well - see my session reports in my other posts for details, but I like the way they are approaching things. I am running that and Savage Worlds Neccessary Evil and I am quite happy.

But I still can't help but think there's some value in 4th edition. I have these nifty books, and I like parts of the system, and I hate not "keeping up" with what is going on with D&D. So at some point in the near future I am going to try and run a campaign of this thing, with friends, to try and get a handle on it. I have several campaign ideas I want to try, I will post those later.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

December 2018: 30 Greatest Hits

Well 2018 has been a terrible year in some ways and a good year in some others and one thing that it impacted was the blog - as evidenced by my severely reduced post count.

In an effort to get things back on track here at the end of the year I thought it would be fun to go back through the last 9 years and pick out my favorite posts and re-post them once per day. No, this isn't the finale of the blog - it will continue - but it seems like an appropriate way to wrap up the year ... this year anyway.

A clarification: This is not a list of the most popular posts, the most commented posts, or maybe even my best posts. It's just a run-through of the ones I think are worth a second look, or maybe a first look if you missed them the first time.

Well, 30 anyway ...
So stand by for a sustained retro blast my friends ...

Monday, November 26, 2018

Grey Knights vs Harlequins; 8th Edition Warhammer 40000; Battle Report o...

SkaredCast again with two Elite armies you don't see as much these days.

Monday, November 5, 2018

BatRep of the Week: Blood Angels vs Iyanden Eldar

Another battle with really good looking armies. Also two armies I own so ...

Monday, October 29, 2018

BatRep of the Week: New Orks vs. Khorne Daemons

Something new here at the Tower. I watch a fair number of battle reports for the games I like so I thought I would start sharing them here on the blog.

First up: the boys from Scotland rolled out one of the first reports using the new Ork codex and it's a lot of fun -and- it's not ridiculously long. Stompa incoming!

Thursday, October 18, 2018

40K Friday - Thursday Edition

It's been too quiet for too long so I thought I would start opening things up with some shots of the daemon army I've been working on - October > Halloween > Monsters - right? Here we have roughly 1000 points of Nurgle daemons. People aren't big on Soul Grinders right now due to the cost but outside of tournaments I think 3 of them will be a tough customer for a lot of armies. Om top of their general toughness, high wounds, and invulnerable save, Nurgle gives them a 5+ feel no pain as well. The Daemon Prince being nearby lets them re-roll 1's to hit and can take the Nurgle psychic power that let's him heal a d3 wounds so he improves their offense and their defense both.


This will likely be half of the army I'd like to play in the near future, combined with roughly 1000 points of Khorne daemons. I see this as an independent piece of the army that can stay back and shoot while holding objectives or can charge in alongside other units and soak up overwatch fire while inflicting some serious hurt. At the moment this is all theory but hopefully Blaster and I will try it out soon.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Book Review: Cadia Stands

This is another of the "current events" books for Warhammer 40,000 similar to Dark Imperium ... which I realize I never posted a review of on the blog so that will be coming later in the week!

The focus this time is on the battle for Cadia which is assaulted and finally destroyed during the 13th Black Crusade which is one of the big new timeline advances that arrived with 40K 8th edition. Cadia has been the "cork in the bottle" of the Eye of Terror (home of many chaos space marines) and the home of the famous imperial guard Cadian Shock Troops. This book covers events during it's fall.

The Good
If you wanted more detail on what exactly happened with Cadia, how a bastion of the Imperium could fail, this books covers it though only from the imperial point of view.  Abaddon is doing things beyond just throwing troops and ships at it this time but there's not a lot of discussion of what he's doing, why he's doing it, and why it works - it's mainly about imperial forces reacting to the attack.

The Bad
At a big picture level, there's not enough ... big picture. The books is presented in chapters, and starts off with a fairly consistent narrative covering a few units of the imperial guard - mainly their leaders - but then about halfway through the story it just shoots off in a bunch of different directions. What seemed like main characters drop out of the story entirely or fade into the background. Some new characters pop up. Many of them die. Not only does it lack any point of view from the chaos side it loses the larger view from the imperial side so there's not much context for what's going on.

The whole thing just turns into a mess.

Near the end many units evacuate the planet so we spend some time with the crews of a spaceship or two. For the finale we have a group of survivors making a last stand on a completely different planet where they are annihilated by a force of chaos marines. 

To give it a happy ending (I guess???) those chaos marines are then annihilated by an imperial relief force in the final chapter.

After reading this I don't feel like I know that much more about the fall of Cadia and I don't feel like I got to know much more about that characters than i did when they started out.

It's just a mess. That's the best way I can describe it.

I hate to criticize without some kind of deeper feedback so ... how could it have been better? How could this book have given us more?

To me there are two basic approaches you could take with a topic like this - a big event in the setting that affects a huge number of people:

  • You give the big picture approach. Leaders. Plans. Strategies. Battles. Preferably for both sides.
  • You go personal story. This squad experiences this and this and this as they fight their way through the huge planetary assault. Add in some other characters that cross paths with them - a tank crew, a pilot, some civilians - and give us a first-person view of the fight. 
This book seemed like it was starting out at the personal level, then kind of went high command on us, then went back to the personal level but it spread itself out so much that it had no real impact - on me anyway. 

I think there was a narrative issue with the finale too as there is no reason that last fight could not have happened on Cadia itself! It's much weaker to spend multiple chapters fleeing the scene of the event only to have them die by chaos marine somewhere else than it would have been to keep the story focused on Cadia and the losing fight happening there. 

I think it's ridiculous to end with an imperial victory of any kind too. This is the story of the Imperium getting punched in the face by Abaddon and the powers of chaos. It should be dark and grim etc. - there are no significant victories for the good guys here according to the other lore we have. Let's not try and sugarcoat it here. 

An example of a 40K book that does this better in my opinion is Rynn's World. That story really begins with the Crimson Fists fortress monastery getting blown up during an ork invasion and focuses on a group of surviving marines fighting and sneaking their way across the planet to the main city and then assisting in its defense. Heck, I reviewed it six years ago and yes - there's an example of a much tighter effort on a similar subject. 

Even with this one, I won't say "don't get it" but I will say that it may not do the things you'd like it to do. 

Monday, July 2, 2018

Dertosa, 215 BC

So Blaster and I have managed to restart our extremely long term Command and Colors Ancients series. This time we fought "Dertosa" which historically was a Carthaginian loss. Since the game plays fairly quickly we always play each scenario twice - once from each side. This time Blaster won both games so each side went 1-1 though that second game was really close as we both had 5 flags the last few turns and the win was to get 6.

The funny thing is we read through the "Cannae" scenario and were all fired up to fight one of the more famous battles of the ancient world but I walked away from the table and somehow the book got flipped over and we set up for Dertosa (the next battle in the book) instead. Ah well - it's probably good to have a warm-up before the bigger fight anyway.

I did not realize quite how long this had been going on til I looked back at the blog and find the first battle was in 2011 ... that is a really long time to still be playing through the first set of battles.

I suspect we will pick up the pace, considering how much we both like the game - especially now that I know.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Astro City TV Series

Well here's one I missed in my offline time: Astro City is wrapping up as a monthly book and is being seriously attempted as a TV show. Of all of the "modern"? "Retro"? -whatever - comics out there Astro City is my favorite and has been for a while. A decent take on it would make a great show.

Between this and the word that Wild Cards is also in development as a show from a year or two back there are two super-universes that I really like making their way into new channels. Cool!

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

A D&D Podcast for People Playing D&D, Not About People Playing D&D

I've been looking for a certain type of D&D podcast for a long time. So many of them now are people playing D&D - I don't need a ton of those myself but they do seem to be increasingly popular. What I am looking for is a podcast about D&D - news, reviews, rules debates, ideas for different things to try in play or approaches to common problems. Even if I don't agree with all - or any - of them it's good to hear people discussing these kinds of things about the games I like.

We used to get this kind of thing in Dragon Magazine - in fact I'd say that was it's primary purpose, outside of being a promotional vehicle for D&D itself.

When the web became a thing we saw more of this kind of thing migrate to websites, then forums, and now a lot of it turns up in Facebook groups - which are just terrible for presenting anything other than the "right now" of a discussion or exploration.

Podcasts are an interesting mix of forum and social media. They are definitely a snapshot of he "right now" discussion but they are persistent in that one can go back and listen to them even if they occurred before you were interested in that particular topic.

This is the current state of things in say Warhammer 40,000 podcasts, or Age of Sigmar, or Kings of War etc. There are the news and reviews type podcasts which focus on the game itself and what's happening right now, then there are battle reports which are people actually playing the game. Two different approaches, both pretty popular, and often both are done by some of the same people. The discussion happens on a podcast while the batreps tend to happen in a YouTube video.

So why is it so  hard to get this for D&D these days? Why do we have so many "battle report/actual play" casts and so few shows about the game?

Pathfinder has Know Direction. Star Wars has Order 66. D&D 4E had Radio Free Hommlett. Dungeon Crawl Classics has Spellburn, Mutant Crawl Classics has Glowburn. Savage Rifts has the Murderhobo Show. Savage Worlds has multiple shows of this type.

But the biggest RPG in the world has very few of them.

  • There's the official D&D podcast, Dragon Talk. It's even more "meta" than I am looking for as it tends to talk about the game as a whole rather than the game as something that is played. 
  • There's Radio Free Borderlands which is nice because it's a) short and b) focused on news which keeps it from wandering all over the place. This is one of my weekly staples now.
  • Finally there is Heroes Rise which is a fairly new show just starting up last fall. It's tied to the people who do Priority One which is a Star Trek Online show that's been going for years. That means it has decent production values, a framework to help with structure, an d experience behind it. It is probably the best example of what I am looking for It runs an hour or less each week and has had a consistent production schedule right from the beginning. 
So while I do not know why they are so rare I have found 3 shows that pretty much cover what I am looking for. Heroes Rise, in particular, is pretty close to what I really want. 

That said - there's always room for more, so if you know of one that fits into this category please pass it along.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Bringing it Back Online

Well, it's been a few months but it's time to get things back online, spin up the FTL, climb out of the hole, re-ignite the forge,  and get the blog going again.

Catching Up:

  • Westworld! It's back and so far is looking good. I was concerned that they might not be able to match the first season and the total lack of knowledge we had - I mean, surprises are tougher once we know what's going on - but so far they seem intent on revealing even more about the park's place in the world and I am liking it all so far.
  • Ready Player One! Saw it, liked it, still haven't read the book. As pretty much the exact target demo for this movie I appreciate it quite a bit but it's not a Star Wars/Raiders/Iron Man level event. That said, there's a fight near the end that if you're a fan of various Japanese pop culture things - like say, Godzilla - that you will never see anywhere else and that alone pretty much made the movie for me. 
  • Pacific Rim 2 - Again I liked it, and again it just didn't quite hit the highest notes for me. The first one felt revolutionary. this one feels like we're just doing some business. I'm not really sure why. Maybe it felt like they could have done more.
  • Infinity War - YEAH! Started off strong, didn't waste time with a bunch of exposition, kept Iron Man awesome, put Thor back up to awesome - maybe even moreso than before - and stayed true to what they've been doing for the last ten years. 

Game-wise it was pretty rare thing for a few months but we're firing that up again too. It's pretty much cut down to two games for now:
  • Savage Rifts is going again with our first session since January in the books and another one on the way. No pre-planned campaign here, this one is all stuff from my head.
  • D&D is rolling again with the Storm King's Thunder game restarted for the first run since December. I had another sessions scheduled but we ran late and ended up playing Smash-Up instead and everyone still had a good time. 
  • I'm still playing in Steve's Pathfinder Kingmaker campaign. All is well there.
So I'm running Savage Worlds and D&D 5E which makes me a happy DM as I really like both systems. I expect we will get at least one more option in play for the summer. Reading Freedom City has me itching for a Supers game again, but a second 5E campaign has some attraction as does a second Savage Worlds game - resurrecting our Deadlands campaign probably tops that list. 

Anyway there's the restart update - more to come!

Monday, February 26, 2018

Sigmar Monday - Getting Started

My approach in getting into Age of Sigmar at this point is to go back to the beginning and pick up things in the order they came out. This should help me in both the game rules and the lore. Rules-wise there have been various updates - allegiance books, battle tomes, campaign books, and general's handbooks - that add to the game and there have also been lore releases outside of those with various novels.

This is easier because Games Workshop has taken an approach to releasing the game by using an ongoing story that shows the progression of the setting in chunks. The initial boxed set and novella covered the history of what happened between the end of the Old World and the beginning of the new. It described the resettling of the various "realms" and the emergence of the new gods, starting with Sigmar himself. The history part wraps up with the invasion of this new world by the chaos powers and the retreat back to a single realm by the non-chaos forces. The "now" part of the game kicks off with Sigmar's return to the realms, the first invasion with his new Stormcast forces to re-open a single realmgate and begin a war to reclaim the realms for order and life. The boxed set contains six scenarios - "battleplans" - that describe this initial campaign. By the end of them, Sigmar's forces have reclaimed this first gate and are ready for more.

The original hardback continues this with additional battleplans and text that cover the expansion of this campaign beyond that first invasion. Then there are a series of "Realmgate Wars" campaign books and novels that describe the liberation of the other realms and the battles across them. That's pretty much the story of the first year or two of the Age of Sigmar game. The second big arc is just getting started now with the "Malign Portents" campaign and series of releases that seems to focus on the Death faction but is also bringing out a bunch of the Elf lore too.  It should be an interesting year. I expect that AoS will get more attention this year now that the initial blast of 40K new edition support is out and done. We will see.

I admit that I have really come around on the lore for the game. Early on it was dismissed as "bubbles" of stuff that the various races lived in and it all sounded pretty shallow. Reading through the actual material though - well, it reads more like Runequest! It's a time of myth with gods and divine agents shaping the land and creating new races who sometimes do not get along. Time is vague (and flexible), geography is vague (and flexible), and heroes sometimes have multiple lives to live.

There are some elements of Planescape for D&D as well, and some from Stargate too. The 8 realms each seem to be associated with one of the old 8 winds of magic themes - heavens, metal, fire, life, death, beasts, light, and shadows. If you ever played an Empire wizard in the Warhammer RPG or miniatures game these should sound familiar. They each have inhabitants that fit that theme, while the powers of Chaos threaten all as they invade from outside of this reality.  They are not described as "planets" and there are not all-encompassing maps of the the whole realms, just certain regions where the fighting is taking place - they're more like "planes". To travel between these realms most beings need to use realmgates which are physical structures that connect one realm to another. Magic rituals can seal or open them so much of the wargame focus is on locating, controlling, and either opening or closing one of the gates.

A "Baleful Realmgate"
Now I like this for the miniatures game as it's definitely ramping up of the setting to a mythic high-magic that fits the figures well. I also like it because there are some new RPG's coming out later this year too:

  • There's a 40K RPG that is taking a different approach from the old one both mechanically and thematically. 
  • There's an update of the classic old world version of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying that looks like it's being handled well and is basing off of the 2nd edition mechanics which were heavily based off of the 1st edition mechanics which is exactly what I was hoping for someday.  
  • On top of these there is also an Age of Sigmar RPG being developed, separate from the classic version above and I think there are a ton of possibilities for this one. 
The best description of the difference between on those last two is this quote:

WFRP 4e is meant to be the “Look, a Bloodthirster! Run!” game, while Age of Sigmar is meant to be the “Look, a Bloodthirster! Charge!” game. Different power levels, different gonzo levels. C7 said that while they and other writers on WFRP4 are big fans of the classic Old World, they’re actually really looking forward to Age of Sigmar as a chance to do something that feels very different within the Warhammer mythos. C7 said they have hopes to develop Age of Sigmar’s setting into something very special, and those who were originally turned off by Age of Sigmar should give the RPG take on it a second look.

Like I said above, I see a lot of RPG potential in there for some adventures outside the typical D&D approach, but they will still be taking care of the classic Warhammer fans too. Well done!

Originally I was thinking I just wanted a set of fantasy rules that was current and supported and the fact that they look a lot like 40K 8th was just a bonus. After reading the fluff though, I am buying into the game and setting as a whole, not just as a set of rules. 

So far, for AoS I have the starter set, the original hardback book, the four grand alliance books, and the first general's handbook. The GH is out of order but I wanted some point values to get started. I expect we will be working our way through these early battles for a while and I am still building the starter set miniatures, but I am betting I can be caught up to the game's "now" before the end of 2018.  Updates to follow. 

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Planning for 2018: The Miniatures

With the resurgence of Warhammer 40,000 last year it was somewhat easy to maintain focus as we were rally only playing the one game - everything else fell by the wayside as dove back in to 40K full time.

(Well, except for the RPGs - more on those coming later)

Now X-Wing, Attack Wing, and Armada are virtually painless as "side games" as they come pre-painted and have all of the relevant rules included with the model, I don't need to build them, I don't need to paint them, and I don't need to buy an expansion book to run them. The only downside is that I am a little less attached to them as I didn't paint them. Now you can paint them or customize them:

...but that does eliminate the huge benefit of being pre-painted. One of these days, but not right now.

This month, though, I have re-discovered Fantasy mini's via Age of Sigmar: The Second Look A Few Years Later much like I did with Pathfinder and 4E D&D and 5E D&D. Sometimes it takes a while for things to sink in...

So how to manage this? I'm still building and painting armies for 40K and now I'm charged up about this Sigmar thing and looking at what I have for that has also re-sparked my interest in Kings of War. How do I make usable progress on armies for these games instead of ending up with a bunch of half-efforts? Let's look at it in the context of "2018". How do I get things done for all of these games this year? This guy has a pretty good idea: Nick Williams blog post.

It took me forever to get a full, painted Warhammer army together. I got my first set of Warhammer rules in 1984 (second edition) but didn't play a ton in the 80's and when I did it was with my Battlesystem counters or with other people's miniatures at Cons. I had multiple armies in the 90's, mainly High Elves and Orcs, but only some of them were painted. I finally got my Chaos Warriors organized, built, and painted in the early 2000's during 6th edition ... and they are still my only fully painted fantasy army! Those same High Elves and Orcs now form the core of the Kings of War armies for blaster and myself and yes, they are still only partially painted.

Given this, I like Nick's ideas:

  • Limit your games! This is similar to my constant reach for "focus" in my gaming. Play the same game a few times in a row. Play the same army for a while! Learn how the game - and a particular army - works! I have a tendency to jump around between games so I have to keep this in mind.
  • An army for each that I am proud of! This is more complicated as I have several painted armies:
    • 40K - Crimson Fists, Imperial Fists, Iron Warriors, Iyanden Eldar, Grey Knights (new for 2018!) and my old Howling Griffons - but I am always working on more. Plus there are unfinished units intended for those painted armies too. 
    • For Warhammer/KoW/Sigmar I have my Chaos Warriors
    • Bolt Action is the other game that lurks on our fringes and I have some sprayed 20mm figs but nothing I'd rate as "proud"
    • Oh, and Frostgrave, but that runs off of our D&D mini collection so no real worries there. 
So, limit games and try to finish one army - I can work with that. I just have to decide which one!

Games is fairly easy: 40K is top dog, with Kings of War a neglected favorite and Sigmar my current obsession. 

  • Kings of War - finish my old warhammer Orc army! I see others that I like but I would like to push this one over the "Finished" line before I start another.
  • Sigmar - I have a box full of Stormcasts and Chaos guys now so I should probably start with them. I have an idea for a fairly easy Stormcast paint scheme so that's probably where it will start. The 40K Daemon army works as-is in this game so that could be a bonus. After that I am split between Lizardmen (have some leftovers from the Warhammer days) and Vampire Counts and a "Death" army in general.
  • 40K - So many options - build new stuff for my Iron Warriors? finish the Blood Angels? 
    • I just put together 30 bloodletters so I'd say a Daemon army is probably at the front of the queue. I have all of the units I just need to finish building and painting them. Being able to use it for two games really makes this one important.
    • I've been playing around with the World Eaters for a while and they're mostly built. I really should finish them up and paint them
    • After that I'm leaning towards my Dark Angels as I have several lists I like that use a mix of certain units that would not take that long to finish if I just locked in and worked on them for a while. 
That's the plan for now. We will see to what degree I can stick to it. Maybe I can work up some kind of split schedule where I work on two armies per year - start one this year, finish up the one from last year, play both as the year goes on. That would be nice.

For 40K I'd like to finish the Blood Angels but I'm reading a bunch of DA books so they're more in my head right now. I love my Orks but I've made a conscious decision to set them aside until their codex comes out. Death Guard are an army I go back and forth on so they may show up at some point too. 

For fantasy in general I've always wanted a dwarf army and I'd say a Mantic Dwarf Starter is in my near future, probably for KoW. It's easier than hunting down an old Warhammer dwarf force unit by unit. I'm also liking the idea of an undead army and I'm thinking a more VC-type force for Sigmar and rescuing some old Tomb Kings stuff for a KoW Empire of Dust army. Not sure how far any of that will get in 2018 but it's good to have a plan, right?