Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Next Generation

I attempted to start teaching the kids D&D by beginning with 4th edition as it is current and looks to be combat-focused which will keep them entertained. After 3 sessions I have changed my mind and will be introducing them via the Moldvay Basic Set. Here is why:

1) Grindingly slow - This is due to multiple reasons, among which is my unfamiliarity with the nuances of 4th. It's difficult to teach 3 new players how to play RPG's in general on top of teaching them how to play a rules-heavy edition you have not played before yourself. Plus they only made it through 4 rooms in 3 sessions.

2) Powers - I like the concept, but with new players it quickly turned into a situation where Character = Powers. if it wasn't on the list it did not occur to them to try it. I don't want them to learn to play like that.

3) Starter material - I have no starting 4th edition material other than the core books. No adventures, etc. I could make my own, and I was looking forward to it, but I also like the idea of them sharing some of the same experiences as the earlier generations. I have quite a few basic and 1st ed modules and this will give them some shared experiences and make my prep work a lot easier.

So, we're going with old-school training for the crew. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Mutant Future

I recently discovered Mutant Future, the free retro-rpg along the lines of Gamma World 1st & 2nd edition. I spent a lot of time playing GW in 2nd,3rd, and 4th editions and I always had a good time - even character deaths usually managed to be memorable in some way. MF is a worthy successor. The character types are similar, there are long lists of randomly-rolled mutations, and combat is old-school descending AC. If you enjoyed GW I recommend it.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

3rd ed Campaigns 2 - Kalamar

This was a rather short campaign that began with the first Kalamar adventure 'The Root of all Evil.' It's not a bad module, but there is a fair amount of railroading. My biggest problem was that the object of the adventure trilogy (a Coin of Power) is statted out and it in no way measures up to the amount of fuss being made over it. This somewhat undercut my enthusiasm for the module but I tried to make the best of it. The party made it into the second module before voting to go back to Greyhawk to try and salvage something from the RttTOEE adventure.

In hindsight, these adventures could have used more customizing by me, but my players were up for the mission. There were some fun moments with the Elf Twins in the party and with the unconscious Paladin being dragged off into the desert by his panicked horse - for all we know he's still wandering out there.

I give Root of All Evil a B-.

One thing that gave me some trouble also was making Kalamar come to life. It's a fairly detailed world if you have most of the books, but there's no big 'hook' that pulled me in. Greyhawk has history and legendary names, the Realms has it's own attractions, Scarred Lands has an interesting take on things, but Kalamar always seemed a little bland. I liked that feature at first, but it has become more noticeable over time as I have run more games set in the world. I'll discuss that more in another post.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

3rd ed Campaigns 1 - Greyhawk

The first campaign I ran in 3rd edition was set in Greyhawk. We began with 6 or 7 players and "The Sunless Citadel" in early 2001. Other published adventures used included "Nemoren's Vault", "Thieves in the Forest", "Dungeon of the Fire Opal" (from Dungeon magazine) and finally "Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil" where the campaign cratered - twice.

The Sunless Citadel is not my favorite starting adventure. I think it's fairly dull and I dislike the main monsters at the end as they are oddball one-offs. Instead of ending with some kind of classic or iconic D&D beastie, we get an evil tree and it's stick-people minions - not my cup of tea. I did like the dragon hatchling included in the earlier part of the adventure and the NPC kobold Meepo. It can be fun to watch how different parties handle that interaction, and I think it's the best part of the module. Compared to something like Keep on the Borderlands it felt very limited overall. I give it a "C" on the traditional grading scale.

Thieves is a nice little sandbox area, good for dropping in on the way to somewhere else. It's not terribly overpowered, it's not stuck in one dungeon, and it's not tied to a plot hammer. Call it a 'B'.

Fire Opal is the ruined monastery map from the DMG1 fleshed out for 3rd edition. It's small but it includes a dragon and some interesting undead. My party liked it and I liked the old-school elements familiar from so many read-throughs of that map. I give it an 'A'

Nemoren's Vault is an interesting dungeon for low-level characters, more old-school in feel than Sunless Citadel. There's a tricky magic item in the dungeon that is unlikely to be found by a party but if it is it could be intrusive into a campaign. I planned to leave it vague and tweak it myself if it was recovered, but it never came up. The monster at the end is very nasty, probably too much so unless you have a large party of 3rd lvl PC's but it is a nod to a classic D&D beastie. I'd give this one a B+. The web supplement was fun for my party too, so look into that if you run this.

I will discuss RttTOEE in a separate post

Current campaigns

Right now I run one game and play in another. Both are D&D 3.5

-The game I run is set in Kalamar where we are using the Savage Tide adventure path from Dungeon magazine. I mixed in the Freeport trilogy early to enhance the nautical theme and it has gone over rather well. The party is up to 8th level now and is marching across the Isle of Dread. We started the game in April of 2008 and I expect we will be playing through the end of 2010 barring a TPK. There is a link to the campaign site on the right side of this page.

- The game I play in is a Forgotten Realms game. My friend pretty much always runs his games in the Realms so I have gotten pretty familiar with them over the last 20 years. I haven't played in more than a year so it's fun to be on the other side of the screen again. The group is at 6th level. Typically I have played clerics and druids, but this time I am playing a human barbarian so I can focus on the bashing and less on spell selection.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Basic Sets - a review

I like the old box sets for D&D - a rules booklet, an adventure some dice...they were a good way to start the game. At different times I had all 3 versions of the basic set.

I can't objectively review the Holmes edition as it was my Radioactive Spider Bite.

The 1981 Moldvay basic set was very cool too, if somewhat different from the earlier version. The rules were a little simpler and the monsters were different. The one thing that still stands out to me now is the artwork. I would call it and the associated expert set the last of the old-school artwork sets - Bill Willingham, Erol Otus, and Jeff Dee all had pieces in this version and they made a very strong impression. Most of my friends had this version when I was starting out so I spent much time with it in the early 80's.

The 1983 (and final) Red Box set was much more sophisticated than the earlier versions - 2 separate rule books, much more polished art, and a stronger emphasis on training the new player to play rather than being a reference book. The artwork was mostly Larry Elmore pieces which I liked, but his style in this always felt more like a children's book illustration rather than the edgy, sort of comic book/sort of just weird art of the earlier versions. It was still good, but it was just a different tone. Reading through it the first time I felt it was a much stronger introduction to the rules, but that maybe it had lost something as far as atmosphere and tone.

I know there were later starter sets than these but I never owned them so I can;t comment on the good/bad points.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Early Years 1979-1981

After beginning with the Holmes basic set I started reading through the AD&D books and Dragon magazine whenever I came across them. being only 10 years old I couldn't afford them but I began to pick up on what went on in the game beyond 3rd level. This is the time where I discovered the joys of Graph paper - so much graph paper. I only had one other friend who would play so i spent a fair amount of time rolling up characters and making up dungeons. 'Rolling' might be a bad word to use here too - my set didn't come with dice. Instead it came with cut-apart cardboard 'chits' numbered 1-20, 1-12, 1-8, etc. I put them in paper cups and drew numbers when a random roll was called for. It was cumbersome, but it worked. It also made me love my first set of dice that much more when I eventually acquired them.

Origin Story

In 1979 I read an article in the local newspaper about a game people were playing that was new and different and it mentioned one player being chained to a wall and being bitten by a vampire. It also talked about swords and magic and dragons and it sounded like a blast. I began looking for this game in stores and finally found it in the local K-Mart. I talked my mom into buying it for me and that's where it really began.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Beginning

Background: 100 years ago the sorcerer Zenopus built a tower on the low hills overlooking Portown. The tower was close to the sea cliff west of the town and, appropriately, next door to the graveyard. Rumor has it that the magician made extensive cellars and tunnels underneath the tower. The town is located on the ruins of a much older city of doubtful history, land Zenopus was said to excavate in his cellars in search of ancient treasures.

Fifty years ago, on a cold wintry night, the wizard's tower was suddenly engulfed in green flame. Several of his human servants escaped the holocaust, saying their master had been destroyed by some powerful force he had unleashed in the depths of the tower. Needless to say the tower stood vacant for a while after this, but then the neighbors and the night watchmen complained that ghostly blue lights appeared in the windows at night, that ghastly screams could be heard emanating from the tower at all hours, and goblin figures could be seen dancing on the tower roof in the moonlight. Finally the authorities had a catapult rolled through the streets of the town and the tower was battered to rubble. This stopped the tauntings but the townsfolk continue to shun the ruins. The entrance to the old dungeons can be easily located as a flight of broad stone steps leading down into darkness, but the few adventurous souls who hove descended into crypts below the ruin have either reported only empty stone corridors or have failed to return at all. Other magic-users have moved into the town but the site of the old tower remains abandoned.

Whispered tales are told of fabulous treasure and unspeakable monsters in the underground passages below the hilltop, and the story tellers are always careful to point out that the reputed dungeons lie in close proximity to the foundations of the older, pre-human city, to the graveyard, and to the sea.

Portown is a small but busy city linking the caravan routes from the south to the merchant ships that dare the pirate-infested waters of the Northern Sea. Humans and non-humans from all over the globe meet here. At the Green Dragon Inn, the players of the game gather their characters for an assault on the fabulous passages beneath the ruined Wizard's tower.

-From the 1977 D&D Basic Set also known as the Holmes Basic Set, the Red Dragon cover set, or the Blue Book set. This was my entry into the game.