Saturday, January 1, 2011

The New Year

Hoping that 2011 continues the gaming renaissance here so I thought I would post a few of my goals for the new year:

  • On the RPG front the name of the game is FOCUS. I've settled on 3 types of games to run now and I plan to stick with those for the year:
    • D&D
    • Supers
    • Star Wars
I'd love to run more Traveller or Trek or Deadands but for 2011 they will just have to wait.

  • On the book front I want to try and work in more fiction, less rulebook time. Now that I've consumed most of the D&D & M&M material maybe that will be easier, although as i write this I'm reading DC Heroes 3rd edition, so we'll see how that goes.

  • On the miniatures front I'm going to try and get our 40K battles back on track and work in some other systems too, like Battletech and Federation Commander.

That's all for now - hope the new year goes well for all.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Designing a Supers Campaign

So when I really started thinking about doing another supers campaign I decided I wanted to follow 3 basic rules:

1) Silver Age Characterization - Good guys are good, bad guys are bad, and there isn't a lot of crossover between the two. There may be a few honorable villains whose word can be trusted and they might even work with the heroes to defeat a common foe, but by and large there are white hats and there are black hats and not much gray in between. As a result, there will be no lethal attacks for heroes in this campaign - "lethal" = "bad guy" in this kind of world and is a deliberate choice. Heroes only kill under extreme circumstances, at a dramatically appropriate moment, and usually to save an innocent life. Then they go all angsty about it and may resign from the team for awhile or go off and consult with an oracle or a sage or a priest of some kind. I can work with that.

Some of you may look at that and think that it's too simplistic. To a point, you're right - it's a very simple approach almost akin to Basic D&D. But I want it that way for several reasons. First, this is our first supers game in a long time and I don't want a lot of complicated tortured backgrounds of reformed villains. Second, this one is mainly going to be played by teens and tweens and I don't want them going around slaughtering bad guys (we have D&D for that). Third, it will make for a nice contrast when we do play a more modern-age type campaign. Fourth, most of their super experience consists of the Batman/Superman/Justice League animated series and the Batman/Spiderman/X-Men/Iron Man live action movies. Those are pretty clear-cut on heroes vs. villains so that's their expectation. If I was running my 4th or 5th supers campaign this decade and playing with a bunch of 30+ fans then it would be a little different. This will make a nice base to expand from, however, and that's why I chose it.

2) Silver Age Science - Science is the superhero version of magic in this age. If you can come up with a scientific-sounding name for something then it's clearly something that's possible. In Fantasy games, "It's magic" can be used to explain almost anything. For Silver Age Supers darn near anything can be a ray or a field or a special kind of energy or some strange alloy and it's perfectly acceptable. As a corollary to this radiation causes damage and mutation (similar to Gamma World), not sickness and death. It's how half of the Marvel universe gets their powers and that's good enough for me.

This also lets me play around with the technology level of the setting without resorting to design sequence games like GURPS Vehicles or Fire Fusion and Steel from Traveller. If I need flying cars for an agency then they have flying cars. If I need all the cars in the city to run on electrical power (due to the cheap power available from the reactor) then I can. I can have the police carry blasters instead of guns and make traditional lethal attacks out of style.

3) Original Setting - I have at least 5 city settings for supers games - Millenium City, Vibora Bay, Hudson City, Freedom City, San Angelo, Bay City, Metropolis, Gotham City, and Marvel New York. (OK that's more than 5) and I have not run a lengthy campaign in any of them, but I find it's easier to remember details if I wrote them myself, rather than read them out of a book that someone else wrote. It may be counter-intuitive, but by making some broad notes in advance and some large-scale maps, I don't have to worry about contradicting what's in the book and I can make things work the way I want them. Plus, not having a rigid outline in place means that the details develop to fit the campaign, and not the other way around. This is especially important in a supers game where all kinds of crazy stuff can happen.

Thus was born "Atomic City" - I wanted something that sounded almost old-fashioned yet fit a supers campaign, particularly a Silver Age game. Atomic City is a city founded in northern California as part of a government research project during WW2 that incorporated in 1950 and slowly expanded to integrate the surrounding smaller communities in the region. As you might guess one reason for the name is that the first nuclear power plant was constructed here (unlike the real world) and the local nickname for the area became the official name when it incorporated, and the classic atom logo is still used by the city today.

There are other ways to do it - I have pretty good notes on my old "Miami 2000" Champions campaign from the 90's where I adapted a real city to fit my needs. That's a fun approach because you can use real-world maps then alter them as you see fit to make things interesting. I worked in everything from marine life parks to historical sites to the Everglades to Crockett and Tubbs in that game and it was a lot of fun.

I also have notes on my planned-but-never-run Gothic City campaign set in a city much like the Tim Burton Batman Gotham City - set in an unspecified time period with 50's looking cars alongside cell phones - I've always liked the mixed decade design look (Batman, Flash TV series, Dark Conspiracy RPG) and I may carry a little of that over to Atomic City  but I don't want it to be a "dark" setting. I just want a dash of retro-future here and there.

I do have a use for all of those other city settings though - there's really no reason some of them can't exist in the same world as Atomic City. Since AC is on the west coast, Freedom City fits just fine over on the east coast. If I put Millennium City on the great lakes and I put Vibora Bay on the Gulf Coast then I have a decent super-city on each coast. The one I plan to use the most right now will be the one that I detail, but if the heroes take a trip to one of the others, hey, I have a book that's crammed full of details right there waiting. If a second campaign starts up and I don't want it sharing the same airspace as AC then I have ready-made places ready to go too.

So that's the first take on the supers campaign. I'll put up at least one more post on the city as I see it and some plot outlines from the first 12 "issues" over the next week in between D&D updates.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Return to the Ruins of Adventure - Session 9: Attack of the Emerald Queen

The players:

Uthal, Goliath Barbarian 2
Tavar, Deva Invoker 2
Kordan, Human Fighter 2
Javanni, Half Elf Bard 2
Mikal, Human Warlock 2
Althea, Eladrin Wizard 2

After recovering from the fight with the kobold leaders the team heads for the last remaining door. Opening* it they discover a large, columned temple hall with a large dragon statue at the far end and a glowing green ball atop an altar. Moving in they are instantly set upon by a needlefang drake swarm and a guard drake unleashed by one of the handler-types they have seen before.  The kobold high priest stands at the back of the room near the altar unleashing clinging venom blasts at different targets as his warriors and guard animals chew them up in hand to hand combat. A human bandit fights alongside, the first non-scaled opponent they have encountered since entering the well.  During the combat the priest screams that the party has angered the Emerald Queen and that they will pay for their transgressions.  Also, a magical crossbow trap covering the door fires every round, nailing almost every member of the party during the fight.

The invoker summons a fire angel and drops it on the priest and is partially successful in keeping him busy until the fighter can get to him and engage. The barbarian takes on the guard drake and its handler while the wizard, warlock, and bard fight the bandit and the swarm, leaving the fighter and invoker to tackle the high priest. In the priest stand alone, holding off the entire party for a round or two until he finally succumbs.

Healing up and searching the room, the party discovers that the glowing ball on the altar is actually the preserved eye of a fomorian, usually associated with scrying or communication type magic. Deciding not to severely desecrate the altar after thoroughly searching it (but after looting the bodies)  the group heads out to the well and elevates themselves up and out. They get about 20 steps away from the well when there is a whoosh of water shooting up from the well (along with the splintered lifting platform) and a roar and then a large draconic shape fades into view atop the well itself. "You have slain my children and now you will pay!"

Much of the party is stunned for the first round so the dragon engages and spews poisonous breath  all over them. The team spreads out as Uthal and Kordan charge while Althea drops a flamning sphere next to it and various other magical effects flare off around the party and the beast.  In a  long and vicious fight the Invoker, Fighter, the Warlock, and the Bard all drop at some point, though most of them are revived to fight again during the battle. Finally, with almost the entire party bloodied or unconscious Kordan manages to pin the beast in place by ramming a sword through its foot and the party members still in fighting shape charge in. The Emerald Queen goes down ad stays down, leaving the inner court of the ruined keep drenched with blood and venom and a party of injured and dying heroes raise their hands in victory.

DM Notes: This was the climax of the Kuto's Well section of the campaign and it was intense.

The fight in the temple was vicious but only lasted 5 rounds. It did demonstrate the effectiveness of ongoing damage though as the priest was lighting people up for direct damage + ongoing 5 almost every time he shot, one reason that the Invoker and Fighter moved to engage him even though there were other targets still up and closer. Locking him up in hand to hand prevented him from firing off that nasty ranged attack and then once the fighter got on him it was only a matter of time. Several dailies were fired off as the party assumed this was the finale and they felt the lack when the dragon attacked. They did take a short rest before continuing though, and it's a good thing.

The Emerald Queen was a tough challenge for my group of 6 as it has well over 200 hit points, decent armor, and nasty breath and melee attacks. I've run a couple of these fights now and they are epic every time.  The recharge mechanic for the breath makes fighting one uncertain and a few rolls one way or the other could have resulted in much more pain for the party.

This wraps up the Kuto's Well adventures and most of the party will be level 3 after this. Next time it's back to town to sell loot and recover and level up, and find out what's next in the big city.

*Opening in this case means that the fighter and the barbarian smash it to kindling and charge in.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Return to the Ruins of Adventure - Session 8: Against the Emerald Prince

We begin down Kuto's Well outside a just-opened door to a room full of kobolds next to a pit trap containing one injured fighter.

Uthal, Goliath Barbarian 2
Kordan, Human Fighter 2
Jovanni, Half Elf Bard 2
Mikal, Human Warlock 2
Althea, Eladrin Wizard 2

In the span of a few seconds the door slams shut and Kordan is extracted from the pit, then the party retreats back around a corner. During a hurried tactics discussion it is decided to use a tenser's floating disk to shield unlucky party members from the spikes. As the fighter recovers, Althea casts the ritual and the group moves back to the door.

The disk is pushed into the pit and Kordan makes a running leap at the door, smashing it open and bursting into the room. A furious fight ensues as the party leaps over the pit and the 6 kobolds in the room stand ready to engage.  At one point Kordan gets bull-rushed back into the pit but thanks to the TFD is not as severely injured this time. Althea thunderwaves several of the kobolds and Uthal leaps into the fray. Mikal blasts several with arcane fire as Jovanni keeps everyone up and moving. The consort, bodyguards, adviser, and priest all fall until only the tribal champion is left, though he eventually falls too. Searching the room, the team finds some treasure and a healing potion. They then take a short break.

After taking a short rest the group heads back down the passage, through the common room, and down the opposite passage, coming to another door which is of course kicked in promptly. This appears to be some sort of guardroom as two kobold temple guardians unleash guard drakes on Kordan and Uthal who push their way into the room as the Bard, Wizard, and Warlock blast away with magic blasts.  The Chieftain of the tribe, calling himself the Emerald Prince proves to be very tough but he eventually falls to the combined might of the group.

The carving on the walls here is very intricate and very old, and looks like it might once have been colored in some way though it is bare stone now. There is a definite plant motif to the work with vines and leaves carved into the stone with great skill. There is another door in the room but the party decides to retreat to the bedroom to recover from these last couple of vicious fights.  They barricade the door and post watches, then most of the group passes out.

DM Notes:  Another 2-encounter night but two good ones. One lasted 6 rounds and one lasted 5 so combat is not ridiculously lengthy.

The first fight featured several attempts to knock people into the pit right outside the door so that made positioning and movement a little more exciting than some fights. In round 5 of that fight the Wizard landed a crit with a force orb, the fighter landed a crit with one of his attacks, and the barbarian landed a crit as well - it was a very explosive round and the fight ended in round 6 because of it.

The second fight featured the barbarian developing a move-throw-retreat tactic that worked fairly well for him and starting to work on his special charge abilities as well. The wizard is also getting better at positioning the Thunderwave or Flaming Sphere vs. using the Chromatic Orb. The warlock is mainly fire support at this point but he can fight in melee if he has too. The bard is all about ranged attacks mixed with buff & movement abilities. The fighter is very good at taking a beating and is figuring out how to use his attacks as well as he has a lot of movement and control abilities that are not as apparent in reading as they are in play.

The group is coming together well and the game continues to be a lot of fun for all of us.

Motivational Monday