Saturday, January 29, 2011

Unfortunate Character Choices - Frizbe

This week: a supervillain from 1982's "Enemies" supplement for Champions

Is an albino super-villain a bad concept? Not necessarily. Is basing his or her powers on thrown discs a bad idea? Not necessarily. An albino frisbee champion who fights by throwing frisbees at people? Hmmmmm. We're playing a supers game and this is worthy of being  included in a book of enemies? This is pretty bad. The problems run deeper than mere concept though...

Some technical details:
  • 10d6 "Energy"? I get the one that does 10d6 physical (BONK!), but where does the energy option come in? Shock discs? Could we get some kind of special effects here - electricity? Radiation? Something to explain this?
  • 10 inches of Flight? She doesn't have any other innate powers. Oh wait, it's OAF Flying Discs, just like her attacks - WAIT! WHAT? HOW? Does she spin around the thing clinging to it and acting like a blind albino helicopter blade? How would this work?
  • Double Stun from Heat attacks? Why?
  • 1d6 from full sunlight - That's a pretty severe case of albinism if she's taking damage from it per phase. Under the Champions rules at the time a phase is one second. So she's taking 1d6 stun damage per second of sunlight exposure. With 25 Stun she's unconscious in at most 25 seconds of sunlight, probably more like 6-8 seconds and then she starts taking Body. With 10 Body she will be dead in at most 20 seconds.So what we have here is a character that is dead with less than a minute of exposure to sunlight. She's not just an albino - she's a vampire!
  • Secret Identity? She's an albino African-American female that's a west coast frisbee champion in her normal identity and fights with discs in her villain ID and she has a secret identity? 15 points for that? Suddenly Clark Kent and the glasses doesn't seem so far-fetched.
Now it's time for a little something I call "Can they beat themselves?" Say Frizbe tosses one of her discs at our hero Captain Reflective who uses his Theoronium shield to bounce the disc back at her. What happens? Well with a 10d6 attack she's going to do an average of 35 Stun and 10 Body. Taking off her 12 points of defense to PD and ED she's going to take 27 Stun and 0 Body, stunning her (and leaving her with 8 Stun) but putting her at no risk of dying. On a slightly above-average roll, or a second hit from herself (or anything else) she is out cold. That's a pretty strong case of a tilt to the offensive side and not very impressive.

I was wondering if maybe she was kind of a Tron-inspired thing but since the book was published in 1982 and Tron was released in July 1982 I'm guessing no. Also, having seen Tron, the first thing to add to this character would probably be some level of Missile Deflection which she conspicuously lacks.

So we have a fragile villainess who can only come out at night, has one ranged attack (two flavors) and no melee capability at all, really. Questionable concept, weak powers, boring powers - yeah, this is awesome. I know everyone can't be Firewing or Ankylosaur or Black Paladin, but sheesh - were they even trying here? there were only 36 villains in the book and this was one of them.

Anyway, that's the first of a probable series of occasional posts looking at less-than-awesome characters. I hope y'all enjoyed it.

Friday, January 28, 2011

House Rules, New Systems, and Saga Edition

Normally I'm not a big house rule guy. I'm especially against house rules when I haven't ever run the game system before. When people start trying to add new rules(or remove them)  I ask "What problem are you trying to solve?"

My approach is to play it as-written first, then if we discover a problem we can look at making a change. Most of the time I've found that what we thought was a problem with the rules turns out to be a wrong interpretation, not a bad rule. We recently discovered an example of this when debating a house rule about Paladin marks for an upcoming 4E game . I'll skip over the details but marking is important for a defender class in 4E and as we dug into it during our email debate we discovered that rather than the Paladin's mark being too weak, we had been letting the Fighter do some things with his mark that he shouldn't have been able to do. So it wasn't a rules problem, it was an understanding and implementation problem - the rules were fine. The fact that the DM-to-be was playing the fighter in my regular game and thereby ended up effectively nerfing himself by raising the discussion just made it funny.

So here's how I am handling the things I run semi-regularly right now:
  • 4e: No houserules - we just haven't seen the need for any.
  •  Mutants and Masterminds 2E: no houserules yet - I find most Supers games don't need serious rules changes, just some occasional adjustments of the limits on specific powers within the campaign. 
  • Savage Worlds: none - it just works
  • Star Wars Saga Edition - ummmmmmmmmm
I'm seriously thinking about making one major change. As-written, characters get a wide open choice of any feat at every 3rd level and a class-limited feat at every even level. That means that over the course of 20-level career a character will pick up around 20 Feats when you add in the starting bonus feats for each class, maybe more if they go with a Prestige Class or two. I'm OK with this part. However, the system also adds a Talent at each odd-numbered level (Which are also limited by class) and that is where a lot of what used to be class-specific abilities are found, as well as being similar to the Powers of 4th Edition D&D. This progression means that during a 20-level career a character will only get 10 Talents, and there are well over 1000 in the game, spread across several books.  I don't like this part.

Talents are where a lot of the "cool" of the game comes in and I would really like to give the players access to more of them. Each class has (in the basic book alone) about 4 talent trees to pick from, each with 3-6 talents. There are sometimes prerequisites within a tree and there are more talents (and more trees)  added in the various add-on books. By the Book, a level 20 character would be able to take the entirety of only 2 trees. That just seems weak for a Vader-level character.

There's also the diversity factor in that some of them affect Ship abilities, some are more useful for personal combat, some only apply to vehicles, and most are fairly limited in scope. I don't see having more of them as a big increase in power, but I do see it as a major increase in versatility.

The additional consideration is that I'm only going to have 3 PC's starting out, so even if they do have a power increase from this change it's not necessarily a thumbs-down anyway.

So here I am preaching "Don't be hasty" about making changes to a system, particularly one we haven't played, yet I'm about to do exactly that. Ah inconsistency - I hope it goes down smooth.

Footnote: Things I have houseruled before

  • Most of the character generation, skill system, and combat system in Rifts. Make that "Most of Rifts"
  • Basic D&D - we grew tired of rolling up new characters - max hitpoints at first and similar lesseniings of the carnage at low levels including healing rates
  • AD&D - Ability Scores, Race limits, initiative, starting hit points, healing rates, starting M-U spells, bonus spells for M-U's (sometimes)
  • AD&D 2E - Starting hit points, healing rates
  • D&D 3E -  skills, languages, healing rates
  • Twilight 2000 - Starting Gear (sometimes), healing rates
  • Shadowrun - Healing rates, contacts, gear
  • Mechwarrior - starting equipment, mech choices, healing rates and medical skills
Hmmm, I see a trend there. Probably a good topic for another post.

Special Friday Motivational

one for the Apprentices...

Thursday, January 27, 2011

A New Star Wars Campaign - Zebulon Space: Volturnus!

Yes, for my Star Wars Saga campaign I am using the old Star Frontiers adventure trilogy of SF-0, SF-1, and SF-2. I actually ran the first part of a conversion back in the d20 RCR days and it went pretty well until the group took an extended break, so this isn't a totally brand new idea for me.

The conversion itself is pretty easy - both games have space pirates, both games have various nasty creatures, both games have lasers/blasters, vibroblades, and armor. The tech is a little lower in Star Frontiers but that just means that the pirates jetcopter becomes an airspeeder and an Explorer ATV becomes a landspeeder - not a big deal. I actually have the original modules open at the table and use NPC's and monsters on index cards for stats when needed. It's a very easy way to keep the original flavor while using the relevant mechanics for whichever system - if it worked with RCR then it will work with everything from Saga to Savage Worlds.

The framework for the campaign is this: It is the time between Episode I and Episode II: Tensions are building and secession is in the air. The Republic sees that it may need additional resources in the future to support a war effort or in case trade is cut off.

As part of the search for new resources a diplomatic expedition has been sent to a newly contacted star cluster beyond the Outer Rim. Initial contact was made by Jedi pursuing some space pirates. They reported back that these systems include several large corporations, a somewhat lower level of technology albeit with widespread use of droids, and no organized force users such as Jedi. Now, after several months, the Republic is sending an official ambassador, a diplomatic party, some Jedi, and some guards for the group. The player characters are part of this expedition.

OK that gives us a reason to get the party together and points them all towards the same destination. It's a "mission" approach which is a little heavy handed but when starting a campaign I like the "reverse funnel" approach - start narrow and then broaden the horizons as the players (and the DM) get a better feel for things. We will be starting at 1st level.

The structure of the adventures breaks down like this:

Act I - Space Pirates! The PC's begin on board a Republic diplomatic cruiser. It comes out of hyperspace in the Volturnus system for a rendezvous with a diplomatic party from the Truane System, a local cluster government. The ship is instead attacked by space pirates and after some good old fashioned hallway combat the PC's are forced to head for the escape pods before the ship goes down.

Act II -  Crash in the Desert! The PC's take stock of their supplies and  begin traveling through the desert in search of water and shelter and some kind of civilization, encountering hazards, creatures, and space pirate patrols and eventually meet some natives, the Ul-Mor.

Act III -Creatures and Caverns! The Ul-Mor lead the party to a tunnel network that is the safest way to cross the rest of the burning desert. Along the way they will encounter some underground hazards, creatures, a crazy native, and a grounded space pirate before they finally emerge back into the sunlight.

Act IV - Ritual of the Quickdeath! The party talks with the native Ul-Mor and are given a chance to join the tribe by undergoing a tribal challenge. They then meet some other survivors who have joined the tribe and begin to piece together what's going on out here.

(This is the end of SF-0)

Act V - Kurabanda!  The Ul-More have seen other non-natives living with the Kurabanda, another race who lives in a distant forest. They guide the PC's across the plains to find them and discover a group of pirates fighting with a Kurabanda patrol. They talk to the tribe and aid in a hunt

Act VI -  Raid on the Pirate Outpost! The Kurabanda agree to lead the PC's to a pirate outpost which they infiltrate/attack/mind trick and discover that there is another alien race being used for slave labor and some offworld prisoners being held at a mining camp

Act VII - Fall of the Star Devils! The PC's journey to a village of the Edestakai, encountering hazards and creatures along the way. They meet the natives and try to convince them that the space pirates are not holy messengers but are evil. The Edestakai then lead the party to the pirate base and may even help them fight depending on how things went earlier. This is likely to begin with stealth or deception followed by a big battle. In the aftermath they see an unknown alien carrying a human body.

Act VIII - City of the Ancients! The PCs are taken to the ruined city of the gods by the Edestakai and attempt to locate the beings who live beneath the ruins. Exploring the place they find that a partial high-tech base is still online, run by a race known as the Eorna who ruled the planet long ago. They have awakened from cryosleep recently and are monitoring activity in the system and are concerned that an artifact left on the planet may alert their old enemies the Satahr that hyperspace entires and exits have been detected.

Act IX - The Pylon! - the PC's travel to the ancient Satahr artifact and attempt to explore and disable it, learning in the process that the Satahr are an ancient Sith servitor race. They also learn that an alert has already been sent and that the Sathar are sending a battle force to destroy the interlopers.

(This is the end of SF-1)

Act X - Mounds of the Mechanons!  Having determined that the best way to defeat the Sathar is to unite the races of the planet in a grand alliance, the PC's travel to the lands of the droid-like Mechanons, the fourth "younger race" of Volturnus to convince them to join the war effort.

Act XI - The Great Game! The PC's participate in an annual ritual of the Ul-Mor to convince them to join the alliance

Act XII - Sacred Idol of the Kurabanda! The PC's attempt to convince the Kurabanda to join the alliance by recovering a sacred idol of their people.

Act XIII - Capturing Justice! The PC's attempt to convince the Edestakai to join the alliance but they have to capture a dangerous animal alive to seal the deal.

Act XIV - The Battle of Volturnus! The PC's gather the allies they have recruited and using both their skill and their combat prowess attempt to  throw the Sathar invasion forces off of Volturnus.

This is the end of SF-2 and the first arc of the campaign. Acts 10-13 can really be played in any order leading up to the big battle at the end. Assuming each act takes one session to play that's a pretty good start to the campaign. Assuming they level up about every other session then the party would be in the 7-8-9 range by the end and ready for new challenges. Jedi will be ready for "Knight" status, Soldiers would be eligible for commands of their won if they choose to join an organized force. Other classes might make a big payoff with their local crimelord or be awarded something for exploring a new world and adding to galactic knowledge. In some fashion, it's a significant turning point in the characters' carers.

Cool things about these adventures:
  • Space pirates make good practice dummies for learning about combat then they go away about halfway through and get replaced by a Sith type race - nasty!
  • The Sathar use cybernetically modified monsters, warbots, and also fight in person - this lets me work in some critters from Tales of the Jedi and other places and some of the old sith weaponry more commonly found in KOTOR.
  • The "convincing the natives" parts use a cool mix of combat and RP to get a decent result. I'll experiment with making some of them a 4E style skill challenge but not all. Everyone should be happy.
  • There are a lot of Star Wars tropes in here too - escape pods, deserts, forests, battle droids, riding native mounts across some wild terrain, encounters with wild creatures, hand to hand battles, ambushes, infiltrating hostile installations - it's a nice mix of stuff. 
  • I can compress or expand the amount of time spent in many of these sessions by deciding how much time to spend on the "travel" section - sometimes there might be a lot of encounters, sometimes there might be none to speed things along. It also helps with controlling the speed of advancement in the party.
  •  Long term if the players want to stick around out here I can use some of the other Star Frontiers material and let them go exploring or have them assigned to hunt down Sathar. If they want to go back and fight battledroids alongside clone troopers then we can do that too. Longer-term, assuming any of them avoid Order 66 (assuming that still happens) then this would be a nice place for a force-user to run and hide for a few years or decades.  
 I haven't filled in every potential blank spot:
  • If a character dies I can drop in other survivors early on but once the pirates are wiped out in Act 7 that gets a little tougher to do.  I suppose I will handle this on the fly if it comes up.
  • I want a space battle going on during the big ground battle finale so I have to work in a Republic fleet arriving but without massed troops to reinforce the natives. Considering the events of Episode II this shouldn't be an issue - they apparently do not have an army until the clones arrive! Dead PC's could be replaced by Jedi or other characters at this point too, but it's almost late.
  • Future complications - by introducing a dark side race into the game I am creating a potential wild card where Palpatine and Dooku are concerned - would either of them make an effort to reach out to these aliens? How would that go? It could be fun for the future as introducing factors like this can blow up the canon storyline and let the players know it's all up to them - nothing is written in stone. If it turns out to be a long-term problem then maybe the Death Star's first live test firing is somewhere out beyond the rim.

    Wednesday, January 26, 2011

    An Old Star Wars Campaign

    Since Star Wars is kind of the theme of the week (and since I scanned in my cover picture) I thought I would share some bits of the best SW campaign I ever ran.  WARNING: This is a LONG post. It's a DM rambling about an old campaign. You have been warned,

    Now this was at a time when our "regular" game happened on alternating Saturdays and was almost always D&D 3rd edition. Some of us also got together on Thursday nights to play something else and while Saturday was usually a long open-ended campaign Thursdays tended to be shorter runs in different games and were mainly non-fantasy genres - Twilight 2000, Traveller, Mechwarrior, Gamma World - usually something with guns and tech rather than swords and spells. We would run through an adventure or two and switch or the DM would burn out or cancel too many times in a row and someone else would jump in with a fill-in game and pretty soon the fill-in was the new campaign.

    I had picked up the Revised Core Rulebook and was busy buying up the various supplements (and there were some good ones even for that edition). I knew Star Wars would fit into our group well but I didn't want to sign on for a full, open-ended campaign as it was a new system and in my experience the second run through with a particular system is a lot more enjoyable than the first. I thought about leaving it open ended but going with an episodic approach, but the hanging thread of an unfinished open game is unsatisfying, and having tried to run a 6-month Shadowrun campaign in an episodic format I knew that being able to end at predetermined points on our Thursday night game was unlikely. I decided that the "limited campaign" or "movie" approach was worth a try. My interpretation of this was that I would set up  a framework that would allow missions of roughly a movie's length to be started and finished with a set of characters. Then we could go on and play something else for a while and down the road come back to the same framework and do another "movie" with most of the same cast - basically another mission - and then switch out again. It seemed like a good idea and it worked out really well. If we still had the weeknight game I would probably still be running these things once or twice a year.

    The framework to this interruptible campaign was that the PC's were part of the Rebellion Special Mission Forces. The timeframe was right after the Rebels blew up the Death Star. While a resounding victory it also resulted in a massive escalation of the Empire's effort to hunt them down. The team's mission was to strike out at the Empire to keep them off-balance and on the defensive while the rest of the Rebellion looked for a new home and set up new bases. The best things about this approach are that a) Everyone starts on the same side b) Everyone understands that they are together for a reason and can make cohesive characters and c) there's no floundering around at the start of a session as they try to figure out what to do next.  Since they were not neophytes I started them at 6th level and told them they would level up at the end of the mission - I wasn't going to get caught up in tracking experience points in this kind of campaign.

    Having decided on the format I started thinking about what I wanted to do and in a burst of creativity over a period of about 3 days wrote out a solid outline of an adventure and then filled in most of the details. I had six "Acts" with several scenes each that would make a complete arc, included personal, vehicular and space combat, gave each character a chance to shine, and included a way to bring in a full Jedi character during the Rebellion Era - because I wanted to run Rebellion and one player really wanted to run a Jedi. It was one of the more complete-upon-arrival inspirations I have ever had and it worked out pretty well. here's an outline:

    • Act I - The strike team enters the Kandoor system and on their way in to the target planet picks up weak signals coming from the asteroid belt. Investigating they find a derelict clone-wars era ship. Moving to investigate they are attacked by some decrepit droid fighters that have also been floating in the asteroid belt. Eliminating the threat they board the derelict cruiser and discover a human frozen in carbonite and being cared for by an astromech droid and a couple of power droids. The battle has upset the delicate balance (read elaborate jury-rigging in these old power systems as only a tech droid with 40 years and nothing else to do can do) so speed is important. They unfreeze the human then move him and the trio of droids back to their ship before anything bad happens. It turns out, he's a Jedi and he's been frozen since the early part of the Clone Wars.

      This was fun as we tried out the space combat system right off the bat. I needed a way to shoehorn a  Jedi into the game so I figured leftover relic ship was the best way to do it. I also got to work in some droid comedy relief . We had some good skill usage in this part too from techie stuff (What are all these power cables for?) to medic-type action (I need vital signs!). By the end I finally had all of the players on one ship headed for one planet to carry out their mission.

    • Act II - This was a stealthy orbital recon job to figure out what the Empire was doing on the planet. The short DM's Notes version is that they were mining a rare element here for use in the new Death Star's superlaser, and they were strip-mining the planet to get it.  Activity here was orbital recon, some skill use, then landing near one of the bare patches on the surface to take a closer look where they ended up meeting the natives.
    This was the transitional part of  the beginning where the team starts to learn a lot of details and determines the actual problem. There was a touch of Star Trek as they used sensors and then landed to "take tricorder readings" but it went well and then led into a nice diplomatic scene with the natives who were technologically regressed Duros (mostly because I like Duros, not for any deeper reason). They also get their first glimpse of the colossal vehicles being used to strip-mine the planet.

    • Act III - Attack! Imperial Scouts on speeder bikes whoosh in and start shooting up the characters and the natives. The PC's shoot back with supporting fire from their YT-2400 and make short work of the patrol but they expect more to show up anytime now. The natives offer to lead them to a more secluded spot where the imperials wont find them and they can meet the local chief and the "wise one" who looks like them.
    We open with some personal combat, then move to some survival skills to hide the ship, then some diplomacy when meeting the chief. The first big dramatic reveal occurs when the wise one turns out to be the Jedi character's old Padawan sidekick. FLASHBACK....

    ....the Jedi and his padawan were investigating reports of a hostle force-user in the Kandoor mining station. In hot pursuit of a strange dark-side force user they are lured into a freezing facility and the Jedi is quick-frozen. Fearing that he may not be up to the task the Padawan orders the droids to take his frozen master back to the ship, launch, then lay low in the asteroid belt and await his signal before returning...

    The Padawan mentions that he did hunt down the dark jedi and kill him but the ship never returned and the largely automated facility was hit by droid fighters. In the confusion of the war no one else ever came looking for him so he ended up living with the natives and meditating on the force. He also chose one of them to be his own padawan but he went off track, took the dark jedi's holocron (locked away for safekeeping)  and turned to the dark side. he is now a menace to the native population but seems to have some kind of arrangement with the Imperials. The former Padawan has given up the ways of violence and is now a pacifist so he will not take direct action against him.

    • Act IV - The PC's begin forming a native alliance to take out the mining vehicles, but are menaced by the native darksider. They pursue him and find a small ancient structure evidently of Sith origin. Cornered, the native darksider attacks them in direct combat and proves to be every bit as tough of a combatant as they had feared. In the end however, they do win and more tribes rally to their cause. To really prove their power to the tribes, they intercept an imperial interrogation team, kill them, and steal their AT-AT. The natives are now fully on board with throwing the Imperials off of the planet. 
    This was an especially fun section as there was all kinds of diplomacy, coercion, bluffing, and smack talk. The fight with the darksider was tense but worked out in the end.. The AT-AT theft was totally player-driven as they felt they still needed to do something to impress these guys and they went with it all the way.

    •  Act V - After most of the PC's stealthily infiltrate and sabotage some important systems, the captured AT-AT and the PC's ship lead an attack on the main Imperial refining station and HQ. The commando team also releases several thousand prisoners being held at the base and the Imperial garrison is soon overwhelmed by an angry vengeful native horde (thoughtfully supplied with blasters liberated from the Imperial armory). Moff Lestrade and his bodyguard escape and flee to one of the massive mining vehicles to regroup. 
    In this scene we got to combine the Trojan Horse, a commando mission, a paratroop drop, a jailbreak, and a hostile uprising all at the same time. There was  a fair amount of planning but there was some time pressure as an Imperial inspection was scheduled in just a few days. this resulted in a chunk of th garrison being sent out to a large landing area away from the base itself and this splitting of forces made a big difference. The players had a blast with their stealth mission - picking locks, hacking computers, setting explosive charges while the pilot organized his elite native guard on board the AT-AT and overdrove the thing to get through the gate in time, leading to the visual of a galloping AT-AT hustling towards the base. In the end the players felt good about what they had done, and the natives had effectively won, but the business was not yet finished.

    • Act VI - leaving the scene of their victory the PC's once again kicked the AT-AT into overdrive and galloped after the mining vehicle. Once on board the massive structure the party splits up to try and halt the thing and find their enemy. The pilot leads his elite team to the control room, the soldier faces off with the Moff's bodyguard, and on top of the vehicle, hundreds of feet in the air,  the Jedi shouts in triumph as he sights the Moff emerging from a turbolift. His jaw drops though as he hears the snap-hiss of a saber ignition behind him and his old padawan says "I'm afraid I can't let you do that" - the Padawan (now master) who has been acting as an adviser this whole time and who the Jedi believed at face value, is the real darksider. The native darksider was his apprentice but there was no split. The padawan fought the old original darksider years before in the temple and slew him by drawing on the dark side himself. Then in that dark place he turned and embraced it, growing in power for all of these years. When the Imperials arrived he made a deal with them and was introduced to a darksider even more powerful than himself - one who is returning to the planet right now.

       So as the two Jedi duel on top of the giant mining vehicle, the soldier finishes off the bodyguard and runs up to the top deck in time to watch and see the climax as the battered PC Jedi force-pushes the wounded Sith off the top deck, plummeting to his death. The pilot gains control of the miner and aims it for the Imperial assembly area where a whole lot of stormtroopers are gathering.

       As the lumbering behemoth approaches, one heavily-escorted shuttle lands and a black armored figure walks down the ramp. Even at a distance the Jedi can feel the power coming off of this one - and then Vader notices him. a black glove points at the vehicle and a whole lot of stormtroopers open up on it.

       The pilot calls for the droids to bring in the ship while the Jedi and Soldier begin assembling grenade bundles and force-pushing them way out into the middle of the clustered troopers.The miner vehicle begins devastating the troops too slow to get out of its way as a flight of TIE fighters begins making strafing runs against the mighty miner.

      Finally the shadow of a YT-2400 covers the top deck and the party hurries aboard, heading for orbit and sending a comm call to the natives and prisoners still at the base to let them know the situation and give them time to melt back into the forest. Farewells are made over the air as the ship streaks for space, dodging fighters and at least one humongous star destroyer until they can hit hyperspace and head for home.
    This was the climactic fight and it was possibly the greatest single battle I have ever run - the gathering troops, the everything-is-on-the-line pressure, the personal nemesis confrontation and one of my sweetest moments ever as a DM - the look of utter shock on the Jedi player's face when his former padawan turned on him - he was truly shocked and said both at the time and later that he couldn't believe I had gotten him like that. It was a tough fight and I'm glossing over a lot of details but it was great. The back-story came out between saber clashes just like a movie and no one else felt left out as these two fought it out - I even worked in the obligatory "join us" moment but he wouldn't go for it. Having Vader make a personal appearance let them know that this was important and wiping out a bunch of bad guys after liberating a bunch of good guys let them win twice - they did the Right Thing by saving and freeing the natives, then they got the satisfaction of beating the hell out of the enemy too.

    Things that went right (or why I think they went right) - there's a perfect balance of preparation and improvisation but it varies with each group, each DM, and each game. For this short campaign, it felt like I hit it dead on. I had a big-picture outline of what the bad guys were doing, but left room for them to react. I had stats for the characters, the monsters, and the vehicles made up ahead of time so I didn't have to figure out mechanical details - I could concentrate on  what was happening in the game instead of how many hit points a rancor had. The players were focused and worked well together and were enthusiastic about the whole game. It just doesn't come together much more completely than it did this time.Each act ran about 1 session though I think III & IV both ran over so it took us about 8 weekly sessions to play out, being just long enough to have a substantial story but short enough that no one got bored or burned out.

    Things that went wrong  - well, not much. Moff Lestrade was supposed to be a recurring villain, but the soldier shot him in the back while the Jedi was finishing off his old padawan - ah well. There were a few side plots & adventures that I had worked out that I didn't use but those just go into the encounter file for another time. I would say the biggest disappointment was that we only did one other episode with this team and we never finished it completely. (That was an adaptation of "Tatooine Manhunt" that had this same Jedi lightsabering a krayt dragon from the inside out) Ah well, no reason we couldn't do it again some time in the future.

    I had 3 core players on this  - One ran the unfrozen Jedi Guardian, one a hard-bitten soldier who named his beloved light repeating blaster, and one veteran pilot who used his starting funds to install a bacta tank on his ship because you can never find one when you need one. A couple of others made guest appearances during the game but those 3 stuck with it and really made it something special. This campaign really showed me that as a DM you can't make a great game all by yourself - all you can do is set things up to enable a great game and then hope the players run with it. In this case they did and it was a blast. Side Note - the soldier player is still with me. he's running Kordan the Fighter in my 4E campaign. I try to hang on to good players as much as I can.

    Anyway, that's my "Best Star Wars Campaign Ever" story - hopefully I can surpass it one day. We will see.

    Tuesday, January 25, 2011

    Campaigns and Concepts and Three Ring Binders

    This post has nothing to do with actually running or playing a game and  is probably getting into the realm of "too much detail" but I thought I would share it anyway on the off chance it might inspire someone else out there.

    One of the things I do when I think of an idea for a new campaign is that I set aside a 3-ring binder, stick some paper in it and start writing down notes. These are usually big-scale notes in the early going - system, character limitations, a rough map, notes on gods and empires, and some adventure ideas. I may scour the internet for things I can use and start sticking them in the binder too. At some point pocket dividers and section dividers will probably come into play too. Pretty soon I have a semi-organized mass of information that at least captures the high points of my original concepts. There's some writing on the computer too but I'm pretty set on printing that out and sticking it in a binder as formats may change and hard drives may crash, but I have binders with notes from 20+ years ago - even after the Commodore 64 that some of them were written on is long gone. On the downside this can leave you with a shelf full of plain white or black binders that are both difficult to identify from the outside and boring to look at.

    I do not like the boring binder (it makes the thing look like work instead of fun) and sometimes an idea doesn't really take off until I have something visual anyway so enter the "Campaign Cover". I like to think of them as the cover to the best-selling novel or DVD or the movie poster for the film of the campaign. I started doing this right before D&D 3rd edition took off so I've been doing it for about 11 or 12 years now. Early efforts were primitive often consisting of a printed out map or a cut-up copy of a spare magazine cover, but more capable PC's and the power of the internet made it a lot easier to do and made the end product much better. The basic idea is to roam around online and find some pictures (and maybe maps) that cover some of what the campaign is about. I did one for a Mechwarrior campaign and a few for some early d20 games but I'm skipping over those. My favorite one so far is this one:

     This was for (as you may have guessed) my limited "special forces" campaign that I ran around 2006 or so. (That's just a scan of the cover as the original "Frankenstein" jpeg is long gone.) I have zero graphic design training so I just put together a bunch of stuff that was in the adventure and was pretty happy with it. The best thing is that there is a ton of Star Wars fan art out there and it means you can find a pic of almost anything you need. The elements here were the players' ship, the planet they were investigating, the At-At's they would be facing, the Duro native population they would be meeting, Moff Lestrade (apparently played by Jude Law - bottom right) who was running the project they would end up foiling, a confrontation between a good Jedi and a fallen one, and of course Vader and his SSD because every adventure should have an iconic appearance somewhere, It's not fancy but I spent a few hours putting it together over a few days and was pretty happy that I managed to cover that much.

    Now there is the question of time in these, as in  "how much time do you want to spend doing this"? Sometimes I have an image in mind right from the start and those are pretty easy. Other times it develops organically as I search through images in my archives or online  and say "Hey that's cool"  and drop it into the folder to be mixed together later.

    There's also a question of composition - does a big jumbled up mess of pictures (a collage, really) say what you want it to say or is one solid image say it all? Here's one of the latter:

     This is from Dragon #62, one of my favorite covers of all time - I like the look of the knight, I like the multiple opponents, and I like the background. It's by Larry Elmore and while I neither worship nor hate him as some do, this one always stuck with me. I used it for the guardians of the Vale because I envisioned a fair amount of outdoor travel in that game and so I went simple - trimmed off D&D logo, typed up campaign name at the bottom, and one big picture in the center. Too bad that campaign is over now, I really liked this one.

    Now for a more jumbled one:

    Now for this one I wanted to include more than one image as the campaign is a series of smaller runs against various opponents in shorter arcs and chunks. I wanted the symbols of some major organizations so that it wasn't all paintings, and I wanted different sizes and palettes in there too. I made a back cover for this one as well:

    There's a reason all of those pictures are in there, but I won't go into too much details as some of my players read the blog and I don't need them thinking about this too much.

    Finally, if you're going to go to all that trouble, you might as well make a spine insert for them too:

    Not nearly as pretty but they do make it easier to pull the right binder - I usually have several sitting on the shelf so it helps. For the D&D binders having this "unified" approach for one game is kind of a new thing but it does make them look like they belong together on the shelf. For the Star Wars one I just wanted it to look at home next to the pile of d6 books and it really does. These are also fun because they give me a chance to use all those interesting fonts I've collected over the years.

    I haven't done any covers for Atomic City or the other new campaigns yet but when I do I will go ahead and post them up. They will probably not look much better, but they do make me happy.

    Anyway that's probably enough of a trip into "gaming minutia" for now. Stay tuned for future installments covering "How I Use Index Cards" and "The Greatness of Pocket Dividers".