Saturday, February 12, 2011

Unfortunate Character Choices - Bulldozer

Welcome back to another round of analyzing some of the "lesser" stars of published RPG characters. Today's contestant is from "Enemies II" published in 1982 for Champions, then in what was technically 2nd edition, although editions 1 through 5 are pretty much interchangeable.

"Bulldozer" - I like it. The name implies strength, toughness, possibly some kind of overrun attack, and maybe some kind of mechanical element like a battlesuit. Most of those are not present in this character.

Technical issues - Well, he's really strong as 50 Str is about par for a Brick in this edition of the game. Con of 24 and Body of 15 is OK. His powers though...

  • One level of Density Increase? Just one? Losing 1" of knockback is really nothing to get excited about. Then to buy it to 0 End Cost to keep it always on is just...strange.
  • Damage Resistance vs. all Killing Attacks is good. That's about as much as you could get in this edition. However, is this a side effect from his radiation exposure? Density Increase gives 3 points of fully resistant PD & ED for each level taken, so a few more levels of DI would give him higher defenses against everything AND they would be fully resistant AND they would fit the character concept better.
  • +3" of Running - why?
  • Double Stun from females in HTH? Oh boy here's another double-stun character whose best defense is a 20! There's nothing in the description that indicates why this should be the case, other than him being a construction worker from Jersey. Seems a little severe for a "Cultural Package" limitation.
  • Fear of Spiders? Kind of random, but OK, and Hunted by Police is fine.
 Let's give him the test: An average 10d6 punch is going to do 10 Body and 35 Stun. His PD will stop the Body and allow 15 Stun through. Con of 24 means he's not Stunned and Stun of 47 means he can take 3 or 4 of these punches before he drops - not too bad. His OCV, Spd, and End are on the low end but not crippling.  However, if he gets punched by a girl it gets very ugly. He still stops the Body, but the Stun goes to 70 on average. That means he stops 20 points and then 50 goes through, knocking him unconscious in one shot! I think I would change that "Fear of Spiders" to "Fear of Female Bricks".

Technically, the only redeeming thing here is his point cost. Look at that - he's only built on 166 points! That's about half of what most serious Supervillains were built on in this book, so maybe there's a reason he's kind of weak. Build-wise I would spend my points differently, but as long as he's not fighting a girl he's not terrible.

The worst part of this character isn't so much the powers or the background - it's the costume. Look at that! The only thing that makes him distinctive is that it says "B-U-L-L-D-O-Z-E-R" down the side of his arm! How lame is that? It's like a soccer jersey or some showy brand, not a super-suit! Of course, given the outccry over the lameness of this guy's look, they would surely fix it in the next edition's rogue's gallery 7 years later, right?

So how would I fix this guy? I kind of like the supered-up construction worker but I think Marvel's Wrecking Crew did it better than this. I see three good options:

  1. Go all mechanical and make him a bulldozer that was infected by some kind of nanotech, maybe alien nanotech. Make it look like Bumblebee from the Transformers live action movies only a 'dozer instead of Camaro and you could have some fun with it.
  2. Go with the Altered Human Construction Worker idea but say he can generate a plane of force in front of him when he moves, kind of like the Juggernaut but make it visible and vaguely dozer-blade shaped  with some kind of boost to his melee damage  - maybe a damage shield and a force field or force wall effect.. I'd also let him wear a hardhat too and this might be a salvageable character. In Hero terms I'd give him some levels with Move Through and let him plow into people.  
  3. Put him in a battlesuit and give a big flat piece of metal on each forearm that he uses to block attacks and slap people around. Paint it yellow and give it some Tunneling and he at least looks the part of a disgruntled 'dozer driver who rebuilt his machine into something more.
Super-names tend to be fairly literal in the sense of "what they do or look like" not literal in the "name running down one arm" sense so it would be nice to have some visual bulldozery element here.

Anyway, that's enough for now.

Oh wait.

You'd think that 13 years later and the NEXT next edition of the game and it's attendant enemies book they would have dropped this guy or come up with a better look. I'll let you be the judge of 5th Edition Bulldozer:

Friday, February 11, 2011

Some Notes on Running Games II: Running a Session

Once you have a group together you have to actually run some games. Having done this I thought I would share some of my lessons learned.

Organization - Nothing slows down the game more than when the DM can't find his notes or has to flip through a rulebook. There are times when I think it's OK to look up a rule, mainly when it's a new game and you want to get it right early to make sure everyone understands the fundamentals. Most of the time though it's better to make a ruling, roll a die, and move on.
  • Games with universal mechanics make this easier to do as you likely know how the core mechanic works already.

  • I've posted about campaign binders before and since that's how I do it I only have one pile of paper to bring to the table. At most I have to flip through a binder, I don't have to search the entire house.

  • Opposition Stats - For 3E I printed out about 200 index cards with monster statblocks on them, kept them in a cardfile with alphabetical dividers, and almost never touched my monster manual again. It's easier to manipulate a couple of cards behind the screen than it is to keep a monster manual open and accessible. I did the same thing for d20 Star Wars when I ran it (they were handwritten that time) and I am doing it  again for Saga as in those games certain opponents come up repeatedly - Stormtroopers, AT-AT's, Tie Fighters - so it makes sense to have standard stat blocks for them at hand during every session. For the 4E D&D game I use an image program to cut the relevant monster statblocks out from the Monster Manual PDF's, paste them all to one sheet , then print it out and add it to my material for that session. Each of these lets me reference "Monster X" in my notes and access those stats easily without having to pull a book out.

  • Combat Order - You can't run an efficient game if you have to constantly ask who's turn it is. For D&D and other "Roll Initiative" type games I put each character down on an index card (name,class, whatever) and when combat breaks out I make one for each monster group as well. Everyone rolls initiative and I write it down on each card then put them in order. Then I cycle through the deck each round. This is better than the write-em down method as people sometimes change order during a combat and with cards it's as simple as moving the card to wherever it needs to go. I do not use player or monster stat cards for this as you usually need those stats when it isn't their turn, meaning you have to pull their card out of the deck and will probably get it out of order. It's just a way to track initiative, it's not a backup character sheet. That said I do note down conditions on them in 4E as it's a good way to remember saves and "turn ends" effects.

    For Non-D&D games I use different approaches. For Shadowrun I wrote it on paper and then marked off as people took their actions. For Hero I used a copy of the Speed Chart in a sheet protector and marked segments off with wet erase markers. For Savage Worlds you use playing cards so you don't need a separate tracking method.

  • Page Markers - If there's a page or two in a book that you will be referring to a lot then MARK THEM! I've seen DMs look up the same page multiple times during a session and have trouble doing it repeatedly! Just put a bookmark or a spare card or better yet put a sticky note or tab on that page so that it doesn't fall out. The XP tables in the DM's guide for 3E and 4E, sample NPC pages, the start of the treasure tables all have this in my library. In the PHB it's the level advancement page. It's the stuff you use all the time - make it easy on yourself. 
Preparation - In some ways this is overrated by a lot of new DM's as they try to prepare for every direction the players might go. It is important but maybe not in the way you think.

  • New players or inexperienced players will often fall into analysis paralysis and be unable to decide what they want to do. For these kinds of groups I like to have two different options planned out and then feed the group rumors, NPC requests for aid, talk of rewards for bandit heads - several obvious cues for the players to bite on. Don't worry about railroading these players - they need some help getting started, so give it to them.

  • Experienced players will often come to the table with an idea of what they want to do already, either short term or long term or both. It might be "make it to level 2" or it might be "take over the world." Go ahead and focus on that process. It's not railroading if the players are demanding it. Find out in advance if possible and focus your prep there.

  • Published adventures - these are both a curse and a blessing. They can be a blessing in that you don't need to come up with maps and badguy stats of your own, but they can be a curse when the map and the descriptions don't match up, or when the NPC's don't make sense because something is missing or when you cannot wrap your head around the plot described in the adventure and you waste a bunch of time trying to figure it out. I've brought several sessions to a crashing halt using published adventures when I am running one and suddenly realize I don't know how dungeon level 1 connects to dungeon level 2 either because of an unclear map, an editorial mistake that trimmed it out, or my own reading comprehension error.

  •  Self-Made adventures - one way to guarantee that you know how one level connects to the next or to know for sure why Doctor Kaboom is robbing Novatech Labs this week is to write it yourself. It's more work up front, sure, but you never have to try and figure out what the author intended. Plus they are typically re-usable even in different games. A good idea is a good idea.

  • World building - this was good advice in The Dragon in the late 70's and it's good advice now so I will repeat it: The Bullseye Approach. Work up a rough sketch of a town. Work up a dungeon outside of or underneath that town. Bam! You're ready for your first session. Now work up some of the countryside around the town.  Work up a few NPC's. Work up a few organizations that are important to the area - temples, merchants, bandits, orc tribes. make up some names of other places in the region. What kingdom are we in? What kingdom is next to that? Keep going like this, coming up with stuff as it's needed rather than trying to create a entire detailed world from scratch in advance - because much of it will never be seen by your players and is a waste if you have really limited time to prep. Focus on the parts you will use and that your players will want to see, not the family tree for the ruling clan of the island nation that no one is from and no one plans to visit - that's not game prep that's stuff you're doing strictly for yourself. The town might be several pages worth of information. The nearby forest and lake and hilly region might get a paragraph apiece. Neighboring kingdoms might get a sentence. Distant kingdoms might be just a name. As your players explore, you fill in more details, which has the added benefit of letting you use your players ideas. "Wouldn't it be cool if there was a kingdom run by hobgoblins around here?" lets you take the Kingdom of Harktor, which was just a name up until that session,and decide it's a feudal society of hobgoblins. Prod the players for more info - what would be cool about that? Would they be enemies or allies? What would they be know for? It's bound to go somewhere interesting, so use it.

    For examples of this in action, check out the material on Shadowdale in the Realms or the City of Greyhawk in Greyhawk where there are tons of detail on the local region and the more distant stuff tends to be general sketches instead of specifics.

    Also take a look at the early episodes of Original Trek - the uniforms change all the time, the ship's capabilities vary somewhat, personalities shift, and the structure of the organization they work for is very fluid - it's not even called Starfleet for some time. Despite the huge volume of canon out there now they didn't know all that stuff ahead of time - they made it up as they went along.

  • Having a pile of pre-generated short adventures and NPC's and even maps is a godsend when you are winging it, and at some point you will need to wing it/ For 4E Dungeon Delve is a wonderful resource. For 1E and 2E it was the Book of Lairs. For Superhero games it's those books of Supervillains like Marvel universe, Enemies, Crooks, etc.  Maps are tougher but published adventures are a good resource here too. Building up these resources takes time but is well worth it when the time comes.

  •  Practical stuff: Have a set place to play. Set your table up before everyone gets here. Put a cloth over it or something to let everyone know that it's game time. Have your books out. Have the miniatures out. Have your dice out. Have your screen up - all of these little cues let everyone know that you are ready to go and that you didn't forget about the game until someone knocked on the door. I don't manage this every time but I do try to look like I'm ready to go when people show up most of the time 
Execution - I typically allow 30 minutes or so for people to eat (we play on Friday nights) and chit-chat and then once we start we try to stay focused. This does not always work but that is the plan. We run a serial campaign for the most part, so the action picks up wherever we left off last time. and since we play weekly to biweekly it's usually not a problem for people to remember where we were and what was going on. If it is I usually send out an email summary of the last session the night before the game or I hit the high points before we officially start for the night. Some other rules:
  • We stop at midnight.If we're very close to finishing something or hitting an important milestone then I will push a little bit past it but I err on the side of "stop early" rather than "stop late" as some people work the next morning and have to get to bed and others worked all day and are nodding off if we play longer. This also gives everyone an incentive to stay focused as we're stopping at 12 whether you wasted an hour talking about comic books or Clone Wars or not.

  • If someone is away from the table when their turn comes up in combat then we skip them and let them jump back in when they return.  We don't change up the initiative order, we just have a 1-round "wrinkle in time"

  • We never end in the middle of combat, period. It's too hard to recreate the exact scenario a week or two down the road and I can't leave stuff out and undisturbed for that length of time. Sometimes this means we wrap at 11:30 but the group has decided that this is a better approach than running long. At most I will set the scene as in "you walk into the room and 15 skeletons rise up out of the mud. We will roll initiative next week."

  • Most of the time I use a battlemat with  overhead markers. If I have a preprinted map that fits the scenario, I use it. If I have time and think it will be reused I will draw out a map on a page of presentation graph pad paper, one of those big ones you can get at office depot. If I have the right tiles I will use dungeon or galaxy tiles. Even if it's not a tactically-focused game like D&D, I still like to have a map of some kind on the table so that players can see relative positions. "OK Aluminum Man is on top of the Chrysler Building while Oonga the Fire-Ape comes down Broadway and Captain Vesuvius comes ashore near Battery Park."
That's about all I have to say on this topic for now. I'm sure there will be more later.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The New Apprentice D&D 4E Campaign: Shining Swords of Impiltur

After much pondering I've decided to go with Impiltur in the Forgotten Realms for the new location of the second 4E campaign. I did this for multiple reasons:

  1. I still like using one campaign world for my current D&D games - one set of gods, planes, calendar, etc.
  2. I still like using a published campaign world as it lets the players be a part of a larger "thing" in learning about the world, looking up things online, reading the books, etc. Especially with new/younger players. It appeals to them a little more at their age than playing in my "made-up" world.
  3.  Impiltur is a relatively undocumented part of the Realms with only scattered notes and no big module or novel series really focusing on the region.I don't really have to  worry much about getting the details wrong and the 4E Realms guide has all of 2 pages on the region - even less "official" stuff to worry about.
  4. Impiltur is "off to the side" from some of the main areas of the Realms  but is connected by sea so it's easy enough to let them travel if they choose to do so. This means less "I read this and it says..." conflicts down the road. They aren't canon enforcers or anything but if I set it in Icewind Dale at least one of them would be wanting to talk to every character mentioned in those books and visiting every place in them - I want to try and avoid that for the moment and focus on their game.
  5. It's a fairly traditional medieval kingdom with forests and mountains plagued by orcs, ogres, and hobgoblins inland, pirates from the sea and imprisoned demons from a war 500 years in the past while allying with elves in the forest and dwarves in the mountains - I could run this country in basic D&D and there's not an un-killable super-wizard anywhere in sight.
One of the ideas is that the kingdom in the past was ruled by a council of 12 Paladins when the rulers proved incapable, and that adds an element of King Arthur to the feel that I intend to play up. Some of the background includes a king that disappeared with his bodyguard while chasing orcs into the mountains and 100 magical swords that were lost as well. The 4E changes include the coastline moving out leaving some of the formerly coastal cities high and dry while the government has broken down and thieves have taken over some of the largest cities. That said, the old material has a really good Knights & Wizards & Clerics vibe to it. I get a nice old-school, almost Greyhawkian feel in what material I have found and thin it will work well for them.

The neighboring areas include Damara and Vaasa and those could set the stage for everything from expansion into southern Damara's weak baronies to conflicts with the Warlock Knights of Vaasa to pirate raids along the coast.

(I almost went with Damara as the setting but one thing I don't like about Damara's back-story is that the big conflict in 1E/2E was with the Witch-King of Vaasa and his master Orcus as told in the Bloodstone Pass modules. Now Realms canon has an NPC completing that storyline and becoming king of Damara, leaving a lot of less-cool things for the PC's to do - I dislike that approach. The right way to do it would be to go back and run my players through that series and set them up as the heroes of the kingdom, but I just don't want to drop back that far in time or try and convert 4 big 1E/2E adventures to 4E- I'm kind of making 4E the "Year Zero" of MY Forgotten Realms campaigns. I may make it a circular progression where a year or two down the road my players get the chance to do that as the witch king comes to power again and has to be dealt with all over again - THIS TIME for good. Then I would convert the Bloodstone adventures to 4E and run them in this newer age.)

Back to Impiltur: So with nearly zero canon getting in my way I am free to do what I want. I have two goals here - one, sandbox a bit, let the boys decide where they want to go and let them wander the countryside part of the time - two, work through some of the published adventures for 4E as I want to see them in action, regardless of the word of mouth about some of them. So yes, I will likely start them off (after a brief wandering  encounter or two) with Keep on the Shadowfell and then we will see where they want to go after that. Thunderspire Labyrinth is a possibility, or maybe we go with Scales of War adventures after that as a sort of intermittent adventure path.

One project I have in mind is to make up a map of Impiltur in Hexographer which I have not done before now. I want to get familiar with  it for some regional maps as well so given some time I should have some nice-looking maps to go with the campaign. I may drop in the features of the Nentir Vale as well - there's room - and maybe the Elsir Vale (Scales of War) too. I can see this being my starting area for future campaigns in the Realms too so I want to scatter some interesting sites across the map.

New characters have already been made - so far we have a Beastmaster Ranger, a Tempest Fighter, a Bard, and a Wizard. I'll give them a chance to tie them in to the area a little more tightly - now that I know where we will be playing -  and then we will kick things off with a fight of some kind and then I will draw them in to KotS with rumors and NPC ties.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Some Notes on Running Games - Getting It Started and Keeping It Going

I thought I would share some practical thoughts on actually running games as opposed to my usual session recaps and theoretical campaign plans. One of the things I've found is that just like playing a game will reveal many things about it that will not surface from a mere reading of the rules, the best way to get better at running games is to actually run them.   I've been doing that, so here are some things I've learned. First, establishing and keeping a group together:

  • Commit to the game. Pick a game you like, find some players, and run it. The best scenario is to find something you are dying to run and something they are dying to play. Short of that at least pick a genre you are interested in. If all you can find are D&D players and you are only marginally interested in D&D then tweak it a little bit. Give them some mysteries or some intrigue and see who bites. Enthusiasm is an important part of sustaining a campaign on both sides of the screen. If you don't have it at the beginning then the game probably won't last long enough to develop it. One thing that kills a group fast is a DM that can't make up his mind and needs to switch campaigns every month or two - unless you offered to run a series of one shots - most people in my experience take a longer term view in most games (especially level based games) and want to see their characters grow over time. If they can't do that then they may go look for a group that can. I used to be this guy - I would pick up a new game, run it for a few months or less, then come up with something new that I wanted to run. It drove my players crazy, so I got over it. Now my players know that once we start something I am going to run it for as long as everyone is interested. 
  • Have a set regular time for the game. People can't plan their schedules around it if they don't know when it's going to happen. This is mostly true with adult gamers but even playing with kids at home I can tell you that the game tends to get trumped by other family stuff when we don't set time aside in advance. Schedules get very complicated with families, jobs, school and life in general. Even if people can't make it all the time, having a set night at least lets them try. It helps a lot to have a spouse that is on board with this too, if there's one in the picture.
  • Make it a priority: We play on Friday nights. That means that sometimes we don't do other things on Friday nights. Since I'm the DM and we play at my house it's doubly important for me to set an example, so I don't cancel every time I see a chance to do something else. I have canceled a few times  but I try to do it well in advance. Players can cancel and the game can go on, but if the DM cancels then it's off for the night. Other people are making it a priority to get together too (and giving up their own Friday night options) so keep that in mind and respect that. The last-minute DM cancellation is a surefire way to make your players hate you. Do it repeatedly and your game will die. I figure I cannot really do it more than once or twice a year so I cash in those cards very carefully.
  • Don't be afraid to change up your player mix.  If someone is not getting it, not getting along, can't make it on time, or can't focus on the game then boot them. Sometimes less is more. On the flip side sometimes a group can go stale or get in a rut where adding a new player rejuvenates the whole group. Even better, add someone who is a total newbie to RPG's and watch the impact on your jaded old hands. Mix up age levels too - sure, teenagers can be annoying but they can also get into the game like nobody else and come up with something awesome that you would never expect. I like laid back players most of the time but throwing a new and energetic player in can really inject something new into the game. I've seen and done both. It's not fun to let someone go but sometimes it's the only way to keep it fun for the other 4-5 people in the game - needs of the many and all that. Adding someone is also a risk but if it works out  it can really liven things up. If not, well, make sure they know up front it's a tryout.
Some of this probably seems like old news to some of you and to others it might sound like a lot of work. To a degree it is, but hey, we like doing this right? This is our hobby, our fun-time, right? So making a little effort to ensure that you regularly get time to do it seems like a fair trade to me. It was easy to find games when I had friends living in a dorm and we didn't have to worry about finding time to do them. Now it's a lot trickier so it's worth a little planning if that's the difference between Game and No Game.

Now even under good circumstances it's possible for a DM to burn out. It used to happen to me when I spent the early 2000's running for an 8-person group. That's a lot of people to try and keep happy and it's very difficult to keep that many players engaged in each session for all or even most of a session. I was mostly running 3E D&D as well so there's a lot of mechanical overhead too, it's not a rules-light game at all. Looking back I should have tried either splitting the group into two groups (difficult both personality-wise and scheduling-wise) or I should have gone to a lighter rules system like Savage Worlds.

But what if you do start to burn out? When you start looking at that scheduled game night and trying to think of reasons to cancel, that's a warning sign that it's time to do something else.
  • See if anyone else wants to DM a side adventure in the same system, maybe for a month or two of sessions.This can  recharge some batteries in a good way.
  • Put an end date on the campaign and let everyone know. This may give you a creative burst as you try to come up with a suitable way to close out this chapter of things.
  • Change the rules - if you've been playing Mutants and Masterminds maybe it's time to change over to Champions.   This mainly applies when rules frustration is the source of the burnout, but it can work miracles if that's the problem. the trick is getting the players on board with it. 
Change is good. After playing and running D&D 1E & 2E for 20 years I was not that excited about playing Against the Giants and saving Cormyr all over again.  3rd Edition was a huge change when it came out and I had a ton of fun running it. After 9 years of that I was worn down and not too enthused about running more of it. I started up a new Savage Worlds game with a new and smaller group of players and it was a revelation - I could not get enough of it. After a few months of that I was in the mood for some crunchy monster-squashing and started reading those 4E books I had hated so much upon a first read and realized that I liked it. I talked a few friends into trying it out and now I had a whole new set of rules to devour, a new world to develop, and lots of new ideas percolating through the old brain. Having a family that will play is a good thing too as it gives you a better chance to run multiple games if you have that same itch that I do.

The point of that last paragraph is that consistency and stability are incredibly important to getting a group established, but once you have that it's important to guard against too much of it and burning out as a result. It's a bit of a balancing act and most of us will fail at it somewhere along the line. Try not to burn too many bridges when you do and you should be able to bring some of those players back when you're ready to go again.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Return to the Ruins of Adventure - Session 17: Tomb Raiders!

Back in civilized Phlan the party discusses the orc map with the temples of Tempus and Torm. It may be linked to a prophecy about the return of an ancient Ogre king. Uncertain about following up on this the heroes decide to return to the burial mound from two days ago and a) try to discover who is opening these things up and b) thrash the skeletons that put the beatdown on them so badly.

Taking a small boat to the shore of the Moonsea they return to the mound and find it still open and still guarded by Boneshard Skeletons and Wights - at least this time they have some idea of what can happen.

As combat begins two of the skeletons are quickly overcome and explode in shards as the Warlock drops a big flaming blast on them. Rattled, Kordan fights on then in a disastrous sequence most of the party misses, the remaining skeletons and the wight  all tear into Kordan and he falls, wounded badly. Redoubling their efforts the party brings down the undead monsters and slaps the fighter back into consciousness. Searching the room the group discovers magical sigils on the floor and avoids them as they move to the tunnel leading down into darkness.

Moving down the passage and into the next chamber the party encounters flaming skeletons and frost-covered zombies. The zombies move to engage while the fiery bone-warriors stand and throw flaming death from range. The zombies radiate cold and have a freezing touch, making them tricky opponents to engage up close but Kordan goes in, trusting his legendary armor to protect him from the worst of it. Uthal ably assists as his mighty spear allows him to fight from outside the reach of the cold. The rest of the party concentrates pretty effectively on the nearest targets and brings them down, then blows away the fiery skeletons before they have a chance to do much hurting up close. The party is really coming together now as far as working together.

Traveling down a long descending  passage the party enters a crypt of some kind with a large room and a pair of huge flaming braziers. Bones lie scattered about but the primary concern is the large hulking zombie that begins slowly shuffling towards them.

As the party moves in one of the braziers blasts them with fire. Then behind most of the party the scattered bones assemble into 4 skeletons and attack the wizard and warlock who have stayed behind to attack from range. Kordan and Uthal engage the huge zombie while Jovanni scans the room.

The skeletons are quickly dispatched and under the combined fire of the party the zombie crumples to the ground. Then Jovanni spots a tiefling moving behind some columns at the end of the room and targets him, shouting for the other heroes to join in. Stealth useless, the tiefling wizard who was busy searching the tomb fires back but is frustrated as Kordan and Uthal jump into close combat with him. About this time the zombie corpse rolls over and stands back up, rejoining the fight and turning the tables somewhat on the fighter and barbarian. who are now caught between the wizard and the monstrous undead thing.

Taking decisive action the melee artists tear into the zombie, bringing it down for good this time. Althea and Mikal blast the evil spell-flinger and slay him, ending the battle. The group loots him, taking gold and magical implements, and then heads back up and out of the mound, returning to their adopted home of Phlan.

DM Notes: I have a lot of loose threads hanging out there right now but I thought the party was headed for my ogre king option. Nope - they wanted payback on those exploding skeletons. So they headed back there and tore through the whole place in one session. This was still Tomb of the Tiefling Empress from Dungeon Delve and I ran it pretty much straight. The differences this time were a) having a full party and b) being 5th level.  that first encounter was still one of the toughest due to overlapping close blasts and ongoing damage. The Invulnerable Coat of Arn(ol)d is pretty tough but the fighter still went down during this fight. 

These short adventures have been cool and have added some variety to the encounters. Keeping a location or lair to 3 or 4 "encounters" does help keep it fresh and they can finish it off in one or two sessions and then move on to something else. They haven't made a huge haul off of any of these yet but they have picked up quite a few useful items. This should help them a lot in their later fights.  

As for the future, well, they will spend the rest of 5th and probably 6th level taking care of the smaller scattered adventures and then once they hit 7th things will start to happen. It's going to be a lot of fun.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Star Wars: Zebulan Space - The Crawl and Act I

Well since I can't get the crawl creator to link properly to the blog here is the opening crawl for the new campaign:

Episode I: Volturnis Awaits 

 Trouble is brewing in the Galactic Republic. A Separtist movement led by former Jedi Master Count Dooku is gaining momentum.

Fearing a disruption of trade and possibly even war, a renewed  search for new resources and allies takes a small band of diplomats and explorers to the newly contacted Zebulon Star Cluster beyond the Outer Rim.

Lead Negotiator SHUB NURATH has agreed to meet with local trade representatives in the uninhabited star system of Volturnis. Aided by Jedi Master JEET KUNDO he hopes to secure a trade agreement with these distant worlds and open a new era of peaceful prosperity for them and for the Republic.

As the Republic Cruiser Serena Dawn enters the Volturnis system  strange signals are detected in space and on the planet below...

 I've probably violated several "rules of the crawl" in there but I'm happy enough with it. After we had spent an hour or so creating characters I ran it in the crawl creator on full screen with speakers blaring for the Apprentices and they were pretty excited. We then went into the other room and started up our first session.

(And yes, those are names of my old Star Wars characters in there. They can be quite silly, I admit this freely, but they at least "look right" to me)

Our heroes begin aboard the Serena Dawn, waiting for something to happen as the whole mission has been a mixture of boredom and excitement but no real action. Things are about to change. Our protagonists are:

  • A Kel Dor Jedi (Padawan) played by Apprentice Blaster
  • A Human Jedi (Padawan) played by Apprentice Red
  • A Rodian Scoundrel played by Apprentice Who
(Character names have been left out as they needed more time to think of some good ones, although there was some discussion that the Rodian may be named "Tweeto")

As an alarm sounds and the ship shudders under multiple impacts, the padawans jump on the commlink and seek their masters.  Master Kundo is headed for the engineering section as there are reports of a boarding party there. Master Xeen (hastily named as the second Jedi character was a last-minute left turn) is already launching his starfighter to handle things outside. They order the Padawnas to sit tight for now but they may assist the crew if their help is requested.

"Tweeto" is a junior member of the crew (and the Republic Fleet) who is checking on some equipment when the alarm goes off so he runs down a corridor to his battle station.

Outside the padawans' quarters they hear a scuffle and a cry for help. Padawan Red steps out and sees two obvious space pirates standing over a fallen crewman, blasters in hand. He orders them to stand aside. Padawan Blaster  steps out, sees two strangers standing over a fallen crewman and responds with a nice smooth motion of igniting, throwing, striking down with, and then catching his returning lightsaber. Tweeto comes around the corner after hearing the scuffle, sees the situation (including a saber arc) and shoots the remaining pirate in the back.

Greeting each other as they move to aid the injured crewman (they have spent some time together during the month-long expedition) they learn that pirates have attacked and boarded the ship near the engines and near the bridge. Since Master Kundo is headed for engineering, the padawans and the two crewmen decide to head for the bridge.

Moving through various hatchways and blast doors, the small group stumbles upon three thugs coming towards them. They ask the pirates to surrender but are greeted with blaster fire as a response. Padawan Red hits them with a force slam, knocking two of them out and the third stays upright long enough for Padawan Blaster to close and bring him down with a single sweep of his saber.

After this brief clashe the Jedi and the crewmen discover that the commlinks are jammed and they cannot raise anyone on the local commnet. At this point the wounded crewman decides to turn off to the medical bay with some spare blasters both to seek aid and to help defend it while the others continue to the bridge.

Impacts continue to shake the ship as the trio takes a turbolift to the bridge. The doors hiss open  and as the party opens the door to the bridge they are greeted with blaster fire from inside. Putting together a quick plan they are nonetheless surprised when another door slides open and a pirate with a blaster rifle begins shooting up the entrance area. Padawan Blaster once again throws his saber in a perfect arc, cutting down the pirate and regaining his saber. Padawan Red force slams the nearvy pirates on the bridge as Tweeto picks off another with his blaster. A pirate mate (an obvious leader type) is the only one left standing and he crosses swords with Red but is cut down in short order.

As sabers are put away, the team looks around and sees that outside the viewport the planet is gorwing larger and larger and the ship appears to be rotating irregularly. Blaster makes a heroic effort to set things right with a masteful display of piloting but various red lights indicate that the engines are gone and the ship is irrevocably out of control. Tweeto picks up a pirate commmlink and begins taunting the pirates but they just laugh and wish the trio a happy landing. Unable to contact their masters or the rest of the crew the heroes decide to find a way off of the doomed cruiser.

Quickly locating an escape pod bay the trio climbs aboard (noting that several other pods have already ejected) waits through the countdown, and launches into space. They manage to dodge some fire from a nearby pirate fighter and spiral down towards the planet below.

The pod's nav system steers them around to the dark side of the planet where they skip off of a rock outcropping or two and  slide to a halt in a rocky desert region as the sun begins to peek over the horizon. Volturnis awaits...

DM Notes: This session went really well and everyone was very happy with it. Character creation really did not take long (we only used the main book, that helped) and they were coming up with ideas for fleshing out their PC's before I even ran the crawl. 

Apprentice Who seriously considered another Wookie, but he ended up going with "a Greedo" and we had some fun with the idea of how a Rodian would wear a helmet, possibly cutting holes in it for his antenna to stick out. He focused on shooting people and being good at the Treat Injury skill.

Apprentice Blaster knew he wanted to play a Jedi from the start but wasn;t sure about the race. he ended up going Kel Dor because he liked their abilities and they looked cool (and I agree). I suspect that one played a pretty big role in some of the Clone Wars episodes was a factor as well. For his first talent he wanted something distinctive and ended up shoosing "Lightsaber Throw", again partly because it made sense (it gives him a ranged attack - short ranged, but still ranged) and partly because it looks cool.

Apprentice Red was thinking about a Noble but at the last minute went Jedi as well (no problem as this is Prequel Era and jedi are all over the place) but he went Human because he hasn't played a human in any of our rcent games and also because he liked the racial abilities. He took force powers instead of going for lightsaber abilities and settled on Force Slam as his main thing. It's a short-ranged cone effect that does damage and knocks back the targets - you see it used against battledroids a lot in the movies - and he was very pleased with his choices. 

The game played very fast - low level mooks go down quick - and 3 short fights let us begin to get used to the combat system. They looked for chances to use their skills too - piloting, diplomacy, perception, and treat injury were all rolled at various points and even though it's a bit of a railroad start (the ship is going to crash and there's not much you can do about it) they made it personal with the pirates, feel like they need to find their masters, and were thinking of other things they could have done on their way down in the escape pod. I was pretty happy with the way they looked for options. Their experience with old-school D&D's "tell me what you want to do" seems to have helped keep their initiative while their familiarity with 4E's very similar mechanics makes the system easy to grasp and lets the rules mostly stay out of the way - as it should be. Their excellent knowledge of Star Wars means they already know how the universe works and what it looks like so they are quite sure of themselves when it comes to moving about the world. 

 In short - it was great and I can't wait to run it again. 

A note on conversions - I am using the original map and counters that came with Star Frontiers as the grid is too smal lfor miniatures. They didn't care at all and I kind of like using nearly 30-year old gaming paraphenalia with a group of players less than half of that age. I don't ramble on about plaing as parents and kids very often but there are occasions where I get a very powerful feeling of handing off to the next geenration and seeing that I was the same age when I got Star Frontiers as they are now it's a real kick to see it in play again.  Of course as I write this they are in the next room playing Rock Band 3 with a bunch of songs that were popular about that time too, so maybe it's not just the RPG that's pushing that button.

Actual conversion notes: I have about a page of notes plus a few index cards with generic "Thug" and "Pirate" and "Gang Member" stats from Saga edition written on them. I have the original module open in front of me (behind my screen) and I'm using the flavor text and descriptions from it while I use the game mechanics from my notes. I don't really do a full-document conversion, so it will be difficult to post it up on the blog in a useable form but I'll see what I can do for anyone who is interested.  I'm guessing if someone wanted to use this particular adventure with this particular ruleset, they could probably do it on their own as well as any notes I can give, but just in case I will post what I can.

Motivational Monday