Friday, February 3, 2012

From the Archives - A Scarred Lands 3E Campaign Snapshot

I ran across an old email from when I was updating a returning player who was joining the campaign and thought it was interesting.

Our first session in the Scarred Lands was 5/7/05 with the adventure "The Serpent Amphora" - rememebr that one? The really tough lizard-guys flatten the party to cries of "we're only 1st level" and "killer DM killer DM"? Ah, good times...

Other published adventures along the way have included "The Wizard's Amulet", "The Dragonfiend Pact", and "The Crucible of Freya".

I believe the Swashbuckler left us after Session 8, the long river voyage to the trading post at the
southern edge of Vesh.

We arrived in Amalthea at the end of session 12, 10/22/05 after some trouble with a medusa.

Justin joined us beginning with Session 17 on 1/21/05

We are now up to Session 22, which we just finished.

So we have spent about 11 months of real time, 4 months of game time, and we're running about 6th level on average.

Party death totals:
Cleric - none?
Paladin - 2 (cursed once)
Fighter - 1
Ranger - 1 (Petrified twice)
Wizard - 1? [Shadows were the only time, right?]
Spellthief - 0 [for now]
Swashbuckler - none?

That seems really low (note to self, party not dying enough, probably getting cocky, need to restore

We have spent about half the campaign in the current city/area/dungeon. It does seem to be working better than the temple camapign in that regard. Is everyone cool with that? There are other interesting areas around here, but no one has really gone looking for them yet.

One thing I'm noting here - the party wasn't much on sandboxes even back then, as i had seeded several other things in the area around the city and dungeon we were in and they had little interest in exploring - it was very much "let's finish our mission" when it came to how we spent our sessions.

This game eventually ended in an effective TPK where the cleric was slain y undead and came back within minutes as an intelligent undead version of himself, and took great joy in converting the rest of the party to the same state. All except the wizard who was secretly a dark elf, and her love-smitten bodyguard the fighter who remained safe behind a wall of force and then headed off to her homeland. It was a very memorable if unplanned and not wholly positive end to a campaign.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

ToEE 4E Session 5 - Ogre in the Basement

Our heroes, picking up from last session, were investigating the dungeon beneath the Moathouse outside Hommlet. After fighting off the Green Slime they retreated back outside and camped for the night. While encamped they spotted a lone figure moving through the semidark nearby and moved to investigate. It turned out to be an Eladrin, Dayeth by name, who had fled a bandit attack some days earlier and had been wandering lost in the wilderness ever since. The party brought him in, fed him, told him what they were doing (and that they had slain the bandits) and he agreed to join them in their investigations.

Re-entering the ruin, the adventurers went back downstairs and decided to open up some doors. Smashing down one led to an empty room - but it had another door. Smashing that one down led to an armed and alerted ogre and a seriously dangerous combat.

"You seek to slay Lubash but Lubash is ready! Now you will die!" was the opening line of the fight. A vicious fight erupted as the ogre tried to hold the party in the doorway, slamming back anyone foolish enough to push into the room. The Swordmage though knew his stuff and managed to hold the beast off long enough for the sorcerer and then the druid (and Po) to force their way in, though not without a wallbanger of a blow to the unfortunate druid. Doing this meant that the Swordmage did take a fair beating, and seeing this the horrified Eladrin wizard was only too glad to stay back and throw spells from the previous room, aiming through the doorway.

Mighty though he was, Lubash was eventually surrounded on all sides by his enemies, and died a warriors death alone in his lair beneath the Moathouse, feared by many but mourned by none. The heroes collectively took a beating but no individual was hit enough to fall - they are getting the hang of this now. Looting the ogre's room led to a nice stash of cash and a magical cloak - all in a day's work for this forcible fivesome.

DM Notes: A whole lot of this session was used up in adding a new player. A friend of one of the Apprentices was interested in the game and had received some of the books for Christmas and he joined in. Of course hand-rolling characters in 4E just isn't done -not if you want the math done right for a first-timer anyway - so he tuned up his character concept and his math skills in the character builder while their characters were swapping stories over the campfire.

As a result we didn't have a ton of time left and as luck would have it they took a turn (through two stuck doors!) and ran into one of the tougher monsters on this level, Lubash the Ogre. I decided that a single ogre was out of whack for a whole party, even if they were just second level, so Lubash became a Grizzled Veteran Ogre (template from DMG2, pg 127) which effectively makes him about the same value as a Level 1 Solo - good enough.

Yeah, he landed the Grand Slam - on the Druid. After that he stayed out of reach...

It was a good time for all of us and brought the party together against a single dangerous foe in a good way - with no casualties! They are quite a bit better at this than when they started - clearly I'm going to have to work a little harder. 

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Sandbox Rejection

So I presented my West Marches style 4E campaign idea to my players and was met with silence - for several weeks. Then finally one of them spoke up and said he and some of the others weren't interested because if they wanted to play storyless games with random groups of strangers they had Living Forgotten Realms and D&D Encounters at the FLGS.

Alright, so apparently I can blame WOTC for screwing up my dreams of a Legendary 4E West Marches game - great.

He went on to say that the reason he played in my games was pretty much the opposite of the things you get in a sandbox game - character connections and feeling like he was part of a story without being railroaded.

Oh. Guess it's not entirely WOTC's fault then.


I should probably take that as a compliment as in the big picture it is - as opposed the small picture where it's a "we don't want to play the game that you've been consumed by for a month".

I could put the word out and try to scrape up enough new players to make a go of it anyway, but I was really counting on my regulars to form the cadre for the recruits, and the lack of interest on their part pretty much sweeps the leg for me. I'm going to put the West Marches on the shelf for now.

In the meantime I'm running Star Wars and I'm happy to be doing it. It started off as a kind of fill-in but I like the system enough that I'd be happy to run a full campaign. Plus I'm getting to play Brutallus Maximus again which is always a good thing for anyone who DM's almost exclusively.

The part of Brutalus Maximus IV is played by Brett Keisel of the Pittsburgh Steelers

Since I've been told I should expect to run D&D again in the near future I've already started coming up with options. Here are a few that I'm pondering this week:

  • 4E Mythic Greece - yeah I'm thinking about that again. Lots of mechanical limitations on characters but a completely different look and feel to the game.
  • 4E Classic Greyhawk - Thank you Mordemkainen's Magnificent Emporium. Another campaign with some limitations on character creation but a chance to revisit some dusty classics.
  • Arcana Evolved - Artorious Britannia! - My take on an Arthurian Brtiain using the races and clases of Arcana Evolved. I'll probably write up a post on it but it works better than you might think. Reading AE and Pendragon at the same time leads to interesting thoughts.
  • 4E Ultima - I wrote all that stuff about it, I have to consider it.
  • Anything Goes! A Fantasy Roman Empire campaign - if it's in a 4E book then it's viable for this game. Think about all those aliens in Star Wars under the Empire. Now think about all the D&D races under a Roman Empire. It's wide open and has a lot of potential.
  • The Iron Marches 4E - this is a homebrew world I cooked up for a Fantasy Hero game back in the 90's that would work surprisingly well with 4E's cosmology and assumptions. This one occurred to me the most recently and is very attractive to me as am opportunity to revisit my favorite homebrew world - and one of my current players was there for it the first time and has some fond memories as well.
So, there I am, looking to pull victory from defeat. More on this later.

Dawn of Defiance - Session 1

We kicked this one off on a Saturday afternoon with a few hours of character creation and catching up since it has been a couple of months since our last gathering. The bad thing was that no one else has a copy of the book, and given the price on the secondary market they aren't likely to pick one up either. So character creation took quite a while but this gave us time to work out backgrounds and ties between the characters so it all worked out. No one else has played either, and I've only run a few sessions for the Apprentices, so the mechanics will take a little time to smooth out.

So a lot of the session isn't really anything to relate here. Let's get to the party:

  • Jed Striker, Fugitive Cop (Human Soldier, pistol specialist)
  • Ril Somethingicantremember, Fugitive Pilot (Human Scoundrel, another pistol guy)
  • Talor, Fugitive Mercenary (Human Soldier, heavy weapons guy)
  • Dusan, Fugitive Padawan (Human Jedi, saber fighter who's not against using a blaster)
  • Ardana, Fugitive Manager (Female Twilek Noble, mind controller)
As you can see a theme quickly emerged. The campaign is set during the rise of the empire era, just a few months after Episode III. Jed's player had been working on a background and decided that he was an honest cop who was forced out when the Empire took a firmer hand with his homeworld and due to the circumstances around his departure he was now a fugitive. I had also emphasized that aliens were being pushed aside in many places in favor of humans so our Twilek was a successful corporate type who was downsized as the Empire rose. The Jedi - well that fit right in. Our other soldier and scoundrel got on board with it and pretty soon the whole group is sitting around a table in a cantina on a run-down space station orbiting the planet Brentaal...


Ardana is trying to organize a way off of this dump and has managed to recruit a pilot, some bodyguards/gunners, and a minion/copilot - now she just needs a ship. As the group discusses their options and their limited funds, they notice oddly observent men standing around the promenade and decide to keep an eye on them. A wounded woman stahhers into view, then lurches down the main way. Ril moves to aid her and is warned off by a pair of stormtroopers who move to arrest her. As Ril attempts to intercede blasters are drawn and violence erupts. The none-too-subtle agents join in with the stormtoopers but in short order all 4 of them are down while Ril and Talor sport some new scorch marks. They grab the wounded woman and hurry off the promenade.

Sel Zonn Station, where our adventure begins

In an empty room on the station they attend to their new friend, "Maya". Having determined that they are no friends of the Empire she thanks them and asks if they can help her finish a job, snce she is now too wounded and too wanted to finish it herself. She offers them payment as well as gratitude and everyone agrees. 

To assist Maya the team has agreed to head down to a cargo bay and talk to a local "crime lord" named Switch. The bay is guarded by some gammorreans but Ardana skillfully talks her way past them, with the help of a few credits. Inside they find a droid who thinks he's a crime lord who is sitting behind Ardana's old desk! None too pleased, she refrains from an immediate repo attempt and the group slowly wheedles the location of some special cargo out of him. This cargo is what Maya needs to pick up and deliver to finish the job. Satisfied, the group turns to leave...

DM Notes: The players came together nicely and we jumped right into things. After the initial shoot-out dealing with the guards and then with the crime-bot was a good way to let them know it won't ALL be blaster fights. Plus Lady Blacksteel got to use her persuasive abilities, which makes her happy. Unlike a lot of my past campaign kickoffs, this one starts off kind of small but I think it was effective, especialy considering it was after a good two hours of character building and general gabbery. The desk thing was just out of the blue from LB - she decided that she had been a pretty well-place corporate recruiter (explaining her skills & talents) and that his nice desk (mentioned in the adventure) had obviously been hers before she was let go. It was pretty funny, and she was the player who was least interested in a Star Wars game to begin with. Anyway, the fuse is lit ... now to see where it goes.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012


Little things pop up and grab you sometimes. Last Saturday night I was kicking off my Star Wars Saga campaign in the living room while Apprentice Blaster was running Apprentice Red and Apprentice Who through the Dragonsfoot module The Haunted Keep. I didn't really pick up on how amazing that was until after most of the players had left and one of my players (who also runs a game) and I were sitting around shooting the bull about the game and old games and my kid comes and sits down and joins in, talking about what went well and what didn't. It just happened and then I thought about it later - that was pretty cool, both for the father-son thing and just having two RPG sessions going on at the same time in the same house.

We're in a really good, happy place right now, and all of the kids give me a lot of reasons to be happy with them, but I don't mention them here because this is mainly about our games and gaming, not everything else. It's just a real kick to watch them organizing their own sesisons and working out how to handle things and writing up new characters and ideas. It was Apprentice Who's first D&D game and he had a good time though it was a bloody as most low-level Basic D&D games. He got the 4E starter kit for Christmas but the others thought Basic would be a better introduction for him. He's already played Icons and Star Wars and Marvel so it wasn't his first game ever, just his first time to Check for Traps and Save vs. Poison and such.

Anyway, session summaries to come on a multitude of games recently. Not the kids game - that's theirs and I didn't play in it. Although they did ask if I would play when one of them runs next to make sure we have enough characters. I said OK. Then I dug out some of my old Basic character sheets and set them aside. It's good to be prepared. Haunted Keep, here we come!

Monday, January 30, 2012

Ten Questions with ... Barking Alien

Barking Alien asked some questions over the weekend - questions that demand answers! So here we go...

Stolen straight from the source...

1) What is the most common type of environment or terrain encountered thus far in your current or most recent campaign?

Space Station corridors in Star Wars. "Dungeon" in RtToe 4E. A warehouse in ICONS - hmmm, lots of interior stuff going on there.

2) What is the most exotic or unusual environment or terrain encountered thus far in your current or most recent campaign?

I had the flooded interior of a wrecked spaceship in Return to the Ruins of Adventure. Full of crew members who were killed or mutated in bizarre ways.

3) What environment or terrain type have you never used but always wanted to? Why haven't you?

I haven't run an underwater adventure in years and years but that may change soon. I also like the volcano fortress-lair too but haven't had an excuse to use one. Too much low-level D&D - volcano was on the menu but TPK's have a nasty way of interfering with your plans.

4) Do you have a combat rule or mechanic from another game system you are using in the game system you currently play, played recently or generally play?

I love the "Epithet" from ICONS (basically a Fate-esque Quality) and I'm trying to drag that into all of my games. I even included it in my proposed West Marches style game.

5) In your opinion, what genre has received too little attention in regards to RPGs based on that subject?

A few years ago I would have said "dark space fantasy" but the surge of 40K games has that handled now. Now I would say games based on the Classical Era - Mythic Greece, the Roman Republic & Empire. There are a few out there of varying quality but there isn't one that relly grabs me, which is why I keep trying to convert D&D to cover it.

6) If a quality RPG on the aforementioned neglected genre came out tomorrow, what would make you buy it? What would prevent you from buying it?

What has prevented me from playing some of them, even after I bought them, is crappy rules. I want serious attention to historical detail, and then I want good, tight mechanics, preferably for an existing game like Savage Worlds or D&D - we don't need to reinvent the mechanics just to be different.

7) Do you find it easier to learn the rules of a game by reading the rule book or by sitting down and just playing it?

I'm a reader. Reading the rules tends to inspire me and influence the kind of campaign I want to run. Even if I'm playing and not running, I still like to read the book before I sit down to play.

8) Name a currently available artist not normally associated with RPGs who you'd love to see do some RPG work.

Jack Kirby. Ah, currently available. Frazzetta. Darn. Not sure, as I tend to become aware of artists because they are associated with an RPG rather than the reverse.

9) What one book, movie, video, etc. that is not an RPG that you think should be.

I think a game roughly based on "24", with some kind of random plot turn element or maybe a player-controlled mechanic for it,  and an emphasis on time pressure - say solve it in a single session, could be a lot of fun and have a different feel than the typical campaign session.

 I know it's old school but an official Thundarr game & setting would be cool (Icons?). A new James Bond would be fun for some of us. Modesett's Recluce books might be fun. The list gets a little longer if you change that to "not an RPG that you like" as I think the "Savage Worlds of the Savage Sword of Conan" would be awesome and better than the d20 version.

10) Can you think of an RPG you've run or played in which the GM (be it you or someone else) used/referenced non-game related books to run the campaign more often then game related books?

I've used a lot of Atlases over the years to run Rifts and Twilight 2000. I've used some of the non-gaming Trek books when I've run and played Star Trek, largely for ship names and illustrations of ships and planets. I've used similar things for Star Wars too. If I ever get to run a WW2 Supers game I have a pile of books to use for that, as I do for a Greek or Roman or Norse campaign too.

More stuff about the next D&D

  • A video game art studio from China has been hired to fully detail the Realms.
Eh, what? Oh sure, because when I think Forgotten Realms I think of videogames. And China. Were there really not enough artists available who actually might play D&D or know people who do? Was this a volume thing or an expense thing or getting a unified look or what? 

For all the hubbub about accomodating the tatses of lapsed players not all of this is looking too retro:
  • So what we want is to empower DMs and players so that if you want to attempt to do something "I want to open the door" then the DM doesn't have to even have you roll, he can just look, see you have a 17 strength and says "Yeah, you burst through that door". We want to get past some of the mundane rolls and not tie up a lot of table time with that and move on to the more interesting stuff and the table narrative. 
Every edition of D&D has included a roll to bust open doors. Early on it was a d6 roll based on Strength, later it was a fixed DC by door type that was attempted on a d20+Str mod  roll. Apparently we're moving to a "Str X = broken door" which I admit does make some sense and does eliminate some of the more mundane rolls, but it's definitely not "traditional D&D" in any sense.
  • Monte: Making a saving throw against something has become something that's really a part of D&D. So again, what we've done is tie those into the ability scores. For example you'll make a strength saving throw or wisdom saving throw against a certain effect and so far it's become a big part of some effects and abilities. The attacker makes a check and that sets the DC for your saving throw.
I can see bringing saves back in a more prominent way but it seems like all we're doing is changing for the heck of it: AD&D was a defensive roll against a fixed attacking number, 4E went to an attacking roll against a fixed defense, now Next appears to be going for mutual opposed rolls. >Shrug< OK, I suppose we can do that.
  • Bruce: Looking at the playtest characters here, you might have noticed that a class or a theme might have given you a bonus to skill, but you didn't have a skill list. Normally if you were to call for a check, you would just call for the ability score - like a dexterity check for sneaking up. But if you have a class or character feature that gives you a bonus to sneak, you would add that in. There are a lot of different expressions for skills. Trained, sneaking at full speed (stealth twice). Lots of options.
 I can see this working, but I'm not sure it feels a whole lot like D&D. Flexible, easy, sure. Have to wait and see on this.
  • Bruce: One of the things we're doing is moving things more to a silver standard instead of a gold standard. 
I know this is a mere technicality, but seriously? Every edition of D&D has used the gold piece as the standard - every edition. You can't say that for saves, turning undead, classes, races, or nearly anything  else in the game, yet someone thinks it's a good idea to change it? Why would you do that? So much of what I'm seeing sounds good, and then I see stuff like this that seems like a spur of the moment decision or an answer to a question that no one was asking. 


Back to planning Star Wars and more 4E  - for now.

Mordenkainen's Magnificent Emporium - Win!

I see a 4E Greyhawk Campaign coming soon...

I finally got around to picking up this book. I had not heard much about it, and maybe you haven't either, so let me share: If you've been playing (and liking) D&D for more than 1 or 2 editions, go get it. It's the missing piece to make an old-school flavored 4E campaign really hum.

The book opens up by adding in the missing armor types from older editions - studded leather, ring mail, banded mail, splint mail, full plate - I like that it's here, and I like the way it is handled mechanically as there is more too it then playing around with AC bonuses.

A lot of the book is magic items, namely old school magic items like the flametongue and frostbrand swords, the necklace of missiles, and the wand of fire - those kinds of things -but it's more than that. It also adds in potions, as in heroism and giant strength, and the cure light wounds/moderate wounds/serious wounds ala third edition.

The best part though, is near the end. A section on hirelings, henchmen, and pets is a nice warm-up, including rules and details for the hirelings and pointing to the DMG 2 rules for the henchmen and pets while giving some nice examples (including statblocks) for each. Then, we get to the equipment section: 10' poles, caltrops, ball bearings, hammer + iron spikes, jar of glowworms - it's stuff straight from the Basic & AD&D equipment lists and there are mechanical effects for all of the ones that need it! Hammering a spike into a doorframe boosts the DC to  open it by 5. Dumping some ball bearings in a square makes it difficult terrain, a crowbar gives a +2 bonus to open doors or chests - all very simple stuff that gives players a good reason to take the gear.

So I have to say I am 100% happy with it and it will be getting used as soon as next week, as some of this gear will be appearing in me 4E Temple of Elemental Evil campaign. It makes translation to 4E that much easier. I am also planning the new "main" D&D campaign to play with the regular group and I have to say an old school flavored Greyhawk game is in the lead as of now, mainly because I see more and better ways to handle it with this book on my shelf.

Very nicely done!

Motivational Monday