Saturday, March 24, 2012

Marvel Example of Play

MWP has put up an example of play on their site so I thought I would link to it. My editorial comment is that it's clearly being played by people who know the system well. Definitely worth a read if you're interested.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Savage Swords of Impiltur ? - Session Zero

The final recap for this week is the first session of the new D&D campaign. This is the grown-up game so no apprentices in this one. It's a 4th edition campaign. But before that, some background...

The Setting: Impiltur in the Forgotten Realms, an out-of-the-main-area country known for its paladins and one not over-documented in the lore. This is using the post-Spellplague 4E version of the Realms.

The Concept: Each character is either part of or associated with/working for one of the major noble families of the kingdom. The last king disappeared after the Spellplague 80-odd years ago and a council of paladins has ruled the place with varying levels of success ever since.

The Mechanics, straight from the email:

  •  Begin at 4th level
  • Races: The most common are humans, halflings, & dwarves, with some elves. Those common to the area include PHB 1 & 2 races, PHB 3 & FR Guide are less common but still welcome
  • Classes: PHB 1-2-3 + Essentials + FR Guide + Neverwinter + the Artificer from Eberron + All power books, player's guides, Dragon mags, and Heroes of Whatever - find something you really like! Knights, Cavaliers, Paladins, Blackguards, and Warlords will all be very flavorful
  • Backgrounds: FR or regular backgrounds are fine.
  • Themes: If you can make a Neverwinter theme fit your concept, go for it. The dark sun themes really don't fit well but if you think you have an angle on one send me an email.
  • Magic: Begin with a lvl 5, a 4, a 3, a 2, and a lvl 1 item. You can trade any of them for a potion of healing if you would prefer. These are gifts from your family and trainers as you have not been adventuring before now. Try to make them fit your background and theme. Beyond that you have standard starting money. You can take cash instead of an item if you'd rather have money in your pocket.
  • Other gear: Mordenkainen's Emporium added a lot of cool regular old-school gear like caltrops and holy water back into the game. Be sure and look that stuff over. 
  • Deities: Torm, Torm, and more Torm. Most others welcome but not dominant.
Since this might conceivably, possibly be my last 4E campaign (Hey, "Next" might really knock my socks off) I decided to use some the resources within easy reach and so the Nentir Vale area from the DMG is now in Impiltur and for the first adventure we are starting in Fallcrest. It's not a perfect fit but hey, that Spellplague-thing really messed things up - who knows how accurate these maps from a pre-industrial society really are? Forest, mountains, it'll fit in there somewhere. This is not the last familiar area that will appear in this game.

Turning my players loose for character creation is usually a bad idea and this time proved to be no exception. We ended up with:
  • A Shifter Paladin
  • A Genasi Warlord
  • A Dwarf Cleric*
  • A Dwarf Warden
  • An Elf Bow Ranger
  • ...and a Drow Vampire (played by Lady Blacksteel**)
So yeah, serves me right for opening the door to this kind of thing. Not a single human in the party. At least they can't complain about sub-optimal race and class options when they get TPK'd.

So much for my visions of this...

On the bright side we picked up a new player, a friend of one of my existing players and new to tabletop gaming. We'll see if he has a taste for this kind of thing.

I do have an outline for this campaign, fairly detailed for Heroic and fairly solid for Paragon and Epic - hopefully this one will last long enough to see some of my planned fun. They already know that Orcus and Tiamat will be major opposing players in the region so they aren't totally in the dark. A lot of this will be playing through published material, though not necessarily published for this edition of D&D.

Next time: Session #1!

* he's dual-wielding waraxes so he's not as mundane as this might appear

**I can't believe this kind of thing could be going on right under my nose, in my own house!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Marvel Heroic: Spring Breakout 2012

So during spring break we had a pretty good run - D&D, ICONS, oh and the new Marvel game. Your heroes this week are:

  • Black Panther, played by Apprentice Blaster
  • Daredevil, played by Apprentice Red
  • Shadowcat, played by a friend of Red
We began with the handing out of the cheat sheets and deciding why each hero was near the super-prison known as the raft on this particular night. We mostly used the suggestions in the book so I have no great revelations here. Daredevil is in lawyer mode headed over to talk to the Sentry via ferry, Panther is in a helicopter on his way to something else and Kitty Pryde got a tip from a contact that something was going to happen so she's on the same ferry as Matt Murdock.

Soon enough, lightning storm, lights out, explosion - Panther lands the chopper just as the ferry pulls in, and the helipad is remarkably close to the dock. Three heroes step forward, ready for trouble. They find it in the form of Count Nefaria ... 

I especially like the "N" on his belt
Nefaria is a pretty tough customer by himself but this was a rather one-sided fight. Still recovering from his imprisonment, his plan was to take the ferry to freedom. The heroes were not going to let that happen and he was beaten pretty severely by Black Panther and Daredevil despite his Superhuman Durability. I'm pretty sure he was scorched by Lockheed at one point too. Panther took a pretty good shot too, but after a brief struggle the three heroes continued on, while Matt's law partner flagged down some guards to secure the villain.

Approaching the prison proper the team was set upon by a mob of unpowered super criminals. Being an all-male group Kitty, the Girl Next Door, took the opportunity to use her feminine wiles (!) to confuse the escaping convicts - then Panther and Daredevil beat the stuffing out of them, suffering a few bruises in return - nothing special for experienced heroes like these.

Reaching the prison itself, they decided that the best approach would be to investigate the huge hole blasted in the thing that seemed to be the most obvious and most popular escape route. They hoped that by bottling this up they could prevent any further escapes. The three capes decided to advance down the tunnel/crater a short distance to give them a better chance at bottling up any opposition,

As they climbed down into the darkened hole, things went well at first. Then they noticed a large chunk of rock rising through the tunnel from the lower levels of the prison. In the dark it was difficult to make out details (well, except for Daredevil) but they decided that this could not be a good thing and Black Panther leapt down onto the rock to confront ... Graviton!

Graviton was lifting the rock chunk as his personal escape vehicle - and the heroes were right in its path! Panther was hurled off of the ledge and into space but was saved by Kitty's intangibility. Daredevil used his club-swingline to swing out over the rock and he too moved to confront the Master of Gravity! With Kitty's help Panther leapt back onto the rock and the two fighters sprung into action, aided by Lockheed and an Airwalking Shadowcat. Panther used his energy claws to tear into the rock, fracturing it and knocking the villain off-balance while Daredevil jump-kicked him in the face, aided by Kitty's phasing powers. Graviton did knock them around some more, and all 3 heroes were injured to varying degrees, but they finally managed to knock Graviton out as the rock shattered and the unconscious master of gravity tumbled back down into the darkness. Black Panther and Daredevil were not interested in venturing further into the prison as containment was their goal, so they took up positions along the tunnel and settled in to react.

Also, Panther asked Kitty to be his Queen

Yeah - you can take the XP-monger out of the dungeon, but he's still going to go for the XP's

DM Notes: This was our first run with the new Marvel Heroic system and we all had a blast. Unlike Champions and M&M (and more like ICONS) this was played sitting around the living room without a central table or mini's or a battlemat or map of any kind. This makes for a more relaxed game but the Apprentices (and friend) were really into figuring out creative justifications for using their powers. I say "justifications" because that's really what it is - mechanically the players are trying to build a pool of dice that will let them do what they want to do and the best way to do that is to come up with plausible justifications for why this d10 or d12 ability should be included over that d6 or d8 ability. It's comparable in some ways to "Balderdash", where if you can make the outrageous sound reasonable you can do pretty well. That said, they were pretty quick to toss a d4 Distinction in there if they wanted an easy Plot Point. We did not pay attention to XP or milestones for this run - well, except as noted above. We played for about two hours and it didn't feel like a grind.

Nefaria and the Mob are pretty standard parts of the adventure but I changed things up after that and went a little more epic with Graviton as he is a major force in the early episodes of the animated Avengers series and I wanted them to encounter someone they knew was a major villain. Carnage is the usual "next encounter" but I wanted something different and it was worth it when I heard "Oh THAT guy!" in a seriously concerned tone of voice.

Things that went well: They grasped the dice pool and pool-building concepts instantly. They grasped the importance of Plot Points instantly. The idea of sacrificing something (like using a d4 instead of a d8 or shutting down a power) was a little trickier for them but they got it fairly quickly. The concept of damage aiding the opponent instead of hindering the victim is a tricky one, but they got it faster than I expected. The loosely-defined approach to powers was seen as a plus too, probably aided by ICONS experience as it uses a similarly loose approach to power specifics. Not having to focus on exact movement speeds and ranges and areas of effect makes for a different kind of game. 

Things that can get better
  • The Doom Pool, as yours truly had a helluva time keeping track of what I could do with those dice and how I could grow them. I need a cheat sheet specifically for this and I'm probably going to make one myself. 
  • Running villains, as I am sure that Nefaria and Graviton could have been much nastier opponents but learning the nuances of the game mechanics at the same time as learning the nuances of these individual characters means I don't know everything that they could do. Chalk it up to lingering power-nullifier effects...
  • Complications, Assets, and aiding one another in action. The boys tried out some of this, mostly in the last fight, and Shadowcat's player was especially interested in these kinds of tricks. Since I was mostly running solo villains, I couldn't do much "buffing", but I tried to do a little "debuffing" in between kicks to the head. I think this could be even more fun with multiple heroes and villains but I was at capacity just running one bad guy and trying to adjudicate the actions of three good guys.
So it was enjoyable and we all have a lot to learn. It felt a lot like the first time I ran 4th edition D&D - so many new terms and mechanics and options to figure out, but having run D&D (and Supers games) before certain things should work a certain way and they pretty much did. A year from now this won't feel like it should even count as actually playing as it was more of a test run. 

I'm still surprised at the characters they chose - I was sure Cap and Iron Man and Wolverine were top 3, followed by Colossus and Spiderman, but somehow we ended up with the king of Wakanda, a blind vigilante, and a teenage girl! I can guarantee you this has not happened in M&M or ICONS or any other game! We will see if the character variety continues, but that standard template for characters thing they have in this one certainly levels the playing field. 

Comparison: I've been a Champions fan for 30 years and that's not going to change. I've liked M&M for 10 now and that won't either. ICONS is still the best for me for "light and fast" supers games. All that said there is a place for this new system. I think it's best for 3 or more players as you can play off of each other when you have more things to work with and it's less of "my 4 dice vs. your 4 dice over and over again" which could be a real slog for a solo or duo game. Other than that I'm not sure about its place. I'd start with "if your players hate Champions then try to get them to try this one out as it's an opposite approach in about as many ways as you can have. 

Next up: I think I'm going to convert The Breeder Bombs from the TSR MSH adventure and make them all take an X-Man. It's a fairly simple adventure that should fit the MHRP structure well. I'll let y'all know how that goes.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

ToEE 4E Session 7 - My DInner With Lareth

Deep in the catacombs beneath the Moathouse, our heroes arise from an extended rest:

  • Torgor Bearkin, Dwarf Sentinel Druid with his bear companion "Po" (Apprentice Red)
  • Isaac, Human Swordmage (also Red)
  • Torinn, Dragonborn Sorcerer (Apprentice Blaster)
  • Apollo Magewood, Elf Bladesinger (Also Blaster)
  • Draco, Elf Bow Ranger (Apprentice Who)
  • Dayereth, Human Wizard, rejoining the party after leaving to answer nature's call last session (a friend of the Apprentices)
After exploring the catacombs, the party followed an earthen tunnel into darkness but eventually turned back as it turned into a confusing maze of tunnels filled only with rat droppings.

Turning back, the group went in a different direction and found themselves in the familiar stone corridors of the under-moathouse. The first room they entered was unoccupied but they did find some doors. After checking for traps they opened the nearest one to find a blank wall behind it and then heard a distant "clang!", which worried them but presented no immediate effect.

Behind the second door they found an empty stone room but as they were investigating Torgor and Draco felt eyes upon their backs and turned around in time to spot some orcs holding bows on them from an unexplored hallway. "Hey, you guys, you're not supposed to be in here" in broken common from the orcish ambush proved to be the opening line of a rapid negotiation between traditionally hostile parties and this time it did not lead directly to violence. The Orcs were just not ready to die today, and the party was fine with talking through an encounter (after some internal debate). The sorcerer asked about their boss and employment opportunities and was directed down a nearby corridor to a particular door. Warily, the heroes took their leave, determined to confront the "boss".

Following the directions from the orcs the team eventually comes to a door and knocks. When it is answered by an armored human bearing a symbol of a flaming eye on his tunic, Torinn says they are seeking employment and were told this was the place to come. Confused, the guard calls for backup, but lets them in.

In an unexpected turn of events, the dragonborn sorcerer talks the party past the initial guard, plus his sergeant, plus the lieutenant, into a meeting with Lareth, commander of this secret outpost of the Temple of Elemental Evil. To meet with him, they are required to disarm themselves, which most of them do - Torgor, Po, and Draco elect to remain in a side room with the party's gear. In the big meeting the evil leader is not completely convinced of their sincerity in asking to join his forces so he offers them a choice: To prove that they are sufficiently committed to his cause, he says that they must select one member of their band to be sacrificed at the temple, a great honor to true believers. The group immediately nominates Draco, who is  surprised and dismayed to hear his name chosen so rapidly by people he thought were his friends. Stunned, he makes no move as the guards walk in, take his bow, and frog-march him towards the main room.

That's a lot of badguys - our heroes are in the middle and in the back right room

The rest of the heroes realize that this ruse has run its course and explode into action! Torinn and Dayereth need no gear and erupt with fiery blasts, lightning, and frost. Isaac calls his sword to his hand and leaps into melee with the guards. Apollo would really rather be using his luck blade, but since it's under guard in the entry room he makes due with a dagger hidden in his boot, calling forth various blade songs that look a lot less impressive on a dagger than they do on a longsword. Torgor and Po smash into the guards on Draco who retrieves his bow and begins slinging arrows into the fray two at a time.

Marks are out and the LT is already bloodied

In a swirling melee that spans 3 rooms Lareth, his lieutenant, 3 sergeants, and 18 well-armored guards take on 6 adventurers and an angry spirit bear for an epic fight that will be discussed by the victors for ages. Lareth the Beautiful's magic manages to interfere with the heroes long enough to get his men into favorable positions, but it turns out the favorable positions just gather them together for a massive display of blasting effects from the wizard, the sorcerer, and the bladesinger. The swordmage holds the center, while the druid and the bear hold one flank, and the bow ranger assassinates guards one after another. At the height of the battle, a wounded Lareth attempts to withdraw towards the entrance, guarded by his lieutenant and a sergeant, but a magic missile from the sorcerer drops the LT, giving Draco a clear shot at the Boss, who summons all of his concentration and makes the most of his opportunity, slaying the Dark Hope of Chaotic Evil with a single sure shot!

After their leader falls, the remaining forces of the Elemental Eye attempt to withdraw too, but to no avail - they are slaughtered to the last man by the forces of good. The last one to go down was a sergeant who cried "The Elemental Eye sees all! as he died. Triumphant, the battered and bloodied adventuring band takes a moment of rest, now knowing for sure that the temple is re-awakening and that they must take action to stop it. 

Late in the fight - It's a little blurry but red ring = bloodied

DM notes: This was a really fun session as a friend of the boys was able to rejoin for this one and we had more time to play. When things started they kept talking about wanting to get into some action right away but they took a surprisingly cautious approach that led to more talking than fighting at first. 

The clang of the portcullis that drops when the false door is opened bugged them - whereas my thinking is that hey, we obviously just triggered a trap but no one is poisoned or on fire so it's not so bad - but they decided not to go seek out what it was. It cuts off the obvious route to the upper level and is supposed to make the players feel trapped. Since my group didn't come down that way, they wouldn't have cared much anyway so it was just as well. 

The orcs spurred a pretty strong reaction though as they were distracted with searching a room when they found them. The negotiations were a surprise, frankly, as this is not a talk-first group. If you have the module, or if you have read my notes here then you may realize that these orcs (replacing the gnolls in the original version due to level issues) are a little disgruntled with their situation and are more ready to talk than fight. This attitude combined with the presence of a dragonborn sorcerer in the party (for old schoolers, he basically has an 18/00 charisma) who has a very strong diplomacy skill meant that things went very smoothly for the party. The Apprentices (and friend) realized right away that they could shortcut right to the "Boss" and try to talk their way into seeing him and this became their plan for the rest of the session.

Following this strategy paid off big time, because most guards do not have much in the way of insight, bluff , diplomacy, or charisma of any kind, making them easy prey for the silver-tongued sorcerer.* It also managed to get them in a bit over their heads as when conflict inevitably broke out they were standing in the middle of a roomful of armed guards without most of their weapons instead of fighting their way into the place but it was a good plan up to that point. This is a good example of why D&D benefits from having mechanical systems for "roleplaying" activities, which most of the time stands for "anything that's not combat": because 13 year old boys don't always make the most persuasive arguments, but when playing a character with a charisma of 20 who is trained in Diplomacy, Bluff, and Insight he should be as effective in social situations as a Barbarian with gauntlets of ogre power and a two-handed sword is in combat! Additionally, it reinforces that there are other approaches to a situation than "Charge!" and while I'm a big fan of violence in D&D a) it's not the answer 100% of the time and b) there are other games besides D&D that we play sometimes.

The big fight: This was supposed to be a sort of escalating encounter with the heroes plowing through some minions and then seeing progressively stronger reinforcements over the course of several rounds. Instead, it started with all combatants already on the map with friends and foes mixed together in 3 different rooms and the leader already present at the start of the fight. It was ugly, and it's a good thing they had 6 characters because if it had only been the most-usual 4 PC's I don't know that they would have made it. In this case, however, nobody died except for the bear (and considering he's a spirit animal and re-formed across the room the following round it was more like a painful teleport than actual death) although everyone was bloodied at some point except for the wizard and the ranger. Thirty combatants, nine rounds, about two hours - I'm pretty sure it's the biggest fight I've run in 4th edition and everyone was happy with it when it was over.

Next session I expect they will loot the leader, clean up a few more encounters in the dungeon, then head back to town and prepare to head to Nulb or the Temple proper which means I have some more work to do.

*I'm so using that as a Quality on my next ICONS or M&M character.

Monday, March 19, 2012

ICONS WW2 Mission 1: Werewolves of the Gestapo

Since it was spring break and I was off I knew I would be sleeping in, but the kids would be up early, so the night before I wanted to play I left my printed ICONS rulebook out in the living room with a note on it that said "Make a WW2 Superhero". I also primed the pump by having us all watch  Captain America on DVD the night before without saying anything about a game. By the time I was up and about, there were three excited kids with three characters ready to go.

  • "Sword Guy" who does not yet have an impressive code name because Apprentice Red just couldn't come up with one he liked. He has powers of Strike, Blast, and can make 2 attacks per round. He is Chivalrous and Can't Run From a Fight - that's going to earn him some Determination
  • "Leech" - Apprentice Who comes in with Power Duplication, the ability to Sense powers,  and Mind Shield. He is a Curious Scientist who fights For the Little Guys.
  • "F.I.S.T." - Apprentice Blaster isn't sure what it stands for yet but it's a start. He has Super Strength and Invulnerability and Chameleon powers. He is Emotionless, and a Robot.

These three have been training since America entered the war and now, in early 1943, it's time for them to see their first action! After shipping out for London, they are briefed by Colonel Jones, OSS, who informs them that a French Resistance leader has been captured by the Germans and is being interrogated. The brass want him rescued. Rumor has it that he was kidnapped by a new "wolf brigade" that is supposed to be some kind of special unit. Information on them would be valuable as well. They are to be inserted tomorrow by air near the house where the prisoner is being kept and will be given a transmitter to radio for pickup when they have secured their package.

The next day the heroes gear up (rifles, knives, radio, canteen, rations, maps) and load up, and are dropped without incident. The house is in a forest so their approach will be somewhat covered. Using their maps the team approaches with FIST scouting ahead using his power to blend in with the forest.

Approaching the house, they encounter a patrol of 4 soldiers plus one big guy who's going shirtless. Sword-guy unloads his grenade-launching swords (!) into the patrol, blowing the soldiers away as the big guy suddenly sprouts fur and claws and charges them! Leech counter-charges, grabs a handful of fur, and suddenly HE sprouts fur and claws! The wolf seems a little confused by this and is quickly knocked out by the team. In the aftermath, Leech discovers that he can regenerate wounds. So far, so good.

Advancing to the edge of the woods the heroes observe the house. It's two stories, wooden, and guarded by two soldiers and two wolf-soldiers at front and back entrances. They eventually decide on a gambit to gain surprise.

Leech, still hairy and clawed though a bit shorter than the other wolf-types, lopes towards the house dragging the seemingly unconscious body of sword-guy behind him, shouting "I got one but there are more in the woods." With only the briefest of pauses the wolf-soldier tells him to watch the door while he and the other guards charge off into the woods. FIST then materializes next to them on the front porch of the house and all three are pretty happy with their plan.

Entering the house they walk straight into a large room with two conference tables covered in paper and numerous german officer types talking and shuffling - until they notice the wolf, the sword guy, and the large robot walking in.

"Get down" one of them shouts in german as pistols appear and begin firing at the robot in the back. Leech  leaps for one group as if seeking cover while sword guy abandons his prisoner ruse and foomps a double grenande set over the other table, wounding many. A confusing gun battle breaks out as Leech tears into his "friends", grenades are thumped all over, and FIST proves to be a decent marksman with a rifle from 10 feet away as he just stands in the open, shooting down one target after another, slugs pining off of his armor.

Silencing the officers, the team advances inwards, looking for their prisoner, but they find the back door guards instead, seeking the source of the noise. One wolf goes after Leech while the other goes after FIST and the two troopers start shooting at sword-guy. Leech and his wolf claw at each other for some time, each regenerating the wounds as fast as they can inflict them. FIST struggles with a face full of wolf while trying to bring his rifle into play, then gives up and just punches it - across the room and through the outer wall of the house into unconsciousness. Sword guy takes down his two opponents and joins Leech in beating down the remaining wolf until FIST walks over, grabs it, and throws it through the wall as well. With a shattering CRASH followed by a thud, this skirmish is over.

Moving upstairs the team finds a locked room and kicks down the door, seeing a trenchcoated Nazi officer, a beaten man tied to a chair, and a much larger, stronger-looking silver werewolf. Leech detects mental powers in the officer and moves to engage him as he has mind shield. FIST starts shooting the werewolf. Sword-guy considers his options then grenade-blasts the officer, knocking him out. Leech switches targets and moves in on the wolf as it charges FIST. This wolf proves to be incredibly tough! Leech gets a hand on him and finds he has gained some Invulnerability as well as his other powers while Sword-guy finds that his swords have no effect on the creature. FIST and the silver wolf knock each other around the room as Leech grabs the prisoner and heads downstairs.

Realizing what is happening, the big wolf knocks FIST down, speeds past Sword-guy, and leaps down the stairs, cutting off Leech, who drops his passenger and prepares to go claw-to-claw. Sword-guy pulls out the radio and sends the pickup signal, hoping they can last long enough to get back home. Then FIST reappears and leaps down. Grabbing the wolf in both arms, he squeezes, eventually crushing the breath out of the creature, knocking it out.

Somewhat later a plane lands and a new team of heroes is headed back to England with a French Resistance Leader, a restrained silver werewolf, and an unconscious German Psychic officer.

DM Notes: I was very happy with this run and so were the Apprentices. They were all fired up to play and they did very well. They were very good about not playing it like a D&D adventure other than Blaster's drive to pick up guns for about half of the mission, until I reminded him that with an 8 Strength he could do a lot more damage up close and with an 8 Invulnerability no one was going to shoot him anyway. They worked together, remembered their goals, and didn't get too silly while they were doing it. 

We spent around two hours playing through this and that was about perfect. I plan to run the others in this series  and I'm really looking forward to them - just enough content to have an interesting action-filled session.

Rules-wise things can get a little tricky in the heat of play. The main issue was that nothing in the area could hurt the robot, and neither of the other two characters could hurt the big werewolf thanks to invulnerability. This does force some thinking about how to do things beyond just attacking, but it's a little frustrating to them too. I may tinker with something like an automatic 1 point of Stamina damage on a Massive success, regardless of Invulnerability or Immunity. That would let them feel like they were contributing without totally gimping those defensive powers. Also, they did not use all that much Determination, so we will work on that in our next session. Plus: Cheatsheets! The ones out now just don't work for me so I'm probably going to make some of my own.

Next time: the war comes to London!