Thursday, April 12, 2012

Overreaction Thursday

This looks interesting:
Veteran Game Designers Rob Heinsoo and Jonathan Tweet Announce 13th Age: a “Love Letter” to Their Favorite Dungeon-Crawling Fantasy Game
Link to announcement here

Back to Next, there's a very high-level design document posted here that is an interesting read.

The line I liked:
We're not trying to reinvent D&D so much as rediscover it.

The paragraph I didn't:
D&D has traditionally required large amounts of time, a large play group, and a sustained commitment. The design process must focus on play time, group size, speed of play, and length of campaigns, with an eye toward reducing the minimum required from each area. Players who want a longer play time and so forth can easily scale up the game to meet their needs and opt into the various rules modules we'll provide or that they'll build themselves. However, our standard goal is to remove minimum group sizes, allow for a complete adventure in one hour of play, and satisfying campaigns in 50 hours of play.

Having played several editions (and other games) in the last few years that "complete adventure in one hour" is iffy to me. ICONS with minimal chit-chat, maybe, but that chit-chat is part of the game. Basic D&D maybe, assuming you aren't creating characters. Satisfying campaigns in 50 hours is a little vague to me - start to finish 20 levels in 50 hours? If it's not tied to a level goal somehow then "satisfying" is a useless term for evaluation. That's potentially 50 separate adventures, given the other goal - that's a lot.

This week's Rule of Three, the Q&A column:

#1 - Do you think mundane crafting has a place in D&D Next?
Dumb, next question

#2 - How do you see hit points evolving in D&D Next?
The answer was that they're pretty much going to stay the same. Good - they're a "signature" D&D thing. Let's not mess that up.

#3 was something about per-session resources and the answer was that it's not going to happen because it's unmanageable for the DM. Darn straight! It sounds like they're going to try to have a tight approach to game balance and that's fine, 3E and 4E both took that route. If you;re going to do that though the mushiness of "per session" becomes a problem. Otherwise I'm fine with it in games like Savage Worlds which are less concerned about balance and making the math more obvious.

Still having mixed feelings about this whole thing.

Oh, and a designer blog post here:

Our current plan is to condense skill and feat choices into two choices: background and theme. Background tells you where you came from, who you were, and what you are trained to do. Your background gives you a set of skills, specific tasks, areas of knowledge, or assets a character of that background ought to have. The thief background gives you Pick Pockets, Stealth, Streetwise, and Thieves’ Cant. The soldier background gives you Endurance, Intimidate, Survival, and an extra language. We want your abilities to carry the weight of basic task resolution, so these skills improve your chances when you perform tasks related to them or just let you do something, such as cook a meal, speak Goblin, or run for twice as long as the next person.

Alright, so the shortcut for picking skills is to pick a background now? OK, I suppose with the way they are changing skill checks to be based off of ability scores that's OK as long as there's an option to just pick skills directly.

Where background speaks to the skills you possess, your theme describes how you do the things you do. All fighters, for example, kick ass in combat because they are fighters. A sharpshooter fighter is awesome with ranged weapons while a slayer fighter dominates in hand-to-hand combat. Your theme helps you realize a certain style, technique, or flavor through the feats it offers. Each theme gives you several feats, starting with the first one right out of the gate. As you gain levels, your theme gives you additional feats that reflect the theme’s overall character.

Were feats really that hard to pick? You pick only one or two every other level? Do we need to "package" them too? This looks kind of like 2nd Edition's Kit concept in a more consistent mechanical form. Let's hope we don't see the regular errata and nerfing of feats like we did in 2E that would really screw up a preset chain of feats.

Rather than being a human fighter with Intimidate and Power Attack, I’m playing a human fighter who’s a soldier (background) that slays monsters (Slayer theme). Or I could be a thief (thief) who strikes from hidden positions (lurker theme). Or, I might be a mystical warrior who came from a wealthy family and can detect magic at will and might even one day get a familiar (without ever having to leave the fighter class).

It will be interesting to see if these backgrounds and themes are class or race specific - from the example given on the blog I don't think they are, but I can see this as an obvious route for expansion books: The Next Book of Elves might have Elf-specific Backgrounds and Themes (and thus Feats too). I suppose we can all see how it works when the Beta comes around.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

In Remembrance ...

We recently lost an old friend, a boon companion through many, many battles.

This miniature warrior, known by such names as "that guy in black armor with the two-handed sword" or "no that other one" eventually became the main miniature representation of Brutalus Maximums III and IV, both clerics of Tempus.

I'm not sure where he came from - I think he was an old Metal Magic mini, a bunch of cheaper imports that the local game store chain carried in the 90's. I know I got him and painted him up sometime in the 90's because I used him in 2nd, 3rd, and 4th edition games. In his final session he was being used as a paladin of Tempus by one of my longtime friends and players, so at least his final role was one that was familiar.

He met his fate in the jaws of the deadly Hound of Blacksteel, a ferocious beast that normally patrols the holdings on the lookout for intruders, but something about Mr. Greatsword-in-Black caught her attention and the outcome was inevitable. She also recently destroyed one of my old metal painted Rebel Troopers, and I wasn't too happy about that either.

The deadly Hound of Blacksteel stands over another victim...

Be that as it may we bid a fond farewell to the Brutalus mini. If any of you can identify his origin or know where I could find another one, I would be indebted. Regardless, the quest for a successor begins now.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Savage Swords of Impiltur - Session 1

Our story begins in Fallcrest, the Nentir Vale, Impiltur, Faerun, in Greengrass of the year 1480 D.R. (the year of Deep Water Drifting).

The party begins scattered about the city, but all are drawn to the riverside where a crowd has gathered. With heavy snows for the last month, food is growing scarce and the Lord Warden of Fallcrest is announcing a new program to collect and ration food in the city. Naturally this is met with some resistance amongst both rich and poor. A clan of river-trading halflings landed the day before and news has spread that the unnatural cold is affecting all the lands they travel, spurring the controversial decision from the city's lord. As freezing winds blow ever more snow into the town the fierce debate continues.

Lieutenant Gravis, a genasi refugee from Thay in service to House Reinhardt, is assisting the city watch in maintaining order, mainly though a connection with a dwarf friend of his. Interestingly, he has a young owlbear pet.

Isenheim, a dwarven Cleric of Moradin, is Chaplian for the dwarf members of the city watch and is on the scene working crowd control.

As the arguing continues the more alert citizens and visitors pick up a rhythmic sound. Slowly it clarifies into words in an unknown language - a war chant! Coming from the sky!

Down out of the blowing snowstorm dives a longship with a tattered black sail, crewed by skeletal figures. It lands in the river, glides up to the shore, and the chanting dies down as undead crewmen leap from the ship and attack!

The crowd scatters as do some of the watchmen. Isenheim and Gravis rally the few remaining guardsmen and several other people step forward to confront the raiders - Gartok, a dwarf warden of earth and stone; Dar Bloodmane, a paladin of Tempus; a mysterious elven ranger who wields a nasty greatbow; Zara, the mysterious exotic agent of House Bauer - unafraid they stand their ground as the undead sailors swarm the green.

Thanks Online DM for the maps!
Though unacquainted before this, the two dwarves stand shoulder to shoulder and form a strongpoint that cannot be broken. The Elf with No Name stands in the clear and fires arrows faster than the eye can see, dropping zombies left and right. Dar Bloodmane puts almost as much effort into fighting as he does reciting Tempusian Battle Chants giving glory to the war god as he struggles to make an impact on the fight. Lt. Gravis tries to order up a true battleline but several of his guards drop and he is forced to work with the mysterious and alluring Zara. The agent of House Bauer is doing fine on her own until a zombie bites into her shoulder and in response she loses control and bites it back, tearing into it with gleaming fangs! Hopefully no one noticed...

The fight is brutal but short, and thanks to the unknown heroes the undead are soon scattered about the snowy landscape in pieces. In the aftermath some approach the skyship and when they do its dragon figurehead speaks:

"Return the Ice Scepter to the Winter King or this winter shall never end and the dead will feast upon the living"

The oddity of the talking ship is quickly overtaken by the realization that someone must have stolen this "Ice Scepter" and unleashed a terrible curse - presumably someone now in Fallcrest! A halfling at the edge of the returning crowd tries to slink away but is caught by Gravis and Isenheim. They also find that he is carrying what could easily be described as an "Ice Scepter" wrapped in a cloth on his person.  He spills out a tale of flight, mountain travel, and theft that confirms the origin of the current problem. As the tale winds down, an obvious solution to the problem also becomes apparent. The Lord Warden is quick to pounce - "Dear friends and mighty heroes ..." - and soon enough the group has agreed to undertake the journey to the Cairn of the Winter King, taking Marko (the halfling) along with them as "community service". They are promised a reward in the form of the ruined Tower of Waiting on an island in the river - should they end the unnatural winter and return alive then the tower will be theirs.

In a quiet moment, Gravis notices that the exotically beautiful Zara seems interested in his pet Owlbear and he hopes this is a connection he can explore in the future.

As this episode closes the team gathers their supplies and prepares to board the ship, contemplating both their short-term and long-term futures.

DM Notes: This was the kick-off for our new campaign and I decoded to use a published adventure, "Cairn of the Winter King", partly to see how more recent published adventures hold up, partly because I wanted to use Fallcrest and the vale in this campaign since I have not previously, and partly because I just liked it. The opening encounter is cool and makes for a memorable way to start things, I hope. It was only a 5-round fight but there was quite a bit of RP time and introductory time and connecting background time so it was a full session. Plus new characters take a little while to find the best ways to work together and we have a brand new party created without much metagame discussion so no one started out with a nice combo move ready to go. 

Party composition mechanics note: We have 2 leaders, 2 defenders, and 2 strikers. That's going to be a very interesting mix, especially once they figure out all of the ways they can interact during combat. I can already tell they're going to be very tough to bring down and keep down. Perhaps it's a reaction to the last campaign's unexpected ending but regardless that's a lot of healing and some very tough characters.

The best thing was that the players were enthusiastic about starting the game up again and everyone was pretty good at coming up with an angle or a voice or some distinguishing feature about their character beyond just class/race/level/magic items, so it felt pretty good. I'm calling it a win for the group.  

Monday, April 9, 2012

Dark Millennium Monday

Well the 40K bug has somewhat taken over here at Blacksteel Manor. After digging back into it a few weeks ago with news of a new edition on the horizon I definitely have the fever and have been haunting the web forums and articles of various 40K sites to see how to bring my forces back up to date. I've also been  encouraging the Apprentices to get their stuff a little further along.

First up, relying on terrain I built 10 years (and several moves) ago is just not going to cut it anymore, so there's a general terrain upgrade going on at the same time as all the rest of this, mainly in the "buildings" category. I'll post pics once I'm happy with them.

Apprentice Red is now exploring the shiny happy world of the Necrons since we picked up that army on the cheap a while back. He has the new codex, a leader, some destroyers and scarabs, and a whole bunch of warriors. Once he gets a few games in we will look at what he needs to add to make it more interesting. The good news is that it's almost 100% painted, decently, so he's already way ahead there and we can focus on doing something interesting with the bases. He's also working on his Orks in between.

Apprentice Blaster isn't sure what he wants to do for a second army yet - he's mainly interested in making his Space Wolves even nastier and getting more of them painted. It's a pretty strong army already and he has the units to go to around 1500 right now as he just added a Land Raider Crusader to his forces, which I suspect is destined to hold a bellyful of Wolf Guard Assault Terminators because that's all the rage right now. In his first game with it it carried a mob of Blood Claws led by a Wolf Priest and did pretty well so he's already pleased with that choice.

Apprentice Who is interested but I don't think he's old enough to get into painting yet and if you don't care about painting I'm not funding an army. Let's practice with our legos a bit more before we tackle glue and $50 models...

As for myself my gamer ADD is worst when it comes to miniatures. My painted Howling Griffon marines are playable (and have been since the 80's) but I need more parts to make them into the force I want them to be for the modern game.

Since those parts aren't free I thought about working on my Chaos Marines because I thought I had all the parts I needed - Perversely I was going for a force with no armored vehicles in it, none, to annoy the melta-heavy armies I see nowadays, but I decided it just wasn't going to work all that well without more bikes. Plus I want to dump Rhino's full of Berserkers on somebody and that means I need more parts.

I thought about going back and finishing my Orks as I have multiple Battlewagons in various stages of construction, but I have a pretty good footslogger horde now and that's what I've played the most the last few years. Don't really need parts, but I'm a little tired of painting black-red-white-green over and over again.

So I came back around to my Crimson Fists, started a decade ago as a second "faster to paint" marine army who have never really been finished. Awhile back I decided to make them my "mechanized" marine army and I'm sticking with that plan. I've redivided my squads (rom the old 6-man las/plas of 3rd edition - sigh - into 10-man tac squads with Rhinos, Razorbacks, Terminators, Attack Bikes, and Predator support. I'm finally finishing my command squad too. The command group will be on foot/Razorback for now because that's what I have but I am intrigued by the possibilities of the biker command squad too so that's next on my list. The good news is that I have all of the parts I need for the entire force, 2000-something points at least, so I don't have to go acquire stuff - I can just build & paint.

Anyway, thats the state of the universe for today. Back to the RPG's tomorrow...

Motivational Monday