Saturday, March 9, 2013

Super Saturday - Old Marvel in New Marvel

Over at Plot Points, an excellent site for the MWP Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Game, they have come up with a conversion of the old Universal Table from TSR's Marvel Super Heroes. This thing:

Remember that? The article and MHRP version is here.

Honestly it's not something I was looking for but the cleverness in adapting it over is pretty impressive. I am perfectly comfortable running the Apprentices thru some old Marvel one week and then running some new Marvel another week so it's not a big deal to us one way or another.That said it makes me happy to see someone digging in to the mechanics of both games and seeing what they can come up with.

 It may well be an answer to a question not many were asking, but it's cool nonetheless.

Oh, also they have a pretty solid review of Annihilation (that I talked about last week) so if you're interested take a look here.

Friday, March 8, 2013

40K Friday - The Handy Guide to 40K RPG's for D&D Players

Well I have no new battle reports to ... report, and I haven't finished another 40K novel and I haven't picked up the Daemons codex yet. I could post up some pictures of my armies but I that's a little too "expected" to do the same week I post up an Appendix N post.  So I thought I would do something a little different and cross-pollinate two hobbies!

There is some crossover between 40K players and RPG players. Since 40K is likely the most popular miniatures game around and it has a line of RPG books that are doing well, and since D&D is traditionally the most popular RPG, I thought it might be handy to provide a perspective, an index on which 40K RPG game is right for you based on your preferred edition of D&D. Hint for D&Ders: anytime you see the word "Xenos" in one of these books, you can pretty much take it as "Evil". Same with "Chaos" but you already knew that. You can take "Imperial" as "Good"

The first 40K RPG release was "Dark Heresy". In this game you play the retinue of an Inquisitor (a character far more powerful than you will ever be), going around uncovering and eliminating threats to the Imperium, which are typically beings who either have different beliefs from you or are biologically different from you. This sounds something like every edition of D&D, but the emphasis on story and uncovering hidden meanings (and doing the bidding of powerful NPC's) places it squarely in the crosshairs of the AD&D Second Edition player. Alignment-wise Inquisitors are Neutral Good - sometimes they use the rules, sometimes they ignore the rules, as long as they protect the Imperium.

The second 40K RPG was "Rogue Trader" in which you play the crew of a trading ship and you get to travel around and meet aliens and other cultures without being required (or genetically programmed) to kill them. The galaxy is your sandbox! You have actual rules for traveling and rules for ship combat. Between this and the sandbox approach this is obviously the B/X/BECMI/Compendium/Retroclone sweet spot! Alignment: Neutral! You can do whatever you want and justify by saying "Hey, I'm outside the Imperium (neutral)"

The third 40K RPG is "Deathwatch" where you get to play overpowered genetically engineered brainwashed characters who live only for combat - clearly this is the game for D&D 4th Edition fans. Space Marines are fanatical Lawful Good and they're happy that way.

The fourth 40K RPG is "Black Crusade" where you mainly play holdovers from a previous golden age where things were decidedly unbalanced. You wage an unending war against the current incarnation of your old selves and between bolter shots complain about how much things suck now compared to the old days. Hello Pathfinder/3.5  fans! Alignment is "Chaotic", duh!

The fifth 40K RPG is "Only War" where you will be playing one of the lowest forms of life in the 40K universe: the unaugmented human soldier. You're going to die - a lot, and you're never going to be all that powerful except in a large party with certain character types. Certainly this is the one AD&D and DCC RPG fans should pick up. Your alignment doesn't matter as you will not be alive long enough to express your beliefs in any meaningful way anyway.

See, it's not just me saying this

What about OD&D? What should they play? Well, the truth is you don't want any of these new style 40K RPG books. Too many rules, too many assumptions about the universe, too much hand-holding in general. You don't need that! You want to go find the original Warhammer 40,000 Rogue Trader - it should bring back some old familiar feelings.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Obligatory Appendix N Post

Some weeks have more posting time than others so I'm cashing in an "easy" chip today and sharing a photographic representation of my "Appendix N":

That's the annotated Hobbit on the left, more Tolkien, original series Conan, original author's cut Conan etc, Elric, then King Arthur on the right. Up on top we have Complete Enchanter, Worm Ouroboros, and the Prydain book collection. All of this stuff I read either before I started playing D&D or read it the first year or two that I was playing. I'd call it the core of my early fantasy reading.

Note: These are not all the original copies that I was reading - those paperbacks got tossed in a backpack, taken on the school bus, loaned to friends, read by the pool, etc.

These would be the "later" part of my fantasy reading, basically the rest of the 80's. I think a couple of those Swords books bleed into the 90's but you get the idea. That's the Thieves' World series on the left, plus Joel Rosenberg's Guardians of the Flame, then Saberhagen's Empire of the East and Swords series, the first 3 fafhrd and the Gray Mouser books (with a pink cover of all things), then the rest of Moorcock's books - Corum, Hawkmoon, etc, and then Laurence Watt-Evans Garth the Overman series. There were a lot of fair to crappy D&D books consumed in that time as well but those live on a different shelf, at least the few I still have.

Anyway, when I think about "Fantasy" as a genre, these are at the heart of my frame of reference.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Extremely Expert DM Advice #5 - Supers!

About the only other area where I feel like I might contribute something useful is with superhero games. As always, remember that a lot of online advice is useless for a specific group and that goes for super games in particular as there is so much variation in both subject matter and player expectations.Also most superhero RPG's have a pretty good section on this kind of thing. Read them, they're fun.

Setting it Up

Choice of system is pretty important when it comes to super gaming and I originally planned on running down a long list of games with comments on each. That turned into way too much to put into this but I think it will make for a nice topic down the road for a series of posts. So it's coming, but not in this post. When it comes to system my general recommendation is "pick one you know" - mechanical familiarity makes on-the-fly DMing a lot easier. If you don't already know one specifically you can still follow this guideline - play a lot of 3E/4E? Mutants and Masterminds should be an easier transition. Old school D&Der? Villains and Vigilantes or Heroes Unlimited should look somewhat familiar. Broke? Marvel Super Heroes is a full super hero line that's available free here.

Beyond system the next big thing to decide on is setting. Are you running a traditional "heroes of a particular city" campaign, maybe expanding to national and worldwide as things progress? Are you Herooooes iiiiin Spaaaace? Are you street level nobodies just trying to make a difference? If you decide to run a "magic underground" campaign then the guy making the Iron Man clone is probably not going to be happy, and if you plan on going cosmic then Kung-Fu Joe may need to allocate some points for a space suit.

Mighty Crimson Fist is happy as long as he gets to punch people

Related to the Where is the When - Contemporary is the standard and the easiest but maybe you've played a lot of modern games. How about running in the 1960's? Maybe the 80's? Then there is the oldie but goodie of World War 2, and it's grittier substitute of Vietnam. If this is a new thing I would always recommend that you start with "now" and get creative later.

In addition the the Where and the When you have the Why, also known as Tone. You can get wrapped up in the whole golden/silver/bronze/twinkie age discussion and minutiae but it really boils down to three or four approaches to the genre:

  • Heroes don't kill because that ain't what heroes do, maam. Even if a villain slipped off of a cliff the hero would try to rescue them because that is what heroes do. PC/NPC death is just not going to come up. Think Lone Ranger or classic Superman.
  • Heroes don't deliberately kill but if Dr. Devastator slips off of the Mammoth State Building then the Hero will probably watch rather than risking their own life to save them. PC/NPC death is rare and a big dramatic moment when it happens. Think Batman/Spiderman.
  • Some Heroes kill, but only those who deserve it, and this is still frowned upon. PC/NPC death is a real possibility. Think classic Wolverine and early Punisher.
  • Heroes and Villains kill a lot as it's the standard approach to problem solving. Heck, they kill mooks just to send messages to each other, setting up the big dramatic showdown where one or the other will die. This is a very modern approach but it can be a pain for the DM as your villains may only be good for a single arc or one part of a campaign, and then they die.  

Most of this is "whatever you feel like playing" but it's important to let your players know what you're thinking ahead of time. Also, find out what their "super" references are - are they coming at this from watching the live action movies of the last decade? Are they reading a bunch of golden age Superman PDF's? Have they been watching the Avengers cartoon? Adam West Batman? Reading DC's New 52? The Authority? Getting a read on the frame of reference makes a difference, and being able to say something like "I see it being like the Avengers cartoon" is very handy to set expectations - heck a lot of this stuff is on Netflix so give them some video homework and say "you're going to be the West Coast version of these guys" or pick up a copy of some recent comic book arc that you think is good and let your players flip through it. People know what a typical fantasy RPG is, but they may not know what a "typical" superhero game involves - so just focus and tell them what *your* game involves.

Iron Mom would prefer a Silver Age approach, thank you!

Differences from a Typical D&D Game

  • Characters: You can run with fewer players than D&D. I usually prefer to have at least two but I have run with one and I know other people do too. The characters tend to be more capable and more resilient and the game is usually less deadly than your typical D&D game.
  • Multiple PC's: Multiple characters per player in a campaign has worked fine for me but multiple characters in a session usually is a bad idea. Tell your players to focus on one character this time and they can play the other one next time. If you want to experiment, split the action and let the players run multiple characters, as long as they are in multiple locations. Comics do this at times and Star Trek does it a ton - there's a problem on the ground AND there's a problem on the ship in orbit and we switch back and forth until we resolve both! Multiple characters is also handy for another scenario: character A is doing his thing but then he gets captured - enter character B who will now be trying to track down character A.
  • Scope: A D&D type game usually starts pretty small and slowly expands, perhaps eventually traveling to other planes. One published "early-career" M&M adventure starts with the destruction of reality and missions to parallel dimensions to try and fix it! The scope can be very different and no one should get bored. You may discover that one of your players dislikes some aspect of your adventure - for example I have one that hates time travel. Whether it's an RPG or an episode of Star Trek, he really doesn't like it. I've tried (when it comes up) to make it a personality trait for his characters as well. The goal is to have some fun with it in-game - think Bones and transporters or B.A. and air travel. 
  • Progression: Very few supers games have levels. Progression is entirely different. This is a feature, not a bug, as we're not playing a zero-to-hero journey in most super campaigns. Mechanical advancement is typically slow. Beyond that type of progression there are other rewards - creating the team's first base, getting the key to the city, appearing on national media, meeting the president - all of these in-game events can show progression apart from mechanical advancement. If you're playing in an existing universe then having a PC invited to join the Avengers is a pretty big signpost, kind of like hitting name level in AD&D. Give the players a path to do that and it should help handle any lingering leveling issues.
  • Adventures: Typical D&D adventures involve breaking into a location, defeating the guards, and looting the place, then living it up until the money runs out or the next rumor of loot rolls in. Superhero adventures are typically the opposite of this. Supers are so ingrained in most of us that I don't really see this as a problem but it is quite different when it comes to running things. That whole stocking-a-keyed-map-then-planting-some-rumors approach you've developed over the years? Yeah, that's not going to be much help most of the time. You're going to have to get comfortable with plots, where the badguys initiate the action and your PC's react to them. Timelines can be handy, possibly even flowcharts if you're envisioning something complicated and want it to make sense. Other times you just wing it and if it makes sense to you right now, well, it probably makes sense to the villain too.

Tips on Actually Running Games
  1. Know your chosen system. Alright I already gave you that one but it does make things flow easier. Get a DM screen that has all of those nifty charts in one place. use sticky notes or tabs to mark certain pages. This can also be artificially accomplished by choosing a simpler game (ICONS, BASH, Savage Worlds) and you may not miss the complexity at all.
  2. Pre-generated resources are a godsend to the supers DM. Any modern game should give you stats for some basic thugs, robots, ninjas, soldiers, cops, and some animals. It should also give you mechanics for common hazards - fire, lightning, drowning, radiation, etc. Add in a few vehicles(cars, buses, fighter planes) and some common household objects (mailboxes, lamp posts, brick walls) and you have some building blocks no matter what your players do, and they will go off-track at some point. When Grog decides to throw a flaming building at that alien spacefighter, a good game will cover how to handle that in the core book.
  3. Be ready to improvise. They will come up with things you were not expecting. Use your knowledge of the system and your prebuilt parts to roll with it - that's why they are there, that's why you presumably paid money for them - to make things easier. A little bit of preparation can make the improvisation more coherent too - if your villain's plan to rob the bank to get the money to buy parts for the Megabot is thwarted, what is his alternate plan? You don't need a massive backup scheme, just a note that if it fails he's going to kidnap a wealthy heiress (DNPC?) and use her money to do it instead. Once you have the framework you can hang all kinds of stuff on it, for hours at a time.
This should be your last resort
I'm about out of things to say here but let me make one last point: In a superhero game your players' characters are supposed to be powerful, awesome, and fun. They should win a lot, mowing down mooks, putting villains in jail, and saving the world. That's part of the genre so go with it, don't stand in the way. If any style of game follows the "Say Yes to Your Players" approach it's Supers. Remember that and everyone should have a good time.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Apprentices vs. Stonehell - Session 3

Our heroes remain one elf ranger, one human cleric, one human monk, and one halfling assassin. Yes, the cleric survived the last session with a roll on the "what happens next" table, just needing some extra time to heal up from his vicious beetle-bite.

Heading out from the camp-cave they explored last session, the party moved along the right-hand (north) side of the canyon. Exploring the next visible cave entrance, things seem fine until the ranger spots mountain lion tracks. Knowing that's a pretty tough customer they decided to move on.

The next cave on the north face has a waterfall pouring out of it and down into a steaming pool. Quite a bit of time is spent discussing who and how to climb up to the opening - how good are our skills? How much rope do we have? How steep is the slope? Eventually this debate is settled and the party ascends the hillside. Now the debate is over entering the cave - some want to sneak but realize that the entire cave mouth is underwater as it pours forth down the hill, making stealth a much trickier proposition. It's also hot. There's some talk about wrapping chainmail in a blanket but the water complicates this solution. Eventually they decide to quit worrying about stealth and just sloshed into the dark, steamy cave.

Inside there was room around the edges to get out of the water. As they were entering there was also some discussion over light sources. As the rest of the group checked the cave the ranger started poking around the edges of the pool with a 10' pole and eventually detected something odd on the bottom of the pool, but could not see anything due to the heat of the water - it was just one big glowing hot spot to his infravision and torches were not showing much.

The monk was quickly nominated to go for an investigatory swim and took some burn damage jumping in but mastered the pain and continued on. He discovered a brass hemisphere at the bottom of the pool with no visible edges and no place to get a good hold. As he was feeling around he also realized that it felt like the water was coming out of this metal object, even though there was no spigot or opening of any kind. Intrigued but unable to move the thing he returned to the party and described what he found. Uncertain of the  significance of this find the party decided to head out and continue their survey of the valley.

The next opening was a carved stone doorway that led to an empty room, but exploring this triggered a low growl from the next room. Approaching, the party discovered a raccoon huddled in the corner. It turned to face them and was foaming at the mouth! Then it attacked, completely failing to harm the cleric's armored leg, and the party failed to hit it as it scrambled among them. Then the assassin lined up his blade and skewered the mad beast, killing it in a single stroke and ending it's misery.

Continuing to explore the party found a fairly extensive complex of rooms. Most were empty but there was a stone throne in one with an open pit in front of it. There was a stone table in another, behind a secret door, and they found some hidden treasure in it. One other room had a sandbag trap and no apparent treasure so they emptied out the sand onto the floor and left a message scrawled in it expressing their displeasure at anyone who would trap an empty room.

At this point there was a pause in the action - more next time!

DM Notes: This was a longer session than last time and a lot of fun even though there was not a lot of combat - it was a good reminder of the fun to be had with the "exploration" part of the game.

The mountain lion lair was empty, but they showed good instincts here in avoiding it.

The waterfall cave was an exercise in reminding them that there are not a lot of skills in this game - just tell me what you want to do and we will see if it makes sense. After the climbing was worked out the next debate was over sneaking with no sneak skill - which I pointed out that they had a monk and an assassin and  the ranger and cleric were not going to have a better chance than they would. For whatever reason they were very concerned with this and then totally dropped it. Then we had a discussion about light and whether someone could hold a torch in a shield hand - the answer here is yes, until combat starts - and who should carry it etc. We also had our first usage of a 10' pole! A very sensible one! 

There is a story about the brass hemisphere that emits hot water but there was no way they were going to figure it out this early. We will see if they remember it later on. The monk diving into hot water and trying to move the metal object spurred a quick review of the opening credits to "Kung Fu" and some speculation if he had tattoos before or after or if he now just had burn scars on the inside of his arms and whether they could find some aloe in the valley.

The battle with the raccoon lasted all of two rounds and was the only combat in the whole session. Best line after the fight: 

"I'm going to go check his bed" 
"What bed? This isn't Narnia, he doesn't have a bunch of little raccoon-sized furniture in here."

This earned me an annoyed look from the birthday boy that turned into a snicker as the brother took up the theme and started throwing in his own narnia contributions. It was pretty funny after this rather rapid fight.

Exploring the the rest of the place brought back the opening doors and searching for secret doors parts of the rules. The stone table ("no there's not a lion strapped to it" - pause, cackles) provided the only treasure of the night. 

The sandbag trap really annoyed them as it was at the end of a series of empty rooms on a night with one combat and one small treasure:

 "So it's a bag full of sand? On the end of a hanging rope tied to the door?" 

-Quick checks for secret doors, searches for treasure, nothing is found -

"Who would do that?!"

So they emptied it out and wrote a message in common as described, and decided they would check back every once in a while to see if anyone answered.

It was a lot of fun but I'm hoping they actually get to the main dungeon next time and start really digging in to the meat of the adventure.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Mystery Map

This was a surprise bonus extra in the Undermountain II set I picked up last weekend. I know it's a map of Blackmoor, I just don't know where it originated. Anyone out there know?


Motivational Monday