Saturday, October 5, 2013

Super Saturday - City of Titans

The first of the City of Heroes successor projects is in funding mode.

Their site is here. The Kickstarter is here. The video is right down below:

I think it looks pretty promising. I'll be kicking in. There are other projects in the works but these guys organized very quickly when the shutdown was announced and have been consistent and open about what they want to do and are clearly out in front right now. Thumbs up and good luck!

Friday, October 4, 2013

Super Friday - M&M 10th Anniversary Edition

The big new shiny arrived a few days back:

This is one of the few Kickstarter's I have backed. I am completely satisfied with the result. I've had the PDF for some time but I held off reading it because I wanted to explore the book for the first time, not the PDF.

I like the game, I like the company, and I trust them to get things done - and they did!

It is very nice though I'm worried about that slick paper cover getting torn up - this will not be the book the kids use when we play.

It has all of the rules form the standard book plus about 130 pages. The new material includes the quickstart generator for a random character creation option, some essays on this origin and history of the game, a section on Freedom City and Emerald City and an adventure set in each, and closes out with some old classic characters reworked for M&M 3E.

I'm very happy to have updated stats for AB, Omega, Superior, and the like. It makes for a nice guide for additional conversions too.

Some version of this book is going to be on sale too. If you already have the MM3 Handbook or the DC Adventures handbook you may not need it - but you may well want it. It's pretty nice. Also note: some RPG Kickstarters do actually work out alright!

Now, to get that M&M campaign fired up...

Thursday, October 3, 2013

An Experiment in Gamer Motivation

I know gamer types/motivations have been a thing for a long time now, since Strike Force at the very least - thanks Mr. Allston for that entire book - but to me it's always been one of those theoretical things that I never thought had any practical use. Then I finally got around to reading the 4E Strategy Guide and there's a nifty little ten question test in it that is supposed to identify your gamer motivation. Being an old school DM at heart I did exactly what you would expect - I made my players take it.

Now I've known most of my players for a very long time.You can read the basic rundown here.

  • I've known Lawful Steve for 25 years now and there's almost always been a game on that we were playing in together or one that I was running and he was playing
  • Eclectic Dave goes back 17 years, I think. He's almost always involved in at least one of our current games as well.
  • Mastermind Will has been around since my first D&D 3E campaign so about 12 years now.
  • Lady Blacksteel I have known for about 15 years but she's only been playing for 5.
  • Barbarian Warlord Jeremy is the newest member of the group but even he's been in for about 3 years plus.
So I'm not running a new table here. In normal life they're a mixture of office workers, accountants, amateur thespians, techie guys, parents, married guys, single guys - a fairly normal mix of things. In gaming it's pretty much D&D first and then if we can work something else in we will give it a try. Steve, Dave, and Jeremy have all run other games at some point and I've played in some of those. Most of the time when we get together though, I'm the DM and they are the players. After this much time I think I know them and their gaming preferences pretty well but I've never tried to officially test and score any of this stuff - it's always seemed kind of pointless, but I thought about it and figured it was worth 15-20 min out of our game session to see what came of it. 

My group's general tendencies:
  • Plan A or "Frontal Assault is a perfectly viable strategy"
  • One or two characters may be good at sneaking but it's rarely going to be used other than to find which door to kick in first
  • At least one will be good at talking but it's not the main way the team operates. That same character generally also has some kind of mind control power as well so they're not in it for the conversation.
  • The most memorable sessions generally involve some kind of fight where some ridiculous tactic or stunt or plain stroke of luck worked out spectacularly or failed just as spectacularly. Also: fun with dead dragons.

Heck, you can read a few of the session reports and get a feel for how things usually go. My thinking was that doing this little quiz might reveal something I had not noticed or some hidden interest that one of them had that I could include in our current games, but I wasn't expecting major revelations.

The results tie into eight different "gamer motivations":
  1. Actor
  2. Explorer
  3. Instigator
  4. Power Gamer
  5. Slayer
  6. Storyteller
  7. Thinker
  8. Watcher
I'm sure you can figure out the details. 

The test is 10 questions long, there are 4 answers to each question, and there is no set pattern to the answers (i.e. "A" is not always "Slayer"). I read the questions out loud and had my players write down their answers without a big group discussion. Scoring is that 2-3 answers for a certain type means it's a secondary motivation for that player while 4 or more mean it's a primary.

So what did I get back?
  • 4 of my 5 players are "Instigators" - one as primary, three as secondary. Yeah. The sh*t I get to deal with...
  • 3 of my 5 are "Slayers" - two primary, one secondary. No big surprise there.
  • 3 of my 5 (not all the same three as above) have "Power Gamer" as secondary. Not a huge surprise either.
  • Beyond these I had one Actor secondary, one Storyteller secondary, one Thinker secondary and one Watcher secondary. 
What does that mean? ACTION BABY! They are a very action oriented group. they don't want a long backstory, they don't want the complete history of the region, they want to DO SOMETHING! Exposition is best presented in sentences, not paragraphs. 

Definitions form the book:
  • Instigator: "You enjoy making things happen. You prefer action over planning, and sometimes make deliberately bad choices to see what happens." My addition: "The clock is ticking - to boredom or potentially disastrous choices if you leave them alone too long"
  • Slayer: "You just love to kill monsters and you prefer combat to any other situation." My addition: it's the point of the whole game and most of the stories later involve what they fought and how that fight went"
  • Power Gamer: "You like to optimize your character, choosing the best mechanical elements to create a perfect build." My addition: "Which one does more damage" is a common question when leveling up.
Any big surprises here? Not really, though the Instigator factor was higher than I expected. Lady Blacksteel actually had 3 secondaries and no primary. I'm not sure what that means, but they fit right in with the rest of the group. I'd say my Instigators are more disciplined than some - I've had a wild child before and that player would do deliberately crazy stuff and typically played characters like an illusionist thief that were good at getting into trouble. My current crew is not nearly as random as that.  

I was a little disappointed at the lack of "Explorer" - I tend to think that I have that in my own mix somewhere but apparently none of my players does.

To feed this what do I do?
  • For the Slayer I try to come up with varied and interesting opponents. I think I've done OK here, but they hate it when their character bites it.
  • For the Power Gamer I allowed pretty much any class/race combo in 4E in my latest campaign and I don't say no to much as they advance - if it's in the game it's fair game. 4E's character builder and inherent balance makes this a lot easier to deal with. That said they hate it even more when their character bites it.
  • For the Instigator I try to come up with interesting environments, from terrain to NPC's, that change fairly often and have different ways to interact with the PC's. Red Hand of Doom has a fairly varied set of scenarios and I've mixed it up way beyond the original module. The tools for 4E make this fairly easy to do when prepping and skill challenges give us a nice mechanical structure to work around. 
Now I don't know that I succeed on every one of these in every session but I do keep them in mind. They all really just involve variety and 4E specifically has a fairly good set of mechanics and systems for keeping that variety, at least in ways my players seem to like. 

Thoughts on what else I could run for them:
  • Could I run Pendragon for this group? Probably not, and I'm 100% sure D&D is a better fantasy game for what they like anyway. A fantasy Savage Worlds game would probably work well.
  • Shadowrun? Not as much as I thought at one time. It does have a lot of action but it also has a lot of planning, scouting, and NPC interaction and that's clearly not or main thing.
  • Traveller - combat is deadlier and less flashy, and a lot of the game ties into accounting or engineering. Probably not.
  • Trek? Old school two-boots-to-the-chest diplomacy Trek maybe but it will be a tough sell.
  • Star Wars? it didn't go that well last time but I'm wondering if it's because Saga is a little heavy. A d6 Star Wars game might give them all the action they want and still have fun for builders.

Trendy Stuff:
  • 13th Age - less tactical combat, more story game elements - uh oh. Wrong direction. probably not "better" than our current games.
  • Numenera - lots of emphasis on exploration, less detail on combat and action, less complex character construction - all of these scream "NO" to me right now. 
  • D&D Next - Less character detail but still fairly combat-intensive. I suspect it would be alright.
  • Pathfinder - Detailed characters, detailed combat, lots of quirky options for race/class/feats/skills. This would be just fine - one reason we're running it as Game #2
I also feel it in my bones that this set of motivations and personalities would have a blast with a superhero RPG. Action heavy, detailed character builds, lots of funky abilities to mess with things - right! Plus the Necessary Evil campaign went really well a few years back (it might as well be tailor made for my group) and our limited runs with M&M went well too so I have some evidence alongside. One of these days...

Now of course, all of this information and reflection leads me to what I think is an obvious question: I've been playing with these guys for years - do the preferences shape the game, or does the game shape the preferences? Are they Instigating Power Slayers because that's what they like to do and I run a game that caters to that, or do I run a game that caters to that so they develop a taste for it? If it's not DM-inflicted then  how much of it is self-generated and how much is rubbing off from the other players? The general thought seems to be that players come to the table with these motivations built-in and stick around if the game feeds into them or leave if it does not. I am not convinced that it's that one-sided. I'm juts not sure of the real breakdown.

That's probably enough of this for one post. Tomorrow, back to the Savage Swords!

This is a problem?

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Savage Swords of Impiltur - Session 26:

So, uh, yeah, bit of a timeline jump here. "When you find yourself deep in a hole, stop digging." My last session summary on my "main campaign" was in March of this year and it was for session ... 6. We've been playing the whole time, I just stopped writing up the summaries, and if you let that kind of thing go it can pile up on you. To head off any further growth in my backlog, I decided I needed to start posting the more current stuff as it happens, and I'll work on catching up later. Think of it as artsy flashback/timeline tomfoolery, like "Lost", or BSG's "One Year Later" episode. It's actually more than a year between #6 and #26 in real time, and quite a bit less than that in game time. Enough...

Our Heroes (now 10th level):
  • Dar Bloodmane, Shifter Paladin
  • Lt. Alex Gravis, Water Genasi Warlord
  • Zarra, Drow Vampire
  • Gartok, Dwarf Earth Warden
  • Izenheim, Dwarf Cleric of Marthammor Duin
  • No-Name, Elf Bow Ranger 
Roster changes:

  • Dar Bloodmane left the material plane back in Session 17 under circumstances to be described in that post. As a clue to avoid any unnecessary stress on the reader, the most relevant word in his demise is "Behir". Dar's replacement is Torin Tsai, Half Orc Slayer
  • Izenheim left the party a bit earlier, claimed by that all too common enemy of gaming - "family"
  • As Gartok and The Elf with no Name were both out for this session, Apprentice Blaster filled in with Maximus, Human Fighter (Gladiator).

We begin in the city of Brindol, Impiltur, Faerun. Still stinging from their failure to stop the summoning ritual that allowed an aspect of Tiamat into the world, our heroes use the old portal once again to return to the city. They are greeted by Lord Cartwright and his aide who are relieved to see them alive but have an urgent problem: the Lion Knights of Brindol are battling the encroaching Red Hand army to try and stave off a siege but a group of hill giants has separated from the main army. One mob is attacking one of the gates while others bombard a section of the city wall with boulders. The city watch is being overwhelmed and the rest of the defenses are still being organized - can the heroes help? With barely the time to catch their breath, the party agrees to check the raid.

Gravis wants a tactical advantage if they are going to be fighting giants and requests the aid of the Tiri-Kotor elves who have forces in the city. They agree and soon the team is mounted up and airmobile. they sweep over the wall and swoop in behind the giants attacking the gate. It's a small force of only four brawny giants swinging a battering ram, a shaman-looking leader, and his pet - a monstrous scorpion beast.

The defenders of Brindol dismount and charge! Torin, Gravis, and Maximus cut down the shaman almost immediately while Zarra uses her uncanny charms to dominate the giant scorpion pet, turning it against the other giants before leaping into the fray herself! Not the brightest of beings, and befuddled at the sudden assault and their turncoat pet the giants die to a man in front of the gate. The heroes are battered but driven to carry on, so they whistle for the owls and remount to extinguish the second assault.

The second group of hill giants is gathered in the ruins of an ancient shrine outside the city walls. They are picking up everything from fallen masonry to grave stones and hurling them at the wall and seem to be having quite the time doing so - it's possible alcohol is involved. The party is soon over though as the owls drop down out of the sky and five deadly warriors close in around them like the fingers of a deadly fist! under Gravis' direction Maximus leaps in and draws their attention (gladiators!) while Zarra and Torin rip into the behemoths with no mercy. The giants fight back with clubs and boulders, knocking some of the heroes for considerable distances but the counteroffensive is unstoppable and this fight can only end in one way. Soon enough the giants are down while the party rests for a moment. Soon enough they call the owls down and take flight back to the city, mission accomplished - for now.

DM Notes: This was a get-things-going-again session after schedule issues caused us to miss most of the summer. I normally want a minimum of four players to run (I build the crunchy stuff for 5 players - bring 4 and I have an advantage, bring 6 and they have an advantage) and that's been the rule since very early on. After losing one of our regulars though it got a little tougher to keep the schedule going if more than one person couldn't make it. Three were available so I drafted Apprentice Blaster to fill in with a new character and he did really well as 4E fighters are fairly complex in play with the whole marking thing. 

The session before this was a really tough marathon fight that ended with mixed results but the players felt like they had not succeeded. I wanted to keep it fairly simple with a straight-up (and more level-appropriate) fight to let us all get back in the groove again and that's exactly how it went. No time for dilly-dallying around with social interaction or skill challenges - we're under attack! Help us! 

(That other stuff will come next time)

One technical note: adding decent mobility to this all-melee party made it incredibly vicious when it came to inflicting harm. A fighter, plus a tac warlord and two nasty melee strikers meant they were not at all afraid to mix it up in close and they were easily peeling triple digit hit points off of the poor giants every round. Nasty. They are truly Savage.

So in the end the city is being surrounded but the heroes have returned and quite directly and visibly established themselves as the top defenders of Brindol. Tune in tomorrow for Session 27!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Wrath of the Righteous - Session 1

Note: There are spoilers below. There are always spoilers in my summaries but since this is a new adventure series, not an old one or a homebrew I thought I ought to specifically mention this.

Heroes gather in the crusader city of Kenabres on the edge of the Worldwound. The annual festival of Armasse draws in scholars and warriors from all over the region. Among them are four of special note:
  • Relyn Steelguard, young Paladin of Iomedae
  • Graidin Cratchet, aspiring Wizard
  • Arken, newly minted Cavalier of the Order of the Lion, in service to Queen Galfrey of Mendev
  • No-Name, Dragon Sorcerer
After gathering in Clydwell Plaza at noon for the opening ceremonies for the festival the characters find themselves awakening in darkness, battered and covered in dust. Their memories gradually return as they begin to  collect themselves. As the festival was about to begin, there was an explosion, then a mighty flame and lightning wrapped Balor swooped in as the silver dragon xxx threw off her human shape and blasted out of the crowd to meet it. Things went badly from there, as more demons appeared, some of massive size, smashing buildings aside. As the crowd scattered, the dragon was taking the worst of it, but still managed to magically break our heroes fall as the square collapsed. While the darkness closed in, the last sight for the plummeting crusaders was the demon warlord hoisting the severed head of the dragon for all to see.

Now, awakened, battered, and worried about might be going on above them our heroes discover that most of the people around them are dead, though a few have survived. One, a female human scout has a broken leg. Another, an elven mage was blinded by a demonic slash. A third human male seems to be physically undamaged but has a rather unfriendly attitude and is anxious to find his way home. The group pokes around the rubble, splints her leg, finds her a crutch, and bandages the wizard's gashed eyes. They also decide to travel together to find a way back up to the city.

Exploring the caverns beneath the city is a slow business, and there are signs of the upheaval everywhere, but they do make progress. Though some vermin is dispatched and Relyn suffers a venemous snakebite, there is no sign of civilization until the party discovers a small shrine to Torag. The shrine turns out to have one "inhabitant" - the skeletal remains of its builder and priest who is now an undead creature! The foul thing is destroyed quickly and the party tries to set things right, even though none of them follow Torag. That night they dream about the shrine, and the life of the sole dwarf who chose the spot, built it, and worshipped in it alone for decades until despair and madness turned him from his path. The next day the heroes take their time restoring it to a proper state before moving on.

DM notes: This was the first part of "The Worldwound Incursion" and it kicks things off with an "en media res" style introduction. Knowing that 1st level PC's are not really up for a frontline role in a demon invasion, they get dropped into the mysterious caves beneath the city and have to find their way up into the  light again. It's not really a railroad as it happens before the game starts, and that makes the difference for me.

The NPC's in the adventure stayed mostly in the background as my players are old school and don't have a ton of use for them. They did arm the limping female with a bow so she could keep a lookout, and there was some conversation but their focus is on getting out, not making lifelong friends and I'm not going to force anything on them. I present what's there, the players act as they see fit.

This adventures does not have the usual kobolds or goblins as low level opponents. It starts out with mostly vermin type monsters and that's what they fought. Combat in PF goes quickly at low levels so I won't go into round by round details - no PC's or NPC's died. The poisonous snake gave us a chance to refresh on PF's poison rules but the Paladin survived without too much drama. Staying overnight in the shrine also let us review the healing rules - to some dismay. We'll just have to see how that holds up.

Production-wise I'm running this one with Hero Lab for character building  then Combat Manager for running the fights. As we started the first fight I realized that I didn't have a file for one PC as he had made his character in PC Gen. No problem - I whipped him up in HL in maybe 5 minutes and threw him right in too. It's a different kind of prep work but it's still less hassle than printing out my monster stats and notes. Also: No DM Screen, all open rolls. It didn't make a huge difference in this session but it might down the road.

Overall it was a good session, the players got along alright, and the mechanics were not a problem. We're all looking forward to the next session and there is a chance one more player joins in - who is already being pressured to bring in a cleric, for for it's thematic appropriateness and for the healing. Session 2 is this coming weekend so I'll post about it next week.