Saturday, November 9, 2013

Super Saturday

Three things today:

1) Starting off,  here's a nice update on Freedom City from the man himself:  Green Ronin Round Table

2) A new superhero RPG is out here. Now to go along with M&M and V&V we have P&P.  I don't have it yet but I'm thinking about it. It sounds like the mechanics are different enough to be interesting. If any of you have tried it, please comment!

3) And to round out a super-threesome we have a product listed in the "newest" list on DTRPG's superhero rpg section:

It's a printable map of a basketball court. Actually, it's half of a basketball court. You can go with hexes, squares, or nothing.

Now it's only $1 ... but it's a basketball court ... a flat piece of ground with some markings on it ... can;t you just draw that if you need one? Do the markings really matter when it comes to playing an RPG? Also, WHY WOULD YOU SPECIFICALLY MAP HALF OF A ROUNDBALL COURT? Wouldn't you make a map of a whole court for those who might need one (whoever that might be) and then if I only need a half-court I can just print out half of the map!

I'm also not sure how it turns up as a superhero game accessory unless everything tagged as "modern" automatically appears in "superhero" as well. I will say in my time as a player and a DM I've never needed a map like this. Apparently someone did at least once, but it mystifies me as to why I would buy one, even for a dollar.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

DC Adventures Heroes and Villains

I know these books have been out for some time now but I only recently acquired the second one and I wanted to spend a little time talking about just how great they are.

I think of myself as a more casual DC fan though admittedly that's grading on a scale with other people who spent time reading comics. I am more of a Marvel guy when it comes to superhero stuff. Most of my recent DC knowledge comes from the animated shows and specials and the movies. If you are a more casual fan then these books are stuffed full of info about the characters of the DC universe and are an interesting resource even if you're not into the game. You're not going to find a bunch of "in issue x this thing happened" kind of references, just a general rundown of the character and some history and noted on gadgets, sidekicks, vehicles, and lairs. My kids spent quite a bit of time just flipping through them and going "hey, that guy!" -  so much of these universes are visual that you may not know a characters name but you recognize the look when you come across it - this is where a book has some advantage over Wikipedia. This aspect of it is why I went with books over PDFs - I want books on the shelf my kids can flip through when they're interested. If it was only a game resource for NPC's and villains I find PDFs work pretty well for me, but these are more than that. 

There are over 500 characters presented in these two books. Superhero games run off of a steady diet of interesting characters and these volumes provide an immense reserve of characters to draw from. Even if you don't run explicitly in the DC universe there's no reason you can't use the stats and schticks from these to populate your own universe. Change the name and alter the costume a bit - a simple color change may be enough - and you have usable game stats with whatever personality and background you choose to give. It's a very useful set of books for the practical GM.

I hesitate to even call this a review as I really have nothing negative to say about the books. These are good, solid, useful, nice-looking books. If you're a fan of Justice League and the related shows these are cool. If you're a fan of DC in General these are great. If you're running a game of M&M 3 these are as useful a resource as you will find for actually keeping a campaign going.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Wrath of the Righteous - Session 2

We begin in a long-lost shrine of Torag, deep beneath the city of Kenabres, on the border of the Worldwound. Our heroes (all 1st level) are:

  • Relyn Steelguard, young Paladin of Iomedae, (longsword and shield)
  • Graidin Cratchet, aspiring Wizard (hand of the apprentice staff-tossing)
  • Arken, newly minted Cavalier of the Order of the Lion, in service to Queen Galfrey of Mendev (longsword and shield)
  • Jaren, Dragon Sorcerer (claws)

After cleansing the shrine the party is fully healed and feeling ready to continue their climb to the surface. They spend some time talking to the other party members and learn a little bit more about them. 

  • Aravashnial seems to have come to grips with his blindness and has warmed up to the party as well. he offers to use his magic as best he can given his current state. 
  • Anevia too is more talkative and is now armed with a bow so she can aid in battle even if her leg keeps her from charging in.  
  • Horgus Gwerm is still scowling about the whole situation and is only interested in getting to the surface as quickly as possible. He does not appear to have any skill in combat or with magic and is depending on the party to get him out, which seems to chafe him even more.
After moving ahead for a time they come to a sizable cavern. Within, the heroes notice the walls are carved with depictions of armored figures dating back to the first crusade. Then they are ambushed by a a pair of flying tentacle monsters. Jaren is engulfed and drops after a brief struggle while Relyn and Arken attempt to cut the things apart. Graidin uses some minor magics and also finds his staff quite useful. In short order the beasties are slashed to ribbons and the group takes 5 to revive the beaten spellcaster.

The only way out leads to an adjacent cave, also large, where the glowing remains of a campfire can be seen. from the entrance. What is not seen is the levitating dwarf who opens up with a color spray as the team enters the cavern which floors most of the party. Arken remains conscious and charges in, using his dragon scale (see below) to levitate up and engage the dwarf. Anevia fires a few bow shots from the entrance but has a hard time connecting. In desperation, Aravashnial summons a celestial dire bat and sics it on the dwarf as well. Even though he is levitated, blurred, and mage armored, Millorn the insane dwarf wizard is not going to last long against that kind of firepower (longsword CHOP! celestial dire bat SMITE!) and he soon falls to the ground, extremely dead. After reviving the rest of the party and searching the camp (spellbook!) they press on.

Leaving the dwarf-cave the passage begins climbing - finally! Time and distance pass and the group eventually comes to another cave with what appears to be a collapsed tower in the middle. Near it, two humanoids are pulling a third from the rubble. Somewhat to my surprise the party approaches cautiously and tries to communicate with them! After a quick conversation in broken common the fighters are helping to pull a battered humanoid from the wreckage and making some new friends. 

The beings are tough to look at, being a mix of various creature types. The leader, introducing himself as "Lann" appears to be a mix of elf, goat, and lizard and the other two are equally exotic. As they bandage up Crel (the injured humanoid) the mongrel people share that they have a village nearby. The new ruin was a watchtower located here because one of the passages leads to their village. It collapsed in the earthquake and they are concerned that their village may have suffered also and they wish to return to it as soon as possible. If the party wants to travel with them they would appreciate the help and would happily share food. Our heroes agree to this plan.

Moving out with their new friends the party makes good time. As they approach the village though a new problem arises: the tremors have split the passage ahead with a chasm. The mongrel-people know this is the most direct route home and are desperate to find a way across. Undaunted, our heroes work out a solution involving crossbows, a lot of rope, and the magical levitation scale that works for everyone, even the injured members of the party. Taking their time, everyone is moved safely across and then the group makes their final approach to the village.

(In Session 1 the party found some silver scales, fallen from the silver dragon who was slain during the attack on the city. Each of them has some minor magical effect. One of them is "levitate", which came in handy during this part of the adventure.) 

Lines of the session: 
"Perception? Ok - nat 20! ... So that's a 21 total"

(A few minutes later)

"Diplomacy? OK - nat 20! ... So that's a 19 total"

DM Notes: 

The NPC's the party is saddled with at the beginning are a mixed bag. It's good to have living, breathing setting hooks right there in the adventure and it's very disaster-movie-esque having a random group of strangers thrown together after a catastrophe but it's cumbersome for me as a DM to have three extra party members to manage regardless of their impairments. If this was happening later in the campaign it might be less of an issue but having it right at the beginning with higher level NPC's running alongside 1st level characters it's an odd mix of baggage and advantage and just more stuff in general to keep up with. I think one character would have been enough to convey the info with less overhead but we are past that now. For the moment they are sort of "pokeball" NPC's - they stay back out of combat until it's over then come in and impart useful information if they have anything relevant to the current area. 

The darkmantle fight was fun. I haven't really seen them in 4E but they were an early "signature" monster of 3E so it's nice to see them again. Steve knew what they were but the boys had no idea and were worried about the flying octopus monsters, particularly after one took down the sorcerer. This fight gave us the opportunity to re-familiarize ourselves with the concentration rules and the dying rules so it was very educational.

Millorn - this was a fairly swingy fight. Color Spray is nasty but after that he doesn't have a lot of attack options other than that old wizard staple "light crossbow". This is one place where having the NPC's along did help as it gave the players with downed characters something to do. Firing into melee is still challenging but it's better than nothing. The NPC wizard is blinded which is pretty impairing but he is a summoner so many of his spells do not have a target. I ruled he could summon a creature right next to himself but not at range. The combination of "half of party down during the surprise round" and "target out of melee reach" caused them to hit the panic button and yell at Aravashnial to summon "the biggest thing he can" - which he did, which led to the inevitable harsh-voiced Batman impressions all around the table.

Mongrelmen - In any other universe they would be "mutants" but here they are "mongrelmen". I was glad to see these guys show up to as I have not seen them used in many adventures since their debut in "Dwellers of the Forbidden City" a long time ago. This is the perfect place for them and they make for fine low-level allies and enemies that are not overly familiar to the players. The adventure sort of assumes that eventually the party makes friends with the mongrelmen, either here or at the village though it is not strictly required. I was fairly sure we would have a "misunderstanding" here at first but I underestimated my players - they are playing knights after all! Chivalrous behavior came to the fore and made for a much better session than plowing through a few more monsters.

In 4E crossing the chasm would have been a skill challenge with relevant skills already determined. Here it was far more free-form and I let the players come up with their own solution. It was a solid one, with contingencies for failed climb checks and a lot of good work. I was very happy with the way this went. 

In fact, this was a really good session with a nice mix of combat, poking around, and interaction with NPC's. My players exceeded my expectations and we got a lot done. One of the "first time all over again" experiences I am having with Pathfinder is that combat moves quite quickly. This is the lowest level of the game but the point stands. It allows us to run through quite a bit "more" in each session and that's been really nice. We probably spent more time on crossing the chasm than we did on any single combat this session and I like that.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Why WOTC never made a MtG D&D book...

Ryan Dancey pops on to Reddit and discusses it here. It's interesting and short.

I like the "friends, monsters, and asses" model for distinguishing D&D, Magic, and Pokemon. There's more thought there than it sounds at first. I am still surprised though that given the corporate operating environment, even with some sound reasoning on the differences between the games, that this never happened. I can see why the team working on Magic might not want it, but I am pretty sure there are a ton of Magic players who would buy up a detailed setting book on some aspect of a Magic world or plane even if they had never played D&D.

Supporting this view:

  • Warhammer 40,000 is a game where one player takes on another player in a miniatures battle. Tournaments are intensely competitive at regional and national levels and sometimes even at the FLGS level. A few years ago the first RPG's set in the 40K universe appeared (Dark Heresy, Rogue Trader, Deathwatch, Only War, etc.) and are in the top 10 RPG lists all the time. There have been computer and videogames that have been very popular as well like Dawn of War and Space Marine. There have been 40K CCG's. They sell a ton of novels for it too. Podcasts that are dedicated to 40K tournament play still mention these books, videogames and RPG's as if they are an assumed thing that every 40K player knows about. The key thing here is that 40K is a lifestyle choice for some people - it's a place they live in like a dedicated Star Wars or Star Trek fan and they will pick up and play almost anything related to the universe.
  • Warhammer Fantasy has had a similar path and success if not quite as much as the 40K version.
  • Battletech in the 80's and 90's was in a similar place: Starting out as a boardgame it expanded into miniatures, RPG's, novels, a CCG, computer and videogames, and eventually a cartoon series and a toy line. 

Both of these represent a universe that began with a one-on-one competitive play game but over time people  grew more and more interested in the setting and demanded more. I suspect Magic fans have a similar view - they would love to know more about the setting and have a way to jump into it for another view.

In this case, somehow, it seems that the creative types won out over the business types and fan demands - and that has to be rare nowadays. If it was up to me I'd go completely in the other direction - "of course we're going to make a role-playing game!" I wouldn't call it D&D and I don;t know how closely l would link them in the marketing other than maybe "From the makers of Dungeons & Dragons".  You could even structure it as one of those year-long crossover events and tie the whole thing together - card sets for magic, a setting/campaign book with some adventures for the RPG that give a unique way to experience the setting apart form the card game, , maybe a videogame, and some novels. They do this kind of thing all the time in each game - why not try crossing over as an experiment and see how it goes?  Magic die-hards will go nuts, RPG'ers have a new interesting setting to try out, and it would bring a sense of excitement to both and maybe bring some new people into each game.

Put another way, at around this same time it made sense to WOTC to go out and pay Lucasfilm for the RPG license for Star Wars. Now that was never their top seller but it moved some books even though it was not mechanically the same as D&D. There are a lot of MtG fans out there actively playing the game every day so they have friends, have an interest in Magic, and are used to playing face to face tabletop games, and there is no external licensing fee involved here! How is this not a recipe for success?

Well, I had a little more to say there than I realized when I started this post. Probably because I have some magic players in my own house who have asked this same question several times and I never had a good official answer for them and because I thought it made a lot of sense myself as stated above. Maybe someday this will happen and we can all judge the real-world results.

Motivational Monday

Wrapping up Blueside and the heros, I played more blasters than any other type.

It's hard to choose a favorite type as I played them all but my main for the entire game was The Amazing Aluminum Man and he was an Energy/Electric blaster so I'll go with that. More on him here.

It was almost a year ago that City of Heroes was closed for no good reason and we still find ourselves saying "that would make a good city of heroes character" when we run across a particularly fun idea. It will be a long time before it drops out of our day to day thoughts.