Friday, December 29, 2017

Looking Back at 2017: D&D

2017 is the year 5th Edition D&D became my "main" game. Early on we were mainly playing Star Wars and Deadlands but once we started playing 5th edition it rapidly started to take up most of our game time.

This is not really a surprise - from the very earliest get-togethers D&D (some version of it anyway) has always been our main game and everything else is a change of pace/when we can fit it in/off week type game. I've had brief bursts where we've set D&D aside to focus on some other game for a limited time but we always come back to the fantasy game.

I don't mind spending time and money on a game I know we will play so I spent some of both this year catching up on 5th edition - picking up the books and accessories I didn't have, looking around online on how other people run it, checking up on computer/tablet/phone applications, and just generally looking at how it works and what people are doing with it. I did the same thing with Star Wars last year and Pathfinder the year before so this is not a new thing for me.

To me there are three main options when running a well-supported long-lived game like D&D:

  • Run a published campaign - there are several of these for 5E
  • Convert some favorite older material and revisit some classics - lots of options here too
  • Go totally original - setting, adventures, etc. - Certainly an option with 5E and a good excuse to bring in some of those third party support materials.
Now I'm doing those first two for now and developing some ideas for the third so hopefully next year will see major progress on all three of them. 

Knowing that it is the "main game", that everyone is excited about it, and that we're still largely in the honeymoon period with the game makes it easy to look forward to next year and easy to plan out what we're going to do - as much as you can with an RPG anyway. Between 5E's slowed pace of releases (compared to 4E and Pathfinder) and my good-sized pile of older material that is easily converted, I have a lot of options down the road.

So ... I'm happy with it. I'm happy with the way the game plays, I'm happy with what I've decided to do with it, and I'm happy that my players are enthusiastic about it and enjoying it. It's a complete win so far and that's really all I can ask for.

More on the individual campaigns next week.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Looking back at 2017: Pathfinder/Starfinder

Looking back at this post from January this should be a pretty short item, right? 

This is the year I stopped running Pathfinder. I'm still playing it in my friend's Kingmaker campaign, but even in that once-a-month game we only played about 6 times this year. Most of this is due to scheduling issues more than anything else but I'd still say as a group we are less excited about Pathfinder than we used to be.

We had a fight that took up roughly 5 hours. There were plenty of interruptions and distractions but still, that's a lot of time for one combat. If we're going to spend that kind of time on battles I'd rather play 4th Edition or Champions. Pathfinder rewards (some might say requires) system familiarity quite a bit and with us only playing it once a month (or once every two months) we get rusty and the game plays slow. I suspect a group that plays every week would wonder what in the hell we are talking about  but we cannot manage to do that anymore.

I still like the game in general. I still have adventures for it that I would like to run. I'm just not sure when that is going to happen.

Then there is Starfinder - the game I was so middling about that I haven't finished reading the PDF. When it comes to sci-fi fantasy mixes I have Shadowrun, Rifts, and Star Wars and I'd probably go with any of those before I start up a Starfinder game - at least that's how I feel right now.  I'm sure it's a decent game but it's in a niche I have well-covered already.

Will I run either of them in 2018? Who knows? Starfinder I might give a test run if I ever finish reading the rules - a one-off if nothing else. Pathfinder might sneak back in if we end up unsatisfied with 5E for some reason or maybe a limited run through a specific adventure. Neither one is really at the top of the list anymore though.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Merry Christmas 2017

It's been pretty quiet here as I've been pulled in several different directions, one of which is pictured above. That's "Ranger" the new in pretty much every sense bulldog. Later in the week I do have some things to post but for today we're just going to leave it at Merry Christmas & Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Charging to Play at the FLGS

There was a discussion of game stores on EN World a few weeks back and the hot topic was a proposal that they should be charging players for playing space at their tables.  I decided to chime in with some history and my own personal views. I thought it was a good discussion so I thought I would share my post - edited to remove other names and for some context.

Let me dive into this with one perspective - I've been playing RPG's since 1979 when I was ten years old and I've never gotten away from the hobby. My longest break is measured in months, not years, so it's pretty much continuous for almost 40 years now.

I've never played a single RPG session in a store.

I live in DFW and have for most of this time and there are plenty of FLGS's within a 60 minute drive.

We have always played at someone's home. When we were kids that's because that was the easiest place to go. We sat around somebody's kitchen table and played for hours.

Once we could drive we still did it this way because it still worked.

College - it was somebody's apartment, house, or dorm.

As adults it's the same way - most of us have a dining room or living room where we can do this and some of us have a dedicated game room set up for it.

So in my experience you don't need a dedicated neutral space to play. I get why it's convenient for some and if it works for you that's cool but for at least some of us it's a total non-factor. I have all of my books, miniatures, props, mats, markers, dice, and all of the things you accumulate for gaming organized and stored at home. If I play at someone one else's home they typically have the same situation.

The idea that people should have to pay to play in your space ... I get the economics from that side but I've never seen a store that was nice enough that it made me say "wow I'd pay to play here." Especially in the sense that it had more positives, and fewer negatives, than playing at home. You buy books specifically for a game, you buy dice for a game, but space - space is the easiest thing to find and it's not something specifically tied to the game. Paying for some kind of special event - sure, I get that. Paying for 4-5-6- friends to get together and play a session? You'd better have a truly compelling "something" there or it makes no sense at all to me.

I simply don't understand why there is such pushback: you don't balk at paying for bowling, miniature golf, billiards, target shooting, batting cages, and the like; and what you're paying for are the tools to do the thing with and the space. Why are FLGS so incredibly different? There's not much money in the people who only play at home--but there is a definite need for a place to *play*.

I don't have a bowling alley at home; I don't have a mini golf course at home; I don't have batting cages in my backyard; I don't have a 75 foot wide movie screen at home. Those are specialized things necessary for a certain experience and I will pay to use them. Pretty much everybody has a table and chairs or some couches or some beanbag chairs and some empty floorspace - those are all that's needed to play an RPG. Some hobbies require the use of specialized facilities, from bowling to drag racing - RPG's do not. So attempting to monetize your space means you're swimming upstream right from the start, business-wise.

The entire FLGS industry owes its origins to RPGs and minis games. In the 80s, they were the only places you could get them

Well, in the 80's you could buy RPG's and wargames (and the associated miniatures) everywhere from Toys R Us to Kmart to Target to Michael's craft stores, not to mention the Sears catalog and various mail-order houses. There were also "Hobby Shops" that covered a variety of hobbies and games were just one of many things they included. The FLGS wasn't a thing in much of the country until later.

More importantly, the only way you could meet other people to play those games with; and from there grew everything we have now.

Oh no no no - you realize there were at least 3 separate generations of D&D'ers that got started without game stores being a thing right? The OD&D crowd mostly seems to have picked it up in college. The Holmes edition basic players like me mostly bought it at a retail store and started up our own crew or joined in to one we knew at school. A few years later the Moldvay Basic set brought in another wave and again it was not store-centered playing that drove this - it was playing at home or at school with your friends or through some kind of high school / college gaming club.

Most Magic players in the early days were RPG players first. Without a space to play, these days, the games all die.

Magic, 40K, X-Wing are all competitive type games with a tournament/event component that drives playing with strangers in a neutral space. RPG's are an entirely different animal. Without that neutral space those games might die, but they also seem to be where stores make most of their money so that seems to be a self-settling kind of thing, right?

When the online competition to buy product makes the margins & volume so low that FLGS go out of business...the space goes away, and the people and communities go away, and the home game groups eventually age out, so there's no one new and enthusiastic to greet and play with people face to face...and the future is nothing but virtual tabletop, less human interaction, and less friendships built.

How many Napoleonic miniatures players do you come across in stores? How many WW2 mini gamers? Heck, how many historical miniatures players period? How many people do you see playing ASL or other board wargames in stores? These games are still produced, supported, and played. They still have a community. Much of it is online these days because stores do not support those hobbies. There are events like meetups and cons where face to face play does happen.

As for home game groups aging out leaving no one new ... it's a good thing none of us are raising kids who are interested in some of these things and who then go off the high school and college and find new players and start their own gaming groups - except that we are.

I have nothing against the FLGS. I've spent plenty of time in them over the years and I have one in particular that I use and like. But I do not know how you get to "stores have to charge people for playing space or they're all going to close and then RPG's are going to die out". The FLGS is a cool thing when done well but it is not a necessary thing for RPG's to exist.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

What is Genesys?

So there's a new RPG hitting stores this week - Genesys.

No, not that one.

Not that one either - well, maybe her ...

Yeah. Wait - back to the game.

From the site:

The Genesys Roleplaying System allows you to create your own setting to roleplay in. Whether you're playing as a posse of outlaws in a weird west tale or an unlikely group of heroes fighting against the tyranny of a mad dictator in the far future, Genesys gives you all the tools to need to create your own personal playground.

So it's a "generic" RPG like Hero or GURPS or - maybe more widely known these days - Savage Worlds.

It uses special dice. It's from FFG and it's the "generic" version of their Star Wars system. Larger article here.

Of course it can't use the same !#@$@$ symbols as those dice:

They are similar, but still if you were playing in both games it might take a bit to switch "fonts" between the two.

Now I've run some sessions of their Star Wars for different people with different characters and I do like it as a different approach than d6 Star Wars or d20 Star Wars. If you don't like the Star Wars universe but are looking for a system that's "different" for another genre like fantasy or some other kind of cinematic adventure then this is worth a look.

  • Old schoolers may not like this system as much as you have a lot less natural control over things. Every roll of the dice can introduce unplanned complications both good and bad. You may have a fairly detailed plan for sneaking into the enemy base and then someone rolls really well or really badly and now you've stumbled across some hidden guards or broken some equipment or some other unexpected event that can throw things off. 
  • Those who like detailed tactical movement and combat may or may not like it. There is no grid and so no counting squares or hexes. There are quite a few options in combat but they are driven by what comes up on those dice. So if you like having a character "build" with hard set capabilities you may need to make some adjustments to expectations as many of your options will add a die to a roll or allow you to spend specific die results to trigger a new result. There are some of the traditional RPG "number bump" type options but less than you might expect. Combat is full of interesting choices but it's less crunchy and less predictable than in a level based game.
  • If you like "experiencing the story" as the big attraction of your game then you will likely love this system. The dice will send things in different directions and many character abilities key off of manipulating or responding to those dice. Interpreting the results is the heart of the game so if you are good at and enjoy coming up with interpretations on the fly then you will have a blast. 

Beyond the book itself you are going to need a few sets of the dice - I'd say 2 at a minimum. We have 4 sets on the table when we play here and we've never had to scramble/argue/fight for more with 3-5 players so I'd say that's plenty.

All that said I'm not in a huge rush to pick this up because I'm not sure what I would do with it. I think it's great for a pulp game and possibly a superhero game. Really any cinematic genre could be done well here. World War II commando missions, a good Western, 1800's world explorers/extraordinary gentlemen - I can see a lot of potential there.

At the risk of committing heresy, I think it could be great for a Star Trek game. There are a lot of character options for non-combat abilities from diplomacy to carousing to fixing things like a chief engineer. The dice results actually feel like some of those out-of-nowhere technobabble explanations or amazing stunts that resolve so many episodes. Being Star Wars it already has vehicle and ship combat rules and rules for psionic type powers for your Vulcans and Betazeds. Talking about it now this is probably the one option I really need to investigate and this new version might make it easier by removing the Star Wars elements for me.

So it's an interesting new option for doing your own thing with an RPG. It's a robust, interesting system that's no longer tied to a specific setting. If you're looking for something different, well, trust me it's very different, especially if you're used to d20 as your main game system.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Something New for Monday - DCC/MCC Scratch Off Character Sheets

As some of you probably know, the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG is a D&D type game that starts characters out a zero level as a standard assumption. Specifically, it starts each player out with 4 or so zero-level characters and pushes them into zero-level adventures where it's assumed a winnowing process takes place and you emerge with some 1st level characters from the carnage.

Speaking as someone who hated zero level characters in AD&D, despite multiple attempts by TSR to push them on us and multiple attempts by me to enjoy them - it's FANTASTIC!

The characters are 100% random creation from ability scores to background to gear. It's up to the player to give them a name and personality but the mechanical details are rolled. It's the absolute epitome of "develop in play" over "pages and pages of written background" and the interaction of the players as the adventure progresses is just flat-out amazing. Who leads? Who cowers at the back? Who's just trying to collect loot? Just one or two sessions gives you a gold mine of character history, tendencies, and overall personality.

Even as a huge fan of this approach it can take a little time to put together 20 characters - enter the scratch-off zero level character sheet! Now if I'm feeling some time pressure I can hand these out and say "go" and in a few minutes we will have our party and be ready to go!

The same system is present in the new Mutant Crawl Classics and they created scratch offs for those as well:

These also help in another scenario even if you prefer to let everyone roll their zeroes the original way: replacement characters! Assuming reinforcements are needed or a new player joins in you may not want to slow down the session to supervise someone rolling up a new PC or three - instead, just hand them a card and in a minute or two they are ready to run!

I think it's a genius idea. No, it wouldn't work with every RPG out there it works really well with this one and is one more tool to reinforce the flavor of this game.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Old School, New School, and Reviewing Classic Adventures

With my dive into 5th edition this year I've picked up a lot of the current adventure books like Storm King's Thunder, Curse of Strahd, the Elemental Evil One - all of them so far. I've also been looking at ways to integrate some of my favorite adventures from older editions, particularly the ones I've not run in years or for this group of players. When Tales from the Yawning Portal came out it of course made my day because here's a whole string of older adventures converted directly to 5th - that makes it a lot easier if it's a decent conversion. So far so good.

I also started listening to some podcast reviews and discussions on the various new adventures and some of the talk around the Yawning Portal material really had me shaking my head. So this post covers my thoughts on these same issues.

Side note: After all of this research I am even more certain of this: reading the adventure is not the same as playing the adventure, any more than looking at a map of France is the same as actually visiting France. Rulebooks have a similar conundrum in that reading them is not the same as using them to play a game but adventures are even worse in this regard. I've read some that looked amazing and then fell apart in play and I've read some that looked iffy and turned into some great sessions. There are nuances that may only come out in play, plot details that only make sense when run, encounters that get a lot more interesting once they're in play, and NPCs that become much more memorable or important when they hit the table. People dismiss some things as "unplayable" - one of my pet peeves - that I have run and enjoyed. People will laud adventures they've never actually run as "amazing" yet when I tried to run them they were disorganized messes with missing map elements and conflicting information. 

If you want a specific example check out some reviews of Pathfinder AP's the month they come out. These are 99% "read-thru" reviews with no actual play experience. Then go look at the Paizo forum for that AP six months or a year after they have been released - you will see pages and pages of corrections, clarifications, alternate approaches, suggestions for improvement - it's night and day.

I'd say the best advice is that if reading through a published adventure gets you fired up then you will usually do what it takes to make it run well, and if it doesn't then you should probably put it back on the shelf. 

First up I have to admit it's weird to hear people discussing an old adventure that don't know, for example, whether Against the Giants was a first or second edition adventure. It's not a tremendously important detail but it does tell me they probably picked up the game during 3rd edition and so may not get what earlier adventures were about. They may not remember that in AD&D experience points were based far more heavily on gold pieces than on monster bashing and that makes a notable difference in how adventures were written and played. I don't think that anyone who came in after they were part of the current scene can't have an opinion on them but I wish they would do some research or talk to someone who was running and playing these things back then.

The single biggest complaint I here is that "well there's not a lot of story here, it's really just a dungeon" - thus dismissing the biggest way the game was played for the first 15 or so years it was around.  Hey, guess what? We didn't need a writer to give us a story - the "story" is what happens at the table, with the players and their characters, as they go through the dungeon. Typically what they really mean here by "story" is "plot", as in there needs to be some larger plot to be uncovered and stopped for the game to have meaning. You don't need that! The whole conceit of D&D is a group of adventurers and explorers out looking for fortune and glory! You shouldn't need a world-threatening plot (as many newer adventure path type campaigns use) to justify going out on an adventure! Sure some have it and that's fine but not every adventure has to have a plot!

Maybe it's the concept of the sandbox that's been forgotten by some amidst all of the adventure path models and organized play railroads that seem to constitute a lot of what we see discussed online nowadays. The biggest ironic moment for me was when one reviewer commented that "if it's just about the combat you could just go play a computer game" to which I would reply "if it's just about the externally-determined metaplot then you could just go play a computer game.".  Most of the 1st edition and Basic adventures are as much about exploration as they are combat. Experiencing a cool environment is as valid a reason to play as following a pre-written plot.

Think of "Isle of Dread" - it's a jungle island full of dinosaurs with a ruined city at the center - do you need some additional reason to explore that? The 3E Savage Tide adventure path included it, added demons, and placed a quest object for the larger campaign in the ruined city. That's all fine and it did work in the context of the AP but in the previous 25 or so years I never had a party express dissatisfaction with the adventure in its original form. In my experience when you hand your players that mostly blank hexmap of the island at least half of the group feels a mandate to fill in the rest of it.

This ... attitude? expectation? even spills over into newer adventures - I heard the same criticism of Storm King's Thunder! There's not enough "story" connecting the different parts of the adventure! This is an adventure that has a background plot that is written out for the DM that explains why the giants are suddenly stirred up and causing trouble. The player side of this begins with multiple attacks on settlements by giants and encounters with wandering giants at a much higher rate than is normal. So the adventure demonstrates the problem in-game, it doesn't write six paragraphs of exposition for the DM to read and that is a feature, not a bug! After wandering the Savage Frontier for a time and experiencing firsthand the ongoing problems the players are pulled into the plot and from there on it's a more linear AP-type run. That means it's a large area sandbox with a lot going on plus a key to a specific "quest" that the players can jump on or the DM can drop in whenever they're ready - that's perfect!

One of the criticisms was that the players won't learn about why this is happening, only the DM knows. So let me ask somewhat ironically - do your players not talk to NPC's? There are multiple points within this adventure where people who do know what is going on are expected to be conversing with the party, not fighting them. This is exactly the kind of conversation that would happen at this point - "OK here's what's happening and if we do X, Y, and Z we can put things back together." As a DM if your player characters never learn what's going on then how are you doing your job? Heck a simple Commune/Legend Lore/Contact Higher Plane type information spell could give basic clues on what's going on if your players think to use it. These kinds of criticisms start to tell me quite a bit about the playstyle of the person raising them, from "how do you even run your games" to "did you really read the adventure?"

I think some of this kind of criticism is a cry for hooks to pull your party into a particular adventure - that's a much simpler issue to solve. I will say first that no one knows your party better than you do so you shouldn't be looking for a lot of outside help there. Most adventures, old and new, include at least a few hook ideas. If you're stuck here are the basics:

  • The Push: 
    • The king commands you to go to the Caves of Evil and make them safe for the people 
    • You have all been convicted of a crime and your only chance for clemency is to go slay the great dragon Bazamazaran
    • Your temple orders you to travel to the Tower of Menace and recover the Staff of Enlightenment 

  • The Pull:
    • The lost mines of Oria-May are know to have been a source of mithril and many magic weapons were crafted there until it was overrun ...
    • Denzor the mage built a tower a few miles outside of town and hasn't been seen in years. He was known to have a Staff of the Magi ...
    • The famous pirate Big John Platinum has a humongous treasure hoard buried on some island. Sailor Bob here has come across a map that he believes leads to it ... 
  • The Guilt Trip:
    • The village you started the campaign in is being attacked by raiders and needs your help!
    • Your NPC girlfriend has been kidnapped!
    • The merchant who handles most of your loot-dispersal has been cursed and is wasting away! Who will track down his assailant?

Once you have been playing for a while these kinds of things become second nature. Specific author-suggested ties to a particular adventure are welcome, but hardly necessary. There was also the perhaps most frequent and most honest hook:

"Hey guys I just bought "White Plume Mountain". It looks pretty cool - want to go through it this weekend?"

"Sure - what levels is it for?"

"Says 5-7"

"OK I'll bring my 6th level dwarf fighter/"

We weren't always crafting epic narratives back then - sometimes we were just playing a game. There's no reason that same thing can't happen now. 

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The Old Scarred Lands Campaign - Year 3

For 2007 the party was largely the same crew:
  • Aden Hornmantle, Human Cleric of Corean 
  • Rukan, Human Paladin of Corean 
  • Gotar, Half-Orc Fighter 
  • Simone, Human Ranger/Rogue
  • Cressa, "High Elf" Wizard 
  • Caldon Greyleaf, Spellthief  - gone
  • A new human Fighter/Rogue joins up later in the year
  • A reformed Gnoll Barbarian with  a no-doubt complicated backstory joins during the big ocean expedition

Sessions 33-38
In Amalthea two of my characters get married on the 25th day of Vangalot! The Cleric and the Ranger, after much discussion and flirting for the last few months of game time end up married while Gotar the Half-Orc fighter has become devoted to the "Elf" Wizard. Fortunately the Paladin remains commitment-free and so has a clear perspective on things.

A short time later the party heads back into the dungeon and ends up in an even bigger brawl in the Temple of Orcus (level 4, room 15 mainly if you have the adventure). At one point there are 45 skeletons on the map plus zombies, ogres, ghouls, acolytes, and priests of Orcus - it's one of the biggest fights I have ever run and epically appropriate for wrecking a major temple of the demon lord of undeath!

A short time after that the cleric is getting raised from the dead at the temple. The wizard spends 3 days "identifying" all of the loot.

Heading back they end up in some flooded levels and finding their way through another section full of purple mist. Returning from this last investigation they find that a dragon has attacked the town, part of the city is wrecked or on fire, Karnov is hurt, and Rastan the Champion (another NPC they've encountered) has set off after the wounded draconic attacker.

DM's Notes: This was another "let's break up the big dungeon crawl" side trek which involved a short travel through the wilderness to a smaller dungeon with a different theme. It also helps to remind players every once in a while that there is other stuff going on in the world.

Sessions 39-40
These two sessions were spent going through Goodman games "Temple of the Dragon Cult" which is a cool little drop-in adventure featuring cultists, some half-dragon type people, and a wounded red dragon. Our heroes triumphed, eliminated the cult, rescued a wounded Rastan the Champion, and slew the evil red dragon.

Sessions 41- 42
These two sessions are spent in training, prepping, and then traveling to the city of Mithril, a 600+ mile journey. This is mainly driven by the Cleric and Paladin as this is the center of Coreanic worship on Ghelspad. Once in Mithril the Paladin joins the Mithril Order, becoming a Knight. The Cleric joins the Gold Order, the militant religious arm of the church. Gotar the Fighter visits his father's grave in the city. They also meet up with an old friend of theirs, a swashbuckler who is in town as well - this was an old player returning to the group.

While in the city taking care of business they end up learning of a quest in search of Bloody Jack's gold, a legendary pirate hoard. Someone has discovered an old map, and, well, you know how these things go. Soon enough they are sailing the Blood Sea on the Darkmaiden's Dance.

Sessions 44-48
A sailing voyage to a lost island full of nastiness followed by a delve into a trap and monster-filled dungeon ends with a sizable treasure found. It takes quite a while to loot the place and to load that much coinage but the party is very wealthy after this adventure.

Sessions 49-51
Returning to Mithril the party has a few days to expend some of their loot and ponder their next move. Then word comes in - Ordocar Abbey, a stronghold of the Mithril Order, is under attack! Our heroes can hardly refuse a call for aid from their own allies and so the group heads north to lift the siege. They teleport directly to the front gate only to find the undead attackers have already broken through the defenses and a fight rages throughout the castle! They manage to destroy the invaders and defeat the leader, an undead fallen Paladin looking for revenge.  Though victorious, they are concerned that this may have been a diversion to allow other forces to break into the Iron Crypt, a remote underground fortress where the most evil of artifacts, things that cannot be destroyed by mortal means, are kept hidden away from the rest of the world. They resolve to investigate ...

Sessions 52-54
...and this is where it all comes crashing down.

The entrance to the crypt is guarded by two stone golems who prove to be very effective guardians and the Cleric is killed during the fight. Teleportation magic makes things easier and he is soon raised at the High Temple in Mithril and the party is ready to crack open the vault. Fighting their way through traps and undead they sense a powerful and growing evil.

Finally, while fighting in a cavern full of undead driders, Aden (the Cleric) falls. Though the party fights on, he rises again on his own but with a new look in his eyes and beckons to his wife (the Ranger). As he embraces her, she "turns" as well and now a new fight is on - an intra-party fight as those who die here rise quickly as evil undead versions of themselves. Sensing the danger, Cressa (the Wizard) dimension doors to a clear area, teleports Gotar to her side, and separates them from the battle with a wall of force. As they watch, the rest of the party falls, then rises with that new light in their eyes. Deciding that it's over she drops her disguise, revealing herself to be a dark elf, then teleports herself and her loyal follower to Dier Drendal, the city of the dark elves, to begin a new life.

DM notes
So after three years the campaign ends in while not a TPK, certainly a down moment, especially for my Paladin player. It's a nasty dungeon with traps and level-draining undead but I felt my players were up to it. I still think they were, but one part of the dungeon is basically radioactive with evil from one powerful artifact and dying in that part is a bad thing. Once the cleric was dead I took him aside and told him what was going on and he decided to have fun with it while he could - naturally his first target was his character's wife and she played it well - cautious but concerned and that led to her being drained and raised and then it got really hairy and once the wizard punched out and took her pet fighter with her it was over. 

There are still some sore spots when this ending comes up, even years later. I still feel like I handled it right. Not all stories have a happy ending, and it was not a TPK. People were playing their characters true and not in that "I'm a jerk" kind of way. Choices were made and consequences were suffered - that doesn't make it "fair" but it's how this tale turned out. I admit I was disappointed that it ended because I had a lot of plot threads hanging and more adventures to run, including a quest for the paladin to get his holy sword. 

Ah well. If at all possible I will be touching on some of the events of this campaign in my new one, which is one of the reasons I wanted to recount it. I also wanted to show how easy it is to drop in published adventures over the course of a campaign and how certain ones just seem to fit as a group develops. This was my next-to-last 3E campaign and hopefully the leftover material from it will find a new home in that new game. More to come - this time in 5th Edition!

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

The Old Scarred Lands Campaign - Year 2

Picking up where I left off here is what the party looked like during these sessions:

  • Aden Hornmantle, Human Cleric of Corean 
  • Rukan, Human Paladin of Corean 
  • Gotar, Half-Orc Fighter 
  • Simone, Human Ranger/Rogue
  • Cressa, "High Elf" Wizard 
  • Caldon Greyleaf, Spellthief (intermittent player)
By the middle of the year they were all levels 6-7.

Sessions 12-19
These were spent exploring the upper levels of the tomb and recovering in town. highlights here included:
  • Paying the town's high-level wizard Karnov the Red to use a limited wish spell to free the paladin from a cursed sword. 
  • Having the headless half-orc resurrected after one particularly tough battle
  • Fighting skeletons, zombies, cave morays,basilisks, trolls, ankhegs, and su-monsters 
  • First encounters with priests of Orcus!
After this I was concerned we might be getting into too much of a rut so while in town a new problem came to light and the party headed out to ...

Sessions 21-26
These were spent exploring the legendary White Plume Mountain. Only one of my players had been through it before and that had been some time back. The high point here was when Blackrazor took possession of the Ranger who was finally saved by the Paladin who managed to fail some saves and get possessed by the sword himself while back in town. This resulted in a a massive chase all over town by the whole party. He was eventually captured and freed from the sword which was then hurriedly deposited in the temple of Corean for safekeeping. They still  bring this up today so I must have done something right.

Sessions 28-32
After the Mountain experience - or the Blackrazor experience as they would no doubt call it - it was time to dig back into the Tomb of Abysthor. This is where they dug into level 4 and got into a big battle with ogre guards and cultists of Orcus. Afterwards they had the Half-Orc raised again and decided they might need some help. This led to the cleric getting more involved with the Temple of Corean, the wizard joining the Mages Guild, the Ranger finding a new pet, and the fighter & paladin buckling down and beefing up their gear. 

Further Thoughts on 2006
This whole year's worth of the campaign was spent based out of Amalthea and traveling to two different dungeons. There was a lot of action but there was also a lot of intra-party roleplaying and character development. There were certain NPC's that made regular appearances and were much liked (or dis-liked) but the bulk of the fun stuff really happened within the party. In-world holidays were celebrated, characters died and came back, NPCs were mocked, and we had a blast.


Thursday, November 23, 2017

Friday, November 17, 2017

40K Friday - Army Updates: Chaos & Xenos

They've added Guard, Mechanicus, Eldar, and Tyranids since this picture was taken, with Dark Angels and Blood Angels on the way by the end of the year and Chaos Daemons coming in January!

So it's been busy on the 40k front. Really busy.

Iron Warriors

I've fought multiple battles with these guys, mostly losing against Blaster's Space Wolves until I took a heavy tank army - 3 Predators and 3 Vindicators at the core - and blew away his new Thunderwolves. I am happy with how they are developing and there's really not much "new" I need for them - it's mainly a matter of finishing up what I already have.

  • The tank army is a lot of fun
  • The core of big CSM squads in rhinos is also fun
  • The core of 5-man CSM squads with heavy bolters gets the all-important Battalion at a fairly low cost and opens up a lot of options.
  • I have grudgingly integrated the popular 3-squads of cultists as an option as well They're not marines but they are cheap enough to open up a ton of options for the rest of the force. 

World Eaters

Acquisitions are largely completed here as well and most of the army is built - they just need paint. It's pretty much the same force as I described here. The second half of the theoretical 2000 points is a trio of 5 man CSM squads with lascannons to both get me an additional battalion for the 3 CP's and to get some lascannons into the army. The HQ is usually a daemon prince and a chaos lord. I have some other options here I am still fitting in to the force - a defiler, a helbrute or two, a second daemon prince, a melee cultist squad, a lascannon predator - it's good to have options but I need to get in some more games to really nail it down.  I've thought about adding one (or three) land raiders as an option too. The good thing is that with 2 battalions + a Spearhead or a Vanguard I end up with 10 CP's.

Death Guard

 I figured out recently that I can fit 3 battalion's into this one for just under 2000 points. now it ends up being 3 cultists squads, six plague marine squads, the requisite HQ's and not much else, but it does fit.  It lacks speed - I mean it really lacks speed - so I probably won't keep it as the final form but it was a fun exercise. This is another force that's already acquired, build, and even roughly half painted. The only thing I may add here is Typhus and some Poxwalkers, as I do not own any of either of those.

Between those 3 armies I am at roughly 11,000 points of chaos marines a bunch of which is finished. I don't see it going over about 12,000 because while I do like them I also do have other armies I like to play.

Chaos Daemons

I'm just lumping these in to one bunch. I have quite a few, plenty to use as reinforcements for the Chaos Space Marines if I want to go that route. I'm holding off doing anything more with them until the codex drops. That's partly because of the potential for change, and partly because I need to focus on finishing said CSM's.  I still like them and they are a very different army to play from a marine army - I just need to put things in some kind of order.


Well the good thing is that after finishing up all of that stuff last year I don't really need to do a whole lot here for the new codex.

  • I picked up a nice Maugan Ra to lead my 3 squads of Dark Reapers
  • I picked up a nice Asurmen to lead my 3 squads of Dire Avengers
  • I added a small bike unit (3 bikes + warlock on a bike) to add some mobility 
  • I also added a squad of warp spiders for the same reason
  • I added a Hemlock too because it's a wraith fighter and I'm playing Iyanden!
  • I need to finish some of my Wave Serpents
  • I need to paint up some guardians to take advantage of the webway strike stratagem.
  • I need to paint up my Avatar to lead them!

Dark Eldar

I added quite a bit to these guys but I've only played them twice in 8th. They're not really a coherent force yet as I'm still figuring out how I want to play them but they have been fun.

  • Leaders are an Archon, a Succubus, and a Haemonculus
  • Troops are a bunch of Kabalite Warriors
  • Fast attack is 2-3 squads of Scourges and a squad of Hellions
  • Mean stuff is a unit of Grotesques and some clawed fiends
  • Flying boats: 3 raiders and a ravager


Next year's army! I did pick up a Gorkanaut for them. But seriously - next year's army!

Next time  - the Imperial side of things!

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Marvel Heroes Shutdown

Well November was already not a great month for superhero MMO games and now it looks like the current Marvel game is going away. It wasn't a traditional RPG, it was a Diablo type game but it was a lot of fun regardless. Here's an article with the details.

It came along in 2013 and I dabbled in it some and then eventually I became a "burst" player - I would jump in and play it a lot for a month or three then let it go for a while. That let me run a fair number of characters up to the level cap of 60 as I would pick a new one every time I rejoined to re-familiarize myself with the game.

While Iron Man was still "me" in game I probably had the most fun with Hulk, running through "Monday Midtown Madness" jumping up and down like a madman with a screen full of enemies and smashing everything in sight. It was very theraputic.

The premise was multiple universes spilling over on top of each other which explained why you could see multiples of the same hero running around at the same time. yes, it was a videogame but somehow it all made comic-book sense.

Those frost giants don't stand a chance against TRIPLE CAPTAIN AMERICA!
The game is still up as I write this so if you have an interest in grabbing some screenshots of your own that is still possible.

That said the door is closing. Ah well. Hopefully something new and cool comes our way down the road.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Gaming Minutia - Playing Surfaces

One of the practical considerations when running a tabletop RPG is "do we need a map?"

I've run superhero games where we really didn't use anything to keep track of where people and things were because it was easier to keep them in our heads. We might have miniatures to represent our heroes and some for the badguys, but that's mainly to keep up with who is where in a general sense - character A is at the bank robbery, character B is at the big fire, and character C is at the city jail.

For most D&D type games though, the answer is yes. People moving and fighting in confined spaces means it's often good for everyone to know just where everyone is.

For those, for a very long time, the solution has been the good old Chessex mat - erasable, flexible, portable.I have 3 of them and they are the standard by which I judge other solutions. I've played every edition of D&D on them at some point, along with Pathfinder, Champions, GURPS, Star Wars, Deadlands, and a bunch of other stuff that was popular in the 80's & 90's.

When I was looking at starting a new D&D game with a new edition of the rules I decided to try something newer so I got this:

It's a Hexers RPG board (you can find them on Amazon) and along with a set of multicolor dry erase markers it makes for a nice change from the more limited palette of my wet erase markers. It's a fold-up hard board and has hexes on the other side so it's useful for a variety of games.

Now I thought that having a white background would be more like drawing things out on paper but in practice I find that's too bright for D&D type games. I'm so used to the parchment colored background of the chessex mat that the bright clean white with bold black lines looks too high tech in some weird way. For modern, sci-fi, or superheroes I think it will be fine but for D&D it really throws me off.

It's also smaller than my chessex mat so I feel a little constrained when the party goes exploring.The heavy borders make it hard to join up with another map too.

A possible middle ground is the new item from WOTC:

 This is the "D&D Adventure Grid" and it's also reversible, though in a different way:

With a green grassy-looking background on one side and a grey stone look on the other it's pretty versatile as long as all you need is a square grid. Also note: no border so we could add on additional boards though the edge squares are not full squares. I'm thinking about getting one or two more and maybe cutting one of them into sections to add even more flexibility. I really like this one and I'll be trying it out this weekend for the first time.

Now I am not generally a fan of dungeon tiles but there is one set where I make an exception:

These are from the Star Wars Galaxy Tiles that WOTC published when they were doing Star Wars d20, I have 2 or 3 sets of them.

My problem with Dungeon Tiles in general is that while they are handy for those dungeon passageways we all know and love they tend to cripple creativity when it comes to rooms and details in general. I find people start defining towns and dungeons by what pieces they have which is as bad a case of the tail wagging the dog as I can think of. If I am running a published adventure I can guarantee that there will be at least a few things I cannot recreate with tiles and I hate having to intermix printed tiles with hand-drawn paper or mats.

The reason I like the Star Wars tiles is that the universe has a fairly specific look to it, particularly Imperial facillities, and the tiles enhance that by presenting that same look. No, I would not use them for a battle in a desert canyon on Tattooine (I'd use the Chessex mat!), or the forests of Endor (I'd use the green map above) or Hoth (I'd use the white one above!) but for ship interiors, and Imperial base interiors - something that tends to come up quite a bit in a Star Wars campaign - they are really handy and so avoid those issue I have with tiles in general.

What about Dwarven Forge? - just a more expensive version of tiles to me. I already have a fair amount of miniature terrain for actual miniatures games and when it fits I use it - see above. I am not looking to spend much more on what are in the end miniatures-optional games.

There are also poster maps and flip-mats and they do have their uses. I have a ton of poster maps from my 4E adventures and some of them I have used a dozen times while others I have never used at all. They're sort of like bigger dungeon tiles - useful when they fit but not something to tie yourself to. The Paizo flip-mats tend to be more broadly useful but since they are a standalone purchase I have far fewer of them.

What about the monitor-as-tabletop option? One of these days. I feel that you have to build your table around the whole thing and I am not really looking to undertake that challenge just yet. There are so many maps available in electronic format that it makes a lot of sense.

For now though, I have yet to find anything that is as flexible as the tried and true pens-and-a-drawing-surface approach that we've been using for decades. That said, it's good to have options.