Monday, July 15, 2024

Tales of the Valiant - a Look at the Rules


I've talked about the setting for the new campaign but today let's talk about the rules. It's been a while since I've run a traditional fantasy RPG and with the 50th anniversary of D&D this year and a bunch of new D&D type games coming out I figured it was time to do that for our next campaign. The crew agreed. I pitched them a few ideas and we ended up with ToEE/Greyhawk/Tales of the Valiant. 

Why ToV? Well, my guys have played a lot of 5th edition over the years and some of them are burned out on standard 5E. There are several alternate 5E's out or coming out now - MCDM, DC20, ToV, and some others I am forgetting. ToV is still close to 5th but different enough it feels like a revised edition of the existing game in a lot of ways. I wasn't looking to break compatibility as I have a fair amount of material for 5th that I want to run and I don't really want to convert it all to a completely new system. So once the Kickstarter books arrived I had read through them and realized it was a great fit for a prospective 5E revival retaining that compatibility while still feeling like something new. 

How about some specifics on the changes:

  • Race is split into "Lineage" and "Heritage". Basically one is nature and one is nurture. This lets players get creative with their backstory and lets them mix some mechanical options in new ways. Say you're putting together a half-elf character - now you could choose an elf lineage with a human heritage - or the reverse. I had someone play a half-orc once that the other half was supposed to be elf. With this approach he could have actually chose the parts that might have fit that better than the traditional half-orc racial features. It's not a tremendous change once you ar e playing the game but it is one more way to customize a character.
  • Additional note: race no longer gives an ability score modifier. Lineage covers some physical traits like darkvision and then heritage gives some things like a choice of skill proficiencies but no more +1 Dex or +2 Con etc.
  • Backgrounds are similar to 5E and fill the same role  - Lineage, Heritage, and Background pretty much sketch out your backstory - but every background grants a Talent, the ToV version of a Feat. Most of a character's Talents will come with the "Improvement" granted every 4 levels where you can choose an ability score boost or a Talent but those are gated by your class choice - more on that below - so this is a rare chance to pick up a Talent outside the usual type for your class. It is a short list of specific Talents, not just choose one from a category, but it makes the background more important mechanically.
  • Talents are divided into Martial, Magical, and Technical. Most classes can only pick from one of those categories as they level up - Rangers and Mechanists get to pick from Martial and Technical - so that background option, or the Human Lineage bonus of being able to pick any Talent, could be important. Say you're a more fighty type of cleric and you see a Martial Talent that you like - the only way to take it is by being human or by taking a background like Soldier if it's on that list. So while it's not wide open there is some flexibility there.
  • The "Improvement" every 4 levels has some options: +2 to one ability, +1 to two abilities, or +1 to one ability and choose one Talent. I suspect that last one will be extremely popular. 
  • The classes are generally similar to the 5th Edition classes but there are tweaks to the levelling progression - mainly no dead levels. The sub-class levels are unified across all classes at 3-7-11-15. This does break compatibility with prior 5E classes & subclass options but it does open up the interesting possibility of a subclass that's not tied to a particular class. There are none in the main book and I'm not sure what that would look like but it would be an option now that we did not have before. Classes and subclasses in particular are another obvious direction for future expansion - especially for Kobold Press.
  • There is also a standard cross-class feature at 10th called the Heroic Boon and at 20th called the Epic Boon. Right now for 10th at least there are usually a couple of choices for each class that set the tone for how you want to play that class. For example the Ranger has an option to make their fighting via their Mystic Mark class feature better -or- to improve their spellcasting options with more cantrips and rituals. There is only one option for the Epic Boons per class right now but this is another obvious area for future expansion and since they are all at the same level, and presumably of comparable power levels, this is another area where you could have cross-class "boons" to cover some unusual  concepts. 

  • One big question: Did they fix the Ranger? Declared the "worst" class in 5E from very early on this tends to be an area of focus whenever 5E's weaknesses are discussed or whenever someone starts talking about new classes. So did they? I don't know. It looks better to me on paper but we all know how that can go. I do have one in the party though so i will be watching.
  • Spellcasting has a lot of holdovers from 5th but there are some tweaks. You have the usual cantrips for at-will stuff, regular spells as we all know and love, and then Rituals which are the extended casting time operations like Identify, Animate Dead, and Find Familiar but they are broken out into a separate category so they do not interfere with either your cnatrips or your regular spells. This should help make Rituals a more useful and common thing in the game than I have seen previously.
  • The other big spellcasting change is that there are no class-specific spell lists - there are 4 big lists (similar to Pathfinder): Arcane, Divine, Primordial, and Wyrd. This means Wizards and Bards, both Arcane, are casting from the same spell list so yes, Bards can cast Fireball.  Clerics and Paladins use Divine, Rangers and Druids use Primordial, and for now only Warlocks use Wyrd. 
  • Class-wise one other item of interest is the new class - the Mechanist. I keep seeing this one mentioned as ToV's Artificer and while it may fulfill a similar role it works quite a bit differently as it is not a spellcaster. The class abilities are tied up in various devices it can build and enhance but it has specific features to do this - it's not coming from a spell list. So it is not exactly the same thing - it just looks like it on the surface. I will have one in the party for this campaign so we will see it in action right from the start.

One of the more notable game changes is Luck. This is a replacement for Inspiration which if your experience was similar to mine was easily and often overlooked or forgotten in the heat of play. Coming from a long Savage Worlds campaign I do like the idea of some player Fate point/Force point/Bennie mechanics in D&D and this looks a lot better than Inspiration.
  • Everyone starts with 0 luck
  • If you miss an attack roll you gain 1 luck
  • If you fail a saving throw you gain 1 luck
  • The DM can award a point of luck for all of the usual reasons
  • You can never have more than 5 luck and if you end up going over you immediately roll a d4 and now have that much luck instead
  • After you make a check you can spend 1 luck to add +1 to the roll - up to as much as you have
  • After you make a check you can also spend 3 luck to re-roll the d20.
  • You can't create a nat 20 or offset a nat 1with luck
This is a really smart mechanic. It's easily understood and easily flows in and out during actual play and puts a lot of the responsibility for keeping up with it on the players instead of being solely on the DM. I like everything about this one and I would bet that this is the single most "stolen" thing in this book for use in regular 5E games. 

There are also Downtime rules in the Player's Guide. This is another nice addition that gives a mechanical framework and some firm options for doing something active between adventures. I'm planning to use it as a filler for players who miss a session. Characters can make some money, do spell research, and make contacts, among other things, using this system. 

Overall I'm looking forward to trying this set of rules out. That should happen this coming weekend and I will definitely be discussing it afterwards.

Friday, July 12, 2024

40K Friday - Not a lot of 40K - It's mainly about D&D Mini's this week

 Not playing much 40K here right now so while I'm doing a little work here and there on the Tyranids, Orks, and Fists I am mostly sitting out the Pariah Nexus stuff for now. It may change but it's not like I don't have a backlog and other things to focus on as well.

Among both of those things are several Age of Sigmar armies and I do have some interest in getting the new rulebook but for now I will likely just use the free download edition starter packs if we get a chance to play. No strong opinions on it yet other than realizing I have too damn many armies for a game I play rarely these days. Ah well ... I at least figured a fast painting scheme that I like and think will work for the pile of Stormcasts I've built up. More on that down the road.

The main focus this week though has been D&D miniatures - mainly miniatures for the upcoming campaign.  It's weird how a lifetime of picking up miniatures for the game leaves some surprising gaps when I stop to take inventory. Some things that are fairly common D&D monsters - like Bugbears - turn out to be completely absent from my collection while I have 5+ Kenku of all things which I might have used once in the last 20 years.

Yeah like these

Back in the early days the main focus for a lot of us was getting some decent miniatures for our own characters and ones our friends might use too. The monsters were a secondary concern. I had a few, as did most of my friends, but they were rarely enough to run a full encounter. The monster stuff really took off when the plastic D&D miniatures came out around 2000 with the launch of 3E because they were numerous and fairly cheap with the bonus of being pre-painted so they didn't add to whatever backlog some of us might have had. WOTC has kept these things going through several generations now and Pathfinder has their own line as well and it is truly a glorious time for building up a stable of monsters for your fantasy game. 

Regardless of the picture up top I am pretty well stocked with elementals - those things turn up all the time as either opponents or summoned allies - so I am doing pretty well there. But there are some blind spots like the bugbears - also hobgoblins and human guard/soldier types. I often use my Warhammer minis in my RPG's (so never needed official D&D Orks) so my Chaos Marauders and Chaos Warriors appear regularly on the battlemat, my Daemons show up as needed,  and my Beastmen are what I use for Gnolls but sometimes you want a different look.  So I've been doing a lot of specific searches for the things that appear in the ToEE to try and fill out the missing elements - heh.

I did this a few years ago when I started running Odyssey of the Dragonlords and I realized I was missing a lot of the creatures from Greek Mythology so I went on a sustained acquisition campaign to pick up enough of everything to run the adventure. It was very satisfying to pull out whatever I needed for the campaign

For our Deadlands campaign I already have a pile of Deadlands and general old west miniatures from previous runs so I didn't really need anything else and for the weird stuff I tend to draw on the D&D and Warhammer miniature files anyway. Pretty sure I used ogres, lizardmen, flesh hounds, a skeletal dragon and a bloodthirster during that game - but I didn't need anything new. 

With MechWarrior I did buy some new mech miniatures but some of that was just getting into the new style plastic stuff. I did lay some groundwork for future battles but I didn't actually need anything new to run the game.

Then we get to the new Temple campaign ... 

I'm going through the Moathouse and the ruins of  the Temple and the various wandering encounters and I'm just stunned at how much of this stuff I do not have. I've been doing this for over 40 years and I don't have bugbears?! I just ran Keep on the Borderlands 5 years ago and there's a whole lair full of them - what did I use? Probably beastmen, but still - I should really be able to run the Keep at least with no missing units. So I resolved to fix that this time - pick up enough of whatever to run all of the encounters without having to get too crazy with substitutions. 

He's waiting to get some time on the table ...

I've made a lot of progress but I am not there yet. The gaps are still weird, like Gargoyles - how do I not have gargoyles? I think every 80's module TSR published had at least one gargoyle in it but somehow I never grabbed one. Now, oh look - here's a room with twelve of them waiting to defend the area ... great.  I'm thinking my old Dark Elf harpies may have to assist there because I can't see needing that many gargoyles for anything else, ever. 

So anyway - tips for anyone else who's thinking about this kind of thing:

  • eBay is the go-to here for specific individual miniatures, especially the ones coming out of the random box thing like D&D minis tend to be sold. There are separate stores online that do this too but eBay will let you compare prices across multiple sellers.
  • If you need a lot of something look at fantasy army stuff like Warhammer, Age of Sigmar, Kings of War, etc. if you need 20 Orcs it's likely going to be cheaper to pick up a regiment that way than buying D&D ones though you may have to decide how important a paint job is to you.
  • Individual big monsters are worth a look like this also - dragons, giants, demons, chimeras, hydras - these get a lot of use in miniature wargames too. There are whole units of minotaurs in the various Warhammer games for example - you might a better deal on 3 or 6 that way if you need a few.
  • Buying multiples makes the shipping very reasonable so if you know you need, say, 3 harpies, 5 satyrs, 5 centaurs, a hydra, and some giant scorpions it's worth tracking down a single seller that can cover as much of that as possible. That's an important trick to making this more economically reasonable.
  • So if you get 3-4-5 of something odds are they will be identical - how do you tell them apart? Well, on traditional miniatures I paint them differently. On the pre-painted stuff I do this:

    You can pick up these colored dot stickers at an office supply store or on Amazon. They are not expensive and you just use the color to distinguish them - "47 points of damage to green and a Dex save or he's prone" - that kind of thing. 
One final note on storing these things once you have acquired them: the fancy hand-painted fragile stuff goes into the display case or a padded Chessex type case but the pre-painted ones go into a more utilitarian home:

The minis are pretty durable so utility drawers + a label-maker and you have decent enough storage that can be brought out of a closet whenever you need it. I have this kind of setup for the plastic Star Wars miniatures and one for my old west stuff as well and it has worked fine for me for years.  

So there's a bunch of mini talk that is -not- tied to 40K for a change!

Next week: let's talk about the rules.

Wednesday, July 10, 2024

Valiant Swords of Greyhawk - Setting Details


Well the setting is obviously Greyhawk but it was not automatic. I considered running it in the Forgotten Realms - mainly because it's pretty familiar to my group (and to everyone else right?) - but ToEE is one of the definitive Greyhawk adventures where the locations and the gods and many other elements of the thing are just tied to that world and are not really generic. Sure, it's possible to relocate it - I've done it - but this just feels like the right move. 

The unfamiliarity with Greyhawk is now a plus as well. With my guys being somewhat burned out on 5th edition D&D changing up the system to some degree and also changing the setting to one they haven't seen in a long time (or ever for some) will freshen things up as well. My first 3rd Edition campaign was set in Greyhawk 23 or so years ago and part of that campaign was Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil which ended in a memorable TPK that still comes up in conversation today. After switching to a different setting for a while that group eventually came back to Greyhawk with a new party because they wanted to finish the adventure. They didn't, but we had some memorable moments there too. Three of my players from those campaigns are still with me for this game so I expect a lot of callbacks to those days and hey, even some of the NPCs from back then might show up.

The other issue here - strictly my own issue - is when to set this thing. When I was running Greyhawk back in 2nd Edition I decided to set all of my games in the same timeline and I retroactively decided the C.Y. 576 date in the original folio was effectively 1976 in the real world and just advanced things year for year with the real world calendar. So all of our games in the 80's were in the 580s and then my 2E games in the 90's were in the 590's and I kept that going with the 3E stuff as well so my own Return to the Temple was in 601 and later in my Greyhawk. This wrecks the official continuity of course with the Wars and From the Ashes etc. but I don't really care about maintaining a sacred canon timeline anyway - it's  MY setting and my players' setting, and we will do with it as we please in our own games. 

The only time this really causes consternation is when we replay a particular adventure or as in this case when we played a sequel 20 years before we played through the original. I'm partly inclined to reset the whole thing back to say 574 and keep it in time with the current year all over again. That said though, since I have some of the same players, I'm also inclined to keep it going and just say the history of the original temple's destruction still applies, then the Return decades later, and now a revival of the original still more decades later. I'm still thinking it over and it doesn't really impact our actual play but I will eventually make a call here.

Within Greyhawk the location of Hommlet and the temple are well documented but I'm looking to add some more details to the area - like side adventures. 

  • I'm thinking B1 (which I also have the Goodman Games version of and have not run) would be a nice drop-in.
  • I may convert the old Haunted Keep and drop it in somewhere as well using the Dragonsfoot expansion as a base. 
  • If the need arises I could use Sunless Citadel. I should say re-use as that was part of that original 3E campaign back when.
  • Forge of Fury would also be a decent option if I need something interesting beyond starting level.
  • Some of the One-Page Dungeon entries should be handy as well for short expeditions. 
  • Who knows, maybe the old DMG Monastery will even make an appearance! I ran it as "Dungeon of the Fire Opal" from an issue of Dungeon I believe - this was also back in 3E. A few tweaks and I don't think my veterans will recognize it.
I think lower level stuff will be more useful early in the campaign as I expect that the group will focus in on the temple proper as they dig in and as their characters become more durable.

Early on in this exercise I was also thinking I would love to find a way to work in the Saltmarsh series as well but I think it's too far away and best kept as a potential side campaign if the need arises. That way characters could cross over if wanted but it wouldn't be an assumed part of the game. If we need an extended side expedition because people are going to miss or if they get tired of dungeon delving the whole sailing the Azure Sea angle would make for a nice break and they could stay with it through similar levels or break off and head up to Hommlet and the temple if they wanted to later. I like to have some contingency plans in mind as it makes it easier to lay down some connections just in case. 

Long term the goal is to run through the entire ToEE - hopefully without a TPK this time - and then journey forth to go Against the Giants. Then of course the dream is to investigate the Drow and their spider-queen, possibly with an Expedition to the Barrier Peaks along the way. It's a lot to pack in to one campaign and it's a heavy diet of classic adventures but I know they will be a blast - so why not aim high?

More to come for sure. 

Tuesday, July 9, 2024

Valiant Swords of Greyhawk - Session Zero


Feels like it's official now.

So we had a little get-together last weekend and talked through the new campaign and enough details that it effectively turned into a session zero for the game. Decisions that we made (taken from the summary email I sent out afterwards):

- Point Buy for stats
My group is not terribly concerned with balance between PC's but this was the one option everyone could agree on. It should be fine.

- No alignment (other than for your own thoughts on your character). It's not mechanically present in ToV anyway so it doesn't hurt anything game-wise.
In general I am not in favor or pulling alignment out of D&D type games as I think it's one of the building blocks of the genre but this system does not include it so it's not really a mechanical issue. We opted to leave it as an optional shorthand for describing things - because 40+ years of habit will not go away quickly  - but we're OK not having mechanics for it. How very modern of us.

- Replacement characters if you die will be same level min XP. So if you're a 5th level character with 10,000 XP and you die then your replacement PC is 5th level with 6500. 
A lot of my more recent games - mainly Savage Worlds -  have taken the very modern (soft) approach of handing out XP every session and keeping all characters at the same number regardless of attendance and keeping your XP total if your character dies. This simplifies things for the party and for the DM  but I wanted to incorporate some old school approaches this time and to change up the XP awards I had to loosen up the "dead character" policy a little.

- We will use a "get out of the dungeon by the end of the session" rule. There is a %chance to get out if we don't actually RP it and if you fail t he roll there is a table for things that could happen to your character. I will modify the one we looked over last night to take out the off-screen death result.
This is something that's been around for a while on various blogs like The Alexandrian and Jeffs Gameblog but I've never actually tried it out myself. The idea is to provide a strong incentive to get your characters out of the dungeon by the end of a session. This is another piece of "restructuring" how we play. We run almost every week but not everyone is going to make it to every session. If you stop in the middle of a fight or 3 levels down in the dungeon and then the mix of players is different for the next session you have some re-working to do. In the past we just handwaved things but this is not always satisfying and in the Battletech game I was running it could really change up the situation. For this campaign I would like to start every session "back in town" so that the group can go in whatever direction they want each time. I did agree to change any lethal results - likely to a "captured" type entry - as no one wants their character to die offscreen to a random roll. My guys like to get their characters killed by their own decisions! This also enables some other changes discussed below.

- Using this approach lets us start every session fresh regardless of who was there last time or who is there this time. I think this will be easier to manage. This also means we won't be doing automatic XP every session. We may get some level differences in the party but I don't think that will be a big problem. Characters who aren't there can use the Downtime system to try and accomplish something even if they aren't fighting evil that week. There might be some timing issues there but we will work through them. We will also look at Downtime if I have to cancel a session.
Individual XP! If you don't play you don't level! Having an actual Downtime system gives those PC's something to do when they miss but it's not an automatic XP boost.

- The backup game will be side quests in this same game. If we only have 3 people, say, then instead of diving into the Temple you might want to investigate rumors of a bandit camp or a haunted cave nearby - something that might not need the full resources of the entire group but could still be fun. This might also lead to making a few side characters back at 1st level as the party levels up.
We've had fun with various backup games, often ICONS or Marvel Heroic, but by going with this "out of the dungeon" approach then even a small group could go out and accomplish something within the same game - so we likely won't need a backup game. I love being able to change things up but it is a huge pain as the DM to find out the day before - or the day of - the game that we are too short to continue the main campaign and I need to switch out to another game. I mean, I've done it, but it makes for more work and less fun going in. This approach may not solve everything but I want to try it out and see.

- Henchman & hirelings are also a thing in this campaign. In old school D&D you could pay for "hirelings" to join your crew and you could also acquire "henchmen" which were more like friends & allies and were limited by your charisma stat. This is an old school adventure so there are people in Hommlett and in other places that may be willing to join you for a share of the loot or sheer gratitude in some cases. It's something to think about, especially for those nights when we have lower turnout.
This was just a reminder that these are a thing and are very present in this adventure (Temple of Elemental Evil). We talked about it a little bit and this could also help with how those sessions go when we are short on players as well. Another old school piece that can help alter the feel of the game. I remember many sessions back when that involved hirelings, sidekicks, war dogs, horses, and mules and I'm going to try and push them in that direction a bit.

- In general if there's something we need that's not in a ToV book yet (like hirelings etc.) we will fall back on the 5E DMG etc.
Just establishing the precedent here. We are keeping strictly to Tales of the Valiant for character options but as the DM if there's a number or a system I need I will go to the 5E book until the ToV book arrives sometime in August.

Characters so far:

Grognard Mike: Bard
Battletech Terry: Ranger
Paladin Steve: ?
Boom-Gun Brandon: Fighter
Shootist Will: Mechanist 
Variable Dave: Cleric (War)

Former Apprentice Blaster and Next-Gen Patty were not at the session and have yet to chime in. Mike had multiple character concepts ready to go while Steve was all over the place - maybe a Paladin? Maybe a Rogue? Who knows? I suspect he will end up going Paladin though.

It's an interesting mix - no wizard so far, just a Bard on the Arcane side of things. Mechanist is ToV's crafter type class and it's not exactly an Artificer as it does not cast spells - it makes gadgets that have some magical power but does not have a spell list. It does look interesting and we will see where Will takes it. 

So that's where we stand right now. It will be a few weeks before we start playing as half my players run the annual convention they are involved in but there will still be some chatter and obviously there are some more character decisions to make. I expect those to be settled before session 1. I will also be setting up an Obsidian Portal page for this campaign and I will link it here too.

Saturday, June 29, 2024

Campaign Decisions - The Next Game is ...


So, after poring through multiple older school and newer school rulebooks - the ones I mentioned here, mostly - I ended up deciding to run this campaign using Tales of the Valiant. I think this is the best mix of the new and the familiar for my crew - just enough new to make it interesting without having to learn an entirely new system. Most of those other systems I checked - like 13th Age, Level Up, PF2E - are all candidates for something down the road but this is the plan for now. ToV is probably 75% 5th Edition so it's easy enough to fall back to those rules if I encounter a gap and feel the need but I don't really see that being a problem.

On the setting side I decided on ye olde Temple of Elemental Evil, set in Greyhawk, pretty much following the original setup. I'll be using the Goodman Games 5E adaptation as the main document but I will play around with using the ToV Monsters where they are relevant. 

My players are excited and already looking at character options  even though the start for the campaign is a month away. I've warned them that even though it's a 5E version the caretakers at GG did not go through and rebalance the encounters - if there were 12 Ogres in a room on the second dungeon level in the original then they are still there now - just with updated stats. We played through Goodman's B2 and X1 a few years ago so they know it will be different than a modern WOTC adventure. This should balance out to some degree as I have 8 players and even if they don't all show for every session odds are I will have at least 6 most of the time. 

I am excited too - I haven't run Greyhawk in quite a while and I last ran the Temple in 4th edition - hard to believe that was 13 years ago - and I am looking forward to re-introducing the world and the adventure both. Greyhawk was the setting for a lot of my 3rd edition games - including a lot of time spent with Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil - and at least 3 of my current players were around for those days. 

So there's the new thing for us. I'll be posting more about here as I prepare and as we get going.

Friday, June 21, 2024

40K Friday: Balance Dataslate and Thinking About Age of Sigmar


The new balance document is out as is the new points update. There are a ton of changes there  - except for Tau for some reason. I'm playing a lot less 40K these days so I find myself caring less about these kinds of adjustments and getting more annoyed when they have to make major changes to army books that were released just a month or two back (orks) and make dramatic changes to how things such as universal stratagems work. I'm much more a fan of start adjusting points first, possibly for multiple rounds, then if you still have a problem you start adjusting the rules mechanics. With this edition it seems like it takes forever and is heavy-handed when it does come through.

Age of Sigmar is getting a new edition in a few weeks and I will probably check it out as a I have several very-low-mileage Sigmar armies floating around. I'm not sure how hard I'm going to dive into this one as interest has been low here in general. They do seem to be changing up quite a bit of the mechanical side of the game so it should be an interesting read at least. That said the starter box is looking mighty pricey and considering I have no interest in a Skaven army I may be buying just the book this time. We will see.

Friday, June 14, 2024

40K Friday - A Complete Lack of Focus

 Besides the Orks that I mentioned last time a few other armies have crept on the painting table. Fortunately I have two! One of them is covered with Orks (still) while the other is a bit of a grab bag right now with Blood Angels, Tyranids, Crimson Fists, and World Eaters piling up in various stages of "painted" as I try to get a unit here and a unit there done regardless of army. 

The whole 'Nid army is still a work in progress. It's supposed to be my Official New Army for 10th Edition and I've made decent progress but it is not complete. Most of it is Leviathan set stuff + some big monsters + genestealers and I have spent most of my efforts on building and basecoating the big monsters part but the 'stealers are pretty much there as well. Playable, certainly, but not "finished" at all. Work will continue for a while but "finished in 2024" is still possible.

The Crimson Fists are a perpetual project and as long as new marine stuff is being made they will never be completed. I realized I never actually built intercessors for them so getting more Primaris units into the mix for my core marine army has been another effort this year. This is very much a unit here, unit there, kind of effort not a mass upgrade or rebuild.

The Blood Angels ... it's not that I deliberately start a big upgrade program with them but sometimes I run across a painted unit that would fit my army well so i kind of have to get it. Then it goes into the rebasing queue to make it match the rest of the force and, well, it does add to the backlog somewhat. I have been holding to a new standard though - avoid the "almost done" state. If something comes in and all it needs is for me to touch it up, redo the base, and clearcoat it, then it moves to the front of the line. So after the bikes earlier this year there are now some assault squads and a redemptor making their way through the process. These will be off the painting table and in the cabinet soon - and hopefully on the game table sometime soon after that.

The World Eaters have been a work in progress for some time now. I have managed to paint a lot of them - talking about berzerkers here - but they are not quite finished so they are still lingering around the table. I need to take a weekend and focus in on them to push them over the finish line but it hasn't happened yet. Soon!

So that's where things stand for now. In addition to these the Custodes codex came out but I managed to resist adding anything new. The Tau codex came out as well and ... I did not. More on that later.

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Figuring Out the Next game - the Not-Fantasy Options


Despite it's length yesterday's post did not cover all of the possible games I might run. Indecision is a harsh mistress. The other leading contenders:

  • TORG Eternity - I finally picked this one up and I see a lot of potential. I'll post some kind of review soon but I think my crew could have fun with it. Doing a tryout in July before a big run afterwards makes a lot of sense with a new and different system - it uses even more cards now - so it does fit into the available windows. I need to read more of the supporting material and figure out what kind of campaign I want to run but something in the Nile Empire has always been attractive and some kind of Land of the Lost weirdness in North America looks pretty good too.
  • Savage Worlds Rifts - this one is always on the list but I think we're still letting Savage Worlds settle a bit before we dive back into it. Ideas are not a problem it's just committing to what I know will be a long campaign that brings a bit of reluctance. I know my players want to play it but they've also said let's wait a bit on another Savage Worlds game. And no, I'm not dusting off original flavor Rifts. 
  • Wrath & Glory the 40K RPG - There is potential but it is a very specific universe and needs a certain mindset to enjoy and I'm not sure my players really want to dive into that. With the new Xenos book in my hands the possibilities are certainly bubbling and I think I would lean towards "Inquisitor's Helpers" as far as structure and just use the published setting of the Gilead system to send them all over it on some kind of Rod of Seven parts type quest to give them a reason to explore and encounter different factions and locations. I have some vague ideas on an RPG campaign set on Armageddon in the aftermath of the first ork invasion but I'd like to get to know the system first.

  • Shadowrun - I want to run this for these guys one day but I'm not sure I'm feeling it right now. I spent some time reading through SR4th edition and that is one dense book. I still love the setting and usually like the rules but I would need to make sure my guys are interested as much as I am in working through all that. My comfort zone would be to start back with 2nd or 3rd edition - and probably in 2050 - but that's something I don't need to decide when it's a "maybe". I'd still start it as a pretty typical shadowrunning campaign set in Seattle to get the proper atmosphere established since most of them have never played it but there would be plenty of room to go off track after that. 

  • Post-Apocalyptic - There are some games here that I want to run someday but I'm not sure I want to run them now. The most recent Twilight 2000, some version of Gamma World, Crawling Under a Broken Moon's Umerican Survival Guide, Hell on Earth, Mutant Crawl Classics ... I know all of these would be fun but I'm thinking of them as more short term games rather than the big one and I'm probably not going to run them right now.
  • The "Without Number" games - I  have all 3 and even though they all cover a different genre they all have a similar approach to those genres as a wide-open sandbox kind of game. I've been sitting on some of them for a long time and this might be a good opportunity to run them. 

So ... yeah ... I have some homework to do and decisions to make. I'll narrow it down to some tryout candidates for July and then settle on something for the rest of the summer & fall. I will do my thinking out loud here though. 


Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Figuring Out the Next Game - Fantasy Options


So I have two problems to solve: 

  • What do I run for my reduced group of four in July while the Con Crew is busy?
  • What do I run for the full group as the new Main Game after July?
  • Is the bigger game a "next few months" kind of thing or an "into next year" kind of thing?
July might be a good time to test out a new system or refresh on an old one, especially if it's a candidate for the bigger game. The main issue there is that with only 4 players available it's fragile - one person cancelling means it starts getting tricky to run things in most systems. Not impossible but tricky. I pretty much consider 3 the minimum to run outside of some very specific games - usually superheroes of some sort. July might just turn into a month of board and card game nights if it leans this way. With July having holiday and vacation options built in attendance just may not be terribly reliable.

Beyond all that though I'm thinking it's time for some fantasy RPG options. Outside of one special D&D session in 2022 and a session of WFRP last year I haven't run or played anything fantasy since at least mid 2021 and that's a long break for our group. 

Considering the fantasy options I need to figure out system and setting. One easy option would be 5th Edition D&D. The top of the options list for 5E is this:
  • The Temple of Elemental Evil - I have the Goodman Games double hardback edition (brief run through here) and I think it's a great adventure and a great way to jump back into Greyhawk which has been another itch of mine lately. Plus it might eventually lead into the G-Series and then the D-Series and eventually Q1 - a classic run of adventure modules that would certainly put a capstone on 5th edition for us.

  • Dungeons of Drakkenheim - I need to do a writeup of this one here at some point but the short version is that it's a D&D-ification of the Mordheim game by Games Workshop from about 20 years ago. We have a fantasy city hit by a comet which is a pretty big disaster on its own but this comet also happens to be made of warpstone which is sort of solidified chaos and thus both very dangerous and very useful in casting and crafting magic. This draws all sorts to the smashed ruins of the city and exploring it for warpstone to become rich and powerful becomes the hot new thing.

    This was a great concept for a skirmishing miniatures campaign game - it was effectively a fantasy version of Necromunda if you know that one - and allowed for all kinds of weird factions and monsters and things. It should only work better for a D&D campaign and the thing seems to be fairly well-regarded online. I'm still working my way through it but I am very interested in seeing where it could go. There are some mechanics to the fog poisoning the ruins that mean the party cannot sleep "in the dungeon" and has to get out of the dangerous stuff which is very conducive to varying party configurations. There is a lot of potential here

  • Published 5E Campaigns: I have most of them and have run very few of them. High on the list here would be finishing Storm King's Thunder, the Undermountain one, maybe Tomb of Annihilation (dinosaurs, ya know?). Baldur's Gate Goes to Hell might be fun but looks like it needs a lot of work. I also have the 3rd party Odyssey of the Dragonlords where we got about a third of the way through and there might be some interest in finishing that. Honestly the first two items in this list (above) interest me more but I might need to look a few of these over again to be sure. 

  • As a kind of wild card here I've been struck lately by an interest in running the old Age of Worms campaign from Dungeon Magazine most of 20 years ago. It ends up traveling all across Greyhawk visting some iconic locations with some interesting opponents and an unusual major villain behind it all. It was written for 3.5 but I could fairly easily convert it to 5th and I know none of them have come anywhere close to it before. This one has a ton of potential too.

The biggest obstacle with 5th is that a lot of my players are tired of and bored with 5E D&D. They've played a bunch of it between me and other venues in the earlier years of the game and 5th alone is not going to get anyone too excited. There are other options though.

Besides 5th edition pure there are some variants. Kobold Press' Tales of the Valiant is out now and I did the Kickstarter so I have those rules. I also decided to look over ENP's Level Up Advanced 5th edition. More to come on those. There is also a Drakkenheim supplement that adds a lot of adventure-related character options that might liven up 5th for my players as well. I need to look some over and maybe try them out in July to make this work.

Beyond current D&D there are more options and this comes back to figuring out what kind of campaign I want to run and then figuring out which system I want to run.

Pathfinder 2nd Edition is one I'd like to spend more time with and it just got re-revised so why not? The goal a few years back was to run it set in Ptolus for a big fantasy city campaign (a non-comet-smacked city this time) and that's still a decent idea. I think that Age of Worms could be easily converted to this as well. I'm not terribly concerned with running PF2 published adventures with it but more using it to do my own thing.

I also might finally run some 13th Age both to try something different and as a warm up for the second edition and a possible campaign there. This would probably also be my own thing rather than published stuff.

There are some fantasy options for Savage Worlds as well but I don't think we are quite ready to jump back into that one just yet. 

There is of course a ton of OSR material out there and while it's fun for short runs I'm not sure I want to sign on for 6 months to a year of Labyrinth Lord or OSE or Dragonslayer etc. We could go megadungeon here but I think I'm more interested in one of the other options for now. 

As you can see I still have a lot of thinking to do but this is the start. More to come!

Friday, June 7, 2024

40K Friday - Ork Horde Gathering


Not much playing around here lately but plenty of building. Even before the release of the Ork codex for 10th I was feeling like I needed to spruce up my horde. For one, I felt like it was finally time to upgrade the green tide to 32mm bases on the boyz so that's a project that really got rolling in May. Some of the units were in a playable-but-never-really-finished-to-my-regular-standards state so there is painting going on as well.

And yes ... my Goff army core is 120 2nd edition Goff boyz. What plays into the "faceless horde" more than 100+ identical miniatures? Each 20-man mob has a slightly different paint job and markings to make unit identification possible and then the nob for each squad is an old metal nob because they just fit together. 

Building this out for 10th I am also making sure I have 3 warbosses and 3 weirdboyz - all old metal units also - because that seems to ba the way to run a green tide army right now. Most of this I've had for years anyway so some of it is just reorganizing and touching up paint jobs. For example some of these were organized in 30-ork mobs for earlier editions and need to be touched up to make some new 20-ork groups. 

Rebasing also means trying to ensure that what I do now matches up with the basing I did back in the 90's. This actually hasn't been terrible as I used a lot of "Woodland Scenics" train flock back then and they are still around as are many of those same products. Adding a few modern touches like tufts here and there livens up the bases while being easily retrofittable to the stuff where the bases are already good.

Beyond this I am touching up my Battlewagons as that's how these will mostly be run and finally finishing up my Ghazghkul model so his current ridiculously huge version can lead the force while his old 2E models take over as Warbosses for individual mobs. Part of this will be building and painting the Meganobz that will serve as his bodyguard too. If I can maintain focus the old ork army will be looking pretty good.

Thursday, June 6, 2024

The Hard Realities of the Mechwarrior Campaign

I'm approaching a confluence of variable factors when it comes to our ongoing RPG time and I'm going to have to make some decisions.

First, Con Season approaches. Four of my eight regular players are involved with putting on a convention  - and have been for years so this is not really a new problem - and it nukes their availability for part of the summer. The variables here are "when does this interference start?" and "how long does it last?" and now I know these details so I know July is going to be thinner and best case is that for about 5 weeks I will have 4 players at most. We non-cons will keep playing but it will probably not be "the main game".

Second, We are nearing the end of the opening situation for the Mechwarrior campaign so I need to decide how to proceed long-term: Are we going to keep on with the Battletech thing or are we going to do something else? For July we will need to do something else anyway so can I lay the groundwork for a new thing there or is it just an interlude until the full crew re-gathers in August? More details below but I will probably start a new campaign with another system & setting and think about coming back to Mechwarrior down the road. 

Here it comes ...

Third, I really am not enjoying the MW 3rd edition as a system and my players are not terribly attached to it either. The first part of the campaign was intentionally mech-heavy and we used the Battletech rules directly for most of that. This past weekend was a zero as far as mech content but involved meeting some other members of the unit, exploring the local city where they are stationed, and getting into a bar fight. They had a good time but the rules kept getting in the way and I am ready to replace them. More on that below.

So I have these factors all coming together at around the same time.

In addition I have realized that I am not quite as much of a Battletech Universe fan as I was. All of the later metaplot stuff after 3060-something means nothing to me. I have a ton of material for the earlier era and I still know it well enough that it's the era that makes the most sense for me to run but when it comes to fictional gaming universes there are others I enjoy more. This doesn't mean that I don't like it enough to run something in it - just that running it for a year or more straight might not be the way I want to go. BT also suffers from something I have seen in way too many game settings: namely the "lore" tends to be page after page of dryly written history and dates and names and none of it really means anything nor does it add anything to the campaign I am running right here and now
(More on that in another post)

Catalyst, while I have a problem with some of what they do, has at least gotten the game back into circulation with decent support and a new line of miniatures that might actually be better then the metal line we've had for decades. The boxed sets are nice, the art is decent, there is an alternate set of rules for tabletop Battletech -Alpha Strike - and two sets of RPG rules as well. So the support is actually pretty good after a long gap. 

The problem may just be that my tastes have changed a lot since I played and ran these games years ago.

  Wow, how insightful, your interests as a teen to twenty-something may not be the same ones you have at 50+, yeah, applause all around for this discovery. 

I know, I know, but a lot of my tastes have not changed that much - keeping it to hobby topics I still like RPG's, and miniatures, and board and card games. In fact, I like a lot of the same ones I did back then. Despite that Battletech feels decidedly old-school rules-wise even with a modern wrapper on it. Alpha Strike is no help as it loses almost everything that makes BT unique, like hit locations and all of the details on the various weapons. Sure it plays faster but it plays nothing like Battletech to me so why bother? 

Star Fleet Battles has this issue too but they came out with Federation Commander years ago which somehow manages to keep 90% of the look and feel of classic SFB while streamlining it and modernizing it in important ways. I think that was a goal with Alpha Strike but it just does not work for me.

The Battletech RPGs have a similar problem. Mechwarrior 3rd edition is from 1999 but it feels like a much older game. The basic core mechanic is a lot like Traveller with d10's: 2d10 + skill level vs. a target number of 10, roll high. Typical skill level for most people is 1-2 with some getting to a 3-4 and not many going over 5. It is possible to have a "0" skill level in something representing training with no real experience. Just reading through the initial system mechanics I thought it was decently playable. The issue is that they then go and add the old-school-list-of-comprehensive-modifiers that makes every roll a checklist scan prior to the actual roll. For example for combat the base target number is not ten but it's not a set stat or skill or anything else either - there are 4 different "base target numbers" for each of melee and ranged ... here, take a look at it yourself.

Also the damage system  -after you jump through the hoops with all those modifiers then damage is another chart where you compare the damage rolled to a set of numbers to find out what you actually did to the target. Imagine if you were playing Mutants and Masterminds but still rolled damage based on each attack but then still had to consult a chart to find out the actual effect:

I'm sure it would play faster if we spent more time on it but the problem is that after taking up much of a session just trying out personal combat I am not terribly excited about doing it again and neither are my players. I'm going to run the campaign in this system to it's planned end point but if we pick it up again I'm probably going to run it in another system. Right now I'm actually looking at GURPS as a strong candidate for this and I haven't run GURPS in 20 years. However, if you want mostly normal humans in a setting where they are terribly vulnerable to modern weaponry it's a solid candidate. It would take some customization to things like the skill list and some of the equipment but it might just be worth it. Savage Worlds is on the list as well as we know it pretty well and it would be another easy adaptation. Heck, I have half a mind to tweak up a version of Star Wars d6 system just to see how well that would work.

"But if you're willing to mod GURPS or Savage Worlds why not just mod this game?" - well, because having run it again now I just don't find this game all that appealing. Somehow it worked for us 20+ years ago but it just falls flat for me now. It's not just the skill system - character generation was lengthy and involved and I thought having all of those house books with specific background tables (it has a kind of lifepath system) would really immerse my players in the setting. It sort of did that but it mostly just took forever and drained everyone at the table's life force away right when they should have been getting excited. Then there is a convoluted system to convert the point system used during character generation to the different point system used during play and for XP.  Then the XP system turns out to be terrible too so it just fails to shine for me. The novels tend to be fairly cinematic yet the RPG mechanics do almost nothing to reinforce that feel and so there's nothing about the game that really "feels" Battletech the way Star Wars d6 feels like Star Wars or the Warhammer Fantasy RPG feels like the gritty universe of old school Warhammer. There's just nothing special about it. 

Pretty much every subsystem of this game feels like it has extra - and unnecessary -  steps and I'm ready to try something else for our out-of-mech action. 

This probably came out a little harsher than originally intended and this is by no means an "unplayable" game - I've been running it for months now. It is totally playable but I don't like playing it as much as some other systems I know and there are probably other rules that will do this in a way I like better. So that's the plan now. More to come on this journey ...

Wednesday, June 5, 2024

The Promise of the Long Term Mechwarrior Campaign


So why did I choose to run a Mechwarrior campaign? Regardless of rules, the setting has a ton of potential. Let me focus in on 3 things that put it over the top for me:

1) The particulars of the setting:    

    • It's science fiction but there are no aliens and no psionics. This does limit things somewhat in comparison to say, Star Trek or Warhammer 40,00 but it is nice sometimes to dive into a straight-up-human-centric universe with no supernatural weirdness.
      (Was this a reaction to running Deadlands for the last few years? Why no, certainly not!)
    • It is set in the future of the real world. Granted it's 1000 years in the future and there are things like FTL travel and giant robots with directed energy weapons but there are recognizable cultures and languages still present. It's usually easier to explain House Kurita as being heavily influenced by Japanese culture than say to explain Klingon culture if someone is unfamiliar with Trek. Earth is still a place you could go and English is still a language people speak - among many others.
    • The aforementioned giant robots! This is the major part of Battletech's appeal, right? Tons of designs, tons of art, the ability to modify them or just make up your own with a heavily battle-tested set of rules - this is the main draw!
2) The support: There is almost 40 years of material tied to this setting from boardgames to RPG's to videogames to novels to comic books to at least one mediocre animated series. If you want to do your own thing you certainly can but if you want to dig into the place and see where you could hang your ideas on to the setting there is  likely to be a time period or planet or faction that works for what you have in mind. From toppling interplanetary governments to locating where that one particular battlemech model was produced before the early Succession Wars blew up the factory to fighting in mech-based gladiatorial arenas there are a ton of campaign options out there. Finally, if you want to run a war story from infantry to tanks to mechs to aircraft to space battles there may be more supporting material here than for any other RPG.

3) The timeline: This is a very strong point to me. There is a bunch of history sketched out for a GM but the most interesting part is where the game started: a post-apocalyptic era of damaged and limited mechs that are nowhere near what they once were ... mostly operated by noble families where much technology has been lost and resources are scarce. Then we begin a slow climb upward where technology is slowly rediscovered, factories reopen, and life gets better - just in time for the leaders to start a major war. technology continues to progress as planets change hands and mechs come into play and then just as things settle down the Inner Sphere gets hit with the clan invasion which upsets the whole apple cart and then some odd stuff with ComStar getting too big for their britches. 

This roughly 50 year stretch gives us a big, global backdrop to run whatever kind of game we want with some major events to hang things on and it's pretty easy to see the campaign as being about much more than one group of PC's. As the back of the 20-Year-Update said "don't think of your character as being 20 years older  - think of his son as being ready for battle". This sets up an interesting potential mix of ongoing war story across several generations. You don't have to use any of it if you don't want to but it's all there if you do. Once you pick a  starting point your mission is to let you players mess up the timeline as much as they want to! Sure, if you want to the Clan Invasion still happens - or maybe it doesn't! maybe there is a different Davion on the throne when it does ... or a different Steiner!  Maybe your players lead an expedition Beyond the Sphere and run into the Clans first!

The cool thing is that you have a timeline laid out to follow or ignore as you choose and if your players have some familiarity with the setting it only gets better as they recognize things and then eventually figure out you've left "canon" behind and it's a whole new world out there.

This was part of my vision when I started this operation: Play a group from 3025 on up through the next succession war and eventually into the Clan Invasion and beyond, likely through at least two generations of PC's and possibly a 3rd.

There's the big upside of a Mechwarrior campaign. 

Tomorrow the not-so-up parts ...

Wednesday, May 8, 2024

Mechwarrior 3rd Edition- Our Campaign in 2024


This has been the main RPG for this year so far - even if I haven't been posting much about it here - so I thought I would pause and talk about it a little bit. 

We started in February with a character generation session after playing several one-off Battletech fights over the last few months. Since then we've had 7 playing sessions. I've had from 4-8 players each time. I implemented a "5 or more players = Mechwarrior" rule (4 or less means we play Marvel Heroic) though I broke that for the last session because the cancellations were last minute and I knew we would have a break this week anyway. 

Most of sessions so far have been in-mech combat and I can say that 8 players each running their own mech vs. 1 GM running all of the opposition is a challenge though there are several things that help. 

  • Using various markers including those fancy modifier dice to show mods for both the attacker and defender are a big help
  • Writing down things on each mech sheet - other weird modifiers, planned target or course of action, etc. - help keep things from getting lost in the table-wide back and forth discussion.
  • Colors - putting a sticker or something on the mech and the mech sheet stands out more than small print.
  • Having a player who is more up on Battletech's rules and current background than I am means I have a mechanics sub-processor to help expedite the turns for everyone so I can focus more on what the bad guys are doing.
  • Use one or at most two kinds of opponents - either all mechs, mechs + tanks, or tanks + infantry. Don't try to work in a massive combined arms force with artillery and air support dug into some fortifications - at least not early on. That way lies madness ...
The campaign is set in 3025 and the premise is that a group of experienced characters (MW3 has a very thorough lifepath system for chargen) is joining a medium-sized merc unit. They get to know each other on the dropship but as they approach their destination they are forced into an unplanned combat drop before they even meet the rest of their unit. 

At this point we are past the initial combat and the PCs have made an important discovery on their way to finally link up with the rest of the Battalion. We have spent way more time with the BT rules than we have the MW rules thus far but that started changing last session and should continue next session. 

The MW3 rules still feel fairly clunky to me but we will give them a good run-through for now. My concept to start this campaign off is from notes I made 20 years ago in preparation for a game I never actually started. I found them in the ol' binder, looked through them, still liked the idea, and decided to go with it so HANG ON TO THOSE NOTES! Sometimes it does pay off!

Once we've covered the initial scenario we may have a forced interruption due to half my players being part of a convention crew and afterwards we will have to decide if we want to continue this campaign or switch to something else. There is a lot of interest in making this a long term game and seeing our party face the Clan invasion and all of those future upheavals. If we do continue I will seriously consider changing to another set of rules based on what I have seen so far. That could be Savage Worlds, Traveller, or it might be a good reason to dust off GURPS and see if that works for us. Shaking off the rust has been more of an effort than I expected.  There is a chance further MW3 experience might shift my opinion but right now I'm not in love with the system. 

Eventually I will post up some session reports here or link to it on Obsidian Portal as one of my players is taking in-universe session notes which should be pretty entertaining.