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.

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