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The Art of Fail – What to do when games go bad

May 28, 2013 Comments off

Roper_for_Total_Party_Kill_by_GreenAirplane

Occasionally, a game takes a turn for the worst.

A few months ago, I ran a session of “Expedition to the Ruins of Castle Greyhawk” for a group, and in the module the Deck of Many Things makes an appearance. The Deck has a reputation for danger, dealing fortune and misfortune indiscriminately, but it’s one of those items that my group has come to eagerly anticipate in a long campaign. Five draws later, we had two characters in the Donjon (trapped in an otherworldly prison) and one character in the Void (reduced to a mindless automaton). Needless to say, it threw a monkey-wrench into our game, and was discouraging to a few players.

Donjon

That’s one type of problem, and we fixed it. I’ll go into how in a minute.

It comes to mind this week because we recently had an incident in our Pathfinder Skull & Shackles game that put us in a similar bind. Our unoptimized party staggered into an encounter grossly underestimating the power and skill of our adversaries, and coupled with some cold dice and optimized villains (common in a Paizo product at higher levels), we were nearly killed to a man. Fortunately we stopped the action due to the late hour, and talked about what needed to happen next. Unfortunately, however, some of the votes as to what needed to happen next were to throw in the towel on the entire campaign.

That’s a different type of problem, and an infinitely more complex one. Perhaps most frustratingly, our issue in Skull & Shackles seems to be that our characters, despite our best efforts, are either not optimized enough to face the anticipated challenges of the modules, or our method of playing them does not rise to the anticipated levels of skill anticipated by the module designer. An architectural problem like that takes some work, but that’s not the only problem.

Long campaigns have a number of difficulties associated with them. I’ve never finished a Pathfinder Adventure Path in less than a year, with one of them lasting over 3 years, and that’s a long time to do anything. There is potential for burnout on your character, on the campaign itself, and sometimes your group. High Level play has a slew of issues that are problematic. So what to do? GM’s and Players both play a role in sorting these things out, but each issue lends itself to different solutions. Let’s take a look issue by issue.

Multiple Character Death

This is sure to put a damper on your campaign fun: Two or Three of your beloved heroes die (maybe permanently) meaning your champions are severely humbled, or maybe your entire cast and party dynamic are rewritten. Both player and GM have a role to play here. Players need to evaluate first whether raise dead / resurrection is the route to go, or if there is a persuasive reason to bring in another character. Death during play is definitely a part of the life of an adventurer, and is part of the process of paying your dues. However, if you can bring in a character that adds to the story or brings balance to the party, and the change isn’t disruptive to play, gauge whether this is your moment. If you don’t have a choice in the matter, is there a way to make a new character that complements the old? Is there an NPC already encountered that would make a fun PC? While there’s little you can do if resurrection or raise dead aren’t on the table, conspire with your GM a little to see what other solutions might be possible that would make for an interesting return or cunning plot development.

In the end, more power lies in the GM’s hands where deaths are concerned. If you’ve killed half the party, either someone got incredibly (un)lucky, or you’ve misgauged the power of your encounters relative to your group. While bad decisions on the player’s part certainly merits the occasional ass-whooping, there is the enjoyability and continued longevity of the campaign to consider. As things turn towards TPK in a long term campaign, the GM’s Toolkit includes pulling back on the optimized use of some abilities: tossing a magic missile when a fireball may dish out 10d6 of campaign ending fury, commanding a charmed PC to attack an ally knowing full well he’ll get that badly needed second save, opting for subdual damage. etc. If it’s too late for that, a dropped PC can be raised or healed by the villains to extract information, letting the play continue and granting an opportunity for the PC’s to salvage the situation.

If there’s no room for resurrection, there’s the occasional wish or divine intervention, opportunities for which might be accrued during play over time to be used at just the right moment. In the case of our Deck of Many Things debacle, we actually played a session where a team of specialists went to free the souls of the trapped card-drawers, making for a fun offbeat extraplanar session that gave players a chance to mix it up with a different PC for 8 hours, and fun was had by all. The nice thing about a fantasy setting is that nothing is impossible with the right factors. A quest to get the item that will allow a resurrection is one good idea away, and may make for an interesting adventure in itself.

Character Burnout

You’ve been playing this damn cleric for 79 sessions and if you cast one more Cure Light Wounds spell you’re going to eat your rulebook. While largely a player problem, this is something your GM can help with, too.

Good character design should help to eliminate the onset of ‘Character Fatigue’ – Motivation, Backstory, Goal Setting all give you a roundness that should transcend function. However, especially with support characters, your most effective routines may be the least interesting. Check with your party and see if there can be some give in how roles are played out. Sometimes a few wands or scrolls can free up spell slots to let you take on the role you’re looking for. Depending on your level, there may be time to multi-class, changing you into the character you want to be.

A GM can help this situation a couple different ways. Work with the player to see what they want out of the game, and shape it to meet their needs. Indulge some of their campaign goals, or thrust them into situations where they are in the spotlight, creating unique opportunities.

Character retirement is always an option, and the GM should be able to create an opportunity to phase out one character while creating a compelling reason to feel attached or trusting towards the new PC (or maybe not so trusting, if your game is a little more sinister).

Campaign Burnout

In any adventure path or long running campaign, this danger is one of the most prevalent. Time passes in game and in real life, and the theme of a certain game can grow tired. Individual modules in a series can linger over frustrating details or hair-pulling monotony in many instances, or just a series of frustrations that make continued play feel unrewarding.

Players can attempt to turn the adventure in a way that is more pleasing to them, but this has very limited utility if the GM is not on board. GM’s, of course, have significant influence on this issue, and need to use their discretion to manipulate the campaign to meet the needs of the players. Ideally, this is done without overly telegraphing the modifications. However, if a particular dungeon crawl is literally crawling then removing or hand-waving a few encounters that don’t progress the plot will not usually be lamented by your frustrated players, obvious or not. Sometimes introduction of another element, such as a rival adventuring party, or some sort of internal dispute amongst your antagonists, can create an interesting way of clearing obstacles or adversaries in the path of your party and get them to the epic finale or wherever they may be heading while creating tension in the process.

I have very rarely had a party complain that something is too easy, but make things too difficult and they’ll tell you. There’s a fine line between challenge and frustration and the GM needs to make sure that the party feels like heroes most of the time and that the story keeps moving. Published scenarios should be used as suggestions, and as soon as the party gets bogged down in them, hustle to the next scene change, or take a pleasant detour into something you know they’ll like, to give them the fresh air they’ll need for another dive into peril.

Group Burnout

This is bad. If you’ve been playing with the gamers at this campaign for a while, either something outside of the game is interfering with the way friends play together, or worse, the way the game is getting played is making people rub each other the wrong way. Sometimes sitting down to an extended campaign can create a meeting of people that don’t know each other that well, and force them to meet repeatedly for 4 hours a week for years. While it is my belief that gaming can bring many types of people together (that being one of the things that is amazing about it), it sometimes does bring people together that just can’t click.

Players need to try to work out differences between each other, communicating their frustrations. Sometimes this is best done through a third party that can play peacekeeper and keep things from getting too confrontational during a session. The GM holds some responsibility to keep the peace and play referee, but sometimes your GM might be your problem.

With any relationship, communication is key, and identifying the grievance clearly and getting it behind you should be your first step. But, if you’ve aired your grievance and the other party can’t or won’t change their ways, make your excuses and cut bait. Don’t sit frustrated or mopey at a table and poison everyone else’s good time. If everyone shares the frustration regarding the single player, GM’s got to be the one to man up and diplomatically give the guy a last chance to shape up or ship out. The Jackass Rule states, “If one person calls you a jackass, ignore them. If ten people call you a jackass, get a saddle”.

If you’re the problem, don’t get defensive. Review your Gaming Ten Commandments. Take it on faith that you are representing yourself in a way that is making you come off negatively, and proceed with awareness that this is what your fellow player or players think, knowing you need to control yourself. You are not the first socially awkward gamer. I promise.

High-Level Play Sucks

Yes. Yes, it does. That doesn’t mean it has to, but you are going to find a lot of frustrations in high level play if you are not ready for it. First, you need to know your character and how it works. Secondly, you’re going to need to spend some time prepping for each game to make sure you know what you’re doing and how to do it. Third, you’re going to need to mark your pages or bookmark your pdf’s for common complex rules issues you know you’re going to run into: if you have an ability that grapples opponents, get your grapple rules ready, marked and reviewed; be familiar with the conditions you impose through your spells and know what spells your going to cast; if you have equipment purchases you want made, email the GM ahead of time to let them know what you want and update your character sheet as soon as you get the okay; get any sorts of buffs or powers outlined. In general, know how to play the game you’re playing and if you don’t know, read the rules.

GM’s suffer greatly under the yoke of high level play. You’re responsible for everything, and theoretically need to know what the players can do as well as all your monsters, traps, and so on. It’s a heavy burden, but one you can bear with the right prep and the right attitude. First, read your printed material if you’re using a module. Paizo has good message boards regarding it’s published material and they might address errata or other questions other GM’s might have had with your specific module. Look up strange powers in the bestiary and make sure you know how things work on your side of the screen.

Since you’re dealing with the same players over and over, it also would pay to read over the classes they’re bringing to the table if there is something they’re doing that confuses you. Sometimes you’ll find they’re mixed up about something and it may speed up game play if you both know how the power is supposed to function.

However, if you get down to the wire and are playing and you hit a complex rules snag, and you’re getting player burnout due to high-level play rules? Dump it. Make a call, and err on the side of player success: They will bitch to high heaven in you kill them through some sort of blown rules call, but few will make a peep at an error in their favor. Ties go to the runner. This works because it makes for a better story when the good guys win, and keeping play moving at high levels is key.

What Else?

There are plenty of other frustrations that can kill a campaign, but GM’s and Players alike need to maintain the polestar of Commandment 10 – Thou Shalt Have Fun. Make sure your fellow gamers are having fun with the campaign and that you’re not having fun at their expense. GM’s, make sure your players are enjoying themselves rather than maintaining the rubric of the module at the expense of their enjoyment. And finally, if worst comes to worst, find a good stopping point, set the module aside for a while, and pull out an old favorite or something new and give it a spin around the block for a while. If you come back to it, great. If you don’t, then at least you’re having a good time moving on to the next adventure.

Dungeons of Dread S1-S4 review

May 6, 2013 Comments off

s_seriesWhen I started playing D&D in the late 80s, I was the youngest kid on the block. One of my friends showed me these crazy looking dice, we sketched out character sheets on notebook paper, and very likely followed very few of the rules. I did learn what Armor Class is, and what Hit points are, and had a fantastic time.

I was just young enough to miss most of these classic adventures gathered in Dungeons of Dread, but interestingly I did pick up White Plume Mountain in a garage sale when I was a teenager, not even really understanding what I had. Unfortunately that was sold along with so many other treasures from my childhood in the “going off to college” garage sale.

In my RPG renaissance of the last few years, I’ve had a great time gaming with a bunch of different guys, but of the main Skyland Games crew, I’m still the young kid on the block. Most of these guys have played D&D almost since the beginning, and have shelves of books and some of these very adventures. I would hear war stories from The Tomb of Horrors, or Expedition to the Barrier Peaks, but had never played them myself.

This collection offers a great opportunity to immerse yourself in D&D lore by collecting classic, iconic adventures written by the pioneers of the game. It includes the lethal Tomb of Horrors, the quirky and memorable White Plume Mountain, the zany gonzo Expedition to the Barrier Peaks, and finally a little taste of Greyhawk in The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth. This hardback format is great for looking through and preserving these in an archival sense, but would be pretty difficult to run from. One of the benefits of the old modules is you can lay them flat behind a DM screen, and show the players the illustrations a bit easier. Also, the maps are at the end of the adventure, so if you are trying to run one of these for a group, I would suggest investing in some page flags so you can easily find those sections while flipping between maps, illustrations, and room descriptions.

Fortuitously, Wizards has released the illustrations for the modules as stand-alone PDFs, making them a lot easier to show to the group. Hopefully, they’ll do something similar for the maps! The maps are in black and white, which I understand from a printing perspective, but they could have earned some serious nostalgia points if they used the original D&D light-blue that was so iconic of the old maps.

If you’re one of the old-guard grognards or a collector and own all these in their original print form, there is no sense purchasing them in this form. If you just missed the boat, or have heard all the old guys talk about how it was when THEY started playing, this is for you. I really enjoy having it on my shelf for reference and inspirational purposes, and look forward to adding the next archive to the shelf, Against the Slave Lords!

Categories: Adventure, Books, DnD, Lore, Retro, Reviews, RPGs

The Strange Case of David A. Trampier

February 18, 2013 Comments off

Grognards and other fans of 1st Edition D&D will remember some of the greatest illustrations in role-playing being drawn by David A. Trampier (aka ‘TRAMP’ or ‘DAT’). The original cover of the 1st Edition Players Handbook, plus plenty of monsters in both the 1st Edition Monster Manual and from the Gamma World Series were his creations. He designed or played a role in design of several games, like Titan and Divine Right, and was the creator of the long running Dragon Magazine comic strip Wormy. I was always a fan of his work, but never connected the dots that this illustration and this comic and this game all were from him, until much later. Trampier was not only in on the ground floor, but was moving to publish his own collected volume of Wormy, when something strange happened in April of 1988…

He disappeared.

Kim Mohan (editor of Dragon Magazine) advised that checks sent to Tramp’s house for work completed were returned uncashed. Phil Foglio (who worked on another strip in the magazine at the time What’s New with Phil & Dixie, and now best known for the excellent web comic Girl Genius) said later, “When an artist’s checks are returned uncashed, he is presumed dead.”

So what happened? Hit by a bus? Suicide? Those paying attention were baffled by Trampier’s disappearance, though Tom Wham (designer of Awful Green Things from Outer Space and Snit’s Revenge) indicated that he believed he was alive. Tom’s sister, Nina Wham, was married to Trampier at the time, indicating he had reason to know Trampier was still drawing breath. Still, Wham indicated that he himself had not been in touch since 1982.

Barbara Manui & Chris Adams, known for their work with another Dragon Magazine comic “Yamara” started information gathering and discovered the possible reason for the disappearance, which they posted from a verified source (name withheld) on their site here.

To summarize, it states that Tramp appeared to be upset, and perhaps delusional or paranoid in regard to events occurring at Dragon Magazine at the time. It goes on to state that he was an uncompromising and perhaps antagonistic artist that made life difficult for himself at the magazine.

While interesting, it still leaves us the mystery of his disappearance. As I began to research the issue, there still were no leads.

Then, in 2005, a reporter named Arin Thompson with the Daily Egyptian wrote a story titled, ‘Coffee, cigarettes and speed bumps: A night with a Carbondale cabby.’ It showed a picture of a bearded man, arm draped over the door of his cab. It was Dave Trampier, back from the dead.

trampier

This was groundbreaking. This not only proved that Trampier was alive, but that he was living or at least working in Carbondale, Illinois.

Within a short period of time, Trampier’s home address was accessible through the Jackson County, Illinois public records.

It appears that with this reemergence, a number of individuals attempted to contact Trampier. An individual identifying himself under the handle of “Baj” on the message board of Paizo.com indicated that they had contacted Trampier to discuss the purchase of original artwork. This initial contact began friendly, with Trampier expressing an eagerness for others to view his work, but became more withdrawn and negative over time.

Jolly Blackburn of Knights of the Dinner Table fame indicated that he contacted Trampier to make an offer for publishing his original Wormy strips.

“David was very polite but made it very clear he wanted nothing to do such a project and more importantly nothing to do with gaming and asked that I not contact him again. I got the impression his phone number had been passed around in the industry and I hadn’t been the first to call.”

Wizards of the Coast stated in their 30 year retrospective, “Thirty Years of Adventure” that Trampier was alive and well, but no longer worked in the gaming industry.

And that is where it appears it will stay for the foreseeable future. Luke Gygax posted:

“Tramp was a great old school artist and I wish he still contributed his artwork to the genre. Unfortunately he has no interest in gaming or art at all. I do not know what his reasons are, but I know two folks that have tracked him down and offered him work- one is his brother-in-law. He flatly refused both of them and asked them not to contact him again on the subject.” For reasons entirely his own, Trampier does not plan on submitting his work for publication or self-publishing in the foreseeable future.”

Despite this, his devoted fans remain surprisingly active. The Dave Trampier Fan Club Facebook page counts among its members Luke Gygax, Ernest Gary Gygax Jr., Jolly Blackburn and David Kenzer of Kenzer & Co., and Troll Lord Games. It’s a lot of fandom for an artist who hasn’t published a new piece of art in 25 years.

Others pay tribute through homage and imitation, such as Dungeon Crawl Classics featuring of numerous references or parodies of Trampier’s previous work, recalling classic Trampier art to evoke images core to fantasy role playing.

Whatever Trampier’s reasons for leaving, it is clear that his work is loved and appreciated throughout the gaming world, and should he choose to return, he will be welcome with open arms.

EDIT: We are sad to report that Dave Trampier died March 24, 2014 in Carbondale, IL at Helia Healthcare.  He was 59 years old.  Tragically, it appears that immediately prior to his death, he made plans to exhibit some of his artwork at a Carbondale Con called Egypt Wars 2014.  He advised the organizers that he was suffering from cancer, but that he was overcoming it and would need transportation to the convention.  A sample of the art he planned to exhibit is shown below.

The fact that just too late he started to return to the people and fans that loved his work so much absolutely breaks my heart.  But with his passing, we see many in the gaming community that loved him, and with it the promise that Dave Trampier will not be forgotten.

Tramp Art

The Gaming Ten Commandments

December 10, 2012 6 comments

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Veteran and novice gamers alike can find themselves sliding into bad habits now and again at the game table. We at Skyland Games have a real mixed bag at our tables: New gamers, old gamers, and old timers coming back to the game after a long hiatus. We’ve also been playing a lot of Pathfinder Society, which leads to a crap-shoot when it comes to the players you’re sitting down with and what they think makes for good game etiquette.

Even with the grognards, when things get exciting, or boring, or you just get distracted, you might find yourself in violation of one of the Gaming Ten Commandments.

1) THOU SHALT BE ON TIME

Especially with a four hour time slot for organized-play games, it’s disruptive for the GM and Players alike to start late. If you’ve got another slot to get to afterwards, doubly so. But mainly this, slows the game as a whole, and is inconsiderate of everyone else who made it in a timely fashion. Unfortunately, at Skyland Games, we’re all guilty of this one at some time or another.

2) THOU SHALT COME PREPARED

Nothing slows down play like missing your character sheet, not having dice or a pencil, not knowing what your abilities are or how your character works. It creates delay in the beginning for missing character issues, and slows the pace and play of the game at all other times. Any time you slow play due to your own laziness, you’re really wasting other people’s time. Don’t be that guy.

3) THOU SHALT LEARN THE RULES

Or at least try… Pathfinder, D&D 3.5, Champions, Shadowrun…. these systems are not necessarily easy, but you need to know how your character works before you sit down at the table, and know the basics of movement and combat so as to not impede play. Get a book and read it between sessions. Most if not all the material for Pathfinder and D&D 3.5 is online as an SRD. Add to that a variety of apps that pull up the rules pretty cheaply, and there’s really no excuse for not knowing the basics. Worst case scenario: Listen and learn.

4) THOU SHALT NOT CHEAT

The GM might be allowed to fudge some dice rolls, but as a player, for the good of the game, it’s imperative that you let the dice fall where they may. Some of the greatest stories I’ve seen in gaming come from the epic failures and epic subsequent successes arising from the bad roll, the epic mischance, or the divine blunder. We all sit down to see this story unfold organically, and Mulligans must be solicited from the almighty GM. It also puts other players at a disadvantage, and robs the sweetness from victory when it’s built on deception.

5) THOU SHALT NOT TALK OVER OTHERS

Okay, personal pet peeve, but I’ve played with folks that find that box text is a perfect opportunity to discuss character builds, what they ate for dinner, hilarious YouTube cat videos, etc. This makes it hard for others to keep track of what’s going on, distracts the GM reading it, and creates situations where information has to be repeated or explained to the player as the game unfolds. Some players will interrupt and talk over the GM, which is a great recipe for GM vengeance, but also makes for confusion and can damage the flow of the game. When it’s not the GM, it’s someone trying to have fun and tell their story. Don’t ruin it.

6) THOU SHALT PLAY ONLY THINE OWN CHARACTER

You may think you’re being helpful, telling the guy next to you what he ought to do on his turn, but you’re not. You’re probably breaking character, and possibly the laws of physics, by sharing your thoughts out of game, and generally inhibiting the other player and other character by imposing your vision on them. This also slows down the game as the player digests additional information, weighs new options presented through the advice, and quite often creates a need for the player to justify their character’s action. Novice players can always ask for help, and if they ask, give it to them. Otherwise, let ‘em take a stab at it, and if they’re going to err, let them err boldly.

7) THOU SHALT ABIDE

Sometimes things get a little heated in real life. It might be over loot, it might be incompatible player personalities, or it might be in-game character personalities leading to some real-life frustration. No matter the cause, don’t let things get to the point where it’s a problem. Each situation differs, but stepping away from the problem and communicating usually does the trick. You want to roll with the punches, which goes hand in hand with Commandment 8 and Commandment 10.

8) THOU SHALT WORK FOR THE GOOD OF THE GAME

Every player should work to make the game happen. Someone need a ride? Go five minutes out of your way to help them make the game. Snacks? Drinks? At least take care of yourself, if not everybody. Try to schedule around conflicts, and take affirmative steps to keep game night sacred. Don’t make the GM do all the cat-herding when it comes to scheduling. Return emails about the scenario you want to play. Correspond regularly. Most importantly, when gaming, apply Wheaton’s Law and “Don’t be a Dick”: Don’t fight over loot in game, don’t ragequit when the GM rules against you, don’t pout, and don’t take anything that involves ‘elves’ too seriously. That’s a good life rule, period, actually.

9) THOU SHALT HONOR THY GM AND THY HOST

It is sort of a classic axiom that the ‘GM is Always Right’. I prefer to think of it the way Tony Soprano contests Nietzsche’s hypothesis regarding God being Dead: He may not always be right, but you’re still going to kiss his ass. In the end, the GM can see both sides of the screen, and should (if they’re good at it) keep things challenging, interesting, and fun based on that perspective. Further, a game isn’t a democracy, and a final arbiter has to have supreme authority, right or wrong, so the game can move on.

As far as your host is concerned, it’s easy to forget that someone is cleaning up after you leave. Don’t trash their place, drink the last of their soda, drop food into their couch cushions, or leave your cans scattered and laying about for the ants into get into. Minimal courtesy indicates you should try to leave the space how you found it. If it’s in a game store, don’t bring in outside food and drink if they sell food and drink in store (or you might not have a game store much longer). If you’re in tight confines, make sure you’re maintaining some hygiene fundamentals for the benefit of your fellow gamers and the people who have to live there after you’ve left. Treat your play space better than your own, and you’ll be more likely to be invited back.

10) THOU SHALT HAVE FUN

Sometimes, it can be surprising how this rule gets overlooked, but we game because we like it. Especially in organized play, the objective of achieving a certain level, obtaining certain loot, or finishing certain missions can obscure the fact that the object is to have fun. If you’re not having fun, you’re doing it wrong, and need to reprioritize. It might be because you or your group aren’t following the Commandments, or might be because it’s just time for a change of scenery. But make sure you and your fellow gamers are enjoying yourself, and everything else will fall into place.

Many Sheets or One? The Character Builder Conundrum

September 14, 2012 5 comments

I’ve had the pleasure of participating in quite a few campaigns in the last 3 or 4 years. Some of which spanned 10-20 character levels. In 4e and increasingly in Pathfinder, the easiest way to level up your character was to open up the character builder, hit the “level up” button, and choose the appropriate options for your character and print it out. I think 4e was a worse offender in this arena, but often the character sheets were between 5-10 pages per PC. On Herolab for Pathfinder, if you’ve got an animal companion or heaven forbid a spellbook, the characters can easily get in to this range as well. My main problem with this is every time you level up, your printing again. If not, you have a game table filled with laptops and all the distractions they can bring.

For the Pirate campaign, I wanted to stop the madness. I printed out a Pathfinder Character sheet, double-sided, that I would use for the duration of that character’s existence. It’s easy on first level. Just run down the requirements for your given race/class combo, buy your gear and start rolling! As the levels progress, things get more complicated. You start getting more bonuses from magical loot you’ve found, or through feats and increasing your ability scores, and a standard character sheet can become a jumbled mess. My character in the pirate campaign is a elven ranger/rogue, and I have about worn a hole in both the ammunition spot on the sheet for my arrows, and the hit point area for when he takes damage.

Overall, I am really enjoying just having the one character sheet. I have kept notes on it from previous sessions, and it just feels more authentic to how I feel like a veteran character sheet should look. That being said, I had one session last week in which I forgot my sheet. I borrowed Steve’s laptop and did my best to recreate him in herolab as quickly as possible. It was wonderful to see all the options that applied to my character all laid out in front of me, allowing me to carefully way my decisions and draw from several source books worth of material quickly and easily. At the end of the process I printed him out: four pages. It would have taken me a lot longer to open all my books to the appropriate pages, evaluate the options, and add them to my existing stats. Even making a first level character with only Pathfinder books, a character sheet and a pencil can take hours if you consider all the possible archetypes and race/class combinations. It would have ground the session to a halt.

So what is the answer? Is one way better than the other? I suppose it comes down to personal preference. For me, I play role-playing games as an escape. I enjoy pouring over the books, and the art in those books. I like finding new things in them like a wizard discovering knowledge in a tome of ancient lore. I suppose it just comes down to personal preference: ease of use and a fair amount of waste, or piles of books and maybe missing out on the best option for your character while your sheet gets dingy with eraser marks and quickly scrawled notes. It all comes down to how you want to roll. How do you role/roll? One sheet or many?

Categories: 4e, DnD, Lore, Pathfinder, Pirates, Tips

Books for Gary, DCCRPG sells out!

July 22, 2012 Comments off

The first edition AD&D reprints are out, and I picked a set up for myself. It benefits the Gary Gygax Memorial fund, and I hope they do very well. I completely understand the perspective of those who are less than thrilled by the idea, but to me, I think its a really nice gesture and I never owned the originals but love looking back at the roots of the game. A few guys and I were pouring over them in our Friendly Local Gaming Store, and had a great time comparing sketches in the monster manual of iconic creatures that we’ve all come to know and love to their drawings in the original Monster Manual. Some of them are really cool black and white sketches, some look like the rejected doodles of a 7th grader, but that just adds to the charm! Something you can’t tell from the pictures online is the darker areas on the cover are actually raised, giving them a leather-bound classy feel, without actually being truly leather-bound. The pages are also gilded on the edges, which I think is a nice touch. Am I going to actually play 1e AD&D? Probably not anytime soon. For me, these are more reference or inspiration for when it’s time to write an adventure. Also, it’s for Gary and the thousands he has inspired in helping create a hobby where the only limit is your imagination.

In other news, it looks like WotC is reprinting 3.5 books. This seems like a bit of a surprising move, and we even joked in the store that anyone who wants to play 3.5 is probably playing Pathfinder by now, but maybe not. Now maybe those numbers are skewed by the fact that there is very little 3.5e stuff in print, so people wanting that stuff have to go searching the interwebs, but those numbers are pretty staggering. I don’t know that I will pick up that edition, as Pathfinder is enough to keep up with, and they are just different enough to confuse the heck out of this gamer.
Also of note, the first printing of DCCRPG has sold out! There are a few things that need correcting that will be taken care of in the second printing, and there will also be a new and different limited-edition cover! In fact, it seems gold-foil limited-edition covers are all the rage over at Goodman Games! Especially cool is the third printing of the Dungeon Alphabet! If you’re one of those “Modules? We don’t need no stinkin’ modules!” kind of GMs, this book is for you. I’ve mentioned it previously in my dungeon building resources articles and my review of the Fourthcore Alphabet (a product in a similar vein). If you love old school dungeons and page after page of awesome black and white art, this is a must-own.

Another very cool thing Goodman Games has going on is their Mystery Map Contest! Essentially the contest is to write an adventure using the map and the demon in the corner to create the best adventure possible! You get to fill in the details beyond the few that are already provided, and you must incorporate the weird creature in the bottom-right corner. The winner gets $1000 and becomes the Free RPG Day 2013 offering from Goodman Games! Get your submission in before Halloween! I think the Skyland Games guys will need to try their luck at this. If you enter, good luck!

Categories: Adventure, DCCRPG, DnD, Lore, News, Retro, Reviews Tags:

TMNT: Retro review

April 16, 2012 2 comments

The other night, a few of the Skyland Games crew had a chance to dust off an old classic from the gaming shelf. There were a lot of options: Car Wars, Mutants and Masterminds, Mekton Z, and TMNT amongst others. Eventually we’ll get to them all, but we decided to give Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles ago. As kids who grew up steeped in 80s culture, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles hold a special place in our hearts, as they were pretty much unavoidable from about 1987 to 1990.

Like a lot of older RPGs, character generation is a bit of a mini-game in and of itself. Also like older RPGs, game-balance is for the weak. Not all characters are created equal. This became readily apparent as we rolled up our dudes. You start out by rolling percentile dice to see what kind of animal origin you have. From there you roll up a mutation reason, and starting money for gear. Scott rolled up a raccoon scavenger with about $3000 worth of scavenged stuff. Pretty cool, certainly playable, and a fairly “realistic” background. My turn: Alligator assassin created by private industry! I escaped with $80,000 worth of stuff. After arming my guy with all the guns I could feasibly carry, I asked our GM what cars were available so we would have some mode of transport. Maybe like an A-team van, or something? “For $60,000 you can get a DeLorean…” SOLD. So while Scott’s guy was a scrappy ruffian, mine was a trained assassin, tons of guns, and his getaway car from his captors was a DeLorean. Wow. Somebody rolled high on the percentile tables.

The adventure was something that Steve, our intrepid GM, took from the headlines of our local newspaper. Recently the UNCA mascot dog, Rocky I, went missing. In our game he was a half-mutated bulldog man who ran a counterfeiting ring. In real life, he came back to his owner unscathed. In our game, after taking a few pot-shots at us with his revolver, he got mowed down by my assassin’s MAC-10.

The majority of our little session was sneaking around a warehouse trying to track down Rocky’s counterfeiting operation, and then mowing him down. We used skills based on percentile dice rolls, which I thought were pretty cool. The actual layout of the book is pretty atrocious, even for 1985 standards. Not only are tables and charts hard to read in the book, some of the layout is counter-intuitive. For instance, the skills section looks like a glossary layout, but you have to go through the entire entry to figure out what your base score is in any skill. When you level, you would have to go to each skill entry and see by how much each skill has arbitrarily increased. I did like the alignment system, in that there is no true-neutral. The true-neutral alignment never sat quite right with me. Neutral-Good, sure, Neutral-Evil, yeah, but to always be middle of the road? It doesn’t seem practical. Alignments in Palladium’s games are Principled, Scrupulous, Unprincipled, Anarchist, Miscreant, Aberrant, and Diabolic. That’s a pretty cool spectrum.

Overall, we had a really fun time with it. The system is a bit clunky, and Palladium is not known for their attention to detail at the editing desk, but if you’ve got a love for some mutants and don’t mind slogging through some weird mechanics, it can be a really fun time. If all else fails, just roll up characters all night, and let the dice fall where they may!

Categories: Lore, Retro, Reviews, RPGs Tags: ,
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