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The Big Wrap-Up: Closing Vignettes

April 28, 2014 Comments off

Recently, I finished up an epic campaign, probably the last one of such length I’ll complete in my life.  We started playing some iteration of it back in 1997, and finished in March of 2014. I was a lot younger when we started, didn’t have kids but was dating the woman who would become my wife (her tolerance of our gaming shenanigans was an excellent trial by fire).  Accordingly, however we gamed at least weekly in the beginning, going to weekly, then monthly, then quarterly before the game finally wrapped.  Still, after being separated by about 200 miles, the quarterly journey to common ground was a welcome pilgrimage to see old friends.  In many ways, I’m remorseful that we had to call it quits, but we had completed the arc I had redefined in 2004 for the children of the original characters, and the urge to do other things started to make the old game feel like a small burden, which is an excellent sign of it being time for a change.

Point being, how do you wrap up a game that is over a decade in the making?  There is perhaps no fully adequate way, so you’ve really got to just hope you can hit as many high points as you can.  I’ve never been a fan of exposition or narrative telling you what happened (like at the end of some John Hughes film), but I wanted to indicate where the players were going before we bid them farewell.  So after the players believed the final battle was over, I used the tool of the Closing Vignette to give them one more chance to tell their story, and have their old enemy make a final appearance.

[Warning.  This is work intensive.  To pull this off, I had to make about 36 NPC’s suitable for play by players that had never seen them before, not to mention prepping the usual monsters, plots, dungeons, maps, etc.  Fortunately, Paizo’s NPC Codex and Gamemastery Guide were invaluable to making this happen quickly, and the choice use of Lone Wolf’s Herolab saved the day, but it was zero-hour when the printouts came rolling out for the final game.]

The idea behind the closing vignette is similar to the idea we presented several months ago in the Opening Vignettes article.  It’s a way to showcase a character, but here we know who they are, just not exactly who they’re going to be.  Now, while you or the player could do this on their own and everyone read it and smile and say, “Yep, always knew he’d be the Lord Mayor of Greyhawk” I wanted players to shape it… LIVE.

Just like with Live television, there are lots of opportunities for things to hit the fan, so don’t undertake this lightly.  However, with the right planning, you can see that everyone gets their time in the sun.  Here’s what you need to do:

1.  Identify Major and Minor Plot Issues:  This is where you get to attempt to be J. J. Abrams and close all your plot holes, weave together plot threads, and bring in arch rivals, villains, and bit players that delight the characters and players alike.   The more you can identify and bring in, the more satisfied your players are going to be with the fullness of the resolutions.

2. Develop Player Expectations:  Talk with your players to establish what they want to see happen to their character.  This much time invested in a character deserves a consult and some deference.  I asked several hypothetical questions to see how the player thought their character would likely react, and built my story and resolutions generally to concur or enhance those plans.

3. Develop Your Story With Subtle Connections:  Create a small adventure (estimated 2 hour play time) that is essentially a brief set up, some RP with closure of various issues important to the player and their character, and then an opportunity for the PC to shine – lower level threats stomped into the dirt before a more imposing confrontation with a primary adversary.  This isn’t the epic final boss combat, but it’s someone that gives them a visceral reaction, and it should probe their power in a meaningful way.  However, somewhere in this story, place  a seed that is related to the other vignettes.  When each story piece is revealed, the combined stories will lead into and tell the story of the final confrontation.

4. NPC’s NPC’s NPC’s:  So here’s the crazy part I mentioned – to focus on each PC individually, I made NPC’s that helped emphasize who each Epic PC was now (or was going to be).  NPC’s that were followers, admirers, earned allies or powerful friends (but not as powerful as the PC, of course).   These, I doled out at random to the other players.  That way the players can participate and be entertained, but aren’t compelled to bring their own PC crashing into the focus character’s.

5. EPIC FINALE: Each thread leads into the final confrontation.  Your nemesis awaits.  Everyone, playing themselves, plays out the endgame.

 

In our story, each PC encountered a familiar villain that stood in the way of something they wanted: the now mad hierophant of winter, the political enemies of the party politico, an on arch-enemy demoness seeking to poison the children of the cleric’s orphanage, etc. Each part of that story found a small link (components to a artifact which, if used, could deify the party’s oldest and greatest of enemies, Iuz the Old).   They arrive in the nick of time to thwart his plans, but not before the party paladin has to choose to marry the woman he loves or fight his nemesis.

Fun was had by all, and very few stones were left unturned as we wrote everyone’s ‘final page’.

Of course, this isn’t going to work with every campaign.  You’re going to run into situations where the final confrontation is it, and then you shut the module and say, what do we play now?  But if you have the time to unfold after that and bring a little twist to your conclusion, you can get a very satisfying feeling of closure from the closing vignette.  Give it a try next time you wrap a 17 year campaign and let me know what you think.

 

 

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Deep Magic Review

April 21, 2014 Comments off

deepmagiccoverI will start off by saying that I am not a huge magic-user player and I second guessed myself about backing this book on Kickstarter. I kept eyeing the project page during its funding period and it drew me closer to backing until I finally felt compelled to… Wait! Oh, great. I bet it was those pesky kobolds and their shenanigans. Seriously though, I thought the way the project unfolded was a great way to get a large amount of information in a manageable, condensed time-frame. By having multiple authors design and create a certain theme of spells, this project proved that it could really work. The result was a huge, beautifully illustrated book with so much information that I am surprised that I did not have a brain overload the first night I started reading it.

Let’s break the book down by chapters. The first chapter, New Magic Options, covers new tomes, ley lines and racial magics. It introduces gambling, saint, and other magic that draw their power from unconventional and new sources. New feats and other options are given for each section to complete each theme. Reaver dwarves and their ring magic and the minotaur magic section both look quite interesting and could be fun to experiment with.

The second chapter is all about new spells; 154 pages of spells. With my math skills I have determined that they make up about two fifths of the entire book! Out of those, almost ten percent of them were created by Kickstarter backers. Amazing! There are so many imaginative spells that if you cannot find a spell that suits your needs, it is probably really there but you’ll need an Advanced Search function to help you. I cannot wait for Deep Magic to hit Hero Lab for this exact reason.

Chapters three and four deals with glyphs, runes, ink magic, words and incantations. The symbols for glyphs and runes are illustrated and explained with great examples while words of power are reviewed, and then taken further than Ultimate Magic. Incantations are very interesting since it puts the ritual magic in the hands of any character, not just magic-users. Magic use such as that could really change a campaign in many different ways.

1-new-magic-optionsNew sorcerer bloodlines and oracle mysteries are detailed in the fifth chapter. The most interesting are the raven-blooded (tengu) and the disgusting ooze. The illustration that goes with the ooze bloodline perfectly describes what that taint involves. Some of the more interesting mysteries for oracles are the clockwork, snake and wine mysteries. Just picture a Greek or Roman blind oracle with the wine mystery lying on a giant pillow, eating grapes, drinking and throwing lavish parties!

The sixth chapter details some very interesting archetypes. Two stand out for the wizard; the clockworker and the iounmancer. The clockwork powers replay throughout the book and the clockworker archetype brings all of that together into a really neat magic-user. The iounmancer looks interesting since ioun stones are so prevalent in Pathfinder and this archetype allows more manipulation of the stones. But the archetype that blew my mind was the Demon Binder for the summoner class. Instead of having an eidolon I can bind demons? Yes please! You mean I can summon AND bind a balor to my will at level 20? Splorch! (head explodes)

Magical constructs make up the seventh chapter with rules detailing the creation of homunculus, leastlings and the undead. The rules for creating the undead are quite detailed and tell exactly what is needed for the desired result; definitely worth the read. There is also a section on clockwork familiars and how to create them using the same forms as normal familiars. This brings to mind Perseus’ Bubo from Clash of the Titans.

Chapter 8 consists of all the high level spellcasters you could hope for. Heroes and villains are presented with full statistics and beautiful illustrations to give you a full feel for each one. Included in this chapter is a certain Rastor Vex, the Undying Hivemind. If its name does not give you an idea of what it looks like, you must see the illustration. Talk about something out of a nightmare!

Overall, this book is a great product. It is overflowing with information and is full of art by very talented individuals. If you are big fan of magic-users and want to play something out of the ordinary or never seen before, this is the book for you. It does not matter if your character is good or evil, there is something for every arcane class. Pick it up, you will not be disappointed.

DCC Review: Bride of the Black Manse

April 15, 2014 Comments off

GMG5083CoverLargeI recently got my hands on the very latest adventure in the Dungeon Crawl Classic series, and this one is a winner. I own just about all of them, with the exception of the holiday special, and most are pretty awesome, but this one is excellent. A self-described horror-mystery with such influences as The Shining, Fall of the House of Usher, and The Howling Tower, this would be an excellent choice to run around Halloween. Also there is a bonus adventure called Blood for the Serpent King which is a more traditional Indiana Jones style underground tomb crawl by Edgar Johnson, one of the moderators for the awesome DCC Google+ group.

First let’s dive in to Bride of the Black Manse. This is a perfect adventure to run at a convention, as it has events that are triggered by the actual hour striking in real life. The adventure will end after 4 hours, whether the heroes are prepared or not. I don’t think it is much of a spoiler to say, since it is on the cover, this adventure ends with a wedding and the groom is the arch-devil Mammon! Who he claims as his bride is up to the PCs. The descriptions of the various areas of the massive house are some of the best in any DCC adventure and really evoke the creepy atmosphere of an ancient house fallen in to ruin. Not only that, but the house changes as the bell tolls and marks actual play time at the table!

Each PC is associated with a specific heir of the house, and each heir has a mask associated with them for the coming hellish fete. The masks do have some mechanical benefits as well, but I’ll leave that to the PCs to discover what those are. When Doug Kovacs posted the art from the house to G+, it reminded me of the description of House Black from Harry Potter.

BrideBlackManseThis adventure has an excellent mix of combat, exploration, and social encounters for a very balanced adventure. I think having the pressure of actual time passing causing events to happen in game is a compelling element, and any adventure in which an arch-devil is throwing a party in a haunted house is going to be a good time! The very nature of the house allows for a bit of a mini sandbox, and is likely larger than the PCs can explore in the time allotted, making the replay/re-run value of this adventure very high.

The bonus adventure, Blood for the Serpent King, would be an excellent choice to run at a convention or your FLGS as part of the DCC World Tour 2014. It involves battling snake-men while exploring an ancient crypt with some very cool secrets. The two maps for this adventure do well to illustrate what would have been hard to conceptualize otherwise. The first map is the temple from a side view, the second is the more traditional top-down dungeon map, if any of Doug Kovacs’ maps could be called traditional. This is a fairly straight forward adventure, some would say it is a bit of a railroad, in stark contrast to the Manse. There are several excellent encounters, and it does a whole lot with the space provided. I just ran Doom of the Savage Kings for a new group recently, and they immediately wondered what was causing this malevolent power in the swamp. Perhaps they will discover it to be the Emerald Cobra! The encounter with the Serpent King will definitely be memorable!

Overall, this is an excellent buy. At $9.99 MSRP, you get two excellent convention or game-day ready adventures with very different genres. Someone recently asked what the top ten best DCC adventures are, and I would certainly list this among them.

Categories: Adventure, DCCRPG, Reviews, RPGs

Exercise in Character Creation, Part 1

April 5, 2014 Comments off

Several weeks ago at MACE West in Asheville, NC my very first Pathfinder Society character, Sir Danaris Redfeather, Knight Captain, (character sheet + background) reached 12th level. For those who do not know, this means that he is basically retired from the Pathfinder organized play program. It has been a blast to play this character as he was my first real Pathfinder character. I say ‘a blast’ because he exclusively used a musket. Yes, a musket… in a fantasy setting. Besides being the bane of all GMs, he will be missed.

Let’s get down to business. As you may have noticed from my other posts on Skyland Games, I love character creation. The entire process is enjoyable for me as I take numbers and raw ‘stuff’ and mold them together into a rich, detailed character. With me retiring two characters at MACE West (the other was Master Matsunagi, a nagaji cleric), I wanted to make a new one and I wanted to do it a different way.

That is where you, the readers, come in. Below is a link to a 10 question survey that I will use to create Adrian Redfeather, son of Danaris; my next Pathfinder Society character. I will share the results at my next posting next month.  And thank you for taking a moment to do the survey.  I think the results could be very interesting and fun to play!

*** SURVEY CLOSED ***