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Ghostbusters and Dread – RPGs for Halloween

October 26, 2016 5 comments

AVL Scarefest was an absolute blast this year. The year before was great fun, but this year exceeded my already high expectations. For the uninitiated, AVL Scarefest started as a spooky Pathfinder Society game night at our FLGS the Wyvern’s Tale. GMs and players were encouraged to wear costumes and play the more Halloween-themed scenarios. This was such a hit, it quickly out-grew the ample gaming space at the tale. In 2015, some intrepid Asheville Pathfinder Lodge members started organizing a con to be held in the nearby idyllic and yet somehow spooky Montreat conference center. They invited GMs and players from far and wide to run all manner of spooky games. Some were on theme by their very nature like Call of Cthulhu, Dread, and Ghostbusters. Others had appropriately themed scenarios, despite not being creepy themselves like D&D, DCC, Star Wars, Shadowrun etc.

This year I got to play in both a Dread and a Ghostbusters game. If you are looking for something appropriate for the holiday to do with your gaming group this year, I would highly recommend checking these out. First up: Ghostbusters.

Tgbrpgstarterhe version we played is still basically the version that West End Games released in 1986. It has been out of print forever, but thanks to the magic of the internet you can find all the files you need at Ghostbusters International. Thanks to the Nerdy Show running a podcast called Ghostbusters Resurrection, they have produced updated equipment decks and ghost dice, as well as some updated and expanded rules. The system is d6-based and very easy to pick up. You can play one of the iconic ghostbusters from the original movie, or do what we did and play yourself. There are only four traits in the 1986 version: Brains, Muscles, Moves, and Cool. Each is assigned a number from 1 to 5, and you have 12 points total to spend between the four traits. Each trait has talents associated that are more specific. For instance, Venkman’s talents are Parapsychology, Brawl, Seduce, and Bluff. These each have a number associated with them that represent the number of d6 you roll when testing that skill. Once you declare an action, the GhostMaster has you roll the number of d6 associated with the appropriate trait and (if applicable) skill. If your total is higher than the target number the GM sets, you succeed.

There is a twist in the form of the Ghost die. One of your d6s for any check must be a ghost die. If it results in the iconic ghostbuster symbol, something bad happens. If you come up with a ghost but beat the target number you still succeed but with a complication. For example, you are deploying a ghost trap, but you step on the switch sideways and now it is jammed open and must be manually shut. If you roll a ghost and fail the check, you fail with a complication analogous to rolling a 1 in D&D and similar systems.

Your character also has brownie points which you can spend to add extra d6s to a check. You can also earn brownie points at the GMs discretion. Once you earn 30 you can increase one of your traits by one. Equipment is handled by the equipment deck. Your character can only take 3 cards with them on any job so choose wisely! This is a fun way to deal with encumbrance and allow your busters to make smart, or at very least hilarious, choices about gear.

Our intrepid GM for Scarefest did some research about local spooky events in Asheville and based our scenario around Highland Hospital and the tragic death of Zelda Fitzgerald. Doing a little bit of research about local ghost stories or tragedies in your area can add a lot of local color to the game. I would highly recommend throwing a few bucks at the Nerdy Show to pick up an equipment deck and ghost die from their starter kit and get to busting ghosts!

dread2016Next up: Dread. This is an RPG that uses a Jenga tower for action resolution. Diceless RPGs can elicit opinions from both fervent supporters and detractors, but stick with me (pun intended). Dread starts with a questionnaire for players that allow them to decide attributes about their character. Questions like: What is your most prized possession? Describe the last time you were bullied. How did you react? What is your biggest fear? What was your proudest moment? All of these questions are not about the player themselves, but the character they wish to portray for the scenario. Once the Host (GM) has read the questionnaires and taken a few notes on each, the game begins.

When players take an action that may be challenging or is thematically interesting if they fail, the Host may ask that character to make a pull from the Jenga tower to succeed. Jumping across a pit? Using an improvised weapon to fend off an enemy? Attempting first aid without supplies? All are good opportunities for a pull. Our Host also used this for perception if something was unclear. He would tell the character what they think they saw, and a pull would give them more information or certainty. If the tower falls, your character dies. Potentially, the characters could be incapacitated or removed in some other way, but most typically the consequence is death. As one might expect, this is very easy early on in the game, and becomes increasingly difficult as the game goes on.

Several scenarios are included with the RPG itself. We played one called 13, in which we were kids at a sleepover that woke up in an old strange house. The house had no windows, and seemed to be very old. Events got quite a bit creepier from there, seemingly just as the Jenga tower grew more unstable. As we made a pull, the host would usually be right over our shoulder whispering about our character’s insecurities or just about the stakes of the action itself during the pull. This really heightened the atmosphere and added to the tension in the game. Once one character was eliminated, our Host made several pulls to keep the danger level appropriate for the time we had remaining in the game. In the Rules As Written, remaining players take turns making pulls removing 3 blocks for each character that has been removed so far. Characters may also make a heroic sacrifice and, with the Host agreeing it would be appropriate, push the tower over on purpose. Unlike accidentally collapsing the tower, the character succeeds at their task, but is still eliminated from the game.

I highly recommend this game for this time of year, but it could be fun any time you and your gaming group wants to have a tense, horror-themed game. The entire table couldn’t help but cheer at precarious, successful pulls and cry out in anguish as the tower finally fell. When is the last time your entire table cheered or screamed at a die roll? Pick up the 167 page PDF for $12 or soft-cover book for $24 plus shipping. Pick up a Jenga tower, and have a very memorable game night!

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The Sinister Sutures of the Sempstress Review DCC

October 17, 2016 Comments off

sempstressThe 2016 Halloween modules from Goodman Games has arrived and it is awesome! We will get in to some minor spoilers, so this review is geared towards judges looking for something to run either in the coming weeks, or any time you want to run something in the horror genre. This adventure is decidedly creepy with a nice insanity mechanic appropriately termed “unraveling”.

This is your final warning, players look away! You will suffer dire corruption if you don’t close this page now!

Just us judges? OK – Michael Curtis did an amazing job with this adventure. This one starts with a theme about closets/wardrobes/drawers acting as portals between worlds, and has the party (who may be in the same place, or entirely different planes) called to the pocket dimension of the House of Tattered Remnants, home and prison of the Sempstress. It is digest-sized and weighs in at 20 pages, so is perfect for a convention slot, or one-shot for the holiday.

The Sempstress was banished to this pocket dimension ages ago by ancestors of the party. She sent her minions through the various seemly mundane closets or wardrobes to exact revenge on the heroes for her imprisonment. The PCs give chase and emerge in the House of Tattered Remnants. This horror house is filled with creepy challenges and mood-setting details. One of my favorite features of this adventure is the unraveling mechanic. Each PC starts with a stability score equal to their personality stat. If the PCs see something mindbogglingly horrific, they make a DC 10 Will save. On a fail, they lose a point of stability. Once it drops below 10, PCs start manifesting physical signs of unraveling which acts similar to corruption for wizards. Most of them aren’t debilitating, but represent the character losing grip on reality in this twisted pocket dimension.

There are a nice mix of encounters and traps, and the gore level is just right for my tastes: present, but not over-the-top. Another excellent feature in this adventure is a nod to classic haunted houses. Clever PCs will search for an artifact that was discarded in vats of spare body parts the Sempstress uses to create her minions. Prepared judges can blind fold a player and physically have them search in bowls peeled grapes as eyeballs and peeled tomatoes as hearts, etc. to find the representation of the artifact in real life. Such a great idea!

The final battle with the sempstress herself looks to be quite challenging, even for the 6th level PCs recommended for the adventure. She will likely have a pair of Reality Tailor allies that cast spells using set numbers rather than rolling a spell check result. Those numbers descend over subsequent rounds, but between unraveling checks from the Sempstress and her ability to stitch heroes to themselves or stitch her own wounds, this will be a boss battle to remember!

I may just print out a few 6th level pre-gens for ScareFest this weekend. It seems like the perfect venue for this spooky adventure! If you’ve got a seasonally appropriate game night coming up and are looking for a memorable adventure, head to the House of Tattered Remnants. Just don’t become unraveled!

Categories: Adventure, DCCRPG, holiday, Reviews, RPGs

The Value of Unplugging

October 10, 2016 Comments off

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So after observing that our kids fight constantly when exposed to a lot of TV and Video games, we decided (okay, my wife decided) there’d be no electronics during the week (with a few very specific exceptions) during the regular school year.

Harsh.

I was waiting for the kids to drive her nuts, and for everyone to then drive me nuts, and for that rule to be abolished and things to go back to normal.  To my surprise, after a day or two there were few complaints. The kids starting fighting less, and started actually “doing” more.  They slept better, got more exercise, and generally seemed less cranky. And best of all, we started spending more time together, with them taking an interest in RPG’s and Board games.

If you’re reading this and you’re a millennial tabletop gamer, I salute you.  The discretion to play role-playing games or board games when you’ve grown up with a plethora of media options was an unlikely one; streaming video, various video game platforms with multiplayer functionality, not to mention cell phone games and apps… it took a lot for you to even care enough to try to play a role-playing or board game where humans had to assemble in person around a table after learning rather complex rules.  If you’re older, you may understand that in the 80’s, when G.I. Joe went off the air for the day at 4:30, there was only the news and later Miami Vice or the A-Team to look forward to.  That downtime needed to be filled with something that wasn’t TV, and there was a limit to how much ATARI you could play before ragequitting.

Hence, in my day, tabletop role-playing games, board games , and war games were what we turned to.  And of course, books, sports, etc.  But on your basic rainy day or evening, we poured over the books and made characters or pulled out Talisman or O.G.R.E and had at it. Unwittingly, my wife has re-created that experience for my kids, and now they’re looking with renewed interest at my hobbies as a way to pass some enjoyable time.

I previously blogged about how my son showed some enjoyment from playing Dungeons & Dragons, but since he’s not quite old enough to be literate, he’s not catapulted into it like I had hoped.  My older daughter is a voracious reader, however, and after finishing Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance Cycle books, she’s showing a lot more appreciation for the concepts in fantasy RPG gaming than she ever has previously.

Both, as it turns out, love painting miniatures.

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I’ve had to set some restrictions to make sure they don’t paint things I have plans for, and not everything is a gem, but some are actually quite good, from both the younger one and the older.

Moreover, they’ve both become eager players of board games.  We’ve finally been able to start working through my massive collection of board games, half of which have stayed in the shrink-wrap due to the difficulty finding time with other gamers when we’ve got an RPG schedule that doesn’t allow the time.  Exposure to some of the board games like Wizards of the Coast’s Temple of Elemental Evil has got her interested in a more RPG-like experience.  It’s helpful her friends have read the same books and also enjoy painting miniatures as well (enough to shop for their own figures on reapermini.com).  For better or worse, we may just have a tween girls gaming group in the making.  You can bet I’ll blog about that, should it happen.

The time we’ve spent together has been fun for all of us, and we’re talking and sharing and growing closer as a family when this is going on, which is contrary to the quietude of zoning out in a show or game that doesn’t invite the distraction of conversation.  Of course, you don’t have to unplug to share this time, but you may just find that there’s peace that comes with cutting out those unhealthy distractions and getting back to a simpler time before Netflix.

I got on today to write board game reviews from the new games we have been playing, but realized this was maybe the more important part of the story.  Next week and for hopefully weeks to come, I’ll be sharing more of what we’re playing and how it works with younger players as well.

Frost Fang Expedition Review – DCC

October 4, 2016 Comments off

screen-shot-2016-10-04-at-8-00-04-amThe Frost Fang Expedition by Mark Bishop has been released by Purple Sorcerer games for Dungeon Crawl Classics. This beast of a 1st-level adventure weighs in at a digest-sized 72 pages plus a 40-page full-sized digital appendix for printing handouts, maps, minis, and rumors. Also included in the appendix are great tips for judging the adventure in general, as well as ways to fit this into a four-hour convention slot.

The premise is to save the town from a floating earth mote that has been the residence of a reclusive wizard for about 100 years. Recently, lights have started going out in the castle and chunks of earth have fallen into town. The townspeople fear the magic is fading and need brave adventures to summit the peak, cross the rickety bridge, and avert the impending disaster.

This adventure features lots of background information on the town, NPCs, and baddies that inhabit the different locations. Providing this level of detail allows the well-prepared judge to bring the setting and the scenes to life. That being said, I wouldn’t recommend this adventure to a novice judge. If you have about a dozen tables under your belt, you can probably handle the amount of juggling required to keep the adventure running smoothly.

Tscreen-shot-2016-10-04-at-8-00-42-amhere are two NPCs traveling with the party that want the mission to get to the end goal for very different reasons. This allows a clever judge to use them to drop key hints to the party should they be stuck, but in several scenes will require these NPCs to argue in front of the party about what to do (allowing the PCs to decide the ultimate course of action). This is a really cool device, but may be tough for new judges.

The Frost Fang Expedition also has branching paths within the adventure on the way to the peak. This allows for some replay (and certainly re-run) value as the adventures will have some agency in deciding how they want to approach the summit of the mountain. That being said, the encounters are numbered a bit confusingly. Everything throughout the entire adventure is 1-something, like the typical 1-1, 1-2, 1-3 for denoting sequential encounters in certain areas. I would have liked to see the mountain broken up in to different sections, with the branches named with numbers and letters. For instance, at the end of encounter 1-1, the party must choose the left path or the right path. the left path leads to encounter 1-2A and the right leads to encounter 1-2B. both end up and encounter 1-3. Instead, the lettered encounters represent sub-rooms in a particular location. This makes the order of events and following the path of the adventure for the judge a bit more difficult.

screen-shot-2016-10-04-at-8-01-40-amThe overall tone of the adventure is fairly lighthearted despite the impending doom of the town, should the adventurers fail. The illustrations (many by the author himself) are similar in style and tone to the Flaming Deathpits of the Minotaur Mage: Descent into Doomfire (which if you haven’t played, you really should).

The final encounter includes quite a bit of juggling (as mentioned in the included appendix) and may be a lot to handle. While there are some simplified spell-duel rules included, I would leave that out for all but the most experienced judges. There will already be a ritual to perform, plenty of NPCs and baddies to run, and a d6 counting down.

Currently on sale for $9.99 for Print+PDF, this is an awesome gaming value for some very memorable encounters. I would highly encourage experienced judges to take this one on for a con, and for home campaigns, stretch it out to two or three sessions! There is certainly a lot of good times to be had on the Frost Fang Expedition!

Categories: Adventure, Cons, DCCRPG, Reviews, RPGs