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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.

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Building Character – Background Vignettes

April 29, 2013 2 comments

I hate making characters. Oh sure, sometimes it’s fun, especially with a new system, or with a system that makes a lot of choices for you: Dungeon Crawl Classic‘s ‘Funnel’ system of creating four 0-level characters and seeing who survives to first level is a blast (if a deadly one), and the total randomness of  the classic Traveller or Palladium’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles can be fun too.  But outside of that, I need inspiration to get behind a character, and sometimes that’s not that easy.

Inspiration comes from a lot of places, but I think for most of us it comes from the Appendix N books, movies and TV shows we’ve seen. I use a lot of Shakespearean villains as a template for my anti-heroes: Othello’s Iago, Lear’s Bastard, Henry IV’s Falstaff or Prince Hal, to name a few. History Channel’s Vikings has got me inspired right now, and I’m sure Game of Thrones is packed with inspiration as well.

Once inspired, however, I start to mull over the story of the character, try to figure out how he or she talks, and what got them to be where they are. For a while, this was something I whipped up on the spot, or maybe jotted as a few notes on the back of my character sheet. As I played more, I found the back stories getting more elaborate, and there was just too much to get across as an improvised statement, and other players didn’t have time to digest what I had put into it.

When the Skyland guys started getting together back in the day, we started a web group for our campaign. In that group, the players started crafting player introductions which varied in elaboration, but which gave a great platform for an introduction that could be read prior to the game, and referred back to. Eventually this grew into some great story telling, and was eagerly anticipated by the rest of the group. We used google groups, but a lot of people have used Obsidian Portal, Roll20.net or a free wiki for the same purpose.

Next time you’re getting ready to try out a new character for your longer campaigns, give it a shot. It’s a helpful tool to flesh out your back story and gives the other players (if not the characters) something to make your character and the setting itself come to life. Not sure where to begin? Check out Goodman Games’ PC Pearls as a system-agnostic starting point.

By way of example, my Drow Artificer was to be our ship’s doctor on our Pirate campaign.  While I could say his family staged an unsuccessful coup and he had to flee the city for the surface world, the following tells that tale a little bit better:

THE DOCTOR

“Your obsession with corpses is starting to seem most unnatural, Master V’rderist” said Agaed Malag’tel from the shadows of the
external image DrowfromPlotPoisonAGuidebooktoDrow.pnglaboratory.

Vaeldti did not look up from the body on which he labored, though Agaed’s presence was a surprise. He may have acted differently if he had known he was being observed. He was, if nothing else, unshakable however, and reacted no differently now.

“It’s far from an obsession, Agaed,” said Vaeldti without looking up from the corpse, “Were the few meager years I’ve spent experimenting with the anatomy of the creatures of the Underdark taken as requisite for ‘obsession’ then you, sir, would be ‘obsessed’ with spying on me.”

“But I am obsessed with spying on you, friend Vaeldti,” purred Agaed, pulling himself off the wall. Vaeldti smiled gently and palmed a scalpel from the table, slipping it into the sleeve of his surgical gown. He carefully removed the second heart of the umber hulk on his table, and readied a jar to receive it. Agaed was being too informal. This could not be good.

“Be that as it may, friend Agaed,I believe should this be considered some vice of indulgence, it is by far the smallest transgression, compared with other crimes…” Behind Vaeldti’s back, Agaed stopped smiling, then jumped back slightly as the umber hulk heart dropped hissing into the clear glass jar filled with preservative fluids.

“Have you ever considered what a disappointment you must be to your family, what with your training for those many years in Sorcere only to squander it by sequestering yourself for a decade with those ridiculous Duergar? I’m sure you must have been flayed within an inch of your life when you were finally caught.” Agaed laughed mirthlessly.

Vaeldti’s smile did not wane. “Yes,” he answered, “Yes to both the disappointment, and the flaying, but I must offer a correction. I returned of my own accord. That is to say, the Duergar held nothing else to offer me.”

Two large metallic spiders emerged from the cavernous chest cavity of the Umber Hulk, their glass abdomens full of ambergris harvested from the corpse; enough to pay for new equipment when Vaeldti reached the surface. He smiled, and seeing that his small automatons were growing low on magical energy, extended his index finger and started only slightly as first one and then the other of his mechanical assistants latched on and drank.

“Not that they do not have some fine secrets worth keeping, however,” said Vaeldti stroking the back of a clockwork arachnid.

Agaed frowned. “Be that as it may, it would have been, perhaps, more beneficial to your House if you could have added that power behind the forces that moved against my House last night! For they have fallen, and you, sir, will be next to die!”

As Agaed moved to pull his longsword, a sudden sharp pain forced him to clutch his neck. A handful of metallic spider stung at him again, then scurried to Vaeldti’s side as he finished cleaning his tools.

“I did say that I was flayed, did I not, Agaed…” Vaeldti turned as he finished, “and it is not something I have forgotten. This House can rot in the Demonweb Pits for all I care, as can this whole wretched cavernous pit. The foolishness of it all.”

Holding his arms behind his back, Vaeldti paced as though lecturing a first year student of Sorcere. Agaed’s knees buckled and sweat began to bead upon his brow.

“Do you know that they teach the study of anatomy in both Sorcere and Melee Magthere, but only for the purposes of torture and killing, respectively? Such wasteful foolishness presupposes that the gods shall stay set in place, and that the Matrons will always have the ear of Most Divine Llolth to close wounds and purge disease. I see there is more to it than that…”

Leaning over Agaed, Vaeldti held his face within inches of the sweating cowering form.

“Perhaps it is due to my altruistic nature that I am so flawed. But, it will require my leaving for the surface, which I am already prepared to do…. especially now that I’ve captured you.”

Agaed staggered upright, leaning into the corner as he felt his strength drain. “Ca-ca-cap-captured? D-d-d-do you pl-plan to ransom me?” he stuttered as his jaw locked under the effects of the paralytic poison.

“Ransom? Aha, no…. No, for you, I will give you the opportunity to contribute to my work, and thus redeem yourself…. One last contribution…. to science. ”

Agaed’s screams barely escaped the stairwell… and three hours later, Vaeldti make his way to the surface, seeking to learn more about the mysteries of the natural world.

——

The sea captain stared at the forged letters carefully, then examined Valedti from head to toe.
“Ships doctor, you say?”
“Indeed”
“Any good?”
“Very good”
“If I am not mistaken, you are a drow,” said the Captain conclusively.
“And if I am not mistaken, you are a pirate sir. Strange bedfellows, I believe the expression goes?”
The captain sighed….”You’re hired, Mr….”
“Doctor… and it’s Vaeldti V’rderist”
“Welcome aboard, Doctor Valedi Venderost…”
“No it’s….”
“Below decks, Doctor. Men need tending to… ”

“…Indeed.”

Categories: Character, Pirates, RPGs, Tips

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

Goblin Moons and more DCC thoughts

September 2, 2012 5 comments

I wish I could say I have been recovering from GenCon, or that I’m at DragonCon this weekend, but sadly neither is the case. Its just been awhile since I’ve had much RPG-related to blog about. Yesterday changed that:

In honor of the Blue Moon on Friday, the guys at the Asheville Pathfinder Lodge wanted to hold a special event. Our lodge has had particular fun with, and recruited several new members by playing the free Paizo adventure We Be Goblins! It offers the unique opportunity to play Goblin PCs. At least it used to be unique until they recently released the Advanced Race Guide.

Informed by the material in that book, and borrowing the pre-gens from “We Be,” one of the regular APL GMs goblinized the First Steps intro module In Service to Lore. More than just a simple re-skinning of familiar encounters, we’ve created a goblin version of the Pathfinders called the Raidmakers, complete with 10 different goblin factions. Examples include: Ooo… shiny!, Fire Fire Fire FIRE!, Dog-hate, Eight-Fingers, Why Longshanks Get Rid of Good Stuff, etc. All of these line up with a respective “regular” factions we’ve all come to know.

The modules are still in alpha, and of course, completely unofficial, but the players seemed to really enjoy getting to roleplay goblins again with brand new encounters. Once we get them polished up a bit, I’ll check to see if we can post them here and spread the love for our little toothy, watermelon-headed friends.

In other news, I GMed a few sessions of DCCRPG and completed the adventure that came with the special edition of the core rules, #66.5 Doom of the Savage Kings. It was pretty awesome, but the players had some constructive criticism about the system in general. One of the main ones is that their PCs are too fragile! This was a first level adventure, and we had each player running two 1st level PCs. There were a few close calls, but no true fatalities, but the potential was certainly there. Have we become used to having 20-30 hit points on first level from 4e? Maybe. But it does stink to put a lot of effort in to a 5 HP character, only to see him get mauled by a dog or taken down by a brigand.

The other complaint is that most of the PCs aren’t very good at anything. One player had a Wizard with 13 intelligence. That character would never have made it past the character creation stage in any other system. It’s a fair point. So far, we’ve been pretty much playing by the book, or Rules As Written. That may change for future DCC sessions. Right now it feels like DCC Super Peasants! We may create something like DCC Heroes, that allows “5d6 take the top 3” for rolling stats, and rather than rolling them straight down the line, being able to assign numbers to the key stats you want. We may also re-roll 1s and 2s on hit dice so they have a decent number of hit points. Also, we may choose Race/Classes rather than rolling them randomly, as we’ve played several sessions and had about a dozen elves and dwarves, but not a single halfling. We’ll keep experimenting and let you know how it goes! We have plenty of material as I’ve bought all the DCCRPG modules released so far including the gorgeous Special Edition 13th Skull.

The Pirates set sail again this week, as we continue our Skulls and Shackles campaign. It will be good to put my pirate hat back on, and set sail for adventure!

Turning a newbie into a GameMaster

July 4, 2012 1 comment

As fans of this blog know, Free RPG day was a resounding success! The first thing I ran that day was the Pathfinder Beginner Box. A few of us who were trying to find a game early in the day started talking about what we wanted to play. One of the guys milling about had the beginner box tucked under his arm, freshly purchased. He had read it was a good intro to RPGs, and had never played one before. I immediately offered to run it for him, as I had run it in the past, and we quickly gathered a full table. We all had a blast and got through the included adventure in about two hours.

Fast forward to yesterday, I stopped in at the Wyvern’s Tale to pick up the monastery flip-mat for the Asheville Pathfinder Lodge meeting this Saturday. I chatted for awhile with Siméon (one of the owners) about upcoming events, and how the lodge is growing exponentially. He let me know that the same guy who had just purchased the beginner box a few weeks ago gathered up a few players looking for a game and GMed it himself! He was getting so in to it, Siméon said he could hear him from downstairs! Hearing this filled my heart with absolute joy. To be able to take a hobby that I enjoy so much, and personally spread the love of the game to others is what its all about.

Also in our conversation was an awesome upcoming release that piqued my interest: the Bestiary Box! I’ve never been in to collecting minis, but I do like having a cool representation of both heroes and baddies on the table. The pawns included with the beginner box were a really cool and inexpensive way to make the game come to life. No doubt minis are even better for this, but they’re also pretty expensive and somewhat hard to store if you have a lot of them. Enter the Bestiary Box! For MSRP $35 you get more than 250 different baddies to drop on the table, and the right size bases for large and huge creatures! That’s a steal in my book.

Also, lest you think Skyland Games is all Pathfinder all-the-time, I’ve got the DCCRPG adventures on order from the Wyvern’s Tale. I can’t wait to check out what each one holds! I’ve been making enough noises on the blog and at the Lodge meetings to garner some interest in running a table or two of DCCRPG. Once the guys are a little burned out on Pathfinder, we’ll get back to the coolest old-school/new RPG on the block!

In other news, the Skulls and Shackles Pirate Campaign is going swimmingly (sometimes literally). We’re about at the end of the Wormwood Mutiny, and I have to say I’m impressed. Our intrepid GM Micheal has put a lot of prep-work in to making it awesome for us, but there are certainly a lot of excellent and varied encounters throughout, without losing that distinctive pirate feel. Nice work Paizo, and thanks to our awesome GM and players!

Some of the Skyland Games guys are taking this holiday to get together, grill out, and roll some dice! Hope you get to do the same. Speaking of which, I’ve got some maps to draw. Game on!

DnDnext Playtest, Traveller5, Pirates, and Appendix T

June 1, 2012 Comments off

The memorial day holiday offered the perfect opportunity for some of the Skyland Games guys to give this DnDnext Playtest a whirl. We were all pretty eager to see how the various mechanics would work out in play, and encouraged by the old-school feel of the character sheets, and the provided adventure: Caves of Chaos.

Adding to the old-school motif, we had seven PCs in the party, (something we would normally avoid at all costs in 4e) but it didn’t bog down the action as much as large parties have with other editions. Once the players were accustomed to their character sheets and equipment, the turns moved pretty briskly for such a large party. We had all of the pre-gens represented, while we doubled up on the elven wizard and the thief. We also had a fairly even split of guys and ladies playing (4 guys, 3 ladies). Scott suggested we tap in to the DCCRPG core rulebook for some names and titles to give these guys a little individuality. For those of you unfamiliar, at the back of the DCCRPG book, there are two Appendices that are percentile tables in which you can roll up a name and a title based on your class. From these we derived such awesome names as Naroob the Chaste, Thremnym the Killer, Scarabus the Mystic, and Llambichus the Paladin among others. Its a fun, simple way to add a bit more flavor and individuality to your character; especially fun with pre-gens.

Overall I think everybody had a really good time, and this version of DnDnext seemed to lend itself to more creativity and improvisation at the table, something many of us feel 4e usually lacks. Its not that you can’t improvise in 4e, just that most players tend to bury their heads in the 5-10 pages of their character sheet to look for a power, rather than consider the situation and try and make something up. I just received the first email from WotC seeking feedback from the playtest. Hopefully we’ll be able to play it more in between games of DCCRPG and Pathfinder.

Speaking of which, last night was the second session of our pirates campaign and the Skulls and Shackles adventure path! (Minor spoilers ahead) At this point we’ve been on the boat for about two weeks, and have been working on gaining some allies from within the crew. The officers of the ship clearly think we’re up to know good, and they’ve started to make sure they have some allies as well. By the end of the session, only one crew member was still on the fence between the groups, and the crew was pretty evenly split. Methinks the waters ahead may be choppy! It has been an awesome experience so far, and a refreshing change from the bite-sized adventures in Pathfinder Society. The only thing that has been a bit confusing so far is keeping track of the NPCs! There are about 30 crew members and all of them have a little back-story. It’s a very richly detailed module.

In other news, Marc Miller, the original creator of Traveller has launched a kickstarter to get the Fifth Edition published! You didn’t think D&D was the only 35 year old game working on reinventing itself, did you? I personally really like Traveller, even though I have played very little of it. Instead of three little black books of the original, Marc is raising funds to publish a massive 600-page core rulebook. I think I’m going to need to own a copy of that! According to the kickstarter page, a lot of updates have been made in terms of technology levels, robots, computers, ships, and just about all the aspects that makes Traveller, Traveller. I’m really looking forward to it, and hope they’ve got some great artists on board to fill those 600 pages with more than just text. With all these great systems to play, it may be awhile before we can get back to Traveller, but when we’re ready, hopefully there will be a 600 page tome waiting for us.

GeekOut 2012 Report – The Start of Something Big

May 18, 2012 1 comment

The gameroom stayed busy with most of the Asheville Pathfinder Lodge regulars in attendance. Much thanks to Dell from SCARAB, our illustrious Venture Captain and 5-star GM.

GeekOut 2012 was a blast, both in the tabletop game room and in the exhibition hall. I wish I would have had time to catch a panel, but I was too busy perfecting my goblin voice for Paizo’s We Be Goblins! There were a ton of artists there (many from the very geek-chic Asheville gallery Za-POW), some toy vendors and lots of people in costume. It certainly wasn’t a huge convention, but it was a great start. Not to mention it was completely free! There are a ton of pictures from the event on MultiverseAVL’s facebook page. It was certainly a great day of gaming, and we saw a lot of new faces around the Pathfinder tables.

After speaking with a few friends who also attended, the one thing that was missing from GeekOut that used to be at fanaticon was a strong showing from comic book shops. There were a few comics to be had, but at fanaticon there was booth after booth and box after box. I’m not as big into comics as I used to be, but that drew a lot of people in, and also brought a lot of costumed cosplayers out. There were plenty of people in costume at GeekOut, but not as many comics. All and all it’s a minor complaint in what otherwise was a very fun event!

In other Skyland Games news, we’ve set sail for the archipelago known as the Shackles! Last night we kicked off our second attempt at a pirates campaign, and if last night was any indication, this is going to be a very memorable run. Last night, our characters were press-ganged in to joining the crew of the Wormwood. Our party is made up of a huge Mwangi Barbarian (Mighty Hoku), a Human Cleric of Besmara (Vernon Blueskye), an Elven Ranger (Falconer, with a parrot as his “falcon,” Yandro Bowfisher), a Varisian/Taldan Rogue (Pirate archetype, you gotta have one in a pirate campaign, right? Tiberius the Brown), and a Druid of the Sea (Jhang Kel-Ket, constrictor animal companion). After working a few days on the ship and sneaking around trying to find some allies and some information, there seems to be two groups on the ship making alliances. Methinks a mutiny is afoot! The captain and his officers are cruel bastards, and I have a feeling if the party rose up against them, we wouldn’t be alone.

So far it’s a really cool story, and we aren’t even through the first module yet. In fact, we only made it through 5 days, of what is supposed to be a 45 day journey! That is, if we can prevent mighty Hoku from eating all the ship’s stores before then. If you like Pathfinder and you haven’t tried an adventure path before, I highly recommend it. The amount of detail and effort that went in to Skull and Shackles is pretty amazing. Our intrepid GM, Michael Jones, has already prepared two binders full of stuff, and that was before we even got together for the first session!

On our weeks when we aren’t sailing the seas, we’ll likely be continuing our exploration of the awesomeness that is Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG. Included with my Gold-Foil Special Edition of the Core Rules was a bonus adventure 66.5 Doom of the Savage Kings. It is crazy awesome and makes me want to buy all of the other modules they have slated to come out this year. Well played Goodman Games, well played.