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Baby Yoda FFG build

February 21, 2020 1 comment

I would like to see the baby. Fair enough. The surprise star of the first season of the Mandalorian brought many fans joy and made a lot of people curious about the show through some truly adorable memes.

“The Child” was one of the more interesting to try and stat up, since we don’t have any other examples of that species outside of Yoda. From Yoda’s stat block in Allies and Adversaries it looks like his career is Mystic Seer judging from his talents such as Natural Mystic. I decided to go the same way with the Child. I also started with 110 initial xp and 123123 as initial characteristics, which seems plausible as a starting point for Yoda as well.

Initial xp went to boosting characteristics: Intellect, Willpower, and Presence. I chose the few initial skills granted by his career and spent the rest on talents to up his force rating, and purchase a few Force powers: Bind, Heal/Harm and Protect/Unleash, all of which we see him use on screen in one form or another during the first season.

I did homebrew one talent that doesn’t exist in FFG Star Wars: Magic Hand Thingy. Named after what Greef Karga calls it when the heroes are pursued by Moff Gideon in his TIE fighter. Here is the description: Spend all remaining strain to roll double your force rating in dice and pass out. Pips may be spent to add range, strength, control, and/or magnitude.

This power is meant to represent the few scenes in which the Child performed some crazy force feat, then immediately passed out: levitating the mudhorn, healing Greef’s nearly fatal wounds, and shielding the heroes from a flamethrower.

I think it is a nice thematic way to bring that power to the table and gives the PC playing The Child a great opportunity to turn the tide when the chips are down. See what you think.

I’ll be running two sessions of my Mandalorian game at Mace West in Asheville, NC next week! Hope to see you there!

The Mandalorian – Mace West Preview

February 3, 2020 Comments off

MACE West is less than a month away! The annual western addition of Mid-Atlantic Convention Expo returns a bit earlier than in previous years (February 28 – March 1), but in the same space at the DoubleTree in Asheville, just outside the Biltmore estate.

Registration is already open. Get your tickets, sign up for games, and I’ll see you there!

I’ll be running DCCL Acting Up in Lankhmar, as well as two slots of my FFG Star Wars adventure that picks up immediately where the Mandalorian TV season 1 ends (spoiler warning if for some reason you have failed to devour the first season of Mandalorian).

After watching the last few episodes a few more times, I would still like to stat out IG-11 and Kuill, but they are both pretty much irrefutably dead after the last episode. One could argue you could rebuild IG-11, but his self-destruct device was purpose-built to avoid capture and his design being copied. The only reason Kuill was able to rebuild him earlier in the show was thanks to Mando’s well-placed headshot.

The pre-gens for my table of Mandalorian Season 2 will be: Mando, Cara Dune, Greef Karga, The Armorer, Paz Vizla (Mandalorian heavy), and the Child. Today I’ll share my build for Carasynthia Dune of Alderaan.

I considered making her a Soldier Heavy from Age of Rebellion, but went with Soldier Commando instead. Especially considering the addition of Paz Vizla, who is most definitely a Hired Gun Heavy, Commando seemed like the best choice for her. Added to the core Solider skills of Athletics, Brawl, Knowledge (Warfare), Medicine, Melee, Ranged (Light) and Ranged (Heavy), Commando adds another Brawl, another Melee, Resilience and Survival. The skills alone do well to describe what we have seen on the screen so far. The talents only further support Commando as the best choice for Cara. As a human you can take two non-career skills, and I chose Gunnery and Cool. I’m building these pre-gens out with initial XP+200. I used her initial 110 as a human to increase her Brawn up to 4 and Agility up to 3. I eventually purchased the talents to get to Dedication and increase her Agility to 4.

As one may expect, there are plenty of ranks of Grit and Toughened in the Commando talent tree. I purchased a few of those, as well as Point Blank which adds damage to Ranged attacks at short and engaged range. Durable reduces crit results suffered by 10. Armor master increases soak by 1 when searing armor. Feral Strength adds 1 damage to Brawn and Melee attacks. Perhaps most thematically, Heroic Fortitude allows Cara to ignore effects of crits to Brawn and Agility until the end of the encounter. On balance, I think this build fits quite well for what we’ve seen from Cara on screen so far.

Her equipment posed a few interesting challenges. Most notably, her heavy rifle does not appear to have appeared in the Star Wars universe before. The power cell is similar to the RT-97C from Battlefront, but it is under the rifle which features two barrels and a carrying handle she uses to stabilize it while firing. To stat it out, I started with a Heavy Blaster Rifle and added an Augmented Spin Barrel, Forearm Grip, and Optimized Energy Cell. The one from the show doesn’t actually spin, but mechanically it just adds one base damage while providing an additional barrel. The Forearm Grip reduces the difficulty for engaged range heavy checks, and the Optimized Energy Cell accounts for the massive power cell and ensures she will rarely run out of ammo.

I gave her Rebel Heavy Battle Armor (Soak 2) which when you add her 4 Brawn and Armor Master gives her a very beefy 7 soak. Beyond that, I added a simple blaster and a vibroknife as backup weapons. In the show her pistol has a cool looking scope on it, but I didn’t find a weapon modification that described that well and fit on a pistol.

Once I stat out the rest of the PCs I’ll post them here. As of this writing, there are still a few slots left for the tables I’m running. There are a ton of great gaming events happening all weekend: board games, historical wargames, and even a greek pantheon themed LARP. See you at MACE West!

Categories: Uncategorized

Building Bad: Tips on Creating Memorable Villain NPC’s

January 6, 2020 Comments off

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It’s easy, relatively speaking, to run a villain in most campaigns.  You’ve got technical application of the rules, some rudimentary tactics, and keeping track of stats, spells, and wounds, sure…. And sometimes that can be burdensome, but any GM worth their salt should be able to readily handle that aspect of the game, if not right away then early in their GMing career.

But how do you take a pile of stats and make it memorable?  Make it truly villainous?  here are a few tips to creating a bad guy that your players will love to hate.

Reputation / Infamy

You hear about a villain, or their actions, before you ever see them:  You come across the scene of the murder.  You hear the villagers talk about the tradgedy the villain has brought to bear (even if they don’t know that’s who is behind it).  People talk in hushed tones about the warlord  in the neighboring province.  Villagers tell tale of the creature that lives in the woods.

This is best delievered as background noise, tavern rumors, or news reports.  Better yet, it’s learned when the party is busy with another problem.  It builds a richer world, one fraught with problems where the party can only do so much.  The villain is a problem that the party has to work itself up to.  Haunting scenes of death and destruction or chilling tales from victims or survivors build the villain’s reputation.

Villains use others to do their dirty work.

While some villains may be solitary, many villains that wield enough power will draw followers that seek to benefit from the riches or influence their dastardly patron.  Others may see a chance for wanton violence in the company of someone who has mastered it.

This could be as minimal as a hobgoblin or bugbear that commands a small horde of semi-faithful goblins.  It could be a petty crime lord that pays a biker gang to ferry his contraband and protect his holdings for a cut of the take.  It could be an army.  In this agency, there is power over the innocent.  These perhaps not-so-powerful followers can affect change by virtue of their numbers.  They can destroy a village, derail a train, and in big enough numbers, crush a nation.

Use these minions to exact the will of the Villain, spy on their enemies, and create confrontations that remind the party the villain is active without putting the villain himself at risk.  Furthermore, these minions brag about their patron villain.  They want people to know that they are to be feared and respected because of their patron’s power.  Let your minions tell tales of their patron villain, threaten his wrath, and predict his retribution.  You’re building a relationship between the villain and the party without the villain saying a word themselves.

Villains attack heroes where they’re most vulnerable.

Only so much force can be brought to bear agains the heroes themselves.  They are, after all, the heroes!  They were built to overcome adversity.  When a villain cannot eliminate the heroes, they can make them pay.  Often, they have friends, family and loved ones that don’t have the same capability to fight back.  And there’s nothing to make a villain more hated than attacking or exploiting the innocent, especially if the heroes are close to the victims.

Villains live to fight another day.

There is no single thing that drives a party mad more readily than a villain slipping through their grasp.  Villains should plan ways of making their escape so that the heroes cannot follow until it’s time to stop telling their story.  Dedicated retreat can be difficult to counter, especially for a Villain applying a little forethought.  Take note, however, that if you do this, there are two rules you have to follow: One, the escape must make sense in some form or fashion or the party will see the escape as a cheat. Make sure evidence of their escape plan is clear and reasonable. Two, you must eventually let the heroes catch the villain.  The contract you have with the players as a GM is that you will give them the opportunity to be heroic. Give them that opportunity, if not right away.

Villains use their resources to make your misery their hobby.

Villiains have time and resources that allow them to do things that an average hero wouldn’t even consider.  It might be having their goons ransack the heroes’ base, burn down a town, or spread nasty rumors about them.  They can take their time or drop a little money into making the heroes miserable, including impersonating them while doing their worst.  Fire is cheap.  The watch and judges can be bribed. While the possibilities are endless, the goal is to anger the party, not to kill them.  They are owed a confrontation, and their anger is the spice that will make that fight all the more satsifying.

Villains aren’t just cruel to the heroes.

If a villain is cruel, there are plenty of ways to show it.  Sometimes, this involves slaying their own underlings for their own incompetence.  For the chaotic evil out there, it could be slaying bystanders for almost no reason at all.  In most cases, it’s going to be a villain taking the most direct route to solving a problem, even if that means a few people have to get hurt along the way.  Show these victims to the players in your story so that they get the depth of what a jerk your bad guy really is.  If possible, let your villain do this infront of them, but just out of their grasp.  Use the innocent as human shields to cover the villains escape or distract the heroes from seeking their vengeance.

Villians love to hear themselves talk.

There’s nothing more disappointing than fighting your way through multiple floors of a dungeon or secret base and finally cornering the villian you’ve been hunting for weeks to only have him or her wordlessly wade into combat with you without uttering a word.

This is the easiest, cheapest way to make a villain 100% more satisfying.  Call it a surprise round where the villain takes his whole action talking, or do what I do and say it’s a special “drama round” where you apply GM fiat to tell a cool story.  However you make it happen, have your villain at least say a few lines:

“Miserable stinking imbeciles!  You think you can defeat me?  I am Lord Castigar!  I have slain hundrends of so called heroes like yourselves.  Come at me, if you wish to die!”

It doen’t take much to improv some witty (or not-so-witty) dialogue.  But don’t stop there.  Each round, on the villains action, give them some more lines.  Goad the players, mock them, have them explain the cunning nature of their plan, or if things are turning agains tthe Villain, have them start to negotiate.  And when they negotiate, see if there is a way to be reasonable.  See if you can actually tempt the player into taking the deal.  Don’t be surprised if your villain tells the heroes, “Wait! Stop!” and they actually do it, and hear him out (with hesitation).  There’s something about our human natures that make us willing to hear reason, if its possible, and a villain can use that to his advantage.  A real villain will always welch on the deal anyway, so its nothing to make a few promises and then try to get back to their position down the road.  A good villain bides his time. And if they can’t, you have to remember the last thing…

Villains are people too.

Well, some of them are demons, or space monsters or whatever. But the best villain is a villain that can exist in reality.  Sure, there are murdering psyhopaths that cut a swath of death a destruction through the universe for no reason, but the best villains are ones that could exist, that do exist.  They’re usually greedy, money hungry or power hungry people who bend a few rules at first to get what they think they need or deserve.  Soon, when this becomes easier, or if the reward is just too good, they make bolder moves and more people get hurt.  Maybe life has taught them lessons that make empathy a sign of weakness, and they’ve moved beyond being concerned with how others are affected by their actions.  But a complex villain, one that might yet be turned away from their path, or might show vengence another evil for reasons all their own, that’s a truly well developed villain.  They have reasons for acting how they do, and don’t see themselves as evil so much as driven, regardless of the consequences.

In the end, every villain wants to live.  If the choice is obvious death or the possibility of surviving, 9 times out of 10 a villain will choose life unless losing everything is too great of an insult to their vanity. And then, its up the heroes to show mercy, or perhaps begin the road towards villany themselves. Every villain has to start somewhere, and its a fine line between vengence and wrath.

DCC RPG Annual Vol. 1 Review

November 22, 2019 Comments off
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It has been almost a year since we have published anything on this blog. Life can get busy, but I have a particularly adorable excuse. My wife and I have wanted to adopt for years, and in October 2018 we got the call. We’ve spent the majority of this last year learning how to be parents. It has been amazing to see this little zero level gain new skills and bring such joy to so many people. Now that we have mastered parenting (ha!), we both wanted to get back to creative pursuits and hobbies.

While I may have not blogged about RPGs, I certainly haven’t stopped playing them or buying stuff! Just counting Goodman Games kickstarters that have shipped since I last posted we have had MCC, DCC Lankhmar, and most recently the DCC Annual Vol. 1. I’ve decided to try and catch up in reverse chronological order, so we’ll start with the Annual.

For those of us die hard DCC fans, the “Annual” had been talked about in hushed tones on the now defunct G+ (RIP) since at least 2013, if not earlier. The years went by and still no Annual. Was the gongfarmer’s almanac the annual? No, that was community-created content. The Annual would be from the core Goodman Games writers. It eventually became synonymous for things that would be nice to have, but would not likely see the light of day; the vaporware of RPGs.

Then in late October of 2018, the kickstarter for the Annual was launched. I backed at the foil level. Due to a shipping/fulfillment snafu, I only received my physical copy recently. I had skimmed the PDF version, but didn’t do a deep dive until recently. The tome weighs in at 208 pages.

The chapter numbers mirror the core book, which seems confusing and unnecessary. While the first section is a welcome addition expanding the official material on the pantheon of gods just mentioned by name in the core book, starting on Chapter 5 seems like on odd choice. It would be one thing if this was a direct expansion of the core book and you could plug these sections in to the original, but since they are two separate volumes it just makes navigating the Annual a bit weird.

That said, the contents of the strangely numbered chapters are pretty excellent. Chapter 5 provides background information for several of the gods mentioned in the cleric section of the core book such as Cadixtat, Justicia, Shul and Malotoch, however it does not detail all of them. It does provide some satisfying backstory for those included, as well as several Lay on Hands manifestations to add some more flavor to the next healing attempt. Most provide a few deity-specific divine favors and titles for the first five PC levels. Each entry also includes specific disapproval tables, and spells for levels 1, 3 and 5 called canticles.

Chapter 6 extends the Quests & Journeys chapter of the core book by quite a bit. Included is a fairly detailed table of 24 mini-adventures that could be run in between larger quests. This is followed by several pages detailing a lost utopian land of Mu. While not providing a specific adventure, it provides descriptions of the inhabitants, crystal technology, and interesting places upon which a judge could launch any number of quests.

Chapter 7 is labeled Judge’s Rules like the core book, but is a collection of more patrons for wizards and elves. Several of these I recognize from specific adventures, while others may be new or just unfamiliar to me. Each entry includes some background information, invoke patron results, patron taint, spellburn results and patron spells for level 1, 2 and 3.

As in the core book, Chapter 8 is dedicated to Magic Items. This includes a very detailed section on crafting magic rings with a vast number of tables to ensure each ring created would be unique. The next section describes patron weapons which is a process (and tables!) that describes imprisoning a PC in an item for angering their patron. This curse always has a condition upon which it may be lifted. It also has rules for wielding patron weapons, and a mechanic in which a patron weapon could exert its will on the wielder and dominate the bearer. There is also a table of magical books and a few that have detailed descriptions of magical effects from reading them. My favorite part of this chapter is the named swords section. It dedicates an entire page to each sword. Half of the page is a detailed illustration, the other half is a lengthy backstory and list of powers.

The last main chapter provides options for making monsters more memorable. There are several long entries of individual creatures, but also sections which include tables to make what could be mundane creatures into something unique. This includes tables for randomizing bugs, reptiles, constructs, giants, therianthropes (were-creatures) and general mutations. The chapter concludes with a section on monstrous patronage. This allows a judge to provide some supernatural aide for monsters similar to PCs invoking their patrons. This could be fun if used sparingly, and would be pretty terrifying on the player side of the table the first time it is used.

The book closes with Appendix M – Moustaches. This is a hilarious group of rules and tables about moustaches culminating in the moustache duel. “But sometimes things get ugly, and then folks with a ‘stache must have a clash.”

I think it is great this book finally went into production. It is an excellent collection of details and tables to expand DCC, without feeling like it is adding complicated sub-systems or dreaded rules-bloat. I would recommend it for fans of DCC who want to add a bit flavor and detail to their PCs, monsters, magic items and moustaches.

Categories: Uncategorized Tags: ,

Review: Legend of the Five Rings Beginner Box

August 28, 2018 Comments off

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First, a little history…

Legend of the Five Rings is role playing set in Rokugan, which is similar to Japan during the Tokugawa shogunate, but with fantasy elements.  The setting features noble samurai,  wise monks and mysterious shugenja (priests)  that wield swords, fists, and spiritual powers (respectively) to obtain honor and fame in the honor-bound feudal setting.  Each character derives from a powerful clan (Crane, Crab, Lion, Phoenix, Dragon, Scorpion, and Unicorn) each with  their own motivations and agendas.

The game got its start in 1995 with AEG, which released a role playing game along with a collectible card game that was fairly popular at the time (and which persisted until 2015).   Fantasy Flight has acquired the rights to this rich setting, and launched things last year at Gen Con with an oriental styled parade from the street through Gen Con itself, gathering quite a crowd.

Here’s a fleeting picture I snapped at the time:

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2017 Rokugan Parade

Fantasy Flight is doing some pretty impressive stuff with the property, including kicking off the new card game (which is about a year old, and I’ve heard good things, but haven’t played). But more importantly for Skyland Games readers, they have been working on a new version of the RPG rules which have been in beta testing for some time now.  You can download those beta test rules HERE.  However, smart money might just guide you to pick up the Beginner box which just came out.  I did, and I’d say on the whole it was worth it, unless you’re sure sure sure you want to play and can’t wait for the final rules to be released next year (TBD as of this article).

The Beginner Box: Contents

The L5R Beginner Box is an attractive set, coming with maps of the larger region, maps of a medium sized city / village, and a map of a large castle not actually featured in the boxed set itself (but available for some online content I’ll discuss later).

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It also features a full set of Legend of the Rings dice, which are unique to the system. As with FFG’s Star Wars beginner boxes, the dice are about a $13 dollar value, which begins to justify the total MSRP of $39.95

The game includes an adventure that presumes no knowledge of the rules or how to play, and teaches both game master and players how to play as the game continues.  While theoretically that would allow you to start playing almost immediately, in reality the GM is going to need to read through the entire booklet to grasp the concepts before sitting down to run.

Without giving anything away, the adventure “The Topaz Championship” is a coming-of-age ceremony for persons of the samurai caste, which includes in this case a Phoneix clan shugenja, a Dragon clan Monk, a Crane clan Courtier and a Lion clan warrior.  The adventurers find themselves travelling together and form an unlikely bond when strange events occur that unite them in a common purpose.

The adventure itself is not the strongest adventure out there, but does unfold the concepts nicely and provides a way to ease into more and more of the rules as you play.  It starts with introducing setting and role playing concepts, then evolves into skill challenges, then non-lethal combat, then lethal combat.  Each character booklet presented to each player gives a skeletal version of the rules, indications of what the symbols on the dice mean, and what various actions can be taken.  A small more detailed rules-lite version of the full rules is also in the box, which allows for more nuanced play outside of the extra-lite rules in the adventure itself.

The Rules

The Beginner box gives us a good idea, if not a perfect idea, of what the game will look like upon release.  First I should note that, though the system holds similarities to the Genesys game that is the framework for many future releases from FFG, it is not that system, which to me was a bit of a disappointment.  While I have no desire to return the the days of d20 where everything was a d20 system and rules became painfully bland, there is some lack of utility in being similar to but different than a new standard from the same company.  Presumably, the rules presented are tied deeply into the concepts of the whole setting in a way to will prove meaningful enough to justify a new play format.

First, players have stats that derive from the Five Rings, (as set out by Musashi in 1645).  Fire = Passion; Earth = Discipline; Water = Adaptability; Air = Precision; Void = Spirituality

These are your core abilities, rather than agility, strength, etc.  The characters also have skills, ranging from law, to martial arts, to courtesy.  Many of the skills are not what you would call your standard fantasy adventure game skills.

Making a check requires rolling black ring dice, in addition to white skill dice.  One for each point you have in the ring or in the skill.

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You may keep as many dice as you have values in the ring you are using.  The versatility of the system is that it allows you to often parlay the way you are approaching something to make it something you are good at. For instance, if you want to knock someone down, you needn’t use Fire + Unarmed Combat (charging at them), you could instead nimbly dodge their blows, striking only with precision (Air+Unarmed Combat) or use their own momentum to throw them off balance (Water+Unarmed Combat).  Some approaches are more effective than others.

Dice have four results:

  • Success:  You need enough of these to reach your target number set by the GM
  • Exploding Successes: You count this as a success and then roll the die again, opting to keep this next roll as part of the first, or dropping it.  These subsequent rolls can go on into infinity and aren’t counted against you as part of your ring limit.
  • Opportunity: This works, as far as I can tell, like advantage in Genesys or FFG Star Wars, but perhaps with more restrictions depending on the type of ring you were using.  Rules are skeletal here, and may be expanded on in the main book.
  • Strife: This is emotion or stress that causes you to lose your cool.

Unlike those other systems, there are no difficulty, challenge or setback dice.  Also, strife appears along with positive dice results (like success, exploding success, and opportunity) thereby baiting the player to take those results.

Strife isn’t the end of the world, but if it surpasses your Discipline result, you can become compromised, which precludes the character from using results that have strife on them (which really cuts your opportunities).  That character can try to handle their situation until they regain composure, or they can become “unmasked” and clear their strife, usually with some loss of honor from their unseemly behavior.

Pros & Cons:

The game seems to have some potential, but as a new player to this version of the game, getting used to the idea of justifying your ring choice presented a little bit of a stumbling block.  With some more play, I’m confident that the game will feel more natural. In some ways it encourages roleplaying the type of character you are to fit your actions, and rewards creativity.

Dice in these games are always an issue.  Many of my players immediately splurged on the dice app available on Google Play and Apple.  These apps help to solve the problem of keeping track of what you previously rolled when you get a good run of exploding successes and start to run out of dice.  With a game at this point in development, everyone would have to own a beginner box to have dice of their own, and that’s not going to happen.  So it’s either pass those dice or get an app (for now).

The setting itself is unique, and as a student of Asian culture, I love a lot of the details, though these might be a little cumbersome for the unintitiated.  I’m unaware if any fantasy history has carried forward over the past 23 years.  People have loved this setting for decades and might not want to let that history go… like this guy:

The game is more serious than a lot of other fantasy settings, as it deals primarily with the conflict between desire and duty.  As such, L5R is likely to be a subtle game, and is really going to be the best fit with experienced gamers, or players that are naturally more serious and have a flair for the dramatic and the setting itself.  Beer and pretzel gamers are probably less likely to enjoy the subtlety of the concepts and the balance required in the game play.

In the past, I’ve always found the game a little tricky to prepare.  The characters are almost by definition at odds where their houses are concerned, vying for influence in Rokugan, and that’s going to make things a little tense and maybe a little uncooperative.  For that reason, it’s not going to be the game for everyone and it may be hard to prepare an adventure yourself with a party so divided.  Fortunately, one can usually fall back on duty to guide the party to a common goal, even if they can’t agree on how to get there.

Fantasy flight has released a free downloadable adventure and additional characters, which I have heard good things about.  The map of the castle in the beginner box is for that adventure, and the characters are set to proceed with unifying purpose which originates in the beginner box, making it worth the quick playthrough.

Total beginner box playthrough time is going to take from 4 to 8 hours.  No word on how long the expansion material will take. This play time will be greatly enhanced by the GM reading the optional expansive rules book in the box and understanding those concepts before sitting down to play.

TLDR:  The Legend of the Five Rings Beginner Box teaches a subtle nuanced game to fans of the genre with minimal impact on players and GM alike, and is worth the price of admission for players who can’t wait for the full rules coming out in the months to come.

 

 

Trigger Warning: Everything

February 4, 2018 1 comment

Very soon, we’ll be running “Inferno Road” at this year’s Mace West convention here in lovely Asheville, North Carolina. Both Kevin and Scott got a chance to play it at this year’s GenCon, but I wasn’t able to as it coincided with games I was running. It’s an insane DCCRPG death metal tournament in a nightmarish hellscape cranked up to 11 and beyond. Sex, drugs, and rock and roll are just the beginning. The index says “Trigger Warning: Everything” and the pages following live up to that fact. Not for kids, not for the faint of heart and not for everyone. We’ve said more than once we could be asked to never return, but it will definitely be worth it.

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Inferno Road binders for the Judges… we may need to burn these when done to be safe.

Here’s the basics:

INFERNO ROAD @ MACE WEST 2018
Saturday, March 10th
Asheville, North Carolina

Slaved to the overlords of Hell… you begin as a soulless grub in a sea of grubs, endlessly writhing in the burning pits of the inferno. Your eternity is suffering with the gnawing hunger for a soul… any soul… ALL souls. Plucked from obscurity and forced on board a Hellwagon in service to a Duke of Hell, you and your ‘companions’ race to overtake Satan’s Wives, pregnant with fresh souls for the Prince of Darkness. With every soul you devour your power will grow, perhaps enough to take on the the Devil himself?

RATED M FOR MATURE
Trigger Warning: EVERYTHING

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Giant 4′ x 6′ banner which we’ll have hanging behind the tables, calling those seeking ruination and destruction to join in the insanity that is “Inferno Road”

We’re planning on two tables battling head to head and as such have had to make some adjustments to the mechanics and the storyline, but the core remains the same. There will be prizes galore and a trophy for the winner.

On top of that, the Asheville DCCRPG Road Crew gang will be running a few games, notably “Blades Against Death” by Harley Stroh which Kevin will be handling and I’m scheduled to run “Blessing of the Vile Brotherhood” also by Harley Stroh. More MCC and DCC will be played after hours and on the schedule. There’s also plenty of other games for many systems, and it’s always a great weekend here in Asheville.

You can register for Mace West at THIS LINK. Come play with us… forever… and ever… and ever…

Categories: DCCRPG, Epic, MCC, RPGs, Uncategorized

Genesys Review

December 26, 2017 2 comments

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I spent some time over the holidays digesting the new Genesys Core Rulebook from Fantasy Flight games. As an avid fan of the Star Wars system that basically uses the same core mechanics, I figured I would enjoy FFG’s adaptations of those same concepts to other settings. The short version is, I was right! This will be my go-to system for creating unique settings, or adapting popular worlds (and IPs!) that either don’t have an RPG of their own, or the licensed RPG leaves a lot to be desired.

In my experience, other one-system-fits-all RPGs like Savage Worlds, FATE, or GURPS were OK, but failed to be really satisfying. Since you have to be able to do everything, they tend not to do anything exceedingly well.

gns01_upgradediceGenesys uses the narrative dice system from their Star Wars line with very few modifications. While the symbols on the dice are different (and some could argue more clear) if you have the Star Wars dice you can certainly use those, and do not have to buy new dice. The terminology is the same: Success/Failure, Advantage/Threat, Triumph/Despair, Boost/Ability/Proficiency dice, Setback/Difficulty/Challenge dice etc. The one omission being the Force die. Destiny points are called Story points in Genesys, and you start out with a static pool of one point per PC in the player pool, one point in the GM pool. I personally will likely house-rule this and include a roll of the force die to see whether the winds of fate are blowing for or against the PCs. Having a larger pool of destiny/fate/story points is more fun in my opinion.

This book packs a lot of great material in its 256 pages, for a very reasonable MSRP of $39.95. The system has certainly benefited from years of refinements in designing an entire shelf worth of Star Wars supplements. Sections of it read like a design guide for creating balanced skills, talents, species, and items. It offers insights in to the design process and provides a pretty elegant way to design a skill tree that feels both familiar, yet provides the tools and guidance to customize your setting.

Included are some basic profession archetypes like Laborer, Intellectual, and Aristocrat which could be adapted to any of the outlines of included settings like Fantasy, Steampunk, Space Opera, Sci-Fi, Modern and Weird War. All of the included settings have brief sections on possible species/races, items and adversaries. While not being exhaustive, they certainly cover the main tropes for each genre that provide the blueprint to allow endless expansion.

One section that got a significant overall is Social Encounters. Star Wars was moving in this direction with a lot of the more recent sourcebooks for socially-focused characters, but Genesys takes it a few steps further. As part of a social encounter (and potentially during combat using social skills!) PCs and NPCs can trade verbal barbs that actually cause strain damage equal to uncancelled successes similar to typical combat checks. An opponent is defeated once you exceed their strain threshold. All PCs and Nemesis NPCs have a Strength, Flaw, Desire, Fear, and Motivation that can be learned or accidentally revealed during the course of the encounter to the advantage of their opponent in future rounds. I think the key to successfully running these will be to allow the story to drive the mechanics rather than the other way around. PCs will still need to be fairly clever and creative in their social maneuverings, but the dice and motivations may be a fun way to represent or even inspire the ebb and flow of these encounters.

gns01_magic.jpgThere are also a few optional rule sets that make more sense in some settings than others. The vehicle rules/combat are very similar to Star Wars with very few additions. I did notice an additional range band added beyond extreme: Strategic range. This could be used in a variety of settings, but is defined by not being able to see each other with the naked eye, but only through some other means: sensors, spyglasses, radar etc. The magic rules are fairly unique and will be a pretty big departure for those used to playing wizards in D&D or similar systems. Spells are defined in broad strokes, allowing PCs to flavor them as they like, or as would be appropriate for their character. Examples include Attack, Augment, Barrier, Conjure, Curse, Dispel, Heal and Utility. Spells are divided into three main skills: Arcana, Divine, and Primal. Casters can also add special effects by increasing the number of difficulty dice. Turn a fire bolt into a fireball by adding the Blast quality and one difficulty die. Empower an attack to do damage equal to twice the characteristic linked to the skill for two extra difficulty dice. Bigger, badder spell? Harder to cast. Very elegant.

My only complaints are mostly aesthetic, which is a first for FFG RPGs. I knew going in we weren’t going to have the incredible art that drives the Star Wars universe, but the original art we do get are basically just sketches. I get its a toolkit/blueprint but not only does it look rough, it is much more sparse. At least give us a lot of it if its going to take a quarter of the time. Beyond that, the headings and subheads are in a very compact all-caps font in two shades of blue. Gross. Ideally, the various setting-specific books will have their own layout and design team, because this book is below par.

That being said, I would highly recommend picking this one up in print or PDF! One benefit of not being under the yoke of the Disney/Star Wars license is modern digital formats! For an example of what can be built using the system, check out the Fallout theme over at d20 radio.

Categories: Uncategorized

History Check: Gary Gygax High School Yearbook

December 17, 2017 Comments off

A facebook group I frequent auctions numerous gaming items, sometimes common and sometimes very rare.  Several of the members are known gaming industry talents, and others are just collectors like myself.   At the end of November, Garrett Ratini put up an item that was a rare gem from his collection. It wasn’t a game book, but books containing a surprisingly rare set of photos that made up a part of gaming history. And how the auction ended is where the real surprise happened.

The items auctioned were the 1953 and 1954 years of the Geneva Log, the Lake Geneva High School yearbook.  It was during these years that Gary Gygax, Don Kaye and Mary Powell were all in attendance.  A treasure for the gamer who wants to own a piece of history, but especially for the rarity of the photos inside.  To appreciate just how rare, you have to know a little something about the history of these three individuals.

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Gary Gygax, for one, did not finish high school, though did finish his degree years later.  A few months after his father passed, he dropped out of high school in his junior year.  These volumes then contained rare pictures of him as a student.

Secondly, Don Kaye is depicted in the book as well.  Don Kaye, a close childhood friend of Gygax from age 6, co-founded Tactical Studies Rules (TSR) with Gygax and made one of the first Dungeons & Dragons characters, the infamous Murlynd.  While the depiction of these two legends in one book might not appear to be noteworthy in itself, it is one of the few rare pictures of Don Kaye.

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TSR was founded in 1973 by Gygax and Kaye.  Later, Brian Blume bought in and supplied the capital to allow the publication of Dungeons and Dragons.  However, Kaye suffered from a heart condition and needed surgery.  He never disclosed this to his partners, and died of a heart attack before the scheduled surgery could take place, dying at age 36 just as Dungeons and Dragons was beginning to gain momentum.  As a result, few public pictures of Don Kaye exist.

Mary Jo Powell was a friend of Kaye and Gygax, and was wooed by Kaye for some time.  However, Gygax was also smitten, and proposed marriage at 19 years old.  Kaye was upset enough to not attend the wedding, though they later reconciled. Ernie Gygax recently posted a picture of Mary Jo the day after the proposal, shown below:

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Mary Jo once suspected Gary of having an affair while she was pregnant with her second child, but going to confront him in a friend’s basement, found him sitting with friends around a map covered table.  She may have been the first of what my wife calls “Gaming Widows” (being spouses left by the wayside for the husband that games too much).


Garrett Ratini put these items up for auction, and the true collectors of gaming history began to come out to bid.  The buyout price for the books was $1,200.00 and likely that number would have been met, I suspect, knowing the habits of this community of bidders.  But an unexpected bidder placed a bid at somewhere around the $400 mark, and that was Luke Gygax himself, founder of Gary Con and Gary Gygax’s son.

With the permission of all involved, Garrett terminated the auction and gifted the books to Luke.  Now, these books and images of his mother and father are with him, where they truly belong.

Pre-digital history like this is easily lost, and is not on the radar of many historians, with the exception of Michael Witwer and Shannon Appelcline. Hopefully books like this will make it into the archives like the one held at GenCon 50 this past year.  Fortunately, I believe we can anticipate  these books being treasured by the Gygax family, both for themselves and for posterity.

Review: Xanathar’s Guide to Everything

November 13, 2017 Comments off

TLDR: You’re going to want to buy this.

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There was a lot of buzz for Xanathar’s Guide to Everything before it was even in print, so I anticipated this was going to be worth a look.  It reminds me a lot of what Unearthed Arcana (the book, not the webcolumn) was like for 1st edition.  Was it optional?  Yes.  Would you be missing out on a lot of content that is considered generally mainstream to play without it?  Heck yeah.

General Details

Xanathar, a secretive beholder crime lord, keeps notes on everything (he believes).  Hence the name of the book (his goldfish is his most prized possession, and that’s what’s on the stylized cover you see above).  As with Volo’s Guide to Monsters, there are little notes that run as commentary throughout the book, usually a sort of joke or snipe about the subject matter.  As the material is largely mechanics and game lore, it’s less relevant than with Volo’s but still fun.

The book is 192 pages, full color, lots of art, slick non-glossy pages (which I like).  You’re going to get this and think it feels kind of thin, however.  While the book feels light, it has a lot of content, and they pack quite a bit in those pages.

The book has three major division: Character Options, Dungeon Master Tools, and Spells, but also has two valuable Appendices.  Here’s the breakdown of the sections.

Character Options

Subclasses

By far one of the most valuable sections of Xanathars is the Character Options chapter.  This opens 31 new subclasses for the primary classes listed in the Player’s Handbook.  That’s right: THIRTY ONE.  Note that’s not 31 new classes, but subclasses (like Bardic Colleges, or Barbarian Primal Paths, etc).  I like this because I think that too many primary classes waters down your base classes and leads to unexpected bloat.  Some of these may be familiar as they have rolled out through playtesting in the Unearthed Arcana column.

A few favorites include the Bardic College of Whispers, the Grave Domain Cleric, the Samurai and Cavalier Fighter archetypes, the rogue Swashbuckler, and the War Magic Wizard. Adding rules to differentiate these classes and giving them a new feel works well, without making a GM learn entirely new modes of play functionality.

Flavor – Charts – This is Your Life

In addition to subclass details, they also offer fluff fans fun and interesting (but very brief) charts for fleshing out details about their characters and their backgrounds.  More experienced players may feel these sorts of things are unnecessary, but it definitely gives some players new ways of looking at details about their characters that will flesh them out in interesting ways.

Some sections are meatier than others. The Druid Section of the the Character Option chapter lists charts, for example, of what beasts you encounter in what environments for the purposes of exposure to allow wildshape.  You could make it up, but this is just damn handy.  Other elements, like how you learned to be a druid, are more storytelling.  Each class has this sort background material.

This culminates with a subsection called “This Is Your Life” which allows your background to be determined by charts, at your option.  This goes through siblings, parents, family history, and motivations based optionally on class or background.  I’ve always been a fan of a certain online character background generator myself (NSFW for language).  I seem to recall something like this in an older volume of D&D (maybe player’s handbook 2???) but can’t remember which book.  If you know, post in the comments.  In the end, it can be fun, and they’re clear not to be pushy about using it.  Do it, or don’t if you don’t want to.

Racial Feats

One thing you won’t hear me complaining about is more feats.  I especially like the idea of Racial Feats that continue to expand the characteristics of the races in game.  These add additional ways for characters to stand out and differentiate themselves from one another given the more simplified options of 5th edition over early incarnations like 3.5 and 4th editions.

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Dungeon Master’s Tools

Rules Clarifications

As a gamer who runs a lot of games, this section is precious to me, as it answers some questions that speaks more to design philosophy on dealing with rules questions. This chapter shotguns out some rules issues right off the bat with little ceremony, including:

  • Simultaneous Effects
  • Falling (over time and large distances)
  • Sleep Details – Involuntary Waking, Sleeping in Armor, Going Without Sleep
  • Adamantine Weapons
  • Tying Knots (both tying and slipping out of them)

There are two larger sections that go into greater detail as well:

  • Tool Proficiencies – This large section rethinks Tool Proficiency, going into specific items included in certain kits, and spelling out what a player can do with skills and tool proficiencies.  A valuable section that will assist GM’s and players alike in seeing how these should be played.
  • Spellcasting – Concealing and identifying spellcasting, measuring ways of determining gridded templates (with illustrations)

 

Challenge Ratings

One of the most important changes listed here is the Encounters Section.  This lists a new way of calculating encounter challenge ratings that seems to more accurately address the threat of solo monsters based on group size, as well as other types of encounters.  This section probably is an admission that prior CR calculations were not correct and did not accurately reflect appropriate difficulty.

Paired with this is a comprehensive list of wandering monster encounters by level and geographic environment.  For those that use such charts, it’s a masterpiece.  Very convenient.    While not previously a fan of wandering monsters, I’ve found it a useful tool when players are lollygagging or doing things in a stubborn and ineffective time-consuming way (i.e. camping after every encounter, spending an hour bonding with items in a dungeon, camping in a dangerous place, etc).  The lists are detailed, and the setting dressing it provides also fleshes out your world and the creatures in.

Other Sections

Traps Revisited — A sizable section deals with how traps should be dealt with to make them interesting, including details about constructing elaborate traps and the rules that tied therein.  This is more interesting in that it seems to suggest that the standard application of a rogue disarm role should be avoided in favor of a more descriptive approach.

Downtime Revisions –  This section elaborates on revised downtime rules, including the development of a rivalry, buying magic items, carousing complications, and so on.  Helpful if you find yourself using these rules.  We never seem to get to them in my groups, however.

Magic Items – A section here on magic items deals with suggestions on awarding magic items as a GM, and a type of common magic item that has magical effect and flavor without game-breaking power.  A new relisting of magic items by type and rarity, with notation as to whether those items require attunement, is a handy reference.

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Spells

With over 90 additional spells for all spell-casting classes, this chapter alone makes this book a must-have. I haven’t combed through these to see if they have been duplicated in other volumes, but there certainly enough new ones to make it a reference for any spell-caster when picking their list.  Some of these are old classics that have been revamped for 5th edition, others are brand new.

Appendices:

Appendix B is a voluminous list of names from different cultures to help players with naming a character.  It’s a great list, as it goes, with real world cultural names as well as fantasy names.  This is going to make one of your players very happy.

but more importantly, Appendix A is about Shared Campaigns.  

Shared Campaigns

Skyland Games originally began as a gaming group that decided to split off from Living Forgotten Realms organized play to start our own shared campaign.  Part of this split was because of frustration with the management of LFR and the various bookkeeping requirements thereof (and scenario quality, truth be told). We started our own round-robin style of gaming allowing everyone to get some play time, as well as build a common story together.  We’re big fans of it.

What’s proposed here contemplates a Living campaign like Adventurer’s Guild, but could be used for a round-robin home game as well.  It makes use of a benchmark system for leveling based on the number of hours a scenario is designed for and its relative challenge level rather than on the XP value of monsters.

Common rewards are determined at levels, including a treasure point system for awarding magic items from a pre-determined list of magic items agreed upon by the collective DM’s of the campaign. Gold can be spent on common items and maybe a small list of alchemical items.  Major magic items require treasure points, earned through play.

This appendix, however, poses a question: Is this the future (or maybe the present) of Adventurer’s League?  I haven’t been to a game in ages, so I couldn’t tell you if they had moved to this system.  If so, does the abstraction make the game less enjoyable?  I think each player might have a different answer to this question, but if everyone can pay their dues and get the items they want in a timely enough fashion, the abstraction may be worth it.  These guidelines won’t make you purchase the book, but are worth a read for any player.

Summary

Xanathar’s Guide to Everything seems largely about utility and fleshing out things that originally were left to player and GM to determine.  Some might see that as an imposition, but I find it incredibly useful.

A complaint I’ve heard about 5th edition is that the lack of specialization makes many characters seem the same.  I’d point out that, as a player for three decades now, we started with a lot less and never really thought to complain about it.  5th edition is a great expansion on what we started with, but doesn’t lend itself to the hyper-specialization that you see in 3.5 Edition D&D or Pathfinder.  These new subclasses, feats, and spells in no way serve to make 5th Edition D&D more like 3.5 or Pathfinder, but they do give a greater degree of options to make a character stand out and build on unique themes.  The content provided in this tome is very significant, and is a should-have if not a must-have moving forward with 5th Edition.

Don’t Look Back returns!

October 27, 2017 Comments off

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Twenty years ago, I read about an amazing new game that was making big waves in the Horror RPG community.  That game was Don’t Look Back: Terror is Never Far Behind (“DLB”).  Enthusiasts of the genre stated that it had clean mechanics, was versatile, and an engaging universe.  I was lucky enough to meet its designer Chuck McGrew, and went on to assist with the Second Edition, and have since spent many great hours with this fun, fast horror RPG.

After two decades lurking in the shadows, using occult Kickstarter magiks, Don’t Look Back is back with a NEW EDITION!   I’m psyched to get back into modern horror with Chuck McGrew again after all these years.

CLICK HERE TO GET IN ON THE KICKSTARTER!

I was not originally the type of guy to seek out a Horror RPG.  DLB had great reviews at the time (this is almost the pre-internet era, so we still looked to publications like Dragon Magazine for what was new and hot at the time, not amazing game blogs like Skyland Games).  The reviews I read were startlingly positive.  While there was Horror role-playing out there at the time, many of them stuck to specific themes that didn’t always appeal to me.

For instance, Call of Cthulhu was great, but I didn’t always want to play a game in the 1920’s, or always inevitably die horribly, or go insane.  Other Horror games existed but the mechanics could be cumbersome, and usually presumed a role that the players would be involved in that was sort of predetermined by the system.

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DLB appealed to me in that it didn’t necessarily tie itself to a specific setting, but was versatile enough to be used in any kind of horror game that the player and game master preferred.  You could play that group of kids that snuck out to see if they could find the missing kid from their school who was last seen entering the abandoned house at the edge of town.  You could also play an FBI agent seeking the truth that was out there.  You could play mobsters that stumbled onto something when the shipment they hijack turned out to be more exotic than anticipated, not to mention alive.  The game had great flex so you could use it how you wanted it.

That said, numerous shadowy organizations, entities and creatures were detailed in its “Keeper” section for the player to incorporate as it suited the group.  Groups such as the Order, the Clean-up Crew, and others created a world that could be played in or tools for a world of the GM’s own design.

We played for hours, usually playing a campier horror-movie style back in the 90’s and early 2000’s, which fits the game perfectly, per their first module “Giant Psychic Insects from Outer Space”.  Games where the possibility of actually fighting the creature and surviving the night wasn’t so far fetched was a little bit different than a lot of the genre at the time.  Best of all, the mechanics were smooth enough to keep the story from getting bogged down.

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Chuck McGrew advises in his Kickstarter video that he plans on utilizing the D6xD6 system in the new edition, which d6xd6.com describes as follows:

In the D6xD6 RPG, players can create literally any type of character, based on a unique dice mechanic and a single attribute—Focus. Character abilities are defined primarily by chosen occupation, which together with a list of secondary skills determine the character’s Focus number. Very focused characters are automatically better at their occupation and the few skills they know; less focused characters are better able to succeed even with skills they’ve never trained in.

I’ve heard great things about the system, but haven’t had a chance to play it yet.  Simple, clear mechanics is always a benefit in Horror RPG’s, as it lets the player focus on actual role-playing and not the technical aspects of how the game itself is played.  It’s difficult to spook a player while looking up rules, and I’m hoping that d6xd6 is able to keep that tradition up in the new version.

While the Kickstarter has already reached the first leg of its goal, stretch goals promise new adventures as well as rules for kids and teens (perfect for that natural hankering you’ll get after watching Stranger Things Season 2).

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The first Stretch goal that has already been unlocked is the details on the Cleanup Crew, permitting one of my favorite versions of the game, where you play the role of expendable operatives, men-in-black, coming to clean up the evidence of the presence of dangerous “Unknowns” that pose a threat to the greater good.  Not exactly good guys, we had some fun running a game where the team tried to solve the mystery, catch the critter and make the world aware that ‘something is out there’.  Then to have a second session where the players play pre-gen Clean-up Crew operatives that take actions showing why, at the last second, the monster disappeared and what became of both it and the Crew itself.

Don’t Look Back has a lot of great elements that helped to open the genre in the 90’s and may serve to do the same today.  This game has a ton of potential and provided me and my gang hours of great gameplay over the years.  Make sure to get in on this kickstarter before it ends on November 12th!