Archive for March, 2013

D&D-isms: Treasure

March 30, 2013

Just a random observation that kind of hit me the other day watching something on TV.  Real-life treasure hunters can spend years or decades…their entire lives even, looking for that one big score.  But in D&D, any hole-in-the-ground you might trip over that’s big enough to house a few goblins is pretty much guaranteed to yield a vast hoard of gold and gems, and quite possibly a few magic items as well.

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Dwarven Forge Kickstarter

March 27, 2013

dfgametiles

I know Kickstarters have taken something of a beating in the reputation department of late, at least where RPG products are concerned, but the Dwarven Forge Game Tiles project may be worth your time.  They’ve come up with a new product that they hope will bring 3D dungeons to the masses, representing a substantial savings over their normal resin tilesets.

Here’s the company’s website, if you want to check out their other products:  Dwarven Forge.

Personally, I’ve been drooling over Dwarven Forge tilesets for a long time, so all I can say about this project is…”Please take my money.”

Olympus Has Fallen

March 22, 2013

olympushasfallenJust saw Olympus Has Fallen, starring Gerard Butler as an ass-kicking Secret Service agent.  It’s a fairly familiar formula, nothing you haven’t seen before in Die Hard or Under Siege.  North Korean terrorists somehow manage to take over the White House, and Gerard is the hero on the inside, who thwarts the plot from within.  Plenty of good action scenes if you can set aside the implausibility of the story, though I wouldn’t pay full price to see it (though, to be fair, there are very few films I’d pay full price to see).  Cheers.

B/X Campaign Epilogue

March 20, 2013

Here’s a little epilogue for the B/X campaign I sent to all my players.  Yeah, it’s a cheesy dream sequence.  So sue me. 🙂

Mavin = The Thief

Chiss = Cleric of Loth

Sister Francine = Cleric of Death

Horazak = Magic-user

 

Dead guards lay all about Mavin, cut down, eviscerated even, by the mighty Sword of Fighting. “Quick,”said the enchanted blade, “through the portal.”

“Wait,” said Mavin. “Who killed all these people? Where’s the rest of the group?”

“They await you through the portal,” replied the ever cheery blade.

“Portal?…” murmured Mavin, as he stepped through. For some reason a vision of a portal, black and radiant at once, danced on the edge of memory, elusive.

Then he was confronted by a familiar face. “Did you do it? Is the dark blade destroyed?” queried the High Priest. Then it hit Mavin like a lightning bolt. Blackrazor. The Anvil. His friends…?

“Where are your companions?” asked the High Priest, suddenly suspicious. “Is Blackrazor destroyed?”

“NO OLD FOOL!,” screamed the Sword of Fighting. “I yet live, at the instance of your demise!”

“GUARDS!” screamed the High Priest. “Sound the ala..urggh,”he gurgled, eyes bulging at the sight of the Sword of Fighting’s starry black blade sticking through his throat. Blood ran from the old man’s throat, coating the blade, pommel and, inevitably, Mavin’s quivering hand.

Mavin stared transfixed, as if in a dream. Distantly, he wondered how the Sword of Fighting’s blade became like that of Blackrazor’s, but then it was clear. It wasn’t the Sword of Fighting. It was Blackrazor all along. When exactly had the vile sword tricked him? Was it when he made the bargain with the black blade that forever sold his soul to darkness? When he stabbed Chiss in the back, was it with the Sword of Fighting, or was he really wielding Blackrazor? The irony struck him then; though he wielded Blackrazor, it was he who was truly in the sword’s grip.

“I keep my promises, thief. Too bad none of your friends were as smart as you,” spoke Blackrazor, directly to Mavin’s mind. Yes, Mavin recalled, Blackrazor was telepathic, whereas the Sword of Fighting had always spoken out loud. That should have been a clue, a warning.

“But the temple,” stammered Mavin. “The Order of the Frog. All those people we met…and killed. We were gone for months. How can it be?”

“The Anvil is like nothing your puny mortal mind can comprehend. It was a mistake to bring me here. You never had a chance. But come, the priests of the Anvil are alerted. They must be dealt with, along with the Halfling, and then the world to conquer. I promised you unlimited power thief, and you shall have it.”

“But my friends?” asked Mavin. But, of course, he knew. Chiss, cut nearly in twain by that first vicious slash from behind. Then the others, in turn, trapped within Blackrazor’s powerful illusion. Sister Francine, drowned not in a pool of clear water by mischievous nymphs, but rather in her own blood after Blackrazor pierced her lungs. And Horazak, the most dangerous of them all, tricked into self-immolation by the cunning sword. The Halfling alone escape, though perhaps not for overly long.

“What are they compared to the world?” replied Blackrazor, soothingly. “Come, my pet.”

“Yes…master,” replied Mavin, hoarsely. By all the gods, what had he done?

StarMade

March 13, 2013

What is StarMade?  It’s a computer game that combines features of a space-shooter and sandbox block-builder (like Minecraft) into one massive universe.

In StarMade you can design and build your own ships, one block at a time.  Both the number of configuration of the blocks help determine your ship’s performance.  You can add cannons, harvesting beams, missiles, shields, cloaking technology…even AI modules that will control the ship (or parts of it, such as turrets) for you.

You can also design and build your own space stations, incorporating many of the features of starships (though they can’t move, of course).  You can mine/harvest resources and craft virtually every item in the game, setting up massive factories, if you’re so inclined.  You can claim planets, explore, do trade runs between NPC star shops, hunt NPC space pirates for loot and, of course, engage in full-blown space war with your friends.  The game has an amazing amount of functionality for being only in the alpha stage of development, and with only two developers working on it.

And the game is massive.  The star system you start in is large enough to support play for years, maybe forever.  But there are hundreds of star systems.  According to the devs, it would take 10,000 years (in real time) to travel the breadth of the StarMade universe.  Holy crap that’s huge!

In fact, perhaps too huge (though I can’t believe I’m saying that).  The biggest problem I’ve run into so far is finding your way around.  It’s easy to wander off and get lost if you haven’t carefully noted your space sector of origin (each star system has 16x16x16 sectors of space).  The devs are working on a proper star map, so hopefully that will make it easier to navigate through the game.

And related to this, the game is so big it’s almost pointless to play single-player.  You’d probably never leave the starting system in single-player, meaning 99.999+% of the game would go unexplored and unused.  It practically screams multiplayer, which fortunately the game allows you to do.  The developers have kindly set up an ‘official’ public server if your friends lack interest in total space pwnage (their loss 🙂 ).

For the time being the game is available for free (though you can purchase a copy for $30 to help fund development).  If you like sandbox games like Minecraft, you’ll probably enjoy StarMade.  Cheers.

Reflections on the B/X Campaign

March 11, 2013

I’m a fan of ‘old school’ RPGs, particularly earlier editions of D&D.  As such, having a chance to run a B/X campaign for a few months was something that I’d been looking forward to for a long time now, and I had a blast.

That said, I (re-)learned a few things about my preferences and GM-style:

1) I hate accounting.  I made sure the players kept track of the really important stuff, like treasure, potions/scrolls, flasks of oil and ammunition.  But rations or torches?  Couldn’t care less.    Same goes with making wandering monster checks every X turns.  Instead, I’d check for wandering monsters when it seemed appropriate, or if the players did something really noticeable (like standing around in a corridor arguing about their next course of action…perfect time for a wandering monster check 🙂 ).  I’m not a big fan of the logistical side of the OSR play style.

2) I’m also not a fan of big dungeons.  Temple of the Frog really brought this home for me.  Now, at first glance, Caves of Chaos seems like a big dungeon, but it’s really just a series of smaller dungeons loosely strung together with a few secret doors and side passages.  White Plume Mountain also seems large at first, but it has a lot of long passageways with relatively few encounters, so it’s more spread out than dense.  So I guess I won’t be running any mega-dungeon crawls anytime soon.

3) I didn’t make the players map the dungeon.  I drew rough outlines when required, or mapped a room for complex battles, but otherwise didn’t worry about it too much.  The players weren’t much inclined to map the dungeons, and I sure as hell wasn’t going to do it for them.  I can see the importance of mapping for a mega-dungeon, but most of the dungeons I ran weren’t so large that the characters could really get lost in them.

4) The feats I added didn’t really do much for the game.  It’s not that they weren’t used or didn’t come into play, they just didn’t add the taste of character customization I thought they would, probably because there were too few of them and they were a bit too generic.  However, I sure don’t want to add too much more complexity to the game, either.  So, in a future game I think I’d just skip the feats and maybe use them as abilities for new classes/sub-classes instead (or maybe new magic items).

5) When I run published modules in the future, they need to be tight and focused, either geographically or thematically, to help keep the players moving along.  Temple of the Frog and Isle of Dread were a little too spread out (they could almost be setting books instead of adventure modules); with these sprawling modules there were times when the players really bogged down and I’d have to prod them or drop a hint to get them moving again.  Also, the more complex the module, the more difficulty I have keeping track of all the moving parts.  Flipping back-and-forth through a module tryting to figure which room so-and-so NPC is supposed to be at that time of day is not a lot of fun for me, nor is trying to remember a convulted series of events beyond the PC’s knowledge that could affect the outcome of the module.

Up to now, my interest in the OSR had been mainly a nostalgia trip.  Now having run a B/X campaign, it really brought home the aspects of early editions of the game that I really liked:  light rules that allow for easier improvisation by the GM, fast combat resolution, focus on player skill rather than character skill and easy house-ruling.

Still, I recognize that my preferences do shortchange the exploration aspect of early D&D, and I’d like to play in a game sometime that keeps faith with the more ‘traditional’ aspects of OD&D, namely the logistics, map making and exploration, if only to learn how other GMs manage them in their games.

Temple of the Frog

March 8, 2013

To close out my B/X campaign I wanted to run a classic D&D module.  I chose Temple of the Frog because it’s one of the oldest D&D modules around (maybe the oldest) and it has science-fiction elements.  I thought it’d take the party 2 or 3 sessions to complete the module, but they accomplished their mission in a single session.  They could have stayed longer, cleared more of the temple, but the mission was done and they decided to GTFO.  All-in-all I felt it was a bit of an anti-climatic end to the campaign.

So, the party is hired to pose as mercenaries to infiltrate the Order of the Frog for the purpose of finding a kidnapped baroness and rescuing her (along with as many of her cohorts as they could find).  After several days travel they arrive at the Temple of the Frog and are shown to guest huts while they await an interview with Saint Stephen, head of the order.  That night they attend the evening service at the temple where the virtues of Froginess are extolled and a sacrifice is “given to the Frog.”  The PCs are assured that the sacrifice is a volunteer, and greatly honored, but the party isn’t so sure, listening to the poor man’s screams as he’s thrown into a pit of man-eating frogs.

Following the service they follow several members of the Order into nearby Frog Town, entering a pub favored by the Order.  They gather a bit of intelligence about the temple and the dungeons below, but nothing immediately useful.  The party then decides to waylay a group of monks and steal their robes, using the purloined clothing to infiltrate the temple.  They also discover one of the monks was wearing a strange frog-inscribed ring, which the magic-user took.

Once inside the temple, they discovered that the ring opened most of the doors.  Investigating one room, they ambush a sleeping librarian.  Prodded by threats of pain (and personal reasons of his own), the librarian agrees to show the party a secret door to the upper dungeons.  They bind and gag the librarian, tucking him away out of sight, before descending into the dungeon.

While in the dungeon they find their robes give them a degree of free movement.  They’re able to bypass a number of guards without incident.  Exploring, they find another set of stairs leading down to the lower dungeon, passing through a large barracks-style room.  As the guards were sleeping, the party was again able to pass through unmolested.

Further investigation of the lower level revealed several cells contained half-mutated frog folk, experimental subjects of the Order.  One of froggy mutants croaked “Please, kill me,” a request the cleric of loth was more than happy to oblige.  Searching deeper into the dungeon, they uncover a massive spawning pool, apparently where all the man-eating killer frogs lived.  Wisely avoiding this area, they soon find a laboratory.  Within the lab are four Keepers, members of the ‘scientific’ branch of the Order who work to perfect froggy features in humans.  The party finds they can’t bluff their way past the Keepers, who know that other members of the Order are not allowed in the dungeons.  A short, vicious fight ensues.  While the four Keepers are not particularly powerful, they do employ “laser wands” which blast large holes into things (and people).  Naturally, the party scoops up these valuable “magic items.”

Moving on, they soon find the cells containing the object of their mission, protected by a brass golem.  The golem does nothing so long as the prisoners remain in the main cell room, but as soon as the party tries to leave with the baroness, the golem attacks, pursuing the party through the dungeon until it grabs hold of the baroness and drags her back to the cells, swiping at interloping adventurers along the way.  Between their magic weapons and the laser wands the party manages to finally destroy the construct, but not before a general alarm is raised.  Guards rush from the barracks to block the party’s escape.  However, they made the critical error of concentrating their force at a choke point…easy pickin’s for the magic-user’s fireball spell.

With the use of silence and invisibility 10′ radius the party is able to sneak through the alerted dungeon, arriving back at the main temple floor.  In the main temple area, they discover the exit is blocked by a half-dozen guards and apparently one of the Order’s six ‘saints.’  Throwing caution to the wind, the cleric of loth drops the silence spell and casts slay living on the saint, instantly killing him.  However, this has the unfortunate side effect of ending the invisibility spell.  Arms raised in triumph, the cleric yells “I AM VICTORIOUS!”…just seconds before being blasted to pieces by 6 laser wands.  Covered in cleric-bits, the magic-user is the first to recover from the shock, casting fireball to wipe out the remaining gate guards (and destroying their laser wands in the process).  The party gathers up as much of the cleric of loth they can find (for later raising) and then high-tail it out-of-town with the baroness in tow.  Mission accomplished.

—————————————-

In hindsight, Temple of the Frog was a poor choice for this game.  The module involved a great deal more intrigue and subtlety than had previously been required of the players.  Also, it was just a huge, sprawling module with lots of empty rooms (2 large dungeon levels, 6 floors to the temple, plus the outer bailey area and Frog Town, both with lots of buildings).  I now wish I’d run them through Tomb of Horrors instead.  Tomb of Horrors is relatively short, focused and killing off all the PCs in a classic meat-grinder module would have been more in tune with the type of game I had been running up to that point.

Overall, though, the campaign was a success.  The players had fun and they’d probably be open to the idea of playing in another ‘old school’ game sometime in the future.  And I had a lot of fun running the game.  So, in a very real sense, mission accomplished. 🙂

Lack of Focus/Gamer ADD

March 3, 2013

A purposeless post with some random thoughts…

If you’re reading this blog then you probably already know that I fancy myself a (very) amateur game-designer.  I like to tinker with game mechanics and rulesets, more so than I like designing actual game worlds (the level of detail typical of world design tends to bore me).  However, over the last 10 years or so I’ve had a real problem focusing.  I start of with an idea I really like and do some work on a game.  But then ‘genre-creep’ tends to set in.  Or, I read a book or watch a movie or show that triggers the ‘Ooo, shiney!’ effect, and I end up abandoning one project for another.  It’s one reason I like minimalist rulesets like Microlite20 or Searchers of the Unknown so much: it’s so much easier to focus and complete a game.

For a while I thought a gonzo genre-mashup game might help alleviate this.  If I couldn’t decide on one genre/setting to pursue, I’d pursue them all (or, at least, more than one at a time).  But that, of course, makes it harder to nail down just what needs to be in the game to get the feel or effect I’m trying for.

When I was a kid I didn’t have this problem.  I’d have an idea and hammer out a quick, simple game.  Granted, they weren’t the greatest games, and none of them were exactly what you’d call original.  I ripped off Aliens, Predator, Blade Runner, DOOM and just about anything else that caught my imagination (though I never did a ripoff of Star Wars or Star Trek for some reason).  They weren’t the greatest games, but at least I was able to ‘finish’ them and when we tried them we usually had fun.

I do seem to get a lot more traction when I write material for other games, like all the class conversions I did for the Pathfinder Beginner’s Box.  However, when I do so it’s mainly for consumption on this here blog, not so much for use in my gaming group.  And, of course, I’m constrained by the limits of those games (their settings, their rulesets, etc.).

At any rate, none of the above means I’m going to stop trying.  I enjoy it too much to stop, even if most of the games I make will never actually be played (which, when I think about it, might be part of the problem:  what’s the point of writing a game you know will never be played?).  Gamer ADD is almost a cliche now; does anyone else have a problem staying on target with their campaigns and/or games?


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