Monday, November 21, 2011

Adventurer Conqueror King

This year at GenCon, I had the pleasure of spending almost an entire day playing Adventurer Conqueror King. I picked up the game at the OSR booth when I got my copy of Cheers, Gary. When I picked up ACKs I was given a flyer for a demo game during the con. A little after noon on Saturday I showed up hoping to see what made the game so special.

I played in an afternoon session that highlighted the "Conqueror" level of the game. We were exploring the depths of Alex's megadungeon, when we happened on an odd room with a strange metal disk. After some experimenting we determined that the disk was a levitation device and we figured out how to control it. As we ventured further into the dungeon we found a strange magical sword made only of light. We were ambushed by a mind flayer and almost killed, we managed to defeat him and escape. Sadly one of our number lost his genitalia in the fight.

After the session the Autarch guys were nice enough to let some of us come eat dinner with them. We had a pleasant meal while discussing gaming, ancient history, and great con artists.

After dinner we set up for a "King" round. This was a good demonstration of the realm management rules. We each had our own domain to run as we dealt with a coming threat of invasion. The real rules worked well, and they worked fast. We got to task our minions to run different missions and investigate leads. What was cool about this was that the characters we were asking to do these missions were characters of the "Adventurer" and "Conqueror" levels.

In the final session we split up. Some of us played "Adventurer" level characters on the missions we had assigned them, while others played "King" level characters in a giant mass combat. I took part in the "Adventurer" group, run by Tavis, and played a sexy bard with crazy charm skills. We invaded an underground lair and I charmed my way through some wererats. Hijinks ensued during our escape, and overall the game was a blast.

After our session we all got back together and learned what the other group had been up to. It turns out that during the mass combat, one of the players had ridden the disk and killed a green dragon with a magic sword. Let's put this another way, he killed a green dragon with a lightsaber while riding a hoverboard.

In all I played ACKs for almost 11 hours on Saturday, a marathon session to do my high school years proud. This was the best day of gaming I have ever had a convention. The game was great, and seemed aimed at recreating those great, lost days from my youth. I hope to play ACKs again at another con, I live in MD which is halfway in-between the NY and NC locations of the creators. This has to be possible.

Buying LotFP Again

What would make me buy a new version of LotFP? Recently Raggi mentioned that the level system might be on the chopping block if there was a third edition of LotFP. This got me thinking about what changes to the game would make me interested in buying a new version. I think removing, or changing, the level system would be a change that would get me interested.

I would like to see changes that support the style of play found in Raggi's modules and that he describes in LotFP. I hope he will either remove levels or drastically change the way they work. The D&D power curve does not really fit with the overall tone of Raggi's stuff. While the original LotFP addresses this to some extent (only fighters advance at fighting), I'd like to see him go further.

I would also like to see Demi-humans removed. While they are part of the original game that LotFP is evolved from, they just don't seem to fit with the overall tone. Maybe they could be replaced with nonstandard races. Raggi doesn't like to use standard monsters, why not remove the traditional races as well. Or they could just be replaced with character classes that have similar abilities, but I hope he goes further, much further. I hope he goes weird.

The have been a recent group of retro-clones like Adventurer, Conqueror, King and Crypts and Things that have focused on developing certain areas of the game. There have also been games like Xplorers, Stars Without Number, and Mutant Future that have taken the old games and run in a new direction with them. I think LotFP wants to be more like the latter than the former in many ways. It seems to aspire to more than just a weird take on the old game.

I hope that whatever Raggi does in a new edition, if there ever is one, will be enough to tempt me into buying it. I hope he decides to go very, very weird.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

GenCon Overview

That's right, I am going to do a GenCon post in mid-November. This year's GenCon was my favorite yet. As always the best part of the convention was the people I room with, The Podgecast guys. If Adam/David did not set up the rooms I would never be able to go.

This year was the first time I ever played a deck building game, I played Ascension and Thunderstone. I found Thunderstone to be a far superior game, it offered far more interesting choices during the game. Ascension was far more dependent on what cards were drawn, and we did not draw good ones. We drew only one type of card for the entire first half of the game, and another type for the second half. We got lots of items, but for the first half there was nothing to use them against. The other players assured me that this was rare and it only happened due to our proximity to Eric, but honestly, the fact that this happened shows a weakness in the game to me.

Another first for me this year was surviving a game of WEGS. WEGS is an insane "old skool" game that has some of the most ridiculously baroque play mechanics I have ever seen. I won't even try to explain it. Let's just say that I only play it once a year, and I love it. This year the GM failed to kill me for the first time. Granted, I ran away when the last fight started to look bad, and my team wound up beating it anyway. I will not even pretend that my cowardly ways bother me. As far as I am concerned, I WON WEGS!!!!

Another great experience was playing All for One, a gothic horror/Three Musketeers game from Paul "Wiggy" Wade. The game uses the Ubiquity System found in Hollow Earth Expedition. The game is fast moving and a lot of fun. The Ubiquity System is perfect for a swashbuckling Three Musketeers game. I highly recommend it.

I have two more games from the con that I want to discuss, Adventurer, Conqueror, King and Vornheim. One I played and one I purchased. They will each be getting their own post in the next few days.

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Monday, November 14, 2011

My Favorite OSR Products

The Underdark Gazette asks what your favorite OSR products are. My answers below, in no specific order:

1) Stonehell
2) Vornheim
3) Adventurer Conqueror King
4) Death Frost Doom
5) Hammer of the Gods
6) The Grinding Gear
7) Knockspell
8) Fight On!
9) Castle of the Mad Archmage
10) Dragons at Dawn

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Running a FLGS Game with Strangers

This year was a first for me. I ran a game, in a gaming store, without knowing any of the players before I started. In fact, for the first few weeks I had only one player.

The opportunity to run this game came out of Troll Con East. This was a convention put on by Troll Lord Games at All Things Fun, a gaming store in Berlin, NJ. Steve and Tim from Troll Lord came down and ran Castles and Crusades. At the end of the con I volunteered to run a Castles and Crusades game at the store.

I have never run a pick up game at a store before. I have always had at least one known player before starting a game. I spent some time thinking about what I wanted from the game, and what would work in the conditions I had to work with.

I have always wanted to run a game in the City State of the Invincible Overlord. Not just a game that used the City State as a home base, or visited every once and a while, but a game that never left. A game in a game store where I might have players dropping in and out all the time works really well in an urban setting, it is very easy to introduce new characters and to explain why some characters are not the that week.

I wanted to run a sandbox game. My games have always trended towards the sandbox style anyway. I have never been a "master plotter" DM, I have always know what the NPCs would do if the players did nothing and then gone from there. A sandbox game also works well in a game store setting where you may not have consistent players. It does not depend on having central PCs who are tightly woven into the plot. There is the current state of the city and NPCs, and the players can alter that state by their actions, but even if I have a whole new group the next session we can plow ahead.

I wanted there to be a story with objectives. In order to make this work with the constraints of an in-store game, I had to find a way to keep it modular, yet connected. I decided to use what I call "The Bioware Method". Almost all Bioware games work the same way, there is a central hub and three or four quest lines that the player can choose from. The player can bounce back and forth between these quest lines and does not have to complete them in any specific order. Sometimes actions taken in one quest line can effect another. Once all the quest lines are completed, the story advances in a big way and another set of quests opens up. This is a tried and true formula for Bioware, they have been at it since computers had a turbo button.

I thought the Bioware Method would work well in a game store setting. It still left the characters completely free to operate in the sandbox. They could put aside the quests whenever they wanted to explore. It also allowed for players dropping in and out to work on different goals within the same overall story.

Armed with these main ideas I created my campaign. I did not have to do any real world building, since I was working with the CSIO. I created a group that promulgated fake prophecies, sat on them for a few centuries, and then "filled" them to manipulate people. The characters worked for this group, working to make several different parts of the same prophecy come true. They were also free to explore the City State at will as a sandbox.

There were a few challenges in getting the game going. For the first several weeks only one player showed up. He stuck in there, and I made an entourage of NPCs for him to adventure with. Several of these NPC proved to be popular with the players and they continued to adventure with them even once they had a full group. Another challenge was that D&D Encounters was running at the same time, the next table over. We managed to turn this into an opportunity though, and exploited it. Through boisterous role-playing, and crazy character voices we poached players from D&D for our own group. We did get some concerned looks from time to time though.

Several other factors, beyond my control, contributed to the game being a success:

Castles & Crusades. This is an ideal system for this kind of game. You can teach anyone to play it in minutes. Almost everyone who has ever played a RPG before essentially already knows how to play it. Any material from any edition of D&D can be adapted for use, pretty much on the fly. Yes, even 4th edition stuff.

All Things Fun. Without a doubt the most supportive game store I have ever been involved with. While they sold C&C products there, they probably did not make a whole bunch of money off us being there (unless you include Dr. Pepper), yet they still promoted our game with tweets and pictures of us playing. If you are in South Jersey, go to their store and spend money.

My Group. I have had the pleasure of playing with many great players over the years. Some were good at roleplaying, some were tactically clever, some really added to the world, but this group stood out. I don't know that I have ever had a group where there were so many players that were just plain good at the game before. I am not talking about their RP skills or their ability to tactically destroy my monsters, I am talking about their ability to play The Old Game. To take the weird things I threw at them and use them to achieve their goals, to play the different factions present in the sandbox against each other for their own gain. I am not talking about building a powerful character to defeat the mathematical challenges of the game, I am talking about raw skill at playing the game. They observed the random weird things I threw at them and figured out how to leverage them, they used things that I didn't even know the use for to achieve goals they had set for themselves, and they always gamed a way to keep low probability dice rolls to a minimum. The played The Old Game, Gary's Game, and they kicked it's ass.

My Stonehell group is also a great group, but in a completely different way. They each have their own skill sets, a great mapper that is always catching where the secret door has to be, a daredevil willing to risk every crazy statue and fountain, a tireless tactician, a master of long term strategy (a real hp per day guy), and most important, someone who knows recognizes the have reached the best solution they are likely to get and tells them to get moving. They combine for an awesome group, this C&C group was the first time I ever encountered a group where everyone had the same style, and was so good at it.

OK I am done raving about how lucky a DM I am to have my two groups. I thoroughly enjoyed running an in-store game, hopefully some of you will find the things I related here helpful in your own game.

Oh, one of my players was Drance, you can catch his blog at Once More Unto the Breach

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Finally back

I don't know if anybody is still out there but I am finally clear of law school, bar study, and my trip to Viet Nam. I am settled in at a regular 9 to 5 (actually 7 to 4) job again as a lawyer for the U.S. Government in MD. Working for the Federal Government was my goal entering law school, so it is Mission Accomplished over here. I enjoy law, but money is a horrible motivator for me, knowing I am helping my fellow citizens makes me eager to get in every day.

From a blogging standpoint this is also good news. I know my postings have been pretty slim around here for the last year or so, but I have built up a good backlog of posts so you should be seeing a lot more, even if I have busy periods.

While things have been bleak on the blogging front, they have been great on the gaming front. For a period of time over the last year I had three regular games going at once: an OSRIC game in Stonehell (DM), a Pathfinder game (Player), and a Castle and Crusades game set in the City State of the Invincible Overlord (CK). The Stonehell game continues and we will be playing a session this weekend. The Castles and Crusades group carries on without me with Drance from Once More Unto the Breach at the helm.

I will be checking out my FLGS here in southern MD on Wed. for D&D encounters, to try to meet some local gamers. While my ultimate goal is to get players for some old school gaming, I am also excited to try out the Encounters format. I ran a 4th Ed. game through most of the heroic tier when the game was released and enjoyed it. I admit that I have not paid much attention to 4th Ed since then, so I will basically be a noob.

I went to GenCon again this summer, and I will have some (very late) things to say about that. I also acquired Hexographer/Dungeonographer and I have been making maps and write-ups of some very, very old adventures I wrote using those programs. I hope to post some of those soon.

As a sign of good faith, you will be getting another post from me.... Now

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