Saturday, September 12, 2015

Mines of Phandelver

Tonight, I ran the first sessions of the D&D 5e Starter Set adventure, Mines of Phandelver. It went really well. One of the players is in my C&C Stonehell group and runs 5e on a regular basis. The other two have only played a RPG once before during a Greyhawk Reborn event. They did very well and are a lot of fun to play with.

I made some changes to the adventure. Most obviously, I set it in Mystara instead of Forgotten Realms. The players started out in Threshold and headed out for Phandelver to look for their missing dwarf friend Gundark. They discovered the remains of his caravan and were ambushed by goblins. They tracked a fleeing goblin to a cave. As they made their way into the cave, they were hit by two floods from goblins breaking dams above them. They decided to try another route. Their initial push into the cave saw them rescuing Sildar, one of Gundark's bodyguards. Sildar told them that Gundark had discovered the long lost Wave Echo Cave, and that he believed the bugbear in this cave had captured him to find the cave.

After a short rest the party pushed on to take on the bugbear. The characters wound up fighting the entirety of the last two encounters at once on the bridge. They handled it well and overcame the odds with some help from goblins falling to their death while trying to sneak up behind them. I think the 5e system really shined during this encounter. The players were able to do interesting and clever things but the game kept moving quickly.

I have now been both a player and DM in 5e and I am looking forward to playing it some more. I think this is a really good introductory adventure. This may be the best introductory set they have had since the final Basic D&D box sets back in the '90s.

Friday, September 11, 2015

City Month Day 8

This is what I have worked out for the background of the city so far.

A thousand years ago, the Prime Material Plane was devoured by a strange extra-planar force. The great wizards and scientists of the worlds of the Prime Material Plane had time to construct 12 Sphere Arks with which to save as many people (now called Primers) as possible. These Sphere Arks were set adrift in the multiverse to find a new home for the Primers. The Sphere Arks are the height of the Magitech art. Each sphere houses tens of thousands of Primers in a city built on its inner surface. The Sphere Arks' surfaces protect them from many of the dangers of interplanar travel, but their residents must still go out to explore, and outsiders still must come in to trade.

Sphere One has drifted long and far, and still there is no sign of a place to call home. Many generations have lived and died in the Ark ad the memories of life in the Prime Material Plane have faded to legends. Knowledge of Magitech has faded and the wondrous machines that the Ark depends on are falling into disrepair. Occasionally, caches of Magitech items are found, but they are few and far between. It has been centuries since the last time another Sphere Ark was sighted, and the residents of Sphere Ark One have to accept the fact that they may be the last of their kind.

The characters are members of the Prime Guard, the police force of the city. Keeping peace in this town is a hard job. Sphere Ark One has collected a strange mix of residents over centuries of drifting between the planes; demons, elementals, and outsiders of every kind inhabit the city now. They commit every sort of crime you can think of, and come up with new ones every day.  

TridentCon Schedule

The TridentCon schedule and preregistration is up. I am running Stonehell using Castles & Crusades in the first two slots on Saturday.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

City Month Day 7

I made some decisions about the cosmos that my city floats in. Remember that I intend to have the city bob up and down through a layer of planes as it also moves laterally through "space". This means it will be shifting through the planes with sinusoidal motion and will reenter each plane in a different place than it exited it. Not only is the city drifting between the planes, it is moving to different places in the planes.

I intend to stick with the generic planes to start with. This is both for portability reasons as well as familiarity ones. I may be adding some planes as we go if I think of something interesting. For now I am thinking:

  1. Air
  2. Water
  3. Earth
  4. Fire
  5. Field of Victory
  6. The Underworld
  7. Madness
  8. Mechanus
I still need to decide how they are layered, and what it means to move spatially through any one of them. For now, this should be enough to give me a basic idea of what might be in my city.

City Month Day 6

I have decided to use GUMSHOE as my rule set when designing this city. I do not expect this to be a rules heavy exercise; it should be very easy to move this city over to another rule set. I do, however, expect to use some of the assumptions in the GUMSHOE rules when writing the fiction for the world. As GUMSHOE is an open rule set, I expect I will make changes and additions to it to suit my city. I don't want to give too much away, but I am going to need rules for power armor. You can find the GUMSHOE SRD here, so it will be free to follow along when I do use rules.

I think GUMSHOE is going to be a good fit. After spending some more time looking at the rules, I am confident it can handle the level of combat I expect for this setting. It will have to be hacked a bit for a few elements though.

Roll20 Old School Adventures Episode 1 is Up


Around the Web September 10

Some cool stuff I saw today:

USGamer has a story about an OC Remix of the FFIX soundtrack. I love both USGamer and FFIX. FFIX is high on my list of games to replay once I play all the games I haven't played. So that will probably never happen. SquEnix needs to remake it so I have an excuse. 

Troll Lord Games launched a Kickstarter for a new printing of Classic Monsters. I have the first printing and I love it. If they hit the color stretch goal, I will be backing it. I have participated in their Kickstarters in the past and have had no problems. They delivered. 

Venture Beat has a story on the upcoming Baldur's Gate "expansion" from Beamdog, Dragonspear Castle.

The Escapist has a story about the never-filmed D&D movie from the '80s. It sounds like it had a lot in common with the D&D cartoon. Young people get pulled into a D&D world from the real world. It seems to fall into a common fantasy movie trap; it doesn't use many details from the property it is drawing from. This was a problem with the D&D movies that were eventually made. 

The Dice Tower has a review up for the new Star Wars Risk which, surprisingly, is not actually a Risk game. It is actually an update to the old Queen's Gambit game. It is a largeky positive review and I generally trust Tom's opinion. 

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

City Month Day 5

I need to decide which game system I will use. I spent some time poking around, looking at different systems to see which ones might fit my needs.

  1. FATE Core: I have very little experience with this system. I have played a few sessions of Spirit of the Century, and while I found it to be enjoyable, I did not find it to be all that deep. I am not sure that you could make a long-running campaign really work with FATE. It feels pretty superficial. That said, it does facilitate focusing on things other than combat, so I don’t want to dismiss it out of hand. It is also possible that many of my concerns about SotC are addressed in the FATE Core implementation of the rules. I need to look through the book again.
  2. Savage Worlds: This system is the mirror image of FATE Core in many ways. I have a lot of experience with Savage Worlds. Like FATE it is a simple system, but unlike FATE it does focus on combat. I have run games with Savage Worlds that were light on combat, but the system is pretty light on details when it comes to non-combat activities.
  3. GUMSHOE: I have no experience with this system. In fact, I just read through the Trail of Cthulhu rules a few weeks ago. This system is focused heavily on investigation, and eliminates one of the biggest pitfalls of mystery games, not finding the clues. I am a little concerned that the system may not have a great level of detail for actions outside of investigation, so I need to look into the “Pulp” rules in ToC more. GUMSHOE, like FATE, has the advantage of being an open system, so I can post about it on my blog without fear. This is a strong contender.
  4. GURPS: I love GURPS. I don’t even have to ask if GURPS will support this style of play it will, and I can tailor the system to level of detail I want. I can even tailor it for different levels of detail in different areas of play by removing certain skills. GURPS has three problems. It is not an open system, it does not have the cool innovation that GUMSHOE has when it comes to investigations, and people are scared of it.
  5. d20 System: As I mentioned in a previous post, this is not a strong contender. It’s only real advantages are that it is open and people are familiar with it.
  6. Open d6: This shares the strength with GURPS that it is very easy for me to tailor the skills in any given area. It is also an open system and very easy to teach. The downside is that it does not have the investigative aspect that GUMSHOE has.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

City Month Day 4

As I discussed last time, I need to determine what kind of game I would like to run in this city before I make any major decisions about it. I am discussing the genre here more than anything else. In my experience, hack-and-slash style games do not work in an urban setting. If the city is to be believable at all, there has to be some kind of rule of law, and the authorities tend to look down on murder hobos inside of the city limits. So, I can eliminate the traditional D&D-style game right off the bat. That isn’t to say that you cannot run a city game using D&D or one of its descendants, I have run D&D city campaigns in the past, most recently a City State of the Invincible Overlord game using Castles & Crusades, but they tend to have a narrow focus. The verb mix of D&D is not great for urban campaigns. While I am not making a game decision at this point, it is likely that D&D and its ilk are out.

I have a vague idea that I want this game to be science fantasy in nature, mixing magic and lost some technology. Obviously science fantasy covers a large group of possible settings, everything from Thundarr the Barbarian to Rifts falls under this umbrella. The sliding scale between science and fantasy is long and covers a lot of ground.

When I think about stories that take place in cities, I tend to think of mysteries, especially noir mysteries. I think I would like my game to have some of that feel, the recent trend in urban fantasy has shown that solving mysteries in a fantasy world can be interesting. Obviously, if I want to have mystery-solving be a large part of my game, that is going to narrow my future game choice a bit.

The other thing I want in my game is political intrigue, I want the players to be able to effect the city in large ways over time. This means I will need to detail a good number of factions and develop a way for the characters to interact with them.

Monday, September 7, 2015

City Month Day 3

I wound up being offline for most of the weekend because my in-laws visited. I will try to catch up over the next few days.

When I last posted about my city project, I was trying to decide which kind of city to design. I have settled on a weird city. While the details will come out as I work through the next few weeks, I have made some general decisions about the city. The city will be an interdimensional city, the city is built on the inside wall of a sphere that bobs up and down through the planes. The city is always moving from one plane to another, the environment outside of the city is in constant flux. Due to changing nature of its surroundings, the city is inhabited by a diverse spectrum of people.

I am going to have to define the cosmology that surrounds the city, at least at a rough level of detail. Right now I anticipate that this city would serve as the focus for any campaign set in it. Most of the action would take place in the city itself, there would only be brief excursions to the outside environment.

My next task is to decide on the kind of game I want to have. Will it be pure fantasy, science fantasy, modern urban fantasy, or something more horror influenced? Following that decision I need to select a game system and loosely describe the planes that the city moves between.

Saturday, September 5, 2015


I will be running two sessions of Castles & Crusades at TridentCon, on October 17th, in Severna Park, MD. I will be running in the 9-1 slot and the 1-5 slot. Both games will be set in Stonehell dungeon and will be part of my persistent campaign there. You will be able to play in either of the games or both. I will start both sessions at the steps down and they will be free exploration. I have done this several times at conventions in the past, and it worked very well. Plus, as my version of Stonehell is persistent, you might be able to make off with treasure and deny my regular group the XP!

If you are in the area, come out and play.


Yesterday, I took my daughter, wife, and father-in-law to NOVA Open, a local tabletop miniature games convention. We just went for the day to see the miniatures and scenery, the convention did not disappoint. The staff was very nice, we interacted prior to the con via email, and they made a special badge for my daughter. If you live in the DC area, I suggest this con. Here are some pictures.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Greyhawk Reborn

On Saturday, I played in two Greyhawk Reborn modules and had a good time. It is a pseudo-revival of the old Living Greyhawk campaign from the 3.x years. The interesting thing they have done to avoid IP issues is to make every DM run modules of her/his own design. This means that it is more like a massive, organized, home game than like one of the old living campaigns with prepared modules. Modules are still submitted for editing and the campaign overlords still develop approve the awards on the Adventure Record for the module. The campaign has many of the old Living game trappings like Adventure Days, travel between regions, and standardized rewards. Both modules were well paced at about three hours each, I met some really nice people, and I am thinking about becoming a DM for the campaign myself.

This was also my first time playing 5e, and I loved it. If I wasn't already a C&C player, this would probably be my go to version of the game. They are a lot alike. Actually, they are enough alike that I can easily switch between them if a group prefers one over the other.

Old School Adventures on Twitch

The first episode of Roll20's Moldvay Basic D&D game is up. It is an introduction by the GM, not an actual session, but it is still really interesting. He takes the time to show off some of the features of the Roll20 app, I am especially interested in that since I am playing in a Roll20 DCC game and am interested in running my own.

Sadly, Keep on the Borderlands won the adventure straw poll instead of Caverns of Thracia. I love both of them, so it is a win either way. Hopefully he will do the Caverns of Thracia in a later series.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Daddy and Daughter Dungeon Delve

On Sunday, I took my daughter to the Skyline Caverns, about an hour from my house. To a certain extent the whole setup is a tourist trap. In addition to the cavern tour, they have a dragon themed mirror maze, and a small train ride. There is a large gift shop, which mostly sells junk and the inevitable polished “gemstones”. All of that said, it is a very fun tourist trap and a great place to take a three-year-old.

The mirror maze and the caverns themselves are of interest to this blog. I you have never been to a mirror maze before, it is a maze where all the walls are mirrors. This creates the illusion that the maze is infinite and creates enough confusion that the maze feels much bigger, and more complicated than it actually is. At first a mirror maze feels like one of those dungeon tricks (like spinners, teleporters, or sloping passages) that are neat in theory, or in a Wizardry game, but come unglued at the table. But, I do think that you could make use of a mirror maze in a dungeon if you abstracted it enough mechanically.

One of my strictest, self-imposed rules for running a dungeon is that I always have to describe the dungeon accurately. There are very few exceptions to this rule, most are the result of a saving throw failure or an illusion. This is very important because of the way I run dungeon games, the player map is a very important artifact, so it is important that I play fair with it. While I have to describe the dungeon accurately, I do not have to describe it completely and the description can be hazy. I do not think that a mirror maze would be all that effective at short range. The movement rules assume that the characters are moving through the dungeon slowly, while mapping, and paying very close attention to details. I think they are likely to notice the mirrors, especially if they are carrying a light source.

I think the mirrors will really come into play in two circumstances, when the characters look down a long hallway or across a big room, and when they are running away and aren't moving carefully. The first instance is easy to handle, I just tell them the hallway looks really long or the room looks really big. This can actually have a big impact on the game. My players spend most of their time exploring, and they are constantly trying to figure out how things might connect, or if they have enough resources to explore an area. As a result, they look down far more hallways than they actually go down. The second circumstance would be handled by a check to avoid getting lost when running away through a mirrored area. Since I play Castles & Crusades, this would probably just be a Wisdom check. This is the kind of thing that comes up a lot in my games. Three of the last four sessions of Stonehell I ran ended in the characters running back to the surface.

The cavern itself was more interesting from an inspiration standpoint. One of the interesting things was that it is actually set up like a dungeon. It has lots of fairly good sized rooms connected by windy passageways. By the way, my daughter loved it. She just charged after the tour guide every time we moved on into another room. Here are some pictures from 260 feet under the earth.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

City Month Day 2

Sorry, I did not get time to write much about this today. Several people have indicated that I should go with a weird city, and that is what I am going to do. Now I just need to figure out what kind of weird city I am going to make. One thing I know for sure, it will be weird in a way that has a large impact on the rules of whatever system I use for it. There is no sense in having a weird city if I am just going to run a standard D&D game set in it, it needs to do something weird to the rules too.

I have been kicking around a few ideas in my head today. One that I like, that is not fully formed, is a spherical that bobs up and down in a fluid fantasy cosmology. This means that it would follow a kind of sinusoidal path through different planes, constantly being subjected to changing external influences. I haven't really thought about this much.

Another idea is a miniature city (like a model) that exists inside of a full-sized city. In my City State of the Invincible Overlord campaign there was a miniature city that was populated by escaped slaves that had been shrunk by magic. I might change some of that and play around with it.

Sorry, this is an incomplete post. More to come.

Another Blogger Playing Stonehell

I always love reading other accounts or people playing Stonehell to see how they compare to the sessions I have run. Jens D. has a nice recap on The Disoriented Ranger.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

City Month: Day 1

I plan to write at least one post a day about creating a fantasy city during the month of September. The first step is to decide which type of city I am going to create for this exercise. I have been thinking about this for a few days, and I have narrowed it down to a few choices.

  • Develop a city that has long existed in my home campaigns, but has never been detailed. In this case, the City of Dar Janix, island home of the Knights Templar of the Circle of Dar Janix, a city of towers.
  • Create a new generic fantasy city akin to City State of the Invincible Overlord or Lankhmar. The downside to this is that there are already plenty of cities like this for RPGs, the plus side is that it is a good way to illustrate my methods since everyone is familiar with the general concept.
  • A floating refugee city. This city is inspired by the aircraft carrier city in Snow Crash and the real world city of Kowloon. It is a densely populated city, full of the cast-offs from other cities. It has a small footprint, but is multi-leveled and confusing.
  • Something really weird. I haven't decided what this means yet, perhaps a city inside of a living animal, or a snow globe. An interdimensional city could also fit the bill. 
I will be making my decision during the day tomorrow and posting in the evening. 

Monday, August 31, 2015

RPGaDay: Favorite Non-RPG Thing to Come Out of a RPG

My favorite non-RPG thing to come out of a RPG is Lords of Waterdeep. Lords of Waterdeep is a fantastic introduction to the worker placement genre of board games and it has a theme based on D&D's Forgotten Realms setting. Light euros are not the kind of games that WotC are usually know for, but they really hit it out of the park with Lords of Waterdeep. Not only is it a good use of the D&D theme, but it is a solid worker placement game in its own right. Better yet, it is a great introduction to both worker placement and strategic board games in general. It is very easy to learn, and plays quickly. It also is very easy to set up, something that you cannot usually say for these kinds of games. This is a great gateway game that can lead to other fantastic games like Manhattan Project and Yedo. My wife and I have played this many times, both the cardboard version and the excellent iOS application.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

RPGaDay Favorite RPG Playing Celebrity

I guess I am going to have to make the same choice here as 95% of the rest of the participants and say Wil Wheaton. Not only am I a fan of him as an actor, Stand By Me is one of my favorite movies, but he is a celebrity that plays RPGs that is actively helping the hobby. Wil has a talent for figuring out how to make it interesting to watch other people have fun. I was very skeptical of Tabletop when I first heard about its premise, and I was happily proved wrong. I think that with Titansgrave, he has offered one of the best gateways into the hobby that has ever been available. The show makes role playing look fun, and it communicates what it is all about. That second item has always been a challenge, how do you communicate what an RPG is if no one in the group has any experience with the hobby. I think that prior to Titansgrave, the best answer was Mentzer’s Red Box, and game books in general. I think that Fantasy AGE has the greatest introductory box set ever, a YouTube show.

Titansgrave is not a regular actual play. It isn’t hours long, with people mumbling and looking uncomfortable. It is people who are used to being on camera, actually playing the game, with all the boring parts edited out. It is at once a commercial for the hobby, and a how-to video.

I have to pick Wil Wheaton, not only is he a celebrity that plays RPGs, he is actively promoting the hobby in one of the smartest ways I have ever seen.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

RPGaDay Favorite RPG Blog/Website

To be honest, I no longer have a central place on the web to go for RPGs. For years, the Fear the Boot forums were my RPG home, but RPG discussion seems to have moved away from forums and distributed across things like Google+ and Twitter. I find it much harder to stay interested in these forms of communication, they have no history and do not lend themselves to long, in-depth discussions. Things like Roll20 and Google Hangouts offer online gaming opportunities that never existed before, but without a central community, I am not sure how to find people to use these tools. It would be nice to have a place where there was a group of people large enough to offer a pool of diverse players, but small enough that we all know each other. It feels like what is missing from the web since forums went out of style is the ability to talk to small focused communities. You are either talking to one person or everybody now.

Friday, August 28, 2015

September is City Month

I really enjoyed having RPGaDay during August, it gave me something to write about every day. I think I am going to continue that on my own during the next month. I will use the month of September to create a fantasy city, one post at a time. I will be drawing on my various GM/DM guides and city books for inspiration and mechanical guidance. I haven't decided exactly how I will attack this yet, I may post a schedule of blog posts in the next few days, or I may wing the design throughout the month. I am likely to use the 3.X Dungeon Master Guide system for classifying the city as it is well organized and people are familiar with it. I am not a cartographer, but there will be a map or maps. I generally use procedural methods for detailing my campaigns, so there is likely to be random charts. I imagine I will detail factions and NPCs as well.

More to come.

RPGaDay Favorite RPG I No Longer Play

I guess I could take the easy route with this and just say WEG Star Wars and be done with it. It has been years since I last played it, and I am unlikely to play it again anytime soon, but I don’t want every one of this posts to be about that game, so I will go with Alternity instead. I really enjoyed Alternity at the time, it was an attempt to have a universal game for science fiction the way that AD&D was a universal game for fantasy. This was a few years before 3rd edition and the advent of the d20 system that was set up to handle them both. From a rules perspective Alternity kind of existed in a wierd place between chaos of AD&D and the unified mechanic of d20. It moved towards the idea of having a standardized task resolution mechanic, but the mechanic itself was still pretty fiddly. It wasn’t a bad system for the time, but it is not one I see myself going back to today when I have choices like GURPS 4th edition and Savage Worlds.

The best thing about Alternity was its campaign settings. My group used Alternity for Star*Drive, Dark Matter, and Gamma World. I think that Dark Matter was the strongest of the three, it was an X-Files style setting that came with a lot of details on possible conspiracies to include in your game. The setting book was very strong in its depiction of an alternate, conspiracy riddled Earth. We had played a similar style game with GURPS Black Ops, but Dark Matter was much more evocative.

Star*Drive was an excellent space opera setting that was just different enough from the other available space opera settings to make us want to play it. It was kitchen sink space opera, it accommodated Alien-style horror, Star Trek inspired exploration, cyberpunk trappings, and old fashioned blasters and star fighters. It offered the opportunity to play in all of these styles while still providing a strong, coherent setting. I am glad that Wizards of the Coast decided to develop this new setting instead of defaulting to their old Star Frontiers setting. I like Star Frontiers, but it was more limited in scope, and honestly of a different time.

Speaking of defaulting to old settings that were of a different time, Alternity also offered a version of Gamma World. To be honest, Gamma World was not a great match for the Alternity rule set, and it was not a good match for the late ‘90s in terms of tone. We did play this a bit, but it was ultimately forgettable.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

RPGaDay Favorite Idea for Merging Two Games Together

I wasn't too sure what he meant by this. I could take it to mean, "Favorite idea for merging two campaigns into one," or I could take it to mean, "Favorite idea for merging two game systems or settings into one," so I will just take it both ways.

I have a lot of experience with merging games. I have run different groups in the same campaign world, sometimes even the same dungeon, for a number of years. Most recently, I have drawn all the heavily used areas from my recent fantasy campaigns into one world. This was pretty easy to do, I just cut out those sections of the maps and then glued them back together. They key was that by eliminating all of the history that my players never encountered in game, I found I had almost no conflicts that would have to be explained away, even if all of the players involved discovered everything that the other players knew (unlikely). I think they lesson here is that if you only create what you need, and do not get attached to things your players have never seen, it is easy to merge parts of a game world together. The benefit to this is, every part of my game world, that I know anything about, has been developed through play.

As far as merging two systems or settings together, I have to go with the upcoming Savage Worlds version of Rifts. I am really eager to see this.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

RPGaDay Favorite Gaming Inspiration

The inspiration for games I run tends to come from two places, books and maps. Generally, I get science fiction inspiration from books and fantasy inspiration from maps, although this is not always the case. I think this is because my science fiction games tend to be about an idea, usually a "what if question", and my fantasy games tend to be about a journey or exploring a place. 

Almost any kind of book can inspire a science fiction game, from a science fiction novel, to a book on phone phreaking. Sometimes I will get an idea while reading a history book or a social science book. The inspiration almost always takes the form of a question, from the dumb, "What if this happened in spaaace?" to the more complicated, "What would a democracy look like if everyone could vote on hundreds of little issues every day through the internet?" Even when I am dealing with a licensed scifi game like Star Wars, the basis tends to come from a question.

To a certain extent, this is true for my fantasy games as well, except that the question is almost always, "What is over there?" I am not a big fan of epic, world-saving fantasy. I find that it all tends to be very derivative of Lord of the Rings, and very backwards looking. Epic fantasy tends to ape Lord of the Rings without thinking about what it is doing, romanticizing pastoral, rural, medieval England even when written by an American. I do not find this to be fun. The events of fantasy are very, very boring. Exploring fantastical locations, on the other hand, is interesting stuff. 

Because of this, my fantasy games tend to be site based, not event based. I get excited by the big world maps that come in campaign settings. I trace the rivers and roads with my finger and look for places that call out to be explored. I like my campaign setting books to come with brief, evocative descriptions of the locations on the map, and more detailed maps of those areas. I am not going to read the painful elf history or list of dead kings. Just give me the map and a few lines of description.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

RPGaDay Favorite Revolutionary Mechanic

This one is really hard. I am having a hard time coming up with a mechanic that I feel is really revolutionary. And I am going to answer this from the perspective of what felt revolutionary to me when I encountered it. That means that if someone else did it first, but I never encountered it, too bad.

While there are plenty of times that I have found a mechanic clever, I can only think of two times that I can say I was surprised by one. The first was saving throws, it actually took a while for me to get my head around those. Part of that was that I was 10 years old, the other part o it was that it was the opposite of the way everything else in the game worked. You generally rolled to make stuff happen to another character, not to keep it from happening to you. I was comfortable with hit points when I first encountered them, they were the same as hearts in Zelda, but rolling to keep a status from being applied to my character was a bit mind bending.

The other was the conflict resolution system used in Dogs in the Vineyard. This was really the first time I ever encountered a game that was not just "D&D but different". Prior to Vince explaining it to me, I thought I had encountered games that were more than just "D&D but different", but I realized that was not true immediately afterwards. It was the first time that I encountered a game where I could say, "This is what RPGs might look like if the person who invented them was not coming from wargames." There have been other games since that clearly not drawn from the D&D tradition, Dread is what RPGs would look like if the inventors came from Jenga, but DitV was the first I encountered.

Dogs in the Vineyard's core mechanic is my favorite, and possibly only, true revolutionary mechanic I have encountered.

Monday, August 24, 2015

RPGaDay Favorite House Rule

My favorite house rule is my dungeon crawling house rule set for Castles & Crusades. While C&C is great as written for most things, it does need some tightening up for extended dungeons crawls of the type I run. While I am always working on my house rules, the general gist is to get combat out of the way quick, and to have a very strict exploration round. I have talked about these rules before.

I slim down combat by using group initiative and break combat into phases, each side takes its turn before moving on to the next phase. The phases are Missile, Melee, and Magic. I extend the combat round to 1 minute so movement can mostly be abstracted. I also treat all enemies in a group as a bucket of hit points. When you kill one foe worth of hit points, I subtract one enemy from the group. Any damage dealt beyond what is required to kill an enemy is applied to the hit point bucket. This means that characters regularly mow down multiple weak enemies in a round. This makes them feel cool, and speeds up combat.

My exploration turn is just a list I go through each turn: Move, Roll Searches, Describe, Actions, Mark Time, Roll Wandering Monsters. I am considering making two small alterations to make the tun smoother. Instead of tracking turns on torches/lanterns, I would have the players roll a die with a value equal to the number of turns that light source is supposed to last, with the roll of a one indicating that it is used up. While it adds some randomness, it eliminates an often forgotten tracking step. I am also considering rolling for wandering monsters every turn, even when the table calls for a roll less often, I would just decrease the chance appropriately. This means I would take the same actions every round.

Roll20 Gaming: Backlog

Last week I played in a DCC game using Roll20, and I was impressed with the system. I have been thinking about running some games using it, especially games that I don't think I will get much chance to run in person, things like starter sets and the huge number of perfectly good modules and adventure paths I have accumulated over the years. These things have the advantage of generally being low prep time, accessible, and having a pre-defined endpoint for buy in purposes.

Looking around my shelves I see things like the Pathfinder Beginner Box, several Paizo adventure paths for both Pathfinder and 3.5, a stack of 3rd edition Dungeon magazines, Ptolus, White Wolf's Scion campaign, the 5e Starter Set, the 4e Starter Set, the Fantasy Flight Games Star Wars Starter Sets (there is a dice roller, I checked), WEG Star Wars Darkstryder Campaign, some C&C modules, lots of Lamentations of the Flame Princess modules, and that doesn't even touch on the .pdf bundles I have purchased over the years. Many of these are are very good, or at least good introductions to their system. I think Roll20 would actually work great for this kind of thing, it is easy to estimate how many sessions they will last, and you can pull people from across the country.

On Steam we call this our backlog, anyone else working through their backlog on Roll20?

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Star Wars Armada

I played Star Wars Armada to day at my FLGS today. I stopped in the store two weeks ago and asked some people playing the new Halo fleet battles game about it. They told me that they play Armada every other week, so I picked it up to get ready for this weekend.

The game is a lot of fun, and moves quicker than I expected. The first couple of turns were a little slow because I was figuring out how things worked, but the second half of the game really picked up. We played a game with 200 points on each side in well under 2 hours, including instruction.

I played the Imperials and got lucky and won. We reached the turn limit and I had destroyed a Rebel corvette, but lost only a few fighters. I say I got lucky because had we played a few more turns, my Star Destroyers would have ran off the edge of the map and my opponent would have been awarded points for them. It took me a while to realize how hard the Star Destroyers are to turn. If you are playing them, you will need to use the maneuver command regularly to keep them on the field. The rules really give them a feel of inertia, both from how hard they are to turn, and the fact that you have to issue your commands 3 turns ahead. When a game is only 6 turns, this means you don't have a lot of ability to respond to your opponent. In an embarrassing note, I actually ran my Star Destroyers into each other, hopefully I will not make that mistake again.

The models look great, and it looks like they are building up a pretty good variety. This is the game I have been looking for, a pre-painted, quick-playing miniatures game. I have been wanting to get into a miniatures game, but hadn't found anything that seemed affordable and didn't require lots of painting at home. You will be seeing more posts about this game.

RPGaDay Day 23: Perfect Game for You

I wasn't exactly sure what this question meant, so I am going to assume that it means which game I would want to play if I could always get enough people. For me, the answer is GURPS. For all the time I spend talking about, and running, rules-lite games, I actually prefer crunchy games with a high level of granularity to skills and mechanics. I think this is because, if I could run any kind of game, I would run hard science fiction games. I prefer that kind of game to have several different kinds of physicists and chemists, not just a generic "Science" skill.

And it isn't just in hard scifi that granularity matters to me. I love Savage Worlds, but I have some problems with the system in long campaigns or back-to-back campaigns. Savage Worlds does not have a very high level of detail in its skills, this is great, it is what makes it so fast and easy, but it can make everything start to feel the same after a while. I have found that two Savage Worlds campaigns in a row can feel very much the same, even if they have very different themes, because of the simple mechanics. It is also hard to keep things mechanically fresh over long campaigns. I do not think this is an actual flaw in the system. The game was designed to be "Fast, Furious Fun" and mechanical granularity is going to be one of the trade-offs for that. GURPS, on the other hand, takes a while to get up and running, but offers many ways to make things feel very different due to its detailed, modular nature.

I like long campaigns. I like spending a lot of time working on the game world, and campaign specific rules before the first session. I want to distinguish this from something that requires lots of prep time every week before play, like Pathfinder. GURPS requires a lot of work setting up the campaign, but very little on a weekly basis. GURPS gives me the ability to make a very realistic world, and to fine tune the game systems to get the feel I want.   

Shadowrun Returns

I finished Shadowrun Returns this afternoon, and while it is hardly one of the greatest games of all time, I really liked it. I thought they did a good job of capturing the feel of Shadowrun fiction. One of the nicest things about the game was the length. It feels like it is rare to find a isometric, turn-based RPG that clocks in under 40 hours. I estimate I finished Shadowrun in 10 hours or less. It isn't that I don't enjoy the sprawling epics, but it is hard to get a game started when the estimated time to completion is 80 hours. It was also nice to play a game where there is not really any filler story, it moves along at a good pace with only a few, quick side quests.

The story is nothing special, but it isn't completely predictable. It was enough to keep me interested. The combat was good, although it was probably a bit too easy. I really liked the way they integrated netrunning into regular combat. This is one of those things that just works better on a computer in my experience. In all the combat was good, tactical fun, somewhat akin to the old XCOM games in feel. The world is not very deep, it is a hub game, you won't be doing any real exploring. But, that was actually a relief, not every game has to be a sprawling, open world time sink. The world was tailored to fit the tight story and to help keep up the pace.

If you have not played this, I suggest you do. I think you can play it on almost everything now, possibly even your microwave.  

Saturday, August 22, 2015

RPGaDay Day 22: Perfect Gaming Environment

Today's question was, what is your perfect gaming environment?

For me the answer is either a gaming store or a convention, and I prefer a gaming store. I have several reasons that I prefer public gaming. One, I like big groups, eight is my favorite table size, system allowing. I find it is usually easier to pull this off at a con or a store, for reasons of space and having enough people. Second, I believe that the best way to get people into the hobby is for them to see people playing a game. Gaming stores are the perfect place for this. There are a surprising number of people in a gaming store that have never played a RPG, or have not played one in years. These are people who are generally geek inclined since they are in the game store, and a table with six to eight people sitting around it having fun draw attention. RPGs are actually somewhat less intimidating than many of the other things going on in the store, there aren't $800 of minis on the table, or a whole bunch of cards, just some guys with dice. One of the reasons I love running C&C in stores is that someone can sit down cold and learn to play it. Third, I like the atmosphere, there are other people playing games, and stopping to see what we are doing. I think it helps maintain the interest of the people already at my table. I strongly believe that there are few things more important to this hobby than game store owners who understand the value of people playing in their store.

Friday, August 21, 2015

What Should a Shadowrun Game Look Like?

I have been playing Shadowrun Returns recently and I have been enjoying it. I have to admit to not being a huge fan of the Shadowrun tabletop game, it has way too much continuity built up, and I have never felt that the rules really had all that much to do with the theme of the game. This was fairly common when Shadowrun came out, and the Shadowrun rules are much better than many of the other games of the time, they just didn't make it feel like a shadowrun.

While I was playing Shadowrun Returns today, I started wondering what a Shadowrun game should be like. Pretty much every Shadowrun game I have ever played in or run has had these parts: Information Gathering; Planning; Execution; and Everything Goes Wrong. In my experience, Planning takes up most of the night, and Everything Goes Wrong is where all the excitement is. The problem with the Planning phase is that many players hate it and want to get to the action, but for a few players it is their favorite part of the whole game. Shadowrun, and cyberpunk games in general, are actually shot through with similar problems. For most games in the genre this stems from how netrunning is handled, but Shadowrun also has astral plane stuff that is basically another form of netrunning. One person is doing their "cool thing" and everyone else is sitting around. While some progress has been made with the netrunning problem over the years, the Planning phase problem still exists.

One way to handle it would be to have a very regimented game where you progress through all the phases but limit the actions the party could take in each phase to keep things moving. You could also just eliminate the planning phase through the use of an in-game currency. The players could have a certain amount of this currency, that would act like bennies or story chips, to allocate to each phase prior to Everything Goes Wrong. The game itself would start with the Everything Goes Wrong phase and the players could spend the currency they allocated to get bonuses, trump GM statements etc.

You could also do the opposite, you could have a game that was basically just the Gather Information and Planning Phases and then have the Execution phase and Everything Goes Wrong work kind of like programmed movement. This would work if you had a group that really enjoyed the planning phase.

RPGaDay 2015 Day 21: Favorite RPG Setting

Favorite RPG Setting

If you have read my previous answers, it should come as no surprise that my favorite setting is Star Wars. I am not going to go on about it again here, I have run two campaigns to completion in this setting and loved both of them. I can actually be more specific because both of those campaigns were set in the Elrood Sector, the subject of one of WEG's Galaxy Guides.

The great thing about the Elrood Sector is the level of detail at which it is described, each planet gets a few pages, some hooks, and a few characters. There is enough there to build a campaign around, but not enough there that it becomes cumbersome to remember it. In fact, while both my campaigns were set in the Elrood Sector, they were two very different versions of the sector.

I should mention two other settings in which I have run a lot of game sessions, Stonehell and The City State of the Invincible Overlord. I don't think it is a mistake that these are both very limited settings, one is a city, and the other is a dungeon. They are both kind of the opposite of the Elrood Sector, they are limited in scope but described at a high level of detail.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

RPGaDay 2015 Day 20: Favorite Horror RPG

Like Super Hero RPGs, I have very little experience with horror RPGs. The only horror RPG that I have any real experience with is WEG's Bloodshadows, and I am not sure that counts. Bloodshadows was part of WEG's Masterbook line. Masterbook was an odd duck generic system that used custom cards in conjunction with dice for the core mechanic of the game. It was interesting, but on the clunky side in actual play. You had to roll dice, consult a chart, and play cards. If I remember correctly, you also had to know what "stymied" meant. Bloodshadows was also an out-of-the-ordinary setting. It mixed '30s-'40s noir with hammer horror monsters and spellcasters. To be honest, the setting was not a great match for the rules.

We generally did not play this game as real horror, our sessions tended more towards campy action. I think this was mostly driven by the artwork in the books, which had a very pulpy feel to them. The game hardly qualifies as horror from a thematic standpoint. 

I did run one adventure that legitimately creeped out two of my players, to the point where they still bring it up today, 20 years later. In the first several sessions they tracked down some monster and killed it. They spent the rest of the campaign being stalked by its crawling, severed hand. I am not sure why that was so disturbing, but it was.

So, by default, Bloodshadows is my favorite horror RPG. 

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

RPGaDay Day 19 and Roll 20

Short post tonight since I played a game on Roll20. This actually works out well, I have never really played a Supers game. I ran a session of DC Heroes back in the '90s and I have read Necessary Evil. Based on that small amount of information, I like Necessary Evil More.

I had a good time playing in my first Roll20 game tonight, it was a DCC funnel. We played Sailors on the Starless Sea by Harley Stroh. I had a good time, and Roll20 works really well for this kind of game. We started out to investigate a keep that we believed was connected to the disappearance of many of our fellow villagers. We lost one character (didn't catch name) in a tragic bridge-crossing accident at the very start. 

Once inside the keep. the party investigated a well and hear a strange wailing sound. Two characters started throwing rocks down the well and were momentarily possessed by the urge to jump in the well. One of them died (didn't catch name), the other managed to grab a hold of a chain and pull himself to safety. While in the well his teeth started chattering.

We messed around with a door to one of the towers in the keep, but were unable to open it. We abandoned that idea and investigated a hole outside of a crumbled section of the wall. Drake and Pec climbed down the hole and discovered a circular door with runes on it. Kaax read the runes and determined that they were a poem about Fire, Ice, Storm, and Hate. While we were trying to decipher this poem, Dave pushed the door open and triggered a fire trap. Kaax the Crispy and John the Standing to Close were immolated, Dave somehow escaped. Drake and Pec started to explore the room on the other side of the door. The room was gently glowing and had a 7' tall man in armor lying on a dais in the center of the room, he was covered in inch thick ice. Pec went in to inspect the body and froze. It took a few more frozen people and a human chain but the party managed to pull him out alive. I wonder if this cold room is connected to the well, since the character who survived jumping in had chattering teeth.

We went back up and opened a scary door at the base of another tower. Inside were skeletons and a toad shaped fountain with a basin full of ichor. Rouge went in to inspect the skeleton and could smell burning, he found the skeleton to be hot. The from had gemstone eyes, but we managed to resist that temptation. We did find some weapons, armor, and a locked coffer. After we finished searching, Jake the Hammered poked at the ichor and was crushed by a pseudo-pod. The fountain burst into flames and we retreated, barring the door behind us.

Once outside, Drake opened the coffer and found three shapes wrapped in cloth. Drake unwrapped one and found a cone of incense, the cloth had chaos symbols on it. Drake carefully re-wrapped it, closed the coffer, and put it in his large sack. 

We then bashed down the door that we could not open earlier. We burst into the lower floor of a tower and found a spiral staircase going up along the inside of the wall. We also saw several villagers tied up to the wall, they were guarded by a minotaur and some beastmen. While we managed to defeat these foes, we lost Colop the Impaled, Star the Speared, and Moch the Bee-Covered. We rescued 12 villagers, 8 of which were willing to join us to replace out fallen. We looted the corpses, friend and foe alike, of course. 

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

RPGaDay 2015 Favorite Science Fiction RPG

I have always enjoyed science fiction more than fantasy. I like that it looks forward instead of backwards, that it celebrates humanity's ability to innovate, and that it has cool spaceships. There is no way I can discuss my favorite science fiction game without also discussing my love for science fiction in general, and especially Star Wars.

It is almost impossible to overstate the impact that Star Wars had on my early life, the movies hinted at a universe that stretched far beyond the screen, more adventures to be had, and new worlds to discover. In some ways, Star Wars, a movie series that is not about exploration, did more to imply a giant universe to explore than Star Trek, a show focused on exploration.

Maybe it's the lived-in look that does it, or the greater variety in alien appearance, or the many different kinds of aliens gathered in one place, even in a backwater. Whatever it is, the series has always been a call to adventure for me. I didn't want to go to the Star Wars universe to fight the Empire, I wanted to explore it.

But, there was something about Star Wars that interested me more than its world, and that was how they made it all look so real. There were several TV specials describing how the modeling effects were produced, and I was fascinated. My parents recorded a Nova special (I think) for me and I watched it almost as much as the actual films. It was this aspect of Star Wars that led me to hard science fiction, because it almost seemed like science fiction itself. I became interested in the "how" of science fiction, I wanted to know how things worked both in and out of the story.

My first hard science fiction experience was Asimov's "I, Robot". I loved how each of the stories was its own little puzzle, to be solved using the fictional rules of the world. I can also remember reading Rendezvous with Rama the first time, a book I still love today. While my love for Star Wars, Star Trek, and Robotech has not diminished over the years, my interests have grown in a different direction since I was about 12. Most science fiction I read today is solidly in the Alastair Reynolds or Stephen Baxter camp.

My first scifi game was WEG Star Wars. As I discussed in a previous post, I played a very long campaign using this system. It remains one of my favorite systems, and one of the few from that era that I would not be hesitant to go back to today. Right as I started playing WEG Star Wars RPG, something great was happening to the Star Wars universe; Timothy Zahn. His Thrawn Trilogy came along at exactly the right time, I was in the eighth grade when Heir to the Empire was released, so I fell right into its target demographic. Not only did Zahn do a good job capturing the feel of the universe and the characters, he took Star Wars in a more legitimate science fiction direction. Zahn recognized that a simple retread of space opera serial tropes would not be as interesting in written form as on the screen. Instead, Zahn took a different approach that was more suited to the medium.

Zahn added structure to the Star Wars universe. He defined how things worked and interacted, but just enough to allow his characters to use those interactions to solve problems. He didn't turn it into a realistic setting, but he made sure it was a believable one, even absent the great special effects. There were no ham-fisted midichlorians, he gave just enough information to allow the reader to play along at home. He took a similar approach to galactic politics, he moved away from good vs. evil to something more nuanced. Again, we are not talking about Iain M. Banks here, just enough to hang a believable story on. Zahn made Star Wars feel larger and more believable, he didn't just go back to the same places the movies went to, and have the characters interact with the children of the movie characters. He took us to new places, and brought in new characters from very far away. I do not believe that anyone else working in Star Wars since the original trilogy, other than Mike Stackpole, has pulled this off.

This approach fell in line, not only with my developing habits as a reader, but also with the direction my gaming group was heading. The Thrawn Trilogy Sourcebooks injected new life into our campaign. Star Wars was exciting and developing again, and we loved it.

Unlike our fantasy gaming habits, we were constantly trying new science fiction games during high school. We played Cyberpunk, GURPS Black Ops, and Traveller: The New Era. I also ran a long campaign in Alternity: Star*Drive, which I liked despite how fiddly it was. Another game we often got to the table was WEG's Shatterzone, a game made of TORG's system and Star Wars spare parts. I would gladly revisit either of those settings again with different rules.

After a return to fantasy gaming during my college years, I moved back to hard science fiction with GURPS Space. 4th edition GURPS gave me what I was looking for in a hard science fiction game. I could get very detailed during world creation (Traveller TNE-level detailed!), but the game played fast at the table. I ran two linked campaigns using GURPS Space and I hope to go back to finish that series some day. My most recent science fiction gaming experience brought me back to my roots with FFG's Star Wars: Edge of Empire. I loved that they had their first game focus on smuggling and exploration instead of the Galactic Civil War.

There are many science fiction games that I look forward to running. I would love to dip back into Star Wars and try the rest of the FFG games. I think a Star*Drive or Shatterzone game using Savage Worlds could be great. I also want to try Ashen Stars, it seems like a completely different style of game. But, more than anything, I want to get back to GURPS Space.

None of that changes the fact that my favorite science fiction game is WEG Star Wars.

Vote for Roll20's Old School Adventure

A few days ago, I linked to a video of Adam Koebel from Roll20 discussing Moldvay Basic D&D and why he loved it. It was a great video, and one of the better explanations of the attractions of Basic D&D I have seen. If you haven't seen it, go watch it. I'll wait.

Now you can vote on which old school adventure they will be playing. The choices are:

  1. Keep on the Borderlands
  2. The Lost City
  3. The Caverns of Thracia
  4. The Palace of the Silver Princess
While I feel like I should vote for KotB, because it is a great learning adventure, I really want to see how this guy runs The Caverns of Thracia. I will be voting for that. How about you?

Monday, August 17, 2015

Megadungeons: Tools

Before I embark on my Stonehell customization project, I need to think about what tools I will need. I have divided them into three categories, these categories each include both physical tools and processes I will use for content creation.

  • Content generation tools
  • Content management tools
  • Quality control tools
"Content generation tools" are pretty self explanatory, they are the tools I will use to create the content that will go into the dungeon:

  • Graph paper: I still do the rough draft of everything by hand. I am not really sure why, it is very inefficient, but it is how I work.
  • Pencils
  • Drawing templates
  • Writing journal
  • Geomorphs: Some I will steal from other places, some I will make myself. I actually shouldn't need that many, I am leaving levels 1 and 2 untouched and they will have the most real estate.
  • Treasure tables
  • Dungeon tables
  • Random dungeon generation procedure: I started talking about that here
  • Monster books: I have plenty
  • A dungeon drawing program: I will need to ask around about this. I do not need a lot of depth, I am not publishing this. I already learned to use AutoCAD and SolidWorks, I have no desire to put that level of investment into learning a drafting program.
I need content management tools during the creation phase because I know this is going to be a living dungeon and I want to bake that in from the start. 

  • 3 ring binder
  • Wiki?: This is a possibility. It is especially attractive since I run the dungeon across groups.
  • A modified version of Angry DM's Slaughterhouse system
Finally, I will need quality control tools. Wait! What is this nonsense? I need quality control because I don't want my dungeon to suck. I want a way to make some kind of objective assessment of the dungeon before I run it, to spot any potential problems. Obviously, "fun" is subjective, so my ability to do quality control other than play testing is fairly limited. But, there is a way: Melan Charts. These will give me the ability to do some evaluation on the tailor made portions of the dungeon, and probably on the larger geomorphs, and on samples of randomly generated areas. This may seem like extra work on the randomly generated areas, and it would be, except I intend to use that system and geomorphs again, so it will be worth it. 

Of course, you have to check your quality control system against a known. That means I am going to have to make sure that a "good" dungeon and a "bad" dungeon look different when charted. More to come. 

RPGaDay 2015 Day 17

Favorite fantasy RPG

Like most RPG gamers, I have a long history with fantasy games of many different types. I started with MERP and quickly moved on to Mentzer D&D. BECMI and 2nd edition AD&D were my group's primary games for the next decade. While we played other non-fantasy RPGs, I cannot think of any significant time spent with another fantasy game. At the dawn of the 21st century, we bid goodbye to AD&D with a marathon game of Dragonlance Classics and moved on to 3rd edition. I think it is hard, 15 years later, to remember what a revelation that new edition was at the time. AD&D was so creaky under its own weight with kits and Skills and Powers that I was regularly "doing the math" for most of my players. The sad fact is, most of my players did not actually know how to play the game. This is not a knock on them, it had become very complicated, and the rules were spread out among a whole bunch of books. The feedback from that first session was unanimous, 3rd edition was in.

Of course, 3rd edition would wind up crushed under its own accumulated mass by the end, requiring more DM prep than actual playtime. In those early years, it was a breath of fresh air. Even the layout of the rule book communicated that this version was more friendly. You could start at the beginning, work your way to the end, and come out of the other side with a complete character and a working knowledge of the game.

It was right about the time that the rules bloat started to get out of control that Castles & Crusades was introduced, but I would not encounter it for a few years.

In the later years of 3rd edition, I moved away from D&D and largely away from fantasy gaming, preferring scifi gaming instead. When we did do fantasy gaming, it was more likely to be Savage Worlds or Mike Mearls' Iron Heroes. 4th edition brought me briefly back into the fold. My initial experiences were very positive, I liked the way it played and the shorter prep time. But as my players gained higher levels, and we added more players to the group, the combat slowed to a glacial pace. We abandoned D&D right around the time I moved away.

I then picked up Pathfinder as a player. While I enjoyed it, it did not dial 3rd edition far enough back for me. There was still too much going on for everyone to track, combat was slow, and it took forever to make characters. At the same time I started running an OSRIC campaign, it was amazing how much faster the game moved. The non-value added complexities of RAW AD&D still bothered me though.

A little while after I started my OSRIC game, I had my first real encounter with Castles & Crusades at Troll Con East, and it was exactly what I was looking for. It was as fast as early edition D&D, but with all of the rule simplifications from early 3rd edition. It has been my primary game ever since. It reminds me a lot of the first year or so of 3rd edition, or Rules Cyclopedia, it is an easy to use game that feels complete.

There are many tempting fantasy games around today, Dungeon World, 5e, Fantasy AGE, 13th Age, DCC, The One Ring, and Fantasy Craft. While I am unlikely to change my go-to-game, I will experiment with many of these others.

My favorite fantasy RPG is Castles & Crusades.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

DCC on Wednesday

On Wendesday, I will be playing in a DCC game on Roll20. I am really excited about this. It will be my first Roll20 experience, I have only used Fantasy Grounds before. Even that Fantasy Grounds experience was about 8 years ago and I only GM'd. It will be interesting to see how far VTTs have come in the last few years, especially from an interface standpoint. 

I have played Dungeon Crawl Classics before, I play tested Mike Curtis's "Frozen in Time" module. I really enjoyed it, but we did not do a funnel so I will be interested to see how that works. 

I will let you know how it goes. 

RPGaDay2015 Day 16: Longest Session Played

It is not going to be possible for me to name the exact longest session that I ever played or ran because there were so many weekend-long games during high school. It would have to be either AD&D 2nd edition or WEG Star Wars. It is more likely to have been AD&D because I was running Star Wars every week and some times more than once in a week, so we did not tend to do marathon sessions with that game.

I can tell you about a session that ran so long that the GM fell asleep. We were playing Rules Cyclopedia D&D and one of my players was running the game, he almost never DM'd and it was going really well. It was not a dungeon crawl, it was a mystery. We were closing in on the culprit and suddenly, in mid-description, the DM's head goes down and he starts to snore. We nudged him to try to wake him up long enough to finish the game and the only response we got was, "She's got your mother's dress, but she doesn't have the body."

When he woke up the next day, he couldn't remember anything. He only remembered the beginning of the game, and was apparently making it up on the fly. We never found out who the murderer was.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

RPGaDay2015 Day 15: Longest Campaign

My longest campaign was my WEG Star Wars Elrood Sector campaign. I ran this game for the entirety of high school, sometimes multiple sessions in one week. This is my longest running campaign no matter how you measure it, length of time, or number of sessions. It was a great system and a great setting in the system. I revisited the Elrood Sector a couple of years ago when I ran an Edge of Empire game there. That campaign is another one of my all time favorites.

Friday, August 14, 2015

RPGaDay 2015 Day 14: Favorite Gaming Accessory.

My favorite gaming accessory has to be the Hackmaster GM screen. I never actually used it, but it was completely ridiculous. It has all of these flaps inside the panels with insane amounts of game information and tables. It was a work of art, and it was completely useless.

Roll20 GM Chat: Moldvay D&D

This guy gives one of the best explanations of old school D&D and the Moldvay Basic Set I have ever seen. Roll20 GM Chat. Sorry, I can't figure out how to embed a Twitch video and I cannot find the video on youtube. I think this guy's name is +Adam Koebel

Megadungeons: Stonehell Customization 2

So, how do I go about planning my Stonehell customization project? I already have a good first pass at a high level definition of my goal:
A customized version of Stonehell dungeon that is consistent with the history of my campaign world and reinforces careful play and resource management.
I will need to sharpen that as I go, but it will serve to keep me pointed in the right direction for now. I can't talk about the history part yet because my players have spent the last several sessions almost stumbling on some big reveals. Some of my players read this blog, so I don't want to spoil anything. I can discuss the play style of my group though. My current Stonehell group consists of people who either work in, or are students in, the science and technology area. There are both professionals and skilled tradesmen in our group. I am a lawyer with an undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering. As you can imagine, my group has a very methodical play style. They carefully explore, usually with a plan, always with a system. This doesn't mean that they don't get into crazy situations, just that they usually have an exit plan ahead of time.

Since I know my group likes to plan, I want to make sure that my customization efforts reward and challenge their careful play style. This means I need to make it possible for them to get the information they need to make good risk versus reward choices in advance. That last statement seems obvious, shouldn't we always design our dungeons so that players can make informed risk versus reward choices? Of course, but if you have a group that puts extra effort into planning ahead and gathering intelligence, you want to make sure there are plenty of opportunities to do so. You also need to make sure that there are enough twists, and not cheap ones, that they can't ensure victory through their careful play.

 Next, I need to determine the scope of my customization. Stonehell is a very large dungeon, even if you only count the five levels Mike has released so far. One quirk of the way Stonehell is formatted is that all five levels are the same size. This is not necessary for my purposes, in fact it even works against my goals to a certain extent. I also only plan for the group to be focusing on the dungeon till level 7 or 8, so I only need one more level than what has been released.

In general, I think that the levels closer to the surface need to be bigger than the lower levels. There are several reasons for this. First, low level characters die more often and extra rooms are needed to provide XP for the replacements. Second, because resources are tight, covering large distances is an actual challenge for lower level groups. They have limited access to healing and are usually spent by the time they stop to rest, when to stop or turn back is a huge decision at lower levels. As characters gain levels they also gain the ability to avoid or escape encounters on their way back out, they are also moving through easier encounters on their way to the exit. Third, you have to spread the treasure (XP) around a bit more at lower levels because it is very difficult for low level groups to survive the types of encounters that should be between them and large rewards. You should certainly have some of these high risk opportunities available that clever parties can exploit, but you also need enough "slow XP" to get a bunch of characters off the level. Ask me about dragon fishing some time.

I need to make Stonehell smaller, especially the lower levels. This is not a criticism of the original dungeon, it was written for a much larger audience than I am running it for. It was also written to provide modular opportunities, that I am taking advantage of by removing some sections. Reducing the size of the lower floors will allow me to provide more concentrated, and varied, challenges and rewards to my more experienced players. It isn't just about character experience, in the early levels you are trying to give the players certain core dungeoneering skills. They learn mapping, resource management and how to move through the dungeon tactically. They are also calibrating their baseline for the fictional world you have created. They are constantly testing to see what the consequences are for their actions.

Remember, the very fact that there is a megadungeon and magic means that the world they are exploring doesn't "make sense" to a certain extent. They are going to need a bunch of data points to figure out how it departs from the real world. Repetition is the key to learning those skills and establishing that baseline. They need chances to test their assumptions before having to apply those assumptions in high risk situations. Death in the early levels should be like an airline accident, unless they make a clearly boneheaded move, it should be the result of multiple errors over time that suddenly become very dangerous when combined. If there is a total party kill on levels 1 or 2, the players should have a list of choices they made to get them into that situation in the first place. 

On lower levels this all changes. The players should be faced with challenges that they apply their hard won skills to overcome. It is far less important for them to map a large area to determine where secret doors may be than it is for them to notice several very subtle clues in a smaller map. They should be facing more challenging encounters for greater rewards. Instead of pacing themselves to deal with a string of smaller encounters, they should be faced with situations where they are trying to survive long enough to figure out a strong enemy's weakness. I just don't need much real estate to pull this off.

 Another thing to consider is the way I run Stonehell. I will have one or two ongoing groups exploring the dungeon, which is persistent across all games I run. I will also have a much larger number of groups who only enter the dungeon one time at a convention or game day. This means that very few characters are ever going to make it below level 2. Players at conventions do not generally come equipped with megadungeon exploring skills. I don't know that these skills were ever common, but they certainly are not now, RPGs are far more diverse, even under the D&D umbrella. This means that I really can't hand out 5th level characters and start a convention group out on level 3 or 4. These levels are going to be far too intolerant of minor mistakes for groups to be probing them by trial and error, they are intended to challenge groups that have spent many, many sessions doing that in the levels above. If only my ongoing groups are going to see the lower levels, I just don't need as much level to be there to deal with the fact that my dungeon is persistent.

Keep in mind that "smaller" does not mean small from an objective standpoint. Half of a Stonehell level is still a lot of dungeon.

Right now my plan for the dungeon is something like this: Levels 1 and 2 will remain largely unchanged, they are large XP farms and mapping areas, with the mapping getting a little more challenging on level 2. These levels have two or three sub-levels each. Level three will be a clear shift in direction, it will be more compact and challenging. I also plan to have the distinction between level 3 and level 4 be more blurred than in previous levels. This means that players will have to think more about relative vertical distance to gauge challenges. Level 4 will be made up of many smaller areas and will require a lot of vertical movement between those areas. It will probably also require things like going up to go down in certain places.

Level 5 continues the trend of smaller areas and vertical movement, the dividing line between level 4 and level 5 will be even more blurred than the line between level 3 and level 4. You will not be able to reach all areas of level 5 from another area in level 5, some will require going back up to level 4, others a more dangerous excursion down to level 6. Careful mapping will be required to determine that these possibilities exist. Level 5 will also introduce dangerous one-way movement. Level 6 will be a return to a more compact level, but be very challenging. One way movement and magical movement will be much more common and often leave the party in very dangerous situations. I expect that this 6 level version will have a bit more real estate than four current levels.