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.