Monday, December 19, 2011

Circe's Rune, campaign fail and wrap-up

This campaign got cut short due to personal reasons, but I wanted to summarize the other sessions we played.

The characters made their way to the nearest town Arrakhar and were given rooms by the suspicious townsfolk. They bought some equipment with the money taken from the tomb and picked character classes. The elf mage bought supplies and met Monbec the Magnificent, an illusionist. The eladrin star pact hexblade found out that the local lord Danlak the Falcon was asking around about the group. The dwarf slayer Princess Beyonce (my wife's PC, the only one whose name I remember) drank at the inn.

The group met with Danlak, who claimed he had revived them using a strange ritual he had access to. He also filled them in on the army of orcs and skeletons wielded by the witch Circe, which was besieging the lands of men. The Elf King lived in the nearby forest, but he hadn't sided with anyone. The PCs' bodies had been found on a battlefield by Danlak, and he wasn't sure if they had been fighting with or against Circe. 

They travelled into the forest to meet the Elf King, and were attacked by Ragramok the Runt, a dragon servant of Circe. They subdued him and presented him as a gift to the Elf King, who ruled over all the fey of the forest (he was actually an eladrin, "Elf King" was one of the dozens of titles he had and the one mostly used by humans). Turns out the Elf King was forbidden from attacking Circe because of an Oath he made. A ritual Oath made on one of the holy days of the year was magically binding, bringing sickness and death on those who broke it.

Ragramok knew of a way around the Oath--the black apple of the God-Tree would break any sickness. There was only one left in the world, and Circe's minions were on there way there now so she could break the pact and invade Elfland. The PCs set off to get there first, fighting orcs and skeletons on the cliff side road on the way there. They got to the tree to find the Nosferatu vampire and werewolf they had fought previously, assisted my magical lighting from Circe. They killed them both for good this time, only to discover that the werewolf was none other than Danlak the Falcon! 

They took the Black Apple so the Elf King could survive breaking his Oath and help the mortal armies fight against Circe. I had intended a few military-style battles, trying to get the Stannic Legion on their side, and a big battle against Circe herself to wrap up the game.

Unfortunately, some personal stuff came up and I doubt I'll return to this game. It was an interesting diversion and a welcome change of pace to the previous campaign. It was fairly railroaded, but it was meant to be a short game. I think whenever I can get a new game together it will be much more sandbox. 

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Circe's Rune, session 1

I'm about to wrap up a mini-campaign based on Jeff Rients' one-issue campaign idea. Not just the concept (squeezing every creative drop out of one issue of Dragon as the basis of a D&D campaign), but actually stealing his ideas. 

It has also been an experiment with a different playing style for my group. Most of them are used to creating their PCs with the DDI character builder. I made them create their characters together, and used mostly random elements. 4d6-L for stats, straight down the line with no trading. I came up with a random chart for races available. They didn't get to pick a class right away, either.

The PCs woke up in coffins--an elf, an eladrin, and a dwarf. They had no memories and no abilities beyond their basic stats and racial traits. They broke out to find themselves in a mausoleum with something further in trying to beat the door down. Everyone noticed they had tattoos of a strange rune (the mark of Circe).  They escaped into a graveyard surrounded by an iron fence with a wolfsbane wreathe. A huge shaggy werewolf finally burst out of the mausoleum and they elected to fight instead of run--and they beat its ass. They realized he was dazed by the wolfsbane so they pinned it to his chest, so smart play and lucky dice helped three 0-level PCs take down a 4th-level monster. By then two vampires were approaching (one looked like Nosferatu, the other like the girl from the Ring) Did they flee? No! Back into the mausoleum!

They split up. The elf found some gold and a magic hammer in the family tomb. The eladrin ran into some underground catacombs and was chased by Nosferatu, with his hypnotic red eyes. He eventually clawed his way through dirt back above ground. The dwarf faced off against Ring-girl's spider and wounded it, then beheaded the vampire with a shovel. Finally, everyone escaped the graveyard and headed toward the lights of a nearby town.

I was expecting everyone to run, so I had to improv everything inside the mausoleum. I certainly didn't think they would defeat the werewolf so easily, but then I had given him a strong weakness (ideas stolen from here).

More sessions to follow...

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Too Many Ideas...

Ok, I keep going back and forth between wanting to do something more Sword & Sorcery and something more authentic Medieval. I'm wondering how well I could blend the two. Let me describe stuff I think of with these terms:

Sword & Sorcery--Conan, Hyboria, decadent city states, mix of cultures, snake-men, bizarre Cthulhu gods, pulpy high adventure.

"Authentic" Medieval--Knights, vikings, omnipresent monotheistic Church, everything else is of the Devil, fairy tales, dirty.

The biggest thematic difference is that in a traditional Sword & Sorcery setting the gods are of little to no help to mankind. Adventurers overcome supernatural evil with strength, steel and wits. In a Medieval setting trying to capture the feel of how people thought of the world back then, the Church is the symbol of good and civilization against the evil. Also, modern people generally have a bad opinion of the medieval Church.

I think a Medieval setting would have to leave lots of leeway for weirdness to include a little of the S&S feel. One problem with modern D&D is that everything is defined and categorized a bit too much. There should be an otherworldly land of faerie, a heaven above the earth and a hell below it. There is lots of room for variation in these big areas. More fantastical beasts come from Faerie, unnatural and loathsome creatures come from Hell. Ghosts and undead can haunt places, but they don't need a specific plane.

Religion is a touchy subject. The holiness of the Church shouldn't conflict too much with the average PC's natural desire to be an alcoholic, lecherous rat-bastard. Rather than playing up any paganism vs. Church division I think it would be better to present the Church as generally accepted, with pagan practices remaining as folk beliefs. A witch would be tolerated in town as long as she didn't actively harm anyone. The Inquisition and witch hunts weren't until late in the medieval period, anyway. Clergy are mostly concerned with calling on a monotheistic God's blessings and cleansing the corrupting influence of evil.

Poul Anderson's The Broken Sword and Nancy Farmer's The Sea of Trolls are good examples of mixing viking pagan ideas with a Church-dominated world. Basically, just put them next to each other without worrying about the metaphysical significance. Elves and Aesir exist and are beyond mortal ken, but the power of the White is stronger still. Heroes still do what they do--fight trolls and dragons. Find magic treasure.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Celtic Game: Classes

The classes available had to have some house rules to establish the flavor of the setting. One thing noted with each class is their armor bonus; this was done because there just aren't that many different armors available. Most warriors go into battle almost naked, but chain mail is just being developed. So I gave each class an armor bonus that equals the armor they are proficient in normally, and let them describe their armor themselves. 

The campaign I ran had an infernal pact warlock (power granted by Crom Cruach), a druid (son of a bear spirit), a spot-on Slaine style barbarian, a viking fighter (who didn't scoff at heavy armor), and a ranger reskinned to fight unarmed like a monk. And a boar followed them around.

No Divine Classes—the celtic deities are natural forces that must be appeased through offerings and sacrifice; they are not benevolent higher powers

Fighter: Usually a noble born trained in heavy armor from a young age.  Your combat challenge and combat superiority show your control in the midst of battle.  The battlerage vigor build from Martial Power is a good option for this game.
--Light armor bonus +3 and Heavy  armor bonus +7. Can increase heavy armor bonus to +8 with a feat.

Ranger:  In many ways a typical Celtic warrior—fast and lightly armored.  Since bows are not often used in battle, a ranger can take the Slinger Fighting Style.  The beast master build from the Martial Power book is also very appropriate to this game.
--Slinger Fighting Style: When you wield a sling, the damage die increases one size (1d8 instead of 1d6).  You also gain the Defensive Mobility feat.
--Light armor bonus +3.

Rogue:  Warriors who use cunning, deception, and stealth are not considered dishonorable by the Celts.  As long as your enemy is dead and you are alive, little else matters.  Stealing is punishable by a fine, double if through stealth, but there is nothing inherently dishonorable about stealing, just as long as you’re not caught or can’t pay.
--Since shuriken aren’t available as weapons, rogues get a +1 bonus to attack rolls with slings.
--Light armor bonus +2. Can increase to +3 with a feat.

Warlock:  Unlike druids who train for years, warlocks gain their power through pacts with a powerful being or force.  The Fey Pact and the Dark Pact are especially appropriate to celtic warlocks, but any power can be interpreted easily to match the flavor of the setting.  Warlocks and witches are often associated with the Morrigan.
--Light armor bonus +2. Can increase to +3 with a feat.
--May take a Pact Weapon Channeling feat to use ranged attacks as melee attacks through a weapon.  This avoids opportunity attacks, and if using a named weapon allows you to use that weapon’s benefit on your warlock power.

Warlord:  Warlords are usually nobles who encourage their tribesmen in battle.  They fight wearing heavy armor.  Inspiring warlords are the most common, constantly yelling taunts and encouragement in the thick of battle, but a tactical warlord who uses cunning is valued as well.
--Light armor bonus +3 and heavy armor bonus +6. Can increase heavy armor bonus to +7 or +8 with one or two feats.

Wizard:  Wizards are the most mysterious branch of the druidic order, for they have devoted themselves to harnessing the magic of the world.  They sometimes refer to the Earth Dragon, spiral energy, or “the serpent” when describing arcane magic.  Wizards are masters of rituals, and know more ways to accomplish the impossible than anyone.
--Wizards can use a one ritual they know per day without paying the component cost. At paragon tier they can use two per day and at epic three per day.  
--No light armor bonus.  Can get a light armor bonus of +2 for a feat and increase to +3 with another.

Barbarian:  These represent the ultimate Celtic warrior, a raging madman.  More than just training, your rages are a gift from the earth goddess, allowing you to channel raw elemental energy through your body.  Legends tell of warriors caught in riastrad (battle-frenzy, or more accurately, warp-spasm) who twist around in their skin, their bodies burning the air around them.  Your rages manifest supernatural powers.
--Light armor bonus +3.  Barbarians often wear as little armor as possible so they don’t ruin it with a warp-spasm.
--Barbarian powers do not require a two-handed weapon.  They are also proficient with light shields.

Bard:  Bards are no mere wandering minstrels.  They are members of the druid order first and foremost, though their magic specializes in charms and deception.  They are valued as news-bringers, announcers of heroes, and tellers of legends.  Bards can also act as social equalizers, for they can spread the misdeeds of heroes and kings through song and satire.
--Light armor bonus +3 and heavy armor bonus +6.  Can increase heavy armor bonus to +7 or +8 with one or two feats.

Druid:  The druid order passes on the secrets of the universe through oral history, training its members for years.  Any class with the proper training can become a member of the order, but folk commonly associate the druids with controlling the weather and changing shape.  You are a natural force yourself, powerful like the storm and wild like an animal.
--Light armor bonus +3. 

Warden:  Though barbarians and fighters claim much of the battlefield glory, legends tell of one warrior who trained with the druids, learning some of their magic arts and becoming a great leader.  A warden combines great strength with earth magic, using the power of the elements around him to augment his attacks.  They also learn how to change shape, taking the form of animals and natural powers in combat.
--Light armor bonus +3.  

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Celtic Game: Tribes

PCs have to be human, but there are several different tribes to choose from. Most are directly inspired by (stolen from) the Slaine comic, although the Picts are lifted from Robert E. Howard's stories (check out Bran Mak Morn).  Its ok for players to be from different tribes because it was common to foster children with a different tribe--much like medieval lords.  In the campaign I ran, two players were Sessair and two were without a tribe, and when a fifth player joined later he was from Midgard. 

There are four main tribes of the earth goddess, and some smaller groups closely related.
Sessair—The Tribe that Stands Up.  This tribe takes the Celtic warrior ideal to the extreme.  They fight with no armor, and are known to take wounds just to prove how tough they are.  Their tempers are just as renowned as their honor and hospitality.  
Finians—The Tribe that Endures.  While they fight as well as any, this tribe’s true strength lies in defense.  Known for their uncaring acceptance of hardship and hunger, they have a reputation of being serious and depressing.  Their rocky homeland provides ideal fortress walls, but precious little food.  Hope you like oats and turnips.
Falians—The Tribe of Shadows.  They paint their bodies black and prefer to fight at night.  Some say they are cursed, perhaps haunted by their own ill deeds.  Certainly they are prone to moon-madness (lunacy) and avoid the sun more than they should.
Fir Domain—The Tribe of the Growling Shields.  They fight with more discipline than other tribes, using battle roars to terrify enemies and marching slowly and menacingly into battle rather than charging.  This military training comes from being surrounded on all sides by enemies.
Fir Bolg—Primitive cousins of the Fir Domain, they use crude weapons and worship the Horned God, Carnun, above all others.  Their wild hunts have been known to take down both dangerous beasts and unlucky men caught in their path.
Picts—A small, dark-skinned race far older than even the Celts, they carry an ancient racial hatred of the Celts’ ancestors.  Once a great people, now they have degenerated to savages, haunting the dark corners of the world.  Any trespassers are unlikely to see them before being brought down by a silent arrow or dark blade.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Celtic Game: Races

I didn't want my Celtic game to be full of typical fantasy races like elves, dwarves and orcs. At the same time, making everyone play a standard human can be kind of boring and ignores the awesome racial abilities available in 4E. So I gave the players the advantages of both--some of the human racial traits, and additional traits from other races. Note that this list was written right after the PHB2 came out, so it doesn't include more recent racial abilities.

The only race available is human.  The tribes of Tir Nan Og are remnants of sunken Atlantis, although they have mixed their blood with the many peoples of the continent.  The Tribes are more concerned with cultural heritage than blood ancestry, so folk of all appearances are found among their ranks.
Humans get +2 to two ability scores, an extra feat and trained skill at first level, and one major and one minor trait off of the list:
Major Traits
Accuracy:  You rarely miss.  You can use the elf power Elven Accuracy as an encounter power.  
Changeling:  You can use the doppelganger power Change Shape as an encounter power.
Child of Darkness:  You have a touch of dark fey blood, or perhaps you were born during an eclipse.  Once per encounter you can use the drow power Cloud of Darkness or Darkfire.
Dilettante:  At 1st level, you choose an at-will power from a class different from yours.  You can use that power as an encounter power.
Furious Assault:  You can use the half-orc power Furious Assault as an encounter power.
Hide of Bronze:  You can use the goliath power Stone’s Endurance as an encounter power.
Memory of a Another Lifetime:  You have been reborn from death before.  You can use the deva power Memory of a Thousand Lifetimes as an encounter power.
Otherworld Step:  You can step briefly into the Otherworld and step out in a different space. You can use the eladrin power Fey Step as an encounter power.
Second Chance:  You can use the halfling power Second Chance as an encounter power.
Shake It Off:  You can use the hobgoblin power Hobgoblin Resiliency as an encounter power.
Spiral Energy Surge:  Your body is marked with a scar or birthmark similar to a weirdstone mark, and you can channel Earth Power into a violent blast.  You can use the dragonborn power Dragon Breath as an encounter power.
Training:  You know an extra at-will power from your class.
Minor Traits
Berserker Resilience:  The first time you are bloodied during an encounter, you gain 5 temporary hit points. (10 hp at 11th level, 15 hp at 21st level)
Bear’s Toughness:  You can use your second wind as a minor action.
Blood Fury: When you’re bloodied, you gain a +1 bonus to attack rolls.
Bloodhunt:  You gain a +1 bonus to attack rolls against bloodied foes.
Educated:  You have an extra trained skill.
Eidetic Memory:  When you make any knowledge check, roll twice and take the best result.  This cannot be used when making a skill check for a ritual.
Infernal Wrath:  You can use the tiefling power Infernal Wrath as an encounter power.
Mighty Build:  Your oversized body allows you to use a two-handed weapon in one hand.
Powerful Athlete:  When you make an Athletics check to jump or climb, roll twice and take the best result.
Self-Reliant:  +1 to Fortitude, Reflex and Will Defenses.
Quick Step:  Your base speed is 7 instead of 6.
Stand Your Ground:  When an effect forces you to move—through a push, a pull, or a slide—you can move 1 square less than the effect states.  Also, if you are knocked prone you can make an immediate saving throw to avoid falling prone.
Untiring:  Add your Constitution modifier to your healing surge value.
Wild Step:  You ignore difficult terrain when shifting.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Celtic Game Intro

Lazy post--I'm gonna show some stuff I wrote up for a 4E Celtic game I ran, heavily influenced by the Slaine comics. 

Tir Nan Og is the legendary Celtic Land of the Young, so named because few live to old age.  It combines the mythical ancestors of the Celts with prehistoric facts, thousands of years ago at the end of the Ice Age.  You are members of the Tribes of the Earth Goddess, proud warriors who honor the deities of earth and sky.  You are surrounded by enemies:  the Fomor sea devils, berserkers from Midgard, and the vile Drune lords who warp earth power to their own ends.  And when no enemies are present the Tribes gladly fight amongst each other!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Social Aspect of RPGs

I've been thinking a lot about different play styles for different groups of gamers. It seems really important that everybody is on the same page when it comes to playing style. When you think about it, there are lots of variations of playing outside of the actual rules of the system.

How much roleplaying do you do? Do you talk in character a lot? How much table-talk goes on? When a rule disagreement comes up, do you take as long as it needs to resolve it or hand-waive it to keep the pace moving? How much freedom do the players have to create their characters? Do you require backgrounds? How do you feel about PCs with silly names?

These and other issues can have a big impact on the game, but aren't addressed much. Most DM advice you see focuses on rules and setting development. That's great, but RPGs are a social activity and often that gets overlooked. Really, RPGs are pretty unique as a social game because it has a continuity in story and group. Its different from sitting down to play a board game with friends. Players get invested in the game, the campaign, their characters.

I'm going to try to focus on this aspect some more in the future. I know Robin D. Laws has some good stuff to say about really bringing the social, cooperative aspects of the game to the forefront (and he has some good advice in the DMG2).

Another good post I came across just now discusses possible DM traits based on the RIASEC career path model we all took a test on in high school. I think I fall firmly in the Artistic style. I definitely look at DMing as a creative outlet. I like designing campaign worlds and monsters. I can be disorganized and chaotic. I look at the rules as guidelines for creating an experience, and I'm willing to bend them.

Its easy to fall in the trap of building a campaign without taking the players and their characters into account. I'm trying to work on that, especially since I'm new to this group of players. I also assume that differences in play style will work themselves out easily, and finding that's not always the case. Its hard to discuss some of these things up front because there isn't a good vocabulary for a lot of it, and people have different standards based on prior experience. Also, gamers in general aren't the best at social skills. I'm an introvert and hate confrontation, I'd rather not confront issues head-on. But when things bother me they build up and eventually I lose my temper. People can get very defensive about how they view their game--just read any edition war thread online and you see how hostile people get.

Anyway, this is starting to ramble. One last thing: some podcast or blog (can't remember which one) talked about the unwritten social contract of gaming, and I think it needs to be written.
The DM promises to be fair and provide an entertaining game. The players promise to respect the DM's game and respect the other players right to enjoy the game.
Something like that. Keep it friendly.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG

Goodman Games has released a beta version of their tabletop RPG for free. Free. Download here.

I like a lot of elements of the game but don't think I would play it as written. If I was going to run a different game than 4E I would want it to be a simple as possible, and as streamlined as some of the rules are, some bits are a bit complicated.

Various thoughts as I skim over the pdf again, both good and bad:
  • Starting as 0-level and picking a class after 100XP sounds cool, but I could see many players turned off by this. I'd like to give it a shot.
  • I like the change up of ability scores. Wisdom and Charisma are combined into Personality. Luck modifies one random type of roll, plus some class abilities, and PCs can burn luck points to get bonuses to rolls. 
  • The complete randomness of character creation could be another sticking point for people. 3d6 for ability scores, straight down the line. Random professions are optional at least, but some are just better. Random spells I don't like (more on that later). 
  • I know the spirit of the game is to take a nobody and let them grow into a powerful adventurer during play. I think its a valid way to play, especially since every other RPG I've played recently lets you create a custom badass right away. But its something I'd have to talk gamers into.
  • The Cleric has some interesting points. Turn Unholy is cool because it affects any creature antithetical to your alignment, not just undead. I like that they have a different spellcasting schtick than wizards; -1 cumulative to spell checks when you cast the same spell multiple times in a day, but you can theoretically cast all day. Not much different than a standard D&D cleric, though. I don't think clerics really fit the Sword & Sorcery theme that well. Cultists of dark gods, sure. 
  • Not too crazy about the Thief. I've never really like playing rogues, so maybe I'm biased. They get extra benefits from spending Luck, which is cool. But other than that they're typical old school thieves--useless  in combat unless they can backstab, and they use percentage based skills. Grrrr. 
  • The Warrior is awesome. They use a variable die as an attack bonus and if they roll a 3 or better on that die they get a Mighty Deed of Arms. Basically, something cool happens in addition to damage. This covers cinematic stunts and stuff not normally covered by the rules. Really good stuff. They are so good, I wonder why anyone would want to play any other class. 
  • Contrary to what I posted a few days ago, Warriors do pick a favored weapon, which gets their Luck bonus. I don't like this 1)PCs shouldn't be picky about weapons in S&S, 2) if you have a high Luck bonus you'll never spend Luck points, 3) if you have a low Luck with a penalty your "favored weapon" will be something you never use so you don't get the penalty. I'd have to houserule this.
  • Wizards have great flavor but I feel like it was bungled a little in the execution. 
  • Rolling randomly for spells sucks. If you don't get Magic Missile you're really underpowered in combat. You have an equal chance of getting Cantrip, Comprehend Languages, or Mending. Lame. I'd rather see a variety of attack powers with different effects.
  • You can get spells to invoke a patron, then learn spells to call on that patron...too much to keep track of. I want to streamline this a little.
  • Demi-humans. I don't see why a game trying to differentiate itself from mainline D&D still has elves, dwarves and halflings. I wouldn't mind a "changeling" class similar to the elf that represented fey-touched characters, with some fighting a some magic. Dwarves are just warriors with a shield attack. Halflings seem have some interesting quirks like Good Luck Charm. Could be good for a sidekick to a warrior, like the dwarf in Three Hearts Three Lions, or Ukko from the Slaine comics.
  • The skill chapter is two pages. Good. Makes me wonder why Thieves do things differently, though.
  • Pretty standard weapons and armor. Good armor is incredibly expensive, which could limit high ACs to higher level characters, but only if you keep that in mind when handing out treasure. I don't want to hand out treasure based on what AC I want my PCs to have. 
  • Actually thinking about attack bonuses and AC makes me wonder about how likely it is to hit things and makes me worry. "Balance" is a bad word to many who play old-school, but if your first level character has an attack bonus of +0 and you fight monsters with AC in the 11-16 range your chances to hit vary between 50% and 25%. That's not much fun.
  • Combat is mostly dirt-simple, one move and one regular action, no opportunity attacks. The biggest change is crits and fumbles. The crit tables are cool but sometimes produce effects that don't match the situation, and they get complicated because there are different charts different classes and levels. Not too much trouble if you just need to reference them, I guess.
  • Fumbles are worse for characters with heavier armor. I don't think I like that a character in full plate is more likely to stab themselves than a PC in leather. Sure, heavy armor can make you clumsy, but warriors trained to be as adept as possible. Plus, its awfully harsh to make people roll every time they roll a natural 1. Maybe something like the Dark Sun optional rule that lets you re-roll a natural 1 but risk breaking your weapon, only it'll be a roll on the fumble chart.
  • Spell Duels sounds good but its four pages of rules. Again, guidelines.
  • More on magic. I like that spell checks are made with a d20 to determine the power of spells. I don't mind that every spell has a chart of effects, it eliminates the need for lots of spells that are just higher level versions of other spells. I don't like that most of the spells are just standard D&D spells.
  • Also, many of the spells require a saving throw in addition to the spell check. I'd prefer something more like 4e, with a static defense for spells for the spellcheck to beat.
  • Spellburn is cool. Wizards can take ability damage to get bonuses on spell checks. Very flavorful.
  • Mercurial magic sounds good. The idea is that no two wizards cast a spell the same way, so you have a random side effect for each spell you learn. Sounds novel, but you can get very good bonuses or very bad drawbacks on the chart. It would suck to have Primordial Channel on magic missile, because you become stupid and can't cast spells for 1d4 rounds. Suck. I'd like more flavor and less big game effects.
  • Corruption again sounds cool, but like fumbles you have to roll every time you roll a natural 1, and all the effects are really bad. And permanent. I'd be scared to cast a spell except when absolutely necessary, which means I wouldn't really be playing much. Maybe a toned-list, and use it as an optional thing to re-roll a natural 1. 
So, some good ideas. But I'd rather cherry-pick good ideas than use the system as written. Which means basically writing up my own game system. Not sure about that.

I really like the Warrior's Mighty Deed of Arms mechanic, the Luck ability, and the flavor of the magic system. I'm tempted to mash these together with the playtest rules of the Redwald setting. That would take some work, but the flavor of the Redwald setting is awesome. Warriors and skirmishers could use similar rules, and I'd have to create some spell write-ups and charts for the different spellcasters.

That means I wouldn't get to use my cool map from the last post though. Or maybe I still could, just use the classes from Redwald. Or I could just modify what I want in the DCC RPG and use it closer to as written. We'll see.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Lands of Mystery

The last print issue of Dungeon magazine came with this map:

That is an awesome map. I want to run a campaign there someday. The map key points out several locations that link to other maps Christopher West did for Dungeon magazine (most of which I have). The place names seem so evocative. It strikes me as a good setting for a pulpy, sword and sorcery-type game.

And I just discovered that Goodman Games is putting out a Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG. It looks like a trimmed-down d20 game really trying to capture the feel of old S&S stories. Things I like that I've heard about it:

  • Magic is unpredictable, with spells having variable effects based on how you roll on a spell check, random side effects (flavor mostly), and options for gaining power by hurting yourself or calling on supernatural powers (and bad side effects potentially)
  • A leaner system would be great for a fast paced game, and plus I don't want to learn another complex set of rules
  • May seem small, but a saw a message board reference about trying to come up with cool abilities for warriors that aren't dependent on just weapon specialization. I hate limiting characters to one weapon because they've invested feats or whatever into it. Pick up that weapon you found in the Atlantean tomb and use it, dammit!
So that's another pipe dream for a campaign. I'll try to outline some ideas for the setting as I remember them.

P.S. This totally seems like a good system for random houserules like Shields Shall Be Splintered or Consolation-Prize Weapon Damage.

Gaming and Social Etiquette

So, I've played a couple of sessions of Pathfinder with some guys I met through a local game store. I played 3rd edition for years and I like the general improvements although its really just 3rd edition D&D. All the guys in the group are big Pathfinder fans, and I know that means they probably don't like 4th edition. So I don't make a big deal of it, but occasionally in talking about gaming it will come up that I run a 4E game.

I mention that last night, and this guy that I just met turns to me and says, "I fucking hate Fourth Edition." Not real aggressive or anything, but I'm still taken aback. I understand that people get into really heated arguments on the web about this sort of thing, but this seems like a breach of the basic social contract to just blurt that out to someone. And then the DM says, "yeah, why would you play fourth?"

Why do I have to defend my fucking game choices to people? Part of the reason this bugs me is because I don't get the arguments. Its just personal taste in gaming. RPGs are a very small hobby, and insulting someone over their choice in game, much less their choice in Edition of the same game, seems really small.

But the real issue is that its just fucking rude to talk to people like that when you're having a conversation. I remember once in college I was talking with some friends and mentioned another friend of mine, and they both started talking about how they hated her. I got up and left. I didn't really want to have to start defending my friend, because hey, not everyone likes everyone else. People don't always get along. But its rude to insult my friend right in front of me, regardless of how you feel. I was reminded of that situation. Its not the same as insulting a friend of mine, but its a hobby I'm invested in. I wasn't even espousing the greatness of 4E, or bashing Pathfinder--1 hour to do 2 rounds of combat, Jesus Christ! That's why I don't run that anymore. But I kept that to myself. I just said something about the game I run and somebody decided they had to tell me they hated it. Well, fuck you. Did I ask for your opinion or your approval?

I'm ok with debating geeky stuff. I spent 2 hours after the previous session talking about Star Wars vs Star Trek and Marvel vs DC with a couple of the guys. This wasn't the same thing. Several of the players in the group are also LARPers. I don't really have anything against LARPing, but I've made fun of it plenty in the past. But I didn't make fun of their game or say anything bad about it. I even asked them more about it, since I'm trying to make friends.

Anyway, I'm hoping venting on the interwebs will get this out of my system. Really I'm just trying to make new gamer friends, since most of the people I used to game with were my friends first. Can't we all just get along?

Friday, May 6, 2011

Travern's Journals, vol. 1

The Gulthias Tree saved my son's life. Well, not my real son--the elf child Amindir that's been in my charge since I left Aracanix. He has proven to have a greater talent at magic than I ever did, especially with charms and illusions. 

Amindir was traveling in the Towering Wood, investigating rumors of an Erlking who led a reclusive band of elves. He was ambushed by an owlbear, grievously wounded before his servant could ward off the beast. By then time they returned to the manor, Amindir had lost so much blood he was as pale as the tree in the courtyard. 

That mysterious tree…I suspect that if the tree is not the source of shadow in the area then the answer is surely entwined in its roots. Many have tried to destroy the tree--orcs, shifters, and men have all felled the tree with axe. But it regrew each time. I suspect fire is the only way to destroy it, but it has been far too useful to me…

When it became clear that Amindir's injuries were mortal, I used my arts to save him. I ground every last black leaf of the tree into a slick oil and coated his body, which I placed in the hollow of the tree's trunk at sunset. I killed all the dogs and horses and bathed him in their blood for three days. After that, the servants'. I was ready to open my own veins in desperation, when finally Amindir's eyes opened again. They were gleaming silver. 

I cannot say that the experience didn't change my son. He prefers to keep to the shadows, and communes with beasts of the dark. He seems especially fond of the rats and mice, perhaps because they too know what its like to survive in the hidden places of the world.

I wonder how much of Gulthias has infused my son? Ages ago, he was a powerful elven vampire, hunted by his own kind. He  was staked to the ground on an island surrounded by water, yet somehow still his spirit has survived. Fed by the dark energy of Mabar, the eternal night, the stake grew into a tree, itself between life and death. By using this tree to save Amindir, did I transfer Gulthias' power into him? Or did it merely pass on his curse? 

Lord Travern, 841 YK

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Stealing Ideas for the Haunted Castle

I'm running a 4E Eberron sandbox game and the big "dungeon" so far has been a haunted castle. I'm not ashamed to admit that this castle pieced together from a bunch of ideas I've stolen from various sources. Actually, mostly Hellboy comics and the Pathfinder adventure "the Skinsaw Murders".

  • Foxglove Manor was built by a wizard long ago, but is now inhabited by a new noble family. The evil influence of the long-dead wizard has corrupted the family. (Pathfinder). 
  • The daughter has been lured to an illusory palace underground by the Silver Eyed Prince (Hellboy, "Christmas Underground). 
  • The younger son, a tortured artist, has been building a statue of an archdevil, assisted by an imp (Hellboy, "The Temple of Moloch"). 
  • The oldest son has been driven to murderous rages by the influence of the old wizard's writings (Pathfinder, Aldern Foxglove's character). 
  • The father lies on his deathbed, hoping he can help his daughter find peace by passing on the family holy symbol ("Christmas Undergound")
  • A dead tree with fresh black leaves is in the courtyard, apparently a source of evil (Andy Collins' Bloodlines campaign blog).
There's lots of little bits of fluff I've stolen from different adventures and sources as well. I love stealing liberally from various sources and cobbling them together. My brain seems to enjoy making connections between things. I also added some things--a hedge maze over the entrance to the Silver Eyed Prince's lair, a room with decorative swords that flew and attacked, fireplaces full of bat swarms, etc.

I was worried that I would feel compelled to make the adventure stick to the stories I was using as inspiration, but that got demolished real quick. The players did things completely different than how I expected. I had peppered foreshadowing into certain areas, but more often than not the PCs fought a monster, then found the "clue" I had left. They entered the hedge maze before the castle (I wasn't expecting a minotaur in the party would be irresistibly drawn to it...). 

Since I'm going for a sandbox feel, I've embraced this rather than fought it. For example, in the Hellboy story "The Temple of Moloch", Hellboy discovers that a tortured young artist has been sculpting a demonic figure. The man goes into his workroom at night and locks the door. So Hellboy waits in the room until nightfall and witnesses a small impish creature crawl out of the ground and direct the artist's hands on the statue. When Hellboy intervenes the statue comes alive, they fight and Hellboy wins. In my adapted version in the castle, the players killed the artist as soon as they met him! They thought he was a vampire, and I can't really blame them. They later investigated the statue and decided to destroy it, just before nightfall. So instead of having a fight against a possessed statue, I decided that the imp called the artist's soul to punish the PCs, and they fought a wraith instead. 

I never had a true "Plan B", but I went in with the assumption that my "Plan A" was disposable if the players did something unexpected. 

The Beginning of the beginning

I'm never going to get this thing going if I don't just start, so here we go. This will be a blog primarily for role-playing game stuff, with occasional digressions into other stuff I like. I'm currently running a 4th edition Eberron game with three players once a week. I'll post some stuff about that game, maybe some bits from older campaigns I've run, and ideas for future games.

I've been reading gaming blogs for years now. Thought maybe I have as much to say as anyone else (well, more than some and way less than others). I got interested in D&D when a friend showed me some books in the 4th grade. I collected a ton of different games under different systems, played a few one shots and a fair amount of Werewolf: the Apocalypse in High School. Then when 3rd edition D&D came out I finally converted most of my friends into gaming geeks. I've taken up 4th edition and I'm having a blast, although every once in a while I get the itch to play a retro-clone like Mazes & Minotaurs. 

Lately I'm on a sandbox-campaign kick, and I've been reading a lot of OSR (old-school revolution) blogs. I like the old-school feel but love the 4th edition rules.