Friday, December 21, 2012

7 RPG's (and 20-Something Years)

Red Box D&D:  Aleeta... Nooooo...  Hey, this is a lot of fun.  Oh, I have to DM?  Seems like a lot of work, but whatever.

1E:  There are so many rules I have no idea what I am doing.  I like the random treasure tables.  Monty Haul ensues.

TMNT: Character creation is awesome.  Making up adventures/stats for enemies is BRUTAL.  I will play this game but I won't DM it.

2e:  Soooo much content.  Activate collector mode.  Hey - I can do ANYTHING with this ruleset and all the splatbooks.  I'm going to make an Iron-Age Celtic-themed low-magic game in my homebrew world/rules and run that for YEARS.  2e, I still love you.

Palladium:  Kinda like D&D but with parrying and armor damage and psionics that actually work and I CAN USE TMNT CHARACTERS!  I love to play this game, but I still won't run it.  I won't RUN anything by Siembeda, but I'll play them all day.

Vampire the Masquerade:  Ouch, I have to unlearn my D&Disms.  This is a really fun and flexible game.  We still do quite a bit of combat.  Man, lots of the other people that play this game are pretentious, condescending douches.

4e:  As a DM, I love this stuff.  Easy to build, easy to run - scratches my tactics itch.  But I can't really homebrew.  It moves soooo slooowwlyyyy...  Roleplaying feels somehow harder.  Not EXACTLY doing it for me.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Hobbit is the Great Goblin's Neck Wattle

I mean, look at this fucking thing!
Bloated, sagging and unnecessary, yet animated with care and attention to detail.

So, as you can probably already tell, I was not a fan of the new Hobbit movie.  Which sucks, because I was genuinely excited about this movie.  Hugely excited, since I adored the Lord of the Rings movies, and I've been a Tolkien fan from way back.  

Heck, this BLOG is named after a Tolkien line, and some of my most-read posts have been about Tolkien and his influence on me as a gamer.

Simply put - Peter Jackson was the wrong director for this movie.  He knew that, though, which is why Guillermo del Toro was initially tapped to do it.  Delays and general movie business made del Toro bow out, so Jackson picked up the reigns... and pulled a Lucas - smashing the movie into the bloated hubris of a director who has been so successful that people are no longer able to tell him things that should be self-evident.

Things like:

"Peter, rocket-powered rabbit sleds are FUCKING IDIOTIC."

"No, Peter, you don't need an additional nemesis sub-plot involving an albino orc with a prosthetic arm."

"Personally, I don't think that the bird shit on the side of Radagast's head looks good at all."

"Why do we need a 5-minute scene were an unnecessary minor character brings a HEDGEHOG BACK FROM THE DEAD?"

"Do we really think we have enough material to stretch a short YA book out into 3 3-hour movies?  It sure doesn't seem that way to me."

"Are all these really long CGI fight scenes really necessary?"

"Do we have to come up with a whole new, untested technology for making this movie?"


Things like that.

Ultimately, the movie is neither fish nor fowl, and that is why it fails.  It can't decide if it wants to be big, sprawling, epic Lord of the Rings, or tight, slightly slapstick Hobbit.  It's OK when it's one or the the other, and miserably, execrably bad when it tries to be both.  Which it does in pretty much all the action scenes involving the dwarves.

I wouldn't have minded a harder-edged version.  A group of dwarven warriors heading out to reclaim their kingdom sits just fine with me.  Some of the battle scenes, the early scenes with Smaug, the encounters with Azog, those all fit this sort of movie, and they were fine and good.

I wouldn't have minded a slapstick, slightly comedy Middle-Earth road trip movie.  The party at Bilbo's, the encounter with the trolls, cooking with busted-up elven furniture, Bilbo's arc generally, even the Radaghast the brown (the brown is shit, btw) - those all worked fine for that sort of slightly goofy movie.

But having them all in the same movie was just, schizophrenic.  Some parts weren't even that.  The entire stone giants scene was solid shit from start to finish, as was the entire underground fight with the goblins.  The action was largely Keystone Kops, which clashed horrendously with the faux-epic stuff they tried to cram in.

Jackson, like Tolkien before him, needs a better editor.  And Christopher Tolkien will no doubt hate it and weep himself to sleep atop the vast pile of money his father's work earned him.   

Friday, November 23, 2012

D&D Next: Seriously, F#$% Lance of Faith

No, really.  Lance of Faith can fuck right off. 

 Wipe the drool off your chins and remove the long-range direct damage spells from the cleric repertoire.  They add nothing to the game except to blur the lines between the spell-casting classes.  They are a brainless default "pew pew" bullshit addition.  Clerics "direct damage" is putting a mace inside your brain-pan.

I didn't hate laser clerics back in the 4e days.  I thought it was kinda nice for clerics to have a ranged attack option at the lower levels.  But listening to players in my test game say "oh, I wonder what I'll do.  Right - the same thing I do every time - cast lance of faith" made me burn with the white-hot rage of a thousand suns.

Lovely - a default spell, and worse yet, it's ranged damage, and worse yet for some clerics it's at-will, and  worse yet it has higher damage than magic missile (albeit with a to-hit-roll).

Let's examine the evidence.

Not-Cleric.  Or Wizard, as the are commonly known.

Fuck Lance of Faith.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Making a D&D Next Character

I made a D&D Next character today using the most recent playtest rules (from the set that includes the monk).

The last time I made a character was with the very first set of playtest rules, and quite a bit has changed since then.

We're doing an online playtest tonight, and the group needs a rogue.  Our experience in the Next game that I DM is that the rogue is pretty powerful, but apparently some smack has been talked about them, so I'm interested in creating one to see just what they can do under the newest rules.

So, race comes first.  Everyone plays a halfling thief, so I figure elf or human, or maaaaaybee dwarf if I come up with a good idea.  Perusing the races my latent min/maxer kicks in - I pick the wood elf for the +1 dex bonus, the automatic training in spot and listen and the enhanced ability to hide.  All good things for a rogue.

Stats come next, roll them up using 4d6 drop lowest - 12, 17, 12, 16, 10, 8.  Those are quite good, actually, especially when you realize that you get to add at least 2 point to those scores.

I'll take Str 10 cause I don't need it, Dex 17 of course, Con 12 for a slight HP edge, Int 16 for the skills, Wis 12 for skills and Cha 8.  Yaay for Charisma dump stat!  Add the +1 Dex for being an elf and I'm sitting pretty at 18 Dex.

I already picked the rogue class, so I get another +1 to add to Str, Dex or Int.  Dex it is for the 19 and the +5 bonus.  Finesse weapons here we COME.  And the damage dice increase on shortbows from being an elf don't hurt none either.

On to the Background, Specialty and Scheme.  So many choices here!  I don't like the Backgrounds and Schemes that I see, too much overlap and duplication of what I already have.  It seems like if you get training on a skill you already have you should get an extra +1 or +2 or something.  Is there a rule I missed?

Since I'm not happy with any of the ones I see here, I'll make up my own.  They thoughtfully give me rules to do that, and hellz, I'm a DM, I make up my own shit ALL THE TIME.

Brigand. You are a robber or forester who lives in the wilderness. You have excellent forestry skills, and excel at avoiding pursuit or detection.

Skills: Track, Survival, Search, Climb
Trait: Wanderer – excellent memory for maps and terrain, can find
food and water for up to 5 others each day.
Cool art from this blog.

Nightrunner. The Nightrunner is an elven assassin, spy and saboteur. They are trained in stealth, climbing and agility, as well as sneaky tricks.
Skills: Stealth, Balance, Disable Device, Tumble
Maneuvers: Danger Sense, Precise Shot, Sneak Attack, Spring Attack, Vault, Controlled Fall, Parry, Tumbling Dodge.

Woot - that means I have training in Listen, Spot, Track, Sneak, Survival, Search, Climb, Balance, Disable Device and Tumble.  Thiefy and scouty!  I get a skill mastery maneuver automatically that lets me add my expertise dice to a skill check, so that enhances all these skills.  Being a rogue also gives me thieves tools, proficiency in light armor and basic, finesse, simple and martial missile weapons for a reasonable weapon selection.

Picking a Specialty is actually pretty tough, as there are a lot of Specialties that fit with my character concept (elven Snake-eyes FTW!)  Eventually, I pick Ambush Specialist, getting the Improved Initiative feat.  +4 on initiative and a minimum of 10 on initiative rolls means that I CANNOT get less than 19 on an initiative roll.  Plus my danger sense maneuver lets me add my expertise dice to initiative.  Minimum 20, then, so I will be going first.  And that is good since I only have 7 HP and 16 AC.

For weapons, being an elf gives me enhanced damage dice on the shortbow, that will be a no-brainer.  I also take a katana (SNAKE-EYES!  SHUT UP!) for the higher damage since I can't use a shield anyways, daggers for thematic effect and throwing and a spiked chain (kusari) because it's cool and I could see it coming in handy.  Indiana Jones always found a use for the whip, so a weighted chain should be useful.

Because of the high Dex and the +2 rogue attack bonus, I have +7 to hit with all my weapons, and most of them get a +5 damage adjustment.  I may not be durable, but I'm pointy.

Leather armor is obvious since my Dex is so high.  I'll also take a raft of sneaky gear:  backpack, climbers kit, 2 grappling hooks, caltrops, oil, ball bearings, pitons, tinderbox, waterskin, chalk, thieves tools, a steel mirror and the obligatory black cloak.  That leaves me enough money for all my weapons and about 20 GP left over, as you are allowed to spend 175 GP if you don't take the standard gear recommendations.

Finalized sheet is here:  Cerdwin

I did have the +1 rogue bonus added to STR instead of DEX on this character sheet, but I'll fix that up shortly.

Some thoughts:

It's a bit fiddly if you care about duplicating skills.

Improved Initiative will be nerfed shortly.

Between Class, Race, Scheme, Specialty and Background there is a LOT to choose from.  Maybe too much for a newbie.  Definitely harder than the first couple of rounds of playtest.

It's really easy to customize character creation, which is great.  Min/maxing is there but less of an issue than 4e and you don't seem to need a doctorate in systems design to plan a character like you did in 3e.

These characters remind me a bit of Palladium system characters.  Many of the basic bonuses and skills are set on creation and the characters don't change THAT much as you level.  Sure you get better, but the basics are all the same.

This rogue is going to be nasty if I don't die immediately.

I could easily die immediately.

It's a bit weird having katanas and things in the equipment lists, but I rationalize by saying that they are just elven-style weapons analogous to katanas and kusari and other ninja/oriental stuff.

You could still do old-school characters very easily on this system by removing Scheme, Specialty and optionally background.  The system would still work at least as well as 1e.  Keeping background and Scheme would mean you basically have 2e.

The feats are simple and the Specialties work more like Vampire Disciplines now - neat new powers every few levels.  I like that.

This is flexible and interesting enough that I like creating characters.  Probably the most interesting character creation in D&D since 2e.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Scale and Fantasy Maps

I've been working on a hexcrawl, and one of the things my research is making me notice is how totally messed up the scale on many fantasy maps is.

Case in point is this:

The map of Narsaria pictured here has a little scale in the lower-left.  If that is to be believed, Narsaria is about 1200 miles by 900 miles.  Or about 1.08 million square miles.  Just for reference, the continental US is about 3.75 million square miles.  This "nation" is more than 1/4 the size of the United States.  It's as big as modern Egypt.

The Roman Empire at it's height was 2.5 million square miles.  So this nation of traders is about 1/2 the size of one of the largest empires in antiquity.  See this handy tool for more comparison.

It sure it a nice-looking map, though.  Too bad the scale is utterly buggered.

I decided to go small with the initial nations encountered in the D&D Next Hexcrawl I'm working on.  They run between 3 and 12 90-square mile hexes each.  I started them using the Abulafia random fantasy region generator, then placed them on the hexmap, then worked up their stats using Medieval Demographics.  I was relieved to generally find that my instincts were close to correct about town sizes and proximity.

I'm also adding Dwarven Holds, Elf tribal areas and general regions of humanoid activity, as well as setting up a regional key that I can use to determine random tables and hexstocking activity.

West Pass is a ruined principality near a great river.
The weather there is usually lightly windy and warm out.
It is ruled by a genius.
This domain gives a strong sense of being very ancient.
This domain is famous because its impregnable defences.
The laws of this domain are very strict. Punishments for misdeeds tend to fit the crime.
Recently, the land has been threatened by vicious gangs of bandits.

West Pass covers 1800 square km (8 hexes) and has 1000 square km in arable land.  The total population is  about 76000 population, spread among 151 villages of about 700 people which are an average of 4 km apart.  There are 2 towns, 30 km apart, one of 2000 people, the other, the capital of about 5000, both towns are fortified.

The hand of the ruler rests firmly but not excessively on the people, and the Towns have about 30 soldiers each. The villages have 5 soldiers each.  The total muster of the principality is about 800 soldiers.  In an emergency, about 1500 more armed farmers can be raised as well. The population is primarily Humans with a considerable number of Dwarves and Gnomes and some Elves and Halflings.  Humanoid races are not welcome in West Pass.

Skull Cove is a desperate nation in a grassy plain.
The weather there is usually foggy and warm out
It is ruled by a wealthy merchant.
The people of this domain are fond of good food, drink, and merrymaking.
This domain is famous because of the horrible monsters that inhabit the countryside.
The laws of this domain are almost nonexistent. Punishments for misdeeds tend to be fatal.
Recently, the land has experienced the surrender of their great admiral after an overwhelming naval defeat.

Skull Cove covers about 500 square km, of which 200 square km is arable, accessible land.  The total population is 14,000 people, dwelling in 31 villages, 1 small town, about 5 km apart. There are about 4 soldiers per village, with a total muster of 150, plus ship crews. The population is mostly Humans and Selkies, with a considerable number of Wolfen, Orcs, Goblins.

The Owl Barony is a wealthy kingdom in the high mountains.
The weather there is usually fairly rainy and cool out
It is ruled by a youthful leader.
This domain gives a strong sense of being a place of deep mystery.
This domain is famous because it is very ancient, and has many ruins from a lost civilization.
The laws of this domain are just and fair. Punishments for misdeeds tend to be conducted behind closed doors, so no one is sure what happens - except that the survivors emerge changed and broken.
Recently, the land has been threatened by a jeweled dagger which excites the greed of all who behold it.

Owl Barony covers about 1500 square kilometers of land, of which 410 square km is arable.  The total population is about 28000, dwelling in 57 villages, each about 6 km apart. 2600 live in the main town, which is fortified and close to the Owl Castle.  There are 50 soldiers in town and about 7 soldiers in each village. The full muster is about 500 trained troops, and the population is mainly Humans and Dwarves, with some Wolfen and Bearfolk down from the Drowned Moors.

Ebony Summit is a thriving nation near a great river.
The weather there is usually powerful winds and cold.
It is ruled by a spirit.
This domain gives a strong sense of being gray and gloomy.
This domain is famous because Cursed Students of Heirophant Provosts are based here.
The laws of this domain are favorable to one class of citizens over another. Punishments for misdeeds tend to involve loss of property.
Recently, the land has experienced the capture of a bandit carrying ancient treasures looted from a previously unknown tomb.

Ebony Summit covers about 2750 square kilometers, of which 1700 square kilometers are arable land.  The total population  is about 117,000.  There is 1 city of about 8000, 2 towns 30 km apart of about 2000 each, and 200 villages 3 km apart.  There are 2 castles and 1 ruined and abandoned castle in the south.  Ebony Summit is tyrannically ruled - the city has 200 soldiers, towns have 100, village have 14. Total muster is over 3000 soldiers.  The population is mostly Humans and Halflings with many Wolfen and Orcish slaves.

Nitherfell is a large city-state in an archipelago.
The weather there is usually very rainy and temperate
It is ruled by the aristocracy.
The people of this domain are unusually short.
This domain is famous because it is very ancient, and has many ruins from a lost civilization.
The laws of this domain are nonsensical. Punishments for misdeeds tend to be banishment.
Recently, the land has been threatened by Bercimemnon Rowaric, the Leader of the Way ,.

Nitherfell covers about 4500 square km, of which 1900 square km is arable land.  The total population is about 135,000, mainly living in 267 villages 4 km apart, each with a population of about 700.  There are 3 towns, the capital has a population of about 8000, the others, about 1500 each.  There are 3 standing and 1 ruined castles, and zealous law enforcement. Villages about 7 guards each, the smaller towns have 20 guards and the capital has 80 guards. The total muster is around 2000 soldiers.  The population is mainly Humans, with a few Selkies, Dwarves and Gnomes.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012


For the last few months I've been running a D&D Next Playtest, which has been going pretty well.  In fact, I have another playtest write-up to do, but I probably won't get to that for a few days, as I get to take my daughter, the Tiger Fairy Princess Warrior (tm) out Trick or Treating tomorrow night.

I also got my beta test key for The Banner Saga (I'm 1 and 1 in multiplayer so far), which I backed on Kickstarter, AND I got a release email from Stardock that my free copy of Elemental: Fallen Enchantress is ready.  That was sorta a Kickstarter in the sense that I pre-ordered War of Magic and is sucked so much donkey dong that Stardock decided to give me Fallen Enchantress for free.  Which was nice, but considering they've had $60 from me for about 5 years now, seems like a bit of a long-term investment.

AND the new Playtest package dropped yesterday, plus the beta for Tabletop Forge came out, which I ALSO supported on Kickstarter.  And I need to read more Vornheim because, well, it's good.  Oh, and the Steam Halloween Sale is on and I MUST HAVE STRENGTH.  THOR GIVE ME STRENGTH NOT TO BUY MORE GAMES.

So yeah.  There is all that.  But tonight I want to talk hexcrawl.  I really want to do a decent hexcrawl, so I've been playing around with setups and reading up on people that are successful at running them.

I got started using Hexographer to build a random map, then used the Hex Map Key from Abulafia and the Fantasy Region generator.  That got me a basic 40x40 hex map, some political players and bunch of cool hex ideas.

But then I started thinking about what hex size I wanted.  I figured 10 mile hexes would be good.  A bit of calculator work meant to me that meant about a 150,000 square mile area.  About the size of Germany, or the southern third of British Columbia, where I live.   So that means that the map I have is way to varied in terms of geography - can't go from ice flows to equator in 400 miles.  I figure I'll rework the map assuming that it's a coastal area at about the same latitude as Washington State. That gives me some nice seasonal variation, a decent amount of area and reasonable diversity in geography.

I'll use the Medieval Demographics Made Easy Domesday Book to work up the regions a bit more, then I want to identify major humanoid tribes and their regions, work up some random tables and develop the map a bit more.

Here's what I have so far - more as it develops.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Monstrous Monday: Chomp-munk!

What to do with all the heads?  It's a common problem for a necromancer.  It's easy to lose track of just how many political rivals and derring do-gooders you've had decapitated, and suddenly, the spare room of the tower is just packed full of disembodied heads!

Sure, the zombies can go through a few, and you can throw a couple of brains into jars for later, but that really only scratches the surface of the head problem.  Luckly, Maleficar the Maledificant came up with a solution!

And it's so simple!  What is the only thing that seems even MORE common than those pesky body-free craniums?  Yes!  The answer is woodland animals.  They are all over the place!  Climbing in the trees, singing to princesses, conspiring with the swan down in the lake to turn her back into a "real" girl.  Just round them up, a few flicks of the cleaver, licks with a needle and twine and a reanimate dead spell or two, and the release the results into the surrounding forest!

Any animal will do, although small cute ones are really effective for that initial "WTF is THAT and WHY IS IS CHEWING ON ME" factor.

# appearing: 1-20
HD 1-3 (depending on animal)
Size (S to L, depending on animal)
#att: 1
Dmj: d6 (bite)
Speed: about as quick as a squirrel with a human head sewn to it...

Anybody encountering Chomp-munks for the first time must make a save against mental attacks/horror or be paralyzed with fear and revulsion for 1 round.

Swarm:  if more than 5 Comp-munks attack a single enemy, all of them make only 1 attack roll.  If it hits, they swarm for 3d6 biting damage.

Happy Halloween!  Check out The Other Side blog for more Monstrous Monday.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Vornheim: The Reviewening

I will start by telling a little customer service story.  I haven’t traditionally been a huge Jim Raggi fan, but I gotta tell you, he’s good at customer service.

I ordered Vornheim from the LotFP online store about 5 weeks ago.  Last week I was getting a bit antsy about it not being in my hands, so I wrote Jim an email through the store support contact.  I received a reply promptly (accounting for time difference) which apologized for the inconvenience, laid out the standard timeline for shipping to my location, described some potential reasons for the delay and offered to buy me another copy from a north American vendor (since he’s sold out)  if the product did not arrive within a certain amount of time.

I’ve worked in customer service, people.  I was a customer support call center manager.  This is HOW THIS SHIT IS DONE.  Armed with the information that a) the delay was within the range of expected shipping time, b) Canadian customs sometimes slows stuff down arbitrarily and c) I had an alternative if I was unhappy with the wait, which the vendor would pay for himself – I was happy to wait a few more weeks.  And lo and behold, Vornheim arrived late last week.

So from one customer support professional to another – fabulous job, James Edward Raggi IV.  Top f’ing notch.  It’s pretty likely that Jim knew that he wouldn’t have to buy/ship me a copy from a North American vendor, but he made the offer, and that is huge.  Much of customer service is managing expectations and providing options, and that was deftly done here.

On to Vornheim.

This book is smaller than I expected.  There is a certain expectation I have for physical dimensions of RPG supplements, and this book does not conform to that.  But that isn’t bad.  This is a very convenient size for an rpg book.  I could fit it in a coat pocket if I wanted to.  And the contents make me want to.

When I actually read the book, it’s incredibly DENSE.  There is more practical, useful, interesting stuff in this book than in all the 4e books I purchased.  There is NO wasted space.  The INSIDE OF THE DUST JACKET has a map on it.  It’s like working in a well-designed ship galley kitchen.  Everything is right there within reach and no space is wasted at all.

This is the chocolate brownie of role-playing supplements.  It’s small, chewy and tasty.  Getting a bigger piece would almost be overkill.

I quite like the multi-column random tables.  They are a great use of space, since they can be used straight across with a single roll or rolled on multiple times.  The dice-drop tables are also handy.  I’ve spent some time deciphering all the things they could be used for, and I feel that I’ve only just scratched the surface.

The book is also fairly edition-neutral, which is a good thing.  I’m mostly playing D&D Next right now, and I can use the stats and tools pretty much straight across.  A handy-dandy “Later Editions Conversion Table” is also included, plus the dice-drop charts support ascending or descending AC, depending on your preference and system.

I’m a little bit less in love with the included adventures.  They are interesting and all, but I can’t help but feel that the space they use would have been better served with more tools.  And make no mistake, this book is a toolkit.  There are tools for quickly building street maps, tools for populating businesses, for naming taverns, for organizing relationships between NPC’s.

Portable, incredibly useful, interesting art, helpful tables and not a single square inch of wasted space.  This book is fundamentally different than what you see coming out of any major RPG design company.  I can only wish that Gary Gygax was as good at book design as Zak S is.

The only downside is that it took a long time for me to get it.  But Jim Raggi dealt with that problem in an admirable fashion.  Thanks, Zak and Jim – now I have to reevaluate what I expect from BOTH and RPG supplement AND an RPG seller.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Aesthetics of Role-Playing Games

Penny Arcade TV hosts a very interesting series on video game design called Extra Credits.

This week they did a segment on genre in video games and spent a lot of time on terminology. You can see the entire episode here -

I’m an English Lit major, so terminology and definitions are things I really like.  Watching this episode and thinking about how these ideas apply to RPGs has really crystallized my thoughts regarding random character generation, which I discussed recently.

This information comes from the MDA framework, which was developed for use in the Game Design and Tuning Workshop, taught at the Game Developers Conference.

GDC is focused on video game development, but from my perspective, there is no real difference between video games, board games and tabletop role-playing games in terms of design and tuning.  As we will see, the MDA framework can just as easily apply to any tabletop RPG.

MDA stands for:
Mechanics, Dynamics, Aesthetics, the 3 components of game design.

Essentially, MDA breaks the consumption of a game down into three elements, Rules, Systems and “Fun”, and identifies Mechanics, Dynamics and Aesthetics as the design counterpoints of those three elements.

Mechanics are the rules/systems that make up the actual game.
Dynamics are the play experiences that those mechanics create.
Aesthetics are the underlying reasons we go to the game for.

The Aesthetics component can be broken down further, and each game generally hits specific core aesthetics.  When somebody says to me that something “feels” right, then I automatically assume they are talking aesthetics.

MDA lists 8 core aesthetics:
Sense Pleasure – how the game stimulates the senses.
Fantasy – the ability to step into a new role while playing the game.
Narrative – the game as drama.
Challenge – the game as obstacle course
Fellowship – working cooperatively to achieve a goal.
Competition – games as expression of dominance.
Discovery – the act of uncovering the new.
Expression – the need to express self in the game.
Abnegation – game as pastime – desire to play to disengage or “zone out”.

Different RPG’s, indeed different versions of the same RPGs, focus on different core Aesthetics.

OD&D, for example, is largely focused on Challenge, Fellowship and Discovery.  Fantasy enters into it to a lesser extent, as do Narrative and Expression – but really, old-school D&D as written isn't as much about those aesthetics.  For many people who have been playing D&D for a long time, there is also a sense pleasure aspect to rolling handfuls of dice or putting the first few lines on a blank sheet of graph paper.

“My” version of D&D – the one I played the most of, is 2e, and 2e, especially with the splatbooks, has a fairly different set of core aesthetics.  It’s much more about Fantasy, Narrative and Expression, piled on top of the Fellowship and Discovery aspects of earlier versions of D&D.  I feel like the Challenge aspect is somewhat reduced, too.  Not that it isn’t challenging, just the Challenge as a core aesthetic takes something of back seat other aspects.

How about you?  What is your favorite RPG and what are the aesthetics that draw you to it?

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Character Creation VS Character Generation

At first blush, these two seem like they are the same thing – what we call making a character.  They really aren’t, though – and I have a strong preference for one over the other.

Let’s start by defining our terms.  Not defining your terms is a HUGE problem in conversations about role-playing.  Things like “balance”, “encounter scaling” and “resource management” mean TOTALLY different things to different people, so a conversation can go off the rails pretty fast as people talk past each other.  And I like to have conversations where everyone is mostly on the same page - at least in terms of what is being discussed.

To me, character creation involves selecting from available options for mechanical elements of the character and making up from whole cloth the non-mechanical elements.  Crunch and Fluff, if you will.  The best example of this that comes to mind is character creation in Vampire: the Masquerade.  Everything is allocation and trade-off for the parts of the character that have game mechanics.  You are not reliant on randomization at any point.  You can make up a backstory and build the character towards fitting that or create a character and then build a backstory around it.  Either way works.

Character generation, on the other hand, relies wholly or largely on randomization – dice rolls – to determine mechanical and occasionally non-mechanical elements of your character.  This can include things like Background, Stats, Hit Points and other core mechanical elements.  D&D pre-4e is a mix of creation and generation.  Traveller or Hackmaster are even more generation-heavy, and many homebrew systems introduce random tables for various elements of character generation.

The standard arguments in favor of generation go something like this:
1)      If you allow players to choose everything, then certain optimal solutions will be identified and abused.  Randomization solves this problem.
2)      That’s how the game designers set it up, so that’s the way it should be done.
3)      You might get some bad rolls, but they will balance out with good ones in the long run.
4)      The interaction of random elements creates neat and interesting things.

Me, I don’t like character generation.  I believe that it is poor game design, displaying a failure of imagination and skill on the part of the game designers.  There is nothing that randomization in the “making a character” phase of an RPG can do that a well thought-out system of allocating resources cannot do better.  All randomization or “character generation” does is create arbitrary winners and losers right at the beginning of the game.

Whenever I’ve pointed this out, the immediate response has been “well surely your players are mature enough to deal with that.”  Or, “but things balance out in the end if you look at the big picture”.  This, frankly, is bullshit.  Or malarkey, as popularized recently by one Joe “Angry Gramps” Biden.

Why should my players have to be “mature” enough to deal with getting the smelly end of the randomization stick?  What concrete benefit does this provide to your table or gaming experience?  None, say I.  Wanting to make interesting decisions myself rather than being forced to accept random results is reasonable, especially in the context of modern tabletop gaming.

I feel that the best example of why generation systems are problematic is the new player, sitting down at the table excited and ready to play for the first time.  “No,” you explain, “you don’t get to make up your character, you have to roll this handful of dice and check these charts – that will tell you most of what you need to know about your character.”  

Murder-hobo.  Possibly diseased.
They roll and check the results, which indicate they will be playing a diseased murder-hobo.  “Ah, not to worry," you blithely reply, "I’m sure your next character will be better if/when this one dies - unless he isn’t.   He’ll be behind everyone else either way of course.  Good luck and enjoy your experience.”

And we fucking wonder about the decline of the tabletop RPG?  It’s like drinking a Rusty Nail.  You have to be specially conditioned to enjoy that shit.

It’s not that I don’t like random stuff.  I love the horrible vacuum of entropy that is the failure cascade in Dwarf Fortress.  I like random encounters.  I like using random tables to generate cool stuff in the game world.  But I don’t like random character generation.  All phases of the game should present interesting choices, especially the start of the game – the “gateway” by which new players enter.

That being said, creation has its own pitfalls.  It has to present interesting trade-offs.  There should not be some choices that are clearly superior to others in all cases.  It should be reasonably easy to understand the ramifications of your decisions, without extensive knowledge of the entire system.  Choices should start out manageable in scope and work up to more complex.

This is harder than listing a bunch of randomly rolled statistics and write up some background tables.  It requires quite a bit of work and thought and skill.  Done poorly, it leads to endemic min/maxing and generalized munchkinism.  Done correctly, it makes character creation and development as interesting a part of the game as all the other components, rather than a crapshoot.

Thoughts?  Do you prefer character creation or generation and why?  What systems have you played that do interesting things with either method? 

Monday, October 15, 2012

Music to Hobbit By - Galadriel

The Hobbit is coming!  Or at least the first part, and I'm getting more excited.  My daughter is still too young (she's only 3), but we've started reading the book together on the odd time that's she's interested in sitting still for a while and listening to me read.

I did teach her to stand on the porch and shout "WINTER IS COMING!" at the top of her lungs, but that's something for when she's quite a bit older... and for when I'm not in the room or even aware that she's watching it.

So in anticipation of the Hobbit, here is a Middle-Earth-themed track written and performed by Paul Galewitz, an old family friend.  Yes, I know Galadriel isn't in the Hobbit.  But this is a cool tune anyway:

  03 Galadriel by Jeremy Murphy 8

Friday, October 5, 2012

D&D Next Playtest Session 4: Against the Kobolds

When I ran Chapter 3 of Blingdenstone Enhanced, I didn’t get a chance to use my full remake and ended up using the included map instead.  That actually worked out better than I thought it would, but I still wasn’t that happy with it.

For Chapter 2, I managed to get the Enhanced Version finished before we ran it, so I got to use it.  As you may have already seen in Chapter 2 Enhanced, I combined the random-encounter format of chapter 2 as it’s presented in the standard Reclaiming Blingdenstone with a fully mapped-out kobold lair. I also added some additional kobold traps and modified the encounter table to make it more likely that the party would find crystals without having to roll dozens of encounters to find them.

After chatting with Gurmadden and Kargien a bit more, the party loaded up on supplies (a couple days worth of dried mushrooms) and headed out over the barricades into the ruined city.  They brought torches and have the cleric’s orison available for light purposes, and since they leveled up last session, the Halfling thief (Steven Seagal – he fights with a knife and can cook) has low-light vision now, so he was able to take the lead.
Of course, they neglected to mention that they were actually on the lookout for traps or ambushes and strolled blithely right into the first kobold ambush.  On the upside, the thief was way out in front and his high dex and light armor made evading the net and resulting shower of javelins pretty simple.  The rest of the party rushed up and laid the hammer down on the ambushing kobolds, who scattered immediately and only took about 3 casualties.

The kobolds didn’t get off so lightly on the next ambush, though.  Incensed that the monsters were fleeing them, the party pushed on in full alert.  Steven Segal noticed the next net trap, surreptitiously alerted the party and led them around it, then hid and came back to look for the ambushers.  The kobolds didn't really twig to the fact that the trap had been spotted but were staying hidden, so Steven was able to sneak back and start killing them. 

Then the party spotted the hiding kobolds and laid into them – essentially turning the ambush.  Only about 3 kobolds managed to get away this time.  Kobolds are quick little buggers when they are scared.
Afterwards, the party continued on to the Wormwindings (I keep forgetting it’s called the Worm WRITHINGS, so I just changed it to what I keep calling it).  My version of the chapter gave the PC’s the option of asking Miglin to search for the kobold lair directly, which is what they elected to do – after managing to identify the rockfall trap at the entrance.

I rolled a 4 on the amount of time it would take for Miglin to find the lair, which meant that they had 3 random encounters before locating it.  On reflection, I might bump that roll up to a d6 or a d8.  It didn’t seem like it was long enough.  The 3 encounters they had were:  precious metal vein (silver), precious metal vein (gold), crystals…  but they elected not to do any mining on any of them for fear of alerting the kobolds.

When they finally found the lair, they managed to sneak pretty close to the entrance, then launched an assault.  The initial defenders broke pretty quickly since both fighters and the thief were in hand-to-hand range and the cleric and wizard both laid into them with ranged spells.  The 2-h weapon fighter then pursued the fleeing kobolds deeper into the lair, where he was met by a shower of javelins in the secondary ambush, dropping him from 29 HP to 9 HP in one round.

A quick retreat, cure light wounds, then a charge led by the heavily-armored dwarf and a missile barrage from the thief and the spell-casters broke the secondary ambush and sent the kobolds scattering into a network of low tunnels.  The thief pursued them and they had a bad time.

The rest of the party followed the main tunnel and came up on the kobold barricade.  They quickly formulated a plan and opened up with a missile/spell barrage on the barricade defenders.  One of the spells was Radiant Lance, which hit and killed a kobold defender.  I’d been describing the radiant lance kills as bursting the kobolds into flame, so when that happened, I rolled to see what the burning lil bugger would do, and what he did was fall over onto the barricade and prematurely light off the pitch that they had soaked it in…

That, combined with a sleep spell that had caused half the others to drop asleep, cause big problems for the kobolds, and the few survivors fled again, leaving a merrily burning barricade.  The party waited for the barricade to burn down, then crossed and was faced by a fork in the road.  On way let to a kobold dining room, the other to a tunnel for which came a horrible, horrible stench…

They chose the horrible stench.  I’m not sure why players do that – but if you tell them they smell something horrible, they will go and find out what it is, by god.  I think it’s the same reflex that makes us look inside the Kleenex after we blow our nose.

Anyway, the source of the horrible stench was the kobold’s trash-heap, and it’s attendant Otyugh, who was not happy about them attempting to steal his delicious trash.  One short and unpleasant (for the Otyugh) fight later, and the party was able to retrieve a corpse with a masterwork short sword from the pile of garbage.
Turning back, they encountered the kobold scouts who were searching for them.  In a simultaneous ambush, kobolds come off poorly against armored dwarf fighters, and the surviving kobolds fled again.

Things We Learned:
Killing kobolds doesn’t get old.

When pretty much everyone has +3 dmj adjustments, kobolds are pretty much all minions.

Concentrated fire can be very dangerous.  If anyone but the high-hp fighter had run into the kobold crossfire, they would likely be dead.

The thief is AWESOME.  I’ve read some places that the thief is seen as somehow problematic.  If that’s the case, you’re playing the thief wrong.  He has good ranged and close attacks, his skills make him essential for trapped or dangerous areas and his sneak attack makes him brutal if he gets the drop on you.  Last session I really saw the flexibility of the expertise dice for the fighter – this session I saw the versatility of the thief.

Short-range AOE stuff from the wizard can clear out low-hp enemies, but it’s really dangerous.  There is none of the ranged AOE stuff from 4th on display here yet, so the risk/reward is really high, which is kinda good, I think.

I dig this game.  As does the rest of my gaming group.  Hopefully we’ll see more playtest stuff soon, because I’m already planning out a long-term campaign.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Blingdenstone Enhanced: Chapter 2

Ah... Chapter 2.

I like a lot (but not alot) of things about this chapter.  I like that it presents a tunnel complex as a series of connected events without a specific map.  I like that it uses random encounters to build the structure, essentially making it play differently for each group.  I like that there are both positive and negative random encounters on the list.  These are good things.

But I also hate some things about it.  There are 2 kinds of kobold traps and some weak-ass ambushes.  The frequency of the crystals is also a bit of a bother.  The average number of crystals you'll find is 2 (1-3).  You have a 1 in 5 chance of finding crystals for each hour that you spend in the Wormwindings, and you need 6 crystals.  That means that you will likely have to roll at least 15 times on the random encounter tables to find said 6 crystals.

Since the encounter table only has about 6 entries on it, statistically you're going to see them a number of times, which is not ideal.  Makes the whole thing pretty repetitious, in fact.  Of course, I haven't actually played it yet, but I'm not really willing to run risks on that, so I modified the table to give a higher chance of finding crystals.  That way if the party wants to wander around looking for mineral/gem deposits, they can, but they are likely to find the crystals pretty fast.

I also don't really like the idea that the kobolds are going to be blocked off by collapsing the one passage.  These are KOBOLDS.  They get in places.  That's what they do.  So blocking the tunnel will provide a temporary relief from kobold incursions now, but not a permanent cessation.  Of course, blocking the tunnel does have the benefit of heading off some of the random events that I added in Blindenstone Enhanced, so it's a trade-off.

In this version, the only way to really get rid of the kobolds is either a) kill a bunch of em, a la the orcs, or b) track down the lair and kill a bunch of em.  Kobold tunnel rat work is not for sissies.

So this chapter of Blingdenstone Enhanced features a full kobold lair, along with a 5e conversion of the Otyugh.  Enjoy!

Chapter 2 Enhanced.

Since killing the little buggers is a standard method for control, here is a cheat sheet.

Kobold Cheat Sheet

If you are using a VTT, here is the warren map file.  Pretty sure I got it off Campaign Cartographer, but I went on a helluva downloading spree a while ago and didn't attribute everything.

Kobold Warren.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Some Awesome Tumblrs

Is Tumblrs even a word?  Ah well, it is now.

Tumblr is a microblogging site used primarily to post pictures.  It makes it very easy to add photos to your own stream, and its a great way to build a set of pictures to use in your game.

You can also easily check out other tumblrs, just by clicking on the link at the bottom-right of a picture that indicates the account it was linked from.

Here are several really interesting ones.  I particularly like using Norse/Celtic themes in my games, so these are inclined in that direction.

The Stolen Lands


Fuck Yeah Vikings and Celts

The Deer and the Oak


The Iron Canyons

Swords and Arrows

As always, happy gaming!

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Fantasy Gothic Manor Generator

I got set up with an Abulafia account last night so that I could set up a new random generator.  If you know a bit about html coding then setting up a random generator is pretty easy. 

I created one called Gothic Manor, which is designed to build a fantasy-gothic manor house, along with inhabitants, surroundings and a dark secret.

I took English Lit in university, and I found the Romantic Poets and Gothic literature were my favorites, plus I've always liked Lovecraft and Mythos fiction.  Hopefully there are shades of all of that in this generator.

Here is a little taste of the sort of results you can get:

The Manor is a huge, squat keep, built in an ancient style, now crumbling and enveloped by ivy. It is filled with empty rooms, rotting furniture and dusty wall hangings.  If examined closely, the tapestries depict ancient crimes – murders, rapes and much worse – all the perpetrators and victims appear to be members of the same family.

The Master is an enormous, shambling wreck of a man, clad in worn and stained clothing and with a massive, shaggy beard. He communicates mostly in grunts and scowls, seeming to stare at nothing and mutter to himself constantly. Occasionally, glimpses of his limbs and torso reveal horrible, barely-healed scars and oddly precise tattoos in what appear to be arcane designs.

The Mistress is ancient but unnaturally spry, seeming to be aware of everything that happens within the manor. Her hunched, black-clad form can be seen bustling around at all hours. In fact, she sometimes seems to be in several places at once.

The Staff are oddly uniform in appearance, dress and features, moving about their duties with silent, mechanical precision.

The Heir(s) are an indistinct horde of grubby, wild and violent children. It’s impossible to distinguish gender or age under the grime, scabs and snot, but they seem to be everywhere within the keep, and see everything that happens.

The Hunt are a hyaena-like, humped and cackling pack with a hunched and hooded keeper.

The Demesne are a scattering of strongly-built farmsteads, all barred and defended night and day.

The Dungeons are built around a single shaft with a circular stairwell that drops straight down into the earth. The occasional archway leads to a network of old mining tunnels and drifts, scattered with ancient, rusted equipment.

The Secret is that the manor is the old lair of a necromancer and a warren of the undead. 

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Middle Earth Quest and other Board Games

When I'm not playing RPG's or video games (damn you Torchlight 2), I like to play boardgames, and Middle Earth Quest looks really cool.

It's a co-operative/competitive board game based around the good ole Lord of the Rings.  This game would tie nicely into the start of a Lord of the Rings Roleplaying campaign, as I discussed earlier in Boardgames as a first RPG session.

I would want to play Sauron, personally.  I'm just like that.

If you want more information, PATV has a great show called Shut Up and Sit Down which reviews boardgames.  This week they did Middle Earth Quest.

Check it out here:

In addition to Shut Up and Sit Down we have Wil Wheaton's Tabletop.  Every week Wil and his guests review the rules of a different board game, then do a play-through video.  It's funny and a great way to check out board games to see if they would be entertaining.

Youtube is also a good place to look for video reviews/playthroughs of board games.  The first time we played Arkham Horror, we used Grudunza's very comprehensive videos to orient ourselves.

We also used the complete tutorial for the Game of Thrones board game the first time we played it.  That one is actually produced by Fantasy Flight Games.  Tutorials like this are a handy way to get acclimatized to a game without having to read through the entire manual while everyone else is sitting around waiting for you.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Gamer Presents!

This weekend was the occasion of my 37th trip around the sun, and we had a really good time.  I didn't get to role-play ALL DAY, which was what I used to do on my birthday when I was in High School, but I still had fun.

Among my presents were:  A new 25-inch monitor.  Torchlight 2, a This is How I Roll t-shirt and a bumper sticker for the new minivan - "Don't make me get out and roll initiative", which should go nicely with the firefighter licence plate!

Of course, the combination of the new monitor and Torchlight 2 made getting productive work on things like

Updated Chapter 2 of Blingdenstone Enhanced.

Secret Santacore Submission.

Or ANYTHING ELSE totally impossible.  This game is crack.  Explore.  Kill.  Loot.  Compare Numbers. Re-equip. Repeat ad infinitum.  I thought I had kicked this back in the Diablo 2 era.  I proudly didn't buy Diablo 3 because $60 + always-on-DRM = fuck NO!  I thought the monkey was off my back!  But it is on there firmly, clicking away.

My daughter even wanted to sit on my lap  and got excited when we found giant piles of gold or got into a big fight.  Although she did do a lot of  "what's happening?" when the action got too furious.  Of course - she's 3, so she ended up with nightmares last night.  Totally my bad, and I got up and cuddled her without complaint.  Guess I need to find a game that interests both of us and isn't that scary.

On a related note, I've had a bit of interest in the Dungeon Mapp Contest, but only a few people have entered the contest so far.  As a result, I'm going to extend it out to the end of this week to see if we can get some more people interested in a FREE TABLETOP GAMING APP!

Finally, Carl Bussler put up this interesting Cast Map over on G+ were there are a ton of interesting RPG conversations happening right now.  This is more designed for fiction - I'd modify it slightly to identify the party at the center and NPC's radiating outward.  The idea that the more removed an NPC is, the less characteristics they need to have is a good rule of thumb.  But a minimum of one is also a good rule.  Try to make all NPC's at least a tiny bit interesting.

As always, Happy Gaming.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Secret Santacore Teaser Trailer

I'm off to the races on the Secret Santacore project!

Not going to put the whole thing up yet, since a bunch of it is still on paper, but here's a teaser:

I was going to do d12 sets, a la Dungeon Dozen, but then I figured, hey 8 d8 random tables is like 160-million-odd combinations.  That will have to do.

The House
Is a huge, squat keep, built in an ancient style, now crumbling and enveloped by ivy.  It is filled with empty rooms, rotting furniture and dusty wall hangings.  If examined closely, the tapestries depict ancient crimes – murders, rapes and much worse – all the perpetrators and victims appear to be members of the same family.

Is a timber hunting lodge filled with stuffed, skinned and mounted trophies of animals and monsters, hanging alongside weapons, rusty traps and paintings of prized hounds and horses.  Everywhere you go within the hall, dozens of glittering eyes seem to track you from the mounted heads that cover every wall.  Occasionally, the faint sounds of a baying pack of hounds seem to echo through the rooms.

Is a shining pleasure-palace, with high white walls, turreted towers and carefully landscaped ponds and gardens.  Its placid tranquility and languid calm are restful, but the gardens are full of unnaturally vital blood-red roses, the ponds are bottomless and are bitterly cold, and the high, ornate windows seem to glare menacingly when seen out of the corner of the eye.

Is a tall manor on a point overlooking an isolated cove.  Built of the local white chalk, it has patios and stairwells that extend down the cliffs below it.  Seen from the day, it is an attractive structure, but the light of the moon bleaches the white walls to the color of unburied bone, and cause the building to shine with unnatural brightness.  The cove below constantly washes up old bones and the corpses of the drowned.

Is a square, multi-floored brick house with a central courtyard that can be accessed by 4 arched entrances, one in each wall.  Walkways lined by arched windows face the interior courtyard on all floors.  At the center of the courtyard is a deep well with a rusted iron cover and a stout, new padlock.  When the wind blows through the house (which it frequently does) the arches of the courtyard seem to howl with unearthly voices, and the doors fly open and slam closed unpredictably.

Is a fortified manor house with a solid gate, paved courtyard and solidly-build hall.  The courtyard is dominated by a stone statue of a seated man leaning on a great sword.  Time has eroded away most of his features, but the carved eyes remain intact, and glare down fiercely at anyone entering the yard.  The base of the statue is ringed by disturbing engravings in an unknown language.

Is an old trading stockade that has been converted into a makeshift manor.  The log palisade is rotting, and weeds grow around the neglected stables and storage sheds.  Half-feral dogs wander about and the surrounding forest presses ominously close.  The place smells of mildew, dogshit and fear – all door are barred and lights doused as soon as night falls.

Is a tall, moated round-house set on the edge of a deep swamp.  The interior of the keep is a deep shaft with a circular stair that goes all the way to the roof.  The place is infested with frogs, toad, newt and other, less pleasant things.  At night, the strange lights in the swamp are mirrored in the black water at the base of the central shaft, and the odd piping of the swamp inhabitants almost seems to form chittering voices.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Galactic Keep

Looks awesome.

Why have they not done this with 4e?

In fact, screw 4e.  I want to see this game with blue-map era megadungeons, using the blue-map cartography and red-box D&D rules.  I want APP ON THE BORDERLANDS!  I want SECRET APP OF BONE HILL.  I want RUINS OF APPMOUNTAIN.  I want CASTLE GREYAPP!

Seriously, why can I not play turn-based party dungeon-crawlers with D&D rules and awesome graphics like this RIGHT NOW?

If you know of any, put them in the comments.  Please bear in mind that I cannot afford cocaine or Apple products.  Derek Proud of Dungeon Mapp - are you taking notes?

Incidentally, one day left on the draw to win a free copy of Dungeon Mapp for the iPad.  Send me an email at kootenaymurph at gmail dot com if you want in!

D&D Next Playtest 3 - Asking "Why?"

We played a 2 1/2 hour session of Reclaiming Blingdenstone last night.  There was one combat encounter.  It was a tough one, and I'll go into why in a bit - but it was also right at the beginning of the session and relatively short.  Maybe 30 minutes all-in.  The rest of the session was pretty much all role-playing.  Which was AWESOME.

The session started with a random event "ROUS" - giant rats invading the storage palisade.  The party led the charge down the stairs and were immediately ambushed by 12 cave rats and 2 dire rats.  This was BY FAR the toughest fight I've done in Next.  If you don't have area-effect spells, minions can be a real handful, and rats can reinforce each other, gaining bonuses to hit.  Additionally, most characters don't have multiple attack options, so missing can really hurt.

Fortunately, some solid healing, a brave charge to the front/burning hands combo by the mage and some skilled use of expertise dice by the fighters (both of them used expertise dice only for damage reduction, and it may have been a TPK if they hadn't), and the day was won.  Hordes of light baddies can be a real issue - far more so than in 4E due to a more limited economy of actions and Vancian spellcasting - plus the party hadn't rested up after clearing the Town Center, so they were low on spells and slightly dinged up.

After the initial fight, that the players spent most of the session exploring various parts of Blingdenstone and talking to a lot of NPC's.  There was one turning point moment in the session where Briddick, an NPC the characters have had some amusing conversations with, casually mentions to them "I heard you gave the crown of Blingdenstone to Kargien.  Why'd you do that?"

The silence was immediate.  I could hear a pin drop.  I couldn't see their faces, but I know they were all thinking the same thing... "Why DID we give him the crown?"  followed by, "wait - not giving him the crown was an option?" and, "he gave us the quest, didn't he?"

One of the players responded with, "Well, he asked us to get it for him, and we just thought..."  and then he trailed off.  Briddick shrugged and said "Oh well, maybe it won't turn out that badly.  We can't get it back from him now, anyways."

And from that point on, the party was off like a hound on a scent.  They started asking Briddick and the other NPC's they met questions. They asked about Kargien, about what the gnomes thought of him, about the history of the expedition. They mapped relationships and identified who supported Kargien and who didn't.  They asked questions about lore and elemental planes and went and learned a lot about the gnome political situation.

They role-played.  It was great.  I thing we all had a ton of fun, and my cheat-sheet really helped - giving me quick prompts about what each NPC was like and what they wanted.

By the end of the session, the party talked to the Pechs, found out about the Boon and the Bane and got a little political intrigue started.  Since Kargien is hostile to the Pechs, and the party wants their help, and the Pechs want the gnomes to let them continue to live in Blingdenstone, the party had to find a way around Kargien.  Fortunately, they now knew that Gurmadden and Henkalla generally opposed Kargien, so they put the plan to coexist with the Pechs to Gurmadden, who got Pingtu, a general supporter of Kargien, but practical and influential gnome onside.  The plan should push through, allowing the party to enlist the active help of the Pechs in getting rid of Ogremoch's Bane.

The next order of business seems to be to scout out Entemoch's Boon and clear out the kobolds in the Wormwindings, so I better get that part of the upgrade done, as that chapter has some serious problems as-presented.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Boardgame as RPG First Session

Paul Thornton over at Shortymonster put up a post talking about his love for boardgames and talked about Fantasy Flight Games and the use of a character sheets in many modern boardgames.

I’m a big fan of boardgames myself – in fact, my friends got me Arkham Horror for my birthday last year, and we got to play it again this summer.  Since I’ve done so much table-top gaming, it seems pretty natural to me to have character sheets along with a game, but I know that for the board game community, this is a relatively recent development.

From an RPG player’s perspective, it’s a GREAT THING!  It means that the barrier to entry for RPG’s is getting lower and lower.  Think about it – there are now a lot of people out there who, through boardgames, have experience using a character sheet and interacting with a rule-set through it!    Paul also correctly notes that playing with a character sheet gets the player much more involved with the game as a story or narrative, which is very good preparation for traditional RPG play as well.

My brainstorm here is that you can lower that bar even further by using a character-sheet boardgame as the first session of an RPG!  The obvious one that comes to mind is Call of Cthulhu with an Arkham Horror first session.  Keep the same characters, and allow things like equipment, spells and skills to continue over into the RPG game.

If you really want to do something interesting – carry over the events of the game into the start of the RPG.  Make notes of some of the major monsters that appeared and what happened to them when the game ended.  Use the Big Baddie as the ultimate antagonist in the RPG game, track the PC’s interactions with things like the Silver Lodge or the Police, and make quick notes about activities that the PC’s got up to in-game – you can carry stuff through to the table-top game very easily.

Using Arkham also gives you a ready-made base of operations, basic character backgrounds and a shared experience for all the players.  Heck, you could even give out XP based on the results of the boardgame.  Suddenly, you’ve gone from introducing a new way kind a game to an easy-to-grasp continuation of a game you already started.

I bet that both experienced and new table-top RPG players would enjoy starting a game this way.  In fact, you don’t have to constrain it to just games with stat sheets.  You could play a tactical game, like the Game of Thrones board game or Lords of Waterdeep, and start as agents/members of whatever group won the game – or the loser, if they lost in a spectacular and interesting way.  Just make sure to carry the events of the game over into the RPG sessions.

As I said, Arkham Horror is an obvious one, but here are some others that you could try:
Castle Ravenloft (for 4e D&D or a Ravenloft game)
Lords of Waterdeep (for any Forgotten Realms Campaign)
Descent (for any fantasy rpg, really)
Mansions of Madness (for more Cthulhu)
Shadows over Camelot (Pendragon or anything Arthurian)
Last Night on Earth or Zombicide (any horror or zombie rpg)
Mutant Chronicles: Siege of the Citadel (Mutants and Masterminds?)
Warhammer Quest (Warhammer Fantasy RPG)
Battlestations (Rogue Trader or Traveller)
Vampire: Prince of the City (Vampire the Masquerade)

This thread here has some other ideas, too.

Worst-case scenario – you’ll have a fun time playing the boardgame and have some neat plot/adventure hooks for when you RPG next.  Best-case?  Awesome board game that flows directly into awesome RPG, and you introduce some new players into RPG’s in a cool way.