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A novel idea for a setting

I found myself in the public library today, which is a rare occasion. I was scanning the fantasy/sci fi/horror section, surprised at how much stuff they had, and wondering why on earth I spend what I do in bookstores. I checked a few back covers for a precis that sounded interesting. While doing that I came round to thinking about how my reading tends to be mosty gaming related, and that includes the novels I pick up. It struck me then that I’d been slowly coming to a decision over recent months and it goes a little something like this.

I’ve got loads of RPGs, about 5 or 6 times as many as you can see in the banner for this site. The vast majority of them have a setting as part of the game. Consequently, I’ve internalised an awful lot of imaginary worlds. Add to that the weird predilection I have for trying to see everything in the real world as potential gaming fodder and you might begin to see how full my head is. Novels and comics are an obvious source of gaming maaterial, but as time has gone on I’ve realised I’m never ever going to sit down and write a setting bible based on a novel, I’m just not. It’s way to much work and frankly, if my players aren’t as invested in the setting as I am then it’s never going to see time at the table. Let’s not even think about publishing it, not going to happen. Last time I tried to do this was with the Night’s Dawn trilogy by Peter F Hamilton, my favourite author. It’s absolutley ripe for gaming and I sincerely hope someone will do it one day. But it’s more than 3000 pages long and the cast of characters, locations, kit etc is absolutley enormous. Even the really hard core wiki builders struggle with that challenge.

So I don’t do it. I don’t even really build my own settings out of whole cloth, nor do I really pay a huge amount of attention to game worlds so much any more. The reason being, there’s just too much stuff, often of little relevance and too little of it ever reaches the ears of my players. Where’s the utility in a 300+ page book where 297 pages are just dry historical detail?

Let me give you an example. I recently bought Eclipse Phase after reading some reports and reviews online. It’s fans are vocal and passionate to say the least. Just browse RPGnet, you’ll see what I mean. When a poster said I could do Night’s Dawn with it I was totally sold. However, after an hour reading it from the first page I started to flick, never a good sign. ten minutes after that, I’d shelved it. The reason was I felt I would be better off reading a novel as I’d get the same giant infodump but in a more entertaining medium. Believe me when I say this isn’t a dig at the game, I’m sure it’s as brilliant and innovative as people say, but it’s not for me with the way I want to approach gaming these days. The short fiction at the start seemed like something from Shadowrun circa 1994, while the rest of the book was a patchwork of the authors favourite transhumanist scifi of recent years. again, it’s a perfeectly valid approach to a game book, but actually I found myself wishing I’d read the source material instead.

So I noticed a section of books by Charles Stross in the library, and his works are mentioned in Eclipse Phase. My interest piqued, I checked out the splash page. turns out the one I’d picked up is his first published work called The Atrocity Archives and I don’t think it’s one of the transhuman books. Here’s the back page for you:

Bob Howard is a low-level techie working for a super-secret government agency. While his colleagues are out saving the world, Bob’s under a desk restoring lost data. None of them receive any thanks for the jobs they do, but at least a techie doesn’t risk getting shot or eaten in the line of duty. Bob’s world is dull but safe, and that’s the way it should have stayed; but then he went and got Noticed. Now, Bob Howard is up to his neck in spycraft, alternative universes, dimension-hopping nazis, Middle Eastern terrorists, damsels in distress, ancient Lovecraftian horror and the end of the world. Only one thing is certain: it will take more than control-alt-delete to sort this mess out…

There’s enough there for a whole campaign no? And the preface makes it even more succint. In it Ken MacLeod points out:

Think, for a moment, what the following phrase would call to mind if you’d never heard it before: ‘Secret intelligence’

And there’s about 20 of the games on my shelf summed up. Except those books then give me another 13 chapters of explanation and detail which is mostly unnecessary and has the effect of dulling and diluting the original concept. Bringing it back to RPGs proper, the worst offender for me was The Iron Kingdoms, a superb setting from Privateer Press originally for d20 gaming. It started with a trilogy of adventures which gave the DM just enough to go on, and  crucially it all came out at the table as the party progressed. Three modules later and everyone knew as much as everyone else at the table without having to study for hours and without losing any immersion either. I think it was better than most settings just because of that ‘reveal during play’ approach. Obviously the fans wanted more and the publishers got to work. The first book was Lock and Load, really just a conversion supplement for standard D&D. It came with maps and geography and history, all in 64 pages. Brilliant. And then a long, long wait while the big hardback sourcebooks were produced, weighing in at 600 pages over 2 hardbacks, all as dry as dust. They’d utterly explained away all the magic. A crushing disappointment, especially when you consider their minis game in the same world, Warmachine, had exactly the same job to do, yet managed it in colour with barely a third of the page count. 

Now, this post haas gotten way too long and is in some danger of becoming a rant. So part 2 tomorrow…

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If Charlie Brooker was into gaming…

…he’d have written this. Beautiful.

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When Evil Comes Calling

So I was having a brief conversation with my old mate Danurai today. He’s been working up a potential new character for our weekly D&D game, a Drow Avenger. Fair enough. Then he wanted to know if it was ok to be evil. He’d been reading an article about just such a thing, so before I started replying to him in BIG CAPITAL LETTERS saying NO, I thought I owed it to him to give it a read. As I did I realised that there are all sorts of ways to play a game, but there are some that simply don’t sit well with your regular home game.

“Whether or not you agree to let one person in the game play an evil character, or let everyone in the game play evil characters, you should absolutely have the talk. What’s that? I like to call it the “don’t be a jerk and don’t be a baby” talk. It’s a real, honest discussion about the tone of the game you are about to play. It’s a verbal agreement to not let the nefarious actions of characters spill over into real-life arguments. It is the group realization that you are about to play something that will be challenging. It’s going to be more work than a normal campaign.”

Stephen Radney-MacFarland

A one shot is another kettle of fish though. Could an all evil game be just right if you had 4 or 5 hours to let rip with all your dark desires?

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Writing scenarios for conventions

My gaming group now has a website: http://smartparty.wordpress.com/

This is my first serious contribution to it. feedback is more than welcome.

So, you want to write a Convention game?

I’ve a confession to make, I don’t write many of my own scenarios. There’s a couple of reasons for this. First, there are professionals who will do it for me, and second, because I can’t bring myself to do a half assed job of it. If I had my way I’d get every scenario I write fully edited, typeset, proofread and professionally illustrated as well as pubished (to huge acclaim naturally). What this means, is that when I do set my mind to writing a game I give it everything I’ve got. I usually write in preperation for an upcoming Con. I get huge pleasure out of running games at Cons. I believe it’s something everyone should have a go at. I’m fortunate enough to get good responses to my games. If you’re thinking about writing something yourself then you might find it useful to see the steps I go through to get my scenario up and running. Obvously this is not the only, or the best way to approach Con scenario writing, but it’s one way that works for me.

I’m going to work through this process stage by stage in the same order I did it myself, from start to finish. I’m using a D&D 4e game I ran at DragonMeet in 2008. 4e has many advantages, not least of which is it’s structured approach to adventure design. Nevertheless I’ll try to keep the lessons I learned system neutral as far as possible.

Step one: Select your Con

Jargon buster: Con = a convention, a meeting of gamers to talk about, play, buy and sell games. With beer.

So, I’ve made the decision to attend DragonMeet, a London one day Con that takes place in November each year. It’s a fair sized Con for the UK and has a well deserved reputation for friendliness.
I checked out the DragonMeet website and tapped into UK Roleplayers too, to see what people were talking about, and what was getting them excited. Of course you also want to see what other GMs might have planned, so you don’t cover exactly the same bases. Most Cons have web support, to one degree or another, and it’s well worth checking. Before you can even think about getting creative, or picking the perfect marriage of setting and system, you need to get the logistics sorted. For starters you need to get yourself booked in as a delegate, sort accomodation and travel. Every Con is different in this respect and you need to get organised early. The same is true of the procedures for booking in as a GM for the Con. You need to check and then decide whether you’ll be running a game that will be pre-promoted (and possibly pre-booked) or whether the Con allows, and you want to do this, turn up on the day with a game under your arm and take what players you can find. I like to have a few things straightened out in advance so I always go with booking my slots in advance with the Con organisers. If it’s your first time, I’d recommend you do the same.

Con organisers are a varied bunch of individuals but I’ve always found them to be passionate about gaming at least. Sometimes this means they can be a bit disorganised but don’t let it put you off. By and large Cons are run by volunteers (you’re about to be one yourself after all) so if necessary, cut them a break and be patient but persistent.

Step 2: How many slots?

Jargon Buster: Slot = a timeslot for gaming in. Averages about 4 hours, tend to be morning, afternoon or evening.

You need to put yourself down for a slot, or more than one. Here’s the next decision point. For DragonMeet there’s really only 2 slots, one in the morning, one in the afternoon. I wanted to be able to see a bit of the Con myself, so I opted for running a single slot in the afternoon. Previously, at longer Cons with 3 or 4 slots available per day, I’ve found my perfect balance to be run one, play one, socialise one, each day. I know of some crazy types who run games for 12 hours a day. I wouldn’t. I’d rather put my efforts into getting one good game sorted than 3 weaker ones. I’m going to write the rest of this essay on the basis that we’re just prepping one game. So there you are.

How long is your slot? Knowing this is absolutely vital, and something that’s very easy to overlook or ignore. DragonMeet slots are 4 hours long, so that’s how long my game had to last. Except it isn’t. I’ll come back to this point, but for now just remember, you need to know how long the slot is for, when it starts and when it finishes.

Step 3: Pick your game

Back to the prep. What game do you want to run, and is the same as the game you should run? The difference being that you may well want to run your decades long, homebrew space fantasy game, but will you be able to attract any players, and will they be able to understand it? Probably not. Again, do your research. If you’re going to Tentacles, then you’ll want to at least give a nod to Chaosium systems. You’ll get players, and they’ll know what they’re getting into. If you’re running at D&D Experience, it’s not going to go down well if you want to run Champions or GURPS is it? This is where the website comes back in. Ask questions on the forums and look for interest levels in your game.

I first put out feelers to see if anyone was interested in Golden Heroes and Dragon Warriors. I got only a handful of responses, and a couple of flat out refusals. This feedback was invaluable, it would have been embarassing to have turned up to an empty table, so I’d rather know in advance than be too afraid to ask. Now don’t get me wrong, there’s no point being popular if it’s a game youre not personally interested in. If there’s high demand to play Dogs in the Vineyard but it doesnt float your boat, don’t put yourself forward for it.

So I looked at the games that had me excited that year. Recent releases always seem to get attention at Cons. (Classics work too. You will always get players for Cthulhu and AD&D). This does mean your game tends towards demo rather than straight play but thats a topic for another essay, dont worry about it now. That year I’d picked up Trail of Cthulhu, Mongoose Traveller, StarSIEGE and D&D 4e. I plumped for D&D on the basis that I already had a weekly game I’d been running very successfully, there were all kinds of cool props I could use, and I thought there would be interest in it. I also knew I could write for it, and I wanted to try out that process as a Con experiment. You’re reading the results right now.

Step 4: What’s the concept?

So I’ve got my game. Just need to write it now. First things first, get a concept straight in your head. Write it down now so you can refer to it later if you start to go off track. This is important. You’ve got a limited time in which to run your game, so what do you want to showcase? Let’s say you want to run Earthdawn, which bit of it will you focus on? Therans? Horrors? Exploration? You really won’t be able to do the lot, and you need to recognise that early. It’s not enough to want to run a Cthulhu game, you need to pick a theme and nail it hard. Don’t try to do a world tour of the setting, you won’t be able to do it. Similarly, are you going to be showcasing a part of the game that actually exists or are you going off piste? What I mean is you might want to run Vampire: The Requiem. In space. Totally fine! but it will have consequences, just so you know.

My concept was, I wanted it to involve a conflict with a dragon. Simple as that. I was inspired by the Con itself, it’s called DragonMeet, so I thought it would be cool to, you know, meet a dragon.

Step 5: Get your timings sorted

Jargon buster: one shot = a single game that has no follow up
sessions, and usually has pregenerated characters to play with.

That done, now what. This is where you need to go back to the slot demands. I had 4 hours to run a game. It needed to finish witin 4 hours. This is important. It’s better to have a great game in 3 and a half hours than an ok game that overuns by half an hour. People have other commitments at Cons, and will have things to do. Don’t overrun. Just don’t. Though you will.

Given that most Con games are one shots you need to fit a beginning, a middle and an end into the slot. You also have to allow for set up, breaks and wrap up. So I sketched out the timings. It would take me about 10 minutes to find the players, the table and to get our stuff out and ready to go. That’s being conservative. I’ve had sessions that took 30 mins to set up in the past, but from prior knowledge of DragonMeet, I thought I could get it done in 10. Then theres the rules briefing. Earlier I mentioned the notion of demo gaming. Every game I’ve ever run has had at least one player at the table who didn’t know a thing about the game, or knew about the setting but not the rules or vice versa. You need to get these people up to speed, and that takes a little time. Even if your table is full of veterans, they’ll need to look over their characters and sometimes that can be a lengthy operation. Given that 4e was only a few months old, I knew I’d have a mix of players, so I allowed 20 minutes of rules stuff. That’s half an hour gone and we haven’t started yet. I also knew I wanted to take a 15 minute break in the middle to get a break and to have a drink. Finally, I wanted to aim to end 15 mins before the end of the slot, to allow for contingencies and to have a chance to chat to my group and seek feedback. (This last part is a Smart Party practice, we always ask for and act on feedback, it’s fundamental to the way we roll).

Now my 4 hour game is actually 3 hours long. This is perfectly alright, no-one is being short changed by this, because those 3 hours will be a complete gaming experience.

Step 6: Brainstorm your scenario

D&D 4e is very helpful on writing scenarios, and the advice can apply to most RPGs. The session is best broken up into parts, called encounters in D&D. This makes it easier for you to run, and in some ways easier to play. In 4e, each (combat) encounter will take 45 – 60 mins, depending on number of players. With this in mind I knew I had room for 3 encounters (happily thats a beginning, a middle and an end). I also wanted to put in a skill challenge, and I knew that wouldn’t take up much time and would help showcase the system. To help keep to time I opted for 6 players (most D&D games recommend 5). The 6 players would help to make the combat encounters a little bit shorter, and I like the idea of an even number of players. I also knew the way the tables are laid out at DragonMeet, and it’s worth checking it out for your Con. Some have circular tables that only take 6 people max. You need to take this into account.
I started at the end of the game and worked back towards the beginning. This is a great way of ensuring your game ends with a bang, and that you keep to your concept. So, for my game the final scene would be a conflict with a dragon. The rest of the game would be a way of getting to that point. Be warned, some people have an issue with this type of game design. They believe that such ‘railroading’ is bad for the players. That’s a valid viewpoint, and one I have a lot of sympathy with. However, for Con gaming I think you are better off with a strong structure to your game. You’ve already got limitations on time, players and location, so you may not have the freedom to improvise a plot around your players actions. Leave it for your weekly games at home, where you can enjoy the freedom.

Now. At this stage, before getting too wrapped up in the nitty gritty of the scenario, I wanted some inspiration and advice. So I hit the net and asked. RPGnet has a lot of traffic on it, and the guys on there are very happy to help, criticise and discuss. If you want opinions it’s the place to ask. Smaller forums are great too, as you tend to get tailored advice form people who know your game better. All feedback is good feedback, take it from where you can. I guarantee constructive feedback from Smart Party members. Ask your home players what they’d like. Ask on the Con forums. You won’t be giving away any secrets, don’t worry, at this stage you just want raw information.

I asked on a few fora and got all kinds of responses, from encounter types, to characters for the game, to offers of help with promos, to being told to not bother. Don’t take anything personally, just take what you can from it, and mix it into your scenario if it makes it better and/or easier for you. In the end, I didn’t use any of the ideas wholesale, I took little nuggets of goodness and used them as a springboard for my own ideas.

At this stage I was also thinking about presentation. I like to have good visuals at the table. One of the strengths of D&D is the ready availability of great props, but all games benefit from stuff like this. I looked through my gaming kit to see what I already had and this informed my choices for the scenario, I had dungeon tiles, some minis, some cool maps from other games, all sorts of things. As I looked through images on the net, in my books, and remembered what I’d got from the forums, things started to crystallise. I found a great picture of a dragon rising from a magic circle surrounded by cultists, as if it were being summoned. I also had a mini of a young green dragon. Thirdly, I had a poster map of a jungle with a stepped pyramid at the centre. I wanted to use these and I tried a few combinations of encounters, levels and different locations. Every time I had something sketched out, I stepped back from it and tried to look at it with new eyes, the eyes of a player at DragonMeet a couple of months down the line. Would it look good? was it too complicated? too subtle? too simple? could I handle the numbers? would the NPCs be memorable? did I have the props? did the characters form a team? could newbies enjoy it? could veterans enjoy it? and finally, did it absolutely nail my central concept? I double checked my ideas with my weekly group and on various forums. And then I could start to put it together properly.

Step 7: The cast

Games need characters, both PCs and NPCS. I’m going to set out my stall right here, you need to do pre-generated characters. With a tiny number of exceptions, this is absolutely the way to go. You simply don’t have time to generate characters with the players on the day. You can still provide a bit of flexibility, you can always leave the name and physical descriptions up to the players. With some systems there’s opportunity to let some rules stuff come out of play too, I’m thinking of aspects in Fate particularly. A key reason for doing the pregens is that you can tailor the PCs to the scenario. If you know there’s a scene that involves tracking through a jungle, then it pays to have a character with those skills. Similarly, why write up a character with total mastery of driving speedboats if your game is set in a desert. (I’ve seen both these instances before, seriously)
If writing 6 characters up seems like a bunch of work, that’s because it is. I won’t lie to you, you have to put the time in. Again, the net can help you. Lots of game sites have lists of characters, form fillable character sheets, all sorts of time saving devices. Use the fans too, I asked for help and ideas for the characters for my game on RPGnet. Within 2 hours I had 6 characters all statted up, ready for me to put my spin on them. As a thank you, I named the characters after their creators.

While you’re thinking about your characters, why not think about what ‘level’ you want them at? As a one shot you have the freedom to choose. Want to have a crack at 30th level D&D? 5000pt HERO? Legendary Savage Worlds? Now you can, just be aware that high level PCs tend to be more complex, and they take longer to make in the first place. Make your choices now, then check that they fit your concept. I went with 5th level PCs for my game. That’s heroic without being superhuman, plenty of meaty options but not overwhelming. I went with a good mix of character roles, and did my best to ensure there would be no obviously good or bad choices. For example, don’t include a pilot if there’s no piloting, and if you’re going to include lots of combat, make sure your PCs can handle it.

When it comes to character sheets we’re into the realms of ‘more art then science’. Sheets are a very personal preference kind of thing, so I’ll just offer up a couple of suggestions. Don’t have anything on the character sheet you don’t need. Usually this means doing your own sheets in a kind of on shorthand. For instance, official sheets usually have a space for experience points. Unnecessary in your Con game. same for any ‘workbook’ type elements where you can see how a number was arrived at. You only need to know the bottom line on modifiers for a one shot. Instead, use the space you’ve saved to include little rules summaries or explanations. Players new to the game will appreciate your efforts.

I used the D&D online character generator, which at the time only went to level 3. I then levelled up the characters and downloaded some friendly sheets and power cards. Most of this stuff came from ENWorld.

Step 8: Get your kit organised

I knew that for my first encounter I needed a couple of extra minis. I hit ebay and a week later I had exactly what I needed for a couple of quid. Things like this matter, I knew it would help me and my players on the day far more than tokens or scrap paper would. Essentially, I believe if you’re going to use this stuff, then go the whole hog or not at all. I also got my tiles and maps in order, and I’d made sure that everything fit in my gaming bag. This is a point I can often overlook, I need to have this stuff portable, and I need to be able to fit my new purchases in there too, as well as a drink and snacks, dice, pencils etc. Luckily I have a netbook with everything ruleswise on it, so I didn’t have to lug around 3 core rulebooks with me. Of course if your game is someting light like Savage Worlds or Don’t Rest Your Head, you won’t have a space issue at all. Don’t feel you have to bring all your books with you, you don’t. If youre prepped and ready, you won’t be looking up rules, and frankly its not a good idea at the table anyway. A decent GM screen or set of crib sheets is far better than lugging a 300+ page hardback rulebook.

I like to type up my scenarios and for this one I wanted to use technology to make it easy for me. I used the D&D online tools to get my encounters sorted out, with monster statblocks and prewritten flavour text all put onto my netbook, as well as a printout for emergencies. If you’re going with paper, make it landscape, it’s easier for you to reference at the table. Index cards are your friend here too. And don’t forget the other paraphaenalia, bennies or fate chips or cards or whatever. At the next LemurCon I’m planning to run Spirit of the Century with a Chinese theme, so for Fate points I’m using tiles from a Mah Jong set. Little touches like this help your game become memorable,

Step 9: Pulling it all together

I got to work on my promos. No-one will play your game if they don’t know it exists. I submitted my game brief to the organisers so they could get it put on the website. In hindsight I’m glad I didn’t leave it at that as the organisers were a little slack and didn’t get it posted until the very last minute. I also posted my game on multiple game sites. There’s usually a thread titled ‘Who’s going to…’, and it’s a chance to get your plans out there.

Put a little work into your sign up sheet. Most Cons have a fairly generic template for you to use on the day, but with some basic IT skills you can have a full colour flyer that really stands out from the crowd. Courtesy demands that you check this is ok with the Con oranisers, and I can say I’ve never had any issues.

On your flyer, you have a chance to set the tone of your game from the off. You might be aware of the concept of tags on blogs etc? These are one word clues to the content of your game, and they can be very useful in attracting the right players. For my game my tags were; ‘D&D 4e’, ‘5th level’, ‘demo’, ‘pregens’, ‘cinematic’, ‘action’. I included ‘cinematic’ as a tag because thats the style in which I like my games to go. This way I’ve given fair warning that the game is more like an action movie than an indepth character study. This tag system is really useful, especially if you’re running a generic game like Savage or GURPS. If you want a gritty, deadly, political intrigue game, then advertise it as such. Given that your players are likely to be strangers to you and each other, you don’t have the luxury of knowing your playstyles and personalities. Get the flyer right, it pays dividends later.

Finally, if you possibly can, playtest your game. Preferably multiple times. Some stuff looks great in theory but live gaming can show you problems you wouldn’t have seen on your own. Seek feedback and act on it. Don’t be precious about your masterpiece, it’s only there to serve one purpose, as a structure for a great game. Maybe once the Con has finished, and you’re basking in the warm glow of a happy group you can think about publishing it. For now, it’s just a means to an end, never forget that.

Step 10: Take a break

Put it all away for a few days if possible. Forget about it and do something else. Clear your mind.

That’s it!

This might look complex, it really isn’t. I’ve just tried to take it step by step and in as full a manner as I can. With practice and talent you can skip an awful lot of this. Personally, I’m always looking to improve my game, so I do take the time to analyse what I do. Hopefully my experiences can give you some help and some confidence. Have a go yourself. Let me know how it goes.
Good luck!

Baz King

In the next essay, I’ll go into what to do on the day of the Con and some ideas on how to get the best out of your game. That’s for another time. See you then.

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Keep on the Shadowfell: The Climax

We continue…

The Cathedral of Shadow beckons. As the party peek through the doors they see the Orcus underpriest chanting away at his traditional blood soaked altar. He’s got the whole set: bald, tattooed, big collar, prepared solioquies, everything you need from your Big Bad underling.

The party advance pretty cautiously, which is a fair idea as the cultist berserkers surge forward hefting battleaxes and a coven of vampire spawn scuttle across the walls and ceilings, homing in on the scent of blood. Rhogar and Sebastian stepped up to face the enemy, taking their by now traditional stances. Flynn kept mobile, using shuriken and sling shot to harry his foes. Team Magic set to with flame and force. Clara hefted her Holy Symbol and kept the worst of the vampire onslaught at bay.

The combat went well for the party. By staying within the entry chamber they could keep their enemies bottled up nicely, taking them down one by one. My cultists weren’t so stupid as to keep throwing themselves at defenders though. I had a Dark Creeper in reserve, as well as the Underpriest himself. The Creeper headed left, the priest right to try to get behind the line of armour the party had set up. The Creeper soon had to tangle with Kallista’s magic. He was a slippery little customer (all Kallista’s powers target Reflex) and she had trouble inflicting much damage. Moon’ had issues of his own as he slipped into the shadows and came face to face with the underpriest at full power. The Rod of Ruin did it’s dirty work and in seconds Moon’ was out cold being carried towards the altar on the shoulders of the priest. The parties big hitters were still tied down with frothing berserkers so it fell to Flynn to get in quick and help out. Dark Creeper dealt with, the rogue and the wizard faced off with the underpriest. Flynn didn’t last long as he fell to the dark bolts, yet Kallista prevailed and scorched the evil priest to his doom. The mop up was swift and the party had a decision to make. Press on into the well of blood? Or sit tight and get in a little R and R.

No contest, Flynn started climbing down the bloody chains, straight into the black heart of the Shadow Rift.

Kalarel waited patiently for his victims.

In hindsight, things started going wrong when the party pretty much all failed to climb down the chains into the chamber. Even Flynn, with a Safewing Amulet, hit the deck hard. 3d10 is hefty damage, and the monsters below lapped it up. The party never really made it out of the blood pool at the centre. Rhogar had set up a magic circle, but when you add in the Deathlok wight’s immobilsing grave bolt, it massively restricted their mobility. Kalarel was able to pick his targets with impunity, and before too long the whole party was bloodied at best, unconscious at worst. Things were looking bleak at this point and then Rhogar and Flynn’s attempted flank on Kalarel came to nothing and Rhogar got grabbed by the Thing in the Portal, while he was already out cold. TPK was looking very, very likely. No dailies left, nothing hitting it’s target, and I couldn’t stop rolling crits. I had to throw the team a lifeline as both Flynn (to be expected) and Moon’ (et tu Warlock?) made an escape attempt back up the chains. Kallista’s rage knew no limit. I pointed out the existence of the big bad ritual book still sitting on the altar, and Kallista took the hint. A not so acrobatic couple of moves later and burning torch met papery tome. The Thing had already swallowed Rhogar whole and in it’s last throes grabbed Kalarel and dragged him to his Shadowy Doom for ever…

Total treasure? a magic dagger+2. For all that!

Great maps, some cool moves, but ultimately it was a bit of a slog to be honest. The party needed to be at full strength but the scenario didn’t accomodate extended rests by that point. Some atrocious dice rolling certainly didn’t help matters!

In the next installment, I’ll go into my thoughts on D&D 4e as whole, but for now, it’s a relief to have played all the way through this scenario, and I’m looking forward to Thunderspire Labyrinth.


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Keep on the Shadowfell 7

We continue…

Hobgoblins everywhere! The party surge on into the lower level of the keep and run slap bang into the middle of a Hob’ garrison. The layout of the chambers meant there was a potentially nasty bottleneck to negotiate and the Hob’s had the home advantage as I sent a squad of minions around to flank them. The party held their ground, Rhogar and Sebastian holding the northern door while Kallista and Moon’ hurled arcane bolts down the corridor at the shaman and his soldiers. Said shaman pulled off a nice move with his force staff, putting the party on it’s ass while using the doorway to keep things interesting. Still, this was a simple enough encounter, and before too long the party had cleared the area and laid up for a few hours to recover.

Shamefully, I let them get away with an extended rest even though the Hob’ warchief was just across the way. Some of this is me not prepping enough and some of it is the layout of the encounters. I didn’t realise how close these areas were. If I had, they would have had a slighty harder time of it.

Anyway, the team heads to the south towards the corridors of the cube. Despite (or because of) a nailed up door with ‘closed’ painted on it, the party shove Flynn forward to do his scouting stuff. He tentatively pokes hs head round some suspiciously clean corners until I sieze the chance to bring out the gelatinous cube! In hindsight I should have waited just a little bit and come up behind the whole party and trapped them between monsters. It was still a very cool encounter though. Cool imagery included Flynn’s sling stones penetrating the cube like bullets hitting water, sending out slow concentric ripples. The shot hanging in the centre of the jelly, quietly dissolving. Kallista scorching it’s surface time and again, making it all sooty so the defenders could see their target. Trouble is they were next in line for the inexorable motion of the cube, and were engulfed in acid, eeeeeww! Combat description was a bit tricky at times as I said attacks ‘missed’ when I should have said ‘ineffectual’, I mean, it’s hard to miss a cube that fills the corridor.

Again, this encounter was dealt with and we stopped for the night. Things are still going a little slow for me as we are only getting through a couple of encounters a night. Not sure how to get things moving?

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D&D 4e play report

  Everyone else is doing it after all…

So, get my set of core books from the lovely people at Leisure Games just in time for my two weeks holiday. Sweet. Gives me time to settle down and give them the attention they deserve. I’d already been following the forums and picked up the preview scenario Keep on the Shadowfell, so I had a pretty good idea what I was getting into.

Since then I’ve been getting more and more anxious to get some actual play done, becuase the theorising was doing my head in. Go play! I’ve ‘rolled up’ a few characters and I’ve played thorugh a couple of encounters . Now all I needed was some players.

So I chucked Trail of Cthulhu in the bin as it was not going anywhere, and doing that quite slowly. Spoke to the group and we decided to pitch in with the new game.

We have: Dan, the lapsed gamer, back and loving it. After chargen with me and Julio has got straight online and ordered up a Players Handbook and a set of rather fetching dice. Hes running a Tiefling Warlock and is loving the zappy curses he can sling at will.
Julio: My old gaming buddy who, again, bought his own PHB, and more important brings the tactical nous the team will need. He’s playing Quinn, the dirty human rogue.
Steps, AKA Mrs King, who is new to gaming and enjoying herself with this strange hobby. she’s Kallista the wizard. Lesbian stripper ninja style. Say no more.
Stivi: Another old friend who got into gaming with 3rd ed and has jumped on board with the new edition too. He grabbed the Dwarf Fighter pregen, called hin Alaric, and got to fighting.
Tracy: another newbie, who I think is slightly overwhelmed by all the options, so was happy to let the group decide for her. she plays Clara the half elf cleric.

And off we go. Took a little time to explain the basics, and soon found that actually, you just need to get stuck in and see how it goes. The character sheets look complicated but that’s only because they are so thorough. Next time I’ll take a highlighter to the most used parts to make it easier. It will come with practice.

The first encounter is an attack by Kobold bandits on the Kings road (not the one in Chelsea). An archetypal set up for any level 1 game,  with the potential to have all the experienced gamers nodding off. But no. We took it slow so the encounter took about an hour, but it was a really good story, full of flavour and cool stuff kicking off as the players got a handle on their spells, prayers and exploits. Notable images include; Kallista using burning hands to flush a horde of Kobold minions out of the woods, one jumps out of the undergrowth and grapples her round the neck. Now they are both on fire. Clara prays to Pelor and her Lance of Faith burns the Kobold off her mate with the power of the sun.
Quinn finds that Kobold Dragonshields are shiftier than they look as they lead him a merry dance arond some rockpiles. i loved hearing Julio say “bugger, they’ve flanked me again!” Payback’s a bitch mate!
Kallista sneaks around a rock just in time for a Kobold Slinger to paste her with a gluepot. She’s stuck fast as the Kobold draws a rusty blade and advances. She grabs her wand and sends a bolt of silvery force right between his eyes burning out his tiny brain.

The fight over, all agreed there was lots of coolness and imagery. A success. Then onwards to Winterhaven to pick up a beer and a room for the night. Gossip with the locals provides a couple  of hooks for next week, and we call it a night.

Executive summary: a great system that really rewards the players working together and knowing their stuff. A lot easier to DM, I had 8 monsters of three different types and kept it all running smoothly. Also, I only had to look up one rule all night. That’s a big win. The players enjoyed it bigtime (probably the fellers more if i’m honest?) and all are looking forward to the next installment.

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