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I wrote a supplement

Inspired by 13th Age.

It’s an adventure supplement, and I’ve written it to be inspirational and a fun read. You could easily adapt it to your favourite fantasy setting or system.

What do you think?

http://rpgtreehouse.files.wordpress.com/2009/06/knee-deep.pdf

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21st century, 21st level

After a couple of weeks off for real life stuff, our regular game got back under way last week. The big news is, we’ve hit the heady heights of the epic tier! This is uncharted territory for all of us. Even the guys who played previous editions of D&D never got near the old cap of 20th level, so to get to this sort of level is a serious achievement.

We’re going through the H/P/E Orcus adventures, and I’m glad to see the back of Nightwyrm Fortress. It was a slog and the monsters just lined up to be killed in order. Add to that the poor mechanical implementation of the monsters back then and well, let’s just say we made the best of it.

Onwards  and upwards. Internet opinion of Deaths Reach is quite high, and I have to agree on rereading it (I bought the thing 18 months ago!). It seems to get stuck into a big story, pulling together various strands that have been touched on in the earlier parts of the series. Even so, it’s presented in the usual dry mechanical linear fashion. I knew from past experience that it would be best to put my own spin on the adventure. I don’t have a huge amount of prep time, so I wasn’t going to rewrite every encounter or move things about wholesale. I just wanted to add a bit of flavour where I could and bring the characters into the heart of the plot.

This is where my players really come into their own. I simply asked everyone to say what they’d been up to in the game months since emerging from Nightwrym Fortress. How was the epic destiny going to manifest? What had changed? Whatever really. Danurai had sent out a pre-emptive shot with this e-mail from before game night:

With the hissing crash of a wave breaking on a shingle beach the planar skiff materialized in the grounds of the ruined Keep above Winterhaven. A tall man stood on the prow of the ship clad in brown and grey snakeskin which appeared to writhe around him and an inky black cloak clasped in place with a plain silver brooch. He wore an obsidian mask carved with the visage of a handsome drow but the ivory horns curling above them and the purple glow of his eyes from within the mask identified the traveller as the Tiefling known as Raelthos the Radiant.

Carefully re-rolling the scroll in his hands he replaced it in a carved ivory case. In the blink of an eye his form collapsed into smoke that rolled off the deck of the ship and re-formed on the rocky ground beside him a magical horse formed made purely of Obsidian it ducked it’s head and pawed the earth a clicking sound of stone on stone. Quickly mounting his steed Raelthos wheeled once gesturing to the Githyanki captain before galloping off towards the tower of Valthrun the prescient. Somewhere in Valthrun’s books was the key to unlocking the secret of the scroll and the ring of Lady Janstine Helltalon.

Julio’s retort:

From the shadows of a nearby bluff Flynn slouched idly rolling a platinum piece across his knuckles. “Hmmm” he mused “Tiefling’s back then…”Flynn paused, his head cocked to one side “good to have him back I reckon….still a ponce mind”.

Heh.

Stevie went with the idea that his Shadar Kai swordmage has become a devoted acolyte of the Raven Queen. He had fasted and undergone many rituals in a far flung temple devoted to her. He’d handed over all his loot to the priests and set out into the world refreshed and renewed. Cool.

Julio plays Flynn the Rogue. What had he been doing?

Setting up a fake temple to the Raven Queen and buying some second hand robes. Made a stack of cash out of one idiot.

Priceless.

Love it. Stacks of character getting us off to a great start. I knew I had to raise my game.

If you don’t know the first encounter in Deaths Reach, it’s fairly basic as written. There’s a street scene, a Marut appears to give the party a message from the raven Queen, and then the bad guys launch a mounted ambush. To give it some extra oomph, I set the street scene in Moonstair, from the adventure King of the Trollhaunt warrens. I also set it at night during the monthly opening of the moon gate. I went for a post celebration vibe with the taverns full and couples stumbling drunkenly down alleyways as the party sat on the town fountain and caught up. Then I had time freeze completely and the statue in the fountain come to life and address the characters while water flowed from his hands. As the statue finished, the clatter of hooves announced the arrival of the Ebon Riders. Roll for initiative!

The monsters were utterly trounced in short order (epic characters are rock hard!), but the adventure  was properly underway. The party stepped through the portal to Zvomarana….

To be continued

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Role playing opportunities

The comments on my recent Defence of H/P/E  post got me thinking. ‘Roleplaying opportunities’ were mentioned twice, one saying there weren’t any, one saying how good they were. Can’t both be right surely? or can they! I think it depends on your viewpoint.

One of the many ways that 4e has changed my gaming perspective is in the way I now see roleplaying. I used to be quite the snob about it. If you weren’t adding in loads of description and being all extroverted at the table you weren’t a roleplayer in my book (I never went as far as using the term rollplayer, so give me some credit!) I was always wishing for more from my players, more colour, more energy, more engagement with the plots, more authorship of the plots, everything I called roleplaying frankly. You’d think that after 30 years of dissatisfaction I’d have wised up a while back, but no, it took 4e to show me what I’d been overlooking all that time. It’s this: people get their gaming fun in all kinds of ways, and all those ways are completely valid so long as they’re not cramping someone elses. Hell, even if it does cramp someone elses, it could still be worth it if the group benefits as a whole.

I know, I know, hardly a revelatory insight. Yet I’d gotten too caught up in what I thought was right. I’ve read all the GMing advice and I’ve always managed to make it fit my own theories and prejudices, thus making it a vicious circle (9th level Lurker). The 4e DMG finally put me on the right track, and my weekly gaming group really demonstrated the possibilities of  just relaxing a little and letting the game run the way it really wanted to. Let me give you an example. I’ll use Julio, one of my oldest mates and I think we’ve been gaming together for about 20 years now. We definitely don’t play the same way. I like being all chatty and intrigue-y, Jules likes being dead hard and dominating battles. For years now I’ve always thought I was the better roleplayer, but nowadays I realise that’s just bollocks. We’re just getting our roleplaying jollies in different ways. Jules is a sublime roleplayer and I know he values his character and his gaming. If he didn’t, he wouldn’t have shown up all these times. From the same vintage, Marky. He’s pretty quiet. I used to worry he was sitting bored, but again, he votes with his feet every single week. These guys are absolutely roleplayers, but they are taking their RP opportunities from slightly different places that I do.

Here’s what I don’t believe is the totality of roleplaying: standing up at the table, speaking in an outrageous accent, adding lengthy and hyper detailed descriptions to every sword swing, having a page long character background, refusing to fight, being a dark, edgy loner. As for roleplaying opportunities in scenarios? I don’t believe that always means enigmatic NPCs, labyrinthine plots, politics, factions, murder mysteries, masked balls or even skill challenges. Trouble is, I think that’s what a lot of people do mean when they talk about RP. Combat? unworthy of real roleplaying. Magic items? flavourless mechanical devices. NPCs? Now you’re talking!

And that’s rot. Talky bits in scenarios are not the only RP opportunities, they’re everywhere. I can see the opportunity in taking an extended rest: with enchantments, bedrolls, watches, disease worries, spell books, martial practice, breakfast, inspiring words. Jeez, you could very easily get a decent chapter in a fantasy novel out of just that. And here’s the important bit, it doesn’t need to be acted out in minutiae in order to count. As long as it’s got the potential to be a memory, it’s roleplaying. I love the day after a game, it’s where I rerun the cool scenes in my head, at my own pace. I remember the visuals, even tough they weren’t necessarily described that way on the night. I smell the blood, I feel the cloth, I taste the danger. Yet at the time, it might occasionally sound like we’re talking purely in numbers.

I do believe it is every person at the tables responsibility to ‘colour in’ their character wherever possible, to advertise the things that are on their character sheets. But you know what? I’m fine with ‘I attack with my longsword’, honestly I am. It actually annoys me now when players try to Stunt every single bloody thing. It’s like they’re competing for the experience points. Here’s another example. My missus likes to say that she is not a roleplayer. She likens it to cringe making Am Dram at it’s worst, all self conscious and me me me. She gets quite passionate about it! Thing is, she’s a great roleplayer. She adores her character, and fights her corner at every session. She’s written a novel for Gods sake, and her next is a fantasy story inspired by our game. She’s even thinking about DMing for the first time ever. She has two different colours of dice and tries one set out at the start of each session to see who’s running hot. Her character has a well deserved reputation for looking after number one. She taunts people who hang back from the action. She plays her character, and when she can’t be there all the others know exactly what she’d do in every situation. Yeah, she’s a roleplayer alright.

So, these modules for me are packed with roleplaying opportunities. They might not be obvious from a read through, but they definitely come out in play. When steve’s character yells ‘Come and Get It!’, he’s just provided an opportunity, and everyone else grabs it. These mods might not have many ‘conversations with the mayor about trade embargoes’ but they put a skeleton for adventure in front of your characters. The opportunities are there, you just need to grab them, and stop sweating about the ways people do.

Word.

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Hardcore rules

Just so you know, I’ve got an aim for this blog. I want it to be a good read first and foremost.  I think it is, largely, and my commenters seem to agree. What i find odd though is how the most popular blogs seem to be the ones that are a bit more, rulesy (?) than this one. So in the spirit of “if you canm’t beat ‘em, join ‘em”, I proudly present the stats from our last session of Trollhaunt Warrens. All compiled by the ever lovely Danurai. Enjoy.

Party%20Stats%20latest

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Does anyone remember nostalgia?

I’m very much a new school gamer, with a weekly 4e game still going great guns. That said, my RPG roots are in the late 70s/early 80s and I have an enormous affection for those days. Every now and again I have a bit of a wallow in my old books and magazines, just to get all misty eyed about the old days.

Yesterday was a case in point. It was the funeral of an old friend of mine, so I guess that must have kickstarted the ‘looking back’ mood to an extent. It’s also very wintery here at the moment, there’s snow on the ground and Christmas just around the corner. Overall, a killer combination.

So, with the family at the playschool for an hour I nestled up with my original copy of  ‘Moldvay’ Basic D&D from the red box. Just the illustrations are incredibly evocative of being 11 years old again. To complete the mood I dug out a record that, for me, brings back the early eighties par excellence: Pelican West by Haircut 100. Yeah, I know, it’s hardly the coolest choiuce but that doesn’t matter. When I was learning my gaming chops I spent many, many hours sitting on the  floor of my bedroom drawing dungeons in my maths exercise books.   The soundtrack to those years was limited by my tape collection of about 3 albums. I truly loved that Haircut 100 album, even though it’s very much the black sheep of my tastes then and now.  Suffice to say, 30 secounds of Favourite Shirts and I’m back painting that rust monster all over again.

For me, thinking back over gaming experiences is a vital part of the hobby. Mostly that concerns last weeks game but occasionally it can be about old campaigns or gaming groups from decades past. In fact, isn’t that what gaming is all about, the making of memories? I think it is, and so for me nostalgia will always be a joyful thing.

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Why didn’t I think of that?

A lot of DMs are still searching for the holy grail of initiative/condition/hits tracking for 4e. I thought I’d tried it all until I saw this pic over at Newbie DM’s site. It’s actually from Mike Shea the guy behind the excellent Sly Flourish blog. Check it out.

Whos next?

Who's next?

 

Now, the hanging cards are NOT what made me haave a facepalm moment (cool though they are), it was the Post-It notes actually stuck into the adventure book! Sheer genius, utterly simple, mindblowingly obvious in hindsight. I probably won’t use the initiative cards idea, but the hit point tracking is getting in on the game as of this week.

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The Digital GM

If you are in any way a fan of digital tools at your tabletop, or when you’re deep into your prep then you need to pay attention.

Get Onenote.

It’s packaged in with MS Office 2007 and frankly, it’s worth the price of admission on it’s own. I’ve only scratched the surface of it’s capabilities and it’s spurring me on to create more gaming goodness than I really have time for.

Any tips or tricks you know of?

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Sleepless in Spellgard

This in from Danurai:

Fáelán squinted up at the weak winter sun, then spat on the dry ruins of Spellgard.
“They passed by here not three days hence.”
He waggled his fingers in the air and muttered under his breath, like he was petting a dog. Big bloody dog if he was, his companion thought.

The two had been travelling together for a couple of weeks now, tracking the small group that the woman had described. They’d found the cave where her daughter had been held, empty now except for the rotting corpses of it’s previous foul denizens, and picked up the wagon trail to Spellgard and the ruins of the north wall where they now stood.

“We doin’ this or what?” Rumbled the big man. With a voice like gravel and skin like rock he was the physical embodiment of the land he was sworn to protect.
“Aye,” replied the Fáelán, “there’s unnatural doings down there. C’mon Lupa.”
The warden ducked as he followed the wild elf through the broken doorway, and shrugged to himself, why did he keep calling him ‘Lupa’?

The corpses here were much fresher, a few days old at most, and the trail of destruction was easy to follow. Fáelán grinned to himself, from the tracks he was sure they had a Drow with them, no-one else had mentioned a renegade. They’d waded through the underground stream and clambered through the tombs,the dank, dark tunnels reeked of death and decay. The wild elf quickly raised his hand to call a halt, faint strains of a familiar tune echoed through the darkness, amplified by the spirits for Fáelán alone, the screams and shouts of battle joined.

“Lupus, garbh!” the shaman whispered. With a sudden feral roar like a crack of thunder, a ghostly wolf leapt ahead of them. Spear held low Fáelán sprinted after his spirit guide.

“So that’s Lupus” the goliath mused as he unsheathed his full sword and rumbled after them.

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D&D 4e: the verdict

Having now played all the way through Keep on the Shadowfell (including 4 extra sessions at Continuum) I now feel like I’ve got a well formed set of opinions on D&D 4e. To be honest, I think any game needs decent table time to really check out the nooks and crannys.

My players; my wife, always up for a challenge, hardly ever roleplyed except in an abortive Trail of Cthulhu session. My old gaming mate Steve who got into gaming with D&D 3.0, and his partnet Tracy, another newbie. Dan, a lapsed gamer who did some White Wolf stuff back in the day. Finally Julio, and Mark, both of whom I’ve been playing with for years, the most experienced and rounded gamers. A mixed bag of experience to be sure.

The Good

 

Powers
Loving these in general, and some I’m loving in particular. The at will/encounter/daily split really works well for my group. Took a little getting our heads round at first, but soon enough there were ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ when dailys got announced. Shame so many poor rolls mess ‘em up. The at wills were a boon for the players as they replace the tendency to simply say ‘I attack’. As I said, my players are all different but one thing they have in common is that they aren’t natural extroverts so their roleplaying can be quite internalised, for want of a better word. I believe the powers system helped bring their actions to life.

Party Balance
Everyone ot to be a part of the game, for the whole of the game. I never once saw a yawn at the table, nor did I ever see anyone want to take a step back from the spotlight. It also makes my life as a DM easier if I know I don’t have to pull any punches, or otherwise make allowances for characters. There’s no starter class anymore either, the fighter has as much complexity as the wizard, who isn’t an overwhelming choice for the newbie either.

Dragonborn
They’re cool. I can picture them in the scenes. Wish they had tails though.

Warlocks
The three different types are a nice touch and they feel like they deserve a place in todays fantasy settings.

Warlords
Again, a class that was needed in the core. This one didn’t get a whole lot of use in my games, but when it did we all liked what we saw. maybe it’s just because it’s new and still shiny, but I can picture the moves he pulls off. It could so easily have just been a support character which was great for the rest of the party and not so much for the actual player. I think they got the design just right.

Encounter building
Simple, straightforward and fun, couldn’t really ask for much more. Whenever my group size changed due to real life getting in the way or whatever, it was really easy to make the right adjustments. You can definitely see the difference in the monster roles and I like that as a DM I get to play groups rather than a single high level magic user as the Big Bad.

Experience awards
Compared to CR charts? I’m never looking back.

Quests
My players have always had a tendency to go ‘off mission’ which is fine and all, except half the time it was because they forgot what the basic mission was in the first place! I didn’t think these would work but they have. It’s also a nice way of pacing level gains.

Healing surges
Earthdawn got this right a long time ago. Good to see it in D&D. I wasn’t a fan of Wands of CLW and all the associated number crunching. The players love the Second Wind mechanic too.

Crits
They got cheers at my table, what else does a game want?

Skill challenges
Didn’t get many chances to use them, but i’m intrigued by the possibilities. I kept some secret from the players and some public. They went better than the forums would have you believe. I’m ooking forward to putting more of them in future games.

The DM
A good read from start to finish, that, to my surprise, was actually useful. It does exactly what it says in the title, and that’s without the crutch of magic item lists.

Magic items
Speaking of which… We have only gotten to third level so there’s not many in our game yet, but I can see how they are going to add flavour to the characters without replacing the characters.

Action points
The players love using them, and when they do, exciting things happen. In slow motion in my mind.

Minions
Yep. Good. Not to be underestimated. Still unsure as to whether or not I’d like them to be a little stickier though.

Monster abilities
Fun for me, a surprise for the players. And the abiities don’t overwhelm either, I feel like I’m doing the game justice when I’m running the monsters. Lack of study prep doesn’t hurt either.

The DM screen
Good design, no logos, clear rules with page references, sturdy. Shame about one chart being wrong, but the biggest shame is that I’ve never had to use it as a reference!

The poster maps
Better than I can draw on a battlemap, that’s for sure. Also, they’re exactly thhe sort of thing that you can take for granted with D&D, there’s not many other games that give you this level of support.

Nentir Vale
It’s like Karameikos.

And then there’s the parts of the game that, while not outright bad, still need to convince me. They’re not dealbreakers, but they are a little stone in my shoe.

Immobilised and Slow
I have difficulty seeing them working in my minds eye. The ghoul attacks, the character is immobilised, yet it can still attack? Same for Slow, you can still run?

Alignment
I liked it before, but wasn’t precious about keeping them either. What we got was a compromise and I can’t understand the point of it.

Area attacks as squares
I know, I know, but Shock Sphere has a clue in the title.

Healing skill use in combat
Another difficult immersion breaker for me, and not incredibly needed either, so why not make it different? Players always ask if they can use healing Word outside of combat to avoid using up surges. I dunno, it just doesn’t sit right with the rest of the game.

Marking, combat challenges and opportunity attacks
The only rules I have to read before every session and I still make bad calls during the game. when the paladin and the fighter double teamed kobolds my brain hurt.

Stats all being good
I like the idea of flaws, and although D&D has never had disadvantages, I liked seeing low stats as a characterisation thing. The whole 3-18 thing is pretty much gone now I suppose.

The need for 5 players, rather than 4
Means a doubling up of roles. Makes the game slower. Harder to get the group together. Essentially more cons than pros.

Compulsory minis
Which I can’t buy to order, that’s the issue! Thank God for Fiery Dragon.

Milestones
Doesn’t feel natural, and makes Action Points slightly less neat to track to.

The pregens and sheets
Looked like a last minute job, and were the very first thing my players changed. The pictures didn’t represent the characters, some of the rules were wrong or incomplete, and info was small and easily lost. Bah.

Tieflings
Silly looking. Name makes me smirk, not a great first impression.

Charge & Run actions
Should be simple to understand, yet I keep having to look it up between games?

Finally, there’s the parts of the game I haven’t yet fully encountered. We’ll see…

D&D Insider
I need this to be good, and I’m getting increasingly annoyed it’s not ready yet,

Rituals
Not used ‘em yet. Sorry. It hasn’t come up.

Power creep
I’d like to be able to buy new interesting books for sure, but I just haave this sinking feeling…

Tiers
I’m a dyed in the wool heroic type player and DM, but I’m looking forward to something a bit more out there.

Rangers/Eladrin/Elves
No-one’s played them yet. If I get the chance to play I want to give one of these a run out.

So there you have it. All my opinion of course. In summary: it’s a great game that’s given half a dozen gamers three solid months of good times, with no end of that in sight. I’m happy. You?

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Keep on the Shadowfell 8?

We continue…

No rest for the wicked as the cube encounter continues, without the cube naturally, and Flynn does his thing scouting ahead. the chamber beyond has the sarcophagi which elicits raised eyebrows from the players, and rightly so as it turns out. Rhogar is shamed as he is too weak to pull open the lid, so Sebastian shows him how it should be done, and the corruption corpses spill out in a wave of guts and bile!

The party unleashes everything they’ve got at the poor unfortunate undead. Sebastian goes for a charge but his platemail slows him up and he ffalls just short. Lucky for him as kallista’s magic missile drops the corpse who explodes in a shower of vomit and blood! I really like these monster abilities that key off of bloodied or down or whatever. They’re abilities the pcs don’t have but that just means they can’t second guess things, keeps it interesting. Traditionally this group never struggles with undead, and so it goes again. About 4 rounds and it’s all over and it’s on to the treasure chamber. I decided to put some extra loot in the chest as the scenario has been a bit stingy so far. Marky had been good enough to write up a ‘most wanted’ list and I was happy to add in a couple of snacky little items for the party.

Next up, the chamber of statues. It didn’t take a perception check to know that something was up and sure enough they were ready and waiting for the statues to animate. Kallista pulled off a nice diversion with Prestidigitation, allowing Flynn to make a run for it to the east of the chamber. He was out of reach of the titan, but the dragon statues with their force breath had their stony gazes on him. Julio pulled off a great move combo with a run, a tumble and an action point for an extra shift, which had him just out running the titans sword slashes. The look on his face when the force walls went up around him and the cherubs started pouring in the water! The rest of the party surges forward to assist, ‘Lock and Wizard dropping the fire as Sebastian engages with his maul. The titan isn’t quite as tough as he looks but keeps the attention away from Flynn as his head goes underwater. Clara and Moon’ start to unravel the cherubs magics while the defenders hack away. Flynn is doing everything he can, but the water flings him every which way. Eventually it’s Sebastian who smashed the second stautue and the force walls drop leaving an embarrassed wet rogue lying on the ground.

The party moves on to the next chamber looking for loot and finding only zombies! Kallista makes short work of them with a great combo of scorching hands, action points and shock sphere. I’m gonna have to beef up the undead threats!

Down the stairs they can hear the chanting of the Orcus faithful. Is the end in sight?

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