Sunday, August 30, 2015

5th Edition Keep on the Borderlands, Part II

Tonight I ran a 5th ed game for the same two players from my Sunday game. In addition, they brought a friend who had never played before. (Though she is familiar with WoW and other forms of nerdery, so the concepts were not completely foreign to her.)

I switched some of the monsters, mainly because the comparative power levels in 5th edition are different. An ogre, for instance, has far more hit points, so I swapped it out with an ogrillon.

The party learned that casting thunderwave is a terrible idea in a cramped series of tunnels, especially one patrolled by various humanoid guards. While this lead to some unnecessary combat, it also lead them to discover a trapdoor I placed under the rubbish in room #2. (For those of you with the module...)

Since my Friday game hasn't run in over a month and isn't running this coming Friday, I've pretty much come to a conclusion: Top down campaign design is a waste of time. The more time I put into developing a campaign world, the less screen time it gets.

My campaign background for Keep is a paragraph at most, even with my changes to it.

It's interesting to see how the generation after me games. I've noticed that the party doesn't hire henchmen or hirelings, but rather seek out one or two NPCs to fill specific gaps in the party. They also do not attempt to parley with the monsters at all. This may get them into trouble later in the caves, though their ability to take advantage of bottlenecks has served them well.

Shade Isle campaign continues tomorrow.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Keep on the Borderlands as Wretched Hive, Perpetual Distraction, and Impatience

This weekend turned into a D&D double header.

While my quickly fading "Fables of Albadia" game didn't run on Friday, I ended up running some last minute 5e at a place called Underground Gaming with two of the folks from John's Sunday game. I ran a modified Keep on the Borderlands for them, where the Keep wasn't a bastion from which brave adventurers strike out at Chaos, but rather the armpit of civilization where scoundrels and ne'er do wells gather to try and make a buck scavenging the treasures of the Old Kingdom. Sadly we didn't get very far, but we can always continue it later.

Sunday was John's game, but I must confess I was distracted to the point where I was barely there. The beginning of a new school year has me scrambling about as usual, and my mind was consumed with lesson plans and revised syllabi and emergency plans in case I die or whatever and my gradebook wasn't set up.... blah blah teacher problems. I'll do better next week. Henrik, my character, killed a bunch of stuff with his machine gun. I'll do better next week, hopefully as everything falls into place this week.

We're supposed to return to BTS this Thursday, so I'm looking forward to that. My Friday game isn't running, so perhaps Friday or Saturday I'll run some more Keep on the Borderlands: Sketchy Edition. (I may have neglected to mention, but I ran it using 5th edition rules. ) Sunday will be John's game and hopefully my head won't be in the clouds again.

Bottom line: I should take my work email off of my phone. 

I've emailed Monte Cook Games because the Cypher rulebook I ordered 6 days ago is still "processing." I'm hoping it will ship soon.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Save vs. Bleh

Not a great week for gaming.

Thursday game is just character building for the new guys, so I'm sitting it out tonight. D&D 5e is cancelled again and my enthusiasm for it is fading slightly, given that we've played it exactly once in the last month. I still have the Sunday game to look forward to, though, and next week Thursdays should be back to BTS and Fridays will hopefully resume.

I keep getting things from Christian in the mail and I dig them. Most welcome distractions from pre-approved credit card offers and pizza place coupons and shit I keep getting from the AARP even though I'm 33.

I keep getting pirate-streaming clickbait spam comments from some douche named Delowara Begum, who is either a spambot or just and enormous fuckwad. I have no idea how to block him and it's kind of pissing me off.

I ordered the Cypher System core book as an early birfday present to myself. I wanted to buy it from a local gaming store, but none of the four I went to had it... even the one that stocks almost every product for Numenera and The Strange. I need another game system like I need a sucking chest wound, but it's a beautiful looking book and I like a lot of the design mechanisms I've seen in Numenera. (I haven't even taken the plastic off of my copy of The Strange. I rule.)

Finally, two missives of crankiness:

1. I'm just not that into you, Forgotten Realms. We flirted a couple of times when I was in high school but you just aren't that interesting.

2. Fucking everything has Cthulhu in it. Blah blah tentacles blah blah insanity blah blah horrible things from beyond time and blah. What else you got?

See you guys next week.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

A Thousand Dead Babies and One Wiped Party

Last night, one of my three 5th edition players was unable to make the game, so I decided to run a one-shot instead. I settled on a modified version of LotFP as the system and A Thousand Dead Babies as the module. 

They died. They still kind of won, but they died. 

Spoilers follow. Ye have been warned.

The party consisted of a cleric-witchfinder and her warrior companion. The two of them were summoned by Father MacKenzie to help him root out the rumors of witchcraft and demon worship around Carroc. 

The PCs did pretty well for most of the adventure. They managed to investigate the right people and places. The warrior did discover Father MacKenzie's little affair, but he was sympathetic to the good Father and kept a lid on it, even from his companion. 

Our cleverboots heroes managed to actually get the drop on the Goat of the Woods, ambushing him while he was being carried toward the ritual with the baby. A daring parkour move accompanied by a natural 20 allowed the warrior to wrest the baby from the Goat's surprised hands, followed by a perfectly placed arrow to one of the cultists bearing the sedan, dumping the Goat and allowing them to escape. They managed to slip back to the church and give the baby over to the priest before going back into the woods to try and take care of bid'ness. 

The party manged to lure the Goat away from his followers and ambush him, killing him quickly. Evading the cultists, they decided they were going to ambush and slay the Black Knight. What they didn't realize is part of their victory over the Goat was the fact that I couldn't roll higher than a 6 on his attack rolls. 

Although equipped with a number of cleric spells that would've been immensely helpful in slaying the Black Knight, the players were tired OOC and it was getting late, so they decided just to attack the Black Knight straight up. While they did a lot better than I thought, even bringing the Black Knight to less than 50% hit points. he rolled snakeeyes on a morale check and and fought to the death... the death, of course, being our poor player characters. 

In the aftermath, the Goat was slain and the cult dispersed. They never found any of the druidic pagans, so the status quo stayed the same. With the bassinet ownerless, it remains hidden in the woods, hopefully never to be found. The one surviving baby is in the care of the Father and will probably become an acolyte of the Holy Church. Father MacKenzie also sent for another witchfinder to figure out who was in the cult, so there are some potentially dark times ahead for Carroc...not that it really concerns the PCs anymore, since they're buried behind the town's church.

My Lamentations one-offs always seem to have bittersweet/grim endings. Go figure. 

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

In Which I Download Some Stuff From Neoplastic Press

Earlier today I received an email from Neoplastic Press announcing several sales and freebies. I ended up grabbing Lusus Naturae, The Starship From Hell, and ViewScream.

Lusus Naturae is a monster book for Lamentations of the Flame Princess, though you could use it with pretty much any OSR type game without a lot of fuss. LN is filled with fucked up monsters that make absolutely no sense and completely own it. Many of them are cool, but some get kind of samey. Ah, another four legged centipede thing with vaginas for eyes and if you kill it the campaign world ends. Don't get me wrong, it's good, but I can only do so many variations on the Abstract Unrelenting Horror thing before I start getting a bit numb to it. The monsters in this book are, IMO, best used sparingly in a campaign where most of the antagonists are humans or animals. A good portion of the monsters are unique entities. For the present price of $6.66 (yes, we see what you did there) it's a good buy. 

The Starship From Hell is a delightful system-neutral generator that gives you the classic "starship in distress," with a lot of damned interesting premises. It's very Lamentations-flavored and has some implied setting details, (most of which point to a baroque and fairly awful universe) but with a little replacement of proper nouns you could drop this mofo into Stars Without Number, X-Plorers... hell, you could rock any non-OSR sci-fi game with this. It's actually my favorite of the three downloads today and is presently Free Ninety-Nine, if you know what I'm saying. 

ViewScream is a live action RPG meant to be played over Hangouts or Skype or something where you can see the other players as faces on a view screen. I'm actually not so much interested in playing or running this as I am in studying it. It's presently free because Mister Chandler is working on a second edition.

I dig on Chandler. His stuff is crazy gross metal, so if you're not really into that, his work probably isn't your jam. However, his work is clever and visceral and it isn't schlock for the sake of schlock. 

This stuff isn't my first Chandler rodeo. I also have No Salvation for Witches (a module he wrote for LotFP) and Pandemonio. (A squicky horror/action game using only d12s!) 

On a totally unrelated note, my Middle Eastern-flavored 5th edition game continues on Friday, with the party exploring the abandoned (?) ruins of the poisoners' guild hideout north of Agrama. 

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Shade Isle Campaign, 8/9

Delving further into the Trials in Shade Abbey, our group ran across puzzles and combat. One of the puzzles was color-based and was embarrassingly difficult for our group.

One was a language puzzle, which as an English teacher I'm kind of ashamed I didn't get.

My character, Henrik, killed 23 stirges in one round, thanks to geometry. And explosives.

Henrik obtained a new machine gun, which he has dubbed Harvester.

Our poor gnome Connor, a green wizard, just kept taking damage. I think he took enough damage to kill Henrik several times over.

Tonight I did a lot of thinking about my character. The game John runs is an exploration-heavy sandbox...a hex crawl filled with dungeon crawls, if you will. While his NPCs are colorful and fully realized, I find that our party is a bit...blank when it comes to roleplaying, motivations, etc. However, as I spent time this session reflecting on how my play style has changed, I figured out that he does have a little bit of development to him:

-He's an abject coward, except when he can safely massacre groups of enemies from a distance with his various technological devices.
-While he used to be interested in history and architecture, he has slowly morphed to become interested only by revenge and the acquisition of more technology, particularly weaponry.
-He disapproves of torture and destruction he deems unnecessary, but will firebomb a room full of Shade Abbey cultists without a second thought.
-Henrik shows no sense of camaraderie or kinship with any other members of the party. While not hostile or unpleasant, he is distant from all of them, preferring to work with them only on a professional basis. This might be exacerbated by the deaths of various NPCs that he was fond of. In fact, the only person Henrik displays actual friendliness toward is Kayla Kleckenklamp, the chief alchemist/engineer of Dammendal. (Yes John, I know I've mangled your spellings and left out umlauts and various other accents. I might also have messed up Kleckenklamp's first name. Yolo.)

So here we have a guy who was once a pretty harmless scholar, interested mostly in academic things. The harsh realities of life on Shade Isle, and his bitterness at having been exiled for having "superior" scientific insight have changed him. Having no use for theory, his view on technology is now extremely practical. On Shade Isle, that usually means building a bigger weapon. He dreams of massive engines of destruction with which he can revenge himself on the Black Prince of Dolheim. He's no longer interested in making friends, since they often die horribly. He sees the rest of the party as business partners working together for mutual gain. He finds the arrangement suitable.

Friday, August 7, 2015

In Which I Get Another Thing from Christian

Another delightful envelope showed up in my mailbox today, nestled lovingly next to my wife's yoga magazine. Inside said envelope was another one sheet 'zine from one of my oldest blog pals. It's a mini-dungeon, written for AD&D 2nd edition, that can be easily slotted into another dungeon (yo dawg I heard you like dungeons) or as a curious discovery in a sandbox setting.

I shan't spoil the nature of said dungeon, as some of my players read this blog from time to time and I plan to use this one mostly as-is, but I shall share my favorite line from the map key:

"C. Bedroom. A place to rest during long nights of committing crimes against nature."

In the words of my students: that shit had me straight clownin'.

In other news, the Friday game is canceled tonight for various reasons. I have also called a season's end/cliffhanger for Rifts Madhaven until the next time Steven needs a break. My only gaming this week will be John's Sunday game, though perhaps some 5e for whoever is free Monday evening could work, too.

Thanks again, Christian!

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Shade Isle Campaign, 8/2

Meant to post this on Sunday but whatevs.

I felt a bit lost for a lot of the session since I missed a ton of stuff last week. For one, the session started off with us jacking a necromancer.

Other highlights: (not in any particular order at all)
-Gnome druid totally not falling for disguised hag and dumping her in her own oven
-The brawler with a dex penalty getting a crit with his musket and delivering the kill shot on a spectator. (Spectator as in the beholder's dweeby little cousin) Come to think of it, why is he using a musket? Henrik could totally build him a better gun.
-I got what amounts to a steampunk 3D printer, with which my character can duplicate small and simple technological items.
-Us totally not suspecting a village full of rural bumpkins actually being a cult that worships a dark power and them totally turning out to be a cult that worships a dark power. (As a DM who has used this trick, I'm shocked I didn't see it coming.)
-Had a brief dream-chat with the god of death/the underworld.

Thus ends my last gaming session for the summer (we teachers start back this Wednesday, though no students until next Wednesday) It was a great summer for gaming. I'm excited about my new D&D game and the Sunday game will keep rolling on.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Semi-Surprise DM Duty

So I ended up running some 5e yesterday for two of the other players in Johns' Sunday game. They wanted to learn 5e and I'm new enough that I could use the practice, so I finally read through the booklet that comes with the Starter Set. Pretty basic scenario, but I could grok it on the short term. I even busted out my Reaper Bones for the first time ever. (I have the first set from the original KS.)

I think 5e is pretty solid. It's got a bit more mechanical and tactical complexity than earlier editions, but not into 3e territory. It has feats, but they're fewer in number, mechanically light, and totally optional. Spending hit die smells faintly of healing surges, but I find the mechanic more palatable and the party can get by without a cleric if it has to.

Incidentally, we ended up playing in the basement of the same awesome comics/coffee shop where I originally ran my Stars Without Number campaign a few years ago, and where Steven ran his Beyond the Supernatural game for a time. (He's been considering a return there as well)

We aren't running my 5e Albadia game this Friday unfortunately, so I'm not sure when my next chance to DM will be.

Gah...if only I could combine gaming groups.... scheduling is the bane of gaming, I tell you.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

I Steal Maps

When I was a kid playing Cyclopedic D&D in the early 90's, I used to love drawing maps. I'm sure they were awful, being scribbled out by a ten year old whose main world design influence was Final Fantasy IV on the Super Nintendo.

Somewhere on the long trudge into adulthood, I grew to hate making maps. Perhaps hate is too strong a word, but I became extremely uncomfortable with it. I found myself obsessing over things like scale and proper population density and how far apart villages should be to maintain a sense of realism. I spent a lot of time making maps that contained a million details that were never going to come up in play and that my players never gave a crap about.

So now I steal maps.

Well, sort of.

I make most of my overland maps using the tools over at Wizardawn and I take (and repurpose) my dungeon maps from Dyson's blog, of which I am a huge fan. In fact, three of the four dungeons I've placed in my 5e campaign's starting area are taken from Dyson. (The other is taken from the thing Christian recently mailed to me.) I fancy myself good at stocking dungeons, but I'm absolutely terrible at creating maps that I'm satisfied with.

Do I lose street cred for this? 

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Jeff's 20 Questions for my 5e Game

So I did Jeff's "twenty questions" thing from some years ago for my brand new 5th edition campaign. The post is kind of long and is mainly intended for my players, but feel free to give it a gander if you wish. I stole liberally from Al-Qadim, but my setting isn't Al-Qadim.

1. What is the deal with my cleric's religion?
 Depends on the religion:
*If you adhere to Samadala, your character is a monotheist who enjoys the backing of the Albadian government. Clerics of the god Samad are very similar to "standard" D&D  clerics. Expect daily prayer, celibacy, and not eating certain meats. You are also expected to help the helpless, right wrongs, and kill monsters. Note that the latter duties apply to clerics; ordinary priests are not expected to fight.
*If you adhere to Ormasdism, you're kind of the same, but you're allowed to have a family and you're more prone to the wandering Don Quixote thing because your religion says that Ormasd and Ahriman are equally powerful.
*If you adhere to the Temple of Ten Thousand Gods, you're a bit more mystical and less martial. This religion is very populist and looks after the common folk. 
*If you are a Sihilist, you're probably a monk, not a cleric. Expect lots of meditation, stretching, and montages where you punch rocks/trees and pray facing the sunrise.
*If you follow the Old Ways, you're a druid who pays homage to the Lords of Flame, Sea, Sand, and Wind... or possibly just one of them. Expect vague visions about things you need to do and seeing omens in nature. Also expect to protect the natural world from that which is unnatural.

2. Where can we go to buy standard equipment? 
Cities all have marketplaces and bazaars where you can procure just about anything. Smaller towns and villages tend not to carry much gear of interest to adventurers unless they are on or near a hostile frontier. Merchant caravans can be found on the roads crisscrossing the desert and will often overcharge, since where else are you going to get a lantern in the middle of the sand dunes?

3. Where can we go to get plate mail custom fitted for this monster I just befriended?
Most large cities have artisan armorers. Spoiler warning: it's going to be expensive. The capital city of Maruk is host to the greatest craftsmen in the land.

4. Who is the mightiest wizard in the land? 
Bakar al-Ramad, master of the Great Academy in Qalam.

5. Who is the mightiest warrior in the land? 
  In public, you'd probably better say the Caliph, Suliman the Righteous. When not in public, you can probably say Ramalaan Mansoor, a wandering monster slayer believed to have slain a blue dragon in single combat.

6. Who is the richest person in the land?
Fahd Othman, an ambitious merchant prince who dominates sea trade. Rumor has it that he's a legitimate business man and a devout Samadalan.

7. Where can we go to get some magical healing?
Holy men and wise women. You can find the former in most large temples and the latter in some out of the way places. 

8. Where can we get cures for the following conditions: poison, disease, curse, level drain, lycanthropy, polymorph, alignment change, death, undeath?
Poison and disease can be treated by mundane physicians and village healers, although magical healing is available from temples, hakima (wise women) and the odd shrine priest. Curses, level drain, lycanthropy, and alignment change are cured by clerical magic. The best sources for that are temples in medium or large population centers, or being able to find a hakima on the outskirts of civilization. Death is never cured. Undeath is cured by destroying the undead.

9. Is there a magic guild my MU belongs to or an order I can join to get more spells?
Wizards are typically trained by a magical academy. There are two in Albadia: One in Qalam, the City of Scholars, and one in the royal capital of Maruk. Even after graduating, former students are welcome to visit their academy to exchange magical knowledge. Sorcerers and warlocks, for obvious reasons, are not part of these academies.

10. Where can I find an alchemist, sage, or other expert NPC?
Alchemists can be found in medium or large population centers, especially those that contain scholarly institutions. Sages can be found in cities, though there are some who live in remote wilderness places. Experts are usually found in the large cities.

11. Where can I hire mercenaries? 
Unlike many of the other specialists, mercenaries are best hired away from the centers of civilization. Outland tribes, seafaring corsairs, or troops of professional mercenaries. 

12. Is there any place on the map where swords are illegal, magic is outlawed or any other hassle from Johnny Law? 
Weapons and magic are forbidden to all but the Caliph's house staff in his palace. Outside of that, possessing a weapon and using magic in themselves are not considered crimes, but actions that damage or assault others are still crimes. Usurping the will of another is considered a form of assault.

13. Which way to the nearest tavern?
Very nearly every settlement has a tavern and also a coffee house. The town of Agrama, where we've started our campaign, has one inn/tavern/trading post/coffee house, The Mighty Tiger. One of the PCs is temporarily living there. The proprietors are Ghusun, an ogre woman, and an elderly halfling man named Fatin.

14. What monsters are terrorizing the countryside sufficiently that if I kill them I will become famous? 
Here in the northern part of Albadia, the hobogoblins and gnolls are feared for their attacks on border towns. Barbarian tribes from the northern mountains used to be a problem, but they were driven back after a series of border forts were constructed.

15. Are there any wars brewing that I could go fight? 
Conflict between outland tribes is ongoing, as is the threat of mountain barbarians.

16. How about gladiatorial arenas complete with hard-won glory and fabulous cash prizes? 
Not legal ones, no. Gladiatorial combat is considered barbaric. That doesn't mean there aren't tons of underground ones, though.

17. Are there any secret societies with sinister agendas that I could join and/or fight? 
Well, if you already knew about them, they wouldn't be very secret, would they? The PCs have heard rumors about a poisoner's guild that used to have a hideout north of town. (The PCs are currently exploring said hideout) The stories say the townsfolk ran the poisoners out and destroyed them. No way any of them survived, right?

18. What is there to eat around here? 
Bread, meat, and rice, with the wealthier having more meat and the poorer having more rice. Onions, figs, dates, lots of soups and stews. Oh, and don't forget the coffee. Albadians love coffee. 

19. Any legendary lost treasures I could be looking for?
 The Pirate King, Hizir Hyred, is said to have hidden a fabulous treasure "far from the seas." Scholars place that treasure somewhere near Albadia.
The Noor Empire that once ruled this part of the world collapsed suddenly and totally. Noorish treasures hidden away by warlords, decadent nobles, and corrupt priests can be found in all sorts of out of the way places.

20. Where is the nearest dragon or other monster with Type H treasure? 
 The deserts near Agrama are said to be home to a young blue dragon. I'm not quite sure how to translate treasure types into 5e, but it likely possesses the most treasure. A runner up would be the cyclops that is rumored to live in a nearby region.

5th Edition, First Impressions

 Last night, I started my 5th edition campaign, set in the Middle Eastern flavored realm of Albadia.

A lot of the session was roleplay in town. (My wife says my NPCs are fun to talk to) and that whole awkward getting the party together thing. "Sure, I've only known you for ten minutes, but you seem like a solid guy. Let's go crawl around in a dungeon together." I'm also struggling from the transition of totally open sandbox style game back to something that has a present narrative, which is what this group prefers. I sprinkled clues and connections around, but that didn't work so hot so I had to have an NPC ask the PCs to go do something for him. Hopefully all the other clues and connections will come together. We ended the game in the first dungeon since it ended up being later in the evening than we had anticipated. Next week we'll be able to pick up and run, since the party is together and the campaign is established.
Now, a few thoughts on 5th edition itself: 

-Combat runs very much like 3rd edition, but with all the tedious parts cut out of it. No attacks of opportunity for failing to signal half a block before you turn, no five-foot steps, no confirming criticals, none of that. I've also noticed that monster armor class is much, much lower and doesn't suffer from Arbitrary Bonus Syndrome.

-Skills work a lot like they did in 3e, but without the Arbitrary Inflating DC Syndrome. 

-Spellcasters and their infinite cantips aren't nearly as bad as I thought they were going to be. Most cantrips do damage similar to a weapon. Yes, the sorcerer can use dancing lights all the time, but the light isn't as bright as the rogue's lantern. None of the party members felt extraneous. In addition, despite the higher number of spell slots over previous editions, the party's two spell casters hung on to those spells for dear life.

-My wife doesn't really dig on proficiency bonus. She thought that since she had to add it into everything it was a bit pointless, and that perhaps there should just be a penalty for rolling things you aren't proficient with. I can see her argument, but it's not a deal breaker or anything. My other two players haven't commented but sometimes they nearly forgot to add it to various things as well.

Someone (I can't remember who, either someone from a forum or my Sunday group or whatever) said that 5th edition plays a lot like 2nd edition. I disagree completely. I think 5th edition plays like 3rd edition if 3rd edition had been more like an actual edition and not like an attempt at a totally separate game.

So do I like it? So far, so good, but I'm only one session in and most of it was rp and exploration rather than fiddling about with the rules. I don't have anything I actually dislike yet, and I'll go ahead and echo the sentiment that it's a good compromise between older editions and newer editions.