Monday, October 19, 2020

This is the way.

 My d6 Star Wars campaign has floundered. Not from lack of interest. I enjoy running it, and my group enjoys playing it. It's just I don't have that much free time these days. It seems like just keeping up with the games I play in, and running West Marches (which has enough prepped material to run for quite a long time still, as long as the players don't go too far in one direction!) is all I can handle right now. 

But, The Mandalorian Season 2 debuts next week. Well, at the end of next week, so it's closer to 2 weeks away than one, but who's counting? (I am.) 

Hopefully, watching that with the boys will rekindle my desire to run some games set long ago in a galaxy far, far away.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Demon Castle Design

 I've been crunched for time lately, with a journal paper just submitted, a conference presentation to prepare, student homework to grade, and midterms coming up soon. Oh, and then there's being a husband/father! But somehow, I manged to sneak in some time to consider how I'd design a Castlevania style megadungeon while watching the boys play on the playground over the weekend. And it's taken me until Wednesday night to finally blog about it!

Here's what I came up with:  

The castle itself will have 12 zones, ranging from around level 3 to level 8 or so. I figure, why bother starting at 1st level for something like this? Get right to the good stuff. But also level 10+ characters really don't have to worry too much about vampires, right? Double energy drain sucks, but with turn undead, fifth level spells, magic items, and lots of hit points, high level characters can manage Dracula easily. So keep it in the sweet spot. Still plenty of room for character progression.

Each zone will of course have a theme. The Great Halls. The Dungeon. The Clock Tower. The Armory. The Long Library. The Catacombs. The Chapel of Lost Souls. All stolen from Castlevania, of course! And each will be around 15 to 20 encounter areas. As mentioned previously, there will be easy access to every zone (relatively so anyway) to be more of a megadungeon and less of a side-scrolling railroad.

Around the castle will be five towns and five small dungeons. I'm still debating whether to use names from Castlevania 2 for the towns (Jova, Aljiba, etc.) or actual Transylvanian town names (Brasov, Sibiu, Sighisoara, etc.). Whichever way I go, each town will have certain goods and services available, including a small cast of potential hirelings. Each town will also have a random events table to roll on each time the PCs visit (maybe not the "home town" since they will likely go there all the time). 

The five small dungeons (or dangerous wilderness areas) will be around 10 encounter areas each, and probably have magical treasures that will be nice to have (but not necessary) in the castle. This will provide possible diversions if the players are getting bored by the castle, but also help get the treasure (XP) needed to level up, since the castle itself will probably not give enough XP for the higher levels, especially if there are a big group of players like my games tend to attract these days. 

Additionally, it would be easy to add more small dungeons around the castle if necessary to help boost the PCs up a level if they need it. Or maybe I'll periodically restock lower levels. That's what happens in Castlevania games anyway. Then I won't need to add more maps and keys, just re-key areas that were cleared. 

Seems manageable when I break it down like this, but again, no time! One of these days.

Thursday, October 8, 2020

New Reading Material

 Got a package from Amazon yesterday. 

Reading up on game design theory, motivation, and role play game history to build up some background knowledge to start some studies on language learning through RPGs. Hoping to get a group of my students to try out some RPGs, which I can monitor and interview them about, and write up some case studies and action research papers. 

So this is a research expense.  And they should just be interesting to read on their own.

Some days (most days) I really love my job.

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Demon Castle Dracula

 Castlevania games have long been among my favorites. I still regularly replay the old NES games via emulation. And I enjoyed the hell out of the Playstation/PS2 era games, especially (no surprise) Symphony of the Night.

When I was a teenager, and finally got around to mapping out the Haunted Keep in Karameikos (I had Mentzer, not Cook's Expert Set), of course it was pretty heavily inspired by the original Castlevania game. 

Back when I was still using 3E, I took a break from developing the campaign that would eventually provide the setting for Flying Swordsmen (and my Chanbara play tests), I tried to make a Castlevania inspired megadungeon. But like SotN, I had limited paths from zone to zone, and strict challenge levels, and whatnot, and it got to be too much of a burden. 

While I don't really have time to try and create a megadungeon at the moment, the approach of Halloween has got me thinking about it again. IF I were to create it now, with more years of experience and evolved ideas on what makes for a good game, the plan would be a lot more open. If low level PCs wanted to head straight to the Clock Tower and Dracula's Turret, they'd be able to do it. Not likely a good idea, but the option would be there. 

And like in Castlevania 2: Simon's Quest, there would be some towns and other smaller dungeons around besides just the castle proper. They would allow the players chances to learn about the zones of the castle (and the threats likely to be encountered there), and also places to buy/sell/trade loot and magic items, and "side quests" to find weapons and artifacts useful against the denizens of Castlevania. 

And of course, I'd need to decide if this would be done in Classic D&D, or with RetroPhaze (which I apparently have an older edition of, John keeps working on this great little game!).

Monday, September 28, 2020

Combat Round Resolution

 After years of playing 3E through 5E (yes, I got back into Classic around 2006, but have still played the other editions), I've kinda gotten used to the idea of each player making their entire suite of actions at one time in the combat round. Move, attack, other miscellaneous actions all resolve at once, before others act. 

And even in Classic, using group initiative, I've often defaulted to letting the players act in any order they choose on their side's turn, telling me everything they do at once. It's easy to go around the table and just adjudicate each player's actions one by one. 

Recently, though, I've been trying to run the combat round by-the-book. And in Classic D&D, this means the sides in combat each act according to the order of actions first laid down in Chainmail.

Move. Missile Fire. Magic (Artillery in Chainmail). Melee. 

It didn't seem to be a problem for the past few sessions, using theater of the mind. But yesterday, I had a small crumbling castle full of orcs and a troll that the PCs were exploring, and I wanted to use a tactical battle map since the orcs had chances to surround the PCs (although clever play with the first cohort encountered made that moot). Using the map, and dividing up movement from other actions, especially in simultaneous initiative rounds, really seemed to mess with the players. Lots of comments like "Oh, is this still the same round?" and "I move here and do X" - "You already moved."

So I'm wondering. Part of me likes the phased initiative system. But part of me likes a more open and less restrictive system. 

Something to discuss with the players, I guess, but I think I may just ditch the phased combat round and go back to just going around the table and asking each player what they do each round.

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Again, the Giants?

 My players are slowly creeping towards the more dangerous areas of the West Marches, now that the lowest level party member (my 6 year old who only sort of participates) is 3rd level, and most are in the 4 to 6 range. I've got the next ring done (although I think I still need to convert a few zones from 5E notes to Classic -- while just pulling open my monster book is often good enough, treasures are too low if I leave them at 5E levels), and they have made a few tentative in-roads into that band of challenge. So I'm working on the next ring out. 

The Giants modules are going in this region, even though they're a little tough for the intended level. But since I have at least one player who's played many of the classic modules before, I want to switch them up a bit. Rework a few things, maybe make some map changes. And no, I won't give out too many details of what I'm doing, since a few of my players read this blog. Suffice it to say they won't be exactly the same. 

Also, since West Marches is player-driven in terms of plot, I will not likely be sticking the D and Q modules anywhere. And while I'll likely retain connections between the three giant strongholds, there won't be as much metaplot to discover (maybe, I could change my mind on that). 

Today I read through Glacial Rift, and really, even if I wanted to play them straight, the upper level is a bit bland. There are some interesting encounters and situations there, but a LOT of them are similar. Want to spice things up a bit. Also, will probably switch out some of the treasures to again provide some uncertainty/discovery for my veteran players. 

Plus, as I've mentioned before, Gygax can be a bit verbose. These modules are fairly compact, but at the table, I really don't need all that level of detail for most of the areas. So I'll be spending some spare time in the next few days doing some mods to the module.

Monday, September 14, 2020

Hail the Dragonslayers

 In my West Marches game yesterday, the party was searching for a rumored dragon burial mound. They didn't find it, but they did stumble across a lake with an island housing a ruined monastery. And in that ruined monastery there was a fledgling bronze dragon atop the wall. 

After much hemming and hawing about what to do (the dragon didn't talk, and seemed to be warning the party away), they scared it with some impressive phantasmal force spells (failed save and failed morale check!), then followed it into the ruins. It went into its nest to wake its brethren (as it was on watch). But a fireball wand and a magic missile spell finished them in the surprise round. 

As the party were exploring the priory for loot, they heard a larger dragon roaring outside. Cue big battle!

Except I wasn't expecting it to be as epic as it turned out to be. The "adult" dragon (8HD 'small' bronze in my version of BECMI) had way less than average hit points, only 20 when the average is 36. It did have two more wyrmlings with it, though, so the battle could have gone south quickly. But the party had initiative in the crucial early rounds. The fireball wand took out the two wyrmlings, then the parent cast darkness while one of the party's magic users cast haste and another cast web on the entrance. 

When the dragon came in, it got stuck for a few rounds in the web. It did manage to breathe on the cleric, but even though she failed her save, she had enough hit points to survive. The party managed to then inflict some serious damage on the dragon, but it then cast hold person on four of the PCs, and three failed their saves. It managed to get off both of its remaining breath weapons, but in its damaged state they didn't do much. The party finally finished it off. 

And also, one PC has an arrow of teleportation. He drank a potion of luck to ensure that he'd hit with it and teleport the dragon away. It was a smart plan, but they managed to do so much damage to it that they called him off from using it. 

It was a pretty tense battle, and I'm happy that it went on long enough to have the dragon cast a few spells and use all of its breath weapons (although I guess I should have had it use the fear gas breath after it was damaged, might have given it time to escape the web, but I didn't think of that in the moment, and the party was so spread out only one or two would have been gassed anyway).

I really enjoyed running the encounter, and I think the players had a good time as well. And now a few PCs get to level up!