Tuesday, February 2, 2016

I love a good map

Hand drawn by me.
This is the map I drew for both my current G+ Hangouts Chanbara game, and my play-by-post RPOL.net Chanbara game. I think one problem I had when trying to run Flying Swordsmen was that I created a huge China-sized China equivalent empire for the game to take place in. And each area/province had only a short paragraph describing it. X1 Isle of Dread was my model in this. While in general I prefer that as it gives the GM plenty of space to make the world their own, it also didn't have a "default home town/area" like Threshold and the Grand Duchy of Karameikos as detailed in the Expert Set book.

So for Chanbara, I'll be both giving a broad overview of the setting, the Jade Islands, as well as providing a bit more detail on Enzan Province and the immediate surroundings. While this will make the book longer (I've given up my plans to try and fit everything into 64 pages, but I'm pretty sure it will come in at 96 pages or less), it will hopefully also give GMs and players a bit more utility.

I haven't detailed most of the adventure worthy locations on it yet, but I have two or three already done or in the works. I also tried to include more fantastic locations than I normally do, but I know it could still use a few more. Of course, the white space on the map contains many small villages, shrines, and other unmarked locations, so there's plenty of room to fit more in as I think them up -- for my own game. For GMs who want to run Chanbara and use my default setting, that space is up to them to fill!

Now I need to get back to work on the wilderness random encounter tables.

Lack of Promotion

One problem with me lacking much time for blogging (although I seem to be picking up again at the moment) has been that I've not been promoting my line of reasonably priced printable paper miniatures for RPG and other tabletop games.


I haven't made any sales - not even the free sample - since October. So time to dust off my inner P.T. Barnum and get to promoting!

Why would you want to download these ebooks? Well, if you like to use minis in your gaming, but often find that you don't have the right monsters (or enough monsters!) in metal or plastic, you can print off some of these to fill out your collection.

Player's character dies? Print up his new figure!* The PC one works well for NPC parties, too!

All the cool kids purchased them before October. You don't want to be left out, do you?

Got kids like mine who like to just play around with little monster figures? This is great for them, too. Keeps their grubby little mitts off of your expensive Warhammer minis.** And when they eventually break them, you can just print a few more!

The cost of one set, which contains over 30 figures that you can print until your printer is dry, is less than or equal to the cost of a single metal mini.

/Made in Korea. Batteries not included. Action figures sold separately. Ages 6 and up. May cause a strong desire to game, annoyance from your significant other, and/or the necessity to change your printer cartridge. Consult your DM before rolling up a new character. Jokes in the fine print? No one reads that anyway./

*Works best if you have a color printer in the location where you game.

**My older boy actually DOES like to play with paper minis on my old Dragonstrike game boards.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Ghoul River Blues

I haven't been playing much over the past few months, although recently I've been running a bit of Chanbara. Well, last night I broke the dry spell with Dean's Eberron campaign, now all switched over (mostly) to 5th Edition!

As I mentioned last post, I decided to go with a new character for the new edition to try out some of its features. I'm playing a Half-Elf Paladin with the Oath of the Ancients class abilities, which makes me a "fey knight" or "green knight" druidic paladin. Which is cool. Dean's always been fine with us refluffing any sort of crunch we like, and the customization yet simplicity of 5E makes it fairly easy to create the sort of character you want without too much fuss, or having to look through a metric shit-ton of rule books (at least for now!).

The session didn't go off completely without hitches. There are a few hiccups due to converting mid-campaign (Rhea the witch's ritual book has many rituals that aren't "rituals" in 5E but were in 4E, for example) but mostly things went smoothly. And Dean was good at letting us players (who have the actual PHB in hard copy) look up rules, then either going with the RAW or making some slight modifications to fit what had gone on before. The session recap is below.


Jack Summerisle, Green Knight of the Eldeen Reaches found himself deep underground in the company of the Dwarf Tempest Cleric Thorvald Oakenspar, the Human Rhea the Witch (not sure what her wizard specialty was...) and Jade the Half-Elf Hunter Ranger. Also in the area were a group of rock elementals (friendly) and a captured Duergar. The party awoke from slumber to an earthquake which caved in the chamber's floor.

Rhea and Jade fell, but the witch was able to save herself with a timely spell, becoming misty of body and floating down. Jade, normally quite nimble, was caught off guard and suffered a tumble. At the bottom, they found that the ceiling of the chamber below had smashed some ghouls wielding pickaxes. Not the brightest of undead, apparently. Also in the chamber below was a subterranean river with a boat the ghouls must have used to arrive here.

The party had been sent to exact revenge against the duergar by the rock elementals, but seeing the ghouls had approached far into duergar territory, and having heard stories of the might of the chthonic ghoul kingdom, we debated which enemy to pursue. Eventually Rhea and Summerisle spoke to the rock elemental Rosie (a nice, rose-pink quartz being), who told the party that they were satisfied that the duergar had learned their lesson in the previous battle. They invited us to come with them and learn (over the course of several years) how to "mend the mountain." Summerisle diplomatically suggested that tracking where the ghouls had come from might be more pressing, but time permitting we would return to their kingdom.

Now, the question was what to do with the prisoner. Questions toward the duergar were met with glares and spitting. Summerisle considered using his command spell to force an answer, but felt that would be unjust. Instead, he related to the duergar how the party had actually hoped to strike an alliance between the duergar and the other, more friendly, inhabitants of Khyber: the rock elementals, gnomes, and mushroom men. Then, he drug the hog-tied dwarf to see the ghoul corpses and how close they were to duergar city. That finally got a bit of a reaction out of him. And so we let him go.

Next, it was down to the boat and down the river! Luckily, Oakenspar had been a sailor previous to his career as a storm priest, so he manned the helm while Jade and Summerisle rowed and Rhea talked to her hat. Some ways down the waterway, we came across a giant pile of monster corpses on the bank, just where rivulets of water seeped through the walls and into the river. From that point forward, the river was polluted with decay, and full of maggots and the air full of giant flies.

We pulled up and examined the situation, eventually deciding that we could stop up the flow of water from the walls with one of Rhea's rituals, if only we could get something big enough to block it up. Luckily, Summerisle found a large enough flat stone, which Oakenspar helped him to put into place. Then Rhea fused the rock with her spell, Mordenkainen's joining (I think was the name - and this is something that was in 4E but not in 5E that Dean had to adjudicate).

We sailed on, until our craft suddenly lurched to a halt. A giant mutant lamprey had latched onto our craft. Rhea, still having her floating disc that she had used when sealing the flow of water, hopped on and floated to the bank. Jade also managed to leap to safely. Oakenspar cast a spell, disrupting the water beneath the boat and damaging the creature. Then it rocked the boat, plunging both Oakenspar and Summerisle into the filthy water. Well, undeterred and holding his breath, Summerisle smote it with his battle axe, adding some divine power to the blow. Then when it bit him, he used his misty step spell to reappear on the bank. At the same time, Rhea's floating disc saved Oakenspar from the water. Jade pelted the beast with arrows, and it died.

Shortly thereafter, we encountered an area where dozens of diseased hands were reaching up from under the surface. Oakenspar turned the undead, clearing a path through them, but then an undead mermaid or siren of some sort appeared and cast a dreadful gaze upon Jade, who jumped overboard in fear. Summerisle managed to hold him and prevent him from fleeing further, while Rhea used a fireball and Oakenspar a thunderwave to damage the creature and some of the hand-things.

But alas, two more skeletal sirens appeared, one to the rear and one to the side. As the one to the rear hypnotized Rhea, the first threw some exploding pearls our way, and the third bolstered the first in some way with a spell. Undaunted, Oakenspar summoned a lightning storm and zapped the first siren, and Summerisle finished it off with a well-placed crossbow bolt. While Jade recovered from the fear, the siren behind created a wave which washed us toward the grasping hands. One more lightning bolt and a mighty smite from the paladin's axe ended that creature. Then, Jade fired several arrows at the rear siren, severely wounding it. The two remaining undead fled the combat.

And that, dear readers, is where the current episode of the adventures of Jack Summerisle comes to a close.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Migrating to 5th Edition

I'm still sticking with Chanbara play tests for the games I run, of course, but Dean has decided to let his subscription to the WotC online 4E whatever run out, and is going to switch over from 4E to 5E for his G+ games. The next session of the campaign (still his weird, fairy-tale Eberron game) will be this Saturday night, Korean time.

So we had a chance to convert our characters to the new rules. I decided to make a change, actually. I rolled up a brand spanking new 6th level Paladin with the Oath of the Ancients, making him a pagan/Celtic style "Green Knight" named Jack Summerisle. Race-wise I chose half-elf, but going with the more fairy tale themes of the game, he's a changeling in the traditional sense of the word (Eberron has a race of doppelganger descended people also called changelings), swapped for a human baby by some fey from the Feywild and reared by the human family. He later learns of his heritage and becomes a paladin of nature.

I think he'll be fun to play. I'm looking forward to the new game with 5E rules. 4E has some cool things, but it's a bit too mechanical for me. Everything runs like a fine-tuned engine, which makes the game run smoothly, but it's the rougher, more organic feel of older edition games that I crave. Hopefully, 5E will deliver.

I did also update my old 4E character, Ryuden Kenjumon. He's a githzerai 6th level swordmage in 4E. Using a D&D Wiki (unofficial as far as I can tell), I made him a 6th level Fighter Eldritch Knight. I thought about a Monk with the elemental specialty (forget the name off the top of my head), but decided the Eldritch Knight was a closer fit.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Idea in my head

Once I publish Chanbara  (play tests going well so far), I need to put out a separate monster book for it. The game has plenty in it, but there is always room for more.

Plan to call it Obake Hyakka Jiten (ghost/monster encyclpedia).

Monday, January 25, 2016

Second Play Test Session of Chanbara

 Last Saturday night, I ran a somewhat short session of Chanbara for Michael, Dean and Alexei. I don't want to get into the details of play exactly (thinking of publishing this series of adventures in the future, so more on the actual adventure then). So I'll mostly be posting here about the system and how it fared during the game.

First of all, we spent most of the session RPing the aftermath of the previous session, and coming up with a plan to proceed. They set out and for the most part, again it was all RP. So like the first session, the rules were more invisible for most of the night. Then what I thought would be a short encounter on the way to their destination turned into a fairly major and involved melee.

The good thing is I got to try out my "tactical attacks" mechanic, and especially the grab/pin rules. And wouldn't you know it, they're clunky and not really satisfying. They're better (IMO) than 3E/d20 or 1E AD&D's grappling rules in that they are much simpler. The problem is, there's no way as stated for the grapple to end. There's no inescapable pin. So that needs to be changed.
One of the monsters they encountered was a rokurokubi, which because it's a monster, it has a special "grab" attack. The accompanying bakemono do not, so they had to settle for regular tactical attacks to grab and then pin the PCs. And the PCs' rolls were good enough for the most part to keep breaking the grabs or pins, but then the monsters, who outnumbered the PCs, would do it again. So it took a while.

Part of me is thinking, "Well, isn't that sort of like actual scrappy fight wrestling?" Another part of me is thinking, "Well, that wasn't as fun as it could have been for me or for the players." And that second voice is the one I know I need to listen to.

So, I need to rethink the Tactical Attacks rules a bit, and especially the wrestling rules.

I took a hint from Pathfinder for this. In PF, if you're not aware of the system, they have a special attack bonus and defense score for special maneuvers like trips, disarms, grapples, bull rushes, and the like. In Chanbara, I have a special defense score, Tactical Defense (TD), but the attack roll is just a normal attack like any other.

Usually, a tactical attack that hits works automatically. No saving throw, no nothing. So if someone tries to disarm you, and their normal attack roll is higher than your TD, you're disarmed.

In the case of the Grab, if a character is grabbed, they can make their own tactical attack to escape (their action for the round). If a character has been grabbed and the opponent succeeds on a second tactical attack, the character is pinned. But again, a tactical attack at a -4 penalty can allow them to break out of the pin. And they can keep retrying every round.

Either I need to put a cap on the number of retries, allow a third successful tactical attack to result in an "iron pin" that can't be escaped from, or have a pinned PC make a saving throw (Metal or Water would likely be appropriate). If they fail the save, they are in an iron pin and can't escape. If they succeed, they can make tactical attacks each round at the penalty to try to escape.
Alexei also mentioned something important in our end of session comments. A grabbed/pinned PC should automatically lose initiative. In that way, their attempt to break the hold is always at the end of the round. And if they break the hold and gain initiative the next round (rolling group initiative every round), they then have a chance to act - flee, strike with a weapon or spell, grab the grabber instead, etc. That's easy to implement.

I hope to run the next session in 3 weeks or so, and we'll hopefully (if they keep on doing what they're doing, and things go more or less according to my plans) finally get to do a bit of dungeon delving and see how things work in a dungeon scenario.

Oh, and one more thing worth noting - Alexei's rolls weren't nearly as good as last session, so his combat dice didn't seem overpowered at all. I'll still be evaluating them, though, especially if we get to the dungeon next time.

Finally, the RPOL.net game is about to get up and running. The character creation phase is just about complete, and I've got plenty of good hooks I can use to get them up and exploring Ghost Castle Hasegawa!

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Chanbara Play Test Report #1

Last Saturday, I ran a session of the (new and improved!) Chanbara 2015 draft rules.

To make a long story short, the rules for the most part stayed out of the way during play. I only had to reference my rules three or four times during the four hours or so we played (mostly to double check which saving throw to roll for certain effects).

The session was a rip-roaring chaotic one, and pretty fun. Dean (taijutsuka shinobi, formerly a sohei) and Justin (abarenbo bushi, formerly a ronin) had updated characters they'd used in the previous play test. Alexei (samurai bushi) and Michael (kagemusha shinobi) had new characters. They were sent on a mission, nearly turned it on its head, and somehow managed to come out on top in the end.

As I said, the rules seemed to play smoothly, at least for now. One potential problem they noticed is that the Bonus Combat Dice that Bushi (Warrior) characters get is really powerful. While Justin liked the power boost, and Alexei didn't complain about all the high hit rolls and damage rolls he was getting, I'll be watching closely in the coming games to see if I need to lower the die type (currently d6 for most characters, but a d8 for samurai), reduce the starting number (three plus or minus the prime requisite score of the PC), or both.

Since we mainly had just one big set-piece battle, both of the bushi used a lot of dice in a short span, making quick work of their enemies. In a more dungeon-crawl type situation, they may be more sparing with them.

The two shinobi characters played by Dean and Michael didn't use their Bonus Skill Dice very much. So we'll have to wait and see how they work out.

Another issue is that there weren't any spell casters. Michael is playing a kagemusha shinobi, so at level 3 he'll have the option to get some spell casting. But for now, the party is spell-less (as were the enemies they faced in this first session...although that will change soon).

So, no problems. One or two things to look out for in future games. Things are looking up for publishing the game this year.

Oh, and the play-by-post game is coming along. There are seven players, and so far two have rolled up spell casters and one or two more players are considering it. So while PbP is slow, at least there should be ample chances to see how spell casting works out, and gauge the appropriateness of the spells.