Monday, December 28, 2009

Another 3.5 D&D Session

Last Saturday, everyone full of Christmas cheer (or at least some beer), we had another session of Josh's 3.5 campaign.

It was fun, but there was a lot of tension in the room. Everyone at the table seems to have some different ideas about what we should be doing. I think I've mentioned it before. And Josh still really doesn't know the 3E system at all, so he's basically running a 2E game allowing us to use 3E characters within it. It makes for some oddities in play.

We had been leveled up to Level 3 by DM fiat. Our characters had been on the cusp of L2, but Josh wanted to throw a few harder encounters at us. And he did. Our shanty-town just outside of the totalitarian empire's capital was raised by soldiers because of the insurrection we had taken part in, and the sorceress we rescued led us into a wooded area with caves leading inside the town before she was arbitrarily killed for 'story' reasons (it would have been too easy for us if we'd had a high level sorceress with us, in other words).

So we kill her killers, then head into the dungeon. We faced some softball encounters first--a few hobgoblins, some shriekers and gibberlings, ran away from a giant slug, fought tough fights against some bugbears and osquips, and finally ended the night after slaying some cave fishers. We're apparently about 1/4 through the tunnels leading to town at this point. And we finally found some decent loot (Josh had been keeping us poor).

Some of the highlights of the evening came from some things that Josh just made up. We found, among the dead sorceress's things, a box with an imp who would identify magic items, but there's a chance he'll eat whatever he's identifying (hasn't happened yet, but Josh keeps hoping), and some scrolls to enchant either a weapon or armor. Without a spellcaster in the group--2 Fighters, a Paladin, and a Rogue--the Rogue had to Use Magic Device, and of course botched yours truly's attempt while succeeding on everyone else's. So I don't have a +1 elemental bastard sword. At least the party decided to give me some bracers +2 we found later, so my heavily armored guy (if chain shirt and a large shield is heavily armored?) is even harder to hit.

The problems basically came down to these points:
Rules consistency--I find 3E overly complex and whatnot, but if we're gonna play it, I wanna be playing it. Having the DM just decide in the middle of a combat that any weapon can threaten a crit on a 19-20, and do x3 damage if he rolls a 19-20 on the confirmation roll--or more, he'll keep rolling in such situations) bothers me. I'd rather stick with the base rules, or have him state up front that he'd like to do that. My big sticking point of the evening.

Story immersion vs. challenging game play--this came up in two different ways as a problem for both Alex and Dave. For Dave, he built a concept character. He intentionally didn't min-max his character in order to play a Solomon Kane-type Paladin. And he's finding himself to be somewhat ineffectual as a lightly armored, rapier wielding Paladin still trying to be a front-line warrior, and without a high enough Wis to cast spells. He's suffering from playing to concept when Josh is DMing for keeps.

For Alex, the problem is that Josh is DMing for keeps at all. Josh has flat out stated that he will kill us, and will actively try to kill us if we do something he thinks is stupid. This irks Alex, who seems to enjoy the kind of game where he can have a cool character do cool stuff and just ride the GM's railroad to a successful end. That's why he won't play in my Classic game at all. He wants his character to be special, not just another 3d6 down the line disposable guy until he can gain enough levels to be considered a hero. He wants to be a hero from the get-go.

Of course, Alex is also suffering from poor character design. He's trying to play a ranged Rogue focusing on the ranged sneak attack, but that's a pretty limited build. And he's getting shown up by Pat's Fighter archer.

Pat's problem seems to be that he's content with his character and the way Josh is running things, and is annoyed at all the stopping to argue rules or play style by the rest of us.

Well, maybe we'll get things ironed out soon. I'm trying to ignore my inner rules-lawyer. But it's hard. If Josh wanted to run 2E, I'd be happier. Why do I have to mess with all this fiddly 3E stuff, while he can do whatever behind the screen? Oh well, I guess as long as my fiddly 3E stuff is working, I shouldn't worry about the rest.

I'll just try to enjoy it for what it is, and bide my time until we play my Classic game again.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Playing in the Sandbox II

Last night we played my Classic D&D game at the board game group again. It had been a month or so since the last game. Due to final tests this week, Lucy, Robin and Erika couldn't come. Josh is still in Canada, and Steve and Alex couldn't make it. Miyeong said she would come, but got out of work late so couldn't make it after all. That left Pat, Chloe, and Dave, besides myself.

I was a bit disorganized, since I'd had to rush out of the radio station (yeah, I'm on the radio here in Busan) and home to eat dinner, help my wife with a few Christmas cards, play with the baby a bit, then off to games all within an hour! I forgot to bring my 'monster book' but didn't need it, and forgot my 'box of rumors' as well. Dave had the only new character and Pat and Chloe were content to follow up rumors they'd already gathered, so we didn't need it after all either.

Dave finished rolling up his Elf, while Pat (playing his Cleric and Fighter, both level 2 now) and Chloe (playing her Illusionist level 1) did some stuff around town. They decided they'd follow up the rumor that a valuable pendant could be found in the Dread Mausoleum. They thought about following up on information about the sword Chrysaor, but decided to wait until Lucy was back to do anything with that.

They first went to the local Dwarven drinking establishment, and got a somewhat cool reaction. They were introduced to a pair of stupidly drunk Dwarves who it was said could help them, but they decided to not bring the boasting pair along because they were drunk, rude, and wanted shares of treasure (I would have let them get in for only 1/2 shares if offered, but the group decided they were strong enough).

Dave's Elf joined them, and they got some information about the Mausoleum--where it was, roughly, and that to the best knowledge of the local Sun priestess, it was very old and haunted by 'demons' or so the superstitous peasants told her. Undaunted, they bought rations and set out for the day's march to the Mausoleum. On the way, they encountered some giant tiger beetles, but evaded them successfully. They couldn't find the Mausoleum in the dead woods on that first night, so they retreated back across a stream and camped for the night.

The next morning they finally found the place. The actual mausoleum was a slate structure, with a large stagnant pool with a non-functioning fountain in front, and a smaller structure to the back (they couldn't make it out at first because of the trees). Going to the secondary structure first, they found an altar to the Serpent of Chaos, surrounded by a pair of devil statues, on a stone platform. They thought about desecrating the altar, but then thought they'd better not yet in case demons really were around!

Next, they checked out the pool, which was home to a Gray Ooze. They beat the ooze without any major losses (Pat's fighter lost his shield--a Save vs. Wands successfully kept it from disolving his chainmail!), and drained the pool, locating a small gem.

They went in the Mausoleum, and found it had seven plain stone sarcophogi, 3 on each side and one at the far end, flanked by statues. There was also a trap door in the floor. They avoided the sarcophogi and statues, other than a cursory examination to see if there was any writing on them (none), then opened up the trap door (after checking for traps--they checked every door for traps, I'll just skip writing that from now on). They dropped down a torch, and saw a corridor at the bottom, 40' below. They secured their rope to a statue, and dropped it down, then climbed down--Dave's Elf first, to use infravision.

The tunnel went north and south, and they went north first. They quickly came to a large crypt, with alcoves stuffed with bones to east and west, and noticed giant bats hanging from the ceiling and starting to stir because of the torch light. They quickly retreated, with the Elf sticking around quietly to see if they went back to sleep with infravision (they did).

Going south, the corridor split in a Y shape, and they went SE first, to a door. Opening it, they got the jump on a trio of living corpses. Thinking they were zombies, they attacked. Mistake! They were ghouls!

The Fighter, Elf and Cleric all charged, while the Illusionist threw a javelin. I made a mistake of my own, though. I didn't hear Pat say his Cleric and Fighter were attacking the same one, so I assumed they were going after different ones. The Fighter and Elf each took a ghoul down to 1 hit point, and the Cleric hit as well. If I'd heard Pat, one ghoul would have been down. As it was, in the first real round the Cleric got paralyzed, and the other two wounded. They managed to kill the two severely wounded ones, but the Fighter was also paralyzed, and the Illusionist and Elf killed. TPK.

But then when Pat pointed out my mistake, I asked if they wanted to replay the combat. They said sure. (Screw narrativism--besides, how many times does Simon Belmont die before he gets to Dracula?) In the second battle, with only two ghouls, they did better. The Fighter got paralyzed again, but the Cleric turned one, and they finished off the third. They debated what to do with the ghoul cringing in a corner, but when they saw that the two they killed had jewelry, and so did the one they turned, they decided to finish it off. They got the jewelry and headed back out to rest up.

They camped across the stream for a few nights to get everyone back on their feet, having an encounter with a band of sprites who were charmed by the Elf (rolled high on reactions) and gave the party some giant bee honey. Rested up, they went back to the Mausoleum and took the south-west tunnel.

Down that path, they found another room with sarcophogi, but these were all carved in effigy of the people entombed. The last one had the inscription "Heroes take what they may." Opening that sarcophogus, they found the remains of a magician (spellbook rotted and worthless), with a silver dagger and a potion bottle. They decided not to disturb the remains of the other dead, and opened a door in the room. Inside, they found a 10x10 room full of treasure.

Thinking that was suspicious, Chloe decided her Illusionist would try to see through any illusions--she gets a +2 bonus on saves, which she made. Everyone else tried a save when she told them it was an illusion and failed, but they listened to her and shut the door.

They didn't find the pendant they were looking for, but they had found some loot and were running low on rations so they headed back to town, got the jewelry appraised (and were surprised that the 3 torques the ghouls wore were each worth 1200gp!), and got their experience points.

Pat's guys both leveled up again, so they'll be level 3 while everyone else is level 2 (although next time we play Josh should be back, and his characters are both on the cusp of level 2).

All in all, except for the miscommunication leading to a TPK, it was a good night.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

25 year anniversary

It was 25 years ago yesterday that I got my Mentzer Basic red box and started role-playing. Wow, it's been a long time, but it's been a lot of fun!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Monster Alignments

I've been taking a closer look at monster alignments recently. I've finally come to some definitions of Law, Neutrality and Chaos that I like and completely avoid the whole Law=Good/Chaos=Evil problem while still keeping them very antagonistic.

Basically, Law supports order, civilization, and the advance of humanity. Chaos acts to undermine the above. Neutrality is a lack of concerted effort either for or against, and instead is focused on the best interest of the self or the small group (family, guild, etc.).

Now, Mentzer lists Elves, for example, as Neutral. I'm really digging on this. Of course, PC Elves will be whatever alignment the player wants, as it should be. But the elves of the wider campaign are mostly in it for themselves, their clan, etc. It allows elves to be both like Tolkien's elves (aloof but generally opposed to evil threatening them) and Anderson's elves (actively opposed to humanity, but also to evil), and maybe several other types as well.

BITD NPC Elves were always seen as potential allies, or at least non-opponents by me and my friends. But with a better defined sense of what that Neutral alignment can mean, I'm looking forward to having elves be opponents from time to time without resorting to gothy Drow or the watered down Dark Elves of the Hollow World.

Just a few other alignment related oddities--Living Crystal Statues are Lawful, yet the very Chaotic Bargle uses them as decoys in his dungeon. How would impersonating a rogue magician in order to keep him alive be in the best interests of advancing culture and humanity? It's something to think about and gives a nice bit of depth to those Bargle-decoys beyond the 'well, he created them so he commands them' line of thought. What if there's something about Bargle's plans that will prevent some doom, even though he's being a rat-bastard about his methods and his motives are far from pure?

Living Rock Statues, being Chaotic on the other hand, have some beef against civilization, and likely chafe at being commanded to protect or guard things that would lead to the betterment of man (similar to efreet chafing at just about any command).

Finally, Lizard Men are also Neutral. How often are they played as simply another violent humanoid race out to get the adventurers at all costs? Maybe it's because of the 12 morale. But Neutral aligned Lizard Men should be able to be allied with and bargained with as often as they just try to eat you. And a group of Lizard Men on your side can be a good thing, especially in low level adventures!

Nice food for thought.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Class act

Okay, it's finally time to give a rundown of my home-brewed classes. At least as they stand now. I'm always wondering if I should just strip things back to the basics again. But for now, I've got the following classes available to my players:

Barbarian--take the Dwarf, raise HD to d10, eliminate weapon restrictions and Dwarf racial abilities, and add in a foraging bonus and a small AC bonus if they wear light or no armor. Max Level 12, Minimum Wis & Con 9.

Bard--originally based on the Elf class, it's now more of a Cleric/Thief hybrid. Original spell list, casts as Elf for spells per level but as Cleric for availability, Read Languages and Listen, plus Lore skill and bardic counter-music ability. Max Level 10, Minimum Int & Wis 9.

Cavalier--the Mentzer Avenger/Paladin (Fighter with 1/3 Cleric ability), but without alignment restrictions, and a mounted combat bonus. Max level 15, Minimum Wis 9.

Cleric--already mentioned my house rules for them

Druid--Cleric/Magic-User cross, acts like a Cleric in most respects, but spells from level 1, little weapon or armor ability, a few nature abilities, and shape-changing at Name Level. Max Level 14.

Fighter--also been mentioned.

Illusionist--Magic-User/Thief cross, mostly as M-U, but with a different spell list (some new spells taken from AD&D, a few I made up myself), Pick Pockets, Hide in Shadows, Move Silently as a Thief, Thief weapons list. Max Level 12, Min Dex 9.

Magic-User--again, I talked about them before.

Ranger--based on the Halfling, but with d8 HD, bonus to hit & damage against goblinoids & giants, tracking at Halfling hiding chances. Max Level 10, Min Con 9.

Thief--talked about them, too.

Dwarf--only thing I changed was allowing them to create magic weapons, armors, rings or miscellaneous items at high levels.

Elf--didn't change a thing.

Halfling--again, nothing changed.

Half-Orc--the Fighter/Thief cross (or Assassin of sorts). d6 HD, any armor or weapons, a few Fighter combat options, Infravision, Open Locks, Find/Remove Traps, Pick Pockets, Move Silently, Hide in Shadows, Climb Sheer Surfaces as Thief, plus Disguise skill, and a set x3 backstab damage bonus (my Thief gains multipliers as they level. Max Level 10, Minimum Int & Dex 9.