Sunday, January 31, 2010


Well, Josh ended up having an argument with Dave about how Dave was planning to run Conan, and Dave basically said he didn't want Josh to play in his game. Josh can be difficult, often on purpose, but he did say he would bow out if the rest of us wanted to play.

Well, when Alex had blown up at Josh because of the way the 3E game was going, I drew my line in the sand. Any more of these personality clashes messing up the game and I was out.

So I'm out. My wife is happy that I'll be around every Saturday evening, instead of gaming ever other. And that's worth it for me. I'd rather have her happy than have her unhappy about me attending some games that I'm not happy playing in. And we've still got the week day board game nights.

On the plus side, after a night playing Twilight Imperium, I mentioned that I might bring Star Frontiers to the board game night sometime instead of Classic D&D. Got a positive response from Josh and Alex, and Pat seems to just go with the flow. So now I've got to go through all those old adventures from when I was a kid and see which ones I think I'd like to run the guys, and maybe the Korean ladies, through.

Good thing about Star Frontiers--it really works well as a short, episodic game. Yeah, you can do long campaigns as well, but back in the day we saved that mostly for D&D, while SF was more of a grab back of different types of play--usually inspired by whatever SF/war/Western/action movie we'd just seen, or video game we'd just played.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Saturday Games

Well, it seems like all of people's differences and dislikes have been smoothed over (for now at least), and we're going to give Mongoose's d20 version of Conan a run.

I've played it before back when I was in Japan, and found it to be pretty fun. Low magic, high octane combat, and a pretty good feel for the way things work in REH's stories.

Hope it works out!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Playing in the Sandbox III

My report here is a bit late. I've been busy at work, and didn't have time last night to write this up either. Now the wife and son are asleep, so I've got a bit of time.

Tuesday night I brought D&D to the Board Game Group. Once everyone was there--everyone for this week being myself, Pat, Chloe, Amy (Chloe's Korean friend), Dave, Lucy, Robin and Prada (Lucy and Robin's friend--yes, that's the name she chose for herself in English...).

We spent a bit of time giving Amy and Prada the basic rundown. Amy rolled up a Cleric, and Prada a Fighter. Lucy and Robin had a good laugh when Prada's Charisma ended up below average and I wouldn't let her re-roll. Well, she had a 17 Str, plus decent Int and Dex, so that should be good enough, right? Yeah, I'm an evil DM.

Pat only played his Fighter 3, Dave and Robin had Elves, Lucy had a Cleric 2, and Chloe has her Illusionist in addition to the two new characters.

They started out the session reviewing rumors. Several had gotten the rumor that demons infested the old Chapter House, but that there was lots of treasure there as well. Undaunted by demon rumors, they set out seeking more advice on the subject. They got the basic history of the place from the town historian, and then a bit more advice from the town's most unusual resident, Elmithrisar, an Elf said to be over 3000 years old (and he looks old, unusual for Elves). Elmithrisar wasn't sure what might lurk in the Chapter House, but thought the party might need some magical weapons before they ventured forth there.

Then they started wondering where to get magical gear. Elmithrisar pointed them in the direction of Cliodna, the leader of the local Elf clan that lives in the Black Wood just west of town. They decided to put that on hold for the moment, and investigate another rumor that Lizard Men had abducted a local farm family (I'd decided a little while ago that this was a false rumor--werewolves had killed the family and blamed it on the Lizard Men once they were back in human form).

They went to the farm, and found it deserted and trashed. They found the family dog in the barn, and used some scraps of clothes to get the dog to track by scent. It led them not to the Lizard Man stronghold (it would have eventually if things had gone differently), but to a lair on the path to the Lizard Men, which was the home of some bears.

They investigated the caves. The first bear they found was sleeping, and they left it alone. Dave's Elf snuck in to check out the bones that were on the floor, and found a human skull among them. This shook people up a bit. They assumed that it was from the farm family until they took it outside, saw that it looked old, and the dog didn't seem to find it familiar (not sure a dog could identify it's owner's bones though anyway...).

They went back in and took the other branch in the cave, and found two bears there. The bears were awake and threatening, so they started to back off, but then Pat suggested that they had enough numbers to take two bears. So the party attacked, rather than follow Dave's suggestion of going back to town for long spears to try to fight the bears while keeping them at bay.

It didn't end well. Dave's Elf went down in the first or second round, and Pat's Fighter followed him a few rounds later (bear hugs are nasty, even for a L3 Fighter!). The group managed to take the bears down eventually, once I stopped rolling so well to hit. Lucy's Cleric was damaged a little, but that was all.

Searching the room after looting their comrades for anything of worth (while Pat and Dave took the chance to make a run to the convenience store), they found a boulder blocking another passage. Inside, they found some loot stashed there by bandits long ago (the bones being those of dead bandits). There were some silver and copper coins, some large barrels of fish oil, and a falchion made of greenish steel. They took the loot back to town, paid the Grey Friars to bury their dead comrades properly, then met up with Pat's Cleric and Dave's new Cavalier. We decided to end the session there.

The sword is magical, of course. I rolled one off of my Unique Magic Weapons book which I still need to get around to giving a final edit. The sword wasn't there originally, but since they're interested in the Chapter House and they fought a tough battle with the bears, I decided to throw in a magic weapon for them. It's a +1 dancing weapon, but they have yet to identify it.

In other news, after 2 days of lots of emails and text messages exchanged, it looks like Alex will not be running Heroes Unlimited after all. Dave may be running d20 Conan instead. I've actually got an itch to run some Star Frontiers, but I really don't have the time right now to do it. Unless I ditched the D&D game. So it looks like we'll be running Hyborians and Turanians and Hyperboreans the next time we have a Saturday game.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Shake Up!

Got a pair of emails on Saturday.

The first was from Alex, with details of how to create characters for a Heroes Unlimited game (he's decided he'd rather run that instead of RIFTS). It's nice, because it gives a general rundown of the options, and what exactly we'd need to read. He also suggested we look it over, email him a concept, and he'd suggest some powers and skills to make it work, since he knows all this stuff better than we do. Cool.

Second email was from Josh. He'd been out drinking with Alex and Dave, and they decided that Josh would quit DMing, and Alex will take over full-time rather than just running a session or two to give Josh time to prepare. Josh is gearing up to move back to Canada and attend grad school in the fall, so he doesn't really have the time, especially with gripes being levied after each session.

So just as I was really starting to kick some ass with my Fighter, the game's over.

On the up-side, I've got a few cool ideas for superhero characters.

And tomorrow night I'll be running my Classic game at the normal board game meetup.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Appendix N of my 11-year-old self

Lots of bloggers post their own versions of Appendix N, but often they're of the books or other media that have inspired them both back in the day and now. And quite often they look similar to Gary's list, with a few things he missed from way back when, and some more modern stuff that came out since the 1E DMG was created.

I'm taking another track. I've been thinking back 25 years to the things I was reading back in '84-85, just as I was getting into the game. These are some of the things that inspired me. I'm sure there were more that I've forgotten, but a lot of these have stuck with me to this day. I'm also limiting this to books, as the lists of TV, movies and video games that also provided inspiration would take a long time. Anyway, here are some of the things that inspired my young self and worked their way into my games:

Alexander, Lloyd: The Prydain Chronicles This has to be one of the big ones. The Welsh/Celtic impact is still with me, including in my internet alias.

Nye, Robert: Beowulf: A New Telling Another one of those books that really stuck with me. I still sometimes insert little things added to this kids' version of the tale when talking about the real thing.

Dr. Seuss—everything really starts with Seuss

D'Aulaire, Ingri and Edgar: D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths This was my first exposure to the Greek myths, and the cool pictures together with the cool stories made me want to role play out heroic quests like those of Perseus, Heracles and Jason. As a side note, I just picked up a copy of this for my son. He's still a little too young for it, but I'm enjoying re-reading it in anticipation of reading it to him!

Montgomery, R.A. et al: Choose Your Own Adventure series My introduction to game books, and my introduction to the idea of multi-path story telling/flow chart style adventure writing.

Stine, R.L. et al: Wizards, Warriors and You series More game book fun, and a nice evocative setting.

Estes, Rose et al: Endless Quest series (yes, TSR influencing itself here) As above, plus the ads in the back of the books got me to try out Star Frontiers and later Gamma World after getting into D&D.

King Arthur legends, although I'm not sure which version. Maybe Pyle? I know now it definitely wasn't Malory I read as a kid, and I don't think it was Bullfinch either.

A big picture book of fairy tales, again not sure by whom, but it had some cool and darker ones mixed in with the lighter, Disney-fied standards. Some cool stuff in that book, like a Leprechaun tale, Aladdin, and a nice dark version of the Snow Queen. My parents still have it, I'm pretty sure. Maybe I should have Mom dig it out for me...

Another book that was at my elementary school library about knights and the Middle-Ages. Can't remember what the title was, but because of that book, what D&D calls a morning star and what I call a morning star have never synched (that book called a spiked ball on a chain with handle a morning star, and that's how I always think of it).

So as you can see, my early gaming was heavily influenced by Classical and Celtic mythology, Beowulf, King Arthur, and a whole lot of pulpy adventure in the form of various 2nd person game books (in addition to the movies, TV and video games I'll get around to some other time). No Sword & Sorcery, but not a lot of High Fantasy either. No Tolkien, Anderson, Leiber, Vance, Smith, or other Gygax-influencing books, but it was a great fertile mix of inspiration for me as a kid.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Amateur Theatrics vs. Shut Up and Roll the Dice

Last night we had yet another session of Josh's 3E campaign. He's been studying up on the 3E rules, so he was using more of them and less 2E/whatever he felt like in the session. I was having a good time, and I think Pat was as well, but Dave was still grumbling about not really having the right sort of character for the campaign, and Alex stared out fine, but by the end got drunk and belligerent.

So we're still going through these caves, trying to find an exit. It's the third session of that, and Josh had thought we'd spend maybe 1.5-2 sessions at most on it. He's still learning how to DM, and while he's getting much better at it, not everything went smoothly.

First of all, he totally misunderstood the 3E Challenge Rating system. He thought the CR for a monster was the CR for an 'average number appearing' of that monster. So a few encounters he thought would be soft balls were near TPKs. He's pretty liberal with the magical loot, but he's also not shy about taking it away. And he pulls no punches in encounters. He's also got a stubborn determination that if he prepped it, we're gonna go through it, and we're gonna go through his story or die trying.

Dave and Alex both have problems stemming from the way Josh pitched the campaign. They both thought from the description that it would be a RP heavy, combat light campaign. Dave made a Paladin based off of Solomon Kane, with high Dex, light armor and rapier, with no Charisma bonus. So he's suffering from playing his concept in the wrong sort of campaign.

Alex, on the other hand, is playing a Rogue. Last time, he was finally getting to do all sorts of Roguish things--sneaking, disarming traps, etc. But he wasn't having fun because he apparently hates dungeon crawls "because there's no role play." And he kept going on about how he specifically designed a Rogue because "they're the best at role play." And even though we emerged from the dungeon by the end of the session, it was half-way through the 'boss' battle that he got up, said he'd had enough, and was quitting the game.

Well, we managed to kill the way too high for our level monster (a Delver, which is CR9 or 10 or something, and we're only level 4 with no arcane caster and only a Paly3/Cleric1 for divine casting) thanks to the sweet magical loot we got. My melee fighter finally got his hands on a sweet magical bastard sword (+3 to hit, with no magical damage bonus to normal damage, but with automatic 8 lightning damage and a chance to stun opponents for a few rounds), and luckily stunned the Delver for a few rounds, allowing us to pound on it without losing our weapons or armor to its acid attack or whatever it was that could destroy our gear. We got out of the dungeon, and had one of those 'cut scene' moments. We emerge on a high plateau with absolutely no way down, then this airship comes out of no where, zaps us all with a paralyzing ray, and they arrest us and knock us unconscious. So we'll start next session prisoners on their way to the capital where we're supposed to incite revolution or something.

Alex didn't care, because a) for him, RPGs are about the amateur theatrics (and here I thought it was all about the fiddly mechanics for him, since he refuses to play Classic anymore, and wants to play stuff like RIFTS or other heavy systems), and b) Josh is an adversarial DM.

Now, Pat and I seem to be enjoying the adversarial DMing, especially in 3E. No cakewalk 13.5 encounters of appropriate challenge rating then level in this game! We're working for those XP, and getting a lot less than we should (Josh is still using 2E style XP rewards for monsters), but we've got all kinds of crazy magic items that break the 'rules' and cost a lot less than they would by the book.

Josh is interesting. He's bound and determined that if he prepped it, we're gonna play it! He refused to cut his dungeon short even though he kept complaining that we were taking a lot longer than he expected. But he's also bound and determined to try to 'punish' us for any decision which he thinks is illogical or whatever. And he's not afraid to end it all with a TPK, but until all our characters die we're gonna ride the Josh railroad (and to be fair, it does have lots of stops where we can do pretty much whatever we want, but once we reach a certain point, it's 'all aboard!').

Anyway, it looks like Alex will stick around for at least 1 more session (unless he was still pissed off when he sobered up this morning, not sure about that). But he's really pushing for someone to run something else, as long as it's not me and my Classic game.

The really funny thing is, if he were playing in my Classic game, I'd be much more open to just letting him run around town doing RP stuff to his heart's content than Josh has been. Well, maybe I'll suggest one of those Forge type story systems that are fairly light on rules, like The Pool. For me, if I'm gonna play a 'story' centric RP heavy game, I'd rather not do it in a system like RIFTS or WotC D&D where there's more crunch than a bowl of breakfast cereal without the milk.

Friday, January 8, 2010

War Stories

"War talk by men who've been in a war is always interesting; whereas moon talk by a poet who has not been in the moon is likely to be dull"
--Mark Twain

So the blogosphere happens to be talking about railroading and narrative control and all that sort of stuff today, and this is something that had been rolling around inside my head for a while anyway.

I tend to find that when gamers get together and talk about the great games they played in, it tends to sound similar to the war stories my uncles talk about (they fought in the Battle of the Bulge). It's personal, it's quite often more about what when wrong than what went right, and it's often got a bit of comedy and tragedy mixed together.

I rarely hear gamers sit around and discuss the grand tapestry that their GM painted for them, the wonderful roller coaster ride where the characters were just along for the ride, even if they had a ton of fun riding that midnight train to Georgia story the GM had concocted.

So I think the whole Dragonlance/Narrativist thing is way off base for what the majority of gamers want. They don't really care about the grand story of the module or of the GM's devising. Nor do they care about the grand shared tapestry if they're playing a Forge type story-focused game. They really care about those moments that will make a good 'war story' to tell around the comic book rack or over a few beers.

Or maybe I've been hanging around with the wrong people, and I'm way off base?

Thursday, January 7, 2010

RPG Projects

So I'm working on some things. Have been for a while, so I can't really put up a "coming soon" banner or anything, but here are those things I'm working on. They'll all be free downloadables once I finally get around to posting them somewhere.

Unique Magic Weapons
This document is intended as a DM aid, detailing 100 magic swords, 100 other melee weapons, and a bunch of magical ranged weapons and ammunition (100 total entries, it's about 40/60 weapons to ammo). It's to avoid the 'another +1 sword?' problem.

This one's complete, and ready to go.

Unique Magic Wands, Staves, and Rods
Similar to the above, this details 100 wands, 50 staves, and 20 rods for use in adding a layer of coolness to these magic items. I've got quite a few new items on here, where the magic weapons tend to be mostly by the book.

This one's complete, but needs to be proofread.

Unique Magic Armors and Shields
The third document in the series (I may to Rings...or may not). Again, it lists and describes lots of magic armors and shields, so DMs don't have to give out generic magic armors. It's got 100 total entries, with 25 being just shields, 50 just armor, and 25 armor and shield sets (50 shields, 75 suits of armor total).

This one's still being written. I've got to do the descriptions for plate armors, suit armors, and all of the combination sets. And maybe rework lots of names so that they're not all "Gawain's Hauberk" or "Aragorn's Breastplate." Wands/Staves/Rods already suffers from that, whereas weapons tend to have names already, or they are easy to give a name that fits.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Is someone gonna revoke my old-school credentials for this?

Yes, yet another 3E game was played yesterday. And I'm still waiting for a chance to run my Classic game again.

Well, at the board game meeting last week, I broke out HeroClix, and they weren't a resounding success, but some people want to give it another go tomorrow. So maybe next week I'll get to DM Classic once more. We'll see.

In the meantime, since yesterday was the last day of the winter vacation, we played Josh's 3.5/2E hybrid game again.

We're still wandering through the caves, trying to find the secret exit into the evil city, and just barely scraping by without getting our asses kicked. We had fewer problems this game, although there was a lot more out of character chatter going on, and Josh allowed us a bit more OOC time to plan strategies and tactics which he had been trying to curtail before.

Alex decided he'll keep trying his Rogue for now, and maybe think about multiclassing to Ranger when we level up again. I also noticed he had done his point-buy for abilities wrong, so he could have a higher Dex and Int, and maybe be a bit more effective. Still, there were plenty of places for his character to shine this time, with plenty of traps and some good opportunities to Sneak Attack.

I got shut down a bit, by giant spiders shooting webs at me every round, which I had to keep breaking out of, but since I'd been rocking hard last session I wasn't complaining. I'm likely gonna take some Barbarian levels after this, to further my melee badassness.

Pat's still pretty content with his Fighter/Archer, looking to stick with Fighter to max out the bow feats.

Dave both rolled up a new Wizard, but then decided to give his Paladin, now with a level of Cleric, another shot, and played that character all session. I don't know for sure what he'll do next session--the giant spiders were also keeping him from doing much in that last combat--but he did get a nice magic sword. Still waiting for one for me--Josh had actually thought I'd take that sword, but it's a longsword and I'm proficient/focused/specialized in bastard sword, so I'm not gonna give up 3 feats worth of effectiveness for that!