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 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.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Playtest Commencing

Tomorrow night, I'm gonna run the updated, revamped and hopefully simpler version of Chanbara that I worked on (sporadically) all last year. The Busan Gamers are up for the challenge...I think. I've asked them all to make characters before the game, but I've only gotten a few cryptic comments/questions so far. Fingers crossed it's not just a char-gen session.

In addition, I've now got five willing players in my play-by-post play test game. While it'll be slower, it will give me a chance to test out more stuff.

Among the Busan Gamers, Dean wants to update his character Little Sparrow, originally a Sohei. The new Bushi/Sohei didn't seem right to him, so I suggested he consider a Shinobi/Taijutsuka (martial artist) with a religious background for his armorless, staff-wielding monk. Michael is planning to run a Shinobi of some sort, but I'm not sure which. I sent Justin an update of his Ronin character, as a Bushi/Abarenbo (rough, tough, rowdy warrior), but no response from him yet on that. And no word at all from Alexei or Jeremy.

In the online game, Jeff (a friend of friends) is playing a Shinobi/Kagemusha (magical ninja). The other players responded to an RPOL players wanted post, so they're strangers to me. One has rolled up a Shinobi/Uragata (disguise-master ninja), another has a Bushi/Kensei, and another has said he's going to make a Mahotsukai/Onmyoji (Taoist exorcist). The final player is torn between a Bushi/Samurai archer (or gunner?) and a Mahotsukai/Soryo (Shinto priestess).

So it looks like I'll get a good spread of classes to see how they all work in play, at least at low levels.

I've got my Ghost Castle Hasegawa adventure updated to the new rules (and with digital designed maps instead of the original hand drawn ones) for the RPOL game at least to start. For the G+ game, I've got the first adventure of my old 1E/2E OA Evansville game expanded and ready to go.

Monday, January 4, 2016


The new round of Chanbara play testing draws nearer! And I'm revising and expanding on the old adventures I ran with my Evansville Group years ago. Back in 2013, the play test didn't last long, and we never got to these adventures. So I'm dusting them off to use them again.

I've completed converting all the information from the original adventure from AD&D to Chanbara stats (wasn't hard) and doing a bit of revision in the notes. Now, I'm adding some extra contingency plans for things that could happen if the players take the adventure in an unexpected path (or fail at something). The hooks may make this seem like a simple "fetch quest" but of course it's not going to be that simple! And when things get complicated, things are less likely to go according to plan.

When I ran this back in the late 90's in Evansville, the party failed the "fetch quest" which then inspired them to try and rectify the situation and led them on to greater threats and to uncovering the enemies' plots (well, some of them... we stopped playing before they had even figured out who was behind all of this). It was possible then, and it's possible now that at the end of the adventure, the PCs will have the object of the quest, so I need to plan on both contingencies.

So, expansion and preparation for contingencies is the plan. It's also helping me flesh out some NPC faction motivations a bit more. Or maybe I had the motivations figured out 20 years ago, and have just forgotten them in the intervening years.

The up-side of this over-prepping and revamping is that I should be able to publish the module; possibly as a super-module with the whole darned campaign if the play test goes well and I can keep up the pace while working on my dissertation. Possibly as a series of linked modules. This series, along with the standalone Ghost Castle Hasegawa (which I'm planning to play test again via PbP if anyone's interested) will give Chanbara a nice little bit of support when released that Flying Swordsmen never got.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Other kinds of worlds

This is something I've been thinking about blogging for some time now (since my vacation back to America last summer) and I'm finally getting around to it now. Procrastination (prepping a Chanbara adventure for my first round three play test this coming Saturday) can be a powerful tool!

Anyway, on to the content. We've all seen plenty of various campaign worlds. There are the official ones, like Greyhawk, Toril (Forgotten Realms), Krynn (Dragonlance), Athas (Dark Sun), Eberron, and of course the good old Known World/Mystara. There are plenty of worlds from other game products -- Glorantha, Harn, Golarion. There are of course alternate Earths, and worlds taken from fiction like Middle Earth, the Hyborian Age, and the lands of the Wheel of Time (all three may actually fall under "alternate Earth"). Hundreds more, not even counting worlds created by various DMs.

What's something most of them have in common? They're all scientifically plausible (if sometimes unlikely) planets.

But Ancient and Medieval thought about the nature of the world and the universe could make for some fun gaming, could it not? I don't think I've ever played in - and I'm sure I've not yet run - a Flat Earth world. And while I've used the Great Wheel (AD&D) and the Astral Bubbles (BECMI) and a few other things for planar cosmology, I've never used the idea of the Celestial Spheres. Why not?
Wouldn't it be fun to have a world in which you literally could sail right off the edge? That's a temptation that would be too strong for most players, I'm guessing. Eventually, they're gonna try it. And what happens next? They fall into the void forever, passing the turtles that go all the way down? Is that how you travel to the Astral Plane from this world? Do they end up in the Land of the Lost? All kinds of fun potential there.

The Celestial Spheres are maybe not such a font of awesome sauce, but it could still be cool. If you take a Dantean bent to it, it would be possible to travel on foot or by mount from sphere to sphere, rather than requiring magical means to go from plane to plane. It could allow for some lower level planar hijinks, without the gothy emo overtones of Planescape.
I'm sure someone's done both of these ideas before, just not in any campaign I've ever played in. Maybe, after I get done testing Chanbara, I'll run a flat fantasy world and see how it goes.