Friday, August 29, 2008

I Got Traveller Today

Mongoose edition, but hey. I've had it for five hourse, and it's almost made up for the rest of the day.
I mean, I knew what I was getting. I've heard people drop Universal World Profiles. I knew about death during character generation (Not required, but present. It's called "Iron Man" character generation -- the default on a failed survival roll is Horrible Manglement, because peg legs are fun.) I was aware, in a general way, of the charts.

But sitting here, book open to page 160, checking two charts to figure out how many passengers want to go from the space rock you're on to the space rock you want to go? Flipping through the book and finding a table, completely unrelated to the entry on the alien race it's below, about what a character's enemy is up to on the planet they just showed up on? Discovering charts for generating random animals to harrass the part with?

Crazy awesome doesn't even cover it.

Now I just need to figure out what to run with it. The crazy part of me says "Stargate SG-1 meets Star Trek (TOS) by way of Foundation, with a little Star Wars on the side and as much Dune as I can cram into it and still keep the laser battles." The campaign would bear the moniker "Star Truck," and an early session would center around a mysterious spinning cube, encountered in the mysterious reaches of space. Oh, and space marines.

The more serious part of me . . . well, basically agrees. I'd explain it in a way that doesn't hinge on pop culture references, but that's the space fiction I like. Basically, I'm thinking:
  • The whole "ancient earth cultures scattered by a mysterious race" theme
  • Pulp craziness, the kind that straddles the line between "making a point about human nature" and "laser dinosaurs!"
  • One or more Imperial whatsits (that a lot of human worlds sit outside of) based on trade in exotic items, transhuman conspiracies, and dukes of planets (also: space princesses)
  • Lunatic investment schemes by the PCs and/or their employers
  • Space battles with ridiculous weaponry, up to and including colored lasers beams that cause computer banks to explode
  • Space Marines. With powered armour. And laser swords.
I'm both under the impression that this is not too far of from the Third Imperium and not sure exactly how Traveller would handle it, not having read the full book. Even if I modify the mess of ideas I've already got into something a little more system friendly, I do plan on building my own setting, more or less from scratch. Nothing against the Third Imperium, I just feel the need. I know this space stuff pretty well, a lot better than I'll ever know fantasy, and it's been a while since I put together a really crazy new setting.

That, and it's Traveller. If I get stuck, I'll just roll some dice and work out something interesting.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Healing Surge Trampoline

My 4th edition summer game, the "get the band back together" game, is now officially over. I had a lot of fun running it, and the usual levels of hair-pulling frustration, and I think my players had a good time, too. In the end, a good game.

We even managed to give it a decent finale. It was clear, and had been for a while, that there was no way we would actually finish the module, if we played through it as written. I'd decided already that there was also no possibility of ever picking it up again to finish it, at least with this group, but I was reluctant to leave yet another adventure permanently unfinished, with no sense of closure. So I boosted them to 3rd level and cut out most of the second level of the dungeon, bringing them straight to the final two fights.

Not a method I'd recommend in most circumstances, but this time, it worked out okay. Mostly because it turns out that (a) the stunt rules are easy to handle and (b) the wight raining crackling purple death upon them was standing right next to a pit. Cue the Wilhelm scream, splashing, and helpful wight sound effects provided by Alefist. (Reeeeee!) After the battle, they amused themselves by dropping various objects on the very wet, very angry, and very trapped wight.

Other than that, the fight was pretty standard. They all ganged up on Kalarel at the end, neatly demonstrating that the primary purpose of having all those monsters is to distribute fire; five levels above them, he lasted about two rounds.

It had the usual near-death moments, which I'm beginning to think are an artifact of the way healing works rather than a sign of actual peril. The damage/healing system, to put it most simply, is subject to negative feedback. There are, of course, monsters that are more dangerous against bloodied foes. But those effects are dwarfed by the basic dynamic of the PCs healing abilities: the more wounded they are, the easier they are to heal.

Mostly it comes down to the death and dying rules. There are a couple of powers I know of that exacerbate the effect, but they're not what drives it. Sooner or later, the death and dying rules kick in whenever a PC takes damage. And they don't just make it impossible to die within less than 3 rounds after hitting zero, giving their friends plenty of time to get them back on their feet with a simple skill check. They also guarantee that when the character does get back into the fight, they do so with a quarter of their starting hit points -- any healing on a dying character resets them to zero before hit points get added, and that basic heal check option gives them a free use of a healing surge.

Having those back up systems in place means the monsters can have a lot of hit points, and do a comparable amount of damage to the PCs, and the only effect will be 3 rounds of "peril" before the character gets back up and pummels the monster, who does not have the healing surge trampoline. Which isn't a bad thing, exactly, but I do wonder what would happen if the player's figured it out. Is there an intermediate setting in a 4e fight, between "artificial danger" and "certain doom?"

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Little Details

This Sunday and last I ran sessions of the 4e game, which I haven't posted about mainly because there wasn't much to say about either of them. The first was fairly good, the second was distinctly lackluster. Maggie has, in usual excellent fashion, recapped the August 3rd session but likely won't have the next one up for at least a week; I'll link to it when she does.

The only thing I can really add is that naming the goblins was a surprisingly good idea. It's the first time I've done anything like that, and was shortly followed with the first time I've ever had a player feel bad about something horrible that he did to an NPC. Usually I'm happy to have people rampage around, breaking stuff and having fun, but it was sort of neat to have that happen for once.

Oh, and last Sunday we came up with the best sentence ever: "He was engulfed in sartorial flames."

Otherwise, though, I've been starting to think about wrapping this game up and starting my next one in a month or so. It was clear we were not going to come close to finishing the module in the time left before returning to school, so I bumped them up to 3rd level and skipped the entire second level of the dungeon, moving immediately to the last three fights. It's working out okay so far, and I think it'll work out better than just leaving (yet another) module hanging that we know we will never go back to.

Friday, August 01, 2008


So it turns out that "what's the worst that can happen?" is probably a bad question to ask. It was mostly due to procrastination and lack of planning, but in any event -- the adventure didn't get finished.

I will finish it as I get the time and the will, and happily, this practice is 100% officially approved.

In more encouraging news, my friend Maggie is now officially a DM. With all the joy, wonder, and soul-crushing frustration that blessed activity entails.