Monday, June 30, 2008

The Ashen Rift

An idea has come to me, for a WoAdWriMo adventure: a rift in the earth, surrounded by ashen wasteland. Within it thrive all manner of strange beasts and factions, and at its heart lies a malevolent, fiery presence.

I'll probably refine the concept a bit as I work on it, but I'm going to keep the canyon part and probably the wasteland part. I like deserts, as fantastical locations, mostly because I read Dune at a young age, and I've never really done as much with them as I'd like.

Ideally, this'd be the kind of thing that could be dropped into a campaign on short notice. I'll try to put together some suggestions on having it as a longstanding feature of an area the players are just now exploring, and some on having it open up in a place they think they know pretty well.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

There Will Be Dragons

I haven't run that many dragons in my DMing career. One or two, here or there, usually as NPCs, not actually intended for fighting. Which is no way to run dragons. The occasional wise sage/enemy to be bargained with is fun, for a change of pace, but dragons are for slaying. That's actually one of the few things that bugs me about Eberron, that the "great dirty lizard on a pile of gold" trope isn't really workable.

Part of it is that I really haven't run that much D&D. I've run plenty of d20, but my two long-running games used d20 Modern (which I want to get back to, someday) and Arcana Evolved. I've only ever ran one even mildly successful 3rd Edition D&D game.

But still, no excuse. So this current game I'm running, once they finish up Keep on the Shadowfell (or if they decide it's not worth their time; it would still be interesting if the cult succeeded at what they're trying to do) there will be dragons. Possibly several dragons.

Great horrible dragons, sleeping on piles of gold.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

WoAdWriMo Rising

It's rare that you're simply presented with a knob whose only two positions are "Make History" and "Flee Your Glorious Destiny."

Rare, yes, but it happens: WoAdWriMo is nearly upon us. The blog's even back up.

I'm currently in major freak-out mode because I haven't started yet. Not even planning. I've been focused on other things, and I'd almost forgotten about it.

I'll probably go with the hex crawl idea, or something very close to that, just because it's fairly simple and easy to get started with. It might turn into something a little more complicated, but it's a decent start.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Minotaurs and Other Creatures

A thread on theRPGsite a while back got me thinking about minotaurs. I noticed on my first read through of the 4e Monster Manual that they had a lot more depth than I'd been expecting, what with a new and improved civilized version. But then my thought was that this gave me the old savage brutal minotaurs with a bonus set of demon cultists.

The mention of non-evil minotaur societies just registered as an interesting dungeon side trek, along the lines of Myconids or Desmodu. But now, after remembering that they (or a retouched version of them) are a major race in World of Warcraft, and that there's some minotaur city thing going on in Thunderspire Labyrinth, I wouldn't be surprised to see a full race write up for them in the second or third Player's Handbook.

I wouldn't be surprised, actually, if most of the races in the back of the Monster Manual got full write ups in future Player's Handbooks, or in campaign books. The Eberron sorginal ones are guaranteed, but goblins and orcs are also important in that setting so I could see something there. Githyanki and Githzerai will show up with psionics, and I'd bet Shadar-kai will get full write-ups when the shadow power source gets more detailed.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Why Is Irontooth So Deadly?

The crazy-hard deadliness of the Irontooth enouncter has to be intentional. It's 1evel 6, for a group of 1evel 1 PCs, which by the book is just on the edge of survivability, if they spend all their dailies and action points. And one of the monsters is a level 3 elite, which, again, pushes him into the edge of survivability range.

And it's an encounter that the adventure kind of funnels the group into: It's the only way for the players to figure out that there are bad cult happenings at the Keep unless they have the "heroes on a quest" kind of hook. Presumably, if they're heroic types, they'll be willing to make a quick (and paid) detour to help the good citizens of Winterhaven out. And even if they're not initially interested in the kobolds, the kobolds attack them, repeatedly, and are incredibly annoying. My group decided to wipe them out on principal.

My theory on this is that it's the same reason there's a dragon, a solo monster several levels above the party, at the end of Kobold Hall, particularly the demo version. The word on the street (by which I mean the internet) was that it's impossible to kill low level characters in 4e. By putting a very hard encounter at a key point in the flagship adventure, that everyone who's interested in 4e will hear about if not play, the designers send a very clear signal that this is not true.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Additional 4e Game Notes

Maggie and Qwerty, playing Thyme and Scourge respectively, have both written their own recaps of last night's game. Maggie has been writing regularly about the game, if you're interested in more detailed recaps and quotes.

Which I appreciate, a lot, because while I like having a general record of what happened in the game I wrote ridiculously detailed accounts of the game myself for the last campaign I ran, and I'm just not interested in doing it right now. They're more interesting when players do them, anyway. And it gives me a very good idea of what my players actually think is interesting.

I also neglected to mention that, on Sunday, I had everyone tell me where their character was from, originally, before they got to Fallcrest, where their mentor is from and where they met up before heading to Winterhaven. A good way to get people into the game, and I'll probably make it a habit. I'd sent out an e-mail with the question ahead of time, so the people inclined to give that sort of thing thought could take their time. The most table time it took was spent on looking at the campaign map and figuring out where "the nearest mountains are" and things like that.

I'm using the basic campaign map that comes in the back of the Dungeon Master's Guide. I'm really quite enamored of it, and it's been very eye-opening. I always had an idea, in theory, of how to make a region map, but . . . examples, man. This is a pretty decent example. It says to me "draw some terrain on a map, and give it a name. Then draw some dots on the map, and give them names." Simple, easy, I should have thought of it before but much clearer now that I have it front of me.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Fall of Irontooth

Tonight was a good night. The party finished the fight with Irontooth. They won by a hair--Scourge, the warlock, gambled his last action point on an extra attack rather than getting the heck away, and eldritch blasted the goblin down to exactly 0 hit points before the four unconscious members of the party started failing their third death saves.

And then the whole party cheered.

First time that's ever happened in a game I ran. But their lives were on the line, in a way that isn't usual in my games. They were smart--they have the tank wall plus snipers strategy pretty much down now, are learning their powers and how to use them to help each other, and and made some really rather inspired use of readied and delayed actions. And they were lucky--Stonefist, the dwarven fighter, rolled three 20s on his death saves, allowing him to keep Irontooth at bay just long enough to deal sufficient damage.

"We should have all encounters be like that," his player said.

Their one casualty was Liam, the elven ranger, who has now been replaced with a doppelganger wizard who has convinced the party that he actually is Liam, that he was only pretending to be dead. And a ranger. I have to wonder just how intentional that was; Liam died because he charged Irontooth, without backup, and was a striker, and the player had a back-up character on hand and ready to go.

It's actually good, because now that player has a weirdness schtick that doesn't annoy the rest of the party like going off into the woods and shooting at things did. And the party is now at the platonic six-person configuration of one of each role, plus an extra defender and an extra striker.

The best part of it all is: no fudging. I was tempted. Oh, how I was tempted. Not to fudge the rolls, because I'm doing them in the open, partially to remove that option. (I have been known to misinterpret the dice, taking advantage of player inattention, but not this game.) But I seriously considered knocking a few hitpoints off the dragonshields, or to "forget" Irontooth's regeneration.

But I didn't. No fudging. They could have run, but they decided they could take it, or were willing to risk it. All on their own terms.

The defeated Irontooth. And they earned it.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Teamwork and Storming

Another Sunday means another session of the 4e game. (Which needs a name; I had planned to name it after their adventuring guild name, but the players have not provided. Alternate plans are being explored.) This time, they almost managed to get through two encounters -- outside and inside the kobold lair. (The second being the infamous Irontooth encounter.)

They are also starting to learn 4e teamwork. After rushing into the first combat (Liam started shooting at things) they took their time, scouted the cave, and devised a cunning plan. They still might all die, because the encounter is just as tough as I've heard, but they've brought down all but the two dragonshields and Irontooth, and they're still in pretty good shape. They're through a lot of their healing, but not all of it, and most of them still have dailies.

Most encouraging is that Thyme, the least tactical of the bunch, is starting to get a handle on the system. She's making pretty good use of her powers, and while I think we've been misinterpreting certain rogue powers as ranged and she'd be more effective in melee, the learning curve is not as frustrating as I'd feared. She's also switched her half-elf encounter power from eyebite to scorching burst, which has been fun and useful, giving the team a little battlefield control they were missing after the wizard died.

It's also got me thinking that the wizard may now actually be the least complicated class to run. Everyone has the same power scheme, and if the wizard has a good team backing her up she has a lot less to juggle than the rest of the group. Which is weird, historically, but I may start recommending that the new players play wizards and ask the veterans to play defenders. Crazy edition.

It wasn't all dice and dragons, though. We seem to have hit the "storming" stage, and it's a little worse than I'm used to. They got into a huge, almost-shouting argument over whether to go to the dragon graveyard or the kobold lair first, and later into another about which entrance to use to attack the lair. Probably the worst argument I've ever witnessed at a table, but it's a new group, so things should settle down. Next time, I'll do a secret ballot, use a little of my DM power for good before things get too contentious. And maybe talk to a couple of people outside of the game; I'm still hopeful the group can resolve itself, with a little helpful guidance, but I've done that kind of thing before, and sometimes it's necessary.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

What Will I Write for WoAdWriMo?

I'm kind of committed, but I'm still not sure exactly what I want to do. I'll figure it out, likely at the last minute, but right now, not sure.

I'll probably use 4e D&D. I'm not completely, absolutely positive about that -- it's not like 4e isn't going to get plenty of support besides me -- but it would be the most efficient use of my mental energy. I'm running a 4e game, and I'm sort of obsessed with it, and there are a lot of things in it I want to play with.

Actual subject matter is a lot more nebulous. I might do something like Asteroid 1618, or an encounter-filled hex map. Interesting places to explore, rather than a sequence of events, and trust the DM and the players to make some fun of their own. It'd be a lot easier than trying to plan out any kind of plot, without players to provide all that agency stuff for me.

I've changed my mind about topics a lot already, though, so I don't know how long this will hold. I might just end up doing Fall Off the Shadowkeep, or some kind of fantasy survival horror scenario.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

D&D Fight Club!

I got a sort of strange idea today, while I was out walking the dog. What if I used a combat oriented RPG (4e is what I would use, but that's just because it's my current obsession) to run a player vs. player combat league?

I'd probably set this up with multiple players on one team. I could see having each team be run by one player, operating several characters, but at least with 4e I could see that getting unweildy at higher levels. Making it one-player-per-team would also increase the "build the statistically perfect fighting machine" aspect of it, the kind of thing that dominates competetive play of games like Magic. Which is fine, but I like the idea of having a teamwork element to it.

Because that's really the whole point. The concept, in my mind, is "like sports, but with D&D," which strikes me as stupid but quite funny. I could never make this a regular game, but as a way to kill a couple of hours a week, supplemental to a regular game, it could be fun. Especially if I could get enough people together to have a bunch of teams, with rankings and feuds and maybe even playoffs.

I'd have to figure out a way to do leveling. The standard D&D "winning makes you more powerful" deal would require me to work up a system that kept one team from totally dominating everyone just by dint of superior level. Probably what I'd do would be to just have everyone level every week or so, and set up a 20 or 30 week "season," after which the whole thing would start over with new characters, and maybe some changes to player lineups, if desired.

The other logistical issue that occurs to me right now (there will be more, if I actually try to get this thing going) would be refereeing. We'd need some way to adjudicate and interpret rules, to fix issues on the fly and keep little disagreements from derailing the whole thing. But without monsters to run, I could see that job being crazy boring; I can't see anyone wanting to do just that, all the time. I certainly wouldn't.

The easiest thing would be to rotate the job through players who's teams aren't in the current match up, but that still has a certain element of conflict of interest involved. Probably not a big deal, as long as things stay casual. And the job could be made more interesting by giving that person the job of designing a map and tactical features. It might even work to throw in traps, or even a few monsters, as an additional hazard.

I could actually see doing something like this next year. I've got some people talking to me about putting together a roleplaying club, which, if we could get it going, would make it a lot easier to get enough people to put this together. And having a light but roleplaying related activity like this would give people a reason to actually show up to the meetings.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Sunshine and Mongol

So I've been watching some movies lately, in between being massively busy and accompanying mental exhaustion. Sunshine and Mongol.

Sunshine was awesome, but frustrating. It could have been one of the best science fiction movies of the decade, maybe ever, except that this ranting over-make-upped Batman villain kept popping up, teleporting around, and strangling people who had just stabbed him. Great. On the bright side, I think a lot of it would have been fixed if they'd just cut out his lines; the movie does use the extra tension well, and without lines he fits in pretty well as just another menace of the sun.

Mongol was neat, and was worth seeing (haven't seen the new Hulk movie yet, but I loved the first one so I'm not to sure about the new, improved, more fight scenes less staring at flowers Hulk) but not so engaging that I didn't spend most of the moving trying to figure out how to make it an RPG setting. A bunch of tribes, all mobile but with home bases, PCs adventuring in part to gain warriors and power, (maybe rivals, maybe siblings or all supporters of one of their number) a mysterious mountain shrine where the gods live -- I need to fiddle with it, but it could work.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

4e GSL and Related Speculations

You've probably already heard by now, but the 4e GSL and accompanying SRD is now out. You've probably already heard because Trollsmyth, the Chatty DM, and James Maliszewski are already discussing it. I mention it for completeness, and because it's worth checking each of those sites for their own take.

None of the reactions are good. You can't reproduce Monster Manual stat blocks in adventures, there's some dodginess about web support, if you Wizards publishes something similar to what you're already doing you have to cease-and-desist immediately, no questions asked.

A lot of it sounds like they're trying to avoid competition with their D&DI, which kind of worries me because at this point I have no confidence that the thing will actually be usable. I hope it will be, but if it ends up disappearing I'd like to be able to access fan-created resources that do similar things.

What I don't really get is why they appear to be so worried about people taking their system and doing other things with it, stuff like Iron Heroes and Mutants & Masterminds and so on. I could be misinterpreting it, but it looks pretty much impossible to do that with the new license.

That isn't going to keep people from jumping ship to other systems, it just means that 3.5/d20, rather than the new edition, is going to be the keystone system that people learn because they want to be able to play a bunch of games with one set of rules. And people who care about that kind of thing may well be inclined to pick up Pathfinder as their fantasy RPG of choice.

But I'm not much for prediction or for business, so there's a good chance I'm completely wrong. I'm just disappointed that it looks like there won't be nearly as many supplements for my game, especially the crazier ones. I wasn't planning on dropping 3.5 completely anyway, so this is just one more reason. And I am starting to worry a bit about the fan site policy, but that's a wait-and-see situation, too.

Low Level Monster Drought

There aren't that many low level monsters in the 4e Monster Manual. Sort of noticed it glancing through the book, really noticed it, in the way of a problem, when rolling up monsters randomly. I kept getting the same results. Not absolutely all the time, but enough that I noticed.

Is this necessarily a bad thing, though? I could kind of see where it would be intentional, because there's some value to things being simple and regular and unified at low levels. Low levels is where absolute beginners start, and keeping the options light makes it easier on the DM and on the players -- it's easier to work out effective strategies if the monster side of the equation stays relatively static.

Then, the monster selection expands as they gain levels and proficiency. This causes problems for people who already know what they're doing, but even then, giving the early levels a unified feel, revolving around various kinds of goblins and kobolds and critters, might not be a bad thing. If the lack of selection is really a problem, there's always the allegedly dirt simple de-leveling method, though even full monster creation doesn't look that hard. (Another thing on my to-do list: make some monsters. Preferably weird, crazy ones.)

And, of course, there's always the endless stream of Monster Manuals promised by Wizards, which should solve the problem rather handily. Albeit with more money, but if I'm still playing then I'm likely to get the new and shiny anyway.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Random Dungeon Generation

I've been working on a random dungeon, mostly for my own amusement but also with an eye towards using it when my group finishes Keep on the Shadowfell. This campaign ends when summer ends and everyone goes back to school, so I don't want to get to in depth and do my usual plot-arc wrangle, but we're going to need something to do after they finish the module. If the dungeon turns out interesting enough, and I don't think of anything better, I'll use it.

It's the first time I've generated a fully random dungeon. I started out with 3rd edition, which has charts for randomly stocking dungeons with critters and features, but no map tables. I got the AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide partially because of the random dungeon charts in the back, but was pleasantly surprised to find that the 4e DMG also has a nice set of charts.

I've been using those, because they generate the assumed size of rooms, but will probably refer to the AD&D charts for at least a couple of levels, as a change of pace. And I'm going to use the AD&D charts for weird noises and laboratories and so on; the 4e charts are even worse than the 3.5 charts in that area.

It's fun. Even without occasional re-rolling ridiculous or uninteresting results, there's enough decision-making that it's as interesting, if not more so, as a dungeon I'd hand make, and figuring out explanations for weird combinations is fun. It's also very relaxing; just the right mix of input and output to make me totally lose track of time.

MMO Terminology in D&D

4e class roles system has, for our group, been a very good thing. It's similar, in its broad strokes, to the way MMO's organize their classes. They map almost exactly to the archetype set-up of City of Heroes, my MMO of choice; the execution of each role is quite different, and CoH breaks strikers down into melee and ranged, but the basic structure of tank, damage dealer, buffer, and debuffer is the same in both games. I'm told that World of Warcraft has a similar system, though I don't have any direct experience with it.

The advantage for us is that half the group has played various MMOs, and the other half is familiar with the basic principles and with similar ideas in other video games. It was very easy for the players to understand the basic sorts of things that each class could do, how they should be played, and how they interact with each other. We're learning the finer details in play, but the basic structures are familiar.

This'll be a bigger deal with new players. Not all the people I've taught to play D&D have been video gamers first, but a lot of them have been; the interest areas do overlap. And these days, if a video gamer doesn't play an MMO, chances are good that they know someone who does, or have played a game that borrows some of that class architecture. That D&D now uses some of this common language may make it more familiar to these people, its outlines easier to understand, and provide some common reference points to aid in my explanations of the system.

Monday, June 16, 2008

The 4e Teamwork Angle

As I was mulling over yesterday's game, another issue popped up: action points. None of them have used any action points yet, and if they'd thought to do so Takom might not have gone down, and the fight would have been over a lot quicker. I don't think they all understand what action points are, because they're very different from the mechanics of the same name that we used in 3rd. I'll go over them next week, before the game, and see if they do any better.

But there's still a significant teamwork angle to the game, and though my experience with it is limited, my sense is that this is a good thing -- at least, compared to 3rd, the only edition of D&D I have any extensive play experience with. The tactical thinking/communication load on players is greater, and this may be an issue for casual players, but it also looks like the work involved in other parts of the system has been reduced.

Thyme's player, one of the least system-wonky person at the table, has mentioned that the system seems a lot easier to handle than 3rd. Part of it is probably presentation, but the system does seem a lot cleaner and clearer in a lot of places, and your character's abilities are more clearly explained and organized.

Thinking about it, the less system oriented players have had an easier time of it than the crunchy ones. Takom, after all, was run by the most system oriented guy at the table, the one who ran a cerebremancer because neither a wizard nor a psion gave him enough options. The ones with less interest in or experience with the system talk to the other players more about what to do, which slows the game down a bit, but also keeps them from barreling into situations where they end up on their own.

And, in my experience, casual players had a bigger problem in 3rd edition: they'd get overshadowed by the gearheads. This never caused massive friction in any of my game, but I could see where it could have been a problem had the situation been slightly different. I've run several campaigns where one or more players were much better at building characters, or more interested in building characters for statistical effectiveness than roleplaying reasons, than the others. These characters had the effect of shutting down combat before anyone else could participate, or dominating it to the point where no one else's contributions were meaningful.

Now, at least, the system players need everyone else to succeed. This could cause its own set of problems, if they decide to start telling everyone else what to do and how to run their characters. But at least it opens the possibility for those kinds of people to get satisfaction out of the game without shutting everyone else out.

It's another reason why I want to run 4e a lot, hopefully with a couple of different groups. It's new and shiny and most importantly it's fun, and that's enough to keep playing it. But I'm still trying to figure out how the game and the table interact; what's supposed to happen, what actually happens, and why.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Kobold Fury

We had some more 4th edition excitement tonight. Unfortunately, we only got through one more encounter, the second kobold fight on Kings Road. I was a little late, we had dinner right in the middle of it, people kept getting up to do stuff on their turn, people kept taking ages to decide what to do -- it happens. Most of the delays were decision and/or rules lookup based, so I have confidence that the situation will improve as we get more comfortable with the system.

That one encounter was pretty thrilling, though. Four of the five characters present (Brandis's player was not in attendance) were bloodied, and the fifth, Scourge, was an infernal pact warlock whose temporary hitpoint-related powers we misinterpreted. Thyme got knocked unconscious twice. And Takom, uh . . .

Turns out that, in fine D&D tradition, the getting surrounded by kobolds is pretty bad news for the wizard. The two crits didn't help much, either, but that main of it was just the familiar equation of three dragonshields vs. one 1st-level wizard. After a short period of mourning for the fallen (and a bit of gloating by the DM, because I actually managed not to wuss out and have the kobolds attack a different, better defended character) Takom's player has replaced him with Ubuntu, the tiefling paladin, which ought to be entertaining.

The most interesting thing about the affair is that while the kobolds were the proximate cause of his demise, the incident was really due to poor communication by the players. If Stonefist had realized what he was trying to do earlier, he would have been able to use his daily exploit, covering strike and move him out of range of the otherwise extremely difficult to get away from kobolds.

It'll be interesting to see if the players can learn to better co-ordinate their tactics. It occurs to me that it could just be that the system is too complicated, and requires the players to keep track of too many things -- their allies capabilities in addition to their own -- but right now I think it's an area where they could significantly improve if they just talked to each other more.

Of course, some of this is probably my fault. My 3rd edition fights tended to be way too easy -- and around here, I'm the DM who actually cares about combat -- so they're just executing the "charge in and start hitting things" routine that has always brought them success in the past. I may encourage them to go hit up the dragon graveyard before they invade the kobold lair (though as the module expects, they are now very enthusiastic about wiping out those damn shifty kobolds; so far they've been just exactly the right mix of vexing and smashable) so they can get some more practice with the edition's assumptions before taking on the allegedly killer Irontooth encounter.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Warforged and the Default Setting

My favorite race that I never got to play is now 4th edition ready, allowing me to achieve new and exciting heights of non-play. Swank.

They also come with a place in the history of the new default setting, and a few more details about that setting -- specifically, how the empire of Nerath fell, and a couple of things that were going on in the decades before that. They even drop a note to explain the economics behind the warforged: Nobles could get out of required military service by paying for their production.

I kind of suspect that the setting will get a lot more defined as supplements come out and things have to be fitted into it in interesting ways. The core books play pretty fast and loose with that implied setting; it's there, but there's a lot that's clearly marked "do your own thing." I wonder how long that will last.

Thursday, June 12, 2008


There are two new (to core) classes in the 4e Player's Handbook, the warlock and the warlord. They both have "war" in their names, and this, of course, is an excellent thing.

But it is my considered opinion that they did not go far enough. Every class should have "war" in its name.

For some, this is fairly simple. The fighter becomes "warrior," the cleric "war-priest," the wizard "war-mage." The ranger, similarly, is easily converted to "waranger." The rogue might sensibly be referred to as either a "war-thief" or "war-lurk," though these lack a certain iconic elegance.

The paladin vexes me.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Dungeons and Dragons and . . . Gladiators

With 4e, my long simmering idea to run a gladiator campaign has re-emerged. Not in anything approaching full force, mind you; the tropes of classic heroic adventure and sandbox-y wilderness exploration sing their own siren songs.

But ever since I read Dragon #303 (the only issue of Dragon I have ever owned, though now I'm not sure now where it is) I've thought that having an entire campaign revolve around the gladiatorial arena was a pretty neat idea. I put it aside in favor of other things, but what's got me thinking about it again is that I think 4e would be a much better fit for it than 3e.

Having just one fight per day wouldn't massively skew the power curve or the XP system; I'd just have to take into account that the players would pretty much be able to use all their dailies, if they wanted to, and make the fights a little tougher than usual. And the game seems geared towards big, set-piece battles, so I can use lots of monsters and throw in lots of gimmicks and I'd have a lot of support from the books on how to do that. It's also an excuse to use mechanically interesting but plainly bizarre monster combinations.

If I was going to do this, I'd make the party a team of gladiators, and the setting would revolve around them and other teams fighting monsters and occasionally each other. Put together a tournament system, some kind of rankings they could work up in, and probably use an actual, numerical system so the players have something to keep track of. Then add in enough behind the scene schemes within their stable and between stables to keep things interesting outside the fights, and to make ways to make the fights meaningful. Rivalries, bets and so on; maybe the start out in some small town, outskirts ring and have to work their way up to the big leagues, maybe there's an emperor who they can impress by pulling stunts and doing daring deeds in the ring, or particular kinds of daring deeds.

I'm still considering whether they'd be slaves or whether gladiatoring (gladiateering?) is legitimate employment. To a certain degree it depends on the death rate, and how final death is. I'm kind of leaning towards the former, based on its potential to generate subplots, but figuring out why they're crazy enough to want to be doing this could be interesting in itself. The free-agent model would also work better with mixing the idea with some urban adventuring/mystery solving.

There's a lot more I could do with this, but right now I haven't figured out where it ranks in the ever-shifting pantheon of games I want to run. I really badly want to do a straight up, 1st-30th sword&sorcery-ish exploration game, but I doubt that's particularly realistic. I'm also not sure which one I'd get more players for, as I don't yet have a solid college group, and might need to do some recruiting.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

4e Burnout Already? Kinda, Sorta

I'm sort of sick of talking about 4e. Seems like that's all anyone's interested in right now, on the internet and in my home group. What's good, what's bad, how it fits together, how it's different from the other editions, and on and on and on. I've been thinking about it a lot lately, reading the books and thinking about things to do with it, changes to make, campaigns to run. I need to find something else to think about, because I don't, at the moment, feel any great need to discuss them.

I just want to play the dang thing. Worry about whether it's good or not later.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Damn Shifty Kobolds

Played me some 4th Edition D&D last night. We basically just ran through the first encounter in Keep on the Shadowfell, and then the PCs tooled around Winterhaven long enough to figure out where to go next. Character creation took over three hours, next time we'll get through a lot more game.

It was fun. The encounter was pretty well designed (and I've picked up a few tricks in that area from the module) and we were able to keep rule look ups relatively fast and infrequent. I described the scene a little better than usual, and everyone had fun moving their minis (lego, for the PCs, and paper on pennies for the kobolds) around the mat and laying the smackdown.

Kobolds are a lot of fun. One of the players had heard rumors of their vile shiftiness, and those rumors turned out to be all too true. The dragonshields were the most irritating -- the fighter had a hard time getting close enough to them to hit. ("They'll shift! They'll shift! Box them in!") I should have reminded them to use action points; that would have been a good use for them, and made things a bit easier.

The party currently consists of Liam Nate Boniface Andrews, an Eladrin ranger, Stonefist Aleboot, dwarven fighter, Takom, human wizard, Scourge, half-elf warlock, Brandis, human cleric, and Thyme Flyse, half-elf rogue. (Whose player has posted her own session recap.)

The characters are still pretty sketchy, this being the first session, and a short one at that. Highlights include: Stonefist's name is on account of being descended from two destroyed clans; he took both to honor their memories. Thyme Flyse has hers because her parents have "a bad sense of humor." Scourge distinguised himself by asking around for the exact population of Winterhaven, because he "wanted to have options. Lots of options."

Sunday, June 08, 2008

4th Edition and the God Format

Got the 4e books. I've got a session going tomorrow (er . . . later today) but I'm not sure how much I'm going to be able to say about it beyond "it is/is not fun." I'm still in the "ooh, shiny new book" phase.

I do like the format it uses for the gods, though. Name/alignment/domain and worshipers blurb/commandments. Especially for new role players, and with limited space, the commandments are a good way to get across how you should act if you worship a particular god. It helps that most of them include at least one that lets you know who you should beat up.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Character vs. Setting

As I was writing about the assumption of a long term campaign in 1st edition, it occurred to me (at least partly) why that is. The game is about the world, not the characters. That's why Gygax keeps going on about "the milieu," that's why the game is supposed to last as long as possible. Because the point is the world that everyone is building.

This is a huge contrast from the sort of game that I usually run, and learned how to run from the 3rd Edition DMG and places like Gnome Stew. The game is about the characters; when they end, when they die or their adventures come to a satisfactory conclusion, the game ends, and you start a new one.

And on a slight tangent, to me, character death makes a lot more sense in a game of the prior variety than the latter. If the point of the game is the world, then one character dying just means it's the end of his particular story, and the chance to add another dimension to the setting. In a game that's about the continuing adventures of one specific group of people, there are probably other ways for them to fail, without having to deal with a character-sized hole in the campaign. Which can work, and be interesting, depending on how the characters are related and what they're doing, but it's a lot more disruptive.

Friday, June 06, 2008

An Endless Campaign

The thing that really jumps out at me, as I read through the 1st Edition DMG, is the focus on long term play. 3rd Edition, the only one I've played so far, assumes the game tops out at about two years of solid play. I don't think the books explicitly discuss it, but that's the advancement rate built into the XP tables. Sure, you can go into epic, but then the game gets really dang weird, and you need another book.

4e goes even further. You can not play your character past 30th level, because at 30th level you get the power of "You die, but it's awesome." Which is perfectly good if you have one group of players and their awesome adventures, with plot arcs and so on. Eventually, you'll need to have a satisfying conclusion.

1st edition is different. Right off the bat, Gygax tells us that "Limitations, checks, balances, and all the rest are placed into the system in order to assure that what is based thereon will be a superior campaign, a campaign which offers the most interesting play possibilities to the greatest number of participants for the longest period of time possible." How well the system, the maths and so on, supports this, I can't say, not having played it, but that's at least what it's designer assumes you'll want to do with it.

The other main section that got me thinking along these lines was "Territory Development by Player Characters." You don't play your characters to the maximum level (or the maximum interesting level) and then start a new campaign; eventually, your characters should settle down, clear some land, and maybe continue adventuring but also start dealing with managing a stronghold and political maneuvering and so on. Then, even if that player leaves the game, the DM still has their character and their stronghold and their contributions made to the world, and can continue to use them as background for future adventures.

None of this is particularly new--I wouldn't necessarily have noticed it if I hadn't already read about the sandbox-y, multi-character nature of those early games, and their assumed end game. But it does seem to stand out.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Guess What Came in the Mail Today?

Yep. I've (finally) answered Dr. Rotwang's challenge and acquired an Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Masters Guide of my very own.

The new(er) cover isn't quite as cool as the original efreet-fighting one, but it's not bad. Overall, I quite like the "book" part of the book. It's got a nice weight to it, and that wonderful old paper smell.

And, of course, it's got charts. I haven't had a chance to really study it yet, but what I've flipped through so far looks good. "Unexplained Sounds and Weird Noises," suggestions for tricks a dungeon might play on adventurers, a whole set of tables for generating random NPC personalities (including sanity!) -- all kinds of crazy goodness.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Spore, Evolution, and Intelligent Design

I'm kind of worried about Spore.

There's the standard "it won't live up to the hype" complaint, but few games do, and even if it doesn't it'll probably be pretty awesome. I've enjoyed every other Will Wright/Maxis game I've ever played, so I'm not worried about it not being fun.

What bugs me is -- IGN describes it as an "evolution game." It's not. If anything, it's an intelligent design game. Which doesn't bother me, intrinsically, because it makes a much better, or at least more approachable, foundation for a game.

But I do worry that describing it as an "evolution game" will get people mixed up, or that it's a sign that they're already mixed up. A minor worry, but something I think about.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Dreams of Continuity

I always get kind of jealous when I hear about people who have been running different campaigns using the same setting, often for decades. I've never had any kind of serious, long term continuity in my games. The longest campaign I've ever run lasted about six months, maybe a little longer. And each of them has had, at least in theory, a completely distinct setting.

Which has had its advantages. I've been able to play with a lot of different kinds of things, and I like that. But I've never had a setting that I worked on for a long period of time, that grew from something basic and straightforward to something complex and multi-faceted. I like the idea of having a project like that.

What I always get stuck on is in building a cosmology that can acommodate "anything." Some kind of mult-world thing. That's always where I get stuck on setting design, when I do get stuck; I get the idea into my head that I have to have some grand framework supporting the whole thing, and I can never get that finished. And making it "multi-world" from the beginning always ends up seeming ridiculous and forced and opening up all kinds of weird problems that I don't want to deal with.

So I'm going to stop doing that.

The campaign I'm going to run this summer will end when the summer ends. And setting isn't going to be its main focus; I'm starting it off with Keep on the Shadowfell, may consider moving on to Thunderspire Labyrinth if that goes well and doesn't bore me out of my mind. (Though I'm going to need something to write for WoAdWriMo, and using an adventure written for the campaign seems like the obvious thing to do.)

If I end up needing setting material, I'm going to start with the 4e default setting and work my way out from there, see how well that goes. I've had some success with taking existing settings and tweaking them to my needs, and I want to see what I can do with the new setting. In general, though, I plan to focus more on developing my description and encounter-level skills than my world-building and scheme-planning skills.

But I'm going to have another campaign to run in the fall, and if I like 4e, and I like whatever setting evolves out of the summer campaign . . .

Well, we'll see.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Alignment and Deities and Other Cosmological Nonsense

Unless there's significant rules cruft that makes it unfeasible, I'm might just house rule the 4e alignment system into something that's a little more recognizable to me. I might ressurect the 9-point system, but at the moment I'm leaning towards replacing "good" with "chaotic good," "evil," with "lawful evil," and leaving it at that.

I could leave in plain "good" and "evil," but the shades of distinction aren't absolutely necessary, and if I leave them out I can maintain the law/chaos axis as the one that's actually important, something I've wanted to implement for a while.

Cosmologically, that is. In such a system, mortals -- meaning the PCs -- think of evil/good as the important axis, and think lawful good and chaotic good have more in common with each other than lawful good and evil. But the gods might think differently, seeing themselves and the devils on one side of a great struggle with elementals and demons.

Such a set up would run the risk of putting too much setting emphasis on things the PCs aren't involved in and don't care about. On the other hand, it would let me have religious wars between two good churches. (Chaotic good gods are renegades from the standard divine set up? Or chaotic good mortals worship something else entirely?) Not sure whether that would be a good thing, but it could be interesting.

Something to play with. I need to see the 4e deity set up, and decide whether I want to use it, to really be sure what I'm going to do. I might not even use gods at all.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

To the President Cave!

Last night, at my kitchen table, Tommy Ocean ("Description: George Clooney), Mikaela "Mikie" Daniels (waitress and Buffy fan), Abraham Lincoln (a supernatural creature who takes the form of our sixteenth president because "Abraham Lincoln frees slaves!"),Kazak (an abomination from 2071), and Don Filks Ruth (an assassin from 1865) saved President (Harrison) Ford from Nazi ninjas, but were unable to stop the rest of the Nazis from stealing the Washington Monument and blasting off in it. ("They must be headed for the secret presidential moonbase!")

Yeah, I ran some Feng Shui yesterday. Highlights included a fight in the President cave (like the Batcave, but the bar is better), Mikie stabbing Hans, the main ninja/Nazi, with a flaming American flag ("American flags -- my only weakness!") and a decapitated wooden ninja statue signed by Harrison Ford.

It was pretty fun. It would have run a lot faster if I'd prepped better, but I might not have been able to muster the same level of bizarre-itude if I'd planned things out ahead of time. The players took to the game with enthusiasm, and made up for a lot of my waffling. They did a good job with stunts; thinking up good ones gave them something to do while they waited for their turn, and they figured out pretty quickly that they could invent appropriate items of scenery.

I'd planned for this to be a one-shot, and had been planning to use a series of Feng Shui one-shots in the event of player absence from my upcoming 4e campaign, but the characters came out so well I might just run this as a back-up game instead. The guy who's most likely to go missing wasn't there last night, but if necessary we can have him make a character, too. It doesn't take long. I might, someday, run a full Feng Shui campaign, but for no I'm pretty happy having it as my game-for-when-I-don't-have-a-game.