15 October 2014

Visiting Family

Last Sunday two out of five players were missing, so we just had a lot of town roleplaying. They made it off the island with the help of an irritated Xildxen, and arrived in the Sevedorian city of Plaack. Pretty basic stuff; they got to go to a rowdy inn full of drunks and pirate-types, they got to visit some odd shops here and there, and visit the market, and get used to the place, and have a decent time. It wasn't half bad. I'm still perilously slow at making up names, but I try and have a name generator or two open at all times so it's not terrible. Making characters is getting easier, and I've been working on converting some of my more workable ideas into concrete "modules," as well as converting my jungle island play notes into something that another person could use.

It's always strange intentionally making things for other people to use. It feels arrogant, like "what I make and play is so good you'll want to read it to play games like me." Of course it's more of a "this is what I thought of, please scavenge any good bits" but I wonder if I'm able to get that across in my writing...

Today I'm going to be playing in an open table 5e game, which should be exciting. I'm playing Erneminax Vlahakis, the Human Wizard. Character creation in 5e is alright; the packages and quick-buy make it pretty easy, and the fact that at low level you don't have many feats or class features or anything means that you have the simplicity of older editions at your fingertips, but the (optional) feat system plus the optional "roll for starting gold" means that you can get down and dirty with your gear and build if you so choose. The other neat bit is that in-combat character damage and utility are about the same across the board, so there's no character optimizing nonsense that newer editions seemed to enjoy. I haven't done the math but I've read that the difference between a relatively regular stock character (say, a human fighter) and an optimized multiclass mishmash is about 10%, damage-wise. It's like they've actually put effort into learning from past mistakes!

The whole game feels like they've learned a lot from past mistakes; advantage and proficiency bonuses replace the byzantine labyrinth of situational modifiers and the treadmill of DCs and skill ranks, which is excellent. Weapons are either martial or simple, signifying whether your character has any training in arms or not. The economy still runs on gold, for some reason, and doesn't quite make internal sense, but it doesn't feel as outwardly silly as 3.PF/4e tables, and magic items are in the DMG and presumably not considered part of a character's build anymore, which is wonderful. Each class has its own tricks and utility, although it seems like some classes get much more utility than others without giving up much in the way of effectiveness. Maybe it's just me reading too far into it, but it feels like Clerics and Wizards get a lot of "toolboxiness" while still having good combat potential. I hope I'm wrong, because other than that the system is really well designed. Blows 3e/PF/4e out of the water in any measurable way, that's for sure. Very excited to play here in a couple of hours.

After I get some real experience I might even write my opinion on the system here! The horror!

23 September 2014

Last Week Didn't Happen

Happy Fall Equinox, my fellow Northern Hemisphereans!

Last Sunday would have been the climax of the Ship Rekt arc in my FantasyCraft game, where the mystery of Xildxen and the Jade Idol would have been revealed. But instead, I didn't go to my own game. Instead, I spent time with my wife, her best friend, and her best friend's 7 year old kid. It was pretty cool, actually. We drank a lot of beer and played a lot of video games and talked about a lot of nonsense. The kid didn't drink any beer, of course, but kids don't need to drink beer to stay up past midnight and play video games for hours, do they?

We got to see Maze Runner this Sunday; I won't post any spoilers, but the movie was good. Very Lord of the Flies, except less dystopia and more of a smallish utopia. A strong and personable leader holds a disparate group of young adults in check, creating rules to survive in the strange shifting maze they find themselves in. In The Glade there is safety and peace; outside, is a shifting maze with hideous howling monsters that kill anybody that's caught outside the maze's confines after nightfall. The ending is weak, in that it's a confusing jumble of twists upon twists and the movie ends on a cliffhanger obviously designed to get us all to watch the next one. It works, but it's irritating. I'd still recommend it.

With a couple of tweaks, it could be an entertaining dungeon, or a neat setting for a series of adventures. For typical fantasy adventuring party, I'd probably de-emphasize the Grove and instead make it a very spartan safe-room, but keep the "be back by nightfall or else" aspect, giving each day's delve a bit of urgency. The monsters can be somewhat meek by day, but take on a surprisingly sinister aspect by night. Goblins or orc-type monsters could be neat, since the bright light would keep them off their toes but by night they're out in force hunting and fighting at their full strength. If they're bolstered by some sort of shade or night-hag, even better! Keeping some sort of loud extra-dangerous wandering monster could be fun, too, and including a ceiling (so players can't climb, as they are wont to do when able) could be a good idea if you're concerned that the might attempt to make camp at the top and scurry around the relatively safe top instead of the confusing bottom. But it all depends on the angle you want to take with it, really.

Hopefully next week we get to play again- I have some cool stuff planned for the next session or two, and I hope that my players like going through it as much as I've enjoyed plotting!

15 September 2014

The Campaign Proceeds Apace

So my players' characters have stormed a pygmy village and slew everything that moved, in the pursuit of a Jade Idol that a strange and spacy masked tower-hermit asked them to retrieve for them. They did this without attempting to bargain, converse, or make a deal, which surprised me; to their credit they did attempt to infiltrate the pygmy's huts to see where the coveted Jade Idol was. Of course as soon as the burglar was discovered, he decided to punch the poor pygmy to death with his fist, thus escalating the situation directly to "ultra-violence." Oh, well. Sometimes you have peace, and sometimes you don't.

I was prepared for their advance into insanity (and had been expecting it, honestly- they aren't a very peaceful group and this was nothing new), so most of the session revolved around them battering the pygmies to death along with the shaman (their leader) and his various summoned friends. They got banged up but nobody died, although it got close a couple of times. The pygmy swarms weren't particularly dangerous and one of the players used his action dice to narratively decide that the black storm clouds they'd seen before were coming in right now, and so in a couple of turns the island was dim and everybody got a defense bonus. This obviously helps the players more than the rabble, but I think that's an appropriate way to use action dice and also it was really cool imagining this scene. It was fun stuff.

They've returned to the tower of Xildxen and are standing before the door to his sanctum, on the top level of the tower. I have some fun surprises planned and I wouldn't dare spoil any of them.

12 September 2014

The Arcanist's Conundrum (Comic)

This is entirely too silly a concept for me, but I like the idea.

It's a strictly modern conceit that magic is some sort of an "other" force in the world. It used to be that learned men would gather in universities to study alchemy, gnostic lore, astrology, and other parts of the natural sciences. They saw nothing "occult" about using the position of the stars to learn about the world they inhabited, and if they saw fit to summon a spirit or two it was nothing unusual. It was the same kind of knowledge, preserved and transmitted and respected the same way a man might be famous for his healing abilities, or for his historical knowledge. If you look at long-preserved histories, you can see that even the brilliant Isaac Newton took time off from developing calculus to study alchemy. It was not strange or unusual; it was a perfectly natural thing for an inquiring mind to study and learn about.

So, as silly as the comic is, and as great as the joke is, there's an element of truth in there somewhere. There very likely were quite a few heroes out there who believed that their success in combat was due to their inherent magics, who might have believed that their sword must have been enchanted to cut through a man's head and not even suffer a nick, and who was blessed by the gods themselves to never be defeated.

It's fun stuff.

09 September 2014

The Good Lich's Story

No matter how little skin you have, your cats will always love you.

I like the idea of a good lich- some sort of everyman necromancer who, instead of trying to summon armies of death and slaying people mercilessly, is just kind of curious. Like a mortician. He's interested in the effects of undeath, and its practical applications, and its abstract implications for the world he lives in. He can cast a ray of death, sure, but he mostly uses it to zap insects, which he then studies and dissects and sometimes tries to bring back to life using his magic. He's frustrated at the limitations of his craft; even the freshly dead return as mere shells of their former selves, and what use is a mindless husk?

One day he's reading through some particularly ancient scrolls while visiting the Royal Library. He can tell they've been ignored- they're gathering dust. He blows off the dust and reads through them. What at first seemed like half-mad scribbles of dubious value quickly reveal themselves as strange and unproven magical theories. Theories that he can solve...

It took him a decade, but he's finally ready. Through numerous small magical experiments, it's obvious that this is the right way. The way to true immortality; to real, eternal undeath. The phylactery is ready, the magic circles are drawn on the floor of his study, and the formulas are balanced. The potions stand nearby, and the ritual dagger is drawn. The arcane words are intoned, exactly so; the potions are briskly quaffed one after the other; the dagger is raised above his head and plunged into his chest.

He wakes up, still in the circle, still clad in only the light undergarments he performed the ritual in. He takes a deep breath, then realizes with faint alarm that his heart's stopped. He looks down at himself and sees that his flesh is gone, and only his pale bones remain. They are completely under his control. His head is clear for the first time in ages, and maybe the first time in his existence. His thoughts seem to ring around in the cool stillness of his mind.

It's time to feed the cats, he thinks. And then it's time to study. Forever.

I think I might make The Nice Lich a character in Fantasy Craft. At first they'll be all "oh shit a skellington" but he'll be like "Wait, hold on, you've got the wrong idea!"

And they'll be like "Who taught skellingtons to talk?" and he'll answer them, "I'm not a skeleton, I'm a lich!" and then he'll say something polite, like he'll invite them to sit down and have a chat, or maybe he'll offer to let them stay at his house because he wants to hear their adventuring tales, or maybe he's got a problem that they can help him with ("Do you think you could settle my affairs with the merchant down the street, he insists on seeing me but he's superstitious and there's no way I could meet him like this, he'd never understand"), or maybe he doesn't particularly need anything and it's just kind of part of the world?

One of the players' characters has an interest in old books anyways and he'd probably want to see what the bony dude's got so he can leaf through them. That'd be pretty neat.

08 September 2014

FC Junglin'

Currently in Fantasy Craft, the setting is a cannibal-pygmy infested jungle, complete with thick vegetation, angry wildlife, and... a wizard? Best not to ask about that last one (my players didn't), and best not to consider why it is that he's seeking a jade idol...

Is it scholarly curiosity, a stolen possession with a long story, or blatant theft? Hopefully they'll find out when they steal is from the pygmy village (violence optional), and all will be revealed!

Turns out that for my end, though, a jungle isn't as exciting as I'd hoped. There don't seem to be rules for getting lost and I can never remember how often wandering monsters "should" be happening or even what monsters to use. I was going to make myself a chart but I am apparently too stupid to remember to do that before the actual game is supposed to be starting. Maybe I'll do that now...

Roll 1d6 every six hours: 1-2 means it's encounter time. Roll 2d6 and consult the chart:
2: TYRANNOSAUR (1 + 1d6-3 babies)
9-10: PYGMY RAIDERS (1d8+2)

If you're playing Fantasy Craft, you might have to invent their stat-block, but that's fine. Use the online character generator and try to remember the rule of 40.* I'll stop being lazy and post my own here maybe tomorrow. Or maybe not. I was working on a "dial-a-dino" system where you just roll like 6d6 and smash the results together to get some kind of weird-ass dinosaur that seems plausible enough, but it's not done yet. Maybe when it's done...

Anyways, I'm thinking that Kievan Russia might be the next setting. That, or maybe a Turkish sort of setting. There's a big world out there and having the players start on an island means that they can go to pretty much any neato setting I feel like writing. It's good to be the DM!

*Every 40 experience worth of enemies marks a significant increase in challenge. Remember that enemies are supposed to be encountered in "bands," one per player. So four kobold warriors against a group of 4 players is pretty easy. Eight makes it pretty tough, and 12 is dangerous, for example. If you keep how dangerous you want your monsters to be in mind, it's pretty easy to get the right balance of danger, number, and interesting features down.

05 September 2014

Moving to FantasyCraft

I've started playing FantasyCraft. If you haven't heard of it, it's pretty simple: imagine that instead of going in a strange new direction with 4th edition, they took the diseased and horrible corpse of 3rd edition and rifled through its pockets for a good system. Imagine they looked at what they did wrong, and actually thought about ways to make it work the way they pretended it did. Imagine they thought of ways to make it less complex and give more character options, and separated your character's niche from what they do in combat. Imagine feats were good. Pretty neat, right? That's FantasyCraft.

It's not a perfect system by any means- character creation takes a long time, and you can get stuck with analysis paralysis if you're not careful. NPCs can be a little detailed if you want to use the full weight of the system, and the rulebook's organizational choices leave a little to be desired.

But once you learn it, what a system it is! I've never seen a crunchy system that actually enhances the fluff before. I think a large part of it is that it's easy to be broadly good at the sort of things your character ought to be good at, and since the classes and feats work together to flesh out a concept, you're free to do anything you'd like. A Burglar can pick up unarmed combat feats and be a ninja, or take Chance feats and be a Bilbo Baggins "lucky number" or style feats and be a King of Thieves. And so on. Armor isn't essential for character survival anymore, and wizards can wear it if they want. Personal Lieutenant, Followers, and berserker rage are feats that can be taken by anybody. It's seriously cool.

So I've been pretty excited about that.

I can't remember if I've said anything yet, but Dungeon World is on hiatus for the moment- it's a pretty good system and it's a lot of fun to run things and to make things up, and it's awesome that high level characters are about as powerful as lower leveled ones, but characters level up fairly quickly and start doing a lot of damage and being very resilient, so the fluff doesn't quite meet the crunch after a while. I get that you're just supposed to say "no" when characters are trying to things that are impossible, but after a while it's either "no, you can't do that" or "you guys deal 300 total damage per round." It's not fun to stop characters from doing things they're good at, you know?

So we dropped it for now. No plan on checking out V. Baker's own fantasy-styled Apocalypse World; it seems neat enough from what I've read but it's not at all the sort of fantasy that I'm interested in exploring. Sorry guy!

Anyways, I'll write up a summary of what happened last Sunday tomorrow, maybe; this post is long enough as it is.

03 August 2014

New Campaign

In my drunken boredom last night, I reached out to my roleplaying buddies for something to do. We ended up playing "Pretend you're Xyzzy," which is a Cards Against Humanity* clone, and "Board Game Online," which despite its name really isn't much of a board game. Kind of a postmodern joke masquerading as an actual game. Which is fine, I guess.** The conversation was the really interesting part,

We also decided that we'd like to play a more serious, long-term campaign with a system that's more appropriate for long-term gaming. Which is neat. Running two games at once is almost hilariously easy when you get to choose the system, and everybody knows that light is king.

Except when you're trying to get a long-term campaign done, of course.

So I'll be looking at a system that has slower built-in advancement than Dungeon World, as much as I like the core system. The thing about Dungeon World is that you level up every two or three sessions (between failing rolls, which everybody does a lot of, and the "bonus" end of round experience), and getting new toys. The other big thing about Dungeon World is that your characters soon start to get very good at quite a few things (or very good at just a couple), so the game is really better suited for a focused "go here and do this" sort of campaign instead of a more meandering "choose your own path and explore the world" sort of game.

Of course, I know that now. Next time I run Dungeon World I'll run it with a pre-set goal that everybody agrees on- something like "We're mercenaries fighting for King Harlaus against the filthy Khergits," or "we're plunging into this dungeon to retrieve the Amulet of Yendor." And then when the heroes have completed their goal, the game is over. Finis.\

I'm thinking we should try running Swords and Wizardry or maybe Openquest. Something with a strong traditional background without being rigid, and something that supports a couple of months of gameplay and a relatively open-ended style without promoting mindless grinding and faffing about. It's a delicate balance. I hope I can make it work. 

*I don't actually like Cards Against Humanity much, since it's barely a game, and the online version had a lot of pointedly unfunny white cards on them. But I like the group that I was playing with, and sometimes that's enough.

**Boardgame Online is a decent way to pass time if you're drunk, but given that it's just a roll-and-move with some surface dressing on it, it's really not that great.