Sunday, July 20, 2014

First 5E session

Tonight I ran a quick D&D session using the new rules and the adventure from the Starter set. It was a short session, and we only got through one encounter and a little follow-up. We had to look up a lot of details as we played, so that slowed us down. All of that aside, I really like the new system!

There are some things that are different than I am used to from previous editions, but the differences seemed to make things easier overall. The hardest part of the system so far is figuring out exactly what calculations to do in specific situations. Once you work out the basic math, it all runs smoothly.

The initiative is continuous, rather than being rolled fresh each round. That helped keep things moving along during combat. I am probably going to make some initiative cards with basic stats for monsters and characters to help me keep track of things a little better.

The lethality and healing balanced pretty well. First level characters are fragile, but there are plenty of ways to head off the reaper. Second Wind helped one of the fighters stay on his feet, and the cleric was able to throw a couple spells to help everyone else. Critical hits could definitely cause some serious damage to a low-level party. I scored four criticals on the characters in the one combat, and most of them were down for at least a round or two. Despite the wounds, the party was able to recover enough with a short rest at the end of the encounter to keep going.

I like the mechanics for death and dying. Unless the character takes a massive amount of damage, you have to fail a few rolls before your character is done. That gives enough time to allow for some intervention. I think it will keep more characters alive, but there is still plenty of tension when you're rolling those saves.

Hopefully I can get another session in the next couple weeks. In the meantime, I'm going to keep reading the rules and the adventure so things can run a little smoother next session.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Another try

I've been neglecting the blog for the last few months, mostly because I haven't really had a lot of energy for it. Some of that is because I haven't been able to find any people to game with locally. Most of it is that I have been getting dragged down by real life stuff.

I did download the Basic rules for 5th edition, though, and I got my Starter Set in the mail yesterday. So I've been reading a bit of the new rules, and I'm planning to try to run the adventure from the Starter this weekend. I've only read the first forty pages of the PDF and the first ten or so pages of the adventure. So far, there is a lot to like in the new edition.

The Starter set is nicely put together. The box is sturdy, and I like the art. The dice are decent. I think the covers on the books could be sturdier, which I understand is a common complaint. I would have liked to see more complete rules in the set, but I think they work for an introduction.

I love the extra space and the spacer in the box. I punched a few holes in the spacer with a stylus so it comes out easier, and I plan to keep my dice, some minis, and other things under the spacer. There's enough room for a lot of small game items that I like to use, and keeping them under the spacer will save some wear on the books.

Even though I haven't read much of the adventure, I already like it. There is some good guidance for DMs in the encounters I've read. It seems like there is some room for exploration. The thing I like best though is the separation of the mechanical elements from the text of the adventure. It seems to me, if a DM is willing to create the stat blocks, it would be easy to run the adventure with any edition. It's a simple change, but I like it.

The Basic rules are obviously incomplete, but I expected that from what I read online before it was released. Still, there's a lot of material there. I think releasing the rules in pieces is a good idea. It allows people to read a little at a time and digest it, rather than jumping right in with everything and getting overwhelmed. Depending on how it develops, I may eventually print and bind the whole thing. For now, though, I'm happy to read things as they're released and be happy.

I'll be putting together a lot more of my thoughts about the game later. For now, I'm going back to reading the adventure. Hopefully, this will get some of the fire back.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Paint Table Saturday

The past couple of weeks I haven't done much painting. I've been working too much on other projects when I haven't been buried in the day job. So today is a bit of catch-up on painting projects. I'm working on finishing the not-so-fast speed painting on my skaven, painting some old Heritage and Grenadier minis for a friend at work, and continuing building a 1/72 MiniArt medieval fortress. Hopefully later I'll get interrupted to roll some dice or go see Captain America: Winter Soldier. Otherwise, I'll be bouncing back and forth on these projects for the day.

MiniArt medieval fortress in progress

Skaven and more on the paint table

Sorry for the blurry pics. I snapped them quickly with the cell phone so I could get this posted and get back to work.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

May light perpetual shine on him


I just found out that Dave Trampier passed away earlier this week. I have been a fan of his work for decades, and I always hoped he would eventually return to art and gaming. Sad to see that this will not be the case. My thoughts and prayers are with him and those close to him.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Kurt Vonnegut and why I keep working on things I will never get to play

Vonnegut mural in Indianapolis
After growing up in Indianapolis, I have a particular fascination with things that are related in some way to my hometown. Not the least, of course, is Kurt Vonnegut, the onetime Hoosier that fled the state and became one of its most notable expatriates. I enjoy his fiction, but I mostly enjoy his appreciation for things midwestern without the fawning devotion and xenophobia that often go along with that. I also appreciate his ideas about creativity and writing. I have often heard him say that you need to keep creating, whether your creations are wonderful or terrible, simply because creation and the creative process are good for you and make you more human. They help you discover things about yourself and the world that you would not have without trying to express them.

Today someone linked me to an article about a letter that he sent to some high school students in 2006. I think it expresses this well.

It immediately made me think about gaming. I spend a lot of time writing and developing gaming ideas and material that I know will never actually make it to the table top. I paint a lot of miniatures that will most likely sit in foam trays and be auctioned off to someone for pennies when I'm gone. I draw maps and write adventures that sit on my hard drive or fill up notebooks on a shelf. I post things on here, musings, ideas, and fragments that hang in electronic limbo. Sometimes I get lucky and get to play a game using these things. Most often, I don't.

I still consider all of this activity productive, though. I am exercising my creativity and making something new that teaches me things about myself or how I see the world or lets me imagine and see the world in new and different ways. If I share that with others and they enjoy it as much as I do, great. Even if they appreciate it just for the effort I put into it, great. If they pan it or ignore it or never see it at all, it's still good. I created it and, in the creation, made something more of myself.

So even if you're not actively playing a game, the adventure is still worth the effort. Thanks, Mr. Vonnegut.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Inspirational Reading - Part 6

This time around, I want to look at the introduction to Appendix N in the Dungeon Masters Guide and see what else we can add to the list.

The introduction discusses a bit of how Gary came to his list here and also suggests several more sources for inspirational reading. This is the introduction:

Inspiration for all the fantasy work I have done stems directly from the love my father showed when I was a tad, for he spent many hours telling me stories he made up as he went along, tales of cloaked old men who could grant wishes, of magic rings and enchanted swords, or wicked sorcerors [sic] and dauntless swordsmen.
Then too, countless hundreds of comic books went down, and the long-gone EC ones certainly had their effect. Science fiction, fantasy, and horror movies were a big influence. In fact, all of us tend to get ample helpings of fantasy when we are very young from fairy tales such as those written by the Brothers Grimm and Andrew Lang. This often leads to reading books of mythology, paging through bestiaries, and consultation of compilations of the myths of various lands and peoples.
Upon such a base I built my interest in fantasy, being an avid reader of all science fiction and fantasy literature since 1950. The following authors were of particular inspiration to me. In some cases I cite specific works, in others, I simply recommend all of their fantasy writing to you. From such sources, as well as any other imaginative writing or screenplay, you will be able to pluck kernels from which will grow the fruits of exciting campaigns. Good reading!

In the first paragraph, we see a nod toward accumulating fantasy stories and folktales generally. Gary gives homage to his father for simply telling fantastic tales when Gary was a child. This kind of childhood storytelling no doubt influenced most of us to be interested in fantasy. It doesn't recommend any particular stories, but rather the idea of storytelling and shared fantasy in general.

Next, we get suggestions of possible sources outside of traditional fiction. Comics and movies can definitely be sources of inspiration for gaming. I am not including them in the list at present, but I may come back to add them later. Fairy tales can also be a great inspiration, and here Gary gives us some specific suggestions. The Grimm fairy tales are available in a lot of different editions. I am going to add them under the title of the common collection, rather than specifying a particular edition. Andrew Lang published twelve collections of fairy stories titled by the color of the books. These are also going on the list.

The reference to mythology and beastiaries opens the possibility of a huge amount of reading. Virtually any mythology can be incorporated into a game setting if you work at it. That means we could conceivably add all kinds of things to the list to account for mythology. Rather than bury everything else in a bibliography of mythology texts, I am adding the one that most of us used to discover mythology in the first place, Bulfinch's Mythology. I'll add more mythology later.

The final paragraph of the introduction states that the authors and works listed were the ones that particularly influenced Gary, not that they are an exhaustive list. I think this points to something important to remember in terms of using these sources. Anything can give a good idea for a bit for a game, some works or authors will be particularly relevant or influential, but you need to pick and choose what you use. Unless you're running a game completely within a particular fictional setting, harvest your reading and viewing for ideas that you can combine to make something new.

Next I'll start looking at the individual authors on the list in the appendix.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

March Madness OSR Challenge

So, there's another blog hop challenge going on and my feed is full of posts about these questions every day again. I like some of these challenges because they do give me a chance to reflect and think about my gaming history and tastes. Unfortunately, I don't have the time to get a post written every day, and I don't want to clog everyone's feeds with another post just like a dozen or more others every day. So I'm going to answer this one in a single post just like I did the last one. Here goes!

1 What was the first roleplaying game other than D&D you played? Was it before or after you had played D&D?

I played Gamma World first edition when it came out. This was after I started playing D&D. Normally we played it as an extension of D&D rather than it's own game, though.

2 What was the first character you played in an RPG other than D&D? How was playing it different from playing a D&D character?

I'm not really sure. Probably a mutant in Gamma World. Again, since we played GW more as an extension of D&D, there wasn't much difference at all.

3 Which game had the least or most enjoyable character generation?

I always liked working through the career paths in Traveller. I remember always having fun with the survival rolls.

4 What other roleplaying author besides Gygax impressed you with their writing?

I always enjoyed Ed Greenwood's early Realms material from Dragon magazine. Well before the Forgotten Realms was expanded by TSR, you could tell there was a rich background to his world and work that really shone is his writing. He was the first game writer that impressed me with developing a story behind the game material.

5 What other old school game should have become as big as D&D but didn’t? Why do you think so?

I'm going back to Traveller for this one. It is a great system and has lasted for decades as a staple in gaming. I don't think it was as popular because a lot of people were turned off that the implied setting in the base rules was not very developed.

6 What non-D&D monster do you think is as iconic as D&D ones like hook horrors or flumphs, and why do you think so?

I'm going to cheat and say the ringwraiths from MERP. I know they have D&D equivalents in the wraith and spectre, but they were so much cooler in the stories and in the ICE games. I don't think I really need to justify their popularity at this point.

7 What fantasy RPG other than D&D have you enjoyed most? Why?

Rolemaster was a big hit with one of my old gaming groups. I'm not a fan of skill-based RPGs, but we had a lot of fun with RM back in the day. Personally, I'm a big fan of the Arcanum/Talislanta system. It's close enough to D&D to be recognizably easy with enough difference to be a different system.

8 What spy RPG have you enjoyed most? Give details.

Top Secret was always a hit for my group. Normally we ended up playing a lot more para-military action than spy scenarios, but it was a lot of fun. Some of the mini-systems in the game were fun to play with on their own, especially the gambling rules.

9 What superhero RPG have you enjoyed most? Why?

Marvel Super Heroes wins hands down just because I could actually play Captain America without having to figure out the stats on my own.

10 What science fiction RPG have you enjoyed most? Give details.

I played in a great Cyberpunk 2020 game for a few months in the early 90s. Our entire group got sold out by one of the players and killed by Arasaka for getting too close to some of their secrets. Best game and worst ending to a campaign I've ever played.

11 What post-apocalyptic RPG have you enjoyed most? Why?

I've always loved Gamma World for post-apocalyptic gaming because it was so close to D&D in mechanics and play. I also loved a lot of the history in the early modules.

12 What humorous RPG have you enjoyed most? Give details.

My group had a lot of fun with Paranoia for a while. Just the right game master and players, and this is unbeatable fun.

13 What horror RPG have you enjoyed most? Why?

The only horror RPG I played much of was Call of Cthulhu. I suppose Vampire and the other World of Darkness games could count, but they were never really horrific when we played them.

14 What historical or cultural RPG have you enjoyed most? Give details.

For this one, I'm giving the nod to Boot Hill. We had a couple fun games with this. One of them we played out a range war and the other we played out a series of grand robberies and the aftermath.

15 What pseudo or alternate history RPG have you enjoyed most? Why?

Unless you count FASA's Doctor Who or World of Darkness, I haven't played any alternate history RPGs that I can remember. Gangbusters was a hit for a few months, but I count that as historical, not alternate or pseudo-historical.

16 Which RPG besides D&D has the best magic system? Give details.

I always liked the magic system in Warhammer. Building power as you advance, with the higher threat of miscasting and the subsequent consequences as you go up, always grabbed my imagination. In Warhammer, magic is dark, untamed, and hazardous.

17 Which RPG has the best high tech rules? Why?

I like the tech rules for Cyberpunk 2020. They tied the tech into the game and created flavor along with mechanics.

18 What is the crunchiest RPG you have played? Was it enjoyable?

Champions would have to be the crunchiest I can remember. It was enjoyable for a while, but the group gave it up fairly quickly to go back to simpler systems.

19 What is the fluffiest RPG you have played? Was it enjoyable?

Probably Teenagers from Outer Space. We had great fun with it for a while, again largely due to having a great game master that could improvise and keep things running fast and furious.

20 Which setting have you enjoyed most? Why?

I love the setting and background for Metamorphosis Alpha, especially the Amazing Engine version. The idea of a huge colony ship drifting through space populated with all manner of things is incredibly evocative.

21 What is the narrowest genre RPG you have ever played? How was it?

Probably Gangbusters. It was fun to play but difficult. At the time, none of us really had an understanding of the period beyond what was in the game, so we couldn't do much with it.

22 What is the most gonzo kitchen sink RPG you ever played? How was it?

AD&D with Dragonlance, Oriental Adventures, Gamma World, Boot Hill, Traveller, lots of Dragon and White Dwarf articles, some Role Aids supplements, and a few house rules rolled together into a hot mess. It was a great game!

23 What is the most broken game that you tried and were unable to play?

One of the players that joined our group in the early 90s tried inflicting World of Synnibarr on us once.

24 What is the most broken game that you tried and loved to play, warts and all?

Heroes Unlimited, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and a few other Palladium supers games bolted together.

25 Which game has the sleekest, most modern engine?

Most of the games I love were written twenty or more years ago. I haven't seen a lot of modern mechanics that really grab me.

26 What RPG based on an IP did you enjoy most? Give details.

I started my love of fantasy with The Hobbit, so Middle Earth Role-Playing grabbed me right away. The system was clunky sometimes, but it was Middle Earth, so we worked through it.

27 What IP (=Intellectual Property, be it book, movie or comic) that doesn’t have an RPG deserves it? Why?

I can't really think of one. The world of Harry Potter might be fun to play with. If you limit it to Hogwarts-age characters, though, you really limit the story possibilities and if you open it to older characters, it's too broad and deviates too far from the source material.

28 What free RPG or what non-English RPG did you enjoy most? Give details.

Since I was able to get copies of Werewolf free for Halloween from RPGNow, I'll throw it in here. I always had fun with the World of Darkness, especially the conflicts between vampires and werewolves.

29 What OSR product have you enjoyed most? Explain why.

Everything produced by New Big Dragon is great. Buy all of it!

30 Which non-D&D supplemental product should everyone know about? Give details.

Campaign Law from Rolemaster Second Edition has a great outline for creating a campaign world with a lot of depth.

31 What out-of-print RPG would you most like to see back in publication? Why?

Talislanta always hit the right buttons for me. Again, it's close to D&D but has enough difference to make it stand out as its own system. It's available for free in PDf, though. West End Games Star Wars would be another one because it had one of the simplest systems and really captured the flavor of the SW universe.