Thursday, January 26, 2012

Fun with d30s!

Having been inducted into the Order of the d30 by my illustrious GM, I introduced the same mechanic into my 2e game.  I thought it would be a fun way of keeping things interesting, so the characters didn't spend their first several levels refining the finer points of kobold combat.  In their first outing with the d30 at their backs, they even managed to take down a mind flayer.  By the skin of their teeth, granted, but it definitely levelled the playing field enough that it was possible.

Suffice it to say that, with the head of a mind flayer swinging from their collective belt, they went into the next session with a bit of swagger.  The gauntlet was thrown, and having giveth, it was time to taketh away.  That night, the party learned a valuable lesson - the d30 is of great use when fighting a singular big bad, when fighting swarms of small timers, not so much.  Challenged by a Hobgoblin and his Goblin minions, a toll was demanded in order to cross a bridge.  The party declined, and combat was joined.  Suffice it to say that the Goblins cleaned their clocks.  None of the party had any area of effect spells, and so it was 7 goblins and a Hobgoblin against 6 low level characters.  There were lots of swings, lots of misses, but when they hit, the Goblins did just as much damage as the PCs, and the PCs didn't out-HP the Goblins by that much, so the hits, few and far between as they were, wreaked devastating havoc upon both sides.  The d30 was effectively neutralized since if it was used on an attack roll, it only took down one goblin.  If it was used for damage, it didn't matter whether the hit  did 6 points of damage or 26.

In the end, it was the quick thinking of the rogue that saved the party.  With the rest of the party unconscious and faced with two Goblins, he chose to parley.  Seeing their leader down and the other five Goblins in a similar state, they agreed.  The party lost half of the gold they took from the corpse of the mindflayer, but they lived.

They seem to have learned the lesson, a bit.  Last night, when confronted by nine dwarves - six unarmed, two with daggers, and one with an axe - they chose to go for the reaction roll and talk their way out of combat, rather than rush in headlong.

I call that growth.

Friday, January 20, 2012

In the Grim Darkness of the Far Future...

I've become mildly obsessed with the 40k RPG of late.  I was always peripherally fascinated with the tabletop version of Warhammer, glancing at the groups of people huddled around intricately designed tables at game shops from the corner of my eye. The investment required though, both in terms of time and money, always seemed to put it out of my reach. 

My local Half Price Books, however, must have picked up a carton of Dark Heresy books that fell off the back of a truck, because they had a TON of them lying around.  While $60 is a bit much for an RPG, even a core book, I will gladly pay $30 for such a book.

But my god, the backstory.  As I told a friend the other day, trying to get a handle on everything that has come before is intimdating, to say the least.  It's not like walking in the middle of a movie, it's like walking in the middle of the last movie in a trilogy.  The sheer volume of information that is out there is staggering - I spent an entire afternoon web crawling the 40k wiki and still only feel like I have scratched the surface.

What fascinates me, though, is the fact that this backstory came from a tabletop game; that the RPG, the game that would actually USE this backstory, was an afterthought that came almost 25 years after the initial release of the tabletop game.  The tabletop game has no mechanical purpose, that I can see, for all this backstory - it's all fluff!

And don't even get me started on the novels!

Rereading this, it may seem as though I'm frustrated, but that's really not the case.  If anything, it reminds me of when I picked up my first comic book.  I had absolutely no idea what was going on.  Things were being referenced that I had no knowledge of, different issues and books were being cited, and while that is these days cited as everything that was wrong with comics back then, to me it was an invitation.  Rather than pitching the comic in the garbage, I ran right back out to the comic shop and bought the referenced comics so I could understand.

Which is exactly the attitude Games Workshop relies on. 

But the key point here is how much story, or fluff, can drive the popularity of a game.  It seems as though there are two approaches here.  The D&D approach is to create a generic setting that anyone can imagine themselves in - you've seen Lord of the Rings, you can play D&D.  The other approach, though, is the Warhammer Way.  Lure them in, get them invested in the story you're telling, whether you're telling it via RPG, comics or a tabletop game.  Some will be unwilling or unable to make the investment, and the group you attract will be smaller, but hey - if they will buy your books at $60 a pop, you don't need as many of them anyways!

More to come on this...

Thursday, January 19, 2012

In Case You Missed It

With all the hoopla surrounding Wizards of the Coast's announcement that they intend to reprint AD&D 1st edition books, you'd be forgiven for having missed the fact that James M Ward has put Metamorphosis Alpha up for sale, print on demand, through Lulu.

The prototype for Gamma World, it was the first of its kind, and really, nothing like it has been seen since.  Set on a spaceship hurtling through space, you play a part in the ever evolving ecosystem that develops long after a cataclysm kills most of the inhabitants of the ship.  You are the descendants, the ship your world, left to puzzle out what is left behind.

Seriously, do yourself a favor and buy it.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


In a previous post, I had discussed the differences between player and character expectations, and I thought it was a topic that deserved some more room to breathe.  Specifically, I got to thinking about my time as a GM in a Gamma World campaign, and what a pain in the ass it was trying to create a world in which ordinary, every day items were wondrous artifacts of a bygone age.  Rolling up the "treasure" and finding they had discovered a fire extinguisher, and trying to describe it without giving it a way ("a red, tube shaped object with a hose running off of it that ends in a cone").  As much of a pain as it was, though, it was vital to keeping the "feel" of the game alive, because most people, or at least most people I have played with, sort of idealize themselves when they roleplay, so getting them into the heads of their characters can be a real challenge.  If I had told them that they had found a fire extinguisher, they would have been off to the Preservationists to hawk it without a second thought.  Instead, they went all the way through the "Figure Out an Artifact" chart, and were at one point using it as a bludgeoning weapon. 

When I play, I try and come up with a concept for my character as early in the character generation process as possible.  If I can do it beforehand and then fit the stats into the concept, all the better.  Once I've got that character, I try and react to situations as I feel my character would, which can lead to conflict in some cases with my fellow party members.  Playing a 1st level Elven Fighter, my fellow adventurers cannot understand why I won't go near the front lines, even though I have the biggest number of hit points.  Well, if you're an Elf that will live for thousands of years, provided you don't trip down the stairs or get impaled on the end of a spear, and you're only one or two sword strokes away from death, I think you'd be getting well acquainted with bows and arrows.  Similarly, when I played a Warforged Psionicist, the Evil, Evil GM had us square off against a monster that devoured metal.  My Warforged watched the fighter's shield turn to dust and broke and ran to "go for help".  It's those sorts of things, in my humble opinion, that make role playing fun.  Sure, there's always room in the party for a square jawed hero who laughs at death, but take the time to humanize your character!  Get in their head, and ask, WWtCD?

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Why Crowdsourcing 5e Isn't a Good Idea

At this point, if you haven't seen The Article, you've been living under a rock, or you have no interest in RPGs.  If it's the former, welcome back to the World!  If it's the latter, welcome to the RPG World!

Which is a good segue into my point here.  There is the World, and there is the RPG World.  I think that the blogosphere creates a sort of echo chamber, that allows us to feel as though we are legion, but even in the world of niche hobbyists, we're a niche hobby.  Not quite model trains, but nowhere near Yu-Gi-Oh, either.

By soliciting advice from players, though, the snake is devouring it's own tail and creating something that is less than what already exists because it's not going to be the casual gamers that do the testing, it's not going to be what we really need - new gamers - that do the testing, it's going to be the hardcore gamers.  It's going to be the people that blog about games, that design their own games, people who are passionate about the game already - in short, it will be the people that were already going to buy the game when it came out, regardless of what the product ends up looking like.

WOTC has an opportunity here, to try and bring those elusive wild beasts - new customers - into the fold, by designing a game that doesn't appeal to the fond memories of our childhoods, but rather to the zeitgeist of today, or even better, tomorrow.  Apple hasn't stayed relevant by pushing their desktop line of computers, they push the products people don't know that they want, or even better, need.  RPGs need to do the same - D&D is our gateway drug.  It has the name and brand recognition that gets people in the stores buying the games to begin with.  WOTC need to ignore the blogosphere, they need to ignore the fans, and they need to come up with the Next Big Thing.

D&D, and RPGs in general, will probably never be as big as they were in the 70s and 80s.  Too much of that marketshare has been eaten up by X-Boxes and PS3s, Magic and Pokemon.  But that doesn't mean it can't be relevant, dammit.  In order to do that, though, it needs to be looking outwards and forwards, not backwards and inwards.

So do the industry a favor.  Don't sign up for the playtesting - go outside the RPG World, into the Wrold and find a friend who loves Skyrim or World of Warcraft but has never really roleplayed and get THEM to sign up.  Even if their input means that the game we all want to love is fundamentally changed, increasing it's popularity increases the size of the pond we live in, and eventually some of them will get tired of D&D and move out to the outer banks, asking, "What's this OSR I hear about?"

Monday, January 9, 2012

I'd Like to Thank the Little People

Over on the Lamentations of the Flame Princess Forum, Jim Raggi challenged his readers to come up with a description of the events portrayed on the banner at said site.  My contribution was selected by Mr. Raggi as his favorite, being "very evil and very unlikely to end well for anyone."

Which, if you've ever played LotFP, is high praise, indeed!

Crossing Streams

Expedition to the Barrier Peaks is a longtime favorite module of mine, serving as it did as a halfway point between D&D and Gamma World.  I remember hearing about it when I was younger, and reacting much as though someone had handed me a peanut butter and guacamole sandwich.  I like scifi, and I like fantasy, but both, together? 

The more I think about it, though, how much of a problem would it be, really, to incorporate either into the other?  In reality, the fantasy folks would probably marvel at the artifacts the scifi folks had, and the scifi folks would wonder how much radiation the mages had to bathe in to get so many mutations!

Bill Slavicsek didn't include it in the Dungeon Survival Guide because he felt it was a "fundamentally different experience", but I think that was the "peanut butter and guacamole" reaction.  I suspect the real reason was a branding decision, but that's another conversation for another time. 

Long story short, even though the direction always seems to be to bring the sci-fi to the fantasy, how would a group of irradiated, post-apocalyptic folks handle being presented with a bunch of sword-swinging, magic-casting do gooders?