Friday, June 14, 2019

New Players & First Sessions

Realizing the full potential of confusion spreads reality.
Inspirobot knows how to spread it.
So, I now have a hard and fast rule that I learned the hard way must always be obeyed.

New players, in their first sessions, should be brought into the hobby with Dungeons & Dragons.

Now I hear you all moaning "BLEH NOT SO" and "MAH FURTS GAEM WUH XXX" but hear me out.  I wouldn't say that for no reason.  I have reasons why I'd want new players at my table to experience D&D instead of any other system for their first time playing.  Reasons born of first-hand experience.

You all mostly know my credentials, but suffice to say I've done a lot of games and I've broken in a lot of new players.  I've seen just about every which way it can go; from newb to pro and everything in between.  From all that, I have found (by and large) that a "gamey" environment is the best for any new gamer.  Especially for new gamers.

Why D&D?

It's very basic, you might say.  Especially Basic.  This is easy for newer players to understand, and if you're using an older edition will immediately grab their attention ...with the tension.  Ahem.  5th Edition is bad for new gamers, because it's immediately boring.  That pretty much goes for any "story-game", but more on that later.

If the player already has a 'gamer mentality'; e.g. has played a video game; the tropes and rules of D&D are very easy to get to grips with and understand.  All the numbers will make sense, and even some of the more advanced items like nonweapon proficiencies will easily be taken into account.

More than that, the settings will be easy to digest.  They are all takes on Lord of the Rings, for the most part.  For the worlds of D&D (these generic high-fantasies and whatnot), not much understanding is really needed by a new player.  Most of them, such as Toril or Oerth, pretty much fit the bill of your 'standard' fantasy world.  All the tropes and creatures will make sense right out of the gate with very little exposition or explanation.

Set up a 'fun' and 'gamey' scenario to accommodate the new players.  Don't take it too far in the opening acts, you know what I mean?  Focus on the dice, the miniatures, the 'spectacle' of the game.  Make it tense, but story-lite.  Lean heavily on the action and game elements the players might be familiar with.

It doesn't really have to be D&D - but it needs to be something 'like' D&D.  Some Examples in my library include:

  • Pathfinder
  • Warhammer Fantasy
  • Palladium
  • Star Wars D20
  • Shadowrun

If you don't follow this course, you might end up with what I experienced to finally change my mind - Real Life Religion Change.

At the time, the club had a breakneck schedule.  We had a couple (who were about to be married, incidentally) join the group who were friends of some newer members, and they had never played the game before but were very interested in doing so.  We had just wrapped up D&D, and moved into a World of Darkness game.

This was to be a story-rich game (storytelling?) and no one even ended up dead this time.  However, the subject matter was rather taut.  It involved spirits and demons and what I felt might be a realistic depiction thereof, and it used our local area to build this story and it's verisimilitude.  For the first time I really, really had the audience's attention and wove that spell of dread around the entire table.  Everyone was truly immersed and engaged.

And then the couple stopped showing up.  No messages were answered.  The very next thing we saw of them , they had gone to a local church. A video was shared on social media of their new Baptism ceremonies.  All the tattoo/emo-metal and sk8/punk attitude was gone.

While this is sort of a point of pride for me, I caution you against alienating folk in such a manner.  There wasn't even much in the game that a 'gamer' would find revolting.  It was all spiritual subject matter, Twilight Zone style moral conundrums.

Neither of them have ever spoken to me again.

Friday, May 31, 2019

Bad Day at Geonosis Rock

Edge of the Empire: Mayhem, Inc.
*Last Updated 5/6/2019*
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Episode IX

Betrayed by the corrupt Lt. Levdu and ordered to capture or eliminate him by the Hutt Cartel, the Cripple Crab makes a surprise flyby attack on Knossa Spaceport to distract as Modo and Rokka seek to infiltrate the Imperial installation from street level.

Meanwhile, pursued by Imperial TIE fighters, X and B3-T5Y take the ship into the desert and attempt to lay low while their allies deal with Levdu.

- GameDoc

B3-T5Y and X fly the ship into the canyons near Knossa, and find a cozy place to sit and hide as the TIEs cluelessly spin overhead.  As everything dies down, the team checks in with one another to make sure no other emergencies need to be dealt with.  B3-T5Y and X begin much-needed repairs on the ship once everything is quiet.

Modo and Rokka begin to take stock of the action.  It seems Levdu may have survived, so the two duck into a cantina to avoid stormtrooper patrols as they hatch a plan.  It doesn't take long for them to be caught in the dragnet, but one of the troopers turns out to be Rokka Reer's biggest fan.  Before long, Rokka has booked a show at the Imperial facility they just attacked.

Modo, posing as Rokka's roadie, gets into position and finally identifies Levdu.  He survived the attack intact, and this is vexing to the group.  As Rokka wows the audience with song, Modo attempts to get into a spot to assassinate the double-crossing Imperial officer.

After taking out a stormtrooper while "looking at the lights" on the upper deck, Modo avails himself of the trooper's armor and makes his way into the living quarters.  After finding Levdu's bunk, Modo hides in the closet and waits.

Rokka finishes signing autographs and meeting his adoring fans, and not long after that Levdu returns to his quarters.  The struggle is brief, as Modo was feeling particularly murderous.  After leaving the lieutenant dead in his quarters, Modo jinks the security teams and joins up with Rokka and exfiltrates toward the waiting ship.

B3-T5Y and X have everything ready and repaired, and hit the rendezvous with Modo and Rokka without even touching down.  The ship peels away from the Geonosis atmosphere by putting the planet between them and the Imperial fleet.  The ship hits hyperspace, and the crew is satisfied with their work.  They only hope Jabba will be as impressed as they are.

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Friday, May 17, 2019

Ninjas & Superspies: Introduction to Occupational Character Classes

Palladium Megaverse?!  What's that, by golly?

Well, it's an oft-benighted game system published by Palladium Books, and the basic gist is that all their games are interchangeable, compatible and set in the same universe - the aforementioned Palladium Megaverse.  For a long time I've wanted to run some Palladium, but it was a hard sell at the miniatures club.  Rules are wonky and it doesn't have ... well, miniatures.  Today is a different story, and I find myself in a spot where Palladium isn't just suitable, but might be preferable.

It's all very old-school, you might say.  Lots of guidelines, rather than hard and fast rules.  Yadda yadda.  I will still try to be as close to RAW as possible, depending on which volume of rules we'll be using at the time.  With all the different versions and small differences between each ruleset, there will be some changes from session to session if we move to a ruleset that has a different take on certain things.  I'm being very oblique about all this, but I don't want to give too much away.

So, Palladium uses something called Occupational Character Classes, or O.C.C.'s.  They are basically character classes, but specifically their occupation rather than race.  In Palladium, if a class is a race, it's called an R.C.C., or Racial Character Class.  It's kinda loose with this, and sometimes you can actually gain both an R.C.C. and an O.C.C. ...but really you should only think of that as an accidental by-product of play rather than any kind of advancement scheme you can map out.  There are uncountable character classes in the multiverse, so we'll do like we usually do and bite chunks off the giant beast.

Today, we're going to be jamming some Ninjas & Superspies!

The Sigma Psáximo Agency
Welcome to the Meta-Concern Authority.
Below are listed the O.C.C.'s and their general bents.  It might seem a little abbreviated and non-specific, but most of these classes are mostly equal, otherwise.  Not a lot of that matters before we dig into the weeds, because you can't really min/max a Palladium game.  You can try for high numbers, but that's about it (and you won't get many anyway).
  • Martial Artist
    • Kung-Fu / Ninja, Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat / Bruce Lee types.
      • Dedicated Martial Artist: Has the most Kung-Fu's.
      • Worldly Martial Artist: Has less Kung-Fu's than Dedicated Martial Artists (but still more than other classes) but has a few other skills to make up for it.
  • Espionage Agent
    • High-dollar spy types from all tropospheres.  James Bond / Jack Ryan / Lorraine Broughton types.
      • Wired Agent - Lots of skills and cybernetics also.
      • Gadgeteer Agent - Has Gidgets and gadgets for all your spy network needs.
      • Operative Agent - Has the most skills.
  • Free Agent
    • For those with attachment issues.  Carmen San Diego / Mike Hammer / Hudson Hawk types.
      • Wandering Free Agent - Has lots of freedom.
      • Professional Free Agent - Has slightly less freedom, but more resources.
      • Thief - Is free to be thief-y.
  • Mercenary
    • Gun-toting Chuck Rambo / Van Damage-types.
      • Veteran Grunt - Has the most guns.
      • Cyborg Soldier: Has lots of guns, but also robot-parts for pitying fools.
      • Academy Officer: Has guns, but mostly skills.
  • Gizmoteer
    • For those who like to build stuff.  Q / MacGyver / MacGruber / A-Team in a Shed types.
      • Tinker Gizmoteer - Is the most build-y of all.
      • Dreamer Gizmoteer - Builder with more diverse skills.
      • Gizoid Gizmoteer - Can build lots of stuff, but loves cybernetics very much.
It's really kind of hard to go into further specifics without just bringing out all the information in the book.  Honestly, the entire book is filled with the options these characters have.  Without players actually perusing the book in their own time, Palladium character creation sessions take ... well, entire sessions.  Just pick one that looks the coolest to you and we'll muddle through the creation process, exploring your options as we go.

Friday, May 3, 2019

What's Canon Got to Do With It?

Slap a better world.
Inspirobot always gives the best advice.

I've talked at length about CANON before on other blogs, but I feel I need to reiterate this concept for our Iron Seer era.  You know, CANON in all-caps, because it dictates the settings of our games.  It's something we all share, and can agree on...and that helps us share these worlds in ways that wouldn't be possible without a CANON.

For us, canon forms the basis upon which our stories are told, but doesn't necessarily form the basis of our stories.  That is, our campaigns and stories form a new canon for our club.  The most satisfying way this is accomplished is by diverging totally (where possible) from the main story and setting.

For instance, Star Wars games probably won't (but might!) involve folks named Skywalker.  Lord of the Rings games probably won't involve anyone doing anything they didn't do in the books.  We get a lot more leeway with other games but those are the big two.  Yet even D&D settings have their canon, and the trick is finding a spot within the setting where we can carve out our own stories.

Most of the stuff that comes up on RAW RPG will be derivatives of these illustrious works.  This isn't because we lack creativity to make our own settings, but because these are the games we share and play on the regular.  The games we play are the very pulse of Iron Seer, and I personally have seen that we enjoy ongoing, connective narratives for our games.  It makes it all just a little bit "bigger" when it has ramifications for the NEXT game, or another campaign entirely.

Even where names from the canon show up in our games, it will probably be in a 'downtime' area of the main story, and we work very hard to make sure it fits directly in with the main story.  This is easy in a lot of settings, especially where the setting is continental or galactic in scale.  Fleshing out those areas of the canon where we can slip our campaigns into is something we enjoy, and as a group project can be quite interesting as different concepts and ideas slip into the narrative.

In other words, just because there's a meta-narrative doesn't mean you'll be shin-deep in meta-slop in Iron Seer games.

Friday, April 19, 2019

A Century of Total Warfare

3145 - The Dark Age

The invasion of the Inner Sphere by the Clans began in the year 3049.  Nearly one hundred years have passed since then, during which time the galaxy has known no measure of peace.  The Age of War has passed, but there is no rejoicing among the stars.  We have passed into a Dark Age.

The Blackout continues, and shows no sign of abatement.  As time passes waiting for couriers on JumpShips, concerns have turned to the immediate.  For some worlds in the Lyran Alliance, that concern has turned toward and area of space known as The Falcon's Reach.

Jade Falcon Desant Army Badge
Clan Jade Falcon
2nd Falcon Dragoons
Vindemiatrix Army Badge
Clan Jade Falcon 
A most warlike clan, their new Khan has decided that the old practices of using batchall are no longer necessary when dealing with the Inner Sphere.  As a result, the most dangerous of the clans are even more dangerous in this new era.  The Khan has made it clear to her warriors that conquest is the order of the day.

Jade Falcon forces are poised to take advantage of the blackout at the edges of the Falcon's Reach.  The Khan is ready to order a new désant such as the one targeting Skye and the surrounding systems eleven years prior.  This time, a score of planets in Lyran territory are potential targets.  Under the cover of the Blackout, this could spell trouble for systems far from the Falcon's Reach.

The Khan finds this situation satisfactory, and begins to allow her commanders to begin their conquest of the Inner Sphere.  Star Colonel Ayaan Mandaka is more than ready when the call is given, and prepares to set out for the longest shot of the coming désant..

Stormhammers Defense Force Army Badge
Tharkan Strikers
Vindemiatrix Army Badge
The Stormhammers
The Lyran Alliance has seen better days.  With the advent of the Blackout, the already weakened Armed Forces have additional hurdles to cross to effectively defend the frontier.  As a result, the LAAF has resorted to hiring mercenaries to shore up gaps in their ability to garrison worlds - especially near the Falcon's Reach.

The Stormhammers are a unit of RAF defectors that have integrated with the Lyran Alliance.  One Stormhammer unit in particular is made up of planetary defense specialists, the Tharkan Strikers.  While other Stormhammer elements plot to retake Skye from Jade Falcon, the Tharkan Strikers are staging on Vindemiatrix to provide garrison and logistical support to the Stormhammer advance when the order is given.

Vindemiatrix's garrison, the 12th Lyran Guards, aid in collecting and processing resources for the assault.  Without the HPG's, much of this work has to be carried out in advance of the actual attack as each element awaits courier ships from LAAF command.  It promises to be grueling work...but the Lyrans are nothing if not industrious.

A New Désant

The Falcon's strike would come from Zebebelgenubi.  Taken by surprise by the arrival of Clan ships in Vindemiatrix's space, the defenders had little chance to fight off the fleet in orbit.  The ruthless Clan forces pushed ahead and began landing on the planet with little preamble or announcement.

For the defenders of Vindemiatrix, it is cold comfort that both the Tharkan Strikers and 12th Lyran Guards are present.  The Khan's mongol doctrine demands everything be destroyed, razed to the ground.  The Lyran defenders are quite aware of this fact, and quickly mobilize to defend the population centers.

The Falcon's forces that made planetfall are quite numerous, but have set up bases of operations in the sparsely populated Vindemiatrixian sulfur plains.  Unfortunately, that happens to be where a lot of heavy industrial facilities for extracting resources are positioned - resources the Lyrans need to secure.  The Falcons may well decide to destroy the facilities, if they learn how crucial they are to the Lyran plan to counter-attack and retake the Isle of Skye.

The Battle of Vindemiatrix has begun.

Friday, April 5, 2019

Mayhem, Inc.

Edge of the Empire:  Mayhem, Inc.
*Last Updated 4/28/2019*
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Episode VI

Having informed Jabba of Teemo’s disloyalty to the Hutt Clan, the crew finds themselves in the favor of the powerful crime lord (for the time being). 

Impressed with their ingenuity and questionable scruples, Jabba offers them a job in exchange for a ship for their personal use. The task is simple: clean up any evidence of Teemo’s dealings with the Empire.

- GameDoc

The group heads back to Ryloth for some legwork on their new ship, the Crippled Crab.  Once on Ryloth, the crew gets cracking investigating all the leads.  It didn't take long for them to find who they were looking for, an Lieutenant in charge of the Imperial garrison.

After some shuffling around, the group gets a chance to talk to the Imperial officer.  After being assured that the Hutts had effectively changed management and everyone can keep making credits doing what they've been doing, [Ryloth Officer] is happy to become Jabba's asset.  Likewise, Bib Fortuna is happy to hear of the turn of events and informs the Hutt that his influence has grown.  The group continues to follow the trail of Teemo's dealings and root out his agents for Jabba.

Episode VII

Under orders from Jabba, the crew continues with their investigation into Teemo’s dealings with the Empire and have discovered he used corrupt officials to bring Imperial forces down on enemies and competitors.

Aboard their newly acquired ship, the Crippled Crab, they now head back to Geonosis to try and flush out whomever was pulling strings for Teemo there...

- GameDoc

Once on Geonosis, the group runs into a bit of an issue with the Imperials.  Unlike on Ryloth, Lt. Bragden Levdu is not so eager to hear about the Hutt's change in management.  After a tense, standoffish meeting inside the facility, Levdu meets the group outside the compound and chastises them for their boldness.

Everything seems cleared up with the Lieutenant, and all is fine until a stormtrooper unit runs the group down.  Blasters ring out in the Geonosis night, and the troopers go down.  Interrogating the last trooper reveals that Lt. Levdu is the one that sent them...and Mayhem, Inc. vows revenge.

Episode VIII

Having identified the Imperial officer, Lieutenant Breglan Levdu, that was on the take from Teemo, the crew informs him that Jabba is now in charge and wants operations to continue as they were.

But Levdu seems to have other plans. After surviving an ambush by Stormtroopers in the streets of Knossa, the crew vows revenge on the corrupt officer. 

- GameDoc

Things become risky on Geonosis for Mayhem, Inc.  So, a ridiculous plan is concocted after consulting with Bib Fortuna on Tatooine to see how Jabba wants to proceed.  The Imperial's office won't protect him, it is decided.

If the group can't interrogate him satisfactorily, he is to be captured.  If he can't be captured, he is to be killed.  Deliberations lean toward picking him up and taking him back to Tatooine, but the ship is threatened in the hangar by Imperial authorities and the group has to race to get it out of the spaceport.

A pair of TIE fighters immediately gave chase, so a hasty and daring (insane) plan is concocted.  X turned the ship back toward the spaceport, and B3T-5Y manned the guns.  After Modo masked the ships signatures, he and Rokka ran to the hold where the speeders were stationed.  There, they prepared for a quick disembarkation over the city.

The TIE fighters managed to damage the ship, but both went down before the ship got back to the spaceport.  Holding the ship steady, B3T-5Y loosed a salvo with the ship's cannons directly at the offices the spaceport where Levdu was stationed.  Hopefully, he'd be dead in that blast, as that part of the building was destroyed entirely.

As the destruction occurred, Modo and Rokka stole out of the hold into the Geonosian city.  There, they would blend in with the populace and make sure Levdu was dead, or else plot to either capture or kill him.  At that point, X and B3T-5Y have to maneuver the ship out of the city.  A pair of TIE fighters begin to chase after them, but X knows that Geonosis is covered with tiny hills and valleys that will make it fairly easy to lose the Imperials.  The objective is clear - make the Imperials realize that this is still Hutt space, whether or not star destroyers hang in the sky above.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Long Arm of the Hutt [Part 2]

Edge of the Empire: Mayhem, Inc.
*Last updated 3/22/2019*
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Episode IV

The crew have allied themselves with the Twi’lek miners to drive out offworld land developers fronting for the gangster, Teemo the Hutt.

Infiltrating the developer’s base, Modo Phloid holds their leader, Agnu Drombb at gunpoint, hoping to learn what Teemo is up to. But outside things are heating up between Drombb’s thugs and the rest of the crew...

- GameDoc

After an elaborate ruse by Phloid that sent half the thugs in the compound out into the desert, the group springs the trap and takes Droomb into custody.  The miners storm the compound, and turn Droomb over to the miners to do with as they will.

The group meet back at the mining camp and hash it out with Trex.  They are reluctant to kill him outright, and strike a deal that sees Trex reunited, alive, with his ship.  The group learns a lot about Teemo's operations from Trex afterward.

The group gets word that a bothan connection might have some work for them, and make plans to meet with the prospective client.  Ota, an operative for the mining collective, wants to make sure Teemo doesn't come back.  He's aware of a geonosian duke who backed out of a deal with Teemo and wants to know why.

Preparations are made for the group to go undercover and secure an arms deal at a gala hosted by the geonosian duke.  The real goal is to gather intel on Teemo's business deals, specifically, why the geonosian got cold feet.  Trex takes the group to Geonosis in the Krayt Fang.

At the gala, Rokka Reer wowed the crowd while Phloid and the gang caroused and got the intel. The group made contact with several interesting characters, including two Corellian smugglers in town for laughs.  It wasn't long before the duke got around to talking briefly with our group.  Turns out the geonosian sent an operative to see Teemo, and said operative was never seen again.

Episode V

While attending a party on Geonosis to secretly procure weapons for the Twi’lek resistance, the crew becomes acquainted with Duke Piddock, a Geonoshan arms supplier who reportedly had a falling out with Teemo the Hutt.

Now the crew works to discover the reason for the bad blood between Piddock and Teemo, hoping to find some leverage against the gangster that wants them dead.

- GameDoc

The group finally got a private talk with the geonosian duke, and secured a weapons shipment for the Rylothian miners.  Phloid attempted to pry more details out of the duke about his relationship with Teemo, but there wasn't much more.  Once the deal was done, the group contacted Trex with some questions about a certain cargo in the galley of the Krayt Fang.

Turns out, the geonosian met his end in Teemo's fighting pits.  The group lets the duke know what happened to his friend, and are given a sonic blaster as a reward.  Trex hits the comms, and warns of an approaching Imperial detachment he must evade.  The Imperials are almost certainly here to break up the arms deals, and declare a hyperspace lockdown.

The group finds passage with their new Corellian friends, who prove to be valuable allies.  Phloid fakes the ship's transponder signal to point to a random Imperial craft and they leave Geonosis to be anywhere else.  After some deliberation as to what the options truly were, the group decides to head back to Ryloth and complete the mission with Ota.

In order to get Teemo off their back, drastic action will have to be taken.  The group decides, of their options, going to Jabba with evidence of Teemo's treachery is the best way forward.  The group hitches a ride back to Tatooine with the full support of the miners.  Taking a 'gift' of raw spice to present to the Hutt, the group gains an audience with the mighty Jabba.

There, they explain their case and Jabba is impressed.  He decides to deal with Teemo directly, after seeing evidence and hearing the tale.  The group decides to hang around and settle into Mos Eisley.  Working for the Hutts is always profitable...and fun.

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Friday, March 8, 2019

Player Balance in D&D 5th Edition

Kitchen appliances are all designed to unchain your point of view.
Inspirobot thinks you need double-check your surroundings.
Recently we finished a published 5th Edition campaign at 11th level or something.  Almost immediately after, we started an OSR game that has used a streamlined version of Swords & Wizardry but will be transitioning into a B/X Essentials game. The feel of the two games were markedly different, and we obviously had a preference.

While we were playing 5th Edition I had been stating flatly that throughout the published work, all the encounters were weighted heavily TOWARDS the pc group.  Everything favored the player party greatly.

It's worse than just the events and encounters in the module, however.  In play, it's easy to see that 5th Edition's basic rules give FAR too much to the players in terms of advantages.  A lot of you are NOT going to get what I am talking about, but it's sort of a shock coming from older iterations of the rules.  It's really more like a thousand tiny things rather than one giant problem, so it's hard to describe.

So many times during play, we had to double check rules to make sure we COULD legally perform some exploit.  I say 'exploit' because that's essentially what it is, compared to older editions.  There are very little restrictions on any kind of action given to the players, and 5th Edition has a lot of 'free' powers and abilities. 

Wizard types that can always do X damage?  Every round, without fail?  Interesting.  Oh, Rogues get Sneak Attack pretty much every round.  OK. Excuse me, Mr. Halfling Wizard but that spell does THAT (whatever that is) and is that low of a level??  I see.  And you can pretty much do it indefinitely, as far as this encounter goes?  Alright.

It's actually hard to articulate how many times we ran across something that just felt wrong.  I suppose I should have written them all down from the start, but honestly I didn't think there would be just THAT MANY overweighted advantages given to the PC's from the outset.  Rests, spells, and even an overwhelming amount of help and support in the published scenarios pretty much made it impossible to lose except to an excessive bout of stupidity.  We've had groups commit mass suicide before, and honestly this was a situation I feared may play out again simply because everything was so boring and there was nothing the players could not accomplish.

All of this, of course, RAW.  With official scenarios, run RAW.  Now, RAW usually means 'bloody', but the players barely felt their scratches before they were healed to full hp through one convention or another.  Even DEATH SAVES are best two out of three, with quite a good chance of making them.

Player balance is so wildly out of whack in 5e it will be interesting to fully devise adventures for the ruleset, but it's on the DM as well.  I could have chosen to change a lot about the encounters, but I ran the game exactly as it was presented in the adventures to get an idea of the design philosophy of the new game.  What I got was they now wanted D&D to be a JRPG sort of deal.  You play it for a long time, you don't really ever lose or die and it's all about the story.  Fine.  OK.

I don't know.  I want more tactical combat, or at least combat with repercussions.  Combat was an all-or-nothing sort of deal.  Either the group would be wiped out completely or they would destroy the enemies.  No middle ground, no resource marshaling.  There were very little encounters where they were challenged.  Perhaps if all the bonus help given in certain encounters were, oh, say, completely eliminated from the module, there would have been some losses.  Maybe even enough to make the situations and encounters more real.  There was never any real feeling of risk.

The story is just improv theater without the challenge of actually getting there through strategic planning, roleplaying, tactics, ingenuity and sheer luck.  As a DM presenting the game, it makes me feel a little like new players may see me as a prima-donna of sorts, talking and going on all the time in several different character voices to push along a contrived plot.  It's not the Dave Show - I'm just the referee.  I'd rather that players enjoy the game first before they get too much of my overcooked ham.

I will eventually run another 5th Edition campaign, but it will be much different.  I won't alter basic rules, but I will be creating my own scenarios.  I think this is the main issue - design philosophy differences.  I think you can get over it, but you have to IGNORE CR's as a DM and wing it like we used to back in my day - before we had things like Challenge Ratings and infinite cantrips that do 1d10 damage.  CR's don't work in 5e if you actually want a challenge - which is the only side my ham will go with.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Swords & Wizardry

GameDoc has set up a Swords & Wizardry game set in the Grand Duchy!  It's time for some Old School Renaissance?!  Count us in, but be warned.  Wizards with INT 9 are not just allowed, but perfectly feasible.

Adventures in the Known World Campaign
*Updated 1/30/2018*

A party of adventurers find themselves on a caravan in the northern part of Karameikos.  All of them drawn for different reasons to the area, they are all traveling to the Keep on the merciless Borderlands.  The way is treacherous, and they all know the dangers of this wild area.

Georg Weakstone and his elven companion Kay are caravan guards working for passage to the Keep.  Joining them are Zomzatom of Specularum and his apprentice, wizards traveling with the caravan for their own inscrutable reasons.  Lastly, the lawful cleric Cleo walks the route to the Keep...presumably to bring wisdom to the foolish.

  • Cleo (Cleric)
  • Skjal Beut (Halfling Fighter)
  • Forchen Winstar (Halfling Cleric)
  • Zomzatom (Wizard)
  • Georg Weakstone (Fighter)
  • Kay (Elven Wizard)

Session Log I

One day during the long caravan north, something finally happened.  Danger reared it's ugly head but one day's journey from the Keep, lending credence to the stories about monsters near the Borderlands.  A makeshift blockade had been made by fallen trees, obviously cut.  Yet our adventurers are wary, and are ready for a goblin attack.

The ambuscade falls flat, though for a moment the goblins get the better of some foolish caravan guards.  As Georg and Ser Bertram fight off the goblin thrust, another group approaches from the opposite direction - led by a hobgoblin warrior.  Zomzatom charms the hapless hobgoblin and accuses the goblin henchfolk of trying to steal his milk money.  The group cleans up the goblins on the other side as Zomzatom convinces the hobgoblin he and his men should raid the road near Specularum if he really wants more than milk money.

During the night, a terror hit the camp during Kay's watch.  A basilisk wandered into camp and caused much havoc, killing one caravan guard and nearly killing Kay herself.  Cleo interceded and the power of her goddess revived Kay in time for an escape while Georg and Ser Bertram manage to slay the beast.

The next day, the group arrives in town.  After a quick assessment on the situation and some drinks in the tavern, a profitable venture presents itself.  It seems goblin attacks are increasing, and patrols required to deal with them are sparse.  Zomzatom points out that cleaning goblins off the road is treating the symptom rather than the sickness.  Soon after, plans are made to speak with who ever has the authority to hire adventurers.

Session Log II

Forchen Winstar and his companion Skjal Beut travel along the trail to the keep, looking for adventure.  A day's journey from the keep it finds them.  Bandits accost their caravan, and nearly kill Skjal after threatening to take the halflings into slavery.  A fight breaks out and the halflings fight for their lives, killing many of their attackers.

Once they are at the keep, they meet Zomzatom and Cleo over drinks in the inn.  The next morning, the halflings join the duo over breakfast, and they are told about the opportunity for coin if they have the courage to fight goblins in the dark.  Charging into a goblin's nest, knee deep in goblin vomit and slop. 

The party makes their way to the constabulary.  After Zomzatom again points out how wrong they are doing it and negotiates a draconian bounty for ears, the party is left with a few clear directives.  Kill all the savage humanoids, kill everyone else if you have to.  Except the lizardmen, who are neutral.  Ears is the name, and gold is the game.  Just as well.  Lizardmen don't have ears.

The party is approached by a prospective client, who has lost a courier.  Apparently, he was to journey to the nearby swamp and entreat with the lizardmen, whom are neutral.  The client (sort of) incriminates a cleric in the keep's temple to have something to do with it, so the party visits the temple.

Apparently, the cleric had connections with the lizardfolk.  The courier was expected to return in the morning, but did not.  Nearest lead:  talk to the lizardfolk, who are (allegedly) neutral.

The party then made plans to check with the rangers for leads on probable bandit camps and goblin warrens.  They intended to wait near the gates for a patrol to return.  In the meantime, they explore the keep and get to know the inhabitants.

What will become of our intrepid adventurers as they begin to explore this keep and the borderlands?

Find out soon...

Sunday, February 17, 2019

X-Wing: Cloak of the Sith Round 2 Commences!

Cloak of the Sith Challonge!

Our longest running campaign has been the first X-Wing 1.0 campaign launched on this site, mostly because we do all kinds of stuff and have too many things going on at once but hey.  The final stage has begun, at last!

X-Wing 1.0 Scum Cruiser
You learn pretty quick they are ALL definitely hiding contraband.
By far the biggest winners of the campaign so far are the Deathwind Cartels, a.k.a. Scum & Villainy faction.  So much so, in fact, that the last round of games won't actually change that fact - the Cartel has seriously secured victory throughout the Deathwind Corridor.  All that remains is a few last sorties on both Alliance and Imperial assets as the two withdraw from the theater.

X-Wing 1.0 Rebels
Cornered and alone, the crack Imperial pilots have state-of-the-art fighters...but they are still all alone.
Coming in solid at second, the Rebels could conceivably lose their ranking in the last round if the Imperial blockade is successful at every turn.  Further, the pirates must be dissuaded from destroying any more Alliance assets - assets needed to combat the hated Empire. The Imperials are thus the real threat the rebellion faces moving into Round 2, which is a MUCH shorter timeline to completion.

X-Wing 1.0 TIE Swarm
Getting caught all alone in the drifts of Deathwind Corridor will spell doom for anyone, however.
The lowest of scores so far, the Imperial team has struggled in the Cloak of the Sith.  Though Imperial forces clean up on the ground (where they land) their fleet has been hit hard by the guerilla tactics of both the Rebellion and the pirates.  Yet, there is still a chance to defeat the rebel scum before the area is abandoned to lawlessness and cutthroats.  It will be dicey, but in order to truly advance the Imperials will have to be utterly ruthless.

As Round 2 begins, Alliance and Imperial forces are in full retreat from the Cloak of the Sith.
Pirates are all over, coming out in droves as the larger fleets begin to bleed.  The cartels control the Deathwind Corridor and the Cloak of the Sith...but will the Imperials put an end to the Alliance fleet before it can rally for it's next mission?

Just a few sorties remain!

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Dungeon Tiles and What to Do With Them

Dungeon Tile Boxes
Stacks upon stacks upon stacks...
A few years back, we piled up every Dungeon Tiles box we could stomach and decided to hoard them.  Well, let's be honest - it was more than a few years ago.  It's been so long I don't even know which sets are what anymore and just kinda keep them in a few general containers.

It turns out there were a lot more of these Dungeon Tiles map packs than I thought.  I didn't really think too much of them, wielding my trusty Chessex mats as I did, with my hand-drawn dungeon corridors.  I think I have those somewhere, lingering still.

Dungeon Tiles Boxes
You're gonna need more boxes...
Anyway, check out DM David's (no relation) list and gallery of Dungeon Tiles publications.  It will help you track the rest down if you already have a good idea what pieces you have.  I don't really have that luxury, however.

I think it would take more time than I'm willing to invest at this point to go through these boxes and try to find each set that each piece came from.  Members of the old club would grab these up cheap and drop them in the boxes all the time, and that resulted in very little record keeping.  Such were the times in the old and lawless lands of long ago.

Dungeon Tiles City Plaza Setup
Dungeon Tiles Sewer Entrance

I shall catalog that folly.

Dungeon Tiles City Plaza Setup
Dungeon Tiles City & Sewer Setup

These are pretty much all we really need, though.  Basically, we have three huge sets now:  City, Dungeon and Wilderness.  With the reverse sides, we get some sewers and caverns.  All good stuffs.

Dungeon Tiles with Cave
Dungeon Tiles with Cave

Nominally, these are for RPG games.  I think we've used them more for skirmish gaming than anything else.  We've used them for campaigns in Warmachine, Mordheim, Frostgrave, Lord of the Rings and even D&D Miniatures.  It's great for claustrophobic settings, and can even allow from transition from a wider board to the interior just by adding some more model terrain.

Dungeon Tiles Wilderness Setup
"What's up fellas?  You wanna get in here by the fire?  It's cold out, but...oh."
I'm not really a fan of the wilderness tiles, as we have a table and actual terrain for all that.  However, if space / transportation is an issue then these provide the perfect solution for the prepared Master of Dungeons.  It certainly makes it easier to whip out small rpg-style scenarios quickly with a good spread of terrain.

Now, I don't have a full on dungeon table (yet) but these tiles fix that wagon pretty good and I'm happy that the old gang decided to invest in them.  We'll be cleaning the Iron Seer's dungeon this season, and air the dank place out.  We'll be looking for various dungeon gubbinz and getting them cataloged, cased and ready for a grand reopening of the place very soon.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Storm King's Thunder Postmortem

Iron Seer Presents: Storm King's Thunder
It's good, overall.  It's not very intense, just long. 
Would not run again without serious modification.
So, about a month ago or so we finished up our first full D&D 5e module, Storm King's Thunder (hereafter referred to as SKT), published by Wizards of the Coast.

Storm King's Thunder: Prepare to Die Edition

This was the longest campaign I've ever taken part in, running (roughly) weekly games for about 15-16 months.  PC's finished at 11th level, but during the course of the game some things became apparent.  So, I've got some points to go over regarding the adventure and how it played out.

The Pros of the New 5e Modules

First of all, I loved SKT.  Let me just get that out there right quick.  Overall, it was a fun experience for everyone, though in reality I don't believe it's designed for five characters - we'll get to that one.

You can't deny that the book itself is gorgeous - but that's standard for WotC.  Overall, the format of the adventure is well laid out and it's easy to find things when you need to refer to them.  I like all the callouts to the standard books, and honestly as a format for writing adventures it's one of the best modules I've ever encountered, much less had the pleasure to run.

Length was commendable.  SKT was one of the largest modules I've ever ran, with a great scope to match it.  There's lots of material in there, but it IS a rather large book.  SKT was no single dungeon module with over one hundred pages fleshing out rooms in a single locale - the adventure literally spans the entirety of the Sword Coast.

Villains and NPC's are nicely fleshed out, with lots of information on most of them.  A little too much on some, but that's another issue.  You won't have a problem where you're unsure of someone's motivation, but are left to wonder if you were supposed to put more into presentation of what turns out to be a minor NPC.

Probably the coolest feature of the module is how the storyline can diverge.  Lots of different paths and options are open to the players, and I daresay a lot could be replayed.  This was probably the idea behind the Adventurer's League style modules of late.  Ultimately though, all paths lead to the same place but how the players go about the modules can really affect the late-stage encounters.

    The Cons of the New 5e Design Philosophy

    First of all, I've already jotted my thoughts on Roll20 in general down.  In short, it would have been a lot better to do this module entirely on the table, rather than the hybrid game we had with various softwares.  The notion is solid, but unless your game is MOSTLY online don't bother with it.  My experience with the paid-for content has only motivated me to not use it anymore.

    A major issue for us was the balance on 5e modules.  There's more to say about this specifically, but I'll save that for another time.  For now, suffice it to say that 5e modules seem to be designed for less than five players.  This caused the encounters as written to be very, very easy in most cases.

    Yes, I could have changed the encounters.  However, if I was going to write my own adventure I would have done that.  We had five players, the recommended amount, and took on the adventure as written - like we always do.

    The difficulty curve has changed.  It's a simple fact that my players had little to no trouble in any combat encounter (save but one).  There was very little suspense on this, and even Death Saves did little to make things more tense.  Very early on, they became convinced of their superiority and were never corrected.

    Vaal in Storm King's Thunder on Roll20
    Almost.  Almost...
    Of course, in this module you can expect lots and lots of help from NPC's.  Some of the encounters wouldn't be hard with the party itself, yet in some cases you can have what amounts to an entire adventure party fighting alongside the main party.  In at least one case, it can be a squadron of Storm Giants.  This really robbed the players of agency and drove home the notion we weren't really playing a game, but a story.

    It's because of those things that the end of the adventure was as anticlimatic as I thought it would be.  There was no chance for Imryth, unless she flees.  There was no suspense, just what amounted to the serving of a warrant and beatdown of everything in her lair.  WEAKEST.  ENDING.  EVER.

    In the end, I was happy the game was over.

    Though I liked SKT, as long as this design philosophy rules over D&D you can bet I won't be running any more 5e WotC modules.  I wanted to run Princes of the Apocalypse, but if this is the state of the game I think I can do better on my own, and my players will definitely appreciate it.

      Sunday, February 3, 2019

      Sulfur Fields Hills

      Sulfur Fields Hills on Zuzzy Sulfur Fields Mat
      The Zuzzy mat's texture really captures my table join bump like no other mat.
      Generally the first thing you want to add to a flat play area is hills, so I did that.  This set of hills comes in (basically) four pieces, but the top sections of each are removable and interchangeable so technically I guess it's six pieces.  Either way, I had to make new hills because I made a new mat and this is what we have now.

      Sulfur Fields Hills
      Ol' styro-cutter and me have been through a lot of foam over the years.  Sometimes I stop and I wonder, exactly how old is that D battery is that runs you?  I guess when you start to corrode I'll bury you.
      It started as these things often do - with some styrofoam bits I had captured here and there.  These are irregular pieces of various consistencies and makes, but that's usually how I roll.  Cut with wire foam cutter to wargames consistency.  No, I don't usually do 'rounded' edge hills because in my experience that's asking for wobbly-model syndrome.

      Maybe one day I should try that, though.

      Vallejo Black Lava and Hand-Made Modern Textured Cement
      Hand Made Modern Textured Cement Finish and Vallejo Black Lava make up the textures we're using.
      I usually cover the foam at this point in PVA glue and allow it to harden, but this time we're trying a different material altogether.  To have these hills match our Zuzzy Sulfur Fields mat, we're going to have to make sure the paint goes on correctly, as it were.  We're going to start with a base of Textured Cement Finish and allow it to dry.  This is probably the most serious product in my arsenal, as it really, really had the smell of paints.  Had to open some windows.

      Sulfur Fields Hills Texture
      It dries in place and hardens the foam, filling in for pva glue.
      Once it's dry, we get an interesting cool texture over the foam.  It has fantastic coverage, and generally behaves like a very thick paint.  It breaks apart as it dries and stretches, leaving cool broken earth-like marks.  It was about this point in the project I decided NOT to use the Vallejo texture, as it would raise the profile up a lot more than this.  I wanted the tops to be flat to accomodate smaller pieces on top of them, so I left it like it was and moved on.

      Sulfur Fields Hills
      Look at all them tasty textures.
      I was working on several projects at once here, and the table started to get a little cluttered.  The next phase would be to paint on an acrylic wash, just like on the Zuzzy mat.  This would be a dark brown, red and black mixed to create an interesting, earthy tone that would blend well into the textures.

      Sulfur Fields Hills Inking
      I use old Pla-Doh containers to mix acrylics.
       When inking, I made certain to get WAAY up under the edges.  This keeps any white from 'peeking' out from behind the facade.  Gotta maintain that illusion.  After that, a light grey drybrush to match the table and matte sealer to guard against minis make these tabletop ready.

      Sulfur Fields Hills
      Section A (2 parts) and Section B.
       Hills are, to me, an essential part of any table.  These aren't that high, but are pretty large in area allowing for a lot of things to be done with the arrangement.  I think the manage to blend into the table fairly well, despite not having the Vallejo black textures.

      Sulfur Fields Hills
      Section C and Section D (2 parts).
       I plan on expanding the table with some more rock formations, but these hills are the basic pieces every table needs.  I found that it looks best if the sulfur flows don't have hills on them but it's actually fine any way.  It doesn't really break your immersion, as it were.

      Sulfur Fields Hills and CAV Razor
      Jade Falcon RZR mech patrols the ridgeline.
       Moon planet achieved!

      Sulfur Fields Hills and CAV Cougar
      Stormhammer CGR mech crouches in a low valley.
      I changed around the formations and stacked them differently in the following pics to show some of the ways it can be set up.

      Sulfur Fields Hills and Jade Falcon
      Jade Falcon scout units storm over the hill.
      For this table, one feature I want to try to strive for across all it's terrain is a claustrophobic one.  More canyon / channel type terrain to really make it difficult for units to maneuver.  It will be a challenging prospect to some commanders.

      Sulfur Fields Hills Enemy Contact
      Enemy Contact!
       My only regret is that it doesn't presently seem like I can get any more of the Textured Cement Finish by Hand Made Modern.  I have no idea where to get it.  It seems to be an exclusive to a certain retailer but they are all out of stock.  I have looked around for a substitute, and I'll probably get the Grey Pumice from Vallejo.  With the inks and drybrush we should be able to achieve a similar color / texture.

      Sulfur Fields Hills Attack Run
      Enemy aircraft making attack run!  Take cover!
      Soon we'll have moonbases and mechs all over this table.  It will also pull duty as various inhospitable planets throughout our games.  All the terrain I'm making for it right now is pretty scale-ambiguous, so it will work for any minis in the scales I use.

      Viva la Moon Patrol!

      Sulfur Fields Hills Battle

      Sunday, January 27, 2019

      Frostgrave Forestry Service Announcement

      Frostgrave Snow-Covered Forest
      Trees don't grow on the snow-covered tundra...but also magic, so who cares.
      At some point I acquired some tree products.  I think they were intended for another project but were never used.  They had snow on them, so there was only one project I was working on that would make use of that.

      Materials for Snow-Covered Forest
      What my worktable does.
      Super Scenic Snowy Evergreen Tree 10 pack for $12.99USD at the Hobby Lobby.  At first I was going to use foamcore as the bases for these trees like the other Frostgrave terrain I had done, but decided to use actual bases for no reason other than because I like it.  After checking around what I had on hand, I decided to use some large bases I had gotten from Reaper miniatures, just to feel decadent.

      Reaper Large Bases
      Krylon Camouflage, a great primer and basecoat.
      Of course, we have to do a lot to these trees to make it cool.  I grabbed a few other spare things I had laying around.  The bare trees are Woodland Scenics trees I got in like 1998.  They've been a part of several different projects and at some point I had prepared them to be used again. Now's just a good time as any, really.

      Frostgrave Snow-Covered Forest
      Frostgrave Snow-Covered Forest
      These bases make for a far more fluid forest layout on the table.
      I played with these quite a bit before committing to the arrangement.  I like how many different ways these can be used, either clumped or chained together to make area terrain.  Mimicry of such conventions is the #1 goal of making terrain like this.  I'm sure there are way better ways to do a model scene if you don't expect it to move or take much punishment.  These are TOUGH.

      Frostgrave Snow-Covered Forest
      The entire set, finished and on the table.
      After attaching the trees, I applied snow to the bases and waited for it to dry.  I was told the pre-applied snow on the model trees clash with that on the base, and that might be true but I don't think you really notice it from the table.  I didn't put the flock and cork rocks down first this time...I learned my lesson with that Woodland Scenics soft-flake snow leaching color from it.  I waited to apply that after the snow had dried directly on the Krylon.

      Frostgrave Snow-Covered Forest
      30mm base sections (x4).
      After that, applying the snow to the dead trees was interesting.  I give myself an 80%, but then again it's hard to satisfy myself.  Probably could use a smattering more on the dead trees' bark, in certain places.  I might do that next time I have the snow out.

      Frostgrave Snow-Covered Forest
      50mm sections (x3).
      The last touches other than some cork rocks was some Winter Tuft by Army Painter.  A few, not many.  All in all, a respectable arrangement...if I do say so myself.  It will be interesting to add trees back into the Frostgrave, but these also help out to depict snow-covered forests from all over.  Notably, those near the Spine of the World.

      Frostgrave Snow-Covered Forest
      Even that smoke-belching, clanking abomination of a contraption will gain cover if it's in a snow-covered forest.
      We can spread these out as scatter terrain, hence the use of the standard bases rather than large foamcore bases.  It does make it a little sturdier, but more importantly smaller and easier to store.  You can't always use bases like this, however - it can get costly pretty quick.

      Frostgrave Snow-Covered Forest
      Creep through the woods (like a boss).
      If I do add to this forest I will have to use the same bases, but on a 3x3 board I'm pretty sure this is all the forest I'll need.  Combined with all the other stuff I've made for this board, I might have to consider getting a 6x4 version of the mat just so I can use the terrain I've built for all the other games!

      Eh, that's a bridge too far.

      Frostgrave Snow-Covered Forest