Sunday, September 30, 2012

Some Awesome Tumblrs

Is Tumblrs even a word?  Ah well, it is now.

Tumblr is a microblogging site used primarily to post pictures.  It makes it very easy to add photos to your own stream, and its a great way to build a set of pictures to use in your game.

You can also easily check out other tumblrs, just by clicking on the link at the bottom-right of a picture that indicates the account it was linked from.

Here are several really interesting ones.  I particularly like using Norse/Celtic themes in my games, so these are inclined in that direction.

The Stolen Lands


Fuck Yeah Vikings and Celts

The Deer and the Oak


The Iron Canyons

Swords and Arrows

As always, happy gaming!

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Fantasy Gothic Manor Generator

I got set up with an Abulafia account last night so that I could set up a new random generator.  If you know a bit about html coding then setting up a random generator is pretty easy. 

I created one called Gothic Manor, which is designed to build a fantasy-gothic manor house, along with inhabitants, surroundings and a dark secret.

I took English Lit in university, and I found the Romantic Poets and Gothic literature were my favorites, plus I've always liked Lovecraft and Mythos fiction.  Hopefully there are shades of all of that in this generator.

Here is a little taste of the sort of results you can get:

The Manor is a huge, squat keep, built in an ancient style, now crumbling and enveloped by ivy. It is filled with empty rooms, rotting furniture and dusty wall hangings.  If examined closely, the tapestries depict ancient crimes – murders, rapes and much worse – all the perpetrators and victims appear to be members of the same family.

The Master is an enormous, shambling wreck of a man, clad in worn and stained clothing and with a massive, shaggy beard. He communicates mostly in grunts and scowls, seeming to stare at nothing and mutter to himself constantly. Occasionally, glimpses of his limbs and torso reveal horrible, barely-healed scars and oddly precise tattoos in what appear to be arcane designs.

The Mistress is ancient but unnaturally spry, seeming to be aware of everything that happens within the manor. Her hunched, black-clad form can be seen bustling around at all hours. In fact, she sometimes seems to be in several places at once.

The Staff are oddly uniform in appearance, dress and features, moving about their duties with silent, mechanical precision.

The Heir(s) are an indistinct horde of grubby, wild and violent children. It’s impossible to distinguish gender or age under the grime, scabs and snot, but they seem to be everywhere within the keep, and see everything that happens.

The Hunt are a hyaena-like, humped and cackling pack with a hunched and hooded keeper.

The Demesne are a scattering of strongly-built farmsteads, all barred and defended night and day.

The Dungeons are built around a single shaft with a circular stairwell that drops straight down into the earth. The occasional archway leads to a network of old mining tunnels and drifts, scattered with ancient, rusted equipment.

The Secret is that the manor is the old lair of a necromancer and a warren of the undead. 

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Middle Earth Quest and other Board Games

When I'm not playing RPG's or video games (damn you Torchlight 2), I like to play boardgames, and Middle Earth Quest looks really cool.

It's a co-operative/competitive board game based around the good ole Lord of the Rings.  This game would tie nicely into the start of a Lord of the Rings Roleplaying campaign, as I discussed earlier in Boardgames as a first RPG session.

I would want to play Sauron, personally.  I'm just like that.

If you want more information, PATV has a great show called Shut Up and Sit Down which reviews boardgames.  This week they did Middle Earth Quest.

Check it out here:

In addition to Shut Up and Sit Down we have Wil Wheaton's Tabletop.  Every week Wil and his guests review the rules of a different board game, then do a play-through video.  It's funny and a great way to check out board games to see if they would be entertaining.

Youtube is also a good place to look for video reviews/playthroughs of board games.  The first time we played Arkham Horror, we used Grudunza's very comprehensive videos to orient ourselves.

We also used the complete tutorial for the Game of Thrones board game the first time we played it.  That one is actually produced by Fantasy Flight Games.  Tutorials like this are a handy way to get acclimatized to a game without having to read through the entire manual while everyone else is sitting around waiting for you.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Gamer Presents!

This weekend was the occasion of my 37th trip around the sun, and we had a really good time.  I didn't get to role-play ALL DAY, which was what I used to do on my birthday when I was in High School, but I still had fun.

Among my presents were:  A new 25-inch monitor.  Torchlight 2, a This is How I Roll t-shirt and a bumper sticker for the new minivan - "Don't make me get out and roll initiative", which should go nicely with the firefighter licence plate!

Of course, the combination of the new monitor and Torchlight 2 made getting productive work on things like

Updated Chapter 2 of Blingdenstone Enhanced.

Secret Santacore Submission.

Or ANYTHING ELSE totally impossible.  This game is crack.  Explore.  Kill.  Loot.  Compare Numbers. Re-equip. Repeat ad infinitum.  I thought I had kicked this back in the Diablo 2 era.  I proudly didn't buy Diablo 3 because $60 + always-on-DRM = fuck NO!  I thought the monkey was off my back!  But it is on there firmly, clicking away.

My daughter even wanted to sit on my lap  and got excited when we found giant piles of gold or got into a big fight.  Although she did do a lot of  "what's happening?" when the action got too furious.  Of course - she's 3, so she ended up with nightmares last night.  Totally my bad, and I got up and cuddled her without complaint.  Guess I need to find a game that interests both of us and isn't that scary.

On a related note, I've had a bit of interest in the Dungeon Mapp Contest, but only a few people have entered the contest so far.  As a result, I'm going to extend it out to the end of this week to see if we can get some more people interested in a FREE TABLETOP GAMING APP!

Finally, Carl Bussler put up this interesting Cast Map over on G+ were there are a ton of interesting RPG conversations happening right now.  This is more designed for fiction - I'd modify it slightly to identify the party at the center and NPC's radiating outward.  The idea that the more removed an NPC is, the less characteristics they need to have is a good rule of thumb.  But a minimum of one is also a good rule.  Try to make all NPC's at least a tiny bit interesting.

As always, Happy Gaming.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Secret Santacore Teaser Trailer

I'm off to the races on the Secret Santacore project!

Not going to put the whole thing up yet, since a bunch of it is still on paper, but here's a teaser:

I was going to do d12 sets, a la Dungeon Dozen, but then I figured, hey 8 d8 random tables is like 160-million-odd combinations.  That will have to do.

The House
Is a huge, squat keep, built in an ancient style, now crumbling and enveloped by ivy.  It is filled with empty rooms, rotting furniture and dusty wall hangings.  If examined closely, the tapestries depict ancient crimes – murders, rapes and much worse – all the perpetrators and victims appear to be members of the same family.

Is a timber hunting lodge filled with stuffed, skinned and mounted trophies of animals and monsters, hanging alongside weapons, rusty traps and paintings of prized hounds and horses.  Everywhere you go within the hall, dozens of glittering eyes seem to track you from the mounted heads that cover every wall.  Occasionally, the faint sounds of a baying pack of hounds seem to echo through the rooms.

Is a shining pleasure-palace, with high white walls, turreted towers and carefully landscaped ponds and gardens.  Its placid tranquility and languid calm are restful, but the gardens are full of unnaturally vital blood-red roses, the ponds are bottomless and are bitterly cold, and the high, ornate windows seem to glare menacingly when seen out of the corner of the eye.

Is a tall manor on a point overlooking an isolated cove.  Built of the local white chalk, it has patios and stairwells that extend down the cliffs below it.  Seen from the day, it is an attractive structure, but the light of the moon bleaches the white walls to the color of unburied bone, and cause the building to shine with unnatural brightness.  The cove below constantly washes up old bones and the corpses of the drowned.

Is a square, multi-floored brick house with a central courtyard that can be accessed by 4 arched entrances, one in each wall.  Walkways lined by arched windows face the interior courtyard on all floors.  At the center of the courtyard is a deep well with a rusted iron cover and a stout, new padlock.  When the wind blows through the house (which it frequently does) the arches of the courtyard seem to howl with unearthly voices, and the doors fly open and slam closed unpredictably.

Is a fortified manor house with a solid gate, paved courtyard and solidly-build hall.  The courtyard is dominated by a stone statue of a seated man leaning on a great sword.  Time has eroded away most of his features, but the carved eyes remain intact, and glare down fiercely at anyone entering the yard.  The base of the statue is ringed by disturbing engravings in an unknown language.

Is an old trading stockade that has been converted into a makeshift manor.  The log palisade is rotting, and weeds grow around the neglected stables and storage sheds.  Half-feral dogs wander about and the surrounding forest presses ominously close.  The place smells of mildew, dogshit and fear – all door are barred and lights doused as soon as night falls.

Is a tall, moated round-house set on the edge of a deep swamp.  The interior of the keep is a deep shaft with a circular stair that goes all the way to the roof.  The place is infested with frogs, toad, newt and other, less pleasant things.  At night, the strange lights in the swamp are mirrored in the black water at the base of the central shaft, and the odd piping of the swamp inhabitants almost seems to form chittering voices.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Galactic Keep

Looks awesome.

Why have they not done this with 4e?

In fact, screw 4e.  I want to see this game with blue-map era megadungeons, using the blue-map cartography and red-box D&D rules.  I want APP ON THE BORDERLANDS!  I want SECRET APP OF BONE HILL.  I want RUINS OF APPMOUNTAIN.  I want CASTLE GREYAPP!

Seriously, why can I not play turn-based party dungeon-crawlers with D&D rules and awesome graphics like this RIGHT NOW?

If you know of any, put them in the comments.  Please bear in mind that I cannot afford cocaine or Apple products.  Derek Proud of Dungeon Mapp - are you taking notes?

Incidentally, one day left on the draw to win a free copy of Dungeon Mapp for the iPad.  Send me an email at kootenaymurph at gmail dot com if you want in!

D&D Next Playtest 3 - Asking "Why?"

We played a 2 1/2 hour session of Reclaiming Blingdenstone last night.  There was one combat encounter.  It was a tough one, and I'll go into why in a bit - but it was also right at the beginning of the session and relatively short.  Maybe 30 minutes all-in.  The rest of the session was pretty much all role-playing.  Which was AWESOME.

The session started with a random event "ROUS" - giant rats invading the storage palisade.  The party led the charge down the stairs and were immediately ambushed by 12 cave rats and 2 dire rats.  This was BY FAR the toughest fight I've done in Next.  If you don't have area-effect spells, minions can be a real handful, and rats can reinforce each other, gaining bonuses to hit.  Additionally, most characters don't have multiple attack options, so missing can really hurt.

Fortunately, some solid healing, a brave charge to the front/burning hands combo by the mage and some skilled use of expertise dice by the fighters (both of them used expertise dice only for damage reduction, and it may have been a TPK if they hadn't), and the day was won.  Hordes of light baddies can be a real issue - far more so than in 4E due to a more limited economy of actions and Vancian spellcasting - plus the party hadn't rested up after clearing the Town Center, so they were low on spells and slightly dinged up.

After the initial fight, that the players spent most of the session exploring various parts of Blingdenstone and talking to a lot of NPC's.  There was one turning point moment in the session where Briddick, an NPC the characters have had some amusing conversations with, casually mentions to them "I heard you gave the crown of Blingdenstone to Kargien.  Why'd you do that?"

The silence was immediate.  I could hear a pin drop.  I couldn't see their faces, but I know they were all thinking the same thing... "Why DID we give him the crown?"  followed by, "wait - not giving him the crown was an option?" and, "he gave us the quest, didn't he?"

One of the players responded with, "Well, he asked us to get it for him, and we just thought..."  and then he trailed off.  Briddick shrugged and said "Oh well, maybe it won't turn out that badly.  We can't get it back from him now, anyways."

And from that point on, the party was off like a hound on a scent.  They started asking Briddick and the other NPC's they met questions. They asked about Kargien, about what the gnomes thought of him, about the history of the expedition. They mapped relationships and identified who supported Kargien and who didn't.  They asked questions about lore and elemental planes and went and learned a lot about the gnome political situation.

They role-played.  It was great.  I thing we all had a ton of fun, and my cheat-sheet really helped - giving me quick prompts about what each NPC was like and what they wanted.

By the end of the session, the party talked to the Pechs, found out about the Boon and the Bane and got a little political intrigue started.  Since Kargien is hostile to the Pechs, and the party wants their help, and the Pechs want the gnomes to let them continue to live in Blingdenstone, the party had to find a way around Kargien.  Fortunately, they now knew that Gurmadden and Henkalla generally opposed Kargien, so they put the plan to coexist with the Pechs to Gurmadden, who got Pingtu, a general supporter of Kargien, but practical and influential gnome onside.  The plan should push through, allowing the party to enlist the active help of the Pechs in getting rid of Ogremoch's Bane.

The next order of business seems to be to scout out Entemoch's Boon and clear out the kobolds in the Wormwindings, so I better get that part of the upgrade done, as that chapter has some serious problems as-presented.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Boardgame as RPG First Session

Paul Thornton over at Shortymonster put up a post talking about his love for boardgames and talked about Fantasy Flight Games and the use of a character sheets in many modern boardgames.

I’m a big fan of boardgames myself – in fact, my friends got me Arkham Horror for my birthday last year, and we got to play it again this summer.  Since I’ve done so much table-top gaming, it seems pretty natural to me to have character sheets along with a game, but I know that for the board game community, this is a relatively recent development.

From an RPG player’s perspective, it’s a GREAT THING!  It means that the barrier to entry for RPG’s is getting lower and lower.  Think about it – there are now a lot of people out there who, through boardgames, have experience using a character sheet and interacting with a rule-set through it!    Paul also correctly notes that playing with a character sheet gets the player much more involved with the game as a story or narrative, which is very good preparation for traditional RPG play as well.

My brainstorm here is that you can lower that bar even further by using a character-sheet boardgame as the first session of an RPG!  The obvious one that comes to mind is Call of Cthulhu with an Arkham Horror first session.  Keep the same characters, and allow things like equipment, spells and skills to continue over into the RPG game.

If you really want to do something interesting – carry over the events of the game into the start of the RPG.  Make notes of some of the major monsters that appeared and what happened to them when the game ended.  Use the Big Baddie as the ultimate antagonist in the RPG game, track the PC’s interactions with things like the Silver Lodge or the Police, and make quick notes about activities that the PC’s got up to in-game – you can carry stuff through to the table-top game very easily.

Using Arkham also gives you a ready-made base of operations, basic character backgrounds and a shared experience for all the players.  Heck, you could even give out XP based on the results of the boardgame.  Suddenly, you’ve gone from introducing a new way kind a game to an easy-to-grasp continuation of a game you already started.

I bet that both experienced and new table-top RPG players would enjoy starting a game this way.  In fact, you don’t have to constrain it to just games with stat sheets.  You could play a tactical game, like the Game of Thrones board game or Lords of Waterdeep, and start as agents/members of whatever group won the game – or the loser, if they lost in a spectacular and interesting way.  Just make sure to carry the events of the game over into the RPG sessions.

As I said, Arkham Horror is an obvious one, but here are some others that you could try:
Castle Ravenloft (for 4e D&D or a Ravenloft game)
Lords of Waterdeep (for any Forgotten Realms Campaign)
Descent (for any fantasy rpg, really)
Mansions of Madness (for more Cthulhu)
Shadows over Camelot (Pendragon or anything Arthurian)
Last Night on Earth or Zombicide (any horror or zombie rpg)
Mutant Chronicles: Siege of the Citadel (Mutants and Masterminds?)
Warhammer Quest (Warhammer Fantasy RPG)
Battlestations (Rogue Trader or Traveller)
Vampire: Prince of the City (Vampire the Masquerade)

This thread here has some other ideas, too.

Worst-case scenario – you’ll have a fun time playing the boardgame and have some neat plot/adventure hooks for when you RPG next.  Best-case?  Awesome board game that flows directly into awesome RPG, and you introduce some new players into RPG’s in a cool way.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Dungeon Mapp Review - Win a Free Copy!

This is a review of Dungeon Mapp, a mapping/gaming application designed to aid in playing tabletop RPG's using a tablet.

Full disclosure.  I'm not getting paid anything for this review.  In fact, I spent $10 to buy the app for my Android tablet.  Derek Proud, the creator, contacted me on Google+ and ask if I wanted to do a review, generously offering a full iPad version of the app, so read on for more information about the app and the giveaway.

I tested Dungeon Mapp Lite (the free trial version) on the iPad, and the full version on an Android tablet.  It can also run on some Android phones, but it's really a tablet app.

Before I go into too much about Dungeon Mapp IS, I think it's important to make it clear what Dungeon Mapp IS NOT.

Dungeon Mapp is NOT a VTT (Virtual Table-Top) like Maptools, which lets multiple people play tabletop RPG's via computer.

Dungeon Mapp is NOT a Cartography program, like Campaign Cartographer - it does allow you to map and save map files, but that it's really the primary purpose.

Dungeon Mapp is NOT edition or system-specific.  It makes a couple of 4e-related assumptions, but it really can be used with any dungeon-crawly RPG game.

That's what Dungeon Mapp isn't.  So what IS it?

Dungeon Mapp is an app that lets you quickly sketch out an encounter area, place tokens and run a combat.

Dungeon Mapp presents you with a gridded black background where you can use a variety of terrains to draw out encounter areas.  Its click and drag interface, with hold-to-edit options make good use of the touch screen of a table, letting you flesh out a room or area with just a few fast motions.  You can create tokens or use token files, setting some basic statistics (like HP and movement) if you want to.

Decals let you add some extra color and detail to your maps, and special tools let you add some nifty features.  One function lets you link multiple maps together - loading them automatically when you need them.  Another lets you automatically add all "party" tokens to a map with one click.  A third lets you hide parts of a map, revealing it with a single touch to the screen.

The interface is straightforward and easy to learn, and the tools work well, at least in the iPad version.  I was able to have basic maps sketched out after about 30 minutes of playing around.  I would have been faster, but I didn't look at the helpful tutorials right away.

An added bonus is that you can save map files, email them and even download some of the pre-built ones from the Dungeon Mapp site.  You can even download a version of the map I used for Totally Different Chapter 3 in my Blingdenstone Enhanced stuff.

I did have some issues with the software.  I found some things about the interface to be clunky - you can't scroll while laying down tiles, for example, and switching tiles requires going into a different selection window each time.  There also isn't an "undo" button - so if you mess up (and you will mess up), you have to manually fix it.

Still - these are the kinds of things that an interested developer - and Derek seems interested, can fix up.  They wouldn't get in the way of my buying this software.  Likewise, I had major issues with the app on my Android tablet.  I'm not sure if it's because my tablet (a Le Pan) is a POS - which it is, or if the recent release on Android hasn't had all the bugs worked out.  I suspect a little from both columns.  I also expect the issues will be resolved in the near future.

The big question is - should you buy this app?  It's $10, which puts it in the high range for app prices, but I could see it being worth the money if you fall into the one of these categories:

1) You currently use graph paper, chalkboards, dungeon tiles or other tabletop methods for gaming and you want to switch to a digital alternative.

2) You game in a place where space is limited, or you can't easily bring supplies.

3)  You play in your living room and don't have access to a gaming table.  For best results, hook a laptop up to your tv and screencast the tablet onto it.  Instant big and little gaming board!

4)  You want to play on vacations, car trips or trains.  This is really the perfect app for a kid like I was.  I had to drive 3 hrs each way to the dentist 1/month when I was a kid.  This would have been awesome for us to roleplay in the car.

If any of you have tried this app and can think of other scenarios where it would be useful, please put them in the comments.

If you would like to be entered to win the free full version of Dungeon Mapp, email me your name and email address at kootenaymurph at gmail dot com.  I'll announce the winner on Friday and send you a link to download the app.

If you DON'T want me to forward your email along to Derek so that you can find out news about Dungeon Mapp, put "keep this private" in the email, OK?

Have a great week and Happy Gaming!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Organizing Content: Google Drive

I see SO MUCH AWESOME STUFF on blogs around teh interwebz all the time.  

But I also have SO MANY BOOKMARKS ALREADY!  How do I keep this stuff organized and accessible so that I can actually use it in a game?

Have no fear!  For the answer – or at least one answer – is here!

The answer is called Google Drive.  It’s the new replacement application for Google Docs – think Google Docs had a love-child with Dropbox, and you have Google Drive.

I’ve been using Dropbox for quite a while now, and I personally love it.  So when I looked at how Drive is set up, I said “Fuck Yes!”  It’s basically Dropbox which links automatically to my existing Google Docs.  I can access it from the web, or install it on specific computers, where it functions like a standard folder – except that everything I put in the folder is automatically sync’ed to any other computer where I installed it, and sync’ed to my Google account as well.

That by itself is super-convenient, but today I found a couple of other features that make it even better for organizing content that I get from blogs or websites.

Feature #1:  Drive appears as a save option.  When I see a cool map on say, Cartographer’s Guild, I right-click on it and select “Save” – then, in my save dialogue box, I can just click on the Google Drive option on the left and save the file direct to the Drive folder – where it SYNCs to ALL MY OTHER COMPUTERS and DEVICES.  I can even save the file in a folder inside Drive, which is handy for keeping things organized.

Feature #2: Sharing via link:  If I want to share documents and files, all I need to do is upload them to Drive, click on the “Share” button, set the sharing parameters and copy the resulting link onto the blog.  This works the same way with Dropbox, and it’s how I posted all the recent Blingdenstone Stuff.

Feature #3:  The Recent List:  If other bloggers are good enough to share their content documents via a Google Drive link and I open them, the document is automatically added to the Recent List when I look at my Google Drive info on the Google website.  So as long as it’s up, I can find it again!  Excelcior!

Feature #4:  Dragging from the Recent List:  It gets even BETTER.  If I see a content file I want on the recent list, I just need to drag it from that list onto one of my folders on my Drive, and it will automatically download a copy and SYNC it to ALL MY DEVICES.

Feature #5:  ALL MY DEVICES:  This actually should have been first.  I have Drive installed on my desktop computers at work and home, my laptop, both my tablets and my smartphone.  Anything I put in drive is automatically accessible from any of those devices.

Feature #6:  Ask me about price:  How much does this godly application cost?  NOTHING!  Free and automatically linked to your Google account - with 2 GB of storage.  How can you not love this thing?

Tips and Tricks:
If you want to keep stuff organized in your Google Drive account, I’d recommend using several core folders.   Maps, Content (possibly organized by game system), Shared Docs (so you know what you’ve put out there), Campaign Info (for sharing with your players).

Oh, and Word Docs and other files can be edited by all people that you’ve specifically shared them with.  This is good for things like Campaign Journals and Character Sheets, but less optimal for your content – so post your content as PDF’s so they can’t be modified.

So other bloggers out there – if you want to make your content easy for people to access and use, post it on your blog, but include a pdf link to Google Drive.  I know many of us will thank you for it!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Dungeon Crawling for Fun and Non-Profit

I had a very interesting discussion over on Google+ today, based on some thoughts from Brendan from put forth.

The initial discussion was about movement from this post:

I thought I would have some interesting insights to share, because I've actually done a few things which are similar to dungeon-crawling. More similar than things most people have experienced, at least.

Sometimes, I gather a party, put on a suit of armor and a helmet, pick up a weapon and enter a dark, dangerous environment to search for treasure.

See, I'm a volunteer firefighter, which means that occasionally as part of training (not real so far, thank goodness) I do Search and Rescue practice.  The dark, dangerous place is a burning building filled with smoke and the party is my rescue crew.  The armor and helmet are my Bunker Gear, which is similar in weight to chain mail, and I carry a fire axe or a holligan tool.  The treasure is a person, or at least a dummy which weighs as much as an unconscious person.

I also carry a flashlight and wear an SCBA.  I usually look like this guy, although he's using a slightly different tool.

It's hot, confusing, exhausting and scary.  The weight of the gear limits how fast you can move, and you often have to work by feel in a limited-visibility environment.  If there were monsters in there, you probably wouldn't see them coming.

But then, if there was I chance I'd also find (and be able to keep) a huge bucket of gold, it might be worth it. Likewise pulling out a person would be very worth it - although they probably wouldn't let me keep the person either.

Of course, I've also held gold, when I worked up in the Yukon.  An Good Delivery-sized gold bar can be as much as 30 lbs, needs to be held with both hands, and you sure as hell wouldn't want to drop it on your toe.  It really makes you appreciate encumbrance rules when you do that - although I don't tend to be too sticky on encumbrance either.

But now I'm getting off-topic.  In my own game, I tend to rely largely on quick judgement made on-the-fly for rulings.  D&D Next's difficulty system seems to support that style well so far, but that style requires that you have a guy feeling for how hard things should be in order to set DC scores.

So let me tell you - crawling around in a dungeon, in armor, with all your gear... it's really hard.  There's a reason that professional firefighters make fitness a major priority.  Things like jumping, climbing and swimming are severely limited or nearly impossible, and fighting would be exhausting in short order.

Of course, it's a game, so do what's fun.  Game on!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

D&D Next Playtest Session 2: More Lessons Learned

When 4e came out, my initial impressions were very positive. As a DM, I loved the streamlined and simplified encounter building system, standardized math and general ease-of-use.

As I played it, some of the shiny edges came off on my hands.  Dissociated mechanics made gameplay less immersive, there was limited scope for the kind of homebrewing I'd traditionally done, and the system really encouraged min/maxing and system mastery.  I still found it to be a marked improvement over 3e, the fiddliest system of D&D ever invented, but it didn't exactly do what I wanted.

What it did do, though, is spoil a lot of other RPG systems for me.  The level of pain in the ass involved in setting up encounters is very high.  So high that I don't have TIME for it, so I can't play it, even in an online format.

D&D Next still has a LOOONG way to go on this score.  Sure, building encounters is pretty easy. In fact, I'm finding my 2e and 1e skills coming back to me pretty quickly.  It's just that I can't seem to make them HARD.  Or even challenging....  I've mentioned before that the monsters need work in D&D Next, and the second session really confirmed this to be true.  Even the major threat of chapter 3, the wight, went down in 1 round.  He did get out in front of his zombie screen, so maybe that's my fault, but between high to-hit bonuses, relatively low AC and middling HP, everything in Next is glass cannon territory right now.

In the second session we had 3 players and 5 characters - 2 pre-gens, the cleric and the rogue and 3 player-made.  2 fighters, one dwarf, one human, and an elf wizard.  The party finished Chapter 3, clearing the Town Center (I still hate that map, but I started them on it before I redeveloped the chapter, so I was stuck) and retrieving the crown of Blingdenstone.

That basically made the whole 3-hour session a straight dungeon-crawl in the very old school. Well, it was almost old-school.  It had traps and secret doors and skeletons and stirges and a big fight at the end.   It just missed one thing.

It wasn't dangerous.

Most monsters went down in 1 round of combat - 2 at the most.  So that wasn't great.  It felt a bit like playing Skyrim on Easy difficulty.  You still DO everything... you just don't get nervous about it.  At least I didn't.  Maybe that just meant that the players did a good job.  They certainly fell back on old-school habits fast.  Listening at doors.  Checking dead-end hallways for secrets, careful advances with lots of scouting.  Light and line of fire maintenance.  It felt really good, and the standardized check and difficulty mechanics meant the thief was effective where he needed to be.

So - the GOOD:

Great old-school feel.  System was simple to learn and use - easy to make adjustments and rulings on-the-fly.  Felt like there was a lot more flexibility for me as the DM and for the players to improvise.

Thief was useful where you would expect him to be, fighters awesome in brawls, wizard reliable for simple stuff and occasionally throwing big game-changing stuff.  The characters felt pitch-perfect, actually, I really liked that side of things.

The BAD:

Too easy.  Need to raise monster AC by 1-2 across the board, hp by at least 50%.  And add more monsters to encounters.  But the combat is really swingy.  Characters don't have too many HP, so they can go down fast - the wizard got 1-hit to 0 HP by a skeleton archer, but maybe that isn't a flaw - he did charge ahead to burning hands the room, so....

It just feels like the difference between a challenge and a TPK is a few rolls or a couple of mooks.  Again, maybe it's always been that way and I just didn't notice.  It felt - precarious.  I like to have a bit more flexibility as a DM to lay on the baddies and feel like the party has the resources to pull it out.

PC bonuses are too high.  Many PC's get +6 or so to hit, which is too much when the big boss (the wight) has AC 14 or so.  The characters rarely missed, so things went down very fast.  I don't want PC's to need to roll 18's to hit things, but rolling a 3 should be a miss - and with zombies, for example - it isn't.

Next session will include more of the stuff I developed myself.  I'm using a number of maps from the extremely excellent Cartographer's Guild, along with Maptool as a VTT, and it's working a treat.  Hopefully by now some others will have also used my Blingdenstone Enhanced stuff, and can tell me a bit more about how that ran.