Showing posts with label Role Playing. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Role Playing. Show all posts

Sunday, June 15, 2014

The Thousand Thrones: Once More Unto The Breach!

Last Friday, I managed to get in on another game of the 2nd edition of the Warhammer Fantasy Role Playing Game aka Warhammer FRPG. The Thousand Thrones is a massive book that details out rise of Karl, 'Sigmar Reborn' in the Empire and the various events that happen around the lad as well as the general terribleness of the Warhammer world.

In this setting, I'm playing a Troll Slayer.

I finally came into some coin in the campaign. I don't want to say it was overdue because I understand that the Warhammer FRPG isn't like Dungeons and Dragons 3rd or 4th edition where X amount of coin and equipment is assumed to be in the player's possession on a level by level basis.  I'll say though, that it was good to have some coin.

Now with the Troll Slayer, the only thing I need, in terms of 'gear' for my advanced career, Giant Slayer, is my great axe. Well, that's not quite true. I also need to kill a giant. The GM has assured me that when the time comes that won't be a problem even though there are no giants within the campaign itself.

This week's session found the group continuing our quest to discover the traitors and assassins within Karl's massive procession. There are those seeking to kill and or capture the boy. This means killing a whole bunch of people around the lad.

This time it would seem that we were against cultists of Papa Nurgle, the ruinous power of plague and disease. Someone trying to poison the soup!

Again, the efforts to find information and discover what is going on, are far more at the front of the game then they are in the big D&D. The game doesn't rely solely on combat or treasure as a method of advancement so those things aren't the focus on most games I've been in.

Mind you, I'm a Troll Slayer and well, I play the character as one whose easily bored with the various gatherings of information, often testing the sharpness of my blade against my thumb. My fellow players have joked that I've done it so many times that my whole thumb is a giant scar at this point.

But in the two combats we had this sessions, they were glad to have the giant orange mohawk there.

Our first encounter was one we essentially knew was going to end in violence as we sought out 'the Butcherer'. This individual was working with others in the camp to poison people with a magical stew of Papa's. We quickly disposed of him and brought our efforts to Karl and tried to beat some information out of the 'rat' in the nest but Karl was distraught with our methodologies and banished us!

The Game Master did note though, that despite our banishment, we were still devoted to the Karl. For those who've never played, that's because Karl is a mutant whose power is inspiring devotion to him. I made my initial Will Power roll to avoid falling under the trap initially a few sessions ago but missed it this time so I too was now planning how best to serve.

Mind you that's what I'd been doing before because the boy hired us to watch out for him and our original mission involved that anyway.

I asked the GM is we would have to sneak back into the giant encampment and work our way from there or if there were things that could happen outside that, as we were in the city of Aldorf. I can't remember if that's our final destination or not but I do know that it's a huge city and we were able to explore a bit including some shopping.

The GM even broke out the Old World Armoury because our newfound apprentice mage in the party kept looking for darts. Not in the core book and not in the Armoury. GM said, "Don't worry about it. It's a non-expensed resource, you just have to make sure you renew your supply every so often." Seemed a good solution to me.

Now again, I have all the 'trappings' I need for my next career. I did struggle with how much armor to buy. A troll slayer starts with a leather shirt, 1 armor point, and mine was destroyed by a critical hit earlier in the campaign. I'd been going shirtless since then. I weighed the whole suicidal urges of the Troll Slayer against the practicality of playing the character. In art, I'd seen Troll Slayers garbed in chain armor before and there isn't really any restriction to it.

But I stuck with leather and gave a lot of my gold to another player who fully armored himself up with it. The other players sought out leads and information unto becoming their next advanced careers and went about buying the trappings to help make that happen.

When you have a character concept, how far will you go against the grain of that concept to insure some level of survivability? Would anyone have bought the chain shirt and said screw the leather? Should I have just went without any armor?

The good news, is that the leather soon proved it's use as agents of caravan from various factions where in the city and a fight broke out between some of them. We assisted those we thought were the 'good' guys based on our previous research, although this being Warhammer, it's possible all of them were chaos cultists.

After that fight we gathered a bit more information and the GM called a halt to the session. We still haven't finished the chapter though, so no XP! Argh! That's okay, one of the 'swing' parts of Warhammer and it's random character creation, is as a Troll Slayer, I have a LOT of advances to take. Most of the other players? Not so much.

Looking forward to the next session.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)

I read the Hobbit in the early 80s when I was a young lad. I honestly can't same I remember that much about it save for broad themes and character arcs. I remember the old carton, and some great comics that game about thanks to the fantastic source material.

But movies? Especially when the book was so small and has been spread out over three films?

As a fantasy fan first, I thought it was a hell of a movie. I'll be pinging various things from it and there will probably be spoilers. But seeing as how I'm so late in seeing it, those of you who would be offended by spoilers have probably seen it well before me.

Soundtrack? I felt it added greatly to the film. Moments of tension and danger highlighted by the score.

Visuals: There could be several things to point out. When Bilbo emerges from the Mirkwood Forest and is surrounded by butterflies and enjoys the sunlight after the oppression of the forest? The costume designs on both the heroes and the villains? The variety of scarring and wounds that the orcs proudly bear to indicate their fierceness? The destroyed city which is proclaimed the desolation of Smaug when the Company sees it from above?

One of my favorite bits is when Gandalf confronts Sauron. I don't care if it was in the book or not. The imagery here, of a burning orb with a black pupil, one that resembles Sauron's armored from and yet is instantly recognizable as the Great Eye from the Lord of the Rings trilogy? It works on many levels and serves as a great tool to tie the two franchises together.

In terms of visuals for player characters, the make up crew did a great job in insuring that the dwarves, despite the shared origins, have little in common. They do this by making their beards distinguished from one another with different styles.

They make the beards of different lengths.

They make the beards braided or combed.

They make some taller than others and some fatter than others and some bald.

the ability to bring quick defining visuals to the dwarves makes them more individualistic and stand out more than they would if they were just a merry band as I tend to recall them from the book all those many years ago.

Scope: Similar in theme to visuals, but a bit more in setting the mood, is how grand some of the things are. For example, the dwarven home has a huge dwarf statue outside of it. Other elements continue to showcase a grandeur missing from the previous movie. For example, Smaug himself. Nothing in the Lord of the Rings compares to Smaug's screen presence. His movements, his facial gestures, his power. Bilbo's flattery of Smaug seems more apt than mere flattery to gain a few moments.

Screen shots from the movie would make great role playing aids. They could easily lend themselves to a wide variety of setting and help showcase how wide and diverse the world is.

Mood: One of the things I didn't enjoy about the first mood was I though it a touch too silly.I'm not saying all fantasy has to be 'grimdark' or anything like that, but the Brown Wizard for example? Yeah, way too much for my personal taste and the second movie essentially has the Brown Wizard perform a cameo before departing.

Do I think the movie without flaws? I'm a little unimpressed with Bard, one of the men from Lake Town. Not because he doesn't have a great introduction, but because his apparent skill is an archer. By having the elves feature so much in this film, the mere act of archery in and of itself is squat.  Legolas proves to have archery as well as swordplay. Bard doesn't have too much presence though in the movie and I'll be curious to see what they do with him in the third film.

I also though the dwarves captured a little too often and released a little too easily. After a while you can only wonder why on earth they thought they could succeed in their mission.

For role playing games, there is a lot that could be taken.

Titles: Smaug boldly claims the title "King Under the Mountain" which is normally a dwarf honorific. Others have their own titles but some of these are for deception. For example, Sauron doesn't name himself as such but rather goes by The Necromancer. This prevents his foes from knowing that he has returned and grown in power and ability. Players could be searching out an old foe never aware that he has taken a new guise and name.

Chance Encounters: One of the things that can be difficult to do in role playing games, is the introduction of a new character. Here when the dwarves are in danger of being overwhelmed by the spiders of Mirkwood, they are helped by the elves. A quick method of allowing a new player to join or replacing a character that has died, is to have the characters encounter one another against common enemies.

Skills Tests instead of Combat: There are several encounters in the movie that I think would play out better as skill challenges as opposed to pure combat. For example, when they dwarves escape from the elves, they are beset upon by orcs. Mind you, the dwarves are in the river, in barrels. The whole chase scene has a touch of humor to it, but relies on some quick thinking and physical prowess that move beyond the realm of hack and slash.

In addition, the encounter with Smaug the dragon? It reminded me of some video games I've played where the point isn't to cast spells and hack at the enemy, but to set up a scenario or maneuver the enemy into a position where he'll be destroyed. If the players are facing, at the GM's design, some creature that is far beyond their power, if they are meant to overcome it, design the meeting or location or nearby locations in a way that augment the encounter and have the players talking about luring the dragon into the cave so it couldn't fly or poisoning the well water so that it couldn't breath fire or allowing the players some other method that could work, to actually work.

Animosity: When looking at role playing games that have alignments, one of the harder elements to juggle is why good races allow other good races to fight alone. For example, when  Thorin Oakenshield, the leader of the dwarves, speaks with Thrandui, the elf king, the dwarf accuses the elf of leaving his people to rot and die while the elf replies that he warned the dwarves what would happen and could not prevent it. The  elves here come across as fairly xenophobic and wish nothing to do with those outside their borders. Even Legollas himself bears many of these features initially so I imagine we'll see a bit more of a character arc for him in the third movie that expands his capacity for empathy.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug may not win any awards for theme, plot, acting, or other bits, but I hope it can only shine a light to hollywood that there is a lot of potential money to be made from the fantasy genre that falls outside of A Game of Thrones.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

First Game of 2014: L5R

I may have mentioned that I don't play RPG's as much as I would like to and that one of my goals in 2014 was to play more.

I spoke with my buddies a few weeks ago and they were talking Iron Kingdoms. I was like well, I know the setting from the old d20 books and the table top game, but don't have any of the new stuff. No problem, come on by early and we'll hash something out.

Talked to them before coming over and bam! It'd be changed to Legend of the Five Rings by AEG .

This is what I'm talking about when I mention the inspiration part of movies, books, and comics. The fact that a group of these guys went to see the movie and were so entranced by it, by the sound track, the visuals, the scenery, the background, and themes, that they said, "You know, that game of Iron Kingdoms we were going to play? That we discussed? That the GM has been prepping for months? Yeah, screw that game. It's time to get my Samurai on!"

For me it was good because I've also been getting a samurai fix form Tim's Miniature Wargaming Blog where he's been posting about playing games of Ronin, a skirmish level miniature game by Osprey.

And man, I have the PDF. It's a huge thing being over 400 pages. And it's a gorgeous book. I really need to break down one day and buy the hardcover because while my Toshiba Thrive is still working, either I'm getting old and that 10.1 screen isn't doing it anymore, or more likely, like 99.9% of PDF's, it's the book with no regard given to being read in any other format than the print version.

Because it's so graphic heavy and so tight in text, it's not necessarily a pleasant experience reading it in standard format so you can increase the size of the text and make it easier on the eyes, but then it's not a page per 'sheet' or screen view if you will. That could just be me being crazy and suffering some OCD or something though.

Anyway, one of my friends did a Crane, another one a Dragon, another a Crab, and I picked Scorpion. We all picked Samurai, no courtiers or monks or ninjas or other weirdness.

Character creation wasn't bad. The whole five rings with four of them broken into two traits per ring and then the skills and schools and advantages and potential disadvantages took me less than an hour.

Speaking of disadvantages, in Legend of the Five Rings, how many people max those out? I didn't know if we were going to be playing again or what type of campaign it was going to be so didn't even bother with them and buffed up a few skills and picked a few advantages.

The GM ran something where we ran into the children of the emperor in a tavern full of semi-shady characters. There were some great interactions there with some notable NPC's and some people falling into the disadvantages like lechery or devoted to the spirits right away.

We followed along with the Emperor's children on a pilgrimage and well, long story short, two of the three were apparently killed, as were two of the players, in this case myself and +Sergio Rivera at the hands of +Tom Wright. I say apparently because the other players didn't stick around to see what happened, and while we were definitely outclassed, Legend of the Five Rings, at least story wise, has a long history of "No, that didn't actually happen see.", much like the old dime movies back in the day.

I've got a little less than a week to make my next character and I'm thinking of either another Scorpion or perhaps a ronin. The thing about ronin though, us unlike other game systems, unless it's changed dramatically, which it may, L5R is all about the clans so if you go ronin, you're really screwed at a character level.

Anyone have any Legend of the Five Rings advice out there? Any good sites I should be noting down and looking at? Help a poor man out here!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Kickstarter April Edition

Ramble ramble ramble...

Kickstarter for me has turned into a place where money goes either to die or enter into a state of hibernation like Ripley in the Aliens movie where she misses her pickup by such a long time that when she wakes up her kid is dead of old age.

I know, we're "supporting the arts!" but I have to tell you, for that, we're getting some of the lamest updates I've ever seen when talking about 'behind the scenes! "Man, I had a head cold you wouldn't believe! Nothing updated. Sorry dog! Can't help you."

Here's the thing for me at least. A lot of the ones I initially backed were for role playing games. If you can't get some previews, some art, some discussion about your research into the product, where your inspiration is coming from, what made you select some artists, or any number of useful things, don't come to me as a backer with "you're supporting the process!" because most of these process posts are so incredibly lame that if you approached a project manager with them you'd be fired on the spot.

With the advent of the Internet, with YouTube, twitter, and so many other social media options, the fact that most of the ones I've backed hide from their backers and only respond to individual posts instead of, you know, updating the Kickstarter itself? Your doing it wrong.

Onto the late projects!

28mm Demons & Devils: While it's only now officially 'late', remember, no one PROMISED anything would be done in March. That was only an estimate dude. You can't be holding anyone to that stuff. And in the meantime, they haven't sent out the old pledge backing so you know, we can actually order what we've paid for. Then again, I went in for their Facebook exclusive miniature which was done after their Kickstarter so yeah, good work Joe.

1650s Rulebook: Supposedly printed. Will see it in American shores... soonish?

Imbrian Arts Miniatures is now late. Miniatures were supposed to start flowing in Feb and follow up the rest of the year for people who were at a certain level. Turns out Jody isn't going to do that method he initially was in Trollcast due to timing issues. Some have said there's a lot more going on behind the stages and Ed needs to step up and clear his name so to speak. Between this and Red Box I'll be very curious to see how Assimiliation by Ed goes. I'm also curious to see how the Cthulhu Mythos I'm backing, also using Ed, goes. Good luck to everyone involved here. From an outside perspective, it seems a mess.

Reaper Miniatures Bones:Okay, not really late, but late for me as I'm one of the people that backed at a higher level so no generic level and that means more stuff to pack later. One day I will understand the mentality's of the Kickstarter worker. "This person has spent more than 90% of my other customers. I will ship his shit dead last. Screw this guy for supporting me at this level. Dumb bastard!" No, seriously, I get that there are complexities involved in dealing with orders that are not standard or normal, but often, in that dreaded 'real world', when you put in a large or deluxe order with a 'real' business, you generally get taken care of BEFORE the people who are ordering one or two offs. This whole methodology will probably never happen but a man can dream.

Red Box Games: Love Tre's figures but man this has turned into a disaster for the guy. Not only this Kickstarter but the one that followed. Seems to be 'bad blood' between Tre and Ed now in terms of whose responsible for the fiasco.

Note in the comments Tre mentioning one of the things I pegged almost at the start. That if you're a business doing small batches for large orders, you and the person you are serving are screwed. Everyone has to put in more man hours to make it work. If you have an order for 800 broken up into one hundred separate orders instead of one order, or any number under that total number, more trips to the post office, more time packing, more packing supplies consumed, and so forth and so on. It's an ugly situation to be in. This doesn't include things beyond your control like say, a postal hike.

It's one of the reasons why where I work, the large orders are preferred in terms of 'getting the work out' because its more productive to 'touch' a bin once for one hundred pieces then it is to touch that same bin one hundred times for one piece each time. Oh well. Looking forward to seeing it whenever it hits.

Tectonic Craft Studios: Going on a year late. In the meanwhile, he's been doing conventions, setting up trade with internet stores, and selling stuff online. While one can understand the need to do these things, telling the customer in the meanwhile how lucky they are to be getting such great deals didn't fly over to well and I'm actually not the worst jerk in this supporting faction now. People getting tired of reasons and wanting to see their goods. I myself find that its going to be an uphill struggle for him because of things I've mentioned in the past. Comparitive prices to Games Workshop terrain for example.

Tentacles & Eyeballs: The dude here has taken, what for him, was a bone breaking punch to the jaw, got up and said, "Win!". He's turned some of the material that was taken out from the C&D into some fantastic monsters with some great paint jobs.  He made more than he should have and then allowed people to buy in at kickstarter prices. While it's late, he's keep everyone in the loop, no one's had to hunt him down for information, he's provided pieces as they were being done, and has gone above and beyond in my opinion.

Dwimmermount:More drama than your favorite soap opera. I'm glad that the guys have got the rights they need to take care of things. Tavis has been class act here while James deals with a terrible situation. Should have been done months ago in my opinion but hey, people don't want to intrude on such a terrible scene and I can't blame them.

It Came From the Stars: Supposedly on its way. Looking forward to seeing the end result as I'm actually having time on the weekends to do things. Painting and role playing may make a comeback in this life yet!

Midgard Tales: Honestly have no clue what's going on there. I'm actually not worried about it NOT coming out and not really interested in the project any longer. Too few updates, not a lot of clarity for my dumb ass as to what's going on and well, it's something I wish I'd just waited on and maybe bought in the store.

Pathfinder Online: Not late but there were levels with rewards that included PDFs that already exist. They were deliberately put into a special level to encourage people that even if you weren't doing the game, you'd be getting a good value. Those should have already been sent out and maybe it has, but this is another one where I'm not digging through comments and other things to see where things stand in terms of the pledge manager.

Steampunk Musha: Hasn't been updated in months. The game site for Fat Goblin Games, last time I checked, was down. The company has a web presence but hasn't made mention of this game yet. Dead?

In terms of "new" Kickstarters, I've let a ton go. There were MANY miniature ones I wanted to back and a few RPGs. The only one I have backed recently is Wicked Fantasy by John Wick. I like some of the ideas we've seen and he's been good about updating the page with you know, the actual material that will be going into the book. Oh, maybe Fate too? Didn't know if I mentioned that one.

John's I backed because I like a lot of his work. I might pick it up in the store. Fate I backed because it was a fantastic deal and it looks 'fun'. There appears to be community build up around it.

For the most part, I'm done with Kickstarters until I see and hear a rapid improvement. As I've heard things the opposite though, I don't think that will be an issue. For example, let's take Nystul's Infinite Dungeon. I did not back this one at the time. I already had a mega dungeon and more on the way. However, look at who recommends backing it..

"Support this Kickstarter. I'm sure you won't be sorry. Mike's incredibly creative."

- Monte Cook

"For all you gamers wrapped up in the old-school revival, you don't get more old-school than Mike Nystul. How many other gamers were around early enough to get a D&D spell named after them? How many designers were writing sourcebooks about demons back when TSR had banned the word from the game? Let Mike haul you back into the dungeons that thrilled you as a kid and remind you why you were afraid to go in there in the first place!"

- Matt Forbeck

"Mike Nystul is a brilliant designer and the best DM I ever played with. Imagine someone with the ability to peer right into why you play D&D in the first place, who can then create a game with the perfect balance of challenge and reward -- that's the work of Mike Nystul."

- Aaron Loeb

How do you then look at anything these guys say in the future about a Kickstarter? Couldn't Monte have given Nystul a copy of his book on running Kickstarters? The whole thing, from an outsider prospective, looks a mess and it's one that was supported by many industry insiders. I don't think that any of these guys are going to take a direct hit on their rep, but then again, if you backed one of these projects because you were like, "Man, Monte Cook says I will not be sorry! Awesome!" Anyone know if Monte is stepping up with free PDF's of his latest game for those backers?

Anyway, that's enough rambling.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

When I posted yesterday bout the old $1.00 Exalted book, I knew that sooner or later I'd mention another reason why I think ebooks are vastly overpriced.

The free ebooks. Now these aren't only books done by unknown authors or authors trying to get word out on the street. They are books whose age puts them into the public domain and well, are free to read if you have a reader and well, are classics such as, you guessed it, treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. For a brand new author to come out with an ebook that cost $14.99 out the gate when readers have the choice of thousands of classic titles... well, that's just $14.99 I'm going to save.

Today's post was in part inspired by the webcomic, d20monkey, in particular, this strip.

In Treasure Island, one of the passages goes a little something like this;

"Captain," said I, "Trelawney is the dead shot. Give him your gun; his own is useless."

They exchanged guns, and Trelawney, silent and cool as he had been since the beginning of the bustle, hung a moment on his heel to see that all was fit for service. at the same time, observing Gray to be unarmed, I handed him my cutlass. It did all our hearts good to see him spit in his hand, knit his brows, and make the blade sing through the air. It was plain from every line of his body that our new hand was worth his salt."

When I read the above in Treasure Island, I instantly thought of the d20 Monkey comic because I've seen similar behavior and at times, as a GM, I'm a little stumped by it because it transcends editions and game systems and its a point of player behavior. As a GM do you just stomp on this player because he's being an ass or do you wait it out and see what the other players do? There are no easy or right answers because people are complex and what works for one group may not work for another group.

All too often advice for role playing games tends to focus on the Game Master. How to be a Yes Game Master. How to be a No Game Master. How to identify different play styles. How to accommodate said play styles.

What is really needed is more advice on how to get players to work together in the game. How to let players use that knowledge they have of the system to not lay claim to an item whose obvious use is better with another class. To use that meta knowledge to make a character that fits into the party.

In short, to be part of a group. Stop hiding behind "It's what my character would do." If you as a player can ask for healing because you're down 25 hit points, you as the player can stop and go, "Maybe I shouldn't sell this wand of magic missile for gold because the mage or the fighter-mage can use it." Don't hide behind your character on one hand and then profit from it on the other.

Oh, and speaking of free books...

Don't believe the hype!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Burning Land by Bernard Cornwell

Fifth up in the series of the Saxon Tales, Bernard Cornwell continues to push Uthred on in ages and in character. The series continues to be told in first person, continues to be a quick read, and continues to be a solid source of inspiration for those looking for ideas on what a game where the Vikings are invading England during the 9th century would be like.

Below I'll be spouting out some random nonsense fired off from the reading. Note that I'll try to limit the reputation where previous books have already struck those nerves so this might be a short posting. Much of the series enforces previous books and continues on the themes already established. At this point, reading Uthred is like visiting an old friend.

History Lies: I've mentioned this before, but written history, the oral history of the short lived races, the history that gets passed down to those who come after? It's at best diluted by the viewpoint of those who've survived and how they interpret it. Those who are in favor are hailed as mighty warriors and leaders and those who are merely nightly wanderers, such as adventurers, might be lucky to be hailed as a foot note. In a setting like the Forgotten Realms or Greyhawk, dragons, undead, elves, and dwarves, all who live longer then men, might be able to provide different aspects of those histories that they share, but each will still be approaching it from their own perspective and their own take on it.

Home Matters: Even thought there are several characters in the series that share the same religion, that of Christianity, such as Finan, their own history, or their countries own history, has warped many of those elements so that while the broad picture is still there, the individual elements have mutated and changed from the whole cloth. Native myths and origins and spirits become saints and angels under the new cloth.

Kill Your Children: I've mentioned it before, that people die all the time. In book five, Uthred's wife and child die during childbirth. When NPC's die off of the mundane, it provides a solid grounding for the campaign setting. It reminds the player's that they're not in their nice clean and comfortable condo or that they don't have the luxury of ordering up a pizza. It's a tough world and if plague and pestilence doesn't get you, the orc and goblin raiders will.

Politics: When not dungeon delving and when dealing with the cities, it's all about the politics. For example, Haesten allows his wife and children to convert to Christianity so that he may gain King Alfred's trust. Uthred, due to his heretic ways and worshipping the pagan god Thor, is easy prey for a living Saint who speaks in tongues and prophecies but is feed them through his own master. Politics move the game in a manner that isn't effected necessarily by the might or menace of the characters, but how they socialize, how they interact, how they fit into the overall society.

The Enemy of My Enemy: It's an old saying but it bears repeating. While not always true, when the players overcome an adversary, but don't kill him, that adversary may have other foes and may be eager to sick the player's on them. After all, if the players could overcome him, why could they not overcome others and allow all to benefit?

Fire: I haven't mentioned it much, but fire is a hell of a thing in a dark age setting. Many buildings are made of wood and thatch and water isn't as portable and easy to gather as it is today. A society may have volunteers and friends and neighbors set up in case of fire and when it strikes, there will be a real free that a whole village may burn down.

Information is Golden: Even as organizations may dole out select information to one another, there will be those runners and guides and bards and spies that specialize in gathering information and sharing that information for a cost. Players need to act with caution when dealing with them because even as they are providing the players with information, they will be gathering their own information. GM's familiar with the old school of doing this can provide the interaction through the dreaded role playing, or having the spy ask tit for tat, or playing out a scene from Silence of the Lambs. Those with the newer editions can merely have the players roll against the spy in skill checks to see who gathers the information from who and what it costs. At the same time, players have to beware of simply gathering the information and killing the spies. After all, if the spies keep coming to the characters and dying off, even the most dim witted of them will pause before providing the players any information for fear of their own life.

Hostages: I've mentioned hostages before, but what of high ranked hostages? Such individuals will often come with their own tutors, with their own instructors, with their own honor guard. These individuals all have to be clothed, feed, and sheltered. Each one may have their own motivations for being there, and some of those motivations may not require them to actually be there to guard the prized hostage but to perhaps spy or steal.

Family: The one thing I've always hated about Dungeon Crawls and Adventure Paths, is that too little time is baked into them to allow for little else outside of the adventure itself. In an organic setting where travel and exploration and seeking shelter from the cold winter months can be expected to take time, the climate is slightly different. For example, UthredUthred, as Uthred has done with him. Other characters have family as well. It's one of the ways Uthred keeps getting into trouble. For you see, this Dane had a brother, and that Dane had a brother, and well, that Dane had a son. the intricate webs that family and relations can have on the campaign should not be underestimated.

The Burning Land continues the tale of Uthred and it continues to be a fast paced, enjoyable take on The Saxon Tales.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Sheepfarmer's Daughter by Elizabeth Moon

While I still own many a book I have not yet read, I still find myself wandering off to Half Priced books. Because of all the books though, I’ve decided that if I’m going to buy a book, it has got to be coming out of the one dollar spinners they have located throughout the store. So I pick up the Deed of Paksenarrion Book One through Three, written by Elizabeth Moon.

I’ve never read any Elizabeth Moon. I figure for a dollar each, if I don’t like them I can give them to a friend and not worry about it.

Her writing is crisp. It gets to the point. It is easy to read. These things alone insure that I will finish the series.

But what struck me in the first few pages that I wanted to share it with the readers of the blog? It is not necessarily that it moves quick in terms of action or events, but rather how it moves.

The main character, a tall woman Paksenarrion, Paks for short, does not want to do as her father wishes and marry the pig farmer down the road and wants to join the military and serve thanks to tales told to her by her cousin. It happens quickly. Her initial signing isn’t made a big deal of. Her leader and trainer in her unit is very much a mentor role without being interested in her as a woman.

This to me, after reading books like Best Served Cold and the First Law, was like a breath of fresh air. Sometimes when I’m reading writers, I get the feeling that they just keep adding text and text and text and problems and problems ot make things more interesting instead of getting the story done.

For example, while reading this, I thought for sure she wouldn’t get away from her father. I thought for sure that she’s have some dire encounter on the road to joining the military that would make her question her motivations. I thought for sure that she would initially be turned away from signing up, that her mentor would be some puke who only wanted to bed her and dispose of her. None of those things happened.

It is not that bad things do not happen to the character, but rather, it does not seem like the entire setting is out to cause her harm. When she does encounter difficulties, there are those who are neutral on the subject, but follow the chain of logic and evidence as well as those who stand against her. It makes a nice breath of fresh air.

When as a game master you are about building your story, communication with the players is a good thing to keep the game moving in a direction that makes everyone happy. For example, if there was a female player who wanted to play a warrior and was using running away from home as a background, would the GM throw those things above in her way or, like Elizabeth Moon does, just use that as a launching point and get to the military and move on?

I’m not advocating not throwing issues into the players way. But knowing which issues are worth the time to spend in game and to engage the player with is a vital tool of having the players enjoy the game. There are some players who look forward to expecting the inevitable betrayal, of expecting their employer to turn on them at any moment, that the kindly old white wizard is actually the balrog in disguise. Indulge them in that as it is what they enjoy. For those who have a stated goal and want to get to it, try not to make it so difficult that it alters the character concept and background.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Best Served Cold by Joe Abercrombie

I'll be pulling some quotes and ideas out of Joe Abercrombie's latest book below so if you're not interested in spoilers, go no further.

It seems like just yesterday I was talking about revenge as a motivator. Here, a woman, Monza Murcatto, the Snake of Talins, who is apparently betrayed by her employer is left for dead but manages to survive the assassination attempt. But does not do so on her own.

Rather, she awakens looking a bit like ye old Frankenstein Monster with various surgeries performed on her near dead body. Nothing to augment, merely to pull the body back together. This is done by a benefactor who has his own reasons for doing so.

In that area, the GM can show some mercy to the players. If the players are facing certain death and it's not really through any fault of their own and only a few poor dice rolls or if the GM is feeling merceful, have outside sources save them at a high costs and for a price afterwards.
 but does not survive without being marked. This being Joe Abercrombie, the hero is scared and less than perfect.

But it does add an interesting point in the search for vengance. While Monza is saved, she then acts as a patron for a group of assassins who are to help her in acheiving her revenge.

In terms of player opportunities, one of the characters is named Friendly. He rarely talks and is obsessed with numbers, often expressed through his rolling of the bones. These are little hooks that can be used to hang a quick identifier on. It allows you to quickly get into the mind of the character.

For those seeking to change their player, look for the opportunities in the way the story evolves. In Best Served Cold, one of the characters, Shivers, is a norseman who left the north, forsaking a blood fued against the Bloody Nine. Here, he tries to be optimistic and positive and keep a positive spin on things. His employeer, Monza, has her own theories about the way the world works based on her own experiences, some of which are quite negative, but it isn't necessarily that which wins him over. Rather, it's being taken prisoner and having his eye put out by a hot brand that turns him from an optimistic sort to a pesimisstic sort whose anger at his own employeer at the end, casues him to betray her.

Speaking of Shivers, he also provides a nice constrast to the rest of the cast in that he is a non-native to Styria. This is many ways, is similiar to the standard adventurer who goes where the adventure is. It allows the GM to explain bits and pieces of his world to the other players who may actually be from that part of the setting, but may not be familiar with it as their characters could be. The GM can give those natives bits of background information in e-mail or typed form to provide to the non-native at their own lesiure.

In terms of battle environments, there is one scene where in seeking her vengance, Monza is battling in the court yard around a massive statue known as the Warrior. It becomes damaged in the fight and it is the statue, not Monza herself that winds up killing her foe. Think about adding things that at first may not seem like they can be used to be part of the scenery, but with a few skill checks or brute damage, can wind up being the method of victory.

In my own playing days, back in 2nd edition, I was playing a wizard and the party was fighting a dragon. The thing had such a massive Magic Resistance, that I was essentially useless until I asked the GM about the roof of the cavern that we were fighting in. He allowed me to use my damaging spells on the roof to knock forth the various long hanging stones which struck the dragon like daggers. That was well before all of this 'stunting' advice and environmental awareness was being talked about. He was just a good GM that would let you roll with the situation you were in. It may not be orthodox, but try not to box the players in with their options.

In terms of plot and letting the players in, Best Served Cold opens up the scale of the setting to Monza. She is approached by a man from the Union, a banker at that, who explains to her that there are forces at work and those forces on the standard field tend to be reresented through different factions and that if she does not ally with one of them, she will not survive. And yet here a third faction presents itself, allowing Monza to actually stay out of the 'game'. This allows the GM to provide the players with an idea on how large the scope of the campaign is without actually plunging them into if they do not wish to go. It pulls back the curtain a little.

Lastly, think about the names in the setting. Monza was the leader of the Thousand Swords. A pretty spiffy name. Thanks to the constrant stream of warfare in her land, the times were known as the Years of Blood, but then because of all the looting and burning, move on to the Years of Fire.  The Forgotten Realms does this with the naming of the years, each year having a different name. It can provide more context to the campaign setting.

Best Served Cold is a done in one that features several of the characters and themes and setting from Joe Abercrombie's first series, The First Law, and is well worth a read if you like your heroes dark and their enemies darker.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Ghostwalker by Erik Scott de Bie

Ghostwalker is a fantasy take on one of the old classics; the wronged man out for revenge.

The comic the Crow lead to a movie, novels, more comics, and a whole host of other media tie ins. A dead man whose been wronged comes back for revenge.

Sound familiar? How about in a western like Hang 'Em High?

The wronged man is a strong theme. Everyone wants to take some revenge when they feel wronged. If anyone has cut you off in traffic, ignored a traffic signal, cut in front of you at the store or other mundane matters, you might have a quick revenge fantasy but it goes out the window quickly. These minor things aren't worth the trouble they'd bring about.

But in a fantasy setting? One in which the character you're playing is wronged in a massive way up to an including death? Yeah, things can get messy.

The real trick in such a character though, is he has to work with the group. Ghost Rider, a Marvel Comic character is known as the Spirit of Vengance and he is generally a solo worker. The character in this novel, Walker, is usually a solo styled fighter. In a group focused activity like role playing, or most role playing games default assumptions, you might have to broaden the scope of the wrongs done to the character so that it includes the other party members or is something that all of the characters are in agreement on. It could be a personalized reason why the character adventurers in the first place.

When wathcing movies or televsion and the plots seem familiar, don't be surprised. Rather, think of how you can use it in your own campaign. After all, the trappings may be different, but if the action and the reactions from the players are those of enjoyement and go get 'em, the everything is working.

Final Gate by Rich Baker

The Final Gate by Rich Baker is the third and final volume of the Last Mythal.

1. High Level artifacts in play? Check. The stakes in the game go beyond Myth Drannor itself as there is a nexus or master series of portals that a demon lord is trying to gain control of in order to massively expand his influence.

2. Sacrifices? Check. Not all of the characters have made it through all three books alive and most of them have not made it out unscarred or unchanged.

3. Epic Villains? It seems that each of the Monster Manuals for 4th edition picked a big bad to lead the cover and I'm assuming as a big boss for the final encounter.  Here we have much the same with an exiled demon lord branded by the High Elf pantheon leader himself coming to blows with many of the characters here in one way or another.

4. Trying it all together? The book relies on an artifact introduced in the first book and does a nice job of trying up various lose ends brought about by various factions and their actions in earlier books.

Final Gate makes the enemies foes that we want to see get their just deserts. They attack on a personal level and insure that the battle is not just one of good versus evil or right versus wrong but rather an event where there is a bit of payback desired.

It brings together events and characters from previous books in a way that flows organically and allows the reader to follow along on even some of the larger expeditions taken without losing the reader. Overcomplicating a plot can be the death of a good adventure. When its broken down into bite sized chunks, even if those chunks are quite large in and of themselves, as long as its defined, the party should be able to grasp it.

Its epic in scope. While the elves making a so called Return to the mainland is huge, the Nexus beyond that is an even bigger potential threat to everyone's way of life. The stakes have been raised in each book going from what might be the end of a Paragon campaign all the way through an Epic one.

Rich Baker does a great job of bringing numerous elements that at first appear to have nothing to do with one another, and indeed until this series was written, may never had had anything to do with one another, and shows the reader that the wider the setting, the larger the net and the greater the potential payoff.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Forsaken House by Rich Baker

So now that the end of the second quarter and the month of June is behind me, I can stop working 60+ hours a week and read a book. The Forgotten Realms line often has what I call 'popcorn' books that are quick to read and often entertaining. Since I usually run a FR game, I also take a few odd ends and notes here and there.

Rich Baker's book has many a good idea for inspriation in gaming. The scopes of this series are epic and high involving the return of many of the elves to the mainland of the Forgotten Realms campaign. Almost an anti-retreat as it were.

The first thing I'd note, is that the main character is tossing spells like prismatic spray and disintegrate about as main spells and not as some last minute hoarded magic. With that in mind, if you haven't run a game in a while and have a definitive campaign arc, start your next game off at the cust of epic level. Use those often unusued books and get some milage out of them. The old basic sets even had rules for immortals.

The second thing is that there is a huge swathe of history in the Forgotten Realms. Does it make sense all the time? Probably not. But much like say, the Green Lantern series from DC comics, it does allow the GM to literally pull things from out of the backside and say, "Yeah, it's been here all along its just that you didn't know it." and often when such events happen, it's because a higher power was supposed to be keeping track of things. In this case, it's the demonfay, a group of elves that have given in to the temptation of demon alliances.

The third thing, is hit them at home. In the Goodman Game adventure, Dragora's Dungeon, the players start the adventure off under assault at their own home. In this book, as the main character enjoys the scenic beauty of his home, it comes under assault. Few things will get a body as motivated as possible as getting an attack in their own house.

Note this can be grossly abused though and shouldn't be taken out all that often. If you punish the players by continuously assaulting them in their own house, even if they make real efforts to safe guard their home, this might be seen in some circles as 'dick DMing'. The point isn't to punish the players but to get the game moving with some action.

Fourth thing, the magic items! Here we have a series of gems that have a wide range of uses. In 4e, this wouldn't necessarily be possible and indeed, in many editions, weapons and magic items often have powers that just run outside the game. As long as the GM is controlling when access to those abilities is possible, it shouldn't be a campaign breaker. Sure, the item can do Y, but it only does it when the GM wants. Now on the other hand, if the players come to rely on that ability, then the GM is either allowing that ability to manifest too often, building that ability into his campaign to be used too often, or the players are trying to abuse the in-house system the GM has set up.

Fith thing, epic scope. The elves returning to the mainland is an epic thing. Are there similiar efforts in your own campaign that could be made by the players? Can they restore one of the fallen empires? Can they bring forth a new age? Can they create a demi-plane where the dragonborn's ancient empire lives again?

Sixth thing, keep the variety up. While the main thrust of the book deals with the elves and their corrupted cousins, there are other elements afoot. For example, demons and devils and mercenary outer planar fiends. Past those though, the adventurers still encounter a few random beasts on the road. Past that even, the enemey armies they face often have vile mercenary races working with them that fall into the standard forces of evil; orcs, ogres, trolls. By allowing a center enemy to take stage, the GM shouldn't forget all of the other wonders that the system has within it.

Indeed, in a game like 4e that doesn't necessarily rely on the players fighting one big bad at a time as was often the case in the previous editions, it almost encourages the GM to come up with reasons why a wide vareity of forces such as this would be gathered together. Strong leadership, bribes, alliances and outright enslavement of the others is as good a cause as any in this case.

Seven thing, end clean but leave plenty of room for further adventurers. I've read a few books that end on a cliffhanger. I hate that. I much rather prefer an ending where the book is finished, the reader knows that there are other elements that will be coming down the line, and other conflicts that will be taken up and the reader has more to look forward to then "how the hell is the main character getting out of this."

Rich Baker is a solid writer and his books have many ideas perfect for stealing for that high level campaign you've always wanted to try out.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Dungeon Siege II

When it comes to video games, I'm way behind the curve. I've only recently been playing Dungeon Siege II on my old PC and pondering it's utilities for gaming.

1. Betrayal is a good motivator. At the start of the game, your character, a mercenary, is betrayed by his employer. Ah, the old classic. How many times has its use favored a movie or comic you've enjoyed? There's even the old tag line, "Curse your inevitible betrayal."

2. Loss is a motivator. The character's home comes under attack and losses mount up. This is a classic ranging from Batman's loss of his parents to Superman's loss of his people.

3. Magic is everywhere. Sometimes this takes the form of shrines, other times portals. In a game like 4e, there could be several types of shrines. The first would be one that allows a reactivation of daily powers. In DS2, you can select from several 'big' powers but they take time to charge. The shrines however, allow you to bypass that. Next up, would be another type of shrine that would allow the use of a ritual, perhaps without the associated cost, as long as you do the ritual at the shrine area itself. Lastly, there are the old portals. There are two types in the game, those that allow transportation between local spots, teleporters, and actual gates that lead to other lands.

4. Magic Items are commonplace. This is one of those things that tends to work for new gamers and that members of the OSR tend to look down upon. I can see it going either way. The best thing about the game though, is the horde of names that come up. If you're terrible with names, play for a little while and get the naming conventions down. In addition, there are some great visuals on the items. Various types of weapons ranging from serrated two handed blades to great mauls along side kite shields and various types of throwing weapons ranging from knives, shuriken, axes and daggers.

5. Remember the little things. This is going to sound strange, but the game does a nice job with some little touches. For example, after a disaster strikes one region, there are monsters feasting on the cattle. The water runs down the falls. These little things add up.

6. Vary the quests: Trying to save the world all the time can get, if not boring, someone lacking in variety. In the game, the character is approached by individuals of various worth and type ranging from scared travellers to mighty mages. Give the players different types of quests with different types of rewards, make some of them even ones that rely on the players (gasp!) being heroic.

7. Share the spotlight: Even though your main character is the one with the destiny and other bits, the other characters have dialog and sub plots that relate to them. Try to tie in all of these various activities into one cohesive whole unit and make things flow for all the players, not just the ones who put together the most interesting backstory.

Dungeon Siege II has a lot of things going for it in terms of story telling and visuals and it's far from the heyday of computer games.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Common Movie Elements

With the ability of Netflix to stream movies instantly, I watched a few movies over the weekend. One of those was a Stallone vehicle called Eye See You.

Stallone plays a federal agent whose wife is victimized by a serial killer and turns to the bottle. In order to detoix, he goes to a specialist who was a former member of the law and meets up with others members in need of detoxing. Unfortunately for them, one of them is the serial killer in disguise.

1. Isolation. In order to keep away from society and the temptations it offers, the detox place is located in the far reaches of the wilderness during a cold and snowy winter. This bit offers the chance to prevent the main character from calling from back up or from easily escaping the situation. Other horror and suspense movies do the same thing. For example, in the b-Horror movie Mimic, the characters get stuck in the subway where the cell phones are useless and they have to find a way past the big bugs. In a fantasy role playing game, that can be something as simple as the wilderness or as exotic as a demi-prison plane where the players are forced to fight for survival. Another movie I watched, Dead Space, does it by keeping the characters trapped on a ship. Here the characters have no method of escape, especially after one of the few straight thinking people isolates the crew further by ejecting all of the life pods to insure that what's on the ship doesn't escape into space.

2. Suspicion. When the bodies start turning up, the characters start turning against one another. In the traditional RPG, this is hard to pull off unless playing a game where its expected behavior. With few exceptions, such as throwing the old dopplengager in the game and telling the player well ahead of time and not as the actual gaming table, most players in my experience are either too quick to trust the other players or too slow and everyone goes their own way. The way you want the group to go may not actually be the way they go so know your group ahead of time and either make sure all the players have solid alibis for trusting either other or that all the players are ready to kill each other at the drop of a hat. In Dead Space, the characters are even worse off as the longer they stay aboard the ship, the greater the chances are that another member will go mad and transform into some alien entity with an insatiable appetite for death.

3. Seperation: Similiar to suspicion, but seperating the character often doesn't work that well in a standard game because now the GM has to focus his attention on several different players at a time. If the GM has a short list of brief encounters that he can quickly run each group though and get the core group back together again, that might work well. Another method would be to have the group, when they seperate, seperate into groups with other people so that the other players take the role of different NPCs until they meet up again. In Dead Space for example, there are scenes on the officer's deck as well as various scenes througout the shoot of those fighting off the alien scourge. In Eye See You, the characters break up into small teams with the smallest one man teams of course not having a good go of it.

Keeping the common movie elements in mind while realizing that the needs of some role playing games are different allows the Game Master to draw inspiration from movies of the far future and other genres without skipping a beat.