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Okay I have Dungeons and Dragons III The Book of Vile Darkness. Because if I can't actually PLAY DnD this is... uh... um.

So basically Nhagruul lived on as the #BookOVileDarkness turning all who read it evil, thus insuring the library wouldn't get it back.

1200 years is a long time for evil to triumph without challenge from a plucky group of 4-6 player characters of levels 8-12. #BoVD

Okay so the #BoVD is now in three pieces, so a collect-the-parts and destroy-the-evil-artifact campaigns.

Cut-tagged for VILE CONTENT! )
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So one of my fave game systems ever is the old West End d6 Star Wars. Here are some games I've kinda wanted to run using the system, and doubt I will.

  • PCs are nobles, guards and others in a Noble House of the Imperium, in the 20 years or so between the fall of the Old Republic and Palpatine's dissolution of the Senate. Their lives are a gala party of skullduggery, illicit betting rings, industrial espionage, arranged marriages, private yachts, and power bids, all with the constant threat of the forces of Law and Order showing up and executing everyone on the spot. Sort of a "just because the system is Lawful Evil doesn't mean the PCs are Good aligned." More like Neutral Greedy.

  • PCs are Jedi, trained by a master who somehow escaped Order 66 by being on the outskirts of the Outer Rim or beyond - quite possibly for being unorthodox and ditching the Jedi before the purge (the prequels don't build up the Jedi as sympathetic and their computers can be hacked by a talented enough insider). With their master dead at the hands of Sith/Imperials/Night Sisters/very hungry Ewoks/whatever, they're free to pursue their destinies. "Pursue their destinies" includes things like "decide whether they can trust this New Jedi Order that's supposedly sprung up after Palpatine's death," "figure out whether Palpatine is actually dead," and "fight Sith seeded all around the Outer Rim, each of which is convinced that he or she is Darth Sidious' only apprentice and out to avenge/profit from his demise." On top of the usual threats.

  • "Space. The final frontier. These are the voyages of the Star Destroyer Managarm, on its five year mission to seek out new worlds and new civilizations. To crush all that resist. To bring them all within control of the Galactic Empire!" This is... a weird complex idea. The players may have multiple characters; the command core of a task force sent beyond the Outer Rim prior to Endor, as an Imperial equivalent to the Outbound Flight Project, and perhaps something much more immediate and action oriented, like a covert ops fireteam or fighter squadron, so that there can be stompy sessions to blow off steam. Players get a few sessions to do things like subdue recalcitrant governments, seek out ancient (Sith) artifacts wanted by the higher ups for no reason which they feel comfortable questioning, etc. This should provide plenty of opportunity for players to talk about crushing resistance in their best fake British accents, and so on.

    And then it all falls apart; they get an encoded message from Captain Pellaeon of the Chimaera alerting them that the Death Star has been destroyed along with the Emperor, and that they are to regroup at coordinates in the Galactic Core. The Galactic Core is a ways off.

    And between them and the Galactic Core is a bleak wasteland of New Republic, loyalist, and now independent territory, with questions like; do we defect and join the Rebels? Do we go rogue and try to carve out our own Empire? Is it worth the risk to engage New Republic ships to try reducing their materiel? How do we acquire resources to keep our ships running until we make the rendezvous?
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Here's some of what I can come up with as the "bucket list" for gaming, for me - stuff I'd like to do in an RPG at some point, or run at some point. Figure it might be worth posting, to think about as stuff to try in the future, or just to see what else other people think.
  • Fights [whichever] iconic creature for the setting (frost giants, beholder, bullette, behir, derro, illithids, intellect devourer, shambling mound, aboleth, lich, Orcus, Great Cthulhu or Yog-Sothoth itself)
  • Fight or chase on rooftops, probably during a rainstorm
  • Really tenuous bridge over drop to nothingness, possible fight
  • Fight in the middle of a cathedral, possibly on horseback, as in Ladyhawke and The Four Musketeers
  • Huge volcano or giant forge area - possibly industrial and forge area in a volcano
  • Ridiculously entrance to base, with enormous doors (dirigible hanger in Mountain View, "Front Door" of Erebor)
  • Remains of enormous trees or creatures, large enough to hold a city or sizable complex
  • Defeats adversary with last bullet or by throwing sword, etc
  • Last action is taking out adversary (end of Leon, Gorman and Vasquez dying in Aliens)
  • Gets some sort of really awesome line or possibly song as last living action (The Man Who Would be King, Zulu, "I go from a mortal to an everlasting crown," "King of England this day shall I die" etc.)
  • Rusty, banged up industrial complex or creepy abandoned rotting vessel/collection of vessels/ship's graveyard at LaGrange point/etc
  • Sinking ship/complex about to self destruct/drifting and party depressurized spaceship/etc
  • Sneaks around Peenemünde/Adlerhorst/similar iconic "Nazi underground military/super-science/occult base"
  • Sneaks around enemy base in stolen enemy uniform. You see this in movies all the time a lot more often than in tabletop games.
  • Site based on known and awesome site (Scara Brae houses, Catal Hüyük, Edamite complex at Petra)
  • Espionage/stealth mission in Berlin
  • Polar or Antarctic adventure
  • Foils assassination as in Day of the Jackal
  • Recovers real world mystical artifact (Cap of Monomakh, Ashante Golden Stool, Spear of Longines, etc)
  • Entire adventure or big chunks of it take place on a train
  • Zeppelin! Context is actually not that important. Large flying boats also do the trick.
  • Rides iconic hero mount into combat (pegasus, dragon, giant eagle, Supermarine Spitfire, Hawker Typhoon, etc)
  • Trading blows or firefight while on horseback, motorcycle, speeder bike, etc
  • Defender during epic siege (Rorke's Drift, The Pavlov House)
  • Charges directly into overwhelming odds
  • Single combat with enemy leader (Battle of Clontarf, Alexander Nevsky)
  • Twist to defeating enemy army (ice during Lake Peipus, successful last ditch charge as at Hastings, schiltrons maneuver so that expert archers are at disadvantage)
  • By self or as part of PC team pilots some sort of really big spaceship
  • Part of strike team operating deep behind enemy lines
  • Part of exploration group headed into or on return trip through previously undocumented territory
  • Usurps throne as in Conan
  • Manages a kingdom, possibly carves kingdom out of wilderness, etc
  • Finds true love
  • Character is descendent of someone vital in earlier campaign
  • Canonized or ascends to godhood
  • Becomes major NPC power for evil in the world
  • Alternatively, character is offered crown/godhood/etc and chooses instead to wander off into the wastes, never to be seen again
  • Character awakens from hibernation/etc in very different world
  • Character returns from death but in different body (cyborg brain, Reincarnation spell, as playable undead, weird alien etc)
  • Alternatively character contracts lycanthropy and instead of it being merely a horrible curse, it makes them awesome
  • Creates golem or builds giant robot
  • Non-combat negotiation with group/culture of iconic creature for setting (grippli, gruagach, Great Race of Yith, Wookiees, etc)
  • Character finally makes peace with and becomes best friends with long-term opponent as in The Three Musketeers (Dumas' original, not movie versions)
  • Comes away unscathed from non-combat encounter with major major bad guy (eg, Indy has Hitler sign the Grail Diary, Randolph Carter talks to Nyarlathotep)
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So... Call of Cthulhu's setting in the 1920s means that there are plenty of awesome historical things which can crop up, but one pulp standby that can't really show up are Nazis. Yes, the NSDAP technically exists throughout the 20s, but you can't get full on Indiana Jones MP40 wielding soldiers and the Ahnenerbe won't even exist until 1935.

But luckily you're not completely stuck for full on Indiana Jones Bergmann MP18 wielding soldiers! The Kapp Putsch of 1920 saw the Weimar government - hitherto happy to use various Freikorps to put down Communist dissent - disband a batch of Freikorps. Thus giving you a batch of potential Thule Gesellschaft/Wehrwolf Bund sympathisers who can show up in uniform anywhere around the globe, exiled or trying to get that one big haul together that will put them back into legitimate favor back in Germany.
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Turned out that I had an interview which required spending about 3 hours of walking and public transit, so it was pretty lucky that I'd gone old used game junk shopping earlier. For a bit under $13 I got a pretty much pristine copy of FGU's Flashing Blades from oh, around 1984 or so. I actually already owned two Flashing Blades supplements - The Cardinal's Peril and An Ambassador's Tale, which are fairly decent faux-Dumas, and besides, it's a roleplaying game about swashbuckling and intrigue in 17th century France!

I mean you can always plunder it for stuff to use in Seventh Sea, if you can find someone who liked Seventh Sea!

The gigantic commute gave me time to do a first read through, but I think I want another look.

The whole thing is well researched - it gives you enough to work with, and someone with a very non-1984-vintage internet could probably come up with even more facts. The scenarios are a little sketchy but they're okay faux-Dumas. Discussion of careers within the military, the clergy, and the bureaucracy made me feel like the game had suddenly become Sun King Traveller.

The rules themselves I'm not entirely taken by, though I don't hate them and there are some good things too. Character generation is harsh; you get 3d6 for six stats, a mix of player choice and random rolls determines character build (which give you bonuses and penalties to Strength, Endurance and Dexterity). There are four classes - Rogue, Soldier, Gentleman or Noble - which define non-weapon skills. They also define your income in Livres, plus how the magistrates might react to you if you are charged with a crime.

There's a simple points buy thing where you either have a skill or you don't, and the initial roll is under your associated stat on d20. There's a really really tiny merits and flaws section, only in this case it's Advantages and Secrets, so it's focused mostly on things that fit themes about intrigue and social climbing. Something annoying here is the assumption that all characters are male, and I'd like to see more background possibilities for female characters although I'm unsure what.

For weapons skills you get a general weapons school, or specific weapon proficiencies if you're a soldier, and you get a proficiency rated at probably around 8 or 10 out of 20 (non-proficient, and just thrashing around is a 3). Apply Dex bonuses and penalties and you're done right? No. In Flashing Blades, there's this weird conversion table for what you actually need to roll under. "Long actions" like a balestra lunge or bracing a musket to fire it with a significant bonus mean you cannot parry, dodge or sidestep incoming attacks, but those maneuvers can significantly penalize an attacker. Thus a freshly minted character with really good Dexterity might actually need to roll under a 6 on d20 to slip a rapier attack past a parry. So that part I don't like that much... though the mechanic for advancing skills is neat. Have you used the skill twice in an adventure? Good. You just advanced one rank in it. Firearms are simple; got a firearm? This round you are either loading it or firing it, whether it is a matchlock or a flintlock, and don't roll a 20, because then you've either dropped your match, dropped your flint, damaged the mechanism, or blown up the entire gun.

And if you get hit, you are probably in a world of hurt. A rapier used by a proficient swordsman strong enough to use it (so most people in the game) will do 16 hit points of damage, unless this is mitigated by the hit location roll (I'm not sure) that will take out nearly every character in the game. Everything else is slightly more or less deadly, but the game is pretty potentially lethal.

I don't know if I want to run or play this, but I'd definitely like to run or play something like this. I can't see swashbuckler RPGs for more than 2-4 players and imagine it works best with about 2-3 players.
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You know what I think would be awesome?

A magnetized grid map, to which you could stick magnets cut to various dimensions and stickered up to represent dungeon features including walls, trapdoors, treasure chests and the like, such that you could slap down magnets quickly and have a result somewhere between the usual varying quality of drawing out maps on wet-erase board, and those big beautiful Dwarven Forge sets which I can't afford. You could hang up the map between sessions if you needed to and you'd still have your dungeon there for next time, which isn't great but it's about as good as having the wet erase marker dry onto the grid such that your giant fortress is still haunted by ghostly marker outlines of the goblin village from several months ago.

You could even have a set of magnets at the dimensions of miniature bases so that minis would stick, and they'd be less likely to move all over the place the next time they got hit with a rogue d10 or whatever.
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Thinking about Werewolf the Apocalypse. I'd always sorta thought the Children of Gaia were lame - a little like the Stargazers, an attempt to graft pure white-hat good guys onto a mostly grayscaled world. (WtA already had the Shadow Lords and Red Talons as The Official Bad Guys). I think part of why I didn't like them was that the CoGs were presented as Victorianly intellectually superior homids rather than a group which included peace-loving lupus.

Lately I've started to like them more.

My current perspective on GMing is that you want to let players have whatever concept they want, within the limit of balance to the rest of the group, and I can see players wanting to play a paladinic good guy. Having the CoGs around is the Werewolf equivalent of having a good-aligned solar deity or established knightly order in your fantasy setting.

From a story perspective, I like the idea that the Children of Gaia are about how awesome the world is. It makes sense to me that Garou could easily lose perspective, and get completely lost in their roles as warriors of Gaia, doomed to fight a losing war, unlikely to personally survive it, haunted by tragedy (Get of Fenris, Fianna, Bone Gnawers, Red Talons, Black Furies)... or alternatively very much defined by the ancestry handed to them by generations of hunted, persecuted, unwanted ancestors (Uktena, Wendigo, Silent Striders - it's not an accident that I relate to them).

The Stargazers can get lost in their personal quests for enlightenment or their egos about how awesomely detached they are. The Glass Walkers seem to be there as a player character tool for people who want to do the World of Darkness motorcycle-and-katana combo, have some sort of explanation for an urban werewolf not inspired by The Wolfen, or play Shadowrun. As such I like having that option around, though I usually sort of detest the GW as basically tech-wanky gentrified Bay Area werewolves; Gaia cries out in pain and even our pups know that this is the Age of Apocalypse, but that's cool 'cause the latest iPhone came out. That leaves the CoGs as the actual here and now good guys, the people who are into the idea that the world is full of good stuff worth fighting for. The equivalent of how getting to see Lothlorien or the Shire gives you an idea of why Middle-Earth is awesome and you don't want it overrun by Mordor.

How's that for dumb roleplaying game thoughts?

Dumber roleplaying game thought; RIFTS general technique of taking an interesting setting or mythos (ancient Egypt, Russia, wild west) and mixing it with aliens/mutants/robots/mecha/dinosaurs/juicers/technocratic human supremacists creates an exuberant and strangely compelling setting, and also a tangled rules nightmare with constant power creep. Could you modify 4e Shadowrun - which is already about Man meets Magic and Machine - to stamp a more unified rules set on the whole mess?
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Going a little backwards in time, this is a one-shot I ran two weeks ago to introduce a new player (Andy) to tabletop RPGs. Frankly I'd rather do 4e D&D as an introduction to gaming since it's easy to generate scenarios and it's just complex enough to hand players the idea that it can get pretty arcane, and in fact Andy had listened to some podcasts about 4e games, but all the players were stoked about the W20 Kickstarter.

My goal in running a one-shot as campaign introduction was to give the new player both conflict and resolution in the same session, and introduce all the big things the players could potentially do in a game (social interactions, social interactions that played off them being Garou, magic and the spirit world, and combat).

Since most tabletop games tend to wind up with characters referred to by role, by player name, or by both ("Jon's druid") I'll actually stick with that convention. Hence the player character pack are;

  • Crypto; Uktena theurge, the team's brainpower/mage. A grad student in Native American studies, the character's been rediscovering his mostly buried First Nations roots. Crypto took the Curiosity flaw - the character's almost pathologically compelled to investigate things - and his family, who are mostly white or Coast Salish, handed down a powerful fetish which is an obviously very old Aleut visor.

  • Kes; Child of Gaia metis galliard. Supernatural warder turned rave kid, so the pack's social animal. Although werewolves are creatures of muscle with access to ancient ancestral weapons and magics, invariably someone decides to bring firearms, and that's Kes this time 'round.

  • Prancival; Get of Fenris ahroun. The muscle of the group, currently living in a loft above his day job at a boxing studio, his Wyrd is to bear the powerful rune-hammer Hagalaz. So far in the game he's either had poor luck using it or has relied on the pretty potent Brawl skills, so I'm thinking of developing the plot point that his Wyrd is to carry the hammer - not necessarily as any sane Get would think, to use it in battle. There's a little more, very WoD backstory to the character.

  • Andy; Silver Fang philodox. Andy's new to tabletop gaming, and his character brings further investigation and social skills to the pack. I don't know what I thought he'd choose, but philodox turns out to give okay access to Rage (the "activate superpower" stat), and suggests a range of skills, without locking the character down to any one thing. So in retrospect it's a much smarter choice than I'd make in that place.

The players figured that it was a lot more worthwhile for them to take a pack totem during character creation than to try saving up XP, which was another savvy decision which I'd never have thought of myself. They chose Boar, which turns out being a really user-friendly choice for new characters - he grants his followers two extra dots in Brawl, which they can circulate among the group, great for scout, shaman or social characters who might not be able to get an okay Brawl score during character generation. If the game continues, I may run a "flashback episode" about how they gained that totem.

Game description below. )
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Tonight was the second session of this WtA game I'm running using the Kickstarter W20 rules. I now feel like journaling the game, so at some later point I'll go back and write up the first session. Today's game. )
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... you'd have to have been around for the Fighting Fantasy gamebooks to get this one.

TEST YOUR LUCK. If you succeed, the Unarmed Pensioner Alone In A Monster Filled Dungeon doesn't turn into anything.

If you fail, he is no ordinary pensioner but a DIRE TWO HEADED WERESHARKYENA PENSIONER. Turn to 397.

397.You gaze at the really ace Russ Nicholson picture in awe as your foe attacks!


... damnit. Now I know what I want to commission from Russ Nicholson if I ever get that rich.

edit later;

Fighting Fantasy The Musical with hits like "Test Your Luck," "We're Off to See the Warlock" & starring Richard O'Brien as Balthus Dire.
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I've been thinking about some house rules for AD&D, and I may be re-inventing things;

  • Rather than it being a completely random roll or completely points bought, maybe a good compromise could be borrowed from 4e Gamma World. Everyone gets one 18 and one 14, but the other four attributes are 4d6, discount the crummiest roll. Beyond that gets into asking the DM to swap out points on a loose basis, but your chances of playing what you'd like are good and if you can't get that you're still playing a pretty good character.

  • Rather than really get into encumbrance limits or discard them completely, there are three categories, and it's assumed that bulk and weight kind of make items equivalent. I think this is still on the generous side, eyeball it from here. Being unencumbered for players works like this;

    Cerebral characters (Strength 03-08) can carry normal clothing and jewelry, a light suit of armor, two weapons or the equivalent (staff and up to 3 wands), and about 5 items as full wineskins, backpacks, or belt pouches (where 1 item might be a week's worth of rations, a full set of spell components, four spells in a scroll case, a traveling spellbook, a lantern, or 25 gp).

    Average characters (09-15) can carry normal clothing and jewelry, a medium suit of armor and a shield of any sort, 4 weapons or the equivalent, and 6 items as full wineskins, backpacks, or belt pouches.

    Strong characters (16-18) can carry normal clothing and jewelry, a heavy suit of armor and a shield of any sort, 4 weapons or the equivalent, and 7 items as full wineskins, backpacks or belt pouches.

  • There's no Strength limit on females. Not unless you choose to impose a corresponding Constitution limit on males, which might be an interesting game.

  • There's no chance to fail at learning spells, and characters can learn up to the maximum that their Int score permits. I like the idea that the magic-user adventures in search of lost knowledge and don't want to limit that.

  • I like the idea that doing magic is this arcane blend of reason and artistry, and like the idea of spell components. I hate the idea of spell components slowing things down so I'd want to put in the house rule that basically 20 gp gets you a full compliment of components, if you don't use all your spells you spent the equivalent of 10 gp each time, and if you specify slowing down to collect things that might work there's a 40% chance of finding enough to take you up to full.

  • I've been playing with the idea of; what if class advancement was the same sort of thing for all metahumans, where they were unlimited in one class, could get up to 10/8/6 in other classes, and the remainder were off limits or NPCs only? For instance, PC gnomes might be unlimited Thieves able to get up to 10th level as Illusionists (or the other way around?), up to 8th level as Fighters, up to 6th as Magic-Users, and that's it. This might be unbalanced given the inconsistent level advancement costs - in AD&D, a 12th level Illusionist isn't gauged the same level of power as a 12th level Druid.
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So I hauled out my copy of the Player's Handbook along with the Dungeon Master's Guide, since the DMG is where you find saving throw and attack matrices. And here's what I notice so far;

  • Some things with character attributes are 'way more draconian in later editions.

    • You get only one chance to bash a door in, and it's probably not all that good (18/00 strength fighters get two chances at 1-4 on a d6); I assume this is a tool to streamline play, so that players who don't successfully pick a lot or bash in a door give up and go elsewhere instead of camping out at the door.
    • Obviously the big strength thing I've never seen in play is the insistence that women have lower strength, because it's both sexist and no fun. A while back I realized this is what made changing a presumed-default-male-character's gender in game not simply a puerile dick move ("Holgar the Mighty is now Helga the Mighty! Ha ha ha, where're you gonna find a comfortable bra that fits DD cups on this level?") but a DM dick move ("Holgar the Mighty is now Helga the Mighty! Reduce your strength score from 18/78 to 18/50, sucker!").
    • Intelligence determines the minimum and maximum number of spells you can learn. There's a chunk of game I've never seen anyone play with, where the would-be magic user is basically questing for more spells to scribble into his dog-eared, stained spellbook - as well as presumably someone to cast Wish so he can actually learn higher level stuff. What might be the average magic-user will only know at least 6-7 spells and at most 9-11 spells per level. Ow.
    • Wisdom allows bonus spells for Clerics only, and if you're playing a Cleric with 9-12 Wisdom there's a chance of spell failure.
    • Your reaction bonus from Dexterity is not the same as your Defensive Adjustment (your AC adjustment).
    • Obviously, fighters get slightly better Con bonuses to hit points than anyone else - but this probably won't come into play for most fighter types. This is getting into my next point.

  • The PHB as written probably assumes that you're rolling 4d6, discard the lowest die. I did some character-rollin', and I found not surprisingly you mostly get characters who are good but not great, with lots of 11-14 range stats. This makes pretty much all non-human race options accessible and means you can play any of the default four classes. Specialists are a lot rarer - a Druid will require a 15+ charisma (something I didn't remember), an Illusionist needs to have 15+ in int and dex, paladins need three pretty good attributes and one ridiculously awesome attribute, and rangers weigh in at the hardest to actually roll up at 4 stats of 12+. If you're using this method forget playing a bard. It's not going to happen.

    I have to wonder whether this ever really affected party makeup ("Aw man! Three twelves, an 11, a 16 and a 15! Hey, I could play an Illusionist!" "But we need a cleric." "You say that every game and I'm tired of being the First Aid Kit. We'll just buy a batch of potions or whatever, I want to try this.")

    The moment you do character generation at all differently all of this weird little balance of specialists being rare goes out the window. Which is fairer. I remember when I was introduced to the game, there being a house rule that you had one 18 - you had to roll for the rest. This, I think, actually really is a nice balance between points based chargen and the "too bad" design of the PHB.

  • I've never actually seen anyone play with the racial antipathies or class limits in the PHB. The class limits are set in an arbitrary range of "you can get a lot of play out of your metahuman, but not enough to really play at high levels." I think I'm missing the rationale behind the design decision to allow unlimited advancement as Thieves for all metahumans (except half-orcs, which have unlimited advancement as Assassins, I suspect as a tool for creating NPCs). Kinda-nice race advantages plus kinda-nice class advantages stacks up equal to humans with no race advantages and really boss class advantages?

  • I notice that some awesome class abilities are front-loaded. A 1st level paladin or thief has the teaser that their lay-on hands or move silently abilities may some day blossom to being vital battlefield healing or masterful stealth. I do kinda like that approach, though I have no idea how to implement it in a way which isn't "yeah yeah right, I can heal two hit points, big whoop."

  • Weapon proficiencies are very draconian. Don't worry too much about how many levels it'll take you to get access to that horseman's flail you want for your cleric, because honestly there's not much you can use other than that footman's mace you're toting.

  • Obvious but worth repeating; for some reason throwing vials of burning oil is somehow kinder than using poison, pretty much every class has that as a fallback option. I'm not giving the orcs agonizing third degree burns and life-long scarring, I'm so good-aligned I'm granting them Pelor's light.

  • A rule I'd never noticed; your shield has a limited number of uses. Unless magical it's only -1 AC, but that goes away after you block one, two or three attacks each round depending on size, which is pretty fair considering that you have a fairly low chance of fighting more than one opponent or something with more than 2 melee attacks each round.

  • Melee weapons are assigned a speed as well as space limited to swing them, and missile weapons have a fire rate, which realistically limits what most characters will carry around. Holgar the Mighty cleaving through the Irish with his Danish Axe might be an awesome picture, but it has a speed of 7, and Holgar will probably prefer a speed 5 broadsword if he wants to get his 3/2 or 2/1 attacks per round. There's also a vaguely arbitrary matrix of hit bonuses and penalty per each weapon - that awesome battle axe might not be as awesome as the horseman's flail which has no penalty against AC 5 or less opponents. I've only seen one person ever use this in play, which was me. And I dropped it after a while because even though the rules said it, other players who ignored it were unsurprisingly doing 'way better in combat.

  • Old observation worth mentioning; the 1-10 AC scale sounds like an okay way to generalize what characters' agility and various historical armors can do. As soon as you start ornamenting it with field plate, full plate, Dwarven banded mail, sleeping in your gambeson because that's what you can still be comfy with, or wearing only kabuto/kote/suneate because your bushi can't afford better, it becomes arbitrary and weird.

  • Determining surprise is this confusing tangle of d6 rolls by the group, but I still can't tell whether having a ranger in the party affects the whole group's roll, and of course ranger or thief scouts will get different rolls. I don't think I've ever seen anyone actually use dice to determine rolling for surprise, and since it sure seems like a surprise segment wouldn't really allow spellcasting so much as a chance for fighter types to whack something before casters can be awesome, it'd probably generate a lot of ill will anyway.

  • And then there's between levels training, something I've never seen anyone use. I assume that, like purchasing material spell components, this motivates characters. My magic-user needs to visit the Citadel of Chaos again so she can earn enough to actually learn new arcane mysteries and purchase more of those awesome little clay ziggurats and balls of bat guano, instead of retiring to own a stablery. But she can quit at any time, honest.

    My opinion of encumbrance and material spell components is real mixed. It'd be nice to have characters carrying around believable amounts of gear, but how exciting is slowing the game down to carefully balance out what's in the belt pouches versus what's on that mule we have to leave tethered outside the caves? It'd be nice to have some sort of really simplified house rule for number of items, just in general. And while collecting bits of arcane foci for various spells lends magic a mystery and consistency, it might not play out that way. Hunting manticores for their tail spines is cool and thematic if ethically dubious, finding that only the next city over has a shop with manticore spines in a jar is not.

  • I'll probably read the DMG in more detail later, but taking a short jaunt into the DMG now for saving throws and attacks, since those could be in the PHB just as logically;

    • Something really obvious is that monsters have a better attack matrix than player characters - I think it's supposed to balance out how PCs probably have more hit points, more magic items and healing, and lower armor class.
    • Attack matrices are similar across classes - it's the level advancement that really makes the difference here.
    • Saving throws are lumped into categories of stuff you're going to encounter rather than how you resist it, which is vaguely just as logical (a thief should have a good dexterity, it makes sense that they'll have good breath weapon saves = a rogue has a good dex and will have better Reflex saves). Saving throws are actually kinda harsh in AD&D, by comparison to 3.5 or Pathfinder, where you really want to take no-save spells as much as possible.
    • I have yet to look at the DMG in greater depth but something I hadn't noticed before; if you have high enough hit dice (levels), you can actually hit stuff that requires magical weapons to hit. I think that's an okay game balance (your fighter can actually hit that wraith because he's just that awesome) but it's obscure, tucked under the attack matrices.

  • One salient fact about these books so far is the physical design isn't very good. How often can clerics turn undead? Well, their ability to turn is carefully set apart from 12 point regular font with more 12 point regular font within a paragraph. The spell lists in particular confront the player with a wall of text. I know personally I find illustrations in spell lists really enticing - "wow, I want to know what does this badass thing!" This is a design thing which I still don't know how you work with as a compromise between AD&D wall-o-text and having a little illustration for each spell.
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With trying to pace games, I figured that I would have some adventures which would be really compact little modules, and others which would last several game sessions.

The last time we met our paladinic heros, they'd just returned from finding an ooze cult deep in the hills, wiping it out, and finding the mind-warping journal of the cult's chief priest. The journal talked about how the priest had a religious awakening at a much older cultic site, and about how he'd been commissioned by a "Red Lady" to revive two particular people as terrifying undead as well as finding information from their brains.

The PCs resolved that they'd set out for this old ooze-temple and wipe it out, but when they returned to their home base in Baltwell, they were confronted by a half-orc who flung herself on their mercy.

This was "Grandmother Mush." Probably not her real name. If she ever had another name time and the residents of Baltwell had completely forgotten it. A large axe scar down one side of her face, and her particularly well-kept collection of weapons suggested that she didn't start out running the town's orphanage, but it was what she'd been doing for as long as anyone could remember - there are a lot of orphans in Baltwell and Grandmother Mush was pretty much the only person to protect their well-being.

Which means that when a giant construct of bone, scroll and wood burst through the orphanage wall and kidnapped a (literal!) handfull of children, Grandmother Mush handed the oldest and strongest kids all the weapons she had and went to get help from the most sympathetic people in town, the paladins.

Our heros took off at top speeds despite the rapidly falling temperature to make sure the construct's prints were still there to track. They followed the tracks deep into a much swampier part of the area, a natural moisture catchment between hills.

They were quite surprised when they were ambushed by nasty little gremlins known as pugwampis. Pugwampis aren't very tough, but they're surrounded by an aura of bad luck and with lots of cover all around and while trying to avoid a pit full of punji sticks, the paladins fought a much tougher adversary than they'd expected.

Even though the watery ground really ruined any tracking ability the characters had, it wasn't hard to figure out where the construct had gone - a small keep apparently lying on its side in the swamp. Sometime during the great war to the south between the magic-throwing countries of Nex and Geb, this place had once been a great sky-fortress sailing the skies on arcane energy, practically unassailable from the ground. What sort of mighty magic was required to bring the place crashing to the ground? Centuries later, it was just a huge ruin, but far from lifeless.

Our heros clambered into the wrecked fortress, avoiding the shards of glass from once-beautiful windows in the entry hall, and made their way down a ramp into what was once the keep's great hall - now turned so that the former floor was one high wall, and passage along the "floor" was difficult thanks to alcoves and balconies turned to big pits. As the characters explored, they noticed that someone had refurbished the interior of the great hall with a rickety ladder leading to a now-sideways door about halfway up the "wall," and a batch of worktables with constructs in various forms of repair.

As they explored they were beset by huge bone constructs - artificial giants like the ones they were chasing - and things got worse. Combat was joined by the constructs' creator, a tiefling witch.

At this point the players insisted that instead of being a silent character sniping at the characters, the villain needed a monologue. So... the tiefling introduced herself as the great Turibyala Andorat, flew into midair, cloak billowing, and promptly hit Yland with the effects of her evil eye. Most of the rest of her spells and abilities were easier to save against, so most of what she did in combat didn't hurt the characters at all. Instead, her most effective attack was summoning up hellhounds to attack the party. But as constructs and hellhounds fell before the paladins' holy might, Turibyala decided that whatever she was getting paid wasn't worth dying for, and she took off flying - literally.

The heros searched the rest of the keep. They found a magical helmet - once a possession of the keep's captain of hippogriff cavalry - which was basically one of those "nice extra" items (wearer can't fall out of saddle, can breath air freely in any environment, has feather fall several times daily). In a high, high chamber that used to be a tower, accessible easily to a flying witch but not so much to anyone else, the paladins found four of the five frightened children.

The kids were able to tell their rescuers that Turibyala talked to herself about how she'd been hired by a Red Lady to kidnap a specific child, even though being too specific wasn't possible until that batch of kids were captured. One of the boys - a 10 year old with a big, stylized eye marking on his shoulder, similar to Paiva's mark only in black where hers is golden - was handed over to Mournhorn slavers, who whisked the child off to the Citadel of Three Brothers.

So that's where the party decided to head next.

Next time; obnoxious railroading gamemaster! The Citadel of Three Brothers! And lots of monsters!
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... our heros had successfully made it to their mission station in Baltwell, secured the place, and were working on winning hearts and minds when they found out that the town's only real wizard, Yadishaz Imrir, had died.

Being player characters they instantly assumed that there was some connection between the wizard's death and the earlier (off-screen) death of his longtime friend, a dwarf minerologist named Bori Berkssen, whose body had been stolen away by insidious little cloaked gnomes - or at least everyone thought they were gnomes. They didn't become less suspicious when Yland broke into Imrir's modest house and discovered that someone - probably the same tupilaqs whom the paladins had fought before - had come down the chimney and rifled all the papers in the wizard's desk. While Yland was staying in touch with his rogue skills, Yukiko and Paiva talked to the town's undertaker, Threnton Kaast, and learned about his giant helper. Yukiko was diplomatic enough that the undertaker quickly accepted help managing the funeral - unable to resist the offer of bodyguards, music, and help with the liturgy for someone who, as far as anyone could figure out, had never professed any particular faith.

That brought our little band of paladins to the cemetery outside town, marching alongside the undertaker's cart, the wizard's only apprentice, a group of miners sent to pay their respects, and, not to be outdone, a lawyer sent by the coalition of mine owners with a few fully armored Steel Blossom mercenaries. The PCs were able to spot that the miners had come packing weapons. It looked like things were about to become ugly and they promptly did.

Just not in the way that by now people were expecting. Just as nearly everyone was tied up in helping halt and unload the hearse, the mysterious cloaked gnomes which'd caused so much trouble attacked from cover in a burst of magical pyrotechnics, using slings to launch clay pots of acid which did terrible things to NPCs and hurt some of the PCs as well. The funeral party dashed for cover among the tombstones as the vicious little gnomes threw spell effects and grew to giant size to pummel opponents. It didn't work though - the spriggans were defeated, in part because they were fighting people literally immune to fear.

With the NPCs healed, buried, and searched accordingly, the characters set off down the nearby arroyo to track the cloaked spriggans. Paiva and Flowerbell both had high enough Survival skills to help them do the tracking. Although I put in a roadside shrine to Lamashtu, Mother of Monsters and goddess of gnolls, purely as a thematic detail and a reminder of the everpresent threat gnolls play in Katapesh, the characters dismantled the shrine and kept the crude sandstone statue of Lamashtu. This is about to be significant.

The trail led the characters to a vast, seemingly abandoned structure out in the hills, all decaying corrogated roof over dry, rotting wood and parched brick. Huge empty pens surrounding the building helped the PCs identify it as an old slaughterhouse, but the vague acrid stink of something being processed gave them the impression that it wasn't truly abandoned.

Like any adventuring party, the paladins started investigating room by room - abandoned offices, a boiler house, an echoing place whose stained floor and collection of rusted sledgehammers suggested its former purpose - until they confronted a crazed little spriggan priest and his underlings near a conveyor belt. The priest fled to a long-dried cistern, once bath-house for sweaty, blood spattered workers, and started chanting. The paladins finished up the guards and burst in just as the cistern began flooding with foul viscous petroleum mass, a black pudding. Arrows and swords were useless, so Dakaz wasn't slowed up at all, while the rest of the paladins started tossing the Lamashtu statuette about the room to use as a crude club. By comparison to the pudding, the priest was pretty easy for the characters to deal with - his best defense was an unholy breastplate which brought on horrific mind-bending visions, but high will saves took care of that for the most part.

Nothing apparently terrifies paladins - especially paladins bolstered by sneak attacks and bardic magic - as much as oozes.

With the difficult part of the dungeon over, the characters were all relieved when all they had left to deal with were clay-pot-throwing spriggans on narrow catwalks over the big open vats now being used to refine dead oozes for acid, and when one closed vat was ruptured, the skinless, scroll-wrapped corpse of the former dwarf minerologist, reanimated by strange and alien magics.

The paladins also read through the jumbled, rambling, incoherent diary of the ooze priest, and found out that he'd had his religious experience high up in the mountains at an old, old temple - reborn in the name of Abhoth the Unclean, realizing that since all cells consisted of a lot of protoplasm that the truly primal form of magic, and life itself, was in fact protoplasmic oozes and slimes. For what the priest had learned there, in that place, was as nothing compared to the cold and alien knowledge possessed by far older and more experienced cultists.

Being paladins, the PCs made the Will saves to avoid temporary insanity, and resolved to mount an expedition to the temple and put the cultists to the sword immediately.

Battered, wearied, and more experienced, they came back to their home to find a half-orc - older than any half-orc they'd ever met, so in her sixties - in tears and begging them for aid because her children had been stolen, and all plans to attack the ooze cultists were suddenly on hold.

Next time; a weeping half-orc, a crashed flying fortress, a witch, constructs, and maybe - if there's enough space - total DM fail!
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My memory of how things played out might be a little off, but talking about it makes me happier, so...

Our paladinic heros had just been sent towards the small and largely charmless mining town of Baltwell to hold the shared mission station there, after the mission's single priest, Father Trantis, had disappeared - leaving an enigmatic message that he'd found something big.

A day from their destination, the party noticed dust clouds, horses, and a single camel carrying crude wicker cages - Mournhorn slavers, so called for their habit of wearing animal horns attached to their headgear to give them a more frightening demonic aspect. In their first attempt to work as a group they downed their adversaries with astonishing speed - Yland dispatched slavers with a deadly shower of arrows, Flowerbell outmaneuvered a rogue trying to flank the group, and while Paiva was fighting her opponents, they yelled something to each other. She was able to remember the phrase, which later turned out to be a very old term for "eye."

When the paladins made it to town, it became pretty obvious that things were getting steadily uglier. Heavily armored mercenaries, their shields and tabards bearing the Tudor style rose of the Steel Blossom company, stood guard on corners, keeping close watch on surly off-duty miners. One entire row of shops stood empty - testimony to a predicted boom that never arrived. A dog darted out of an alley with a severed human hand in its mouth. And from the narrowed windows overhead, from the corners and the dive bars, a lot of people were staring daggers at the party - and specifically at Flowerbell, who thought their anger might've related to the last priest (like Flowerbell, Fr. Trantis had served Desna, and out of all the paladins, only Flowerbell wore a really huge display of her faith). They decided they'd investigate further, after they'd set up the mission station.

The mission station was pretty much secured when the characters got there, but while they were exploring the main temple - the sanctuary - they were attacked by weird little vicious constructs made from bone, twigs, and scraps of illuminated parchment. Tupilaqs (I reskinned chokers rather than used the official version). Dakaz held one of them up until Paiva could kill it; Flowerbell, who isn't very good at evading grapple attacks, got caught but was able to use her whip to swing away; Yland climbed into the rafters to snipe at point blank range. Further investigation proved that the tupilaqs had broken in through a grate on one of the chimneys and had rifled through all the papers in the desks and in the library. Someone had sent them to look for something.

Our heros then started investigating their new home over the next few days. The mission itself was older than most of the town, and the sanctuary featured huge, beautiful stained glass windows - surrounded by scaffolding. It seems that the old priest, Edrigar, had been paranoid and walled them up, and when Trantis took over the mission station, he started unbricking the windows, but vanished before finishing the job.

One of the stained glass windows portrayed an angelic figure facing a horde of daemonic figures, with the motto FAITH IS THE KEY. The other stained glass window portrayed four cloaked figures, looking at a single spot on the ground and with heads bowed as though weeping. This window bears the motto THE EYES BEHOLD THE GATE. Just looking at that window caused a feeling of vague discomfort - and a closer check found that people could vaguely make out something beyond the window that was definitely not the hills outside the temple. Flowerbell tied a rope to herself and poked at the window, which gave way like a viscous syrup before her - she could tell that on the other side there was some small room made of stone definitely not from the sanctuary, and where someone had graffiti'd a small mark of Desna. (The goddess' faithful tend to leave her symbol as a placemarker when they travel.) She also found that only going partway into the room saved her from being stuck there - objects could go through the sanctuary into this extraplanar space, but stuff from there couldn't come through into the sanctuary.

The party also investigated the vault under the sanctuary. Dakaz has a fine understanding of engineering and architecture and noticed something that few people other than a dwarf would twig to that immediately - the vault didn't just pre-date the temple, but it'd been carved out by giants. One end of the vault had been blocked by a cave in centuries prior, and goes nowhere. There was nothing remarkable about the tombs of the prior priests.

From there, the group also started talking to locals about their new home. They found out a little more about the conflict between the mine owners and miners on the brink of unionizing or total warfare; about the Steel Blossom mercenaries; and about why everyone seemed so hostile to Flowerbell. Turns out that the humans and even some of the town's few dwarves were fairly hostile to gnomes in general. The little folk frequently served the mine owners as engineers, creating bracing and pumps to drain mines, which already cast them in a bad light with a lot of the people providing the muscle; but recently mysterious cloaked gnomes had been seen here and there about town, possibly responsible for a rash of robberies, and definitely guilty of digging up the grave of one of the town's better-loved residents - a dwarven minerologist - and making off with the body.

This minerologist, Bori Berkssen, had worked with the town's sole wizard to figure out how Baltwell had gained such rich diamond deposits. Turns out that, counter to old theories that diamonds only showed up in old alluvial areas, the town sat pretty close to an old, long-closed, dimensional rift. Material had welled up through the rift from the Plane of Elemental Earth and been hardened and compressed to diamond.

No sooner had our heros learned more about that then there was new and horrible news. The town's sole wizard, Yadishaz Imrir, had also died from heart failure, and was scheduled to be buried later in the week. Suspecting something fishy, the paladins resolved to get in on the funeral and investigate further.

Next time; a funeral, weird gnomes, and a horrific cult based out of an abandoned slaughterhouse!
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... a little like "let me tell you about my character." Only, in this case, instead of me telling you about my badass paladin, everyone in my game is a badass paladin. (This is Pathfinder, which means paladins are more viable characters than they ever were in 3.5.)

Here's how it happened; my housemate and four people we both know are in the same WoW guild and hang out a lot in general, and one day they were talking about peoples' habits and decided that it'd be fun to play a group of paladins on crusade. This doesn't mean however that they were all the same type of paladin. Our cast of characters includes;

Dakaz, dwarf cleric/paladin of Torag who hopes some day to create works of lasting, legendary worth. A dwarf's dwarf, Dakaz usually goes last in combat, and has an armor class of Look, You're Never Going to Get Through That Armor.

Flowerbell, gnome singer, healer, cook, and teller of tales. Flowerbell devoted herself to the service of Desna as part of her role aiding caravans.

Paiva appears as a human in the peak of physical health, dedicated to the faith of Serenrae as a child on account of the golden apparent sunburst mark on her shoulder. Paiva's grandmother was a lilend, an angelic creature devoted to creating works of incredible artistry, and what Paiva doesn't know is that her grandmother intended for her to be part of a living epic.

Yland, a larcenous half-elf from Cheliax, recently turned from petty thievery to the service of Shelyn. Enjoys fine alcohol, tobacco, female companionship. Nobody's entirely certain what gender Yland is.

Yukiko, a young archer of apparently Tien descent, dedicated to Shaelyn after being orphaned by a snowstorm. Agile and almost too pretty to pass as human, Yukiko is actually a kitsune.

Our heros joined forces in Katapesh, and were sent by their superiors to the dusty town of Baltwell, between the mountains and the desert.

Baltwell existed for centuries as Taala, a sleepy desert village perched close to a river. A rich deposit of diamonds was discovered just outside town in the last century and the end of the town's wild frontier days involved the "respectable" citizens petitioning Katapesh's mysterious rulers for entry and protection. Katapesh's Pactmasters sent the human general for whom the town is now named, and who imposed a sort of rough order. While those boomtown days are somewhat faded now, the next conflict has started up. Individual miners couldn't afford impressive pumps and engineering and as small claims were squeezed out or bought up, the new rulers of Baltwell became a coalition of wealthy mine-owners who could afford to run bigger, deeper mines. They promptly imposed a brutal order and their resentful, poverty-stricken workforce started organizing in response.

Into this ugly mess came a young and enthusiastic halfling priest. Baltwell's one temple of the good deities had been maintained by a rather standoffish old priest of Aladar named Edrigar; when Edrigar passed of heart failure, Fr. Trantis took over, dynamically mixing with the populace, restoring the temple to its prior architectural beauty. The halfling's last telepathic sending to his superiors was that he'd just discovered something big and was going to explore it further and then... there was nothing. For several weeks. Trantis' superiors assumed that he'd gotten involved in the labor disputes, knifed and dumped in the river or desert by one side or the other, and they decided that the appropriate reaction was a disproportionate show of force, sending five armed, trained paladins to hold down the mission station.

Next time, our heros face down slavers and weird constructs and find out more about the ground right under their feet.
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This session the characters climbed down a long tunnel set with crude handholds and footholds, down from the abandoned temple complex on the surface, far down to the limestone caverns beneath. Myths claimed that an actual god, Abhoth the Unclean, dwelt somewhere in those caverns with its numerous ooze offspring, but the PCs were looking for something specific there - an ancient statue stolen by ooze cultists, from the characters' current patroness and employer. All this campaign they'd been having run-ins with cyclopean artifacts and the remains of a pre-human, cyclops fortress - the Fortress of the Eye, trapped just on the other side of a dimensional rift from their own world, and that artifact seemed to be connected.

Down the corridor an old breastplate and a few scattered coins glittered in the dim light, but the more perceptive characters noticed that these were floating a little off the ground - the most perceptive among them noticed the slight filmy sheen to the space between them and that treasure. A single test arrow later and they were locked in combat with a gelatinous cube. More exploration revealed more ancient remains - and a potentially deadly encounter with a slick, nasty ochre jelly. They avoided the steep-sloped room which could dump characters into a big pool of heavily mineral water. And they entered an immense cavern with big flowstone deposits, stumpy and glittery enough to look almost like fat mushrooms. They had just discovered a door when out of the darkness came an immense mound of translucent pink-orange matter, easily the size of any three of them combined and most horribly shaped on one side like an immense human face.

And all this in about 3.5 hours of real time. Late starts and players who have to call it after 3-4 hours of play mean that game sessions are all about pacing, and I think I'm getting better at that aspect.


Aug. 19th, 2012 03:10 am
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Tonight's Shadowrun tested the concept of splitting our 8-person gaming group into 4-person squads easier for the GM to handle. The runners were hired to drop cash as part of a stock scam, simultaneously in Bellevue and in downtown Seattle. The Bellevue team faced off against gang members and the Seattle team encountered an Ares Firewatch team - the sort of scary bastards usually off committing atrocities in Third World countries, and part of why we were able to survive this encounter was one of runners was carrying atrocity-in-Third-World grade weaponry.

I also discovered one of the weird catches to being a magician in Shadowrun. One of the most useful things you can do as a magician is provide Heal spells since that's spontaneous, really vital when people go from penalized for wounds to dead very quickly. Shadowrun is d6 based, and how many d6s you can roll are reduced by the amount of Essence lost by the person you're trying to heal - which is really dramatic for the sort of heavily cybered character who takes the most damage in firefights. The good news is that drain for a Heal spell is based on how much you actually heal. For instance, if I could roll 10 dice to heal a troll who has 2.6 Essence, I only roll 10 - 4 = 6 dice, but that means I probably won't have to soak much drain and might not need to soak any at all!

My crowning moment the entire game was probably when we stole a van to acquire a second, untraceable vehicle, and set off the car alarm. My suggestion for what to do if stopped by Knight Errant (future Seattle's privatized police force, now that Lone Star no longer has that duty) was that we could play music really loudly with the car alarm as a constantly looping background, and claim that we were simply fans of "alarmcore."
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Now that I'm in a Shadowrun game I've been thinking more about Shadowrun.

With limited opportunities to play Pathfinder or 4e, the differences between the two make me feel like the level and feats mode of thinking might create problems. (Feel. This might just be inherent stuff which for whatever reason feels connected to an unrelated bit of game mechanics.) Pathfinder seems heir to the 3.5 problem where it's possible to completely dick yourself or feel left out. 4e seems to make everyone about the same power level although now everyone feels kind of generic. This kinda fits the feel I'm getting for both games, where 4e seems like a great thing to grab off the shelf when suddenly you want to play D&D, and Pathfinder is a better system for a big, long lasting campaign.

I haven't thought enough about game design to know whether all systems come with some inherent ideas, like for instance big chunky defaults which are best to stick with (make the elf a wizard, you can't go wrong playing a human, etc) and if so how they apply to Shadowrun. What's certainly true is that Shadowrun feels more terra incognita, especially because 4e's radically different from 3e.

Shadowrun feels like it lasted this long because of it's weird generic-not-generic feel. There doesn't seem to be as much of really big obvious focus (mechs, Lovecraftian monsters, chivalry, The Force), the fantasy aspects offer more flexibility, the tech has gone from living-in-the-future to very-possible-future, and the real world as a basis offers familiarity and flexibility. So fun generic-not-generic feel, a ridiculous number of options, and the feeling of being able to be more effective regardless of character choice is a good thing. Though more about that in a second.

I really like 4e Shadowrun's rules so far. The same way Eclipse Phase had neat rules for generating a ridiculously huge range of characters, Shadowrun is similarly nicely flexible. Definitely not a character generation system for pick up games though. The mechanic of getting to roll lots of dice, as affected and possibly negated by conditions, I think makes rolling dice "feel" more effective. I'm not the guy who keeps missing on single d20 rolls, I'm the guy who got 2 successes out of 6 dice I could roll and unfortunately my opponent got 3 successes. That sort of thing. I'm not sure how I feel about the glitch rules, but I'm very happy to get rid of exploding 6s. That definitely feels like a special occasion thing and I haven't yet seen anyone spend Edge in a way where it's come up, but that's a special occasion. I like the initiative system so far. I like the damage system so far.

I've been wondering about theme though. Going beyond Shadowrun, though I think the wide range of things Runners can do really highlights the issue, all the characters can be involved in a firefight. Sort of the big thing where you know everyone's going to be involved. D&Dish games can definitely feel like progressing from one firefight to the next, a little like The Matrix Reloaded. But then how do you keep people involved while playing to a diverse set of skills? I get the feeling that larger groups necessitate more and more shared encounters to keep people interested and involved and that leads to three possible things I'm wondering about;

  • Could one of the big things any GM can do is using individual focus as a way to rotate breaks for the rest of the group?

  • Come to think of it, is this one of the things which suggests 3-5 people in a group, so's nobody's out of it for very long and it's easier to keep everyone doing their specialty area?

  • Is this something where, especially in a larger group, it would be good to have the players come up with some sort of secondary focus for themselves? Every group gets into firefights, but would it be helpful to have more guides for what players want to do than just trying to figure out what 3-8 individuals would like to do?
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A feud between Border clans would be a kickass skirmish level miniatures campaign. You'd have a relatively limited number of participants who'd increase in ability (or get crippled or murdered) over the course of the campaign; resources as goals (sheep, goats, cattle, prestige, more farmers you can extort); bastell houses; interference from the authorities. The terrain (largely treeless, but walls and swampy ground channel movement). I'm now imagining that between every two or three scenarios, you get to reacquire men/horses and weapons, as more young Borderers come to maturity (alternatively, decide to serve as Border Horse in Ireland) and as your clan acquires more money thanks to blackmailing the local farmers. The slow rate of fire (equipping your Borderers with more than one pistol is still point balance stuff) means melee will happen.

Here's how I see the campaign playing out;

a. Initial cattle or sheep raid

b. Feud based on any losses in a - simply a bigass skirmish between two forces

c. Market day! Three player scenario. Under a flag of truce the English and Scottish Judges of the Peace have come together to review cases including anything resulting from a or b, above. Our heros have decided that this is a perfect time to murder each other, but can they do so without being wiped out by rather understandably cranky Elizabethians? (They did decide to shiv each other during a mandatory ceasefire, after all...) I'm thinking about footing here being a big open area but furniture, civilians and wandering livestock as a way to add terrain complexity.

d. Captured! Two player scenario. As a follow up to c, the authorities have imprisoned one of the Lairds and some of his best men and you've decided to liberate them. Enclosed dungeon scenario; chokepoints are really important here.

e. An alternative final scenario could pit the two sides against each other at a fortified manor house.