Campaigns for the Long Haul

•September 18, 2016 • Leave a Comment

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It’s been a while since my last post, I’ve been busy. So while I’m talking about being busy how about a post about campaign length? Most people pick up a game of Dungeons and Dragons and putter out after a few levels. The truth of the matter is that it’s not just the DM that keeps the campaigns interesting, it’s the players.

The biggest step to keeping a campaign going is interest. If the players aren’t interested the DM will not be interested either and the game will fall apart. All parties have to be invested in the story in order to have any sort of longevity. Each and every player must be given their time to shine, the spotlight if you will. Some players are instantly in the spotlight they put themselves there without prompting, those are the players you don’t have to focus on much. The players that need the attention most are the ones that don’t say much during the games. Some of them are just too shy to speak up, others are more interested in hearing the story and listening to the goings on but even those players have to have their moment. You can give your players an impossible scenario that only one player can solve or work their way through, you can give that one player a push in the right direction with an NPC. Whatever you do you must make sure that every character hits that apex. That one spell that only they can cast, the one skill only they are trained in, the one mentor that will only speak to one of their own kind (race, class, order, etc).

Once you have the interest you have to make sure that your story and your world are engaging. You, as the DM are not telling the story, at least not alone. You set the frame work, you lay the scenario out and you step back and let the players run the show. One of my biggest turn-offs is when a DM constantly has the campaign on rails. Let me be clear, there is a big difference between keeping the game on track and forcing your players to always do what you want (not fun!). Your game must be their game, your world must be their world. Let your players create something in the world and they will feel as if they are truly a part of it. If one of your players throws a detail at you, implement it. Maybe the grizzled captain of the guard has a soft spot for children, maybe the NPC they are suspecting is against them really is (even though you never planned it that way). Let your players’ drawn conclusions roll downhill and see what they hit.

Another important part of keeping a game going is to let the characters be themselves. If you have a character that is consistently one of ‘those’ characters that is completely off their rocker, let them be. But don’t hold back on the consequences. If they like to walk in and pick fights in bars for no reason eventually they will start a fight they can’t win. They’ll end up in jail for the night, maybe getting out is a quest in itself? The flip side of that is to never let characters outshine or interfere with other characters. Sure your rogue can steal from the party treasure but when the party turns on you don’t expect me (the DM) to save you. I’ve never been one to direct who or what you should play. In my games I always tell the players to play what they want. It doesn’t matter as I should be able to compensate in the challenges to make up for a party of four wizards. Let me tell you it’s not easy to do so, I have. Anyway, those are just a few hints to running a good game.

Coming Review: Warhammer Quest the Card Game

•December 3, 2015 • Leave a Comment

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I’ve gotten my copy of Fantasy Flight’s new card game based on the old Warhammer Quest board game. I am a big fan of the original, I don’t own a copy (prohibitively expensive!) but I’d love to see a reprint. Maybe we’ll see something more for this little beauty. I’m excited. More to come after the first playthrough!

Green Ronin’s Fantasy AGE

•August 10, 2015 • Leave a Comment

roninlogo_namebox I am of a mind that I find myself fascinated by the thought of RPG systems that are dynamic and flexible. Going hand-in-hand with being simple but elegant also helps. To that end I feel I must share my impressions of Green Ronin’s Fantasy AGE. AGE (Adventure Game Engine) is the system that has brought to life Dragon Age, the upcoming Titansgrave and Blue Rose. I am definitely investing in Dragon Age, I am a big fan of the series and having owned the original boxed sets of Dragon Age I am a fan of the initial builds of the system. GRR6001_450_d9ffbea6-fda4-4ef0-b275-a8521e0bd371_1024x1024 Fantasy AGE uses a modified D6 system that feels a lot like D20 meets Shadowrun. D20’s elegance and ease meets Shadowrun’s fist full of dice in a pleasant middle ground that tickles my fancy. All rolls are done on d6’s, most notably 3d6. Simple enough, but elegant in its spread giving you numbers from 3-18 plus any relevant modifiers. Every roll you make from a lowballed 1d6 to a high rolling 3d6 powers your checks, damage and combat rolls. The higher you roll the better off you do in most situations. Character creation’s first step is for you to choose a theme. What do you want this character to be? What have the seen or what drives them? It can be anything from the usual outcast wanderer looking for a home to a disgraced noble looking for a way to restore his family’s honor. Personally I am very enthused that the first step focuses on roleplaying instead of smacking people around and taking their stuff, big plus. Going back to the second step, and dice, even stats are done using a 3d6 system. The higher you roll the more your stat is, starting out at anything from negative numbers to the whopping +4 you get if you’re lucky enough to roll all 6’s. Once you’ve rolled once for each stat you can swap any two abilities. The abilities: Accuracy, Communication, Constitution, Dexterity, Fighting, Intelligence, Perception, Strength, Willpower. Each ability has focuses associated to it, focuses are like a skill boost. You gain a +2 to the specific focus. Those focuses are gained by classes, backgrounds and talents. The associations are obvious. If you have, for instance a focus in accuracy, it will be something like Accuracy (Arcane Blast), or (Bows) or (Black Powder). Communication (Animal Handling), (Deception), or (Gambling). Again, simplicity wins. The next step is your race. Here is where we get back to the usual tropes and get a little splash of new sprinkled in. Of the six races there are familiar faces; dwarf, elf, gnome, halfling, human and orc. Wait, orc you say? Full blooded, head beating orc. Each race gets two sets of benefits. The first set is a set number of abilities and bonuses that always apply. The second set is randomly determined from the ‘Benefits’ table. This makes for the ‘no two alike’ rule and that, again, is a plus in my book. Now before we go down the usual stereotypes there is the half-breed option. Say you want to be a half-breed, no problem. Pick two races and you get a few benefits from each. First you pick your dominant race, you get that race’s permanents. Then you get one roll on the benefit table from each race. Easy enough, yet again! Elf-orc? No problem, Dwarfling? No problem. Half-gnome? Creepy, but also okay. Of course you have to discuss combinations with your DM/GM. On to backgrounds, which is my favorite part of the system so far. You can either choose or roll your background. This gives you, on the first roll, your social class and then on the second roll the subclass of your background. From there you get benefits as detailed in the book. Simple and elegant. Each of the different ‘subclasses’ or background explanations gives you two free ability focuses (so there’s that wondrous +2 bonus to your ability rolls). The last part of character creation comes from selecting your class. There are three classes and within those classes, similar to your race, are different options to choose from that will make your character different and unique. You have Warrior, Rogue and Mage to select from. Each class is self-explanatory. Warriors are masters of hand to hand combat, rough and tumble types. Rogues are the sneaky-stabby kind of guys and mages are the spell casters of the game. They get access to all magic from healing to boom. Again, simple and elegant and I like it. Your character, as you advance, will gain access to further customization through character options that come in the form of talents and specializations. Talents come in three ranks Novice, Journeyman and Master. Each of these levels gives you some form of bonus that you can apply to your character. Specializations make your character more powerful and, well, specialized ranging from Arcane Scholars, Knights, Mage Hunters and so on. Every specialization takes your class further in to the delicious dipping sauce that is flavor. My personal favorite flavor so far is Mage Hunter. You get a small blurb about what the specialization focuses on, requirements (there are minimums), a small blurb that I feel is a sort of credo, and bonuses depending on the level of specialization you are at. Again, Novice, Journeyman, or Master. From there the book goes in to equipment and rules which are fairly self-explanatory. Then on to magic, ah my favorite subject. Magic is broken down in to different elements (meaning pieces not necessarily just earth, wind, water, and fire) and within those groups are the spells you can select. Each spell has the usual requirements, effects and stats and the MP Cost. The last part before you get to the GM’s guide is all about stunts. Now stunts are a little bit of flash and pizazz you can throw out if you roll successfully and get doubles on the dice, you gain a number of stunt points as the number shown on the die. You can use those stunt points to perform specialized actions that give you that extra edge you need when facing down an opponent. The higher the number, obviously, the more powerful the stunt. The last part of the book is for the GMs (no peeking, players!). Section one of this part gives you basic advice on running a game and keeping track of the events in the game. The second section focuses on the rules. Then come the adversaries and (the player’s favorite) the rewards. After that the book goes in to campaign settings and long-term games and provides a sample adventure. All-in-all I don’t think I’ve been more pleasured visually or in the brain pan by an RPG. Customizable along with simplicity and elegance. I’m sold. If you don’t have this book yet, get it. If you don’t want it, you’re wrong! Now if only I could get my hands on Dragon Age or Titansgrave…

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Dungeon Master’s Fatigue

•May 21, 2015 • Leave a Comment

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Image above belongs to the awesome dudes at Penny-Arcade: Link

DM Fatigue AKA DM Burnout, is a common condition experienced by many a runner of games. We the Dungeon Masters of the world are the bearers of multiple tiny universes that exist in our heads. It is our job to paint the picture for you and tell you exactly how things go. We set the stage and create the characters. We are the directors, actors, grips, and the administrative assistants of our worlds. We have no help, we need no help (usually). There are a lot of cogs, springs and fly wheels that go with running kingdoms in your head. Every action the players take have ripple effects. Don’t believe me?

Slaying a marauding dragon and taking its hoard is a good example. You seize a fortune in gems, gold, magic items and general paraphernalia. There are so many things that can happen here but let’s explore a potential scenario.

Example: You build a base of operations with the funds.
In this example the party buys (or is granted) land and builds a keep or some sort of permanent structure used as a primary base of operations. A place you can relax between adventures. You hire servants and you oversee the surrounding land. Your monetary means are going back in to the kingdom you invested in. Your lands are worked by farmers and craftsmen that all grant you an amount of taxes used to recycle in to the surrounding area and keep things up to date. Depending on the way you go you could either be benevolent rulers or complete dicks. Either way has consequences for the lands, the kingdoms, the surrounding area.

Your dungeon master has to take in to account the monster population in the area, raids, rival kingdoms, or even the dragon’s rivals that may want to claim the horde for themselves. What if this new found fortune makes the players a target for ye olde ponzi schemes? What kind of followers will the players attract? What will the gaining kingdom get in return for this investment? What are the reactions to the player’s attitudes? There are so many questions and answers we must balance and manipulate to keep things rolling.

Bottom line is that for all of your planning your players can destroy hours or even days of hard work in one minute. A good DM is ready but even the best of us are susceptible to the dreaded burn out.

Signs of Burnout
1. Planning is no longer fun, it is a chore.
2. Irritability with your players.
3. Questioning every decision your players make.
4. Railroading (to a degree).
5. Unexplained party wipes.
6. Lying to players about their success or failure.
7. Making it a point to try and kill the Player Characters.
8. Lack of enthusiasm.

The best thing to do when faced with DM Burnout is to step back or even step down. Take a break and let someone else DM. Play a different game or even pull out some board games. Start a side game that is different from the main campaign. Run a pre-built module. There are so many things you can do as DM. As a player make sure to give your DM some slack. They’re the Dungeon Master, they create worlds.

Pimpin’ ain’t easy when you’re a Gnoll.

•April 29, 2015 • Leave a Comment

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So recently my group has delved back in to the venerable pages of D20 Modern. Modern, being the post-fantasy D&D equivalent made by Wizards of the Coast, was the answer to all things urban fantasy, modern day, past and future for those of us who delve in to different worlds. With source books ranging from D20 Past, D20 Future and D20 Apocalypse there isn’t anything you can’t do with D20 Modern story-wise. My personal favorite is Urban Arcana, which places elves, dwarves and other fantasy races in the modern times.

Gnoll pimp anyone? Don’t laugh, it’s in the book.
Pimpin ain't easy!

So the recent game I’m running uses a little-known source book called (Wait for it!) Dark Matter!

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Dark Matter is a supernatural horror setting that isolates the players in a world steeped in conspiracy and black ops-style covert operations. It is the quintessential horror setting for any RPG. Originally published for Alternity, Dark Matter has roots back to the days of TSR. It is based upon the RPG Bureau 13, a little known RPG of the same mien. If you have an urge to game a modern day setting with touches of horror, supernatural, aliens, and conspiracies Ala The X-Files this is your setting!

DM Review: Venetia

•April 6, 2015 • 1 Comment

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Another diamond in the rough made by Passport Game Studios, Venetia is a game of control and colonies. Now I’m a big fan of competitive games like this so I was pretty excited to dive in, I’d never heard of it before but this game has a lot of historical content to it which, in my book, gives it another few points.

Diving right in the box is high quality, thick and sturdy. The components are easily punched but still thick and sturdy. Another point that I am a big fan of. The cards are also high quality and so far that seems to be the norm for Passport Games, big ups to them for that.

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The initial setup is not very hard as the components are nothing new for people who have a few board games under their belt. One thing of note you’d do well to grab a couple of old dice bags or something similar because this game has a component not unlike eclipse in the form of victory points and battle tokens you have to pick at random. Having a bag to keep these in will be handy.

The game is played in three rounds, each consisting of an era in Venice. In the initial stage of the game everyone bids one member of their house and a card from their hand and the one who wins becomes the Doge for the first round. The Doge gets tokens that can be used for extra actions or victory points. Throughout the game you will draw cards and each card has a number of coins at the bottom. In order to win the next Doge election you will have to bid using these cards by placing them on your color on the top of the board.

The game itself revolves around a set of ‘Action Dice’. You roll the dice and the players begin by selecting one of the three sets of dice. You take a number of actions as indicated on the dice, and in some cases you get to draw a card. If you’re taking less actions by selecting the 2 dice, you draw. If you take four actions everyone else gets to draw a card.

When taking actions on the board you must have a line to the place you wish to go. Every ocean tile and city tile has a number associated to it. In the case of oceans you must place one of your cubes on each tile until you reach this number. Once you have reached that number you place a token on that section and you may start from there from then on. In the case of cities each of the dice do something different. Once die gives you the ability to place multiple tokens on a colony, another lets you put multiple tokens on different colonies and the last makes you draw battle tokens. Battle tokens can be good or bad, just like any other cards you draw. Each city you can colonize requires a number of tokens in it to in order for you to put down a podesta (and get bonus points). The player with the most colonies in a city puts down a podesta and this can change as the game goes on and more players add cubes. When there are more than six cubes on one city everyone has to remove one.

Each epoch changes What happens when you draw a card to take an action. Other empires may show up. The flags and fleets that show up can be taken out with actions and each of those gives you victory points. Easy enough.

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When a podesta is put out you move the token along the bottom track. When you hit the end of the third Epoch the game is over.

In the end I like the mechanic of the action dice, I like the components, I like the theme and feel of the game. I would have like to seen a little more in the way of conflict between players. There are a lot of fiddly bits that come with the game as well. You’ll be moving pieces around a lot. The action cards also range in power which can feel unbalanced. The game does have a little bit of chaos, but such is life. Venetia can get bogged down at times when someone picks four actions and takes forever on their turn. In the end I can honestly say it’s a good game to have but not a must have for your shelf unless you love historical games.

DM Review: Dungeon Raiders

•April 1, 2015 • Leave a Comment

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The DM has a new game to share Dungeon Raiders by Passport Game Studios. Now I’ve seen lots of these types of games through the years so we’ll see how things play out. See what I did there? The first thing to note is that the box is pretty sturdy, as are the cards and components. The cards feel solid unlike some games I’ve played so no cheap cop-outs there, plus for Passport. The cubes are plastic, not the wooden fare we’re used to and I must say I’m quite happy with that. No more snagging or splinters. The rulebook is crazy small and that in my book is another plus, I’m a big fan of games you can just open and play right out of the box.

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Here is are the card decks separated. You have a dungeon deck, heroes, items, action cards, dungeon doors, boss monsters and treasure counters. Fairly simple! You start off by shuffling the 30 dungeon cards, removing 6 to keep it random then turn 12 of the cards over and reshuffle the deck. I was confused first too but bear with me, it makes sense! Once you do that you lay out the item cards (which in my mind represent trips to town) and the dungeon levels. When laying out the dungeon levels you put one random boss monster card on the bottom of the stack then divide the stacks all up in to fives, putting a dungeon door on each stack.

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The dungeon layout goes like so. The first level is the one on the bottom, I’ve discarded the door and laid them out top card on the left-hand side. This bottom row represents the first level of the dungeon. The other four levels are above (under the dungeon doors of course). Divvy out random hero cards (shown below), health cubes per the number in the heart and set your treasure counter to the number of starting gold (the stack on the left). The middle icons represent a number of items you start with as well, take one of those from the stack.

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As you can see above we’re all prepared to start. Warrior, Thief and Knight. Each is given a 1-5 card and their starting items and you’re ready to bid! Why do I say bid? Because that’s kind of what it feels like but that’s a good thing. Each player selects a card to put against the first dungeon card in line. Once everyone has chosen, reveal your cards. Monsters need to be defeated or the lowest bidder takes damage, treasures are won by the highest number, and vaults (like a mini store) mean you buy the item represented by your number.

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Where rules are concerned this game is pretty straight forward. It reminds me a little of a lite version of cut throat caverns and in my opinion that is definitely not a bad thing. With sturdy components, a good price tag and fast and furious setup and game play you can’t go wrong with Dungeon Raiders. In the end the DM says it’s a good buy!