Sunday, July 27, 2008

The World of Mall

I'm not sure what I will do with this:

Inspired by malls everywhere.

Friday, July 25, 2008

4e: Is it D&D? Does it matter?

After the game on Wednesday, Jeff said something to the effect of, "I can't shake the feeling that I'm just not playing D&D" when playing 4e. He reiterated this on his blog.

My response was that I think that the difference between 4e and 3.5 is smaller than the difference between 3.5 and any pre-3.0 edition. The thing is, 3.0 took a pretty significant step away from previous editions, and 4e - I think - continues away from them in a similar direction. So, yeah. If your standard of 'what is D&D' is deeply tied to pre-3.0 versions, 4e probably won't feel much like D&D to you. If, however, you started playing with 3.x, you probably won't understand what the fuss is about.

I began playing D&D in, probably, 1981 or so (it is hazy, but I remember being nine years old whenthe box said Ages 10 and up and thinking that I had won a prize or something), but I've never been wedded to a particular edition. I freely (and probably incoherently) mixed Basic and Expert rules with AD&D... and sometimes Gamma World. I also played other RPGs pretty early on - and not just those that were AD&D clones. The WEG James Bond 007 game was a favorite, as was the early Marvel Super Heroes (FASERIP) game. As such, I just never became particularly wedded to any idea of The One True Game.

So, when Jeff made his comment, I asked him if it mattered whether or not 4e felt like D&D to him. I know this is heresy in some circles, but - really - if you have fun playing a game, does it matter how it is branded?

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Nobilis report

The Nobilis game is still going really well.

I say this after a session on Tuesday in which there was, essentially, a TPK. It was, however, a planned TPK. Jason, who is running the game, told each of us from the beginning to create two PCs - one who would start off in the position of a power and the other who would inherit it.

So, in the last game, Atlantis (our Chancel) was invaded (while Suriel, our imperator, was at a meeting of the Metatron in Heaven) by a corrupt angel and the excrucian he allied himself with. Powers are pretty badass, but all of our PCs were empowered (and served) an Imperator - and angels and excrucians are more on the level of Imperators than PCs. If we were all together we might have had a chance to take one of them alone. We weren't and we didn't.

That said, Sid (the power of Rock and Roll) saw what was happening and got a message off to Heaven detailing the assault (yes, he used Stairway to Heaven as a conduit).

Our new PCs were recruited (quickly) by Suriel to retake Atlantis. It should be fascinating.

4e: another playtest report

Last night was session 2 of Keep on the Shadowfell, and it featured an assault on the kobold lair. I toned things down to account for the fact that we only had three PCs (Morgan Ironclaw, dragonblood paladin; Bloodaxe Axebeard, dwarf cleric; and Owen, human wizard). They followed the Wyrmpriest who'd escaped from the ambush.

I adjusted the battle map a bit. It originally included a runic circle that served as a nonsensical power-up. I turned that into a ritual site where the wyrmpriest triggered an effect: six kobold heads lit by internal flames floated into the air around the circle (not very far up - about waist high on a kobold). Each of these allowed a kobold the use of a breath weapon (+5 vs reflex, close blast 3, 1d8+2 damage, 1/2 damage on a miss) before it burnt up into skully ash.
This effect could have been countered with Arcana or Religion, but no one tried (and Bloodaxe decided to counter it with his hammer after the fight). I also decided that part of the river on the map had a heavy current that could push creatures downstream, but no one went into the river... so... ::shrug::

Anyway, they killed the kobolds outside and went into the lair - which I had also toned down. I made Irontooth a 2nd level elite brute - he dropped about 20 hit points and I reduced his extra damage when bloodied to 1d6. He still took a while to take down (in part because people kept missing him at first), but the PCs all made it. There were plenty of times when they were hurting, though.

Lessons learned:
  • I think 4e makes balancing encounters to a party's ability pretty easy - I wanted the fight with Irontooth to be close, and I think it was.
  • Kobolds make really effective snipers. Their shifty ability lets them pop in and out of total cover while taking a shot.
  • Combat in 4e is simpler to run. I wouldn't want to run a combat in 3.5 with 10 different monsters using 5 different stat blocks. I did this last night with rules I wasn't nearly as familiar with... and I didn't have any problems. Also, rules look-ups were minimal despite this being only the second time we've played.
  • Combat in 4e isn't any shorter than in 3.5, but more happens in the same amount of time. The PCs are fighting more monsters who have more hit points. Rounds go quicker, though there are more of them.
  • Flaming sphere is badass.
Edit: Jeff talks about it here.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

UPS - what it is looking like right now in my head

This is, essentially, a continuation of my last post.

Currently, I'm thinking that the system will be skills-based. Melee Combat and Ranged Combat will be on the primary skills list (along with various other things that look like typical D&D-esque skills).

In addition to the primary skills (which will be set in stone) there will be secondary skills. These will include various fighting styles and magical schools. Each secondary skill will be keyed to one or more primary skills (Swashbuckling, for instance, might be keyed to Melee Combat and Acrobatics, while Fire Magic might be keyed to Spellcasting). A secondary skill cannot exceed the level of a skill it is keyed to.

Each skill will, of course, have normal uses that improve with the skill's level. In addition, every few levels of a skill will make certain powers based on that skill available. Some of these will be mundane, but others will be magical applications of the skill (something like Charms in Exalted - or powers in Earthdawn). The hope is to allow a viable character even at high level who opts not to go the magical route. I'm currently thinking that magical applications of normally non-magical skills will use more resources - or may not be available for use as often.

4e and the UPS

Well before 4e was released, I was musing about what I wanted to see and began sketching out what I dubbed the Unified Power System.

Now that 4e is out and I have played around with it a bit, the appeal of the UPS is really taking hold. It forms a framework for most of those bits I'm dissatisfied with in 4e: the dramatic disconnect between combat and non-combat abilities (and, really, the dearth of the latter), the fairly rigid class system, the over-emphasis on balance, the possibly-too-low power curve (not sure about this one, not having played higher level PCs yet), and things like that.

That said, 4e has also informed my thoughts about a UPS as well. I'm still in the process of figuring out how, precisely...

Monday, July 21, 2008


Work has been insane.

Last week, I was in Nashville at a conference being held in a giant arcology. I was hoping to get some gaming stuff done in the evenings, but there was just too much to do. So much for WoAdWriMo.

This week will be session 2 of our 4e playtest. I'm coming down off of the new-toy high of 4e... and I think I'll be able to look at it more objectively. This is good.

Last night was a late showing of The Dark Knight. I could have seen it at an IMAX in Nashville, but I'd promised Angela I'd wait and see it with her. It was pretty cool. I thought Aaron Eckhart was great. He became my #1 choice to be cast as Captain America (though I'm sure they'll go with someone younger).

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Inspirational Reading

Here are some light novels I've read recently:

Devil's Cape by Rob Rodgers - Devil's Cape is a modern superhero novel set in the fictional city of Devil's Cape, Louisiana. The world it is set in is one in which superheroes and villains are a fact of life, and the story focuses upon the origins of three heroes and their inevitable team-up. Rodgers does a great job of bringing the city of Devil's Cape to life. Devil's Cape is the fictional sister-city to New Orleans, and I was a bit afraid, as someone who loves New Orleans, that Devil's Cape would be end up as a caricature. Not so. Yes, the city is over-the-top in some ways, but these ways mostly make sense given its history.

The three heroes Rodgers focuses upon have a broad range of origins (mythological, magical, and technological). At least one of them was based upon a character he created for a RPG. Moreover, the book was published by WotC. As such, you'd think it would be ripe for pillaging for RPG inspiration. You'd be right. The tone in Devil's Cape is a great one for RPGs - it manages to be a fairly dark and brutal world in which death is a very real possibility for heroes while not taking itself too seriously.

Keeping It Real by Justina Robson - This and its sequel are cyberpunk-fantasies set in a Shadowrun-like world. Earth sort of ran into some parallel dimensions (wherein dwell elves, demons, faeries, etc) due to a quantum accident. The main character is a protoype cyborg operative who is presumed dead by all but her employer. You know the type. Yes, she ends up sleeping with a bunch of non-human things. It is one of those books. That said, it wasn't bad... and by the end of the second book, there are a bunch of rather unique characters who have pulled together into a team. It looks a lot like many a very diverse group of PCs I've seen.

Mind the Gap by Christopher Golden and Tim Lebbon - A modern dark fantasy set in London, this is not the Neverwhere knock-off I expected it to be. Yes, it features a magical London (sort of) and people living in the London underground. No these people aren't really supernatural (except for one or two... a little bit). Apparently, this is part of a series, but I'm not sure what the connection between the books will be - I suspect just thematic. We'll see. Anyway, I enjoyed the book. I don't know that it had a lot of RPG applications, but that wasn't why I was reading it. That said, I've enjoyed everything that I've read by Christopher Golden. If you haven't read The Myth Hunters, you should do so. Now.

4e: Rethinking the Dragonborn

The Dragonborn are a new PC race in 4e D&D.

There was a quasi-race called the Dragonborn in 3.5 (introduced in Races of the Dragon). These were members of other races who were called upon by Bahamut and answered his call, becoming transformed into draconic creatures who hunted evil dragons.

The 4e Dragonborn aren't like this.

Instead, the new Dragonborn are a distinct race of honorable mercenaries who look kinda like humanoid dragons (and have breath weapons)

I'm not sure of the whole "race of mercenaries" thing. It seems weird to me. Moreover, the "honorable mercenary" thing is a bit odd too. I worry that they fill that inevitable Klingon spot in the race spectrum.

I don't really get excited about that sort of flavor. That said, 4e Dragonborn are mechanically sound enough. Giving them a bit of a different background might be interesting.

So... I'll look back at the 3.5 Dragonborn and their cousin the Mojh (from Monte Cook's Arcana Unearthed) for inspiration.


Why not?

What do I want out of Dragonborn? I'd like some mystery to them. I'd like them to eventually (gradually?) become more dragon-like.

So, how about this:

The Dragonborn are not a true race: not as man and elf are. The first dragonborn were once a member of another race - and a person of some significance as well. The ritual to become a dragonborn is not a simple one, and it cannot be conducted on behalf of another. The ritual erases the new-dragonborn's former identity. Others remember her only vaguely, and her own memories are lost, returning only in dreams.

Few have the strength of will to undertake such a transformation. Fewer still have a compelling reason to do so... yet it is still done. Some people know that they were not meant to be as they are, and that their destiny is as one of the great dragons.

The dragonborn have a new epic destiny open to them: the Dragon. This involves a gradual transformation from dragonborn to true dragon.

I haven't decided if this sort of dragonborn breeds true or not. I like the idea of someone thinking he was raised a dragonborn, but then discovering that he was once a powerful human wizard or something who gave up his power for a second chance at life...

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

WALL-E: Postapocalyptic RPG setting?

This post contains spoilers for WALL-E, Pixar's new movie-thing... and won't make a whole lot of sense unless you've seen it.

Angela and I saw WALL-E on Friday. As we walked out of the theater, she leaned over and said something to the effect of, "...and they all died within the first year back on Earth."

I pointed out that the AXIOM, while no longer in space, may well still be fully-functional and capable of providing food and such.

Today, someone else pointed out the possibilities for the children to survive in a Lord of the Flies style society.

You see where this is going?

I'm pretty sure you could create a compelling postapocalyptic setting in the aftermath of the movie. You could easily combine the wastelands of earth with still-semi-functioning technology, rogue robots, BNL-worshipping cannibals descended from AXIOM passengers, BNL executives revived out of coldsleep seeking to re-assume control from their underground HQ, and towering pillars of compressed trash.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

4e: Wizard

One of the things that bugs me about the wizard is how non-combat magic is an entirely separate system than combat magic. Here is a very quick draft of a possible 'fix' that I thought up about 10 minutes ago:


Utility Mage
Heroic Tier
Prerequisite: Wis 13, wizard
Benefit: When you take an extended rest and you have access to your ritual book, you may choose to lose one of your encounter powers for the day and instead designate a number of rituals equal to your Intelligence modifier as prepared rituals. A prepared ritual must be a ritual that is in your ritual book, it must have Arcana as its key skill, and it may not take more than 10 minutes to cast. Once per encounter, you may use a prepared ritual as a standard action. You may not use more than a single prepared ritual in any encounter.

4e: Running the game

Last night, we began playing through Keep on the Shadowfell. I was running the game. Pat was playing Bloodaxe Axebeard, a dwarf cleric. Jeff was playing Owen, a human wizard. Doug was playing Morgan Ironclaw, a Dragonborn Paladin.

We only made it through the first two fights... there was a lot of chatting and discussion, which is to be expected with new rules.

I'm going to detail the encounters, so if you plan on playing in KotS, you may not want to read further.

I toned the encounters down a bit, because we only had three PCs. I will say that 4e makes adjusting encounter levels very easy. Raising or lowering the level of a monster by a level or two can be done in seconds. The xp value of the monsters/obstacles in an encounter are a measure of its difficulty, so you can add or subtract threats until you hit the difficulty level you want.

The first encounter was an attack by kobold bandits. There were about half a dozen kobold minions, a kobold slinger, and a kobold dragonshield. The dragonborn and the wizard each took out some of the minions early on, so I didn't really get to play with them much. I don't think the minions were a problem though. It is nice to be able to throw a ton of kobolds at first level PCs without totally overpowering them.

The kobold slinger, though he didn't last too long, was the star here. He used his glue-shot to keep the paladin stuck in place for a good bit of the fight. One issue, which I can see being a potential problem in 4e - at the end of the fight, the slinger still had one "special shot" left. Jeff had his wizard take it and use it as a grenade later. That's cool, but there weren't any particular rules for using it as a grenade. It is a piece of non-standard equipment that exists in the monster write-up. There are a lot of those sorts of things in 4e, and - while I am perfectly content to make up my own rules - there probably ought to be some rules for PCs wanting to use or misuse them... or duplicate them.

The second encounter was an ambush by nastier kobolds (revenge, perhaps?). In this one we had two dragonshields, a skirmisher, and a wyrmpriest. The kobolds were a lot more mobile than the PCs, and they used this to good effect - swarming in to use their mob tactics and flanks, and then shifting away to (relative) safety. The wyrmpriest acted as effective artillery - using his 'shifty' ability to hide behind cover after his attacks - and almost got away at the end. I kept forgetting to use the dragonshields' tactics ability to make immediate shifts, though.

In this fight, I decided to see just how much damage a first level paladin can take. The answer? A lot.

Some general thoughts:
  • We could have really used a fourth character, preferably a melee combatant. We talked about trying to recruit someone for next time.
  • The cleric seems primarily ranged with his Lance of Faith. That's a bit odd.
  • What are wizards supposed to spend their starting money on?
  • Healing in combat via second wind and cleric/paladin powers didn't seem unnatural.
  • Combat itself seemed to go relatively smoothly. The fights each took a while, but that was largely because they lasted a large number of rounds (and we'd occasionally look up rules). Rounds seemed to go by pretty quickly, particularly for our first time with a new system.
  • The wizard relied largely on magic missile. I think that was mostly a function of the terrain: the only cluster of foes was around the wizard's allies... so he couldn't really use his area-effect powers much.
  • The paladin seemed to be pretty straightforwardly effective at dishing out and taking (as I mentioned) damage.
  • GMing 4e is very different for running 3.x. Easier in most ways. Encounter design is easier. Knowing what a monster can do is more straightforward. The tricky bit is knowing how to use a monster's powers effectively. There's definitely a learning curve. The 'tactics' section of the adventure helped a bit, but it was somewhat too general.
  • The PCs were limited by the terrain of the two encounters (mostly open, outside, with some cover for snipers). This allowed the kobolds to mob them and make use of their high mobility. There was nowhere to box them in... and there wasn't anywhere interesting to push them. This will change in the next set of encounters. It was noted that the PCs were a cleric, wizard, and paladin... and that they probably should have been at a bit of a disadvantage out in the open.
  • I appreciate that tougher monsters last longer in 4e, but those kobolds might have been a bit too tough.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Yesterday: Not as planned

...but it turned out OK.

I had a wee headache in the morning that got progressively worse throughout the day, so I ended up going home early. I took some painkillers and a nap.

In the meantime, the Nobilis game was canceled because the GM (HG?) was ill. I'm enjoying Nobilis. It works as a system and setting better than I expected it to... I just wish the book was written to be more accessible. Pretty only counts for so much.

Anyway, in the time I would normally be gaming, I, well, prepped for gaming. I did another read-through of Keep on the Shadowfell, which I will begin running tonight. I have mixed feelings about the adventure. From reports, it may be a bit too lethal for my taste. Also, it isn't really designed to support creative thinking by the PCs on a strategic level (tactical, yes, but strategic... not so much). As a GM, that rubs me the wrong way, so I need to do some thinking to ensure that PCs have some nonlinear options open to them.

I'm being deliberately vague here, as to avoid spoilers.

Anyway, since I took a decent nap last night, I was wide awake when Angela got off work and we headed out to a late showing of Hancock. It was... not what I expected, but enjoyable. The first half was the superhero comedy I expected. The second was more serious. The halves didn't quite join up as well as they could, but I don't know if that was the fault of the movie itself or the expectations build by the trailer. Going in knowing that it wasn't all going to be drunk superhero Will Smith would have helped.