Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A small beginning

Remember when I was speaking earlier about some of my "issues" with Rolemaster, and wondering about what we were going to do with the game that we were running? Well, last night things came to a logical and, what I might call, a sensible conclusion.

I told my buddy in an e-mail, that I was was no longer interested in learning a new system and that Rolemaster was just too intensive for what we wanted to do. That being, a very casual, light-hearted, easy to digest game that we can pick up and play without too much time spent between the pages looking up obscure or difficult rules. He responded with basically one line saying that yes, he completely agreed. So it looked as if Rolemaster had gone the way of the DoDo in our game.

My buddy, Paul, came over last night for a game and we sat around chatting about what it was that we thought we were looking for. I told him that there were plenty of free games out there that had rule sets that were very easy to digest due to their similarity to games we've played in the past. I also found out that he'd burnt out his creative furnace while in the attempt to "simplify" Rolemaster. This surprised me. But I still really wanted to play, so I offered to take up the reigns.

I hadn't prepared anything what-so-ever, but I had passing familiarity with a ton of products and thought that for the remaining time I could quite easily wing it and then prep more for our next session. First though, we had to decide upon rules systems. I listed off the rules that I thought would work well for what we needed.
  1. Labyrinth Lord
  2. OSRIC
  3. B/X D&D
  4. Swords and Wizardry
  5. Castles and Crusades
Of those, the only one that you have to pay for is Castles and Crusades, so of course that's the one we chose. Well I have two C&C PHBs, my buddy Chris (who's going to try and join us later) also has a PHB, and above all it's recognizable in it's current form. It seemed to have enough crunch for Paul and yet it was easily rules-lite enough for us to jump right into w/out worrying too much about how to adjudicate this or that. So, Castles and Crusades it was.

Now, what was I going to run? I went into the basement and pulled out my C&C books and what fell out alongside but the Village of Hommlet. Ah! I thought, this might be exactly what the Dr. ordered. I asked Paul if he'd ever had any experience w/ the Village of Hommlet and he mentioned that he'd played the electronic version of Temple of Elemental Evil a few years back but never got far. So no, not really. Perfect.

Paul rolled up a character on the spot and created a half-orc assassin named Stryke. An ugly brute with a charisma of 3 and nothing over a 14. Exactly what we were looking for. He and his henchmen, Portly Tom, Wonkin Red Eye, and Delvin The Liar wandered into town completely broke, looking for a place to stay and possibly a meal.

On the way in they got a clear view of the castle construction and could hear the sounds of stone work in the distance. A tent village surrounding the base of the mesa was a welcome sign as it signified a temporary worker's village. Delvin mentioned that he was a master stone mason at one time...and that's how he'd lost the little finger on his left hand. (Uh huh, two days ago it was in a fight with a gryphon.)

They stopped at the first farm on the left, a farmer named Oso and his two strapping sons were working in the back. The lane was guarded by two very large hounds who started barking as soon as the motley band turned onto the property. Oso came out, met Stryke, calmed the hounds down, and offered them a job after hearing about their current penniless situation.

In the back the farmer had cut down a cherry tree that had been growing into the well. Its roots had pushed some stones out and was threatening to collapse the family water source. But they had yet to get to the stump and roots. Luckily here comes help, in the form of Stryke, his merry men and his donkey. (Yes, Paul had purchased a donkey for his assassin. Awesome.)

Many hours of back breaking labor later they were sat down to a hearty meal of chicken and dumplings and offered the loft in the barn. The group stowed their gear and got ready to head into town to the Welcome Wench, while Portly Tom decided that he would rather collapse in exhaustion.

Once in town the clear ringing of steel on steel could be heard from across the way as they approached the Welcome Wench. The four windows in front beamed light and the front doors stood wide open to the evening. Delvin and Wonkin entered with their last remaining coins as Stryke staid out doors and decided to watch a bit before entering. He "cased" the crowd and found that it consisted mostly of a few tables of stone masons and laborers from the castle, a small dwarven caravan, some commoners and farmers, and one leather clad soldier.

Stryke entered and approached the bar where he ordered two small beers and decided to ask the soldier what was going on in the town. The young man (no older than 17) took the beer and started chatting...His name was Oster and he was in the Burne's Badgers, a local militia, and if Stryke was looking for work then Burne had mentioned to a few of the Badgers that he was in need of some mercenaries for a bit of reconnaissance.

The next morning Stryke showed up at the tower, bright and early, just in time to catch the Sergeant at morning muster. He spoke with the Sergeant, told him his intent and Burne was summoned. Sure enough, Burne said that he's got some work the would require a small group of people to head out to an old abandoned structure out east of town. There been reports of banditry and some strange characters passing to and fro over in that direction.

Stryke agreed, and for the price of 25 gold pieces, room in the tent village and a square a day, he was off on his way. He went back to the Oso farm and finished up the well work that they'd agreed to the previous evening over supper. Then as late afternoon was coming on, they gathered up their gear, said goodbye to Oso and his sons and set off down the road on the way to Burne's decrepit structure.

A good three hour journey finally brought them to an old stone keep of some sort. The building had obviously seen better days as the walls were falling in, the drawbridge was rotting through and vines climbed nearly every surface. The sounds of the swamp were in full throttle as Stryke approached the building alone, as he didn't want the torches of the others to warn anyone inside. A moat of sorts still circled the sinking keep which limited where you could enter the building.

The assassin first spied upon the building from a distance and thought he detected smoke. Then, as Stryke approached the downed gate a disturbance in the moat caught his attention, just as an enormous frog leaped forth to swallow this new source of food. The frog attempted to lash the half-orc with his tongue but it was deflected. Stryke leaped in and dealt a furious slash to the warted beast. The frog then decided that this meal was much too dangerous for the effort, and therefore jumped back into the moat, disappearing beneath the black waters.

Just then, the rest of the men came forth leading the donkey. Stryke told them of the enormous amphibian guarding the moat and they all eyed the water suspiciously. It was late and the group decided to camp in the old abandoned gate tower. So they crossed the rickety drawbridge one at a time.

Stryke made it half way across and decided to stand watch over the moat while the others made their way to the tower. Portly Tom was in too great a hurry and wasn't looking where he was stepping. The rotted wood gave way beneath him and he fell through to his waist. Just then the frog decided to strike, seeing the dangling legs as a tasty treat. It sprang up with ferocity, only to misjudge the target, and WHAM it slammed straight into the bottom of the drawbridge. (I rolled a '1')

Portly Tom screamed and started scrambling while the others undid the rope and helped pull him free. After careful consideration and planning the rest came across with little else occurring.

Stryke surveyed the empty court yard and couldn't detect any threats so he cautiously approached the tower while telling the others to hold their positions and be alert. Seeing nothing alarming from the doorway, Stryke entered the old tower to find that the second floor had collapsed and wood and rubble lay strewn across the lower level of the tower.

As he stood surveying the area an enormous spider clambered up from beneath the wood. Stryke acted quickly and caught the rear two legs beneath a board as the spider gathered itself for a leap. The arachnid scrambled with its remaining 6 legs, attempting to reach the tasty morsel so temptingly close. The assassin yelled for the others and told Tom to go and grab the pitch fork from Wonkin.

Delvin came in and stood upon the board, looking with fear upon the frantic spider. Stryke saw his chance while Delvin kept the spider trapped and he approached with his sword and shield. He slashed at the beast and nicked it. But in doing so, left himself open to counter attack. The monster grabbed the happless half-orc with its front legs and drew him in, giving a fatal bite with his deadly fangs. (I rolled an 18 to hit and a six on the damage die. Poor ol Stryke only HAD 6 HPs. Boy did I feel bad.)

The others, instead of running, decided to bring the monster down. And they did so w/out further mishap. After gathering what small amount of treasure lay on the floor they decided to stay the night.

This is where we ended it.

Paul wasn't at all upset about dying. He chastised himself for not having the patience to wait for the pitch fork instead of attacking with the shorter sword. So, next session he's going to roll up a new character and maybe by that time my buddy Chris will be able to play as well. My eldest daughter Ally is going to sit in for the first part of each session too. This will be fun.

Anyway, that's how I spent my evening last night, killing poor ol Styke, we hardly knew ye.

Monday, June 22, 2009


This is a point that I read on Alex Schroeder's blog (link):

"Rare Healing: Players need to avoid wandering monsters and avoid unnecessary fighting. This makes strategic decisions (when to fight) more important than tactical decisions (how to fight)."

I've never been able to put my finger on the thing in 4E that troublels me so much. But Alex hit the nail on the head: "Healing"

In 4E you get a bunch of "surges" which are in essence a mechanic that allows characters to "recharge" from encounter to encounter in order to keep the pace. Now, while this might not sound bad, it is a distinct deviation from older editions of play.

It is MUCH more tactical in play than strategic. Due to this difference, the focus of the game shifts from adventuring (older strategic based game) and trying to get from point A to point B without using up your super vital resources, to encounter to encounter type play and worrying about resources that "refresh".

I know I've read this before and that this is certainly not a new observation. But for some reason Alex's post just suddenly jumped out at me and I hit the "Ah Ha!" moment.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Once more...into the breach.

So, I'm not going to go on and on endlessly about what I find "missing" in 4E, but...

I had another experience last night that opened my eyes (yet again...will he never learn?). It was a game that I've been playing off and on for nearly two decades. The group that I grew up with (4 of us from Jr. High School through University) morphed into the group that I get together with to play about once a month, sometimes less, unfortunately.

The thing about these guys is that we've been playing D&D together since AD&D first edition. I mean we've gone through all the iterations, so we're no strangers to how these games work. We loved AD&D, played the shit out of 2E, tolerated 3E and are just now trying our hand at 4E.

So I've mentioned that we get together very rarely. Once a month if we're lucky. And it's not always exactly the same group of guys, but we always have at least 5 players there. The DM has been in his position for quite some time. Every once in awhile one of the others steps in and runs a short little adventure or three...but it almost always comes back to Bart.

Now, Bart likes a sweeping, epic story. He should be an author. He thinks on a hugely grand scale and his games are run that way. There's always a reason for things. A reason that always somehow ties into the larger story. But herein lies the issue.

We just don't get together often enough to follow the complex story, and I'm sure he get's a little frustrated when we can't put the pieces (clues) together. So, every time we gather, he has to carefully set the stage.

I'll preface my next comment with: I love his stories. They're very colorful and imaginative. But (again with the "but), I think that they're lost on us due to a bunch of factors over which no one has much control.
  1. We don't get together very often
  2. We're gossipy and chatty (due to the long periods between seeing one another)
  3. We are pretty strongly oriented to slaying and gathering (i.e. Not a lot of mindshare dedicated in-game towards our PC's role in the "story")
And what's the net? Or rather, what does this have to do with 4E? This:
  1. 4E, by nature, is not a "fast" game
  2. 4E is not a game where you can "chat and play" (due to the inter-dependencies between classes, and the tactical nature you'd better be paying attention.)
  3. 4E does not resemble D&D of old (We ALL have to read the rules now...NOT just the DM)
  4. There are now "states" that you have to log if you don't find a good stopping point. (e.g. If you're stopping the game before an "extended rest" then you'd better remember if you've spent your action point, your dailies, how many surges you have left, etc....It's no longer just HPs you have to record.)
  5. There are many more "options" available for your PCs (DDI releases, new splat books, etc.) that if, as the DM, you don't say "PHB only", then you're behind. (3E was similar...)
A fantastic example of how slowly 4E moves: I missed a session and when I came back for this session it had appeared that everyone else had missed a session as well. That is, when our DM gave us the recap and told us where we were standing, I said to myself "Yeah, I remember this." But in all actuality there HAD been a session that I missed. A battle had taken place where we had emerged from the underearth. But that's it... One melee. In 6 hours of game time!

Like I had stated above, there are a lot of factors causing this. We're old time gamers. We remember wizards casting magic missiles and the rules associated with that...Not things like if you spend a "Catch you Breath" (or whatever it's called) action, you get HPs back for a surge and a +2 for your defensive bonuses. So we spend a lot of time "learning"...forgetting by the time the next session roles around and then relearning again.

It's a whole lot easier if we can run a game off of things that have been ingrained in our systems (20+ years of playing tends to do that). We just don't have time in our personal lives for all of these new rules. When it says Dungeons and Dragons we all assumed that it would be something recognizable. Like it has always been.

In our most recent session (again from 7 pm till after 1 am: 6 hours) we moved from the ledge, briefly checked out the old temple, moved into town and got into a fight w/ 5 dragon born warriors. That took us about 4.5 hours.... The battle was supposed to only take 5 minutes (according to the DM) but ended up taking a lion's share of the evening. So much so that the DM had to fudge a cool overland journey in order for us to get to another "critical" encounter. We had to break right in the middle of the last encounter, we just plain ran out of time.

I've said this before and I'll say it again, 4E plays very much like Advanced Squad Leader for me. You're very focused on the minutiae of the tactical situation and you make very deliberate, planned out moves. It's not built for adventure and speed.

The main reason that I get together with this group is that I totally dig the people. These guys are friends that I've known for most of my life (2 of them since I was 13...over 30 years.) and I just love getting together with them. Gaming is an excuse. And this is not strictly isolated to me...Everyone (except maybe the DM) thinks this way.

So, in the end I'll have to say, I don't think that 4E is a good fit for our kind of group. I can see how it might be an awesome game for those folks who have the time to read all the rules and the energy to keep up with all of the new stuff. But for our group, no, not a good fit at all.

Monday, June 15, 2009

A question regarding traps

I'm going to make this brief. If a key for a locked and trapped item is utilized, is the trap rendered inoperable?

I would say that yes, it would negate the trap's springing. I mean, imagine the original owner trying to quickly open the lock...and "BANG!", the trap goes off at the most inopportune time. It doesn't make sense.

Maybe there's some kind of button, slide, lever, method of turning the key, that would neutralize the trap? Traps are dangerous and fickle, even if you know about them, but the proper key ought to be able to bypass that danger. So if that's the case, can a decent thief who exceeds the lock pick by a certain margin also disable the trap at the same time?

I don't think that I've ever really thought about this. Strange... I've always treated traps and locks as completely separate entities, i.e. if you've got the key, you still need to disable the trap.

On Death and Dying

I just got done reading an older post over at Grognardia (link) and it got me to thinking about death and dying in the game of Dungeons and Dragons. One of the things that I really used to like about the game was that you could bring back a well loved character and continue on with the adventure. I might call this a "character-centric" game.

Today I'm of a bit different mind, I like the idea that dying is very real and very final, for a few reasons. First, I think that it makes dying that much more dramatic. If it's final, and you've struggled to get your character up to 9th level, death becomes a very spooky thing indeed. And secondly, it's more "game-centric". Meaning that it draws a little attention away from the character and towards the game.

But, I do have to say that raise dead and resurrect are both time-honored traditions, so dropping them whole cloth just doesn't resonate with me. So I've come up with this brief treatment:

While clerics can raise a is not something to be taken lightly, for the journey back from the realm of the dead is fraught with consequence. The following list must be rolled against each time a person is forced back from their natural state of death:

  1. The mind of the recently dead has remained in the nether realms...(They're now effectively a "mobile vegetable" w/ an int and wisdom of 3)
  2. The paths back are laced with Chaos...(The retrieved is now purely chaotic and "twisted". Possibly now possessed by a demonic entity.)
  3. The mark of Chaos has physically been left upon the recipient...(An appendage has been permanently replaced with a slimy pseudopod, brought back with no eyes, mouth, nose, etc. Something visually dramatic.)
  4. A vortex is opened, one of several things may happen: A servant of chaos is summoned, the cleric attempting the service and the corpse are sucked through the gate, the gate remains open for 1d6 days emitting chaotic radiation, a chaotic vision is revealed through the gate causing all viewing to make a save or go insane...etc.)
  5. It succeeds, living creature (man, animal, etc.) will tolerate being anywhere w/in sight of the newly revived. Their presence causes physical revulsion and sickness. (Chaotic monsters will attack on sight...)
  6. It succeeds...No buts.

This is the reason that most, if not all (even the extremely wealthy) avoid bringing back loved ones, or those with lost wisdom, from the dead.