Tuesday, September 22, 2009

1e Party Setup, August 23rd

Well, I get the chance to wear the DM's hat after about 8 years, this time using 1e rules. I'm trying to ease everyone into the rule set by only using the PHB for the first session. I also omitted weapon proficiencies and armor class to-hit modifiers, which will be introduced in the 2nd session. I also left out encumbrance for the 3rd session. I will slowly work more material in until we are running with all the core books, than consider adding in extras from either Dragon or Unearthed Arcana.

Either way, the party sets in to creating characters, 4d6 drop the lowest and arrange to tastes. The final party looks like:

Justin: Half-Orc Fighter (DM from the 3e game)
Josh: Halfing Thief (Domineering personality among the PCs so far)
Terry: Elf MU/Cleric (Bad rolls got him Push as his offensive starting MU spell)
Chris: Half-Elf Ranger (This is the neophyte to D&D in general and is terminally shy)

Not a single human, but they all have infra vision. Makes for easy dungeon crawling, but that will change if they acquire henchmen. Will be tough to maintain good morale if they pick demi-human hirelings/henchmen, and if they go for humans to remedy that problem, they will have issues with vision in the dark.

Either way, hiring 0-level help is way beyond the modern gamer; as of 2 sessions the thought hasn't crossed their minds even though I do have a few men-at-arms who are trying to find work. I guess its a difference in mentality, the uber-heroes never need to use hirelings, right?

That covers the bulk of the first half of the session. I tried to get these guys to work on their characters in the weeks before the session, but that failed miserably. We'll see how the level of commitment develops; I will only match player commitment with a commensurate level of DM commitment. Granted, we were working from a limited set of PHBs, but we are up to 3 now.

I'll pick up the action in-game in the next post.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

3.5 Game, PC, Session 2, August 16th

So the second session dawns upon us. As a prelude, Justin's DMing style seems to focus on a PC's back story throughout an individual adventure. This manifests itself as the DM constructing the adventure to spotlight a PC. Obviously, this makes for a rip roaring good time for the other PCs, but they seem to thrive on taking turns having a story about themselves told to them. I wonder what would happen if that week's PC happened to die during a fight... Thankfully through our inflated stats, easy encounters, and monster DOINK tactics, we are able to carry the day.

The adventure starts off in the previously mentioned border keep. Armed with our perfect exposition from our Plot Point Hobgoblin, the captain of the keep is approached with our information. We make plans to travel down a river to a town that is supposed to be near the meeting point between the Necromancer who is creating this plague and the Hobo lackey. What good the Hobgoblin lackey is at this point remains a mystery, or at least plot convenience.

The keep's captain also mentions that there is something along the river that he wants us to check out for him. I think I missed the reason why though. My character was chartering a ride down stream. I apparently made my diplomacy check or whatever, since he agreed to the fee. We meet back up, plus a 0-level human who is supposed to be a runner to relay any information we gather back to the Keep. Or a way to not have to make a return trip so the adventure can move on.

The spotlight is on Josh's character.... who has amnesia as his back story. We proceede down the river to a large statue at the location in which we are to investigate. Josh's character has some odd vision as we approach the statue, which leads to at least 40 minutes of him-hawing at the entranceway that has opened up in the base of the statue. Eventually fed up with it, I cast light on a stone, drop it in, then climb down a ladder that was already in place.

We make it down with zero incident into a room with a small pile of bodies in one corner, a large stone door on a wall, and not much else. We poke around but the stone door has no apparent mechanism to open. Thankfully, we begin to hear a pounding on the door, and it falls right over! We avoid being squashed, and out DOINKs a single troll. 4-1, we make mincemeat out of him. I stand toe to toe with the foul critter, while the Bard sings, the Ranger shoots arrows, and the Sorcerer casts some minor spells. One flaming troll corpse later, we move on.

The room in which the troll came from contains his loot and a locked door. So this troll was basically imprisoned here between a massive stone door only he could push open and a locked door in which he did not have the key. The key, by the way, was in that pile of bodies the room before. This dungeon is quickly turning out to be as linear as the plot line.

Thankfully, we can identify every single magic item we come across if anyone can pass an Arcane Knowledge skill check, which is apparently an easy feat to accomplish. Moving past the door, we come to another non-descript room with a leaky ceiling and another door. We are able to detect that this door is trapped, but we are unable to disarm it with our lack of a party thief. So Josh has the idea to use the runner as cannon fodder to eat the trap. He makes his save and survives, and I wonder if the DM Justin will enforce alignment changes for evil acts. We slowly move on, stopped every 10 minutes by Josh's visions that play little role in the task at hand. Wait, why were we exploring this hole in the ground again?

The next room has a gaping hole in one wall that allows water to pool in the low end of the room. The entrance and only exit (we're using the straight-line Dungeon layout apparently) are both on raised platforms. As we all make our way in, the ceiling above gives way to a torrent of rushing water. The party is torn! What should we do! Maybe... RUN away from the rushing water? Through the next door we come into a room full of coffins with only 1 exit and the sounds of goings-ons coming from it. The party wants a stealth approach, I say, the torrent of water didn't attract any attention?

I guess not, because we get the surprise on the encounter in the next room. It's a sea hag with a small cadre of ghouls and we walked in just as she was interrogating a Druid. I drop a turn undead that catches all the ghouls. The DM doesn't know how turning works, since this is a dead end (end of the line, linear dungeon!) and they can't run away, I suggest that they just cower.

With the rest of the surprise round, we pounce on the sea hag. Her only offense is to cast a gaze upon the Ranger, causing him to be dazed for 3 days. Nifty trick. But at this point it is a DOINK, 3-1 we drop her pretty fast. The Bard sang, the Ranger tried to fire his bow, the Sorcerer casted some spells, and the Fighter/Cleric actually went in there for the hacking.

We rescue the Druid who is able to work some levers in this room to stop the water flow (?). Unfortunately, this unleashes the torrent of PLOT EXPOSITION. Long story short, Josh's character helped this Necromancer create the plague along with this Druid, his visions were his memory slowly coming back. Yawn. We get the full tactical layout of the bad guy's abilities and current whereabouts, setting the stage for the next adventure.

Heading out, all the water is conveniently gone. Just like in good FF7 fashion, after running in a straight line through the dungeon, we beat the big bad guy and advance the plot, then stroll right back out without any to-do. The DM gives out experience, then just tells us to round up so that we all level up. Wow, 1 troll, a half dozen ghouls, and a sea hag gets us all to level 4.

So the second adventure comes to a close and the formula is now readily apparent to me. It's a railroad of epic proportions. That took about 5 hours to run: 2 quick fights (they each lasted only 2 rounds each), a lot of him-hawing over those goofy visions, and infallible plot exposition.

At least the next time we meet, I get a chance to DM.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

3.5, PC, Session 1, August 9

We met in the park to play. That's right, no one has a game space in their home/apartment/whatever, so we played in a pavilion at the park. Except, someone rented out the pavilion, so we huddled around some benches instead. After the session, I offered my house as a gaming location, so that worked for the immediate future. Where that goes is a separate post.

The game was supposed to start at 11, but I was late and got there around 11:30. I immediately started to make my character and was able to finish before the game actually started well after noon at this point. As I mentioned before, I'm playing Gorthak, a 2Cleric/1Fighter NG Half-Orc. Thanks to 3.5's "balance" paradigm, I can make a walking contradiction like that. He worships Kord and has Luck and Good as his domains. Gotta love a free-reroll. Probably the best ability for a 1st level anything out of the standard rules. I roleplay the guy with the value set of antiquity, that the good life is found in valorous battle while enjoying its spoils.

The adventure starts off with my character at some border keep, where I have to make a series of skill checks to hear a scream and notice that there is smoke on the horizon. Being the dashing do-gooder, I am off towards the scene. Two other PCs are in this keep too and head down there, one of which has a clockwork horse (WTF?).

The scene is a farmhouse with the fields aflame. There are about a dozen humans standing near the flames not doing anything or responding in any way. There is another couple guys in the farmhouse plus a woman and a hobgoblin. Turns out these guys (PCs by the way) had an altercation with this woman who was now dead (?) and the hobgoblin was taken prisoner. Gorthak has no clue what the hell is going on, so he resorts to detect evil, which shows no bad guys. Hm, next step, try to turn undead on the humans standing near the fire, no luck, no response.

At this point, I'm pretty much tuning out the non-action as the PCs engage in various pointless acts. I'm being really vague here because I can't recall anything happening. No one would fight the weird humans with me nor did they didn't react to my casting spells or turning undead. Eventually, the exposition spout turns on in the form of the hobgoblin. Thanks to the wonderful anti-RP skills of sense motive, bluff, and diplomacy, we can be sure everything he is saying is true. This exposition fountain will be a reoccuring theme each adventure. We will quickly see a pattern of mostly pointless fights leading to plot points, just like in good Final Fantasy fashion.

If 4e is the D&D version of World of Warcraft, 3e is the D&D version of Final Fantasy 7.

So it turns out there is some curse or plague in the lands and this hobgoblin is a lackey of the necromancer who's behind all this. Ostensibly, it is about inciting some kind of revolt against a liege, but at this point, it's all flavor text with no investment on my part yet. The hobgoblin pretty much tells us everything we need to know to move the plot forward (conveniently). The guys near the fire eventually get as bored with the situation as Gorthak and wander off.

The party wants to camp out in the farmhouse that is now devoid of life (I didn't ask). They want to build a wall of fire around the house so that the humans (or plague people) don't sneak up on us in the night. I instead suggest we just go bash their skulls. That idea is pushed aside for more dick waving, but we do eventually head into the woods to gather firewood, so the skull bashing can commence.

Some more skill checks later, and 10 of these plague people pop out of nowhere and surround us in a circle within 10 feet of our position. Pretty damn sneaky, HUH? Except, they all get slaughtered, presenting absolutely 0 challenge. And 0 loot, but thankfully 3e awards us gobs of experience since some asinine encounter level chart tells us to pass Go and collect $200 for a battle Gorthak could handle solo with Cleave and a decent set of rolls.

At that point, we break for lunch. It's probably around 3pm, and if past experience is any indication, breaking to find food and then reconvening after eating would take us to 4pm. With that in mind, I gracefully bowed out since I do have a home, wife, and a second job to attend to. During the post-mortem, the DM (I guess we can start using names to clarify this; Justin) makes the suggestion that I could DM. I had mentioned my prior D&D experience, but didn't expect to get an offer to DM so fast. At least it has kept me invested in the group to this point.

All in all, it was pretty much what I expected. The players strutted their characters around, made hordes of out-of-character references to video games and other nerd-dom, and it lacked any real interactivity. The party is dominated by the mindset of the individual should shine at all times in a world catered to making heroes out of them. Never mind teamwork or cooperation or mortality, everyone is overly cautious to protect their legacy. We received our plot exposition and had a token fight in what was an otherwise unmemorable session.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Holy Grail of Old School

I tried venting about the differences in D&D gaming between "old school" and modern approaches. I have been entirely outclassed in my attempt by Matthew Finch in his Quick Primer for Old School Gaming.

I am going to distribute it to the group as mandatory reading before next Sunday. Hopefully it will be a good lesson, and not an ultimatum...

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Decent Into Madness

I've played three sessions now as a PC in a 3.5 game. We've been playing back and forth between a 3.5 game and the 1e game I DM. I'm working backwards here and will go back to the first session I played with them.

Being the first session, I had to make a character after the group met; I don't even have dice let alone 3.5 books. Great side note, Kathy has a big bag of dice she uses to teach probability to her Algebra class, so after a month of borrowing dice, I have a nice set of dice of my own. That are actually readable. Why the hell are gamers buying these dice with numbers that are practically illegible?

I started at level 3. I'm not sure if the campaign started at level 1, but either way, I jumped in at 3. I went for a character that I knew would have a damn good chance of surviving, so I picked a Cleric/Fighter. Only, I have to gain levels one at a time, so I am a 2 Cleric/1 Fighter, named Gorthak, lovingly stolen from the PBP game at Old School University.

The DM basically gives you uber stats. You roll 5d6 and drop the lowest 2 dice. Then you roll an entire set of 7 stats and drop the lowest one. Then do all that 2 more times. You get 3 sets of uber stats that you can distribute anyway you want. I had a character with 18s in Wisdom and Strength, and a 17 Con with 14 Dex. Just ridiculously powerful, as evident as we steamrolled so many damn encounters.

Then the skill system. Ugh. I need to train my damn ears to hear noises? Or my eyes to spot baddies on the horizon? There is a damn skill check for every action in the game, and it slows the action down to a crawl. What's that, you want to listen? Everyone has to roll a die, look up stats and skill ranks, then do math on their fingers (ugh), announce their results all at once, then slowly repeat everything since a DM can't handle 5 numbers being thrown in their face at once. All of that time just to say, "You hear something from the other room. It opens the door..." What was the damn point? "Is there anyone else in the library?" "Make a search check." What. The. Fuck. I look and I see anyone in the room. If they are hiding under a table, I don't see them.

Bluff, Sense Motive, Diplomacy. So much for role playing. What is the point, we are all just rolling dice now to move an adventure along. It's straight forward, if you capture a prisoner and you question him, no dice roll should ever tell you if he is lying or not. You hear what he has to say, decide if it is a lie or not, and go from there. There is no mystery to the game, just dice rolls.

Now throw in Feats. More hogwash. Let's see, Weapon Focus for my weapon of choice. Cleave or Power Attack to open up the Feat trees, and maybe a Feat for an extra turn or extra saving throw bonus. Nothing remotely interesting and completely predictable. Or throw in hordes of sourcebooks and you get Unearth Arcana-fuck (1e), Skills and Powers-fuck (2e), or pretty much all of 3e and 4e.

Equipment. Ah, something fun. Well, except that all you really need is a weapon, since it seems that most aspects of adventuring have disappeared. I mean, light sources are laid by the wayside and there are batman-esque utility belts that enable the classes to just roll their skill checks and magically know where traps are and how to disarm them. You come across a corridor with a trip wire strung across. You don't need remove traps to walk over the damn thing. Skilled players (not characters), will spring the wire with a ten foot pole and move on with their life. No super thief kits or a stupid dice roll to just make the trap poof into thin air.

That's really the big sticker, 3e and its mentality are about characters and not players. The characters are just scribbles on paper, the players are real people. Players provide the fun with their unique personalities and persona and responses to the game world. 3e is about character building, 1e is about building players.

That's the dividing point. A game focused on characters is FF7, focused on players is improvisational theater. I want to play with people. I don't want a computer game where I play against an AI: predictable, unchanging, a system to be gamed.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Anthawk Background

Well, after an 8 year absence from playing D&D, I've started up again.

Either way... I've fallen in with a local group out of Rock Hill and they agreed to let me DM. We are playing with the 1e AD&D rules, just using the basic books and classes. So I guess I will try to chronicle what happens here.

The players are younger than I, being between 18 and 21. Not a really big gap, but we're talking at least one generation. I grew up on 2e and these guys grew up with 3e or 3.5 or 3.whatthefuckever. The gap in perspective is large, as I lean towards a 1e mentality more than a 2e mentality (at least, I do in these times). We'll see how this all plays out

We've played one session already, August 23rd. Trying to embrace Winninger's advice, I don't really have a campaign world set up at this point, only creating what is absolutely necessary. I've cobbled together the Melford line of adventures created by Stuart Marshall from Dragonsfoot and smashed them into a starting area. Hopefully, this will serve as a base of operations for at least 2-4 sessions and allow the PCs and I to get used to our styles. Plus, this will hopefully get the PCs past 1st level, or at least chew through enough characters to get a good group assembled. Then we will move on to a larger world.

The campaign setting I am envisioning will be based on Greyhawk, but that setting will be changed in absolutely any way I see fit. I think Melford will be situated south of the Kron Hills, allowing a close proximity to Hommlett for a shift to T1 in the near future. I will heavily edit that adventure to create a sandbox with the ToEE as a central piece, but not the focal point of a dungeon crawl. Then maybe sequence into the supermodule.

Well, that's the setup.