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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Hoard of the Dragon Queen - Seek the Keep


At last we have begun the first adventure of the Adventurer's League! I prepared like a maniac. I took four pages of handwritten notes on the opening episode, two pages on rules notes, and one page on league rules.

Last week, I thought I had settled this weird issue with the store owner. He suddenly wanted to do two weeks of character generation, but I'd already given the players a start date (start date = tonight). I talked it over with him last week and I thought we'd settled it.. only to find a mass email today again proclaiming that this evening was another character-making session.

When I went into the store, the other employees had no idea I was starting the season this week. I just started it anyway. Stuff like this happens quite a bit at this store. It used to bother me, but now I kind of know the routine and in the end I just run my adventure and go about my business. The game store employees are nice people, but there are definitely some communication issues. What I don't understand is that the owner and I came to an agreement face-to-face, and then he went ahead and proceeded as if we'd never had the discussion.

I was interested to see how many players would show up for this, the opening salvo of an entirely new edition of Dungeons & Dragons. We normally get about 7 players. Tonight we had 15!

The problem was that half of them came to make a character. I couldn't run an adventure and help 7 people make characters at the same time! Eventually a store employee took that role over.

As I expected, the Brony didn't have a character ready despite ample warnings. He is one of the players who do not think about D&D or do the tiniest bit of work on his character outside the session. I honestly have no idea why he even comes. This week he ended up relegated to the "make a character" table. If that was me, I'd be very frustrated. He didn't seem to mind.

I ended up with 8 players, which is one over the limit. Hey, I'm not going to make someone leave the store.

Our brand-spanking-new heroes arrived at the town of Greenest at 9 PM. The village is under attack by an army and a blue dragon! Our fresh-faced level one heroes race toward Greenest to help fend off the attack.

I tried to emphasize that the PCs should use flaws and bonds to gain inspiration but none of them bit on it, not even a little. The players might still be getting used to how everything works.

I also tried to work in some Ed Greenwood Realmslore, such as the swear: "Dark and Empty!". I really wanted to use "Blood of the Lady!" but it doesn't seem appropriate for a game store.

Seek the Keep:

So I threw 6 kobolds at them, and the heroes slaughtered them. Then they came upon a woman with a spear and shield battling kobolds, trying to protect her husband and children. I really like that it's the wife doing the fighting. I could see one player's non-playing daughter become very interested as I described that scene. I was subtly trying to demonstrate to her that this is a game where everybody of every gender gets to be awesome. At the end of the night she decided she wanted to play next week.

From there, our heroes are meant to lead the family to the keep, the only safe place in town. I made sure to describe a few instances of the blue dragon swooping down out of the sky to roar or swipe at citizens. The dragon encounter actually comes up later, but I was doing my best to make this a complete experience.

As the heroes head toward the keep, they have three encounters. The module is very vague. It lets the DM cook up whatever he or she wants. This is mostly good. Though this makes preparing the module similar to opening a ZIP file, or maybe reading a recipe and then cooking a meal. You need to look up monster stats (kobolds and cultists) and come up with scenarios. My three situations:

1. Bad guys are looting a home.
2. Bad guys are looting dead bodies of villagers and slitting their throats.
3. Bad guys are trying and failing to set a thatch roof on fire (the adventure is specific about how the homes do not burn easily).

The heroes had the option of slipping past all of these without combat. There was a bit of debate amongst the players about doing just that. But each time, Hack and Slash Guy would declare that the town needed to be defended and he charged in.

This lead to fights where he and other PCs were nearly killed. The kobolds have a deal where they get advantage to hit enemies that one of their allies are adjacent to. So every fight, there would only be one or two PCs near the kobolds which meant that they'd get swarmed.

Characters made death saves in every fight! The paladin used up his lay on hands and most of the healing was burned through as well. Both fighters even used their second winds.

By the third scenario, the group really wanted to just slip past the bad guys. Hack and Slash Guy again insisted on killing them. This time, the group actually split up. Hack and Slash and three PCs charged the bad guys while the rest of the party ran for the keep. Hack and Slash was stabbed repeatedly by three kobolds and came extremely close to dying.

As this battle came to an end, a rift formed in the group. A new player took Hack and Slash to task - he'd nearly gotten a bunch of people killed due to his recklessness. It was fascinating to see. Hack and Slash Guy has been mindlessly charging everyone and everything for about 6 months now, and this is one of the first times a player has put their foot down. I have no idea how this is going to play out in future weeks.

I had kind of hoped the heroes would slip past the bad guys so we could get to some of the "missions". I'd planned on the heroes using the old tunnel to deal with the church of Chauntea encounter, but time was already up.

The new edition has brought in this weird changing of the guard as far as the players go. Some old timers are dropping off, and this new aggressive crop has jumped in head-first. In a way it is sad, because I was comfortable with the old bunch. Then again, the old bunch could be a bit of a headache. The old group had no idea about rules or what their character could do. This new bunch are really on top of everything and put the old-timers to shame.

The session had a bit more fighting than I'd have liked, but overall it was pretty good. The heroes each got 106 XP (I didn't factor in the 50 xp per rescued NPC yet), no gold at all, and no magic items. From what I understand, there are almost no magic items in these first few episodes. That will not go over well at all.

But I really like this adventure and I expect big things from the weeks to come.

If you haven't seen it, definitely check out this quick Tyranny of Dragons video.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG - Castle Greyhawk and Sniper Rifles

This article is about two sessions of DCC RPG: One was pretty bad, and one was really good.

I had an odd couple of weeks when it came to Dungeon Crawl Classics. As I've mentioned in other posts, right now I am very into Shadowrun and less into fantasy RPGs.

It is funny how this works. Often you may find that by the time you get something you are passionate about up and running that your interests have shifted to something else.

A few years ago, I was hellbent on running a D&D Castle Greyhawk campaign. Castle Greyhawk is what Gary Gygax ran when playtesting Dungeons and Dragons in the 70's. It has never been published in its' "true" original form.

There's been a slew of related products though, like the parody Castle Greyhawk, the attached demi-plane adventures (Land Beyond the Magic Mirror, Isle of the Ape, and Robert Kuntz's Bottle City to name a few), TSR and Wizards made stuff like Ruins of Greyhawk and Expedition to Castle Greyhawk. Gygax himself started working on publishing the "real" castle with the serial numbers filed off, called Castle Zagyg.

I decided to try and create a Castle Greyhawk using the best stuff from all of this material. I dug up every article and message board post I could find by Gygax and his old players that had details of the original dungeon to help me craft an authentic and exciting version of the dungeon.

There was already a version of Castle Greyhawk published that tried to be as close to Gary's vision as humanly possible. It was called Castle of the Mad Archmage. I used that as the basis for my version.

But the more I looked through that dungeon, the more I realized that while I would like to play in it, none of my players would. They're not big on heading in and out of dungeons. They really don't like empty rooms, which Castle Greyhawk had many of. We didn't do much mapping, which was a big part of the Castle Greyhawk experience.

While I enjoyed reading about the adventures of Lord Robilar and Tenser, and discovering Gary's short story about a sub-level called "The Black Reservoir", I realized that for my players, Castle Greyhawk would be... boring.

So I set out to make a dungeon inspired by Castle Greyhawk that would entertain them. I dug up elaborate trap rooms from any source I could find, all epic, creative and deadly. I made two dungeon levels full of traps, with little in relation to the actual Castle itself. Slowly, my enthusiasm waned. I lost the spark of inspiration, and realized that not only was I working on something that was barely Castle Greyhawk, but I had also burned out on it before I'd even ever run it.

It is with all those words that I try to tell you that right now, Shadowrun rules my brain, and DCC RPG was suffering because of it. Last week's session was the low point. I ran Doom of the Savage Kings, a 1st-level adventure.
 
I re-purposed the dungeon, placing it in the dimension of the Court of Chaos. Our heroes had decided to go get the balance blade from the Court, who were planning to use it to sway the balance between Law and Chaos.

I never used Doom of the Savage Kings because I just didn't like it much. It's not terrible. The premise is interesting - a hideous monster is attacking a town called Hirot, and the heroes need to go get an item to help them defeat it. I didn't like the town, Hirot. I didn't like the monster. And I didn't like the kind of nordic theme of the dungeon.

So I was running a session in which I was not at all enthusiastic about. It was just kind of there. And when you are a DM running an adventure you're not excited about, it really affects the game. It was a dull, short session that ended really early. There was no life to it at all. By the end of the night, I was wondering if the campaign was dying.

I had set up the ending to that session so that our heroes would finally get to go the New York City circa 1986. Ever since I read the basic D&D adventure "The Immortal Storm" last year and its' ultra-cheesy depiction of the real world, I wanted to run an 80's movie version of New York City with cheesy accents, lame 80's gang types with bad dialogue, and people in the street holding boom boxes while riding roller skates.

As this session approached, I turned over concepts in my head. I had a basic idea of how the session would work. But I didn't put pen to paper. I was too busy with Shadowrun.

The night before this DCC RPG game, I ran Shadowrun until 3 AM. My players made me laugh so hard that I almost choked as they made fun of my badly-drawn street map (my yellow street lines were more than a little crooked). The runners hung out with their favorite gang and carefully planned a massive attack on another gang's compound (an old drive-in theatre, converted to a biker gang enclave). Then, they came up with a crazy plan involving the theft of 20 trucks, which involved "star" NPC Lacey Heels seducing and tasing a security guard.
 
It was such a fun session that the next day when I was supposed to be working on DCC, instead I was listening to a recording of the session laughing my face off!

I waited until the last possible minute to prepare DCC RPG. And I am talking, a half-hour before I had to leave for the game store. I quickly jotted down the ideas, cooked up some NPC names and one stat block, and I grabbed a couple issues of Crawl Zine that had some stuff I could use. Then I headed to the store.

There's some big things going on in Magic: The Gathering. Something about changing the structure of how sets are released. The store was jam-packed with Magic players. These are pretty much without exception very nice people. They get a little loud, but it could be worse.

So we jumped into this adventure that I had half-concocted... and it was awesome. By the end, one player was raving about how much fun it was, and another was asking me much time it took me to write such a detailed and involved adventure. This was one of the most well-received adventures I have run for this DCC group. Why? There are a few lessons I keep having to re-learn:

1. Do not overprepare! I always do this. When you overprepare, you create tons of details that the players might not even run into. You also burn yourself out on your own work, and because you have spent so much time on it, you end up not wanting to let your players abandon it.

2. Find out which adventure structure works with your groups the best. Some groups like to be "Railroaded". Some like the illusion of freedom. Some like dungeon crawls while others like political intrigue.
 
For this group, I have only run published dungeon crawls. Their choices were limited to "this door or that door?". A lot of times, they'd end up checking both doors before moving on. For this session, I modeled the structure after a Shadowrun adventure.

Well, really, it's a structure people use for all types of games. Instead of creating a chain of probable events, I just jotted down locations, enemies, friends and their motivations. I had some ideas for scenarios if the PCs went here or there, but for the most part the PCs had the freedom to go and do whatever they wanted. I created two things to steer them on course if they "got lost" in the scenario: A mysterious man reading a newspaper (an agent of law who lurked in New York City) and when the bad guys' evil ritual kicked off, there would be a swirling vortex above a skyscraper roof (like in Ghostbusters) that would be visible anywhere in the city.

We proceeded to have an adventure where Old School fantasy heroes showed up in an extremely-cheesy version of 1986 New York, complete with a hobo with a one-liner, an evil gang of karate guys (snatched out of the karate kid and re-branded to the Chaos Karate Dojo) and the weird sorcerer from Big Trouble in Little China.

The player of the party cleric loves playing snipers in first person shooters. So his cleric ended up with a sniper rifle, where he sniped everyone he could find.

The bottom line is that the players hope to go back to New York City again, and their faith in the game has been re-invigorated. Now we will begin running the 4th level published adventures. Maybe a change of pace once in a while can help keep the players (and me) interested in a long-term campaign.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

White Plume Mountain - Wave in Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition

A lot of the art in this blog post comes from the epic White Plume Mountain walkthrough map by Mock Man Press. You can buy this as a poster for 20 bucks! It is sort of essential for any true D&D room.

We had more confusion tonight at the game store. I had been previously told that tonight was to be a character-making session for the Adventurers' League. Two weeks ago I told my players we'd wrap up White Plume Mountain tonight, and then I'd go over character making and hand out their faction folders.

In the new season, each player has to join one of five factions. They are given a folder with faction stuff in it, along with a character sheet and other cool stuff.

Somewhere between then and now, the store had decided that not only would this week be a character-making session, but so would next week. But I'd already told my players differently, and three of them were on vacation this week, and would be showing up next week with a fully-made character, expecting to start it off.
 
Long story short: The season starts next week. We have about 14 players right now, so we'll have two DMs. The store owner will be running the other table.

Before we began, I thoroughly went over the player's guide for the upcoming season with the group. I told them about downtime, and went over - in great detail - the bad behavior section. They were most amused at the concept of table-flipping.

As for tonight, we finished up White Plume Mountain, converted to 5e (the final playtest packet version of 5e). Now that it's done, I can honestly say it is one of the most enjoyable adventures ever made. It is fun from start to finish.

Our heroes had Blackrazor, and they had Whelm. All that was left was Wave, the trident. They regrouped by the mangy sphinx, and headed up the north hallway.

I should probably mention that I forgot to bring the adventure. I prepared this adventure by going through it and writing four pages of notes, so I'd retain everything and have a cheat sheet with everything I needed at a glance. This has for the millionth time paid off, as I was able to run the entire final section of the adventure off of memory and my papers with every little detailed notated.

Room 10. The Kelpies

This room has deep water, where two seaweed-mermaids known as kelpies lurk. They drown-kiss you. They also have a piece of art in the back of the book that depicts them... topless. For the benefit of the younger players, I re-flavored the kiss and neglected to have them ogle the seaweed bewbs.

This room involved a lot of heavy-armor swimming shenanigans, something that's been rampant in my games for the past few months. There was a nice deal of switching out weapons for ones that worked in underwater situations (javelin = good, maul = bad).

The heroes took down the kelpies in a most brutal fashion and looted their underwater cave.

Room 11. The Spinning Hallway
 
This hallway is like the inside of a tube that spins... and ha slick oil in it. As the party paladin stumbled through it, a slot opened in the door on the far side. An enemy guard fired a flaming arrow, igniting the oil!

What followed was an epic encounter as the bad guys would open the door, attack, then close it. The party had a hard time both getting across the hall, and figuring out how to handle this.

The bad guys are cool, too. There's Burket the "alert guard". And there's his significant other, Snarla, a mage who is also... a werewolf. Why? Why not?! The players minds were blown when she transformed after pelting them with a fireball.

One hero flung his javelin into Burket's chest. Then the dwarf threw Whelm so that it "hammered" the javelin clear through, killing Burket. Snarla howled in sorrow as the paladin had at last made it through the hall and cut her down.

Room 17. The Boiling Lake

This is hard to describe. Check out the picture. There's a giant crab in a sort of force-room inside a lake. The force wall is like a thin skin - it can be pierced. The giant crab guards a treasure chest that indeed contains Wave.

The dwarf decided to use Whelm's shockwave power, even though it would hurt his friends. He slammed his hammer on the ground, letting out a wave of energy that injured the crab, his friends.. and the walls. The wall began to burst. Water shot out from multiple apertures.

The encounter became about snatching wave before the whole lake crashed down on them. The crab grabbing them in his mighty pincers didn't help, either.

But they dropped the crab and escaped in the nick of time. Our heroes had completed one of the classic adventures of all time.

A running joke about White Plume Mountain is how the heroes always kept the artifacts instead of handing them over to their benefactor. In this case, it was the Duke of Daggerford.

Well, guess what? This group, who snatched Lawflame from the Duke's grasp and fight over possession of every little item, handed over all three artifacts to the Duke in a unanimous decision. I was blown away.

I can't say enough good things about this adventure. It is fantastic and hilarious.

The group is really fired up for Horde of the Dragon Queen. I will have a full report for you next week.

Shadowrun 5th Edition - The Essentials

I run four role-playing games a week.

Monday: Dungeon Crawl Classics
Wednesday: D&D 5th Edition Adventurer's League
Thursday: D&D 4th Edition
Sunday: Shadowrun 5th edition

Dungeons & Dragons 5e is just rolling out. People on twitter and in my game store are frothing at the mouth over the new Player's Handbook. But all I really care about is Shadowrun.

Why? The Shadowrun 5th Edition rulebook is a jumbled, 500-page mess. The rules are ridiculously complicated.

And yet every session is awesome. We have motorcycle fights. My players pick up babes and dudes in sleazy bars. They meet noir-ish detectives who smoke cigarettes and say things like:

I'm an occasional drinker, the kind of guy who goes out for a beer and wakes up in Singapore with a full beard.” (I steal quotes from Raymond Chandler novels)

My runners live with a ridiculous college party girl named Lacey Heels. She stole 40,000 nuyen for them. They went to the dean of her college's house and blackmailed him into giving her all A's without her having to attend classes.

There have been bar fights, motorcycle thefts, motorcycle races, motorcycle explosions, corrupt politicians and a gigantic cyberzombie that nearly killed our orc street samurai. It took him over a week of convalescing to recover from the wounds.

In the last 6 months of our 5e D&D campaign, I have tried to get the campaign to have the "reading-a-novel-and-I-can't-put-it-down" feeling. We instantly had that feeling in the first session of Shadowrun and it shows no signs of slowing down.

The characters are building relationships, the players are invested in the story, and they even care about some of the NPCs. It helps when you luck out and end up with a "superstar" NPC that the PCs can't get enough of. The characters love Lacey Heels and have adopted her meticulously-planned partying lifestyle (She keeps a schedule. Sunday is Cuddle Day, for example. You have to put on your pajamas and cuddle all day).

Here are what I think are the essential things you need to know and do to get a good game of Shadowrun going.

1. Listen to Podcasts

Check out Critical Glitch. Listen to this session of Hiddengrid. It has a combat where you can get the idea of how things work, and it's very funny too. The main thing you will learn is that Shadowrun, despite all of its' hard-to-find rules, is a very loose game. The story is largely in the hands of the players. This game is all about investigations, planning, sneaking and intense shootouts.

2. Know the Basics of Combat. Take Notes in Advance!

It is so hard to find the sample NPCs in the pdf. Do this in advance. Take the enemy stat block and distill it to the core. NPC stats are on page 381 - burn it into your brain! Get a piece of paper, or make a word file to refer to during the game.

This game is all about rolling a certain number of d6's (this game only uses six-sided dice). Each 5 or 6 rolled is counted as one "hit".  The more "hits", the better you've done.

If you're using these ganger stats pictured here, mark this down:

Initiative: 6+d6
Attack: (gun) 8 dice, 8 physical damage, -1 Armor Penetration
Defense: 6 dice
Armor: 13 dice

You should know that Attack is Pistols + Agility, Defense is Reaction + Intuition, and Armor is Armor + Body.

That's it. once you have this down, you can run Shadowrun. 

Take notes on any items or rules situations that may come up in the session at hand, like the car chase rules or drug stats.

Remember that Initiative is weird. After everyone goes, subtract ten from everyone's initiative total, and pass through again with everyone who still has a positive number for initiative.

3. Read a Shadowrun Novel

I generally do not enjoy fiction. I can binge-read non-fiction like Into the Wild or William Shatner's Star Trek Memories (and I don't even like Star Trek), but I can't force myself to get through most fantasy or sci-fi novels.

So I did some research on Shadowrun forums. The general feeling is that a good book to start with is Into the Shadows, a book full of linked short stories by different authors.

I tried it but couldn't get into it. So I went with plan B. A guy on a message board declared that "Nigel Findley is Shadowrun". Nigel wrote about four Shadowrun novels, and a pile of Shadowrun supplements. I always liked Nigel's D&D Spelljammer stuff. His flavor text that told you how to feel and what you said always amused me, but also grabbed me by how well it flowed.

I tracked down his first Shadowrun novel, 2XS, and I read the whole thing. It is about a private detective who gets mixed up in a too-complicated conspiracy involving a cyber-drug called 2XS. The book is valuable because it gives you a feel for the setting and demonstrates a lot of its' concepts. I especially loved his depiction of what it is like in the Matrix:

"The pitch-black sky is crisscrossed by intermittent beams of light in more colors than have names, each looking solid as steel. The 'ground' is black, too, with the same kind of network of intersecting lines. And scattered throughout the space between are big glowing icons that represent nodes within the Matrix. I could pick out the shapes of the ones nearby-a perfectly mirrored sphere, a ruby-red pyramid, an image of the Space Needle, a pagoda glaring in eye-piercing green-but the ones more distant were just specks of light. Toward the electron horizons, the discrete icons blurred together until they looked like an impressionist cityscape shining into a starless sky."

I also appreciated that our hero was not some trenchcoat badass superdude. He got scared a lot and he ran away quite a bit. Dirk Montgomery was mortal. He didn't have all the answers, but he was determined to find out what happened to his sister. And he'd cozy up to the ice-cold corp babe who was somehow involved, if she'd just stop trying to kill him.

My favorite character in the novel was Buddy, a decker (a person who plugs into The Matrix). She was in her 50's and had a fairly pathetic apartment. All she cared about was The Matrix. Inside The Matrix, she was a beautiful woman in a green gown. Dirk assumed that this was how Buddy used to look, and how she still saw herself. Her "meat body" was merely an inconvenience.

4. Populate Your World with NPCS and Locations

Find out in advance who your players' contacts are (each character has a few NPC friends aka "contacts" who can help them get information or items). Get ideas from them on what their contacts are like. Make a list of interesting people for the PCs to meet. Let your style shine through. You'll need surly gang members, weary bartenders, haughty corporate types, down on their luck homeless dudes, and a buddy with a heart of gold who can get you any illegal weapon for a reasonable price.

Make up a bunch of bars and dance clubs each with a different gimmick. Most Shadowrun games are set in Seattle, so you can dig through the pile of sourcebooks and take or modify locations to suit your taste.

5. Check Out a Published Adventure to Study the Structure
Cyberzombie!

The modules are fun to read. They are not like D&D adventures. This game is all about getting hired, getting double-crossed, and above all else - investigation. Your heroes need to do their legwork or they are in deep trouble. The adventures give you a good feel for how the game can be run, and what things you need to have ready for your scenario to run smoothly. Some of the most well-regarded adventures include Queen Euphoria, Dreamchipper and Mercurial. Remember that these are from an obsolete edition, so you'll have to fix the stats to run them properly (which doesn't take long). They cost a measly four bucks!

6. Know What You Need to Know, Slowly Roll Out the Rest

Find out what your players are running, and read up on all of the relevant rules. Don't worry about the rest. If the party has a spellcaster, read up on magic. If the players are using pregens, look them over and take notes on what you need to know. The pregen sheets are weirdly organized. We have played four sessions and the players still can't find stuff on them.

7. Gear Is a Big Deal

Shadowrun is all about the gear. Guns, cyberware, grenades, security devices and motorcycles are what the game is all about. Know what your players have, and use a few new devices each session, to show your players the cool stuff and to encourage them to use it.

8. Dig Up Inspiring Art to Help You Come Up With Ideas

All you need to do is start on page one of this thread. There is, as of now, 122 pages full of Shadowrun art to use as you will.

9. Know the Healing Rules (Page 205)

Your heroes probably won't get hurt much. But when they do, it is a big deal. Your runners are going to want to have medkits (they give bonuses to your healing dice pool) and the First Aid skill. They get a chance to heal physical damage within the first hour of taking it. Then they roll to heal once per day. This makes sense. I mean, you just got shot. You're likely going to be in bed for a while. Our orc street samurai spent a week of rest and still hadn't fully healed.

Once they have some money, your runners will want to buy Doc Wagon contracts. Doc Wagon is a company that sends ambulances of medical people with guns who will drive into a warzone if necessary to pull you out. If a medical personnel dies during the extraction, you'll be charged an extra 20,000 nuyen.

And remember, a critical glitch on a healing roll is bad. Which is why you...

10. Do Not Forget About Edge!

Edge points can be used to save you, basically. You can spend an edge point to re-roll every die that missed (!), to move to the top of the initiative order, to negate a glitch, and most importantly it can be used to sort of save you from dying.

Steven A. Tinner of Critical Glitch said that Edge was a little secret of the game that can help insure that you don't ever die. Which is nice!

Your bad guys can use Edge, too. They have edge points according to their professional rating. You might want to use this sparingly, or only in "boss fights", until you see how your group fares in combat situations.

Do not let the rulebook dissuade you. Shadowrun is a game worth playing!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

White Plume Mountain - Whelm in 5th Edition

I am a little mixed-up. I didn't realize that the tyranny of dragons season kicks off next Wednesday. I have been told that next week is supposed to be a character-making week. Is that true?

I hate wasting a session on character building. If I have enough players, I want to run a session. It feels like a waste to spend that time making characters. That can be done at any other time in the week!

I picked up the full hardcover of Hoard of the Dragon Queen. I love the paper they used in the book. It's not shiny like the 4e paper, and sturdier. I don't have to worry about my greasy fingers smearing ink. The paper also somehow makes the color on each page look very... full... if that makes sense.

The store owner had warned me the other day to expect a flood of players. Apparently there is a lot of interest in the upcoming season! I am already over the limit with 8 players, so hopefully we can get some more DMs.

It truly fascinates me that so few people want to be a DM. I sometimes almost feel sorry for the players when I run games. They have to sit there and wait for their turn. How boring. I am constantly active as a DM. I have more than enough to do. People are missing out.

We continued our exploration of White Plume Mountain, a classic 1st edition adventure converted to 5th edition. Last time, they went through the legendary tiered room and then killed an ogre mage. Blackrazor, the soul-sucking sword, was claimed by Brony, who plays a dwarf.

The adventurers doubled back to the sphinx, and headed down the tunnel to the right which ultimately leads to Whelm).

Room 3 - The Green Slime: The hallway has 1-2 feet of water in it. Algae floats on the water. Thus, this makes it impossible for our heroes to see the GREEN SLIME lurking on the floor! What a simple, clever trap.

Brony ended up having his boots and pants burned off. Most of the group wasn't sure what to do, so they did nothing (!). Brony hooked a grappling hooked into the ceiling and climbed the rope. The slime clung to his lower half, but he had pulled it out of the water. This meant that the adventurers could target the slime!

Of course, hitting the slime causes half damage to Brony as well. And even worse, a few arrows missed the slime but hit the Brony! A final devastating swipe from the flaming sword Lawflame destroyed the slime. It was a memorable encounter.

The Flesh Golem Math Puzzle: There are flesh golems with numbers on them. They give you 60 seconds to figure out which one of them doesn't belong. I won't spoil it, but it's a fairly common math question. The paladin figured it out almost immediately, and gained a flesh golem sidekick.

The Boiling Mud Platform Room: This room is a huge cavern.  Boiling mud is 50 feet below. If you fall in... you die. Far across the room is a ledge with the exit door. Haning from the ceiling from chains are short wooden discs. Basically, you have to jump from platform to platform to cross the room. To make things worse, geysers of boiling mud shoot into the air every few minutes.

This was beyond epic. The rogue tried to jump from platform to platform. He rolled horribly. He fell into the mud. I ruled that the PCs had one round to save him before he died. More bad rolls happened, as a PC tied a rope to an arrow and shot it toward the rogue... and rolled a one. He rolled again to see if he hit the rogue.. he did. The arrow plunged into the poor rogue, and they pulled him out!

The paladin had an awesome idea. He decided to swing across the room from chain to chain, like Tarzan (or like Shia LeBouf and the CGI monkeys from Indiana Jones for you younger people). He rolled... extremely poorly. He plunged into the mud. A rope-arrow was fired into him, and he was pulled out.

Once a PC came out of the mud, I ruled that they had 0 HP and were dying. The PCs had to administer aid or give them a potion to keep them from perishing.

The party cleric had a spell called Air Walk. This allowed him to walk across the room with no trouble at all.

The group had gotten excited and loud. They had been drowning out the party wizard, who kept trying to tell them that she had spider climb. Finally, she got them to listen. They tied two 50 foot ropes together, and she spider climbed to the far side. The ends of the ropes were tied to convenient stalagmites or whatever. Now they could climb the rope across instead of jumping from platform to platform, right?

Nope! They didn't want to climb. They wanted to use it as a zipline! What a great idea. One by one, using bows or staves, they zipped across the room. The paladin went last. A geyser went off, striking and scalding him. He held on and made it across.

Once it was over, the party realized they probably could have used the bag of holding to make this trip easier. The wizard could have carried them across in the bag one at a time (spider climb lasts for one hour).

This encounter took up the bulk of the session and was one of the greatest things I've done in D&D in years.

The Vampire: In a room full of perpetual darkness was Ctenmiir, the vampire. He charmed a rogue, negotiated a bit, and finally a brawl broke out. Darkness is interesting: The PC has disadvantage to hit, and enemies have advantage to hit him.
 
The vampire was defeated. His horde was sifted through - behold, the mighty hammer: Whelm! Brony has Blackrazor, which is one of the three artifacts in this adventure. He is a dwarf. Whelm is made for dwarves! It is +5 in the hands of a dwarf.

Brony literally screamed that he wanted it, and an argument broke out at the table. He wanted two artifacts? I explained to him that the whole group needed to come to a consensus. I could see people getting mad.

He rolled the rogue for Whelm. Brony won. He handed Blackrazor to Hack and Slash Guy. Brony has Whelm.

It was a bit of noisy unpleasantness at the end, but I'd still give this session the rare 10 out of 10. This is truly a fun adventure.

The Dungeon Master Basic Rules - Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition

I hear that Wizards of the Coast has put up the basic rules for Dungeon Masters. Seeing how this is a blog by a Dungeon Master for Dungeon Masters, I think we need to probe it thoroughly.

They also updated the players' basic rules pdf. That was fast. They added a few spells, a background, the Forgotten Realms gods and the five factions in the Adventurers' League.

The list of the gods takes up an entire page. I'd prefer a small list, as most players aren't going to remember more than 3 of them anyway. I understand that the Realms has a massive pantheon so I guess this shouldn't be so shocking.

I really like the little silhouettes they put on the character sheets. It's not a full-fledged piece of art like a Dungeon Crawl Classics character sheet, but it is a cool touch.

All right, enough of that player stuff. Let's check out the Dungeons & Dragons DM Basic Rules. It is completely free, found right here.

The thing jumps right into discussion about monsters. Monster hit points is partly determined by size, which is in this table here called "Hit Dice by Size". A gargantuan creature gets d20 hit points per hit die! That is crazy.

I do not like the "average HP per die". Do you really have to put the "1/2" there? Can't we just simplify it? This is the basic rules, strip it down for the love of gawd.

Monsters have Challenge Ratings. A monster with a challenge level 3 is an appropriate challenge for 3rd level characters. The challenge ratings actually go all the way up to level 30.

Looking through the monsters, it appears that 4 zombies are a challenge for level one PCs. A Manticore is a challenge for level 3 PCs. A frost giant is a challenge for level 8 PCs... I'll say. It swings twice with +9 to hit and does 25 damage!
 
There's a box about one of the most historically headachey rules in RPG history: Grappling. Escape a grapple with Athletics/Acrobatics. The DC will be in the stat block. If it is not, then it is 10+ the monster's STR modifier.

There's these things called Lair Actions. Certain legendary monsters have them. On initiative count 20, the creature can use a lair action option.

I was going to list some examples, but there is only one monster in the entire document with Lair Actions:

Adult Red Dragon: Magma erupts from a point in the ground within 120 feet of the dragon. Make a DEX save or take some hefty damage! That is so awesome, I can't even...

I don't want to list the rest, just in case there are players reading. No sense in spoiling it! But that's the basic idea for Lair Actions. That is a really great idea.

The rest of the document is just monster stats. It's a very simple pdf, not much to it.

The monsters are organized alphabetically. They are not grouped by type, like in some previous editions. In 4e, dragons were all listed under the "Dragons" entry. In this edition, "Adult Red Dragon" is in the letter "A" section. Seems like it might cause confusion. I guess there's pluses and minuses to any way of organizing them.

There are stats for mundane animals, even camels and deer. Dinosaurs are in here, too, under their actual dino-names.
 
Fun Facts:

- Monsters that can burrow cannot burrow through solid rock.
- You don't have to see someone to communicate with them via telepathy.
- A monster with multi-attack can only make a single melee attack for an opportunity attack.
- Monsters with bows are assumed to have 2d10 arrows with them (I'll just say they have 10.. yeesh)

This is basically a pdf full of monster stats, with an emphasis on basic animals like dogs and elk. Works for me!

I am really happy about this new edition. I hope it is well-received. I guess we will see soon enough.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The 13th Skull - Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG

The DCC RPG 2014 World Tour shows no sign of stopping here in my game store. But it is getting a little stuffy in there..

Apparently there is some new Magic: The Gathering thing going on. There's some real life plastic axe you can win..? There's a metric ton of humanity packed into the game store as a result.

On top of that, the Pokemon CCG has somehow surged in popularity and they are also running tournaments.

The result is that it is really loud and crowded - not at all an ideal place to be when trying to run a tabletop RPG.

Our heroes lost their favorite NPC last week - captured by Sezrekan the Mad. This week they went to save her. I knew that The 13th Skull was an adventure about rescuing a Duke's daughter, and it was mere child's play to replace the daughter with our miniature woman of extraordinary beauty.

I made up some story about how the villain of this adventure told Sezrekan the location of the Balance Blade in exchange for the miniature woman. With the miniature woman, he could complete a ritual. Her skull - the 13th skull - is the last one needed.

The adventurers tracked down the entrance to the dungeon in some ancient city ruins. In they went...

The Sepulcher: This is a pretty epic room. there's 13 coffins, alcoves full of bones, and tomb shadows. The tomb shadows are an old-timey kind of monster that just can't be hurt by physical attacks. You have to hit them with a spell or try to turn them.

Basically, you look down at your shadow in the torchlight and see that you have two other shadows that aren't behaving at all like your normal shadow. The shadows begin sapping your strength stat, one point per round!

The heroes got a bit panicky and critically failed some spell checks, but finally repelled them with a spell.
They found a secret stairwell in the 13th coffin that lead them down to a vast cavern with a river, a huge column, a hole to hell (!) and some other stuff.

The Stinking Pit of Hell: In the river is a.. hole. It emits noxious gas. Every half-hour, different types of devils come out. It's kind of left up to the DM's discretion. They offer three types of DCC-weird devils, like worms with legs that end in hands, flying black toadstools, and 4-eyes and 4-legged devils that shoot lasers.

I was wondering if the adventurers would jump into the pit. It leads to hell. We're kind of on our own at that point, but I figured I'd read up so much on D&D Hell that I could handle it if it came to it.

They left the stinking it alone.

The River: Every single session, this group comes across a body of water. Every single time, they jump in, forgetting that their plate mail gives them a -8 to their swim checks, almost guaranteeing that they sink right to the bottom!

I couldn't believe it, but it would have happened again if I hadn't given them a reminder. On top of that, the river had a strong current which could send them plunging down a waterfall into a chasm, likely never to be seen again.

Thankfully they took their time and crossed safely.

The Book of Planes: The heroes headed into a hallway that brought them to an awesome room. Here's the deal. There's a 300 pound book of metal. Each page can take you to a different plane - if someone has built a statue to create a guardian for that plane. There are two statues. Did our heroes turn a page and travel to another plane? Of course they dif!

They appeared in the Plane of Water. They left quickly. It's too bad. They appear on an island, and a talking wave is supposed to come up and angrily ask them if there is any news for "The Water Lords". Then, when their answer doesn't satisfy the wave, a dozen more waves show up. Maybe the heroes will go back there some time.
 
The heroes turned to the other active page... and they went to "The 417th Level of Hell". It's so hot that you take a point of damage each round. There, in hell, a barbed devil had the miniature woman of extraordinary beauty tied up. It was going to sacrifice her.

Well - it would have, if not for a good roll on a magic missile spell that fired one massive plasma beam for 4d12+4 damage! The devil was dead in one shot.

She was rescued. The heroes left the dungeon (they never actually battled the Silver Skull), carrying this 300 pound book with them.

They made plans. They are going to renovate the fortress near their town (the keep from Sailors on the Starless Sea... you know, the one with the well of souls and the huge misty hole in the ground). They are going to place the Book of Planes there, and build some statues (one old PC in town is a dwarven stonecarver, as fate would have it). They want to make portals.

This will work out well. They can make a portal to The Court of Chaos. They will learn that Sezrekan traded the Balance Blade to the court in exchange for a bunch of stuff.

Next week, our heroes are going to go and oppose their old enemies in the court and try to steal the Balance Blade right from under their nose.

It was an OK session. It ran short, and it was very noisy in the store. I'd give it a 7 out of 10.

The adventure is pretty good. I like the Joseph Goodman ones. He puts in some really creative and inspiring stuff. The Book of Planes is a great addition to the campaign.