Tuesday, July 30, 2013

I Think I'm In Love With a Game Company

This has never happened, I swear.

It's been a long time since I've been an unrepentant fanboy for a single game company. But I had one of those moments yesterday when I realized that there's a whole passel of games I've ogled in the past - The One Ring, The Laundry, Starblazer Adventures, Legends of Anglerre, Qin - that are all made by the same company. Holy cats!

They've even got games I'm ogling that haven't even come out yet. A dedicated retro-pulp sci-fi RPG? Where have you been all my life? And then the final nail in the coffin came courtesy of the announcement (which I'd sort of forgotten about until I was browsing the Cubicle 7 website yesterday) that Joe Dever had taken his Lone Wolf license away from Mongoose (finally!) and taken it to C7. So hopefully we'll see a proper, kick-ass Lone Wolf RPG before long. (Or should I say a proper English-language LWRPG - the French already have one.)

I recently picked up Legends of Anglerre with an eye towards working up a FATE conversion of Uresia: Grave of Heaven. It is therefore the first Cubicle 7 game in my collection. I can't help but think I'll be adding several more to my shelves in the future. So much for system mastery. . . but then I suppose becoming a drooling fan boy for a single company is, uh, sort of like system mastery. Right?

Friday, July 26, 2013

Specific Answers for Random Questions

When a Random Wizard poses questions, you answer! 
Actually, truth be told, when two of my favorite bloggers post their answers, I'm inclined to join in, despite the fact that I'm not playing much of any D&D these days, nor have I really done so for quite some time. But as someone still seriously pondering whether to adopt "B/X-style" D&D as his third system of choice (alongside BRP and Savage Worlds), consider these the answers of a long-time D&D ex-pat contemplating a return to the homeland.

(1). Race (Elf, Dwarf, Halfling) as a class? Yes or no?
Absolutely. As others have pointed out, it makes playing a Human much more appealing, and I like me some Human-centric fantasy. Plus, race-as-class allows for some truly unique class options (like how Dungeon Crawl Classics does Elves.) I am toying with the idea of a very simple "kit" system ala AD&D 2E that would allow for some variety, however.

(2). Do demi-humans have souls?
Sure, why not? My fantasy world of choice, Uresia, pretty much assumes that everything has a soul--even the wind! I've never been a huge fan of resurrection or reincarnation magic, so the question didn't come up too often in my games.

(3). Ascending or descending armor class?
Descending all the way. Because if I'm going to be running old school D&D, why not embrace the idiosyncrasies?

(4). Demi-human level limits?
As other bloggers have pointed out, campaigns rarely last long enough for this to matter. But again, why not? (Plus see humano-centric statement above.)

(5). Should thief be a class?
Totally, as long as thief skills are treated as extraordinary versions of everyday activities. (Saying that only thieves can move silently or pick pockets is a bit like saying only fighters can swing swords.) As Rients points out, it's a class the DM needs to take a close look at, as they have a tendency to be either over- or under-powered depending on edition, but it's never something a little careful house-ruling can't fix.

(6). Do characters get non-weapon skills?
I use the skill system from Rules Cyclopedia to add a bit of spice, but if I want a skill-heavy game I'll play BRP.

(7). Are magic-users more powerful than fighters (and, if yes, what level do they take the lead)?
"Zero to hero" can get a bit overhyped, but when it comes to magic-users, I'm still a fan of a massively swingy power progression. Fifth level is the all-time classic milestone.

(8). Do you use alignment languages?
Lord no. I like my game worlds to have lots of different languages, but alignment tongues ain't it. (Outside of Celstials and Demons and such.)

(9). XP for gold, or XP for objectives (thieves disarming traps, etc...)?
XP for gold and carousing with secondary XP for monster-slaying, exploration, etc.

(10). Which is the best edition; ODD, Holmes, Moldvay, Mentzer, Rules Cyclopedia, 1E ADD, 2E ADD, 3E ADD, 4E ADD, Next ?
If we take "best" to mean "most concise presentation of the rules while still remaining true to the 'spirit' of D&D", then I vote the Cyclopedia. If we take it to mean "consistently best mechanical design", I vote 4E. If we take it to mean "purest", then I vote OD&D. If we take it to mean "the edition one feels most fondly for", it'd be 2E. The fact that none of those are my edition of choice tells me it's a pretty meaningless term.

Bonus Question: Unified XP level tables or individual XP level tables for each class?
Definitely individual. Dubious questions of "balancing" classes aside, it's just another one of those D&D idiosyncrasies I like so much.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

It's My Planet, Motherfucker (Soundtrack, That Is)

"Master of the Seas" by Rafael Gallur
Jack Shear at Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque has put together a wonderfully trashy post-apoclyptic/grindhouse setting called Planet Motherfucker. (Even better is that he had the good taste and consideration to provide stats [what few there are] for Savage Worlds, one of my systems du jour.)

My copy is yet to arrive from Lulu, but I've gotten a pretty good vibe for the setting from the series of posts that preceded publication. And now there's a bit of a bandwagon going on with putting together "music from and inspired by," as it were. Not only can I hardly resist a bandwagon, I really can't resist the opportunity to throw a soundtrack together. Since Jack's "official" soundtrack covers psychobilly and horror-punk pretty well, I decided to focus for the most part on garage rock and proto-punk, two musical styles that I think go very well with the setting's vibe and how I plan to run it. (I also couldn't resist throwing "Astro Zombies" on there in honor of its runner-up status on the OST.)

1. "Blue's Theme" Davie Allan & The Arrows
2. "Fun House" The Stooges
3. "10 Years After World War 4" Man Or Astro-man?
4. "Demolicion" Los Saicos
5. "Sweet Little Hi-Fi" Pussy Galore
6. "One Step Beyond (Fear)" Harry Lubin Orchestra
7. "Strychnine" The Sonics
8. "The Human Being Lawn Mower" The MC5
9. "Sadist 69" Satan's Satyrs
10. "Satan's Theme" The Challengers
11. "Have Love Will Travel" The Black Keys
12. "Astro Zombies" The Misfits
13. "Stick Shift" The Trashmen
14. "Manos"

Now on with the show (in the form of a YouTube playlist). . .

Sunday, July 7, 2013

How I Run the Great Pendragon Campaign

It's been quite some time since my last Solo GPC update, but this hasn't been for lack of playing. In fact, it's been the playing that's been most responsible for my lack of updating - the inertia of the close of the campaign draws us inexorably forward, and we find ourselves playing at least a session a week, oftentimes more. As of Friday's session, we are now officially less than 10 years from the Big Finale. Once everything's wrapped up, I'll have more time for writing and regular updates will recommence (with memory aids provided by the recordings I've made of the sessions).

In the meantime, I thought I'd write a bit about how I structure a typical session. This will obviously be of greatest utility to those running The Great Pendragon Campaign, but hopefully it will be of general interest as well. I'll be using our last session (Year 556) as an example; for the sake of future updates, I'll endeavor to keep spoilers as mild as possible.

As I wrote way back in 2008 in an analysis of my first experience of using the GPC, the book is structured not so much as a conventional Adventure Path or similar but rather as a framework to direct your own group's adventures and provide context for the larger game world. Perhaps a better metaphor would be to think of your own campaign as a river and the GPC as the banks of the river: sometimes those banks widen and allow your river to meander, and other times they close in and channel your river through a stretch of rocky narrows.

So the first thing I make sure to do is to keep reading ahead in the GPC, usually 5-10 years in advance, so that I can anticipate when those narrows might be coming up (and, in earlier years especially, get an idea of which seemingly minor characters are going to become more prominent in the story). Some years dictate certain events as being mandatory to the campaign, and plans are made accordingly. Assuming that's not the case, I then re-read the game year, noting the major events described in that year and seeing if any might prove a natural fit with the interests or plans of the player group. (If not, they at least provide fodder for gossip and Intrigue rolls.)

This whole time, I'll also be maintaining a short list of scenarios I'd like to run in a given Period. Thanks to the miracle of PDFs, I have the whole back catalog of Pendragon scenarios to draw upon (to say nothing of fan-generated material!), and over the last three years I've been gradually familiarizing myself with them, so I keep an eye out for opportunities created either in-game or in the text of the GPC. For example, as we're in the thick of the Grail Quest period right now, my short list consists of some of the more overtly Christian-themed scenarios available.

This past session provides an excellent example of the whole process in action. A couple years previous, the Grail Feast had occurred, which meant that year was to be dominated by scripted events. But this year things were relatively wide open. I thought it would be a good chance to throw one of those Christian-themed scenarios at Des. An encounter in the previous year actually provided an excellent lead-in and I adapted the beginning of the scenario accordingly. (Just like with D&D modules, Pendragon scenarios should be trimmed, edited, or added to as appropriate to make them fit better into the ongoing campaign.) However, I didn't simply want to plop the scenario down and say, "You have to go this." (Not this time, at least - I have no compunctions about doing that if the scenario comes at the behest of the PC's feudal lord. That's part of playing a knight!) Looking over the scripted events for the year, I saw there was going to be fighting (unbeknownst to our intrepid PC or any of his allies) in the very region the planned scenario was to take place. Excellent! I love complicating a scenario with larger events like wars. I decided that I'd dangle the scenario hook, but I'd also put out the hook that Gawaine was recruiting an army, knowing that the army's stated mission would be of interest to the PC. I then sketched out a rough timeline so that I'd have an idea of when the war would be fought so that I could work that in with PC activity.

As it turned out, Des decided to go for the scenario hook. Her character arrived in the region just as the war was getting started. Her PC even spotted columns of smoke far off on the horizon as he entered the region, but chose to ignore them in favor of the current mission. So it was that when he returned from his quest, he ran smack into a city under siege and Gawaine's army (which had intended to march to a destination 100 miles away) unexpectedly nearby, responding to the emergency. Larger events intruding on smaller concerns.

And that's what makes the GPC so much fun. It's a guide for how to bring the world of Arthurian Britain alive by keeping the larger gears turning in the background. Sometimes the PCs get caught up in those gears, sometimes they get to witness the turning from afar. I've described the GPC as a semi-sandbox in the past because, for any given year, it enables the GM to present two or three or more potential plot hooks to the players. This isn't as much work as it sounds, either. At the end of the day, it's a matter of integrating PC actions and motivations with modular scenarios and programmed events. The trick, just as with any campaign, is organization and a willingness to improvise as opportunities present themselves.

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