Monday, January 9, 2012

Spring Cleaning

I’m cleaning my office right now and I found and old notebook with writing on only one page. It says, “The Lord Galthere, Earl of Westfall, seeks the aid of loyal men-at-arms. Our lands and homes are jeopardized by the base aggression of our neighbors. Great rewards offered for brave service.”

It is clearly my handwriting, but it doesn’t really ring any bells for me. Go figure.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

She Kills Monsters

Today I played D&D at the Flea Theater. They were kind enough to invite our meetup group to play in their space this morning and see the play She Kills Monsters after the game. I had a thoroughly good time at the game and the play.

We started in the lobby of the theater at about 10 this morning. It was an interesting mix for the first 20 minutes as members of the D&D meetup group were mingling with participants in their playwriting workshop. Eventually the groups split up and we got down to business. I ran ELTU03-02 Blue Wounds, the first part of a major quest that revolves around an outbreak of the spellplague in Elturel. My party was small but dedicated, and they managed to fight their way through hordes of plaguechanged monsters to save some innocent citizens. My players were a mix of brand new and experienced, and everyone got into the game and had fun.

As the actors from the show started trickling in, several of them sat down to observe parts of the game. They watched, asked questions, and were generally very pleasant.

The game wrapped up around 2 so the theater could get the lobby ready for the show. Having some time to kill before curtain at 3, I took a walk South on Broadway and happened across some sort of Occupy march. It stretched across at least 4 short blocks and filled the entire sidewalk. I couldn’t hear what they were chanting, but they were making quite a ruckus; the signs that I could read from my vantage point included gay rights, pacifist and economic messages.

Back at the theater, I waited in the lobby for a few minutes before the house opened. They had a display of some line drawings which were apparently inspired by a D&D campaign run with the express purpose of getting artists’ to react to it. Members of the theater staff chatted nearby with some of the players from the morning about everything from top shelf vodka to gaming.

The show itself was a lot of fun. The story revolves around a woman getting to know her sister by playing the D&D adventure that her sister wrote. The intertwined ‘real-life’ and ‘adventure’ worlds interact in both humorous and poignant ways. The game is treated seriously enough to satisfy gamers, but should still appeal to a lay-audience. I was most impressed by the detailed and imaginative props. I won’t give too much away, but I will say that it is worth watching just to see some iconic D&D monsters brought to life on the stage so effectively. It runs through most of December, so check it out if you can.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Windows Live Writer and a quick Dungeon Tiles tip

This is a test post to see if I like using WIndows Live Writer. It seems fine so far, and it might save me the occasional ‘blogger lost my progress after 20 minutes of using the stupid in-browser editor’ problems.

Now for the quick tip:

If you are like me, you get frustrated when your dungeon tiles slip and slide around the table. I love my tiles, but I rarely use them because of this exact issue. You can certainly solve this by using scotch tape to mount the tiles to a board ahead of time, but that adds a lot of prep time, and it isn’t convenient to carry around a bunch of pre-assembled maps on the subway. For convenience, I usually just tote around a roll-up wet-erase battle mat.

To save prep time and eliminate tile jostling, I’ve started using a grippy shelf liner to help control my table. Now I just lie down the shelf liner first and the tiles don’t slide all over the place. Superb!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Converting A1-Slave Pits of the Undercity -part 3

Last time, I thought I had solved my encounter problem, but thinking about it today I wasn't so sure. I spent some time trying to combine encounters, or find a way to make meaningful yet fast encounters happen, and I just ran into walls. I wanted to build the encounters to force the party to move quickly and limit rest periods. I was imagining combining multiple encounters worth of XP into a single superencounter, and coming up with alternate systems to allow PCs to recover surges without taking an extended rest. They all seemed so clunky. I tried to model the dungeon navigation as a skill challenge with similar clunky results.

Ultimately I got frustrated and decided to scrap that plan and approach the problem from a different angle, just to get a different perspective on the situation and get my creative juices flowing. To do that, I made a schematic block diagram of the dungeon. As shown below, it shows how the rooms connect to each other, and lists important information about the flow of the adventure without getting bogged down in the cartography of the dungeon itself.
This layout made it easy for me to see the optimal path through the dungeon. I was worried that a party would have to face 12 or more encounters in order to succeed. I was wrong. The critical path through the dungeon only has 4 encounters in it! A clever and cautious party could get in, save the slaves, and get out along a very short path. If they linger too long, or engage too much of the opposition they will draw a lot of attention to themselves and fail. That's okay. The narrative elements of the mod should encourage this type of play. The players will know that they have a very limited time frame to complete this mission, and they should know that failure is possible.

Instead of trying to combine encounters and make it possible for the party to face every encounter within the allotted time, I am going to stat out ALL the encounters with the understanding that they will NOT be able to face all of them. If they run headlong into every room with swords swinging, they will probably die. If they do a little bit of recon and try to avoid unnecessary encounters, they have a chance to succeed.

In preparation for the next step of the process, actually choosing individual monsters, I have made two lists. One list shows each room, the target level of the encounter and the XP budget. Another list shows the types of monsters in the original mod with lists of Dark Sun appropriate monsters to use for my conversion.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Sir Percival of the Stone Bridge

At the narrowest point of the river, where the old post road crosses, sits Sir Percival's bridge. When his grandfather, Halstead, built the bridge many years ago, it was a busy thoroughfare that connected the mining towns in the hills with the farmland and the big city in the plains. He charged a fair toll for crossing the bridge and in return he patrolled the area with a company of knights and kept bandits away. He enjoyed much prosperity in his time, and left a sizable inheritance to Sir Percival's father, Richard.

Richard had the ill fortune of presiding over a time of decline in the area. The mines ran out and travel became less desirable. As the revenue from the bridge declined, many of Richard's knights abandoned him. Even his two oldest sons moved away to seek their fortunes elsewhere. When it came time to declare an heir, he cut out his older sons and left his land his third son, Percival.

Sir Percival had to leave his formal religious studies unfinished to return home to manage the estate. He brought with him a very conservative priest as an adviser. He still makes occasional patrols with a few men-at-arms, but life near the stone bridge is quiet. Few travelers pass, and with little money to be made from robbery, even the bandits have moved on.

But not all is quiet in the riverside manor. Some say Percival has mad, and he forces a very strict piety on his household staff. Not only are the men and women completely segregated from each other, but he and his priest are the only people allowed to mingle with both groups. And while he has protected the countryside from the few bandits that still haunt the hills, he has become a scourge in his own right.

Though he never bothers merchants or tradesmen passing over the bridge, he always stops and interrogates young couples. If he feels they have been impious (and few people could live up to his standard of piety) he takes them into 'protective custody' so he can reform them and save their souls. They are never seen again.

Great advice from Neverwinter

I haven't made it all the way through the new Neverwinter book yet, but I found a piece of player advice that I just love. On page 19, in the Character Themes section, there is a sub-heading titled "Making Fun Choices," which I have excerpted below:
As you roleplay your character's theme, avoid making choices that you think might annoy other players or make them uncomfortable. ...
Regardless of what makes sense for roleplaying, sometimes it should take a back seat to what would be fun for everyone. When you're confronted with a situation in which you think your character should do something that you know the other characters will not like, think about how those chracters' players might react. Sometimes the mischievous, improper, or stupid thing you think your character should do adds to the fun of everyone at the table. Sometimes such an action only makes you the center of attention at the expense of making the fame less fun for everyone else. Make sure you know the difference. 
I was really surprised to see this advice in this book, and especially in the character theme section. Neverwinter is the stomping grounds of the ultimate self-sufficient loner, Drizzt; and character themes are usually constructed so they add power to characters and make them more self-sufficient. I was pleasantly surprised to find that almost all of the themes in Neverwinter are designed to encourage the PCs to work together, even when they might have radically different long-term goals.

This is a departure from other character themes that I have seen so far. Existing character themes tend to take a character up to the moment of their first adventure, but not a lot of them inform your future RP choices. The Neverwinter themes are tied strongly to the region and give your character a past as well as a direction for the future. The price of adding this specificity is that it makes the themes less flexible. I'm curious to see how this plays out in LFR. I think in a home campaign, these themes could add a lot of story hooks and make the party feel really connected to the game world. In LFR, I just dread sitting down at a table with 5 Neverwinter Nobles.

Friday, July 29, 2011

My Realms

So, amidst all of my other half-finished projects I've got the rumblings of a low- to mid-heroic My Realms adventure. I have the rough outlines, which I pulled together from about two weeks of my brainstorming sessions. Now I've done some concerted work on stitching the disparate elements together into a cohesive story and laid out the broad strokes of the encounters. My next step is to pick creatures for the encounters and run some playtests.

I decided to set the adventure in High Imaskar in the city of Skyclave. The idea of all those extradimensional spaces, giant flying insect transportation systems, and defunct magical architecture really hooked me. I won't give too much away, but I hope to write a series of MYRE mods set in Skyclave that make use of all of those elements. Just imagine - the rulers have forbidden access to large parts of the city because of dangerous magic. Who might want to get into those forbidden areas, and what sort of trouble might they cause if they do? That's what's been on my mind. Here's the teaser intro.

Our heroes are enjoying the breathtaking views from their redwing gondola on a trip to Skyclave for some much needed R&R, when suddenly there is a cry of alarm from the gondola driver as he is thrown overboard by a group of armed men. The redwing veers off course, and unfamiliar ground looms ahead as the gondola lurches under the startled redwing. Who are these masked men, and where are they taking the gondola? Our heroes must answer these questions, restore order, and get the gondola back on course if they want to live through the day.