Monday, 27 July 2009

Final Session: Mirescythe

After three weeks away we got back to some D&D 4e and the final encounter of the (somewhat wayward) campaign.

I wanted a boss monster but my experience with solos had been a mixed bag. What I really wanted to do was give them an encounter in which would tax them on a tactical level and also push the party. Their opponent was the shade beneath Zendicon; Mirescythe.

Mirescythe was a solo-lurker with some nasty tricks behind him, he was accompanied by 3 Urn Minions who constantly buffed him with various effects and occasionally attacked the party. They took on Mirescythe in a room on many levels which made the most of their crafty opponents ability to teleport around and generally make life difficult for them.

The Urns were marked with symbolsthe p[arty recognised: Vigour, Unhallowing and Onslaught. Vigour stored temporary Hp for Mirescythe (leeched by his Vampiric Scythe on a critical), Unhollowing blocked the Channel Divinity class feature (Specifically to stop Katarakis from nullifying my criticals, as he had done all campaign) and Onslaught recharged Mirescythes powers one at a time.

Mirescythe himself had lots of tricks. Being undead he had Vulnerability 5 to Radiant Damage, however the Pattern Shift power would swap his Radiant Vulnerability and his Necrotic Resistance for a turn. However as a minor action this competed with Mirescythe's ability to revive an urn and so was little used. Apart from this Mirescythe had an evil 'channel divinity' power (Golghezel's Pillar) along with a burst daze attack, a ranged attack and his nasty hit-teleport which he employed to brutal effect.

In the opening round he teleported across the room and his Skurmesh Anklebiter with a critical, at this point Katarakis realised he couldn't channel divinity and the strike dropped Skurmesh to just under his bloodied value. The players looked on aghast as Mirescythe teleported away to safety, and thus began a cagey few rounds as the party tried to draw a bead on the errant monster and his urns, during this time Mirescythe threw out a few nasty tricks including using his hit-teleport to perform hit and run attacks whilst the Urn of Onslaught kept recharging the power, he also tossed in a few action points to teleport, hit-teleport and then launch his ranged attack.

The party to their credit did well, with a Warlord and two Paladins they are exceptionally resilient and as ever Caradoc's ability to draw the worst of the damage onto himself (Absorbing most of Golghezel's Pillar, for example) eased the worst of the party's sufferring. The big problem was their enemy's mobility but Celavorn and Du'nn'o's ranged attacks kept the damage ticking over, Skurmesh also made great use of his ability to grant his allies extra attacks (the Helm of Heroes turning them from base attacks into standard actions, this helm is a must for any Warlord!) and stayed in the middle for the occasional buff or heal.

Katarakis also deserves mention for granting most of the party a +4 to all damage rolls at the start of the encounter and then making Mirescythe even more vulnerable to Radiant damage.

All in all this party's ability to weather massive amounts of damage and then recover from it has been the bane of my life in this campaign. All attempts to kill the party have failed simply because no matter how much damage I do, no matter how hard I hit them they just turn around and manage to get healed. I was more threatening with Goblins during Keep on the Shadowfell. All in all though I must say the party works well, far better than my monsters fare, and this is down to teamwork.

So now we say goodbye to our party for the meantime whilst I attempt to concoct some strange new adventure for them to take on.

Monday, 20 July 2009

Uncle Joe's Quizzical Murder Mystery

It is the dead of night in frozen Stretford, part of the communist super state, and comerade Joseph Stalin lies dead in a greenhouse of the Stretford Hydroponic Research Centre...

I asked each of my four players (sans the absent Hair Dave) for an genre, an object, an authority figure and a place, in some kind of off the cuff mad-lib session and the results were... Well...

Giz decided that it should be a murder mystery.
Amanda decided it should be set in Stretford.
Medium Dave decided it should involve Joseph Stalin.
Rachael decided is should include a dart board.

Hence our steam-punk communist dystopia was born. I decided the party should be KRU agents sent as investigators into Comerade Stalin's death and they arrived via their zeppelin (The Red Oktober) and were wisked away to the scene of the crime.

What followed was a couple of hours of some of the most interesting roleplaying I've seen. We barely touched the dice as Giz and Rachel went off performing interrogations and Dave and Amanda went to Stalin's holiday home (in Stretford) and ended up involved in a Steam-Car chase (oh yes) in a blizzard, at the end of which they found Stalin's Steam Car and his driver slumped over the wheel having been shot in the head.

It was a delight to see the characters who emerged from this session and the quirkyness that emerged; Amanda's character wore a Cosmonaut's outfit because she dislikes contact and Giz's M-U had all 'psychic' powers and wore a gas mask alá Psycho Mantis.

In the end through a series of interrogations and a raid on a suspects house they discovered that Stalin in fact wasn't dead and that the body in the Greenhouse was a double killed to fake Stalin's death so that he could escape an assassination by the KRU. What I thought was a simple enough switch turned out to be quite difficult and in the end whilst the party found out what happened I had to fill in the 'why' which I had made a wee bit too difficult to uncover.

All in all despite the fact that it was entirely ad-libbed and much of the stuff I prepped in the 5 minutes the players were making their characters never got into the session, (Zombie Stalin!) including all the possible combat encounters, it worked quite well. Microlite sat unobtrusively in the back during all this and it was nice to know it was there but that we didn't feel obliged to use it but that it was there in case I needed it.

Some players are clamouring for a sequel knowing Stalin is now heading back to Russia via Zeppelin (The Stalingrad) and that they have their own Zeppelin with which to chase him down. This may not be the last we've seen of our communist steam-punk world!

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Microlite and the City

So today I am faced with the possibility of having to run a session with zero prep, however given that this is the way I like to roll anyway I have no problem with that. If we do decide to do some roleplaying I'll probably crack out Microlite74 and start the players in generic city #16.

I've got a cool idea to run something steampunk/victorian using Microlite and some home-brew rules to turn it into a Microlite/Warhammer Quest/Jeff Rients mash-up. I'd be ruling in Jeff's rules for escaping the dungeon and WQ's rule that if you end up more than a certain distance away from your light source (defined as 2 boards away in WQ) you become lost in the dark and are never found again.

The other thing I'm doing is toning down Microlite's Hp values (From STR+1d6 back to either STR or 1d6) and reinstating Vancian Magic. This is partly because Vancian magic has been 'sold' to me in a way that Player's Handbooks failed to do over the years. In the past I found it to be a mechanic that seemed clumsy and annoying, with the context behind the mechanics (and some choice quotings from Vance's stories) I've gained a deeper appreciation for it.

Partly the reason for the Steampunk setting is that we've been considering trying to run Iron Kingdoms under Microlite and that has given me something of a taste. The other reason is that the park quite close to my parents did, at one point, have an old victorian greenhouse; a magnificent thing of iron and glass that was sadly vandalized over the years. However the memory remains, and has given me a rather tasty idea: consider if you will an arboretum infested with myconids and triffids! (and anything else plant related) That must be killed by the slaying of their hive mind through either brute force or razor sharp wit!

Well I think it's a good idea.

What to Run?

Tomorrow is another no-show with Hair Dave off running a store in Altringham and thus unable to return in time for our D&D game. So, I am faced with the possibility of running an alternative game. There are several possibilities:

Rogue Trader I've had a hankering to run since I read the introductory adventure. We all know the system well and it looks like a solid adventure. The problem is I know Hair Dave wanted to be in on our test run.

My as yet unnamed RPG which I've been plugging away at in the background (and started to discuss here) although this is far from a playable system as yet.

FATE is another possibility, quick and easy with a kind of versatility that is instantly endearing, and of course the FATE point mechanic which appeals to the co-operative storyteller in me.

Finally we have Microlite74 with which we ran Stonehell and found it to be damn good fun. I've been homebrewing some rules to make it a little more fatal (and so the party can't just spam 'Sleep') and I think I could run it 'off the cuff' and just let hijinks ensue.

This of course assumes anyone wants to roleplay at all and wouldn't be happier just taking a week off from rolling dice and speaking in silly voices.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Rogue Trader and Forsaken Bounty

So I’ve downloaded the ‘Forsaken Bounty’ adventure that showcases the new Warhammer 40,000 RPG ‘Rogue Trader’, which seems to be a combination of 40K and classic role-playing profiteering. The idea is that Rogue Traders travel on the fringes of Imperial Space with a license to plunder anything they find. The objective of Rogue Trader as opposed to Dark Heresy, from which it takes its (compatible) system, is to accrue profit and prestige.

One of the big differences seems to be the idea that the party are the head staff of an Imperial vessel and as anyone who knows the 40K background can tell you this means being in command of a vessel that is at the very least colossal and will have a crew of thousands. This means, in theory at least, that players can always call upon teams from their crew and fire support from their vessel and this has provoked fears that parties will pursue a ‘strike-from-orbit’ strategy to cleanse all resistance before they even set foot on world, indeed the designer’s even mention this is an entirely acceptable option.

The trick here seems to be to appeal to the player’s greed. Greed is a natural by-product of RPGs; we all want bigger and better stuff. The reason the Imperium still performs assaults on worlds instead of simply nuking them from orbit is because of the valuable infrastructure and resources on a planet that might be lost if it is reduced to glass by an orbital bombardment and there’s no reason that this can’t be true of Rogue Traders too, compelling them to raid planets rather than simply destroy them.

I’m also intrigued by the ship-to-ship combat that has been touted in the book. If it is a simple and manageable system that allows all players to participate then I think it will be a mainstay of any campaign I’m likely to run; however if it’s clunky I may just be tempted to abstract battles or use the wonderful Battlefleet Gothic rules instead.

All in all the idea of Rogue Trader has piqued my interest and I have the hankering to run the adventure, perhaps as a one-shot for my group before or after our Dark Heresy campaign. There’s an eerie feel to it that appeals to me and the ‘ship-in-the-void’ setting is quite different to the planetary based adventures we’ve enjoyed so far.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Nobody expects the Holy Ordos of the Emperor's Inquisition

So D&D is slowly wrapping up and everyone's eyes are turned to things to come; Giz's freeform Space RPG is next up and after that we've all been stung by the Dark Heresy bug.

Dark Heresy has got to be one of my favourite games to play and the idea of running it intrigues me aswell. The grim darkness of the 41st milennium is a rich and (not so) vibrant setting with endless opportunities for adventure. It also has combat that is frequently quick, brutal and deadly and with Medium Dave's recent acquisition of the Inquisitor's Handbook; equipment lists that would satisfy even the most ravenous of equipment junkies.

It's shaping up to be quite a campaign, a sandbox world of interesting locales through which to perform our investigation and no doubt have shoot-outs and speeder chases in the best tradition of Ravenor and Eisenhorn.

What is better than this though is the thought and effort people have been putting into their characters. I thought I had put some effort in, but a quick brainstorm after D&D on sunday left us with a solid cadre of characters each with their own motivations and goals. In retrospect my own character seem a little bland by comparison.

Here's the run down of what we have:

Amanda- Playing Alessa, an alpha level psyker with a specialization in Biomancy who runs a brothel and houses some minor mutants to cater for her clients more exotic tastes.

Rachel- Reprises Nik, her assassin from our previous game who has gone on to have three kids and started her own Death Cult beneath a hospital.

Giz- Playing the bastard son of a noble household he is forming a web of spies and finding the secrets of his family so he can blackmail his way into a position of inheritence.

Medium Dave- Playing Tech-Magos Tiresius Kepplar, formerly of an explorator fleet he came into contact with tainted technology and has developed a penchent for the forbidden art of artificial intelligence. His goal is to create a machine with a sentient mind and he carts around with him he very realistic Janus Simulcra with him.

Myself- Inquisitor Eisen Alon Garvel, Ordo Hereticus. Operating under special exemption Garvel has fled to this planet to seek those who destroyed his apartments on Machaevo Primus and bring them to justice. A radical Oblationist he seeks forbidden knowledge knowing it damns him and turns the secrets within against the foes of the Imperium.

As you can see there's a fair bit of meat on these bones and it's given Hair Dave (who is running the damn thing) alot to think about. Having discussed it with him we did decide on a sand-box as being the best way to run the game and upon further thought I think a sandbox might be the best way to run Dark Heresy.

A sandbox with its multiple paths and 'on the fly' gaming gives the players a kind of universe without limits. Consider starting your game amongst the frozen spires and vent-gardens of Machaevo Primus investigating obscura smuggling that is funding a Pleasure Cult dedicated to Slaanesh; you could go many ways about this, interrogating the dealers, looking through manifests, kidnapping and interrogating cult members or just storming the place with a Flamer and a loud-hailer declaring yourself the Emperor's will incarnate. Even better, if the cult leaders break and run you can then persue them off world, possibly chasing them back to their dark masters.

The whole point is that it gives the players options, rather than relying on them to take the bait and get hooked into the story. If they ever slow down and become frustrated at their lack of progress do what Hollywood does and drop the plot on them. Maybe there's an assassination attempt on a party member's life? Perhaps they ump into their target by chance and get involved in a speeder chase amongst the huddled towers of the hive? The options are endless.

I think the sandbox method has also addressed a problem we had with our previous Dark Heresy sessions; the fact that the party felt like a glorified detective agency. A sandbox allows us to control the ebb and flo of the investigation and it feels lass like a static mystery that needs to be solved and more like a war of feint and counter feint as we try and prove our suspicions about our target.

In this case our target is the planetary governor who may or may not have been consorting with the powers of Chaos and from the way Dave has been cackling things could end up being very bad indeed.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

A Realization

I don't know how to write adventures.

I've been a DM for a while now, indeed with our current group and most of the others ones I've been involved in I have spent the most time in the DM's chair, steering our ship towards adventure, but in retrospect I actually have no idea of how to write an adventure.

The reason: I've never read one.

Well I suppose technically that's not true, but compared to other bloggers involved with writing about role playing I feel terribly inadequet. They're all busy talking about old Moldvay and B/x modules (The Lost City etc) and I have no frame of reference.

Lets be honest I never played D&D as a kid, in most cases I'm younger than the majority of role playing bloggers and I only got into D&D at 3rd. Ed when WotC decided they'd let somebody else write the adventures for them. Consequently I know bugger all about writing adventures simply because I've spent next to no time with them, eading them, understand the structure of them and how to incorporate that structure into my own endevours.

This feels like the same thing I did with Conan, where I saw a gap in my knowledge and took the time to plug it. I need to lay my hands on some old adventures or failing that some of the great stuff that's coming out of publications like Fight On! in order to increase my knowledge base.

Actually, speaking of Fight On! they're running a literature competition at the moment that will keep going until October 31st and I'm giving serious thought to entering. I'm not entirely sure I'd win, indeed I doubt I would, but I hope for an honourable mention, perhaps.