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Archive for September, 2010

LFR A-OK

So I DM’d a LFR module this weekend at my local gaming store and something unusual happened…I didn’t buy anything, absolutely nadda. I know I know our economy is at a precarious position and we need impulse buyers like myself to reach down into the abyss and grab it by the balls and drag it back into the light. I am a little ashamed as I can’t say it wasn’t for a lack of trying. I had it on my mind that I wanted/needed a new set of dice that were a little bigger than the average set. Not the ridiculous novelty size but just slightly bigger, alas I was shut out. The last copy of the Saga Edition Jedi Academy Training Manual and I stared longingly at each other like it was last call at the bar but I guess I wasn’t beer-goggled up enough to close the deal. What is ridiculous is that I know I will absolutely buy it, but what is more ridiculous is I am nowhere even remotely close to thinking about the possibility of contemplating a Star Wars game.

But anyways back to the LFR Game. This LFR group uses an online website site to handle sign-up for the games, which I think appears to be more of a formality, as people tend to ignore such things as full tables or waitlists and generally just show up.  So like 9 people descended into the bowels of the game store wanting to play and I am like trying to problem-solve the situation, as I think that 9 might be a tad much. Well problem solving with a group of toddlers would likely have been more productive. So one dude who wasn’t even on the waitlist graciously agreed to pass and then I was like fuck it I will just DM 8, as I could see the table was a little light on self-sacrifice, plus no one wanted to step up and DM…surprise surprise…

So what I had wanted to accomplish with this game session was to address some of the perceived shortcomings/complaints around LFR, namely the lack of role-playing and in my opinion the lack of threat in combat. For the role-playing part I new the background of one of the players, what is really cool is that this cat always puts a lot of thought into his LFR characters in terms of their background and personality (if you put any thought into your character background as a DM I will seize on it and work at least a bit of into the game as I appreciate that kind of effort) so I scrapped the always awkward LFR module intro where you are just randomly seeking employment with a bunch of strangers, although we did start in a tavern, but that because the aforementioned character’s family sells wine. The premise of the module was to help a government official find his abducted daughter. So bickety-bam a high level regional employee of the character’s family business found the pc and introduced the quest as it would be important for business to be owed a favour by this local official that deals in trade contracts. In the Skill challenges I tanked the aid another deal and sort of forced them to tell me what they were specifically doing and saying, none of this “I use my diplomacy” crap. The result seemed to be more personal investment by some for the players and more in character interactions between players and various NPC’s. I also scrapped the second skill challenge for pacing and it was just superfluous, but I gave them the full xp anyways.

As for the combat, I updated the monster damage and statistics per the July Errata. As I said previously I think part of the problem with the lack of threat in the combat encounters can come from the poor monsters having to slug it out against these massively twinked out or gimmicked up characters. What complicated things, was having to run the combat for 8 friggin people. My solution was really to just keep adding monsters on the fly. I added extra monsters at the beginning of each combat in an attempt to scale up the encounter but then waited to see how things went in the first round. When the Adept got nuked before he acted into the first round, no problem as his twin brother stepped out of the hidden door with the Halfling Thief. The result was more intense battles, with multiple characters dropping more than once each of the fights, but never approaching TPK danger. 

Overall, I thought it went well and everyone had a good time. It was a little more work in terms of prep, but well worth it. I am not sure how much LFR I will be playing in the next little while as I have joined on online game through skype, which is a little surreal, but more on that another time.

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Essentially a Cleric

I was really itching to roll some dice after having to jump behind the screen last weekend at the D&D World Wide Game Day detailed in my last post. So I signed up for an LFR game.  In case you’re not in the loop, LFR is an organized play program where players create a character and assign them to a specific region of the campaign world. There are modules for each region that allow your character to progress through the levels of play.  There are adventures/games for early heroic level characters up to late paragon levels.

Dungeon’s Master recently posted duelling articles on the LFR with one taking a dump on it while the other highlighting its positives.  The points made by the articles, both pro and con, are largely valid which I think leaves you with like most things in life in that LFR is what you make of it; particularly since no one’s got you balled gagged up gimp style in Zeds LFR basement.  It’s kind of funny as Bauxtehude once told me that he only played in LFR long enough until he poached enough players to start his Shattered Sea campaign, so perhaps the current state of LFR in metropolitan Toronto is suffering due to his thinning the talent pool. It is a shame that he is so anti-LFR as he is an excellent DM. I accept LFR with all its flaws and limitations as it gives me the opportunity to be a player for a change whenever I can squeeze it in and is very light on the obligations which seems to suite me well at my current stage of life. Although, the one thing I think that is severely lacking in the LFR adventures is any kind of threat in the encounters. It is not necessarily bad DM tactics or encounter design, but seems more to the fact that these poor monsters are up against massively twinked out or gimmicked up characters. I really think that at a bare minimum DMs need to trick out the baddies with the new damage progression and monster statistics that came out in a recent errata. But I digress, I am going to DM an LFR module next weekend so I might make some changes to the module and I’ll let you know how it shakes out.

Well Back to the gamming and such. Whenever I play LFR I always bring several characters to ensure any needed roles can be filled. Essentially this means I will be playing either a defender or a leader, I don’t even know why I bother bringing a striker. I would like to say that I am just an eternal optimist but I think more realistically it is a touch of masochism.  As I was in the processes of determining what meat shield I would be playing this week, I thought why not test drive one of the essentials builds from Heroes of the Fallen Lands, especially given the massive hyperbole that has washed over the internet in the recent months. I made a Slayer, Knight, and a Warpriest. I ended up playing Drax the Warpriest of Kord (all my LFR characters are named Drax) as the rest of the party consisted of 3 strikers, a defender, and a controller. I went with the Storm Domain, as it fit my character conceptualization of a badass bruiser laying some holy smack down. The Storm Domain is one of the spheres of power you can choose that flavours your abilities, the book states “Select the Storm Domain if you favour brutal attacks balanced against the cunning needed to effectively counter your enemies tactics”. I made Drax a human as I am fond of the bonus feat and bump to defences. Since I am of the feeling that a badass warpreist needs a badass weapon I used one of my feats to get proficiency with the bastard sword.

I decided to really emphasise the “brutal” aspect with regard to powers in fitting with my bad mofo theme, so most of the powers tended to grant allies extra damage on their attacks. This seemed to particularly work well with another Essentials errata, namely to magic missiles auto-hit. I really liked the at-will power “Storm Hammer” as it went off at +7 to fortitude at first level and you could use it while charging, which I took advantage of to hurl myself at my foes to bring the wrath of my god down upon them.

Overall, this build fit right in with the other core builds and was actually enjoyable to play, and the world didn’t implode into a black whole despite crossing the “streams”. The warpriest really plays like the strength cleric was always supposed to be but never got the love from WoTC, and I actually found that it played a lot like my first level paladin, but better somehow.

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Red Box Game Day

This past Saturday was the Dungeons and Dragons World Wide Game Day in support of the release of the Essentials Red Box. I rolled up into my local FLGS with my dice bag on fire and looking to lay some smack on whatever misbegotten baddy crossed my path. I was hoping that this might be the day I get to play something other than a meat shield, so needless to say I was pretty pumped. Everything was going according t o plan, wife and kid at Binder Twine, I hit the store early enough to guarantee prime choice on the pre-gens, grabbed a copy of the new Rules Compendium (great product, very handy), hummed and hawed over Player Essentials: Heroes of the Fallen Lands like I was buying a car then decided against it only fully aware that I will likely pick it up this week, strolled over to the counter to pay and sign up and was then informed that there  were no DMs for the game day…..what‘s that saying, the best laid plans of mice and men. Luckily like the boy scouts I come prepared, you see whenever I got to the game store to play in a live play event I always bring my DM gear just in case, sort of like Peter Parker with his knapsack filled with red jumpsuit, spider tracers, and web shooters (pre-movie retcon) just minus the neurotic masochistic guilt…well maybe just a smidgen of that.

So I grabbed the adventure and after 10 minutes of looking it over we were off and running. I ran the game for 4 players, with one of them being the owner of the store who had never played 4th edition, so like you know no pressure or anything. I hate having so little time to prepare as it is hard to get to know the monsters powers and tactics as well as think about how I want to play NPC’s and add some more role-playing to the game, but whatyah gonna do. We had three relatively new players at the table (2 had played one game at Fan Expo) and one regular so I got to teach the game a bit which is always fun. I got to see some of the new builds in action, as we had the human fighter-slayer build, Halfling rogue, elf wizard, and human cleric-war priest build. It looks like there were some errors in the pre-gens, which is typical for the stuff WoTC puts out and which I really can’t fathom as they like make the friggin game; don’t they use their own character builder? But whatever. My casual impressions of the new essentials builds are it’s the same game not 4.5. Although I hope the new martial classes they release don’t only key off of modified melee basic attacks because I found those builds kind of meh. I found the slayer a little lacking as a striker and easy to take out. The rogue functioned well but my preference would still be to play a core rogue build, I loves my sly flourish.. It was the cleric that piqued my interest the most as he was tuff to take down (he was the only player I didn’t drop, and really prevented a TPK in the final battle), he had a high AC because of the plate and shield but what was outstanding (assuming it wasn’t a pre-gen error) was that his melee power attacks with his sword

Andor/Bilbo Baggins...is it racial sterotyping to depict all Halflings as needing to maybe hit the gym rather than the pub after a day of adventuring?

went off at +9 vrs Will not AC. This meant that he was hitting dudes in some cases on a role of 2 or 3, which seems a tad over powerful, that’s got to be a typo right? It also seems like this is what the strength based cleric in the core game was really meant to be but never got the love from WoTC it should have.

The adventure Sunderpeak Temple I thought was well done with an interesting in-combat skill challenge plus *spoiler* a cool final fight with a young black dragon named Blightongue. I love that in this edition of the game you can have the players fight dragons at all levels of play. Overall it was a pretty good day; I had the table laughing a lot playing some of the villains and a highlight was when I dropped the rogue who was trying to be all roguey and slip away from danger by provoking an opportunity attack from a nasty Orc and which he ate an axe to the face when I rolled a crit..ahh good times good times

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The Future of Gaming

I recently started reading Stephen Radney-MacFarland’s blog NeoGrognard and it is a good read…I know you probably need a new blog to follow like you need someone to drop kick you in the balls. If I add anymore blogs to my docket I am in danger of blog reading becoming more of a full time job than my actual job. If you don’t know who Mr. Radney-MacFarland is he used to work at WoTC for a lot of years before he got downsized in what seems to be a yearly ritual at that company.  He talks about the ins and outs of RPG industry in a way that only an insider can (sort of the complete opposite this site). In a recent post he was writing about product demand in the industry, largely how there is way too much product and companies that make product in comparison to actually demand in part due to an overestimation of the numbers of actual buyers/players of RPGs. He estimated that in all likelihood, and despite what WoTC would have you believe, that there are between 250 to 350 thousand active D&D

The path of the Grognard, also my go to cheese game riddle

users/players in the USA. It made me wonder about the demographic breakdown of those numbers in terms of age and what is the survivability of the hobby long term.

I know there will always be nerds like us that dig pen and paper rpgs…you know actually talking and interacting with people, but I often wonder how much that market will shrink as the bulk of us that started at the beginning sort of age out and make our way to the big dice bag in the sky; where if heaven is in anyway how I imagine it will for me consist of an eternity of crushing my enemies, having them driven before me, and hearing the lamentations of the women.  At the live play events that I am involved in (LFR, Encounters) there is a nice mix of age and are filled with a lot  of younger cats and even some kids (the smartest thing that WoTC ever did were those Penny Arcade Podcasts as I don’t know how many people have shown up at the store saying that they wanted to try D&D after listening to those things)

So how do you get new and next generation players to the hobby? Particularly in an era where television and video games has put a serious dent in kid’s ability, desire, and opportunity for imaginative play. This got me to thinking about the changes that have occurred to our beloved D&D, namely the last great flame war called 4th edition and all the complaints about how it has become too much like a video game. So why not make it more like a video game in an effort to keep current and maybe draw more people to the hobby? Why not alter the power mechanics, feats and magic items to be more similar with what the protagonists and characters can do in current video/computer games if it might lure or coax a newer generation into the game. I thought it was hilarious but also telling in a post by Gabe from Penny Arcade about when he ran the Essentials Red Box for his gaming group and that a lot of them (who are hardcore video gamers) found in kind of meh in comparison to regular 4th edition due the lack of player options in combat for non-spell casters.     

I guess one of the risks is that you can alienate a good chunk of your base, lets face it some of us crotchety Grognards resist change in an almost Aspergers like way (don’t get me started that Dragon Magazine isn’t actually a magazine anymore but a pdf file, like wtf am I supposed to read in the can), but I don’t know if that is necessarily a good business model because eventually we will stop buying and playing. Why shouldn’t games evolve or innovate? Everything else in the world does to some degree or another why should D&D be any different. You can’t please everybody all the time, but what I think is great is that basically every edition of the game is still getting some love from one source or another through the various gaming licenses, just not from WoTC alone, which allows you to play the game you want to play as long as you don’t get hung up on who is producing it. So will any of this really matter? Does it bring in any new players and grow the hobby? I don’t know, I don’t have those answers nor do I even have the remotest idea of how to go about sorting that deal out…so I guess I will just attempt to single handily keep the gaming industry a float by continuing to throw wads of cash at every shinny new bauble I can get my hands on…..remember mums the word to my wife as she is still under the illusion that we will actually be able to retire some day and like maybe send our kid to university.

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