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Archive for October, 2010

A while back I mentioned that I was going to explore playing in an online D&D game as a way to cram more gaming into my life, particularly after my doctor told me my nerdosterone levels were dangerously low due to my home game only running every 3 to 4 weeks. I also thought I might be able to be a player for a change instead of having to DM, plus I could do all this without having to leave my house, after my kid went to bed and with as little clothing as I so desired, which seemed like an epic win to me.

So I answered a post on one of the WoTC forums looking for players to start up a game set in Eberron. This felt a little awkward, not unlike what I imagine answering a personal add in the paper might be like….SSME (single straight male elf) with a fondness for archery seeking MHDM (Monty Haul dungeon master) who likes long delves through trap infested tombs and is open to “group” expereinces. Before you know it I had downloaded skype and was talking with people from all over North America, as characters were generated and posted online at Iplay4e.com and a game time was set.

It was at this point things sort of went off the rails as we had trouble setting up the virtual game table, which was then followed by the DM dropping half of the players from the game because he kind of didn’t like them (the people dropped were a package deal and had been playing together in another campaign). This “restructuring” occurred while we were all online and talking through skype, I got a message from him to end the conversation and switch to a new one, and bikkety bam that was that. what followed was a continuous series of setbacks and red flags that consisted of the DM not showing online for several first sessions (due to what appears to be plausible excuses), his decision to run a DMPC which he then seemed to focus more on getting his “build” perfected than getting the campaign organized, which then resulted in the other players pulling the chute. It became apparent that the DM was not that interested in actually DMng and more interested in playing his “build”, so in an attempt to salvage something from this massive cluster fuck I took the reins and talked to the other players and agreed to the run the game. The real kick in the nads is that I was really excited to play for a change, poor Solton Griss my little Half-Orc Ranger and first-mate of the Shattered Dream had to sheath his twin bastard swords. What’s that saying, “always a bridesmaid never a bride”?

We had our first session the other night and it went reasonably well, with only some minor snafus with maptools. I decided to run a published module just for the sake of my own sanity (all the maps are published and easily loaded into the online tabletop) now that I am apparently running two friggin games, and this one is weekly, but I  will talk more about the game in future posts. One thing about this whole skype and on-line thing that is a little surreal and somewhat disquieting is the quasi-relationships and pseudo-intimacy you build with people you have never met and the ease of with which that relationship can be severed or disconnected through the click of a button, like the one-time member of the party who I only remember as the revenant dominatrix/warlock who’s background was that she was gang raped and killed by a group of men (like really wtf?).

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So we return to find our intrepid band of do-gooders separated (you know how hard it is to juggle adventuring schedules). Khaine finally decided he had had enough of a vacation contemplating the journal Valthurn had given him and decided to head back to Cormyr and see what’s up. He did find it a little odd that he kept getting attacked by nutjob cultists on the road back despite his best efforts to stay hidden. Once back he hooked up with Kaz at the Gilded Harp who gave him the iggy on the divine mark/taint (hehehe taint).  Khaine noticed he was getting the once over buy a tiefling who was playing cards and who had his body guard inquire about his lineage. After Khaine’s attitude was finished writing checks that his body couldn’t possible cash, the Tiefling and his retinue left the bar…..minutes later…a disturbance was felt in the force and some commotion was heard outside. Never to leave an adventure hook hanging, Kaz and Khaine were out the door to investigate, where they witnessed one Tiefling plus body guards being waylaid by 4 humanoid dudes who appeared to be very quick and agile. At this point the smack down was on and although it looked like our heroes were outnumbered and outgunned, cause they were, up walks a guy from the card game AKA Casino, AKA a Changeling Psion, AKA a mildly offensive Asian stereotype, AKA the newest member of the party. This was a slugfest, with both Kaz and Khaine getting dropped as the hit squad fought with a vengeance particularly at the sight of Khaine. After the battle Khaine was expecting a big thanks from the Tielfing Lord but instead was almost run through by one of his body guards until he was ordered down by Lord Barackass who seemed very conflicted. A history check here and a little convo with Torm (the barkeep, not the god, his parents were very devout) we learned that Barackass is the eldest son of the House Bloodrose and a Lord of the Pact, which is the ruling body that has sprung up in Das Cabal and is currently repairing the city after the retributive blighting from being involved in Mystra’s death. Ohh also, pact magic has been outlawed under penalty of death. They also shook loose some more info from Torm regarding the hit squad. They appeared to be the Glimmer (AKA re-skinned Skulks), who hunt their former Tiefling slave masters in groups of 4 known as a Quad. They have been much more active since the reconstruction of DAS Cabal has begun.

Once back in the bar, the guys got better acquainted with their newest member and were joined by Soltawn Griz, who was sent by Rhogar to collect them and have them meet up with the rest of the party in New Dale so they can get the taint taken care of. However, Kaz , the law dog that  he is had sent out feelers to his former street contacts about the new slave ring that had been muscling its way into the underworld of the city. His contact let him know that a drop was being made on the outskirts of the city in an old smugglers cave. So without any kind of skill check regarding the information or the veracity and trustworthiness of the contact, they were off the do some good. The party used Casino’s changeling power to good use and was able to lure several of the douche bags away from the encampment and subdue them, then the jig was up and a relatively easy battle ensued where our little band mopped the cave floor with the thugs. When the last man fell, they were congratulated by the mocking, silky smooth and flamboyant Torin AKA assassin of Shar. After warmly inquiring into the status of the wounds that he gave Kaz last time they met he offered Casino a chance to leave. But the boy has some stones on him. It was at this point that Kaz needed to retire from adventuring for the evening so he would be well rested for a date with his significant other the following morning. So we fast forwarded the combat in a Rocky style training montage that had the gang hard pressed by the elementals that emerged from broken vials hurled at them by Torin.  Torin also really f-upped Kaz again, droping him twice before doing his douche bag disappearing act when the tide of the battle turned during the rousing chorus of Eye of the Tiger. Curious it is that this assassin of Shar has a lot of access to elemental magic…curious indeed.

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I think that one of the hardest challenges of being a DM is maintaining the campaign after that initial burst of nerdgasm supercharges the first few sessions. As the DM, we are likely the most passionate and interested person in playing the given drug….I mean game of choice in comparison to your nerd crew. This passion may even straddle that thin line between hobby and full on collecting-your-urine-in-a-glass-jar style obsession. This is further complicated by the fact that life just happens and depending on the stage of your life finding time to game can be difficult. This can become a truly Herculean task when having to negotiate the various schedules of my middle-aged cohorts. I often feel like a commodities trader on the pit floor when trying to set up the next game session. I send out an e-mail with some dates which then sets off a mass flood of back an forth messages that I have to sift through, analyze, and eventually come up with a firm date that isn’t really firm as it maybe subject to a last minute change/session implosion. I say this in all honesty without any anger or resentment, particularly since I have pretty much boss-hogged and bullied my players/friends into the current campaign to satisfy my need to play D&D. This is just the way it is if I want to play the game I like with the people I like (which is in some ways is more important than just playing the game I like).

That being said, I have implemented or initiated some fail-safes in order to keep the campaign lumbering forward, and thereby keeping me a happy camper and relatively sane…well I guess that would depend on your definition of sane. I think in some ways the key, as a lot of things in life, is being flexible, as rigidity leads to much agita. For me, this has meant a few things; the first was in lowering the quorum for a game session to happen. I originally started with 5 players, and it became readily apparent that hell in fact was more likely to freeze over before I was able to get all 5 players at once. So I set the minimum number of players for a session to happen at 3. To make scaling encounters more manageable and to ensure adequate role coverage I created 2 companion characters per the Dungeon Masters Guide 2, a defender and leader (there are never any shortage in strikers at a 4e  game) that have been crafted into the frame of the story. The players use them in combat and I role-play them as NPC’s outside combat. Only one of the characters is available at a given time. Secondly, I had to become comfortable with hand waiving certain things such as re-incorporating characters into the story after they had missed a session or two. Lastly, I have started to add some new blood to the game, thereby upping the number of players to 6 and possibly higher as this increases the probability of reaching quorum once a month. It might be a bit of a bitch if everyone makes it for a session one day, but since I am pretty sure that if that happens it will be a sign of the impending apocalypse, and I will probably have other things to worry about at that point.

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Let me explain, I am not one of those cats that the RED DM talks about that flies into a nerd-rage at the idea that WoTC has somehow bamboozled them into believing that they have to buy their expensive mini’s in order to play D&D. Quite the opposite, I applaud them and their clever marketing tactics that prays on my feline vulnerability to shinny baubles with their little plastic painted sirens. Well played Sirs, well played indeed.

So before I started dipping into the retirement savings or the kid’s college fund or you know like started selling my sperm or blood, I thought it might be prudent to sort of investigate alternative options to the whole mini deal.  I know I could pay for some kind of psychological treatment to address my compulsive need to have every monster on the field of battle properly represented, which I can only imagine is related to some deep seated character flaw,  but like whatever man  I could spend that  money on buying more minis.

The solution I came up with was tokens. I found these from Fiery Dragon, and I of course ordered every package they had, which was like a hundred dollars for a bundled deal.  For that I got every heroic tier monster from MM1 and MM2, and all the paragon and epic tier monsters from MM1. You also get a decent amount of multiples for most monsters and they are sized appropriately.  The tokens come on thick cardstock but without a glossy finish that would offer protection from Cheetos encrusted fingers and Mountain Dew sweat that are ever present at the gaming table. The artwork is okay  but not great, you can definitely tell what everything is, however, they are not as snazzy as the ones WotC puts out (like what the hell man, honestly it is like their peddling crack..their essentially drug dealers). Also there seems to be some trademark issues as it appear some of the monsters are going by aliases, for example the Mind Flayer’s are labeled “Mental Eater” and Slaad’s are labeled “Ogdoad”.  Now I know it is possible to make your own tokens by downloading images from the internet and printing them on cardstock, there are even free token making programs to help you out. There are two factors that pushed me away form the DYI deal, the first being that since color ink is about as expensive as plutonium it might actually be cheaper to order them or pretty close to a wash. Secondly, and most importantly, I will always take the path of the least resistance especially if I can just throw money at the problem.

I took them for a test drive the other weekend at the LFR game I DM’d, and they worked great, very easy to store and transport. Particularly handy is that the flip side of the token denotes bloodied. I think I will move forward using a blend of tokens and minis because I don’t want to unfairly punish the minis I already have, but for sure I am defiantly off buying new minis…..Although I did notice that WoTC has put out that new Lords of Madness set, I mean I really should pick up at least one pack, you know to check the quality out, make sure their up to snuff……..

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