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Archive for June, 2011

So this is my stab at this month’s RPG Blog Carnival: Memorable Characters Inspired From Real Life.  The real life person, upon which my memorable character was inspired, is no other than the incomprehensible Charlie Sheen, Warlock extraordinaire.

Charles Themasheen was born into a family of entertainers and when he came of age, like his father and brother before him, he heard the irresistible sirens call of the stage. He exploded onto the theatrical scene like a tsunami and his rise was meteoric, as he nabbed coveted lead roles in extravagant and critically acclaimed plays such as Platoon and Wall Street. This was his first taste of winning, and he liked it. He adored the fame, the money, the women, the parties, the women, and even the sycophants. But as many things in life the good times didn’t last. The cruel winds of fate shifted and Charles began to see the coveted roles going to newer and younger actors while he was relegated to performing on the side stages in eyesore productions such as Hotshots and Terminal Velocity. Charles began to despair as he felt the winning begin to slip threw his cigarette burned fingers.

In a fit of despair and drug addled rage after the town crier read the lukewarm and somewhat mocking reviews of his latest work The Shadow Conspiracy, Charles stumbled into the deep dark woods that lined the eastern border of the Kingdom. As he sat, head in hands, he heard a soft, seductive voice call out to him promising the fame, fortune, and winning that he so rightly deserved.   As Charles looked up he saw the powerful form of a great black panther silently enter the clearing and bound towards him like liquid night. As the great cat came to a stop in front of him and he locked eyes with it, he heard the voice again, “taste of my blood and all of what you desire shall be yours again”. Needless to say you didn’t have to ask Charles twice as he bogarted that panther blood like it was bongwater.

After he returned to the kingdom his agent contacted him with the offer for a new gig. It seemed that the king himself was in need of a new court jester. When he heard this news the panther blood within him began to sing and Charles new that playing the fool was his path to winning again. And win he did, it all came back the fame, the women, the adoration, the women, and wagon full’s of money. He was paired with two other jesters, a troll disguised as a human and a Halfling, and collectively they were known as two and a half men. The run he was on made Sinatra, Flynn, Jagger, Richards all look like droopy-eyed, armless children.  He noticed strange new powers and abilities like incredible fortitude and constitution. He found he could take more drugs and bang more women than any mere mortal could survive. He was banging seven-gram rocks because that’s how he rolled. He learned that he now only had one speed, which was “Go”. But like so many before him, Charles learned that there is always a steep price to pay when one makes a dark pact. With the panther blood fuelling his natural narcissism Charles barely noticed the insanity that was slowly gripping him.  He began not playing by the king’s rules and his jesting and court foolery began to cross the line into open insults. That soft, seductive voice kept whispering to him, convincing him that he didn’t need the king and that he had to stop pretending he wasn’t special and that he was a total bitchin’ rock star from mars. The final straw came when one of the kings men suggested he tone things down a bit, you know for the good of the realm.  Charles flew into a terrible  narcissistic rage and laid a horrible curse on the king, transforming him into a lowly earth worm before vanishing from the court.

You the brave adventures have been hired by the Queen to exact punishment on Themasheen and force him to lift his curse. It is thought that Themasheen has retreated to his ocean front lair with his “goddesses”, so confident and deluded in his belief that no one would dare challenge him. If you are to be victorious, you must not only best Themasheen but also his army of assassins and his “goddesses”, which are believed to be 2 succubae. Your rewards, should you succeed, will be great indeed, for not only will you have the thanks and gratitude of the realm but you will claim Themasheen’s riches as he often stated he was worth well over a 100 billion gold pieces.


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I have been following Mike Mearls’ series of articles titled “Legends and Lore” in which he has been waxing poetic about D&D, the game itself, its history and evolution over time and between editions, as well as subtle and fleeting hints about what the future may hold. If you haven’t checked it out yet you should. They are posted on The Dungeon and Dragons homepage and are free content.

One recurring theme that emerges in these articles is that, from his perspective, D&D as a game is defined by the subjective experience and conceptions of the players that play it. This results in the game meaning different things to different people and therefore the style and manner in which it is played is then dependent on these idioms.  In more concrete terms, however you conceptualize the game then determines what mechanical parts of the rule system you choose to utilize or house-rule to better suit your vision. So for example, if you’re Dungeons and Dragons is all about role-playing then you might ignore the skill challenge mechanic or even skill checks and just rely on the narrative. Similarly, complexity would also vary based on conception and desire. So if you just want your fighter to hit things with a big sword really hard then the choice is there for you, but if you want to take that same fighter and build him into the six million dollar tanking, marking, sliding, knocking prone man, than the tools are there for you to do this as well.

I can sort of see this concept in the Essential’s line and the “design philosophy going forward” as we now have 2 styles of characters that are fairly balanced and can play nice with each other at the table, while at the same time appealing to different conceptions, desires, and preference for complexity and tinkering. I know there is a lot of bitching about how they are not supporting the original 4E classes, but honestly how many more options do I really need for my fighter, rogue, or ranger. I already get nauseous opening up the character builder and trying to sort through the multitude of attack powers and feats. I really see the new character themes as way to meaningfully add new options and mechanics for the older classes as well as the new builds, but which are optional and therefore follow the concept of picking the game elements and level of complexity you want.

I have to admit Mr.  Mearls has me a bit intrigued as to what the future of D&D holds and what it might look like under his vision and leadership.

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Grind

A veritable plethora of commentary has been made around the length of combat in D&D 4th edition, its gamiest or tactical nature, and the potential for grind. In the last session of my home game I sort of ran face first into this issue. I new heading in the session was going to be combat heavy as the party was delving into an ancient crypt to retrieve an artifact. I had three encounters planned but cut the middle encounter out because I was worried about the party’s resources for the final fight and trying to reduce combat time to progress the story further given we only play once a month. After they laid a beat down on the tomb guardian and his minions they emerged into the warm desert morning with the precious artifact in hand when I offhandedly and without any prior notion made a comment that they could see a large dust cloud approaching in the distance signaling a group of riders.  Now I should have known better because the first thing out of there mouths was “lets hide and ambush them”. I ended up throwing together an encounter on the fly with a very much hated villain who has pwned the party on more than one occasion.  I wanted to try and give them some real choices in fighting a hated villain were victory was not a given or sneak away with the artifact and complete their mission.  In hindsight it wasn’t really a surprise that we rolled for initiative. Three back to back tuff encounters felt like a massive slog to me, so much so that I had the villain flee from the fight partly because that is the kind of douchey thing he would do and partly because we were running out of game time. I really felt wiped after the session.

A lot has been written on how to speed up combat in 4th edition. I tend to shy away from implementing too many of these strategies, as I kind of feel that if I am going to alter the game that much I might as well just play another system, plus I like the combat for the most part. When the battle is past that point of no return and is in the inevitable win for the party stage I tend to minionize monsters a bit or turn standard monsters into 2 hit minions. I think, upon reflection, I get exhausted by running that much combat in one game session, there is definitely a tipping point for me. I also want a little more non-combat character interactions and role-play in my games which can be difficult to maintain in a system where the combats can take a long time to resolve. 4th edition, to me, is a lot like 2 games combined into one. You have the role-playing game and the combat game. When the Dungeon Tiles come out then the role-playing game exits stage left and the combat game begins, and vice versa. I am sure there are better DM’s out there that can integrate the systems more seamlessly than me but when combat breaks out I find it difficult to keep the banter and soliloquies and narrative up for like an hour plus until the last baddy falls. In reality, I really can only come up with a couple of good lines per fight and have to be careful to not prematurely blow my load too early in the battle.

 I have come to the realization that 3 combats is a wee bit too much for me in one session. I think 2 or even 1 large battle with more role-playing/bullshitting will reduce the grind and exhaustion. The funny thing is I was more worried about the player’s and their experience of combat heavy sessions and the long grind, but when I looked around the table they were all excited and on the edge of their seats and mentioned to me what a great time they had. I don’t know, maybe I am a bit of a lightweight, but at least the next time a combat heavy session breaks out I don’t have to worry as much about my players thinking the game sucks.

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My online campaign imploded the other week faster than Charlie Sheen’s career, so I thought I would give a bit of a post-mortem. The game was running fairly smoothly as the party had just curb stomped Lareth The Beautiful’s face all over the moat house and were about to be paid a visit from some assassins sent by the Temple of Elemental Evil. What eventually killed the campaign was player turnover. I had managed to maintain at least 4 constant players, while occasionally adding a fifth for brief periods of time, but last week I lost 2 players, one to military deployment and the other to system fatigue. Over the 9 months the campaign ran I had 9 players, with 2 of them there from the start to implosion. I could have easily kept adding players but when I sat back and reflected it didn’t feel right adding a bulk of new players to an ongoing campaign in the middle of a story line that none of them had really shared. It just seemed too forced. So it was time to pull the shoot.

What have I learned from this little foray into the ether?

1. If you are willing to be the DM and run a game online you will never have a problem getting players, keeping them maybe, but getting them no. All you need to do is put out a “call to arms” on whatever message board you like and they will flock to you like children to the Pied Piper.

2. Unless you are playing with people you know in the real world expect player turnover. You will get no shows for sessions without a heads-up and people dropping out with less courtesy than you would expect from a four year-old child.

3. Wargames is a fucking douche

4. It is a little more difficult to run an open-ended /less structured game given the nature of the medium and tactical nature of 4th edition. I tried to combat this by making generic maps that I could load if needed. As the DM, rolling dice instead of using a framework made this easier as I could make monsters up on the fly or just open one of the monster books and go from there rather than be beholden to inputting the monster statistics into an online token.

5. You have to work at the game to prevent it from just becoming a tactical skirmishing video game. Role playing is very doable, but you have to put some effort into it, and it can be more difficult to foster and maintain than in a face to face game given the inherent nature of the medium. What I struggled with was the lack of eye contact, facial expression, and body language to communicate with and the sense of detachment that can occur.

6. Despite its shortcomings, online gaming is still pretty awesome for what it offers. The ease with which you can find a game and play almost any system you can imagine is simply fantastic. I cannot overstate the convenience and flexibility online gaming offers, particularly for people that live in isolated areas or that can’t find a local game or if you are like me are saddled with young children. Being able to schedule a game after my kids are in bed and not having to travel or leave my house really allows me to play more regularly than would otherwise be possible and with way less wife aggro.

7. I want to kick my own ass for taking the campaign off the rails and making myself write adventures for this game. This is only an issue because I am already doing this for my face to face game and so the added workload was like a self-induced cock-punch. I also found running a weekly game a bit of a grind at times and think that perhaps every other week would be more in my Goldilocks zone.

So where do we go from here? Well I signed up to run Revenge of the Giants on Wizard’s Virtual Table Top on a bi-monthly basis. I did this for 2 reasons, one I wanted to fully test out the Wizard’s VTT and secondly I want to get a sense of play in the Paragon Tier. I put out the “call to arms” and already have a waitlist (see number 1 and 2). It also looks like I will get to play as well which is pretty sweet as one of the players in now defunct campaign is going to run something until the one cat gets back from deployment, at which time I will pick back up DM’ing something new. I also think that, aside from my face to face game, I am done with trying for the full money shot campaign and will stick to more mini-campaigns.

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