Archive for August, 2011

Fan Expo-The Conclusion

Well Fan Expo has come and gone leaving me a little fatigued. I didn’t get to play in any games which was slightly disappointing, but I was pretty drained after running each slot. I ended up just wandering the show floor numb, awash in a sea of people with questionable hygiene while feeling smothered and suffocated by the critical-mass of humanity.  Although I would never ever do it, but fuck I love the cosplay. I am totally blown away by what people are able to do these days from fat Jedi’s and Han Solo’s to sexy Harley Quinn’s to the weird Anime shit. Also who the hell would have thought that Draco Malfoy would have such an insane following? I mean 40$ a pop and the dude is constantly sold out at his appearances, like really what the fuckaticus?

Both my games went really well and were a lot of fun. I had 4 players the first day and 6 the second day, with the majority of them being noobs who just walked by and decided to try D&D out. I really enjoyed teaching the game to new players despite the extra work required at the table. I also found that some collaborative storytelling worked really well with them partly due to their not being as entrenched in the player role as others with more experience might be. It was also helpful because they wanted to do some crazy shit so it was easier to just say “wow that’s cool tell me what should happen”. Two of the noobs from the Friday game asked to keep their pre-gens so they could come back and play the next day because they had so much fun. There was also a teenager (I only say teenager because he had no idea who Jeff Spicoly was which then made me feel older than dirt) in the Saturday game who just kept shaking my hand and telling me how blown away he was and that this was something he needed to continue with. This made me feel really good and was worth more than any free pass.

As for Living Divine, the reviews were mixed but largely skewed to quite positive and people had a really good time. I found that the noobs really liked the idea of being gods. At the start of the adventure when I asked them what kind of deity would they be? Would they be benevolent and a force for good, peace and harmony in the world, or would they be malevolent dick bags that sowed chaos, destruction, and suffering? Or perhaps they would be something in between? I have to say that I was surprised by how many of the noobs seized on the whole malevolent dick bags angle and really went for some crazy and in some cases creepy shit, but that’s a tale for another post.  But it does bring up an interesting thing regarding the campaign as is being evil an option? They have domains for such things but the story rewards for the modules were for mostly being good or heroic. Also I am pretty sure this has the potential go PVP pretty quickly as I could see the seeds of it at the table. In a way I think the noobs were not aware of the tacit social contract of a living campaign in that you’re generally the good guys. I think in my Saturday game we had a true Pantheon going with some Lawful Good, Chaotic Good/Erotic (there was some ball grabbing), true Neutral, and Chaotic Evil.

The feedback wasn’t all positive as there were some concerns about balance, there being a lot to keep track of, feeling the way magic items are handled might be too restrictive to players, and one person commented that the system was a bit of a “schizophrenic mess”. I think only time well tell on a lot of these things as the campaign progresses up through the levels of play and you can see how things shake out and what will be issues or non-issues. The module that I ran didn’t make use of the mass combat system, but one person I was talking to said that the table he was at agreed to stop in the middle of the mass combat because it was frustrating and they weren’t having much fun with it. In fairness, I don’t think this was everyone’s experience as this was the only incident I heard about.

My advice for DM’s who are going to run this stuff is to make sure you prepare and think about how you’re going to handle certain things. In my mod there was a logic puzzle, divine traits to keep track of, and a non-combat encounter that could be tricky to play out. I found it to be a little more labor intensive than a lot of LFR mods I have run and  I think if you kind of just wing it then there is the potential for the experience to be a little flat or crappy, particularly if your also doing something like the mass combat. For myself, I think a lot of the extra bits would push me away from playing and DMng in this campaign, particularly given the low frequency I make use of other live play events like LFR. For example, if I have some free time and want to run this at the FLGS or even a con, on top of the 4e rule set (which is not insignificant) I feel I also have to know the mechanics for divine talents, domains, and manifestations, mechanics for followers, and mechanics for mass combat, but your mileage might very and I know a lot of people like added complexity and options.

I am not sure if Living Divine has the broad appeal of something like LFR or even Ashes of Athas, but I defiantly think it has a niche and that a lot of people will have fun with it. But don’t just take my opinion on it, visit their site and read the materials then go out and play in it and make up your own mind….and then come back and flame me 😉


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Fan Expo-part deux

Twas the night before Fan Expo when all through the house not a creature was stirring not even a mouse…well actually there is a mouse stirring but that’s another story….the backpack was filled with dice, maps, and mini’s and was hung by the couch  with incredible care….

I am just wrapping up prep for the first game tomorrow, and between this, work and family I am pretty tired. Although it is hard to get angry when your 2 year-old in the middle of the night pads his way to the side of you bed and wakes you up by breathing like Darth Vader and asking you to join the dark side. I made 6 pre-gens, all essentials builds for simplicity and consisting of human slayer, dwarf warpriest, elf mage, Halfling thief, and 2 human knights complete with somewhat optimized Divine Talents. I apologize in advance if you have trouble reading the Divine talents as I have the handwriting of an 80 year-old arthritic.

I found the section of magic items in the player’s guide and can see one of the ways they are addressing game balance is by putting the clamps on magic items. You are unlikely to get any items as loot (although the middle-aged DM can be bought with some cool limited edition con swag-just saying 🙂 ) and you definitely can’t buy them, but instead will have to spend your divine talents on imbuing your mundane gear with some of your divinity. So you won’t have a level 1 item until you hit 3rd level.  That is an interesting way to handle the craziness that is magic items in 4th edition. I am looking at you duel wielding staff of ruins and other such shenanigans like replaying mods. Although the slayer with his Domain of Destruction is still rocking  +10 vrs AC 1d10+11 on a charge and 2d10+11 with power attack at first level but whatya going to do, I hope no one picks him. I didn’t have to stomach to give that to the thief who would be hitting me with 2d6+2d8+9 when backstabbing so he got Divine Prescience instead. I actually like the idea of not being able to buy magic items as it fits my sensibilities more, although I think my true preference is inherent bonuses with access to very limited items as loot.

I hope we get some players this weekend; I am kind of concerned as the coordinator suggested that there wasn’t a huge turnout last year. You can see on the schedule that we are the only RPG game running whereas, if I remember correctly, there were several different game systems offered last year. But in fairness this is really a comic and video game deal. Although, how sad in that this shows my age, I remember way back in the day when it was just a comic show and at the CNE. It was at that show I bought Macfarlane’s first run on Amazing Spiderman…but I digress and need to get off the bed so I can be awakened in the middle of the night by my young sith-lord. I had to make assurances that my threatened ball-stomping was in fact just hyperbole, but mind you I am not above a gentle fondling 😉

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To Maul or not to Mual

I am gearing up to play in a Dark Sun game and needless to say I am pretty psyched about it. That would put my stats at running 2 games and playing in 2 games. I know I know playing in two games is almost unheard of around here, it’s like the fates are favouring me. Although there is an undercurrent of dread as well, like I am having too much good fortune and fun? Like Icarus, am I flying too close to the sun and in moments will I find myself hurtling towards the earth? Because I DM so much and know the amount of work that goes into it, even if your just running pre-made stuff, I am very grateful  and appreciative for the opportunity to play.

Where am I going with this? Well I need to pick a new character to roll with. The first campaign is set in Italy and I am playing a Human Rogue that is essentially my father-law right down to the accent, although slightly more flamboyant.  So I ended up making 2, with the first one being the spare leader that I tend to default too when no one else wants to play a leader. For the second character I choose to make a barbarian. I haven’t played a barbarian before so I kind of want to test drive one.  After the initial choice what did I do? Well it was almost automatic in that I logged onto the character optimization boards to essentially to tell me what I needed.  This gave me pause, as I thought about how seductive the pull to optimize a character is for me. Its’ like the char-op boards are the emperor whispering the sweet nothings of the dark side in my ear.  I have a good/cliché character concept for role-playing purposes, namely a big meaty Goliath/half-giant (that’s right props to 2ed) thug that smashes things with a

"come get a taste"

massive blunt object. I am kind of picturing the Rock smashing people with a 2×4 in that movie Walking Tall.

So do I really need him to be uber optimized? And what if he is not? what will that mean or even look like? Will I really notice? Will I have less fun? One of the things that got me thinking about this is that it would appear that the good ole fullblade is the thing for the barbarian (or at minimum a superior weapon) and I kind of have my heart set on a huge hammer, which right out of the box is less accurate and accuracy is king in 4e strikers.   The DM said no fullblades or mordenkrads as we are sticking with player’s handbook and dark sun books for weapons which is cool. So I choose a maul over gouge for flavour as I hate the look of the gouge, but I have to admit it caused me a little agita.  I think I was surprised by how much I like optimizing characters. Well in fairness I am not really an optimizer, with my poor math skills and weak executive functions I am more of an optimizer groupie. I have never believed that adage that optimizers and role-players can’t mix without fear of crossing the streams and fucking us all, or that the 2 are mutually exclusive. I do think that optimizing can make it tuff on the DM and would have no problem dialling things back if asked.

There is one thing that concerns me since the barbarian really suffers from some mutual attribute dependency and that is the AC seems kind of low in the heroic tier. I am a little worried that with an AC of 16 the big bad monsters of Dark Sun are going to bend my poor barbarian over and turn him into some kind of Athasian prison bride. So I am curious to any of you out there that have played barbarians what your experience of their durability is and have you taken a different track when making one.

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Fan Expo

Here ye here ye, come one come all and let the Middle-Aged DM try and stomp your balls. That’s right Fan Expo is next week from August 25th to 28th and I will be running two D&D 4th Edition games. Fan Expo is the big deal convention in downtown Toronto Canada that has burgeoned over the years into a massive cornucopia of comic, sci-fi, anime, and gaming goodness. Yours truly graciously offered to run 2 slots (August 26th and 27th, 11:00am to 3:30pm) out of the goodness of my heart. The free pass to the convention that just happens accompany running 2 slots had nothing to do with my generous offer I can assure you.

I will be running “The Fire Within”, which is an introductory adventure for a new living campaign that is being promoted at Fan Expo called “Living Divine”. The campaign is set in a homebrewed setting and the basic gist is that you have a spark of divinity within you, a god living among men. As you progress throughout the campaign and your power increases you gather followers and build an empire.

My first impression, at a quick glance, is that the concept is an intriguing story and premise for a campaign, particularly with 4th edition D&D where at the epic tier you are quite god-like and well….epic. What I am not really sure about is how it will actually play out at the table. For example, at each level your character chooses a “divine trait” which is essentially a power, ability or talent that is meant to illustrate your growing divinity. While cool and flavorful story wise, my concern is the level of power creep that this creates. I think PC’s are already overpowered and hard to challenge as is without adding extra bling to the mix. In a similar vein, I also noticed that the villain/monster stats are pre-Monster Manual 3 leaving them a little underwhelming in the damage and threat department. This has the potential to result in a bit of a snore fest, similar to a lot of the early LFR adventures. But don’t worry, if you are planning on sitting at my table as I obviously pimped the damage to more respectable levels. You see, I don’t like to be hindered or stymied in my attempted ball stomping. I haven’t had a chance to really look deeply at the mechanics for having followers or the mass combat so I can’t really comment too much on that, but cursory glance appears to be more of the same in terms of adding power the more followers you have. There is also a mechanic called “Divine Manifestation”, were the DM, after the adventure can dub your character with an a adjective that is meant to exemplify an important action your character takes or way they behave during the adventure, which then physically manifests in your appearance. for example, say you do something that is kind of douchey, the DM at the end of the adventure can dub you “Evil”.  Every time you level you put all these key words into a hat (not making this shit up honestly) and roll a d20, if it is 15 or higher you pull a keyword out and take on that manifestation. If you pull evil “when you laugh, you scare small children. Unconsciously, you often rub your hands together conspiratorially”

Overall, Living Divine seems like a interesting home campaign and  not something you should necessarily subject the public at large to. For my tastes, if I am going to participate in a D&D living campaign I want it to be set in one of their worlds such as the Forgotten Realms or Dark Sun like the more recent living Campaign “Ashes of Ashes”.  There are also a lot of fiddly bits for both the DM and players to manage in a system that is already high on fiddly bits to manage,while adding to power creep and bloat.  that being said, I don’t think I will run or play in this living campaign after Fan Expo, unless their is cool swag to be had as the Middle-Aged DM can be easily bought with shinny baubles.

So if you want to roll some dice bring your best 1st level character and let’s tango. You can find the specific character creation guidelines here as there are some limitations and extra powers that are specific to the campaign or you can use one of the pre-generated characters which I promise I won’t make too full of suck. Don’t worry, if you just want to bring a regular old character I won’t turn you away.

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I was extremely fortunate to partake in the Neverwinter Game Day at my FLGS this past weekend. It only required a trip to the zoo, several splash pads, and attendance at a picnic for my in-laws Italian social club to build up enough leverage to make my escape to the empire of the nerds with only minimal wife aggro. Needless to say this wasn’t a spur of the moment carpe diem deal, but more an intricate plotting and machinations affair. I can still see the look of protest and the tone in my wife’s voice when I proudly announced my intentions and watched her internal struggle and quiet resignation play out before me… yes check and mate sir.

In my experience these things can be sort of hit or miss, as last year at the Red Box Game Day I ended up having to DM because no one showed up to run the adventure. The production quality for this event was absolutely fantastic, way better than last year, from the adventure to the free swag that every player received (full color fold out map of Neverwinter, 2 fortune cards which I of course tore up and threw in the DM’s face, a bookmark, and a power card with a Neverwinter character theme). The adventure itself was entertaining, flowed well, and was not overly long. It was an interesting set-up and prologue to the next season of Encounters that starts rolling this week. It makes me lament not being able to play Encounters anymore but unfortunately there are not enough Italian picnics in the world that would grant me safe passage to the nerd store on a weekday evening. It does appear that someone in Wizards has been boning up on synergy as they have really become focused on tying all product releases to the same theme. So for the next little while it is going to be Neverwinter all the time anytime. I have been really impressed by the continued quality improvement in the Encounters program that I would love to see them release the adventures for public consumption when the season is long over.

They attempted to introduce a new wrinkle this time in having people create their characters on the spot, complete with rolling your ability scores. I am pretty sure they adjusted the monster stats for this adventure to account for the possible suckage that could ensue from this.  I, not surprisingly, ignored this stipulation and built 3 essentials characters the night before (warpriest, thief, and knight). I understand what they were going for but in reality it came off as overly cumbersome and time consuming. I ended up helping a first time player build his character, and without that help and continued support throughout the game I don’t think he would have had a very good experience. We had seven players and guess what class I ended up running? Of course I ended up playing a leader in one Carl Laggerbelly, dwarven warpreist extraordinaire. Carl performed his duties admirably, keeping the party in ship shape with no deaths (despite the DM twice attacking an unconscious player, it is a good thing he didn’t understand the whole coup de grace rules). Carl even sacrificed a standard action to use a heal check to trigger the slayers second wind, that’s just the kind of guy Carl is. It also didn’t hurt that we were fighting a douche face necromancer and lots of undead as Carl had access to tons of radiant powers thanks to his unwavering devotion to Pelor.

Overall it was a good time and I thoroughly enjoyed myself, even momentarily forgetting that I was not in fact attending GenCon this year, but alas it was only momentarily and the pain, anguish, and rage quickly returned.  And for those of you who were fortunate enough to attend GenCon this year…well go fuck yourselves 😉

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