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Archive for January, 2012

I Hit it With My Sword!

Due to the inherent vagaries of life my gaming group can constrict or expand on a dime, forcing me to adapt the game around the changing cast of characters. This can be a bit of a drag sometimes, particularly if I have to drop an interesting story arc or thread, but what are going to do as gaming is defiantly better than not gaming. Another challenge that an ever changing player base can pose is in encounter design and scaling the challenge level. I am okay with encounters turning out to be cake walks, unless it is one of the more climatic set piece ones as it can be a bit of a let down (note to self solo controllers suck), as increasing difficulty on the fly if I so choose to is relatively easy.  I am less fond of encounters being significantly more challenging that I expected as they are generally not much fun for anyone and making adjustments on the fly can feel a little cheesy.

Currently I have a core group of 3 players (strikerish paladin, laser cleric, twin blade ranger). I don’t like scaling encounters for 3 players as I find it a little swingy and sometimes feel limited in cool options. I also find it requiring a little more work and forethought, which I try to avoid. I really feel the game works best with 4 to 6 players. Now in the past when faced with low player count I have added various companion characters/npc’s tied to the different story threads (one of them recently knifed the paladin in the back with a poison blade and left him for dead) to fill out roles and hit that 4 character threshold. I typically created these characters on the guidelines provided in the DMG 2 which allow you to build a paired down version of a character with fewer options to make easier to play. I found this a serviceable option but not great as the companion characters were less effective and needed to be built by hand (booo).

I found the perfect solution in the essentials martial characters. They are super easy for one of the players to run in a combat and they are wickedly effective even if you don’t fully utilize their limited options. They can easily be built using the character builder and with a click of the inherent bonus’ button you don’t even have to worry about gear. The players had befriended and trained a half-orc gladiator named Tomas when they were running a fighting school as cover for espionage in Netheril, and he has subsequently become an important henchman of the gang. So I stated him out as a slayer and he has worked wonderfully. It also provides a target for me to beat on mercilessly when I am worried about killing one of the players.

I have thought some on these essentials martial characters given that both my players and I tend to fine them boring and subsequently shy away from them. I think they are very well built but it is the lack of options that pushes me away. I think, in part, what makes them a little boring for me is when you couple the limited options with the length of the typical combat in 4th edition it can  feel a little dull, at least my experience with the slayer. What’s funny is that when I play say pathfinder or older D&D I have no problem playing a martial character and have never been bothered by the “wizards rule fighters drool” deal.  I guess when given the option within the same system I prefer the option with more options. Maybe some of it is psychological in feeling like your missing out or being deprived of something.

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“Wars over man. Wormer dropped the big one”……that’s right, Wizards has announced the next iteration of Dungeons and Dragon and their claiming that it will be the edition to end all editions. No more warring or flaming needed. It is said to comprise the best of all editions, with modular madness allowing you to create almost any play style/edition you could dream of, including the elusive snuffleupagus edition, rumoured to be the one “true” D&D but which always seemed too have just finished when you sat down at the table. Talk about shooting for the moon.

I am a little ambivalent about this announcement. On the one hand I want Dungeons and Dragons to be massively successful, so successful that it becomes required curriculum in schools, so successful that is attributed to bringing about world peace. So I hope this next edition of the game is way super awesome. I do worry that when you try and sell it as the answer to all things that you are somewhat inviting disappointment. I am also pretty sure that I will enjoy playing the game just as I have with every other edition of the game with the exception of 2nd edition (these were my Runequest and Champions years).

What sours my excitement about the announcement is that 4 to 5 years for the life of an edition seems somewhat thin to me. Maybe I would feel differently if I started playing when 4th edition first dropped instead of 2 years into the cycle, but now I can better empathize with how some cats felt that were heavily invested in 3.x when they announced 4th edition. As a consumer I just feel fatigued. I look at the metric ton of books I have for this edition (I am still waiting on some items I have ordered) and the thought of starting over next year is a little unsettling. I am going to be smart about it this time and buy less stuff, and only stuff that I think I will use. At least that is the plan but I have talked before about my tendency to impulsively throw money at things, so will see. I also feel that Wizards were just hitting their stride with 4th edition, and were putting out their best books this past year.

What would I like to see in the next iteration of the D&D?   Whatever it looks like I hope they keep the ease with which 4th edition made being a Dungeon Master. I also want them to strive for fewer errata, perhaps the big open play test will help with this. One of my biggest disappointments with 4th edition was the required update to monster stats and damage that left me feeling like I couldn’t use a lot of the products I bought without extra work, and you know how I frown on that.

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Resolutions

Ah New Years, such a wonderful time, one of hope and anticipation as last year’s disappointments and somber introspection are plastered over with resolutions and the fruit of possibilities that they might bear. So what does the New Year hold for me, the middle-aged one? There is some craziness afoot I can assure you. No matter what happens, I will remain committed to spewing out my thoughts, ideas, paranoid fantasies, and experiences in the gaming world for your consumption.

I have decided to apply to medical school this fall. I know ridiculous right? I already have a doctorate in clinical psychology and have been practicing as a psychologist for the past several years. I just slowly came to the realization that I am not really digging it and have defiantly lost my passion for the work. So rather than face the next 25 to 30 years doing something I am not really happy with (a sure fire way to depression, mid-life crisis, implosion of relationships etc..) I had a choice to make, either make some changes and bring the passion back or try something new. I think I have always wanted to be a physician but I was such a horrific student in high-school with failing multiple courses and half-assing my way through the others (I was way more interested in sports, girls, and well gaming of course) that it just seemed beyond my capabilities, that I wasn’t smart enough. So, in the end I decided I should listen to some of the advice I give my patients in not letting fear and negative self-talk limit you.

So what does this existential crisis have to do with gaming? Well given that the next 6 to 7 months are going to be filled with preparing for the MCAT through a bi-weekly class, copious amounts of reading, and the Khan Academy (this guys is pure awesome) it’s about realistically how much gaming I can shoehorn in. My face to face home game is going strong and are committed to playing every 3 to 4 weeks so that is pretty solid and doable. I am in the planning stages of revamping my online game and running through the new 4th edition conversion of the old Against the Giants module, but am concerned that running 2 games might be a tad too taxing. But in true Goldilocks fashion running two games might be too much gaming but only running one game might be too little gaming. I might need to just run my home campaign and look to be a player in another game as the reduced prep time is what I think I really need. Secretly, I am hoping Mr. Morrison over at The Rhetorical Gamer is going to decide, as part of his New Years resolution in gaming, to run a game of Amber diceless rpg over the interwebs and invite me to play Duncan, the bookwormish and pacifist son of Benedict.

The New Year will also bring a transition with my home game. They are approaching the end of the first campaign arc and the heroic tier and I have begun conversations with them about what they want to do next. I got this idea from the Fear the Boot podcast to have a secret ballot of options for them to choose from. Here is what I sent out to them:

Also as we talked about nearing the end of the current campaign arc here are the choices/options going forward. Please give me a rank order from 1 to 3 for your preference.

a) continue current campaign into the paragon tier (level 12+) with either the same characters or with new ones

b) new campaign starting a t level 1 with new characters (D&D 4th edition)

c) Pathfinder game (a cleaned up better version of 3rd edtion D&D)

d) Star Wars Saga edition mini-campaign

e) Super-hero mini campaign (I have champions 4th edition and 6th edition, or DC Heroes/mutants and masterminds)

f) Old School D&D mini campaign (1st Edition AD&D)

For systems other than D&D 4th edition it would just be a brief campaign to test the system out.

It should be interesting to see what the New Year holds; I hope your year in gaming is good.

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