A quiet month …

Wow.  That has been an interesting month.  A cold followed by a bit of a cough (no, not coronavirus) slowed me down, and a whole series of other bits and pieces as well.  My wife is preparing to start a new job, so we have had all the up and downs of interviews and preparing to leave a long-term employer.  The government have added yet more paperwork for the training providers I work for (Part Time) and that inevitably gets pushed down to me.  However, this is just  …

There was a rant here that I took out  J  But you get the idea!

It has, on the other hand, been a quiet month on the game front.  I spent a few days thinking about building the Rules Website that I spoke about in the last post.  I even went as far as creating a game and a Wiki at RPoL so that I could think about structures and start putting some content together.  It didn’t go well, as I soon realized that I wanted to do a number of different things.

  1. I want to include the rules changes I have used (or have considered) to make my D20 games work faster, or more easily, on RPoL.  Anything that delays a player posting holds the game up.  Effects that run for more than one round, may need tracking over weeks of real time.  There are lots of little tweaks.  (Note:  I run slow games with a once-a-week post rate)
  2. I want the site to only contain ‘Core’ rules, but I also want it to be usable for both Pathfinder and 3.0/3.5e.  So whose core rules?  I suspect that this is not an insurmountable problem – but it is one that I haven’t thought about yet.
  3. I started putting my own tweaks in.  For example, Gnomes haven’t had a strong ‘persona’ across the game’s history, and every new version /publisher that comes along chops them about a bit more. Because of this, Gnomes don’t really feature in games worlds I write, and I found myself writing an article justifying why I wasn’t going to include them as a PC class on the website.  Now this is something I do want to do for my games world site –  but I don’t know that I want to mix the two up together.

So that project has been put on hold and sent back for more consideration.  One day I will learn to separate the three things – either that or I’ll just publish a whole new games system with an integral world …   Well, a man can dream :}

However, there have been some real positives this month.  We recently finished the Kingdom Round and I promised the players that I would start up a couple of pure RP threads for them to play around in.  These are ‘Fuzzy Time’ threads that run alongside the adventure threads.  The PCs are still out adventuring, slaying monsters and exploring deserted strongholds – but they are also doing social / RP things that are outside the normal timeline.  I monitor ‘Fuzzy’ threads, to make sure that they  don’t cross over with the ‘Adventure’ threads, but the players, generally, understand the concept and I don’t have to interfere all that often.  It has  worked really well as a way of letting players develop their characters, without interrupting play.

One thread took a group of  PCs into Restov, where they have been meeting up with their families, shopping and politicking.  That particular group gave been exploring their backstories and (in some cases) forging strong links and relationships between their characters.  A second group took a boat south to explore Jovvox  (Yeah!  Gnomes.  But this is Paizo’s game world, rather than mine) and Mivon.  So far we have got to Jovvox, and we are about to go and have dinner with a gnome merchant.  There are others who have been in the woods trying to catch a thylacine.   They have all been great fun to watch, and they have given me (and the players) an opportunity to understand the characters better.  And the ‘Boat Trip’ thread gave me the opportunity to wheel out one of my favourite NPCs – Helga! 

Helga first appeared in my Kingmaker table-top game, when I needed someone who knew their way about boats and Mivon.  As she was going to be a recurring NPC, she had to have a character sheet of her own, and that meant I could be a  bit more flexible within my own NPC guidelines.  Helga is a Half-Orc commoner, who grew up on the Mivon dockside and finished up working on the docks and as a sailor in The River Kingdoms.  And as everyone knows, River Kingdom sailors are not far short of Pirates ….

Helga is now L5 and has some nice gear for a commoner – including hand-me-down magic items passed on to her from her previous employers. She has a very low charisma, negative mods for Diplomacy and Bluff –  but a decent Intimidate modifier.  As a Ship’s captain she barks at her crew, threatens them –  but is always there alongside them with her Masterwork greataxe (or her Brass Knuckles) if ever they are in trouble.  Her Str and Dex  are high enough that she doesn’t get pushed around by the everyday folks of a city.

But she is great fun to play.  She is never very diplomatic in what she says to her bosses, and tends to tell things as she sees them, rather than prettying them up.  And then she shouts at her crew, and (potentially) anyone else she  is lower down the pecking order than she is.

I like playing Helga!

Rules

Those people who play with me soon realise that I have an obsession about the rules.   Not in the sense that I am a stickler for the published rules, or that I know all of them inside out and have every single rule book going.  Pretty much the opposite, in fact.  I like games where the rules are easy to use and fade into the background –  rules give the game structure, but the game should be dominated by role-playing and storytelling, rather than the minutiae of rules and rolls.  That is one of the reasons why D20 works for me as a rule set – it a nice straightforward mechanic (Roll a D20 and add your modifier) that allows a Player to Role Play the event – especially in an online environment.  For example …

“George ducks down behind his shield as he advances on the dragon, hoping it will provide some protection from the monster’s fiery breath.  Then, peeking around the side, he swings his longsword towards the dragon’s neck. ”  (OOC rolled D20+11 to hit –  total 13.  Whoops.)

Or

“Brianna teeters on the edge of the ledge as she tries to dodge the axe, then a loose stone dislodges under her foot and for a moment she hangs there staring at the ground thirty feet below her ….  Then, somehow, she manages to throw herself backwards, flicking herself onto the roof of the tower again.   Relief floods through her, until she turns to see the half-orc raising his axe again.”  (OOC Reflex save.  Rolled d20 +14 = 34! Yay!)

Note for people that DM me:  I wish I could remember to write like that all the time.  😛  Few people write like that every time –  but I love it when I do see a post like that.  It works particularly well when players know what they need to roll to succeed – as they often do in the later stages of a battle.

However, the rules also define the basic style and structure of the game.   Chivalry and Sorcery has a very different feel to Runequest, which feels different to GURPs or D&D.  And, much as I love both systems, I can’t imagine playing a medieval fantasy game using the rules that came with the original Marvel Superheroes or Classic Traveller.

And that is how I finished up playing Dungeons and Dragons based games, rather than other systems.  I quite liked the feel of the original rules, Tolkienesqe, mythological overtones – and the Monk thrown in for good measure!  Flexible enough you could build your own worlds and cultures with it if you wanted to.  There were lots of different settings, of course, but none of the guys I played with really invested in any of them –  so we played very much within the original rules and maintained the feel of the game.  Actually, I probably have a few hundred pounds worth of AD&D books – but they were always addition reference books, something to browse through at leisure and pick out one or two bits to help personalise a character.

Then came the 3rd ed – it took me a while to move to it –  but I did eventually, thanks to playing Neverwinter Nights of the computer.  I am still slightly uncomfortable with a character generation system that encourages complex planned builds – IMO carefully constructed builds might make for very powerful characters, but they often lead to one dimensional, one trick ponies.  I like good flexible characters who engage with my world and react to the world.  I would rather DM players who are prepared to build their characters on the experiences they get in game, rather than to a plan.

And the internet makes it worse.  With easy access to on-line rules sites every single rule that is published becomes available to everyone.  Every player can discuss builds with other like-minded players around the world. And some build discussions on the Paizo forums (I have switched to Pathfinder) are incredibly complex and convoluted.  Mining skills and feats across a range of publications and settings, skilled builders can build characters that are significantly more powerful than those that anyone else plays.  Does that matter, I hear you ask.  And the answer is yes – because as a GM I have to manage combats and scenarios that suit all the characters and let all of them play a significant role.  If the party has one Uber Character that is significantly more powerful that everyone else – it gets boring quite fast.  Well it gets boring fast for everyone else but the player of the Uber Character.

OK.  Rant over.  I have nothing against that style of play –  but it doesn’t suit my style of GMing, so not in my games  🙂  However, it does bring me to the point of this blog entry.

My ‘Stolen Lands’ game on RPoL has been running for about three years and has between 12 and 18 players at any one time.  As always there is quite a high level of attrition.  Players come along play for a while and decide the game isn’t for them (that’s cool.  I do the same thing), real-life happens, and they take a break, or move on to other things.  That is life for a long-running game on a play by post site.  But it means that I get have to keep going through the   “No, you can’t have that” process quite regularly.  Ah, and yes – there is lots of guidance about what people can, and can’t, use.  But they miss stuff, I miss stuff and then  … 

So I have been thinking about making a D20 reference website that just covers the rules I allow.  That then made me wonder how I could make the rules better for RPoL style play.  For example, initiative works differently in Online Play – combats take long enough as it is, but if everyone waited for their initiative before they posted, they would be even longer.  In a one post a week game –  effects that are calculated over a number of rounds can be a pain –  poison, disease, alchemist’s fire, and I am sure there are others.  What if we could pull those effects into one round?  That would certainly make it easier and less intrusive.  I am certain there are others as well …

I wonder ….

Neverwinter Nights

I have never been much of a computer gamer, but I have played a few. The first one was nearly 50 years ago – it was a co-op Star Trek simulator, that needed a few million pounds worth of mainframe to run – and provided overnight entertainment during the quiet parts of the graveyard shift. After that very little appealed to me until Age of Empires – another game that could be played cooperatively. There were a couple of others, but the next big one was Neverwinter Nights. Not so much the game itself, but the other stuff that came with it.

It was the first part of the game, that you could play cooperatively, that got me hooked. My wife and I played it together. Later, Co-op play was phased out of the official game in favour of ‘personalised immersive cut-scenes’ – and I don’t think I ever finished the official game. However, it came with a tool set that allowed you to start building your own worlds – and that fascinated me. Computing and D&D all together in one package – what more could a man want?

Within a few months I was taken on as a DM/Builder by a game called Champions of Vydor, owned by a guy called Prince Wally – OK that wasn’t his proper name, but it was the name he went by. Like all the Developers I wrote some adventure areas, and even roped in my wife and son to work with me. Together we built the graveyard/cemetery in Vydor as a cooperative project. I think my son was about 14 at the time – and I taught him the basics of scripting using the conversation editor and Aurora tool-set that comes with NWN.

We also built, and ran, a Dwarves Guild as a family. All Dwarves were welcome and once every couple of weeks we would go out on a guild run. Rather than a small party of around about the same level – every player on the server was invited to bring a Dwarf character (of any level) and we would go blatt things the Dwarven way. There were lots of Dwarven Defenders, Paladins and other combat classes, backed up by the occasional cleric – but there were no real casters, and we would just swarm everything that we came across. It was brilliant fun.

But my main role was to write social systems for the server. I don’t think Prince Wally was expecting that when he took me on – but he certainly saw it as a bonus. One set of scripts changed characters alignments – steal stuff or smuggle drugs you become more chaotic, Kill innocents you move to evil etc. There were other actions that moved you towards Lawful or Good and the whole thing became an RP rules subset, where you picked up alignment changes according to your behaviour. Another set of scripts dealt with titles. You could pick up a knighthood, or various other titles, by carrying out quests and spending money. Then all the NPCs started calling you by rank and title whenever you spoke to them. There were other, less public, effects as well.

Probably the death system was the most widely used. Rather than charging a fixed amount of gold and XP to respawn, I made death into a small adventure. So long as you had made an offering to the death god, you were allowed to run back to life along the Paths of the Dead. Disembodied spirits would try to steal some of your life (xp) and coins for the boatman (gp) from you as you ran. The only problem was that there were four different areas, and they all looked exactly the same – but each had a slightly different solutions. It became a bit of a fun, and added a bit of extra challenge to the game.

Then they got rid of NWN and replaced it with NWN II – which wasn’t anywhere near as good – and the whole scene died away fairly quickly. Until recently, when Beamdog released a ‘remastered’ version of the original NWN. It runs on Win 10, and other operating systems, it only cost me £15 on steam, and I get updates automatically. Win/Win.

However, I am not particularly impressed by the persistent game worlds that are out there – but then both my wife and I are very particular about where we play. Recently we have been playing on a world called Blackstone Keep, although I think we are coming towards the end of our time there. But, we are still there looking around, and we might yet find a few more areas to keep us amused. If not, I am sure we will find somewhere else to play for a while.

But, as you might have guessed, I have started build a new Persistent World of my own. At the moment I have the basic persistence scripted, a world plan and a few dozen areas. I have almost finished a new script-set, that automates basic boss encounters, and when I add that characters will be able to progress to level five or six! Yeah, I know that isn’t very high, but gives me the base to build the rest of the world on.

The next phase will bring in my ‘alignment changing’ script set, a simple point-to-point teleportation system, and a few more encounter areas! I’m looking forward to it.


Just as an aside – if any of you play NWN, let me know and maybe we can get together on a PW at some point. Or, just as importantly, if you want to help build the world, I would be happy to hear from you. Scripters, adventure developers, story editors are all welcome.

Before long I will be hosting the world publicly on a home server, but if it gets big enough (and good enough) I will probably pay for it to be hosted professionally. That woul be nice 🙂

The Birthday Game

This weekend was our annual Birthday Game, a weekend of gaming that serves as Ari’s (my wife0 birthday party and my birthday present to her. We start Friday evening and play five sessions of three to four hours, which means we normally finish around bout lunch-time on Sunday. When we started we experimented with players and numbers, but a few years ago settled on a group consisting of Ian (my son), Cristian and Swampy (A couple of friends I have known for years), Greg and Leighton (friends we met at a TT group local a few years ago). Ages range from 20s to 60s, but we all get on really well together – and they are all experienced players with an eye for some low level teasing and a bit of fun. The party consists of:-

  • Fern – a half-elven Ranger with connections (Ari)
  • Cal – a dwarf Rogue with aggressive tendencies (Ian)
  • Seamus – a mithral clad Paladin (Cris)
  • Marvello – an aristocratic Mystic Theurge (Swampy)
  • Mulog – an eccentric Druid with an unhealthy interest in frogs (Greg)
  • Stonewall – a half-orc Barbarian-Oracle (Leighton)

The weekend always starts in the same way – bowl of home-made stew, character updating and a fairly straightforward game session that lets everyone get into their characters. Then probably a bottle of port, or two as we reminisce before bed. Saturday starts with plates of bacon sandwiches, and three playing sessions separated by breaks for lunch and dinner – from the local take-away. Oh, and more port to round the evening out… Sunday is more bacon sandwiches, before the last session (the climax of the adventure) and finishes at about lunchtime so everyone can get home at a sensible time.

The campaign is based around a series of old AD&D 1e adventures that have been stitched together to make a short campaign. This year’s scenario was called The Ghost Tower of Inverness, which was originally used as a tournament dungeon back in 1979.  TSR added a few extra encounters when the released it as a module and I added a few more to help bring it up-to-date and make sure everyone was kept on their toes.  The concept is fairly straightforward, as you would expect from a tournament dungeon, with four dungeon tunnels for the party to explore.  In each they need to find part of a key.  Once they have all four parts, they can enter the Ghost Tower and fight their way to the artefact that they were sent to recover. All very straightforward – except that it was a powerful wizard’s tower and the whole place is defended by magical traps and summonses.

The leg they chose to explore first included an Aurumvorax trapped in an advanced Sepia Snake Sigil, a manticore and an old-fashioned rolling-ball illusion. None of which really caused them any problems 🙂

The second leg had a room that summoned random monsters, a room with animating statues of Bugbears and a corridor protected by Swarm of Fangs spells. The random monsters were fairly easy, and they worked out the trigger for the bugbear statues quickly – however, the Fangs caught them unawares, and they only survived but running away and closing a door behind them *Evil DM Grin*

The third leg proved the most interesting with a variety of interesting encounters. There was bead curtain they needed to force their way through – that promptly summoned a group of monsters everytime they passed through and a series of rooms (going nowhere) whose doors all slammed and, locked as soon as the party were spread out, it became a race against time as the party tried to unlock or force all of the doord before their air ran out. It also contained a variant of the Chess Board trap, where they take damage if the step on the wrong square, but the squares were coloured differently and they never quite wored it out. The last one was an Invisible Stalker that attacked the party in a corridor and they lost their mage before they managed to defeat it. Fortunately they had a Raise Dead scroll, but they had a mage with reduced abilities for the rest of the module.

The fourth leg started with a crystal ball that summoned monsters – and they had to slay four of them before the door would open. There were a couple of Ice Toads and a Minotaur before they got the Siege Owlbear, which gave them a bit more of a problem. That was followed by an Umber Hulk that caused confusion amongst the party, and left them fighting each other, even after the monster had been defeated. The last encounter on this leg was a (somewhat tweaked) Cutlass Spider with many attacks per round but minimal defences. After along discussion they chose to fight it out, sword to sword – which was amusing for me *Evil DN Grin* as the Ranger , much to her surprise, got seriously hurt. Still, they finished up winning a couple of magical weapons from the combat.

Then it was on to the upper levels. The first four were based on the elements. An Air room, filled with mist, a Wyvern and a handful of flying dinosaurs! Only able to see10′ and under attack, the party soon split up but used signal whistles to bring themselves back together again. Then they fought their way up a spiral staircase (iron with open sides) to ….

The earth level full of trees and thick undergrowth where, apart from the Druid, they were forced to follow the paths. After dealing with some over-muscled monkeys, they found a medusa. While they killed her rather quickly, their rogue was petrified – and they didn’t have a Stone to Flesh spell between them. However, Stonewall (the Barbarian-Oracle) call on his ancestors (who normally plague him terribly) and they provided a recipe that might work. All of their Keoghtom’s Ointment, mixed up with medusa blood, medusa snake venom, and ash – to be smeared all over the petrified dwarf, as each party member cast a (carefully selected) spell. The mixture worked, although the Rogue had a -5 penalty to dex, from calcified joints. As a DM, it seemed a fair price – reduced spell casting ability for each character and all of their Keoghtom’s Ointment in exchange for an impaired rogue.

Next was a fire level, that had a path leading across a lake of flames – with a Fire Giant standing at the other end lobbing boulders. Most of the party were distracted by some Fire Flies (think Fire Bat type creatures – but I have some model flies of the right size) while the rogue and paladin went to deal with the Fire Giant. However, they discovered the Reverse Gravity trap that was actually the entrance to the next level instead. Buy this time the barbarian was trying to climb around the walls to get to the Fire Giant and no-one was quite sure what to do with the reverse gravity area. So the paladin went to face the Giant down, but was reduced to negative HP in a couple of rounds – something that we, in this house, call an ‘Oh shit’ moment. Cue the druid, wild shaped into an Air Elemental, going to rescue both the paladin and the barbarian – then shepherding everyone to the reverse gravity area – which was the route to the next level.

The Water level was under a Reverse Gravity spell, so the water was on the ‘ceiling’ and the door to the next level was somewhere under the water. The problem was the massive prehistoric fish, who swam in this small sea. Amusingly, the rogue managed to keep it at bay by throwing coconuts (there was a classic desert island in the middle of this sea). He even managed a confirmed crit by rolling two 20s in a row 🙂 However, the fish managed to get hold of the barbarian and swallowed him whole. This led to an encounter with the paladin riding the druid’s animal companion (a large frog) as it swam into battle – he was supported by air-elemental druid and the barbarian cutting himself out. TBH, the frog riding paladin probably didn’t conform to the rules – but it was fun, and they would have got the fish anyway 😛

The last level was nasty – the artefact in the centre of the room, protected by a force field – and randomly shining a Death Ray around the room. I did say it was originally a 1st Ed tournament dungeon, didn’t I? There was a Will save against the death ray, and the poor, hard done by, rogue managed to fail his. The party saw his ecotoplasmic spirit dragged into the gem and were left with a white-bleached corpse and its white-bleached equipment – the crystal had sucked the life and magic out of everything!

However, they grabbed the crystal, which signalled the end of the module, and they managed to get home safely. Their patron paid for the rogue’s spirit to be released from the crystal, as well as the Restoration spells needed to fetch everyone back to normal (ready for next year’s adventure). However, he didn’t replace the items lost by the dwarf, but the party all donated their share of the loot to replace it, although they kept the reward their patron gave them. Their feeling was that it would be a good thing to have an effective rogue for next year’s adventure – and I suspect they are right!

For now, they have all retired to their homes. Mulog is back in his swamp, trying to breed an Octo-Frog – so that all members of the family can have a leg at dinner. Marvello is developing the school in his town to teach Knowledge skills (particularly Magic and Religion) because the current generation of peasants are boring and can’t hold a decent conversation. Seamus is building a sword school in his village and a shrine to Iomedae in his keep. Cal is still working on his underground home, and has opened his palisaded keep up to hunters and trappers in an attempt to increase the size of his settlement. He is still looking for a way to turn it into a smuggling route, but he hasn’t yet found anything in the mountains that is worth smuggling. Stonewall is trying to develop his defences further, as he is worried about giants invading, while Fern is still thinking of ways she can develop her wilderness holdings.

Am I looking forward to next year? You bet I am. Are the players? Well they asked if I would run two a year, so I guess so 🙂 Either way, roll on ‘Dark Clouds Gather’ – the next module in the campaign