April 13, 2018

GamerNationCon 5 - The Aftermath

So yeah, GamerNationCon 5 has come and went, and it certainly was a thing.

Lest that first sentence be misleading, I had a lot of fun at GNC5.  I wasn't able to get into a game run by GM Chris or GM Phil, but that's not too surprising given how quickly those tend to fill up.  I did get a few pick-up games in, as well as getting to see a number of friends that I'd not seen or talked to in quite a while, such as Kevin "Rikoshi" Frane and the ever-lovely Adie from across the pond, as well as getting to spend some time chatting with Christopher West and Star Wars RPG authorial legend Sterling Hershey (about 80's cartoons and differences in animated TV series that were brought over from Japan between the original version and the American version of all things).  I also got to catch up with folks I'd not really seen or talked to since last year's GamerNationCon, and enjoy a few meals out.  Got to try Mediterranean food, but it doesn't seem it agreed with my stomach, which is a shame as it was tasty.

I don't have a bunch of pictures, as frankly I've never been really much of a photo-taker, either in terms of pictures I take generally not turning out so well or just a lack of interest in doing so.  Adie did get a pretty good pick of me in my Hogwarts student cosplay, though sans the school robe.  Lin got a group shot of me in costume, Eric in his Black Mage costume, and Andrew Maiaweski (Phil's brother) in his Hogwarts outfit.  Also in costume was one guy in a very good Hagrid costume and one gent done as Uncle Vernon after tussling with owls to snatch Harry's Hogwarts letter.  I wasn't the only person to don their Hogwarts robes, with other folks wearing theirs on different days of the con.

Amusingly and on a bit of a lark, I'd decided to pack the Plagg plush that I'd picked up on a bit of a whim last year.  Plagg is a character from the CGI animated series Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug and Cat Noir, which is a series that while aimed at younger audiences is surprisingly good both in terms of plot and quality.  For the first couple days of the con, I'd had Plagg's oversized head sticking out of my messenger bag, but for Saturday and Sunday I got the notion to tuck him into my badge holder, again with his giant noggin peering out over it.  That got some grins and laughs from folks, and since Plagg is a magical creature (in the show, he's a kwami and provides one of the heroes with his powers) it fit well with the con's theme of "magic" and with my Hogwarts get-up.

Gaming-wise, the sessions I ran were mostly hits, but a couple of misses.  I had one player that was in two of my sessions and frankly if he never shows up to another of my games, I'll count myself fortunate.  I hate players that don't want to get involved or constantly question my GM calls when running a game, and this guy did both, the former during my Dragon Age game (which ran way shorter than I figured) and the latter during my Star Wars game.  If he reads this and gets offended, I really don't care, and again will be glad if he doesn't play in another game I run.  But with the exception of that one person (who thankfully was not in my 7th Sea game), most of it went well.  Again, Dragon Age ran way short, but I think a large part of that was my simplifying the first initial combats, which upon re-reading was probably mean to chew up more time; when I first ran the module it ended up going over due to combat drag, so I probably chopped it down more than I needed to.

My Star Wars module went pretty well, though I ended up ab-libbing much of the specifics, which is something I'm wont to do when running a pre-written module, even if I'm the one that wrote it.  Part of that is not being certain of what the players will do, but part of that is not wanting to break the flow of a scene to look up what exactly had been written.  Luckily I'm pretty good at improve GMing and making stuff up as I go, so it worked out.  The final combat got interesting, as one of the players who had taken one of the two beatsticks in the party simply couldn't succeed on a combat check no matter what he did.  Still it was fun, and apart from the wet towel player I mentioned above, the players all had fun.  I guess said wet towel player has had some bad GMing experiences from what a mutual friend told me, and so had learned to constantly question anytime a GM did something that was outside the rules-as-written.  I guess I've gotten so used to gaming with folks that know ahead of time that I'll throw rules aside in the favor of "rule of cool" or having fun that I forget not all players at my table are aware of that; I should probably adopt a variation of GM Chris' boilerplate speech in the future.

The 7th Sea game more than made up for any drags up to that point.  I was running my "Under a Harvest Moon" adventure, which was itself an adaptation of Steve Kenson's "Apple of Her Eye" for the Shadow of the Demon Lord RPG.  This is a horror-themed adventure with some pretty unsettling elements, but this group of players were punch-drunk enough that the session turned into a near-constant laugh-fest with some really absurd lines being tossed out.  Again, the players had a blast, and more than once we had to pause so everyone could catch their collective breath after a particular good zinger got tossed out.  This was also the first time that the Heroes directly confronted the Villain rather than outwitting them, and in retrospect I think the Villain needs to be punched up a bit in the offense department as they simply could not deal enough Wounds to the Heroes to be a credible threat.  I had considered using the 7th Sea: Khitai quick start rules for Brute Squads for this adventure, but I forgot about them and simply used the default rules as that's what I was more used to, and the last thing I wanted to do was go book-diving in the midst of a combat scene; it's one thing to do it for a home campaign, but just feels tacky to do it when you're the one GMing a con module.

The last game I ran was on Sunday and was a pick-up making use of GM Chris' Harry Potter theme for the Genesys RPG.  I had a quintet of pre-gens that I'd managed to get printed out, and with a big thanks to Will for rounding up players I was able to run this.  I'd intended for this pick-up to run no more than a couple hours, and at roughly 2.5 hours it fell within that metric.  There wasn't a whole lot of pre-planning on my part; just enough for the basic set-up and after that I simply riffed off what the players did, giving occasional nudges here and there so that they didn't all just sit around.  Big props to the guy that played the Gryffindor Opportunist, as he did a lot to keep things moving, and props all around to the table as they had fun with the characters, with most of them getting fully into the spirit of things.  One moment of unexpected hilarity was one of the two Hufflepuffs deciding to sock the Gryffindor in the face after coming to an erroneous conclusion that Gryffindor was a culprit in making a 2nd Year Hufflepuff have a really rotten day, with the other Hufflepuff reacting in shock (all while saying "we said we'd TALK to him!") and the Slytherin was annoyed at this time-wasting foolishness.  I'll certainly be keeping this on hand as a quick pick-up game for future cons and game days.

As for games I played, I got into a D&D pick-up (was supposed to be a Star Wars pick-up, but the GM sadly had a bad case of nerves and had to back out) that used some of the most oddball pre-gens I had ever seen.  It deliberately had a Coen Brothers movie vibe, with out hapless bunch of adventurers inadvertently becoming notable assassins in the space of a morning.  The two stars of that game were Kevin and his friend Paulie, playing a duo of a moronic half-giant fighter and a really smart kobold druid respectively.

Another game I played in was a Star Wars module set around the Battle of Jakku, with our party being a Rebel ops team that was one of a dozen such teams sent to capture a Star Destroyer.  We failed the mission (which seems to be the norm) but were able to survive (2nd group to do so in all the times the GM had run the module).  I wound up playing a Gand beat-stick, who had some Force abilities that I never wound up using as there was never really a need for them.

I did get to play in my friend Eric's magic-themed Geneys game.  I won't spoil anything, but it was a neat set-up with an interesting twist.  I had a lot of fun, and ultimately wound up becoming the party leader of the group.

So overall, it was fun experience.  Luckily my flights down to Texas and back were largely incident free (a half hour delay on the return trip on both the initial and connecting flight).  Also, I've now left behind DSL-based internet and now have high-speed, a choice that was spurned by my copper-wire landline being shut down by the apartment complex (they claim notifications were sent out, but I never received one and it seems neither did a few other folks).  Definitely a whole lot faster than what I'm used to, which is nice.

In other news, I did go see Ready Player One on the opening Friday, and I very much enjoyed it.  The movie is notably different from the book, but I think they had to make many of the changes they did as the Challenges/Gates as presented in the book simply don't work for a purely visual medium.  I liked the changes to the cast in general, which again was something that needed to be done for the sake of a two-hour film as opposed to several-hours long novel.

March 18, 2018

"Yer a wizard Harry!"

Welp, so much for that notion of regular updates I had way back last year.

So short version is that between work and campaigns, I've not really had a lot of mental bandwidth for a whole lot else, much less posting here.  The campaigns have been fun (couple of Star Wars ones, and just recently restarted Mutants & Masterminds), while work has been far less so.  I had considered putting up a blog post in the wake of seeing The Last Jedi, which I did enjoy but really did need to see a second time to properly enjoy it, but all the ignorant toxicity that got flung around by whiny gatekeeping man-babies about how it wasn't "their" Star Wars soured me on that notion.

Now, I must say that I'm really looking forward to the beginning of April, as I'll be taking a much-deserved vacation and flying down to Texas for GamerNationCon 5.  Looking forward to seeing a number of friends, including a few faces I've not seen in some time.  Planning to run three events, one for Star Wars, one for 7th Sea, and one for the Dragon Age RPG; the last two are modules I've run in the past, and have worked out pretty well.  The Star Wars module I'm still nervous about, as I wound up doing some pretty major re-writes from what I initially had as well as re-doing almost all of the pregens, but I'm pretty happy with how the module looks in its current form.

So speaking of GamerNationCon 5, as one of the backers of the most recent Kickstarter, I and all the other backers got access not only to Phil "DarthGM" Maiewski's Fallout theme for the Genesys RPG by Fantasy Flight Games, but also the very cool and well-written Harry Potter theme for the same RPG written by Chris "GM Chris" Witt.

I've been a fan of the Harry Potter series ever since my mother convinced me to go see the first movie with her in theaters, and pretty much devoured the first four books of the series when I got them as a Christmas present later that year.  So having a Harry Potter hack for an RPG whose mechanics I already know pretty well was certainly intriguing; I've checked out a number of other efforts for different systems and none of them really seemed to fit well for the setting mechanics-wise or were too focused on Hogwarts as of the time of the books.  I think Chris managed to avoid both those issues, as Genesys' mechanics are pretty adaptable, and he's broadened things to include Ilvermony and American magical society as introduced in the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them movie.

One of the things I'd been meaning to do was sit down and work up a character using the HP theme.  And after a hectic previous week at work, I was finally able to do just that over the weekend.

For my character, I figured I'd go with a first Hogwarts student, someone that had a knack for magic but still had much to learn.  In a fit of whimsy, I decided to borrow the first name of the protagonist of the Books of Magic comic book series, and named my character-to-be Timothy.  And yes, I did chuckle at the notion of playing a wizard who some call... Tim.  I then did a Google search for British surnames, and eventually settled on Barnett.

With the name in place, now came the matter of which of Hogwart's Houses would young Timothy (Tim to his friends) would be sorted.  I decided that I'd instead skip ahead in the character creation process to figure out his Strength (Witty), Flaw (Recklessness), Desire (Expertise), and Fear (Obscurity), all determined randomly.  Based on those, he sounded like a good fit for either Slytherin or Gryffindor; I decided to once again rely on random chance and flipped a coin, with the result landing young Tim amongst the ranks of Gryffindor House (my personal fave of the Hogwarts four).

Next came deciding Tim's "career" or what sort of aspiring wizard he'd be.  Looking through the options, I settled on Opportunist, as I liked the notion of a Gryffindor that employed out-of-the-box thinking and clever ploys, who may not always be completely honorable but instead uses unconventional methods to accomplish things.  In a way, he's not unlike a slightly more serious Fred or George Weasley, or a less arrogant school-age James Potter.  I decided that as part of Tim's backstory, he had an ancestor that was a famous Curse-breaker, and one of his goals was to follow in his ancestor's footsteps but also seeking to make his own mark on the wizarding world.  This in turn made him a half-blood, though I figure both of his parents were muggleborns (magical genetics in the Potterverse are weird, but then again it's magic).

Picking skills was pretty simple, giving young Tim a good mix of magical, social, and practical skills, which I decided meant that he's not been raised completely in the wizarding world, and has some notions of how muggle society operates; he probably went to a public primary school prior to getting his Hogwarts letter and picked up some peculiar skills as a result.

Spending XP was pretty simple, picking up a couple extra skill ranks (none of which are above a 1, which fits an eleven-year old that's still got loads to learn) and a couple of talents that go with the "rush into trouble" and "react quickly" notions of the character.  And in a change for the usual types of characters I make, Tim isn't all that physically impressive, instead relying more on guile (Cunning), tenacity (Willpower), and pure cheek (Presence), which is very fitting for a adventuresome wizard-in-training.

The fun part then came in figuring out what sort of wand this character have.  Fortunately, the Harry Potter Wiki has a very useful page on the topic (read it here) which made the process a bit less daunting.  I ultimately choose spruce wand with a phoenix feather core, and then went with the standard school supplies package.  I was tempted to snag a familiar as well, but decided not to and instead give young Tim some leftover currency for pocket money.  I did grab a set of Thieves' Tools (renamed as a Lockpicking Kit) from the Fantasy Theme section of the Genesys core rulebook, given that Tim's got a rank of Skullduggery and his muggle-influenced upbringing would give him an appreciation for non-magical ways of getting into places he's not supposed to.

And thus, here's young Timothy "Tim" Barnett, an eleven year old boy about to embark upon a new set of adventures as he begins his magical education at Hogwarts' School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

Timothy Barnett, Gryffindor Opportunist -  Character Sheet (PDF version)

Obviously another thing I did was modify the Star Wars character sheet that I've been using for years to fit the Harry Potter theme, as I like having a recognizable character sheet that I electronically enter information into.  It's a Word document, but that works easier for me in terms of modifying that trying to set it up as a form-fillable PDF, especially given the fonts used for the dice and result icons that Genesys uses.  I tried using a couple different Potterverse-themed fonts, but none of them really worked for me, and instead wound up using a LotR-themed font called Ringbearer.

I do have a few notions for the rest of a groupof First Years, coming from a variety of Houses, such as an intellectually-focused Slytherin, a social-focused Ravenclaw, and maybe even an Ilvermony exchange student, but not sure when I'll be able to write them all up.  Hopefully sometime in the not-to-distant future now that I don't have to worry about writing modules, but even that's up in the air.

But even still, I think Tim would be a fun character to play, a Gryffindor that bucks the "honorable and noble" stereotype while still being a decent kid at heart.

October 31, 2017

Danny Copperfield, Novice Wizard and Amatuer Sleuth

Happy Halloween!!!

So I'm writing this post coming off the conclusion of the long-running Curse of Strahd campaign that my friend Eric has been running for our Saturday night online group (used to call it the Skype group, but we've pretty much switched over to Discord at this point as it's given us far less grief that Skype so far, and the ability to have separate channels for general and game-specific discussions is quite nice).  I don't think any of us were really expecting the campaign to end the way it did; yes we managed to defeat Strahd, but it was a very bitter victory indeed, leaving the party largely broken and ultimately going their separate ways.  I did have fun playing Sir Thomas, even though in hindsight there are things I would have done very differently if I'd had a better handle on who the character was.  Still, it's nice to bring that campaign to a conclusion, with the advent of running a campaign that's far more cheerful and bright on the near horizon.

Now, to continue with my string of Samhain appropriate blog postings, I thought I'd post up a character that I'd made a while back, got to play briefly, have remade and may have a chance to play again.

The character in question was originally made for the Dresden Files Role-Playing Game by Evil Hat Productions, taking place in the world detailed in the highly enjoyable Dresden Files series of novels written by Jim Butcher.  Personally, I prefer the audiobooks as I honestly feel that James Marsters (best known for playing Spike on the classic TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer) does a bang up job of giving voice to the many characters; it's at the point where to me he's pretty much the voice of series protagonist Harry Dresden.

Said character was Danny Copperfield, a young/novice wizard of the White Council, and can be summed up as Dresden-Lite.  This was deliberate, as I liked the notion of playing a still-fresh and mostly-untested wizard, just barely into his 20's (Harry started out in mid to late 20's I believe), albeit one that had proper training as a wizard and lacked the many tragic elements of Harry's personal history.  In his original incarnation, Danny had a solid mix of control and power, in that while he might not have been hitting at the same level of power as Harry Dresden, but neither was he quite as likely to set the immediate on area with an errant blast of flame.  I did get the chance to play him in a rather short campaign, and he was quite a bit of fun, delivering snark and unexpected bouts of sheer magical power with aplomb.

So when Evil Hat released the Dresden Files Accelerated RPG, updating the material to work with their very fun Fate Accelerated Edition, I decided (mostly on a lark) to do an updated version of Danny, just to see how the character would work out given DFA's method of using Mantles to set character archetypes.  And overall, I think it worked out pretty well.  The fact that in DFA a spellcaster isn't nearly as restricted in hurling magic (that was an issue with the original DFRPG was that spellcasters had very limited mojo, an issue that in the books really only affected Harry "powerhouse slob" Dresden given his own admittance for simply grabbing as much power as he could and hurling it at his foe with little to no finesse) means that Danny can make much more use of his evocations, in particular attacking enemies with fire.  As a bit of a trade-off, he's not quite as adept starting out with divination or ward magic, but seeing as how his Mantle gives him a much broader bonus to thaumaturgy makes up for it.

One thing that is nice about DFA is that by essentially rolling spellcasting into a character's approaches, there's not as much worry about balancing things out for the Pure Mortals; yes a spellcaster does get to work their mojo at a higher power scale, but magic may well not always be the answer.  That and I suspect a GM could easily compel the Wizard part of the character's aspect to have modern technology breakdown around the spellcaster.  And even the higher power scale isn't that huge of a boost when competing with Pure Mortals, whose own Mantles have some pretty neat tricks of their own.

With my friend Doran wanting to run at least a one-shot of Dresden Files Accelerated (to the great delight of the entire group as we're all fans of the Dresden Files), I'm looking forward to an opportunity to once again don the red canvas duster and whip out the blasting rod (mind out of gutter, thank you very much!) and step into the role of this character.  Given the interesting personalities that I'm sure the rest of the players will bring to the table with their own characters, it should be interesting to see how things shake out... preferably without multiple buildings being on fire (especially if it's not his fault)!

Danny Copperfield
Mantle: Magical Practitioner
High Concept: Novice Wizard of the White Council
Trouble: Chronic Wiseass
Aspects: Amateur Sleuth; Don't Underestimate My Power!
Refresh: 1

Good (+3): Force
Fair (+2): Haste, Intellect
Average (+1): Focus, Guile
Mediocre (+0): Flair

Stress and Conditions
Stress: [1][1][1][1][1][1]
Combat Wizard: [1][1]
In Peril (sticky): [4]
Doomed (lasting): [6]
Indebted (sticky): [_][_][_][_][_]
Exhausted (sticky): [_]
Burned Out (lasting): [_]
The Third Eye (sticky): [_]

Evocation: You are able to cast spells on the fly and without need for ritual preparation.
Thaumaturgy: You are able to cast a variety of arcane rituals, adding a +2 bonus to the roll.
Soulgaze: You have the ability to look directly upon the soul of another person, and they can look at yours in turn.
Combat Wizard: Gain two stress boxes explicitly for enhancing evocations.
Evocation Specialist: Gain +2 bonus when making a Force attack using the element of fire.
White Council Membership: Once per session, you may request aid from the White Council.

Danny is a tall, lanky young man just under six and a half feet tall, with shoulder-length charcoal black hair, several strands of which constantly hang in front of his dark blue eyes, a good-natured lopsided smile befitting his generally irreverent nature on his face, although his expression turns much darker once his ire has been raised.  His preferred attire is a dark-hued shirt, a pair of blue jeans, simple sneakers, and a full-length red canvas duster, with his blasting rod tucked away but always within easy reach.

Notable Possessions
Blasting rod (made of hickory), red canvas duster with extra pockets, assorted ritual tools and aids stuffed in said extra pockets.

October 28, 2017

Light and Darkness: Two PCs for D&D 5th Edition

And so it is that Halloween is pretty much upon us.  In the spirit of the holiday, I'll be doing three things related to role-playing games.

The first of these is that this afternoon, I will be running "Under a Harvest Moon," a 7th Sea 2nd edition conversion of the Shadow of the Demon Lord adventure "Apple of Her Eye" for one group of gamers that want to try out 7th Sea 2e.  I've had a fair amount of success with this adventure, which you can grab from my blog here: http://jedimorningfire.blogspot.com/2017/10/once-upon-harvest-moon-7th-sea-2e.html

The second of these will be later this night I will be gaming with an online group via Discord to engage in what may very well be the final confrontation with Strahd Von Zarovich in the possible conclusion of the 5e Curse of Strahd adventure.  As our group's DM for this adventure, Eric has done a bang-up job, not only in running the adventure but in customizing it so that the lands and culture of Barovia have some very distinctive elements.  I've had fun playing an Oath of Vengeance Paladin who due to decisions made has taken a much darker turn, and to be honest I'm not sure he's going to come out of this even remotely close to the person he was when the adventure started.  But as much fun as I've had, I think I am ready for this to wrap-up and for our group to move onto something a bit more cheerful and less dark.

As for the third, well you're reading it, as I thought I'd post up a couple of D&D 5e characters who are about as different as night and day, an aasimar paladin and a half-elf warlock, both of good alignment though of very different means and outlooks.  I opted to go ahead and post the third level versions of these, as the general agreement online seems to be that 3rd level is when a character really starts to "come alive" in terms of their abilities on top of not being frail enough that a single wayward encounter could spell their doom.

Aramir Greyhaven, Aasimar Paladin of Lathander
Class/Level: Paladin 3
Alignment: Lawful Good
Background: Acolyte
Personality Trait -  I've spent so long in the temple that I have little practical experience dealing with people in the outside world.
Ideal - I trust that Lathander will guide my actions; I have faith that if I work hard enough, things will go well.
Bond - I owe my life to the priest who took me in when my parents died.
Flaw - Once I pick a goal, I become obsessed with it to the detriment of everything else in my life. 

Ability Scores
STR 15 (+2), DEX 10 (+0), CON 12 (+1), INT 10 (+0), WIS 14 (+2), CHA 14 (+2)

Armor Class: 18 (chain mail and shield)
Melee Attack: +4 (longsword, 1d8+4 slashing, versatile) 
Ranged Attack: +4 (javelin, 1d6+2 piercing, range 30/120, thrown)
Hit Dice: 3d10
Hit Points: 25
Speed: 30 feet

Class and Species Abilities
Darkvision - see in dim light as bright light out to 60 feet, and in darkness as dim light.
Celestial Resistance - resistance to necrotic and radiant damage.
Celestial Legacy - knows the light cantrip and can cast lesser restoration once per long rest.
Divine Sense (3/day) - as per page 84 of the Player's Handbook
Fighting Style - Dueling (as per page 84 of the Player's Handbook)
Divine Health - as per page 85 of the Player's Handbook
Divine Smite - As per page 85 of the Player's Handbook.
Sacred Oath - Oath of Devotion (as per page 86 of the Player's Handbook)

Spellcasting (Spell DC 12, Spell Attack +4)
1st - Compelled Duel, Divine Favor, Searing Smite

Languages and Proficiencies
Saving Throws - Wisdom and Charisma
Languages - Common, Celestial, Draconic, Elvish
Skill Proficiencies - Athletics (+4), Insight (+4), Persuasion (+4), Religion (+2)

Gear: Longsword, 5 javelins, chain mail, shield, holy symbol of Lathander, explorer's pack, prayer book, 5 sticks of incense, vestments, set of common clothes, belt pouch containing 15 gold pieces.

Image: Aramir is quite tall, standing just over six feet, but with a lithe build that belies his strength of arms.  His weapons and armor are kept in near-pristine condition, which along with his shoulder-length mane of golden-blonde hair and soft blue eyes marks him as a champion of the light, with a gaze that is resolute and firm yet fair.

Summary: Aramir is at heart your typical knight in shining armor type, the heroic and noble champion of all that is good in the world.  He's also not very worldly, and will probably be likely to take most people at their word unless he has cause to distrust them.  From my own experiences with playing a Paladin, he'll be able to hit pretty hard a couple times of per day, and with his Oath of Devotion he can power up his sword to be able to inflict substantial damage to creatures that are otherwise resistant or immune to non-magical attacks.  As for the source of Aramir's racial traits, I used the Aasimir write-up from pages 286 and 287 of the 5e Dungeon Master's Guide, so check with your GM to see if they will allow that race at their table.

Xevlanna Nightblossom, Half-Elf Warlock
Class/Level: Warlock 3
Alignment: Chaotic Good
Background: Entertainer (Routines - Dancer/Tumbler, Storyteller)
Personality Trait -  Nobody stays angry at me or around me for long, since I can defuse any amount of tension.
Ideal - The world is in need of new ideas and bold action.
Bond - I want to be famous, whatever it takes.
Flaw - I have trouble keeping my true feelings hidden; my sharp tongue lands me in trouble.

Ability Scores
STR 8 (-1), DEX 15 (+2), CON 14 (+2), INT 12 (+1), WIS 10 (+0), CHA 17 (+3)

Armor Class: 13 (leather armor)
Melee Attack: +1 (spear, 1d6-1 piercing, versatile)
Melee Attack +5 (Shocking Grasp, 1d8 lightning)
Ranged Attack: +4 (dagger, 1d4+2 slashing, light, range 20/60, thrown)
Ranged Attack: +5 (Eldritch Blast, 1d10 force, range 120)
Hit Dice: 3d8
Hit Points: 24
Speed: 30 feet

Class and Species Abilities
Darkvision - see in dim light as bright light out to 60 feet, and in darkness as dim light.
Celestial Resistance - resistance to necrotic and radiant damage.
Fey Ancestry - advantage on saving throws against being charmed, cannot be magically put to sleep.
Skill Versatility - proficient in two skills of your choice
Otherworldy Patron - The Fiend (as per page 109 of the Player's Handbook)
Pact Boon - Pact of the Tome (as per page 108 of the Player's Handbook)

Spellcasting (Spell DC 13, Spell Attack +5)
Cantrips - Eldritch Blast, Minor Illusion, Shocking Grasp*, Thaumaturgy*, Vicious Mockery*
Spells (cast as 2nd level) - Hellish Rebuke, Hex, Scorching Ray, Suggestion
*from Pact Boon

Languages and Proficiencies
Saving Throws - Wisdom and Charisma
Languages - Abyssal, Common, Elvish
Skill Proficiencies - Acrobatics (+5), Arcane (+4), Deception (+6), Investigation (+4), Performance (+6), Persuasion (+6)
Tool Proficiencies - Disguise kit, flute

Gear: Spear, 3 daggers, leather armor, arcane focus, scholar's pack, flute, entertainer's outfit, belt pouch containing 15 good pieces, an old divination card bearing her likeness, a silver teardrop earring (favor of a past admirer).

Image: Xevlanna's very presence draws attention, from her eye-catching apparel to her long tresses of curling raven-black hair decorated with colorful glass beads to her languid yet graceful movements to her smoke-grey eyes.  Not much taller than most elves, her features retain a sense of elvish delicateness, and her lips are most often settled in a mirthful smile.

Summary:Xevlanna is pretty much the ideological opposite of Aramir in many ways.  Where he's a devout servant of the light and a champion of good, Xev is more self-centered and draws her power from a devil's bargain.  She's also a talented manipulator of people, sweet-talking and deceiving as the situation warrants or her whim decides.  She's also very much a blaster-caster and would do well to stay out of range of melee-focused opponents, though she's got a couple tricks to make enemies that do close with her regret it.  Her Pact Boon certainly broadens her spell repertoire, giving her a few more options both in and out of combat.

October 19, 2017

Thoughts on FFG's Legend of the Five Rings Beta

So as many may have heard, Fantasy Flight Games has released a beta version of their spin of the Legend of the Five Rings RPG.  If not, you can grab it here from FFG's own website or you can snag a copy from DriveThruRPG.

So first off, I will admit to not being that impressed with the system.  One thing that people have noted and railed against was that the game uses custom dice rather than the classic d10s that prior versions L5R used in the long-standing Roll and Keep system.  Seeing as how FFG likely only bought the rights to L5R as a property and not the actual R&K mechanics from AEG, it's no surprise that they'd use a dice mechanic of their own making.  In fact, many folks (myself included) suspected that FFG would use the Genesys dice system, as that had by and large been tested and validated by means of their Star Wars RPG, with the Genesys dice being much the same but using slightly different symbols. Instead, FFG went with creating an entirely new set of custom dice, this one using just d6s and d12s.  At least with Genesys, odds are good that you'll be able to use the dice there for different settings, and for those of us that already have a bunch of Star Wars dice we can go ahead and use those (something I will probably do as I'm already very familiar with reading those symbols to get the results of a roll).

My own take on the current state of the L5R Beta is simply that there seems to be a lot of added complexity for no reason other than to add complexity.  A prime example is formal iaijutsu dueling, which in the previous L5R games by AEG were resolved with three rolls (Assessment, Focus, Strike) and unless the battle was to the death, once those were resolved the matter was settled.  Under FFG's system, dueling feels like it's more fitting for a western-based RPG replicating the back-and-forth of the famous duel between Inigo Montoya and Westley in The Princess Bride instead of the single stroke contest that the samurai-genre is well known for.

Another issue is that starting characters don't feel very capable, as the dice mechanics are skewed to very heavily favor Skill ranks (which use the d12s) over Ring rating (which use the d6s) and characters don't get to start with that many ranks in skills.  Easy solution here is to simply provide the PC with a small number of extra skill ranks, so hopefully FFG does something to address other than to say "if you want more capable PCs, simply start with more XP."

Now, I did manage to play a short session of the L5R Beta this past Saturday, with a friend running a modified version of Heroes of Rokugan II: Champions of the Sapphire Throne module "Writ of Justice."  Our party composition was rather interesting, consisting of a Kakita Duelist (myself), a Togashi Tattooed Monk (wandering kung fu fighter), a Kuni Purifier, and a Shosuro Infiltrator (cover was traveling performer).  Certainly an interesting and diverse group, with my PC winding up as the closest thing to a proper "face character" simply due to what skills were available and the general lack of being able to select skills outside of the presets that the beta schools provide.  While there were some hiccups in making the characters, they did turn out to be an interesting bunch, and were this 4th Edition L5R I'd certainly be looking forward to playing more sessions with this particular cast.

So, after having played at least one session of this new version of L5R, I'm still not convinced that it's something I want to continue playing, especially as I'm not at all found of the "forced social outbursts" that the current Strife mechanics enforce, as we had much of the group breaking their composure and displaying dishonorable behavior more often than any of us would have liked.  I know that it's probably far too late for any sort of changes to how the dice are laid out, but in all honestly the rate at which PCs gain Strife compared to how they lose it needs to be revised, or at the very least the rules on "outbursts" need to be addressed; I'm very much of the camp that simple dice rolls shouldn't dictate how a character reacts to a scene, and unless it's from a mystical source the most they should do is help inform the player how their character might react to given stimuli.

But ultimately, I think I'm at a point in my gaming preferences that I'd rather stick with systems that don't overwhelm you with options on how to resolve in-game challenges, and that's something this version of L5R does, is overwhelm the player and GM so many different ways that skills can work.  Again, it feels like complexity for the sake of complexity without really providing anything meaningful to the story being told.  And to be frank, if that's the sort of thing I'm after, I'll go play 4th edition Dungeons and Dragons, since the high degree of complexity that it had with regards to combat works with what the game was meant to be.

Given the limits of my own time, especially with working on my own Force and Destiny campaign and working on modules for next year's GamerNationCon (I may just scale back to two modules instead of the three I was initially leaning towards), I'm not really keen on learning the ins and outs of a complex set of RPG mechanics when they don't really provide a satisfying return on investment.  I was willing to learn the complex rules of FFG's Star Wars RPG because it proved to be a very fun experience, a high return on the investment of time made.  But for a setting that I don't see myself doing much gaming in to start with, FFG's Legends of the Five Rings just falls flat.

October 16, 2017

The Building of a Crane Duelist (Legend of the Five Rings Beta)

So as I mentioned in last week's blog post, for the Legend of the Five Rings Beta one-shot that I played in, I created a Kakita Duelist for my PC, who generally wound up being the party face due to how skill selections played out.

For this week, I'm going to go through the 20 Questions character creation process as outlined in the initial release of the beta rules.  It's entirely possible that aspects of the process will have changed between when I made my character and now, but I'm going to stick with the original process.

So let's get the ball rolling...

Part 1: Core Identity (Clan and Family)
#1) What clan does your character belong to?
So looking through the options, I decide I want to go with elegant and refined, so the easy choice is Crane.  Scorpion was also a possibility, but got dismissed for reasons you'll see later on in the process.  Being a Crane, this gives my character a +1 to his Air Ring and 1 rank in Culture, and a starting Status of 35

#2) What family does your character belong to?
Since I already chose Crane as my clan, going through the options I decide to pick Kakita, as I've always enjoyed playing iaijutsu duelists in my prior L5R outings.  This choice gives my unnamed PC a +1 bonus to his Fire Ring as well as 1 rank each in Aesthetics and Meditation, and sets initial Glory at 44.

Part 2: Role and School
#3) What is your character's role and school?
Since I'm leaning towards being a duelist, that means my character's role within the Crane is that of a bushi, which makes my school choice simply as Kakita Duelist is the only bushi school available to the Crane in the beta rules.  This provides a +1 bonus to both the Earth and Air Rings, as well as 1 rank in five skills of my choice, for which I select Courtesy, Fitness, Martial Arts [Melee], Meditation, and Sentiment, and sets initial Honor at 50.  This also gives me the Iaijutsu Kata and Weight of Duty Shuji (social technique), and the Way of the Crane school ability.  For chuckles, I choose an attendant as part of my starting outfit (do need somebody to handle the menial tasks that are beneath a Crane samurai's concern after all)

#4) How does your character stand out within their school?
Okay, so for this one I went more with a mechanical choice than a character-driven choice, deciding to take a +1 increase to my character's Water Ring so that he's fairly well-rounded in his Rings rather than being strongly focused in two and deficient in two.

Part 3: Honor and Glory
#5) What is your character's duty to their lord?
Well, being that a large part of a Crane duelist's job is to serve as a bodyguard and stand-in for the Crane diplomats at court, I decide my character serves as yojimbo and companion to his lord's niece, a demure yet elegantly lovely young Crane courtier, with whom my character is enamored with though he knows that she's far too high of station for him to pursue.  And so my character's Giri is described as "Yojimbo to my lord's niece, a demure yet elegantly lovely young Crane courtier."

#6) What does your character long for?
Now I could just go the easy route and say that my character longs for the hand in marriage of his lord's niece, but instead I decide to go with another classic staple and decide that my character wants to become the most renowned duelist of the era.  This sets my character's Ninjo as "Become the most renowned duelist of the era."

#7) What is your character's opinion of their clan?
Before even looking at the options, it's easy to determine that my PC has a positive view of the Crane and how they do things (after all, it was Lady Doji that set the standards for proper civilized behavior in Rokugan, and who is he to disagree with a Kami?)  While disagreeing would net me a free skill rank, agreeing with the Crane outlook instead gets me a +5 increase to Glory.

#8) What does your character think of Bushido?
I picture this character being a firm believer in the tenets of Bushido, though probably not to the zealous extreme of the Lion Clan, which increases my character's starting Honor by 10.

Part 4: Strengths and Weaknesses
#9) What is your character's greatest accomplishment so far?
I figure being an iaijutsu duelist, that my character is very quick to react to danger, and so select the Quick Reflexes as his Distinction, having used his speed to win several iaijutsu contests during his time as a student at the Kakita Academy.

#10) What holds your character back the most in life?
This one gives a character an Adversity, for which I pick Sworn Enemy, with the idea that it's a young samurai of a different clan and higher status that is also enamored with the young Crane courtier that my character is charged with protecting.  I'm not sure which clan yet, though Scorpion is a strong contender as is Lion (particularly if the enemy were of the Matsu family).

#11) What activity makes your character feel most at peace?
This choice gives my character a Passion, and for this I pick Wordplay, so that rather than being stoic and stolid, my Crane bushi has a penchant for amusing phrasing of words and statements that can seem complimentary but frequently have added meaning to them.  It's also an in character excuse for me to make puns and quips at the table, so added bonus!

#12) What concern, fear, or foible troubles your character the most?
And lastly one's choice here gives the character an Anxiety, and this one proved tough.  I initially leaned towards Irrepressible Flirtation, in no small part to convey his trouble with keeping his feelings towards his charge within the realm of propriety, or with Jealousy given his Ninjo, but I ultimately go with Painful Honesty, to reflect his commitment to Bushido, and that while he might make clever insinuations about a person, there's always going to be a grain of truth to them.

#13) Who has your character learned the most from during their life?
For this one, I'm going to say that it was his sensei that my character learned the most from.  And as I want my character to be a very capable duelist, I opt to take an extra rank of Martial Arts [Melee], bringing that skill up to two ranks, as well as the disadvantage of Whispers of Poverty, for which I decide is reflected in my character opting to dress in a somewhat subdued manner compared to the ostentatious style that many Crane prefer leading others to incorrectly conclude that he lacks the resources one would expect a member of his clan to have.

Part 5: Personality and Behavior
#14) What detail do others find most striking about your character?
Well, apart from his more modest style of dress, I go with my character having the classic Kakita look of the lean bishonen, with a polite smile and striking eyes that have an almost predatory cant to them.

#15) How does your character react to stressful situations?
Okay, this is a part of the game I'm not enthused with, as it plays into the Strife mechanic that I really dislike.  Still, it's part of the process, so going with part of what's described directly above, and that his eyes taken on a much darker aspect and his expression hardens from that of cheerful bishie to the fierce warrior that he is, with his verbal remarks often becoming far harsher.

#16) What are your character's preexisting relationships with other clans, families, organizations, and traditions?
For a character that I'm really only planning to play once, I'm not going to go into a lot of depth on this one, so I'm just going to say that my character leans towards the general Crane attitudes of the other Great Clans, as well as having the previously mentioned relationship with the young Crane courtier he's been charged with protecting.  I also put a bit more thought into his Sworn Enemy, and decide to buck the trend and make it a Yoritomo courtier, who would be of lower status given the Mantis are a Minor Clan at this point in time, but said enemy is obviously more politically savvy, making for a contrast of brains vs. brawn.

Part 6: Ancestry and Family
#17) How would your character's parents describe them?
Again, more of a RP-heavy question that isn't important for a one-shot character, so I'm just going to say that they're proud of his accomplishments thus far, but hold him to a high expectation given the Crane Clan's long legacy of expert duelists and gallant bushi.

#18) Who was your character named to honor?
I'll go with a great-great grandfather as the person, and rolling on the Samurai Heritage table I get a result of 3 for "Wondrous Work" (netting my character +5 to his Glory), and a 6 for a free rank in Composition, which works nicely for his Wordplay advantage.

#19) What is your character's name?
Finally we get to the "what's your character's name?" section, and frankly I think this should be pushed up in the question order, probably to be under Part 1 and as question #3.  After a fair bit of musing, I decide to grab a name from the Bushi character booklet that Katrina Ostrander made for her L5R 4e module at GamerNationCon 2017, and pick the name Takahiro.

Part 7: Death
#20) How should your character die?
So putting aside the temptation to use Tyrion's answer from Game of Thrones, I figure a fitting end for one that lives by the sword is to die by the sword, perhaps perishing in a manner not unlike that of his school's founder, that being of wounds inflicted during an iaijutsu duel of great importance.

Phew, okay now that I've worked my way through the 20 Questions process, here's what the final version of the character's stats look like.

Kakita Takahiro, Crane Duelist
Clan/Family: Crane/Kakita
School: Kakita Duelist
Rings: Air 3, Earth 2, Fire 2, Water 2, Void 1
Skills: Aesthetics 1, Composition 1, Fitness 1, Martial Arts (Melee) 2, Meditation 2, Courtesy 1, Culture 1, Sentiment 1
Techniques: Iaijutsu, Weight of Duty
School Ability: Way of the Crane
Giri: Yojimbo to his lord's niece, a demure yet elegantly lovely young Crane courtier.
Ninjo: To become the most renowned duelist of the era.
Glory: 54
Honor: 60
Status: 35
Focus: 5
Composure: 8
Vigilance: 3
Starting Outfit: Daisho, yari, traveling clothes, ceremonial clothes, traveling pack (blanket, bottle of sake, chopsticks, coin purse, daisho stand, pillow book, sweets [4 servings], spare kimono, week's reations, wide-brimmed straw hat), attendant, 10 koku
Distinction Advantage: Quick Reflexes (Fire)
Passion Advantage: Wordplay (Air)
Adversity Disadvantage: Sworn Enemy (Earth), Whispers of Poverty (Water)
Anxiety Disadvantage: Painful Honesty (Air)

October 13, 2017

Once Upon a Harvest Moon (7th Sea 2e Adventure)

So quite a while back, I found myself in need of a one-shot adventure for my online gaming group, something we could play while our scheduled GM was indisposed.  Luckily, I had some advance notice of this, giving me time to consider options.

Given that it was close to Halloween, I wanted to something that had a horror theme to it, while also really wanting another shot at running 7th Sea 2e for my group, given the fun we'd had when I ran a one-shot.  But also being a backer of the Kickstarter of the Shadows of the Demon Lord RPG, I also wanted to make use of one of the adventures that were provided as a backer reward.  Which, seeing as how Eisen in second edition is a bit less of "war torn wasteland" and a bit more "dark uberwald crawling with monsters," it seemed like a pretty viable combination.

The SotDL module I wound up choosing to use and modify was "The Apple of Her Eye," a Novice-level adventure written by gaming industry legend Steve Kenson (seriously, is this man even capable of creating a product of sub-par quality?) which I felt would be of suitable challenge for a group of freshly-made 7th Sea Heroes.  I obviously changed the name to prevent any of my would-be players from stumbling across the source adventure and thus spoiling the tale, but I also had to adapt it from a fairly crunchy "move then roll" system to a less crunchy "roll then move" one, which made some bits rather interesting, especially as there really wasn't much of anything in the way of actual guidelines in creating a 7th Sea adventure, just some general suggestions.  Of course, this was meant as a one-shot, so I wasn't that worried about it, and instead was more concerned with my players having fun.

And they did.  One of my usual players is a mother, and a core aspect of the adventure really hit home for her given it involved children and a not-so-pleasant fate for them (something that is probably the norm for Shadows of the Demon Lord, but then pretty much everyone in that setting is doomed to a not-so-pleasant fate).  Another of my players, who is a big fan of the Witcher series loved it, saying that it felt very much like a sidequest he might have chanced upon in Witcher 3.

So yeah, mission successful.  And certainly successful enough that I decided to run it as a scheduled event at GamerNationCon 2017, adding a few more pre-gens (five instead of the original three) and tweaking a few things to make the adventure flow a bit smoother and perhaps make it a bit more challenging.  I will say this, having a Hero with access to Hexenwerk makes things generally easier for the party, and I am curious to see how the adventure turns out if none of the Heroes have Sorcery.  For the most part, fun was had, though the mood towards the end was soured by one player that was more focused on ordering food on their phone, something that didn't really sit well with a couple of the players.  Ah well, such is the peril inherent in running games at a convention, though I will probably institute a "no smartphone/tablet" policy unless it's being used as a dice roller or to reference rulebooks at any future games I run.

That all being said, here's the link to a seasonally appropriate 7th Sea 2nd edition adventure for the time of year:

Once Upon a Harvest Moon

As was the case with "An Idol Venture," I'm including the five per-generated Heroes that I created for the adventure, with the character sheets being fairly simple.  Still, each of the characters worked out well for the adventure, and folks had a lot of fun playing them.  Also included is a reference sheet for the Major and Minor Unguents that the Hexenwerk Hero knows, so whichever player has that character doesn't have to reference the books to see what their Sorcery does.

If you're interested in Shadow of the Demon Lord (which is itself seasonally appropriate for this time of year), you can check out the main website at http://schwalbentertainment.com/shadow-of-the-demon-lord/, as well as DriveThruRPG for PDFs of the books and numerous adventures, including "The Apple of Her Eye."