August 25, 2019

And the Road Goes Ever On...

Well, it's certainly been longer between updates than I'd originally planned.  Most of that was due to distractions of other things, mostly gaming and work in about that order.

So firstly, another birthday has come and gone, leaving me a little bit older and hopefully a little wiser than I was.  In spite of some annoying incompetence on the part of the Arkansas Postal Service, I did at last get the last of my birthday presents from Clan Whitson, including a cool geek t-shirt and some yummy home-baked chocolate chip cookies.

In terms of gaming, in spite of some unexpected shake-ups in the routine, I've been fairly active on that front.  A Star Wars campaign using FFG's system in which I played a youngish minor Jedi (Sentinel/Shien Expert/Padawan) named Colwyn Morningfire just recently wrapped up; with the GM saying it might be possible that we'll return to that group of characters at some later point, but that he wanted to run a different system and style of campaign for a little while.

In lieu of that Star Wars campaign, the GM started off a campaign using Cubicle 7's Adventures in Middle-Earth, which is there d20 version of their award-winning The One Ring game, set several years after the events taking place in The Hobbit.  We're starting out as 3rd level characters, and have a notable lack of Elves or Dwarves amidst our company, and with having 32 points to use to purchase our ability scores, each of us is generally pretty competent in our areas of respective expertise.

The GM has already said he's not running the game as being entirely "rules pure" and has adapted a couple elements from D&D 5e for the characters.  The first of these was importing the Inquisitive archetype from Xanathar's Guide to Everything for our Hobbit Treasure Seeker (C7's slightly reworked Rogue class) as neither of the existing AiME archetypes (Agent and Burgler) really seemed to fit the character concept she had in mind.  So we now have a Hobbit who's quite cheerful in spite being so far from the Shire, overly curious about most everything, and having the common sense of a Took; nobody's called her a "Fool of a Took!" but that may just be a matter of time.  She is however very good at Riddles, something she proved in the first session by getting into Middle-Earth's version of an impromptu rap battle by engaging in a riddle-contest with a bunch of bar patrons and trouncing the handily; likely helped that the player has researched and typed up a bunch of riddles to have on hand to recite.

The other house-ruled bit in this game is our Woodwoman Scholar has the ability to use actual D&D-style magic, having used her starting virtue/feat and 3rd level class archetype feature to gain a limited number of spells, most of which are cantrips with a single first level spell.  Narratively, her background is that she was taken in as a sort-of apprentice by Radagast the Brown (she really enjoyed Sylvester McCoy's portrayal in the Hobbit films, and felt having Gandalf as her mentor would have been too cliche).  Helpfully, Cubicle 7 listed a number of 5e OGL spells that fit the general themes of Middle-Earth, from which the character made her selections, most of them being various utility spells, with only one spell (Produce Flame) having offensive capabilities, and even then it's not that great.  The player (who is the youngest of the group) seems pretty content with what she's got for magic, and even with her primary experience of the setting being the Peter Jackson films grasps that D&D style spellcasters are not a thing in this setting, and that magical effects are far more limited, so not sure if she's going to try to finagle more spells or not.

Another imported D&D 5e elements for this group is a reworking of the Totem Warrior Path for our Beorning Slayer, with the spell-based abilities removed and a couple other abilities tweaked.  He's already stated that he intends to go full-on Bear Totem.

The last imported element being the GM having tossed out the Known Lands feature the Wanderer class (C7's reworking of the Ranger to remove all spell-casting) and replacing it with a slightly modified version of the Natural Explorer feature from the Revised Ranger presented in WotC's Unearthed Arcana series, done mostly so that he's got more freedom to send our party into various parts of the Wilderlands without having to worry about my Dunedain Wanderer's key class feature being of limited use, especially as we have a mage who has a bevy of at-will cantrips to her name. Though we've started out in Lake-Town, having come there separately for different reasons, I have a feeling the GM's going to have us be traipsing all about the Wilderlands during the course of our various adventures, so I admit it'll be nice to not have to worry about is the journey taking us through my character's Known Lands.  The bonuses provided aren't quite as nice, having lost the "double your proficiency bonus for Intelligence and Wisdom checks when dealing with a known land" and not getting some of the revised Natural Explorer's other abilities right away, I think it works out, trading overall potency for increased utility.  We're still fine-tuning, so I won't be posting what the current state of this revised-revised Natural Explorer is at the moment.

So far, it does seem like quite a fun group, having a Barding Warden with the Fallen Scion background having a bit of a casanova vibe and aspirations of being The Hero of the group, much to our Woodwoman Scholar's great dismay, while the Beorning Slayer and Hobbit Treasure Seeker are fast becoming the group's comedic duo.  My Dunedain Wanderer hasn't quite found his niche within the company's social dynamics, but we've only had one session so I'm sure he'll find his place soon enough.,

Sadly, the Saturday Discord group that I'm in had a disruption due to our GM struggling with various real-life concerns, leaving our Mutants & Masterminds 3e Emerald City campaign in a bit of a lurch.  Luckily, thanks the above AiME campaign, I got the notion to run an adventure using that game for the group while our GM briefly stepped down to sort a few things out.  It helped that we're all pretty familiar with the 5e rules, so we wouldn't have to try and learn a radically different new system for what was likely to be a one-off.  And so, with a company consisting of a Dwarf Fallen Scion Warrior, a Barding Harrowed Warden, a Hobbit World Weary Scholar, and a Woodwoman Lured by the Road Wanderer, I ran them through the Eaves of Mirkwood.  A couple players remarked on the oddity of playing actual first-level characters, but everyone had fun and enjoyed themselves.  Unlike a typical D&D adventure, there wasn't very much combat except towards the very end, and I think the "encounter" that the players had the most fun with was sitting and conversing with a trio of traveling dwarves over a meal of roast pig and fine mead, getting into a riddle contest and a contest of blowing smoke rings, the later of which our Hobbit sadly lost in spite of a great effort of going for a big finish.

One major change I did for the adventure was to frame it as a tale being told by Gandalf to a group of Hobbit children, with the introduction being Gandalf agreeing to tell the children a story (he was in an unusually chipper mood that late spring afternoon), which also let me set the stage for the players as to where and when they were in the timeline of Middle-Earth (five years after the Battle of Five Armies, and on the western reaches of Mirkwood).  I had thought about using Bilbo to tell the story, but decided to use Gandalf instead as I've always liked the Grey Wizard, cranky as he might get at times.  And after the adventure as written had concluded, I went back to having Gandalf conclude the tale and shoo the various Hobbit children away, with one of them hanging around just a bit longer to ask the old Wizard if indeed there were more stories of this company of adventurers, to which Gandalf told a very young Frodo Baggins that there were indeed, but those were stories for another time.  The players very much loved the use of the framing device of their adventure being a story told by one of The Wise, giving them a greater sense of accomplishment and tie to the world of Middle-Earth.  I can only hope that any further adventures I run for them are met with equal enthusiasm and appreciation, given that until this adventure, I'd had an abysmal track record when trying to run any sort of D&D game (most efforts crashed and burned by the third session at the latest, and several attempts during my 20's didn't even make it through the first session), so it was nice to have a D&D game (modified though the system was) be both successful and appreciated by the players.

I also have to say that I really like the Journey mechanics that Cubicle 7 imported from The One Ring.  It removes a lot of the "need to roll for random encounters" and the chart for Journey Events gives the GM a number of options to either roll for or choose from beyond "you run into a bunch of monsters, what do you do?"  I can see why a lot of GMs have decided to import the Journey rules into their regular D&D campaigns.

Well, that's about what's been going on of late for me.  I've got a notion for a smaller Star Wars RPG post, but that will probably wait for next weekend.

June 8, 2019

Two from the archives

I know, I know, it's been a while since my last update.  I haven't forgotten this page exists, but rather keep getting pulled in different directions and rarely have something that I really feel is worth posting here.

Well, that's obviously changed, as I finally got around to doing something I'd been meaning to do for quite some time, that being converting a pair of very memorable characters from a long ago Star Wars Saga Edition campaign over to the FFG system.

The characters in question were by far the two most memorable PCs from a Legacy Era campaign as run by Ben "Cyril" Erickson, and were the brainchildren of Kevin "Rikoshi" Frane and Nateal Falk.  I had a couple of different characters in that campaign, starting off with a Corellian near-human ex-cop (nobody but me seemed to remember that he as a near-human, and even I forgot a few times) before he had a very explosive end (something I don't think Nateal has still quite forgiven me for) and I brought in a Jedi PC from an older New Jedi Order campaign that made the transition to the Legacy Era courtesy of a very long carbonite nap (and managed to avert most of the carbon hibernation symptoms by way of Jedi hibernation trance), though sadly the campaign never really got the chance to explore just how young(ish) Alwyn handled the transition between two very different eras.  Then again, from his perspective the galaxy was still at war, just the bad guys had changed from Yuuzhan Vong to the One Sith.  I think at the end there was a remark about how my PC had a similar name and appearance to a young Jedi from the Skywalker Praxuem that had helped save the Imperial capital of Bastion from a maniacal Dark Jedi's invasion efforts, but again nothing that was explored in any depth due to the campaign wrapping up.

Now, given how very different the two systems approach things, I opted to try and decided to instead aim more for the spirit of what each character was rather than do a straight point-to-point conversion.  Once that decision was made however, the characters actually fell into place, more or less, pretty quickly.  I did have to take a couple of liberties with each of them, but I think they work out pretty well as low-end player-characters.

For both of these, I opted to grant them an additional 25XP, which was treated as "earned XP" and couldn't be used to increase characteristics, as well as an extra 1000 credits worth of equipment.  I considered going full-on Heroic/Knight Level, but found that just that extra 25XP sufficed to get the basics of the character.

The first of these two is Kirikinerry-tovante (Kiri for short), and he remains memorable to me simply for virtue of being a Squib, a meter-high species of blue-furred goofballs with a love of over-complicated negotiations and a notable lack of self-preservation instincts.  This character was played by Rikoshi, and to my view, if our campaign had been a TV series, he would have been the fandom favorite of the cast.  What really sold the character was the way Rikoshi voiced him as well as the mannerisms; given we were playing through Skype and Roll20, that he was able to convey all that with voice alone is pretty amazing.  Heck, I still chuckle at the fact that Rikoshi took the time to draw up a "contract" for the group, denoting who got what amount of any proceeds, with all sorts of adjustments based on some of the most odd factors, such as "non-koovy non-Jedi penalty" for the Caamasi Force adept.  I sadly don't have the list anymore, and I'm pretty sure the forum thread for the campaign has long been pruned for inactivity, but it was a piece of demented genius.

When writing up Kiri's stats, I opted to take two bites at the apple.  In Saga Edition, he was built using the Smuggler class, so I first opted to go the route of the Smuggler career, and settling on the Thief career.  However, that just didn't quite feel right for an "independent busyness being" like Kiri, so I did a second build using Explorer as the career and Trader as his specialization, which I honestly think works a bit better.  Obviously, there's no official write-up for the Squib as a species (a major oversight on FFG's part in my estimation), so I used the unofficial stats that I'd created for this blog some time ago instead.

At any rate, here's links to each of the versions.  Hopefully Kevin can forgive me for using the stock image of a Squib, as I sadly lack the artistic talent to create an image that suitably captures the koovy majesty of the character.

Kirikinerry-tovante, Squib Smuggler

Kirikinerry-tovante, Squib Explorer

Now, for the second character, this was Niera Kurucz, an Arkanian scientist with a rather abrasive personality when it came to dealing with organics, but had quite the soft spot with regards to droids and cybernetically-augmented creatures.  While Kiri was just that right sort of crazy-awesome that makes a character both memorable and enjoyable to have in the group, Niera was in part memorable to me for the fact she was kind of the party face while really not having the personality for it.

Niera's conversion was a lot more difficult, due in large part to her being Force-sensitive, an ability that was always present but was only slowly developed over time.  She never became a really potent Force user due to her cybernetic enhancements (Saga Edition operated under the old assumption that cybernetics interfered with one's ability to use the Force, itself based upon Darth Vader no longer having the potential power that he'd had as Anakin Skywalker), but there were some interesting moments with her trying to learn about the Force from the Caamasi Force adept; she never did quite get around to trusting my Jedi character, though she did accept his offer to let her borrow his copy of The Jedi Path: A Manual for Students of the Force (in-setting, that book was a reprint of the tome that Luke had uncovered some time prior to the NJO era, but obviously without the various in-character margin notes from different owners over the decades; said book is now Legends, but it's worth reading if you're looking to play a character trained in the mold of the classic Jedi).

Ultimately, I decided that Niera's core concept would be best served if I deep-sixed the bulk of the "party face" elements and focused on her being a highly intelligent engineering and droid mechanics expert, and settled on Technician for her career and Droid Tech as her starting specialization.  I did still give her Force-sensitivity by way of the Force Sensitive Exile specialization, though much like her original character build in Saga Edition she's lacking much in the way of actual Force abilities, though that will change over time.  I was sorely tempted to give her the Manipulate power out of Endless Vigil, but all she could really afford was the basic power and that effect didn't really jive with her focus on droids and cyber-technology.

One bit of rule-bending I had to do for Niera was to employ the droid-crafting rules from Special Modifications, and assign a certain number of advantages and triumphs from her Mechanics and Computers checks to build and program her custom personal droid PLUM.  I have no idea what sort of stats PLUM had in Saga Edition, so I built the little droid as having proficiency in mechanics and computers, with a small scientific database, with the intent that it pretty much provides Niera with a boost die on her Computers, Mechanics, and Knowledge (Education) checks.  She can also send PLUM out to operate independently, with it working a little better while following her directions.

So here's my take on Niera and her droid companion PLUM (which in my head canon at least stands for PersonaL Utility Mechanism):

Niera Kurucz, Arkanian Force-Sensitive Technician

PLUM, Niera's custom droid companion

I do have a few other ideas rattling around in my brain, but we'll see how long it takes before something viable actually shakes out.

Edit: Forgot to note, but the characters were built and the character sheets are from OggDude's excellent character generator program.

April 13, 2019

The Intrepid Fellows - a party of adventurers for WFRP4e

Wow, two posts in one week.  That's got to be some kind of record, though we'll see how long it lasts.

As you might have surmised, I was pretty darn busy over the prior weekend, what with being down in Plano, Texas for the 6th GamerNationCon and 4 Days of Gaming Goodness.

Prior to that however, I had the chance to run a one-shot for my Discord gaming group, that being "If Looks Could Kill" by Cubicle 7 for the fourth edition of the venerable Warhammer Fantasy Role Play game (aka WFRP4e).  I made a few one-the-fly tweaks to events in the module, but overall it ran rather smoothly, with my buddy Eric (who is notorious for abysmal dice rolls) having a blast simply due to his usual habit of rolling low working in his favor, even going so far as to snark that "this must be what it feels like to be Jon!" in reference to my own habit of making some pretty awesome rolls when I'm playing.

Now, while I've got the PDFs of the characters from the Starter Set, I opted to instead use a quintet of characters that I'd created myself, as I knew for a fact they were legally built starting PCs and didn't suffer from any oddities incurred by the errata.  Plus, having made these characters myself, I had a fairly solid idea of what each of them was capable of doing.  And for the most part, they did what they were designed to do and did it well.

In the interest of sharing, here are the group of adventurers that refer to themselves as the Intrepid Fellows.  You can either click on the links in the individual character's name to get their character sheet, or click here to download the entire group as a single zip file.

Cedred Laudenheim, Human Guard
The ostensible leader of the band, Cedred is actually from a noble family that has long since been impoverished and fallen upon hard times.  He's very much a front-line combatant using a sword and buckler, but is also quite sociable thanks to a high Fellowship, and hard to surprise thanks to high scores in Intuition and Perception.  This was the character that Eric played, and between his very much getting into character as a generally heroic-minded individual and his habit of generally rolling very low on his percentile dice, Cedred was probably the MVP of the entire adventure, taking down the major threat of the adventure and gradually working on building for himself a reputation as a heroic figure.

Erwin Brahms, Human Rat Catcher
Erwin is very much a salt of the earth sort of fellow, as indicated by his trade of hunting down and cleaning out vermin infestations, with his small (but vicious) dog Otto being his most stalwart traveling companion.  Despite of only having a sling, he's the groups ranged attacker, which in this system can be surprisingly effective given how a single well-placed sling bullet can undercut whatever combat momentum the target has built up for themselves.  Erwin was played by Rick, and I didn't realize it until much later that Rick and Eric had largely reversed the character dynamic they have with their characters in my Force and Destiny campaign, with Rick being the crass boor contrasting with Eric's well-mannered heroic figure this time around.

Heidric Strohmann, Human Wizard
The token spellcaster in a setting where being a spellcaster can get you into a lot of trouble with the locals (namely, being lynched and/or burned at the stake), Heidric is an apprentice at the Colleges of Magic in the capital city of Altdorf.  For a one-shot, I didn't designate which color of magic he was studying, and figured that since he only has access to petty magic that he's drawing on just drabs of magical energy rather than properly channeling and focusing the various winds of magic.  Brennen played this character, and while unaware of the consequences of being an open magic user outside of Altdorf, he did much to avoid making it was obvious that he could use magic.

Karrag Thronsson, Dwarf Bounty Hunter
A surly and rather blunt individual, as befits a dwarf, Karrag is the group's muscle and ostensibly their tracker (sadly, the player's dice rolls didn't really help in that regard).  Played by Doran, Karrag as indeed quite blunt in his dealings with others, and had made good on capturing all three of a trio of local bandits that'd been plaguing the area that the adventure took place in.  He did notably get covered in ichor, and took down two of the bandits (who'd tried to lay an ambush for him) by himself without killing either of them.

Rosalinda Dottenbacher, Human Apothecary
This was a pre-gen I made specifically for Linda, as she has a deeply abiding love for medic/healer characters.  I had debated about making Rosalinda a Halfling, and in retrospect I kind of wish I had, but that would have pushed Rosalinda too far into being the party face, a role that I know Linda is usually not very comfortable with taking most nights.  Still, Rosalinda was helpful in patching up the injured members of the group and identifying a few plot threads, though she is very much a support character and generally not much use during a fight.  Still, her staggering variety of Lore skills can certainly provide the group extra information in the right circumstances.

For those curious, for each character I used the same set of randomly rolled values for their characteristics, which amusingly worked out to 125 points.  For race, I rolled randomly with the exception of Karrag, thus winding up with a party of Humans for some extra XP.  Talents were all rolled randomly, with most of them working out for the character concepts quite well, though Cedred having Noble-Blooded was a wrinkle that I eventually made work out for the character.

April 10, 2019

Post-GamerNationCon 6

And once more, another GamerNationCon has come and gone.  As was the norm for me, I had a lot of fun, got to play a lot of games, catch up with old faces, and make some new acquaintances.  It was pretty cool to meet the members of the Dice Pool Podcast, most of whom made the very long trek from Australia just to attend the convention.  And naturally getting to see Linda and her family in person, as well as having at least a couple chances to sit down and share a meal with them.  It was a major shame that Eric couldn't make the trip, as the con's theme was superheroes and he's a big-time superhero fan.

One thing that helped the mood for me was that this year, I'd opted to spring for the MVG pledge on the Kickstarter.  Granted, it was a few hundred bucks, but the pledge got me a guaranteed seat in two games as well as first dibs on getting into scheduled games when even sign-up went live.  This was a marked difference from previous years where I wound up getting locked out of a number of games that I really wanted to play in, such as GM Phil's always entertaining Fallout sessions.

Highlights for me were playing in the Star Wars D6 1st edition session run by convention Guest of Honor Michael Witwer, who is a very enthusiastic GM, with our group having a blast all around playing through the classic module Starfall.  We had to speed things up a bit, but my smuggler did get a chance to shine by engaging the big bad in a one-on-one AT-ST duel, which ended with my character ramming into the overly chatty Imperial officer's vehicle to end the fight.

There was of course GM Phil's Fallout session, run using the Genesys system with the theme of the PCs having adopted heroic personas in the post-apoc wasteland.  In this one, I played a Protectotron that due to a programming glitch believed it actually was the space-faring hero Captain Cosmos, accompanied by a robot companion that had a stuffed toy hanging off the front of it to play the roll of the Captain's loyal space monkey companion (and was apparently not happy about it).  Phil is probably one of the most fun and energetic GMs that I've had the privilege to play under, so any time spent in one of his sessions is sure to be a lot of fun.

Another major highlight was playing in a GI Joe session again using the Genesys system (detecting a theme for the con yet?), this one run by Dustin of the Staggering Dragon crew.  In this one, I played Spirit, who was the team's tracker and sharpshooter as our team of Joes (Flint, Mainframe, Chuckles, and Snake-Eyes) got dropped into Transylvania to see what mischief Cobra was getting up to in Castle Dracula.  Playing Snake-Eyes was my Texas friend Will, who got seriously into character and never spoke once until the session had concluded, which for those who know Will is a major achievement as by his own admission he is an incredibly chatty fellow, and communicated by way of writing on index cards.  We each got a number of cool moments, starting up with the two of us coordinating to flawlessly take down a Cobra sentry without raising an alarm, starting with Spirit timing his rifle shot (normally a very loud crack) to fire in time with a peal of thunder to mask the sound, and Snake-Eyes being right next to the guy to catch him before the sentry hit the ground and noiselessly tuck away the body.  Next was Snake-Eyes taking out a bunch of Cobra soldiers while hanging from a chandelier without scratching Chuckles (who was wearing a Cobra uniform) with his sub-machine gun.  And finally, after completing our objectives and bugging out of the castle in a stolen Cobra Stinger jeep, while being pursued by a pack of some sort of serpent-themed lycanthrope/Frankenstein's monster crossbreeds, we worked together to take down all but one of them while Mainframe got an old Russian helicopter up and working.  Snake-Eyes did most of the work with using the jeep's on-board missiles, while I got to take down the very last monster while quoting an appropriate line from Dresden Files, that being "Mother says you don't belong here. *crack of thunder* Father says you're ugly too" before putting a rifle round into the thing's gaping maw and out the back of its freakish head as it leapt to attack the group, and stopping its sliding body with my boot before we boarded the repaired helicopter and made our exit.

A couple of unexpected highlights came from a pair of pick-up games, both being Genesys games.  The first of these had the group playing members of Marvel's Alpha Flight, the Canadian government's sponsored team of superheroes, as run by Canadian Chris Hunt, which pretty much wound up with myself and another lady playing Canadian superheroes in a game run by a Canadian GM with other members of the Canadian contingent.  Also in the group was convention guest Andy Hurley of Fall Out Boy, who is a pretty chill guy and fun to game with.  We were probably one of the few teams of superheroes to shut down a bad guy's operation by way of government regulations.  It was also amusing to be witness to the Canadians dropping cultural references that we Americans are generally unaware of.

The other unexpected highlight Genesys pick-up game that I got into was Sunday morning, due to the GM for the scheduled 7th Sea game being "under the weather," which I'm sure had nothing to do with the night prior being "GamerNation After Dark" (i.e. booze being served and shared liberally).  Said game was run by Brett Bowen, one of GM Phil's longtime friends, and was using the Earthdawn setting.  Now Earthdawn is a setting that I've always liked (post-apoc high fantasy), though sadly the game's mechanics were in short a total mess.  Heck, I liked this enough that when a printed copy of the theme (signed by Brett) came up for bid in the post-con auction, I largely made sure it was mine to take home by effectively squashing the bidding war by doubling what was the current bid at the time.  I've skimmed through the book a couple times, and may well try running some one-offs for some of the gaming groups I'm in.  The look of the document is very slick, and you can tell from looking at it that Brett is not only a major fan of the setting but put a lot of work into this.

Other gaming included playing in both parts of the Android two-part module that FFG released for their Shadow of the Beanstalk Genesys supplement.  This one I didn't find quite as enjoyable, but I think that was more circumstances than anything Darren West (the GM) did specifically.  First part, we had one player pretty much commandeer the group at a critical point and effectively tell half the group (which I was in) to sod off in terms of how to resolve a particular dilemma and instead make things a whole lot worse for us.  In the second part, we got hung up in a combat encounter that the module intended for us to avoid, except that the way things played out there was no way for us to really avoid it, which in turn effectively lead for a TPK with the exception of the medic PC.

In terms of food, I got to try out a couple of places that I'd never eaten at before, which were generally good, although one of them was a Chinese place where the food smelled good was way too spicy for me to really stomach.  The pre-con barbecue feast provided by the Rayburns was just as delicious as last year's, and was a great way to start things.  I wound up not going with the majority of the remaining con attendees to the post-con dinner, and instead headed with Lin, her family, and our friend Doran to a Chinese buffet that was pretty solid in terms of food, and it was nice to have a chance to wind down after four solid days of gaming goodness.

So yeah, a whole lot of fun was had, and I've already got at least a couple ideas for things I could run for next year's GNCon, from a Genesys major cross-over using various fan-made themes to a 7th Sea adventure whose roots can be drawn from a pick-up session I played during this recent con.

February 22, 2019

Does the answer lie in the heart of battle?

Okay, been a lot longer than I'd intended between updates (seems to be a habitual thing).  Fair warning, this is going to be a long post without a whole lot of crunchy content.

So quick update, gaming-wise I seem to be suffering from a plethora of gaming opportunities.  Yeah, I know, woe is me, amirite? ;)

Don't recall if I talked about on this blog or not, but last summer a local friend of mine decided to take her third crack at being a GM, after her first two efforts went less than swimmingly.  Her first effort was a Buffy the Vampire Slayer one-shot, being inspired by the Roll4It series Layla the Vampire Slayer (Season 1 is solid, Season 2 was middling at best for me; I'll include a link at the bottom of this post to the YouTube playlist if you want to check it out) which went okay and was fun, but was a little rough as nobody really knew the system all that well, so combat was a bit of a slog.  Her second effort was running the WotC Saga Edition campaign Dawn of Defiance under FFG's Star Wars system, but her mistakes were having us all start at Knight Level and having a couple of players that are a struggle for experienced GMs to handle given their personalities and eagerness to go completely off the rails of what a GM has planned at the drop of a hat, both of which are bad things for a newbie GM still cutting their teeth to deal with, and the campaign came to a screeching halt after only four sessions.  Third attempt was the charm, as she ran an original campaign mostly with players that were both new to the FFG system and new to RPGs in general; I was asked to help everyone make their characters as I knew the system but also wouldn't be super-pushy in terms of how they should build those characters, and while some sub-optimal choices were made, it all worked out and the players had a lot of fun before the campaign closed with a near TPK at the hands of no less than Darth Vader.

Well, her husband had an idea for a new Star Wars campaign, having learned from mistakes he made in trying to run prior campaigns, and assembled a new group (and deliberately not inviting those two problem players that caused his wife's Dawn of Defiance campaign to crash and burn), with a primary focus of us being spacers on the fringe, with a slight cant towards archaeological ventures due to one PC being an Explorer/Archaeologist.  We're still in the early stages of the campaign (only about six sessions in), but it's been pretty fun and certainly has a Firefly vibe to it, with the PCs being something of an impromptu if occasionally dysfunctional family.  Award for the quirkiest character in the group is undoubtedly the astromech Tech/Modder, who instead of being the classic R2-series is an even smaller model based upon artwork from the defunct mobile game Star Wars: Uprising, while most badass is the Twi'lek Hired Gun/Enforcer, who can be charming and intimidating with equal aplomb while mixing it up quite well in combat.  So far the GM's mostly been running canned adventures with a few tweaks, but it's been working out for us.

For the Saturday Discord group, I wrapped up the penultimate arc of my Force and Destiny campaign, with the final session having the PCs finally square off against the Chiss Inquisitor that's been stalking them from behind the scenes and that half the PCs were terrified of facing.  And to be honest, even after buffing the guy up a bit, the PCs didn't have nearly as much trouble with him, though part of that may have been my dice were not rolling all that well for him, and even with the Enhanced Nemesis rules he was still getting wailed on by the party.  I know there's going to be at least one more encounter between them, but I'll need to reconsider how I approach it.  Given that half the group will be at GamerNationCon 6 in a little over a month's time, we've opted to instead run some one-offs, with this Saturday (hopefully) being our first major venture into Savage Rifts.  Now, to be clear I've always found the initial concept of Rifts Earth to be interesting, just that it was sadly paired with one of the most unplayable RPG systems on the planet and very quickly succumbed to radically escalating power creep, to the point that if you tried to play a class from the core book, you were hilariously outgunned by characters made using classes from the latest splats.  Still, with Savage Worlds being a far more refined system and being well and truly playable, I'm curious to see how this one-shot will play out.  If it goes well, we might be playing it as the pick-up system of choice for one of our recurring GMs.  After that, we're doing an Age of Rebellion adventure that will eventually lead into a new AoR campaign, after the GM of our prior AoR campaign finally admitted that she had no interest or desire to pick up the old campaign.  And following the AoR adventure, I'll hopefully be running an adventure (or two) using the new edition of Warhammer Fantasy Role Play.  I have to say, I'm liking WFRP4e, especially in how the difficulties were tweaked so that starting PCs aren't a bunch of bumbling incomps and that combats don't drag out due to the extensive whiff factor that 1e and 2e suffered from.  I've got a bunch of pre-gens for my players that I rolled up using the character creation rules, and they're an interesting bunch.

I also recently decided that it was within my budget to buy a gaming console that was made this decade, and bought myself a PlayStation4, as my PlayStation2 Slim finally gave up the ghost (was having trouble reading discs and wouldn't read PS1 or PS2 memory cards).  Granted, this means that most of my PlayStation library of PS1 and PS2 games I can't play anymore, but to be honest it'd been years since I'd played most of them, and frankly I'm in no hurry to play most of them again.  I did buy Kingdom Hearts 3 and Spider-Man along with my new system, and did digital purchases of a few other games, notably Final Fantasy 7 and the Kingdom Hearts 1.5+2.5 pack.  I've only played a bit of KH3, but sadly the game's just not grabbing me the way first two KH console games did, and instead have been spending time playing FF7 (just got out of Midgar and into the world map) and KH1 (just arrived at Atlantis), and having fun doing so.  I'd played FF7 when it came out (and had the big shocker scene spoiled by some twit) and had fun, but never really did a second complete play through.  We'll see if I can make it all the way through this time, given it's been well over a decade since I lasted made the attempt.  And Kingdom Hearts 1.5 is just a fun title without having what I feel are the needlessly flashy combat gimmicks that KH3 seems intent to shove down my throat.  Haven't delved into Spider-Man yet, but going to try and change that over the course of the weekend.

The most recent bit of gaming news is another of my local gaming friends got a bunch of us together earlier in the year to take the old Street Fighter RPG by White Wolf out for a spin.  The game is something of an old shame for the so-called "serious" White Wolf fans, as due to the nature of the source material (especially in recent years), the SFRPG is admittedly goofy, and I feel it works for the best if you embrace the goofiness and just go with it.  We've only played two sessions, but they've been fun, with me playing an ex-street kid shotoclone and another player running a snooty-yet-winsome upper-class kick chick, and an alternating third player (first session had a comedic Jiu-Jitsu Hong Kong ex-cop while second one had a ghetto-fab hip-hop dance battler who was painfully stereotypical).  We've finally been able to get schedules worked out enough to try playing on a more regular basis, starting with this coming Sunday, so we'll see how it works out.  I kind of hope the ex-cop returns, and frankly am not the least bit sad the dance-fighter won't be making a return, but we'll see.  Fair to say the GM has incorporated some house rules in character creation and advancement, allowing us to start out a lot more competent than a typical beginning SFRPG character would be.  For instance, my shotoclone has watered-down versions of the Dragon Punch/Shoryuken and Hadoken attacks that I'd normally would probably not see for quite some time due to how expensive character advancement in White Wolf games are and how stingy they can be with XP awards.  I have to say I'm looking forward to this, as it promises to be generally light-hearted series with our disparate team of fighters traveling the globe, having adventures and competing in various underground tournaments.  There's also been some hints of sparkage between the shotoclone and the kick chick, especially given their very different backgrounds, and the lady playing said kick chick is a long-time friend that I've gamed with several times before and have had our characters in those past campaigns get into relationships, so we'll see if the UST between our latest characters ever resolves or not.

While the books are near-impossible to get, a group of fans did put together a "20th Anniversary" version compiling data from the line into one resource (sans of the stat blocks of the World Warriors or other NPCs) which can be freely downloaded.  It's worth checking out, and while the combat system takes some definite getting used to (after all, the Storyteller system was not intended to be used for combat given White Wolf's disdain for combat at the time, and man does it show!), it's a fun and quirky system that if nothing else is good for one-offs of a non-serious nature.

So, that's about it for now.  I'm going to get back to playing me some videogames, and see about navigating Atlantis without getting too annoyed at what I remember being frustrating controls.

Roll4It's Layla the Vampire Slayer YouTube Playlist (Seasons 1 and 2)

Street Fighter RPG 20th Anniversary Edition

The G-File, a fan supplement for SFRPG covering fighters and moves outside of Street Fighter II

November 16, 2018

Welcome to the Wizarding World, Mister Potter

So given that the second installment of the Fantastic Beasts film series (aka the "we're giving you backstory on the Potterverse!" films) has just hit theaters, as well as the fact that Chris "GM Chris" Witt has released his Harry Potter Genesys theme to the masses (link to be found below), I thought it'd be appropriate to publish a collection of pre-generated Hogwarts students that I've used for a couple of one-shots that I've run using said Genesys theme.

You've already seen one of them, a young chap by the name of Timothy Barnett, an adventurous young Gryffindor with a mild penchant for mischief.  But now is perhaps a good time to present a few of the other students in his year from various other Hogwarts Houses.

When I initially came up with these characters, I had originally figured that they would be having their adventures a few years after the events of the Second Wizarding War as detailed in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and that it had been at least a few years since Voldemort's final defeat.  With that said, for the first one-shot I ran with these characters I set their doings during Harry's third year at Hogwarts (when things were still fairly innocent and Voldemort was a not much of a threat to the wizarding world), if only for the chance for me to portray Professor Snape as the horrible person that he was to students, especially those who got into trouble.

It's also worth noting that I initially conceived each of these characters as being First Year students, fairly fresh off the Hogwarts Express and with plenty to learn.  But given how Genesys operates, they just felt too competent for a group of eleven year olds, so I opted to bump them up to being Third Year students, putting them all at about thirteen years old; this way they're capable without seeming ridiculously so, but also still have a lot of room to grow.

You can of course download the Harry Potter and the Theme for Genesys file from the d20 Radio BackerZone page, with the link located under the "2017 Content" header.

And now, on to our students...

Dedrick Bigglesworth, Hufflepuff Athlete

To put it plainly, Dedrick is a jock with a focus on the wizarding sport of Quidditch; he's not very good at casting spells, but can get by when it comes to low-end magics.  Though he's a pureblood by birth, he really doesn't have any of the more negative traits that many of the pureblood families and students are shown to have in the books.  That doesn't mean muggleborns and muggle society won't leave him as baffled as they do Ron Weasley.

Emmamanelle "Emma" Falk
So Emma is actually the second of the first series of characters I made using GM Chris' Genesys Harry Potter theme, and drew inspiration from a dear friend of mine, that being Nateal "Tariel" Falk.  Emma's big thing is her fondness and knowledge of animals, especially the fantastic beasts and magical creatures that populate the world of Harry Potter, but she's also by far the sunniest and most cheerful of the students.  She is a bit of a "squishy wizard" but can play well as support and help get people to see her side of things.

Issac Tobin, Ravenclaw Academic
Yeah, I'll admit to going with the stereotype and making the Ravenclaw representative being both a bookworm and very much the brains of the party.  He is a bit of a genderflip on Hermione, being that he's a muggleborn who is probably far more knowledgeable about the wizarding world than many of his peers who were born and raised in it, but he's much more shy and reserved than the much more outgoing and frankly bossy Hermione; he's much happier with his nose in a book thank you very much.  He's not adept at the flashier sort of magics, and works best when trying to think his way around a problem as opposed to just blasting it.

Selene Vale, Slytherin Potioneer
So originally, Selena started out as being more of a "social expert" who was better at getting people to do what she wanted with words and manipulation before I decided to toss that and embrace yet another stereotype of the Slytherin who excelled at potions.  However, she does still have some traces of her original concept, from being able to drop the occasional zinger to put others at a disadvantage in social encounters and a fairly strong base for most social checks she might have to make.  She does break the mold a bit by being a half-blood, since to my mind in the wake of Voldemort's defeat it made sense that Slytherin would dial it back regarding pureblood mania.  Selena's not inherently ruthless but she is pragmatic, such as having the right potion on hand at the right time.

Timothy Barnett, Gryffindor Opportunist
The first character I'd written up for this Genesys theme, Tim very much is not the typical "brave and forthright Gryffindor" that many folks would presume a student of that house to be.  Now of course, you've got the Weasley Twins and the Marauders for examples of generally well-meaning Gryffindors who managed to get into loads of mischief during their school years, to say nothing of what Harry got up to, especially during his second year, in the course of doing what was right.  So in that respect, Tim is following a fine Gryffindor tradition of getting into mischief but not doing so out of malice, and he's quite good at it, though he is a bit lacking in the raw physicality department.  Magically speaking, he's got a number of tricks up his sleeve and is broadly capable, as long as you don't ask him to do any serious potions work.  And by making a third year student as opposed to a somewhat more naive (for a given value of the word) first year, it's easier to explain why Tim has a bit of a record for getting into mischief at school, as he's quite good at getting into the exact sort of situations that more sensible students would prefer to avoid; if played right, he should be the one dragging the rest of group into whatever adventure is at hand.

And there we have a quintet of third year students of the illustrious Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizadry, each of them with their own strengths to contribute to whatever sort of adventures a group of young students might find themselves drawn into during the course of the school year.

You can download the zip file with their respective character sheets from here:
Harry Potter Genesys Pregenerated Characters

All character images were made using Hogwarts Student Maker, found on the Doll Divine website here:

August 27, 2018

Thoughts on Warhammer Fantasy Role Play 4th Edition

So to switch gears a bit (apart from the actually posting), rather than jawing about the Star Wars RPG I'll be giving my thoughts on the newest edition of the Warhammer Fantasy Role Play, published by Cubicle 7.  I won't be going into exacting details on the mechanics, just sort of an overview.

For a bit of background, I got my proper introduction to WFRP with the second edition created by Green Ronin.  I had a good deal of fun with the small handful of characters I got to play, in particular a Bretonnian Knight Errant and a Human Protagonist (i.e. professional bully).

The world of WFRP is is much darker than your typical fantasy RPG setting, with magic being (ostensibly) a very rare and unusual thing, with the general tech level being around early Renaissance with some steampunk elements, mostly revolving around gunpowder weapons.  Also, the PC are not going to be grand heroes saving the world; in fact the best summary I've heard for WFRP is "the world's finest crappy peasant simulator" since most PCs are going to start off being on the lower end of the social strata and will be lucky to have a decent weapon or a leather vest.  You can read more about the game's history and elements of of the setting here.

So now the preamble's out of the way, on to what my thoughts are with the latest edition of "the world's finest crappy peasant simulator."  Overall, I like the tweaks made between 2e and 4e (sorry, but just couldn't get into the Fantasy Flight Games edition as it felt far too gimmicky and too much like a board game than a proper RPG).  I've only played two sessions thus far, having rolled up a Human Protagonist (what can I say, I love the entire concept of the career) for the group.

One notable change right off the bat is that it's officially part of the rules that you can either roll randomly to determine things like your race and your starting career or you can pick what you want.  However, if you opt to go with the random roll method, your awarded with a bit of bonus XP for each part of the process that you go with the rolled result; it's not a huge amount, but it's a nice little bonus to allow a little extra tweaking to your PC in the early going.

An issue that plagued the first and second editions was the "whiff factor" given that for most trained skills a PC would typically need to roll under a 35 on percentile dice, meaning that unless your had circumstantial bonuses you were more likely to flub the roll, which got especially tedious with combat as you could go several rounds of two opponents swinging and missing at each other.  What 4e has done is changed skills so that they now have ranks (or Advances as this game calls them) that give you a bonus to your value, meaning that as a PC gains more XP they can get better at the skills in their career; starting PCs still won't be amazing but at least there's a definite improvement track.

Talents have gotten a significant overall, as many of them are now ranked and provide a small bonus to successful tests 

Another tweak is to combat itself, where melee fighting is now an opposed check, with the attack hitting if the aggressor gets the better degree of success.  Also changed is the introduction of Advantage, with each point you have giving you a bonus to your combat checks.  Defending against attacks have been expanded, so that a creative player has a bevy of options available to them to protect against people trying to cave their face in, which is nice.

Combat overall feels a bit more dangerous, as every successful attack will inflict at least 1 point of damage no matter how good your armor rating it, so the much maligned "naked dwarf syndrome" of 1e has been averted, though it will still take a while to chip away at the health of foes with a high Wounds total.  Also, if you roll doubles on a successful attack (or even a successful defense) you inflict a critical hit, which can lead to some really nasty injuries that will linger for quite some time if nobody in the group is a trained healer.  So much like 2e, getting into a fight can have some nasty consequences beyond losing health points even if you win, which will definitely come to a shock to those players used to a "kick in the door" style of play.

Spellcasting has gotten quite a revamp, now requiring a skill check, with the more advanced spells needing a better degree of success.  It's definitely a bit more complicated than 1e or 2e, but if you do really well on the skill check with the lower power spells, you can get a greater degree of effect.

Now I've only played a couple of sessions so far, with the GM running us through a converted 2e adventure (don't know which one), but it's been pretty fun thus far, starting off with a bar brawl to ease us into how combat worked without too drastic of consequences, leading then into a investigative segment where we had to exonerate an innocent farmer that a local (and not very trustworthy) bounty hunter looking for a quick payday by claiming the farmer was a local bandit that'd been causing problems, and leading to a rather intense social encounter between the us and the bounty hunter as each side made their case to the local road warden.  Next portion had us on the road after liberating the farmer and the disreputable bounty hunter winding up with a heck of a black eye (literally and figuratively), and then getting roped into rescuing a little girl who'd been snatched up by bandits and was apparently the illegitimate daughter of a local noble baron, only to find the bandits had been ambushed by a band of goblins that had taken the little girl as a prisoner.  Our attempts at being sneaky and distract/scare off the goblins didn't really work out so well, leading to our Halfling Rat Catcher catching a nasty head wound from the lead goblin, though we managed to flee away with a couple of horses and the rightly terrified little girl, which itself lead to an amusing situation with the Witch having to deal with calming down the little girl at least enough that she wasn't screaming as we made our speedy escape from the pursuing goblins.  Of course, now we have to bring the girl to her father, which I'm sure that given this is WFRP is going to go swimmingly.

Overall, I've been enjoying playing this system.  It's definitely a bit more on the gritty side, and I will admit it's kind of fun to play a PC that's not the typical noble and upstanding individual, and instead embracing that fact that my character in this group is a boisterous rapscallion with a penchant for punching folks in very uncomfortable places.