Saturday, September 23, 2017

The Return of Games Club

Tuesday afternoon in the school library about 35 students, grades 6-11, gathered to play silly games.

Along with Settlers of Catan, Castle Panic, Munchkin, Small World and other favorites, two tables hosted RPGs: my older daughter's perennial B/X offering (Keep on the Borderlands) and a 5e game at my table (Lost Mines of Phandelver).

Surprisingly, though she's been at this for years, she experienced a setback during the next couple of hours.

At her table she hosted two new players and two vets.  Familiar with the attention spans of her audience, she chose (wisely) to keep character creation quick and tight (3d6 in order), and rather than 3d6 x 10 gold for starting money she offered the players a couple picks from a stack of index cards, each listing some interesting gear (e.g. "climbing spikes and a coil of rope" or "a shortbow and 12 arrows--one explosive" or "a spearman retainer").  


Image result for keep on the borderlandsLikewise, rather than have them roam the outer bailey of the keep until they decided to try and rob the place, she started the action right at the mouth of the cave-studded canyon.  After mucking about in the Shunned Caves for a bit, her crew rolled into the minotaur cave and the typical craziness ensued.  

Though she dangled the option of retreat, the badly tattered party went toe to toe with the bullman and, to her surprise, prevailed, finding their way out through the bugbear caves ... at which point her most vocal veteran player declared that he was bored with caves and wanted to game "in the woods or something where I can go wherever I want or go to town and mix up different stuff to make potions like we did that one time."  

Repairing to the keep, the group soon declared that the location was also "boring" and left, looking for a big city where they could buy more specialized gear.

Now on the face of it, this may sound like the perfect segue to hex-crawling, wilderness adventures (which is, after all, the "X" part of B/X play), but she assures me that this is NOT what the player actually had in mind.  Rather, having gamed with this gent for over two years, she believes that he's thinking about a highly structured, plot-driven adventure, similar to a short DCC scenario she adapted and ran for him and some friends once (which happened to be set in a frozen forest).

Here's the rub: she's spent the last couple weeks of summer break preparing Keep on the Borderlands, with plans to tie it into Curse of Xanathon and the Dwellers of the Forbidden City and, with a fresh load of advanced classes this year, doesn't necessarily have the time to scrap it all and plan something else.

What to do?

Continue offering the game she is prepared to run and let the "market" of the 30+ players in club come and go to find their own gaming "sweet spot" or should she try to tailor what she's prepared to her current mix of players?

There are certainly pros and cons to each approach.

Image result for entitlementAt the moment, she is leaning toward a collaborative approach in which she talks to her players more about what they would like the game to be and tries to emphasize some elements (being awesome, making potions, getting quests, dumping quests without consequences) and minimize others (mapping, exploration for its own sake, dungeons).

She may even re-skin the Caves of Chaos as an archipelago, replacing tunnels with forest trails and rooms with clearings and settlements ... we'll see ... 

There's a tension between the type of game she would like to run and the (shifting) interests of her players.  For now, she's chosen to prioritize the relationships and helping please others above trying to emulate a certain aesthetic.  I can respect that.  I'm interested to see if her young players can as well.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Captain America for B/X

Image result for tsr marvel super heroesI've asserted several times that Advanced Marvel Super Heroes (TSR 1986) is one of the best RPGs ever published.  Like King Arthur Pendragon, the system doesn't just simulate the action of the game but the mechanics compliment the theme.  The crunch is minimal, the universal chart is thematic and fast, and Jeff Grub and Karen Martin generated rules text that bounds along--clear, entertaining, and never taking itself too seriously.  Also, Jeff Butler could draw the heck out of some super heroes.



All that being said, I decided to try and translate Captain America into B/X D&D stats ... because ... why not?




Image result for captain america punch hitlerAssumption: Grub's 1986 version of Cap is authoritative.

Captain America's MSH "Fighting" stat of "Amazing" means he connects 75% of the time when punching (unarmored) fascists.  

That translates to a level 6 fighter (who hits an AC 9 on an 8+) with a +2 for Strength 17--Grub sets Cap's Strength at "Excellent," just below human maximum, so that works out nicely.

Hit points come next and are trickier.  140 points of Health in MSH is suitably huge, but then again the average sword stroke in that system does 10 points of injury (unless the wielder has Strength higher than "Good," in which case it can go up to "Excellent 20").  If I figure that Captain America is good for about 14 sword hits before he drops, and I use an average D&D longsword damage of 4.5 hit points, that gives us 63 hit points.  
That's really high for a 6th level fighter, but MSH puts the good Captain's Endurance at "Remarkable 30," which again tops out the range for homo sapiens.  So assume an 18 Constitution for +3 hit points / level and 63 hit points actually fits within the D&D range, though it does mean having rolled 7s and 8s on every fighter hit die (I'll chalk it up to Super Soldier Serum).

Intelligence stymied me.  MSH has him with Reason of "Good 10" ... that's about a 13 in D&D, but the Captain speaks at least 7 different languages.  I'll just stick with the 13 for now.

MSH notes that Cap's attacks with his shield are at +2 Column Shift, but since the Universal Table is mostly in 5% increments that's easy to convert ... a +2 gives us the same probability.

What about Armor Class?
Grub sets Captain America's Agility at "Incredible 40," the highest a character can go before becoming super-human ... 18 Dexterity for a -3 there.  Chainmail for Cap's armor and a +2 shield of course ... and I present ...


Captain America   6th level Lawful Fighter

STR 16
INT 13                63 hit points
WIS 15                AC -1
DEX 18
CON 18
CHA 18

Equipment:
Chainmail, +2 shield

combat (including adjustments from shield and ability scores) :
+4 to hit in melee for 1d6+4 hit points of damage
+5 to hit when throwing shield for 1d6+2 hit points of damage

additional languages: German, Russian, Spanish, French, Italian, Japanese

I'm sure somebody has translated Marvel characters to B/X before--we did that kind of thing commonly back in the day and Dragon Magazine even ran an article converting the then-brand-new Warhammer 40,000 Rogue Trader to D&D stats.

So what do you think?

Surprised that the Cap only rates at 6th level?
Incidentally that's a "Myrmidon" in terms of level title, a bit short of the level 8 "Super hero."
On the other hand, it means that dwarf which you've painstakingly advanced to level 5 really is pretty heroic in terms of her capacity to kick some butt.

It also adds perspective to the notion that dragons and some other critters, with "only" 10 or 11 hit dice, are somehow less than epic in the Moldvay, Cook/Marsh version of D&D.
Your party may "poo-poo" a mature black dragon, but it could be enough to make the mighty Avengers have to pause and roll up their sleeves.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Wrapping Up Summer Games Camp

Last week we wrapped up another two weeks of summer games camp at a local high school.  Here are some highlights:
    Image result for werewolf card game
  • FIVE former students returned to help run tables--these volunteers really make camp a breeze and let me focus on the action at my own table.
  • WEREWOLF (the party game, not the RPG) was the clear crowd favorite this year.  Run in groups from five to 18 kids, this became the "go-to" game when we had 15 minutes to kill.
  • SHADOWS of BRIMSTONE was a hit both weeks and I got to show off the first set of minis I've painted in 15 years



  • D&D, in a variety of incarnations, but mainly with a B/X spin, had strong participation both weeks.
Image result for mice and mystics
  • MICE and MYSTICS, which is basically Descent Light with a cute theme, maintained a loyal following and the campaign story-mode was well supported by our morning session / afternoon session structure.

  • AYE DARK OVERLORD is incredibly loud when played with middle school gusto.  They had fun with it, but I'm kind of glad its over.

  • KING of TOKYO, SMALL WORLD, ADVENTURERS: PYRAMID OF HORUS and SMASH UP continue to hold their own.
One of the more interesting developments of the week was the core of repeat-customers: kids who have attended up to four previous sessions and who are coming back for more as they move toward high school.  

Because they were already familiar with most of the games, these players had a distinct edge in the four-team tournament format that we used--victory in our morning or afternoon break out games could earn points that were used to buy resources in our week-long meta-game.  

These players also had some pretty strong personalities, and I didn't necessarily want to see them dominate their teammates, so I took a gamble and placed all of the veterans on the same tournament team.

To offset their experience, however, I increased their challenge level--rather than play as a standard nation in what was essentially a week-long, combined RISK-lite / Catan game, the veteran players would take on the role of The Plukish Confederation, a collection of allied, island city-states.  

Owing their modest population, however, the Plukish team would not be allowed to assemble military units like their neighboring nations!  Instead, their victory would have to come strictly through trade and diplomacy (routes open to their competitors too).  

By mid-week it became clear that they were up to the task, and they went on to form a monopoly over key goods, effectively placing all three other teams in an economic stranglehold.  

Their competition could have broken out of the Plukish monopoly and embargoes, forcing them to relent, but ONLY if they were able to set aside their own border wars and territorial disputes long enough to collectively pressure the veteran team with coordinated military might.  

This, however, was not to be the case and nationalist rivalry and suspicion kept the other three nations from exerting the unified pressure necessary to bring Pluke to heel.  The veteran team, despite never fielding a single battalion all week, won a resounding economic victory!

A very satisfying week--it was great to see so many kids come back for analog gaming and to see them grow in leadership, social skills, and strategic thinking.